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Title: The Doctor of Pimlico - Being the Disclosure of a Great Crime
Author: Le Queux, William, 1864-1927
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: "Enid Drew Back In Terror"

(_The Doctor of Pimlico_)]


THE DOCTOR OF PIMLICO

Being the Disclosure of a Great Crime

BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX

[Illustration]

A. L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers        New York

Published by arrangement with The Macaulay Company

COPYRIGHT, 1920,
BY THE MACAULAY COMPANY

_Printed in the U. S. A._



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                           PAGE
     I. IN WHICH CERTAIN SUSPICIONS ARE EXCITED      9
    II. THE COMING OF A STRANGER                    21
   III. INTRODUCES DOCTOR WEIRMARSH                 32
    IV. REVEALS TEMPTATION                          47
     V. IN WHICH ENID ORLEBAR IS PUZZLED            56
    VI. BENEATH THE ELASTIC BAND                    66
   VII. CONCERNING THE VELVET HAND                  78
  VIII. PAUL LE PONTOIS                             88
    IX. THE LITTLE OLD FRENCHWOMAN                  97
     X. IF ANYONE KNEW                             107
    XI. CONCERNS THE PAST                          114
   XII. REVEALS A CURIOUS PROBLEM                  125
  XIII. THE MYSTERIOUS MR. MALTWOOD                134
   XIV. WHAT CONFESSION WOULD MEAN                 145
    XV. THREE GENTLEMEN FROM PARIS                 157
   XVI. THE ORDERS OF HIS EXCELLENCY               168
  XVII. WALTER GIVES WARNING                       177
 XVIII. THE ACCUSERS                               187
   XIX. IN WHICH A TRUTH IS HIDDEN                 199
    XX. IN WHICH A TRUTH IS TOLD                   207
   XXI. THE WIDENED BREACH                         217
  XXII. CONCERNING THE BELLAIRS AFFAIR             227
 XXIII. THE SILENCE OF THE MAN BARKER              234
  XXIV. WHAT THE DEAD MAN LEFT                     245
   XXV. AT THE CAFÉ DE PARIS                       255
  XXVI. WHICH IS "PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL"        265
 XXVII. THE RESULT OF INVESTIGATION                274
XXVIII. THE SECRET OF THE LONELY HOUSE             285
  XXIX. CONTAINS SOME STARTLING STATEMENTS         292
   XXX. REVEALS A WOMAN'S LOVE                     303
  XXXI. IN WHICH SIR HUGH TELLS HIS STORY          310
 XXXII. CONCLUSION                                 321



THE DOCTOR OF PIMLICO

_Being the Disclosure of a Great Crime_



CHAPTER I

IN WHICH CERTAIN SUSPICIONS ARE EXCITED


A GREY, sunless morning on the Firth of Tay.

Across a wide, sandy waste stretching away to the misty sea at Budden,
four men were walking. Two wore uniform--one an alert, grey-haired
general, sharp and brusque in manner, with many war ribbons across his
tunic; the other a tall, thin-faced staff captain, who wore the tartan of
the Gordon Highlanders. With them were two civilians, both in rough
shooting-jackets and breeches, one about forty-five, the other a few
years his junior.

"Can you see them, Fellowes?" asked the general of the long-legged
captain, scanning the distant horizon with those sharp grey eyes which
had carried him safely through many campaigns.

"No, sir," replied the captain, who was carrying the other's mackintosh.
"I fancy they must be farther over to the left, behind those low mounds
yonder."

"Haven't brought their battery into position yet, I suppose," snapped the
old officer, as he swung along with the two civilians beside him.

Fred Tredennick, the taller of the two civilians, walked with a gait
decidedly military, for, indeed, he was a retired major, and as the
general had made a tour of inspection of the camp prior to walking
towards where the mountain battery was manoeuvring, he had been chatting
with him upon technical matters.

"I thought you'd like to see this mountain battery, Fetherston,"
exclaimed the general, addressing the other civilian. "We have lots of
them on the Indian frontier, of course, and there were many of ours in
Italy and Serbia."

"I'm delighted to come with you on this tour of inspection, General. As
you know, I'm keenly interested in military affairs--and especially in
the reorganisation of the Army after the war," replied Walter Fetherston,
a dark, well-set-up man of forty, with a round, merry face and a pair of
eyes which, behind their gold pince-nez, showed a good-humoured twinkle.

Of the four men, General Sir Hugh Elcombe and Walter Fetherston were,
perhaps, equally distinguished. The former, as all the world knows, had
had a brilliant career in Afghanistan, in Egypt, Burmah, Tirah, the
Transvaal, and in France, and now held an appointment as inspector of
artillery.

The latter was a man of entirely different stamp. As he spoke he
gesticulated slightly, and no second glance was needed to realise that he
was a thorough-going cosmopolitan.

By many years of life on the Continent he had acquired a half-foreign
appearance. Indeed, a keen observer would probably have noticed that his
clothes had been cut by a foreign tailor, and that his boots, long,
narrow and rather square-toed, bore the stamp of the Italian boot-maker.
When he made any humorous remark he had the habit of slightly closing the
left eye in order to emphasise it, while he usually walked with his left
hand behind his back, and was hardly ever seen without a cigarette. Those
cigarettes were one of his idiosyncrasies. They were delicious, of a
brand unobtainable by the public, and made from tobacco grown in one of
the Balkan States. With them he had, both before the war and after, been
constantly supplied by a certain European sovereign whose personal friend
he was. They bore the royal crown and cipher, but even to his most
intimate acquaintance Walter Fetherston had never betrayed the reason
why he was the recipient of so many favours from the monarch in question.

Easy-going to a degree, full of open-hearted _bonhomie_, possessing an
unruffled temper, and apparently without a single care in all the world,
he seldom, if ever, spoke of himself. He never mentioned either his own
doings or his friends'. He was essentially a mysterious man--a man of
moods and of strong prejudices.

More than one person who had met him casually had hinted that his
substantial income was derived from sources that would not bear
investigation--that he was mixed up with certain financial adventurers.
Others declared that he was possessed of a considerable fortune that had
been left him by an uncle who had been a dealer in precious stones in
Hatton Garden. The truth was, however, that Walter Fetherston was a
writer of popular novels, and from their sale alone he derived a handsome
income.

The mystery stories of Walter Fetherston were world-famous. Wherever the
English language was spoken this shrewd-eyed, smiling man's books were
read, while translations of them appeared as _feuilletons_ in various
languages in the principal Continental journals. One could scarcely take
up an English newspaper without seeing mention of his name, for he was
one of the most popular authors of the day.

It is a generally accepted axiom that a public man cannot afford to be
modest in these go-ahead days of "boom." Yet Fetherston was one of the
most retiring of men. English society had tried in vain to allure him--he
courted no personal popularity. Beyond his quiet-spoken literary agent,
who arranged his affairs and took financial responsibility from his
shoulders, his publishers, and perhaps half a dozen intimate friends, he
was scarcely recognised in his true character. Indeed, his whereabouts
were seldom known save to his agent and his only brother, so elusive was
he and so careful to establish a second self.

He had never married. It was whispered that he had once had a serious
affair of the heart abroad. But that was a matter of long ago.

Shoals of invitations arrived at his London clubs each season, but they
usually reached him in some out-of-the-world corner of Europe, and he
would read them with a smile and cast them to the winds.

He took the keenest delight in evading the world that pressed him. His
curious hatred of his own popularity was to everyone a mystery. His
intimate friends, of whom Fred Tredennick was one, had whispered that,
in order to efface his identity, he was known in certain circles abroad
by the name of Maltwood. This was quite true. In London he was a member
of White's and the Devonshire as Fetherston. There was a reason why on
the Continent and elsewhere he should pass as Mr. Maltwood, but his
friends could never discover it, so carefully did he conceal it.

Walter Fetherston was a writer of breathless mystery--but he was the
essence of mystery himself. Once the reader took up a book of his he
never laid it down until he had read the final chapter. You, my reader,
have more than once found yourself beneath his strange spell. And what
was the secret of his success? He had been asked by numberless
interviewers, and to them all he had made the same stereotyped reply: "I
live the mysteries I write."

He seemed annoyed by his own success. Other writers suffered from that
complaint known as "swelled head," but Walter Fetherston never. He lived
mostly abroad in order to avoid the penalty which all the famous must
pay, travelling constantly and known mostly by his assumed name of
Maltwood.

And behind all this some mystery lay. He was essentially a man of
secrets.

Some people declared that he had married ten years ago, and gave a
circumstantial account of how he had wedded the daughter of a noble
Spanish house, but that a month later she had been accidentally drowned
in the Bay of Fontarabia, and that the tragedy had ever preyed upon his
mind. But upon his feminine entanglements he was ever silent. He was a
merry fellow, full of bright humour, and excellent company. But to the
world he wore a mask that was impenetrable.

At that moment he was shooting with his old friend Tredennick, who lived
close to St. Fillans, on the picturesque Loch Earn, when the general,
hearing of his presence in the neighbourhood, had sent him an invitation
to accompany him on his inspection.

Walter had accepted for one reason only. In the invitation the general
had remarked that he and his stepdaughter Enid were staying at the
Panmure Hotel at Monifieth--so well known to golfers--and that after the
inspection he hoped they would lunch together.

Now, Walter had met Enid Orlebar six months before at Biarritz, where she
had been nursing at the Croix Rouge Hospital in the Hôtel du Palais, and
the memory of that meeting had lingered with him. He had long desired to
see her again, for her pale beauty had somehow attracted him--attracted
him in a manner that no woman's face had ever attracted him before.

Hitherto he had held cynical notions concerning love and matrimony, but
ever since he had met Enid Orlebar in that winter hotel beside the sea,
and had afterwards discovered her to be stepdaughter of Sir Hugh Elcombe,
he had found himself reflecting upon his own loneliness.

At luncheon he was to come face to face with her again. It was of this he
was thinking more than of the merits of mountain batteries or the
difficulties of limbering or unlimbering.

"See! there they are!" exclaimed the general, suddenly pointing with his
gloved hand.

Fetherston strained his eyes towards the horizon, but declared that he
could detect nothing.

"They're lying behind that rising ground to the left of the magazine
yonder," declared the general, whose keen vision had so often served him
in good stead. Then, turning on his heel and scanning the grey horizon
seaward, he added: "They're going to fire out on to the Gaa between those
two lighthouses on Buddon Ness. By Jove!" he laughed, "the men in them
will get a bit of a shock."

"I shouldn't care much to be there, sir," remarked Tredennick.

"No," laughed the general. "But really there's no danger--except that
we're just in the line of their fire."

So they struck off to the left and approached the position by a
circuitous route, being greeted by the colonel and other officers, to
whom the visit of Sir Hugh Elcombe had been a considerable surprise.

The serviceable-looking guns were already mounted and in position, the
range had been found; the reserves, the ponies and the pipers were lying
concealed in a depression close at hand when they arrived.

The general, after a swift glance around, stood with legs apart and arms
folded to watch, while Fetherston and Tredennick, with field-glasses, had
halted a little distance away.

A sharp word of command was given, when next instant the first gun boomed
forth, and a shell went screaming through the air towards the low range
of sand-hills in the distance.

The general grunted. He was a man of few words, but a typical British
officer of the type which has made the Empire and won the war against the
Huns. He glanced at the watch upon his wrist, adjusted his monocle, and
said something in an undertone to the captain.

The firing proceeded, while Fetherston, his ears dulled by the constant
roar, watched the bursting shells with interest.

"I wonder what the lighthouse men think of it now?" he laughed, turning
to his friend. "A misdirected shot would send them quickly to kingdom
come!"

Time after time the range was increased, until, at last, the shells were
dropped just at the spot intended. As each left the gun it shrieked
overhead, while the flash could be seen long before the report reached
the ear.

"We'll see in a few moments how quickly they can get away," the general
said, as he approached Fetherston.

Then the order was given to cease fire. Words of command sounded, and
were repeated in the rear, where ponies and men lay hidden. The guns were
run back under cover, and with lightning rapidity dismounted, taken to
pieces, and loaded upon the backs of the ponies, together with the
leather ammunition cases--which looked like men's suit cases--and other
impedimenta.

The order was given to march, and, headed by the pipers, who commenced
their inspiring skirl to the beat of the drums, they moved away over the
rough, broken ground, the general standing astraddle and watching it all
through his monocle with critical eye, and keeping up a fire of sarcastic
comment directed at the colonel.

"Why!" he cried sharply in his low, strident voice, "what's that bay
there? Too weak for the work--no good. You want better stuff than that.
An axle yonder not packed properly! . . . And look at that black
pony--came out of a governess-cart, I should think! . . . Hey, you man
there, you don't want to hang on that pack! Men get lazy and want the
pony to help them along. And you----" he cried, as a pony, heavily laden
with part of a gun, came down an almost perpendicular incline. "Let that
animal find his way down alone. Do you hear?"

Then, after much manoeuvring, he caused them to take up another position,
unlimber their guns, and fire.

When this had been accomplished he called the officers together and, his
monocle in his eye, severely criticised their performance, declaring that
they had exposed themselves so fully to the enemy that ere they had had
time to fire they would have been shelled out of their position.

The spare ammunition was exposed all over the place, some of the reserves
were not under cover, and the battery commander so exposed himself that
he'd have been a dead man before the first shot. "You must do better than
this--much better. That's all."

Then the four walked across to the Panmure Hotel at Monifieth.

Walter Fetherston held his breath. His lips were pressed tightly
together, his brows contracted. He was again to meet Enid Orlebar.

He shot a covert glance at the general walking at his side. In his eyes
showed an unusual expression, half of suspicion, half of curiosity.

Next instant, however, it had vanished, and he laughed loudly at a story
Tredennick was telling.



CHAPTER II

THE COMING OF A STRANGER


ENID was standing on the steps of the hotel when the men arrived.

For a second Walter glanced into her splendid eyes, and then bowed over
her hand in his foreign way, a murmured expression of pleasure escaping
his lips.

About twenty-two, tall and slim, she presented a complete and typical
picture of the outdoor girl, dressed as she was in a grey jumper trimmed
with purple, a short golfing skirt, her tweed hat to match trimmed with
the feathers of a cock pheasant.

Essentially a sportswoman, she could handle gun or rod, ride to hounds,
or drive a motor-car with equal skill, and as stepdaughter of Sir Hugh
she had had experience on the Indian frontier and in Egypt.

Her father had been British Minister at the Hague, and afterwards at
Stockholm, but after his death her mother had married Sir Hugh, and had
become Lady Elcombe. Nowadays, however, the latter was somewhat of an
invalid, and seldom left their London house in Hill Street. Therefore,
Enid was usually chaperoned by Mrs. Caldwell, wife of the well-known
K.C., and with her she generally spent her winters on the Continent.

Blanche, Sir Hugh's daughter by his first wife, had married Paul Le
Pontois, who had been a captain in the 114th Regiment of Artillery of the
French Army during the war, and lived with her husband in France. She
seldom came to England, though at frequent intervals her father went over
to visit her.

When Walter Fetherston took his seat beside Enid Orlebar at the luncheon
table a flood of strange recollections crowded upon his mind--those walks
along the Miramar, that excursion to Pampeluna, and those curious facts
which she had unwittingly revealed to him in the course of their
confidential chats. He remembered their leave-taking, and how, as he had
sat in the _rapide_ for Paris, he had made a solemn vow never again to
set eyes upon her.

There was a reason why he should not--a strong but mysterious reason.

Yet he had come there of his own will to meet her again--drawn there
irresistibly by some unseen influence which she possessed.

Was it her beauty that had attracted him? Yes--he was compelled to admit
that it was. As a rule he avoided the society of women. To his intimates
he had laid down the maxim: "Don't marry; keep a dog if you want a
faithful companion." And yet he was once again at the side of this
fair-faced woman.

None around the table were aware of their previous meeting, and all were
too busy chattering to notice the covert glances which he shot at her. He
was noting her great beauty, sitting there entranced by it--he, the man
of double personality, who, under an assumed name, lived that gay life of
the Continent, known in society in twenty different cities, and yet in
England practically unknown in his real self.

Yes, Enid Orlebar was beautiful. Surely there could be few fairer women
than she in this our land of fair women!

Turning upon him, she smiled gaily as she asked whether he had been
interested in seeing a mountain battery at work.

Her fresh face, betraying, as it did, her love of a free, open-air life,
was one of those strangely mysterious countenances met only once in a
lifetime. It seemed to be the quintessence of pain and passion, conflict
and agony, desire and despair. She was not one of those befrilled,
fashion-plate dolls that one meets at the after-war crushes and dances,
but was austerely simple in dress, with a face which betrayed a spiritual
nobility, the very incarnation of modern womanhood, alive with modern
self-knowledge, modern weariness and modern sadness.

Her beautiful hair, worn plain and smooth, was black as night--wonderful
hair. But still more wonderful were those great, dark, velvety eyes, deep
and unfathomable. In them the tragedy of life was tumultuously visible,
yet they were serene, self-possessed, even steady in their quiet
simplicity. To describe her features is not an easy task. They were
clear-cut, with a purity of the lines of the nose and brow seldom seen in
a woman's face, dark, well-arched eyebrows, a pretty mouth which had just
escaped extreme sensuousness. Cheeks soft and delicately moulded, a chin
pointed, a skin remarkable for its fineness and its clear pallor, the
whole aspect of her face being that of sweetness combined with nobility
and majesty. In it there was no dominant expression, for it seemed to be
a mask waiting to be stirred into life.

Fetherston had known Sir Hugh slightly for several years, but as Enid had
been so much abroad with Mrs. Caldwell, he had never met her until that
accidental encounter in Biarritz.

"We've been up here six weeks," she was telling Fetherston. "Father
always gets a lot of golf up here, you know, and I'm rather fond of it."

"I fear I'm too much of a foreigner nowadays to appreciate the game,"
Walter laughed. "Last season some Italians in Rome formed a club--the
usual set of ultra-smart young counts and marquises--but when they found
that it entailed the indignity of walking several miles they declared it
to be a game only fit for the populace, and at once disbanded the
association."

The men were discussing the work of the battery, for four of the officers
had been invited, and the point raised was the range of mountain guns.

Walter Fetherston glanced at the general through his pince-nez with a
curious expression, but he did not join in the conversation.

Enid's eyes met his, and the pair exchanged curiously significant
glances.

He bent to pick up his serviette, and in doing so he whispered to her: "I
must see you outside for a moment before I go. Go out, and I'll join
you."

Therefore, when the meal had concluded, the girl went forth into the
secluded garden at the rear of the hotel, where in a few moments the man
joined her at a spot where they could not be overlooked.

She turned towards him, separate, remote, incongruous, her dark eyes
showing an angry flash in them.

"Why have you come here?" she demanded with indignation. The whole aspect
of her face was tragic.

"To see you again," was his brief reply. "Before we parted at Biarritz
you lied to me," he added in a hard tone.

She held her breath, staring straight into his eyes.

"I--I don't understand you!" she stammered. "You are here to torment--to
persecute me!"

"I asked you a question, Enid, but in response you told me a deliberate
lie. Think--recall that circumstance, and tell me the truth," he said
very quietly.

She was silent for a moment. Then, with her mouth drawn to hardness, she
replied: "Yes, it is true--I lied to you, just as you have lied to me.
Remember what you told me that moonlit night when we walked by the sea
towards the Grotto of Love. I was a fool to have believed in you--to have
trusted you as I did! You left me, and, though I wrote time after time
to your club, you refused to send me a single line."

"Because--because, Enid, I dared not," replied her companion.

"Why not?" she demanded quickly. "You told me that you loved me, yet--yet
your own actions have shown that you lied to me!"

"No," he protested in a low, earnest, hoarse voice; "I told you the
truth, Enid, but----"

"But what?" she interrupted in quickly earnestness.

"Well," he replied after a brief pause, "the fact is that I am compelled
to wear a mask, even to you, the woman I love. I cannot tell you the
truth--I cannot, dearest, for your own sake."

"And you expect me to believe this lame story--eh?" she laughed. She was
pale and fragile, yet she seemed to expand and to dilate with force and
energy.

"Enid," he answered in a low voice, with honesty in his eyes, "I would
rather sacrifice my great love for you than betray the trust I hold most
sacred. So great is my love for you, rather would I never look upon your
dear face again than reveal to you the tragic truth and bring upon you
unhappiness and despair."

"Walter," she replied in a trembling voice, looking straight into his
countenance with those wonderful dark eyes wherein her soul brimmed over
with weary emotion and fatigued passion, "I repeat all that I told you on
that calm night beside the sea. I love you; I think of you day by day,
hour by hour. But you have lied to me, and therefore I hate myself for
having so foolishly placed my trust in you."

He had resolved to preserve his great secret--a secret that none should
know.

"Very well," he sighed, shrugging his shoulders. "These recriminations
are really all useless. Ah, if you only knew the truth, Enid! If I only
dared to reveal to you the hideous facts. But I refuse--they are too
tragic, too terrible. Better that we should part now, and that you should
remain in ignorance--better by far, for you. You believe that I am
deceiving you. Well, I'm frank and admit that I am; but it is with a
distinct purpose--for your own sake."

He held forth his hand, and slowly she took it. In silence he bowed over
it, his lips compressed; then, turning upon his heel, he went down the
gravelled walk back to the hotel, which, some ten minutes later, he left
with Fred Tredennick, catching the train back to Dundee and on to Perth.

He was in no way a man to wear his heart upon his sleeve, therefore he
chatted gaily with his friend and listened to Fred's extravagant
admiration of Enid's beauty. He congratulated himself that his old friend
was in ignorance of the truth.

A curious incident occurred at the hotel that same evening, however,
which, had Walter been aware of it, would probably have caused him
considerable uneasiness and alarm. Just before seven o'clock a tall,
rather thin, middle-aged, narrow-eyed man, dressed in dark grey tweeds,
entered the hall of the hotel and inquired for Henry, the head waiter. He
was well dressed and bore an almost professional air.

The white-headed old man quickly appeared, when the stranger, whose
moustache was carefully trimmed and who wore a ruby ring upon his white
hand, made an anxious inquiry whether Fetherston, whom he minutely
described, had been there that day. At first the head waiter hesitated
and was uncommunicative, but, the stranger having uttered a few low
words, Henry's manner instantly changed. He started, looked in wonder
into the stranger's face, and, taking him into the smoking-room--at that
moment unoccupied--he allowed himself to be closely questioned regarding
the general and his stepdaughter, as well as the man who had that day
been their guest. The stranger was a man of quick actions, and his
inquiries were sharp and to the point.

"You say that Mr. Fetherston met the young lady outside after luncheon,
and they had an argument in secret, eh?" asked the stranger.

Henry replied in the affirmative, declaring that he unfortunately could
not overhear the subject under discussion. But he believed the pair had
quarrelled.

"And where has Mr. Fetherston gone?" asked his keen-eyed questioner.

"He is, I believe, the guest of Major Tredennick, who lives on the other
side of Perthshire at Invermay on Loch Earn."

"And the young lady goes back to Hill Street with her stepfather, eh?"

"On Wednesday."

"Good!" was the stranger's reply. Then, thanking the head waiter for the
information in a sharp, businesslike voice, and handing him five
shillings, he took train back from Monifieth to Dundee, and went direct
to the chief post-office.

From there he dispatched a carefully constructed cipher telegram to an
address in the Boulevard Anspach, in Brussels, afterwards lighting an
excellent cigar and strolling along the busy street with an air of
supreme self-satisfaction.

"If this man, Fetherston, has discovered the truth, as I fear he has
done," the hard-faced man muttered to himself, "then by his action to-day
he has sealed his own doom!--and Enid Orlebar herself will silence him!"



CHAPTER III

INTRODUCES DOCTOR WEIRMARSH


THREE days had elapsed.

In the dingy back room of a dull, drab house in the Vauxhall Bridge Road,
close to Victoria Station in London, the narrow-eyed man who had so
closely questioned old Henry at the Panmure Hotel, sat at an old mahogany
writing-table reading a long letter written upon thin foreign notepaper.

The incandescent gas-lamp shed a cold glare across the room. On one side
of the smoke-grimed apartment was a shabby leather couch, on the other
side a long nest of drawers, while beside the fireplace was an expanding
gas-bracket placed in such a position that it could be used to examine
anyone seated in the big arm-chair. Pervading the dingy apartment was a
faint smell of carbolic, for it was a consulting-room, and the man so
intent upon the letter was Dr. Weirmarsh, the hard-working practitioner
so well known among the lower classes in Pimlico.

Those who pass along the Vauxhall Bridge Road know well that house with
its curtains yellow with smoke--the one which stands back behind a small
strip of smoke-begrimed garden. Over the gate is a red lamp, and upon the
railings a brass plate with the name: "Mr. Weirmarsh, Surgeon."

About three years previously he had bought the practice from old Dr.
Bland, but he lived alone, a silent and unsociable man, with a deaf old
housekeeper, although he had achieved a considerable reputation among his
patients in the neighbouring by-streets. But his practice was not wholly
confined to the poorer classes, for he was often consulted by
well-dressed members of the foreign colony--on account, probably, of his
linguistic attainments. A foreigner with an imperfect knowledge of
English naturally prefers a doctor to whom he can speak in his own
tongue. Therefore, as Weirmarsh spoke French, Italian and Spanish with
equal fluency, it was not surprising that he had formed quite a large
practice among foreign residents.

His appearance, however, was the reverse of prepossessing, and his
movements were often most erratic. About his aquiline face was a shrewd
and distrustful expression, while his keen, dark eyes, too narrowly set,
were curiously shifty and searching. When absent, as he often was, a
young fellow named Shipley acted as locum tenens, but so eccentric was
he that even Shipley knew nothing of the engagements which took him from
home so frequently.

George Weirmarsh was a man of few friends and fewer words. He lived for
himself alone, devoting himself assiduously to his practice, and doing
much painstaking writing at the table whereat he now sat, or else, when
absent, travelling swiftly with aims that were ever mysterious.

He had had a dozen or so patients that evening, but the last had gone,
and he had settled himself to read the letter which had arrived when his
little waiting-room had been full of people.

As he read he made scribbled notes on a piece of paper upon his
blotting-pad, his thin, white hand, delicate as a woman's, bearing that
splendid ruby ring, his one possession in which he took a pride.

"Ah!" he remarked to himself in a hard tone of sarcasm, "what fools the
shrewdest of men are sometimes over a woman! So at last he's fallen--like
the others--and the secret will be mine. Most excellent! After all, every
man has one weak point in his armour, and I was not mistaken."

Then he paused, and, leaning his chin upon his hand, looked straight
before him, deep in reflection.

"I have few fears--very few," he remarked to himself, "but the greatest
is of Walter Fetherston. What does he know?--that's the chief question.
If he has discovered the truth--if he knows my real name and who I
am--then the game's up, and my best course is to leave England. And yet
there is another way," he went on, speaking slowly to himself--"to close
his lips. Dead men tell no tales."

He sat for a long time, his narrow-set eyes staring into space,
contemplating a crime. As a medical man, he knew a dozen ingenious ways
by which Walter Fetherston might be sent to his grave in circumstances
that would appear perfectly natural. His gaze at last wandered to the
book-case opposite, and became centred upon a thick, brown-covered, dirty
volume by a writer named Taylor. That book contained much that might be
of interest to him in the near future.

Of a sudden the handle of the door turned, and Mrs. Kelsey, the old
housekeeper, in rusty black, admitted Enid Orlebar without the ceremony
of asking permission to enter.

The girl was dressed in a pearl grey and pink sports coat, with a large
black hat, and carried a silver chain handbag. Around her throat was a
white feather boa, while her features were half concealed by the veil she
wore.

"Ah, my dear young lady," cried Weirmarsh, rising quickly and greeting
her, while next moment he turned to his table and hastily concealed the
foreign letter and notes, "I had quite forgotten that you were to consult
me. Pray forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive," the beautiful girl replied in a low,
colourless voice, when the housekeeper had disappeared, and she had
seated herself in the big leather arm-chair in which so many patients
daily sat. "You ordered me to come here to you, and I have come."

"Against your will, eh?" he asked slowly, with a strange look in his keen
eyes.

"I am perfectly well now. I do not see why my stepfather should betray
such anxiety on my account."

"The general is greatly concerned about you," Weirmarsh said, seated
cross-legged at his writing-chair, toying with his pen and looking into
the girl's handsome face.

"He wished me to see you. That is why I wrote to you."

"Well," she said, wavering beneath his sharp glance, "I am here. What do
you wish?"

"I wish to have a little private talk with you, Miss Enid," he replied
thoughtfully, stroking his small greyish moustache, "a talk concerning
your own welfare."

"But I am not ill," she cried. "I don't see why you should desire me to
come to you to-night."

"I have my own reasons, my dear young lady," was the man's firm response,
his eyes fixed immovably upon hers. "And I think you know me well enough
to be aware that when Dr. Weirmarsh sets his mind upon a thing he is not
easily turned aside."

A slight, almost imperceptible, shudder ran through her. But Weirmarsh
detected it, and knew that this girl of extraordinary and mysterious
charm was as wax in his hands. In the presence of the man who had cast
such a strange spell about her she was utterly helpless. There was no
suggestion of hypnotism--she herself scouted the idea--yet ever since Sir
Hugh had taken her to consult this man of medicine at a small suburban
villa, five years ago, he had entered her life never again to leave it.

She realised herself irresistibly in his power whenever she felt his
presence near her. At his bidding she came and went, and against her
better nature she acted as he commanded.

He had cured her of an attack of nerves five years ago, but she had ever
since been beneath his hated thraldom. His very eyes fascinated her with
their sinister expression, yet to her he could do no wrong.

A thousand times she had endeavoured to break free from that strong but
unseen influence, but she always became weak and easily led as soon as
she fell beneath the extraordinary power which the obscure doctor
possessed. Time after time he called her to his side, as on this
occasion, on pretence of prescribing for her, and yet with an ulterior
motive. Enid Orlebar was a useful tool in the hands of this man who was
so unscrupulous.

She sighed, passing her gloved hand wearily across her hot brow. Strange
how curiously his presence always affected her!

She had read in books of the mysteries of hypnotic suggestion, but she
was far too practical to believe in that. This was not hypnotism, she
often declared within herself, but some remarkable and unknown power
possessed by this man who, beneath the guise of the hard-working surgeon,
was engaged in schemes of remarkable ingenuity and wondrous magnitude.

He held her in the palm of his hand. He held her for life--or for death.

To her stepfather she had, times without number, expressed fear and
horror of the sharp-eyed doctor, but Sir Hugh had only laughed at her
fears and dismissed them as ridiculous. Dr. Weirmarsh was the general's
friend.

Enid knew that there was some close association between the pair, but of
its nature she was in complete ignorance. Often the doctor came to Hill
Street and sat for long periods with the general in that small, cosy room
which was his den. That they were business interviews there was no doubt,
but the nature of the business was ever a mystery.

"I see by your face that, though there is a great improvement in you, you
are, nevertheless, far from well," the man said, his eyes still fixed
upon her pale countenance.

"Dr. Weirmarsh," she protested, "this constant declaration that I am ill
is awful. I tell you I am quite as well as you are yourself."

"Ah! there, I'm afraid, you are mistaken, my dear young lady," he
replied. "You may feel well, but you are not in quite such good health as
you imagine. The general is greatly concerned about you, and for that
reason I wished to see you to-night," he added with a smile as, bending
towards her, he asked her to remove her glove.

He took her wrist, holding his stop-watch in his other hand. "Hum!" he
grunted, "just as I expected. You're a trifle low--a little run down. You
want a change."

"But we only returned from Scotland yesterday!" she cried.

"The North does not suit such an exotic plant as yourself," he said. "Go
South--the Riviera, Spain, Italy, or Egypt."

"I go with Mrs. Caldwell at the end of November."

"No," he said decisively, "you must go now."

"Why?" she asked, opening her eyes in astonishment at his dictatorial
manner.

"Because----" and he hesitated, still gazing upon her with those
strangely sinister eyes of his. "Well, Miss Enid, because a complete
change will be beneficial to you in more ways than one," he replied with
an air of mystery.

"I don't understand you," she declared.

"Probably not," he laughed, with that cynical air which so irritated her.
She hated herself for coming to that detestable house of grim silence;
yet his word to her was a command which she felt impelled by some strange
force to fulfil with child-like obedience. "But I assure you I am
advising you for your own benefit, my dear young lady."

"In what way?"

"Shall I speak plainly?" asked the man in whose power she was. "Will you
forgive me if I so far intrude myself upon your private affairs as to
give you a few words of advice?"

"Thank you, Dr. Weirmarsh, but I cannot see that my private affairs are
any concern of yours," she replied with some hauteur. How often had she
endeavoured in vain to break those invisible shackles?

"I am a very sincere friend of your stepfather, and I hope a sincere
friend of yours also," he said with perfect coolness. "It is because of
this I presume to advise you--but, of course----" And he hesitated,
without concluding his sentence. His eyes were again fixed upon her as
though gauging accurately the extent of his influence upon her.

"And what do you advise, pray?" she asked, "It seems that you have called
me to you to-night in order to intrude upon my private affairs," she
added, with her eyes flashing resentment.

"Well--yes, Miss Enid," he answered, his manner changing slightly. "The
fact is, I wish to warn you against what must inevitably bring disaster
both upon yourself and your family."

"Disaster?" she echoed. "I don't follow you."

"Then let me speak a little more plainly," he replied, his strange,
close-set eyes staring into hers until she quivered beneath his cold,
hard gaze. "You have recently become acquainted with Walter Fetherston.
You met him at Biarritz six months ago, and on Monday last he lunched
with you up at Monifieth. After luncheon you met him in the garden of the
hotel, and----"

"How do you know all this?" she gasped, startled, yet fascinated by his
gaze.

"My dear young lady," he laughed, "it is my business to know certain
things--that is one of them."

She held her breath for a moment.

"And pray how does that concern you? What interest have you in my
acquaintances?"

"A very keen one," was the prompt reply. "That man is dangerous to
you--and to your family. The reason why I have asked you here to-night is
to tell you that you must never meet him again. If you value your life,
and that of your mother and her husband, avoid him as you would some
venomous reptile. He is your most deadly enemy."

The girl was silent for a moment. Her great, dark eyes were fixed upon
the threadbare carpet. What he told her was disconcerting, yet, knowing
instinctively, as she did, how passionately Walter loved her, she could
not bring herself to believe that he was really her enemy.

"No, Dr. Weirmarsh," she replied, raising her eyes again to his, "you are
quite mistaken. I know Walter Fetherston better than you. Your allegation
is false. You have told me this because--because you have some motive in
parting us."

"Yes," he said frankly, "I have--_a strong motive_."

"You do not conceal it?"

"No," he answered. "Were I a younger man you might, perhaps, accuse me of
scheming to wriggle myself into your good graces, Miss Enid. But I am
getting old, and, moreover, I'm a confirmed bachelor, therefore you
cannot, I think, accuse me of such ulterior motives. No, I only point out
this peril for your family's sake--and your own."

"Is Mr. Fetherston such an evil genius, then?" she asked. "The world
knows him as a writer of strictly moral, if exciting, books."

"The books are one thing--the man himself another. Some men reflect their
own souls in their works, others write but canting hypocrisy. It is so
with Walter Fetherston--the man who has a dual personality and whose
private life will not bear the light of publicity."

"You wish to prejudice me against him, eh?" she said in a hard tone.

"I merely wish to advise you for your good, my dear young lady," he said.
"It is not for me, your medical man, to presume to dictate to you, I
know. But the general is my dear friend, therefore I feel it my duty to
reveal to you the bitter truth."

Thoughts of Walter Fetherston, the man in whose eyes had shone the light
of true honesty when he spoke, arose within her. She was well aware of
all the curious gossip concerning the popular writer, whose
eccentricities were so frequently hinted at in the gossipy newspapers,
but she was convinced that she knew the real Fetherston behind the mask
he so constantly wore.

This man before her was deceiving her. He had some sinister motive in
thus endeavouring to plant seeds of suspicion within her mind. It was
plain that he was endeavouring in some way to secure his own ends. Those
ends, however, were a complete and inexplicable mystery.

"I cannot see that my friendship for Mr. Fetherston can have any interest
for you," she replied. "Let us talk of something else."

"But it has," he persisted. "You must never meet that man again--you
hear! never--otherwise you will discover to your cost that my serious
warning has a foundation only too solid; that he is your bitterest enemy
posing as your most affectionate friend."

"I don't believe you, Dr. Weirmarsh!" she cried resentfully, springing to
her feet. "I'll never believe you!"

"My dear young lady," the man exclaimed, "you are really quite unnerved
to-night. The general was quite right. I will mix you a draught like the
one you had before--perfectly innocuous--something to soothe those
unstrung nerves of yours." And beneath his breath, as his cruel eyes
twinkled, he added: "Something to bring reason to those warped and
excited senses--something to sow within you suspicion and hatred of
Walter Fetherston."

Then aloud he added, as he sprang to his feet: "Excuse me for a moment
while I go and dispense it. I'll be back in a few seconds."

He left the room when, quick as lightning, Enid stretched forth her hand
to the drawer of the writing-table into which she had seen the doctor
toss the foreign letter he had been reading when she entered.

She drew it out, and scanned eagerly a dozen or so of the closely-written
lines in Spanish.

Then she replaced it with trembling fingers, and, closing the drawer, sat
staring straight before her--dumbfounded, rigid.

What was the mystery?

By the knowledge she had obtained she became forearmed--even defiant. In
the light of that astounding discovery, she now read the mysterious Dr.
Weirmarsh as she would an open book. She held her breath, and an
expression of hatred escaped her lips.

When, a moment later, he brought her a pale-yellow draught in a graduated
glass, she took it from his hand, and, drawing herself up in defiance,
flung its contents behind her into the fireplace. She believed that at
last she had conquered that strangely evil influence which, emanating
from this obscure practitioner, had fallen upon her.

But the man only shrugged his shoulders and, turning from her, laughed
unconcernedly. He knew that he held her in bonds stronger than steel,
that his will was hers--for good or for evil.



CHAPTER IV

REVEALS TEMPTATION


"I TELL you it can't be done--the risk is far too great!" declared Sir
Hugh Elcombe, standing with his back to the fireplace in his cosy little
den in Hill Street at noon next day.

"It must be done," answered Dr. Weirmarsh, who sat in the deep green
leather arm-chair, with the tips of his fingers placed together.

The general glanced suspiciously at the door to reassure himself that it
was closed.

"You ask too much," he said. Then, in a decisive voice, while his fingers
toyed nervously with his monocle, he added, "I have resolved to end it
once and for all."

The doctor looked at him with a strange expression in those cold, keen
eyes of his and smiled, "I fear, Sir Hugh, that if you attempt to carry
out such a decision you will find insuperable difficulties," he said
quietly.

"I desire no good advice from you, Weirmarsh," the old general snapped.
"I fully realise my position. You have cornered me--cut off my
retreat--so I have placed my back against the wall."

"Good! And how will such an attitude benefit you, pray?"

"Understand, I am in no mood to be taunted by you!" the old man cried,
with an angry flash in his eyes. "You very cleverly enticed me into the
net, and now you are closing it about me."

"My dear Sir Hugh," replied the doctor, "ours was a mere business
transaction, surely. Carry your thoughts back to six years ago. After
your brilliant military career you returned from India and found
yourself, as so many of your profession find themselves, in very
straitened circumstances. You were bound to keep up appearances, and, in
order to do so, got into the hands of Eli Moser, the moneylender. You
married Lady Orlebar, and had entered London society when, of a sudden,
the scoundrelly usurer began to put the screw upon you. At that moment
you--luckily, I think, for yourself--met me, and--well, I was your
salvation, for I pointed out to you an easy way by which to pay your
creditors and rearrange your affairs upon a sound financial basis.
Indeed, I did it for you. I saved you from the moneylender. Did I not?"

He spoke in a calm, even tone, without once removing his eyes from the
man who stood upon the hearthrug with bent head and folded arms.

"I know, Weirmarsh. It's true that you saved me from bankruptcy--but
think what penalty I have paid by accepting your terms," he answered in a
low, broken voice. "The devil tempted me, and I fell into your damnable
net."

"I hardly think it necessary for you to put it that way," replied the
doctor without the least sign of annoyance. "I showed you how you could
secure quite a comfortable income, and you readily enough adopted my
suggestion."

"Readily!" echoed the fine-looking old soldier. "Ah! you don't know what
my decision cost me--it has cost me my very life."

"Nonsense, man," laughed the doctor scornfully. "You got out of the hands
of the Jews, and ever since that day you haven't had five minutes' worry
over your finances. I promised you I would provide you with an ample
income, and----"

"And you've done so, Weirmarsh," cried the old general; "an income far
greater than I expected. Yet what do I deserve?"

"My dear General," said the doctor quite calmly, "you're not yourself
to-day; suffering from a slight attack of remorse, eh? It's a bad
complaint; I've had it, and I know. But it's like the measles--you're
very nearly certain to contract it once in a lifetime."

"Have you no pity for me?" snarled Sir Hugh, glaring at the narrow-eyed
man seated before him. "Don't you realise that by this last demand of
yours you've driven me into a corner?"

Weirmarsh's brows contracted slightly, and he shot an evil glance at the
man before him--the man who was his victim. "But you must do it. You
still want money--and lots of it, don't you?" he said in a low, decisive
voice.

"I refuse, I tell you!" cried Sir Hugh angrily.

"Hush! Someone may overhear," the doctor said. "Is Enid at home?"

"Yes."

"I saw her last night, as you wished. She is not well. Her nerves are
still in an extremely weak state," Weirmarsh said, in order to change the
topic of conversation. "I think you should send her abroad out of the
way--to the South somewhere."

"So she told me. I shall try and get Mrs. Caldwell to take her to
Sicily--if you consider the air would be beneficial."

"Excellent--Palermo or Taormina--send the girl there as soon as ever you
can. She seems unstrung, and may get worse; a change will certainly do
her good," replied the man whose craft and cunning were unequalled. "I
know," he added reflectively, "that Enid dislikes me--why, I can never
make out."

"Instinct, I suppose, Weirmarsh," was the old man's reply. "She suspects
that you hold me in your power, as you undoubtedly do."

"Now that is really a most silly idea of yours, Sir Hugh. Do get rid of
it. Such a thought pains me to a great degree," declared the crafty-eyed
man. "For these past years I have provided you with a good income,
enabling you to keep up your position in the world, instead of--well,
perhaps shivering on the Embankment at night and partaking of the
hospitality of the charitably disposed. Yet you upbraid me as though I
had treated you shabbily!" He spoke with an irritating air of
superiority, for he knew that this man who occupied such a high position,
who was an intimate friend and confidant of the Minister of War, and
universally respected throughout the country, was but a tool in his
unscrupulous hands.

"You ask me too much," exclaimed the grey-moustached officer in a hard,
low voice.

"The request does not emanate from me," was the doctor's reply; "I am
but the mouthpiece."

"Yes, the mouthpiece--but the eyes and ears also, Weirmarsh," replied Sir
Hugh. "You bought me, body and soul, for a wage of five thousand pounds a
year----"

"The salary of one of His Majesty's Ministers," interrupted the doctor.
"It has been paid you with regularity, together with certain extras. When
you have wished for a loan of five hundred or so, I have never refused
it."

"I quite admit that; but you've always received a _quid pro quo_," the
general snapped. "Look at the thousands upon thousands I put through for
you!"

"The whole transaction has from the beginning been a matter of business;
and, as far as I am concerned, I have fulfilled my part of the contract."

The man standing upon the hearthrug sighed. "I suppose," he said, "that I
really have no right to complain. I clutched at the straw you held out to
me, and saved myself at a cost greater than the world can ever know. I
hate myself for it. If I had then known what I know now concerning you
and your friends, I would rather have blown out my brains than have
listened to your accursed words of temptation. The whole plot is
damnable!"

"My dear fellow, I am not Mephistopheles," laughed the narrow-eyed
doctor.

"You are worse," declared the general boldly. "You bought me body and
soul, but by Heaven!" he cried, "you have not bought my family, sir!"

Weirmarsh moved uneasily in his chair.

"And so you refuse to do this service which I requested of you,
yesterday, eh?" he asked very slowly.

"I do."

A silence fell between the two men, broken only by the low ticking of the
little Sheraton clock upon the mantelshelf.

"Have you fully reflected upon what this refusal of yours may cost you,
General?" asked the doctor in a slow, hard voice, his eyes fixed upon the
other's countenance.

"It will cost me just as much as you decide it shall," was the response
of the unhappy man, who found himself enmeshed by the crafty
practitioner.

"You speak as though I were the principal, whereas I am but the agent,"
Weirmarsh protested.

"Principal or agent, my decision, Doctor, is irrevocable--I refuse to
serve your accursed ends further."

"Really," laughed the other, still entirely unruffled, "your attitude
to-day is quite amusing. You've got an attack of liver, and you should
allow me to prescribe for you."

The general made a quick gesture of impatience, but did not reply.

It was upon the tip of Weirmarsh's tongue to refer to Walter Fetherston,
but next instant he had reflected. If Sir Hugh really intended to abandon
himself to remorse and make a fool of himself, why should he stretch
forth a hand to save him?

That ugly revelations--very ugly ones--might result was quite within the
range of possibility, therefore Weirmarsh, whose craft and cunning were
amazing, intended to cover his own retreat behind the back of the very
man whom he had denounced to Enid Orlebar.

He sat in silence, his finger-tips again joined, gazing upon the man who
had swallowed that very alluring bait he had once placed before him.

He realised by Sir Hugh's manner that he regretted his recent action and
was now overcome by remorse. Remorse meant exposure, and exposure meant
prosecution--a great public prosecution, which, at all hazards, must not
be allowed.

As he sat there he was actually calmly wondering whether this fine old
officer with such a brilliant record would die in silence by his own hand
and carry his secret to the grave, or whether he would leave behind some
awkward written statement which would incriminate himself and those for
whom he acted.

Suddenly Sir Hugh turned and, looking the doctor squarely in the face as
though divining his inmost thoughts, said in a hoarse voice tremulous
with emotion: "Ah, you need not trouble yourself further, Weirmarsh. I
have a big dinner-party to-night, but by midnight I shall have paid the
penalty which you have imposed upon me--I shall have ceased to live. I
will die rather then serve you further!"

"Very well, my dear sir," replied the doctor, rising from his chair
abruptly. "Of course, every man's life is his own property--you can take
it if you think fit--but I assure you that such an event would not
concern me in the least. I have already taken the precaution to appear
with clean hands--should occasion require."



CHAPTER V

IN WHICH ENID ORLEBAR IS PUZZLED


THAT night, around the general's dinner-table in Hill Street, a dozen or
so well-known men and women were assembled.

Sir Hugh Elcombe's dinners were always smart gatherings. The table was
set with Georgian silver and decorated daintily with flowers, while
several of the women wore splendid jewels. At the head sat Lady Elcombe,
a quiet, rather fragile, calm-faced woman in black, whose countenance
bore traces of long suffering, but whose smile was very sweet.

Among the guests was Walter Fetherston, whom the general had at last
induced to visit him, and he had taken in Enid, who looked superb in a
cream décolleté gown, and who wore round her throat a necklet of
turquoise matrices, admirably suited to her half-barbaric beauty.

Fetherston had only accepted the general's invitation at her urgent
desire, for she had written to White's telling him that it was imperative
they should meet--she wished to consult him; she begged of him to forget
the interview at Monifieth and return to her.

So, against his will, he had gone there, though the house and all it
contained was hateful to him. With that terrible secret locked within his
heart--that secret which gripped his very vitals and froze his blood--he
looked upon the scene about him with horror and disgust. Indeed, it was
only by dint of self-control that he could be civil to his host.

His fellow-guests were of divers types: a couple of peers and their
womenkind, a popular actor-manager, two diplomats, and several military
men of more or less note--two of them, like the host, occupying high
positions at the War Office.

Such gatherings were of frequent occurrence at Hill Street. It was
popularly supposed that Sir Hugh, by marrying His Majesty's Minister's
widow, had married money, and was thus able to sustain the position he
did. Other military men in his position found it difficult to make both
ends meet, and many envied old Hugh Elcombe and his wealthy wife. They
were unaware that Lady Orlebar, after the settlement of her husband's
estate, had found herself with practically nothing, and that her marriage
to Sir Hugh had been more to secure a home than anything else. Both had,
alas! been equally deceived. The general, believing her to be rich, had
been sadly disillusioned; while she, on her part, was equally filled with
alarm when he revealed to her his penurious position.

The world, of course, knew nothing of this. Sir Hugh, ever since his
re-marriage, had given good dinners and had been entertained in return,
therefore everybody believed that he derived his unusually large income
from his wife.

As he sat at table he laughed and chatted merrily with his guests, for on
such occasions he was always good company. Different, indeed, was his
attitude from when, at noon, he had stood with Weirmarsh in his own den
and pronounced his own fate.

The man who held him in that strange thraldom was seated at the table. He
had been invited three days ago, and had come there, perhaps, to taunt
him with his presence in those the last few hours of his life.

Only once the two men exchanged glances, for Weirmarsh was devoting all
his attention to young Lady Stockbridge. But when Sir Hugh encountered
the doctor's gaze he saw in his eyes open defiance and triumph.

In ignorance of the keen interest which the doctor across the table felt
in him, Walter Fetherston sat chatting and laughing with Enid. Once the
doctor, to whom he had been introduced only half an hour before,
addressed a remark to him to which he replied, at the same time
reflecting within himself that Weirmarsh was quite a pleasant
acquaintance.

He was unaware of that mysterious visit of inquiry to Monifieth, of that
remarkable cipher telegram afterwards dispatched to Brussels, or even of
the extraordinary influence that man in the well-worn evening suit
possessed over both his host and the handsome girl beside him.

When the ladies had left the table the doctor set himself out over the
cigarettes to become more friendly with the writer of fiction. Then
afterwards he rose, and encountering his host, who had also risen and
crossed the room, whispered in a voice of command: "You have reconsidered
your decision! You will commit no foolish and cowardly act? I see it in
your face. I shall call to-morrow at noon, and we will discuss the matter
further."

The general did not reply for a few seconds. But Weirmarsh had already
realised that reflection had brought his victim to a calmer state of
mind.

"I will not listen to you," the old man growled.

"But I shall speak whether you listen or not. Remember, I am not a man to
be fooled by talk. I shall be here at noon and lay before you a scheme
perhaps a little more practicable than the last one." And with that he
reached for some matches, turned upon his heel, and rejoined the man
against whom he had warned Enid--the only man in the world whom he
feared.

Before they rose Weirmarsh had ingratiated himself with his enemy. So
clever was he that Fetherston, in ignorance as to whom his fellow-guest
really was, save that he was a member of the medical profession, was
actually congratulating himself that he had now met a man after his own
heart.

At last they repaired to the pretty old-rose-and-gold drawing-room
upstairs, an apartment in which great taste was displayed in decoration,
and there several of the ladies sang or recited. One of them, a vivacious
young Frenchwoman, was induced to give Barrois's romance, "J'ai vu
fleurir notre dernier lilas!"

When she had concluded Enid, with whom Walter was seated, rose and passed
into the small conservatory, which was prettily illuminated with fairy
lights. As soon as they were alone she turned to him in eager distress,
saying: "Walter, do, I beg of you, beware of that man!"

"Of what man?" he asked in quick surprise.

"Of Doctor Weirmarsh."

"Why? I don't know him. I never met him until to-night. Who is he?"

"My stepfather's friend, but my enemy--and yours," she cried quickly,
placing her hand upon her heart as though to quell its throbbing.

"Is he well known?" inquired the novelist.

"No--only in Pimlico. He lives in Vauxhall Bridge Road, and his practice
lies within a radius of half a mile of Victoria Station."

"And why is he my enemy?"

"Oh, that I cannot tell."

"Why is he your stepfather's friend?" asked Fetherston. "They certainly
seem to be on very good terms."

"Doctor Weirmarsh's cunning and ingenuity are unequalled," she declared.
"Over me, as over Sir Hugh, he has cast a kind of spell--a----"

Her companion laughed. "My dear Enid," he said, "spells are fictions of
the past; nobody believes in them nowadays. He may possess some influence
over you, but surely you are sufficiently strong-minded to resist his
power, whatever it may be?"

"No," she replied, "I am not. For that reason I fear for myself--and for
Sir Hugh. That man compelled Sir Hugh to take me to him for a
consultation, and as soon as I was in his presence I knew that his will
was mine--that I was powerless."

"I don't understand you," said Fetherston, much interested in this latest
psychic problem.

"Neither do I understand myself," she answered in bewilderment. "To me
this man's power, fascination--whatever you may term it--is a complete
mystery."

"I will investigate it," said Fetherston promptly. "What is his address?"

She told him, and he scribbled it upon his shirt-cuff. Then, looking into
her beautiful countenance, he asked: "Have you no idea of the nature of
this man's influence over Sir Hugh?"

"None whatever. It is plain, however, that he is master over my
stepfather's actions. My mother has often remarked to me upon it," was
her response. "He comes here constantly, and remains for hours closeted
with Sir Hugh in his study. So great is his influence that he orders our
servants to do his bidding."

"And he compelled Sir Hugh to take you to his consulting room, eh? Under
what pretext?"

"I was suffering from extreme nervousness, and he prescribed for me with
beneficial effect," she said. "But ever since I have felt myself beneath
his influence in a manner which I am utterly unable to describe. I do not
believe in hypnotic suggestion, or it might be put down to that."

"But what is your theory?"

"I have none, except--well, except that this man, essentially a man of
evil, possesses some occult influence which other men do not possess."

"Yours is not a weak nature, Enid," he declared. "You are not the sort of
girl to fall beneath the influence of another."

"I think not," she laughed in reply. "And yet the truth is a hard and
bitter one."

"Remain firm and determined to be mistress of your own actions," he
urged, "and in the meantime I will cultivate the doctor's acquaintance
and endeavour to investigate the cause of this remarkable influence of
his."

Why did Doctor Weirmarsh possess such power over Sir Hugh? he wondered.
Could it be that this man was actually in possession of the truth? Was he
aware of that same terrible and hideous secret of which he himself was
aware--a secret which, if exposed, would convulse the whole country, so
shameful and scandalous was it!

He saw how pale and agitated Enid was. She had in her frantic anxiety
sought his aid. Only a few days ago they had parted; yet now, in the
moment of her fear and apprehension, she had recalled him to her side to
seek his advice and protection.

She had not told him of that mysterious warning Weirmarsh had given her
concerning him, or of his accurate knowledge of their acquaintanceship.
She had purposely refrained from telling him this lest her words should
unduly prejudice him. She had warned Walter that the doctor was his
enemy--this, surely, was sufficient!

"Try and discover, if you can, the reason of the doctor's power over my
father, and why he is for ever directing his actions," urged the girl.
"For myself I care little; it is for Sir Hugh's sake that I am trying to
break the bonds, if possible."

"You have no suspicion of the reason?" he repeated, looking seriously
into her face. "You do not think that he holds some secret of your
stepfather's? Undue influence can frequently be traced to such a source."

She shook her head in the negative, a blank look in her great, dark eyes.

"No," she replied, "it is all a mystery--one which I beg of you, Walter,
to solve, and"--she faltered in a strange voice--"and to save me!"

He pressed her hand and gave her his promise. Then for a second she
raised her full red lips to his, and together they passed back into the
drawing-room, where their re-entry in company did not escape the sharp
eyes of the lonely doctor of Pimlico.



CHAPTER VI

BENEATH THE ELASTIC BAND


WALTER FETHERSTON strolled back that night to the dingy chambers he
rented in Holles Street, off Oxford Street, as a _pied-à-terre_ when in
London. He was full of apprehension, full of curiosity, as to who this
Doctor Weirmarsh could be.

He entered his darkling, shabby old third-floor room and threw himself
into the arm-chair before the fire to think. It was a room without
beauty, merely walls, repapered once every twenty years, and furniture of
the mid-Victorian era. The mantelshelf in the bedroom still bore stains
from the medicine bottles which consoled the final hours of the last
tenant, a man about whom a curious story was told.

It seems that he found a West End anchorage there, not when he had
retired, but when he was in the very prime of life. He never told anyone
that he was single; at the same time he never told anyone he was married.
He just came and rented those three rooms, and there his man brought him
his tea at ten o'clock every morning for thirty years. Then he dressed
himself and went round to the Devonshire, in St. James's Street, and
there remained till closing time, at two o'clock, every morning for
thirty years. When his club closed in the dog-days for repairs he went to
the club which received him. He never went out of town. He never slept a
night away. He never had a visitor. He never received a letter, and, so
far as his man was aware, never wrote one.

One morning he did not go through his usual programme. The doctor was
called, but during the next fortnight he died.

Within twelve hours, however, his widow and a family of grown-up children
arrived, pleasant, cheerful, inquisitive people, who took away with them
everything portable, greatly to the chagrin of the devoted old manservant
who had been the tenant's single home-tie for thirty years.

It was these selfsame, dull, monotonous chambers which Walter occupied.
The old manservant was the selfsame man who had so devotedly served the
previous tenant. They suited Walter's purpose, for he was seldom in
London, so old Hayden had the place to himself for many months every
year. Of all the inhabitants of London chambers those are the most lonely
who never wander away from London. But Walter was ever wandering,
therefore he never noticed the shabbiness of the carpet, the dinginess of
the furniture, or the dispiriting gloom of everything.

Like the previous tenant, Walter had no visitors and was mostly out all
day. At evening he would write at the dusty old bureau in which the late
tenant had kept locked his family treasures, or sit in the deep, old
horsehair-covered chair with his feet upon the fender, as he did that
night after returning from Hill Street.

The only innovation in those grimy rooms was a good-sized fireproof safe
which stood in the corner hidden by a side-table, and from this Walter
had taken a bundle of papers and carried them with him to his chair.

One by one he carefully went through them, until at last he found the
document of which he was in search.

"Yes," he exclaimed to himself after he had scanned it, "so I was not
mistaken after all! The mystery is deeper than I thought. By Jove! that
fellow, Joseph Blot, alias Weirmarsh, alias Detmold, Ponting and half a
dozen other names, no doubt, is playing a deep game--a dangerous customer
evidently!"

Then, again returning to the safe, he took out a large packet of
miscellaneous photographs of various persons secured by an elastic band.
These he went rapidly through until he held one in his hand, an unmounted
_carte-de-visite_, which he examined closely beneath the green-shaded
reading-lamp.

It was a portrait of Doctor Weirmarsh, evidently taken a few years
before, as he then wore a short pointed beard, whereas he was now shaven
except for a moustache.

"No mistake about those features," he remarked to himself with evident
satisfaction as, turning the photographic print, he took note of certain
cabalistic numbers written in the corner, scribbling them in pencil upon
his blotting-pad.

"I thought I recollected those curious eyes and that unusual breadth of
forehead," he went on, speaking to himself, and again examining the
pictured face through his gold pince-nez. "It's a long time since I
looked at this photograph--fully five years. What would the amiable
doctor think if he knew that I held the key which will unlock his past?"

He laughed lightly to himself, and, selecting a cigarette from the silver
box, lit it.

Then he sat back in his big arm-chair, his eyes fixed upon the fire,
contemplating what he realised to be a most exciting and complicated
problem.

"This means that I must soon be upon the move again," he murmured to
himself. "Enid has sought my assistance--she has asked me to save her,
and I will exert my utmost endeavour to do so. But I see it will be
difficult, very difficult. She is, no doubt, utterly unaware of the real
identity of this brisk, hard-working doctor. And perhaps, after all," he
added slowly, "it is best so--best that she remain in ignorance of this
hideous, ghastly truth!"

At that same moment, while Walter Fetherston was preoccupied by these
curious apprehensions, the original of that old _carte-de-visite_ was
seated in the lounge of the Savoy Hotel, smoking a cigar with a tall,
broad-shouldered, red-bearded man who was evidently a foreigner.

He had left Hill Street five minutes after Fetherston, and driven down to
the Savoy, where he had a rendezvous for supper with his friend. That he
was an habitué there was patent from the fact that upon entering the
restaurant, Alphonse, the _maître d'hôtel_, with his plan of the tables
pinned upon the board, greeted him with, "Ah! good evening, Docteur.
Table vingt-six, Docteur Weirmarsh."

The scene was the same as it is every evening at the Savoy; the music,
the smart dresses of the women, the flowers, the shaded lights, the
chatter and the irresponsible laughter of the London world amusing
itself after the stress of war.

You know it--why, therefore, should I describe it? Providing you possess
an evening suit or a low-necked dress, you can always rub shoulders with
the _monde_ and the _demi-monde_ of London at a cost of a few shillings a
head.

The two men had supped and were chatting in French over their coffee and
"triplesec." Gustav, Weirmarsh called his friend, and from his remarks it
was apparent that he was a stranger to London. He was dressed with
elegance. Upon the corner of his white lawn handkerchief a count's
coronet was embroidered, and upon his cigar-case also was a coronet and a
cipher. In his dress-shirt he wore a fine diamond, while upon the little
finger of his left hand glittered a similar stone of great lustre.

The lights were half extinguished, and a porter's voice cried, "Time's
up, ladies and gentlemen!" Those who were not habitués rose and commenced
to file out, but the men and women who came to the restaurant each night
sat undisturbed till the lights went up again and another ten minutes
elapsed before the final request to leave was made.

The pair, seated away in a corner, had been chatting in an undertone when
they were compelled to rise. Thereupon the doctor insisted that his
friend, whose name was Gustav Heureux, should accompany him home. So
twenty minutes later they alighted from a taxi-cab in the Vauxhall Bridge
Road, and entered the shabby little room wherein Weirmarsh schemed and
plotted.

The doctor produced from a cupboard some cognac and soda and a couple of
glasses, and when they had lit cigars they sat down to resume their chat.

Alone there, the doctor spoke in English.

"You see," he explained, "it is a matter of the greatest importance--if
we make this coup we can easily make a hundred thousand pounds within a
fortnight. The general at first refused and became a trifle--well, just a
trifle resentful, even vindictive; but by showing a bold front I've
brought him round. To-morrow I shall clinch the matter. That is my
intention."

"It will be a brilliant snap, if you can actually accomplish it," was the
red-bearded man's enthusiastic reply. He now spoke in English, but with a
strong American accent. "I made an attempt two years ago, but failed, and
narrowly escaped imprisonment."

"A dozen attempts have already been made, but all in vain," replied the
doctor, drawing hard at his cigar. "Therefore, I'm all the more keen to
secure success."

"You certainly have been very successful over here, Doctor," observed the
foreigner, whose English had been acquired in America. "We have heard of
you in New York, where you are upheld to us as a model. Jensen once told
me that your methods were so ingenious as to be unassailable."

"Merely because I am well supplied with funds," answered the other with
modesty. "Here, in England, as elsewhere, any man or woman can be
bought--if you pay their price. There is only one section of the
wonderful British public who cannot be purchased--the men and women who
are in love with each other. Whenever I come up against Cupid, experience
has taught me to retire deferentially, and wait until the love-fever has
abated. It often turns to jealousy or hatred, and then the victims fall
as easily as off a log. A jealous woman will betray any secret, even
though it may hurry her lover to his grave. To me, my dear Gustav, this
fevered world of London is all very amusing."

"And your profession as doctor must serve as a most excellent mask. Who
would suspect you--a lonely bachelor in such quarters as these?"
exclaimed his visitor.

"No one does suspect me," laughed the doctor with assurance. "Safety lies
in pursuing my increasing practice, and devoting all my spare time
to--well, to my real profession." He flicked the ash off his cigar as he
spoke.

"Your friend, Elcombe, will have to be very careful. The peril is
considerable in that quarter."

"I know that full well. But if he failed it would be he who would
suffer--not I. As usual, I do not appear in the affair at all."

"That is just where you are so intensely clever and ingenious," declared
Heureux. "In New York they speak of you as a perfect marvel of foresight
and clever evasion."

"It is simply a matter of exercising one's wits," Weirmarsh laughed
lightly. "I always complete my plans with great care before embarking
upon them, and I make provision for every contretemps possible. It is the
only way, if one desires success."

"And you have had success," remarked his companion. "Marked success in
everything you have attempted. In New York we have not been nearly so
fortunate. Those three articles in the _New York Sun_ put the public on
their guard, so that we dare not attempt any really bold move for fear of
detection."

"You have worked a little too openly, I think," was Weirmarsh's reply.
"But now that you have been sent to assist me, you will probably see that
my methods differ somewhat from those of John Willoughby. Remember, he
has just the same amount of money placed at his disposal as I have."

"And he is not nearly so successful," Heureux replied. "Perhaps it is
because Americans are not so easily befooled as the English."

"And yet America is, _par excellence_, the country of bluff, of quackery
in patent medicines, and of the booming of unworthy persons," the doctor
laughed.

"It is fortunate, Doctor, that the public are in ignorance of the real
nature of our work, isn't it, eh? Otherwise, you and I might experience
rather rough handling if this house were mobbed."

Weirmarsh smiled grimly. "My dear Gustav," he laughed, "the British
public, though of late they've browsed upon the hysterics of the popular
Press, are already asleep again. It is not for us to arouse them. We
profit by their heavy slumber, and this will be a rude awakening--a
shock, depend upon it."

"We were speaking of Sir Hugh Elcombe," remarked the other. "He has been
of use to us, eh?"

"Of considerable use, but his usefulness is all but ended," replied the
doctor. "He will go to France before long, if he does not act as I
direct."

"Into a veritable hornet's nest!" exclaimed the red-bearded man. He
recognised a strange expression upon the doctor's face, and added, "Ah, I
see. This move is intentional, eh? He has served our purpose, and you now
deem it wise that--er--disaster should befall him across the Channel,
eh?"

The doctor smiled in the affirmative.

"And the girl you spoke of, Enid Orlebar?"

"The girl will share the same fate as her stepfather," was Weirmarsh's
hard response. "We cannot risk betrayal."

"Then she knows something?"

"She may or she may not. In any case, however, she constitutes a danger,
a grave danger, that must, at all costs, be removed." And looking into
the other's face, he added, "You understand me?"

"Perfectly."

Just before two o'clock Gustav Heureux left the frowsy house in Vauxhall
Bridge Road and walked through the silent street into Victoria Street.

He was unaware, however, that on the opposite side of the road an
ill-dressed man had for a full hour been lurking in a doorway, or that
when he came down the doctor's steps, the mysterious midnight watcher
strolled noiselessly after him.



CHAPTER VII

CONCERNING THE VELVET HAND


ON the rising ground half-way between Wimborne and Poole, in Dorsetshire,
up a narrow by-road which leads to the beautiful woods, lies the tiny
hamlet of Idsworth, a secluded little place of about forty inhabitants,
extremely rural and extremely picturesque.

Standing alone half-way up the hill, and surrounded by trees, was an
old-world thatched cottage, half-timbered, with high, red-brick chimneys,
quaint gables and tiny dormer windows--a delightful old Elizabethan house
with a comfortable, homely look. Behind it a well-kept flower garden,
with a tree-fringed meadow beyond, while the well-rolled gravelled walks,
the rustic fencing, and the pretty curtains at the casements betrayed the
fact that the rustic homestead was not the residence of a villager.

As a matter of fact it belonged to a Mr. John Maltwood, a bachelor, whom
Idsworth believed to be in business in London, and who came there at
intervals for fresh air and rest. His visits were not very frequent.
Sometimes he would be absent for many months, and at others he would
remain there for weeks at a time, with a cheery word always for the
labourers on their way home from work, and always with his hand in his
pocket in the cause of charity.

John Maltwood, the quiet, youngish-looking man in the gold pince-nez, was
popular everywhere over the country-side. He did not court the society of
the local parsons and their wives, nor did he return any of the calls
made upon him. His excuse was that he was at Idsworth for rest, and not
for social duties. This very independence of his endeared him to the
villagers, who always spoke of him as "one of the right sort."

At noon on the day following the dinner at Hill Street, Walter
Fetherston--known at Idsworth as Mr. Maltwood--alighted from the station
fly, and was met at the cottage gate by the smiling, pleasant-faced woman
in a clean apron who acted as caretaker.

He divested himself of his overcoat in the tiny entrance-hall, passed
into a small room, with the great open hearth, where in days long ago the
bacon was smoked, and along a passage into the long, old-world
dining-room, with its low ceiling with great dark beams, its
solemn-ticking, brass-faced grandfather clock, and its profusion of old
blue china.

There he gave some orders to Mrs. Deacon, obtained a cigarette, and
passed back along the passage to a small, cosy, panelled room at the end
of the house--the room wherein he wrote those mystery stories which held
the world enthralled.

It was a pretty, restful place, with a moss-green carpet, green-covered
chairs, several cases filled to overflowing with books, and a great
writing-table set in the window. On the mantelshelf were many autographed
portraits of Continental celebrities, while on the walls were one or two
little gems of antique art which he had picked up on his erratic
wanderings. Over the writing-table was a barometer and a storm-glass,
while to the left a cosy corner extended round to the fireplace.

He lit his cigarette, then walking across to a small square oaken door
let into the wall beside the fireplace, he opened it with a key. This had
been an oven before the transformation of three cottages into a week-end
residence, and on opening it there was displayed the dark-green door of a
safe. This he quickly opened with another key, and after slight search
took out a small ledger covered with dark-red leather.

Then glancing at some numerals upon a piece of paper he took from his
vest pocket, he turned them up in the index, and with another volume open
upon his blotting-pad, he settled himself to read the record written
there in a small, round hand. The numbers were those upon the back of the
old _carte-de-visite_ which had interested him so keenly, and the
statement he was reading was, from the expression upon his countenance,
an amazing one.

From time to time he scribbled memoranda upon the scrap of paper, now and
then pausing as though to recall the past. Then, when he had finished, he
laughed softly to himself, and, closing the book, replaced it in the safe
and shut the oaken door. By the inspection of that secret entry he had
learnt much regarding that man who posed as a doctor in Pimlico.

He sat back in his writing-chair and puffed thoughtfully at his
cigarette. Then he turned his attention to a pile of letters addressed to
him as "Mr. Maltwood," and made some scribbled replies until Mrs. Deacon
entered to announce that his luncheon was ready.

When he went back to the quaint, old-fashioned dining-room and seated
himself, he said: "I'm going back by the five-eighteen, and I dare say I
shan't return for quite a month or perhaps six weeks. Here's a cheque
for ten pounds to pay these little bills." And he commenced his solitary
meal.

"You haven't been here much this summer, sir," remarked the good woman.
"In Idsworth they think you've quite deserted us--Mr. Barnes was only
saying so last week. They're all so glad to see you down here, sir."

"That's very good of them, Mrs. Deacon," he laughed. "I, too, only wish I
could spend more time here. I love the country, and I'm never so happy as
when wandering in Idsworth woods."

And then he asked her to tell him the village gossip while she waited at
his table.

After luncheon he put on a rough suit and, taking his stout holly stick,
went for a ramble through the great woods he loved so well, where the
trees were tinted by autumn and the pheasants were strong upon the wing.

He found Findlay, one of the keepers, and walked with him for an hour as
far as the Roman camp, where alone he sat down upon a felled tree and,
with his gaze fixed across the distant hills towards the sea, pondered
deeply. He loved his modest country cottage, and he loved those quiet,
homely Dorsetshire folk around him. Yet such a wanderer was he that only
a few months each year--the months he wrote those wonderful romances of
his--could he spend in that old-fashioned cottage which he had rendered
the very acme of cosiness and comfort.

At half-past four the rickety station fly called for him, and later he
left by the express which took him to Waterloo and his club in time for
dinner.

And so once again he changed his identity from John Maltwood, busy man of
business, to Walter Fetherston, novelist and traveller.

The seriousness of what was in progress was now plain to him. He had long
been filled with strong suspicions, and these suspicions had been
confirmed both by Enid's statements and his own observations; therefore
he was already alert and watchful.

At ten o'clock he went to his gloomy chambers for an hour, and then
strolled forth to the Vauxhall Bridge Road, and remained vigilant outside
the doctor's house until nearly two.

He noted those who came and went--two men who called before midnight, and
were evidently foreigners. They came separately, remained about half an
hour, and then Weirmarsh himself let them out, shaking hands with them
effusively.

Suddenly a taxicab drove up, and from it Sir Hugh, in black overcoat and
opera hat, stepped out and was at once admitted, the taxi driving off.
Walter, as he paced up and down the pavement outside, would have given
much to know what was transpiring within.

Had he been able to glance inside that shabby little back room he would
have witnessed a strange scene--Sir Hugh, the gallant old soldier,
crushed and humiliated by the man who practised medicine, and who called
himself Weirmarsh.

"I had only just come in from the theatre when you telephoned me," Sir
Hugh said sharply on entering. "I am sorry I could make no appointment
to-day, but I was at the War Office all the morning, lunched at the
Carlton, and was afterwards quite full up."

"There was no immediate hurry, Sir Hugh," responded the doctor with a
pleasant smile. "I quite understand that your many social engagements
prevented you from seeing me. I should have been round at noon, only I
was called out to an urgent case. Therefore no apology is needed--by
either of us." Then, after a pause, he looked sharply at the man seated
before him and asked: "I presume you have reconsidered your decision,
General, and will carry out my request?"

"No, I have not decided to do that," was the old fellow's firm answer.
"It's too dangerous an exploit--far too dangerous. Besides, it means
ruin."

"My dear sir," remarked the doctor, "you are viewing the matter in quite
a wrong light. There will be no suspicion providing you exercise due
caution."

"And what would be the use of that, pray, when my secret will not be mine
alone? It is already known to half a dozen other persons--your
friends--any of whom might give me away."

"It will not be known until afterwards--when you are safe. Therefore,
there will be absolutely no risk," the doctor assured him.

The other, however, was no fool, and was still unconvinced. He knew well
that to carry out the request made by Weirmarsh involved considerable
risk.

The doctor spoke quietly, but very firmly. In his demands he was always
inexorable. He had already hinted at the disaster which might fall upon
Sir Hugh if he refused to obey. Weirmarsh was, the general knew from
bitter experience, not a man to be trifled with.

Completely and irrevocably he was in this man's hands. During the past
twenty-four hours the grave old fellow, who had faced death a hundred
times, had passed through a crisis of agony and despair. He hated
himself, and would even have welcomed death, would have courted it at
his own hands, had not these jeers of the doctor's rung in his ears. And,
after all, he had decided that suicide was only a coward's death. The man
who takes his own life to avoid exposure is always despised by his
friends.

So he had lived, and had come down there in response to the doctor's
request over the telephone, resolved to face the music, if for the last
time.

He sat in the shabby old arm-chair and firmly refused to carry out the
doctor's suggestion. But Weirmarsh, with his innate cunning, presented to
him a picture of exposure and degradation which held him horrified.

"I should have thought, Sir Hugh, that in face of what must inevitably
result you would not risk exposure," he said. "Of course, it lies with
you entirely," he added with an unconcerned air.

"I'm thinking of my family," the old officer said slowly.

"Of the disgrace if the truth were known, eh?"

"No; of the suspicion, nay, ruin and imprisonment, that would fall upon
another person," replied Sir Hugh.

"No suspicion can be aroused if you are careful, I repeat," exclaimed
Weirmarsh impatiently. "Not a breath of suspicion has ever fallen upon
you up to the present, has it? No, because you have exercised foresight
and have followed to the letter the plans I made. I ask you, when you
have followed my advice have you ever gone wrong--have you ever taken one
false step?"

"Never--since the first," replied the old soldier in a hard, bitter tone.

"Then I urge you to continue to follow the advice I give you, namely, to
agree to the terms."

"And who will be aware of the matter?"

"Only myself," was Weirmarsh's reply. "And I think that you may trust a
secret with me?"

The old man made no reply, and the crafty doctor wondered whether by
silence he very reluctantly gave his consent.



CHAPTER VIII

PAUL LE PONTOIS


THERE is in the far north-west of France a broad, white highway which
runs from Châlons, crosses the green Meuse valley, mounts the steep,
high, tree-fringed lands of the Côtes Lorraines, and goes almost straight
as an arrow across what was, before the war, the German frontier at
Mars-la-Tour into quaint old Metz, that town with ancient streets,
musical chimes, and sad monument to Frenchmen who fell in the disastrous
never-to-be-forgotten war of '70.

This road has ever been one of the most strongly guarded highways in the
world, for, between the Moselle, at Metz, and the Meuse, the country is a
flat plain smiling under cultivation, with vines and cornfields
everywhere, and comfortable little homesteads of the peasantry. This was
once the great battlefield whereon Gravelotte was fought long ago, and
where the Prussians swept back the French like chaff before the wind, and
where France, later on, defeated the Crown Prince's army. The peasants,
in ploughing, daily turn up a rusty bayonet, a rotting gun-stock, a
skull, a thigh-bone, or some other hideous relic of those black days;
while the old men in their blouses sit of nights smoking and telling
thrilling stories of the ferocity of that helmeted enemy from yonder
across the winding Moselle. In recent days it has been again devastated
by the great world war, as its gaunt ruins mutely tell.

That road, with its long line of poplars, after crossing the ante-war
French border, runs straight for twenty kilomètres towards the abrupt
range of high hills which form the natural frontier of France, and then,
at Haudiomont, enters a narrow pass, over twelve kilomètres long, before
it reaches the broad valley of the Meuse. This pass was, before 1914, one
of the four principal gateways into France from Germany. The others are
all within a short distance, fifteen kilomètres or so--at Commercy, which
is an important sous-prefecture, at Apremont, and at Eix. All have ever
been strongly guarded, but that at Haudiomont was most impregnable of
them all.

Before 1914 great forts in which were mounted the most modern and the
most destructive artillery ever devised by man, commanded the whole
country far beyond the Moselle into Germany. Every hill-top bristled with
them, smaller batteries were in every coign of vantage, while those
narrow mountain passes could also be closed at any moment by being blown
up when the signal was given against the Hun invaders.

On the German side were many fortresses, but none was so strong as these,
for the efforts of the French Ministry of War had, ever since the fall of
Napoleon III., been directed towards rendering the Côtes Lorraines
impassable.

As one stands upon the road outside the tiny hamlet of Harville--a quaint
but half-destroyed little place consisting of one long street of ruined
whitewashed houses--and looks towards the hills eastward, low concrete
walls can be seen, half hidden, but speaking mutely of the withering
storm of shell that had, in 1914, burst from them and swept the land.

Much can be seen of that chain of damaged fortresses, and the details of
most of them are now known. Of those great ugly fortifications at
Moulainville--the Belrupt Fort, which overlooks the Meuse; the
Daumaumont, commanding the road from Conflans to Azannes; the Paroches,
which stands directly over the highway from the Moselle at Moussin--we
have heard valiant stories, how the brave French defended them against
the armies of the Crown Prince.

It was not upon these, however, that the French Army relied when, in
August, 1914, the clash of war resounded along that pleasant fertile
valley, where the sun seems ever to shine and the crops never fail.
Hidden away from the sight of passers-by upon the roads, protected from
sight by lines of sentries night and day, and unapproachable, save by
those immediately connected with them, were the secret defences, huge
forts with long-range ordnance, which rose, fired, and disappeared again,
offering no mark for the enemy. Constructed in strictest secrecy, there
were a dozen of such fortresses, the true details of which the Huns
vainly endeavoured to learn while they were war-plotting. Many a spy of
the Kaiser had tried to pry there and had been arrested and sentenced to
a long term of imprisonment.

Those defences, placed at intervals along the chain of hills right from
Apremont away to Bezonvaux, had been the greatest secret which France
possessed.

Within three kilomètres of the mouth of the pass at Haudiomont, at a
short distance from the road and at the edge of a wood, stood the ancient
Château de Lérouville, a small picturesque place of the days of Louis
XIV., with pretty lawns and old-world gardens--a château only in the
sense of being a country house and the residence of Paul Le Pontois,
once a captain in the French Army, but now retired.

Shut off from the road by a high old wall, with great iron gates, it was
approached by a wide carriage-drive through a well-kept flower-garden to
a long _terrasse_ which ran the whole length of the house, and whereon,
in summer, it was the habit of the family to take their meals.

Upon this veranda, one morning about ten days after the dinner party at
Hill Street, Sir Hugh, in a suit of light grey tweed, was standing
chatting with his son-in-law, a tall, brown-bearded, soldierly-looking
man.

The autumn sun shone brightly over the rich vinelands, beyond which
stretched what was once the German Empire.

Madame Le Pontois, a slim, dark-eyed, good-looking woman of thirty, was
still at table in the _salle-à-manger_, finishing her breakfast in the
English style with little Ninette, a pretty blue-eyed child of nine,
whose hair was tied on the top with wide white ribbon, and who spoke
English quite well.

Her husband and her father had gone out upon the _terrasse_ to have their
cigarettes prior to their walk up the steep hillside to the fortress.

Life in that rural district possessed few amusements outside the military
circle, though Paul Le Pontois was a civilian and lived upon the product
of the wine-lands of his estate. There were tennis parties, "fif'
o'clocks," croquet and bridge-playing in the various military houses
around, but beyond that--nothing. They were too far from a big town ever
to go there for recreation. Metz they seldom went to, and with Paris far
off, Madame Le Pontois was quite content, just as she had been when Paul
had been stationed in stifling Constantine, away in the interior of
Algeria.

But she never complained. Devoted to her husband and to her laughing,
bright-eyed child, she loved the open-air life of the country, and with
such a commodious and picturesque house, one of the best in the district,
she thoroughly enjoyed every hour of her life. Paul possessed a private
income of fifty thousand francs, or nearly two thousand pounds a year,
therefore he was better off than the average run of post-war men.

He was a handsome, distinguished-looking man. As he lolled against the
railing of the _terrasse_, gay with ivy-leaf geraniums, lazily smoking
his cigarette and laughing lightly with his father-in-law, he presented a
typical picture of the debonair Frenchman of the boulevards--elegance
combined with soldierly smartness.

He had seen service in Tonquin, in Algeria, on the French Congo and in
the Argonne, and now his old company garrisoned Haudiomont, one of those
forts of enormous strength, which commanded the gate of France, and had
never been taken by the Crown Prince's army.

"No," he was laughing, speaking in good English, "you in England, my dear
beaupère, do not yet realise the dangers of the future. Happily for you,
perhaps, because you have the barrier of the sea. Your writers used to
speak of your 'tight little island.' But I do not see much of that in
London journals now. Airships and aeroplanes have altered all that."

"But you in France are always on the alert?"

"Certainly. We have our new guns--terrible weapons they are--at St.
Mihiel and at Mouilly, and also in other forts in what was once German
territory," was Paul's reply. "The Huns--who, after peace, are preparing
for another war, have a Krupp gun for the same purpose, but at its trial
a few weeks ago at Pferzheim it was an utter failure. A certain
lieutenant was present at the trial, disguised as a German peasant. He
saw it all, returned here, and made an exhaustive report to Paris."

"You do not believe in this peace, and in the sincerity of the enemy,
eh?" asked Sir Hugh, with his hands thrust deep into his trousers
pockets.

"Certainly not," was Paul's prompt reply. "I am no longer in the army,
but it seems to me that to repair the damage done by the Kaiser's freak
performances in the international arena, quite a number of national
committees must be constituted under the auspices of the German
Government. There are the Anglo-German, the Austro-German, the
American-German and the Canadian-German committees, all to be formed in
their respective countries for the promotion of friendship and better
relations. But I tell you, Sir Hugh, that we in France know well that the
imposing names at the head of these committees are but too often on the
secret pay-rolls of the Wilhelmstrasse, and the honesty and sincerity of
the finely-worded manifestations of Hun friendship and goodwill appearing
above their signatures are generally nothing but mere blinds intended to
hoodwink statesmen and public opinion. Germany has, just as she had
before the war, her paid friends everywhere," he added, looking the
general full in the face. "In all classes of society are to be found the
secret agents of the Fatherland--men who are base traitors to their own
monarch and to their own land."

"Let us go in. They are waiting for us. We are not interested in
espionage, either of us, are we?"

"No," laughed Paul. "When I was in the army we heard a lot of this, but
all that is of the past--thanks to Heaven. There are other crimes in the
world just as bad, alas! as that of treachery to one's country."



CHAPTER IX

THE LITTLE OLD FRENCHWOMAN


ALTHOUGH Sir Hugh had on frequent occasions been the guest of his
son-in-law at the pretty Château de Lérouville, he had never expressed a
wish, until the previous evening, to enter the Fortress of Haudiomont.

As a military man he knew well how zealously the secrets of all
fortresses are guarded.

When, on the previous evening, Le Pontois had declared that it would be
an easy matter for him to be granted a view of that great stronghold
hidden away among the hill-tops, he had remarked: "Of course, my dear
Paul, I would not for a moment dream of putting you into any awkward
position. Remember, I am an alien here, and a soldier also! I haven't any
desire to see the place."

"Oh, there is no question of that so far as you are concerned, Sir Hugh,"
Paul had declared with a light laugh. "The Commandant, who, of course,
knows you, asked me a month ago to bring you up next time you visited us.
He wished to make your acquaintance. In view of the recent war our
people are nowadays no longer afraid of England, you know!"

So the visit had been arranged, and Sir Hugh was to take his _déjeuner_
up at the fort.

That day Blanche, with Enid, who had accompanied her stepfather, drove
the runabout car up the valley to the little station at Dieue-sur-Meuse,
and took train thence to Commercy, where Blanche wished to do some
shopping.

So, when the two men had left to ascend the steep hillside, where the
great fortress lay concealed, Blanche, who had by long residence in
France become almost a Frenchwoman, kissed little Ninette _au revoir_,
mounted into the car, and, taking the wheel, drove Enid and Jean, the
servant, who, as a soldier, had served Paul during the war, away along
the winding valley.

As they went along they passed a battalion of the 113th Regiment of the
Line, heavy with their knapsacks, their red trousers dusty, returning
from the long morning march, and singing as they went that very old
regimental ditty which every soldier of France knows so well:

    "_La Noire est fille du cannon
     Qui se fout du qu'en dira-t-on.
     Nous nous foutons de ses vertus,
     Puisqu'elle a les tétons pointus.
          Voilà pourquoi nous la chantons:
          Vive la Noire et ses tétons!_"

And as they passed the ladies the officer saluted. They were, Blanche
explained, on their way back to the great camp at Jarny.

Bugles were sounding among the hills, while ever and anon came the low
boom of distant artillery at practice away in the direction of
Vigneulles-les-Hattonchatel, the headquarters of the sub-division of that
military region.

It was Enid's first visit, and the activity about her surprised her.
Besides, the officers were extremely good-looking.

Presently they approached a battery of artillery on the march, with their
rumbling guns and grey ammunition wagons, raising a cloud of dust as they
advanced.

Blanche pulled the car up at the side of the road to allow them to pass,
and as she did so a tall, smartly-groomed major rode up to her, and,
saluting, exclaimed in French, "Bon jour, Madame! I intended to call upon
you this morning. My wife has heard that you have the general, your
father, visiting you, and we wanted to know if you would all come and
take dinner with us to-morrow night?"

"I'm sure we'd be most delighted," replied Paul's wife, at the same time
introducing Enid to Major Delagrange.

"My father has gone up to the fort with my husband," Blanche added,
bending over from the car.

"Ah, then I shall meet them at noon," replied the smart officer, backing
his bay horse. "And you ladies are going out for a run, eh? Beautiful
morning! We've been out manoeuvring since six!"

Blanche explained that they were on a shopping expedition to Commercy,
and then, saluting, Delagrange set spurs into his horse and galloped away
after the retreating battery.

"That man's wife is one of my best friends. She speaks English very well,
and is quite a good sort. Delagrange and Paul were in Tonquin together
and are great friends."

"I suppose you are never very dull here, with so much always going on?"
Enid remarked. "Why anyone would believe that a war was actually in
progress!"

"This post of Eastern France never sleeps, my dear," was Madame's reply.
"While you in England remain secure in your island, we here never know
when trouble may again arise. Therefore, we are always preparing--and at
the same time always prepared."

"It must be most exciting," declared the girl, "to live in such
uncertainty. Is the danger so very real, then?" she asked. "Father
generally pooh-poohs the notion of there being any further trouble with
Germany."

"I know," was Blanche's answer. "He has been sceptical hitherto. He is
always suspicious of the Boche!"

They had driven up to the little wayside station, and, giving the car
over to Jean with instructions to meet the five-forty train, they entered
a first-class compartment.

Between Dieue and Commercy the railway follows the course of the Meuse
the whole way, winding up a narrow, fertile valley, the hills of which on
the right, which once were swept by the enemy's shells and completely
devastated, were all strongly fortified with great guns commanding the
plain that lies between the Meuse and the Moselle.

They were passing through one of the most interesting districts in all
France--that quiet, fertile valley where stood peaceful, prosperous
homesteads, and where the sheep were once more calmly grazing--the valley
which for four years was so strongly contested, and where every village
had been more or less destroyed.

At the headquarters of the Sixth Army Corps of France much was known,
much that was still alarming. It was that knowledge which urged on those
ever active military preparations, for placing that district of France
that had been ravaged by the Hun in the Great War in a state of complete
fortification as a second line of defence should trouble again arise.

Thoughts such as these arose in Enid's mind as she sat in silence looking
forth upon the panorama of green hills and winding stream as they slowly
approached the quaint town of Commercy.

Arrived there, the pair lunched at the old-fashioned Hôtel de Paris,
under the shadow of the great château, once the residence of the Dukes de
Lorraine, and much damaged in the war, but nowadays a hive of activity as
an infantry barracks. And afterwards they went forth to do their shopping
in the busy little Rue de la République, not forgetting to buy a box of
"madeleines." As shortbread is the specialty of Edinburgh, as
butterscotch is that of Doncaster, "maids-of-honour" that of Richmond,
and strawberry jam that of Bar-le-Duc, so are "madeleines" the special
cakes of Commercy.

The town was full of officers and soldiers. In every café officers were
smoking cigarettes and gossiping after their _déjeuner_; while ever and
anon bugles sounded, and there was the clang and clatter of military
movement.

As the two ladies approached the big bronze statue of Dom Calmet, the
historian, they passed a small café. Suddenly a man idling within over a
newspaper sprang to his feet in surprise, and next second drew back as if
in fear of observation.

It was Walter Fetherston. He had come up from Nancy that morning, and had
since occupied the time in strolling about seeing the sights of the
little place.

His surprise at seeing Enid was very great. He knew that she was staying
in the vicinity, but had never expected to see her so quickly.

The lady who accompanied her he guessed to be her stepsister; indeed, he
had seen a photograph of her at Hill Street. Had Enid been alone, he
would have rushed forth to greet her; but he had no desire at the moment
that his presence should be known to Madame Le Pontois. He was there to
watch, and to meet Enid--but alone.

So after a few moments he cautiously went forth from the café, and
followed the two ladies at a respectful distance, until he saw them
complete their purchases and afterwards enter the station to return home.

On his return to the hotel he made many inquiries of monsieur the
proprietor concerning the distance to Haudiomont, and learned a good deal
about the military works there which was of the greatest interest. The
hotel-keeper, a stout Alsatian, was a talkative person, and told Walter
nearly all he wished to know.

Since leaving Charing Cross five days before he had been ever active. On
his arrival in Paris he had gone to the apartment of Colonel Maynard, the
British military attaché, and spent the evening with him. Then, at one
o'clock next morning, he had hurriedly taken his bag and left for Dijon,
where at noon he had been met in the Café de la Rotonde by a little
wizen-faced old Frenchwoman in seedy black, who had travelled for two
days and nights in order to meet him.

Together they had walked out on that unfrequented road beyond the Place
Darcy, chatting confidentially as they went, the old lady speaking
emphatically and with many gesticulations as they walked.

Truth to tell, this insignificant-looking person was a woman of many
secrets. She was a "friend" of the Sûreté Générale in Paris. She lived,
and lived well, in a pretty apartment in Paris upon the handsome salary
which she received regularly each quarter. But she was seldom at home.
Like Walter, her days were spent travelling hither and thither across
Europe.

It would surprise the public if it were aware of the truth--the truth of
how, in every country in Europe, there are secret female agents of
police who (for a monetary consideration, of course) keep watch in great
centres where the presence of a man would be suspected.

This secret police service is distinctly apart from the detective
service. The female police agent in all countries works independently, at
the orders of the Director of Criminal Investigation, and is known to him
and his immediate staff.

Whatever information that wrinkled-faced old Frenchwoman in shabby black
had imparted to Fetherston it was of an entirely confidential character.
It, however, caused him to leave her about three o'clock, hurry to the
Gare Porte-Neuve, and, after hastily swallowing a liqueur of brandy in
the buffet, depart for Langres.

Thence he had travelled to Nancy, where he had taken up quarters at the
Grand Hotel in the Place Stanislas, and had there remained for two days
in order to rest.

He would not have idled those autumn days away so lazily, even though he
so urgently required rest after that rapid travelling, had he but known
that the person who occupied the next room to his--that middle-aged
commercial traveller--an entirely inoffensive person who possessed a red
beard, and who had given the name of Jules Dequanter, and his nationality
as Belgian, native of Liège--was none other than Gustav Heureux, the man
who had been recalled from New York by the evasive doctor of Pimlico.

And further, Fetherston, notwithstanding his acuteness in observation,
was in blissful ignorance, as he strolled back from the station at
Commercy, up the old-world street, that a short distance behind him,
carefully watching all his movements, was the man Joseph Blot
himself--the man known in dingy Pimlico as Dr. Weirmarsh.



CHAPTER X

IF ANYONE KNEW


SIR HUGH ELCOMBE spent a most interesting and instructive day within the
Fortress of Haudiomont. He really did not want to go. The visit bored
him. The world was at peace, and there was no incentive to espionage as
there had been in pre-war days.

General Henri Molon, the commandant, greeted him cordially and himself
showed him over a portion of the post-war defences which were kept such a
strict secret from everyone. The general did not, however, show his
distinguished guest everything. Such things as the new anti-aircraft gun,
the exact disposition of the huge mines placed in the valley between
there and Rozellier, so that at a given signal both road and railway
tracks could be destroyed, he did not point out. There were other matters
to which the smart, grey-haired, old French general deemed it unwise to
refer, even though his visitor might be a high official of a friendly
Power.

Sir Hugh noticed all this and smiled inwardly. He wandered about the
bomb-proof case-mates hewn out of the solid rock, caring nothing for the
number and calibre of the guns, their armoured protection, or the
chart-like diagrams upon the walls, ranges and the like.

"What a glorious evening!" Paul was saying as, at sunset, they set their
faces towards the valley beyond which lay shattered Germany. That
peaceful land, the theatre of the recent war, lay bathed in the soft rose
of the autumn afterglow, while the bright clearness of the sky,
pale-green and gold, foretold a frost.

"Yes, splendid!" responded his father-in-law mechanically; but he was
thinking of something far more serious than the beauties of the western
sky. He was thinking of the grip in which he was held by the doctor of
Pimlico. At any moment, if he cared to collapse, he could make ten
thousand pounds in a single day. The career of many a man has been
blasted for ever by the utterance of cruel untruths or the repetition of
vague suspicions. Was his son-in-law, Le Pontois, in jeopardy? He could
not think that he was. How could the truth come out? Sir Hugh asked
himself. It never had before--though his friend had made a million
sterling, and there was no reason whatever why it should come out now. He
had tested Weirmarsh thoroughly, and knew him to be a man to be trusted.

As he strolled on at his son-in-law's side, chatting to him, he was full
of anxiety as to the future. He had left England, it was true. He had
defied the doctor. But the latter had been inexorable. If he continued in
his defiance, then ruin must inevitably come to him.

Blanche and Enid had already returned, and at dusk all four sat down to
dinner together with little Ninette, for whom "Aunt Enid" had brought a
new doll which had given the child the greatest delight.

The meal ended, the bridge-table was set in the pretty salon adjoining,
and several games were played until Sir Hugh, pleading fatigue, at last
ascended to his room.

Within, he locked the door and cast himself into a chair before the big
log fire to think.

That day had indeed been a strenuous one--strenuous for any man. So
occupied had been his brain that he scarcely recollected any
conversations with those smart debonair officers to whom Paul had
introduced him.

As he sat there he closed his eyes, and before him arose visions of
interviews in dingy offices in London, one of them behind Soho Square.

For a full hour he sat there immovable as a statue, reflecting, ever
recalling the details of those events.

Suddenly he sprang to his feet with clenched hands.

"My God!" he cried, his teeth set and countenance pale. "My God! If
anybody ever knew the truth!"

He crossed to the window, drew aside the blind, and looked out upon the
moonlit plains.

Below, his daughter was still playing the piano and singing an old
English ballad.

"She's happy, ah! my dear Blanche!" the old man murmured between his
teeth. "But if suspicion falls upon me? Ah! if it does; then it means
ruin to them both--ruin because of a dastardly action of mine!"

He returned unsteadily to his chair, and sat staring straight into the
embers, his hands to his hot, fevered brow. More than once he
sighed--sighed heavily, as a man when fettered and compelled to act
against his better nature.

Again he heard his daughter's voice below, now singing a gay little
French chanson, a song of the café chantant and of the Paris boulevards.

In a flash there recurred to him every incident of those dramatic
interviews with the Mephistophelean doctor. He would at that moment have
given his very soul to be free of that calm, clever, insinuating man who,
while providing him with a handsome, even unlimited income, yet at the
same time held him irrevocably in the hollow of his hand.

He, a brilliant British soldier with a magnificent record, honoured by
his sovereign, was, after all, but a tool of that obscure doctor, the man
who had come into his life to rescue him from bankruptcy and disgrace.

When he reflected he bit his lip in despair. Yet there was no way
out--_none_! Weirmarsh had really been most generous. The cosy house in
Hill Street, the smart little entertainments which his wife gave, the bit
of shooting he rented up in the Highlands, were all paid for with the
money which the doctor handed him in Treasury notes with such regularity.

Yes, Weirmarsh was generous, but he was nevertheless exacting, terribly
exacting. His will was the will of others.

The blazing logs had died down to a red mass, the voice of Blanche had
ceased. He had heard footsteps an hour ago in the corridor outside, and
knew that the family had retired. There was not a sound. All were asleep,
save the sentries high upon that hidden fortress. Again the old general
sighed wearily. His grey face now wore an expression of resignation. He
had thought it all out, and saw that to resist and refuse would only
spell ruin for both himself and his family. He had but himself to blame
after all. He had taken one false step, and he had been held inexorably
to his contract.

So he yawned wearily, rose, stretched himself, and then, pacing the room
twice, at last turned up the lamp and placed it upon the small
writing-table at the foot of the bed. Afterwards he took from his
suit-case a quire of ruled foolscap paper and a fountain pen, and,
seating himself, sat for some time with his head in his hands deep in
thought. Suddenly the clock in the big hall below chimed two upon its
peal of silvery bells. This aroused him, and, taking up his pen, he began
to write.

Ever and anon as he wrote he sat back and reflected.

Hour after hour he sat there, bent to the table, his pen rapidly
travelling over the paper. He wrote down many figures and was making
calculations.

At half-past four he put down his pen. The sum was not complete, but it
was one which he knew would end his career and bring him into the dock of
a criminal court, and Weirmarsh and others would stand beside him.

All this he had done in entire ignorance of one startling fact--namely,
that outside his window for the past hour a dark figure had been
standing in an insecure position upon the lead guttering of the wing of
the château which ran out at right angles, leaning forward and peering in
between the blind and the window-frame, watching with interest all that
had been in progress.



CHAPTER XI

CONCERNS THE PAST


ONE evening, a few days after Sir Hugh had paid another visit to
Haudiomont, he was smoking with Paul prior to retiring to bed when the
conversation drifted upon money matters--some investment he had made in
England in his wife's name.

Paul had allowed his father-in-law to handle some of his money in
England, for Sir Hugh was very friendly with a man named Hewett in the
City, who had on several occasions put him on good things.

Indeed, just before Sir Hugh had left London he had had a wire from Paul
to sell some shares at a big profit, and he had brought over the proceeds
in Treasury notes, quite a respectable sum. There had been a matter of
concealing certain payments, Sir Hugh explained, and that was why he had
brought over the money instead of a cheque.

As they were chatting Sir Hugh, referring to the transaction, said:

"Hewett suggested that I should have it in notes--four five-hundred Bank
of England ones and the rest in Treasury notes."

"I sent them to the Crédit Lyonnais a few days ago," replied his
son-in-law. "Really, Sir Hugh, you did a most excellent bit of business
with Hewett. I hope you profited yourself."

"Yes, a little bit," laughed the old general. "Can't complain, you know.
I'm glad you've sent the notes to the bank. It was a big sum to keep in
the house here."

"Yes, I see only to-day they've credited me with them," was his reply. "I
hope you can induce Hewett to do a bit more for us. Those aeroplane
shares are still going up, I see by the London papers."

"And they'll continue to do so, my dear Paul," was the reply. "But those
Bolivian four per cents. of yours I'd sell if I were you. They'll never
be higher."

"You don't think so?"

"Hewett warned me. He told me to tell you. Of course, you're richer than
I am, and can afford to keep them. Only I warn you."

"Very well," replied the younger man, "when you get back, sell them, will
you?"

And Sir Hugh promised that he would give instructions to that effect.

"Really, my dear beau-père," Paul said, "you've been an awfully good
friend to me. Since I left the army I've made quite a big sum out of my
speculations in London."

"And mostly paid with English notes, eh?" laughed the elder man.

"Yes. Just let me see." And, taking a piece of paper, he sat down at the
writing-table and made some quick calculations of various sums. Upon one
side he placed the money he had invested, and on the other the profits,
at last striking a balance at the end. Then he told the general the
figure.

"Quite good," declared Sir Hugh. "I'm only too glad, my dear Paul, to be
of any assistance to you. I fear you are vegetating here. But as long as
your wife doesn't mind it, what matters?"

"Blanche loves this country--which is fortunate, seeing that I have this
big place to attend to." And as he said this he rose, screwed up the
sheet of thin note-paper, and tossed it into the waste-paper basket.

The pair separated presently, and Sir Hugh went to his room. He was eager
and anxious to get away and return to London, but there was a difficulty.
Enid, who had lately taken up amateur theatricals, had accepted an
invitation to play in a comedy to be given at General Molon's house in a
week's time in aid of the Croix Rouge. Therefore he was compelled to
remain on her account.

On the following afternoon Blanche drove him in her car through the
beautiful Bois de Hermeville, glorious in its autumn gold, down to the
quaint old village of Warcq, to take "fif o'clock" at the château with
the Countess de Pierrepont, Paul's widowed aunt.

Enid had pleaded a headache, but as soon as the car had driven away she
roused herself, and, ascending to her room, put on strong country boots
and a leather-hemmed golf skirt, and, taking a stick, set forth down the
high road lined with poplars in the direction of Mars-la-Tour.

About a mile from Lérouville she came to the cross-roads, the one to the
south leading over the hills to Vigneulles, while the one to the north
joined the highway to Longuyon. For a moment she paused, then turning
into the latter road, which at that point was little more than a byway,
hurried on until she came to the fringe of a wood, where, upon her
approach, a man in dark grey tweeds came forth to meet her with swinging
gait.

It was Walter Fetherston.

He strode quickly in her direction, and when they met he held her small
hand in his and for a moment gazed into her dark eyes without uttering a
word.

"At last!" he cried. "I was afraid that you had not received my
message--that it might have been intercepted."

"I got it early this morning," was her reply, her cheeks flushing with
pleasure; "but I was unable to get away before my father and Blanche went
out. They pressed me to go with them, so I had to plead a headache."

"I am so glad we've met," Fetherston said. "I have been here in the
vicinity for days, yet I feared to come near you lest your father should
recognise me."

"But why are you here?" she inquired, strolling slowly at his side. "I
thought you were in London."

"I'm seldom in London," he responded. "Nowadays I am constantly on the
move."

"Travelling in search of fresh material for your books, I suppose? I read
in a paper the other day that you never describe a place in your stories
without first visiting it. If so, you must travel a great deal," the girl
remarked.

"I do," he answered briefly. "And very often I travel quickly."

"But why are you here?"

"For several reasons--the chief being to see you, Enid."

For a moment the girl did not reply. This man's movements so often
mystified her. He seemed ubiquitous. In one single fortnight he had sent
her letters from Paris, Stockholm, Hamburg, Vienna and Constanza. His
huge circle of friends was unequalled. In almost every city on the
Continent he knew somebody, and he was a perfect encyclopædia of travel.
His strange reticence, however, always increased the mystery surrounding
him. Those vague whispers concerning him had reached her ears, and she
often wondered whether half she heard concerning him was true.

If a man prefers not to speak of himself or of his doings, his enemies
will soon invent some tale of their own. And thus it was in Walter's
case. Men had uttered foul calumnies concerning him merely because they
believed him to be eccentric and unsociable.

But Enid Orlebar, though she somehow held him in suspicion, nevertheless
liked him. In certain moods he possessed that dash and devil-may-care air
which pleases most women, providing the man is a cosmopolitan.

He was ever courteous, ever solicitous for her welfare.

She had known he loved her ever since they had first met. Indeed, has he
not told her so?

As they walked together down that grass-grown byway through the wood,
where the brown leaves were floating down with every gust, she glanced
into his pale, dark, serious face and wondered. In her nostrils was the
autumn perfume of the woods, and as they strode forward in silence a
rabbit scuttled from their path.

"You are, no doubt, surprised that I am here," he commenced at last. "But
it is in your interests, Enid."

"In my interests?" she echoed. "Why?"

"Regarding the secret relations between your stepfather and Doctor
Weirmarsh," he answered.

"That same question we've discussed before," she said. "The doctor is
attending to his practice in Pimlico; he does not concern us here."

"I fear that he does," was Fetherston's quiet response. "That man holds
your stepfather's future in his hand."

"How--how can he?"

"By the same force by which he holds that indescribable influence over
you."

"You believe, then, that he possesses some occult power?"

"Not at all. His power is the power which every evil man possesses. And
as far as my observation goes, I can detect that Sir Hugh has fallen
into some trap which has been cunningly prepared for him."

Enid gasped and her countenance blanched.

"You believe, then, that those consultations I have had with the doctor
are at his own instigation?"

"Most certainly. Sir Hugh hates Weirmarsh, but, fearing exposure, he must
obey the fellow's will."

"But cannot you discover the truth?" asked the girl eagerly. "Cannot we
free my stepfather? He's such a dear old fellow, and is always so good
and kind to my mother and myself."

"That is exactly my object in asking you to meet me here, Enid," said the
novelist, his countenance still thoughtful and serious.

"How can I assist?" she asked quickly. "Only explain, and I will act upon
any suggestion you may make."

"You can assist by giving me answers to certain questions," was his slow
reply. The inquiry was delicate and difficult to pursue without arousing
the girl's suspicions as to the exact situation and the hideous scandal
in progress.

"What do you wish to know?" she asked in some surprise, for she saw by
his countenance that he was deeply in earnest.

"Well," he said, with some little hesitation, glancing at her pale,
handsome face as he walked by her side, "I fear you may think me too
inquisitive--that the questions I'm going to ask are out of sheer
curiosity."

"I shall not if by replying I can assist my stepfather to escape from
that man's thraldom."

He was silent for a moment; then he said slowly: "I think Sir Hugh was in
command of a big training camp in Norfolk early in the war, was he not?"

"Yes. I went with him, and we stayed for about three months at the King's
Head at Beccles."

"And during the time you were at the King's Head, did the doctor ever
visit Sir Hugh?"

"Yes; the doctor stayed several times at the Royal at Lowestoft. We both
motored over on several occasions and dined with him. Doctor Weirmarsh
was not well, so he had gone to the east coast for a change."

"And he also came over to Beccles to see your stepfather?"

"Yes; twice, or perhaps three times. One evening after dinner, I
remember, they left the hotel and went for a long walk together. I
recollect it well, for I had been out all day and had a bad headache.
Therefore, the doctor went along to the chemist's on his way out and
ordered me a draught."

"You took it?"

"Yes; and I went to sleep almost immediately, and did not wake up till
very late next morning," she replied.

"You recollect, too, a certain man named Bellairs?"

"Ah, yes!" she sighed. "How very sad it was! Poor Captain Bellairs was a
great favourite of the general, and served on his staff."

"He was with him in the Boer War, was he not?"

"Yes. But how do you know all this?" asked the girl, looking curiously at
her questioner and turning slightly paler.

"Well," he replied evasively, "I--I've been told so, and wished to know
whether it was a fact. You and he were friends, eh?" he asked after a
pause.

For a moment the girl did not reply. A flood of sad memories swept
through her mind at the mention of Harry Bellairs.

"Yes," she replied, "we were great friends. He took me to concerts and
matinées in town sometimes. Sir Hugh always said he was a man bound to
make his mark. He had earned his D.S.O. with French at Mons and was twice
mentioned in dispatches."

"And you, Enid," he said, still speaking very slowly, his dark eyes fixed
upon hers, "you would probably have consented to become Mrs. Bellairs had
he lived to ask you? Tell me the truth."

Her eyes were cast down; he saw in them the light of unshed tears.

"Pardon me for referring to such a painful subject," he hastened to say,
"but it is imperative."

"I thought that you were--were unaware of the sad affair," she faltered.

"So I was until quite recently," he replied. "I know how deeply it must
pain you to speak of it, but will you please explain to me the actual
facts? I know that you are better acquainted with them than anyone else."

"The facts of poor Harry's death," she repeated hoarsely, as though
speaking to herself. "Why recall them? Oh! why recall them?"



CHAPTER XII

REVEALS A CURIOUS PROBLEM


THE countenance of Enid Orlebar had changed; her cheeks were deathly
white, and her face was sufficient index to a mind overwhelmed with grief
and regret.

"I asked you to explain, because I fear that my information may be
faulty. Captain Bellairs died--_died suddenly_, did he not?"

"Yes. It was a great blow to my stepfather," the girl said; "and--and by
his unfortunate death I lost one of my best friends."

"Tell me exactly how it occurred. I believe the tragic event happened on
September the second, did it not?"

"Yes," she replied. "Mother and I had been staying at the White Hart at
Salisbury while Sir Hugh had been inspecting some troops. Captain
Bellairs had been with us, as usual, but had been sent up to London by my
stepfather. That same day I returned to London alone on my way to a visit
up in Yorkshire, and arrived at Hill Street about seven o'clock. At a
quarter to ten at night I received an urgent note from Captain Bellairs,
brought by a messenger, and written in a shaky hand, asking me to call at
once at his chambers in Half Moon Street. He explained that he had been
taken suddenly ill, and that he wished to see me upon a most important
and private matter. He asked me to go to him, as it was most urgent.
Mother and I had been to his chambers to tea several times before;
therefore, realising the urgency of his message, I found a taxi and went
at once to him."

She broke off short, and with difficulty swallowed the lump which arose
in her throat.

"Well?" asked Fetherston in a low, sympathetic voice.

"When I arrived," she said, "I--I found him lying dead! He had expired
just as I ascended the stairs."

"Then you learned nothing, eh?"

"Nothing," she said in a low voice. "I have ever since wondered what
could have been the private matter upon which he so particularly desired
to see me. He felt death creeping upon him, or--or else he knew himself
to be a doomed man--or he would never have penned me that note."

"The letter in question was not mentioned at the inquest?"

"No. My stepfather urged me to regard the affair as a strict secret. He
feared a scandal because I had gone to Harry's rooms."

"You have no idea, then, what was the nature of the communication which
the captain wished to make to you?" asked the novelist.

"Not the slightest," replied the girl, yet with some hesitation. "It is
all a mystery--a mystery which has ever haunted me--a mystery which
haunts me now!"

They had halted, and were standing together beneath a great oak, already
partially bare of leaves. He looked into her beautiful face, sweet and
full of purity as a child's. Then, in a low, intense voice, he said:
"Cannot you be quite frank with me, Enid--cannot you give me more minute
details of the sad affair? Captain Bellairs was in his usual health that
day when he left you at Salisbury, was he not?"

"Oh, yes. I drove him to the station in our car."

"Have you any idea why your stepfather sent him up to London?"

"Not exactly, except that at breakfast he said to my mother that he must
send Bellairs up to London. That was all."

"And at his rooms, whom did you find?"

"Barker, his man," she replied. "The story he told me was a curious one,
namely, that his master had arrived from Salisbury at two o'clock, and
at half-past two had sent him out upon a message down to Richmond. On his
return, a little after five, he found his master absent, but the place
smelt strongly of perfume, which seemed to point to the fact that the
captain had had a lady visitor."

"He had no actual proof of that?" exclaimed Fetherston, interrupting.

"I think not. He surmised it from the fact that his master disliked
scent, even in his toilet soap. Again, upon the table in the hall
Barker's quick eye noticed a small white feather; this he showed me, and
it was evidently from a feather boa. In the fire-grate a letter had been
burnt. These two facts had aroused the man-servant's curiosity."

"What time did the captain return?"

"Almost immediately. He changed into his dinner jacket, and went forth
again, saying that he intended to dine at the Naval and Military Club,
and return to his rooms in time to change and catch the eleven-fifteen
train from Waterloo for Salisbury that same night. He even told Barker
which suit of clothes to prepare. It seems, however, that he came in
about a quarter-past nine, and sent Barker on a message to Waterloo
Station. On the man's return he found his master fainting in his
arm-chair. He called Barker to get him a glass of water--his throat
seemed on fire, he said. Then, obtaining pen and paper, he wrote that
hurried message to me. Barker stated that three minutes after addressing
the envelope he fell into a state of coma, the only word he uttered being
my name." And she pressed her lips together.

"It is evident, then, that he earnestly desired to speak to you--to tell
you something," her companion remarked.

"Yes," she went on quickly. "I found him lying back in his big arm-chair,
quite dead. Barker had feared to leave his side, and summoned the doctor
and messenger-boy by telephone. When I entered, however, the doctor had
not arrived."

"It was a thousand pities that you were too late. He wished to make some
important statement to you, without a doubt."

"I rushed to him at once, but, alas! was just too late."

"He carried that secret, whatever it was, with him to the grave,"
Fetherston said reflectively. "I wonder what it could have been?"

"Ah!" sighed the girl, her face yet paler. "I wonder--I constantly
wonder."

"The doctors who made the post-mortem could not account for the death, I
believe. I have read the account of the inquest."

"Ah! then you know what transpired there," the girl said quickly. "I was
in court, but was not called as a witness. There was no reason why I
should be asked to make any statement, for Barker, in his evidence, made
no mention of the letter which the dead man had sent me. I sat and heard
the doctors--both of whom expressed themselves puzzled. The coroner put
it to them whether they suspected foul play, but the reply they gave was
a distinctly negative one."

"The poor fellow's death was a mystery," her companion said. "I noticed
that an open verdict was returned."

"Yes. The most searching inquiry was made, although the true facts
regarding it were never made public. Sir Hugh explained one day at the
breakfast-table that in addition to the two doctors who made the
examination of the body, Professors Dale and Boyd, the analysts of the
Home Office, also made extensive experiments, but could detect no symptom
of poisoning."

"Where he had dined that night has never been discovered, eh?"

"Never. He certainly did not dine at the club."

"He may have dined with his lady visitor," Fetherston remarked, his eyes
fixed upon her.

She hesitated for a moment, as though unwilling to admit that Bellairs
should have entertained the unknown lady in secret.

"He may have done so, of course," she said with some reluctance.

"Was there any other fact beside the feather which would lead one to
suppose that a lady had visited him?"

"Only the perfume. Barker declared that it was a sweet scent, such as he
had never smelt before. The whole place 'reeked with it,' as he put it."

"No one saw the lady call at his chambers?"

"Nobody came forward with any statement," replied the girl. "I myself
made every inquiry possible, but, as you know, a woman is much
handicapped in such a matter. Barker, who was devoted to his master,
spared no effort, but he has discovered nothing."

"For aught we know to the contrary, Captain Bellairs' death may have been
due to perfectly natural causes," Fetherston remarked.

"It may have been, but the fact of his mysterious lady visitor, and that
he dined at some unknown place on that evening, aroused my suspicions.
Yet there was no evidence whatever either of poison or of foul play."

Fetherston raised his eyes and shot a covert glance at her--a glance of
distinct suspicion. His keen, calm gaze was upon her, noting the unusual
expression upon her countenance, and how her gloved fingers had clenched
themselves slightly as she had spoken. Was she telling him all that she
knew concerning the extraordinary affair? That was the question which had
arisen at that moment within his mind.

He had perused carefully the cold, formal reports which had appeared in
the newspapers concerning the "sudden death" of Captain Henry Bellairs,
and had read suspicion between the lines, as only one versed in mysteries
of crime could read. Were not such mysteries the basis of his profession?
He had been first attracted by it as a possible plot for a novel, but, on
investigation, had discovered, to his surprise, that Bellairs had been
Sir Hugh's trusted secretary and the friend of Enid Orlebar.

The poor fellow had died in a manner both sudden and mysterious, as a
good many persons die annually. To the outside world there was no
suspicion whatever of foul play.

Yet, being in possession of certain secret knowledge, Fetherston had
formed a theory--one that was amazing and startling--a theory which he
had, after long deliberation, made up his mind to investigate and prove.

This girl had loved Harry Bellairs before he had met her, and because of
it the poor fellow had fallen beneath the hand of a secret assassin.

She stood there in ignorance that he had already seen and closely
questioned Barker in London, and that the man had made an admission, an
amazing statement--namely, that the subtle Eastern perfume upon Enid
Orlebar, when she arrived so hurriedly and excitedly at Half Moon Street,
was the same which had greeted his nostrils when he entered his master's
chambers on his return from that errand upon which he had been sent.

Enid Orlebar had been in the captain's rooms during his absence!



CHAPTER XIII

THE MYSTERIOUS MR. MALTWOOD


NOW Enid Orlebar's story contained several discrepancies.

She had declared that she arrived at Hill Street about seven o'clock on
that fateful second of September. That might be true, but might she not
have arrived after her secret visit to Half Moon Street?

In suppressing the fact that she had been there at all she had acted with
considerable foresight. Naturally, her parents were not desirous of the
fact being stated publicly that she had gone alone to a bachelor's rooms,
and they had, therefore, assisted her to preserve the secret--known only
to Barker and to the doctor. Yet her evidence had been regarded as
immaterial, hence she had not been called as witness.

Only Barker had suspected. That unusual perfume about her had puzzled
him. Yet how could he make any direct charge against the general's
stepdaughter, who had always been most generous to him in the matter of
tips? Besides, did not the captain write a note to her with his last
dying effort?

What proof was there that the pair had not dined together? Fetherston had
already made diligent inquiries at Hill Street, and had discovered from
the butler that Miss Enid, on her arrival home from Salisbury, had
changed her gown and gone out in a taxi at a quarter to eight. She had
dined out--but where was unknown.

It was quite true that she had come in before ten o'clock, and soon
afterwards had received a note by boy-messenger.

In view of these facts it appeared quite certain to Fetherston that Enid
and Harry Bellairs had taken dinner _tête-à-tête_ at some quiet
restaurant. She was a merry, high-spirited girl to whom such an adventure
would certainly appeal.

After dinner they had parted, and he had driven to his rooms. Then,
feeling his strength failing, he had hastily summoned her to his side.

Why?

If he had suspected her of being the author of any foul play he most
certainly would not have begged her to come to him in his last moments.
No. The enigma grew more and more inscrutable.

And yet there was a motive for poor Bellairs' tragic end--one which, in
the light of his own knowledge, seemed only too apparent.

He strolled on beside the fair-faced girl, deep in wonder. Recollections
of that devil-may-care cavalry officer who had been such a good friend
clouded her brow, and as she walked her eyes were cast upon the ground in
silent reflection.

She was wondering whether Walter Fetherston had guessed the truth, that
she had loved that man who had met with such an untimely end.

Her companion, on his part, was equally puzzled. That story of Barker's
finding a white feather was a curious one. It was true that the man had
found a white feather--but he had also learnt that when Enid Orlebar had
arrived at Hill Street she had been wearing a white feather boa!

"It is not curious, after all," he said reflectively, "that the police
should have dismissed the affair as a death from natural causes. At the
inquest no suspicion whatever was aroused. I wonder why Barker, in his
evidence, made no mention of that perfume--or of the discovery of the
feather?"

And as he uttered those words he fixed his grave eyes upon her, watching
her countenance intently.

"Well," she replied, after a moment's hesitation, "if he had it would
have proved nothing, would it? If the captain had received a lady visitor
in secret that afternoon it might have had no connection with the
circumstances of his death six hours later."

"And yet it might," Fetherston remarked. "What more natural than that the
lady who visited him clandestinely--for Barker had, no doubt, been sent
out of the way on purpose that he should not see her--should have dined
with him later?"

The girl moved uneasily, tapping the ground with her stick.

"Then you suspect some woman of having had a hand in his death?" she
exclaimed in a changed voice, her eyes again cast upon the ground.

"I do not know sufficient of the details to entertain any distinct
suspicion," he replied. "I regard the affair as a mystery, and in
mysteries I am always interested."

"You intend to bring the facts into a book," she remarked. "Ah! I see."

"Perhaps--if I obtain a solution of the enigma--for enigma it certainly
is."

"You agree with me, then, that poor Harry was the victim of foul play?"
she asked in a low, intense voice, eagerly watching his face the while.

"Yes," he answered very slowly, "and, further, that the woman who visited
him that afternoon was an accessory. Harry Bellairs was _murdered_!"

Her cheeks blanched and she went pale to the lips. He saw the sudden
change in her, and realised what a supreme effort she was making to
betray no undue alarm. But the effect of his cold, calm words had been
almost electrical. He watched her countenance slowly flushing, but
pretended not to notice her confusion. And so he walked on at her side,
full of wonderment.

How much did she know? Why, indeed, had Harry Bellairs fallen the victim
of a secret assassin?

No trained officer of the Criminal Investigation Department was more
ingenious in making secret inquiries, more clever in his subterfuges or
in disguising his real objects, than Walter Fetherston. Possessed of
ample means, and member of that secret club called "Our Society," which
meets at intervals and is the club of criminologists, and pursuing the
detection of crime as a pastime, he had on many occasions placed Scotland
Yard and the Sûreté in Paris in possession of information which had
amazed them and which had earned for him the high esteem of those in
office as Ministers of the Interior in Paris, Rome and in London.

The case of Captain Henry Bellairs he had taken up merely because he
recognised in it some unusual circumstances, and without sparing effort
he had investigated it rapidly and secretly from every standpoint. He had
satisfied himself. Certain knowledge that he had was not possessed by any
officer at Scotland Yard, and only by reason of that secret knowledge had
he been able to arrive at the definite conclusion that there had been a
strong motive for the captain's death, and that if he had been secretly
poisoned--which seemed to be the case, in spite of the analysts'
evidence--then he had been poisoned by the velvet hand of a woman.

Walter Fetherston was ever regretting his inability to put any of the
confidential information he acquired into his books.

"If I could only write half the truth of what I know, people would
declare it to be fiction," he had often assured intimate friends. And
those friends had pondered and wondered to what he referred.

He wrote of crime, weaving those wonderful romances which held breathless
his readers in every corner of the globe, and describing criminals and
life's undercurrents with such fidelity that even criminals themselves
had expressed wonder as to how and whence he obtained his accurate
information.

But the public were in ignorance that, in his character of Mr. Maltwood,
he pursued a strange profession, one which was fraught with more romance
and excitement than any other calling a man could adopt. In comparison
with his life that of a detective was really a tame one; while such
success had he obtained that in a certain important official circle in
London he was held in highest esteem and frequently called into
consultation.

Walter Fetherston, the quiet, reticent novelist, was entirely different
from the gay, devil-may-care Maltwood, the accomplished linguist,
thorough-going cosmopolitan and constant traveller, the easy-going man of
means known in society in every European capital.

Because of this his few friends who were aware of his dual personality
were puzzled.

At the girl's side he strode on along the road which still led through
the wood, the road over which every evening rumbled the old
post-diligence on its way through the quaint old town of Etain to the
railway at Spincourt. On that very road a battalion of Uhlans had been
annihilated almost to a man at the outbreak of the Great War.

Every mètre they trod was historic ground--ground which had been
contested against the legions of the Crown Prince's army.

For some time neither spoke. At last Walter asked: "Your stepfather has
been up to the fortress with Monsieur Le Pontois, I suppose?"

"Yes, once or twice," was her reply, eager to change the subject. "Of
course, to a soldier, fortifications and suchlike things are always of
interest."

"I saw them walking up to the fortress together the other day," he
remarked with a casual air.

"What?" she asked quickly. "Have you been here before?"

"Once," he laughed. "I came over from Commercy and spent the day in your
vicinity in the hope that I might perhaps meet you alone accidentally."

He did not tell her that he had watched her shopping with Madame Le
Pontois, or that he had spent several days at a small _auberge_ at the
tiny village of Marcheville-en-Woevre, only two miles distant.

"I had no idea of that," she replied, her face flushing slightly.

"When do you return to London?" he asked.

"I hardly know. Certainly not before next Thursday, as we have amateur
theatricals at General Molon's. I am playing the part of Miss Smith, the
English governess, in Darbour's comedy, _Le Pyrée_."

"And then you return to London, eh?"

"I hardly know. Yesterday I had a letter from Mrs. Caldwell saying that
she contemplated going to Italy this winter; therefore, perhaps mother
will let me go. I wrote to her this morning. The proposal is to spend
part of the time in Italy, and then cross from Naples to Egypt. I love
Egypt. We were there some winters ago, at the Winter Palace at Luxor."

"Your father and mother will remain at home, I suppose?"

"Mother hates travelling nowadays. She says she had quite sufficient of
living abroad in my father's lifetime. We were practically exiled for
years, you know. I was born in Lima, and I never saw England till I was
eleven. The Diplomatic Service takes one so out of touch with home."

"But Sir Hugh will go abroad this winter, eh?"

"I have not heard him speak of it. I believe he's too busy at the War
Office just now. They have some more 'reforms' in progress, I hear," and
she smiled.

He was looking straight into the girl's handsome face, his heart torn
between love and suspicion.

Those days at Biarritz recurred to him; how he would watch for her and go
and meet her down towards Grande Plage, till, by degrees, it had become
to both the most natural thing in the world. On those rare evenings when
they did not meet the girl was conscious of a little feeling of
disappointment which she was too shy to own, even to her own heart.

Walter Fetherston owned it freely enough. In that bright springtime the
day was incomplete unless he saw her; and he knew that, even now, every
hour was making her grow dearer to him. From that chance meeting at the
hotel their friendship had grown, and had ripened into something warmer,
dearer--a secret held closely in each heart, but none the less sweet for
that.

After leaving Biarritz the man had torn himself from her--why, he hardly
knew. Only he felt upon him some fatal fascination, strong and
irresistible. It was the first time in his life that he had been what is
vulgarly known as "over head and ears in love."

He returned to England, and then, a month later, his investigation of
Henry Bellairs' death, for the purpose of obtaining a plot for a new
novel he contemplated, revealed to him a staggering and astounding truth.

Even then, in face of that secret knowledge he had gained, he had been
powerless, and he had gone up to Monifieth deliberately again to meet
her--to be drawn again beneath the spell of those wonderful eyes.

There was love in the man's heart. But sometimes it embittered him. It
did at that moment, as they strolled still onward over that carpet of
moss and fallen leaves. He had loved her, as he believed her to be a
woman with heart and soul too pure to harbour an evil thought. But her
story of the death of poor Bellairs, the man who had loved her, had
convinced him that his suspicions were, alas! only too well grounded.



CHAPTER XIV

WHAT CONFESSION WOULD MEAN


A SILENCE had fallen between the pair. Again Walter Fetherston glanced at
her.

She was an outdoor girl to the tips of her fingers. At shooting parties
she went out with the guns, not merely contenting herself, as did the
other girls, to motor down with the luncheon for the men. She never got
dishevelled or untidy, and her trim tweed skirt and serviceable boots
never made her look unwomanly. She was her dainty self out in the country
with the men, just as in the pretty drawing-room at Hill Street, while
her merry laugh evoked more smiles and witticisms than the more studied
attempts at wit of the others.

At that moment she had noticed the change in the man she had so gradually
grown to love, and her heart was beating in wild tumult.

He, on his part, was hating himself for so foolishly allowing her to
steal into his heart. She had lied to him there, just as she had lied to
him at Biarritz. And yet he had been a fool, and had allowed himself to
be drawn back to her side.

Why? he asked himself. Why? There was a reason, a strong reason. He loved
her, and the reason he was at that moment at her side was to save her, to
rescue her from a fate which he knew must sooner or later befall her.

She made some remark, but he only replied mechanically. His countenance
had, she saw, changed and become paler. His lips were pressed together,
and, taking a cigar from his case, he asked her permission to smoke, and
viciously bit off its end. Something had annoyed him. Was it possible
that he held any suspicion of the ghastly truth?

The real fact, however, was that he was calmly and deliberately
contemplating tearing her from his heart for ever as an object of
suspicion and worthless. He, who had never yet fallen beneath a woman's
thraldom, resolved not to enter blindly the net she had spread for him.
His thoughts were hard and bitter--the thoughts of a man who had loved
passionately, but whose idol had suddenly been shattered.

Again she spoke, remarking that it was time she turned back, for already
they were at the opposite end of the wood, with a beautiful panorama of
valley and winding river spread before them. But he only answered a
trifle abruptly, and, acting upon her suggestion, turned and retraced
his steps in silence.

At last, as though suddenly rousing himself, he turned to her, and said
in an apologetic tone: "I fear, Enid, I've treated you rather--well,
rather uncouthly. I apologise. I was thinking of something else--a
somewhat serious matter."

"I knew you were," she laughed, affecting to treat the matter lightly.
"You scarcely replied to me."

"Forgive me, won't you?" he asked, smiling again in his old way.

"Of course," she said. "But--but is the matter very serious? Does it
concern yourself?"

"Yes, Enid, it does," he answered.

And still she walked on, her eyes cast down, much puzzled.

Two woodmen passed on their way home from work, and raised their caps
politely, while Walter acknowledged their salutation in French.

"I shall probably leave here to-morrow," her companion said as they
walked back to the high road. "I am not yet certain until I receive my
letters to-night."

"You are now going back to your village inn, I suppose," she laughed
cheerfully.

"Yes," he said. "My host is an interesting old countryman, and has told
me quite a lot about the war. He was wounded when the Germans shelled
Verdun. He has told me that he knows Paul Le Pontois, for his son Jean is
his servant."

"Why, Mr. Fetherston, you are really ubiquitous," cried the girl in
confusion. "Why have you been watching us like this?"

"Merely because I wished to see you, as I've already explained," was his
reply. "I wanted to ask you those questions which I have put to you this
afternoon."

"About poor Harry?" she remarked in a hoarse, low voice. "But you begged
me to reply to you in my own interests--why?"

"Because I wished to know the real truth."

"Well, I've told you the truth," she said with just the slightest tinge
of defiance in her voice.

For a moment he did not speak. He had halted; his grave eyes were fixed
upon her.

"Have you told me the whole truth--all that you know, Enid?" he asked
very quietly a moment later.

"What more should I know?" she protested after a second's hesitation.

"How can I tell?" he asked quickly. "I only ask you to place me in
possession of all the facts within your knowledge."

"Why do you ask me this?" she cried. "Is it out of mere idle curiosity?
Or is it because--because, knowing that Harry loved me, you wish to cause
me pain by recalling those tragic circumstances?"

"Neither," was his quiet answer in a low, sympathetic voice. "I am your
friend, Enid. And if you will allow me, I will assist you."

She held her breath. He spoke as though he were aware of the truth--that
she had not told him everything--that she was still concealing certain
important and material facts.

"I--I know you are my friend," she faltered. "I have felt that all along,
ever since our first meeting. But--but forgive me, I beg of you. The very
remembrance of that night of the second of September is, to me,
horrible--horrible."

To him those very words of hers increased his suspicion. Was it any
wonder that she was horrified when she recalled that gruesome episode of
the death of a brave and honest man? Her personal fascination had
overwhelmed Harry Bellairs, just as it had overwhelmed himself. The devil
sends some women into the hearts of upright men to rend and destroy them.

Upon her cheeks had spread a deadly pallor, while in the centre of each
showed a scarlet spot. Her heart was torn by a thousand emotions, for the
image of that man whom she had seen lying cold and dead in his room had
arisen before her vision, blotting out everything. The hideous
remembrance of that fateful night took possession of her soul.

In silence they walked on for a considerable time. Now and then a rabbit
scuttled from their path into the undergrowth or the alarm-cry of a bird
broke the evening stillness, until at last they came forth into the wide
highway, their faces set towards the autumn sunset.

Suddenly the man spoke.

"Have you heard of the doctor since you left London?" he asked.

She held her breath--only for a single second. But her hesitation was
sufficient to show him that she intended to conceal the truth.

"No," was her reply. "He has not written to me."

Again he was silent. There was a reason--a strong reason--why Weirmarsh
should not write to her, he knew. But he had, by his question, afforded
her an opportunity of telling him the truth--the truth that the
mysterious George Weirmarsh was there, in that vicinity. That Enid was
aware of that fact was certain to him.

"I wish," she said at last, "I wish you would call at the château and
allow me to introduce you to Paul and his wife. They would be charmed to
make your acquaintance."

"Thank you," he replied a trifle coldly; "I'd rather not know them--in
the present circumstances."

"Why, how strange you are!" the girl exclaimed, looking up into his face,
so dark and serious. "I don't see why you should entertain such an
aversion to being introduced to Paul. He's quite a dear fellow."

"Perhaps it is a foolish reluctance on my part," he laughed uneasily.
"But, somehow, I feel that to remain away from the château is best.
Remember, your stepfather and your mother are in ignorance of--well, of
the fact that we regard each other as--as more than close friends. For
the present it is surely best that I should not visit your relations.
Relations are often very prompt to divine the real position of affairs.
Parents may be blind," he laughed, "but brothers-in-law never."

"You are always so dreadfully philosophical!" the girl cried, glad that
at last that painful topic of conversation had been changed. "Paul Le
Pontois wouldn't eat you!"

"I don't suppose any Frenchman is given to cannibalistic diet," he
answered, smiling. "But the fact is, I have my reasons for not being
introduced to the Le Pontois family just now."

The girl looked at him sharply, surprised at the tone of his response.
She tried to divine its meaning. But his countenance still bore that
sphinx-like expression which so often caused his friends to entertain
vague suspicions.

Few men could read character better than Walter Fetherston. To him the
minds of most men and women he met were as an open book. To a marvellous
degree had he cultivated his power of reading the inner working of the
mind by the expression in the eyes and on the faces of even those
hard-headed diplomats and men of business whom, in his second character
of Mr. Maltwood, he so frequently met. Few men or women could tell him a
deliberate lie without its instant detection. Most shrewd men possess
that power to a greater or less degree--a power that can be developed by
painstaking application and practice.

Enid asked her companion when they were to meet again.

"At least let me see you before you go from here," she said. "I know what
a rapid traveller you always are."

"Yes," he sighed. "I'm often compelled to make quick journeys from one
part of the Continent to the other. I am a constant traveller--too
constant, perhaps, for I've nowadays grown very world-weary and
restless."

"Well," she exclaimed, "if you will not come to the château, where shall
we meet?"

"I will write to you," he replied. "At this moment my movements are most
uncertain--they depend almost entirely upon the movements of others. At
any moment I may be called away. But a letter to Holles Street will
always find me, you know."

He seemed unusually serious and strangely preoccupied, she thought. She
noticed, too, that he had flung away his half-consumed cigar in
impatience, and that he had rubbed his chin with his left hand, a habit
of his when puzzled.

At the crossroads where the leafless poplars ran in straight lines
towards the village of Fresnes, a big red motor-car passed them at a
tearing pace, and in it Enid recognised General Molon.

Fetherston, although an ardent motorist himself, cursed the driver under
his breath for bespattering them with mud. Then, with a word of apology
to his charming companion, he held her gloved hand for a moment in his.

Their parting was not prolonged. The man's lips were thin and hard, for
his resolve was firm.

This girl whom he had grown to love--who was the very sunshine of his
strange, adventurous life--was, he had at last realised, unworthy. If he
was to live, if the future was to have hope and joy for him, he must tear
her out of his life.

Therefore he bade her adieu, refusing to give her any tryst for the
morrow.

"It is all so uncertain," he repeated. "You will write to me in London if
you do not hear from me, won't you?"

She nodded, but scarce a word, save a murmured farewell, escaped her dry
lips.

He was changed, sadly changed, she knew. She turned from him with
overflowing heart, stifling her tears, but with a veritable volcano of
emotion within her young breast.

He had changed--changed entirely and utterly in that brief hour and a
half they had walked together. What had she said? What had she done? she
asked herself.

Forward she went blindly with the blood-red light of the glorious sunset
full in her hard-set face, the great fortress-crowned hills looming up
before her, a barrier between herself and the beyond! They looked grey,
dark, mysterious as her own future.

She glanced back, but he had turned upon his heel, and she now saw his
retreating figure swinging along the straight, broad highway.

Why had he treated her thus? Was it possible, she reflected, that he had
actually become aware of the ghastly truth? Had he divined it?

"If he has," she cried aloud in an agony of soul, "then no wonder--no
wonder, indeed, that he has cast me from his life as a criminal--as a
woman to be avoided as the plague--that he has said good-bye to me for
ever!"

Her lips trembled, and the corners of her pretty mouth hardened.

She turned again to watch the man's disappearing figure.

"I would go back," she cried in despair, "back to him, and beg his
forgiveness upon my knees. I love him--love him better than my life! Yet
to crave forgiveness would be to confess--to tell all I know--the whole
awful truth! And I can't do that--no, never! God help me! I--I--I--can't
do that!"

And bursting into a flood of hot tears, she stood rigid, her small hands
clenched, still watching him until he disappeared from her sight around
the bend of the road.

"No," she murmured in a low, hoarse voice, still speaking to herself,
"confession would mean death. Rather than admit the truth I would take
my own life. I would kill myself, yes, face death freely and willingly,
rather than he--the man I love so well--should learn Sir Hugh's
disgraceful secret."



CHAPTER XV

THREE GENTLEMEN FROM PARIS


GASTON DARBOUR'S comedy, _Le Pyrée_, had been played to a large audience
assembled in one of the bigger rooms of the long whitewashed artillery
barracks outside Ronvaux, where General Molon had his official residence.

The humorous piece had been applauded to the echo--the audience
consisting for the most part of military officers in uniform and their
wives and daughters, with a sprinkling of the better-class civilians from
the various châteaux in the neighbourhood, together with two or three
aristocratic parties from Longuyon, Spincourt, and other places.

The honours of the evening had fallen to the young English girl who had
played the amusing part of the demure governess, Miss Smith--pronounced
by the others "Mees Smeeth." Enid was passionately fond of dramatic art,
and belonged to an amateur club in London. Among those present were the
author of the piece himself, a dark young man with smooth hair parted in
the centre and wearing an exaggerated black cravat.

When the curtain fell the audience rose to chatter and comment, and were
a long time before they dispersed. Paul Le Pontois waited for Enid, Sir
Hugh accompanying Blanche and little Ninette home in the hired brougham.
As the party had a long distance to go, some twelve kilomètres, General
Molon had lent Le Pontois his motor-car, which now stood awaiting him
with glaring headlights in the barrack-square.

As the hall emptied Paul glanced around him while awaiting Enid. On the
walls the French tricolour was everywhere displayed, the revered
_drapeau_ under which he had so gallantly and nobly served against the
Huns.

He presented a spruce appearance in his smart, well-cut evening coat,
with the red button of the Legion d'Honneur in his lapel, and to the
ladies who wished him "bon soir" as they filed out he drew his heels
together and bowed gallantly.

Outside, the night was cloudy and overcast. In the long rows of the
barrack windows lights shone, and somewhere sounded a bugle, while in the
shadows could be heard the measured tramp of sentries, the clank of
spurs, or the click of rifles as they saluted their officers passing
out.

The whole atmosphere was a military one, for, indeed, the little town of
Ronvaux is, even in these peace days, scarcely more than a huge camp.

For a few minutes Le Pontois stood chatting to a group of men at the
door. They had invited him to come across to their quarters, but he had
explained that he was awaiting mademoiselle. So they raised their
eyebrows, smiled mischievously, and bade him "bon soir."

Soldiers were already stacking up the chairs ready for the clearance of
the gymnasium for the morrow. Others were coming to water and sweep out
the place. Therefore Le Pontois remained outside in the square, waiting
in patience.

He was reflecting. That evening, as he had sat with his wife watching the
play, he had been seized by a curious feeling for which he entirely
failed to account. Behind him there had sat a man and a woman, French
without a doubt, but entire strangers. They must, of course, have known
one or other of the officers in order to obtain an admission ticket.
Nevertheless, they had spoken to no one, and on the fall of the curtain
had entered a brougham in waiting and driven off.

Paul had made no comment. By a sudden chance he had, during the
entr'acte, risen and gazed around, when the face of the stranger had
caught his eyes--a face which he felt was curiously familiar, yet he
could not place it. The middle-aged man was dressed with quiet elegance,
clean-shaven and keen-faced, apparently a prosperous civilian, while the
lady with him was of about the same age and apparently his wife. She was
dressed in a high-necked dress of black lace, and wore in her corsage a
large circular ornament of diamonds and emeralds.

Twice had Le Pontois taken furtive glances at the stranger whose lined
brow was so extraordinarily familiar. It was the face of a deep thinker,
a man who had, perhaps, passed through much trouble. Was it possible, he
wondered, that he had seen that striking face in some photograph, or
perhaps in some illustrated paper? He had racked his brain through the
whole performance, but could not decide in what circumstances they had
previously met.

From time to time the stranger had joined with the audience in their
hearty laughter, or applauded as vociferously as the others, his
companion being equally amused at the quaint sayings of the demure "Mees
Smeeth."

And even as he stood in the shadows near the general's car awaiting Enid
he was still wondering who the pair might be.

At the fall of the curtain he had made several inquiries of the
officers, but nobody could give him any information. They were complete
strangers--that was all. Even a search among the cards of invitation had
revealed nothing.

So Paul Le Pontois remained mystified.

Enid came at last, flushed with success and apologetic because she had
kept him waiting. But he only congratulated her, and assisted her into
the car. It was a big open one, therefore she wore a thick motor coat and
veil as protection against the chill autumn night.

A moment later the soldier-chauffeur mounted to his seat, and slowly they
moved across the great square and out by the gates, where the sentries
saluted. Then, turning to the right, they were quickly tearing along the
highway in the darkness.

Soon they overtook several closed carriages of the home-going visitors,
and, ascending the hill, turned from the main road down into a by-road
leading through a wooded valley, which was a short cut to the château.

Part of their way led through the great Forêt d'Amblonville, and though
Enid's gay chatter was mostly of the play, the defects in the acting and
the several amusing _contretemps_ which had occurred behind the scenes,
her companion's thoughts were constantly of that stranger whose brow was
so deeply lined with care.

They expected to overtake Sir Hugh in the brougham, but so long had Enid
been changing her gown that they saw nothing of the others.

Just, however, as they were within a hundred yards or so of the gates
which gave entrance to the château, and were slowing down in order to
swing into the drive, a man emerged from the darkness, calling upon the
driver to stop, and, placing himself before the car, held up his hands.

Next instant the figure of a second individual appeared. Enid uttered a
cry of alarm, but the second man, who wore a hard felt hat and dark
overcoat, reassured her by saying in French:

"Pray do not distress yourself, mademoiselle. There is no cause for
alarm. My friend and I merely wish to speak for a moment with Monsieur Le
Pontois before he enters his house. For that reason we have presumed to
stop your car."

"But who are you?" demanded Le Pontois angrily. "Who are you that you
should hold us up like this?"

"Perhaps, m'sieur, it would be better if you descended and escorted
mademoiselle as far as your gates. We wish to speak to you for a moment
upon a little matter which is both urgent and private."

"Well, cannot you speak here, now, and let us proceed?"

"Not before mademoiselle," replied the man. "It is a confidential
matter."

Paul, much puzzled at the curious demeanour of the strangers, reluctantly
handed Enid out, and walked with her as far as his own gate, telling her
to assure Blanche that he would return in a few moments, when he had
heard what the men wanted.

"Very well," she laughed. "I'll say nothing. You can tell her all when
you come in."

The girl passed through the gates and up the gravelled drive to the
house, when Le Pontois, turning upon his heel to return to the car, was
met by the two men, who, he found, had walked closely behind him.

"You are Paul Le Pontois?" inquired the elder of the pair brusquely.

"Of course! Why do you ask that?"

"Because it is necessary," was his businesslike reply. Then he added: "I
regret, m'sieur, that you must consider yourself under arrest by order of
his Excellency the Minister of Justice."

"Arrest!" gasped the unhappy man. "Are you mad, messieurs?"

"No," replied the man who had spoken.

"We have merely our duty to perform, and have travelled from Paris to
execute it."

"With what offence am I charged?" Le Pontois demanded.

"Of that we have no knowledge. As agents of secret police, we are sent
here to convey you for interrogation."

The man under arrest stood dumbfounded.

"But at least you will allow me to say farewell to my wife and child--to
make excuse to them for my absence?" he urged.

"I regret that is quite impossible, m'sieur. Our orders are to make the
arrest and to afford you no opportunity to communicate with anyone."

"But this is cruel, inhuman! His Excellency never meant that, I am quite
sure--especially when I am innocent of any crime, as far as I am aware."

"We can only obey our orders, m'sieur," replied the man in the dark
overcoat.

"Then may I not write a line to my wife, just one word of excuse?" he
pleaded.

The two police agents consulted.

"Well," replied the elder of the pair, who was the one in authority, "if
you wish to scribble a note, here are paper and pencil." And he tore a
leaf from his notebook and handed it to the prisoner.

By the light of the head-lamps of the car Paul scribbled a few hurried
words to Blanche: "I am detained on important business," he wrote. "I
will return to-morrow. My love to you both.--PAUL."

The detective read it, folded it carefully, and handed it to his
assistant, telling him to go up to the château and deliver it at the
servants' entrance.

When he had gone the detective, turning to the chauffeur, said: "I shall
require you to take us to Verdun."

"This is not my car, m'sieur," replied Paul. "It belongs to General
Molon."

"That does not matter. I will telephone to him an explanation as soon as
we arrive in Verdun. We may as well enter the car as stand here."

Paul Le Pontois was about to protest, but what could he say? The Minister
in Paris had apparently committed some grave error in thus ordering his
arrest. No doubt there would be confusion, apologies and laughter. So,
with a light heart at the knowledge that he had committed no offence, he
got into the car, and allowed the polite police agent to seat himself
beside him.

The only chagrin he felt was that the chauffeur had overheard all the
conversation. And to him he said: "Remember, Gallet, of this affair you
know nothing."

"I understand perfectly, m'sieur," was the wondering soldier's reply.

Then they sat in silence in the darkness until the hurrying police agent
returned, after which the car sped straight past the château on the high
road which led through the deep valley on to the fortress town of Verdun.

As they passed the château Paul Le Pontois caught a glimpse of its
lighted windows and sat wondering what Blanche would imagine. He pictured
the pleasant supper party and the surprise that would be expressed at his
absence.

How amusing! What incongruity! He was under arrest!

The car rushed on beneath the precipitous hill crowned by the great
fortress of Haudiomont, through the narrow gorge--the road to Paris.

All three men, seated abreast, were silent until, at last, the elder of
the two police agents bent and glanced at the clock on the dashboard,
visible by the tiny glow-lamp.

"Half past twelve," he remarked. "The express leaves Verdun at two
twenty-eight."

"For where?" asked Paul.

"For Paris."

"Paris!" he cried. "Are you taking me to Paris?"

"Those are our orders," was the detective's quiet response.



CHAPTER XVI

THE ORDERS OF HIS EXCELLENCY


AGAIN Paul sat back without a word. Well, he would hear the extraordinary
charge against him, whatever it might be. And, without speaking, they
travelled on and on, until they at last entered the Porte St. Paul at
Verdun, passed up the Avenue de la Gare, skirting the Palais de Justice
into the station yard.

As Paul descended they were met by a third stranger who strolled
forward--a man in a heavy travelling coat and a soft Homburg hat.

It was the man who had sat behind him earlier in the evening--the man
with the deep lines upon his care-worn brow, who had laughed so
heartily--and who a moment later introduced himself as Jules Pierrepont,
special commissaire of the Paris Sûreté.

"We have met before?" remarked Paul abruptly.

"Yes, Monsieur Le Pontois," replied the man with a grim smile. "On
several occasions lately. It has been my duty to keep observation upon
your movements--acting upon orders from Monsieur the Prefect of Police."

And together they entered the dark, deserted station to await the night
express for Paris.

Suddenly Paul turned back, saying to the chauffeur in a low, hard voice:
"Gallet, to-morrow go and tell madame my wife that I am unexpectedly
called to the capital. Tell her--tell her that I will write to her. But,
at all hazards, do not let her know the truth that I am under arrest," he
added hoarsely.

"That is understood, monsieur," replied the man, saluting. "Neither
madame nor anyone else shall know why you have left for Paris."

"I rely upon you," were Paul's parting words, and, turning upon his heel,
he accompanied the three men who were in waiting.

Half an hour later he sat in a second-class compartment of the Paris
_rapide_ with the three keen-eyed men who had so swiftly effected his
arrest.

It was apparent to him now that the reason he had recognised Pierrepont
was because that man had maintained vigilant, yet unobtrusive,
observation upon him during several of the preceding days, keeping near
him in all sorts of ingenious guises and making inquiries concerning
him--inquiries instituted for some unexplained cause by the Paris police.

Bitterly he smiled to himself as he gazed upon the faces of his three
companions, hard and deep-shadowed beneath the uncertain light. Presently
he made some inquiry of Jules Pierrepont, who had now assumed
commandership of the party, as to the reason of his arrest.

"I regret, Monsieur Le Pontois," replied the quiet, affable man, "his
Excellency does not give us reasons. We obey orders--that is all."

"But surely there is still, even after the war, justice in France!" cried
Paul in dismay. "There must be some good reason. One cannot be thus
arrested as a criminal without some charge against him--in my case a
false one!"

All three men had heard prisoners declare their innocence many times
before, therefore they merely nodded assent--it was their usual habit.

"There is, of course, some charge," remarked Pierrepont. "But no doubt
monsieur has a perfect answer to it."

"When I know what it is," replied Paul between his teeth, "then I shall
meet it bravely, and demand compensation for this outrageous arrest!"

He held his breath, for, with a sinking heart, he realised for the first
time the very fact of a serious allegation being made against him by some
enemy. If mud is thrown some of it always sticks. What had all his
enthusiasm in life profited him? Nothing. He bit his lip when he
reflected.

"You have some idea of what is alleged against me, messieurs," the
unhappy man exclaimed presently, as the roaring train emerged from a long
tunnel. "I see it in your faces. Indeed, you would not have taken the
precaution, which you did at the moment of my arrest, of searching me to
find firearms. You suspected that I might make an attempt to take my
life."

"Merely our habit," replied Pierrepont with a slight smile.

"The charge is a grave one--will you not admit that?"

"Probably it is--or we should not all three have been sent to bring you
to Paris," remarked one of the trio.

"You have had access to my _dossier_--I feel sure you have, monsieur,"
Paul said, addressing Pierrepont.

"Ah! you are in error. Monsieur le Ministre does not afford me that
privilege. I am but the servant of the Sûreté, and no one regrets more
than myself the painful duty I have been compelled to perform to-night. I
assure you, Monsieur Le Pontois, that I entertain much regret that I have
been compelled to drag you away from your home and family thus, to
Paris."

"No apology is needed, mon ami," Paul exclaimed quickly, well aware that
the detective was merely obeying instructions. "I understand your
position perfectly." Then, glancing round at his companions, he added:
"You may sleep in peace, messieurs. I give you my word of honour that I
will not attempt to escape. Why, indeed, should I? I have committed no
wrong!"

One of the men had pulled out a well-worn notebook and was with
difficulty writing down the prisoner's words--to be put in evidence
against him. Le Pontois realised that; therefore his mouth closed with a
snap, and, leaning back in the centre of the carriage, he closed his
eyes, not to sleep, but to think.

Before leaving Verdun he had seen Pierrepont enter the telegraph
bureau--to dispatch a message to the Sûreté, without a doubt. They
already knew in Paris that he was under arrest, but at his home they
were, happily, still in ignorance. Poor Blanche was asleep, no doubt, by
that time, he thought, calm in the belief that he had been delayed and
would be home in the early hours.

The fact that he was actually under arrest he regarded with more humour
than seriousness, feeling that in the morning explanations would be made
and the blunder rectified.

No more honourable or upright man was there in France than Paul Le
Pontois, and this order from the Sûreté had held him utterly speechless
and astounded. So he sat there hour after hour as the _rapide_ roared
westward, until it halted at the great echoing station of Châlons, where
all four entered the buffet and hastily swallowed their café-au-lait.

Afterwards they resumed their seats, and the train, with its two long,
dusty _wagons-lit_, moved onward again, with Paris for its goal.

The prisoner said little. He sat calmly reflecting, wondering and
wondering what possible charge could be made against him. He had enemies,
as every man had, he knew, but he was not aware of anyone who could make
an allegation of a character sufficiently grave to warrant his arrest.

Why had it been forbidden that he should wish Blanche farewell? There was
some reason for that! He inquired of Pierrepont, who had treated him with
such consideration and even respect, but the agent of secret police only
replied that in making an arrest of that character they made it a rule
never to allow a prisoner to communicate with his family.

"There are several reasons for it," he explained. "One is that very often
the prisoner will make a statement to his wife which he will afterwards
greatly regret. Again, prisoners have been known to whisper to their
wives secret instructions, to order the destruction of papers before we
can make a domiciliary visit, or----"

"But you surely will not make a domiciliary visit to my house?" cried
Paul, interrupting.

The men exchanged glances.

"At present we cannot tell," Pierrepont replied. "It depends upon what
instructions we receive."

"Do you usually make searches?" asked the prisoner, with visions of his
own home being desecrated and ransacked.

"Yes, we generally do," the commissaire of police admitted. "As I have
explained, it is for that reason we do not allow a prisoner's wife to
know that he is under arrest."

"But such an action is abominable!" cried Le Pontois angrily. "That my
house should be turned upside down and searched as though I were a common
thief, a forger, or a coiner is beyond toleration. I shall demand full
inquiry. My friend Carlier shall put an interpellation in the Chamber!"

"Monsieur le Ministre acts upon his own discretion," the detective
replied coldly.

"And by so doing sometimes ruins the prospects and the lives of some of
our best men," blurted forth the angry prisoner. It was upon the tip of
his tongue to say much more in condemnation, but the sight of the man
with the notebook caused him to hesitate.

Every word he uttered now would, he knew, be turned against him. He was
under arrest--for some crime that he had not committed.

The other passengers by that night express, who included a party of
English tourists, little dreamed as they passed up and down the corridor
that the smart, good-looking man who wore the button of the Legion
d'Honneur, and who sat there with the three quiet, respectable-looking
men, was being conveyed to the capital under escort--a man who, by the
law of France, was already condemned, was guilty until he could prove his
own innocence!

In the cold grey of dawn they descended at last at the great bare Gare de
l'Est in Paris. Paul felt tired, cramped and unshaven, but of necessity
entered a taxi called by one of his companions, and, accompanied by
Pierrepont and the elder of his assistants, was driven along through the
cheerless, deserted streets to the Sûreté.

As he entered the side door of the ponderous building the police officer
on duty saluted his escort.

His progress across France had been swift and secret.

What, he wondered, did the future hold in store for him?

His lip curled into a smile when they ushered him into a bare room on the
first floor. Two police officers were placed outside the door, while two
stood within.

Then, turning to the window, which looked out upon the bare trees of the
Place below, he laughed aloud and made some humorous remark which caused
the men to smile.

But, alas! he knew not the truth. Little did he dream of the amazing
allegation that was to be made against him!--little did he dream how
completely the enemies of his father-in-law, the general, had triumphed!



CHAPTER XVII

WALTER GIVES WARNING


THE morning dawned bright and sunny--a perfect autumn morning--at the
pretty Château of Lérouville.

The message which Blanche had received after returning had not caused her
much consternation. She supposed that Paul had been suddenly called away
on business. So she had eaten her supper with her father and Enid and
retired to rest.

When, however, they sat at breakfast--served in the English style--Sir
Hugh opened a letter which lay upon his plate, and at once announced his
intention of returning to London.

"I have to see Hughes, my solicitor, over Aunt Mary's affairs," he
explained suddenly to Blanche. "That executorship is always an infernal
nuisance."

"But surely you can remain a day or two longer, Dad?" exclaimed Madame Le
Pontois. "The weather is delightful just now, and I hear it is too
dreadful for words in England."

"I, too, have to be back to prepare for going away with Mrs. Caldwell,"
Enid remarked.

"But surely these solicitors will wait? There is no great urgency--there
can't be! The old lady died ten years ago," Blanche exclaimed as she
poured out coffee.

"My dear, I'm extremely sorry," said her father quietly, "but I must
go--it is imperative."

"Not to-day?"

"I ought to go to-day," he sighed. "Indeed, I really must--by the
_rapide_ I usually take. Perhaps I shall alter my route this time, and go
from Conflans to Metz, and home by Liège and Brussels. It is
about as quick, and one gets a _wagon-lit_ from Metz. I looked up the
train the other day, and find it leaves Conflans at a little after six."

"Surely you will remain and say au revoir to Paul? He'll be so
disappointed!" she cried in dismay.

"My dear, you will make excuses for us. I must really go, and so must
Enid. She had a letter from Mrs. Caldwell urging her to get back, as she
wants to start abroad for the winter. The bad weather in England is
affecting her, it seems."

And so, with much regret expressed by little Ninette and her mother, Sir
Hugh Elcombe and his stepdaughter went to their rooms to see about their
packing.

Both were puzzled. The sudden appearance of those strange men out of the
darkness had frightened Enid, but she had said nothing. Perhaps it was
upon some private matter that Paul had been summoned. Therefore she had
preserved silence, believing with Blanche that at any moment he might
return.

Back in his room, Sir Hugh closed the door, and, standing in the sunshine
by the window, gazed across the wide valley towards the blue mists
beyond, deep in reflection.

"This curious absence of Paul's forebodes evil," he murmured to himself.

He had slept little that night, being filled with strange apprehensions.
Though he had closely questioned Enid, she would not say what had
actually happened. Her explanation was merely that Paul had been called
away by a man who had met him outside.

The old man sighed, biting his lip. He cursed himself for his dastardly
work, even though he had been compelled by Weirmarsh to execute it on
pain of exposure and consequent ruin.

Against his will, against his better nature, he had been forced to meet
the mysterious doctor of Pimlico in secret on that quiet, wooded by-road
between Marcheville and Saint-Hilaire, four kilomètres from the château,
and there discuss with him the suggested affair of which they had spoken
in London.

The two men had met at sundown.

"You seem to fear exposure!" laughed the man who provided Sir Hugh with
his comfortable income. "Don't be foolish--there is no danger. Return to
England with Enid as soon as you possibly can without arousing suspicion,
and I will call and see you at Hill Street. I want to have a very serious
chat with you."

Elcombe's grey, weather-worn face grew hard and determined.

"Why are you here, Weirmarsh?" he demanded. "I have helped you and your
infernal friends in the past, but please do not count upon my assistance
in the future. Remember that from to-day our friendship is entirely at an
end."

"As you wish, of course, my dear Sir Hugh," replied the other, with a
nonchalant air. "But if I were you I would not be in too great a hurry to
make such a declaration. You may require a friend in the near future--a
friend like myself."

"Never, I hope--never!" snapped the old general.

"Very well," replied the doctor, who, with a shrug of his shoulders,
wished his friend a cold adieu and, turning, strode away.

As Sir Hugh stood alone by the window that morning he recalled every
incident of that hateful interview, every word that had fallen from the
lips of the man who seemed to be as ingenious and resourceful as Satan
himself.

His anxiety regarding Paul's sudden absence had caused him to invent an
excuse for his own hurried departure. He was not prepared to remain there
and witness his dear daughter's grief and humiliation, so he deemed it
wiser to get away in safety to England, for he no longer trusted
Weirmarsh. Suppose the doctor revealed the actual truth by means of some
anonymous communication?

As he stood staring blankly across the valley he heard the hum of an
approaching motor-car, and saw that it was General Molon's, being driven
by Gallet, the soldier chauffeur.

There was no passenger, but the car entered the iron gates and pulled up
before the door.

A few minutes later Blanche ran up the stairs and, bursting into her
father's room, cried: "Paul has been called suddenly to Paris, Dad! He
told Gallet to come this morning and tell me. How strange that he did not
come in to get even a valise!"

"Yes, dear," said her father. "Gallet is downstairs, isn't he? I'll speak
to him. The mystery of Paul's absence increases!"

"It does. I--I can't get rid of a curious feeling of apprehension that
something has happened. What was there to prevent him from coming in to
wish me good-bye when he was actually at the gate?"

Sir Hugh went below and questioned the chauffeur.

The story told by the man Gallet was that Le Pontois had been met by two
gentlemen and given a message that he was required urgently in Paris, and
they had driven at once over to Verdun, where they had just caught the
train.

"Did Monsieur Le Pontois leave any other message for madame?" asked Sir
Hugh in French.

"No, m'sieur."

The general endeavoured by dint of persuasion to learn something more,
but the man was true to his promise, and would make no further statement.
Indeed, earlier that morning he had been closely questioned by the
commandant, but had been equally reticent. Le Pontois was a favourite in
the neighbourhood, and no man would dare to lift his voice against him.

Sir Hugh returned to his room and commenced packing his suit-cases, more
than ever convinced that suspicion had been aroused. Jean came to offer
to assist, but he declared that he liked to pack himself, and this
occupied him the greater part of the morning.

Enid was also busy with her dresses, assisted by Blanche's Provençal
maid, Louise. About eleven o'clock, however, Jean tapped at her door and
said: "A peasant from Allamont, across the valley, has brought a letter,
mademoiselle. He says an English gentleman gave it to him to deliver to
you personally. He is downstairs."

In surprise the girl hurriedly descended to the servants' entrance, where
she found a sturdy, old, grey-bearded peasant, bearing a long, stout
stick. He raised his frayed cap politely and asked whether she were
Mademoiselle Orlebar.

Then, when she had replied in the affirmative, he drew from the breast of
his blouse a crumpled letter, saying: "The Englishman who has been
staying at the Lion d'Or at Allamont gave this to me at dawn to-day. I
was to give it only into mademoiselle's hands. There is no reply."

Enid tore open the letter eagerly and found the following words, written
hurriedly in pencil in Walter Fetherston's well-known scrawling hand--for
a novelist's handwriting is never of the best:

     "Make excuse and induce your father to leave Conflans-Jarny at
     once for Metz, travelling by Belgium for London. Accompany him. A
     serious _contretemps_ has occurred which will affect you both if
     you do not leave immediately on receipt of this. Heed this, I beg
     of you. And remember, I am still your friend.
                                                             "WALTER."

For a moment she stood puzzled. "Did the Englishman say there was no
reply?" she asked.

"Yes, mademoiselle. He left the Lion d'Or just before eight, and drove
into Conflans with his luggage. The innkeeper told me that he is
returning suddenly to England. He received several telegrams in the
night, it appears."

"You know him, then?"

"Oh yes, mademoiselle. He came there to fish in the Longeau, and I have
been with him on several occasions."

Enid took a piece of "cent sous" from her purse and gave it to the old
man, then she returned to her room and, sending Louise below for
something, burned Walter's letter in the grate.

Afterwards she went to her stepfather and suggested that perhaps they
might leave Conflans earlier than he had resolved.

"I hear there is a train at three-five. If we went by that," she said,
"we could cross from Ostend instead of by Antwerp, and thus be in London
a day earlier."

"Are you so anxious to get away from here, Enid?" he asked, looking
straight into her face.

"Well, yes. Mother, in her letter yesterday, urged me to come home, as
she does not wish me to travel out alone to join Mrs. Caldwell. She's
afraid she will leave London without me if I don't get home at once.
Besides, I've got a lot of shopping to do before I can start. Do let us
get away by the earlier train. It will be so much better," she urged.

As Sir Hugh never denied Enid anything, he acquiesced. Packing was
speedily concluded, and, much to the regret of Blanche, the pair left in
a fly for which they had telephoned to Conflans-Jarny.

The train by which they travelled ran through the beautiful valley of
Manvaux, past the great forts of Plappeville and St. Quentin, and across
the Moselle to Metz, and so into German territory.

Whatever might happen, Sir Hugh reflected, at least he was now safe from
arrest. While Enid, on her part, sat back in the corner of the
first-class compartment gazing out of the window, still mystified by that
strange warning from the man who only a few days previously had so
curiously turned and abandoned her.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE ACCUSERS


AT the same hour when Enid and Sir Hugh were passing Amanvilliers, once
the scene of terrible atrocities by the Huns, Paul Le Pontois, between
two agents of police, was ushered into the private cabinet where, at the
great writing-table near the window, sat a short man with bristling hair
and snow-white moustache, Monsieur Henri Bézard, chief of the Sûreté
Générale.

A keen-faced, black-eyed man of dapper appearance, wearing the coveted
button of the Légion d'Honneur in his black frock-coat, he looked up
sharply at the man brought into his presence, wished him a curt "bon
jour," and motioned him to a seat at the opposite side of the big table,
in such a position that the grey light from the long window fell directly
upon his countenance.

With him, standing about the big, handsome room with its green-baize
doors and huge oil paintings on the walls, were four elderly men,
strangers to Paul.

The severe atmosphere of that sombre apartment, wherein sat the chief of
the police of the Republic, was depressing. Those present moved
noiselessly over the thick Turkey carpet, while the double windows
excluded every sound from the busy boulevard below.

"Your name," exclaimed the great Bézard sharply, at last raising his eyes
from a file of papers before him--"your name is Paul Robert Le Pontois,
son of Paul Le Pontois, rentier of Severac, Department of Aveyron. During
the war you were captain in the 114th Regiment of Artillery, and you now
reside with your wife and daughter at the Château of Lérouville. Are
those details correct?"

"Perfectly, m'sieur," replied the man seated with the two police agents
standing behind him. He wore his black evening trousers and a brown tweed
jacket which one of the detectives had lent him.

"You have been placed under arrest by order of the Ministry," replied
Bézard, speaking in his quick, impetuous way.

"I am aware of that, m'sieur," was Paul's reply, "but I am in ignorance
of the charge against me."

"Well," exclaimed Bézard very gravely, again referring to the formidable
_dossier_ before him, "the charge brought against you is most serious.
It is astounding and disgraceful. Listen, and I will read it. Afterwards
we will hear what explanation you have to offer. We are assembled for
that purpose."

The four other men had taken chairs near by, while Pierrepont was
standing at some distance away, with his back to the wood fire.

For a second Bézard paused, then, rubbing his gold pince-nez and
adjusting them, he read in a cold, hard voice the following:

"The charge alleged against you, Paul Robert Le Pontois, is that upon
four separate occasions you have placed in circulation forged Bank of
England and Treasury notes of England to the extent of nearly a million
francs."

"It's a lie!" cried Paul, jumping to his feet, his face aflame. "Before
God, I swear it is a lie!"

"Calm yourself and listen," commanded the great chief of the Sûreté
Générale sharply. "Be seated."

The prisoner sank back into his chair again. His head was reeling. Who
could possibly have made such unfounded charges against him? He could
scarcely believe his ears.

Then the hard-faced, white-headed old director, who held supreme command
of the police of the Republic, glanced at him shrewdly, and, continuing,
said: "It is alleged that you, Paul Le Pontois, on the fourteenth day of
January, and again on the sixteenth of May, met in Commercy a certain
Englishman, and handed to him a bundle of English notes since proved to
be forgeries."

"I am not acquainted with any English forger," protested Paul.

"Do not interrupt, m'sieur!" snapped the director. "You will, later on,
be afforded full opportunity to make any statement or explanation you may
wish. First listen to these grave charges against you." After a further
pause, he added: "The third occasion, it is alleged, was on April the
eighth last, when it seems you drove at early morning over to
Thillot-sous-les-Côtes and there met a stranger who was afterwards
identified as an American who is wanted for banknote forgeries."

"And the fourth?" asked Paul hoarsely. This string of allegations utterly
staggered him.

"The fourth occasion was quite recently," Bézard said, still speaking in
that same cold tone. "On that occasion you made certain calculations to
ascertain how much were your profits by dealing with these forgers whom
Scotland Yard are so anxious to arrest. You wrote all the sums down,
knowing your expenditure and profits. The latter were very considerable."

"And by whom is it alleged that I am a dealer in base money, pray?"

"It is not necessary for us to disclose the name of our informant," was
the stiff rejoinder.

"But surely I am not to be thus denounced by an anonymous enemy?" he
cried. "This is not the justice which every Frenchman claims as his
birthright!"

"You have demanded to know the charges laid against you, and I have
detailed them," replied the chief of the Sûreté, regarding the prisoner
closely through his gold pince-nez.

"They are false--every word of them," promptly returned Le Pontois. "I
have no acquaintance with any banknote forger. If I had, he would quickly
find himself under arrest."

The four men seated in his vicinity smiled grimly. They had expected the
prisoner to declare his innocence.

"I may tell you that the information here"--and Bézard tapped the
_dossier_ before him--"is from a source in which we have the most
complete and implicit confidence. For the past few months there have been
suspicions that forged English notes have been put into circulation in
France. Therefore I ordered a vigilant watch to be maintained. Monsieur
Pierrepont, here, has been in command of a squadron of confidential
agents."

"And they have watched me, and, I suppose, have manufactured evidence
against me! It is only what may be expected of men paid to spy upon us.
If I am a forger or a friend of forgers, as you allege me to be, then I
am unworthy to have served in the uniform of France. But I tell you that
the allegations you have just read are lies--lies, every word of them."
And Le Pontois' pale cheeks flushed crimson with anger.

"Le Pontois," remarked a tall, thin, elderly commissaire who was present,
"it is for you to prove your innocence. The information laid before us is
derived from those who have daily watched your movements and reported
them. If you can prove to us that it is false, then your innocence may be
established."

"But I _am_ innocent!" he protested, "therefore I have no fear what
charges may be laid against me. They cannot be substantiated. The whole
string of allegations is utterly ridiculous!"

"Eh bien! Then let us commence with the first," exclaimed Bézard, again
referring to the file of secret reports before him. "On Wednesday, the
fourteenth day of January, you went to Commercy, where, at the Café de la
Cloche, you met a certain Belgian who passed under the name of Laloux."

"I recollect!" cried Le Pontois quickly. "I sold him a horse. He was a
dealer."

"A dealer in forged notes," remarked one of the officials, with a faint
smile.

"Was he a forger, then?" asked Le Pontois in entire surprise.

"Yes. He has entered France several times in the guise of a horsedealer,"
Pierrepont interrupted.

"But I only bought a horse of him," declared the prisoner vehemently.

"And you paid for it in English notes, apologising that you had no other
money. He took them, for he passed them in Belgium into an English bank
in Brussels. They were forged!"

"Again, on the sixteenth of May, you met the man Laloux at the same
place," said Bézard.

"He had a mare to sell--I tried to buy it for my wife to drive, but he
wanted too much."

"You remained the night at the Hôtel de Paris, and saw him again at nine
o'clock next morning."

"True. I hoped to strike a bargain with him in the morning, but we could
not come to terms."

"Regarding the forged English notes you were prepared to sell, eh?"
snapped Bézard, with a look of disbelief.

"I had nothing to sell!" protested Le Pontois, drawing himself up. "Those
who have spied upon me have told untruths."

"But the individual, Laloux, was watched. One of our agents followed him
to Brussels, where he went next day to the English bank in the Montagne
de la Cour."

"Not with forged notes from me. My dealings with him were in every way
honest business transactions."

"You mean that you received money from him, eh?"

"I do not deny that. I sold him a horse on the first occasion. He paid me
seven hundred francs for it, and I afterwards purchased one from him."

"So you do not deny that you received money from that man?"

"Why should I? I sold him a horse, and he paid me for it."

"Very well," said Bézard, with some hesitation. "Let us pass to the
eighth of April. At six o'clock that morning you drove to
Thillot-sous-les-Côtes, where you met a stranger at the entrance to the
village, and walked with him, and held a long and earnest conversation."

Paul was silent for a moment. The incident recalled was one that he would
fain have forgotten, one the truth of which he intended at all hazards to
conceal.

"I admit that I went to Thillot in secret," he answered in a changed
voice.

"Ah! Then you do not deny that you were attracted by the promises of
substantial payment for certain forged English notes which you could
furnish, eh?" grunted Bézard in satisfaction.

"I admit going to Thillot, but I deny your allegation," cried Paul in
quick protest.

"Then perhaps you will tell us the reason you took that early drive?"
asked a commissaire, with a short, hard laugh of disbelief.

The prisoner hesitated. It was a purely personal matter, one which
concerned himself alone.

"I regret, messieurs," was his slow reply, "I regret that I am
unable--indeed, I am not permitted to answer that question."

"Pray why?" inquired Bézard.

"Well--because it concerns a woman's honour," was the low, hoarse reply,
"the honour of the wife of a certain officer."

At those words of his the men interrogating him laughed in derision,
declaring it to be a very elegant excuse.

"It is no excuse!" he cried fiercely, again rising from his chair. "When
I have obtained permission to speak, messieurs, I will tell you the
truth. Until then I shall remain silent."

"Eh, bien!" snapped Bézard. "And so we will pass to the next and final
charge--that you prepared a statement in order to satisfy yourself
regarding the profits of your dealings in these spurious notes."

"I have no knowledge of such a thing!" Paul replied instantly.

"And yet for several weeks past a mysterious friend of yours has been
seen in the neighbourhood of your château. He has been staying in
Commercy and in Longuyon. I gave orders for his arrest, but, with his
usual cleverness, he escaped from Commercy."

"I prepared no statement."

"H'm!" grunted Bézard, looking straight into his flushed face. "You are
quite certain of that?"

"I swear I did not."

"Then perhaps you will deny that this is in your hand?" the director
asked slowly, with a grin, as he fixed his eyes upon Paul and handed him
a sheet of his own note-paper bearing the address of the château embossed
in green.

Paul took it in his trembling fingers, and as he did so his countenance
fell.

It was the rough account of his investments and profits he remembered
making for his father-in-law. He had cast it unheeded into the
waste-paper basket, whence it had, no doubt, been recovered by those who
had spied upon him and placed with the reports as evidence against him.

"You admit making that calculation?" asked Bézard severely. "Those
figures are, I believe, in your handwriting?"

"Yes; but I have had nothing to do with any forgers of banknotes,"
declared the unhappy man, reseating himself.

"Ah! Then you admit making the calculation? That in itself is sufficient
for the present. However, cannot you give us some explanation of that
secret visit of yours to Thillot? Remember, you have to prove your
innocence!"

"I--I cannot--not, at least, at present," faltered the prisoner.

"You refuse?"

"Yes, m'sieur, I flatly refuse," was the hoarse reply. "As I have told
you, that visit concerned the honour of a woman."

The men again exchanged glances of disbelief, while the victim of those
dastardly allegations sat breathless, amazed at the astounding manner in
which his most innocent actions had been misconstrued into incriminating
evidence.

He was under arrest as one who had placed forged English banknotes in
circulation in France!



CHAPTER XIX

IN WHICH A TRUTH IS HIDDEN


WHEN Walter Fetherston entered the tasteful drawing-room at Hill Street
four days later he found Enid alone, seated by the fire.

The dull London light of the autumn afternoon was scarcely sufficient for
him to distinguish every object in the apartment, but as he advanced she
rose and stood silhouetted against the firelight, a slight, graceful
figure, with hand outstretched.

"Both mother and Sir Hugh are out--gone to a matinée at the Garrick," she
exclaimed. "I'm so glad you've come in," and she placed a chair for him.

"I have heard that you are leaving for Egypt to-morrow," he said, "and I
wished to have a chat with you."

"We go to Italy first, and to Egypt after Christmas," she replied.
"Mother has promised to join us in Luxor at the end of January."

"If I were you, Enid," he replied gravely, bending towards her, "I would
make some excuse and remain in England."

"Why?" she asked, her eyes opening widely. "I don't understand!"

"I regret that I am unable to speak more plainly," he said. "I warned you
to leave France, and I was glad that you and Sir Hugh heeded my warning.
Otherwise--well, perhaps an unpleasant incident would have resulted."

"You always speak in enigmas nowadays," said the girl, again standing
near the fireplace, dainty in her dark skirt and cream silk jumper. "Why
did you send me that extraordinary note?"

"In your own interests," was his vague reply. "I became aware
that your further presence in the house of Monsieur Le Pontois
was--well--undesirable--that's all."

"I really think you entertain some antagonism against Paul," she
declared, "yet he's such a good fellow."

The novelist's eyes sparkled through his pince-nez as he replied: "He's
very good-looking, I admit, and, no doubt, a perfect cavalier."

"You suspect me of flirtations with him, of course," she pouted. "Well,
you're not the first man who has chaffed me about that."

"No, no," he laughed. "I'm in no way jealous, I assure you. I merely
told you that your departure from the château would be for the best."

He did not tell her that within an hour of their leaving French territory
an official telegram had been received from Paris by the local
commissaire of police with orders to detain them both, nor that just
before dark an insignificant-looking man in black had called at the
château and been informed by Jean that the English general and his
stepdaughter had already departed.

The whole of that night the wires between the sous-prefecture at Briey
and Paris had been at work, and many curious official messages had been
exchanged. Truly, the pair had had a providential escape.

Sir Hugh was, of course, in entire ignorance of the dastardly action
taken by the Pimlico doctor.

Without duly counting the cost, he had declared at his last interview
with Weirmarsh that their criminal partnership was now at an end. And the
doctor had taken him at his word.

Had not the doctor in London told his assistant, Heureux, that Sir Hugh's
sphere of usefulness was at an end, and that, in all probability, a
_contretemps_ would occur--one which would in future save to "the
syndicate" the sum of five thousand pounds per annum?

Truth to tell, Bézard, director of the Sûreté, had telegraphed orders for
the arrest of Sir Hugh and his daughter. But, thanks to the shrewdness of
Fetherston, who had lingered in the vicinity to afford them protection if
necessary, they had succeeded in escaping only a single hour before the
message reached its destination.

Neither of them knew of this, and the novelist intended that they should
remain in ignorance--just as they were still in ignorance of the reason
of Paul's visit to Paris and of his detention there.

If they were aware of the reason of his warning, then they would most
certainly question him as to the manner in which he was able to gain
knowledge of the betrayal by Weirmarsh. He had no desire to be questioned
upon such matters. The motives of his action--always swift, full of
shrewd foresight, and often in disregard of his own personal safety--were
known alone to himself and to Scotland Yard.

If the truth were told, he had not been alone in Eastern France. At the
little old-world Croix-Blanche at Briey a stout, middle-aged, ruddy-faced
English tourist had had his headquarters; while, again, at the
unpretending Cloche d'Or in the Place St. Paul at Verdun another
Englishman, a young, active, clean-shaven man, had been moving about the
country in constant communication with "Mr. Maltwood." Wherever the
doctor from Pimlico and his assistant, Heureux, had gone, there also went
one or other of those two sharp-eyed but unobtrusive Englishmen. Every
action of the doctor had been noted, and information of it conveyed to
the quiet-mannered man in pince-nez.

"Really, Walter, you are quite as mysterious as your books," Enid was
declaring, with a laugh. "I do wish you would satisfy my curiosity and
tell me why you urged me to leave France so suddenly."

"I had reasons--strong reasons which you may, perhaps, some day know,"
was his response. "I am only glad that you thought fit to take the advice
I offered. This afternoon I have called to give you further
advice--namely, to remain in England, at least for the present."

"But I can't. My friend Jane Caldwell has been waiting a whole fortnight
for me, suffering from asthma in these abominable fogs."

"You can make some excuse. I assure you that to remain in London will be
for the best," he said, while she switched on the shaded electric lights,
which shed a soft glow over the handsome room--that apartment, the
costly furniture of which had been purchased out of the money secretly
supplied by Weirmarsh.

"But I can't see why I should remain," she protested, facing him again.
He noted how strikingly handsome she was, her dimpled cheeks delicately
moulded and her pretty chin slightly protruding, which gave a delightful
piquancy to her features.

"I wish I could explain further. I can't at present!"

"You are, as I have already said, so amazingly mysterious--so full of
secrets always!"

The man sighed, his brows knit slightly.

"Yes," he said, "I am full of secrets--strange, astounding secrets they
are--secrets which some time, if divulged, would mean terrible
complications, ruin to those who are believed to be honest and upright."

The girl stood for a few seconds in silence.

She had heard strange rumours regarding the man seated there before her.
Some had hinted that he, on more than one occasion, acting in an
unofficial capacity, had arranged important treaties between Great
Britain and a foreign Power, leaving to ambassadors the arrangements of
detail and the final ratification. There were whispers abroad that he was
a trusted and tried agent of the British Government, but in exactly what
capacity was unknown. His name frequently appeared among the invited
guests of Cabinet Ministers, and he received cards for many official
functions, but the actual manner in which he rendered assistance to the
Government was always kept a most profound secret.

More than once Sir Hugh had mentioned the matter over the dining-table,
expressing wonder as to Fetherston's real position.

"You know him well, Enid," he had exclaimed once, laughing over to her.
"What is your opinion?"

"I really haven't any," she declared. "His movements are certainly rapid,
and often most mysterious."

"He's a most excellent fellow," declared the old general. "Cartwright
told me so the other day in the club. Cartwright was ambassador in
Petrograd before the war."

Enid remembered this as she stood there, her hands behind her back.

"Before I left I heard that Paul had been called unexpectedly to Paris,"
he said a few moments later. "Has he returned?"

"Not yet, I believe. I had a letter from Blanche this morning. When it
was written, two days ago, he was still absent." Then she added: "There
is some mystery regarding his visit to the capital. Blanche left for
Paris yesterday, I believe, for she had telegraphed to him, but received
no reply."

"She has gone to Paris!" he echoed. "Why did she go? It was silly!"

"Well--because she is puzzled, I think. It was very strange that Paul,
even though at the very gate, did not leave those two men and wish her
adieu."

"Two men--what two men?" he asked in affected ignorance.

"The two men who stopped the car and demanded to speak with him," she
said; and, continuing, described to him that remarkable midnight incident
close to the château.

"No doubt he went to Paris upon some important business," Fetherston
said, reassuring her. "It was, I think, foolish of his wife to follow. At
least, that's my opinion."

He knew that when madame arrived in Paris the ghastly truth must, sooner
or later, be revealed.



CHAPTER XX

IN WHICH A TRUTH IS TOLD


AS Fetherston sat there, still chatting with his well-beloved, he felt a
hatred of himself for being thus compelled to deceive her--to withhold
from her the hideous truth of Paul's arrest.

After all, silence was best. If Walter spoke to the girl before him, then
he must of necessity reveal his own connection with the affair. He knew
she had been puzzled by his presence in France, but his explanation, he
hoped, had been sufficient. He had assured her that the _only_ motive of
his journey had been to be near her, which was, indeed, no untruth.

He saw that Enid was not altogether at her ease in his presence. Perhaps
it was because of those questions and his plain outspokenness when last
they met, on that forest road, where they had discussed the strange death
of Harry Bellairs.

On that evening, full of suspicion and apprehension, he had decided to
tear himself away from her. But, alas! he had found himself powerless to
do so. Pity and sympathy filled his heart; therefore, how could he turn
from her and abandon her at this moment of her peril? It was on the next
day that he had discerned Weirmarsh's sinister intentions. Therefore, he
had risen to watch and to combat them.

Some of his suspicions had been confirmed, nevertheless his chief object
had not yet been attained--the elucidation of the mystery surrounding the
remarkable death of Bellairs.

He was about to refer again to that tragic incident when Enid said
suddenly: "Doctor Weirmarsh called and saw Sir Hugh this morning. You
told me to tell you when next he called."

"Weirmarsh!" exclaimed the novelist in surprise. "I was not aware that he
was in London!"

"He's been abroad--in Copenhagen, I think. He has a brother living
there."

"He had a private talk with your stepfather, of course?"

"Yes, as usual, they were in the study for quite a long time--nearly two
hours. And," added the girl, "I believe that at last they quarrelled. If
they have, I'm awfully glad, for I hate that man!"

"Did you overhear them?" asked Fetherston anxiously, apprehensive lest an
open quarrel had actually taken place. He knew well that Josef Blot,
alias Weirmarsh, was not a man to be trifled with. If Sir Hugh had served
his purpose, as he no doubt had, then he would be betrayed to the police
without compunction, just as others had been.

Walter Fetherston grew much perturbed at the knowledge of this quarrel
between the pair. His sole aim was to protect Sir Hugh, yet how to act he
knew not.

"You did not actually hear any of the words spoken, I suppose?" he
inquired of Enid.

"Not exactly, except that I heard my stepfather denounce the doctor as an
infernal cur and blackguard."

"Well, and what did Weirmarsh reply?"

"He threatened Sir Hugh, saying, 'You shall suffer for those words--you,
who owe everything to me!' I wonder," added the girl, "what he meant by
that?"

"Who knows!" exclaimed Walter. "Some secret exists between them. You told
me that you suspected it long ago."

"And I do," she said, lowering her voice. "That man holds Sir Hugh in the
hollow of his hand--of that I'm sure. I have noticed after each of the
doctor's visits how pale and thoughtful he always is."

"Have you tried to learn the reason of it all?" inquired the novelist
quietly, his gaze fixed upon her.

"I have," she replied, with slight hesitation.

Walter Fetherston contemplated in silence the fine cat's-eye and diamond
ring upon his finger--a ring sent him long ago by an anonymous admirer of
his books, which he had ever since worn as a mascot.

At one moment he held this girl in distinct suspicion; at the next,
however, he realised her peril, and resolved to stand by her as her
champion.

Did he really and honestly love her? He put that question to himself a
thousand times. And for the thousandth time was he compelled to answer in
the affirmative.

"By which route do you intend travelling to Italy to-morrow?" he asked.

"By Paris and Modane. We go first for a week to Nervi, on the coast
beyond Genoa," was her reply.

Fetherston paused. If she put foot in France she would, he knew, be at
once placed under arrest as an accomplice of Paul Le Pontois. When
Weirmarsh took revenge he always did his work well. No doubt the French
police were already at Calais awaiting her arrival.

"I would change the route," he suggested. "Go by Ostend, Strasburg and
Milan."

"Mrs. Caldwell has already taken our tickets," she said. "Besides, it is
a terribly long way round by that route."

"I know," he murmured. "But it will be best. I have a reason--a strong
reason, Enid, for urging you to go by Ostend."

"It is not in my power to do so. Jane always makes our travelling
arrangements. Besides, we have sleeping berths secured on the night
_rapide_ from the Gare de Lyon to Turin."

"I will see Mrs. Caldwell, and get her tickets changed," he said. "Do you
understand, Enid? There are reasons--very strong reasons--why you should
not travel across France!"

"No, I don't," declared the girl. "You are mysterious again. Why don't
you be open with me and give me your reasons for this suggestion?"

"I would most willingly--if I could," he answered. "Unfortunately, I
cannot."

"I don't think Mrs. Caldwell will travel by the roundabout route which
you suggest merely because you have a whim that we should not cross
France," she remarked, looking straight at him.

"If you enter France a disaster will happen--depend upon it," he said,
speaking very slowly, his eyes fixed upon her.

"Are you a prophet?" the girl asked. "Can you prophesy dreadful things to
happen to us?"

"I do in this case," he said firmly. "Therefore, take my advice and do
not court disaster."

"Can't you be more explicit?" she asked, much puzzled by his strange
words.

"No," he answered, shaking his head, "I cannot. I only forewarn you of
what must happen. Therefore, I beg of you to take my advice and travel by
the alternative route--if you really must go to Italy."

She turned towards the fire and, fixing her gaze upon the flames,
remained for a few moments in thought, one neat foot upon the marble
kerb.

"You really alarm me with all these serious utterances," she said at
last, with a faint, nervous laugh.

He rose and stood by her side.

"Look here, Enid," he said, "can't you see that I am in dead earnest?
Have I not already declared that I am your friend, to assist you against
that man Weirmarsh?"

"Yes," she replied, "you have."

"Then will you not heed my warning? There is distinct danger in your
visit to France--a danger of which you have no suspicion, but real and
serious nevertheless. Don't think about spying; it is not that, I assure
you."

"How can I avoid it?"

"By pretending to be unwell," he suggested quickly. "You cannot leave
with Mrs. Caldwell. Let her go, and you can join her a few days later,
travelling by Ostend. The thing is quite simple."

"But----"

"No, you must not hesitate," he declared. "There are no buts. It is the
only way."

"Yes; but tell me what terrible thing is to happen to me if I enter
France?" she asked, with an uneasy laugh.

The man hesitated. To speak the truth would be to explain all. Therefore
he only shook his head and said, "Please do not ask me to explain a
matter of which I am not permitted to speak. If you believe me, Enid," he
said in a low, pleading voice, "do heed my warning, I beg of you!"

As he uttered these words the handle of the door turned, and Lady
Elcombe, warmly clad in furs, came forward to greet the novelist.

"I'm so glad that I returned before you left, Mr. Fetherston," she
exclaimed. "We've been to a most dreary play; and I'm simply dying for
some tea. Enid, ring the bell, dear, will you?" Then continuing, she
added in warm enthusiasm: "Really, Mr. Fetherston, you are quite a
stranger! We hoped to see more of you, but my husband and daughter have
been away in France--as perhaps you know."

"So Enid has been telling me," replied Walter. "They've been in a most
interesting district."

"Enid is leaving us again to-morrow morning," remarked her mother. "They
are going to Nervi. You know it, of course, for I've heard you called the
living Baedeker, Mr. Fetherston," she laughed.

"Yes," he replied, "I know it--a rather dull little place, with one or
two villas. I prefer Santa Margherita, a little farther along the
coast--or Rapallo. But," he added, "your daughter tells me she's not
well. I hope she will not be compelled to postpone her departure."

"Of course not," said Lady Elcombe decisively. "She must go to-morrow if
she goes at all. I will not allow her to travel by herself."

The girl and the man exchanged meaning glances, and just then Sir Hugh
himself entered, greeting his visitor cheerily.

The butler brought in the tea-tray, and as they sat together the two men
chatted.

In pretence that he had not been abroad, Walter was making inquiry
regarding the district around Haudiomont, which he declared must be full
of interest, and asking the general's opinion of the French new
fortresses in anticipation of the new war against Germany.

"Since I have been away," said the general, "I have been forced to arrive
at the conclusion that another danger may arrive in the very near future.
Germany will try and attack France again--without a doubt. The French are
labouring under a dangerous delusion if they suppose that Germany would
be satisfied with her obscurity."

"Is that really your opinion, Sir Hugh?" asked Fetherston, somewhat
surprised.

"Certainly," was the general's reply. "There will be another war in the
near future. My opinions have changed of late, my dear Fetherston," Sir
Hugh assured him, as he sipped his tea, "and more especially since I went
to visit my daughter. I have recently had opportunities of seeing and
learning a good deal."

Fetherston reflected. Those words, coming from Sir Hugh, were certainly
strange ones.

Walter was handing Enid the cake when the butler entered, bearing a
telegram upon a silver salver, which he handed to Sir Hugh.

Tearing it open, he glanced at the message eagerly, and a second later,
with blanched face, stood rigid, statuesque, as though turned into stone.

"Why, what's the matter?" asked his wife. "Whom is it from?"

"Only from Blanche," he answered in a low, strained voice. "She is in
Paris--and is leaving to-night for London."

"Is Paul coming?" inquired Enid eagerly.

"No," he answered, with a strenuous effort to remain calm. "He--he cannot
leave Paris."

The butler, being told there was no answer, bowed and withdrew, but a few
seconds later the door reopened, and he announced:

"Dr. Weirmarsh, Sir Hugh!"



CHAPTER XXI

THE WIDENED BREACH


WHEN Sir Hugh entered his cosy study he found the doctor seated at his
ease in the big chair by the fire.

"I thought that, being in the vicinity, I would call and see if you've
recovered from your--well, your silly fit of irritability," he said, with
a grim smile on his grey face as he looked towards the general.

"I have just received bad news--news which I have all along dreaded,"
replied the unhappy man, the telegram still in his hand. "Paul Le Pontois
has been arrested on some mysterious charge--false, without a doubt!"

"Yes," replied Weirmarsh; "it is most unfortunate. I heard it an hour
ago, and the real reason of my visit was to tell you of the
_contretemps_."

"Someone must have made a false charge against him," cried the general
excitedly. "The poor fellow is innocent--entirely innocent! I only have a
brief telegram from his wife. She is in despair, and leaves for London
to-night."

"My dear Sir Hugh, France is in a very hysterical mood just now. Of
course, there must be some mistake. Some private enemy of his has made
the charge without a doubt--someone jealous of his position, perhaps.
Allegations are easily made, though not so easily substantiated."

"Except by manufactured evidence and forged documents," snapped Sir Hugh.
"If Paul is the victim of some political party and is to be made a
scapegoat, then Heaven help him, poor fellow. They will never allow him
to prove his innocence, unless----"

"Unless what?"

"Unless I come forward," he said very slowly, staring straight before
him. "Unless I come forward and tell the truth of my dealings with you.
The charges against Paul are false. I know it now. What have you to say?"
he added in a low, hard voice.

"A great deal of good that would do!" laughed Weirmarsh, selecting a
cigarette from his gold case and lighting it, regarding his host with
those narrow-set, sinister eyes of his. "It would only implicate Le
Pontois further. They would say, and with truth, that you knew of the
whole conspiracy and had profited by it."

"I should tell them what I know concerning you. Indeed, I wrote out a
full statement while I was staying with Paul. And I have it ready to hand
for the authorities."

"You can do so, of course, if you choose," was the careless reply. "It
really doesn't matter to me what statement you make. You have always
preserved silence up to the present, therefore I should believe that in
this case silence was still golden."

"And you suggest that I stand calmly by and see Le Pontois sentenced to a
long term of imprisonment for a crime which he has not committed, eh?"

"I don't suggest anything, my dear Sir Hugh," was the man's reply; "I
leave it all to your good judgment."

Since they had met in secret Weirmarsh had made a flying visit to
Brussels, where he had conferred with two friends of his. Upon their
suggestion he was now acting.

If Paul Le Pontois were secretly denounced and afterwards found innocent,
then it would only mystify the French police; the policy pursued towards
the Sûreté, as well as towards Sir Hugh, was a clever move on Weirmarsh's
part.

"What am I to say to my poor girl when she arrives here in tears
to-morrow?" demanded the fine old British officer hoarsely.

"You know that best yourself," was Weirmarsh's brusque reply.

"To you I owe all my recent troubles," the elder man declared.
"Because--because," he added bitterly, "you bought me up body and soul."

"A mere business arrangement, wasn't it, Sir Hugh?" remarked his visitor.
"Of course, I'm very sorry if any great trouble has fallen upon you on my
account. I hope, for instance, you do not suspect me of conspiring to
denounce your son-in-law," he added.

"Well, I don't know," was the other's reply; "yet I feel that, in view of
this _contretemps_, I must in future break off all connection with you."

"And lose the annual grant which you find so extremely useful?"

"I shall be compelled to do without it. And, at least, I shall have peace
of mind."

"Perhaps," remarked the other meaningly.

Sir Hugh realised that this man intended still to hold him in the hollow
of his hand. From that one false step he had taken years ago he had never
been able to draw back.

Hour by hour, and day by day, had his conscience pricked him. Those chats
with the doctor in that grimy little consulting-room in Pimlico remained
ever in his memory.

The doctor was the representative of those who held him in their
power--persons who were being continually hunted by the police, yet who
always evaded them--criminals all! To insult him would be to insult those
who had paid him so well for his confidential services.

Yet, filled with contempt for himself, he asked whether he did not
deserve to be degraded publicly, and drummed out of the army.

Were it not for Lady Elcombe and Enid he would long ago have gone to East
Africa and effaced himself. But he could not bring himself to desert
them.

He had satisfied himself that not a soul in England suspected the truth,
for, by the Press, he had long ago been declared to be a patriotic
Briton, because in his stirring public speeches, when he had put up for
Parliament after the armistice, there was always a genuine "John Bull"
ring.

The truth was that he remained unsuspected by all--save by one man who
had scented the truth. That man was Walter Fetherston!

Walter alone knew the ghastly circumstances, and it was he who had been
working to save the old soldier from himself. He did so for two
reasons--first, because he was fond of the bluff, fearless old fellow,
and, secondly, because he had been attracted by Enid, and intended to
rescue her from the evil thraldom of Weirmarsh.

"Why have you returned here to taunt and irritate me again?" snapped Sir
Hugh after a pause.

"I came to tell you news which, apparently, you have already received."

"You could well have kept it. You knew that I should be informed in due
course."

"Yes--but I--well, I thought you might grow apprehensive perhaps."

"In what direction?"

"That your connection with the little affair might be discovered by the
French police. Bézard, the new chief of the Sûreté, is a pretty shrewd
person, remember!"

"But, surely, that is not possible, is it?" gasped the elder man in quick
alarm.

"No; you can reassure yourself on that point. Le Pontois knows nothing,
therefore he can make no statement--unless, of course, your own actions
were suspicious."

"They were not--I am convinced of that."

"Then you have no need to fear. Your son-in-law will certainly not
endeavour to implicate you. And if he did, he would not be believed,"
declared the doctor, although he well knew that Bézard was in possession
of full knowledge of the whole truth, and that, only by the timely
warning he had so mysteriously received, had this man before him and his
stepdaughter escaped arrest.

His dastardly plot to secure their ruin and imprisonment had failed. How
the girl had obtained wind of it utterly mystified him. It was really in
order to discover the reason of their sudden flight that he had made
those two visits.

"Look here, Weirmarsh," exclaimed Sir Hugh with sudden resolution, "I
wish you to understand that from to-day, once and for all, I desire to
have no further dealings with you. It was, as you have said, a purely
business transaction. Well, I have done the dirty, disgraceful work for
which you have paid me, and now my task is at an end."

"I hardly think it is, my dear Sir Hugh," replied the doctor calmly. "As
I have said before, I am only the mouthpiece--I am not the employer. But
I believe that certain further assistance is required--information which
you promised long ago, but failed to procure."

"What was that?"

"You recollect that you promised to obtain something--a little
tittle-tattle--concerning a lady."

"Yes," snapped the old officer, "oh, Lady Wansford. Let us talk of
something else!"

Weirmarsh, who had been narrowly watching the countenance of his victim,
saw that he had mentioned a disagreeable subject. He noted how pale were
the general's cheeks, and how his thin hands twitched with suppressed
excitement.

"I am quite ready to talk of other matters," he answered, "though I deem
it but right to refer to my instructions."

"And what are they?"

"To request you to supply the promised information."

"But I can't--_I really can't_!"

"You made a promise, remember. And upon that promise I made you a loan of
five hundred pounds."

"I know!" cried the unhappy man, who had sunk so deeply into the mire
that extrication seemed impossible. "I know! But it is a promise that I
can't fulfil. I won't be your tool any longer. Gad! I won't. Don't you
hear me?"

"You must!" declared Weirmarsh, bending forward and looking straight into
his eyes.

"I will not!" shouted Sir Hugh, his eyes flashing with quick anger.
"Anything but that."

"Why?"

"My efforts in that direction had tragic results on the last occasion."

"Ah!" laughed Weirmarsh. "I see you are superstitious--or something. I
did not expect that of you."

"I am not superstitious, Weirmarsh. I only refuse to do what you want. If
I gave it to you, it would mean--no I won't--I tell you I won't!"

"Bah! You are growing sentimental!"

"No--I am growing wise. My eyes are at last opened to the dastardly
methods of you and your infernal friends. Hear me, once and for all; I
refuse to assist you further; and, moreover, I defy you!"

The doctor was silent for a moment, contemplating the ruby on his finger.
Then, rising slowly from his chair, he said: "Ah! you do not fully
realise what your refusal may cost you."

"Cost what it may, Weirmarsh, I ask you to leave my house at once," said
the general, scarlet with anger and beside himself with remorse. "And I
shall give orders that you are not again to be admitted here."

"Very good!" laughed the other, with a sinister grin. "You will very soon
be seeking me in my surgery."

"We shall see," replied Sir Hugh, with a shrug of his shoulders, as the
other strode out of his room.



CHAPTER XXII

CONCERNING THE BELLAIRS AFFAIR


WHAT Walter Fetherston had feared had happened. The two men had
quarrelled! Throughout the whole of that evening he watched the doctor's
movements.

In any other country but our dear old hood-winked England, Fetherston, in
the ordinary course, would have been the recipient of high honours from
the Sovereign. But he was a writer, and not a financier. He could not
afford to subscribe to the party funds, a course suggested by the
flat-footed old Lady G----, who was the tout of Government Whips.

Walter preferred to preserve his independence. He had seen and known much
during the war, and, disgusted, he preferred to adopt the Canadian
Government's decree and remain without "honours."

His pet phrase was: "The extent of a Party's dishonours is known by the
honours it bestows. Scraps of ribbon, 'X.Y.Z.' or O.B.E. behind one's
name can neither make the gentleman nor create the lady."

His secret connection with Scotland Yard, which was purely patriotic and
conducted as a student of underground crime, had taught him many strange
things, and he had learnt many remarkable secrets. Some of them were,
indeed, his secrets before they became secrets of the Cabinet.

Many of those secrets he kept to himself, one being the remarkable truth
that General Sir Hugh Elcombe was implicated in a very strange jumble of
affairs--a matter that was indeed incredible.

To the tall, well-groomed, military-looking man with whom he stood at
eleven o'clock on the following morning--in a private room at New
Scotland Yard--he had never confided that discovery of his. To have done
so would have been to betray a man who had a brilliant record as a
soldier, and who still held high position at the War Office.

By such denunciation he knew he might earn from "the eyes of the
Government" very high commendation, in addition to what he had already
earned, yet he had resolved, if possible, to save the old officer, who
was really more sinned against than sinning.

"You seem to keep pretty close at the heels of your friend, the doctor of
Vauxhall Bridge Road!" laughed Trendall, the director of the department,
as they stood together in the big, airy, official-looking room, the two
long windows of which looked out over Westminster Bridge.

"You've been in France, Montgomery says. What was your friend doing
there?"

"He's been there against his will--very much against his will!"

"And you've found out something--eh?"

"Yes," replied Fetherston. "One or two things."

"Something interesting, of course," remarked the shrewd, active,
dark-haired man of fifty, under whose control was one of the most
important departments of Scotland Yard. "But tell me, in what direction
is this versatile doctor of yours working just at the present?"

"I hardly know," was the novelist's reply, as in a navy serge suit he
leaned near the window which overlooked the Thames. "I believe some deep
scheme is afoot, but at present I cannot see very far. For that reason I
am remaining watchful."

"He does not suspect you, of course? If he does, I'd give you Harris, or
Charlesworth, or another of the men--in fact, whoever you like--to assist
you."

"Perhaps I may require someone before long. If so, I will write or wire
to the usual private box at the General Post Office, and shall then be
glad if you will send a man to meet me."

"Certainly. It was you, Fetherston, who first discovered the existence of
this interesting doctor, who had already lived in Vauxhall Bridge Road
for eighteen months without arousing suspicion. You have, indeed, a fine
nose for mysteries."

At that moment the telephone, standing upon the big writing-table, rang
loudly, and the man of secrets crossed to it and listened.

"It's Heywood--at Victoria Station. He's asking for you," he exclaimed.

Walter went to the instrument, and through it heard the words: "The boat
train has just gone, sir. Mrs. Caldwell waited for the young lady until
the train went off, but she did not arrive. She seemed annoyed and
disappointed. Dr. Weirmarsh has been on the platform, evidently watching
also."

"Thanks, Heywood," replied Fetherston sharply; "that was all I wanted to
know. Good day."

He replaced the receiver, and, walking back to his friend against the
window, explained: "A simple little inquiry I was making regarding a
departure by the boat train for Paris--that was all."

But he reflected that if Weirmarsh had been watching it must have been to
warn the French police over at Calais of the coming of Enid. No action
was too dastardly for that unscrupulous scoundrel.

Yet, for the present at least, the girl remained safe. The chief peril
was that in which Sir Hugh was placed, now that he had openly defied the
doctor.

On the previous evening he had been in the drawing-room at Hill Street
when Sir Hugh had returned from interviewing the caller. By his
countenance and manner he at once realised that the breach had been
widened.

The one thought by which he was obsessed was how he should save Sir Hugh
from disgrace. His connection with the Criminal Investigation Department
placed at his disposal a marvellous network of sources of information,
amazing as they were unsuspected. He was secretly glad that at last the
old fellow had resolved to face bankruptcy rather than go farther in that
strange career of crime, yet, at the same time, there was serious
danger--for Weirmarsh was a man so unscrupulous and so vindictive that
the penalty of his defiance must assuredly be a severe one.

The very presence of the doctor on the platform of the South Eastern
station at Victoria that morning showed that he did not intend to allow
the grass to grow beneath his feet.

The novelist was still standing near the long window, looking aimlessly
down upon the Embankment, with its hurrying foot-passengers and whirling
taxis.

"You seem unusually thoughtful, Fetherston," remarked Trendall with some
curiosity, as he seated himself at the table and resumed the opening of
his letters which his friend's visit had interrupted. "What's the
matter?"

"The fact is, I'm very much puzzled."

"About what? You're generally very successful in obtaining solutions
where other men have failed."

"To the problem which is greatly exercising my mind just now I can obtain
no solution," he said in a low, intense voice.

"What is it? Can I help you?"

"Well," he exclaimed, with some hesitation, "I am still trying to
discover why Harry Bellairs died and who killed him."

"That mystery has long ago been placed by us among those which admit of
no solution, my dear fellow," declared his friend. "We did our best to
throw some light upon it, but all to no purpose. I set the whole of our
machinery at work at the time--days before you suspected anything
wrong--but not a trace of the truth could we find."

"But what could have been the motive, do you imagine? From all accounts
he was a most popular young officer, without a single enemy in the
world."

"Jealousy," was the dark man's slow reply. "My own idea is that a woman
killed him."

"Why?" cried Walter quickly. "What causes you to make such a suggestion?"

"Well--listen, and when I've finished you can draw your own
conclusions."



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SILENCE OF THE MAN BARKER


"HARRY BELLAIRS was an old friend of mine," Trendall went on, leaning
back in his padded writing-chair and turning towards where the novelist
was standing. "His curious end was a problem which, of course, attracted
you as a writer of fiction. The world believed his death to be due to
natural causes, in view of the failure of Professors Dale and Boyd, the
Home Office analysts, to find a trace of poison or of foul play."

"You believe, then, that he was poisoned?" asked Fetherston quickly.

The other shrugged his shoulders, saying: "How can that point be cleared
up? There was no evidence of it."

"It is curious that, though we are both so intensely interested in the
problem, we have never before discussed it," remarked Walter. "I am so
anxious to hear your views upon one or two points. What, for instance, do
you think of Barker, the dead man's valet?"

Herbert Trendall hesitated, and for a moment twisted his moustache. He
was a marvellously alert man, an unusually good linguist, and a
cosmopolitan to his finger-tips. He had been a detective-sergeant in the
T Division of Metropolitan Police for years before his appointment as
director of that section. He knew more of the criminal undercurrents on
the Continent than any living Englishman, and it was he who furnished
accurate information to the Sûreté in Paris concerning the great Humbert
swindle.

"Well," he said, "if I recollect aright, the inquiries regarding him were
not altogether satisfactory. Previous to his engagement by Harry he had,
it seems, been valet to a man named Mitchell, a horse-trainer of rather
shady repute."

"Where is he now?"

"I really don't know, but I can easily find out--I gave orders that he
was not to be lost sight of." And, scribbling a hasty memorandum, he
pressed the electric button upon the arm of his chair.

His secretary, a tall, thin, deep-eyed man, entered, and to him he gave
the note.

"Well, let us proceed while they are looking up the information," the
chief went on. "Harry Bellairs, as you know, was on the staff of Sir
Hugh Elcombe, that dear, harmless old friend of yours who inspects troops
and seems to do odd jobs for Whitehall. I knew Harry before he went to
Sandhurst; his people, who lived up near Durham, were very civil to me
once or twice and gave me some excellent pheasant-shooting. It seems that
on that day in September he came up to town from Salisbury--but you know
all the facts, of course?"

"I know all the facts as far as they were related in the papers," Walter
said. He did not reveal the results of the close independent inquiries he
had already made--results which had utterly astounded, and at the same
time mystified, him.

"Well," said Trendall, "what the Press published was mostly fiction. Even
the evidence given before the coroner was utterly unreliable. It was
mainly given in order to mislead the jury and prevent public suspicion
that there had been a sensational tragedy--I arranged it so."

"And there had been a tragedy, no doubt?"

"Of course," declared the other, leaning both elbows upon the table
before him and looking straight into the novelist's pale face. "Harry
came up from Salisbury, the bearer of some papers from Sir Hugh. He duly
arrived at Waterloo, discharged his duty, and went to his rooms in Half
Moon Street. Now, according to Barker's story, his master arrived home
early in the afternoon, and sent him out on a message to Richmond. He
returned a little after five, when he found his master absent."

"That was the account he gave at the inquest," remarked Fetherston.

"Yes; but it was not the truth. On testing the man's story I discovered
that at three-eighteen he was in the Leicester Lounge, in Leicester
Square, with an ill-dressed old man, who was described as being short and
wearing a rusty, old silk hat. They sat at a table near the window
drinking ginger-ale, so that the barmaid could not overhear, and held a
long and confidential chat."

"He may afterwards have gone down to Richmond," his friend suggested.

"No; he remained there until past four, and then went round to the Café
Royal, where he met another man, a foreigner, of about his own age,
believed to have been a Swiss, with whom he took a cup of coffee. The man
was a stranger at the café, probably a stranger in London. Barker was in
the habit of doing a little betting, and I believe the men he met were
some of his betting friends."

"Then you disbelieve the Richmond story?"

"Entirely. What seems more than probable is that Harry gave his man the
afternoon off because he wished to entertain somebody clandestinely at
his rooms--a woman, perhaps. Yet, as far as I've been able to discover,
no one in Half Moon Street saw any stranger of either sex go to his
chambers that afternoon."

"You said that you believed the motive of the crime--if crime it really
was--was jealousy," remarked Fetherston, thoughtfully rubbing his shaven
chin.

"And I certainly do. Harry was essentially a lady's man. He was tall, and
an extremely handsome fellow, a thorough-going sportsman, an excellent
polo player, a perfect dancer, and a splendid rider to hounds. Little
wonder was it that he was about to make a very fine match, for only a
month before his death he confided to me in secret the fact--a fact known
to me alone--that he was engaged to pretty little Lady Blanche Herbert,
eldest daughter of the Earl of Warsborough."

"Engaged to Lady Blanche!" echoed the novelist in surprise, for the girl
in question was the prettiest of that year's débutantes as well as a
great heiress in her own right.

"Yes. Harry was a lucky dog, poor fellow. The engagement, known only to
the Warsboroughs and myself, was to have been kept secret for a year.
Now, it is my firm opinion, Fetherston, that some other woman, one of
Harry's many female friends, had got wind of it, and very cleverly had
her revenge."

"Upon what grounds do you suspect that?" asked the other eagerly--for
surely the problem was becoming more inscrutable than any of those in the
remarkable romances which he penned.

"Well, my conclusions are drawn from several very startling facts--facts
which, of course, have never leaked out to the public. But before I
reveal them to you I'd like to hear what opinion you've formed yourself."

"I'm convinced that Harry Bellairs met with foul play, and I'm equally
certain that the man Barker lied in his depositions before the coroner.
He knows the whole story, and has been paid to keep a still tongue."

"There I entirely agree with you," Trendall declared quickly; while at
that moment the secretary returned with a slip of paper attached to the
query which his chief had written. "Ah!" he exclaimed, glancing at the
paper, "I see that the fellow Barker, who was a chauffeur before he
entered Harry's service, has set up a motor-car business in
Southampton."

"You believe him to have been an accessory, eh?"

"Yes, a dupe in the hands of a clever woman."

"Of what woman?" asked Walter, holding his breath.

"As you know, Harry was secretary to your friend Elcombe. Well, I happen
to know that his pretty stepdaughter, Enid Orlebar, was over head and
ears in love with him. My daughter Ethel and she are friends, and she
confided this fact to Ethel only a month before the tragedy."

"Then you actually suggest that a--a certain woman murdered him?" gasped
Fetherston.

"Well--there is no actual proof--only strong suspicion!"

Walter Fetherston held his breath. Did the suspicions of this man, from
whom no secret was safe, run in the same direction as his own?

"There was in the evidence given before the coroner a suggestion that the
captain had dined somewhere in secret," he said.

"I know. But we have since cleared up that point. He was not given poison
while he sat at dinner, for we know that he dined at the Bachelors' with
a man named Friend. They had a hurried meal, because Friend had to catch
a train to the west of England."

"And afterwards?"

"He left the club in a taxi at eight. But what his movements exactly were
we cannot ascertain. He returned to his chambers at a quarter past nine
in order to change his clothes and go back to Salisbury, but he was
almost immediately taken ill. Barker declares that his master sent him
out on an errand instantly on his return, and that when he came in he
found him dying."

"Did he not explain what the errand was?"

"No; he refused to say."

In that refusal Fetherston saw that the valet, whatever might be his
fault, was loyal to his dead master and to Enid Orlebar. He had not told
how Bellairs had sent to Hill Street that scribbled note, and how the
distressed girl had torn along to Half Moon Street to arrive too late to
speak for the last time with the man she loved. Was Barker an enemy, or
was he a friend?

"That refusal arouses distinct suspicion, eh?"

"Barker has very cleverly concealed some important fact," replied the
keen-faced man who controlled that section of Scotland Yard. "Bellairs,
feeling deadly ill, and knowing that he had fallen a victim to some
enemy, sent Barker out for somebody in whom to confide. The man claimed
that the errand that his master sent him upon was one of confidence."

"And to whom do you think he was sent?"

"To a woman," was Trendall's slow and serious reply. "To the woman who
murdered him!"

"But if she had poisoned him, surely he would not send for her?"
exclaimed Fetherston.

"At the moment he was not aware of the woman's jealousy, or of the subtle
means used to cause his untimely end. He was unsuspicious of that cruel,
deadly hatred lying so deep in the woman's breast. Lady Blanche, on
hearing of the death of her lover, was terribly grieved, and is still
abroad. She, of course, made all sorts of wild allegations, but in none
of them did we find any basis of fact. Yet, curiously enough, her views
were exactly the same as my own--that one of poor Harry's lady friends
had been responsible for his fatal seizure."

"Then, after all the inquiries you instituted, you were really unable to
point to the actual assassin?" asked Fetherston rather more calmly.

"Not exactly unable--unwilling, rather."

"How do you mean unwilling? You were Bellairs' friend!"

"Yes, I was. He was one of the best and most noble fellows who ever wore
the King's uniform, and he died by the treacherous hand of a jealous
woman--a clever woman who had paid Barker to maintain silence."

"But, if the dying man wished to make a statement, he surely would not
have sent for the very person by whose hand he had fallen," Fetherston
protested. "Surely that is not a logical conclusion!"

"Bellairs was not certain that his sudden seizure was not due to
something he had eaten at the club--remember he was not certain that her
hand had administered the fatal drug," replied Trendall. A hard, serious
expression rested upon his face. "He had, no doubt, seen her between the
moment when he left the Bachelors' and his arrival, a little over an hour
afterwards, at Half Moon Street--where, or how, we know not. Perhaps he
drove to her house, and there, at her invitation, drank something. Yet,
however it happened, the result was the same; she killed him, even though
she was the first friend to whom he sent in his distress--killed him
because she had somehow learnt of his secret engagement to Lady Blanche
Herbert."

"Yours is certainly a remarkable theory," admitted Walter Fetherston.
"May I ask the name of the woman to whom you refer?"

"Yes; she was the woman who loved him so passionately," replied
Trendall--"Enid Orlebar."

"Then you really suspect _her_?" asked Fetherston breathlessly.

"Only as far as certain facts are concerned; and that since Harry's death
she has been unceasingly interested in the career of the man Barker."

"Are you quite certain of this?" gasped Fetherston.

"Quite; it is proved beyond the shadow of a doubt."

"Then Enid Orlebar killed him?"

"That if she actually did not kill him with her own hand, she at least
knew well who did," was the other's cold, hard reply. "She killed him for
two reasons; first, because by poor Harry's death she prevented the
exposure of some great secret!"

Walter Fetherston made no reply.

Those inquiries, instituted by Scotland Yard, had resulted in exactly the
same theory as his own independent efforts--that Harry Bellairs had been
secretly done to death by the woman, who, upon her own admission to him,
had been summoned to the young officer's side.



CHAPTER XXIV

WHAT THE DEAD MAN LEFT


IT was news to Fetherston that Bellairs had dined at his club on that
fateful night.

He had believed that Enid had dined with him. He had proved beyond all
doubt that she had been to his rooms that afternoon during Barker's
absence. That feather from the boa, and the perfume, were sufficient
evidence of her visit.

Yet why had Barker remained in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly Circus if
sent by his master with a message to Richmond? He could not doubt a
single word that Trendall had told him, for the latter's information was
beyond question. Well he knew with what care and cunning such an inquiry
would have been made, and how every point would have been proved before
being reported to that ever active man who was head of that Department of
the Home Office that never sleeps.

"What secret do you suggest might have been divulged?" he asked at last
after a long pause.

The big room--the Room of Secrets--was silent, for the double windows
prevented the noise of the traffic and the "honk" of the taxi horns from
penetrating there. Only the low ticking of the clock broke the quiet.

"I scarcely have any suggestion to offer in that direction," was
Trendall's slow reply. "That feature of the affair still remains a
mystery."

"But cannot this man Barker be induced to make some statement?" he
queried.

"He will scarcely betray the woman to whom he owes his present
prosperity, for he is prosperous and has a snug little balance at his
bank. Besides, even though we took the matter in hand, what could we do?
There is no evidence against him or against the woman. The farcical
proceedings in the coroner's court had tied their hands."

"An open verdict was returned?"

"Yes, at our suggestion. But Professors Dale and Boyd failed to find any
traces of poison or of foul play."

"And yet there _was_ foul play--that is absolutely certain!" declared the
novelist.

"Unfortunately, yes. Poor Bellairs was a brilliant and promising officer,
a man destined to make a distinct mark in the world. It was a pity,
perhaps, that he was such a lady-killer."

"A pity that he fell victim to what was evidently a clever plot, and
yet--yet--I cannot bring myself to believe that your surmise can be
actually correct. He surely would never have sent for the very person who
was his enemy and who had plotted to kill him--it doesn't seem feasible,
does it?"

"Quite as feasible as any of the strange and crooked circumstances which
one finds every day in life's undercurrents," was the quiet rejoinder.
"Remember, he was very fond of her--fascinated by her remarkable beauty."

"But he was engaged to Lady Blanche?"

"He intended to marry her, probably for wealth and position. The woman a
man of Harry's stamp marries is seldom, if ever, the woman he loves,"
added the chief with a somewhat cynical smile, for he was essentially a
man of the world.

"But what secret could Enid Orlebar desire to hide?" exclaimed Fetherston
wonderingly. "If he loved her, he certainly would never have threatened
exposure."

"My dear fellow, I've told you briefly my own theory--a theory formed
upon all the evidence I could collect," replied the tall, dark-eyed man,
as he thrust his hands deeply into his trousers pockets and looked
straight into the eyes of his friend.

"If you are so certain that Enid Orlebar is implicated in the affair, if
not the actual assassin, why don't you interrogate her?" asked Walter
boldly.

"Well--well, to tell the truth, our inquiries are not yet complete. When
they are, we may be in a better position--we probably shall be--to put to
her certain pointed questions. But," he added quickly, "perhaps I ought
not to say this, for I know she is a friend of yours."

"What you tell me is in confidence, as always, Trendall," he replied
quickly. "I knew long ago that Enid was deeply attached to Bellairs. But
much that you have just told me is entirely fresh to me. I must find
Barker and question him."

"I don't think I'd do that. Wait until we have completed our inquiries,"
urged the other. "If Bellairs was killed in so secret and scientific a
manner that no trace was left, he was killed with a cunning and
craftiness which betrays a jealous woman rather than a man. Besides,
there are other facts we have gathered which go further to prove that
Enid Orlebar is the actual culprit."

"What are they? Tell me, Trendall."

"No, my dear chap; you are the lady's friend--it is really unfair to ask
me," he protested. "Where the usual mysteries are concerned, I'm always
open and above-board with you. But in private investigations like this
you must allow me to retain certain knowledge to myself."

"But I beg of you to tell me everything," demanded the other. "I have
taken an intense interest in the matter, as you have, even though my
motive has been of an entirely different character."

"You have no suspicion that Bellairs was in possession of any great
secret--a secret which it was to Miss Orlebar's advantage should be
kept?"

"No," was the novelist's prompt response. "But I can't see the drift of
your question," he added.

"Well," replied the keen, alert man, who, again seated in his
writing-chair, bent slightly towards his visitor, "well, as you've asked
me to reveal all I know, Fetherston, I will do so, even though I feel
some reluctance, in face of the fact that Miss Orlebar is your friend."

"That makes no difference," declared the other firmly. "I am anxious to
clear up the mystery of Bellairs' death."

"Then I think that you need seek no farther for the correct solution,"
replied Trendall quietly, looking into the other's pale countenance.
"Your lady friend killed him--_in order to preserve her own secret_."

"But what was her secret?"

"We have that yet to establish. It must have been a serious one for her
to close his lips in such a manner."

"But they were good friends," declared Fetherston. "He surely had not
threatened to expose her?"

"I do not think he had. My own belief is that she became madly jealous of
Lady Blanche, and at the same time, fearing the exposure of her secret to
the woman to whom her lover had become engaged, she took the subtle means
of silencing him. Besides----" And he paused without concluding his
sentence.

"Besides what?"

"From the first you suspected Sir Hugh's stepdaughter, eh?"

Fetherston hesitated. Then afterwards he nodded slowly in the
affirmative.

"Yes," went on Trendall, "I knew all along that you were suspicious. You
made a certain remarkable discovery, eh, Fetherston?"

The novelist started. At what did his friend hint? Was it possible that
the inquiries had led to a suspicion of Sir Hugh's criminal conduct? The
very thought appalled him.

"I--well, in the course of the inquiries I made I found that the lady in
question was greatly attached to the dead man," replied Fetherston rather
lamely.

Trendall smiled. "It was to Enid Orlebar that Harry sent when he felt his
fatal seizure. Instead of sending for a doctor, he sent Barker to her,
and she at once flew to his side, but, alas! too late to remedy the harm
she had already caused. When she arrived he was dead!"

Fetherston was silent. He saw that the inquiries made by the Criminal
Investigation Department had led to exactly the same conclusion that he
himself had formed.

"This is a most distressing thought--that Enid Orlebar is a murderess!"
he declared after a moment's pause.

"It is--I admit. Yet we cannot close our eyes to such outstanding facts,
my dear chap. Depend upon it that there is something behind the poor
fellow's death of which we have no knowledge. In his death your friend
Miss Orlebar sought safety. The letter he wrote to her a week before his
assassination is sufficient evidence of that."

"A letter!" gasped Fetherston. "Is there one in existence?"

"Yes; it is in our possession; it reveals the existence of the secret."

"But what was its nature?" cried Fetherston in dismay. "What terrible
secret could there possibly be that could only be preserved by Bellairs'
silence?"

"That's just the puzzle we have to solve--just the very point which has
mystified us all along."

And then he turned to his correspondence again, opening his letters one
after the other--letters which, addressed to a box at the General Post
Office in the City, contained secret information from various unsuspected
quarters at home and abroad.

Suddenly, in order to change the topic of conversation, which he knew was
painful to Walter Fetherston, he mentioned the excellence of the opera at
Covent Garden on the previous night. And afterwards he referred to an
article in that day's paper which dealt with the idea of obtaining
exclusive political intelligence through spirit-bureaux. Then, speaking
of the labour unrest, Trendall pronounced his opinion as follows:

"The whole situation would be ludicrous were it not urged so
persistently as to be a menace not so much in this country, where we know
too well the temperaments of its sponsors, but abroad, where public
opinion, imperfectly instructed, may imagine it represents a serious
national feeling. The continuance of it is an intolerable negation of
civilisation; it is supported by no public men of credit; it has been
disproved again and again. Ridicule may be left to give the menace the
_coup de grâce_! And this," he laughed, "in face of what you and I know,
eh? Ah! how long will the British public be lulled to sleep by anonymous
scribblers?"

"One day they'll have a rude awakening," declared Fetherston, still
thinking, however, of that letter of the dead man to Enid. "I wonder," he
added, "I wonder who inspires these denials? We know, of course, that
each time anything against enemy interests appears in a certain section
of the Press there arises a ready army of letter-writers who rush into
print and append their names to assurances that the enemy is nowadays our
best friend. Those 'patriotic Englishmen' are, many of them, in high
positions.

"When responsible papers wilfully mislead the public, what can be
expected?" Walter went on. "But," he added after a pause, "we did not
arrive at any definite conclusion regarding the tragic death of Bellairs.
What about that letter of his?"

Trendall was thoughtful for a few minutes.

"My conclusion--the only one that can be formed," he answered at last,
disregarding his friend's question--"is that Enid Orlebar is the guilty
person; and before long I hope to be in possession of that secret which
she strove by her crime to suppress--a secret which I feel convinced we
shall discover to be one of an amazing character."

Walter stood motionless as a statue.

Surely Bellairs had not died by Enid's hand!



CHAPTER XXV

AT THE CAFÉ DE PARIS


IT was in the early days of January--damp and foggy in England.

Walter Fetherston sat idling on the _terrasse_ of the Café de Paris in
Monte Carlo sipping a "mazagran," basking in the afternoon sunshine, and
listening to the music of the Rumanian Orchestra.

Around him everywhere was the gay cosmopolitan world of the tables--that
giddy little after-the-war financier and profiteer world which amuses
itself on the Côte d'Azur, and in which he was such a well-known figure.

So many successive seasons had he passed there before 1914 that across at
the rooms the attendants and croupiers knew him as an habitué, and he was
always granted the _carte blanche_--the white card of the professional
gambler. With nearly half the people he met he had a nodding
acquaintance, for friendships are easily formed over the _tapis
vert_--and as easily dropped.

Preferring the fresher air of Nice, he made his headquarters at the
Hôtel Royal on the world-famed promenade, and came over to "Monte" daily
by the _rapide_.

Much had occurred since that autumn morning when he had stood with
Herbert Trendall in the big room at New Scotland Yard, much that had
puzzled him, much that had held him in fear lest the ghastly truth
concerning Sir Hugh should be revealed.

His own activity had been, perhaps, unparalleled. The strain of such
constant travel and continual excitement would have broken most men; but
he possessed an iron constitution, and though he spent weeks on end in
trains and steamboats, it never affected him in the least. He could
snatch sleep at any time, and he could write anywhere.

Whether or not Enid had guessed the reason of his urgent appeal to her
not to pass through France, she had nevertheless managed to excuse
herself; but a week after Mrs. Caldwell's departure she had travelled
alone by the Harwich-Antwerp route, evidently much to the annoyance of
the alert doctor of Pimlico.

Walter had impressed upon her the desirability of not entering
France--without, however, giving any plain reason. He left her to guess.

Through secret sources in Paris he had learnt how poor Paul Le Pontois
was still awaiting trial. In order not to excite public opinion, the
matter was being kept secret by the French authorities, and it had been
decided that the inquiry should be held with closed doors.

A week after his arrest the French police received additional evidence
against him in the form of a cryptic telegram addressed to the Château,
an infamous and easily deciphered message which, no doubt, had been sent
with the distinct purpose of strengthening the amazing charge against
him. He protested entire ignorance of the sender and of the meaning of
the message, but his accusers would not accept any disclaimer. So
cleverly, indeed, had the message been worded that at the Sûreté it was
believed to refer to the price he had received for certain bundles of
spurious notes.

Without a doubt the scandalous telegram had been sent at Weirmarsh's
instigation by one of his friends in order to influence the authorities
in Paris.

So far as the doctor was concerned he was ever active in receiving
reports from his cosmopolitan friends abroad. But since his quarrel with
Sir Hugh he had ceased to visit Hill Street, and had, apparently,
dropped the old general's acquaintance.

Sir Hugh was congratulating himself at the easy solution of the
difficulty, but Walter, seated at that little marble-topped table in the
winter sunshine, knowing Weirmarsh's character, remained in daily
apprehension.

The exciting life he led in assisting to watch those whom Scotland Yard
suspected was as nothing compared with the constant fear of the unmasking
of Sir Hugh Elcombe. Doctor Weirmarsh was an enemy, and a formidable one.

The mystery concerning the death of Bellairs had increased rather than
diminished. Each step he had taken in the inquiry only plunged him deeper
and deeper into an inscrutable problem. He had devoted weeks to
endeavouring to solve the mystery, but it remained, alas! inscrutable.

Enid and Mrs. Caldwell had altered their plans, and had gone to Sicily
instead of to Egypt, first visiting Palermo and Syracuse, and were at the
moment staying at the popular "San Domenico" at Taormina, amid that gem
of Mediterranean scenery. Sir Hugh and his wife, much upset by Blanche's
sudden arrival in London, had not gone abroad that winter, but had
remained at Hill Street to comfort Paul's wife and child.

As for Walter, he had of late been wandering far afield, in Petrograd,
Geneva, Rome, Florence, Málaga, and for the past week had been at Monte
Carlo. He was not there wholly for pleasure, for, if the truth be told,
there were seated at the farther end of the _terrasse_ a smartly dressed
man and a woman in whom he had for the past month been taking a very keen
interest.

This pair, of Swiss nationality, he had watched in half a dozen
Continental cities, gradually establishing his suspicions as to their
real occupation.

They had come to Monte Carlo for neither health nor pleasure, but in
order to meet a grey-haired man in spectacles, whom they received twice
in private at the Métropole, where they were staying.

The Englishman had first seen them sitting together one evening at one of
the marble-topped tables at the Café Royal in Regent Street, while he had
been idly playing a game of dominoes at the next table with an American
friend. The face of the man was to him somehow familiar. He felt that he
had seen it somewhere, but whether in a photograph in his big album down
at Idsworth or in the flesh he could not decide.

Yet from that moment he had hardly lost sight of them. With that
astuteness which was Fetherston's chief characteristic, he had watched
vigilantly and patiently, establishing the fact that the pair were in
England for some sinister purpose. His powers were little short of
marvellous. He really seemed, as Trendall once put it, to scent the
presence of criminals as pigs scent truffles.

They suddenly left the Midland Hotel at St. Pancras, where they were
staying, and crossed the Channel. But the same boat carried Walter
Fetherston, who took infinite care not to obtrude himself upon their
attention.

Monte Carlo, being in the principality of Monaco, and being peopled by
the most cosmopolitan crowd in the whole world, is in winter the
recognised meeting-place of _chevaliers d'industrie_ and those who
finance and control great crimes.

In the big atrium of those stifling rooms many an assassin has met his
hirer, and in many of those fine hotels have bribes been handed over to
those who will do "dirty work." It is the European exchange of
criminality, for both sexes know it to be a safe place where they may
"accidentally" meet the person controlling them.

It is safe to say that in every code used by the criminal plotters of
every country in Europe there is a cryptic word which signifies a meeting
at Monte Carlo. For that reason was Walter Fetherston much given to
idling on the sunny _terrasse_ of the café at a point where he could see
every person who ascended or descended that flight of red-carpeted stairs
which gives entrance to the rooms.

The pair whom he was engaged in watching had been playing at roulette
with five-franc pieces, and the woman was now counting her gains and
laughing gaily with her husband as she slowly sipped her tea flavoured
with orange-flower water. They were in ignorance of the presence of that
lynx-eyed man in grey flannels and straw hat who smoked his cigarette
leisurely and appeared to be so intensely bored.

No second glance at Fetherston was needed to ascertain that he was a most
thorough-going cosmopolitan. He usually wore his pale-grey felt hat at a
slight angle, and had the air of the easy-going adventurer, debonair and
unscrupulous. But in his case his appearance was not a true index to his
character, for in reality he was a steady, hard-headed, intelligent man,
the very soul of honour, and, above all, a man of intense patriotism--an
Englishman to the backbone. Still, he cultivated his easy-going
cosmopolitanism to pose as a careless adventurer.

Presently the pair rose, and, crossing the palm-lined place, entered the
casino; while Walter, finishing his "mazagran," lit a fresh cigarette,
and took a turn along the front of the casino in order to watch the
pigeon-shooting.

The winter sun was sinking into the tideless sea in all its
gold-and-orange glory as he stood leaning over the stone balustrade
watching the splendid marksmanship of one of the crack shots of Europe.
He waited until the contest had ended, then he descended and took the
_rapide_ back to Nice for dinner.

At nine o'clock he returned to Monte Carlo, and again ascended the
station lift, as was his habit, for a stroll through the rooms and a chat
and drink with one or other of his many friends. He looked everywhere for
the Swiss pair in whom he was so interested, but in vain. Probably they
had gone over to Nice to spend the evening, he thought. But as the night
wore on and they did not return by the midnight train--the arrival of
which he watched--he strolled back to the Métropole and inquired for them
at the bureau of the hotel.

"M'sieur and Madame Granier left by the Mediterranean express for Paris
at seven-fifteen this evening," replied the clerk, who knew Walter very
well.

"What address did they leave?" he inquired, annoyed at the neat manner in
which they had escaped his vigilance.

"They left no address, m'sieur. They received a telegram just after six
o'clock recalling them to Paris immediately. Fortunately, there was one
two-berth compartment vacant on the train."

Walter turned away full of chagrin. He had been foolish to lose sight of
them. His only course was to return to Nice, pack his traps, and follow
to Paris in the ordinary _rapide_ at eight o'clock next morning. And this
was the course he pursued.

But Paris is a big place, and though he searched for two whole weeks,
going hither and thither to all places where the foreign visitors mostly
congregate, he saw nothing of the interesting pair. Therefore, full of
disappointment, he crossed one afternoon to Folkestone, and that night
again found himself in his dingy chambers in Holles Street.

Next day he called upon Sir Hugh, and found him in much better spirits.
Lady Elcombe told him that Enid had written expressing herself delighted
with her season in Sicily, and saying that both she and Mrs. Caldwell
were very pleased that they had adopted his suggestion of going there
instead of to overcrowded Cairo.

As he sat with Sir Hugh and his wife in that pretty drawing-room he knew
so well the old general suddenly said: "I suppose, Fetherston, you are
still taking as keen an interest in the latest mysteries of crime--eh?"

"Yes, Sir Hugh. As you know, I've written a good deal upon the subject."

"I've read a good many of your books and articles, of course," exclaimed
the old officer. "Upon many points I entirely agree with you," he said.
"There is a curious case in the papers to-day. Have you seen it? A young
girl found mysteriously shot dead near Hitchin."

"No, I haven't," was Walter's reply. He was not at all interested. He was
thinking of something of far greater interest.



CHAPTER XXVI

WHICH IS "PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL"


AT eleven o'clock next morning Fetherston stood in Trendall's room at
Scotland Yard reporting to him the suspicious movements of Monsieur and
Madame Granier.

His friend leaned back in his padded chair listening while the keen-faced
man in pince-nez related all the facts, and in doing so showed how shrewd
and astute he had been.

"Then they are just what we thought," remarked the chief.

"Without a doubt. In Monte Carlo they received further instructions from
somebody. They went to Paris, and there I lost them."

Trendall smiled, for he saw how annoyed his friend was at their escape.

"Well, you certainly clung on to them," he said. "When you first told me
your suspicions I confess I was inclined to disagree with you. You merely
met them casually in Regent Street. What made you suspicious?"

"One very important incident--Weirmarsh came in with another man, and,
in passing, nodded to Granier. That set me thinking."

"But you do not know of any actual dealings with the doctor?"

"I know of none," replied Walter. "Still, I'm very sick that, after all
my pains, they should have escaped to Paris so suddenly."

"Never mind," said Trendall. "If they are what we suspect we shall pick
them up again before long, no doubt. Now look here," he added. "Read
that! It's just come in. As you know, any foreigner who takes a house in
certain districts nowadays is reported to us by the local police."

Fetherston took the big sheet of blue official paper which the police
official handed to him, and found that it was the copy of a confidential
report made by the Superintendent of Police at Maldon, in Essex, and read
as follows:

"I, William Warden, Superintendent of Police for the Borough of Maldon,
desire to report to the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police the following
statement from Sergeant S. Deacon, Essex Constabulary, stationed at
Southminster, which is as below:

"'On Friday, the thirteenth of September last, a gentleman, evidently a
foreigner, was sent by Messrs. Hare and James, estate agents, of Malden,
to view the house known as The Yews, at Asheldham, in the vicinity of
Southminster, and agreed to take it for three years in order to start a
poultry farm. The tenant entered into possession a week later, when one
vanload of furniture arrived from London. Two days later three other
vanloads arrived late in the evening, and were unpacked in the
stable-yard at dawn. The tenant, whose name is Bailey--but whose letters
come addressed "Baily," and are mostly from Belgium--lived there alone
for a fortnight, and was afterwards joined by a foreign man-servant named
Pietro, who is believed to be an Italian. Though more than three months
have elapsed, and I have kept observation upon the house--a large one,
standing in its own grounds--I have seen no sign of poultry farming, and
therefore deem it a matter for a report.--SAMUEL DEACON, Sergeant, Essex
Constabulary.'"

"Curious!" remarked Walter, when he had finished reading it.

"Yes," said Trendall. "There may be nothing in it."

"It should be inquired into!" declared Walter. "I'll take Summers and go
down there to have a look round, if you like."

"I wish you would," said the chief. "I'll 'phone Summers to meet you at
Liverpool Street Station," he added, turning to the railway guide.
"There's a train at one forty-five. Will that suit you?"

"Yes. Tell him to meet me at Liverpool Street--and we'll see who this
'Mr. Baily' really is."

When, shortly after half-past one, the novelist walked on to the platform
at Liverpool Street he was approached by a narrow-faced, middle-aged man
in a blue serge suit who presented the appearance of a ship's engineer on
leave.

As they sat together in a first-class compartment Fetherston explained to
his friend the report made by the police officer at Southminster--the
next station to Burnham-on-Crouch--whereupon Summers remarked: "The
doctor has been down this way once or twice of late. I wonder if he goes
to pay this Mr. Baily, or Bailey, a visit?"

"Perhaps," laughed Walter. "We shall see."

The railway ended at Southminster, but on alighting they had little
difficulty in finding the small police station, where the local sergeant
of police awaited them, having been warned by telephone.

"Well, gentlemen," said the red-faced man, spreading his big hands on his
knees as they sat together in a back room, "Mr. Bailey ain't at home just
now. He's away a lot. The house is a big one--not too big for the four
vanloads of furniture wot came down from London."

"Has he made any friends in the district, do you know?"

"No, not exactly. 'E often goes and 'as a drink at the Bridgewick Arms at
Burnham, close by the coastguard station."

Walter exchanged a meaning glance with his assistant.

"Does he receive any visitors?"

"Very few--he's away such a lot. A woman comes down to see him
sometimes--his sister, they say she is."

"What kind of a woman?"

"Oh, she's a lady about thirty-five--beautifully dressed always. She
generally comes in a dark-green motor-car, which she drives herself. She
was a lady driver during the war."

"Do you know her name?"

"Miss Bailey. She's a foreigner, of course."

"Any other visitors?" asked Fetherston, in his quick, impetuous way, as
he polished his pince-nez.

"One day, very soon after Mr. Bailey took the house, I was on duty at
Southminster Station in the forenoon, and a gentleman and lady arrived
and asked how far it was to The Yews, at Asheldham. I directed them the
way to walk over by Newmoor and across the brook. Then I slipped 'ome,
got into plain clothes, and went along after them by the footpath."

"Why did you do that?" asked Summers.

"Because I wanted to find out something about this foreigner's visitors.
I read at headquarters at Maldon the new instructions about reporting all
foreigners who took houses, and I wanted to----"

"To show that you were on the alert, eh, Deacon?" laughed the novelist
good-humouredly, and he lit a cigarette.

"That's so, sir," replied the big, red-faced man. "Well, I took a short
cut over to The Yews, and got there ten minutes before they did. I hid in
the hedge on the north side of the house, and saw that as soon as they
walked up the drive Mr. Bailey rushed out to welcome them. The lady
seemed very nervous, I thought. I know she was an English lady, because
she spoke to me at the station."

"What were they like?" inquired Summers. "Describe both of them."

"Well, the man, as far as I can recollect, was about fifty or so,
grey-faced, dark-eyed, wearin' a heavy overcoat with astrachan collar and
cuffs. He had light grey suède gloves, and carried a gold-mounted malacca
cane with a curved handle. The woman was quite young--not more'n twenty,
I should think--and very good-lookin'. She wore a neat tailor-made dress
of brown cloth, and a small black velvet hat with a big gold buckle. She
had a greyish fur around her neck, with a muff to match, and carried a
small, dark green leather bag."

Walter stood staring at the speaker. The description was exactly that of
Weirmarsh and Enid Orlebar. The doctor often wore an astrachan-trimmed
overcoat, while both dress and hat were the same which Enid had worn
three months ago!

He made a few quick inquiries of the red-faced sergeant, but the man's
replies only served to convince him that Enid had actually been a visitor
at the mysterious house.

"You did not discover their names?"

"The young lady addressed her companion as 'Doctor.' That's all I know,"
was the officer's reply. "For that reason I was rather inclined to think
that I was on the wrong scent. The man was perhaps, after all, only a
doctor who had come down to see his patient."

"Perhaps so," remarked Walter mechanically. "You say Mr. Bailey is not at
home to-day, so we'll just run over and have a look round. You'd better
come with us, sergeant."

"Very well, sir. But I 'ear as how Mr. Bailey is comin' home this
evenin'. I met Pietro in the Railway Inn at Southminster the night before
last, and casually asked when his master was comin' home, as I wanted to
see 'im for a subscription for our police concert, and 'e told me that
the signore--that's what 'e called him--was comin' home to-night."

"Good! Then, after a look round the place, we hope to have the pleasure
of seeing this mysterious foreigner who comes here to the Dengie Marshes
to make a living out of fowl-keeping." And Walter smiled meaningly at his
companion.

Ten minutes later, after the sergeant had changed into plain clothes, the
trio set out along the flat, muddy road for Asheldham.

But as they were walking together, after passing Northend, a curious
thing happened.

Summers started back suddenly and nudged the novelist's arm without a
word.

Fetherston, looking in the direction indicated, halted, utterly staggered
by what met his gaze.

It was inexplicable--incredible! He looked again, scarcely believing his
own eyes, for what he saw made plain a ghastly truth.

He stood rigid, staring straight before him.

Was it possible that at last he was actually within measurable distance
of the solution of the mystery?



CHAPTER XXVII

THE RESULT OF INVESTIGATION


AS the expectant trio had come round the bend in the road they saw in
front of them, walking alone, a young lady in a short tweed suit with hat
to match.

The gown was of a peculiar shade of grey, and by her easy, swinging gait
and the graceful carriage of her head Walter Fetherston instantly
recognised that there before him, all unconscious of his presence, was
the girl he believed to be still in Sicily--Enid Orlebar!

He looked again, to satisfy himself that he was not mistaken. Then,
drawing back, lest her attention should be attracted by their footsteps,
he motioned to his companions to retreat around the bend and thus out of
her sight.

"Now," he said, addressing them, "there is some deep mystery here. That
lady must not know we are here."

"You've recognised her, sir?" asked Summers, who had on several previous
occasions assisted him.

"Yes," was the novelist's hard reply. "She is here with some mysterious
object. You mustn't approach The Yews till dark."

"Mr. Bailey will then be at home, sir," remarked the sergeant. "I thought
you wished to explore the place before he arrived?"

Walter paused. He saw that Enid could not be on her way to visit Bailey,
if he were not at home. So he suggested that Summers, whom she did not
know, should go forward and watch her movements, while he and the
sergeant should proceed to the house of suspicion.

Arranging to meet later, the officer from Scotland Yard lit his pipe and
strolled quickly forward around the bend to follow the girl in grey,
while the other two halted to allow them to get on ahead.

"Have you ever seen that lady down here before, sergeant?" asked Walter
presently.

"Yes, sir. If I don't make a mistake, it is the same lady who asked me
the way to The Yews soon after Mr. Bailey took the house--the lady who
came with the man whom she addressed as 'Doctor'!"

"Are you quite certain of this?"

"Not quite certain. She was dressed differently, in brown--with a
different hat and a veil."

"They came only on that one occasion, eh?"

"Only that once, sir."

"But why, I wonder, is she going to The Yews? Pietro, you say, went up to
London this morning?"

"Yes, sir, by the nine-five. And the house is locked up--she's evidently
unaware of that."

"No doubt. She'll go there, and, finding nobody at home, turn away
disappointed. She must not see us."

"We'll take good care of that, sir," laughed the local sergeant breezily,
as he left his companion's side and crossed the road so that he could see
the bend. "Why!" he exclaimed, "she ain't goin' to Asheldham after all!
She's taken the footpath to the left that leads into Steeple! Evidently
she knows the road!"

"Then we are free to go straight along to The Yews, eh? She's making a
call in the vicinity. I wonder where she's going?"

"Your friend will ascertain that," said the sergeant. "Let's get along to
The Yews and 'ave a peep round."

Therefore the pair, now that Enid was sufficiently far ahead along a
footpath which led under a high, bare hedge, went forth again down the
high road until, after crossing the brook, they turned to the right into
Asheldham village, where, half-way between that place and New Hall, they
turned up a short by-road, a cul-de-sac, at the end of which a big,
old-fashioned, red-brick house of the days of Queen Anne, half hidden by
a belt of high Scotch firs, came into view.

Shut off from the by-road by a high, time-mellowed brick wall, it stood
back lonely and secluded in about a couple of acres of well wooded
ground. From a big, rusty iron gate the ill-kept, gravelled drive took a
broad sweep up to the front of the house, a large, roomy one with square,
inartistic windows and plain front, the ugliness of which the ivy strove
to hide.

In the grey light of that wintry afternoon the place looked inexpressibly
dismal and neglected. Years ago it had, no doubt, been the residence of
some well-to-do county family; but in these twentieth-century post-war
days, having been empty for nearly ten years, it had gone sadly to rack
and ruin.

The lawns had become weedy, the carriage-drive was, in places, green with
moss, like the sills of the windows and the high-pitched, tiled roof
itself. In the centre of the lawn, before the house, stood four great
ancient yews, while all round were high box hedges, now, alas! neglected,
untrimmed and full of holes.

The curtains were of the commonest kind, while the very steps leading to
the front door were grey with lichen and strewn with wisps of straw. The
whole aspect was one of neglect, of decay, of mystery.

The two men, opening the creaking iron gate, advanced boldly to the door,
an excuse ready in case Pietro opened it.

They knocked loudly, but there was no response. Their summons echoed
through the big hall, causing Walter to remark:

"There can't be much furniture inside, judging from the sound."

"Four motor vanloads came here," responded the sergeant. "The first was
in a plain van."

"You did not discover whence it came?"

"I asked the driver down at the inn at Southminster, and he told me that
they came from the Trinity Furnishing Company, Peckham. But, on making
inquiries, I found that he lied; there is no such company in Peckham."

"You saw the furniture unloaded?"

"I was about here when the first lot came. When the other three vans
arrived I was away on my annual leave," was the sergeant's reply.

Again they knocked, but no one came to the door. A terrier approached,
but he proved friendly, therefore they proceeded to make an inspection
of the empty stabling and disused outbuildings.

Three old hen-coops were the only signs of poultry-farming they could
discover, and these, placed in a conspicuous position in the big, paved
yard, were without feathered occupants.

There were three doors by which the house could be entered, and all of
them Walter tried and found locked. Therefore, noticing in the
rubbish-heap some stray pieces of paper, he at once turned his attention
to what he discovered were fragments of a torn letter. It was written in
French, and, apparently, had reference to certain securities held by the
tenant of The Yews.

But as only a small portion of the destroyed communication could be
found, its purport was not very clear, and the name and address of the
writer could not be ascertained.

Yet it had already been proved without doubt that the mysterious tenant
of the dismal old place--the man who posed as a poultry-farmer--had had
as visitors Dr. Weirmarsh and Enid Orlebar!

For a full half-hour, while the red-faced sergeant kept watch at the
gate, Walter Fetherston continued to investigate that rubbish-heap, which
showed signs of having been burning quite recently, for most of the
scraps of paper were charred at their edges.

The sodden remains of many letters he withdrew and tried to read, but the
scraps gave no tangible result, and he was just about to relinquish his
search when his eye caught a scrap of bright blue notepaper of a familiar
hue. It was half burned, and blurred by the rain, but at the corner he
recognised some embossing in dark blue--familiar embossing it was--of
part of the address in Hill Street!

The paper was that used habitually by Enid Orlebar, and upon it was a
date, two months before, and the single word "over" in her familiar
handwriting.

He took his stout walking-stick, in reality a sword-case, and frantically
searched for other scraps, but could find none. One tiny portion only had
been preserved from the flames--paraffin having been poured over the heap
to render it the more inflammable. But that scrap in itself was
sufficient proof that Enid had written to the mysterious tenant of The
Yews.

"Well," he said at last, approaching the sergeant, "do you think the
coast is clear enough?"

"For what?"

"To get a glimpse inside. There's a good deal more mystery here than we
imagine, depend upon it!" Walter exclaimed.

"Master and man will return by the same train, I expect, unless they come
back in a motor-car. If they come by train they won't be here till well
past eight, so we'll have at least three hours by ourselves."

Walter Fetherston glanced around. Twilight was fast falling.

"It'll be dark inside, but I've brought my electric torch," he said.
"There's a kitchen window with an ordinary latch."

"That's no use. There are iron bars," declared the sergeant. "I examined
it the other day. The small staircase window at the side is the best
means of entry." And he took the novelist round and showed him a long
narrow window about five feet from the ground.

Walter's one thought was of Enid. Why had she written to that mysterious
foreigner? Why had she visited there? Why, indeed, was she back in
England surreptitiously, and in that neighbourhood?

The short winter's afternoon was nearly at an end as they stood
contemplating the window prior to breaking in--for Walter Fetherston felt
justified in breaking the law in order to examine the interior of that
place.

In the dark branches of the trees the wind whistled mournfully, and the
scudding clouds were precursory of rain.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Walter. "This isn't a particularly cheerful
abode, is it, sergeant?"

"No, sir, if I lived 'ere I'd have the blues in a week," laughed the man.
"I can't think 'ow Mr. Bailey employs 'is time."

"Poultry-farming," laughed Fetherston, as, standing on tiptoe, he
examined the window-latch by flashing on the electric torch.

"No good!" he declared. "There's a shutter covered with new sheet-iron
behind."

"It doesn't show through the curtain," exclaimed Deacon.

"But it's there. Our friend is evidently afraid of burglars."

From window to window they passed, but the mystery was considerably
increased by the discovery that at each of those on the ground floor were
iron-faced shutters, though so placed as not to be noticeable behind the
windows, which were entirely covered with cheap curtain muslin.

"That's funny!" exclaimed the sergeant. "I've never examined them with a
light before."

"They have all been newly strengthened," declared Fetherston. "On the
other side I expect there are strips of steel placed lattice-wise, a
favourite device of foreigners. Mr. Bailey," he added, "evidently has no
desire that any intruder should gain access to his residence."

"What shall we do?" asked Deacon, for it was now rapidly growing dark.

A thought had suddenly occurred to Walter that perhaps Enid's intention
was to make a call there, after all.

"Our only way to obtain entrance is, I think, by one of the upper
windows," replied the man whose very life was occupied by the
investigation of mysteries. "In the laundry I noticed a ladder. Let us go
and get it."

So the ladder, a rather rotten and insecure one, was obtained, and after
some difficulty placed against the wall. It would not, however, reach to
the windows, as first intended, therefore Walter mounted upon the
slippery, moss-grown tiles of a wing of the house, and after a few
moments' exploration discovered a skylight which proved to be over the
head of the servants' staircase.

This he lifted, and, fixing around a chimney-stack a strong silk rope he
had brought in his pocket ready for any emergency, he threw it down the
opening, and quickly lowered himself through.

Scarcely had he done so, and was standing on the uncarpeted stairs, when
his quick ear caught the sound of Deacon's footsteps receding over the
gravel around to the front of the house.

Then, a second later, he heard a loud challenge from the gloom in a man's
voice that was unfamiliar:

"Who's there?"

There was no reply. Walter listened with bated breath.

"What are you doing there?" cried the new-comer in a voice in which was a
marked foreign accent. "Speak! _speak!_ or I'll shoot!"



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE SECRET OF THE LONELY HOUSE


WALTER did not move. He realised that a _contretemps_ had occurred. The
ladder still leaning against the wall outside would reveal his intrusion.
Yet, at last inside, he intended, at all hazards, to explore the place
and learn the reason why the mysterious stranger had started that
"poultry farm."

He was practically in the dark, fearing to flash on his torch lest he
should be discovered.

Was it possible that Bailey or his Italian manservant had unexpectedly
returned!

Those breathless moments seemed hours.

Suddenly he heard a second challenge. The challenger used a fierce
Italian oath, and by it he knew that it was Pietro.

In reply, a shot rang out--evidently from the sergeant's pistol, followed
by another sharp report, and still another. This action showed the man
Deacon to be a shrewd person, for the effect was exactly as he had
intended. The Italian servant turned on his heel and flew for his life
down the drive, shouting in his native tongue for help and for the
police.

"Madonna santa!" he yelled. "Who are you here?" he demanded in Italian.
"I'll go to the police!"

And in terror he rushed off down the road.

"All right, sir," cried the sergeant, after the servant had disappeared.
"I've given the fellow a good fright. Be quick and have a look round,
sir. You can be out again before he raises the alarm!"

In an instant Walter flashed on his torch and, dashing down the stairs,
crossed the kitchen and found himself in the hall. From room to room he
rushed, but found only two rooms on the ground floor furnished--a
sitting-room, which had been the original dining-room, while in the study
was a chair-bed, most probably where Pietro slept.

On the table lay a heavy revolver, fully loaded, and this Fetherston
quickly transferred to his jacket pocket.

Next moment he dashed up the old well staircase two steps at a time and
entered room after room. Only one was furnished--the tenant's bedroom. In
it he found a number of suits of clothes, while on the dressing-table lay
a false moustache, evidently for disguise. A small writing-table was set
in the window, and upon it was strewn a quantity of papers.

As he flashed his torch round he was amazed to see, arranged upon a neat
deal table in a corner, some curious-looking machinery which looked
something like printing-presses. But they were a mystery to him.

The discovery was a strange one. What it meant he did not then realise.
There seemed to be quite a quantity of apparatus and machinery. It was
this which had been conveyed there in those furniture vans of the Trinity
Furnishing Company.

He heard Deacon's voice calling again. Therefore, having satisfied
himself as to the nature of the contents of that neglected old house, he
ascended the stone steps into the passage which led through a faded
green-baize door into the main hall.

As he entered he heard voices in loud discussion. Sergeant Deacon and the
servant Pietro had met face to face.

The Italian had evidently aroused the villagers in Asheldham, for there
were sounds of many voices of men out on the gravelled drive.

"I came up here a quarter of an hour ago," the Italian cried excitedly in
his broken English, "and somebody fired at me. They tried to kill me!"

"But who?" asked Deacon in pretended ignorance. He was uncertain what to
do, Mr. Fetherston being still within the house and the ladder, his only
means of escape, still standing against a side wall.

"Thieves!" cried the man, his foreign accent more pronounced in his
excitement. "I challenged them, and they fired at me. I am glad that you,
a police sergeant, are here."

"So am I," cried Walter Fetherston, suddenly throwing open the front door
and standing before the knot of alarmed villagers, though it was so dark
that they could not recognise who he was. "Deacon," he added
authoritatively, "arrest that foreigner."

"Diavolo! Who are you?" demanded the Italian angrily.

"You will know in due course," replied Fetherston. Then, turning to the
crowd, he added: "Gentlemen, I came here with Sergeant Deacon to search
this house. He will tell you whether that statement is true or not."

"Quite," declared the breezy sergeant, who already had the Italian by the
collar and coat-sleeve. "It was I who fired--to frighten him off!"

At this the crowd laughed. They had no liking for foreigners of any sort
after the war, and were really secretly pleased to see that the sergeant
had "taken him up."

But what for? they asked themselves. Why had the police searched The
Yews? Mr. Bailey was a quiet, inoffensive man, very free with his money
to everybody around.

"Jack Beard," cried Deacon to a man in the crowd, "just go down to
Asheldham and telephone to Superintendent Warden at Maldon. Ask him to
send me over three men at once, will you?"

"All right, Sam," was the prompt reply, and the man went off, while the
sergeant took the resentful Italian into the house to await an escort.

Deacon called the assistance of two men and invited them in. Then, while
they mounted guard over the prisoner, Fetherston addressed the little
knot of amazed men who had been alarmed by the Italian's statement.

"Listen, gentlemen," he said. "We shall in a couple of hours' time expect
the return of Mr. Bailey, the tenant of this house. There is a very
serious charge against him. I therefore put everyone of you upon your
honour to say no word of what has occurred here to-night--not until Mr.
Bailey arrives. I should prefer you all to remain here and wait;
otherwise, if a word be dropped at Southminster, he may turn back and fly
from justice."

"What's the charge, sir?" asked one man, a bearded old labourer.

"A very serious one," was Walter's evasive reply.

Then, after a pause, they all agreed to wait and witness the dramatic
arrest of the man who was charged with some mysterious offence.
Speculation was rife as to what it would be, and almost every crime in
the calendar was cited as likely.

Meanwhile Fetherston, returning to the barely-furnished sitting-room,
interrogated Pietro in Italian, but only obtained sullen answers. A
loaded revolver had been found upon him by Deacon, and promptly
confiscated.

"I have already searched the place," Walter said to the prisoner, "and I
know what it contains."

But in response the man who had posed as servant, but who, with his
"master," was the custodian of the place, only grinned and gave vent to
muttered imprecations in Italian.

Fetherston afterwards left the small assembly and made examination of
some bedrooms he had not yet inspected. In three of these, the locks of
which he broke open, he discovered quantities of interesting papers,
together with another mysterious-looking press.

While trying to decide what it all meant he suddenly heard a great
shouting and commotion outside, and ran down to the door to ascertain its
cause.

As he opened it he saw that in the darkness the crowd outside had grown
excited.

"'Ere you are, sir," cried one man, ascending the steps. "'Ere are two
visitors. We found 'em comin' up the road, and, seein' us, they tried to
get away!"

Walter held up a hurricane lantern which he had found and lit, when its
dim, uncertain light fell upon the two prisoners in the crowd.

Behind stood Summers, while before him, to Fetherston's utter amazement,
showed Enid Orlebar, pale and terrified, and the grey, sinister face of
Doctor Weirmarsh.



CHAPTER XXIX

CONTAINS SOME STARTLING STATEMENTS


ENID, recognising Walter, shrank back instantly in fear and shame, while
Weirmarsh started at that unexpected meeting with the man whom he knew to
be his bitterest and most formidable opponent.

The small crowd of excited onlookers, ignorant of the true facts, but
their curiosity aroused by the unusual circumstances, had prevented the
pair from turning back and making a hurried escape.

"Enid!" exclaimed Fetherston, as the girl reluctantly crossed the
threshold with downcast head, "what is the meaning of this? Why are you
paying a visit to this house at such an hour?"

"Ah, Walter," she cried, her small, gloved hands clenched with a sudden
outburst of emotion, "be patient and hear me! I will tell you
everything--_everything_!"

"You won't," growled the doctor sharply. "If you do, by Gad! it will be
the worse for you! So you'd best keep a silent tongue--otherwise you
know the consequences. I shall now tell the truth--and you won't like
that!"

She drew back in terror of the man who held such an extraordinary
influence over her. She had grasped Fetherston's hand convulsively, but
at Weirmarsh's threat she had released her hold and was standing in the
hall, pale, rigid and staring.

"Summers," exclaimed Fetherston, turning to his companion, "you know this
person, eh?"

"Yes, sir, I should rather think I do," replied the man, with a grin.

"Well, detain him for the present, and take your instructions from
London."

"You have no power or right to detain me," declared the grey-faced doctor
in quick defiance. "You are not a police officer!"

"No, but this is a police officer," Fetherston replied, indicating
Summers, and adding: "Sergeant, I give that man into custody."

The sergeant advanced and laid his big hand upon the doctor's shoulder,
telling him to consider himself under arrest.

"But this is abominable--outrageous!" Weirmarsh cried, shaking him off.
"I've committed no offence."

"That is a matter for later consideration," calmly replied the man who
had devoted so much of his time and money to the investigation of
mysteries of crime.

In one of the bare bedrooms upstairs Fetherston had, in examining one of
the well made hand-presses set up there, found beside it a number of
one-pound Treasury notes. In curiosity he took one up, and found it to be
in an unfinished state. It was printed in green, without the brown
colouring. Yet it was perfect as regards the paper and printing--even to
its black serial number.

Next second the truth flashed upon him. The whole apparatus, presses and
everything, had been set up there to print the war paper currency of
Great Britain!

In the room adjoining he had seen bundles of slips of similar paper, all
neatly packed in elastic bands, and waiting the final process of
colouring and toning. One bundle had only the Houses of Parliament
printed; the other side was blank. He saw in a flash that the placing in
circulation of such a huge quantity of Treasury notes, amounting to
hundreds of thousands of pounds, must seriously damage the credit of the
nation.

For a few seconds he held an unfinished note in his hand examining it,
and deciding that the imitation was most perfect. It deceived him and
would undoubtedly deceive any bank-teller.

In those rooms it was plain that various processes had been conducted,
from the manipulation of the watermark, by a remarkably ingenious
process, right down to the finished one-pound note, so well done that not
even an expert could detect the forgery. There were many French
one-hundred-franc notes as well.

The whole situation was truly astounding. Again the thought hammered
home: such a quantity of paper in circulation must affect the national
finances of Britain. And at the head of the band who were printing and
circulating those spurious notes was the mysterious medical man who
carried on his practice in Pimlico!

The scene within the sparsely furnished house containing those telltale
presses was indeed a weird one.

Somebody had found a cheap paraffin lamp and lit it in the sitting-room,
where they were all assembled, the front door having been closed.

It was apparent that Pietro was no stranger to the doctor and his fair
companion, but both men were highly resentful that they had been so
entrapped.

"Doctor Weirmarsh," exclaimed Fetherston seriously, as he stood before
him, "I have just examined this house and have ascertained what it
contains."

"You've told him!" cried the man, turning fiercely upon Enid. "You have
betrayed me! Ah! It will be the worse for you--and for your family," he
added harshly. "You will see! I shall now reveal the truth concerning
your stepfather, and you and your family will be held up to opprobrium
throughout the whole length and breadth of your land."

Enid did not reply. She was pale as death, her face downcast, her lips
white as marble. She knew, alas! that Weirmarsh, now that he was
cornered, would not spare her.

There was a pause--a very painful pause.

Everyone next instant listened to a noise which sounded outside. As it
grew nearer it grew more distinct--the whir of an approaching motor-car.

It pulled up suddenly before the door, and a moment later the old bell
clanged loudly through the half-empty house.

Fetherston left the room, and going to the door, threw it open, when yet
another surprise awaited him.

Upon the steps stood four men in thick overcoats, all of whom Walter
instantly recognised.

With Trendall stood Sir Hugh Elcombe, while their companions were two
detective-inspectors from Scotland Yard.

"Hallo!--Fetherston!" gasped Trendall. "I--I expected to find Weirmarsh
here! What has happened?"

"The doctor is already here," was the other's quick reply. "I have found
some curious things in this place! Secret printing-presses for forged
notes."

"We already know that," he said. "Sir Hugh Elcombe here has, unknown to
us, obtained certain knowledge, and to-day he came to me and gave me a
full statement of what has been in progress. What he has told me this
afternoon is among the most valuable and reliable information that we
ever received."

"I know something of the scoundrels," remarked the old general,
"because--well, because, as I have confessed to Mr. Trendall, I yielded
to temptation long ago and assisted them."

"Whatever you have done, Sir Hugh, you have at least revealed to us the
whole plot. Only by pretending to render assistance to these scoundrels
could you have gained the intensely valuable knowledge which you've
imparted to me to-day," replied the keen-faced director from Scotland
Yard.

Fetherston realised instantly that the fine old fellow, whom he had
always held in such esteem, was making every effort to atone for his
conduct in the past; but surely that was not the moment to refer to
it--so he ushered the four men into the ill-lit dining-room wherein the
others were standing, none knowing how next to act.

When the doctor and Sir Hugh faced each other there was a painful silence
for a few seconds.

To Weirmarsh Trendall was known by sight, therefore the criminal saw that
the game was up, and that Sir Hugh had risked his own reputation in
betraying him.

"You infernal scoundrel!" cried the doctor angrily. "You--to whom I have
paid so many thousands of pounds--have given me away! But I'll be even
with you!"

"Say what you like," laughed the old general in defiance. "To me it is
the same whatever you allege. I have already admitted my slip from the
straight path. I do not deny receiving money from your hands, nor do I
deny that, in a certain measure, I have committed serious
offences--because, having taken one step, you forced me on to others,
always holding over me the threat of exposure and ruin. But,
fortunately, one day, in desperation, I took Enid yonder into my
confidence. It was she who suggested that I might serve the ends of
justice, and perhaps atone for what I had already done, by learning your
secrets, and, when the time was ripe, revealing all the interesting
details to our authorities. Enid became your friend and the friend of
your friends. She risked everything--her honour, her happiness, her
future--by associating with you for the one and sole purpose of assisting
me to learn all the dastardly plot in progress."

"It was you who supplied Paul Le Pontois with the false notes he passed
in France!" declared Weirmarsh. "The French police know that; and if ever
you or your step-daughter put foot in France you will be arrested."

"Evidently you are unaware, Doctor, that my son-in-law, Paul Le Pontois,
was released yesterday," laughed Sir Hugh in triumph. "Your treachery,
which is now known by the Sûreté, defeated its own ends."

"Further," remarked Walter Fetherston, turning to Enid, "it was this man
here"--and he indicated the grey-faced doctor of Pimlico--"this man who
denounced you and Sir Hugh to the French authorities, and had you not
heeded my warning you both would then have been arrested. He had
evidently suspected the object of your friendliness with me--that you
both intended to reveal the truth--and he adopted that course in order to
secure your incarceration in a foreign prison, and so close your lips."

"I knew you suspected me all along, Walter," replied the girl, standing a
little aside and suddenly clutching his hand. "But you will forgive me
now--forgive me, won't you?" she implored, looking up into his dark,
determined face.

"Of course," he replied, "I have already forgiven you. I had no idea of
the true reason of your association with this man."

And he raised her gloved hand and carried it gallantly to his eager lips.

"Though more than mere suspicion has rested upon you," he went on, "you
and your stepfather deserve the heartiest thanks of the nation for
risking everything in order to be in a position to reveal this dastardly
financial plot. That man there"--and he indicated the doctor--"deserves
all he'll get!"

The doctor advanced threateningly, and, drawing a big automatic revolver
from his pocket, would have fired at the man who had spoken his mind so
freely had not Deacon, quick as lightning, sprung forward and wrenched
the weapon so that the bullet went upward.

White with anger and chagrin, the doctor stood roundly abusing the man
who had investigated that lonely house.

But Fetherston laughed, which only irritated him the more. He raved like
a caged lion, until the veins in his brow stood out in great knots; but,
finding all protests and allegations useless, he at last became quiet
again, and apparently began to review the situation from a purely
philosophical standpoint, until, some ten minutes later, another
motor-car dashed up and in it were an inspector and four plain-clothes
constables, who had been sent over from Maldon in response to Deacon's
message for assistance.

When they entered Pietro became voluble, but the narrow-eyed doctor of
Pimlico remained sullen and silent, biting his lips. He saw that he had
been entrapped by the very man whom he had believed to be as clay in his
hands.

The scene was surely exciting as well as impressive. The half-furnished,
ill-lit dining-room was full of excited men, all talking at once.

Unnoticed, Walter drew Enid into the shadow, and in a few brief,
passionate words reassured her of his great affection.

"Ah!" she cried, bursting into hot tears, "your words, Walter, have
lifted a great load of sorrow and apprehension from my mind, for I feared
that when you knew the truth you would never, never forgive."

"But I have forgiven," he whispered, pressing her hand.

"Then wait until we are alone, and I will tell you everything. Ah! you do
not know, Walter, what I have suffered--what a terrible strain I have
sustained in these days of terror!"

But scarcely had she uttered those words when the door reopened and a man
was ushered in by Deacon, who had gone out in response to the violent
ringing of the bell.

"This is Mr. Bailey, tenant of the house, gentlemen," said the sergeant,
introducing him with mock politeness.

Fetherston glanced up, and to his surprise saw standing in the doorway a
man he had known, and whose movements he had so closely followed--the man
who had gone to Monte Carlo for instructions, and perhaps payment--the
man who had passed as Monsieur Granier!



CHAPTER XXX

REVEALS A WOMAN'S LOVE


GREAT was the consternation caused in the neighbourhood of the sleepy
old-world village of Asheldham when it became known that the quiet,
mild-mannered tenant of The Yews had been arrested by the Maldon police.

Of what transpired within those grim walls only the two men called to his
assistance by Sergeant Deacon knew, and to them both the inspector from
Maldon, as well as Trendall, expressed a fervent hope that they would
regard the matter as strictly confidential.

"You see, gentlemen," added Trendall, "we are not desirous that the
public should know of our discovery. We wish to avoid creating undue
alarm, and at the same time to conceal the very existence of our system
of surveillance upon those suspected. Therefore, I trust that all of you
present will assist my department by preserving silence as to what has
occurred here this evening."

His hearers agreed willingly, and through the next hour the place was
thoroughly searched, the bundles of spurious notes--the finished ones
representing nearly one hundred thousand pounds ready to put into
circulation--being seized.

One of the machines they found was for printing in the serial numbers in
black, a process which, with genuine notes, is done by hand. Truly, the
gang had brought the art of forgery to perfection.

"Well," said Trendall when they had finished, "this work of yours, Sir
Hugh, certainly deserves the highest commendation. You have accomplished
what we, with all our great organisation, utterly failed to do."

"I have to-day tried to atone for my past offences," was the stern old
man's hoarse reply.

"And you have succeeded, Sir Hugh," declared Trendall. "Indeed you have!"

Shortly afterwards the excitement among the crowd waiting outside in the
light of the head-lamps of the motor-cars was increased by the appearance
of the doctor, escorted by two Maldon police officers in plain clothes.
They mounted a police car, and were driven away down the road, while into
a second car the tenant of The Yews and his Italian manservant were
placed under escort, and also driven away.

The station-fly, in which Bailey had driven from Southminster, conveyed
away Fetherston, Trendall, Sir Hugh, and Enid, while Deacon, with two
men, was left in charge of the house of secrets.

It was past one o'clock in the morning when Walter Fetherston stood alone
with Enid in the pretty drawing-room in Hill Street.

They stood together upon the _vieux rose_ hearthrug, his hand was upon
her shoulder, his deep, earnest gaze fixed upon hers. In her splendid
eyes the love light showed. They had both admired each other intensely
from their first meeting, and had become very good and staunch friends.
Walter Fetherston had only once spoken of the passion that had constantly
consumed his heart--when they were by the blue sea at Biarritz. He loved
her--loved her with the whole strength of his being--and yet, ah! try how
he would, he could never put aside the dark cloud of suspicion which, as
the days went by, became more and more impenetrable.

Sweet-faced, frank, and open, she stood, the ideal of the English outdoor
girl, merry, quick-witted, and athletic. And yet, after the stress of
war, she had sacrificed all that she held most dear in order to become
the friend of Weirmarsh. Why?

"Enid," he said at last, his tender hand still upon her shoulder, "why
did you not tell me your true position? You were working in the same
direction, with the same strong motive of patriotism, as myself!"

She was silent, very pale, and very serious.

"I feared to tell you, Walter," she faltered. "How could I possibly
reveal to you the truth when I knew you were aware how my stepfather had
unconsciously betrayed his friends? You judged us both as undesirables,
therefore any attempt at explanation would, I know, only aggravate our
offence in your eyes. Ah! you do not know how intensely I have suffered!
How bitter it all was! I knew the reason you followed us to France--to
watch and confirm your suspicions."

"I admit, Enid, that I suspected you of being in the hands of a set of
scoundrels," her lover said in a low, hoarse voice. "At first I hesitated
whether to warn you of your peril after Weirmarsh had, with such
dastardly cunning, betrayed you to the French police, but--well," he
added as he looked again into her dear eyes long and earnestly, "I loved
you, Enid," he blurted forth. "I told you so! Remember, dear, what you
said at Biarritz? And I love you--and because of that I resolved to save
you!"

"Which you did," she said in a strained, mechanical tone. "We both have
you to thank for our escape. Weirmarsh, having first implicated Paul,
then made allegations against us, in order to send us to prison, because
he feared lest my stepfather might, in a fit of remorse, act indiscreetly
and make a confession."

"The past will all be forgiven now that Sir Hugh has been able to expose
and unmask Weirmarsh and his band," Walter assured her. "A great
sensation may possibly result, but it will, in any case, show that even
though an Englishman may be bought, he can still remain honest. And," he
added, "it will also show them that there is at least one brave woman in
England who sacrificed her love--for I know well, Enid, that you fully
reciprocate the great affection I feel towards you--in order to bear her
noble part in combating a wily and unscrupulous gang."

"It was surely my duty," replied the girl simply, her eyes downcast in
modesty. "Yet association with that dastardly blackguard, Dr. Weirmarsh,
was horrible! How I refrained from turning upon him through all those
months I cannot really tell. I detested him from the first moment Sir
Hugh invited him to our table; and though I went to assist him under
guise of consultations, I acted with one object all along," she
declared, her eyes raised to his and flashing, "to expose him in his true
guise--that of Josef Blot, the head of the most dangerous association of
forgers, of international thieves and blackmailers known to the police
for the past half a century."

"Which you have surely done! You have revealed the whole plot, and
confounded those who were so cleverly conspiring to effect a sudden and
most gigantic coup. But----" and he paused, still looking into her eyes
through his pince-nez, and sighed.

"But what?" she asked, in some surprise at his sudden change of manner.

"There is one matter, Enid, which"--and he paused--"well, which is still
a mystery to me, and I--I want you to explain it," he said in slow
deliberation.

"What is that?" she asked, looking at him quickly.

"The mystery which you have always refused to assist me in
unravelling--the mystery of the death of Harry Bellairs," was his quiet
reply. "You held him in high esteem; you loved him," he added in a voice
scarce above a whisper.

She drew back, her countenance suddenly blanched as she put her hand
quickly to her brow and reeled slightly as though she had been dealt a
blow.

Walter watched her in blank wonderment.



CHAPTER XXXI

IN WHICH SIR HUGH TELLS HIS STORY


"YOU know the truth, don't you, dearest?" Walter asked at last in that
quiet, sympathetic tone which he always adopted towards her whom he loved
so well.

Enid nodded in the affirmative, her face hard and drawn.

"He was killed, was he not--deliberately murdered?"

For a few seconds the silence was unbroken save for a whir of a taxicab
passing outside.

"Yes," was her somewhat reluctant response.

"You went to his rooms that afternoon," Walter asserted point blank.

"I do not deny that. I followed him home--to--to save him."

There was a break in her voice as she stammered out the last words, and
tears rushed into her dark eyes.

"From what? From death?"

"No, from falling a prey to a great temptation set before him."

"By whom?"

"By the doctor, to whom my stepfather had introduced him," was the girl's
reply. "I discovered by mere chance that the doctor, who had somewhat got
him into his clutches, had approached him in order to induce him to allow
him to take a wax impression of a certain safe key belonging to a friend
of his named Thurston, a diamond broker in Hatton Garden. He had offered
him a very substantial sum to do this--a sum which would have enabled him
to clear off all his debts and start afresh. Harry's younger brother Bob
had got into a mess, and in helping him out Harry had sadly entangled
himself and was practically face to face with bankruptcy. I knew this,
and I knew what a great temptation had been placed before him. Fearing
lest, in a moment of despair, he might accept, I went, by appointment, to
his chambers as soon as I arrived in London. Barker, his man, had been
sent out, and we were alone. I found him in desperation, yet to my great
delight he had defied Weirmarsh, saying he refused to betray his friend."

"And what did Bellairs tell you further?"

"He expressed suspicion that my stepfather was in the doctor's pay," she
replied. "I tried to convince him to the contrary, but Weirmarsh's
suggestion had evidently furnished the key to some suspicious document
which he had one day found on Sir Hugh's writing-table."

"Well?"

"Well," she went on slowly, "we quarrelled. I was indignant that he
should suspect my stepfather, and he was full of vengeance against Sir
Hugh's friend the doctor. Presently I left, and--and I never saw him
again alive!"

"What happened?"

"What happened is explained by this letter," she replied, crossing to a
little buhl bureau which she unlocked, taking out a sealed envelope. On
breaking it open and handing it to him she said: "This is the letter he
wrote to me with his dying hand. I have kept it a secret--a secret even
from Sir Hugh."

Walter read the uneven lines eagerly. They grew more shaky and more
illegible towards the end, but they were sufficient to make the truth
absolutely clear.

"To-night, half an hour ago," (wrote the dying man) "I had a visit from
your friend, Weirmarsh. We were alone, with none to overhear, so I told
him plainly that I intended to expose him. At first he became defiant,
but presently he grew apprehensive, and on taking his leave he made a
foul accusation against you. Then, laughing at my refusal to accept his
bribe, the scoundrel took my hand in farewell. He must have had a pin
stuck in his glove, for I felt a slight scratch across the palm. At the
moment I was too furious to pay any attention to it, but ten minutes
after he had gone I began to experience a strange faintness. I feel now
fainter . . . and fainter . . . A strange feeling has crept over me . . .
I am dying . . . poisoned . . . by that king of thieves!

"Come to me quickly . . . at once . . . Enid . . . and tell me that what
he has said against you . . . is not true. It . . . it cannot be true. .
. . Don't delay. Come quickly. . . . Can't write more.--Harry."

Walter paused for a second after reading through that dramatic letter,
the last effort of a dying man.

"And that scoundrel Weirmarsh killed him because he feared exposure," he
remarked in a low, hard voice. "Why did you not bring this forward at the
inquest?"

"For several reasons," replied the girl. "I feared the doctor's
reprisals. Besides, he might easily have denied the allegation, or he
might have used the same means to close my lips if he had suspected that
I had learnt the truth."

"The dead man's story is no doubt true," declared Fetherston. "He used
some deadly poison--one of the newly discovered ones which leaves no
trace--to kill his victim who, in all probability, was not his first.
Your stepfather does not know, of course, that this letter exists?"

"No. I have kept it from everyone. I said that the summons I received
from him I had destroyed."

"In the circumstances I will ask you, Enid, to allow me to retain it," he
said. "I want to show it to Trendall."

"You may show it to Mr. Trendall, but I ask you, for the present, to make
no further use of it," replied the girl.

He moved a step closer to her and caught her disengaged hand in his, the
glad light in her eyes telling him that his action was one which she
reciprocated, yet some sense of her unworthiness of this great love
causing her to hesitate.

"I will promise," said the strong, manly fellow in a low tone. "I ought
to have made allowances, but, in the horror of my suspicion, I did not,
and I'm sorry. I love you, Enid--I had never really loved until I met
you, until I held your hand in mine!"

Enid's true, overburdened heart was only too ready to respond to his
fervent appeal. She suffered her lover to draw her to himself, and their
lips met in a long, passionate caress that blotted out all the past. He
spoke quick, rapid words of ardent affection. To Enid, after all the
hideous events she had passed through, it seemed too happy to be true
that so much bliss was in store for her, and she remained there, with
Walter's arm around her, silently content, that fervid kiss being the
first he had ever imprinted upon her full red lips.

Thus they remained in each other's arms, their two true hearts beating in
unison, their kisses mingling, their twin souls united in the first
moments of their newly-found ecstasy of perfect love.

The fight had been a fierce one, but their true hearts had won, and, as
they whispered each other's fond affection, Enid promised to be the wife
of the honest, fearless man of whose magnificent work in the detection of
crime the country had never dreamed. They read his books and were
enthralled by them, but little did they think that he was one of the
never-sleeping watch-dogs upon great criminals, or that the sweet-faced
girl, who was now his affianced wife, had risked her life, her love, her
honour, in order to assist him.

Next afternoon Sir Hugh called upon Walter at his dingy chambers in
Holles Street, and as they sat together the old general, after a long
and somewhat painful silence, exclaimed:

"I know, Fetherston, that you must be mystified how, in my position, I
should have become implicated in the doings of that criminal gang."

"Yes, I am," Walter declared.

"Well, briefly, it occurred in this way," said the old officer. "While I
was a colonel in India just before the war I was very hard pressed for
money and had committed a fault--an indiscretion for which I might easily
have been dismissed from the army. On being recalled to London, after war
had been declared, I was approached by the fellow Weirmarsh who, to my
horror, had, by some unaccountable means, obtained knowledge of my
indiscretion! At first he adopted a high moral tone, upbraiding me for my
fault and threatening to inform against me. This I begged him not to do.
For a fortnight he kept me in an agony of despair, when one day he called
me to him and unfolded to me a scheme by which I could make a
considerable amount of money; indeed, he promised to pay me a yearly sum
for my assistance."

"You thought him to be a doctor--and nothing else?" Walter said.

"Exactly. I never dreamed until quite recently that he was head of such a
formidable gang, whose operations were upon so extensive a scale as to
endanger our national credit," replied Sir Hugh. "At the time he
approached me I was in the Pay Department, and many thousands of pounds
in Treasury notes were passing through my safe weekly. His suggestion was
that I should exchange the notes as they came to me from the Treasury for
those with which he would supply me, and which, on showing me a specimen,
I failed to distinguish from the real. I hesitated; I was hard up. To
sustain my position after my knighthood money was absolutely necessary to
me, and for a long time I had been unable to make both ends meet. The
bait he dangled before me was sufficiently tempting, and--and--well, I
fell!" he groaned, and then after a pause he went on:

"Whence Weirmarsh obtained the packets of notes which I substituted for
genuine ones was, of course, a mystery, but once having taken the false
step it was not my business to inquire. Not until quite recently did I
discover his real position as chief of a gang of international crooks,
who combined forgery with blackmail and theft upon a colossal scale. That
he intended Bellairs should furnish him with an impression of the safe
key of a diamond dealer in Hatton Garden is now plain. Bellairs defied
him and threatened to denounce him to the police. Therefore, the poor
fellow's lips were quickly closed by the scoundrel, who would hesitate at
nothing in order to preserve his guilty secrets."

"But what caused you to break from him at last?" inquired Walter eagerly.

"Just before the armistice he and his friends had conceived a gigantic
scheme by which Europe and the United States were to be flooded with
great quantities of spurious paper currency, and though it would, when
discovered--as it must have been sooner or later--have injured the
national credit, would bring huge fortunes to him and his friends. He was
pressing me to send in my papers and go to America, there to act as their
agent at a huge remuneration. They wanted a man of standing who should be
above suspicion, and he had decided to use me as his tool to engineer the
gigantic frauds."

"And you, happily, refused?"

"Yes. I resolved, rather than act further, to relinquish the handsome
payments he made to me from time to time. For that reason I got
transferred from the Pay Department, so that I could no longer be of much
use to him, a fact which annoyed him greatly."

"And he threatened you?"

"Yes. He was constantly doing so. He wanted me to go to New York. Enid
helped me and gave me courage to defy him--which I did. Then he conceived
a dastardly revenge by anonymously denouncing Le Pontois as a forger, and
implicating both Enid and myself. He contrived that some money I brought
from England should be exchanged for spurious notes, and these Paul
unsuspiciously gave into the Crédit Lyonnais. Had it not been for your
timely warning, Fetherston, we should both have also been arrested in
France without a doubt."

"Yes," replied the other. "I was watching, and realised your peril,
though I confess that my position was one of extreme difficulty. I, of
course, did not know the actual truth, and, to be frank, I suspected both
Enid and yourself of being implicated in some very serious crime."

"So we were," he said in a low, hard voice.

"True. But you have both been the means of revealing to the Treasury a
state of things of which they never dreamed, and by turning King's
evidence and giving the names and addresses of members of the gang in
Brussels and Paris, all of whom are now under arrest, you have saved the
country from considerable peril. Had the plot succeeded, a very serious
state of things must have resulted, for the whole of our paper currency
would have been suspected. For that reason the authorities have, I
understand, now that they have arrested the gang and seized their
presses, decided to hush up the whole matter."

"You know this?" asked Sir Hugh, suddenly brightening.

"Yes, Trendall told me so this morning."

"Ah! Thank Heaven!" he gasped, much relieved. "Then I can again face the
world a free man. God knows how terribly I suffered through all those
years of the war. I paid for my fault very dearly--I assure you,
Fetherston."



CHAPTER XXXII

CONCLUSION


WHAT remains to be related is quickly told, though the public have, until
now, been in ignorance of the truth.

Out of evil a great good had come. At noon on the following day Trendall
had an interview with Josef Blot, alias Weirmarsh, in his cell at
Chelmsford, whither he had been conveyed by the police. What happened at
that interview will never be known. It is safe to surmise, however, that
the tragic letter of Harry Bellairs was shown to him--Enid having
withdrawn her request that no use should be made of it. An hour after the
chief of the Criminal Investigation Department had left, the prisoner was
found lying stark dead, suffering from a scratch on the wrist, inflicted
with a short, hollow needle which he had carried concealed behind the
lapel of his coat.

Greatly to the discomfiture of the gang, the man Granier and his servant
Pietro were extradited to France for trial, while a quantity of
jewellery, works of art, money and negotiable securities of all sorts
were unearthed from a villa near Fontainebleau and restored to their
owners.

A fortnight after Weirmarsh's death, at St. George's, Hanover Square,
Enid Orlebar became the wife of Walter Fetherston, and among the guests
at the wedding were a number of strange men in whose position or
profession nobody pretended to be interested. Truth to tell, they were
officials of various grades from Scotland Yard, surely the most welcome
among the wedding guests.

Though Walter and Enid live in idyllic happiness in a charming old
ivy-grown manor house in Sussex, with level lawns and shady rose arbours,
they still retain that old cottage at Idsworth, where a plausible excuse
has been given to the country folk for "Mr. Maltwood" having been
compelled to change his name. No pair in the whole of England are happier
to-day.

No man holds his wife more dear, or has a more loving and hopeful
companion. Their life is one of perfect and abiding peace and of sweet
content.

Walter Fetherston is not by any means idle, for in his quiet country home
he still writes those marvellous mystery stories which hold the world
breathlessly enthralled, but he continues to devote half his time to
combating the ingenuity of the greater criminals with all its attendant
excitement and adventure, which are reflected in his popular romances.


Transcriber's Notes:

Page 117, "Mars-le-Tour" changed to "Mars-la-Tour"

Page 164, "Le Pontais" changed to "Le Pontois"

Page 178, "Liége" changed to "Liège"

Page 279, "Olebar" changed to "Orlebar"

Page 316, "been dismissed the" changed to "been dismissed from the"





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