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Title: The Bittermeads Mystery
Author: Punshon, E. R. (Ernest Robertson)
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 "The Bittermeads Mystery" ***

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THE BITTERMEADS MYSTERY

By E. R. Punshon



CONTENTS

     I        THE LONE PASSENGER

     II       THE FIGHT IN THE WOODS

     III      A COINCIDENCE

     IV       A WOMAN WEEPS

     V        A WOMAN AND A MAN

     VI       A DISCOVERY

     VII      QUESTION AND ANSWER

     VIII     CAPTIVITY CAPTURE

     IX       THE ATTIC OF MYSTERY

     X        THE NEW GARDENER

     XI       THE PROBLEM

     XII      AN AVOWAL

     XIII     INVISIBLE WRITING

     XIV      LOVE-MAKING AT NIGHT

     XV       THE SOUND OF A SHOT

     XVI      IN THE WOOD

     XVII     A DECLARATION

     XVIII    ROBERT DUNN’S ENEMY

     XIX      THE VISIT TO WRESTE ABBEY

     XX       ELLA’S WARNING

     XXI      DOUBTS AND FEARS

     XXII     PLOTS AND PLANS

     XXIII    COUNTER PLANS

     XXIV     AN APHORISM

     XXV      THE UNEXPECTED

     XXVI     A RACE AGAINST TIME

     XXVII    FLIGHT AND PURSUIT

     XXVIII   BACK AT BITTERMEADS

     XXIX     THE ATTIC

     XXX      SOME EXPLANATIONS

     XXXI     CONCLUSION



CHAPTER I. THE LONE PASSENGER


That evening the down train from London deposited at the little country
station of Ramsdon but a single passenger, a man of middle height,
shabbily dressed, with broad shoulders and long arms and a most unusual
breadth and depth of chest.

Of his face one could see little, for it was covered by a thick growth
of dark curly hair, beard, moustache and whiskers, all overgrown and
ill-tended, and as he came with a somewhat slow and ungainly walk along
the platform, the lad stationed at the gate to collect tickets grinned
amusedly and called to one of the porters near:

“Look at this, Bill; here’s the monkey-man escaped and come back along
of us.”

It was a reference to a travelling circus that had lately visited the
place and exhibited a young chimpanzee advertised as “the monkey-man,”
 and Bill guffawed appreciatively.

The stranger was quite close and heard plainly, for indeed the youth at
the gate had made no special attempt to speak softly.

The boy was still laughing as he held out his hand for the ticket, and
the stranger gave it to him with one hand and at the same time shot out
a long arm, caught the boy--a well-grown lad of sixteen--by the middle
and, with as little apparent effort as though lifting a baby, swung him
into the air to the top of the gate-post, where he left him clinging
with arms and legs six feet from the ground.

“Hi, what are you a-doing of?” shouted the porter, running up, as the
amazed and frightened youth, clinging to his gate-post, emitted a dismal
howl.

“Teaching a cheeky boy manners,” retorted the stranger with an angry
look and in a very gruff and harsh voice. “Do you want to go on top of
the other post to make a pair?”

The porter drew back hurriedly.

“You be off,” he ordered as he retreated. “We don’t want none of your
sort about here.”

“I certainly have no intention of staying,” retorted the other as
gruffly as before. “But I think you’ll remember Bobbie Dunn next time I
come this way.”

“Let me down; please let me down,” wailed the boy, clinging desperately
to the gate-post on whose top he had been so unceremoniously deposited,
and Dunn laughed and walked away, leaving the porter to rescue his
youthful colleague and to cuff his ears soundly as soon as he had done
so, by way of a relief to his feelings.

“That will learn you to be a bit civil to folk, I hope,” said the porter
severely. “But that there chap must have an amazing strong arm,” he
added thoughtfully. “Lifting you up there all the same as you was a
bunch of radishes.”

For some distance after leaving the station, Dunn walked on slowly.

He seemed to know the way well or else to be careless of the direction
he took, for he walked along deep in thought with his eyes fixed on the
ground and not looking in the least where he was going.

Abruptly, a small child appeared out of the darkness and spoke to him,
and he started violently and in a very nervous manner.

“What was that? What did you say, kiddy?” he asked, recovering himself
instantly and speaking this time not in the gruff and harsh tones he had
used before but in a singularly winning and pleasant voice, cultivated
and gentle, that was in odd contrast with his rough and battered
appearance. “The time, was that what you wanted to know?”

“Yes, sir; please, sir,” answered the child, who had shrunk back in
alarm at the violent start Dunn had given, but now seemed reassured by
his gentle and pleasant voice. “The right time,” the little one added
almost instantly and with much emphasis on the “right.”

Dunn gravely gave the required information with the assurance that to
the best of his belief it was “right,” and the child thanked him and
scampered off.

Resuming his way, Dunn shook his head with an air of grave
dissatisfaction.

“Nerves all to pieces,” he muttered. “That won’t do. Hang it all, the
job’s no worse than following a wounded tiger into the jungle, and I’ve
done that before now. Only then, of course, one knew what to expect,
whereas now--And I was a silly ass to lose my temper with that boy at
the station. You aren’t making a very brilliant start, Bobby, my boy.”

By this time he had left the little town behind him and he was walking
along a very lonely and dark road.

On one side was a plantation of young trees, on the other there was the
open ground, covered with furze bush, of the village common.

Where the plantation ended stood a low, two-storied house of medium
size, with a veranda stretching its full length in front. It stood back
from the road some distance and appeared to be surrounded by a large
garden.

At the gate Dunn halted and struck a match as if to light a pipe, and
by the flickering flame of this match the name “Bittermeads,” painted on
the gate became visible.

“Here it is, then,” he muttered. “I wonder--”

Without completing the sentence he slipped through the gate, which was
not quite closed, and entered the garden, where he crouched down in the
shadow of some bushes that grew by the side of the gravel path leading
to the house, and seemed to compose himself for a long vigil.

An hour passed, and another. Nothing had happened--he had seen nothing,
heard nothing, save for the passing of an occasional vehicle or
pedestrian on the road, and he himself had never stirred or moved, so
that he seemed one with the night and one with the shadows where
he crouched, and a pair of field-mice that had come from the common
opposite went to and fro about their busy occupations at his feet
without paying him the least attention.

Another hour passed, and at last there began to be signs of life about
the house.

A light shone in one window and in another, and vanished, and soon the
door opened and there appeared two people on the threshold, clearly
visible in the light of a strong incandescent gas-burner just within the
hall.

The watcher in the garden moved a little to get a clearer view.

In the paroxysm of terror at this sudden coming to life of what they had
believed to be a part of the bushes, the two little field-mice scampered
away, and Dunn bit his lip with annoyance, for he knew well that some of
those he had had traffic with in the past would have been very sure,
on hearing that scurrying-off of the frightened mice, that some one was
lurking near at hand.

But the two in the lighted doorway opening on the veranda heard and
suspected nothing.

One was a man, one a woman, both were young, both were extraordinarily
good-looking, and as they stood in the blaze of the gas they made a
strikingly handsome and attractive picture on which, however, Dunn
seemed to look from his hiding-place with hostility and watchful
suspicion.

“How dark it is, there’s not a star showing,” the girl was saying.
“Shall you be able to find your way, even with the lantern? You’ll keep
to the road, won’t you?”

Her voice was low and pleasant and so clear Dunn heard every word
distinctly. She seemed quite young, not more than twenty or twenty-one,
and she was slim and graceful in build and tall for a woman. Her face,
on which the light shone directly, was oval in shape with a broad, low
forehead on which clustered the small, unruly curls of her dark brown
hair, and she had clear and very bright brown eyes. The mouth and chin
were perhaps a little large to be in absolute harmony with the rest of
her features, and she was of a dark complexion, with a soft and
delicate bloom that would by itself have given her a right to claim her
possession of a full share of good looks. She was dressed quite simply
in a white frock with a touch of colour at the waist and she had a very
flimsy lace shawl thrown over her shoulders, presumably intended as a
protection against the night air.

Her companion was a very tall and big man, well over six feet in height,
with handsome, strongly-marked features that often bore an expression a
little too haughty, but that showed now a very tender and gentle look,
so that it was not difficult to guess the state of his feelings towards
the girl at his side. His shoulders were broad, his chest deep, and his
whole build powerful in the extreme, and Dunn, looking him up and down
with the quick glance of one accustomed to judge men, thought that he
had seldom seen one more capable of holding his own.

Answering his companion’s remark, he said lightly:

“Oh, no, I shall cut across the wood, it’s ever so much shorter, you
know.”

“But it’s so dark and lonely,” the girl protested. “And then, after last
week--”

He interrupted her with a laugh, and he lifted his head with a certain
not unpleasing swagger.

“I don’t think they’ll trouble me for all their threats,” he said. “For
that matter, I rather hope they will try something of the sort on. They
need a lesson.”

“Oh, I do hope you’ll be careful,” the girl exclaimed.

He laughed again and made another lightly-confident, almost-boastful
remark, to the effect that he did not think any one was likely to
interfere with him.

For a minute or two longer they lingered, chatting together as they
stood in the gas-light on the veranda and from his hiding-place Dunn
watched them intently. It seemed that it was the girl in whom he was
chiefly interested, for his eyes hardly moved from her and in them there
showed a very grim and hard expression.

“Pretty enough,” he mused. “More than pretty. No wonder poor Charles
raved about her, if it’s the same girl--if it is, she ought to know
what’s become of him. But then, where does this big chap come in?”

The “big chap” seemed really going now, though reluctantly, and it was
not difficult to see that he would have been very willing to stay longer
had she given him the least encouragement.

But that he did not get, and indeed it seemed as if she were a little
bored and a little anxious for him to say good night and go.

At last he did so, and she retired within the house, while he came
swinging down the garden path, passing close to where Dunn lay hidden,
but without any suspicion of his presence, and out into the high road.



CHAPTER II. THE FIGHT IN THE WOOD


From his hiding-place in the bushes Dunn slipped out, as the big man
vanished into the darkness down the road, and for the fraction of a
second he seemed to hesitate.

The lights in the house were coming and going after a fashion that
suggested that the inmates were preparing for bed, and almost at once
Dunn turned his back to the building and hurried very quickly and softly
down the road in the direction the big man had just taken.

“After all,” he thought, “the house can’t run away, that will be still
there when I come back, and I ought to find out who this big chap is and
where he comes from.”

In spite of the apparent clumsiness of his build and the ungainliness of
his movements it was extraordinary how swiftly and how quietly he moved,
a shadow could scarcely have made less sound than this man did as he
melted through the darkness and a swift runner would have difficulty in
keeping pace with him.

An old labourer going home late bade the big man a friendly good night
and passed on without seeing or hearing Dunn following close behind,
and a solitary woman, watching at her cottage door, saw plainly the big
man’s tall form and heard his firm and heavy steps and would have been
ready to swear no other passed that way at that time, though Dunn was
not five yards behind, slipping silently and swiftly by in the shelter
of the trees lining the road.

A little further beyond this cottage a path, reached by climbing a
stile, led from the high road first across an open field and then
through the heart of a wood that seemed to be of considerable extent.

The man Dunn was following crossed this stile and when he had gone a
yard or two along the path he halted abruptly, as though all at once
grown uneasy, and looked behind.

From where he stood any one following him across the stile must have
shown plainly visible against the sky line, but though he lingered for
a moment or two, and even, when he walked on, still looked back very
frequently, he saw nothing.

Yet Dunn, when his quarry paused and looked back like this, was only a
little distance behind, and when the other moved on Dunn was still very
near.

But he had not crossed the stile, for when he came to it he realised
that in climbing it his form would be plainly visible in outline for
some distance, and so instead, he had found and crawled through a gap in
the hedge not far away.

They came, Dunn so close and so noiseless behind his quarry he might
well have seemed the other’s shadow, to the outskirts of the wood, and
as they entered it Dunn made his first fault, his first failure in an
exhibition of woodcraft that a North American Indian or an Australian
“black-fellow” might have equalled, but could not have surpassed.

For he trod heavily on a dry twig that snapped with a very loud, sharp
retort, clearly audible for some distance in the quiet night, and, as
dry twigs only snap like that under the pressure of considerable weight,
the presence of some living creature in the wood other than the small
things that run to and fro beneath the trees, stood revealed to all ears
that could hear.

Dunn stood instantly perfectly still, rigid as a statue, listening
intently, and he noted with satisfaction and keen relief that the
regular heavy tread of the man in front did not alter or change.

“Good,” he thought to himself. “What luck, he hasn’t heard it.”

He moved on again, as silently as before, perhaps a little inclined to
be contemptuous of any one who could fail to notice so plain a warning,
and he supposed that the man he was following must be some townsman who
knew nothing at all of the life of the country and was, like so many of
the dwellers in cities, blind and deaf outside the range of the noises
of the streets and the clamour of passing traffic.

This thought was still in his mind when all at once the steady sound of
footsteps he had been following ceased suddenly and abruptly, cut off on
the instant as you turn off water from a tap.

Dunn paused, too, supposing that for some reason the other had stopped
for a moment and would soon walk on again.

But a minute passed and then another and there was still no sound of
the footsteps beginning again. A little puzzled, Dunn moved cautiously
forward.

He saw nothing, he found nothing, there was no sign at all of the man he
had been following.

It was as though he had vanished bodily from the face of the earth, and
yet how this had happened, or why, or what had become of him, Dunn could
not imagine, for this spot was, it seemed, in the very heart of the
wood, there was no shelter of any sort or kind anywhere near, and though
there were trees all round just the ground was fairly open.

“Well, that’s jolly queer,” he muttered, for indeed it had a strange and
daunting effect, this sudden disappearance in the midst of the wood of
the man he had followed so far, and the silence around seemed all the
more intense now that those regular and heavy footsteps had ceased.

“Jolly queer, as queer a thing as ever I came across,” he muttered
again.

He listened and heard a faint sound from his right. He listened again
and thought he heard a rustling on his left, but was not sure and all
at once a great figure loomed up gigantic before him and the light of
lantern gleamed in his face.

“Now, my man,” a voice said, “you’ve been following me ever since I left
Bittermeads, and I’m going to give you a lesson you won’t forget in a
hurry.”

Dunn stood quite still. At the moment his chief feeling was one of
intense discomfiture at the way in which he had been outwitted, and he
experienced, too, a very keen and genuine admiration for the woodcraft
the other had shown.

Evidently, all the time he had known, or at any rate, suspected, that
he was being followed, and choosing this as a favourable spot he had
quietly doubled on his tracks, come up behind his pursuer, and taken him
unawares.

Dunn had not supposed there was a man in England who could have played
such a trick on him, but his admiration was roughly disturbed before he
could express it, for the grasp upon his collar tightened and upon his
shoulders there alighted a tremendous, stinging blow, as with all his
very considerable strength, the big man brought down his walking-stick
with a resounding thwack.

The sheer surprise of it, the sudden sharp pain, jerked a quick cry from
Dunn, who had not been in the least prepared for such an attack, and in
the darkness had not seen the stick rise, and the other laughed grimly.

“Yes, you scoundrel,” he said. “I know very well who you are and what
you want, and I’m going to thrash you within an inch of your life.”

Again the stick rose in the air, but did not fall, for round about his
body Dunn laid such a grip as he had never felt before and as would for
certain have crushed in the ribs of a weaker man. The lantern crashed to
the ground, they were in darkness.

“Ha! Would you?” the man exclaimed, taken by surprise in his turn, and,
giant as he was, he felt himself plucked up from the ground as you pluck
a weed from a lawn and held for a moment in mid-air and then dashed down
again.

Perhaps not another man alive could have kept his footing under such
treatment, but, somehow, he managed to, though it needed all his great
strength to resist the shock.

He flung away his walking-stick, for he realized very clearly now that
this was not going to be, as he had anticipated, a mere case of the
administration of a deserved punishment, but rather the starkest,
fiercest fight that ever he had known.

He grappled with his enemy, trying to make the most of his superior
height and weight, but the long arms twined about him, seemed to press
the very breath from his body and for all the huge efforts he put forth
with every ounce of his tremendous strength behind them, he could not
break loose from the no less tremendous grip wherein he was taken.

Breast to breast they fought, straining, swaying a little this way or
that, but neither yielding an inch. Their muscles stood out like bars of
steel, their breath came heavily, neither man was conscious any more of
anything save his need to conquer and win and overthrow his enemy.

The quick passion of hot rage that had come upon Dunn when he felt the
other’s unexpected blow still burned and flamed intensely, so that he
no longer remembered even the strange and high purpose which had brought
him here.

His adversary, too, had lost all consciousness of all other things in
the lust of this fierce physical battle, and when he gave presently a
loud, half-strangled shout, it was not fear that he uttered or a cry
for aid, but solely for joy in such wild struggle and efforts as he had
never known before.

And Dunn spake no word and uttered no sound, but strove all the more
with all the strength of every nerve and muscle he possessed once again
to pluck the other up that he might dash him down a second time.

In quick and heavy gasps came their breaths as they still swayed and
struggled together, and though each exerted to the utmost a strength few
could have withstood, each found that in the other he seemed to have met
his match.

In vain Dunn tried again to lift his adversary up so that he might hurl
him to the ground. It was an effort, a grip that seemed as though it
might have torn up an oak by the roots, but the other neither budged nor
flinched beneath it.

And in vain, in his turn, did he try to bend Dunn backwards to crush him
to the earth, it was an effort before which one might have thought that
iron and stone must have given away, but Dunn still sustained it.

Thus dreadfully they fought, there in the darkness, there in the silence
of the night.

Dreadfully they wrestled, implacable, fierce, determined, every primeval
passion awake and strong again, and slowly, very slowly, that awful grip
laid upon the big man’s body began to tell.

His breathing grew more difficult, his efforts seemed aimed more to
release himself than to overcome his adversary, he gave way an inch or
two, no more, but still an inch or two of ground.

There was a sharp sound, like a thin, dry twig snapping beneath a
careless foot.

It was one of his ribs breaking beneath the dreadful and intolerable
pressure of Dunn’s enormous grip. But neither of the combatants heard
or knew, and with one last effort the big man put forth all his vast
strength in a final attempt to bear his enemy down.

Dunn resisted still, resisted, though the veins stood out like cords on
his brow, though a little trickle of blood crept from the corner of his
mouth and though his heart swelled almost to bursting.

There was a sound of many waters in his ears, the darkness all around
grew shot with little flames, he could hear some one breathing very
noisily and he was not sure whether this were himself or his adversary
till he realized that it was both of them. With one sudden, almost
superhuman effort, he heaved his great adversary up, but had not
strength enough left to do more than let him slip from his grasp to fall
on the ground, and with the effort he himself dropped forward on his
hands and knees, just as a lantern shone at a distance and a voice
cried:

“This way, Tom. Master John, Master John, where are you?”



CHAPTER III. A COINCIDENCE


Another voice answered from near by and Dunn scrambled hurriedly to his
feet.

He had but a moment in which to decide what to do, for these new
arrivals were coming at a run and would be upon him almost instantly if
he stayed where he was.

That they were friends of the man he had just overthrown and whose huge
bulk lay motionless in the darkness at his feet, seemed plain, and it
also seemed plain to him that the moment was not an opportune one for
offering explanations.

Swiftly he decided to slip away into the darkness. What had happened
might be cleared up later when he knew more and was more sure of his
ground; at present he must think first, he told himself, of the success
of his mission.

Physically, he was greatly exhausted and his gait was not so steady nor
his progress so silent and skillful as it had been before, as now he
hurried away from the scene of the combat.

But the two new-comers made no attempt to pursue him and indeed did not
seem to give his possible presence in the vicinity even a thought, as
with many muttered exclamations of dismay and anger, they stooped over
the body of his prostrate enemy.

It was evident they recognized him at once, and that he was the “Mr.
John” whose name they had called, for so they spoke of him to each other
as they busied themselves about him.

“I expect I’ve been a fool again,” Dunn thought to himself ruefully, as
from a little distance, well-sheltered in the darkness, he crouched upon
the ground and listened and watched. “I may have ruined everything. Any
one but a fool would have asked him what he meant when he hit out like
that instead of flying into a rage and hitting back the way I did. Most
likely it was some mistake when he said he knew who I was and what I
wanted--at least if it wasn’t--I hope I haven’t killed him, anyhow.”

Secure in the protection the dark night afforded him, he remained
sufficiently near at hand to be able to assure himself soon that his
overthrown adversary was certainly not killed, for now he began to
express himself somewhat emphatically concerning the manner in which the
two new-comers were ministering to him.

Presently he got to his feet and, with one of them supporting him on
each side, began to limp away, and Dunn followed them, though cautiously
and at a distance, for he was still greatly exhausted and in neither the
mood nor the condition for running unnecessary risks.

The big man, Mr. John, as the others called him, seemed little inclined
for speech, but the others talked a good deal, subsiding sometimes when
he told them gruffly to be quiet but invariably soon beginning again
their expressions of sympathy and vows of vengeance against his unknown
assailant.

“How many of them do you think there were, Mr. John, sir?” one asked
presently. “I’ll lay you marked a fair sight of the villains.”

“There was only one man,” Mr. John answered briefly.

“Only one?” the other repeated in great surprise. “For the Lord’s sake,
Mr. John--only one? Why, there ain’t any one man between here and Lunnon
town could stand up to you, sir, in a fair tussle.”

“Well, he did,” Mr. John answered. “He had the advantage, he took me by
surprise, but I never felt such a grip in my life.”

“Lor’, now, think of that,” said the other in tones in which surprise
seemed mingled with a certain incredulity. “It don’t seem possible, but
for sure, then, he don’t come from these here parts, that I’ll stand
to.”

“I knew that much before,” retorted Mr. John. “I said all the time
they were outsiders, a London gang very likely. You’ll have to get Dr.
Rawson, Bates. I don’t know what’s up, but I’ve a beast of a pain in my
side. I can hardly breathe.”

Bates murmured respectful sympathy as they came out of the shelter
of the trees, and crossing some open ground, reached a road along the
further side of which ran a high brick wall.

In this, nearly opposite the spot where they emerged on the road, was a
small door which one of the men opened and through which they passed and
locked it behind them, leaving Dunn without.

He hesitated for a moment, half-minded to scale the wall and continue on
the other side of it to follow them.

Calculating the direction in which the village of Ramsdon must lie, he
turned that way and had gone only a short distance when he was overtaken
by a pedestrian with whom he began conversation by asking for a light
for his pipe.

The man seemed inclined to be conversational, and after a few casual
remarks, Dunn made an observation on the length of the wall they were
passing and to the end of which they had just come.

“Must be a goodish-sized place in there,” he said. “Whose is it?”

“Oh, that there’s Ramsdon Place,” the other answered. “Mr. John Clive
lives there now his father’s dead.”

Dunn stood still in the middle of the road.

“Who? What?” he stammered. “Who--who did you say?”

“Mr. John Clive,” the other repeated. “Why--what’s wrong about that?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Dunn answered, but his voice shook a little with
what seemed almost fear, and behind the darkness of the friendly night
his face had become very pale. “Clive--John Clive, you say? Oh, that’s
impossible.”

“Needn’t believe it if you don’t want to,” grumbled the other. “Only
what do you want asking questions for if you thinks folks tells lies
when they answers them?”

“I didn’t mean that, of course not,” exclaimed Dunn hurriedly, by no
means anxious to offend the other. “I’m very sorry, I only meant it was
impossible it should be the same Mr. John Clive I knew once, though I
think he came from about here somewhere. A little, middle-aged man, I
mean, quite bald and wears glasses?”

“Oh, that ain’t this ‘un,” answered the other, his good humour quite
restored. “This is a young man and tremendous big. I ain’t so small
myself, but he tops me by a head and shoulders and so he does most
hereabouts. Strong, too, with it, there ain’t so many would care to
stand up against him, I can tell you. Why, they do say he caught two
poachers in the wood there last month and brought ‘em out one under each
arm like a pair of squealing babes.”

“Did he, though?” said Dunn. “Take some doing, that, and I daresay the
rest of the gang will try to get even with him for it.”

“Well, they do say as there’s been threats,” the other agreed. “But what
I says is as Mr. John can look after hisself all right. There was a tale
as a man had been dodging after him at night, but all he said when they
told him, was as if he caught any one after him he would thrash them
within an inch of their lives.”

“Serve them right, too,” exclaimed Dunn warmly.

Evidently this explained, in part at least, what had recently happened.
Mr. Clive, finding himself being followed, had supposed it was one of
his poaching enemies and had at once attempted to carry out his threat
he had made.

Dunn told himself, at any rate, the error would have the result of
turning all suspicion away from him, and yet he still seemed very
disturbed and ill at ease.

“Has Mr. Clive been here long?” he asked.

“It must be four or five years since his father bought the place,”
 answered his new acquaintance. “Then, when the old man was killed a year
ago, Mr. John inherited everything.”

“Old Mr. Clive was killed, was he?” asked Dunn, and his voice sounded
very strange in the darkness. “How was that?”

“Accident to his motor-car,” the other replied. “I don’t hold with them
things myself--give me a good horse, I say. People didn’t like the old
man much, and some say Mr. John’s too fond of taking the high hand. But
don’t cross him and he won’t cross you, that’s his motto and there’s
worse.”

Dunn agreed and asked one or two more questions about the details of the
accident to old Mr. Clive, in which he seemed very interested.

But he did not get much more information about that concerning which his
new friend evidently knew very little. However, he gave Dunn a few more
facts concerning Mr. John Clive, as that he was unmarried, was said to
be very wealthy, and had the reputation of being something of a ladies’
man.

A little further on they parted, and Dunn took a side road which he
calculated should lead him back to Bittermeads.

“It may be pure coincidence,” he mused as he walked slowly in a very
troubled and doubtful mood. “But if so, it’s a very queer one, and if
it isn’t, it seems to me Mr. John Clive might as well put his head in
a lion’s jaws as pay visits at Bittermeads. But of course he can’t have
the least suspicion of the truth--if it is the truth. If I hadn’t lost
my temper like a fool when he whacked out at me like that I might have
been able to warn him, or find out something useful perhaps. And his
father killed recently in an accident--is that a coincidence, too, I
wonder?”

He passed his hand across his forehead on which a light sweat stood,
though he was not a man easily affected, for he had seen and endured
many things.

His mind was very full of strange and troubled thoughts as at last he
came back to Bittermeads, where, leaning with his elbows on the garden
gate, he stood for a long time, watching the dark and silent house and
thinking of that scene of which he had been a spectator when John Clive
and the girl had stood together on the veranda in the light of the gas
from the hall and had bidden each other good night.

“It seems,” he mused, “as though the last that was seen of poor Charley
must have been just like that. It was just such a dark night as this
when Simpson saw him. He was standing on that veranda when Simpson
recognized him by the light of the gas behind, and a girl was bidding
him good night--a very pretty girl, too, Simpson said.”

Silent and immobile he stood there a long time, not so much now as one
who watched, but rather as if deep in thought, for his head was bent and
supported on his hands and his eyes were fixed on the ground.

“As for this John Clive,” he muttered presently, rousing himself. “I
suppose that must be a coincidence, but it’s queer, and queer the father
should have died--like that.”

He broke off, shuddering slightly, as though at thoughts too awful to be
endured, and pushing open the gate, he walked slowly up the gravel path
towards the house, round which he began to walk, going very slowly
and cautiously and often pausing as if he wished to make as close
examination of the place as the darkness would permit.

More by habit than because he thought there was any need of it, he moved
always with that extreme and wonderful dexterity of quietness he could
assume at will, and as he turned the corner of the building and came
behind it, his quick ear, trained by many an emergency to pick out the
least unusual sound, caught a faint, continued scratching noise, so
faint and low it might well have passed unnoticed.

All at once he understood and realized that some one quite close at
hand was stealthily cutting out the glass from one of the panes of a
ground-floor window.



CHAPTER IV. A WOMAN WEEPS


Cautiously he glided nearer, moving as noiselessly as any shadow,
seeming indeed but one shadow the more in the heavy surrounding
darkness.

The persistent scratching noise continued, and Dunn was now so close he
could have put out his hand and touched the shoulder of the man who was
causing it and who still, intent and busy, had not the least idea of the
other’s proximity.

A faint smile touched Dunn’s lips. The situation seemed not to be
without a grim humour, for if one-half of what he suspected were true,
one might as sensibly and safely attempt to break into the condemned
cell at Pentonville Gaol as into this quiet house.

But then, was it perhaps possible that this fellow, working away so
unconcernedly, within arm’s-length of him, was in reality one of them,
seeking to obtain admittance in this way for some reason of his own,
some private treachery, it might be, or some dispute? To Dunn that
did not seem likely. More probably the fellow was merely an
ordinary burglar--some local practitioner of the housebreaking art,
perhaps--whose ill-fortune it was to have hit upon this house to rob
without his having the least idea of the nature of the place he was
trying to enter.

“He might prove a useful recruit for them, though,” Dunn thought, and a
sudden idea flashed into his mind, vivid and startling.

For one moment he thought intently, weighing in his mind this idea that
had come to him so suddenly. He was not blind to the risks it involved,
but his eager temperament always inclined him to the most direct and
often to the most dangerous course. His mind was made up, his plan of
action decided.

The scratching of the burglar’s tool upon the glass ceased. Already he
had smeared treacle over the square of glass he intended to remove and
had covered it with paper so as to be able to take it out easily and in
one piece without the risk of falling fragments betraying him.

Through the gap thus made he thrust his arm and made sure there were no
alarms fitted and no obstacles in the way of his easy entrance.

Cautiously he unfastened the window and cautiously and silently lifted
the sash, and when he had done so he paused and listened for a space to
make sure no one was stirring and that no alarm had been caused within
the house.

Still very cautiously and with the utmost precaution to avoid making
even the least noise, he put one knee upon the window-sill, preparatory
to climbing in, and as he did so Dunn touched him lightly on the
shoulder.

“Well, my man, what are you up to?” he said softly. And without a
word, without giving the least warning, the burglar, a man evidently
of determination and resource, swung round and aimed at Dunn’s head a
tremendous blow with the heavy iron jemmy he held in his right hand.

But Dunn was not unprepared for an attack and those bright, keen eyes of
his seemed able to see as well in the dark as in the light. He threw up
his left hand and caught the other’s wrist before that deadly blow he
aimed could descend and at the same instant he dashed his own clenched
fist full into the burglar’s face.

As it happened, more by good luck than intended aim, the blow took him
on the point of the chin. He dropped instantly, collapsing in on himself
as falls a pole-axed bullock, and lay, unconscious, in a crumpled heap
on the ground.

For a little Dunn waited, crouching above him and listening for the
least sound to show that their brief scuffle had been heard.

But it had all passed nearly as silently as quickly. Within the house
everything remained silent, there was no sound audible, no gleam of
light to show that any of the inmates had been disturbed.

Taking from his pocket a small electric flash-lamp Dunn turned its light
on his victim.

He seemed a man of middle age with a brutal, heavy-jawed face and a low,
receding forehead. His lips, a little apart, showed yellow, irregular
teeth, of which two at the front of the lower jaw had been broken, and
the scar of an old wound, running from the corner of his left eye down
to the centre of his cheek, added to the sinister and forbidding aspect
he bore.

His build was heavy and powerful and near by, where he had dropped it
when he fell, lay the jemmy with which he had struck at Dunn. It was
a heavy, ugly-looking thing, about two feet in length and with one end
nearly as sharp as that of a chisel.

Dunn picked it up and felt it thoughtfully.

“Just as well I got my blow in first,” he mused. “If he had landed that
fairly on my skull I don’t think anything else in this world would ever
have interested me any more.”

Stooping over the unconscious man, he felt in his pockets and found an
ugly-looking revolver, fully loaded, a handful of cartridges, a coil
of thin rope, an electric torch, a tiny dark lantern no bigger than a
match-box, and so arranged that the single drop of light it permitted
to escape fell on one spot only, a bunch of curiously-shaped wires Dunn
rightly guessed to be skeleton keys used for opening locks quietly,
together with some tobacco, a pipe, a little money, and a few other
personal belongings of no special interest or significance.

These Dunn replaced where he had found them, but the revolver, the rope,
the torch, the dark lantern, and the bunch of wires he took possession
of.

He noticed also that the man was wearing rubber-soled boots and rubber
gloves, and these last he also kept. Stooping, he lifted the unconscious
man on to his shoulder and carried him with perfect ease and at a quick
pace out of the garden and across the road to the common opposite,
where, in a convenient spot, behind some furze bushes, he laid him down.

“When he comes round,” Dunn muttered. “He won’t know where he is or
what’s happened, and probably his one idea will be to clear off as
quickly as possible. I don’t suppose he’ll interfere with me at all.”

Then a new idea seemed to strike him, and he hurriedly removed his own
coat and trousers and boots and exchanged them for those the burglar was
wearing.

They were not a good fit, but he could get them on and the idea in his
mind was that if the police of the district began searching, as very
likely they would, for Mr. John Clive’s assailant, and if they had
discovered any clues in the shape of footprints or torn bits of clothing
or buttons--and Dunn knew his attire had suffered considerably during
the struggle--then it would be as well that such clues should lead not
to him, but to this other man, who, if he were innocent on that score,
had at any rate been guilty of attempting to carry out a much worse
offence.

“I’m afraid your luck’s out, old chap,” Dunn muttered, apostrophizing
the unconscious man. “But you did your best to brain me, and that gives
me a sort of right to make you useful. Besides, if the police do run you
in, it won’t mean anything worse than a few questions it’ll be your own
fault if you can’t answer. Anyhow, I can’t afford to run the risk of
some blundering fool of a policeman trying to arrest me for assaulting
the local magnate.”

Much relieved in mind, for he had been greatly worried by a fear that
this encounter with John Clive might lead to highly inconvenient legal
proceedings, he left the unlucky burglar lying in the shelter of the
furze bushes and returned to the house.

All was as he had left it, the open window gaped widely, almost inviting
entrance, and he climbed silently within. The apartment in which he
found himself was apparently the drawing-room and he felt his way
cautiously and slowly across it, moving with infinite care so as to
avoid making even the least noise.

Reaching the door, he opened it and went out into the hall. All was dark
and silent. He permitted himself here to flash on his electric torch for
a moment, and he saw that the hall was spacious and used as a lounge,
for there were several chairs clustered in its centre, opposite the
fireplace. There were two or three doors opening from it, and almost
opposite where he stood were the stairs, a broad flight leading to a
wide landing above.

Still with the same extreme silence and care, he began to ascend these
stairs and when he was about half-way up he became aware of a faint and
strange sound that came trembling through the silence and stillness of
the night.

What it was he could not imagine. He listened for a time and then
resumed his silent progress with even more care than previously, and
only when he reached the landing did he understand that this faint and
low sound he heard was caused by a woman weeping very softly in one of
the rooms near by.

Silently he crossed the landing in the direction whence the sound seemed
to come. Now, too, he saw a thread of light showing beneath a door at a
little distance, and when he crept up to it and listened he could hear
for certain that it was from within this room that there came the sound
of muffled, passionate weeping.

The door was closed, but he turned the handle so carefully that he made
not the least sound and very cautiously he began to push the door back,
the tiniest fraction of an inch at a time, so that even one watching
closely could never have said that it moved.

When, after a long time, during which the muffled weeping never ceased,
he had it open an inch or two, he leaned forward and peeped within.

It was a bed-chamber, and, crouching on the floor near the fireplace, in
front of a low arm-chair, her head hidden on her arms and resting on
the seat of the chair, was the figure of a girl. She had made no
preparations for retiring, and by the frock she wore Dunn recognized her
as the girl he had seen on the veranda bidding good-bye to John Clive.

The sound of her weeping was very pitiful, her attitude was full of an
utter and poignant despair, there was something touching in the extreme
in the utter abandonment to grief shown by this young and lovely
creature who seemed framed only for joy and laughter.

The stern features and hard eyes of the unseen watcher softened, then
all at once they grew like tempered steel again.

For on the mantlepiece, just above where the weeping girl crouched,
stood a photograph--the photograph of a young and good-looking,
gaily-smiling man. Across it, in a boyish and somewhat unformed hand,
was written,

            “Devotedly yours,
                      Charley Wright.”

It was this photograph that had caught Dunn’s eyes. Both it and the
writing and the signature he recognized, and his look was very stern,
his eyes as cold as death itself, as slowly, slowly he pushed back the
door of the room another inch or so.



CHAPTER V. A WOMAN AND A MAN


The girl stirred. It was as though some knowledge of the slow opening of
the door had penetrated to her consciousness before as yet she actually
saw or heard anything.

She rose to her feet, drying her eyes with her handkerchief, and as she
was moving to a drawer near to get a clean one her glance fell on the
partially-open door.

“I thought I shut it,” she said aloud in a puzzled manner.

She crossed the floor to the door and closed it with a push from her
hand and in the passage outside Dunn stood still, not certain what to do
next.

But for that photograph he might have gone quietly away, giving up the
reckless plan that had formed itself so suddenly in his mind while he
watched the burglar at work.

That photograph, however, with its suggestion that he stood indeed on
the brink of the solution of the mystery, seemed a summons to him to go
on. It was as though a voice from the dead called him to continue on his
task to punish and to save, and slowly, very slowly, with an infinite
caution, he turned again the handle of the door and still very slowly,
still with the same infinite caution, he pushed back the door the merest
fraction of an inch at a time so that not even one watching could have
said that it moved.

When he had it once more so far open that he could see within, he bent
forward to look. The girl was beginning her preparations for the night
now. She had assumed a long, comfortable-looking dressing-gown and,
standing in front of the mirror, she had just finished brushing her hair
and was beginning to fasten it up in a long plait. He could see her face
in the mirror; her deep, sad eyes, swollen with crying, her cheeks still
tear-stained, her mouth yet quivering with barely-repressed emotion.

He was still watching her when, as if growing uneasy, she turned her
head and glanced over her shoulder, and though he moved back so quickly
that she did not catch sight of him, she saw that the door was open once
more.

“What can be the matter with the door?” she exclaimed aloud, and
she crossed the room towards it with a quick and somewhat impatient
movement.

But this time, instead of closing it, she pulled it open and found
herself face to face with Dunn.

He did not speak or move, and she stood staring at him blankly. Slowly
her mouth opened as though to utter a cry that, however, could not rise
above her fluttering throat. Her face had taken on the pallor of death,
her great eyes showed the awful fear she felt.

Still without speaking, Dunn stepped forward into the room and, closing
the door, stood with his back to it.

She shrank away and put her hand upon a chair, but for the support of
which she must certainly have fallen, for her limbs were trembling so
violently they gave her little support.

“Don’t hurt me,” she panted.

In truth he presented a strange and terrifying appearance. The unkempt
hair that covered his face and through which his keen eyes glowed like
fire, gave him an unusual and formidable aspect. In one hand he held the
ugly-looking jemmy he had taken from the burglar, and the new clothes
he had donned, ill-fitting and soiled, served to accentuate the
ungainliness of his form.

The frightened girl was not even sure that he was human, and she shrank
yet further away from him till she sank down upon the bed, dizzy with
fear and almost swooning.

As yet he had not spoken, for his eyes had gone to the mantlepiece on
which he saw that the photograph signed with the name “Charley Wright,”
 did not now stand upright, but had fallen forward on its face so that
one could no longer see what it represented.

It must have fallen just as he entered the room and this seemed to him
an omen, though whether of good or ill, he did not know.

“Who are you?” the girl stammered. “What do you want?”

He looked at her moodily and still without answering, though in his
bright and keen eyes a strange light burned.

She was lovely, he thought, of that there could be no question. But her
beauty made to him small appeal, for he was wondering what kind of soul
lay behind those perfect features, that smooth and delicate skin, those
luminous eyes. Yet his eyes were still hard and it was in his roughest,
gruffest tones that he said:

“You needn’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you.”

“I’ll give you everything I have,” she panted, “if only you’ll go away.”

“Not so fast as all that,” he answered, coolly, for indeed he had not
taken so mad a risk in order to go away again if he could help it. “Who
is there in the house besides you?”

“Only mother,” she answered, looking up at him very pleadingly as if in
hopes that he must relent when he saw her in distress. “Please, won’t
you take what you want and go away? Please don’t disturb mother, it
would nearly kill her.”

“I’m not going to hurt either you or your mother if you’ll be sensible,”
 he said irritably, for, unreasonably enough, the extreme fear she showed
and her pleading tones annoyed him. He had a feeling that he would
like to shake her, it was so absurd of her to look at him as though she
expected him to gobble her up in a mouthful.

She seemed a little reassured.

“Mother will be so dreadfully frightened,” she repeated, “I’ll give you
everything there is in the house if only you’ll go at once.”

“I can take everything I want without your giving it me,” he retorted.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth when you say there’s no one else
in the house? How many servants have you?”

“None,” she answered. “There’s a woman comes every day, but she doesn’t
sleep here.”

“Do you live all alone here with your mother?” he asked, watching her
keenly.

“There’s my stepfather,” she answered. “But he’s not here tonight.”

“Oh, is he away?” Dunn asked, his expression almost one of
disappointment.

The girl, whose first extreme fear had passed and who was watching him
as keenly as he watched her, noticed this manner of disappointment, and
could not help wondering what sort of burglar it was who was not pleased
to hear that the man of the house was away, and that he had only two
women to deal with.

And it appeared to her that he seemed not only disappointed, but rather
at a loss what to do next.

As in truth he was, for that the stepfather should be away, and this
girl and her mother all alone, was, perhaps, the one possibility that he
had never considered.

She noticed, too, that he did not pay any attention to her jewellery,
which was lying close to his hand on the toilet-table, and though in
point of actual fact this jewellery was not of any great value, it was
exceedingly precious in her eyes, and she did not understand a burglar
who showed no eagerness to seize on it.

“Did you want to see Mr. Dawson?” she asked, her voice more confident
now and even with a questioning note in it.

“Mr. Dawson! Who’s he?” Dunn asked, disconcerted by the question, but
not wishing to seem so.

“My stepfather, Mr. Deede Dawson,” she answered. “I think you knew that.
If you want him, he went to London early today, but I think it’s quite
likely he may come back tonight.”

“What should I want him for?” growled Dunn, more and more disconcerted,
as he saw that he was not playing his part too well.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I suppose you do.”

“You suppose a lot,” he retorted roughly. “Now you listen to me. I don’t
want to hurt you, but I don’t mean to be interfered with. I’m going over
the house to see what I can find that’s worth taking. Understand?”

“Oh, perfectly,” she said.

She was watching him closely, and she noticed that he still made no
attempt to take possession of her jewellery, though it lay at his hand,
and that puzzled her very much, indeed, for she supposed the very first
thing a burglar did was always to seize such treasures as these of hers.
But this man paid them no attention whatever, and did not even notice
them.

He was feeling in his pockets now and he took out the revolver and the
coil of thin rope he had secured from the burglar.

“Now, do you know what I’m going to do?” he asked, with an air of
roughness and brutality that was a little overdone. He put the revolver
and the rope down on the bed, the revolver quite close to her.

“I’m going,” he continued, “to tie you up to one of those chairs. I
can’t risk your playing any tricks or giving an alarm, perhaps, while
I’m searching the house. I shall take what’s worth having, and then I
shall clear off, and if your stepfather’s coming home tonight you won’t
have to wait long till he releases you, and if he don’t come I can’t
help it.”

He turned his back to her as he spoke and took hold of one of the chairs
in the room, and then of another and looked at them as though carefully
considering which would be the best to use for the carrying out of his
threat.

He appeared to find it difficult to decide, for he kept his back turned
to her for two or three minutes, during all of which time the revolver
lay on the bed quite close to her hand.

He listened intently for he fully expected her to snatch it up, and he
wished to be ready to turn before she could actually fire. But, indeed,
nothing was further from her thoughts, for she did not know in the least
how to use the weapon or even how to fire it off, and the very thought
of employing it to kill any one would have terrified her far more even
than had done her experiences of this night.

So the pistol lay untouched by her side, while, very pale and trembling
a little, she waited what he would do, and on his side he felt as much
puzzled by her failure to use the opportunity he had put in her way as
she was puzzled by his neglect to seize her jewellery lying ready to his
hand.

He was still hesitating, still appearing unable to decide which chair to
employ in carrying out his proclaimed purpose of fastening her up when
she asked a question that made him swing round upon her very quickly and
with a very startled look.

“Are you a real burglar?” she said.



CHAPTER VI. A DISCOVERY


“What do you mean?” Dunn asked quickly. The matted growth of hair on his
face served well to hide any change of expression, but his eyes betrayed
him with their look of surprise and discomfiture, and in her own clear
and steady glance appeared now a kind of puzzled mockery as if she
understood well that all he did was done for some purpose, though what
that purpose was still perplexed her.

“I mean,” she said slowly, “well--what do I mean? I am only asking
a question. Are you a burglar--or have you come here for some other
reason?”

“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” he grumbled. “Think I’m here for
fun? Not me. Come and sit on this chair and put your hands behind you
and don’t make a noise, or scream, or anything, not if you value your
life.”

“I don’t know that I do very much,” she answered with a manner of
extreme bitterness, but more as if speaking to herself than to him.

She did as he ordered, and he proceeded to tie her wrists together and
to fasten them to the back of the chair on which she had seated herself.
He was careful not to draw the cords too tight, but at the same time he
made the fastening secure.

“You won’t disturb mother, will you?” she asked quietly when he had
finished. “Her room’s the one at the end of the passage.”

“I don’t want to disturb any one,” he answered. “I only want to get off
quietly. I won’t gag you, but don’t you try to make any noise, if you do
I’ll come back. Understand?”

“Oh, perfectly,” she answered. “May I ask one question? Do you feel very
proud of yourself just now?”

He did not answer, but went out of the room quickly, and he had an
impression that she smiled as she watched him go, and that her smile was
bitter and a little contemptuous.

“What a girl,” he muttered. “She scored every time. I didn’t find out a
thing, she didn’t do anything I expected or wanted her to. She seemed as
if she spotted me right off--I wonder if she did? I wonder if she could
be trusted?”

But then he thought of that photograph on the mantelpiece and his look
grew stern and hard again. He was careful to avoid the room the girl had
indicated as occupied by her mother, but of all the others on that floor
he made a hasty search without discovering anything to interest him or
anything of the least importance or at all unusual.

From the wide landing in the centre of the house a narrow stairway,
hidden away behind an angle of the wall so that one did not notice it
at first, led above to three large attics with steeply-sloping roofs and
evidently designed more for storage purposes than for habitation.

The doors of two of these were open and within was merely a collection
of such lumber as soon accumulates in any house.

The door of the third attic was locked, but by aid of the jemmy he still
carried, he forced it open without difficulty.

Within was nothing but a square packing-case, standing in the middle of
the floor. Otherwise the light of the electric torch he flashed around
showed only the bare boarding of the floor and the bare plastered walls.

Near the packing-case a hammer and some nails lay on the floor and the
lid was in position but was not fastened, as though some interruption
had occurred before the task of nailing it down could be completed.

Dunn noted that one nail had been driven home, and he was on the point
of leaving the attic, for he knew he had not much time and hoped that
downstairs he would be able to make some discoveries of importance, when
it occurred to him that it might be wise to see what was in this case,
the nailing down the lid of which had not been completed.

He crossed the room to it, and without drawing the one nail, pushed back
the lid which pivoted on it quite easily.

Within appeared a covering of coarse sacking. He pulled this away with
a careless hand, and beneath the beam of his electric torch showed the
pale and dreadful features of a dead man--of a man, the center of whose
forehead showed the small round hole where a bullet had entered in; of
a man whose still-recognizable features were those of the photograph on
the mantel-piece of the room downstairs, the photograph that was signed:

            “Devotedly yours,
                      Charley Wright.”

For a long time Robert Dunn stood, looking down in silence at that dead
face which was hardly more still, more rigid than his own.

He shivered, for he felt very cold. It was as though the coldness of the
death in whose presence he stood had laid its chilly hand on him also.

At last he stirred and looked about him with a bewildered air, then
carefully and with a reverent hand, he put back the sackcloth covering.

“So I’ve found you, Charley,” he whispered. “Found you at last.”

He replaced the lid, leaving everything as it had been when he entered
the attic, and stood for a time, trying to collect his thoughts which
the shock of this dreadful discovery had so disordered, and to decide
what to do next.

“But, then, that’s simple,” he thought. “I must go straight to the
police and bring them here. They said they wanted proof; they said I had
nothing to go on but bare suspicion. But that’s evidence enough to hang
Deede Dawson--the girl, too, perhaps.”

Then he wondered whether it could be that she knew nothing and was
innocent of all part or share in this dreadful deed. But how could that
be possible? How could it be that such a crime committed in the house in
which she lived could remain unknown to her?

On the other hand, when he thought of her clear, candid eyes; when he
remembered her gentle beauty, it did not seem conceivable that behind
them could lie hidden the tigerish soul of a murderess.

“That’s only sentiment, though,” he muttered. “Nothing more. Beautiful
women have been rotten bad through and through before today. There’s
nothing for me to do but to go and inform the police, and get them here
as soon as possible. If she’s innocent, I suppose she’ll be able to
prove it.”

He hesitated a moment, as he thought of how he had left her, bound and a
prisoner.

It seemed brutal to leave her like that while he was away, for he would
probably be some time absent. But with a hard look, he told himself that
whatever pain she suffered she must endure it.

His first and sole thought must be to bring to justice the murderers of
his unfortunate friend; and to secure, too, thereby, the success almost
certainly of his own mission.

To release her and leave her at liberty might endanger the attainment of
both those ends, and so she must remain a prisoner.

“Only,” he muttered, “if she knew the attic almost over her head held
such a secret, why, didn’t she take the chance I gave her of getting
hold of my revolver? That she didn’t, looks as if she knew nothing.”

But then he thought again of the photograph in her room and remembered
that agony of grief to which she had been surrendering herself when he
first saw her. Now those passionate tears of hers seemed to him like
remorse.

“I’ll leave her where she is,” he decided again. “I can’t help it; I
mustn’t run any risks. My first duty is to get the police here and have
Deede Dawson arrested.”

He went down the stairs still deep in thought, and when he reached the
landing below he would not even go to make sure that his captive was
still secure.

An obscure feeling that he did not wish to see her, and still more that
he did not wish her to see him, prevented him.

He descended the second flight of steps to the hall, taking fewer
precautions to avoid making a noise and still very deep in thought.

For some time he had had but little hope that young Charley Wright still
lived.

Nevertheless, the dreadful discovery he had made in the attic above had
affected him profoundly, and left his mind in a chaos of emotions so
that he was for the time much less acutely watchful than usual.

They had spent their boyhood together, and he remembered a thousand
incidents of their childhood. They had been at school and college
together. And how brilliantly Charley had always done at work and play,
surmounting every difficulty with a laugh, as if it were merely some new
and specially amusing jest!

Every one had thought well of him, every one had believed that his
future career would be brilliant. Now it had ended in this obscure and
dreadful fashion, as ends the life of a trapped rat.

Dunn found himself hardly able to realize that it was really so,
and through all the confused medley of his thoughts there danced and
flickered his memory of a young and lovely face, now tear-stained, now
smiling, now pale with terror, now calmly disdainful.

“Can she have known?” he muttered. “She must have known--she can’t have
known--it’s not possible either way.”

He shuddered and as he put his foot on the lowest stair he raised his
hands to cover his face as though to shut out the visions that passed
before him.

Another step forward he took in the darkness, and all at once there
flashed upon him the light of a strong electric torch, suddenly switched
on.

“Put up your hands,” said a voice sharply. “Or you’re a dead man.”

He looked bewilderedly, taken altogether by surprise, and saw he was
faced by a fat little man with a smooth, chubby, smiling face and eyes
that were cold and grey and deadly, and who held in one hand a revolver
levelled at his heart.

“Put up your hands,” this newcomer said again, his voice level and calm,
his eyes intent and deadly. “Put up your hands or I fire.”



CHAPTER VII. QUESTION AND ANSWER


Dunn obeyed promptly.

There was that about this little fat, smiling man and his unsmiling eyes
which proclaimed very plainly that he was quite ready to put his threat
into execution.

For a moment or two they stood thus, each regarding the other very
intently. Dunn, his hands in the air, the steady barrel of the other’s
pistol levelled at his heart, knew that never in all his adventurous
life had he been in such deadly peril as now, and the grotesque
thought came into his mind to wonder if there were room for two in that
packing-case in the attic.

Or perhaps no attempt would be made to hide his death since, after all,
it is always permissible to shoot an armed burglar.

The clock on the stairs began to strike the hour, and he wondered if he
would still be alive when the last stroke sounded.

He did not much think so for he thought he could read a very deadly
purpose in the other’s cold grey eyes, nor did he suppose that a man
with such a secret as that of the attic upstairs to hide was likely to
stand on any scruple.

And he thought that if he still lived when the clock finished striking
he would take it for an omen of good hope.

The last stroke sounded and died away into the silence of the night.

The revolver was still levelled at his heart, the grim purpose in the
other’s eyes had not changed, and yet Dunn drew a breath of deep relief
as though the worst of the danger was past.

Through his mind, that had been a little dulled by the sudden
consciousness of so extreme a peril, thought began again to race with
more than normal rapidity and clearness.

It occurred to him, with a sense of the irony of the position, that
when he entered this house it had been with the deliberate intention
of getting himself discovered by the inmates, believing that to show
himself to them in the character of a burglar might gain him their
confidence.

It had seemed to him that so he might come to be accepted as one of them
and perhaps learn in time the secret of their plans.

The danger that they might adopt the other course of handing him over to
the police had not seemed to him very great, for he had his reasons for
believing that there would be no great desire to draw the attention of
the authorities to Bittermeads for any reason whatever.

But the discovery he had made in the attic changed all that. It changed
his plans, for now he could go to the police immediately. And it changed
also his conception of how these people were likely to act.

Before, it had not entered his mind to suppose that he ran any special
risk of being shot at sight, but now he understood that the only thing
standing between him and instant death was the faint doubt in his
captor’s mind as to how much he knew.

It seemed to him his only hope was to carry out his original plan and
try to pass himself off as the sort of person who might be likely to be
useful to the master of Bittermeads.

“Don’t shoot, sir,” he said, in a kind of high whine. “I ain’t done no
harm, and it’s a fair cop--and me not a month out of Dartmoor Gaol. I
shall get a hot ‘un for this, I know.”

The little fat man did not answer; his eyes were as deadly, the muzzle
of his pistol as steady as before.

Dunn wondered if it were from that pistol had issued the bullet that had
drilled so neat and round a hole in his friend’s forehead. He supposed
so.

He said again

“Don’t shoot, Mr. Deede Dawson, sir; I ain’t done no harm.”

“Oh, you know my name, do you, you scoundrel?” Deede Dawson said, a
little surprised.

“Yes, sir,” Dunn answered. “We always find out as much as we can about a
crib before we get to work.”

“I see,” said Mr. Dawson. “Very praiseworthy. Attention to business and
all that. Pray, what did you find out about me?”

“Only as you was to be away tonight, sir,” answered Dunn. “And that
there didn’t seem to be any other man in the house, and, of course,
how the house lay and the garden, and so. But I didn’t know as you was
coming home so soon.”

“No, I don’t suppose you did,” said Deede Dawson.

“I ain’t done no harm,” Dunn urged, making his voice as whining and
pleading as he could. “I’ve only just been looking round the two top
floors--I ain’t touched a thing. Give a cove a chance, sir.”

“You’ve been looking round, have you?” said Deede Dawson slowly. “Did
you find anything to interest you?”

“I’ve only been in the bedrooms and the attics,” answered Dunn, changing
not a muscle of his countenance and thinking boldness his safest course,
for he knew well the slightest sign or hint of knowledge that he gave
would mean his death. “I’d only just come downstairs when you copped me,
sir; I ain’t touched a thing in one of these rooms down here.”

“Haven’t you?” said Deede Dawson slowly, and his face was paler, his
eyes more deadly, the muzzle of his pistol yet more inflexibly steady
than before.

More clearly still did Dunn realize that the faintest breath of
suspicion stirring in the other’s mind that he knew of what was hidden
in the attic would mean certain death and just such another neat little
hole bored through heart or brain as that he had seen showing in the
forehead of his dead friend.

“Haven’t you, though?” Deede Dawson repeated. “The bedrooms--the
attics--that’s all?”

“Yes, sir, that’s all, take my oath that’s all,” Dunn repeated
earnestly, as if he wished very much to impress on his captor that he
had searched bedrooms and attics thoroughly, but not these downstairs
rooms.

Deede Dawson was plainly puzzled, and for the first time a little doubt
seemed to show in his hard grey eyes.

Dunn perceived that a need was on him to know for certain whether his
dreadful secret had been discovered or not.

Until he had assured himself on that point Dunn felt comparatively safe,
but he still knew also that to allow the faintest suspicion to dawn in
Deede Dawson’s mind would mean for him instant death.

He saw, too, watching very warily and ready to take advantage of any
momentary slip or forgetfulness, how steady was Deede Dawson’s hand, how
firm and watchful his eyes.

With many men, with most men indeed, Dunn would have seized or made some
opportunity to dash in and attack, taking the chance of being shot
down first, since there are few indeed really skilled in the use of a
revolver, the most tricky if the most deadly of weapons.

But he realized he had small hope of taking unawares this fat little
smiling man with the unsmiling eyes and steady hand, and he was well
convinced that the first doubtful movement he made would bring a bullet
crashing through his brain.

His only hope was in delay and in diverting suspicion, and Deede
Dawson’s voice was very soft and deadly as he said:

“So you’ve been looking in the bedrooms, have you? What did you find
there?”

“Nothing, sir, not a thing,” protested Dunn. “I didn’t touch a thing,
I only wanted to look round before coming down here to see about the
silver.”

“And the attics?” asked Deede Dawson. “What did you find there?”

“There wasn’t no one in them,” Dunn answered. “I only wanted to make
sure the young lady was telling the truth about there being no servants
in the house to sleep.”

“Did you look in all the attics, then?” asked Deede Dawson.

“Yes,” answered Dunn. “‘There was one as was locked, but I tooked the
liberty of forcing it just to make sure. I ain’t done no harm to speak
of.”

“You found one locked, eh?” said Deede Dawson, and his smile grew still
more pleasant and more friendly. “That must have surprised you a good
deal, didn’t it?”

“I thought as perhaps there was some one waiting already to give the
alarm,” answered Dunn. “I didn’t mind the old lady, but I couldn’t risk
there being some one hiding there, so I had to look, but I ain’t done no
damage to speak of, I could put it right for you myself in half-an-hour,
sir, if you’ll let me.”

“Could you, indeed?” said Deede Dawson. “Well, and did you find any one
sleeping there?”

But for that hairy disguise upon his cheeks and chin, Dunn would almost
certainly have betrayed himself, so dreadful did the question seem to
him, so poignant the double meaning that it bore, so clear his memory of
his friend he had found there, sleeping indeed.

But there was nothing to show his inner agitation, as he said, shaking
his head.

“There wasn’t no one there, any more than in the other attics, nothing
but an old packing-case.”

“And what?” said Deede Dawson, his voice so soft it was like a caress,
his smile so sweet it was a veritable benediction. “What was in that
packing-case?”

“Didn’t look,” answered Dunn, and then, with a sudden change of manner,
as though all at once understanding what previously had puzzled him.
“Lum-me,” he cried, “is that where you keep the silver? Lor’, and to
think I never even troubled to look.”

“You never looked?” repeated Deede Dawson.

Dunn shook his head with an air of baffled regret. “Never thought of
it,” he said. “I thought it was just lumber like in the other attics,
and I might have got clear away with it if I had known, as easy as not.”

His chagrin was so apparent, his whole manner so innocent, that Deede
Dawson began to believe he really did know nothing.

“Didn’t you wonder why the door was locked?” he asked.

“Lor’,” answered Dunn, “if you stopped to wonder about everything you
find rummy in a crib you’re cracking, when would you ever get your
business done?”

“So you didn’t look--in that packing-case?” Deede Dawson repeated.

“If I had,” answered Dunn ruefully, “I shouldn’t be here, copped like
this. I should have shoved with the stuff and not waited for nothing
more. But I never had no luck.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Deede Dawson grimly, and as he spoke a
soft voice called down from upstairs.

“Is there any one there?” it said. “Oh, please, is any one there?”

“Is that you, Ella?” Deede Dawson called back. “Come down here.”

“I can’t,” she answered. “I’m fastened to a chair.”

“I didn’t hurt the young lady,” Dunn interposed quickly. “I only
tied her up as gentle as I could to a chair so as to stop her from
interfering.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?” said Deede Dawson, and seemed a little amused,
as though the thought of his stepdaughter’s plight pleased him rather
than not. “Well, if she can’t come down here, we’ll go up there. Turn
round, my man, and go up the stairs and keep your hands over your head
all the time. I shan’t hesitate to shoot if you don’t, and I never
miss.”

Dunn was not inclined to value his life at a very high price as he
turned and went awkwardly up the stairs, still holding his hands above
his head.

But he meant to save it if he could, for many things depended on it,
among them due punishment to be exacted for the crime he had discovered
this night; and also, perhaps, for the humiliation he was now enduring.



CHAPTER VIII. CAPTIVITY CAPTIVE

Up the stairs, across the landing, and down the passage opposite Dunn
went in silence, shepherded by the little man behind whose pistol was
still levelled and still steady.

His hands held high in the air, he pushed open with his knee the door
of the girl’s room and entered, and she looked up as he did so with an
expression of pure astonishment at his attitude of upheld hands that
changed to one of comprehension and of faint amusement as Deede Dawson
followed, revolver in hand.

“Oh,” she murmured. “Captivity captive, it seems.”

At the fireplace Dunn turned and found her looking at him very intently,
while from the doorway Deede Dawson surveyed them both, for once his
eyes appearing to share in the smile that played about his lips as
though he found much satisfaction in what he saw.

“Well, Ella,” he said. “You’ve been having adventures, it seems, but you
don’t look too comfortable like that.”

“Nor do I feel it,” she retorted. “So please set me free.”

“Yes, so I will,” he answered, but he still hesitated, and Dunn had the
idea that he was pleased to see the girl like this, and would leave
her so if he could, and that he was wondering now if he could turn her
predicament to his own advantage in any way.

“Yes, I will,” he said again. “Your mother--?”

“She hasn’t wakened,” Ella answered. “I don’t think she has heard
anything. I don’t suppose she will, for she took two of those pills last
night that Dr. Rawson gave her for when she couldn’t sleep.”

“It’s just as well she did,” said Deede Dawson.

“Yes, but please undo my hands,” she asked him. “The cords are cutting
my wrists dreadfully.”

As she spoke she glanced at Dunn, standing by the fireplace and
listening gravely to what they said, and Deede Dawson exclaimed with an
air of great indignation:--

“The fellow deserves to be well thrashed for treating you like that.
I’ve a good mind to do it, too, before handing him over to the police.”

“But you haven’t released me yet,” she remarked.

“Oh, yes, yes,” he said, starting as if this were quite a new idea.
“I’ll release you at once--but I must watch this scoundrel. He must have
frightened you dreadfully.”

“Indeed he did not,” she answered quickly, again looking at Dunn. “No,
he didn’t,” she said again with a touch of defiance in her manner and a
certain slightly lifting her small, round chin. “At least not much after
just at first,” she added.

“I’ll loose you,” Deede Dawson said once more, and coming up to her, he
began to fumble in a feeble, ineffectual way at the cords that secured
her wrists.

“Jove, he’s tied you up pretty tight, Ella!” he said.

“He believes in doing his work thoroughly, I suppose,” she remarked,
lifting her eyes to Dunn’s with a look in them that was partly
questioning and partly puzzled and wholly elusive. “I daresay he always
likes to do everything thoroughly.”

“Seems so,” said Deede Dawson, giving up his fumbling and ineffectual
efforts to release her.

He stepped back and stood behind her chair, looking from her to Dunn and
back again, and once more Dunn was conscious of an impression that he
wished to make use for his own purposes of the girl’s position, but that
he did not know how to do so.

“You are a nice scoundrel,” said Deede Dawson suddenly, with an
indignation that seemed to Dunn largely assumed. “Treating a girl like
this. Ella, what would you like done to him? He deserves shooting. Shall
I put a bullet through him for you?”

“He might have treated me worse, I suppose,” said Ella quietly. “And
if you would be less indignant with him, you might be more help to me.
There are scissors on the table somewhere.”

“I’ll get them,” Deede Dawson said. “I’ll get them,” he repeated, as
though now at last finally making up his mind.

He took the scissors from the toilet-table where they lay before the
looking-glass and cut the cords by which Ella was secured.

With a sigh of relief she straightened herself from the confined
position in which she had been held and began to rub her wrists, which
were slightly inflamed where the cords had bruised her soft skin.

“Like to tie him up that way now?” asked Deede Dawson. “You shall if you
like.”

She turned and looked full at Dunn and he looked back at her with eyes
as steady and as calm as her own.

Again she showed that faint doubt and wonder which had flickered through
her level gaze before as though she felt that there was more in all this
than was apparent, and did not wish to condemn him utterly without a
hearing.

But it was plain also that she did not wish to say too much before her
stepfather and she answered carelessly:

“I don’t think I could tie him tight enough, besides, he looks
ridiculous enough like that with his hands up in the air.”

It was her revenge for what he had made her suffer. He felt himself
flush and he knew that she knew that her little barbed shaft had struck
home.

“Well, go and look through his pockets,” Deede Dawson said. “And see if
he’s got a revolver. Don’t be frightened; if he lowers his hands he’ll
be a dead man before he knows it.”

“He has a pistol,” she said. “He showed it me, it’s in his coat pocket.”

“Better get it then,” Deede Dawson told her. She obeyed and brought
him the weapon, and he nodded with satisfaction as he put it in his own
pocket.

“I think we might let you put your hands down now,” he remarked, and
Dunn gladly availed himself of the permission, for every muscle in his
arms was aching badly.

He remained standing by the wall while Deede Dawson, seating himself on
the chair to which Ella had been bound, rested his chin on his left
hand and, with the pistol still ready in his right, regarded Dunn with a
steady questioning gaze.

Ella was standing near the bed. She had poured a few drops of
eau-de-Cologne on her wrists and was rubbing them softly, and for ever
after the poignant pleasant odour of the scent has remained associated
in Robert Dunn’s mind with the strange events of that night so that
always even the merest whiff of it conjures up before his mind a picture
of that room with himself silent by the fireplace and Ella silent by
the bed and Deede Dawson, pistol in hand, seated between them, as silent
also as they, and very watchful.

Ella appeared fully taken up with her occupation and might almost have
forgotten the presence of the two men. She did not look at either of
them, but continued to rub and chafe her wrists softly.

Deede Dawson had forgotten for once to smile, his brow was slightly
wrinkled, his cold grey eyes intent and watchful, and Dunn felt very
sure that he was thinking out some plan or scheme.

The hope came to him that Deede Dawson was thinking he might prove of
use, and that was the thought which, above all others, he wished the
other to have. It was, indeed, that thought which all his recent actions
had been aimed to implant in Deede Dawson’s mind till his dreadful
discovery in the attic had seemed to make at last direct action
possible. How, in his present plight that thought, if Deede Dawson
should come to entertain it, might yet prove his salvation. Now and
again Deede Dawson gave him quick, searching glances, but when at last
he spoke it was Ella he addressed.

“Wrists hurt you much?” he asked.

“Not so much now,” she answered. “They were beginning to hurt a great
deal, though.”

“Were they, though?” said Deede Dawson. “And to think you might have
been like that for hours if I hadn’t chanced to come home. Too bad, what
a brute this fellow is.”

“Men mostly are, I think,” she observed indifferently.

“And women mostly like to get their own back again,” he remarked with
a chuckle, and then turned sharply to Dunn. “Well, my man,” he asked,
“what have you got to say for yourself?”

“Nothing,” Dunn answered. “It was a fair cop.”

“You’ve had a taste of penal servitude before, I suppose?” Deede Dawson
asked.

“Maybe,” Dunn answered, as if not wishing to betray himself. “Maybe
not.”

“Well, I think I remember you said something about not being long out
of Dartmoor,” remarked Deede Dawson. “How do you relish the prospect of
going back there?”

“I wonder,” interposed Ella thoughtfully. “I wonder what it is in you
that makes you so love to be cruel, father?”

“Eh what?” he exclaimed, quite surprised. “Who’s being cruel?”

“You,” she answered. “You enjoy keeping him wondering what you are going
to do with him, just as you enjoyed seeing me tied to that chair and
would have liked to leave me there.”

“My dear Ella!” he protested. “My dear child!”

“Oh, I know,” she said wearily. “Why don’t you hand the man over to
the police if you’re going to, or let him go at once if you mean to do
that?”

“Let him go, indeed!” exclaimed Deede Dawson. “What an idea! What should
I do that for?”

“If you’ll give me another chance,” said Dunn quickly, “I’ll do
anything--I should get it pretty stiff for this lot, and that wouldn’t
be any use to you, sir, would it? I can do almost anything--garden,
drive a motor, do what I’m told, It’s only because I’ve never had a
chance I’ve had to take to this line.”

“If you could do what you’re told you certainly might be useful,” said
Deede Dawson slowly. “And I don’t know that it would do me any good
to send you off to prison--you deserve it, of course. Still--you talk
sometimes like an educated man?”

“I had a bit of education,” Dunn answered.

“I see,” said Deede Dawson. “Well, I won’t ask you any more questions,
you’d probably only lie. What’s your name?”

With that sudden recklessness which was a part of his impulsive and
passionate nature, Dunn answered:

“Charley Wright.”

The effect was instantaneous and apparent on both his auditors.

Ella gave a little cry and started so violently that she dropped the
bottle of eau-de-Cologne she had in her hands.

Deede Dawson jumped to his feet with a fearful oath. His face went
livid, his fat cheeks seemed suddenly to sag, of his perpetual smile
every trace vanished.

He swung his revolver up, and Dunn saw the crooked forefinger quiver as
though in the very act of pressing the trigger.

The pressure of a hair decided, indeed, whether the weapon was to fire
or not, as in a high-pitched, stammering voice, Deede Dawson gasped:

“What--what do you mean? What do you mean by that?”

“I only told you my name,” Dunn answered. “What’s wrong with it?”

Doubtful and afraid, Deede Dawson stood hesitant. His forehead had
become very damp, and he wiped it with a nervous gesture.

“Is that your name--your real name?” he muttered.

“Never had another that I know of,” Dunn answered.

Deede Dawson sat down again on the chair. He was still plainly very
disturbed and shaken, and Ella seemed scarcely less agitated, though
Dunn, watching them both very keenly, noticed that she was now looking
at Deede Dawson with a somewhat strange expression and with an air as
though his extreme excitement puzzled her and made her--afraid.

“Nothing wrong with the name, is there?” Dunn muttered again.

“No, no,” Deede Dawson answered. “No. It’s merely a coincidence, that’s
all. A coincidence, I suppose, Ella?”

Ella did not answer. Her expression was very troubled and full of doubt
as she stood looking from her stepfather to Dunn and back again.

“It’s only that your name happens to be the same as that of a friend of
ours--a great friend of my daughter’s,” Deede Dawson said as though he
felt obliged to offer some explanation. “That’s all--a coincidence. It
startled me for the moment.” He laughed. “That’s all. Well, my man, it
happens there is something I can make you useful in. If you do prove
useful and do what I tell you, perhaps you may get let off. I might even
keep you on in a job. I won’t say I will, but I might. You look a likely
sort of fellow for work, and I daresay you aren’t any more dishonest
than most people. Funny how things happen--quite a coincidence, your
name. Well, come on; it’s that packing-case you saw in the attic
upstairs. I want you to help me downstairs with that--Charley Wright.”


CHAPTER IX. THE ATTIC OF MYSTERY


Robert Dunn was by no means sure that he was not going to his death as
he went out of Ella’s room on his way to the attics above, for he had
perceived a certain doubt and suspicion in Deede Dawson’s manner, and he
thought it very likely that a fatal intention lay behind.

But he obeyed with a brisk promptitude of manner, like one who saw a
prospect of escape opening before him, and as he went he saw that Ella
had relapsed into her former indifference and was once more giving all
her attention to bathing her wrists with eau-de-Cologne; and he saw,
too, that Deede Dawson, following close behind, kept always his revolver
ready.

“Perhaps he only wants to get me out of her way before he shoots,” he
reflected. “Perhaps there is room in that packing-case for two. It will
be strange to die. Shall I try to rush him? But he would shoot at once,
and I shouldn’t have a chance. One thing, if anything happens to me, no
one will ever know what’s become of poor Charley.”

And this seemed to him a great pity, so that he began to form confused
and foolish plans for securing that his friend’s fate should become
known.

With a sudden start, for he had not known he was there, he found himself
standing on the threshold of that attic of death. It was quite dark
up here, and from behind Deede Dawson’s voice told him impatiently to
enter.

He obeyed, wondering if ever again he would cross that threshold alive,
and Deede Dawson followed him into the dark attic so that Dunn was
appalled by the man’s rashness, for how could he tell that his victim
would not take this opportunity to rise up from the place where he had
been thrust and take his revenge?

“What an idea,” he thought to himself. “I must be going dotty, it’s the
strain of expecting a bullet in my back all the time, I suppose. I was
never like this before.”

Deede Dawson struck a match and put it to a gas-jet that lighted up
the whole room. Between him and Dunn lay the packing-case, and Dunn was
surprised to see that it was still there and that nothing had changed or
moved; and then again he said to himself that this was a foolish thought
only worthy of some excitable, hysterical girl.

“It’s being too much for me,” he thought resignedly. “I’ve heard of
people being driven mad by horror. I suppose that’s what’s happening to
me.”

“You look--queer,” Deede Dawson’s voice interrupted the confused medley
of his thoughts. “Why do you look like that--Charley Wright?”

Dunn looked moodily across the case in which the body of the murdered
man was hidden to where the murderer stood.

After a pause, and speaking with an effort, he said:

“You’d look queer if some one with a pistol was watching you all the
time the way you watch me.”

“You do what I tell you and you’ll be all right,” Deede Dawson answered.
“You see that packing-case?”

Dunn nodded.

“It’s big enough,” he said.

“Would you like to know?” asked Deede Dawson slowly with his slow,
perpetual smile. “Would you like to know what’s in it--Charley Wright?”

And again Dunn was certain that a faint suspicion hung about those last
two words, and that his life and death hung very evenly in the balance.

“Silver, you said,” he muttered. “Didn’t you?”

“Ah, yes--yes--to be sure,” answered Deede Dawson. “Yes, so I did.
Silver. I want the lid nailed down. There’s a hammer and nails there.
Get to work and look sharp.”

Dunn stepped forward and began to set about a task that was so terrible
and strange, and that yet he had, at peril of his life--at peril of more
than that, indeed--to treat as of small importance.

Standing a little distance from the lighted gas-jet, Deede Dawson
watched him narrowly, and as Dunn worked he was very sure that to betray
the least sign of his knowledge would be to bring instantly a bullet
crashing through his brain.

It seemed curious to him that he had so carefully replaced everything
after making his discovery, and that without any forethought or special
intention he had put back everything so exactly as he had found it when
the slightest neglect or failure in that respect would most certainly
have cost him his life.

And he felt that as yet he could not afford to die.

One by one he drove in the nails, and as he worked at his gruesome task
he heard the faintest rustle on the landing without--the faintest sound
of a soft breath cautiously drawn in, of a light foot very carefully set
down.

Deede Dawson plainly heard nothing; indeed, no ear less acute and less
well-trained than Dunn’s could have caught sounds that were so slight
and low, but he, listening between each stroke of his hammer, was sure
that it was Ella who had followed them, and that she crouched upon the
landing without, watching and listening.

Did that mean, he wondered, that she, too, knew? Or was it merely
natural curiosity; hostile in part, perhaps, since evidently the
relations between her and her stepfather were not too friendly--a desire
to know what task there could be in the attics so late at night for
which Deede Dawson had such need of his captive’s help?

Or was it by any chance because she wished to know how things went with
him, and what was to be his fate?

In any case, Dunn was sure that Ella had followed then, and was on the
landing without.

He drove home the last nail and stood up. “That’s done,” he said.

“And well done,” said Deede Dawson. “Well done--Charley Wright.”

He spoke the name softly and lingeringly, and then all at once he began
to laugh, a low and somewhat dreadful laughter that had in it no mirth
at all, and that sounded horrible and strange in the chill emptiness of
the attic.

Leaning one hand on the packing-case that served as the coffin of his
dead friend, Dunn swore a silent oath to exact full retribution, and
henceforth to put that purpose on a level with the mission on which
originally he had come.

Aloud, and in a grumbling tone he said:

“What’s the matter with my name? It’s a name like any other. What’s
wrong with it?”

“What should there be?” flashed Deede Dawson in reply.

“I don’t know,” Dunn answered. “You keep repeating it so, that’s all.”

“It’s a very good name,” Deede Dawson said. “An excellent name. But
it’s not suitable. Not here.” He began to laugh again and then stopped
abruptly.

“Do you know, I think you had better choose another?” he said.

“It’s all one to me,” declared Dunn. “If Charley Wright don’t suit, how
will Robert Dunn do? I knew a man of that name once.”

“It’s a better name than Charley Wright,” said Deede Dawson. “We’ll call
you Robert Dunn--Charley Wright. Do you know why I can’t have you call
yourself Charley Wight?”

Dunn shook his head.

“Because I don’t like it,” said Deede Dawson. “Why, that’s a name that
would drive me mad,” he muttered, half to himself.

Dunn did not speak, but he thought this was a strange thing for the
other to say and showed that even he, cold and remorseless and without
any natural feeling, as he had seemed to be, yet had about him still
some touch of humanity.

And as he mused on this, which seemed to him so strange, though really
it was not strange at all, his attentive ears caught the sound of a soft
step without, beginning to descend the stairs.

Had that name, then, been more than she also could bear?

If so, she must know.

“I don’t see why, I don’t see what’s wrong with it,” he said aloud. “But
Robert Dunn will suit me just as well.”

“All a matter of taste,” said Deede Dawson, his manner more composed and
natural again.

“It’s a funny thing now--suppose my name was Charley Wright, then there
would be two Charley Wrights in this attic, eh? A coincidence, that
would be?”

“I suppose so,” answered Dunn. “I knew another man named Charley Wright
once.”

“Did you? Where’s he?”

“Oh, he’s dead,” answered Dunn.

Deede Dawson could not repress the start he gave and for a moment Dunn
thought that his suspicions were really roused. He came a little nearer,
his pistol still ready in his hand.

“Dead, is he?” he said. “That’s a pity. He’s not here, then; but it
would be funny wouldn’t it, if there were two Charley Wrights in one
room?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Dunn answered. “I think there are lots of
funnier things than that would be.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” retorted Deede Dawson, and he laughed
again, shrilly and dreadfully, a laughter that had in it anything but
mirth.

“Can you carry that packing-case downstairs if I help you get it on your
shoulder?” he asked abruptly.

“It’s heavy, but I might,” Dunn answered.

He supposed that now it was about to be hidden somewhere and he felt
that he must know where, since that knowledge would mean everything and
enable him to set the authorities to work at once immediately he could
communicate with them.

The weight of the thing taxed even his great strength to the utmost, but
he managed it somehow, and bending beneath his burden, he descended the
stairs to the hall and then, following the orders Deede Dawson gave him
from behind, out into the open air.

He was nearly exhausted when at last his task-master told him he could
put it down as he stood still for a minute or two to recover his breath
and strength.

The night was not very dark, for a young moon was shining in a clear
sky, and it appeared to Dunn, as he felt his strength returning, that
now at last he might find an opportunity of making an attack upon his
captor with some chance of success.

Hitherto, in the house, in the bright glare of the gas lights, he had
known that the first suspicious movement he made would have ensured his
being instantly and remorselessly shot down, his mission unfulfilled.

But here in the open air, in the night that the moon illumined but
faintly, it was different, and as he watched for his opportunity he felt
that sooner or later it was sure to come.

But Deede Dawson was alert and wary, his pistol never left his hand, he
kept so well on his guard he gave Dunn no opening to take him unawares,
and Dunn did not wish to run too desperate a chance, since he was sure
that sooner or later one giving fair chance of success would present
itself.

“Do you want it carried any further?” he asked. “It’s very heavy.”

“I suppose you mean you’re wondering what’s in it?” said Deede Dawson
sharply.

“It’s nothing to me what’s in it--silver or anything else,” retorted
Dunn. “Do you want me to carry it further, that’s all I asked?”

“No,” answered Deede Dawson. “No, I don’t. Do you know, if you knew what
was really in it, you’d be surprised?”

“Very likely,” answered Dunn. “Why not?”

“Yes, you would be surprised,” Deede Dawson repeated, and suddenly
shouted into the darkness: “Are you ready? Are you ready there?”

Dunn was very startled, for somehow, he had supposed all along that
Deede Dawson was quite alone.

There was no answer to his call, but after a minute or two there was
the sound of a motor-car engine starting and then a big car came gliding
forward and stopped in front of them, driven by a form so muffled in
coats and coverings as to be indistinguishable in that faint light.

“Put the case inside,” Deede Dawson said. “I’ll help you.”

With some trouble they succeeded in getting the case in and Deede Dawson
covered it carefully with a big rug.

When he had done so he stepped back.

“Ready, Ella?” he said.

“Yes,” answered the girl’s soft and low voice that already Dunn could
have sworn to amidst a thousand others.



CHAPTER X. THE NEW GARDENER


“Go ahead, then,” said Deede Dawson, and the great car with its terrible
burden shot away into the night.

For a moment or two Deede Dawson stood looking after it, and then
he turned and walked slowly towards the house, and mechanically Dunn
followed, the sole thought in his mind, the one idea of which he was
conscious, that of Ella driving away into the darkness with the dead
body of his murdered friend in the car behind her.

Did she--know? he asked himself. Or was she ignorant of what it was she
had with her?

It seemed to him that that question, hammering itself so awfully upon
his mind and clamouring for an answer, must soon send him mad.

And still before him floated perpetually a picture of long, dark, lonely
roads, of a rushing motor-car driven by a lovely girl, of the awful
thing hidden in the car behind her.

Dully he recognized that the opportunity for which he had watched and
waited so patiently had come and gone a dozen times, for Deede Dawson
had now quite relaxed his former wary care.

It was as though he supposed all danger over, as though in the reaction
after an enormous strain he could think of nothing but the immediate
relief. He hardly gave a single glance at Dunn, whose faintest movement
before had never escaped him. He had even put his pistol back in his
pocket, and at almost any moment Dunn, with his unusual strength and
agility, could have seized and mastered him.

But for such an enterprise Dunn had no longer any spirit, for all his
mind was taken up by that one picture so clear in his thoughts of Ella
in her great car driving the dead man through the night. “She must
know,” he said to himself. “She must, or she would never have gone off
like that at that time--she can’t know, it’s impossible, or she would
never have dared.”

And again it seemed to him that this doubt was driving him mad.

Deede Dawson entered the house and got a bottle of whisky and a syphon
of soda-water and mixed himself a drink. For the first time since Ella’s
departure he seemed to remember Dunn’s presence.

“Oh, there you are,” he said.

Dunn did not answer. He stood moodily on the threshold, wondering why he
did not rush upon the other, and with his knee upon his chest, his
hands about his throat, force him to answer the question that was still
whispering, shouting, screaming itself into his ears:

“Does she know what it is she drives with her on that big car through
the black and lonely night?”

“Like a drink?” asked Deede Dawson.

Dunn shook his head, and it came to him that he did not attack Deede
Dawson and force the truth from him because he dared not, because he was
afraid, because he feared what the answer might be.

“There’s a tool-shed at the bottom of the garden,” Deede Dawson said to
him. “You can sleep there, tonight. You’ll find some sacks you can make
a bed of.”

Without a word in reply Dunn turned and stumbled away. He felt very
tired--physically exhausted--and the idea of a bed, even of sacks in an
outhouse, became all at once extraordinarily attractive.

He found the place without difficulty, and, making a pile of the sacks,
flung himself down on them and was asleep almost at once. But almost
as promptly he awoke again, for he had dreamed of Ella driving her car
through the night towards some strange peril from which in his dream he
was trying frantically and ineffectively to save her when he awoke.

So it was all through the night.

His utter and complete exhaustion compelled him to sleep, and every time
some fresh, fantastic dream in which Ella and the huge motor-car and the
dreadful burden she had with her always figured, awoke him with a fresh
start.

But towards morning he fell into a heavy sleep from which presently
he awoke to find it broad daylight and Deede Dawson standing on the
threshold of the shed with his perpetually smiling lips and his cold,
unsmiling eyes.

“Well, my man; had a good sleep?” he said.

“I was tired,” Dunn answered.

“Yes, we had a busy night,” agreed Deede Dawson. “I slept well, too.
I’ve been wondering what to do with you. Of course, I ought to hand
you over to the police, and it’s rather a risk taking on a man of your
character, but I’ve decided to give you a chance. Probably you’ll misuse
it. But I’ll give you an opportunity as gardener and chauffeur here. You
can drive a car, you say?”

Dunn nodded.

“That’s all right,” said Deede Dawson.

“You shall have your board and lodging, and I’ll get you some decent
clothes instead of those rags; and if you prove satisfactory and make
yourself useful you’ll find I can pay well. There will be plenty of
chances for you to make a little money--if you know how to take them.”

“When it’s money,” growled Dunn, “you give me the chance, and see.”

“I think,” added Deede Dawson, “I think it might improve your looks if
you shaved.”

Dunn passed his hand over the tangle of hair that hid his features so
effectually.

“What for?” he asked.

“Oh, well: please yourself,” answered Deede Dawson; “I don’t know that
it matters, and perhaps you have reasons of your own for preferring a
beard. Come on up to the house now and I’ll tell Mrs. Dawson to give you
some breakfast. And you might as well have a wash, too, perhaps--unless
you object to that as well as to shaving.”

Dunn rose without answering, made his toilet by shaking off some of
the dust that clung to him, and followed his new employer out of the
tool-house into the open air.

It was a fresh and lovely morning, and coming towards them down one of
the garden paths was Ella, looking as fresh and lovely as the morning in
a dainty cotton frock with lace at her throat and wrists.

That she could possibly have spent the night tearing across country in a
powerful car conveying a dead man to an unknown destination, appeared to
Dunn a clean impossibility, and for a moment he almost supposed he had
been mistaken in thinking he recognized her voice.

But he knew he had not, that he had made no mistake, that it had indeed
been Ella he had seen dash away into the darkness on her strange and
terrible errand.

“Oh, my daughter,” said Deede Dawson carelessly, noticing Dunn’s
surprise. “Oh, yes, she’s back--you didn’t expect to see her this
morning. Well, Ella, Dunn’s surprised to see you back so soon, aren’t
you, Dunn?”

Dunn did not answer, for a kind of vertigo of horror had come upon him,
and for a moment all things revolved about him in a whirling circle
wherein the one fixed point was Ella’s gentle lovely face that
sometimes, he thought, had a small round hole with blue edges in the
very centre of the forehead, above the nose.

It was her voice, clear and a little loud, that called him back to
himself.

“He’s not well,” she was saying. “He’s going to faint.”

“I’m all right,” he muttered. “It was nothing, nothing, it’s only that
I’ve had nothing to eat for so long.”

“Oh, poor man!” exclaimed Ella.

“Come up to the house,” Deede Dawson said.

“Breakfast’s ready,” Ella said. “Mother told me to find you.”

“Has the woman come yet?” Deede Dawson asked. “If she has, you might
tell her to give Dunn some breakfast. I’ve just been telling him I’m
willing to give him another chance and to take him on as gardener and
chauffeur, so you can keep an eye on him and see if he works well.”

Ella was silent for a moment, but her expression was grave and a little
puzzled as though she did not quite understand this and wondered what it
meant, and when she looked up at her stepfather, Dunn was certain there
was both distrust and suspicion in her manner.

“I suppose,” she said then, “last night seemed to you a good
recommendation?” As she spoke she glanced at her wrists where the
bruises still showed, and Deede Dawson’s smile broadened.

“One should always be ready to give another chance to a poor fellow
who’s down,” he said. “He may run straight now he’s got an opportunity.
I told him he had better shave, but he seems to think a beard suits him
best. What do you say?”

“Breakfast’s waiting,” Ella answered, turning away without taking any
notice of the question.

“I’ll go in then,” said Deede Dawson. “You might show Dunn the way to
the kitchen--his name’s Robert Dunn, by the way--and tell Mrs. Barker to
give him something to eat.”

“I should think he could find his way there himself,” Ella remarked.

But though she made this protest, she obeyed at once, for though she
used a considerable liberty of speech to her stepfather, it was none the
less evident that she was very much afraid of him and would not be very
likely to disobey him or oppose him directly.

“This way,” she said to Dunn, and walked on along a path that led to the
back of the house. Once she stopped and looked back. She smiled slightly
and disdainfully as she did so, and Dunn saw that she was looking at a
clump of small bushes near where they had been standing.

He guessed at once that she believed Deede Dawson to be behind those
bushes watching them, and when she glanced at him he understood that she
wished him to know it also.

He said nothing, though a faint movement visible in the bushes convinced
him that her suspicions, if, indeed, she had them, were well-founded,
and they walked on in silence, Ella a little ahead, and Dunn a step or
two behind.

The garden was a large one, and had at one time been well cultivated,
but now it was neglected and overgrown. It struck Dunn that if he was to
be the gardener here he would certainly not find himself short of work,
and Ella, without looking round, said to him over her shoulder:

“Do you know anything about gardening?”

“A little, miss,” he answered.

“You needn’t call me ‘miss,’” she observed. “When a man has tied a girl
to a chair I think he may regard himself as on terms of some familiarity
with her.”

“What must I call you?” he asked, and his words bore to himself a double
meaning, for, indeed, what name was it by which he ought to call her?

But she seemed to notice nothing as she answered “My name is Cayley
--Ella Cayley. You can call me Miss Cayley. Do you know anything of
motoring?”

“Yes,” he answered. “Though I never cared much for motoring at night.”

She gave him a quick glance, but said no more, and they came almost
immediately to the back door.

Ella opened it and entered, nodding to him to follow, and crossing a
narrow, stone-floored passage, she entered the kitchen where a tall
gaunt elderly woman in a black bonnet and a course apron was at work.

“This is Dunn, Mrs. Barker,” she called, raising her voice. “He is the
new gardener. Will you give him some breakfast, please?” She added to
Dunn:

“When you’ve finished, you can go to the garage and wash the car, and
when you speak to Mrs. Barker you must shout. She is quite deaf, that is
why my stepfather engaged her, because he was sorry for her and wanted
to give her a chance, you know...”



CHAPTER XI. THE PROBLEM


When he had finished his breakfast, and after he had had the wash of
which he certainly stood in considerable need, Dunn made his way to the
garage and there occupied himself cleaning the car. He noticed that the
mud with which it was liberally covered was of a light sandy sort, and
he discovered on one of the tyres a small shell.

Apparently, therefore, last night’s wild journey had been to the coast,
and it was a natural inference that the sea had provided a secure
hiding-place for the packing-case and its dreadful contents.

But then that meant that there was no evidence left on which he could
take action.

As he busied himself with his task, he tried to think out as clearly as
he could the position in which he found himself and to decide what he
ought to do next.

To his quick and hasty nature the swiftest action was always the most
congenial, and had he followed his instinct, he would have lost no time
in denouncing Deede Dawson. But his cooler thoughts told him that he
dared not do that, since it would be to involve risks, not for himself,
but for others, that he simply dared not contemplate.

He felt that the police, even if they credited his story, which he
also felt that very likely they would not do, could not act on his sole
evidence.

And even if they did act and did arrest Deede Dawson, it was certain no
jury would convict on so strange a story, so entirely uncorroborated.

The only result would be to strengthen Deede Dawson’s position by the
warning, to show him his danger, and to give him the opportunity, if he
chose to use it, of disappearing and beginning again his plots and plans
after some fresh and perhaps more deadly fashion.

“Whereas at present,” he mused, “at any rate, I’m here and he doesn’t
seem to suspect me, and I can watch and wait for a time, till I see my
way more clearly.”

And this decision he came to was a great relief to him, for he desired
very greatly to know more before he acted and in especial to find out
for certain what was Ella’s position in all this.

It was Deede Dawson’s voice that broke in upon his meditations.

“Ah, you’re busy,” he said. “That’s right, I like to see a man working
hard. I’ve got some new things for you I think may fit fairly well, and
Mrs. Dawson is going to get one of the attics ready for you to sleep
in.”

“Very good, sir,” said Dunn.

He wondered which attic was to be assigned to him and if it would be
that one in which he had found his friend’s body. He suspected, too,
that he was to be lodged in the house so that Deede Dawson might watch
him, and this pleased him, since it meant that he, in his turn, would be
able to watch Deede Dawson.

Not that there appeared much to watch, for the days passed on and it
seemed a very harmless and quiet life that Deede Dawson lived with his
wife and stepdaughter.

But for the memory, burned into Dunn’s mind, of what he had seen that
night of his arrival, he would have been inclined to say that no more
harmless, gentle soul existed than Deede Dawson.

But as it was, the man’s very gentleness and smiling urbanity filled him
with a loathing that it was at times all he could do to control.

The attic assigned to him to sleep in was that where he had made his
dreadful discovery, and he believed this had been done as a further test
of his ignorance, for he was sure Deede Dawson watched him closely to
see if the idea of being there was in any way repugnant to him.

Indeed at another time he might have shrunk from the idea of sleeping
each night in the very room where his friend had been foully done
to death, but now he derived a certain grim satisfaction and a
strengthening of his nerves for the task that lay before him.

Only a very few visitors came to Bittermeads, especially now that Mr.
John Clive, who had come often, was laid up. But one or two of the
people from the village came occasionally, and the vicar appeared two or
three times every week, ostensibly to play chess with Deede Dawson,
but in reality, Dunn thought, drawn there by Ella, who, however, seemed
quite unaware of the attraction she exercised over the good man.

Dunn did not find that he was expected to do very much work, and in
fact, he was left a good deal to himself.

Once or twice the car was taken out, and occasionally Deede Dawson
would come into the garden and chat with him idly for a few minutes on
indifferent subjects. When it was fine he would often bring out a little
travelling set of chessmen and board and proceed to amuse himself,
working out or composing problems.

One day he called Dunn up to admire a problem he had just composed.

“Pretty clever, eh?” he said, admiring his own work with much
complacence. “Quite an original idea of mine and I think the key move
will take some finding. What do you say? I suppose you do play chess?”

“Only a very little,” answered Dunn.

“Try a game with me,” said Deede Dawson, and won it easily, for in fact,
Dunn was by no means a strong player.

His swift victory appeared to delight Deede Dawson immensely.

“A very pretty mate I brought off there against you,” he declared. “I’ve
not often seen a prettier. Now you try to solve that problem of mine,
it’s easy enough once you hit on the key move.”

Dunn thought to himself that there were other and more important
problems which would soon be solved if only the key move could be
discovered.

He said aloud that he would try what he could do, and Deede Dawson
promised him half a sovereign if he solved it within a week.

“I mayn’t manage it within a week,” said Dunn. “I don’t say I will. But
sooner or later I shall find it out.”

During all this time he had seen little of Ella, who appeared to come
very little into the garden and who, when she did so, avoided him in a
somewhat marked manner.

Her mother, Mrs. Dawson, was a little faded woman, with timid eyes and
a frightened manner. Her health did not seem to be good, and Ella looked
after her very assiduously. That she went in deadly fear of her husband
was fairly evident, though he seemed to treat her always with great
consideration and kindness and even with a show of affection, to which
at times she responded and from which at other times she appeared to
shrink with inexplicable terror.

“She doesn’t know,” Dunn said to himself. “But she suspects
--something.”

Ella, he still watched with the same care and secrecy, and sometimes he
seemed to see her walking amidst the flowers as an angel of sweetness
and laughing innocence; and sometimes he saw her, as it were, with
the shadow of death around her beauty, and behind her gentle eyes and
winning ways a great and horrible abyss.

Of one thing he was certain--her mind was troubled and she was not at
ease; and it was plain, also, that she feared her smiling soft-spoken
stepfather.

As the days passed, too, Dunn grew convinced that she was watching him
all the time, even when she seemed most indifferent, as closely and as
intently as he watched her.

“All watching together,” Dunn thought grimly. “It would be simple
enough, I suppose, if one could hit on the key move, but that I suppose
no one knows but Deede Dawson himself. One thing, he can’t very well
be up to any fresh mischief while he’s lounging about here like this. I
suppose he is simply waiting his time.”

As for the chess problem, that baffled him entirely. He said as much
to Deede Dawson, who was very pleased, but would not tell him what the
solution was.

“No, no, find it out for yourself,” he said, chuckling with a merriment
in which, for once his cold eyes seemed to take full share.

“I’ll go on trying,” said Dunn, and it grew to be quite a custom between
them for Deede Dawson to ask him how he was getting on with the problem;
and for Dunn to reply that he was still searching for the key move.

Several times little errands took Dunn into the village, where,
discreetly listening to the current gossip, he learned that Mr. John
Clive of Ramsdon Place had been injured in an attack made upon him by a
gang of ferocious poachers--at least a dozen in number--but was making
good progress towards recovery.

Also, he found that Mr. John Clive’s visits to Bittermeads had not gone
unremarked, or wholly uncriticized, since there was a vague feeling that
a Mr. Clive of Ramsdon Place ought to make a better match.

“But a pretty face is all a young man thinks of,” said the more
experienced; and on the whole, it seemed to be felt that the open
attention Clive paid to Ella was at least easily to be understood.

Almost the first visit Clive paid, when he was allowed to venture out,
was to Bittermeads; and Dunn, returning one afternoon from an errand,
found him established on the lawn in the company of Ella, and looking
little the worse for his adventure.

He and Ella seemed to be talking very animatedly, and Dunn took the
opportunity to busy himself with some gardening work not far away, so
that he could watch their behaviour.

He told himself it was necessary he should know in what relation they
stood to each other, and as he heard them chatting and laughing together
with great apparent friendliness and enjoyment, he remembered with
considerable satisfaction how he had already broken one rib of Clive’s,
and he wished very much for an opportunity to break another.

For, without knowing why, he was beginning to conceive an intense
dislike for Clive; and, also, it did not seem to him quite good taste
for Ella to sit and chat and laugh with him so readily.

“But we were told,” he caught a stray remark of Ella’s, “that it was a
gang of at least a dozen that attacked you.”

“No,” answered Clive reluctantly. “No, I think there was only one. But
he had a grip like a bear.”

“He must have been very strong,” remarked Ella thoughtfully.

“I would give fifty pounds to meet him again, and have it out in the
light, when one could see what one was doing,” declared Clive with great
vigour.

“Oh, you would, would you?” muttered Dunn to himself. “Well, one of
these days I may claim that fifty.”

He looked round at Clive as he thought this, and Clive noticed him, and
said:

“Is that a new man you’ve got there Miss Cayley? Doesn’t he rather want
a shave? Where on earth did Mr. Dawson pick him up?”

“Oh, he came here with the very best testimonials, and father engaged
him on the spot,” answered Ella, touching her wrists thoughtfully. “He
certainly is not very handsome, but then that doesn’t matter, does it?”

She spoke more loudly than usual, and Dunn was certain she did so
in order that he might hear what she said. So he had no scruple in
lingering on pretence of being busy with a rose bush, and heard Clive
say:

“Well, if he were one of my chaps, I should tell him to put the
lawn-mower over his own face.”

Ella laughed amusedly.

“Oh, what an idea, Mr. Clive,” she cried, and Dunn thought to himself:

“Yes, one day I shall very certainly claim that fifty pounds.”



CHAPTER XII. AN AVOWAL


When Clive had gone that afternoon, Ella, who had accompanied him as far
as the gate, and had from thence waved him a farewell, came back to the
spot where Dunn was working.

She stood still, watching him, and he looked up at her and then went
on with his work without speaking, for now, as always, the appalling
thought was perpetually in his mind: “Must she not have known what it
was she had with her in the car when she went driving that night?”

After a little, she turned away, as if disappointed that he took no
notice of her presence.

At once he raised himself from the task he had been bending over, and
stood moodily watching the slim, graceful figure, about which hung such
clouds of doubt and dread, and she, turning around suddenly, as if
she actually felt the impact of his gaze, saw him, and saw the strange
expression in his eyes.

“Why do you look at me like that?” she asked quickly, her soft and
gentle tones a little shrill, as though swift fear had come upon her.

“Like what?” he mumbled.

“Oh, you know,” she cried passionately. “Am I to be the next?” she
asked.

He started, and looked at her wonderingly, asking himself if these words
of hers bore the grim meaning that his mind instantly gave them.

Was it possible that if she did know something of what was going on in
this quiet country house, during these peaceful autumn days, she knew it
not as willing accomplice, but as a helpless, destined victim who saw no
way of escape.

As if she feared she had said too much, she turned and began to walk
away.

At once he followed.

“Stop one moment,” he exclaimed. “Miss Cayley.”

She obeyed, turning quickly to face him. They were both very pale, and
both were under the influence of strong excitement. But between
them there hung a thick cloud of doubt and dread that neither could
penetrate.

All at once Dunn, unable to control himself longer, burst out with that
question which for so long had hovered on his lips.

“Do you know,” he said, “do you know what you took away with you in the
car that night I came here?”

“The packing-case, you meant,” she asked. “Of course I do; I helped to
get it ready--what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” he muttered, though indeed he had staggered as beneath some
sudden and violent blow. “Oh--did you?” he said, with an effort.

“Certainly,” she answered. “Now I’ve answered your question, will you
answer me one? Why did you tell us your name was Charley Wright?”

“I knew a man of that name once,” he answered. “He’s dead now.”

“I thought perhaps,” she said slowly and quite calmly, “that it was
because you had seen the name written on a photograph in my room.”

“No, it wasn’t that,” he answered gravely, and his doubts that for a
moment had seemed so terribly confirmed, now came back again, for though
she had said that she knew of the contents of the packing-case, yet,
if that were really so, how was it conceivable that she should speak of
such a thing so calmly?

And yet again, if she could do it, perhaps also she could talk of it
without emotion. Once more there was fear in his eyes as he watched her,
and her own were troubled and doubtful.

“Why do you have all that hair on your face?” she asked.

“Well, why shouldn’t I?” he retorted. “It saves trouble.”

“Does it?” she said. “Do you know what it looks like--like a disguise?”

“A disguise?” he repeated. “Why should I want a disguise?”

“Do you think I’m quite a fool because I’m a woman?” she asked
impatiently. “Do you suppose I couldn’t see very well when you came that
night that you were not an ordinary burglar? You had some reason of your
own for breaking into this house. What was it?”

“I’ll tell you,” he answered, “if you’ll tell me truly what was in that
packing-case?”

“Oh, now I understand,” she cried excitedly. “It was to find that out
you came--and then Mr. Dawson made you help us get it away. That was
splendid.”

He did not speak, for once more a kind of horror held him dumb, as it
seemed to him that she really--knew.

She saw the mingled horror and bewilderment in his eyes, and she laughed
lightly as though that amused her.

“Do you know,” she said, “I believe I guessed as much from the first,
but I’m afraid Mr. Dawson was too clever for you--as he is for most
people. Only then,” she added, wrinkling her brows as though a new point
puzzled her, “why are you staying here like this?”

“Can’t you guess that too?” he asked hoarsely.

“No,” she said, shaking her head with a frankly puzzled air. “No, I
can’t. That’s puzzled me all the time. Do you know--I think you ought to
shave?”

“Why?”

“A beard makes a good disguise,” she answered, “so good it’s hardly fair
for you to have it when I can’t.”

“Perhaps you need it less,” he answered bitterly, “or perhaps no
disguise could be so effective as the one you have already.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Bright eyes, a pretty face, a clear complexion,” he answered.

He spoke with an extreme energy and bitterness that she did not in the
least understand, and that quite took away from the words any suspicion
of intentional rudeness.

“If I have all that, I suppose it’s natural and not a disguise,” she
remarked.

“My beard is natural too,” he retorted.

“All the same, I wish you would cut it off,” she answered. “I should
like to see what you look like.”

She turned and walked away, and the more Dunn thought over this
conversation, the less he felt he understood it.

What had she meant by that strange start and look she had given him
when she had asked if she were to be the next? And when she asserted so
confidently that she knew what was in the packing-case, was that true,
or was she speaking under some mistaken impression, or had she wished to
deceive him?

The more he thought, the more disturbed he felt, and every hour that
passed he seemed to feel more and more strongly the influence of her
gracious beauty, the horror of his suspicions of her.

The next day Clive came again, and again Ella seemed very pleased to see
him, and again Dunn, hanging about in their vicinity, watched gloomily
their friendly intercourse.

That Clive was in love with Ella seemed fairly certain; at any rate,
he showed himself strongly attracted by her, and very eager for her
company.

How she felt was more doubtful, though she made no concealment of the
fact that she liked to see him, and found pleasure in having him there.
Dunn, moving about near at hand, was aware of an odd impression that she
knew he was watching them, and that she wished him to do so for several
times he saw her glance in his direction.

He could always move with a most extraordinary lightness of foot, so
that, big and clumsy as he seemed in build, he could easily go unheard
and even unseen, and John Clive seemed to have little idea that he
remained so persistently near at hand.

This gift or power of Dunn’s he had acquired in far-off lands,
where life may easily depend on the snapping of a twig or the right
interpretation of a trampled grass-blade, and he was using it now,
almost unconsciously, so as to make his presence near Ella and Clive as
unobtrusive as possible, when his keen eye caught sight of a bush, of
which leaves and branches were moving against the wind.

For that he knew there could be but one explanation, and when he walked
round, so as to get behind this bush, he was not surprised to see Deede
Dawson crouching there, his eyes very intent and eager, his unsmiling
lips drawn back to show his white teeth in a threatening grin or snarl.

Near by him was his little chess-board and men, and as Dunn came up
behind he looked round quickly and saw him.

For a moment his eyes were deadly and his hand dropped to his
hip-pocket, where Dunn had reason to believe he carried a formidable
little automatic pistol.

But almost at once his expression changed, and with a gesture he invited
Dunn to crouch down at his side. For a little they remained like this,
and then Deede Dawson moved cautiously away, signing to Dunn to follow
him.

When they were at a safe distance he turned to Dunn and said

“Is he serious, do you think, or is he playing with her? I’ll make him
pay for it if he is.”

“How should I know?” answered Dunn, quite certain it was no such anxiety
as this that had set Deede Dawson watching them so carefully.

Deede Dawson seemed to feel that the explanation he had offered was a
little crude, and he made no attempt to enlarge on it.

With a complete change of manner, with his old smile on his lips and his
eyes as dark and unsmiling as ever, he said,

“Pretty girl, Ella--isn’t she?”

“She is more than pretty, she is beautiful,” Dunn answered with an
emphasis that made Deede Dawson look at him sharply.

“Think so?” he said, and gave his peculiar laugh that had so little
mirth in it. “Well, you’re right, she is. He’ll be a lucky man that
gets her--and she’s to be had, you know. But I’ll tell you one thing, it
won’t be John Clive.”

“I thought it rather looked,” observed Dunn, “as if Miss Cayley might
mean--”

Deede Dawson interrupted with a quick jerk of his head.

“Never mind what she means, it’ll be what I mean,” he declared. “I am
boss; and what’s more, she knows it. I believe in a man being master in
his own family. Don’t you?”

“If he can be,” retorted Dunn. “But still, a girl naturally--”

“Naturally nothing,” Deede Dawson interrupted again. “I tell you what I
want for her, a man I can trust--trust--that’s the great thing. Some one I
can trust.”

He nodded at Dunn as he said this and then walked off, and Dunn felt
very puzzled as he, too, turned away.

“Was he offering her to me?” he asked himself. “It almost sounded like
it. If so, it must mean there’s something he wants from me pretty bad.
She’s beautiful enough to turn any man’s head--but did she know about
poor Charlie’s murder?--help in it, perhaps?--as she said she did with
the packing-case.”

He paused, and all his body was shaken by strong and fierce emotion.

“God help me,” he groaned. “I believe I would marry her tomorrow if I
could, innocent or guilty.”



CHAPTER XIII. INVISIBLE WRITING


It was the next day that there arrived by the morning post a letter for
Dunn.

Deede Dawson raised his eyebrows slightly when he saw it; and he did not
hand it on until he had made himself master of its contents, though that
did not prove to be very enlightening or interesting. The note, in fact,
merely expressed gratification at the news that Dunn had secured steady
work, a somewhat weak hope that he would keep it, and a still fainter
hope that now perhaps he would be able to return the ten shillings
borrowed, apparently from the writer, at some time in the past.

Mr. Deede Dawson, in spite of the jejune nature of the communication,
read it very carefully and indeed even went so far as to examine the
letter through a powerful magnifying-glass.

But he made no discovery by the aid of that instrument, and he
neglected, for no man thinks of everything, to expose the letter to a
gentle heat, which was what Dunn did when, presently, he received it,
apparently unopened and with not the least sign to show that it had been
tampered with in any way whatever.

Gradually, however, as Dunn held it to the fire, there appeared between
the lines fresh writing, which he read very eagerly, and which ran:

“Jane Dunsmore, born 1830, married, against family wishes, John Clive
and had one son, John, killed early this year in a motor-car accident,
leaving one son, John, now of Ramsdon Place and third in line of
succession to the Wreste Abbey property.”

When he had read the message thus strangely and with such precaution
conveyed to him, Dunn burnt the letter and went that day about his work
in a very grave and thoughtful mood.

“I knew it couldn’t be a mere coincidence,” he mused. “It wasn’t
possible. I must manage to warn him, somehow; but, ten to one, he won’t
believe a word, and I don’t know that I blame him--I shouldn’t in his
place. And he might go straight to Deede Dawson and ruin everything. I
don’t know that it wouldn’t be wiser and safer to say nothing for the
present, till I’m more sure of my ground--and then it may be too late.”

“Just possibly,” he thought, “the job Deede Dawson clearly thinks he can
make me useful in may have something to do with Clive. If so, I may be
able to see my way more clearly.”

As it happened, Clive was away for a few days on some business he had to
attend to, so that for the present Dunn thought he could afford to wait.

But during the week-end Clive returned, and on the Monday he came again
to Bittermeads.

It was never very agreeable to Dunn to have to stand aloof while Clive
was laughing and chatting and drinking his tea with Ella and her mother,
and of those feelings of annoyance and vexation he made this time a
somewhat ostentatious show.

That his manner of sulky anger and resentment did not go unnoticed by
Deede Dawson he was very sure, but nothing was said at the time.

Next morning Deede Dawson called him while he was busy in the garage and
insisted on his trying to solve another chess problem.

“I haven’t managed the other yet,” Dunn protested. “It’s not too easy to
hit on these key-moves.”

“Never mind try this one,” Deede Dawson said; and Ella, going out for a
morning stroll with her mother, saw them thus, poring together over the
travelling chess-board.

“They seem busy, don’t they?” she remarked. “Father is making quite a
friend of that man.”

“I don’t like him,” declared Mrs. Dawson, quite vigorously for her. “I’m
sure a man with such a lot of hair on his face can’t be really nice, and
I thought he was inclined to be rude yesterday.”

“Yes,” agreed Ella. “Yes, he was. I think Mr. Clive was a little vexed,
though he took no notice, I suppose he couldn’t very well.”

“I don’t like the man at all,” Mrs. Dawson repeated. “All that hair,
too. Do you like him?”

“I don’t know,” Ella answered, and after she and her mother had returned
from their walk she took occasion to find Dunn in the garden and ask him
some trifling question or another.

“You are interested in chess?” she remarked, when he had answered her.

“All problems are interesting till one finds the answer to them,” he
replied.

“There’s one I know of,” she retorted. “I wish you would solve for me.”

“Tell me what it is,” he said quickly. “Will you?”

She shook her head slightly, but she was watching him very intently from
her clear, candid eyes, and now, as always, her nearness to him, the
infinite appeal he found in her every look and movement, the very
fragrance of her hair, bore him away beyond all purpose and intention.

“Tell me what it is,” he said again. “Won’t you? Miss Cayley, if you and
I were to trust each other--it’s not difficult to see there’s something
troubling you.”

“Most people have some trouble or another,” she answered evasively.

He came a little nearer to her, and instead of the gruff, harsh tones he
habitually used, his voice was singularly pleasant and low as he said:

“People who are in trouble need help, Miss Cayley. Will you let me help
you?”

“You can’t,” she answered, shaking her head. “No one could.”

“How can you tell that?” he asked eagerly. “Perhaps I know more already
than you think.”

“I daresay you do,” she said slowly. “I have thought that a long time.
Will you tell me one thing?--Are you his friend or not?”

There was no need for Dunn to ask to whom the pronoun she used referred.

“I am so much not his friend,” he answered as quietly and deliberately
as she had spoken. “That it’s either his life or mine.”

At that she drew back in a startled way as though his words had gone
beyond her expectations.

“How do I know I can trust you?” she said presently, half to herself,
half to him.

“You can,” he said, and it was as though he flung the whole of his
enigmatic and vivid personality into those two words.

“You can,” he said again. “Absolutely.”

“I must think,” she muttered, pressing her hands to her head. “So much
depends--how can I trust you? Why should I--why?”

“Because I’ll trust you first,” he answered with a touch of exultation
in his manner. “Listen to me and I’ll tell you everything. And that
means I put my life in your hands. Well, that’s nothing; I would do that
any time; but other people’s lives will be in your power, too--yes, and
everything I’m here for, everything. Now listen.”

“Not now,” she interrupted sharply. “He may be watching, listening--he
generally is.” Again there was no need between them to specify to whom
the pronoun referred. “Will you meet me tonight near the sweet-pea
border--about nine?”

She glided away as she spoke without waiting for him to answer, and as
soon as he was free from the magic of her presence, reaction came and he
was torn by a thousand doubts and fears and worse.

“Why, I’m mad, mad,” he groaned. “I’ve no right to tell what I said I
would, no right at all.”

And again there returned to him his vivid, dreadful memory of how she
had started on that midnight drive with her car so awfully laden.

And again there returned to him his old appalling doubt:

“Did she not know?”

And though he would willingly have left his life in her hands, he knew
he had no right to put that of others there, and yet it seemed to him he
must keep the appointment and the promise he had made.

About nine that evening, then, he made his way to the sweet-pea border,
though, as he went, he resolved that he would not tell her what he had
said he would.

Because he trusted his own strength so little when he was with her, he
confirmed this resolution by an oath he swore to himself: and even that
he was not certain would be a sure protection against the witchery she
wielded.

So it was with a mind doubtful and troubled more than it had ever been
since the beginning of these things that he came to the border where the
sweet-peas grew, and saw a dark shadow already close by them.

But when he came a little nearer he saw that it was not Ella who was
there but Deede Dawson and his first thought was that she had betrayed
him.

“That you, Dunn?” Deede Dawson hailed him in his usual pleasant,
friendly manner.

“Yes,” Dunn answered warily, keeping himself ready for any eventuality.

Deede Dawson took a cigar from his pocket and lighted it and offered one
to Dunn, who refused it abruptly.

Deede Dawson laughed at that in his peculiar, mirthless way.

“Am I being the third that’s proverbially no company?” he asked. “Were
you expecting to find some one else here? I thought I saw a white frock
vanish just as I came up.”

Dunn made no answer, and Deede Dawson continued after a pause

“That’s why I waited. You are being just a little bit rapid in this
affair, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know why. You said something, didn’t you?” muttered Dunn,
beginning to think that, after all, Deede Dawson’s presence here was due
to accident--or rather to his unceasing and unfailing watchfulness, and
not to any treachery of Ella’s.

“Yes, I did, didn’t I?” he agreed pleasantly. “But you are a working
gardener taken on out of charity to give you a chance and keep you
out of gaol, and you are looking a little high when you think of your
master’s ward and daughter, aren’t you?”

“There was a time when I shouldn’t have thought so,” answered Dunn.

“We’re talking of the present, my good man,” Deede Dawson said
impatiently. “If you want the girl you must win her. It can be done, but
it won’t be easy.”

“Tell me how,” said Dunn.

“Oh, that’s going too fast and too far,” answered the other with his
mirthless laugh. “Now, there’s Mr. John Clive--what about him?”

“I’ll answer for him,” replied Dunn slowly and thickly. “I’ve put better
men than John Clive out of my way before today.”

“That’s the way to talk,” cried Deede Dawson. “Dunn, dare you play a big
game for big stakes?”

“Try me,” said Dunn.

“If I showed you,” Deede Dawson’s voice sank to a whisper, “if I showed
you a pretty girl for a wife--a fortune to win--what would you say?”

“Try me,” said Dunn again, and then, making his voice as low and hoarse
as was Dunn’s, he asked:

“Is it Clive?”

“Later--perhaps,” answered Deede Dawson. “There’s some one else--first.
Are you ready?”

“Try me,” said Dunn for the third time, and as he spoke his quick ear
caught the faint sound of a retreating footstep, and he told himself
that Ella must have lingered near and had perhaps heard all they said.

“Try me,” he said once more, speaking more loudly and clearly this time.



CHAPTER XIV. LOVE-MAKING AT NIGHT


Dunn went to his room that night with the feeling that a crisis was
approaching. And he wished very greatly that he knew how much Ella had
overheard of his talk with her stepfather, and what interpretation she
had put upon it.

He determined that in the morning he would take the very first
opportunity he could find of speaking to her.

But in the morning it appeared that Mrs. Dawson had had a bad night, and
was very unwell, and Ella hardly stirred from her side all day.

Even when Clive called in the afternoon she would not come down, but
sent instead a message begging to be excused because of her mother’s
indisposition, and Dunn, from a secure spot in the garden, watched the
young man retire, looking very disconsolate.

This day, too, Dunn saw nothing of Deede Dawson, for that gentleman
immediately after breakfast disappeared without saying anything to
anybody, and by night had still not returned.

Dunn therefore was left entirely to himself, and to him the day seemed
one of the longest he had ever spent.

That Ella remained so persistently with her mother troubled him a good
deal, for he did not think such close seclusion on her part could be
really necessary.

He was inclined to fear that Ella had overheard enough of what had
passed between him and Deede Dawson to rouse her mistrust, and that she
was therefore deliberately keeping out of his way.

Then too, he was troubled in another fashion by Deede Dawson’s absence,
for he was afraid it might mean that plans were being prepared, or
possibly action being taken, that might mature disastrously before he
himself was ready to act.

All day this feeling of unrest and apprehension continued, and at
night when he went upstairs to bed it was stronger than ever. He felt
convinced now that Ella was deliberately avoiding him. But then, if
she distrusted him, that must be because she feared he was on her
stepfather’s side, and if it seemed to her that who was on his side was
of necessity an object of suspicion to herself, then there could be no
such bond of dread and guilt between them as any guilty knowledge on her
part of Wright’s death would involve.

The substantial proof this exercise in logic appeared to afford of
Ella’s innocence brought him much comfort, but did not lighten his sense
of apprehension and unrest, for he thought that in this situation in
which he found himself his doubts of Ella had merely been turned into
doubts on Ella’s part of himself, and that the one was just as likely as
the other to end disastrously.

“Though I don’t know what I can do,” he muttered as he stood in his
attic, “if I gain Deede Dawson’s confidence I lose Ella’s, and if I win
Ella’s, Deede Dawson will at once suspect me.”

He went over to the window and looked out, supporting himself on his
elbows, and gazing moodily into the darkness.

As he stood there a faint sound came softly to his ear through the
stillness of the quiet night in which nothing stirred.

He listened, and heard it again. Beyond doubt some one was stirring in
the garden below, moving about there very cautiously and carefully,
and at once Dunn glided from the room and down the stairs with all that
extraordinary lightness of tread and agility of movement of which his
heavy body and clumsy-looking build gave so small promise.

He had not been living so many days in the house without having taken
certain precautions, of which one had been to secure for himself a swift
and silent egress whenever necessity might arise.

Keys to both the front and back doors were in his possession, and the
passage window on the ground floor he could at need lift bodily from
its frame, leaving ample room for passage either in or out. This was
the method of departure he chose now since he did not know but that the
doors might be watched.

Lifting the window down, he swung himself outside, replacing behind him
the window so that it appeared to be as firmly in position as ever, but
could be removed again almost instantly should need arise.

Once outside he listened again, and though at first everything was
quiet, presently he heard again a cautious step going to and fro at a
little distance.

Crouching in the shadow of the house, he listened intently, and soon was
able to assure himself that there was but one footstep and that he would
have only one individual to deal with.

“It won’t be Deede Dawson’s,” he thought to himself, “but it may very
likely be some one waiting for him to return. I must find out who--and
why.”

Slipping through the darkness of the night, with whose shadows he seemed
to melt and mingle, as though he were but another one of them, he moved
quickly in the direction of these cautious footsteps he had listened to.

They had ceased now, and the silence was profound, for those faint
multitudinous noises of the night that murmur without ceasing in the
woods and fields are less noticeable near the habitations of men.

A little puzzled, Dunn paused to listen again and once more crept
forward a careful yard or two, and then lay still, feeling it would not
be safe to venture further till he was more sure of his direction, and
till some fresh sound to guide him reached his ears.

He had not long to wait, for very soon, from quite close by, he heard
something that surprised and perplexed him equally--a deep, long-drawn
sigh.

Again he heard it, and in utter wonder asked himself who this could be
who came into another person’s garden late at night to stand and sigh,
and what such a proceeding could mean.

Once more he heard the sigh, deeper even than before, and then after it
a low murmur in which at first he could distinguish nothing, but then
caught the name of Ella being whispered over and over again.

He bent forward, more and more puzzled, trying in vain to make out
something in the darkness, and then from under a tree, whose shadow had
hitherto been a complete concealment, there moved forward a form so tall
and bulky there could be little doubt whom it belonged to.

“John Clive--what on earth--!” Dunn muttered, his bewilderment
increasing, and the next moment he understood and had some difficulty in
preventing himself from bursting out laughing as there reached him the
unmistakable sound of a kiss lightly blown through the air.

Clive was sending a kiss through the night towards Ella’s room and his
nocturnal visit was nothing more than the whim of a love-sick youth.

With Dunn, his first amusement gave way almost at once to an extreme
annoyance.

For, in the first place, these proceedings seemed to him exceedingly
impertinent, for what possible right did Clive imagine he had to come
playing the fool like this, sighing in the dark and blowing kisses like
a baby to its mammy?

And secondly, unless he were greatly mistaken, John Clive might just as
sensibly and safely have dropped overboard from a ship in mid-Atlantic
for a swim as come to indulge his sentimentalities in the Bittermeads
garden at night.

“You silly ass!” he said in a voice that was very low, but very distinct
and very full of an extreme disgust and anger.

Clive fairly leaped in the air with his surprise, and turned and made a
sudden dash at the spot whence Dunn’s voice had come, but where Dunn no
longer was.

“What the blazes--?” he began, spluttering in ineffectual rage.
“You--you--!”

“You silly ass!” Dunn repeated, no less emphatically than before.

Clive made another rush that a somewhat prickly bush very effectually
stopped.

“You--who are you--where--what--how dare you?” he gasped as he picked
himself up and tried to disentangle himself from the prickles.

“Don’t make such a row,” said Dunn from a new direction. “Do you want
to raise the whole neighbourhood? Haven’t you played the fool enough?
If you want to commit suicide, why can’t you cut your throat quietly and
decently at home, instead of coming alone to the garden at Bittermeads
at night?”

There was a note of sombre and intense conviction in his voice that
penetrated even the excited mind of the raging Clive.

“What do you mean?” he asked, and then:

“Who are you?”

“Never mind who I am,” answered Dunn. “And I mean just what I say. You
might as well commit suicide out of hand as come fooling about here
alone at night.”

“You’re crazy, you’re talking rubbish!” Clive exclaimed.

“I’m neither crazy nor talking rubbish,” answered Dunn. “But if you
persist in making such a row I shall take myself off and leave you to
see the thing through by yourself and get yourself knocked on the head
any way you like best.”

“Oh, I’m beginning to understand,” said Clive. “I suppose you’re one
of my poaching friends--are you? Look here, if you know who it was
who attacked me the other night you can earn fifty pounds any time you
like.”

“Your poaching friends, as you call them,” answered Dunn, “are most
likely only anxious to keep out of your way. This has nothing to do with
them.”

“Well, come nearer and let me see you,” Clive said. “You needn’t be
afraid. You can’t expect me to take any notice of some one I can’t see,
talking rubbish in the dark.”

“I don’t much care whether you take any notice or not,” answered Dunn.
“You can go your own silly way if you like, it’s nothing to me. I’ve
warned you, and if you care to listen I’ll make my warning a little
clearer. And one thing I will tell you--one man already has left this
house hidden in a packing-case with a bullet through his brain, and I
will ask you a question: ‘How did your father die?’”

“He was killed in a motor-car accident,” answered Clive hesitatingly,
as though not certain whether to continue this strange and puzzling
conversation or break it off.

“There are many accidents,” said Dunn. “And that may have been one,
for all I know, or it may not. Well, I’ve warned you. I had to do that.
You’ll probably go on acting like a fool and believing that nowadays
murders don’t happen, but if you’re wise, you’ll go home to bed and run
no more silly risks.”

“Of course I’m not going to pay the least attention,” began Clive, when
Dunn interrupted him sharply.

“Hush! hush!” he said sharply. “Crouch down: don’t make a sound, don’t
stir or move. Hush!”

For Dunn’s sharp ear had caught the sound of approaching footsteps that
were drawing quickly nearer, and almost instantly he guessed who it
would be, for there were few pedestrians who came along that lonely road
so late at night.

There were two of them apparently, and at the gate of Bittermeads they
halted.

“Well, good night,” said then a voice both Dunn and Clive knew at once
for Deede Dawson’s. “That was a pretty check by the knight I showed you,
wasn’t it?”

A thin, high, somewhat peculiar voice cursed Deede Dawson, chess, and
the pretty mate by the knight very comprehensively.

“It’s young Clive that worries me,” said the voice when it had finished
these expressions of disapproval.

“No need,” answered Deede Dawson’s voice with that strange mirthless
laugh of his. “No need at all; before the week’s out he’ll trouble no
one any more.”

When he heard this, Clive would have betrayed himself by some startled
movement or angry exclamation had not Dunn’s heavy hand upon his
shoulder held him down with a grave and steady pressure there was no
disregarding.

Deede Dawson and his unknown companion went on towards the house, and
admitted themselves, and as the door closed behind them Clive swung
round sharply in the darkness towards Dunn.

“What’s it mean?” he muttered in the bewildered and slightly-pathetic
voice of a child at once frightened and puzzled. “What for? Why should
any one--?”

“It’s a long story,” began Dunn, and paused.

He saw that the unexpected confirmation of his warning Clive had
thus received from Deede Dawson’s own lips had rendered his task of
convincing Clive immensely more easy.

What he had wished to say had now at least a certainty of being listened
to, a probability of being believed, and there was at any rate, he
supposed, no longer the danger he had before dreaded of Clive’s going
straight with the whole story to Deede Dawson in arrogant disbelief of a
word of it.

But he still distrusted Clive’s discretion, and feared some rash and
hasty action that might ruin all his plans, and allow Deede Dawson time
to escape.

Besides he felt that the immediate task before him was to find out who
Deede Dawson’s new companion was, and, if possible, overhear anything
they might have to say to each other.

That, and the discovery of the new-comer’s identity, might prove to be
of the utmost importance.

“I can’t explain now,” he said hurriedly. “I’ll see you tomorrow
sometime. Don’t do anything till you hear from me. Your life may depend
on it--and other people’s lives that matter more.”

“Tell me who you are first,” Clive said quickly, incautiously raising
his voice. “I can manage to take care of myself all right, I think, but
I want to know who you are.”

“H-ssh!” muttered Dunn. “Not so loud.”

“There was a fellow made an attack on me one night a little while ago,”
 Clive went on unheedingly. “You remind me of him somehow. I don’t think
I trust you, my man. I think you had better come along to the police
with me.”

But Dunn’s sharp ears had caught the sound of the house door opening
cautiously, and he guessed that Deede Dawson had taken the alarm and
was creeping out to see who invaded so late at night the privacy of his
garden.

“Clear out quick! Quiet! If you want to go on living. I’ll stop them
from following if I can. If you make the least noise you’re done for.”

Most likely the man they had seen in his company would be with him, and
both of them would be armed. Neither Clive nor Dunn had a weapon, and
Dunn saw the danger of the position and took the only course available.

“Go,” he whispered fiercely into Clive’s ear.



CHAPTER XV. THE SOUND OF A SHOT


He melted away into the darkness as he spoke, and through the night he
slipped, one shadow more amongst many, from tree to bush, from bush to
tree. Across a patch of open grass he crawled on his hands and knees;
and once lay flat on his face when against the skyline he saw a figure
he was sure was Deede Dawson’s creep by a yard or two on his right hand.

On his left another shadow showed, distinguishable in the night only
because it moved.

In a moment both shadows were gone, secret and deadly in the dark,
and Dunn was very sure that Clive’s life and his own both hung upon a
slender chance, for if either of them was discovered the leaping bullet
would do the rest.

It would be safe and easy--suspected burglars in a garden at
midnight--nothing could be said. He lay very still with his face to the
dewy sod, and all the night seemed full to him of searching footsteps
and of a swift and murderous going to and fro.

He heard distinctly from the road a sudden, muffled sound as Clive in
the darkness blunderingly missed his footing and fell upon one knee.

“That’s finished him,” Dunn thought grimly, his ears straining for the
sharp pistol report that would tell Clive’s tale was done, and then he
was aware of a cat, a favourite of Ella’s and often petted by himself,
that was crouching near by under a tree, most likely much puzzled
and alarmed by this sudden irruption of hurrying men into its domain.
Instantly Dunn saw his chance, and seizing the animal, lifted it and
threw it in the direction where he guessed Deede Dawson to be.

His guess was good and fortune served him well, for the tabby flying
caterwauling through the air alighted almost exactly in front of Deede
Dawson on top of a small bush. For a moment it hung there, quite unhurt,
but very frightened, and emitted a yell, then fled.

In the quietness the tumult of its scrambling flight sounded
astonishingly loud, so that it sounded as through a miniature avalanche
had been let loose in the garden.

“Only cats,” Deede Dawson exclaimed disgustedly, and from behind, nearer
the house, Dunn called:

“Who’s there? What is it? What’s the matter? Is it Mr. Dawson? Is
anything wrong?”

“I think there is,” said Deede Dawson softly. “I think, perhaps, there
is. What are you doing out here at this time of night, Charley Wright?”

“I heard a noise and came down to see what it was,” answered Dunn.
“There was a light in the breakfast-room, but I didn’t see any one, and
the front door was open so I came out here. Is anything wrong?”

“That’s what I want to know,” said Deede Dawson. “Come back to the house
with me. If any one is about, he can just take himself off.”

He spoke the last sentence loudly, and Dunn took it as a veiled
instruction to his companion to depart.

He realized that if he had saved Clive he had done so at the cost of
missing the best opportunity that had yet come his way of obtaining very
important, and, perhaps, decisive information.

To have discovered the identity of this stranger who had come visiting
Deede Dawson might have meant much, and he told himself angrily that
Clive’s safety had certainly not been worth purchasing at the cost of
such a lost chance, though he supposed that was a point on which Clive
himself might possibly entertain a different opinion.

But now there was nothing for it but to go quietly back to the house,
for clearly Deede Dawson’s suspicions were aroused and he had his
revolver ready in his hand.

“I suppose it was only cats all the time,” he observed, with apparent
unconcern. “But at first I made sure there were no burglars in the
house.”

“And I suppose,” suggested Deede Dawson. “You think one burglar’s enough
in a household.”

“I don’t mean to have any one else mucking around,” growled Dunn in
answer.

“Very admirable sentiments,” said Deede Dawson and asked several more
questions that showed he still entertained some suspicion of Dunn, and
was not altogether satisfied that his appearance in the garden was quite
innocent, or that the noise heard there was due solely to cats.

Dunn answered as best he could, and Deede Dawson listened and smiled,
and smiled again, and watched him from eyes that did not smile at all.

“Oh, well,” Deede Dawson said at last, with a yawn. “Anyhow, it’s all
right now. You had better get along back to bed, and I’ll lock up.” He
accompanied Dunn into the hall and watched him ascend the stairs, and
as Dunn went slowly up them he felt by no means sure that soon a bullet
would not come questing after him, searching for heart or brain.

For he was sure that Deede Dawson still suspected him, and he knew Deede
Dawson to be very sudden and swift in action. But nothing happened, he
reached the broad, first landing in safety, and he was about to go on up
to his attic when he beard a door at the end of the passage open and saw
Ella appear in her dressing-gown.

“What is the matter?” she asked, in a low voice.

“It’s all right,” he answered. “There was a noise in the garden, and I
came down to see what it was, but it’s only cats.”

“Oh, is that all?” she said distrustfully.

“Yes,” he answered, in a lower voice still, he said:

“Will you tell me something? Do you know any one who talks in a very
peculiar shrill high voice?”

She did not answer, and, after a moment’s hesitation, went back into her
room and closed the door behind her.

He went on up to his attic with the feeling that she could have answered
if she had wished to, and lay down in a troubled and dispirited mood.

For he was sure now that Ella mistrusted him and would give him
no assistance, and that weighed upon him greatly, as did also his
conviction that what it behoved him above all else to know--the identity
of the man who, in this affair, stood behind Deede Dawson and made use
of his fierce and fatal energies--he had had it in his power to discover
and had failed to make use of the opportunity.

“I would rather know that,” he said to himself, “than save a dozen
Clives ten times over.” Though again it occurred to him that on this
point Clive might hold another opinion. “If he hadn’t made such a
blundering row I might have got to know who Deede Dawson’s visitor was.
I must try to get a word with Clive tomorrow by hook or crook, though I
daresay Deede Dawson will be very much on the lookout.”

However, next morning Deede Dawson not only made no reference to the
events of the night, but had out the car and went off immediately after
breakfast without saying when he would be back.

As soon after his departure as possible, Dunn also set out and took
his way through the woods towards Ramsdon Place on the look-out for an
opportunity to speak to Clive unobserved.

He thought it most likely that Clive would be drawn towards the vicinity
of Bittermeads by the double fascination of curiosity and fear, and he
supposed that if he waited and watched in the woods he would be sure
presently to see him.

But though he remained for long hidden at a spot whence he could command
the road to Bittermeads from Ramsdon Place, he saw nothing at all of
Clive, and the sunny lazy morning was well advanced when he was startled
by the sound of a gun shot some distance away.

“A keeper shooting rabbits, I suppose,” he thought, looking round just
in time to see Ella running through the wood from the direction whence
the sound of the shot had seemed to come, and then vanish again with a
quick look behind her into the heart of a close-growing spinney.



CHAPTER XVI. IN THE WOOD


There had been an air of haste, almost of furtiveness, about this swift
appearance and more swift vanishing of Ella, that made Dunn ask himself
uneasily what errand she could have been on.

He hesitated for a moment, half expecting to see her return again,
or that there would be some other development, but he heard and saw
nothing.

He caught no further glimpse of Ella, whom the green depths of the
spinney hid well; and he heard no more shots.

After a little, he left the spot where he had been waiting and went
across to where he had seen her.

The exact spot where she had entered the spinney was marked, for she
had broken the branch of a young tree in brushing quickly by it, and a
bramble she had trodden on had not yet lifted itself from the earth to
which she had pressed it.

By other signs like these, plain enough and easy to read--for she had
hurried on in great haste and without care, almost, indeed, as one who
fled from some great danger or from some dreadful sight, and who had no
thought to spare save for flight alone--he followed the way she had gone
till it took him to a beaten public path that almost at once led over a
stile to the high road which passed in front of Bittermeads. Along this
beaten path, trodden by many, Ella’s light foot had left no perceptible
mark, and Dunn made no attempt to track her further, since it seemed
certain that she had been simply hurrying back home.

“She was badly frightened over something or another,” he said to
himself. “She never stopped once, she went as straight and quick as she
could. I wonder what upset her like that?”

He went back the way he had come, and at the spot where he had seen her
enter the spinney he set to work to pick up her trail in the direction
whence she had appeared, for he thought that if he followed it he might
find out what had been the cause of her evident alarm.

The ground was much more open here, and the trail correspondingly more
difficult to follow, for often there was little but a trodden blade of
grass to show where she had passed; and sometimes, where the ground was
bare and hard, there was no visible sign left at all.

Once or twice at such places he was totally at fault, but by casting
round in a wide circle like a dog scenting his prey he was able to pick
up her tracks again.

They seemed to lead right into the depths of the wood, through lonely
spots that only the keepers knew, and where others seldom came.

But that he was on the right trail he presently had proof, for on
the bank of a lovely and hidden dell he picked up a tiny embroidered
handkerchief with the initials “E. C.” worked in one corner.

It had evidently been lying there only a very short time, for it was
perfectly clean and fresh, and he picked it up and held it for a moment
in his hands, smiling to himself with pleasure at its daintiness and
smallness, and yet still uneasily wondering why she had come here, and
why she had fled away again so quickly.

The morning was very fine and calm, though in the west heavy clouds were
gathering and seemed to promise rain soon. But overhead the sun shone
brightly, the air was calm and warm, and the little dell on whose verge
he stood a very pretty and pleasant place.

A small stream wandered through it, the grass that carpeted it was
green and soft, near by a great oak stood alone and spread its majestic
branches far out on every side to give cool shelter from the summer
heat.

The thought occurred to Dunn that this was just such a pretty and
secluded spot as two lovers might choose to exchange their vows in, and
the thought stung him intolerably as he wondered whether it was for such
a reason that Ella had come here.

But if so, why had she fled away again in such strange haste?

He walked on slowly for a yard or two, not now attempting to follow
Ella’s trail, for he had the impression that this was her destination,
and that she had gone no further than here.

All at once he caught sight of the form of a man lying hidden in
the long grass that nearly covered him from view just where the
far-spreading branches of the great oak ceased to give their shade.

At first Dunn thought he was sleeping, and he was just about to call
out to him when something in the rigidity of the man’s position and his
utter stillness struck him unpleasantly.

He went quickly to the man’s side, and the face of dead John Clive,
supine and still, stared up at him from unseeing eyes.

He had been killed by a charge of small shot fired at such close
quarters that his breast was shot nearly in two and his clothing and
flesh charred by the burning powder.

But Dunn, standing staring down at the dead man, saw not him, but Ella.
Ella fleeing away silently and furtively through the trees as from some
sight or scene of guilt and terror.

He stooped closer over the dead man. Death had been instantaneous. Of
course there could be no doubt. From one hand a piece of folded paper
had fallen.

Dunn picked it up, and saw that there was writing on it, and he read it
over slowly.

  “Dear Mr. Clive,--Can you meet me as before by the oak
  tomorrow at eleven?  There is something I very much want to
  say to you.--Yours sincerely,
                                                “ELLA CAYLEY.”


Was that, then, the lure which had brought John Clive to meet his
death? Was this the bait that had made him disregard the warnings he had
received, and come alone to so quiet and solitary a spot?

Dunn had a moment of quick envy of him; he lay so quiet and still in
the warm sunshine, with nothing to trouble or distress him any more for
ever.

Then, stumblingly and heavily, Dunn turned an went away, and his eyes
were very hard, his bearded face set like iron.

Like a man in a dream, or one obsessed by some purpose before which all
other things faded into nothingness, he went his way, the way Ella had
taken in her flight--through the wood, through the spinney to the public
foot-path, and then out on the road that led to Bittermeads.

When he entered the garden there, he saw Ella sitting quietly on a
deck-chair close to her mother, quietly busy with some fancy work.

He could not believe it; he stood watching in bewilderment, appalled and
wondering, watching her white hands flashing busily to and fro, hearing
the soft murmur of her voice as now and then she addressed some remark
to her mother, who nodded drowsily in the sunshine over a book open on
her knees.

Ella was dressed all in white; she had flung aside her hat, and the
quiet breeze played in her fair hair, and stirred gently a stray curl
that had escaped across her broad low brow.

The picture was one of gentleness and peace and an innocence that
thought no wrong, and yet with his own eyes he had seen her not an hour
ago fleeing with hurried steps and fearful looks from the spot where lay
a murdered man.

Somewhat unsteadily, for he felt so little master of himself, it was
as though he had no longer even control of his own limbs, Dunn stumbled
forward, and Ella looked up and saw him, and saw also that he was
looking at her very strangely.

She rose and came towards him, her needlework still in her hands.

“What is the matter?” she said in a voice of some concern. “Are you
ill?”

“No,” he answered. “No. I’ve been looking for Mr. Clive.”

“Have you?” she said, a little surprised apparently, but in no way
flustered or disturbed. “Did you find him?”

Dunn did not answer, for indeed he could not, and she said again:

“Did you find him?”

Still he made no answer, for it seemed to him those four words were
the most awful that any one had ever uttered since the beginning of the
world.

“What is the matter?” she said again. “Is anything the matter?”

“Oh, no, no,” he said, and he gave himself a little shake like a man
wakening from deep sleep and trying to remember where he was.

“Well, then,” she said.

“I found Mr. Clive,” he said hardly and abruptly. And he repeated again:
“Yes, I found him.”

They remained standing close together and facing each other, and he saw
her as through a veil of red, and it was as though a red mist enveloped
her, and where her shadow lay the earth was red, he thought, and where
she put her foot it seemed to him red tracks remained, and never before
had he understood how utterly he loved her and must love her, now and
for evermore.

But he uttered no sound and made no movement, only stood very still,
thinking to himself how dreadful it was that he loved her so greatly.

She was not paying him, any attention now. A rose bush was near by, and
she picked one of the flowers, and arranged it carefully at her waist.

She said, still looking at him:

“Do you know--I wish you would shave yourself?”

“Why?” he mumbled.

“I should like to see you,” she answered. “I think I have a curiosity to
see you.”

“I should think you could do that well enough,” he said in the same low,
mumbled tones.

“No,” she answered. “I can only see some very untidy hair and a pair of
eyes--not very nice eyes, rather frightening eyes. I should like to see
the rest of your face some day so as to know what it’s like.”

“Perhaps you shall--some day,” he said.

“Is that a threat?” she asked. “It sounded like one.”

“Perhaps,” he answered.

She laughed lightly and turned away.

“You make me very curious,” she said. “But then, you’ve always done
that.”

She went back to her seat by her mother, and he walked on moodily to the
house.

Mrs. Dawson said to Ella:

“How can you talk to that man, my dear? I think he looks perfectly
dreadful--hardly like a human being.”

“I was just telling him he ought to shave himself,” said Ella. “I told
him I should like to know what he was really like.”

“I shall ask father,” said Mrs. Dawson sternly, “to make it a condition
of his employment here.”



CHAPTER XVII. A DECLARATION


Dunn knew very well that he ought to give immediate information to the
authorities of what had happened.

But he did not. He told himself that nothing could help poor John
Clive, and that any precipitate action on his part might still fatally
compromise his plans, which were now so near completion.

But his real reason was that he knew that if he came forward he would be
very closely questioned, and sooner or later forced to tell the things
he knew so terribly involving Ella.

And he knew that to surrender her to the police and proclaim her to the
world as guilty of such things were tasks beyond his strength; though,
to himself, with a touch of wildness in his thoughts, he said that
no proved and certain guilt should go unpunished even though his own
hand--It was a train of ideas he did not pursue.

“Charley Wright first and now John Clive,” he said to himself. “But the
end is not yet.”

Again he would not let his thoughts go on but checked them abruptly.

In this dark and troubled mood he went out to busy himself with the
garden, and all the time he worked he watched with a sort of vertigo of
horror where Ella sat in the sunshine by her mother’s side, her white
hands moving nimbly to and fro upon her needlework.

It was not long, however, before the tragedy of the wood was discovered,
for Clive had been seen to go in that direction, and when he did not
return a search was made that was soon successful.

The news was brought to Bittermeads towards evening by a tradesman’s
boy, who came up from the village to bring something that had been
ordered from there.

“Have you heard?” he said to Dunn excitedly. “Mr. Clive’s been shot dead
by poachers.”

“Oh--by poachers?” repeated Dunn.

“Yes, poachers,” the boy answered, and went on excitedly to tell his
tale with many, and generally very inaccurate, details.

But that the crime had been discovered and instantly set down to
poachers was at least certain, and Dunn realized at once that the
adoption of this simple and apparently plausible theory would put an end
to all really careful investigation of the circumstances and make the
discovery of the truth highly improbable.

For the idea that the murder was the work of poachers would, when once
adopted, fill the minds of the police and of every one else, and no
suspicion would be directed elsewhere.

By the tremendous relief he felt, Dunn understood how heavy had been the
burden of fear and apprehension that till now had oppressed him.

If he had not found that handkerchief--if he had not secured that
letter--why, by now the police would be at Bittermeads.

“All the same,” he thought. “No one who is guilty shall escape through
me.”

But what this phrase meant, and what he intended to do, he would not
permit himself to think out clearly or try to understand.

The boy, having told his story, hurried off to spread the news elsewhere
to more appreciative ears, for, he thought disgustedly, it might
have been just nothing at all for all the interest the gardener at
Bittermeads had shown.

As soon as he was gone, Dunn went across to the house, and going up to
the window of the drawing-room where Ella and her mother were having
tea, he tapped on the pane.

Ella looked up and saw him, and came at once to open the window, while
from behind Mrs. Dawson frowned in severe disapproval of what she
considered a great liberty.

“Mr. Clive has been shot,” Dunn said abruptly. “They say poachers did
it. He was killed instantly.”

Ella did not seem at first to understand. She looked puzzled and
bewildered, and did not seem to grasp the full import of his words.

“What--what do you say?” she asked. “Mr. Clive--Who’s killed?”

Dunn thought to himself that her acting was the most wonderful thing he
had ever seen.

It was extraordinary that she should be able to make that grey pallor
come over her cheeks as though the meaning of what he said were only now
entering her mind; wonderful that she should be able so well to give the
idea of a great horror and a great doubt coming slowly into her startled
eyes.

“Mr. Clive?” she said again.

“Yes, he’s been killed,” Dunn said. “By poachers, apparently.”

“What is that? What is that man saying?” shrilled Mrs. Dawson from
behind. “Mr. Clive--John--why, he was here yesterday.”

Dunn turned his back and walked away. He heard Ella call after him, but
he would not look back because he feared what he might do if he obeyed
her call.

With an odd buzzing in his ears, with the blood throbbing through his
brain as though something must soon break there, he walked blindly on,
and as he came to the gate of Bittermeads he saw a motor-car coming up
the road.

It was Deede Dawson’s car, and he was driving it, and by his side sat a
sulkily-smiling stranger, his air that of one not sure of his welcome,
but determined to enforce it, in whom, with a quick start, Dunn
recognized his burglar, the man whose attempt to break into Bittermeads
he had frustrated, and whose place he had taken.

He put up his hand instinctively for them to stop, and Deede Dawson at
once obeyed the gesture.

Dunn noticed that the smile upon his lips was more gentle and winning
than ever, the look in his eyes more dark and menacing.

“Well, Dunn, what is it?” he said as pleasantly as he always spoke. “Mr.
Allen,” he added to his companion, “this is my man, Dunn, I told
you about, my gardener and chauffeur, and a very industrious steady
fellow--and quite trustworthy.”

He seemed to lay a certain emphasis on the last two words, and Allen
put his head on one side and looked at Dunn with an odd, mixture of
familiarity, suspicion, hesitation, and an uncertain assumption of
superiority, but with no hint of recognition showing.

“Glad to hear it,” he said. “You always want to know whom you can
trust.”

“Mr. Clive has been murdered,” Dunn said abruptly. “Poachers, it is
said. Did you know?”

“We heard about it as we came through the village,” answered Deede
Dawson. “Very sad, very dreadful. It will be a great shock to poor Ella,
I fear. Take the car on to the garage, will you?” he added.

He drove on up the drive, and at the front door they alighted and
entered the house together. Dunn followed, and getting into the car,
drove it to the garage, where he busied himself cleaning it. As he
worked he wondered very much what was the meaning of this sudden
appearance on terms of friendship with Deede Dawson of this man Allen,
whom he had last seen trying to break into the house at night.

Was Allen an accomplice of Deede Dawson, or a dupe, or, more probably, a
new recruit?

At any rate, to Dunn it seemed that the crisis he had expected and
prepared for was now fast approaching, and he told himself that if he
had failed in Clive’s case, those others he was working for he must not
fail to save.

“Looks as if Dawson’s plans were nearly ready,” he said to himself.
“Well, so are mine.”

He finished his work and shutting the garage door, he was turning away
when he saw Ella coming towards him.

She was extremely pale, and her eyes seemed larger than ever, and very
bright against the deathly whiteness of her cheeks.

She was wearing a blouse that was cut a little low, and he notice with a
kind of terror how soft and round was her throat, like a column of pale
and perfect ivory.

He hoped she would not speak to him, for he thought perhaps he could not
bear it if she did, but she halted near by, and said:

“This is very dreadful about poor Mr. Clive.”

“Very,” he answered moodily.

“Why should poachers kill him?” she asked. “Why should they want to?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, watching not her but her soft throat, where
he could see a pulse fluttering. “Perhaps it wasn’t poachers,” he added.

She started violently, and gave a quick look that seemed to make yet
more certain the certainty he already entertained.

“Who else could it be?” she asked in a low voice.

He did not answer.

After what seemed a long time she said:

“You asked me a question once--do you remember?”

He shook his head.

“Why don’t you speak? Why can’t you speak?” she cried angrily. “Why
can’t you say something instead of just shaking your head?”

“You see, I’ve asked you so many questions,” he said slowly. “Perhaps I
shall ask you some more some day--which question do you mean?”

“I mean when you asked me if I had ever met any one who spoke in a very
shrill, high whistling sort of voice? Do you remember?”

“Yes,” he said. “You wouldn’t tell me.”

“Well, I will now,” she said. “I did meet a man once with a voice like
that. Do you remember the night you, came here that I drove away in the
car with a packing-case you carried downstairs?”

“Do I--remember?” he gasped, for that memory, and the thought of how she
had driven away into the night with, that grisly thing behind her on the
car had never since left his mind by night or by day.

“Yes,” she exclaimed impatiently. “Why do you keep staring so? Are you
as stupid as you choose to look? Do you remember?”

“I remember,” he answered heavily. “I remember very well.”

“Well, then, the man I took that packing-case to had a voice just like
that--high and shrill, whistling almost.”

“I thought as much,” said Dunn. “May I ask you another question?”

She nodded.

“May I smoke?”

She nodded again with a touch of impatience.

He took a cigarette from his pocket and put it in his mouth and lighted
a match, but the match, when he had lighted it, he used to put light to
a scrap of folded paper with writing on it, like a note.

This piece of paper he used to light his cigarette with and when he
had done so he watched the paper burn to an ash, not dropping it to the
ground till the little flame stung his fingers.

The ash that had fallen he ground into the path where they stood with
the heel of his boot.

“What have you burned there?” she asked, as if she suspected it was
something of importance he had destroyed.

In fact it was the note that had fallen from dead John Clive’s hand
wherein Ella had asked him to meet her at the oak where he had met his
death.

That bit of paper would have been enough, Dunn thought, to place a harsh
hempen noose about the soft white throat he watched where the little
pulse still fluttered up and down. But now it was burnt and utterly
destroyed, and no one would ever see it.

At the thought he laughed and she drew back, very startled.

“Oh, what is the matter?” she exclaimed.

“Nothing,” he answered. “Nothing in all the world except that I love
you.”



CHAPTER XVIII. ROBERT DUNN’S ENEMY


When he had said this he went a step or two aside and sat down on the
stump of a tree. He was very agitated and disturbed for he had not in
the very least meant to say such a thing, he had not even known that he
really felt like that.

It was, indeed, a rush and power of quite unexpected passion that had
swept him away and made him for the moment lose all control of himself.
Ella showed much more composure. She had become extraordinarily pale,
but otherwise she did not appear in any way agitated.

She remained silent, her eyes bent on the ground, her only movement a
gesture by which she rubbed softly and in turn each of her wrists as
though they hurt her.

“Well, can’t you say something?” he asked roughly, annoyed by her
persistent silence.

“I don’t see that there’s anything for me to say,” she answered.

“Oh, well now then,” he muttered; quite disconcerted.

She raised her eyes from the ground, and for the first time looked full
at him, in her expression both curiosity and resentment.

“It is perfectly intolerable,” she said with a heaving breast. “Will you
tell me who you are?”

“I’ve told you one thing,” he answered sullenly, his eyes on fire. “I
should have thought that was enough. I’ll tell you nothing more.”

“I think you are the most horrid man I ever met,” she cried. “And the
very, very ugliest--all that hair on your face so that no one can see
anything else. What are you like when you cut it off?”

“Does that matter?” he asked, in the same gruff and surly manner.

“I should think it matters a good deal when I ask you,” she exclaimed.
“Do you expect any one to care for a man she has never seen--nothing
but hair. You hurt my wrists awfully that night,” she added resentfully.
“And you’ve never even hinted you’re sorry.”

His reply was unexpected and it disconcerted her greatly and for the
first time, for he caught both her wrists in his hands and kissed them
passionately where the cords had been.

“You mustn’t do that, please don’t do that,” she said quickly, trying to
release herself.

Her strength was nothing to his and he stood up and put his arm around
her and strained her to him in an embrace so passionate and powerful she
could not have resisted it though she had wished to.

But no thought of resistance came to her, since for the moment she had
lost all consciousness of everything save the strange thrill of his
bright, clear eyes looking so closely into hers, of his strong arms
holding her so firmly.

He released her, or rather she at last freed herself by an effort he did
not oppose, and she fled away down the path.

She had an impression that her hair would come down and that that would
make her look a fright, and she put up her hands hurriedly to secure it.
She never looked back to where he stood, breathing heavily and looking
after her and thinking not of her, but of two dead men whom he had seen
of late.

“Shall I make the third?” he wondered. “I do not care if I do, not I.”

The path Ella had fled by led into another along which when she reached
it she saw Deede Dawson coming.

She stopped at once and began to busy herself with a flower-bed overrun
with weeds, but she could not entirely conceal her agitation from her
stepfather’s cold grey eyes.

“Oh, there you are, Ella,” he said, with all that false geniality of
his that filled the girl with such loathing and distrust. “Have you seen
Dunn? Oh, there he is, isn’t he? I wanted to ask you, Ella, what do you
think of Dunn?”

She glanced over her shoulder towards where Dunn stood, and she managed
to answer with a passable air of indifference.

“Well, I suppose,” she said, “that he is quite the ugliest man I ever
saw. Of course, if he cut all of that hair off--”

Deede Dawson laughed though his eyes remained as hard and cold as ever.

“I shall have to give him orders to shave,” he said. “Your mother was
telling me I ought to the other day, she said it didn’t look respectable
to have a man about with all that hair on his face. Though I don’t see
myself why hair isn’t respectable, do you?”

“It looks odd,” answered Ella carelessly.

Deede Dawson laughed again, and walked on to where Dunn was standing
waiting for him. With his perpetual smile that his cold and evil eyes so
strangely contradicted, he said to him:

“Well, what have you and Ella been talking about?”

“Why do you ask?” growled Dunn.

“Because she looks upset,” answered Deede Dawson. “Oh, don’t be shy
about it. Shall I give you a little good advice?”

“What?”

“Never shave.”

“Why not?”

“Because that thick growth of hair hiding your face gives you an air of
mystery and romance no woman could possibly resist. You’re a perpetual
puzzle, and to pique a woman’s curiosity is the surest way to interest
her. Why, there are plenty of women who would marry you simply to find
out what is under all that hair. So never you shave.”

“I don’t mean to.”

“Unless, of course, you have to--for purposes of disguise, for example.”

“I thought you were hinting that the beard itself was a disguise,”
 retorted Dunn.

“Removing it might become a better one,” answered Deede Dawson. “You
told me once you knew this part fairly well. Do you know Wreste Abbey?”

Dunn gave his questioner a scowling look that seemed full of anger and
suspicion.

“What about it if I do?” he asked.

“I am asking if you do know it,” said Deede Dawson.

“Yes, I do. Well?”

“It belongs to Lord Chobham, doesn’t it?”

Dunn nodded.

“Old man, isn’t he?”

“I’m not a book of reference about Lord Chobham,” answered Dunn. “If
you want to know his age, you can easily find out, I suppose. What’s the
sense of asking me a lot of questions like that?”

“He has no family, and his heir is his younger brother, General
Dunsmore, who has one son, Rupert, I believe. Do you know if that’s so?”

“Look here,” said Dunn, speaking with a great appearance of anger.
“Don’t you go too far, or maybe something you won’t like will happen. If
you’ve anything to say, say it straight out. Or there’ll be trouble.”

Deede Dawson seemed a little surprised at the vehemence of the other’s
tone.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Don’t you like the family, or what’s
upsetting you?”

Dunn seemed almost choking with fury. He half-lifted one hand and let it
fall again.

“If ever I get hold of that young Rupert Dunsmore,” he said with a
little gasp for breath. “If ever I come face to face with him--man to
man--”

“Dear me!” smiled Deede Dawson, lifting his eyebrows. “I’m treading on
sore toes, it seems. What’s the trouble between you?”

“Never you mind,” replied Dunn roughly. “That’s my business. But no man
ever had a worse enemy than he’s been to me.”

“Has he, though?” said Deede Dawson, who seemed very interested and even
a little excited. “What did he do?”

“Never you mind,” Dunn repeated. “That’s my affair, but I swore I’d get
even with him some day and I will, too.”

“Suppose,” said Deede Dawson. “Suppose I showed you a way?”

Dunn did not answer at first, and for some moments the two men stood
watching each other and staring into each other’s eyes as though each
was trying to read the depths of the other’s soul.

“Suppose,” said Deede Dawson very softly. “Suppose you were to meet
Rupert Dunsmore--alone--quite alone?”

Still Dunn did not answer, but somehow it appeared that his silence was
full of a very deadly significance.

“Suppose you did--what would you do?” murmured Deede Dawson again,
and his voice sank lower with each word he uttered till the last was a
scarce-audible whisper.

Dunn stopped and picked up a hoe that was lying near by. He placed the
tough ash handle across his knee, and with a movement of his powerful
hands, he broke the hoe across.

The two smashed pieces he dropped on the ground, and looking at Deede
Dawson, he said:

“Like that--if ever Rupert Dunsmore and I meet alone, only one of us
will go away alive.” And he confirmed it with an oath.

Deede Dawson clapped him on the shoulder, and laughed.

“Good!” he cried. “Why, you’re the man I’ve been looking for for a long
time. The fact is, Rupert Dunsmore played me a nasty trick once, and I
want to clear accounts with him. Now, suppose I show him to you--?”

“You do that,” said Dunn, and he repeated the oath he had sworn before.
“You show him to me, and I’ll take care he never troubles any one
again.”

“That’s the way I like to hear a man talk,” cried Deede Dawson.
“Dunsmore has been away for a time on business I can make a guess at,
but he is coming back soon. Should you know him if you saw him?”

“Should I know him?” repeated Dunn contemptuously. “Should I know
myself?”

“That’s good,” said Deede Dawson again. “By the way, perhaps you can
tell me, hasn’t Lord Chobham a rather distant cousin, Walter Dunsmore,
living with him as secretary or something of the sort--quite a distant
relative, I believe, though in the direct line of succession?”

“Very likely,” said Dunn indifferently. “I think so, but I don’t care
anything about the rest of them. It’s only Rupert Dunsmore I have
anything against.”



CHAPTER XIX. THE VISIT TO WRESTE ABBEY


It was a little later when Deede Dawson returned to the subject of
Wreste Abbey.

“Lord Chobham has a very valuable collection of plate and jewellery and
so on, hasn’t he?” he asked.

“Oh, there’s plenty of the stuff there,” Dunn answered. “Why?”

“Oh, I was thinking a visit might be made fairly profitable,” Deede
Dawson said carelessly, for the first time definitely throwing off his
mask of law-abiding citizen under which he lived at Bittermeads.

“It would be a risky job,” answered Dunn, showing no surprise at the
suggestion. “The stuff’s well guarded, and then, that’s not what I’m
thinking about--it’s meeting Rupert Dunsmore, man to man, and no one to
come between us. If that ever happens--”

Deede Dawson nodded reassuringly.

“That’ll be all right,” he said. “So you shall, I promise you that.
But we might as well kill two birds with one stone and clear a bit of
profit, too. I’ve got to live, like any one else, and I haven’t five
thousand a year of my own, so I get my living out of those who have, and
I don’t see who has any right to blame me. Mind, if there was any money
in chess, I should be a millionaire, but there isn’t, and if a man can
make a fortune on the Stock Exchange, which takes no more thought
or skill than auction-bridge, why shouldn’t I make a bit when I can?
There’s the ‘D. D.’ gambit I’ve invented, people will be studying and
playing for centuries, but it’ll never bring me a penny for all the
brain-work I put into it, and so I’ve got to protect myself, haven’t I?”

“It’s what I do with less talk about it,” answered Dunn contemptuously.
“Why, I’ve guessed all that from the first when you weren’t so all-fired
keen on seeing me in gaol, as most of your honest, hard-working lot,
who only do their swindling in business-hours, would have been. And I’ve
kept my eyes open, of course. It wasn’t hard to twig you did a bit on
the cross yourself. Well, that’s your affair, but one thing I do want to
know--how much does Miss Cayley know?”

For all his efforts he could not keep his anxiety entirely out of his
voice as he said this, and recognizing that thereby he had perhaps
risked rousing some suspicion in the other’s mind, he added:

“And her mother--the young lady and her mother, how much do they know?”

“Oh,” answered Deede Dawson, with his false laugh and cold-watchful
eyes. “My wife knows nothing at all, but Ella’s the best helper I’ve
ever had. She looks so innocent, she can take in any one, and she
never gives the show away, she acts all the time. A wonderful girl and
useful--you’d hardly believe how useful.”

Dunn did not answer. It was only by a supreme effort that he kept his
hands from Deede Dawson’s throat. He did not believe a word of what the
other said, for he knew well the utter falseness of the man. None the
less, the accusation troubled him and chilled him to the heart, as
though with the touch of the finger of death.

“You remember that packing-case,” Deede Dawson added. “The one you
helped me to get away from here the night you came. Well, she knew what
was in it, though you would never have thought so, to look at her, would
you?”

His cold eyes were very intent and keen as he said this, and Dunn
thought to himself that it had been said more to test any possible
knowledge or suspicion of his own than for any other reason. With a
manner of only slight interest, he answered carelessly:

“Did she? Why? Wasn’t it your stuff? Had it been pinched? But she
was safe enough, the police would never stop a smart young lady in a
motor-car, except on very strong evidence.”

“Perhaps not,” agreed Deede Dawson. “That’s one reason why Ella’s so
useful. But I’ve been thinking things out, and trying to make them work
in together, and I think the first thing to do is for you to drive Allen
and Ella over to Wreste Abbey this afternoon, so that they may have a
good look around.”

“Oh, Miss Cayley and Allen,” Dunn muttered.

The new-comer, Allen, had been making himself very much at home at
Bittermeads since his arrival, though he had not so far troubled to
any great extent either Ella in the house or Dunn outside. His idea of
comfort seemed to be to stay in bed very late, and spend his time when
he did get up in the breakfast-room in the company of a box of cigars
and a bottle of whisky.

The suggestion that he and Ella should pay a visit together to Wreste
Abbey was one that greatly surprised Dunn.

“All right,” he said. “This afternoon? I’ll get the car ready.”

“This is the afternoon the Abbey is thrown open to visitors, isn’t it?”
 asked Deede Dawson. “Allen and Ella can get in as tourists, and have a
good look round, and you can look round outside and get to know the lie
of the land. There won’t be long to wait, for Rupert Dunsmore will be
back from his little excursion before long, I expect.”

He laughed in his mirthless way, and walked off, and Dunn, as he got the
car ready, seemed a good deal preoccupied and a little worried.

“How can he know that Rupert Dunsmore is coming back?” he said to
himself. “Can he have any way of finding out things I don’t know about?
And if he did, how could he know--that? Most likely it’s only a guess to
soothe me down, and he doesn’t really know anything at all about it.”

After lunch, Allen and Ella appeared together, ready for their
expedition. Ella looked her best in a big motoring coat and a
close-fitting hat, with a long blue veil. Allen was, for almost the
first time since his arrival, shaved, washed and tidy.

He looked indeed as respectable as his sinister and forbidding
countenance would permit, and though Deede Dawson had made him as smart
as possible, he had permitted him to gratify his own florid taste in
adornment, so that his air of prosperity and wealth had the appearance
of being that of some recently-enriched vulgarian whose association with
a motor-car and a well-dressed girl of Ella’s type was probably due to
the fact that he had recently purchased them both out of newly-acquired
wealth.

Dunn wore a neat chauffeur’s costume, with which, however, his bearded
face did not go too well. He felt indeed that their whole turn-out was
far too conspicuous considering the real nature of their errand, and
far too likely to attract attention, and he wondered if Deede Dawson’s
subtle and calculating mind had not for some private reason desired that
to be so.

“He is keeping well in the background himself,” Dunn mused. “He may
reckon that if things go wrong--in case of any pursuit--it’s a good move
perhaps in a way, but he may find an unexpected check to his king opened
on him.”

The drive was a long one, and Ella noticed that though Dunn consulted
his map frequently, he never appeared in any doubt concerning the way.

A little before three they drove into the village that lay round the
park gates of Wreste Abbey.

Motors were not allowed in the park, so Dunn put theirs in the garage
of the little hotel, that was already almost full, for visiting day at
Wreste Abbey generally drew a goodly number of tourists, while Ella
and Allen, in odd companionship, walked up to the Abbey by the famous
approach through the chestnut avenue.

Allen was quiet and surly, and much on his guard, and very uncomfortable
in Ella’s company, and Ella herself, though for different reasons was
equally silent.

But the beauty of the walk through the chestnut avenue, and of the vista
with the great house at the end, drew from her a quick exclamation of
delight.

“How beautiful a place this is,” she said aloud. “And how peaceful and
how quiet.”

“Don’t like these quiet places myself,” grumbled Allen. “Don’t like ‘em,
don’t trust ‘em. Give me lots of traffic; when everything’s so awful
quiet you’ve only got to kick your foot against a stone or drop a tool,
and likely as not you’ll wake the whole blessed place.”

“Wake,” repeated Ella, noticing the word, and she repeated it with
emphasis. “Why do you say ‘wake’?”



CHAPTER XX. ELLA’S WARNING


Ella did not say anything more, and in their character of tourists
visiting the place, they were admitted to the Abbey and passed on through
its magnificent rooms, where was stored a collection rich and rare even
for one of the stateliest homes of England.

“What a wonderful place!” Ella sighed wistfully. Yet she could not enjoy
the spectacle of all these treasures as she would have done at another
time, for she was always watching Allen, who hung about a good deal, and
seemed to look more at the locks of the cases that held some of the
more valuable of the objects shown than at the things themselves,
and generally spent fully half the time in each room at the window,
admiring the view, he said; but for quite another reason, Ella
suspected.

“I shall speak when I get back,” she said to herself, pale and
resolute. “I don’t care what happens; I don’t care if I have to tell
mother--perhaps she knows already. Anyhow, I shall speak.”

Having come to this determination, she grew cheerful and more interested
apparently in what they were seeing, as well as less watchful of her
companion. When, presently, they left the house to go into the gardens,
it happened that they noticed an old gentleman walking at a little
distance behind a gate marked “Private,” and leaning on the arm of a
tall, thin, clean-shaven man of middle-age.

“Lord Chobham, the old gentleman,” whispered a tourist, who was standing
near. “I saw him once in the House of Lords. That’s his secretary with
him, Mr. Dunsmore, one of the family; he manages everything now the old
gentleman is getting so feeble.”

Ella walked on frowning and a little worried, for she thought she had
seen the secretary before and yet could not remember where. Soon she
noticed Dunn, who had apparently been obeying Deede Dawson’s orders to
look round outside and get to know the lie of the land.

He seemed at present to be a good deal interested in Lord Chobham and
his companion, for he went and leaned on the gate and stared at them so
rudely that one or two of the other tourists noticed it and frowned at
him. But he took no notice, and presently, as if not seeing that the
gate was marked “Private,” he pushed it open and walked through.

Noticing the impertinent intrusion almost at once, Mr. Dunsmore turned
round and called “This is private.”

Dunn did not seem to hear, and Mr. Dunsmore walked across to him with
a very impatient air, while the little group of tourists watched,
with much interest and indignation and a very comforting sense of
superiority.

“He ought to be sent right out of the grounds,” they told each other.
“That’s the sort of rude behaviour other people have to suffer for.”

“Now, my man,” said Mr. Dunsmore sharply, “this is private, you’ve no
business here.”

“Sorry, sir; beg pardon, I’m sure,” said Dunn, touching his hat, and as
he did so he said in a sharp, penetrating whisper: “Look out--trouble’s
brewing--don’t know what, but look out, all the time.”

He had spoken so quickly and quietly, in the very act of turning away,
that none of the onlookers could have told that a word had passed,
but for the very violent start that Walter Dunsmore made and his quick
movement forward as if to follow the other. Immediately Dunn turned back
towards him with a swift warning gesture of his hand.

“Careful, you fool, they’re looking,” he said in a quick whisper, and
in a loud voice: “Very sorry, sir; beg pardon--I’m sure I didn’t mean
anything.”

Walter Dunsmore swung round upon his heel and went quickly back to where
Lord Chobham waited; and his face was like that of one who has gazed
into the very eyes of death.

“Lord in Heaven,” he muttered, “it’s all over, I’m done.” And his hand
felt for a little metal box he carried in his waistcoat pocket and
that held half a dozen small round tablets, each of them a strong man’s
death.

But he took his hand away again as he rejoined his cousin, patron, and
employer, old Lord Chobham.

“What’s the matter, Walter?” Lord Chobham asked. “You look pale.”

“The fellow was a bit impudent; he made me angry,” said Walter
carelessly. He fingered the little box in his waistcoat pocket and
thought how one tablet on his tongue would always end it all. “By the
way, oughtn’t Rupert to be back soon?” he asked.

“Yes, he ought,” said Lord Chobham severely. “It’s time he married and
settled down--I shall speak to his father about it. The boy is always
rushing off somewhere or another when he ought to be getting to know the
estate and the tenants.”

Walter Dunsmore laughed.

“I think he knows them both fairly well already,” he said. “Not a tenant
on the place but swears by Rupert. He’s a fine fellow, uncle.”

“Oh, you always stick up for him; you and he were always friends,”
 answered Lord Chobham in a grumbling tone, but really very pleased. “I
know I’m never allowed to say a word about Rupert.”

“Well, he’s a fine fellow and a good friend,” said Walter, and the two
disappeared into the house by a small side-door as Dunn pushed his way
through the group of tourists who looked at him with marked and severe
disapproval.

“Disgraceful,” one of them said quite loudly, and another added: “I
believe he said something impudent to that gentleman. I saw him go quite
white, and look as if he were in two minds about ordering the fellow
right out of the grounds.” And a third expressed the general opinion
that the culprit looked a real ruffian with all that hair on his face.
“Might be a gorilla,” said the third tourist. “And look what a clumsy
sort of walk he has; perhaps he’s been drinking.”

But Dunn was quite indifferent to, and indeed unaware of this popular
condemnation as he made his way back to the hotel garage where he had
left their car. He seemed rather well pleased than otherwise as he
walked on.

“Quite a stroke of luck for once,” he mused, and he smiled to himself,
and stroked the thick growth of his untidy beard. “It’s been worth
while, for he didn’t recognize me in the least, and had quite a shock,
but, all the same, I shan’t be sorry to shave and see my own face
again.”

He had the car out and ready when Ella and Allen came back. Allen at
once made an excuse to leave them, and went into the hotel bar to get
a drink of whisky, and when they were alone, Ella, who was looking very
troubled and thoughtful, said to Dunn,

“We saw Lord Chobham in the garden with a gentleman some one told us was
a relative of his, a Mr. Walter Dunsmore. Did you see them?”

“Yes,” answered Dunn, a little surprised, and giving her a quick and
searching look from his bright, keen eyes. “I saw them. Why--”

“I think I’ve seen the one they said was Mr. Walter Dunsmore before,
and I can’t think where,” she answered, puckering her brows. “I can’t
think--do you know anything about him?”

“I know he is Mr. Walter Dunsmore,” answered Dunn slowly, “and I know
he is one of the family, and a great friend of Rupert Dunsmore’s. Rupert
Dunsmore is Lord Chobham’s nephew, you know, and heir, after his father,
to the title and estates. His father, General Dunsmore, brought him and
Walter up together like brothers, but recently Walter has lived at the
Abbey as Lord Chobham’s secretary and companion. The general likes
to live abroad a good deal, and his son Rupert is always away on some
sporting or exploring expedition or another.”

“It’s very strange,” Ella said again. “I’m sure I’ve seen Walter
Dunsmore before but I can’t think where.”

Allen came from the bar, having quenched his thirst for the time being,
and they started off, arriving back at Bittermeads fairly early in the
evening, for Dunn had brought them along at a good rate, and apparently
remembered the road so well from the afternoon that he never once had
occasion to refer to the map.

He took the car round to the garage, and Allen and Ella went into the
house, where Allen made his way at once to the breakfast-room, searching
for more whisky and cigars, while Ella, after a quick word with her
mother to assure her of their safe return, went to find Deede Dawson.

“Ah, dear child, you are back then,” he greeted her. “Well, how have you
enjoyed yourself? Had a pleasant time?”

“It was not for pleasure we went there, I think,” she said listlessly.

He looked up quickly, and though his perpetual smile still played as
usual about his lips, his eyes were hard and daunting as they fixed
themselves on hers. Before that sinister stare her own eyes sank, and
sought the little travelling set of chessmen and board that were before
him.

“See,” he said, “I’ve just brought off a mate. Neat isn’t it?
Checkmate.”

She looked up at him, and her eyes were steadier now.

“I’ve only one thing to say to you,” she said. “I came here to say it.
If anything happens at Wreste Abbey I shall go straight to the police.”

“Indeed,” he said, “indeed.” He fingered the chessmen as though all his
attention were engaged by them. “May I ask why?” he murmured. “For what
purpose?”

“To tell them,” she answered quietly, “what I--know.”

“And what do you know?” he asked indifferently. “What do you know that
is likely to interest the police?”

“I ought to have said, perhaps,” she answered after a pause, “what I
suspect.”

“Ah, that’s so different, isn’t it?” he murmured gently. “So very
different. You see we all of us suspect so many things.”

She did not answer, for she had said all she had to say and she was
afraid that her strength would not carry her further. She began to walk
away, but he called her back.

“Oh, how do you think your mother is today?” he asked. “Do you know,
her condition seems to me quite serious at times. I wonder if you are
overanxious?”

“She is better--much better!” Ella answered, and added with a sudden
burst of fiercest, white-hot passion: “But I think it would be better if
we had both died before we met you.”

She hurried away, for she was afraid of breaking down, and Deede Dawson
smiled the more as he again turned his attention to his chessmen, taking
them up and putting them down in turn.

“She’s turning nasty,” he mused. “I don’t think she’ll dare--but she
might. She’s only a pawn, but a pawn can cause a lot of trouble
at times--a pawn may become a queen and give the mate. When a pawn
threatens trouble it’s best to--remove it.”

He went out and came back a little late and busied himself with a
four-move chess problem which absorbed all his attention, and which
he did not solve to his satisfaction till past midnight. Then he went
upstairs to bed, but at the door of his room he paused and went on very
softly up the narrow stairs that led to the attics above.

Outside the one in which Dunn slept, he waited a little till the
unbroken sound of regular breathing from within assured him that the
occupant slept.

Cautiously and carefully he crept on, and entered the one adjoining,
where he turned the light of the electric flashlight he carried on a
large, empty packing-case that stood in one corner.

With a two-foot rule he took from his pocket he measured it carefully
and nodded with great satisfaction.

“A little smaller than the other,” he said to himself. “But, then, it
hasn’t got to hold so much.” He laughed in his silent, mirthless way, as
at something that amused him. “A good deal less,” he thought. “And Dunn
shall drive.”

He laughed again, and for a moment or two stood there in the darkness,
laughing silently to himself, and then, speaking aloud, he called out:

“You can come in, Dunn.”

Dunn, whom a creaking board had betrayed, came forward unconcernedly in
his sleeping attire.

“I saw it was you,” he remarked. “At first I thought something was
wrong.”

“Nothing, nothing,” answered Deede Dawson. “I was only looking at this
packing-case. I may have to send one away again soon, and I wanted to be
sure this was big enough. If I do, I shall want you to drive.”

“Not Miss Cayley?” asked Dunn.

“No, no,” answered Deede Dawson. “She might be with you perhaps, but she
wouldn’t drive. Night driving is always dangerous, I think, don’t you?”

“There’s things more dangerous,” Dunn remarked.

“Oh, quite true,” answered Deede Dawson. “Well, did you enjoy your visit
to Wreste Abbey?”

“No,” answered Dunn roughly. “I didn’t see Rupert Dunsmore, and it
wouldn’t have been any good if I had with all those people about.”

“You’re too impatient,” Deede Dawson smiled. “I’m getting everything
ready; you can’t properly expect to win a game in a dozen moves. You
must develop your pieces properly and have all ready before you start
your attack. As soon as I’m ready--why, I’ll act--and you’ll have to do
the rest.”

“I see,” said Dunn thoughtfully.



CHAPTER XXI. DOUBTS AND FEARS


In point of fact Dunn had not been asleep when Deede Dawson came
listening at his door. Of late he had slept little and that little had
been much disturbed by evil, haunting dreams in which perpetually he saw
his dead friend, Charley Wright, and dead John Clive always together,
while behind them floated the pale and lovely face of Ella, at whom the
two dead men looked and whispered to each other.

In the day such thoughts troubled him less, for when he was under the
influence of Ella’s gentle presence, and when he could watch her clear
and candid eyes, he found all doubt and suspicion melting away like snow
beneath warm sunshine.

But in the silence of the night they returned, returned very dreadfully,
so dreadfully that often as he lay awake in the darkness beads of sweat
stood upon his forehead and he would drive his great hands one against
the other in his passionate effort to still the thoughts that tormented
him. Then, in the morning again, the sound of Ella’s voice, the merest
glimpse of her grave and gracious personality, would bring back once
more his instinctive belief in her.

The morning after Deede Dawson had paid his visit to the attic there
was news, however, that disturbed him greatly, for Mrs. Barker, the
charwoman who came each morning to Bittermeads, told them that two men
in the village--notorious poachers--had been arrested by the police on a
charge of being concerned in Mr. Clive’s death.

The news was a great shock to Dunn, for, knowing as he thought he did,
that the police were working on an entirely wrong idea, he had not
supposed they would ever find themselves able to make any arrest. As
a matter of fact, these arrests they had made were the result of
desperation on the part of the police, who unable to discover anything
and entirely absorbed by their preconceived idea that the crime was the
work of poachers, had arrested men they knew were poachers in the vague
hope of somehow discovering something or of somehow getting hold of some
useful clue.

But that Dunn did not know, and feared unlucky chance or undesigned
coincidence must have appeared to suggest the guilt of the men and that
they were really in actual danger of trial and conviction. He had, too,
received that morning, through the secret means of communication he kept
open with an agent in London, conclusive proof that at the moment of
Clive’s death Deede Dawson was in town on business that seemed obscure
enough, but none the less in town, and therefore undoubtedly innocent of
the actual perpetration of the murder.

Who, then, was left who could have fired the fatal shot?

It was a question Dunn dared not even ask himself but he saw very
plainly that if the proceedings against the two arrested men were to be
pressed, he would be forced to come forward before his preparations were
ready and tell all he knew, no matter at what cost.

All the morning he waited and watched for his opportunity to speak to
Ella, who was in a brighter and gayer mood than he had ever seen her in
before.

At breakfast Deede Dawson had assured her that he could not conceive
what were the suspicions she had referred to the night previously, and
while he would certainly have no objection to her mentioning them at
any time, in any quarter she thought fit if anything happened at Wreste
Abbey--and would indeed be the first to urge her to do so--he, for his
part, considered it most unlikely that anything of the sort she seemed
to dread would in fact occur.

“Not at all likely,” he said with his happy, beaming smile that never
reached those cold eyes of his. “I should say myself that nothing ever
did happen at Wreste Abbey, not since the Flood, anyhow. It strikes me
as the most peaceful, secluded spot in all England.”

“I’m very glad you think so,” said Ella, tremendously relieved and glad
to hear him say so, and supposing, though his smooth words and smiles
and protestations deceived her very little, that, at any rate, what she
had said had forced him to abandon whatever plans he had been forming in
that direction.

Her victory, as it seemed to her, won so easily and containing good
promise of further success in the future, cheered her immensely, and it
was in almost a happy mood that she went unto the garden after lunch and
met Dunn in a quiet, well-hidden corner, where he had been waiting and
watching for long.

His appearance startled her--his eyes were so wild, his whole manner so
strained and restless, and she gave a little dismayed exclamation as she
saw him.

“Oh, what’s the matter?” she asked. “Aren’t you well? You look--”

She paused for she did not know exactly how it was he did look; and he
said in his harshest, most abrupt manner,

“Do you remember Charley Wright?”

“Why do you ask?” she said, puzzled. “Is anything wrong?”

“Do you remember John Clive?” he asked, disregarding this. “Have you
heard two men have been arrested for his murder?”

“Mrs. Barker told me so,” she answered gravely. He came a little nearer,
almost threateningly nearer.

“What do you think of that?” he asked.

She lifted one hand and put it gently on his arm. The touch of it
thrilled him through and through, and he felt a little dazed as he
watched it resting on his coat sleeve. She had become very pale also and
her voice was low and strained as she said,

“Have you had suspicions too?”

He looked at her as if fascinated for a moment, and then nodded twice
and very slowly.

“So have I,” she sighed in tones so low he could scarcely hear them.

“Oh, you, you also,” he muttered, almost suffocating.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes--perhaps the same as yours. My stepfather,” she
breathed, “Mr. Deede Dawson.”

He watched her closely and moodily, but he did not speak.

“I was afraid--at first,” she whispered. “But I was wrong--quite wrong.
It is as certain as it can be that he was in London at the time.”

From his pocket Dunn took out the handkerchief of hers that he had found
near the body of the dead man.

“Is this yours?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered. “Yes, where did you get it?”

He did not answer, but he lifted his hands one after the other, and put
them on her shoulder, with the fingers outspread to encircle her
throat. It seemed to him that when she acknowledged the ownership of the
handkerchief she acknowledged also the perpetration of the deed, and he
became a little mad, and he had it in his mind that the slightest, the
very slightest, pressure of his fingers on that soft, round throat
would put it for ever out of her power to do such things again. Then for
himself death would be easy and welcome, and there would be an end to
all these doubts and fears that racked him with anguish beyond bearing.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, making no attempt to resist or
escape.

Ever so slightly the pressure of his hands upon her throat strengthened
and increased. A very little more and the lovely thing of life he
watched would be broken and cold for ever. Her eyes were steady, she
showed no sign of fear, she stood perfectly still, her hands loosely
clasped together before her. He groaned, and his arms fell to his side,
helpless. Without the slightest change of expression, she said:

“What were you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Do you ever go mad? I do, I think. Perhaps
you do too, and that explains it. Do you know where Charley Wright is?”

“Yes,” she answered directly. “Why? Did you know him, then?”

“You know where he is now?” Dunn repeated.

She nodded quietly.

“I heard from him only last week,” she said.

“I am certainly mad or you are,” he muttered, staring at her with eyes
in which such wonder and horror showed that it seemed there really was a
touch of madness there.

“What is the matter?” she asked.

“You heard from him last week,” he said again, and again she answered:

“Yes--last week. Why not?”

He leaned forward, and before she knew what he intended to do he kissed
her pale, cool cheek.

Once more she stood still and immobile, her hands loosely clasped before
her. It might have been that he had kissed a statue, and her perfect
stillness made him afraid.

“Ella,” he said. “Ella.”

“Why did you do that?” she said, a little wildly now in her turn. “It
was not that you were going to do to me before.”

“I love you,” he muttered excusingly.

She shook her head.

“You know too little of me; you have too many doubt and fears,” she
said. “You do not love me, you do not even trust me.”

“I love you all the same,” he asserted positively and roughly. “I loved
you--it was when I tied your hands to the chair that night and you
looked at me with such contempt, and asked me if I felt proud. That
stung, that stung. I loved you then.”

“You see,” she said sadly, “you do not even pretend to trust me. I don’t
know why you should. Why are you here? Why are you disguised with all
that growth of hair? There is something you are preparing, planning. I
know it. I feel it. What is it?”

“I told you once before,” he answered, “that the end of this will be
Deede Dawson’s death or mine. That’s what I’m preparing.”

“He is very cunning, very clever,” she said. “Do you think he suspects
you?”

“He suspects every one always,” answered Dunn. “I’ve been trying to get
proof to act on. I haven’t succeeded. Not yet. Nothing definite. If I
can’t, I shall act without. That’s all.”

“If I told him even half of what you just said,” she said, looking at
him. “What would happen?”

“You see, I trust you,” he answered bitterly.

She shook her head, but her eyes were soft and tender as she said:

“It wasn’t trust in me made you say all that, it was because you didn’t
care what happened after.”

“No,” he said. “But when I see you, I forget everything. Do you love
me?”

“Why, I’ve never even seen you yet,” she exclaimed with something like
a smile. “I only know you as two eyes over a tangle of hair that I
don’t believe you ever either brush or comb. Do you know, sometimes I am
curious.”

He took her hand and drew her to sit beside him on the bench under a
tree near by. All his doubts and fears and suspicions he set far from
him, and remembered nothing save that she was the woman for whom yearned
all the depths of his soul as by pre-ordained decree. And she, too, for
man, to her strange, aloof, mysterious, but dominating all her life as
though by primal necessity.

When they parted, it was with an agreement to meet again that evening,
and in the twilight they spent a halcyon hour together, saying little,
feeling much.

It was only when at last she had left him that he remembered all that
had passed, that had happened, that he knew, suspected, dreaded, all
that he planned and intended and would be soon called upon to put into
action.

“She’s made me mad,” he said to himself, and for a long time he sat
there in the darkness, in the stillness of the evening, motionless as
the tree in whose shade he sat, plunged in the most profound and strange
reverie, from which presently his quick ear, alert and keen even when
his mind was deep in thought, caught the light and careful sound of an
approaching footstep.

In a moment he was up and gliding through the darkness to meet who was
coming, and almost at once a voice hailed him cautiously.

“There you are, Dunn,” Deede Dawson said. “I’ve been looking for you
everywhere. Tomorrow or next day we shall be able to strike; everything
is ready at last, and I’ll tell you now exactly what we are going to
do.”

“That’s good news,” said Dunn softly.

“Come this way,” Deede Dawson said, and led Dunn through the darkness to
the gate that admitted to the Bittermeads grounds from the high road.

Here he paused, and stood for a long time in silence, leaning on the
gate and looking out across the road to the common beyond. Close
beside him stood Dunn, controlling his impatience as best he could, and
wondering if at last the secret springs of all these happenings was to
be laid bare to him.

But Deede Dawson seemed in no hurry to begin. For a long time he
remained in the same attitude, silent and sombre in the darkness, and
when at last he spoke it was to utter a remark that quite took Dunn by
surprise.

“What a lovely night,” he said in low and pensive tones, very unlike
those he generally used. “I remember when I was a boy--that’s a long
time ago.”

Dunn was too surprised by this sudden and very unexpected lapse into
sentiment to answer. Deede Dawson went on as if thinking to himself:

“A long time--I’ve done a lot--seen a lot since then--too much,
perhaps--I remember mother told me once--poor soul, I believe she used
to be rather proud of me--”

“Your mother?” Dunn said wondering greatly to think this man should
still have such memories.

But Deede Dawson seemed either to resent his tone or else to be angry
with himself for giving way to such weakness. In a voice more like his
usual one, he said harshly and sneeringly:

“Oh, yes, I had a mother once, just like everybody else. Why not? Most
people have their mothers, though it’s not an arrangement I should care
to defend. Now then, Ella was with you tonight; you and she were alone
together a long time.”

“Well,” growled Dunn, “what of it?”

“Fine girl, isn’t she?” asked Deede Dawson, and laughed.

Dunn did not speak. It filled him with such loathing to hear this man
so much as utter Ella’s name, it was all he could do to keep his hands
motionless by his side and not make use of them about the other’s
throat.

“She’s been useful, very useful,” Deede Dawson went on meditatively.
“Her mother had some money when I married her. I don’t mind telling you
it’s all spent now, but Ella’s a little fortune in herself.”

“I didn’t know we came to talk about her,” said Dunn slowly. “I thought
you had something else to say to me.”

“So I have,” Deede Dawson answered. “That’s why I brought you here. We
are safe from eavesdroppers here, in a house you can never tell who is
behind a curtain or a door. But then, Ella is a part of my plans, a very
important part. Do you remember I told you I might want you to take a
second packing-case away from here in the car one night?”

“Yes, I remember,” said Dunn slowly. “I remember. What would be in it?
The same sort of thing that was in--that other?”

“Yes,” answered Deede Dawson. “Much the same.”

“I shall want to see for myself,” said Dunn. “I’m a trustful sort of
person, but I don’t go driving about the country with packing-cases late
at night unless I’ve seen for myself what’s inside.”



CHAPTER XXII. PLOTS AND PLAYS


“Very wise of you,” yawned Deede Dawson. “That’s just what Ella
said--what’s that?”

For instinctively Dunn had raised his hand, but he lowered it again at
once.

“Oh, cut the cackle,” he said impatiently. “Tell me what you want me
to do, and make it plain, very plain, for I can tell you there’s a good
deal about all this I don’t understand, and I’m not inclined to trust
you far. For one thing, what are you after yourself? Where do you come
in? What are you going to get? And there’s another thing I want to say.
If you are thinking of playing any tricks on me don’t do it, unless you
are ready to take big risks. There’s only one man alive who ever made
a fool of me, and his name is Rupert Dunsmore, and I don’t think he’s
today what insurance companies call a good risk. Not by any manner of
means.” He paused to laugh harshly. “Let’s get to business,” he said.
“Look here, how do I know you mean all you say about Rupert Dunsmore?
What’s he to you?”

“Nothing,” answered Deede Dawson promptly. “Nothing. But there’s some
one I’m acting for to whom he is a good deal.”

“Who is that?” Dunn asked sharply.

“Do you think I’m going to tell you?” retorted the other, and laughed
in his cold, mirthless manner. “Perhaps you aren’t the only one who owes
him a grudge.”

“That’s likely enough, but I want to know where I’m standing,” said
Dunn. “Is this unknown person you say you are acting for anxious to
bring about Rupert Dunsmore’s death?”

“I’m not answering any questions, so you needn’t ask them,” replied
Deede Dawson.

“But I will tell you that there’s something big going on. Or I shouldn’t
be in it, I don’t use my brains on small things, you know. If it comes
off all right, I--” He paused, and for once a thrill of genuine
emotion sounded in his voice. “Thousands,” he said abruptly. “Yes, and
more--more. But there’s an obstacle--Rupert Dunsmore. It’s your place
to remove him. That’ll suit you, and it’ll mean good pay, as much as you
like to ask for in reason. And Ella, if you want her. The girl won’t
be any use to me when this is over, and you can have her if you like. I
don’t think she’ll object from what I can see--not that it would matter
if she did. So there you are. Put Rupert Dunsmore out of the way and
it’ll be the best day’s work you’ve ever done, and you shall have Ella
into the bargain--if you claim her. Makeweight.”

He began to laugh again and Dunn laughed, too, for while he was not sure
what it was that amused Deede Dawson, there were certain aspects of all
this that bore for him a very curious and ironic humour.

“All right,” he said. “You bring me face to face with Rupert Dunsmore
and you won’t have to grumble about the result, for I swear only one of
us will go away alive. But how are you going to do it?”

“I’ve my plan, and it’s simple enough,” answered Deede Dawson. “Though
I can tell you it took some working out. But the simplest problem is
always the best, whether in life or in chess.” Again he indulged in
a low and guarded outburst of his thin, mirthless laughter before he
continued: “I suppose you know Rupert Dunsmore is one of those restless
people who are never content except when wandering about in some out of
the way place or another, as often as not no one having the least idea
of his whereabouts. Then he turns up unexpectedly, only to disappear
again when the whim takes him. Lately he has been away on one of these
trips, but I happen to know he is coming back almost at once--what’s the
matter?”

“I was only wondering how you knew that,” answered Dunn, who had given a
sudden start.

“Oh, I know, never mind how,” Deede Dawson said. “I know that tomorrow
afternoon at four o’clock he will be waiting by the side of Brook Bourne
Spring in Ottom’s Wood, near General Dunsmore’s place. Which is as out
of the way and quiet and lonely a spot as you could wish for.”

“And you have information that he will be there?” Dunn said
incredulously. “How can you possibly be sure of that?”

“Never mind how,” answered Deede Dawson. “I am sure. That’s enough. My
information is certain.”

“Oh, it is, is it?” Dunn muttered. “You are a wonderful man, Mr.
Dawson. You know everything--or nearly everything. You are sure of
everything--or nearly everything--but suppose he changes his mind at the
last moment and doesn’t come after all?”

“He won’t,” answered Deede Dawson. “You be there and you’ll find him
there all right.”

“Well, perhaps,” said Dunn slowly. “But what I want to know is why you
are so sure? There’s a good deal hangs on your being right, you know.”

“I only wish I was as certain of everything else,” Deede Dawson said.

“Oh, all right,” exclaimed Dunn. “I suppose you know and you may be
right.”

“I am,” Deede Dawson assured him. “Listen carefully now, there mustn’t
be any blunders. You are to make an early start tomorrow. I don’t want
you to take the car for fear of its being seen and identified. You must
take the train to London and then another train back immediately to
Delsby. From Delsby you’ll have an eighteen-mile walk through lonely
country where you aren’t likely to meet any one, and must try not to.
The less you are seen the better. You know that for yourself, and for
your own sake you’ll be careful. You’ll have no time to spare, but you
will be able to get to the place I told you of by four all right--no
earlier, no later. You must arrange to be there at four exactly. You may
spoil all if you are too early. Almost as soon as you get there, Rupert
Dunsmore will arrive. You must do the rest for yourself, and then you
must strike straight across country for here. You can look up your
routes on the map. There will be less risk of attracting attention if
you come and go by different ways. You ought to be here again some time
in the small hours. I’ll let you in, and you’ll have cleared your own
score with Rupert Dunsmore and earned more money than you ever have had
in all your life before. Now, can I depend on you?”

“Yes--yes,” answered Dunn, over whom there had come a new and strange
sense of unreality as he stood and listened to cold-blooded murder being
thus calmly, coolly planned, as though it were some afternoon’s pleasure
trip that was being arranged, so that he hardly knew whether he did, in
fact, hear this smooth, low, unceasing voice that from the darkness at
his side laid down such a bloody road for his feet to travel.

“Oh, yes, you can depend on me,” he said. “But can I depend on you, when
you say Rupert Dunsmore will be there at that time and that place?”

It was a moment or two before Deede Dawson answered, and then his voice
was very low and soft and confident as he said:

“Yes, you can--absolutely. You see, I know his plans.”

“Oh, do you?” Dunn said as though satisfied. “Oh, well then, it’s no
wonder you’re so sure.”

“No wonder at all,” agreed Deede Dawson. “There’s just one other thing
I can tell you. Some one else will be there, too, at Brook Bourne Spring
in Ottam’s Wood.”

“Who’s that?” asked Dunn sharply.

“The man,” said Deede Dawson, “who is behind all this--the man you and
I are working for--the man who’s going to pay us, even better than he
thinks.”

“He--he will be there?” repeated Dunn, drawing a deep, breath.

“Yes, but you won’t see him, and it wouldn’t help you if you did,” Deede
Dawson told him. “Most likely he’ll be disguised--a mask, perhaps; I
don’t know. Anyhow, he’ll be there. Watching. I’m not suggesting you
would do such a thing as never go near the place, loaf around a bit,
then come back and report Rupert Dunsmore out of the way for good,
draw your pay and vanish, and leave us to find out he was as lively
and troublesome as ever. I don’t think you would do that, because you
sounded as if you meant what you said when you told me he was your
worst enemy. But it’s just as well to be sure, and so we mean to have a
witness; and as it’s what you might call a delicate matter, that witness
will most likely be our employer himself. So you had better do the job
thoroughly if you want your pay.”

“I see you take your precautions,” remarked Dunn. “Well, that’s all
right, I don’t mind.”

“You understand exactly what you’ve got to do?” Deede Dawson asked.

Dunn nodded.

“What about Allen?” he asked. “Does he take any part in this show?”

“He and I are planning a little visit to Wreste Abbey rather early the
same night, during the dinner-hour most likely,” answered Deede Dawson
carelessly. “We can get in at one of the long gallery windows quite
easily, Allen says. He kept his eyes open that day you all went there.
It may be helpful to give the police two problems to work on at once;
and besides, big as this thing is, there’s a shortage of ready money at
present. But our little affair at Wreste Abbey will have nothing to
do with you. You mind what you’ve got to do, and don’t trouble about
anything else. See?”

“I see,” answered Dunn slowly. “And if you can arrange for Rupert
Dunsmore to be there at that time all right, I’ll answer for the rest.”

“You needn’t be uneasy about that,” Deede Dawson said, and laughed.
“You see, I know his plans,” he repeated, and laughed again; and still
laughing that chill, mirthless way of his, he turned and walked back
towards the house.

Dunn watched him go through the darkness, and to himself he muttered:

“Yes, but I wonder if you do.”



CHAPTER XXIII. COUNTER-PLANS


The hour was late by now, but Dunn felt no inclination for sleep, and
there was no need for him to return indoors as yet, since Deede Dawson,
who always locked up the house himself, never did so till past midnight.
Till the small hours, very often he was accustomed to sit up absorbed in
those chess problems, the composing and solving of which were his great
passion, so that, indeed, it is probable that under other circumstances
he might have passed a perfectly harmless and peaceful existence, known
to wide circles as an extraordinarily clever problemist and utterly
unknown elsewhere.

But the Fate that is, after all, but man’s own character writ large,
had decreed otherwise. And the little, fat, smiling man bending over his
travelling chess board on which he moved delicately to and fro the tiny
red and white men of carved ivory, now and again removing a piece and
laying it aside, had done as much with as little concern to his fellow
creatures from the very beginning of his terrible career.

Outside, leaning on the gate where Deede Dawson had left him, Dunn was
deep in thought that was not always very comforting, for there was
very much in all this laid out for him to accomplish that he did not
understand and that disturbed him a good deal.

A careful, cautious “Hist!” broke in upon his thoughts, and in an
instant he stiffened to close attention, every nerve on the alert.

The sound was repeated, a faint and wary footstep sounded, and in the
darkness a form appeared and stole slowly nearer.

Dunn poised for a moment, ready for attack or retreat, and then all at
once his tense attitude relaxed.

“You, Walter,” he exclaimed. “That’s good! But how did you get here? And
how did you know where I was?”

The new-comer drew a little nearer and showed the tall, thin form of
Walter Dunsmore to whom Dunn had spoken at Wreste Abbey.

“I had to come,” he murmured. “I couldn’t rest without seeing you. You
upset me the other day, saying what you did. Isn’t it very dangerous
your being here? Suppose Deede Dawson--”

“Oh, if he suspected, there would soon be an end of me,” answered Dunn
grimly. “But I think I’m going to win--at least, I did till tonight.”

“What’s happened?” the other asked sharply and anxiously.

“He has been telling me his plans,” answered Dunn. “He has told me
everything--he has put himself entirely in my power--he has done what I
have been waiting and hoping for ever since I came here. He has given
me his full confidence at last, and I never felt more uneasy or less
certain of success than I do at this moment.”

“He has told you--everything?” Walter Dunsmore asked. “Everything,
except who is behind it all,” answered Dunn. “I asked him who he was
acting for, and he refused to say. But we shall know that tomorrow,
for he told me something almost as good--he told me where this employer
would be at four o’clock tomorrow afternoon. So then we shall have him,
unless Deede Dawson was lying.”

“Of course, it all depends on finding that out,” remarked Walter
thoughtfully. “Finding out his identity.”

“Yes, that’s the key move to the problem,” Dunn said. “And tomorrow we
shall know it, if Deede Dawson was speaking the truth just now.”

“I should think he was,” said Walter slowly. “I should think it is
certain he was. You may depend on that, I think.”

“I think so, too,” agreed Dunn. “But how did you find out where I was?”

“You know that day you came to Wreste Abbey? There was some fellow you
had with you who told the landlord of the Chobham Arms, so I easily
found out from him,” answered Walter.

“Anyhow, I’m glad you’re here,” Dunn said. “I was wondering how to get
in touch with you. Well, this is Deede Dawson’s plan in brief. Tomorrow,
at four in the afternoon, Rupert Dunsmore is to be killed--and I’ve
undertaken to do the deed.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Walter, starting.

“I’ve promised that if Deede Dawson will bring me face to face with
Rupert Dunsmore, I’ll murder him,” answered Dunn, laughing softly.

“A fairly safe offer on your part, isn’t it?” observed Walter. “At
least, unless there’s any saving clause about mirrors.”

“Oh, none,” answered Dunn. “I told Deede Dawson Rupert Dunsmore was my
worst enemy, and that’s true enough, for I think every man’s worst enemy
is himself.”

“I wish I had none worse,” muttered Walter.

“I think you haven’t, old chap,” Dunn said smilingly. “But come across
the road. It’ll be safer on the common. Deede Dawson is so cunning
one is never safe from him. One can never be sure he isn’t creeping up
behind.”

“Well, I daresay it’s wise to take every precaution,” observed Walter.
“But I can’t imagine either him or any one else getting near you without
your knowledge.”

Robert Dunn,--or rather, Rupert Dunsmore, as was his name by right of
birth--laughed again to himself, very softly in the darkness.

“Perhaps not,” he said. “But I take no chances I can avoid with Deede
Dawson. Come along.”

They crossed the road together and sat down on the common at an open
spot, where none could well approach them unheard or unseen. Dunn laid
his hand affectionately on Walter’s shoulder as they settled themselves.

“Old chap,” he said. “It was good of you to come here. You’ve run some
risk. It’s none too safe near Bittermeads. But I’m glad to see you,
Walter. It’s a tremendous relief after all this strain of doubt and
watching and suspicion to be with some one I know--some one I can
trust--some one like you, Walter.”

In the darkness, Walter put out his hand and took Dunn’s and held it for
a moment.

“I have been anxious about you,” he said. Dunn returned the pressure
warmly.

“I know,” he said. “Jove, old chap, it’s good to see you again. You
don’t know what it’s like after all this long time, feeling that every
step was a step in the dark, to be at last with a real friend again.”

“I think I can guess,” Walter said softly.

Dunn shook his head.

“No one could,” he said. “I tell you I’ve doubted, distrusted, suspected
till I wasn’t sure of my own shadow. Well, that’s all over now. Tomorrow
we can act.”

“Tell me what I’m to do,” Walter Dunsmore said.

“There’s a whole lot I don’t understand yet,” Dunn continued slowly.
“I suppose it was that that was making me feel so jolly down before
you came. I don’t feel sure somehow--not sure. Deede Dawson is such a
cunning brute. He seems to have laid his whole hand bare, and yet there
may be cards up his sleeve still. Besides, his plan he told me about
seems so bald. And I don’t understand why he should think he is so
sure of what I--I mean, of what Rupert--it’s a bit confusing to have a
double identity--is going to do. He says he is sure Rupert Dunsmore
is to be at the Brook Bourne Spring tomorrow at four. He says his
information is certain, and that he has full knowledge of what Rupert
Dunsmore is going to do, which is more than I have. But what can it be
that’s making him so sure?”

“That’s probably simple enough,” said Walter. “You said you suspected
there was a leakage from Burns & Swift’s office, and you told Burns to
make misleading statements about your movements occasionally when he was
dictating his letters. Well, I expect this is one.”

“That may be; only Deede Dawson seems so very sure,” answered Dunn. “But
what’s specially important is his saying that his employer, whoever it
is, who is behind all this, will be there too.”

“A meeting? Is that it?” exclaimed Walter.

“No, that’s not the idea,” answered Dunn. “You see, the idea is that
Rupert Dunsmore will be there at four, and that I’m to be there in
ambush to murder myself. Whoever is behind all this will be there
too--to see I carry out my work properly. And that gives us our chance.”

“Oh, that’s good,” exclaimed Walter. “We shall have him for certain.”

“That’s what I want you to see to,” said Dunn. “I want you to have men
you can trust well hidden all round, ready to collar him. And I want you
to have all the roads leading to Ottam’s Wood well watched and every one
going along them noted. You understand?”

“That’s quite easy,” declared Walter. “I can promise not a soul will get
into Ottam’s Wood without being seen, and I’ll make very sure indeed of
getting hold of any one hiding anywhere near Brook Bourne Spring. And
once we’ve done that--once we know who it is--”

“Yes,” agreed Dunn. “We shall be all right then. That is the one thing
necessary to know--the key move to the problem--the identity of who it
is pulling the strings. He must be a clever beggar; anyhow, I mean to
see him hang for it yet.”

“I daresay he’s clever,” agreed Walter. “He is playing for big stakes.
Anyhow, we’ll have him tomorrow all right; that seems certain--at last.”

“At last,” agreed Dunn, with a long-drawn sigh. “Ugh! it’s all been such
a nightmare. It’s been pretty awful, knowing there was some one--not
able to guess who. Ever since you discovered that first attempt, ever
since we became certain there was a plot going on to clear out every one
in succession to the Chobham estates--and that was jolly plain, though
the fools of police did babble about no evidence, as if pistol bullets
come from nowhere and poisoned cups of tea--”

“Ah, I was to blame there, that was my fault,” said Walter. “You see, we
had no proof about the shooting, and when I had spilt that tea, no proof
of poison either. I shall always regret that.”

“A bit of bad luck,” Dunn agreed. “But accidents will happen. Anyhow, it
was clear enough some one was trying to make a jolly clear sweep. It may
be a madman; it may be some one with a grudge against us; it may be, as
poor Charley thought, some one in the line of succession, who is just
clearing the way to inherit the title and estates himself. I wish I knew
what made Charley suspicious of Deede Dawson in the first place.”

“You don’t know that?” Walter asked.

“No, he never told me,” answered Dunn. “Poor Charley, it cost him his
life. That’s another thing we must find out--where they’ve hidden his
body.”

“He was sure from the first,” remarked Walter, “that it was a conspiracy
on the part of some one in the line of succession?”

“Yes,” agreed Dunn. “It’s likely enough, too. You see, ever since that
big family row and dispersion eighty years ago, a whole branch of
the family has been entirely lost sight of. There may be half a dozen
possible heirs we know nothing about. Like poor John Clive. I daresay if
we had known of his existence we should have begun by suspecting him.”

“There’s one thing pretty sure,” remarked Walter. “If these pleasant
little arrangements did succeed, it would be a fairly safe guess that
the inheritor of the title and estates was the guilty person. It might
be brought home to him, too.”

“Perhaps,” agreed Dunn dryly. “But just a trifle too late to interest me
for one. And I don’t mean to let the dad or uncle be sacrificed if I can
help it. I failed with Clive, poor fellow, but I don’t mean to again,
and I don’t see how we can. Deede Dawson has exposed his hand. Now we
can play ours.”

“But what are you going to do?” Walter asked. “Are you going to follow
out his instructions?”

“To the letter,” Dunn answered. “We are dealing with very wary,
suspicious people, and the least thing might make them take alarm. The
important point, of course, is the promise that Deede Dawson’s employer
will be at Brook Bourne Spring tomorrow afternoon. That’s our trump
card. Everything hangs on that. And to make sure there’s no hitch, I
shall do exactly what I’ve been told to do. I expect I shall be watched.
I shall be there at four o’clock, and ten minutes after I hope we shall
have laid hands on--whoever it is.”

Walter nodded.

“I don’t see how we can fail,” he said.


CHAPTER XXIV. AN APHORISM


“No,” Dunn agreed after a long pause. “No, I don’t see myself how
failure is possible; I don’t see what there is to go wrong. All the
same, I shan’t be sorry when it’s all over; I suppose I’m nervous,
that’s the truth of it. But Deede Dawson’s hardly the sort of man I
should have expected to lay all his cards on the table so openly.”

“Oh, I think that’s natural enough,” answered Walter. “Quite natural--he
thinks you are in with him and he tells you what he wants you to do. But
I don’t quite see the object of your visit to the Abbey the other day.
You gave me the shock of my life, I think. I hadn’t the least idea who
you were--that beard makes a wonderful difference.”

Dunn laughed quietly.

“It’s a good disguise,” he admitted. “I didn’t quite know myself
first time I looked in a mirror. We went to the Abbey to prepare for a
burglary there.”

“Oh, is that on the cards, too?” exclaimed Walter. “I didn’t expect
that.”

“Yes,” answered Dunn. “My own idea is that Deede Dawson sees an
opportunity for making a bit on his own. After all of us are disposed of
and his friend has got the title and estates, he won’t dare to prosecute
of course, and so Deede Dawson thinks it a good opportunity to visit
the Abbey and pick up any pictures or heirlooms or so-so he can that it
would be almost impossible to dispose of in the ordinary way, but that
he expects he will be able to sell back at a good price to the new owner
of the property. I think he calculates that that gentleman will be ready
to pay as much as he is asked. I don’t know, but I think that’s his idea
from something he said the other day about the uselessness of even good
stuff from a big house unless you knew of a sure market, or could sell
it back again to the owner.”

“Jolly clever idea if it works all right,” said Walter slowly. “I can
see Mr. Deede Dawson is a man who needs watching. And I suppose we had
better be on the look-out at the Abbey tomorrow night?”

“Evening,” corrected Dunn. “It’s planned for the dinner-hour.”

“Right,” said Walter. “We shall see some crowded hours tomorrow, I
expect. Well, it’s like this, as I understand it--we had better be sure
everything is quite clear. Their idea is that you will meet and murder
Rupert Dunsmore, who they have no notion is really your own self, at
Brook Bourne Spring at four tomorrow afternoon, and the unknown somebody
who is behind all this business will be in hiding there to make sure
you do your work properly. Our idea is to watch all the roads leading to
Ottam’s Wood and to have men in ambush near the spring to seize any one
hiding there at that time. Then we shall know who is at the bottom of
all these plots and shall be able to smash the whole conspiracy. In
addition, Deede Dawson and this other man you speak of, Allen, are going
to break into the Abbey tomorrow evening and we are to be ready for them
and catch them in the act?”

“Yes,” said Dunn, “that’s the idea; you can manage all right?”

“Oh, yes,” answered Walter. “It’s all simple enough--you’ve planned it
out so jolly well there’s nothing much left for me to do. And I don’t
see what you’re nervous about; there’s nothing that can go wrong very
well--your plans are perfect, I think.”

“It’s easy enough to make plans when you know just what the other side
are going to do,” observed Dunn. “There’s one point more. Miss Cayley--I
mentioned her in one of the notes I sent you through Burns.”

“Yes, I remember--Deede Dawson’s step-daughter,” said Walter. “I suppose
she is in it?”

“She is not; she knows nothing,” declared Dunn vehemently.

“But it was she who took away poor Charley’s body, wasn’t it?” asked
Walter. “But for that you would have had evidence enough to act on at
once, wouldn’t you?”

“She did not know what she was doing,” Dunn replied. “And now she is in
danger herself. I am convinced Deede Dawson is growing afraid of her,
he dropped hints; I’m sure he is planning something, perhaps he means
to murder her as well. So besides these other arrangements I want to see
that there’s a trustworthy man watching here. I don’t anticipate that
there’s any immediate danger--it’s almost certain that if he means
anything he will wait till he sees how this other business is turning
out. But I want some one trustworthy to be at hand in case of need. You
will see to that?”

“Oh, yes, I can spare Simmonds; I’ll send him,” answered Walter.
“Though, I must say, my dear chap, I don’t think I should trouble much
about that young lady. But it can be easily managed, in fact everything
you want me to do is easy enough; I only wish some of it was a bit
difficult or dangerous.”

“You’re a good chap, Walter,” said Dunn, putting his hand on the other’s
shoulder again. “Well, I think it’s all settled now. I tell you I’m
looking forward a good deal to four o’clock tomorrow afternoon. I feel
as if I would give all I possess to know who it is.”

“Don’t make that offer,” Walter said with a smile, “or the fates may
accept it.”

“I feel as though there’s only one thing in the world I want one half so
much,” Dunn said. “As to know who this--devil is.”

“Devil?” repeated Walter. “Well, yes, devil’s a word like any other.”

“I think it’s justified in this case,” said Dunn sternly. “Poor Charley
Wright dead! One thing I can’t understand about that is how they got him
back here when you saw him in London when you did. But they’re a cunning
lot. They must have worked it somehow. Then Clive. I feel to blame for
Clive’s death--as if I ought to have managed better and saved him. Now
there’s this other devilry they are planning. I tell you, Walter, I
feel the whole world will be a sweeter place after four o’clock tomorrow
afternoon.”

“At any rate,” said Walter, “I think we may be sure of one thing--after
four o’clock tomorrow afternoon you will know all--all.” He paused and
repeated, slightly varying the phrase: “Yes, after four o’clock tomorrow
afternoon you will know everything--everything.” He added in a brisker
tone: “There’s nothing else to arrange?”

“No,” said Dunn, “I don’t think so, and I had better go now or Deede
Dawson will be suspecting something. He’ll want to know what I’ve been
stopping out so late for. Good-bye, old chap, and good luck.”

They shook hands.

“Good-bye and good luck, Rupert, old man,” Walter said. “You may depend
on me--you know that.”

“Yes, I do know that,” Dunn answered.

They shook hands again, and Dunn said: “You’ve hurt your hand. It’s tied
up. Is it anything much?”

“No, no,” answered Walter with a little laugh. “A mere scratch. I
scratched it on a bit of wood, a lid that didn’t fit properly.”

“Well, good-bye and good luck,” Dunn said again, and they parted, Walter
disappearing into the darkness and Dunn returning to the house.

Deede Dawson heard him enter, and he came to the door of the room in
which he had been sitting.

“Oh, there you are,” he said. “Been enjoying the night air or what?
You’ve been a long time.”

“I’ve been thinking,” Dunn muttered in the heavy, sulky manner he always
assumed at Bittermeads.

“Not weakening, eh?” asked Deede Dawson.

“No,” answered Dunn. “I’m not.”

“Good,” Deede Dawson exclaimed. “There’s a lot to win, and no fear of
failure. I don’t see that failure’s possible. Do you?”

“No,” answered Dunn. “I suppose not.”

“The mate’s sure this time,” Deede Dawson declared. “It’s our turn to
move, and whatever reply the other side makes, we’re sure of our mate
next move. By the way, did you ever solve that problem I showed you the
other day?”

“Yes, I think so,” answered Dunn. “It was a long time before I could hit
on the right move, but I managed it at last, I think.”

“Come and show me, then,” said Deede Dawson, bustling back into his room
and beginning to set up the pieces on his travelling chess-board. “This
was the position, wasn’t it? Now, what’s your move?”

Dunn showed him, and Deede Dawson burst into a laugh that had in it for
once a touch of honest enjoyment.

“Yes, that would do it, but for one thing you haven’t noticed,” he said.
“Black can push the pawn at KB7 and make it, not a queen, but a knight,
giving check to your king and no mate for you next move.”

“Yes, that’s so,” agreed Dunn. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Unexpected, eh? Making the pawn a knight?” smiled Deede Dawson. “But in
chess, and in life, it’s the unexpected you have to look out for.”

“That’s quite an aphorism,” said Dunn. “It’s true, too.”

He went up to bed, but did not sleep well, and when at last he fell into
a troubled slumber, it seemed to him that Charley Wright and John Clive
were there, one on each side of him, and that they had come, not because
they sought for vengeance, but because they wished to warn him of a doom
like their own that they could see approaching but he could not.

Toward’s morning he got an hour’s sound rest, and he was down stairs in
good time. He did not see Ella, but he heard her moving about, so knew
that she was safe as yet; and Deede Dawson gave him some elaborate
parting instructions, a little money, and a loaded revolver.

“I don’t know that I want that,” said Dunn. “My hands will be all I need
once I’m face to face with Rupert Dunsmore.”

“That’s the right spirit,” said Deede Dawson approvingly. “But the
pistol may be useful too. You needn’t use it if you can manage without,
but you may as well have it. Good-bye, and the best of luck. Take care
of yourself, and don’t lose your head or do anything foolish.”

“Oh, you can trust me,” said Dunn.

“I think I can,” smiled Deede Dawson. “I think I can. Good-bye. Be
careful, avoid noise and fuss, don’t be seen any more than you can help,
and if you shoot, aim low.”

“There’s a vade mecum for the intending assassin,” Dunn thought grimly
to himself, but he said nothing, gave the other a sullen nod, and
started off on his strange and weird mission of murdering himself.
He found himself wondering if any one else had ever been in such a
situation. He did not suppose so.



CHAPTER XXV. THE UNEXPECTED


To the very letter Dunn followed the careful and precise instructions
given him by Deede Dawson, for he did not wish to rouse in any way
the slightest suspicion or run the least risk of frightening off that
unknown instigator of these plots who was, it had been promised him, to
be present near Brook Bourne Spring at four that afternoon.

Even the thought of Ella was perhaps less clear and vivid to his mind
just now than was his intense and passionate desire to discover the
identity of the strange and sinister personality against whom he had
matched himself.

“Very likely it’s some madman,” he thought to himself. “How in the name
of common sense can he expect to inherit the title and estates quietly
after such a series of crimes as he seems to contemplate? Does he think
no one will have any suspicion of him when he comes forward? Even if
he is successful in getting rid of all of us in this way, how does he
expect to be able to reap his reward? Of course he may think that there
will be no direct evidence if he manages cleverly enough, and that mere
suspicion he will be able to disregard and live down in time, but surely
it will be plain enough that ‘who benefits is guilty’? The whole thing
is mad, fantastic. Why, the mere fact of any one making a claim to the
title and estates would be almost enough to justify a jury in returning
a verdict of guilty.”

But though his thoughts ran in this wise all the time he was journeying
to London, and though he repeated them to himself over and over again,
none the less there remained an uneasy consciousness in his mind that
perhaps these people had plans more subtle than he knew, and that even
this difficulty of making their claim without bringing instant suspicion
on themselves they had provided for.

It was late in the year now, but the day was warm and very calm and
fine. At the London terminus where he alighted he had a strong feeling
that he was watched, and when he took the train back to Delsby he still
had the idea that he was being kept under observation.

He felt he had been wise in deciding to carry out Deede Dawson’s
instructions so closely, for he was sure that if he had failed to do
so in any respect alarm would have been taken at once, and warning
telegrams gone flying on the instant to all concerned. Then that
self-baited trap at Brook Bourne Spring, wherein he hoped to see his
enemy taken, would remain unapproached, and all his work and risk would
have gone for nothing.

When he alighted at his destination he was a little before time, and so
he got himself something to eat at a small public-house near the station
before starting on his fifteen-mile walk across country. Though he was
not sure, he did not think any one was observing him now. Most likely
his movements up to the present had appeared satisfactory, and it had
not been thought necessary to watch him longer.

But he was careful to do nothing to rouse suspicion if he were still
being spied upon, and after he had eaten and had a smoke he started off
on his long tramp.

Even yet he was careful, and so long as he was near the village he made
a show of avoiding observation as much as possible. Later on, when he
had made certain he was not being followed, he did not trouble so much,
though he still kept it in mind that any one he met or passed might well
be in fact one of Deede Dawson’s agents.

He walked on sharply through the crisp autumn air, and in other
circumstances would have found the walk agreeable enough. It was a
little curious that as he proceeded on his way his chief preoccupation
seemed to shift from his immediate errand and intense eagerness to
discover the identity of his unknown foe, with whom he hoped to stand
face to face so soon, to a troubled and pressing anxiety about Ella.

Up till now he had not thought it likely that she was in the least real
danger. He knew Simmonds, the man Walter had promised to put on watch at
Bittermeads, and knew him to be capable and trustworthy. None the less,
his uneasiness grew and strengthened with every mile he traversed, till
presently her situation seemed to him the one weak link in his careful
plans.

That the trap the unknown had so carefully laid for himself to be taken
in, would assuredly and securely close upon him, Dunn felt certain
enough. Walter would see to that. Sure was it, too, that the enterprise
Deede Dawson had planned for himself and Allen at the Abbey must result
in their discomfiture and capture. Walter would see to that also. But
concerning Ella’s position doubt would insist on intruding, till at last
he decided that the very moment the Brook Bourne Spring business
was satisfactorily finished with he would hurry at his best speed to
Bittermeads and make sure of her safety.

Absorbed in these uneasy thoughts, he had insensibly slackened speed,
and looking at his watch he saw that it was two o’clock, and that he
was still, by the milestone at the roadside, eight miles from his
destination.

He wished to be there a little before the time arranged for him by Deede
Dawson, and he increased his pace till he came to a spot where the path
he had to take branched off from the road he had been following. At this
spot a heavy country lad was sitting on a gate by the wayside, and as
Dunn approached he clambered heavily down and slouched forward to meet
him.

“Be you called Robert Dunn, mister?” he asked.

Dunn gave him a quick and suspicious look, much startled by this sudden
recognition in so lonely a spot.

“Yes, I am,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation. “Why?”

“If you are, there’s this as I’m to give you,” the lad answered, drawing
a note from his pocket.

“Oh, who gave you that?” Dunn asked, fully persuaded the note contained
some final instructions from Deede Dawson and wondering if this lad were
one of his agents in disguise, or merely some inhabitant of the district
hired for the one purpose of delivering the letter.

But the lad’s drawled reply disconcerted him greatly.

“A lady,” he said. “A real lady in a big car, she told me to wait here
and give you this. All alone she was, and drove just like a man.”

He handed the letter over as he spoke, and Dunn saw that it was
addressed to him in his name of Robert Dunn in Ella’s writing. He
blinked at it in very great surprise, for there was nothing he expected
less, and he did not understand how she knew so well where he would be
or how she had managed to get away from Bittermeads uninterfered with by
Deede Dawson.

His first impulse was to suspect some new trap, some new and cunning
trap that, perhaps, the unconscious Ella was being used to bait. Taking
the letter from the boy, he said:

“How did you know it was for me?”

“Lady told me,” answered the boy grinning. “She said as I was to look
out for a chap answering to the name of Robert Dunn, with his face so
covered with hair you couldn’t see nothing of it no more’n you can see
a sheep’s back for wool. ‘As soon as I set eye on ‘ee,’ says I, ‘That’s
him,’ I says, and so ‘twas.”

He grinned again and slouched away and Dunn stood still, holding the
letter in his hand and not opening it at first. It was almost as though
he feared to do so, and when at last he tore the envelope open it was
with a hand that trembled a little in spite of all that he could do.
For there was something about this strange communication and the means
adopted to deliver it to him that struck him as ominous in the extreme.
Some sudden crisis must have arisen, he thought, and it appeared to him
that Ella’s knowledge of where to find him implied a knowledge of Deede
Dawson’s plans that meant she was either his willing and active agent
and accomplice, or else she had somehow acquired a knowledge of her
stepfather’s proceedings that must make her position a thousand times
more critical and dangerous than before.

He flung the envelope aside and began to read the contents. It opened
abruptly, without any form of address, and it was written in a hand that
showed plain signs of great distress and agitation: “You are in great
danger. I don’t know what. I heard them talking. They spoke as though
something threatened you, something you could not escape. Be careful,
very careful. You asked me once if I had ever heard a man with a high,
squeaky voice, and I did not answer. It was to a man with a voice like
that I gave the packing-case I took away from here the night you came.
Do you remember? He was here all last night, I think. I saw him go very
early. He is Mr. Walter Dunsmore. I saw him that day at Wreste Abbey,
and I knew I had seen him before. This morning I recognized him. I am
sure because he hurt his hand on the packing-case lid, and I saw the
mark there still. He and my stepfather were talking all night, I think
I couldn’t hear everything. There is a General Dunsmore. Something is
to happen to him at three o’clock and then to you later, and they both
laughed a great deal because they think you will be blamed for whatever
happens to General Dunsmore. He is to be enticed somewhere to meet
you, but you are not to be there till four, too late. I am afraid, more
afraid than ever I have been. What shall I do? I think they are making
plans to do something awful. I don’t know what to do. I think my
stepfather suspects I know something, he keeps looking, looking, smiling
all the time. Please come back and take mother and me away, for I think
he means to kill us both.”

There was no signature, but written like an afterthought across one
corner of the note were the scribbled words:

“You told me something once, I don’t know if you meant it.” And then,
underneath, was the addition--“He never stops smiling.”

Twice over Dunn read this strange, disturbing message, and then a third
time, and he made a little gesture of annoyance for it did not seem to
him that the words he read made sense, or else it was that his brain no
longer worked normally, and could not interpret them.

“Oh, but that’s absurd,” he said aloud.

He looked all around him, surprised to see that the face of the
country-side had not changed in any way, but was all just as it had been
before this letter had been put into his hands.

He began to read a third, but stopped half-way through the first
sentence.

“Then it’s Walter all the time,” he muttered. “Walter--Walter!”



CHAPTER XXVI. A RACE AGAINST TIME


Even when he had said this aloud it was still as though he could not
grasp its full meaning.

“Walter,” he repeated vaguely. “Walter.”

His thoughts, that had seemed as frozen by the sudden shock of the
tremendous revelation so unconsciously made to him by Ella, began to
stir and move again, and almost at once, with an extraordinary and
abnormal rapidity.

As a drowning man is said to see flash before his eyes the whole history
and record of his life, so now Dunn saw the whole story of his life-long
friendship with Walter pictured before him.

For when he was very small, Walter had been to him like an elder
brother, and when he was older, it was Walter who had taught him to
ride and to shoot, to hunt and to fish, and when he was at school it was
Walter to whom he looked up as the dashing young man of the world, who
knew all life’s secrets, and when he was at college it was Walter who
had helped him out of the inevitable foolish scrapes into which it is
the custom of the undergraduate to fall.

Then, when he had come to man’s estate, Walter had still been his
confidential friend and adviser. In Walter’s hand he had been accustomed
to leave everything during his absences on his hunting and exploring
trips; and at what time during this long and kindly association of
good-fellowship had such black hate and poison of envy bred in Walter’s
heart?

“Walter!” he said aloud once more, and he uttered the name as though it
were a cry of anguish.

Yet, too, even in his utter bewilderment and surprise, it seemed strange
to him that he had never once suspected, never dreamed, never once had
the shadow of a suspicion.

Little things, trifling things, a word, an accent, a phrase that had
passed at the time for a jest, a thousand such memories came back to him
now with a new and terrible significance.

For, after all, Walter was in the direct line. Only just a few lives
stood between him and a great inheritance, a great position. Perhaps
long brooding on what might so easily be had made him mad.

Dunn remembered now, too, that it was Walter who had discovered that
first murderous attempt which had first put them on their guard, but
perhaps he had discovered it only because he knew of it, and when it
failed, saw his safest plan was to be foremost in tracking it out.

And it was Walter who had last seen poor Charley Wright alone, and far
from Bittermeads. But perhaps that was a lie to confuse the search for
the missing man, and a reason why that search had failed so utterly up
to the moment of Dunn’s own grim discovery in the attic.

With yet a fresh shock so that he reeled as he stood with the impact of
the thought, Dunn realized that all this implied that every one of his
precautions had been rendered futile that of all his elaborate plans not
one would take effect since all had been entrusted to the care of the
very man against whom they were aimed.

It was Walter for whom the net had been laid in Ottam’s Wood; and Walter
to whom had been entrusted the task of drawing that net tight at the
right moment.

It was Walter’s friends and agents who were to break into Wreste
Abbey, and Walter to whom had been entrusted the task of defeating and
capturing them. It was Walter from whom Ella stood in most danger if her
action that morning had been observed, and it was Walter to whom he had
given the task of protecting her.

At this thought, he turned and began to run as fast as he could in the
direction of Bittermeads.

At all costs she must be saved, she who had exposed the whole awful
plot. For a hundred yards or so he fled, swift as the wind, till on a
sudden he stopped dead with the realization of the fact that every yard
he took that way took him further and further from Ottam’s Wood.

For there was danger there, too--grim and imminent--and sentences
in Ella’s hasty letter that bore now to his new knowledge a deep
significance she had not dreamed of.

As when a flash of lightning lights all the landscape up and shows the
traveller dreadful dangers that beset his path, so a wave of intuition
told Dunn clearly the whole conspiracy; so that he saw it all, and
saw how every detail was to be fitted in together. His father, General
Dunsmore, was to be murdered first at the Brook Bourne Spring, to which
he was being lured; and afterwards, when Dunn arrived, he was to be
murdered, too. And on him, dead and unable to defend himself, the
blame of his father’s death would be laid. It would not be difficult to
manage. Walter would arrange it all as neatly as he had been accustomed
to arrange the Dunsmore business affairs placed in his hands for
settlement.

A forged letter or two, Dunn’s own revolver used to shoot the old man
with and then placed in Dunn’s dead hand when his own turn had come,
convincing detail like that would be easy to arrange. Why, the very
fact of his disguise, the tangled beard that he had grown to hide his
features with, would appear conclusive. Any coroner’s jury would return
a verdict of wilful murder against his memory on that one fact alone.

Walter would see to that all right. A little false evidence apparently
reluctantly given would be added, and all would be kneaded together into
the one substance till the whole guilt of all that happened would appear
to lie solely on his shoulders.

As for motive, it would simply be put forward that he had been in a
hurry to succeed his uncle. And very likely some tale of a quarrel with
his father or something of that sort would be invented, and would go
uncontradicted since there would be no one to contradict it.

And most probably what was contemplated at Wreste Abbey was no ordinary
burglary, but the assassination of old Lord Chobham, of which the guilt
would also be set down to him.

Very clearly now he realized that this tremendous plot was aimed, not
only at life, but at honour--that not only was his life required, but
also that he should be thought a murderer.

With the realization of the danger that threatened at Wreste Abbey he
turned and began to run back in the direction where it lay, that he
might take timely warning there, but he did not run a dozen strides when
he remembered Ella again, and paused.

Surely he must think of her first, alone and unprotected. For she was
the woman he loved; and besides, she had summoned him to her help, and
then she was a woman, and at least, the others were men.

All this flood of thoughts, this intuitive grasping of a situation
terrible beyond conception, almost unparalleled in bloody and dreadful
horror, passed through his mind with extreme rapidity.

Once more he turned and began to run--to run as he had never run before,
for now he saw that all depended on the speed with which he could cover
the eight miles that lay between him and Ottam’s Wood, whether he could
still save his father or not.

The district was lonely in the extreme, there was no human habitation
near, no place where he could obtain any help or any swift means of
conveyance. His one hope must be in his speed, his feet must be swift to
save, not only his own life and his father’s, but his honour, too, and
Ella and his old uncle as well; and all--all hung upon the speed with
which he could cover the eight long miles that lay between him and Brook
Bourne Spring in Ottam’s Wood. Even as he ran, as he thought of Ella,
he came abruptly to a pause, wrung with sudden anguish. For each fleet
stride he was making towards Brook Bourne Spring was taking him
further and further away from Bittermeads just as before each step to
Bittermeads had been taking him further from Ottam’s Wood.

He began to run again, even faster than before, and it was towards
Ottam’s Wood that he ran, each step taking him further from Bittermeads
and further from the woman he loved in her bitter need and peril, who
looked to him for the help he could not give. With pain and anguish
he ran on, ran as men have seldom run--as seldom so much was hung upon
their running.

On and on he sped, fleet as the wind, fleet as the light breeze that
blew lightly by. A solitary villager trudging on some errand in this
lonely place, tells to this day the tale of the bearded, wild-eyed man
who raced so madly by him, raced on and down the long, straight road
till his figure dwindled and vanished in the distance.

A shepherd boy went home with a tale of a strange thing he had seen of
a man running so fast it seemed he was scarcely in sight before he was
gone again.

And except for those two and one other none saw him at all and he ran
his race alone beneath the skies, across the bare country side.

It was at a spot where the path ran between two high hedges that he came
upon a little herd of cows a lad was driving home.

It seemed impossible to pass through that tangle of horns and tails and
plunging hoofs, and so indeed it was, but Dunn took another way, and
with one leap, cleared the first beast clean and alighted on the back of
the second.

Before the startled beast could plunge away he leaped again from the
vantage of its back and landed on the open ground beyond and so on,
darting full speed past the staring driver, whose tale that he told when
he got home caused him to go branded for years as a liar.

On and on Dunn fled, without stay or pause, at the utmost of his speed
every second of time, every yard of distance. For he knew he had need
of every ounce of power he possessed or could call to his aid, since he
knew well that all, all, might hang upon a second less or more, and now
four miles lay behind him and four in front.

Still on he raced with labouring lungs and heart near to bursting
--onward still, swift, swift and sure, and now there were six miles
behind and only two in front, and he was beginning to come to a part of
the country that he knew.

Whether he was soon or late he had no idea or how long it was that he
had raced like this along the lonely country road at the full extremity
and limit of his strength.

He dared not take time to glance at his watch, for he knew the fraction
of a second he would thus lose might mean the difference between in time
and too late. On he ran still and presently he left the path and took
the fields.

But he had forgotten that though the distance might be shorter the going
would be harder, and on the rough grass he stumbled, and across the bare
ground damp earth clung to his boots and hindered him as though each
foot had become laden with lead.

His speed was slower, his effort greater if possible, and when he came
to a hedge he made no effort to leap, but crashed through it as best he
could and broke or clambered or tumbled a path for himself.

Now Ottam’s Wood was very near, and reeling and staggering like a man
wounded to the death but driven by inexorable fate, he plunged on still,
and there was a little froth gathering at the corners of his mouth and
from one of his nostrils came a thin trickle of blood.

Yet still he held on, though in truth he hardly knew any longer why he
ran or what his need for haste, and as he came to the wood round a spur
where a cluster of young beeches grew, he saw a tall, upright, elderly
man walking there, well-dressed and of a neat, soldier-like appearance.

“Hallo--there you are--father--” he gasped and fell down, prone
unconscious.



CHAPTER XXVII. FLIGHT AND PURSUIT


When he came to himself he was lying on his back, and bending over him
was his father’s familiar face, wearing an expression of great surprise
and wonder, and still greater annoyance.

“What is the matter?” General Dunsmore asked as soon as he saw that his
son’s senses were returning to him. “Have you all gone mad together? You
send me a mysterious note to meet you here at three, you turn up racing
and running like an escaped lunatic, and with a disgusting growth of
hair all over your face, so that I didn’t know you till you spoke, and
then there’s Walter dodging about in the wood here like a poacher hiding
from the keepers. Are you both quite mad, Rupert?”

“Walter,” Rupert repeated, lifting himself on one hand, “Walter--have
you seen him?”

“Over there,” said the general, nodding towards the right. “He was
dodging and creeping about for all the world like some poaching rascal.
I waved, but he didn’t see me, and when I tried to overtake him I lost
sight of him somehow in the trees, and found I had come right out of my
way for Brook Bourne Spring.”

“Thank God for that,” said Rupert fervently as a picture presented
itself to him of his unsuspecting father trying in that lonely wood to
find and overtake the man whose murderous purpose was aimed at his life.

“What do you mean?” snapped the general. “And why have you made such a
spectacle of yourself with all that beard? Why, I didn’t know you till
you spoke--there’s Walter there. What makes him look like that?”

For Walter had just come out of the wood about fifty yards to their
right, and when he saw them talking together he understood at once that
in some way or another all his plans had failed.

He was looking at them through a gap in some undergrowth that hid most
of his body, but showed his head and shoulders plainly, and as he stood
there watching them his face was like a fiend’s.

“Walter,” the general shouted, and to his son Rupert he said: “The boy’s
ill.”

Walter moved forward from among the trees. He had a gun in his hand, and
he flung it forward as though preparing to fire, and at the same moment
Rupert Dunsmore drew from his pocket the pistol Deede Dawson had given
him and fired himself.

But at the very moment that he pulled the trigger the general struck up
his arm so that the bullet flew high and harmless through the tops of
the trees.

Walter stepped back again into the wood, and Rupert said:

“You don’t know what you have done, father.”

“You are mad, mad,” the general gasped.

His face was very pale, and he trembled a little, for though he had
heard many bullets whistle by his ears, that had happened in action
against an enemy, and was altogether different from this. He put out his
hand in an attempt to take the pistol that Rupert easily evaded.

“Give it to me,” he said. “I saved his life; you might have killed him.”

“Yes, you saved him, father,” Rupert muttered, thinking to himself that
the saving of Walter’s life might well mean the loss of Ella’s, since
very likely the failure of their plots would be at once attributed by
the conspirators to her. “Father, I never wrote that letter you say you
had. Walter forged it to get you here, where he meant to kill us both.
That’s why he looked like that, that’s why he had his gun.”

General Dunsmore only stared blankly at him for a moment.

“Kill me? Kill you? What for?” he gasped.

“So that he might become Lord Chobham of Wreste Abbey instead of Lord
Chobham’s poor relation,” answered Rupert. “The poison attempt on uncle
which Walter discovered was first of all his own doing; it was through
him Charley Wright lost his life. He has committed at least one other
murder. Today he meant to kill both of us. Then he would have been heir
to the title and estates, and when uncle died he would have been Lord
Chobham.”

“Nonsense, absurd, impossible. You’re mad, quite mad,” the general
stammered. “Why, he would have been hanged at once.”

“Not if he could have fixed the blame elsewhere,” Rupert answered. “That
was to have been my part; it was carefully arranged to make it seem I
was responsible for it all. I haven’t time to explain now. I don’t think
he is coming back. I expect he is only loaded with small shot, and he
doesn’t dare try a long range shot or come near now he knows I’m ready
for him.”

“But it’s--it’s impossible--Walter,” stammered the general.
“Impossible.”

“The impossible so often happens,” answered Rupert, and handed his
pistol to him. “You must trust me, father, and do what I tell you. Take
this pistol in case you are attacked on the way home. You may be, but
I don’t think it’s likely. Get the motor out and go straight to Wreste
Abbey. An attempt on uncle’s life will be made tonight, if they still
carry out their plans, about dinner-time tonight. See that every
possible precaution is taken. See to that first. Then send help as soon
as you can to Bittermeads, a house on the outskirts of Ramsdon; any one
there will tell you where it is.”

“But what are you going to do?” General Dunsmore asked.

“I’m going to find Walter, if he’s still hiding in the wood here, as he
may be,” Rupert answered. “I should like a little chat with him.” For
a moment he nearly lost his self-control, and for a single moment there
showed those fiery and tempestuous passions he was keeping now in such
stern repression. “Yes a little talk with him, just us two,” he said.
“And if he’s cleared out, or I can’t find him I’m going straight on to
Bittermeads. There’s some one there who may be in danger, so the sooner
I am there the better.”

“But wait a moment,” the general cried. “Are you armed?”

“Yes, with my hands, I shall want no more when Walter and I meet again,”
 Rupert answered, and, without another word, plunged into the wood at the
spot where Walter had vanished.

At first the track of Walter’s flying footsteps was plain enough for he
had fled full speed, panic having overtaken him when he saw Rupert and
his father together and understood that in some way his deep conspiracy
had failed and his treachery become known.

For a little distance, therefore, he had crashed through bracken and
undergrowth, heedless of all but the one need that was upon him to flee
away and escape while there was yet time. But, after a while, his first
panic subsiding, he had gone more carefully, and, as the weather had
been very dry of late, when he came to open ground his footmarks were
scarcely visible.

In such spots Rupert could make but slow progress, and he was
handicapped, too, by the fact, that all the time he had to be on his
guard lest from some unsuspected quarter his enemy should come upon him
unawares.

For, indeed, this enterprise he had undertaken in the flood tide of
his passion and fierce anger was dangerous enough since he, quite
weaponless, was following up a very desperate armed man who would know
that for him there could be henceforth no question of mercy.

But there was that burning in Rupert’s heart that made him heedless of
all danger, and indeed, he who for mere love of sport and adventure, had
followed a wounded tiger into the jungle and tracked a buffalo through
thick reeds, was not likely to draw back now.

Once he thought he had succeeded, for he saw a bush move and he rushed
at once upon it. But when he reached it there was nothing there, and the
ground about was hard and bare, showing no marks to prove any one
had lately been near. And once he saw a movement in the midst of some
bracken and caught a glimpse of what seemed like Walter’s coat, so that
he was sure he had him at last, and he shouted and ran forward.

But again no one was there, though the bracken was all trampled and
beaten down. The tracks Walter had made in going were plain, too, but
Rupert lost them almost at once and could not find them again, and when
he came a little later to the further edge of the wood, he decided to
waste no more time, but to make his way direct to Bittermeads so as at
least to make sure of Ella’s safety.

He told himself that he had failed badly in woodcraft and, indeed, he
had been too fierce and hot in his pursuit to show his wonted skill.

The plan that had been in his mind from the moment when he left his
father was to take advantage of the fact that on this edge of the wood
was situated a farm belonging to Lord Chobham, where horses were bred
and where he was well known.

Some of these horses were sure to be out in the fields, and it would
be easy for him, wasting no time in explanation, to catch one of
them, mount bare-backed and ride through the New Plantation--the New
Plantation was a hundred years old, but still kept that name--over the
brow of the hill beyond, swim the canal in the valley, and so straight
across-country to Ramsdon.

Riding thus direct he would save time and distance, and arrive more
quickly than by going the necessary distance to secure a motor-car which
would have also to take a much more circuitous route.

He jumped the hedge, therefore, that lay at the wood’s edge and slid
down the steep bank into the sunken road beyond where he found himself
standing in front of Walter, who held in his hands a gun levelled
straight at Rupert’s heart.

“I could have shot you time after time in there you know,” he said
quietly. “From behind that bush and from out of the bracken, too. I
don’t know why I didn’t. I suppose it wasn’t worth while, now I shall
never be Lord Chobham.”

He flung down his gun as he spoke and sprang on a bicycle that he had
held leaning against his legs.

Quickly he sped away, leaving Rupert standing staring after him,
realizing that his life had hung upon the bending of Walter’s finger,
and that Walter, with at least two cold-blooded murders to his
account, or little more to hope for in this world or the next, had now
inexplicably spared him for whose destruction, of life and honour alike,
he had a little before been laying such elaborate, hellish plans.

With a gesture of his hands that proved he failed to understand, Rupert
ran on and crossed a field to where he saw some horses grazing.

One he knew immediately for one of his father’s mares, and he knew her
also for an animal of speed and endurance.

The mare knew him, too, and suffered him to mount her without
difficulty, and without a soul on the farm being aware of what was
happening and without having to waste any precious time on explanations
or declaring his identity, Rupert rode away, sitting the mare
bare-backed, through the New Plantation towards Bittermeads, where he
hoped, arriving unexpectedly, to be able to save Ella before the danger
he was sure threatened her came to a head.

Of one thing he was certain. Deede Dawson would never do what his
companion in villainy had just done, he would spare no one; fierce,
malignant and evil to the last, his one thought if he knew they had and
vengeance approached would be to do what harm he could before the end.



CHAPTER XXVIII. BACK AT BITTERMEADS


When, riding fast, Rupert Dunsmore came in sight of Bittermeads he
experienced a feeling of extreme relief. Though what he had feared he
did not quite know, for he did not see that any alarm could have reached
here yet or any hint come to Deede Dawson of the failure of all his
plotting.

Even if Walter had had the idea of returning to give his accomplice
warning, he could not have come by the road on his bicycle as quickly
as Rupert had ridden across country. And that Walter would spend either
time or thought on Deede Dawson did not appear in any way probable.

To Rupert, therefore, it seemed certain that Deede Dawson could know
nothing as yet. But all the same it was an immense relief to see the
house again and to know that in a few moments he would be there.

He tied up the mare to a convenient tree, and with eyes that were quick
and alert and every nerve and muscle ready for all emergencies, he drew
near the house.

All was still and quiet, no smoke came from the chimneys, there was no
sign of life or movement anywhere. For a moment he hesitated and then
made his way round to the back, hoping to find Mrs. Barker there and
perhaps obtain from her information as to the whereabouts of Deede
Dawson and of Ella and her mother.

For it seemed to him it would be his best plan to get the two women
quietly out of the way if he could possibly do so before making any
attempt to deal with Deede Dawson or letting him know of his return.

For the mere fact that he was back again so soon would show at once that
something had gone seriously wrong, and once Deede Dawson knew that, he
would be, Rupert well realized, in a very desperate and reckless mood
and ripe for committing any mischief that he could.

Cautiously Rupert opened the back door and found himself in the
stone-paved passage that ran between the kitchen and the scullery and
pantry. Everything seemed very quiet and still, and there was no sign of
Mrs. Barker nor any appearance that she had been that morning busy about
her usual tasks. The kitchen fire was not lighted, a pile of unwashed
crockery stood on the table, there had apparently been no attempt to
prepare any meals.

Frowning uneasily, for all this did not seem to him of good omen, Rupert
went quickly on to the living rooms.

They were unoccupied and did not seem to have been much used that day;
and in the small breakfast-room Deede Dawson had been accustomed
to consider his special apartment, his favourite little travelling
chessboard stood on the table with pieces in position on it.

There was a letter, too, he had begun but not finished, to the editor
of a chess-column in some paper, apparently to the effect that a certain
problem “cooked,” and that by such and such a move “the mate for the
first player that appeared certain was unexpectedly and instantly
transferred in this dramatic manner into a mate for his opponent.”

The words seemed somehow oddly appropriate to Rupert, and he smiled
grimly as he read them and then all at once his expression changed and
his whole attitude became one of intense watchfulness and readiness.

For his quick eye had noted that the ink on the nib of the pen that this
letter had been written with, was not yet dry.

Then Deede Dawson must have been here a moment or two ago and must have
gone in a hurry. That could only mean he was aware of Rupert’s return
and was warned and suspicious. It is perhaps characteristic of Rupert’s
passionate and eager temperament that only now did it occur to him
that he was quite unarmed and that without a weapon of any kind he was
matching himself against as reckless and as formidable a criminal as had
ever lived.

For want of anything better he picked up the heavy glass inkpot standing
on the table, emptied the contents in a puddle on the floor, and held
the inkpot itself ready in his hand.

He listened intently, but heard no sound--no sound at all in the whole
house, and this increased his apprehensions, for he knew well that Deede
Dawson was a man always the most dangerous when most silent.

It was possible of course that he had fled, but not likely. He would not
go, Rupert thought, till he had made his preparations and not without
a last effort to take revenge on those who had defeated him and in this
dramatic way turned the mate he had expected to secure into a win for
his opponent.

Still Rupert listened intently, straining his ears to catch the least
sound to hint to him where his enemy was, for he knew that if he failed
to discover him his first intimation of his proximity might well come in
the shape of the white-hot sting of a bullet, rending flesh and bone.

Then, too, where was Ella, and where was her mother?

There was something inexpressibly sinister in the utter quietness of the
house, a quietness not at all of peace and rest but of a brooding, angry
threat.

Still he could hear nothing, and he left the room, very quickly and
noiselessly, and he made sure there was no one anywhere in any of these
rooms on the ground floor.

He locked the front door and the back to make sure no one should enter
or leave too easily, and returned on tiptoe, moving to and fro like
a shadow cast by a changing light, so swift and noiseless were his
movements.

For a little he remained crouching against the side of the stairway,
listening for any sound that might float down to him from above.

But none came--and on a sudden, in one movement, as it were, he ran up
the stairs and crouched down on the topmost one so that any bullet aimed
at him as he appeared might perhaps fly overhead.

But none was fired; there was still no sound at all, no sign that the
house held any living creature beside himself. He began to think
that Deede Dawson must have sent the two women away and now have gone
himself.

But there was the pen downstairs with ink still wet upon the nib to
prove that he had been here recently, and again very suddenly Rupert
leaped to his feet and ran noiselessly down the corridor and entered
quickly into Ella’s room.

He had not been in it since the night of his arrival at Bittermeads, but
it appeared to him extraordinarily familiar and every little object in
it of ornament or use seemed to speak to him softly of Ella’s gracious
presence.

Of Ella herself there was no sign, but he noticed that the tassel at the
end of the window blind cord was moving as if recently disturbed.

The movement was very slight, almost imperceptible, indeed, but it
existed; and it proved that some one must very shortly before have been
standing at the window. He moved to it and looked out.

The view commanded the road by which he had approached Bittermeads, and
he wondered if Ella had been standing there and had seen his approach,
and then had concealed herself for some reason.

But, if so, why and where was she hiding? And where was Deede Dawson?
And why was everything so silent and so still?

He turned from the window, and as he did so he caught a faint sound in
the passage without.

Instantly he crouched behind the bed, the heavy glass inkpot that was
his one weapon poised in his hand.

The sound did not come again, but as he waited, he saw the door begin to
open very slowly, very quietly.

Lower still he crouched, the inkpot ready to throw, every nerve taut and
tense for the leap at his foe’s throat with which he meant to follow it
up. The door opened a little more, very slowly, very carefully. It was
wide enough now to admit of entry, and through the opening there sidled,
pale and red-eyed, Ella’s mother, looking so frail and feeble and so
ruffled and disturbed she reminded Rupert irresistibly of a frightened
hen.

She edged her way in as though she dared not open the door too widely,
and Rupert hesitated in great perplexity and vexation, for he saw that
he must show himself, and he feared that she would announce his presence
by flight or screams.

But he could not possibly get away without her knowledge; and besides,
she might be able to give him useful information.

He stood up quickly, with his finger to his lips. “Hush!” he said. “Not
a sound--not a sound.” The warning seemed unnecessary, for Mrs. Dawson
appeared too paralysed with fear to utter even the faintest cry as she
dropped tremblingly on the nearest chair.

“Hush! Hush!” he said. “Where is Ella?”

“I--I don’t know,” quavered Mrs. Dawson.

“When did you see her last?”

“A little while ago,” Mrs. Dawson faltered. “She went upstairs. She
didn’t come down, so I thought I would try to find her.”

“Where’s Deede Dawson?” Rupert asked.

“I--I don’t know,” she quavered again.

“When did you see him last?”

“I--I--a little while ago,” she faltered. “He went upstairs--he didn’t
come down again. I thought I would try to find her--him--I was so
frightened when they didn’t either of them come down again.”

It was evident she was far too confused and upset to give any useful
information of any nature, even if she knew anything.

“Deede’s been so strange,” she said. “And Ella too. I think it’s
very hard on me--dreams, too. He said he wanted her to help him get a
packing-case ready he had to send away somewhere. I don’t know where. I
don’t think Ella wanted to--”

“A packing-case?” Rupert muttered. “What for?”

“It’s what they came upstairs to do,” Mrs. Dawson said. “And--and--”
 She began to cry feebly. “It’s my nerves,” she said. “He’s looked so
strange at us all day--and neither of them has come down again.”



CHAPTER XXIX. THE ATTIC


It was evident that more had occurred to make Mrs. Dawson afraid that
she would, or perhaps could, say.

“Wait here,” Rupert said to her. “Don’t stir.” The command seemed
superfluous, for she had not at that moment the appearance of still
possessing the power to move. Without speaking again, Rupert left the
room and went quickly to the foot of the narrow stairs that led to the
attics above.

He listened, crouching there, and heard nothing, and a cold fear came to
him that perhaps Deede Dawson had done up above what he wished to do and
then effected his escape while he himself had been lingering in Ella’s
room.

Adopting his plan of a rapid rush to disconcert the aim of any one who
might be about to fire at him, he made a swift dash up the stairs and on
the topmost one crouched down again and waited.

But still nothing happened, all was very quiet, and the door of one
attic, the one which had been assigned to him as a bed-chamber, was wide
open so that he could see into it and see that it was unoccupied.

But the doors of both the others were closed, and as he looked he made
out in the gloom, for this landing by the attic was very badly-lighted
by a small and awkwardly-placed skylight, a scattered dozen or so of
hairpins, and a tortoiseshell comb such as he had seen sometimes in
Ella’s hair, lying on the floor near the door of the larger of the two
attics, the one in which he remembered well he had found Deede Dawson on
a certain night busy measuring and examining an empty packing-case.

With one quick rush he crossed the landing and flung himself at the
door.

It opened at once, for it was not locked, and within he saw Deede
Dawson, screw-driver in his hand, standing behind a large packing-case,
the lid of which he had apparently that minute finished fastening down.

He looked up as Rupert entered thus precipitately, and he showed no sign
of surprise or alarm.

“You’re back early,” he said. “Something gone wrong?”

“What are you doing? What’s in there?” Rupert asked, looking at the
packing-case, his mouth and lips so suddenly dry he found it difficult
to speak at all.

Deede Dawson began to laugh, a low and dreadful laughter that had in it
no trace of merriment at all, but only of mockery and malice.

It was such laughter as a devil from the nethermost pit might give vent
to when he saw at last a good man yield to long temptation.

“What’s in there?” Rupert said again, pointing to the packing-case, and
it was as though his soul swooned within him for fear of what the answer
might be.

“What do the children say?” Deede Dawson returned with his terrible
smile. “I’ll give you three guesses, isn’t it? See if you can guess in
three tries.”

“What’s in there?” Rupert asked the third time, and Deede Dawson laid
down the screw-driver with which he had just driven home the last screw.

“Oh, see for yourself, if you want to,” he said. “But you ought to know.
You know what was in the other case I sent away from here, the one I got
Ella to take in the car for me? I want you to take this one away now,
the sooner it’s away the better.”

“That’s it, is it?” Rupert muttered.

He no longer doubted, and for a moment all things swam together before
him and he felt dizzy and a little sick, and so weak he staggered and
nearly fell, but recovered himself in time.

The sensation passed and he saw Deede Dawson as it were a long way off,
and between them the packing-case, huge, monstrous, and evil, like a
thing of dread from some other world. Violent shudderings swept though
him one after the other, and he was aware that Deede Dawson was speaking
again.

“What did you say?” he asked vacantly, when the other paused.

“You look ill,” Deede Dawson answered. “Anything wrong? Why have you
come back so soon? Have you failed?”

Rupert passed his hand before his eyes to clear away the mist that hung
there and that hampered his sight.

He perceived that Deede Dawson held his right hand in the pocket of his
coat, grasping something that bulged out curiously.

He divined that it was a pistol, and that Deede Dawson was ready to
shoot at any moment, but that he wished very greatly to know first of
all what had happened and why Rupert had returned so soon and whether
there was immediate necessity for flight or not.

That he was uneasy was certain, for his cold eyes showed a hesitation
and a doubt such as Rupert had never seen in them before.

“I’ll tell you what’s happened,” Rupert heard himself saying hoarsely.
“If you’ll tell me what’s in there.”

“A bargain, eh?” Deede Dawson said. “It’s easy enough. You can look for
yourself if you unscrew the lid, but then, after all, why should we take
all that trouble?”

As he spoke his pistol showed in his hand, and at once the heavy glass
inkpot Rupert had held all this time flew straight and true, and with
tremendous force, at Deede Dawson’s head.

He avoided it only by the extreme rapidity with which he dropped behind
the packing-case, and it flew over his head and crashed against the
centre panel of a big wardrobe that stood in one corner of the room,
splitting the panel it struck from top to bottom.

Following it, Rupert hurled himself forward with one great spring, but
agile as a cat that leaps away from the mastiff’s teeth, Deede Dawson
slipped from his grasp to the other side of the room. In doing so he
knocked his arm against the corner of the packing-case, so that his
revolver fell to the ground.

With a shout Rupert stooped and seized it, and straightened himself
to see that Deede Dawson had already another revolver in his hand--a
second one that he had drawn from an inner pocket.

They remained very still, watching each other intently, neither eager
to fire, since both wished first to make the other speak. For Rupert
desired very greatly that Deede Dawson should tell him where Ella was,
and Deede Dawson needed that Rupert should explain what had gone wrong,
and how imminent and great was the danger that therefore most likely
threatened him.

Each knew, too, that the slightest movement he made would set the other
shooting, and each realized that in that close and narrow space any
exchange of shots must almost of necessity mean the death of both, since
both were cool and deadly marksmen, well accustomed to the use of the
revolver.

Deede Dawson was the first to speak.

“Well, what next?” he said. “If that inkpot of yours had hit me it would
pretty well have knocked my brains out, and if I hadn’t hit my elbow
against the corner of the packing-case I would have had you shot through
with holes like a sieve by now. So far the score’s even. Let’s chat a
bit, and see if we can’t come to some arrangement. Look, I’ll show I
trust you.”

As he spoke he laid down, much to Rupert’s surprise, and to his equal
suspicion, his revolver on the top of a moth-eaten roll of old carpet
that leaned against the wall near where he was standing.

“You see, I trust you,” he said once more.

“Take your pistol up again,” answered Rupert grimly. “I do not trust
you.”

“Ah, that’s a pity.” Deede Dawson smiled, making no effort to do as the
other said. “You see, we are both good shots, and if we start blazing
away at each other up here we shall both be leaking pretty badly before
long. That’s a prospect that has no attraction for me; I don’t know
if it has for you. But there are things I can tell you that might be
interesting, and things you can tell me I want to know. Why not exchange
a little information, and then separate calmly, rather than indulge in
pistol practice that can only mean the death of us both? For if your
first bullet goes through my brain I swear my first will be in your
heart.”

“Likely enough,” agreed Rupert, “but worth while perhaps.”

“Oh, that’s fanaticism,” Deede Dawson answered. “Flattering perhaps to
me, but not quite reasonable, eh?”

“There’s only one thing I want to know from you,” Rupert said slowly.

“Then why not ask it, why not agree to the little arrangement I suggest,
eh? Eh, Rupert Dunsmore?”

“You know me, then?”

“Oh, long enough.”

“Where is Ella?”

Deede Dawson laughed again.

“That’s a thing I know and you don’t,” he said. “Well, she’s safe away
in London by this time.”

“That’s a lie, for her mother’s here still,” answered Rupert, even
though his heart leapt merely to hear the words.

“Unbelieving Thomas,” smiled the other. “Well, then, she is where
she is, and that you can find out for yourself. But I’ll make another
suggestion. We are both good shots, and if we start to fire we shall
kill each other. I am certain of killing you, but I shan’t escape
myself. Well, then, why not toss for it? Equal chances for both, and
certain safety for one. Will you toss me, the one who loses to give up
his pistol to the other?”

“It seems to me a good idea,” Deede Dawson argued. “Here we are watching
each other like cats, and knowing that the least movement of either will
start the other off, and both of us pulling trigger as hard as we can.
My idea would mean a chance for one. Well, let’s try another way; the
best shot to win. You don’t trust me, but I will you.”

Leaving his pistol lying where he had put it down, he crossed the attic,
and with a pencil he took from his pocket drew a circle on the panel of
the wardrobe door that Rupert had split with the inkpot he had thrown.

In the centre of the circle he marked a dot, and turned smilingly to the
frowning and suspicious Rupert.

“There you are,” he said, and made another circle near the first one.
“Now you put a bullet into the middle of this circle and I’ll put one
afterwards through the second circle, and the one who is nearest to the
dots I’ve marked, wins. What have you to say to that? Seems to me better
than our killing each other. Isn’t it?”

“I think you’re playing the fool for some reason of your own,” answered
Rupert. “There’s only one thing I want to know from you. Where is Ella?”

“Let me know how you can shoot,” answered Deede Dawson, “and I’ll tell
you, by all that’s holy, I will.”

Rupert hesitated. He did not understand all this, he could not imagine
what motive was in Deede Dawson’s mind, though it was certainly true
enough that once they began shooting at each other neither man was at
all likely to survive, for Rupert knew he would not miss and he did not
think Deede Dawson would either.

Above all, there was the one thing he wished to know, the one
consideration that weighed with him above all others--what had become of
Ella? And this time there had been in Deede Dawson’s voice an accent
of twisted and malign sincerity that seemed to say he really would be
willing to tell the truth about her if Rupert would gratify his whim
about this sort of shooting-match that he was suggesting.

The purpose of it Rupert could not understand, but it did not seem to
him there would be any risk of harm in agreeing, for Deede Dawson
was standing so far away from his own weapon he could not well be
contemplating any immediate mischief or treachery.

It did occur to him that the pistol he held might be loaded in one
chamber only and that Deede Dawson might be scheming to induce him to
throw away his solitary cartridge.

But a glance reassured him on that point.

“Let me see how you can shoot,” Deede Dawson repeated, leaning
carelessly with folded arms against the wall a little distance away.
“And I promise you I’ll tell you where Ella is.”

Rupert lifted his pistol and was indeed on the very point of firing when
he caught a glimpse of such evil triumph and delight in Deede Dawson’s
cold eyes that he hesitated and lowered the weapon, and at the same
time, looking more closely, searching more intently for some indication
of Deede Dawson’s hidden purpose, he noticed, caught in the crack of the
wardrobe door, a tiny shred of some blue material only just visible.

He remembered that sometimes of an afternoon Ella had been accustomed
to wear a frock made of a material exactly like that of which so tiny a
fragment showed now in the crack of the wardrobe door.



CHAPTER XXX. SOME EXPLANATIONS


He turned quickly towards Deede Dawson. Their eyes met, and in that
mutual glance Rupert Dunsmore read that his suspicions were correct and
Deede Dawson that his dreadful trap was discovered.

Neither spoke. For a brief moment they remained impassive, immobile,
their eyes meeting like blows, and then Deede Dawson made one spring to
seize again the revolver he had laid down in the hope of enticing Rupert
into the awful snare prepared for him.

But quick as he was, Rupert was quicker still, and as Deede Dawson
leaped he lifted his pistol and fired, though his aim was not at the
man, but at the revolver lying on the top of the roll of carpet where
Deede Dawson had placed it.

The bullet, for Rupert was a man who seldom missed, struck the weapon
fair and whirled it, shattered and useless, to the floor. Deede Dawson,
whose hand had been already outstretched to seize it, drew back with
a snarl that was more like the cry of a trapped wolf than any sound
produced from human lips.

Still, Rupert did not speak. With the smoking pistol in his hand he
watched silently and steadily his helpless enemy who, for his part, was
silent, too, and very still, for he felt that doom was close upon him.

Yet he showed not the least sign of fear, but only a fierce and sullen
defiance.

“Shoot away, why don’t you shoot?” he sneered. “Mind you don’t miss. I
trusted you when I put my revolver down and I was a fool, but I thought
you would play fair.”

Without a word Rupert tossed his pistol through the attic window.

They heard the tinkling fall of the glass, they heard more faintly the
sound of the revolver striking the outhouse roof twenty feet below and
rebounding thence to the paved kitchen yard beneath, and then all was
quiet again.

“I only need my hands for you,” said Rupert softly, as softly as a
mother coos to her drowsy babe. “My hands for you.”

For the first time Deede Dawson seemed to fear, for, indeed, there was
that in Rupert Dunsmore’s eyes to rouse fear in any man. With a sudden
swift spring, Rupert leaped forward and Deede Dawson, not daring to
abide that onslaught, turned and ran, screaming shrilly.

During the space of one brief moment, a dreadful and appalling moment,
there was a wild strange hunting up and down the narrow space of that
upper attic, cumbered with lumber and old, disused furniture.

Round and round Deede Dawson fled, screaming still in a high shrill way,
like some wild thing in pain, and hard upon him followed Rupert, nor had
they gone a second time about that room before Rupert had Deede Dawson
in a fast embrace, his arms about the other’s middle.

One last great cry Deede Dawson gave when Rupert seized him, and then
was silent as Rupert lifted him and swung him high at arm’s length.

As a child in play sports with its doll, so Rupert swung Deede Dawson
twice about his head, round and round and then loosed him so that he
went hurling through the air with awful force, like a stone shot from a
catapult, clean through the window through which Rupert had the moment
before tossed his pistol with but little more apparent effort.

Right through the window, bearing panes and sash with him, Deede Dawson
flew with the impetus of that great throw and out beyond and down,
turning over and over the while, down through the empty air to fall and
be shattered like a piece of worthless crockery on the stone threshold
of the outhouse door.

Surprised to find himself alone, Rupert put his hand to his forehead and
looked vacantly around.

“My God, what have I done?” he thought.

He was trembling violently, and the fury of the passion that had
possessed him and had given his mighty muscles a force more than human,
was still upon him.

Going to the window, he looked out, for he did not quite know what had
happened and from it he looked back at the wardrobe door.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes.”

He ran to it and tore open the door and from within very tenderly and
gently he lifted down the half-swooning Ella who, securely gagged and
tightly bound, had been thrust into its interior to conceal her from
him.

Hurriedly he freed her from her bonds and from the handkerchief that was
tied over her mouth and holding her in his arms like a child, pressing
her close to his heart, he carried her lightly out of that dreadful
room.

Only once did she stir, only once did she speak, when lifting her pale,
strained face to him she murmured very faintly something in which he
just caught the words:

“Deede Dawson.”

“He’ll trouble us no more nor any one else, I think,” answered Rupert,
and she said no more but snuggled down in his arms as though with a
feeling of perfect security and safety.

He took her to her own room and left her with her mother, and then went
down to the hall and took a chair and sat at the front door.

All at once he felt very tired and one of his shoulders hurt him, for he
had strained a muscle there rather badly.

His one desire was to rest, and he did not even trouble to go round to
the back of the house to see what had happened to Deede Dawson, though
indeed that was not a point on which he entertained much doubt.

For a long time he sat there quietly, till at last his father arrived in
a motor-car from Wreste Abbey, together with a police-inspector from the
county town whom he had picked up on the way.

Rupert took them into the room where Deede Dawson’s chessmen and the
board were still standing and told them as briefly as he could what had
happened since the first day when he had left his home to try to trace
out and defeat the plot hatched by Walter Dunsmore and Deede Dawson.

“You people wouldn’t act,” he said to the inspector. “You said there
was no evidence, no proof, and I daresay you were right enough from the
legal point of view. But it was plain enough to me that there was
some sort of conspiracy against my uncle’s life, I thought against my
father’s as well, but I was not sure of that at first. It was through
poor Charley Wright I became so certain. He found out things and told me
about them; but for him the first attempt to poison my uncle would have
succeeded. Even then we had still no evidence to prove the reality of
our suspicions, for Walter destroyed it, by accident, I thought at the
time, purposely, as I know now. It was something Walter said that gave
Charley the idea of coming here. Then he vanished. He must have roused
their suspicions somehow, and they killed him. But again Walter put us
all off the scent by his story of having seen Charley in London, so that
it was there the search for him was made, and no one ever thought of
Bittermeads. I never suspected Walter, such an idea never entered my
head; but luckily I didn’t tell him of my idea of coming to Bittermeads
myself to try to find out what was really going on here. He knew nothing
of where I was till I told him that day at Wreste Abbey, then of course
he came over here at once. I thought it was anxiety for my safety, but I
expect really it was to warn his friends. When I saw him here that night
I told him every single thing, I trusted the carrying-out of everything
I had arranged to him. If it hadn’t been for a note Miss Cayley wrote
me to warn me, I should have walked right into the trap and so would my
father too.”

The police-inspector asked a few questions and then made a search of the
room which resulted in the discovery of quite sufficient proof of the
guilt of Deede Dawson and of Walter Dunsmore.

Among these proofs was also a hastily-scribbled note from Walter that
solved the mystery of John Clive’s death. It was not signed, but both
General Dunsmore and Rupert knew his writing and were prepared to swear
to it. Beginning abruptly and scribbled on a torn scrap of paper, it
ran:

“I found Clive where you said, lucky you got hold of the note and read
it before she sent it, for no doubt she meant to warn him. Take care she
gets no chance of the sort again. I did Clive’s business all right.
She saw me and I think recognized me from that time she saw me over the
packing-case business, before I took it out to sink it at sea. At any
rate, she ran off in a great hurry. If you aren’t careful, she’ll make
trouble yet.”

“Apparently,” remarked the inspector when he had read this aloud, “the
young lady was very luckily not watched closely enough and did make
trouble for them. Could I see her, do you think?”

“I don’t know, I’ll go and ask,” Rupert said.

Ella was still very shaken, but she consented to see the inspector, and
they all went together to her room where she was lying on her bed with
her mother fussing nervously about her.

She told them in as few words as possible the story of how she had
always disliked and mistrusted the man whom so unfortunately her mother
had married, and how gradually her suspicions strengthened till she
became certain that he was involved in many unlawful deeds.

But always her inner certainty had fallen short of absolute proof, so
careful had he been in all he did.

“I knew I knew,” she said. “But there was nothing I really knew. And
he made me do all sorts of things for him. I wouldn’t have cared for
myself, but if I tried to refuse he made mother suffer. She was very,
very frightened of him, but she would never leave him. She didn’t dare.
There was one night he made me go very late with a packing-case full of
silver things he had, and he wouldn’t tell me where he had got them. I
believe he stole them all, but I helped him pack them, and I took them
away the night Mr. Dunsmore came and gave them to a man wearing a mask.
My stepfather said it was just a secret family matter he was helping
some friends in, and later on I saw the same man in the woods near here
one day--the day Mr. Clive was killed by the poachers--and when he
came another time to the house I thought I must try to find out what he
wanted. I listened while they talked and they said such strange things
I made up my mind to try to warn Mr. Dunsmore, for I was sure there was
something they were plotting.”

“There was indeed,” said Rupert grimly. “And but for that warning you
sent me they would have succeeded.”

“Somehow they found out what I had done,” Ella continued. “As soon as
I got back he kept looking at me so strangely. I was afraid--I had been
afraid a long time, for that matter--but I tried not to show it. In the
afternoon he told me to go up to the attic. He said he wanted me to help
him pack some silver. It was the same silver I had packed before; for
some reason he had got it back again. This time I had to pack it in the
little boxes, and after I had finished I waited up there till suddenly
he ran in very quickly and looking very excited. He said I had betrayed
them, and should suffer for it, and he took some rope and he tied me as
tightly as he could, and tied a great handkerchief over my mouth, and
pushed me inside the wardrobe and locked it. I think he would have
killed me then only he was afraid of Mr. Dunsmore, and very anxious to
know what had happened, and why Mr. Dunsmore had come home, and if there
was any danger. And I was a long time there, and I heard a great noise,
and then Mr. Dunsmore opened the door and took me out.”



CHAPTER XXXI. CONCLUSION


Three months had passed, and in a quiet little cottage on the outskirts
of a small country town, situated in one of the most beautiful and
peaceful vales of the south-west country, Ella was slowly recovering
from the shock of the dreadful experiences through which she had passed.

She had been ill for some weeks, but her mother, fussily incompetent
at most times, was always at her best when sickness came, and she had
nursed her daughter devotedly and successfully.

As soon as possible they had come to this quiet little place where
people, busy with their own affairs and the important progress of the
town, had scarcely heard of what the newspapers of the day called “The
Great Chobham Sensation.”

But, in fact, very much to Rupert’s relief, comparatively little had
been made known publicly, and the whole affair had attracted wonderfully
little attention.

The one public proceeding had been the inquest of Deede Dawson, and that
the coroner, at the request of the police eagerly searching for Walter
Dunsmore, had made as brief and formal as possible. Under his direction
the jury had returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide,” and Ella’s
illness had had at least one good result of making it impossible for her
to attend to give her evidence in person.

At a trial, of course, everything would have had to be told in full,
but both Allen, Deede Dawson’s accomplice, and Walter Dunsmore, his
instigator and employer, had vanished utterly.

For Walter the search was very hot, but so far entirely without result.
Now could Allen be found. He was identified with a fair degree of
certainty as an old criminal well known to the authorities, and it was
thought almost certain that he had had previous dealings with Deede
Dawson, and knew enough about him to be able to force himself into
Bittermeads.

Of the actual plot in operation there he most likely knew little or
nothing, but probably Deede Dawson thought he might be useful, and
the store of silver found in the attic that Ella had been employed in
packing ready for removal was identified as part of the plunder from a
recent burglary in a northern town.

It was thought, therefore, that both Allen and Deede Dawson might have
been concerned in that affair, that Deede Dawson had managed to secure
the greater share of the booty, and that Allen, on the night when Rupert
found him breaking into Bittermeads, was endeavouring to get hold of the
silver for himself.

But the actual facts are not likely now ever to be known, for from that
day to this nothing has been heard of Allen. His old haunts know him
no more, and to his record, carefully preserved at Scotland Yard, there
have been no recent additions.

One theory is that Deede Dawson, finding him troublesome, took effectual
steps to dispose of him. Another is that Deede Dawson got him away by
either bribes or threats, and that, not knowing of Deede Dawson’s death,
he does not venture to return.

In any case, he was a commonplace criminal, and his fate is of little
interest to any one but himself.

It was Walter for whom the police hunted with diligence and effort, but
with a total lack of success, so that they began to think at the end of
three months that he must somehow have succeeded in making his way out
of the country.

During the first portion of this time Rupert had been very busy with a
great many things that needed his attention. And then Lord Chobham, his
health affected by the crimes and treachery of a kinsman whom he had
known and trusted as he had known and trusted Walter, was attacked by
acute bronchitis which affected his heart and carried him off within the
week. The title and estates passed, therefore, to General Dunsmore, and
Rupert became the Honourable Rupert Dunsmore and the direct heir. All
this meant for him a great deal more to see to and arrange, for the
health of the new Lord Chobham had also been affected and he left
practically everything in his son’s hands, so that, except for the
letters which came regularly but had been often written in great haste,
Ella knew and heard little of Rupert.

But today he was to come, for everything was finally in order, and,
though this she did not know till later, Walter Dunsmore had at last
been discovered, dead from poison self-administered, in a wretched
lodging in an East End slum. Rupert had been called to identify the body
and he had been able to arrange it so that very little was said at
the inquest, where the customary verdict of “Suicide during temporary
insanity” was duly returned by a quite uninterested jury.

That the last had been heard of the tragedy that had so nearly
overwhelmed his life, Rupert was able now to feel fairly well assured,
and it was therefore in a mood more cheerful than he had known of late
that he started on his journey to Ella’s new residence.

He had sent a wire to confirm his letter, and it was in a mood that
was more than a little nervous that she busied herself with her
preparations.

She chose her very simplest gown, and when there was absolutely nothing
more to do she went into their little sitting-room to wait alone by the
fire she had built up there, for it was winter now and today was cold
and inclined to be stormy.

Rupert had not said exactly when she was to expect him, and she sat for
a long time by the fire, starting at every sound and imagining at every
moment that she heard the front-door bell ring.

“I shall not let him feel himself bound,” she said to herself with great
decision. “I shall tell him I hope we shall always be friends but that’s
all; and if he wants anything more, I shall say No. But most likely
he won’t say a word about all that nonsense, it would be silly to take
seriously what he said--there.”

To Ella, now, Bittermeads was always “there,” and though she told
herself several times that probably Rupert had not the least idea of
repeating what he had said to her--there--and that most likely he was
coming today merely to make a friendly call, and that it would never do
for either of them to think again of what they had said when they were
both so excited and overwrought, yet in her heart she knew a great deal
better than all that.

But she said to herself very often:

“Anyhow, I shall certainly refuse him.”

And on this point her mind was irrevocably made up since, after all,
whether Rupert would accept refusal or not would still remain entirely
for him to decide.

At half-past three she heard the garden-gate creak, and when she ran to
the window to peep, she saw with a kind of chill surprise that there was
a stranger coming through.

“Some one he’s sent,” she said to herself. “He doesn’t want to come
himself and so he has sent some one else instead. I am glad.”

Having said this and repeated again the last three words, and having
gulped down a sob--presumably of joy--that unexpectedly fluttered into
her throat, she went quickly to open the door.

The newly-arrived stranger smiled at her as she showed herself but did
not speak. He was a man of middle height, quite young, and wrapped in
a big, loose overcoat that very completely hid his figure. His face,
clean-shaven, showed clear, strongly-marked well-shaped features with a
firm mouth round which at this moment played a very gentle and winning
smile, a square-cut chin, and extremely bright, clear kindly eyes that
were just now smiling too.

When he took off his hat she saw that his hair was cut rather closely,
and very neatly brushed and combed, and she found his smile so
compelling and so winning that in spite of her disappointment she found
herself returning it.

It occurred to her that she had some time or another seen some one like
this stranger, but when or where she could not imagine.

Still he did not speak, but his eyes were very tender and kind as they
rested on her so that she wondered a little.

“Yes?” she said inquiringly. “Yes?”

“Don’t you know me, Ella?” he said then, very softly, and in a voice
that she recognized instantly.

“Is it you--you?” she breathed.

Instinctively she lifted her hands to greet him, and at once she found
herself caught up and held, pressed passionately to his strongly-beating
heart.

                             *****

An hour later, by the fire in the sitting-room, Ella suddenly remembered
tea.

“Good gracious! You must be starving,” she cried, smitten with remorse.
“And there’s poor mother waiting upstairs all this time. Oh, Rupert, are
you very hungry?”

“Starving,” he asserted, but held her to him as closely as ever.

“I must get the tea,” she protested. She put one cheek against his and
sighed contentedly.

“It’s nice to see the real you,” she murmured. “But oh, Rupert, I do
miss your dear bristly beard.”





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Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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