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Title: Okewood of the Secret Service
Author: Williams, Valentine, 1883-1946
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 "Okewood of the Secret Service" ***

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OKEWOOD OF THE SECRET SERVICE


by

Valentine Williams

(pseud. Douglas Valentine)



CONTENTS

      I.  THE DEPUTY TURN
     II.  CAPTAIN STRANGWISE ENTERTAINS A GUEST
    III.  MR. MACKWAYTE MEETS AN OLD FRIEND
     IV.  MAJOR OKEWOOD ENCOUNTERS A NEW TYPE
      V.  THE MURDER AT SEVEN KINGS
     VI.  "NAME O'BARNEY"
    VII.  NUR-EL-DIN
   VIII.  THE WHITE PAPER PACKAGE
     IX.  METAMORPHOSIS
      X.  D. O. R. A. IS BAFFLED
     XI.  CREDENTIALS
    XII.  AT THE MILL HOUSE
   XIII.  WHAT SHAKESPEARE'S COMEDIES REVEALED
    XIV.  BARBARA TAKES A HAND
     XV.  MR. BELLWARD IS CALLED TO THE TELEPHONE
    XVI.  THE STAR OF POLAND
   XVII.  MR. BELLWARD ARRANGES A BRIDGE EVENING
  XVIII.  THE GATHERING OF THE SPIES
    XIX.  THE UNINVITED GUEST
     XX.  THE ODD MAN
    XXI.  THE BLACK VELVET TOQUE
   XXII.  WHAT THE CELLAR REVEALED
  XXIII.  MRS. MALPLAQUET GOES DOWN TO THE CELLAR
   XXIV.  THE TWO DESERTERS
    XXV.  TO MRS. MALPLAQUET'S
   XXVI.  THE MAN IN THE SUMMER HOUSE
  XXVII.  THE RED LACQUER ROOM
 XXVIII.  AN OFFER FROM STRANGWISE
   XXIX.  DOT AND DASH
    XXX.  HOHENLINDEN TRENCH
   XXXI.  THE 100,000 POUND KIT



CHAPTER I. THE DEPUTY TURN

Mr. Arthur Mackwayte slipped noiselessly into the dining-room and
took his place at the table. He always moved quietly, a look of
gentle deprecation on his face as much as to say: "Really, you
know, I can't help being here: if you will just overlook me this
time, by and by you won't notice I'm there at all!" That was how
he went through life, a shy, retiring little man, quiet as a
mouse, gentle as a dove, modesty personified.

That is, at least, how Mr. Arthur Mackwayte struck his friends in
private life. Once a week, however, he fairly screamed at the
public from the advertisement columns of "The Referee":
"Mackwayte, in his Celebrated Kerbstone Sketches. Wit! Pathos!
Tragedy!!! The Epitome of London Life. Universally Acclaimed as
the Greatest Portrayer of London Characters since the late Chas.
Dickens. In Tremendous Demand for Public Dinners. The Popular
Favorite. A Few Dates still Vacant. 23, Laleham Villas, Seven
Kings. 'Phone" and so on.

But only professionally did Mr. Mackwayte thus blow his own
trumpet, and then in print alone. For the rest, he had nothing
great about him but his heart. A long and bitter struggle for
existence had left no hardness in his smooth-shaven flexible
face, only wrinkles. His eyes were gray and keen and honest, his
mouth as tender as a woman's.

His daughter, Barbara, was already at table pouring out the
tea--high tea is still an institution in music-hall circles. Mr.
Mackwayte always gazed on this tall, handsome daughter of his
with amazement as the great miracle of his life. He looked at her
now fondly and thought how.... how distinguished, yes, that was
the word, she looked in the trim blue serge suit in which she
went daily to her work at the War Office.

"Rations a bit slender to-night, daddy," she said, handing him his
cup of tea, "only sardines and bread and butter and cheese. Our
meatless day, eh?"

"It'll do very well for me, Barbara, my dear," he answered in his
gentle voice, "there have been times when your old dad was glad
enough to get a cup of tea and a bite of bread and butter for his
supper. And there's many a one worse off than we are today!"

"Any luck at the agent's, daddy?"

Mr. Mackwayte shook his head.

"These revues are fair killing the trade, my dear, and that's a
fact. They don't want art to-day, only rag-time and legs and all
that. Our people are being cruelly hit by it and that's a fact.
Why, who do you think I ran into at Harris' this morning? Why,
Barney who used to work with the great Charles, you know, my
dear. For years he drew his ten pound a week regular. Yet there
he was, looking for a job the same as the rest of us. Poor
fellow, he was down on his luck!"

Barbara looked up quickly.

"Daddy, you lent him money...."

Mr. Mackwayte looked extremely uncomfortable.

"Only a trifle, my dear, just a few shillings.... to take him
over the week-end.... he's getting something.... he'll repay me,
I feel sure...."

"It's too bad of you, daddy," his daughter said severely. "I gave
you that ten shillings to buy yourself a bottle of whiskey. You
know he won't pay you back. That Barney's a bad egg!"

"Things are going bad with the profession," replied Mr. Mackwayte.
"They don't seem to want any of us old stagers today, Barbara!"

"Now, daddy, you know I don't allow you to talk like that. Why,
you are only just finished working.... the Samuel Circuit, too!"

Barbara looked up at the old man quickly.

"Only, four weeks' trial, my dear.... they didn't want me, else
they would have given me the full forty weeks. No, I expect I am
getting past my work. But it's hard on you child...."

Barbara sprang up and placed her hand across her father's mouth.

"I won't have you talk like that, Mac"--that was her pet name for
him--"you've worked hard all your life and now it's my turn. Men
have had it all their own way before this war came along: now
women are going to have a look in. Presently' when I get to be
supervisor of my section and they raise my pay again, you will be
able to refuse all offers of work. You can go down to Harris with
a big cigar in your mouth and patronize him, daddy..."

The telephone standing on the desk in the corner of the cheap
little room tingled out sharply. Barbara rose and went across to
the desk. Mr. Mackwayte thought how singularly graceful she
looked as she stood, very slim, looking at him whimsically across
the dinner-table, the receiver in her hand.

Then a strange thing happened. Barbara quickly put the receiver
down on the desk and clasped her hands together, her eyes opened
wide in amazement.

"Daddy," she cried, "it's the Palaceum... the manager's office...
they want you urgently! Oh, daddy, I believe it is an
engagement!"

Mr. Mackwayte rose to his feet in agitation, a touch of color
creeping into his gray cheeks.

"Nonsense, my dear!" he answered, "at this time of night! Why,
it's past eight... their first house is just finishing... they
don't go engaging people at this time of day... they've got other
things to think of!"

He went over to the desk and picked up the receiver.

"Mackwayte speaking!" he said, with a touch of stage majesty in
his voice.

Instantly a voice broke in on the other end of the wire, a
perfect torrent of words.

"Mackwayte? Ah! I'm glad I caught you at home. Got your props
there? Good. Hickie of Hickie and Flanagan broke his ankle during
their turn at the first house just now, and I want you to take
their place at the second house. Your turn's at 9.40: it's a
quarter past eight now: I'll have a car for you at your place at
ten to nine sharp. Bring your band parts and lighting directions
with you... don't forget! You get twenty minutes, on! Right!
Goodbye!"

"The Palaceum want me to deputize for Hickie and Flanagan, my
dear," he said a little tremulously' "9.40... the second house...
it's... it's very unexpected!"

Barbara ran up and throwing her arms about his neck, kissed him.

"How splendid!" she exclaimed, "the Palaceum, daddy! You've never
had an engagement like this before... the biggest hall in
London...!!

"Only for a night, my dear"' said Mr. Mackwayte modestly.

"But if they like you, daddy, if it goes down... what will you
give them, daddy?"

Mr. Mackwayte scratched his chin.

"It's the biggest theatre in London"' he mused, "It'll have to be
broad effects... and they'll want something slap up modern, my
dear, I'm thinking..."

"No, no, daddy" his daughter broke in vehemently "they want the
best. This is a London audience, remember, not a half-baked
provincial house. This is London, Mac, not Wigan! And Londoners
love their London! You'll give 'em the old London horse bus
driver, the sporting cabby, and I believe you'll have time to
squeeze in the hot potato man..."

"Well, like your poor dear mother, I expect you know what's the
best I've got" replied Mr. Mackwayte, "but it'll be a bit awkward
with a strange dresser... I can't get hold of Potter at this
time, of night... and a stranger is sure to mix up my wigs and
things..."

"Why, daddy, I'm going with you to put out your things..."

"But a lady clerk in the War Office, Barbara... a Government
official, as you might say... go behind at a music-hall... it
don't seem proper right, my dear!"

"Nonsense, Mac. Where Is your theatre? Come along. We'll have to
try and get a taxi!"

"They're sending a car at ten to nine, my dear!"

"Good gracious! what swells we are! And it's half-past eight
already! Who is on the bill with you?"

"My dear, I haven't an idea... I'm not very well up in the London
programmes' I'm afraid... but it is sure to be a good programme.
The Palaceum is the only house that's had the courage to break
away from this rotten revue craze!"

Barbara was in the hall now, her arms plunged to the shoulder in
a great basket trunk that smelt faintly of cocoa-butter. Right
and left she flung coats and hats and trousers and band parts,
selecting with a sure eye the properties which Mr. Mackwayte
would require for the sketches he would play that evening. In the
middle of it all the throbbing of a car echoed down the quiet
road outside. Then there came a ring at the front door.

*       *        *       *       *       *

At half-past nine that night, Barbara found herself standing
beside her father in the wings of the vast Palaceum stage. Just
at her back was the little screened-off recess where Mr.
Mackwayte was to make the quick changes that came in the course
of his turn. Here, since her arrival in the theatre, Barbara had
been busy laying out coats and hats and rigs and grease-paints on
the little table below the mirror with its two brilliant electric
bulbs, whilst Mr. Mackwayte was in his dressing-room upstairs
changing into his first costume.

Now, old Mackwayte stood at her elbow in his rig-out as an old
London bus-driver in the identical, characteristic clothes which
he had worn for this turn for the past 25 years. He was far too
old a hand to show any nervousness he might feel at the ordeal
before him. He was chatting in undertones in his gentle,
confidential way to the stage manager.

All around them was that curious preoccupied stillness hush of
the power-house which makes the false world of the stage so
singularly unreal by contrast when watched from the back. The
house was packed from floor to ceiling, for the Palaceum's policy
of breaking away from revue and going back to Mr. Mackwayte
called "straight vaudeville" was triumphantly justifying itself.

Standing in the wings, Barbara could almost feel the electric
current running between the audience and the comedian who, with
the quiet deliberation of the finished artist, was going through
his business on the stage. As he made each of his carefully
studied points, he paused, confident of the vast rustle of
laughter swelling into a hurricane of applause which never failed
to come from the towering tiers of humanity before him,
stretching away into the roof where the limelights blazed and
spluttered. Save for the low murmur of voices at her side, the
silence behind the scenes was absolute. No one was idle. Everyone
was at his post, his attention concentrated on that diminutive
little figure in the ridiculous clothes which the spot-lights
tracked about the stage.

It was the high-water mark of modern music-hall development. The
perfect smoothness of the organization gave Barbara a great
feeling of contentment for she knew how happy her father must be.
Everyone had been so kind to him. "I shall feel a stranger
amongst the top-liners of today, my dear," he had said to her in
the car on their way to the hall. She had had no answer ready for
she had feared he spoke the truth.

Yet everyone they had met had tried to show them that Arthur
Mackwayte was not forgotten. The stage-door keeper had known him
in the days of the old Aquarium and welcomed him by name. The
comedian who preceded Mr. Mackwayte and who was on the stage at
that moment had said, "Hullo, Mac! Come to give us young 'uns
some tips?" And even now the stage manager was talking over old
days with her father.

"You had a rough but good schooling, Mac," he was saying, "but,
by Jove, it gave us finished artists. If you saw the penny
reading line that comes trying to get a job here... and gets it,
by Gad!... it'd make you sick. I tell you I have my work cut out
staving them off! It's a pretty good show this week, though, and
I've given you a good place, Mac... you're in front of
Nur-el-Din!"

"Nur-el-Din?" repeated Mr. Mackwayte' "what is it, Fletcher? A
conjurer?"

"Good Lord' man' where have you been living?" replied Fletcher.
"Nur-el-Din is the greatest vaudeville proposition since Lottie
Collins. Conjurer! That's what she is, too, by Jove! She's the
newest thing in Oriental dancers... Spaniard or something...
wonderful clothes, what there is of 'em... and jewelry... wait
till you see her!"

"Dear me"' said Mr. Mackwayte' "I'm afraid I'm a bit behind the
times. Has she been appearing here long?"

"First appearance in London, old man' and she's made good from
the word 'Go!' She's been in Paris and all over the Continent,
and America, too, I believe, but she had to come to me to soar to
the top of the bill. I saw at once where she belonged! She's a
real artiste, temperament, style and all that sort of thing and a
damn good producer into the bargain! But the worst devil that
ever escaped out of hell never had a wickeder temper! She and I
fight all the time! Not a show, but she doesn't keep the stage
waiting! But I won! I won't have her prima donna tricks in this
theatre and so I've told her! Hullo, Georgie's he's finishing..."

The great curtain switched down suddenly, drowning a cascade of
applause, and a bundle of old clothes, twitching nerves, liquid
perspiration and grease paint hopped off the stage into the
centre of the group. An electric bell trilled, the limelights
shut off, with a jerk that made the eyes ache, a back-cloth
soared aloft and another glided down into its place, the comedian
took two, three, four calls, then vanished into a horde of dim
figures scuttling about in the gloom.

An electric bell trilled again and deep silence fell once more,
broken only by the hissing of the lights.

"You ought to stop behind after your turn and see her, Mac," the
stage manager's voice went on evenly. "All right, Jackson! On you
go, Mac!"

Barbara felt her heart jump. Now for it, daddy!

The great curtain mounted majestically and Arthur Mackwayte,
deputy turn, stumped serenely on to the stage.



CHAPTER II. CAPTAIN STRANGWISE ENTERTAINS A GUEST

It was the slack hour at the Nineveh Hotel. The last groups about
the tea-tables in the Palm Court had broken up, the Tzigane
orchestra had stacked its instruments together on its little
platform and gone home, and a gentle calm rested over the great
hotel as the forerunner of the coming dinner storm.

The pre-dinner hour is the uncomfortable hour of the modern hotel
de luxe. The rooms seem uncomfortably hot, the evening paper
palls, it is too early to dress for dinner, so one sits yawning
over the fire, longing for a fireside of one's own. At least that
is how it strikes one from the bachelor standpoint, and that is
how it appeared to affect a man who was sitting hunched up in a
big arm-chair in the vestibule of the Nineveh Hotel on this
winter afternoon.

His posture spoke of utter boredom. He sprawled full length in his
chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his, eyes
half-closed, various editions of evening papers strewn about the
ground at his feet. He was a tall, well-groomed man, and his
lithe, athletic figure looked very well in its neat uniform.

A pretty little woman who sat at one of the writing desks in the
vestibule glanced at him more than once. He was the sort of man that
women look at with interest. He had a long, shrewd, narrow head,
the hair dark and close-cropped, a big, bold, aquiline nose, and
a firm masterful chin, dominated by a determined line of mouth
emphasised by a thin line of moustache. He would have been very
handsome but for his eyes, which, the woman decided as she
glanced at him, were set rather too close together. She thought
she would prefer him as he was now, with his eyes glittering in
the fire-light through their long lashes.

But what was most apparent was the magnificent physical fitness
of the man. His was the frame of the pioneer, the man of the
earth's open spaces and uncharted wilds. He looked as hard as
nails, and the woman murmured to herself, as she went on with her
note, "On leave from the front."

Presently, the man stirred, stretched himself and finally sat up.
Then he started, sprang to his feet, and strode easily across the
vestibule to the reception desk. An officer was standing there in
a worn uniform, a very shabby kit-bag by his side, a dirty old
Burberry over his arm.

"Okewood!" said the young man and touched the other on the
shoulder, "isn't it Desmond Okewood?  By Jove, I am glad to see
you!"

The new-comer turned quickly.

"Why, hullo," he said, "if it isn't Maurice Strangwise! But, good
heavens, man, surely I saw your name in the casualty list...
missing, wasn't it?"

"Yep!" replied the other smiling, "that's so! It's a long story
and it'll keep! But tell me about yourself... this," he kicked
the kit-bag with the toe of his boot, "looks like a little leave!
Just in from France?"

He smiled again, baring his firm, white teeth, and looking at him
Desmond suddenly remembered, as one recalls a trifle, his trick
of smiling. It was a frank enough smile but... well, some people
smile too much.

"Got in just now by the leave train," answered Desmond.

"How much leave have you got?" asked Strangwise.

"Well," said the other, "it's a funny thing, but I don't know!"

"Say, are they giving unlimited leave over there now?"

Desmond laughed.

"Hardly," he replied. "But the War Office just applied for me to
come over and here I am! What they want me for, whether it's to
advise the War Council or to act as Quartermaster to the Jewish
Battalion I can't tell you! I shan't know until tomorrow morning!
In the meantime I'm going to forget the war for this evening!"

"What are you going to do to-night?" asked Strangwise.

Desmond began to check off on his fingers.

"Firstly, I'm going to fill the biggest bath in this hotel with
hot water, get the biggest piece of Pears' soap in London, and
jump in: Then, if my tailor hasn't betrayed me, I'm going to put
on dress clothes, and whilst I am dressing summon Julien (if he's
maitre d'hotel here) to a conference, then I'm going to eat the
best dinner that this pub can provide. Then..."

Strangwise interrupted him.

"The bath is on you, if you like," he said, "but the dinner's on
me and a show afterwards. I'm at a loose end, old man, and so are
you, so we'll hit up together! We'll dine in the restaurant here
7.30, and Julien shall come up to your room so that you can order
the dinner. Is it a go?"

"Rather," laughed Desmond, "I'll eat your dinner, Maurice, and
you shall tell me how you managed to break out of the casualty
list into the Nineveh Hotel. But what do all these anxious-looking
gentry want?"

The two officers turned to confront a group of four men who were
surveying them closely. One of them, a fat, comfortable looking
party with grizzled hair, on seeing Desmond, walked up to him.

"Hullo!" said Desmond, "it's Tommy Spencer! How are you, Spencer?
What's the betting in Fleet Street on the war lasting another
five years?  Have you come to interview me?"

The tubby little man beamed and shook hands effusively.

"Glad to see you looking so well, Major," he said, "It's your
friend we want..."

"What? Strangwise? Here, Maurice, come meet my friend Tommy
Spencer of the "Daily Record," whom I haven't seen since we went
on manoeuvres together down at Aldershot! Captain Strangwise,
Tommy Spencer! Now, then, fire away; Spencer!"

Strangwise smiled and shook his head.

"I'm very pleased to know your friend, Desmond," he said, "but,
you know, I can't talk! I had the strictest orders from the War
Office... It's on account of the other fellows, you know..."

Desmond looked blankly at him. Then he--turned to Spencer.

"You must let me into this, Spencer," he said, "what's old
Maurice been up to? Has he been cashiered for wearing shoes or
what?"

Spencer's manner became a trifle formal.

"Captain Strangwise has escaped from a prisoners' of war camp in
Germany, Major," he said, "we've been trying to get hold of him
for days! He's the talk of London!"

Desmond turned like a shot.

"Maurice!" he cried, "'pon my soul, I'm going to have an
interesting evening... why, of course, you are just the sort of
fellow to do a thing like that. But, Spencer, you know, it won't
do... fellows are never allowed to talk to the newspaper men
about matters of this kind. And if you're a good fellow, Spencer,
you won't even say that you have seen Strangwise here... you'll
only get him into trouble!"

The little man looked rather rueful.

"Oh, of course, Major, if you put it that way," he said.

"... And you'll use your influence to make those other fellows
with you drop it, will you, Spencer? And then come along to the
bar and we'll have a drink for old times' sake!"

Spencer seemed doubtful about the success of his representations
to his colleagues but he obediently trotted away. Apparently, he
succeeded in his mission for presently he joined the two officers
alone in the American Bar.

"I haven't seen Strangwise for six months, Spencer," said Desmond
over his second cocktail. "Seeing him reminds me how astonishing
it is the way fellows drop apart in war. Old Maurice was attached
to the Brigade of which I am the Brigade Major as gunner officer,
and we lived together for the best part of three months, wasn't
it, Maurice? Then he goes back to his battery and the next thing
I hear of him is that he is missing. And then I'm damned if he
doesn't turn up here!"

Spencer cocked an eye at Strangwise over his Martini.

"I'd like to hear your story, despite the restrictions," he said.

Strangwise looked a trifle embarrassed.

"Maybe I'll tell you one day," he replied in his quiet way,
"though, honestly, there's precious little to tell..."

Desmond marked his confusion and respected him for it. He rushed
in to the rescue.

"Spencer," he said abruptly, "what's worth seeing in London? We
are going to a show to-night. I want to be amused, mark you, not
elevated!"

"Nur-el-Din at the Palaceum," replied the reporter.

"By Jove, we'll go there," said Desmond, turning to Maurice.
"Have you ever seen her? I'm told she's perfectly marvelous..."

"It's an extraordinarily artistic turn," said Spencer, "and
they're doing wonderful business at the Palaceum. You'd better go
and see the show soon, though, for they tell me the lady is
leaving the programme."

"No!" exclaimed Strangwise so suddenly that Desmond turned round
and stared at him. "I thought she was there for months yet..."

"They don't want her to go," answered Spencer, "she's a perfect
gold-mine to them but I gather the lady is difficult... in fact,
to put it bluntly she's making such a damn nuisance of herself
with her artistic temperament that they can't get on with her at
all."

"Do you know this lady of the artistic temperament, Maurice?"
asked Desmond.

Strangwise hesitated a moment.

"I met her in Canada a few years ago," he said slowly, "she was a
very small star then. She's a very handsome and attractive girl,
in spite of our friend's unfavorable verdict. There's something
curiously real about her dancing, too, that you don't find in
this sort of show as a rule!"

He stopped a moment, then added abruptly:

"We'll go along to the Palaceum to-night, if you like, Desmond,"
and Desmond joyfully acquiesced. To one who has been living for
weeks in an ill-ventilated pill-box on the Passchendaele Ridge,
the lights and music and color of a music-hall seem as a
foretaste of Paradise.

And that was what Desmond Okewood thought as a few hours later he
found himself with Maurice Strangwise in the stalls of the vast
Palaceum auditorium. In the unwonted luxury of evening clothes he
felt clean and comfortable, and the cigar he way smoking was the
climax of one of Julien's most esoteric efforts.

The cards on either side of the proscenium opening bore the
words: "Deputy Turn." On the stage was a gnarled old man with
ruddy cheeks and a muffler, a seedy top hat on his head, a
coaching whip in his hand, the old horse bus-driver of London in
his habit as he had lived. The old fellow stood there and just
talked to the audience of a fine sporting class of men that
petrol has driven from the streets, without exaggerated humor or
pathos. Desmond, himself a born Cockney, at once fell under the
actor's spell and found all memories of the front slipping away
from him as the old London street characters succeeded one
another on the stage. Then the orchestra blared out, the curtain
descended, and the house broke into a great flutter of applause.

Desmond, luxuriating in his comfortable stall puffed at his cigar
and fell into a pleasant reverie.

He was contrasting the ghastly nightmare of mud and horrors from
which he had only just emerged with the scene of elegance, of
civilization; around him.

Suddenly, his attention became riveted on the stage. The
atmosphere of the theatre had changed. Always quick at picking up
"influences," Desmond instantly sensed a new mood in the throngs
around him. A presence was in the theatre, an instinct-awakening,
a material influence. The great audience was strangely hushed.
The air was heavy with the tent of incense. The stringed
instruments and oboes in the orchestra were wandering into
[Updater's note: a line appears to be missing from the source here]
rhythmic dropped.

Maurice touched his elbow.

"There she is!" he said.

Desmond felt inclined to shake him off roughly. The interruption
jarred on him. For he was looking at this strangely beautiful
girl with her skin showing very brown beneath a wonderful silver
tiara-like headdress, and in the broad interstices of a
cloth-of-silver robe with short, stiffly wired-out skirt. She was
seated, an idol, on a glittering black throne, at her feet with
their tapering dyed nails a fantastically attired throng of
worshipers.

The idol stirred into life, the music of the orchestra died away.
Then a tom-tom began to beat its nervous pulse-stirring throb,
the strident notes of a reed-pipe joined in and the dancer,
raised on her toes on the dais, began to sway languorously to and
fro. And so she swayed and swayed with sinuously curving limbs
while the drums throbbed out faster with ever-shortening beats,
with now and then a clash of brazen cymbals that was torture to
overwrought nerves.

The dancer was the perfection of grace. Her figure was lithe and
supple as a boy's. There was a suggestion of fire and strength
and agility about her that made one think of a panther as she
postured there against a background of barbaric color. The grace
of her movements, the exquisite blending of the colors on the
stage, the skillful grouping of the throng of worshipers, made up
a picture which held the audience spellbound and in silence until
the curtain dropped.

Desmond turned to find Strangwise standing up.

"I thought of just running round behind the scenes for a few
minutes," he said carelessly.

"What, to see Nur-el-Din? By Jove, I'm coming, too!" promptly
exclaimed Desmond.

Strangwise demurred. He didn't quite know if he could take him:
there might be difficulties: another time... But Desmond got up
resolutely.

"I'll be damned if you leave me behind, Maurice," he laughed, "of
course I'm coming, too! She's the most delightful creature I've
ever set eyes on!"

And so it ended by them going through the pass-door together.



CHAPTER III. MR. MACKWAYTE MEETS AN OLD FRIEND

That night Nur-el-Din kept the stage waiting for five minutes. It
was a climax of a long series of similar unpardonable crimes in
the music-hall code. The result was that Mr. Mackwayte, after
taking four enthusiastic "curtains," stepped off the stage into a
perfect pandemonium.

He found Fletcher, the stage manager, livid with rage, surrounded
by the greater part of the large suite with which the dancer
traveled. There was Madame's maid, a trim Frenchwoman, Madame's
business manager, a fat, voluble Italian, Madame's secretary, an
olive-skinned South American youth in an evening coat with velvet
collar, and Madame's principal male dancer in a scanty Egyptian
dress with grotesquely painted face. They were all talking at the
same time, and at intervals Fletcher muttered hotly: "This time
she leaves the bill or I walk out of the theatre!"

Then a clear voice cried:

"Me voila!" and a dainty apparition in an ermine wrap tripped
into the centre of the group, tapped the manager lightly on the
shoulder and said:

"Allons! I am ready!"

Mr. Mackwayte's face creased its mask of paint into a thousand
wrinkles. For, on seeing him, the dancer's face lighted up, and,
running to him with hands outstretched, she cried:

"Tiens! Monsieur Arthur!" while he ejaculated:

"Why, it's little Marcelle!"

But now the stage manager interposed. He whisked Madame's wrap
off her with one hand and with the other, firmly propelled her on
to the stage. She let him have his way with a merry smile, dark
eyes and white teeth flashing, but as she went she said to Mr.
Mackwayte:

"My friend, wait for me! Et puis nous causerons! We will 'ave a
talk, nest-ce pas?"

"A very old friend of mine, my dear," Mr. Mackwayte said to
Barbara when, dressed in his street clothes, he rejoined her in
the wings where she stood watching Nur-el-Din dancing. "She was
an acrobat in the Seven Duponts, a turn that earned big money in
the old days. It must be... let's see... getting on for twenty
years since I last set eyes on her. She was a pretty kid in those
days! God bless my soul! Little Marcelle a big star! It's really
most amazing!"

Directly she was off the stage, Nur-el-Din came straight to Mr.
Mackwayte, pushing aside her maid who was waiting with her wrap.

"My friend," she cooed in her pretty broken English, "I am so
glad, so glad to see you. And this is your girl... ah! she 'as
your eyes, Monsieur Arthur, your nice English gray eyes! Such a
big girl... ah! but she make me feel old!"

She laughed, a pretty gurgling laugh, throwing back her head so
that the diamond collar she was wearing heaved and flashed.

"But you will come to my room, hein?" she went on. "Marie, my
wrap!" and she led the way to the lift.

Nur-el-Din's spacious dressing-room seemed to be full of people
and flowers. All her little court was assembled amid a perfect
bower of hot-house blooms and plants. Head and shoulders above
everybody else in the room towered the figure of an officer in
uniform, with him another palpable Englishman in evening dress.

Desmond Okewood thought he had never seen anything in his life
more charming than the picture the dancer made as she came into
the room. Her wrap had fallen open and beneath the broad bars of
her cloth-of-silver dress her bosom yet rose and fell after the
exertions of her dance. A jet black curl had strayed out from
beneath her lofty silver head-dress, and she thrust it back in
its place with one little brown bejeweled hand whilst she
extended the other to Strangwise.

"Tiens, mon capitaine!" she said. Desmond was watching her
closely, fascinated by her beauty, but noticed an unwilling,
almost a hostile tone, in her voice.

Strangwise was speaking in his deep voice.

"Marcelle," he said, "I've brought a friend who is anxious to
meet you. Major Desmond Okewood! He and I soldiered together in
France!" The dancer turned her big black eyes full on Desmond as
she held out her hand to him.

"Old friends, new friends," she cried, clapping, her hands like a
child, "I love friends. Captaine, here is a very old friend," she
said to Strangwise as Mr. Mackwayte and Barbara came into the
rooms, "Monsieur Arthur Mackwayte and 'is daughter. I 'ave know
Monsieur Arthur almos' all my life. And, Mademoiselle, permit me?
I introduce le Captaine Strangwise and 'is friend... what is the
name? Ah, Major Okewood!"

Nur-el-Din sank into a bergere chair beside her great mirror.

"There are too many in this room," she cried, "there is no air!
Lazarro, Ramiro, all of you, go outside, my friends!"

As Madame's entourage surged out, Strangwise said:

"I hear you are leaving the Palaceum, Marcelle!"

He spoke so low that Mr. Mackwayte and Barbara, who were talking
to Desmond, did not hear. Marcelle, taking off her heavy
head-dress, answered quickly:

"Who told you that?"

"Never mind," replied Strangwise. "But you never told me you were
going. Why didn't you?"

His voice was stern and hard now, very different from his usual
quiet and mellow tones. But he was smiling.

Marcelle cast a glance over her shoulder. Barbara was looking
round the room and caught the reflection of the dancer's face in
a mirror hanging on the wall. To her intense astonishment, she
saw a look of despair, almost of terror, in Nur-el-Din's dark
eyes. It was like the frightened stare of some hunted beast.
Barbara was so much taken aback that she instinctively glanced
over her shoulder at the door, thinking that the dancer had seen
something there to frighten her. But the door was shut. When
Barbara looked into the mirror again, she saw only the reflection
of Nur-el-Din's pretty neck and shoulders. The dancer was talking
again in low tones to Strangwise.

But Barbara swiftly forgot that glimpse of the dancer's face in
the glass. For she was very happy. Happiness, like high spirits,
is eminently contagious, and the two men at her side were
supremely content.

Her father's eyes were shining with his little success of
the evening: on the way upstairs Fletcher had held out hopes to
him of a long engagement at the Palaceum while as for the other,
he was radiant with the excitement of his first night in town
after long months of campaigning.

He was thinking that his leave had started most propitiously.
After a man has been isolated for months amongst muddy
masculinity, the homeliest woman will find favor in his eyes. And
to neither of these women, in whose presence he so unexpectedly
found himself within a few hours of landing in England, could the
epithet "homely" be applied. Each represented a distinct type of
beauty in herself, and Desmond, as he chatted with Barbara, was
mentally contrasting the two women. Barbara, tall and slim and
very healthy, with her braided brown hair, creamy complexion and
gray eyes, was essentially English. She was the typical woman of
England, of England of the broad green valleys and rolling downs
and snuggling hamlets, of England of the white cliffs gnawed by
the restless ocean. The other was equally essentially a woman of
the South. Her dark eyes, her upper lip just baring her firm
white teeth, spoke of hot Latin or gypsy blood surging in her
veins. Hers was the beauty of the East, sensuous, arresting,
conjuring up pictures of warm, perfumed nights, the thrumming of
guitars, a great yellow moon hanging low behind the palms.

"Barbara!" called Nur-el-Din from the dressing table. Mr.
Mackwayte had joined her there and was chatting to Strangwise.

"You will stay and talk to me while I change n'est-ce pas? Your
papa and these gentlemen are going to drink a whiskey-soda with
that animal Fletcher... quel homme terrible... and you shall join
them presently."

The men went out, leaving Barbara alone with the dancer. Barbara
noticed how tired Nur-el-Din was looking. Heir pretty, childish
ways seemed to have evaporated with her high spirits. Her face
was heavy and listless. There were lines round heir eyes, and her
mouth had a hard, drawn look.

"Child," she said, "give me, please, my peignoir... it is behind
the door,... and, I will get this paint off my face!"

Barbara fetched the wrapper and sat down beside the dancer. But
Nur-el-Din did not move. She seemed to be thinking. Barbara saw
the hunted look she had already observed in her that evening
creeping over her face again.

"It is a hard life; this life of ours, a life of change, ma
petite! A great artiste has no country, no home, no fireside! For
the past five years I have been roaming about the world! Often I
think I will settle down, but the life holds me!"

She took up from her dressing-table a little oblong plain silver
box.

"I want to ask you a favor, ma petite Barbara!" she said. "This
little box is a family possession of mine: I have had it for many
years. The world is so disturbed to-day that life is not safe for
anybody who travels as much as I do! You have a home, a safe home
with your dear father! He was telling me about it! Will you take
this little box and keep it safely for me until... until... the
war is over... until I ask you for it?"

"Yes, of course," said Barbara, "if you wish it, though, what
with these air raids, I don't know that London is particularly
safe, either."

"Ah! that is good of you," cried Nur-el-Din, "anyhow, the little
box is safer with you than with me. See, I will wrap it up and
seal it, and then you will take it home with you, n'est-ce pas?"

She opened a drawer and swiftly hunting among its contents
produced a sheet, of white paper, and some sealing-wax. She
wrapped the box in the paper and sealed it up, stamping the seals
with a camel signet ring she drew off her finger. Then she handed
the package to Barbara.

There was a knock at the door. The maid, noiselessly arranging
Madame's dresses in the corner opened it.

"You will take care of it well for me," the dancer said to
Barbara, and her voice vibrated with a surprising eagerness, "you
will guard it preciously until I come for it..." She laughed and
added carelessly: "Because it is a family treasure, a life
mascotte of mine, hein?"

Then they heard Strangwise's deep voice outside.

Nur-el-Din started.

"Le Captaine is there, Madame," said the French maid, "'e say
Monsieur Mackwayte ask for Mademoiselle!"

The dancer thrust a little hand from the folds of her silken
kimono.

"Au revoir, ma petite," she said, "we shall meet again. You will
come and see me, nest-ce pas? And say nothing to anybody
about..." she pointed to Barbara's bag where the little package
was reposing, "it shall be a secret between us, hein? Promise me
this, mon enfant!"

"Of course, I promise, if you like!" said Barbara, wonderingly.

At half-past eight the next morning Desmond Okewood found himself
in the ante-room of the Chief of the Secret Service in a cross
and puzzled mood. The telephone at his bedside had roused him at
8 a.m. from the first sleep he had had in a real bed for two
months. In a drowsy voice he had protested that he had an
appointment at the War Office at 10 o'clock, but a curt voice had
bidden him dress himself and come to the Chief forthwith. Here he
was, accordingly, breakfastless, his chin smarting from a hasty
shave. What the devil did the Chief want with him anyhow? He
wasn't in the Secret Service, though his brother, Francis, was.

A voice broke in upon his angry musing.

"Come in, Okewood!" it said.

The Chief stood at the door of his room, a broad-shouldered
figure in a plain jacket suit. Desmond had met him before. He
knew him for a man of many questions but of few confidences, yet
his recollection of him was of a suave, imperturbable
personality. To-day, however, the Chief seemed strangely
preoccupied. There was a deep line between his bushy eyebrows as
he bent them at Desmond, motioning him to a chair. When he spoke,
his manner was very curt.

"What time did you part from the Mackwaytes at the theatre last
night?"

Desmond was dumbfounded. How on earth did the Chief know about
his visit to the Palaceum? Still, he was used to the omniscience
of the British Intelligence, so he answered promptly:

"It was latish, sir; about midnight, I think!"

"They went home to Seven Kings alone!"

"Yes, sir, in a taxi!" Desmond replied.

The Chief contemplated his blotting-pad gloomily. Desmond knew it
for a trick of his when worried.

"Did you have a good night?" he said to Desmond, suddenly.

"Yes," he said, not in the least understanding the drift of the
question. "... though I didn't mean to get up quite so early!"

The Chief ignored this sally.

"Nothing out of the ordinary happened during the night, I
suppose?" he asked again.

Desmond shook his head.

"Nothing that I know of, sir," he said.

"Seen Strangwise this morning?"

Desmond gasped for breath. So the Chief knew about him meeting
Strangwise, too!

"No, sir!"

A clerk put his head in at the door.

"Well, Matthews!"

"Captain Strangwise will be along very shortly, sir," he said.

The Chief looked up quickly.

"Ah, he's all right then! Good."

"And, sir," Matthews added, "Scotland Yard telephoned to say that
the doctor is with Miss Mackwayte now."

Desmond started up.

"Is Miss Mackwayte ill?" he exclaimed.

The Chief answered slowly, as Matthews withdrew: "Mr. Mackwayte
was found murdered at his house early this morning!"



CHAPTER IV. MAJOR OKEWOOD ENCOUNTERS A NEW TYPE

There is a sinister ring about the word "murder," which reacts
upon even the most hardened sensibility. Edgar Allan Poe, who was
a master of the suggestive use of words, realized this when he
called the greatest detective story ever written "The Murders in
the Rue Morgue." From the very beginning of the war, Desmond had
seen death in all its forms but that word "murdered," spoken with
slow emphasis in the quiet room, gave him an ugly chill feeling
round the heart that he had never experienced on the battlefield.

"Murdered!" Desmond repeated dully and sat down. He felt stunned.
He was not thinking of the gentle old man cruelly done to death
or of the pretty Barbara prostrate with grief. He was overawed by
the curious fatality that had plucked him from the horrors of
Flanders only to plunge him into a tragedy at home.

"Yes," said the Chief bluntly, "by a burglar apparently--the
house was ransacked!"

"Chief," he broke out, "you must explain. I'm all at sea! Why did
you send for me? What have you got to do with criminal cases,
anyway? Surely, this is a Scotland Yard matter!"

The Chief shook his head.

"I sent for you in default of your brother, Okewood!" he said.
"You once refused an offer of mine to take you into my service,
but this time I had to have you, so I got the War Office to
wire..."

"Then my appointment for ten o'clock to-day was with you?"
Desmond exclaimed in astonishment.

The Chief nodded.

"It was," he said curtly.

"But," protested Desmond feebly, "did you know about this murder
beforehand!"

The Chief threw back his head and laughed.

"My dear fellow," he said; "I'm not quite so deep as all that. I
haven't second sight, you know!"

"You've got something devilish like it, sir!" said Desmond.  "How
on earth did you know that I was at the Palaceum last night?"

The Chief smiled grimly.

"Oh, that's very simple," he said. "Shall I tell you some more
about yourself?  You sat..." he glanced down at the desk in front
of him,"... in Stall E 52 and, after Nur-el-Din's turn,
Strangwise took you round and introduced you to the lady. In her
dressing-room you met Mr. Mackwayte and his daughter. After
that..."

"But," Desmond interrupted quickly, "I must have been followed by
one of your men. Still, I can't see why my movements should
interest the Secret Service, sir!"

The Chief remained silent for a moment. Then he said:

"Fate often unexpectedly takes a hand in this game of ours,
Okewood. I sent for you to come back from France but old man
Destiny wouldn't leave it at that. Almost as soon as you landed
he switched you straight on to a trail that I have been patiently
following up for months past. That trail is..."

The telephone on the desk rang sharply.

"Whose trail?" Desmond could not forbear to ask as the Chief took
off the receiver.

"Just a minute," the Chief said. Then he spoke into the
telephone:

"Marigold? Yes. Really? Very well, I'll come straight along
now... I'll be with you in twenty minutes. Good-bye!"

He put down the receiver and rose to his feet.

"Okewood," he cried gaily, "what do you say to a little detective
work? That was Marigold of the Criminal Investigation
Department... he's down at Seven Kings handling this murder case.
I asked him to let me know when it would be convenient for me to
come along and have a look round, and he wants me to go now. Two
heads are better than one. You'd better come along!"

He pressed a button on the desk.

The swift and silent Matthews appeared.

"Matthews," he said, "when Captain Strangwise comes, please tell
him I've been called away and ask him to call back here at two
o'clock to see me."

He paused and laid a lean finger reflectively along his nose.

"Are you lunching anywhere, Okewood?" he 'said. Desmond shook his
head.

"Then you will lunch with me, eh? Right. Come along and we'll try
to find the way to Seven Kings."

The two men threaded the busy corridors to the lift which
deposited them at the main entrance. A few minutes later the
Chief was dexterously guiding his Vauxhall car through the
crowded traffic of the Strand, Desmond beside him on the front
seat.

Desmond was completely fogged in his mind. He couldn't see light
anywhere. He asked himself in vain what possible connection could
exist between this murder in an obscure quarter of London and the
man at his side who, he knew, held in his firm hands lines that
stretched to the uttermost ends of the earth? What kind of an
affair was this, seemingly so commonplace that could take the
Chief's attention from the hundred urgent matters of national
security that occupied him?

The Chief seemed absorbed in his driving and Desmond felt it
would be useless to attempt to draw him out. They wended their
way through the city and out into the squalid length of the Mile
End Road. Then the Chief began to talk.

"I hate driving through the City," he exclaimed, "but I always
think it's good for the nerves. Still, I have a feeling that I
shall smash this old car up some day. That friend of yours,
Strangwise, now he's a remarkable man!  Do you know his story?"

"About his escape from Germany?" asked Desmond.

The Chief nodded.

"He told me something about it at dinner last night," said
Desmond, "but he's such a modest chap he doesn't seem to like
talking about it!"

"He must have a cool nerve," replied the Chief, "he doesn't know
a word of German, except a few scraps he picked up in camp. Yet,
after he got free, he made his way alone from somewhere in
Hanover clear to the Dutch frontier. And I tell you he kept his
eyes and ears open!"

"Was he able to tell you anything good" asked Desmond.

"The man's just full of information. He couldn't take a note of
any kind, of course, but he seems to have a wonderful memory. He
was able to give us the names of almost every unit of troops he
came across."

He stopped to skirt a tram, then added suddenly:

"Do you know him well, Okewood?"

"Yes, I think I do," said Desmond. "I lived with him for about
three months in France, and we got on top-hole together. He's a
man absolutely without fear."

"Yes," agreed the Chief. "But what about his judgment? Would you
call him a well-balanced fellow? Or is he one of these
harum-scarum soldier of fortune sort of chaps?"

"I should say he was devilish shrewd," replied the other.
"Strangwise is a very able fellow and a fine soldier. The
Brigadier thought a lot of him. There's very little about
artillery work that Strangwise doesn't know. Our Brigadier's a
good judge, too... he was a gunner himself once, you know."

"I'm glad to hear you say that," answered the Chief, "because
there are some things he has told us, about the movements of
troops, particularly, that don't agree in the least with our own
Intelligence reports. I am an old enough hand at my job to know
that very often one man may be right where fifty independent
witnesses are dead wrong. Yet our reports from Germany have been
wonderfully accurate on the whole."

He stopped.

"Tell me," he asked suddenly, "is Strangwise a liar, do you
think?"

Desmond laughed. The question was so very unexpected.

"Let me explain what I mean," said the Chief. "There is a type of
man who is quite incapable of telling the plain, unvarnished
truth. That type of fellow might have the most extraordinary
adventure happen to him and yet be unable to let it stand on its
merits. When he narrates it, he trims it up with all kinds of
embroidery. Is Strangwise that type?"

Desmond thought a moment.

"Your silence is very eloquent," said the Chief drily.

Desmond laughed.

"It's not the silence of consent," he said, "but if you want me
to be quite frank about Strangwise, Chief, I don't mind telling
you I don't like him overmuch. We were very intimate in France.
We were in some very tight corners together and he never let me
down. He showed himself to be a very fine fellow, indeed. There
are points about him I admire immensely. I love his fine
physique, his manliness. I'm sure he's got great strength of
character, too. It's because I admire all this about him that I
think perhaps it's just jealousy on my part when I feel..."

"What?" said the Chief.

"Well," said Desmond slowly, "I feel myself trying to like
something below the surface in the man. And then I am balked.
There seems to be something abysmally deep behind the facade, if
you know what I mean. If I think about it much, it seems to me
that there is too much surface about Strangwise and not enough
foundation! And he smiles... Well, rather often, doesn't he?"

"I know what you mean," said the Chief. "I always tell my young
men to be wary when a man smiles too much. Smiles are sometimes
camouflage, to cover up something that mustn't be seen
underneath! Strangwise is a Canadian, isn't he?"

"I think so," answered Desmond, "anyhow, he has lived there. But
he got his commission over here. He came over some time in 1915,
I believe, and joined up."

"Ah, here we are!" cried the Chief, steering the car down a
turning marked "Laleham Villas."

Laleham Villas proved to be an immensely long terrace of small
two-story houses, each one exactly like the other, the only
difference between them lying in the color of the front doors and
the arrangement of the small strip of garden in front of each.
The houses stretched away on either side in a vista of
smoke-discolored yellow brick. The road was perfectly straight
and, in the dull yellow atmosphere of the winter morning,
unspeakably depressing.

The abode of small clerks and employees, Laleham Villas had
rendered up, an hour before, its daily tribute of humanity to the
City-bound trains of the Great Eastern Railway. The Mackwayte's
house was plainly indicated, about 200 yards down on the
right-hand side, by a knot of errand boys and bareheaded women
grouped on the side-walk. A large, phlegmatic policeman stood at
the gate.

"You'll like Marigold," said the Chief to Desmond as they got out
of the car, "quite a remarkable man and very sound at his work!"

British officers don't number detective inspectors among their
habitual acquaintances, and the man that came out of the house to
meet them was actually the first detective that Desmond had ever
met. Ever since the Chief had mentioned his name, Desmond had
been wondering whether Mr. Marigold would be lean and pale and
bewildering like Mr. Sherlock Holmes or breezy and wiry like the
detectives in American crook plays.

The man before him did not bear the faintest resemblance to
either type. He was a well-set up, broad-shouldered person of
about forty-five, very carefully dressed in a blue serge suit and
black overcoat, with a large, even-tempered countenance, which
sloped into a high forehead. The neatly brushed but thinning
locks carefully arranged across the top of the head testified to
the fact that Mr. Marigold had sacrificed most of his hair to the
vicissitudes of his profession. When it is added that the
detective had a small, yellow moustache and a pleasant,
cultivated voice, there remains nothing further to say about Mr.
Marigold's external appearance. But there was something so patent
about the man, his air of reserve, his careful courtesy, his
shrewd eyes, that Desmond at once recognized him for a type, a
cast from a certain specific mould. All services shape men to
their own fashion. There is the type of Guardsman, the type of
airman, the type of naval officer. And Desmond decided that Mr.
Marigold must be the type of detective, though, as I have said,
he was totally unacquainted with the genus.

"Major Okewood, Marigold," said the Chief, "a friend of mine!"

Mr. Marigold mustered Desmond in one swift, comprehensive look.

"I won't give you my hand, Major," the detective said, looking
down at Desmond's proffered one, "for I'm in a filthy mess and no
error. But won't you come in, sir?" he said to the Chief and led
the way across the mosaic tile pathway to the front door which
stood open.

"I don't think this is anything in your line, sir," said Mr.
Marigold to the Chief as the three men entered the house, "it's
nothing but just a common burglary. The old man evidently heard a
noise and coming down, surprised the burglar who lost his head
and killed him. The only novel thing about the whole case is that
the old party was shot with a pistol and not bludgeoned, as is
usually the case in affairs of this kind. And I shouldn't have
thought that the man who did it was the sort that carries a
gun..."

"Then you know who did it?" asked the Chief quietly.

"I think I can safely say I do, sir," said Mr. Marigold with the
reluctant air of one who seldom admits anything to be a fact, "I
think I can go as far as that! And we've got our man under lock
and key!"

"That's a smart piece of work, Marigold," said the Chief.

"No, sir," replied the other, "you could hardly call it that. He
just walked into the arms of a constable over there near
Goodmayes Station with the swag on him. He's an old hand... we've
known him for a receiver for years!

"Who is it?" asked the Chief, "not one of my little friends, I
suppose, eh, Marigold!"

"Dear me, no, sir," answered Mr. Marigold, chuckling, "it's one
of old Mackwayte's music-hall pals, name o' Barney!"



CHAPTER V. THE MURDER AT SEVEN KINGS

"This is Mrs. Chugg, sir," said Mr. Marigold, "the charwoman who
found the body!"

The Chief and Desmond stood at the detective's side in the
Mackwaytes' little dining-room. The room was in considerable
disorder. There was a litter of paper, empty bottles, overturned
cruets and other debris on the floor, evidence of the
thoroughness with which the burglar had overhauled the cheap
fumed oak sideboard which stood against the wall with doors and
drawers open. In the corner, the little roll-top desk showed a
great gash in the wood round the lock where it had been forced.
The remains of a meal still stood on the table.

Mrs. Chugg, a diminutive, white-haired, bespectacled woman in a
rusty black cape and skirt, was enthroned in the midst of this
scene of desolation. She sat in an armchair by the fire, her
hands in her lap, obviously supremely content with the position
of importance she enjoyed. At the sound of Mr. Marigold's voice,
she bobbed up and regarded the newcomers with the air of a
tragedy queen.

"Yus mister," she said with the slow deliberation of one who
thoroughly enjoys repeating an oft-told tale, "I found the pore
man and a horrid turn it give me, too, I declare! I come in early
this morning a-purpose to turn out these two rooms, the
dining-room and the droring-room, same as I always do of a
Saturday, along of the lidy's horders and wishes. I come in 'ere
fust, to pull up the blinds and that, and d'reckly I switches on
the light 'Burglars!' I sez to meself, 'Burglars! That's wot it
is!' seeing the nasty mess the place was in. Up I nips to Miss
Mackwayte's room on the first floor and in I bursts. 'Miss,' sez
I, 'Miss, there's been burglars in the house!' and then I sees
the pore lamb all tied up there on 'er blessed bed! Lor, mister,
the turn it give me and I ain't telling you no lies! She was
strapped up that tight with a towel crammed in 'er mouth she
couldn't 'ardly dror 'er breath! I undid 'er pretty quick and the
fust thing she sez w'en I gets the towl out of her mouth, the
pore dear, is 'Mrs. Chugg,' she sez all of a tremble as you might
say, 'Mrs. Chugg' sez she, 'my father! my father!' sez she. With
that up she jumps but she 'adn't put foot to the floor w'en down
she drops! It was along of 'er being tied up orl that time, dyer
see, mister! I gets 'er back on the bed. 'You lie still, Miss,'
says I, 'and I'll pop in and tell your pa to come in to you!'
Well; I went to the old genelmun's room. Empty!"

Mrs. Chugg paused to give her narrative dramatic effect.

"And where did you find Mr. Mackwayte?" asked the Chief in such a
placid voice that Mrs. Chugg cast an indignant glance at him.

"I was jes' going downstairs to see if 'e was in the kitching or
out at the back," she continued, unheeding the interruption,
"when there on the landing I sees a foot asticking out from under
the curting. I pulls back the curting and oh, Lor! oh, dear, oh,
dear, the pore genelmun, 'im as never did a bad turn to no one!"

"Come, come, Mrs. Chugg!" said the detective.

The charwoman wiped her eyes and resumed.

"'E was a-lying on his back in 'is dressing-gown, 'is face all
burnt black, like, and a fair smother o' blood. Under 'is hed
there was a pool o' blood, mister, yer may believe me or not..."

Mr. Marigold cut in decisively.

"Do you wish to see the body, sir?" the detective asked the
Chief, "they're upstairs photographing it!"

The Chief nodded. He and Desmond followed the detective upstairs,
whilst Mrs. Chugg resentfully resumed her seat by the fire. On
her face was the look of one who has cast pearls before swine.

"Any finger-prints?" asked the Chief in the hall.

"Oh, no," he said, "Barney's far too old a hand for that sort o'
thing!"

The landing proved to be a small space, covered with oilcloth and
raised by a step from the bend made by the staircase leading to
the first story. On the left-hand side was a window looking on a
narrow passage separating the Mackwayte house from its neighbors
and leading to the back-door. By the window stood a small
wicker-work table with a plant on it. At the back of the landing
was a partition, glazed half-way up and a door--obviously the
bath-room.

The curtain had been looped right over its brass rod. The body
lay on its back at the foot of the table, arms flung outward, one
leg doubled up, the other with the foot just jutting out over the
step leading down to the staircase. The head pointed towards the
bath-room door. Over the right eye the skin of the face was
blackened in a great patch and there was a large blue swelling,
like a bruise, in the centre. There was a good deal of blood on
the face which obscured the hole made by the entrance of the
bullet. The eyes were half-closed. A big camera, pointed
downwards, was mounted on a high double ladder straddling the
body and was operated by a young man in a bowler hat who went on
with his work without taking the slightest notice of the
detective and his companions.

"Close range," murmured Desmond, after glancing at the dead man's
face, "a large calibre automatic pistol, I should think!"

"Why do you think it was a large calibre pistol, Major?" asked
Mr. Marigold attentively.

"I've seen plenty of men killed at close range by revolver and
rifle bullets out at the front," replied Desmond, "but I never
saw a man's face messed up like this. In a raid once I shot a
German at point blank range with my revolver, the ordinary Army
issue pattern, and I looked him over after. But it wasn't
anything like this. The only thing I've seen approaching it was
one of our sergeants who was killed out on patrol by a Hun
officer who put his gun right in our man's face. That sergeant
was pretty badly marked, but..."

He shook his head. Then he added, addressing the detective:
"Let's see the gun! Have you got it?"

Mr. Marigold shook his head.

"He hadn't got it on him," he answered, "he swears he never had a
gun. I expect he chucked it away somewhere. It'll be our business
to find it for him!"

He smiled rather grimly, then added:

"Perhaps you'd care to have a look at Miss Mackwayte's room,
sir!"

"Is Miss Mackwayte there" asked the Chief.

"I got her out of this quick," replied Mr. Marigold, "she's had a
bad shock, poor girl, though she gave her evidence clearly enough
for all that... as far as it goes and that's not much. Some
friends near by have taken her in! The doctor has given her some
bromide and says she's got to be kept quiet..."

"What's her story!" queried the Chief.

"She can't throw much light on the business. She and her father
reached home from the theatre about a quarter past twelve, had a
bit of supper in the dining-room and went up to bed before one
o'clock. Miss Mackwayte saw her father go into his room, which is
next to hers, and shut the door. The next thing she knows is that
she woke up suddenly with some kind of a loud noise in her
ears... that was the report of the pistol, I've no doubt... she
thought for a minute it was an air raid. Then suddenly a hand was
pressed over her mouth, something was crammed into her mouth and
she was firmly strapped down to the bed."

"Did she see the man?" asked Desmond.

"She didn't see anything from first to last," answered the
detective, "as far as she is concerned it might have been a woman
or a black man who trussed her up. It was quite dark in her
bedroom and this burglar fellow, after binding and gagging her,
fastened a bandage across her eyes into the bargain. She says she
heard him moving about her room and then creep out very softly.
The next thing she knew was Mrs. Chugg arriving at her bedside
this morning."

"What time did this attack take place?" asked the Chief.

"She has no idea," answered the detective. "She couldn't see her
watch and they haven't got a striking clock in the house."

"But can she make no guess!"

"Well, she says she thinks it was several hours before Mrs. Chugg
arrived in the morning... as much as three hours, she thinks!"

"And what time did Mrs. Chugg arrive!"

"At half-past six!"

"About Mackwayte... how long was he dead when they found him?
What does the doctor say?"

"About three hours approximately, but you know, they can't always
tell to an hour or so!"

"Well," said the Chief slowly, "it looks as if one might figure
the murder as having been committed some time between 3 and 3.30
a.m."

"My idea exactly," said Mr. Marigold. "Shall we go upstairs?"

He conducted the Chief and Desmond up the short flight of stairs
to the first story. He pushed open the first door he came to.

"Mackwayte's room, on the back," he said, "bed slept in, as you
see, old gentleman's clothes on a chair--obviously he was
disturbed by some noise made by the burglar and came out to see
what was doing! And here," he indicated a door adjoining, "is
Miss Mackwayte's room, on the front; as you observe. They don't
use the two rooms on the second floor, except for box-rooms... one's
full of old Mackwayte's theatre trunks and stuff. They keep
no servant; Mrs. Chugg comes in each morning and stays all day.
She goes away after supper every evening."

Desmond found himself looking into a plainly furnished but dainty
bedroom with white furniture and a good deal of chintz about.
There were some photographs and pictures hanging on the walls.
The room was spotlessly clean and very tidy.

Desmond remarked on this, asking if the police had put the room
straight.

Mr. Marigold looked quite shocked.

"Oh, no, everything is just as it was when Mrs. Chugg found Miss
Mackwayte this morning. There's Miss Mackwayte's gloves and
handbag on the toilet-table just as she left 'em last night. I
wouldn't let her touch her clothes even. She went over to Mrs.
Appleby's in her dressing-gown, in a taxi."

"Then Master Burglar didn't burgle this room?" asked the Chief.

"Nothing touched, not even the girl's money," replied Marigold.

"Then why did he come up here at all?" asked Desmond.

"Obviously, the old gentleman disturbed him," was the detective's
reply. "Barney got scared and shot the old gentleman, then came
up here to make sure that the daughter would not give him away
before he could make his escape. He must have known the report of
the gun would wake her up."

"But are there no clues or finger-prints or anything of that kind
here, Marigold?" asked the Chief.

"Not a finger-print anywhere," responded the other, "men like
Barney are born wise to the fingerprint business, sir."

He dipped a finger and thumb into his waistcoat pocket.

"Clues? Well, I've got one little souvenir here which I daresay a
writer of detective stories would make a good bit of."

He held in his hand a piece of paper folded flat. He unfolded it
and disclosed a loop of dark hair.

"There!" he said mockingly, straightening out the hair and
holding it up in the light. "That's calculated to set one's
thoughts running all over the place, isn't it? That piece of hair
was caught in the buckle of one of the straps with which Miss
Mackwayte was bound to the bed. Miss Mackwayte, I would point
out, has brown hair. Whose hair do you think that is?"

Desmond looked closely at the strand of hair in the detective's
fingers. It was long and fine and glossy and jetblack.

The Chief laughed and shook his head.

"Haven't an idea, Marigold," he answered, "Barney's, I should
imagine, that is, if he goes about with black ringlets falling
round his shoulders."

"Barney?" echoed the detective. "Barney's as bald as I am.
Besides, if you saw his sheet, you'd realize that he has got into
the habit of wearing his hair short!"

He carefully rolled the strand of hair up, replaced it in its
paper and stowed it in his waistcoat pocket.

"It just shows how easily one is misled in a matter of this
kind," he went on. "Supposing Barney hadn't got himself nabbed,
supposing I hadn't been able to find out from Miss Mackwayte her
movements on the night previous to the murder, that strand of
hair might have led me on a fine wild goose chase!"

"But, damn it, Marigold," exclaimed the Chief, laughing, "you
haven't told us whose hair it is?"

"Why, Nur-el-Din's, of course!"

The smile froze on the Chief's lips, the laughter died out of his
eyes. Desmond was amazed at the change in the man. The languid
interest he had taken in the different details of the crime
vanished. Something seemed to tighten up suddenly in his face and
manner.

"Why Nur-el-Din?" he asked curtly.

Mr. Marigold glanced quickly at him. Desmond remarked that the
detective was sensible of the change too.

"Simply because Miss Mackwayte spent some time in the dancer's
dressing-room last night, sir," he replied quietly, "she probably
sat at her dressing-table and picked up this hair in hers or in
her veil or something and it dropped on the bed where one of
Master Barney's buckles caught it up."

He spoke carelessly but Desmond noticed that he kept a watchful
eye on the other.

The Chief did not answer. He seemed to have relapsed into the
preoccupied mood in which Desmond had found him that morning.

"I was going to suggest, sir," said Mr. Marigold diffidently, "if
you had the time, you might care to look in at the Yard, and see
the prisoner. I don't mind telling you that he is swearing by all
the tribes of Judah that he's innocent of the murder of old
Mackwayte. He's got an amazing yarn... perhaps you'd like to hear
it!"

Mr. Marigold suddenly began to interest Desmond. His proposal was
put forward so modestly that one would have thought the last
thing he believed possible was that the Chief should acquiesce in
his suggestion. Yet Desmond had the feeling that the detective
was far from being so disinterested as he wished to seem. It
struck Desmond that the case was more complicated than Mr.
Marigold admitted and that the detective knew it. Had Mr.
Marigold discovered that the Chief knew a great deal more about
this mysterious affair than the detective knew himself? And was
not his attitude of having already solved the problem of the
murder, his treatment of the Chief as a dilettante criminologist
simply an elaborate pose, to extract from the Chief information
which had not been proffered?

The Chief glanced at his watch.

"Right," he said, "I think I'd like to go along."

"I have a good deal to do here still," observed Mr. Marigold,
"so, if you don't mind, I won't accompany you. But perhaps, sir,
you would like to see me this afternoon?"

The Chief swung round on his heel and fairly searched Mr.
Marigold with a glance from beneath his bushy eyebrows. The
detective returned his gaze with an expression of supreme
innocence.

"Why, Marigold," answered the Chief, "I believe I should. Six
o'clock suit you?"

"Certainly, sir," said Mr. Marigold.

Desmond stood by the door, vastly amused by this duel of wits.
The Chief and Mr. Marigold made a move towards the door, Desmond
turned to open it and came face to face with a large framed
photograph of the Chief hanging on the wall of Miss Mackwayte's
bedroom.

"Why, Chief," he cried, "you never told me you knew Miss
Mackwayte!"

The Chief professed to be very taken aback by this question.
"Dear me, didn't I, Okewood?" he answered with eyes laughing,
"she's my secretary!"



CHAPTER VI. "NAME O'BARNEY"

"Miss Mackwayte telephoned to ask if I could go and see, her,"
said the Chief to Desmond as they motored back to White hall,
"Marigold gave me the message just as we were coming out. She
asked if I could come this afternoon. I'm going to send you in my
place, Okewood. I've got a conference with the head of the French
Intelligence at three, and the Lord knows when I shall get away.
I've a notion that you and Miss Mackwayte will work very well
together."

"Certainly," said Desmond, "she struck me as being a very
charming and clever girl. Now I know the source of your
information about my movements last night!"

"That you certainly don't!" answered the Chief promptly, "if I
thought you did Duff and No.39 should be sacked on the spot!"

"Then it wasn't Miss Mackwayte who told you?"

"I haven't seen or heard from Miss Mackwayte since she left my
office yesterday evening. You were followed!"

"But why?"

"I'll tell you all about it at, lunch!"

Bated once more, Desmond retired into his shell. By this he was
convinced of the utter impossibility of making the Chief
vouchsafe any information except voluntarily.

Mr. Marigold had evidently announced their coming to Scotland
Yard, for a very urbane and delightful official met them at the
entrance and conducted them to a room where the prisoner was
already awaiting them in charge of a plain clothes man. There the
official excused himself and retired, leaving them alone with the
prisoner and his escort.

Barney proved to be a squat, podgy, middle-aged Jew of the
familiar East End Polish or Russian type. He had little black
beady eyes, a round fat white face, and a broad squabby Mongol
nose. His clothes were exceedingly seedy, and the police had
confiscated his collar and tie. This absence of neckwear, coupled
with the fact that the lower part of his face was sprouting with
a heavy growth of beard, gave him a peculiarly villainous
appearance:

He was seated on a chair, his head sunk on his breast. His eyes
were hollow, and his face overspread with a horrible sickly
greenish pallor, the hue of the last stage of fear. His hands,
resting on his knees, twisted and fiddled continually. Every now
and then convulsive shudders shook him. The man was quite
obviously on the verge of a collapse.

As the Chief and Desmond advanced into the room, the Jew looked
up in panic. Then he sprang to his feet with a scream and flung
himself on his knees, crying:

"Ah, no! Don't take me away! I ain't done no 'arm, gentlemen!
S'welp me, gentlemen, I ain't a murderer! I swear..."

"Get him up!" said the Chief in disgust, "and, look here, can't
you give him a drink? I want to speak to him. He's not fit to
talk rationally in this state!"

The detective pushed a bell in the wall, a policeman answered it,
and presently the prisoner was handed a stiff glass of whiskey
and water.

After Barney had swallowed it, the Chief said:

"Now, look here, my man, I want you to tell me exactly what
happened last night. No fairy tales, remember! I know what you
told the police, and if I catch you spinning me any yarns on to
it, well, it'll only be the worse for you. I don't mind telling
you, you're in a pretty bad mess!"

The prisoner put down the glass wearily and wiped his forehead
with the back of his hand. Though the room was bitterly cold, the
perspiration stood out in beads on his brow.

"I have told the trewth, sir," he said hoarsely, "and it goes
against me, don't it? Hafen't I not gif myself op to the
policeman? Couldn't I not haf drop the svag and ron away? For
sure! And vy didn't I not do it? For vy, because of vot I seen in
that house. I've 'ad my bit of trobble mit the police and vy
should I tell them how I vos op to a game last night if I vas not
a-telling the trewth, eh! I've been on the crook, gentlemen, I
say it, ja, but I ain't no murderer, God choke me I ain't!

"I've earned gut monney in my time on the 'alls but life is very
'ardt, and I've been alvays hongry these days. Yesterday I meet
old Mac wot I used to meet about the 'alls I vos workin' along o'
my boss... at the agent's it vos were I vos lookin' for a shop!
The perfesh always makes a splash about its salaries, gentlemen,
and Mac 'e vos telling me vot a lot o' monney he make on the
Samuel Circuit and 'ow 'e 'ad it at home all ready to put into
var savings certif'kits. I never done a job like this von before,
gentlemen, but I vos hardt pushed for money, s'welp me I vos!

"I left it till late last night because of these air raids... I
vanted to be sure that ole Mac and 'is daughter should be asleep.
I god in from the back of the louse, oi, oi, bot it vos dead
easy! through the scollery vindow. I cleared op a bagful of stuff
in the dining-room... there vosn't, anything vorth snatching
outer the parlor... and sixty-five quid out of an old cigar-box
in the desk. The police 'as got it... I give it all back! I say I
haf stolen, but murder? No!" He paused.

"Go on," said the Chief.

The prisoner looked about him in a frightened way.

"I vos jus' thinking I had better be getting avay, he continued
in his hoarse, gutteral voice, 'ven snick.!... I hears a key in
the front door. I vos, standing by the staircase... I had no time
to get out by the vay I had kom so I vent opstairs to the landing
vere there vos a curtain. I shlip behind the curtain and vait! I
dare not look out but I listen, I listen.. I hear some one go
into the dining-room and move about. I open the curtain a little
way... so!... because I think I vill shlip downstairs vile the
other party is in the dining-room... and there I sees ole Mac in
his dressing-gown just coming down from the first floor. The same
moment I hear a step in the front hall.

"I see ole Mac start but he does not stop. He kom right
downstairs, and I step back behind the curtain ontil I find a
door vich I push. I dare not svitch on my light but presently I
feel the cold edge of a bath with my hands. I stay there and
vait. Oi, oi, oi, how shall you belief vot I tell?"

He broke off trembling.

"Go on, Barney," said the detective, "can't you see the gentlemen
are waiting?"

The Jew resumed, his voice sinking almost to a whisper.

"It vos quite dark behind the curtain but from the bathroom,
through the open door, I could just see ole Mac standing with his
back to me, a-holding the curtain. He must haf shlip in there to
watch the other who vos komming opstairs. Then... then... I hear
a step on the stair... a little, soft step... then ole Mac he
open the curtain and cry 'Who are you?' Bang! the... the... other
on the stairs he fire a shot. I see the red flash and I smell
the... the powder not? The other, he does not vait... he just go
on opstairs and ole Mac is lying there on his back with the blood
a-trickling out on the oil-cloth. And I, vith my bag on my back,
I creep downstair and out by the back again, and I ron and ron
and then I valks. Gott! how I haf walked! I vos so frightened!
And then, at last, I go to a policeman and gif 'myself op!"

Barney stopped. The tears burst from his eyes and laying his
grimy face on his arm, he sobbed.

The detective patted him on the back.

"Pull yourself together, man!" he said encouragingly.

"This man on the stairs," queried the Chief, "did you see him?"

"Ach was!" replied the prisoner, turning a tearstained face
towards him, "I haf seen nothing, except old Mac's back vich vos
right in vront of me, it vos so dark!"

"But couldn't you see the other person at all, not even the
outline" persisted the Chief.

The prisoner made a gesture of despair.

"It vos so dark, I say! Nothing haf I seen! I haf heard only his
step!"

"What sort of step? Was it heavy or light or what? Did this
person seem in a hurry?"

"A little light tread... so! won, two! won, two!, and qvick like
'e think 'e sneak opstairs vithout nobody seeing!"

"Did he make much noise"

"Ach was! hardly at all... the tread, 'e vos so light like a
woman's..."

"Like a woman's, eh!", repeated the Chief, as if talking to
himself, "Why do you think that?"

"Because for vy it vos so gentle! The' staircase, she haf not
sqveak as she haf sqveak when I haf creep away!"

The Chief turned to the plain clothes man.

"You can take him away now, officer," he said.

Barney sprang up trembling.

"Not back to the cell," he cried imploringly, "I cannot be alone.
Oh, gentlemen, you vill speak for me! I haf not had trobble vith
the police this long time! My vife's cousin, he is an elder of
the Shool he vill tell you 'ow poor ve haf been..."

But the Chief crossed the room to the door and the detective
hustled the prisoner away.

Then the official whom they had seen before came in.

"Glad I caught you," he said. "I thought you would care to see
the post mortem report. The doctor has just handed it in."

The chief waved him off.

"I don't think there's any doubt about the cause of death," he
replied, "we saw the body ourselves..."

"Quite so," replied the other, "but there is something
interesting about this report all the same. They were able to
extract the bullet!"

"Oh," said the Chief, "that ought to tell us something!"

"It does," answered the official. "We've submitted it to our
small arms expert, and he pronounces it to be a bullet fired by
an automatic pistol of unusually large calibre."

The Chief looked at Desmond.

"You were right there," he said.

"And," the official went on, "our man says, further, that, as far
as he knows, there is only one type of automatic pistol that
fires a bullet as big as this one!"

"And that is?" asked the Chief.

"An improved pattern of the German Mauser pistol," was the
other's startling reply.

The Chief tapped a cigarette meditatively on the back of his
hand.

"Okewood," he said, "you are the very model of discretion. I have
put your reticence to a pretty severe test this morning, and you
have stood it very well. But I can see that you are bristling
with questions like a porcupine with quills. Zero hour has
arrived. You may fire away!"

They were sitting in the smoking-room of the United Service Club.
"The Senior," as men call it, is the very parliament of Britain's
professional navy and army. Even in these days when war has flung
wide the portals of the two services to all-comers, it retains a
touch of rigidity. Famous generals and admirals look down from
the lofty walls in silent testimony of wars that have been. Of
the war that is, you will hear in every cluster of men round the
little tables. Every day in the hour after luncheon battles are
fought over again, personalities criticized, and decisions
weighed with all the vigorous freedom of ward-room or the mess
ante-room.

And so to-day, as he sat in his padded leather chair, surveying
the Chief's quizzing face across the little table where their
coffee was steaming, Desmond felt the oddness of the contrast
between the direct, matter-of-fact personalities all around them,
and the extraordinary web of intrigue which seemed to have spun
itself round the little house at Seven Kings.

Before he answered the Chief's question, he studied him for a
moment under cover of lighting a cigarette. How very little, to
be sure, escaped that swift and silent mind! At luncheon the
Chief had scrupulously avoided making, the slightest allusion to
the thoughts with which Desmond's mind was seething. Instead he
had told, with the gusto of the born raconteur, a string of
extremely droll yarns about "double crosses," that is, obliging
gentlemen who will spy for both sides simultaneously, he had come
into contact with during his long and varied career. Desmond had
played up to him and repressed the questions which kept rising to
his lips. Hence the Chief's unexpected tribute to him in the
smoking room.

"Well," said Desmond slowly, "there are one or two things I
should like to know. What am I here for? Why did you have me
followed last night? How did you know, before we ever went to
Seven Kings, that Barney did not murder old Mackwayte? And
lastly..."

He paused, fearing to be rash; then he risked it:

"And lastly, Nur-el-Din?"

The Chief leant back in his chair and laughed.

"I'm sure you feel much better now," he said. Then his face grew
grave and he added:

"Your last question answers all the others!"

"Meaning Nur-el-Din?" asked Desmond.

The Chief nodded.

"Nur-el-Din," he repeated. "That's why you're here, that's why I
had you followed last night, that's why I..." he hesitated for
the word, "let's say, presumed (one knows for certain so little
in our work) that our friend Barney had nothing to do with the
violent death of poor old Mackwayte. Nur-el-Din in the center,
the kernel, the hub of everything!"

The Chief leant across the table and Desmond pulled his chair
closer.

"There's only one other man in the world can handle this job,
except you," he began, "and that's your brother Francis. Do you
know where he is, Okewood?"

"He wrote to me last from Athens," answered Desmond, "but that
must be nearly two months ago."

The Chief laughed.

"His present address is not Athens," he said, "if you want to
know, he's serving on a German Staff somewhere at the back of
Jerusalem the Golden. Frankly, I know you don't care about our
work, and I did my best to get your brother. He has had his
instructions and as soon as he can get away he will. That was not
soon enough for me. It had to be him or you. So I sent for you."

He stopped and cleared his throat. Desmond stared at him. He
could hardly believe his eyes. This quiet, deliberate man was
actually embarrassed.

"Okewood," the Chief went on, "you know I like plain speaking,
and therefore you won't make the mistake of thinking I'm trying
to flatter you."

Desmond made a gesture.

"Wait a moment and hear me out," the Chief went on. "What is
required for this job is a man of great courage and steady nerve.
Yes, we have plenty of fellows like that. But the man I am
looking for must, in addition to possessing those qualities, know
German and the Germans thoroughly, and when I say thoroughly I
mean to the very core so that, if needs be, he may be a German,
think German, act German. I have men in my service who know
German perfectly and can get themselves up to look the part to
the life. But they have never been put to the real, the searching
test. Not one of them has done what you and your brother
successfully accomplished. The first time I came across you, you
had just come out of Germany after fetching your brother away. To
have lived for weeks in Germany in wartime and to have got clear
away is a feat which shows that both you and he can be trusted to
make a success of one of the most difficult and critical missions
I have ever had to propose. Francis is not here. That's why I
want you."

The Chief paused as if weighing something in his mind.

"It's not the custom of either service, Okewood," he said, "to
send a man to certain death. You're not in this creepy, crawly
business of ours. You're a pukka soldier and keen on your job. So
I want you to know that you are free to turn down this offer of
mine here and now, and go back to France without my thinking a
bit the worse of you."

"Would you tell me something about it?" asked Desmond.

"I'm sorry I can't," replied the other. "There must be only two
men in this secret, myself and the fellow who undertakes the
mission. Of course, it's not certain death. If you take this
thing on, you'll have a sporting chance for your life, but that's
all. It's going to be a desperate game played against a desperate
opponent. Now do you understand why I didn't want you to think I
was flattering you? You've got your head screwed on right, I
know, but I should hate to feel afterwards, if anything went
wrong, that you thought I had buttered you up in order to entice
you into taking the job on!"

Desmond took two or three deep puffs of his cigarette and dropped
it into the ash-tray.

"I'll see you!" he said.

The Chief grinned with delight.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I knew you were my man!"



CHAPTER VII. NUR-EL-DIN

The love of romance is merely the nobler form of curiosity. And
there was something in Desmond Okewood's Anglo-Irish parentage
that made him fiercely inquisitive after adventure. In him two
men were constantly warring, the Irishman, eager for romance yet
too indolent to go out in search of it, and the Englishman,
cautious yet intensely vital withal, courting danger for danger's
sake.

All his ill-humor of the morning at being snatched away from his
work in France had evaporated. In the Chief he now saw only the
magician who was about to unlock to him the realms of Adventure.
Desmond's eyes shone with excitement as the other, obviously
simmering with satisfaction, lit another cigarette and began to
speak.

"The British public, Okewood," he said, hitching his chair
closer, "would like to see espionage in this country rendered
impossible. Such an ideal state of things is, unfortunately out
of the question. Quite on the contrary, this country of ours is
honeycombed with spies. So it will ever be, as long as we have to
work with natural means: at present we have no caps of
invisibility or magician's carpets available.

"As we cannot hope to kill the danger, we do our best to scotch
it. Personally, my modest ambition is to make espionage as
difficult as possible for the enemy by knowing as many as
possible of his agents and their channels of communication, and
by keeping him happy with small results, to prevent him from
finding out the really important things, the disclosure of which
would inevitably compromise our national safety."

He paused and Desmond nodded.

"The extent of our business," the Chief resumed, "is so large,
the issues at stake so vital, that we at the top have to ignore
the non-essentials and stick to the essentials. By the
nonessentials I mean the little potty spies, actuated by sheer
hunger or mere officiousness, the neutral busybody who makes a
tip-and-run dash into England, the starving waiter, miserably
underpaid by some thieving rogue in a neutral country--or the
frank swindler who sends back to the Fatherland and is duly paid
for long reports about British naval movements which he has
concocted without setting foot outside his Bloomsbury lodgings.

"These folk are dealt with somehow and every now and then one of
'em gets shot, just to show that we aren't asleep, don't you
know? But spasmodic reports we can afford to ignore. What we are
death on is anything like a regular news service from this
country to Germany; and to keep up this steady flow of reliable
information is the perpetual striving of the men who run the
German Secret Service.

"These fellows, my dear Okewood, move in darkness. Very often we
have to grope after 'em in darkness, too. They don't get shot, or
hardly ever; they are far too clever for that. Between us and
them it is a never-ending series of move and countermove, check
and counter-check. Very often we only know of their activities by
enemy action based on their reports. Then there is another leak
to be caulked, another rat-hole to be nailed up, and so the game
goes on. Hitherto I think I may say we have managed to hold our
own!"

The Chief stopped to light another cigarette. Then he resumed but
in a lower voice.

"During the past month, Okewood," he said, "a new organization
has cropped up. The objective of every spy operating in this
country is, as you may have surmised, naval matters, the
movements of the Fleet, the military transports, and the food
convoys. This new organization has proved itself more efficient
than any of its predecessors. It specializes in the movement of
troops to France, and in the journeys of the hospital ships
across the Channel. Its information is very prompt and extremely
accurate, as we know too well. There have been some very
disquieting incidents in which, for once in a way, luck has been
on our side, but as long as this gang can work in the dark there
is the danger of a grave catastrophe. With its thousands of miles
of sea to patrol, the Navy has to take a chance sometimes, you
know! Well, on two occasions lately, when chances were taken, the
Hun knew we were taking a chance, and what is more, when and
where we were taking it!"

The Chief broke off, then looking Desmond squarely in the eyes,
said:

"This is the organization that you're going to beak up!"

Desmond raised his eyebrows.

"Who is at the head of it?" he asked quietly.

The Chief, smiled a little bitterly.

"By George!" he cried, slapping his thigh, "you've rung the bell
in one. Okewood, I'm not a rich man, but I would gladly give a
year's pay to be able to answer that question. To be perfectly
frank with you, I don't know who is at the back of this crowd,
but..." his mouth set in a grim line, "I'm going to know!"

He added whimsically:

"What's more, you're going to find out for me!"

Desmond smiled at the note of assurance in his voice.

"I suppose you've got something to go on?" he asked. "There's
Nur-el-Din, for instance. What about her?"

"That young person," replied the Chief, "is to be your particular
study. If she is not the center of the whole conspiracy, she is,
at any rate, in the thick of it. It will be part of your job to
ascertain the exact role she is playing."

"But what is there against her?" queried Desmond.

"What is there against her? The bad company she keeps is against
her. 'Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are'
is a maxim that we have to go on in our profession, Okewood. You
have met the lady. Did you see any of her entourage? Her business
manager, a fat Italian who calls himself Lazarro, did you notice
him? Would you be surprised to hear that Lazarro alias Sacchetti
alias Le Tardenois is a very notorious international spy who
after working in the Italian Secret Service in the pay of the
Germans was unmasked and kicked out of Italy... that was before
the war? This pleasant gentleman subsequently did five years in
the French penal settlements in New Caledonia for robbery with
violence at Aix-les-Bains... oh, we know a whole lot about him!
And this woman's other friends! Do you know, for instance, where
she often spends the week-end? At the country-place of one Bryan
Mowbury, whose name used to be Bernhard Marburg, a very old hand
indeed in the German Secret Service. She has identified herself
right and left with the German espionage service in this country.
One day she lunches with a woman spy, whose lover was caught and
shot by the French. Then she goes out motoring with..."

"But why in Heaven's name are all these people allowed to run
loose?" broke in Desmond. "Do you mean to say you can't arrest
them?"

"Arrest 'em? Arrest 'em? Of course, we can arrest 'em. But what's
the use? They're all small fry, and we have to keep out a few
lines baited with minnows to catch the Tritons. None of 'em can
do any harm: we watch 'em much too closely for that. Once you've
located your spy, the battle's won. It's when he--or it may be a
she--is running loose, that I get peeved!"

The Chief sprang impatiently to his feet and strode across the
smoking-room, which was all but empty by this time, to get a
match from a table. He resumed his seat with a grunt of
exasperation.

"I can't see light, Okewood!" he sighed, shaking his head.

"But is this all you've got against Nur-el-Din?" asked Desmond.

"No," answered the other slowly, "it isn't. If it were, I need
not have called you in. We would have interned or deported her.
No, we've traced back to her a line leading straight from the
only member of the new organization we have been able to lay by
the heels."

"Then you've made an arrest?"

The Chief nodded.

"A fortnight ago... a respectable, retired English business man,
by name of Basil Bellward... taken with the goods on him, as the
saying is..."

"An Englishman, by Jove!"

"It's hardly correct to call him an Englishman, though he's posed
as an English business man for so long that one is almost
justified in doing so. As a matter of fact, the fellow is a
German named Wolfgang Bruhl and it is my belief that he was
planted in this country at least a dozen years ago solely for the
purpose of furnishing him with good, respectable credentials for
an emergency like this."

"But surely if you found evidence of his connection with this
gang of spies, it should be easy to get a clue to the rest of the
crowd?"

"Not so easy as you think," the Chief replied. "The man who
organized this system of espionage is a master at his craft. He
has been careful to seal both ends of every connection, that is
to say, though we found evidence of Master Bellward-Bruhl being
in possession of highly confidential information relating to the
movements of troops, we discovered nothing to show whence he
received it or how or where he was going to forward it. But we
did find a direct thread leading straight back to Nur-el-Din."

"Really," said Desmond, "that rather complicates things for her,
doesn't it?"

"It was in the shape of a letter of introduction, in French,
without date or address, warmly recommending the dancer to our
friend, Bellward."

"Who is this letter from?"

"It is simply signed 'P.', but you shall see it for yourself when
you get the other documents in the case."

"But surely, sir, such a letter might be presented in perfectly
good faith..."

"It might, but not this one. This letter, as an expert has
ascertained beyond all doubt, is written on German manufactured
note-paper of a very superior quality;, the writing is stiff and
angular and not French: and lastly, the French in which it is
phrased, while correct, is unusually pompous and elaborate."

"Then..."

"The letter was, in all probability, written by a German!"

There was a moment's silence. Desmond was thinking despairingly
of the seeming hopelessness of untangling this intricate webwork
of tangled threads.

"And this murder, sir," he began.

The Chief shrugged his shoulders.

"The motive, Okewood, I am searching for the motive. I can see
none except the highly improbable one of Miss Mackwayte being my
confidential secretary. In that case why murder the father, a
harmless old man who didn't even know that his daughter is in my
service, why kill him, I ask you, and spare the girl? On the
other hand, I believe the man Barney's story, and can see that
Marigold does, too. When I first heard the news of the murder
over the telephone this morning, I had a kind of intuition that
we should discover in it a thread leading back to this mesh of
espionage. Is it merely a coincidence that a hair, resembling
Nur-el-Din's, is found adhering to the straps with which Barbara
Mackwayte was bound? I can't think so... and yet..."

"But do you believe then, that Nur-el-Din murdered-old Mackwayte?
My dear Chief, the idea is preposterous..."

The Chief rose from his chair with a sigh.

"Nothing is preposterous in our work, Okewood," he replied. "But
it's 3.25, and my French colleague hates to be kept waiting."

"I thought you were seeing Strangwise, at two?" asked Desmond.

"I put him off until six o'clock," replied the Chief, "he knows
Nur-el-Din, and he may be able to give Marigold some pointers
about this affair. You're off to see Miss Mackwayte now, I
suppose. You know where she's staying? Good. Well, I'll say
good-bye, Okewood. I shan't see you again..."

"You won't see me again? How do you mean, sir?"

"Because you're going back to France!"

"Going back to France? When?"

"By the leave-boat to-night!"

Desmond smiled resignedly.

"My dear Chief," he said, "you must be more explicit. What am I
going back to France for?"

"Why, now I come to think of it," replied the Chief, "I never
told you. You're going back to France to be killed, of course!"

"To be killed!"

Desmond looked blankly at the other's blandly smiling face.

"Two or three days from now," said the Chief, "you will be killed
in action in France. I thought of making it a shell. But we'll
have it a machine gun bullet if you like. Whichever you prefer;
it's all the same to me!"

He laughed at the dawn of enlightenment in Desmond's eyes.

"I see," said Desmond.

"I hope you don't mind," the Chief went on more seriously, "but I
know you have no people to consider except your brother and his
wife. She's in America, and Francis can't possibly hear about it.
So you needn't worry on that score. Or do you?"

Desmond laughed.

"No-o-o!" he said slowly, "but I'm rather young to die. Is it
absolutely necessary for me to disappear?"

"Absolutely!" responded the Chief firmly.

"But how will we manage it?" asked Desmond.

"Catch the leave-boat to-night and don't worry. You will receive
your instructions in due course."

"But when shall I see you again?"

The Chief chuckled.

"Depends entirely on yourself, Okewood," he retorted. "When
you're through with your job, I expect. In the meantime, Miss
Mackwayte will act between us. On that point also you will be
fully instructed. And now I must fly!"

"But I say, sir," Desmond interposed hastily. "You haven't told
me what I am to do. What part am I to play in this business
anyway?"

"To-morrow," said the Chief, buttoning up his coat, "you become
Mr. Basil Bellward!"



CHAPTER VIII. THE WHITE PAPER PACKAGE

A taxi was waiting in Pall Mall outside the club and Desmond
hailed it, though secretly wondering what the driver would think
of taking him out to Seven Kings. Rather to his surprise, the man
was quite affable, took the address of the house where Barbara
was staying with her friends and bade Desmond "hop in."
Presently, for the second time that day, he was heading for the
Mile End Road.

As they zigzagged in and out of the traffic, Desmond's thoughts
were busy with the extraordinary mission entrusted to him. So he
was to sink his own identity and don that of an Anglo-German
business man, his appearance, accent, habits, everything. The
difficulties of the task positively made him cold with fear. The
man must have relations, friends, business acquaintances who
would be sufficiently familiar with his appearance and manner to
penetrate, at any rate in the long run, the most effective
disguise. What did Bellward look like? Where did lie live? How
was he, Desmond, to disguise himself to resemble him? And, above
all, when this knotty problem of make-up had been settled, how
was he to proceed? What should be his first step to pick out from
among all the millions of London's teeming populace the one
obscure individual who headed and directed this gang of spies?

Why hadn't he asked the Chief all these questions? What an
annoying man the Chief was to deal with to be sure! All said and
done, what had he actually told Desmond? That there was a German
Secret service organization spying on the movements of troops to
France, that this man, Basil Bellward, who had been arrested, was
one of the gang and that the dancer, Nur-el-Din, was in some way
implicated in the affair! And that was the extent of his
confidence! On the top of all this fog of obscurity rested the
dense cloud surrounding the murder of old Mackwayte with the
unexplained, the fantastic, clue of that single hair pointing
back to Nur-el-Din.

Desmond consoled himself finally by saying that he would be able
too get some light on his mission from Barbara Mackwayte, whom he
judged to be in the Chief's confidence. But here he was doomed to
disappointment. Barbara could tell him practically nothing save
what he already knew, that they were to work together in this
affair. Like him, she was waiting for her instructions.

Barbara received him in a neat little suburban drawing-room in
the house of her friends, who lived a few streets away from the
Mackwaytes. She was wearing a plainly-made black crepe de chine
dress which served to accentuate the extreme pallor of her face,
the only outward indication of the great shock she had sustained.
She was perfectly calm and collected, otherwise, and she stopped
Desmond who would have murmured some phrases of condolence.

"Ah, no, please," she said, "I don't think I can speak about it
yet."

She pulled a chair over for him and began to talk about the
Chief.

"There's not the least need for you to worry," she said with a
little woeful smile, like a sun-ray piercing a rain-cloud, "if
the Chief says 'Go back to France and wait for instructions,' you
may be sure that everything is arranged, and you will receive
your orders in due course. So shall I. That's the Chief all over.
Until you know him, you think he loves mystery for mystery's
sake. It isn't that at all. He just doesn't trust us. He trusts
nobody!"

"But that hardly seems fair to us..." began Desmond.

"It's merely a precaution," replied Barbara, "the Chief takes no
risks. I've not the least doubt that he has decided to tell you
nothing whatsoever about your part until you are firmly settled
in your new role. I'm perfectly certain that every detail of your
part has already been worked out."

"Oh, that's not possible," said Desmond. "Why, he didn't know
until an hour ago that I was going to take on this job."

Barbara laughed.

"The Chief has taught me a lot about judging men by their looks,"
she said: "Personally, if I'd been in the Chief's places I should
have gone ahead without consulting you, too."

The girl spoke with such directness that there was not the least
suggestion of a compliment in her remark, but Desmond blushed to
the roots of his hair. Barbara noticed it and added hastily:

"I'm not trying to pay you a compliment: I'm just judging by your
type. I believe I can always tell the man that will take on any
job, however dangerous, and carry it through to the end."

Desmond blushed more furiously than ever.

He made haste to divert the conversation into a safer channel.

"Well," he said slowly, "seeing that you and I were intended to
work together, it seems to me to be a most extraordinary
coincidence our meeting like that last night..."

"It was more than a coincidence," said Barbara, shaking her dark
brown head. "Forty-eight hours ago I'd never heard of you, then
the Chief gave me a telegram to send to your Divisional General
summoning you home, after that he told me that we were to work
together, and a few hours later I run into you in Nur-el-Din's
dressing-room..."

She broke off suddenly, her gray eyes big with fear. She darted
across the room to an ormolu table on which her handbag was
lying. With astonishment, Desmond watched her unceremoniously
spill out the contents on to the table and rake hastily amongst
the collection of articles which a pretty girl carries round in
her bag.

Presently she raised herself erect and turning, faced the
officer. She was trembling as though with cold and when she
spoke, her voice was low and husky.

"Gone!" she whispered.

"Have you lost anything" Desmond asked anxiously.

"How could I have forgotten it?" she went on as though he had not
spoken, "how could I have forgotten it? Nearly twelve hours
wasted, and it explains everything. What will the Chief think of
me!"

Slowly she sank down on the sofa where she had been sitting,
then, without any warning, dropped her head into her hands and
burst into tears.

Desmond went over to her.

"Please don't cry," he said gently, "you have borne up so bravely
against this terrible blow; you must try and not let it overwhelm
you."

All her business-like calm had disappeared now she was that most
distracting of all pictures of woman, a pretty girl overwhelmed
with grief. She crouched curled upon the sofa, with shoulders
heaving, sobbing as though her heart would break.

"Perhaps you would like me to leave you?" Desmond asked. "Let me
ring for your friends... I am sure you would rather be alone!"

She raised a tear-stained face to his, her long lashes
glittering.

"No, no," she said, "don't go, don't go! I want your help. This
is such a dark and dreadful business, more than I ever realized.
Oh, my poor daddy, my poor daddy!"

Again she hid her face in her hands and cried whilst Desmond
stood erect by her aide, compassionate but very helpless.

After a little, she dabbed her eyes with a tiny square of
cambric, and sitting up, surveyed the other.

"I must go to the Chief at once," she said, "it is most urgent.
Would you ring and ask the maid to telephone for a taxi?"

"I have one outside," answered Desmond. "But won't you tell me
what has happened?"

"Why," said Barbara, "it has only just dawned on me why our house
was broken into last night and poor daddy so cruelly murdered!
Whoever robbed the house did not come after our poor little bits
of silver or daddy's savings in the desk in the dining room. They
came after something that I had!"

"And what was that" asked Desmond.

Then Barbara told him of her talk with Nur-el-Din in the dancer's
dressing-room on the previous evening and of the package which
Nur-el-Din had entrusted to her care.

"This terrible business put it completely out of my head," said
Barbara. "In the presence of the police this morning, I looked
over my bedroom and even searched my hand-bag which the police
sent back to me this afternoon without finding that the burglars
had stolen anything. It was only just now, when we were talking
about our meeting in Nur-el-Din's room last night, that her
little package suddenly flashed across my mind. And then I looked
through my handbag again and convinced myself that it was not
there."

"But are you sure the police haven't taken it?"

"Absolutely certain," was the reply. "I remember perfectly what
was in my hand-bag this morning when I went through it, and the
same things are on that table over there now."

"Do you know what was in this package!" said Desmond.

"Just a small silver box, oblong and quite plain, about so big,"
she indicated the size with her hands, "about as large as a
cigarette-box. Nur-el-Din said it was a treasured family
possession of hers, and she was afraid of losing it as she
traveled about so much. She asked me to say nothing about it and
to keep it until the war was over or until she asked me for it."

"Then," said Desmond, "this clears Nur-el-Din!"

"What do you mean," said Barbara, looking up.

"Simply that she wouldn't have broken into your place and killed
your father in order to recover her own package..."

"But why on earth should Nur-el-Din be suspected of such a
thing?"

"Have you heard nothing about this young lady from the Chief?"

"Nothing. I had not thought anything about her until daddy
discovered an old friend in her last night and introduced me."

The Chief's infernal caution again! thought Desmond, secretly
admiring the care with which that remarkable man, in his own
phrase, "sealed both ends of every connection."

"If I'm to work with this girl," said Desmond to himself, "I'm
going to have all the cards on the table here and now," so
forthwith he told her of the Chief's suspicions of the dancer,
the letter recommending her to Bellward found when the cheese
merchant had been arrested, and lastly of the black hair which
had been discovered on the thongs with which Barbara had been
fastened.

"And now," Desmond concluded, "the very next thing we must do is
to go to the Chief and tell him about this package of
Nur-el-Din's that is missing." Barbara interposed quickly.

"It's no use your coming," she said. "The Chief won't see you.
When he has sent a man on his mission, he refuses to see him
again until the work has been done. If he wishes to send for you
or communicate with you, he will. But it's useless for you to try
and see him yourself. You can drop me at the office!"

Desmond was inclined to agree with her on this point and said so.

"There is one thing especially that puzzles me, Miss Mackwayte,"
Desmond observed as they drove westward again, "and that is, how
anyone could have known about your having this box of
Nur-el-Din's. Was there anybody else in the room when she gave
you the package?"

"No," said Barbara, "I don't think so. Wait a minute, though,
Nur-el-Din's maid must have come in very shortly after for I
remember the opened the door when Captain Strangwise came to tell
me daddy was waiting to take me home."

"Do you remember if Nur-el-Din actually mentioned the package in
the presence of the maid!"

"As far as I can recollect just as the maid opened the door to
Captain Strangwise, Nur-el-Din was impressing on me again to take
great care of the package. I don't think she actually mentioned
the box but I remember her pointing at my bag where I had put the
package."

"The maid didn't see Nur-el-Din give you the box?"

"No, I'm sure of that. The room was empty save for us two. It was
only just before Captain Strangwise knocked that I noticed Marie
arranging Nur-el-Din's dresses. She must have come in afterwards
without my seeing her."

"Well then, this girl, Marie, didn't see the dancer give you the
box but she heard her refer to it. Is that right?"

"Yes, and, of course, Captain Strangwise..."

"What about him?"

"He must have heard what Nur-el-Din was saying, too!"

Desmond rubbed his chin.

"I say, you aren't going to implicate old Strangwise, too, are
you?" he asked.

Barbara did not reflect his smile.

"He seems to know Nur-el-Din pretty well," she said, "and I'll
tell you something else, that woman's afraid of your friend, the
Captain!"

"What do you mean?" asked Desmond.

"I was watching her in the glass last night as he was talking to
her while you and I and daddy were chatting in the corner. I
don't know what he said to her, but she glanced over her shoulder
with a look of terror in her eyes. I was watching her face in the
glass. She looked positively hunted!"

The taxi stopped. Desmond jumped out and helped his companion to
alight.

"Au revoir." she said to him, "never fear, you and I will meet
very soon again!"

With that she was gone. Desmond looked at his watch. It pointed
to a quarter to six.

"Now I wonder what time the leave-train starts tonight," he said
aloud, one foot on the sideboard of the taxi.

"At 7.45, sir," said a voice.

"Desmond glanced round him. Then he saw it was the taxi-driver
who had spoken.

"7.45, eh?" said Desmond. "From Victoria, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir," said the taxi-man.

"By Jove, I haven't much time," ejaculated the officer "and there
are some things I want to get before I go back across the
Channel. And I shall have to see the Railway Transport Officer
about my pass."

"That's all right, sir," said the taxi-man, "I have your papers
here"; he handed Desmond a couple of slips of paper which he took
from his coat-pocket; "those will take you back to France all
right, I think you'll find!"

Desmond looked at the papers: they were quite in order and
correctly filled up with his name, rank and regiment, and date.

The taxi-man cut short any further question by saying:

"If you'll get into the cab again, sir, I'll drive you where you
want to go, and then wait while you have your dinner and take you
to the station. By the way, your dinner's ordered too!"

"But who the devil are you?" asked Desmond in amazement.

"On special service, the same as you, sir!" said the man with a
grin and Desmond understood.

Really, the Chief was extremely thorough.

They went to the stores in the Haymarket, to Fortnum and Mason's,
and lastly, to a small, grubby shop at the back of Mayfair where
Desmond and his brother had bought their cigarettes for years
past. Desmond purchased a hundred of their favored brand, the
Dionysus, as a reserve for his journey back to France, and stood
chatting over old times with the fat, oily-faced Greek manager as
the latter tied up his cigarettes into a clean white paper
parcel, neatly sealed up with red sealing wax.

Then Desmond drove back to the Nineveh Hotel where he left his
taxi-driving colleague in the courtyard on the understanding that
at 7.25 the taxi would be waiting to drive him to the station.

Desmond went straight upstairs to his room to put his kit
together. In the strong, firmly woven web spread by the Chief, he
felt as helpless as a fly caught in a spider's mesh. He had no
idea of what his plans were. He only knew that he was going back
to France, and that it was his business to get on the leave-boat
that night.

As he passed along the thickly carpeted, silent corridor to his
room, he saw the door of Strangwise's room standing ajar. He
pushed open the door and walked in unceremoniously. A suitcase
stood open on the floor with Strangwise bending over it. At his
elbow was a table crowded with various parcels, a case of razors,
different articles of kit, and some books. Desmond halted at the
door, his box of cigarettes dangling from his finger.

"Hullo, Maurice," he said, "are you off, too?"

Strangwise spun round sharply. The blood had rushed to his face,
staining it with a dark, angry flush.

"My God, how you startled me!" he exclaimed rather testily. "I
never heard you come in!"

He turned rather abruptly and went on with his packing. He struck
Desmond as being rather annoyed at the intrusion; the latter had
never seen him out of temper before.

"Sorry if I butted in," said Desmond, sliding his box of
cigarettes off his finger on to the littered table and sitting
down on a chair. "I came in to say good-bye. I'm going back to
France to-night!"

Maurice looked round quickly. He appeared to be quite his old
self again and was all smiles now.

"So soon?" he said. "Why, I thought you were getting a job at the
War Office!"

Desmond shook his head.

"Not good enough," he replied, "it's back to the sandbags for
mine. But where are you off to?"

"Got a bit of leave; the Intelligence folk seem to be through
with me at last, so they've given me six weeks!"

"Going to the country" asked Desmond.

Strangwise nodded.

"Yep," he said, "down to Essex to see if I can get a few duck or
snipe on the fens. I wish you were coming with me!"

"So do I, old man," echoed Desmond heartily. Then he added in a
serious voice:

"By the way, I haven't seen you since last night. What a shocking
affair this is about old Mackwayte, isn't it? Are there any
developments, do you know?"

Strangwise very deliberately fished a cigarette out of his case
which was lying open on the table and lit it before replying.

"A very dark affair," he said, blowing out a cloud of smoke and
flicking the match into the grate. "You are discreet, I know,
Okewood. The Intelligence people had me up this morning... to
take my evidence..."

Strangwise's surmise about Desmond's discretion was perfectly
correct. With Desmond Okewood discretion was second nature, and
therefore he answered with feigned surprise: "Your evidence about
what? About our meeting the Mackwaytes last night?"

After he had spoken he realized he had blundered. Surely, after
all, the Chief would have told Strangwise about their
investigations at Seven Kings. Still...

"No," replied Strangwise, "but about Nur-el-Din!"

The Chief had kept his own counsel about their morning's work.
Desmond was glad now that he had dissimulated.

"You see, I know her pretty well," Strangwise continued, "between
ourselves, I got rather struck on the lady when she was touring
in Canada some years ago, and in fact I spent so much more money
than I could afford on her that I had to discontinue the
acquaintance. Then I met her here when I got away from Germany a
month ago; she was lonely, so I took her about a bit. Okewood,
I'm afraid I was rather indiscreet."

"How do you mean?" Desmond asked innocently.

"Well," said Strangwise slowly, contemplating the end of his
cigarette, "it appears that the lady is involved in certain
activities which considerably interest our Intelligence. But
there, I mustn't say any more!"

"But how on earth is Nur-el-what's her name concerned in this
murder, Maurice?"

Strangwise shrugged his shoulders.

"Ah, you'd better ask the police. But I tell you she'll be
getting into trouble if she's not careful!"

Throughout this conversation Desmond seemed to hear in his ears
Barbara's words: "That woman's afraid of your friend!" He divined
that for some reason or other, Strangwise wanted to create a bad
impression in his mind about the dancer. He scanned Maurice's
face narrowly. Its impenetrability was absolute. There was
nothing to be gleaned from those careless, smiling features.

"Well," said Desmond, getting up, "nous verrons. I shall have to
make a bolt for it now if I don't want to miss my train.
Good-bye, Maurice, and I hope you'll get some birds!"

"Thanks, old man. Au revoir, and take care of yourself. My
salaams to the General!".

They shook hands warmly, then Desmond grabbed his box of
cigarettes in its neat white wrapper with the bold red seals and
hurried off to his room.

Strangwise stood for a moment gazing after him. He was no longer
the frank, smiling companion of a minute before. His mouth was
set hard and his chin stuck out at a defiant angle.

He bent over the table and picked up a white paper package sealed
with bold red seals. He poised it for a moment in his hands while
a flicker of a smile stole into the narrow eyes and played for an
instant round the thin lips. Then, with a quick movement, he
thrust the little package into the side pocket of his tunic and
buttoned the flap.

Whistling a little tune, he went on with his packing.



CHAPTER IX. METAMORPHOSIS

It was a clear, cold night. A knife-edge icy wind blew from the
north-east and kept the lanyards dismally flapping on the
flag-mast over the customs house. The leave train lay in the
station within a biscuit's throw of the quayside and the black,
blank Channel beyond, a long line of cheerfully illuminated
windows that to those returning from leave seemed as the last
link with home.

The Corporal of Military Police, who stood at the gangway
examining the passes, stopped Desmond Okewood as the latter held
out his pass into the rays of the man's lantern.

"There was a message for you, sir," said the Corporal. "The
captain of the Staff boat would h-esteem it a favor, sir, if you
would kindly go to his cabin immediately on h-arriving on board,
sir!"

"Very good, Corporal!" answered the officer and passed up the
gang plank, enviously regarded by the press of brass-hats and
red-tabs who, for the most part, had a cramped berth below or
cold quarters on deck to look forward to.

A seaman directed Desmond to the Captain's cabin. It was built
out just behind the bridge, a snug, cheery room with bright
chintz curtains over the carefully screened portholes, a couple
of comfortable benches with leather seats along the walls, a
small bunk, and in the middle of the floor a table set out with a
bottle of whiskey, a siphon and some glasses together with a box
of cigars.

The Captain was sitting there chatting to the pilot, a short,
enormously broad man with a magenta face and prodigious hands
which were folded round a smoking glass of toddy.

"Pick 'em up? Rescue 'em?" the pilot ejaculated, as Desmond
walked in, "I'd let 'em sink, every man Jack o' them, the
outrageous murderin' scoundrels. I don't like to hear you
a-talking of such nonsense, Cap'en!"

On Desmond's entrance the Captain broke off the conversation. He
proved to be a trimly-built man of about fifty with a grizzled
beard, and an air of quiet efficiency which is not uncommonly
found in seamen. The pilot drained his glass and, scrambling to
his feet, nodded to Desmond and stumped out into the cold night
air.

"Jawin' about the U boats!" said the Captain, with a jerk of his
head towards the cabin door, "I don't know what the feelings of
your men in the trenches are towards Fritz, Major, but I tell you
that no German will dare set foot in any coast port of the United
Kingdom in my life-time or yours, either! Accommodation's a bit
narrow on board. I thought maybe you'd care to spend the night up
here!"

"Any orders about me?" asked Desmond.

The Captain went a shade deeper mahogany in the face.

"Oh no," he replied, with an elaborate assumption of innocence.
"But won't you mix yourself a drink? And try one of my cigars, a
present from a skipper friend of mine who sailed into Tilbury
from Manila last week."

Desmond sat in the snug cabin, puffing a most excellent cigar
and sipping his whiskey and soda while, amid much shouting of
seamen and screaming of windlasses, the staff boat got clear.
Presently they were gliding past long low moles and black,
inhospitable lighthouses, threading their way through the dark
shapes of war craft of all kinds into the open Channel. There was
a good deal of swell, but the sea was calm, and the vessel soon
steadied down to regular rise and fall.

They had been steaming for nearly an hour when, through the open
door of the cabin, Desmond saw a seaman approach the captain on
the bridge. He handed the skipper a folded paper.

"From the wireless operator, sir!" Desmond heard him say.

The skipper scanned it. Then the engine telegraph rang sharply,
there was the sound of churning water, and the vessel slowed
down. The next moment the Captain appeared at the door of the
cabin.

"I'm afraid we're going to lose you, Major," he said pleasantly,
"a destroyer is coming up to take you off. There was a wireless
from the Admiral about you."

"Where are they going to take me, do you know?" asked Desmond.

The Captain shook his head.

"I haven't an idea. I've only got to hand you over!"

He grinned and added:

"Where's your kit?"

"In the hold, I expect!" answered Desmond. "The porter at
Victoria told me not to worry about it, and that I should find it
on the other side. And, oh damn it!--I've got a hundred
cigarettes in my kit, too! I bought them specially for the
journey!"

"Well, take some of my cigars," said the skipper hospitably, "for
your traps'll have to go to France this trip, Major. There's no
time to get 'em up now. I'll pass the word to the Military
Landing Officer over there about 'em, if you like. He'll take
care of 'em for you. Now will you come with me?"

Desmond scrambled into his coat and followed the Captain down the
steps to the deck. A little distance away from the vessel, the
long shape of a destroyer was dimly visible tossing to and fro in
the heavy swell. A ladder had been let down over the side of the
steamer, and at its foot a boat, manned by a number of heavily
swathed and muffled forms, was pitching.

A few officers stood by the rail watching the scene with
interest. The skipper adroitly piloted Desmond past them and
fairly thrust him out on to the ladder.

Desmond took the hint and with a hasty "Good night" to the
friendly captain, staggered down the swaying ladder and was
helped into the boat. The boat shoved off, the bell of the engine
telegraph on the steamer resounded sharply, and the vessel
resumed her interrupted voyage whilst the rowing boat was headed
towards the destroyer. On board the latter vessel an officer met
Desmond at the rail and piloted him to the ward-room. Almost
before they got there, the destroyer was under way.

The officer who had welcomed him proved to be the second in
command, a joyous person who did the honors of the tiny ward-room
with the aplomb of a Commander in a super-Dreadnought. He mixed
Desmond a drink and immediately started to converse about life at
the front without giving the other a chance of asking whither
they were bound.

The suspense was not of long duration, however, for in about half
an hour's time, the destroyer slowed down and Desmond's host
vanished. When he reappeared, it was to summon Desmond on deck.

They lay aside a mole by some steps cut in the solid concrete.
Here Desmond's host took leave of him.

"There should be a car waiting for you up there," he said.

There on top of the mole, exposed to the keen blast of the wind,
a large limousine was standing. A chauffeur, who looked blue with
cold, got down from his seat as Desmond emerged from the stairs
and touched his cap.

"Major Okewood?" he asked.

"That's my name!" said Desmond.

"If you'll get in, sir, we'll start at once!" the man replied.

Befogged and bewildered, Desmond entered the car, which
cautiously proceeded along the breakwater, with glimpses of black
water and an occasional dim light on either hand. They bumped
over the railway-lines and rough cobblestones of a dockyard,
glided through a slumbering town, and so gradually drew out into
the open country where the car gathered speed and fairly raced
along the white, winding road. Desmond had not the faintest idea
of their whereabouts or ultimate destination. He was fairly
embarked on the great adventure now, and he was philosophically
content to let Fate have its way with him. He found himself
wondering rather indolently what the future had in store.

The car slowed down and the chauffeur switched the headlights on.
Their blinding glare revealed some white gate-posts at the
entrance of a quiet country station. Desmond looked at his watch.
It was half-past one. The car stopped at the entrance to the
booking-office where a man in an overcoat and bowler was waiting.

"This way, Major, please," said the man in the bowler, and led
the way into the dark and silent station. At the platform a short
train consisting of an engine, a Pullman car and a brakesman's
van stood, the engine under steam. By the glare from the furnace
Desmond recognized his companion. It was Matthews, the Chief's
confidential clerk.

Matthews held open the door of the Pullman for Desmond and
followed him into the carriage. A gruff voice in the night
shouted:

"All right, Charley!" a light was waved to and fro, and the
special pulled out of the echoing station into the darkness
beyond.

In the corner of, the Pullman a table was laid for supper. There
was a cold chicken, a salad, and a bottle of claret. On another
table was a large tin box and a mirror with a couple of electric
lights before it. At this table was seated a small man with gray
hair studying a large number of photographs.

"If you will have your supper, Major Okewood, sir," said
Matthews, "Mr. Crook here will get to work. We've not got too
much time."

The sea air had made Desmond ravenously hungry. He sat down
promptly and proceeded to demolish the chicken and make havoc of
the salad. Also he did full justice to the very excellent St.
Estephe.

As he ate he studied Matthews, who was one of those undefinable
Englishmen one meets in tubes and 'buses, who might be anything
from a rate collector to a rat catcher. He had sandy hair
plastered limply across his forehead, a small moustache, and a
pair of watery blue eyes. Mr. Crook, who continued his study of
his assortment of photographs without taking the slightest notice
of Desmond, was a much more alert looking individual, with a
shock of iron gray hair brushed back and a small pointed beard.

"Matthew's," said Desmond as he supped, "would it be indiscreet
to ask where we are?"

"In Kent, Major," replied Matthews.

"What station was that we started from?"

"Faversham."

"And where are we going, might I inquire?"

"To Cannon Street, sir!"

"And from there?"

Mr. Matthews coughed discreetly.

"I can't really say, sir, I'm sure! A car will meet you there and
I can go home to bed."

The ends sealed again! thought Desmond. What a man of caution,
the Chief!

"And this gentleman here, Matthews?" asked Desmond, lighting one
of the skipper's cigars.

"That, sir, is Mr. Crook, who does any little jobs we require in
the way of make-up. Our expert on resemblances, if I may put it
that way, sir, for we really do very little in the way of
disguises. Mr. Crook is an observer of what I may call people's
points, sir, their facial appearance, their little peculiarities
of manner, of speech, of gait. Whenever there is any question of
a disguise, Mr. Crook is called in to advise as to the
possibilities of success. I believe I am correct in saying,
Crook, that you have been engaged on the Major here for some
time. Isn't it so?"

Crook looked up a minute from his table.

"That's right," he said shortly, and resumed his occupation of
examining the photographs.

"And what's your opinion about this disguise of mine?" Desmond
asked him.

"I can make a good job of you, Major," said the expert, "and so I
reported to the Chief. You'll want to do your hair a bit
different and let your beard grow, and then, if you pay attention
to the lessons I shall give you, in a week or two, you'll be this
chap here," and he tapped the photograph in his hand, "to the
life."

So saying he handed Desmond the photograph. It was the portrait
of a man about forty years of age, of rather a pronounced
Continental type, with a short brown beard, a straight, rather
well-shaped nose and gold-rimmed spectacles. His hair was cut en
brosse, and he was rather full about the throat and neck. Without
a word, Desmond stretched out his hand and gathered up a sheaf of
other photos, police photos of Mr. Basil Bellward, front face and
profile seen from right and left, all these poses shown on the
same picture, some snapshots and various camera studies. Desmond
shook his head in despair. He was utterly unable to detect the
slightest resemblance between himself and this rather commonplace
looking type of business man.

"Now if you'd just step into the compartment at the end of the
Pullman, Major," said Crook, "you'll find some civilian clothes
laid out. Would you mind putting them on? You needn't trouble
about the collar and tie, or coat and waistcoat for the moment.
Then we'll get along with the work."

The train rushed swaying on through the darkness. Desmond was
back in the Pullman car in a few minutes arrayed in a pair of
dark gray tweed trousers, a white shirt and black boots and
socks. A cut-away coat and waistcoat of the same tweed stuff, a
black bowler hat of rather an old-fashioned and staid pattern,
and a black overcoat with a velvet collar, he left in the
compartment where he changed.

He found that Crook had opened his tin box and set out a great
array of grease paints, wigs, twists of tow of various colors,
and a number of pots and phials of washes and unguents together
with a whole battery of fine paint brushes. In his hand he held a
pair of barber's clippers and the tips of a comb and a pair of
scissors protruded from his vest pocket.

Crook whisked a barber's wrap round Desmond and proceeded, with
clippers and scissors, to crop and trim his crisp black hair.

"Tst-tst" he clicked with his tongue. "I didn't realize your hair
was so dark, Major. It'll want a dash of henna to lighten it."

The man worked with incredible swiftness. His touch was light and
sure, and Desmond, looking at his reflection in the glass,
wondered to see what fine; delicate hands this odd little expert
possessed. Matthews sat and smoked in silence and watched the
operation, whilst the special ran on steadily Londonwards.

When the clipping was done, Crook smeared some stuff on a towel
and wrapped it round Desmond's head.

"That'll brighten your hair up a lot, sir. Now for a crepe beard
just to try the effect. We've got to deliver you at Cannon Street
ready for the job, Mr. Matthews and me, but you won't want to
worry with this nasty messy beard once you get indoors. You can
grow your own beard, and I'll pop in and henna it a bit for you
every now and then."

There was the smart of spirit gum on Desmond's cheeks and Crook
gently applied a strip of tow to his face. He had taken the
mirror away so that Desmond could no longer see the effect of the
gradual metamorphosis.

"A mirror only confuses me," said the expert, breathing hard as
he delicately adjusted the false beard, "I've got this picture
firm in my head, and I want to get it transferred to your face.
Somehow a mirror puts me right off. It's the reality I want."

As he grew more absorbed in his work, he ceased to speak
altogether. He finished the beard, trimmed the eyebrows, applied
a dash of henna with a brush, leaning backwards continually to
survey the effect. He sketched in a wrinkle or two round the eyes
with a pencil, wiped them out, then put them in again. Then he
fumbled in his tin box, and produced two thin slices of grey
rubber.

"Sorry," he said, "I'm afraid you'll have to wear these inside
your cheeks to give the effect of roundness. You've got an oval
face and the other man has a round one. I can get the fullness of
the throat by giving you a very low collar, rather open and a
size too large for you."

Desmond obediently slipped the two slices of rubber into his
mouth and tucked them away on either side of his upper row of
teeth. They were not particularly uncomfortable to wear.

"There's your specs," said Crook, handing him a spectacle case,
"and there's the collar. Now if you'll put on the rest of the
duds, we'll have a look at you, sir."

Desmond went out and donned the vest and coat and overcoat, and,
thus arrayed, returned to the Pullman, hat in hand.

Crook called out to him as he entered

"Not so springy in the step, sir, if you please. Remember you're
forty-three years of age with a Continental upbringing. You'll
have to walk like a German, toes well turned out and down on the
heel every time. So, that's better. Now, have a look at
yourself!"

He turned and touched a blind. A curtain rolled up with a click,
disclosing a full length mirror immediately opposite Desmond.

Desmond recoiled in astonishment. He could scarcely credit his
own eyes. The glass must be bewitched, he thought for a moment,
quite overwhelmed by the suddenness of the shock. For instead of
the young face set on a slight athletic body that the glass was
wont to show him, he saw a square, rather solid man in ugly,
heavy clothes, with a brown silky beard and gold spectacles. The
disguise was baffling in its completeness. The little wizard, who
had effected this change and who now stood by, bashfully twisting
his fingers about, had transformed youth into middle age. And the
bewildering thing was that the success of the disguise did not
lie so much in the external adjuncts, the false beard, the
pencilled wrinkles, as in the hideous collar, the thick padded
clothes, in short, in the general appearance.

For the first time since his talk with the Chief at the United
Service Club, Desmond felt his heart grow light within him. If
such miracles were possible, then he could surmount the other
difficulties as well.

"Crook," he said, "I think you've done wonders. What do you say,
Matthews?"

"I've seen a lot of Mr. Crook's work in my day, sir," answered
the clerk, "but nothing better than this. It's a masterpiece,
Crook, that's what it is."

"I'm fairly well satisfied," the expert murmured modestly, "and I
must say the Major carries it off very well. But how goes the
enemy, Matthews?"

"It's half past two," replied, the latter, "we should reach
Cannon Street by three. She's running well up to time, I think."

"We've got time for a bit of a rehearsal," said Crook. "Just
watch me, will you please, Major, and I'll try and give you an
impression of our friend. I've been studying him at Brixton for
the past twelve days, day and night almost, you might say, and I
think I can convey an idea of his manner and walk. The walk is a
very important point. Now, here is Mr. Bellward meeting one of
his friends. Mr. Matthews, you will be the friend!"

Then followed one of the most extraordinary performances that
Desmond had ever witnessed. By some trick of the actor's art, the
shriveled figure of the expert seemed to swell out and thicken,
while his low, gentle voice deepened into a full, metallic
baritone. Of accent in his speech there was none, but Desmond's
ear, trained to foreigners' English, could detect a slight
Continental intonation, a little roll of the "r's," an unfamiliar
sound about those open "o's" of the English tongue, which are so
fatal a trap for foreigners speaking our language. As he watched
Crook, Desmond glanced from time to time at the photograph of
Bellward which he had picked up from the table. He had an
intuition that Bellward behaved and spoke just as the man before
him.

Then, at Crook's suggestion, Desmond assumed the role of
Bellward. The expert interrupted him continually.

"The hands, Major, the hands, you must not keep them down at your
sides. That is military! You must move them when you speak! So
and so!"

Or again:

"You speak too fast. Too... too youthfully, if you understand me,
sir. You are a man of middle age. Life has no further secrets for
you. You are poised and getting a trifle ponderous. Now try
again!"

But the train was slackening speed. They were running between
black masses of squalid houses. As the special thumped over the
bridge across the river, Mr. Crook gathered up his paints and
brushes and photographs and arranged them neatly in his black tin
box.

To Desmond he said:

"I shall be coming along to give you some more lessons very soon,
Major. I wish you could see Bellward for yourself: you are very
apt at this game, and it would save us much time. But I fear
that's impossible."

Even before the special had drawn up alongside the platform at
Cannon Street, Crook and Matthews swung themselves out and
disappeared. When the train stopped, a young man in a bowler hat
presented himself at the door of the Pullman.

"The car is there, Mr. Bellward, sir!" he said, helping Desmond
to alight. Desmond, preparing to assume his new role, was about
to leave the carriage when a sudden thought struck him. What
about his uniform strewn about the compartment where he had
changed? He ran back. The compartment was empty. Not a trace
remained of the remarkable scenes of their night journey.

"This is for you," said the young man, handing Desmond a note as
they walked down the platform.

Outside the station a motor-car with its noisy throbbing awoke
the echoes of the darkened and empty courtyard. Desmond waited
until he was being whirled over the smooth asphalt of the City
streets before he opened the letter.

He found a note and a small key inside the envelope.

"On reaching the house to which you will be conveyed," the note
said, "you will remain indoors until further orders. You can
devote your time to studying the papers you will find in the desk
beside the bed. For the present you need not fear detection as
long as you do not leave the house." Then followed a few rough
jottings obviously for his guidance.

"Housekeeper, Martha, half blind, stupid; odd man, John Hill,
mostly invisible, no risk from either. You are confined to house
with heavy chill. Do not go out until you get the word."

The last sentence was twice underlined.

The night was now pitch-dark. Heavy clouds had come up and
obscured the stars and a drizzle of rain was falling. The car
went forward at a good pace and Desmond, after one or two
ineffectual attempts to make out where they were going, was
lulled by the steady motion into a deep sleep. He was dreaming
fitfully of the tossing Channel as he had seen it but a few hours
before when he came to his senses with a start. He felt a cold
draught of air on his face and his feet were dead with cold.

A figure stood at the open door of the car. It was the chauffeur.

"Here we are, sir," he said.

Desmond stiffly descended to the ground. It was so dark that he
could distinguish nothing, but he felt the grit of gravel under
his feet and he heard the melancholy gurgle of running water. He
took a step forward and groped his way into a little porch
smelling horribly of mustiness and damp. As he did so, he heard a
whirr behind him and the car began to glide off. Desmond shouted
after the chauffeur. Now that he stood on the very threshold of
his adventure, he wanted to cling desperately to this last link
with his old self. But the chauffeur did not or would not hear,
and presently the sound of the engine died away, leaving Desmond
to the darkness, the sad splashing of distant water and his own
thoughts.

And then, for one brief moment, all his courage seemed to ooze
out of him. If he had followed his instinct, he would have turned
and fled into the night, away from that damp and silent house,
away from the ceaseless splashing of waters, back to the warmth
and lights of civilization. But his sense of humor, which is very
often better than courage, came to his rescue.

"I suppose I ought to be in the devil of a rage," he said to
himself, "being kept waiting like this outside my own house!
Where the deuce is my housekeeper? By Gad, I'll ring the place
down!"

The conceit amused him, and he advanced further into the musty
porch hoping to find a bell. But as he did so his ear caught the
distant sound of shuffling feet. The shuffle of feet drew nearer
and presently a beam of light shone out from under the door. A
quavering voice called out:

"Here I am, Mr. Bellward, here I am, sir!"

Then a bolt was drawn back, a key turned, and the door swung
slowly back, revealing an old woman, swathed in a long shawl and
holding high in her hand a lamp as she peered out into the
darkness.

"Good evening, Martha," said Desmond, and stepped into the house.

Save for Martha's lamp, the lobby was in darkness, but light was
streaming into the hall from the half open door of a room leading
off it at the far end. While Martha, wheezing asthmatically,
bolted the front door, Desmond went towards the room where the
light was and walked in.

It was a small sitting-room, lined with bookshelves, illuminated
by an oil lamp which stood on a little table beside a
chintz-covered settee which had been drawn up in front of the
dying fire.

On the settee Nur-el-Din was lying asleep.



CHAPTER X. D. O. R. A. IS BAFFLED

When Barbara reached the Chief's ante-room she found it full of
people. Mr. Marigold was there, chatting with Captain Strangwise
who seemed to be just taking his leave; there was a short, fat,
Jewish-looking man, very resplendently dressed with a large
diamond pin in his cravat and a small, insignificant looking
gentleman with a gray moustache and the red rosette of the Legion
of Honor in his button-hole. Matthews came out of the Chief's
room as Barbara entered the outer office.

"Miss Mackwayte," he said, "we are all so shocked and so very,
sorry..."

"Mr. Matthews," she said hastily in a low voice, "never mind
about that now. I must see the Chief at once. It is most urgent."

Matthews gesticulated with his arm round the room.

"All these people, excepting the officer there, are waiting to
see him, Miss, and he's got a dinner engagement at eight..."

"It is urgent, Mr. Matthews, I tell you. If you won't take my
name in, I shall go in myself!"

"Miss Mackwayte, I daren't interrupt him now. Do you know who's
with him...?"

Strangwise crossed the room to where Barbara was standing.

"I can guess what brings you here, Miss Mackwayte," he said
gently. "I hope you will allow me to express my condolences...?"

The girl shrank back, almost imperceptibly, yet Strangwise, whose
eyes were fixed on her pale face, noticed the spontaneous recoil.
The sunshine seemed to fade out of his debonair countenance, and
for a moment Barbara Mackwayte saw Maurice Strangwise as very few
people had ever seen him, stern and cold and hard, without a
vestige of his constant smile. But the shadow lifted as quickly
as it had fallen. His face had resumed its habitually engaging
expression as he murmured:

"Believe me, I am truly sorry for you!"

"Thank you, thank you!" Barbara said hastily and brushed past
him. She walked straight across the room to the door of the
Chief's room, turned the handle and walked in.

The room was in darkness save for an electric reading lamp on the
desk which threw a beam of light on the faces of two men thrust
close together in eager conversation. One was the Chief, the
other a face that Barbara knew well from the illustrated papers.

At the sound of the door opening, the Chief sprang to his feet.

"Oh, it's Miss Mackwayte," he said, and added something in a low
voice to the other man who had risen to his feet. "My dear," he
continued aloud to Barbara, "I will see you immediately; we must
not be disturbed now. Matthews should have told you."

"Chief," cried Barbara, her hands clasped convulsively together,
"you must hear me now. What I have to say cannot wait. Oh, you
must hear me!"

The Chief looked as embarrassed as a man usually looks when he is
appealed to in a busy moment by an extremely attractive girl.

"Miss Mackwayte," he said firmly but with great courtesy, "you
must wait outside. I know how unnerved you are by all that you
have gone through, but I am engaged just now. I shall be free
presently."

"It is about my father, Chief," Barbara said in a trembling
voice, "I have found out what they came to get!"

"Ah!" said the Chief and the other man simultaneously.

"We had better hear what she has to say!" said the other man,
"but won't you introduce me first?"

"This is Sir Bristowe Marr, the First Sea Lord," said the Chief,
bringing up a chair for Barbara, "Miss Mackwayte, my secretary,
Admiral!"

Then in a low impassioned voice Barbara told her tale of the
package entrusted to her by Nur-el-Din and its disappearance from
her bedroom on the night of the murder. As she proceeded a deep
furrow appeared between the Chief's bushy eyebrows and he stared
absently at the blotting-pad in front of him. When the girl had
finished her story, the Chief said:

"Lambelet ought to hear this, sir: he's the head of the French
Intelligence, you know. He's outside now. Shall we have him in?
Miss Mackwayte shall tell her story, and you can then hear what
Lambelet has to say about this versatile young dancer."

Without waiting for further permission, he pressed a bell on the
desk and presently Matthews ushered in the small man with the
Legion of Honor whom Barbara had seen in the ante-room.

The Chief introduced the Frenchman and in a few words explained
the situation to him. Then he turned to Barbara:

"Colonel Lambelet speaks English perfectly," he said, "so fire
away and don't be nervous!"

When she had finished, the Chief said, addressing Lambelet:

"What do you make of it, Colonel?"

The little Frenchman made an expressive gesture.

"Madame has become aware of the interest you have been taking in
her movements, mon cher. She seized the opportunity of this
meeting with the daughter of her old friend to get rid of
something compromising, a code or something of the kind, qui
sait? Perhaps this robbery and its attendant murder was only an
elaborate device to pass on some particularly important report of
the movements of your ships... qui sait?"

"Then you are convinced in your own mind, Colonel, that this
woman is a spy?" The clear-cut voice of the First Sea Lord rang
out of the darkness of the room outside the circle of light on
the desk.

"Mais certainement!" replied the Frenchman quietly. "Listen and
you shall hear! By birth she is a Pole, from Warsaw, of good,
perhaps, even, of noble family. I cannot tell you, for her real
name we have not been able to ascertain... parbleu, it is
impossible, with the Boches at Warsaw, hein? We know, however,
that at a very early age, under the name of la petite Marcelle,
she was a member of a troupe of acrobats who called themselves
The Seven Duponts. With this troupe she toured all over Europe.
Bien! About ten years ago, she went out to New York as a singer,
under the name of Marcelle Blondinet, and appeared at various
second-class theatres in the United States and Canada. Then we
lose track of her for some years until 1913, the year before the
war, when the famous Oriental dancer, Nur-el-Din, who has made a
grand success by the splendor of her dresses in America and
Canada, appears at Brussels, scores a triumph and buys a fine
mansion in the outskirts of the capital. She produces herself at
Paris, Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, Madrid, Milan and Rome, but
her home in Brussels, always she returns there, your understand
me, hein? La petite Marcelle of The Seven Duponts, Marcelle
Blondinet of the cafe chantant, has blossomed out into a star of
the first importance."

The Colonel paused and cleared his throat.

"To buy a mansion in Brussels, to run a large and splendid
troupe, requires money. It is the men who pay for these things,
you would say. Quite right, but listen who were the friends of
Madame Nur-el-Din. Bischoffsberg, the German millionaire of
Antwerp, von Wurzburg, of Berne... ah ha! you know that
gentleman, mon cher?" he turned, chuckling, to the Chief who
nodded his acquiescence; "Prince Meddelin of the German Embassy
in Paris and administrator of the German Secret Service funds in
France, and so on and so on. I will not fatigue you with the
list. The direct evidence is coming now.

"When the war broke out in August, 1914, Madame, after finishing
her summer season in Brussels, was resting in her Brussels
mansion. What becomes of her? She vanishes."

"She told Samuel, the fellow who runs the Palaceum, that she
escaped from Brussels!" interposed the Chief.

The Frenchman threw his hands above his head.

"Escaped, escaped? Ah, oui, par exemple, in a German Staff car.
As I have told my colleague here," he went on, addressing the
Admiral, "she escaped to Metz, the headquarters of the Army Group
commanded by the... the... how do you say? the Prince Imperial?"

"The Crown Prince," rectified the Chief.

"Ah, oui,--the Crown Prince. Messieurs, we have absolute
testimony that this woman lived for nearly two years either in
Metz or Berlin, and further, that at Metz, the Crown Prince was a
constant visitor at her house. She was one of the ladies who
nearly precipitated a definite rupture between the Crown Prince
and his wife. Mon Admiral," he went on, addressing the First Sea
Lord again, "that this woman should be at large is a direct menace
to the security of this country and of mine. It is only this
morning that I at length received from Paris the facts which I
have just laid before you. It is for you to order your action
accordingly!"

The little Frenchman folded his arms pompously and gazed at the
ceiling.

"How does she explain her movements prior to her coming to this
country" the First Sea Lord asked the Chief.

For an answer the Chief pressed the bell.

"Samuel, who engaged her, is outside. You shall hear her story
from him," he said.

Samuel entered, exuding business acumen, prosperity, geniality.
He nodded brightly to the Chief and stood expectant.

"Ah, Mr. Samuel," said the Chief, "I wanted to see you about
Nur-el-Din. You remember our former conversation on the subject.
Where did she say she went to when she escaped to Brussels?"

"First to Ostend," replied the music-hall proprietor, "and then,
when the general exodus took place from there, to her mother's
country place near Lyons, a village called Sermoise-aux-Roses."

"And what did she say her mother's name was?"

"Madame Blondinet, sir!"

The Frenchman rapped smartly on a little pocketbook which he had
produced and now held open in his hand.

"There, is a Madame Blondinet who has a large farm near
Sermoise-aux-Roses," he said, "and she has a daughter called
Marcelle, who went to America."

"Why then...?" began the First Sea Lord.

"Attendez un instant!"

The Colonel held up a plump hand.

"Unfortunately for Madame Nur-el-Din, this Marcelle Blondinet
spent the whole of her childhood, in fact, the whole of her life
until she was nineteen years of age, on her mother's farm at a
time when this Marcelle Blondinet was touring Europe with The
Seven Duponts. The evidence is absolute. Mademoiselle here heard
the dancer herself confirm it last night!"

"Thank you, Mr. Samuel," said the Chief, "we shan't require you
any more. But I'm afraid your Nur-el-Din will have to break her
contract with you."

"She's done that already, sir!" said Samuel ruefully.

The Chief sprang to his feet excitedly.

"Broken it already?" he cried. "What do you mean? Explain
yourself! Don't stand there staring at me!"

Mr. Samuel looked startled out of his life.

"There was a bit of a row between her and the stage manager last
night about her keeping the stage waiting again," he said; "and
after lunch today she rang up to say she would not appear at the
Palaceum to-night or any more at all! It's very upsetting for us;
and I don't mind telling you, gentlemen, that I've been to my
solicitors about it..."

"And why the blazes didn't you come and tell me?" demanded the
Chief furiously.

"Well, sir, I thought it was only a bit of pique on her part, and
I hoped to be able to talk the lady round. I know what these
stars are!"

"You've seen her then?" the Chief snapped out.

"No, I haven't!" Mr. Samuel lamented. "I've been twice to the
Nineveh--that's where she's stopping--and each time she was out!"

The Chief dismissed him curtly.

When the door had closed behind him, the Chief said to the First
Sea Lord:

"This is where D.O.R.A. steps in, I think, sir!"

"Decidedly!" replied the Admiral. "Will you take the necessary
steps?"

The Chief nodded and pressed the bell. Matthews appeared.

"Anything from the Nineveh?" he asked.

"The lady has not returned, sir!"

"Anything from Gordon and Duff?"

"No, sir, nothing all day!"

The telephone on the desk whirred. The Chief lifted the receiver.

"Yes. Oh, it's you, Gordon? No, you can say it now: this is a
private line."

He listened at the receiver for a couple of minutes. The room was
very still.

"All right, come to the office at once!"

The Chief hung up the receiver and turned to the Admiral.

"She's given us the slip for the moment!" he said. "That was
Gordon speaking. He and Duff have been shadowing our lady friend
out of doors for days. She left the hotel on foot after lunch
this afternoon with my two fellows in her wake. There was a bit
of a crush on the pavement near Charing Cross and Duff was pushed
into the roadway and run over by a motor-'bus. In the confusion
Gordon lost the trail. He's wasted all this time trying to pick
it up again instead of reporting to me at once."

"Zut!" cried the Frenchman.



CHAPTER XI. CREDENTIALS

The sight of Nur-el-Din filled Desmond with alarm. For a moment
his mind was overshadowed by the dread of detection. He had
forgotten all about Mr. Crook's handiwork in the train, and his
immediate fear was that the dancer would awake and recognize him.
But then he caught sight of his face in the mirror over the
mantelpiece. The grave bearded man staring oddly at him out of
the glass gave him a shock until he realized the metamorphosis
that had taken place in his personality. The realization served
instantly to still his apprehension.

Nur-el-Din lay on her side, one hand under her face which was
turned away from the fire. She was wearing a big black musquash
coat, and over her feet she had flung a tweed overcoat,
apparently one of Mr. Bellward's from the hatstand in the hall.
Her hat, a very dainty little affair of plain black velvet, was
skewered with a couple of jewelled hatpins to the upholstery of
the settee.

Desmond watched her for a moment. Her face looked drawn and tired
now that her eyelids, with their long sweeping black lashes, were
closed, shutting off the extraordinary luminosity of her eyes. As
he stood silently contemplating her, she stirred and moaned in
her sleep and muttered some word three or four times to herself.
Desmond was conscious of a great feeling of compassion for this
strangely beautiful creature. Knowing as he did of the
hundred-eyed monster of the British Secret Service that was
watching her, he found himself thinking how frail, how helpless,
how unprotected she looked, lying there in the flickering light
of the fire.

A step resounded behind him and old Martha shuffled into the
room, carefully shading the lamp she still carried so that its
rays should not fall on the face of the sleeper.

"I don't know as I've done right, sir," she mumbled, "letting the
pore lady wait here for you like this, but I couldn't hardly help
it, sir! She says as how she must see you, and seeing as how your
first tellygram said you was coming at half-past nine, I lets her
stop on!"

"When did she arrive" asked Desmond softly.

"About six o'clock," answered the old, woman. "Walked all the way
up from Wentfield Station, too, sir, and that cold she was when
she arrived here, fair blue with the cold she was, pore dear.
D'reckly she open her lips, I sees she's a furrin' lady, sir. She
asks after you and I tells her as how you are away and won't be
back till this evening. 'Oh!' she says, I then I wait!' And in
she comes without so much as with your leave or by your leave.
She told me as how you knew her, sir, and were expecting to see
her, most important, she said it was, so I hots her up a bit o'
dinner. I hopes as how I didn't do wrong, Mr. Bellward, sir!"

"Oh, no, Martha, not at all!" Desmond replied--at random. He was
sorely perplexed as to his next move. Obviously the girl could
not stay in the house. What on earth did she want with him? And
could he, at any rate, get at the desk and read the papers of
which the note spoke and which, he did not doubt, were the
dossier of the Bellward case, before she awoke? They might, at
least, throw some light on his relations with the dancer.

"She had her dinner here by the fire," old Martha resumed her
narrative, "and about a quarter past nine comes your second
tellygram, sir, saying as how you could not arrive till five
o'clock in the morning."

Desmond glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. The hands
pointed to a quarter past five! He had lost all count of the time
in his peregrinations of the night.

"I comes in here and tells the young lady as how you wouldn't be
back last night, sir," the old woman continued, "and she says,
'Oh,' she says, 'then, where shall I go?' she says. 'Why don't
you go home, my dear?' says I, 'and pop round and see the master
in the morning,' I says, thinking the pore young lady lives about
here. And then she tells me as how she come all the way from
Lunnon and walked up from the station. As well you know, sir, the
last train up leaves Wentfield Station at five minutes to nine,
and so the pore young lady couldn't get back that night. So here
she had to stop. I got the spare room ready for her and lit a
nice fire and all, but she wouldn't go to bed not until she had
seen you. I do hope as how I've not done wrong, sir. I says to
Mr. Hill, I says..."

Desmond held up his hand to restrain her toothless babble.
Nur-el-Din had stirred and was sitting up, rubbing her eyes. Then
she caught sight of Desmond and scrambled rather unsteadily to
her feet.

"Monsieur Bellward?" she said in French, "oh, how glad I am to
see you!"

"All right, Martha," said Desmond, "see that the spare room is
ready for this lady, and don't go to bed just yet. I shall want
you to take this lady to her room."

The old woman hobbled away, leaving the two alone. As soon as the
door had closed behind her, Nur-el-Din exclaimed:

"You know me; hein!"

Desmond bowed in the most correct Continental manner.

"Who does not know the charming Nur-el-Din?" he replied.

"No!" Nur-el-Din commanded with flashing eyes, "no, not that
name! I am Madame Le Bon, you, understand, a Belgian refugee,
from Termonde!"

Rather taken aback by her imperious manner, Desmond bowed again
but said nothing.

"I received your letter," the dancer resumed, "but I did not
answer it as I did not require your assistance. But now I wish
your help. It is unfortunate that you were absent from home at
the very time I counted upon your aid."

She flashed a glance at him as though awaiting an apology.

"I am extremely sorry," said Desmond, "if I had but known..."

Nur-el-Din nodded carelessly.

"I wish to pass the night here," she went on, "in fact, I may be
here for several days. They are becoming inconvenient in London,
you understand."

"But the theatre, your professional engagements?"

"Bah, I have left the theatre. I have had enough of these stupid
English people... they know nothing of art!"

Desmond reflected a moment. Nur-el-Din's manner was most
perplexing. What on earth could induce her to adopt this tone of
condescension towards him? It nettled him. He resolved to try and
find out on what it was based.

"I am only too happy to be of assistance to you," he said,
"especially in view of the letter of introduction you sent me,
but I must tell you plainly that what you ask is impossible."

"Impossible?" repeated Nur-el-Din, stamping her feet.
"Impossible? Do you know what you are saying?"

"Perfectly," replied Desmond negligently. "Obviously, you must
stay here for the rest of the night since you cannot return to
London until the trains start running, but to stay here
indefinitely as you propose to do is out of the question. People
would talk!"

"Then it is your business to see that they don't!"

"Your letter of introduction came from one whom I am always
anxious to oblige," Desmond went on. "But the service he is
authorized to claim from me does not entitle him to jeopardize my
other activities."

He drew a breath. It was a long shot. Would it draw her?

It did. Nur-el-Din fumbled in her bag, produced a leather
pocket-book and from it produced a slip of paper folded in two.

"Read that!" she cried, "and then you shall apologize!"

Desmond took the paper. It was a sheet torn from a book of German
military field messages. "Meldedienst" (Message Service) was
printed in German at the top and there were blanks to be filled
in for the date, hour and place, and at the bottom a printed form
of acknowledgment for the recipient to sign.

In a large ostentatious, upright German handwriting was written
what follows:


"To All Whom it May Concern.

"The lady who is the bearer of this, whose description is set out
overleaf, is entitled to the full respect and assistance of the
German forces on land and sea and in the air, wherever it may be.
Her person and property are inviolate.

  "Given At Our Headquarters at Metz
  "Friedrich Wilhelm                             "Kronprinz des
                                             "Deutschen Reiches."


Across the signature was the impress of a green stamp,
lozenge-shaped, inscribed "Headquarters of the Fifth Army,
General Staff, 21st September, 1914."

On the back of the slip was a detailed description of Nur-el-Din.

Desmond bowed and handed the paper back to its owner.

"Madame must accept my humble excuses," he murmured, hardly
knowing what he was saying, so great was his surprise, "my house
and services are at Madame's disposal!"

"The other letter was from Count Plettenbach, the Prince's
A.D.C., whom I think you know!" added the dancer in a mollified
voice as she replaced the slip of paper in its pocketbook and
stowed it away in her hand-bag. Then, looking up archly at
Desmond, she said:

"Am I so distasteful, then, to have in your house?"

She made a charming picture. Her heavy fur coat had fallen open,
disclosing her full round throat, very brown against the V-shaped
opening of her white silk blouse. Her mouth was a perfect cupid's
bow, the upper lip slightly drawn up over her dazzlingly white
teeth. Before Desmond could answer her question, if answer were
needed, her mood had swiftly changed again. She put her hand out,
a little brown hand, and laying it on his shoulder, looked up
appealingly into his eyes.

"You will protect me," she said in a low voice, "I cannot bear
this hunted life. From this side, from that, they, are closing in
on me, and I am frightened, so very frightened. Promise you will
keep me from harm!"

Desmond gazed down into her warm, expressive eyes helplessly.
What she asked was impossible, he knew, but he was a soldier, not
a policeman, he told himself, and under his breath he cursed the
Chief for landing him in such a predicament. To Nur-el-Din he
said gently:

"Tell me what has happened to frighten you. Who is hunting you?
Is it the police?"

She withdrew her hand with a gesture of contempt.

"Bah!" she said bitterly. "I am not afraid of the police."

Then she sank into a reverie, her gaze fixed on the dying embers
of the fire.

"All my life has been a struggle," she went on, after a moment,
"first with hunger, then with men, then the police. I am used to
a hard life. No, it is not the police!"

"Who is it, then" asked Desmond, completely nonplused.

Nur-el-Din let her eyes rest on his face for a moment.

"You have honest eyes," she said, "your eyes are not German...
pardon me, I would not insult your race... I mean they are
different from the rest of you. One day, perhaps, those eyes of
yours may persuade me to answer your question. But I don't know
you well enough yet!"

She broke off abruptly, shaking her head.

"I am tired," she sighed and all her haughty manner returned,
"let the old woman show me to my room. I will take dejeuner with
you at one o'clock."

Desmond bowed and stepping out into the hall, called the
housekeeper. Old Martha shuffled off with the girl, leaving
Desmond staring with vacant eyes into the fire. He was conscious
of a feeling of exultation, despite his utter weariness and
craving for sleep. This girl, with her queenly ways, her swiftly
changing moods, her broad gusts of passion, interested him
enormously. If she were the quarry, why, then, the chase were
worth while! But the end? For a brief moment, he had a vision of
that frail, clinging figure swaying up against some blank wall
before a file of levelled rifles.

Then again he seemed to see old Mackwayte lying dead on the
landing of the house at Seven Kings. Had this frail girl done
this unspeakable deed? To send her to the gallows or before a
firing-squad--was this to be the end of his mission? And the
still, small voice of conscience answered: "Yes! that is what
you have come here to do!"

Old Martha came shuffling down the staircase. Desmond called to
her, remembering that he did not yet know where his bedroom was.

"Will you light me up to my room, Martha?" he said, "I want to be
sure that the sheets are not damp!"

So saying he extinguished the lamp on the table and followed the
old woman upstairs.



CHAPTER XII. AT THE MILL HOUSE

Clad in a suit of Mr. Basil Bellward's pyjamas of elaborate
blue-flowered silk, Desmond lay propped up in bed in Mr.
Bellward's luxuriously fitted bedroom, sipping his morning
coffee, and studying with absorbed interest a sheet of blue
foolscap. A number of papers lay strewn about the eiderdown
quilt. At the head of the bed a handsome Sheraton bureau stood
open.

As the French say, Mr. Bellward had refused himself nothing. His
bedroom was most tastefully furnished. The furniture was
mahogany, every piece carefully chosen, and the chintz of
curtains and upholstery was bright and attractive. A most
elaborate mahogany wardrobe was fitted into the wall, and
Desmond, investigating it, had found it to contain a very large
assortment of clothes of every description, all new or nearly so,
and bearing the name of a famous tailor of Cork Street. Folding
doors, resembling a cupboard, disclosed, when open, a marble
basin with hot water laid on, while a curtained door in the
corner of the room gave access to a white tiled bathroom. Mr.
Bellward, Desmond had reflected after his tour of the room on his
arrival, evidently laid weight on his personal comfort; for the
contrast between the cheerful comfort of his bedroom and the
musty gloom of the rooms downstairs was very marked.

A bright log fire hissed on the open hearth and the room was
pleasantly warm. Old Martha's coffee was excellent, and Desmond,
very snug in Mr. Bellward's comfortable bed, noted with regret
that the clock on the mantel-shelf marked a quarter to twelve.
But then he thought of the tete-a-tete luncheon that awaited him
at one o'clock and his face cleared. He didn't mind getting up so
much after all.

He fell again to the perusal of the documents which he had found,
as indicated in the note from headquarters, in the desk by the
bed. They were enclosed in two envelopes, one large, the other
small, both without any superscription. The large envelope
enclosed Mr. Bellward's dossier which consisted of a fairly
detailed account of his private life, movements, habits and
friends, and an account of his arrest. The small envelope
contained Desmond's eagerly expected orders.

Desmond examined the papers in the large envelope first. From
them he ascertained that the house in which he found himself was
called The Mill House, and was situated two and a half miles from
the station of Wentfield on the Great Eastern Railway in Essex.
Mr. Bellward had taken the place some eight years before, having
moved there from the Surrey hills, but had been wont to spend not
more than two months in the year there. For the rest of the time
he traveled abroad, usually passing the winter months on the
Riviera, and the spring in Switzerland or Italy. The war had
brought about a change in his habits, and Harrogate, Buxton and
Bath had taken the place of the Continental resorts which he had
frequented in peace time.

When in residence at The Mill House, Mr. Bellward had gone up to
London nearly every morning, either walking or going by
motor-cycle to the station, and not returning until dinner-time
in the evening. Sometimes he passed the night in London, and on
such occasions slept at a small hotel in Jermyn Street. His
dossier included, a long and carefully compiled list of the
people he knew in London, mostly men of the rich business set,
stockbrokers, manufacturers, solicitors, and the like. Against
every name was set a note of the exact degree of intimacy
existing between Bellward and the man in question, and any other
information that might serve Bellward's impersonator in good
stead. Desmond laid this list aside for the moment, intending to
study it more closely at his leisure.

Of intercourse with his neighbors in, the country, Mr. Bellward
apparently had none. The Mill House stood in a lonely part of the
country, remote from the more thickly populated centres of
Brentwood and Romford, on the edge of a wide tract of
inhospitable marshland, known as Morstead Fen, intersected by
those wide deep ditches which in this part of the world are known
as dykes. At this stage in the report there was a note to the
effect that the rector of Wentfield had called twice at The Mill
House but had not found Mr. Bellward at home, and that his visits
had not been returned. There were also some opinions apparently
culled locally regarding the tenant of the Mill House, set out
something in this wise:--

"Landlord of the Red Lion, Wentfield: The gentleman has never
been to the Red Lion, but sometimes orders my Ford car and always
pays regularly.

"The Stationmaster at Wentfield: A gentleman who keeps himself to
himself but very liberal with his money.

"Sir Marsham Dykes, of The Chase, Stanning: A damned unsociable
churlish fellow.

"Mr. Tracy Wentfield, of the Channings, Home Green: A very rude
man. He slammed the front door of the house in my face when I
went to ask him for a contribution to our Cottage Hospital. It is
not my habit to repeat idle gossip, but they do say he is a heavy
drinker."

There was a lot more of this sort of thing, and Desmond turned
from it with a smile to take up the account of Bellward's arrest.
It appeared that, about a fortnight before, on the eve of the
departure for France of a very large draft of troops, a telegram
was handed in at the East Strand telegraph office addressed to
Bellward. This telegram ran thus:


  "Bellward, Bellward Hotel, Jermyn Street.
  "Shipping to you Friday 22,000 please advise correspondents.
                                 "Mortimer."


The authorities were unable to deliver this telegram as no
such an hotel as the Hotel Bellward was found to exist in Jermyn
Street. An examination of the address showed clearly that the
sender had absent mindedly repeated the addressee's name in
writing the name of the hotel. An advice was therefore addressed
to the sender, Mortimer, at the address he had given on the back
of the form, according to the regulations, to inform him that his
telegram had not been delivered. It was then discovered that the
address given by Mortimer was fictitious.

Suspicion being thus aroused, the telegram was forwarded to the
Postal Censor's department whence it reached the Intelligence
Authorities who promptly spotted the connection between the
wording of the telegram and the imminent departure of the drafts,
more especially as the dates tallied. Thereupon, Mr. Bellward was
hunted up and ultimately traced by his correspondence to The Mill
House. He was not found there, but was eventually encountered at
his London hotel, and requested to appear before the authorities
with a view to throwing some light on Mortimer. Under
cross-examination Bellward flatly denied any knowledge of
Mortimer, and declared that a mistake had been made. He cited
various well known city men to speak for his bona-fides and
protested violently against the action of the authorities in
doubting his word. It was ultimately elicited that Bellward was
of German birth and had never been naturalized, and he was
detained in custody while a search was made at The Mill House.

The search was conducted with great discretion, old Martha being
got out of the way before the detectives arrived and a careful
watch being kept to avoid any chance of interruption. The search
had the most fruitful results. Hidden in a secret drawer of the
Sheraton desk in Bellward's bedroom, was found a most elaborate
analysis of the movements of the transports to France, extremely
accurate and right up to date. There was absolutely no
indication, however, as to whence Bellward received his reports,
and how or to whom he forwarded them. It was surmised that
Mortimer was his informant, but an exhaustive search of the post
office files of telegrams despatched showed no trace of any other
telegram from Mortimer to Bellward save the one in the possession
of the authorities. As for Mortimer, he remained a complete
enigma.

That, summarised, was the gist of the story of Bellward's arrest.
The report laid great stress on the fact that no one outside half
a dozen Intelligence men had any knowledge (a) of Bellward being
an unnaturalized German, (b) of his arrest.

Desmond's orders, which he reserved to the last were short and to
the point. They consisted of five numbered clauses.

"1. You will have a free hand. The surveillance of the house was
withdrawn on your arrival and will not be renewed.

"2. You will not leave the house until further orders.

"3. You will keep careful note of any communication that may be
made to you, whether verbal or in writing, of whatever nature it
is. When you have anything to be forwarded, ring up 700 Slanning
on the telephone and give Bellward's name. You will hand your
report to the first person calling at the house thereafter asking
for the letter for Mr. Elias.

"4. If help is urgently required, ring up 700 Stanning and ask
for Mr. Elias. Assistance will be with you within 15 minutes
after. This expedient must only be used in the last extremity.

"5. Memorize these documents and burn the lot before you leave
the house."

"Handy fellow, Mr. Elias," was Desmond's commentary, as he sprang
out of bed and made for the bathroom. At a quarter to one he was
ready dressed, feeling very scratchy and uncomfortable about the
beard which he had not dared to remove owing to Nur-el-Din's
presence in the house. Before he left the bedroom, he paused a
moment at the desk, the documents of the Bellward case in his
hands. He had a singularly retentive memory, and he was loth to
have these compromising papers in the house whilst Nur-el-Din was
there. He took a quick decision and pitched the whole lot into
the fire, retaining only the annotated list of Mr. Bellward's
friends. This he placed in his pocket-book and, after watching
the rest of the papers crumble away into ashes, went downstairs
to lunch.

Nur-el-Din was in the drawing-room, a long room with two high
windows which gave on a neglected looking garden. A foaming,
churning brook wound its way through the garden, among stunted
bushes and dripping willows, obviously the mill-race from which
the house took its name. The drawing-room was a bare,
inhospitable room, studded here and there with uncomfortable
looking early Victorian armchairs swathed in dust-proof cloths. A
fire was making an unsuccessful attempt to burn in the open
grate.

Nur-el-Din turned as he entered the room. She was wearing a gray
cloth tailor-made with a white silk, blouse and a short skirt
showing a pair of very natty brown boots. By contrast with her
ugly surroundings she looked fresh and dainty. Her eyes were
bright and her face as smooth and unwrinkled as a child's.

"Bon jour," she cried gaily, "ah! but I am 'ungry!  It is the air
of the country!  I love so the country!"

"I hope you slept well, Madame!" said Desmond solicitously,
looking admiringly at her trim figure.

"Like a dead man," she replied with a little laugh, translating
the French idiom. "Shall we make a leetle promenade after the
dejeuner? And you shall show me your pretty English country,
voulez-vous? You see, I am dressed for le footing!"

She lifted a little brown foot.

They had a delightful luncheon together. Old Martha, who proved
to be quite a passable cook, waited on them. There was some
excellent Burgundy and a carafe of old brandy with the coffee.
Nur-el-Din was in her most gracious and captivating mood. She had
dropped all her arrogance of their last interview and seemed to
lay herself out to please. She had a keen sense of humor and
entertained Desmond vastly by her anecdotes of her stage career,
some not a little risque, but narrated with the greatest
bon-homie.

But, strongly attracted as he was to the girl, Desmond did not
let himself lose sight of his ultimate object. He let her run on
as gaily as she might but steadily, relentlessly he swung the
conversation round to her last engagement at the Palaceum. He
wanted to see if she would make any reference to the murder at
Seven Kings. If he could only bring in old Mackwayte's name, he
knew that the dancer must allude to the tragedy.

Then the unexpected happened. The girl introduced the old
comedian's name herself.

"The only pleasant memory I shall preserve of the Palaceum," she
said in French, "is my meeting with an old comrade of my youth.
Imagine, I had not seen him for nearly twenty years. Monsieur
Mackwayte, his name is, we used to call him Monsieur Arthur in
the old days when I was the child acrobat of the Dupont Troupe.
Such a charming fellow; and not a bit changed!  He was doing a
deputy turn at the Palaceum on the last night I appeared there!
And he introduced me to his daughter! Une belle Anglaise! I shall
hope to see my old friend again when I go back to London!"

Desmond stared at her. If this were acting, the most hardened
criminal could not have carried it off better. He searched the
girl's face. It was frank and innocent. She ran on about
Mackwayte in the old days, his kindliness to everyone, his pretty
wife, without a shadow of an attempt to avoid an unpleasant
topic. Desmond began to believe that not only did the girl have
nothing to do with the tragedy but that actually she knew nothing
about it.

"Did you see the newspapers yesterday?" he asked suddenly.

"My friend," said Nur-el-Din, shaking her curls at him. "I never
read your English papers. There is nothing but the war in them.
And this war!"

She gave a little shudder and was silent.

At this moment old Martha, who had left them over their coffee
and cigarettes, came into the room.

"There's a gentleman called to see you, sir!" she said to
Desmond.

Desmond started violently. He was scarcely used to his new role
as yet.

"Who is it, Martha?" he said, mastering his agitation.

"Mr. Mortimer!" mumbled the old woman in her tired voice, "at
least that's what he said his name was. The gentleman hadn't got
a card!"

Nur-el-Din sprang up from her chair so vehemently that she upset
her coffee.

"Don't let him come in!" she cried in French.

"Did you say I was in?" Desmond asked the old housekeeper, who
was staring at the dancer.

"Why, yes, sir," the woman answered.

Desmond made a gesture of vexation.

"Where is this Mr. Mortimer?" he asked

"In the library, sir!"

"Tell him I will be with him at once."

Martha hobbled away and Desmond turned to the girl.

"You heard what my housekeeper said? The man is here. I shall
have to see him."

Nur-el-Din, white to the lips, stood by the table, nervously
twisting a little handkerchief.

"Non, non," she said rapidly, "you must not see him. He has come
to find me. Ah! if he should find out what I have done... you
will not give me up to this man?"

"You need not see him," Desmond expostulated gently, "I will say
you are not here! Who is this Mortimer that he should seek to do
you harm?"

"My friend," said the dancer sadly, "he is my evil genius. If I
had dreamt that you knew him I would never have sought refuge in
your house."

"But I've never set eyes on the man in my life!" exclaimed
Desmond.

The dancer shook her head mournfully at him.

"Very few of you have, my friend," she replied, "but you are all
under his orders, nest-ce pas?"

Desmond's heart leaped. Was Mortimer's the guiding hand of this
network of conspiracy?

"I've trusted you, Monsieur," Nur-el-Din continued in a pleading
voice, "you will respect the laws of hospitality, and hide me
from this man. You will not give me up! Promise it, my friend?"

Desmond felt strangely moved. Was this a callous murderess, a
hired spy, who, with her great eyes brimming over with tears,
entreated his protection so simply, so appealingly?

"I promise I will not give you up to him, Mademoiselle!" he said
and hated himself in the same breath for the part he had to play.
Then he left her still standing by the table, lost in thought.

Desmond walked through the hall to the room in which he had found
Nur-el-Din asleep on his arrival. His nerves were strung up tight
for the impending encounter with this Mortimer, whoever, whatever
he was. Desmond did not hesitate on the threshold of the room. He
quietly opened the door and walked in.

A man in a black and white check suit with white gaiters stood on
the hearthrug, his hands tucked behind his back. He had a
curiously young-old appearance, such as is found in professors
and scientists of a certain type. This suggestion was probably
heightened by the very strong spectacles he wore, which magnified
his eyes until they looked like large colored marbles. He had a
heavy curling moustache resembling that affected by the late Lord
Randolph Churchill. There was a good deal of mud on his boots,
showing that he had come on foot.

The two men measured one another in a brief but courteous glance.
Desmond wondered what on earth this man's profession was. He was
quite unable to place him.

"Mr. Bellward?" said Mortimer, in a pleasant cultivated voice, "I
am pleased to have this opportunity of meeting you personally."

Desmond bowed and muttered something conventional. Mortimer had
put out his hand but Desmond could not nerve himself to take it.
Instead he pushed forward a chair.

"Thanks," said Mortimer sitting down heavily, "I've had quite a
walk across the fen. It's pleasant out but damp! I suppose you
didn't get my letter?"

"Which letter was that" asked Desmond.

"Why the one asking you to let me know when you would be back so
that we might meet at last!"

Desmond shook his head.

"No," he said, "I didn't get that one. It must have gone astray.
As a matter of fact," he added, "I only got back this morning."

"Oh, well then, I am fortunate in my visit," said Mortimer. "Did
everything go off all right?"

"Oh, yes," Desmond hastened to say, not knowing what he was
talking about, "everything went off all right."

"I don't in the least grudge you the holiday," the other
observed, "one should always be careful to pay the last respects
to the dead. It makes a good impression. That is so important in
some countries!"

He beamed at Desmond through his spectacles.

"Was there anything left in your absence?" he asked, "no, there
would be nothing; I suppose!"

Desmond took a firm resolution. He must know what the man was
driving at.

"I don't know what you mean," he said bluntly.

"God bless my soul!" ejaculated Mortimer turning round to stare
at him through his grotesque glasses. And then he said very
deliberately in German:

"War niemand da?"

Desmond stood up promptly.

"What do you want with me?" he asked quietly, "and why do you
speak German in my house?" Mortimer gazed at him blankly.

"Excellence, most excellent," he gasped. "I love prudence. My
friend, where are your eyes?"

He put a large, firm hand up and touched the upper edge of the
left lapel of his jacket. Desmond followed his gesture with his
eyes and saw the other's first finger resting on the shiny glass
head of a black pin. Almost instinctively Desmond imitated the
gesture. His fingers came into contact with a glassheaded pin
similarly embedded in the upper edge of the lapel of his own
coat.

Then he understood. This must be the distinguishing badge of this
confraternity of spies. It was a clever idea, for the black pin
was practically invisible, unless one looked for it, and even if
seen, would give rise to no suspicions. It had obviously escaped
the notice of the Chief and his merry men, and Desmond made a
mental resolve to rub this omission well into his superior on the
first opportunity. He felt he owed the Chief one.

Mr. Mortimer cleared his throat, as though to indicate the
conclusion of the episode. Desmond sat down on the settee.

"Nothing came while I was away!" he said.

"Now that you are back," Mortimer remarked, polishing his glasses
with a bandanna handkerchief, "the service will be resumed. I
have come to see you, Mr. Bellward," he went on, turning to
Desmond, "contrary to my usual practice, mainly because I wished
to confirm by personal observation the very favorable opinion I
had formed of your ability from our correspondence. You have
already demonstrated your discretion to me. If you continue to
show that your prudence is on a level with your zeal, believe I
shall not prove myself ungrateful."

So saying he settled his glasses on his nose again.

The action woke Desmond from a brown study. During the operation
of wiping his spectacles, Mr. Mortimer had given Desmond a
glimpse of his eyes in their natural state without the protection
of those distorting glasses. To his intense surprise Desmond had
seen, instead of the weak, blinking eyes of extreme myopia, a
pair of keen piercing eyes with the clear whites of perfect
health. Those blue eyes, set rather close together, seemed dimly
familiar. Someone, somewhere, had once looked at him like that.

"You are too kind," murmured Desmond, grappling for the thread of
the conversation.

Mortimer did not apparently notice his absentmindedness.

"Everything has run smoothly," he resumed, "on the lines on which
we have been working hitherto, but more important work lies
before us. I have found it necessary to select a quiet rendezvous
where I might have an opportunity of conferring in person with my
associates. The first of these conferences will take place very
shortly. I count upon your attendance, Bellward!"

"I shall not fail you," replied Desmond. "But where is this
rendezvous of yours, might I ask?"

Mortimer shot a quick glance at him.

"You shall know in good time," he answered drily. Then he added:

"Do you mind if I have a few words with Nur-el-Din before I go!"

The unexpected question caught Desmond off his guard.

"Nur-el-Din?" he stammered feebly.

"She is staying with you, I believe," said Mortimer pleasantly.

Desmond shook his head.

"There must be some mistake," he averred stoutly, "of course I
know who you mean, but I have never met the lady. She is not
here. What led you to suppose she was?"

But even as he spoke, his eyes fell on a black object which lay
near his arm stretched out along the back of the settee. It was a
little velvet hat, skewered to the upholstery of the settee by a
couple of jewelled hat-pins. A couple of gaudy cushions lay
between it and Mortimer's range of vision from the chair in which
the latter was sitting. If only Mortimer had not spotted it
already!

Desmond's presence of mind did not desert him. On the pretext of
settling himself more comfortably he edged up another cushion
until it rested upon the other two, thus effectively screening
the hat from Mortimer's view even when he should get up.

"I wish she were here," Desmond added, smiling, "one could not
have a more delightful companion to share one's solitude, I
imagine."

"The lady has disappeared from London under rather suspicious
circumstances;" Mortimer said, letting his grotesque eyes rest
for a moment on Desmond's face, "to be quite frank with you, my
dear fellow, she has been indiscreet, and the police are after
her."

"You don't say!" cried Desmond.

"Indeed, it is a fact," replied the other, "I wish she would take
you as her model, my dear Bellward. You are the pattern of
prudence, are you not?"

He paused perceptibly and Desmond held his breath.

"She has very few reputable friends," Mortimer continued
presently, "under a cloud as she is, she could hardly frequent
the company of her old associates, Mowbury and Lazarro and Mrs.
Malplaquet, you doubtless know whom I mean. I know she has a very
strong recommendation to you, so I naturally thought--well, no
matter!"

He rose and extended his hand.

"Au revoir, Bellward," he said, "you shall hear from me very
soon. You've got a snug little place here, I must say, and
everything in charming taste. I like your pretty cushions."

The blood flew to Desmond's face and he bent down, on pretense of
examining the cushions, to hide his confusion.

"They aren't bad," he said, "I got them at Harrod's!"

He accompanied Mortimer to the front door and watched him
disappear down the short drive and turn out of the gate into the
road. Then feeling strangely ill at ease, he went back to join
Nur-el-Din in the dining-room. But only the housekeeper was
there, clearing the table.

"If you're looking for the young lady, sir," said old Martha,
"she's gone out!"

"Oh!" said Desmond, with a shade of disappointment in his voice,
"will she be back for tea?"

"She's not coming back at all," answered the old woman, "she told
me to tell you she could not stop, sir. And she wouldn't let me
disturb you, neither, sir."

"But did she leave no note or anything for me?" asked Desmond.

"No, sir," answered old Martha as she folded up the cloth.

Gone! Desmond stared gloomily out at the sopping garden with an
uneasy feeling that he had failed in his duty.



CHAPTER XIII. WHAT SHAKESPEARE'S COMEDIES REVEALED

In a very depressed frame of mind, Desmond turned into the
library. As he crossed the hall, he noticed how cheerless the
house was. Again there came to him that odor of mustiness--of all
smells the most eerie and drear--which he had noticed on his
arrival. Somehow, as long as Nur-el-Din had been there, he had
not remarked the appalling loneliness of the place.

A big log fire was blazing cheerfully in the grate, throwing out
a bright glow into the room which, despite the early hour, was
already wreathed in shadows. Wearily Desmond pulled a big
armchair up to the blaze and sat down. He told himself that he
must devote every minute of his spare time to going over in his
mind the particulars he had memorized of Mr. Bellward's habits
and acquaintanceships. He took the list of Bellward's friends
from his pocket-book.

But this afternoon he found it difficult to concentrate his
attention. His gaze kept wandering back to the fire, in whose
glowing depths he fancied he could see a perfect oval face with
pleading eyes and dazzling teeth looking appealingly at him.

Nur-el-Din! What an entrancing creature she was! What passion
lurked in those black eyes of hers, in her moods, swiftly
changing from gusts of fierce imperiousness to gentle airs of
feminine charm! What a frail little thing she was to have fought
her way alone up the ladder from the lowest rung to the very top!
She must have character and grit, Desmond decided, for he was a
young man who adored efficiency: to him efficiency spelled
success.

But a spy needs grit, he reflected, and Nur-el-Din had many
qualities which would enable her to win the confidence of men.
Hadn't she half-captivated him, the would-be spy-catcher,
already?

Desmond laughed ruefully to himself. Indeed, he mused, things
looked that way. What would the Chief say if he could see his
prize young man, his white-headed boy, sitting sentimentalizing
by the fire over a woman who was, by her own confession,
practically an accredited German agent? Desmond thrust his chin
out and shook himself together. He would put the feminine side of
Nur-el-Din out of his head. He must think of her henceforth only
as a member of the band that was spotting targets for those
sneaking, callous brutes of U-boat commanders.

He went back to the study of the list of Mr. Bellward's friends.
But he found it impossible to focus his mind upon it. Do what he
would, he could not rid himself of the sensation that he had
failed at the very outset of his mission. He was, indeed, he told
himself, the veriest tyro at the game. Here he had had under his
hand in turn Nur-el-Din and Mortimer (who, he made no doubt, was
the leader of the gang which was so sorely troubling the Chief),
and he had let both get away without eliciting from either even
as much as their address. By the use of a little tact, he had
counted on penetrating something of the mystery enveloping the
dancer and her relationship with the gang; for he thought he
divined that Nur-el-Din was inclined to make him her confidant.
With the information thus procured, he had hoped to get on to the
track of the leader of the band.

But that ugly brute; Mortimer, with his goggle eyes, had spoiled
everything. His appearance had taken Desmond completely by
surprise: to tell the truth, it had thrown our young man rather
off his guard. "If only I might have had a little longer
acquaintance with my part," he reflected bitterly as he sat by
the fire, "I should have been better able to deal with that
pompous ass!"

Afterwards, when thinking over the opening events of this
extraordinary episode of his career, Desmond rather wondered why
he had not followed Mortimer out of the house that afternoon and
tracked him down to his hiding place. But, as a matter of fact,
the idea did not occur to him at the time. His orders were
positive not to leave the house, and he never even thought of
breaking them--at any rate, not then.

His orders, also, it is true, were to report to headquarters any
communication that might be made to him; but these instructions,
at least as far as Nur-el-Din's and Mortimer's visits were
concerned, he resolved to ignore.

For one thing, he felt angry with the Chief who, he argued rather
irrationally, ought to have foreseen and prevented Mortimer thus
taking him by surprise. The Chief liked secrets--well, for a
change, he should be kept in the dark and the laugh would be on
Desmond's side. For a few minutes after Mortimer's departure,
Desmond had felt strongly inclined to go to the telephone which
stood on the desk in the library and ring up Mr. Elias, as he
should have done, but he resisted this impulse. Now, thinking
things over in the firelight, he was glad he had refrained. He
would ferret out for himself the exact part that Nur-el-Din and
Mortimer were playing in this band of spies. Nothing definite had
come of his interviews with them as yet. It would be time enough
to communicate with Headquarters when he had something positive
to report.

Then Desmond thrust the paper he had been studying back in his
pocket-book and jumped up. He felt that the inaction was stifling
him. He determined to go for a walk round the garden. That, at
least, was in the spirit of his orders.

Remembering that he was supposed to be suffering from a chill he
donned a heavy Ulster of Bellward's which was hanging in the hall
and wound a muffler round his neck. Then cramming a soft cap on
his head (he noted with satisfaction that Bellward's hats fitted
him remarkably well) he opened the front door and stepped
outside.

The rain had stopped, but the whole atmosphere reeked of
moisture. Angry-looking, dirty-brown clouds chased each other
across the lowering sky, and there was a constant sound of water,
trickling and gurgling and splashing, in his ears.

An untidy-looking lawn with a few unkempt and overgrown
rhododendron bushes dotted here and there ran its length in front
of the house and terminated in an iron railing which separated
the grounds from a little wood. A badly water-logged drive, green
with grass in places, ran past the lawn in a couple of short
bends to the front gate. On the other side the drive was bordered
by what had once been a kitchen garden but was now a howling
wilderness of dead leaves, mud and gravel with withered bushes
and half a dozen black, bare and dripping apple trees set about
at intervals. At the side of the house the kitchen garden stopped
and was joined by a flower garden--at least so Desmond judged it
to have been by a half ruined pergola which he had noticed from
the drawing-room windows. Through the garden ran the mill-race
which poured out of the grounds through a field and under a
little bridge spanning the road outside.

Desmond followed the drive as far as the front gate. The
surrounding country was as flat as a pancake, and in almost every
field lay great glistening patches of water where the land had
been flooded by the incessant rain. The road on which the house
was built ran away on the left to the mist-shrouded horizon
without another building of any kind in sight. Desmond surmised
that Morstead Fen lay in the direction in which he was looking.
To the right, Desmond caught a glimpse of a ghostly spire
sticking out of some trees and guessed that this was Wentfield
Church. In front of him the distant roar of a passing train
showed where the Great Eastern Railway line lay.

More depressed than ever by the utter desolation of the scene,
Desmond turned to retrace his steps to the house. Noticing a path
traversing the kitchen garden, he followed it. It led to the back
of the house, to the door of a kind of lean-to shed. The latch
yielded on being pressed and Desmond entered the place.

He found himself in a fair-sized shed, very well and solidly
built of pitch-pine, with a glazed window looking out on the
garden, a table and a couple of chairs, and a large cupboard
which occupied the whole of one side of the wall of the house
against which the shed was built. In a corner of the shed stood a
very good-looking Douglas motor-cycle, and on a nail on the wall
hung a set of motor-cyclist's overalls. A few petrol cans, some
full, some empty, stood against the wall.

Desmond examined the machine. It was in excellent condition,
beautifully clean, the tank half full of spirits. A little dry
sand on the tires showed that it had been used fairly recently.

"Old man Bellward's motor-bike that he goes to the station on,"
Desmond noted mentally. "But what's in the big cupboard, I
wonder? Tools, I expect!"

Then he caught sight of a deep drawer in the table. It was
half-open and he saw that it contained various tools and spare
parts, neatly arranged, each one in its appointed place.

He went over to the cupboard and tried it. It was locked. Desmond
had little respect for Mr. Bellward's property so he went over to
the tool drawer and selected a stout chisel with which to burst
the lock of the cupboard. But the cupboard was of oak, very
solidly built, and he tried in vain to get a purchase for his
implement. He leant his left hand against the edge of the
cupboard whilst with his right he jabbed valiantly with the
chisel.

Then an extraordinary thing happened. The whole cupboard
noiselessly swung outwards while Desmond, falling forward, caught
his forehead a resounding bang against the edge of the recess in
which it moved. He picked himself up in a very savage frame of
mind--a severe blow on the head is not the ideal cure for
hypochondria--but the flow of objurgatives froze on his lips. For
he found himself looking into Mr. Bellward's library.

He stepped into the room to see how the cupboard looked from the
other side. He found that a whole section of bookshelves had
swung back with the cupboard, in other words that the cupboard in
the toolshed and the section of bookshelves were apparently all
of one piece.

He carefully examined the walls on either side of the recess in
the library to see how the mechanism worked. The bookshelves were
open, made of mahogany, the sides elaborately carved with leaves
and flowers. Desmond ran his hand down the perpendicular section
immediately on the right of the recess. About halfway down--to be
exact, it was in line with the fifth shelf from the floor--his
fingers encountered a little knob which gave under pressure--the
heart of a flower which released the section of bookshelves.
Going back to the shed, Desmond examined the place against which
his hand had rested as he sought to force the lock of the
cupboard. As he expected, he found a similar catch let into the
surface of the oak, but so cunningly inlaid that it could scarce
be detected with the naked eye.

Before proceeding further with his investigations, Desmond softly
turned the lock of the library door. He also shot forward a bolt
he found on the inside of the door of the shed. He did not want
to be interrupted by the housekeeper or the odd man.

Then he went back to the library and pulled the cupboard to
behind him. It moved quite easily into place. He wanted to have a
look at the bookshelves; for he was curious to know whether the
cupboard was actually all of one piece with the section of
bookshelves as it seemed to be. He was prepared to find that the
books were merely library dummies, but no! He tried half a dozen
shelves at random, and every book he pulled out was real.

Desmond was not easily baffled, and he determined to scrutinize
every shelf, of this particular section in turn. With the aid of
one of those step-ladders folding into a chair which you
sometimes see in libraries, he examined the topmost shelves but
without result. He took down in turn Macaulay's History of
England, a handsome edition of the works of Swift, and a set of
Moliere without getting any nearer the end of his quest.

The fourth shelf from the top was devoted to a library edition of
Shakespeare, large books bound in red morocco. Desmond, who, by
this time was getting cramp in the arms from stretching upwards
and had made his hands black with dust, pulled out a couple of
volumes at hazard from the set and found them real books like the
rest.

"Oh, damn!" he exclaimed, and had half a mind to abandon the
search and have a go with hammer and chisel at the cupboard in
the shed. By this time it was almost dusk in the library, and
Desmond, before abandoning the search, struck a match to have a
final rapid glance over the shelves. The light showed him a
curious flatness about the backs of the last six volumes of
Shakespeare. He dropped the match and laid hold of a volume of
the Comedies. It resisted. He tugged. Still it would not come.
Exerting all his strength, he pulled, the gilt-lettered backs of
the last six volumes came away in his hands in one piece and he
crashed off the ladder to the ground.

This time he did not swear. He picked himself up quickly, lit the
lamp on the table by the window, and brought it over to the
bookcase. Where Shakespeare's Comedies had stood was now a gaping
void with a small key stuck in a lock, above a brass handle.
Desmond mounted on the steps again and eagerly turned the key.
Then he grasped the handle and puled, the section of bookshelves
swung back like a door, and he found himself face to face with a
great stack of petrol cans. They lay in orderly piles stretching
from the floor to the top of the bookshelves near the railing,
several tiers deep. At a rough computation there must have been
several hundred cans in the recess. And they were all full.

In a flash Desmond realized what his discovery signified. The
motor-cycle in the shed without was the connecting link between
Bellward and the man with whom he was co-operating in the
organization. Under pretext of reading late in his library
Bellward would send old Martha to bed, and once the house was
quiet, sally forth by his secret exit and meet his confederate.
Even when he was supposed to be sleeping in London he could still
use the Mill House for a rendezvous, entering and leaving by the
secret door, and no one a bit the wiser. In that desolate part of
Essex, the roads are practically deserted after dark. Bellward
could come and go much as he pleased on his motor-cycle. Were he
stopped, he always had the excuse ready that he was going to--or
returning from the station. The few petrol cans that Desmond had
seen openly displayed in the shed without seemed to show that
Bellward received a small quantity of spirit from the Petrol
Board to take him to and from the railway.

The cache, so elaborately concealed, however, pointed to long
journeys. Did Bellward undertake these trips to fetch news or to
transmit it? And who was his confederate? Whom did he go to meet?
Not Mortimer; for he had only, corresponded with Bellward. Nor
was it Nur-el-Din; for she had never met Bellward, either.

Who was it, then?



CHAPTER XIV. BARBARA TAKES A HAND

"No luck, Mr. Marigold," said the Assistant Provost Marshal, "I'm
sorry, but there it is! We've made every possible inquiry about
this Private... er..." he glanced at the buff-colored leave pass
in his hand, "... this Gunner Barling, but we can't trace him so
far. He should have gone back to France the afternoon before the
day on which you found his pass. But he hasn't rejoined his unit.
He's been posted as an absentee, and the police have been warned.
I'm afraid we can't do any more than that!"

The detective looked at the officer with mild reproach in his
eyes.

"Dear, dear," he replied, "and I made sure you'd be able to trace
him with that pass!"

He clicked his tongue against his teeth and shook his head.

"Dear, dear!" he said again.

"What's the feller been up to?" asked the A.P.M. Detectives have
a horror of leading questions, and Mr. Marigold shrank visibly
before the directness of the other's inquiry. Before replying,
however, he measured the officer with his calm, shrewd eye. Mr.
Marigold was not above breaking his own rules of etiquette if
thereby he might gain a useful ally.

"Well, Captain Beardiston," he answered slowly,
"I'll tell you because I think that you may be able to help me a
little bit. It's part of your work to look after deserters and
absentees and those sort o' folk, isn't it?"

The A.P.M. groaned.

"Part of my work?" he repeated, "it seems to be my whole life
ever since I came back from the front."

"If you want to know what this young fellow has been up to," said
Mr. Marigold in his even voice, "it's murder, if I'm not
mistaken!"

"Murder?" echoed the other in surprise. "Why, not the Seven Kings
murder, surely?"

The detective gave a brisk nod.

"That's it," he replied, "I'm in charge of that case, if you
follow me. I found that pass in the front garden of the
Mackwayte's house in Laleham Villas, half trodden into the earth
of the flower-bed by a heavy boot, a service boot, studded with
nails. There had been a lot of rain in the night, and it had
washed the mosaic-tiled pathway up to the front door almost
clean. When I was having a look round the garden, I picked up
this pass, and then I spotted the trace of service boots, a bit
faint, on the beds. You know the way the nails are set in the
issue boots?"

The officer nodded:

"I ought to know that foot-print," he said. "It's all over the
roads in northern France."

"We made inquiries through you," the detective resumed, "and when
I found that this Gunner Barling, the owner of the pass, was
missing, well, you will admit, it looked a bit suspicious."

"Still, you know," the A.P.M. objected, "this man appears to have
the most excellent character. He's got a clean sheet; he's never
gone absent before. And he's been out with his battery almost
since the beginning of the war."

"I'm not making any charge against him as yet," answered the
detective, picking up his hat, "but it would interest me very
much, very much indeed, Captain Beardiston, to have five minutes'
chat with this gunner. And so I ask you to keep a sharp lookout
for a man answering to his description, and if you come across
him, freeze on to him hard, and give me a ring on the telephone."

"Right you are," said the officer, "I'll hold him for you, Mr.
Marigold. But I hope your suspicions are not well-founded."

For a brief moment the detective became a human being.

"And so do I, if you want to know," he said. "One can forgive
those lads who are fighting out there almost anything. I've got a
boy in France myself!"

A little sigh escaped him, and then Mr. Marigold remembered "The
Yard."

"I'll bid you good-day!" he added in his most official voice and
took his leave.

He walked down the steps by the Duke of York's column and through
the Horse Guards into Whitehall, seemingly busy with his own
thoughts. A sprucely dressed gentleman who was engaged in the
exciting and lucrative sport of war profiteering turned color and
hastily swerved out towards the Park as he saw the detective
crossing the Horse Guards' Parade. He was unpleasantly reminded
of making the acquaintance of Mr. Marigold over a bucketshop a
few years ago with the result that he had vanished from the eye
of his friends for eighteen months. He congratulated himself on
thinking that Mr. Marigold had not seen him, but he would have
recognized his mistake could he but have caught sight of the
detective's face. A little smile flitted across Mr. Marigold's
lips and he murmured to himself:

"Our old friend is looking very prosperous just now. I wonder
what he's up to?"

Mr. Marigold didn't miss much.

The detective made his way to the Chief's office. Barbara
Mackwayte, in a simple black frock with white linen collar and
cuffs, was at her old place in the ante-room. A week had elapsed
since the murder, and the day before, Mr. Marigold knew, the
mortal remains of poor old Mackwayte had been laid to rest. He
was rather surprised to see the girl back at work so soon.

She did not speak to him as she showed him into the Chief, but
there was a question lurking in her gray eyes.

Mr. Marigold looked at her and gravely shook his head.

"Nothing fresh," he said.

The Chief was unusually exuberant. Mr. Marigold found him
surrounded, as was his wont, by papers, and a fearsome collection
of telephone receivers. He listened in silence to Mr. Marigold's
account of his failure to trace Barling.

"Marigold," he said, when the other had finished, "we must
undoubtedly lay hold of this fellow. Let's see now... ah! I have
it!"

He scribbled a few lines on a writing-pad and tossed it across to
the detective.

"If your friend's innocent," he chuckled, "that'll fetch him to a
dead certainty. If he murdered Mackwayte, of course he won't
respond. Read it out and let's hear how it sounds!"

The Chief leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette while the
detective read out:

"If Gunner Barling, etcetera, etcetera, will communicate with
Messrs. Blank and Blank, solicitors, he will hear of something to
his advantage. Difficulties with the military can be arranged."

"But I say, sir," objected Mr. Marigold, "the military
authorities will hardly stand for that last, will they?"

"Won't they, by Jove" retorted the Chief grimly. "They will if I
tell 'em to. No official soullessness for me; thank you! And now,
Marigold, just ask Matthews to fill in Barling's regimental
number and all that and the name and address of the solicitors
who do this kind of thing for us. And tell him we'll insert the
ad. daily until further notice in the Mail, Chronicle, Daily
News, Sketch, Mirror, Evening News..."

"And Star," put in Mr. Marigold who had Radical tendencies.

"The Star, too, by all means. That ought to cover the extent of
your pal's newspaper reading, I fancy, eh, Marigold! Right!"

He held out a hand in farewell. But Mr. Marigold stood his
ground. He was rather a slow mover, and there were a lot of
things he wanted to discuss with the Chief.

"I was very sorry to see poor Major Okewood in the casualty list
this morning, sir," he said. "I was going to ask you..."

"Ah, terrible, terrible!" said the Chief. Then he added:

"Just tell Miss Mackwayte I want her as you go out, will you?"

The detective was used to surprises but the Chief still bowled
him out occasionally. Before he knew what he was doing, Mr.
Marigold found himself in the ante-room doing as he was bid.

As soon as her father's funeral was over; Barbara had insisted on
returning to work. The whole ghastly business of the murder and
the inquest that followed seemed to her like a bad dream which
haunted her day and night. By tacit consent no one in the office
had made any further allusion, to the tragedy. She had just
slipped back into her little niche, prompt, punctual, efficient
as ever.

"No, it's not for the letters," the Chief said to her as she came
in with her notebook and pencil. "I'm going to give you a little
trip down to the country this afternoon, Miss Mackwayte... to,
Essex... the Mill House, Wentfield... you know whom it is you are
to see, eh? I'm getting a little restless as we've had no reports
since he arrived there. I had hoped, by this, to have been able
to put him on the track of Nur-el-Din, but, for the moment, it
looks as if we had lost the scent. But you can tell our friend
all we know about the lady's antecedents--what we had from my
French colleague the other day, you know? Let him have all the
particulars about this Barling case--you know about that, don't
you? Good, and, see here, try and find out from our mutual friend
what he intends doing. I don't want to rush him... don't let him
think that... but I should rather like to discover whether he has
formed any plan. And now you get along. There's a good train
about three which gets you down to Wentfield in just under the
hour. Take care of yourself! See you in the morning!"

Pressing a bell with one hand and lifting up a telephone receiver
with the other, the Chief immersed himself again in his work. He
appeared to have forgotten Miss Mackwayte's very existence.

At a quarter to five that evening, Barbara unlatched the front
gate of the Mill House and walked up the drive. She had come on
foot from the station and the exercise had done her good. It had
been a deliciously soft balmy afternoon, but with the fall of
dusk a heavy mist had come creeping up from the sodden, low-lying
fields and was spreading out over the neglected garden of Mr.
Bellward's villa as Barbara entered the avenue.

The damp gloom of the place, however, depressed her not at all.
She exulted in the change of scene and the fresh air; besides,
she knew that the presence of Desmond Okewood would dispel the
vague fears that had hung over her incessantly ever since her
father's murder. She had only met him twice, she told herself
when this thought occurred to her, but there was something
bracing and dependable about him that was just the tonic she
wanted.

A porter at the station, who was very intelligent as country
porters go, had told her the way to the Mill House. The way was
not easy to find for there were various turns to make but, with
the aid of such landmarks as an occasional inn, a pond or a barn,
given her by the friendly porter, Barbara reached her
destination. Under the porch she pulled the handle of the bell,
all dank and glistening with moisture, and heard it tinkle loudly
somewhere within the house.

How lonely the place was, thought Barbara with a little shiver!
The fog was growing thicker every minute and now seemed suspended
like a vast curtain between her and the drive. Somewhere in the
distance she heard the hollow gurgling of a stream. Otherwise,
there was no sound.

She rang the bell again rather nervously and waited. In her bag
she had a little torch-light (for she was a practical young
person), and taking it out, she flashed it on the door. It
presented a stolid, impenetrable oaken front. She stepped out
into the fog and scanned the windows which were already almost
lost to view. They were dark and forbidding.

Again she tugged at the bell. Again, with a groaning of wires,
responded the hollow tinkle. Then silence fell once more. Barbara
began to get alarmed. What had happened to Major Okewood? She had
understood that there was no question of his leaving the house
until the Chief gave him the word. Where, then, was he? He was
not the man to disobey an order. Rather than believe that, she
would think that something untoward had befallen him. Had there
been foul play here, too?

A sudden panic seized her. She grasped the bell and tugged and
tugged until she could tug no more. The bell jangled and pealed
and clattered reverberatingly from the gloomy house, and then,
with a jarring of wires, relapsed into silence. Barbara beat on
the door with her hands, for there was no knocker; but all
remained still within. Only the dank mist swirled in ever denser
about her as she stood beneath the dripping porch.

"This won't do!" said Barbara, pulling herself together. "I
mustn't get frightened, whatever I do! Major Okewood is very well
capable of defending himself. What's happened is that the man has
been called away and the servants have taken advantage of his
absence to go out! Barbara, my dear, you'll just have to foot it
back to the station without your tea!"

She turned her back on the door and torch in hand, plunged
resolutely into the fog-bank. The mist was bewilderingly thick.
Still, by going slow and always keeping the gravel under her
feet, she reached the front gate and turned out on the road.

Here the mist was worse than ever. She had not taken four paces
before she had lost all sense of her direction. The gate, the
railways, were gone. She was groping in a clinging pall of fog.

Her torch was worse than useless. It only illuminated swirling
swathes of mist and confused her, so she switched it out. In vain
she looked about her, trying to pick up some landmark to guide
her. There was no light, no tree, no house visible, nothing but
the dank, ghostly mist.

To some temperaments, Nature has no terrors. Barbara, to whose
imagination an empty house at dusk had suggested all kinds of
unimaginable fears, was not in the least frightened by the fog.
She only hoped devoutly that a motor-car or a trap would not come
along behind and run her down for she was obliged to keep to the
road; the hard surface beneath her feet was her only guide.

She smiled over her predicament as she made her way along. She
frequently found herself going off the road, more than once into
patches of water, with the result that in a few minutes her feet
were sopping. Still she forged ahead, with many vain halts to
reconnoitre while the fog, instead of lifting, seemed to thicken
with every step she took.

By this time she knew she was completely lost. Coming from the
station there had been, she remembered, a cross-roads with a
sign-board set up on a grass patch, about a quarter of a mile
from the Mill House. She expected every minute to come upon this
fork; again and again she swerved out to the left from her line
of march groping for the sign-post with her hands but she never
encountered it.

Few sounds came to break in upon the oppressive silence of the
mist. Once or twice Barbara heard a train roaring along in the
distance and, at one of her halts, her ear caught the high rising
note of a motor engine a long way off. Except for these
occasional reminders of the proximity of human beings, she felt
she must be on a desert island instead of less than two score
miles from London.

Her wrist watch showed her that she had walked for an hour when
she heard a dog barking somewhere on the left of the road.
Presently, she saw a blurred patch of radiance apparently on the
ground in front of her. So deceptive are lights seen through a
fog that she was quite taken aback suddenly to come upon a long
low house with a great beam of light streaming out of the door.

The house was approached by a little bridge across a broad ditch.
By the bridge stood a tall, massive post upon which a sign
squeaked softly as it swayed to and fro. The inn was built round
three sides of a square, the left-hand side being the house
itself, the centre, the kitchen, and the right-hand side a
tumble-down stable and some sheds.

The welcome blaze of light coming from the open door was very
welcome to Barbara after her, long journey through the mist. She
dragged her wet and weary feet across the little bridge and went
up to the inn-door.

She stood for a moment at the entrance dazzled by the effect of
the light on her eyes, which were smarting with the fog. She
found herself looking into a long, narrow, taproom, smelling of
stale beer and tobacco fumes, and lit by oil lamps suspended in
wire frames from the raftered ceiling. The windows were curtained
in cheerful red rep and the place was pleasantly warmed by a
stove in one corner. By the stove was a small door apparently
leading into the bar, for beside it was a window through which
Barbara caught a glimpse of beer-engines and rows of bottles.
Opposite the doorway in which she stood was another door leading
probably to the back of the house. Down the centre of the room
ran a long table.

The tap-room was empty when Barbara entered but as she sat down
at the table, the door opposite opened, and a short,
foreign-looking woman came out. She stepped dead on seeing the
girl: Her face seemed familiar to Barbara.

"Good evening" said the latter, "I've lost my way in the fog and
I'm very wet. Do you think I could have my shoes and stockings
dried and get some tea? I..."

"A moment! I go to tell Meester Rass," said the woman with a very
marked foreign accent and in a frightened kind of voice and
slipped out by the way she came.

"Where have I met that woman before?" Barbara asked herself, as
she crossed to tile stove to get warm. The woman's face seemed to
be connected in her mind with something unpleasant, something she
wanted to forget. Then a light dawned on her. Why, it was...

A shrill cry broke in upon her meditations, a harsh scream of
rage. Barbara turned quickly and saw Nur-el-Din standing in the
centre of the room. She was transfigured with passion. Her whole
body quivered, her nostrils were dilated, her eyes flashed fire,
and she pointed an accusing finger at Barbara.

"Ah! miserable!" she cried in a voice strangled with rage, "ah!
miserable! Te voile enrol."

A cold chill struck at Barbara's heart. Wherever she went, the
hideous spectre of the tragedy of her father seemed to follow
her. And now Nur-el-Din had come to upbraid her with losing the
treasure she had entrusted to her.

"Nur-el-Din," the girl faltered in a voice broken with tears.

"Where is it I Where is the silver box I gave into your charge?
Answer me. Mais reponds, donc, canaille!"

The dancer stamped furiously with her foot and advanced
menacingly on Barbara.

An undersized; yellow-faced man came quickly out of the small
door leading from the bar and stood an instant, a helpless
witness of the scene, as men are when women quarrel.

Nur-el-Din rapped out an order to him in a tongue which was
unknown to Barbara. It sounded something like Russian. The man
turned and locked the door of the bar, then stepped swiftly
across the room and bolted the outer door.

Barbara recognized the threat that the action implied and it
served to steady her nerves. She shrank back no longer but drew
herself up and waited calmly for the dancer to reach her.

"The box you gave me," said Barbara very quietly, "was stolen
from me by the person who... who murdered my father!"

Nur-el-Din burst into a peal of malicious laughter.

"And you?" she cried, "you are 'ere to sell it back to me, hein,
or to get your blood money from your accomplice? Which is it?"

On this Barbara's self-control abandoned her.

"Oh, how dare you! How dare you!" she exclaimed, bursting into
tears, "when that wretched box you made me take was the means of
my losing the dearest friend I ever had!"

Nur-el-Din thrust her face, distorted with passion, into
Barbara's. She spoke in rapid French, in a low, menacing voice.

"Do you think this play-acting will deceive me? Do you think I
don't know the value of the treasure I was fool enough to entrust
to your safe keeping? Grand Dieu! I must have been mad not to
have remembered that no woman could resist the price that they
were willing to pay for it! And to think what I have risked for
it! Is all my sacrifice to have been in vain?"

Her voice rose to a note of pleading and the tears started from
her eyes. Her mood changed. She began to wheedle.

"Come, ma petite, you will help me recover my little box,
n'est-ce pas? You will find me generous. And I am rich, I have
great savings. I can..."

Barbara put up her hands and pushed the dancer away from her.

"After what you have said to me to-night," she said, "I wouldn't
give you back your box even if I had it."

She turned to the man.

"Will you tell me the way to the nearest station" she went on,
"and kindly open that door!"

The man looked interrogatively at Nur-el-Din who spoke a few
words rapidly in the language she had used before. Then she cried
to Barbara:

"You stay here until you tell me what you have done with the
box!"

Barbara had turned to the dancer when the latter spoke so that
she did not notice that the man had moved stealthily towards her.
Before she could struggle or cry out, a hand as big as a spade
was clapped over her mouth, she was seized in an iron grip and
half-dragged, half-carried out of the taproom through the small
door opposite the front entrance.

The door slammed behind them and Barbara found herself in
darkness. She was pushed round a corner and down a flight of
stairs into some kind of cellar which smelt of damp straw. Here
the grip on her mouth was released for a second but before she
could utter more than a muffled cry the man thrust a handkerchief
into her mouth and effectually gagged her. Then he tied her hands
and feet together with some narrow ropes that cut her wrists
horribly. He seemed to be able to see in the dark for, though the
place was black as pitch, he worked swiftly and skillfully.
Barbara felt herself lifted and deposited on a bundle of straw.
In a little she heard the man's heavy foot-step on the stair,
there was a crash as of a trap-door falling to, the noise of a
bolt. Then Barbara fainted.



CHAPTER XV. MR. BELLWARD IS CALLED TO THE TELEPHONE

A knocking at the door of the library aroused Desmond from his
cogitations. He hastened to replace the volumes of Shakespeare on
their shelf and restore all to its former appearance. Then he
went to the door and opened it. Old Martha stood in the hall.

"If you please, sir," she wheezed, "the doctor's come!"

"Oh," said Desmond, rather puzzled, "what doctor?"

"It's not Dr. Haines from the village, Mr. Bellward, sir," said
the housekeeper, "It's a genel'man from Lunnon!"

Then Desmond remembered Crook's promise to look him up and
guessed it must be he. He bade Martha show the doctor in and
bring tea for two.

Desmond's surmise was right. The old woman ushered in Crook,
looking the very pattern of medical respectability, with Harley
Street written all over him from the crown of his glossy top-hat
to the neat brown spats on his feet. In his hand he carried a
small black bag.

"Well," he said, surveying Desmond, "and how do we find ourselves
to-day? These chills are nasty things to shake off, my dear sir!"

"Oh, stow that!" growled Desmond, who was in little mood for
joking.

"Voice inclined to be laryngeal," said Crook putting down his hat
and bag on a chair, "we shall have to take care of our bronchial
tubes! We are not so young as we were!"

"You can drop all that mumming, Crook!" snapped Desmond
irascibly.

"Voice rotten," replied Crook calmly surveying him through his
pince-nez. "Really, Major--I should say, Mr. Bellward--you must
take more pains than that. You are talking to me exactly as
though I were a British Tommy. Tut, tut, this will never do, sir!
You must talk thicker, more guttural-like, and open the vowels
well."

He had dropped his jesting manner altogether and spoke with the
deep earnestness of the expert airing his pet topic. He was so
serious that Desmond burst out laughing. It must be said,
however, that he laughed as much like a German as he knew how.
This appeared to mollify Crook who, nevertheless, read him a long
lecture against ever, for a moment, even when alone, quitting the
role he was playing. Desmond took it in good part; for he knew
the soundness of the other's advice.

Then old Martha brought tea, and over the cups and saucers Crook
gave Desmond a budget of news. He told of the warrant issued for
the arrest of Nur-el-Din and of the search being made for her.

Desmond heard the news of Nur-el-Din's disappearance from London
with some consternation. He began to realize that his failure to
detain Nur-el-Din that afternoon might have incalculable
consequences. Sunk in thought, he let Crook run on. He was
wondering whether he ought to give him a message for the Chief,
telling him of Nur-el-Din's visit and of her flight on the
arrival of Mortimer.

Now, Desmond had a good deal of pride, and like most proud
people, he was inclined to be obstinate. To confess to the Chief
that he had let both Nur-el-Din and Mortimer slip through his
fingers was more than he could face. He could not bear to think
that the Chief might believe him capable of failure, and take
independent measures to guard against possible mistakes. Also, in
his heart of hearts, Desmond was angry with the Chief. He thought
the latter had acted precipitately in getting out a warrant for
Nur-el-Din's arrest before he, Desmond, had had time to get into
the skin of his part.

So Desmond heard Crook out and made no comment. When the other
asked him if he had anything to tell the Chief, he shook his
head. He was not to know then the consequences which his
disobedience of orders was destined to have. If he had realized
what the result of his obstinacy would be, he would not have
hesitated to send a full report by Crook--and this story might
never have been written!

But if youth followed reason instead of impulse, the world would
stand still. Desmond was still at an age at which a man is
willing to take on anything and anybody, and he was confident of
bringing his mission to a successful conclusion without any
extraneous aid. So Crook, after changing Desmond's make-up and
giving him a further rehearsal of his role, packed up his pots
and paints and brushes in his black bag and returned to London
with "nothing to report" as the communiques say.

He repeated his visit every day for the next four days. Crook's
arrival each afternoon was the only break in the monotony of a
life which was rapidly becoming unbearable to Desmond's mercurial
temperament. He found himself looking forward to the wizened
little man's visits and for want of better employment, he threw
himself wholeheartedly into the study of his role under the
expert's able direction. Desmond's beard had sprouted
wonderfully, and Crook assured him that, by about the end of the
week, the tow substitute, which Desmond found a most unmitigated
nuisance, would be no longer necessary. He also showed his pupil
how to paint in the few deft lines about the eyes which completed
the resemblance between Bellward and his impersonator.

The time hung terribly heavily on Desmond's hands. He had long
since memorized and destroyed the list of Mr. Bellward's friends.
Every morning he spent at least an hour before the mirror in his
bedroom working up the role. With every day he felt more
confident of himself; with every day he grew more anxious to go
to London, and, taking the bull by the horns, boldly visit one of
Mr. Bellward's acquaintances and test the effect of his disguise.

But no orders came from Headquarters to release him from his
confinement. Moreover, no word arrived from Nur-el-Din nor did
Mortimer send any message or call again at the Mill House. The
silence of the two conspirators made Desmond uneasy. Suppose
Mortimer, who, he felt sure, had caught him out lying about
Nur-el-Din's presence in the house at the time of his visit, had
grown suspicious! What if Nur-el-Din had succeeded in making good
her escape to the Continent? He had had his chance of laying hold
of both suspects and he had failed. Would that chance come again?

Desmond doubted it. Every morning he awoke long before the dawn
and lay awake until daylight, his mind racked by these
apprehensions. He chafed bitterly at his inaction and he plied
Crook with questions as to whether he had any orders for him.
Each time Crook replied in the negative.

In the library Desmond found an Ordnance map of Essex. His
military training had given him a good schooling in the use of
maps, and he spent many hours studying the section of the country
about the Mill House, seeking to impress it upon his mind against
future emergencies.

He was surprised to find how remote the Mill House lay from other
habitations. Between it and Wentfield station, once Wentfield
village was passed, there were only a few lonely farms; but to
the south there was an absolutely uninhabited tract of fen
traversed by the road running past the front gate of the Mill
House. The Mill House was duly marked on the map; with a little
blue line showing the millrace which Desmond traced to its
junction with one of the broad dykes intersecting Morstead Fen.
The only inhabited house to the south of the Bellward villa
appeared to be a lonely public house situated on the far edge of
the fen, a couple of hundred yards away from the road. It was
called "The Dyke Inn."

One afternoon--it was the fifth day after Desmond's arrival at
Bellward's--Mr. Crook announced that this was to be his last
visit.

"I go abroad to-night, Mr. Bellward," he said (he always insisted
on addressing Desmond by his assumed name), "a little job o' work
in Switzerland; at Berne, to be precise. Urgent, you might call
it, and really, sir, you've made so much progress that I think I
can safely leave you. And I was to say that you will be able to
go out very soon now."

"Good!" exclaimed Desmond, rubbing his hands together. "And you
think I'll do, Crook, eh?"

Crook rubbed his nose meditatively.

"I'll be quite frank with you, Mr. Bellward," he said: "With a
superficial acquaintance, even with an intimate friend, if he's
as unobservant as most people are, you'll pass muster. But I
shouldn't like to guarantee anything if you were to meet, say,
Mrs. Bellward, if the gentleman has got a wife, or his mother.
Keep out of a strong light; don't show your profile more than you
can help, and remember that a woman is a heap more observant than
a man.

"That's my advice to you, sir. And now I'll take my leave! You
won't want that tow beard any more after to-day."

That night Desmond slept well and did not awake until the
sunshine was streaming in between the Venetian blinds in his
bedroom. He felt keen and vigorous, and he had an odd feeling
that something was going to happen to him that day.

It was a delicious morning, the air as balmy as spring. As he
brushed his hair in front of the window, Desmond saw the peewits
running about in the sunshine on the fields by the road. He made
an excellent breakfast and then, lighting a pipe, opened the
Times which lay folded by his plate.

He turned first, as was his daily habit, to the casualty list.
There it was! Under the names of the "Killed in Action," he read:
"Okewood, Major D. J. P.," followed by the name of his regiment.
It gave him an odd little shock, though he had looked for the
announcement every day; but the feeling of surprise was quickly
followed by one of relief. That brief line in the casualty list
meant the severing of all the old ties until he had hunted down
his quarry.

Now he was ready to start.

He spent the morning in the garden. Here, for the first time, he
met Mr. Hill, the odd man, who, on seeing him, became intensely
busy picking up handfuls of leaves and conveying them to a fire
which was smouldering in a corner. Desmond essayed to enter into
conversation with him but the man was so impenetrably deaf that
Desmond, tiring of bawling, "It's a fine day!" in Mr. Hill's ear,
left him and strolled over to the shed where the motor-cycle was
stored. Here he amused himself for more than an hour in taking
the machine to pieces and putting it together again. He satisfied
himself that the bike was in working order and filled up the
tank. He had an idea that this means of conveyance might come in
useful.

The day was so mild that he lunched by the open window with the
sunshine casting rainbows on the tablecloth through the
wine-glasses. He was just finishing his coffee when the
housekeeper came in and told him he was wanted on the telephone.

Desmond sprang from his chair with alacrity. His marching orders
at last! he thought, as he hurried across the hall to the
library.

"Hullo!" he cried as he picked up the receiver.

"Is that Mr. Bellward?" answered a nasal voice.

"Bellward speaking!" said Desmond, wondering who had called him
up. The voice was a man's but it was not the abrupt clear tones
of the Chief nor yet Mr. Matthews' careful accents.

"Madame Le Bon wishes to see you!"

Madame Le Bon? thought Desmond. Why, that was the name that
Nur-el-Din had given him. "I am Madame Le Bon, a Belgian
refugee," she had said.

"Do you know whom I mean?" the voice continued.

"Certainly," replied Desmond.  "You will come alone. Otherwise,
Madame will not see you. You understand? If you do not come
alone, you will waste your time!"

"Where are you speaking from?" Desmond asked.

"If you will turn to the left on leaving your front gate," the
voice resumed, "and follow the road, a messenger will meet you
and take you to the lady."

"But..." Desmond began.

"Will you come at once? And alone?" the nasal voice broke in
sharply.

Desmond took a moment's thought. To go was to disobey orders; not
to go was to risk losing a second chance of meeting Nur-el-Din.
To telephone to 700 Stanning for assistance would bring a
hornets' nest about his ears; yet he might only see the dancer if
he went alone. He lost no time in making up his mind. The Chief
must allow him latitude for meeting emergencies of this kind. He
would go.

"I will come at once," said Desmond.

"Good," said the voice and the communication ceased.

Somewhere aloft there sits a sweet little cherub whose especial
job is to look after the headstrong. It was doubtless this
emissary of providence that leant down from his celestial seat
and whispered in Desmond's ear that it would be delightful to
walk out across the fen on this sunny afternoon. Desmond was in
the act of debating whether he would not take the motor-bike, but
the cherub's winning way clinched it and he plumped for walking.

In the hall he met the housekeeper who told him she wanted to go
into Stanning to do some shopping that afternoon. Desmond told
her that he himself was going out and would not be back for tea.
Then, picking a stout blackthorn out of the hallstand, he strode
down the drive and out into the road.

It was still beautifully fine, but already the golden sunshine
was waning and there were little wisps and curls of mist stealing
low along the fields. Desmond turned to the left, on leaving the
Mill House, as he was bid and saw the road running like a khaki
ribbon before him into the misty distance.

Swinging his stick, he strode on rapidly. The road was neglected,
broken and flinty and very soft. After he had gone about a mile
it narrowed to pursue its way between two broad ditches lined
with pollard willows and brimful of brown peaty water. By this
time he judged, from his recollection of the map, that he must be
on Morstead Fen. An interminable waste of sodden, emerald green
fields, intersected by ditches, stretched away on either hand.

He had walked for half an hour when he made out in the distance a
clump of trees standing apart and seemingly in the middle of the
fields. Then in the foreground he descried a gate. A figure was
standing by it.

As he approached the gate he saw it was a small boy. On remarking
the stranger, the urchin opened the gate and without looking to
right or left led off down the road towards the clump of trees:
Desmond followed at his leisure.

As they neared the trees, the low red roof of a house detached
itself. By this time the sun was sinking in a smear of red across
a delicately tinted sky. Its dying rays held some glittering
object high up on the side of the house.

At first Desmond thought it was a window, but presently the light
went out, kindled again and once more vanished. It was too small
for a window, Desmond decided, and then, turning the matter over
in his mind, as observant people are accustomed to do even with
trifles, he suddenly realized that the light he had seen was the
reflection of the sun on a telescope or glasses.

They were now within a few hundred yards of the house. The road
had made a right angle turn to the left, but the diminutive guide
had quitted it and struck out along a very muddy cart track.
Shading his eyes, Desmond gazed at the house and presently got a
glimpse of a figure at a window surveying the road through a pair
of field glasses. Even as he looked, the figure bobbed down and
did not reappear.

"They want to be sure I'm alone," thought Desmond, and
congratulated himself on having had the strength of mind to break
his orders.

The cart-track led up to a little bridge over a ditch. By the
bridge stood a tall pole, on the top of which was a blue and gold
painted sign-board inscribed, "The Dyke Inn by J. Rass." The
urchin led him across the bridge and up to the door of the inn.

An undersized, yellow-faced man, wearing neither collar nor tie,
came to the door as they approached. Although of short stature,
he was immensely broad with singularly long arms. Altogether he
had something of the figure of a gorilla, Desmond thought on
looking at him.

The man put a finger up and touched his forelock.

"Madame Le Bon is upstairs waiting for you!" he said in a nasal
voice which Desmond recognized as that he had heard on the
telephone. "Please to follow me!"

He led the way across a long low tap-room through a door and past
the open trap-door of a cellar to a staircase. On the first
landing, lit by a window looking out on a dreary expanse of fen,
he halted Desmond.

"That's her room," he said, pointing to a door opposite the head
of the staircase, half a dozen steps up, and so saying, the
yellow-faced man walked quickly downstairs and left him. Desmond
heard his feet echo on the staircase and the door of the tap-room
slam.

He hesitated a moment. What if this were a trap? Suppose
Mortimer, growing suspicious, had made use of Nur-el-Din to lure
him to an ambush in this lonely place? Why the devil hadn't he
brought a revolver with him?

Then Desmond's Irish blood came to his rescue. He gave his head a
little shake, took a firm hold of his stick which was a stoutish
sort of cudgel and striding boldly up to the door indicated,
tapped.

"Entrez!" said a pretty voice that made Desmond's heart flutter.



CHAPTER XVI. THE STAR OF POLAND

The room in which Desmond found Nur-el-Din was obviously the
parlor of the house. Everything in it spoke of that dreary period
in art, the middle years of the reign of Victoria the Good. The
wall-paper, much mildewed in places, was an ugly shade of green
and there were dusty and faded red curtains at the windows and
draping the fireplace. Down one side of the room ran a hideous
mahogany sideboard, almost as big as a railway station buffet,
with a very dirty tablecloth. The chairs were of mahogany,
upholstered in worn black horsehair and there were two pairs of
fly-blown steel engravings of the largest size on the wall. In
the centre of the apartment stood a small round table, covered
with a much stained red tablecloth and there was a door in the
corner.

The dainty beauty of Nur-el-Din made a very forlorn picture amid
the unmatched savagery of this English interior. The dancer, who
was wearing the same becoming gray tweed suit in which Desmond
had last seen her, was sitting sorrowfully at the table when
Desmond entered. At the sight of him she sprang up and ran to
meet him with outstretched hands.

"Ah!" she cried, "comme je suis heureuse de vous voir! It is good
of you to come!"

And then, without any warning, she burst into tears and putting
her hands on the man's shoulders, hid her head against his chest
and sobbed bitterly.

Desmond took one of her hands, small and soft and warm, and
gently disengaged her. His mind was working clearly and rapidly.
He felt sure of himself, sure of his disguise; if this were an
exhibition of woman's wiles, it would find him proof; on that he
was resolved. Yet, dissolved in tears as she was, with her long
lashes glistening and her mouth twitching pitifully, the dancer
seemed to touch a chord deep down in his heart.

"Come, come," said Desmond gutturally, with a touch of bonhomie
in his voice in keeping with his ample girth, "you mustn't give
way like this, my child! What's amiss? Come, sit down here and
tell me what's the matter."

He made her resume her seat by the table and pulled up one of the
horsehair chairs for himself. Nur-el-Din wiped her eyes on a tiny
lace handkerchief, but continued to sob and shudder at intervals.

"Marie, my maid," she said in French in a broken voice, "joined
me here to-day. She has told me of this dreadful murder!"

Desmond stiffened to attention. His mind swiftly reverted to the
last woman he had seen cry, to Barbara Mackwayte discovering the
loss of the package entrusted to her charge by the woman who sat
before him.

"What murder?" he asked, striving to banish any trace of interest
from his voice. He loathed the part he had to play. The dancer's
distress struck him as genuine.

"The murder of Monsieur Mackwayte," said Nur-el-Din, and her
tears broke forth anew.

"I have read of this in the newspapers," said Desmond. "I
remember you told me he was a friend of yours."

Briefly, with many sobs, the dancer told him of the silver box
which she had entrusted to Barbara Mackwayte's charge.

"And now," she sobbed, "it is lost and all my sacrifice, all my
precautions, have been in vain!"

"But how?" asked Desmond. "Why should you think this box should
have been taken? From what I remember reading of this case in the
English newspapers there was a burglary at the house, but the
thief has been arrested and the property restored. You have only
to ask this Miss--what was the name? ah! yes, Mackwayte for your
box and she will restore it!"

"No, no!" Nur-el-Din answered wearily, "you don't understand.
This was no burglary. The man who murdered Monsieur Arthur
murdered him to get my silver box."

"But," objected Desmond, "a silver box! What value has a trifling
object like that? My dear young lady, murder is not done for a
silver box!"

"No, no," Nur-el-Din repeated, "you don't understand! You don't
know what that box contained!"

Then she relapsed into silence, plucking idly at the shred of
cambric she held between her fingers.

Already dusk was falling and the room was full of shadows. The
golden radiance of the afternoon had died and eerie wraiths of
fog were peering-in at the window.

Desmond held his peace. He felt he was on the threshold of a
confession that might rend the veil of mystery surrounding the
murder at Seven Kings. He stared fixedly at the ugly red
tablecloth, conscious that the big eyes of the girl were
searching his face.

"You have honest eyes," she said presently. "I told you that once
before... that night we met at your house... do you remember?
Your eyes are English. But you are a German, hein?"

"My mother was Irish," said Desmond and felt a momentary relief
that, for once, he had been able to speak the truth.

"I want a friend," the girl resumed wearily, "someone that I can
trust. But I look around and I find no one. You serve the German
Empire, do you not?"

Desmond bowed.

"But not the House of Hohenzollern?" the girl cried, her voice
trembling with passion.

"I am not of the Emperor's personal service, if that is what you
mean, madame," Desmond returned coldly.

"Then, since you are not altogether an iron Prussian," Nur-el-Din
resumed eagerly, "you can differentiate. You can understand that
there is a difference between working for the cause of Germany
and for the personal business of her princes."

"But certainly," answered Desmond, "I am not an errand boy nor
yet a detective. I regard myself as a German officer doing his
duty on the front. We have many fronts besides the Western and
the Eastern. England is one.

"Ah," exclaimed the girl, clasping her hands together and looking
at him with enraptured eyes, "I see you understand! My friend, I
am much tempted to make a confidant of you!"

Desmond looked at her but did not speak. Again he felt that
silence was now his only role. He tried hard to fix his mind on
his duty; but the man in him was occupied with the woman who
looked so appealingly at him.

"... but if I do," the girl went on and her voice was hurried and
anxious, "you must swear to me that you will respect my
confidence, that you will not betray me to the others and that
you will, if need be, protect me."

Seeing that Desmond remained silent, she hastened to add:

"Believe me, what I ask you to do is not in opposition to your
duty. My friend, for all my surroundings, I am not what I seem.
Fate has drawn me into the system of which you form part; but,
believe me, I know nothing of the service to which you and
Mortimer and the rest belong!"

She spoke with painful earnestness and in a tone so mournful that
Desmond felt himself profoundly moved. "If only she is not
acting!" he thought, and sought to shake himself free from the
spell which this girl seemed able to cast about him at will.

"Promise me that you will respect my confidence and help me!" she
said and held out her hand.

Desmond's big hand closed about hers and he felt an odd thrill of
sympathy with her as their hands met.

"I promise!" he said and murmured to himself something very like
a prayer that he might not be called upon to redeem his word.

She let her eyes rest for a moment on his.

"Be careful!" she urged warningly, while the ghost of a smile
flitted across her face. "Very soon I may call upon you to make
good your words!"

"I promise!" he repeated--and his eyes never left hers.

"Then," she cried passionately, "find out who has stolen for the
Crown Prince the Star of Poland at the price of the life of a
harmless old man!"

"The Star of Poland!" repeated Desmond. "What is the Star of
Poland?"

The girl drew herself up proudly and there was a certain dignity
about her manner as she answered.

"I am a Pole," she said, "and to us Poles, the Star of Poland has
stood for centuries as a pledge of the restoration of our
long-lost kingdom. It was the principal jewel of the Polish
Coronation sword which vanished many hundreds of years ago--in
the thirteenth century, one of my compatriots once told me--and
it was one of the most treasured national possessions in the
Chateau of our great king, John Sobieski at Villanoff, outside
Warsaw. My friend, I am not religious, and since my childhood I
have renounced the ancient faith of my fathers, but, when I think
of the extraordinary chain of circumstances by which this
treasure came into my possession, I almost believe that God has
chosen me to restore this gem to the King of an independent
Poland.

"Four years ago I was in the United States, a very humble dancer
in vaudeville of the third or fourth class. When I was appearing
at Columbus, Ohio, I met a German, a man who had been an officer
in the Prussian Guard but had come to grief and had been forced
to emigrate.

"This man's name was Hans von Schornbeek. Like so many German
officers who go to America, in his time he had been
everything--waiter, lift-man, engine-driver and heaven knows what
else, but when I met him he was apparently well-off. It was only
later on that I knew he was one of your principal secret agents
in America.

"He praised my talents highly and offered to furnish the capital
to start me as an Oriental dancer with a large company of my own.
There was only one condition attaching to his offer, a condition,
ma foi! which was not disagreeable to me. It was that, after six
months tour in the States and Canada, I should go to Brussels and
settle down there in a house that Herr von Schornbeek would
present me with.

"Mon ami, in those days, I understood nothing at all of
diplomacy. I knew only that I was often hungry and that I had a
little talent which, were it given a chance, might keep me from
want. Herr von Schornbeek fulfilled his promises to me. I had my
company, I did my tour of America and Canada with great success
and finally I came to Europe and made my debut at Brussels.

"I knew Brussels already from the old days. As a half-starved,
unhappy child with a troupe of acrobats, I had often appeared
there. But now I came to Brussels as a conqueror. A beautiful
villa in the suburb of Laeken was ready to receive me and I found
that a large credit had been opened in my name at one of the
principal banks so that I could keep open house.

"I think I scarcely realized then the role that I was destined to
fill by the German Secret Service. In all my life before, I had
never been happy, I had never ceased to struggle for my bare
existence, I had never had pretty clothes to wear, and motor-cars
and servants of my own."

She paused and glanced around her. The room was almost dark; the
fog outside hung like a veil before the window.

"Light the lamp!" she begged, "I do not like the dark!"

Desmond struck a match and kindled an oil lamp, which stood on
the sideboard.

"Ah! my friend," the girl resumed. "I took my fill of life with
both hands. The year was 1913. Now I know that I was one of the
German agents for the penetration of Belgium in preparation of
what was coming. My mission was to make friends among the
Belgians and the French and the cosmopolitan society of Brussels
generally, and invite them to my house where your people were
waiting to deal with them.

"My pretty villa became the rendezvous for half the rascals of
Europe, men and women, who used to meet there with all kinds of
mysterious Germans. Sometimes there was a scandal. Once a Belgian
Colonel was found shot in the billiard-room; they said it was
suicide and the thing was hushed up, but dame! now that I know
what I know...

"Enfin! I shut my eyes to it all... it was none of my business...
and I revelled in my robes, my dancing, my new life of luxury!

"And then the war came. I was at Laeken, resting after a visit to
Rome. There was a lot of talk about the war amongst the people
who came to my house, but I did not see how it could affect me,
an artiste, and I never read the newspapers. My German friends
assured me that, in a little while, the German army would be at
Brussels; that, if I remained quietly at home, all would be well.
They were very elated and confident, these German friends of
mine. And rightly; for within a few weeks the Germans entered the
city and a General quartered himself in my villa. It was he who
brought the Crown Prince to see me.

"Mon cher, you know this young man and his reputation. I am not
excusing myself; but all my life had been spent up to then in the
bas-fonds of society. I had never known what it was to be courted
and admired by one who had the world at his feet. Parbleu! one
does not meet a future Emperor every day!

"Enfin! the Prince carried me with him back to Metz, where he had
his headquarters. He was very epris with me, but you know his
temperament! No woman can hold him for more than a few weeks,
vain and weak and arrogant as he is. But pardon! I was forgetting
that you are a good German. I fear I offend your
susceptibilities..."

Desmond laughed drily.

"Madame," he said, "I hope I have preserved sufficient liberty of
judgment to have formed my own opinion about our future
sovereign. Most Germans have..."

"Alors," she broke in fiercely, her voice shaking with passion,
"you know what an ignoble canaille is this young man, without
even enough decency of feeling to respect the troops of whom he
has demanded such bloody sacrifices. At Metz we were near enough
to the fighting to realize the blood and tears of this war. But
the Prince thought of nothing, but his own amusement. To live as
he did, within sound of the guns, with parties every night, women
and dancing and roulette and champagne suppers--bah! c'etait trop
fort! It awakened in me the love of country which lies dormant in
all of us. I wanted to help my country, lest I might sink as low
as he..."

"One day the Prince brought a young officer friend of his to dine
with me. This officer had come from the Eastern front and had
been present at the capture of Warsaw. After dinner he took a
leather case out of his pocket and said to the Prince: 'I have
brought your Imperial Highness a little souvenir from Poland!' As
he spoke he touched a spring and the case flew open, displaying
an enormous diamond, nearly as big as the great Orloff diamond
which I have seen at Petrograd, surrounded by five other
brilliants, the whole set like a star.

"'The Star of Poland,' said the young officer (the Prince called
him 'Erich;' I never heard his full name), 'it comes from the
long-lost Coronation sword of the Polish kings. I took it for
your Imperial Highness from the Chateau of John Sobieski at
Villanoff.

"I could not take my eyes off the gem. As the Prince held it down
under the lamp to study it, it shone like an electric light. I
had met many of my fellow countrymen in America and I had often
heard of this jewel, famous in our unhappy history.

"The Prince, who was gay with champagne, laughed and said:

"'These lousy Poles will have no further use for this pretty
trinket, thanks to our stout German blows, will they, Erich?'

"And his friend replied:

"'We'll give them a nice new German constitution instead, your
Imperial Highness!'

"The Prince, as I have said, was very merry that night. He let me
take the jewel from its case and hold it in my hands. Then I
fastened it in my hair before the mirror and turned to show
myself to the Prince and his companion.

"'Donnerwetter! said Willie. 'It looks wonderful in your hair,
Marcelle!'

"Then, as if struck by a sudden thought, he cried:

"'Erich! What do you say, Marcelle is a Pole. She shall have the
Star of Poland and wear it in memory of me!'

"The other thought this a famous idea, and so the jewel passed
into my hands. That same evening I resolved that it should be a
sacred duty on my part to keep it in safety until I could hand it
back to the lawful sovereign of an independent Poland.

"I was very unhappy at Metz until the Star of Poland came to
comfort me. When I was alone, I used to take it from its case and
feast my eyes upon it. I made many attempts to get away, but the
Prince would never let me go, though he had long since tired of
me and I was merely one of his harem of women. Pfui!"

She gave an exclamation of disgust.

"It was the Crown Princess who eventually came to my rescue," she
continued. "Long-suffering wife as she is, the stories that came
to her ears from Metz were such that she went to the Emperor and
declared that she would insist upon a divorce. There was a great
scandal. The Prince's headquarters were moved and at length I got
my release.

"I had no money. This was a detail which the Prince overlooked.
But I wanted to resume my stage work, so, with great difficulty,
through the influence of the Prince, I obtained a passport to
Holland and from there got across to England.

"I had hoped to turn my back once and for all on my connection
with the Prince. But your German Secret Service had been warned
about me. The Imperial Authorities were obviously afraid that I
might tell tales out of school. Scarcely had I arrived in London
when a man who called himself Bryan Mowbury, but who looked and
spoke like a German, came to see me and said he had been
instructed to 'look after me.' What that meant, I was soon to
discover. In a very few days I found that I was under the
supervision of your Secret Service here. In fact, Mowbury gave me
to understand that any indiscretion on my part as to my stay at
Metz would result in my immediate denunciation to the English
police as a spy.

"My friend, I had no alternative. I am not German; I am not
English; I am a Pole. I have good friends in Germany, I have good
friends in England, and their quarrels are not mine. I held my
peace about the past and submitted to the incessant watch which
Mowbury and his friends kept on my movements.

"And then one day I had a letter. It was from Count Plettenbach,
the Crown Prince's aide-de-camp, as I knew by the hand-writing,
for it was signed with an assumed name. In this letter the Count,
'on behalf of a mutual friend,' as he put it, requested me to
hand back to a certain Mr. Mortimer, his accredited
representative, 'Erich's present.' There were cogent reasons, it
was added, for this unusual request.

"I sent no reply to that letter, although an address in
Switzerland was given to which an answer might be despatched. I
was resolved, come what may, not to part with the Star of Poland.
When Mortimer came, five days later, I told him the jewel was not
mine to hand over, that it was part of the regalia of Poland and
that I would never give it up.

"Mortimer replied that the German and Austrian Governments had
decided to restore the independence of Poland, that probably an
Austrian Archduke would be made king and that it was essential
that the Star of Poland should be restored in order to include it
in the regalia for the Coronation. But I knew what this
Austro-German kingdom of Poland was to be, a serf state with not
a shadow of that liberty for which every Pole is longing. Since I
have been in England, I have kept in touch with the Polish
political organizations in this country. Rass, as he calls
himself, the landlord of this inn, is one of the most prominent
of the Polish leaders in England.

"Mortimer reasoned with me in vain and finally went away
empty-handed. But he did not abandon hope. Four successive
attempts were made to get the jewel away from me. Twice my
apartments at the Nineveh Hotel were rifled; once my
dressing-room at the theatre was entered and searched whilst I
was on the stage. But I wore the jewel day and night in a little
bag suspended by a chain from my neck and they never got it from
me.

"Two days before I came down to your house--it was the day before
the murder--I was hustled by a group of men as I came out of the
theatre. Fortunately the stage-door keeper came up unexpectedly
and the men made off. But the encounter frightened me, and I
resolved to break my contract with the Palaceum and bury myself
down here in the country.

"But somehow Mortimer learnt of my intention. The next night--it
was the night of the murder--he came to the theatre and warned me
against trying to elude his vigilance by flight. I have never
forgotten his words.

"'I can afford to wait,' he said, 'for I shall get what I want: I
always do. But you have chosen to set yourself against me and you
will bitterly repent it!"

As though the recollection proved too much for her, Nur-el-Din
broke off her narrative and covered her face with her hands.

"And do you think that Mortimer did this murder?" asked Desmond
gently.

Wearily the girl raised her head.

"Either he or one of his accomplices, of whom this girl is one!"
she answered.

"But why not have put the jewel in a bank or one of the safe
deposits? Surely it was risky to have entrusted it to a girl of
whom you knew nothing?"

"My friend,", said the dancer, "I was desperate. Mortimer sees
and knows all. This unexpected meeting with the daughter of my
old friend seemed at the moment like a heaven-sent chance to
place the jewel, unknown to him, in safe hands. I felt that as
long as I carried it on me, my life was in constant danger. It
was only to-day, when I heard of the murder, that it dawned on me
how indiscreet I had been. I might have guessed, since Miss
Mackwayte knew Mortimer--"

"Miss Mackwayte knows Mortimer?" echoed Desmond in stupefaction.

"But certainly," replied Nur-el-Din. "Was it not I myself--" She
broke off suddenly with terror in her eyes.

"Ah, no!" she whispered. "It is enough. Already I have said too
much..."

Desmond was about to speak when the door opened and a
foreign-looking maid, whom Desmond remembered to have seen in the
dancer's dressing-room, came in. She went swiftly to her mistress
and whispered something in her ear.

The dancer sprang to her feet.

"A little moment... you will excuse me..." she cried to Desmond
and ran from the room. The maid followed her, leaving Desmond
alone.

Presently, the sound of Nur-el-Din's voice raised high in anger
struck on his ears. He stole softly to the door and opened it.
Before him lay the staircase deserted. He tiptoed down the stairs
to the first landing and listened. The murmur of voices reached
him indistinctly from the room below. Then he heard Nur-el-Din
crying out again in anger.

He craned his ear over the well of the staircase, turning his
face to the window which stood on the landing. The window gave on
a small yard with a gate over which a lamp was suspended and
beyond it the fen now swathed in fog. The dancer's maid stood
beneath the lamp in earnest conversation with a man in rough
shooting clothes who held a gun under his arm. As Desmond looked
the man turned his head so that the rays of the lamp fell full
upon his face. To his unspeakable consternation and amazement,
Desmond recognized Strangwise.



CHAPTER XVII. MR. BELLWARD ARRANGES A BRIDGE EVENING

Oblivious of the voices in the room below, Desmond stood with his
face pressed against the glass of the window. Was Strangwise
staying at "The Dyke Inn"? Nothing was more probable; for the
latter had told him that he was going to spend his leave shooting
in Essex, and Morstead Fen must abound in snipe and duck.

But he and Strangwise must not meet. Desmond was chary of
submitting his disguise to the other's keen, shrewd eyes.
Strangwise knew Nur-el-Din: indeed, the dancer might have come to
the inn to be with him. If he recognized Desmond and imparted his
suspicions to the dancer, the game world be up; on the other
hand, Desmond could not take him aside and disclose his identity;
for that would be breaking faith with the Chief. There was
nothing for it, he decided, but flight.

Yet how could he get away unobserved? There was no exit from the
staircase by the door into the tap-room where Nur-el-Din was, and
to go through the tap-room was to risk coming face to face with
Strangwise.

So Desmond remained where he was by the window and watched.
Presently, the woman turned and began to cross the yard,
Strangwise, carrying his gun, following her. Desmond waited until
he heard a door open somewhere below and then he acted.

Beside the window ran an old lead water-pipe which drained the
roof above his head. On a level with the sill of the landing
below, this pipe took a sharp turn to the left and ran diagonally
down to a tall covered-in water-butt that stood on the flat roof
of an outhouse in the little yard.

Desmond raised the window very gently and tested the pipe with
his hand. It seemed rather insecure and shook under his pressure.
With his eye he measured the distance from the sill to the pipe;
it was about four feet. Desmond reckoned that, if the pipe would
hold, by getting out of the window and hanging on to the sill, he
might, by a pendulum-like motion, gain sufficient impulse to
swing his legs across the diagonally-running pipe, then transfer
his hands and so slide down to the outhouse roof.

He wasted no time in debating the chances of the pipe collapsing
under his weight. All his life it had been his practice to take a
risk, for such is the Irish temperament--if the object to be
attained in any way justified it; and he was determined to avoid
at all costs the chance of a meeting with Strangwise. The latter
had probably read the name of Okewood in that morning's casualty
list, but Desmond felt more than ever that he distrusted the man,
and his continued presence in the neighborhood of Nur-el-Din
gravely preoccupied him.

He stood a moment by the open window and listened. The murmur of
voices went on in the taproom, but from another part of the house
he heard a deep laugh and knew it to be Strangwise's. Trusting to
Providence that the roof of the outhouse would be out of sight of
the yard door, Desmond swung his right leg over the window-sill
and followed it with the other, turning his back on the yard. The
next moment he was dangling over the side of the house.

Then from the yard below he heard Strangwise call:

"Rufus! Rufus!"

A heavy footstep sounded on the flags. Desmond remained perfectly
still. The strain on his arms was tremendous. If Strangwise
should go as far as the gate, so as to get clear of the yard, he
must infallibly see that figure clinging to the window-sill.

"Where the devil is that doggy" said Strangwise. Then he
whistled, and called again:

"Rufus! Rufus!"

Desmond made a supreme effort to support the strain on his
muscles. The veins stood out at his temples and he felt the blood
singing in his ears. Another minute and he knew he must drop. He
no longer had the power to swing himself up to the window ledge
again.

A bark rang out in the courtyard, followed by the patter of feet.
Desmond heard Strangwise speak to the dog and reenter the house.
Then silence fell again. With a tremendous effort Desmond swung
his legs athwart the pipe, gripped it with his right hand, then
his left, and very gently commenced to let himself down. The pipe
quivered beneath his weight, but it held fast and in a minute he
was standing on the roof of the outhouse, cautiously peering
through the dank fog that hung about the yard.

Screening himself from view behind the tall waterbutt, he
reconnoitred the back of the inn. The upper part of the house was
shrouded in darkness, but a broad beam of light from a half-open
door and a tall window on the ground floor cleft the pall of fog.
The window showed a snug little bar with Strangwise standing by
the counter, a glass in his hand. As Desmond watched him, he
heard a muffled scream from somewhere within the house.
Strangwise heard it too, for Desmond saw him put his glass down
on the bar and raise his head sharply. There followed a dull
crash from the interior of the inn and the next moment the
yellow-faced man, whom Desmond judged to be Rass, stepped into
the circle of light inside the window. He said something to
Strangwise with thumb jerked behind him, whereupon the latter
clapped him, as though in approval, on the shoulder, and both
hurried out together.

Puzzled though he was by the scene he had just witnessed, Desmond
did not dare to tarry longer. The roof of the outhouse was only
some ten feet from the ground, an easy drop. He let himself
noiselessly down and landing on his feet without mishap, darted
out of the yard gate. As he did so, he heard the inn door open
and Strangwise's voice cry out:

"Who's that?"

But Desmond heeded not. He dashed out upon the fen. Before he had
gone a dozen paces the fog had swallowed up inn and all. Out of
the white pall behind him he heard confused shouts as he skirted
swiftly round the house and reached the road.

Once he had gained the freedom of the highway; Desmond breathed
again. The dense fog that enveloped him, the hard road beneath
his feet, gave him a sense of security that he had missed as long
as he was in the atmosphere of that lonely, sinister place. He
struck out at a good pace for home, intent upon one thing,
namely, to send an immediate summons for help to surround the
Dyke Inn and all within it. Nur-el-Din, it was clear, whether a
spy or no (and Desmond believed her story), was the only person
who could throw any light on the mysterious circumstances
surrounding old Mackwayte's murder. Besides, her arrest would
safeguard her against further machinations on the part of
Mortimer, though Desmond suspected that the latter, now that he
had secured the jewel, would leave the dancer in peace. As for
Strangwise, it would be for him to explain as best he could his
continued association with a woman for whose arrest a warrant had
been issued.

Desmond let himself in with his key. The housekeeper had returned
and was laying the dinner-table. In the library the curtains were
drawn and a fire burned brightly in the grate. The room looked
very snug and cosy by contrast with the raw weather outside.

Desmond shut and locked the door and then went to the telephone
at the desk. "Ring up 700 Stanning"--he repeated his instructions
to himself "and ask for Mr. Elias. Assistance'll be with you
within fifteen minutes afterwards."

By the clock on the mantelpiece it was a quarter to seven. If aid
arrived promptly, with a car they could be at the Dyke Inn by a
quarter past seven.

The telephone gave no sign of life. Desmond impatiently jerked
the receiver hook up and down. This time, at least, he would not
fail, he told himself. Before he went to bed that night
Nur-el-Din, her maid, Rass, and if needs be, Strangwise (who
needed a lesson to teach him discretion), should be in custody.

Still no reply.

"Hullo! Hullo!" cried Desmond, depressing the hook repeatedly.
"Hullo, Exchange!"

But there was no answer. Then it struck Desmond that the line was
dead: his ear detected none of that busy whirr which is heard in
the telephone when one is waiting to get a number.

He spent five minutes in vain attempts to obtain a reply, then
abandoned the endeavor in disgust.

"I shall have to take the motor-bike and go over to Stunning," he
said to himself, "how I shall find my way there in this fog, the
Lord only knows! And I don't know whom to apply to when I get
there. The police-station, I suppose!"

He unlocked the door and rang for Martha.

"I have to go over to Stunning, Martha," he said, "I will try and
be back for dinner at eight!"

He had no intention of accompanying the party to the Dyke Inn. He
must preserve his incognito until Mortimer, the main quarry, had
been run down.

He filled his case from the box of cigarettes on the table and
thrust a box of matches into his pocket to light his head-lamp.
Then, taking a cap from the hat-stand, he opened the front door.
Even as he did so a big open car slowed down throbbing outside
the porch. A man sprang out and advanced into the light streaming
from the front door into the eddying mist. It was Mortimer.

"Fortune," thought Desmond, "has broken her rule. She has given
me a second chance!"

"Well met, Bellward!" cried Mortimer, blinking at the other
through his thick glasses. "Tut, tut! What a night! You were
never going out, I swear."

Already Desmond had decided in his mind the course of action he
would pursue. For the moment he must let the party at the Dyke
Inn slide in favor of the bigger catch. He must slip away later
and have another try at the telephone and if it were still out of
order, he must endeavor to overpower Mortimer and then go for
assistance himself. On a night like this it was useless to think
of employing a half-blind old dolt like Martha to take a message.
As for the odd man, he lived at Wakefield, and went away at dusk
every evening.

So Desmond muttered some plausible lie about wanting to have a
look at the weather and cordially invited Mortimer in.

"You will stay for dinner" he said.

"Gladly," replied the other, sinking with aunt into the settee.
"And I should be glad if we might dine early."

Desmond raised his eyebrows.

"... Because," Mortimer resumed, "I have ventured to ask a few
friends round here to... to have an evening at bridge. Doubtless,
you have cards, eh?"

Desmond pointed to a card-table standing in the corner with
several packs of cards and markers. Then he rang and told the
housekeeper that they would dine as soon as possible.

"The coming fortnight," said Mortimer, tucking his napkin into
his collar as they sat at the dinner table, "is pregnant with
great events. No less than ten divisions are, I understand, to be
transferred to the other side. I have waited to communicate with
you until I had confirmation of this report. But now that the
matter has been decided, it only remains for us to perfect our
arrangements for communicating these plans to our friends beyond
the North Sea. Therefore, I thought a friendly bridge evening at
the hospitable home of our dear colleague Bellward would be in
place."

He smiled affably and bent over his soup-plate.

"I shall be delighted to receive our friends," Desmond replied,
"a glass of sherry?"

"Thank you," said Mortimer.

"I shall have to provide a few refreshments," said Desmond. "May
I ask how many guests I may expect?"

Mortimer reckoned on his fingers.

"Let's see," he answered, "there's Max, that's one, and Madame
Malplaquet, that's two. No. 13 and Behrend makes four and myself,
five!"

"And Madame Nur-el-Din?" queried Desmond innocently, but inwardly
quaking at his rashness.

Mortimer genially shook a finger at him.

"Sly dog!" he chuckled, "you're one too many for me in that
quarter, I see! I know all about your tete-a-tete with our
charming young friend this afternoon!"

Desmond felt the blood rush to his face. He thought of
Nur-el-Din's words: "Mortimer sees and knows all." He picked up
his sherry glass and drained it to cover his confusion.

"... It was hardly gallant of you to bolt so suddenly and leave
the lady!" Mortimer added.

How much did this uncanny creature know?

Without waiting for him to reply, Mortimer went on.

"I suppose she told you a long story of my persecution, eh,
Bellward? You needn't shake your head. I taxed her with it and
she admitted as much."

"I had no idea that you were staying at the Dyke Inn!" said
Desmond at a venture.

"My friend," replied Mortimer, lowering his voice, "your fair
charmer is showing a decided inclination to make a nuisance of
herself. I have had to keep an eye on her. It's been a very
serious inconvenience to my plans, I can assure you. But you
haven't answered my question. What sent you away in such a hurry
this afternoon? and in so romantic a fashion? By the window, was
it not?"

Through sheer apprehension, Desmond was now keyed up to a kind of
desperate audacity. The truth is sometimes a very effective
weapon in the game of bluff, and Desmond determined to employ it.

"I saw someone I didn't want to meet," he replied.

"Ah!" said Mortimer, "who was that, I wonder? The Dyke Inn could
hardly be described as a frequented resort, I imagine!"

The entry of old Martha to change the plates prevented Desmond
from replying. He used the brief respite to review the situation.
He would tell Mortimer the truth. They were man to man now and he
cared nothing even if the other should discover the fraud that
had been practised upon him. Come what might, Mortimer, dead or
alive, should be delivered up to justice that night.

The housekeeper left the room and Desmond spoke.

"I saw an officer I knew in the courtyard," he said.

"Oh, Strangwise, I suppose!" said Mortimer carelessly. "There's
nothing to fear from him, Bellward. He's of the beef and beer and
no brains stamp of British officer. But how do you know
Strangwise?"

"I met him at the Nineveh Hotel in town one night," replied
Desmond. "I don't care about meeting officers, however, and
that's a fact!"

Mortimer looked at him keenly for a brief instant. "What
prudence!" he cried. "Bellward, you are the very model of what a
secret agent should be! This pheasant is delicious!"

He turned the conversation into a different channel but Desmond
could not forget that brief searching look. His mind was in a
turmoil of half-digested facts, of semi-completed deductions. He
wanted to go away somewhere alone and think out this mystery and
disentangle each separate web of this baffling skein of intrigue.

He must focus his attention on Mortimer and Nur-el-Din. If
Mortimer and Strangwise were both staying at the Dyke Inn, then
they were probably acquainted. Strangwise knew Nur-el-Din, too,
knew her well; for Desmond remembered how familiarly they had
conversed together that night in the dancer's dressing-room at
the Palaceum. Strangwise knew Barbara Mackwayte also. Nur-el-Din
had introduced them, Desmond remembered, on that fateful night
when he had accompanied Strangwise to the Palaceum. Strange, how
he was beginning to encounter the man Strangwise at every turn in
this sinister affair.

And then, with a shock that struck him like a blow in the face,
Desmond recalled Barbara's parting words to him in the taxi. He
remembered how she had told him of seeing Nur-el-Din's face in
the mirror as the dancer was talking to Strangwise that night at
the Palaceum, and of the look of terror in the girl's eyes.
Nur-el-Din was terrified of Mortimer; for so much she had
admitted to Desmond that very afternoon; she was terrified of
Strangwise, too, it seemed, of this Strangwise who, like
Mortimer, kept appearing at every stage of this bewildering
affair. What confession had been on Nur-el-Din's lips when she
had broken off that afternoon with the cry:

"Already I have said too much!"

Thereafter Desmond's eyes were never long absent from Mortimer's
face, scrutinizing each feature in turn, the eyes, set rather
close together, grotesquely shielded by the thick spectacles, the
narrow cheeks, the rather cynical mouth half hidden by the heavy,
drooping moustache, the broad forehead broken by a long lock of
dark hair brushed out flat in a downward direction from an
untidy, unkempt crop.

They talked no more of Strangwise or of Nur-el-Din. The rest of
dinner was passed in conversation of a general order in which Mr.
Mortimer showed himself to great advantage. He appeared to be a
widely traveled, well-read man, with a fund of dry, often rather
grim humor. And all the time Desmond watched, watched,
unobtrusively but unceasingly, looking out for something he was
confident of detecting through the suave, immobile mask of this
brilliant conversationalist.

Skillfully, almost imperceptibly, Desmond edged the talk on to
the war. In this domain, too, Mortimer showed himself a man of
broad views, of big, comprehensive ideas. Towards the strategy
and tactics of the two sides, he adopted the attitude of an
impartial onlooker, but in his comments he proved himself to have
a thorough grasp of the military situation. He talked freely and
ably of such things as tanks, the limited objective in the attack
and the decentralization of responsibility in the field.

Encouraged by his volubility, for he was a man who delighted in
conversation, Desmond gradually gave the talk a personal turn.
But willing as Mortimer showed himself to discuss the war
generally, about his personal share he was as mute as a fish. Try
as he would Desmond could get nothing out of him. Again and
again, he brought the conversation round to personal topics; but
every time his companion contrived to switch it back to general
lines.

At last Desmond risked a direct question. By this time a pint of
Pommery and Greno was tingling in his veins and he felt he didn't
care if the roof fell in.

"Ever since Nur-el-Din told me you were of the Crown Prince's
personal service," he said, "I have been devoured with curiosity
to know what you were doing before you came to England. Were you
at Metz with his Imperial Highness? Did you see the assault at
Verdun? Were you present at the capture of the Fort of
Douaumont?"

Mortimer shook his head, laughing, and held up a deprecating
hand.

"Professional discretion, my dear fellow, professional
discretion!" he retorted. "You know what it is!"

Then lowering his voice, he added:

"Between ourselves the less said about my connection with Master
Willie the better. Our colleagues are already restless at what
they consider my neglect of my professional work. They attribute
it to the wiles of Nur-el-Din. They may if they like and I don't
propose to disillusion them. You understand, Bellward?"

His voice was commanding and he bent his brows at Desmond, who
hastened to protest that his discretion in the matter would be
absolute.

When they had had their coffee and Mortimer was contentedly
puffing one of Bellward's excellent double Coronas, Desmond rose
from the table.

"If you will excuse me a minute," he said, "I will just go across
to the library and see if my housekeeper has put all in order for
our guests!"

Instantly Mortimer got up from the table.

"By all means," he said, and emptied his glass of brandy, "so, I
will come with you!"

Mortimer meant to stick to him, thought Desmond; that was
evident. Then an idea struck him. Why should he not telephone in
Mortimer's presence? To ask for Mr. Elias was in no way
incriminating and if help came promptly, Mortimer could be
secured and the other spies pounced upon in their turn as they
arrived.

Therefore, as soon as they reached the library, Desmond walked
over to the desk and picked up the telephone receiver from its
hook.

"Excuse me," he said to Mortimer, "I had forgotten I had to ring
up Stanning!"

"Oh, dear," said Mortimer from his place on the hearth rug where
he was warming his coat tails in front of the fire, "isn't that
unfortunate? I wish I had known! Tut, tut, how annoying for you!"

The telephone seemed quite dead.

"I don't understand!" said Desmond to Mortimer. "What's
annoying?"

"The telephone, my dear Bellward,"--Mortimer spoke in a pompous
voice--"the telephone is the symbol of the age in which we live,
the age of publicity but also of indiscretion. It is almost as
indiscreet to have a telephone in your house as to keep a diary.
Therefore, in view of our little party here this evening, to
prevent us from being disturbed in any way, I took the liberty
of... of severing the connection... temporarily, mind you, only
temporarily; it shall be restored as soon as we break up. I have
some small acquaintance with electrical engineering."

Desmond was silent. Disappointment had deprived him for the
moment of the power of speech. It was to be man to man then,
after all. If he was to secure Mortimer and the rest of the gang
that night, he must do it on his own. He could not hope for aid.
The prospect did not affright him. If Mortimer could have seen
the other's eyes at that moment he might have remarked a light
dancing in them that was not solely of Messrs. Pommery and
Greno's manufacture.

"If I had known you wanted to use the instrument, my dear
fellow," Mortimer continued in his bland voice, "I should
certainly have waited until you had done your business!"

"Pray don't mention it," replied Desmond, "you do well to be
prudent, Mr. Mortimer!"

Mortimer shot a sudden glance at him. Desmond met it with a
frank, easy smile.

"I'm a devil for prudence myself!" he observed brightly.



CHAPTER XVIII. THE GATHERING OF THE SPIES

Action, or the promise of action, always acted on Desmond Okewood
like a nerve tonic. His visit to the inn, followed by the fencing
with Mortimer at dinner, had galvanized his nerves jaded with the
inaction of the preceding days. He averted his eyes from the
future, he put the past resolutely away. He bent his whole
attention on the problem immediately before him--how to carry off
the role of Bellward in front of four strangers, one of whom, at
least, he thought, must know the man he was impersonating; how to
extract as much information as possible about the gang and its
organization before uncovering his hand; finally, how to
overpower the four men and the one woman when the moment had come
to strike.

Mortimer and he were in the library. By Desmond's direction old
Martha had put out two bridge tables and cards. A tantalus stand
with siphons and glasses, an assortment of different colored
liqueurs in handsome cut-glass carafes and some plates of
sandwiches stood on a side-table. At Mortimer's suggestion
Desmond had told the housekeeper that, once the guests had
arrived, she might go to bed.

The library was very still. There was no sound except for the
solemn ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece or the occasional
rustle of the evening paper in Mortimer's hand as he stood in
front of the fire. Desmond was sitting on the settee, tranquilly
smoking, studying Mortimer and thinking out the problem before
him.

He measured Mortimer with his eye. The latter was a bigger man
than Desmond in every way and Desmond suspected that he was even
stronger than he looked. Desmond wondered whether he should try
and overpower him then and there. The other was almost certain to
carry a revolver, he thought, while he was unarmed. Failure, he
knew, would ruin everything. The gang would disperse to the four
winds of heaven while as for Mr. Bellward--well, he would
certainly be "for it," as the soldiers say.

No, he must hold his hand until the meeting had taken place. This
was the first conference that Mortimer had summoned, and Desmond
intended to see that it should be the last. But first he meant to
find out all there was to know about the working of the gang.

He resolved to wait and see what the evening would bring forth.
The telephone was "a washout": the motor-cycle was now his only
chance to summon aid for he knew it was hopeless to think of
tackling single-handed odds of four to one (to say nothing of the
lady in the case). It must be his business to make an opportunity
to slip away on the motor-bike to Stanning. Ten minutes to get
there, five minutes to deliver his message at the police station
(if the Chief's people made their headquarters there), and ten
minutes to get back if they had a car. Could he leave the meeting
for 25 minutes without arousing suspicions? He doubted it; but it
must be. There was no other way. And then with a shock that made
him cold with fear he remembered Mortimer's motor-car.

If, during his absence, anything occurred to arouse their
suspicions, the whole crowd could pile into the car and be away
long before Desmond could be back with help. The fog had lifted
and it was a clear night outside. The car would have to be got
rid of before he left the house, that was all about it. But how?
A means to that end must also be discovered as the evening
progressed. By the way, what had Mortimer done with his car?

A very faint throbbing somewhere outside answered Desmond's
unspoken question.

Mortimer flung aside his paper.

"Isn't that a car?" he asked, "that'll be they. I sent Max to
Wentfield station to meet our friends!"

There was the sound of voices, of bustle in the hall. Then the
door opened and a man came in. Desmond had a brief moment of
acute suspense. Was he supposed to know him?

He was a short, ugly fellow with immensely broad shoulders, a
heavy puffy face, a gross, broad nose, and a tooth-brush
moustache. He might have been a butcher to look at. In the top
edge of his coat lapel, he wore a small black pin with a glass
head.

"Well, Max," said Mortimer. "Have you brought them all?"

The man was mustering Desmond with a suspicious, unfriendly
stare.

"My friend, Bellward!" said Mortimer, clapping Desmond on the
shoulder. "You've heard of Bellward, Max!"

And to Desmond's surprise he made some passes in the air.

The man's mien underwent a curious change. He became cringing;
almost overawed.

"Reelly," he grunted, "reelly now! You don't siy! Glad to know
yer, mister, I'm shore!"

He spoke with a vile snuffing cockney accent, and thrust out his
hand to Desmond. Then he added to Mortimer:

"There's three on 'em. That's the count, ain't it? I lef' the car
outside on the drive!"

At this moment two more of the guests entered: One was a tall,
emaciated looking man of about fifty who seemed to be in the last
stages of consumption; the other a slightly built young fellow
with a shock of black hair brushed back and an olive complexion.
He wore pince-nez and looked like a Russian revolutionary. They,
too, wore the badge of the brotherhood--the black pin in the coat
lapel.

"Goot efening, Mr. Mortimer," said the tall man in a guttural
voice, "this is Behrend"--he indicated the young man by his
side--"you haft not meet him no?"

Then, leaving Behrend to shake hands with Mortimer, he literally
rushed at Desmond and shook him by the hand exactly as though he
were working a pump handle.

"My tear Pellward," he cried, "it is a hondred year since I haf
see you, not? And how are the powers!"

He lowered his voice and gazed mysteriously at him.

Desmond, at a loss what to make of this extraordinary individual,
answered at random:

"The powers? Still fighting, I believe!"

The tall man stared open-mouthed at him for a moment. Then,
clapping his hands together, he burst into a high-pitched cackle
of laughter.

"A joke," he yelled, "a mos' excellent joke! I must tell this to
Minna. My vriend, I haf not mean the great Powers."

He looked dramatically about him, then whispered:

"I mean, the oggult!"

Desmond, who was now quite out of his depth, wagged his head
solemnly at the other as though to indicate that, his occult
powers were something not to be lightly mentioned. He had no fear
of the tall man, at any rate. He placed him as a very ordinary
German, a common type in the Fatherland, simple-minded, pedantic,
inquisitive, and a prodigious bore withal but dangerous, for of
this stuff German discipline kneads militarists.

But the door opened again to admit the last of the guests. A
woman entered. Desmond was immediately struck by the contrast she
presented to the others, Mortimer with his goggle eyes and untidy
hair, Max, gross and bestial, Behrend, Oriental and shifty, and
the scarecrow figure of the tall man.

Despite her age, which must have been nearly sixty, she still
retained traces of beauty. Her features were very regular, and
she had a pair of piercing black eyes of undimmed brightness. Her
gray hair was tastefully arranged, and she wore a becoming black
velvet gown with a black lace scarf thrown across the shoulders.
A white silk rose was fastened to her bodice by a large black pin
with a glass head.

Directly she appeared, the tall man shouted to her in German.

"Sag' mal, Minna..." he began.

Mortimer turned on him savagely.

"Hold your tongue, No. 13," he cried, "are you mad? What the
devil do you mean by it? You know the rules!"

By way of reply, "No. 13" broke into a regular frenzy of coughing
which left him gasping for breath.

"Pardon! I haf' forgot!" he wheezed out between the spasms.

The woman went over to Mortimer and put out tier gloved hand.

"I am Mrs. Malplaquet," she said in a pleasant voice. "And you
are Mr. Mortimer, I think!"

Mortimer bowed low over her hand.

"Madame, I am charmed to meet one of whom I have heard nothing
but praise," he said.

"Verry pretty!" replied Mrs. Malplaquet smiling. "They tell me
you have a great way with the ladies, my dear sir!"

"But," she went on, "I am neglecting our host, my dear Mr.
Bellward. How are you, my friend? How well you are looking... so
young... so fresh! I declare you seem to have got five years
younger!"

The keen black eyes searched Desmond's face. He felt horribly
uncomfortable. The woman's eyes were like gimlets boring right
into him. He suddenly felt that his disguise was a poor one. He
remembered Crook's warning to be wary of women, and he inwardly
quailed.

"I am so glad to meet you again!" he murmured. He didn't like
Mrs. Malplaquet's eyes. They assorted strangely with the rest of
her gentle and refined appearance. They were hard and cruel,
those black eyes. Thy put him in mind of a snake.

"It is so long since I've seen you," she said, "that positively
your voice seems to have changed."

"That's because I have a cold," said Desmond.

"Fiddlesticks!" retorted the lady, "the timbre is quite
different! Bellward, I believe you're in love! Don't tell me
you've been running after that hank of hair that Mortimer is so
devoted to!" She glanced in Mortimer's direction, but that
gentleman was engaged in earnest conversation with Behrend and
the tall man.

"Whom do you meant" asked Desmond.

"Where are your eyes, man?" rapped out Mrs. Malplaquet. "The
dancer woman, of course, Nur-el-what-do-you-call-it. There's the
devil of a row brewing about the way our friend over there is
neglecting us to run after the minx. They're getting sharp in
this country, Bellward--I've lived here for forty years so I know
what I'm talking about--and we can't afford to play any tricks.
Mortimer will finish by bringing destruction on every one of us.
And I shall tell him so tonight. And so will No. 13! And so will
young Behrend! You ought to hear Behrend about it!"

Mrs. Malplaquet began to interest Desmond. She was obviously a
woman of refinement, and he was surprised to find her in this odd
company. By dint of careful questioning, he ascertained the fact
that she lived in London, at a house on Campden Hill. She seemed
to know a good many officers, particularly naval men.

"I've been keeping my eyes open as I promised, Bellward," she
said, "and I believe I've got hold of a likely subject for you--a
submarine commander he is, and very psychic. When will you come
and meet him at my house?"

Mortimer's voice, rising above the buzz of conversation, checked
his reply.

"If you will all sit down," he said, "we'll get down to
business."

Despite all distractions, Desmond had been watching for this
summons. He had marked down for himself a chair close to the
door. For this he now made, after escorting Mrs. Malplaquet to
the settee where she sat down beside Behrend. Max took the
armchair on the left of the fireplace; while No. 13 perched
himself grotesquely on a high music-stool, his long legs curled
round the foot. Mortimer stood in his former position on the
hearth, his back to the fire.

A very odd-looking band! Desmond commented to himself but he
thought he could detect in each of the spies a certain ruthless
fanaticism which experience taught him to respect as highly
dangerous. And they all had hard eyes!

When they were seated, Mortimer said:

"About the 14th of this month the British Admiralty will begin
the work of shipping to France ten divisions of American troops
now training in this country. The most extraordinary precautions
are being taken to complete this huge undertaking with success.
It seems to me that the moment has come for us to demonstrate the
efficiency of our new organization."

He looked round at his audience but no one said a word. Desmond
felt very distinctly that there was a hostile atmosphere against
Mortimer in that room.

"I asked you to come here to-night," Mortimer went on, "to
discuss the plans for sending prompt and accurate information
regarding the movements of these transports to the other side. I
warn you that this time our mode of procedure will have to be
radically different from the methods we have pursued on former
occasions. To expend our energies in collecting information at
half a dozen different ports of war will be waste of time. The
direction of the whole of this enterprise lies in the hands of
one man at the Admiralty."

Behrend, who had struck Desmond as a rather taciturn young man,
shook his head dubiously.

"That makes things very difficult," he remarked.

"Wait," replied Mortimer. "I agree, it is very difficult, the
more so as I have reason to believe that the authorities have
discovered the existence of our organization."

Mrs. Malplaquet and Behrend turned to one another simultaneously.

"What did I say?" said Behrend.

"I told you so," said the lady.

"Therefore," Mortimer resumed, "our former activities on the
coast will practically be paralyzed. We shall have to confine our
operations to London while Max and Mr. Behrend here will be
entrusted with the task of getting the news out to our
submarines."

No. 13 broke in excitedly.

"Vork in London, vork in London!" he cried. "It is too dangerous,
my vriend. Vot do I know of London? Portsmouth" (he called it
Portsmouse), "Sout'ampton, the Isle of Vight... good... it is my
province. But, London... it is senseless!"

Mortimer turned his gig-lamps on the interrupter.

"You will take your orders from me as before," he said quietly.

Behrend adjusted his pince-nez.

"No. 13 is perfectly right," he remarked, "he knows his
territory, and he should be allowed to work there."

"You, too," Mortimer observed in the same calm tone as before,
"will take your orders from me!"

With a quick gesture the young man dashed his long black hair out
of his eyes.

"Maybe," he replied, "but only as long as I feel sure that your
orders are worth following.

"Do you dare..." began Mortimer, shouting.

"... At present," the other continued, as though Mortimer had not
spoken. "I don't feel at all sure that they are."

The atmosphere was getting a trifle heated, thought Desmond. If
he judged Mortimer aright, he was not the man to let himself be
dictated to by anybody. He was wondering how the scene would end
when suddenly something caught his eye that took his mind right
away from the events going forward in the room.

Opposite him, across the library, was a French window across
which the curtains had been drawn. One of the curtains, however,
had got looped up on a chair so that there was a gap at the
bottom of the window showing the pane.

In this gap was a face pressed up against the glass. To his
astonishment Desmond recognized the weather-beaten features of
the odd man, Mr. John Hill. The face remained there only for a
brief instant. The next moment it was gone and Desmond's
attention was once more claimed by the progress of the
conference.

"Do I understand that you refuse to serve under me any longer?"
Mortimer was saying to Behrend, who had risen from the settee and
stood facing him.

"As long as you continue to behave as you are doing at present,"
replied the other, "you may understand that!"

Mortimer made a quick dive for his pocket. In an instant Max had
jumped at him and caught his arm.

"Don't be a fool!" he cried, "for Gawd's sake, put it away,
carn't yer? D 'you want the 'ole ruddy plice abart our ears?"

"I'll have no disobedience of orders," roared Mortimer,
struggling with the other. In his fist he had a big automatic
pistol. It was a prodigious weapon, the largest pistol that
Desmond had ever seen.

"He threatened him, he threatened him!" screamed No. 13 jumping
about on his stool.

"Take it away from him, Max, for Heaven's sake!" cried the lady.

Everybody was talking at once. The noise was so loud that Desmond
wondered whether old Martha would hear the din. He sat in his
chair by the door, a silent witness of the scene. Then suddenly,
at the height of the hubbub, he heard the faint humming of a
motor-car. It lasted for perhaps thirty seconds, then gradually
died away.

"What did it mean?" he asked himself. The only living being he
knew of outside was John Hill, the odd man, whose face he had
just seen; the only car was Mortimer's. Had the odd man gone off
in Mortimer's car? He was thankful to note that, in the din, none
save him seemed to have heard the car.

By this time Mortimer had put up his pistol and Mrs. Malplaquet
was speaking. Her remarks were effective and very much to the
point. She upbraided Mortimer with his long and mysterious
absences which she attributed to his infatuation for Nur-el-Din
and complained bitterly of the dancer's imprudence in consorting
openly with notorious folk like Lazarro and Bryan Mowbury.

"I went to the girl myself," she said, "and begged her to be more
circumspect. But Madame would not listen to advice; Madame was
doubtless sure of her position with our revered leader, and
thought she could reject the friendly counsel of one old enough
to be her mother. Behrend and Max and No. 13 there--all of
us--are absolutely agreed that we are not going on with this sort
of thing any longer. If you are to remain in charge of our
organization, Mr. Mortimer, we want to know where you are to be
found and how you spend your time. In short, we want to be sure
that you are not playing a game that most of us have at different
times played on subordinate agents... I mean, that when the
crisis comes, we fall into the trap and you walk away. You had
better realize once and for all that we are too old hands for
that sort of trick."

Here Max took up the thread. "Mrs. Malplaquet had put it very
strite, so she 'ad, and wot he wanted to know was what Mortimer
'ad to siy?"

Mortimer was very suave in his reply; a bad sign, thought
Desmond, for it indicated that he was not sure of himself. He was
rather vague, spoke about a vitally important mission that he had
had to fulfil but which he had now brought to a successful
conclusion, so that he was at length free to devote his whole
attention once more to the great task in hand.

Behrend brought his fist crashing down on the arm of the settee.

"Words, words," he cried, "it won't do for me. Isn't there a man
in the room besides me? You, Bellward, or you, Max, or you,
No.13? Haven't you got any guts any of You? Are you going to sit
here and listen to the soft soap of a fellow who has probably
sent better men than himself to their death with tripe of this
kind? It may do for you, but by the Lord, it won't do for me!"

Mortimer cleared his throat uneasily.

"Our host is silent," said Mrs. Malplaquet, "what does Mr.
Bellward think about it?"

Desmond spoke up promptly.

"I think it would be very interesting to hear something further
about this mission of Mortimer's," he observed:

Mortimer cast him a glance of bitter malice.

"Well," he said, after a pause, "you force my hand. I shall tell
you of this mission of mine and I shall show you the evidence,
because it seems essential in the interests of our organization.
But I assure you I shall not forget this want of confidence you
have shown in me; and I shall see that you don't forget it,
either!"

As he spoke, he glared fiercely at Desmond through his glasses.

"Let's hear about the precious mission," jeered Behrend, "let's
see the evidence. The threats'll keep!"

Then Mortimer told them of how the Star of Poland came into
Nur-el-Din's possession, and of the Crown Prince's embarrassment
when the German authorities claimed it for the regalia of the new
Kingdom of Poland.

"The Crown Prince," he said, "summoned me to him in person and
gave me the order to make my way to England immediately and
recover the gem at all costs and by any means. Did I whine or
snivel about being sent to my death as some of you were doing
just now? No! That is not the way of the Prussian Guard..."

"The Prussian Guard?" cried No. 13 in an awed voice. "Are you also
of the Prussian Guard, comrade?"

He had risen from his seat and there was something almost of
majesty about his thin, ungainly figure as he drew himself to his
full height.

"Ay, comrade, I was," replied Mortimer.

"Then," cried No. 13, "you are..."

"No names, comrade," warned Mortimer, "no names, I beg!"

"No names, no names!" repeated the other and relapsed into his
seat in a reverie.

"How I got to England," Mortimer continued, "matters nothing; how
I fulfilled my mission is neither here nor there. But I recovered
the gem and the proof..."

He thrust a hand into the inner pocket of his coat and plucked
out a white paper package sealed up with broad red seals.

Desmond held his breath. It was the white paper package, exactly
as Barbara had described.

"Look at it well, Behrend," said Mortimer, holding it up for the
young man to see, "it cost me a man's life to get that. If it had
sent twenty men to their death, I should have had it just the
same!"

Mrs. Malplaquet clapped her hands, her eyes shining.

"Bravo, bravo!" she exclaimed, "that's the spirit! That's the way
to talk, Mortimer!"

"Cut it out," snarled Behrend, "and let's see the goods!"

All had left their seats and were gathered in a group about
Mortimer as he began to break the gleaming red wag seals. One by
one he burst them, the white paper slipped off and disclosed... a
box of cigarettes.

Mortimer stood gazing in stupefaction at the gaudy green and gold
lettering of the box. Then, running his thumb-nail swiftly along
the edge of the box, he broke the paper wrapping, the box burst
open and a shower of cigarettes fell to the ground.

"So that's your Star of Poland, is it?" cried Behrend in a
mocking voice.

"Wot 'ave yer done wiv' the sparklers, eh?" demanded Max,
catching Mortimer roughly by the arm.

But Mortimer stood, aimlessly shaking the empty box in front of
him, as though to convince himself that the gem was not there.
Behrend fell on his knees and raked the pile of cigarettes over
and over with his fingers.

"Nothing there!" he shouted angrily, springing to his feet. "It's
all bluff! He's bluffing to the end! See, he doesn't even attempt
to find his famous jewel! He knows it isn't there!"

But Mortimer paid no heed. He was staring straight in front of
him, a strangely woe-begone figure with his thatch of untidy hair
and round goggle eyes. Then the cigarette box fell to the floor
with a crash as Mortimer's hands dropped, with, a hopeless
gesture, to his sides.

"Barbara Mackwayte!" he whispered in a low voice, not seeming to
realize that he was speaking aloud, "so that's what she wanted
with Nur-el-Din!"

Desmond was standing at Mortimer's elbow and caught the whisper.
As he heard Mortimer speak Barbara's name, he had a sudden
premonition that his own unmasking was imminent, though he
understood as little of the purport of the other's remark as of
the pile of cigarettes lying on the carpet. As Mortimer turned to
look at him, Desmond nerved himself to meet the latter's gaze.
But Mortimer's face wore the look of a desperate man. There was
no recognition in his eyes.

Not so with Desmond. Perhaps the bitterness of his disappointment
had made Mortimer careless, perhaps the way in which he had
pronounced Barbara's name struck a familiar chord in Desmond's
memory. The unkempt hair brushed down across the forehead, the
thick glasses, the heavy moustache still formed together an
impenetrable mask which Desmond's eyes failed to pierce. But now
he recalled the voice. As Mortimer looked at him, the truth
dawned on Desmond and he knew that the man standing beside him
was Maurice Strangwise, his comrade-in-arms in France.

At that very moment a loud crash rang through the room, a cold
blast of damp air came rushing in and the lamp on the table
flared up wildly, flickered an instant and went out, leaving the
room in darkness save for the glow of the fire.

A deep voice cried:

"May I ask what you are all doing in my house?"

The secret door of the bookshelves had swung back and there,
framed in the gaping void, Desmond saw the dark figure of a man.



CHAPTER XIX. THE UNINVITED GUEST

There are moments in life when the need for prompt action is so
urgent that thought, decision and action must be as one operation
of the brain. In the general consternation following on the
dramatic appearance of this uninvited guest, Desmond had a brief
respite in which to think over his position.

Should he make a dash for it or stay where he was and await
developments?

Without a second's hesitation; he decided on the latter course.
With the overpowering odds against him it was more than doubtful
whether he could ever reach the library door. Besides, to go was
to abandon absolutely all hope of capturing the gang; for his
flight would warn the conspirators that the game was up. On the
other hand, the new-comer might be an ally, perhaps an emissary
of the Chief's. The strange behavior of the odd man had shown
that something was afoot outside of which those in the library
were unaware. Was the uninvited guest the deus ex machina who was
to help him, Desmond, out of his present perilous fix?

Meanwhile the stranger had stepped into the room, drawing the
secret door to behind him. Desmond heard his heavy step and the
dull thud of the partition swinging into place. The sound seemed
to break the spell that hung over the room.

Mortimer was the first to recover his presence of mind. Crying
out to No. 13 to lock the door leading into the hall, he fumbled
for a moment at the table. Desmond caught the noise of a match
being scratched and the next moment the library was again bathed
in the soft radiance of the lamp.

Picking up the light, Mortimer strode across to the stranger.

"What do you want here" he demanded fiercely, "and who the
devil..."

He broke off without completing his sentence, drawing back in
amazement. For the rays of the lamp fell upon the pale face of a
stoutish, bearded man, veering towards middle age standing in
front of Mortimer. And the face was the face of the stoutish,
bearded man, veering towards middle age, who stood in the shadow
a few paces behind Mortimer. Each man was a complete replica of
the other, save that the face of the new arrival was thin and
haggard with that yellowish tinge which comes from long
confinement.

As Mortimer staggered back, the uninvited guest recoiled in his
turn. He was staring fixedly across the room at his double who
met his gaze firmly, erect, tense, silent. The others looked in
sheer stupefaction from one to the other of the two Mr.
Bellwards. For nearly a minute the only sound in the room was the
deep ticking of the clock, counting away the seconds separating
him from eternity, Desmond thought.

It was Mrs. Malplaquet who broke the silence. Suddenly her nerves
snapped under the strain, and she screamed aloud.

"A--ah!" she cried, "look! There are two of them! No, no, it
can't be!"

And she sank half fainting on the sofa.

Behrend whipped out a pistol from his hip pocket and thrust it in
Mortimer's face.

"Is this another of your infernal surprise packets?" he demanded
fiercely.

All the spies seemed on a sudden to be armed, Desmond noted, all,
that is, save Mrs. Malplaquet who lay cowering on the settee.
Mortimer had pulled out his super-Mauser; No. 13, who was
guarding the door, had a revolver in his hand, and Behrend, as
has been stated, was threatening Mortimer with his Browning.

Now Max advanced threateningly into the room, a long seaman's
knife in his hand..

"Put that blarsted shooting-iron awiy!" he snarled at Mortimer,
"and tell us wot's the little gime, will yer! Come on, egpline!"

With absolute self-possession Mortimer turned from the stranger
to Desmond.

"I think it is up to the twins to explain," he said almost
nonchalantly, "suppose we hear what this gentleman, who arrived
so surprisingly through the book-shelves, has to say?"

Though threatened with danger from two sides, from the gang and
possibly, as far as he knew, from the stranger, Mortimer was
perfectly calm. Desmond never admired Maurice Strangwise more
than in that moment. All eyes now turned questioningly towards
the new arrival. As for Desmond he drew back as far as he dared
into the shadow. He knew he was in the direst peril; but he was
not afraid for himself. He was crushed to the ground by the
sickening feeling that he was going to be beaten, that the gang
were going to slip through his fingers after all... and he was
powerless to prevent it.

He guessed at once what had happened. Bellward must have escaped
from custody; for there was no disguise about this pale,
flustered creature who had the cowed look of a hunted man in his
eyes. He must have come to the Mill House to get his motorcycle;
for he surely would have known that the villa would be the first
place to which the police would follow him up.

Desmond saw a little ray of hope. If--it was a very big
if--Bellward's flight were discovered promptly, the police might
be expected to reach the Mill House very soon behind him.
Bellward must have come straight there; for he had not even taken
the very elementary precaution of shaving off his beard. That
made Desmond think that he must have escaped some time that
evening after the barbers' shops were closed.

With thumping heart, with bated breath, he waited for what was to
come. In a very little while, he told himself, the truth must
come out. His only chance was to try and bluff his way out of
this appalling dilemma and above all, at all costs--this was the
essential fact which, he told himself, he must keep steadfastly
before his eyes--not to lose sight of Mortimer whatever happened.

Bellward's voice--and its tones showed Desmond what an
accomplished mime Crook had been--broke the silence.

"I have nothing to explain," he said, turning from the sofa where
he had been exchanging a few words in an undertone with Mrs.
Malplaquet, "this is my house. That is sufficient explanation for
my presence here, I imagine. But I confess I am curious to know
what this person"--he indicated Desmond--"is doing in my clothes,
if I mistake not, giving what I take to be a very successful
impersonation of myself."

Then Desmond stepped boldly out of the shadow into the circle of
light thrown by the lamp.

"I don't know what you all think," he said firmly, "but it seems
to me singularly unwise for us to stand here gossiping when there
is a stranger amongst us. I fail to understand the motive of this
gentleman in breaking into my house by my private door, wearing
my clothes, if I am to believe my eyes; but I clearly realize the
danger of admitting strangers to a gathering of this kind."

"Quite right," agreed Behrend, nodding his head in assent.

"You have had one singular surprise to-night already," Desmond
resumed, "in the matter of the jewel which our respected leader
was about to show us: if you recollect, our friend was only
prevented from giving us the explanation which he certainly owed
us over his little hoax by the arrival, the most timely arrival,
of his confederate..."

"Confederate?" shouted Mortimer, "what the devil do you mean by
that?"

"Yes, confederate," Desmond repeated. "Max, Behrend, Mrs.
Malplaquet, all of you, look at this wretched fellow"--he pointed
a finger of scorn at Bellward--"trembling with fright at the role
that has been thrust upon him, to force his way into our midst,
to give his accomplice the tip to clear out before the police
arrive."

"Stop!" exclaimed Mortimer, raising his pistol. Behrend caught
his hand.

"We'll hear you in a minute!" he said.

"Let him finish!" said Mrs. Malplaquet, and there was a certain
ominous quietness in her tone that startled Desmond.

As for Bellward, he remained silent, with arms folded, listening
very intently.

"Doubtless, this double of mine," continued Desmond in a mocking
voice, "is the bearer of the Star of Poland, the wonderful jewel
which has required our beloved leader to devote so much of his
time to a certain charming lady. Bah! are you going to let a man
like this," and he pointed to Mortimer disdainfully with his
hand, "a man who puts you in the fighting line while he amuses
himself in the rear, are you going to let this false friend, this
bogus spy, cheat you like this? My friends, my advice to you, if
you don't want to have another and yet more disagreeable
surprise, is to make sure that this impudent imposter is not here
for the purpose of selling us all!"

He raised his voice until it rang through the room, at the same
time looking round the group at the faces of the spies to see how
his harangue had worked upon their feelings. Max and Behrend, he
could see, were on his side; No. 13 was obviously, undecided;
Mortimer and Bellward were, of course, against him; Mrs.
Malplaquet sat with her hands in her lap, her eyes cast down,
giving no sign.

"It's high time..." Mortimer began violently but Mrs. Malplaquet
put up her hand and checked him.

"Better hear Bellward!" she said softly.

"I know nothing of what has been taking place in my absence," he
said, "either here or outside. I only know that I escaped from
the escort that was taking me back from Scotland Yard to Brixton
Prison this evening and that the police are hard on my track. I
have delayed too long as, it is. Every one of us in this room,
with the exception of the traitor who is amongst us"--he pointed
a finger in denunciation at Desmond--"is in the most imminent
peril as long as we stay here. The rest of you can please
yourselves. I'm off!"

He turned and pressed the spring. The book shelves swung open.
Behrend sprang forward.

"Not so fast," he cried. "You don't leave this room until we
know who you are!"

And he covered him with his pistol.

"Fool!" exclaimed Bellward who had stopped on the threshold of
the secret door, "do you want to trap the lot of us! Tell him,
Minna," he said to Mrs. Malplaquet, "and for Heaven's sake, let
us be gone!"

Mrs. Malplaquet stood up.

"This is Basil Bellward," she said, "see, he's wearing the ring I
gave him, a gold snake with emerald eyes! And now," she cried,
raising her voice shrilly, "before we go, kill that man!"

And she pointed at Desmond.

Bellward had seized her by the arm and was dragging her through
the opening in the shed when a shrill whistle resounded from the
garden. Without any warning Mortimer swung round and fired
point-blank at Desmond. But Desmond had stooped to spring at the
other and the bullet went over his head. With ears singing from
the deafening report of the pistol in the confined space, with
the acrid smell of cordite in his nostrils, Desmond leapt at
Mortimer's throat, hoping to bear him to the ground before he
could shoot again. As he sprang he heard the crash of glass and a
loud report. Someone cried out sharply "Oh!" as though in
surprise and fell prone between him and his quarry; then he
stumbled and at the same time received a crashing blow on the
head. Without a sound he dropped to the ground across a body that
twitched a little and then lay still.

      *       *       *       *      *

Somewhere in the far, far distance Desmond heard a woman
crying--long drawn-out wailing lamentations on a high, quavering
note. He had a dull, hard pain in his head which felt curiously
stiff. Drowsily he listened for a time to the woman's sobbing, so
tired, so curiously faint that he scarcely cared to wonder what
it signified. But at last it grated on him by its insistency and
he opened his eyes to learn the cause of it.

His bewildered gaze fell upon what seemed to him a gigantic,
ogre-like face, as huge, as grotesque, as a pantomime mask.
Beside it was a light, a brilliant light, that hurt his eyes.

Then a voice, as faint as a voice on a long distance telephone,
said:

"Well, how are you feeling?"

The voice was so remote that Desmond paid no attention to it. But
he was rather surprised to hear a voice reply, a voice that came
from his own lips, curiously enough:

"Fine!"

So he opened his eyes again to ascertain the meaning of this
phenomenon. This time the ogre-like face came into focus, and
Desmond saw a man with a tumbler in his hand bending over him.

"That's right," said the man, looking very intently at him, "feel
a bit better, eh? Got a bit of a crack, what? Just take a
mouthful of brandy... I've got it here!"

Desmond obediently swallowed the contents of the glass that the
other held to his lips. He was feeling horribly weak, and very
cold. His collar and shirt were unbuttoned, and his neck and
shoulders were sopping wet with water. On his ears still fell the
wailing of the woman.

"Corporal," said the man bending over him, "just go and tell that
old hag to hold her noise! She'll have to go out of the house if
she can't be quiet!"

Desmond opened his eyes again. He was lying on the settee in the
library. A tall figure in khaki, who had been stirring the fire
with his boot, turned at the doctor's summons and left the room.
On the table the lamp was still burning but its rays were
neutralized by the glare of a crimson dawn which Desmond could
see flushing the sky through the shattered panes of the French
window. In the centre of the floor lay a long object covered by a
tablecloth, beside it a table overturned with a litter of broken
glass strewn about the carpet.

The woman's sobbing ceased. The corporal came back into the room.

"She'll be quiet now, sir," he said, "I told her to get you and
the gentlemen a cup o' tea."

Then, to Desmond, he said:

"Nasty ding you got, sir! My word, I thought they'd done for you
when I come in at the winder!"

The telephone on the desk tingled sharply. The door opened at the
same moment and a shabby little old man with sandy side whiskers
and moleskin trousers came briskly in.

His appearance had a curious effect on the patient on the settee.
Despite the doctor's restraining hand, he struggled into a
sitting position, staring in bewilderment at the shabby old man
who had gone straight to the telephone and lifted the receiver.
And well might Desmond stare; for here was Mr. John Hill, the odd
man, talking on the telephone. And his voice...

"Well?" said the man at the telephone, curtly.

"Yes, speaking. You've got her, eh? Good. What's that? Well,
that's something. No trace of the others? Damn!"

He slammed down the receiver and turned to face the settee.

"Francis!" cried Desmond.

And then he did a thing highly unbecoming in a field officer. He
burst into tears.



CHAPTER XX. THE ODD MAN

Desmond and Francis Okewood sat in the dining-room of the Mill
House finishing an excellent breakfast of ham and eggs and coffee
which old Martha had prepared for them.

Francis was still wearing Mr. John Hill's greasy jacket and
moleskins, but the removal of the sandy whiskers and a remarkable
wig, consisting of a bald pate with a fringe of reddish hair, had
gone far to restore him to the semblance of his former self.

Desmond was feeling a good deal better. His head had escaped the
full force of the smashing blow dealt at him by Strangwise with
the butt of his pistol. He had instinctively put up his arm to
defend his face and the thickly padded sleeve of Bellward's
jacket had broken the force of the blow. Desmond had avoided a
fractured skull at the price of an appalling bruise on the right
forearm and a nasty laceration of the scalp.

Francis had resolutely declined to enlighten him as to the events
of the night until both had breakfasted. After despatching the
corporal of military police to hurry the housekeeper on with the
breakfast, Francis had taken his brother straight to the
dining-room, refusing to let him ask the questions which thronged
his brain until they had eaten and drunk. Only when all the ham
and eggs had disappeared, did Francis, lighting one of Mr.
Bellward's cigars, consent to satisfy his brother's curiosity.

"It was only yesterday morning," he said, "that I landed at
Folkstone from the Continent. How I got the Chief's message
recalling me and how I made my escape through the Turkish lines
to Allenby's headquarters is a long story which will keep. The
Chief had a car waiting for me at Folkstone and I reached London
in time to lunch with him. We had a long talk and he gave me
carte blanche to jump into this business now, when and where I
thought I could best help you."

Desmond smiled bitterly.

"The Chief couldn't trust me to make good on my own, I suppose,"
he said.

"The Chief had a very good idea of the character of the people
you had to deal with, Des.," retorted Francis, "and he was a
trifle apprehensive that the role you were playing might lead to
complications, supposing the gang were to see through your
impersonation. He's a wonderful man, that, Des., and he was dead
right--as he always is."

"But how?" asked Desmond. "Did the crowd spot me?"

"No," answered the other; "but it was your disguise which was
responsible for the escape of Strangwise--"

"What?" cried Desmond. "He's escaped after all!"

Francis nodded.

"Yes," he said, "got clear away and left no trace. Wait a minute
and you shall hear! When I have told my story, you shall tell
yours and between us, we'll piece things together!

"Well, when I left the Chief yesterday, I came down here. The
description of Mr. John Hill, your odd man, rather tickled my
fancy. I wanted badly to get at you for a quiet chat and it
seemed to me that if I could borrow Mr. Hill's appearance for a
few hours now and then I might gain access to you without rousing
any suspicion. You see, I knew that old Hill left here about dusk
every afternoon, so I guessed the coast would be clear.

"Clarkson's fitted me out with the duds and the make-up and I got
down to Wentfield by half-past six. The fog was so infernally
thick that it took me more than an hour to get here on foot. It
must have been close on eight o'clock when I pushed open your
front gate. I thought of going boldly into the kitchen and asking
for you, but, fortunately, I decided to have a preliminary prowl
round the place. Through a chink in the curtains of the library I
saw you and a stranger talking together. The stranger was quite
unknown to me; but one thing about him I spotted right off. I saw
that he was disguised; so I decided to hang about a bit and await
developments.

"I loafed around in the fog for about half an hour. Then I heard
a car coming up the drive. I hid myself in the rhododendron bush
opposite the front door and saw two men and a woman get out. They
hurried into the house, so that I didn't have a chance of seeing
their faces. But I got a good, glimpse of the chauffeur as he
bent down to turn out the headlights. And, yes, I knew him!"

"Max, they called him," said Desmond.

"His name was Mirsky when last I saw him," answered Francis, "and
mine was Apfelbaum, if you want to know. He was a German agent in
Russia and as ruthless and unscrupulous a rascal as you'll find
anywhere in the German service. I must say I never thought he'd
have the nerve to show his face in this country, though I believe
he's a Whitechapel Jew born and bred. However, there he was and
the sight of his ugly mug told me that something was doing. But
like a fool I decided to hang on a bit and watch, instead of
going right off in that car and fetching help from Stanning."

"It was just as well you waited," said Desmond, "for if you'd
gone off at once they must have heard the car and the fat would
have been in the fire straight away!"

And he told Francis of the loud dispute among the confederates in
the library, the noise of which had effectually covered the sound
of the departing ear.

Francis laughed.

"From my observation post outside," he said, "I could only see
you, Des, and that blackguard, Mug, as you two were sitting
opposite the window. I couldn't see more than the feet of the
others. But your face told me the loud voices which reached me
even outside meant that a crisis of some sort was approaching, so
I thought it was time to be up and doing. So I sneaked round to
the front of the house, got the engine of the car going and
started off down the drive.

"I had the very devil of a job to get to Stanning. Ever since
you've been down here, the Chief has had special men on duty day
and night at the police-station there. I didn't dare stop to
light the head-lamps and as a result the first thing I did was to
charge the front gate and get the back wheel so thoroughly jammed
that it took me the best part of twenty minutes to get the
blooming car clear. When at last I got to the station, I found
that Matthews, the Chief's man, you know, had just arrived by car
from London with a lot of plain-clothes men and some military
police. He was in the very devil of a stew. He told me that
Bellward had escaped, that the Chief was out of town for the
night and ungetatable, and that he (Matthews) had come down on
his own to prevent the gaff being blown on you and also to
recapture Mr. Bellward if he should be mad enough to make for his
old quarters.

"I told Matthews of the situation up at the Mill House. Neither
of us was able to understand why you had not telephoned for
assistance--we only discovered later that the telephone had been
disconnected--but I went bail that you were up against a very
stiff proposition. I told Matthews that, by surrounding the
house, we might capture the whole gang.

"Matthews is a cautious cuss and he wanted a good deal of
persuading, so we lost a lot of time. In the end, he wouldn't
take my advice to rush every available man to the scene, but only
consented to take two plainclothes men and two military police.
He was so precious afraid of upsetting your arrangements. The
Chief, it appears, had warned everybody against doing that. So we
all piled into the car and I drove them back to the Mill House.

"This time I left the car at the front gate and we went up to the
house on foot. We had arranged that Matthews and one of the
military police, both armed, should stay and guard the car, while
the two plainclothes men and the other military policeman, the
corporal here, should accompany me to the house. Matthews
believed my yarn that we were only going to 'investigate.' What I
intended to do in reality was to round up the whole blessed lot.

"I put one of the plain-clothes men on the front door and the
other round at the back of the house. Their orders were to stop
anybody who came out and at the same time to whistle for
assistance. The corporal and I went to our old observation post
outside the library window.

"The moment I glanced into the room I knew that matters had
reached a climax. I saw you--looking pretty blue, old man--facing
that woman who seemed to be denouncing you. Max stood beside you
with a pistol, and beside him was our friend, Mortimer, with a
regular whopper of an automatic. Before I had time to move, the
plain-clothes man at the back of the house whistled. He had found
the secret door with Bellward and the woman coming out of it.

"Then I saw Mortimer fire point-blank at you. I had my gun out in
a second, but I was afraid of shooting, for fear of hitting you
as you went for the other man.

"But the corporal at my side wasn't worrying much about you. Just
as you jumped he put up his gun and let fly at Mortimer with a
sense of discrimination which does him infinite credit. He missed
Mortimer, but plugged Max plumb through the forehead and my old
friend dropped in his tracks right between you and the other
fellow. On that we hacked our way through the French window. The
corporal found time to have another shot and laid out a tall,
odd-looking man..."

"No. 13," elucidated Desmond.

"... When we got inside we found him dead across the threshold of
the door leading into the hall. Behrend we caught hiding in a
brush cupboard by the back stairs. As for the others--"

"Gone?" queried Desmond with a sudden sinking at his heart.

Francis nodded.

"We didn't waste any time getting through that window," he said,
"but the catch was stiff and the broken glass was deuced
unpleasant. Still, we were too late. You were laid out on the
floor; Mortimer, Bellward and the lady had made their lucky
escape. And the secret door showed us how they had gone..."

"But I thought you had a man posted at the back?"

"Would you believe it? When the shooting began, the infernal
idiot must rush round to our assistance, so, of course, Mortimer
and Co., nipping out by the secret door, got clear away down the
drive. But that is not the worst. Matthews gave them the car!"

"No!" said Desmond incredulously.

"He did, though," answered Francis. "Mind you, Mortimer had had
the presence of mind to throw off his disguise. He presented
himself to Matthews as Strangwise. Matthews knows Strangwise
quite well: he has often seen him with the Chief.

"'My God, Captain Strangwise,' says Matthews, as the trio
appeared, 'What's happened?'

"'You're wanted up at the house immediately, Matthews,' says
Strangwise quite excitedly. 'We're to take the car and go for
assistance.'

"Matthews had a look at Strangwise's companions, and seeing
Bellward, of course, takes him for you. As for the lady, she had
a black lace muffler wound about her face.

"'Miss Mackwayte's coming with us, Matthews,' Strangwise says,
seeing Matthews look at the lady. That removed the last of any
lurking suspicions that old Matthews might have had. He left the
military policeman at the gate and tore off like mad up the drive
while Strangwise and the others jumped into the car and were away
before you could say 'knife.' The military, policeman actually
cranked up the car for them!

"When Matthews burst into the library with the story of you and
Strangwise and Miss Mackwayte having gone off for help in our
only car, I knew we had been sold. You were there, knocked out of
time on the floor, in your disguise as Bellward, so I knew that
the man with Strangwise was the real Bellward and I consequently
deduced that Strangwise was Mortimer and consequently the very
man we had to catch.

"We were done brown. If we had had a little more time to think
things out, we should have found that motor-bike and I would have
gone after the trio myself. But my first idea was to summon aid.
I tried to telephone without success and then we found the wire
cut outside. Then I had the idea of pumping Behrend. I found him
quite chatty and furious against Mortimer, whom he accused of
having sold them. He told us that the party would be sure to make
for the Dyke Inn, as Nur-el-Din was there.

"By this time Strangwise and his party had got at least an hour
clear start of us. I had set a man to repair the telephone and in
the meantime was thinking of sending another on foot to Stanning
to fetch one of our cars. Then I found the motor-bike and
despatched one of the military policemen on it to Stanning.

"In about half an hour's time he was back with a car in which
were Gordon and Harrison and some more military police. I put
Matthews in charge of the party and sent them off to the Dyke
Inn, though I felt pretty sure we were too late to catch the
trio. That was really the reason I stayed behind; besides, I
wanted to look after you. I got a turn when I saw you spread out
all over the carpet, old man, I can tell you."

Desmond, who had listened with the most eager attention, did not
speak for a minute. The sense of failure was strong upon him. How
he had bungled it all!

"Look here," he said presently in a dazed voice, "you said just
now that Matthews mistook Mrs. Malplaquet for Miss Mackwayte. Why
should Matthews think that Miss Mackwayte was down here? Did she
come down with you?"

Francis looked at him quickly.

"That crack on the head makes you forget things," he said. "Don't
you remember Miss Mackwayte coming down here to see you yesterday
afternoon Matthews thought she had stayed on..."

Desmond shook his head.

"She's not been here," he replied. "I'm quite positive about that!"

Francis sprang to his feet.

"Surely you must be mistaken," he said in tones of concern. "The
Chief sent her down yesterday afternoon on purpose to see you.
She reached Wentfield Station all right; because the porter told
Matthews that she asked him the way to the Mill House."

An ominous foreboding struck chill at Desmond's heart. He held
his throbbing head for an instant. Someone had mentioned Barbara
that night in the library but who was it? And what had he said?

Ah! of course, it was Strangwise. "So that's what she wanted with
Nur-el-Din!" he had said.

Desmond felt it all coming back to him now. Briefly he told
Francis of his absence from the Mill House in response to the
summons from Nur-el-Din, of his interview with the dancer and her
story of the Star of Poland, of his hurried return just in time
to meet Mortimer, and of Mortimer's enigmatical reference to the
dancer in the library that night.

Fancis looked graver and graver as the story proceeded. Desmond
noted it and reproached himself most bitterly with his initial
failure to inform the Chief of the visits of Nur-el-Din and
Mortimer to the Mill House. When he had finished speaking, he did
not look at Francis, but gazed mournfully out of the window into
the chilly drizzle of a sad winter's day.

"I don't like the look of it at all, Des," said his brother
shaking his head, "but first we must make sure that there has
been no misunderstanding about Miss Mackwayte. You say your
housekeeper was already here when you came back from the Dyke
Inn. She may have seen her. Let's have old Martha in!"

Between fright, bewilderment and indignation at the invasion of
the house, old Martha was, if anything, deafer and more stupid
than usual. After much interrogation they had to be satisfied
with her repeated assertion that "she 'adn't seen no young lady"
and allowed her to hobble back to her kitchen.

The two brothers stared at one another blankly. Francis was the
first to speak. His eyes were shining and his manner was rather
tense.

"Des," he asked; "what do you make of it? From what Strangwise
let fall in the library here tonight, it seems probable that Miss
Mackwayte, instead of coming here to see you as she was told--or
she may have called during your absence--went to the Dyke Inn and
saw Nur-el-Din. The muffed cry you heard at the inn suggests foul
play to me and that suspicion is deepened in my mind by the fact
that Matthews found Nur-el-Din at the Dyke Inn, as he reported to
me by telephone just now; but he says nothing about Miss
Mackwayte. Des, I fear the worst for that poor girl if she has
fallen into the hands of that gang!"

Desmond remained silent for a moment. He was trying to piece
things together as best as his aching head would allow. Both
Nur-el-Din and Strangwise were after the jewel. Nur-el-Din
believed that afternoon that Strangwise had it, while Strangwise,
on discovering his loss, had seemed to suggest that Barbara
Mackwayte had recovered it.

"Either Strangwise or Nur-el-Din, perhaps both of them," said
Desmond, "must know what has become of Miss Mackwayte."

And he explained his reasoning to Francis. His brother nodded
quickly.

"Then Nur-el-Din shall tell us," he answered sternly.

"They've arrested her?" asked Desmond with a sudden pang.

"Yes," said Francis curtly. But too late to prevent a crime being
committed. When Matthews and his party arrived, they found
Nur-el-Din in the very act of leaving the inn. The landlord,
Rass, was lying dead on the floor of the tap-room with a bullet
through the temple. That looks to me, Des, as though Nur-el-Din
had recovered the jewel!"

"But Rass is a compatriot of hers," Desmond objected.

"But he was also an inconvenient witness of her dealings with
Strangwise," retorted Francis. "If either Nur-el-Din or
Strangwise have regained possession of the Star of Poland, Des, I
fear the worst for Barbara Mackwayte. Come in!"

The corporal stood, saluting, at the door.

"Mr. Matthews on the telephone, sir!"

Francis hurried away, leaving Desmond to his thoughts, which were
not of the most agreeable. Had he been wrong in thinking
Nur-el-Din a victim? Was he, after all, nothing but a credulous
fool who had been hoodwinked by a pretty woman's play-acting? And
had he sacrificed Barbara Mackwayte to his obstinacy and his
credulousness?

Francis burst suddenly into the room.

"Des," he cried, "they've found Miss Mackwayte's hat on the floor
of the tap-room... it is stained with blood..."

Desmond felt himself growing pale:

"And the girl herself," he asked thickly, "what of her?"

Francis shook his head.

"Vanished," he replied gravely. "Vanished utterly.
Desmond," he added, "we must go over to the Dyke Inn at once!"



CHAPTER XXI. THE BLACK VELVET TOQUE

Across Morsted Fen the day was breaking red and sullen. The
brimming dykes, fringed with bare pollards, and the long sheets
of water spread out across the lush meadows, threw back the fiery
radiance of the sky from their gleaming surface. The tall
poplars about the Dyke Inn stood out hard and clear in the ruddy
light; beyond them the fen, stretched away to the flaming horizon
gloomy and flat and desolate, with nothing higher than the
stunted pollards visible against the lurid background.

Upon the absolute silence of the scene there presently broke the
steady humming of a car. A great light, paled by the dawn, came
bobbing and sweeping, along the road that skirted the fen's edge.
A big open car drew up by the track and branched, off to the inn.
Its four occupants consulted together for an instant and then
alighted. Three of them were in plain clothes; the other was a
soldier. The driver was also in khaki.

"They're astir, Mr. Matthews," said one, of the plain clothes
men, pointing towards the house, "see, there's a light in the
inn!"

They followed the direction of his finger and saw a beam of
yellow light gleaming from among the trees.

"Get your guns out, boys!" said Matthews. "Give them a chance to
put their hands up, and if they don't obey, shoot!"

Very swiftly but very quietly, the four men picked their way over
the miry track to the little bridge leading to the yard in front
of the inn. The light they had remarked shone from the inn door,
a feeble, flickering light as of an expiring candle.

Matthews, who was leading, halted and listened. Everything was
quite still. Above their head the inn sign groaned uneasily as it
was stirred by the fresh morning breeze.

"You, Gordon," whispered Matthews to the man behind him--they had
advanced in Indian file--"take Bates and go round to the back.
Harrison will go in by the front with me."

Even as he spoke a faint noise came from the interior of the
house. The four men stood stock-still and listened. In the
absolute stillness of the early morning, the sound fell
distinctly on their ears. It was a step--a light step--descending
the stairs.

Gordon and the soldier detached themselves from the party as
Matthews and the other plain clothes man crossed the bridge
swiftly and went up to the inn door. Hardly had Matthews got his
foot on the stone step of the threshold than, a piercing shriek
resounded from the room quite close at hand. The next minute a
flying figure burst out of the door and fell headlong into the
arms of Matthews who was all but overbalanced by the force of the
impact.

He closed with the figure and grappled it firmly. His arms
encountered a frail, light body, shaking from head to foot,
enveloped in a cloak of some soft, thick material.

"It's a woman!" cried Matthews.

"It's Nur-el-Din!" exclaimed his companion in the same breath,
seizing the woman by the arm.

The dancer made no attempt to escape. She stood with bowed head,
trembling violently, in a cowering, almost a crouching posture.

Harrison, who had the woman by the arm, had turned her head so
that he could see her face. She was deathly pale and her black
eyes were wide open, the pupils dilated. Her teeth were
chattering in her head. She seemed incapable of speech or motion.

"Nur-el-Din?" exclaimed Matthews in accents of triumph. "Bring
her in, Harrison, and let's have a look at her!"

But the woman recoiled in terror. She arched her body stiff, like
a child in a passion, and strained every muscle to remain where
she was cowering by the inn-door.

"Come on, my girl," said the man not unkindly, "don't you 'ear
wot the Guv'nor sez! In you go!"

Then the girl screamed aloud.

"No, no!" she cried, "not in that house! For the love of God,
don't take me back into that room! Ah! For pity's sake, let me
stay outside! Take me to prison but not, not into that house
again!"

She half fell on her knees in the mire, pleading, entreating, her
body shaken by sobs.

Then Harrison, who was an ex-Guardsman and a six-footer at that,
plucked her off her feet and carried her, still struggling, still
imploring with piteous cries, over the threshold into the house:
Matthews followed behind.

The shutters of the tap-room were still closed. Only a strip of
the dirty floor, strewn with sawdust, was illuminated by a bar of
reddish light from the daybreak outside. On the table a candle,
burnt down to the socket of its brass candlestick, flared and
puttered in a riot of running wag. Half in the bar of daylight
from outside, half in the darkness beyond the open door, against
which the flickering candlelight struggled feebly, lay the body
of a yellow-faced, undersized man with a bullet wound through the
temple.

Without effort Harrison deposited his light burden on her feet by
the table. Instantly, the girl fled, like some frightened animal
of the woods, to the farthest corner of the room. Here she
dropped sobbing on her knees, rocking herself to and fro in a
sort of paroxysm of hysteria. Harrison moved quickly round the
table after her; but he was checked by a cry from Matthews who
was kneeling by the body.

"Let her be," said Matthews, "she's scared of this and no wonder!
Come here a minute, Harrison, and see if you know, this chap!"

Harrison crossed the room and looked down at the still figure. He
whistled softly.

"My word!" he said, "but he copped it all right, sir! Ay, I know
him well enough! He's Rass, the landlord of this pub, that's who
he is, as harmless a sort of chap as ever was! Who did it, d'you
think, sir?"

Matthews, who had been going through the dead man's pockets, now
rose to his feet.

"Nothing worth writing home about there," he said half aloud.
Then to Harrison, he added: "That's what we've got to
discover... hullo, who's this?"

The door leading from the bar to the tap-room was thrust open.
Gordon put his head in.

"I left Bates on guard outside, sir," he said in answer to an
interrogatory glance from Matthews, "I've been all over the
ground floor and there's not a soul here..."

He checked himself suddenly.

"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed, his eyes on the figure
crouching in the corner, "you don't mean to say you've got her? A
pretty dance she led Dug and myself! Well, sir, it looks to me
like a good night's work!".

Matthews smiled a self-satisfied smile.

"I fancy the Chief will be pleased," he said, "though the rest of
'em seem to have given us the slip. Gordon, you might take a look
upstairs--that door in the corner leads to the upper rooms, I
fancy whilst I'm telephoning to Mr. Okewood. He must know about
this without delay. You, Harrison, keep an eye on the girl!"

He went through the door leading into the bar, and they heard him
speaking on the telephone which hung on the wall behind the
counter. He returned presently with a white tablecloth which he
threw over the prostrate figure on the floor.

Then he turned to the dancer.

"Stand up," he said sternly, "I want to speak to you."

Nur-el-Din cast a frightened glance over her shoulder at the
floor beside the table where Rass lay. On seeing the white pall
that hid him from view, she became somewhat reassured. She rose
unsteadily to her feet and stood facing Matthews.

"In virtue of the powers conferred upon me by the Defence of the
Realm Acts, I arrest you for espionage... Matthews rolled off in
glib, official gabble the formula of arrest ending with the usual
caution that anything the prisoner might say might be used
against her at her trial. Then he said to Harrison:

"Better put them on her, Harrison!"

The plain clothes man took a pace forward and touched the
dancer's slender wrists, there was a click and she was
handcuffed.

"Now take her in there," said Matthews pointing to the bar.
"There's no exit except by this room. And don't take your eyes
off her. You understand? Mr. Okewood will be along presently with
a female searcher."

"Sir!" said the plain clothes man with military precision and
touched the dancer on the shoulder. Without a word she turned and
followed him into the bar.

Gordon entered by the door at the end of the room.

"I'd like you to have a look upstairs, sir," he said to Matthews,
"there's not a soul in the house, but somebody has been locked up
in one of the rooms. The door is still locked but one of the
panels has been forced out. I think you ought to see it!"

The two men passed out of the tap-room together, and mounted the
stairs. On the landing Matthews paused a moment to glance out of
the window on to the bleak and inhospitable fen which was almost
obscured from view by a heavy drizzle of rain.

"Brr!" said Mr. Matthews, "what a horrible place!"

Looking up the staircase from the landing, they could see that
one of the panels of the door facing the head of the stairs had
been pressed out and lay on the ground. They passed up the stairs
and Matthews, putting one arm and his head through the opening,
found himself gazing into that selfsame ugly sitting room where
Desmond had talked with Nur-el-Din.

A couple of vigorous heaves burst the fastening of the door. The
sitting-room was in the wildest confusion. The doors of the
sideboard stood wide with its contents scattered
higgledy-piggledy on the carpet. A chest of drawers in the corner
had been ransacked, some of the drawers having been taken bodily
out and emptied on the floor.

The door leading to the inner room stood open and showed that a
similar search had been conducted there as well. The inner room
proved to be a bare white-washed place, very plainly furnished as
a bedroom. On the floor stood a small attache case, and beside it
a little heap of miscellaneous articles such as a woman would
take away with her for a weekend, a crepe-de-chine nightdress, a
dainty pair of bedroom slippers and some silver-mounted toilet
fittings. From these things Matthews judged that this had been
Nur-el-Din's bedroom.

The two men spent a long time going through the litter with which
the floor in the bedroom and sitting room was strewed. But their
labors were vain, and they turned their attention to the
remaining rooms, of which there were three.

The first room they visited, adjoining Nur-el-Din's bedroom, was
scarcely better than an attic. It contained in the way of
furniture little else than a truckle-bed, a washstand, a table
and a chair. Women's clothes were hanging on hooks behind the
door. The place looked like a servant's bedroom.

They pursued their search. Across the corridor two rooms stood
side by side. One proved to be Rass's. His clothes lay about the
room, and on a table in the corner, where writing materials
stood, were various letters and bills made out in his name.

The other room had also been occupied; for the bed was made and
turned back for the night and there were clean towels on the
washstand. But there was no clue as to its occupant save for a
double-barreled gun which stood in the corner. It had evidently
been recently used; for fresh earth was adhering to the stock and
the barrel, though otherwise clean, showed traces of
freshly-burnt powder.

There being nothing further to glean upstairs, the two men went
down to the tap-room again. As Matthews came through the door
leading from the staircase his eye caught a dark object which lay
on the floor under the long table. He fished it out with his
stick.

It was a small black velvet toque with a band of white and black
silk flowers round it. In one part the white flowers were
besmeared with a dark brown stain.

Matthews stared at the little hat in his hand with puckered
brows. Then he called to Gordon.

"Do you know that hat?" he asked, holding it up for the man to
see.

Gordon shook his head.

"I might have seen it," he replied, "but I don't take much
account of such things, Mr. Matthews, being a married man..."

"Tut, tut," fussed Matthews, "I think you have seen it. Come,
think of the office for a minute!"

"Of the office?" repeated Gordon. Then he exclaimed suddenly:

"Miss Mackwayte!"

"Exactly," answered Matthews, "it's her hat, I recall it
perfectly. She wore it very often to the office. Look at the
blood on it!"

He put the hat down on the table and ran into the bar where
Nur-el-Din sat immobile on her chair, wrapped in a big overcoat
of some soft blanket cloth in dark green, her chin sunk on her
breast.

Matthews called up the Mill House and asked for Francis Okewood.
When he mentioned the finding of Barbara Mackwayte's hat, the
dancer raised her head and cast a frightened glance at Matthews.
But she said nothing and when Matthews turned from the telephone
to go back to the tap-room she had resumed her former listless
attitude.

Matthews and Gordon made a thorough search of the kitchen and
back premises without finding anything of note. They had just
finished when the sound of a car outside attracted their
attention. On the road beyond the little bridge outside the inn
Francis and Desmond Okewood were standing, helping a woman to
alight. Francis was still wearing his scarecrow-like apparel,
while Desmond, with his beard and pale face and bandaged head,
looked singularly unlike the trim Brigade Major who had come home
on leave only a week or so before.

Matthews went out to meet them and, addressing the woman--a
brisk-looking person--as Mrs. Butterworth, informed her that it
was shocking weather. Then he led the way into the inn.

The first thing that Desmond saw was the little toque with the
brown stain on its flowered band lying on the table. Francis
picked it up, turned it over and laid it down again.

"Where did you find it?" he asked Matthews. The latter informed
him of the circumstances of the discovery. Then Francis, sending
the searcher in to Nur-el-Din in the bar, pointed to the body on
the floor.

"Let's have a look at that!" he said.

Matthews removed the covering and the three men gazed at the set
face of the dead man. There was a clean bullet wound in the right
temple. Matthews showed the papers he had taken off the body and
exchanged a few, words in a low tone with Francis. There is
something about the presence of death which impels respect
whatever the circumstances.

Five minutes later Mrs. Butterworth came out of the bar. In her
hands she held a miscellaneous assortment of articles, a small
gold chain purse, a pair of gloves, a gold cigarette case, a tiny
handkerchief, and a long blue envelope. She put all the articles
down on the tables save the envelope which she handed to Francis.

"This was in the lining of her overcoat, sir," she said.

Francis took the envelope and broke the seal. He drew out half a
dozen sheets of thin paper, folded lengthwise. Leisurely he
unfolded them, but he had hardly glanced at the topmost sheet
than he turned to the next and the next until he had run through
the whole bunch. Desmond, peering over his shoulder, caught a
glimpse of rows of figures, very neatly set out in a round hand
and knew that he was looking at a message in cipher code.

The door at the end of the tap-room was flung open and a soldier
came in quickly.

He stopped irresolute on seeing the group.

"Well, Bates," said Matthews.

"There's a woman lying dead in the cellar back yonder," said the
man, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

"The cellar?" cried Matthews.

"Yes, sir... I think you must ha' overlooked it."

Francis, Desmond and Matthews exchanged a brief glance. A name
was on the lips of each one of them but none dared speak it.
Then, leaving Harrison and Mrs. Butterworth with Nur-el-Din, the
three men followed the soldier and hurriedly quitted the room.



CHAPTER XXII. WHAT THE CELLAR REVEALED

On opening the door at the farther end of the tap-room they saw
before them a trap-door standing wide with a shallow flight of
wooden steps leading to the darkness below. Bates pointed with
his foot to a square of linoleum which lay on one side.

"That was covering the trap," he said, "I wouldn't ha' noticed
nothing out of the ordinary myself only I slipped, see, and
kicked this bit o' ilecloth away and there was the ring of the
trap staring me in the face, as you might say. Show us a light
here, Gordon!"

Gordon handed him an electric torch. He flashed it down the
stair. It fell upon something like a heap of black clothes
huddled up at the foot of the ladder.

"Is it Miss Mackwayte?" whispered Francis to his brother. "I've
never seen her, you know!"

"I can't tell," Desmond whispered back, "until I see her face."

He advanced to descend the ladder but Matthews was before him.
Producing an electric torch from his pocket, Matthews slipped
down the stair with Gordon close behind. There was a pause, so
tense that it seemed an eternity to Desmond, as he waited
half-way down the ladder with the musty smell of the cellar in
his nostrils. Then Matthews cried:

"It's not her!"

"Let me look!" Gordon broke in. Then Desmond heard him exclaim.

"It's Nur-el-Din's French maid! It's Marie... she's been stabbed
in the back!"

Desmond suddenly felt rather sick. This progress from one deed of
violence to another revolted him. The others crowded into the
cellar; but he did not follow them. He remained at the top of the
trap, leaning against the wall, trying to collect his thoughts.

Barbara Mackwayte was now his sole preoccupation. If anything had
happened to her,--it was through his fault alone; for he began to
feel sure she must have come to the Mill House in his absence.
What then had become of her? The blood-stained toque pointed to
foul play. But if they had murdered her, what had they done with
the body?

His thoughts flew back to his interview with Nur-el-Din upstairs
on the previous afternoon. He remembered the entrance of the maid
and the dancer's hurried exit. Might not Marie have come to tell
her that Barbara Mackwayte was below asking for her? It was very
shortly after this interruption that, crouching on the roof of
the shed, he had heard that muffled cry from the house and seen
Rass enter the bar and speak with Strangwise. He had seen, too,
the maid, Marie, in earnest conversation with Strangwise by the
back gate on the fen. Had both Marie and Rass been in league with
Strangwise against the dancer? And had Nur-el-Din discovered
their treachery? His mind refused to follow these deductions to
their logical sequence; for, black as things looked against
Nur-el-Din, he could not bring himself to believe her a
murderess.

But now there were footsteps on the ladder. They were all coming
out of the cellar again. As soon as Francis saw Desmond's face,
he caught his brother by the arm and said:

"The open air for you, my boy! You look as if you'd seen a ghost!
I should have remembered all you've gone through!"

He walked him quickly through the tap-room and out through the
inn door into the yard.

The rain had ceased and the sun was making a brave attempt to
shine through the clouds. The cold air did Desmond good and
after a turn or two in the yard, arm in arm with Francis, he felt
considerably better.

"Where is Miss Mackwayte?" he asked.

"Des," said his brother, "I don't know and I don't want to
cross-examine Nur-el-Din in there until I have reasoned out some
theory which will fit Miss Mackwayte in her place in this
horrible affair. The men have gone to search the outhouses and
precincts of the inn to see if they can find any traces of her
body, but I don't think they will find anything. I believe that
Miss Mackwayte is alive."

"Alive?" said Desmond.

"The blood on that toque of hers might have been Rass's. There is
a good deal of blood on the floor. You see, I still think Miss
Mackwayte's safety depends on that jewel not being recovered by
either Strangwise or Nur-el-Din. Strangwise, we know, has lost
the jewel and there is no trace of it here: moreover, we know
that, as late as yesterday afternoon, Nur-el-Din did not have it.
Therefore, she cannot have sent it away! I am inclined to
believe, too, that Strangwise, before going over to the Mill
House last night, carried off Miss Mackwayte somewhere with the
aid of Rass and Marie, who were evidently his accomplices, in
order to find out from her where the jewel is concealed..."

"But Miss Mackwayte cannot know what has become of it," objected
Desmond.

"Maybe not," retorted his brother, "but both Strangwise and
Nur-el-Din know that the jewel was originally entrusted to her
charge. Nur-el-Din did not, it is true, tell Miss Mackwayte what
the silver box contained but the latter may have found out, at
least the dancer might suppose so; while Strangwise might think
the same. Therefore, both Strangwise and Nur-el-Din had an
interest in detaining Miss Mackwayte, and I think Strangwise
forestalled the dancer. When Nur-el-Din discovered it, both Rass
and her maid paid the penalty of their betrayal."

They walked once up and down the yard before Desmond replied.

"Francis," he said, "you remember Nur-el-Din's story--I told it
to you just as I had it from her."

"Perfectly," answered his brother.

"Well," Desmond went on deliberately, "I think that story gives
us the right measure of Nur-el-Din's, character. She may be vain,
she may be without morals, she may be weak, she may be an
adventuress, but she's not a murderess. If anything, she's a
victim!"

Francis laughed shortly.

"Victim be damned!" he cried. "Man alive," he went on, "how can
you talk such nonsense in face of the evidence, with this
bloody-minded woman's victims hardly cold yet? But, horrible as
these murders are, the private squabbles of this gang of spies
represent neither your interest nor mine in this case. For us the
fact remains that Nur-el-Din, besides being a monster of
iniquity, is the heart and soul and vitals of the whole
conspiracy!"

Jaded and nervous, Desmond felt a quick sting of resentment at
his brother's tone. Why should Francis thus lay down the law to
him about Nur-el-Din? Francis knew nothing of the girl or her
antecedents while he, Desmond, flattered himself that he had at
least located the place she occupied in this dark conspiracy. And
he cried out vehemently:

"You're talking like a fool! I grant you that Nur-el-Din has been
mixed up with this spy crowd; but she herself stands absolutely
apart from the organization..."

"Half a minute!" put in Francis, "aren't you forgetting that blue
envelope we took off her just now?"

"What about it?" asked Desmond sharply.

"Merely this; the cipher is in five figure groups, addressed to a
four figure group and signed by a six figure group..."

"Well?"

"That happens to be the current secret code of the German Great
General Staff. If you were to tap a German staff message out in
France to-day, ten to one it would be in that code. Curious
coincidence, isn't it?"

When one is angry, to be baffled in argument does not have a
sedative effect as a rule. If we were all philosophers it might;
but being merely human beings, cold reason acts on the inflamed
temperament as a red rag is said to affect a bull.

Desmond, sick with the sense of failure and his anxiety about
Barbara, was in no mood to listen to reason. The cold logic of
his brother infuriated him mainly because Desmond knew that
Francis was right.

"I don't care a damn for the evidence," vociferated Desmond; "It
may look black against Nur-el-Din; I daresay it does; but I have
met and talked to this girl and I tell you again that she is not
a principal in this affair but a victim!"

"You talk as if you were in love with the woman!" Francis said
mockingly.

Desmond went rather white.

"If pity is a form of love," he replied in a low voice, "then I
am, for God knows I never pitied any woman as I pity Nur-el-Din!
Only you, I suppose," he added bitterly, "are too much of the
policeman, Francis, to appreciate anything like that!" Hot
tempers run in families and Francis flared up on the instant.

"I may be a policeman, as you say," he retorted, "but I've got
enough sense of my duty, I hope, not to allow sentimentality to
interfere with my orders!"

It was a shrewd thrust and it caught Desmond on the raw.

"I'm sick of arguing here," he said hotly, "if you're so mighty
clever, you'd better shoot Nur-el-Din first and arrest Strangwise
afterwards. Then you'll find out which of us two is right!"

He turned on his heel and started for the little bridge leading
out onto the fen.

Francis stood still a moment watching him, then ran after him. He
caught up with Desmond as the latter reached the bridge.

"Desmond!" he said, pleadingly.

"Oh, go to hell!" retorted the other savagely, whereupon Francis
turned his back on him and walked back to the inn.

A car had stopped by the bridge and a man was getting out of it
as Desmond moved towards the fen. The next moment he found
himself face to face with the Chief.

The Chief's face was hard and cold and stern. There was a furrow
between his eyes which deepened when he recognized Desmond.

"Well," he said curtly, "and where is my secretary?"

"I don't know," Desmond faltered.

"Why are you here, then?" came back in that hard, uncompromising
voice.

Desmond was about to reply; but the other checked him.

"I know all you have to say," he resumed, "but no excuse you can
offer can explain away the disappearance of Miss Mackwayte. Your
orders were formal to remain at home. You saw fit to disobey them
and thereby, maybe, sent Miss Mackwayte to her death. No!" he
added, seeing that Desmond was about to expostulate, "I want to
hear nothing from you. However obscure the circumstances of Miss
Mackwayte's disappearance may be, one fact is perfectly clear,
namely, that she went to the Mill House, as she was ordered and
you were not there. For no man or woman in my service ever dares
to disobey an order I have given."

"Chief..." Desmond broke in, but again that inexorable voice
interposed.

"I will hear nothing from you," said the Chief, "it is a rule of
mine never to interfere with my men in their work or to see them
until their mission has been successfully completed. When you
have found Miss Mackwayte I will hear you but not before!"

Desmond drew himself up.

"In that case, sir," he said stiffly, "I will bid you good
morning. And I trust you will hear from me very soon again!"

He walked over to one of the cars waiting outside the inn, spoke
a word to the driver and got in. The driver started the engine
and presently the car was bumping slowly along the muddy track to
the main road.

The Chief stood looking after him.

"Well," he murmured to himself. "I soaked it into him pretty
hard; but he took it like a brick. I do believe he'll find her
yet!"

He shook his head sagely and continued on his way across the
yard.



CHAPTER XXIII. MRS. MALPLAQUET GOES DOWN TO THE CELLAR

In the age of chivalry woman must have been built of sterner
stuff than the girl of to-day. At least, we read in medieval
romance of fair ladies who, after being knocked down by a
masterful suitor and carried off across his saddle bow thirty or
forty miles, are yet able to appear, cold but radiantly
beautiful, at the midnight wedding and the subsequent marriage
feast.

But this is a romance of the present day, the age of nerves and
high velocity. Barbara Mackwayte, strong and plucky as she was,
after being half throttled and violently thrown into the cellar
of the Dyke Inn, suddenly gave way under the strain and
conveniently evaded facing the difficulties of her position by
fainting clear away.

The precise moment when she came out of her swoon she never knew.
The cellar was dark; but it was nothing compared to the darkness
enveloping her mind. She lay there on the damp and mouldy straw,
hardly able, scarcely wanting, to move, overwhelmed by the
extraordinary adventure which had befallen her. Was this to be
the end of the pleasant trip into the country on which she had
embarked so readily only a few hours before? She tried to
remember that within twenty miles of her were policemen and taxis
and lights and all the attributes of our present day
civilization; but her thoughts always returned, with increasing
horror, to that undersized yellow-faced man in the room above, to
the face of Nur-el-Din, dark and distorted with passion.

A light shining down the cellar stairs drew her attention to the
entrance. The woman she had already seen and in whom she now
recognized Marie, the dancer's maid, was descending, a tray in
her hand. She placed the tray on the ground without a word, then
went up the stairs again and fetched the lamp. She put the lamp
down by the tray and, stooping, cut the ropes that fastened
Barbara's hands and feet.

"So, Mademoiselle," she said, drawing herself erect with a grunt,
"your supper: some tea and meat!"

She pulled a dirty deal box from a corner of the cellar and put
the tray upon it. Then she rose to her feet and sat down. The
maid watched Barbara narrowly while she ate a piece of bread and
drank the tea.

"At least," thought Barbara to herself, "they don't mean to
starve me!"

The tea was hot and strong; and it did her good. It seemed to
clear her faculties, too; for her brain began to busy itself with
the problem of escaping from her extraordinary situation.

"Mademoiselle was a leetle too clevaire," said the maid with an
evil leer,--"she would rob Madame, would she? She would play the
espionne, hein? Eh bien, ma petite, you stay 'ere ontil you say
what you lave done wiz ze box of Madame!"

"Why do you say I have stolen the box?" protested Barbara, "when
I tell you I know nothing of it. It was stolen from me by the man
who killed my father. More than that I don't know. You don't
surely think I would conspire to kill" her voice trembled--"my
father, to get possession of this silver box that means nothing
to me!"

Marie laughed cynically.

"Ma foi," she cried, "when one is a spy, one will stop at
nothing! But tiens, here is Madame!"

Nur-el-Din picked her way carefully down the steps, the
yellow-faced man behind her. He had a pistol in his hand. The
dancer said something in French to her maid who picked up the
tray and departed.

"Now, Mademoiselle," said Nur-el-Din, "you see this pistol. Rass
here will use it if you make any attempt to escape. You
understand me, hein? I come to give you a las' chance to say
where you 'ave my box..."

Barbara looked at the dancer defiantly.

"I've told you already I know nothing about it. You, if any one,
should be better able to say what has become of it..."

"Quoi?" exclaimed Nur-el-Din in genuine surprise, "comment?"

"Because," said Barbara, "a long black hair--one of your
hairs--was found adhering to the straps with which I was
fastened!"

"Tiens!" said the dancer, her black eyes wide with surprise,
"tiens!"

She was silent for a minute, lost in thought. The man, Rass,
suddenly cocked his ear towards the staircase and said something
to Nur-el-Din in the same foreign tongue which Barbara had heard
them employ before.

The dancer made a gesture, bidding him to be silent.

"He was at my dressing-table that night;" she murmured in French,
as though to herself, "then it was he who did it!"

She spoke rapidly to Barbara.

"This man who tied you up... you didn't see him?"

Barbara shook her head.

"I could see nothing; I don't even know that it was a man. He
seized me so suddenly that in the dark I could distinguish
nothing... it might have been a woman... yourself, for instance,
for all I know!"

Nur-el-Din clasped her hands together.

"It was he, himself, then," she whispered, "I might have known.
Yet he has not got it here!"

Heavy footsteps resounded in the room above. Rass cried out
something swiftly to the dancer, thrust the pistol into her
hands, and dashed up the ladder. The next moment there was a loud
report followed by the thud of a heavy body falling. Somewhere in
the rooms above a woman screamed.

Nur-el-Din's hands flew to her face and the pistol crashed to the
ground. Two men appeared at the head of the cellar stairs. One
was Strangwise, in uniform, the other was Bellward.

"They're both here!" said Strangwise over his shoulder to
Bellward.

"Ah, thank God, you've come!" cried Barbara, running to the foot
of the ladder.

Strangwise brushed past her and caught Nur-el-Din by the arm.

"Run her upstairs," he said quickly to Bellward who had followed
behind him, "and lock her in her room. I've seen to the rest.
You, Miss Mackwayte," he added to Barbara, "you will come with
us!"

Barbara was staring in fascination at Bellward. She had never
believed that any disguise could be so baffling, so complete;
Major Okewood, she thought, looked like a different man.

But Bellward had grasped the dancer by the two arms and forced
her up the stairs in front of him. Nur-el-Din seemed too overcome
with terror to utter a sound.

"Oh, don't be so rough with her, Major Okewood!" entreated
Barbara, "you'll hurt her!"

She had her back turned to Strangwise so she missed the very
remarkable change that came over his features at her words.

"Okewood," he whispered but too low for the girl to distinguish
the words, "Okewood? I might have guessed! I might have guessed!"
Then he touched Barbara lightly on the shoulder.

"Come," he said, "we must be getting upstairs. We have much to
do!"

He gently impelled her towards the ladder up which Bellward and
Nur-el-Din had already disappeared. At the top, he took the lead
and conducted Barbara into the taproom. A single candle stood on
the table, throwing a wan light into the room. Rass lay on his
back in the centre of the floor, one hand doubled up under him,
one knee slightly drawn up.

Barbara started back in horror.

"Is he... is he..." she stammered, pointing at the limp still
form.

Strangwise nodded.

"A spy!" he said gravely, "we were well rid of him. Go over there
in the corner where you won't see it. Stay!" he added, seeing how
pale the girl had become, "you shall have some brandy!"

He produced a flask and measured her out, a portion in the cup.
Suddenly, the door leading from the bar opened and a woman came
into the room. Her black velvet dress, her gray hair and general
air of distinction made her a bizarre figure in that squalid room
lit by the guttering candle.

"Time we were off!" she said to Strangwise, "Bellward's just
coming down!"

"There's the maid..." began Strangwise, looking meaningly at
Barbara.

The woman in black velvet cast a questioning glance at him.

Strangwise nodded.

"I'll do it," said the woman promptly, "if you'll call her down!"

Strangwise went to the other door of the tap-room and called:

"Marie!"

There was a step outside and the maid came in, pale and
trembling.

"Your mistress wants you; she is downstairs in the cellar," he
said pleasantly.

Marie hesitated an instant and surveyed the group.

"Non, non," she said nervously, "je n'veux pas descendre!"

Strangwise smiled, showing his teeth.

"No need to be frightened, ma fille," he replied. "Madame here
will go down with you!" and he pointed to the woman in black
velvet.

This seemed to reassure the maid and she walked across the room
to the door, the woman following her. As the latter passed
Strangwise he whispered a word in her ear.

"No, no," answered the other, "I prefer my own way," and she
showed him something concealed in her hand.

The two women quitted the room together, leaving Strangwise and
Barbara alone with the thing on the floor. Strangwise picked up a
military great-coat which was hanging over the back of a chair
and put it on, buttoning it all the way up the front and turning
up the collar about the neck. Then he crammed a cap on his head
and stood listening intently.

A high, gurgling scream, abruptly checked, came through the open
door at the farther end of the room.

Barbara sprang up from the chair into which she had sunk.

"What was that" she asked, whispering.

Strangwise did not reply. He was still listening, a tall, well
set-up figure in the long khaki great-coat.

"But those two women are alone in the cellar," exclaimed Barbara,
"they are being murdered! Ah! what was that?"

A gentle thud resounded from below.

A man came in through the door leading from the bar:

He had a fat, smooth-shaven face, heavily jowled.

"All ready, Bellward?" asked Strangwise carelessly.

Barbara stared at the man thus addressed. She saw that he was
wearing the same clothes as the man who had come down into the
cellar with Strangwise but the beard was gone. And the man she
saw before her was not Desmond Okewood.

Without waiting to reason out the metamorphosis, she ran towards
Bellward.

"They're murdering those two women down in the cellar," she
cried, "oh, what has happened? Won't you go down and see?"

Bellward shook her off roughly.

"Neat work!" said Strangwise.

"She's a wonder with the knife!" agreed the other.

Barbara stamped her foot.

"If neither of you men have the courage to go down," she cried,
"then I'll go alone! As for you, Captain Strangwise, a British
officer..."

She never finished the sentence. Strangwise caught her by the
shoulder and thrust the cold barrel of a pistol in her face.

"Stay where you are!" he commanded. "And if you scream I shoot!"

Barbara was silent, dumb with horror and bewilderment, rather
than with fear. A light shone through the open door at the end of
the tap-room and the woman in black velvet appeared, carrying a
lamp in her hand She was breathing rather hard and her carefully
arranged gray hair was a little untidy; but she was quite calm
and self-possessed.

"We haven't a moment to lose!" she said, putting the lamp down on
the table and blowing it out.

"Bellward, give me my cloak!"

Bellward advanced with a fur cloak and wrapped it about her
shoulders.

"You are the perfect artiste, Minna," he said.

"Practise makes perfect!" replied Mrs. Malplaquet archly.

Strangwise had flung open the door leading to the front yard. A
big limousine stood outside.

"Come on," he said impatiently, "don't stand there gossiping you
two!"

Then Barbara revolted.

"I'll not go!" she exclaimed, "you can do what you like but I'll
stay where I am! Murderers..."

"Oh," said Strangwise wearily, "bring her along, Bellward!"

Bellward and the woman seized the girl one by each arm and
dragged her to the car. Strangwise had the door open and between
them they thrust her in. Bellward and the woman mounted after her
while Strangwise, after starting the engine, sprang into the
driving-seat outside. With a low hum the big car glided forth
into the cold, starry night.

From the upper floor of the Dyke Inn came the sound of a woman's
terrified sobs. Below there reigned the silence of death.



CHAPTER XXIV. THE TWO DESERTERS

Desmond drove to Wentfield Station in an angry and defiant mood.
He was incensed against Francis, incensed against the Chief, yet,
if the truth were told, most of all incensed against himself.

Not that he admitted it for a moment. He told himself that he was
very hardly used. He had undergone considerable danger in the
course of discharging a mission which was none of his seeking,
and he had met with nothing but taunts from his brother and abuse
from the Chief.

"I wash my hands of the whole thing," Desmond declared, as he
paced the platform at Wentfield waiting for his train. "As
Francis is so precious cocksure about it all, let him carry on in
my place! He's welcome to the Chief's wiggings! The Chief won't
get me to do his dirty work again in a hurry! That's flat!"

Yet all the while the little gimlet that men call conscience was
patiently drilling its way through the wall of obduracy behind
which Desmond's wounded pride had taken cover. Rail as he would
against his hard treatment at the hands of the Chief, he knew
perfectly well that he could never wash his hands of his mission
until Barbara Mackwayte had been brought back into safety. This
thought kept thrusting itself forward into the foreground of his
mind; and he had to focus his attention steadfastly on his
grievances to push it back again.

But we puny mortals are all puppets in the hands of Fate. Even as
the train was bearing Desmond, thus rebellious, Londonwards,
Destiny was already pulling the strings which was to force the
"quitter" back into the path he had forsaken. For this purpose
Fate had donned the disguise of a dirty-faced man in a greasy old
suit and a spotted handkerchief in lieu of collar... but of him
presently.

On arriving at Liverpool Street, Desmond, painfully conscious of
his unkempt appearance, took a taxi to a Turkish bath in the West
End. There his first care was to submit himself to the hands of
the barber who, after a glance at his client's bandaged head,
muddy clothes and shaggy beard, coughed ominously and relapsed
into a most unbarber-like reserve.

Desmond heard the cough and caught the look of commiseration on
the man's face.

"I rather think I want a shave!" he said, weakly. "I rather think
you do, sir!" replied the man, busy with his lather.

"... Had a nasty accident," murmured Desmond, "I fell down and
cut my head..."

"We're used to that here, sir," answered the barber, "but the
bath'll make you as right as, rain. W'y we 'ad a genel'man in
'ere, only lars' week it was, as 'adn't been 'ome for five days
and nights and the coat mos tore off 'is back along with a bit of
turn-up 'e'd 'at one o' them night clubs. And drunk I... w'y 'e
went to bite the rubber, so they wos tellin' me! But, bless you,
'e 'ad a nice shave and a couple of hours in the bath and a bit
of a nap; we got him his clothes as was tore mended up fine for
'im and 'e went 'ome as sober as a judge and as fresh as a
daisy!"

Desmond had it in his mind to protest against this material
interpretation of his disreputable state; but the sight in the
mirror of his ignominiously scrubby and battered appearance
silenced him. The barber's explanation was as good as any, seeing
that he himself could give no satisfactory account of the
circumstances which had reduced him to his sorry pass. So Desmond
held his peace though he felt constrained to reject the barber's
offer of a pick-me-up.

From the shaving saloon, Desmond sent a messenger out for some
clothes, and for the next three hours amused himself by
exhausting the resources of the Turkish bath. Finally, about the
hour of noon, he found himself, considerably refreshed, swathed
in towel, reposing on a couch, a cup of coffee at his elbow and
that morning's Daily Telegraph spread out before him.

Advertisements, so the experts say, are printed on the front and
back of newspapers in order to catch the eye of the indolent, on
the chance that having exhausted the news, they may glance idly
over the front and back of the paper before laying it aside. So
Desmond, before he even troubled to open his paper, let his gaze
wander down the second column of the front page whence issue
daily those anguishing appeals, mysterious messages,
heart-rending entreaties and barefaced begging advertisements
which give this column its characteristic name.

There his eye fell on an advertisement couched in the following
terms:

"If Gunner Martin Barling, 1820th Battery, R.F.C., will
communicate with Messrs. Mills & Cheyne, solicitors 130 Bedford
Row, W. C., he will hear of something to his advantage.
Difficulties with the military can be arranged."

Desmond read this advertisement over once and then, starting at
the beginning, read it over again. Gunner Barling... the name
conjured up a picture of a jolly, sun-burned man, always very
spick and span, talking the strange lingo of our professional
army gleaned from India, Aden, Malta and the Rock, the type of
British soldier that put the Retreat from Mons into the history
books for all time.

Advertisements like this; Desmond reflected dreamily, meant
legacies as a rule; he was glad of it, for the sake of Barling
whom he hadn't seen since the far-away days of Aldershot before
the war.

"Buzzer" Barling was the brother of one Private Henry Barling who
had been Desmond's soldier-servant. He derived the nickname of
"Buzzer" from the fact that he was a signaller. As the
vicissitudes of service had separated the two brothers for many
years, they had profited by the accident of finding themselves at
the same station to see as much of one another as possible, and
Desmond had frequently come across the gunner at his quarters in
barracks. Henry Barling had gone out to France with Desmond but a
sniper in the wood at Villers Cotterets had deprived Desmond of
the best servant and the truest friend he had ever had. Now here
was Henry's brother cropping up again. Desmond hoped that
"Buzzer" Barling would see the advertisement, and half asleep,
formed a mental resolve to cut out the notice and send it to the
gunner who, he felt glad to think, was still alive. The rather
curiously worded reference to difficulties with the military must
mean, Desmond thought, that leave could be obtained for Martin
Barling to come home and collect his legacy.

At this point the Daily Telegraph fell to the ground and Desmond
went off to sleep. When he awoke, the afternoon hush had fallen
upon the bath. He seemed to be the only occupant of the cubicles.
His clothes which had arrived from the shop during his slumbers,
were very neatly laid out on a couch opposite him.

He dressed himself leisurely. The barber was quite right. The
bath had made a new man of him. Save for a large bump on the back
of his head he was none the worse for Strangwise's savage blow.
The attendant having packed Bellward's apparel in the suit-case
in which Desmond's clothes had come from the club, Desmond left
the suit-case in the man's charge and strolled out into the soft
air of a perfect afternoon. He had discarded his bandage and in
his well fitting blue suit and brown boots he was not
recognizable as the scrubby wretch who had entered the bath six
hours before.

Desmond strolled idly along the crowded streets in the sunshine.
He was rather at a loss as to what his next move should be. Now
that his mental freshness was somewhat restored, his thoughts
began to busy themselves again with the disappearance of Barbara
Mackwayte. He was conscious of a guilty feeling towards Barbara.
It was not so much the blame he laid upon himself for not being
at the Mill House to meet her when she came as the sense that he
had been unfaithful to the cause of her murdered father.

Now that he was away from Nur-el-Din with her pleading eyes and
pretty gestures, Desmond's thoughts turned again to Barbara
Mackwayte. As he walked along Piccadilly, he found himself
contrasting the two women as he had contrasted them that night he
had met them in Nur-el-Din's dressing room at the Palaceum. And,
with a sense of shame; he became aware of how much he had
succumbed to the dancer's purely sensual influence; for away from
her he found he could regain his independence of thought and
action.

The thought of Barbara in the hands of that woman with the cruel
eyes or a victim to the ruthlessness of Strangwise made Desmond
cold with apprehension. If they believed the girl knew where the
jewel had disappeared to, they would stop at nothing to force a
confession from her; Desmond was convinced of that. But what had
become of the trio?

In vain he cast about him for a clue. As far as he knew, the only
London address that Strangwise had was the Nineveh; and he was as
little likely to return there as Bellward was to make his way to
his little hotel in Jermyn Street. There remained Mrs. Malplaquet
who, he remembered, had told him of her house at Campden Hill.

For the moment, Desmond decided, he must put both Strangwise and
Bellward out of his calculations. The only direction in which he
could start his inquiries after Barbara Mackwayte pointed towards
Campden Hill and Mrs. Malplaquet.

The delightful weather suggested to his mind the idea of walking
out to Campden Hill to pursue his investigations on the spot. So
he made his way across the Park into Kensington Gardens heading
for the pleasant glades of Notting Hill. In the Bayswater Road he
turned into a postoffice and consulted the London Directory. He
very quickly convinced himself that among the hundreds of
thousands of names compiled by Mr. Kelly's indefatigable industry
Mrs. Malplaquet's was not to be found. Neither did the street
directory show her as the tenant of any of the houses on Campden
Hill.

I don't know that there is a more pleasant residential quarter of
London than the quiet streets and gardens that straggle over this
airy height. The very steepness of the slopes leading up from the
Kensington High Street on the one side and from Holland Park
Avenue on the other effectually preserves the atmosphere of
old-world languor which envelops this retired spot. The hill,
with its approaches so steep as to suggest to the imaginative the
pathway winding up some rock-bound fastness of the Highlands,
successfully defies organ-grinders and motor-buses and other
aspirants to the membership in the great society for the
propagation of street noises. As you near the summit, the quiet
becomes more pronounced until you might fancy yourself a thousand
leagues, instead of as many yards, removed from the busy commerce
of Kensington or the rather strident activity of Notting Hill.

So various in size and condition are the houses that it is as
though they had broken away from the heterogeneous rabble of
bricks and mortar that makes up the Royal Borough of Kensington,
and run up in a crowd to the summit of the hill to look down
contemptuously upon their less fortunate brethren in the plain.
On Campden Hill there are houses to suit all purses and all
tastes from the vulgar mansion with its private garden to the
little one-story stable that Art (which flourishes in these
parts) and ten shillings worth of paint has converted into a
cottage.

For half an hour Desmond wandered in a desultory fashion along
the quiet roads of natty houses with brightly painted doors and
shining brass knockers. He had no definite objective; but he
hoped rather vaguely to pick up some clue that might lead him to
Mrs. Malplaquet's. He walked slowly along surveying the houses
and scrutinizing the faces of the passers-by who were few and far
between, yet without coming any nearer the end of his search.

It was now growing dusk. Enthroned on the summit of the hill the
water-tower stood out hard and clear against the evening sky.
Desmond, who had lost his bearings somewhat in the course of his
wanderings, came to a full stop irresolutely, where two streets
crossed, thinking that he would retrace his footsteps to the
main-road on the chance of picking up a taxi to take him back to
town. He chose one of the streets at random; but it proved to be
a crescent and brought him back practically to the spot he had
started from. Thereupon, he took the other and followed it up,
ignoring various side-turnings which he feared might be pitfalls
like the last: But the second road was as bad as the first. It
was a cul de sac and brought Desmond face to face with a blank
wall.

He turned and looked about him for somebody of whom to ask the
way. But the street was entirely deserted. He seemed to be on the
very summit of the hill; for all the roads were a-tilt. Though
the evening was falling fast, no light appeared in any of the
houses and the street lamps were yet unlit. Save for the distant
bourdon of the traffic which rose to his ears like the beating of
the surf, the breeze rustling the bushes in the gardens was the
only sound.

Desmond started to walk back slowly the way he had come.
Presently, his eyes caught the gleam of a light from above a
front door. When he drew level with it, he saw that a gas-jet was
burning in the fanlight over the entrance to a neat little
two-story house which stood by itself in a diminutive garden. As
by this time he was thoroughly sick of wandering aimlessly about,
he went up to the neat little house and rang the bell.

A maid-servant in a cap and apron who seemed to be drawn to the
scale of the house, such an insignificant little person she was,
opened the door.

"Oh, sir," she exclaimed when she saw him, "was it about the
rooms?"

And she pointed up at the fan-light where, for the first time,
Desmond noticed a printed card with the inscription-:

"Furnished Rooms to Let."

The servant's unexpected question put an idea into Desmond's
head. He could not return to the club, he reflected, since he was
supposed to be killed in action. Why not take a room in this
house in the heart of the enemy's country and spend some days on
the watch for Mrs. Malplaquet or for any clue that might lead him
to her?

So Desmond answered, yes, it was about the rooms he had come.

Promising that she would tell "the missus," the little servant
showed him into a tiny sitting-room, very clean and bright, with
blue cretonne curtains and a blue carpet and an engraving of
"King Cophetua and The Beggar Maid" over the mantelpiece.
Directly you came into the room, everything in it got up and
shouted "Tottenham Court Road."

Then the door opened and, with a great tinkling and rustling, a
stoutish, brisk-looking woman sailed in. The tinkling proceeded
from the large amount of cheap jewelry with which she was
adorned; the rustling from a black and shiny glace silk dress.
With every movement she made the large drops she wore in her ears
chinked and were answered by a melodious chime from the charm
bangles she had on her wrists.

She measured Desmond in a short glance and his appearance seemed
to please her for she smiled as she said in rather a mincing
voice:

"My (she pronounced it 'may') maid said you wished to see the
rooms!"

Desmond intimated that such was his desire.

"Pray be seated," said the little woman: "You will understand,
I'm sure, that ay am not in the habit of taking in paying guests,
but may husband being at the front, ay have a bedroom and this
sitting-room free and ay thought..."

She stopped and looked sharply at Desmond.

"You are an officer, I think" she asked.

Desmond bowed.

"May husband is also an officer," replied the woman, "Captain
Viljohn-Smythe; you may have met him. No? Of course, had you not
been of commissioned rank, ay should not..."

She trailed off vaguely.

Desmond inquired her terms and surprised her somewhat by
accepting them on the spot.

"But you have not seen the bedroom!" protested Mrs.
Viljohn-Smythe.

"I will take it on trust," Desmond replied, "and here," he added,
pulling out his note-case, "is a week's rent in advance. I'll go
along now and fetch my things. By the way," he went on, "I know
some people here at Campden Hill but very foolishly, I've mislaid
the address. Malplaquet... Mrs. Malplaquet. Do you happen to know
her house?"

"Ay know most of the naice people living round about here,"
replied the lady, "but for the moment, ay cannot recollect... was
it one of the larger houses on the hill, do you know?"

"I'm afraid I don't know," said Desmond. "You see, I've lost the
address!"

"Quayte!" returned Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe. "Ay can't say ay know the
name!" she added.

However, she consented to consult the handmaiden, who answered to
the name of Gladays, as to Mrs. Malplaquet's address, but she was
as ignorant as her mistress.

Promising to return in the course of the evening with his things
and having received exact instructions as to the shortest way to
Holland Park Avenue, Desmond took his leave. He felt that he had
embarked on a wild goose chase; for, even if the fugitives had
made their way to Mrs. Malplaquet's (which was more than
doubtful) he imagined they would take care to lie very low so
that his chances of coming across any of them were of the most
meager.

Following the directions he had received, he made his way easily
back to the main road. He halted under a street-lamp to catch the
eye of any passing taxi which might happen to be disengaged. A
dirty faced man in a greasy old suit and a spotted handkerchief
knotted about his throat came slouching along the pavement,
keeping close to the wall. On catching sight of Desmond's face by
the light of the lamp, he stopped irresolutely and then advanced
slowly towards him.

"Excuse me, sir!" he said falteringly.

Desmond looked round at the sound of the man's voice and seeing a
typical street loafer, asked the fellow to get him a taxi.

"It is Captain Okewood," said the loafer, "you don't remember me,
sir?"

Desmond looked at the dirty, rather haggard face with its
unshaven chin and shook his head.

"I don't think I do," he answered, "though you seem to know my
name!"

The vagrant fumbled in his pocket for a minute and extracting a
scrap of paper, unfolded it and held it out to Desmond.

"That's me, sir!" he said, "and, oh, sir! if you would kindly
help me with a word of good advice, just for old times' sake, I'd
be very grateful!"

Desmond took the scrap of paper which the man tendered and held
it so as to catch the rays of the lamp. It was a fragment torn
from a newspaper. He had hardly set eyes on the cutting than he
stretched out his hand to the vagrant.

"Why, Gunner Barling," he cried, "I didn't know you! How on
earth do you come to be in this state?"

The man looked shamefacedly down on the ground.

"I'm a deserter, sir!" he said in a low voice.

"Are you, by George?" replied Desmond, "and now I come to think
of it, so am I!"



CHAPTER XXV. TO MRS. MALPLAQUET'S

Clasping Barbara's wrist in a bony grip, Mrs. Malplaquet sat at
the girl's side in the back seat of the limousine whilst Bellward
placed himself on the seat opposite. The car was powerfully
engined; and, once the cart track up to the inn was passed and
the main road reached, Strangwise opened her out.

By the track leading to the inn the high road made a right angle
turn to the right. This turn they took, leaving the Mill House
away in the distance to the left of them, and, after skirting the
fen for some way and threading a maze of side roads, presently
debouched on a straight, broad road.

Dazed and shaken by her experiences, Barbara lost all count of
time, but after running for some time through the open country in
the gray light of dawn, they reached the edge of those long
tentacles of bricks and mortar which London thrusts out from her
on every side. The outer fringes of the metropolis were still
sleeping as the great car roared by. The snug "High Streets,"
the red brick "Parades" and "Broadways," with their lines of
houses with blinds drawn, seemed to have their eyes shut, so
blank, so somnolent was their aspect.

With their lamps alight, the first trams were gliding out to
begin the new day, as the big car swiftly traversed the eastern
suburbs of London. To Barbara, who had had her home at Seven
Kings, there was something familiar about the streets as they
flickered by; but her powers of observation were dulled, so great
was the sense of helplessness that weighed her down.

High-booted scavengers with curious snake-like lengths of hose on
little trolleys were sluicing the asphalt as the limousine
snorted past the Mansion House into Poultney and Cheapside. The
light was growing clearer now; the tube stations were open and
from time to time a motor-bus whizzed by.

Barbara stirred restlessly and Mrs. Malplaquet's grip on her
wrist tightened.

"Where are you taking me?" the girl said.

Mrs. Malplaquet spoke a single word.

"Bellward!" she said in a gentle voice; but it was a voice of
command.

Bellward leaned forward.

"Look at me, Miss Mackwayte!" he said.

There was a curious insistence in his voice that made Barbara
obey. She struggled for a moment against the impulse to do his
bidding; for some agency within her told her to resist the
summons. But an irresistible force seemed to draw her eyes to
his. Bellward did not move. He simply leaned forward a little,
his hands on his knees, and looked at her. Barbara could not see
his eyes, for the light in the car was still dim, but inch by
inch they captured hers.

She looked at the black outline of his head and instantly was
conscious of a wave of magnetic power that transmitted itself
from his will to hers. She would have cried out, have struggled,
have sought to break away; but that invisible dance held her as
in a vice. A little gasp broke from her lips; but that was all.

"So!" said Bellward with the little sigh of a man who has just
accomplished some bodily effort, "so! you will keep quiet now and
do as I tell you. You understand?"

No reply came from the girl. She had thrust her head forward and
was gazing fixedly at the man. Bellward leaned towards the girl
until his stubbly hair actually touched her soft brown curls. He
was gazing intently at her eyes.

He was apparently well satisfied with his inspection, for he gave
a sigh of satisfaction and turned to Mrs. Malplaquet.

"She'll give no more trouble now!" he remarked airily.

"Ah! Bellward," sighed Mrs. Malplaquet, "you're incomparable!
What an undefeatable combination you and I would have made if
we'd met twenty years sooner!"

And she threw him a coquettish glance.

"Ah, indeed!" returned Bellward pensively. "But a night like this
makes me feel twenty years older, Minna. He's a daredevil, this
Strangwise. Imagine going back to that infernal inn when the
police might have broken in on us any minute. But he is a
determined chap. He doesn't seem to know what it is to be beaten.
He wanted to make sure that Nur-el-Din had not recovered the
jewel from him, though he declares that it has never left him day
or night since he got possession of it. He fairly made hay of her
room back at the inn there."

"Well," said Mrs. Malplaquet rather spitefully, "he seems to be
beaten this time. He hasn't found his precious Star of Poland."

"No," answered the man reflectively, "but I think he will!"

Mrs. Malplaquet laughed shrilly.

"And how, may I ask? From what Strangwise told me himself, the
thing has utterly vanished. And he doesn't seem to have any clue
as to who has taken it!"

"Perhaps not," replied Bellward, who appeared to have a high
opinion of Strangwise, "but, like all Germans, our friend is
thorough. If he does not see the direct road, he proceeds by a
process of elimination until he hits upon it. He did not expect
to find the jewel in Nur-el-Din's room; he told me as much
himself, but he searched because he is thorough in everything. Do
you know why he really went back to the Dyke Inn?"

"Why?" asked Mrs. Malplaquet.

"To secure our young friend here," answered Bellward with a
glance at Barbara.

Mrs. Malplaquet made a little grimace to bid him to be prudent in
what he said before the girl.

"Bah!" the man laughed, "you understand nothing of what we are
saying, do you?" he said, addressing Barbara.

The girl moved uneasily.

"I understand nothing of what you are saying," she replied in a
strained voice.

"This girl was the last person to have the jewel before
Strangwise," Bellward said, continuing his conversation with
Mrs. Malplaquet, "and she is employed at the Headquarters of the Secret
Service. Strangwise was satisfied that nobody connected him with
the theft of the silver box which Nur-el-Din gave to this girl
until our young lady here appeared at the Dyke Inn yesterday
afternoon. Nur-el-Din played his game for him by detaining the
girl. Strangwise believes--and I must say I agree with him--that
probably two persons know where the Star of Poland is. One is
this girl..."

"The other being the late Mr. Bellward?" queried Mrs. Malplaquet.

"Precisely. The late Mr. Bellward or Major Desmond Okewood!" said
Bellward. "Between him and this girl here I think we ought to be
able to recover Strangwise's lost property for him!"

"But you haven't got Okewood yet!" observed the lady in a mocking
voice.

The man looked evilly at her, his heavy, fat chin set square.

"But we shall get him, never fear. With a little bird-lime as
attractive as this--"

He broke off and jerked his head in the direction of Barbara.

"... I shall do the rest!" he added.

"Ah!"

Mrs. Malplaquet drew a deep sigh of admiration.

"That's a clever idea. He is so _rusé_, this Strangwise. You are
quite right, Bellward, he never admits himself beaten. And he
never is! But tell me," she added, "what about Nur-el-Din?
They'll nab her, eh?"

"Unless our British friends are even more inefficient than I
believe them to be, they most certainly will," he replied.

"And then?"

Bellward shrugged his shoulders and spread wide his hands.

"A little morning ceremony at the Tower," he answered, "unless
these idiotic English are too sentimental to execute a woman..."

The car was running down the long slope to Paddington Station. It
drew up at the entrance to the booking office, and Strangwise,
springing from the driver's seat, flung open the door.

"Come on!" he cried, "we must look sharp or we'll miss our
train!"

He dragged a couple of bags off the roof and led the way into the
station. In the booking-hall he inquired of a porter what time
the express left for Bath, then went to the ticket office and
took four first-class tickets to that place. Meanwhile, the car
remained standing empty in the carriageway.

Strangwise led his little party up some stairs and across a long
bridge, down some stairs and up some stairs again, emerging,
finally, at the Bakerloo Tube Station. There he despatched
Bellward to fetch a taxi.

Taxis are rare in the early hours of the morning in war-time and
Bellward was gone fully twenty minutes. Strangwise fidgeted
continually, drawing out his watch repeatedly and casting many
anxious glances this way and that.

His nervous demeanor began to affect Mrs. Malplaquet, who had
linked her arm affectionately in Barbara's. The girl remained
absolutely apathetic. Indeed, she seemed almost as one in a
trance.

"Aren't we going to Bath?" at length demanded Mrs. Malplaquet of
Strangwise.

"Don't ask questions!" snapped the latter.

"But the car?" asked the lady.

"Hold your tongue!" commanded the officer; and Mrs. Malplaquet
obeyed.

Then Mr. Bellward returned with the news that he had at last got
a taxi. Strangwise turned to Bellward.

"Can Minna and the girl go to Campden Hill alone?" he asked. "Or
will the girl try and break away, do you think?"

Bellward held up his hand to enjoin silence.

"You will go along with Mrs. Malplaquet," he said to Barbara in
his low purring voice, "you will stay with her until I come. You
understand?"

"I will go with Mrs. Malplaquet!" the girl replied in the same
dull tone as before.

"Upon my word," exclaimed Mrs. Malplaquet, "you might have told me
that we were going to my own place..."

But Strangwise shut her up.

"Bellward and I will come on by tube... it is safer," he said,
"hurry, hurry! We must all be under cover by eight o'clock... we
have no time to lose!"



CHAPTER XXVI. THE MAN IN THE SUMMER-HOUSE

The hour of the theatre rush was long since over and its passing
had transformed the taxi-drivers from haughty autocrats to humble
suppliants. One taxi after another crawled slowly past the street
corner where Desmond had stood for over an hour in deep converse
with Gunner Barling, but neither flaunting flag nor appealingly
uplifted finger attracted the slightest attention from the
athletic-looking man who was so earnestly engaged in talk with a
tramp. But at last the conversation was over; the two men
separated and the next taxi passing thereafter picked up a fare.

At nine o'clock the next morning Desmond appeared for breakfast
in his sitting-room at Santona Road; for such was the name of the
street in which his new rooms were situated. When he had finished
his meal, he summoned Gladys and informed her that he would be
glad to speak to Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe. That lady having duly
answered the summons, Desmond asked whether, in consideration of
terms to be mutually agreed upon, she could accommodate his
soldier servant. He explained that the last-named was of the most
exemplary character and threw out a hint of the value of a batman
for such tasks as the cleaning of the family boots and the
polishing of brass or silver.

The landlady made no objections and half an hour later a clean
and respectable-looking man arrived whom Desmond with difficulty
recognized as the wretched vagrant of the previous evening. This
was, indeed, the Gunner Barling he used to know, with his
smooth-shaven chin and neat brown moustache waxed at the ends and
characteristic "quiff" decorating his brow. And so Desmond and
his man installed themselves at Santona Road.

The house was clean and comfortable, and Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe, for
all her "refaynement," as she would have called it, proved
herself a warm-hearted, motherly soul. Desmond had a small but
comfortably furnished bedroom at the top of the house, on the
second floor, with a window which commanded a view of the
diminutive garden and the back of a row of large houses standing
on the lower slopes of the hill. So precipitous was the fall of
the ground, indeed, that Desmond could look right into the garden
of the house backing on Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe's. This garden had a
patch of well-kept green sward in the centre with a plaster nymph
in the middle, while in one corner stood a kind of large
summer-house or pavilion built on a slight eminence, with a
window looking into Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe's' back garden.

In accordance with a plan of action he had laid down in his mind,
Desmond took all his meals at his rooms. The rest of the day he
devoted to walking about the streets of Campden Hill and setting
on foot discreet inquiries after Mrs. Malplaquet amongst the
local tradespeople.

For three or four days he carried out this arrangement without
the slightest success. He dogged the footsteps of more than one
gray-haired lady of distinguished appearance without lighting
upon his quarry. He bestowed largesse on the constable on point
duty, on the milkman and the baker's young lady; but none of them
had ever heard of Mrs. Malplaquet or recognized her from
Desmond's description.

On the morning of the fourth day Desmond returned to lunch,
dispirited and heart-sick. He had half a mind to abandon his
quest altogether and to go and make his peace with the Chief and
ask to be sent back to France. He ate his lunch and then, feeling
that it would be useless to resume his aimless patrol of the
streets, lit a cigar and strolled out into the little
back-garden.

It was a fine, warm afternoon, and already the crocuses were
thrusting their heads out of the neat flower-beds as if to
ascertain whether the spring had really arrived. There was,
indeed, a pleasant vernal scent in the air.

"A fine day!" said a voice.

Desmond looked up. At the open window of the summerhouse of the
garden backing on Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe's, his elbows resting on
the pitch-pine frame, was a middle-aged man. A cigarette was in
his mouth and from his hands dangled a newspaper. He had a
smooth-shaven, heavily-jowled face and a large pair of
tortoise-shell spectacles on his nose.

Desmond remembered to have seen the man already looking out of a
window opposite his on one of the upper floors of the house. In
reply to a casual inquiry, Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe had informed him
that the house was a nursing home kept by a Dr. Radcombe, a nerve
specialist.

"It is quite like spring!" replied Desmond, wondering if this
were the doctor. Doctors get about a good deal and Dr. Radcombe
might be able to tell him something about Mrs. Malplaquet.

"I think we have seen one another in the mornings sometimes,"
said the heavily-fowled man, "though I have noticed that you are
an earlier riser than I am. But when one is an invalid--"

"You are one of Dr. Radcombe's patients, then!" said Desmond.

"I am," returned the other, "a great man, that, my dear sir. I
doubt if there is his equal for diagnosis in the kingdom."

"He has lived here for some years, I suppose?"

"Oh yes!" answered the man, "in fact, he is one of the oldest and
most-respected residents of Kensington, I believe!"

"I am rather anxious to find some friends of mine who live about
here," Desmond remarked, quick to seize his opportunity, "I
wonder whether your doctor could help me..."

"I'm sure he could," the man replied, "the doctor knows
everybody..."

"The name--" began Desmond, but the other checked him.

"Please don't ask me to burden my memory with names," he
protested. "I am here for a complete rest from over-work, and
loss of memory is one of my symptoms. But look here; why not come
over the wall and step inside the house with me? Dr. Radcombe is
there and will, I am sure, be delighted to give you any
assistance in his power!"

Desmond hesitated.

"Really," he said, "it seems rather unconventional. Perhaps the
doctor would object..."

"Object" said the heavily-fowled man, "tut, tut, not at all. Come
on, I'll give you a hand up!"

He thrust out a large, white hand. Desmond was about to grasp it
when he saw gleaming on the third finger a gold snake ring with
emerald eyes--the ring that Mrs. Malplaquet had given Bellward.
He was about to draw back but the man was too quick for him.
Owing to the slope of the ground the window of the summer-house
was on a level with Desmond's throat. The man's two hands shot
out simultaneously. One grasped Desmond's wrist in a steel grip
whilst the other fastened itself about the young man's throat,
squeezing the very breath out of his body. It was done so quickly
that he had no time to struggle, no time to shout. As Bellward
seized him, another arm was shot out of the window. Desmond felt
himself gripped by the collar and lifted, by a most amazing
effort of strength, bodily over the wall.

His brain swimming with the pressure on his throat, he struggled
but feebly to recover his freedom. However, as Desmond was
dropped heavily on to the grass on the other side of the wall,
Bellward's grip relaxed just for a second and in that instant
Desmond made one desperate bid for liberty. He fell in a
crouching position and, as he felt Bellward loosen his hold for a
second with the jerk of his victim's fall, Desmond straightened
himself up suddenly, catching his assailant a violent blow with
his head on the point of the chin.

Bellward fell back with a crash on to the timber flooring of the
pavilion. Desmond heard his head strike the boards with a thud,
heard a muttered curse. He found himself standing in a narrow
lane, less than three feet wide, which ran between the garden
wall and the summer-house; for the pavilion, erected on a slight
knoll surrounded by turf, was not built against the wall as is
usually the case with these structures.

In this narrow space Desmond stood irresolute for the merest
fraction of a second. It was not longer; for, directly after
Bellward had crashed backwards, Desmond heard a light step
reverberate within the planks of the summerhouse. His most
obvious course was to scramble back over the wall again into
safety, in all thankfulness at having escaped so violent an
attack. But he reflected that Bellward was here and that surely
meant that the others were not far off. In that instant as he
heard the stealthy footstep cross the floor of the summer-house,
Desmond resolved he would not leave the garden until he had
ascertained whether Barbara Mackwayte was there.

Desmond decided that he would stay where he was until he no
longer heard that footstep on the planks within; for then the
person inside the summer-house would have reached the grass at
the door. Desmond remembered the arm which had shot out beside
Bellward at the window and swung him so easily off his feet. He
knew only one man capable of achieving that very respectable
muscular performance; for Desmond weighed every ounce of twelve
stone. That man was Maurice Strangwise.

As soon as the creaking of the timbers within ceased, Desmond
moved to the left following the outer wall of the pavilion. On
the soft green sward his feet made no sound. Presently he came to
a window which was let in the side of the summerhouse opposite
the window from which Bellward had grappled with him. Raising his
eyes to the level of the sill, Desmond took a cautious peep. He
caught a glimpse of the face of Maurice Strangwise, brows knit,
nostrils dilated, the very picture of venomous, watchful rancor.

Strangwise had halted and was now looking back over the wall into
Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe's back garden. Was it possible, Desmond
wondered, that he could believe that Desmond had scrambled back
over the wall? Strangwise remained motionless, his back now fully
turned to Desmond, peering into the other garden.

The garden in which the summer-house stood was oblong in shape
and more than twice as broad as it was long. The pavilion was not
more than forty yards from the back entrance of the house.
Desmond weighed in his mind the possibility of being able to dash
across those forty yards, the turf deadening the sound of his
feet, before Strangwise turned round again. The entrance to the
back of the house was through a door in the side of the house, to
which two or three wrought-iron steps gave access. Once he had
gained the steps Desmond calculated that the side of the house
would shelter him from Strangwise's view. He turned these things
over in his mind in the twinkling of an eye; for all his life he
had been used to quick decision and quick action. To cover those
forty yards across the open in one bound was, he decided, too
much to risk; for he must at all costs gain access to the house
and discover, if possible, whether Barbara Mackwayte were
confined within, before he was caught.

Then his eye fell on the plaster nymph in the middle of the
grass. She was a stoutly-built female, life-size, standing upon a
solid-looking pedestal fully four feet broad. Desmond measured
the distance separating him from the nymph. It was not more than
twenty yards at the outside and the pedestal would conceal him
from the eyes of Strangwise if the latter should turn round
before he had made his second bound and reached the steps at the
side of the house.

He peeped through the window again. Strangwise stood in his old
attitude gazing over the garden wall. Then Desmond acted. Taking
long strides on the points of his toes, he gained the statue and
crouched down behind it. Even as he started, he heard a loud
grunt from the inside of the summerhouse and from his cover
behind the nymph saw Strangwise turn quickly and enter the
summerhouse. On that Desmond sprang to his feet again, heedless
of whether he was seen from the house, ran lightly across the
grass and reached the steps at the side of the house.

The door stood ajar.

He stood still on the top step and listened for a moment. The
house was wrapped in silence. Not a sign of life came from
within.

But now he heard voices from the garden and they were the voices
of two angry men, raised in altercation. As he listened, they
drew nearer.

Desmond tarried no longer. He preferred the unknown perils which
that silent house portended to the real danger advancing from the
garden. He softly pushed the door open and slipped into the
house.



CHAPTER XXVII. THE RED LACQUER ROOM

The side-door led into a little white passage with a green baize
door at the end. A staircase, which from its white-washed treads,
Desmond judged to be the back stairs, gave on the passage.
Calculating that the men in the garden would be certain to use
the main staircase, Desmond took the back stairs which, on the
first landing, brought him face to face with a green baize door,
similar in every respect to that on the floor below.

He pushed this door open and listened. Hearing nothing he passed
on through it. He found himself in a broad corridor on to which
gave the main staircase from below and its continuation to the
upper floors. Three rooms opened on to this corridor, a large
drawing-room, a small study and what was obviously the doctor's
consulting room, from the operating table and the array of
instruments set out in glass cases. The rooms were empty and
Desmond was about to return to the back stairs and proceed to the
next floor when his attention was caught by a series of framed
photographs with which the walls of the corridor were lined.

These were groups of doctors taken at various medical congresses.
You will find such photographs in many doctors' houses. Below
each group were neatly printed the names of the persons therein
represented. Anxious to see what manner of man was this Doctor
Radcombe in whose house spies were apparently at liberty to
consort with impunity, Desmond looked for his name.

There it was--Dr. A. J. Radcombe. But, on looking at the figure
above the printed line, what was his astonishment to recognize
the angular features and drooping moustache of "No. 13"!

There was no possible mistake about it. The photographs were
excellent and Desmond had no difficulty in identifying the
eccentric-looking German in each of them. So this was Mrs.
Malplaquet's house, was it? A nursing-home run by "No. 13," who
in addition to being a spy, would seem to have been a nerve
specialist as well. In this guise, no doubt, he had made trips to
the South of England which had gained for him that intimate
acquaintance with Portsmouth and Southsea of which he had boasted
at the gathering in the library. In this capacity, moreover, he
had probably met Bellward whose "oggult" powers, to which "No.
13" had alluded, seem to point to mesmerism and kindred practices
in which German neurasthenic research has made such immense
progress.

Pondering over his surprising discovery, Desmond pursued his way
to the floor above. Here, too, was a green baize door which
opened on to a corridor. Desmond walked quickly along it,
glancing in, as he passed, at the open doors of two or three
bedrooms. Just beyond where the staircase crossed the corridor
were two doors, both of which were closed. The one was a white
door and might have been a bathroom; the other was enameled a
brilliant, glossy red.

The second floor was as silent and deserted as the corridor
below. But just as Desmond passed the head of the main staircase
he heard the sound of voices. He glanced cautiously down the well
of the stairs and saw Strangwise and Bellward talking together.
Bellward was on the stairs while Strangwise stood in the
corridor.

"It's our last chance," Strangwise was saying.

"No, no," Bellward replied heatedly, "I tell you it is madness.
We must not delay a minute. For Heaven's sake, leave the girl
alone and let's save ourselves."

"What?" cried Strangwise, "and abandon Minna!"

"Minna is well able to look after herself," answered Bellward in
a sulky voice, "it's a question of sauve qui peut now... every
man for himself!"

"No!" said Strangwise firmly, "we'll wait for Minna, Bellward.
You exaggerate the danger. I tell you I was at the garden wall
within a few seconds of our friend laying you out, and I saw no
sign of him in his garden. It was a physical impossibility for
him to have got over the wall and back into the house in the
time. And in his garden there's nowhere to hide. It's as bare as
the Sahara!"

"But, good Heavens!" cried Bellward, throwing his hands excitedly
above his head, "the man can't dissolve into thin air. He's gone
back to the house, I tell you, and the police will be here at any
minute. You know he's not in our garden; for you searched every
nook and corner of it yourself. Okewood may be too clever for
you, Strangwise; but he's not a magician!"

"No," said Strangwise sternly, "he is not." And he added in a low
voice:

"That's why I am convinced that he is in this house!"

Desmond felt his heart thump against his ribs.

Bellward seemed surprised for he cried quickly:

"What? Here?"

Strangwise nodded.

"You stand here gossiping with that man loose in the house?"
exclaimed Bellward vehemently, "why the next thing we know the
fellow will escape us again!"

"Oh, no, he won't" retorted the other. "Every window on the
ground floor is barred... this is a home for neurasthenics, you
know, and that is sometimes a polite word for a lunatic, my
friend... and the doors, both front and back are locked. The keys
are here!"

Desmond heard a jingle as Strangwise slapped his pocket.

"All the same," the latter went on, "it is as well to be prepared
for a sudden change of quarters. That's why I want you to finish
off the girl at once. Come along, we'll start now..."

"No, no!" declared Bellward. "I'm far too upset. You seem to
think you can turn me on and off like you do the gas!"

"Well, as you like," said Strangwise, "but the sooner we clear up
this thing the better. I'm going to see if our clever young
friend has taken refuge in the servants' quarters upstairs. He's
not on this floor, that's certain!"

Desmond drew back in terror. He heard the green baize door on the
floor below swing back as Strangwise went out to the back stairs
and Bellward's heavy step ascended the main staircase. There was
something so horribly sinister in that firm, creaking tread as it
mounted towards him that for the moment he lost his head. He
looked round wildly for a place of concealment; but the corridor
was bare. Facing him was the red enamel door. Boldly he turned
the handle and walked in, softly closing the door behind him.

It was as though he had stepped into another world. The room in
which he found himself was a study in vivid red emphasized by
black. Red and black; these were the only colors in the room. The
curtains, which were of black silk, were drawn, though it was not
yet dark outside, and from the ceiling was suspended a lamp in
the shape of a great scarlet bowl which cast an eerie red light
on one of the most bizarre apartments that Desmond had ever seen.

It was a lacquer room in the Chinese style, popularized by the
craze for barbaric decoration introduced by Bakst and the Russian
Ballet into England. The walls were enameled the same brilliant
glossy red as the door and hung at intervals with panels of
magnificent black and gold lacquer work. The table which ran down
the centre of the room was of scarlet and gold lacquer like the
fantastically designed chairs and the rest of the furniture. The
heavy carpet was black.

Desmond did not take in all these details at once; for his
attention was immediately directed to a high-backed armchair
covered in black satin which stood with its back to the door. He
stared at this chair; for, peeping out above the back, making a
splash of deep golden brown against the black sheen of the
upholstery, was a mass of curls... Barbara Mackwayte's hair.

As he advanced towards the girl, she moaned in a high, whimpering
voice:

"No, no, not again! Let me sleep! Please, please, leave me
alone!"

Desmond sprang to her side.

"Barbara!" he cried and never noticed that he called her by her
Christian name.

Barbara Mackwayte sat in the big black armchair, facing the
black-curtained window. Her face was pale and drawn, and there
were black circles under her eyes. There was a listless yet
highly-strung look about her that you see in people who
habitually take drugs.

She heeded not the sound of his voice. It was as though he had
not spoken. She only continued to moan and mutter, moving her
body about uneasily as a child does when its sleep is disturbed
by nightmares. Then, to his inexpressible horror, Desmond saw
that her feet were bound with straps to the legs of the chair.
Her arms were similarly tethered to the arms of the chair, but
her hands had been left free.

"Barbara!" said Desmond softly, "you know me! I'm Desmond Okewood!
I've come to take you home!"

The word "home" seemed to catch the girl's attention; for now she
turned her head and looked at the young man. The expression in
her eyes, wide and staring, was horrible; for it was the look of
a tortured animal.

Desmond was bending to unbind the straps that fastened Barbara's
arms when he heard a step outside the door. The curtains in front
of the window were just beside him. They were long and reached to
the floor. Without a second's hesitation he slipped behind them
and found himself in the recess of a shallow bow window.

The bow window was in three parts and the central part was open
wide at the bottom. It gave on a little balcony which was in
reality the roof of a bow window of one of the rooms on the floor
below. Desmond promptly scrambled out of the window and letting
himself drop on to the balcony crouched down blow the sill.

A door opened in the room he had just left. He heard steps moving
about and cupboards opened and shut. Then, there was the sound of
curtains being drawn back and a voice said just above him:

"He's not here! I tell you the fellow's not in the house! Now
perhaps you'll believe me!"

The balcony was fairly deep and it was growing dusk; but Desmond
could scarcely hope to escape detection if Bellward, for he had
recognized his voice, should think of leaning out of the window
and looking down upon the balcony. With his coat collar turned up
to hide the treacherous white of his linen, Desmond pressed
himself as close as possible against the side of the house and
waited for the joyful cry that would proclaim that he had been
discovered. There was no possible means of escape; for the
balcony stood at an angle of the house with no windows or
water-pipes anywhere within reach, to give him a foothold,
looking out on an inhospitable and gloomy area.

Whether Bellward, who appeared bent only on getting away from the
house without delay, examined the balcony or not, Desmond did not
know; but after the agony of suspense had endured for what seemed
to him an hour, he heard Strangwise say:

"It's no good, Bellward! I'm not satisfied! And until I am
satisfied that Okewood is not here, I don't leave this house. And
that's that!"

Bellward swore savagely.

"We've searched the garden and not found him: we've ransacked the
house from top to bottom without result. The fellow's not here;
but by God, he'll be here presently with a bunch of police, and
then it'll be too late! For the last time, Strangwise, will you
clear out?"

There was a moment's pause. Then Desmond heard Strangwise's
clear, calm voice.

"There's a balcony there... below the window, I mean."

"I've looked," replied Bellward, "and he's not there. You can see
for yourself!"

The moment of discovery had arrived. To Desmond the strain seemed
unbearable and to alleviate it, he began to count, as one counts
to woo sleep. One! two! three! four! He heard a grating noise as
the window was pushed further up. Five! six! seven! eight!

"Strange!"

Strangwise muttered the word just above Desmond's head. Then, to
his inexpressible relief, he heard the other add:

"He's not there!"

And Desmond realized that the depth of the balcony had saved him.
Short of getting out of the window, as he had done, the others
could not see him.

The two men returned to the room and silence fell once more.
Outside on the damp balcony in the growing darkness Desmond was
fighting down the impulse to rush in and stake all in one
desperate attempt to rescue the girl from her persecutors. But he
was learning caution; and he knew he must bide his time.

Some five minutes elapsed during which Desmond could detect no
definite sound from the red lacquer room except the occasional
low murmur of voices. Then, suddenly, there came a high,
quavering cry from the girl.

Desmond raised himself quickly erect, his ear turned so as to
catch every sound from the room. The girl wailed again, a
plaintive, tortured cry that seemed to issue forth unwillingly
from her.

"My God!" said Desmond to himself, "I can't stand this!"

His head was level with the sill of the window which was
fortunately broad. Getting a good grip on the rough cement with
his hands, he hoisted himself up on to the sill, by the sheer
force of his arms alone, sat poised there for an instant, then
very lightly and without any noise, clambered through the window
and into the room. Even as he did so, the girl cried out again.

"I can't! I can't!" she wailed.

Every nerve in Desmond's body was tingling with rage. The blood
was hotly throbbing against his temples and he was literally
quivering all over with fury. But he held himself in check. This
time he must not fail. Both those men were armed, he knew. What
chance could he, unarmed as he was, have against them? He must
wait, wait, that they might not escape their punishment.

Steadying the black silk curtains with his hands, he looked
through the narrow chink where the two panels met. And this was
what he saw.

Barbara Mackwayte was still in the chair; but they had unfastened
her arms though her feet were still bound. She had half-risen
from her seat. Her body was thrust forward in a strained,
unnatural attitude; her eyes were wide open and staring; and
there was a little foam on her lips. There was something
hideously deformed, horribly unlife-like about her. Though her
eyes were open, her look was the look of the blind; and, like the
blind, she held her head a little on one side as though eager not
to miss the slightest sound.

Bellward stood beside her, his face turned in profile to Desmond.
His eyes were dilated and the sweat stood out in great beads on
his forehead and trickled in broad lanes of moisture down his
heavy cheeks. He was half-facing the girl and every time he bent
towards her, she tugged and strained at her bonds as though to
follow him.

"You say he has been here. Where is he? Where is he? You shall
tell me where he is."

Bellward was speaking in a strange, vibrating voice. Every
question appeared to be a tremendous nervous effort. Desmond, who
was keenly sensitive to matters psychic, could almost feel the
magnetic power radiating from the man. In the weird red light of
the room, he could see the veins standing out like whipcords on
the back of Bellward's hands.

"Tell me where he is? I command you!"

The girl wailed out again in agony and writhed in her bonds. Her
voice rose to a high, gurgling scream.

"There!" she cried, pointing with eyes staring, lips parted,
straight at the curtains behind which Desmond stood.



CHAPTER XXVIII. AN OFFER FROM STRANGWISE

Desmond sprang for the window; but it was too late. Strangwise
who had not missed a syllable of the interrogatory was at the
curtains in a flash. As he plucked the hangings back, Desmond
made a rush for him; but Strangwise, wary as ever, kept his head
and, drawing back, jabbed his great automatic almost in the
other's face.

And then Desmond knew the game was up.

Barbara had collapsed in her chair. Her face was of an ivory
pallor and she seemed to have fallen back into the characteristic
hypnotic trance. As for Bellward, he had dropped on to a sofa, a
loose mass, exhausted but missing nothing of what was going
forward, though, for the moment, he seemed too spent to take any
active part in the proceedings. In the meantime Strangwise, his
white, even teeth bared in a quiet smile, was very steadily
looking at his prisoner.

"Well, Desmond," he said at last, "here's a pleasant surprise! I
thought you were dead!"

Desmond said nothing. He was not a coward as men go; but he was
feeling horribly afraid just then. The deviltry of the scene he
had just witnessed had fairly unmanned him. The red and black
setting of the room had a suggestion of Oriental cruelty in its
very garishness. Desmond looked from Strangwise, cool and
smiling, to Bellward, gross and beastly, and from the two men to
Barbara, wan and still and defenceless. And he was afraid.

Then Bellward scrambled clumsily to his feet, plucking a revolver
from his inside pocket as he did so.

"You sneaking rascal," he snarled, "we'll teach you to play your
dirty tricks on us!"

He raised the pistol; but Strangwise stepped between the man and
his victim.

"Kill him!" cried Bellward, "and let's be rid of him once and for
all!"

"What" said Strangwise. "Kill Desmond? Ah, no, my friend, I don't
think so!"

And he added drily:

"At least not quite yet!"

"But you must be mad," exclaimed Bellward, toying impatiently
with his weapon, "you let him escape through your fingers before!
I know his type. A man like him is only safe when he's dead. And
if you won't..."

"Now, Bellward," said Strangwise not budging but looking the
other calmly in the eye, "you're getting excited, you know."

But Bellward muttered thickly:

"Kill him! That's all I ask. And let's get out of here! I tell
you it isn't safe! Minna can shift for herself!" he added
sulkily.

"As she has always done!" said a voice at the door. Mrs.
Malplaquet stood there, a very distinguished looking figure in
black with a handsome set of furs.

"But who's this?" she asked, catching sight of Desmond, as she
flashed her beady black eyes round the group. Of Barbara she took
not the slightest notice. Desmond remarked it and her
indifference shocked him profoundly.

"Of course, you don't recognize him!" said Strangwise. "This is
Major Desmond Okewood, more recently known as Mr. Basil
Bellward!"

The woman evinced no surprise.

"So!" she said, "I thought we'd end by getting him. Well,
Strangwise, what are we waiting for? Is our friend to live for
ever?"

"That's what I want to know!" bellowed Bellward savagely.

"I have not finished with our friend here!" observed Strangwise.

"No, no," cried Mrs. Malplaquet quickly, Strangwise, "you've had
your lesson. You've lost the jewel and you're not likely to get
it back unless you think that this young man has come here with
it on him. Do you want to lose your life, the lives of all of us,
as well? Come, come, the fellow's no earthly good to us! And he's
a menace to us all as long as he's alive!"

"Minna," said Strangwise, "you must trust me. Besides..." he
leaned forward and whispered something in her ear. "Now," he
resumed aloud, "you shall take Bellward downstairs and leave me
to have a little chat with our friend here."

To Bellward he added:

"Minna will tell you what I said. But first," he pointed to
Barbara who remained apparently lifeless in her chair, "bring her
round. And then I think she'd better go to bed."

"But what about the treatment to-night" asked Mrs. Malplaquet.

Strangwise smiled mysteriously.

"I'm not sure that any further treatment will be required," he
said.

In the meantime, Bellward had leaned over the girl and with a few
passes of his hand had brought her back to consciousness. She sat
up, one hand pressed to her face, and looked about her in a dazed
fashion. On recognizing Desmond she gave a little cry.

"Take her away!" commanded Strangwise.

Bellward had unfastened the ropes binding her feet, and he and
Mrs. Malplaquet between them half-dragged, half-lifted the girl
(for she was scarcely able to walk) from the room.

When the door had closed behind them, Strangwise pointed to a
chair and pulled out his cigarette case. "Sit down, Desmond," he
said, "and let's talk. Will you smoke?"

He held out his case. A cigarette was the one thing for which
Desmond craved. He took one and lit it. Strangwise sat down on
the other side of a curiously carved ebony table, his big
automatic before him.

"I guess you're sharp enough to know when you're beaten,
Desmond," he said. "You've put up a good fight and until this
afternoon you were one up on me. I'll grant you that. And I don't
mind admitting that you've busted up my little organization--for
the present at any rate. But I'm on top now and you're in our
power, old man."

"Well," replied Desmond shortly, "what are you going to do about
it?"

"I'm going to utilize my advantage to the best I know how,"
retorted Strangwise, snapping the words, "that's good strategy,
isn't it, Desmond? That's what Hamley and all the military
writers teach, isn't it? And I'm going to be frank with you. I
suppose you realize that your life hung by a thread in this very
room only a minute ago. Do you know why I intervened to save
you?"

Desmond smiled. All his habitual serenity was coming back to him.
He found it hard to realize that this old brother officer of his,
blowing rings of cigarette smoke at him across the table, was an
enemy.

"I don't suppose it was because of the love you bear me," replied
Desmond.

And he rubbed the bump on his head.

Strangwise noted the action and smiled.

"Listen here," he resumed, planking his hands down on the table
and leaning forward, "I'm ready and anxious to quit this spying
business. It was only a side line with me anyway. My main object
in coming to this country was to recover possession of that
diamond star. Once I've got it back, I'm through with England..."

"But not with the army," Desmond broke in, "thank God, we've got
a swift way with traitors in this country!"

"Quite so," returned the other, "but you see, my friend, the army
hasn't got me. And I have got you! But let us drop talking
platitudes," he went on. "I'm no great hand at driving a bargain,
Desmond--few army men are, you know--so I won't even attempt to
chaffer with you. I shall tell you straight out what I am ready
to offer. You were given the job of breaking up this
organization, weren't you?"

Desmond was silent. He was beginning to wonder what Strangwise
was driving at.

"Oh, you needn't trouble to deny it. I never spotted you, I
admit, even when the real Bellward turned up: that idea of
putting your name in the casualty list as 'killed' was a
masterstroke; for I never looked to find you alive and trying to
put it across me. But to return to what I was saying--your job
was to smash my little system, and if you pull it off, it's a
feather in your cap. Well, you've killed two of my people and
you've arrested the ringleader."

"Meaning Behrend?" asked Desmond.

"Behrend be hanged! I mean Nur-el-Din!"

"Nur-el-Din was not the ringleader," said Desmond, "as well you
know, Strangwise!"

"Your employers evidently don't share your views, Desmond," he
replied, "all the documents were found on Nur-el-Din!"

"Bah!" retorted Desmond, "and what of it? Mightn't they have been
planted on her in order to get her arrested to draw the suspicion
away from the real criminal, yourself?"

Strangwise laughed a low, mellow laugh.

"You're devilish hard to convince," he remarked. "Perhaps you'll
change your mind about it when I tell you that Nur-el-Din was
sentenced to death by a general court-martial yesterday
afternoon."

The blow struck Desmond straight between the eyes. The execution
of spies followed hard on their conviction, he knew. Was he too
late?

"Has... has she... has the sentence already been carried out?" he
asked hoarsely.

Strangwise shrugged his shoulders.

"My information didn't go as far as that!" he replied. "But I
expect so. They don't waste much time over these matters, old
man! You see, then," he continued, "you've got the ringleader,
and you shall have the other two members of the organization and
save your own life into the bargain if you will be reasonable and
treat with me."

Desmond looked straight at him; and Strangwise averted his eyes.

"Let me get this right," said Desmond slowly. "You let me go
free--of course, I take it that my liberty includes the release
of Miss Mackwayte as well--and in addition, you hand over to me
your two accomplices, Bellward and the Malplaquet woman. That is
your offer, isn't it? Well, what do you want from me in
exchange?"

"The Star of Poland!" said Strangwise in a low voice.

"But," Desmond began. He was going to add "I haven't got it," but
checked himself in time. Why should he show his hand?

Strangwise broke in excitedly.

"Man," he cried, "it was grandly done. When first I discovered
the gem, I opened the package in which the silver box was wrapped
and took the jewel from its case to make sure that it was there.
Then I sealed it up again, silver box and all, with the firm
intention that no other hand should break the seals but the hand
of His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince when I reported to him
that I had fulfilled my mission. So you will understand that I
was loth to open it to satisfy those blockheads that evening at
the Mill House.

"I carried the package on me night and day and I could hardly
believe my eyes when I discovered that a box of cigarettes had
been substituted for the silver casket containing the jewel. I
then suspected that Barbara Mackwayte, in collusion with
Nur-el-Din, whom she had visited at the Dyke Inn that evening,
had played this trick on me. But before I escaped from the Mill
House I picked up one of the cigarettes which fell from the box
when I broke the seals. Ah! There you made a slip, Desmond. When
I looked at the cigarette I found it was a 'Dionysus'--your own
particular brand--why, I have smoked dozens of them with you in
France. The sight of the familiar name reminded me of you and
then I remembered your unexpected visit to me at the Nineveh when
I was packing up to go away on leave the evening you were going
back to France. I remembered that I had put the package with the
jewel on my table for a moment when I was changing my tunic. Your
appearance drove it out of my head for the time, and you utilized
the chance to substitute a similar package for mine. It was
clever, Desmond, 'pon my word it was a stroke of genius, a master
coup which in my country would have placed you at the very top of
the tree in the Great General Staff!"

Desmond listened to this story in amazement. He did not attempt
to speculate on the different course events would have taken had
he but known that the mysterious jewel which had cost old
Mackwayte his life, had been in his, Desmond's, possession from
the very day on which he had assumed the guise and habiliments of
Mr. Bellward. He was racking his brains to think what he had done
with the box of cigarettes he had purchased at the Dionysus shop
on the afternoon of the day he had taken the leave train back to
France.

He remembered perfectly buying the cigarettes for the journey.
But he didn't have them on the journey; for the captain of the
leave boat had given him some cigars as Desmond had nothing to
smoke. And then with a flash he remembered. He had packed the
cigarettes in his kit--his kit which had gone over to France in
the hold of the leave boat? And to think that there was a 100,000
pound jewel in charge of the M.L.O. at a French port!

The idea tickled Desmond's sense of humor and he smiled.

"Come," cried Strangwise, "you've heard my terms. This jewel,
this Star of Poland, it is nothing to you or your Government. You
restore it to me and I won't even ask you for a safe conduct back
to Germany. I'll just slide out and it will be as if I had never
been to England at all. As for my organization, you, Desmond
Okewood, have blown it sky-high!"

He stretched out his hand to Desmond as though he expected the
other to produce the gem from his pocket. But Desmond rose to his
feet and struck the hand contemptuously on one side. The smile
had vanished from his face.

"Are you sure that is all you have to say to me?" he asked.

Strangwise had stood up as well.

"Why, yes!" he said, "I think so!"

"Well, then," said Desmond firmly, "just listen to me for a
moment! Here's my answer. You've lost the jewel for good and all,
and you will never get it back. Your offer to betray your
accomplices to me in exchange for the Star of Poland is an empty
one; for your accomplices will be arrested with you. And lastly I
give you my word that I shall make it my personal duty to see
that you are not shot by clean-handed British soldiers, but
strung up by the neck by the common hangman--as the murderer that
you are!"

Strangwise's face underwent an extraordinary change. His suavity
vanished, his easy smile disappeared and he looked balefully
across the table as the other fearlessly confronted him.

"If you are a German, as you seem to be," Desmond went on, "then
I tell you I shall never have guessed it until this interview
between us. But a man who can murder a defenceless old man and
torture a young girl and then propose to sell his pals to a
British officer at the price of that officer's honor can only be
a Hun! And you seem to be a pretty fine specimen of your race!"

Strangwise mastered his rising passion by an obvious effort; but
his face was evil as he spoke.

"I put that Malplaquet woman off by appealing to her avarice," he
said, "I've promised her and Bellward a thousand pounds apiece as
their share of my reward for recovering the jewel. I only have to
say the word, Okewood, and your number's up! And you may as well
know that Bellward will try his hand on you before he kills you.
If that girl had known where the Star of Poland was, Bellward
would have had it out of her! Three times a day he's put her into
the hypnotic sleep. I warn you, you won't like the
interrogatory!"

The door flew open and Bellward came in. He went eagerly to
Strangwise.

"Well, have you got it!" he demanded.

"Have you anything further to say, Desmond?" asked Strangwise.
"Perhaps you would care to reconsider your decisions?"

Desmond shook his head.

"You've had my answer!" he said doggedly.

"Then, my friend," said Strangwise to Bellward, "after dinner you
shall try your hand on this obstinate fool. But first we'll take
him upstairs."

He was close beside Desmond and as he finished speaking he
suddenly caught him by the throat and forced him back into the
chair to which Barbara had been tethered. To struggle was
useless, and Desmond suffered them to bind his arms and feet to
the arms and legs of the chair. Then the two men picked him up,
chair and all, and bore him from the room upstairs to the third
floor. There they carried him into a dark room where they left
him, turning the key in the lock as they went away.



CHAPTER XXIX. DOT AND DASH

For a long time after the retreating footsteps of Strangwise and
Bellward had died away, Desmond sat listless, preoccupied with
his thoughts. They were somber enough. The sinister atmosphere of
the house, weighing upon him, seemed to deepen his depression.

About his own position he was not concerned at all. This is not
an example of unselfishness it is simply an instance of the force
of discipline which trains a man to reckon the cause as
everything and himself as naught. And Desmond was haunted by the
awful conviction that he had at length reached the end of his
tether and that nothing could now redeem the ignominious failure
he had made of his mission.

He had sacrificed Barbara Mackwayte; he had sacrificed
Nur-el-Din; he had not even been clever enough to save his own
skin. And Strangwise, spy and murderer, had escaped and was now
free to reorganize his band after he had put Barbara and Desmond
out of the way.

The thought was so unbearable that it stung Desmond into action.
Strangwise should not get the better of him, he resolved, and he
had yet this brief interval of being alone in which he might
devise some scheme to rescue Barbara and secure the arrest of
Strangwise and his accomplices. But how?

He raised his head and looked round the room. The curtains had
not been drawn and enough light came into the room from the
outside to enable him to distinguish the outlines of the
furniture. It was a bedroom, furnished in rather a massive style,
with some kind of thick, soft carpet into, which the feet sank.

Desmond tested his bonds. He was very skillfully tied up. He
fancied that with a little manipulation he might contrive to
loosen the rope round his right arm, for one of the knots had
caught in the folds of his coat. The thongs round his left arm
and two legs were, however, so tight that he thought he had but
little chance of ridding himself of them, even should he get his
right arm free; for the knots were tied at the back under the
seat of the chair in such a way that he could not reach them.

He, therefore, resigned himself to conducting operations in the
highly ridiculous posture in which he found himself, that is to
say, with a large arm-chair attached to him, rather like a snail
with its house on its back. After a certain amount of maneuvering
he discovered that, by means of a kind of slow, lumbering crawl,
he was able to move across the ground. It might have proved a
noisy business on a parquet floor; but Desmond moved only a foot
or two at a time and the pile carpet deadened the sound.

They had deposited him in his chair in the centre of the room
near the big brass bedstead. After ten minutes' painful crawling
he had reached the toilet table which stood in front of the
window with a couple of electric candles on either side of the
mirror. He moved the toilet table to one side, then bumped
steadily across the carpet until he had reached the window. And
then he gave a little gasp of surprise.

He found himself looking straight at the window of his own
bedroom at Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe's. There was no mistaking it. The
electric light was burning and the curtains had not yet been
drawn. He could see the black and pink eiderdown on his bed and
the black lining of the chintz curtains. Then he remembered the
slope of the hill. He must be in the room from which he had seen
Bellward looking out.

The sight of the natty bedroom across the way moved Desmond
strangely. It seemed to bring home to him for the first time the
extraordinary position in which he found himself, a prisoner in a
perfectly respectable suburban house in a perfectly respectable
quarter of London, in imminent danger of a violent death.

He wouldn't give in without a struggle. Safety stared him in the
face, separated only by a hundred yards of grass and shrub and
wall. He instinctively gripped the arms of the chair to raise
himself to get a better view from the window, forgetting he was
bound. The ropes cut his arms cruelly and brought him back to
earth.

He tested again the thongs fastening his right arm. Yes! they
were undoubtedly looser than the others. He pulled and tugged and
writhed and strained. Once in his struggles he crashed into the
toilet table and all but upset one of the electric candles which
slid to the table's very brink and was saved, as by a miracle,
from falling to the floor. He resumed his efforts, but with less
violence. It was in vain. Though the ropes about his right arm
were fairly loose, the wrist was solidly fastened to the chair,
and do what he would, he could not wrest it free. He clawed
desperately with his fingers and thumb, but all in vain.

In the midst of his struggles he was arrested by the sound of
whistling. Somebody in the distance outside was whistling,
clearly and musically, a quaint, jingling sort of jig that struck
familiarly on Desmond's ear. Somehow it reminded him of the
front. It brought with it dim memory of the awakening to the
early morning chill of a Nissen hut, the smell of damp earth, the
whirr of aircraft soaring through the morning sky, the squeak of
flutes, the roll of drums... why, it was the Grand Reveille,
that ancient military air which every soldier knows.

He stopped struggling and peered cautiously out into the dusk.
The time for darkening the windows must be at hand, he thought,
for in most of the houses the blinds were already drawn. Here and
there, however, an oblong of yellow light showed up against the
dark mass of the houses on the upper slopes of the hill. The
curtains of his bedroom at Mrs. Viljohn-Smythe's were not yet
drawn and the light still burned brightly above the bed.

The whistling continued with occasional interruptions as though
the whistler were about some work or other. And then suddenly
"Buzzer" Barling, holding something in one hand and rubbing
violently with the other, stepped into the patch of light between
the window and the bed in Desmond's bedroom.

Desmond's heart leaped within him. Here was assistance close at
hand. Mechanically he sought to raise his hand to open the
window, but an agonising twinge reminded him of his thongs. He
swiftly reviewed in his mind the means of attracting the
attention of the soldier opposite. Whatever he was going to do,
he must do quickly; for the fact that people were beginning to
darken their windows showed that it must be close on half-past
six, and about seven o'clock, Barling, after putting out
Desmond's things, was accustomed to go out for the evening.

Should he shout? Should he try and break the window? Desmond
rejected both these suggestions. While it was doubtful whether
Barling would hear the noise or, if he heard it, connect it with
Desmond, it was certain that Strangwise and Bellward would do
both and be upon Desmond without a moment's delay.

Then Desmond's eye fell upon the electric candle which had slid
to the very edge of the table. It was mounted in a heavy brass
candle-stick and the switch was in the pedestal, jutting out over
the edge of the table in the position in which the candle now
stood. The candle was clear of the mirror and there was nothing
between it and the window. Desmond's brain took all this in at a
glance. That glance showed him that Providence was being good to
him.

A couple of jerks of the chair brought him alongside the table.
Its edge was practically level with the arms of the chair so
that, by getting into the right position, he was able to
manipulate the switch with his fingers. And then, thanking God
and the Army Council for the recent signalling course he had
attended, he depressed the switch with a quick, snapping movement
and jerked it up again, sending out the dots and dashes of the
Morse code.

"B-A-R-L-I-N-G" he spelt out, slowly and laboriously, it is true;
for he was not an expert.

As he worked the switch, he looked across at the illuminated
window of the room in which Barling stood, with bent head,
earnestly engaged upon his polishing.

"B-a-r-l-i-n-g-ack-ack-ack-B-a-r-l-i-n-g-ack-ack-ack"

The light flickered up and down in long and short flashes. Still
"Buzzer" Barling trilled away at the "Grand Reveille" nor raised
his eyes from his work.

Desmond varied the call:

"O-K-E-W-O-O-D T-O B-A-R-L-I-N-G" he flashed.

He repeated the call twice and was spelling it out for the third
time when Desmond saw the "Buzzer" raise his head.

The whistling broke off short.

"O-k-e-w-o-o-d t-o B-a-r-l-i-n-g" flickered the light.

The next moment the bedroom opposite was plunged in darkness.
Immediately afterwards the light began to flash with bewildering
rapidity. But Desmond recognized the call.

"I am ready to take your message," it said.

"S-t-r-a-n-g-w-i-s-e h-a-s g-o-t m-e ack-ack-ack," Desmond
flashed back, "f-e-t-c-h h-e-l-p a-t o-n-c-e ack-ack-ack: d-o-n-t
r-e-p-l-y; ack-ack-ack; s-e-n-d o-n-e d-o-t o-n-e d-a-s-h t-o
s-h-o-w y-o-u u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d ack-ack-ack!"

For he was afraid lest the light flashing from the house opposite
might attract the attention of the men downstairs.

He was very slow and he made many mistakes, so that it was with
bated breath that, after sending his message, he watched the
window opposite for the reply.

It came quickly. A short flash and a long one followed at once.
After that the room remained in darkness. With a sigh of relief
Desmond, as quietly as possible, manoeuvred the dressing-table
back into place and then jerked the chair across the carpet to
the position where Strangwise and Bellward had left him in the
middle of the floor:

It was here that the two men found him, apparently asleep, when
they came up half-an-hour later. They carried him down to the red
lacquer room again.

"Well, Desmond!" said Strangwise, when their burden had been
deposited on the floor under the crimson lamp.

"Well, Maurice?" answered the other.

Strangwise noticed that Desmond had addressed him by his
Christian name for the first time since he had been in the house
and his voice was more friendly when he spoke again.

"I see you're going to be sensible, old man," he said. "Believe
me, it's the only thing for you to do. You're going to give up
the Star of Poland, aren't you?"

"Oh, no, Maurice, I'm not," replied Desmond in a frank, even
voice. "I've told you what I'm going to do. I'm going to hand you
over to the people at Pentonville to hang as a murderer. And I
shouldn't be at all surprised if they didn't run up old Bellward
there alongside of you!"

Strangwise shook his head at him.

"You are very ill-advised to reject my offer, Desmond," he said,
"for it simply means that I can do nothing more for you. Our
friend Bellward now assumes the direction of affairs. I don't
think you can realize what you are letting yourself in for. You
appear to have been dabbling in Intelligence work. Perhaps it
would interest you to hear something about this, our latest
German method for extracting accurate information from reluctant
or untruthful witnesses. Bellward, perhaps you would enlighten
him."

Bellward smiled grimly.

"It is a blend," he explained glibly, "of that extreme form of
cross-examination which the Americans call 'the third degree' and
hypnotic treatment. Many people, as you are doubtless aware, are
less responsive to hypnotic influence than others. An intensified
course of the third degree and lack of sleep renders such
refractory natures extraordinarily susceptible to mesmeric
treatment. It prepares the ground as it were!"

Bellward coughed and looked at Desmond over his tortoise-shell
spectacles which he had put on again.

"The method has had its best results when practised on women," he
resumed. "Our people in Holland have found it very successful in
the case of female spies who come across the Belgian frontier.
But some women--Miss Barbara, for example--seem to have greater
powers of resistance than others. We had to employ a rather
drastic form of the third degree for her, didn't we, Strangwise?"

He laughed waggishly.

"And you'll be none too easy either," he added.

"You beasts," cried Desmond, "but just you wait, your turn will
come!"

"Yours first, however," chuckled Bellward. "I rather fancy you
will think us beasts by the time we have done with you, my young
friend!"

Then he turned to Strangwise.

"Where's Minna?" he asked.

"With the girl."

"Is the girl sleeping?"

Strangwise nodded.

"She wanted it," he replied, "no sleep for four days... I tell
you it takes some constitution to hold out against that!"

"Well," said Bellward, rubbing the palms of his hands together,
"as we're not likely to be disturbed, I think we'll make a
start!"

He advanced a pace to where Desmond sat trussed up, hand and
foot, in his chair. Bellward's eyes were large and luminous, and
as Desmond glanced rather nervously at the face of the man
approaching him, he was struck by the compelling power they
seemed to emit.

Desmond bent his head to avoid the insistent gaze. But in a
couple of quick strides Bellward was at his side and stooping
down, had thrust his face right into his victim's. Bellward's
face was so close that Desmond felt his warm breath on his cheek
whilst those burning eyes seemed to stab through his closed
eyelids and steadily, stealthily, draw his gaze.

Resolutely Desmond held his head, averted. All kinds of queer
ideas were racing through his brain, fragments of nursery rhymes,
scenes from his regimental life in India, memories of the front,
which he had deliberately summoned up to keep his attention
distracted from those merciless eyes, like twin search-lights
pitilessly playing on his face.

Bellward could easily have taken Desmond by the chin and forced
his face up until his eyes came level with the other's. But he
offered no violence of any kind. He remained in his stooping
position, his face thrust forward, so perfectly still that
Desmond began to be tormented by a desire to risk a rapid peep
just to see what the mesmerist was doing.

He put the temptation aside. He must keep his eyes shut, he told
himself. But the desire increased, intensified by the strong
attraction radiating from Bellward, and finally Desmond
succumbed. He opened his eyes to dart a quick glance at Bellward
and found the other's staring eyes, with pupils distended, fixed
on his. And Desmond felt his resistance ebb. He tried to avert
his gaze; but it was too late. That basilisk glare held him fast.

With every faculty of his mind he fought against the influence
which was slowly, irresistibly, shackling his brain. He laughed,
he shouted defiance at Bellward and Strangwise, he sang snatches
of songs. But Bellward never moved a muscle. He seemed to be in a
kind of cataleptic trance, so rigid his body, so unswerving his
stare.

The lights in the room seemed to be growing dim. Bellward's
eyeballs gleamed redly in the dull crimson light flooding the
room. Desmond felt himself longing for some violent shock that
would disturb the hideous stillness of the house. His own voice
was sounding dull and blunted in his ears. What was the use of
struggling further? He might as well give up...

A loud crash, the sound of a door slamming, reechoed through the
house. The room shook. The noise brought Desmond back to his
senses and at the same time the chain binding him to Bellward
snapped. For Bellward started and raised his head and Strangwise
sprang to the door. Then Desmond heard the door burst open, there
was the deafening report of a pistol, followed by another, and
Bellward crashed forward on his knees with a sobbing grunt. As
Desmond had his back to the door he could see nothing of what was
taking place, but some kind of violent struggle was going on; for
he heard the smash of glass as a piece of furniture was upset.

Then suddenly the room seemed full of people. The thongs binding
his hands and feet fell to the ground. "Buzzer" Barling stood at
his side.



CHAPTER XXX. HOHENLINDEN TRENCH

A man broke quickly away from the throng of people pressing into
the room. It was Francis. The Chief and Mr. Marigold were close
at his heels.

"Des," cried Francis, "ah! thank God! you are all right!"

Desmond looked in a dazed fashion from one to the other. The
rapid transition from the hush of the room to the scene of
confusion going on around him had left him bewildered. His glance
traveled from the faces of the men gathered round his chair to
the floor. The sight of Bellward, very still, hunched up with his
face immersed in the thick black carpet, seemed to recall
something to his mind.

"Barbara!" he murmured in a strained voice.

"She's all right!" replied his brother, "we found her on the bed
in a room on the floor below sleeping the sleep of the just. The
woman's vanished, though. I'm afraid she got away! But who's
this?"

He pointed to "Buzzer" Barling who stood stiffly at attention
beside Desmond's chair.

"Ay, who are you, young fellow" repeated Mr. Marigold coming up
close to the soldier. "Ask him!" said Desmond, raising his arm,
"he knows!"

The group around the door had broken up. Strangwise, his wrists
handcuffed together, his hair dishevelled and his collar torn,
stood there between two plain clothes men. And at him Desmond
pointed.

Strangwise was staring at the straight, square figure of the
gunner, awkwardly attired in one of Desmond's old suits.
Berling's frank, honest eyes returned the other's gaze
unflinchingly. But Strangwise was obviously taken aback, though
only for the moment. The flush that mounted to his cheek quickly
died down, leaving him as cool and impassive as ever.

"Do you know this man!" the Chief, asked sternly, addressing
Strangwise.

"Certainly," retorted Strangwise, "it's Gunner Barling, one of
the Brigade signallers!"

Mr. Marigold gave a keen glance at the soldier.

"So you're Barling, eh?" he muttered as though talking to
himself, "ah! this is getting interesting!"

"Yes," said Desmond, "this is Gunner Barling. Have a good look at
him, Strangwise. It is he who summoned these gentlemen to my
assistance. It is he who's going to tell them who and what you
are!"

Turning to the Chief he added with a touch of formality: "May
Gunner Barling tell his story, sir?"

"By all means," replied the Chief. "I am all attention. But first
let this fellow be removed."

And beckoning to two of his men; he pointed to the body of
Bellward.

"Is he dead" asked Desmond.

The Chief shook his head.

"He drew a bead on one of my men as we came in," he answered,
"and got a bullet through the chest for his pains. We'll have to
cure him of this gunshot wound so as to get him ready to receive
another!"

He laughed a grim dry laugh at his little joke.

"Now, Barling," said Desmond, when Bellward had been borne away,
"I want you to tell these gentlemen the story of the raid on the
Hohenlinden trench."

Barling glanced rather self-consciously about him. But the look
of intense, almost nervous watchfulness on the face of Maurice
Strangwise seemed to reassure him. And when he spoke, he spoke
straight at Strangwise.

"Well," he said, "Major Okewood here, what I used to know along
of my brother being his servant, says as how you gentlemen'll
make it all right about my stoppin' absent if I tells you what I
know about this orficer. Tell it I will and gladly; for it was
all along of him that I spoiled a clean sheet of eighteen years'
service, gentlemen.

"When we was down Arras way a few months ago the infantry was
a-goin' to do a raid, see? And the Captain here was sent along of
the infantry party to jine up a lineback to the 'tillery brigade
headquarters. Well, he took me and another chap, name o'
Macdonald--Bombardier he was--along with him as signallers.

"This was a daylight raid, d'ye see, gentlemen? Our chaps went
over at four o'clock in the afternoon. They was to enter a sort
o' bulge in the German front line wot they called Hohenlinden
Trench, bomb the Gers. out o' that, push on to the support line
and clear out that and then come back. The rocket to fetch 'em
home was to go up forty minutes after they started.

"Well, me and Mac--that's the Bombardier--went over with th'
officer here just behind the raiding party. O' course Fritz knew
we was comin' for it was broad daylight, and that clear you could
see for miles over the flats. First thing we knew Fritz had put
down a roarin', tearin' barrage, and we hadn't gone not twenty
yards before ole Mac. cops one right on the nut; about took his
head off, it did. So me and the captain we goes on alone and
drops all nice and comfortable in the trench, and I starts
getting my line jined up.

"It was a longish job but I got the brigade line goin' at last.
Our chaps had cleared out the front line and was off down the
communication trenches to the support. What with machine-guns
rattlin' and bombs a-goin' off down the trench and Fritz's
barrage all over the shop the row was that awful we had to buzz
every single word.

"There was a bit of a house like, a goodish way in front, X farm,
they called it, and presently the Brigade tells the Captain, who
was buzzin' to them, to register B battery on to the farm.

"'I can't see the farm nohow from here,' sez the Captain. I could
see it as plain as plain, and I pointed it out to him. But no! he
couldn't see it.

"'I'll crawl out of the trench a bit, gunner,' sez he to me, 'you
sit tight,' he sez, 'I'll let you know when to follow!"

"With that he up and out o' the trench leavin' me and the
instruments behind all among the dead Gers., and our lads had
killed a tidy few. It was pretty lonely round about were I was;
for our chaps had all gone on and was bombin' the Gers., like
they was a lot o' rabbits, up and down the support line.

"I followed the Captain with me eye, gentlemen, and I'm blessed
if he didn't walk straight across the open and over the support
trench. Then he drops into a bit of a shell-hole and I lost sight
of him. Well, I waited and waited and no sign of th' orficer. The
rocket goes up and our lads begin to come back with half a dozen
Huns runnin' in front of them with their hands up. Some of the
chaps as they passed me wanted to know if I was a-goin' to stay
there all night! And the Brigade buzzin' like mad to talk to the
Captain.

"I sat in that blessed trench till everybody had cleared out.
Then, seeing as how not even the docket had brought th' orficer
back, I sez to myself as how he must ha' stopped one. So I gets
out of the trench and starts crawling across the top towards the
place where I see the Captain disappear. As I got near the
support line the ground went up a little and then dropped, so I
got a bit of a view on to the ground ahead. And then I sees the
Captain here!"

Buzzer Barling stopped. All had listened to his story with the
deepest interest, especially Strangwise, who never took his eyes
off the gunner's brown face. Some men are born story-tellers and
there was a rugged picturesqueness about Barling's simple
narrative which conjured up in the minds of his hearers the
picture of the lonely signaller cowering in the abandoned trench
among the freshly slain, waiting for the officer who never came
back.

"It's not a nice thing to have to say about an orficer," the
gunner presently continued, "and so help me God, gentlemen, I
kep' my mouth shut about it until... until..."

He broke off and looked quickly at Desmond.

"Keep that until the end, Barling," said Desmond, "finish about
the raid now!"

"Well, as I was sayin', gentlemen, I was up on a bit of hillock
near Fritz's support line when I sees the Captain here. He was
settin' all comfortable in a shell-hole, his glasses in his hand,
chattin' quite friendly like with two of the Gers. orficers, I
reckoned they was, along o' the silver lace on their collars. One
was wearin' one o' them coal-scuttle helmets, t'other a little
flat cap with a shiny peak. And the Captain here was a-pointin'
at our lines and a-wavin' his hand about like he was a-tellin'
the two Fritzes all about it, and the chap in the coal-scuttle
hat was a-writin' it all down in a book."

Barling paused. He was rather flushed and his eyes burned
brightly in his weather-beaten face.

"Eighteen year I done in the Royal Regiment," he went on, and his
voice trembled a little, "and me father a battery sergeant-major
before me, and I never thought to see one of our orficers go over
to the enemy. Fritz was beginnin' to come back to his front line:
I could see their coal-scuttle hats a-bobbin' up and down the
communication trenches, so I crawled back the way I come and made
a bolt for our lines.

"I meant to go straight to the B.C. post and report wot I seen to
the Major. But I hadn't the heart to, gentlemen, when I was up
against it. It was an awful charge to bring against an orficer,
d'you see? I told myself I didn't know but what the Captain
hadn't been taken prisoner and was makin' the best of it, w'en I
see him, stuffin' the Fritzes up with a lot o' lies. And so I
jes' reported as how th' orficer 'ad crawled out of the trench
and never come back. And then this here murder happened..."

Mr. Marigold turned to the Chief.

"If you remember, sir," he said, "I found this man's leave paper
in the front garden of the Mackwayte's house at Laleham Villas,
Seven Kings, the day after the murder. There are one or two
questions I should like to put..."

"No need to arsk any questions," said Barling. "I'll tell you the
whole story meself, mister. I was on leave at the time, due to go
back to France the next afternoon. I'd been out spending the
evenin' at my niece's wot's married and livin' out Seven Kings
way. Me and her man wot works on the line kept it up a bit late
what with yarnin' about the front an' that and it must a' been
nigh on three o'clock w'en I left him to walk back to the Union
Jack Club where I had a bed.

"There's a corfee-stall near their road and the night bein' crool
damp I thought as how a nice cup o' corfee'd warm me up afore I
went back to the Waterloo Bridge Road. I had me cup o' corfee and
was jes' a-payin' the chap what has the pitch w'en a fellow
passes by right in the light o' the lamp on the stall. It was th'
orficer here, in plain clothes--shabby-like he was dressed--but I
knew him at once.

"'Our orficers don't walk about these parts after midnight
dressed like tramps,' I sez to meself, and rememberin' what I
seen at the Hohenlinden Trench I follows him..."

"Just a minute!"

The Chief's voice broke in upon the narrative.

"Didn't you know, Barling, hadn't you heard, about Captain
Strangwise's escape from a German prisoners of war camp?"

"No, sir!" replied the gunner.

"There was a good deal about it in the papers."

"I've not got much eddication, sir," said Barling, "that's w'y I
never took the stripe and I don't take much account of the
newspapers an' that's a fact!"

"Well, go on!" the Chief bade him.

"It was pretty dark in the streets and I follered him along
without his seeing me into the main-road and then down a
turnin'..."

"Laleham Villas," prompted Mr. Marigold.

"I wasn't payin' much attention to were he was leadin' me," said
Barling, "what I wanted to find out was what he was up to!
Presently he turned in at a gate. I was closer up than I meant to
be, and he swung in so sudden that I had to drop quick and crouch
behind the masonry of the front garden wall. My leave pass must
a' dropped out o' my pocket and through the railin's into the
garden.

"Well, the front door must a' been on the jar for th' orficer
here just pushes it open and walks in, goin' very soft like. I
crep' in the front gate and got as far as the door w'ich was
a-standin' half open. I could 'ear the stair creakin' under 'im
and I was just wonderin' whether I should go into the house w'en
I hears a bang and wi' that someone comes aflyin' down the
stairs, dodges through the front hall and out at the back. I see
him come scramblin' over the back gate and was a-goin' to stop
him thinkin' it was th' orficer here w'en I sees it is a tubby
little chap, not big like the Captain. And then it come over me
quite sudden-like that burglary and murder had been done in the
house and wot would I say if a p'liceman come along? So I slipped
off and went as hard as I could go back to the old Union Jack
Club.

"The next mornin' I found I'd lost me leave paper. I was afraid
to go and report it in case it had been picked up, and they'd run
me in for this murder job. That's how I come to desert,
gentlemen, and spoilt a eighteen years' conduct sheet without a
entry over this murderin' spy here!"

Gunner Barling broke off abruptly as though he had committed
himself to a stronger opinion than discipline would allow. It was
the Chief who broke the silence following the termination of the
gunner's story.

"Strangwise," he said, "hadn't you better tell us who you are?"

"He's an officer of the Prussian Guard," Desmond said, "and he
was sent over here by the German secret service organization in
the United States to get a commission in the British Army. When a
good man was wanted to recover the Star of Poland for the Crown
Prince, the secret service people in Berlin sent word to
Strangwise (who was then serving with the gunners in France) to
get himself captured. The German military authorities duly
reported him a prisoner of war and then let him 'escape' as' the
easiest and least suspicious means of getting him back to
London!"

The Chief smiled genially.

"That's a dashed clever idea," he observed shrewdly, "'pon my
word, that's bright! That's very bright! I should like to
compliment the man who thought of that!"

"Then you may address your compliments to me, Chief," said
Strangwise.

The Chief turned and looked at him.

"I've met many of your people in my time, Strangwise," he said,
"but I don't know you! Who are you?"

Strangwise laughed.

"Ask Nur-el-Din," he said, "that is to say, if you haven't shot
her yet!"

"And if we have?" asked the Chief.

Desmond sprang tip.

"It isn't possible!" he cried. "Why, the woman's a victim, not a
principal! Chief..."

"What if we have?" asked the Chief again.

A curious change had come over the prisoner. His jaunty air had
left him and there was an apprehensive look in his eyes.

"I would have saved her if I could have," Strangwise said, "but
she played me false over the jewel. She imperiled the success of
my mission. You English have no idea of discipline. To us
Prussian officers an order stands above everything else. There is
nothing we would not sacrifice to obey our orders. And my order
was to recover the Star of Poland for His Imperial Highness the
Crown Prince, Lieutenant Colonel in the Regiment to which I have
the honor to belong, the First Regiment of Prussian Foot Guards.
But Nur-el-Din plotted with our friend here and with that little
fool upstairs to upset my plans, and I had no mercy on her. I
planted those documents in her dress--or rather Bellward did--to
draw suspicion away from me. I thought you English would be too
flabby to execute a woman; but I reckoned on you putting the girl
away for some years to come. I would have shot her as I shot Rass
if..." His voice trembled and he was silent.

"If what?" asked the Chief.

"If she hadn't been my wife," said Strangwise.



CHAPTER XXXI. THE 100,000 KIT

It was a clear, crisp morning with a sparkle of frost on jetty
and breakwater. The English Channel stretched flashing like a
living sheet of glass to the filmy line marking the coast of
France, as serene and beautiful in its calm as it is savage and
cruel in its anger. It was high tide; but only a gentle murmur
came from the little waves that idly beat upon the shore in front
of the bungalow.

A girl lay in a deck chair on the verandah, well wrapped up
against the eager air. But the fresh breeze would not be denied
and, foiled by the nurse's vigilance of its intents against the
patient, it revenged itself by blowing havoc among the soft brown
curls which peeped out from under the girl's hat.

She turned to the man at her side.

"Look!" she said, and pointed seawards with her finger.

A convoy of vessels was standing out to sea framed in the
smoke-blurs of the escorting destroyers. Ugly, weatherbeaten
craft were the steamers with trails of smoke blown out in the
breeze behind them. They rode the sea's highway with confidence,
putting their trust in the unseen power that swept the road clear
for them.

"Transports, aren't they?" asked the man.

But he scarcely looked at the transports. He was watching the
gleam of the sun on the girl's brown hair and contrasting the
deep gray of her eyes with the ever-changing hues of the sea.

"Yes," replied the girl. "It's the third day they've gone across!
By this time next week there'll be ten fresh divisions in France.
How secure they look steaming along! And to think they owe it all
to you!"

The man laughed and flushed up.

"From the strictly professional standpoint the less said about me
the better," he said.

"What nonsense you talk!" cried the girl. "When the Chief was
down to see me yesterday, he spoke of nothing but you. 'They beat
him, but he won out!' he said, 'they shook him off but he went
back and found 'em!' He told me it was a case of grit versus
violence--and grit won. In all the time I've known the Chief,
I've never heard him talk so much about one man before. Do you
know," Barbara went on, looking up at Desmond, "I think you've
made the Chief feel a little bit ashamed of himself. And that I
may tell you is a most extraordinary achievement!"

"Do you think you're strong enough to hear some news?" asked
Desmond after a pause.

"Of course," replied the girl. "But I think I can guess it. It's
about Strangwise, isn't it?"

Desmond nodded.

"He was shot yesterday morning," he replied. "I'm glad they did
it in France. I was terrified lest they should want me to go to
it."

"Why?" asked the girl with a suspicion of indignation in her
voice, "he deserved no mercy."

"No," replied Desmond slowly, "he was a bad fellow--a Prussian
through and through. He murdered your poor father, he shot Rass,
he instigated the killing of the maid, Marie, he was prepared to
sacrifice his own wife even, to this Prussian God of militarism
which takes the very soul out of a man's body and puts it into
the hands of his superior officer. And yet, and yet, when one has
soldiered with a man, Barbara, and roughed it with him and been
shelled and shot at with him, there seems to be a bond of
sympathy between you and him for ever after. And he was a brave
man, Barbara, cruel and unscrupulous, I admit, but there was no
fear in him, and I can't help admiring courage. I seem to think
of him as two men--the man I soldiered with and the heartless
brute who watched while that beast Bellward..."

He broke off as a spasm of pain crossed the girl's face. "I shall
remember the one and forget the other," he concluded simply.

"Tell me," said the girl suddenly, "who was Strangwise?"

"After he was arrested and just before they were going to take
him off," Desmond said, "he asked to be allowed to say a word
privately to the Chief. We were all sent away and he told the
Chief his real name. He thought he was going to be hanged, you
see, and while he never shrank from any crime in the fulfilment
of his mission, he was terrified of a shameful death. He begged
the Chief to see that his real name was not revealed for the
disgrace that his execution would bring upon his family.
Curiously Prussian attitude of mind, isn't it?"

"And what did the Chief say?"

"I don't know; but he was mighty short with him, I expect."

"And what was Strangwise's real name?"

"When he told us that Nur-el-Din was his wife, I knew at once who
he was. His name is Hans von Schornbeek. He was in the Prussian
Foot Guards, was turned out for some reason or other and went to
America where, after a pretty rough time, he was taken on by the
German secret service organization. He was working for them when
he met Nur-el-Din. They were married out there and, realizing the
possibilities of using her as a decoy in the secret service, he
sent her to Brussels where the Huns were very busy getting ready
for war. He treated her abominably; but the girl was fond of him
in her way and even when she was in fear of her life from this
man she never revealed to me the fact that he was Hans von
Schornbeek and her husband."

Barbara sat musing for a while, her eyes on the restless sea.

"How strange it is," she said, "to think that they are all
dispersed now... and the transports are sailing securely to
France. Two were killed at the Mill House, Behrend committed
suicide in prison, Bellward died in hospital, Mrs. Malplaquet has
disappeared, and now Strangwise has gone. There only remains..."

She cast a quick glance at Desmond but he was gazing seaward at
the smoke of the transports smudging the horizon.

"What are they going to do with Nur-el-Din?" she asked rather
abruptly.

"Didn't the Chief tell you?" said Desmond.

"He only asked me what I had to say in the matter as I had had to
suffer at her hands. But I told him I left the matter entirely to
him. I said I took your point of view that Nur-el-Din was the
victim of her husband..."

"That was generous of you, Barbara," Desmond said gently.

She sighed.

"Daddy knew her as a little girl," she answered, "and he was so
pleased to see her again that night. She never had a chance. I
hope she'll get one now!"

"They're going to intern her, I believe," said Desmond, "until
the end of the war; they could do nothing else, you know. But she
will be well looked after, and I think she will be safer in our
charge than if she were allowed to remain at liberty. The German
Secret Service has had a bad knock, you know. Somebody has got to
pay for it!"

"I know," the girl whispered, "and it frightens me."

"You poor child!" said Desmond, "you've had a rough time. But
it's all over now. And that reminds me, Barney is coming up for
sentence to-day; they charged him with murder originally; but
Marigold kept on getting him remanded until they were able to
alter the charge to one of burglary. He'll probably get two
years' hard labor, Marigold says."

"Poor Barney!" said Barbara, "I wish they would let him go free.
All these weeks the mystery of poor Daddy's death has so weighed
upon my mind that now it has been cleared up I feel as though one
day I might be happy again. And I want everybody to be happy,
too!"

"Barbara," said Desmond and took her hand.

Barbara calmly withdrew it from his grasp and brushed an
imaginary curl out of her eye.

"Any news of your hundred thousand pound kit?" she asked, by way
of turning the conversation.

"By Jove," said Desmond, "there was a letter from Cox's at the
club this morning but I was so rushed to catch my train that I
shoved it in my pocket and forgot all about it. I wrote and asked
them weeks ago to get my kit back from France. Here we are!"

He pulled a letter out of his pocket, slit open the envelope and
took out a printed form. Barbara, propping herself up with one
hand on his shoulder, leaned over him to read the communication.
This is what she read.

"We are advised," the form ran, "that a Wolseley valise forwarded
to you on the 16th inst. from France has been lost by enemy
action. We are enclosing a compensation form which..."

But neither troubled to read further.

"Gone to the bottom, by Jove!" cried Desmond. "But isn't it
strange," he went on, "to think of the Star of Poland lying out
there on the bed of the Channel? Well, I'm not so sure that it
isn't the best place for it. It won't create any further trouble
in this world at least!"

"Poor Nur-el-Din!" sighed the girl.

They sat awhile in silence together and watched the gulls
circling unceasingly above the receding tide.

"You're leaving here to-morrow then?" said Desmond presently.

Barbara nodded

"And going back to your work with the Chief?"

Barbara nodded again.

"It's not good enough," cried Desmond. "This is no job for a girl
like you, Barbara. The strain is too much; the risks are too
great. Besides, there's something I wanted to say..."

Barbara stopped him.

"Don't say it!" she bade him.

"But you don't know what I was going to say!" he protested.

Barbara smiled a little happy smile.

"Barbara..." Desmond began.

Her hand still rested on his shoulder and he put his hand over
hers. For a brief moment she let him have his way.

Then she withdrew her hand.

"Desmond," she said, looking at him with kindly eyes, "we both
have work to do..."

"We have," replied the man somberly, "and mine's at the front!"

The girl shook her head.

"No!" she said. "Henceforward it's where the Chief sends you!"

Desmond set his jaw obstinately.

"I may have been a Secret Service agent by accident," he
answered, "but I'm a soldier by trade. My place is in the
fighting-line!"

"The Secret Service has its fighting-line, too," Barbara replied,
"though the war correspondents don't write about it. It never
gets a mention in despatches, and Victoria Crosses don't come its
way. The newspapers don't publish its casualty list, though you
and I know that it's a long one. A man slips quietly away and
never comes back, and after a certain lapse of time we just mark
him off the books and there's an end of it. But it's a great
service; and you've made your mark in it. The Chief wants men
like you. You'll have to stay!"

Desmond was about to speak; but the girl stopped him. "What do
you and I matter," she asked, "when the whole future of England
is at stake! If you are to give of your best to this silent game
of ours, you must be free with no responsibilities and no ties,
with nothing that will ever make you hesitate to take a supreme
risk. And I never met a man that dared more freely than you!"

"Oh, please..." said Desmond and got up.

He stood gazing seawards for a while.

Then he glanced at his watch.

"I must be going back to London," he said. "I have to see the
Chief at four this afternoon. And you know why!"

The girl nodded.

"What will you tell him?" she asked. "Will you accept his offer
to remain on in the Secret Service?"

Desmond looked at her ruefully.

"You're so eloquent about it," he said slowly, "that I think I
must!"

Smiling, she gave him her hand. Desmond held it for an instant in
his.

Then, without another word, he turned and strode off towards the
winding white road that led to the station.

Barbara watched him until a turn in the road hid him from her
sight. Then she pulled out her handkerchief.

"Good Heavens, girl!" she said to herself, "I believe you're
crying!"





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