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Title: Number Seventeen
Author: Tracy, Louis, 1863-1928
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Number Seventeen" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Number Seventeen

BY

Louis Tracy

1915



CHAPTER I

THE OUTCOME OF ARTISTIC CURIOSITY


"Taxi, sir? Yes, sir. No. 4 will be yours."

A red-faced, loud-breathing commissionaire, engaged in the lucrative
task of pocketing sixpences as quickly as he could summon cabs, vanished
in a swirl of macintoshes and umbrellas.

People who had arrived at the theater in fine weather were emerging into
a drizzle of rain. "All London," as the phrase goes, was flocking to see
the latest musical comedy at Daly's, but all London, regarded thus
collectively, is far from owning motor cars, or even affording taxicabs,
so the majority of the play-goers were hurrying on foot towards tube
railways and omnibus routes.

Still, a popular light opera could hardly fail to draw many patrons from
the upper ranks of society, and, in the crush at the main exit, Francis
Berrold Theydon, hesitating whether to walk or wait the hazard of a cab,
deemed himself fortunate when a panting commissionaire promised to
secure a taxi "in half a minute."

Automobiles of every known variety were snorting up to the curb and
bustling off again as promptly as their users could enter and bestow
themselves in dim interiors. Being a considerate person--wishful also to
light a cigarette--Theydon moved out of the way. In so doing, he was
cannoned against by an impetuous footman, whose cry, "Your car, sir,"
led him to follow the man's alert eyes.

He saw a tall, elderly gentleman, with clean-shaven, shrewd, and highly
intelligent features, of the type which finance, or the law, or a
combination of both, seems to evolve only in big cities, escorting a
young lady from the vestibule. Then Theydon remembered that he had
noticed this self-same girl's remarkable beauty as she was silhouetted
in white against the dark background of a first-tier box. He had even
speculated idly as to her identity, and had come to the conclusion, on
catching her face in profile, that she must be the daughter of the man
seated by her side but half-hidden behind a heavy curtain.

The likeness was momentarily lost now while the two neared him, yet
discovered anew when they halted for a second at his elbow. Oddly
enough, the man was carrying an umbrella, which he proceeded to open,
and his daughter's astonished question put their relationship beyond
doubt.

"Dad," she said, with a charming smile in which there was just a hint of
a pout, "aren't you coming home with me?"

"No. I must look in at the Constitutional Club. It's only a step. I'll
take no harm. This sleet looks worse than it is when every drop shines
in the glare of so many lamps. Now, in with you, Evelyn! Tell Downs to
come back, and don't forget which club. Anyhow, I'll tell him myself."

"Shall I wait up for you?"

"Well--er--I shan't be late. I'll be free by the time Downs returns."

"No. 4 taxi!" came a voice, and Theydon saw his commissionaire perched
on the step of a cab swinging in deftly behind the waiting car. The
girl, gazing at her father, happened to look for an instant at Theydon,
who, fearful lest his candidly admiring glance might have been a trifle
too sustained, pretended a hurried interest in an unlighted cigarette.
That was all. The three crossed the pavement almost simultaneously.

The next moment the unknown goddess was gone, though Theydon snatched a
final glimpse of her, faintly visible, yet no less radiantly lovely, as
she leaned forward from the depths of the limousine, and waved a
white-gloved hand to her father through a window jeweled with raindrops.

There was nothing in the incident to provoke a second thought.
Assuredly, Frank Theydon--as his friends called him--was not the only
man in the vestibule of Daly's Theater who had found the girl well worth
looking at, and it was the mere accident of propinquity which enabled
him to overhear the quite commonplace remarks of father and daughter.

A score of similar occurrences had probably taken place in the like
circumstances that night in London, and the maddest dreamer of fantastic
dreams would not have heard the fluttering wings of the spirit of
romance in connection with any one of them. It was by no means
marvelous, therefore, but rather in obedience to the accepted law of
things as they are when contrasted with things as they might be, if
Theydon both failed to attach any importance to that chance meeting and
proceeded forthwith to think of something else.

He did not forget it, of course. His artist's eyes had been far too
interested in a certain rare quality of delicate femininity in the
girl's face and figure, and his ear too quick to appreciate the music of
her cultured voice, that he should not be able to recall such pleasant
memories later. Indeed, during those fleeting moments on the threshold
of the theater, he had garnered quite a number of minor impressions, not
only of the girl, but of her father.

In some respects they were singularly alike. Thus, each had the same
proud, self-reliant carriage, the same large, brilliant eyes, serene
brow and firm mouth, the same repose of manner, the same clear, incisive
enunciation. Neither could move in any company, however eclectic,
without evoking comment.

They held in common that air of refinement and good breeding which is,
or should be, the best-marked attribute of an aristocracy. It was
impossible to imagine either in rags, but, given such a transformation,
each would be notable because of the amazing difference that would exist
between garb and mien.

It must not be imagined that Theydon indulged in this close analysis of
the physical characteristics of two complete strangers while his cab was
wheeling into the scurry of traffic in Cranbourn Street. Rather did he
essay a third time to light the cigarette which he still held between
his lips. And yet a third time was his intent balked.

A policeman stopped the east-bound stream of vehicles somewhat suddenly
at the corner of Charing Cross road; owing to the mud, the taxi skidded
a few feet beyond the line; a lamp was torn off by a heavy wagon coming
south; and a fierce argument between taxi driver and policeman resulted
in "numbers" being demanded for future vengeance. Then Theydon took a
hand in the dispute, poured oil on the troubled waters by tipping the
policeman half a crown and the driver half a sovereign--these sums being
his private estimate of damages to dignity and lamp--and the journey was
resumed, with a net loss, to the person who had absolutely nothing to do
with the affair, of twelve and sixpence in money and nearly ten minutes
in time.

Theydon was not rich, as shall be seen in due course, but he was
generous and impulsive. He hated the notion of any one suffering for
having done him a service, and the taxi man might reasonably be deemed a
real benefactor on that sloppy night.

So far as he was concerned, the delay of ten minutes was of no
consequence. It only meant a slightly deferred snuggling down into an
easy chair in his flat with a book and a pipe. That is how he would have
expressed himself if questioned on the point. In reality it influenced
and controlled his future in the most vital way, because, once the cab
had crossed Oxford Street and turned into the quiet thoroughfare on
which the first block of Innesmore Mansions abutted, he passed into a
new phase of existence.

The cigarette, lighted at last after the altercation, had filled the cab
with smoke to such an extent that Theydon lowered a window. At that
moment the driver was slowing down to take the corner of the even more
secluded road which contained Innesmore Mansions and the gardens
appertaining thereto, and nothing else. Necessarily, Theydon was looking
out, and he was very greatly surprised at seeing the unknown gentleman
of the theater walking rapidly round the same corner.

He could not be mistaken. The stranger tilted back his umbrella and
raised his eyes to ascertain the name of the street, as though he was
not quite sure of his whereabouts, and the glare of a lamp fell directly
on his clean-cut, almost classical face.

Being thus occupied, he did not glance at the passing cab, or
recognition might possibly have been mutual--possibly, though not
probably, because, during that brief pause on the steps of the theater,
he stood beside Theydon; hence, he was half-turned toward his daughter
while they were discussing the night's immediate program.

In itself the fact that he had gone in the direction of Innesmore
Mansions rather than toward the Constitutional Club was in nowise
remarkable. Nevertheless, he had deceived his daughter--deceived her
intentionally, and the knowledge came as a shock to his unsuspected
critic in Theydon.

He did not look the sort of man who would stoop to petty evasion of the
truth. It was as though a statue of Praxiteles, miraculously gifted with
life, should express its emotions, not in Attic Greek, but in the
up-to-date slang of the Strand.

"Well, I'm dashed!" said Theydon, or words to that effect, and his cab
sped on to the third doorway. Innesmore Mansions arranged its roomy
flats in blocks of six, and he occupied No. 18.

He held a florin in readiness; the rain, now falling heavily, did not
encourage any loitering on the pavement. For all that, he saw out of the
tail of his eye that the other man was approaching, though he had paused
to examine the numbers blazoned on a lamp over the first doorway.

"Good night, sir, and thank you!" said the taxi driver.

The cab made off as Theydon ran up a short flight of steps. Innesmore
Mansions did not boast elevators. The flats were comfortable, but not
absurdly expensive, and their inmates climbed stairs cheerfully; at
most, they had only to mount to a second storey. Each block owned a
uniformed porter, who, on a night like this, even in May, needed rousing
from his lair by a bell if in demand.

Theydon took the stairs two at a stride, opened the door of No. 18,
which, with No. 17, occupied the top landing. He was valeted and cooked
for by an ex-sergeant of the Army Service Corps and his wife, an
admirable couple named Bates, and the male of the species appeared
before Theydon had removed coat and opera hat in the tiny hall.

"Bring my tray in fifteen minutes, Bates, and that will be all for
tonight," said Theydon.

"Yes, sir," said Bates. "Remarkable change in the weather, sir."

"Rotten. Who would have expected this downpour after such a fine day?"

Bates took the coat and hat, and Theydon entered his sitting room, a
spacious, square apartment which faced the gardens. He had purposely
prevented Bates from coming immediately with his nightly fare, which
consisted of a glass of milk and a plate of bread and butter.

Truth to tell, the artistic temperament contains a spice of curiosity,
which is, in some sense, an exercise of the perceptive faculties.
Theydon wanted to raise a window and look out, an unusual action, and
one which, therefore, would induce Bates to wonder as to its cause.

For once in his life a man who bothered his head very little about other
people's business was puzzled, and meant to ascertain whether or not the
unknown was really calling on some resident in Innesmore Mansions. It
was a harmless bit of espionage. Theydon scarcely knew the names of the
other dwellers in his own block, and his acquaintance did not even go
that far with any of the remaining tenants of 48 fiats, all told.

Still, to a writer, the vagaries of the tall stranger were decidedly
interesting, so he did open a window, and did thrust his head out, and
was just in time to see the owner of the limousine which would call at
the Constitutional Club in a quarter of an hour mount the steps leading
to Nos. 13-18. Somehow, the discovery gave Theydon a veritable thrill.

Could that pretty girl's father, by any chance, be coming to visit him?
A wildly improbable development had been whittled down to a five-to-one
chance. He closed the window and waited, yes, actually waited, for the
bell to ring!

The sitting room door was open, and it faced the hall door. Footsteps
sounded sharply on the slate steps of the stairway; when Theydon heard
some one climbing to the topmost landing he was almost convinced that,
as usual, the unexpected was about to happen. It did happen, but took
its own peculiar path. The unknown rang the bell of No. 17, and, after a
slight delay, was admitted.

Theydon smiled at the anticlimax. A trivial mystery had developed along
strictly orthodox lines. A rather good-looking and distinctly
well-dressed lady, a Mrs. Lester, occupied No. 17. She lived alone, too,
he believed. At any rate, he had never seen any other person, except an
elderly servant, enter or leave the opposite flat, and he had
encountered the tenant herself so seldom that he was not quite certain
of recognizing her apart from the environment of the staircase which
provided their occasional meeting place.

Then he sighed. Romance evidently denied her magic presence to one who
wooed her assiduously by his pen. He was yet to learn that the alluring
sprite had not only favored him with her attentions during the past
twenty minutes, but meant to stick to him like his own shadow for many a
day. And he frowned, too.

He did not approve of that pretty girl's father visiting the attractive
Mrs. Lester in conditions which savored of something underhanded and
clandestine. The man had deliberately misled his daughter. He left her
with a lie on his lips; yet never were appearances more deceptive, for
the stranger had the outward aspect of one whose word was his bond.

"Oh, dash it all, what business is it of mine, anyhow?" growled Theydon,
and he laughed sourly as he sat down to write a letter which Bates could
take to the post, thus himself practicing a slight deceit intended
solely to account for the deferred bringing of the tray.

It was apparently an unimportant missive which could well have been
postponed till the morning, being merely an announcement to a firm of
publishers that he would pay a business call later in the week. In less
than five minutes it, and another, making an appointment for Wednesday,
this being the night of Monday, were written, sealed, directed and
stamped.

He rang. Bates came, with laden hands, thinking the tray was in demand.

"Kindly post those for me," said Theydon, glancing at the letters.
"Better take an umbrella. It's raining cats and dogs."

The man had found the door open, and left it so when he entered. Before
he could answer, the door of No. 17 was opened and closed, with the
jingle inseparable from the presence of many small panes of glass in
leaden casing, and footsteps sounded on the stairs. For some
reason--probably because of the unusual fact that any one should be
leaving Mrs. Lester's flat at so late an hour, both men listened.

Then Bates recollected himself.

"Yes, sir," he said.

Oddly enough, the man's marked pause suggested a question to his
employer.

"Mrs. Lester's visitor didn't stop long," was the comment. "He came up
almost on my heels."

"I thought it must ha' bin a gentleman," said Bates.

"Why a 'gentleman'?" laughed Theydon.

"I mean, sir, that the step didn't sound like a lady's."

"Ah, I see."

Vaguely aware that he had committed himself to a definite knowledge as
to the sex of Mrs. Lester's visitor, Theydon added:

"I didn't actually see any one on the stairs, but I heard an arrival,
and jumped to the same conclusion as you, Bates."

Tacitly, master and man shared the same opinion--it was satisfactory to
know that Mrs. Lester's male visitors who called at the unconventional
hour of 11:30 p. m. were shown out so speedily. Innesmore Mansions were
intensely respectable.

No lady could live there alone whose credentials had not satisfied a
sharp-eyed secretary. Further, Theydon was aware of a momentary
disloyalty of thought toward the distinguished-looking father of that
remarkably handsome girl, and it pleased him to find that he had erred.

Bates went out, closing the door behind him: he donned an overcoat,
secured an umbrella and presently descended to the street. Yielding
again to impulse, Theydon reopened the window and peered down. The
stranger was walking away rapidly. A policeman, glistening in cape and
overalls, stood at the corner, near a pillar box.

The tall man, who topped the burly constable by some inches, halted for
a moment to post a letter. Whether by accident or design he held his
umbrella so that the other could not see his face. Then he disappeared.
Bates came into view. He dropped Theydon's letters into the box, but he
and the policeman exchanged a few words, which, his employer guessed,
must surely have dealt with the vagaries of the weather.

For an author of repute Theydon's surmises had been wide of the mark
several times that night. The policeman had seen the unknown coming out
from the doorway of Nos. 13-18, and had noted his stature and
appearance.

"Who's the toff who just left your lot?" he said, when Bates arrived.

"Dunno," said Bates. "Some one callin' on Mrs. Lester, I fancy. Why?"

"O, nothing. On'y, if I was togged up regardless on a night like this
I'd blue a cab fare."

"I didn't see him meself," commented Bates. "My boss 'eard him come, an'
both of us 'eard him go. He didn't stay more'n five minnits."

"Wish I was in his shoes. I've got to stick round here till six in the
morning," grinned the policeman.

"Well, cheer-o, mate."

"Cheer-o."

Bates looked in on his master before retiring for the night.

"What time shall I call you, sir?" he said.

Theydon was in the pipe and book stage, having exchanged his dress coat
for a smoking jacket. He was reading a treatise on aeronautics, and,
like every novice, had already formulated a flying scheme which would
supersede all known inventions.

"Not later than 8," he said. "I must be out by 9. And, by the way, I may
as well tell you now. After lunch tomorrow I am going to Brooklands. I
return to Waterloo at 6:40. As I have to dine in the West End at 7:30,
and my train may be a few minutes behind time, I want you to meet me
with a suitcase at the hairdresser's place on the main platform. I'll
dress there and go straight to my friend's house. It would be cutting
things rather fine if I attempted to come here."

"I'll have everything ready, sir."

Bates was eminently reliable in such matters. He could be depended on to
the last stud.

The storm which had raged overnight must have cleared the skies for the
following day, because Theydon never enjoyed an outing more than his
trip to the famous motor track. His business there, however, lay with
aviation. A popular magazine had commissioned him to write an article
summing up the progress and practical aims of the airmen and he was
devoting afternoon and evening to the quest of information. A couple of
experts and a photographer had given him plenty of raw material in the
open, but he looked forward with special zest to an undisturbed chat
that night with Mr. James Creighton Forbes, millionaire and
philanthropist, whose peculiar yet forcible theories as to the peaceful
conquest of the air were for the hour engaging the attention of the
world's press.

He had never met Mr. Forbes. When on the point of writing for an
appointment he had luckily remembered that the great man was a lifelong
friend of the professor of physics at his (Theydon's) university, and a
delightfully cordial introductory note was forthcoming in the course of
a couple of posts. This brought the invitation to dinner. "On Tuesday
evening I am dining _en famille_," wrote Mr. Forbes, "so, if you are
free, join us at 7:30, and we can talk uninterruptedly afterward."

The train was not late. Bates, erect and soldierly, was standing at the
rendezvous. With him were two men whom Theydon had never before seen.
One, a bulky, stalwart, florid-faced man of forty, had something of the
military aspect; the other supplied his direct antithesis, being small,
wizened and sallow.

The big man had a round, bullet head, prominent bright blue eyes, and
the cheek bones, chin and physical development of a heavyweight
pugilist. His companion, whose dark and recessed eyes were noticeably
bright, too, could not be more than half his weight, and Theydon would
not have been surprised if told that this diminutive person was a
dancing master. Naturally he classed both as acquaintances of his valet,
encountered by chance on the platform at Waterloo.

He was slightly astonished, therefore, when the two faced him, together
with Bates. A dramatic explanation of their presence was soon supplied.

"These gentlemen, sir, are Chief Inspector Winter and Detective
Inspector Furneaux of Scotland Yard," said the ex-sergeant, in the awed
tone which some people cannot help using when speaking of members of the
Criminal Investigation Department.

Though daylight had not yet failed it was rather dark in that corner of
the station, and Theydon saw now what he had not perceived earlier, that
the usually sedate Bates was pale and harassed looking.

"Why, what's up?" he inquired, gazing blankly from one to the other of
the ominous pair.

"Haven't you seen the evening papers, Mr. Theydon?" said Winter, the
giant of the two.

"No, I've been at Brooklands since two o'clock. But what is it?"

"You don't know, then, that a murder was committed in the Innesmore
Mansions last night or early this morning?"

"Good Lord, no! Who was killed?"

"A Mrs. Lester, the lady--"

"Mrs. Lester, who lives in No. 17?"

"Yes."

"What a horrible thing! Why, only the day before yesterday I met her on
the stairs."

It was a banal statement, and Theydon knew it, but he blurted out the
first crazy words that would serve to cloak the monstrous thought which
leaped into his brain. And a picture danced before his mind's eye, a
picture, not of the fair and gracious woman who had been done to death,
but of a sweet-voiced girl in a white satin dress who was saying to a
fine-looking man standing by her side: "Dad, aren't you coming home with
me?"

His blurred senses were conscious of the strange medley produced by the
familiar noises of a railway station blending with the quietly
authoritative voice of the chief inspector.

"Mr. Furneaux and I have the inquiry in hand, Mr. Theydon," the
detective was saying. "We called at your flat, and Bates told us of the
sounds you both heard about 11:30 last night. I'm afraid we have rather
upset you by coming here, but Bates was unable to say what time you
would return home, so I thought you would not mind if we accompanied him
in order to find out the hour at which it would be convenient for you to
meet us at your flat--this evening, of course."

"You have certainly given me the shock of my life," Theydon gasped.
"That poor woman dead, murdered! It's too awful! How was she killed?"

"She was strangled."

"O, this is dreadful! Shall I wire an apology to the man I'm dining
with?"

"No need for that, Mr. Theydon," said Winter, sympathetically. "I'm
sorry now we blurted out our unpleasant news. But you had to be told,
and it was essential that we should get your story some time tonight.
Can you be home by eleven?"

"Yes, yes. I'll be there without fail."

"Thank you. We have a good many inquiries to make in the meantime.
Goodby, for the present."

The two made off. Winter had done all the talking, but Theydon was far
too disturbed to pay heed to the trivial fact that Furneaux, after one
swift glance, seemed to regard him as a negligible quantity. It was
borne in on him that the detective evidently believed he had something
of importance to say, and meant to render it almost impossible that he
should escape questioning while his memory was still active with
reference to events of the previous night.

And he had so little, yet so much, to tell. On his testimony alone it
would be a comparatively easy matter to establish beyond doubt the
identity of Mrs. Lester's last known visitor. And what would be the
outcome? He dared hardly trust his own too lively imagination. Whether
or not his testimony gave a clew to the police, the one irrevocable
issue was that somewhere in London there was a girl named Evelyn who
would regard a certain young man, Francis Berrold Theydon to wit, as a
loathsome and despicable Paul Pry.

Bates, somewhat relieved by the departure of the emissaries of Scotland
Yard, recalled his master's scattered wits to the affairs of the moment.

"It's getting on for seven, sir," he said. "I've engaged a dressing
room."

"Tell you what, Bates," said Theydon abstractedly, "it is my fixed
belief that you and I could do with a brandy and soda apiece."

"That would be a good idea, sir."

The good idea was duly acted on. While Theydon was dressing Bates told
him what little he knew of the tragedy, which was discovered by Mrs.
Lester's maid when she brought a cup of tea to her mistress' bedroom at
ten o'clock that morning.

Bates himself was the first person appealed to by the distracted woman,
and he had the good sense to leave the body and its surroundings
untouched until a doctor and the police had been summoned by telephone.
Thenceforth the day had passed in a whirl of excitement, active in
respect to police inquiries and passive in its resistance to newspaper
interviewers. He saw no valid reason why his employer's plans should be
disturbed, so made no effort to communicate with him at Brooklands.

"Them 'tecs were very pressin', sir," said Bates, rather indignantly,
"very pressin', especially the little one. He almost wanted to know what
we had for breakfast."

At that Theydon laughed dolefully, and, as it happened, Bates's grim
humor prevented him from ascertaining the exact nature of Furneaux's
pertinacity. Moreover, the time was passing. At 7:15 Theydon called a
taxi and was carried swiftly to Mr. Forbes's house in Belgravia, while
Bates disposed himself and the dressing case on top of a northbound
omnibus.

The mere change of clothing, aided by the stimulant, had cleared
Theydon's faculties. Though he would gladly have foregone the dinner, he
realized that it was not a bad thing that he should be forced, as it
were, to wrench his thoughts from the nightmare of a crime with which
such a man as "Evelyn's" father might be associated, even innocently.

At any rate, he was given some hours to marshal his forces for the
discussion with the representatives of Scotland Yard. He knew well that
he must then face the dilemma boldly. Two courses were open. He could
either share Bates's scanty knowledge, no more and no less, or avow his
ampler observations. And why should he adopt the first of these
alternatives? Was he not bringing himself practically within the law?

Why should any man be shielded, no matter what his social position or
how beautiful his daughter, who might possibly have caused the death of
the pleasant-mannered and ladylike woman fated now to remain for ever a
tragic ghost in the memory of one who had dwelt under the same roof with
her for five months?

It was a thorny problem, yet it permitted of only one solution. Duty
must be done though the heavens fell.

This conviction grew on Theydon as his cab scurried across the Thames
and along Birdcage Walk. A pretty conceit could not be allowed to sweep
aside the first principles of citizenship. Indeed, so reassuring was
this reasoned judgment that he felt a sense of relief as he paid off the
cab and rang the bell of the Forbes mansion.

He gave his name to a footman, who disposed of his overcoat and hat, and
led him to an upstairs drawing room. Even the most fleeting glances at
hall and staircase revealed evidences of a highly trained artistic taste
gratified by great wealth. The furniture, the china, the pictures, were
each and all rare and well chosen.

"Mr. Theydon," announced the man, throwing wide the door.

A lady, bent over some prints spread on a distant table, turned at the
words, and hastened to greet the guest.

"My father is expecting you, Mr. Theydon," she said. "He was detained
rather late in the city, but will be here now at any moment."

Theydon was no neurotic boy, whose surcharged nerves were liable to
crack in a crisis demanding some unusual measure of self-control. Yet
the room and its contents--and, not least, the graceful girl advancing
with outstretched hand--swam before his eyes.

Because this was "Evelyn," and it was certain as the succession of night
to day that Mrs. Lester's mysterious visitor must have been "Evelyn's"
father, James Creighton Forbes.



CHAPTER II

THE COMPACT


So petrified was Theydon by coming face to face with the last person
breathing whom he expected to meet in that room, that he stumbled over a
small chair which lay directly between him and his hostess. At any other
time the gaucherie would have annoyed him exceedingly; in the existing
circumstances, no more fortunate incident could have happened, since it
brought Evelyn Forbes herself unwittingly to the rescue.

"I have spoken twenty times about chairs being left in that absurd
position," she cried, as their hands met, "but you know how
wooden-headed servants are. They will not learn to discriminate. People
often sit in that very place of an afternoon, because any one seated
just there sees the Canaletto on the opposite wall in the best light.
When the lamps are on, the reason for the chair simply ceases to exist,
and it becomes a trap for the unwary. You are by no means the first who
has been caught in it."

Theydon realized, with a species of irritation, that the girl was
discoursing volubly about the offending chair merely in order to
extricate an apparently shy and tongue-tied young man from a morass of
his own creation.

That an author of some note should not only behave like a country
bumpkin, but actually seem to need encouragement so that he should "feel
at home" in a London drawing room, was a fact so ridiculous that it
spurred his bemused wits into something approaching their normal
activity.

"I have not the excuse of the Canaletto," he said, compelling a pleasant
smile, "but may I plead an even more distracting vision? I came here
expecting to meet an elderly gentleman of the class which flippant
Americans describe as 'high-brow,' and I am suddenly brought face to
face with a Romney 'portrait of a lady' in real life. Is it likely that
such an insignificant object as a chair, and a small one at that, would
succeed in catching my eye?"

Evelyn Forbes laughed, with a joyous mingling of surprise and relief.
Most certainly, Mr. Theydon's manner of speech differed vastly from the
disconcerting expression of positive bewilderment, if not actual fright,
which marred his entrance.

"Do I really resemble a Romney? Which one?" she cried.

"An admitted masterpiece."

"Ah, but people who pay compliments deserve to be put on the rack. I
insist on a definition."

"Lady Hamilton as Joan of Arc."

He drew the bow at random, and was gratified to see that his hearer was
puzzled.

"I don't know that particular picture," she said, "but I cannot imagine
any model less adapted to the subject."

"Romney immortalized the best qualities of both," he answered promptly.
"Please, may I look at the Canaletto which indirectly waylaid me?"

She turned to cross the room, but stopped and faced him again with a
suddenness that argued an impulsive temperament.

"Now, I remember," she said. "Dad told me you had written novels and
some essays. Have you ever really seen Romney's portrait of Lady
Hamilton as Joan of Arc?"

Those fine eyes of hers pierced him with a glance of such candid inquiry
that he cast pretence to the winds.

"No," he said.

"Then you just invented the comparison as an excuse for colliding with
the chair?"

"Yes. At the same time I throw myself on the mercy of the court."

"It was rather clever of you."

He laughed, and their eyes met, at very close range.

"May I share the joke?" said a voice, and Theydon knew, before he
turned, that the man he had last seen disappearing around the corner of
Innesmore Mansions in a heavy rainstorm was in the room.

"Why did you tell me that Mr. Theydon was a serious scientific person?"
cried the girl. "He is anything but that. He can talk nonsense quite
admirably."

"So can a great many serious scientific persons, Evelyn. Glad to see
you, Mr. Theydon. Professor Scarth's letter paved the way for something
more than a formal meeting, so I thought you wouldn't mind giving us an
evening. My wife is not in town. She is a martyr to hay fever, and has
to fly from London to the sea early in May to escape. If caught here in
June nothing can save her. Tonight, as it happens, you're our only
guest, but my daughter is going to a musicale at Lady de Winton's after
dinner, so you and I will be free to soar into the empyrean through a
blaze of tobacco smoke."

Standing there, in that delightful drawing room, made welcome by a man
like Forbes, and admitted to a degree of charming intimacy by a girl
like Forbes's daughter, Theydon tried to believe that his meeting with
those ill-omened detectives at Waterloo Station was, in some sort, a
figment of the imagination.

But he was instantly and effectually brought back to a dour sense of
reality by Evelyn Forbes's next words. She, by chance, looked at Theydon
just as she had looked at him the previous night.

"Were you at Daly's Theater last night?" she inquired suddenly.

"Yes," he said. Then, finding there was no help for it, he went on:----

"You and I have hit on the same discovery, Miss Forbes. We three stood
together at the exit. I was waiting for a taxi, and saw you get into
your car. Now you know just why I fell over the chair."

Forbes glanced up quickly.

"Don't tell me Tomlinson forgot to move that infernal chair again!" he
cried. "Really, I must get rid either of our butler or the Canaletto,
yet I prize both."

"Don't blame Tomlinson, Dad," laughed the girl. "If Mr. Theydon hadn't
made an unconventional entry we would have talked about the weather, or
something equally stupid."

At that moment Tomlinson himself, imperturbable and portly, announced
that dinner was served. The three descended the stairs, chatting lightly
about the musical comedy witnessed overnight. It was no new revelation
to Theydon that truth should prove stranger than fiction, but the trite
phrase was fast assuming a fresh and sinister personal significance. He
believed, and not without good reason, that no man living had ever
undergone an experience comparable with his present adventure.

When he left that house he was going straight to two officers of the law
whose bounden duty it would become to call upon Mr. Forbes for a full
and true explanation of his visit to Mrs. Lester--provided, that is, he
(Theydon) told them what he knew. Talk about a death's-head grinning at
a feast! At that bright dinner-table he was a prey to keener emotion
than ever shook a Borgia entertaining one whom he meant to poison.

In sheer self-defense he talked with an animation he seldom displayed.
Evelyn was evidently much taken by him, and, fired by her manifest
interest, he indulged in fantastic paradox and wild flights of fancy.
Seemingly his exuberance stimulated Forbes, himself a well-informed and
epigrammatic talker.

An hour sped all too soon. The girl rose with a sigh.

"It's too bad that I should have to go," she said. "I shall be bored
stiff at Lady de Winton's. But I can't get out of it except by telling a
positive fib over the telephone. Dad, next time you ask Mr. Theydon to
dinner, please let me know in good time, and neither of you will be rid
of me so easily."

She shook hands with Theydon. While she was giving her father a parting
kiss the guest moved to the door and held it open. As she passed out she
smiled and her eyes said plainly:

"I like you. Come again soon."

Then she was gone and the pleasant room lost some of its glow and color.

"Don't sit down again, Theydon," said Forbes, rising. "We'll have coffee
brought to my den. What is your favorite liqueur--or shall we tell
Tomlinson to send along that decanter of port? It's a first-rate wine.
Another glass won't hurt you, or me, for that matter."

Theydon had hardly dared to touch the champagne supplied during the
meal. Abstemious at all times, because he found that wine or spirits
interfered with his capacity for work, he felt that a clear head and
steady nerves were called for that night more than any other night in
his life. Following the lead given by his host, therefore, he elected
for the port.

"You are right, too," said Forbes. "You remember Dr. Johnson's dictum:
'Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a
hero must drink brandy'? Tonight, not aspiring to the heroic, we'll
stick to port."

"It is a curious fact that on my return from Brooklands today I took a
glass of brandy," confessed Theydon. "I seldom, if ever, drink any
intoxicant before dining, but I needed a stimulant of a sort, and some
unknown tissue in me cried aloud for brandy."

He hoped vaguely that the comment would lead to something more explicit,
and thus bring him, without undue emphasis, so to speak, to the one
topic on which he was now resolved to obtain a decisive statement from
the man chiefly concerned before he faced the representatives of
Scotland Yard.

But Forbes, motioning to an easy chair in a well-appointed library, and
flinging himself into another, gave heed only to the one
word--Brooklands.

"Did you fly?" he asked.

"No. I was soaking in theory, not practice."

"Ah, theory. It would, indeed, seem to be true that folded away in some
convolution of our brain are the faculties of the fish and the bird.
Those latent powers are expanding daily. The submarine has already gone
far beyond the practical achievement of aerial craft. But why, in the
name of humanity, should every such development of man's almost
immeasurable resources be dedicated to warlike purposes? I am sick at
heart when I hear the first question put in these days to each inventor:
'Can you enable us to kill more of our fellowmen than we can kill with
existing appliances?' Is it a new engine, a new amalgam of metals, a new
explosive, a new field of electrical energy, one hears the same
vulture's cry--'How many, how far, how safely can we slay?' I regard
this lust for destruction as contemptible. It is a strange and
ignominious feature of modern life. Forgive me, Mr. Theydon, if I speak
strongly on this matter. The men who spread the bounds of science today
are, nominally, at any rate, Christians. They tell of peace and goodwill
to all, yet prepare unceasingly for some awful Armageddon.[*] We teach
Christ's gospel in pulpit and schoolhouse, strive to express it in our
laws, obey it in our lives and social relations, yet we are armed to the
teeth and ever arming, adding strength to the plates of our warships and
distance to the range of our guns, constantly riveting and welding and
forging monsters which shall shatter men and cities and States."

[*] This story was written before the outbreak of war in 1914.]

It was not the younger man now who talked brilliantly and forcibly.
Theydon, frankly abandoning the effort to twist the conversation to that
enigma which, the more he saw and heard of Forbes the more incredible it
became, listened enthralled to one who spoke with the conviction and
earnestness of a prophet.

"Don't imagine that I am framing an indictment against Christianity,"
went on Forbes passionately. "The Sermon on the Mount inspires all that
is great and noble in our everyday existence, all that is eternally
beautiful in our dreams of the future. But why this din of war, this
smoke of arsenals, this marching and drilling of the world's youth?
Nature's law appears to have two simple clauses. It enforces a principle
in the struggle for existence, a test in the survival of the fittest.
Great heavens, are not these enough, without having our ears deafened by
powder and drumming? That is why I am devoting a good deal of time and
no small amount of money to an international crusade against the warlike
idea, and I see no reason why a beginning should not be made with the
airship and the airplane. We are too late with the submarine, but,
before the golden hour passes, let us stop the navigation of the air
from forming part of the equipment of murder. Surely it can be done.
England and the United States, Italy, France and the rest of Europe--the
founts of civilization--can write the edict, with all the blazonry of
their glorious histories to illuminate the page--There shall be no war
in the air!'"

Theydon was carried away in spite of himself.

"You believe that the airship might develop along the unemotional lines
of the parcel post?" he inquired.

Forbes laughed.

"Exactly," he said. "I like your simile. No one suggests that we Britons
should endeavor to destroy our hated rivals by sending bombs through the
mails. Why, then, in the name of common sense, should the first--I might
almost say the only use of which the airship is commonly supposed
capable--be that of destruction? Don't you see the instant result of a
war-limiting ordinance of the kind I advocate? Suppose the peoples and
the rulers declared in their wisdom that soldiers and war material
should be contraband of the air--and suppose that airships do become
vehicles of practical utility--what a farce would soon be all the grim
fortresses, the guns, the giant steel structures now designed as
floating hells! Humanity has yet time to declare that the flying machine
shall be as harmless and serviceable as the penny post. I believe it can
be done. Come now, Mr. Theydon, I think you've caught on to my
scheme--will you help?"

Help! Here was a man expounding a new evangel, which might, indeed, be
visionary and impracticable, but was none the less essentially noble and
Christian in spirit, yet Theydon was debating whether or not he should
give testimony which would bring to that very room a couple of
detectives whose first questions would make clear to Forbes that he was
suspected of blood-guiltiness!

The notion was so utterly repellent that Theydon sighed deeply; his host
not unnaturally looked surprised.

"Of course, such a revolutionary idea strikes you as outside the pale of
common sense," he began, but the younger man stayed him with a gesture.
Here was an opportunity that must not be allowed to pass. No matter what
the cost--if he never saw Evelyn Forbes or her father again--he must
dispel the waking nightmare which held him in such an abnormal condition
of uncertainty and foreboding.

"Now that your daughter is gone I may venture to speak plainly," he
said. "I told you that, I felt the need of a brandy and soda at
Waterloo. As a matter of fact, I did not leave the Brooklands track
until six o'clock, and, as Innesmore Mansions, where I live, lie north,
and I was due here at 7:30, I had my man meet me at the station with a
suitcase, meaning to change my clothes in the dressing room there, and
come straight here. Guess my astonishment when I found Bates--Bates is
the name of my factotum--in the company of two strangers, whom he
introduced as representing the Criminal Investigation Department."

He paused. He had brought in his own address skilfully enough, and kept
his voice sufficiently under control that no tremor betrayed a knowledge
of Forbes's vital interest in any mention of that one block of flats
among the multitude.

Now, for the first time, Innesmore Mansions figured as his abode, the
correspondence which led to the dinner having centered in his club. But
not a flicker of eyelid nor twitch of mobile lips showed the slightest
concern on Forbes's part. Rather did he display at once a well-bred
astonishment on hearing Theydon's concluding words.

"Do you mean detectives from Scotland Yard?" he cried.

"Yes."

Forbes smiled, and commenced filling a pipe.

"Evidently they did not want you as a principal," he said.

His tone was genial, but slightly guarded. Theydon realized that this
man of great wealth and high social position had reminded himself that
his guest, though armed with the best of credentials, was quite unknown
to him otherwise, and that, perhaps, he had acted unwisely in inviting a
stranger to his house without making some preliminary inquiry. This
reversal of their roles was a conceit so ludicrous that Theydon smiled
too.

At any rate, he meant now to pursue an unpleasing task, and have done
with it.

"No," he said slowly. "It seems that I am the worst sort of witness in a
murder case. I may have heard, I may even have seen, the person
suspected of committing the crime, or, if that is going too far, the
person whom the police have good reason to regard as the last who saw
the poor victim alive and in ordinary conditions. But my testimony, such
as it is, is so slight and inconclusive that, of itself, no one could
hang a cat on it."

"Good gracious! That sounds interesting, though you have my sympathy. It
must be rather distressing to be mixed up in such an affair, even
indirectly."

Forbes struck precisely the right note of friendly inquiry. He wished to
hear more, and was at the same time relieved to find that Professor
Scarth had not introduced a notorious malefactor in the guise of a young
writer seeking material for an article on airships!

Theydon could have laughed aloud at this comedy of errors, but the fact
that at any moment it might develop into a tragedy exercises a wholesome
restraint.

"I happen to live at No. 18 Innesmore Mansions," he said. "Opposite--on
the same floor, I mean--lives, or did live, a Mrs. Lester. I do not--"

"Are you telling me that a Mrs. Lester of No. 17 Innesmore Mansions is
dead--has been murdered?"

Forbes's voice rang out vibrant, incisive. His ordinarily pale face had
blanched, and his deep-set eyes blazed with the fire of some fierce
emotion, but, beyond the slight elevation of tone and the change of
expression, he revealed to Theydon's quietly watchful scrutiny no sign
of the terror or distress which an evildoer might be expected to show on
learning that the law's vengeance was already shadowing him, even in so
remote a way as was indicated by the presence under his roof of a
witness regarded by the police as an important one.

"Yes!" stammered Theydon, quite taken aback by his companion's
vehemence. "Do you--know the lady? If so--I am sorry--I spoke so
unguardedly--"

"Good heavens, man, don't apologize for that! I am not a child or
weakling, that I should flinch in horror from one of life's dramatic
surprises! But, are you sure of what you are saying? Mrs. Lester
murdered! When?"

"About midnight last night, the doctor believes. That is what Bates told
me. I was so shaken on hearing his news, which was confirmed by the two
detectives, that I really gave little heed to details.... She was
strangled--a peculiarly atrocious thing where an attractive and ladylike
woman is concerned. I have never spoken to her, but have met her at odd
times on the stairs. I was immeasurably shocked, I assure you. In fact,
I was on the point of telegraphing an excuse to you for this evening,
but the Chief Inspector--Winter, I think his name is--said it would
suffice for his purpose if I met him at my flat about eleven o'clock, as
he was engaged on other inquiries which would occupy the intervening
hours."

"But if the news of this dastardly crime only reached you tonight at
Waterloo Station, and you have no personal acquaintance with Mrs.
Lester, what evidence can you give that will assist the police?"

"Mrs. Lester received a visitor last night, an incident so unusual that
I, who heard him arrive, and Bates, who was in my sitting room when we
both heard him depart, commented on the strangeness of it. That, I
suppose, is the reason why I am in request by Scotland Yard."

"You say 'him.' How did you know it was a man? Did you see him?"

"Er--that was impossible. We were in my flat, behind its closed door.
Bates and I deduced his sex from the sound of his footsteps."

Again Theydon nearly stammered. Events had certainly turned in the most
amazing way. Instead of carrying himself almost in the manner of a
judge, he was figuring rather as an unwilling witness in the hands of a
skilled and merciless cross-examining counsel.

"Did the police officers supply any theory of motive for the crime? Was
this poor woman killed for the sake of her few trinkets?"

By this time Theydon was stung into a species of revolt. It was he, not
Forbes, who should be snapping out searching questions.

"I regret to say that my nerves were not sufficiently under control at
Waterloo that I should listen carefully to each word," he said, almost
stiffly. "Bates had picked up such information as was available; but he,
though an ex-sergeant in the Army, was so upset as to be hardly
coherent. When I meet the detectives in the course of another hour I
shall probably gather something definite and reliable in the way of
details."

Forbes laid the pipe which he had filled but not lighted on the table.
He poured out a glass of port and drank it.

"Try that," he said, pushing the decanter toward Theydon. "They cannot
trouble you greatly. You have so little to tell."

"No, thanks. Nothing more for me tonight until the Scotland Yard men
have cleared out."

Forbes rose as he spoke and strode the length of the room and back with
the air of a man debating some weighty and difficult point.

"Mr. Theydon," he said, at last, halting in front of the younger man and
gazing down at him with a direct intensity that was highly embarrassing
to one who had good cause to connect him with the actual crime. "I want
you to do me a favor--a great favor. It was in my mind at first to ask
you to permit me to go with you to Innesmore Mansions, and to be present
during the interview with the detectives. But a man in my position must
be circumspect. It would, perhaps, be unwise to appear too openly
interested. I don't mind telling you in confidence that I have known
Mrs. Lester many years. The shock of her death, severe as it must have
been to you, is slight as compared with my own sorrow and dismay. More
than that I dare not say until better informed. I remember now hearing
the newsboys shouting their ghoulish news, and I saw contents bills
making large type display of 'Murder of a lady,' but little did I
imagine that the victim was one whom--one whose loss I shall deplore....
Are you on the telephone?"

"Yes," said Theydon, thoroughly mystified anew by the announcement that
Forbes had even contemplated, or so much as hinted at, the astounding
imprudence of visiting Innesmore Mansions that night.

"Ring me up when the detectives have gone. I shall esteem your
assistance during this crisis as a real service."

For the life of him, Theydon could not frame the protest which ought to
have been made without delay and without hesitation.

"Yes," he said. "I'll do that. You can trust me absolutely."

Thus was he committed to secrecy. That promise sealed his lips.



CHAPTER III

IN THE TOILS


Theydon, though blessed, or cursed, with an active imagination--which
must surely be the prime equipment of a novelist--was shrewd and
level-headed in dealing with everyday affairs.

It was no small achievement that the son of a country rector, aided only
by a stout heart, a university education and an excellent physique--good
recommendations, each and all, but forming the stock-in-trade of many a
man on whose subsequent career "failure" is writ large--should have
forced himself to the front rank of the most overcrowded among the
professions before attaining his twenty-sixth year.

It may be taken for granted, therefore, that he was not lacking in the
qualities of close observation and critical analysis. He would, for
instance, be readier than the majority of his fellows to note the small
beginnings of events destined to become important.

Often, of course, his deductions would prove erroneous, but the mere
fact that he habitually exercised his wits in such a way rendered it
equally certain that his judgment would be accurate sometimes. One such
occasion presented itself a few seconds after he had left the Forbes
mansion.

A taxi, summoned by a footman, was in waiting, and Theydon was crossing
the pavement when he noticed a gray landaulet car at rest beneath the
trees at some distance. Mr. Forbes's house stood in a square, and the
gray car had been drawn up on the quiet side of the roadway, being
stationed there, apparently, to await its owner's behest. Gray cars are
common enough in London, but they are usually of the touring class.

Not often does one see a gray-painted landaulet; hence, the odd though
hardly remarkable fact occurred to Theydon that a precisely similar gray
automobile had occupied the center of the station yard at Waterloo when
he took a taxi from the rank.

Admittedly he was in a nervous and excited state. It could hardly be
otherwise after the strain of that astounding conversation with Forbes,
and there was no prospect of the tension being relaxed until the close
of the interview with the detectives, which he now regarded as the worse
ordeal of the two.

But this subconscious neurasthenia in no wise affected the reflex action
of his ordinary faculties. When, on leaving the square, and while his
cab was rattling along an aristocratic thoroughfare leading to
Knightsbridge, he peered through a tiny observation window in the back
of the vehicle, and ascertained that the gray car was stealing along
quietly about a hundred yards in the rear, he began to believe that its
presence both at Waterloo and outside Mr. Forbes's residence could not
be wholly accidental. When he had watched its persistent treading on his
heels along Piccadilly its intent became almost unmistakable.

The route to Innesmore Mansions traversed some of London's main
arteries, but, despite the rush of traffic due to the first flight of
homeward-bound playgoers, the gray car kept steadily on his track.
Amused at first, he became angry because of a notion which grew out of
the wonderment of finding himself the object of this persistent
espionage.

To make sure, and at the same time discover the sort of person who was
spying on him, he adopted a ruse. Leaning out, when about to cross
Oxford Street into Tottenham Court Road, he said to his driver: "Turn
sharp to the right in Store Street, and pull up. I'll tell you when to
go on again."

The man obeyed. Theydon posted himself at the outer window, and in a
space of time so short that the excellence of the gray car's accelerator
was amply demonstrated, the pursuer swung into sight. A stolid-faced
chauffeur at the wheel did not appear discomfited at coming on his
quarry thus unexpectedly. He whirled past, seemingly quite oblivious of
Theydon's fixed stare. Though the weather was mild he wore an overcoat
with upturned collar, so that between its protecting flaps and a
low-peaked cap his face was well hidden. Still, Theydon received an
impression of a curiously wooden physiognomy.

The man might have been an automaton for all the heed he gave to the
taxi or its inquisitive occupant. But his aspect was almost forgotten in
the far stranger discovery that the car was empty. Both windows were
open, and the bright lights of a corner shop flashed into the interior,
yet not a soul was visible. Moreover, the car sped on unhesitatingly,
stopping some two hundred yards ahead.

So far as Theydon could tell, no one alighted. He jotted down the
number--XY 1314--on his shirt cuff.

"Did you happen to see that car waiting near the house I came from?" he
said to the taxi man, who, of course, provided an interested audience of
one.

"Yes, sir," was the ready answer. "It's not a London car. I've never
seen them letters afore."

"In other words, it may be a faked number."

"Likely enough, sir, but rather risky. The police are quick at spotting
that sort of thing."

"Can you take a hand in the game? I want to know where that car goes
to."

The man grinned.

"I wouldn't like to humbug you, sir. That there machine can lose me
quicker'n a Derby winner could pass a keb horse. Didn't you hear the hum
of the engine as it went by?"

"Thanks. Now go ahead to Innesmore Mansions."

He was paying the driver when the gray car stole quietly past the end of
the street, and that was the last he saw of it.

"There it goes again, sir," said the man. "Tell you wot, gimme your name
an' address. I'll make a few inquiries, an' keep me eyes open as well.
Then, if I hear anythink, I'll let you know."

Theydon scribbled the number of his flat on a card.

"There you are," he said. "Even if I happen to be out, I'll leave
instructions that you are to be paid half a crown for your trouble if
you call. By the way, what is your name?"

"Evans, sir."

There was really little doubt in Theydon's mind as to the reason why he
had been followed. He was fuming about it when Bates met him in the hall
of No. 18 with the whisper:

"Them two are waiting here now, sir."

Theydon glanced at his watch. The hour was ten minutes past eleven.

"Sorry I'm late, gentlemen," he said, on entering the sitting room and
finding the detectives seated at his table, seemingly comparing notes,
because the Chief Inspector was talking, while Furneaux, the diminutive,
was glancing at a notebook.

"We have no reason to complain of being kept waiting a few minutes in
such comfortable quarters," said Winter pleasantly.

"O, I fancy I was detained by some zealous assistant of yours," said
Theydon, determined to carry the war into the enemy's territory.

At that Furneaux looked up quickly.

"Will you kindly tell me just what you mean, Mr. Theydon?" said Winter.

"Why? Is it news to you that a gray limousine car stalked me from
Waterloo to--to my friend's house, waited there three hours or more, and
has carefully escorted me home? I dislike that sort of thing. Moreover,
it strikes me as stupid. I didn't kill Mrs. Lester. It will save you and
me a good deal of time and worry if you accept that plain statement as a
fact."

"Won't you sit down?" said Winter quietly. "And--may I smoke? I didn't
like to ask Bates for permission to light up in your absence."

Theydon was not to be outdone in coolness. He opened a corner cupboard
and produced various boxes.

"The cigars are genuine Havanas," he said. "A birthday present from a
maiden aunt, who is wise enough to judge the quality of tobacco by the
price. Here, too, are Virginian, Turkish and Egyptian cigarettes."

Winter inspected the cigars gravely.

"By Jove!" he cried, his big eyes bulging in joyous surprise. "Last
year's crop from the Don Juan y Guerrero plantation. Treasure that aunt
of yours, Mr. Theydon. None but herself can be her equal."

Theydon saw that the little man did not follow his chief's example.

"Don't you smoke?" he said.

"No, but if you'll not be horrified, I would like to smell one of those
Turks."

"Smell it?"

"Yes. That is the only way to enjoy the aroma and avoid nicotine
poisoning. My worthy chief dulls a sound intellect by the cigar habit.
What is worse, he excites a nervous system which is normally somewhat
bovine. You, also, I take it, are a confirmed smoker, so both of you are
at cross-purposes already."

Furneaux's voice was pitched in the curious piping note usually
associated with comic relief in a melodrama, but his wizened face was
solemn as a red Indian's. It was Theydon who smiled. His preconceived
ideas as to the appearance and demeanor of the London detective were
shattered. Really, there was no need to take these two seriously.

Winter, while lighting the cigar, grinned amiably at his colleague.
Furneaux passed a cigarette to and fro under his nostrils and sniffed.
Theydon reached for a pipe and tobacco jar and drew up a chair.

"Well," he said, "it is not my business to criticise your methods. I
have very little to tell you. I suppose Bates--"

"The really important thing is this car which followed you tonight,"
broke in Winter. "The details are fresh in your memory. What type of car
was it? Did you see the driver and occupants? What's its number?"

Theydon had not expected these questions. He looked his astonishment.

"Ha!" cackled Furneaux. "What did I tell you?"

"O, shut up!" growled Winter. "I am asking just what you yourself are
itching to know."

"May I take it that the car has not been dogging me by your
instructions?" said Theydon. He was inclined to be skeptical, yet the
Chief Inspector seemed to have spoken quite candidly.

"Yes," said Winter, meeting the other's glance squarely. "We have no
reason on earth to doubt the truth of anything you have said, or may
say, with regard to this inquiry. The car is not ours. This is the first
we have heard of it. We accepted your word, Mr. Theydon, that you were
dining with a friend. Perhaps you will tell us now what his name is and
where he lives."

Theydon hesitated the fraction of a second. That, he knew instantly, was
a blunder, so he proceeded to rectify it.

"I was dining with Mr. James Creighton Forbes, of No. 11, Fortescue
Square," he said. "Probably you are acquainted with his name, so you
will realize that if my evidence proves of the slightest value I would
not like any reference to be made to the fact that I was his guest
tonight."

"I don't see how that can possibly enter into the matter, except in its
bearing on this mysterious car."

Though Winter was taking the lead, Theydon was aware that Furneaux, who
had given him scant attention hitherto, was now looking at him fixedly.
He imagined that the queer little man was all agog to learn something
about the automobile which had thrust itself so abruptly into the
affair.

"Exactly," he agreed. "I visited Mr. Forbes tonight for the first time.
We are mutually interested in aviation. That is why I went to Brooklands
today, and the invitation to dinner was the outcome of a letter of
introduction given me by Professor Scarth."

Then, thinking he had said enough on that point, he described the gray
car and its stolid-faced chauffeur to the best of his ability. He told
of the brief chat with the taxi driver and its result.

"Good!" nodded Winter. "I'm glad you did that. It may help. I am
doubtful of any information turning up, but you never can tell. The
number plate, at any rate, is certainly misleading. Now, about last
night? Try and be as accurate as possible with regard to time. Can you
give us the exact hour when you returned home?"

"I happened to note by the clock on the mantelpiece that I came in at
11:35."

Winter compared the clock's time with his watch.

"You had been to a theater?" he said.

"Yes--Daly's."

"It was raining heavily. Did you take a cab?"

"Yes."

"Were you delayed? The piece ended at 11:05."

"My cab met with a slight accident."

"What sort of accident?"

Theydon explained.

"In all likelihood you can discover the driver," he smiled, "and he will
establish my alibi."

His tone seemed to annoy Furneaux, who broke in:

"Don't you write novels?"

"Yes."

"Sensational?"

"Occasionally."

"Then you ought to be tickled to death, as the Americans say, at being
mixed up in a first-rate murder. This is no ordinary crime. Several
people will be older and wiser before the culprit is found and hanged."

"What Mr. Furneaux has in mind," purred Winter cheerfully, "is the
curious habit of some witnesses when questioned by the police. They arm
themselves against attack, as it were. You see, Mr. Theydon, we suspect
nobody. We try to ascertain facts, and hope to deduce a theory from
them. Over and over again we are mistaken. We are no more astute than
other men. Our sole advantage is a wide experience of criminal methods.
The detective of romance--if you'll forgive the allusion--simply doesn't
exist in real life."

"I accept the rebuke," said Theydon. "I suppose the gray car was still
rankling in my mind. From this moment I start afresh. At any rate, the
man who brought me from the theater might check my recollection of the
time."

Winter nodded. He was evidently pleased that Theydon was inclined to
share his view of the difficulties Scotland Yard encountered in its
fight against malefactors.

"Did you see or meet any one in particular while your car approached
these mansions, or when you ascended the stairs?"

"No," said Theydon.

He perceived intuitively that if the detectives found the driver of the
taxi which brought him from the theater it was possible the man might
have noticed Forbes, who had certainly been scrutinized a few minutes
later by a policeman, so he hastened to add:

"You said 'any one in particular.' I did see a tall, well-dressed
gentleman at the corner of the street, but there is nothing remarkable
in that."

"Which way was he heading?"

"In this direction."

"Then it is conceivable that he might be the man who called on Mrs.
Lester?"

"Yes."

"Aren't you pretty sure he was the man?"

Theydon permitted himself to look astonished.

"I?" he said. "How can I be sure? If you mean that, judging from the
interval of time between my seeing him at the corner and the sound of
footsteps on the stairs, followed by the opening of the door at No. 17,
it could be he, I accept that."

Winter nodded again. Apparently he was content with Theydon's
correction.

"As the weather was bad, you probably hurried in when your cab stopped?"
he said.

"That is equivalent to saying you credit me with sense enough to get in
out of the wet," smiled Theydon.

"Just so. And you wore an overcoat, which you removed on entering your
hall?"

"Yes," and Theydon's tone showed a certain bewilderment at these
trivialities.

"Then if you paid no special heed to the movements of the tall gentleman
you have mentioned, why did you open one of these windows and look out
soon after Bates went to the post?"

Theydon flushed like a schoolboy caught by a master under circumstances
which youth generally describes as "a clean cop."

"How on earth do you know I looked out?" he almost gasped.

"I'll tell you willingly. The discovery was Mr. Furneaux's, not mine.
When we came here this morning, and ascertained that you had been out at
a late hour last night, we asked your man if he could enlighten us as to
your movements. He did so. To the best of his belief you dined at a
club, and occupied a stall at Daly's Theater subsequently. He was sure,
too, you had not walked home through the rain, so it was easy to draw
the conclusion that you returned in a covered vehicle. Mr. Furneaux
requested Bates to produce the clothes you had worn, which, owing to the
uproar created by the news of the murder, had not been brushed and put
away. As a consequence the silk collar and part of the back of your
dress-coat bore the marks of raindrops. How had they got there? The only
logical deduction was that you had thrust your head and shoulders
through a window, and the time of the action is established almost
beyond doubt, because you had changed the coat when Bates came from the
pillar-box. It was either directly after you came in, or while Bates was
absent. Of course you may have looked out twice. Did you? Whether once
or twice, why did you do it?"

Theydon's feelings changed rapidly while Winter was delivering this very
convincing analysis of a few simple facts. He had passed at a bound from
the detected schoolboy stage to that of a man forcing his way through a
thicket who finds himself on the very lip of a precipice.

He remembered hazily that Bates had said something at Waterloo with
regard to the manner in which the detectives, especially Furneaux, had
questioned him. But it was too late to apply the warning thus conveyed.
If he faltered now he was forever discredited. These men would read his
perplexed face as if it were a printed page. In his distress he was
prepared to hear Winter or that little satyr, Furneaux, say mockingly:

"Why are you trying to screen James Creighton Forbes? What is he to you?
What matter his fame or social rank? We are here to see that justice is
done. Out with the truth, let who may suffer."

But neither of the pair said anything of the sort. Furneaux only
interjected a sarcastic comment.

"You will observe, Mr. Theydon, that even in a minor instance of
deductive reasoning, such as this, the man who smells rather than the
man who smokes tobacco solves the problem promptly."

Theydon threw out his hands in token of surrender. He thought he saw a
means of escape, and took it unhesitatingly.

"I'm vanquished," he said. "You force me to admit that I do know a
little, a very little, more than I have confessed hitherto about the man
who visited Mrs. Lester's flat last night. I have said nothing about the
matter thus far because I didn't want to be convicted of a piece of idle
curiosity worthy of a gossip-loving housemaid. I noticed the man I have
described staring at the name tablet of the street as my cab turned the
corner. I did not know him. I had never seen him before last night, but
he was of such distinguished appearance and his face was of so rare a
type that I was interested and wished to ascertain, if possible, on whom
he meant calling if, as it seemed, he was searching for an address in
these flats. Therefore, I did look out, and saw him enter the doorway
beneath. In due course I heard him arrive at Mrs. Lester's door--that
is, I assume it was he. Five minutes later Bates and I heard him depart.
To make sure, I looked out a second time. If you ask me why I behaved in
that way I cannot tell you. I have occupied this flat during the past
five months, and I have never previously, within my recollection, lifted
a window and gazed out to watch anybody's comings and goings. The thing
is inexplicable. All I can say is that it just happened."

"Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"

"Yes."

Theydon gave the assurance readily. It was beyond credence that either
detective should put the one question to which he was now firmly
resolved to give a misleading answer, and in this belief he was
justified, since not even Furneaux's uncanny intelligence could suggest
the fantastic notion that the man who walked through the rain the
previous night and the man with whom Theydon had dined that evening were
one and the same person.

"I don't blame you for adopting a policy of partial concealment," said
the Chief Inspector, spryly. "You are not the first, and you certainly
will not be the last witness from whom the police have to drag the
facts. Now that we have reached more intimate terms, can you help by
describing this stranger?"

Theydon complied at once. He drew just such a general sketch of Forbes
as a skilled observer of men might be expected to formulate after one
direct glance close at hand, supplemented by a view into a lamp-lit
street from a second-storey window on a rainy night.

"So far, so good," said Winter. "You have contrived to fill in several
details lacking in the description supplied by a policeman who chanced
to be standing at the corner when Mrs. Lester's visitor posted a letter.
Did you notice that?"

"Yes. Indeed, I believed that, whether intentionally or not, he held an
open umbrella at an angle which prevented the constable from seeing his
face."

"In fact, it's marvellous what you really do know when your memory is
jogged," snapped Furneaux.

Theydon did not resent the sarcasm. He smiled candidly into the little
detective's eyes.

"I suppose I deserve that," he said meekly.

"Why did you hide your knowledge of Mrs. Lester's visitor from your man
Bates?"

"I was rather ashamed of the subterfuge adopted in order to get him out
of the room while I opened the window the first time."

"That was understandable last night, but I fail to follow your reasoning
for a policy of silence when we told you at Waterloo that Mrs. Lester
had been killed."

"I was utterly taken aback by your news. I wanted time to think. I never
meant to hide any material fact at this interview."

"You have contrived to delay and hamper our inquiry for twelve
hours--twenty-four in reality. I can't make you out, Mr. Theydon. You
would never have said a word about your very accurate acquaintance with
this mysterious stranger's appearance had not last night's rainstorm
left its legible record on your clothes. Do you now vouch for it that
the man was completely unknown to you?"

"You are pleased to be severe, Mr. Furneaux, but, having placed myself
in a false position, I must accept your strictures. I assure you, on my
honor, that the man I saw was an absolute stranger."

Happily, Theydon was under no compulsion to choose his words. He met the
detective's searching gaze unflinchingly. Fate, after terrifying him,
had been kind. If Furneaux had expressed himself differently--if, for
instance, he had said: "Had you ever before seen the man?" or "Have you
now any reason for believing that you know his name?"--he would have
forced Theydon's hand in a way he was far from suspecting.

"It may surprise you to hear," piped the shrill, cracked voice, "that
there are dozens of policemen walking about London who would arrest you
on suspicion had you treated them as you have treated us."

"Then I can only say that I am fortunate in my inquisitors," smiled
Theydon.

Winter held up a massive fist in deprecation of these acerbities.

"You have nothing more to tell us?" he queried.

"Nothing!"

"Then we need not trouble you further tonight. Of course, if luck favors
us and we find the gentleman with the classical features--the most
unlikely person to commit a murder I have ever heard of--we shall want
you to identify him."

"I am at your service at any time. But before you go won't you enlighten
me somewhat? What did really happen? I have not even seen a newspaper
account of the crime."

"Would you care to examine No. 17?"

It was Furneaux who put the question, and Theydon was genuinely
astonished.

"Do you mean--" he began, but Furneaux laughed, almost savagely.

"I mean Mrs. Lester's flat," he said. "The poor woman's body is at the
mortuary. If you come with us we can reconstruct the crime. It occurred
about this very hour if the doctor's calculations are well founded."

Theydon rose.

"I shall be most--interested," he said. "By the way, Mr. Furneaux, yours
is a French name. Are you a Frenchman, may I ask?"

"A Jersey man. You think I am adopting some of the methods of the French
_juge d'instruction_, eh?"

"No. I cannot bring myself to believe that you regard me as a murderer."

The three passed out into the hall. Mr. and Mrs. Bates immediately
showed scared faces at the kitchen door.

"It's all right, Bates," said Theydon airily. "I'm not a prisoner. I'll
be with you again in a few minutes."

But Bates was profoundly disturbed.

"Wot beats me," he said to his wife when they were alone, "is why that
little ferret wanted to see the guv'nor's clothes. I looked 'em over
carefully afterwards, an' there wasn't a speck on 'em except some spots
of rain on the coat collar. It's a queer business, no matter how you
look at it. Mr. Theydon's manner was strange when he kem in last night.
He seemed to be list'nin' for something. I don't know wot to make of it,
Eliza. I reely don't."

In effect, since no man is a hero to his valet, what would Tomlinson,
butler at No. 11 Fortescue Square, have thought of his master if told
that Mrs. Lester's last known visitor was James Creighton Forbes?



CHAPTER IV

A TELEPHONIC TALK AND ITS CONSEQUENCES


Theydon's journalistic experiences had been, for the most part, those of
the "special correspondent," or descriptive writer. He had never entered
one of those fetid slums of a great city in which, too often, murder is
done, never sickened with the physical nausea of death in its most
revolting aspect, when some unhappy wretch's foul body serves only to
further pollute air already vile.

It was passing strange, therefore, that Winter had no sooner opened the
door of No. 17 than the novice of the party became aware of a heavy,
pungent scent which he associated with some affrighting and unclean
thing. At first he swept aside the phantasy. Strong as he was, his
nervous system had been subjected to severe strain that evening. He knew
well that the mind can create its own specters, that the five senses can
be subjugated by forces which science has not as yet either measured or
defined.

Moreover, he was standing in a hall furnished with a taste and quiet
elegance that must surely indicate similar features in each room of a
suite which, in other respects, bore an almost exact resemblance of his
own apartments. In sheer protest against the riot of an overwrought
imagination he brushed a hand across his eyes.

The chief inspector noted the action.

"You will find nothing grewsome here, I assure you," he said, quietly.
"Beyond a few signs of hurried rummaging of drawers and boxes there is
absolutely no indication of a crime having been committed."

"Mr. Theydon came prepared to see ghosts," squeaked Furneaux. "Evidently
he is not acquainted with the peculiar smell of a joss stick."

Theydon turned troubled eyes on the wizened little man who seemed to
have the power of reading his secret thought.

"A joss stick," he repeated. "Isn't that some sort of incense used by
Chinese in their temples?"

"Yes," said Furneaux.

"Lots of ladies burn them in their boudoirs nowadays," explained Winter
offhandedly.

"The Chinese burn them to propitiate evil spirits," murmured Furneaux.
"The Taou gods are mostly deities of a very unpleasant frame of mind.
The mere scowl of one of them from a painted fan suggests novel and
painful forms of torture. I've seen Shang Ti grinning at me from a
porcelain vase, otherwise exquisite, and felt my hair rising."

"I do wish you wouldn't talk nonsense, Charles," said Winter, frowning
heavily.

"Am I talking nonsense, Mr. Theydon?" demanded Furneaux. "Didn't your
flesh creep when that queer perfume assailed your nostrils, which are
not yet altogether atrophied by the reek of thousands of rank cigars?"

"Stop it!" commanded Winter, throwing open a door.

"And they christened him Leander--Leander, who swam the Hellespont for
love of a woman!" muttered Furneaux.

Theydon began to believe that both detectives were cranks of the first
order. Furneaux, whose extraordinary insight he actually feared, was
obviously an excellent example of the alliance between insanity and
genius. In a word, he failed, and not unreasonably, to understand that
when the Jersey man was mouthing a strange jargon of knowledge and
incoherence, and Winter was inclined to be snappy with his subordinate,
and each was more than rude to the other, they were then giving tongue
like hounds hot on the trail.

Winter's Christian names were James Leander, the latter being conferred
for no more classical reason than his father's association with a famous
boating club, but the fact supplied Furneaux with material for many a
quip. These things Theydon learnt later. At present he was giving all
his attention to Winter, who led the way into a dainty furnished
bedroom. The electric lights were governed by two switches. A pair of
lamps occupied the usual place in front of a dressing table; a third was
suspended from a canopy over the bed, and was controlled also by an
alternate switch behind the bolster. Winter turned on all three lights,
so the room was brilliantly illuminated.

Any place less likely to become the scene of a brutal crime could hardly
be imagined. It looked exactly what it was, the bedchamber of a refined
and well-bred woman, whose trained sense of color and design was shown
by the harmony of carpet, rugs, wall paper and furniture.

Winter pointed to a slight depression on the side of the bed. A white
linen coverlet was rumpled as though some one had sat there.

"That is where Ann Rogers, the maid, found her mistress at ten o'clock
this morning," he said. "As you see, the bed had not been slept in.
Indeed, Mrs. Lester was fully dressed. My belief is that she was pounced
on the instant she entered the room--probably to retire for the
night--strangled before she could utter a sound, and flung here when
dead."

Again Theydon was aware of the subtle, penetrating, and not wholly
unpleasing scent which Furneaux had attributed to the burning of a joss
stick, but his mind was focused on the detective's words, which
suggested a queer discrepancy between certain vague possibilities
already flitting through his brain and the terrible drama as it
presented itself to a skilled criminologist.

"But," he said, almost protestingly, "from what I have seen of Mrs.
Lester she was a strong and active woman. It is inconceivable that the
man who came here last night could have murdered her while I was writing
two brief notes. I am positive he did not remain five minutes, and Bates
or I, or both of us, must have heard some trampling of feet, some
indications of a struggle. Moreover, you think she was about to retire.
Doesn't that opinion conflict with the known facts?"

"What known facts?"

"Well--or--those I have mentioned. The brief visit, the open nature of
the arrival and departure, the posting of a letter, which, by the way,
may have been written in his presence."

"It was."

Theydon positively jumped. He would not be surprised now if Forbes's
name came out.

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"Mrs. Lester wrote to an aunt in Oxfordshire, a lady who lives in the
village of Iffley, near the first lock on the Thames below Oxford. As it
happened, this aunt, a Miss Beale, was lunching with a friend in Oxford
today, and some one showed her an early edition of a London evening
newspaper containing an account of the murder. Instead of yielding to
hysteria, and passing from one fainting fit into another, Miss Beale had
the rare good sense to go straight to the police station. One of our men
has interviewed her this evening, and she is coming here tomorrow, but
in the meantime the Oxford police telephoned the gist of the letter,
which is headed 'Monday, 11:30 p. m.' The hour is not quite accurate,
but near enough, since the context shows that a 'friend' had just called
and given certain information which had determined the writer to leave
London 'to-morrow'--meaning today--'or Wednesday at latest.' So you see,
Mr. Theydon, if the unknown is an honest man, he will soon hear of the
hue and cry raised by the murder, and declare himself to the police.
Indeed, for all I know, he may have reported himself to the Yard
already. In that event you will probably meet him again quite soon."

An electric bell jarred at the end of the main passage. It smote on
their ears with the loud emphasis of a pistol shot. Even the detectives
were startled, and Winter said, in a tone of distinct annoyance:

"Go and see who the deuce that is, Furneaux."

Furneaux returned promptly with Bates, pallid and apologetic.

"Beg pardon, sir," said the intruder, addressing Theydon, but allowing
his eyes to roam furtively about the room as though he expected to see
something ghoul-like and sinister, "Mr. Forbes has rung up--"

Theydon's voice literally quavered. For the first time in his life he
knew why a woman shrieks in the stress of sudden excitement.

"Tell Mr. Forbes I am still engaged with the gentlemen from Scotland
Yard," he gasped. "I'll give him a call the moment I'm free. He will
understand. Anyhow, I can't explain further now."

"Yes, sir," and Bates disappeared.

"Mr. Forbes? The gentleman you were dining with?" inquired Winter.

"Yes," said Theydon. He knew he ought to add something by way of
explanation, but his heart was thumping madly, and he dared not trust
his voice.

"You told him, I suppose, that Scotland Yard was worrying you, and he
wants to know the result?"

Then Theydon saw an avenue of escape, and took it eagerly.

"I spoke of the murder, of course," he said, "but Mr. Forbes was hardly
interested. He had seen the newspaper placards, and that was all he knew
of it. The truth is, he is wholly wrapped up in a scheme for reforming
mankind by excluding airships and aeroplanes from warlike operations,
and found me a somewhat preoccupied listener. He wants my help, such as
it is, and I have no doubt the present call is a preliminary to another
meeting tomorrow."

"Why not go to him? We'll wait. We can do nothing more tonight after
leaving here."

"Speaking candidly, I am not in a mood to discuss such visionary
projects. I shall be glad if Mr. Forbes has gone to bed when I do ring
him up."

Winter shook his head.

"Excuse me, Mr. Theydon, but I am older than you, and may 'venture on
advice,'" he said. "A writer who has his way to make in the world cannot
afford to slight a man of Mr. Forbes's standing. Go to him at once. It
will please him. Don't hurry."

Theydon realized that a continued refusal would certainly set Furneaux's
wits at work, and he dreaded the outcome. He went without another word.
When the outer door had closed behind him Winter turned to Furneaux.

"Well?" he said.

For answer Furneaux waved a hand and tiptoed into the hall. Waiting
until he heard the door of No. 18 slam he opened the latch of No. 17 so
cautiously that no sound was forthcoming. Soon he had an ear to
Theydon's letter box and was following attentively a one-sided
conversation.

Now, Theydon had thought hard during the few strides from one flat to
the other. His telephone was fixed close to the party wall dividing the
two sets of apartments and he was not certain that, in the absolute
quietude prevailing in Innesmore Mansions at that late hour, a voice
could not be overheard. True, he did not count on Furneaux playing the
eavesdropper at the slit of the letter box, but he resolved to take no
risks and say nothing that any one could make capital of.

So, when he had asked the exchange to reconnect him with the caller who
had just rung up, and he was put through, this is what Furneaux heard:

"That you, Mr. Forbes. Sorry I sent my man just now with a message that
must leave sounded rather curt, but the Scotland Yard people kindly
excused me, so I can give you a minute or two.... No, I'm sorry, but I
cannot come to luncheon tomorrow, nor go to Brooklands again this week.
You see, this dreadful murder which I spoke of will necessitate my
presence at an inquest, and the police seem to attach much significance
to the visit to Mrs. Lester last night of a man whom I saw in the
street, and whom Bates and I heard entering and leaving the poor lady's
flat.... Bates? O, he is my general factotum. He and his wife keep house
for me.... Yes, I'll gladly let you know the earliest date when I'll be
free. Then you and I can go into the flying proposition thoroughly....
No. The detectives have apparently not got any clew to the murderer, nor
even discovered any motive for the crime. They have taken me into No.
17. In fact, I was there when your call was made.... The murderer
ransacked the place thoroughly, but did not touch money or jewelry, I
understand. The only peculiar thing, if I may so describe it, about the
place, is the scent of a burnt joss stick. It clings to the passage and
the bedroom in which the body was found.... Ah, by the way, Mrs. Lester
wrote a letter, which her visitor posted, and the addressee, her aunt,
is in communication with the police. The text tends to clear the man of
suspicion.... Yes, if, by chance, I find myself at liberty tomorrow,
I'll 'phone you at your city office. I'll find the number in the
directory, of course?... O, thanks--I'll jot it down--00400 Bank....
Goodnight! Too bad that this wretched affair should interfere with our
crusade, which, the more I think of it, the stronger it appeals. _Au
revoir_, then."

In reality, Forbes had not said one word about his peace propaganda, but
he had evidently been quick to realize that Theydon was purposely giving
their talk a twist in that direction. A muttered "I
understand--perfectly," showed this, and he did not strive to conceal
the alarm which possessed him when Theydon spoke of the joss stick. He
murmured distinctly, "Great Heavens! Then I was not mistaken," and again
voiced his distress on hearing of the letter.

But he made matters easy by pressing Theydon to come and see him on the
morrow, either at his office in Old Broad Street or at his residence. On
the whole, Theydon did not care who heard what he had said, but it was a
relief to find that he had to ring for readmission to No. 17.

Furneaux opened the door.

"You soon got rid of your friend, then?" said the detective, while they
were on the way to rejoin Winter.

"Yes. It was just what I imagined--a pressing invitation to plunge
forthwith into Mr. Forbes's project for the regeneration of mankind. I
had to tell him frankly that you gentlemen had first claim on me. I
suppose I shall be wanted at the inquest?"

"Not tomorrow. The coroner will hear the medical evidence, and that of
Ann Rogers, if she is in a condition to appear, and there will be an
adjournment for a week."

"Ah, that reminds me. Didn't Mrs. Lester's servant admit the visitor
last night?"

Theydon put the question advisedly. He was calmer now, and had made up
his mind as to the course he should pursue. Although he had assured
Winter that he would recognize the stranger if confronted with him, and,
if Forbes was brought into the inquiry, the admission might prove
awkward, he meant to say that he had, indeed, noticed a remarkable
resemblance in the millionaire to the man he had seen looking up at the
name tablet on the corner, but felt that the likeness was only one of
those singular coincidences which abound in a cosmopolitan city.

The smartest cross-examiner at the bar could not shake him if he took
that stand. The sheer improbability of Forbes being the mysterious
visitor would justify his attitude, and the notion was so consoling that
he faced the two detectives with new confidence and a self-possession
that was exceedingly pleasant when compared, with his earlier
embarrassment.

"No," said Winter. "By a most remarkable chance, Ann Rogers was given
leave to spend the night with her father, who lives in Camden Town. He
is an old man and was taken ill last evening. He believes he asked some
one to telegraph to his daughter, asking her to come to him. She
certainly received a telegram and as certainly did visit him. Of course,
that phase of the affair will be cleared up thoroughly, but the main
facts are indisputable. Ann Rogers has her own latchkey. As Mrs. Lester
usually sat up late, being a lover of books, and seldom stirred before
ten o'clock, the maid waited until that hour before bringing her
mistress's cup of tea. That stain on the carpet near the door shows
where the tray fell from her hands."

Sometimes an artist obtains the strongest effect by one deft sweep of
the brush. Winter, though he would have blushed if described as an
artist in words, had achieved a similar result by his concluding
sentence. Theydon pictured the scene. He saw the limp form thrown across
the bed, the distorted face, the hands and arms posed grotesquely.

He heard the shrill scream of the terrified servant, an elderly woman
whom Bates described as "a quiet body," and could imagine the clatter of
the laden tray as it dropped from nerveless fingers. A sort of fury rose
within him. Mrs. Lester had been done to death in a horrible and
insensate way, and no matter who suffered, be he millionaire or pauper,
the wretch who committed the crime should be made to pay the penalty of
the law.

In that moment he forgot Evelyn Forbes, and thought only of the fair and
gracious woman whose agonized spirit had taken flight under the
compulsion of the tiger grip of some human brute now moving among his
fellow-creatures unknown and unsuspected. It was inconceivable that
Forbes should be guilty, but why should he not avow his acquaintance
with the victim, and thus aid the police in their quest?

He glowered savagely at the telltale stain, and vowed to rid his
conscience of an incubus. He would wait till the morrow and force Forbes
to come out into the open. Otherwise--

"You wish you had the murderer here now?"

Furneaux spoke softly, and with no trace of his wonted irony, but
Theydon was aware that once more the little detective had peered into
his very soul.

"Yes," he said, and there was a new gravity in his tone. "I do wish
that. I have never before been brought in contact with a crime of this
magnitude. It conveys a sort of personal responsibility. To think that I
was in my room, reading about aviation, while a woman's life was being
choked out of her within a few feet of where I was seated! O, it is
monstrous! Let me tell you two, here and now, that if I can do anything
to bring Mrs. Lester's slayer to justice, you can count on me, no matter
what the cost."

"I'm sure you mean what you say, Mr. Theydon," said Winter soothingly.
"Well, I suppose we can do no more tonight. I have little else to tell
you--"

"The skull--the ivory skull!" put in Furneaux.

For an instant an expression of annoyance flitted across the chief
inspector's good-humored face. Theydon did not see it, because
Furneaux's odd-sounding words caused him to look with astonishment at
the man who uttered them.

"An ivory skull!" he cried. "What has an ivory skull to do with the
murder of Mrs. Lester?"

"We cannot even begin to guess at its meaning yet," said Winter, who,
after one fierce glance at his colleague, had recovered his poise. "That
is why I did not mention it. I hate the introduction of bizarre features
into an inquiry of this sort. But, now that the thing has been spoken
of, I may as well state that when the medical examination was being made
at the mortuary a tiny skull, not bigger than a pea, and made of ivory,
was found inside Mrs. Lester's underbodice. The curious fact is that it
was loose. Had it been attached to a cord, or secured in some way, one
might regard it as a charm or amulet, because some women, even in the
London of today, are not beyond the reach of superstition in such
matters. But, as I say, it was not safeguarded at all, so we may
reasonably assume that it was not carried habitually. Of course,
Furneaux readily evolved a far-fetched theory that it is a sign, or
symbol, and was thrust out of sight among the clothing on the dead
woman's breast by the man who killed her. But that is idle guesswork. We
of the Yard seldom pay heed to theatrical notions of that kind. Here is
the article. I don't mind letting you see it, but kindly remember that
its existence must not be made known. I must have your promise not to
mention it to a living creature."

Furneaux chuckled derisively.

"That is precisely the sort of thing anybody would say who attached no
importance to the exhibit," he piped.

Winter so nearly lost his temper that he repressed the retort on his
lips. He contented himself, however, with producing a small white object
from his waistcoat pocket, and handed it to Theydon. It was a bit of
ivory, hollow, and very light, and fashioned as a skull.

Yet, it was by no means an ordinary creation. The artist who fashioned
it had gratified a morbid taste by imparting to the eyeless sockets and
close-set rows of teeth a malign and threatening grin. Wickedness, not
death, was suggested, but the craftsmanship was faultless. A collector
would have paid a large sum for it, while the average citizen would
refuse to have it in his house.

"What an extraordinary thing," said Theydon, turning the curio round and
round in his fingers.

"It's wonderfully well carved," agreed Winter.

"From that point of view it's a masterpiece, but what I meant was the
astounding fact that it should have been discovered on the dead woman's
body. Was it placed over her heart?"

"Why do you ask that?" came the sharp demand.

"Because--if it is a token of some vendetta--if the murderer wished to
signify that he had glutted his vengeance--"

"O, you're as bad as Furneaux," cried Winter impatiently. "Give it to
me. I must be off. The hour is long past midnight and I have a busy day
before me tomorrow."

Back in the seclusion of his own rooms, Theydon debated the question
whether or not he should endeavor to communicate with Forbes again that
night. Somehow it seemed to him that Forbes would be most concerned at
hearing of the gray car. And what of the ivory skull?

Suppose he knew of that! But a certain revulsion of feeling had come
over Theydon since the sheer brutality of the murder had been revealed.
He failed to see now why he should be so solicitous for Forbes's
welfare. No matter what private purpose the man might serve by
concealing his visit to Mrs. Lester, it ought to give way before the
paramount importance of tracking a pitiless and callous criminal.

So Theydon hardened his heart and went to bed, and, being sound in mind
and constitution, slept like a just man wearied. Nevertheless, the last
thing he saw before the curtain fell on his tired brain was an ivory
skull dancing in the darkness.

Greatly as the many problems attached to Mrs. Lester's death bewildered
him, he would have been even more perplexed if he had overheard the
conversation between Winter and Furneaux when they entered a taxi and
gave Scotland Yard as their destination.

"Look here, Charles," began Winter firmly; but the other stayed him with
a clutch of thin, nervous fingers on an arm strong enough to fell an ox.

"Listen first, James--lecture me afterward," pleaded Furneaux. "I can't
help yielding to impulse. And why should I strive to help it, anyhow?
How often has impulse led me to the goal when by every known rule of
evidence I was completely beaten? That is my plea. That is why I brought
that young fellow into No. 17, and watched the story of the tragedy
reshaping itself in his imagination. That is why, too, I spoke of the
ivory skull. Think what it means to one with the writer's temperament.
The skull will never leave his mind's eye. It will focus and control his
thoughts and actions. And I feel it in my bones that only by keeping in
touch with Mr. Francis Theydon shall we solve the Innesmore Mansions
mystery. I can't explain why I think this, no more than the receiver of
a wireless message can account for the waves of energy it picks up from
the void and transmutes into the ordered sequences of the Morse code.
All I know is that when I am near him I am, as the children say, 'warm,'
and when away from him, 'cold.' While he was examining the skull I was
positively 'hot,' and was half inclined to treat him as a thought
transference medium and order him sternly to speak.... No. Be calm! I
even bid you be honest. When have you, ever before, admitted an outsider
to your councils? And, if you make an exception of Theydon, why are you
doing it?"

Winter bit the end off a cigar with a vicious jerk of his round head. He
struck a match and created such a volume of smoke that Furneaux coughed
affectedly.

"The real clew," he said at last, "rests with the gray car. What did you
make of that?"

"That, my bulky friend, will figure in my memory as a reproach for many
a year. When, if ever, I am tempted to preen myself on some peculiarly
close piece of ratiocinative reasoning, I shall say: 'Little man, pigmy,
remember the gray car.'"

"You think that some one had the impudence to follow us, watch us in
Waterloo, and take up Theydon's trail when we had revealed it?"

"A-ha. It touched you, too, did it?"

"But why?"

"The some one in question wants to know that."

"You mean they are anxious to find out what we are doing?"

"Exactly."

Winter laughed cheerfully.

"Before long I shall begin to enjoy this hunt, Charles. I like to find
originality in a felon. It varies the routine. At any rate, it is
something new that you and I should be shadowed by the very people we
are in pursuit of--O, I was nearly forgetting. Anything fresh in that
telephone talk?"

"It seemed all right."

"Seemed?"

"Well, it was too straightforward. Theydon puzzles me. I admit it
frankly. He also worries me. But let me handle him in my own way. Have
no fear that he will use our material for newspaper purposes. With
regard to the Innesmore Mansions affair, Theydon will lie close as a
fish. Why? No use asking you, of course. You despise intuition. When you
die some one should begin your epitaph: 'From information received.' But
I'll stick to Theydon. See if I don't, even if I have to go up with him
in one of Forbes's airships."



CHAPTER V

A LEAP IN THE DARK


With the morning Theydon brought a mature and impartial judgment to bear
on his perplexities. The average man, if asked to form an opinion on any
difficult point, will probably arrive at a saner decision during the
first pipe after breakfast than at any other given hour of the day.
Excellent physiological reasons account for this truism. The sound mind
in a sound body is then working under the most favorable conditions.

It is free from the strain of affairs. The cold, clear morning light
divests problems of the undue importance, or, it may be, the glamour of
novelty, which they possessed overnight. At any rate, Frank Theydon,
clenching a pipe between his teeth, and gazing thoughtfully through an
open window at the trees in Innesmore Gardens, reviewed yesterday's
happenings calmly and critically, and arrived at the settled conviction
that his proper course was to visit Scotland Yard and make known to the
authorities the one vital fact he had withheld from their ken thus far.

It was not for him to assess the significance of Mr. Forbes's desire to
remain in the background. If the millionaire's excuse, or explanation,
of his failure to communicate at once with the Criminal Investigation
Department was a sufficiently valid one, Scotland Yard would be
satisfied and might agree to keep his name out of the inquiry.

On the other hand, he, Theydon, might be balking the course of justice
by holding his tongue. There was yet a third possibility, one fraught
with personal discredit. Mr. Forbes himself might realize that a policy
of candor offered the only dignified course.

Suppose he was minded to tell the detectives that he was the man who
visited Mrs. Lester shortly before midnight, what would Winter and
Furneaux think of the young gentleman who had actually dined with Forbes
before they took him into their confidence--who heard with such
righteous indignation how Mrs. Lester met her death--yet brazenly
concealed the fact that he had just left the house of one whom they were
so anxious to meet and question?

Of course, the radiant vision of Evelyn Forbes intruded on this
well-considered and unemotional analysis; but Theydon resolutely shook
his head.

"No, by Jove!" he communed. "You mustn't make an ass of yourself, my
boy, because a pretty girl was gracious for an hour or so. Be honest
with yourself, old chap! If there were no Evelyn, or if Evelyn were
harelipped and squinted, you wouldn't hesitate a second--now, would
you?"

Yet he had given a promise. How reconcile an immediate call on Scotland
Yard with the guarantee of secrecy demanded by Forbes? Well, he must put
himself right with Forbes without delay--tell him straightforwardly that
the bond could not hold. Theydon was no lawyer, but he was assured that
an agreement founded on positive wrong was not tenable, legally or
morally.

He would be adamant with Forbes, and decline to countenance any plea in
support of continued silence. If Forbes's demand was reasonable,
Scotland Yard would grant it. If justice compelled Forbes to come out
into the open, no private citizen should attempt to defeat the ends of
justice.

"So that settles it," announced Theydon firmly if not cheerfully. "I'll
ring up Forbes, and get the thing over and done with. I'll never see his
daughter again, I suppose, but that can't be helped. 'Tis better to have
seen and lost than never to have seen at all."

He turned from the window, walked to the fireplace, tapped his pipe
firmly on the grate, and was about to go into the hall and call up the
telephone exchange, when the door-bell rang. He was aware of a muffled
conversation between Bates and a visitor. Then the valet appeared,
obviously ill at ease.

"If you please, sir," he announced, "a lady, a Miss Beale, of Oxford,
who says she is Mrs. Lester's aunt, wishes to see you."

Theydon was immensely surprised, as well he might be. But there was only
one thing to be done.

"Show her in," he said.

Miss Beale entered. She was slight of figure, middle-aged and
gray-haired. The wanness of her thin features was accentuated by an
attire of deep mourning, but the pallor in her cheeks fled for an
instant when she set eyes on Theydon.

"Pray forgive the intrusion," she faltered. "I--I expected to meet an
older man."

It was a curious utterance, and Theydon tried to relieve her evident
nervousness by being mildly humorous.

"I hope to correct my juvenile appearance in course of time," he said,
smiling. "Meanwhile, won't you be seated? You are not quite unknown to
me, Miss Beale. That is--I heard of you last night from the Scotland
Yard people."

She sat down at once, but seemed to be at a loss for words. Her lips
trembled, and Theydon thought she was going to cry.

"Have you traveled from Oxford this morning?" he said, simulating a
courteous nonchalance he was far from feeling. "If so, you must have
started from home at an ungodly hour. Let me have some breakfast
prepared for you."

"No--no," she stammered.

"Well, a cup of tea, then? Come, now, no woman ever refuses a cup of
tea."

"You are very kind."

He rang the bell.

"I would not have ventured to call on you if I had not seen your name in
the newspaper," she went on.

Miss Beale certainly had the knack of saying unexpected things. It was
nothing new that Theydon should find his own name in print, but on this
occasion he could not choose but associate the distinction with the
cringe in No. 17; that he should be mentioned in connection with it was
neither anticipated nor pleasing. At the same time he realized the
astounding fact that he had not even glanced at a newspaper during
twenty-four hours.

"What in the world have the newspapers to say about me?" he cried.

"It--it said--that Mr. Francis Berrold Theydon, the well-known author,
lived in No. 18, the flat exactly opposite that which my unhappy niece
occupied. I--I have read some of your books, Mr. Theydon, and I pictured
you quite a serious-looking person of my own age."

He laughed. Bates entered, and was almost shocked at finding his master
in such lively mood.

"Oh, this lady has traveled from Oxford this morning; a cup of tea and
some nice toast, please, Bates," said Theydon. Then when the two were
alone together again, he brushed aside the question of his age as
irrelevant.

"I assure you that since this time yesterday I have lost some of the
careless buoyancy of youth," he said. "I had not the honor of Mrs.
Lester's acquaintance, but I knew her well by sight, and I received the
shock of my life last evening when I heard of her terrible end. It is an
extraordinary thing, seeing that we were such close neighbors, but I
believe you got the news long before I did, because I left home early
and heard nothing of what had happened till my man met me at Waterloo in
the evening."

"You have seen the--the detectives in the meantime?"

"Yes."

"Then you will be able to tell me something definite. I have promised to
call at Scotland Yard at eleven o'clock, and the only scraps of
intelligence I have gathered are those in the papers. I would have come
to London last night, but was afraid to travel, lest I should faint in
the train. Moreover, some one in London promised to send a detective to
see me. He came, but could give no information. Indeed, he wanted to
learn certain things from me. So, after a weary night, I caught the
first train, and it occurred to me, as you lived so near, that you might
be kind enough to--to--"

The long speech was too much for her, and her lips quivered pitifully a
second time.

"I fully understand," said Theydon sympathetically. "Now, I'm positive
you have eaten hardly anything today. Won't you let me order an egg?"

"No, please. I'll be glad of the tea, but I cannot make a meal--yet. Is
it true that my niece was absolutely alone in her flat on Monday night?"

Seeing that Miss Beale was consumed with anxiety to hear an intelligible
version of the tragedy, Theydon at once recited all, or nearly all, that
was known to him. The only points he suppressed were those with
reference to the gray car and the ivory skull. The lady listened
attentively and with more self-control than he gave her credit for.

Bates came in with a laden tray, on which a boiled egg appeared. Mrs.
Bates had used her discretion, and decided that any one who had set out
from Oxford so early in the day must be in need of more solid
refreshment than tea and toast. Thus cozened, as it were, into eating,
Miss Beale tackled the egg, and Theydon was glad to note that she made a
fairly good meal, being probably unaware of her hunger until the means
of sating it presented itself.

But she missed no word of his story, and when he made an end, put some
shrewd questions.

"I take it," she said, "that the strange gentleman who visited my niece
on Monday night posted the very letter which I received by the second
delivery yesterday?"

"That is what the police believe," replied Theydon.

"Then it would seem that she resolved to come to me at Iffley as the
result of something he told her?"

"Why do you think that?"

"Because I heard from her only last Saturday, and she not only said
nothing about coming to Oxfordshire, but asked me to arrange to spend a
fortnight in London before we both went to Cornwall for the Summer."

"Ah! That is rather important, I should imagine," said Theydon
thoughtfully.

"It is odd, too, that you and the detectives should have noticed the
smell of a joss stick in the flat," went on Miss Beale. "Edith--my
niece, you know--could not bear the smell of joss sticks. They reminded
her of Shanghai, where she lost her husband."

Theydon looked more startled than such a seemingly simple statement
warranted. He had realized already that the ivory skull was the work of
an Oriental artist, and the mention of Shanghai brought that sinister
symbol very vividly to his mind's eye.

"Mrs. Lester had lived in China, then?" he said.

"Yes. She was out there nearly six years. Her husband died suddenly last
October--he was poisoned, she firmly believed--and, of course, she came
home at once."

"What was Mr. Lester's business, or profession?"

"He was a barrister. I do not mean that he practised in the Consular
courts. He was making his way in England, but was offered some sort of
appointment in Shanghai. The post was so lucrative that he relinquished
a growing connection at the bar. I have never really understood what he
did. I fancy he had to report on commercial matters to some firm of
bankers in London, but he supplied very little positive information
before Edith and he sailed. Indeed, I took it that his mission was
highly confidential, and about that time there was a lot in the
newspapers about rival negotiators for a big Chinese loan, so I formed
the opinion that he was sent out in connection with something of the
sort. Neither he nor Edith meant to remain long in the Far East. At
first their letters always spoke of an early return. Then, when the
years dragged on, and I asked for definite news of their homecoming,
Edith said that Arthur could not get away until the country's political
affairs were in a more settled state. Finally came a cablegram from
Edith: 'Arthur dead; sailing immediately,' and my niece was with me
within a few weeks. The supposed cause of her husband's death was some
virulent type of fever, but, as I said, Edith was convinced that he had
been poisoned."

"Why?"

"That I never understood. She never willingly talked about Shanghai, or
her life there. Indeed, she was always most anxious that no one should
know she had ever lived in China. Yet she had plenty of friends out
there. I gathered that Arthur had left her well provided for
financially, and they were a most devoted couple. Edith was the only
relative I possessed. It is very dreadful, Mr. Theydon, that she should
be taken from me in such a way."

Her hearer was almost thankful that she yielded to the inevitable rush
of emotion. It gave him time to collect his wits, which had lost their
poise when that wicked-looking little skull was, so to speak, thrust
forcibly into his recollection.

"In a word," he said, at last, "you are Mrs. Lester's next-of-kin and
probably her heiress?"

"Yes, I suppose so, though I was not thinking of that," came the tearful
answer.

"Yet the relationship entails certain responsibilities," said Theydon
firmly. "You should be legally represented at the inquest. Are your
affairs in the hands of any firm of solicitors?"

"Yes--at Oxford. I contrived to call at their office yesterday and they
recommended me to consult these people," and Miss Beale produced a card
from a handbag. Theydon read the name and address of a well-known West
End firm.

"Good," he said. "I recommend you to go there at once. By the way, was
any one looking after Mrs. Lester's interests? Surely she had dealings
with a bank or an agency?"

"Y--yes. I do happen to know the source from which her income came.
She--made a secret of it--in a measure."

"Pray don't tell me anything of that sort. Your legal adviser might not
approve."

"But what does it matter now? Poor Edith is dead. Her affairs cannot
help being dragged into the light of day. She had some railway shares
and bonds, some of which were left to her by her father, and others
which came under a marriage settlement, but the greater part of her
revenue was derived from a monthly payment made by the bank of which Mr.
James Creighton Forbes is the head."

Miss Beale naturally misinterpreted the blank stare with which Theydon
received this remarkable statement.

"I don't see why any one should wish to conceal a simple matter of
business like that," she said nervously. "May I explain that I have an
impression, not founded on anything quite tangible, that Mr. Forbes was
largely interested in the syndicate which sent Arthur Lester to China,
so it is very likely that the payment of an annuity, or pension, to
Arthur's widow would be left in his care. I do not know. I am only
guessing. But that matter, and others, can hardly fail to be cleared up
by the police inquiry."

Theydon recovered his self-control as rapidly as he had lost it. He
glanced at the clock--10:15. Within half an hour, or less, Miss Beale
would be on her way to Scotland Yard. He must act promptly and
decisively, or he would find himself in a distinctly unfavorable
position in his relations with the Criminal Investigation Department.

"I happen to be acquainted with Mr. Forbes," he said, striving
desperately to appear cool and methodical when his brain was seething.
"Would you mind if I just rang him up on the telephone? A few words now
might enlighten us materially."

"O, you are most helpful," said the lady, blushing again with timid
gratitude. "I am so glad I summoned up courage to call on you. I was
terrified at the idea of going to the Police Headquarters, but I shall
not mind it at all now."

Soon Theydon was asking for "00400, Bank." He had left the door of his
sitting room open purposely. No matter what the outcome, he no longer
dared keep the compact of silence into which he had entered with Forbes.
But the millionaire was not at his office. In response to a very
determined request for a word with some one in authority, "on a matter
of real urgency," the clerk who had answered the call brought "Mr.
Forbes's secretary," a Mr. Macdonald, to the telephone.

"It is important, vitally important, that I should speak with Mr. Forbes
within the next few minutes," said Theydon, after giving his name and
address. "Do you expect him to arrive soon? Or shall I try and reach him
at Fortescue Square?"

"Mr. Forbes will not be here till midday," came a voice with a
pronounced Scottish intonation. "I'm doubtful, too, if ye'll catch him
at home. Can I give him a message?"

"Do you know where he is?"

"Well, I cannot say."

"But do you know?"

"I'll be glad to give him a message."

"It will be too late, then. Please understand, Mr. Macdonald, that I am
making this call at Mr. Forbes's express wish. It is, as I have said,
vitally important that I should get in touch with him without delay."

Scottish caution was not to be overcome by an appeal of that sort.

"I cannot go beyond what I have said," was the reply. "If you like to
ask at his house--"

"O, ring off!" cried Theydon, who pictured the secretary as a lanky
hollow-cheeked Scot, a model of discretion and trustworthiness, no
doubt, but utterly unequal to a crisis demanding some measure of
self-confident initiative. In reality, Mr. Macdonald was short and
stout, and quite a jovial little man.

After an exasperating delay, he got into communication with the Forbes
mansion in Fortescue Square.

"I'm Mr. Frank Theydon," he said, striving to speak unconcernedly. "Is
Mr. Forbes in?"

"No, sir."

"Is that you, Tomlinson?"

"Yes, sir."

"Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Forbes at once?"

"Isn't he at his office, sir?"

"No. He will not be there till 12 o'clock."

A pause of indecision on Tomlinson's part. Then, a possible solution of
the difficulty.

"Would you care to have a word with Miss Evelyn, sir?"

"O, yes, yes."

Theydon blurted out this emphatic acceptance of the butler's suggestion
without a thought as to its possible consequences. He was racking his
brain in a frenzy of uncertainty as to how he should frame his words
when he heard quite clearly a woman's footsteps on the parquet flooring,
and caught Evelyn Forbes's voice saying to Tomlinson: "How fortunate!
Mr. Theydon is the very person I wished to speak to, but I simply dared
not ring him up."

The slight incident only provided Theydon with a new source of
wonderment. Why should Evelyn Forbes want speech with him at that early
hour? Perhaps she would explain. He could only hope so, and trust to
luck in the choice of his own phrases.

"That you, Mr. Theydon?" came the girl's voice, sweet in its cadence yet
ominously eager. "How nice of you to anticipate my unspoken thought! I
have been horribly anxious ever since I read of that awful affair at
Innesmore Mansions. That poor lady's flat is next door to yours, is it
not?"

"Yes, but--"

"O, you cannot choke off a woman's curiosity quite so easily. You see, I
happen to know that Mrs. Lester's sad death affects my father in some
way, and I realize now that you two were just on pins and needles to get
rid of me last night so that you might talk freely."

"Miss Forbes, I assure you--"

"Wait till I've finished, and you will not be under the necessity of
telling me any polite fibs. You men are all alike. You think the giddy
feminine brain is not fitted to cope with mysteries, and that is where
you are utterly mistaken. A woman's intuition often peers deeper than a
man's logic. I--"

"Do forgive me," broke in Theydon despairingly, "but I am really most
anxious to know how and where I can get a word with your father. I would
not be so rude as to interrupt you if I hadn't the best of excuses. Tell
me where to find him now, and I promise to give you a call immediately
afterward."

"He's at the Home Office."

"At the Home Office!"

Some hint of utter bewilderment in Theydon's tone must have reached the
girl's alert ear.

"Ah! _Touché!_" she cried. "Now will you be good and tell me why Dad
should receive a little ivory skull by this morning's post?"

Theydon knew that he paled. His very scalp tingled with an apprehension
of some shadowy yet none the less affrighting evil. But he schooled
himself to say, with a semblance of calm interest:

"What exactly do you mean, Miss Forbes?"

She laughed lightly. Theydon was so flurried that he did not realize the
possibility of Evelyn Forbes being as quick to mask her real feelings as
he himself was.

"Dad and I make a point of breakfasting together at nine o'clock every
morning," she said. "We were talking about you, and he told me of the
dreadful thing that happened to Mrs. Lester. I was reading the account
of the tragedy in a newspaper, when I happened to glance at him. He was
going through his letters, and I was just a trifle curious to know what
was in a flat box which came by registered post. He opened it carelessly
and something fell out and rolled across the table. I picked it up and
saw that it was a small piece of ivory, carved with extraordinary skill
to represent a skull. Indeed, it was so clever as to be decidedly
repulsive. I was going to say something when I saw that the letter which
was in the same box had alarmed him so greatly that, for a second or
two, I thought he would faint. But he can be very strong and stern at
times, and he recovered himself instantly, was quite vexed with me
because I had examined the ivory skull, and forbade my going out until
he had returned from the Home Office. Tomlinson and the other men have
orders not to admit any one to the house, no matter on what pretext, and
I'm sure the letter and its nasty little token are bound up in some way
with Mrs. Lester's death. Won't you let me into the secret? I shan't
scream or do anything foolish, but I do think I am entitled to know what
you know if it affects my father."

A sudden change in the girl's voice warned Theydon of a restraint of
which he had been unconscious hitherto. He tried to temporize, to
whittle away her fears. That was a duty he owed to Forbes, who was
clearly resolved not to take his daughter into his confidence--for the
present, at any rate.

"I really fail to see why you should assume some connection between the
crime which was committed here on Monday night and the arrival of a
somewhat singular package at your house this morning," he said
reassuringly.

"Like every other woman, I jump at conclusions," she answered. "Why
should this crime, in particular, have worried my father? Unfortunately,
the newspapers are full of such horrid things, yet he hardly ever pays
them any attention. No, Mr. Theydon, I am not mistaken. He either knew
Mrs. Lester, and was shocked at her death, or saw in it some personal
menace. Then comes the letter, with its obvious threat, and I am ordered
to remain at home, under a strong guard, while he hurries off to
Whitehall. You have met my father, Mr. Theydon. Do you regard him as the
sort of man who would rush off in a panic to consult the Home Secretary
without very grave and weighty reasons?"

"But you can hardly be certain that a wretched crime in this
comparatively insignificant quarter of London supplies the actual motive
of Mr. Forbes's action," urged Theydon.

The girl stamped an impatient foot. He heard it distinctly.

"Of course I am certain," she cried. "Why won't you be candid? You know
I am right--I can tell it from your voice, and your guarded way of
talking--"

An inspiration came to Theydon's relief in that instant.

"Pardon the interruption," he said, "but I must point out that both of
us are acting unwisely in discussing such matters over the telephone.
Really, neither must say another word, except this--when I have found
your father I'll ask his permission to come and see you. Perhaps we
three can arrange to meet somewhere for luncheon. That is absolutely the
farthest limit to which I dare go at this moment."

"O, very well!"

The receiver was hung up in a temper, and the prompt ring-off jarred
disagreeably in Theydon's ear. If he was puzzled before, he was
thoroughly at sea now. But he took a bold course, and cared not a jot
whether or not it was a prudent one.

The mere sound of Evelyn Forbes's voice had steeled his heart and
conscience against the dictates of common sense. Let the detectives
think what they might, the girl's father must be allowed to carry
through his plans without let or hindrance.

"Miss Beale," said Theydon, gazing fixedly into the sorrow-laden eyes of
the quiet little lady whom he found seated where he had left her, "I'm
going to tell you something very important, very serious, something so
far-reaching and momentous that neither you nor I can measure its
effect. You heard the conversation on the telephone?"

"I heard what you were saying, but could not understand much of it,"
said his visitor in a scared way.

"I have been trying to communicate with Mr. Forbes, but his daughter
tells me that the murder of your niece seems to have affected him in a
manner which is incomprehensible to her, and even more so to me, though
I am acquainted with facts which her father and I have purposely kept
from her knowledge. Mr. Forbes has gone hurriedly to the Home Office. I
suppose you know what that means? He is about to give the Home Secretary
certain information, and it is not for you or me to interfere with his
discretion. Now, if you tell the Scotland Yard people what you have told
me, namely, that Mr. Forbes was the intermediary through whom Mrs.
Lester received the greater part of her income, he will be brought
prominently into the inquiry. You see that, don't you?"

"Yes. I suppose that something of the sort must happen."

"Well, I want you to suppress that vital fact until we know more about
this affair. It will not be for long. Each of us must tell our story
without reservation at some future date--whether this afternoon, or
tomorrow, or a week hence, I cannot say now. But I do ask you to keep
your knowledge to yourself until I have had an opportunity of consulting
Mr. Forbes. I undertake to tell you the exact position of matters
without delay, and I accept all responsibility for my present advice."

"I know little of the world, Mr. Theydon," said Miss Beale, rising, and
beginning to draw on her gloves, "but I shall be very greatly surprised
if you are advising me to act otherwise than honorably. I shall
certainly not utter a word about Mr. Forbes at Scotland Yard. When all
is said and done, my statement to you was largely guesswork. You must
remember that I have never seen Mr. Forbes, nor hardly ever heard his
name except in connection with public matters in the Press. O, yes. I
make that promise readily. I trust you implicitly!"



CHAPTER VI

CLOSE QUARTERS


Theydon escorted Miss Beale downstairs. As they passed the closed door
of No. 17, the lady shivered.

"To think that within the next few days I would have been staying there
with Edith, and planning evenings at the theater before going to
Newquay!" she murmured; there was a pitiful catch in her voice that told
better than words how the remainder of her existence would be darkened
by the tragedy.

At best she was a shrinking, timid little woman, for whom life probably
held but narrow interests. Such as they were, their placid content was
forever shattered. The death of her niece had closed the one chief
avenue leading to the outer world. She would retire to the quiet
back-water of Iffley, to become more faded, more insignificant, more
lonely each year.

Theydon commiserated with her deeply and did not hesitate to utter his
thoughts while putting her into a cab.

"Have you no friends in London?" he inquired. "I don't like the notion
of sending you off alone into this wilderness. London is the worst place
in the world for any one in distress. The heedless multitude seems to be
callous and unsympathetic. It isn't, in reality. It simply doesn't know,
and doesn't bother."

"I used to claim some acquaintances here, but I have lost track of them
for years," she said. "In any event, I shall have more than enough to
occupy my mind today. The inquest opens at three o'clock, and I must
face the ordeal of identifying Edith's body. The detective told me that
this should be done by a relation, while the only other person who could
act--Ann Rogers--has been nearly out of her mind since yesterday
morning."

"Where are you staying?"

She mentioned a small hotel in the West End.

"I used to go there with my people when I was a girl," she added, sadly.

"Then I'll get my sister to call. You'll like her. She's a jolly good
sort, and a chat with another woman will be far more beneficial than the
society of detectives and lawyers and such-like strange fowl. Keep your
spirits up, Miss Beale. Nothing that you can say or do now will restore
the life so cruelly taken, but you and I, each in our own way, can
strive to bring the murderer to justice. I am convinced that a distinct
step in that direction will be taken this very day. You can count on
seeing or hearing from me as soon as possible after I have discussed
matters with Mr. Forbes. Meanwhile, don't forget to have a lawyer
representing you at the inquest."

They parted as though they were friends of long standing. Theydon was
genuinely sorry for this gray-haired woman's plight, and she evidently
regarded him as a kind-hearted and eminently trustworthy young man. He
stood and watched the cab as it bore her off swiftly into the maelstrom
of London. He could not help thinking that seldom had he met one less
fitted for the notoriety thrust upon all connected with a much-talked-of
crime.

When the press interviewers, the photographers, the hundred and one
officials with whom she must be brought in contact, were done with her,
poor Miss Beale would retire to her Oxfordshire nook in a state of
mental bewilderment that would baffle description. In one of his books
Theydon had endeavored to depict just such a middle-aged spinster
confronted with a situation not wholly unlike that which now faced Miss
Beale.

He smiled grimly when he realized how far fiction had wandered from
fact. The woman of his imagination had acted with a strength of
character, a decisiveness, that outwitted and confounded certain
scheming personages in the story. How different was the reality! Miss
Beale, rushing across London in a taxi, reminded him of nothing more
masterful than a cage-bird turned loose in a tempest.

He was about to reenter the mansions, meaning to telephone to both the
Fortescue Square house and the Old Broad Street offices, and ask for
instant news of Mr. Forbes in either locality. He was so preoccupied
that he failed to notice an approaching taxicab, though the driver was
signaling, and even tooted a motor horn loudly in the endeavor to
attract his attention.

He did, however, catch his own name, and halted.

"Beg pardon, sir, but you are Mr. Theydon, aren't you?" said the man.

Then Theydon recognized Evans, the taxi-driver, who had brought him from
Fortescue Square.

"Hullo!" he cried. "Any news of the gray car?"

"Yes, sir, I think so," was the somewhat surprising answer. "When I
dropped you last night I got a fare to Euston. Then I took a gentleman
to the Langham, an', as I felt like a snack, I pulled into the nearest
cab rank. I was having some corfee an' a sandwich when I 'appened to
speak about the gray car to one of ahr chaps. 'That's odd,' he said.
'Quarter of an hour ago I had a theater job to Langham Plice, an' a gray
landaulette stopped in front of the Chinese Embassy. It kem along from
the east side, too.' He didn't notice the number, sir, so there may be
nothink in it, after all, but I thought you might like to hear wot my
pal said."

"Was the car empty? Did it call for some one at the Embassy?"

"That's the queer part of it, sir. I axed pertic'ler. This gray car
brought a gentleman, a small, youngish man, 'oo skipped up the Embassy
steps like a lamplighter, and went in afore you could s'y 'knife.'
Somebody might ha' bin watchin' for him through the keyhole, the door
was opened that quick. Then the car went off. My friend wouldn't ha'
given a second thought to it if the gentleman hadn't vanished like a
jack-in-the-box. That's w'y he remembered the color of the car."

Theydon tried to look as though Evans's statement merely puzzled him,
whereas his mind was already busy with the extraordinary coincidences
which the haphazard events of a few hours had produced. Was the Far East
bound up in some mysterious way with Mrs. Lester's death? Did the crime
possess a political significance? If so, an explanation by Forbes was
more than ever demanded.

"Your informant was not mistaken about the Chinese Embassy, I suppose?"
he said.

"No, sir. He's always in that district. His garage is at the back of
Great Portland Street. He knows most of them there Chinks by sight."

"Then that gray car can hardly have been our gray car," commented
Theydon, deeming it wise to prevent the sharp-witted taxi-driver from
jumping at conclusions.

"I'm afraid not, sir. Still, I just took the liberty--"

"I'm very much obliged to you, of course. I said half-a-crown, didn't I?
Here you are. Keep an eye open for XY 1314 and let me know if you hear
or see anything of it."

"Thank you, sir." Then Evans lifted his eyes to the block of buildings.
"A nasty business this murder which was done 'ere the other night, sir,"
he went on. "One 'ud hardly b'lieve it possible for such things to tike
plice in London nowadays."

Much as he was disinclined for gossip of the sort at the moment, Theydon
saw that he must endeavor to dissociate the gray car and the crime from
their dangerous juxtaposition in the man's mind, so he spoke about Mrs.
Lester's attractive appearance, harped on the apparent aimlessness of
the deed, hinted darkly at clews in the possession of the police, and
finally got rid of the well-meaning chauffeur. Back he went to his
telephone, and having ascertained that Mr. Forbes was fully expected to
put in an appearance at the city office before noon, settled down to
read the newspapers.

They contained sensational but fairly accurate accounts of the tragedy.
One enterprising journal had published an interview with Bates, whom the
reporter described as "a typical British man-servant," which was
amusing, since Bates had "retired noncommissioned officer" written all
over his square frame and soldierly features.

The same journalist spoke of Theydon himself, and had even ferreted out
the fact that Mrs. Lester was the widow of an English barrister who had
died at Shanghai. On reaction, Theydon saw that there was nothing
unusual in this statement. The connection between the metropolitan press
and the bar is old and intimate, and scores of junior barristers must
remember Arthur Lester's beginnings.

Resolved to possess his soul in patience till twelve o'clock, the hour
being yet barely 11:30 a. m., Theydon tackled a page of reviews, since
there is always consolation for a writer in learning at second hand what
sheer drivel others can produce.

He was growling at the discovery that some hapless essayist had
appropriated a title which he himself had marked down for his next book,
when the door-bell rang. He did not give much heed, because so many
tradesmen called during the course of each morning, so he was surprised
and startled when Bates announced:

"Mr. Forbes to see you, sir."

Had a powerful spring concealed in the seat of his chair been released
suddenly, Theydon could not have bounced to his feet with greater speed.
Forbes came in. He was pale, but self-contained and clear-eyed.

"Forgive an unceremonious visit," he said. "I'm glad to find you at
home. I meant to arrive here sooner, but I was detained on business of
some importance."

By this time Bates had closed the door; Theydon explained his presence
in the flat by saying that within a few minutes he would have been
telephoning again to Old Broad Street.

"Ah! Did you speak to Macdonald?" said Forbes, dropping into a chair
with a curious lassitude of manner which did not escape Theydon.

"Yes. I have been most anxious to have a word with you--"

Forbes broke in with a short laugh.

"You would get nothing out of Macdonald," he said. "He knows that my
visits to the Chinese Embassy are few and far between and generally have
to do with--but what is it now? Why should you be so perturbed when I
mention the Chinese Embassy?"

Theydon was literally astounded, and did not strive to hide his
agitation. But he was by no means tongue-tied. Now, most emphatically,
was he determined to have done with pretense. Whether by accident or
design, Forbes had placed himself with his back to the window.

The younger man deliberately crossed the room, pulled up the blind, thus
admitting the flood of light which comes only from the upper third of a
window, and sat down in such a position that Forbes was compelled to
turn in order to face him.

"Before you utter another word, Mr. Forbes," he said gravely, "let me
tell you that in my efforts to trace your whereabouts I also called up
Fortescue Square. Miss Forbes came to the telephone. She said you had
gone to the Home Office. By some feminine necromancy, too, she divined
the link which binds you with the death of Mrs. Lester. She was
distressed on your account, and I was hard put to it to extricate myself
from the risk of saying something which I might regret. I--"

"What do you imply by that remark?" interrupted Forbes, piercing the
other with a look that was strangely reminiscent of his daughter's
candid scrutiny.

"I imply the serious fact that I know who visited Mrs. Lester before she
met her death. I not only heard her visitor's arrival and departure, but
saw him at the corner of these mansions while on my way home from Daly's
Theater, and again when he posted a letter in the pillar box on the same
corner. If such unwonted interest on my part in the movements of one who
was then a complete stranger surprises you, let me remind you that only
a few minutes earlier I had stood by his side at the door of the theater
and heard him telling his daughter that he intended to walk to the
Constitutional Club."

Forbes smiled, but uttered no word. His expression was inscrutable. His
pallor reminded Theydon of the tint of ivory, of that waxen-white Dutch
grisaille beloved of fifteenth century illuminators of manuscripts. His
silence was disturbing, almost irritating, his manner singularly calm.

These negative indications conveyed absolutely nothing to Theydon, who
for the second time in their brief acquaintance found himself in the
ridiculous position of one explaining a fault rather than, as he
imagined, arraigning a man under suspicion.

"So we had better dispense with ambiguities, Mr. Forbes," he went on,
speaking with a precision that sounded oddly in his own ears. "It was
you who called on Mrs. Lester on Monday night, you who posted the letter
she wrote to Miss Beale at Iffley, Oxfordshire, you for whom the police
are now searching. I have contrived thus far to keep your secret, but
the situation is passing out of my control. I would help you if I
could--"

"Why?"

The monosyllable, sharp and insistent, was disconcerting as the
unexpected crack of a whip, but Theydon answered valiantly:

"Because of the monstrous absurdities with which Fate has plagued me
during the past two days, I appeal now for outspokenness, so I set an
example. Had it not been for your daughter's remarkably attractive
appearance I should not, in all likelihood, have given a second glance
at my neighbors on the steps of the theater. But I cannot forget that I
did see both her and you--indeed, Miss Forbes herself recalled the
incident--and the close questioning of the Scotland Yard men who were
here last night showed me the folly of imagining that I could deny all
knowledge of you. I recognize now that some impish contriving of
circumstances forced this knowledge upon me. The sudden downpour of
rain, and the fact that I was delayed by a slight accident to my cab,
conspired with the apparently simple chance which led me to overhear the
conversation between Miss Forbes and yourself. I tried hard to baffle
the detectives--"

"Again I ask 'Why?'"

Theydon was rapidly being wound up to a pitch of excited resentment.

"Why?" he cried. "Was I not your guest? How could I come from a house
where I had been admitted to a delightful intimacy and tell the
representatives of the law that my host was the man they were looking
for?"

During some seconds Forbes bent his eyes on the floor, seemingly in deep
thought.

"Theydon," he said at last, looking up in his direct way, "I am your
senior by a good many years--am old enough, as the saying goes, to be
your father. I may venture, therefore, to give you a piece of sound
advice. Pack a kit-bag, catch the afternoon boat train for Boulogne, and
go for a walking tour in Normandy and Brittany. When I was your age and
a junior in a bank I had to take my holidays in May; each year I tramped
that corner of France. I recommend it as a playground. It will appeal to
your literary instincts, and it has the immeasurable advantage just now
of being practically as remote from London as the Sahara."

It must not be forgotten that Theydon was a romancer, an idealist. The
"lounge suit" of the modern tailor hampers the play of such qualities no
more than the beaten armor of the age of chivalry.

"If my departure for France will relieve Miss Forbes of anxiety on your
behalf, I'll go," he vowed.

Forbes regarded him with a new interest.

"I believe you mean that," he said.

"I do."

"But I cannot send you out of the country on a false pretense. It was
your safety and well-being, not my daughter's, that I was thinking of."

"What have I to fear?"

"I do not know. I am like a man wandering by night in a jungle alive
with fearsome beasts and reptiles."

"Yet you had some reason for suggesting my prompt departure."

"Yes. It is an absurd thing to say, but I believe I am putting you in
danger of your life by coming here this morning."

"Can't you speak plainly, Mr. Forbes? What good purpose do you serve by
holding forth these vague terrors? If, as Miss Forbes told me, you have
visited the Home Office, I take it you made yourself clear to the
authorities--assuming, that is, you went there in connection with the
amazing conditions which seem to be bound up with this crime."

"There is a certain class of knowledge which is in itself dangerous to
those who possess it, no matter whether or not it affects them in any
particular. I recommend you, in good faith, to leave London today."

"If my own safety is the only consideration I refuse as readily as I
agreed before."

Theydon's tone grew somewhat impatient. He really fancied that Forbes
was trifling with him. Indeed, a queer doubt of the man's complete
sanity now peeped up in him. Forbes was regarded as a crank by a large
section of the public on account of his peace propaganda; if that
opinion were justified why should he not be eccentric in other respects?

It was fantastic, almost stupid, to look upon him as responsible for
Mrs. Lester's murder, but there was always a possibility that he might
be utilizing the chance which led him to her apartments shortly before
the crime was committed to cover himself and his movements with a veil
of spurious mystery. In a word, though Theydon had likened his visitor's
face to a mask of ivory he had momentarily forgotten the ominous token
found on Mrs. Lester's body and duplicated in Forbes's own house by the
morning's post.

Forbes spread wide his hands with the air of one who heard, but was
allowing his thoughts to wander. When next he spoke it was only to
increase the crazy inconsequence of their talk.

"Later--perhaps today--perhaps it may never be necessary--I may explain
myself to your heart's content," he said slowly. "At present I am here
to ask a favor. In the first place, is Mrs. Lester's flat in charge of
the police?"

"I suppose so," said Theydon.

"Is there a detective or constable on duty there now?"

"I am not sure. I imagine there is not. When the Scotland Yard men and I
came out after midnight they locked the door and took away the key.
The--er--body is at the mortuary, awaiting the opening of the inquest at
three o'clock."

"Ah! I hoped that would be so. Can you ascertain for certain?"

"But why?"

"Because I wish to go in there. And that brings me to the favor I seek.
The secretary of these flats, even the hall porter, should have a master
key. Borrow it on some pretext. They will give it to you."

"Really, Mr. Forbes--" gasped Theydon, voicing his surprise as a
preliminary to a decided refusal. He was interrupted by the insistent
clang of the telephone--that curt herald which brooks no delay in
answering its demand for an audience.

"Pardon me one moment," he said. "I'll just see who that is."

The inquirer was Evelyn Forbes.

"I've waited patiently--" she began, but he stopped her instantly by
saying that her father was with him.

"Please ask him to come to the phone," she said.

Forbes rose at once. He merely assured the girl that he was engaged in
important business and would be home soon after the luncheon hour.
Meanwhile, she was not to go out, and his orders must be obeyed to the
letter.

"Now, Theydon," he said, coming back to the sitting room, "what about
that key?"

The most extraordinary feature of an extraordinary case was the way in
which the mere sound of Evelyn Forbes's voice stilled any qualms of
conscience in Theydon's breast. He knew he was acting foolishly in
conducting a blind inquiry on his own account, an inquiry which might
well arouse the anger and active resentment of the police, but he
offered a sop to his better judgment by consulting Bates.

Then came a veritable surprise.

"The fact is, sir," admitted Bates nervously, "we have Ann Rogers's key
in the kitchen. When she went away on Monday she left it here, bein'
afraid of losin' it. Of course, she took it on Tuesday mornin', and
after goin' from one fit of hysterics into another she gev it to us
again."

Theydon's face was eloquent of the serious view of this avowal.

"Did you tell the police?" he said.

"No, sir. My missus an' me clean forgot all about it."

"So, while Mrs. Lester was being killed, the key of her flat was
actually in your possession?"

"I suppose it might be put that way, sir."

By this time Theydon was becoming exasperated at the veritable
conspiracy which fate had engineered for the express purpose,
apparently, of entangling him in an abominable crime.

"Why on earth didn't you mention such an important fact to the
detectives?" he almost shouted, "Don't you see they are bound to
think--"

"O, a plague on the detectives and on what they think!" broke in Forbes
imperiously. "It doesn't matter a straw what they think, and very little
what they do. This affair goes a long way beyond the four-mile radius,
Theydon. The vital point is that your man has the key. Where is it? Let
us go in there at once!"

"You offered me some advice, Mr. Forbes," said Theydon firmly. "Let me
now return it in kind. If you wish to examine Mrs. Lester's flat why not
seek the permission of Scotland Yard?"

"My good fellow, I have spent a valuable hour this morning in persuading
the Home Secretary that the less Scotland Yard interferes in my behalf
the more effectually shall I be protected. I don't want any detective
within a mile of my house or office. But, as I have told you already,
explanations must wait--You, Bates, look a man who can hold his tongue.
Do so, and with Mr. Theydon's permission I'll make it worth your while
when this storm has blown over--Now, give me that key."

Theydon was silenced, if not convinced. He realized, of course, that he
must make a full confession to the Criminal Investigation Department
before the sun went down, but argued that he might as well see the
present adventure through.

Soon he and Forbes were standing at the door of No. 17. Forbes curbed
his impatience sufficiently to permit of any one who happened to be in
the interior answering the summons of the electric bell. Of course, no
one came. The police had no reason to remain in charge of the place, and
Ann Rogers would have become a raving lunatic if left alone there for
one half-hour.

The aromatic odor of the burnt joss stick still clung to the suite of
apartments, and Forbes noticed it at once.

"Where was the body found?" he asked.

Theydon led the way to the bedroom. He related Winter's theory of the
crime, and pointed out its seeming aimlessness. So far as the police
could ascertain from the half-crazy servant, none of Mrs. Lester's
jewels was missing. Even her gold purse, containing a fair sum of money,
was found on the dressing-table.

He did not know that the detectives had taken away a few scraps of torn
paper thrown carelessly into the grate and had carefully gathered up a
tiny snake-like curl of white ash from the tiled hearth, which, on
analysis, would probably prove to be the remains of the joss stick.

Forbes gazed at the impression on the side of the bed as though the body
of the woman whom he had last seen in full possession of her grace and
beauty were still lying there. The vision seemed to affect him
profoundly. He did not speak for fully a minute, and, when speech came,
his voice was low and strained.

"Tell me everything you know," he said. "The Scotland Yard men took an
unusual step in admitting you to their conclave. They must have had some
motive. Tell me what they said, their very words, if you can recall
them."

Theydon was uncomfortably aware of a strange compulsion to obey. His
commonplace, everyday senses cried out in revolt, and warned him that he
was tampering dangerously with matters which should be left to the cold
scrutiny of the law, but some subconscious instinct overpowered these
prudent monitors, and he gave an almost exact account of his talk with
Winter and Furneaux.

Then followed questions, eager, searching, almost uncanny in their
prescience.

"The little one--who strikes me as having more brains than I credit the
ordinary London policeman with--spoke of the evil deities of China. How
did such an extraordinary topic crop up?"

"In connection with the joss stick."

"Yes, yes. But I don't see the inference."

"Mr. Winter alluded to the habit some ladies have of burning such
incense in their houses, whereupon Furneaux remarked that the Chinese
use them to propitiate harmful spirits."

"Was that all?"

Theydon felt insensibly that his companion was hinting at something more
definite, but he was bound in honor to respect the confidence reposed in
him.

"I don't quite understand," he temporized.

"Was nothing said as to the finding of some object, such as a small
article obviously Chinese in origin, which might turn an inquirer's
thought into that channel?"

"The conversation I am relating took place the moment after we had
entered the flat. We were standing in the hall. It was wholly the
outcome of the strange smell which was immediately perceptible."

Forbes passed a hand over his eyes.

"I wonder," he breathed.

Then, turning quickly on Theydon, he repeats the question.

"Are you quite sure they did not mention the discovery in this room of
any object which could be regarded, even remotely, as a sign or symbol
left by the murderer to show that his crime was an act of vengeance, or
retaliation?"

Theydon hesitated. Unquestionably he was in a position of no ordinary
difficulty. But his doubts were solved by an interruption that brought
his heart into his mouth, because a thin, high-pitched voice came
through the half-open door:

"Are you thinking of a small ivory skull, Mr. Forbes?"



CHAPTER VII

WHEREIN MR. FORBES EXPLAINS HIMSELF


Even the boldest may flinch when confronted with that which is
apparently a manifestation of the supernatural. Theydon and Forbes were
standing in a chamber of death. To the best of their belief they were
alone in an otherwise empty flat, and those ominous words coming from
some one unknown and unseen blanched their faces with terror.

But Theydon was a healthy and athletic young Englishman, and Forbes was
of the rare order which combines a frame of exceptional physique with a
mind accustomed to think imperially; two such men might be trusted to
display real grit if surrounded by a horde of veritable spooks.

The door was thrown wide as they turned at the sound of the words, and
Theydon recognized in a strange little figure--wearing a blue serge
suit, a straw hat and brown boots--Furneaux, the man whom he had looked
on as somewhat of a crank and visionary during their talk of the
previous night.

"You?" he gasped, and the note of recognition was sharpened by a sudden
sense of dismay, almost of alarm, because of the overwhelming knowledge
that now all his scheming had collapsed, while the representatives of
Scotland Yard would regard him as nothing more than a poor sort of
trickster.

But Forbes was not in the habit of yielding to any man, no matter what
his status, or howsoever awe-inspiring might be the department of state
which he represented.

"Who the devil are you, at any rate?" he cried angrily. "And what right
have you to spy on gentlemen in this manner, listening to their
conversation, and breaking in with a cheap stage effect obviously
intended to startle?"

Furneaux remained motionless, his feet set well apart and his hands
thrust into his trousers pockets. The trim, natty figure, the spruce and
Summer-like attire, the small, wizened face with its cynically humorous
and wide-awake aspect--above all, a certain jauntiness of air and
cocksure expression--certainly did not suggest a comedian fresh from the
boards.

"You tell," he said, nodding to Theydon.

"This is Mr. Furneaux of Scotland Yard," said the latter nervously. He
imagined he could detect in Furneaux's glance a mixture of amusement and
contempt, amusement at the notion that any amateur should harbor the
belief that the two best men in the "Yard" could be egregiously
hoodwinked, and contempt of one who so far forgot himself as even to
dare attempt such a thing in relation to a police inquiry into a murder.

"I don't know, and care less, who Mr. Furneaux of Scotland Yard may be,"
went on Forbes hotly. "I resent his intrusion, and wish to be relieved
of his presence."

"Why?" said Furneaux.

"I have given my reasons to the Home Secretary. That mere statement must
suffice for you."

"Really, I must ask you to be more explicit."

"I visited the Home Office this morning, and placed such evidence in the
hands of the Home Secretary that Scotland Yard will be requested to
suspend all further investigation into the death of Mrs. Lester."

"Do you mean that the Home Secretary has sanctioned the breaking off of
this inquiry."

"In the conditions--"

"Because, if that is what your words imply, Mr. Forbes, I may tell you
at once that I don't believe you. It is more than any Home Secretary
dare do, and if you harbor any lingering doubts on the point, go to Mr.
Theydon's telephone, ring up the Home Office, and tell the gentleman at
the other end of the wire exactly what I have said. Of course you really
don't mean anything of the sort. By virtue of some special and inside
knowledge of certain facts communicated to the Home Secretary, you may
have persuaded him to promise that, provided the ends of justice are not
defeated thereby, every precaution will be taken to keep the main lines
of the inquiry secret until the whole position can be laid before the
law officers of the Crown. The Home Secretary may have gone that far,
Mr. Forbes, but not one inch farther, and you know it."

The two antagonists, so singularly disproportionate in size, were yet so
perfectly matched in the vastly more important qualities of brain and
nerve that the contest lost all sense of inequality. Theydon felt
himself of no account in this duel. He was like an urchin watching
open-mouthed a combat of gladiators.

Forbes, not without a perceptible effort, choked down his wrath and
recovered his poise.

"You have gaged the state of affairs accurately enough," he said,
speaking more calmly. "May I, then, recommend you to consult your direct
superiors before carrying your investigations any furthur, Mr.--"

"Furneaux--Charles Francois Furneaux."

"Just so, Mr. Charles Francois Furneaux."

"I give you my full name, because one of the peculiar features of this
case is the inability of some persons mixed up in it to recall names, or
even the mere salient facts," and the detective's glance dwelt for an
instant on Theydon, who, again, in his own estimation, shrank into the
boots of a fourth-form boy detected by a master in an overt breach of
college rules.

But the little man was speaking impressively, and, Theydon compelled his
wandering wits to pay attention.

"It will clear the air, perhaps," went on Furneaux, "if I point out that
if any one here is playing the spy--carrying on some underhanded game,
that is--it is not I. These apartments are in charge of the police. The
manager of the whole block of flats and the porter of this particular
section have been warned that no one can be allowed to enter No. 17, on
any pretext, until our inquiry is closed. Now, Mr. Forbes, kindly
explain how you contrived to get possession of a key."

An experienced man of the world like Forbes could hardly fail to see
that he was in a false position, and that any persistent attempt to
browbeat the detective would not only meet with utter failure but might
possibly compromise him gravely.

"That was a simple matter," he said. "Mrs. Lester's servant left her key
in Mr. Theydon's establishment. Bates surprised both his master and me
by producing it when I expressed a wish to examine the place."

"But why adopt such a clandestine method?"

Forbes's face, usually so classic in outline, assumed a certain
rigidity, and his firm chin grew markedly aggressive.

"I don't answer questions put in that way," he said.

Furneaux laughed sardonically.

"You meet with greater respect in Capel Court, I have no doubt," he
snapped. "There you stand on a pedestal, with one hand flourishing a
check-book and the other resting gracefully on the neck of a golden
calf. Here, you are simply an ordinary citizen behaving in a suspicious
manner. If the uniformed policeman on the neighboring beat knew what I
know of your recent movements he would arrest you without ceremony, and
charge you with being concerned in the murder of Mrs. Lester. Between
you and Mr. Theydon, the work of my department has been hindered and
burked most scandalously. Don't glare at me like that! I don't care
tuppence for your millions and your social position. What I do care
about is the horrible risk you and each member of your family are
incurring. You know why, and while you are still alive I mean to force
you to speak. Tell me now why Mrs. Lester was killed. Tell me, too, why
the same hand which thrust a little ivory skull into the dead woman's
underbodice caused a similar token to be delivered to you by this
morning's post. Ah, that touches you, does it? Now, my worthy financier
and philanthropist, step down from your pedestal and behave like a being
of flesh and blood!"

Forbes positively wilted under that extraordinary attack. His white face
grew wan, and his eyes dilated with surprise and terror. The detective's
words seemed to have the effect of a paralytic shock. Thenceforth he was
under dog in the fight.

"How do you know," he gasped, "that I received an ivory skull this
morning? Have you been to my house? Did my daughter tell you?"

Furneaux chuckled.

"You're ready to listen, eh? Well, I don't mind telling you that I have
not stirred out of this flat since seven o'clock this morning, and I
question if your letters were delivered in Fortescue Square at that
hour."

"I give in," said Forbes curtly. "Need we remain here? The smell of that
cursed joss stick oppresses me."

Then Theydon found his tongue.

"If Mr. Furneaux cares to abandon his vigil, my flat is entirely at your
disposal," he said.

"My vigil, as you accurately describe it, has ended for the time being,"
said Furneaux, apparently mollified by the millionaire's surrender. "I
was sure that if I remained here long enough I would clear away some of
the fog attached to a case which promises to be one of the most
remarkable I have ever investigated. Come, gentlemen, let us be amiable
to one another. I'm sorry if I lost my temper just now, but I regard
myself as being the only detective in existence who uses other sections
of his brain than those governed by statutes made and provided, and it
riles me when men of superior intelligence like yourselves treat me as
though my mission in life was to direct the traffic and keep a sharp eye
on mischievous juveniles.... Mr. Theydon, can that soldier-servant of
yours make coffee?"

"His wife can," said Theydon.

"Will you be good enough, then, to set her to work? Thus far, since the
sun rose, I have stayed the pangs of hunger with an apple and a glass of
water."

By this time, Theydon had thoroughly revised his first estimate of the
diminutive detective. Indeed, he was beginning to look on him as a quite
noteworthy person, a man whose mental equipment it was most unwise to
assess at any lower valuation than the somewhat exalted one which
Furneaux himself had set forth with such refreshing candor.

As for Forbes, the millionaire seemed to have sunk into a species of
stupor since Furneaux spoke of the ivory skull. He uttered no word until
the three were seated in Theydon's room, and his expression was so
woebegone that it stirred even the mercurial Jerseyite to pity.

"I imagine that a cup of coffee will do you also a world of good," he
said. Then, whirling round on Theydon, he stuck a question into him as
if each word was a stiletto.

"Where do you get your coffee?"

"At the grocer's," was the surprised answer.

"Is that all you know about it?"

"Yes."

"Singular thing, isn't it?" mused the detective aloud, "how idiotic men
and women can be in their attitude to the supreme things of life. What
is of greater importance than the food we eat and the liquors we drink?
Through them the body reconstitutes itself hourly and daily. Providence
gives us a perfect engine, yet we clog and choke its shafts and
cylinders by supplying it haphazard with any sort of fuel and lubricant,
no matter how unsuited either may be to its purpose. Take coffee, for
instance. The physiological action of coffee depends on the presence of
the alkaloid caffeine, which varies from 0.6 percent in the Arabian
berry to 2 percent in that of Sierra Leone. Again, the aromatic oil,
caffeine, which is developed by roasting, increases in quantity the
longer the seeds are kept. Unfortunately, coffee beans lose weight
during storage, so you have a clear commercial reason why grocers should
not sell the best coffee, unless under compulsion of an enlightened
public opinion. Now you, Mr. Forbes, would never dream of putting your
money into a investment without full and careful inquiry into the
history and scope of the proposed undertaking, while our young friend
here would snort furiously at a split infinitive or a false rhyme, yet,
when I submit the vital problem of the sort of coffee you imbibe--the
very essence and nutriment of your brains and bodies--you hear the kind
of answer I receive."

All this, of course, was excellent fooling, intended to dispel the
brooding horror which had suddenly descended upon Forbes since it was
borne in on him that the demoniac wrath wreaked on Mrs. Lester was now
directed with equal ferocity against his family and himself.

To an extent, Furneaux's scheme succeeded. A gleam of interest shot from
the millionaire's eyes. They lost their introspective look. He even
smiled wistfully.

"You are a man after my own heart, Mr. Furneaux," he said. "I had no
idea that the Criminal Investigation Department employed philosophers of
your caliber. I suppose that you and I are about to swallow coffee
containing indeterminate percentages of the chief constituents you
named."

"One does not look at gift coffee in the cup," grinned the little man,
obviously well pleased with himself. "But, if ever you two gentlemen
favor my obscure dwelling with a visit, and partake of a meal, you will
have a strict analysis with every bite and sup. There is a grocer in
Battersea who used to tremble at sight of me. Now he has learned wisdom,
and has quadrupled his trade by publishing learned disquisitions on the
nature and quality of each principal article he sells. You ought to read
his treatise on butter. He is an authority on the dietetic value of jam.
The nutritive properties of his cheese are ruining the local butchers."

Furneaux's efforts were rewarded when the really excellent beverage
provided by Mrs. Rates was disposed of. Forbes seemingly atoned for his
earlier secretiveness by placing every fact in his possession fully and
fairly before his auditors.

"Nearly seven years ago," he said, "I made a very large sum of money by
amalgamating certain shipping interests at a favorable moment. Thus, as
it happened, I had at command practically unlimited resources when I was
asked to finance the cause of reform in China. The wretched lot of the
Chinese Nation had always appealed to my sympathies. Some hundreds of
millions of the most industrious and peace-loving people in the world
have been exploited for centuries by a predatory caste. Given a chance
to expand, freed from the shackles of the Manchus, the Chinese, in my
opinion, contain the elements which go to form a great race. But the
Manchus held them in bondage, body and soul, and, so powerful is
self-interest, there has never been an Emperor or statesman who strove
to elevate the masses who was not mercilessly assassinated as soon as he
allowed his intent to become known. The only path to freedom lay through
revolution, and I had reason to believe that the ruling faction could be
overthrown by a well-organized and properly financed movement without
the appalling bloodshed which often accompanies such dynastic changes.
At any rate, I entered the conspiracy, heart and soul. But I met with
two difficulties at the outset. I could not exercise efficient financial
control in London, and I could neither go and live in the Far East nor
transact my business through ordinary banking channels. So I had to find
a substitute, and my choice fell on a rising young barrister named
Arthur Lester, whom I had known since he was a boy who had married the
daughter of an old friend. He had a taste for adventure, and was alive
to the magnificent career which lay before one who helped materially in
the rebirth of China. In a word, he went to Shanghai as my agent, and
the outcome of his work there is the present Chinese constitution. Of
course, as holds good in all human affairs, events did not follow the
precise track mapped out for them. But, on the whole, he and I were
satisfied. China is awake at last. The giant has stirred, and, if his
first uncertain steps have deviated from the open road of reform, he
will never again sink into the torpor of the past centuries. Manchu
arrogance and domination, at any rate, are shadows of the past, but
unhappily, the conquerors who have been so effectually thrust aside have
now embarked on a secret campaign of vengeance and reaction. A society
which calls itself the 'Young Manchus' is inspired by one principle, and
one only, and that is 'death to the reformers.' I don't suppose you
gentlemen follow closely the trend of affairs in China, but you must
have read of the assassinations of prominent men reported occasionally
in the newspapers."

Furneaux clicked his tongue so loudly that Forbes stopped speaking and
looked at him, thinking, apparently, that the little detective meant to
say something. He did, but it was Theydon whom he addressed.

"I'd give a week's pay if Winter was here now, and I could see those big
eyes of his bulging out of his head," he cackled.

Theydon nodded. He understood perfectly. Then he caught Forbes's
inquiring glance, and explained matters.

"Mr. Furneaux hinted last night at some such development as that which
your present statement conveys, and his colleague, Mr. Winter, pretended
to scout it," he said.

"Pretended!" shrieked Furneaux, instantly in a rage.

"That was how it struck me," said Theydon coolly.

"Didn't I drag the Chinese aspect of the crime out of him with pincers?"
came the indignant demand.

"Unquestionably. I only remark that your large-sized friend had it
tucked away all the time at the back of his head."

Furneaux pounded the table so viciously that the cups rattled.

"Of course, he has a nose to smell joss sticks, and eyes to see an ivory
skull, but didn't he say I was talking nonsense when I spoke about Shang
Ti scowling from a porcelain vase?" he shrilled.

"Yes. For all that, I don't think he missed the least hint of your
meaning."

Furneaux gazed at Theydon fixedly.

"Sorry," he said, with an acid tone that was almost malicious. "I
imagined you were so busy throwing dust in our eyes that you wouldn't
have noticed such fine shades of perception on Winter's part."

But Theydon was now able to measure this strange little man with some
degree of accuracy; he only smiled.

"As a thrower of dust I was a most abject failure," he said.

Furneaux smiled and turned to the millionaire.

"Pardon the interruption," he said. "Like every artist, I am pained when
my best efforts are scoffed at by heedless mediocrity. You, at least,
will understand what a big thing it was to deduce even the vaguest
outline of the truth from the facts at my command."

"I certainly do," agreed Forbes. "Until this morning I was convinced
that Mrs. Lester's death removed the one person in England who knew of
my connection with the revolution in China. To revert to the Young
Manchus--they have secured far more victims than the world at large is
aware of. I am sure that they poisoned Arthur Lester, and his wife held
the same view. They aim at nothing less than the extinction of the
democratic cause by the murder of every prominent man connected with it.
But they never yet have been able to obtain a full and authentic list of
the reform leaders. They suspected poor Lester of complicity in the
movement, and killed him. It was through Mrs. Lester that I first became
aware of their existence as an active organization, and I hoped that
when she had returned to England, and was living quietly in London, she
would be lost sight of--ignored, in fact. Nevertheless, both she and I
thought it prudent that our acquaintance should cease until the turmoil
in China had subsided. For that reason I never visited her, nor did I
permit the growth of friendship between her and my wife and daughter--a
friendship which, in happier conditions, would have been natural and
inevitable. But we were woefully mistaken. An Oriental vendetta neither
slackens nor dies. By some means wholly unknown to me, the Young Manchus
must have discovered, or guessed, that in leaving Lester's widow out of
their reckoning they had lost a promising clew. Be that as it may, they
followed her to London, and, by a singular fatality, I was the first to
know of it. Last Monday, while driving home from the city, my car was
held up in Piccadilly for a few seconds. Looking idly out at the passing
crowd, I saw a Chinaman in European clothes. He was waiting to cross the
road, so I was able to scrutinize him carefully, and, owing to a scar on
the left side of his face, recognized him. His name is Wong Li Fu, a
Manchu of the Manchus, a mandarin of almost imperial lineage. Some years
ago he was a young attaché at the Chinese Embassy here. Suddenly, while
on the way to my house, I recollected that certain members of the
Revolutionary Committee had spoken of this very man as being one of the
ablest and most unscrupulous adherents of the Manchu faction in Pekin.
Somehow, his presence in London was disconcerting and menacing. Who more
likely than he, I argued, to be a leading spirit among the Young
Manchus? In any event, London was not big enough to hold both Mrs.
Lester and him, and I decided to visit her that very night, tell her I
had seen Wong Li Fu, and advise her to go away into the country, leaving
no record of her whereabouts. I happened to be taking my daughter to
Daly's Theater, and contrived to slip away on some pretext after the
performance. I found Mrs. Lester alone in her flat, and she fell in with
my views at once, because she, too, had heard of this very man, and the
mere sound of his name terrified her. I was half inclined to urge that
she should go to an hotel for the night, but the lateness of the hour
and the seeming fact that if danger threatened she was safe at least
till the morrow, prevented me."

Furneaux, sitting on the edge of a chair, his head bent forward, his
piercing black eyes intent as those of a hawk, a hand resting on each
knee, his attitude curiously suggestive of a readiness to spring forward
at any instant, now leaned over and tapped the millionaire decisively on
the shoulder.

"You couldn't have saved her, Mr. Forbes," he said gravely. "She was
marked down as the first warning. Didn't the letter you received this
morning tell you something of the sort?"

Agitation gave place to utter astonishment in Forbes's face.

"In Heaven's name, how do you know anything of any letter?" he cried.

"I will tell you later. But am I not right?"

"Yes, you are."

"Where is it? May I see it?"

Forbes took a creased and soiled document from a small, flat cardboard
box which he carried in the breast pocket of his coat. But first he
withdrew from the box a little object, and placed it on the table. It
was an ivory skull, and the very presence of such a sinister token
brought some hint of the charnel-house into the cozy and sunlit room.

Furneaux, a creature oddly constituted either of all nerves or of no
nerves, disregarded the skull. He had eyes only for the few words typed
on a single sheet of note-paper. They ran:

"James Creighton Forbes: If you are willing to come to terms, announce
the fact by advertisement in Thursday's Times. Address your reply to Y.
M., and sign it 'J. C. F.' Yield, and you will hear further. Refuse, and
no other warning will be given."



CHAPTER VIII

THE FIRST COUNTER-STROKE


Furneaux apparently made up his mind with reference to the contents of a
somewhat enigmatic message after one quick, unerring perusal.

"The man who wrote that took a great many things for granted," he said.
"He assumed, firstly, that you knew of Mrs. Lester's death and
understood its significance; secondly, that you are aware of the nature
of the 'terms' he will offer; thirdly, that you may hesitate between
compliance and threatened death. 'Y. M.,' of course, can be read as
'Young Manchus.' Even there, the writer exhibits artistic reticence....
Frankly, Mr. Forbes, I wish you had come straight to Scotland Yard on
Monday evening instead of wasting those precious hours at Daly's
Theater."

Forbes was moved to energetic protest.

"How was I to deduce the true nature of these hell hounds' mission from
a casual glance vouchsafed of one who may or may not be their leader?"
he cried.

"Yet you treated your discovery as serious enough to warrant a prompt
visit to the woman with whom association was dangerous?"

"Yes; I wanted to act secretly."

"Just so. You were afraid the police would bungle the job. Between you
and Mr. Theydon, you have exhibited remarkable skill in heading us off
the scent. Fortunately, we were able to dispense with your assistance,
having other matters to occupy our brains. You two were ripe nuts
waiting to be cracked and have the contents extracted at leisure. There
were a few freshly broken shells lying about which invited immediate
attention. For instance, some four months ago, a well-known and
reputable firm of private inquiry agents was instructed from Canton to
secure all possible information about Mrs. Lester and you--yes, you, Mr.
Forbes--your household, friends, methods of living, servants,
tradesmen,--every sort of fact, indeed, which might be useful to a
thoroughgoing and well-organized society of cutthroats like the Young
Manchus. The inquiry agents did their work well, and were handsomely
paid for it. I haven't the least doubt that Wong Li Fu knows what brand
of cigars you favor, and what you eat for breakfast. His informants sent
us a copy of their notes an hour after the murder was announced in the
newspapers. Mr. Lester is 'removed' in Shanghai. His widow comes home.
The inquiry agents receive instructions. They forward their report to
Canton, and Wong Li Fu turns up in London. The program is a tribute to
the excellence and regularity of the mail service between England and
the Far East."

While the detective was speaking, Forbes's face, already haggard, had
grown desperate.

"I care little for my own life," he said, "but I shall stop short of no
measures to protect my wife and daughter."

"I certainly recommend that an armed guard should be on duty day and
night in any house where you may happen to be living at the moment,"
replied Furneaux airily. "I really think that if your safety alone were
at stake I would do you a good turn by arresting you on suspicion."

"On suspicion of what crime?"

"Of killing Mrs. Lester, to be sure."

"I regard you as a clever man, Mr. Furneaux, so may I remind you that
this is neither the time nor the place for a display of gross humor?"

Theydon expected that Furneaux would flare into anger at this
well-deserved rebuke; but, much to his surprise, the detective treated
the matter argumentatively.

"Personally, I have looked on you from the outset as an innocent man,"
he said placidly. "But, just to show how circumstantial evidence may be
twisted into plausible error, let me point out that nearly all the known
facts conspire against you. Have you considered how dexterously a
prosecuting counsel would treat your admission that Mrs. Lester was the
one person in England who knew of your connection with the revolutionary
party in China? And how would you set about convincing a stolid British
jury that you were acting in the interests of law and order in
concealing your visit to No. 17 on the night of the murder? These
fine-drawn speculations, however, are a sheer waste of breath. Suppose
we concoct an advertisement for the Times?"

"Do you mean that I am to parley with these ruffians?"

"Of course you are."

"But the Home Secretary agreed with me that no action should be taken
until the Chinese Legation had considered the matter."

"And, pray, what can the Legation do?"

"They have their own sources of information. When all is said and done,
Orientals are best fitted to deal with Orientals."

Furneaux laughed sarcastically.

"If I remember rightly, the way in which the Chinese Embassy dealt with
one of your pet reformers some years ago did not win general approval.
No, Mr. Forbes, we must try and circumvent the wily Chinese by other
methods than torture and imprisonment. Of what avail will it be if this
fellow, Wong Li Fu, is laid by the heels? Isn't it more than certain
that he has plenty of determined helpers? Do you imagine that he killed
Mrs. Lester? Not a bit of it. He will be able to produce the clearest
proof that he was miles away from Innesmore Mansions on Monday night.
Now, let's see how we can get him to show his hand a little more openly.
How would this be? 'Y. M.--Terms can be arranged. J. C. F.' The terms
are, of course, that the whole gang be hanged or sent to penal servitude
and deported."

"One moment," struck in Theydon. "I have something to say before you
decide on any definite action. I need hardly inflict on you, Mr.
Furneaux, an explanation of my silence hitherto. I don't even apologize
for it. Faced by a similar dilemma tomorrow I should probably take the
same line. But, to adopt your own simile, now that Mr. Forbes has come
out of his shell, and admits his presence here on Monday night, my
self-imposed restrictions cease. In the first place, then, Miss Beale
came here this morning--"

"Excellent! I wondered who the lady was," put in Furneaux.

"And, secondly, the gray car which pursued me on Monday seems to have
been partly identified later. A car resembling it in every detail
deposited some one at the Chinese Legation in Portland Place, at an hour
which corresponds closely with its presence here."

"Ah, that is important! I like that! I wasn't far wrong when I sensed
you as an absolute carrier of clew-germs in this affair," cried
Furneaux.

"The Chinese Embassy!" gasped Forbes. "What car? And why should any car
pursue you? Do you mean that you were followed on leaving my house?"

It was lamentable to watch the inroad which each successive shock was
making on Forbes's physical resources, but Theydon affected to ignore
the new fright in his eyes, and told him what had happened. Although he
could see that Furneaux was in a fever of impatience to learn the later
news, he thought that Forbes should know the facts in view of the
remarkable statement that he had visited the Chinese Embassy that
morning.

In one respect, the recital was a test of the millionaire's professed
readiness to deal candidly with the police. Theydon was half inclined to
believe that the other was still wishful to conceal that part of the
day's doings. But he was mistaken. When he had finished his own story,
and given the taxi-man's version of the gray car's appearance in
Portland Place, Forbes threw out his hands in a gesture of despair.

"If the Embassy people are playing me false I do not know whom to
trust," he said brokenly; "I have just come from there, and they assure
me that if Wong Li Fu and his gang are in London they are absolutely
ignorant of the fact."

"Pooh!" cried Furneaux, snapping a thumb and forefinger. "Don't worry
about that! Put yourself in the position of the Chinese Ambassador. He
can't even guess who may be the ruler of China from one day to another.
Yesterday it was an old woman, today a dictator, tomorrow the mob; who
can foretell what shape the lava erupted from a volcano will take? Bet
you a new hat, Mr. Forbes, that the minute the embassy heard of Mrs.
Lester's murder they put two and two together and kept a sharp eye on
these mansions and on your house. That gray car is nothing more nor less
than a red herring accidentally drawn across the trail. Some cute
Chinaman said 'Hallo! that murdered woman is the wife of Forbes's agent
in Shanghai. Now, let's see what Forbes is doing, and who visits him,
and perhaps we'll learn something.' Want a bet?"

Forbes could not help but recover some of his shattered nerve in view of
the detective's airy optimism. Still, he was shaken and dubious.

"Don't forget that the Chinese Ambassador has no knowledge whatsoever of
my share in the revolution," he said.

"And don't forget that for ways which are dark and tricks which are vain
the heathen Chinee is peculiar," retorted Furneaux. "How can you be sure
that there is not in the Embassy at this moment a full statement of your
payments into the reformers' funds, as well as the list of conspirators
which our friend Wong Li Fu is in search of?"

"I think that such a thing is almost impossible."

"Is there anything really impossible? We used to believe that once a man
was dead he could not be brought to life again. A Frenchman has just
demonstrated that by a judicious application of galvanism to the heart
and salt water to the veins any average corpse can be revived."

Evidently Furneaux was enjoying himself. He sat there, absorbing new
impressions and irradiating scraps of irrelevant knowledge in a way that
would have been full of significance to Winter had he been present.
Furneaux was never so mercurial, never so ready to jump from one subject
to another, as when his subtle brain was working at high pressure.

He actually reveled in a crime which lay on the borderland of the exotic
and the grotesque. Like the French philosopher in Poe's "Tales of
Mystery and Imagination," the savant who read his newspaper in a dingy
Paris room, and solved by sheer force of intellect extraordinary
criminal problems which baffled the shrewdest official minds, he felt in
relation to this particular tragedy that he required only to be brought
in touch with certain contingent forces bound up with it--Forbes, for
instance, and, in a minor degree, Theydon--and in due course he would be
able to go forth and find the master wrongdoer.

Suddenly the millionaire seemed to cast off the cloak of despair which
clogged his energies and impaired his brilliant intellect. He rose to
his feet and involuntarily squared his shoulders.

"Surely we are wasting valuable hours which should be given to action,"
he cried. "I am going to the city and shall arrange for a prolonged
absence from my office. Then I'll hurry home, perfect my defenses, and
defy these murderous curs. My wife must come to London. In a crisis like
this I must have my loved ones under my own personal supervision. I can
still shoot straight and quick, and woe betide any man, white or yellow,
who enters my house unbidden. As for this infernal symbol--!"

He raised a clenched fist, and would have pounded into fragments the
thin fabric of the ivory skull still lying where he had placed it on the
table had not Furneaux snatched it into safety.

"No, no!" protested the detective. "I want that for purposes of
comparison. Kindly give me that typed note, too, Mr. Forbes. It may bear
finger-marks. You never can tell. The cardboard box in which it was
posted also. Thank you. Now, a few more questions before you go. How
much money did you provide for the revolutionaries?"

"Two millions sterling."

"As a gift or a loan?"

"If they failed, I lost every farthing, of course. If they succeeded, I
was to recoup myself by financing the new government."

"But I gather that they have neither failed nor succeeded. China has a
constitution, but the Presidential election was conducted on lines
suspiciously akin to those recently adopted in Mexico."

"Nevertheless negotiations are now on foot for a big loan."

"If you died, what would become of the two millions?"

"They would be lost irretrievably."

Furneaux sat back in his chair.

"That gives one furiously to think," he said. "The gray car comes back
into the picture."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know. But I'll tell you what--the man who first spoke of a
Chinese puzzle as a metaphor for something downright bewildering knew
what he was talking about."

Forbes put a hand to his forehead in an unconscious gesture of
hopelessness.

"My brain is reeling," he muttered. "To think that in the London of
today we should live in abject terror of a band of Mongolian ruffians!
Why do you remain here, man? You vaunt the prowess of your
department--why are you not scouring every haunt of Chinamen in the East
End? Spread your net widely enough, and you will surely get hold of some
minor scoundrel who will talk for fear or money. Bribe him to the point
where he cannot refuse to speak. Wong Li Fu is the only man I fear. Put
him where he can accomplish no mischief, and the rest of his crew will
be powerless!"

"When you come to count up the achievements of my friend Winter and
myself--in the face of stupid but none the less disheartening
obstacles--we have not done so badly in two days," said Furneaux
complacently.

"Can I drive you anywhere? My car is waiting."

"No, thanks. The truth is, Mr. Forbes, I look on you as a disturbing
influence. A man who can talk as calmly as you about dropping two
millions on a crazy project to introduce Western methods into China is
not fitted for the phlegmatic and judicial atmosphere of Scotland Yard.
If I want any money I'll come to you. If not, and all goes well at No.
11 Fortescue Square, the next time I'll trouble you will be when you are
asked to identify Wong Li Fu, dead or alive."

Forbes seemed hardly to be aware of Furneaux's words. He went out.
Theydon accompanied him, and, as they descended the stairs together, the
older man said brokenly:

"It is my wife and daughter for whom I fear. I can hardly control my
senses when I think of these yellow fiends contemplating vengeance on me
through them. Theydon--do you believe in that detective? He is either a
vain fool or a genius. By the way, I forgot to ask him how he found out
that I had received the warning delivered by this morning's post."

"I'll try and worm an explanation out of him. If he tells me I'll
telephone you later. He is an extraordinary creature, but abnormally
clever at his work, I am sure. For my own part, I feel disposed to trust
him implicitly. I wish you had met his colleague, Chief Inspector
Winter. He is the sort of man whose mere presence inspires confidence."

Forbes halted on the step of the automobile and glanced at his watch.

"I shall be home in an hour," he said. "After that I shall not stir out
all day. Telephone me if you have any news. Why not dine with us
tonight?"

Theydon's eyes sparkled. He was longing to meet Evelyn Forbes once more,
but a wretched doubt diminished the glow of gratification which the
prospect brought. Should he, or should he not, tell the girl's father of
the rather indiscreet admissions she had made during their brief talk
that morning?

That minor worry, however, was banished suddenly and forever. Furneaux,
taking the three steps which led from entrance hall to pavement with a
flying leap, cannoned right into Forbes, whom he grasped with both
hands, quite as much by way of emphasis as to check the impetus of his
diminutive body.

"In with you!" he piped. "Tell your chauffeur to obey my orders, no
matter what they are!"

Action, determination, were as the breath of the millionaire's nostrils.
He aroused himself instantly.

"You hear, Downs!" he said to the chauffeur.

Downs was one of those strange beings who have been evolved by the age
of petrol, an automaton compounded, seemingly, of steel springs and
leather. He had long ago lost the art of speech, having cultivated
delicacy of hearing and quickness of sight at the expense of all other
human faculties. The old-time coachman possessed a certain fluent
jargon, which enabled him to chide or encourage his horses and exchange
suitable comments with the drivers of brewers' drays and market carts,
but the modern chauffeur is all an ear for the rhythm of machinery, all
an eye for the nice calculation of the hazards of the road fifty yards
ahead.

At any rate, Downs mumbled something which resembled "Yes, sir," Forbes
sprang in and slammed the door, Furneaux raced round the front of the
car and perched himself beside Downs, and the heavy automobile was
almost into its normal stride before it had traveled twice its own
length.

Theydon was left gaping on the pavement. He saw that the car turned
west, and caught a glimpse of Furneaux's outstretched hand with
forefinger pointing like the barrel of a pistol.

"Fool!" he cried, in bitter self-apostrophe. "Why didn't I jump in after
Forbes? Now I am out of the hunt! I wonder what the deuce Furneaux saw
or heard?"

That concluding thought sent him back to the flat, two steps at a time.

"Bates!" he shouted. "Has Mr. Furneaux used the telephone, or did any
one ring up?"

"No, sir," said Bates, coming hurriedly at that urgent call. "Fust thing
I knew was he was tearin' out, an' runnin' downstairs like mad."

"O, double-distilled idiot that I am!" growled Theydon again. "Why
didn't I go with them!"

As though the gods heard his plaint and meant to crush him with their
answer, the telephone bell sounded at his elbow. Mechanically, he lifted
the receiver off its hook, and immediately became aware of Tomlinson's
voice, with some element of flurry and distress in its unctuous accents.

"That you, Mr. Theydon?" said the butler.

"Yes."

"Have you had any news of Mr. Forbes, sir?"

"Yes. He has just left me."

"Ah, if only I had known, and had given you a call before ringing up the
city!"

"What is it? Can I do anything?"

"It's Miss Evelyn, sir."

"Yes, what of her?"

"She's gone, sir."

Theydon's heart apparently stopped for a second, and then raced madly
into tumultuous action again.

"Gone! Good Lord, man, what do you mean?" he almost groaned.

"A telegram came from Mrs. Forbes, at Eastbourne, saying she was ill and
wanted Miss Evelyn. I tried all I knew to persuade Miss Evelyn to wait
until she had spoken to her father, but she wouldn't listen--she just
threw on a hat and a wrap, and took a taxi to Victoria."

Some membrane or film of tissue which might have served hitherto to shut
off from Frank Theydon's cheery temperament any real knowledge of the
pitfalls which may beset the path of the unwary seemed in that instant
to shrivel as though it had been devoured by flame.

He knew, how or why he could never tell, that the girl had been drawn
into the plot which had already claimed so many victims and sought so
many more. All doubt vanished. He spoke and acted with the swift
certainty of a man tackling an emergency for which he had prepared
during a long period of training and expectation.

"Mr. Forbes may arrive at any moment, Tomlinson," he said. "Tell his
office people to let you know if he goes first to the city. When you
hear from or see him, say that I have either accompanied or followed
Miss Evelyn to Eastbourne. If I do not catch the same train I shall take
prompt measures in other respects. Got that?"

"Yes, sir."

It was easy to distinguish the relief in Tomlinson's utterance, relief
mingled, doubtless, with astonishment that a comparative stranger should
display such an authoritative and prompt interest in the family affairs.

"That is all. Write down my message, lest you omit any part of it."

Theydon rang off.

"Come!" he said to Bates, who had not retired to his den, but was
listening, discreet yet rabbit-eared, to these queer proceedings.
Followed by the man-servant, he darted into the sitting room and did
several things at once.

He unlocked a drawer and took from it a considerable sum of money which
he kept there for emergency journeys, also pocketing an automatic
pistol. Pouncing on an A B C time table, he looked up the trains for
Eastbourne. A fast train left Victoria at 1:25 p. m. The hour was now
1:05.

Meanwhile he was talking.

"Bates," he said, "I promised Miss Beale, the lady who came here this
morning, that my sister, Mrs. Paxton, would visit her this evening, say
about six. Miss Beale is staying at Smith's Hotel, Jermyn Street. Go to
Mrs. Paxton, and see her, waiting at her house if she happens to be out.
Tell everything you know about Mrs. Lester's death, and ask her to take
care of Miss Beale this evening. She will understand. I'll wire her at
Smith's Hotel before the dinner hour, if possible. If anybody calls
here, I leave it to your discretion and your wife's whether or not they
should be informed of my movements. Mr. Forbes or the police, of course,
must be told everything. Miss Forbes is probably in the 1:25 p. m. train
for Eastbourne, and I am going with her. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll wire or 'phone you later."

Grabbing a straw hat and a bundle of telegraph forms, Theydon vanished,
not even waiting to slam the outer door. Bates, who had seen service,
knew that men in time of stress and danger acted just like the detective
and his own employer.

"By Jingo!" he muttered, beginning to assemble the empty coffee-cups on
a tray. "Things is wakin' up here, an' no mistake!"

Theydon was fortunate in finding a taxicab depositing a fare at a
neighboring block. Just before he reached the vehicle a gentleman
hurried out of the building and forestalled him. Theydon dashed up, and
caught the other man by the arm.

"My need is urgent," he said. "Let, me have this cab."

The stranger smiled good-humoredly. He was an American and had not the
least objection to being hustled by a Britisher; indeed he rather
appreciated this exhibition of haste as a novel experience.

"I'm on a hair-trigger myself," he said, pleasantly. "I want to make
Victoria pretty quick. Can I give you a lift?"

"In with you!" cried Theydon. "Now, cabby, half a sovereign if you get
us to Victoria, Brighton line, in 15 minutes. I'll pay all fines."

Then they were off, and the Trans-Atlantic cousins were banged against
one another as the cab whirled round in a sharp semicircle.

"Say!" cried the American, "this reminds one of home. I've been here a
week, an' had a kind of notion that London air was half fog, half dope.
But you're awake all right. Bet you a five spot you're after a girl!"

"I pay," said Theydon, his eyes glistening. "And such a girl! Her
portrait on the paper wrap of a 50-cent novel would sell it in
millions!"

"Gee whiz! Is it like that? Go right ahead, Augustus! Never mind me.
Take this old bus all the way to Paris. I'll find the fares and hold
your hat. But kindly shift that gun into your opposite pocket. You've
dug it into my thigh quite often enough. If you want to get first drop
on the other fellow, shove it up your sleeve!"



CHAPTER IX

SHARP WORK


The American's easy-going badinage provided the best sort of tonic.
Theydon laughed as he transferred the pistol from one pocket to the
other.

"My motto is 'Defense, not Defiance,'" he said. "I hope sincerely that I
shall not be called on to shoot, or even threaten any one. Using
firearms, although for self-protection, is a very serious matter in this
country. May I ask your name? Mine's Theydon. I live in those mansions
we have just quitted."

"And I'm George T. Handyside, 21,097 Park Avenue, Chicago," was the
answer.

"Is that your telephone number?"

"No, sir. It's my home address."

"Well, Mr. Handyside, if ever I come to Chicago, I'll travel along Park
Avenue and give you a call. How many days' journey are you from the
center of the city?"

"Say, Mr. Theydon, I'm real glad to make your acquaintance. I haven't
been joshed in that way since I left the steamer. This little island of
yours is all right as a beauty spot, but I do wish your people wouldn't
carry such a grouch agin' life generally. Great Scott! It'll do 'em a
heap of good to try a real chesty laugh occasionally."

"Tell me where I can drop across you in London later in the week, and
I'll see if we can't find a smile somewhere."

The American scribbled the name of a Strand hotel on a card, which
Theydon disposed in his pocketbook, at the same time producing one of
his own cards.

"You'll hear from me," he said. "Now, Mr. Handyside, pardon me for the
next few minutes. I have to write telegrams."

The first was to Forbes, addressed in duplicate to Old Broad Street and
Fortescue Square. It ran:

"If this message is not qualified by another within a few minutes I am
in the 1:25 train for Eastbourne."

Then to Winter:

"Young lady summoned to Eastbourne by telegram stating that her mother
is ill. Suspect the message as bogus and emanating from Y. M. See
Furneaux. He will explain. Am hoping to travel by same train. If
disappointed will wire again immediately.--Theydon."

He read each slip carefully, to make sure that the phraseology was
clear. The speed at which the cab was traveling rendered his handwriting
somewhat illegible, but he thought he saw a means of circumventing that
difficulty.

"Which place are you going?" he inquired of his unexpected companion.

"To a place called Sutton."

"What time does your train leave?"

"Guess it's about 1:30."

"You have five more minutes at your disposal than I have. Will you hand
in these three messages at the telegraph office? I'll read them to you,
in case the counter clerk is doubtful about any of my words."

"Sure thing, Mr. Theydon. You've interested me. I don't care a row of
beans if I drop out Sutton altogether."

"I'm greatly obliged, but that is not necessary. You'll have loads of
time. We're in the Park already, and our driver has a clear run to
Victoria. Now, listen!"

Mr. Handyside did listen, and pricked his ears at the mention of
Scotland Yard.

"Gosh!" he exclaimed, "this is better'n a life-line movie! For the love
of Millie, let me in by the early door! Now, how's this for a
proposition? You send those telegrams, and I'll fix the cab an' buy the
transportation to Eastbourne for the pair of us. I'm not heeled, but I
may be useful, an' I'll jab any fellow in the solar plexus at call."

Theydon gazed at this self-avowed knight-errant in surprise. Handyside
was a man of forty, whose dark hair was flecked with gray. He was
quietly dressed, a wide-brimmed high-crowned hat of finely-plaited white
straw providing the solo note of markedly American origin in his attire.
The expression of his well-moulded features was shrewd but pleasing, and
the poise of a spare but sinewy frame gave evidence of active habit and
some considerable degree of physical strength.

"Pon my honor," said the Englishman. "I'm half inclined to take you at
your word, except in the matter of expenses, which, of course, I must
bear. You see, if my services are called for, and prove effective, I may
need help."

"Go right ahead," said the other calmly. "Tell me as much or as little
as you like. Where's this place, Eastbourne? On the south coast, I
guess."

"Yes."

"I thought it would be. A man on the steamer asked me to come and see
him at Westgate, which is about as far east as you can go in England
without wetting your feet. I'm getting the hang of things here by
degrees. Southport, of course, is away up north, and Northamptonshire in
the midlands."

Theydon grinned, but the taxi was passing Buckingham Palace, and the
hour was 1:17 p. m.

"I cannot give you any sort of an explanation now, Mr. Handyside," he
said. "Later in the week, perhaps, I may have a big story for your
private ear. All I can say at the moment is this--I have reason to
believe that a young lady, a daughter of Mr. James Creighton Forbes, a
well-known man in the city of London, is being decoyed to Eastbourne in
the belief that her mother is ill. Now, I may be wholly mistaken. Her
mother may be ill. If that is so, I am making this trip under a
delusion. At any rate, my notion is to try and fall in with Miss Forbes
accidentally, as it were, and watch over her until I am quite sure that
she is with her mother. You follow me?"

"Seems to me," said the American imperturbably, "it's the most natural
thing in the world that Mr. Theydon should want to show his friend, Mr.
Handyside of Chicago, England's most bracing and attractive seaside
resort, if that's the right way to describe Eastbourne."

"Both the plan and the description are admirable."

"The plan sounds all right. As for the description I have been looking
up a selection of posters, and those seven words apply to every
half-mile strip of beach in the island. When it comes to a real
show-down, your poster artists have got our real estate men skinned a
mile. How much did you promise the taxi-man?"

"Half a sovereign."

"Two-fifty. Gee! That's the nearest thing to New York I've struck yet.
And the railway tickets--first-class, of course?"

"Yes."

The cab stopped. Theydon sprang out and raced to the telegraph office,
where, as he anticipated, there was a slight delay. Handyside awaited
him at the correct barrier, and together they walked down a long
platform, Theydon peering into every carriage, though convinced that
Evelyn Forbes would not travel other than first class. Thus, not being a
detective, but only a very anxious and perplexed young man, he had eyes
only for such ladies as were already seated in the train, and failed to
note the immediate interest his appearance aroused in a man who occupied
a window seat, and who was watching unobtrusively every one who passed.
Oddly enough, after the first wondering glance, this observer was more
closely taken up with Handyside. It was as though he said to himself:

"Theydon I know, but who in the world is his companion, and why are they
traveling by an Eastbourne express--today of all days?"

The train was well filled; there were only a few seconds to spare when
Theydon came across Evelyn Forbes in a compartment which held two other
passengers--a lady and a gentleman.

Recognition was mutual, and Theydon flattered himself that he betrayed
just the right amount of pleasurable astonishment.

"Miss Forbes!" he cried, raising his hat. "Well, of all the unexpected
meetings! Don't say you are going to Eastbourne!"

"But I am," she said, and, though she smiled, her eyes were heavy with
unshed tears. She was deeply attached to her mother, and the thought
that the loved one was too ill even to communicate with her by telephone
was distressing beyond measure.

"Just imagine that!" went on Theydon, determined to rush his fences and
travel with her unless openly forbidden. "I'm taking an American friend
there for the afternoon. May we come in your carriage? Is there room for
two?"

Now, although Evelyn Forbes had been attracted to Theydon during their
vivacious conversation overnight, she would vastly have preferred the
comparative solitude of a journey with strangers.

Still, she could hardly refuse such a request, and common sense told her
that a pleasant chat with a man who could talk as well as Theydon
offered a better means of whiling away two and a half hours than
brooding over the nature and extent of her mother's unknown illness.

"There's plenty of room," she said.

Without further ado, Theydon entered and Handyside followed. The
compartment held six seats, while a door led to a side corridor running
the length of the coach. The two remaining occupants were worthy Britons
who neither invited nor received any special attention.

Mr. Handyside was introduced, and promptly said the right thing.

"I guess I knew what I was doing when I forced Mr. Theydon to take me
out of London today," he said, with a smile which left the girl in no
doubt as to the nature of the implied compliment.

"But it is hardly an hour since I spoke to my father at Mr. Theydon's
flat," she said. "Were you there, too, Mr. Handyside?"

"No, in the next block. That was the nearest I got to Mr. Theydon before
we met and took a cab for Victoria."

Theydon was pleased with his ally. No diplomat, trained during long
years to conceal material facts, could have headed the girl off more
deftly, while every word was literally true.

"Ah!" she said, glancing meaningly at Theydon, "we are all the sport of
fortune, then. How strange! Of course, Mr. Theydon, you don't know why I
am here. I have had a telegram from my mother, or one sent in her name.
She has been taken ill suddenly."

"That is bad news," was the sympathetic answer. "If the message has not
come direct from Mrs. Forbes may it not be rather exaggerated in tone?
Some people can never write telegrams. The knowledge that each word
costs a halfpenny weighs on them like a nightmare."

As he hoped and anticipated, she produced the message itself from her
handbag.

"This is what it says," she said, and read: "'Mrs. Forbes ill and unable
communicate by telephone. Come at once. Manager Royal Devonshire
Hotel.'" Then she added, with a suspicious break in her voice: "That
sounds serious enough, in all conscience."

"Is it addressed to you personally?" said Theydon, racking his wits for
some means of lessening the girl's foreboding without tickling the ears
of the other people in the compartment by suggesting that she might have
been brought from her home by some cruel ruse of her father's enemies.

"Yes."

"But isn't that somewhat singular in itself? One would imagine that such
a significant message would have been sent to your father."

"Why?"

"Well, men are better fitted to withstand these shocks, for one thing.
It was heartless, or, to say the least, thoughtless, to give you such
news with the brutal frankness of a telegram."

"I cannot understand it at all. Mother wrote this morning telling me
that she was going to Beachy Head this afternoon with a picnic party."

"I am convinced," said Theydon gravely, "that some one has blundered. It
may be the act of some stupid foreigner. I shall not be content now,
Miss Forbes, until I have gone with you to the Royal Devonshire, and
learnt what the extent of the trouble really is. Then, if Mrs. Forbes
needs your presence, perhaps you will allow me to telephone to your
father, as he will be greatly disturbed when he returns home and learns
the cause of your journey."

"But I can't think of allowing you two to break up your afternoon on my
account. I'm sure, when we reach Eastbourne, I shall see an array of
golf clubs among your luggage."

"No," smiled Theydon. "My friend here refuses to play until he has seen
something of the country. He knows that the golfer's vision is bounded
by the nearest bunker."

Handyside took the cue.

"That's the exact position, Miss Forbes," he said. "I was warned by the
horrible experience of a friend of mine. He left Newark, N. J., on a
sightseeing tour of Europe, but unfortunately took his clubs with him.
Now, if you ask him what he thought of Westminster Abbey or the Wye
Valley he tells you he hadn't time to look 'em up, but that the fifth
hole at Sandwich is a corker, while the thirteenth at St. Andrews has
been known to restore the faculty of speech to a dumb man. You see, some
poor mute had either to express his feelings or bust."

Evidently Miss Evelyn Forbes would not be allowed to mope during the run
to Eastbourne.

As between Theydon and herself, the situation was curiously mixed. On
the one hand, Theydon had now a remarkably close insight into the peril
which threatened Forbes and each member of his family; the girl, on the
other, knew well that her father was bound up in some way with the
tragedy at No. 17 Innesmore Mansions.

Nevertheless, an open discussion was out of the question, and the two
accepted cheerfully the limitations imposed by circumstances, so that
the strangers in the compartment little suspected what grave issues lay
behind an apparently casual meeting between a pretty girl and two men
that summer's afternoon in the Eastbourne express.

The American played his part admirably. When not passing some
caustically humorous comment on British ways and manners he was being
even more critical of his fellow-countrymen.

As he himself put it, he guessed New York society was mighty like London
society with the head cut off, and proved his contention with many wise
saws and modern instances.

Thus the journey south passed pleasantly enough. When they alighted the
girl reverted to the topic uppermost in her mind.

"You gentlemen will have to look after your luggage," she said. "I'm
sure you will forgive me if I hurry to the hotel. If you come there, Mr.
Theydon, I'll take care that I see you at once. It is exceedingly kind
of you to bother with my affairs."

But Theydon had a scheme ready, having foreseen this very difficulty.

"Mr. Handyside will attend to everything," he said glibly. "Please let
me come with you. I shan't have a moment's peace until assured that Mrs.
Forbes is suffering from little more than a slight indisposition."

Evelyn looked puzzled, but was willing to agree to anything so long as
she reached her mother quickly. Handyside, too, made matters easy by
lifting his hat and walking off in the direction of the luggage van.

"Well," she said, "I really don't care what happens if only I lose no
time."

Suiting the action to the word, she hurried toward the exit, and was
murmuring something that sounded like an apology for her seeming
brusqueness as they passed the ticket collector. Here a momentary
difficulty arose. Theydon had forgotten to ask Handyside for his ticket.
The girl, of course, had her own ticket, but her companion was not
allowed to pass the barrier. He began an explanation to which a busy
official paid no heed. In desperation, he produced a sovereign, and his
card.

"Here," he said, "you can hold this as a guarantee that my ticket will
be given up. This lady has been called to the bedside of her mother, who
is said to be dangerously ill, and I simply must be allowed to take her
to the Royal Devonshire Hotel."

Luckily, the railwayman had the wit to see that this earnest-eyed
passenger was speaking the truth.

"That's all right, sir," he said. "We have to be very particular about
tickets, you know."

Evelyn Forbes was a few yards in advance, and impatiently awaiting her
escort, when a gentleman approached and spoke to her.

"Miss Forbes, I believe," he said, raising his hat.

"Yes," she answered breathlessly, because the man's garb suggested,
before he uttered another syllable, that he was a doctor. He had a
curiously foreign aspect, and spoke with a pronounced lisp.

"I am assistant to Dr. Sinnett," he said, "and he has sent me to take
you to the hotel. This is his car. Will you come, quick?"

He pointed to a smart limousine drawn up near the exit, and, in his
eagerness to be polite, almost pushed the girl toward the open door.
Insensibly, she resisted, and turned to explain matters to Theydon, who
had just placated the Cerberus at the gate, and was running alter her.

"Mr. Theydon--" she began.

"There ith no time to wathe, I athure you," said Dr. Sinnett's assistant
imperatively. At that instant Theydon came up. His temper was ruffled,
and he did not scrutinize the doctor's appearance as closely as might be
looked for in one who was actually on his guard against foul play.

"What is it now?" he asked.

"This gentleman has been sent by Dr. Sinnett to take me to the hotel,"
said Evelyn. "Now, Mr. Theydon, perhaps it will be better that you wait
for Mr. Handyside and come on at your leisure."

"I'm a stiff-necked person," said Theydon, trying to smile
unconcernedly. "I've made up my mind to see you safely to your
destination, and I refuse to leave you on any account. I am sure the
doctor will let me sit beside the chauffeur."

Then, for the first time, he glanced at the newcomer, and was almost
stupefied to discover that the man, despite his faultless professional
attire, was a Chinaman. Moreover, this Chinaman bore a livid scar down
the left side of his face, and his eyes were set horizontally, a sure
sign of Manchu descent, because all Southern Chinese have the oblique
Mongolian eye. Though prepared for treachery of some kind, the very
simplicity of this scheme almost disconcerted him, and he blurted out
the first words that rose to his lips.

"Is your name Wong Li Fu?"

Half unconsciously, a hand dropped to the pocket containing the
revolver. For answer, he was struck a violent blow in the throat and
sent sprawling. The attack was so sudden that he was nearly unprepared
for it--nearly, not quite, because a flicker of baffled spite in the
dark eyes gave him the ghost of a warning.

It was fortunate that he saved himself by a slight backward flinching,
since he learnt subsequently that his assailant was a master of jiu
jitsu, and that vicious blow was intended to paralyze the nerves which
cluster around the cricoid cartilage. Had he received the punch in its
full force he would at least have been disabled for the remainder of the
day, while there was some chance of the injury proving fatal.

The Chinaman instantly seized the terrified girl in an irresistible
grip, and was about to thrust her into the automobile when a big, burly
man flung himself into the fray and collared the desperado by neck and
arm.

"Stop that!" he said authoritatively. "Let go that young lady or I'll
shake the life out of you!"

By this time Theydon was on his feet again, and rushing to the
assistance of Chief Inspector Winter, who seemed to have miraculously
dropped from the skies at the right moment. The Chinaman, seeing that he
was in imminent danger of capture, released Evelyn, wrenched himself
free by another jiu jitsu trick, swung the girl into Winter's arms, thus
impeding him, and leaped into the car, which made off with a rapidity
that showed how thoroughly the chauffeur was in league with his
principal.

Naturally, the people coming out from the station, reinforced by the mob
of semi-loafers always in evidence in such localities, gathered in
scores around Evelyn Forbes and her two protectors. Such an
extraordinary scuffle was bound to attract a crowd; few had seen the
commencement of the fray, because nothing could be more usual and
commonplace in a fashionable place like Eastbourne than the sight of a
frock-coated and top-hatted gentleman handing a well-dressed lady into a
motor car.

The first general intimation of something bizarre and sensational was
provided by Theydon's fall. After that, events traveled rapidly, and the
majority of the onlookers imagined that it was Winter who had knocked
Theydon off his balance, while the rush made by the latter to intercept
Wong Li Fu was actually stopped by a well-intentioned railway porter.

Worst of all, Theydon was quite unable to speak. He indulged in valiant
pantomime, and Winter fully understood that the Chinaman's escape should
be prevented at all hazards. But the chief inspector accepted the
inevitable.

The limousine was equipped with a powerful engine, and the only vehicles
available for pursuit were some ancient horse-drawn cabs. He noted the
number on the identification plate, and that was the limit of his
resources for the moment.

Moreover, Evelyn Forbes, finding herself clutched tightly by a tall,
stout man whom she had never seen before, was rather more indignant than
hurt.

Disengaging herself from the detective's hands, she looked to Theydon
for an explanation.

"Has everybody suddenly gone mad?" she said vehemently. "What is the
meaning of this? Did you know who that man was? And why did he try to
force me into the car?"

Theydon, slowly regaining his breath, stammered brokenly that he would
make things clear in a minute or so. Then he gasped to Winter:

"That is Wong Li Fu--the man wanted--at No. 17!"

"We'll get him all right," was the grimly curt answer. "Meanwhile, are
you and Miss Forbes going to the hotel?"

Hardly less surprising than Winter's appearance on the scene was his
seeming knowledge of the purpose of their journey.

"We must get out of this," he went on, gazing around wrathfully at the
ring of curious faces. "Here, you!" he cried, singling out a policeman
who was forcing a passage through the crowd, "clear away this mob and
get us a cab!"

The policeman seemed inclined to resent the masterful directions, but a
word whispered in his ear when he reached Winter acted like magic, and
he soon had the gapers scattered.

A cab was called, and Evelyn Forbes was already inside when Theydon
remembered the American. He looked around, but could see nothing of him.

"Where is--Mr. Handyside?" he said, still finding a good deal of
difficulty in articulating his words.

"Is that the man who came with you from London?" inquired Winter.

"Yes. He's--an American."

"Well, he may have been scared, and made a bee-line for the States. He
is not anywhere in sight."

"O, please, Mr. Theydon, do let us go to the hotel," pleaded Evelyn. She
was pale, and yielding to reaction after the excitement of the fracas.

Unwillingly, since he was certain now that there was absolutely no
ground for the girl's alarm on her mother's account--at any rate, so far
as illness was concerned--Theydon entered the cab, and Winter followed.

"The first thing to do," said the chief inspector, when they were en
route, "is to assure this young lady, whom I take to be Miss Forbes,
that she has probably been brought to Eastbourne by a lying telegram,
and that her mother is quite well in health. Secondly, why should Wong
Li Fu be described as the man wanted in the Innesmore Mansions inquiry;
and, thirdly, how does Mr. Handyside come into the picture?"

"I can't--talk--just yet," wheezed Theydon hoarsely. "In a few
minutes--I'll--tell you everything."

Evelyn had not realized earlier that her self-appointed champion had
been seriously hurt. She was deeply concerned, and wanted to take him
straight to the nearest doctor.

But he smiled and essayed to calm her fears by whispering that he would
soon be fully recovered. It was pleasant to know that he had succeeded
in rescuing her from some indefinable though none the less deadly peril,
yet the insistent question in his subconscious mind was not connected
with Evelyn's escape, or the flight of her assailant, or the mysterious
presence of the chief inspector, but with the vanishing of Mr.
Handyside.

What had become of him? It was the maddest of fantasies to imagine that
he could be bound up in some way with the Young Manchus. Yet why did he
fail to turn up at the station?

Theydon could not even guess at a plausible explanation. He leaned back
in the cab and closed his eyes. Really, there were times in life when it
would be a relief to faint!



CHAPTER X

CAPTURES ON BOTH SIDES


Though Theydon was in first-rate athletic trim, that blow on the throat
had nearly stunned him. The effort to rise promptly and bear a hand in
the imminent capture of one whom he regarded as something akin to a
homicidal maniac had imposed a further strain on his resources, and it
was possible that he did actually lose his senses during a couple of
seconds.

In all likelihood, too, he changed color slightly, because the next
thing he was aware of was the note of alarm in Evelyn's voice when she
cried excitedly:

"Mr. Theydon is really very ill. I'm sure we ought to try and revive
him."

At that he reopened his eyes and looked at her whimsically. Nature, in
fact, had put forth a supreme effort; from that moment he recovered
rapidly.

Winter took a calmly professional view of the younger man's collapse.

"There's nothing to worry about, Miss Forbes," he assured the agitated
girl. "Our friend has just escaped being knocked insensible, if not
killed. He was hardly prepared for such a vicious attack, I fancy. Most
certainly that scoundrel took me by surprise, or he would not have
slipped through my fingers like an eel. Next time, either Mr. Theydon or
I may be trusted to balance matters."

Theydon grinned and nodded. He signaled with his eyes that Winter was to
make Evelyn Forbes understand that she had just escaped being the victim
of an extraordinary outrage. Muddled as his thoughts were, he grasped
the essential fact that Scotland Yard was better posted in the secret
history of the Innesmore Mansions crime than he had given the department
credit for before the dramatic meeting with Furneaux that morning.

And, indeed, the chief inspector lost no time in justifying that belief.

"You must have imagined that the world had suddenly turned topsy-turvy,"
he said, smiling at the mystified and distraught Evelyn, as though the
whirl of events outside the station were part and parcel of the humdrum
routine of life. "When Mr. Theydon regains his speech he will tell us
how he came to suspect that an attempt would be made to kidnap you
today. In my own case, intervention was the outcome of sheer and simple
logical deduction. You see, I represent the Criminal Investigation
Department--or Scotland Yard, as it is familiarly described--and I have
reason to believe that your father is, and has been for some time, the
object of unpleasant attentions by a political society in China, whose
members are nothing more nor less than criminal fanatics. Probably this
is the first you have heard of the matter, Miss Forbes. Your father
would wish, no doubt, to keep any such disquieting knowledge from you
and your mother. But the policy of concealment must cease now. Today's
daring attack is a warning. Other efforts may be forthcoming. If you are
to be protected efficiently the police must have your loyal cooperation.
I admit candidly that I myself, with all my experience, was taken off my
guard a few minutes ago. If Mr. Theydon had not delayed that
Chinaman--whose name he has got hold of from Mr. Forbes, I expect--I
don't think I could have reached you in time."

"Is that the meaning of the little ivory skull which my father received
at breakfast this morning?" said Evelyn, breathlessly.

Winter's eyes twinkled. No question could have thrown a more vivid light
into the somber depths of a crime which promised to transcend in
interest and importance any similar occurrence in Great Britain during
the previous decade.

"Doubtless," he said. "Of course, I have not yet seen Mr. Forbes, but we
have a mine of information here," and he laid a friendly hand on
Theydon's arm. "So far as I am concerned, I have had your house
unobtrusively watched--for the protection of the inmates, I hope you
understand--and I arranged also that anything unusual in the shape of
telegrams or telephonic messages"--here he glanced amusedly at
Theydon--"should be communicated to the Yard. I heard, therefore, of
Mrs. Forbes's sudden illness almost as soon as you did, and traveled
with you to Eastbourne, intending to reach the hotel at the same time as
you, and ascertain whether or not your mother was really ill. I saw you
on the platform at Victoria and guessed your identity. But, in my
profession, we never take anything for granted, so I left that matter
until I could interview the hotel manager. And here we are. I advise you
not to say a word about Mrs. Forbes being ill. If, as I firmly believe,
you find that she is in the best of health, you can explain your sudden
visit by saying that Mr. Theydon and I have something of importance to
communicate, which will be perfectly accurate, as I mean to urge
strongly that we all return to London by the next train."

The cab stopped. To show that "Richard was himself again" Theydon,
nearest the door, opened it, got out, and helped Evelyn to alight.

Reassured on his account, the girl smiled, and a wave of color leaped to
her cheeks. Any one happening to watch their arrival would put them down
as ordinary visitors. Evelyn Forbes was just a charming young woman,
plainly but expensively dressed; Theydon an attentive cavalier, and
Winter a prosperous city man, probably with a taste for coursing and
pheasant shooting.

Subtly observant, indeed, would be the theorist who gathered from their
demeanor that they had just emerged practically unscathed from a
situation rife with the elements of tragedy.

Nevertheless, Winter kept a sharp eye on Theydon after Evelyn Forbes had
run up the steps of the hotel, and was relieved at seeing that he could
walk without assistance.

"Keep nothing back," he said under his breath as they followed the girl
with sedater pace. "These women must be frightened into complete
obedience. Did Furneaux get hold of Forbes?"

Theydon nodded.

"That's right. Don't talk. I can pretty well guess what took place. But,
look here. Who's Handyside--a mere acquaintance?"

Another nod.

"You just contrived to pick him up, and used him as an excuse for coming
to Eastbourne? I see. That removes a troublesome pawn off the
chessboard."

"But it doesn't," wheezed Theydon. "He ought to be here. Can't make
out--what has become of him."

"He will turn up--an American, isn't he? I thought so. The indications
were slight but certain--features, walk, figure. You can buy clothes,
but the genuine citizen of God's own country is as distinct a type as a
Highlander--all wool and a yard wide."

Inside the hotel they came on Evelyn Forbes talking to the manager. She
hailed them at once.

"Mother has gone to Beachy Head," she cried. "She and her friends are
expected home about six o'clock. Shall we have some tea? There is no use
in following her. She will be starting back before we could get there."

"Mrs. Forbes is quite well, I hope?" put in Winter, casually.

"Yes, sir, in the best of health," said the manager, indicating, with a
flourish of both hands, that nothing else was to be expected as to the
condition of any among the numerous patrons of the Royal Devonshire
Hotel.

Evelyn asked that tea should be served in her mother's sitting room.
When they were screened by the closed door Winter examined Theydon's
throat. Beyond a slight swelling and external soreness, the cricoid
cartilage--known to the multitude as Adam's apple--was seemingly
uninjured, while Theydon himself now made light of the blow, though a
certain hoarseness was perceptible in his voice, and he deemed it
advisable to speak in a low-pitched tone.

Evelyn Forbes listened with ill-repressed bewilderment while he related
the day's doings. At first, she hardly grasped the significance of the
story, but Winter's occasional questions and comments, and a
parenthetical sentence or two introduced by Theydon for her benefit,
quickly revealed the astounding nature of the plot of which her father
was the chief object.

At this crisis she displayed a self-control and reticence which were
admirable. She seemed to realize intuitively that any gaps in the
recital could be filled in later, whereas it was all-important that the
detective should be made acquainted as speedily as possible with the
developments brought about by the morning's fuller disclosures.

As for Winter, he was keenly interested in Furneaux's behavior at the
moment of Forbes's departure from Innesmore Mansions. Glancing at his
watch, he rose when Theydon's revelations came to an end.

"I'll just go and ring up the Yard," he said. "There may be news. When
Furneaux starts off in full cry it is a wary fox that escapes him. I
only wish you and I had traveled from Victoria in company, Mr. Theydon;
Wong Li Fu would now have been in custody. However, we'll get him. If,
as I imagine, he is making for London in that car, there is even a
chance of intercepting him in the suburbs. I'll see to it."

Left alone with Evelyn Forbes, Theydon suddenly grew tongue-tied. This
man who could invent all manner of glib conversation for the characters
in his novels now cudgeled his brains vainly for something to say that
would dwell in her memory when they parted. And he knew why a cloud was
thus effectually befogging his wits. He had only seen Evelyn three times
in as many days, had spoken to her but twice, yet was hopelessly and
irrevocably in love with her.

He, who had so often and so thrillingly described the grand passion of a
man's life, had now fallen a victim to it, only to feel how unutterably
ridiculous and impossible was the wild longing that had sprung up in his
heart. Here, by his side, wistfully sympathetic and friendly in manner,
sat the "one woman in the world," yet he felt awkward and constrained,
and took refuge in a vague expression of anxiety on behalf of Handyside,
a man who at least might be trusted to extricate himself safely from the
labyrinth of Eastbourne!

The girl, of course, attributed these disjointed remarks to physical
suffering. In reality, he was contrasting her wealth and his own
comparative poverty, and bidding himself fiercely not to be a vain fool!

"Don't you think you ought to call in a doctor?" she inquired, tenderly.

"No, no," he hastened to assure her. "The effects of the blow are
passing rapidly. In another hour I shall hardly feel it at all. I'm
afraid, Miss Forbes," he ventured to add, "that when this piratical gang
is broken up, as certainly will be the case now that the English police
are tackling it, you will associate our brief acquaintance with the only
dark days in your existence."

"Why do you say that?" she demanded.

"Because I am bound to admit that if I had not dined at your house on
Monday evening, many, if not all, of the amazing events of the past
thirty-six hours could not have happened."

"I don't agree with you--not one little bit," she protested
emphatically. "Why, the detective-man himself said that the Young
Manchus have been searching ever since the beginning of the year for
proof of Dad's connection with the revolutionaries, and he was candid
enough to tell us that if it hadn't been for you that horrid Wong Li Fu
would have got me into the car. No, Mr. Theydon, our meeting has proved
most fortunate for me. Suppose I had really been captured! Would he have
gagged me and taken me away to some lonely place, where I would be kept
a prisoner, or even killed?"

Theydon had no desire that her mind should dwell on such a harrowing
topic. He shuddered to think of her fate if ever she fell into the hands
of the miscreants who had not scrupled to murder Mrs. Lester. She
evidently regarded the crime in No. 17 Innesmore Mansions as the sequel
to some political disturbance in far-off Shanghai. It had not occurred
to her that a hapless woman had been done to death merely as a warning
to her father of the fate in store for him and his if he did not yield
to the demand of the reactionary party in China, and deliver over to
their vengeance some hundreds of the leading men in that distressed
country.

"I doubt whether Wong Li Fu and his associates would have dared to offer
you any real violence," he said. "At the worst, I suppose, they might
have retained you as a hostage."

"A hostage for what?"

"For their claim against Mr. Forbes."

"But what has he done? He has never been in China."

"He is a power in the financial world. If the reform party cannot borrow
money the movement will collapse. At any rate that is what the Manchus
believe, and they will strain every nerve to effect their purpose."

"But why did they kill poor Mrs. Lester?"

Theydon felt that he was getting into deep water. This clear-sighted
girl would soon have the various threads of the enigma in her hands, and
then she could not fail but discover the true meaning of Edith Lester's
death.

"That phase of the problem has yet to be solved," was his noncommittal
reply.

Winter rejoined them somewhat hurriedly. He looked puzzled and rather
irritated.

"Furneaux has made an arrest," he said. "A Chinaman, described as Len
Shi, is lodged in the cells at Bow Street, on a charge of being
concerned in the Innesmore Mansions murder. Furneaux is out, and that is
all they know at the Yard. What I cannot understand is why no inquiry
has been made by telephone or otherwise concerning Miss Forbes's flight
to Eastbourne."

The words had hardly left his mouth when the bell of a telephone on the
table jangled. The coincidence was so peculiar that Winter laughed.

"Some other person shares my opinion, I fancy," he said. "May I answer,
Miss Forbes?"

"Please do," said the girl, and the chief inspector lifted the receiver
from its hook.

"Trunk call from London; you're through," announced the hotel operator.
After a slight pause, an agitated voice said: "Is that you, Evelyn?"
"Miss Forbes is here," said Winter. "Who is speaking?"

"Her father," was the reply.

"Oh, I'm Chief Inspector Winter of Scotland Yard. Your daughter is quite
safe, Mr. Forbes. Mr. Theydon and I accompanied her from London. She
will speak to you in an instant. Would you mind telling me what happened
at one o'clock, when my colleague, Mr. Furneaux, jumped on to your car
and went in pursuit of some one?"

"First, is Mrs. Forbes there, too?"

"She is out with a picnic party on Beachy Head. We expect her back
before six o'clock. I propose bringing her and Miss Forbes to London
tonight. They will be safer in your house than in Eastbourne, as you
will probably agree when you hear what a narrow escape your daughter had
this afternoon from being kidnaped by Wong Li Fu."

"Great Heavens! Evelyn in danger from that scoundrel!"

"Yes. But all is well, believe me. Owing to Mr. Theydon's promptitude
and pertinacity, Wong Li Fu's scheme was defeated. Your daughter will
make everything clear. Give me the barest summary of events after your
departure from Innesmore Mansions, and I'll get out of the way."

"We pursued a car which led us a pretty dance nearly as far as St.
Albans. It seems that Mr. Furneaux, looking out of the window of Mr.
Theydon's flat while Theydon and I were going downstairs, saw a Chinaman
watching us from a closed car standing in the cross street at the end of
the garden. He gave chase instantly, but as soon as the man realized
that he had attracted notice he tried to escape. At least, that was Mr.
Furneaux's first impression. Later, he convinced himself that the
supposed spy was little more than a red herring drawn across the trail,
and that the man's real motive was to take me out of London, or waylay
or detain me in some fashion, since it was manifestly impossible that my
presence in the Mansions should be known to any one. I see now, of
course, what the project was. If, as I gather from you, an attempt was
to be made to capture my daughter on arriving at Eastbourne, it was
all-important for the conspirators that I should not know of her absence
from home until after the arrival of the train, so that I could not
communicate with the hotel and take measures to protect her. But that
explanation was hidden from Mr. Furneaux, and the first glimpse of it
vouchsafed to me was when I reached my office and was horrified to learn
that she had gone away without my knowledge. However, in a desperate
matter like this, I must not waste time by describing my agony and
foreboding. As I have said, by some phenomenal method of reasoning
beyond my comprehension, Mr. Furneaux did arrive at a sound conclusion.
I suppose he was alive to the ridiculous aimlessness of the race across
country. My car is powerful and speedy, but the Chinaman had a
thoroughly up-to-date conveyance, too, and drove without paying the
least heed to traffic conditions."

"There was only one man, then?"

"Yes. Didn't I make that clear? Perhaps not. But there can hardly be any
doubt that this fellow was alone, and acting as a sort of scout or
vedette. We had the utmost difficulty in following him along Oxford
Street, and I am sure that my chauffeur has been reported by a score of
constables on point duty for exceeding the speed limit and disregarding
signals to halt. To come to the material facts, the chase took us up the
Edgware road. We tore along at a tremendous rate after passing the Welsh
Harp. Overhaul the fellow we could not, until on the outskirts of St.
Albans, when he deliberately slowed up, as though to allow us to pass.
Mr. Furneaux flew at him like a terrier grappling a rat, but the man
made no resistance. He is undoubtedly a Chinaman, though attired in a
chauffeur's livery, and he could handle a car in first-rate style, too.
His pidgin English was difficult to understand, and Mr. Furneaux shared
my view that he did not try to render himself intelligible. We gathered
that he was obeying his master's orders in trying the car, a new one,
before purchase, but Furneaux bundled him off to the nearest police
station, borrowed handcuffs and brought him back to London, leaving the
car in a garage at St. Albans. That is a bald but accurate summary of
the facts. I dropped Mr. Furneaux and his prisoner at Bow Street and was
on the way to my city office, when I suddenly felt faint for want of
food, as I ate hardly any breakfast this morning, and only drank a cup
of coffee in Mr. Theydon's place. So I returned to the Carlton, where I
met a friend, a business associate, who remained for a chat while I had
a meal. This trivial accident prevented me from telephoning to my house,
though, naturally, I had no misgivings as to my daughter's well-being.
Even then I was detained unduly, because my friend and I went to another
office in the city, and two more hours elapsed before I reached my own
place. Then, and not until then, did I hear of Evelyn's journey and its
cause."

"Thank you, Mr. Forbes," said Winter quietly. "We seem to have made a
forward move today. Before calling Miss Evelyn to the phone I want to
tell you that in disobeying your orders to remain at home she did my
department a good turn. Wong Li Fu and I were brought face to face. He
is not a myth."

"My word might be regarded as sufficient proof of that fact."

"Certainly, Mr. Forbes, if given earlier," was the inevitable retort.
"But here is your daughter. She can plead her cause far better than I."

Evelyn took the woman's way. To defend she attacked.

"Dad, dear," she complained, "why didn't you give me your confidence? If
I had had the least notion of the dreadful things that were going on I
should certainly have telephoned to Eastbourne before starting. But
don't you see the diabolical cleverness of the scheme? The telegram
arrived just in time to allow me to catch the 1:25 p. m. train, and
rendering it idle to think of making a trunk call if I would obey an
urgent message from my mother. Then again, when I reached Eastbourne,
why should I suspect a foreign-looking gentleman who said Dr. Sinnett
had sent his car to take me to the hotel? There isn't a Dr. Sinnett in
Eastbourne at this date, but how was I to know that? Of course, both you
and I have suffered a good deal, each in a different way, but all is
well that ends well, and I shall have such a lot to tell you when we
meet tonight.... What time? I don't know yet. I'll wire or phone when
mother returns and we settle about the train. Goodby, darling! See you
don't go anywhere alone until I come back."

For some reason Winter's manner was not so placid as usual. He looked so
obviously perplexed and troubled that Theydon, searching for a cause,
suddenly remembered that the chief inspector was a great smoker.

"Won't you have a cigar?" he said; "that is, unless Miss Forbes has any
objection?"

"Me!" cried the girl. "I don't object in the least."

But the Royal Devonshire Hotel's best Havana did not wholly banish the
frown from Winter's forehead. More than once he glanced at his watch and
consulted a time table. At last he voiced one of his anxieties.

"What can have become of that American?" he said. "He knew what hotel
you were making for?"

"Oh, yes," cried the others in chorus.

They laughed. Quite a cheerful air possessed two members of the little
party, at any rate.

"Perhaps he has forgotten the name?" went on Evelyn.

"Americans never forget the names of hotels, or railway stations, or
steamers," said Winter. "The average Englishman can tell you what will
win the Derby, but the average American will be a good deal more
accurate concerning next Saturday's mail steamer.... So, I frankly
confess it--that man's prolonged absence supplies a riddle which I can't
answer. What do you say if we give a look along the front? He may be
shy, though I told the hall porter that any inquirer was to be shown up
at once."

No; Mr. Handyside was not to be seen on Eastbourne's spacious marine
promenade. A couple of well-dressed men caught sight of Winter, and
decided that they had instant and urgent business elsewhere, But he only
smiled. His quarry that day was not the swell mobsman, but much more
dangerous game.

Lightning darted from a summer sky when the picnic party returned from
Beachy Head in three cars, but without Mrs. Forbes.

Evelyn was hardly anxious at first. The hall porter informed her who the
occupants of the cars were, and she watched the lively and chattering
groups forming on the pavement and breaking up again to enter the hotel
and dress for dinner.

At last, realizing that her mother was not among them, she singled out a
lady whom she knew, and asked for an explanation. The lady, a Mrs.
Montagu, was very much surprised.

"But, my dear Evelyn," she said, "didn't you yourself send for your
mother?"

The girl blanched. Some premonition of evil gripped her very heart.

"What do you mean?" she said, and the other woman could not help noting
the distress in her voice.

"If you didn't send, who did?" came the immediate response. "We were
just going to have tea when a gentleman, a stranger, came and asked for
Mrs. Forbes. We saw him arrive in a car which halted at the foot of the
path--nearly a quarter of a mile away. Your mother answered, and he said
that you were in Eastbourne, and had sent him to bring you to the hotel.
He said the car belonged to a Doctor Somebody, but he himself looked
like a foreigner."

A few others had gathered around, attracted by Evelyn Forbes's pallor
and distress; Winter, too, had drawn near, and it was he who said:

"Did you see this stranger who brought the message?"

"O yes, plainly," said Mrs. Montagu.

"Had he a scar down the left side of his face?"

"Yes."

Then Evelyn Forbes, for the first time in her vigorous young life,
fainted. Her mother was in the power of Wong Li Fu. All the terrors
which imagination had painted in her own behalf were redoubled as to her
mother's fate. Her brain reeled. Merciful oblivion came. Theydon and
Winter were just able to catch her before she fell like a log.



CHAPTER XI

THE REAPPEARANCE OF HANDYSIDE


Consternation reigned for a while at the entrance to the Royal
Devonshire. Men craned their necks and women uttered nervous little
shrieks. But Evelyn Forbes was endowed with a vigorous frame and a
splendidly vital spirit, and she recovered her senses before she could
be carried into the vestibule.

The fact that she had fainted, too, brought to the aid of her waking
senses the innate horror of her race and class for anything approaching
a "scene," and she was almost unnaturally collected in speech and
demeanor within a few seconds after her eyes had reopened.

"Did I give way like that?" she said, with a valiant smile, first at
Theydon, and then at the ring of faces, each with its varying expression
of curiosity or concern. "How stupid of me! How excessively stupid! That
sort of behavior doesn't help at all--does it?... Thank you, I can walk
quite well.... I'll just go to mother's room and telephone home....
There has been some silly mistake. By this time it will be rectified,
I'm sure.... Come, Mr. Theydon. Where is Mr. Winter?"

"Here," said the detective. "I'll follow in a minute or so. Please don't
communicate with London till I arrive."

His quietly insistent tone was meant rather for Theydon than for the
half-demented girl, who was stumbling anywhere but in the right
direction until Theydon caught her arm and led her to the lift. She
contrived to remain outwardly calm until she reached the seclusion of
the sitting room, when she broke into a flood of tears, while in
disjointed and hysterical words she blamed her own rashness for the fate
which had overtaken her mother.

If only she had used better judgment when the telegram came--if only she
had hired an automobile and driven straight to Beachy Head--if only she
had done a dozen other things which no one would possibly have dreamed
of doing--she might have safeguarded her darling mother!

Theydon, meanwhile, was nearly frantic with the indecision of ignorance.
Never had he felt so helpless, so utterly childish and unhinged in the
face of disaster. He had heard that it was good for a woman to be
allowed to cry when overwhelmed with misery. Again, he remembered
reading somewhere that the feminine temperament should not be allowed to
yield to a too-tempestuous grief, or the delicate and finely-balanced
female organism might suffer irreparable injury. Should she be given
water or a stimulant? Should one leave her alone or endeavor to soothe
her?

Heaven only knew--he didn't--so he did exactly what any devout and
despairing lover might be expected to do--put an arm around her
shoulders, and murmured a frenzied assurance of his willingness to die
several times, and vanquish a horde of Young Manchus in the process, ere
she could be allowed to endure one needless hour of distress on her
mother's account.

Somehow, this sort of nonsense was helpful. The girl raised her swimming
eyes to his. She placed two appealing hands on his shoulders, and said
brokenly:

"Mr. Theydon--I am ready to trust you--next to--my own father.... Where
shall we go? What can we do? I'll come with you--anywhere--only--my dear
one must be rescued."

He believed afterwards that he answered her by a kiss! He was not
certain. The delirium of the moment was such that he could never recall
its words or acts with that precision which a well-regulated mind should
display even under the stress of intense emotion. In any event, the
crisis was interrupted by the clamor of the telephone bell.

Withdrawing from what was perilously near an embrace--so colorable an
imitation of the real thing that Winter, entering at that instant, could
make no distinction, and was secretly amazed at these strenuous methods
of consoling the lady--Theydon lifted the receiver, and heard as one in
a trance the telephone operator's conventional announcement:

"Trunk call from Croydon; you're through."

"Who is it?" demanded the chief inspector gruffly.

Even he, veteran fighter in the unceasing battle between the law and the
malefactor, was feeling the strain of the Homeric struggle ushered in by
the death of Edith Lester.

"I don't know yet," Theydon managed to say collectedly. "Some one from
Croydon. Bend close. You'll hear."

A quiet, drawling voice reached them, the vibrating wire lending its
measured accents a metallic accuracy.

"That you, Mr. Theydon?"

"Why, it's Mr. Handyside! Yes, I'm here. Where are you speaking from?
Croydon?"

"That's so."

"Well, I don't understand, but I'm sure you'll pardon me. We are in a
deuce of a fix at this end, so, if you'll arrange to call tomorrow--"

"You've lost Mrs. Forbes, I guess. Is that the lady's name? If it is,
I've kept track of her. I--"

Theydon was so astounded that he looked at Winter in blank amazement,
the pressure of his fingers on the circuit key relaxed, and the
American's voice trailed abruptly away into silence. He put matters
right at once and heard the continuation of a new sentence, whereupon he
broke in excitedly:

"One second, Mr. Handyside. Miss Forbes is here. I must tell her your
news!"

He turned to Evelyn.

"Hooray!" he almost yelled. "Your mother is all right. She is with Mr.
Handyside. Some sort of miracle has happened. Come and listen."

Aroused from a stupor of grief as though she had received a galvanic
shock, Evelyn sprang up. Naturally, she had to place an arm on Theydon's
back to permit of her head approaching near enough to the telephone.
Thus, the three heads were almost touching each other; if an artist had
been present he would have obtained a study in facial expressions worthy
of Phil May or Guerrido.

Handyside, of course, had heard Theydon's gleeful exclamation. He
chuckled pleasantly:

"Your digest goes a little too far, Mr. Theydon," he said, "but compared
with the newspaper placard facts in your possession, my story is a
full-sized novel. Anyhow, I'll condense it, so here goes. I was back of
the crowd when the circus started outside the Eastbourne depot. As I
ante'd up your ticket and collected your deposit of a sovereign, I saw
what took place, and sized up the result pretty accurately. The
kidnaping proposition had failed, but the guy in the silk hat had got
clear away in a bully good car--how good I know now. It seemed to me
that, next to rescuing that charming young lady, it was important
something should be known about the thug who wanted to carry her off,
and, when my eyes lit on a workmanlike motor bicycle with a side-car rig
standing close to the curb, and well clear of the arena, said I to
myself: 'George T. Handyside, this is where you take a flier, and maybe
Illinois will score one.' The man who owned the outfit was watching the
commotion when I dug him in the ribs. 'Take me after that car,' I said,
'and I'll pay you a shilling a mile with five pounds on account if it's
only a 100 yards.' I pressed a note into his hand--and, say, you
Britishers wake up all right when you see real money! We were doing
thirty per in less than ten seconds. No car on four wheels can lose any
decent motorcycle on a switchback track, and Jackson, the owner of this
one, says it's good enough for sixty on a fair stretch of road. Anyhow,
we held the thug dead easy, but didn't press him any, as I had no call
to butt in, had I?"

"Mr. Handyside," said Theydon. "I won't waste time now by telling you
how grateful we all are. Get on with the knitting!"

"Sir, I've had the time of my life--a rip-snorting movie, with George T.
on the film from A to Z ... No! Go away, exchange. I'm renting this line
for the next quarter of an hour. Well, we made a bee-line for Beachy
Head--so Jackson told me--and, when the automobile pulled up, we got
under a hedge and I did a bit of scout work on my feet. I saw Silk Hat
pick out a lady from a bunch of people, who seemed to be taking the view
with sandwiches, and it was simple as falling off a log to follow the
position of affairs--Silk Hat urging lady to come with him, lady
astonished, not able to size up exact bearings of the yarn, but finally
yielding. Now, if Miss Forbes hadn't told us that her mother had written
saying she was going to Beachy Head with a picnic party this afternoon I
would have gotten off at the wrong address, because I could hardly have
failed to believe that Silk Hat was picking up a female accomplice. But,
as things stood, I suspicioned that, failing the daughter, he was
putting up a bunco tale for the mother--a situation new, I believe, in
the realm of romantic fiction. I thought it was up to me to play a
strong hand, so I threw a few facts on the screen for Jackson's benefit,
and he straightway hit the pike in pursuit. Where the country was open
we kept well in the rear, but crept closer in villages and towns. We had
to stop at Tunbridge Wells for petrol, but that didn't cut any ice,
because Jackson knew the country like a book, and we sighted the
automobile within five minutes, though the milestones were pretty
numerous during that run. After that, nothing particularly happened,
except to a hen and a dog, until we came near Croydon--that is, I knew
it was Croydon because Jackson said so, and I have considerable faith in
him. In between whiles, where there was nothing doing, he and I fixed up
an automobile tour. Well, outside Croydon, there's a new road, with a
half-built villa at the near end and a way-back farmhouse at the other
end. That villa was the one thing needed when the thug made a bee-line
for the farm. I jumped out, told Jackson to find something to do to his
machine at the corner of the next block, and hurried into the Alpine
chalet. From a top back room I watched Silk Hat carrying a lady into the
farm. Eh, what's that? Yes, he was carrying her. I guess he'd given her
a dope so as to stop any cry for help. It made me feel pretty mean to be
standing there without taking a hand in the deal, but I forced myself to
believe that another hour or two couldn't make such a heap of difference
to the lady, while it would be better to leave things to the police. I
waited just twenty minutes--I have all the times scheduled--until the
car came back. By hurrying downstairs I was able to look inside as it
passed, and Silk Hat was alone. He took the London road. I strolled
out--didn't dare to hurry, you know, in case any one might be watching
from the farm--and put in some hard thinking while walking to Jackson's
stand. There were two courses open, either to send Jackson after the
auto and try myself to get in touch with you and the police, or put
Jackson on guard near the farm. Whether I decided rightly or not I
haven't a notion, but I let the car go, and for this reason: We know
where the lady is, and so does the thug; if the police put up a hard
game they can rescue her without his knowledge and spread a web for the
fly to walk into later. But they must get a move on. This phone is
nearly a mile from the farm, and Jackson is tightening nuts outside the
villa I spoke of. Now, what's the next item on the program?"

Winter grabbed the receiver unceremoniously.

"I am a representative of Scotland Yard, Mr. Handyside," he said. "If
ever you want work come to me, J. L. Winter, and I'll find you some.
Miss Forbes is vexed with me because I have stopped her from thanking
you, but compliments must wait. Will you go as quickly as possible to
the chief police station at Croydon? By the time you get there I'll be
in touch with the inspector in charge, and he will do the rest. You
understand? Goodby!"

Winter rang off. He smiled blandly at Evelyn.

"There's no opportunity now for sentiment," he explained. "Our American
friend will appreciate quick action far more than talk."

Then he tackled the telephone again and asked to be put through to the
Croydon police station.

"There must be no delay," he added. "This is an official call."

He was in touch with Croydon in a remarkably short space of time, and
soon was in communication with a police inspector.

"What's your name?" he demanded.

"Inspector Wilkins," came the surprised answer.

"Were you a sergeant at the time of the Surrey Bank robbery?"

"Yes; but what the--"

"I am Winter of Scotland Yard. Do you recognize my voice?"

"Well--er--"

"Do you remember that nip of old brandy I gave you while we were
freezing in a drafty warehouse at three o'clock in the morning waiting
for the Smasher to come for his plant?"

"Yes. You're Mr. Winter right enough, sir."

"Good! I want you to believe what I'm going to tell you, as there is a
big job ahead. A gang of Chinese cutthroats have kidnaped a lady, wife
of the London banker, Mr. James Creighton Forbes. In a few minutes an
American, a Mr. Handyside, will be with you. He will point out the house
near Croydon to which the lady has been taken in a motor car. Collect
half a dozen plain-clothes men and two in uniform and go with Mr.
Handyside--without attracting attention, of course. Surround the house
and arrest any one, especially any Chinaman, who attempts to leave.
Release the lady, and ask Mr. Handyside to escort her to her home, 11
Fortescue Square, Belgravia. If she is very ill, which is improbable,
she should be taken to a hospital. In that event Mr. Handyside should
telephone Mr. Forbes. Occupy the farm and arrest any one who comes
there, no matter what the pretext, until Mr. Furneaux or I arrive. I'll
be with you in two hours. Tell Mrs. Forbes that her daughter will set
out from Eastbourne by the next train leaving after 6:30. Got all that?"

"Yes, sir! Are these Chinamen likely to show fight?"

"Better be prepared. But, after posting your sentries, I advise you and
the uniformed constables to rush the place. By the way, it will save me
some trouble if you phone the Yard and tell them exactly what I have
told you. Ask for Furneaux. If he is not in, instruct them to leave a
written record for him."

"I'll see to it, sir. Is that all?"

"Yes. Goodby! Meet you in two hours."

He whirled round on Theydon.

"Tell the manager to supply at once the best car to be had in Eastbourne
for love or money," he said. "I want something that is sure to go and go
fast."

The chief inspector, with full steam up, was energy personified. His
bulging eyes, his firm chin, his round fists, one clenching the
telephone instrument, the other resting on the table, were eloquent of
the man of action.

His pride had been sore stricken by the escape of Wong Li Fu when that
master scoundrel was actually in his grasp. But those powerful hands of
his were far-reaching, and it would go hard with the jiu jitsu expert
when next they gripped his lithe frame.

Almost before Theydon had quitted the room Winter snapped--there is no
other word for it--literally snapped a question at Evelyn.

"What's your telephone number?"

She told him, and again the Eastbourne exchange was bidden exert itself.

"That you, Mr. Forbes?" said the chief inspector, after a short wait.

"Yes."

"I am Winter, of Scotland Yard. I want to assure you that your wife and
daughter will be under your roof within the next three hours. Mrs.
Forbes will probably be escorted by a gentleman named Handyside, an
American. You owe him all possible thanks, because it is due to his
action alone that Mrs. Forbes will soon be rescued from captivity. Yes,
she was carried off from Beachy Head this afternoon by Wong Li Fu, but,
by the rarest good fortune, this Mr. Handyside, a friend of Mr.
Theydon's, was able to follow on the trail, and steps are now being
taken to free her. Your daughter will speak to you. I intervened merely
to vouch for it that an almost incredible story is true. By the way, let
no one know that Mrs. Forbes is in London. Warn your servants not to
speak of her return. One more word--have you heard anything of
Furneaux?"

"I have not heard from or seen him since we parted outside Bow Street
police station. But, for Heaven's sake, what is this you tell me about
my wife?"

"Miss Forbes will give you all the particulars we possess. Be calm and
remain at home. You can best assist us by stopping within call. Mrs.
Forbes and the American should arrive first, possibly before 7:30. If
there is any hitch, which is unlikely, Mr. Handyside will telephone you.
Your daughter will tell you the hour she and Mr. Theydon should reach
Victoria. She will speak to you now. Excuse my abruptness. A lot of
things may happen before I retire for the night, and I have no time to
pick and choose my words."

Evelyn, able at last to pour out her soul in thanksgiving, nearly broke
down when she heard her father's voice.

"Oh, Dad," she wailed, "I've passed through a dreadful time since I
spoke to you shortly after five o'clock. I dropped as if I had been shot
when Mrs. Montagu, who was one of the picnic party, told me that a man
of foreign appearance, with a scar on the left side of his face, and who
said he was a doctor, came to Beachy Head and told poor mother that I
had sent for her."

She went on to relate such facts as were known to her, and was in the
midst of a sensational narrative when Theydon announced that a
high-powered touring car was in readiness.

"Won't you take us with you?" he said to Winter. "There is no train from
here till 7:30, and in a motor we should be well on the way to London by
that time."

Winter had anticipated some such request, and a prompt refusal was on
the tip of his tongue, when he recalled that he would pass through
Tunbridge Wells, whence an earlier train might be available. A glance at
the time table showed that a train left Tunbridge Wells at 7:15.

"Yes," he said. "I'll take you part of the way. Tell your father, Miss
Forbes, that you will arrive at London Bridge at 8:40. If you two reach
London by a different route I think you should be tolerably safe."

"If any Chinaman shows up between here and Fortescue Square I'll shoot
him at sight," Theydon said, producing an automatic pistol.

"I wouldn't do that," smiled Winter. "You might bore a hole in some
perfectly innocent Celestial. But you won't be troubled. Wong Li Fu
carries out his own plans, and at present he is congratulating himself
on the possession of a valuable hostage. But, come along! How about a
wrap for you, Miss Forbes? We'll create a breeze, you know."

She ran into her mother's bedroom and came out with a fur coat and motor
veil, articles which, she had guessed correctly, her mother would not be
wearing for the short run to Beachy Head. The hotel manager lent coats
to the men, and they started, not without hearty congratulations from
several people in the porch, whose fears on Mrs. Forbes's account
Theydon had dissipated when he went out to order the car.

Winter gave their thoughts a new direction when Theydon inquired what
means the authorities would adopt to rid the country of the pestiferous
gang which carried on its vendetta with such scant respect for the law
and order of Great Britain.

"Once we have Mr. and Mrs. Forbes and this young lady safely housed in
Fortescue Square, and protected, not only by their own servants but by
the Metropolitan Police, we will devote ourselves to routing out the
whole crew," he announced. "My idea is that when we lay hands on the
ringleader, the rest will be easy. Furneaux's prisoner, Len Shi, may be
got to talk when a Chinese interpreter tackles him. Again, there is
every prospect of an important capture being made in the Croydon house.
Most important of all is the prolonged absence from the yard of
Furneaux. He is busy, or he would have put in an appearance there hours
ago, if only to get to know my whereabouts. That means something.
Furneaux never wastes time. Usually we hunt in couples. Today, by the
fortune of war, we are separated, and perhaps fortunately so. It is all
your fault, Mr. Theydon."

"Mine?" was the astonished cry.

"Yes. We had to try all sorts of tricks on you before you would speak.
Just imagine Scotland Yard being compelled to tap the telephone of a
respectable and well-known author before he would own up to such
knowledge as he possessed of the murder in No. 17!"

So that was how Furneaux had played the necromancer, and was able to
mystify Theydon that morning.

The chief inspector, by raising the question, was touching on dangerous
ground, as he was well aware, but he was determined now that all
barriers should be thrown down. Evelyn Forbes was no bread-and-butter
miss from whose cognizance the evil things of life must be sedulously
averted. A, woman of spirit and intelligence, who had already run the
dreadful risk of sharing Mrs. Lester's fate, should be made to
understand every phase of the difficulty with which the Criminal
Investigation Department had yet to deal.

British law and Chinese anarchy would soon grapple in a life and death
conflict, and it was idle folly to suppose that, no matter how reticent
her friends might be, this sharp-witted girl would not find out for
herself the exact nature of the link which bound the fortunes of her own
family with those of the dead woman.

Theydon tried to pass off the detective's retort with a careless laugh,
but Evelyn reverted to the topic when they were seated in the
London-bound train after Winter had dropped them at Tunbridge Wells
Station.

"What did the chief inspector mean when he said you refused to help him
at first?" she inquired. "There are gaps in my history of this affair.
How did you come to know that my father was acquainted with Mrs. Lester?
Why did you seem, at one time, to be taking sides with my father against
a public inquiry by the police?"

Then, seeing there was no help for it, Theydon began at the beginning
and told the girl the full, true and unexpurgated story of events on the
Monday night. Once or twice, when he hinted at the cause of his
otherwise inexplicable actions--which, quite obviously, lay in his
interest in the girl herself, she blushed a little and averted her eyes.
But she listened in silence, and did not speak during many seconds after
he had ceased.

Then she simply murmured:

"Poor, dear Dad! How worried he must have been! And how well he
concealed it from me!"

After another pause, she added:

"We are deeply in your debt, Mr. Theydon. When this ordeal is ended, and
those horrid men have been put in prison or driven out of the country,
our next difficulty will be to--to thank you adequately for what you
have done."

_Surgit amari aliquid!_ Even in life's pleasantest hours something
bitter arises. Theydon was in the company of the woman he loved, yet no
word of love could rise to his lips. In the first place he dared not woo
the daughter of a millionaire; in the second were his suit even
possible, he was far too honorable minded to take immediate advantage of
her disturbed state and the services he had undoubtedly rendered, and
give the slightest hint of his passion.

So he sighed and looked out of the window at a fast-flying vista of a
Kentish hillside, and contented himself by saying:

"For what little I have done, or attempted to do, I am already rewarded
far beyond my wildest dreams."

Even that was more than he meant to say. Glancing timidly at Evelyn to
see whether or not she resented his words, he was astounded to find that
she had blushed scarlet, and, in her turn, was absorbed in the
landscape.

Then he remembered that in the frenzy of the moment following the report
of her mother's capture by Wong Li Fu, he had kissed her. Had he, or had
he not? If not, why not now? But that way lay madness. And, wretched
doubt, was she already the promised bride of another man? It was a
relief when the train stopped at Sevenoaks.

When it moved on again, they were normal young people once more, and
discussed various features of the Young Manchus' raid on society as
though the extermination of political adversaries were a commonplace
occurrence in modern England.

At last, after a journey which lived long in their minds, since even a
prosaic train may follow the path to Wonderland, they arrived at London
Bridge, and hummed in a taxi through streets of gaunt warehouses until
the light of Westminster flashed on a Thames veiled in the blue mystery
of a Summer gloaming.

The cab had hardly halted outside the Fortescue Square mansion when the
door was thrown wide, and Tomlinson appeared, flanked by two stalwart
footmen. The butler's face was aglow with pleasure.

"It's all right now you've come, Miss Evelyn," he said joyfully. "Mrs.
Forbes arrived more than an hour ago."

But Tomlinson was in error. He did not know what tribulations loomed
already through the haze of the future, or he would have laid to heart
the time-honored advice to venturesome travelers:

"Never hallo till you're out of the wood!"



CHAPTER XII

NO SURRENDER


Mrs. Forbes, a slim, elegant woman, looked as if she were her daughter's
elder sister. Although driven by hay fever to the seaside regularly at
the beginning of the London season, she was far from being a _malade
imaginaire_. She did not go willingly. Each year she hoped against hope
that the annoying ailment would not make itself felt, yet no sooner was
the month of May well established than for six or seven weeks she had
either to drag her husband and daughter away from the metropolis or live
by herself in some South Coast hotel.

She had tried Brighton, whence Mr. Forbes could travel to the city, but
soon discovered that the daily train journey was not good for his
health. After that, she insisted on adopting the self-denying ordinance
of leaving Evelyn with her father in the town house from the middle of
May till the end of June, when all three went to the Highlands.

She, of course, had not the remotest knowledge of the terrors
threatening her household; a thunderbolt out of a Summer sky would have
astonished her less than the indignities she endured when haled away
from Eastbourne in the luxurious car which Wong Li Fu had at his
command.

Theydon had been in the house nearly half an hour and was exchanging
experiences with Forbes and Handyside--the latter, by virtue of his
extraordinary share in the day's adventures, being admitted to the full
confidence of the others--when Evelyn brought her mother into the
library.

"Here is some one who positively refuses to retire for the night until
she has met you, Mr. Theydon," said the girl, radiant with joy and
relief, now that the shadow of death had passed, apparently forever,
leaving her dear ones unscathed.

Mrs. Forbes, an aristocrat to the finger tips, greeted her guest with
marked cordiality.

"I have been living during the past few hours like one of the characters
one sees in the fearsome little plays produced on the stage of the Grand
Guignol in Paris," she said, gazing at him with frank brown eyes
singularly like her daughter's, "but I have contrived to gather one
definite impression among the whirl of things, and that is that were it
not for Mr. Frank Theydon, my daughter and I would now be in as bad a
predicament as two women could possibly face anywhere."

"I was lucky enough to be of some little use, but Mr. Handyside is the
lion of today's contest," said Theydon.

"I am grateful to both of you, how grateful I can never find words to
tell, but Mr. Handyside rivals you in modesty, Mr. Theydon. He assured
me that you were the _deus ex machina_, though he obtained the machine
itself, and rode sixty miles to rescue me from my dragon. By the way,
where is the motor cyclist--what is his name?"

"Jackson, ma'am," put in Handyside. "He went back to Eastbourne--thought
nothing of it. I fixed him all right. He's coming to London next week.
I've hired him for a trip round the island."

"In a side-car?" laughed Evelyn.

"No; I guess we'll run to something more roomy."

"Jim, dear," said Mrs. Forbes to her husband, "get Mr. Jackson's
address. Our thanks to him, at least, can take a tangible form. No,
Evelyn, I'm not going to bed. I mean to sit up and talk. I want to hear
everything. You men must smoke big strong cigars, please. If I breathe
tobacco smoke I shall not fancy I want to sneeze."

"I, for one, am simply aching to hear what happened to you," said
Theydon.

Mrs. Forbes was equally ready to retail her trials.

"When a man who resembled a tall and well-built Japanese came to me on
the Downs," she said, "I really believed him to be what he said he
was--assistant to an Eastbourne doctor. I never dreamed he was Chinese,
not that it mattered at all where I was concerned, only one becomes
quite accustomed to meeting well-dressed Japanese men in society, but
hardly ever a Chinaman. I thought, too, I remembered his face, which is
quite possible, since my husband tells me that this Wong Li Fu was once
an attaché at the Chinese Embassy. He spoke excellent English, with a
strongly marked lisp; when he said that my daughter wished to see me at
the Royal Devonshire Hotel, and that a Dr. Sinnett had sent a car for my
convenience, I was mainly concerned in getting him to admit the real
cause of his presence, because I naturally assumed that Evelyn had met
with an accident. No sooner had the car started than he seized my
wrists, and gave them a queer twist, which seemed to render me powerless
for a few seconds. 'If you scream or resist I hurt you--so--only very
bad,' he said. I was that astonished I hardly realized what was taking
place before he had my wrists and ankles strapped, tightly, but not
painfully, and had placed a gag in my mouth. 'Now, you keep quiet,' he
said, and showed me a horrible-looking knife, which he put on the seat
between us. 'If you move at all when we pass through towns,' he went on,
'I stick this into you very deep.' Somehow, I knew that he meant to
carry out his threats to the letter. At first I was more angry than hurt
or even alarmed. Then I began to believe that I had fallen into the
clutches of a lunatic, and grew horribly afraid. I saw that we were
following the London road, and it oppressed me like a dreadful sort of
nightmare to be speeding through a familiar district, a countryside
dotted with the houses and estates of personal friends, and be unable to
stir or utter a sound. It seemed to be almost stupid to see policemen in
the streets of Tunbridge Wells, one of whom gazed into our car sharply,
because, I suppose, we were traveling rather fast, and feel that no one
could begin to guess at my predicament. You all appreciate the fact, of
course, that I knew nothing whatever of any quarrel between my husband
and a faction in China?"

"Your husband adopted the policy of the ostrich, Helena," said Forbes,
grimly. "It may or may not be a fable as regards ostriches--I don't know
enough about them to feel certain, but it is unquestionably too often
true of mankind. I believed my head was hidden and imagined the
remainder of my body was safe in consequence. Now I learn that my
opponents have been tracking me steadily for half a year. The one fact
which stands out clearly above all others during the past forty-eight
hours is the phenomenal range and completeness of Wong Li Fu's plans."

"I didn't mean my comment as a reproach, dear," and Mrs. Forbes gave him
a look which told plainly that these two were lovers after many years of
wedded happiness. "Thank God, we have all escaped--thus far!"

"Oh, mother," laughed Evelyn nervously, "you are not anticipating more
horrors, are you?"

"A few hours ago I would have scoffed at any one who said that a handful
of Chinese could tear aside our cloak of civilized security as though it
were a spider's web," was the serious reply. "But I have interrupted my
own story. I began to think that I would be taken to some awful den in
the East End, and held there till some huge sum of money was paid by way
of ransom, when the car suddenly quitted the main road and bumped over a
rough surface. I knew I was near Croydon--the last place I would have
suspected as a brigands' stronghold. Then we halted, and that wretched
man lifted me out, carried me into a back room of an old-fashioned
house, put me in a fairly comfortable chair, tied me in with ropes, and
left me. I couldn't speak. I was looking at a blank wall and
smoke-stained ceiling. I was sure then that he was after money, and
began to calculate the time which must elapse before my husband would
hear from him and arrange for my release. I wondered how much he would
ask--ten, twenty, fifty thousand pounds. How much would you have paid,
Jim?"

Mrs. Forbes took her trials so cheerfully that they all laughed.

"That's hardly a fair question, is it?" she continued, stealing another
glance at her husband. "At any rate, being a banker's wife, I knew how
extraordinarily difficult it would be to raise any considerable sum of
gold at such a late hour, and I resigned myself to remaining a prisoner
all night. Then I think I wept a little, but not for long, because I
felt that they meant to keep me alive, and as I look more delicate than
I really am, even a Chinaman would see that he was taking some risk by
denying me food and all liberty of movement. Then--very soon, it
seemed--I heard an outer door being forced off its hinges and English
voices, and the door of my room was broken open, and I saw a police
inspector and some constables. Hitherto I have never properly
appreciated our policemen. From this day I become their most ardent
admirer and enthusiastic helper. I could have gone down on my knees to
those big, kind-looking men in uniform. In fact I nearly did. When they
released me I could hardly stand. After that, Mr. Handyside came, and
accompanied me here, with a detective sitting next the driver, and my
husband and Evelyn have told me something of the extraordinary things
which have been going on in London while I was gadding about at
Eastbourne."

"Was the detective a man named Furneaux?" inquired Theydon.

Mrs. Forbes hesitated, and her husband answered for her, as he alone,
among the members of the household, had met the Jersey man.

"No," he said. "He belonged to the Croydon force, and was sent as an
escort. Furneaux seems to have been swallowed alive since three o'clock.
Everybody is inquiring for him, and no one appears to know anything
about him."

"I wonder whether Wong Li Fu is aware I have been liberated?" said Mrs.
Forbes. "It's rather odd, is it not, that nothing has been heard from
him or his gang if I was to be held a prisoner in order to extort
terms?"

"I fancy he meant to add significance to his demand for a reply by
advertisement in tomorrow's Times," said Forbes. "You see, Helena, he
meant to carry off Evelyn as well as you."

Mrs. Forbes smiled again at that.

"What in the world should each of us have thought if we had both been
bound and gagged in that car?" she cried.

"I know what I think," said her husband emphatically. "You are going
straight to bed now, and you'll take ten grains of bromide before lying
down. Evelyn, I appoint you nurse. Don't leave your mother till she is
sound asleep."

Mrs. Forbes rose at once. She admitted, though reluctantly, that a
night's rest was necessary to steady her nerves.

"Ah!" she sighed, "I shall be so glad when all this turmoil is ended,
and we are settled for the season in Sutherland."

"Sutherland, ma'am," inquired Handyside. "Isn't that in the far north of
Scotland?"

"Yes."

"It would be, just as the North Foreland is in Kent."

Theydon explained his friend's theory of geographical names in the
British Isles, and on that lightly humorous note the ladies disappeared.
When they were gone Forbes quickly gave a sinister turn to their talk.
He produced a letter from his pocket.

"Listen to this," he said.

"Y. M. is pleased to inform James Creighton Forbes that Mrs. Forbes is a
prisoner, and will remain, without food or drink and unable to move, in
an empty house until Y. M.'s demands are granted."

His face was white with fury while he read, and his fingers moved
convulsively as if he could feel them twining around Wong Li Fu's
throat. The other men maintained a sympathetic silence. They understood
why that ghastly message had been withheld from the cognizance of the
lady who had just quitted them.

"It was delivered by a messenger boy shortly before you arrived,
Theydon," said Forbes, when his passion had subsided and he could trust
his voice again.

"Have you informed Scotland Yard?" said Theydon.

"No. I dared not use the telephone. I could not leave my wife. She is
far more shaken than she thinks. Ever since her return she has followed
me if I even walked across the room. It was pitiful. I had to lie to her
when the butler brought this infernal note. She saw it was typed, and
believed my explanation that it was a mere record of an office
cablegram."

"Give it to me," said Theydon. "Mr. Handyside and I must leave you now.
We'll take it to Scotland Yard. Mr. Winter ought to know of it. In all
likelihood he is arranging to remain in the Croydon house tonight, and,
if Wong Li Fu is telling the truth, which is highly probable, the local
police can watch the place adequately."

"Yes. You're right, of course. I should have seen that an hour ago, but
my brain is on fire owing to the torture these fiends have devised."

"Are you quite safe here? It is an absurd question, but I would like to
feel assured on that point. Shall I return, and strengthen your guard?"

"I'm exceedingly obliged to you, but, in addition to two of my servants,
thoroughly trustworthy men, a detective sergeant and constable have come
from Scotland Yard. They are now having supper. When the household
retires for the night two will remain in this room, with the door open,
and two in the butler's room, which commands the other staircase.
Moreover a constable will patrol this side of the square, and a second
one the back of the premises, until long after daybreak."

"Tell you what," said Handyside, when he and Theydon were in a taxi, and
had made certain they were not being followed, "tell you what, son,
you've struck a bonanza in this Chinese drama."

"What do you mean?" said Theydon.

"Well, I guess you're the curly-haired boy where Miss Evelyn is
concerned."

"Like most Americans, you jump at conclusions," was the ungracious
reply.

"And, like most Americans, I'm right nearly all the time," said
Handyside dryly.

"Surely one can hardly discuss such a matter."

"Why not? If a proposition sounds hard, chew on it, and may be you'll
get your teeth into it somehow."

Theydon nearly allowed himself to become angry. Was his hopeless
admiration for Evelyn Forbes so patent that a sharp-eyed stranger could
discern it after a brief hour in their company?

"Millionaires' daughters marry poor men only in novels and on the
stage," he said bitterly. "In real life, and in England, they take unto
themselves titles and landed estates."

"I guess Wong Li Fu will have to round you up some more," was the
cryptic answer, and Handyside forthwith plunged airily into some wholly
different topic.

At Scotland Yard they inquired for Furneaux, and were told he had not
reported at headquarters since the early afternoon. So Theydon was
introduced to another representative of the department, and handed over
the typed note; the detective promised that its purport should be
telephoned to Croydon without delay.

When the two reached the Embankment again, Theydon felt unaccountably
tired, and was minded to take leave of his companion then and there. But
Handyside placed an unerring finger on the cause of his weariness.

"Say, Mr. Theydon," he cried, "I don't know what food product
arrangements you've made all day, but I couldn't have eaten less since
breakfast if Wong Li Fu was sitting over me with a pistol. How about a
square meal? Come to my hotel, and I'll start the chef on a nice little
menoo while we're having a wash and a brush up."

"By Jove! Now I know what is the matter with me," was the astonishing
answer. "I have lunched and dined on a cup of tea at Eastbourne."

"Guess I'm fifteen years older than you, so I knew my trouble all the
time. Those people in Fortescue Square were so rattled that they never
thought of asking us to eat. Come right along. It's only a step."

"I'll come with pleasure. I owe you some money, too, which I was nearly
forgetting."

"What do you owe for?"

"Railway tickets, and taxis, and motor-cycles, to begin with."

"No, sir," said the American decisively. "I've had the cheapest day's
amusement I've ever dreamed of. On balance I owe you one sovereign. As
for those half-tickets from Eastbourne I wouldn't sell them for dollars
and cents. When I get back to my home, 21,097 Park Avenue, Chicago, I'll
have those bits of cardboard framed, and when some particular friend
asks the reason I'll tell him, suppressing names of course, and he'll go
away thinking that George T. Handyside is the biggest liar in the State
of Illinois, which is some pumpkin, you bet."

"What beats me," rejoined Theydon, "is how you remember where you live.
You must have a marvelous head for figures."

So they dined well, and wined moderately, and Theydon walked to
Innesmore Mansions, thinking of little else in the world except of the
moment when he held Evelyn Forbes in his arms, almost in an embrace, and
he had dared, nearly, if not quite, to kiss her.

As he drew near Innesmore Mansions, however, he kept his wits about him.
One of the most remarkable features of a series of remarkable crimes was
the thorough command of the resources of civilization exhibited by the
Young Manchus. A few days earlier he would not have dared to introduce
into a story of his own an association composed exclusively of Chinamen
which adapted to its needs the motor car, the messenger boy, perhaps the
telephone and telegraph, to say nothing of the advertising columns of
the daily press.

It was monstrous to imagine that a number of Orientals--marked men,
every one, no matter what disguises they might adopt--should dare bid
defiance to the forces of the British Constitution in order that they
might wreak vengeance on those more enlightened compatriots who wished
to see their country rescued from the effete control of a puppet
Emperor.

But Theydon was now some days older and many degrees wiser. He knew that
the wildly improbable had become dogged fact, that Chinese fanaticism,
tigerish in its crafty and utter cold-bloodedness, was setting at naught
not only the ordinances of the law, but the brightest intellects whose
duty it was to make that law respected.

It behooved him, therefore, to lend a sharp eye to his own safety, and
never a vehicle or pedestrian came near while he traversed the quiet
streets in the neighborhood of Innesmore Mansions that he did not give
the closest attention to cab or wayfarer, as the case might be.

As it happened, that quarter of London was singularly deserted. The
first flight of people homeward-bound from the theaters was well over;
the later contingent, supping in restaurants, had not begun to arrive.
Save for the slow-moving figure of a policeman the long front of the
mansions themselves was devoid of life.

Nevertheless, it was with a feeling of relief that he turned the key in
the lock of No. 18, and heard the scraping of a chair on the kitchen
floor as Bates rose to meet him.

"Hello, Bates!" he cried wearily, "here I am again, you see! Anything
new or interesting during my absence?"

"Mrs. Paxton--" began the valet, stopping when his master uttered a
sharp exclamation. Theydon had completely forgotten Miss Beale and his
sister.

"Yes," he said. "Sorry I interrupted you. What of Mrs. Paxton?"

"I saw her, sir, as you ordered, and she promised to call on Miss Beale.
She kem here about an hour ago--"

"Who? My sister?"

"Yes, sir. She was anxious to see you. From what I could gather, sir,
the two ladies had bin puttin' their heads together, and agreed that
this Chinese business has a nasty look, an' you'd better keep out of
it."

"What Chinese business, Bates?"

"Well, sir, Miss Beale will 'ave it that Mrs. Lester was killed by a
Chinaman, an' one of the police on duty in this district told me a
little while ago that he saw no less than three Chinamen prowlin' round
here last Monday between dusk and dark."

Theydon drew a deep breath. If there was gossip going on about
"Chinamen" in connection with the murder in No. 17 the newspapers would
soon be getting hold of it. The arrest of Len Shi by Furneaux must be
reported. Possibly some newspaper correspondent in Eastbourne would hear
of the kidnaping exploit, and describe the Eastern aspect of its chief
actor, Mrs. Forbes's name would "transpire" in the paragraph, and, by
putting two and two together the lynx-eyed journalism of London would
ferret out a good deal of the truth.

"Ladies very often talk nonsense about such things," he said sharply.
"Why should any Chinaman single out poor Mrs. Lester as a victim? I
think the inquiry may be left safely to Scotland Yard. Have you seen the
evening papers? I'll bet you sixpence nothing was said at the inquest
concerning Chinamen?"

"No, sir. That's true. However, Mrs. Paxton wants you to ring her up."

"Why?"

"She wants to be sure you are safe home."

Theydon laughed. "How can I?" he cried. "She is not on the telephone."

"Mrs. Paxton left a number, sir. If you give them a call it will be
taken to her."

Theydon shook his head good-humoredly but obeyed. A voice at the other
end answered:

"Will you oblige me by telling Mrs. Paxton that I took an American
friend to Eastbourne this afternoon and returned by a late trains," he
said.

"Who is it, please?"

"Mr. Theydon, Mrs. Paxton's brother."

"O, I have a message for you. Miss Beale is staying with Mrs. Paxton
tonight. There was a Chinaman in her hotel, and she didn't like it."

Theydon controlled his feelings sufficiently to thank his informant. He
really wanted to say something crude.

"Gad!" he muttered, when he had rung off, "these women have Chinamen on
the brain. Look here Bates," he added emphatically, "I hope you won't
lend an ear to this nonsense. You've seen no Chinamen, I supposed?"

"No, sir."

"If you do see one, tell me, and I'll get to know his business, pretty
quick."

"Yes, sir."

"Any letters?"

"Three, sir, and a small parcel. I put them on your table. Shall I get
you something, sir?"

"No, thanks. I've just had a huge supper. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, sir. Any orders for the morning?"

"Let me sleep as long as I like, unless I'm wanted."

Theydon entered the sitting room. He opened the letters. Two were of no
moment; the third was a request from the editor of a magazine that the
"copy" of his article on the "Forbes Peace Propaganda" should be
forwarded as speedily as practicable. What a mad world it was, to be
sure! Here was an important periodical waiting impatiently for the views
of the millionaire on the best means of securing peace on earth and good
will to all men, while that same master mind was obsessed with fear of a
few Chinese bandits. Society was looking to Forbes for a promised
panacea against war and its evils; Forbes himself was wondering whether
bolts and locks and armed servants and policemen would protect him and
his from the claws of the Young Manchus!

Theydon heard Bates locking and bolting the outer door of the flat with
a certain thankfulness. He was thinking of the sheer impossibility of
any marauder gaining access to No. 18, when he opened the small parcel
which the valet had spoken of. He speculated idly as to the nature of
its contents, because he could not remember having ordered any article
which would be contained in so tiny a package.

He took out a piece of stout paper, folded twice, and a little white
object fell to the table and rolled over several times, finally coming
to rest with a curious suddenness. It was a small, carved, ivory skull!



CHAPTER XIII

SOME NEW MOVES IN THE GAME


Theydon gazed dazedly at the skull for the best part of a minute. His
state of mind was that of a man, utterly incredulous, who nevertheless
thinks he sees a ghost. Then he recovered himself and laughed angrily,
harshly, because he had not succeeded better in controlling his nerves.

He examined the paper. It bore no writing of any kind. It was precisely
similar in color and texture to the two typed slips which Forbes had
received, but the sender had evidently thought that the skull was
symbolical enough of deadly intent without troubling to add a written
threat.

The ivory skull was an exact replica of its predecessors. The set teeth,
the scowling grin of the gaunt jawbones, the dull menace of the empty
eye sockets, were equally convincing, equally disconcerting.

Lighting a cigarette, Theydon scrutinized the address and postmarks. In
a sense, it was ludicrous to find "Francis B. Theydon, Esq., 18
Innesmore Mansions, W. C.," typed in plain script on the wrapper. What
an unholy alliance of modern science and medievalism! The mind almost
refused to focus itself on the tragic aspect of the affair, yet the hour
at which the package was posted, 5:30 p. m. in the West Strand, showed
conclusively that Wong Li Fu, at any rate, had not sent the death's head
by his own hand, but had entrusted it to a confederate. The notion
brought in its train the departure of Miss Beale from her hotel,
"because she had seen a Chinaman there." "Every little helps," mused
Theydon, "I must let Scotland Yard know."

He went straight to the telephone, and was pleased to hear that Mr.
Winter had reached headquarters. The chief inspector was feeling
grateful, and said so.

"It was very thoughtful on your part to deal so promptly with the
message received by Mr. Forbes," he said. "I meant remaining in Croydon
all night. No one came to the house, of course. Wong Li Fu's note
explained why. Callous and calculating demon, isn't he?"

"Yes. Even more calculating than you are aware. He has included me in
the count now. When I reached home ten minutes since, after gormandizing
with Mr. Handyside, I found the totem of the tribe awaiting me."

"The what?"

"An ivory skull."

"You don't say!" and there was a genuine thrill in Winter's voice.
"Anything else?"

"There was no written legend. I have no doubt the enemy believes that
such a work of art speaks for itself. It does. I am to be exterminated,
I suppose."

A marked pause ensued. When Winter spoke again his tone was grave.

"This is a very serious business, Mr. Theydon," he said. "The worst part
of it is that it seems to be spreading in an ever-widening circle. If it
goes much further we'll be obliged to run in every Chinaman in London,
and sift out the decent ones from the heap until we reach the unpleasant
residuum. Are you worried about things? If so, I'll send a man to mount
guard tonight."

"Not at all, thanks. Bates and I will take care that there isn't even a
joss stick in the flat before we go to bed. But I say, there's another
matter. Have you met Miss Beale?"

"Yes. She came here this morning. She gave evidence at the inquest, I am
told. What of her?"

"I asked my sister to spend the evening with her, and she was so alarmed
at finding a Chinaman as a fellow-guest in her hotel that she is
spending the night in my sister's house."

"A plague on all Chinamen!" cried Winter wrathfully. "After this I'm
dashed if I don't drink Indian tea. However, we'll look him up. Sleep
soundly. Your earlier sins of omission are forgiven you, because you
have done us several good turns today. I'll tell your local police
station that if any pigtail or squint eye is found within half a mile of
Innesmore Mansions tonight it is to be jugged without the slightest
hesitation. Keep the skull safely. Furneaux is collecting them."

"Have you seen him, then'"

"No. But I've heard from him. He has gone home suffering from opium
poisoning."

"Great Scott!"

"O, that's only pretty Fanny's way. He means that he is sick of the reek
of Chinamen. You know his peculiar views with regard to tobacco. If he
has been prowling around among opium dens in the East End all the
evening, I'm sorry for him. But he'll turn up all right in the morning,
looking like a skinned weasel. By the way, it'll interest you to hear
that we have cleared up one minor issue. You remember that Ann Rogers,
Mrs. Lester's maid, was called away by a telegram saying that her father
was ill?"

"Yes."

"The old fellow, who is a bit of a sponge, admits that he was given two
pounds by 'a foreign gentleman' for sending that telegram and shamming
illness during the night. I wish I could put the hoary old rascal in
jail, but his action probably saved Ann Rogers from sharing her
mistress's fate."

"Mr. Winter, has it struck you that the man who devised this scheme,
beginning with the murder of Mrs. Lester and ending, Heaven alone knows
when or where, is an organizing genius of a very high orders."

"You would be surprised if you knew the real extent and scope of this
affair," said Winter. "Some day soon I'll be more outspoken. Goodnight.
If you go out in the morning leave word with Bates where you can be
found if wanted."

Theydon turned from the telephone and found Bates standing beside him.
That stolid and worthy ex-noncommissioned officer was armed with a
red-hot poker. Henceforth his employer saw pretense was useless.

"Beg pardon, sir," said the valet apologetically. "I couldn't help
overhearin' what you were sayin', an' if there's any blinkin' Chinee
hidden in this place I'll put a mark on him he won't forget in a hurry."

Theydon could not help laughing, but Bates was in earnest.

"Once I was stationed in Cork, sir," he said solemnly, "an' we had to
stop a riot. It was then I learnt the reel vally of a red-hot poker.
It's as good as a baynit any time. I've kep' this one handy since Mr.
Furneaux ran out. I do believe he saw a Chinaman."

"He did, and, what is more, arrested him. Well, come on, Bates. There
are not many hiding places in one of these flats. I only hope we find a
Celestial. It would be the fitting finale to a busy day."

But their search was in vain, though they succeeded in scaring Mrs.
Bates badly. It was almost inconceivable that two such men, one a
powerfully-built athlete and the other an ex-soldier, should even
imagine that any marauder could be secreted in the flat; but the
European insensibly credits the Oriental with occult powers, and they
took their task quite soberly.

Singularly enough it led to a discovery bearing directly on the problem
of Mrs. Lester's death. Lending out of the kitchen was a narrow
scullery; here a lift, worked by a wheel on the ground level, delivered
coals by the sack and other heavy parcels.

Theydon glanced at the sliding panel which gave access to the lift.
Obviously he seldom, if ever, visited this part of his domain.

"Can that thing be operated only from the ground?" he inquired.

"O, no, sir," said Bates. "I often pull it up when I want to lower the
dust bin."

"Can you do it now?"

Bates looked surprised at first, then thoughtful. Theydon's words had
suggested a new idea. He opened the panel, tugged vigorously at a rope,
and soon the lift itself, a sort of large cupboard, open at the side,
came in view.

"By gum!" he muttered, gazing at its spacious depths, "I never thought
of that."

"You see what I'm driving at, then?"

"Why, of course, sir. A moderate-sized man could stow away inside there
and hoist himself to any floor. It 'ud be perfectly easy an' safe as
nails. A hundredweight of coal is nothing to it."

"I think we see now at least one method whereby the man who killed Mrs.
Lester could have entered the flat without her knowledge?"

"Not a doubt about it, sir. Nearly noiseless, too, an' if you heard it
working you'd imagine it was meant for the flat beneath, because there's
a whistle to warn us when it's comin' here."

They surveyed the lift in silence for a little while. Then Bates caused
it to descend again, and Theydon examined the rather flimsy device which
fastened the panel.

"I'm not what you might describe as a nervous individual," he said, at
last, "but it wouldn't be fair to your wife and yourself, Bates, if I
didn't tell you I have just received an ugly reminder that the gang
which killed Mrs. Lester has a grudge against me now. Wouldn't it be a
reasonable thing if we drove a couple of screws into that door tonight?"

Bates stroked his chin. The long-dormant spirit of combat kindled in his
eye.

"Better still, sir," he grinned, "let's drive a screw into any one who
comes up in the lift."

"But how?"

"By tying your pistol firmly to the dresser, putting it on a
hair-trigger--I know how to do that, of course--an' letting it plug a
bullet into the right place when the panel is half open."

"Are we justified in taking the law into our own hands?"

"Is any one justified in tryin' to get in here an' cut our throats while
we're asleep, sir?"

Theydon weighed the pros and cons of this thesis very carefully. He
dreaded the possibility of taking a human life, even in self-defense.
Yet against the wretches who had strangled Edith Lester, and coolly
prepared to leave Mrs. Forbes to starve in an empty house until their
revengeful scheme was perfected by full knowledge of the identity of
every man in China, who had assisted in the downfall of an effete
monarchy, what code of conduct would apply unless it were that which
holds sway in the jungle?

"Couldn't we contrive matters so that if the pistol were fired it need
not necessarily inflict a fatal wound?" he said.

"Let's see what we can do, sir," and Bates set to work gleefully on the
arrangements. There was not the slightest difficulty in devising an
efficient means of pressing a trigger with a reduced pull by opening the
door. Any schoolboy could adjust a piece of string to act unfailingly.
By measuring distances, and careful sighting of the pistol when fixed in
position, they arrived at a line of fire which would strike a body
crouched in the lift about the region of the right shoulder.

Then Bates locked the scullery door, put the key in his pocket, and
assured his trembling wife that she might sleep like a top, since no
bloomin' Chinaman could get at her that night. Theydon himself retired
soon afterwards. He was as tired as though he had been trudging steadily
along country roads since daybreak.

When he awoke, it was broad daylight. Around the corners of the drawn
blinds in his bedroom he could see strips of golden sunshine. Glancing
at a clock on the mantlepiece he was amazed to find that the hour was
ten o'clock, so, not only had there not been a raid on the premises, but
Bates had taken the overnight instructions literally, and allowed him to
sleep far beyond the usual hour.

He rose hurriedly, raced to the bathroom and shouted for "breakfast in
fifteen minutes." He was splashing in his tub when the telephone bell
rang, and Bates answered. Within a few seconds the valet was knocking at
the door.

"A Mr. Handyside has rung up, sir," was the announcement. "I think he's
an American. He wants to know if there is anything doin'. He said you
would understand."

"Tell him I'm alive, and will call at his hotel at 11:30."

"Yes, sir."

When Bates brought in the breakfast Theydon was glancing hurriedly
through the morning papers. Some of them contained an allusion to the
Eastbourne incident, but no names were mentioned.

A reference to "developments" in connection with the "Innesmore Mansions
Murder," however, caught his eye. Appended to a brief account of the
inquest were the following paragraphs:

"It may be taken as certain that the police are not altogether at sea as
to the motive of this atrocious crime. Strange as it may seem--the
victim being a young and attractive lady, living unostentatiously and
taking little, if any, part in the social life of London--there is some
probability that Mrs. Lester's death was the outcome of political
revenge rather than an incident in an interrupted burglary.

"At first, every indication pointed to the act of some ghoul surprised
by the unfortunate lady in her bedroom, but we have reason to believe
that graver issues to the community-at-large will be revealed when
Scotland Yard's inquiry is completed. It must not be forgotten that her
husband died 'suddenly' some six months ago in Shanghai. Oddly enough,
the police are now keeping a close surveillance on Chinese quarters in
London, not only in the neighborhood of the docks, but in the
fashionable West. It may, or may not, be a mere coincidence that a
Chinaman was arrested yesterday at St. Albans and lodged in Bow Street.

"There are not wanting other similar 'coincidences' in places so far
apart as a well-known South Coast seaside resort and South Croydon. At
present, the whole matter is nebulous, but striking developments may
take place at any hour, and the murder of Mrs. Lester may yet figure as
one of the most sensational crimes of recent years."

Theydon was reading these discreet but exceedingly well-informed
sentences with much care, when he noticed that Bates had closed the
sitting-room door before beginning to arrange the contents of the tray
on the table. Such an unusual action meant something.

"Well, what is it now?" he inquired, lifting his eyes to the
manservant's impassive face.

"When the milkman come this morning, sir, he told me that a policeman
was found lyin' insensible on the road outside the mansions shortly
after three o'clock," was the answer, conveyed in a low note that
suggested a matter better kept from the cognizance of Mrs. Bates.

"That's a bad job for the policeman; it is nothing very remarkable
otherwise," said Theydon.

"But the milkman heard he was set about by three swells, young gentlemen
in evening dress, sir, who ran away when another constable appeared."

"Very likely. There was a row, and the law got the worst of it. Anyhow,
we were not disturbed during the night."

"No, sir. I was only thinkin' of what might have happened if the police
were not on the job."

"Look here, Bates"--and Theydon's manner was most emphatic--"if you and
I begin seeing shadows we'll soon collect a fine show of Chinese ghosts.
I'm astonished at you, a man who has been under fire."

"Sorry, sir. I thought you'd like to hear the lytest, that's all."

Theydon ate a hearty breakfast, thus proving that the marvels and
portents of the previous day had not begun to undermine his
constitution. Finding he had time, after attending to his
correspondence, to walk to Handyside's hotel in the Strand, he did so.
The American was awaiting him at the end of a long, thin cigar.

"Any noos?" said the Chicagoan, after a cheerful greeting.

"Yes. The feud continues. You heard about those ivory skulls yesterday?"

"Yes, sir. They reminded me of the tales of my youth."

"Well, I got mine last night. Here it is!"

"Gee whiz!"

Handyside took the small object which Theydon produced from a waistcoat
pocket. He examined it with minute care.

"I've never crossed the Pacific," he said, after apparently satisfying
himself as to the exact nature of the unpleasant token, "but one of my
hobbies is the collection of ivories. In my home--"

"21,097 Park Avenue," interrupted Theydon.

"Just so--four doors short of 211th Street. Well, sir, when you blow in
there you'll see a roomful of curios. I'm not exactly a connoisseur, but
I know enough to tell Japanese work from Chinese. This was made by a
Jap. And that reminds me. You said last night that Wong Li Fu put you
off your balance by a jiu jitsu trick and handed that husky detective
some, too. Very few Chinks have ever even heard of jiu jitsu. I've a
notion that a bunch of Japs is mixed up in this business."

"Surely not?"

"It's possible. You good people here are crazy in your treatment of the
Japanese. You think they're civilized because they dress in good shape,
and can put up a mighty spry imitation of Western ways. But they ain't.
They're the greatest menace to Europe that has yet come up on the tape.
Do you believe they want China to wake up and organize before they're
ready to take hold? No, sir. Anyhow, that skull was carved by a Japanese
artist, and a bully good one at that."

The two were standing near the fireplace of a square and spacious foyer.
There were plenty of people in the place, some conversing with friends,
others writing or doing business at the various bureaus. It chanced that
Theydon faced the two swing doors which led to the street, and he was
returning the bit of ivory to his pocket when, somewhat to his surprise,
Furneaux entered.

The detective saw him, too--of that he was quite certain--but ignored
him completely. After one sharp, comprehensive glance around, as though
he were seeking some one who was not visible, the little man went to a
desk, scribbled a note, handed it in at the inquiry office, walked
swiftly in the direction of an anteroom and restaurant, and disappeared
forthwith.

Theydon was puzzled by Furneaux's behavior, but was quick to perceive
that if the latter had not wished to be left alone he would at least
have made some sign of recognition.

A page approached Mr. Handyside.

"Note for you, sir," he said.

The American opened the envelope and read a few lines scribbled on a
sheet of note-paper. He passed it to Theydon.

"The circus is now about to commence," he said, and the meaning of this
enigmatical remark was made clear when Theydon saw what was written.

"Dear Sir," it ran, "take Mr. Theydon to your room. I'll join you there
immediately.--C. F. Furneaux."

"If this is the little sleuth who was missing yesterday I guess we've
gotten our call," commented Handyside, with an amused grin at the
expression of bewilderment on his companion's face.

"I was just about to tell you that Furneaux had come in and crossed the
hall."

"Well, let's beat it to the third floor. I have the key in my pocket."

They were walking through a long corridor when Furneaux appeared at the
other end. Beyond the three men, not another person was visible in that
part of the hotel, and in a few seconds they were behind the closed door
of Handyside's room.

"So you're still on the map?" said the detective, surveying Theydon with
an air of professional interest.

"Yes, but I have received notice to quit," was the retort.

"So I hear. The executioner was quick on the heels of the warrant, too.
If it had not been for the precautions Winter took last night the
newsboys would have been bawling a second Innesmore Mansions tragedy
during the past couple of hours."

Theydon smiled.

"I'm not joking," snapped Furneaux. "In fact, I feel rather bad about
it. I woke up at eight o'clock, and pictured you and Bates and his wife
lying about in No. 18 in very uncomfortable and ungainly attitudes. I
was so worried and miserable that I telephoned your hall porter to learn
the worst, and was quite astonished when he said that Bates had just
been chatting with him. You don't understand, of course. I forgot to
tell you about the lift. Wong Li Fu's special delegate climbed into No.
17 by that means and three of 'em would have reached you last night in
the same way if a policeman hadn't met them in the street."

"My man heard about the row. He guessed, too, that it had something to
do with us. The policeman was badly injured, he was told."

"Yes--nothing broken; he was put to sleep by some confounded Japanese
wrestling trick."

"Japanese, you say?"

"Precisely. The Young Manchus are being backed up by a second gang which
calls itself the 'Sons of Nippon.' I don't know what London is coming
to. We've entertained Anarchists, Nihilists and Dynamitards for years.
Now we have the Yellow Peril with us. I wish I were King for a few days.
There would be a bigger clearance of reptiles out of England than St.
Patrick made in Ireland."

"Mr. Handyside here told me only ten minutes since that he was convinced
there were Japs in league with the Chinese."

"How did you know?" and Furneaux whirled round on the American
instantly.

"By using the gray matter at the back of my head," was the reply. "No
Chink ever taught Wong Li Fu how to put away two chesty individuals like
Mr. Theydon and your painter, Mr. Winter. But I couldn't be sure till I
had seen the ivory skull. Then I knew."

"So did I know yesterday morning," said Furneaux, "and a deuce of a time
the discovery gave me. Anyhow, the street fight outside Innesmore
Mansions at daybreak today settles the matter. There were two Japanese
and one Chinaman. The Japs outed the policeman. Fortunately he and
another man made a five-minute point at each end of the mansions, and,
as No. 1 failed to turn up, No. 2 went to look for him. He saw the end
of the row, and ran to help, blowing his whistle for assistance.
Unfortunately for us, two of the three confounded blackguards escaped."

"O, you've got one, then?" cried Theydon.

"Yes, a Jap. The constable was wise enough to give him the point of his
truncheon in the gullet, and that settled him."

"I wonder if he is the one who would have been shot had he broken into
my flat," said Theydon musingly.

"Shot! Man alive, you'd never have heard him!"

"Not till he had a bullet lodged securely in his inside, it is true.
Bates and I surveyed that lift last night, Mr. Furneaux, and regarded it
as the weak part of our defenses, so we arranged that an automatic
pistol should live up to its name, and fire at any one who opened the
sliding panel."

"Did you now?" said Furneaux admiringly. "Whose brainy idea was
that--yours or Bates's?"

"A joint effort," he said, with a self-satisfied smile.

"Well, I'm glad it didn't come off. British law is a fearsome and
wonderful thing. You might both have got ten years for fixing a
man-trap, to wit, a lethal engine. However, during the next few days
you're going to change your abode. Tell Bates and his wife that they
need a holiday, and ought to visit relatives in Yorkshire or North
Wales. Pack what you need for a week, at least, and make straight for
Fortescue Square."

"Are you joking?" said Theydon, genuinely astounded.

"Do I look it?" And, indeed, the detective did not. "Winter has just
settled that program with Mr. Forbes. You see, you're in this affair
now, neck and crop, and it's easier for us to safeguard one place than
two. You're pleased, aren't you? Doesn't a pretty girl live there?"

"Sir," said Handyside, "he's tickled to death, and that's a fact. I'm
the only one to make a kick. I kind of reckoned on being allowed to play
a walking-on part in this drama, but I look like being cut out in the
new shuffle."

"I can make use of you," said Furneaux promptly. "You've seen Wong Li
Fu, and would know him again?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you can tell a Japanese from a Chinaman at sight?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. You're enrolled. Next thing you'll be receiving an ivory skull,
too. These beggars are the smartest crowd I've come across in twenty
years. I think they would have beaten us if it hadn't happened that Mr.
Theydon and you, each of you strangers to the Forbes family, were
selected by fate to intervene at psychological moments. The Young
Manchus and their allies had the ground surveyed thoroughly. They even
had us of the Yard marked down. Oh, it's a plot and a half, I can assure
you, and the worst thing is that the real struggle is yet ahead. All
that has happened before is mere skirmishing compared with what's to
come."

"Is that why you covered up your tracks, even in this hotel, before you
came to my room?" inquired Handyside.

"It is, and let me tell you that you're a living example of a
contradiction in terms. You use your brains, Mr. Handyside, yet you
smoke a cigar calculated to atrophy the keenest intellect. You, an
American, chewing a vile Burmese Cheroot! _Cre' nom d'un pipe!_ When
this bubble has burst I must reason with you!"



CHAPTER XIV

WHEREIN THEYDON SUFFERS FROM FAINT HEART


Furneaux, with that phenomenally clear mind of his, had perceived and
expressed in one trenchant sentence the outstanding and almost unique
feature of the tragic mystery which centered around the death of Edith
Lester. Theydon's connection with either international finance or the
rebirth of China was remote as that of the man in the moon. Yet he had
been pitchforked by fate into an active and, indeed, dominating
influence over those phases of both undertakings which were peculiar to
London.

Theydon mused on this element in an unprecedented situation as he sat in
the taxicab which bore him swiftly to Innesmore Mansions. Another quite
abnormal condition was the ignorance of London with regard to the fierce
struggle now being waged in its midst.

On the one hand, a few Oriental fanatics--most of whom were probably
less swayed by racial enthusiasm than by good payment for services
rendered--were carrying out the orders of a master criminal with a
sublime indifference to the laws framed by the "foreign devils" whom
they despised; on the other were ranged the three members of the Forbes
family and Theydon himself, supported by the forces of the Crown, it was
true, but singularly isolated from the knowledge and sympathy of their
fellow-citizens.

Miss Beale hardly counted. The servants in Fortescue Square shared with
Bates and his wife a sort of territorial interest in the fight. When
Fortune picked an occasional warrior for the fray she chose a man from
Chicago, a motorcyclist from Eastbourne, a policeman in Charing Cross
road.

How portentous had been that hand raised to stem the traffic at a
congested corner on the Monday night! Into what a vortex of crime and
passion had it not pointed, all unknowing!

If the cab in which Theydon was hurrying home from Daly's Theater had
not been delayed by the dispute between driver and policeman, he would
never have known that the millionaire visited Innesmore Mansions, and
the subsequent course of the night's history might have left him wholly
unaffected.

Then his wayward thoughts took to brooding on the gray car which
shadowed him from Waterloo to Fortescue Square, and again from the
square to his own abode. If it held some member of the Embassy staff,
why had no more been heard of it? And what had Winter and Furneaux meant
by hinting that far wider issues were bound up with the affair than the
authorities were yet at liberty to divulge? The attack on Forbes,
sinister and malevolent in its scope and purpose, was, in a sense, open
warfare. But it was impossible to guess what part, if any, the official
representatives of China filled in the fray. Were they active allies of
Scotland Yard or did they hold what is known in the law courts as a
watching brief? He could not tell. He only knew that each successive
period of twenty-four hours broadened the area covered by the struggle,
and there, at least, he found solid backing for the little detective's
demand that the threatened people should dwell under one roof. His
pulses quickened at the notice that this new departure implied constant
association with Evelyn Forbes. Yet, what did it avail? Why should he
dream of fanning into a fiercer fury the flame of his love? As matters
stood, he had about as much chance of marrying Evelyn Forbes as of
becoming Emperor of China!

The incongruity of the situation was illustrated with cruel accuracy by
the fact that he could ill afford the stoppage of his work demanded by
the present trend of events. He earned what might be regarded as a good
income by his pen, but his expenses were not light, and he had deemed
himself fortunate the previous year when he was able to invest a hundred
pounds!

As a matter of fact, the interest on his "securities" paid for his
gloves and ties; another lucky year might see him provided for life with
boots and socks! He pictured himself--if he were idiot enough, when all
this turmoil was ended, to pose as a suitor for Evelyn Forbes's
hand--explaining his financial position to the millionaire, and wilting
under the scornful amusement in those earnest, deep-seeing eyes. Phew!
He grew hot at the mere notion of such folly.

Little wonder, therefore, that the driver of the taxi should gaze
quizzically after Theydon's alert figure as it vanished in the stairway
of Innesmore Mansions.

"Got the hump, an' pretty bad," soliloquized the man. "Gimme a bob over
the fare, an' all, so can't be stony. But Lord love a duck, you never
can tell!"

Theydon was about to unlock the door of his flat when it opened in his
face, and his sister nearly collided with him. She screamed slightly, a
certain quality of alarm in her exclamation merging instantly into
joyful recognition.

"So you have come home!" she cried. "My goodness! What a fright you've
given me!"

"Why?" he said, with a reassuring and brotherly hug.

"I've had horrid dreams. I couldn't rest all last night for thinking of
you."

"Is George absent?" George was her husband, a consulting engineer, whose
professional duties often took him to distant parts of the country.

"Yes."

"Then you and Miss Beale have been living on tea and scraps. Really,
Mollie, I credited you with more sense. Tell me what you ate last night,
and I'll diagnose your dreams."

"We dined at a first-class restaurant in the West End," said Mrs. Paxton
indignantly. "It would be much more to the point if you explained how
you have been living the past few days. I have not been so worried about
anything since George was trapped in that horrid mine."

Mollie was on the verge of tears. Her brother resolved instantly to
minimize matters, or she would fret more than ever on his account.

"Now, look here, old girl," he said, meeting her critical glance
steadily. "Miss Beale has been putting absurd notions into that stylish
little head of yours. By the way, is that the latest thing in hats? It
suits you admirably."

Mrs. Paxton smiled, though her eyes were glistening suspiciously.

"You can't humbug me, Frank, so please don't try," she protested. "Why
are you mixed up in this dreadful business? Why are you constantly
meeting detectives? Why did you rush off to Eastbourne yesterday? When
did you become acquainted with this Mr. Forbes? Have you seen his
daughter?"

Theydon was at least sufficiently well versed in the peculiarities of
the feminine temperament to know that he would, be safe in answering the
last question first.

"Yes," he said. "I have seen a good deal of Miss Forbes recently. Have
you ever met her?"

"She was at the horse show last year with Lady de Winton's party. She's
an awfully pretty girl, and will be worth millions, I suppose. Some one
said that young de Winton was simply crazy about her, but he looks such
a sloppy youth that I could hardly imagine those two getting married. Of
course, there's the title, yet a title is not everything."

Young de Winton! Theydon had not even been aware hitherto of the
existence of a marriageable scion of that noble house.

"That particular young spark has not been in evidence during the past
few days at any rate," he commented, and his voice was not so nonchalant
as he imagined, because Mrs. Paxton looked up quickly.

"Perhaps it was only idle gossip," she said. "Is Miss Forbes a nice girl
to talk to? She struck me as being very animated."

"Animated"--while in the company of that undoubted oaf, de Winton!
Theydon choked back something tinged with gall as he replied quietly:

"She could not well help being highly intelligent. Her father and mother
are charming people. I was introduced to Mr. Forbes owing to a magazine
commission to write an article about his interest in aviation. Now you
see how promptly even the most gorgeous bubble bursts when it impinges
against a solid little fact. As it happens, Mr. Forbes and I will have
so much in common during the next day or two that I am now going to stay
with him. I came here to pack a portmanteau. If you'll be a good little
girl and listen while I'm at the telephone you will hear all about it."

The words were no sooner uttered than he wanted to recall them. It would
be no easy matter to discuss Furneaux's suggestion with any one in
Fortescue Square without letting his sister into the secret that the
visit was necessitated by considerations of his own personal safety.

Mrs. Paxton's eyes were sparkling with a new interest.

"I had no idea you were on terms of such intimacy with the family," she
cried. "Don't tell me, Frank, that your flights have taken you to the
elevated region in which millionaires' daughters figure as possible
brides!"

"Now you are making me out a Mormon," and Theydon grinned fiercely.

"You know what I mean. This Miss Forbes--by the way, what is her
Christian name?"

"Let me see. I think I have heard it. Doris, is it, or Phyllis? No, I
remember now--Evelyn."

"O, then, if you are so vague on that point I suppose I must reconcile
myself to owning a bachelor brother again."

He shook his head at her.

"Ah, you women!" he said. "Yet I used to regard you as quite a sensible
person, Mollie! Now, how in the name of goodness could I possibly
entertain any notion of marrying the only daughter of a man in Forbes's
position?"

"It all depends," was the illogical but crushing retort. "There are
plenty of millionaires' daughters whom I would not regard as good enough
for my brother. And, let me tell you, the family is making progress. A
little bird whispered the other day that George's name will appear in
the next list of honors. He is to receive a knighthood."

It was not new to Theydon to learn that his brother-in-law stood in high
favor with the Government, because Paxton had been appointed on two
Royal Commissions with reference to mining regulations, but he affected
a surprised incredulity as offering a way of escape from an inquisition
which he dreaded.

"Dear me!" he smirked.

Therein he erred. His sister gave him a puzzled glance.

"You are not yourself today, Frank," she said dubiously. "You are
acting. For whose benefit? Not mine, surely!"

"If your prospective ladyship will pardon me I will now go to the
telephone," he countered.

Anything, even a mad jumble of incoherence in his talk with the Forbes
household, was better than the troubled scrutiny of those clear brown
eyes. Leaving the door open so that his sister could hear his side of
the conversation, he rang up No. 11 Fortescue Square.

The butler answered.

"That you, Tomlinson?" said Theydon. "Will you ask Mr. Forbes if I am to
turn up in time for afternoon tea? If it is more convenient that I
should arrive later I have lots of things to attend to, and can fill in
a few hours easily."

"I really don't know what to say, sir," came the astounding answer.
"Mrs. Forbes has been shot--"

"Great heavens!"

"Yes, sir. She was merely looking out through the drawing-room window,
when some one fired at her from a passing motor car."

"Do you mean that she is dead?"

"No, sir--not quite so bad as that. The bullet struck her left shoulder.
A few inches lower and it would have pierced her heart. The doctors are
with her now. I--"

Some interruption took place on the line and the butler's voice ceased.
Theydon, careless now as to what construction his sister might place on
his words, was about to storm at the exchange for cutting the
communication. He meant to say that on no consideration would he inflict
the presence of a stranger at such a terrible moment, when a coldly
metallic, almost harsh question reached him.

"That you, Theydon?"

"Yes," he said. Forbes was speaking.

"I was crossing the hall, and guessed it might be you. Come as soon as
you are at liberty. You will be welcome. If we are to be besieged I want
some one who will not be afraid to shoot. These policemen are too
scrupulous. They saw some cursed Mongol leaning out through the window
of the closed car, and could have either shot him or put a bullet so
close that his aim would have been disturbed. As it was, my wife only
escaped death by the mercy of Providence. She bent slightly at the very
instant the would-be assassin fired, and the bullet simply lacerated her
shoulder. After this, I'll defend myself and my womenfolk, but I need at
least one other man whom I can trust. Will you come?"

"I'll be with you within twenty minutes."

He heard the clang of the receiver being replaced on its rest at the
other end of the wire. Somehow, the sound conveyed a new determination
on Forbes's part. He had his back to the wall. No matter what view the
law took of his action subsequently, he would protect his dear ones at
all hazards.

After that, Theydon hesitated no longer.

"Bates," he cried, "throw into a bag such clothes as I shall need for a
few days' stay in Mr. Forbes's house. When I am gone, pack your own
boxes and take a week's holiday. Go anywhere you like, out of London,
but go at once. Send me your address, care of Mr. Forbes, and I'll let
you know when I want you again."

"If it's a matter of holdin' out against them--"

Bates intended making a declaration of war, but his employer broke in
emphatically.

"I want you to obey my orders fully and unquestionably," he said. Bates
promptly became the well-trained valet once more.

"Yes, sir," he said. "Your portmanteau will be ready in ten minutes.
Half an hour later me an' Mrs. Bates will leave for my cousin's place in
Hampshire."

Theydon returned to the sitting room. His sister's face was white with
fear, but he threw restraint to the winds.

"Mollie," he said, placing his hands on her shoulders, "you are very
dear to me, but there is one woman in the world who, if fate proves
kind, may yet be dearer. She is in danger. If some one said that of you
to your husband, what would he do?"

She kissed him with tremulous lips. "He would act just as you are going
to act," she said. "But, dear, can't you trust me? I cannot help,
perhaps, but I can pray for you."

"Well, then, Sis, I won't fence with you any longer. There's a sort of
feud between Mr. Forbes and a faction in China. He helped the reformers
financially, and some supporters of the dethroned dynasty are trying to
compel him by force to give them a list of the prominent men who control
the revolution. If he yields, it means that nearly a hundred leading men
in China--men whose only thought is the welfare and progress of their
country--will be ruthlessly murdered. If he continues to refuse, his own
life and the lives of his wife and daughter are at stake. These fiends
killed Mrs. Lester within a few feet of this very room. They killed her
husband six months ago. They tried to kidnap Evelyn Forbes yesterday,
and succeeded, for a while, in carrying off her mother, their plan being
to torture one or both, even unto death. Heaven help me, I love Evelyn
Forbes, and I would count my life well spent if I died in defending her.
Should anything happen to me and she is spared, tell her that, will
you--and my spirit will thank you."

"We must not think of death, but of life," was the brave answer. "Can I
do anything? Could George assist if he were here?"

"No, Mollie. Perhaps I am exaggerating matters, though the history of
this week would make strange reading if published broadcast. Indeed I
shall now urge on Mr. Forbes the advisability of sending the facts to
the press. London would be stirred to its depths, and every one of its
citizens would be quick to observe and report the presence of Chinamen
or Japanese in the West End. Some innocent Orientals would suffer, but
the police might at least be enabled to capture the pestiferous gang
which has committed this latest outrage. Just think of some cold-blooded
scoundrel shooting at a sweet-mannered and gentle lady like Mrs.
Forbes!"

"Surely the authorities can protect her."

"That is the wild absurdity of the position. Of course, you didn't hear
what Mr. Forbes said. The armed detectives on duty in his house actually
saw the Chinaman who fired the shot which wounded her, leaning out
through the window of a closed car. But they cannot blaze away at any
passer-by merely because he is, or resembles, an Asiatic. What they dare
not do, however, he and I will endeavor cheerfully. Bates!"

"Yes, sir," came the cry from a bedroom.

"If you are packing two bags, put that pistol and a box of cartridges in
the smaller one."

"Yes, sir."

Mrs. Paxton at this crisis proved herself a woman of spirit.

"I think you're right, Frank," she said quietly. "I refuse to believe
that any British court of justice would blame any man for defending the
lives of his wife and daughter, nor you for helping him. If the
peacefully disposed Chinese residents in London wish to avoid risk let
them keep away from No. 11. Fortescue Square. May I come with you?"

"You, Mollie?"

He looked at her with troubled eyes. For the moment such was the fire in
his brain he did not understand.

She laughed gallantly.

"I don't mean as one of the garrison," she said. "May I not make the
acquaintance of these people? Sometimes, the mere knowledge that others
are aware of one's troubles and sympathize with one is comforting. Miss
Beale is not expecting me till tea time. I told her I might lunch with
you. Indeed, I promised to call at her hotel for her letters, and that
is halfway on your road."

"You're a brick, Mollie," said her brother. "I do believe Evelyn Forbes
will be glad to see you. The most amazing thing about this affair is
that none of the many friends Mr. and Mrs. Forbes and their daughter
must possess in London has the slightest inkling of the truth. I suppose
the servants are instructed to tell ordinary callers that the various
members of the family are out, or some of them indisposed, or something
of the sort.... But come along! I hear Bates banging my belongings into
the passage. I'm in a fever to be there and taking part in the row."

Soon they were seated in a taxi and speeding to Smith's Hotel, Jermyn
Street.

"Have you invited Miss Beale to reside with you while she is in London,
Sis?" said Theydon, allowing his thoughts to dwell for a moment on the
less tragic side of events.

"Yes. What else could I do? Poor thing, she was terrified at the notion
of sleeping under the same roof as a Chinaman."

"I don't blame her. But there's a certain element of risk for you,
Mollie--"

"Oh, bother! Don't tell me that a few Chinamen can threaten all London."

Yet even the valiant-hearted Mrs. Paxton yielded to the haunting terror
of the bandits when the taxi drew in behind a gray car already standing
at the curb outside Smith's Hotel, and her brother grasped her wrist in
sudden warning.

"Sit still," he said. "Now we may get on the track of some of the gang.
That is the car which followed me on Monday night."

His sister, of course, did not understand. She had heard nothing of the
pursuit and its curious sequel.

"Do you mean it is one of the cars which these men use?" she whispered
breathlessly.

"Yes. I'll explain later. But what impudence! The scoundrels have not
even changed the number plate."

Unquestionably, the number of the gray landaulet now within a few feet
of them was XY 1314. Theydon stooped, opened a dressing case lying at
his feet, and took out the automatic pistol placed there by Bates. He
put it in the right-hand pocket of his coat.

"Now, I'll reconnoiter," he said, and opened the door. The taxi driver
was already gazing curiously in at his fares, wondering why one or both
did not alight.

"Be ready to start the instant I want you," said Theydon to the man, and
he strolled past the gray car, with every sense alert, every muscle
braced. If Wong Li Fu were seated inside he would cover him with the
pistol and hold him there until the police came, or shoot him dead if he
offered any resistance.

Fortunately, therefore, all things considered, the interior of the car
was absolutely empty, save for a copy of the Times on the back seat.
Even the presence of the newspaper was significant. In that issue should
have appeared Forbes's reply to "Y. M." which Furneaux had suppressed as
unnecessary.

There was a chauffeur at the wheel--no Chinaman, but a tightly-buttoned
and black-legginged young Englishman--in fact, the real thing in
chauffeurs.

"Whose car is this?" demanded Theydon.

"It belongs to the Chinese Embassy, sir," said the man, answering
civilly enough, but not unnaturally showing some surprise at the curt
question.

"Are you waiting here for some official of the Embassy?" went on
Theydon.

"Not exactly, sir, some friends of His Excellency." The man glanced
toward the door of the hotel. "Here they are now," he added.

Theydon turned. Two Chinamen, sedate, pig-tailed persons, were
descending the steps. With them was Furneaux! One of the Orientals gave
Theydon a rather sharp glance, having noticed, apparently, that he was
conversing with the chauffeur, but Furneaux, after a stonily indifferent
stare, said to the second Chinaman, in plain English:

"Do you mind dropping me at Scotland Yard?"

"With pleasure," was the composed reply.

The three entered, and the gray car made off, leaving Theydon to gaze
blankly after it. His sister, though badly scared at first, quickly
recovered her self-possession. She even made a joke of the incident.

"As an anti-climax, Frank, that is the best thing of its kind you have
ever brought off," she tittered.



CHAPTER XV

FORCEFUL TACTICS


Though a prey to that most burthensome of cares--the uneasy
consciousness of an impalpable yet ever-threatening evil--Theydon was
not blind to the humorous element in the present situation. Mrs. Paxton,
of course, did not know who the little man accompanying the Chinamen
was.

She had seen her brother stalk the motor car and its presumed occupants
in the most approved melodramatic fashion, and could not help noticing
his complete discomfiture. Naturally she imagined he had encountered a
pair of perfectly harmless citizens of the Middle Kingdom, and, being
one of those happy beings more readily swayed to laughter than to tears,
rallied him upon an apparent blunder.

"Never before have I discovered a neurotic streak in you, Frank," she
said, after she had obtained a couple of letters for Miss Beale, and
they were en route again. "Come now, confess. If Evelyn Forbes--or, let
me see, is it Phyllis or Doris? No, Evelyn. If Evelyn Forbes, then, did
not happen to be a remarkably pretty girl, would you really attach such
terrific importance to the mad goings-on of a set of Chinese fanatics? I
doubt it."

The cab was threading its way through the traffic of St. James Street
and Piccadilly on a busy afternoon in the season, and Theydon had much
to tell her before they arrived at Fortescue Square, but he sat by her
side in silence for a little while.

"Frank," said his sister, at last, "it is not like you to seek refuge in
silence. I'm sorry if my chaff annoyed you. Don't forget that you know
everything about this mysterious business, and I know very little."

Her sympathetic voice roused him from the stupor which had benumbed his
senses.

"I allowed imagination to run away with me, Sis," he said gently. "It
was thoughtless on my part. Please forgive me. I suppose those two
Chinamen are unofficially connected with the Embassy. At any rate, the
man with them, the little man in a blue serge suit and straw hat, is
Furneaux of Scotland Yard, a pocket marvel among detectives, the sort of
criminal-hunter you read about in Gaboriau, but can scarcely accept as
existing in real life."

From that instant he bent his wits to the task of acquainting Mrs.
Paxton with the history of the preceding three days. He was aware of the
irrepressible trembling which shook her slender frame when he spoke of
the ivory skull found in Edith Lester's underbodice, and the replica of
the same grewsome token sent to Forbes, so suppressed all mention of his
own experiences on returning to Innesmore Mansions overnight.

Furneaux had asked him for the bit of ivory that morning, and,
incidentally, had produced the others from his pocket. The detective
gave no reason for his eagerness to possess these trophies, but seemed
to invest them with great importance. While keeping up a constant flow
of talk with his sister, Theydon tried to puzzle out the detective's
motive for carrying such sinister messengers of death around London.

Try as he might, he could arrive at no plausible explanation, but he did
not make the error of attributing Furneaux's action to mere impulse.
Those men of the Yard had a solid foundation for every step they took.
Even the visit to Smith's Hotel, and subsequent departure in the gray
car, meant a definite stride onward in the fight against Wong Li Fu. Of
that he was assured.

At 11 Fortescue Square there were no outward signs of recent disturbance
beyond the presence of a sharp-eyed policeman at each corner of the row
of houses of which Mr. Forbes's residence formed one of the center pair.
Theydon expected to see a shattered window in the drawing-room on the
first floor, where, presumably, Mrs. Forbes was standing when the shot
was fired, but each pane in three large windows was intact, and the
windows were closed.

Then he reflected--as, indeed, proved to be the case--that on such a
fine day the window would probably be open. Two windows on the second
floor and one in the cloakroom near the front door were raised a few
inches, but drawn curtains screened from observation any watchful eye
which might be stationed behind them. As a matter of fact, armed
detectives were hidden there, and they had been given specific orders to
shoot without warning any one of Chinese appearance whose behavior was
suspicious, while three men were in readiness in the hall to rush out
into the square and make an arrest under similar circumstances.

In that fashionable quarter, at that hour, automobiles of every type
were passing constantly. At the very next door a well-appointed carriage
and pair was in readiness to take an elderly lady for a drive in the
park. As yet, none of the other residents in the square had the remotest
notion that No. 11 was in a state of siege. The position of affairs, if
it were not so desperate, was almost amusing!

Mrs. Paxton and Theydon were admitted without any delay, and Forbes
himself hurried downstairs to greet them. He was pale, but quite
composed. All the nervous uncertainty of the previous day had vanished.
He was armed and willing for the fray. If, as was by no means unlikely,
Wong Li Fu staked everything on a gambler's throw and led his cohort in
a daylight raid on the house, the Manchu leader would meet with a very
warm reception.

Forbes was surprised to find that a lady had come with Theydon, but
expressed his pleasure at the visit, which, he said, was just the thing
his wife and Evelyn needed.

"Yes," he went on cheerfully, noting the astonishment caused by his
words, "Mrs. Forbes is not seriously injured. The bullet lacerated the
top of her left shoulder, and the wound is painful but superficial. She
positively refuses to remain in bed, so our doctor humored her, provided
she promises not to pass the time looking through the drawing-room
window!"

Mrs. Paxton, to whose senses the presence of armed detectives and
constables in uniform was even more eloquent than her brother's words,
glanced about the spacious entrance hall with wide-eyed amazement. Once
she and her brother were recognized as friends of the family, the men on
duty gave them no heed.

Outside were the familiar sounds of London traffic; within were
preparations for conflict. The police carried revolvers openly in
leather cases strapped to their belts. On a table near the library door
were several automatic pistols ready to be snatched up in an emergency.
An alert detective, revolver in hand, was peering through the curtains
of the cloakroom; this sentry, in particular, would alarm the garrison
if, as Winter had definitely warned his assistants, an attempt were ever
made to enter the house by main force.

"I think I must be dreaming," she said, trying bravely to lessen the
gravity of the statement by smiling at its inherent absurdity. "Am I in
London, or have I been whisked by magic to one of those outposts of
civilization where men and women of European race are often compelled to
band together for protection against savages? One reads of such things
comfortably while dawdling over breakfast, and one wonders idly why
people go to such places. But that something of the sort could happen in
London--why, it is simply fantastic!"

"It is unpleasantly real, for all that, Mrs. Paxton," said Forbes,
leading the way up the stairs. "What else can we do? If the authorities
surrounded the house with a cordon of soldiers London would be in an
uproar. We want to avoid that, at all costs. I have been in
communication with the Home Office, and am advised that, if we decide to
put up with the inconvenience, it is better, and actually less risky, to
hold out here than seek safety by flight. I understand that Scotland
Yard is not losing an unnecessary minute, but there are obvious
difficulties in the way of decisive action. It is considered worse than
useless to effect isolated arrests, as these tend only to put the other
members of the gang on their guard. The chief inspector tells me that he
had some hope of being able to make a big haul tonight. The principal
drawback is the language bar. Chinese interpreters are few and far
between in London, and those who do exist--in the East End, for
instance--have long since lost any useful acquaintance with events in
their own country. This is a political matter, you understand, and must
be fought out on political lines. Strange as it may sound in your ears,
the cause of Chinese freedom is at issue in this very house. If Wong Li
Fu could secure a list of names now locked in a bureau in my library the
Constitutional party in China would perish forthwith for want of
leaders. But he won't get it. Thanks to your brother, Mrs. Paxton, his
deadliest attack failed yesterday. For today's accident we have
ourselves to blame. We did not even suspect that his malignity would
take the form of shooting the first person who chanced to look out of a
window."

He had halted at the top of the broad staircase while making that
stirring declaration of war.

"Pardon my outspokenness," he said, sinking his voice to a lower tone.
"I don't want to frighten my wife on my own account. She believes now
that the police are hunting these scoundrels in every hole and corner of
London. In a sense, that is true, but we never know the moment some
extraordinary action may be taken, so we remain constantly on the _qui
vive_."

He heard the telephone ring beneath, and turned quickly.

"I may be wanted," he said. "I'll join you presently. There is my wife's
boudoir," and he pointed to a door. "Take Mrs. Paxton in, Theydon. Mrs.
Forbes and Evelyn will be glad of your company."

Theydon knocked, and heard Evelyn's voice bidding him enter. Mrs. Forbes
was lying on a couch, and her daughter had evidently been seated near
her, reading a newspaper.

"I've brought my sister to see you," he explained. "I've been relating
such heroic things about you that she simply refused to go home without
ocular proof of your existence."

Mrs. Forbes would have risen, but was restrained by the girl's emphatic
cry:

"Mother, why won't you behave like an obedient invalid?"

Thus coerced, "Mother" did behave.

"They insist on treating me as a casualty," she cried cheerfully. "What
is your sister's name, Mr. Theydon?"

"Mollie," he said thoughtlessly, for he had just touched Evelyn Forbes's
hand, and the mere contact gave him an electrical shock.

The women laughed, and Mrs. Paxton blushed.

"Mollie Paxton, at any rate," she said, realizing at once that her
brother had completely lost all self-possession at sight of his
divinity. "Now, as you are going to stay here, Frank, you shall give me
the full measure of the few minutes I can spare, so go and talk over
your adventures with Mr. Forbes while I gossip with the prisoners."

Theydon saw that his tactful sister had struck the right note. She might
be trusted to make herself eminently agreeable. Her bright, smiling
manner had already created a good impression, and a lively chat with one
who had not passed through the vicissitudes which beset the Forbes
family would be an excellent tonic.

"Before I efface myself, may I be allowed to congratulate Mrs. Forbes on
her escape?" he said, halting at the door.

"Yes, you may," replied the older lady. "And, just to show that I am
convalescent, kindly tell Tomlinson that I am coming down to luncheon,
and that Mrs. Paxton will join us."

Forbes was leaving the telephone when Theydon regained the hall and
explained that he had been dismissed from the feminine conclave
upstairs. The millionaire closed the door and motioned his companion to
a chair.

"How long will it be before London wakes up to the knowledge of what is
going on in its midst?" he said. "Is there anything in the newspapers? I
have had no time to read. I passed a rather sleepless night, so did not
rise until a late hour. Then Helen was fired at. I need hardly tell you
that my time has been fully occupied since."

Theydon gave a resume of the paragraph which had appeared in at least
one of the morning journals, and admitted that some inkling of the truth
was bound to gain publicity during the next few hours.

"I cannot understand why it is the reporters are not here by the score
already," he went on. "Some passer-by must have seen or heard the
shooting. A pistol cannot be fired in a quiet square like this without
attracting general attention."

"That is the extraordinary part of it," said Forbes, smiling grimly.
"People heard the noise, of course, but came to the conclusion that a
cylinder in the car had back-fired. That was the view taken by two
policemen on duty within a few yards of the house. A detective stationed
in the cloakroom actually saw the man raising the weapon. He, of course,
was under no delusion as to what had happened, and ran out instantly,
but the car was then traveling at a fast pace, and was out of sight
before the nearest constable could even endeavor to stop it. Anyhow,
what was the man to do? We cannot expect that he would whip out a
revolver, if he carries one, and blaze away indiscriminately at car and
occupants if the chauffeur refused to pull up. Really, Theydon, Wong Li
Fu has perplexed the authorities more than any desperado known to this
generation. He is aware that his hostage has escaped from Croydon, so he
calmly drives past my house, knowing full well that it is efficiently
guarded, and fires a pot shot at the first person seen through one of
the windows. The man whom I have spoken to over the telephone shares
that opinion. He is one of the legal advisers of the Home Office. Just
to show the baffling nature of the problem, he says that it will be
absolutely impossible, on the evidence available at present, to frame a
charge against any Chinaman other than Wong Li Fu. Yet we know that he
has at least four or five, and probably three times as many,
accomplices."

"Have the police yet obtained any real clew as to the whereabouts of the
gang's headquarters? They must have some sort of meeting place. They
must eat and sleep somewhere."

"That big detective, Winter, came here this morning. He seemed to be
very confident, though I think I gave him the worst shock he has
received for many a year when I informed him that within an hour after
he had left the house Mrs. Forbes had been shot at, and narrowly escaped
a fatal wound. It was he who asked me to invite you to come here. I'm
exceedingly sorry that our acquaintance, begun so happily, should
involve you in personal risk--"

"As for that," broke in Theydon, "I would not change places with any man
in England at this moment."

He feared instantly that he might have said too much, and added with a
laugh:

"Don't forget, Mr. Forbes, that I write books, some of them--the most
popular ones, I am afraid--being of a sensational type. When this
tornado has died down, and Wong Li Fu is carefully hanged, and you and
your family are recuperating in Sutherlandshire, I shall resume work
with a new inspiration. Never again shall I say to myself, 'Oh, that is
too far-fetched,' or fear that I am straining my readers' credulity
beyond bounds. If a small gang of Chinamen and Japanese can hold up
London, bamboozle the best men in Scotland Yard, and keep a man of your
position a prisoner in his own house, I need have no fear of adopting
any situation my fertile brain can evolve, because four days ago I would
have scoffed at the things which have actually happened as quite
impossible and therefore unbelievable."

"Japanese, you say? Why do you mention Japanese?"

"The American, Mr. Handyside, tells me the skulls are of Japanese
workmanship. He argues also that the wrestling tricks of which Winter
and I, and Mrs. Forbes in lesser degree, have had some experience, are
Japanese. More than that, a Jap was arrested outside my place early this
morning."

"Mr. Winter said something about it, but he spoke only of Chinamen."

"I have Furneaux's authority for the statement that the prisoner is a
Jap, and belongs to a society calling itself the 'Sons of Nippon.'"

"But confound it, I have no quarrel with Japan. If anything, I am one of
her best friends."

"I must get Handyside to propound one of his favorite theories. He says
that a powerful and growing party among our allies in the Far East means
to keep China in a condition of anarchy until Japan is prepared,
financially and in armament, to take a commanding share in the ultimate
settlement. But, at best, the few Japanese adventurers in league with
Wong Li Fu hardly count. Once he is laid by the heels this feud will
evaporate into thin air."

"If it doesn't, I must ask the Government to provide safe quarters for
my family in the Tower," muttered Forbes, rising and pacing the room in
the same thoughtful, care-laden way as he had paced it when Theydon
first told him of Edith Lester's end.

"You said Wong Li Fu knew that Mrs. Forbes had been rescued from her
bonds last night," went on Theydon. "I suppose Winter told you that. Was
he only assuming the fact, or have there been developments at Croydon?"

"A motor car drove up to the gate openly at ten o'clock this morning. A
police sergeant, jumping to the conclusion that one of his own chiefs or
a representative of Scotland Yard was paying the place a visit,
incautiously showed himself in the doorway, whereupon the car raced
away. It was an unfortunate and, perhaps, costly blunder, but the man is
hardly to be blamed. The very audacity of the gang is their best
safeguard."

A luncheon gong clanged in the hall. Both men started, and then laughed.

"You see," cried Forbes. "These rascals have got us on the jump. I don't
know how long my servants will stand the racket. They are most loyal,
and Tomlinson vows that not a syllable has been breathed outside by any
of our domestics. But the women's nerves are on edge. A scullery maid
dropped a decanter a little while since, and the crash drew
bloodcurdling shrieks from the kitchen. Come, let us eat, drink, and be
merry, for tomorrow we die. The quotation is not a felicitous one.
Indeed, it is distinctly ominous, but it seems to meet the conditions."

He threw open the door, and saw the three ladies descending the stairs.

"Helena," he cried sternly, "the doctor said you were not to stir out of
your room."

"My dear, the doctor is a mere man, and fancies that a woman is not
fitted for warfare. He is quite mistaken. When aroused we can be
terrible."

Mrs. Forbes, whose face was paler and eyes seemingly bigger and more
luminous than usual, was leaning on Evelyn's arm. She was dressed in a
blue tulle costume which lent a fragile air to an already slender form,
but she smiled so unaffectedly that even the policeman grinned.

"You certainly look ferocious," said her husband, yielding instantly, as
she well knew would happen.

"I believe you are all jealous," she vowed. "I am the only one who has
really been in the forefront of the battle. No. I forgot you, Mr.
Theydon. Didn't that horrid man knock you down?"

"Yes," said Theydon, moistening his lips with his tongue. There was such
a peculiar rasp in his voice that it evoked a general laugh.

Obviously the guests meant to avoid serious topics during the meal.
Evelyn Forbes chimed in with a reminiscence of her schooldays in
Brussels, and soon the talk was general, ranging from the year's Academy
to the Ladies' Gold Championship.

Mrs. Paxton, an excellent mimic, was amusing them with imitations of the
voice and manner of a certain well-known lady golfer, when she was
interrupted by three sharp, irregular cracks which seemed to come from
the dining-room windows. Simultaneously a picture frame on the opposite
wall was split and a Worcester vase on a sideboard was smashed to atoms.

Theydon, owing to his position at the table, was the first to notice
three small, starred holes in the plate glass of the windows.

"Don't stand up!" he said, instantly. "Some one is shooting at the
house. Crouch on the floor, for Heaven's sake!"

That urgent appeal was emphasized by a fourth bullet, which, taking a
lower flight, barely missed Forbes, upset a Venetian glass flower vase
on the table, and buried itself in the lower half of the sideboard.

Forbes, heedless of the possible consequences to himself, sprang to his
wife's assistance, and, interposing his body as a shield between her and
the windows, led her to an angle of the wall where she would be safe.
The younger women, after a momentary hesitation, dropped to the floor
and crawled to the same refuge. Theydon ran out. The front door was
open.

The police had heard the shooting, the sound of which had been deadened
to those in the dining room by the breaking glass and china. But within
a few minutes a useless pursuit was abandoned. The fusillade had come
from a car which halted close to the garden railings on the far side of
the square. Though the trees were nearly in full leaf, and dense
shrubberies seemed to shut off every house from any such method of
attack, investigation proved that it was possible to estimate accurately
the position of the dining-room windows in No. 11.

When Theydon returned he found Forbes and the ladies gathered in the
hall.

"Another narrow escape on both sides," he said coolly. "Two policemen
were just too late to interfere. Of course, they did not anticipate a
move in that quarter."

"Have the--er--enemy made off in a car?" said Mrs. Forbes.

"Yes. A constable in a taxi is trying to follow them."

"Well, then, let us finish our luncheon. I had hardly touched my
cutlet."

"By Jove, Helena, that doctor of ours was decidedly in error," cried her
husband. "You're right. If we're besieged we must carry ourselves
according to the code. Mrs. Paxton, I hope it won't disturb you if a
shell bursts before coffee is served!"

Theydon glanced through a window before resuming his seat.

"That volley has done things!" he announced. "London is stirring at
last. There's a crowd in front of the house, and a short, fat man is
explaining the procedure. Prepare now to receive the press in
battalions."



CHAPTER XVI

WHEREIN UNEXPECTED ALLIES APPEAR


Although, as shall be seen, the final and complete defeat and extinction
of the London section of the Young Manchus were directly due to forces
set in motion by Furneaux, it was Winter's painstaking way of covering
the ground that unearthed the fraternity's meeting place, and thus
brought matters to a head speedily. For the rest, events followed their
own course, and great would have been the fame of the prophet who
predicted that course accurately.

In later days, when more ample knowledge was available, it was a
debatable point whether or not the inmates of No. 11 Fortescue Square
were saved from an almost maniacal vengeance by the fact that a crisis
was precipitated. Winter maintained stoutly that the police must triumph
in the long run, whereas Furneaux held, with even greater tenacity, that
although the gang would undoubtedly be broken up, that much-desired end
might have been attained after, and not before, a dire tragedy occurred
in the Forbes household.

The pros and cons of the argument were equally numerous and weighty.
They cannot be marshaled here. Each man and woman who reads this record
will probably form an emphatic opinion tending toward the one side or
the other. All that a veracious chronicler can accomplish is to set
forth a plain tale of events in their proper sequence, and leave the
ultimate verdict to individual judgment.

Winter was a hard-headed, broad-minded official, whose long and wide
experience enabled him to estimate at their true value the far-reaching
powers of the State as opposed to the machinations of a few determined
outlaws. On the other hand, the amazing facility with which Furneaux
could enter into the twists and turns of the criminal mind entitles his
matured views to much respect.

At any rate, this is what happened.

Winter was sitting in his office, smoking a fat cigar, and wading
through reports brought in by subordinates concerning every opium den
and Chinese boarding house in the East End, when Furneaux entered.

"Any luck?" inquired the chief, laying aside one document which seemed
to merit fuller inquiry; it described a club much frequented by Chinese
residents in London, men of a higher class than the sailors and firemen
brought to the port by ships trading with the Far East, and an
outstanding feature of the Young Manchus' operations was the intelligent
grasp of the ways and means of modern civilized life these filibusters
exhibited.

"So-so," squeaked Furneaux.

He flung himself into a big armchair, curled up in it like an animated
Buddha, and extracted one of the three ivory skulls from a waistcoat
pocket.

"If you could only speak, you image of evil!" he muttered. "You're not
so dead that you cannot work mischief. Why the deuce, then, can't you
mouth your incantations? Then we would listen and learn."

Winter, still sorting his papers, cocked the cigar inquisitively on one
side of his mouth.

"Oh, I have ascertained a lot about the inner politics of China,"
mumbled Furneaux, irritably, gazing fixedly at the skull after one quick
glance of his colleague. "Every little helps, of course. I have met some
Chinamen this morning who would cheerfully plunge Wong Li Fu into a
cauldron of boiling oil, and stir him round with a long stick when he
was in it. One man, quite an important personage in the jute line, has
lost a brother and a brother-in-law, the one in Canton, the other in
Pekin, and he lays both deaths at the door of the redoubtable Wong.
Another, the fellow who chanced to take up his quarters at Smith's
Hotel, is a delegate sent here specially to hunt out Wong, and destroy
him. I asked him how he meant to set about it, but his scheme is vague.
He's an opportunist of the first water. 'Me catchee and killee Wong Li
Fu one time,' was his best effort. I'm going to confront Len Shi with
these two in Bow Street. They may worm something out of him. But will
they own up if they do? Dashed if I know. The Oriental mind is on a par
with their blessed language. It has three thousand ways of expressing
one idea, and not one of 'em is our way."

"Has Theydon gone to Fortescue Square?"

"I suppose so. He turned up in Jermyn Street--outside Smith's Hotel, if
you please, with a lady in a taxi."

"A lady? Miss Beale?"

"No, his sister, judging from the family likeness. His eyes grew goggled
like yours when he saw the gray car."

"Didn't you explain matters?"

"Not I. Gave him the cut direct. My Chinamen are shy birds, and I
daren't flutter them by letting them think there are too many foreign
devils mixed up in the business. My London Chinaman was the brainy
person who got the Embassy busy when Mrs. Lester's death was announced.
He saw Wong Li Fu's hand in that from the first moment. Oddly enough,
though he and a man from the Embassy followed Theydon from Waterloo to
Forbes's place on Tuesday night, and again to Innesmore Mansions, he
didn't recognize him today. Or perhaps he did. I don't know. Talk about
the impassive Red Indian! A thoroughbred Chink would give a Pawnee chief
one glass eye and a coat of paint, and then beat him hollow at the
haughty indifference game."

"My!" said Winter admiringly, "you've got your tongue loose today. Well,
here's an item which should prove useful. Whitechapel thinks we may find
a Young Manchu or two among that collection," and he threw an official
memorandum across the table.

Furneaux repocketed the skull, and was gazing moodily at the report,
when a uniformed constable announced that a boy messenger wished to see
a "detective" with regard to the typed letter delivered at Mr. Forbes's
house on Wednesday evening.

"Show him up," said the chief, and a smart-looking boy, wearing the
familiar uniform of his corps, was brought in. He glanced around
inquiringly.

"Oh, you're the gentleman who came to our Piccadilly office," he said to
Winter.

"Yes."

"Well, sir, I haven't very much to tell you, but it was I who took the
letter to Fortescue Square. I saw the sender, a foreign-looking
gentleman, he was, with funny eyes, and I think I spotted him again this
afternoon. He was coming out of a house in Charlotte Street."

"Are you sure?" demanded Winter, quickly.

"He was awful like the man who engaged me, sir, and dressed the same
way."

"Did you notice the number of the house?"

"Yes, sir. No. 412."

"Quite certain about that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good boy. If your information is of any service I'll take care you are
not forgotten."

The boy saluted and went out.

"We must look up No. 412," said Winter, quietly; but there was a ring of
genuine satisfaction in his voice, because the clew promised well, and
it was a complete justification of the straightforward method he adopted
in every inquiry, whereas Furneaux invariably preferred an abstruse
theory to a definite piece of evidence.

The Jersey man's face had wrinkled as a preliminary to some sarcastic
comment on what he termed the "handcuff" way of reasoning, when the
telephone bell rang. Winter answered, and at once his self-possessed air
fled. Indeed, it was a very angry man who listened, because a
subordinate was telephoning from Fortescue Square a full account of the
shooting outrage.

The Chief gave a few curt instructions as to securing the adequate
cooperation of the local police, who should take measures to render any
repetition of such daring tactics absolutely impossible.

"No one was injured, you say?" he added.

"No, sir."

"Were the ladies very much frightened?"

"They've gone back to finish luncheon, sir."

"Good. Evidently they're all of the right breed. You can tell them I
said so, if you like. Assure Mr. Forbes that every care will be taken to
protect his house in future. See that strong patrols occupy every point
from which a gun can be aimed at any window, even the attics, in No. 11.
Phone me again when you have discussed matters with the district
superintendent."

The receiver clanged back into its hook. Winter had not foreseen this
latest move. "Sheer impudence," he termed it.

"More bullets?" inquired Furneaux laconically.

"Yes. A long-range attack from across the square. Four shots lodged in
dining room."

"No one hurt, and no one arrested?"

"Not a soul."

"James," said the little man solemnly, "Wong Li Fu is making us a
laughing-stock. Are you aware that the newspapers will get on our track
now? Can't you see the headlines?--'Another Sidney Street.' 'Chinese
Pirates Busy in London.' 'Scotland Yard Outwitted.' By this time
tomorrow the Commissioner will be suggesting that you and I ought to
think about retiring on pensions."

Winter jumped up, overturning a chair in his haste.

"Come!" he said. "If that Chinaman in Bow Street won't speak, I'll
torture him. What of the other fellow who was caught near Innesmore
Mansions?"

"He's a Jap. He knows nothing. He was hired for the job--to put any
interfering bobby to sleep."

The chief inspector angrily bundled some papers into a drawer, and threw
away his cigar, which he had allowed to go out. Furneaux produced an
ivory skull again, and scowled at it, whereupon his superior, snorting
with annoyance, strode to the window, and affected an interest he was
far from feeling in the panorama of the Thames.

And thus they passed a harmonious quarter of an hour, which came to an
end with the appearance of an attendant to announce the arrival of "two
Chinese gentlemen to see Mr. Furneaux."

They went down in the elevator without exchanging a word. At the
entrance stood the gray car, in which the Chinamen were already seated.
Furneaux introduced the chief inspector, and they were whisked to Bow
Street. There in a cell they found Len Shi, a somewhat sullen-looking
man whose European chauffeur's livery seemed curiously raffish and
unsuitable when contrasted with the more picturesque if sober-hued
garments worn by his fellow-countrymen.

At first he maintained the sulky know-nothing role which he had adopted
successfully with the official interpreter. Furneaux, watching the faces
of prisoner and questioners, guessed that small progress was being made,
so, waiting until Len Shi was evidently quite satisfied with himself, he
suddenly thrust an ivory skull before the man's eyes. The result was
unexpected but puzzling. The man was badly scared, beyond doubt, but he
now became obstinately silent.

Winter, than whom no living actor could play up better to Furneaux's
tactics in a touch-and-go encounter of this sort, assumed a highly
tragic air.

"Handcuff that man, and bring him out!" he said to the constable in
charge of the cells.

Len Shi blanched. He estimated the legal methods of Great Britain by
those which obtained in his own land, and probably thought he was being
led forth to immediate execution.

The whole five crowded into the car, and the driver, the same English
chauffeur to whom Theydon had spoken, was told to make for 412 Charlotte
Street, and pass the house slowly, but not pull up. Len Shi, though
quaking with alarm, bore himself with a certain dignified stoicism until
he found out where the car was apparently stopping. Then he said
something in a panic-stricken voice and the jute merchant, who spoke
English fluently, turned to Furneaux.

"Tell the chauffeur to return," he said. "Len Shi will now confess."

Once started, Len Shi talked volubly. The others merely put in a
question now and then, and the detectives curbed their impatience as
best they might until Len Shi was safely lodged in Bow Street again.

Then Winter led his Chinese helpers into an inner office and closed the
door.

"Well?" he said, addressing the jute merchant. The other Chinaman had
very little English and could not maintain a conversation.

But, to the chief inspector's surprise and wrath, the English-speaking
Chinaman had only a request to make.

"Give me and my friend those three ivory skulls," he said.

"Why?" he said.

"Without them we can accomplish nothing."

"Be good enough to explain yourself. Above all, tell me what Len Shi has
been jabbering about. He had plenty to say."

"He told us of the fate of our friends in China. Those things do not
concern you. What you want is to have Wong Li Fu and the others--there
are nearly twenty in all--delivered into your hands. Very well. Give us
those ivory skulls, and bring your men to that house in Charlotte
Street, at one o'clock this night, and you will take them without a blow
being struck."

"That is our business, not yours," said Winter, gruffly decisive. "I
cannot expose you two gentlemen to any personal risk in this affair.
Kindly--"

"You do not understand," broke in the jute merchant, addressing the
burly representative of the Criminal Investigation Department as if he
were a fractious child who must be informed as to the why and wherefore
of a disagreeable duty. "What will you do? Surround the house with
policemen, break in the doors, and fight? You may, or may not succeed.
Some, plenty, of your men will certainly be killed. That is not good. We
do not wish it. Give me those skulls. I and my friend will go there. You
come at one o'clock, tap so on the door, and we will admit you. Then you
take Wong Li Fu and all the others. There will be no fight."

The Chinaman's manner was singularly impressive as he tapped three times
on a high desk to emphasize, as it were, his instructions. The sound,
too, was curious. He did not use his knuckles, but bunched the fingers
of his right hand together, and rapped on the wood with the long nails
which are a mark of distinction in his race.

"We make things easy and certain for you," he added, more by way of
painstaking argument than because any further explanation was really
necessary. "You do not wish to fail, no? You want to be sure that Wong
Li Fu's evil deeds shall be stopped? Good. We do that--I and my friend.
We can pass the door-keepers. Can you? No. At one o'clock we open the
door and the Young Manchus will be wholly in your power, to do with them
what you will. I promise that, and my word is always taken in the city."

Winter turned troubled eyes on Furneaux.

"What do you say?" he muttered irresolutely.

"I think the plan is a good one, and should be adopted," was the instant
reply.

Nevertheless, Winter was perplexed. He hemmed and hawed a good deal.
Seldom did he hesitate in this fashion. As a rule, he was quick to
decide and quicker to act.

"I might entertain your scheme if I were told more about it," he said
dubiously, gazing with troubled eyes at the Chinaman's blandly
inscrutable face. "Please believe me when I say that I trust your good
faith, but I am not sure that even you understand fully the nature of
the adventure you have in mind. Wong Li Fu has already committed one
murder in London. He has attempted others, and is absolutely careless of
consequences. How can I have any guarantee that you and this other
gentleman may not be his next victims? He is a person who displays a
somewhat forced humor. We might enter the Charlotte Street house at one
o'clock and find your corpses there, with labels and ivory skulls neatly
attached."

"That will not be so," was the grave answer.

"If I agree, what time do you propose going there?"

"About midnight."

"And do you expect the police to leave the whole neighborhood severely
alone for another hour?"

"Not unless you wish it. If you so desire you can occupy both ends of
the street, and arrest every Chinaman coming away from No. 412, but let
those pass who go towards it."

"Will others go there--friends of yours, I mean?"

"Oh, yes. We will overpower the Young Manchus by taking them unaware. We
will act quietly, but there will be no mistake. It is you who will err
if you do not accept our help."

Then Winter yielded, though not with a good grace. The implied
suggestion that the London police could not handle a set of Mongolian
ruffians was utterly distasteful, yet he admitted, though unwillingly,
that he did not want to sacrifice some of his best men in rushing the
place.

"All right," he said. "Hand over the skulls, Furneaux! It is quite
agreed," he went on, addressing the Chinaman again, "that I have full
liberty of action in so far as preliminary arrangements are concerned? I
see your point that Wong Li Fu must not be forewarned, and shall take
care that my men are hidden. I have your positive assurance, too, that
you are not exposing your own life in any way?"

"To the best of my belief I shall be as safe in Charlotte Street as I am
here," said the jute merchant, smiling for the first time during the
interview.

"One! Two! Three!" said Furneaux, counting the skulls into the
Chinaman's outstretched hand.

For some reason, the action, no less than the words, jarred on Winter.

"I do wish you wouldn't be so d---- d theatrical!" he growled.

Furneaux said nothing. He accompanied the chief inspector when the
latter escorted the two Chinamen to their car, and whistled softly
between his teeth while Winter and he were walking to Scotland Yard. The
big man glowered at him once or twice, but passed no comment. When they
reached the Embankment, Winter took Furneaux to his room, but left him
instantly. He was absent a long time. When he came in again he was
cheerfully placid.

Walking toward their favorite restaurant in Soho, they met a newsboy
running with an edition of an evening newspaper damp from the press. The
boy was shouting, "'Orrible crime in the West End; Chinese outrage!"
Furneaux bought a paper. It contained a lively account of the attack on
Mr. Forbes's house and described the mansion as an armed fortress.
Scores of police were parading the neighborhood and examining every
passing motor car lest it held Chinese bandits. The arrest of Len Shi at
St. Albans, and of a Japanese outside Innesmore Mansions, was recalled,
and an Eastbourne correspondent had sent a fairly accurate version of
the kidnaping of Mrs. Forbes.

"The pack is in full cry now, James," grinned Furneaux. "Tomorrow--"

"O, bother tomorrow! Let's eat, and talk about something else."

"What? Both? Well, now, if that isn't a bit of luck," cried a pleasant
voice close behind them, and Mr. George T. Handyside held out his two
hands.

"I was feeling kind of lonesome in the hotel, and just strolled out to
look at the shops," he rattled on. "Say, can you boys eat a line? Is
there any place in London where they know what a planked steak is?"

"Planked steak!" snorted Furneaux. "When you've tasted a porterhouse
steak grilled by a master hand you'll never mention any other variety
again. Come right along, Mr. Handyside. Tell us fairy tales about God's
own country. We're in the right mood to believe anything!"

"But what's this story of another shooting up in Fortescue Square? Is it
true?"

Then Furneaux dug him in the ribs.

"This isn't the Wild and Woolly West," he said. "This is London, sir,
poor, old, played-out London, whose beefy citizens do nothing but eat,
talk cricket or golf, and sleep. If you credit the newspapers, you'll
never get us in the right perspective."

Another newspaper boy raced past, bawling loudly.

"All a flam, is it?" said the American quizzically;

"No," said Winter, "it's the truth, and less than the truth. Let's hunt
that steak, and we'll season the dish for you."

Winter never erred when he chose a man as a friend. He liked Handyside,
and was half inclined to drop a hint in his ear as to the night's
program, for the American had seen Wong Li Fu more than once, and might
be useful for identification purposes.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SETTLEMENT


Now, Len Shi had communicated one vital fact to his compatriots which
they had carefully concealed from the detectives. The opening campaign
against Forbes had practically ended that day. Thenceforth, for a week,
the Young Manchus meant to separate, revert to Chinese costume, live in
Chinese boardinghouses in the East End, and thus utterly mislead and
bamboozle the police, who, in their hunt for the miscreants, would be
searching for Chinamen in European dress and living in European style.

Winter was in two minds whether or not to inform the inmates of No. 11
as to the contemplated raid on the Charlotte Street rendezvous.
Ultimately, he decided to say nothing definite that evening. It was
better that the threatened people and their guards should not relax
their vigilance. "The best-laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft
a-gley," and if, perchance, the jute merchant's plan, whatever it might
be, miscarried, and some of the desperadoes escaped, they would be
stirred to instant reprisals.

But there was no semblance of doubt or hesitation about the measures
taken by the police. That night, from eleven o'clock onward, not even a
prowling cat entered Charlotte Street without being seen by sharp eyes.
Nearly opposite No. 412 was a large warehouse, with a back entrance a
long way in the rear, and approached from another street.

At midnight three Chinamen appeared, turned into Charlotte Street from
the south and shuffled on noiseless feet straight to No. 414. They
knocked, and after some delay were admitted. A minute later three others
came from the north, knocked on the door of No. 410 and disappeared, the
delay, seemingly caused by a parley with some one within, being longer
in this instance.

Afterward squads of Chinamen, exactly 25, all told, came from north and
south in practically equal numbers and entered those two houses, but
never a man entered, or passed, or came out of No. 412. These more
numerous arrivals met with no hesitation on the part of the two
doorkeepers. They entered without let or hindrance.

After that there was what is known in theatrical circles as a "stage
wait." Charlotte Street, save for its loafers and an occasional belated
resident of some dwelling other than those under observation, lapsed
into its normal and utterly dismal gloom.

From 12:30 onwards, Winter, stationed on the south side, looked at his
watch many times. A little man, mingling with the disreputable rascals
on the north side, was similarly fidgety.

A tall, slim man, wearing a dark overcoat, who lurked in a doorway near
Winter's post, blew the tip of the cigar he was smoking into a red glow
so that he might look at his watch. Another tall man, rather more
powerfully built, awaited developments with apparent unconcern. Mr.
Handyside, in fact, was in the august company of the Commissioner of
Police, and the latter, though eminently agreeable, nevertheless
observed an Olympian attitude. Thus might Jove watch a gathering in the
Pompic Way!

At 12:45 there was a stir. Out of 410 and 414 came 25 Chinamen. They
gathered on the pavement, and did not attempt to walk away, though a
sudden and concentrated advance was made by the two sets of loafers,
while the doors of the warehouse opposite belched forth a startling
array of constables in uniform.

Winter and Furneaux respectively headed the contingents from north and
south. An inspector was in charge of the central body, and even a
Chinaman who had not been a day in London must have realized that the
intent of these swift-moving detachments was to cut off his escape if he
meant flight. But not a Chinaman budged, save one, who seemed to
recognize the chief inspector, because he stepped forward and said in
suave tones:

"These men are my friends. The others are inside. They are quite safe.
Kindly wait till one o'clock."

"I must understand what you mean, Mr. Li Chang," said Winter sternly;
for some reason, he distrusted the smooth-spoken jute merchant. "Why
have you visited these two houses, and not 412? And what do we gain by
waiting here any longer? We must have been seen, and our purpose
guessed."

"No," came the somewhat surprising answer. "No one in No. 412 is aware
of your presence. We have taken care of that. As for the other houses,
they provide the simplest means of access to the center one. Doorways
have been made in the cellar walls and special staircases built.
Consequently, if you broke open the door of 412 you would find the way
barred by two other locked doors, while the occupants, if aroused, could
escape from either or both of the next houses. We Chinese have a long
acquaintance with the needs of a secret society. You may take it from me
that the obvious way into or out of an opium den, for instance, is never
the way used by the habitues."

By this time the commissioner, Handyside, Furneaux and the inspector had
come up, and the five formed a little group in the center of a
semicircle of detectives and police. There was absolutely no sign of
life in any of the houses; save for the raiders and the stolid
Orientals, the street itself was deserted. Many eyes, no doubt, were
peering through darkened windows, but the denizens of Charlotte Street
as a rule attend strictly to their own personal affairs when the police
are in evidence.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you advise, sire," said Winter, addressing the commissioner.
"Mr. Li Chang wants us to make no move until one o'clock. It is only a
matter of six or seven minutes."

"And what then? Are we to enter these other houses, and not No. 412?"

"Yes," said the Chinaman.

"Have you left the doors open?"

"No. They must be forced. But there are only small locks. The bolts are
drawn."

"The places are apparently in complete darkness. My men must use their
lamps, and may be attacked."

"No," said Li Chang simply. "There will be no fighting. Those Manchu
dogs are helpless. We have seen to that."

"But how? Do you mean that they are stupefied?"

"Bound," said the Chinaman. "Tied hand and foot."

"Again then, may I ask, why wait?"

"It will be in order," was the calm reply. "I entered into an
arrangement with you. I want to abide by it."

Winter breathed heavily. The ways of the Oriental were not his ways, but
a bargain was a bargain, so what more could be said?

Suddenly, about two minutes to one o'clock, a curious crackling noise
was heard, a column of sparks burst high above the steep roof of No.
412, and the upper windows of the opposite houses reflected a red glare.

"Good heavens! the place is on fire!" cried Winter.

Simultaneously came a shout from both ends of the street. Men were
running from the detachment guarding the rear of the premises to say
that a fierce fire was raging on the first floor back of No. 412.

"Smash in those three doors!" cried Winter to his helpers. "Drag out
every Chinaman you meet! Handcuff them in threes and fours! Arrest these
fellows standing outside, but keep the two lots separate!"

"Why are we, your friends, to be arrested?" demanded Li Chang's
dignified voice.

"I'll soon tell you why, you slim demon!" shouted the chief inspector,
roused to anger by the consciousness that he had been duped. "What
fiendish trick have you played on those wretches penned up inside there?
But I'll soon know."

He turned to the local officer.

"Better march this crowd of Chinamen straight to your station," he said.
"I'll follow soon, and lay a charge."

He felt a claw-like hand on his arm, and wild with vexation though he
was, forced himself to listen.

"We are ready to go where you wish," said Li Chang calmly. "But spare
your own men. They must not enter No. 412. They will be blown to pieces.
Stop them! I shall not warn you twice!"

Somehow, Winter was impelled to obey. The center door was already
yielding, but he rushed forward and told the party which meant to enter
at that point to abandon it, and reinforce their comrades. A number of
detectives and police were already inside the dark hallways of Nos. 410
and 414 when the very walls trembled under the shock of a violent
explosion in No. 412, which was quickly followed by three others.

A tongue of flame darted instantly to a height of many feet above the
topmost storey, showing that the series of explosions had not only
destroyed the whole rear section of the house, and thus given the fire
fresh fuel and plenty of space but there could be no reasonable doubt
that the bombs, if bombs they were, had themselves been filled with some
highly inflammable substance. Thenceforth, the police could do nothing
beyond keeping at a distance the crowds which soon gathered, and thus
clear a space for the operations of the fire brigade.

No. 412 was thoroughly gutted. Not a shred of the building remained
except the crumbling walls at front and back. Its neighbors were in
little better case, and the firemen devoted their efforts mainly toward
keeping the disaster within bounds.

One thing was certain. No human being had escaped from out of that
doomed habitation. The fire, too, had gained hold with a phenomenal
rapidity which argued the use of petrol, or some kindred agent of
irresistible potency when ignited.

Winter and Furneaux, accompanied by the commissioner and Mr. Handyside,
walked to the local police station. The American was the only one who
spoke.

"Queer ducks, the Chinese!" he said, seemingly musing aloud rather than
inviting comment. "They like to settle their own differences. I guess
we'd feel pretty much like that if we lived in China."

No one took up the point thus raised. Winter bent a searching, almost
sorrowful glance at Furneaux, but the little man's eyes were fixed on
the ground, as though he were deep in thought.

In the charge room of the police station the twenty-five Chinamen
awaited them. Twenty-five pairs of oblique eyes gleamed at the four when
they entered, but not a word was spoken.

Winter, of course, singled out Li Chang for a parley.

"Now," he said, "tell me just what happened after you and these others
went into the two houses in Charlotte Street."

The Chinaman faced him imperturbably. His manner was as unemotional and
his words as slow and methodical as if he were selling jute in his East
End warehouse.

"We asked to be admitted, and after giving the password and showing the
sign there was no difficulty," he said. "We were in parties of three. As
you probably saw, I headed one, which entered No. 410. My friend, Won
Lung Foo, led the other. The ivory skulls made matters simple. We
explained to the door-keepers that we had just arrived from China, and
brought messages of great urgency. Once inside, we gagged and bound the
door-keepers. Then we entered No. 412, where we knew that Wong Li Fu
would be smoking opium with the remaining fourteen."

"Were there seventeen in the gang, all told?" broke in Furneaux.

"Seventeen Manchus. The rest are--paid men--of no account."

"Queer," muttered Furneaux, almost to himself. "The story begins and
ends with the number 17!"

Again did Winter strive to pierce his colleague with a look from those
bulging eyes, but the little man was far too occupied with a singular
numerical coincidence to pay any heed to him.

"Well, go on!" he said impatiently, glaring at the Chinaman.

"We went to the big room at the back," continued Li Chang quietly,
uttering each word separately, and evidently weighing it in his mind to
test its accuracy before use, "and found Wong Li Fu. Him we bound
quickly, and very securely. The others we tied in twos and threes. Of
course, we brought the two doorkeepers to the same room, so that you
should experience no difficulty, but take them all together."

Here Mr. Won Lung Foo broke in. Evidently he could follow English better
than speak it.

"Yes," he said. "We wantee you catchee Chineemans all togeller--muchee
wantee!"

Then he smiled blandly, and his tongue rolled over his lips as though
some fruit or sweetmeat had left a pleasant taste there.

"Then, if your surprise was so successful, what caused the fire?" said
Winter, affecting a magnificent disregard of the plain facts.

Li Chang, for once, permitted his immobile features to show some
semblance of anxious uncertainty.

"That," he said, "is a mystery which can, perhaps, never be solved. But
it saves your Government much trouble."

In those few words he expressed quite clearly the line he adhered to
throughout a long cross-examination. Neither Winter nor the commissioner
could shake him. The fire was an accident--the outcome of an
extraordinary chance. He knew nothing whatsoever of its origin.

After a protracted debate in private between the two heads of the
Criminal Investigation Department, the names and addresses of the
prisoners were recorded and they were set at liberty.

Before Li Chang went away Furneaux demanded the return of the three
ivory skulls, which were promptly handed over.

"One word in your ear," murmured the detective, _sotto voce_. "Did Wong
Li Fu recognize you?"

"Oh, yes," said the Chinaman.

"And you spoke to him?"

"Oh, yes."

The eyes of the two clashed. For once, Furneaux peered deep into the
mind of an Oriental, and what he saw there kept him quiet, but he knew,
just as surely as if he had been present, exactly what Li Chang said to
Wong Li Fu. He delivered a message from two graves in far-off China.

       *       *       *       *       *

And that is all--or nearly all.

The "Charlotte Street Fire" caused only a slight sensation. It became
known that No. 412 was a resort of Chinese opium fiends, and the loss of
the den and its frequenters was not treated as a National calamity. The
shooting at No. 11 Fortescue Square was regarded much more seriously,
and the newspapers were full of it all next day.

Thenceforth, however, interest flagged. Mr. Forbes and his family and
servants left London for Scotland, and the Amateur Golf Championship
came along, so the escapades of a few Chinese fanatics in London were
quickly forgotten.

They were forgotten, that is, by most people; but one man, Frank
Theydon, went back to his flat in Innesmore Mansions to plunge into work
and strive vainly to obliterate those pages of his memory charged with
bitter-sweet day-dreams.

Strive as he would, and did, to bury the past under the duties and cares
of the present, the radiant vision of Evelyn Forbes remained
ineffaceable and entrancing.

But he was built of tough fiber, and resolutely refused an invitation to
visit the Sutherlandshire glen in which Forbes and his daughter were
sedulously nursing to health and strength the dear wife and mother whose
nervous system had suffered far more than she permitted to become known
under the stress and strain of the kidnaping experience.

Even when Evelyn herself wrote, seconding her father's most friendly
note, Theydon pleaded the exigencies of his profession and filled a
letter with an amusing account of Bates's chagrin because he had failed
to "bag a Chinaman on his own account," having actually purchased a
pistol and fixed it in position before he and his wife quitted the flat.

Three months passed. On August 9, a broiling morning, Theydon was
dejectedly reading of preparations for the "Twelfth," when a telegram
reached him. It read:

"Handyside has arrived here in his car. Come for the gathering of the
clan. We take no refusal. Forbes."

Theydon traveled north that night. He reached the glen in time for
dinner next evening and passed a few delightfully miserable days in
Evelyn's company.

At last, feeling that he was losing grip and might act foolishly, he
announced to Forbes, one night when a glorious moon was shining, and he
knew that Evelyn was awaiting him in the garden, that he must leave for
London next day.

"Why?" inquired his host. "Has something unforeseen happened? I thought
you meant remaining here till the end of the month at the earliest."

"I'm sorry," said Theydon, chewing a cigar viciously as a means toward
maintaining his self-control. "I'm sorry, but I must go."

There was a slight pause. Forbes looked at his young friend with those
earnest, deep-seeing eyes of his.

"Is it a personal matter?" he went on.

"Yes."

Again there was a pause. Theydon was well aware that he risked a grave
misunderstanding, but that could not be avoided. It might be even better
so. And then his blood ran cold, because Forbes was saying:

"Are you leaving us because of anything Evelyn has said or done?"

"No, no!" came the frenzied answer. "Heaven help me, why do you ask
that?"

"Heaven helps those who help themselves," said the older man. "That is a
trite saying, but it meets the case. I think I diagnose your trouble, my
boy. You are in love with Evelyn, and dare not tell her so, because I
happen to be a rich man. Really I didn't think you had so poor an
opinion of me as to believe that money or rank would count against my
daughter's happiness."

He said other things--kindly, wise, appreciative--but Frank Theydon
never knew what they were. He managed to stammer out some words of
gratitude and then went to find Evelyn.

She had crossed a sloping lawn and was standing by the side of a little
stream that gargled and bubbled in joyous career to the nearby loch. She
had thrown a white shawl over her head and shoulders, and looked
adorably sylphlike as she turned on hearing his footsteps; the moonlight
shone on her face and was reflected in her eyes.

"Oh, you're here at last!" she cried gaily. "The next time I ask any
cavalier to escort me he will come more quickly, I imagine."

He stood in front of her, and stretched out both hands.

"Evelyn," he said, "here is one cavalier, at any rate, who offers
himself as an escort for life."

The merriment died out of her eyes, and the quip on her tongue failed
her. Greatly daring, her lover took her in his arms. Through the open
windows of the drawing room floated the tender refrain of a ballad. Mrs.
Forbes was singing, and sweet words blended with sweet music in the
still air.

Then their lips met, and the dark glen became an earthly Paradise.

THE END





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