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´╗┐Title: An Eye for an Eye
Author: Le Queux, William, 1864-1927
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "An Eye for an Eye" ***

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An Eye for an Eye, by William Le Queux.

________________________________________________________________________



________________________________________________________________________
AN EYE FOR AN EYE, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

CHAPTER ONE.

THE MYSTERY MAN.

"Hush!  Think, if you were overheard!"

"Well, my dear fellow, I only assert what's true," I said.

"I really can't believe it," observed my companion, shaking his head
doubtfully.

"But I'm absolutely satisfied," I answered.  "The two affairs,
mysterious as they are, are more closely connected than we imagine.  I
thought I had convinced you by my arguments.  A revelation will be made
some day, and it will be a startling one--depend upon it."

"You'll never convince me without absolute proof--never.  The idea is
far too hazy to be possible.  Only a madman could dream such a thing."

"Then I suppose I'm a madman?"  I laughed.

"No, old chap.  I don't mean any insult, of course," my friend the
journalist, a youngish, dark-haired man, hastened to assure me.  "But
the whole thing is really too extraordinary to believe."

We were seated together one June morning some years ago, in a train on
the Underground Railway, and had been discussing a very remarkable
occurrence which had been discovered a few days before--a discovery that
was a secret between us.  Scarcely, however, had he uttered his final
denunciation of my theory when the train ran into the sulphurous
ever-murky station of Blackfriars, for the electrification of the line
was not then completed: and promising to continue our argument later, he
bade me good-bye, sprang out, and hastened away in the crowd of
silk-hatted City men on their way to their offices.

He was rather tall, aged about thirty, with a well-cut, clever face, a
complexion unusually dark, a well-trimmed black moustache, and a smart
gait which gave him something of a military bearing.  Yet his cravat was
habitually tied with carelessness, and he usually wore a light overcoat
except through the month of August.  His name was Richard Cleugh, one of
the sharpest men in Fleet Street, being special reporter of London's
most up-to-date evening paper, the _Comet_.

When alone, I sat back in the ill-lit railway carriage and, during my
short journey to Cannon Street, reflected deeply.

The affair was, as he had said, absolutely bewildering.

Indeed, this chain of curious facts, this romance of love and devotion,
of guile, intrigue, and of the cardinal sins which it is my intention to
here record, proved one of the strangest that has ever occurred in our
giant London.  It was an absolute mystery.  Readers of newspapers know
well the many strange stories told in courts of justice, or unearthed by
the untiring "liner" and the reporter who is a specialist in the
discovery of crime.  Yet when we walk the streets of our Metropolis,
where the fevered crowd jostles in the mad race of life, there is more
romance around us, and of a character far more extraordinary than any
that has ever appeared in the public prints.

The secrets of London's ever-throbbing heart, and her hidden and
inexplicable mysteries which never get into the papers, are legion.

This is one of them.

In order to understand the facts aright, it is necessary to here explain
that I, Frank Urwin, am myself a member of that ubiquitous and much
maligned profession, journalism, being engaged at the time of the
opening of this narrative as special reporter of a highly respectable
London daily newspaper--a journal which was so superior that it never
allowed itself to make any sensational statement.  Its conductors as
studiously avoided sensationalism as they did libel, and although we
were very often in possession of "startling facts," and "sensational
statements" which would have sold the paper, and caused it to be quoted
next morning up and down the country, yet we of the staff, forbidden to
write anything so undignified, kept our information to ourselves, or, as
was once rumoured, the office boy, a thrifty youth, went forth and
calmly sold it to one of our more enterprising rivals.  Hence, owing to
the heaviness of its articles, which usually contained "chunks" of
foreign quotations, and the paucity of its news, the paper was dubbed by
its staff "the Magazine."

Before being appointed to this pseudo-newspaper, where, by the way, work
was light and remuneration good, I had been for several years engaged
upon one of those enterprising evening journals who print their
"specials" on tinted paper, and by reason of my constant investigations
I had become well-known to the police, and perhaps something of a
specialist in the revealing of hidden facts and the unravelling of
mysteries.

Dick Cleugh was my most intimate friend, for we shared chambers in
Gray's Inn, a rather dingy and typical bachelor's abode, be it said; but
it had the advantage of being in close proximity to Fleet Street, and
situated as we were, flying all over London clay after day, we could not
afford to live out in the peculiarly journalistic suburb of Brixton.
Our little flat contained a very sad and shabby sitting-room--in which
stood a couple of writing-tables whereat we often worked, joining in,
and re-echoing, each other's imprecations--a couple of bedrooms and a
small box-room which, containing a gas-stove over which the diurnal
chops were fried, was termed by the Inn authorities a kitchen.  We,
however, irreverently termed it "the sink."  Old Mrs. Joad, a worthy old
soul who lived across in Fetter Lane, "did for" us, and was known as
"the Hag," on account of her _passe_ and extremely _bizarre_ appearance.
Her duties were not very onerous, consisting of preparing our morning
tea, "doing up" the rooms, cooking the eternal chops or the everlasting
steaks at six, when, our respective "special editions" having gone to
press, we both returned hungry to our dens, and lastly in drinking our
whisky.  She preferred gin, but took whisky in order to put us to no
inconvenience.

Cleugh was one of the queer figures in journalistic London.  Essentially
of the Bohemian type, easy-going and possessed of a quaint, dry humour,
many were the stories told in Fleet Street of his utter disregard for
the _convenances_.  Shrewd, witty, clever, well-educated, he was no
respecter of persons.  If he went forth to make an inquiry for his
journal, he hesitated at nothing.  With the constant companionship of an
extremely foul briar pipe, it was his habit to "interview" people and
obtain "latest details" of the day's sensation without removing it from
his lips, and it was well-known down at the Press Club, that dingy but
interesting institution in Wine Office Court, that on one field-day at
Aldershot he had actually chatted with the Commander-in-Chief, pipe in
mouth, and afterwards put the conversation "on the wire" in the form of
an interview.  When having nothing to do he would clean that pipe for
recreation, and such operation usually caused a rapid exit from the
vicinity.  Known to all in Fleet Street as "the Mystery Man," he was
clever-looking and dignified, and could snuff out an uncommunicative
secretary, or a pompous policeman, with his marvellous control of
expressions, sarcastic without being abusive.  He was undoubtedly "a
smart man"--and to be smart in journalism nowadays requires a good deal
more than ordinary intelligence.  An ex-Jesus man, he had been a True
Blue, been ploughed for the Army, studied medicine, and travelled pretty
widely, until having been a brilliant failure he had drifted into
journalism, like so many other men have drifted, commencing as an
outside contributor, or "liner," and eventually, by dint of the
swiftness and marvellous tact and ability with which he got at the
bottom of the inquiries he made, he joined the regular staff of a
popular evening sheet--which, by reason of having once tried the
experiment of printing on scented paper, was known in press circles as
"The Stinker"--and subsequently became chief of the reporting staff of
the _Comet_--as smart a staff as could be found in London.

In common with many other men in Fleet Street, that never-sleeping world
of tape and flimsy, Dick had one failing--he had a penchant for a
particular brand of whisky sold at the _Cheese_, the ancient house of
steak-pudding fame, but he was always moderate, for his great pride was
that his sub-editors could place the greatest reliance in him, as indeed
they could.  Dick Cleugh was certainly smart, even though his hair was
often unkempt and a bundle of copy-paper usually poked out of the
side-pocket of his well-worn overcoat.  Over and over again had he
proved himself a very brilliant pressman and had startled London by the
"latest details" he had elicited where the police had failed.

I had arrived at our chambers about six, after a heavy day.  I had
visited Barking and Wandsworth, and had made an inquiry at Hammersmith,
three districts far afield from one another, therefore I felt fagged and
hungry.  The Hag was engaged in fizzling the usual daily steak in the
gas fumes, filling the place with a decidedly appetising odour;
nevertheless, between Dick and I there was an arrangement that neither
should eat without the other, unless a telegram arrived announcing a
protracted absence.  Therefore I lit a cigarette, cast myself into the
trifle rickety but very comfortable armchair, and waited by the open
window.  I was just a trifle melancholy that evening, for there had come
back to me recollections of a love-bond long since severed, of a face
which was once very dear to me.  But I was a lonely bachelor now.  All
was of the past.  Soon, however, as I sat thinking, I saw Cleugh
hurrying across the square, his silk hat, a trifle rusty, tilted at the
back of his head, and a few moments later he burst merrily into the
room, saying--

"Sorry to keep you so long, old chap, but we brought out an extra
to-night.  There's a bit of a row down in Parliament."  Then, calling to
Mrs. Joad, who was pottering in the "sink" beyond, he said, "Come along,
mother.  Look sharp with the horseflesh!"

We sat down and commenced our meal, while he, overflowing with spirits,
told me how he had been out on an inquiry near to the _Welsh Harp_,
spending a very pleasant afternoon there, and how he meant to "write it
up" for the "mornings."  The old instinct of the "liner" was still upon
him, and on his littered table he always kept his agate stylus and oiled
tissue, known as "flimsy," his "blacks" and his square of tin whereon to
write.  The sub-editors of the morning papers, the judges of next day's
intelligence, could always rely on Dick Cleugh's "stuff," therefore they
used it, and he profited at the rate of a penny farthing per line.  He
was, in brief, purveyor of sensations to the newspaper-reading public.

"I'm going to take Lil out to-night," my companion said between
mouthfuls of steak, for he was ravenously hungry.  "Smart girl, Lil."

"Yes," I answered.  "She's really awfully nice.  By Jove! old chap, I
envy you."

The Mystery Man smiled contentedly with a piece of meat poised
gracefully on his fork, then he began humming the latest love-song which
the barrel-organs had made popular, beating time with his fork, at the
same time placing his hand upon his heart in true operatic style.

This proceeding was, however, interrupted by the entrance of the Hag
bearing a telegram for me.  On opening it I found it contained only the
one word "Come," signed by the initial "P."

I tossed it across to my companion without comment, and as I did so was
surprised to notice a strange, puzzled look upon his dark face.

He glanced at it, then handing it back to me, exclaimed--"Wonder what's
up at Kensington?"

"Something unusual, or Patterson wouldn't have wired," I said.

"You'll go, of course?"

"Yes.  I'll just see what it looks like, and if there's anything in it
I'll let you know."

"Well, old dawdler," he laughed, "if it's a good thing, leave a bit of
the latest intelligence for me to pick up for my early edition
to-morrow.  To-night I can't disappoint Lily, you know.  She's a good
girl, and never worries."

"I'll tell you all about it when I come back; then you can write up
something in readiness for to-morrow.  If it's a mystery my people won't
touch it, you know."

"Of course," he said.  "Your staff is only paid to look pleasant."

The mysterious telegram had come from the police headquarters at
Kensington, an early intimation that something unusual had occurred.  In
years of reporting in London I had become friendly with many police
inspectors and detectives, and had long ago made arrangements with some
of them whereby they would send me a wire by day, or a line by
boy-messenger at night with information of the latest "sensation."  The
reason why all were signed with initials was because such intimation was
contrary to the order of the Chief Commissioner.

I therefore left Dick sucking his foul briar, and, taking a motor-bus to
Kensington, entered the police-station, which stands back hidden in a
courtyard opposite St. Mary Abbot's Church.  In the charge-room, with
its bare, grey-painted walls, its steel-railed dock for prisoners, its
loud-ticking clock, and its desk, whereon the oblong charge-book lay
open, I found my old friend Inspector Patterson in earnest conversation
with two men of the working class, who spoke with a strong Cockney
accent and addressed him familiarly as "guv'nor."  They were evidently
policemen's noses, or, in criminal parlance, "narks."

"Good evening, Mr. Urwin," the inspector exclaimed, putting forth his
big hand.  He was a tall, fair-moustached, easy-going fellow, an
excellent officer, tender-hearted where the deserving poor was
concerned, but harsh and unbending towards the habitual offender.  From
constable, as I had first known him in the T or Hammersmith Division, he
had been moved to St. Luke's, to Paddington, to Leman Street and to Bow
Street, until, owing to the marks which various magistrates had made
upon his charge sheets, he had now at last risen to the rank of
first-class inspector.

He was discreet in his every action, therefore he did not refer to the
telegram he had sent me lest any of the men should overhear, but when we
had chatted for a few moments he whispered--

"Go over to the bar at High Street Railway Station and wait there for
me.  I want to see you very particularly."

I nodded.  Then, after some further conversation, I left him and
wandered across to the refreshment room he had indicated.

CHAPTER TWO.

THE PENNY IN PAPER.

About twenty minutes elapsed before Patterson rejoined me, but
expressing a fear that we might be overheard there, we went forth
together and strolled along High Street, until, coming to a quiet
turning which, I think, led past the workhouse, we strolled along it,
and there he commenced his explanation.

"The fact is," he said in a nervous, hushed voice, "there's been a most
extraordinary occurrence here to-night.  The mystery is the strangest in
all my experience, and I've made inquiries into one or two in my time,
as you know."

"Tell me all about it," I said, my curiosity whetted.

"I wish I could, my dear fellow," he answered.

"I mean, tell me all the known facts."

"Nothing is known--save the discovery," he replied.  "As soon as it
became known I wired to you.  When the papers get hold of it, it will
make the greatest sensation ever known in London."

"Well, that's saying a good deal," I remarked.  "Who made the
discovery?"

"I did," he answered, adding quickly, "but don't mention me, or the
superintendent may suspect me of giving you information.  He already has
a suspicion that I'm a bit too friendly with you gentlemen of the press.
A contravention of the Commissioner's orders against giving information
to the papers might get me carpeted up at the Yard, you know."

"And the discovery?"  I asked impatiently.  "What's its nature?"

"Most astounding," he replied, with a bewildered look.  "I'm a police
officer, Urwin," he added hoarsely, "and I'm not often unnerved.  But
to-night, by Jove!  I'm upset--altogether upset.  The whole affair is so
devilish uncanny and unnatural."

"Tell me the story," I urged.  "If it is so strange the evening papers
will have a good time to-morrow."

"No, no," he cried in quick alarm.  "You must publish nothing yet--
nothing.  You understand that I give you these facts only on condition
that you promise not to publish any thing until I give you permission.
You alone will know of it.  We must preserve the utmost secrecy.  Not a
word must leak out yet.  You understand in what an awkward position you
would place me were you to publish anything of this affair."

"Of course.  I promise you to keep the matter a strict secret," I
answered.  "There are many cases in which the publication of the details
of a crime might defeat the efforts of the police, and this I supposed
to be one of them."

"Well," he said, "I made the discovery in a most curious manner.  Just
before seven o'clock this evening, just as it was growing dark, I was
returning to the station after visiting the `fixed-point' at the corner
of Earl's Court Road.  You know the spot--just opposite Holland Park."

I nodded.  I knew that particular street-corner where Earl's Court Road
joined Kensington Road quite well.

"I had previously been my usual round through Campden Hill Road and
Holland Walk, and was strolling back along the main Kensington Road,
past that terrace of houses Upper Phillimore Place, when my attention
was suddenly arrested by seeing on the steps leading from the pavement
up to the front garden of one of the houses a small object moving.  It
was inside the gate, and in the dim half-light I bent to examine it.
What do you think it was?"

"Don't know," I replied.  "Don't ask riddles--describe facts."

"Well, it was the very last thing one would dream of finding on a London
doorstep--a small, strangely-marked snake."

"A snake!"  I echoed.  "You didn't arrest it for being found without
visible means of subsistence, I suppose?"

"No," he answered, controlling the smile which played about his lips.
"But the thing's too serious for joking, as you'll recognise when I've
told you all.  Well, the squirming reptile, as soon as it saw me, coiled
itself round, and with head erect and swelled, commenced hissing
viciously.  I saw that there was considerable danger in a thing like
that being at large, and surmising that it had escaped from the house,
having been kept in captivity by somebody fond of such pets, I opened
the gate, passed it, not, however, without it making a dart at me, and
walking up to the door, rang the bell.  The house was in total darkness,
but daylight had only just faded, and in many of the houses in the same
terrace the gas in the hall had not yet been lit.  I rang and rang, but
there was no response.  In a large house of that character it seemed
strange that no servant was about.  Indeed, most of the houses there,
large, roomy and old-fashioned, let furnished apartments, but this one
seemed to be superior to its neighbours, inasmuch as it has a balcony on
the first floor, and the small front garden is well-kept in comparison
to the patches of bald, weedy grass with which the others are content.
As I stood on the doorstep, trying to arouse the inmates, I watched the
reptile squirming about the paved path, apparently enjoying its liberty
immensely.  I placed my ear attentively at the door, trying to detect
some sound of movement, but failed, until suddenly I heard within the
ringing of an electric bell, subdued by reason of the closed door.  It
was certain that, after all, some one was within."

"Was your summons answered?"  I asked eagerly.

"No.  I rang fully a dozen times, but nobody came.  It occurred to me
that within might be an invalid, and that, hearing my ring, he or she
had rung the bell to the kitchen, but the servants were absent.  There
was an area door, so I descended, and tried that.  The handle yielded.
It was unlocked.  Therefore I pushed it open and went in, though I was
certainly not prepared for the discovery I afterwards made.  As I
entered, the electric bell commenced ringing again, but it was
apparently above me, on the ground floor, and not in the kitchen where I
stood.  In the cooking-stove the fire was dying out, and there were
other signs that servants had been about recently.  Finding no one in
the basement I ascended to the first floor, when there greeted my
nostrils a most delicious fragrance, very similar to the incense which
the Roman Catholics burn.  The place smelt like the Brompton Oratory."

"Well, what did you do next?"  I asked, excited at his extraordinary
narrative.

"I searched the two big rooms--a dining-room and a back sitting-room--on
the ground floor, but finding no one, I stood at the bottom of the
stairs and shouted, thinking to discover the whereabouts of the invalid
who had rung the bell.  There was no answer.  The place was dark, so I
struck a match, ascended to the first floor and entered the front room,
which proved to be a good-sized, well-furnished drawing-room, dimly lit
by the street-lamp opposite shining through the windows.  At the further
end, suspended from the ceiling, a curious lamp was burning in red
glass, just like those one sees in Roman Catholic churches, and on
examining it I found it to be a little float in oil, so arranged that it
would burn continuously for many days and nights without attention.  It
looked strange and weird, a red spot in the darkness at the end of the
room; but what was stranger and more amazing was a discovery I made a
moment later when, my eyes having grown used to the semi-obscurity of
the room, I discerned two human forms, one that of a woman lying back in
an armchair as if asleep, and the other a man, who had fallen close by
and was lying outstretched upon the carpet.  Even the faint light of the
match I struck told me that both were dead, and so startled was I by
this unexpected revelation that with scarcely a second glance round the
weird place I hastened downstairs and left by the front door."

"You went on to the station at once, I suppose?"

"Yes," he answered; then after a pause he looked straight into my face,
adding, "but to tell the truth, Urwin, you and I are the only persons
who know of this affair.  I haven't reported it."

"Haven't reported it?"  I echoed.  "Why not?  Delay may prevent the
mystery being unravelled."

"I know it's absurd and foolish," he faltered in an unsteady voice, "but
the fact is, I entertain a deep-rooted superstition about snakes.  My
poor wife was always dreaming of snakes before she died, and strangely
enough, whenever I have seen those reptiles in my dreams some bad luck,
catastrophe or bereavement has always fallen upon me immediately
afterwards."

"It isn't like you to speak thus, Patterson," I said, knowing him to be
a fearless man who more than once had boldly faced a burglar's revolver.

"I really don't know what to do," he said.  "It's nearly two hours ago
since I entered the place.  I was so upset when I came out that I went
to the telegraph office and wired to you, in the hope that you might be
able to suggest some plan of action."

"Report at once and let's thoroughly investigate it," I said promptly.

"No.  I can't report it on account of that snake.  If I did, I feel
assured that some fatality would fall upon me."

"You're unnerved by what you've seen," I said.  "It certainly was not a
nice position to unexpectedly find oneself alone with the dead in a dark
deserted house like that.  In any case, however, the matter is a queer
one and must be sifted."

"Yes," he said, "it appears to be a most remarkable affair."

"Well," I exclaimed, "if you are determined not to report it just at
present I'm ready to go with you and search the place.  The area door is
still unlocked, you say?"

He hesitated, pale and agitated.  The effect of this discovery upon him
had been really remarkable.

"Yes, the door is still unlocked, of course," he said reflectively, "but
personally I don't care about returning."

"Rubbish, my dear chap," I exclaimed.  "I don't believe in
superstitions.  The finding of the snake was curious, no doubt, but this
isn't the first time snakes have been found in the streets of London.
Lots have been discovered about Covent Garden Market, having come over
in baskets of fruit."

He was silent.  Evidently his discovery had been a very unusual one.  I
know well the row of houses he had indicated, the most old-fashioned,
perhaps, in the district, for they had formed a part of old Kensington
over a century ago, and even now the great iron extinguishers ornamented
some of the doorways, mute remembrancers of the days of sedan chairs and
linkmen.

"Let's go and explore the place, and report afterwards," I urged, my
appetite for adventure whetted by his strong disinclination to return.
"I'll report it as a discovery of my own if you are disinclined to do
so."

"Very well," he answered at last, "let's go.  But before we enter I tell
you that it is a very mysterious house.  Recollect that strange ringing
I heard."

"We'll look into all that later on," I said, surprised at his unusual
agitation.  There, facing one of the busiest thoroughfares of the West
End, little harm surely could come to us.  "Come along," I said, and
thus persuaded, he quickened his footsteps.  We passed along Abingdon
Villas into Earl's Court Road, where, meeting a constable on duty, he
borrowed his lamp; then turning into the Kensington Road we at length
reached the house of mystery, which, as he had said, was a
gloomy-looking place in total darkness.

We peered eagerly inside the gate, but could distinguish no sign of the
reptile which had so strangely attracted my friend's attention in the
first instance.  It had no doubt withdrawn among the plants and shrubs
in the little smoke-dried garden, and was watching us unseen.  Without
hesitation, in order not to attract the curiosity of any passer-by whose
attention might be arrested by Patterson's uniform, we walked straight
to the area door, and gaining the kitchen, at once lit the gas.  As he
had said, there was every sign that the place had been recently
occupied, but with only a cursory examination of the basement we passed
upstairs to the dining-room.  Here we also lit the gas and saw that the
table had been laid for three persons in a manner quite luxurious, with
real silver, cut glass and tiny vases of fresh flowers arranged
artistically.  Beside each plate were blue glass finger-bowls filled
with water which gave out a strong perfume of roses.  The chairs had
been placed, and the _hors d'oeuvres_, olives, anchovies and caviare
were already on the table, showing that all preparations for dinner had
been made.  Yet strangely enough, in the kitchen the greater part of the
meat and vegetables remained uncooked.

From this room we passed into the smaller one adjoining, lighting the
gas as we went, but this seemed to have been used as a smoking-room, and
contained nothing of note.

It was, however, in the drawing-room above where we made the most
astounding discoveries.  The apartment was spacious for the size of the
house, upholstered in pale-blue with furniture of expensive character,
and large growing palms placed on stands.  In the centre was a great
circular settee, and in the corners wide soft divans of pale-blue velvet
with golden fringe.  Comfort and luxury had been studied by whoever had
furnished the place, for as we lit one of the side gas-brackets we saw
that it was really a very artistic room, the floor covered with a real
Turkey carpet of softest hues, while the few paintings on the walls were
choice examples of well-known artists.  At the end opposite the grate
was suspended from the ceiling by three gilt chains the mysterious
little red lamp, burning steadily without a flicker, and beneath it,
fallen back in a large armchair, was a woman, whose face, although waxen
white, was eminently beautiful.  The paleness of death was upon her, yet
her handsome head with its wealth of gold brown hair was pillowed upon
the cushion of yellow silk, and upon the cold, slightly-parted lips
there played a strange, bitter smile.  She was young, twenty or so,
dressed in an artistically-made gown of pale mauve, trimmed with lace.
Her teeth were even and perfect; her cheeks round and well-rnoulded; her
chin slightly protruding, and a piquant little nose; but that smile in
death seemed revolting in its hideousness.  Her eyes large, of a deep
blue, once luminous as stars no doubt, but now dull and filmy, were wide
open, as though gazing out upon us in an endeavour to speak and tell us
the truth of the strange and tragic occurrence.  I looked upon her
bewildered, dumbfounded.

Not three yards away, stretched at her feet, was a man of about
thirty-five, well-dressed in frock coat and light-coloured trousers,
with collar and cravat of the latest mode, and wearing on his cold,
stiff hand a ring set with a single diamond of unusual lustre.  His face
was towards the carpet, and while I held the lamp, Patterson bent and
turned him over.  We then saw that he was dark and good-looking, a
gentleman evidently, although from the upward curl of his moustache and
his smartness of attire he appeared to be something of a fop.

"It looks a good deal like murder and suicide," Patterson exclaimed,
still bending over him.  "I wonder who he is?"

"There's initials on his sleeve-links," I said, for I had detected an
engraved cipher upon the plain gold buttons at his wrists.

"They're two `K's' intertwined, surmounted by a crest," my companion
said in a strange voice.  "I wonder what's on him?" and he proceeded to
search the breast-pocket of the dead man's coat.  The contents, which we
afterwards examined together, consisted only of two prospectuses of new
companies, an amber cigar-tube mounted in gold, and the envelope of a
letter addressed in a woman's hand to "George Grove, Poste Restante,
Charing Cross," and bearing the Manchester post-mark of three days
before.  The letter had unfortunately been destroyed; only the envelope
remained.  But we both recollected that persons who have letters
addressed to the Poste Restante do not usually give their correct names.

In one of the vest pockets were three ten-pound notes folded carelessly
together, while in the trousers pockets was a quantity of loose silver.
Beyond that there was nothing else upon him.  Contrary to the effect of
death upon his unfortunate companion, his face was slightly distorted,
the tip of the tongue protruding, and both hands clenched, showing that
he had endured a momentary spasm of agony as the last spark of life died
out, while from the fact that a small tripod table with painted
plate-glass top had been overturned and broken it seemed apparent that
he had staggered and clutched wildly at the first object within his
reach.

But on neither could we detect any wound, nor was there anything to show
the cause of death.  I examined the hand of the woman, a tiny, slim,
cold hand, the contact of which thrilled me by its chilliness, and saw
that her rings, set with emeralds, rubies and diamonds, were of the
finest quality.

"She's beautiful," Patterson observed, gazing down upon her.  "Perhaps
she was his wife."

"Perhaps," I said.  "Curious that they should have both died together in
this manner."

"They were evidently sitting here chatting before dinner, when both were
either murdered, or died suddenly before assistance could reach them.
She died before he did."

"What makes you think that?"  I asked quickly, my eyes wandering around
the large, comfortable room, the atmosphere of which was heavy with
fragrant odours.

"Because he placed that cushion beneath her head," answered the shrewd,
observant police-officer.  "He had kissed her, and she was in the act of
smiling at his last act of love when her heart suddenly failed, and soul
and body parted."

"And he died immediately afterwards, you think?"

"Yes, that's what I surmise.  What's your opinion?"

"I can form no theory at present," I answered, bewildered.  In the
course of years spent in the investigation of crime for journalistic
purposes I had had my wits sharpened, and rather prided myself upon the
soundness of the theories I propounded in the articles I wrote.
Patterson knew this, and probably for that reason had invoked my
companionship in this curious affair.

Together we made a searching examination of the whole room, but there
was absolutely nothing to show the motive, or even the mode, of the
tragedy.  The absence of servants was of course extremely suspicious,
but neither of us attached much importance to that.  A close examination
of the scene was our present object, experience having taught that upon
the scene of most crimes there remains some trace of the assassin.  The
old saying that "Murder will out" is truer than the majority of people
believe, for even that night we had had a striking illustration in
Patterson's' attention being attracted by the snake in the gateway.

Beside the dead woman's chair was lying a handkerchief, a tiny square of
lawn and lace, which I picked up.  It emitted an odour very sweet and
subtle, such as I had never before smelt.

Patterson sniffed it, but placed it down.

"Some new scent," he said.  "Women are always going in for the latest
inventions in perfumes."

"But this is an extraordinary one," I said, again smelling it.
"Terribly strong, too," I added, for the odour had a strange,
half-intoxicating effect upon me.  The small red light steadily burning,
the fragrance of the incense, the two dead forms lying there, still and
cold, and the single gas-burner, hissing as it flared, combined to
present a weird, lurid picture, each detail of which has ever since been
indelibly photographed upon my memory.

The smile of death upon that woman's lips was horrible.  That look of
hers has ever since haunted me, for now that I know the truth and have
realised all that had taken place in that room prior to the tragedy,
that laugh of derision has a significance which renders its recollection
bitter, gruesome, hideous.

I know not what prompted me at that moment, but bending again beside the
prostrate man I placed my hand inside his vest, recollecting that
sometimes tailors, adopting the French mode, made pockets there, and
that therein many men carried articles of value in secrecy and safety.

As I did so, I felt that there was a pocket in the lining, that it was
buttoned, and that there was something within.  Quickly I unbuttoned it
and drew forth a small packet wrapped in glazed writing-paper, dirty and
worn through being carried for a long time.  With care I opened it, and
inside found an object which caused us both to give vent to an
ejaculation of wonder.

It was simply a penny.

"His mascot, I suppose," remarked the inspector.  "A lucky coin."

"But it has no hole through it," I observed.

"The hole is of no importance.  The coin may have been given him for
luck," replied my companion.  "Lots of people believe in such things,
especially betting men."

"He was evidently very careful of it," I said, at the same time
searching and finding another pocket on the other side of the vest, and
from this I took a neat little cloth-covered case, not much larger than
those containing cigarette tubes, and found on opening it that it
contained a small hypodermic syringe, complete with its needles and
accessories.

"This shows that he was addicted to the morphia habit," I remarked.  "An
overdose, perhaps."

My friend, who had now recovered something of his coolness and
self-possession, took the tiny instrument and examined it carefully
beneath the gas-light.

"There's been no morphia in this lately," he said.  "It's quite dry, and
certainly hasn't been used to-day."

"Let's search the whole house," I suggested.  "We may find something
which will give us a clue as to who and what these people were.  Funny
that the servants don't come back, isn't it?"

"I don't expect they will," answered Patterson.

"Depend upon it that there's more mystery in this affair than we at
present suspect."

"Why?"

"Look at these," he said, passing over to me the three banknotes found
upon the dead man.  "They are spurious!"

No second glance was needed to convince me that he spoke the truth.
They were clever imitations of ten-pound notes, but the paper, the
despair of the forger, was thick and entirely different to that of the
genuine bank-note.

Again I glanced at that beautiful woman's face with its smile of mingled
ecstatic pleasure and bitterness.  Her sightless eyes seemed fixed upon
me, following me as I moved.

I drew back horrified, shuddering.  Her gaze was ghastly.

"It certainly is a most mysterious affair," I ejaculated again, glancing
around the place.  "You ought at once to report it."

"No," cried my companion quickly.  "The discovery must be yours.  You
must report it, Mr. Urwin."

"Why?"

"Because, as I've already told you, I fear to do so on account of the
snake."

I smiled at his curious objection, but an instant later grew serious
because of the sharp and sudden ringing of an electric bell somewhere on
the ground floor.  It was the bell my companion had heard when first
knocking at the door.

We both listened for a few moments while the ringing continued, until
with sudden resolve I dashed downstairs to ascertain where the bell was.
Without difficulty I found it, for there in the hall, revealed by the
gas-lamp we had lit, was a telephone instrument with its bell agitated
violently.

Without a second's delay I placed the receiver to my ear and gave the
usual signal--

"Hulloa!  Hulloa?"

The whirr and clicking stopped, and a voice, squeaky as that of an
elderly person, said petulantly--

"I've been ringing up for an hour or more.  What's wrong that you
haven't replied?  You're at fifty-eight, aren't you?"

"Yes," I answered, recollecting that fifty-eight was the number of that
house.  "Nothing is wrong.  Why?  Can't you be patient?"

"I felt uneasy," answered the mysterious voice apologetically.  "I
thought there might possibly have been some hitch as you haven't rung
up."

"No," I responded.  "None."

"Then of course it's all over?" inquired the voice.  I started at this
strange query.  This unknown inquirer was evidently in possession of the
truth, and believed himself to be talking to an accomplice.  He knew of
the commission of the crime, therefore it occurred to me that by the
exercise of due caution I might be able to discover his identity.

"Yes," I answered, breathless in excitement.

"Both?" asked the voice.

"Both," I responded.

"Good.  Then I shall see you at the place we arranged--eh?"

"Of course," I answered.  "But when?  I've forgotten."

"Forgotten!" echoed the squeaky voice in a tone of undisguised disgust.
"Take care, or you'll blunder yet.  You're a confounded idiot.  Why,
to-morrow at midday."

"I know I'm a fool," I replied.  "But in the excitement it's quite
slipped my memory where you said I was to meet you."

Then, holding the receiver tremblingly to my ear, I listened with quick
heart-beating for the response of that mysterious, far distant voice
which squeaked so strangely, sounding thin and high-pitched, more like
that of a woman than of a man.

"You're a confounded fool to waste time like this if you're still at
fifty-eight," said the voice.

"You've said so before," I responded.  "But where shall I meet you?"

CHAPTER THREE.

AN APPOINTMENT.

The voice answered at last--

"I'll meet you beside the lake in St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace
end, at twelve to-morrow.  Remember that."

"Very well," I responded eagerly.  "Anything more?"

"No," was the reply.  "Be careful how you get out, and where you go.  So
long!"

Then, next instant, I knew by the sound that the connexion had been
switched off.

"What's the matter?" asked Patterson, now beside me.

"Wait, and I'll tell you afterwards," I said, at the same time ringing
up again.

In response I was answered by a feminine voice at the Exchange, who
inquired what number I desired.

"Tell me, miss, who has just been speaking to me.  Kindly oblige me, as
it's most important."

There was silence for a few moments, then the female voice
inquired--"Are you there?" to which I responded.

"You were on a moment ago with 14,982, the public call-office at
Putney."

"How long was I on?"

"About ten minutes."

"Have I been on to the same place before this evening?"  I asked.

"No.  Several numbers have been ringing you up, but you haven't
replied."

"Who were they?"

"Oh, I really can't tell you now.  It's quite impossible.  I remember
that the call-office at Piccadilly Circus was one, and I think the one
in the Minories."

"They were all call-offices--no private persons?"

"I'm unable to say.  I've been on duty for the past four hours, and have
connected up thousands of numbers."

"Then you can't tell me anything else?"  I asked disappointedly.

"No.  I'm sorry I can't," replied the girl.

I was about to place the receiver on its hook when a sudden thought
occurred to me, and again I addressed her.

"This matter is a most urgent one," I said.  "Can't you ask at the
call-office for a description of the man who has just been speaking?"

"There's no one there.  It is merely an instrument placed in a passage
leading to some offices," was the reply.

I hung up the receiver, and turning to Patterson repeated the
conversation.

"Extraordinary," he ejaculated, when I had concluded.  "We must keep
that appointment.  The inquiry is plain proof that murder has been
committed, and further, that more than one person is in the secret."

"But is it not strange that this person, whoever he is, should dare to
telephone in that manner?"

"It certainly is a bold move," my companion answered, "but from his
conversation it is evident that the assassin promised to telephone to
him, and was either disturbed in his work and compelled to escape
hurriedly, or else forgot it altogether.  Again, it's plain that to
avoid detection the unknown man went from one call-office to another,
always ringing up to this house, and never obtaining a response until
you answered."

"His inquiry was certainly a guarded one."

"And your answers were smart, too," he laughed.  "You were careful not
to commit yourself."

"Do you think he'll keep the appointment?"  I asked eagerly.

"That remains to be seen," answered my friend, glancing at the
bull's-eye to see if it were burning well.  "If he's not a blunderer he
won't."

"Well, let's hope he does," I said.  "You would arrest him, of course?"

"I don't know," he answered doubtfully.  "We might learn more by keeping
observation upon him for a day or two."

"Well," I said, "we haven't yet searched the place thoroughly.  Let's
see what is above."

My companion followed me upstairs rather reluctantly, I thought, passing
the room where the mysterious tragedy had occurred and ascending to the
floor above.  There were four bedrooms, each well-furnished, but finding
that they contained nothing of a suspicious character we continued to
the top floor, where there were several smaller low-ceilinged rooms
opening from a narrow passage.  Two of them were evidently the sleeping
apartments of the servants, the third was filled with lumber, but the
fourth, which overlooked the back premises, long and narrow, was fitted
as a kind of workshop or laboratory.  A curious smell greeted our
nostrils as we opened the door--a smell very much like the perfume on
the dead woman's handkerchief.

We found a gas-jet and lit it, afterwards gazing round the place with
some surprise.  Upon shelves around the walls were various bottles
containing liquids; on the table stood two curious-looking globes of
bright steel, riveted like those of a steam-boiler, and connected by a
long tubular coil rolled into three consecutive spirals which ended with
a kind of nozzle.  From the fact that an electric battery and a lathe
also stood in the room we at once came to the conclusion that the master
of that house had been engaged in some scientific investigations.

From place to place we went, searching every corner for any written
document or letter, until at last I found, crumpled and cast into the
empty grate, an old envelope on which I read the address: "Professor
Douglas Dawson."

"At any rate we've got the name of the occupant of this place," I said,
handing my find to the police-officer.

"Dawson?" he repeated, "Dawson?  I fancy I've heard that name in
connexion with scientific discovery."

"I don't know," I said.  "If he's a well-known man we shall soon find
out all about him at the Royal Institution."

I was standing near the fireplace with the envelope still in my hand
when, of a sudden, I was startled by a strange scuttling noise near my
feet.

"Good heavens!" gasped Patterson, his eyes riveted on the spot.  "Look
there!  Look at that glass case!  There are snakes in it!"

I sprang away, and looking in the direction he indicated saw that a
glass case, standing on the ground, contained two great snakes with
beautiful markings of yellow and black.  Even as I looked they were
coiled, with their flat heads erect and their bead-like eyes shining
like tiny stars in the shadow, their bodies half-hidden in a blanket.

"Nice kind of pets, to keep in a house," observed Patterson.  "That's
one of them that's escaped into the garden, I expect."

"I quite agree," I said, "this place is decidedly the reverse of
cheerful.  Hadn't we better report at once?  There's been a mysterious
tragedy here, and immediate efforts should be made to trace the
assassin."

"But, my dear fellow, how do you know they've been murdered?" he argued.
"There's no marks of violence whatever."

"Not as far as we've been able to discover.  A doctor can tell us more
after the post-mortem," I responded.

There were many very strange features connected with this remarkable
discovery.  My friend's reluctance to commence an investigation, his
firm resolve not to report the discovery, the mysterious voice at the
telephone, the fact that some experimental scientist had his laboratory
in that house, and the revelation of the unaccountable tragedy itself,
were all so extraordinary that I stood utterly bewildered.

Absolutely nothing remained to show who were the pair lying dead, and no
explanation seemed possible of that strange red light burning there so
steadily, and unflickering.  By the appearance of the glass, and the
dust in the oil, the tiny lamp must have burned on incessantly for a
very long time.

Strange it was that there, within a few yards of one of London's great
arteries of traffic, that charming woman and her companion should have
been cut off swiftly and suddenly, without a hand being stretched forth
to save them.

In company we went downstairs, leaving the light in the laboratory still
burning, and re-entered the drawing-room to take a final glance around.
As I approached the prostrate body of the man I felt something beneath
my foot, and glancing down saw that some coppers had evidently fallen
from his pocket and were lying strewn about the carpet.  Then, having
remained a few minutes longer, we both went out by the door we had
entered, locking it and taking the key.

"We must report it, Patterson," I said.  "It certainly has some queer
and very extraordinary features."

"Yes," he responded; adding slowly, "did you notice anything strange up
in that top room where the chemicals and things were?"

"Yes, a good deal," I answered.  "It isn't every one who keeps snakes as
pets."

"I don't mean that," he answered.  "But did you notice on the table a
glassful of liquid, like water?"

"Yes."

"Well, that stuff was bubbling and boiling without any heat beneath."

"Perhaps the man who experiments there is a conjurer," I suggested,
smiling at his surprise at seeing liquid boil when exposed to air.
Police-officers know little of any other science save that of
self-defence.

"Now," he said seriously, as we strode forward together in the direction
of Kensington Church, "you must go to the station and report the
discovery as if made by you--you understand.  Remember, the snake
attracted your attention, you entered, found the man and woman lying
dead, lit the gas, searched the house, then left to get assistance, and
met me."

"That's all very well," I answered.  "But you forget that you borrowed
that lamp from one of your own men, and that I called on you first."

"Ah!" he gasped; turning slightly pale.  "I never thought of that!"

"Why don't you report it yourself?"  I urged.

"For superstitious reasons," he laughed nervously.

"Hang superstition!"  I cried.  Adding: "Of course, I'll report it if
you like, but it would be far better for you to do so and risk this
mysterious bad luck that you fear."

He was silent for a moment, thinking deeply, then answered in a strange,
hard voice,--

"Perhaps you're right, Urwin.  I--I'm a confounded fool to be afraid,"
and with an effort quite apparent he braced himself up and we entered
the police-station.  Ascending the stairs we were soon closeted with
Octavius Boyd, inspector of the Criminal Investigation Department
attached to that Division, a middle-aged, dark-bearded, pleasant-faced
man in plain-clothes, who, as soon as he heard our story, was
immediately ready to accompany us, while five minutes later the clicking
of the telegraph told that news of our discovery was being transmitted
to headquarters at New Scotland Yard.

Patterson took down the _London Directory_, and turning it up at Upper
Phillimore Place, found that the occupier of the house in question was
Andrew Callender.  He made inquiries in the section-house of the men off
duty as to what was known of that house, but only one constable made a
statement, and it was to the effect that he had, when on duty in
Kensington Road, seen a youngish lady with fair hair, whose description
tallied with that of the dead woman, come out and go across to the shops
on the opposite side of the road.

"Do you know anything of the servants?" inquired Patterson.

"Well, sir," the man answered, "one was a man, and the other a woman."

"How do you know?"

"Because the servant of the house next door told me so.  The woman was
the cook, and the man did the housework.  She said that the house was a
most mysterious one."

"Is she there now?" my friend asked.

"No, sir.  She was discharged a fortnight ago.  Dishonest, I think."

"And you don't know where she is?"

Boyd had by this time called one of his plain-clothes men, who had
obtained lamps, turning the dark slides over the flame, the
station-sergeant had carefully ruled a line and written something in
that remarkable register kept in every London police-station, wherein is
recorded every event which transpires in the district, from a tragedy to
the return of the sub-divisional inspector from his rounds, or the
grooming of the horses.  Then, after a short conversation with one of
the second-class inspectors, we all four, accompanied by a sergeant,
started for Upper Phillimore Place.

In order not to attract attention we separated.  Patterson walking with
me to the opposite side of the road, while the detectives walked
together, and the sergeant alone.  Little did the passers-by suspect
when they saw Patterson and me strolling leisurely along that we were on
our way to investigate what afterwards proved to be one of the strangest
and most remarkable mysteries that had ever puzzled the Metropolitan
Police.

CHAPTER FOUR.

THE THREE CARDS.

On reaching the house, Boyd, an expert officer who had spent years in
the investigation of crime, ascended with his subordinate to the
drawing-room, while we remained on the ground floor to complete our
search, the sergeant being stationed inside the hall.

Our further investigations were not very fruitful.  The fact that dinner
was laid for three indicated that a third person had been present, or
was expected.  The room did not differ from any other, except that it
was perhaps better furnished than one would have expected in such a
house, for although in a first-class and rather expensive neighbourhood
the row of houses had declined in popularity of late years, and was now
inhabited mostly by the lodging-house fraternity.

In moving about the room, however, my coat caught the plate laid for the
person who was to occupy the head of the table, and it was nearly swept
off.  I saved it, however, but beneath was revealed a plain white card
which, until that moment, had been concealed.  Patterson caught sight of
it at the same moment, and taking it in my hand I examined it, finding
that it was a plain visiting card of lady's size, one side being blank,
and other bearing a roughly-drawn circle in ink.

There was nothing else.

"That's certainly curious," my companion remarked, looking over my
shoulder.

"Yes," I said, lifting a second plate to see what was there concealed,
and finding another card, in all appearances similar, plain, but bearing
across its reverse a single straight line drawn with a pen.

"By Jove!" observed Patterson, lifting the other plate, and finding a
third card, "this is certainly very strange."

He turned the card over, but it was blank on both sides.

"I wonder what game is this, or whether these have any connexion with
the crime?"  I exclaimed, holding all three of the cards in my hand,
turning them over and examining them carefully beneath the light.  "By
the ink they have the appearance of having been prepared long ago.
See!"  I added, holding one of them towards him, "the corners of this
one are slightly turned up and soiled.  It has been carried in some
one's pocket, and is not a fresh card."

Again Patterson took it and examined it.  It was the one with the line
drawn across it.  The others were quite clean, as if just taken fresh
from a packet.

"There's some mystery about these," he said reflectively, as though
speaking to himself.  "If we could but solve it we should likewise solve
the problem of the crime, depend upon it."

"No doubt," I assented.  "Each of them have some meaning, occult but
extraordinary.  They were turned face downwards so that the accidental
removal of the plate would not reveal the device upon them."

"The devices are simple enough, but undoubtedly they have some hidden
meaning," my friend said.

"They were evidently concealed there, and the three persons,
unsuspecting, were to discover them when the first plates were removed,"
I suggested.

He placed them together on the table, saying--

"Better let Boyd see them when he comes down.  The affair grows more
queer and complicated as we proceed."

"Don't you recollect," I said suddenly, "in the dead man's pocket was a
card exactly similar, but quite blank.  You threw it into the
fireplace."

"Ah! of course," he answered quickly.  "That fact shows that he had
something to do with these mysterious symbols.  I wonder what is their
real meaning."

"I wonder," I said.  "As you say, the mystery grows each moment more and
more inexplicable.  Curious, too, that the snake in the garden path
should have directed your attention to it."

"No," he said quickly, his face in an instant pale and serious, "don't
mention that, there's a good fellow.  I'm trying not to think of it; for
when I recollect all that it means to me I'm unnerved."

"Bah!"  I laughed.  "Surely there's nothing to fear.  It only shows that
however careful the assassin is to cover his crime it must be unearthed
sooner or later.  The finger of Fate always points to the crime of
murder, however well it may be concealed."

"True," he sighed, his brows knit in serious thought.  "But the finger
of Fate has in this case shown me an omen of evil."

"You're a fool, Patterson," I said bluntly.  "You have here every chance
to distinguish yourself as a shrewd officer, yet you calmly stand by
talking of omens and all that rot."

"Yes," he answered.  "I know I'm an idiot, Mr. Urwin, but I can't help
it.  That's the worst of it."

"Well," I suggested, "while Boyd is upstairs, why not make inquiries of
the next-door neighbours regarding those who occupied this place?"

He at once acted on my suggestion, and together we went out and rang the
bell of the house adjoining on the right.  My friend's curious apathy in
this matter surprised me, for usually he was a quick, active fellow, who
prosecuted his inquiries methodically, and worked up evidence in a
manner that had more than once called forth the commendation of the
judge at the Old Bailey.  That night, however, he was plainly upset--
nervous, trembling and agitated, in a manner quite unusual to him.

Boyd, the keen-eyed, quick-witted detective inspector, had noticed this
when at the police-station, but Patterson had only replied--

"I'm a bit unwell, that's all."

Our summons at the house next door was answered by the occupier's wife,
a rather stout, white-haired, gaily-capped old lady named Luff.

The appearance of Patterson in uniform surprised her, but when she had
asked us in, and we were seated, he said--

"There is no occasion to be alarmed, madam.  I have merely called to
make an inquiry of you.  It is in your power to render us assistance in
a rather confidential matter regarding the occupiers of the house next
door--your neighbours on the left.  What do you know of them?"

"Nothing," she answered.  "They came about six months ago, a young lady
and a very old gentleman, with a single maid-servant.  They speak to no
one, and, as far as I have observed, have very few friends.  I have
often remarked to my son, who is a civil engineer, and now away making
the railway in China, that they are a mysterious couple.  What is wrong
with them?"

"Oh, it's simply a private matter," my companion answered carelessly,
not wishing to alarm the neighbourhood by news of our discovery.

"What is the old gentleman like?  Can you describe him?"  I inquired.
No doubt she took me for a detective, but at that moment this thought
did not occur to me.

"He is sixty, I should think, old and decrepit, with white hair, and
always walks with a stick."

"And the lady was his daughter?" suggested the inspector.

"I suppose her to be his daughter," she answered.  "The old man's name
is Dawson, I believe--at least one day a messenger-boy brought a note
here by mistake, addressed to Professor Dawson.  The daughter is a very
good pianist, and plays every morning regularly."

"They are well off, as far as you can judge?"  Patterson inquired with
his assumed careless air.

"No, I don't think they are, because my maid heard at Boucher's--the
grocer's across the way--that they owed a large bill which they couldn't
settle.  Again, people who have a house of that sort do not have coal by
the hundredweight taken down into the kitchen as they do."

Patterson nodded.  No more sure sign of a light purse is there than the
purchase of coal by the half-sack.  Yet the interior of that house, with
its well-laid dinner-table, certainly did not betray any sign of
poverty.  Indeed, I had noticed in the cellar a dusty stock of choice
wines, hocks, ports, and champagnes of expensive brands.

"You don't know the young lady's name, then?" asked my friend, after a
slight pause.

"If she's really his daughter it would, I suppose, be Dawson," she
replied with a smile.  "But I'm not certain, remember, as to either of
their names."

"Perhaps your servants may know something about them.  Servants
generally gossip and pick up information about one's neighbours, you
know."

"You are right," answered the affable old lady, "they gossip far too
much.  Unfortunately, however, both my servants are out at this moment."

We chatted on, but it was evident from her conversation that her
servants knew little beyond what she did.  One statement she made was
somewhat curious.  She alleged that a few nights before she was awakened
about two o'clock in the morning by hearing the loud shrill screams of a
woman who seemed to be in the room next hers in the adjoining house.
She could hear a man's voice talking low and gruffly, and three or four
times were the screams repeated, as if the woman were in excruciating
pain.

"What visitors came to the house?"  Patterson asked at length.

"Very few.  A youngish gentleman came sometimes.  He called the other
morning just as I was going out."

"Who admitted him?"

"The young lady herself."

Many more questions Patterson put to the old lady, but elicited no
noteworthy fact, except that two large, heavy trunks had been sent away
by Parcels Delivery a couple of days before.  Therefore, thanking Mrs.
Luff, who, of course, was extremely curious to know why the police were
taking such an active interest in her neighbour, we left and made
inquiries of the people in the adjoining house on the opposite hand.

It was a lodging-house and the owner, a rather surly old widow, was not
at all communicative.  What she told us amounted practically to what we
had already learnt.  She, too, had long ago set the old man and his
daughter down as mysterious persons, and her two servants had never been
able to find out anything regarding them.

So after nearly half an hour's absence we returned to the house of
mystery, watched, of course, by the persons in the houses on either
side.  None suspected a tragedy, but all remained at their windows
expecting to see somebody arrested.

In the dining-room we found Doctor Knowles, the police divisional
surgeon, who had been sent for by the police.  He had already examined
the bodies and was on the point of returning home.

"Well, doctor, what's your opinion?" asked Patterson.

"I can form none until after the post-mortem," answered the prim,
youngish, dark-moustached man in silk hat and frock coat, a typical
Kensington practitioner, who was known to be a great favourite with his
lady patients.

"Are there no marks of violence?"

"None," he responded.  "Although there seems no doubt that there has
been foul play, yet the means used to encompass their death remains an
entire mystery.  That laboratory, too, is a very remarkable feature."

"Why?"  I asked.

"Because the occupant of that place has made a discovery for which
scientists have for years striven in vain," the doctor replied.

"What is it?"

"You noticed those strange globes with the coil of tubing," he said.
"Well, from what I've found, it seems that the experimenter has invented
a means for the liquefaction of hydrogen in large quantities."

"Is that anything very remarkable?"  I asked, in my ignorance of recent
science.

"Remarkable!" he echoed.  "I should rather say it was.  The discovery
will create the greatest interest in the scientific world.  Other gases
have all been handled as true liquids in measurable quantities, while
until now hydrogen has only been seen in clouds or droplets, and never
collected into a liquid mass.  Upstairs, however, there is actually a
glass bowl of liquid hydrogen.  The experimenter, whoever he is, has
determined at last the exact temperature at which it will liquefy, and
thus a field for quite new researches, as also for new generalisations,
has been thrown wide open."

"But why is the discovery so very important?"  I asked, still puzzled at
the doctor's unusual enthusiasm.

"Briefly, because by it physicists and chemists can henceforward obtain
temperatures lying within thirty-five degrees from the so-called
absolute zero of temperature--minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit.  A
possibility is thus given to study physical bodies in the vicinity of
that point, which represents, so to say, the death of matter--that is,
absence of the molecular vibrations which we describe as heat."

This explanation, technical though it was, interested me.  I knew Doctor
Lees Knowles to be a rising man, and when reporting lectures at the
Royal Institution had often noticed him among the audiences.  There was
no doubt that he was highly excited over the discovery, for, like
myself, he had seen the liquid hydrogen boiling without any visible
heat.  In the papers there had been lots about Professor Dewar's
experiments in the liquefaction of oxygen, fluorine and the
newly-discovered helium, and I remembered how all his efforts to bring
hydrogen to a liquid state had failed.  Now, however, the mysterious
occupier of that house had succeeded, and every known gas could now be
liquefied.

"But the murder," observed Patterson, his thoughts reverting to the
crime, for to him the most wonderful scientific discovery was as naught.
"Can you form absolutely no opinion as to how it was accomplished?"

The doctor shook his head.

"There is nothing whatever to account for their sudden death, as far as
I can observe," he answered.  "To the woman, however, death must have
come instantly, while the man must have fallen and expired a few seconds
later.  There seem many mysterious features in the affair."

"The discoverer of this latest scientific fact is undoubtedly the old
man who is absent, the father of the dead girl.  From him we may learn
something to lead us to form conclusions," I suggested.

"An old man!" echoed Dr. Knowles.  "Tell me about him."

Briefly Patterson related all that had been told us by the neighbours,
and when he had finished the doctor exclaimed--

"Then I can tell you one thing which is proved undoubtedly.  The old man
seen to go in and out was in reality a young one, for while looking over
the laboratory I came across a white wig and a make-up box, such as is
used by actors.  Go upstairs and you'll find a complete disguise there--
broadcloth coat, pepper-and-salt trousers baggy at the knees,
old-fashioned white vest, and collars of antique pattern."

"Surely that can't be true!"  Patterson exclaimed in amazement.

"It certainly is," the doctor asserted.  "Depend upon it that the man
lying upstairs dead was the man who has been making these successful
experiments, and who for some unknown reason desired to conceal his
identity.  Recollect that they had few friends, if any, and that their
man-servant was a most discreet foreigner, who never gossiped."

"Then you think that to the world they assumed the position of father
and daughter, while in reality they were husband and wife?"  I said.

"Most likely," responded the doctor.  "A man to make experiments on an
elaborate scale as he has must necessarily have been absorbed in them.
Indeed, that apparatus must have taken a year to prepare, and no doubt
he has been making constant trials for months.  He probably intended to
give forth his discovery to the world as a great surprise, but has been
prevented from doing so by some extraordinary combination of
circumstances which has resulted in his death."

At that instant we heard a voice in the hall--a quick, sharp voice
extremely familiar to me, but nevertheless it caused me to start.  Next
instant, however, there entered the room the well-known figure of Dick
Cleugh.

"Hulloa, old fellow!" he exclaimed, greeting me and taking me aside.  "I
thought I'd run down and see what's in this.  Funny affair it seems,
doesn't it?"

"Yes," I answered.  "A most remarkable mystery.  But why have you come
out here?"

"Soon after you left I went to find Lily, but she's gone into the
country.  So having nothing else to do I came down to see what had
occurred.  I knew, of course, from Patterson's telegram, that it was
something unusual."

"Have you been upstairs?"

"Yes, I've been worrying around this last half-hour, while you and
Patterson have been making inquiries next door.  I've been having a look
about with the Doctor.  It seems that there's some wonderful apparatus
in the laboratory--a discovery for liquefying hydrogen.  Has he told you
about it?"

"Yes," I responded.  "What's your theory?"

"By Jove! old fellow," he said smiling, "the whole affair is so devilish
uncanny, with those snakes upstairs, water boiling without any heat
beneath it, and one thing and another, that I'm utterly at a loss how to
account for it all."

"You think they've been murdered?"

"Of course," answered the astute Cleugh.  "But the doctor can't discover
how.  There is not a scratch upon them.  The discovery of those flash
notes on the man looks as though he were a bit of a swell swindler,
doesn't it?"

"Yes," I said.  Then taking him across to the dining-table I explained
how we had discovered the three cards concealed beneath the plates.

He took the cards in his hand, turning them over, and examining them
carefully.

"Strange," he ejaculated.  "This adds still another phase to the affair.
It is really a most sensational discovery, and will work up well for
to-morrow."

"No, Mr. Cleugh," put in Patterson quickly, overhearing his remark, "I
beg of you to publish nothing whatever about it until I give you
permission.  In this we are bound to preserve secrecy for the present in
order that our inquiries may not be thwarted.  Even the neighbours will
remain in ignorance of the real nature of things, so carefully do I
intend to guard against any public sensation.  Whatever information I
can give you I will do so willingly, in order that you can prepare your
account of it, but remember that not a word must be published until I
give you permission."

"Quite right," observed the doctor.  "In such a matter as this any
sensation in the Press might frustrate all your efforts to arrive at the
truth."

"Very well," answered Dick, a trifle disappointedly.  "Of course you'll
give nothing to anybody else.  I want to be first in the field with it."

"Of that I give you my word.  Not a soul will know of this discovery
outside the persons in this house at the present moment.  Come, let's go
upstairs and speak to Boyd," and while the doctor wished us good evening
and left, my two friends accompanied me upstairs, where in the
drawing-room the detectives were continuing their searching
investigation.

"The woman is decidedly good-looking, isn't she?" observed Cleugh as we
entered.

Instinctively I turned towards the chair in which the body was still
reclining, but next instant, with a loud cry of dismay, which at the
same moment was echoed by Patterson, I stood aghast, rigid, immovable.

The sight which met our eyes was utterly bewildering.

The woman we had discovered there, so lovely in form and feature, had a
wealth of auburn hair, and eyes of a deep intense blue, while, amazing
though it was, this woman before us was quite ten years older,
dark-complexioned, with hair which in that light seemed blue-black, and
half-closed eyes as dark as jet.

"Good Heavens!"  I gasped.  "Look!  Why, that is not the woman we found
when we first entered this place--but another.  Where is the fair girl?"

"There's no fair girl," answered the detective Boyd, as all started back
in surprise at my astounding assertion.  "This is the woman we found,
you must be mistaken."

"No," Patterson declared in the low, hoarse voice of one filled with
fear.  "There is no mistake.  When we first entered there was another
woman here, younger, prettier, with light hair and blue eyes.  This is
the most unaccountable, most amazing and most inexplicable of all our
discoveries."

CHAPTER FIVE.

THE SECOND WOMAN.

The statement that the woman found by Patterson on his first entry
there, and seen by me afterwards, had disappeared, was at first
discredited by our companions.  It seemed too astounding to be the
truth, nevertheless there was now reclining in the same armchair a woman
who certainly bore no resemblance whatever to the beautiful, fair-haired
girl with eyes of such deep, pure blue--those eyes that had stared at me
so horribly in the ghastly rigidity of death.  I recollected that smile
upon her lips, half of sarcasm, half of pleasure; that strange
expression which had held me entranced yet horrified.

She had disappeared, and here in her place was a dark-complexioned
woman, older, nevertheless handsome--a woman in whose refined face was
an air of romance and tragedy, and upon whose hand was the marriage
bond.  She, too, was dead.  The doctor had examined her and pronounced
life extinct.

"How could this have occurred?"  I exclaimed, turning to Patterson as
soon as I had recovered from the shock of the astounding discovery.

"It's simply amazing!" he declared.  "I'm utterly at a loss to account
for it.  The woman we found here was most distinctly another person."

"Then there has been a triple tragedy," observed Boyd.  "The body of the
first woman must have been conveyed away during the time you were absent
at the police-station."

"But why?"  I asked.  "What on earth could be the motive?"

"Impossible to tell," Patterson answered.  "Perhaps the body is hidden
somewhere in the house."

"No," Boyd replied.  "We've made a complete search everywhere.  It has
undoubtedly been taken away.  This fact, in itself, shows first, that
there is more than one person implicated in the crime, and secondly,
that they were absolutely fearless; while further, the incident of the
telephone is in itself sufficient proof that they had taken the utmost
precautions against detection."

"Are you quite certain that every cupboard and wardrobe has been looked
into?"  I asked doubtfully.

"Quite.  From garret to cellar we've thoroughly overhauled the place.
There are a couple of large trunks in one of the bedrooms, but we
examined the contents of both.  They contain books."

"But loose boards, or places of that sort?"  I suggested.

"When we search a place," responded the Scotland Yard inspector with a
smile, "we're always on the look-out for places of concealment.  I've
superintended the investigation myself, and I vouch that nothing is
concealed within this house."

"Do you think that the assassin was actually in the house when we first
entered?"

"That's more than likely," he answered with a pensive air.  "Evidently
the instant you'd gone the body of the fair-haired girl was somehow
spirited away."

"Where?"

"Ah, that's what we must find out.  Perhaps a taxi-driver will be able
to throw a light upon the matter."

"This is certainly a first-class mystery," observed Dick, with
journalistic instinct and a keen eye to those "special interviews" and
"latest revelations" in which readers of his journal always revelled.
"It will make no end of a stir.  What a godsend, now that the gooseberry
season is coming on."

A good murder mystery is always welcome to a certain class of London
daily journals, but more especially in the season when Parliament is
"up," the Courts are closed for the Vacation, and the well of sensations
runs low.  This season is termed, in journalistic parlance, "the
gooseberry season," on account of the annual appearance of the big
gooseberry, that mythical monster of our youth, the sea-serpent, and the
starting of the usual silly correspondence upon "Why should we live?" or
some equally interesting controversial subject.

We were all held in blank astonishment at this latest development of the
extraordinary affair.  It had so many remarkable phases that, even to
Boyd, one of the shrewdest officers of the Criminal Investigation
Department, it was bewildering.

To me, however, the disappearance of that dead woman with the fair, pure
face was the strangest of all that tangle of astounding facts.  That
face had impressed me.  Its every feature had been riveted indelibly
upon my memory, for it was a face which, in life, I should have fallen
down and worshipped as an idol, for there was about it a purity and
charm which must have been highly attractive, a vivacity in those eyes
which, even in death, had held me spell-bound.

"I don't see that we can do any more just now," Boyd remarked in a
business-like tone to his subordinate.

"You've seen the three cards which were beneath the plates on the
dining-table?"  I asked.

"Yes," he responded.  "There's some hidden meaning connected with them,
but what it's impossible at present to guess.  In order to prosecute our
inquiries we must preserve secrecy.  Nothing must be published yet.
Indeed, Patterson, you'll apply to the Coroner at once to take steps to
withhold the real state of affairs from the public.  If the assassins
find that no hue and cry is aroused we may have a far better chance of
tracing them, for they may betray themselves."

"It's a pity," observed Dick, deeply disappointed.  "A first-class
sensation of this sort don't occur every day.  Why, it's worth four
columns if a line."

"Be patient," Patterson urged.  "You shall have an opportunity of
publishing it before long, and I'll see that you are a long way ahead of
your contemporaries."

"Don't let the news agencies have a word.  They always try and get in
front of us," said Cleugh, whose particular antagonists were the Central
News and the Press Association, which possess facilities for the
collection of news and its transmission by wire to the various
newspapers that form one of the most marvellous organisations in unknown
London.

"Leave it to me," said the inspector.  "As soon as it's wise to let the
public know anything I'll give you permission to publish.  The _Comet_
shall be first in the field with it."

"Very well," answered Dick, satisfied with Patterson's answer.  That
officer had been prominent a few years before in the investigations
relative to those mysterious assassinations of women in Whitechapel, and
was very friendly with "the _Comet_ man," as Cleugh was termed in the
journal which he represented.

Many were the suggestions we put forth as to how the bodies of the
victims could have thus been changed, but no theory we could advance
seemed likely to have any foundation in fact.

The mystery was certainly one of the strangest that had ever puzzled the
crime investigators of London.  The cause of its discovery was a most
remarkable incident, and at every turn as the investigation proceeded
mystery seemed to follow upon mystery, until the whole affair presented
so many curious features that a solution of the problem seemed utterly
impossible.

I bent beside the body of the woman who, reclining in the armchair with
one arm fallen by her side, presented the appearance of one asleep.  Her
presence there was a profound enigma.  A thought, however, occurred to
me at that moment.  The dining-table below had been laid for three.
Perhaps she was the third person.

For the greater part of an hour we remained in that house of grim
shadows discussing the various phases of the astounding affair, until at
last, about eleven, we all left, two constables in uniform being
stationed within.  So secretly had this search been carried out that the
neighbours, though, perhaps, puzzled by Patterson's inquiries,
entertained no suspicion of any tragic occurrence.  In Kensington Road
all the shops facing Upper Phillimore Place were closed save the
tobacconist's and the frequent public-houses, the foot passengers were
few, and at that hour the stream of taxis with homeward-bound
theatre-goers had not yet commenced.  Market garden carts from Hounslow
or Feltham, piled high with vegetables, rumbled slowly past on their
journey to Covent Garden, and a few empty motor-buses rattled along
towards Hyde Park, but beyond all was quiet, for that great artery of
Western London goes early to rest.

At the police-station we took leave of Patterson and Boyd, and entering
a motor-bus at Kensington Church, arrived at our chambers shortly before
midnight.

"There's something infernally uncanny in the whole business," said the
Mystery-monger as we sat smoking, prior to turning in.  It was our habit
to smoke and gossip for half an hour before going to bed, no matter what
the time.  Our talk was generally of "shop" events in our world of
journalism, the chatter of Fleet Street intermingled with reminiscences
of the day's doings.  Dick was sitting in the armchair reflectively
sucking his eternal briar, while I sat at my table pondering over a
letter I had found there on my return.  It was from Mary Blain, for whom
I had once long ago entertained a very strong affection, but who had
since gone out of my life, leaving only a shadowy recollection of a
midsummer madness, of clandestine meetings, of idle, careless days spent
in company with a smart, eminently pretty, girl in blue serge skirt,
cotton blouse and sailor hat.  All was of the past.  She had played me
false.  I was poor, and she had thrown me over for a man richer than
myself.  For nearly three years I had heard little of her; indeed, I
confess that she had almost passed from my memory until that evening
when I had sat awaiting Dick, and now on my return I opened that letter
to discover it in her well-known, bold hand--the hand of an educated
woman.

The letter, which had had some wanderings, as its envelope showed, and
was dated from her father's house up the river, merely expressed a hope
that I was in good health, and satisfaction at hearing news of me
through a mutual friend.  Such a letter struck me as rather strange.  I
could only account for it by the fact that she desired to resume our
acquaintanceship, and that this was a woman's diplomatic way of opening
negotiations.  All women are born diplomatists, and woman's wit and
powers of perception are far more acute than man's.

The letter brought back to me vividly the memory of that sweet, merry
face beneath the sailor hat, the wealth of dark hair, the laughing eyes
so dark and brilliant, the small white hands, and their wrists confined
by their golden bangles.  Yes, Mary Blain was uncommonly good-looking.
Her face was one in ten thousand.  But she was utterly heartless.  I
recollected how, when with her mother she had spent a summer at
Eastbourne, what a sensation her remarkable beauty caused at Sunday
parade on the Esplanade.  She was lovely without consciousness of it,
utterly ingenuous, and as ignorant of the world's wickedness as a child.
The daughter of a wealthy City man who combined company-promoting with
wine-importing, she had from childhood been nursed in the lap of luxury,
and being the only child, was the idol of her parents.  Their country
house at Harwell, near Didcot, was in my father's parish, and from the
time when her nurse used to bring her to the Rectory until that
well-remembered evening when in the leafy by-lane I had for the last
time turned my back upon her with a hasty word of denunciation, we had
been closest friends.  She had played me false.  My hopes had been
wrecked on Life's strange and trackless sea, and now whenever I thought
of her it was only in bitterness.  I have more than a suspicion that old
Mr. Blain did not approve of our close acquaintanceship, knowing that I
was a mere journalist with an almost untaxable income; nevertheless, she
had continued to meet me, and many were the happy hours we spent
together wandering through that charming country that skirts the upper
reaches of the Thames.

In order to see her I used frequently to run down from London to my home
on Saturdays and remain till Mondays.  With her mother she sat in her
seat in front of the Rectory pew, and as she walked down the aisle her
face would be illumined by a glad light of welcome.  How restful were
those Sundays after the wear and tear of London life!  How peaceful the
days in that sleepy little village hidden away in a leafy hollow three
miles from the Great Western line!  After we had parted, however, I did
not go home for six months.  Then, on inquiry, I found that the Blains
had sold their place, presumably because they were in want of money, for
it was said that they had taken a smaller house facing the Thames, near
Laleham, that village a little beyond Shepperton, where in the
churchyard lies Matthew Arnold.  From all accounts old Blain had lost
heavily in speculation and had been compelled to sell his carriages and
horses, dispose of many of his pictures, and even part with some of the
Louis Seize furniture at Shenley Court, where they had lived.  This was,
of course, indicative of a very severe reverse of fortune.

Since those hours of Mary's love and her subsequent falseness, my life
had been a queer series of ups and downs, as it must ever be in
journalistic London.  Many dreary days of changeful care had come and
gone since then.

I sat silent, thinking, with her letter still open in my hand.

"Why are you so confoundedly glum, old man?"  Dick asked.  "What's your
screed about?  Duns in the offing?"

"No.  It's nothing," I answered evasively, smiling.

"Then don't look so down in the mouth," he urged.  "Have a peg, and pull
yourself together."  He had been in India, and consequently termed a
whisky-and-soda a "peg."  The origin of that expression is a little
abstruse, but is supposed to refer pointedly to the pegs in one's
coffin.

I thrust the letter into my pocket, helped myself to a drink, and lit a
cigarette.

"It's a really first-class sensation," Dick said, again referring to the
curious affair.  "Pity I can't publish something of it to-morrow.  It's
a good thing chucked away."

"Yes," I replied.  "But Patterson has some object in imposing secrecy on
us."

"Of course," he answered thoughtfully.

There was a pause.  We both smoked on.  Not a sound penetrated there
save the solemn ticking of the clock and the distant strains of a piano
in some man's rooms across the square.

"Do you know, Frank," my companion said after some reflection, and
looking at me with a rather curious expression--"do you know that I have
some strange misgivings?"

"Misgivings!"  I echoed.  "Of what?"

"Well," he said, "did anything strike you as strange in Patterson's
manner?"

"To tell the truth," I answered, "something did.  His attitude was
unusual--quite unusual, to-night."

"He's a funny Johnnie.  That story of the snake on the pavement--isn't
it rather too strange to be believed?"

"At first sight it appears extraordinary, but remember that in the
laboratory upstairs we found other snakes.  The occupier of the house
evidently went in for the reptiles as pets."

"I quite agree with you there," he said.  "But there are certain
circumstances in the case which have aroused my suspicion, old chap.  Of
all the curious cases I've ever investigated while I've been on the
_Comet_, this is the most astounding from every point of view, and I,
for one, shan't rest until we've fully solved the problem."

"In that you'll have my heartiest assistance," I said.  "All the time I
can spare away from the office I'll devote to helping you."

"Good," Dick exclaimed heartily, refilling his pipe.  "Between us we
ought to find out something, for you and I can get at the bottom of
things as soon as most people."

"The two strangest features of this case," I pointed out, "are first the
telephonic message, and secondly, the disappearance of the first woman
we found."

"And those cards!"

"And that penny wrapped so carefully in paper!"  I added.  "Yes, there
are fully a dozen extraordinary features connected with the affair.  The
whole business is an absolute puzzle."

"Tell me, old chap," Dick said, after a pause, "what causes you to
suspect Patterson?"

"I don't suspect him," I answered quickly.  "No.  I merely think that he
has not told the exact truth of the first discovery of the crime, that's
all."

"Exactly my own opinion," responded Dick.  "He's concealing some very
important fact from us--for what purpose we can't yet tell.  There's
more in this than we surmise.  Of that I feel absolutely confident."

"The snake story is a little too good," I said, rather surprised that
his suspicions should have been aroused, for I had not related to him my
conversation with Patterson and his very lame excuse for not making a
report of the discovery at the police-station.  What had aroused Dick's
suspicions I was extremely puzzled to know.  But he was a shrewd, clever
fellow, whose greatest delight was the investigation of crime and the
obtaining of those "revelations" which middle-class London so eagerly
devours.

"A very happy invention of an ingenious mind, my dear fellow," exclaimed
the Mystery-monger.  "Depend upon it, Patterson, being already aware
that there were snakes in that house, invented the story, knowing that
when the place was searched it would appear quite circumstantial."

"Then you think that he's not in absolute ignorance of who lived there?"
I exclaimed, surprised at my friend's startling theory.

Dick nodded.

"I shouldn't be surprised if it be proved that he knew all along who the
dead man is."

"Why?"

"Well, I noticed that he never once looked at that man's face.  It was
he who covered it with a handkerchief, as though the sight of the white
countenance appalled him."

"Come come," I said, "proceed.  You'll say that he's the guilty one
next."

"Ah! no, my dear fellow," he hastened to reassure me.  "You quite
misunderstand my meaning.  I hold the theory that in life these people
were friends of Patterson's, that's all."

"What makes you suspect such a thing?"

"Well, I watched our friend very closely this evening, and that's the
conclusion I've arrived at."

"You really think that he is concealing facts which might throw light on
the affair?"  I exclaimed, much surprised.

"Yes," he answered, "I feel certain of it--absolutely certain."

CHAPTER SIX.

WHAT I SAW IN THE PARK.

For a long time, sitting by the open window and looking out upon the
starry night, we discussed the grim affair in all its details.  The
piano had stopped its tinkling, a dead silence had fallen upon the
old-world square, one of the relics of bygone London, and the clock upon
the hall had struck one o'clock with that solemnity which does not fail
to impress even the most dissipated resident of Gray's.  As a bachelor
abode Gray's Inn is as comfortable and convenient a spot as there is in
London, for there is always a quiet, restful air within; the grey,
smoke-stained houses open on airy squares, and until a couple of years
ago, quite a large colony of rooks made their home in the great old
trees.  It is an oasis of peace and repose in the very centre of that
gigantic fevered city, where the whirl of daily life is unceasing, where
in the east and south toiling millions struggle fiercely for their
bread, while in the west is greater wealth and extravagance than in all
the world besides.

"I think," said Dick at last, after he had put forth one or two
theories, "that if we manage to get to the bottom of this affair we
shall discover some very startling facts."

"That's absolutely certain," I answered.  "The disappearance of the fair
girl, and the substitution of the other, is in itself a fact absolutely
unique in the annals of crime.  Whoever effected that change must have
been indeed a bold person."

"Didn't the people next door see any taxi drive up, or notice anything
being brought up to the house?"

"No.  That's the strangest part of it," I responded.  "Nothing was seen
of any cab or conveyance, although, of course, there must have been
one."

"And that inquiry by telephone was a remarkable incident," Dick went on.
"You say that the inquirer was popping about to various call-rooms
ringing up his confederates.  That shows that there were two or three in
the secret.  It hardly seems feasible that the man who rang up from the
Minories was the same as the one with whom you spoke at Putney."

"No; but the arrangement to meet in St. James's Park to-morrow is
extraordinary, to say the least."

"Ah, my dear fellow," observed my friend, with a smile, "I very much
fear that that appointment won't be kept.  Men such as they evidently
are will hardly risk a meeting.  On reflection, the individual, whoever
he is, will see that he has given himself away, and his natural caution
will prevent him from going near St. James's Park."

"Well, I only hope he does meet me," I observed.

"So do I.  But to my mind such a circumstance is entirely out of the
question.  You see he went to call-boxes in order to avoid detection."

"The curious thing is, that if it were the same man who rang up each
time he must have travelled from one place to another in an amazingly
rapid manner."

"There might be two persons," he suggested.

"Of course there might," I answered.  "But I think not.  The girl at the
exchange evidently recognised the voice of the persistent inquirer."

"I'm glad I came down--very glad," he said.  "I went over to see Lily,
but she's gone to Ipswich with her aunt, an old lady who feared to
travel alone.  It appears she wrote to me this morning, but the letter
has missed the post, I suppose.  It will come to-morrow morning."

"You had your journey to Peckham for nothing, then?"

"Yes," he answered.  "She ought to have sent me a wire.  Just like a
woman."

I knew Lily Lowry, the pretty friend of Dick Cleugh, very well indeed.
I did not know that he actually loved her.  There was undoubtedly a
mutual friendship between them, but nevertheless he often would go for a
month and see nothing of her.  The daughter of a struggling shopkeeper
near the _Elephant and Castle_, she had been compelled to seek her own
living, and was at present assistant at a large cheap draper's in Rye
Lane, Peckham.  Setting the _convenances_ at naught, as became a London
girl of the present decade, she had many times visited our dingy abode.
I had always suspected that the love was on her side, for she was always
giving him various little things--embroidered pouches, handkerchiefs and
those semi-useful articles with which girls delight the men they love.

But Dick did not seem in the least concerned at not having seen her.  He
was annoyed that he had had a journey on the Chatham and Dover for
nothing, and thought a great deed more of the mystery of Phillimore
Place than of Lily's well-being.  He was a pessimist in every sense of
the word.  Once he had told me the story of his first love, a strange
tragedy of his life that had occurred in his days at Jesus.  It was
this, I always suspected, that had evoked from him the real ardent
affection which a man should have for a woman who is to be his companion
through life.  Man loves but once, it is true, but the love of youth is
in the generality of cases a mere heart-beating caused by a fantasy
begotten of inexperience.  The woman we love at sixteen--too often some
kind-hearted housewife, whose soft speech we mistake for affection--we
flout when we are twenty.  The woman who was angelic in our eyes when in
our teens, is old, fat and ugly when, four years later, the glamour has
fallen from our eyes and we begin to find a foothold in the world.
Wisdom comes with the moustache.

So it was with Dick.  He had lost the woman he had loved in his college
days, yet, as far as I could judge, none other had ever taken her place
in his heart.

Two o'clock had struck ere we turned in, and both of us were up at
seven, our usual hour, for evening papers, issued as they are at noon,
are prepared early in the morning.  We were always at our respective
offices at half-past seven.

My first thought was of the meeting I had arranged in St. James's Park,
and of my friend's misgivings regarding it.  Full of anxiety, I worked
on till eleven o'clock, when Boyd was shown into my room, greeting me
merrily.  His appearance was in no way that of a police-officer, for he
wore a shabby suit of tweed, a soiled collar, and an old silk hat much
frayed at the brim, presenting the appearance of the typical beery Fleet
Street lounger.

"I've come to see you, Mr. Urwin, regarding this meeting in the park,"
he said.  "Do you intend going?"

"Of course," I answered, surprised that he should ask such a question.
"Why?"

"Well, because I think it would be best to leave it entirely to us.  You
might be indiscreet and queer the whole thing."

"I don't think you'll find me guilty of any indiscretion," I said,
somewhat piqued.

"I don't apprehend that," he said.  "But on seeing you at the spot
appointed, the mysterious person who made the inquiry last night will at
once get away, for he will know that the secret is out.  We must, as you
know, act with greatest caution in this affair, so as not to arouse the
slightest suspicion that the keeping of this appointment is in the hands
of the police."

"Then what, in your opinion, is the best course to pursue?"  I inquired.

"First, your friend Mr. Cleugh must not go near the park.  I've already
written him a note to that effect.  Secondly, you must act exactly as I
direct.  A single slip will mean that the individual will escape, and in
this we must not court failure by any indiscreet move."

"And how do you intend that I should act?"  I asked, sitting back in my
writing-chair and looking at the shrewd detective who was known
throughout London as one of the cleverest unravellers of crime, and who
had been successful in so many cases wherein human life had been
involved.

"Well," he said, hesitating, "truth to tell, I would rather that you
didn't go to the park at all."

"Why?"

"Because you could not wait about in the vicinity of the spot indicated
without betraying a sign that you were in expectation of some one," he
answered.  "Remember, you are not a detective."

"No," I answered, "I'm not a detective, but I've had a few years'
training in investigations.  I think I could disguise my anxiety
sufficiently."

I was extremely anxious to keep the appointment, and his suggestion that
I should not go caused me disappointment and annoyance.

"But if you were seen waiting about, the man we want would certainly not
make his appearance.  He'd scent danger at once.  We've evidently got to
deal with a very cunning scoundrel."

"I could conceal myself," I declared.  "I promise you I will act with
greatest discretion."

"Well," he said at length, after some further demur, "I suppose, then,
you must have your own way.  Personally, I don't think the man will be
such a fool as to run his neck into a noose.  There's been some clever
work in connexion with this matter, and men capable of such ingenuity
must be veritable artists in crime and not given to the committal of any
indiscretion.  The voice in the telephone was a squeaky one, I think you
said?"

"Yes, weak and thin, like an old man's."

Boyd glanced at his watch--a gold hunter with an inscription.  It had
been given him by public subscription in Hampstead in recognition of his
bravery in capturing two armed burglars in Fitzjohn's Avenue.

"It's time we went," he exclaimed; but as we rose Dick entered in hot
haste.  He had just received Boyd's note and had run round to my office.

"I've been out making an inquiry," he said, having greeted us and
expressed disappointment at Boyd's decision.  "I thought, in order to
satisfy myself, and so that I could use the information later on, I
would go round to Professor Braithwaite at the Royal Institution and ask
his opinion of the scientific apparatus found in the laboratory.  I went
down to Patterson, got permission to remove it from the house, and took
the whole affair in a cab to the Royal Institution."

"Well, what's the result?"  I inquired breathlessly.

"The result?" he answered.  "Why, the old Johnnie, when he saw the
paraphernalia, stood dumbfounded, and when he put it together and
commenced experimenting seemed speechless in amazement.  The discovery,
he declared, was among the greatest and most important of those made
within the last twenty years.  He sent messengers for a dozen other
scientific men, who, when they saw the arrangement, examined it with
great care and were equally amazed with old Braithwaite.  All were
extremely anxious as to the identity of the discoverer of this mode of
liquefying almost the last of the refractory gases, but I, of course,
held my tongue for a most excellent reason--I did not myself know.  I
merely explained that the apparatus had fallen into my hands
accidentally and I wished to ascertain its use."

"Then quite a flutter has been caused among these dry-as-dust old
fossils," I observed, laughing.

"A flutter!"  Dick echoed.  "Why, the whole of the scientific world will
be in a state of highest excitement to-morrow when the truth becomes
known.  Old Braithwaite declared that the discoverer deserves an
immediate knighthood."

"Let's be off," Boyd said.  He took no interest in the discovery.  Like
myself, his only object was to solve the mystery.

"Then I'm not to go?"  Dick said inquiringly.

"No," the detective replied.  "I'm sorry, but a crowd of us will queer
the thing.  You shall have all the details later.  Patterson has
promised that you shall publish first news of the affair."

Dick was sorely disappointed, I saw it in his face; nevertheless, with a
light laugh he wished us goodbye when we emerged into Fleet Street, and
hurried away back to the offices of the _Comet_, while Boyd and myself
jumped into a hansom outside St. Dunstan's Church, and drove along Pall
Mall as far as St. James's Palace, where we alighted and entered the
park.  The detective explained his tactics during the drive.  They were
that we should separate immediately on entering the park, and that he
should go alone to the spot indicated by the mysterious voice, while I
idled in the vicinity.  I was to act just as I pleased, but we were not
to recognise one another either by look or sign.

I own, therefore, that it was with considerable trepidation that I left
the detective on entering the Mall and wandered slowly along beneath the
trees, while he crossed and entered the park himself.  In that
thoroughfare, which forms a short and pleasant cut for taxis going
eastward from Victoria station, there was considerable traffic at that
hour.  The sky was blue, and the June sun shone warmly through the
trees, giving the Londoner a foretaste of summer, and causing him to
think of straw hats, flannels and holiday diversions.  A bright day in a
London park at once arouses thoughts of the country or the sea.  With my
face set towards the long, regular facade of Buckingham Palace--a grey
picture with little artistic touches of red, the scarlet coats of the
Guards--I wondered what would be the outcome of this attempt to obtain a
clue.  That thin squeaky voice sounded in my ear as distinctly at that
moment as it had done on the previous night, a weird summons from one
unknown.

At last, just as Big Ben, showing high across the trees, chimed and
boomed forth the hour of noon, I entered one of the small gates of the
park and strolled along the grave: led walk down to the edge of the
ornamental water, where, for some minutes, I stood watching a group of
children feeding the water-fowl.

Though trying to look unconcerned, my eyes were ever on the alert.  I
had expected to see Boyd, but there was no sign of him, therefore I
strolled along, passing the end of the water, the exact spot indicated.
There was no one there beyond half a dozen school children feeding the
birds with portions of dinners brought with them from distant homes.

Undecided whether to halt there, I kept my attention fixed upon the
children, then, fearing to annoy Boyd by remaining at that point, I
strolled slowly along the shore in the direction of Birdcage Walk.  The
detective had certainly concealed himself successfully, for although I
kept my eyes on the watch I could discover no sign of him.

The hour of the appointment had passed, but, not daring to turn back to
look, I kept straight on, until, at some distance beyond, I came to a
seat beside the path and there I rested, drawing a newspaper from my
pocket and pretending to read.  Unfortunately, from where I sat, at a
point opposite the Wellington Barracks, I could obtain no view of the
meeting-place, and although Big Ben struck the quarter I was compelled
to remain there inactive, watching furtively the few passers-by.

With a diligence perhaps unworthy of a journalist I read and re-read my
newspaper for nearly half an hour, and in the course of that time the
people who went along did not number a dozen.  Of none of these did I
entertain any suspicion.  They included a couple of soldiers, two or
three old women, a lady with a small child, a couple of nurses with
children, a park-keeper, and a bank clerk with his wallet chained to his
belt.

Secreted somewhere in the vicinity, Boyd was watching, but where I knew
not.  His surmise had unfortunately proved correct, I reflected, as the
half-hour chimed.  The man, whoever he was, was no fool.

For five minutes longer I remained, when a sudden impatience seized me,
and I folded my paper and rose.

As I did so there came round the bend of the path, from the direction of
the spot the mysterious voice had indicated, a slim figure in deep
mourning, evidently a lady.  She walked with an even swinging gait, not
as one who was idling there, but as though with some fixed purpose.  On
her approach I saw that she was attired entirely in black, wearing a
dress of the latest mode, the wide skirt of which rustled as she walked;
a large hat with swaying feathers which at that moment struck me as
somewhat funereal, and a thick spotted veil.  Her black silk sunshade
she carried on her arm, and as she came nearer I could not help being
struck by her neatness of figure, her small waist, wide hips and
well-moulded bust.

I lingered at the seat to brush the dust from my coat, so that she might
pass and allow me a glance of her face.

She went by with a loud frou-frou of silken underskirt, and at that same
instant I turned my gaze upon her and looked into her face.

Next second I drew back, startled and aghast.

Her hair was fair, her eyes large and blue, her features familiar.  Even
that thick veil could not conceal her marvellous beauty.

I looked again, believing it to be some chimera of my disordered
imagination.

No.  There was no mistake.  It was an astounding, inexplicable truth.

She was the woman I had discovered cold and dead in that house in
Kensington on the previous night--the woman whose body had so strangely
disappeared.

For a few moments I stood rooted to the spot.  The discovery held me
petrified.

Then, with sudden resolve, I moved forward and followed her.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

EVA GLASLYN.

I glanced behind me, but saw no sign of Boyd.  Of a sudden it crossed my
mind that he had not been present at our first discovery; therefore,
expecting a man to keep the appointment, he had allowed her to pass the
spot unnoticed.

The appearance of that neat figure before me, the figure of the woman
over whose beauty I had mourned as dead, was in itself a most startling
fact, adding still another feature to the already dark and inscrutable
mystery.  I wanted to have a word with Boyd and ask his advice, for I
knew not how to act in such unexpected circumstances.  One of the
victims was actually keeping an appointment with an accomplice of the
assassin, for there seemed no doubt that murder had been committed by
some secret means.

When she passed me I noticed the queer, half-suspicious glance she cast
at me with those large blue eyes of hers, a glance in which anxiety was
mingled with terror and despair.  Evidently she had sought some one whom
she had not been able to find, and was disappointed in consequence.
With the silhouette of her figure before me like some phantom which I
was endeavouring to chase in vain, I strolled on at a respectable
distance, endeavouring to look unconcerned.  I saw what a strikingly
smart figure hers was; how slim the waist, how wide and well-rounded the
hips, and how through the bodice of her dress was shown the outline of
those narrow French corsets, mere bands for the waist which only women
with superb figures ever dare to wear.  Her skirt of fine black cloth
hung in folds unusually graceful, for London skirts are always more or
less "bunchy," dragging behind and rising in front, unless made by the
first-class houses in Regent Street or Bond Street.  London dressmakers
cannot cut a skirt well.  But her gown was a model of simplicity and
good fit, evidently the "creation" of some expensive ladies' tailor.

Her hair, in the full light of day, was not golden brown as I had
believed it to be, but really auburn, and her black hat suited her
admirably.  From moment to moment I feared lest she should glance back
and discover me following her, but fortunately she kept straight on at
the same even pace, passing out of the park by Storey's Gate, and
continuing along Great George Street until she entered the bustle of
Parliament Street.  Here, fearing she might escape me, I was compelled
to approach nearer, at risk of being discovered, and even then was still
utterly undecided how to act.  My first impulse was, to walk up to her,
introduce myself and tell her of the circumstances in which I had
discovered her in that house, apparently lifeless.  On reflection,
however, I judged that by her presence in the park she was acquainted
with the assassin or his associate, and that by keeping close watch upon
her I might discover more than by at once exposing my hand.  There
seemed in her very appearance, in that deep mourning, something grim,
weird, mysterious.

At the corner of Parliament Street, outside the steamy tea-rooms, she
stood for a few moments gazing anxiously up and down, as if in search of
an omnibus.  A man approached her, crying the second edition of the
_Comet_, a copy of which she purchased eagerly, folding it small and
placing it within the folds of her sunshade.

Why had she done that?  I wondered.  Did she expect to find in that
paper an exposure of the secret tragedy of the previous night?

I stood reading some excursion time-tables outside the railway
booking-office on the opposite corner, watching her furtively.  From her
manner I could plainly see how nervous and excited she was.

After some hesitation she turned and walked along to King Street, where
she entered the telegraph office and dispatched a telegram.  She
evidently knew that part of London, or she would not have known the
whereabouts of that office hidden down the short side street.  I waited
in Parliament Street until her return, and unnoticed strode back behind
her to the corner of Bridge Street, where she at length entered a taxi
and drove off.

From the telegram I might, I thought, obtain some clue, but, alas!
telegrams are secret, and I should be unable to get a glance at it.  To
apply at the office would be useless.  The police might perhaps obtain
permission to read it, but so many dispatches are daily handed in there
that to trace any particular one is always a difficult matter.

I was divided in my impulses.  Should I go back to King Street and make
instant application regarding the telegram, so that it might be marked
and easily traced afterwards, or should I follow the taxi which at that
moment was crossing Westminster Bridge?

I decided upon the latter course, and jumping into another motor,
pointed out the taxi I desired to follow.

Our drive was not a long one--only to Waterloo Station, the busy
platform of the loop line.  Here I could easily conceal myself in the
crowd of persons every moment arriving and departing, and as I stood
near the booking-office, I heard her ask for a first-class ticket to
Fulwell, a rather pleasant and comparatively new suburban district
between Twickenham and Hampton.

The Shepperton train was already in the station, therefore she at once
took her seat, while I entered another compartment in the front of the
train.  I did this in order to be able to alight quickly, leave the
station before her, and thus avoid recognition.  The journey occupied
about three-quarters of a hour, but at length we drew into the little
rural station situated in a deep cutting, and ere the train stopped I
sprang out, passed the barrier and leaped up the steps, escaping ere the
gate was closed by the ticket inspector.  By this quick movement I
gained several minutes upon her, for the barrier was closed, and
alighting passengers were not allowed to leave before the train had
again moved off.

The high road from London opened right and left, one way leading back to
Strawberry Hill, the other out to New Hampton.  I felt certain that she
would walk in the direction of the latter place, therefore I started off
briskly until I came to a small wayside inn, which I entered, and going
to the window of the bar-parlour called for refreshment, at the same
time keeping a keen look-out for her passing.

Several persons who had come by train hurried by, and at first I
believed she had taken the opposite direction.  But at last she came,
holding her skirts daintily and picking her way, for it had been raining
and the path was muddy.  She, however, was not alone.

By her side walked a young rather handsome man about twenty-five, who
wore tennis flannels, and who had apparently met her at the station.
She was laughing merrily as she passed, while he strode on with a light,
airy footstep indicative of happiness.

"There's a lady just gone past," I exclaimed quickly, turning to the
innkeeper's wife, who had just brought in my glass of beer.  "I often
see her about.  Do you know who she is?"

With woman's curiosity she went to the door and looked out after her.

"Oh, that's Lady Glaslyn's daughter," she said.

"Lady Glaslyn's daughter!"  I echoed in surprise.

"Yes, it's Miss Eva, and the young gent with her is Fred Langdale, the
son of the great sugar-refiner up in London.  They both live here, close
by.  Lady Glaslyn, a widow, is not at all well off, and lives along at
The Hollies, the big white house with a garden in front on this side of
the way, while the Langdales have a house further on the road to
Hampton, overlooking Bushey Park."

"Oh, that's who they are!"  I said quite unconcernedly, but secretly
delighted with this information.  "And who is this Lady Glaslyn?  Has
she lived here long?"

"Nearly a year now," the good woman answered.  Then, confidentially, she
added, "They are come-down swells, I fancy.  That they've got no money
is very evident, for the tradespeople can't get their bills paid at all.
Why, only last week, Jim Horton, the gas company's man, was in here,
and I heard him tell his labourers that he'd got orders to cut the gas
off at The Hollies because the bill wasn't paid."

"Then they must be pretty hard up," I observed.  "Many aristocratic
families come down in the world."

The name of Glaslyn puzzled me.  It sounded familiar.

"Who was her ladyship's husband?  Do you know?"

"No, sir.  I've heard several stories.  One was how that he was a
baronet who led an exploring party somewhere in South America, and died
of fever, and another that he was a shady individual who was connected
with companies in the City.  But nobody here knows the truth, I think."

A glance at Debrett or Burke when I returned to my office would quickly
settle that point, I reflected; therefore, having obtained all the
information I could from her I wished her good-day, and left.

Along the Hampton Road I strolled in the direction the pair had taken,
and in the distance saw the mysterious Eva take leave of her companion
and enter a house, while he lifted his hat and walked on.  I proceeded
slowly, passing The Hollies on the opposite side of the way.  It was a
rather large place, decidedly old-fashioned, standing back in its own
grounds and approached by a carriage drive, a three-storied redbrick
house with those plain windows surrounded by white wooden beams of the
early Georgian era.  In the old-world garden, hidden by a high wall,
grew a profusion of roses and wallflowers which diffused a sweet scent
as I passed, and half the house seemed hidden by ivy and creepers.  The
small lawn in front, with its laurels and monkey-trees, were well kept,
and the place seemed spick and span, and altogether comfortable.

As I passed I fancied I saw a black-robed figure standing at one of the
ground-floor windows.  What if she recognised me?  I dared not to look
around again, but kept on my way, walking through New Hampton, past the
long wall of Bushey Park, until I came to Old Hampton town, whence, half
an hour later, I took train back to Waterloo.

I had, at any rate, made one discovery, which was in itself absolutely
bewildering.  At first I had doubted that this sweet-faced, clear-eyed
woman was actually identical with the dead form that lay back in her
chair on the previous night.  I believe that she only bore some striking
resemblance, heightened, perhaps, by the agitated state of my mind.  But
all doubts on this point had been set at rest by one fact.  The woman
whose cold hand I had grasped had worn in her bodice a brooch of unusual
pattern--a tiny enamelled playing-card, a five of diamonds quaintly set
in gold--and this same ornament, striking on account of its originality
of design, was at the throat of Eva Glaslyn, showing plainly against the
dead black of her dress.

The mystery was certainly most remarkable.  In wonder how Boyd had
fared, or whether Patterson had been prosecuting inquiries in other
directions, I went straight to Kensington from Waterloo, and found the
inspector in his room over the police-station.  It was a small apartment
with drab-painted walls, plainly furnished as police-stations are.  The
table whereat he sat was littered with papers, mostly pale straw-colour,
and on the mantelshelf stood an interesting collection of photographs of
people "wanted," each bearing a number in red ink corresponding to the
index book, wherein a short account of their crime was recorded.

"Why," he cried, as I entered, "wherever have you been?  I've been
hunting high and low for you."

"I've been down to Hampton," I laughed.

"To Hampton!" he echoed.  "What on earth have you been doing down
there?"

"Making inquiries," I answered, affecting an air of unconcern.  "I've
made a rather queer discovery."

"What is it?" he asked, as I took a seat before him.

"I've found the woman whom Patterson and I discovered dead last night,
and the strangest part about it is that she's alive and quite well."

"My dear fellow, are you mad?" he asked, looking at me strangely.
"People aren't in the habit of coming to life again, you know."

"I'm well aware of that," I responded.  "Nevertheless, the fact remains
that the woman seen by Patterson and by myself is actually alive.  I met
her in the park, and followed her home to New Hampton."

"Met her in the park!" he cried.  "There was one woman I noticed,
fair-haired, and dressed in black."

"The same," I answered.  "Fortunately I recognised her and kept her
under observation."

Then, in response to his demand, I related to him the whole circumstance
in detail.

"And her name?" he inquired, when I had concluded.

"Eva Glaslyn, daughter of Lady Glaslyn."

"Glaslyn!" he ejaculated.  "Good heavens!  Surely it can't be the same!"

"Why the same?"  I inquired.

"Oh, nothing!" he answered evasively, quickly seeking to allay my
suspicions.  "There was some mystery, or scandal, or something connected
with that family once, if I recollect aright.  I may, however, be
mistaken in the name.  At any rate, Mr. Urwin, you've acted with tact
and discretion, and discovered a most important fact."

"What have you been doing?"  I asked.

"Well," he answered in hesitation, "the fact is, I've had a somewhat
exciting experience."

"Did you, then, discover the man?"  I inquired anxiously.

"I met a man, but whether he was the one who made the appointment by
telephone I don't yet know," he said.  "I waited until a quarter to one,
concealed behind some bushes, and presently saw a grey-haired old
gentleman, well-dressed in frock coat, and silk hat, strolling in my
direction.  He was quite a dandy with well-pressed trousers, varnished
boots, gold-headed care and single eyeglass.  His air was that of a
lawyer or doctor.  As if in search of some one he lingered in the
vicinity, subsequently sitting upon a seat at the very end of the lake,
the exact spot which had been indicated."

"And what did you do?"

"I waited and watched.  There was no one near, yet from his sharp
glances in all directions I saw that he was in fear lest some one might
approach whom he didn't wish to see.  He appeared violently agitated,
and at last, when he was entirely alone, he placed his hand into his
inner pocket, took out something, and rising from the seat with a swift
movement cast the object far away into the water."

"Something he wanted to get rid of.  Suspicious, wasn't it?"

"Of course," said the detective.  "After that you may rest assured that
I didn't lose sight of him.  When the object he had thrown away had
fallen into the lake he turned, and after glancing up and down in fear
that his action might have been observed, he returned to his seat, and
waited until Big Ben struck again.  Then he rose and left the park,
strolling airily along the Buckingham Palace Road, peering a good deal
under the bonnets of the pretty women who were looking in the windows of
the shops.  He entered the bar of Victoria Station, drank a
whisky-and-soda, and then continuing along to Ebury Street passed twice
or three times up and down in front of a house on the left-hand side.
There were a number of people in that street at the time, but the
instant he thought himself unobserved, he dived down the area of the
house he kept passing and repassing.  In a moment I noted that the
number was twenty-two, and having done so placed a watch upon the house,
well satisfied that I had taken the first step towards unravelling the
mystery."

"Remarkable," I said, "I wonder what it was he threw away?"

"That's impossible to tell without dragging the lake, and to do that at
present would excite suspicion.  He evidently went there in order to
meet the assassin, but as the latter did not keep the appointment, this
unknown object, which might prove convicting if found upon him, he
resolved to get rid of, and no better place could there be than at the
bottom of the lake.  There's lots of pieces of evidence there, you bet."

"Then there must be some mysterious connexion between the appearance of
Eva Glaslyn at that spot and this man who got rid of some evidence of
the crime," I observed.

"Most certainly," the detective said.  "It almost seems as though she
came there for the purpose of meeting him, but he being late she grew
impatient and left before his arrival.  At every step we take the enigma
becomes more complicated, more extraordinary, more bewildering."

CHAPTER EIGHT.

SOME REMARKABLE EVIDENCE.

Three days went by, days full of wonder and anxiety.

Many were the discussions between Patterson, Dick and myself regarding
the extraordinary development of the mystery which had now resolved
itself into as complete a puzzle as ever occupied the attention of
Scotland Yard.  In Ebury Street and at Hampton most careful observation
was being carried on night and day, but according to Boyd absolutely
nothing suspicious could be discovered.  Lady Glaslyn was, according to
Debrett, widow of a Sir Henry Glaslyn, a Scotch baronet who had died
several years before, leaving no heir to continue the title, and only
one daughter, Eva.

In the meantime the bodies of the man and the woman had been removed to
the mortuary secretly in the early hours of the morning in order not to
arouse the suspicion of the neighbours, and a post-mortem had been held
by two local doctors, with the result that it was found possible to hold
the inquest on the afternoon of the third day.  The Coroner held his
inquiry in a small back room in the Kensington Town Hall, not far from
the scene of the tragedy, and, in opening, made a short address to the
jury, pointing out the necessity for preserving the utmost secrecy in
the matter, and expressing a hope that no one present would defeat the
ends of justice by giving any facts to the newspapers.

"Pardon me, sir," exclaimed the tradesman who had been elected foreman,
"but I see two gentlemen of the Press present."

"Both have assisted us in our inquiries," Patterson briefly explained to
the Coroner.

"Of course," the Coroner answered, "this is a public court, and
therefore we cannot exclude any one.  Yet I am confident the reporters
will respect my wishes."

This we both promised to do, Cleugh, well-known to the Coroner, speaking
first.

The Coroner, when the jury had returned from viewing the bodies, made a
few further observations, pointing out to the jury that although the a
flair was one of the most mysterious and inexplicable that had ever come
beneath his notice in the course of his twenty years' experience as a
London coroner, yet they were there to try and decide the cause of death
alone.  They had no concern with any other facts except the cause of
death, and he trusted they would give the matter their undivided
attention.

Patterson was the first witness.  In terse language he gave an account
of his discovery and of his second visit to the house in my company.
Then, when he had concluded, I was called and bore out his statement,
relating how we had entered the laboratory and found the marvellous
scientific apparatus, and how in the pocket of the dead man I had found
a penny wrapped in paper.  The cards with the strange devices which had
been beneath the plates on the dining-table were handed round to the
jury for their inspection, and then a statement which I made startled
even the Coroner.  It was how the body of the woman at present in the
mortuary was not the same as the one we had at first discovered.

"Impossible!" exclaimed the Coroner, while the twelve jurymen stood
aghast at my statement.

"That is quite true, sir," exclaimed Patterson, rising from his seat.
"The lady we first discovered was younger, with fair hair."

"Then there must have been a triple tragedy," observed the Coroner,
astounded.  "This is most extraordinary."

I was about to explain how I had recognised in the girl I met in St.
James's Park the identical woman whom we had discovered lifeless, but a
sharp look from the inspector silenced me.

"We are making diligent inquiries," the officer went on, "and we have
reason to believe that we shall be able to make a further statement
later--at the adjourned inquiry."

The Coroner nodded, and turning to the jury, said--

"Of course, gentlemen, it would not be wise at this stage for the police
to disclose any of the information in their possession.  Their success
in such matters as this mainly depends upon secrecy.  I think we may
now, perhaps, hear the medical evidence."

The jury stirred uneasily and settled themselves to listen intently as
Dr. Lees Knowles, the police divisional surgeon, stepped forward and was
sworn.

"I was called by the police to the house," he said, "and found there two
deceased persons, a man and a woman, in the drawing-room on the first
floor.  The attire of the man was rather disarranged, as the police had
already searched him, but there were no signs whatever of a struggle."

"You made a cursory examination, of course," suggested the Coroner.

"Yes.  Life had been extinct sometime, and _rigor mortis_ had commenced.
There was, however, no external sign of foul play."

"And the post-rnortem?"

The Court was silent in anxious anticipation of the doctor's response.

"Assisted by Doctor Lynes I made a post-mortem, but found absolutely
nothing to account for death.  There was no mark of violence on either
of the bodies, and no physical defect or slightest trace of disease.
Nevertheless, the position of the bodies when found makes it evident
that both persons died with great suddenness, and without being able to
obtain assistance."

"Was there nothing whatever to give any clue to the cause of death?"
asked the Coroner, himself a medical man.

"Nothing," responded the surgeon.  "One thing, however, struck us as
peculiar.  On the inside of the right forearm of both the man and the
woman were identical tattoo marks.  The device, nearly an inch in
diameter, represented a serpent with its tail in its mouth, the ancient
emblem of eternity.  The mark on the man had evidently been traced
several years ago, but that on the woman is comparatively fresh, and
could not have completely healed over more than a month ago.  It is as
though the mark on the man has been copied upon the woman."

"And what do you think is the signification of this mark?" inquired the
Coroner, looking up from the blue foolscap whereon he had been writing
down the depositions.

"I'm utterly at a loss to know," the doctor answered.  "Yet it is very
curious that upon one of these cards we found beneath the plates there
is a circle drawn, while it also seemed that snakes were kept in the
house as pets.  To my mind all three circumstances have some connecting
significance."

The jury bent together and conversed in whispers.  This theory of the
doctor's seemed to possess a good deal of truth, even though the mystery
was increased rather than diminished.

Many more questions were put to the doctor, after which his colleague,
Dr. Lynes, was called, and corroborated the police surgeon's evidence.
He, too, was utterly unable to ascribe any fatal cause.  The tattoo
marks had puzzled him, but he suggested that the man and woman might be
husband and wife, and that in a freak of caprice, to which women of some
temperaments are subject, she had caused the device on her husband's arm
to be copied upon her own.  Opinions were, however, divided as to
whether the pair were husband and wife.  For my own part I did not
regard his theory as a sound one.

"You did not overlook the contents of the stomach, of course?" the
Coroner exclaimed.

"No, we sent them in sealed bottles to Dr. Marston, the analyst of the
Home Office."

"And have we his report?" inquired the Coroner.

"Dr. Marston is here himself, sir.  He has come to give evidence,"
Patterson answered from the back of the room, while at the same time an
old grey-haired gentleman in gold-rimmed spectacles rose, and walking
forward took the oath.

"You received from the previous witnesses two bottles?" suggested the
Coroner.  "Will you please tell us the result of your analysis?"

"I tested carefully with group reagents for every known poison, and also
for ptomaine," he said, "but all the solvents--alcohol, benzol, naphtha,
ammonia and so forth--failed.  I tested for the alkaloids, such as
strychnine, digitalin, and cantharidin, and used hydrochloric acid to
find either silver, mercury or lead, and also ammonia in an endeavour to
trace tin, cadmium or arsenic.  To none of the known groups does the
poison--if poison there be--belong.  Therefore I have been utterly
unable to arrive at any definite conclusion."

"Is there no direct trace of any poison?"

"None," was the answer.  "Yet from the result of certain group reagents
it would appear that death was due to the virulence of some azotic
substance."

"You cannot, we take it, decide what that substance was?"

"Unfortunately, no," the renowned analyst answered, apparently annoyed
at having to thus publicly acknowledge his failure.  "The state of the
stomach of either person was not such as might cause death.  Indeed,
there was only a secondary and most faint trace of the unknown substance
to which I have referred."

"Then, to put it quite plainly," said the Coroner, "it is your opinion
that they were poisoned?"

"I can scarcely go so far as that," the witness responded.  "All I can
say in evidence is that I found a slight trace of some deleterious
substance which all tests refused to clearly reveal.  Whether it were an
actual poison which resulted in death I hesitate to say, as the result
of my analysis is not sufficiently clear to warrant any direct
allegation."

"Do you suggest that this substance, whatever it was, must have been
baneful and injurious to the human system?"

"I think so.  Even that, however, is not absolutely certain.  As you
know, certain poisons in infinitesimal quantities are exceedingly
beneficial."

"Then we must take it that, presuming these two persons actually died of
poison, it must have been by a poison unknown in toxicology?" observed
the Coroner.

"Exactly," the analyst responded, standing with his hands behind his
back and peering through his spectacles at the expectant jury.

The Coroner invited the jury to ask any questions of the analyst, but
the twelve Kensington tradesmen feared to put any query to the man who
had the science of poisoning thus at his fingers' ends, and whose
analyses were always thorough and absolutely beyond dispute.  He was the
greatest authority on poisons, and they could think of nothing further
to ask him.  Therefore the Coroner politely invited him to sign his
depositions.

After he had withdrawn, the Coroner, placing down his pen, sighed,
leaned back in his chair with a puzzled expression, and once more
addressed the twelve men who had been "summoned and warned" before him.
They had heard the evidence, he said, and it was now for them to decide
whether the two persons had died from natural causes, or whether they
had met with foul play.  In the circumstances he acknowledged that a
decision was extremely difficult on account of the many mysterious side
issues connected with the affair, yet he pointed out that if they were
in real doubt whether to return a verdict of natural death or of wilful
murder, there was still a third course, namely, to return an open
verdict of "Found dead," and thus leave the matter in the hands of the
police.  He was ready, of course, to adjourn the inquiry, but from what
he knew of the matter, together with the evidence which had just been
given, it was his honest opinion that no object could be obtained in an
adjournment, and further by closing the inquest at once they would
prevent any inexpedient facts leaking out to the newspapers.

The jury retired to consult in an adjoining room, and in ten minutes
returned, giving an open verdict of "Found dead."  Thus ended the
inquiry, and while the law had been complied with, public curiosity
remained unaroused, and the police were enabled to work on in secret.

With Cleugh I lingered behind, chatting with Patterson and Boyd.

"We're keeping observation at Upper Phillimore Place," Boyd explained,
in response to my inquiry.  "Funny thing that nobody else calls there,
and that the servants have never come back."

"Have you found the snake that was in the garden?"  Cleugh asked of
Patterson, with a significant glance at me.

"No," he responded, rather confused.  "You see any search there might
arouse suspicion.  Therefore we are compelled to be content with
watching for the return of any one to the house."

"But you haven't yet succeeded in establishing the identity of the
pair," Dick observed.

"No.  That's the queerest part of it," Boyd exclaimed.  "The owner of
the house, a builder who has an office in Church Street, close by, says
that the place was taken furnished by a Mrs. Blain, who gave her address
at Harwell, near Didcot.  She paid six months' rent in advance."

"Harwell!" echoed Cleugh, turning to me.  "Isn't that your home, Urwin?"

"Yes," I gasped.  The name of Blain caused me to stand immovable.

"Why," Dick exclaimed, noticing my agitation, "what's the matter, old
fellow?  Do you know the Blains?"

"Yes," I managed to reply.  "They must be the Blains of Shenley Court.
If so, they are friends of my family."

I had never told my companion of my bygone love affair, because it had
been a thing of the past before we had gone into diggings together.

"Who are they?" inquired Boyd quickly.  "Tell me all you know concerning
them, as we are about to prosecute inquiries in their direction."

"First, tell me the statement of the house owner," I said.

"Well, he describes Mrs. Blain as a middle-aged, rather pleasant lady,
who came to his office about a year ago in response to an advertisement
in the _Morning Post_.  She appeared most anxious to have the house, and
one fact which appears to strike the old fellow as peculiar is that she
took it and paid a ten-pound note as deposit without ever seeing the
interior of the premises.  She told him that it was for some friends of
hers from abroad, and that they not having arrived she would sign the
agreement and accept all responsibility."

"Anything else?"

"Yes," the detective replied.  "She was accompanied by a young lady,
whom old Tritton, the landlord, took to be her daughter.  Now, tell me
what you know."

I paused, looking at him fixedly.  The disclosure that Mrs. Blain was
the actual holder of that house of mystery was certainly startling.  It
was remarkable, too, that on the very night of the crime I should
receive a letter from Mary, the woman who had so long lingered in my
memory.  Was that, I wondered, anything more than a mere coincidence?

"I don't know that I can tell you very much about the family," I
answered, determined to put him off the scent and make inquiries myself.
"They were much respected when at Shenley, where they kept up a fine
country house, and entertained a great deal.  They were parishioners of
my father, therefore I went there very often."

"Do you know Mrs. Blain well?"

"Quite well."

"And her daughter?" suggested Dick, much interested.  "What's she like?
Pretty?"

"Passable," I answered, with affected indifference.

"Then they are not a shady family at all?" suggested the detective.

"Not in the least.  That is why the fact of Mrs. Blain having taken the
house is so surprising."

"It may have been sub-let," Cleugh observed.  "Her friends from abroad
may not have arrived after all, and she might have re-let it, a
circumstance which seems most likely, as no one appears to have seen her
enter the place."

"At any rate it's most extraordinary," I said.  Then, turning to Boyd, I
asked, "Why not leave the inquiry in that quarter to me?  Knowing her, I
can obtain information far more easily than you can."

"Yes," Cleugh urged.  "It would be a better course--much better."

"Very well," answered the detective, not, however, without some
hesitation.  "But be careful not to disclose too much.  Try and find out
one fact only--the reason she took the house.  Leave all the rest to
us."

I promised, and after drinking together over in the refreshment bar at
High Street Station we parted, and Cleugh and I took a bus back to our
chambers.

He stopped in Holborn to buy some last editions of the papers, while I
hurried on, for, being terribly hungry, I wished to give old Mrs. Joad
early intimation of our readiness for the diurnal steak.

With my latch-key I entered our chambers.  The succulent scent of
grilled meat greeted my nostrils, and I strode eagerly forward shouting
for the Hag.

As I entered the sitting-room I started and drew back.  A quick word of
apology died from my lips, for out of our single armchair there arose a
tall female dark, well-fitting dress, bowing with a grace that was
charming.

I saw before me, half concealed beneath a thin black veil, a smiling
face eminently pretty, a tiny mouth parted to show an even row of pearly
teeth, a countenance that was handsome in every feature.

That pair of eyes peering forth at me held me motionless, dumb.  I stood
before my visitor, confused and speechless.

CHAPTER NINE.

THE LOVE OF LONG AGO.

There are hours in our lives which are apparently without importance,
but which, nevertheless, exercise an influence on our destiny.

Little wonder was it that at this instant I stood before my visitor
voiceless in amazement, for in her erect, neat figure I recognised the
broken idol of those long-past summer days--Mary Blain.

Of all persons she was the one I most desired at that moment to meet.
Her letter to me, and her presence in my chambers that evening, were two
facts that appeared pre-arranged with some ulterior motive rather than
mere coincidence.  Not an hour before Boyd had made a most puzzling
statement regarding her mother, and here she was, confronting me with
that smile I knew so well, as if anxious to make explanation.

"I believe I've startled you, Frank," she exclaimed, laughing, as she
held out her gloved hand in greeting.  "Is it so long since we met?
Perhaps it is indiscreet of me to come here to your chambers, but I
wanted to see you.  Mother would be furious if she knew.  Why didn't you
answer my letter?"

"Forgive me," I said in excuse.  "I've been busy.  The life of a daily
journalist leaves so very little time for correspondence," and I invited
her to be re-seated in our only armchair.

She shrugged her shoulders, smiling dubiously.

"You men are always adepts at the art of excuse," she remarked.

She was pretty--yes, decidedly pretty.  As I sat looking at her, there
came back to me vivid recollections of a day that was dead, a day when
we had exchanged vows of undying affection and had wandered in secret
arm-in-arm along those quiet leafy lanes.  She was a girl then, and I
not much more than a stripling youth.  But we had both grown older now,
and other ideas had sprung up in our minds, other jealousies and other
loves.  Almost four whole years had passed since I had last seen her.
She had grown a little more plump and matronly, and in her dark,
luminous eyes was a look more serious than in her old hoydenish days at
Harwell.  How time flies!  It did not seem four years since that autumn
evening when we parted in the golden sunset.  Yet how great had the
change been in the fortunes of her purse-proud family, and even in my
own life.

There was no love between us now.  None.  The days were long-past since
a woman's touch and words would make me colour like a girl.  Even this
meeting when she pressed my hand and her eyelids fluttered, did not
re-stir within me the chord of love so long untouched.  I had heard of
her only as a flirt and fortune-hunter, and had read in the newspapers a
paragraph announcing her engagement to the elder son of a millionaire
ironfounder of Wigan.  Nevertheless, a month ago the papers contained a
further paragraph stating that the marriage arranged "would not take
place."  Since we had parted she had evidently been through many love
adventures.  Still, she was nevertheless uncommonly good-looking, with a
grace of manner that was perfect.

"I've often wondered, Frank, what had become of you," she said, leaning
her elbow on the table, raising her veil and looking straight into my
eyes.  "We were such real good friends long ago that I've never failed
to entertain pleasant recollections of our friendship.  Once or twice
I've heard of you through your people, and have now and then read your
articles in the magazines.  Somehow I've felt a keen desire for a long
time past to see you and have a chat."

"I feel honoured," I answered, perhaps a trifle sarcastically, for mine
was but a bitter recollection.  "It is certainly pleasant to think that
one is remembered after these years."  Then, in order to add irony to my
words, I added: "I've heard you are engaged."

"I was," she responded, glancing at me sharply.  "But it is broken off."

"You found some one you liked better, I presume?  It is always so."

"No, not at all," she hastened to assure me.  "The fact is there was
very little love on either side, and we parted quite amicably."

"As amicably as we did ourselves--eh?"

"No, Frank," she said with a sudden seriousness, dropping her eyes to
the table.  "Do not refer to that.  With years has come wisdom.  We were
both foolish, were we not?"

"Perhaps I was when I believed your vow to be a true one," I responded a
trifle bitterly, for I had thought the summer of my life over and at an
end.

"Ah, no!" she cried.  "I did not come here to reopen an incident that
has been so long closed.  You love another woman, no doubt."

"No," I answered.  "I loved you once, until you forsook me.  I have not
loved since."

"But I was a mere girl then," she urged.  "Ours was but a midsummer
madness--that you'll surely admit."

I was silent.  I had believed myself proof against all sentiment in this
respect, for of late I had thought little, if at all, of my lost love.
Yet alone with her at that moment all the bitter past flooded upon me,
my wild passion and my shattered hopes, with a vividness that stirred up
a great bitterness within me.  Not that I loved her now.  No.  On the
contrary, I hated her.  She had played others false and treated them
just as she had treated me.

"After madness there is always a reaction," I answered, recollecting how
fondly I had once loved her, and how, since the day we parted, my life,
even Bohemian as it must ever be in journalistic London, was
nevertheless loveless and misanthropic, the life of one whose hopes were
shattered and whose joy in living had been sapped.  Shenley was but the
tomb of those summer recollections.  I never now visited the place.

"But all this is very foolish, Frank," she exclaimed with a calm
philosophical air and a smile probably meant to be coquettish.  "Why
recollect the past?"

"When one has loved as I once did, it is difficult to rid oneself of the
memory of its sweetness or its bitterness," I said.  "Your visit here
has brought it all back to me--all that I have striven so long and so
strenuously to forget."

She sighed.  For a single instant her dark eyes met mine, and then she
avoided my gaze.

"I ventured here," she explained in a low, apologetic tone, "because I
believed that our youthful passion had mutually died, and that I might
renew your acquaintance not as lover but as friend.  If, by coming here,
I have pained you, or caused you any particularly unhappy recollections,
forgive me, Frank--forgive me," and she stretched forth her hand and
placed it upon my arm with a gesture of deep earnestness and regret.

"Certainly, I forgive you," I answered, annoyed with myself for having
thus worn my heart on my sleeve.  It was foolish, I knew.  That idyllic
love of ours was a mere dream of youth, like the other castles in the
air we build when in our teens.  It was unwise to have spoken as I had,
for after all, truth to tell, I was at that moment secretly glad of my
freedom.  And why?  Because the mysterious woman, whose beauty was
perfect, yet whose very existence was an enigma, had awakened within my
soul a new-born love.

Since that bright morning when she had first passed me in St. James's
Park my thoughts had been constantly of her.  Although I had not
exchanged a single word with her I loved her, and all thought of this
dark-eyed woman who had once played me false had passed from me.

Thus, angry with myself at having spoken as I had, I strove to remedy
whatever impression my words had made by treating my visitor with a
studied courtesy, at the same time seeking to discover the real motive
of her call.  I recollected the mystery, together with the fact that had
been elicited regarding the tenancy of the house, and felt convinced
that her visit was not without some strong incentive.  She either came
to me in order to learn something, or else with the object of satisfying
herself upon some point remaining in doubt.

This thought flashing through my troubled brain placed me on the alert,
and as we with mutual eagerness changed the topic of conversation, I sat
gazing into her mobile countenance, filled with ecstatic wonder.

"As you know," she chattered on, quite frankly, in her rather
high-pitched key, "before we left Shenley father had some very heavy
losses in the City.  At first we found a smaller house simply horrible,
but now we are quite used to it, and personally I'm happier there,
because we are right on the river and can have such jolly boating."

"But Riverdene is not such a very small place, surely?"  I said.  Dick,
who knew the river well, had once told me that it was a fine house
situated in one of the most picturesque reaches.

"No," she laughed, "not really so very small, I suppose.  But why not
come down and see for yourself?  Mother often speaks of you, and you
know you're always welcome."

Now, in ordinary circumstances I should have refused that invitation
point-blank, but when I reflected that I was bound to make certain
inquiries of Mrs. Blain, I, with apparent reluctance, accepted.

"Mother will be most delighted to see you.  We have tennis very often,
and boating always.  It's awfully jolly.  Come down the day after
to-morrow--in the afternoon.  I shall tell mother that I met you in the
street and asked you down.  She must, of course, never know that I came
here to see you," and she laughed at her little breach of the
_convenances_.

"Of course not.  I won't give you away," I said.  Then suddenly
recollecting, I added: "May I get you a cup of tea?"

"Oh, no, thanks, really," she answered.  "I've been in Regent Street to
do some shopping, and I had tea there.  I was on my way home, but
thought that, being alone, I'd venture to try and find you."

"I'm very glad we have met," I said enthusiastically, for, truth to
tell, I saw in her opportune invitation a means by which I might get at
the truth I sought.  There was something extremely puzzling in this
allegation that the calm-mannered, affable Mrs. Blain, whom I had known
so well, was the actual tenant of the mysterious house in Phillimore
Place.  Then, looking at her steadily, I added: "In future our relations
shall be, as you suggest, those of friendship, and not of affection--if
you really wish."

"Of course," she replied.  "It is the only sensible solution of the
situation.  We are both perfectly free, and there is no reason whatever
why we should not remain friends--is there?"

"None at all," I said.  "Tell your mother that I shall be most delighted
to pay you a visit.  You have a boat, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes.  And a punt, too.  This season I've learned to punt quite
well."

I smiled.

"Because that pastime shows off the feminine figure to greatest
advantage," I observed.  "Girls who punt generally wear pretty brown
shoes, and their dresses just a trifle short, so that as they skip from
end to end of the punt they are enabled to display a discreet _soupcon
of lingerie_ and open-work stocking--eh?"

"Ah, no," she protested, laughing.  "You're too sarcastic.  Punting is
really very good fun."

"For ladies, no doubt," I said.  "But men prefer sculling.  They've no
waists to show, nor pretty flannel frocks to exhibit to the river
crowd."

"Ah, Frank, you always were a little harsh in your conclusions," she
sighed.  "I suppose it is because you sometimes write criticisms.
Critics, I have always imagined, should be old and quarrelsome persons--
you are not."

"No," I responded.  "But old critics too often view things through their
own philosophical spectacles.  The younger school take a much broader
view of life.  I'm not, however, a critic," I added, "I'm only a
journalist."

I could hear old Mrs. Joad growling to herself because the steak was
ready and she could not lay the cloth because of my visitor.  Meanwhile,
the room had become filled to suffocation with the fumes of frizzling
meat, until a blue haze seemed to hang over everything.  So used was I
to this choking state of things that until that moment I never noticed
it.  Then I quickly rose and opened the window with a word of apology
that the place "smelt stuffy."

She glanced around the shabby, smoke-mellowed room, and declared that it
pleased her.  Of course bachelors had to shift for themselves a good
deal, she said, yet this place was not at all uncomfortable.  I told her
of my companion who shared the chambers with me, of his genius as a
journalist, and how merrily we kept house together, at which she was
much interested.  All girls are more or less interested in bachelors'
arrangements.

Our gossip drifted mostly into the bygones--of events at Harwell, and
the movements of various mutual friends, when suddenly Dick Cleugh burst
into the room crying--

"I say, old chap, there's another first-class horror!  Oh!  I beg your
pardon," he said in apology, drawing back on noticing Mary.  "I didn't
know you had a visitor; forgive me."

"Let me introduce you," I said, laughing at his sudden confusion.  "Mr.
Cleugh--Miss Blain."

The pair exchanged greetings, when Cleugh, with that merry good humour
that never deserted him, said--

"Ladies never come to our den, you know, Miss Blain; therefore please
forgive me for blaring like a bull.  Our old woman who cleans out the
kennels is as deaf as a post, therefore we have contracted a habit of
shouting."

"What is the horror of which you spoke?" she asked, with a forced laugh,
I was looking at her at that instant and noticed how unusually pale and
agitated her face had suddenly become.

"Oh, only a startling discovery in to-night's special," he answered.

"A discovery!" she gasped, "Where?"

He glanced at the paper still in his hand, while she bent forward in her
chair with an eagerness impossible of concealment.  Her cheeks were
pallid, her eyes dark, wild-looking and brilliant.

"The affair," he said, "seems to have taken place in Loampit Vale,
Lewisham."

"Ah!" she ejaculated, quite involuntarily giving vent to a sigh of
relief which Cleugh, quick and observant, did not fail to notice.

My friend threw the paper aside, sniffed at the odour of burnt meat, and
suggested that the Hag was endeavouring to asphyxiate us.

"The Hag!" exclaimed Mary, surprised.  "Who's the Hag!"

"Old Mrs. Joad," responded Dick.  "We call her that, first, because
she's so ugly; and secondly, because when she's cooking for us she
croons to herself like the Witch of Endor."

"She certainly is decidedly ugly with that cross-eye of hers.  It struck
me, too, that she had an ancient and witch-like aspect when she admitted
me," she laughed.

Thus we chatted on until the bell on the Hall struck seven and she rose
to go, first, however, inviting Dick to accompany me to Riverdene, an
invitation which he gladly accepted.  Then she bade him adieu and I
accompanied her out into Holborn, where I placed her in a taxi for
Waterloo.

On re-entering the room, Dick's first exclamation was--

"Did you notice how her face changed when I mentioned the horror?"

"Yes," I said.

"Her name's Blain, and I presume she's the daughter of Mrs. Blain who is
tenant of that house in Kensington?"

I nodded.

"An old flame of yours.  I remember now that you once spoke of her."

"Quite true."

"Well, old fellow," he said, "it was quite apparent when I mentioned the
tragedy that she feared the discovery had been made in Kensington.
Depend upon it she can, if she likes, tell us a good deal."

"Yes," I answered thoughtfully, "I agree with you entirely, Dick.  I
believe she can."

CHAPTER TEN.

ON THE SILENT HIGHWAY.

Whatever might have been Mary's object in thus renewing my acquaintance
at the very moment when I was about to seek her, one thing alone was
apparent--she feared the revelation of the tragic affair at Kensington.
There are times when men and women, whatever mastery they may possess
over their countenances, must involuntarily betray joy or fear in a
manner unmistakable.  Those sudden and entirely unintentional words of
Dick's had, for the moment, frozen her heart.  And yet it was incredible
that she could have any connexion with this affair, so inexplicable that
Superintendent Shaw, the chief of the Criminal Investigation Department
at Scotland Yard, had himself visited the house, and, according to what
Boyd had told me, had expressed himself utterly bewildered.

Next day passed uneventfully, but on the following afternoon we took
train to Shepperton, where at the station we found Simpson, the
chauffeur who had been at Shenley, awaiting us with a smart motor-car,
in which we drove along the white winding road to Riverdene.

Dick's description of the place was certainly not in the least
exaggerated when he had said that it was one of the most charming old
places on the Thames.  Approached from the highway by a long drive
through a thick belt of elms and beeches, it stood, a long,
old-fashioned house, covered with honeysuckle and roses, facing the
river, with a broad, well-kept lawn sloping down to the water's edge.
The gardens on either side were filled with bright flowers, the high
leafy trees overshadowed the house and kept it delightfully cool, and
the tent on the lawn and the several hammocks slung in the shadow
testified to the ease and repose of those who lived there.  Many
riparian residences had I seen during my frequent picnics and Sunday
excursions up and down the various reaches, but for picturesqueness,
perfect quiet and rural beauty, none could compare with this.  I had
expected to find a mere cottage, or at most a villa, the humble retreat
of a half-ruined man; yet on the contrary it was a fine house, furnished
with an elegance that was surprising, with men-servants and every
evidence of wealth.  City men, I reflected, made money fast, and without
doubt old Henry Blain had regained long ago all that he had lost.

How beautiful, how tranquil was that spot, how sweet-smelling that
wealth of trailing roses which entirely hid one-half the house after the
dust and stuffiness of Fleet Street, the incessant rattle of traffic,
and the hoarse shouting of "the winners."  Beyond the lawn, which we now
crossed to greet our hostess and her daughter, the river ran cool and
deep, with its surface unruffled, so that the high poplars on the
opposite bank were reflected into it with all their detail and colour as
in a mirror.  It was a warm afternoon, and during our drive the sun had
beat down upon us mercilessly, but here in the shadow all was
delightfully cool and refreshing.  The porch of the house facing the
river was one mass of yellow roses, which spread their fragrance
everywhere.

Mrs. Blain was seated in a wicker chair with some needlework, while Mary
was lying in a _chaise-longue_ reading the latest novel from Mudie's,
and our footsteps falling noiselessly upon the turf, neither noticed our
approach until we stood before them.

"I'm so very pleased you've come, Frank," exclaimed the elder lady,
starting forward enthusiastically as she put down her work, "and I'm
delighted to meet your friend.  I have heard of you both several times
through your father.  I wonder he doesn't exchange his living with some
one.  He seems so very unwell of late.  I've always thought that Harwell
doesn't suit him."

"He has tried on several occasions, but the offers he has had are in
towns in the North of England, so he prefers Berkshire," I answered.

"Well," she said, inviting us both to be seated in comfortable wicker
chairs standing near, "it is really very pleasant to see you again.
Mary has spoken of you, and wondered how you were so many, many times."

"I'm sure," I said, "the pleasure is mutual."

Dick, after I had introduced him to Mrs. Blain, had seated himself at
Mary's side and was chatting to her, while I, leaning back in my chair,
looked at this woman before me and remembered the object of my visit.
There was certainly nothing in her face to arouse suspicion.  She was
perhaps fifty, with just a sign of grey hairs, dark-eyed, with a nose of
that type one associates with employers of labour.  A trifle inclined to
_embonpoint_, she was a typical, well-preserved Englishwoman of motherly
disposition, even though by birth she was of one of the first Shropshire
families, and in the days of Shenley she had been quite a prominent
figure in the May flutter of London.  I had liked her exceedingly, for
she had shown me many kindnesses.  Indeed, she had distinctly favoured
the match between Mary and myself, although her husband, a bustling,
busy man, had scouted the idea.  This Mary herself had told me long ago
in those dreamy days of sweet confidences.  The thought that she was in
any way implicated in the mysterious affair under investigation seemed
absolutely absurd, and I laughed within myself.

She was dressed, as she always had dressed after luncheon, in black
satin duchesse, a quiet elegance which I think rather created an
illusion that she was stout, and as she arranged her needlework aside in
order to chat to me, she sighed as matronly ladies are wont to sigh
during the drowsy after-luncheon hours.

From time to time I turned and laughed with Mary as she gaily sought my
opinion on this and on that.  She was dressed in dark blue serge trimmed
with narrow white braid, her sailor hat cast aside lying on the grass, a
smart river costume of a _chic_ familiar to me in the fashion-plates of
the ladies' papers.  As she lay back, her head pillowed on the cushion,
there was in her eyes that coquettish smile, and she laughed that
ringing musical laugh as of old.

A boatful of merrymakers went by, looking across, and no doubt envying
us our ease, for sculling out there in the blazing sun could scarcely be
a pleasure.  Judging from their appearance they were shop-assistants
making the best of the Thursday early-closing movement--a movement which
happily gives the slaves of suburban counters opportunity for healthful
recreation.  The boat was laden to overflowing, and prominent in the
bows was the inevitable basket of provisions and the tin kettle for
making tea.

"It's too hot, as yet, to go out," Mary said, watching them.  "We'll go
later."

"Very well," Dick answered.  "I shall be delighted.  I love the river,
but since my Cambridge days I've unfortunately had but little
opportunity for sculling."

"You newspaper men," observed Mrs. Blain, addressing me, "must have very
little leisure, I think.  The newspapers are always full.  Isn't it very
difficult to fill the pages?"

"No," I answered.  "That's a common error.  To every newspaper in the
kingdom there comes daily sufficient news of one sort or another to fill
three sheets the same size.  The duty of the journalist, if, of course,
he is not a reporter or leader-writer, is to make a judicious selection
as to what he shall publish and what he shall omit.  It is this that
wears out one's brains."

"But the reporters," she continued--"I mean those men who go and hunt up
details of horrors, crimes and such things--are they well paid?"

That struck me as a strange question, and I think I must have glanced at
her rather inquiringly.

"They are paid as well as most professions are paid nowadays," I
answered.  "Better, perhaps, than some."

"And their duty is to make inquiries and scrape up all kinds of details,
just like detectives, I've heard it said.  Is that so?"

"Exactly," I replied.  "One of the cleverest men in that branch of
journalism is our friend here, Mr. Cleugh."

She looked at the man I indicated, and I thought her face went slightly
paler.  It may, however, only have been in my imagination.

"Is he really one of those?" she inquired in a low undertone.

"Yes," I responded.  "In all Fleet Street, he's the shrewdest man in
hunting out the truth.  He is the _Comet_ man, and may claim to have
originated the reporter-investigation branch of journalism."

She was silent for a few moments.  Lines appeared between her eyes.
Then she took up her needlework, as if to divert her thoughts.

"And Mr. Blain?"  I asked at last, in want of some better topic.  "How
is he?"

"Oh, busy as usual.  He's in Paris.  He went a fortnight ago upon
business connected with some company he is bringing out, and has not
been able to get back yet.  We shall join him for a week or two, only I
so much dislike the Channel crossing.  Besides, it is really very
pleasant here just now."

"Delightful," I answered, looking round upon the peaceful scene.  At the
steps, opposite where we sat, was moored a motor-boat, together with
Mary's punt, a light wood one with crimson cushions, while behind us was
a well-kept tennis-court.

Tea was brought after we had gossiped nearly an hour, and while we were
taking it a boat suddenly drew up at the landing-stage, being hailed by
Mary, who jumped up enthusiastically to welcome its occupants.  These
were two young men of rather dandified air and a young girl of twenty,
smartly dressed, but not at all good-looking, whom I afterwards learnt
was sister to the elder of her companions.  When the boat was at last
moored, and the trio landed amid much shouting and merriment, I was
introduced to them.  The name of sister and brother was Moberly, a
family who lived somewhere up beyond Bell Weir, and their companion was
a guest at their house.

"We thought we'd just catch you at tea, Mrs. Blain," cried Doris Moberly
as she sprang ashore.  "And we are so frightfully thirsty."

"Come along, then," said the elder lady.  "Sit down, my dear.  We have
it all ready."

And so the three joined us, and the circle quickly became a very merry
one.

"They kept us so long in the lock that I feared tea would be all over
before we arrived," young Moberly said, with a rather affected drawl.
He appeared to be one of those young sprigs of the city who travel
first-class, read the _Times_, and ape the aristocrat.

"Yes," Doris went on, "there was a slight collision between a barge and
a launch, resulting in lots of strong language, and that delayed us,
otherwise we should have been here half an hour ago."

"Did you call on the Binsteads?"  Mary asked.  "You know their
house-boat, the _Flame_?  It's moored just at the bend, half-way between
the Lock and Staines Bridge."

"We passed it, but the blinds were down.  They were evidently taking a
nap.  So we didn't hail them," Doris responded.

Then the conversation drifted upon river topics, as it always drifts
with those who spend the summer days idling about the upper reaches of
the Thames--of punts, motor-launches, and sailing; of the prospects of
regattas and the dresses at Sunbury Lock on the previous Sunday.  They
were all river enthusiasts, and river enthusiasm is a malady extremely
contagious with those doomed to spend the dog-days gasping in a dusty
office in stifled London.

After tea followed tennis as a natural sequence, and while Moberly and
his sister played with Dick and the youth who had accompanied the
Moberlys, Mary and I wandered away into the wood which skirted the
grounds of Riverdene.  She was bright and merry, quite her old self of
Shenley days, save perhaps for a graver look which now and then came to
her eyes.  She showed me the extent of their grounds and led me down a
narrow path in the dark shadow to the bank to show me a nest of
kingfishers.  The spot was so peaceful and rural that one could scarcely
believe one's self but twenty miles from London.  The kingfisher,
startled by our presence, flashed by us like a living emerald in the
sunlight; black-headed buntings flitted alongside among the reeds, and
the shy sedge warbler poured out his chattering imitations, while here
and there we caught sight of moor-hens down in the sedge.

She had, I found, developed a love for fishing, for she took me further
down where the willows trailed into the stream, and pointed out the
swirl over the gravel where trout were known to lie, showed me a
bush-shaped depth where she had caught many a big perch, and a long swim
where, she said, were excellent roach.

"And you are happier here than you were at Shenley?"  I inquired, as we
were strolling back together, both bareheaded, she with her hat swinging
in her hand.

"Happy?  Oh, yes," and she sighed, with her eyes cast upon the ground.

"That sigh of yours does not denote happiness," I remarked, glancing at
her.  "What troubles you?"

"Nothing," she declared, looking up at me with a forced smile.

"It is puzzling to me, Mary," I said seriously, "that in all this time
you've not married.  You were engaged, yet it was broken off.  Why?"

At my demand she answered, with a firmness that surprised me, "I will
never marry a man I don't love--never."

"Then it was at your father's suggestion--that proposed marriage of
yours?"

"Of course, I hated him."

"Surely it was unwise to allow the announcement to get into the papers,
wasn't it?"

"It was my father's doing, not mine," she responded.  "When it was
broken off I hastened to publish the contradiction."

"On reading the first announcement," I said, "I imagined that you had at
length found a man whom you loved, and that you would marry and be
happy.  I am sure I regret that it is not so."

"Why?" she asked, regarding me with some surprise.  "Do you wish to see
me married, then?"

"Not to a man you cannot love," I hastened to assure her.  I was trying
to learn from her the reason of her sudden renewed friendship and
confidence, yet she was careful not to refer to it.  Her extreme care in
this particular was, in itself, suspicious.

Her effort at coquetry when at my chambers two days before made it
apparent that she was prepared to accept my love, if I so desired.  Yet
the remembrance of Eva Glaslyn was ever in my mind.  This woman at my
side had once played me false, and had caused a rent in my heart which
was difficult to heal.  She was pretty and charming, without doubt, yet
she had never been frank, even in those long-past days at Shenley.  Once
again I told myself that the only woman I had looked upon with thoughts
of real genuine affection was the mysterious Eva, whom once, with my own
eyes, I had seen cold and dead.  When I reflected upon the latter fact I
became puzzled almost to the verge of madness.

Yet upon me, situated as I was, devolved the duty of solving the enigma.

Life, looked at philosophically, is a long succession of chances.  It is
a game of hazard played by the individual against the multiform forces
to which we give the name of "circumstance," with cards whose real
strength is always either more or less than their face value, and which
are "packed" and "forced" with an astuteness which would baffle the
wiliest sharper.  There are times in the game when the cards held by the
mortal player have no value at all, when what seem to us kings, queens,
and aces change to mere blanks; there are other moments when ignoble
twos and threes flush into trumps and enable us to triumphantly sweep
the board.  Briefly, life is a game of roulette wherein we always play
_en plein_.

As, walking at her side, I looked into her handsome face there came upon
me a feeling of mournful disappointment.

Had we met like this a week before and she had spoken so softly to me I
should, I verily believe, have repeated my declaration of love.  But the
time had passed, and all had changed.  My gaze had been lost in the
immensity of a pair of wondrous azure eyes.  I, who tired before my
time, world-weary, despondent and cynical, was angry and contemptuous at
the success of my companions, had actually awakened to a new desire for
life.

So I allowed this woman I had once loved to chatter on, listening to her
light gossip, and now and then putting a question to her with a view to
learning something of her connexion with that house of mystery.  Still
she told me nothing--absolutely nothing.  Without apparent intention she
evaded any direct question I put to her, and seemed brimming over with
good spirits and merriment.

"It has been quite like old times to have a stroll and a chat with you,
Frank," she declared, as we emerged at last upon the lawn, where tennis
was still in progress.  The sun was now declining, the shadows
lengthening, and a refreshing wind was already beginning to stir the
tops of the elms.

"Yes," I laughed.  "Of our long walks around Harwell I have many
pleasant recollections.  Do you remember how secretly we used to meet,
fearing the anger of your people; how sometimes I used to wait hours for
you, and how we used to imagine that our love would last always?"

"Oh, yes," she answered.  "I recollect, too, how I used to send you
notes down by one of the stable lads, and pay him with sweets."

I laughed again.

"All that has gone by," I said.  "In those days of our experience we
believed that our mutual liking was actual love.  Even if we now smile
at our recollections, they were, nevertheless, the happiest hours of all
our lives.  Love is never so fervent and devoted as in early youth."

"Ah!" she answered in a serious tone.  "You are quite right.  I have
never since those days known what it is to really love."

I glanced at her sharply.  Her eyes were cast upon the ground in sudden
melancholy.

Was that speech of hers a veiled declaration that she loved me still!  I
held my breath for an instant, then looking straight before me, saw,
standing a few yards away, in conversation with Mrs. Blain, a female
figure in a boating costume of cream flannel braided with coral pink.

"Look?"  I exclaimed, glad to avoid responding.  "You have another
visitor, I think."

She glanced in the direction I indicated, then hastened forward to greet
the new-comer.

The slim-waisted figure turned, and next second I recognised the
strikingly handsome profile of Eva Glaslyn, the mysterious woman I
secretly loved with such passionate ardour and affection.

"Come, Frank, let me introduce you," Mary cried, after enthusiastically
kissing her friend.

I stepped forward, and as I did so, she turned and fixed on me her
large, blue laughing eyes.  Not a look, not an expression of her pure
countenance was altered.

As I gazed into those eyes I saw that they were as dear as the purest
crystal, and that I could look through them straight into her very soul.
I bowed and grasped the tiny, refined hand she held forth to me--that
soft hand which I had once before touched--when it was cold and
lifeless.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

BEAUTY AT THE HELM.

Together we stood on the lawn near the river-bank gossiping, and as I
looked into Eva's flawless face, whereon the expression had now become
softened, I longed to tell her the most sacred secret of my heart.  Had
she, I wondered, recognised in me the man she encountered in St. James's
Park when on that mysterious errand of hers?  What could have been the
nature of that errand?  Whom did she go there to meet?

One fact was at that moment to me more curious than all others, namely,
her friendship with Mrs. Blain, the woman who, according to the
landlord, rented that house of mystery.  By the exercise of care and
discretion, I might, I told myself, learn something which would perhaps
lead, if not to the solution of the enigma, then to some clue upon which
the police might work.  But to accomplish this I should be compelled to
exercise the most extreme caution, for both mother and daughter were
evidently acute to detect any attempt to gain their secret, while it
seemed more than probable that Eva herself--if actually aware of the
affair, which was, of course, not quite certain--had some motive in
keeping all knowledge of it concealed.

Who, a hundred times I wondered, was the man who, after lingering
opposite Buckingham Palace, had entered the house in Ebury Street?
Without doubt Eva had gone to the park to meet him, but it seemed that,
growing impatient, or fearful of recognition by others, she had left
before his arrival.

True, the police had watched the house wherein the man disappeared, but
up to the present he had not been seen again.  Boyd had told me, when I
had seen him that very morning, that he had left by some exit at the
rear, and that his entry there was only to throw any watcher off the
scent.

It was evident that the man, whoever he was, had very ingeniously got
clear away.

Dick, who was playing tennis, at last came forward to be introduced to
my divinity, and presently whispered to me his great admiration for her.
I was about to tell him who she really was, but on reflection felt that
I could act with greater discretion if the truth remained mine alone,
together with the secret of my love for her.  Therefore I held my peace,
and he, in ignorance that she was the missing victim of that amazing
tragedy, walked at her side along the water's edge, laughing merrily,
and greatly enjoying her companionship.

Mrs. Blain invited us all to dine, but the Moberlys were compelled to
decline, they having a party of friends at home.  Therefore, we saw them
oil amid many shouts, hand-wavings and peals of laughter, and when they
had gone we sat again on the lawn, now brilliant in the golden blaze of
sundown.

It still wanted an hour to dinner, therefore Mary suggested that we all
four should go out on the water, a proposal accepted with mutual
enthusiasm.  As I was not an expert in punting, Mary and Dick pushed off
in the punt, the former handling the long pole with a deftness acquired
by constant practice, while, with Eva Glaslyn in the stern of a gig, I
rolled up my sleeves and bent to the oars.

The sunset was one of those gorgeous combinations of crimson and gold
which those who frequent the Thames know so well.  Upstream the flood of
crimson of the dying day caused the elms and willows to stand out black
against the cloudless sky, while every ripple caused by the boat caught
the sun-glow until the water seemed red as blood.

A great peace was there.  Not a single boat was in sight, not a sound
save the quiet lapping of the water against the bows and the slight
dripping of the oars as I feathered them.  We were rowing upstream, so
that the return would be easier, while Dick and his companion had punted
down towards Chertsey.  For the first time I was now alone with her.
She was lovely.

She had settled herself lazily among the cushions, lying back at her
ease and enjoying to the full the calm of the sunset hour, remarking now
and then upon the beauty of the scene and the charm of summer days
upstream.  Her countenance was animated and perfect in feature,
distinctly more beautiful than it had been on that well-remembered night
when I had found her lying back cold and lifeless.  How strange it all
was, I thought, that I should actually be rowing her there, when only a
few days before I had beheld her stiff and dead.  Alone, with no one to
overhear, I would have put a direct inquiry to her regarding the past,
but I feared that such question, if put prematurely, might prevent the
elucidation of the secret.  To get at the truth I must act
diplomatically, and exercise the greatest caution.

I sat facing her, bending with the oars, while she chatted on in a voice
that sounded as music to my ears.

"I love the river," she said.  "Last year we had a house-boat up beyond
Boulter's, and it was delightful.  There is really great fun in being
boxed up in so small a space, and one can also make one's place
exceedingly artistic and comfortable at very small expense.  We had a
ripping time."

"It is curious," I remarked, "that most owners of house-boats go in for
the same style of external decoration--rows of geraniums along the roof,
and strings of Chinese lanterns--look at that one over there."

"Yes," she laughed, glancing in the direction I indicated.  "I fear we
were also sinners in that respect.  It's so difficult to devise anything
new."  And she added, "Are you up the river much?"

"No," I responded, "not much, unfortunately.  My profession keeps me in
London, and I generally like to spend my three weeks' vacation on the
Continent.  I'm fond of getting a glance at other cities, and one
travels so quickly that the thing is quite easy."

"There are always more girls than men up the river," she said.  "I
suppose it is because men are at business and girls have to kill time.
We live down at Hampton, not far from the river.  It's a quiet,
dead-alive sort of place, and if it were not for boating and punting it
would be horribly dull."

"And in winter?"

"Oh, in winter we are always on the Riviera.  We go to Cannes each
December and stay till the end of April.  Mother declares she could not
live through an English winter."

This statement did not coincide with what the innkeeper's wife had told
me, namely, that the Glaslyns were much pressed for money.

"I spent one season in Nice a few years ago," I said.  "It is certainly
charming, and I hope to go there again."

"But is not our own Thames, with all its natural picturesqueness, quite
as beautiful in its way?" she asked, looking around.  "I love it.
People who have been up the Rhine and the Rhone, the Moselle and the
Loire, say that for picturesque scenery none of those great European
rivers compare with ours."

"I believe that to be quite true," I answered.  "Like yourself, I am
extremely fond of boating and picnicking."

"We often have picnics," she said.  "I'll get mother to invite you to
the next--if you'll come."

"Certainly," I answered, much gratified.  "I shall be only too
delighted."

We were at that moment passing two fine house-boats moored near one
another, one of which my companion explained belonged to a well-known
City stockbroker, and the other to a barrister of repute at the Chancery
Bar.  Both were gay with the usual geraniums and creepers, having
inviting-looking deck-chairs on the roof and canaries in gilded cages
hanging at the windows.

"Shall we go up the backwater?" she suddenly suggested.  "It is more
beautiful there than the main stream.  We might get some lilies."

"Of course," I answered, and with a pull to the left turned the boat
into the narrower stream branching out at the left, a stream that wound
among fertile meadows yellow with buttercups, and where long lines of
willows trailed in the water.

I was hot after a pretty stiff pull; therefore, when we had gone some
distance, I leaned on the oars, allowing the boat to drift on under the
bank where the long rushes waved in the stream and the pure white of the
water-lilies showed against the dark green of floating leaves.  Heedless
of the rudder-lines, Eva leaned over and gathered some, trailing her
hand in the water.

"How quiet and pleasant it is here," she remarked, her calm, sweet,
beautiful face showing what a great peace had come to her at that
moment.  It may not have been quite in keeping with the _convenances_
that she should have gone out like this alone with me, a comparative
stranger, yet girls of to-day think little of such things, and she was
nothing if not modern in dress, speech and frankness of manner.

We were far from the haunts of men in that calm hour of the dying day.
Indeed, already the crimson of the sun was fading into the rose of the
afterglow, and the stillness precursory of nightfall was complete save
for the rustle of some water-rat or otter among the sedge, or the swift
flight of a night-bird across the bosom of the stream.  The shadows were
changing and the glow on the water was turning from one colour to
another.  The cattle had come down to the brink, and wading to their
knees, whisked the flies away with their tails as they slowly chewed the
cud.

"Yes," I agreed.  "There is rest, perfect and complete, here.  How
different to London!"

"Ah, yes," she answered.  "I hate London, and very seldom go there,
except when necessity compels us to do shopping."

"Why do you hate it?"  I asked, at once pricking up my ears.  "Have you
any especial reason for disliking it?"

"Well, no," she laughed.  "I suppose it's the noise and bustle and hurry
that I don't like.  I'm essentially a lover of the country.  Even
theatres, concerts and such-like amusements have but little attraction
for me.  I know it sounds rather absurd that a girl should make such a
declaration, but I assure you I speak the truth."

I did not doubt her.  Any one with an open face like hers could not be
guilty of lying.  That statement was, in itself, an index to her
character.  She possessed a higher mind than most women, and was
something of a philosopher.  Truth to tell, this fact surprised me, for
I had until then regarded her as of the usual type of the educated woman
of to-day, a woman with a penchant for smartness in dress, freedom of
language, and the entertainment of the modern music-hall in preference
to opera.

I was gratified by my discovery.  She was a woman with a soul beyond
these things, with a sweet, lovable disposition--a woman far above all
others.  She was my idol.  In those moments my love increased to a mad
passion, and I longed to imprint a kiss upon those smiling lips, and to
take her in my arms to tell her the secret that I dared not allow to
pass my lips.

She leaned backwards on the cushions; her hands were tightly clasped
behind her head; her sleeves fell back, showing her well-moulded arms;
her sweet, childlike face was turned upward, with her blue eyes watching
me through half-closed lids; her small mouth was but half shut; she
smiled a little.

It entranced me to look upon her.  For the first time the loveliness of
a woman had made me blind and stupid.

I wanted to know more of the cause of her dislike of London, for I had
scented suspicion in her words.  Nevertheless, through all, she
preserved a slight rigidity of manner, and I feared to put any further
question at that moment.

Thus we rested in silence, dreaming in the darkening hour.

I sat facing her, glancing furtively at her countenance and wondering
how she had become a victim in that inexplicable tragedy.  By what means
had she been spirited from that mysterious house and another victim
placed there in her stead?  All was an enigma, insoluble, inscrutable.

To be there with her, to exchange confidences as we had done, and to
chat lightly upon river topics all gave me the greatest gratification.
To have met her thus was an unexpected stroke of good fortune, and I was
overjoyed by her spontaneous promise to invite me to one of their own
river-parties.

Joy is the sunshine of the soul.  At that restful hour I drank in the
sweetness of her eyes, for I was in glamour-land, and my companion was
truly enchanting.

We must have remained there fully half an hour, for when I suddenly
looked at my watch and realised that we must in any case be late for
dinner, the light in the wild red heavens had died away, the soft pale
rose-pink had faded, and in the stillness of twilight there seemed a
wide, profound mystery.

"We must be getting back," I said quickly, pulling the boat out into
mid-stream with a long stroke.

"Yes.  The Blains will wonder wherever we've been," she laughed.  "Mary
will accuse you of flirting with me."

"Would that be such a very grave accusation?"  I asked, smiling.

"Ah, that I really don't know," she answered gaily.  "You would be the
accused."

"But neither of us are guilty, therefore we can return with absolutely
clear consciences, can't we?"

"Certainly," she laughed.  Then, after a brief pause, she asked, "Why
did you not bring Mary out in preference to me?"

"Why do you ask?"  I inquired in surprise.

"Well--it would be only natural, as you are engaged to her."

"Engaged to her?"  I echoed.  "I'm certainly not engaged to Mary Blain."

"Aren't you?" she exclaimed.  "I always understood you were."

"Oh, no," I said.  "We are old friends.  We were boy and girl together,
but that is all."

Her great blue eyes opened with a rather bewildered air, and she
exclaimed--

"How strange that people should make such a mistake!  I had long ago
heard of you as Mary's future husband."

Then again we were silent, both pondering deeply.  Had this remark of
hers been mere guess-work?  Was this carefully-concealed question but a
masterstroke of woman's ingenuity to ascertain whether I loved Mary
Blain?  It seemed very likely to be so.  But she was so frank in all
that I could not believe it of her.  No doubt she had heard some story
of our long-past love, and it had been exaggerated into an engagement,
as such stories are so often apt to be.

Soon we emerged from the backwater into the main stream, and with our
bow set in the direction of Laleham I rowed down with the current
without loss of time.  The twilight had fast deepened into dusk; the
high poplars and drooping willows along the bank had grown dark, though
the broad surface of the stream, eddying here and there where a fish
rose, was still of a blue steely hue, and far away upstream only a long
streak of grey showed upon the horizon.  The stars shone down in the
first faint darkness of the early night.  Presently I glanced behind me,
and in the distance saw a yellow ray, which my companion, well versed in
river geography, told me was a light in one of the windows of Riverdene.

It had grown quite chilly, and the meadows were wreathed in faint white
mist, therefore I spurted forward, and soon brought the boat up to the
steps.

I knew that the world now held nothing for me but Eva.

When we entered the dining-room, a fine apartment with the table laid
with shining plate, decorated with flowers, and illuminated with
red-shaded candles, we were greeted, as we expected, by a loud and
rather boisterous welcome by Dick and Mary.  We were, of course, full of
apologies, being nearly half an hour late.  But up-river dinner is a
somewhat movable feast, so Mrs. Blain quickly forgave us, and while I
sat by Mary on her one hand, Dick seated himself at Eva's side.

Gaily we gossiped through a merry meal, washed down with a real
Berncastel, and followed by old port, coffee, and curacoa.  Yet my mind
was full of strange apprehensions.  What possible connexion could these
three women have with that crime which the police were withholding from
the public?  That they were all three aware that a tragedy had taken
place seemed quite clear.  Yet all remained silent.

I had detected in Mrs. Blain's manner an anxiety and nervousness which I
had never before noticed, yet I refrained from putting any further
question to her, lest I might, by doing so, show my hand.  She could not
keep from her tone when she spoke to me a note of insincerity, which my
ear did not fail to detect.

Our conversation over dessert turned upon dogs, the performances of
Mary's pug having started the discussion, and quite inadvertently Dick,
whose mind seemed always centred upon his work, for he was nothing if
not an enthusiast, suddenly said--

"Dogs are now being used by the police to trace criminals.  There is no
better method when it can be accomplished, for a bloodhound will follow
a trail anywhere with unfailing accuracy, even after some hours."

"Do they actually use them now?" asked Mrs. Blain in a strained,
faltering voice, her wine-glass poised in her hand.

"Yes," he responded.  "They've been utilised with entire success in two
or three cases this week, not only in London, but in the provinces also.
They are unfailing, and will track the guilty one with an accuracy
that's absolutely astounding."

Eva and Mary exchanged quick glances across the table, while Mrs. Blain
sipped her wine and stirred uneasily in her chair.

I noticed that the colour had died out from the faces of all three, and
that in their blanched countenances was a look of mingled fear and
suspicion.

My friend had led that conversation with remarkable tact to quite an
unlooked-for result.

He lifted his eyes to mine for an instant and read my thoughts.  My mind
became filled with a presentiment of future ill.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE DEFORMED MAN'S STATEMENT.

Youth is as short as joy, and happiness vanishes like all else.  In the
mad hurry of life, however, we heed not such things.  We live only for
to-day.

On our way back to Waterloo that night Dick earnestly discussed the
situation.

"And what's your opinion now?"  I inquired, as he sat opposite me in the
corner of the railway carriage.

Dick smiled slightly.  "Both mother and daughter are connected with the
affair, and are in deadly fear," he replied decisively.  "While in the
punt with Mary Blain I had a long chat with her, and the conclusion I've
formed is that she knows all about it.  Besides, she was very anxious to
know your recent movements--what you had been doing during the past week
or so."

"I wonder whether she suspects?"

"No, I don't think so," he answered.  "Neither mother nor daughter dream
that we are in possession of the secret.  You see no one has returned to
the place since the fatal night, and, as nothing has appeared in the
papers, they naturally conclude that the affair has not yet been
discovered."

"They evidently devour almost every morning and evening paper as it
arrives down there.  Did you notice the heap of papers in the
morning-room?"  I asked.

"Of course.  I kept my eyes well open while there," he replied.  "Did it
strike you that the plate used at dinner was of exactly the same pattern
as that on the table at Phillimore Place, and further, that among a pile
of novels in the drawing-room was a book which one would not expect to
find in such a place--a work known mainly to toxicologists, for it deals
wholly with the potency of poisons?"

"No," I said in surprise, "I didn't notice either of those things."

"But I did," he went on reflectively.  "All these facts go to convince
me."

"Of what?"

"That we are working in the right direction to obtain a key to the
mystery," he responded.  Then suddenly he added: "By the way, that girl
Glaslyn is certainly very beautiful.  I envied you, old fellow, when you
took her for a row."

I smiled.  I had determined not to reveal to him her identity as the
woman whom I had first discovered lifeless, but his natural shrewdness
was far greater than mine.  He was a born investigator of crime, and had
not Fate placed him in a newspaper office, he would, I believe, have
become a renowned detective.

"Glaslyn?  Eva Glaslyn?" he repeated, as if to himself.  "Why, surely
that's the name of the girl you met in St. James's Park and followed to
Hampton--the woman whom you found dead on your first visit to the house
with Patterson?  Is that really so?" he cried, in sudden amazement.

I nodded, without replying.

"Then, Frank, old chap," he answered in the low, hoarse voice of one
utterly staggered, "this affair has assumed such a devilishly
complicated phase that I fear we shall never get at the truth.  To
approach any of those three women would only be to place them on their
guard, and without their assistance we can't possibly act with success."

"Then what do you suggest?"  I asked.

"Suggest?  I can suggest nothing," he answered.  "The complications on
every side are too great--far too great."

"Only Eva Glaslyn can assist us," I observed.  "Yes.  She alone can most
probably tell us the truth, but her friendship for the Blains is proof
positive that her secret is a guilty one, even though she was so near
being a victim."

"She was a victim," I declared.  "When I saw her she was apparently
lifeless, lying cold and still in the chair, with every appearance of
one dead.  But what causes you to think that her secret is a guilty
one?"  I asked hastily.

"The Blains undoubtedly are implicated in the matter, and she, their
friend, is in possession of their secret," he argued.  "As a victim, she
would be prompted to expose them if she did not fear exposure herself.
She's therefore held to enforced silence."

His argument was a very forcible one, and during the remainder of the
journey to London I sat back calmly reflecting upon it.  It was a theory
which had not before occurred to me, but I hesitated to accept it,
because I could not believe that upon this woman who held me beneath the
spell of her marvellous beauty could there rest any such hideous shadow
of guilt.  I remembered those clear blue eyes, that fair open
countenance, and that frank manner of speech, and refused to give
credence to my friend's allegation.

Slowly passed the days.  Summer heat increased and in London the
silk-hatted world had already turned their thoughts towards the open
fields and the sea-beach.  The summer holidays were drawing near at
hand.  How much that brief vacation of a week or fortnight means to the
toiling Londoner! and how much more to his ailing wife and puny family,
doomed to live year after year in the smoke-halo of some black, grimy
street into which the sun never seems to shine, or in some cheap,
crowded suburb where the jerry-built houses stand in long, inartistic,
parallel rows and the cheap streets swarm with unwashed, shouting
offspring!  I had arranged to take my holiday in winter and go down to
the Riviera, a treat I had long since promised myself, therefore both
Dick and I continued our work through those stifling days, obtaining
from Boyd every now and then the results of his latest inquiries.  These
results, it must be said, were absolutely nil.

I had agreed with Dick to keep our suspicions entirely to ourselves,
therefore we gave no information to Boyd, preferring to carry out our
inquiries in our own method rather than seeking his aid.  It was well,
perhaps, that we did this, for the police too often blunder by
displaying too great an energy.  I was determined if possible to protect
Eva.

At Riverdene, Dick and I were welcome guests and were often invited to
Sunday river-parties, thus showing that any suspicions entertained of us
in that quarter had been removed.  Time after time I had met Eva, and we
had on lots of occasions gone out on the river together, exploring over
and over again that winding shaded backwater, and picking lilies and
forget-me-nots at the spot where on that memorable evening we had first
exchanged confidences.

I had received no invitation to The Hollies, but she had apologised,
saying that the unusual heat had prostrated her mother, and that for the
present they had been compelled to abandon their picnics.  Many were the
afternoons and evenings I idled away in a deck-chair on that well-kept
lawn, or, accompanied by Mary, Eva, Cleugh and Fred Langdale, who, by
the way, turned out to be an insufferable, over-dressed "bounder" who
was continually dangling at Eva's skirts, we would go forth and pay
visits to various house-boats up and down stream.

Langdale looked upon me with a certain amount of jealousy, I think, and,
truth to tell, was not, as I had imagined, of the milk-and-water genus.
Eva seemed to regard him as a necessary evil, and used him as a tame
cat, a kind of body servant to fetch and carry for her.  From her
remarks to me, however, I had known full well from the first that there
was not a shadow of affection on her side.  She had explained how she
simply tolerated him because companions were few at Hampton and he was a
fairly good tennis player, while he, on his part, was unconsciously
making an arrant ass of himself in the eyes of all by his efforts to
cultivate a drawl that he deemed aristocratic, and to carefully
caressing his moustache in an upward direction.

Dick Cleugh, thorough-going Bohemian that he was, cared but little, I
believe, for those riparian gatherings.  True, he played tennis, rowed,
punted and ate the strawberries and cream with as great a zest as any of
us; nevertheless, I knew that he accepted the invitation with but one
object, and that he would far rather have strolled in one of the parks
with Lily Lowry than row Mary Blain up and down the stream.

Lily often came to our chambers.  She was about twenty-two, of a rather
Southern type of beauty, with a good figure, a graceful gait, and a
decidedly London _chic_.  She spoke, however, with that nasal twang
which stamps the true South Londoner, and her expressions were not
absolutely devoid of the slang of the Newington Butts.  Yet withal she
was a quiet, pleasant girl.

Thus half the month of July went by practically without incident, until
one blazing day at noon, when, I went forth into Fleet Street for lunch,
I unexpectedly encountered Dick, hot and hurrying, his hat tilted back.
He had left home very early that morning to work up some "startling
discovery" that had been made out at Plaistow, and already hoarse-voiced
men were crying the "Fourth _Comet_" with the "latest details" he had
unearthed.

In reply to his question as to where I was going, I told him that after
luncheon I had to go down to Walworth to make some trifling inquiry,
whereupon he said--

"Then I wish you'd do a favour for me, old fellow."

"Of course," I answered promptly.  "What is it?"

"Call at the Lowrys and tell Lily to meet me at Loughborough Junction at
eight to-night, at the usual place.  I want to take her to the Crystal
Palace to see the fireworks.  I was going to wire, but you'll pass her
father's place.  Will you give her the message?"

"Certainly," I answered.  "But is she at home?"

"Yes.  She's got her holidays.  Tell her I'm very busy, or I'd have come
down myself.  Sorry to trouble you."

I promised him to deliver the message, and after eating a chop at the
_Cock_, I walked along to the Gaiety and there took a blue motor-bus,
which deposited me outside a small, very dingy shop, a few doors up the
Walworth Road from the _Elephant and Castle_, which bore over the
little, old-fashioned window the sign, "Morris Lowry, Herbalist."
Displayed to the gaze of the passer-by were various assortments of
lozenges and bunches of dried herbs, boxes of pills guaranteed to cure
every ill, and a row of dirty glass bottles filled with yellow liquids,
containing filthy-looking specimens of various repulsive objects.  The
glaring cards in the window advertised such desirable commodities as
"Lowry's Wind Pills," "Lowry's Cough Tablets," and "Lowry's Herbal
Ointment," while the window itself and the whole shop-front was
dirt-encrusted, one pane being cracked across.

As I entered the dark little shop, a mere box of a place smelling
strongly of camomile, sarsaparilla and such-like herbs, which hung in
dried and dusty confusion all over the ceiling, there arose from a chair
the queerest, oddest creature that one might ever meet, even in the
diverse crowds of lower London.  Morris Lowry, the herbalist, was a
strange specimen of distorted humanity, hunch-backed, with an abnormally
large, semi-bald head, a scrubby grey beard, and wearing large,
old-fashioned, steel-rimmed spectacles, which imparted to him an
appearance of learning and distinction.  His legs were short and stumpy,
his body rather stout, and his arms of inordinate length, while the
whole appearance of his sickly, yellow, wizened face was such as might
increase one's belief in the Darwinian theory.  Indeed, it was
impossible to look upon him without one's mind reverting to monkeys, for
his high cheek bones and square jaws bore a striking resemblance to the
facial expression of the ancestral gorilla.

Dressed in black cloak and conical hat he would have made an ideal stage
wizard; but attired as he was in greasy black frock coat, and trousers
that had long ago passed the glossy stage, he was certainly as
curious-looking an individual as one could have found on the Surrey side
of the Thames.  He was no stranger to me, for on several occasions I had
called there with Dick, and had chatted with him.  Trade in herbs had
dwindled almost to nothing.  Nowadays, with all sorts and varieties of
well-advertised medicines, the people of Newington, Walworth, and the
New Kent Road did not patronise the old-fashioned herbal remedies,
which, if truth be told, are perhaps more potent and wholesome than any
of the quack nostrums flaunted in the daily papers and on the hoardings.
Ten years ago the herbalists did a brisk trade in London, especially
among lower class housewives who, having come up from the country, were
glad enough to obtain the old-world decoctions; but nowadays the
herbalists' only source of profit seems to be in the sale of skin soaps
and worm tablets.

Old Morris, with his ugly, deformed figure and shining bald head,
welcomed me warmly as I entered, and at once invited me into the little
shop-parlour beyond, a mere dark cupboard which still retained the odour
of the midday meal--Irish stew it must have been--and seemed infested
with a myriad of flies.  Possibly the fragrance of the herbs attracted
them, or else they revelled among the succulent tablets exposed in the
open boxes upon the narrow counter.  These lozenges, together with his
various bottled brews, tinctures of this and of that, the old man
manufactured in a kind of dilapidated shed at the rear, which, be it
said, often offended the olfactory nerves of the whole neighbourhood
when certain herbs were in the process of stewing.

"Lily is out," croaked the weird old fellow, in response to my inquiry,
"but I'll, of course, give her the message.  She don't get much chance
nowadays, poor child!  When her mother was alive we used to manage to
run down to Margit for a week or fortnight in the hot weather.  But
now--" and he shrugged his shoulders with quite a foreign air.  "Well,
there's only me to look after the shop," he added.  "And things are not
so brisk as they were a few years ago."  He spoke with a slight accent,
due, Cleugh had told me, to the fact that his mother was French, and he
had lived in France a number of years.  Few people, however, noticed it,
for by many he was believed to be a Jew.

I nodded.  I could see that the trade done there was infinitesimal and
quite insufficient to pay the rent; besides, was not the fact that Lily
had been compelled to go out and earn her own living proof in itself
that the strange-looking old fellow was the reverse of prosperous?  The
herbal trade in London is nearly as dead as the manufacture of that once
popular metal known as German silver.

"Lily has gone to see an aunt of hers over at Battersea," the old man
explained.  "But she'll be home at five.  She's got her holidays now,
and, poor girl, she's been sadly disappointed.  She expected to go down
to her married sister at Huntingdon, but couldn't go because her
sister's laid up with rheumatic fever.  So she has to stay at home this
year.  And this place isn't much of a change for her."

I glanced around at the dark, close little den, and at the
strong-smelling shop beyond, and was fain to admit that he spoke the
truth.

"I suppose your friend, Mr. Cleugh, is busy as usual with his murders
and his horrors?" he remarked, smiling.  "He's a wonderful acute fellow.
I always read the paper every day, and am generally interested in the
results of the inquiries by the _Comet_ man.  Half London reads his
interviews and latest details."

"Yes," I answered.  "He's kept hard at work always.  There seems to be a
never-ceasing string of sensations nowadays.  As soon as one mystery is
elucidated another springs up somewhere else."

"Ah," he answered, his dark eyes gazing at me through his heavy-rimmed
glasses, "it was always so.  Never a day goes past without a mystery of
some sort or another."

"I suppose," I said, "if the truth were told, more people are poisoned
in London than ever the police or the public imagine."  I knew that all
herbalists were versed in toxicology more or less, and had a vague idea
that I might learn something from him.

"Of course," he answered, "there are several poisons, the results of
which bear such strong resemblance to symptoms of disease, that doctors
are very frequently misled, and the verdict is `Death from natural
causes.'  In dozens of cases every year the post-mortem proves disease,
and thus the poisoner escapes."

"What causes you to think this?"  I inquired eagerly, recollections of
the tragedy in Kensington vividly in my mind.

"Well," he said, "I only make that allegation because every herbalist in
London sells poisons in smaller or greater quantity.  If he's an unwise
man, he asks no questions.--If he's wise, he makes the usual inquiry."

"And then?"

"Well," the old man croaked with his small eyes twinkling in the
semi-darkness, "the customer generally jays pretty dearly for the
article."

"Which means that an entry is made in the poison-register which is not
altogether the truth--eh?"

He smiled and nodded.

"When poisons are sold at a high price," the old herbalist answered,
"the vendor has no desire to know for what purpose the drug is to be
used.  It is generally supposed that it is to kill vermin--you
understand."

"And human beings are more often the victims?"  I hazarded.

He raised his grey, shaggy brows with an expression of affected
ignorance, answering--

"Who can tell?  The herbs or drugs are sold unlabelled, and wrapped in
blank paper.  As far as the herbalist is concerned, his liability is at
an end, just as a cutler sells razors, or a gun-maker revolvers."

"And do you really believe that there is much secret poisoning in London
at this moment?"  I inquired, greatly interested.

"Believe it?" he echoed.  "Why, there's no doubt of it.  Why do people
buy certain herbs which can be used for no other purpose than the
destruction of human life?"

"Do they actually buy poisons openly?"  I exclaimed in surprise.

"Well, no, not exactly openly," he responded.  "They are most of them
very wary how they approach the subject, and all are prepared to pay
heavily."

I looked at the odd, ugly figure before me.  For the first time I had
learned the secret of this trade.  Perhaps even he retailed poisons to
those who wanted such undesirable commodities, charging exorbitant
prices for them, and entering fictitious sales in the poison-book which,
by law, he was compelled to keep.

"Have you actually ever had dealings with any poisoners?"  I inquired.
"Remember," I added laughing, "that I'm not interviewing you, that we
are friends, and that I don't intend to publish this conversation in the
newspapers."

"That's rather a difficult question," he responded, with a look of
mystery upon his face.  "Perhaps I'd best reply that I've before now
sold poisons to people who could want them for no other purpose than the
removal of superfluous friends."

"But do they actually ask openly for this herb or that?"

"Certainly--with excuses for its use, of course," and he went on to
remark how lucidly the science of poisoning was explained in a certain
book which might be purchased anywhere for seven-and-sixpence, a work
which had undoubtedly cost thousands of human lives.  Then instantly I
recollected.  It was a copy of this same book that Dick had noticed in
the morning-room at Riverdene.

"In this very room," the old fellow went on, "I've had some queer
inquiries made by all sorts and conditions of people.  Only the other
day a young girl called to consult me, having heard, she said, that I
sold for a consideration a certain deadly herb.  By her voice she was
evidently a lady."

His final observation increased my interest in this remarkable
conversation.

"What was she like?"  I inquired with eagerness, for since the affair at
Phillimore Place I took the keenest interest in anything appertaining to
poisons.

"She was rather tall and slim, dressed in black.  But my eyes are not so
good as they used to be, and, in the dark here, I couldn't see much of
her face through her veil.  She was pretty, I think."

"And did you actually sell her what she wanted?"

He hesitated a moment.

"Certainly, and at my own price," he answered at last in his thin,
rasping voice.  "The stuff, one of the most dangerous and little-known
compounds, not obtainable through any ordinary channel, is most
difficult to handle.  But I saw that it was not the first time she'd had
azotics in her possession," and he smiled grimly, rendering his face the
more hideous.  "From her attitude and conversation I should imagine her
to be a very ingenious, but not altogether desirable acquaintance," he
added.

"And didn't you note anything by which you might recognise her again?"
I inquired.  "Surely young girls are not in the habit of buying poison
in that manner!"

"Well," croaked the distorted old fellow, with a grin, "I did notice one
thing, certainly.  She wore a brooch of rather uncommon pattern.  It was
a playing-card in gold and enamel--a tiny five of diamonds."

"A five of diamonds!"  I gasped.

At that instant the truth became plain, although I hesitated to believe
it.  The brooch was Eva Glaslyn's; one that she had worn only three days
before when I was last down at Riverdene, and while on the water with
her I had remarked its quaintness.

Could it be possible that she had actually purchased a deadly drug of
this hideous old man?  Or were there other brooches of similar pattern
and design?  Thus were increased the shadows which seemed to envelop
her.  My soul seemed killed within me.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

DICK BECOMES MYSTERIOUS.

The startling statement of Morris Lowry caused me very considerable
uneasiness.  On my return to Grey's Inn, however, I made no mention of
our strange conversation to Dick, who returned that evening rather late
after a heavy day of news-hunting.  Old Lowry had evidently been in a
confidential mood that afternoon, and I had no right to expose any
secret of his extraordinary business.  Therefore I kept my own counsel,
pondering deeply over his statement when Cleugh had gone forth to meet
Lily, wondering whether it might have been some other woman who had worn
the brooch with the five of diamonds.

I sat at the window gloomily watching the light fade from the leaden
London sky.  The evening was stifling, for no fresh air penetrated to
that small open space, surrounded as it was by miles and miles of
smoke-blackened streets, and as night crept on the heavens became a dull
red with the reflection of the myriad lights of the city.

Heedless of all, I strove to find some solution of the enigma.
Inquiries made by Boyd, one of the shrewdest detectives in London, had
failed utterly.  He was now relying solely upon me.  There was but one
clue, that given by the landlord of the house, and this I had followed
with the result that the circumstances had only grown more and more
bewildering.  As far as could be discerned there was no motive whatever
in taking the lives of either the man or the woman, while the escape of
Eva was an astounding fact of which I longed for an explanation from her
own lips.

I loved her.  Yes, the more I reflected as I sat there gazing aimlessly
across the square, regardless of the fleeting time, the more I became
convinced that she was all the world to me.  I recollected her
daintiness and her grace, the sweetness of her smile and the music of
her voice, telling myself that she alone was my idol, that my love for
Mary had after all been a mere boyish fancy, and that this affection was
a true, honest, deep-rooted one, the outcome of a great and boundless
love.

Was there, however, not a great and terrible suspicion upon her?  By a
mere chance, that chance which Fate sends so often to thwart the
murderer's plans or give him up to justice, I had learnt that she--or
some one answering exactly to her description--had actually purchased
some poisonous compound.  I had believed her to have been a victim on
that fatal night, but now it seemed that, on the other hand, she was
herself given to the study of poisons; a strange subject, indeed, for a
woman to take up.  Then calmly I asked myself if it were possible to
cast all memory of her aside, and after reflection discovered that such
a course was utterly unfeasible.  To entertain no further thought of her
was entirely out of all question, for I loved her with a fierce and
intense affection, and thought of nought else but her strange connexion
with this mystery which, if made public, would send a thrill through
London.

There were some very ugly facts hidden somewhere, yet try how I would I
could form no distinct straightforward theory.  Eva was naive and
sincere, frank and open, undesigning and entirely inartificial,
nevertheless beneath her candour she seemed to be concealing some dread
secret.

The latter I was determined to discover, and while night drew on and
shadowy figures crossed and recrossed the square, I still sat plunged in
thought, pondering deeply to find some means whereby to approach her.

I love her--a woman upon whom the gravest suspicion rested of having
purchased a deadly drug for some nefarious purpose.  Truly in the fitful
fever of life the decree of Fate is oft-times strange.  Men have loved
murderesses, and women have, before now, given their hearts, nay, even
their lives, to shield cowards and assassins.

Suddenly a movement behind me brought me back to a sense of my
surroundings, and I saw that Dick had returned.

"Why, you're back very early," I said.  "Have you been down to the
Crystal Palace?"

"Yes, of course," he answered gaily.  "What have you been doing, you
lazy beggar?  It's past half-past eleven."

"Nothing," I answered, surprised that it was so late.  "I tried to
write, but it's too beastly hot to work."

"Quite fresh down at the Palace," he answered.  "Big crowd on the
Terrace, and the fireworks not at all bad."

"Lil all right?"

"Yes.  Sends her regards, and all that sort of thing.  But--" and he
hesitated, at the same time tossing his hat across upon a chair, and
seating himself on the edge of the table in that careless,
devil-may-care style habitual to him.

"But what?"  I inquired.

He sighed, and a grave expression crossed his face.

"Fact is, old chap," he said in an unusually earnest tone, "I fear I'm
getting a bit tired of her.  She wasn't the least bit interesting
to-night."

"Sorry to hear that, old man," I said.  "Perhaps she wasn't very well--
or you may be out of sorts--liver, or something.  A woman isn't always
in the same mood, you know, just as a man is liable to attacks of
blues."

"Yes, yes, I know all that," he exclaimed impatiently.  "But I've been
thinking over it a long time, and, to tell the truth, I'm no longer in
love with her.  It's no good making a fool of the girl any longer."

"But she loves you," I observed, knowing well in what affection she held
my erratic friend.

"That's the devil of it!" he snapped.  "To tell the truth, it has
worried me a lot lately."

"You've neglected her very much," I observed, "but surely she's
good-looking, a charming companion, and has a very even temper.  You've
told me so lots of times.  Why have you so suddenly grown tired?"

"I really don't know," he answered, smiling, at the same time slowly
filling his pipe.  "Perhaps it's my nature.  I was always a wanderer,
you know."

I looked at him steadily for some moments, then said bluntly--

"Look here, Dick, you needn't conceal the truth from me, old fellow.
Mary Blain has attracted you, and you are throwing Lil over on her
account."

"Rubbish!" he laughed.  "Mary's a nice girl, but as for loving her--"
and he shrugged his shoulders without concluding his sentence.

Notwithstanding this protest, however, I felt convinced that I had
guessed aright, and regretted, because I knew how well Lily loved him,
and what a blow it would be to her.  She and I had been good friends
always, and I liked her, for she was demure, modest, and withal
dignified, even though she were but a shop assistant.

"Well, is it really fair to Lily?"  I suggested, after a rather painful
pause.

"You surely wouldn't advise me to tie myself to a girl I don't love?" he
protested, rather hastily.  "You are a fellow with lots of common sense,
Frank, and your advice I'd follow before that of any chap I know, but
here you're a bit wide of the mark, I think."

"Thanks for the compliment, old fellow," I responded.  "Of course it
isn't for me to interfere in your private affairs, but all I advise in
this matter is a little hesitation before decision."

"It's useless," he said.  "I've already decided."

"To give up Lily?"

"I have given her up.  I told her to-night that I shouldn't see her
again."

"You did!"  I exclaimed, looking at him in surprise.  I could not
understand this sudden change of his.  A few hours before he had been
full of Lil's praises, telling me how charming she could be in
conversation, and declaring that he loved her very dearly.  It was more
than remarkable.

"Yes," he said.  "You know that I can't bear to beat about the bush, so
I resolved to tell her the truth.  She'd have to know it some day, and
better at once than later on."

"Well, all I can say is that you're a confounded brute," I exclaimed
plainly.

"I know I am," he admitted.  "That's the worst of it.  I'm too deuced
outspoken.  Any other chap would have simply left her and ended it by
letter.  I, however, put the matter to her philosophically."

"And how did she take it?"

His lips compressed for an instant as his eyes met mine.

"Badly," he answered in a low voice.  "Tears, protestations of love, and
quite a scene.  Fortunately we were alone together in the train.  I got
out with her at the _Elephant and Castle_, and took her home."

"Did you see her father?"

"No.  And don't want to.  He's no good--the ugly old sinner."

"Why?"  I inquired quickly, wondering how much he knew.

But he evaded my question, answering--

"I mean he's a sanguinary old idiot."

"He idolises Lily."

"I know that."  Then, after a brief pause he added, "I may appear a
brute, a silly fool and all the rest, but I tell you, Frank, I've acted
for the best."

"I can't see it."

"No, I don't suppose you can, old chap," he answered.  "But you will
entirely agree with my course of action some day ere long."

His words puzzled me, for they seemed to contain some hidden meaning.

"Are you absolutely certain that you've no further love for Lil?"  I
inquired.

"Absolutely."

"And you are likewise equally certain that it is not the personal charms
of Mary Blain which have led you to take this step?"

"I'm quite certain of it," he answered.  "You once loved Mary, remember,
but broke it off.  Surely we are all of us at liberty to choose our own
helpmate in life?"

"Of course," I responded.  "It was not, however, my fault that we
parted.  Mary was infatuated with another."

"That just bears out my argument," he went on.  "She didn't love you,
and therefore considered herself perfectly justified in her attachment
with your rival.  I don't love Lil."

"But it seems that you have parted from her in a really cruel and
heartless manner.  This isn't like you, Dick," I added reproachfully.

"Why are you her champion?" he asked, laughing.  "Are you in love with
her?"

"Not at all," I assured him with a smile.  "Only I don't like to see a
girl badly treated by any friend of mine."

"Oh, that's good!" he laughed.  "You've treated girls badly in your
time, I suppose.  Have a peg, old fellow, and let's close the debate."
Then he added, in the language of Parliament, where he so often reported
the speeches of the Irish ranters, "I move that this House do now
adjourn."

"But I don't consider that you've acted with your usual tact in this
affair," I protested, heedless of his words.  "You could, of course,
have broken if off in a much more honourable way if you had chosen."

"I've been quite honourable," he declared, in atone of annoyance.  "I
told her plainly that my love had cooled.  Hark!"  The clock on the inn
hall was striking midnight.  "There's no suspension of the twelve
o'clock rule.  Shut up, Frank, and be damned to you."

He crossed to the sideboard, mixed a couple of whisky-and-sodas, and
handed me one, saying--

"Thirsty weather this.  My mouth's as dry as a kipper."

I willingly admitted that the summer dust of London was conducive to the
wholesale consumption of liquid, but was nevertheless reflecting upon
his remarkable change of manner towards Lily.  Something, I believed,
had occurred of which he had not told me.

He stretched himself in the armchair, placed his glass at his elbow, and
began to blow a suffocating cloud from his most cherished brier.

"I wish you'd spend sixpence on a new pipe," I said, coughing.

"This one cost fourpence halfpenny in Fleet Street nearly two years
ago," he answered, without removing it from his lips.  "Don't you like
it?"

"My dear fellow, it's awful."

"Ah!  So they said at the office the other day.  Don't notice it
myself."

"But others do.  I'll make you a present of a new one to-morrow."

"Don't want it, old chap.  Have a drink yourself with the money.  This
one's quite good enough for me.  Besides, it'll keep the moths out of
our drawing-room furniture," and he gazed around the shabby apartment,
where, from the leather-covered chairs, the mysterious stuffing was in
many places peeping forth upon the world.

We smoked on.  Although I had been considerably annoyed by what he had
told me regarding Lily, his imperturbable good humour caused me to laugh
outright, whereat he observed--

"You're really a very funny beggar, Frank.  I like you exceedingly,
except when you try and dwell upon themes you don't understand.  Those
who do that are apt to wallow out of their depth.  You don't know my
reasons for throwing Lil over; therefore it's impossible for you to
regale me with any good advice.  You understand?"

"But what are your reasons?"  I inquired.

"You shall know them before long," he assured me.  "At present I don't
intend to say anything."

"This is the first time, Dick, we've had secrets from each other," I
observed gravely.

"No," he answered.  "You love the mysterious Eva, and have never told me
so.  That's a secret, isn't it?"

I was surprised that he had detected my love for her, and rather
alarmed, because if he had noticed it others had doubtless remarked it
also.  Therefore I questioned him, but he only laughed, saying--

"Why, anybody who saw you together down at Riverdene couldn't fail to
guess the truth.  People have sharp eyes, you know."

I was silent.  If this were actually true, then I feared that I had made
a hopeless fool of myself, besides wrecking any chance of eliciting
those facts which I had set my mind upon revealing at any hazard.

Presently he rose, crossing to his writing-table to scribble a letter,
while I, lighting a cigarette, sat silent, still thinking seriously upon
the words he had just uttered.

Through the veil of tobacco smoke I seemed to see that fair, smiling
face gazing at me, ever the same open countenance, the same clear eyes
of childlike blue, the same half-parted mouth that I had first seen on
that fatal night in Phillimore Place.  In my dream I thought that she
beckoned me to her, that she invited me to speak with her, and saw in
her eyes a calm, sweet expression--the expression of true womanly love.
It was but the chimera of an instant, a vision produced by my
wildly-disordered brain, yet so vivid it seemed that when it faded I
glanced across to my companion's bent figure, half fearing that he, too,
had witnessed it.

There are times when our imagination plays us such tricks--times when
the constant concentration of the mind reaches its climax and is
reflected down the aimless vista of our vision, causing us to see the
person upon whom our thoughts are centred.  Such a moment was this.  It
aroused within me an instant and intense longing to walk again at her
side, to speak to her, to hear her sweet, well-modulated voice--nay, to
tell her the deepest secret of my heart.

Thus it was that without invitation, or without previous introduction to
Lady Glaslyn, I called at the Hollies on the following afternoon.  A
neat maid showed me into a cosy, rather small sitting-room, and for a
few moments I remained there in expectancy.  Although the house was not
a large one it bore no stamp of the _nouveau riche_.  It was exceedingly
well-furnished, and surrounded by spacious grounds, wherein were a
number of old yews and beeches.  Old-fashioned, queer in its bygone
taste, it had stood there on the broad highway from historic Hampton to
London for probably a century and a half, being built in the days when
the villadom of Fulwell had not yet arisen, and Twickenham was still a
quiet village with its historic ferry, and where the stage-coaches
changed horses at that low-built old hostelry, the _King's Head_.  The
place stood back from the dusty-high road, half-hidden from the curious
gaze, yet, surrounded as it now was by smaller houses, some of them mere
cottages, while a few cheap shops had also sprung up in the vicinity,
the place was not really a desirable place of abode.  The district had
apparently sadly degenerated, like all places in the immediate vicinity
of the Metropolis.

Before long the door opened, and Eva, looking cool and sweet in a
washing dress of white drill, and wearing a straw hat with black band,
entered and greeted me cordially.

"Mother is out," she said.  "I'm so awfully sorry, as I wanted to
introduce you.  She's gone over to Riverdene, and I, too, was just about
to follow her.  If you'd been five minutes later I should have left."

"I'm lucky then to have just caught you," I remarked.  "But if you're
going to Riverdene, may I not accompany you?"

"Most certainly," she answered.  "Of course I shall be delighted," and
the light in her clear blue eyes told me that she was not averse to my
company.  She ordered a glass of port for me, and then said, "It's a
whole week since you've been down there.  Mary has several times
mentioned you, and wondered whether you'd grown sick of boating."

"I've been rather busy," I said apologetically.

"Busy with murders and all sorts of horribles, I suppose," she observed
with a smile.

"Yes," I answered, regarding her closely.  "Of late there have been one
or two sensational mysteries brought to light!"

"Mysteries!" she exclaimed, starting slightly.  "Oh, do tell me about
them.  I'm always interested in mysteries."

"The facts are in the papers," I answered, disinclined to repeat stories
which had already grown stale.  "The mysteries to which I referred were
very ordinary ones, containing no features of particular interest."

"I'm always interested in those kind of things," she said.  "You may
think me awfully foolish, but I always read them.  Mother grows so
annoyed."

"It's only natural!"  I answered.  "We who are engaged on newspapers,
however, soon cease to be interested in the facts we print, but of
course, if they didn't interest the public our papers wouldn't have any
circulation."

She glanced at me, and a vague thought possessed me, for the look in her
eyes was one of suspicion.

When she had drawn on her gloves we together went forth through the
garden and down to the road.  Suddenly it occurred to me that we might
go by train to Shepperton, and thence take a boat and row up to
Riverdene.  This I suggested, and she gladly welcomed the proposal,
declaring that it would be much more pleasant than driving along the
dusty, shadowless road from Shepperton to Laleham.

Half an hour later we were afloat at Shepperton, and although the
afternoon sun was blazing hot, it was nevertheless delightful on the
water.  With her lilac sunshade open she lolled lazily in the stern,
laughing and chatting as I pulled regularly against the stream.  Her
conversation was always charming, and her countenance, I thought,
fresher and more beautiful at that hour than I had ever before seen.
About her manner was an air of irresponsibility, and when she laughed it
was so gay a laugh that one would not dream that she had a single care
in all the world.  She was dainty from the crown of her hat to the tip
of her white _suede_ shoe, and as I sat in the boat before her, I felt
constrained to take her in my arms and imprint a fervent kiss of love
upon those sweet lips, arched and well-formed as a child's.

My position, however, was, to say the least, an exceedingly strange one.
I was actually loving a woman whom I suspected to be guilty of some
unknown but dastardly crime.  Dozens of times had I tried to impress
upon myself the utter folly of it, but my mind refused to be convinced
or set at rest.  I loved her; that was sufficient.  Nothing against her
had been proved, and until that had been done, ought not I, in human
justice, to consider her innocent?

Indeed, it was impossible to believe that this bright-eyed, pure-faced
girl before me, light-hearted, and graceful in every movement, had
actually secretly visited that dark little den in the Walworth Road and
purchased a drug for the purpose of taking the life of one of her
fellow-creatures.  Yet she wore at her throat the small enamelled brooch
with its five of diamonds, the ornament described by old Lowry, the
ornament which she had told me she had purchased as a souvenir at one of
the fashionable jewellers in the Montagne de la Cour in Brussels.

We had passed both locks, and were heading up to Laleham, when we
suddenly glided into the cool shade of some willows, the boughs of which
overhung the stream.  The shadow was welcome after the sun glare, and
resting upon the oars I removed my hat.

"Yes," she said, noticing my actions, "we've come up unusually quick.
Let's stay here a little time, it is so pleasant.  The breeze seems
quite cool."

Let it be punt, canoe or skiff, what more delightful than to moor
oneself snugly in the leafy shade, and with a pleasant companion "laze"
away the hours until the time comes to take up the sculls and gently
pull against the placid stream.  Everything was so peaceful, so quiet,
the ripple of the sculls alone breaking the stillness.  Yet, after all,
what a change has come over the river in recent years!  Good "pitches"
for anglers and quiet nooks for the lazy were, ten years ago, to be
discovered in every reach.  Now they must be diligently sought for, and
when found a note must be made of them.  Warning boards notifying that
landing or mooring alongside is prohibited were almost unknown, now they
greet one in every direction.  It is a pity; nevertheless there are
still many real joys in river life.

So we remained there beneath the willows, where the water was white with
lilies and the bank with its brambles was covered with wild flowers, and
as I "lazed" I looked into those clear blue eyes wherein my gaze became
lost, for she held me in fascination.  I loved her with all my soul.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THIS HAPLESS WORLD.

How it came about I can really scarcely tell.  I remember uttering mere
commonplaces, stammering at first as the bashful schoolboy stammers,
then growing more bold, until at length I threw all ceremony and reserve
to the winds, and grasping her tiny hand raised it to my lips.

"No," she said, somewhat coldly, drawing it away with more force than I
should have suspected.  "This is extremely foolish, Mr. Urwin.  It is,
of course, my fault.  I've been wrong in acting as I have done."

"How?"  I inquired, her harsh, cruel words instantly bringing me to my
senses.

"You have flirted with me on several occasions, and perhaps I have even
foolishly encouraged you.  If I have done so, then I am alone to blame.
Every woman is flattered by attention," she answered, gazing straight
into my eyes, and sighing slightly.

"But I love you!"  I cried.  "You surely must have seen, Eva, that from
the first day we were introduced I have been irrevocably yours.  I have
not, I assure you, uttered these words without weighty consideration,
nor without calmly putting the question to myself.  Can you give me
absolutely no hope?"

She shook her head.  There was a sorrowful expression upon her face, as
though she pitied me.

"None," she answered, and her great blue eyes were downcast.

"Ah, no!"  I cried in quick protest.  "Don't say that.  I love you with
a fierce, ardent affection such as few men have within their hearts.  If
you will but reciprocate that love, then I swear that the remainder of
my life shall be devoted to you."

"It is impossible," she responded in a harsh, despairing voice, quite
unlike her usual self.  Her head was bowed, as though she dare not again
look into my face.

Once more I caught her hand, holding it within my grasp.  It seemed to
have grown cold, and in an instant its touch brought back to me the
recollection of that fatal night in Kensington.  Would that I might lay
bare all that I knew, and ask her for an explanation.  But to do so
would be to show that I doubted her; therefore I was compelled to remain
silent.

"Why impossible?"  I inquired persuasively.  "The many times we have met
since our first introduction have only served to increase my love for
you.  Surely you will not withhold from me every hope?"

"Alas!" she faltered, with a downward sweep of her lashes, her hand
trembling in mine, "I am compelled."

"Compelled?"  I echoed.  "I don't understand.  You are not engaged to
Langdale?"

"No."

"Then why are you forced to give me this negative answer?"  I asked in
deep earnestness, for until then I had not known the true strength of my
love for her.

The seriousness of her beautiful countenance relaxed slightly, still her
breast slowly heaved and fell, plainly showing the agitation within her.

"Because it is absolutely imperative that I should do so," she replied.

Suddenly a thought flashed through my mind.

"Perhaps," I said, "perhaps I've been too precipitate.  If so--if I have
spoken too plainly and frankly--forgive me, Eva.  It is only because I
can no longer repress the great love I bear you.  I think of you
always--always.  My every thought is of you; my every hope is of
happiness at your side; my very life depends upon your favour and your
love."

"No, no!" she cried, with a quick movement of her hand as if to stay my
words.  "Don't say that.  You may remain my friend if you like--but you
may never be my lover--never!"

"Never your lover!"  I gasped, starting back as though she had dealt me
a blow.  I felt at that moment as though all I appreciated in life was
slipping from me.  I had staked all, everything, and lost.  "Ah, do not
give me this hasty answer," I urged.  "I have been too eager; I am a
fool.  Yet I love you with a stronger, fiercer passion than any man can
ever love you with, Eva.  You are my very life," and notwithstanding her
effort to snatch her hand away, I again raised it reverently to my lips.

"No, no.  This is a mere summer dream, Mr. Urwin," she said, with a cool
firmness well assumed, although she avoided my gaze.  "I have flirted
with you, it is true, and we have spent many pleasant hours together,
but I have never taken you seriously.  You were always so merry and
careless, you know."

"You did not believe, then, that I really loved you?"  I observed,
divining her thoughts.

"Exactly," she answered, still very grave.  "If I had thought so, I
should never have allowed our acquaintance to ripen as it has done."

"Are you annoyed that I should have declared only what is but the
absolute truth?"  I asked.

"Not at all," she responded quickly, with something of her old self in
her low, sweet voice.  "How can I be annoyed?"

"And you will forgive my hasty declaration?"  I urged.

"There is nothing to forgive," she replied, smiling.  "I only regret
that you have misconstrued my friendship into love."

I was silent.  These last words of hers crushed all hope from my soul.
She sat with her hand trailing listlessly in the water, apparently
intent upon the long rushes waving in the green depths below.

"Then," I said in a disappointed voice, half-choked with emotion, "then
you cannot love me, Eva, after all?"

"I did not say so," she answered slowly, almost mechanically.

"What?"  I cried joyously, again bending forward towards her.  "Will you
then try and love me--will you defer your answer until we know one
another better?  Say that you will."

Again she shook her head with sorrowful air.  She looked at me with a
kind of mingled grief and joy, bliss embittered by despair.

"Why should I deceive you?" she asked.  "Why, indeed, should you deceive
yourself?"

"I do not deceive myself," I protested, "I only know that I adore you;
that you are the sole light of my life, and that I love you devotedly."

"Ah!  And in a month, perhaps, you will tell a similar story to some
other woman," she observed doubtingly.  "Men are too often fickle."

"I swear that I'll never do that," I declared.  "My affairs of the heart
have been few."

"But Mary?" she suggested, and I knew from her tone that she had been
thinking deeply of her.

"Ours was a mere boy and girl liking," I hastened to assure her.  "Ask
her, and she will tell you the same.  We never really loved."

She smiled, rather dubiously I thought.

"But surely you are aware that she loves you even now," Eva answered.

"Loves me!"  I echoed in surprise.  "That's absolutely ridiculous.
Since we parted not a single word of affection has ever been uttered
between us."

"And you actually do not love her?" she asked in deep earnestness,
looking straight into my eyes.  "Are you really certain?"

"I do not," I answered.  "I swear I don't."

The boat was drifting, and with a swift stroke of the oars I ran her
bows into the bank.  Overhead the larks were singing their joyous songs
and the hot air seemed to throb with the humming of a myriad insects.
The afternoon was gloriously sunny, and away in the meadow on the
opposite bank a picnic party were busy preparing their tea amid peals of
feminine laughter.

"Well," she sighed, "I can only regret that you have spoken as you have
to-day.  I regret it the more because I esteem your friendship highly,
Mr. Urwin.  We might have been friends--but lovers we may never be?"

"Why never?"  I inquired, acutely disappointed.

"There are circumstances which entirely prevent such a course," she
answered.  "Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to be more explicit."

"So you are prevented by some utterly inexplicable circumstances from
loving me?"  I observed, greatly puzzled.

"Yes," she responded, toying with the tassel of her sunshade.

"But tell me, Eva," I asked hoarsely, again grasping her chilly, nervous
hand, "can you never love me?  Are you actually convinced that in your
own heart you have no spark of affection for me?"

She paused, then glanced at me.  I fancied I saw in her blue eyes the
light of unshed tears.

"Your question is a rather difficult one," she faltered.  "Even if I
reciprocated your love our positions would not be altered.  We should
still be alienated as we now are."

"Why?"

"Because--because we may not love each other," she answered, in a low,
strained voice--the voice of a woman terribly agitated.  "Let us part
to-day and never again meet.  It will be best for both of us--far the
best."

"No," I cried, intensely in earnest.  "I cannot leave you, Eva, because
I love you far too dearly.  If you cannot love me now, then bear with me
a little, and you will later learn to love me."

"In one year, nay, in ten, my answer must, of necessity, be the same as
it is to-day," she responded.  "A negative one."

"As vague as it is cruel," I observed.

"Its vagueness is imperative," she said.  "You are loved by another, and
I have therefore no right to a place in your heart."

"You are cruel, Eva!"  I cried reproachfully.  "My love for Mary Blain
has been dead these three years.  By mutual consent we gave each other
freedom, and since that hour all has been over between us."

"But what if Mary still loves you?" she suggested.  "You were once her
affianced husband."

"True," I said.  "But even if she again loves me she has no further
claim whatever upon me, for we mutually agreed to separate and have both
long been free."

"And if she thought that I loved you?"  Eva asked.

In an instant I guessed the reason of her disinclination to listen to my
avowal.  She feared the jealousy of her friend!

"She would only congratulate us."  I answered.  "Surely you have no
cause for uneasiness in that direction?"

"Cause for uneasiness!" she repeated, starting, while at that same
instant the colour died from her sweet face.  Next second, however, she
recovered herself, and with a forced smile said, "Of course I have no
cause.  Other circumstances, however, prevent us being more than
friends."

"And may I not be made aware of them?"  I inquired in vague wonder.

"No," she said quickly.  "Not now.  It is quite impossible."

"But all my future depends upon your decision," I urged.  "Do not answer
lightly, Eva.  You must surely have seen that I love you?"

"Yes," she answered, sighing.  "I confess to having seen it.  Every
woman knows instinctively when she is loved and when despised.  The
knowledge has caused me deep, poignant regret."

"Why?"

"Because," and she hesitated.  "Because I have dreaded this day.  I
feared to tell you the truth."

"You haven't told me the truth," I said, looking her straight in the
face.

"I have," she protested.

"The truth is, then, that you would love me, only you dare not," I said
clearly.  "Is that so?"

She nodded, her eyes again downcast, and I saw that hot tears were in
them--tears she was unable longer to repress.

When the heart is fullest of love, and the mouth purest with truth,
there seems a cruel destiny in things which often renders our words
worst chosen and surest to defeat the ends they seek.

"Then whom do you fear?"  I asked, after a pause.

She shook her head.  Only a low sob escaped her.

"May we not love in secret," I suggested, "if it is really impossible to
love openly?"

"No, no!" she said, lifting her white hand in protest.  "We must not
love.  I tell you that it is all a dream impossible of realisation.
To-day we must part.  Leave me, and we will both forget this meeting."

"But surely you will not deliberately wreck both our lives, Eva?"  I
cried, dismayed.  "Your very words have betrayed that you really
entertain some affection for me, although you deny it for reasons that
are inexplicable.  Why not be quite plain and straightforward, as I am?"

"I have been quite clear," she answered.  "I tell you that we can never
love one another."

"Why?"

"For a reason which some day ere long will be made plain to you," she
answered in a low voice, her pure countenance at that moment drawn and
ashen pale.  "In that day you will hate my very name, and yet will think
kindly of my memory, because I have to-day refused to listen to you and
have given you your freedom."

"And yet you actually love me!"  I exclaimed, bewildered at this strange
allegation.  "It is most extraordinary."

"It may seem extraordinary," she said in a voice that appeared to sound
soft and afar, "but the truth is oft-times strange, especially when one
is draining the cup of life to its very dregs."

"And may I not know this secret of yours, Eva?"  I asked
sympathetically, for I saw by her manner how she was suffering a torture
of the soul.

"My secret!" she cried, glaring at me suddenly as one brought to bay, a
strange, hunted look in those clear blue eyes.  "My secret!  Why"--and
she laughed a hollow, artificial laugh, as one hysterical--"why, how
absurd you are, Mr. Urwin!  Whatever made you suspect me of having
secrets?"

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE NEAR BEYOND.

The remainder of our pull to Riverdene was accomplished in comparative
silence.  Crushed, hopeless and despairing, I bent to the oars
mechanically, with the feeling that in all else my interest was dead,
save in the woman I so dearly loved, who, lounging back among her
cushions, sighed now and then, her face very grave and agitated.

I spoke at last, urging her to reconsider her decision, but she only
responded with a single word, a word which destroyed all my fondest
hopes--

"Impossible."

In that bright hour when the broad bosom of the Thames sent back the
reflection of the summer sun, when the sky was clear as that in Italy,
when all the world seemed rejoicing, and the gay laughter wafted over
the water from the launches, boats and punts gliding past us, we alone
had heavy hearts.  Overwhelmed by this bitter disappointment and sorrow,
the laughter jarred upon my ears.  I tried to shut it out, and with my
teeth set rowed with all my might against the stream until, skirting the
shady wood, we rounded the bend of the stream and suddenly drew up at
the landing-steps of Riverdene.

"Why, here's Eva!" cried Mary, running down to the water's edge, her
tennis-racquet in her hand.  "And Frank, too!"  Then, turning to Eva as
we stood together on the lawn a moment later, she asked, "Where's your
mother?  We've expected her all the afternoon."

"Isn't she here?" asked Eva, in surprise.

"No."

"Well, she started to come here immediately after luncheon.  She must
have missed the train or something."

"She must, for it's now past five.  I really hope nothing has happened."

"Nothing ever happens to mother," observed Eva, with a light laugh.
"She'll turn up presently."  Then she explained how I had called at The
Hollies and she had brought me along.  On reaching Riverdene she had
instantly concealed her agitation and reassumed her old buoyant spirits
in order that none should suspect.  She was an adept at the art of
disguising her feelings, for none would now believe that twenty minutes
before her face had been blanched, almost deathlike in agitation.

Together we walked up the lawn, being warmly welcomed by Mrs. Blain and
introduced to several friends who, seated beneath a tree, were idling
over afternoon tea, a pleasant function in which we were, of course,
compelled to join.

Seated next to Mrs. Blain I gossiped for a long time with her, learning
that her husband was still in Paris, detained upon his company business.
He was often there, for he was one of the greatest shippers of
champagne, and much of his business was with firms in the French
capital.

"I don't expect him back for at least a fortnight," she said.  "The
other day, when writing, I mentioned that you had visited us again and
he sent his good wishes to you."

"Thanks," I answered.  Truth to tell, I rather liked him.  He was a
typical City man, elderly, spruce, smartly dressed, always showing a
large expanse of elaborate shirt-front, fastened by diamond studs, and a
heavy gold albert, a fashion which seems to alone belong to wealthy
merchants and to that financial tribe who attend and speak at meetings
at Winchester House or the _Cannon Street Hotel_.

From time to time when I glanced at Eva I was surprised to see how
happily she smiled, and to hear how light and careless was her laughter.
Had she already forgotten my words and the great overwhelming sorrow
her response had brought upon me?

To Mrs. Blain's irresponsible chatter I answered quite mechanically, for
all my thoughts were of that woman whom I loved.  Deeply I reflected
upon all she had said, remembering how intensely agitated she had become
when I had implied that she was in possession of some secret.  The
vehemence with which she had denied my imputation was quite sufficient
to show that I had unconsciously referred to the one object uppermost in
her mind.  I was undecided in opinion whether her refusal to accept my
love was actually in consequence of her fear of Mary's jealousy.  If so,
then Mary was in possession of this secret of hers.  There was no doubt
in my mind that she really loved me, and that, if she were fearless, she
would hasten to reciprocate my affection.  Apparently hers was a guilty
secret, held over her as menace by Mary Blain, and knowing this she had
been compelled to respond in the negative.  This theory took possession
of me, and during the hours I spent at Riverdene that evening, dining
and boating with several of my fellow-visitors, I reflected upon it,
viewing it in its every phase, and finding it to be well founded.

Indeed, as I sat opposite the two girls at dinner, I watched the actions
of both furtively behind the great silver epergne of roses and ferns,
and although they chatted merrily, laughing and joking with their male
companions, I nevertheless fancied that I could detect a slight
expression of concealed annoyance--or was it of hatred?--upon Eva's face
whenever Mary addressed her.  Ever so slight, merely the quivering or
slight contraction of the eyebrows, it passed unnoticed by the merry
party, yet with my eyes on the alert for any sign it was to me a proof
sufficient that the theory I had formed was correct, and that the woman
I loved went in deadly fear of Mary Blain.

If this were really so, did it not add additional colour to the other
vague theories that had been aroused in my mind through various
inexplicable circumstances?  Did it not, indeed, point to the fact that
upon Eva, although she might have been a victim of that bewildering
tragedy in Phillimore Place, there rested a terrible guilt?

I recollected how she had gone to St. James's Park to keep the
appointment which the unknown assassin's accomplice had made, and the
remarkable allegation of old Lowry, the herbalist--two facts which,
viewed in the light of other discoveries, were circumstances in
themselves sufficient evidence of her guilt.  Besides, had she not, with
her own lips, told me that one day ere long I should hate her very name,
and thank her for refusing to accept my love?

Was not this sufficient proof of the correctness of my theory?

As evening wore on and darkness deepened into night, the strings of
Chinese lanterns at the bottom of the lawn were lit, imparting to the
place a very gay, almost fairylike, aspect.  There were many remarks
regarding the non-appearance of Lady Glaslyn.  Mrs. Blain seemed
extremely anxious, yet Eva betrayed no anxiety, merely saying--

"She may have felt unwell and returned.  I shall no doubt find her at
home with one of her bad headaches."

Thus all were reassured.  Nevertheless, the incident struck me as
curious, for Eva's calm unconcern showed that her mother must be a woman
of somewhat eccentric habits.

Simpson drove us both to Shepperton Station in the motor-car, and we
caught the ten-thirty train, from which she alighted at Hampton while I
continued my journey up to Waterloo.  During the fifteen minutes or so
we were alone together in the train our conversation was mainly of our
fellow-visitors.  Of a sudden I asked--

"Have you seen Mr. Langdale lately?"

"Yes.  I often see him.  He lives quite near us," she answered frankly.

"You told me this afternoon, Eva, that you were not engaged.  Are you
confident there is not likely to be a match between you?"

"A match between us!" she exclaimed with an expression of surprise.
"What, are you joking, or do you actually suspect that I love him?"

"I have thought so."

"Never!" she answered decisively.  "I may be friendly, but to love a man
of that stamp--a man who thinks more of his dress than a woman--never?"

I smiled at this denunciation of his foppishness.  He was certainly a
howling cad, for ever dusting his patent leather boots with his
handkerchief, shooting forth his cuffs, and settling his tie.  He parted
his hair in the middle, and patronised women because he believed himself
to be a lady-killer.  Truly he was a typical specimen of the City
"bounder," who might some day develop into a bucket-shop keeper, a
company promoter, or perhaps a money-lender.

At the moment when we were speaking the train entered the station of
Hampton, and she rose.

"Tell me, Eva," I said with deep earnestness as I took her hand to say
farewell, "is what you told me this afternoon the absolute truth?  Can
you never--never reciprocate my love?"

Her lips quivered for an instant as her great blue eyes met mine.  Even
though she wore a veil, I saw that there were tears in them.

"Yes," she answered in a hoarse tone, "I have told you the truth, Mr.
Urwin.  We may never love--never."

The train was already at a standstill, and she was compelled to descend
hurriedly.

"Good-night," she said hoarsely as I released her hand.  Then, without
waiting for my response, she hurried away and was a moment later lost in
the darkness of the road beyond the barrier.

The carriage door was slammed, the train moved on, and as it did so I
flung myself back into a corner, plunged in gloom and abject despair.
She was the only woman I had ever truly loved, yet she was held apart
from me.  It was the first passionate agony of my life.  I suffered now
as those do without hope.

I found Dick at home smoking furiously, and busily writing in duplicate
for the morning papers a strange story he had that evening picked up out
at Gipsy Hill concerning a romantic elopement, which would cause
considerable sensation in those little tea-and-tennis circles which call
themselves suburban society.  He briefly related it to me without
pausing in his work, writing on oiled tissue paper and taking six
copies, one for each of the great dailies.  My friend's position in the
journalistic world was by no means an uncommon one, for many men holding
good berths on newspapers add to their incomes by doing what in press
parlance is termed "lineage"--that is contributing to other newspapers
for the payment of a penny, or perhaps three-halfpence, a line.

I told him that I'd been down to Riverdene, but so engrossed was he in
his work that he hazarded no remark, and when he had finished and placed
the copies in separate envelopes, already addressed, he put on his hat
and went forth to the Boy-Messenger Office in Chancery Lane, whence they
would be distributed to the sub-editors about Fleet Street.

I lit a cigarette and stretched myself in the armchair, gloomily
pondering.  Of late we had spoken but little of the mystery in
Phillimore Place, for other inquiries had occupied Dick's attention, and
on my part, loving Eva as I did, I preferred to continue my
investigation alone.

Perhaps I had been sitting there a quarter of an hour or so, when
suddenly a strange dizziness crept over me.  It might, I thought, be due
to my cigarette, therefore I tossed it out of the window and sat quiet.
But the feeling of nausea, accompanied by a giddiness such as I had
never before experienced, increased rather than diminished, and in order
to light against it I rose and attempted to cross the room.  I must have
walked very unsteadily, for in the attempt I upset a chair, the back of
which was broken, beside sweeping Dick's terra-cotta tobacco-pot from
the table and smashing it to fragments.  I clutched at the table in
order to steady myself, but found myself reeling and swaying as though I
were intoxicated.  My legs seemed unable to support me, and the thought
crossed my mind that this seizure might be one of paralysis.  The idea
was horrible.

At length, after some difficulty, I managed to again crawl back to the
chair, and sinking down, closed my eyes.  By doing so my brain seemed
more evenly balanced, yet it seemed as though inside my skull was all on
fire, and I wondered if exposure to the sun while rowing had caused
these remarkable symptoms.  I recollected how blazing hot it had been
from Shepperton up to the second lock, and how once Eva, ever solicitous
for my welfare, had warned me to be careful of sunstroke.

Yes, I had been careless, and this was undoubtedly the result.

My hands were trembling as though palsied, just as my legs had done a
few minutes before, yet strangely enough I felt compelled to clench my
fingers into my palms.  All my muscles seemed slowly to contract, until
even my jaws worked with painful difficulty.

An appalling fear fell upon me.  I was suffering from tetanus.

Resolved not to allow my jaws to close tightly, I opened and shut my
mouth, knowing that if it became fixed I should die a slow, lingering
death as so many thousands had done.  If I could only keep my jaws
working the seizure might, perhaps, pass.

I longed for Dick's return.  At that hour there was no one I could
summon to call a doctor.  I glanced at the clock.  He had been already
gone nearly half an hour.  Would he never come back?

The sickening dizziness increased, and seemed to develop into an
excruciating pain in my throbbing temples.  I placed my hand to my head
and felt that the veins were standing out hard and knotted, just as
though I were exerting every muscle in some feat of strength.  Then
almost at that very instant I was gripped by a fearful pain in the
stomach, as though it were being torn by a thousand needles.  A cold
sweat stood upon my brow until it rolled down my cheeks in great beads.
I tried to shout for help, but my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth,
and my voice was thin and weak as a child's.  My throat seemed to have
contracted.  I was altogether helpless.

My agony was excruciating, yet I could only await Dick's return.
Perhaps he had met a friend, and was lounging in some bar ignorant of my
peril.  The only doctor I knew in the vicinity was a hospital surgeon
who lived a little way down Chancery Lane, over the Safe Deposit
Company's vaults.  I clenched my teeth to endure the racking, frightful
pains by which my body was tortured, and in patience awaited my friend's
home-coming.

My eyes were closed, for the gas-light was too strong for them.  Perhaps
I lost consciousness.  At any rate I was awakened from a kind of heavy
stupor by Dick's tardy entry.

"Good God, Urwin!" he gasped.  "Why, what's the matter?  What's
occurred?  You're as white as a sheet, man!"

"I'm ill," I managed to gasp with extreme difficulty.  "Go and get
Tweedie--at once!"

He stood for a moment looking at me with a frightened expression, then
turned and dashed away down the stairs.

I remember raising myself, after he had gone, in an endeavour to reach a
cupboard where there was some brandy in a bottle, but as I made a step
forward all strength let me.  I became paralysed, clutched at the table,
missed it, and fell headlong to the floor.  Then all consciousness
became blotted out.  I knew no more.

How long I remained insensible I have only a very vague idea.  It must
have been many hours.  When, however, I slowly became aware of things
about me, I found myself lying upon my own bed partly dressed.  I tried
to move, but my limbs seemed icy cold and rigid; I tried to think, but
my thoughts were at first only a confused jumble of reminiscences.
There was a tearing pain across my stomach, and across my brow--a pain
that was excruciating.  It seemed as though my waist was bound tightly
with a belt of wire, while my brain throbbed as if my skull must burst.

I opened my eyes, but the bright light of day caused me to close them
quickly again.

Noises sounded about me, strange and distorted.  I distinguished voices,
and I knew that I was not alone.  Again I opened my eyes.

"Thank Heaven! my dear old fellow, you are saved!" cried Dick, whose
coat was off, as he bent down eagerly to me, looking with keenest
anxiety into my face.

"Saved!"  I echoed.  "What has happened?" for at that moment I
recollected little of the past.

Then I saw, standing beside Dick, my friend, Dr. Tweedie, of the Royal
Free Hospital in Gray's Inn Road, a mild-mannered old gentleman whom I
had many times met during my inquiries at that institution.

"What's happened?" the latter repeated.  "That's what we want to ask
you?"

"I don't know," I answered, "except that I was suddenly taken
frightfully queer."

"Taken queer!  I should rather think you were," he said, bending down to
get a better look at my countenance, at the same time feeling my pulse.
"You're better now, much better.  But it's been a very narrow squeak for
you, I can tell you."

"What's been the matter with me?"  I inquired mystified.

"You've been eating something that hasn't quite agreed with you," he
answered with a mysterious smile.

"But that couldn't have brought on a seizure like this," I argued
weakly.

"Well," the doctor said, "of course you can tell better what you've been
eating than I can.  Only one fact is clear to me."

"And what's that?"  I asked.

"Why, that you've been within an ace of death, young man," he answered.
"You'll want the most careful treatment, too, if we are to get you round
again, for the truth is you've been poisoned!"

"Poisoned?"  I gasped.

"Yes," he responded, handing me some medicine.  "And this seizure of
yours is a very mysterious one indeed.  I've never seen such symptoms
before.  That you've been poisoned is quite plain, but how the accident
has occurred remains for us to discover later."

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

IN THE CITY.

Through several days I remained in bed, my limbs rigid, my senses
bewildered.

Although we said nothing to Tweedie, Cleugh entirely shared my suspicion
that if an attempt had actually been made upon my life it had been made
at Riverdene.  The doctor ran in several times each day, and Dick,
assisted by old Mrs. Joad, was as attentive to my wants as any trained
nurse, snatching all the time he could spare from his duties to sit by
me and gossip of men and things in Fleet Street, and the latest "scoop"
of the _Comet_.

Tweedie was puzzled.  Each time he saw me he remarked upon my curious
symptoms, carefully noting them and expressing wonder as to the exact
nature of the deleterious substance.  He pronounced the opinion that it
was some alkaloid, for such it was shown by the reagents he had used in
his analysis, but of what nature he was utterly at a loss to determine.
Many were the questions he put to me as to what I had eaten on that day,
and I explained how I had lunched at one of the restaurants in Fleet
Street, and afterwards dined with friends at Laleham.

"You ate no sandwiches, or anything of that kind at station refreshment
bars?" he asked, when he visited me one morning, in the vague idea, I
suppose, that the poison might, after all, be a ptomaine.

"None," I answered.  "With the exception of what I told you, I had a
glass of wine at the house of a friend at Hampton before rowing up to
Laleham."

"A glass of wine," he repeated slowly, as if reflecting.  "You noticed
no peculiar taste in it?  What was it--port?"

"Yes," I replied.  "An excellent wine it was, without any taste
unusual."

For the first time the recollection of that glass of wine given me by
Eva at The Hollies came back to me.  Surely she could not have
deliberately given me a fatal draught?

"Often," he said, "a substance which is poison to one person is harmless
to another.  If we could only discover what it really was which affected
you, we might treat you for it and cure you much more rapidly.  As
matters rest, however, you must grow strong again by degrees, and thank
Providence that you're still alive.  I confess when I first saw you, I
thought you'd only a few minutes to live."

"Was I so very bad?"

"As ill as you could be.  You were cold and rigid, and looked as though
you were already dead.  In fact, any one but a doctor would, I believe,
have pronounced life extinct.  Your breath on a mirror alone showed
respiration, although the heart's movement was so weak as to be
practically imperceptible.  But don't trouble further over it, you'll be
about soon," and shortly afterwards he shook my hand and went on his way
to the hospital, already late on my account.

I longed to tell him all the curious events of the past, but saw that
such a course would be unwise.  If I did so, Eva--the woman I adored--
must be prematurely judged, first because of old Lowry's revelations,
and now secondly because of the suspicious fact of my illness after
partaking of the wine she offered.

The idea that the attempt had been made upon me at Riverdene seemed very
improbable, because I had dined in common with the other guests; the tea
I had taken was poured from the same Queen Anne pot from which the cups
of others were filled, and in the whisky-and-soda I had had before
leaving I was joined by three other men who had rowed up from a
house-boat about a quarter of a mile lower down.

As I lay there restless in my bed, trying vainly to read, I spent hours
in recalling every event of that day, but could discover no suspicious
circumstance other than that incident of the wine at The Hollies.  I
recollected how Eva after ringing for the servant and ordering it, had
herself gone out into the dining-room, and had been absent a couple of
minutes or so.  Possibly she might only have gone there in order to
unlock the cellarette, yet there were likewise, of course, other graver
possibilities.

This thought which fastened upon my mind so tenaciously allowed me but
little rest.  I tried to rid myself of it, tried to scorn such an idea,
tried to reason with myself how plain it was that she actually held me
in some esteem, and if so she would certainly not seek to take my life
in that cowardly, dastardly manner.  Sometimes I felt that I misjudged
her; at others grave suspicions haunted me.  Yet withal my love for her
never once wavered.  She was my idol.  Through those long, weary hours
of prostration and convalescence I thought always of her--always.

I had written her a short note, saying that I was unwell and unable to
go down to Riverdene, not, however, mentioning the cause of my illness,
and in response there came in return a charmingly-worded little letter,
expressing profound regret and hoping we should meet again very soon.  A
hundred times I read that note.

Was the thin, delicate hand that penned it the same that had endeavoured
to take my life?

That was the sole question uppermost in my mind; a problem which racked
my brain day by day, nay, hour by hour.  But there was no solution.
Thus was I compelled to exist in torturing suspicion, anxiety and
uncertainty.

One hot afternoon I had risen for the first time, and was sitting among
pillows in the armchair reading some magazines which Dick had
thoughtfully brought me during the luncheon hour, when a timid knock
sounded at the door.  The Hag had left me to attend upon her other
"young gentlemen" in the Temple, and I was alone.  Therefore I rose and
answered the summons, finding to my surprise that my visitor was Lily
Lowry.

At once, at my invitation, she entered, a slim figure dressed in neat,
if cheap, black, without any attempt at being fashionable, but with that
primness and severity expected of lady's-maids and shop-assistants.  Her
gloves were neat, her hat suited her well, and beneath her veil I saw a
pretty face, pale, interesting and anxious-looking.

"I didn't expect to find any one in, except Mrs. Joad," she said
apologetically, as she took the chair I offered.  Then, noticing my
pillows, and perhaps the paleness of my countenance, she asked.  "What?
You are surely not ill, Mr. Urwin?"

"Yes," I answered.  "I've been rather queer for a week past.  The heat,
or something of that sort, I suppose.  Nothing at all serious."

"I'm so glad of that," she said.  "I only called because I was passing.
I've been matching some silk at the wholesale houses in the City, and as
I wanted to give Mr. Cleugh a message I thought I'd leave it with Mrs.
Joad."

"A message?"  I repeated.  "Can I give it?"

She hesitated, and I saw that a slight blush suffused her cheeks.

"No," she faltered.  "You're very kind, but perhaps, after all, it would
be better to write to him."

"As you like," I said, smiling.  "You don't, of course, care to trust
your secrets in my keeping--eh?"

She looked at me seriously for a moment, her lips quivered, and she drew
a long breath.

"You've always been extremely kind," she said in a low voice,
half-choked with emotion.  "And now that I find you alone, I feel
impelled to confide in you and seek your advice."

"I'm quite ready to offer any advice I can," I answered, quickly
interested.  "If I can render you any assistance I will certainly do so
with pleasure."

"Ah!" she exclaimed, sighing again, "I knew you would.  I am in
trouble--in such terrible trouble."

"What has happened?"  I inquired quickly, for I saw how white and wan
she was, and of course attributed it to Dick's action in renouncing his
pledge.

"You, of course, know that Mr. Cleugh and I have parted," she said,
looking up at me quickly.

"He has told me so," I responded gravely.  "I regret very much to hear
it.  What is the reason?"

"Has he not told you?" she asked, her eyes filled with tears.

"No," I answered.  "He gave no reason."

"Well," she explained, "he has judged me wrongly.  I am entirely
innocent, I assure you.  In a place of business like ours we are
compelled to be on friendly terms with the male assistants, and the
other evening, as I was leaving the shop to go to the house where we
girls live, at the other end of Rye Lane, one of the men--an
insufferable young fellow in the hosiery department--chanced to be going
the same way and walked with me.

"On the way, Dick--Mr. Cleugh, I mean--passed us, and now he declares
that I've been in the habit of flirting with these men.  It is not
pleasant for any girl to walk alone along Rye Lane at ten o'clock at
night, therefore this young fellow was only escorting me out of
politeness.  Yet I cannot make Dick believe otherwise than that he is my
lover."

"He's jealous of you," I said.  "Is not jealousy an index of true love?"

"But if he loved me truly," she protested, bursting into tears, "he
surely would not treat me so cruelly as this.  I've done nothing to
warrant this denunciation as a worthless flirt--indeed, I haven't."

"And you love him?"  I asked with deep sympathy, for I saw how intense
was her suffering.

"He knows that I do," she answered.  "He could see but little of me
because his work prevented him, yet I was supremely happy in the
knowledge of his love.  Yet now he has forsaken me," she added, sobbing.
"I'm but a poor girl, and I suppose if the truth were known he admires
some one else better educated and more attractive than I am."

"No, I think not," I said, although at heart I felt that she spoke the
truth.  "This is merely a lover's quarrel, and you'll quickly make it up
again.  Look at the brighter side of things--come."

But she shook her head gloomily, saying--

"Never.  I feel confident that Dick will never come back to me,
although--although I shall love him always," and she raised her veil to
wipe the hot tears from her cheeks.

"No, no," I exclaimed, endeavouring to comfort her, "don't meet trouble
half-way.  That's one of the secrets of happiness.  We all of us have
our little spasms of grief and despair sometimes, you know."

"Ah! yes, of course," she cried quickly.  "But this sorrow has, alas!
not come alone.  Still another misfortune has fallen upon me."

"What's that?"  I inquired, surprised.

"My father!" she exclaimed huskily.

"And what of him?"  I asked.  "I called upon him a short time ago.
Surely nothing has happened to him?"

"Well," she replied, "it occurred like this.  I got permission this day
week to leave business at five o'clock, and, as usual, went home.  When,
however, I arrived at the shop I found it shut, and to my amazement a
bailiff was in possession."

"For debt?"  I inquired.

"Yes.  He showed me some papers, and said it would cost about four
hundred pounds to settle both bill and costs of the court."

"And your father?  What was his explanation?"  I asked, greatly
interested and surprised.

"He wasn't there," she responded.  "That's the curious part about the
whole affair.  I made inquiries, and discovered that he had suddenly
shut up the shop about noon three days before, and had gone off with a
heavy trunk placed on a four-wheeled cab."

"Does no one know where he's gone?"

"Nobody," she answered excitedly.  "It's so strange that he has not
written me a single line in explanation.  I can't understand it."

I paused for a few moments, deeply puzzled.

"From the fact that the bailiff was in possession it would appear that
he had preferred flight to facing his creditors," I said slowly.  "Were
you aware that he was in debt?"

"Not in the least," she answered.  "He has some property abroad, you
know."

"Where?"

"In France, I think.  He never spoke of it to any one, although I knew
that the rent was remitted regularly by a draft on the Credit Lyonnais
in Pall Mall.  I used to go there with him to receive the money.  It was
quite a pile of banknotes each quarter."

"Then he could not really have been so badly off as he appeared?"  I
observed.

"No.  He was eccentric, and very miserly, and although he always had
enough and to spare he used constantly to deplore our poverty.  I took a
situation merely to satisfy him, as he had so often expressed regret
that I should be idling at home.  There was, however, absolutely no real
necessity."

"But surely," I said, "he has not intentionally left you alone in the
world?  He will write very soon.  Perhaps just now he does not write for
fear his whereabouts should become known.  He's evidently escaped his
creditors.  Has he been speculating, do you think?"

"Not that I am aware of."

"Can't you think of any reason why he should have fled so
precipitately?"  I asked, at the same time reflecting that it might be
due to the fact that he had aroused the suspicions of the police by the
illegal sale of drugs.

"No," she answered.  "None whatever, beyond what I've already explained.
His flight is an entire mystery, and it was to seek the advice of Dick,
as my closest friend, that I called here.  How had I best act, do you
think?"

"I really don't know," I replied, after some reflection.  "His
disappearance is certainly remarkable, but if he is in hiding, it is not
at all strange that he should omit to write to you.  He knows your
address, therefore, when he deems it safe in his own interests to
communicate with you and explain, he will do so, no doubt."

"Then I'm to wait in patience and see our home sold up?" she asked,
tears again welling in her dark, luminous eyes.

"You can do nothing else," I said.  "He evidently means that it should
be sold, for he has made no attempt to rescue it."

"There are so many of my poor mother's things there.  I should so like
to keep them--her little trinkets and such trifles.  It seems very hard
that they should be sold to a second-hand dealer."

"That's so, but you have no means of rescuing them," I pointed out.  "It
is certainly very hard indeed for you to be left alone and friendless
like this, but without doubt your father has some reason in acting
thus."

"He's fled like some common thief," she cried, with a choking sob.  "And
now I haven't a single friend."

"I am your friend," I said, echoing her sigh.  "You have my sympathy,
Lily, and if I can render you any service I shall always be ready to do
so."

She thanked me warmly in a voice choked by sobs, for the two great
sorrows had fallen upon her, and she was overwhelmed and broken.

I promised I would speak to Dick, and if possible arrange a meeting
between them, in order to try and effect a reconciliation.  Inwardly,
however, I knew that this was quite impossible, for he had really grown
tired of her, and had more than once in the past few days openly
congratulated himself upon his freedom.  She remained a short time
longer, and before she left had become more composed and was in better
spirits.

Then, when she shook my hand to go forth, she said--

"I thank you so much for all your kind words, Mr. Urwin.  I have at
least to-day found a real friend."

"I hope so," I laughed.  "Good-bye."

"Good-bye; I hope you'll soon be about again."

Then the door closed and I was again alone.

I was heartily sorry for her, poor girl.  The sudden flight of the old
herbalist was, to say the least suspicious.  That he had money and could
pay the debt was certain.  Without doubt he had disappeared on account
of a too close attention from the police.  Morris Lowry was, I knew, not
very remarkable for paternal affection, therefore I feared that he had,
as Lily suspected, left her at the mercy of the world.

A week later I was able to go down to my office again, and about six
o'clock on the second day I had resumed my duties I accidentally met
Boyd at the bottom of Fleet Street.

As merry as usual, we drank together at the _Bodega_ beneath the railway
arch in Ludgate Hill, but in reply to my eager questions he told me that
absolutely nothing fresh had transpired regarding the curious affair at
Kensington.  I explained that I was still a frequent visitor at
Riverdene, but up to the present had discovered nothing.  I, of course,
did not tell him all my suspicions, preferring to keep my own counsel
and allow him to prosecute his inquiries after his own method.  From his
conversation, however, I saw that he had many other matters in hand, and
from his attitude it seemed as though he had given up hope of obtaining
a clue to the mystery.

On finishing our wine we rose from the barrel on which we had been
sitting, and he having announced his intention to walk along to the
bookstall in Ludgate Hill Station to buy a magazine for his wife--for he
was just off home by motor-bus to Hammersmith--we strolled together
through that short arcade leading to the station, at that hour crowded
by hungry City men eager to get back to their suburban homes.

Into every door they surged, springing up the two staircases to the
platform above as though they had not a further moment to live, while
every few seconds the deep voices of the ticket-collectors cried the
names of the stations from the City to Blackheath or Victoria, or from
Herne Hill down to Dover.  Amid this black-coated, silk-hatted,
perspiring crowd a man suddenly brushed past me, rushing up the stairs
two steps at a time, slipping through the barrier just as the door was
slammed, and disappearing on to the platform.

"Hulloa!" cried Boyd, pressing my arm quickly.  "See!  Look at that
man--the one with the bag, running up the steps.  Do you see him?"

"Yes," I answered, myself confounded.

"Well, that's the fellow I saw in St. James's Park, and who got away so
neatly from Ebury Street--you remember?"

"That man!"  I gasped, utterly amazed.

"Yes.  We mustn't lose sight of him this time.  He can tell us something
if he likes," and without further word he dashed away after the man who
had hurried to catch his train, leaving me standing alone in amazement.

That man who had brushed past I had instantly recognised as none other
than Henry Blain, who for so many weeks was supposed to have been in
Paris.

This fresh development was certainly both startling and mysterious.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

A VISIT FROM BOYD.

Without a second's hesitation I rushed up the steps after Boyd, but on
gaining the platform found that a train had just gone out, and was at
that moment disappearing across the bridge over the Thames.  The
detective, known to the ticket-collector as a police-officer, had been
allowed to pass the barrier, and had evidently caught the same train as
Blain.

There was certainly an element of deepest mystery in the fact that the
unknown man who had kept the appointment in St. James's Park, and had
afterwards taken such elaborate precautions against being followed,
should be revealed to be none other than the once purse-proud proprietor
of Shenley.  Quite apparent it was, too, that the object of Eva's visit
to the park was to meet him clandestinely, for what reason was a
profound enigma.  The more I revolved the strange events within my mind,
the more absolutely bewildering they become.

True, I had made certain discoveries--discoveries which, rather than
tending to throw light on the real author of the crime or its motive,
only, however, increased the enigma and enveloped the woman whom I had
grown to love so fondly in an impenetrable veil of suspicion.

Thoughts such as these filled my mind as, turning from the station in
despair, I went back into the dust and turmoil of Fleet Street, crowded
at that hour by tired thousands hurrying homeward.  I loved Eva.  Even
though every proof I had obtained pointed to her complicity in the
dastardly affair, she was still my idol.  I thought daily, hourly, only
of her, refusing always to suspect her, and endeavouring to convince
myself that the truths I had elicited had no foundation in fact.

Love is blind.  When a man loves a woman as I loved Eva Glaslyn at that
moment, nothing can turn aside his passion.  I verily believe that if at
that hour I had stood by and seen her in the dock at the Old Bailey,
condemned as a murderess, my affection for her would have been none the
less.  I lived for her alone.  She was all that was dearest in the world
to me.  Mary Blain had, no doubt, noticed my infatuation, yet she had
said nothing, she herself being, I believed, in love with Dick.  At
least I could congratulate myself that we had mutually agreed to allow
the past to fade from our remembrance.

Nevertheless, when I thought of Eva, and told myself how passionate was
my affection and how ardent my feelings towards her, the ogre of
suspicion would sometimes arise and cause me to pause in my ecstatic
dreamings.  Had she not stiffened strangely, and refused to reciprocate
my love?  Had she not point-blank told me that we could never be more
than friends?  Had she not, indeed, herself hinted at her own guilt in
that strange sentence which had fallen from her lips?

As I passed up Fleet Street that evening, jostling with the crowd, I
thought of these things, and was plunged into gloom and uncertainty.
The statement of old Lowry was one of which I felt in duty bound to
obtain proof.  Yet how?  He had declared that a woman exactly resembling
her had purchased a certain drug which could be required for one purpose
alone, while a secret attempt had been made to take my life--by whom I
knew not.  Sometimes, in moments of despair, I entertained deep
suspicions of her, but always I found my love in the ascendancy, and
ended by refusing to believe the evidence which I had so diligently and
patiently collected.

For months Scotland Yard had had the matter in hand, but discovering
nothing, had allowed it to drop.  Of course, in face of the statement
made by the landlord of the house in Phillimore Place, Boyd was ever
anxious to question Mrs. Blain, but had wisely left this to me.  And how
had I succeeded?  Only in making discoveries which, although startling
in themselves, increased the mystery rather than solved it.

Even at that moment the identity of the victims remained still unknown.
They were lying in nameless graves in Abney Park Cemetery, having been
buried by the parish.  The Blains alone could give us information as to
who they were and who was the unnamed scientist whose discovery was now
creating such a stir throughout Europe.  Curious it was that he did not
come forward and claim the discovery as his own, for he must have read
accounts of it in the papers.  My own theory in this matter was that he
was unable to communicate with the Royal Institution for one simple
reason, namely, that he was dead--that he was the man whom we found
lying lifeless with that strange mascot, the penny wrapped in paper, in
his pocket.

I walked along to Wellington Street, where I called in to see my friend
Crutchley, one of the sub-editors of the _Morning Post_, who had just
come on duty and was preparing for his night's work.  In the offices of
the morning papers activity begins when tired London takes her ease, for
their night is as day, until at dawn the staff, weary after hours of
work by electric light in stifling rooms, go forth chilled and jaded to
their homes to sleep while the world works.  For half an hour I sat in
his den, where the table was already piled with telegrams and flimsy,
while he, with coat off, shirt-cuffs turned up, and a cigarette in his
mouth, sighed, sharpened his big blue pencil, and, as he chatted,
commenced to "slaughter" wordy descriptions by too eloquent reporters.
The world wants news, not "gas," is the motto of every working
sub-editor.  The public prefer facts without "padding," and to cut out
the latter is the duty of the man who, from the sub-editorial chair,
decides upon what shall appear and what shall be omitted, a duty which
requires the greatest care and judgment.  When I left him I recollected
that Dick had gone to some place down in Essex for the _Comet_, and
would not return to eat the diurnal steak in company.  Therefore I
wandered aimlessly along the Strand, and turned into a restaurant,
afterwards spending the evening at the theatre.

Nearly three weeks went by and I heard nothing of Boyd, although I had
written to him.  At nearly ten o'clock one night, however, when I had
returned to Grey's Inn alone, I found the detective standing in the
half-light against the mantelpiece.

"Bad luck the other night," he said, after we had exchanged greetings.

"What, didn't you follow him?"  I cried, surprised.

"No, that's the devil of it," he exclaimed in a tone of bitter
disappointment, sinking into a chair.  "You'll remember that that
platform at Ludgate Hill is an island one, and just as I got through the
barrier a train on the other side was moving off to Snow Hill and
Moorgate Street, while one to Blackheath was just on the point of
starting in the opposite direction.  I, of course, jumped into the
latter, feeling sure he'd be going out of town."

"And you found out your mistake too late?"

"I examined all the carriages at Loughborough Junction, but there was no
sign of him.  He evidently took the other train."

"Unfortunate," I answered, then sat for a few moments in calm
reflection.

"Unfortunate!" he echoed.  "It's more than that.  We seem foredoomed to
failure in this affair.  I've had three men on the job ever since, but
with no result.  Even the `narks' know nothing.  But," he added, "when I
pointed him out you seemed to know him.  Am I right?"

I hesitated, wondering whether to tell him all the facts as I knew them
and obtain his assistance in my further inquiries.  It struck me that
he, a professional investigator of crime, shrewd, clear-headed and
acquainted with all the methods and subterfuges of evil-doers, might
suggest some other means which had not occurred to me.  I had hitherto
been deterred from making any explanation of my discoveries and
suspicions on account of my strong love for Eva, but now the idea took
possession of me that if I explained the whole to Boyd and told him of
my deep affection for her, we might work together, and perhaps at length
obtain some solution of this most intricate of problems.  I was sick
with the giddiness of one who falls from some great height.  I had lost
my hold upon the dreams and hopes of life.

"You're quite right, Boyd," I said, handing him the cigarettes.  "I know
that man."

"Who is he?  He looks rather gentlemanly.  That shabby get-up of his was
a fake, I'm sure."

"Yes," I responded.  "He's a man pretty well-to-do.  His name is Blain,
and he is the husband of Mrs. Blain, whom, you recollect, is supposed to
have taken the house in Phillimore Place."

The detective gave vent to an unwritable exclamation.

"Blain!" he echoed, his face betraying a look of amazement, and pausing
with a lighted vesta in his hand.  "Well, that's indeed a facer!"  Then
he added: "He must, in that case, know something of the matter as well
as his wife."

At that moment there was a tap at the door of the sitting-room, and old
Mrs. Joad entered with a letter which, she said, had come by the last
post and she had forgotten to give it to me.

By the writing I saw it was from Eva, and eagerly read it.  It was a
brief note to say that her mother had been called away to her brother in
Inverness, who was seriously ill, that The Hollies was closed, and that
she had accepted an invitation to remain the guest of the Blains until
Lady Glaslyn's return.

I handed the note to the detective without comment.

"Well," he exclaimed, looking up at me when he had read it, "there's
nothing very fishy about that, is there?"

Then I recollected that he was in ignorance of my suspicions.  Yet I
loved Eva with all my soul and held back from placing any facts in the
hands of this man who, with ruthless disregard for my affection or my
feelings, would perhaps arrest her for complicity in the crime.  And yet
as I sat before him, watching his face through the blue haze of
cigarette smoke, I felt impelled to seek his aid, for this tangled chain
of recent events had utterly bewildered and unnerved me.  I was not yet
strong again after the strange seizure which had so puzzled the doctor,
and a sense of gloom and despair had since overwhelmed me, arising
perhaps from the constant suspicion that a secret attempt had been made
upon my life.

To remain longer in that state of uncertainty was impossible.  I felt I
should go mad if I did not make some further determined effort to
ascertain the truth.  Some one, whom I knew not, had attempted to kill
me.  And why?  There could be but one reason.  Because I had succeeded
in placing myself upon the actual track of the assassin.  An attempt,
cowardly and dastardly, had been made upon me, therefore I had every
right to seek the aid of the police to discover its author.

This argument decided me, and casting my cigarette into the grate, I
asked Boyd to give me his attention while I related to him all that I
had discovered.

In an instant his free-and-easy manner changed, and as I spoke he sat
leaning towards me, attentively listening to every word, but hazarding
no remark.  Without attempting to conceal anything, I explained to him
first of all my great love for the woman who was under such terrible
suspicion, and then as I narrated our conversation when alone on the
river, and repeated her curious response to my declaration of love, he
knit his dark brows seriously and gave vent to a grunt indicative of
doubt.  He was no blunderer, this detective.  Unlike the majority he was
well-educated, speaking French and Italian fluently, an adept in the art
of disguise, a man who formed very careful theories, and whose
appearance was never that of an agent of police.  One would rather have
taken him for a well-to-do Jew, or perhaps some prosperous City man of
foreign extraction, for his dark complexion and aquiline features gave
him an un-English appearance, and his invariable spruceness in dress
accounted for his success in following criminals, who never dreamed that
the smart, well-dressed gentleman of perfect manner was actually an
emissary from Scotland Yard.  His knowledge of foreign languages had
caused him to be entrusted with numbers of very important inquiries
political and criminal, and in tracking the guilty he had paid flying
visits to nearly all the Continental capitals.

In his sharp eyes there was a strange glitter, I thought, as without
interruption I told him what I knew.  I advanced no theories whatever,
but merely laid before him the plain unvarnished truth.  Then, when I
had finished, I said--

"Now, first of all, recollect that whatever may be the result of our
inquiries I will do no harm whatever to the woman I love.  Understand
that entirely."

"I quite understand," he said gravely, speaking for the first time.
"That's only natural.  But the difficulties in our way appear almost
insurmountable."

"Well?"  I asked anxiously, "what is your opinion, now that I have told
you everything?"

He shook his head, puffed thoughtfully at the fresh cigarette he had
just lit, and then contemplated it thoughtfully.

"I have no opinion at present," he responded.  "One might form half a
dozen theories upon these facts, all equally wide of the mark."

"Then how are we to act?"  I asked in dismay.

He raised his dark eyebrow's in gesture of bewilderment.  Then he gazed
gravely in my face.

"Look here, Boyd," I continued, "I love Eva Glaslyn, and to you I make
no secret of it whatsoever.  But at all hazards I mean to ascertain the
truth."

"Even at the risk of convicting her?" he inquired, looking across at me
quickly.

"Convicting her!"  I echoed.  "Then you really entertain the same
suspicion as myself?"

"We may have suspicions without forming any theories," he responded
calmly.  Then he added, in a tone of regret, "It's certainly a thousand
pities that you love her."

"Why?"

"Upon your own showing she appears to have very little regard for you."

"How?"

"Well," he answered slowly, "there's no doubt that the other day an
attempt was made upon your life."

"And you suspect her?"

"We can suspect no one else," he answered.

"According to that old herbalist's statement she had purchased a certain
drug of him.  What could an innocent young lady require with this
unnamed drug if not to administer it to some one she wanted to get rid
of?"

"But she has no object in ridding herself of me," I urged.

"Of that I'm not quite so sure, my dear fellow," he observed, after a
brief pause.  "Recollect that on the morning when she went to St.
James's Park in order to meet, for some mysterious purpose, the man whom
we now know was old Mr. Blain, she met you face to face.  We have no
idea what her actions were previously, but she may have believed that
you had been spying upon her; therefore, on recognising you when you
were formally introduced at Riverdene, she conceived a plan for getting
you out of the way.  It was with that object very possibly that she made
the secret purchase at the herbalist's."

"No, Boyd, I can't believe it of her," I said quickly.  "I won't believe
it!"

"Very well," he said in the same calm tone as before.  "But there's
still another fact extremely puzzling, and that is why this man Lowry
should have left in such a hurry.  I must inquire at the Carter Street
Police-Station, the district wherein he lived, and see whether there was
anything against him.  By the way," he added, "does your friend Cleugh
know the whole of these facts you've explained to me?"

"No, not the whole--only some."

"Does he know that you've declared your love to Lady Glaslyn's daughter
and been refused?"

"No."

"Then don't tell him," said the detective.

"I believe that the reason of his sudden weariness of Lily Lowry's
society is due to the fact that he loves Mary Blain."

"All the more reason, then, why he should in future remain in entire
ignorance of whatever facts we may elicit."

Then he paused, furiously consuming his cigarette and taking a long
draught of the whisky-and-soda I had mixed and placed at his elbow.

"This is really a most remarkable mystery, Urwin," he exclaimed at
length, twisting the plain gold ring upon his finger, a habit of his
when pondering deeply.  "There seem a thousand complications.  It's
absolutely the most astounding case that I've ever had in hand.  Even
Shaw, our superintendent at the Yard, a man whose deep-rooted conviction
is that we never need fail if we really take an interest in an inquiry,
acknowledged to me the other day that he could see no way to a clue.  Of
course, we might question Mrs. Blain, or even arrest Blain himself on
suspicion if we could find him again.  But whoever is guilty has taken
such careful precautions to obliterate every trace of a clue that both
the superintendent and myself are agreed that the interrogation of
either of the Blains would only result in defeating our ends."  That was
exactly my own opinion.  I had many times wondered why the police had
not made inquiries of Mrs. Blain on account of the statement by the
landlord at Kensington, but it was now plain that the Director of
Criminal Investigations, the greyheaded, loud-voiced, old gentleman whom
I knew quite well at Scotland Yard, had decided otherwise.

"But why are you so anxious that my friend Cleugh should remain in
ignorance of our movements?"  I inquired.

"You say that he loves Mary Blain," answered Boyd.  "He might in that
case drop some unintentional hint to her of the direction of our
inquiries.  This matter, to be successful, must be entirely a secret
between ourselves--you understand?  To-day we've made a discovery--the
identity of the man who threw some object into the lake--and it puts a
rather fresh complexion upon the affair, even though it further
complicates it considerably.  You said that his wife has all along told
you that her husband was in Paris--I think?"

"Yes," I responded.  "She said he was there in connexion with some
company which he was trying to promote."

"And all along he has been in London--in hiding."

"He may have just returned from Paris," I suggested.  "Recollect that
I've not been to Riverdene for some little time."

"No, my dear fellow," Boyd said.  "His ingenuity in eluding us in Ebury
Street showed that he had already prepared a snug hiding-place for
himself before that tragedy at Phillimore Place.  Besides, the other
evening his clothes showed an attempt at disguise--didn't they?"

"Certainly.  He's very smartly dressed always; indeed, rather a fop in
his way."

"Depend upon it that he's never dared to set foot outside London all
this time.  He knows well enough that the Metropolis is the safest place
in the whole world in which a criminal may conceal himself.  Only a
bungler attempts to get away abroad."

Silence again fell between us.  The quiet was unbroken save for the slow
ticking of the clock upon the mantelshelf.  Of a sudden, with a rather
curious glance, he bent forward to me, eagerly saying--

"Now in this affair we must be perfectly candid with each other.  You
must conceal nothing from me."

"I have concealed nothing," I protested, surprised at his curious
attitude, as though he held me in some suspicion.

"I don't allege that you have," he answered.  "But I want you to answer
truthfully a question which is of highest importance.  I want you to
tell me whether, on the afternoon of the day you were called by
Patterson to Kensington, your friend Cleugh was here, at home."

"No, he certainly wasn't.  I arrived home first, and he came in perhaps
ten minutes or a quarter of an hour later than usual," I answered,
wondering what connexion this could have with the inquiry.

"And after you made the discovery you did not telegraph or communicate
with him in any way?  I take it that you were surprised to meet him in
that house."

"Certainly I was," I responded.  "But he had an appointment with Lily
Lowry, and finding that she could not keep it, he came along to
Kensington to ascertain the nature of the event about which Patterson
had wired to me."

The detective's features relaxed into a strange smile.

"Would you be surprised then to know that your friend never called at
the Police-Station on that evening, but went straight to Phillimore
Place and there joined me while you were absent inquiring of the
neighbours?  That very evening I inquired of the constable on duty at
the door of the station, and of others, all of whom told me that no one
had called to inquire for Patterson except yourself."

"That's certainly extraordinary," I said in wonderment.

"Yes," he observed mechanically.  "It's a very curious fact; one which
appears to prove that he knew something more of the mysterious
occurrence than he has admitted--in fact, that he was aware of it long
before we were."

"What!"  I gasped, gazing at my companion in alarm.  "Surely you don't
mean that you suspect Dick of having had any hand in the affair?"

Then, at that instant, I recollected how, when I had received the
telegram on that memorable evening, his face had suddenly changed, and
his hand had trembled.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

"YOU WILL NEVER KNOW--NEVER!"

Dick returned about eleven, and shortly afterwards Boyd swallowed
another whisky-and-soda and left.

I thought my friend started slightly at finding the detective with me,
but he betrayed not the slightest annoyance.  Indeed, he himself started
the discussion regarding the mystery, appearing in no way loth to
discuss it in all its phases.

The detective's suspicion was certainly a startling one, and of course
accounted for his anxiety that Dick should in future remain in utter
ignorance of our actions.  When Boyd had gone he at once commenced to
question me upon what theories he had expressed, and in what direction
he was prosecuting inquiries.  Although I would not allow myself to
suspect my best friend, I nevertheless preserved the silence which Boyd
had imposed upon me, evading giving him direct answers, preserving the
secret of the identity of the man seen in St. James's Park, and managing
to put aside his questions by a declaration that personally I was sick
of the whole matter, for I felt that it would now ever remain a mystery.

That night, however, I remained awake many hours thinking fondly of Eva,
and calmly revolving in my mind all that had fallen from the lips of
Boyd.  He, one of the most skilful officers in London, had formed no
theory.  He only entertained certain suspicions, vague perhaps, yet by
no means groundless.  I had not seen Eva since that day when the
strange, incomprehensible attempt had been made to take my life, and a
strong desire again possessed me to stroll at her side, to hear her
voice, to hold her hand.  Was it, I wondered time after time, that hand,
so soft, slim and delicate, that had actually attempted to secretly take
my life?

The detective had calmly reviewed all the facts I had explained, and, as
a professional investigator of crime, had openly expressed a suspicion
in the affirmative.

Often had I wondered what kind of woman was Eva's mother, whom I had
never met.  That she was somewhat eccentric was evident from her
daughter's words on the last occasion I had visited Riverdene.  I lay
there thinking of Eva, scouting every suspicion which the detective's
words had aroused within me, until with the first streak of dawn I fell
asleep and dreamed of her.

Next afternoon, without mentioning anything to Dick save the sending of
a telegram to say I should not dine at home, I left my office half an
hour earlier, and full of conflicting thoughts travelled down to
Riverdene.

Having been informed by the servant that Mrs. Blain and Miss Mary were
absent in London shopping, but that Miss Glaslyn was at home, I was
shown into the long, pleasant drawing-room which opened upon the wide
lawn sloping to the river's brink.  The great bowls of cut flowers
diffused a pleasant odour, and the books and papers lying in the
cosy-corner, with its soft cushions of pale-blue silk, betrayed signs of
recent occupation.

It was a low-ceilinged, comfortable apartment, cool and restful after
the dust and glare of the white road outside.

In a few moments the door opened and Eva entered, fresh and charming in
a cool dress of cream flannel, her sweet face illumined by a smile of
glad welcome.

"This is quite an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Urwin!" she exclaimed,
rushing towards me gladly with outstretched hand.  "I had no idea that
you'd come down to-day.  The Blains are up in town, you know.  I should
have gone, only I had a rather bad headache.  We went up to Windsor
yesterday with the Thurleys on their launch, and I suppose the sun upset
me.  It was unbearably hot."

"Why do you persist in calling me Mr. Urwin?"  I asked in a rather
reproachful tone, still retaining possession of her hand.  "Cannot you
call me Frank?"

She blushed slightly, and drew her hand forcibly away.  Then motioning
me to a seat she cast herself into a low armchair near me, stretching
forth her tiny foot, neat in its silk stocking and patent leather shoe.
She made no response to my suggestion, so I repeated it.

"Why should I call you by your Christian name?" she asked.

"Because I call you by yours, Eva," I answered earnestly.  "I really
can't bear this persistent formality."

She smiled, a rather curious smile it was, I thought.

"So you're staying as guest here?"  I went on, after a moment's pause.

"Yes," she explained.  "My Uncle Henry, in Inverness, is very ill and
not expected to live; therefore they summoned mother by telegraph, with
other members of the family.  As the servants have had no holiday this
year, she sent them away for a fortnight and closed the house, Mrs.
Blain having invited me here."

"Have you heard from your mother?"

"Yes, I had a wire yesterday to say that she had arrived, safely," she
answered, not, however, without a second's hesitation, as though she
were debating whether or no to tell me the truth.

"And Mr. Blain has not returned from Paris yet?"  I asked.

"No," she responded.  "The Blains are talking of joining him next week,
or perhaps the week after, and have invited me to accompany them.  I
should be delighted, for I love Paris."

"You find the shops interesting?"  I laughed.

"Yes," she answered.  "All women do, I suppose.  At least I've met very
few who, having been in Paris, haven't hunted for bargains at the
Louvre, the Printemps, or the Bon Marche.  Paris is worth visiting if
only for one's hats, for you can often buy a hat for twenty francs
exactly the same style and of better material than that for which you
pay three or four guineas in Regent Street."

"I'm not much of an expert in such things," I laughed, nevertheless
recollecting how curious it was that Blain remained still in London.
Might not his wife and daughter have gone up that day to visit him in
his hiding-place?

"But you've been awfully queer, I hear," she said concernedly.  "You
really don't look quite yourself even now.  What has been the matter?
We were all so concerned when we heard about it."

Our eyes met.  In hers there was a deep, earnest look as though she were
really solicitous of my welfare, yet I fancied somehow that those clear
blue eyes wavered beneath my steady, searching glance.  She watched me,
reading me as easily as she would have read black letters on a white
page.

"I was taken suddenly ill--the heat perhaps," I answered with affected
carelessness.  "I had run down, the doctor said.  It was nothing very
serious."  She gave vent to a perceptible sigh of relief, then smiling
sweetly as she ever did, said: "Well, it is indeed a pleasure to welcome
you here again to-day."  She still wore that brooch, the quaint little
playing-card which had betrayed her visit to Morris Lowry.  Its sight
sent a strange thrill through me, for I remembered the object of her
visit to that dark, dirty, obscure herbalist's.

"The pleasure is mutual, believe me, Eva," I answered, putting away from
me instantly the gruesome thought oppressing me.  "Through this whole
month I have thought only of you."

She sighed, in an instant serious.  Then glancing back to assure herself
that there were no eavesdroppers, she said, "It would be far better, Mr.
Urwin--Frank--if you could leave me and forget."

"But I can't," I said, rising quickly and again taking her soft white
hand.  "You know, Eva, how deeply, how sincerely, how devotedly I love
you; how I am entirely yours for ever."

I spoke simply and directly what I felt; I was calmer than I had been
when I rowed her beneath the willows' shade.

"Ah, no!" she cried in a pained voice, rising to her feet with sudden
resolution.  "You really must not say this.  I will not let you
sacrifice yourself.  I will not allow you to thus--"

"It is no sacrifice," I protested, quickly interrupting.  "I love you,
Eva, with all my soul.  One woman alone in all the world holds me
beneath the spell of her grace, her charm and her sweetness.  It is
yourself.  Every hour I think only of you; ever before me your face
rises in my day-dreams, and in those moments when I see your sweet
smiles I tell myself that no other woman can ever have a place in my
heart.  Ah! you cannot know how fondly I love you," I said, raising the
hand tenderly to my lips and imprinting a kiss upon it.  "If you could
only know you would never treat me with this cold, calm indifference."

Her bosom rose and fell slowly, and she was silent.  I fancied that she
shuddered slightly.

At that moment my position struck me as an extremely strange one,
declaring love to one whom an expert detective suspected of having made
a cowardly attempt upon my life.  Was it just?  I asked myself.  Yes, in
this I was justified, for I loved her, even though I had more than once
been inclined to agree with Boyd in his misgivings.

"I was not aware of any indifference," she faltered at last, raising her
great eyes, so clear and earnest, for an instant to mine.  "I had merely
urged you to reflect."

"Reflection is unnecessary," I answered quickly.  "I know that I love
you truly.  That surely is sufficient."

"It might be if I were free," she responded in a low, hoarse voice.
"But I tell you to-day, Frank, as I told you before, this love dream of
ours is impossible of realisation."

"Then you do reciprocate my love?"  I cried, in joyous eagerness.
"Come, tell me.  Do not keep me longer in suspense."

"I have already told you," she answered in a low, intense voice.  "Of
what use is it to continue this painful discussion?"

"Of every use," I cried in desperation.  "Give me one word of hope, Eva.
Tell me that some day you will try and love me better than you do now;
that some day in the future you will become my wife.  Tell me--"

"No! no!" she cried, snatching her hand away and receding from me.  "No,
Frank, I cannot--I will not lie to you."

"Then can you never love me--never?"  I cried despairingly.

"Never," she answered hoarsely, and her answer struck deep into my
heart.  "I have sinned--sinned before God and before man--and love no
longer knows a place in my heart," and her fine head was bowed before
me.

"Sinned!"  I gasped.  "What do you mean?"

"I am as a social leper," she panted, raising her head and looking at me
with wild, unnatural gaze.  "If you knew the dark and awful truth you
would shun me rather than kiss my hand.  Yet you say you love me--you!
who would have so great a cause to hate me if you knew the ghastly
truth!"

"But," I cried, wondering at these strange words, and with my suspicions
again aroused, "I do love you, nevertheless, Eva.  I shall always love
you, I swear it, for my very life is yours."

"Your life!" she echoed in a weird, harsh voice, as she stood,
pale-faced, swaying before me, her hands clasped to her breast, her lips
cold and white.  "Yes," she said, in a strange, half-hysterical tone.
"Yes, it is true, too true, alas! that your future is in my hands.  Only
by a miracle have you come back to life, a grim shadow of a crime to
taunt, to defy, to denounce.  Ah!  Frank, you do not know the terrible
truth; you will never know--never!"

I was bewildered.  Horror possessed me.  The darkness of an irreversible
fact spread over her and made her terrible to me.  All must be given up.
Conscience pronounced this dread decree and multiplied the pain a
thousand times.

Destiny had once more taken me by the elbow.

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

EVA MAKES A CONFESSION.

"Why may I not know the truth?"  I asked the blanched and agitated woman
before me.  Her involuntary declaration that I had only returned to life
by little short of a miracle was in itself clear proof that she was
aware of the attempt made to assassinate me.  I therefore determined to
question her further and ascertain whether Boyd's grave suspicion had
any absolute foundation.  "You know, Eva," I went on, standing before
her with my hand upon her shoulder in deep earnestness, "you know how
strong is my affection; you know that you are all the world to me."

Often during my many visits to that riverside house, so cool and
peaceful after the busy turmoil in which fate compelled me to earn my
bread, I had spoken of my love for her, and now in my desperation I told
her that I could not leave the woman whom I had so long worshipped in
the ideal, whom I had instantly recognised as being the embodiment of
that ideal, of whose presence I could not endure to be deprived even in
thought.

She stood silent, with her back to the table, looking into my eyes while
I told her these things.  A ray of sunlight tipped her auburn hair with
gold.  Sometimes she would seem to yield to a kind of bliss as she
listened to my avowal; to forget all else than ourselves and my words.
At others a look of anguish would suddenly cloud her features, and once
she shuddered, pressing her hands to her eyes, saying--

"Frank, you must not!  Spare me this.  I cannot bear it!  Indeed I
can't."

Sometimes, in the days that had passed, when I had spoken of my love,
joy and pain would succeed each other on her face; indeed, often they
would be present at the same moment.  From the look of complete
abandonment to happiness that sometimes, though never for long, shone on
her features when we had idled up that shady, picturesque backwater,
where the kingfishers nested, I felt that she loved me, and that
eventually that love would gain the victory.  Thus, continually, I tried
to elicit an expression of her feelings in words.  Sweet to me as was
the confession of her looks, I sought also a confession of speech.

Alas! however, she seemed determined to give me no single word of
encouragement.

"But why," I asked, as she stood there with bent head, her hand toying
nervously with her rings, "why is it that when I speak of what most
occupies my heart you become silent or sorrowful?"

She smiled, a strange, artificial smile, and for an instant her clear
blue eyes--those eyes which spoke of an absolute purity of soul--met
mine, as she replied--

"Can a woman explain her caprice any more than a man can understand it?"

Without heeding this evasion I went on--

"Is it that you are already pledged to marry some other man?"

"No," she answered, quickly and earnestly.

"Then it is because you do not wish me to love you," I observed
reproachfully.

Her look startled me, for it contained besides a world of grief and
pity, something of self-reproach.  She regarded me strangely, first as
if my words were a welcome truth, then, while her brow darkened, a
mental anguish forced itself into her expression.

"You were mad to come here to me," she said, with a quick, apprehensive
look.  "If you knew the truth you would never again cross the threshold
of this house."

"Why?"  I demanded, in an instant alert.

"For a reason that is secret," she responded with a shade of sadness.

That ring of earnestness in her voice it seemed impossible to
counterfeit.  Puzzled, I gazed at her, striving to read her countenance.
Her head was bent, her colour changing; do what she would she could not
keep the blood quite steady in her cheek.

"But may I not know, Eva?"  I implored.  "Surely you will not refuse to
warn or guide one who is so entirely devoted to you as I am?"

"I cannot warn you, except to say that treachery may be sweetly
concealed, and danger lurk where you may least suspect its presence."

"You wish to place a gulf between us," I cried impatiently.  "But that's
impossible.  I cannot rest without you; I am drawn to you as though by
some power of magic.  I am yours in life, in death."

"Ah, no!" she cried suddenly, putting up her hands to her face.  "Speak
not of death.  You are making vows that must ere long be broken," and
she sighed deeply.

Was not her attitude, standing there pale and trembling, the attitude of
a guilty woman who feared the revelation of her crime?  I looked again
at her, and becoming convinced that it was, I regarded her with
inexpressible scorn and love, horror and adoration.  She seemed to have
changed of late.  She pondered over my words, weighing them without any
idle misleadings of fancy.  Did she never dream as she had done when we
first met?

"Why must my vows be broken when my love for you is so fervent, Eva?"  I
demanded, in a voice a trifle hard, I think.

She shuddered and gave a gesture of despair as if there were, indeed, no
defence for her.  A great darkness was over my mind like the plague of
an unending night.

"I have warned you," she responded, in a strange low tone.  "If you
really love me as you say you do, remain away from this house."

"Why are you so anxious that I should not visit you?"  I demanded,
puzzled.  Then I added: "Of course in order to gain your love I am
prepared to accept any conditions you may propose.  If I do not again
come here, will you meet me in London?"

"I can say nothing of the future," she answered slowly.  "For your own
sake--indeed, for mine also--do not come here again.  Promise me, I beg
of you."

This request was the more curious in the light of recent events.  Was it
that she could not bear me to kiss the hand that had attempted to slay
me?

"All this is very strange, Eva," I said with a sudden seriousness.  "I
cannot understand your attitude in the least.  Why not be more
explicit?"

The heart of man is an open page to women.  Love, though greatest of all
selfish ecstasies, must yet have self-forgetfulness.  She had none.  She
glanced at me and seemed to divine my thoughts.  She cast a furtive look
across the room to the lawn beyond, and I read on her face the birth of
some new design.

"I have been quite explicit," she laughed, with a strenuous attempt to
preserve her self-control.  "I merely give you advice to keep away from
this house."

"Yes, but you give me no reason.  You do not speak plainly and openly,"
I protested.

"One cannot speak ill of those of whose hospitality one is partaking,"
she answered with a calm smile.  "Is it not sufficient for the present
that you are warned?"

"But why?"  I demanded.  "I am always a welcome guest here."

Again she smiled, with a strange curl of the lip, I thought.

"I do not deny that," she answered.  "Have I not, however, already
pointed out that treachery may be marvellously well concealed?"

Did she really warn me of the danger of associating with these intimate
friends of hers merely because in her heart she really loved me? or had
she some ulterior motive in getting me out of the way?  She was
hand-in-glove with this suspected family, therefore the latter seemed
the theory most feasible.

Yes, she was undoubtedly playing me false.

A new thought suddenly arose within me, and with my eyes fixed upon her
I said, in a voice hard and determined--

"Eva, just now you gave utterance to a remark which is to me full of
meaning.  You said that I had escaped death by little short of a
miracle.  True, I have."  Then I paused.  "Yet, if the truth were told,
have you not also escaped a swift and sudden end by means almost as
miraculous?"

Her face blanched instantly, her mouth, half-opened, seemed fixed.  She
was unable to articulate, and I saw what an effect this speech of mine
had upon her.  She tottered to the table and laid her hand upon it in
order to steady herself.  Her eyes glared upon me for an instant, like
those of some animal brought to bay.

Yet, with a marvellous self-control, her white face a moment later
relaxed into a smile, and she replied--"I really don't know to what you
refer.  In the course of our lives we have many hairbreadth escapes from
death, for dangers are around us on every side."  By this I saw what a
consummate actress she was, and was filled with regret that I had thus
referred to the tragedy at Kensington, fearing lest this revelation of
my knowledge should hamper Boyd in his inquiries.  Through all she kept
a calm and steady judgment that was remarkable.

"Reflect at leisure," I responded, "and perhaps you will not find my
words quite so puzzling as your own veiled references."

"A few minutes ago," she exclaimed reproachfully, "you declared that you
loved me.  Now, however, you appear to entertain a desire to taunt me."

"With what?"

She hesitated, for she saw how nearly she had been entrapped.  Every
woman is a born diplomatist, so she answered--

"With having endeavoured to mislead you."

"I only know that I love you, Eva," I said in softer tones, again
tenderly taking her hand.  "I only know that I think of no other woman
in all the world besides yourself.  I only know that I cannot live
without your love."

Her bosom heaved and fell painfully, and from her large blue eyes tears
sprang--quick, salt, bitter drops that burned her as they fell.

"Ah, no?" she cried protestingly.  "Do not let us talk of that.  Do not
let us dream of the impossible."

"Then you really love me?"  I cried in quick earnestness, bending over
her, my arm about her slim waist.

But she shuddered within my grasp.  Her frame was shaken by a convulsive
sob, and gazing upon me with serious eyes she, in a low whisper, gave
her answer.

"Alas!  I cannot--I--I dare not!"

I drew back crushed and hopeless.  Once again the strange thought
possessed me that Mary Blain held her within her power; that although
she actually loved me she feared the relentless vengeance of that woman
who posed as her most intimate friend, who smiled upon us both, although
in her heart was a fierce and jealous hatred.

Eva's was a strange character.  She seemed a brilliant antithesis--a
compound of contradictions--of all that I most detested, of all that I
most admired.  Her whole character seemed a triumph of the external over
the innate; even though she presented at first view a splendid and
perplexing anomaly, there was yet deep meaning and wondrous skill in the
enigma when I came to analyse and decipher it.  What was most
astonishing in Eva's character was its antithetical construction, its
consistent inconsistency, which rendered it quite impossible to reduce
it to any elementary principles.  The impression she gave was that of
perpetual and irreconcilable contrast.

In those months I had known her she had enchanted me.  Her mental
accomplishments, her unequalled grace, her woman's wit and woman's
wiles, her irresistible allurements, her starts of hauteur, her vivacity
of imagination, her petulant caprice, her fickleness and her falsehood,
her tenderness and her truth, all had dazzled my faculties and bewitched
my fancy.  She held absolute dominion over me.

My reference to that fatal night when I had discovered her apparently
dead in that weird house in Kensington had utterly unnerved her.  I had
apparently, by those words, given her proof of the strong suspicion
which she had entertained, and now she held aloof from me as from an
enemy.  Again and again Boyd's forcible words recurred to me.  Try how I
would I could not place from me the increasing belief that she had
actually given me that fatal draught on the last occasion when we met.

Yet, after all, she had my welfare at heart to some extent, or she would
not utter this strange inexplicable warning; she would not have so
pointedly told me that the family whose guests she was were my actual
enemies.  The latest passion of my love had long ago kindled into a
quenchless flame, and again, after this declaration of fear which she
had uttered, I repeated my inquiry as to its cause.

But she shook her head, and remained silent to all my entreaty, even
though her panting breast plainly showed her agitation.  Had she, I
wondered, really perpetrated a deed of horror?  Was she, although so
pure-looking and so beautiful, one of those women with inexorable
determination of purpose, an actual impersonation of the evil powers?

At her invitation we strolled together across the lawn to a shady spot
at the river's brink, where we sat in long wicker chairs, tea being
brought to us by the smart man-servant.  Again and again I sought to
discover some truth from her, but she was ever wary not to betray either
herself or those under whose roof she was now living.  As I lounged
there by her, gazing upon her neat-girdled figure, so graceful and
striking in every form, I could not help reflecting that, in a mind not
utterly depraved and hardened by the habit of crime, conscience must
awake at some time or other, and bring with it a remorse closed by
despair, and despair by death.

Had her conscience been awakened that afternoon?  To me it seemed very
much as though it had.

"How strangely you talk, Eva," I said, when we had been conversing
together a long time beneath the trees, and the sun was already sinking.
"You seem somehow to entertain an extraordinary antipathy towards me."

"Antipathy!" she echoed.  "Oh, no, you are really mistaken.  You ask me
to love you, and I express myself unfortunately unable."

"But why unable?"

She sighed, but was silent.  Her eyes were fixed far away down the
tranquil river which ran with liquid gold in the sunset.

From my lips there poured swift, eager, breathless, unconsidered words
in all their unreason, all their wisdom, their nobility, their
ignorance, their folly, their sublimity.  Yet I meant to their very
uttermost every syllable I uttered.

"Tell me now," I urged.  "You wish me to leave you without a single word
of hope.  You give me a negative reply without reason or explanation."

"I have a reason," she answered in a low, mechanical tone, a voice quite
unusual to her.

"What is it?"

"I am a stern fatalist in principle and in action," she responded.

"And is it that which prevents you from reciprocating my affection?"

"No," she answered, shaking her head sadly, and glancing at her rings.
"I know that happiness can never more come to me.  To love would only be
to increase my burden of remorse."

"Remorse?"  I cried, in a moment recollecting all the mysterious past.

"Yes," she answered in a hard tone of melancholy and despair.  "A
remorse that arises from the pang of a wounded conscience, the recoil of
the violated feelings of my nature, a horror of the ghastly past, a
torture of self-condemnation strong as my soul, deep as my guilt, fatal
as my resolve, and terrible as my crime."

"Your crime!"  I gasped.

She had at last confessed.  I sat gazing at her absolutely dumbfounded.
My brain seemed dead in me.

"Yes, my crime," she responded, her face white and hard set, her
clenched hands perceptibly trembling.  "Now at least you are aware of
the reason that I will not accept your love.  I, the woman whom you
love, am unworthy, degraded and perverted, a woman who would have
suffered a thousand deaths of torture rather than have betrayed myself,
but who is now without pity or fear, unconscious, helpless,
despair-stricken, although still linked with my sex and with humanity.
Death alone would be welcome to me as bridegroom."  Then panting, she
added, rising to leave me: "No, Frank, this must all end to-day.  I can
never love you.  It is utterly impossible.  You cannot know--you will
never know--how I suffer."

She had gone from me.  She was to me a thing terrible, and almost
loathsome.  Yet she was dear to me.  I was ready to give my life to
ransom hers.

She stretched out her hand and musingly touched mine.  I shrank as if
the contact burned me.  She saw my involuntary gesture of aversion.  It
set her heart harder on the thing she meant to do.

CHAPTER TWENTY.

A NIGHT ADVENTURE.

In the silent evening hour, as the dusk darkened and twilight slowly
faded into night, I was conscious of a kind of fascination against which
my moral sense rebelled, but from which there was no escape.  We talked
on, I striving ever to learn the truth, she careful to conceal it from
me.  I saw how unexpected but natural were her transitions of temper and
feeling, noted the contest of various passions, the wild hurricane of
resentment melting into tears, faintness and languishment, and
endeavoured time after time, but always in vain, to obtain a further
confession from her lips.

That she existed in deadly fear of some dread secret being revealed was
vividly apparent, just as it was also clear that my ill-timed
observation regarding her mysterious presence in that house of mystery
at Kensington had placed her upon her guard, and proved to her a fact of
which before she had no confirmation.  Her airy caprice and provoking
petulance, which had so attracted me when we had been first introduced,
had been now succeeded by a mixture of tenderness with artifice, and
fear with submissive blandishment.  She quailed before me when I rebuked
her tenderly for her lack of confidence in me, partly because of her
female subtlety, partly owing to natural feeling.

Nevertheless, when I reviewed the situation, and calmly and deliberately
reflected upon her attitude, I saw plainly that she regarded me as
something more than a mere acquaintance, even though her character was
so complicated that no one sentiment could exist pure and unvarying in
such a mind.

Therefore, sadly, with a heavy feeling of non-achievement, I took a long
and lingering leave of her, and was driven back to Shepperton Station by
Simpson, my mind overflowing with puzzling thoughts.  Great as was my
hesitation to believe that her conscience was a guilty one, nevertheless
her own words were now sufficient proof that my suspicions were not
unfounded.  Yet I loved her.  I still adored her with all my soul, even
though I had kissed the slim white hand that had sought to send me to
the grave.

These and a thousand similar thoughts whirled through my bewildered
brain as I sat back alone in the ill-lit railway carriage.  Puzzled and
baffled, I sat plunged in deepest melancholy and despair, when, on the
train drawing up at the quiet, lethargic station of Hampton, the door of
the compartment was suddenly flung open, and a well-known cheery voice
cried--

"Hullo, Urwin!  Get out here.  I want to speak to you."

I roused myself instantly, recognising Boyd standing on the platform in
the semi-darkness.  With an expression of surprise at such a meeting I
jumped out and joined him, he explaining that he had come down from
Waterloo with the object of finding me, and had waited at Shepperton
Station for my arrival there.  He, however, had not spoken to me, lest
the man Simpson should chance to mention the fact at Riverdene.

"But why are you down here?"  I inquired surprised.

"Well," he answered in a low voice, "we've got a piece of most secret
investigation before us to-night.  I've waited for your assistance.  We
are going to search The Hollies."

"Search the Hollies?"  I echoed.

"Yes," he answered.  "You'll remember Miss Glaslyn's letter to you,
stating that the house was closed and the servants are away on holiday.
Therefore, now's our time.  We must, however, act so that Lady Glaslyn
and her daughter have no suspicion that the place has been overhauled.
I obtained a search-warrant from Sir John Gibbons, the chief of the
local bench, this morning, and now we'll just satisfy our curiosity."

"But the place is locked up, isn't it?"  I suggested, amazed at this
sudden resolve.

"Of course.  We must get in how we can, only being careful not to
attract the attention of any neighbours, and to leave no trace behind
that intruders have entered."

"Then we are to go to work like burglars?"  I observed, smiling.

"Exactly," he answered.

We had now left the station, and were walking along an ill-lit path
which skirted the railway until we gained the high road leading into Old
Hampton.  He explained the precautions he had taken, namely, to tell the
constable on the beat of our intentions, and imposing upon him secrecy,
and also to arrange for the local plain-clothes officer to be on duty in
the vicinity.  His proposal seemed to possess all the elements of
adventure, therefore, notwithstanding my hesitation to commit any act
which might further implicate the woman I loved, I expressed myself
eager and ready to accompany him.

Nine o'clock chimed from the square old tower of Hampton Church, that
landmark so well-known to those who frequent the river, and Boyd
declared that it was too early to commence operations.  People were
about, and we might be observed.  Therefore we entered that
old-fashioned inn where the ancient sign is still suspended from a beam
across the road, a hostelry much patronised by boating-parties, who
there replenish their hampers, and entering the billiard-room we whiled
away the time, playing and gossiping with a couple of tradesmen, who,
judging from their pronouncements, were local notabilities, perhaps
District Councillors.

We remained until the landlord called "Time, gentlemen, please!" then
lighting our cigars went forth, strolling through the quaint old-world
village, and skirting the long, high wall of Bushey Park towards Lady
Glaslyn's.  The night was dark and overcast, a gusty wind had sprung up
precursory of rain, and in our ears sounded the hum of the telegraph
wires.  The weather favoured us.  For such an excursion Boyd did not
care for a perfectly still night.

At length, when we had been walking perhaps a quarter of an hour along
the dark, deserted road, a man, bearded and rather shabby-looking,
suddenly emerged from the shadow of the wall and greeted Boyd with the
policeman's password--

"All right, sir."

"Are the things there?"  Boyd inquired.

"Yes, sir.  I've put the lamp, the jemmy and the keys under a laurel
bush on the left of the back door."

"Well," said my friend, "I think you'd better come with us.  We may have
some difficulty in getting in."

"Very well, sir," the man answered, and continued to walk by our side.
He was smoking a pipe, and as we neared the house he knocked out the
ashes and placed it in his pocket.

"No dogs there, I hope?"  Boyd said, addressing him.

"No, sir.  None."

I confess to feeling a thrill of excitement, for the business of
"breaking and entering a dwelling-house" was entirely new to me.  The
Hampton Road is ill-lit, and after ten at night utterly deserted,
therefore in our walk we met no one except the solitary policeman, who
stood beneath a lamp and greeted Boyd with a low "All right, sir," as we
passed on towards The Hollies.

All was in darkness.  Not a soul was about save ourselves and the
policeman standing watchful and motionless beneath the street-lamp fifty
yards away.  The well-kept garden with its laurels, its monkey-trees and
its old yews was shut off from the road by a high wall, in which was a
pair of heavy iron gates giving entrance to the gravelled drive.  These
gates were locked and secured by a chain and formidable padlock, a fact
which showed that to enter we must climb them.  The houses on either
side were of rather meaner order than The Hollies, and in one of them a
light still showed in an upper window.

In order not to attract the occupiers of these houses we conversed in
low whispers, and in obedience to the local detective's suggestion
climbed the gates one after another and carefully descended within the
garden.  On either side of the house extended walls some ten feet in
height, with doors in them giving access to the rear of the premises,
and again, guided by the plain-clothes man, we scaled this wall, a
somewhat perilous process, it being spiked on the top.  As it was,
indeed, I made a serious rent in an almost new pair of trousers, much to
Boyd's amusement.

At last, when we were in the rear garden, our guide began foraging
beneath a laurel bush and brought forth a dark lantern, a short,
serviceable-looking jemmy, and a big bunch of skeleton keys.

"I examined the place this afternoon," he explained.  "This door is the
only one locked from the outside, therefore if we can pick the lock we
shall be able to enter and get away without leaving a trace."

"Very well," Boyd said impatiently.  "Let's get to work," and taking the
keys he went to the garden entrance and commenced work upon the lock,
while his assistant lit and held the lantern.

Every effort, however, to open the lock proved a failure.

"It's a Chubb, a Bramah, or one of those lever locks," said Boyd, in a
low tone, giving it up after he had tried all the keys in vain.  "It
won't do to force the door, for that'll betray us."

"Why not try a window?"  I suggested.

"No, sir," said the plain-clothes man.  "They're all barred, I'm
afraid."

"But those on the first floor," I suggested, looking up at one,
evidently a landing window, over the door.

"We might try if we could only reach it," Boyd said, laying down the
keys upon the doorstep.  "If we forced the catch we could screw it down
again before we left."

In order to discover something by which we might gain access to the
window we all three crept carefully across the lawn and down the long
old-fashioned garden to an outhouse, where, after some search, we found
an old and rotten ladder, half the rungs of which seemed missing.  This
we carried back, and a few moments later Boyd, mounting, with a strong
clasp-knife which he had taken from his pocket, began slowly working
back the catch, until at last he was able to throw up the window and
crawl in.  Without a sound I followed, the local detective clambering in
after me.

We found ourselves on the first floor landing, therefore, descending the
stairs to the main hall, we lit the candles provided by the
plain-clothes man, and after taking the precaution to let down the
blinds of the front windows, commenced an active search of the
drawing-room, that spacious old-fashioned apartment into which I had
been shown when I had called.  Our search, directed by Boyd, was careful
and methodical; neither nook nor corner escaped him, although we
replaced everything just as we found it.  So large were the rooms that
we found the lights we carried were not sufficient to give us proper
illumination, therefore we sought the gas-meter, and after turning on
the gas, lit jets in the various rooms.  Fortunately all the windows
were furnished with Venetian blinds, therefore we let them down and
closed them, so that no light should be noticed outside.

An air of desolation hung about the place, and every sound we made
echoed weirdly, for at dead of night all noise becomes exaggerated.  The
drawing-room yielded practically nothing, therefore we passed into a
well-furnished morning-room, and thence to the dining-room, which we
likewise thoroughly overhauled.  None of these rooms bore any trace of
the struggle with poverty which the innkeeper's wife had alleged.
Indeed, in the drawing-room was a fine grand piano of one of the
best-known makers, together with several rare works of art.  All the
rooms bore signs of being the abode of a rich and cultured family, the
old oak in the dining-room being, I noted, genuine, evidently antique,
Italian, while the upholstery and carpets were of the first quality.  On
the walls of those ground-floor rooms were many examples of old as well
as modern masters, one portrait hanging in the dining-room representing
Eva herself, a half-length picture, undoubtedly from recent sittings,
signed by an artist extremely well-known in London.  In this room also
were antique high-backed oak chairs, lined with old tapestry, the back
and arms bearing armorial bearings embroidered in coloured silks,
evidently the arms of the Glaslyns, for a similar device was upon the
plate.

On ascending to the first floor we found the house to be of far larger
proportions than we had imagined, for off a long, well-carpeted corridor
opened quite a number of bed and other rooms, each of which we proceeded
to inspect.

"We haven't found a single thing below," Boyd observed to me, as we
entered the first of these rooms, evidently one of the spare bedrooms,
for the place was very dirty and neglected in comparison with the other
apartments.  "Let's hope we may come across something here."


Nothing was locked, and five minutes sufficed to show us that no attempt
had been made to conceal anything in any of the two chests of drawers,
or in the wardrobe.  So thoroughly did Boyd search that in each room he
went around the wainscoting, tapping it with the jemmy and examining any
part which appeared to be loose or movable.  The next room, apparently
Lady Glaslyn's room, with a small dressing-room adjoining, we searched
with redoubled energy, but beyond establishing the fact that her
ladyship was not in want of money by the finding of three five-pound
notes placed carelessly in an unlocked drawer, there was nothing to
arouse our curiosity.

Adjoining the dressing-room, with its window overlooking the road, was a
small but elegant apartment upholstered in pale-blue, quite a luxurious
little room with a piano; evidently a boudoir.  The carpet was so thick
and rich that our feet fell noiselessly, while near the window was a
handsome Louis XV escritoire inlaid with various woods and heavy
mountings of chased ormolu.  A pretty cosy-corner occupied the angle
beside the tiled hearth, while the little bamboo table with its small
shelves spoke mutely of cosy five-o'clock tea often served there.

"I wonder what's in this?"  Boyd said, advancing to the escritoire while
his assistant lit the gas.

Finding it locked, my friend bent, examined the keyhole carefully, and
then commenced to ply the various skeleton keys.  For some time he was
unsuccessful, but at length the lock yielded and he opened it.  Then,
while the local officer took the dark lantern and went along the
corridor to explore what further rooms there were, and their character,
Boyd and I proceeded to carefully examine every paper, letter or
document the escritoire contained.  Some letters were addressed to Lady
Glaslyn, others to Eva, but most of them were ordinary correspondence
between relatives and friends, while the folded documents were receipted
bills, together with a file of papers relating to some action at law
regarding property near Aberdeen.

Behind the receptacle in which we found these letters was a panel which
Boyd at once declared concealed some secret drawers, and being well
versed in all the contrivances of cabinet-making, be very soon
discovered the means by which the panel could be released.  As he had
predicted, its removal disclosed three small drawers.

To the first I gave my attention, while he took out the contents of the
second.  The letters, of which there were seven or eight, secured by an
elastic band, I took out and read, being puzzled greatly thereby.  They
were all type-written and bore the post-mark "London, S.E."  The first
had been received about three months before, the last as recently as a
fortnight ago.  They were very friendly, commencing "Dear Eva," and
although the writer was apparently extremely intimate, there was,
however, not a word of love, a fact which gave me some satisfaction.
They all, without exception, contained a most mysterious reference to
"the Silence," in terms extremely guarded and curious, one urging the
utmost caution and declaring that a grave peril had unexpectedly arisen
which must, at all hazards, be removed.  The writer did not appear to be
a very educated person, for in many places there were mistakes in
spelling, while all were devoid of both address or signature, bearing
only the single initial "Z."

I passed them over to Boyd, asking his opinion, and as he sat at the
writing flap reading them we were both suddenly startled by hearing a
plaintive cry near us.  It was a poor lean cat, who had accidentally
been shut up there and was undoubtedly starving.

"These letters are very strange," Boyd observed, looking up at me.  "I
wonder to what the silence refers?"

"I don't know," I said.  "There's evidently some very good reason that
they've been concealed here."

As I was speaking I took from beneath some letters, still remaining in
the secret drawer Boyd had opened, a wooden pill-box, from which I
removed the lid, there being disclosed a small quantity of a peculiar
greyish-blue powder.

"Hulloa!"  Boyd exclaimed, with a quick glance at it.  "What's that, I
wonder?  No label on the box.  It looks suspicious!"

"Yes," I agreed.  "I wonder what it is, that it should be so carefully
concealed?"

"Leave it aside for a moment," he said.

Then taking up a large envelope which, while I had been reading the
letters, he had been carefully examining, he drew from it two
photographs.

"Do you recognise the originals of these?" he inquired with a grave
smile.

"Great Heavens!"  I gasped.  "Why, they are the man and the woman whom
we found at Phillimore Place!"

"Exactly," he said, in a voice of satisfaction, just as his assistant
re-entered.

Then, before I could recover from my bewilderment, he took up the little
wooden box, exclaiming--

"This powder here is a very suspicious circumstance, but we'll test it
at once."

Turning to the local officer he said--

"I saw you eating something when you met us and you put part of it in
your pocket.  What was it?"

"A sandwich.  My wife always makes me one when I go out on night-duty,"
the man explained.

"Have you any of it left?"

For answer he drew from his pocket a portion of an uneaten sandwich and
placed it upon the table.  Boyd, with his pocket-knife, cut off a piece
of the meat, upon it sprinkled a grain or so of the mysterious powder,
and threw it down to the hungry cat, which was mewing loudly, and
purring round our legs.

The thin creature, ravenously hungry, devoured it, but ere ten seconds
had passed, and while we all three were watching attentively, it
staggered, with a faint cry, and almost without a struggle rolled over,
dead.

"As I suspected," Boyd observed, turning to me.  "This is the powder
from the herbalist's."

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

UNDER THE LEADEN SEAL.

"So far," continued Boyd, thoughtfully, pushing his hat to the back of
his head, "we've proved one thing--that this stuff is poison."

"Yes," I said.  "But these photographs?  Is it not extraordinary that we
find them here among Eva's possessions?"

"It's all extraordinary," he answered.  "The letters more strange than
anything," and he unlocked the third drawer expectantly, only, however,
to find it contained something small wrapped in a piece of dirty
wash-leather.  He placed it before him, carefully opening it and
disclosing something which caused us both to give vent to exclamations
of surprise.

Inside was a most commonplace object, yet to us it had a meaning
peculiarly tragic--a single penny.

Both of us recollected vividly the finding of a similar coin carefully
wrapped in paper upon the body of the man at Phillimore Place, and there
must, we decided, be some mysterious connexion between our two
discoveries.

"These letters," observed Boyd, putting aside the coin and its wrapping
and taking up the correspondence he had been examining when I had found
the box of mysterious powder, "they are all addressed to Miss Glaslyn,
and in one only, as far as I can see, is her mother mentioned.  They
evidently refer to some deep secret."

"Do you think the silence can refer to the affair at Kensington?"  I
suggested, holding one of the letters in my hand.

"It's impossible to tell," he answered.  "We have now the clearest proof
that these letters were preserved in secret by Eva Glaslyn, together
with some unknown but fatal drug, and the photographs of the victim.
Therefore, if circumstantial evidence may be trusted, I should be
inclined to believe that these letters refer to the matter which we are
investigating.  Perhaps, indeed, the peril mentioned in one of the
letters refers to your own endeavours to fathom the mystery."

"The whole thing is utterly bewildering," I said, re-reading the letter
in my hand, a communication which certainly was of a most veiled
character, evidently being type-written to disguise the writer's
identity.

"There is no object whatever to be gained by adopting your suggestion,"
it ran.  "The only absolutely safe course is to continue as in the past.
The silence is effectual, and for the present is enough.  All your
fears are quite groundless.  Show a bold front and be cautious always.
If you wish to write, send your letter to the old address."

Each of the others were similarly unintelligible, except perhaps the
later one, in which the writer said: "You are right.  I, too, have
discovered cause for apprehension.  A peril threatens, but if the secret
is preserved it cannot harm us."

With the mass of papers and correspondence spread before us we all three
examined these suspicious letters very carefully.  In the drawer which
Boyd had opened was, among other things, a few girlish trinkets and
souvenirs of the past, and a note signed "Mary Blain," and dated from
Riverdene a couple of months before.

In the face of recent events it was a somewhat noteworthy missive, for
beginning "Dearest Eva," it gave her an invitation for tennis on the
following day, Tuesday.  "I have also your admirer," she went on, "and
he will no doubt come.  Perhaps I shall be compelled to go to town
to-morrow afternoon on business, the urgent nature of which you may
guess.  If I do I will convey your message to the quarter for which it
is intended.  Be careful how you act, and what you say to F," (meaning,
I suppose, myself), "for I have no great faith in him.  His friend is,
of course, entirely well-disposed towards us."

I passed it to Boyd, and when he had read it, asked--

"What's your opinion of that?  Is the person mentioned myself? and is
the friend actually Dick?"

"It really seems so," he responded, with knit brows.  "In that case they
must have long ago suspected you of being aware of their secret.  This
would, of course, account for the cowardly attempt to take your life."

"By means of this unknown drug here--eh?"  I suggested bitterly,
pointing to the small box which I had a moment before closed.

"Certainly," said the detective.  "There can now be no further doubt of
Miss Glaslyn's complicity in the affair."

"I wonder who is the author of these type-written letters?"  I said.
"If we knew that, it would let a flood of light into the whole matter."

"We shall, I hope, discover that in due course," he answered.  "Let's
finish these investigations before discussing our next move," and he
continued, carefully placing back the letters in the secret drawers, now
and then pausing to re-read one which chanced to attract his attention.

"Look at this," he said, passing one over to me after he had glanced at
it.

It was written on pale green paper in a fine fashionable woman's hand, a
few brief lines, which ran:--

"My dear Eva,--I could not come to-day, but shall be there this evening.
Everything is complete.  When the truth becomes known the discovery
will, I anticipate, startle the world.  It must, for reasons you know,
remain a strict secret.  Do not breathe a word to a soul.--Yours ever.

"Anna."

"That may refer to the invention we found in the laboratory; a
scientific discovery which no one has come forward to claim.  But who, I
wonder, is Anna?"

"She might be the dead woman," Boyd suggested.

"True," I agreed.  "So she might."

During fully half an hour we still remained in that small cosy boudoir,
which seemed to be Eva's own room, examining everything carefully and
taking the utmost precaution to replace everything exactly as we found
it.  In this Boyd displayed real genius.  Whatever was moved he
rearranged it with an exactness little short of astounding.  His
astuteness was remarkable.  Nothing escaped him, now that he was on the
trail.

Yet, as I wandered about, examining things here and there, I could not
repress a feeling of reproach, for had I not, after all, assisted in
this secret search which had resulted so disastrously for the strange,
mysterious woman I so dearly loved?  She was now under the suspicion of
the police.  They would keep her under surveillance, for the evidence we
had already obtained was sufficient to induce any magistrate to grant a
warrant for her arrest.  A sudden sense of a vast, immeasurable loss
fell upon me.

The small box containing the greyish-blue powder had been replaced in
the concealed drawer, and everything had been rearranged in the room,
when the local officer said--

"At the end of the corridor there's another sitting-room."

"Very well," Boyd answered.  "Let's see what it's like," and we all
three, lights in hand, followed our guide until we entered a smaller
sitting-room.

An easel stood in it and it was apparently used by Eva as a studio, for
she, I knew, took lessons in painting.  Upon the easel stood a canvas
half finished, while near the window was a small writing-table, the one
long drawer of which was locked.  The lock was a common one and quickly
yielded to Boyd's skeleton keys, but within we only found another
collection of old letters, a quantity of pencil sketches, colours and
other odds and ends connected with her art studies.  Boyd was turning
them over methodically, when suddenly an involuntary exclamation escaped
him.

"Ah!  What's this?" he ejaculated, at the same time drawing forth a card
about the size of a lady's visiting card, and held it out to me.

Upon it was drawn in ink a circle.  It was executed in exactly the same
manner as that we had found concealed beneath the plates in the
dining-room at Phillimore Place.

Again he turned the things over and drew out three or four other cards
of similar size and style, each bearing a device, one having upon its
face the straight line exactly like that we had found in Kensington.

"You recognise these devices?" he inquired.

"Of course," I responded in an awed voice, utterly bewildered.  "What, I
wonder, can they denote?"

He shrugged his shoulders, examined each card carefully beneath the rays
of his lamp, felt it, and after carefully examining all the
heterogeneous collection of things in the drawer, placed them back
again, closed it, and relocked it.

"Those cards bear some very important part in the tragedy, I feel
assured," he said when he had finished, and turned to me with a puzzled
expression.  "They look innocent enough, and the devices are in no way
forbidding; nevertheless, it is strange that we find here, in her
possession, exact duplicates not only of the cards, but also of that
coin carried by the dead man."

"It's all utterly astounding," I declared.  Then, with a touch of
poignant regret and despair, I added: "All these discoveries would cause
me the highest gratification if I did not love her as fondly as I do."

"You surely could not make a murderess your wife, Urwin?" my friend
said.  "In this matter remember that we are striving to fathom a mystery
which is one of the most profound and remarkable that has ever been
reported at the Yard."

"I know," I answered, glancing around that small room wherein my
well-beloved had spent her days in the study of art.  "But what I cannot
understand is how, being an actual victim of the tragedy, she is
nevertheless at the same time implicated in the affair."

"That will be made plain later," he said with an air of confidence.

"One thing is quite clear, that she purchased certain poisons which are
only known to those well versed in toxicology.  We have that on old
Lowry's own authority.  If, then, she bought this drug it could only be
for one purpose, namely, to commit murder.  Well, she made an attempt
upon you; therefore, why should you endeavour to shield her?"

"Because I love her," I answered, still unconvinced by his argument.

"Bah!  Love is entirely out of the question in this matter, my dear
fellow," he said, with a gesture of impatience.  "She may have
fascinated you because of her unusual beauty, but beyond that--well, in
six months' time you'll thank Providence that you've not married her--
mark my words."

That was exactly what she herself had said, I reflected.  She had
prophesied that one day, ere long, I would hate the very mention of her
name.

From room to room we passed, examining everything, allowing nothing to
escape us.  There was assuredly no sign of poverty in that house, but
really the reverse, a lavish display of costly objects, which showed
that its owner was capricious, with money at her command.  No expense
seemed to have been spared to render that abode the acme of comfort and
modern convenience.

In one of the bedrooms in that same corridor, a room which we decided
was Eva's from various dresses and other things it contained, we found
standing upon the table a large panel photograph of a kind-faced,
middle-aged woman, which the local officer at once recognised as that of
Lady Glaslyn.

Boyd, taking it up, examined it long and earnestly beneath the light of
the bull's-eye.

"Devilish good-looking for a woman of her age," he remarked
thoughtfully, as he slowly replaced it upon the table.  "Do you know?"
he added, turning to me, "I fancy I've met her somewhere--but where I
can't for the life of me recollect.  What do you know about the family?"

"Very little beyond what's in Burke, which only devotes three lines to
them.  The baronetcy was conferred in 1839, and Lady Glaslyn's husband,
Sir Thomas, died six years ago.  No mention is made of their country
seat, so I presume they haven't one."

Boyd stroked his beard and gave vent to a low grunt of doubt.

"Well," he said, "I'm almost positive that I've met her before
somewhere.  I wonder where it was."

Quickly we rearranged the articles in the room which we had disturbed
and passed on to the next, the door of which faced us, forming the end
of the long corridor.

"Hulloa!"  Boyd cried.  "What does this mean?"

We both looked, and by the light of the lantern saw that the door was a
double one and that right across it was a long bar of steel or iron
painted and grained the colour of the wood so as not to be noticeable,
and securing it strongly.

"This is decidedly funny," the detective continued, bending down to
examine something.  "Look! it's sealed!"

I bent eagerly beside him, and there saw that the great sliding bolt ran
in three large hasps, and that one of the knobs of the bolt was secured
by wire to the hasp, the two ends of the wire being secured together by
a round seal of molten lead about the size of a shilling.  By this the
bolt was rendered immovable.

"Extraordinary!"  I gasped, as we all stood wondering what might be
therein concealed.  "If we cut the wire then our presence here will be
betrayed," I said.

But Boyd, who was still examining the seal with great care, exclaimed at
last, pointing to it--

"Do you see two letters on the seal, `R.' and `M.'?"

"Yes," I answered.  "What do you think they denote?"

"They tell us how this seal was impressed," the detective responded.
"These initials stand for Rete Mediterranea, and the machine with which
the seal has been impressed is one of those used at every Italian
railway station to seal merchandise and passengers' baggage.  It has
certainly been placed upon the wire by one who knew how to handle the
instrument with dexterity."

"There must be something in that room which her ladyship desires to keep
secret," I remarked, both amazed and excited at this latest discovery.

"Yes," remarked Boyd.  "At all hazards we must explore it."

"But how," I queried, "without tampering with the seal?"

His brow clouded for a few moments, then again he examined the seal and
wire with the utmost care.  He stood motionless, looking at it for fully
a minute, then turning to the local officer, said--

"I'm going downstairs a moment.  Don't touch it till I return."

We both sat upon an ottoman in the corridor for nearly a quarter of an
hour, during which time we heard noises downstairs; until Boyd at last
rejoined us with a look of satisfaction in his face, and bearing in his
hands something which looked like a huge pair of rusty shears with
wooden handles.

"I thought I'd find it," he observed, wiping the perspiration from his
brow.  His hands and face were blackened as though he had been groping
in a cellar.  "This is the seal," and opening his other hand he
displayed an old discoloured pewter teaspoon, adding, "And here's a bit
of lead--or what's as good."

I took the sealing machine from him and examined it carefully.  It was
red with dust, and had apparently been thrown aside and neglected for a
long time.

"Now," said Boyd to his assistant, "I've lit a fire downstairs in the
kitchen, and by the time we've done it'll be sufficiently fierce to melt
the lead."

"Then you intend to break open the door?"  I exclaimed.

He smiled, and for answer took from his pocket a champagne-knife,
cutting the wire with a sharp click, untwisting it from the knob, and
placing it with its seal in his pocket.

In breathless eagerness we watched him push back the bolt, and stood
expectant; but when he tried the door he found it to be still locked.
Again he went swiftly to work with his bunch of queer-looking keys, and
at last he saw one of them gently turn, and he pushed wide open the door
of the chamber of secrets.

Next second the bright light of Boyd's bull's-eye flashed into the
interior, and all three of us fell back with exclamations of surprise
and horror.  Our discovery was truly astounding.

The horrible sight was most weird and terrifying.  Upon the threshold I
stood speechless, utterly unable to move, for the ghastly spectacle made
my hair rise as my eyes became riveted upon the noisome interior of that
long-closed chamber.

Our nostrils were filled with a foetid, nauseating smell of decay which
burst upon us as the door was opened, and at the shock of witnessing the
repulsive sight within, the candle I had held dropped from my trembling
fingers and was extinguished.  Slowly, however, I recovered it, taking a
light from the one held by my friend's assistant, and then entered the
place.

It was not a large room, but the shutters of the window had, we
afterwards discovered, been secured by screws and strongly barred.  In
the centre was a square table, covered with dust, and several common
wooden chairs stood around.  In the empty rusted grate stood a kettle
and a couple of cooking-pots, while upon a side table were a few plates
and a couple of cups and saucers.  Along one side stood an old camp
bedstead, and lying upon it, half-covered with a dirty blanket, was a
figure that had once been human but which was now a sight so gruesome
and so horrible that even Boyd, used as he was to such things, drew away
and held his handkerchief to his nose.

The features were beyond recognition, but by the shortness of the hair
the body was evidently that of a man.  One arm hung helpless, shrivelled
and discoloured, while on the floor close by were the broken portions of
a cup which had evidently fallen from the dead man's claw-like fingers.

"This is another facer!"  Boyd exclaimed in a tone of absolute
bewilderment.  "I wonder who he was?  It seems by the pots and plates
that he was held a prisoner here--an invalid or imbecile, perhaps,
unable to help himself.  Evidently the servants knew nothing of him, for
he cooked his food himself.  Phew!" he added.  "Let's get outside in the
passage to breathe.  This air is enough to poison one."

Half-choked, we went outside, all three of us, and discussed the
startling situation while breathing the purer air.  I offered both my
companions cigarettes, which they lit eagerly with myself.

Then, after a few minutes, we returned and resumed our investigations.
About the room were several books in French and German treating of
political economy and other subjects, a couple of old newspapers, two or
three novels, and a number of scientific books which showed their reader
to be an educated man.  The room had originally been a bathroom, we
concluded, for there was a water-tap and a large pipe for waste, and
this unfortunate man, whoever he was, had evidently not existed wholly
in darkness, for on examining the shutters we found that one of the
panels was movable, and at that spot the pane of glass was broken, thus
admitting both light and air.  Again, there was a small gas-stove ring,
used so universally in London to boil kettles, and this was still
connected by a flexible pipe to a gas bracket on the wall.  Hence it was
quite apparent that the room had been specially fitted for the
occupation of the unknown man now dead.

Upon the dusty table were several pieces of writing-paper covered with
some writing in German, a language which I unfortunately could not read,
while beside them I picked up an object which held me amazed and
astounded--a plain card similar to those we had found at Phillimore
Place and among Eva's secret possessions.

Beyond those writings in German we found nothing else to give us a clue
to whom the dead man might be, and even these writings were no proof as
to his identity.  We found no writing materials there, hence our doubt
that the writing had been traced by his hand.

Into every hole and crevice we peered, disturbing the rats who had
scampered here and there on our unexpected intrusion, but discovering
nothing else of especial interest, we, after about half an hour, went
forth, glad to escape from the poisonous atmosphere.  I closed and
locked the door, when Boyd, cutting out a piece of bell-wire from one of
the bedrooms, re-secured the bolt, and after melting the pewter spoon
below in the kitchen fire, replaced the seal in such a manner that none
could tell it had ever been disturbed.

Truly our midnight search had been a fruitful one.  What might next
transpire I dreaded to think.  All was so mysterious, so utterly
astounding, that I had become entirely bewildered.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

IN DEFIANCE OF THE LAW.

The discovery of the horror concealed within that closed room opened out
an entirely fresh development of the mystery.  On discussing it with
Boyd after we had stealthily left the house we were in complete
agreement that the dead man must have either been in hiding there, or
else, being an imbecile, had been kept under restraint.  The fact of the
door being barred on the outside strengthened Boyd's belief in the
latter theory, while I made the suggestion that he might have been
imprisoned and died of starvation.

"No," Boyd answered, "I don't agree with you there, for it is quite
plain that Lady Glaslyn must have been aware of his presence, and
perhaps, indeed, arranged the room.  There is every evidence that he was
supplied with food at intervals, and cooked it himself, which shows
that, even if an invalid, he was sufficiently active.  My idea is that
he may have been some relation whose demented condition her ladyship
wished to keep from her friends and other members of the family, and
that having died suddenly she was compelled to lock and seal the door,
dreading the publicity of a coroner's inquiry, when the truth must have
been made public."

"True," I said.  "That's, of course, a very feasible theory.  But if she
were in the secret, Eva, too, must have known."

"Of course," he said.  "She can tell us everything if she chooses.  It's
a pity that the dead man's face is unrecognisable."

"Again, is it not strange that we should have found in there one of
those same cards?"

"Yes, rather," responded my friend.  "But at present it is useless to
advance all kinds of wild theories.  We must stick closely to facts if
we would succeed.  We have to-night made certain discoveries, startling
enough in all conscience, and among them have elucidated the secret
which Lady Glaslyn has hidden from every one.  Now we must seek to
discover the motive which caused her to apply that seal to the door, as
well as ascertaining the reason her daughter has that mysterious drug
among her possessions, together with the photographs of the two unknown
victims."

"I wonder how long it is since the man died in that room," I said.
"What a horrible existence he must have led shut up there, gaining all
his light and air through a broken pane of glass.  He was studious, at
any rate, judging from the character of the books with which he had been
supplied."

"And a linguist too," Boyd remarked, remembering that the books were in
other languages besides English.

"Strange that the curiosity of the servants was not aroused," I said.
"They would be certain to wonder what was in a room sealed up as that
is."

"To satisfy them would be easy enough," the detective answered.  "Her
ladyship undoubtedly told them that certain family heirlooms, old
furniture, or something, was stowed away there, and that the seal had
been placed upon them by the trustees, or somebody.  Trust a woman for
an excuse," and he smiled grimly.

We walked on together for some time in complete silence.  The young day
grew wider and brighter and redder in the sky.  We had passed through
Twickenham, and now, in the dawn, were making our way towards Richmond,
whence we could catch the early workmen's train to Waterloo.

"You must keep your friend Cleugh in entire ignorance of all this.  Tell
him you've been out to visit some friends, say at Ealing or Uxbridge, or
somewhere, and that they compelled you to stay the night.  If he were to
know, the whole result of our investigations might be rendered
abortive."

"Of course I'll do as you wish," I answered.  "But I can't for the life
of me see why you entertain any suspicion of Dick.  He's been all along
eager and ready to assist me to clear up the mystery.  To publish the
details of the curious affair seems his one object."  Boyd smiled again
with veiled sarcasm.

"And a very interesting story he'll have for publication, it appears to
me," he said, laughing.  Then he added after a second's pause, "One of
the oddest facts in the whole affair is that the pair we found dead in
Phillimore Place have never been missed by their friends."

"Or the dead man at The Hollies, for the matter of that," I added.

"Yes," he said in dubious tone.  "There are yet some facts which we must
learn ere we can piece the queer puzzle together and read the whole.
Only then can we discover who was the man whom Lady Glaslyn has so
carefully hidden.  It's a devilish funny business, to say the least."

"Has it occurred to you that she may have left not intending to return?"
I asked.

"Well, no," he responded.  "I scarcely think she has flown, or her
daughter would have secured the contents of her escritoire.  She
evidently believes her secret quite safe, and is therefore entirely
fearless."  The Richmond Road with its many trees was pleasant in that
hour when the clear rose-flush of dawn was still in the sky, and as we
walked the cool wind rose fragrant with the smell of the wet grass,
refreshing after the foetid atmosphere of that closed room and its
gruesome occupant.

We chatted on, discussing the startling discoveries we had made, he
giving me certain instructions, until we got to the station and entered
a compartment.  The latter being crowded with workmen, further
conversation on the subject was precluded.

Soon after six I returned to Grey's Inn, and making an excuse to Dick
for my absence, snatched an hour's sleep before going down to my office.
My heart was hard; my blood fire.  Fate had been merciless.

"I began to think something had happened, old chap," Dick had said when
I had entered his room and awakened him.  He sat up in bed and looked at
me rather strangely, I thought.  Then he added: "You don't seem as
though you've had much sleep, wherever you've been."

In my excitement I had quite forgotten that my clothes were dirty and
torn, and my face unwashed, and I fancied that his pointed remark caused
a slight flush to rise to my cheeks.

How I performed my duties that morning I scarcely knew, for my brain was
in a whirl with the amazing discoveries of the past night, I loved Eva,
yet the contents of those concealed drawers were sufficient in
themselves to convince Boyd of her guilt.  A fearful and perpetual dread
seized me lest she should be arrested.  Boyd's method of work was, I
knew, always bold and decisive.  A detective, to be successful, must act
without hesitation.  In this affair he had obtained evidence which, from
every point of view, proved but one fact, and one alone--her guilt.
Indeed, I now remembered with bitterness how she had to me openly
declared herself guilty; how she had prophesied that one day I should
hate all mention of her name.  Did it not seem quite clear, too, that
this very drug which I had found in the small wooden box, the drug which
had been instantly fatal to the poor brute upon which we tried it, was
the same which had been administered to me by her hand?

When I thought of that I felt glad that I had assisted my friend of
Scotland Yard, and that with my own hands had unearthed evidence which
must lead to her conviction.  Her arrest was, I knew from my friend's
remarks, only a matter of days, perhaps, indeed, of hours.

"You can't now seek to shield Miss Glaslyn," he had remarked when we had
been waiting for the train on Richmond platform.  "The proofs are far
too strong.  If we could only discover the author of those type-written
letters we would be able to find out what the Silence refers to, and to
move with much more certainty.  As we can't, we must fix our theory
firmly and act boldly upon it."

"Do you mean that you intend to apply for a warrant against her?"  I
inquired, dismayed.

"We shall obtain one against somebody, but who it may be of course
depends entirely upon the result of our subsequent investigations.
People don't keep bodies locked up in their houses without some very
strong motive."

It now struck me as exceedingly strange why Eva should have been so
anxious to prevent me revisiting Riverdene.  She had hinted that the
Blains were my enemies, yet was it not more likely that my presence
reminded her too vividly of her sin, and she also feared the vengeance
of Mary Blain?  There was undoubtedly some deep motive underlying this
effort to prevent me visiting the Blains, but as I reflected upon it I
failed to decide what it might be.  She had spoken of it as though it
were for my benefit, and as if she had my welfare at heart, yet I could
not fail to detect how hollow was the sham, for the Blains were my
friends of long standing, and since my visit at Mary's request my
welcome had always been a most cordial one.

Mary had certainly no cause for jealousy, for she and I had on several
occasions, when alone on the river, spoken of the past.  She had,
indeed, ridiculed my boyish love for her, and observed that we were both
older and more discreet nowadays.  I had long been assured by her words
and her attitude that her affection for me--if she had really ever
entertained any--had entirely passed away.

No, I could not understand Eva's present attitude.  It was entirely an
enigma.  She seemed filled with some nameless terror, the reason of
which our discoveries seemed to prove up to the hilt.

Day followed day, each to me full of anxiety and bewilderment.  On
parting from Boyd he had told me to remain in patience until he
communicated with me.  I was not to return to Riverdene, neither was I
to mention a single word to Dick regarding recent occurrences.

I wandered from end to end of London day after day, reporting the events
which daily crop up in the Metropolis.  It seemed to me as if those days
would never end.  I saw nothing but the face of Eva.  The world which
had seemed to me so beautiful had changed; Heaven was cruel.  It created
loveliness only to pollute and deform it afterwards.  Out of my dreams I
was brought face to face with facts that sickened me.  The old landmarks
of my faith were gone.  Whatever happy hopefulness of nature I possessed
was crushed.  I was bewildered and sick at heart.  Yet through it all I
could not thrust away from me Eva's wondrous beauty.  Her form, her
gaze, her smile, her sigh--I could think of nothing else.  Yet the
mockery of it all stung me to despair, and despair is man's most
frequent visitor.

A week thus passed.  I saw her in the air, in the clouds, everywhere;
her voice rang in my ears; she was so lovely--and yet she was so vile--a
poisoner!

One afternoon I had returned to Gray's Inn unusually early, about three
o'clock, put on my old lounge-coat, a river "blazer," and sat down to
write up an interview for publication next day, when I heard a ring at
the door, voices outside the room, and a few moments later Mrs. Joad
entered, saying--"'Ere's a lady wants to see you, sir."

"A lady?"  I exclaimed, turning quickly in my chair.  "Ask her in."

I rose, brushing down my hair with my hand, and next moment found myself
face to face with Eva.

She advanced with her hand outstretched and a smile upon her face, that
countenance that was ever before me in my day-dreams.

"How fortunate I am to find you in," she exclaimed, half breathless
after the ascent of the stairs.  "I've been to your office, and they
told me that you were probably at home."

"It is I who am fortunate," I answered, laughing gaily, placing the
armchair for her and drawing out a little oaken footstool, a relic from
some bygone generation of men who had tenanted those grimy old rooms.

With a sigh she seated herself, and then for the first time I noticed
the deathly pallor of her cheeks.  Even her thick veil did not conceal
it.  She was in black, neat as usual, but her skirt was unbrushed and
dusty, and her hair was just a trifle awry, as though she had been
travelling about some hours.

"I have called upon you here for the first and for the last time," she
said in a broken voice, looking seriously across to me, as the unwonted
tears sprang into her eyes.

"The last time!"  I echoed.  "What do you mean?"

"I have come to wish you farewell," she said in a low, faltering voice.
"I am leaving London.  My mother and I are going abroad."

"Abroad?  Where?"  I cried, dismayed.

"My mother's health is not good, and the doctor has ordered her to the
South immediately.  He says that she must never return to this climate,
because it will hasten her malady to a fatal termination.  Therefore, in
future we must be exiles."  She was looking straight into my face as she
spoke, and those great wondrous eyes of hers that I had believed to be
so pure and honest never wavered.  "I leave to-morrow and join her," she
added.

"Then she has already gone!"  I exclaimed, the truth at once flashing
upon me that Lady Glaslyn had actually fled.

"Yes.  The doctor has so frightened her that I could not induce her to
stay and pack.  I shall join her in Paris," she explained quite calmly.
"There is no help for it.  We must part."

"But surely," I said in desperation, "you will not leave me thus?  You
will return to England sometimes."

"I really don't know," she answered in a strained, hoarse voice.

"At least you will give me hope that some day you will be my wife, Eva,"
I said, tenderly grasping her hand, which seemed limp and trembling.
"You know how fondly I love you, how--"

I started quickly and turned, puzzled at the unusual sound of voices,
without finishing the sentence.  One voice I recognised speaking in deep
tones to Mrs. Joad, and dropping the hand I held I rushed out, closing
the door behind me.

As I did so, I came face to face with Boyd, accompanied by two
plain-clothes officers.

"We've followed her here," he explained.  "She means to get away abroad,
therefore we must now execute the warrant.  I regret it, for your sake."

A loud piercing shriek from within told me that she had overheard those
fateful words.

"No," I cried.  "By Heaven! you shan't arrest her!" and I resolutely
barred his passage to the inner room.  "As I love her you shall never
enter there!  She shall never be taken as a common criminal!"

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

HER LADYSHIP.

Boyd, seeing my fierce determination, held back, a look of undisguised
annoyance upon his face.

"I have a duty to perform.  I beg of you not to obstruct me, Mr. Urwin,"
he said coldly.  "It is quite as unpleasant to me as to you."

"Unpleasant!"  I echoed.  "I tell you that you shall not arrest her,"
and I stood firmly with my back to the door of my room.

"Come," he said, in a tone of persuasion.  "This action of yours cannot
benefit her in the least.  She has made every preparation for flight.
Her trunk is in the cloakroom at Charing Cross Station, and she means
within an hour to get away to the Continent.  Let me pass."

"I shall not," I roared.

"In that case I shall be compelled to use force, however much I regret
it."

As he uttered these words the door was suddenly flung back, and I saw
Eva's tragic, almost funereal, figure in the opening.  She was white to
the lips, her countenance terribly wan and haggard.

"Enough!" she cried hoarsely.  "Let the police enter.  I am ready," and
she tottered back, clutching at the corner of my writing-table for
support.

Her outward purity and innocence were a rare equipment for the committal
of a crime.  Who, indeed, would have suspected her of guile and
intrigue?  When Love is dead there is no God.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

We were standing together in my sitting-room, Boyd being our only
companion.  A dozen times I had implored her to speak the truth, but
without avail.  She stood pale and trembling, yet still silent before
us.  Terror held her dumb.

"Those who turn King's evidence obtain free pardon," the detective
gravely observed, speaking for the first time.

She laughed a little to herself.

"You might have striven for ever in vain to solve the mystery," she
answered at last, apparently bracing herself up for an effort.  "Those
who aimed that terrible blow, so swift and so fatal, were not the kind
of persons to be ever caught napping.  They never made a false move, and
always took such elaborate precautions that to solve the enigma would be
impossible to any one unacquainted with previous events."

Her breast rose and fell quickly in her wild agitation.  She was stirred
by emotion to the depths of her being.

"I was weak and helpless," she faltered.  "God knows how I have
suffered; how deep has been my repentance.  Hear me to the end," she
urged, turning her fine eyes to mine.  "Then, when I have told you my
wretched if astounding story, Frank, judge me as you think fit--for I am
yours."

"Speak!"  I said anxiously.  "My justice shall be tempered with mercy."

By that sentence she had acknowledged her love for me, but now I
hesitated.  She was accused of murder.

"Then I must begin at the very beginning, for it is a long and most
complicated story, a story of a deep-laid intrigue and conspiracy, and
of a duplicity extraordinary," she said, her thin, nerveless hand
trembling in mine as I held her with my arm about her waist.  "In the
days when I had reached my sixteenth year I lived with my mother abroad,
in Italy for the most part, because it was cheap, and further because my
father, who had been guilty of certain shady transactions, had been
compelled to fly from England.  He had treated my mother shamefully,
therefore they were separated, and mother and I lived economically in
these cheap pensions in Florence and Rome which seem to exist as asylums
for the well-bred needy.  A few days after I was sixteen, while we were
at an obscure pension in Siena, my mother took typhoid and died, leaving
me absolutely alone in the world, and practically penniless.  Nearly a
year before we had received a letter from my father's solicitors in
London stating that he had died in poverty in Buenos Aires, therefore I
was utterly alone.  The position of a friendless girl on the Continent
is always serious," she said, with a catch in her voice.  "Acting upon
the advice of some English people in the pension I went to Florence and
saw there the Consul-General, who not only gave me money from the
British Relief Fund, which is supported by English residents in that
city, but also interested himself actively upon my behalf and obtained
for me a post as governess in a wealthy Italian family living near
Bologna.  In their service I remained nearly three years, until, by the
death of the head of the house, the family became scattered, when I took
a fresh engagement with a lady who advertised for an English companion.
She was a Madame Damant, a good-looking woman of forty-five, whose
father, I understood, had been Italian, and whose mother English.  She
spoke English quite as well as I did, and had a fine apartment in
Florence, where she received a good deal, for she was well-known there.
With the winter over we travelled first to Paris, where we stayed
several months, and then to Switzerland.  Our life was pleasant, as
Madame had plenty of money and we always lived at the best hotels."

She paused and drew a long breath.  There was a hardness about her
mouth, and tears were in her eyes.

"It was in Zurich that I had my first misgivings, for there one day in
late autumn we were joined by a strange old gentleman, Hartmann by name,
whom I understood was Madame's brother, a curious old fellow, whose main
object in life appeared to be the carrying out of certain scientific
experiments.  He remained with us in the same hotel for nearly a
fortnight, during which time Madame, who was extremely well-educated,
held frequent consultations with him upon scientific matters, until one
day I was overjoyed when she announced that we were all three to go
straight to London."

"Then the Lady Glaslyn at The Hollies was not your mother?"  I gasped,
profoundly amazed at this revelation.

"I am about to explain," she went on in a hard voice.  "On the night
before our departure from Zurich I chanced to pass the door of Madame's
bedroom after everybody had retired to rest, and seeing a light issuing
from the keyhole was prompted by natural curiosity to peep within.  What
I saw was certainly strange.  In one hand she was holding an unopened
bottle of Benedictine liqueur upside down, while with the other she took
a hypodermic syringe filled with some liquid, and with the long thin
needle pierced the cork, then slowly, and with infinite care, she
injected the liquid from the tiny glass syringe.  Afterwards she
withdrew the hollow needle, glanced at the parchment capsule beneath the
light, and having satisfied herself that the puncture made was quite
unnoticeable, she shook the bottle so as to thoroughly mix the injected
liquid with the liqueur.  Then I saw her wrap the bottle carefully in a
number of towels and place it in her trunk.  Next day, when packing, I
glanced at the bottle with some curiosity, examining the parchment
covering the cork, but so tiny had been the puncture that I failed to
discover the hole.  The parchment had, I think, been touched with gum,
which had caused the tiny hole to close."

"That liqueur was evidently poisoned," Boyd remarked, his brows knit in
thought.

"Yes," she answered.  "I have every reason to believe so, although the
true state of affairs did not dawn upon me until long afterwards.  When
alone in our compartment in the _wagon-lit_ between Basle and Calais,
Madame, however, made a very extraordinary proposal to me.  She
confessed that her husband had been made the scapegoat of some financial
fraud in England and was in hiding somewhere near Paris, therefore, in
going back, she feared that if she went under her right name--Damant--
that the police would begin to make active inquiries regarding monsieur.
She wished, she said, to avoid this and set up a house in some pleasant
suburb of London, so as to have a _pied-a-terre_ in the country she so
dearly loved.  Now my mother was dead, and no friends in England knew
her, so many years had she lived on the Continent, why should she not
pass as Lady Glaslyn and I as her daughter?  At first this proposal
utterly staggered me, but when she pointed out how much more I would be
respected as her daughter instead of her companion, and told me of the
manner in which she intended to live--a manner befitting her assumed
station--I at length gave my consent, for which she made me a present
there and then of a very acceptable bank-note."

"Then that woman only posed as your mother!"  I exclaimed.  "She was not
the real Lady Glaslyn?"

"Certainly not," answered my beloved frankly.  "At first I was very
indisposed to be a party to any such transaction, but she had shown me
so many kindnesses, and had always been so generous, that I, a
friendless girl, felt compelled to accede.  Ah! if I had but known what
lay behind all that outward show of good feeling and sympathy I would
have cast her accursed money from me as I could cast the gold of Satan.
I would rather have made matches for a starvation wage, or slaved at a
shop-counter, than have remained one day longer beneath her roof.  But
she was full of cool ingenuity and marvellous cunning, and on my
acceptance of this proposal instantly set to work to bind me further to
secrecy.  This was not difficult, alas! for I was entirely unsuspicious
of treachery, and least of all of my generous friend and benefactor.
After some search and many interviews with house-agents we found The
Hollies, which she purchased, together with the furniture just as it
stood, and ere long neighbours began to call upon us, and we soon
entered local society.  Many times in those dull winter days I pondered
long and deeply upon what I had seen in Zurich, wondering for what
reason she had so carefully prepared the bottle which had passed the
customs at Charing Cross undiscovered, and still remained locked in the
travelling-trunk, surrounded by the wrappings she had placed upon it."

"Was any of the liqueur given to any one?" asked Boyd grimly.

Ere she could respond the door was thrown open, and Dick entered with
Lily Lowry.  He had, it transpired, gone that day and besought her
forgiveness.

In a single glance he realised what had occurred, and without a word he
closed the door, and both stood in silence to listen to her statement.

How strange a thing is this life of ours!  We are in hell one hour, and
in heaven the next.

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE TRUTH REVEALED.

"Remain patient and I'll explain," Eva answered, glancing at the
new-comers.  "First, however, let me relate a very curious circumstance.
Hartmann, who lived somewhere in London, we saw seldom, but very soon
after taking possession of The Hollies, there one day called an old
friend of Madame's, accompanied by her husband.  They were the Blains.
Mrs. Blain afterwards came frequently to us at The Hollies, and we often
spent the day at Riverdene, while so intimate did the two women become
that Madame took the house next to that rented by Mrs. Blain in
Kensington."

"Next door?"  I gasped, astounded.  "In Upper Phillimore Place?"

"Yes, the house next to the one you entered on that fatal night was in
the occupation of Madame," she explained.  "We seldom went there,
however, although I personally preferred the bright life in Kensington
to that at Hampton.  From the many private conversations, meaning looks
and mysterious whisperings exchanged between Madame and Mrs. Blain there
was soon aroused within me a vague suspicion that something secret was
in progress.  I liked old Mr. Blain exceedingly, and Mary became my best
friend; nevertheless, my misgivings were strengthened, when one day
Hartmann, unusually shabbily dressed and accompanied by the Blains,
arrived at The Hollies and the trio were closeted for quite an hour with
Madame.  At length there also arrived a youngish good-looking man with a
lady of about his own age, and they were at once admitted to the
drawing-room, being enthusiastically welcomed.  After half an hour or so
we all dined together, but in the drawing-room before dinner I noticed
two tumblers half-filled with dirty water, in one a tiny glass rod
evidently used for mixing, as though Hartmann had been exhibiting some
of his secret experiments.  On entering the dining-room, Madame
introduced her new guests to me as Mr. and Mrs. Coulter-Kerr, and
sitting beside the husband I found him a most interesting and
intelligent man, who literally adored his wife.  In the course of
conversation it transpired that the newly-arrived pair were from India,
and had taken the Blains' town house for the season, and further, that
Hartmann, who had apparently become one of their most intimate friends,
had established his laboratory in one of the top rooms of that house."

She paused and glanced across to the detective, who was listening
attentively with folded arms.  As she related her story her great clear
eyes became more luminous.

"A week later," she continued, "we went to London and there saw a good
deal of our next-door neighbours.  Madame was on terms of the closest
intimacy with them, and frequently we would dine there, or they would
dine with us, while one evening Hartmann--who did not live there, but
only came to continue his scientific studies, assisted by Mr. Kerr, who
took the keenest interest in them--invited us up into his laboratory,
and after showing us Mr. Kerr's collection of pet Indian snakes, which I
confess I did not appreciate, he exhibited to us an experiment which he
told us had never been successfully accomplished by any other man except
himself, namely, the liquefaction of hydrogen.  To succeed in this, he
told us, all his efforts had been directed for years, and now that he
had successfully solved the problem he would one day launch it upon the
scientific world as a bolt from the blue.  Our friends gave excellent
dinners, were evidently possessed of almost unlimited means, and were
never so happy as when the Blains and ourselves were at their table or
playing cards with them.  Soon, however, another matter caused me deep
reflection.  One evening at The Hollies, after the Blains and Hartmann
had been closely closeted with Madame, discussing, as they so often did,
their private affairs, I found lying beneath a book upon the table, and
apparently overlooked, several plain cards, and others with devices,
lines and circles roughly-drawn in ink.  Then two or three days later,
when I chanced to call in at the Kerrs, I noticed, stuck behind a mirror
over the mantelshelf, some cards exactly similar.  I was alone,
therefore my curiosity prompted me to examine them.  Upon them I found
exactly similar devices!"

"Ah! what connexion had those cards with the affair?" interrupted Dick.

"A very curious one," she responded, pale, yet now firm in her
determination to tell us everything.  "Their discovery caused me a good
deal of thought, especially as the secret consultations with Mr. Blain
became more frequent when, after a fortnight or so in London, we
returned to The Hollies.  One day, however, a further incident happened,
which was, to say the least, extraordinary.  While alone in Madame's
bedroom the cook entered, asking for some coppers to pay for some small
article which had been brought.  She wanted sevenpence.  I had only
sixpence in my purse, but remembering that in the little cabinet where
Madame kept her jewels I had seen a penny on the previous day I unlocked
it and took it out.  Strangely enough, this penny was wrapped up in
paper.  I took it in my hand and turned it over to assure myself that it
was not any rare foreign coin, and was about to hand it to the cook when
Madame herself came in.  `What's that you have?' she cried, in an
instant pale-faced in alarm.  I told her that I had taken the penny from
the cabinet, whereupon she betrayed the greatest apprehension, and
snatched up a piece of paper in which she carefully re-wrapped it.
Then, telling me on no account to again touch it or open it, she gave
the cook a penny from her pocket and dismissed her.  Almost next instant
I felt an indescribable numbness in the hand that had held the forbidden
coin.  The fingers seemed paralysed, and I had a faint idea that I had
felt a strange roughness about the face of the copper, as though it had
been chipped.  I complained to Madame of the curious feeling, whereupon
she flew to her small travelling medicine-chest, which she always kept
locked, and took therefrom a phial, from which she poured a few drops of
a dark green liquid into a glass of water.  `There,' she said, betraying
quite undue alarm, I thought, `drink that.  You'll be better very
quickly.'  I gulped it down.  It tasted very bitter, but within a
quarter of an hour I felt no further pain.  My hand had in a few seconds
commenced to swell, but the medicine at once arrested it.  Until long
afterwards it never occurred to me that upon that penny was one of those
insidious but most deadly of poisons known to toxicologists, which,
entering by an abrasion of the skin, would have quickly proved fatal had
not my employer at once administered an antidote.  Later, I succeeded in
obtaining possession of that coin, and found upon it a series of almost
infinitesimal steel points, a puncture or scratch from any one of which
must result in death."

I recollected how we had discovered that coin in her escritoire.  We
might congratulate ourselves that neither of us had held it in our hands
without its wrappings.

"For a long time I was greatly puzzled by these and other circumstances.
Certain scraps of conversation which I overheard between Madame and
Blain, and between my employer and Hartmann, increased my suspicions,
and especially so when I found Madame carrying on a series of secret
experiments in her own rooms, often boiling certain decoctions over the
tiny spirit-lamp used to heat her curling-irons.  Several of the liquids
thus manufactured she placed in the tiny phials of her medicine-chest.
All this time, while passing everywhere as my mother, Lady Glaslyn, she
was extremely kind to me, until I even began to believe that my
suspicions were unfounded.  Only now do I know how subtle was her
cunning, how ingenious and how daring she was.  One day, in April, I,
however, had my suspicions still more deeply strengthened by a strange
request she made to me, namely, that if at any time I should chance to
witness any uncommon scene in her house, that I would breathe no word to
a single soul.  This struck me as peculiar, and I demanded the reason,
whereupon she smiled, giving me bluntly to understand that my own safety
lay alone in my secrecy, and pointing out that by obtaining quantities
of goods and jewellery on credit, as I had done at her request from
firms in Regent Street and Oxford Street, in the name of Lady Glaslyn, I
had placed myself in grave peril of being arrested for fraud.  I saw
instantly that this woman who had posed as my friend had most cleverly
spread about me a web from which there was now no possible escape.  She
evidently desired my assistance in whatever nefarious purpose she had in
view."

"What a position!"  I exclaimed.  "Then the woman had compelled you to
obtain the goods by fraud in order to secure a certain hold over you?"

"Of course," she answered in a low, firm tone.  "But that's not half the
craft and cunning she displayed, as you will perceive later.  I know I
have acted wrongly, and should have long ago placed my suspicions before
the police, but I feared to do so, lest I should be arrested for the
fraud.  From day to day I lived on in anxiety and breathless wonder,
Mrs. Blain or Blain himself being constant visitors to The Hollies,
while now and then Hartmann would come down from London, as if called in
for consultation.  At length, one day in early June, we returned to the
house in Upper Phillimore Place, Madame announcing her intention to
remain there a month.  Our neighbours, the Coulter-Kerrs, were delighted
at our return, for they seemed to know hardly a soul in London.  After
we had been there about a week Mrs. Blain and Mary called one afternoon,
and while I chatted to the latter in the dining-room, Mrs. Blain talked
privately with Madame in the room beyond.  The door was closed, as
usual, and they were conversing only in low whispers, when suddenly
their voices became raised in heated discussion.  A quarrel had arisen,
for I heard Mrs. Blain exclaim quite distinctly: `I tell you I have
never dreamed of any such thing; and I'll never be a party to it.  Such
a suggestion is horrifying!'  Then Madame spoke some low words, to which
her companion responded: `I tell you I will not!  From this moment I
retire from it.  Such a thing is infamous!  I never thought that it was
intended to act in such a manner.'  To this Madame made some muttered
observation regarding `absurd scruples' and the impossibility of
detection, whereupon Mrs. Blain flounced forth from the room in a high
state of indignation, saying, `Mary, it's time we should go, dear, or we
shan't be home for dinner.'  Then she made a cold adieu to the woman who
had been her most intimate friend, and with her daughter departed."
Eva's breath came and went rapidly in the intensity of her emotions, her
thin nostrils slightly dilated, and as she paused her lips were firmly
pressed together.

"Next morning, at about eleven, almost before Madame was ready to
receive, Blain himself called," she went on.  "He was grey-faced and
very grave, but after a rather long interview he left in high spirits,
wishing me farewell quite gaily.  On the following day the Coulter-Kerrs
were in great distress about their servants, for both were dishonest,
and upon Madame's declaration that she could immediately find others
they had been discharged at a moment's notice.  About five o'clock that
afternoon both husband and wife, with whom I was on the most friendly
terms, came in to chat with Madame about the servants, and after we had
conversed some time tea was brought, of which we all partook.  Then
Madame invited them in for whist after dinner, as was our habit, for we
were all inveterate players.  About six o'clock, while I accompanied Mr.
Kerr next door in order to prepare their makeshift meal, Mrs. Kerr--
Madame always called her Anna--remained behind to make some arrangements
for one of our servants to go in temporarily.  Suddenly, about twenty
minutes later, while I was in the kitchen washing some salad, I became
conscious of a strange, sharp pain which struck me across the eyes,
followed almost instantly by a kind of paralysis of the limbs and a
feeling of giddiness.  I ascended to the hall, calling loudly for help,
and from the drawing-room heard Mr. Kerr's voice, hoarse and
strange-toned, in response.  With difficulty I struggled up the second
flight of stairs, but on entering the room where the tiny red light
burned--some curious Indian superstition of Mrs. Kerr's--I saw in the
dusk that Kerr had fallen prone on the floor and was motionless as one
dead.  Then, helpless, I tottered across to a chair, and sinking into it
all consciousness left me."

Both Boyd and myself stood breathless at these startling revelations.

"When I came to myself," she continued, "I was back in Maclame's house
next door.  She had forced some liquid between my lips, and was
injecting some other fluid into my arms with a hypodermic syringe.  I
was amazed, too, to notice that she had changed her dress, assumed a
grey wig, and wore a cap with bright ribbons, in most marvellous
imitation of an old lady.  While I thus remained on the couch in the
back sitting-room, dazed and only half conscious, there came a loud ring
at the door and I overheard a police-officer making inquiries of `Mrs.
Luff' regarding the people next door.  Then I knew that Kerr's body had
been discovered, and that Madame was personating the previous occupier
of that house.  I was not, however, aware at that time of how Hartmann
had called upon Madame and had carried Mrs. Kerr through a small breach
made in the fencing of the garden at the rear into her own house, or
that I had been brought back by the same way into ours.  Madame, when
all was clear, went that night down to The Hollies, leaving me alone
with the servants, who, having apparently been sent out upon errands
during the events described, knew nothing.  I therefore kept my own
counsel, and recollecting having overheard Blain, when taking leave of
Madame on his last visit, refer to an appointment he had with Hartmann
in St. James's Park, I resolved also to keep it.  I did, but instead of
meeting him," she said, addressing me, "I met you."

"I recollect the meeting well," I answered.  "Continue."

"Well, I returned to The Hollies, but it was evident from Madame's
manner that she was in deadly fear.  I was not, of course, aware of what
had actually occurred, although I entertained the horrible suspicion
that both my friends had fallen victims.  She took me partly into her
confidence later that day, for the police, she said, would discover an
`awkward accident' next door, and that she must not be seen and
recognised as Mrs. Luff.  She told me that, in order to avoid any
unpleasant inquiries, Hartmann had entered the place before the police,
and had carried away every scrap of anything that could lead to their
identity, and as I knew from Mr. Kerr's previous conversation that all
his letters were addressed to Drummond's Bank, it seemed improbable that
the bodies would be identified.  `It's a very serious matter for us,'
Madame said to me earnestly.  `Therefore say nothing, either to Mrs.
Blain or Mary.'  By that, and other subsequent circumstances, I knew
that both were in ignorance.  They had no hand whatever in the ghastly
affair, for after the quarrel they never again met Madame.

"Weeks went by," she continued, after a pause.  "I still remained on
friendly terms with Mrs. Blain and her daughter, knowing them to be
innocent.  Madame never went out, but once or twice Hartmann visited
her.  Whenever he did so, high words usually arose, regarding money, it
seemed, and once Blain, who by his family was supposed to be still in
Paris, came late at night, ill-dressed and dirty.  It was then that I
first learnt the motive for the ingenious conspiracy.  Blain seemed in
abject fear that the police had somehow established the identity of the
dead man.  If so, he said, all had been futile.  Hartmann, it appeared,
had a daughter whom I had never seen, and it was through her that the
activity of the police had been ascertained."  Then, turning her eyes
again to me with an undisguised love-look, Eva exclaimed, "The tortures
of conscience which I suffered through those summer days when you
declared your love are known to God alone.  My position was a terrible
one, for I saw that by preserving this secret I had been an accessory to
a most foul and cowardly crime, and I held back from your embrace,
knowing that one day ere long I should be arrested and brought to
punishment.  I lived on, my heart gripped by that awful sin in which I
had been unwittingly implicated.  Then one day you called at The Hollies
and I gave you some wine from a fresh bottle which I opened myself.  It
was wine which Madame had specially ordered from the stores on my
account because the doctor had prescribed port for me.  That wine was
poisoned, and you narrowly escaped death.  The fatal draught was
intended for me!  Hartmann and Madame Damant had, indeed, brought
poisoning to a fine art."

"Was poison never in your possession?" inquired Boyd gravely.

"Yes," she responded without a second's hesitation.  "After the affair
at Phillimore Place I discovered Hartmann's address, and from a paper in
Madame's jewel-cabinet I copied some strange name--Latin, I think--which
I knew related to one of the secret poisons.  Then, in order to satisfy
myself as to Hartmann's position, I went to him to obtain some.  My idea
was that the information I could thus obtain would be of use if I were
arrested.  I found that under the name of Morris Lowry he had for years
kept a herbalist's shop near the _Elephant and Castle_.  Fortunately, by
reason of my veil, he did not recognise me, and after some haggling gave
me some greyish powder in a small wooden box securely sealed.  I
discovered afterwards that his daughter was in love with your friend Mr.
Cleugh, therefore it must have been through the latter that the old man
became aware of the movements of the police."

"Yes," said Lily simply, "it was."  The revelation held her dumbfounded.

"Then Hartmann and Lowry were actually one and the same?"  I observed,
bewildered.

"Certainly," Eva answered, all her soul in her eyes.  "But there was yet
a further curious incident.  A few days after you had taken that fatal
draught from my hand, Madame, in sudden anger, discharged all three
servants.  Then, when they had gone, she had a small square hole about
six inches wide cut in the wall of one of the rooms--a bathroom
adjoining my bedroom--close down to the floor, and before it was fitted
a sliding panel in the wainscoting.  Afterwards she had a strong iron
bar placed upon the door, and the whole re-painted and grained.  Then,
having furnished the place roughly as a living-room, there came secretly
late one night the wretched poisoner Hartmann, _alias_ Professor Douglas
Dawson, flying from the police for some previous offence, as I
afterwards discovered.  Some German police-agents had got wind of his
whereabouts.  He entered that room, and when he was inside Madame
fetched an apparatus I had never seen before, a kind of punch, and with
it placed a leaden seal upon the door.  Fresh servants were at once
engaged, and these were told that inside that room was a quantity of
antique furniture belonging to a friend who had gone abroad.  Meanwhile
Madame herself supplied the fugitive with food, cooked and uncooked,
drink and books, and for a fortnight or so he lived there in secret.  I
held him in loathing and in hatred, yet I dared not utter a word or even
flee from that house of terror, knowing well that in such case I, too,
would quickly fall a victim to the machinations of what seemed a
widespread conspiracy.  I was in possession of their secret, and might
turn informer.  That was the reason those half-dozen bottles of port
wine had been so generously given to me by my ingenious employer.  I
dared scarcely to eat or drink, and often slipped out secretly and
bought cooked meat and bread to satisfy my hunger.  One day, when Madame
had ventured up to London, I chanced to enter the bedroom I had
previously occupied.  The panel was cautiously pushed back, and the man
within asked for something to drink.  I answered that I only had some
port, all the rest being locked up.  `Then give me that,' he said.  I
hesitated, then in sudden desperation I went to the cupboard where the
wine was and handed him an unopened bottle.  He gave a grunt of
satisfaction, and the panel closed.  That wine, Frank," she added, a
deathlike pallor on her cheeks, "was the same as that of which you
partook.  Madame had prepared it with her little syringe as she had done
the Benedictine."

She paused, placing her hand upon her panting breast.

"When she returned," she continued at last, for the nervousness which
had agitated her at first gave place to strength and confidence, "her
first question was of Hartmann.  I told her of his request, and how I
had acceded to it, giving him a bottle of the wine she had so generously
ordered for me.  She grew livid in an instant, and stood speechless,
glaring at me as though she would strike me dead.  Then rushing up to
the room she drew back the panel and called him by name.  There was no
response.  In an instant she knew the truth.  Without uttering a single
word to me, but ordering the servants to close the house as we were
going away for a week or two, she made instant preparations for
departure, and after seeing everything securely bolted and barred, she
left with a trunk on a cab for Fulwell Station, while I, with my small
trunk, took refuge with my friends the Blains, with whom I have since
remained."

"But the motive of that secret assassination at Phillimore Place?"  I
asked, astounded at her story.

"Only within the past few days have I discovered it," she answered.
"The crime was planned with extraordinary care and forethought.  If it
were not for this confession which you have wrung from me, the police
would never, I believe, have elucidated the mystery.  The reason briefly
was this.  Coulter-Kerr was an Englishman living in Calcutta, who had
been left a great indigo estate in the North-West by his uncle, and had
returned to England with a view of selling it to a company.  The estate,
one of the finest in the whole of India, realised a very handsome
income, but both he and his wife preferred life in England.  Blain,
being a speculator and promoter of companies, besides an importer of
wines, having been introduced to him, conceived a plan of obtaining this
magnificent estate, and with that object had approached Hartmann who in
his turn had enlisted the services of Madame Damant, both of them being
very desperate characters.  Hartmann lived in London, and was supposed
to be the most expert toxicologist in the whole world, while Madame was
a woman whose previous adventures had earned for her great renown in
certain shady circles on the Continent.

"Blain, it appeared, had already been out to India to visit the estate,
and on his return had paid a couple of thousand pounds deposit, agreeing
to purchase it privately of Kerr for two hundred thousand pounds--the
valuation made upon it by a valuer whom he had taken up with him from
Bombay--and then to turn it into a company.  A date was arranged when
the money should be paid over at the house in Phillimore Place in
exchange for the deeds duly executed, Hartmann, in whose experiments
Kerr was so interested, to be present to witness any document necessary.
In accordance with Blain's request the deeds were therefore prepared
beforehand and executed, and all the papers relating to the transaction
placed in order in the large deed-box in which they had been brought
from India.  In accordance with the cunningly-devised plan, Blain called
upon the Kerrs on the afternoon arranged--the afternoon of the day of
the tragedy--and found Kerr ready with all the legal papers and receipts
duly executed.  Blain, however, was profuse in his apologies, stating
that, owing to some slight difficulty with his bank, he was unable to
draw that day, but would do so on the day following, and would return at
the same hour.  The Kerrs, on their part, expressed regret that they
could not ask him to remain to dinner, but explained that they had no
servants."

Again she paused.  Her story held us all speechless.

"I have already explained how the Kerrs afterwards visited me and took
tea, and the terrible tragedy which followed.  Hartmann was, without
doubt, concealed in that house at the time, watching for the unfortunate
man's end, and without delay secured the deed-box and all the receipts
and papers, carrying them next door, searching the body of the man, and
placing certain things in his pockets, namely, the forged banknotes and
the penny wrapped in paper, which would puzzle the police, while Blain
had caused that same evening to be posted from the _Grand Hotel_ in
Paris, a letter to the man now dead, addressed to Drummond's Bank,
expressing satisfaction at the termination of the negotiations, and
acknowledging the safe receipt of the deeds and transfers from the
messenger he had sent.  This was, of course, to carry out the fiction
that for several weeks he had been in Paris on business connected with
the floating of the company, and to enable him to prove an _alibi_ if
ever required.  Blain, when in India, took good care that it should be
widely known that he intended to purchase the estates, so that his
sudden possession would not be considered strange.  There was a man, it
afterwards transpired, who was actually staying at the _Grand_ in Paris
in the name of Blain, and he had posted the letter, while I further
discovered that this ingenious swindler had actually borrowed the sum of
two hundred thousand pounds for three days to pass through his bank, so
that he might show that he had paid for the property."

"Then Blain is in actual possession of the deeds, which only require the
stamp of the courts in India for the property to become his?"  Boyd
observed.

"Yes," responded my beloved.  "But the fear that you have discovered the
dead man's identity has hitherto prevented him taking possession or
raising money on the deeds.  He has placed them somewhere in safety, I
suppose, and is now most likely out of the country."

"Absolutely astounding!"  I gasped.  Then, on reflection, I inquired the
meaning of the cards which had so puzzled us.

"Horrible though it may seem," she said, "they were used to cast lots as
to who should actually administer the poison, being shuffled and dealt
face downwards.  There were fifty, only two of which were marked.  It
was, I have learnt, the mode in which the Anarchists of Zurich cast
lots, the person receiving the one with the line to commit the crime,
while whoever received the circle became the accomplice and protector.
With grim disregard for consequences these very cards were afterwards
used by the assassins and their victims to decide upon partners for
whist, sometimes being placed beneath the plates at dinner when, on
entering the room, the guests were allowed to choose their places,
afterwards turning up their cards.  This gave rise sometimes to great
amusement.  What would the unfortunate pair have thought could they have
known the truth?  Alas!  I did not know it until too late, or I would
have given them warning, regardless of the consequences."

Boyd briefly explained how he had seen Blain throw something into the
lake in St. James's Park, whereupon Eva suggested that the object he
thus got rid of was no doubt one of the poisoned coins with which
Hartmann had supplied him at his request.

I referred to the incident of the telephone, and Eva explained how she
had since discovered that Blain had made an inquiry by telephone, in
full belief that it was Hartmann who had responded.  When next day he
discovered his mistake he saw how narrowly he had escaped the police.
Mary's letter to me had, no doubt, been a coincidence, but her
subsequent visit was at her mother's instigation, it having been
discovered that I was aware of the terrible tragedy.

"You received some type-written letters?"  Boyd observed.  "Who wrote
them?"

"Blain," she replied, surprised that he should be aware of this.  "He
knew that I had discovered the secret, and wrote urging me to take the
utmost precautions to preserve what he guardedly referred to as the
Silence."

"But you say that Madame herself took tea with her victims?"  I said.
"She did not suffer."

"Certainly not," responded my beloved.  "In her expert hand these
poisons, discovered by Hartmann, may be fatal to one person and
perfectly harmless to another.  She no doubt drank some prophylactic
first, which at once counteracted any ill effect of poison taken
afterwards.  Hartmann seems to have re-discovered the secrets dead with
the Borgias, for Madame can, I believe, secrete a swift and deadly
poison within almost anything."

"Where is she now?" asked Boyd quickly.  "We must take immediate steps
for her arrest, as well as Blain's."

"Madame has flown to the Continent, but where I have no idea," she
replied.  "To-night I intended to go to Paris and try to obtain a
situation as governess, for I feared to remain longer in England,
knowing of the body of Hartmann lying in that closed room at the
Hollies."

"You must remain," Boyd said quietly.  "Your evidence will be required."

"Ah, no!  I cannot," she declared, bursting into a torrent of tears.
"After this confession I--" and her voice was choked by sobs as she
covered her haggard face with her hands.

"After this confession, darling," I said tenderly, "I love you none the
less."

Then, clasping her swaying figure to me in wild ecstasy, I felt the
swell of her bosom against my breast, and I covered her cold,
tear-stained cheeks with passionate kisses, while she, for the first
time, raised her sweet full lips to mine in a fervid, passionate caress,
and murmured that she loved me.

Ah! what joy was mine at that moment.  A new life had been renewed
within me, for I knew that by the sacred bond of an undying affection
she was bound to me for ever.

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

CONCLUSION.

Upon events which occurred immediately afterwards there is little need
to dwell, save to declare that the hours that followed were the most
joyous of all our lives; and further, that the post and the telegraph
that night carried over the seas a demand to the police for the search
and arrest of Madame Damant and the unscrupulous schemer Henry Blain.

A little more than a year has now gone by since that well-remembered day
of confession, and Eva and I are happily united man and wife, while Lily
Lowry no longer toils at her counter but is married to Dick, against
whom Boyd's suspicions were, of course, entirely unfounded.  By the
death of a maiden aunt, who never gave me sixpence while alive, I have
fortunately found myself possessed of sufficient to live independently
in a house embowered in trees on the banks of the Exe, in Devon, while
Dick, who is still "the _Comet_ man," lives in a neat villa out at
Beckenham.  Eva and I are frequent guests there, and on such occasions
the conversation often turns to those breathless summer days up the
Thames and that extraordinary mystery so intricate and puzzling--a
mystery which never, after all, appeared in the _Comet_.

Of Mrs. Blain and Mary we hear but very little.  They left Riverdene
broken and crushed, poor things, and went to live in a small house at
Bournemouth upon the wreck of the fugitive's fortune.  No word has since
been heard of him, but as the deed-box containing many of the papers was
found by the police in a garret in the Rue du Maure in Paris, from which
the occupier--an Englishman answering to Blain's description--had
mysteriously disappeared, it is almost beyond doubt that he had
committed suicide rather than starve.  Hartmann's unclaimed scientific
discovery is still the wonder of the Royal Institution, and Patterson is
still stationed at Kensington.  As for Madame Damant, she was three
months ago arrested in Venice, where, in the course of a sensational
trial, it was proved that she had most ingeniously poisoned a wealthy
German contractor whom she had inveigled into marriage, and to-day she
is serving a life-term of imprisonment.  The Italian Government does not
give up its subjects for offences committed abroad, or she would
otherwise have been brought to London for trial, and the readers of
newspapers would have been startled by the details of this, one of the
most skilful and extraordinary plots of secret assassination ever
devised by the devilish ingenuity of man or woman.

The End.





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