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Title: A Master of Mysteries
Author: Meade, L. T., 1854-1914, Eustace, Robert
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Master of Mysteries" ***

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A MASTER OF MYSTERIES

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[Illustration: "He pulled the mare nearly up on her haunches."
(Page 114). A Master of Mysteries.--Frontispiece]

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A MASTER OF MYSTERIES

By
L. T. MEADE
and ROBERT EUSTACE

Illustrated By
J. AMBROSE WALTON

London
Ward, Lock & Co Limited
Warwick House Salisbury Square E C
New York And Melbourne

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Contents

                                                                 PAGE

   I  THE MYSTERY OF THE CIRCULAR CHAMBER                           9

  II  THE WARDER OF THE DOOR                                       57

 III  THE MYSTERY OF THE FELWYN TUNNEL                             95

  IV  THE EIGHT-MILE LOCK                                         139

   V  HOW SIVA SPOKE                                              183

  VI  TO PROVE AN ALIBI                                           227

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Introduction

It so happened that the circumstances of fate allowed me to follow my
own bent in the choice of a profession. From my earliest youth the
weird, the mysterious had an irresistible fascination for me. Having
private means, I resolved to follow my unique inclinations, and I am now
well known to all my friends as a professional exposer of ghosts, and
one who can clear away the mysteries of most haunted houses. Up to the
present I have never had cause to regret my choice, but at the same time
I cannot too strongly advise any one who thinks of following my example
to hesitate before engaging himself in tasks that entail time, expense,
thankless labour, often ridicule, and not seldom great personal danger.
To explain, by the application of science, phenomena attributed to
spiritual agencies has been the work of my life. I have, naturally, gone
through strange difficulties in accomplishing my mission. I propose in
these pages to relate the histories of certain queer events, enveloped
at first in mystery, and apparently dark with portent, but,
nevertheless, when grappled with in the true spirit of science, capable
of explanation.

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I

THE MYSTERY OF THE CIRCULAR CHAMBER


One day in late September I received the following letter from my
lawyer:--

     "My Dear Bell,--

     "I shall esteem it a favour if you can make it convenient to call
     upon me at ten o'clock to-morrow morning on a matter of extreme
     privacy."

At the appointed hour I was shown into Mr. Edgcombe's private room. I
had known him for years--we were, in fact, old friends--and I was
startled now by the look of worry, not to say anxiety, on his usually
serene features.

"You are the very man I want, Bell," he cried. "Sit down; I have a great
deal to say to you. There is a mystery of a very grave nature which I
hope you may solve for me. It is in connection with a house said to be
haunted."

He fixed his bright eyes on my face as he spoke. I sat perfectly silent,
waiting for him to continue.

"In the first place," he resumed, "I must ask you to regard the matter
as confidential."

"Certainly," I answered.

"You know," he went on, "that I have often laughed at your special
hobby, but it occurred to me yesterday that the experiences you have
lived through may enable you to give me valuable assistance in this
difficulty."

"I will do my best for you, Edgcombe," I replied.

He lay back in his chair, folding his hands.

"The case is briefly as follows," he began. "It is connected with the
family of the Wentworths. The only son, Archibald, the artist, has just
died under most extraordinary circumstances. He was, as you probably
know, one of the most promising water-colour painters of the younger
school, and his pictures in this year's Academy met with universal
praise. He was the heir to the Wentworth estates, and his death has
caused a complication of claims from a member of a collateral branch of
the family, who, when the present squire dies, is entitled to the money.
This man has spent the greater part of his life in Australia, is badly
off, and evidently belongs to a rowdy set. He has been to see me two or
three times, and I must say frankly that I am not taken with his
appearance."

"Had he anything to do with the death?" I interrupted.

"Nothing whatever, as you will quickly perceive. Wentworth has been
accustomed from time to time to go alone on sketching tours to different
parts of the country. He has tramped about on foot, and visited odd,
out-of-the-way nooks searching for subjects. He never took much money
with him, and always travelled as an apparently poor man. A month ago he
started off alone on one of these tours. He had a handsome commission
from Barlow & Co., picture-dealers in the Strand. He was to paint
certain parts of the river Merran; and although he certainly did not
need money, he seemed glad of an object for a good ramble. He parted
with his family in the best of health and spirits, and wrote to them
from time to time; but a week ago they heard the news that he had died
suddenly at an inn on the Merran. There was, of course, an inquest and
an autopsy. Dr. Miles Gordon, the Wentworths' consulting physician, was
telegraphed for, and was present at the post-mortem examination. He is
absolutely puzzled to account for the death. The medical examination
showed Wentworth to be in apparently perfect health at the time. There
was no lesion to be discovered upon which to base a different opinion,
all the organs being healthy. Neither was there any trace of poison, nor
marks of violence. The coroner's verdict was that Wentworth died of
syncope, which, as you know perhaps, is a synonym for an unknown cause.
The inn where he died is a very lonely one, and has the reputation of
being haunted. The landlord seems to bear a bad character, although
nothing has ever been proved against him. But a young girl who lives at
the inn gave evidence which at first startled every one. She said at the
inquest that she had earnestly warned Wentworth not to sleep in the
haunted room. She had scarcely told the coroner so before she fell to
the floor in an epileptic fit. When she came to herself she was sullen
and silent, and nothing more could be extracted from her. The old man,
the innkeeper, explained that the girl was half-witted, but he did not
attempt to deny that the house had the reputation of being haunted, and
said that he had himself begged Wentworth not to put up there. Well,
that is about the whole of the story. The coroner's inquest seems to
deny the evidence of foul play, but I have my very strong suspicions.
What I want you to do is to ascertain if they are correct. Will you
undertake the case?"

"I will certainly do so," I replied. "Please let me have any further
particulars, and a written document to show, in case of need, that I am
acting under your directions."

Edgcombe agreed to this, and I soon afterwards took my leave. The case
had the features of an interesting problem, and I hoped that I should
prove successful in solving it.

That evening I made my plans carefully. I would go into ----shire early
on the following morning, assuming for my purpose the character of an
amateur photographer. Having got all necessary particulars from
Edgcombe, I made a careful mental map of my operations. First of all I
would visit a little village of the name of Harkhurst, and put up at the
inn, the Crown and Thistle. Here Wentworth had spent a fortnight when he
first started on his commission to make drawings of the river Merran. I
thought it likely that I should obtain some information there.
Circumstances must guide me as to my further steps, but my intention was
to proceed from Harkhurst to the Castle Inn, which was situated about
six miles further up the river. This was the inn where the tragedy had
occurred.

Towards evening on the following day I arrived at Harkhurst. When my
carriage drew up at the Crown and Thistle, the landlady was standing in
the doorway. She was a buxom-looking dame, with a kindly face. I asked
for a bed.

"Certainly, sir," she answered. She turned with me into the little inn,
and taking me upstairs, showed me a small room, quite clean and
comfortable, looking out on the yard. I said it would do capitally, and
she hurried downstairs to prepare my supper. After this meal, which
proved to be excellent, I determined to visit the landlord in the bar. I
found him chatty and communicative.

"This is a lonely place," he said; "we don't often have a soul staying
with us for a month at a time." As he spoke he walked to the door, and I
followed him. The shades of night were beginning to fall, but the
picturesqueness of the little hamlet could not but commend itself to me.

"And yet it is a lovely spot," I said. "I should have thought tourists
would have thronged to it. It is at least an ideal place for
photographers."

"You are right there, sir," replied the man; "and although we don't
often have company to stay in the inn, now and then we have a stray
artist. It's not three weeks back," he continued, "that we had a
gentleman like you, sir, only a bit younger, to stay with us for a week
or two. He was an artist, and drew from morning till night--ah, poor
fellow!"

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"I have good cause, sir. Here, wife," continued the landlord, looking
over his shoulder at Mrs. Johnson, the landlady, who now appeared on the
scene, "this gentleman has been asking me questions about our visitor,
Mr. Wentworth, but perhaps we ought not to inflict such a dismal story
upon him to-night."

"Pray do," I said; "what you have already hinted at arouses my
curiosity. Why should you pity Mr. Wentworth?"

"He is dead, sir," said the landlady, in a solemn voice. I gave a
pretended start, and she continued,--

"And it was all his own fault. Ah, dear! it makes me almost cry to think
of it. He was as nice a gentleman as I ever set eyes on, and so strong,
hearty, and pleasant. Well, sir, everything went well until one day he
said to me, 'I am about to leave you, Mrs. Johnson. I am going to a
little place called the Castle Inn, further up the Merran.'

"'The Castle Inn!' I cried. 'No, Mr. Wentworth, that you won't, not if
you value your life.'

"'And why not?' he said, looking at me with as merry blue eyes as you
ever saw in anybody's head. 'Why should I not visit the Castle Inn? I
have a commission to make some drawings of that special bend of the
river.'

"'Well, then, sir,' I answered, 'if that is the case, you'll just have a
horse and trap from here and drive over as often as you want to. For the
Castle Inn ain't a fit place for a Christian to put up at.'

"'What do you mean?' he asked of me.

"'It is said to be haunted, sir, and what does happen in that house the
Lord only knows, but there's not been a visitor at the inn for some
years, not since Bailiff Holt came by his death.'

"'Came by his death?' he asked. 'And how was that?'

"'God knows, but I don't,' I answered. 'At the coroner's inquest it was
said that he died from syncope, whatever that means, but the folks round
here said it was fright.' Mr. Wentworth just laughed at me. He didn't
mind a word I said, and the next day, sir, he was off, carrying his
belongings with him."

"Well, and what happened?" I asked, seeing that she paused.

"What happened, sir? Just what I expected. Two days afterwards came the
news of his death. Poor young gentleman! He died in the very room where
Holt had breathed his last; and, oh, if there wasn't a fuss and to-do,
for it turned out that, although he seemed quite poor to us, with little
or no money, he was no end of a swell, and had rich relations, and big
estates coming to him; and, of course, there was a coroner's inquest and
all the rest, and great doctors came down from London, and our Dr.
Stanmore, who lives down the street, was sent for, and though they did
all they could, and examined him, as it were, with a microscope, they
could find no cause for death, and so they give it out that it was
syncope, just as they did in the case of poor Holt. But, sir, it wasn't;
it was fright, sheer fright. The place is haunted. It's a mysterious,
dreadful house, and I only hope you won't have nothing to do with it."

She added a few more words and presently left us.

"That's a strange story," I said, turning to Johnson; "your wife has
excited my curiosity. I should much like to get further particulars."

"There don't seem to be anything more to tell, sir," replied Johnson.
"It's true what the wife says, that the Castle Inn has a bad name. It's
not the first, no, nor the second, death that has occurred there."

"You mentioned your village doctor; do you think he could enlighten me
on the subject?"

"I am sure he would do his best, sir. He lives only six doors away, in a
red house. Maybe you wouldn't mind stepping down the street and speaking
to him?"

"You are sure he would not think it a liberty?"

"Not he, sir; he'll be only too pleased to exchange a word with some one
outside this sleepy little place."

"Then I'll call on him," I answered, and taking up my hat I strolled
down the street. I was lucky in finding Dr. Stanmore at home, and the
moment I saw his face I determined to take him into my confidence.

"The fact is this," I said, when he had shaken hands with me, "I should
not dream of taking this liberty did I not feel certain that you could
help me."

"And in what way?" he asked, not stiffly, but with a keen, inquiring,
interested glance.

"I have been sent down from London to inquire into the Wentworth
mystery," I said.

"Is that so?" he said, with a start. Then he continued gravely: "I fear
you have come on a wild-goose chase. There was nothing discovered at the
autopsy to account for the death. There were no marks on the body, and
all the organs were healthy. I met Wentworth often while he was staying
here, and he was as hearty and strong-looking a young man as I have ever
come across."

"But the Castle Inn has a bad reputation," I said.

"That is true; the people here are afraid of it. It is said to be
haunted. But really, sir, you and I need not trouble ourselves about
stupid reports of that sort. Old Bindloss, the landlord, has lived there
for years, and there has never been anything proved against him."

"Is he alone?"

"No; his wife and a grandchild live there also."

"A grandchild?" I said. "Did not this girl give some startling evidence
at the inquest?"

"Nothing of any consequence," replied Dr. Stanmore; "she only repeated
what Bindloss had already said himself--that the house was haunted, and
that she had asked Wentworth not to sleep in the room."

"Has anything ever been done to explain the reason why this room is said
to be haunted?" I continued.

"Not that I know of. Rats are probably at the bottom of it."

"But have not there been other deaths in the house?"

"That is true."

"How many?"

"Well, I have myself attended no less than three similar inquests."

"And what was the verdict of the jury?"

"In each case the verdict was death from syncope."

"Which means, cause unknown," I said, jumping impatiently to my feet. "I
wonder, Dr. Stanmore, that you are satisfied to leave the matter in such
a state."

"And, pray, what can I do?" he inquired. "I am asked to examine a body.
I find all the organs in perfect health; I cannot trace the least
appearance of violence, nor can I detect poison. What other evidence can
I honestly give?"

"I can only say that I should not be satisfied," I replied. "I now wish
to add that I have come down from London determined to solve this
mystery. I shall myself put up at the Castle Inn."

"Well?" said Dr. Stanmore.

"And sleep in the haunted room."

"Of course you don't believe in the ghost."

"No; but I believe in foul play. Now, Dr. Stanmore, will you help me?"

"Most certainly, if I can. What do you wish me to do?"

"This--I shall go to the Castle Inn to-morrow. If at the end of three
days I do not return here, will you go in search of me, and at the same
time post this letter to Mr. Edgcombe, my London lawyer?"

"If you do not appear in three days I'll kick up no end of a row," said
Dr. Stanmore, "and, of course, post your letter."

Soon afterwards I shook hands with the doctor and left him.

After an early dinner on the following day, I parted with my
good-natured landlord and his wife, and with my knapsack and kodak
strapped over my shoulders, started on my way. I took care to tell no
one that I was going to the Castle Inn, and for this purpose doubled
back through a wood, and so found the right road. The sun was nearly
setting when at last I approached a broken-down signpost, on which, in
half-obliterated characters, I could read the words, "To the Castle
Inn." I found myself now at the entrance of a small lane, which was
evidently little frequented, as it was considerably grass-grown. From
where I stood I could catch no sight of any habitation, but just at that
moment a low, somewhat inconsequent laugh fell upon my ears. I turned
quickly and saw a pretty girl, with bright eyes and a childish face,
gazing at me with interest. I had little doubt that she was old
Bindloss's grand-daughter.

"Will you kindly tell me," I asked, "if this is the way to the Castle
Inn?"

My remark evidently startled her. She made a bound forward, seized me by
my hand, and tried to push me away from the entrance to the lane into
the high road.

"Go away!" she cried; "we have no beds fit for gentlemen at the Castle
Inn. Go! go!" she continued, and she pointed up the winding road. Her
eyes were now blazing in her head, but I noticed that her lips
trembled, and that very little would cause her to burst into tears.

"But I am tired and footsore," I answered. "I should like to put up at
the inn for the night."

"Don't!" she repeated; "they'll put you into a room with a ghost. Don't
go; 'tain't a place for gentlemen." Here she burst not into tears, but
into a fit of high, shrill, almost idiotic laughter. She suddenly
clapped one of her hands to her forehead, and, turning, flew almost as
fast as the wind down the narrow lane and out of sight.

I followed her quickly. I did not believe that the girl was quite as mad
as she seemed, but I had little doubt that she had something
extraordinary weighing on her mind.

At the next turn I came in view of the inn. It was a queer-looking old
place, and I stopped for a moment to look at it.

The house was entirely built of stone. There were two storeys to the
centre part, which was square, and at the four corners stood four round
towers. The house was built right on the river, just below a large
mill-pond. I walked up to the door and pounded on it with my stick. It
was shut, and looked as inhospitable as the rest of the place. After a
moment's delay it was opened two or three inches, and the surly face of
an old woman peeped out.

"And what may you be wanting?" she asked.

"A bed for the night," I replied; "can you accommodate me?"

She glanced suspiciously first at me and then at my camera.

"You are an artist, I make no doubt," she said, "and we don't want no
more of them here."

She was about to slam the door in my face, but I pushed my foot between
it and the lintel.

"I am easily pleased," I said; "can you not give me some sort of bed for
the night?"

"You had best have nothing to do with us," she answered. "You go off to
Harkhurst; they can put you up at the Crown and Thistle."

"I have just come from there," I answered. "As a matter of fact, I could
not walk another mile."

"We don't want visitors at the Castle Inn," she continued. Here she
peered forward and looked into my face. "You had best be off," she
repeated; "they say the place is haunted."

I uttered a laugh.

"You don't expect me to believe that?" I said. She glanced at me from
head to foot. Her face was ominously grave.

"You had best know all, sir," she said, after a pause. "Something
happens in this house, and no living soul knows what it is, for they who
have seen it have never yet survived to tell the tale. It's not more
than a week back that a young gentleman came here. He was like you, bold
as brass, and he too wanted a bed, and would take no denial. I told him
plain, and so did my man, that the place was haunted. He didn't mind no
more than you mind. Well, he slept in the only room we have got for
guests, and he--he _died there_."

"What did he die of?" I asked.

"Fright," was the answer, brief and laconic. "Now do you want to come or
not?"

"Yes; I don't believe in ghosts. I want the bed, and I am determined to
have it."

The woman flung the door wide open.

"Don't say as I ain't warned you," she cried. "Come in, if you must."
She led me into the kitchen, where a fire burned sullenly on the hearth.

"Sit you down, and I'll send for Bindloss," she said. "I can only
promise to give you a bed if Bindloss agrees. Liz, come along here this
minute."

A quick young step was heard in the passage, and the pretty girl whom I
had seen at the top of the lane entered. Her eyes sought my face, her
lips moved as if to say something, but no sound issued from them.

"Go and find your grandad," said the old woman. "Tell him there is a
gentleman here that wants a bed. Ask him what's to be done."

The girl favoured me with a long and peculiar glance, then turning on
her heel she left the room. As soon as she did so the old woman peered
forward and looked curiously at me.

"I'm sorry you are staying," she said; "don't forget as I warned you.
Remember, this ain't a proper inn at all. Once it was a mill, but that
was afore Bindloss's day and mine. Gents would come in the summer and
put up for the fishing, but then the story of the ghost got abroad, and
lately we have no visitors to speak of, only an odd one now and then who
ain't wanted--no, he ain't wanted. You see, there was three deaths here.
Yes"--she held up one of her skinny hands and began to count on her
fingers--"yes, three up to the present; three, that's it. Ah, here comes
Bindloss."

A shuffling step was heard in the passage, and an old man, bent with
age, and wearing a long white beard, entered the room.

"We has no beds for strangers," he said, speaking in an aggressive and
loud tone. "Hasn't the wife said so? We don't let out beds here."

"As that is the case, you have no right to have that signpost at the end
of the lane," I retorted. "I am not in a mood to walk eight miles for a
shelter in a country I know nothing about. Cannot you put me up
somehow?"

"I have told the gentleman everything, Sam," said the wife. "He is just
for all the world like young Mr. Wentworth, and not a bit frightened."

The old landlord came up and faced me.

"Look you here," he said, "you stay on at your peril. I don't want you,
nor do the wife. Now is it 'yes' or 'no'?"

"It is 'yes,'" I said.

"There's only one room you can sleep in."

"One room is sufficient."

"It's the one Mr. Wentworth died in. Hadn't you best take up your traps
and be off?"

"No, I shall stay."

"Then there's no more to be said."

"Run, Liz," said the woman, "and light the fire in the parlour."

The girl left the room, and the woman, taking up a candle, said she
would take me to the chamber where I was to sleep. She led me down a
long and narrow passage, and then, opening a door, down two steps into
the most extraordinary-looking room I had ever seen. The walls were
completely circular, covered with a paper of a staring grotesque
pattern. A small iron bedstead projected into the middle of the floor,
which was uncarpeted except for a slip of matting beside it. A cheap
deal wash-hand-stand, a couple of chairs, and a small table with a
blurred looking-glass stood against the wall beneath a deep embrasure,
in which there was a window. This was evidently a room in one of the
circular towers. I had never seen less inviting quarters.

"Your supper will be ready directly, sir," said the woman, and placing
the candle on the little table, she left me.

The place felt damp and draughty, and the flame of the candle flickered
about, causing the tallow to gutter to one side. There was no fireplace
in the room, and above, the walls converged to a point, giving the whole
place the appearance of an enormous extinguisher. I made a hurried and
necessarily limited toilet, and went into the parlour. I was standing by
the fire, which was burning badly, when the door opened, and the girl
Liz came in, bearing a tray in her hand. She laid the tray on the table
and came up softly to me.

"Fools come to this house," she said, "and you are one."

"Pray let me have my supper, and don't talk," I replied. "I am tired and
hungry, and want to go to bed."

Liz stood perfectly still for a moment.

"'Tain't worth it," she said; then, in a meditative voice, "no, 'tain't
worth it. But I'll say no more. Folks will never be warned!"

Her grandmother's voice calling her caused her to bound from the room.

My supper proved better than I had expected, and, having finished it, I
strolled into the kitchen, anxious to have a further talk with the old
man. He was seated alone by the fire, a great mastiff lying at his feet.

"Can you tell me why the house is supposed to be haunted?" I asked
suddenly, stooping down to speak to him.

"How should I know?" he cried hoarsely. "The wife and me have been here
twenty years, and never seen nor heard anything, but for certain folks
_do_ die in the house. It's mortal unpleasant for me, for the doctors
come along, and the coroner, and there's an inquest and no end of fuss.
The folks die, although no one has ever laid a finger on 'em; the
doctors can't prove why they are dead, but dead they be. Well, there
ain't no use saying more. You are here, and maybe you'll pass the one
night all right."

"I shall go to bed at once," I said, "but I should like some candles.
Can you supply me?"

The man turned and looked at his wife, who at that moment entered the
kitchen. She went to the dresser, opened a wooden box, and taking out
three or four tallow candles, put them into my hand.

I rose, simulating a yawn.

"Good-night, sir," said the old man; "good-night; I wish you well."

A moment later I had entered my bedroom, and having shut the door,
proceeded to give it a careful examination. As far as I could make out,
there was no entrance to the room except by the door, which was shaped
to fit the circular walls. I noticed, however, that there was an
unaccountable draught, and this I at last discovered came from below the
oak wainscoting of the wall. I could not in any way account for the
draught, but it existed to an unpleasant extent. The bed, I further saw,
was somewhat peculiar; it had no castors on the four legs, which were
let down about half an inch into sockets provided for them in the wooden
floor. This discovery excited my suspicions still further. It was
evident that the bed was intended to remain in a particular position. I
saw that it directly faced the little window sunk deep into the thick
wall, so that any one in bed would look directly at the window. I
examined my watch, found that it was past eleven, and placing both the
candles on a tiny table near the bed, I lay down without undressing. I
was on the alert to catch the slightest noise, but the hours dragged on
and nothing occurred. In the house all was silence, and outside the
splashing and churning of the water falling over the wheel came
distinctly to my ears.

I lay awake all night, but as morning dawned fell into an uneasy sleep.
I awoke to see the broad daylight streaming in at the small window.

Making a hasty toilet, I went out for a walk, and presently came in to
breakfast. It had been laid for me in the big kitchen, and the old man
was seated by the hearth.

"Well," said the woman, "I hope you slept comfortable, sir."

I answered in the affirmative, and now perceived that old Bindloss and
his wife were in the humour to be agreeable. They said that if I was
satisfied with the room I might spend another night at the inn. I told
them that I had a great many photographs to take, and would be much
obliged for the permission. As I spoke I looked round for the girl, Liz.
She was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is your grand-daughter?" I asked of the old woman.

"She has gone away for the day," was the reply. "It's too much for Liz
to see strangers. She gets excited, and then the fits come on."

"What sort of fits?"

"I can't tell what they are called, but they're bad, and weaken her,
poor thing! Liz ought never to be excited." Here Bindloss gave his wife
a warning glance; she lowered her eyes, and going across to the range,
began to stir the contents of something in a saucepan.

That afternoon I borrowed some lines from Bindloss, and, taking an old
boat which was moored to the bank of the mill-pond, set off under the
pretence of fishing for pike. The weather was perfect for the time of
year.

Waiting my opportunity, I brought the boat up to land on the bank that
dammed up the stream, and getting out walked along it in the direction
of the mill-wheel, over which the water was now rushing.

As I observed it from this side of the bank, I saw that the tower in
which my room was placed must at one time have been part of the mill
itself, and I further noticed that the masonry was comparatively new,
showing that alterations must have taken place when the house was
abandoned as a mill and was turned into an inn. I clambered down the
side of the wheel, holding on to the beams, which were green and
slippery, and peered through the paddles.

As I was making my examination, a voice suddenly startled me.

"What are you doing down there?"

I looked up; old Bindloss was standing on the bank looking down at me.
He was alone, and his face was contorted with a queer mixture of fear
and passion. I hastily hoisted myself up, and stood beside him.

"What are you poking about down there for?" he said, pushing his ugly
old face into mine as he spoke. "You fool! if you had fallen you would
have been drowned. No one could swim a stroke in that mill-race. And
then there would have been another death, and all the old fuss over
again! Look here, sir, will you have the goodness to get out of the
place? I don't want you here any more."

"I intend to leave to-morrow morning," I answered in a pacifying voice,
"and I am really very much obliged to you for warning me about the
mill."

"You had best not go near it again," he said in a menacing voice, and
then he turned hastily away. I watched him as he climbed up a steep bank
and disappeared from view. He was going in the opposite direction from
the house. Seizing the opportunity of his absence, I once more
approached the mill. Was it possible that Wentworth had been hurled into
it? But had this been the case there would have been signs and marks on
the body. Having reached the wheel, I clambered boldly down. It was now
getting dusk, but I could see that a prolongation of the axle entered
the wall of the tower. The fittings were also in wonderfully good order,
and the bolt that held the great wheel only required to be drawn out to
set it in motion.

That evening during supper I thought very hard. I perceived that
Bindloss was angry, also that he was suspicious and alarmed. I saw
plainly that the only way to really discover what had been done to
Wentworth was to cause the old ruffian to try similar means to get rid
of me. This was a dangerous expedient, but I felt desperate, and my
curiosity as well as interest were keenly aroused. Having finished my
supper, I went into the passage preparatory to going into the kitchen. I
had on felt slippers, and my footfall made no noise. As I approached
the door I heard Bindloss saying to his wife,--

"He's been poking about the mill-wheel; I wish he would make himself
scarce."

"Oh, he can't find out anything," was the reply. "You keep quiet,
Bindloss; he'll be off in the morning."

"That's as maybe," was the answer, and then there came a harsh and very
disagreeable laugh. I waited for a moment, and then entered the kitchen.
Bindloss was alone now; he was bending over the fire, smoking.

"I shall leave early in the morning," I said, "so please have my bill
ready for me." I then seated myself near him, drawing up my chair close
to the blaze. He looked as if he resented this, but said nothing.

"I am very curious about the deaths which occur in this house," I said,
after a pause. "How many did you say there were?"

"That is nothing to you," he answered. "We never wanted you here; you
can go when you please."

"I shall go to-morrow morning, but I wish to say something now."

"And what may that be?"

"I don't believe in that story about the place being haunted."

"Oh, you don't, don't you?" He dropped his pipe, and his glittering eyes
gazed at me with a mixture of anger and ill-concealed alarm.

"No," I paused, then I said slowly and emphatically, "I went back to the
mill even after your warning, and----"

"What?" he cried, starting to his feet.

"Nothing," I answered; "only I don't believe in the ghost."

His face turned not only white but livid. I left him without another
word. I saw that his suspicions had been much strengthened by my words.
This I intended. To induce the ruffian to do his worst was the only way
to wring his secret from him.

My hideous room looked exactly as it had done on the previous evening.
The grotesque pattern on the walls seemed to start out in bold relief.
Some of the ugly lines seemed at that moment, to my imagination, almost
to take human shape, to convert themselves into ogre-like faces, and to
grin at me. Was I too daring? Was it wrong of me to risk my life in this
manner? I was terribly tired, and, curious as it may seem, my greatest
fear at that crucial moment was the dread that I might fall asleep. I
had spent two nights with scarcely any repose, and felt that at any
moment, notwithstanding all my efforts, slumber might visit me. In order
to give Bindloss full opportunity for carrying out his scheme, it was
necessary for me to get into bed, and even to feign sleep. In my present
exhausted condition the pretence of slumber would easily lapse into the
reality. This risk, however, which really was a very grave one, must be
run. Without undressing I got into bed, pulling the bed-clothes well
over me. In my hand I held my revolver. I deliberately put out the
candles, and then lay motionless, waiting for events. The house was
quiet as the grave--there was not a stir, and gradually my nerves,
excited as they were, began to calm down. As I had fully expected,
overpowering sleepiness seized me, and, notwithstanding every effort, I
found myself drifting away into the land of dreams. I began to wish that
whatever apparition was to appear would do so at once and get it over.
Gradually but surely I seemed to pass from all memory of my present
world, and to live in a strange and terrible phantasmagoria. In that
state I slept, in that state also I dreamt, and dreamt horribly.

I thought that I was dancing a waltz with an enormously tall woman. She
towered above me, clasping me in her arms, and began to whirl me round
and round at a giddy speed. I could hear the crashing music of a distant
band. Faster and faster, round and round some great empty hall was I
whirled. I knew that I was losing my senses, and screamed to her to stop
and let me go. Suddenly there was a terrible crash close to me. Good
God! I found myself awake, but--I was still moving. Where was I? Where
was I going? I leapt up on the bed, only to reel and fall heavily
backwards upon the floor. What was the matter? Why was I sliding,
sliding? Had I suddenly gone mad, or was I still suffering from some
hideous nightmare? I tried to move, to stagger to my feet. Then by slow
degrees my senses began to return, and I knew where I was. I was in the
circular room, the room where Wentworth had died; but what was happening
to me I could not divine. I only knew that I was being whirled round and
round at a velocity that was every moment increasing. By the moonlight
that struggled in through the window I saw that the floor and the bed
upon it was revolving, but the table was lying on its side, and its fall
must have awakened me.

I could not see any other furniture in the room. By what mysterious
manner had it been removed? Making a great effort, I crawled to the
centre of this awful chamber, and, seizing the foot of the bed,
struggled to my feet. Here I knew there would be less motion, and I
could just manage to see the outline of the door. I had taken the
precaution to slip the revolver into my pocket, and I still felt that
if human agency appeared, I had a chance of selling my life dearly; but
surely the horror I was passing through was invented by no living man!
As the floor of the room revolved in the direction of the door I made a
dash for it, but was carried swiftly past, and again fell heavily. When
I came round again I made a frantic effort to cling to one of the steps,
but in vain; the head of the bedstead caught me as it flew round, and
tore my arms away. In another moment I believe I should have gone raving
mad with terror. My head felt as if it would burst; I found it
impossible to think consecutively. The only idea which really possessed
me was a mad wish to escape from this hideous place. I struggled to the
bedstead, and dragging the legs from their sockets, pulled it into the
middle of the room away from the wall. With this out of the way, I
managed at last to reach the door in safety.

[Illustration: "I flung myself upon him."
A Master of Mysteries.--Page 47]

The moment my hand grasped the handle I leapt upon the little step and
tried to wrench the door open. It was locked, locked from without; it
defied my every effort. I had only just standing room for my feet. Below
me the floor of the room was still racing round with terrible speed. I
dared scarcely look at it, for the giddiness in my head increased each
moment. The next instant a soft footstep was distinctly audible, and I
saw a gleam of light through a chink of the door. I heard a hand
fumbling at the lock, the door was slowly opened outwards, and I saw the
face of Bindloss.

For a moment he did not perceive me, for I was crouching down on the
step, and the next instant with all my force I flung myself upon him. He
uttered a yell of terror. The lantern he carried dropped and went out,
but I had gripped him round the neck with my fingers, driving them deep
down into his lean, sinewy throat. With frantic speed I pulled him along
the passage up to a window, through which the moonlight was shining.
Here I released my hold of his throat, but immediately covered him with
my revolver.

"Down on your knees, or you are a dead man!" I cried. "Confess
everything, or I shoot you through the heart."

His courage had evidently forsaken him; he began to whimper and cry
bitterly.

"Spare my life," he screamed. "I will tell everything, only spare my
life."

"Be quick about it," I said; "I am in no humour to be merciful. Out with
the truth."

I was listening anxiously for the wife's step, but except for the low
hum of machinery and the splashing of the water I heard nothing.

"Speak," I said, giving the old man a shake. His lips trembled, his
words came out falteringly.

"It was Wentworth's doing," he panted.

"Wentworth? Not the murdered man?" I cried.

"No, no, his cousin. The ruffian who has been the curse of my life.
Owing to that last death he inherits the property. He is the real owner
of the mill, and he invented the revolving floor. There were deaths--oh
yes, oh yes. It was so easy, and I wanted the money. The police never
suspected, nor did the doctors. Wentworth was bitter hard on me, and I
got into his power." Here he choked and sobbed. "I am a miserable old
man, sir," he gasped.

"So you killed your victims for the sake of money?" I said, grasping him
by the shoulder.

"Yes," he said, "yes. The bailiff had twenty pounds all in gold; no one
ever knew. I took it and was able to satisfy Wentworth for a bit."

"And what about Archibald Wentworth?"

"That was _his_ doing, and I was to be paid."

"And now finally you wanted to get rid of me?"

"Yes; for you suspected."

As I spoke I perceived by the ghastly light of the moon another door
near. I opened it and saw that it was the entrance to a small dark
lumber room. I pushed the old man in, turned the key in the lock, and
ran downstairs. The wife was still unaccountably absent. I opened the
front door, and trembling, exhausted, drenched in perspiration, found
myself in the open air. Every nerve was shaken. At that terrible moment
I was not in the least master of myself. My one desire was to fly from
the hideous place. I had just reached the little gate when a hand, light
as a feather, touched my arm. I looked up; the girl Liz stood before me.

"You are saved," she said; "thank God! I tried all I could to stop the
wheel. See, I am drenched to the skin; I could not manage it. But at
least I locked Grannie up. She's in the kitchen, sound asleep. She drank
a lot of gin."

"Where were you all day yesterday?" I asked.

"Locked up in a room in the further tower, but I managed to squeeze
through the window, although it half killed me. I knew if you stayed
that they would try it on to-night. Thank God you are saved."

"Well, don't keep me now," I said; "I have been saved as by a miracle.
You are a good girl; I am much obliged to you. You must tell me another
time how you manage to live through all these horrors."

"Ain't I all but mad?" was her pathetic reply. "Oh, my God, what I
suffer!" She pressed her hand to her face; the look in her eyes was
terrible. But I could not wait now to talk to her further. I hastily
left the place.

How I reached Harkhurst I can never tell, but early in the morning I
found myself there. I went straight to Dr. Stanmore's house, and having
got him up, I communicated my story. He and I together immediately
visited the superintendent of police. Having told my exciting tale, we
took a trap and all three returned to the Castle Inn. We were back there
before eight o'clock on the following morning. But as the police officer
expected, the place was empty. Bindloss had been rescued from the dark
closet, and he and his wife and the girl Liz had all flown. The doctor,
the police officer, and I, all went up to the circular room. We then
descended to the basement, and after a careful examination we discovered
a low door, through which we crept; we then found ourselves in a dark
vault, which was full of machinery. By the light of a lantern we
examined it. Here we saw an explanation of the whole trick. The shaft of
the mill-wheel which was let through the wall of the tower was
_continuous as the axle of a vertical cogged wheel_, and by a
multiplication action turned a large horizontal wheel into which a
vertical shaft descended. This shaft was let into the centre of four
crossbeams, supporting the floor of the room in which I had slept. All
round the circular edge of the floor was a steel rim which turned in a
circular socket. It needed but a touch to set this hideous apparatus in
motion.

The police immediately started in pursuit of Bindloss, and I returned to
London. That evening Edgcombe and I visited Dr. Miles Gordon.
Hard-headed old physician that he was, he was literally aghast when I
told him my story. He explained to me that a man placed in the position
in which I was when the floor began to move would by means of
centrifugal force suffer from enormous congestion of the brain. In fact,
the revolving floor would induce an artificial condition of apoplexy. If
the victim were drugged or even only sleeping heavily, and the floor
began to move slowly, insensibility would almost immediately be induced,
which would soon pass into coma and death, and a post-mortem examination
some hours afterwards would show no cause for death, as the brain would
appear perfectly healthy, the blood having again left it.

From the presence of Dr. Miles Gordon, Edgcombe and I went to Scotland
Yard, and the whole affair was put into the hands of the London
detective force. With the clue which I had almost sacrificed my life to
furnish, they quickly did the rest. Wentworth was arrested, and under
pressure was induced to make a full confession, but old Bindloss had
already told me the gist of the story. Wentworth's father had owned the
mill, had got into trouble with the law, and changed his name. In fact,
he had spent five years in penal servitude. He then went to Australia
and made money. He died when his son was a young man. This youth
inherited all the father's vices. He came home, visited the mill, and,
being of a mechanical turn of mind, invented the revolving floor. He
changed the mill into an inn, put Bindloss, one of his "pals," into
possession with the full intention of murdering unwary travellers from
time to time for their money.

The police, however, wanted him for a forged bill, and he thought it
best to fly. Bindloss was left in full possession. Worried by Wentworth,
who had him in his power for a grave crime committed years ago, he
himself on two occasions murdered a victim in the circular room.
Meanwhile several unexpected deaths had taken place in the older branch
of the Wentworth family, and Archibald Wentworth alone stood between his
cousin and the great estates. Wentworth came home, and with the aid of
Bindloss got Archibald into his power. The young artist slept in the
fatal room, and his death was the result. At this moment Wentworth and
Bindloss are committed for trial at the Old Bailey, and there is no
doubt what the result will be.

The ghost mystery in connection with the Castle Inn has, of course, been
explained away for ever.



II

THE WARDER OF THE DOOR


"If you don't believe it, you can read it for yourself," said Allen
Clinton, climbing up the steps and searching among the volumes on the
top shelf.

I lay back in my chair. The beams from the sinking sun shone through the
stained glass of the windows of the old library, and dyed the rows of
black leather volumes with bands of red and yellow.

"Here, Bell!"

I took a musty volume from Allen Clinton, which he had unearthed from
its resting-place.

"It is about the middle of the book," he continued eagerly. "You will
see it in big, black, old English letters."

I turned over the pages containing the family tree and other archives of
the Clintons till I came to the one I was seeking. It contained the
curse which had rested on the family since 1400. Slowly and with
difficulty I deciphered the words of this terrible denunciation.

"And in this cell its coffin lieth, the coffin which hath not human
shape, for which reason no holy ground receiveth it. Here shall it rest
to curse the family of ye Clyntons from generation to generation. And
for this reason, as soon as the soul shall pass from the body of each
first-born, which is the heir, it shall become the warder of the door by
day and by night. Day and night shall his spirit stand by the door, to
keep the door closed till the son shall release the spirit of the father
from the watch and take his place, till his son in turn shall die. And
whoso entereth into the cell shall be the prisoner of the soul that
guardeth the door till it shall let him go."

"What a ghastly idea!" I said, glancing up at the young man who was
watching me as I read. "But you say this cell has never been found. I
should say its existence was a myth, and, of course, the curse on the
soul of the first-born to keep the door shut as warder is absurd. Matter
does not obey witchcraft."

"The odd part of it is," replied Allen, "that every other detail of the
Abbey referred to in this record has been identified; but this cell with
its horrible contents has never been found."

It certainly was a curious legend, and I allow it made some impression
on me. I fancied, too, that somewhere I had heard something similar, but
my memory failed to trace it.

I had come down to Clinton Abbey three days before for some pheasant
shooting.

It was now Sunday afternoon. The family, with the exception of old Sir
Henry, Allen, and myself, were at church. Sir Henry, now nearly eighty
years of age and a chronic invalid, had retired to his room for his
afternoon sleep. The younger Clinton and I had gone out for a stroll
round the grounds, and since we returned our conversation had run upon
the family history till it arrived at the legend of the family curse.
Presently, the door of the library was slowly opened, and Sir Henry, in
his black velvet coat, which formed such a striking contrast to his
snowy white beard and hair, entered the room. I rose from my chair, and,
giving him my arm, assisted him to his favourite couch. He sank down
into its luxurious depths with a sigh, but as he did so his eyes caught
the old volume which I had laid on the table beside it. He started
forward, took the book in his hand, and looked across at his son.

"Did you take this book down?" he said sharply.

"Yes, father; I got it out to show it to Bell. He is interested in the
history of the Abbey, and----"

"Then return it to its place at once," interrupted the old man, his
black eyes blazing with sudden passion. "You know how I dislike having
my books disarranged, and this one above all. Stay, give it to me."

He struggled up from the couch, and, taking the volume, locked it up in
one of the drawers of his writing-table, and then sat back again on the
sofa. His hands were trembling, as if some sudden fear had taken
possession of him.

"Did you say that Phyllis Curzon is coming to-morrow?" asked the old man
presently of his son in an irritable voice.

"Yes, father, of course; don't you remember? Mrs. Curzon and Phyllis are
coming to stay for a fortnight; and, by the way," he added, starting to
his feet as he spoke, "that reminds me I must go and tell Grace----"

The rest of the sentence was lost in the closing of the door. As soon as
we were alone, Sir Henry looked across at me for a few moments without
speaking. Then he said,--

"I am sorry I was so short just now. I am not myself. I do not know what
is the matter with me. I feel all to pieces. I cannot sleep. I do not
think my time is very long now, and I am worried about Allen. The fact
is, I would give anything to stop this engagement. I wish he would not
marry."

"I am sorry to hear you say that, sir," I answered. "I should have
thought you would have been anxious to see your son happily married."

"Most men would," was the reply; "but I have my reasons for wishing
things otherwise."

"What do you mean?" I could not help asking.

"I cannot explain myself; I wish I could. It would be best for Allen to
let the old family die out. There, perhaps I am foolish about it, and of
course I cannot really stop the marriage, but I am worried and troubled
about many things."

"I wish I could help you, sir," I said impulsively. "If there is
anything I can possibly do, you know you have only to ask me."

"Thank you, Bell, I know you would; but I cannot tell you. Some day I
may. But there, I am afraid--horribly afraid."

The trembling again seized him, and he put his hands over his eyes as if
to shut out some terrible sight.

"Don't repeat a word of what I have told you to Allen or any one else,"
he said suddenly. "It is possible that some day I may ask you to help
me; and remember, Bell, I trust you."

He held out his hand, which I took. In another moment the butler entered
with the lamps, and I took advantage of the interruption to make my way
to the drawing-room.

The next day the Curzons arrived, and a hasty glance showed me that
Phyllis was a charming girl. She was tall, slightly built, with a figure
both upright and graceful, and a handsome, somewhat proud face. When in
perfect repose her expression was somewhat haughty; but the moment she
spoke her face became vivacious, kindly, charming to an extraordinary
degree; she had a gay laugh, a sweet smile, a sympathetic manner. I was
certain she had the kindest of hearts, and was sure that Allen had made
an admirable choice.

A few days went by, and at last the evening before the day when I was to
return to London arrived. Phyllis's mother had gone to bed a short time
before, as she had complained of headache, and Allen suddenly proposed,
as the night was a perfect one, that we should go out and enjoy a
moonlight stroll.

Phyllis laughed with glee at the suggestion, and ran at once into the
hall to take a wrap from one of the pegs.

"Allen," she said to her lover, who was following her, "you and I will
go first."

"No, young lady, on this occasion you and I will have that privilege,"
said Sir Henry. He had also come into the hall, and, to our
astonishment, announced his intention of accompanying us in our walk.

Phyllis bestowed upon him a startled glance, then she laid her hand
lightly on his arm, nodded back at Allen with a smile, and walked on in
front somewhat rapidly. Allen and I followed in the rear.

"Now, what does my father mean by this?" said Allen to me. "He never
goes out at night; but he has not been well lately. I sometimes think he
grows queerer every day."

"He is very far from well, I am certain," I answered.

We stayed out for about half an hour and returned home by a path which
led into the house through a side entrance. Phyllis was waiting for us
in the hall.

"Where is my father?" asked Allen, going up to her.

"He is tired and has gone to bed," she answered. "Good-night, Allen."

"Won't you come into the drawing-room?" he asked in some astonishment.

"No, I am tired."

She nodded to him without touching his hand; her eyes, I could not help
noticing, had a queer expression. She ran upstairs.

I saw that Allen was startled by her manner; but as he did not say
anything, neither did I.

The next day at breakfast I was told that the Curzons had already left
the Abbey. Allen was full of astonishment and, I could see, a good deal
annoyed. He and I breakfasted alone in the old library. His father was
too ill to come downstairs.

An hour later I was on my way back to London. Many things there engaged
my immediate attention, and Allen, his engagement, Sir Henry, and the
old family curse, sank more or less into the background of my mind.

Three months afterwards, on the 7th of January, I saw to my sorrow in
the _Times_ the announcement of Sir Henry Clinton's death.

From time to time in the interim I had heard from the son, saying that
his father was failing fast. He further mentioned that his own wedding
was fixed for the twenty-first of the present month. Now, of course, it
must be postponed. I felt truly sorry for Allen, and wrote immediately
a long letter of condolence.

On the following day I received a wire from him, imploring me to go down
to the Abbey as soon as possible, saying that he was in great
difficulty.

I packed a few things hastily, and arrived at Clinton Abbey at six in
the evening. The house was silent and subdued--the funeral was to take
place the next day. Clinton came into the hall and gripped me warmly by
the hand. I noticed at once how worn and worried he looked.

"This is good of you, Bell," he said. "I cannot tell you how grateful I
am to you for coming. You are the one man who can help me, for I know
you have had much experience in matters of this sort. Come into the
library and I will tell you everything. We shall dine alone this
evening, as my mother and the girls are keeping to their own apartments
for to-night."

As soon as we were seated, he plunged at once into his story.

"I must give you a sort of prelude to what has just occurred," he began.
"You remember, when you were last here, how abruptly Phyllis and her
mother left the Abbey?"

I nodded. I remembered well.

"On the morning after you had left us I had a long letter from Phyllis,"
continued Allen. "In it she told me of an extraordinary request my
father had made to her during that moonlight walk--nothing more nor less
than an earnest wish that she would herself terminate our engagement.
She spoke quite frankly, as she always does, assuring me of her
unalterable love and devotion, but saying that under the circumstances
it was absolutely necessary to have an explanation. Frantic with almost
ungovernable rage, I sought my father in his study. I laid Phyllis's
letter before him and asked him what it meant. He looked at me with the
most unutterable expression of weariness and pathos.

"'Yes, my boy, I did it,' he said. 'Phyllis is quite right. I did ask of
her, as earnestly as a very old man could plead, that she would bring
the engagement to an end.'

"'But why?' I asked. 'Why?'

"'That I am unable to tell you,' he replied.

"I lost my temper and said some words to him which I now regret. He made
no sort of reply. When I had done speaking he said slowly,--

"'I make all allowance for your emotion, Allen; your feelings are no
more than natural.'

"'You have done me a very sore injury,' I retorted. 'What can Phyllis
think of this? She will never be the same again. I am going to see her
to-day.'

"He did not utter another word, and I left him. I was absent from home
for about a week. It took me nearly that time to induce Phyllis to
overlook my father's extraordinary request, and to let matters go on
exactly as they had done before.

"After fixing our engagement, if possible, more firmly than ever, and
also arranging the date of our wedding, I returned home. When I did so I
told my father what I had done.

"'As you will,' he replied, and then he sank into great gloom. From that
moment, although I watched him day and night, and did everything that
love and tenderness could suggest, he never seemed to rally. He scarcely
spoke, and remained, whenever we were together, bowed in deep and
painful reverie. A week ago he took to his bed."

Here Allen paused.

"I now come to events up to date," he said. "Of course, as you may
suppose, I was with my father to the last. A few hours before he passed
away he called me to his bedside, and to my astonishment began once more
talking about my engagement. He implored me with the utmost earnestness
even now at the eleventh hour to break it off. It was not too late, he
said, and added further that nothing would give him ease in dying but
the knowledge that I would promise him to remain single. Of course I
tried to humour him. He took my hand, looked me in the eyes with an
expression which I shall never forget, and said,--

"'Allen, make me a solemn promise that you will never marry.'

"This I naturally had to refuse, and then he told me that, expecting my
obstinacy, he had written me a letter which I should find in his safe,
but I was not to open it till after his death. I found it this morning.
Bell, it is the most extraordinary communication, and either it is
entirely a figment of his imagination, for his brain powers were failing
very much at the last, or else it is the most awful thing I ever heard
of. Here is the letter; read it for yourself."

I took the paper from his hand and read the following matter in shaky,
almost illegible writing:--

    "My dear Boy,--When you read this I shall have passed away. For
    the last six months my life has been a living death. The horror
    began in the following way. You know what a deep interest I have
    always taken in the family history of our house. I have spent the
    latter years of my life in verifying each detail, and my
    intention was, had health been given me, to publish a great deal
    of it in a suitable volume.

    "On the special night to which I am about to allude, I sat up
    late in my study reading the book which I saw you show to Bell a
    short time ago. In particular, I was much attracted by the
    terrible curse which the old abbot in the fourteenth century had
    bestowed upon the family. I read the awful words again and again.
    I knew that all the other details in the volume had been
    verified, but that the vault with the coffin had never yet been
    found. Presently I grew drowsy, and I suppose I must have fallen
    asleep. In my sleep I had a dream; I thought that some one came
    into the room, touched me on the shoulder, and said 'Come.' I
    looked up; a tall figure beckoned to me. The voice and the figure
    belonged to my late father. In my dream I rose immediately,
    although I did not know why I went nor where I was going. The
    figure went on in front, it entered the hall. I took one of the
    candles from the table and the key of the chapel, unbolted the
    door and went out. Still the voice kept saying 'Come, come,' and
    the figure of my father walked in front of me. I went across the
    quadrangle, unlocked the chapel door, and entered.

    "A death-like silence was around me. I crossed the nave to the
    north aisle; the figure still went in front of me; it entered the
    great pew which is said to be haunted, and walked straight up to
    the effigy of the old abbot who had pronounced the curse. This,
    as you know, is built into the opposite wall. Bending forward,
    the figure pressed the eyes of the old monk, and immediately a
    stone started out of its place, revealing a staircase behind. I
    was about to hurry forward, when I must have knocked against
    something. I felt a sensation of pain, and suddenly awoke. What
    was my amazement to find that I had acted on my dream, had
    crossed the quadrangle, and was in the chapel; in fact, was
    standing in the old pew! Of course there was no figure of any
    sort visible, but the moonlight shed a cold radiance over all the
    place. I felt very much startled and impressed, but was just
    about to return to the house in some wonder at the curious vision
    which I had experienced, when, raising my startled eyes, I saw
    that part of it at least was real. The old monk seemed to grin at
    me from his marble effigy, and beside him was a _blank open
    space_. I hurried to it and saw a narrow flight of stairs. I
    cannot explain what my emotions were, but my keenest feeling at
    that moment was a strong and horrible curiosity. Holding the
    candle in my hand, I went down the steps. They terminated at the
    beginning of a long passage. This I quickly traversed, and at
    last found myself beside an iron door. It was not locked, but
    hasped, and was very hard to open; in fact, it required nearly
    all my strength; at last I pulled it open towards me, and there
    in a small cell lay the coffin, as the words of the curse said. I
    gazed at it in horror. I did not dare to enter. It was a wedged-
    shaped coffin studded with great nails. But as I looked my blood
    froze within me, for slowly, very slowly, as if pushed by some
    unseen hand, the great heavy door began to close, quicker and
    quicker, until with a crash that echoed and re-echoed through the
    empty vault, it shut.

    "Terror-stricken, I rushed from the vault and reached my room
    once more.

    "Now I know that this great curse is true; that my father's
    spirit is there to guard the door and close it, for I saw it with
    my own eyes, and while you read this know that I am there. I
    charge you, therefore, not to marry--bring no child into the
    world to perpetuate this terrible curse. Let the family die out
    if you have the courage. It is much, I know, to ask; but whether
    you do or not, come to me there, and if by sign or word I can
    communicate with you I will do so, but hold the secret safe. Meet
    me there before my body is laid to rest, when body and soul are
    still not far from each other. Farewell.

                                       "--Your loving father,
                                                    "Henry Clinton."

I read this strange letter over carefully twice, and laid it down. For a
moment I hardly knew what to say. It was certainly the most uncanny
thing I had ever come across.

"What do you think of it?" asked Allen at last.

"Well, of course there are only two possible solutions," I answered.
"One is that your father not only dreamt the beginning of this
story--which, remember, he allows himself--but the whole of it."

"And the other?" asked Allen, seeing that I paused.

"The other," I continued, "I hardly know what to say yet. Of course we
will investigate the whole thing, that is our only chance of arriving
at a solution. It is absurd to let matters rest as they are. We had
better try to-night."

Clinton winced and hesitated.

"Something must be done, of course," he answered; "but the worst of it
is Phyllis and her mother are coming here early to-morrow in time for the
funeral, and I cannot meet her--no, I cannot, poor girl!--while I feel
as I do."

"We will go to the vault to-night," I said.

Clinton rose from his chair and looked at me.

"I don't like this thing at all, Bell," he continued. "I am not by
nature in any sense of the word a superstitious man, but I tell you
frankly nothing would induce me to go alone into that chapel to-night;
if you come with me, that, of course, alters matters. I know the pew my
father refers to well; it is beneath the window of St. Sebastian."

Soon afterwards I went to my room and dressed; and Allen and I dined
_tête-à-tête_ in the great dining-room. The old butler waited on us
with funereal solemnity, and I did all I could to lure Clinton's
thoughts into a more cheerful and healthier channel.

I cannot say that I was very successful. I further noticed that he
scarcely ate anything, and seemed altogether to be in a state of nervous
tension painful to witness.

After dinner we went into the smoking-room, and at eleven o'clock I
proposed that we should make a start.

Clinton braced himself together and we went out. He got the chapel keys,
and then going to the stables we borrowed a lantern, and a moment
afterwards found ourselves in the sacred edifice. The moon was at her
full, and by the pale light which was diffused through the south windows
the architecture of the interior could be faintly seen. The Gothic
arches that flanked the centre aisle with their quaint pillars, each
with a carved figure of one of the saints, were quite visible, and
further in the darkness of the chancel the dim outlines of the choir and
altar-table with its white marble reredos could be just discerned.

We closed the door softly and, Clinton leading the way with the lantern,
we walked up the centre aisle paved with the brasses of his dead
ancestors. We trod gently on tiptoe as one instinctively does at night.
Turning beneath the little pulpit we reached the north transept, and
here Clinton stopped and turned round. He was very white, but his voice
was quiet.

"This is the pew," he whispered. "It has always been called the haunted
pew of Sir Hugh Clinton."

I took the lantern from him and we entered. I crossed the pew
immediately and went up to the effigy of the old abbot.

"Let us examine him closely," I said. I held up the lantern, getting it
to shine on each part of the face, the vestments, and the figure. The
eyes, although vacant, as in all statuary, seemed to me at that moment
to be uncanny and peculiar. Giving Allen the lantern to hold, I placed a
finger firmly on each. The next moment I could not refrain from an
exclamation; a stone at the side immediately rolled back, revealing the
steps which were spoken of by the old man in his narrative.

"It is true! It is true!" cried Clinton excitedly.

"It certainly looks like it," I remarked: "but never mind, we have the
chance now of investigating this matter thoroughly."

"Are you going down?" asked Clinton.

"Certainly I am," I replied. "Let us go together."

Immediately afterwards we crept through the opening and began to
descend. There was only just room to do so in single file, and I went
first with the lantern. In another moment we were in the long passage,
and soon we were confronted by a door in an arched stone framework. Up
till now Clinton had shown little sign of alarm, but here, at the
trysting-place to which his father's soul had summoned him, he seemed
suddenly to lose his nerve. He leant against the wall and for a moment I
thought he would have fallen. I held up the lantern and examined the
door and walls carefully. Then approaching I lifted the iron latch of
the heavy door. It was very hard to move, but at last by seizing the
edge I dragged it open to its full against the wall of the passage.
Having done so I peered inside, holding the lantern above my head. As I
did so I heard Clinton cry out,--

"Look, look," he said, and turning I saw that the great door had swung
back against me, almost shutting me within the cell.

Telling Clinton to hold it back by force, I stepped inside and saw at my
feet the ghastly coffin. The legend then so far was true. I bent down
and examined the queer, misshapen thing with great care. Its shape was
that of an enormous wedge, and it was apparently made of some dark old
wood, and was bound with iron at the corners. Having looked at it all
round, I went out and, flinging back the door which Clinton had been
holding open, stood aside to watch. Slowly, very slowly, as we both
stood in the passage--slowly, as if pushed by some invisible hand, the
door commenced to swing round, and, increasing in velocity, shut with a
noisy clang.

Seizing it once again, I dragged it open and, while Clinton held it in
that position, made a careful examination. Up to the present I saw
nothing to be much alarmed about. There were fifty ways in which a door
might shut of its own accord. There might be a hidden spring or tilted
hinges; draught, of course, was out of the question. I looked at the
hinges, they were of iron and set in the solid masonry. Nor could I
discover any spring or hidden contrivance, as when the door was wide
open there was an interval of several inches between it and the wall. We
tried it again and again with the same result, and at last, as it was
closing, I seized it to prevent it.

I now experienced a very odd sensation; I certainly felt as if I were
resisting an unseen person who was pressing hard against the door at the
other side. Directly it was released it continued its course. I allow I
was quite unable to understand the mystery. Suddenly an idea struck me.

"What does the legend say?" I asked, turning to Clinton. "'That the soul
is to guard the door, to close it upon the coffin?'"

"Those are the words," answered Allen, speaking with some difficulty.

"Now if that is true," I continued, "and we take the coffin out, the
spirit won't shut the door; if it does shut it, it disproves the whole
thing at once, and shows it to be merely a clever mechanical
contrivance. Come, Clinton, help me to get the coffin out."

"I dare not, Bell," he whispered hoarsely. "I daren't go inside."

"Nonsense, man," I said, feeling now a little annoyed at the whole
thing. "Here, put the lantern down and hold the door back." I stepped in
and, getting behind the coffin, put out all my strength and shoved it
into the passage.

"Now, then," I cried, "I'll bet you fifty pounds to five the door will
shut just the same." I dragged the coffin clear of the door and told him
to let go. Clinton had scarcely done so before, stepping back, he
clutched my arm.

"Look," he whispered; "do you see that it will not shut now? My father
is waiting for the coffin to be put back. This is awful!"

I gazed at the door in horror; it was perfectly true, it remained wide
open, and quite still. I sprang forward, seized it, and now endeavoured
to close it. It was as if some one was trying to hold it open; it
required considerable force to stir it, and it was only with difficulty
I could move it at all. At last I managed to shut it, but the moment I
let go it swung back open of its own accord and struck against the wall,
where it remained just as before. In the dead silence that followed I
could hear Clinton breathing quickly behind me, and I knew he was
holding himself for all he was worth.

At that moment there suddenly came over me a sensation which I had once
experienced before, and which I was twice destined to experience again.
It is impossible to describe it, but it seized me, laying siege to my
brain till I felt like a child in its power. It was as if I were slowly
drowning in the great ocean of silence that enveloped us. Time itself
seemed to have disappeared. At my feet lay the misshapen thing, and the
lantern behind it cast a fantastic shadow of its distorted outline on
the cell wall before me.

"Speak; say something," I cried to Clinton. The sharp sound of my voice
broke the spell. I felt myself again, and smiled at the trick my nerves
had played on me. I bent down and once more laid my hands on the coffin,
but before I had time to push it back into its place Clinton had gone up
the passage like a man who is flying to escape a hurled javelin.

Exerting all my force to prevent the door from swinging back by keeping
my leg against it, I had just got the coffin into the cell and was going
out, when I heard a shrill cry, and Clinton came tearing back down the
passage.

"I can't get out! The stone has sunk into its place! We are locked in!"
he screamed, and, wild with fear, he plunged headlong into the cell,
upsetting me in his career before I could check him. I sprang back to
the door as it was closing. I was too late. Before I could reach it, it
had shut with a loud clang in obedience to the infernal witchcraft.

"You have done it now," I cried angrily. "Do you see? Why, man, we are
buried alive in this ghastly hole!"

The lantern I had placed just inside the door, and by its dim light, as
I looked at him, I saw the terror of a madman creep into Clinton's eyes.

"Buried alive!" he shouted, with a peal of hysterical laughter. "Yes,
and, Bell, it's your doing; you are a devil in human shape!" With a wild
paroxysm of fury he flung himself upon me. There was the ferocity of a
wild beast in his spring. He upset the lantern and left us in total
darkness.

The struggle was short. We might be buried alive, but I was not going to
die by his hand, and seizing him by the throat I pinned him against the
wall.

[Illustration: "It had shut with a loud clang."
A Master of Mysteries.--Page 86]

"Keep quiet," I shouted. "It is your thundering stupidity that has
caused all this. Stay where you are until I strike a match."

I luckily had some vestas in the little silver box which I always carry
on my watch-chain, and striking one I relit the lantern. Clinton's
paroxysm was over, and sinking to the floor he lay there shivering and
cowering.

It was a terrible situation, and I knew that our only hope was for me to
keep my presence of mind. With a great effort I forced myself to think
calmly over what could be done. To shout for help would have been but a
useless waste of breath.

Suddenly an idea struck me. "Have you got your father's letter?" I cried
eagerly.

"I have," he answered; "it is in my pocket."

My last ray of hope vanished. Our only chance was that if he had left it
at the house some one might discover the letter and come to our rescue
by its instructions. It had been a faint hope, and it disappeared
almost as quickly as it had come to me. Without it no one would ever
find the way to the vault that had remained a secret for ages. I was
determined, however, not to die without a struggle for freedom. Taking
the lantern, I examined every nook and cranny of the cell for some other
exit. It was a fruitless search. No sign of any way out could I find,
and we had absolutely no means to unfasten the door from the inner side.
Taking a few short steps, I flung myself again and again at the heavy
door. It never budged an inch, and, bruised and sweating at every pore,
I sat down on the coffin and tried to collect all my faculties.

Clinton was silent, and seemed utterly stunned. He sat still, gazing
with a vacant stare at the door.

The time dragged heavily, and there was nothing to do but to wait for a
horrible death from starvation. It was more than likely, too, that
Clinton would go mad; already his nerves were strained to the utmost.
Altogether I had never found myself in a worse plight.

It seemed like an eternity that we sat there, neither of us speaking a
word. Over and over again I repeated to myself the words of the terrible
curse: "And whoso entereth into the cell shall be the prisoner of the
soul that guardeth the door till it shall let him go." When would the
shapeless form that was inside the coffin let us go? Doubtless when our
bones were dry.

I looked at my watch. It was half-past eleven o'clock. Surely we had
been more than ten minutes in this awful place! We had left the house at
eleven, and I knew that must have been many hours ago. I glanced at the
second hand. _The watch had stopped._

"What is the time, Clinton?" I asked. "My watch has stopped."

"What does it matter?" he murmured. "What is time to us now? The sooner
we die the better."

He pulled out his watch as he spoke, and held it to the lantern.

"Twenty-five minutes past eleven," he murmured dreamily.

"Good heavens!" I cried, starting up. "Has your watch stopped, too?"

Then, like the leap of a lightning flash, an idea struck me.

"I have got it; I have got it! My God! I believe I have got it!" I
cried, seizing him by the arm.

"Got what?" he replied, staring wildly at me.

"Why, the secret--the curse--the door. Don't you see?"

I pulled out the large knife I always carry by a chain and swivel in my
trouser pocket, and telling Clinton to hold the lantern, opened the
little blade-saw and attacked the coffin with it.

"I believe the secret of our deliverance lies in this," I panted,
working away furiously.

In ten minutes I had sawn half through the wooden edge, then, handing my
tool to Clinton, I told him to continue the work while I rested. After a
few minutes I took the knife again, and at last, after nearly half an
hour had gone by, succeeded in making a small hole in the lid.
Inserting my two fingers, I felt some rough, uneven masses. I was now
fearfully excited. Tearing at the opening like a madman, I enlarged it
and extracted what looked like a large piece of coal. I knew in an
instant what it was. It was magnetic iron-ore. Holding it down to my
knife, the blade flew to it.

"Here is the mystery of the soul," I cried; "now we can use it to open
the door."

I had known a great conjurer once, who had deceived and puzzled his
audience with a box trick on similar lines: the man opening the box from
the inside by drawing down the lock with a magnet. Would this do the
same? I felt that our lives hung on the next moment. Taking the mass, I
pressed it against the door just opposite the hasp, and slid it up
against the wood. My heart leapt as I heard the hasp fly up outside, and
with a push the door opened.

"We are saved," I shouted. "We are saved by a miracle!"

"Bell, you are a genius," gasped poor Clinton; "but now, how about the
stone at the end of the passage?"

"We will soon see about that," I cried, taking the lantern. "Half the
danger is over, at any rate; and the worst half, too."

We rushed along the passage and up the stair until we reached the top.

"Why, Clinton," I cried, holding up the lantern, "the place was not shut
at all."

Nor was it. In his terror he had imagined it.

"I could not see in the dark, and I was nearly dead with fright," he
said. "Oh, Bell, let us get out of this as quickly as we can!"

We crushed through the aperture and once more stood in the chapel. I
then pushed the stone back into its place.

Dawn was just breaking when we escaped from the chapel. We hastened
across to the house. In the hall the clock pointed to five.

"Well, we have had an awful time," I said, as we stood in the hall
together; "but at least, Clinton, the end was worth the ghastly terror.
I have knocked the bottom out of your family legend for ever."

"I don't even now quite understand," he said.

"Don't you?--but it is so easy. That coffin never contained a body at
all, but was filled, as you perceive, with fragments of magnetic
iron-ore. For what diabolical purposes the cell was intended, it is, of
course, impossible to say; but that it must have been meant as a human
trap there is little doubt. The inventor certainly exercised no small
ingenuity when he devised his diabolical plot, for it was obvious that
the door, which was made of iron, would swing towards the coffin
wherever it happened to be placed. Thus the door would shut if the
coffin were _inside the cell_, and would remain open if the coffin were
_brought out_. A cleverer method for simulating a spiritual agency it
would be hard to find. Of course, the monk must have known well that
magnetic iron-ore never loses its quality and would ensure the deception
remaining potent for ages."

"But how did you discover by means of our watches?" asked Clinton.

"Any one who understands magnetism can reply to that," I said. "It is a
well-known fact that a strong magnet plays havoc with watches. The fact
of both our watches going wrong first gave me a clue to the mystery."

Later in the day the whole of this strange affair was explained to Miss
Curzon, and not long afterwards the passage and entrance to the chapel
were bricked up.

It is needless to add that six months later the pair were married, and,
I believe, are as happy as they deserve.



III

THE MYSTERY OF THE FELWYN TUNNEL


I was making experiments of some interest at South Kensington, and hoped
that I had perfected a small but not unimportant discovery, when, on
returning home one evening in late October in the year 1893, I found a
visiting card on my table. On it were inscribed the words, "Mr. Geoffrey
Bainbridge." This name was quite unknown to me, so I rang the bell and
inquired of my servant who the visitor had been. He described him as a
gentleman who wished to see me on most urgent business, and said further
that Mr. Bainbridge intended to call again later in the evening. It was
with both curiosity and vexation that I awaited the return of the
stranger. Urgent business with me generally meant a hurried rush to one
part of the country or the other. I did not want to leave London just
then; and when at half-past nine Mr. Geoffrey Bainbridge was ushered
into my room, I received him with a certain coldness which he could not
fail to perceive. He was a tall, well-dressed, elderly man. He
immediately plunged into the object of his visit.

"I hope you do not consider my unexpected presence an intrusion, Mr.
Bell," he said. "But I have heard of you from our mutual friends, the
Greys of Uplands. You may remember once doing that family a great
service."

"I remember perfectly well," I answered more cordially. "Pray tell me
what you want; I shall listen with attention."

"I believe you are the one man in London who can help me," he continued.
"I refer to a matter especially relating to your own particular study. I
need hardly say that whatever you do will not be unrewarded."

"That is neither here nor there," I said; "but before you go any
further, allow me to ask one question. Do you want me to leave London at
present?"

He raised his eyebrows in dismay.

"I certainly do," he answered.

"Very well; pray proceed with your story."

He looked at me with anxiety.

"In the first place," he began, "I must tell you that I am chairman of
the Lytton Vale Railway Company in Wales, and that it is on an important
matter connected with our line that I have come to consult you. When I
explain to you the nature of the mystery, you will not wonder, I think,
at my soliciting your aid."

"I will give you my closest attention," I answered; and then I added,
impelled to say the latter words by a certain expression on his face,
"if I can see my way to assisting you I shall be ready to do so."

"Pray accept my cordial thanks," he replied. "I have come up from my
place at Felwyn to-day on purpose to consult you. It is in that
neighbourhood that the affair has occurred. As it is essential that you
should be in possession of the facts of the whole matter, I will go over
things just as they happened."

I bent forward and listened attentively.

"This day fortnight," continued Mr. Bainbridge, "our quiet little
village was horrified by the news that the signalman on duty at the
mouth of the Felwyn Tunnel had been found dead under the most mysterious
circumstances. The tunnel is at the end of a long cutting between
Llanlys and Felwyn stations. It is about a mile long, and the signal-box
is on the Felwyn side. The place is extremely lonely, being six miles
from the village across the mountains. The name of the poor fellow who
met his death in this mysterious fashion was David Pritchard. I have
known him from a boy, and he was quite one of the steadiest and most
trustworthy men on the line. On Tuesday evening he went on duty at six
o'clock; on Wednesday morning the day-man who had come to relieve him
was surprised not to find him in the box. It was just getting daylight,
and the 6.30 local was coming down, so he pulled the signals and let her
through. Then he went out, and, looking up the line towards the tunnel,
saw Pritchard lying beside the line close to the mouth of the tunnel.
Roberts, the day-man, ran up to him and found, to his horror, that he
was quite dead. At first Roberts naturally supposed that he had been cut
down by a train, as there was a wound at the back of the head; but he
was not lying on the metals. Roberts ran back to the box and telegraphed
through to Felwyn Station. The message was sent on to the village, and
at half-past seven o'clock the police inspector came up to my house with
the news. He and I, with the local doctor, went off at once to the
tunnel. We found the dead man lying beside the metals a few yards away
from the mouth of the tunnel, and the doctor immediately gave him a
careful examination. There was a depressed fracture at the back of the
skull, which must have caused his death; but how he came by it was not
so clear. On examining the whole place most carefully, we saw, further,
that there were marks on the rocks at the steep side of the embankment
as if some one had tried to scramble up them. Why the poor fellow had
attempted such a climb, God only knows. In doing so he must have slipped
and fallen back on to the line, thus causing the fracture of the skull.
In no case could he have gone up more than eight or ten feet, as the
banks of the cutting run sheer up, almost perpendicularly, beyond that
point for more than a hundred and fifty feet. There are some sharp
boulders beside the line, and it was possible that he might have fallen
on one of these and so sustained the injury. The affair must have
occurred some time between 11.45 p.m. and 6 a.m., as the engine-driver
of the express at 11.45 p.m. states that the line was signalled clear,
and he also caught sight of Pritchard in his box as he passed."

"This is deeply interesting," I said; "pray proceed."

Bainbridge looked at me earnestly; he then continued:--

"The whole thing is shrouded in mystery. Why should Pritchard have left
his box and gone down to the tunnel? Why, having done so, should he have
made a wild attempt to scale the side of the cutting, an impossible feat
at any time? Had danger threatened, the ordinary course of things would
have been to run up the line towards the signal-box. These points are
quite unexplained. Another curious fact is that death appears to have
taken place just before the day-man came on duty, as the light at the
mouth of the tunnel had been put out, and it was one of the night
signalman's duties to do this as soon as daylight appeared; it is
possible, therefore, that Pritchard went down to the tunnel for that
purpose. Against this theory, however, and an objection that seems to
nullify it, is the evidence of Dr. Williams, who states that when he
examined the body his opinion was that death had taken place some hours
before. An inquest was held on the following day, but before it took
place there was a new and most important development. I now come to what
I consider the crucial point in the whole story.

"For a long time there had been a feud between Pritchard and another man
of the name of Wynne, a platelayer on the line. The object of their
quarrel was the blacksmith's daughter in the neighbouring village--a
remarkably pretty girl and an arrant flirt. Both men were madly in love
with her, and she played them off one against the other. The night but
one before his death Pritchard and Wynne had met at the village inn, had
quarrelled in the bar--Lucy, of course, being the subject of their
difference. Wynne was heard to say (he was a man of powerful build and
subject to fits of ungovernable rage) that he would have Pritchard's
life. Pritchard swore a great oath that he would get Lucy on the
following day to promise to marry him. This oath, it appears, he kept,
and on his way to the signal-box on Tuesday evening met Wynne, and
triumphantly told him that Lucy had promised to be his wife. The men had
a hand-to-hand fight on the spot, several people from the village being
witnesses of it. They were separated with difficulty, each vowing
vengeance on the other. Pritchard went off to his duty at the signal-box
and Wynne returned to the village to drown his sorrows at the
public-house.

"Very late that same night Wynne was seen by a villager going in the
direction of the tunnel. The man stopped him and questioned him. He
explained that he had left some of his tools on the line, and was on his
way to fetch them. The villager noticed that he looked queer and
excited, but not wishing to pick a quarrel thought it best not to
question him further. It has been proved that Wynne never returned home
that night, but came back at an early hour on the following morning,
looking dazed and stupid. He was arrested on suspicion, and at the
inquest the verdict was against him."

"Has he given any explanation of his own movements?" I asked.

"Yes; but nothing that can clear him. As a matter of fact, his tools
were nowhere to be seen on the line, nor did he bring them home with
him. His own story is that being considerably the worse for drink, he
had fallen down in one of the fields and slept there till morning."

"Things look black against him," I said.

"They do; but listen, I have something more to add. Here comes a very
queer feature in the affair. Lucy Ray, the girl who had caused the feud
between Pritchard and Wynne, after hearing the news of Pritchard's
death, completely lost her head, and ran frantically about the village
declaring that Wynne was the man she really loved, and that she had only
accepted Pritchard in a fit of rage with Wynne for not himself bringing
matters to the point. The case looks very bad against Wynne, and
yesterday the magistrate committed him for trial at the coming assizes.
The unhappy Lucy Ray and the young man's parents are in a state
bordering on distraction."

"What is your own opinion with regard to Wynne's guilt?" I asked.

"Before God, Mr. Bell, I believe the poor fellow is innocent, but the
evidence against him is very strong. One of the favourite theories is
that he went down to the tunnel and extinguished the light, knowing that
this would bring Pritchard out of his box to see what was the matter,
and that he then attacked him, striking the blow which fractured the
skull."

"Has any weapon been found about, with which he could have given such a
blow?"

"No; nor has anything of the kind been discovered on Wynne's person;
that fact is decidedly in his favour."

"But what about the marks on the rocks?" I asked.

"It is possible that Wynne may have made them in order to divert
suspicion by making people think that Pritchard must have fallen, and so
killed himself. The holders of this theory base their belief on the
absolute want of cause for Pritchard's trying to scale the rock. The
whole thing is the most absolute enigma. Some of the country folk have
declared that the tunnel is haunted (and there certainly has been such a
rumour current among them for years). That Pritchard saw some
apparition, and in wild terror sought to escape from it by climbing the
rocks, is another theory, but only the most imaginative hold it."

"Well, it is a most extraordinary case," I replied.

"Yes, Mr. Bell, and I should like to get your opinion of it. Do you see
your way to elucidate the mystery?"

"Not at present; but I shall be happy to investigate the matter to my
utmost ability."

"But you do not wish to leave London at present?"

"That is so; but a matter of such importance cannot be set aside. It
appears, from what you say, that Wynne's life hangs more or less on my
being able to clear away the mystery?"

"That is indeed the case. There ought not to be a single stone left
unturned to get at the truth, for the sake of Wynne. Well, Mr. Bell,
what do you propose to do?"

"To see the place without delay," I answered.

"That is right; when can you come?"

"Whenever you please."

"Will you come down to Felwyn with me to-morrow? I shall leave
Paddington by the 7.10, and if you will be my guest I shall be only too
pleased to put you up."

"That arrangement will suit me admirably," I replied. "I will meet you
by the train you mention, and the affair shall have my best attention."

"Thank you," he said, rising. He shook hands with me and took his leave.

The next day I met Bainbridge at Paddington Station, and we were soon
flying westward in the luxurious private compartment that had been
reserved for him. I could see by his abstracted manner and his long
lapses of silence that the mysterious affair at Felwyn Tunnel was
occupying all his thoughts.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon when the train slowed down at the
little station of Felwyn. The station-master was at the door in an
instant to receive us.

"I have some terribly bad news for you, sir," he said, turning to
Bainbridge as we alighted; "and yet in one sense it is a relief, for it
seems to clear Wynne."

"What do you mean?" cried Bainbridge. "Bad news? Speak out at once!"

"Well, sir, it is this: there has been another death at Felwyn
signal-box. John Davidson, who was on duty last night, was found dead at
an early hour this morning in the very same place where we found poor
Pritchard."

"Good God!" cried Bainbridge, starting back, "what an awful thing! What,
in the name of Heaven, does it mean, Mr. Bell? This is too fearful.
Thank goodness you have come down with us."

"It is as black a business as I ever heard of, sir," echoed the
station-master; "and what we are to do I don't know. Poor Davidson was
found dead this morning, and there was neither mark nor sign of what
killed him--that is the extraordinary part of it. There's a perfect
panic abroad, and not a signalman on the line will take duty to-night. I
was quite in despair, and was afraid at one time that the line would
have to be closed, but at last it occurred to me to wire to Lytton Vale,
and they are sending down an inspector. I expect him by a special every
moment. I believe this is he coming now," added the station-master,
looking up the line.

There was the sound of a whistle down the valley, and in a few moments a
single engine shot into the station, and an official in uniform stepped
on to the platform.

"Good-evening, sir," he said, touching his cap to Bainbridge; "I have
just been sent down to inquire into this affair at the Felwyn Tunnel,
and though it seems more of a matter for a Scotland Yard detective than
one of ourselves, there was nothing for it but to come. All the same,
Mr. Bainbridge, I cannot say that I look forward to spending to-night
alone at the place."

"You wish for the services of a detective, but you shall have some one
better," said Bainbridge, turning towards me. "This gentleman, Mr. John
Bell, is the man of all others for our business. I have just brought him
down from London for the purpose."

An expression of relief flitted across the inspector's face.

"I am very glad to see you, sir," he said to me, "and I hope you will be
able to spend the night with me in the signal-box. I must say I don't
much relish the idea of tackling the thing single-handed; but with your
help, sir, I think we ought to get to the bottom of it somehow. I am
afraid there is not a man on the line who will take duty until we do. So
it is most important that the thing should be cleared, and without
delay."

I readily assented to the inspector's proposition, and Bainbridge and I
arranged that we should call for him at four o'clock at the village inn
and drive him to the tunnel.

We then stepped into the wagonette which was waiting for us, and drove
to Bainbridge's house.

Mrs. Bainbridge came out to meet us, and was full of the tragedy. Two
pretty girls also ran to greet their father, and to glance inquisitively
at me. I could see that the entire family was in a state of much
excitement.

"Lucy Ray has just left, father," said the elder of the girls. "We had
much trouble to soothe her; she is in a frantic state."

"You have heard, Mr. Bell, all about this dreadful mystery?" said Mrs.
Bainbridge as she led me towards the dining-room.

"Yes," I answered; "your husband has been good enough to give me every
particular."

"And you have really come here to help us?"

"I hope I may be able to discover the cause," I answered.

"It certainly seems most extraordinary," continued Mrs. Bainbridge. "My
dear," she continued, turning to her husband, "you can easily imagine
the state we were all in this morning when the news of the second death
was brought to us."

"For my part," said Ella Bainbridge, "I am sure that Felwyn Tunnel is
haunted. The villagers have thought so for a long time, and this second
death seems to prove it, does it not?" Here she looked anxiously at me.

"I can offer no opinion," I replied, "until I have sifted the matter
thoroughly."

"Come, Ella, don't worry Mr. Bell," said her father; "if he is as hungry
as I am, he must want his lunch."

We then seated ourselves at the table and commenced the meal.
Bainbridge, although he professed to be hungry, was in such a state of
excitement that he could scarcely eat. Immediately after lunch he left
me to the care of his family and went into the village.

"It is just like him," said Mrs. Bainbridge; "he takes these sort of
things to heart dreadfully. He is terribly upset about Lucy Ray, and
also about the poor fellow Wynne. It is certainly a fearful tragedy from
first to last."

"Well, at any rate," I said, "this fresh death will upset the evidence
against Wynne."

"I hope so, and there is some satisfaction in the fact. Well, Mr. Bell,
I see you have finished lunch; will you come into the drawing-room?"

I followed her into a pleasant room overlooking the valley of the
Lytton.

By-and-by Bainbridge returned, and soon afterwards the dog-cart came to
the door. My host and I mounted, Bainbridge took the reins, and we
started off at a brisk pace.

"Matters get worse and worse," he said the moment we were alone. "If you
don't clear things up to-night, Bell, I say frankly that I cannot
imagine what will happen."

We entered the village, and as we rattled down the ill-paved streets I
was greeted with curious glances on all sides. The people were standing
about in groups, evidently talking about the tragedy and nothing else.
Suddenly, as our trap bumped noisily over the paving-stones, a girl
darted out of one of the houses and made frantic motions to Bainbridge
to stop the horse. He pulled the mare nearly up on her haunches, and the
girl came up to the side of the dog-cart.

"You have heard it?" she said, speaking eagerly and in a gasping voice.
"The death which occurred this morning will clear Stephen Wynne, won't
it, Mr. Bainbridge?--it will, you are sure, are you not?"

"It looks like it, Lucy, my poor girl," he answered. "But there, the
whole thing is so terrible that I scarcely know what to think."

She was a pretty girl with dark eyes, and under ordinary circumstances
must have had the vivacious expression of face and the brilliant
complexion which so many of her countrywomen possess. But now her eyes
were swollen with weeping and her complexion more or less disfigured by
the agony she had gone through. She looked piteously at Bainbridge, her
lips trembling. The next moment she burst into tears.

"Come away, Lucy," said a woman who had followed her out of the cottage;
"Fie--for shame! don't trouble the gentlemen; come back and stay
quiet."

"I can't, mother, I can't," said the unfortunate girl. "If they hang
him, I'll go clean off my head. Oh, Mr. Bainbridge, do say that the
second death has cleared him!"

"I have every hope that it will do so, Lucy," said Bainbridge, "but now
don't keep us, there's a good girl; go back into the house. This
gentleman has come down from London on purpose to look into the whole
matter. I may have good news for you in the morning."

The girl raised her eyes to my face with a look of intense pleading.
"Oh, I have been cruel and a fool, and I deserve everything," she
gasped; "but, sir, for the love of Heaven, try to clear him."

I promised to do my best.

Bainbridge touched up the mare, she bounded forward, and Lucy
disappeared into the cottage with her mother.

The next moment we drew up at the inn where the Inspector was waiting,
and soon afterwards were bowling along between the high banks of the
country lanes to the tunnel. It was a cold, still afternoon; the air was
wonderfully keen, for a sharp frost had held the countryside in its grip
for the last two days. The sun was just tipping the hills to westward
when the trap pulled up at the top of the cutting. We hastily alighted,
and the Inspector and I bade Bainbridge good-bye. He said that he only
wished that he could stay with us for the night, assured us that little
sleep would visit him, and that he would be back at the cutting at an
early hour on the following morning; then the noise of his horse's feet
was heard fainter and fainter as he drove back over the frost-bound
roads. The Inspector and I ran along the little path to the wicket-gate
in the fence, stamping our feet on the hard ground to restore
circulation after our cold drive. The next moment we were looking down
upon the scene of the mysterious deaths, and a weird and lonely place it
looked. The tunnel was at one end of the rock cutting, the sides of
which ran sheer down to the line for over a hundred and fifty feet.
Above the tunnel's mouth the hills rose one upon the other. A more
dreary place it would have been difficult to imagine. From a little
clump of pines a delicate film of blue smoke rose straight up on the
still air. This came from the chimney of the signal-box.

As we started to descend the precipitous path the Inspector sang out a
cheery "Hullo!" The man on duty in the box immediately answered. His
voice echoed and reverberated down the cutting, and the next moment he
appeared at the door of the box. He told us that he would be with us
immediately; but we called back to him to stay where he was, and the
next instant the Inspector and I entered the box.

"The first thing to do," said Henderson the Inspector, "is to send a
message down the line to announce our arrival."

This he did, and in a few moments a crawling goods train came panting up
the cutting. After signalling her through we descended the wooden flight
of steps which led from the box down to the line and walked along the
metals towards the tunnel till we stood on the spot where poor Davidson
had been found dead that morning. I examined the ground and all around
it most carefully. Everything tallied exactly with the description I had
received. There could be no possible way of approaching the spot except
by going along the line, as the rocky sides of the cutting were
inaccessible.

"It is a most extraordinary thing, sir," said the signalman whom we had
come to relieve. "Davidson had neither mark nor sign on him--there he
lay stone dead and cold, and not a bruise nowhere; but Pritchard had an
awful wound at the back of the head. They said he got it by climbing the
rocks--here, you can see the marks for yourself, sir. But now, is it
likely that Pritchard would try to climb rocks like these, so steep as
they are?"

"Certainly not," I replied.

"Then how do you account for the wound, sir?" asked the man with an
anxious face.

"I cannot tell you at present," I answered.

"And you and Inspector Henderson are going to spend the night in the
signal-box?"

"Yes."

A horrified expression crept over the signalman's face.

"God preserve you both," he said; "I wouldn't do it--not for fifty
pounds. It's not the first time I have heard tell that Felwyn Tunnel is
haunted. But, there, I won't say any more about that. It's a black
business, and has given trouble enough. There's poor Wynne, the same
thing as convicted of the murder of Pritchard; but now they say that
Davidson's death will clear him. Davidson was as good a fellow as you
would come across this side of the country; but for the matter of that,
so was Pritchard. The whole thing is terrible--it upsets one, that it
do, sir."

"I don't wonder at your feelings," I answered; "but now, see here, I
want to make a most careful examination of everything. One of the
theories is that Wynne crept down this rocky side and fractured
Pritchard's skull. I believe such a feat to be impossible. On examining
these rocks I see that a man might climb up the side of the tunnel as
far as from eight to ten feet, utilising the sharp projections of rock
for the purpose; but it would be out of the question for any man to come
down the cutting. No; the only way Wynne could have approached Pritchard
was by the line itself. But, after all, the real thing to discover is
this," I continued: "what killed Davidson? Whatever caused his death is,
beyond doubt, equally responsible for Pritchard's. I am now going into
the tunnel."

Inspector Henderson went in with me. The place struck damp and chill.
The walls were covered with green, evil-smelling fungi, and through the
brickwork the moisture was oozing and had trickled down in long lines to
the ground. Before us was nothing but dense darkness.

When we re-appeared the signalman was lighting the red lamp on the post,
which stood about five feet from the ground just above the entrance to
the tunnel.

"Is there plenty of oil?" asked the Inspector.

"Yes, sir, plenty," replied the man. "Is there anything more I can do
for either of you gentlemen?" he asked, pausing, and evidently dying to
be off.

"Nothing," answered Henderson; "I will wish you good-evening."

"Good-evening to you both," said the man. He made his way quickly up the
path and was soon lost to sight.

Henderson and I then returned to the signal-box.

By this time it was nearly dark.

"How many trains pass in the night?" I asked of the Inspector.

"There's the 10.20 down express," he said, "it will pass here at about
10.40; then there's the 11.45 up, and then not another train till the
6.30 local to-morrow morning. We shan't have a very lively time," he
added.

I approached the fire and bent over it, holding out my hands to try and
get some warmth into them.

"It will take a good deal to persuade me to go down to the tunnel,
whatever I may see there," said the man. "I don't think, Mr. Bell, I am
a coward in any sense of the word, but there's something very uncanny
about this place, right away from the rest of the world. I don't wonder
one often hears of signalmen going mad in some of these lonely boxes.
Have you any theory to account for these deaths, sir?"

"None at present," I replied.

"This second death puts the idea of Pritchard being murdered quite out
of court," he continued.

"I am sure of it," I answered.

"And so am I, and that's one comfort," continued Henderson. "That poor
girl, Lucy Ray, although she was to be blamed for her conduct, is much
to be pitied now; and as to poor Wynne himself, he protests his
innocence through thick and thin. He was a wild fellow, but not the sort
to take the life of a fellow-creature. I saw the doctor this afternoon
while I was waiting for you at the inn, Mr. Bell, and also the police
sergeant. They both say they do not know what Davidson died of. There
was not the least sign of violence on the body."

"Well, I am as puzzled as the rest of you," I said. "I have one or two
theories in my mind, but none of them will quite fit the situation."

The night was piercingly cold, and, although there was not a breath of
wind, the keen and frosty air penetrated into the lonely signal-box. We
spoke little, and both of us were doubtless absorbed by our own thoughts
and speculations. As to Henderson, he looked distinctly uncomfortable,
and I cannot say that my own feelings were too pleasant. Never had I
been given a tougher problem to solve, and never had I been so utterly
at my wits' end for a solution.

Now and then the Inspector got up and went to the telegraph instrument,
which intermittently clicked away in its box. As he did so he made some
casual remark and then sat down again. After the 10.40 had gone through,
there followed a period of silence which seemed almost oppressive. All
at once the stillness was broken by the whirr of the electric bell,
which sounded so sharply in our ears that we both started. Henderson
rose.

"That's the 11.45 coming," he said, and, going over to the three long
levers, he pulled two of them down with a loud clang. The next moment,
with a rush and a scream, the express tore down the cutting, the
carriage lights streamed past in a rapid flash, the ground trembled, a
few sparks from the engine whirled up into the darkness, and the train
plunged into the tunnel.

"And now," said Henderson, as he pushed back the levers, "not another
train till daylight. My word, it is cold!"

It was intensely so. I piled some more wood on the fire and, turning up
the collar of my heavy ulster, sat down at one end of the bench and
leant my back against the wall. Henderson did likewise; we were neither
of us inclined to speak. As a rule, whenever I have any night work to
do, I am never troubled with sleepiness, but on this occasion I felt
unaccountably drowsy. I soon perceived that Henderson was in the same
condition.

"Are you sleepy?" I asked of him.

"Dead with it, sir," was his answer; "but there's no fear, I won't drop
off."

I got up and went to the window of the box. I felt certain that if I sat
still any longer I should be in a sound sleep. This would never do.
Already it was becoming a matter of torture to keep my eyes open. I
began to pace up and down; I opened the door of the box and went out on
the little platform.

"What's the matter, sir?" inquired Henderson, jumping up with a start.

"I cannot keep awake," I said.

"Nor can I," he answered, "and yet I have spent nights and nights of my
life in signal-boxes and never was the least bit drowsy; perhaps it's
the cold."

"Perhaps it is," I said; "but I have been out on as freezing nights
before, and----"

The man did not reply; he had sat down again; his head was nodding.

I was just about to go up to him and shake him, when it suddenly
occurred to me that I might as well let him have his sleep out. I soon
heard him snoring, and he presently fell forward in a heap on the floor.
By dint of walking up and down, I managed to keep from dropping off
myself, and in torture which I shall never be able to describe, the
night wore itself away. At last, towards morning, I awoke Henderson.

"You have had a good nap," I said; "but never mind, I have been on guard
and nothing has occurred."

"Good God! have I been asleep?" cried the man.

"Sound," I answered.

"Well, I never felt anything like it," he replied. "Don't you find the
air very close, sir?"

"No," I said; "it is as fresh as possible; it must be the cold."

"I'll just go and have a look at the light at the tunnel," said the man;
"it will rouse me."

He went on to the little platform, whilst I bent over the fire and began
to build it up. Presently he returned with a scared look on his face. I
could see by the light of the oil lamp which hung on the wall that he
was trembling.

"Mr. Bell," he said, "I believe there is somebody or something down at
the mouth of the tunnel now." As he spoke he clutched me by the arm. "Go
and look," he said; "whoever it is, it has put out the light."

"Put out the light?" I cried. "Why, what's the time?"

Henderson pulled out his watch.

"Thank goodness, most of the night is gone," he said; "I didn't know it
was so late, it is half-past five."

"Then the local is not due for an hour yet?" I said.

"No; but who should put out the light?" cried Henderson.

I went to the door, flung it open, and looked out. The dim outline of
the tunnel was just visible looming through the darkness, but the red
light was out.

"What the dickens does it mean, sir?" gasped the Inspector. "I know the
lamp had plenty of oil in it. Can there be any one standing in front of
it, do you think?"

We waited and watched for a few moments, but nothing stirred.

"Come along," I said, "let us go down together and see what it is."

"I don't believe I can do it, sir; I really don't!"

"Nonsense," I cried. "I shall go down alone if you won't accompany me.
Just hand me my stick, will you?"

"For God's sake, be careful, Mr. Bell. Don't go down, whatever you do. I
expect this is what happened before, and the poor fellows went down to
see what it was and died there. There's some devilry at work, that's my
belief."

"That is as it may be," I answered shortly; "but we certainly shall not
find out by stopping here. My business is to get to the bottom of this,
and I am going to do it. That there is danger of some sort, I have very
little doubt; but danger or not, I am going down."

"If you'll be warned by me, sir, you'll just stay quietly here."

"I must go down and see the matter out," was my answer. "Now listen to
me, Henderson. I see that you are alarmed, and I don't wonder. Just stay
quietly where you are and watch, but if I call come at once. Don't delay
a single instant. Remember I am putting my life into your hands. If I
call 'Come,' just come to me as quick as you can, for I may want help.
Give me that lantern."

He unhitched it from the wall, and taking it from him, I walked
cautiously down the steps on to the line. I still felt curiously,
unaccountably drowsy and heavy. I wondered at this, for the moment was
such a critical one as to make almost any man wide awake. Holding the
lamp high above my head, I walked rapidly along the line. I hardly knew
what I expected to find. Cautiously along the metals I made my way,
peering right and left until I was close to the fatal spot where the
bodies had been found. An uncontrollable shudder passed over me. The
next moment, to my horror, without the slightest warning, the light I
was carrying went out, leaving me in total darkness. I started back, and
stumbling against one of the loose boulders reeled against the wall and
nearly fell. What was the matter with me? I could hardly stand. I felt
giddy and faint, and a horrible sensation of great tightness seized me
across the chest. A loud ringing noise sounded in my ears. Struggling
madly for breath, and with the fear of impending death upon me, I turned
and tried to run from a danger I could neither understand nor grapple
with. But before I had taken two steps my legs gave way from under me,
and uttering a loud cry I fell insensible to the ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out of an oblivion which, for all I knew, might have lasted for moments
or centuries, a dawning consciousness came to me. I knew that I was
lying on hard ground; that I was absolutely incapable of realising, nor
had I the slightest inclination to discover, where I was. All I wanted
was to lie quite still and undisturbed. Presently I opened my eyes.

Some one was bending over me and looking into my face.

"Thank God, he is not dead," I heard in whispered tones. Then, with a
flash, memory returned to me.

"What has happened?" I asked.

"You may well ask that, sir," said the Inspector gravely. "It has been
touch and go with you for the last quarter of an hour; and a near thing
for me too."

I sat up and looked around me. Daylight was just beginning to break, and
I saw that we were at the bottom of the steps that led up to the
signal-box. My teeth were chattering with the cold and I was shivering
like a man with ague.

"I am better now," I said; "just give me your hand."

I took his arm, and holding the rail with the other hand staggered up
into the box and sat down on the bench.

"Yes, it has been a near shave," I said; "and a big price to pay for
solving a mystery."

"Do you mean to say you know what it is?" asked Henderson eagerly.

"Yes," I answered, "I think I know now; but first tell me how long was I
unconscious?"

"A good bit over half an hour, sir, I should think. As soon as I heard
you call out I ran down as you told me, but before I got to you I nearly
fainted. I never had such a horrible sensation in my life. I felt as
weak as a baby, but I just managed to seize you by the arms and drag you
along the line to the steps, and that was about all I could do."

"Well, I owe you my life," I said; "just hand me that brandy flask, I
shall be the better for some of its contents."

I took a long pull. Just as I was laying the flask down Henderson
started from my side.

"There," he cried, "the 6.30 is coming." The electric bell at the
instrument suddenly began to ring. "Ought I to let her go through, sir?"
he inquired.

"Certainly," I answered. "That is exactly what we want. Oh, she will be
all right."

"No danger to her, sir?"

"None, none; let her go through."

He pulled the lever and the next moment the train tore through the
cutting.

"Now I think it will be safe to go down again," I said. "I believe I
shall be able to get to the bottom of this business."

Henderson stared at me aghast.

"Do you mean that you are going down again to the tunnel?" he gasped.

"Yes," I said; "give me those matches. You had better come too. I don't
think there will be much danger now; and there is daylight, so we can
see what we are about."

The man was very loth to obey me, but at last I managed to persuade him.
We went down the line, walking slowly, and at this moment we both felt
our courage revived by a broad and cheerful ray of sunshine.

"We must advance cautiously," I said, "and be ready to run back at a
moment's notice."

"God knows, sir, I think we are running a great risk," panted poor
Henderson; "and if that devil or whatever else it is should happen to be
about--why, daylight or no daylight----"

"Nonsense! man," I interrupted; "if we are careful, no harm will happen
to us now. Ah! and here we are!" We had reached the spot where I had
fallen. "Just give me a match, Henderson."

He did so, and I immediately lit the lamp. Opening the glass of the
lamp, I held it close to the ground and passed it to and fro. Suddenly
the flame went out.

"Don't you understand now?" I said, looking up at the Inspector.

"No, I don't, sir," he replied with a bewildered expression.

Suddenly, before I could make an explanation, we both heard shouts from
the top of the cutting, and looking up I saw Bainbridge hurrying down
the path. He had come in the dog-cart to fetch us.

"Here's the mystery," I cried as he rushed up to us, "and a deadlier
scheme of Dame Nature's to frighten and murder poor humanity I have
never seen."

As I spoke I lit the lamp again and held it just above a tiny fissure in
the rock. It was at once extinguished.

"What is it?" said Bainbridge, panting with excitement.

"Something that nearly finished _me_," I replied. "Why, this is a
natural escape of choke damp. Carbonic acid gas--the deadliest gas
imaginable, because it gives no warning of its presence, and it has no
smell. It must have collected here during the hours of the night when no
train was passing, and gradually rising put out the signal light. The
constant rushing of the trains through the cutting all day would
temporarily disperse it."

As I made this explanation Bainbridge stood like one electrified, while
a curious expression of mingled relief and horror swept over Henderson's
face.

"An escape of carbonic acid gas is not an uncommon phenomenon in
volcanic districts," I continued, "as I take this to be; but it is odd
what should have started it. It has sometimes been known to follow
earthquake shocks, when there is a profound disturbance of the deep
strata."

"It is strange that you should have said that," said Bainbridge, when he
could find his voice.

"What do you mean?"

"Why, that about the earthquake. Don't you remember, Henderson," he
added, turning to the Inspector, "we had felt a slight shock all over
South Wales about three weeks back?"

"Then that, I think, explains it," I said. "It is evident that Pritchard
really did climb the rocks in a frantic attempt to escape from the gas
and fell back on to these boulders. The other man was cut down at once,
before he had time to fly."

"But what is to happen now?" asked Bainbridge. "Will it go on for ever?
How are we to stop it?"

"The fissure ought to be drenched with lime water, and then filled up;
but all really depends on what is the size of the supply and also the
depth. It is an extremely heavy gas, and would lie at the bottom of a
cutting like water. I think there is more here just now than is good for
us," I added.

"But how," continued Bainbridge, as we moved a few steps from the fatal
spot, "do you account for the interval between the first death and the
second?"

"The escape must have been intermittent. If wind blew down the cutting,
as probably was the case before this frost set in, it would keep the gas
so diluted that its effects would not be noticed. There was enough down
here this morning, before that train came through, to poison an army.
Indeed, if it had not been for Henderson's promptitude, there would have
been another inquest--on myself."

I then related my own experience.

"Well, this clears Wynne, without doubt," said Bainbridge; "but alas!
for the two poor fellows who were victims. Bell, the Lytton Vale
Railway Company owe you unlimited thanks; you have doubtless saved many
lives, and also the Company, for the line must have been closed if you
had not made your valuable discovery. But now come home with me to
breakfast. We can discuss all those matters later on."



IV

THE EIGHT-MILE LOCK


It was in the August of 1889, when I was just arranging my annual
holiday, that I received the following letter. I tore it open and
read:--

    "_Theodora_ House-boat,
    Goring.

    "Dear Mr. Bell,--

    "Can you come down on Wednesday and stay with us for a week? The
    weather is glorious and the river looking its best. We are a gay
    party, and there will be plenty of fun going on.

                                            "Yours very truly,
                                                 "Helena Ridsdale."

This was exactly what I wanted. I was fond of the river, and scarcely a
summer passed that I did not spend at least a fortnight on the Thames.
I could go for a week to the Ridsdales, and then start off on my own
quiet holiday afterwards. I had known Lady Ridsdale since she was a
girl, and I had no doubt my visit would prove a most enjoyable one. I
replied immediately, accepting the invitation, and three days later
arrived at Goring.

As the well-cushioned little punt, which had been sent to bring me
across the river, drew up alongside the _Theodora_, the Countess came
down from the deck to welcome me.

"I am so glad you could come, Mr. Bell," she said. "I was afraid you
might be away on some of your extraordinary campaigns against the
supernatural. This is Mr. Ralph Vyner; he is also, like yourself,
devoted to science. I am sure you will find many interests in common."

A short, thickset, wiry little man, dressed in white flannels, who had
been lolling in a deck chair, now came forward and shook hands with me.

"I know of you by reputation, Mr. Bell," he said, "and I have often
hoped to have the pleasure of meeting you. I am sure we shall all be
anxious to hear of some of your experiences. We are such an excessively
frivolous party that we can easily afford to be leavened with a little
serious element."

"But I don't mean to be serious in the least," I answered, laughing; "I
have come here to enjoy myself, and intend to be as frivolous as the
rest of you."

"You will have an opportunity this evening," said the Countess; "we are
going to have a special band from town, and intend to have a moonlight
dance on deck. Ah! here comes Charlie with the others," she added,
shading her eyes and looking down the stream.

In a few moments a perfectly appointed little electric launch shot up,
and my host with the rest of the party came on board. We shortly
afterwards sat down to lunch, and a gayer and pleasanter set of people I
have seldom met. In the afternoon we broke up into detachments, and
Vyner and I went for a long pull up stream. I found him a pleasant
fellow, ready to talk at any length not only about his own hobbies, but
about the world at large. I discovered presently that he was a naval
engineer of no small attainments.

When we returned to the house-boat, it was nearly time to prepare for
dinner. Most of the ladies had already retired to their cabins. Lady
Ridsdale was standing alone on deck. When she saw us both, she called to
us to come to her side.

"This quite dazzles me," she said in a low, somewhat mysterious tone,
"and I must show it to you. I know you at least, Mr. Vyner, will
appreciate it."

As she spoke she took a small leather case out of her pocket--it was
ornamented with a monogram, and opened with a catch. She pressed the
lid, it flew up, and I saw, resting on a velvet bed, a glittering
circlet of enormous diamonds. The Countess lifted them out, and slipped
them over her slender wrist.

"They are some of the family diamonds," she said with excitement, "and
of great value. Charlie is having all the jewels reset for me, but the
rest are not ready yet. He has just brought this down from town. Is it
not superb? Did you ever see such beauties?"

The diamonds flashed on her white wrist; she looked up at me with eyes
almost as bright.

"I love beautiful stones," she said, "and I feel as if these were alive.
Oh, do look at the rays of colour in them, as many as in the rainbow."

I congratulated Lady Ridsdale on possessing such a splendid ornament,
and then glanced at Vyner, expecting him to say something.

The expression on his face startled me, and I was destined to remember
it by-and-by. The ruddy look had completely left it, his eyes were half
starting from his head. He peered close, and suddenly, without the
slightest warning, stretched out his hand, and touched the diamonds as
they glittered round Lady Ridsdale's wrist. She started back haughtily,
then, recovering herself, took the bracelet off and put it into his
hand.

"Charlie tells me," she said, "that this bracelet is worth from fifteen
to twenty thousand pounds."

"You must take care of it," remarked Vyner; "don't let your maid see it,
for instance."

"Oh, nonsense!" laughed Lady Ridsdale. "I would trust Louise as I would
trust myself."

Soon afterwards we separated, and I went down to my little cabin to
prepare for dinner. When we met in the dining saloon I noticed that Lady
Ridsdale was wearing the diamond bracelet. Almost immediately after
dinner the band came on board and the dancing began.

We kept up our festivities until two o'clock, and more than once, as she
flashed past me, I could not help noticing the glittering circlet round
her wrist. I considered myself a fair judge of precious stones, but had
never seen any diamonds for size and brilliancy to equal these.

As Vyner and I happened to stand apart from the others he remarked upon
them.

"It was imprudent of Ridsdale to bring those diamonds here," he said.
"Suppose they are stolen?"

"Scarcely likely," I answered; "there are no thieves on board."

He gave an impatient movement.

"As far as we _know_ there are not," he said slowly, "but one can never
tell. The diamonds are of exceptional value, and it is not safe to
expose ordinary folk to temptation. That small circlet means a fortune."

He sighed deeply, and when I spoke to him next did not answer me. Not
long afterwards our gay party dispersed, and we retired to our
respective cabins.

I went to mine and was quickly in bed. As a newly-arrived guest I was
given a cabin on board, but several other members of the party were
sleeping in tents on the shore. Vyner and Lord Ridsdale were amongst
the latter number. Whether it was the narrowness of my bunk or the heat
of the night, I cannot tell, but sleep I could not. Suddenly through my
open window I heard voices from the shore near by. I could identify the
speakers by their tones--one was my host, Lord Ridsdale, the other Ralph
Vyner. Whatever formed the subject of discourse it was evidently far
from amicable. However much averse I might feel to the situation, I was
compelled to be an unwilling eavesdropper, for the voices rose, and I
caught the following words from Vyner:

"Can you lend me five thousand pounds till the winter?"

"No, Vyner, I have told you so before, and the reason too. It is your
own fault, and you must take the consequences."

"Do you mean that to be final?" asked Vyner.

"Yes."

"Very well, then I shall look after myself. Thank God, I have got brains
if I have not money, and I shall not let the means interfere with the
end."

"You can go to the devil for all I care," was the angry answer, "and,
after what I know, I won't raise a finger to help you."

The speakers had evidently moved further off, for the last words I could
not catch. But what little I heard by no means conduced to slumber. So
Vyner, for all his jovial and easy manner, was in a fix for money, and
Ridsdale knew something about him scarcely to his credit!

I kept thinking over this, and also recalling his words when he spoke of
Lady Ridsdale's diamonds as representing a fortune. What did he mean by
saying that he would not let the means interfere with the end? That
brief sentence sounded very much like the outburst of a desperate man. I
could not help heartily wishing that Lady Ridsdale's diamond circlet was
back in London, and, just before I dropped to sleep, I made up my mind
to speak to Ridsdale on the subject.

Towards morning I did doze off, but I was awakened by hearing my name
called, and, starting up, I saw Ridsdale standing by my side. His face
looked queer and excited.

"Wake up, Bell," he cried; "a terrible thing has happened."

"What is it?" I asked.

"My wife's bracelet is stolen."

Like a flash I thought of Vyner, and then as quickly I knew that I must
be careful to give no voice to hastily-formed suspicions.

"I won't be a moment dressing, and then I'll join you," I said.

Ridsdale nodded and left my cabin.

In five minutes I was with him on deck. He then told me briefly what had
happened.

"Helena most imprudently left the case on her dressing-table last
night," he said, "and owing to the heat she kept the window open. Some
one must have waded into the water in the dark and stolen it. Perhaps
one of the bandsmen may have noticed the flashing of the diamonds on
her wrist and returned to secure the bracelet--there's no saying. The
only too palpable fact is that it is gone--it was valued at twenty
thousand pounds!"

"Have you sent for the police?" I asked.

"Yes, and have also wired to Scotland Yard for one of their best
detectives. Vyner took the telegram for me, and was to call at the
police station on his way back. He is nearly as much upset as I am. This
is a terrible loss. I feel fit to kill myself for my folly in bringing
that valuable bracelet on board a house-boat."

"It was a little imprudent," I answered, "but you are sure to get it
back."

"I hope so," he replied moodily.

Just then the punt with Vyner and a couple of policemen on board was
seen rapidly approaching. Ridsdale went to meet them, and was soon in
earnest conversation with the superintendent of police. The moment Vyner
leapt on board he came to the part of the deck where I was standing.

"Ah, Bell," he cried, "what about my prognostications of last night?"

"They have been verified too soon," I answered. I gave him a quick
glance. His eyes looked straight into mine.

"Have you any theory to account for the theft?" I asked.

"Yes, a very simple one. Owing to the heat of the evening the Countess
slept with her window open. It was an easy matter to wade through the
water, introduce a hand through the open window and purloin the
diamonds."

"Without being seen by any occupants of the tents?" I queried.

"Certainly," he answered, speaking slowly and with thought.

"Then you believe the thief came from without?"

"I do."

"What about your warning to Lady Ridsdale yesterday evening not to trust
her maid?"

I saw his eyes flash. It was the briefest of summer lightning that
played in their depths. I knew that he longed to adopt the suggestion
that I had on purpose thrown out, but dared not. That one look was
enough for me. I had guessed his secret.

Before he could reply to my last remark Lord Ridsdale came up.

"What is to be done?" he said; "the police superintendent insists on our
all, without respect of persons, being searched."

"There is nothing in that," I said; "it is the usual thing. I will be
the first to submit to the examination."

The police went through their work thoroughly, and, of course, came
across neither clue nor diamonds. We presently sat down to breakfast,
but I don't think we any of us had much appetite. Lady Ridsdale's eyes
were red with crying, and I could see that the loss had shaken both her
nerve and fortitude. It was more or less of a relief when the post came
in. Amongst the letters I found a telegram for myself. I knew what it
meant before I opened it. It was from a man in a distant part of the
country whom I had promised to assist in a matter of grave importance.
I saw that it was necessary for me to return to town without delay. I
was very loth to leave my host and hostess in their present dilemma, but
there was no help for it, and soon after breakfast I took my leave.
Ridsdale promised to write me if there was any news of the diamonds, and
soon the circumstance passed more or less into the background of my
brain, owing to the intense interest of the other matter which I had
taken up. My work in the north was over, and I had returned to town,
when I received a letter from Ridsdale.

"We are in a state of despair," he wrote; "we have had two detectives on
board, and the police have moved heaven and earth to try and discover
the bracelet--all in vain; not the slightest clue has been forthcoming.
No one has worked harder for us than Vyner. He has a small place of his
own further down the river, and comes up to see us almost daily. He has
made all sorts of suggestions for the recovery of the diamonds, but
hitherto they have led to nothing. In short, our one hope now turns upon
you, Bell; you have done as difficult things as this before. Will you
come and see us, and give us the benefit of your advice? If any man can
solve this mystery, you are the person."

I wrote immediately to say that I would return to the _Theodora_ on the
following evening, and for the remainder of that day tried to the best
of my ability to think out this most difficult problem. I felt morally
certain that I could put my hand on the thief, but I had no real clue to
work upon--nothing beyond a nameless suspicion. Strange as it may seem,
I was moved by sentiment. I had spent some pleasant hours in Vyner's
society--I had enjoyed his conversation; I had liked the man for
himself. He had abilities above the average, of that I was certain--if
he were proved guilty, I did not want to be the one to bring his crime
home to him. So uncomfortable were my feelings that at last I made up my
mind to take a somewhat bold step. This was neither more nor less than
to go to see Vyner himself before visiting the house-boat. What I was to
do and say when I got to him I was obliged to leave altogether to
chance; but I had a feeling almost amounting to a certainty that by
means of this visit I should ultimately return the bracelet to my
friends the Ridsdales.

The next afternoon I found myself rowing slowly down the river, thinking
what the issue of my visit to Vyner would be. It happened to be a
perfect evening. The sun had just set. The long reach of river stretched
away to the distant bend, where, through the gathering twilight, I could
just see the white gates of the Eight-Mile Lock. Raising my voice, I
sang out in a long-drawn, sonorous monotone the familiar cry of "Lock!
lock! lock!" and, bending to the sculls, sent my little skiff flying
down stream. The sturdy figure of old James Pegg, the lock-keeper, whom
I had known for many years, instantly appeared on the bridge. One of the
great gates slowly swung open, and, shipping my sculls, I shot in, and
called out a cheery good-evening to my old friend.

"Mr. Bell!" exclaimed the old fellow, hurrying along the edge of the
lock. "Well, I never! I did not see it was you at first, and yet I ought
to have known that long, swinging stroke of yours. You are the last
person I expected to see. I was half afraid it might be some one else,
although I don't know that I was expecting any one in particular. Excuse
me, sir, but was it you called out 'Lock' just now?"

"Of course it was," I answered, laughing. "I'm in the deuce of a hurry
to-night, Jimmy, as I want to get on to Wotton before dark. Look sharp,
will you, and let me down."

"All right, sir--but you did frighten me just now. I wish you hadn't
called out like that!"

As I glanced up at him, I was surprised to see that his usually ruddy,
round face was as white as a sheet, and he was breathing quickly.

"Why, what on earth is the matter, Jimmy?" I cried; "how can I have
frightened you?"

"Oh, it's nothing, sir; I suppose I'm an old fool," he faltered,
smiling. "I don't know what's the matter with me, sir--I'm all of a
tremble. The fact is, something happened here last night, and I don't
seem to have got over it. You know, I am all by myself here now, sir,
and a lonely place it is."

"Something happened?" I said; "not an accident, I hope?"

"No, sir, no accident that I know of, and yet I have been half expecting
one to occur all day, and I have been that weak I could hardly wind up
the sluices. I am getting old now, and I'm not the man I was; but I'm
right glad to see you, Mr. Bell, that I am."

He kept pausing as he spoke, and now and then glanced up the river, as
if expecting to see a boat coming round the bend every moment. I was
much puzzled by his extraordinary manner. I knew him to be a steady man,
and one whose services were much valued by the Conservancy; but it
needed only a glance now to show that there was something very much
amiss with him.

The darkness was increasing every moment, and, being anxious to get on
as soon as possible, I was just going to tell him again to hurry up with
the sluices, when he bent down close to me, and said,--

"Would you mind stepping out for a moment, sir, if you can spare the
time? I wish to speak to you, sir. I'd be most grateful if you would
wait a minute or two."

"Certainly, Jimmy," I answered, hauling myself to the side with the
boat-hook, and getting out. "Is there anything I can do for you? I am
afraid you are not well. I never saw you like this before."

"No, sir; and I never felt like it before, that I can remember.
Something happened here last night that has taken all the nerve out of
me, and I want to tell you what it was. I know you are so clever, Mr.
Bell, and I have heard about your doings up at Wallinghurst last autumn,
when you cleared up the Manor House ghost, and got old Monkford six
months."

"Well, fire away," I said, filling my pipe, and wondering what was
coming.

"It is this way, sir," he began. "Last night after I had had my supper I
thought I'd like a stroll and a quiet smoke along the towing path before
turning in. I did not expect any more boats, as it was getting on for
ten o'clock. I walked about three-quarters of a mile, and was just going
to turn round, when I saw a light down on the surface of the water in
mid-stream. It was pretty dark, for the moon was not up yet, and there
was a thick white mist rising from the water. I thought it must be some
one in a canoe at first, so I waited a bit and watched. Then it suddenly
disappeared, and the next instant I saw it again about a hundred yards
or so higher up the stream, but only for a second, and then it went out.
It fairly puzzled me to know what it could be, as I had never seen
anything like it before. I felt sure it wasn't any sort of craft, but I
had heard of strange lights being seen at times on the water--what they
call jack-o'-lanterns, I believe, sir. I reckoned it might be one of
them, but I thought I'd get back to the lock, so that, if it was a
canoe, I could let it through. However, nothing came of it, and I waited
and watched, and worried all the evening about it, but couldn't come to
any sort of idea, so I went to bed. Well, about one o'clock this morning
I suddenly woke up and thought I could hear some one a long way off
calling exactly as you did just now, 'Lock! lock! lock!' but it sounded
ever so far away.

"'It's some of those theatre people coming back to the _Will-o'-the-Wisp_
house-boat,' I said to myself, 'and I'm not going to turn out for them.'
The lock was full at the time, so I thought I would just let them work
it for themselves. I waited a bit, expecting to hear them every minute
come up, singing and swearing as they do, but they never came, and I was
just dropping off when I heard the call again. It was not an ordinary
sort of voice, but a long, wailing cry, just as if some one was in
trouble or drowning. 'Hi! hi! Lock! lo-oock!' it went.

"I got up then and went out. The moon was up now and quite bright, and
the mist had cleared off, so I went to the bridge on the upper gates and
looked up stream. This is where I was standing, sir, just as we are
standing now. I could see right up to the bend, and there was not the
sign of a boat. I stood straining my eyes, expecting to see a boat come
round every moment, when I heard the cry again, and this time it sounded
not fifty yards up stream. I could not make it out at all, so I shouted
out as loud as I could, 'Who are you? What's the matter?' but there was
no answer; and then suddenly, the next instant, close below me, from
_inside_ the lock this time, just here, came a shout, piercing, shrill,
and loud, 'Open the lock, quick, quick! Open the lock!'

"I tell you, sir, my heart seemed to stand dead still, and I nearly fell
back over the bridge. I wheeled round sharp, but there was nothing in
the lock, that I'll swear to my dying day--for I could see all over it,
and nothing could have got in there without passing me. The moon was
quite bright, and I could see all round it. Without knowing what I was
doing, I rushed down like mad to the lower gates, and began to wind up
one of the sluices, and then I stood there and waited, but nothing came.
As the lock emptied I looked down, but there was no sign of anything
anywhere, so I let down the sluice without opening the gates, and then
filled up the lock again. I stood by the post, hardly daring to move,
when, about half-past five, thank God, I heard the whistle of a tug,
and, after seeing her through, it was broad daylight.

"That's the whole story, sir, and how I'm going to live through the
night again I don't know. It was a spirit if ever there was one in the
world. It's a warning to me, sir; and what's going to happen I don't
know."

"Well, Jimmy," I answered, "it certainly is a most extraordinary story,
and if I didn't know you as well as I do, I should say you had taken
something more than a smoke before you turned in last night."

"I never touch a drop, sir, except when I go into Farley and have a
glass of beer, but I have not been there for more than a week now."

I confess that Jimmy's story had left a most unpleasant impression on
me. I had little doubt that the whole thing was some strange subjective
hallucination, but for a weird and ghostly experience it certainly beat
most of the tales I had ever heard. I thought for a moment--it was now
quite dark, and I felt little inclined to go on to Wotton. My keenest
interests were awakened.

"Look here," I said, "what do you say if I stay here to-night? Can you
give me a shake-down of any sort?"

"That I will, sir, and right gladly, and thank God if you will but stay
with me. If I was alone here again, and heard that voice, I believe it
would kill me. I'll tie up your boat outside, and bring your things in,
and then we'll have supper. I'll feel a new man with you staying here,
sir."

In a few minutes we were both inside old Jimmy's cosy quarters. His
whole bearing seemed to have changed suddenly, and he ran about with
alacrity, getting supper ready, and seeming quite like himself again.
During the whole evening he kept harping at intervals on the subject of
the mysterious voice, but we heard no sound whatever, and I felt more
and more certain that the whole thing was due to hallucination on the
part of the old man. At eleven o'clock a skiff came up through the lock,
and almost immediately afterwards I bade Jimmy good-night and went into
the little room he had prepared for me.

I went quickly to bed, and, tired after my long pull, despite the
originality of the situation, fell fast asleep. Suddenly I awoke--some
one was bending over me and calling me by my name. I leapt up, and, not
realising where I was for the moment, but with a sort of dim idea that I
was engaged in some exposure, instinctively seized the man roughly by
the throat. In a moment I remembered everything, and quickly released my
grip of poor old Jimmy, who was gurgling and gasping with horror. I
burst out laughing at my mistake, and begged his pardon for treating him
so roughly.

"It is all right, sir," he panted. "I hope I didn't frighten you, but I
have heard it again, not five minutes ago."

"The deuce you have," I said, striking a match and looking at my watch.

It was nearly two o'clock, and before the minute was up I heard
distinctly a cry, as if from some great distance, of "Lock, lock, lock!"
and then all was silence again.

"Did you hear it, sir?" whispered the old man, clutching me by the arm
with a trembling hand.

"Yes, I heard it," I said. "Don't you be frightened, Jimmy; just wait
till I get my clothes on; I am going to see this thing through."

"Be careful, sir; for God's sake, be careful," he whispered.

"All right," I said, slipping on some things. "Just get me a good
strong boat-hook, and don't make too much noise. If this mystery is
flesh and blood I'll get to the bottom of it somehow. You stay here; and
if I call, come out."

I took the thick, short boat-hook which he had brought me and, softly
unlatching the door, went out.

The moon was now riding high overhead and casting black fantastic
shadows across the little white cottage. All my senses were on the
keenest alert, my ears were pricked up for the slightest sound. I crept
softly to the bridge on the upper gate which was open. I looked up
stream and thought I could see some little ripples on the surface of the
water as if a swift boat had just passed down, but there was no sign of
any craft whatever to be seen. It was intensely still, and no sound
broke the silence save the intermittent croaking of some bull-frogs in
the dark shadows of the pollards on the further bank. Behind me could
also be heard the gurgling twinkle of the overflow through the chinks of
the lower gate.

I stood quite still, gripping the boat-hook in my hand, and looking
right and left, straining my eyes for the slightest movement of anything
around, when suddenly, close below me from the water, inside the lock,
came a loud cry--

"Open the lock, for God's sake, open the lock!"

I started back, feeling my hair rise and stiffen. The sound echoed and
reverberated through the silent night, and then died away; but before it
had done so I had sprung to the great beam and closed the upper gate. As
I did so I caught sight of the old man trembling and shaking at the door
of the cottage. I called to him to go and watch the upper gate, and,
racing down to the lower ones, wound up one of the sluices with a few
pulls, so as to let out the water with as little escape room as
possible. I knew by this means if there were any creature of tangible
form in the water we must find it when the lock was emptied, as its
escape was cut off.

[Illustration: "Struck it a terrific blow with the boat-hook."
A Master of Mysteries.--Page 167]

Each of the following minutes seemed stretched into a lifetime as, with
eyes riveted on the dark water in the lock, I watched its gradual
descent. I hardly dared to think of what I expected to see rise to the
surface any moment. Would the lock never empty? Down, down sank the
level, and still I saw nothing. A long, misshapen arm of black cloud was
slowly stretching itself across the moon.

Hark! there was something moving about down in the well of darkness
below me, and as I stood and watched I saw that the water was uncovering
a long, black mass and that something ran slowly out of the water and
began to clamber up the slimy, slippery beams. What in the name of
heaven could it be? By the uncertain light I could only see its dim
outline; it seemed to have an enormous bulbous head and dripping,
glistening body. The sound of a rapid patter up the tow-path told me
that the old man had seen it and was running for his life.

I rushed down to where the thing was, and as its great head appeared
above the edge, with all my force struck it a terrific blow with the
boat-hook. The weapon flew into splinters in my hand, and the next
moment the creature had leapt up beside me and dashed me to the ground
with almost superhuman force. I was up and on to it again in a second,
and as I caught and closed with it saw that I had at least to deal with
a human being, and that what he lacked in stature he more than made up
for in strength. The struggle that ensued was desperate and furious. The
covering to his head that had splintered the boat-hook was, I saw, a
sort of helmet, completely protecting the head from any blow, and the
body was cased in a slippery, closely fitting garment that kept eluding
my grasp. To and fro we swayed and wrestled, and for a moment I thought
I had met my match till, suddenly freeing my right arm, I got in a
smashing blow in the region of the heart. The creature uttered a cry of
pain and fell headlong to the ground.

Old Jimmy Pegg had hurried back as soon as he heard our struggles and
knew that he was not dealing with a being of another world. He ran up
eagerly to me.

"Here's your ghost, you old coward!" I panted; "he has got the hardest
bone and muscle I ever felt in a ghost yet. I am not used to fighting
men in helmets, and he is as slippery as an eel, but I hope to goodness
I have not done more than knock the wind out of him. He is a specimen I
should rather like to take alive. Catch hold of his feet and we'll get
him inside and see who he is."

Between us we carried the prostrate figure inside the cottage and laid
him down like a log on the floor. He never moved nor uttered a sound,
and I was afraid at first that I had finished him for good and all. I
next knelt down and proceeded to unfasten the helmet, which, from its
appearance, was something like the kind used by divers, while the old
man brought the lantern close to his face. At the first glance I knew in
an instant that I had seen the face before, and the next second
recognised, to my utter astonishment and horror, that it belonged to
Ralph Vyner.

For the moment I was completely dumbfounded, and gazed at the man
without speaking. It was obvious that he had only fainted from the blow,
for I could see that he was breathing, and in a few minutes he opened
his eyes and fixed them on me with a dull and vacant stare. Then he
seemed to recall the situation, though he evidently did not recognise
me.

"Let me go," he cried, making an effort to rise. "My God! you have
killed me." He pressed his hand to his side and fell back again: his
face was contorted as if in great pain.

There was obviously only one thing to be done, and that was to send for
medical assistance at once. It was clear that the man was badly injured,
but to what extent I could not determine. It was impossible to extract
the slightest further communication from him--he lay quite still,
groaning from time to time.

I told Jimmy to go off at once to Farley and bring the doctor. I
scribbled a few directions on a piece of paper.

The old man hurried out of the cottage, but in less than a minute he
was back again in great excitement.

"Look here, sir, what I have just picked up," he said; "it's something
he has dropped, I reckon."

As Jimmy spoke he held out a square leather case: there was a monogram
on it. I took it in my hand and pressed the lid; it flew open, and
inside, resting on its velvet bed, lay the glittering circlet of
diamonds. I held Lady Ridsdale's lost bracelet in my hand. All my
suspicions were confirmed: Vyner was the thief.

Without saying a word I shut the box and despatched the old man at once
for the doctor, bidding him go as fast as he could. Then I sat down by
the prostrate man and waited. I knew that Jimmy could not be back for at
least two hours. The grey dawn was beginning to steal in through the
little latticed window when Vyner moved, opened his eyes and looked at
me. He started as his eyes fell on the case.

"You are Mr. Bell," he said slowly. "Ridsdale told me that you were
coming to the _Theodora_ on purpose to discover the mystery of the lost
diamonds. You didn't know that I should give you an opportunity of
discovering the truth even before you arrived at the house-boat. Bend
down close to me--you have injured me; I may not recover; hear what I
have to say."

I bent over him, prepared to listen to his words, which came out slowly.

"I am a forger and a desperate man. Three weeks ago I forged one of
Ridsdale's cheques and lessened my friend's balance to the tune of five
thousand pounds. He and his wife were old friends of mine, but I wanted
the money desperately, and was impervious to sentiment or anything else.
On that first day when you met me, although I seemed cheery enough, I
was fit to kill myself. I had hoped to be able to restore the stolen
money long before Ridsdale was likely to miss it. But this hope had
failed. I saw no loophole of escape, and the day of reckoning could not
be far off. What devil prompted Ridsdale to bring those diamonds on
board, Heaven only knows. The moment I saw them they fascinated me and
I knew I should have a try for them. All during that evening's festivity
I could think of nothing else. I made up my mind to secure them by hook
or by crook. Before we retired for the night, however, I thought I would
give Ridsdale a chance. I asked him if he would lend me the exact sum I
had already stolen from him, five thousand pounds, but he had heard
rumours to my discredit and refused point-blank. I hated him for it. I
went into my tent under the pretence of lying down, but in reality to
concoct and, if possible, carry out my plot. I waited until the quietest
hour before dawn, then I slipped out of my tent, waded into the water,
approached the open window of the Countess's cabin, thrust in my hand,
took out the case, and, going down the river about a quarter of a mile,
threw the diamonds into the middle of the stream. I marked well the
place where they sank; I then returned to my tent and went to bed.

"You know what occurred the following morning. I neither feared Ridsdale
nor his wife, but you, Bell, gave me a considerable amount of
uneasiness. I felt certain that in an evil moment on the night before I
had given you a clue. To a man of your ability the slightest clue was
all-sufficient. I felt that I must take the bull by the horns and find
out whether you suspected me or not. I talked to you, and guessed by the
tone of your remarks that you had your suspicions. My relief was immense
when that telegram arrived which hurried you away from the _Theodora_.
On the following day I returned to my own little place on the banks of
the river four miles below this lock. I knew it was necessary for me to
remain quiet for a time, but all the same my plans were clearly made,
and I only waited until the first excitement of the loss had subsided
and the police and detectives were off their guard. In the meantime I
went to see Ridsdale almost daily, and suggested many expedients for
securing the thief and getting hold of the right clue. If he ever
suspected me, which I don't for a moment suppose, I certainly put him
off the scent. My intention was to take the diamonds out of the country,
sell them for all that I could get, then return the five thousand pounds
which I had stolen from his bank, and leave England for ever. As a
forger I should be followed to the world's end, but as the possessor of
stolen diamonds I felt myself practically safe. My scheme was too
cleverly worked out to give the ordinary detective a chance of
discovering me.

"Two days ago I had a letter from Ridsdale in which he told me that he
intended to put the matter into your hands. Now this was by no means to
my mind, for you, Bell, happened to be the one man in the world whom I
really dreaded. I saw that I must no longer lose time. Under my little
boat-house I had a small submarine boat which I had lately finished,
more as a hobby than anything else. I had begun it years ago in my odd
moments on a model I had seen of a torpedo used in the American War. My
boat is now in the lock outside, and you will see for yourself what
ingenuity was needed to construct such a thing. On the night before the
one which has just passed, I got it ready, and, as soon as it was dark,
started off in it to recover the diamonds. I got through the lock easily
by going in under the water with a barge, but when I reached the spot
where I had sunk the diamonds, found to my dismay that my electric light
would not work. There was no help for it--I could not find the bracelet
without the aid of the light, and was bound to return home to repair the
lamp. This delay was fraught with danger, but there was no help for it.
My difficulty now was to get back through the lock; for though I waited
for quite three hours no boats came along. I saw the upper gates were
open, but how to get through the lower ones I could not conceive. I felt
sure that my only chance was to frighten the lock-keeper, and get him to
open the sluices, for I knew I could pass through them unobserved if
they were open, as I had done once before.

"In my diver's helmet was a thick glass face-piece. This had an opening,
closed by a cap, which could be unscrewed, and through which I could
breathe when above water, and also through which my voice would come,
causing a peculiar hollowness which I guessed would have a very
startling effect, especially as I myself would be quite invisible. I got
into the lock, and shouted to Pegg. I succeeded in frightening him; he
hurried to do what I ordered. He wound up the lower sluice, I shot
through under water, and so got back unseen. All yesterday I hesitated
about trying the experiment again, the risk was so great; but I knew
that Ridsdale was certain to see his bank-book soon, that my forgery was
in imminent danger of being discovered, also that you, Bell, were coming
upon the scene.

"Yes, at any risk, I must now go on.

"I repaired my light, and again last night passed through the lock on my
way up, by simply waiting for another boat. As a matter of fact, I
passed up through this lock under a skiff about eleven o'clock. My light
was now all right, I found the diamond case easily, and turned to pass
down the stream by the same method as before. If you had not been here I
should have succeeded, and should have been safe, but now it is all up."

He paused, and his breath came quickly.

"I doubt if I shall recover," he said in a feeble voice.

"I hope you will," I replied; "and hark! I think I hear the doctor's
steps."

I was right, for a moment or two later old Jimmy Pegg and Dr. Simmons
entered the cottage. While the doctor was examining the patient and
talking to him, I went out with Jimmy to have a look at the submarine
boat. By fixing a rope round it we managed to haul it up, and then
proceeded to examine it. It certainly was the most wonderful piece of
ingenious engineering I had ever seen. The boat was in the shape of an
enormous cigar, and was made of aluminium. It was seven feet long, and
had a circular beam of sixteen inches. At the pointed end, close to
where the occupant's feet would be, was an air chamber capable of being
filled or emptied at will by means of a compressed air cylinder,
enabling the man to rise or sink whenever he wished to. Inside, the boat
was lined with flat chambers of compressed air for breathing purposes,
which were governed by a valve. It was also provided with a small
accumulator and electric motor which drove the tiny propeller astern.
The helmet which the man wore fitted around the opening at the head end.

After examining the boat it was easy to see how Vyner had escaped
through the lock the night before I arrived, as this submarine wonder of
ingenuity would be able to shoot through the sluice gate under water,
when the sluice was raised to empty the lock.

After exchanging a few remarks with Jimmy, I returned to the cottage to
learn the doctor's verdict.

It was grave, but not despairing. The patient could not be moved for a
day or two. He was, in Dr. Simmons's opinion, suffering more from shock
than anything else. If he remained perfectly quiet, he would in all
probability recover; if he were disturbed, the consequences might be
serious.

An hour afterwards I found myself on my way up stream sculling as fast
as I could in the direction of the _Theodora_. I arrived there at an
early hour, and put the case which contained the diamonds into Lady
Ridsdale's hands.

I shall never forget the astonishment of Ridsdale and his wife when I
told my strange tale. The Countess burst into tears, and Ridsdale was
terribly agitated.

"I have known Vyner from a boy, and so has my wife," he exclaimed. "Of
course, this proves him to be an unmitigated scoundrel, but I cannot be
the one to bring him to justice."

"Oh, no, Charlie, whatever happens we must forgive him," said Lady
Ridsdale, looking up with a white face.

I had nothing to say to this, it was not my affair. Unwittingly I had
been the means of restoring to the Ridsdales their lost bracelet; they
must act as they thought well with regard to the thief.

As a matter of fact, Vyner did escape the full penalty of his crime.
Having got back the diamonds Lord Ridsdale would not prosecute. On the
contrary, he helped the broken-down man to leave the country. From the
view of pure justice he was, of course, wrong, but I could not help
being glad.

As an example of what a desperate man will do, I think it would be
difficult to beat Vyner's story. The originality and magnitude of the
conception, the daring which enabled the man, single-handed, to do his
own dredging in a submarine boat in one of the reaches of the Thames
have seldom been equalled.

As I thought over the whole scheme, my only regret was that such ability
should not have been devoted to nobler ends.



V

HOW SIVA SPOKE


During the summer of the past year a medical friend of mine sent me an
invitation to dine with him and two of his fellow-craftsmen at the
Welcome Club at the Earl's Court Exhibition. One of our party was a
certain Dr. Laurier, a young man of considerable ability, whose special
attention had been directed to mental diseases. He was, indeed, a noted
authority on this subject, and had just completed an appointment at one
of the large London asylums. During dinner he entertained us with a few
of his late experiences--

"I assure you, Mr. Bell," he said, "there is absolutely no limit to the
vagaries of the human mind. At the present moment a most grotesque and
painful form of mental disease has come under my notice. The patient is
not a pauper, but a gentleman of good standing and means. He is
unmarried, and owns a lovely place in the country. He spent the early
years of his life in India, and when there the craze began which now
assumes the magnitude of a monomania."

"Pray let me hear about him, if your professional etiquette allows you
to talk on the subject," I answered.

"I will certainly tell you what I can," he replied. "I have known the
man for years, having met him in town on several occasions. Last week
his nephew came to see me, and spoke seriously with regard to his
uncle's state of mind. His great craze for years has been spiritualism,
theosophy, and mahatmas, with all their attendant hocus-pocus. He firmly
believes in his power to call up spirits from the vasty deep, and holds
many extraordinary séances."

"But surely such a craze is not sufficient to prove insanity!" I said.
"Hundreds of people believe in such manifestations at the present day."

"I know that well, and perfectly harmless such crazes are so long as the
victims confine their beliefs to spirit-rapping, table-turning, and
humbug of that sort; but when their convictions lead them to commit
actions which compromise serious interests, and when, as in this case,
there is a possibility of life itself being in danger, it is time they
should be looked after."

"What is the particular nature of your friend's delusion?" I asked.

"This. He is practically a Brahmin, having been deeply imbued with the
peculiar doctrines of Brahminism when in India. Amongst his friends in
the East was a Brahmin of high degree in whose house were three idols,
representing the Hindu Trinity--Vishnu, Brahma, and Siva. By some means
which have never been explained to me, my friend managed to get
possession of Siva, and brought the idol home. He placed it in a gallery
which he has in his house, believing from the first that it possessed
mystical properties which it was his duty to fathom. The nephew now
tells me that he has brought his craze to such a pass that he firmly
believes that Siva speaks to him in Hindustanee. The unhappy man kneels
nightly at the altar in front of the idol, receiving, as he imagines,
directions from him. The consequence is that he does all sorts of mad
and extraordinary things, spending his large fortune lavishly in the
decoration of this hideous monster, buying pearls, rubies, and even
diamonds for the purpose, and really being, as he imagines, guided by it
in the disposition of his life and property. He has a young niece
residing with him, to whom he has always been very much attached; but of
late he has been cruel to her, banishing her from his presence, refusing
her his sympathy, and has even gone to the length of threatening to take
her life, saying quite openly that Siva informs him night after night of
her treachery towards him. Now the nephew is engaged to this girl, and
is naturally anxious about her; but, say what he will, nothing will
induce her to turn against her uncle, to whom she is deeply attached.
She denies that he threatens her life, although the nephew declares that
he did so in his own presence. Under such circumstances, her friends
are, naturally, most anxious about her, and feel it their duty to get a
medical opinion with regard to the uncle. I am going down to his place
to-morrow, and shall there meet his regular medical attendant in
consultation."

"And then, I suppose, certify as to his insanity?" I answered.

"Doubtless; that is, if we come to the conclusion that the man is really
insane."

"What an awful responsibility is reposed in you doctors!" I said. "Think
what it means to condemn a man to a lunatic asylum. In the hands of the
unscrupulous such a power is terrible."

Dr. Laurier knitted his brows, and looked keenly at me.

"What do you mean?" he said in a curious tone. "Of course mistakes are
made now and then, but not, I believe, often. To act in good faith and
exercise reasonable care are the two requisites of the law."

"Of course," I replied, "there are great difficulties on both sides of
this momentous question; but if I belonged to the profession, I can
frankly say that nothing would induce me to sign a certificate of
lunacy."

A few moments afterwards we all rose and strolled about the grounds. As
we were parting at the exit gates I called Dr. Laurier aside.

"The love of mystery is to me a ruling passion," I said. "Will you
excuse the great liberty I take when I ask you to let me know the result
of your visit of to-morrow? I am immensely interested in your
spiritualist patient."

As I spoke I scribbled my address on a card and handed it to him, half
expecting that he would resent my intrusiveness. A smile flitted across
his clever face, and he stood looking at me for a moment under the
glare of the great arc lights.

"I will certainly give you the result of my visit, as you are so much
interested," he replied. "Good-night."

We got into our respective hansoms, and drove off in different
directions.

I had much to do, and soon forgot both Dr. Laurier and his patient;
therefore, on the following Monday, when he was ushered into my
presence, my surprise was great.

"I have come to fulfil my promise," he began. "I am here not only to
satisfy your curiosity about my patient, but also to ask your advice.
The fact is the matter has, I think, now merged more into your domain
than mine."

"Pray tell me what has happened," I asked.

"That is what I am about to do; but first I must ensure your absolute
confidence and secrecy, for my professional reputation may be seriously
compromised if it is known that I consulted you."

I gave him the assurance, and he proceeded:--

"My patient's name is Edward Thesiger; he lives in a place called The
Hynde, in Somersetshire. I went down as I had arranged, and was met at
the station by his nephew, Jasper Bagwell. Bagwell is a thin,
anxious-looking man of about five-and-thirty. He drove me over to The
Hynde, and I was there met by Thesiger's own physician, Dr. Dalton.
Dalton and I each made a separate examination of the patient, and came
to the conclusion that he was undoubtedly queer.

"In the course of the afternoon we were all wandering round the grounds,
when we were joined by the young girl to whom Bagwell is engaged. When
she saw me she gave me a very eager glance, and soon attached herself to
my side.

"'I want to speak to you, Dr. Laurier,' she said in a low voice.

"I managed to drop behind in order to give her an opportunity.

"'I know what you have come about,' she said. 'What do you think of my
uncle's case?'

"'I am not prepared to hazard an opinion,' I replied.

"'Well, please listen to something I have got to say. Jasper Bagwell has
his own reasons for what he tells you. You do very wrong to listen to
him. Uncle Edward is queer, I grant, with regard to the idol Siva, that
is because he is in reality a Brahmin; but if you sign a certificate to
the effect that he is mad, you will be making a very terrible mistake.'

"As she spoke her lips trembled, and tears filled her eyes.

"'I am terribly unhappy about it all,' she continued.

"I looked at her earnestly, then I said in a low voice:

"'Forgive me if I reply to you as plainly as you have just spoken to me.
You arouse my surprise when you speak as you do of Mr. Bagwell. Is it
not the case that you are engaged to marry him?'

"She gave a visible start.

"'It is the case,' she answered slowly. Then she continued, speaking
with great emphasis, 'I only marry my cousin because it is the one--the
one chance of saving Uncle Edward.'

"'What do you mean?' I asked in astonishment.

"'I wish I could tell you, but I dare not. I am a very miserable girl.
There is foul play somewhere, of that I am convinced. Oh, believe me!
won't you believe me?'

"To these extraordinary words I made a somewhat dubious reply, and she
soon left me, to walk by her uncle's side.

"Late that evening I was alone with the patient, and he then confided to
me much which he had withheld at first. He spoke about the years he had
spent in India, and in especial alluded to the Brahmin religion. He told
me also that he now possesses the idol Siva, and has set it up in a
marble gallery where he can hold his spiritualistic séances. Bending
forward as he spoke, and fixing me with his intelligent and yet strange
glance, he said solemnly, and with an appearance of perfect truth on his
face, that by certain incenses and secret incantations he could make the
idol speak to him in Hindustanee. He said further that he felt himself
completely dominated by it, and was bound to obey all its dictates. As
he said the latter words his face grew white to the lips.

"'Siva is exigent in his demands,' he said slowly--'exigent and
terrible. But come, I will take you into the gallery, and you shall see
him for yourself.'

"I went gladly. We had to go through a long conservatory which opened
out of the dining-room; from there we entered an oval-shaped room.
Thesiger brought me straight up to the idol. It was placed upon a
pedestal. It is a hideous monster made of wood, and has five heads; in
its hand it holds a trident. I could hardly refrain from smiling when I
first saw it. It was difficult to believe that any man, sane or insane,
could hold faith in such a monstrosity. My object, however, was to draw
the poor mad fellow out, and I begged of him to take what steps he
considered necessary in order to induce the creature to speak. He
willingly obeyed my desire, and with great solemnity went through
elaborate operations; then, turning the lamp very low, knelt at the
altar in front of the idol and began to address it. He waited for its
replies, which were, of course, inaudible, and then continued speaking
again. After some moments spent in this way he declared solemnly that it
had replied to him, and practically called me a liar when I said I had
not heard it.

"When he turned up the lamp at the end of this strange scene, I noticed
for the first time that the idol was decorated with precious stones of
extraordinary value. To leave such valuables in a room with an unlocked
door was in itself a symptom of insanity, and when I parted with
Thesiger for the night I had not the least doubt that my unfortunate
host was really insane. All the same, I had a curious unwillingness with
regard to signing the certificate. Bagwell eagerly asked me if I did
not intend to sign. To his astonishment, I replied in the negative. I
said that the case was a very peculiar one, and that it would be
necessary for me to pay a second visit to the patient before I could
take this extreme step. He was, I could see, intensely annoyed, but I
remained firm."

Laurier stopped speaking and looked me full in the face.

"Well?" I asked.

"I have come to consult with you over the matter. You remember what you
said about the responsibility of signing such certificates! It is on
account of those words I have come to you."

"Well, Dr. Laurier," I answered, "I shall of course be happy to do
anything I can to help you, but I must frankly confess that I fail to
see exactly on what point I can be of service. I know little about
disease in general, and nothing about mental diseases in particular.
Miss Thesiger seems to think that there is foul play; but have you any
suspicions on your own account?"

"I have no proofs, but, all the same, I do suspect foul play, although,
perhaps, I have no right to say so."

"Then what do you want me to do?" I asked.

"This," he answered. "Will you come down with me to Somersetshire as my
friend, and in the _rôle_ of a great spiritualist? Thesiger will be only
too delighted to meet some one of his own way of thinking. Will you
come?"

I thought for a moment--it was not a _rôle_ I cared to assume, but the
case was peculiar, and might possibly lie within my province. I
eventually agreed to accompany Laurier into Somersetshire, and, as a
matter of fact, went down with him the next day. He had telegraphed our
arrival to The Hynde, and a hearty invitation was accorded to me.

As we were driving through the grounds late the following afternoon we
were met by a tall girl, who was accompanied by two thoroughbred
retrievers.

"Here is Miss Thesiger," said Laurier. He called to the driver to stop,
and jumping down, went to her side. I accompanied him.

"Miss Thesiger," said Laurier, "let me introduce my friend, Mr. John
Bell."

She looked me full in the face, then her grey eyes seemed to lighten
with momentary pleasure, and she held out her hand.

"What have you come back for?" she asked the next moment, turning to
Laurier.

"To see your uncle."

"Are you to meet Dr. Dalton?" her lips trembled.

"I believe so. I assure you, Miss Thesiger, I have come with no sinister
design." Laurier smiled as he spoke. "On the contrary, I am here to-day
in order, if possible, to get at the truth. There is no one who can help
me better than this gentleman."

"Then you do suspect foul play?" she said, her eyes lighting up with
sudden hope.

"I have no reason to do so," he answered.

"It exists," she replied. "I know what I am saying; will you not believe
me?" As she spoke she glanced hurriedly behind her--footsteps were heard
rapidly approaching.

"There is my cousin," she said; "he follows me like a shadow. Dr.
Laurier and Mr. Bell, I must see you both, or one of you, in private. I
have something of great importance which you ought to know."

Before either of us could answer her, Jasper Bagwell came up. He gave us
a polite welcome, and glanced keenly at his cousin, who took no notice
of him, but continued her walk.

"Poor girl!" he said with a deep sigh, as we three walked slowly to the
house.

"Why do you pity her?" I could not help asking.

"Because she is nearly as much under a delusion as my uncle himself. The
fact is she is in the utmost danger, and yet refuses absolutely to
believe it. The more eccentric my unfortunate uncle grows, the more she
clings to him; she scarcely leaves his side, although it is most unsafe
for her to be with him. I think it my absolute duty to watch her day and
night, and am really almost worn out with anxiety. The whole of last
night I spent in the corridor which divides her room from Mr.
Thesiger's. Three times in the course of the night I saw the unfortunate
madman gliding down this corridor, and but for my timely appearance on
the scene I have not the slightest doubt that he would have entered
Helen's room with the most fell design. I see the madness in his eye
when he even glances at her. He told me solemnly not later than
yesterday that Siva had laid it upon him to take her life, as she was
opposed heart and soul to the doctrines of Brahminism, and was a serious
obstacle in the way of the great work which my uncle was meant by the
idol to undertake. I told Helen exactly what he said, but she goes on as
if nothing were wrong. The fact is this, Laurier, if you don't sign that
certificate I must get another doctor who will."

Bagwell's communications were certainly alarming, but we had scarcely
time to reply to them before we reached the house. When we entered the
hall the frown departed from his face like magic, he assumed a
thoroughly pleasant manner, and conducted us quickly into the presence
of the owner of the house.

Edward Thesiger was a handsome old man, tall and dignified in
appearance. He possessed a particularly lofty and intelligent cast of
face, aquiline features, and silver hair which flowed down over his
shoulders. His face was clean shaven, which allowed the handsome curves
of his mobile mouth to be plainly seen. His conversation betokened the
man of learning, his words were well chosen, his manner was extremely
calm and quiet. At a first glance no one could look more thoroughly
sane.

During dinner that night I happened to be seated opposite Miss Thesiger.
She was very silent, and seemed terribly depressed. I noticed that she
often glanced at her uncle, and further observed that he carefully
avoided meeting her eyes. When she came into the room he manifested
distinct uneasiness, and when she retired to the drawing-room after
dinner a look of relief filled his fine face. He drew up his chair near
mine and began to talk.

"I am glad you were able to come," he said. "It is not often one has the
privilege of meeting a thoroughly kindred spirit. Now, tell me, have you
carefully studied Brahminism?"

"I have done so cursorily," I replied, "and have had from time to time
curious dealings with the supernatural." I then added abruptly, "I am
much interested to hear from Laurier that you, Mr. Thesiger, possess the
idol Siva in this house."

"Hush!" he said, starting and turning very pale. "Do not say the name in
such a loud and reckless tone." As he spoke he bent towards me, and his
voice dropped. "Mr. Bell, I have extraordinary confidences which I can
make to you by-and-by."

"I shall be happy to hear them," I answered.

"Have you had wine enough? Shall we go into the gallery now?"

I rose immediately. My host led me into a conservatory, and from there
straight into a marble gallery. It was a curious-looking place, being a
large oval chamber forty feet long, the walls were faced with marble,
and a dado painted in Egyptian style ran round the room. Half way
between the middle of the room and the end stood a fountain of curious
design. It consisted of the bronze figure of a swan with wings
outspread. From its bill the water issued and fell into a circular
basin. Facing this fountain, twenty feet away, stood the idol, with its
little altar in front of it. I went up and examined it with intense
interest. The pedestal on which it rested was about three feet high--the
idol itself was the same height, so that its five heads were almost on a
level with my face. Round the neck, and decorating each of the heads,
were jewels of extraordinary magnificence; the hand which held the
trident was loaded with diamond rings. It is almost impossible to
describe the sinister effect of this grotesque and horrible monster; and
when I saw Mr. Thesiger gazing at it with a peculiar expression of
reverence not unmixed with fear, I felt certain that Bagwell was right,
and that the man was dangerously insane.

As I was thinking these thoughts my host groaned quite audibly, and then
looked steadily at me.

"I am living through a very terrible time," he said in a low voice. "I
am the victim of a strange and awful power." Here his words dropped to
an intense whisper. "Years ago, when I became a Brahmin," he continued,
"voluntarily giving up the faith in which I was born, I little knew to
what such a step would lead. I stole Siva from the house of my Indian
friend and brought the idol home. From the first it began to exercise a
marvellous power over me. I had made a large fortune in India; and when
I came to England, bought this place, and finding this curious gallery
already in existence, had it lined with marble, and set up Siva in its
midst. The study of the faith which I had adopted, the holding of
spiritualistic séances and matters of that sort, occupied my time, and I
became more and more imbued with the strange mysticism of my belief. As
the years flew by I was more and more firmly convinced that what looks
like mere wood is in reality imbued with strange and awful qualities. I
shall never forget that terrible evening when Siva first spoke to me."

"How long ago was that?" I interrupted.

"Some months ago now. I was kneeling by the altar, and was speaking to
him as usual, when I heard words uttered in Hindustanee. At first I
could scarcely credit my own ears, but soon I grew accustomed to the
fact that Siva wished to hold communication with me, and listened to him
nightly. At the beginning of our remarkable intercourse he laid certain
mandates upon me which resulted, as you see, in my decorating him with
these precious stones. I felt bound to obey him, whatever he dictated;
but of late he has told me--he has told me----" The old man began to
shudder and tremble.

While he had been speaking to me he had been gazing at the idol; now he
walked a few steps away and turned his back on it.

"Sooner or later I must obey him," he said in a feeble voice; "but the
thing is driving me crazed--crazed."

"What is it?" I asked; "tell me, I beseech you."

"I cannot; it is too awful--it relates to the one I love best in the
world. The sacrifice is too horrible, and yet I am drawn to it--I am
drawn to the performing of an awful deed by a terrific power. Ask me no
more, Mr. Bell; I see by your face that I have your pity."

"You have, truly," I answered.

I had scarcely said the last words before the door of the gallery was
opened, and Miss Thesiger, Bagwell, and Laurier appeared. Miss Thesiger
went straight to her uncle's side, and laid her hand on his shoulder.

"Must you stay up any longer?" she asked in a gentle voice. "I heard you
walking about last night; you were restless and did not sleep. Do go to
bed now; you seem so tired. I know these gentlemen will excuse you," she
added, glancing from Laurier to me.

"Certainly," said Laurier. "I should recommend Mr. Thesiger to retire at
once; he looks quite worn out."

"I shall go presently--presently," said Thesiger, in a somewhat curt
voice. "Leave us, Helen; there's a good child; go, my dear."

"Go, Helen; don't irritate him," I heard Bagwell say.

She gave a quick, despairing glance from one man to the other; then,
turning, left the room.

"And now, Mr. Thesiger," I said, "will you not grant me the favour of a
séance?"

Mr. Thesiger remained gravely silent for a moment; then he said:

"By virtue of your power as a medium, you may be able to hear the voice,
and so convince Dr. Laurier of its reality."

[Illustration: "It was the strangest scene I ever witnessed."
A Master of Mysteries.--Page 207]

He then proceeded to go through some elaborate operations, and finally
kneeling at the altar, began to speak Hindustanee.

It was about the strangest scene I had ever witnessed; and though I
stood almost at his elbow, I could hear no sound whatever but his own
voice.

"Siva will not speak to-night," he said, rising; "there must be some one
here whose influence is adverse. I cannot hear him. It is strange!"

He looked puzzled, and more relieved than otherwise.

"You will go to bed now, sir," said Bagwell; "you look very tired."

"I am," he replied. "I will leave my friends with you, Jasper. You will
see that they have all they want." He bade Laurier and me a courteous
good-night, nodded to his nephew, and left the room.

"This is the most extraordinary phase of mental delusion I ever heard
of," I said. "If you will permit me, Mr. Bagwell, I will examine this
idol more particularly."

"You can do so if you please," he said, but he did not speak in a
cordial tone.

"Examine it to your heart's content," he continued a moment later; "only
pray don't disarrange it--he seems to know by instinct if it is touched.
Bah! it is sickening. Shall we go into another room, gentlemen?"

Watching his face carefully, I resolved to make my examination in
private, and now followed him into the smoking-room. We stayed there for
a short time, talking in a desultory manner, and soon afterwards retired
for the night.

On my dressing-table a note awaited me. I opened it hastily, and saw to
my surprise that it was from Miss Thesiger.

"I could not get the opportunity I needed to-night," she wrote, "but
will you meet me in the Laurel Walk to-morrow morning at five o'clock?"

I tore up the letter after reading it, and soon afterwards got into bed.
I must confess that I slept badly that night; I felt worried and
anxious. There was not the least doubt that Thesiger was mad; it was all
too apparent that his madness was daily and hourly assuming a more and
more dangerous form. The affectionate girl who clung to him ought
undoubtedly to be removed from his neighbourhood.

At the hour named by Miss Thesiger, I rose, dressed, and stole
downstairs through the silent house. I found her as she had indicated in
the Laurel Walk.

"How good of you to come!" she said. "But we must not talk here; it
would not be safe."

"What do you mean?" I answered. "No one can possibly watch us at this
hour."

"Jasper may be about," she said; "as far as I can tell he seems never to
sleep. I believe he paces outside my room the greater part of the
night."

"You can scarcely blame him for that," I said; "he does it in order to
ensure your safety."

She gave me an impatient glance.

"I see he has been talking to you," she replied; "but now it is
necessary for you to hear my side of the story. Come into this
summer-house; he will never guess that we are here."

Turning abruptly, she led the way into a small, tastefully arranged
summer-house. Shutting the door behind her, she turned at once and faced
me.

"Now," she said in an eager voice, "I will tell you everything. There is
an unexplained mystery about all this, and I am convinced that Jasper is
at the bottom of it."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I have nothing whatever but a woman's intuition to guide me, but, all
the same, I am convinced of what I am saying. Before Jasper came home
Uncle Edward was a Brahmin beyond doubt. His séances were intensely
disagreeable to me, and I took care never to witness them nor to speak
to him on the terrible subject of Siva; but, beyond the fact that he
was a Brahmin deeply imbued with the mysteries of his so-called
religion, he was a perfectly sane, happy, intelligent, and affectionate
man. He loved me devotedly, as I am the child of his favourite brother,
and told me just before Jasper's arrival that he had made me his
heiress, leaving me all that he possessed in the world. He had never
liked Jasper, and was annoyed when he came here and made this house his
headquarters. I had not met my cousin since I was a little child, and
when he arrived on the scene took a great dislike to him. He began at
once to pay me hateful attentions, and to question me eagerly with
regard to Uncle Edward and his ways. By a curious coincidence, he had
known this house before he went to India, having stayed here as a boy.
He showed particular interest in the oval gallery, and encouraged Uncle
Edward to talk of Siva, although he saw that the subject excited him
considerably.

"Jasper had been about a fortnight in the house when my poor uncle made,
as he considered, the astounding discovery that Siva could speak to
him. I shall never forget the first day when he told me of this, the
sparkle in his eyes, the tremble of his hands, the nervous energy which
seemed to animate him. From that hour day by day came the gradual
diminution of strength both of mind and body, the loss of appetite, the
feverish touch. All these things puzzled and distressed me, but I could
not bear to confide my fears to Jasper.

"These things went on for over a month, and Uncle Edward certainly
deteriorated in every way. He spent the greater part of both day and
night in the gallery, begging of me to come with him, imploring me to
listen for the voice. During that month he spent a large fortune in
precious stones for Siva, showing them to me first before he decorated
the hideous thing with them. I felt wild with misery, and all the time
Jasper was here watching and watching. At the end of the first month
there came a distinct change. Uncle Edward, who had been devoted to me
up to then, began to show a new attitude. He now began to dislike to
have me in his presence, often asking me as a special favour to leave
the room. One day he said to me:

"'Do you keep your door locked at night?'

"I laughed when he spoke.

"'Certainly not,' I answered.

"'I wish you would do so,' he said very earnestly; 'will you, as a
personal favour to me?'

"Jasper was in the room when he spoke. I saw a queer light flashing
through his eyes, and then he bent over his book as if he had not heard.

"'As a special favour to me, keep your door locked, Helen,' said Uncle
Edward.

"I made him a soothing answer, and pretended to assent. Of course I
never locked my door. Then Jasper began to talk to me. He said that
Uncle Edward was not only mad, but that his mania was assuming a
terrible form, and against me. He said that my life was in danger--he
thought to frighten me--little he knew!"

Here the brave girl drew herself up, indignation sweeping over her face
and filling her eyes.

"I told him I did not believe a word of what he said; I declared that
Uncle Edward could not hate me--is he not the one I love best in the
world? Jasper grew very angry.

"'Look here, Helen,' he said, 'I know enough to lock him up.'

"'To lock him up in a lunatic asylum?' I cried.

"'Yes,' he answered. 'I have only to get two doctors to certify to the
fact of his insanity, and the deed is done. I have made up my mind to do
it.'

"'You could never be so cruel,' I replied. 'Think of his grey hairs,
Jasper,' I pleaded. 'He is the dearest to me in all the world; you could
not take his liberty away. Do just respect his one little craze; believe
me, he is not really mad. Go away if you are afraid of him; I am not.
Oh, why don't you leave us both in peace?'

"'I dare not,' he answered. 'I love you, and I am determined you shall
marry me. Engage yourself to me at once, and I will do nothing to take
away Uncle Edward's liberty for at least a month.'

"I struggled against this horrible wish of my cousin's, but in the end I
yielded to it. I became engaged to him secretly, for he did not wish
Uncle Edward to know. I knew, of course, why he wished to marry me; he
had heard that I am some day to inherit my uncle's wealth. Jasper
himself is a very poor man. Now, Mr. Bell, you know everything. Things
get worse and worse, and at times I am almost inclined to believe that
my life is in some danger. A fiend has taken possession of the uncle
whose heart was so warm and loving. Ah, it is fearful! I do not believe
a bitterer trial could be given to any girl--it is too awful to feel
that the one she loves best in all the world has changed in his feelings
towards her. It is not so much the sacrifice of my poor life I mind as
the feeling that things are so bitterly altered with him. Jasper put an
alternative to me last night. Either I am to marry him within a week, or
I am to use my influence to induce Dr. Laurier to sign the certificate.
If I accept neither proposal, he will get down two other doctors from
London for the purpose."

"What have you decided to do?" I asked.

"I will marry Jasper; yes, within a week I shall be his wife, unless
something happens to show us what is the meaning of this fearful
mystery, for I cannot--never, never can I deprive Uncle Edward of his
liberty."

"I am glad you have confided in me," I said after a pause, "and I will
do my utmost for you. When did you say that your uncle first heard the
idol speak?"

"Two or three months ago now, soon after Jasper came home. Mr. Bell, is
there any chance of your being able to help me?"

"I will promise to do my utmost, but just at present I can see no
special light. By the way, would it not be well for you to leave The
Hynde for a short time?"

"No, I am not at all afraid; I can take care of myself. It is not my
dear uncle whom I fear; it is Jasper."

Soon afterwards she left me, and as it was still quite early, and the
servants were not yet even up, I considered that an excellent
opportunity had occurred for examining the idol.

I made my way to the gallery, and softly opening the door, stole in. The
bright sunlight which was now flooding the chamber seemed to rob the
grotesque old idol of half its terrors, and I made up my mind not to
leave a stone unturned to discover if any foul play in connection with
it could possibly be perpetrated. But the impossibility of such being
the case seemed more and more evident as I went on with my search. Only
a pigmy could be secreted inside the idol. There was no vulgar form of
deception possible on the lines, for instance, of the ancient priests of
Pompeii who conducted a speaking-tube to an idol's mouth. Siva was not
even standing by the wall, thus precluding the possibility of the sounds
being conducted on the plan of a whispering gallery. No--I was, against
my own will, forced to the absolute conviction that the voice was an
hallucination of the diseased mind of Edward Thesiger.

I was just going to abandon my investigations and return to my own room,
when, more by chance than design, I knelt down for a moment at the
little altar. As I was about to rise I noticed something rather odd. I
listened attentively. It was certainly remarkable. As I knelt I could
just hear a low, continuous hissing sound. Directly I moved away it
ceased. As I tried it several times with the same invariable result, I
became seriously puzzled to account for it. What devilry could be at
work to produce this? Was it possible that some one was playing a trick
on _me_?--and if so, by what means?

I glanced rapidly round, and as I did so a mad thought struck me. I
hurried across to the fountain and put my ear close to the swan's
mouth, from which a tiny jet of water was issuing. The low, scarcely
audible noise that the water made as it flowed out through the swan's
bill was exactly the same sound I had heard nearly twenty feet away at
the altar. The enormity of the situation stunned me for a moment, then
gradually, piece by piece, the plot revealed itself.

The shape of the gallery was a true oval, a geometrical ellipse, the
extraordinary acoustic properties of which I knew well. This peculiarly
shaped gallery contained two foci--one towards each end--and the nature
of the curve of the walls was such that sound issuing from either focus
was directed by reflection at various points to the other focus, and to
the other focus alone. Even across an enormous distance between such
would be the case. The swan's mouth was evidently at one focus; the
position of a man's head as he knelt at the altar would be without the
slightest doubt at the other. Could the pipe be used as a speaking-tube
when the water was turned off?

I felt so excited by this extraordinary discovery that it was only with
an effort that I maintained my self-control. I knew that presence of
mind was absolutely necessary in order to expose this horrible scheme. I
left the gallery and passed through the conservatory. Here I found the
gardener arranging some pots. I chatted to him for a few moments. He
looked surprised at seeing me up at such an unusual hour.

"Can you tell me how the fountain in the gallery is turned on or off?" I
asked.

"Yes, I can, sir," he replied; "the pipe runs along outside this stand,
and here's the tap."

I went across and looked at it. In the leaden pipe that was fastened to
the wall were two nuts, which could be turned by a small spanner, and
between them was a brass cap, which fitted on to a circular outlet from
the pipe.

"What is this used for?" I asked, pointing to the little outlet which
was closed by the cap.

"We screw the hose on there, sir, to water the flowers."

"I see," I answered; "so when you use the hose you shut off the water
from the fountain in the gallery."

"That's it, sir, and a wonderful deal of trouble it saves. Why it was
never done before I can't think."

"When was it done, then?" I asked. My heart was beating fast.

"It was Mr. Bagwell's thought, sir; he had it fixed on soon after he
came. He wanted to have plenty of water handy in order to water the
plants he brought back from India; but, lor! sir, they'll never live
through the winter, even under glass."

I waited to hear no more--the whole infernal plot was laid bare. The
second tap, which shut off the water both from the fountain and the hose
pipe, was, of course, quite useless, except for Bagwell's evil purpose.

I hurried straight up to Laurier's room. He was just preparing to rise.
His astonishment when I told him of my discovery was beyond words.

"Then, by shutting off the water, and applying his mouth to the place
where the hose is fixed on, he could convey his voice to the swan's
mouth like an ordinary speaking-tube, which, owing to the peculiar
construction of the gallery, would be carried across to the other focus
at the altar?" he said.

"Exactly," I replied. "And now, Dr. Laurier, you must please allow me to
regulate our future plans. They're simply these. You must tell Bagwell
that you absolutely refuse to sign the certificate unless Thesiger
declares that he hears the voice again in your presence, and arrange
that the séance takes place at nine o'clock to-night. I in the meantime
shall ostensibly take my departure, and so leave the ground clear for
Bagwell. He is evidently rather afraid of me. My going will throw him
completely off his guard; but I shall in reality only leave the train at
the next station and return here after dark. You will have to see that
the conservatory door leading on to the terrace is left unlocked. I
shall steal in, and, hiding myself in the conservatory, shall await
Bagwell. You in the meantime will be in the gallery with Thesiger. When
you hear me call out, come in at once. Our only hope is to take that
wretch red-handed."

To this hastily constructed scheme Laurier instantly agreed, and at four
o'clock that afternoon I took my leave, Miss Thesiger, looking white and
miserable, standing on the steps to see me off. Bagwell drove me himself
to the station, and bade me good-bye with a heartiness which was at least
sincere.

I was back again at The Hynde at half-past eight that evening. Laurier
had left the conservatory door unlocked, and, slipping in, it being now
quite dark, I hid myself behind some large flowering shrubs and waited.
Presently I heard the door of the conservatory open, and in stole
Bagwell. I saw him approach the pipe, turn the spanner which shut off
the water from the fountain and also from the hose pipe, and then
proceed to unscrew the brass cap. I waited till I saw him place his
mouth to the opening and begin to speak, and then I dashed out upon him
and called loudly for Laurier. Bagwell's surprise and terror at my
unexpected attack absolutely bereft him of speech, and he stood gazing
at me with a mixed expression of fury and fear. The next minute Laurier
and Thesiger both burst in from the gallery. I still retained my hold of
Bagwell. The moment I saw the sign, I went up to him, and in a few words
explained the whole fraud. But it was not until I had demonstrated the
trick in the oval gallery that he became convinced; then the relief on
his face was marvellous.

"You leave my house at once," he said to Bagwell; "go, sir, if you do
not wish to be in the hands of the police. Where is Helen? where is my
child?"

He had scarcely said the words, and Bagwell was just slinking off with a
white face like a whipped cur towards the door, when Helen appeared upon
the scene.

"What is it?" she cried. "Is anything the matter?"

The old man strode up to her; he took her in his arms.

"It is all right, Helen," he said, "all right. I can never explain; but,
take my word, it is all right. I was a fool, and worse--nay, I was
mad--but I am sane now. Mr. Bell, I can never express my obligations to
you. But now, will you do one thing more?"

"What is that? Be assured I will do anything in my power," I answered.

"Then return here to-night and destroy Siva. How I could have been
infatuated enough to believe in that senseless piece of wood is beyond
my power to understand. But destroy it, sir; take it away; let me never
lay eyes on it again."

Early on the following morning, when I was leaving the house, Bagwell,
who must have been waiting for the purpose, suddenly stepped across my
path.

"I have a word of explanation to give," he said. "You, Mr. Bell, have
won, and I have lost. I played a deep game and for a large cause. It did
not occur to me as possible that any one could discover the means by
which I made Siva speak. I am now about to leave England for ever, but
before I do so, it may interest you to know that the temptation offered
to me was a very peculiar and strong one. I had not been an hour at the
Hynde before I suddenly remembered having spent some months in the old
house when a boy. I recollected the oval gallery. Its peculiar acoustic
qualities had been pointed out to me by a scientist who happened to live
there at the time. The desire to win, not Helen, but my uncle's
property, was too strong to be resisted by a penniless man. My object
was to terrify Thesiger, whose brain was already nearly overbalanced,
into complete insanity, get him locked up, and marry Helen. How I
succeeded, and in the end failed, you know well!"



VI

TO PROVE AN ALIBI


I first met Arthur Cressley in the late spring of 1892. I had been
spending the winter in Egypt, and was returning to Liverpool. One calm
evening, about eleven o'clock, while we were still in the Mediterranean,
I went on deck to smoke a final cigar before turning in. After pacing up
and down for a time I leant over the taff-rail and began idly watching
the tiny wavelets with their crests of white fire as they rippled away
from the vessel's side. Presently I became aware of some one standing
near me, and, turning, saw that it was one of my fellow-passengers, a
young man whose name I knew but whose acquaintance I had not yet made.
He was entered in the passenger list as Arthur Cressley, belonged to an
old family in Derbyshire, and was returning home from Western Australia,
where he had made a lot of money. I offered him a light, and after a few
preliminary remarks we drifted into a desultory conversation. He told me
that he had been in Australia for fifteen years, and having done well
was now returning to settle in his native land.

"Then you do not intend going out again?" I asked.

"No," he replied; "I would not go through the last fifteen years for
double the money I have made."

"I suppose you will make London your headquarters?"

"Not altogether; but I shall have to spend a good deal of time there. My
wish is for a quiet country life, and I intend to take over the old
family property. We have a place called Cressley Hall, in Derbyshire,
which has belonged to us for centuries. It would be a sort of white
elephant, for it has fallen into pitiable decay; but, luckily, I am now
in a position to restore it and set it going again in renewed
prosperity."

"You are a fortunate man," I answered.

"Perhaps I am," he replied. "Yes, as far as this world's goods go I
suppose I am lucky, considering that I arrived in Australia fifteen
years ago with practically no money in my pocket. I shall be glad to be
home again for many reasons, chiefly because I can save the old property
from being sold."

"It is always a pity when a fine old family seat has to go to the hammer
for want of funds," I remarked.

"That is true, and Cressley Hall is a superb old place. There is only
one drawback to it; but I don't believe there is anything in that,"
added Cressley in a musing tone.

Knowing him so little I did not feel justified in asking for an
explanation. I waited, therefore, without speaking. He soon proceeded:

"I suppose I am rather foolish about it," he continued; "but if I am
superstitious, I have abundant reason. For more than a century and a
half there has been a strange fatality about any Cressley occupying the
Hall. This fatality was first exhibited in 1700, when Barrington
Cressley, one of the most abandoned libertines of that time, led his
infamous orgies there--of these even history takes note. There are
endless legends as to their nature, one of which is that he had personal
dealings with the devil in the large turret room, the principal bedroom
at the Hall, and was found dead there on the following morning.
Certainly since that date a curious doom has hung over the family, and
this doom shows itself in a strange way, only attacking those victims
who are so unfortunate as to sleep in the turret room. Gilbert Cressley,
the young Court favourite of George the Third, was found mysteriously
murdered there, and my own great-grandfather paid the penalty by losing
his reason within those gloomy walls."

"If the room has such an evil reputation, I wonder that it is occupied,"
I replied.

"It happens to be far and away the best bedroom in the house, and people
always laugh at that sort of thing until they are brought face to face
with it. The owner of the property is not only born there, as a rule,
but also breathes his last in the old four-poster, the most
extraordinary, wonderful old bedstead you ever laid eyes on. Of course I
do not believe in any malevolent influences from the unseen world, but
the record of disastrous coincidences in that one room is, to say the
least of it, curious. Not that this sort of thing will deter me from
going into possession, and I intend to put a lot of money into Cressley
Hall."

"Has no one been occupying it lately?" I asked.

"Not recently. An old housekeeper has had charge of the place for the
last few years. The agent had orders to sell the Hall long ago, but
though it has been in the market for a long time I do not believe there
was a single offer. Just before I left Australia I wired to Murdock, my
agent, that I intended taking over the place, and authorised its
withdrawal from the market."

"Have you no relations?" I inquired.

"None at all. Since I have been away my only brother died. It is curious
to call it going home when one has no relatives and only friends who
have probably forgotten one."

I could not help feeling sorry for Cressley as he described the lonely
outlook. Of course, with heaps of money and an old family place he would
soon make new friends; but he looked the sort of chap who might be
imposed upon, and although he was as nice a fellow as I had ever met, I
could not help coming to the conclusion that he was not specially
strong, either mentally or physically. He was essentially good-looking,
however, and had the indescribable bearing of a man of old family. I
wondered how he had managed to make his money. What he told me about his
old Hall also excited my interest, and as we talked I managed to allude
to my own peculiar hobby, and the delight I took in such old legends.

As the voyage flew by our acquaintance grew apace, ripening into a warm
friendship. Cressley told me much of his past life, and finally
confided to me one of his real objects in returning to England.

While prospecting up country he had come across some rich veins of gold,
and now his intention was to bring out a large syndicate in order to
acquire the whole property, which, he anticipated, was worth at least a
million. He spoke confidently of this great scheme, but always wound up
by informing me that the money which he hoped to make was only of
interest to him for the purpose of re-establishing Cressley Hall in its
ancient splendour.

As we talked I noticed once or twice that a man stood near us who seemed
to take an interest in our conversation. He was a thickly set individual
with a florid complexion and a broad German cast of face. He was an
inveterate smoker, and when he stood near us with a pipe in his mouth
the expression of his face was almost a blank; but watching him closely
I saw a look in his eyes which betokened the shrewd man of business, and
I could scarcely tell why, but I felt uncomfortable in his presence.
This man, Wickham by name, managed to pick up an acquaintance with
Cressley, and soon they spent a good deal of time together. They made a
contrast as they paced up and down on deck, or played cards in the
evening; the Englishman being slight and almost fragile in build, the
German of the bulldog order, with a manner at once curt and overbearing.
I took a dislike to Wickham, and wondered what Cressley could see in
him.

"Who is the fellow?" I asked on one occasion, linking my hand in
Cressley's arm and drawing him aside as I spoke.

"Do you mean Wickham?" he answered. "I am sure I cannot tell you. I
never met the chap before this voyage. He came on board at King George's
Sound, where I also embarked; but he never spoke to me until we were in
the Mediterranean. On the whole, Bell, I am inclined to like him; he
seems to be downright and honest. He knows a great deal about the bush,
too, as he has spent several years there."

[Illustration: "They made a contrast."
A Master of Mysteries.--Page 234]

"And he gives you the benefit of his information?" I asked.

"I don't suppose he knows more than I do, and it is doubtful whether he
has had so rough a time."

"Then in that case he picks your brains."

"What do you mean?"

The young fellow looked at me with those clear grey eyes which were his
most attractive feature.

"Nothing," I answered, "nothing; only if you will be guided by a man
nearly double your age, I would take care to tell Wickham as little as
possible. Have you ever observed that he happens to be about when you
and I are engaged in serious conversation?"

"I can't say that I have."

"Well, keep your eyes open and you'll see what I mean. Be as friendly as
you like, but don't give him your confidence--that is all."

"You are rather late in advising me on that score," said Cressley, with
a somewhat nervous laugh. "Wickham knows all about the old Hall by this
time."

"And your superstitious fears with regard to the turret room?" I
queried.

"Well, I have hinted at them. You will be surprised, but he is full of
sympathy."

"Tell him no more," I said in conclusion.

Cressley made a sort of half-promise, but looked as if he rather
resented my interference.

A day or two later we reached Liverpool; I was engaged long ago to stay
with some friends in the suburbs, and Cressley took up his abode at the
Prince's Hotel. His property was some sixty miles away, and when we
parted he insisted on my agreeing to come down and see his place as soon
as he had put things a little straight.

I readily promised to do so, provided we could arrange a visit before my
return to London.

Nearly a week went by and I saw nothing of Cressley; then, on a certain
morning, he called to see me.

"How are you getting on?" I asked.

"Capitally," he replied. "I have been down to the Hall several times
with my agent, Murdock, and though the place is in the most shocking
condition I shall soon put things in order. But what I have come
specially to ask you now is whether you can get away to-day and come
with me to the Hall for a couple of nights. I had arranged with the
agent to go down this afternoon in his company, but he has been suddenly
taken ill--he is rather bad, I believe--and cannot possibly come with
me. He has ordered the housekeeper to get a couple of rooms ready, and
though I am afraid it will be rather roughing it, I shall be awfully
glad if you can come."

I had arranged to meet a man in London on special business that very
evening, and could not put him off; but my irresistible desire to see
the old place from the description I had heard of it decided me to make
an effort to fall in as well as I could with Cressley's plans.

"I wish I could go with you to-day," I said; "but that, as it happens,
is out of the question. I must run up to town on some pressing business;
but if you will allow me I can easily come back again to-morrow. Can you
not put off your visit until to-morrow evening?"

"No, I am afraid I cannot do that. I have to meet several of the
tenants, and have made all arrangements to go by the five o'clock train
this afternoon."

He looked depressed at my refusal, and after a moment said thoughtfully:

"I wish you could have come with me to-day. When Murdock could not come
I thought of you at once--it would have made all the difference."

"I am sorry," I replied; "but I can promise faithfully to be with you
to-morrow. I shall enjoy seeing your wonderful old Hall beyond anything;
and as to roughing it, I am used to that. You will not mind spending one
night there by yourself?"

He looked at me as if he were about to speak, but no words came from his
lips.

"What is the matter?" I said, giving him an earnest glance. "By the way,
are you going to sleep in the turret room?"

"I am afraid there is no help for it; the housekeeper is certain to get
it ready for me. The owner of the property always sleeps there, and it
would look like a confession of weakness to ask to be put into another
bedroom."

"Nevertheless, if you are nervous, I should not mind that," I said.

"Oh, I don't know that I am absolutely nervous, Bell, but all the same I
have a superstition. At the present moment I have the queerest
sensation; I feel as if I ought not to pay this visit to the Hall."

"If you intend to live there by-and-by, you must get over this sort of
thing," I remarked.

"Oh yes, I must, and I would not yield to it on any account whatever. I
am sorry I even mentioned it to you. It is good of you to promise to
come to-morrow, and I shall look forward to seeing you. By what train
will you come?"

We looked up the local time-table, and I decided on a train which would
leave Liverpool about five o'clock.

"The very one that I shall go down by to-day," said Cressley; "that's
capital, I'll meet you with a conveyance of some sort and drive you
over. The house is a good two hours' drive from the station, and you
cannot get a trap there for love or money."

"By the way," I said, "is there much the matter with your agent?"

"I cannot tell you; he seems bad enough. I went up to his house this
morning and saw the wife. It appears that he was suddenly taken ill with
a sort of asthmatic attack to which he is subject. While I was talking
to Mrs. Murdock, a messenger came down to say that her husband specially
wished to see me, so we both went to his room, but he had dozed off into
a queer restless sleep before we arrived. The wife said he must not be
awakened on any account, but I caught a glimpse of him and he certainly
looked bad, and was moaning as if in a good deal of pain. She gave me
the keys of a bureau in his room, and I took out some estimates, and
left a note for him telling him to come on as soon as he was well
enough."

"And your visit to his room never roused him?" I said.

"No, although Mrs. Murdock and I made a pretty good bit of noise moving
about and opening and shutting drawers. His moans were quite
heartrending--he was evidently in considerable pain; and I was glad to
get away, as that sort of thing always upsets me."

"Who is this Murdock?" I asked.

"Oh, the man who has looked after the place for years. I was referred to
him by my solicitors. He seems a most capable person, and I hope to
goodness he won't be ill long. If he is I shall find myself in rather a
fix."

I made no reply to this, and soon afterwards Cressley shook hands with
me and departed on his way. I went to my room, packed my belongings, and
took the next train to town. The business which I had to get through
occupied the whole of that evening and also some hours of the following
day. I found I was not able to start for Liverpool before the 12.10
train at Euston, and should not therefore arrive at Lime Street before
five o'clock--too late to catch the train for Brent, the nearest station
to Cressley's place. Another train left Central Station for Brent,
however, at seven o'clock, and I determined to wire to Cressley to tell
him to meet me by the latter train. This was the last train in the day,
but there was no fear of my missing it.

I arrived at Lime Street almost to the moment and drove straight to the
Prince's Hotel, where I had left my bag the day before. Here a telegram
awaited me; it was from Cressley, and ran as follows:--

    "Hope this will reach you time; if so, call at Murdock's house,
    No. 12, Melville Gardens. If possible see him and get the
    documents referred to in Schedule A--he will know what you mean.
    Most important.
                                                        "Cressley."

I glanced at the clock in the hall; it was now a quarter past five--my
train would leave at seven. I had plenty of time to get something to eat
and then go to Murdock's.

Having despatched my telegram to Cressley, telling him to look out for
me by the train which arrived at Brent at nine o'clock, I ordered a
meal, ate it, and then hailing a cab, gave the driver the number of
Murdock's house. Melville Gardens was situated somewhat in the suburbs,
and it was twenty minutes' drive from my hotel. When we drew up at
Murdock's door I told the cabman to wait, and, getting out, rang the
bell. The servant who answered my summons told me that the agent was
still very ill and could not be seen by any one. I then inquired for the
wife. I was informed that she was out, but would be back soon. I looked
at my watch. It was just six o'clock. I determined to wait to see Mrs.
Murdock if possible.

Having paid and dismissed my cab, I was shown into a small, untidily
kept parlour, where I was left to my own meditations. The weather was
hot and the room close. I paced up and down restlessly. The minutes flew
by and Mrs. Murdock did not put in an appearance. I looked at my watch,
which now pointed to twenty minutes past six. It would take me, in an
ordinary cab, nearly twenty minutes to reach the station. In order to
make all safe I ought to leave Murdock's house in ten minutes from now
at the latest.

I went and stood by the window watching anxiously for Mrs. Murdock to
put in an appearance. Melville Gardens was a somewhat lonely place, and
few people passed the house, which was old and shabby; it had evidently
not been done up for years. I was just turning round in order to ring
the bell to leave a message with the servant, when the room door was
opened and, to my astonishment, in walked Wickham, the man I had last
seen on board the _Euphrates_. He came up to me at once and held out his
hand.

"No doubt you are surprised at seeing me here, Mr. Bell," he exclaimed.

"I certainly was for a moment," I answered; but then I added, "The world
is a small place, and one soon gets accustomed to acquaintances cropping
up in all sorts of unlikely quarters."

"Why unlikely?" said Wickham. "Why should I not know Murdock, who
happens to be a very special and very old friend of mine? I might as
well ask you why you are interested in him."

"Because I happen to be a friend of Arthur Cressley's," I answered, "and
have come here on his business."

"And so am I also a friend of Cressley's. He has asked me to go and see
him at Cressley Hall some day, and I hope to avail myself of his
invitation. The servant told me that you were waiting for Mrs.
Murdock--can I give her any message from you?"

"I want to see Murdock himself," I said, after a pause. "Do you think
that it is possible for me to have an interview with him?"

"I left him just now and he was asleep," said Wickham. "He is still very
ill, and I think the doctor is a little anxious about him. It would not
do to disturb him on any account. Of course, if he happens to awake he
might be able to tell you what you want to know. By the way, has it
anything to do with Cressley Hall?"

"Yes; I have just had a telegram from Cressley, and the message is
somewhat important. You are quite sure that Murdock is asleep?"

"He was when I left the room, but I will go up again and see. Are you
going to London to-night, Mr. Bell?"

"No; I am going down to Cressley Hall, and must catch the seven o'clock
train. I have not a moment to wait." As I spoke I took out my watch.

"It only wants five-and-twenty minutes to seven," I said, "and I never
care to run a train to the last moment. There is no help for it, I
suppose I must go without seeing Murdock. Cressley will in all
probability send down a message to-morrow for the papers he requires."

"Just stay a moment," said Wickham, putting on an anxious expression;
"it is a great pity that you should not see Cressley's agent if it is as
vital as all that. Ah! and here comes Mrs. Murdock; wait one moment,
I'll go and speak to her."

He went out of the room, and I heard him say something in a low voice in
the passage--a woman's voice replied, and the next instant Mrs. Murdock
stood before me. She was a tall woman with a sallow face and sandy hair;
she had a blank sort of stare about her, and scarcely any expression.
Now she fixed her dull, light-blue eyes on my face and held out her
hand.

"You are Mr. Bell?" she said. "I have heard of you, of course, from Mr.
Cressley. So you are going to spend to-night with him at Cressley Hall.
I am glad, for it is a lonely place--the most lonely place I know."

"Pardon me," I interrupted, "I cannot stay to talk to you now or I shall
miss my train. Can I see your husband or can I not?"

She glanced at Wickham, then she said with hesitation,--

"If he is asleep it would not do to disturb him, but there is a chance
of his being awake now. I don't quite understand about the papers, I
wish I did. It would be best for you to see him certainly; follow me
upstairs."

"And I tell you what," called Wickham after us, "I'll go and engage a
cab, so that you shall lose as short a time as possible, Mr. Bell."

I thanked him and followed the wife upstairs. The stairs were narrow and
steep, and we soon reached the small landing at the top. Four bedrooms
opened into it. Mrs. Murdock turned the handle of the one which exactly
faced the stairs, and we both entered. Here the blinds were down, and
the chamber was considerably darkened. The room was a small one, and the
greater part of the space was occupied by an old-fashioned Albert
bedstead with the curtains pulled forward. Within I could just see the
shadowy outline of a figure, and I distinctly heard the feeble groans of
the sick man.

"Ah! what a pity, my husband is still asleep," said Mrs. Murdock, as she
turned softly round to me and put her finger to her lips. "It would
injure him very much to awaken him," she said. "You can go and look at
him if you like; you will see how very ill he is. I wonder if I could
help you with regard to the papers you want, Mr. Bell?"

"I want the documents referred to in Schedule A," I answered.

"Schedule A?" she repeated, speaking under her breath. "I remember that
name. Surely all the papers relating to it are in this drawer. I think I
can get them for you."

She crossed the room as she spoke, and standing with her back to the
bedstead, took a bunch of keys from a table which stood near and fitted
one into the lock of a high bureau made of mahogany. She pulled open a
drawer and began to examine its contents.

While she was so occupied I approached the bed, and bending slightly
forward, took a good stare at the sick man. I had never seen Murdock
before. There was little doubt that he was ill--he looked very ill,
indeed. His face was long and cadaverous, the cheek bones were high, and
the cheeks below were much sunken in; the lips, which were clean-shaven,
were slightly drawn apart, and some broken irregular teeth were visible.
The eyebrows were scanty, and the hair was much worn away from the high
and hollow forehead. The man looked sick unto death. I had seldom seen
any one with an expression like his--the closed eyes were much sunken,
and the moaning which came from the livid lips was horrible to listen
to.

After giving Murdock a long and earnest stare, I stepped back from the
bed, and was just about to speak to Mrs. Murdock, who was rustling
papers in the drawer, when the most strong and irresistible curiosity
assailed me. I could not account for it, but I felt bound to yield to
its suggestions. I turned again and bent close over the sick man. Surely
there was something monotonous about that deep-drawn breath; those
moans, too, came at wonderfully regular intervals. Scarcely knowing why
I did it, I stretched out my hand and laid it on the forehead. Good God!
what was the matter? I felt myself turning cold; the perspiration stood
out on my own brow. I had not touched a living forehead at all. Flesh
was flesh, it was impossible to mistake the feel, but there was no flesh
here. The figure in the bed was neither a living nor a dead man, it was
a wax representation of one; but why did it moan, and how was it
possible for it not to breathe?

Making the greatest effort of my life, I repressed an exclamation, and
when Mrs. Murdock approached me with the necessary papers in her hand,
took them from her in my usual manner.

"These all relate to Schedule A," she said. "I hope I am not doing
wrong in giving them to you without my husband's leave. He looks very
ill, does he not?"

"He looks as bad as he can look," I answered. I moved towards the door.
Something in my tone must have alarmed her, for a curious expression of
fear dilated the pupils of her light blue eyes. She followed me
downstairs. A hansom was waiting for me. I nodded to Wickham, did not
even wait to shake hands with Mrs. Murdock, and sprang into the cab.

"Central Station!" I shouted to the man; and then as he whipped up his
horse and flew down the street, "A sovereign if you get there before
seven o'clock."

We were soon dashing quickly along the streets. I did not know Liverpool
well, and consequently could not exactly tell where the man was going.
When I got into the hansom it wanted twelve minutes to seven o'clock;
these minutes were quickly flying, and still no station.

"Are you sure you are going right?" I shouted through the hole in the
roof.

"You'll be there in a minute, sir," he answered. "It's Lime Street
Station you want, isn't it?"

"No; Central Station," I answered. "I told you Central Station; drive
there at once like the very devil. I must catch that train, for it is
the last one to-night."

"All right, sir; I can do it," he cried, whipping up his horse again.

Once more I pulled out my watch; the hands pointed to three minutes to
seven.

At ten minutes past we were driving into the station. I flung the man
half a sovereign, and darted into the booking-office.

"To Brent, sir? The last train has just gone," said the clerk, with an
impassive stare at me through the little window.

I flung my bag down in disgust and swore a great oath. But for that
idiot of a driver I should have just caught the train. All of a sudden a
horrible thought flashed through my brain. Had the cabman been bribed by
Wickham? No directions could have been plainer than mine. I had told the
man to drive to Central Station. Central Station did not sound the
least like Lime Street Station. How was it possible for him to make so
grave a mistake?

The more I considered the matter the more certain I was that a black
plot was brewing, and that Wickham was in the thick of it. My brain
began to whirl with excitement. What was the matter? Why was a lay
figure in Murdock's bed? Why had I been taken upstairs to see it?
Without any doubt both Mrs. Murdock and Wickham wished me to see what
was such an admirable imitation of a sick man--an imitation so good,
with those ghastly moans coming from the lips, that it would have taken
in the sharpest detective in Scotland Yard. I myself was deceived until
I touched the forehead. This state of things had not been brought to
pass without a reason. What was the reason? Could it be possible that
Murdock was wanted elsewhere, and it was thought well that I should see
him in order to prove an alibi, should he be suspected of a ghastly
crime? My God! what could this mean? From the first I had mistrusted
Wickham. What was he doing in Murdock's house? For what purpose had he
bribed the driver of the cab in order to make me lose my train?

The more I thought, the more certain I was that Cressley was in grave
danger; and I now determined, cost what it might, to get to him that
night.

I left the station, took a cab, and drove back to my hotel. I asked to
see the manager. A tall, dark man in a frock-coat emerged from a door at
the back of the office and inquired what he could do for me. I begged
permission to speak to him alone, and we passed into his private room.

"I am in an extraordinary position," I began. "Circumstances of a
private nature make it absolutely necessary that I should go to a place
called Cressley Hall, about fourteen miles from Brent. Brent is sixty
miles down the line, and the last train has gone. I could take a
'special,' but there might be an interminable delay at Brent, and I
prefer to drive straight to Cressley Hall across country. Can you
assist me by directing me to some good jobmaster from whom I can hire a
carriage and horses?"

The man looked at me with raised eyebrows. He evidently thought I was
mad.

"I mean what I say," I added, "and am prepared to back my words with a
substantial sum. Can you help me?"

"I dare say you might get a carriage and horses to do it," he replied;
"but it is a very long way, and over a hilly country. No two horses
could go such a distance without rest. You would have to change from
time to time as you went. I will send across to the hotel stables for my
man, and you can see him about it."

He rang the bell and gave his orders. In a few moments the jobmaster
came in. I hurriedly explained to him what I wanted. At first he said it
was impossible, that his best horses were out, and that those he had in
his stables could not possibly attempt such a journey; but when I
brought out my cheque-book and offered to advance any sum in reason, he
hesitated.

"Of course there is one way in which it might be managed, sir. I would
take you myself as far as Ovenden, which is five-and-twenty miles from
here. There, I know, we could get a pair of fresh horses from the Swan;
and if we wired at once from here, horses might be ready at Carlton,
which is another twenty miles on the road. But, at our best, sir, it
will be between two and three in the morning before we get to Brent."

"I am sorry to hear you say so," I answered; "but it is better to arrive
then than to wait until to-morrow. Please send the necessary telegram
off without a moment's delay, and get the carriage ready."

"Put the horses in at once, John," said the manager. "You had better
take the light wagonette. You ought to get there between one and two in
the morning with that."

Then he added, as the man left the room,--

"I suppose, sir, your business is very urgent?"

"It is," I replied shortly.

He looked as if he would like to question me further, but refrained.

A few moments later I had taken my seat beside the driver, and we were
speeding at a good round pace through the streets of Liverpool. We
passed quickly through the suburbs, and out into the open country. The
evening was a lovely one, and the country looked its best. It was
difficult to believe, as I drove through the peaceful landscape, that in
all probability a dark deed was in contemplation, and that the young man
to whom I had taken a most sincere liking was in danger of his life.

As I drove silently by my companion's side I reviewed the whole
situation. The more I thought of it the less I liked it. On board the
_Euphrates_ Wickham had been abnormally interested in Cressley. Cressley
had himself confided to him his superstitious dread with regard to the
turret room. Cressley had come home with a fortune; and if he floated
his syndicate he would be a millionaire. Wickham scarcely looked like a
rich man. Then why should he know Murdock, and why should a lay figure
be put in Murdock's bed? Why, also, through a most unnatural accident,
should I have lost my train?

The more I thought, the graver and graver became my fears. Gradually
darkness settled over the land, and then a rising moon flooded the
country in its weird light. I had been on many a wild expedition before,
but in some ways never a wilder than this. Its very uncertainty, wrapped
as it was in unformed suspicions, gave it an air of inexpressible
mystery.

On and on we went, reaching Ovenden between nine and ten at night. Here
horses were ready for us, and we again started on our way. When we got
to Carlton, however, there came a hitch in my well-formed arrangements.
We drew up at the little inn, to find the place in total darkness, and
all the inhabitants evidently in bed and asleep. With some difficulty
we roused the landlord, and asked why the horses which had been
telegraphed for had not been got ready.

"We did not get them when the second telegram arrived," was the reply.

"The second telegram!" I cried, my heart beating fast. "What do you
mean?"

"There were two, sir, both coming from the same stables. The first was
written desiring us to have the horses ready at any cost. The second
contradicted the first, and said that the gentleman had changed his
mind, and was not going. On receipt of that, sir, I shut up the house as
usual, and we all went to bed. I am very sorry if there has been any
mistake."

"There has, and a terrible one," I could not help muttering under my
breath. My fears were getting graver than ever. Who had sent the second
telegram? Was it possible that I had been followed by Wickham, who took
these means of circumventing me?

"We must get horses, and at once," I said. "Never mind about the second
telegram; it was a mistake."

Peach, the jobmaster, muttered an oath.

"I can't understand what is up," he said. He looked mystified and not
too well pleased. Then he added,--

"These horses can't go another step, sir."

"They must if we can get no others," I said. I went up to him, and began
to whisper in his ear.

"This is a matter of life and death, my good friend. Only the direst
necessity takes me on this journey. The second telegram without doubt
was sent by a man whom I am trying to circumvent. I know what I am
saying. We must get horses, or these must go on. We have not an instant
to lose. There is a conspiracy afoot to do serious injury to the owner
of Cressley Hall."

"What! the young gentleman who has just come from Australia? You don't
mean to say he is in danger?" said Peach.

"He is in the gravest danger. I don't mind who knows. I have reason for
my fears."

While I was speaking the landlord drew near. He overheard some of my
last words. The landlord and Peach now exchanged glances. After a moment
the landlord spoke,--

"A neighbour of ours, sir, has got two good horses," he said. "He is the
doctor in this village. I believe he'll lend them if the case is as
urgent as you say."

"Go and ask him," I cried. "You shall have ten pounds if we are on the
road in five minutes from the present moment."

At this hint the landlord flew. He came back in an incredibly short
space of time, accompanied by the doctor's coachman leading the horses.
They were quickly harnessed to the wagonette, and once more we started
on our way.

"Now drive as you never drove before in the whole course of your life,"
I said to Peach. "Money is no object. We have still fifteen miles to go,
and over a rough country. You can claim any reward in reason if you get
to Cressley Hall within an hour."

"It cannot be done, sir," he replied; but then he glanced at me, and
some of the determination in my face was reflected in his. He whipped up
the horses. They were thoroughbred animals, and worked well under
pressure.

We reached the gates of Cressley Hall between two and three in the
morning. Here I thought it best to draw up, and told my coachman that I
should not need his services any longer.

"If you are afraid of mischief, sir, would it not be best for me to lie
about here?" he asked. "I'd rather be in the neighbourhood in case you
want me. I am interested in this here job, sir."

"You may well be, my man. God grant it is not a black business. Well,
walk the horses up and down, if you like. If you see nothing of me
within the next couple of hours, judge that matters are all right, and
return with the horses to Carlton."

This being arranged, I turned from Peach and entered the lodge gates.
Just inside was a low cottage surrounded by trees. I paused for a moment
to consider what I had better do. My difficulty now was how to obtain
admittance to the Hall, for of course it would be shut up and all its
inhabitants asleep at this hour. Suddenly an idea struck me. I
determined to knock up the lodge-keeper, and to enlist her assistance. I
went across to the door, and presently succeeded in rousing the inmates.
A woman of about fifty appeared. I explained to her my position, and
begged of her to give me her help. She hesitated at first in unutterable
astonishment; but then, seeing something in my face which convinced her,
I suppose, of the truth of my story, for it was necessary to alarm her
in order to induce her to do anything, she said she would do what I
wished.

"I know the room where Mitchell, the old housekeeper, sleeps," she said,
"and we can easily wake him by throwing stones up at his window. If
you'll just wait a minute I'll put a shawl over my head and go with
you."

She ran into an inner room and quickly re-appeared. Together we made our
way along the drive which, far as I could see, ran through a park
studded with old timber. We went round the house to the back entrance,
and the woman, after a delay of two or three moments, during which I was
on thorns, managed to wake up Mitchell the housekeeper. He came to his
window, threw it open, and poked out his head.

"What can be wrong?" he said.

"It is Mr. Bell, James," was the reply, "the gentleman who has been
expected at the Hall all the evening; he has come now, and wants you to
admit him."

The old man said that he would come downstairs. He did so, and opening a
door, stood in front of it, barring my entrance.

"Are you really the gentleman Mr. Cressley has been expecting?" he said.

"I am," I replied; "I missed my train, and was obliged to drive out.
There is urgent need why I should see your master immediately; where is
he?"

"I hope in bed, sir, and asleep; it is nearly three o'clock in the
morning."

"Never mind the hour," I said; "I must see Mr. Cressley immediately. Can
you take me to his room?"

"If I am sure that you are Mr. John Bell," said the old man, glancing at
me with not unnatural suspicion.

"Rest assured on that point. Here, this is my card, and here is a
telegram which I received to-day from your master."

"But master sent no telegram to-day."

"You must be mistaken, this is from him."

"I don't understand it, sir, but you look honest, and I suppose I must
trust you."

"You will do well to do so," I said.

He moved back and I entered the house. He took me down a passage, and
then into a lofty chamber, which probably was the old banqueting-hall.
As well as I could see by the light of the candle, it was floored, and
panelled with black oak. Round the walls stood figures of knights in
armour, with flags and banners hanging from the panels above. I
followed the old man up a broad staircase and along endless corridors to
a more distant part of the building. We turned now abruptly to our
right, and soon began to ascend some turret stairs.

"In which room is your master?" I asked.

"This is his room, sir," said the man. He stood still and pointed to a
door.

"Stay where you are; I may want you," I said.

I seized his candle, and holding it above my head, opened the door. The
room was a large one, and when I entered was in total darkness. I
fancied I heard a rustling in the distance, but could see no one. Then,
as my eyes got accustomed to the faint light caused by the candle, I
observed at the further end of the chamber a large four-poster bedstead.
I immediately noticed something very curious about it. I turned round to
the old housekeeper.

"Did you really say that Mr. Cressley was sleeping in this room?" I
asked.

"Yes, sir; he must be in bed some hours ago. I left him in the library
hunting up old papers, and he told me he was tired and was going to rest
early."

"He is not in the bed," I said.

"Not in the bed, sir! Good God!" a note of horror came into the man's
voice. "What in the name of fortune is the matter with the bed?"

As the man spoke I rushed forward. Was it really a bed at all? If it
was, I had never seen a stranger one. Upon it, covering it from head to
foot, was a thick mattress, from the sides of which tassels were
hanging. There was no human being lying on the mattress, nor was it made
up with sheets and blankets like an ordinary bed. I glanced above me.
The posts at the four corners of the bedstead stood like masts. I saw at
once what had happened. The canopy had descended upon the bed. Was
Cressley beneath? With a shout I desired the old man to come forward,
and between us we seized the mattress, and exerting all our force, tried
to drag it from the bed. In a moment I saw it was fixed by cords that
held it tightly in its place. Whipping out my knife, I severed these,
and then hurled the heavy weight from the bed. Beneath lay Cressley,
still as death. I put my hand on his heart and uttered a thankful
exclamation. It was still beating. I was in time; I had saved him. After
all, nothing else mattered during that supreme moment of thankfulness. A
few seconds longer beneath that smothering mass and he would have been
dead. By what a strange sequence of events had I come to his side just
in the nick of time!

"We must take him from this room before he recovers consciousness," I
said to the old man, who was surprised and horror-stricken.

"But, sir, in the name of Heaven, what has happened?"

"Let us examine the bed, and I will tell you," I said. I held up the
candle as I spoke. A glance at the posts was all-sufficient to show me
how the deed had been done. The canopy above, on which the heavy
mattress had been placed, was held in position by strong cords which ran
through pulleys at the top of the posts. These were thick and heavy
enough to withstand the strain. When the cords were released, the
canopy, with its heavy weight, must quickly descend upon the unfortunate
sleeper, who would be smothered beneath it in a few seconds. Who had
planned and executed this murderous device?

There was not a soul to be seen.

"We will take Mr. Cressley into another room and then come back," I said
to the housekeeper. "Is there one where we can place him?"

"Yes, sir," was the instant reply; "there's a room on the next floor
which was got ready for you."

"Capital," I answered; "we will convey him there at once."

We did so, and after using some restoratives, he came to himself. When
he saw me he gazed at me with an expression of horror on his face.

"Am I alive, or is it a dream?" he said.

"You are alive, but you have had a narrow escape of your life," I
answered. I then told him how I had found him.

He sat up as I began to speak, and as I continued my narrative his eyes
dilated with an expression of terror which I have seldom seen equalled.

"You do not know what I have lived through," he said at last. "I only
wonder I retain my reason. Oh, that awful room! no wonder men died and
went mad there!"

"Well, speak, Cressley; I am all attention," I said; "you will be the
better when you have unburdened yourself."

"I can tell you what happened in a few words," he answered. "You know I
mentioned the horrid sort of presentiment I had about coming here at
all. That first night I could not make up my mind to sleep in the house,
so I went to the little inn at Brent. I received your telegram
yesterday, and went to meet you by the last train. When you did not
come, I had a tussle with myself; but I could think of no decent excuse
for deserting the old place, and so came back. My intention was to sit
up the greater part of the night arranging papers in the library. The
days are long now, and I thought I might go to bed when morning broke. I
was irresistibly sleepy, however, and went up to my room soon after one
o'clock. I was determined to think of nothing unpleasant, and got
quickly into bed, taking the precaution first to lock the door. I placed
the key under my pillow, and, being very tired, soon fell into a heavy
sleep. I awoke suddenly, after what seemed but a few minutes, to find
the room dark, for the moon must just have set. I was very sleepy, and I
wondered vaguely why I had awakened; and then suddenly, without warning,
and without cause, a monstrous, unreasonable fear seized me. An
indefinable intuition told me that I was not alone--that some horrible
presence was near. I do not think the certainty of immediate death could
have inspired me with a greater dread than that which suddenly came upon
me. I dared not stir hand nor foot. My powers of reason and resistance
were paralysed. At last, by an immense effort, I nerved myself to see
the worst. Slowly, very slowly, I turned my head and opened my eyes.
Against the tapestry at the further corner of the room, in the dark
shadow, stood a figure. It stood out quite boldly, emanating from itself
a curious light. I had no time to think of phosphorus. It never occurred
to me that any trick was being played upon me. I felt certain that I was
looking at my ancestor, Barrington Cressley, who had come back to
torture me in order to make me give up possession. The figure was that
of a man six feet high, and broad in proportion. The face was bent
forward and turned toward me, but in the uncertain light I could neither
see the features nor the expression. The figure stood as still as a
statue, and was evidently watching me. At the end of a moment, which
seemed to me an eternity, it began to move, and, with a slow and silent
step, approached me. I lay perfectly still, every muscle braced, and
watched the figure between half-closed eyelids. It was now within a
foot or two of me, and I could distinctly see the face. What was my
horror to observe that it wore the features of my agent Murdock.

"'Murdock!' I cried, the word coming in a strangled sound from my
throat. The next instant he had sprung upon me. I heard a noise of
something rattling above, and saw a huge shadow descending upon me. I
did not know what it was, and I felt certain that I was being murdered.
The next moment all was lost in unconsciousness. Bell, how queer you
look! Was it--was it Murdock? But it could not have been; he was very
ill in bed at Liverpool. What in the name of goodness was the awful
horror through which I had lived?"

"I can assure you on one point," I answered; "it was no ghost. And as to
Murdock, it is more than likely that you did see him."

I then told the poor fellow what I had discovered with regard to the
agent, and also my firm conviction that Wickham was at the bottom of
it.

Cressley's astonishment was beyond bounds, and I saw at first that he
scarcely believed me; but when I said that it was my intention to search
the house, he accompanied me.

We both, followed by Mitchell, returned to the ill-fated room; but,
though we examined the tapestry and panelling, we could not find the
secret means by which the villain had obtained access to the chamber.

"The carriage which brought me here is still waiting just outside the
lodge gates," I said. "What do you say to leaving this place at once,
and returning, at least, as far as Carlton? We might spend the remainder
of the night there, and take the very first train to Liverpool."

"Anything to get away," said Cressley. "I do not feel that I can ever
come back to Cressley Hall again."

"You feel that now, but by-and-by your sensations will be different," I
answered. As I spoke I called Mitchell to me. I desired him to go at
once to the lodge gates and ask the driver of the wagonette to come
down to the Hall.

This was done, and half an hour afterwards Cressley and I were on our
way back to Carlton. Early the next morning we went to Liverpool. There
we visited the police, and I asked to have a warrant taken out for the
apprehension of Murdock.

The superintendent, on hearing my tale, suggested that we should go at
once to Murdock's house in Melville Gardens. We did so, but it was
empty, Murdock, his wife, and Wickham having thought it best to decamp.
The superintendent insisted, however, on having the house searched, and
in a dark closet at the top we came upon a most extraordinary
contrivance. This was no less than an exact representation of the
agent's head and neck in wax. In it was a wonderfully skilful imitation
of a human larynx, which, by a cunning mechanism of clockwork, could be
made exactly to simulate the breathing and low moaning of a human being.
This the man had, of course, utilized with the connivance of his wife
and Wickham in order to prove an alibi, and the deception was so
complete that only my own irresistible curiosity could have enabled me
to discover the secret. That night the police were fortunate enough to
capture both Murdock and Wickham in a Liverpool slum. Seeing that all
was up, the villains made complete confession, and the whole of the
black plot was revealed. It appeared that two adventurers, the worst
form of scoundrels, knew of Cressley's great discovery in Western
Australia, and had made up their minds to forestall him in his claim.
One of these men had come some months ago to England, and while in
Liverpool had made the acquaintance of Murdock. The other man, Wickham,
accompanied Cressley on the voyage in order to keep him in view, and
worm as many secrets as possible from him. When Cressley spoke of his
superstition with regard to the turret room, it immediately occurred to
Wickham to utilize the room for his destruction. Murdock proved a ready
tool in the hands of the rogues. They offered him an enormous bribe.
And then the three between them evolved the intricate and subtle details
of the crime. It was arranged that Murdock was to commit the ghastly
deed, and for this purpose he was sent down quietly to Brent disguised
as a journeyman the day before Cressley went to the Hall. The men had
thought that Cressley would prove an easy prey, but they distrusted me
from the first. Their relief was great when they discovered that I could
not accompany Cressley to the Hall. And had he spent the first night
there, the murder would have been committed; but his nervous terrors
inducing him to spend the night at Brent foiled this attempt. Seeing
that I was returning to Liverpool, the men now thought that they would
use me for their own devices, and made up their minds to decoy me into
Murdock's bedroom in order that I might see the wax figure, their
object, of course, being that I should be forced to prove an alibi in
case Murdock was suspected of the crime. The telegram which reached me
at Prince's Hotel on my return from London was sent by one of the
ruffians, who was lying in ambush at Brent. When I left Murdock's house,
the wife informed Wickham that she thought from my manner I suspected
something. He had already taken steps to induce the cab-driver to take
me in a wrong direction, in order that I should miss my train, and it
was not until he visited the stables outside the Prince's Hotel that he
found that I intended to go by road. He then played his last card, when
he telegraphed to the inn at Carlton to stop the horses. By Murdock's
means Wickham and his confederate had the run of the rooms at the Hall
ever since the arrival of Wickham from Australia, and they had rigged up
the top of the old bedstead in the way I have described. There was,
needless to say, a secret passage at the back of the tapestry, which was
so cunningly hidden in the panelling as to baffle all ordinary means of
discovery.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

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WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED.





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