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Title: The Yellow Face
Author: White, Fred M. (Fred Merrick)
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 Yellow Face" ***

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Transcriber's Notes:
   1. Page scan source: The Web Archive,
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    (The Library of Congress)

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].

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    book.



THE YELLOW FACE



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

The Crimson Blind
The Corner House
The Weight of the Crown



THE YELLOW FACE



BY
FRED M. WHITE

Author of
"_The Crimson Blind_," "_The Corner House_,"
"_The Midnight Guest," etc_.



R. F. FENNO & COMPANY
18 EAST SEVENTEENTH STREET, NEW YORK
------------------------------------
F. V. WHITE & CO.,            LONDON



Copyright, 1907
By R. F. Fenno & Company



"_The Yellow Face_"



CONTENTS


        I. Nostalgo.

       II. The Chopin Nocturne.

      III. The Mystery of the Strings.

       IV. The Speaking Likeness.

        V. A Vanished Clue.

       VI. Vanished!

      VII. No. 4, Montrose Place.

     VIII. The Chopin Fantasie.

       IX. The Man with the Fair Moustache.

        X. What Did She Know?

       XI. The Shadow on the Wall.

      XII. Locked In!

     XIII. The Parable.

      XIV. Nostalgo Again.

       XV. Lady Barmouth.

      XVI. The Bosom of Her Family.

     XVII. Which Man Was It?

    XVIII. The Empty Room.

      XIX. A Broken Melody.

       XX. The Mouse in the Trap.

      XXI. A Leader of Society.

     XXII. The Portrait.

    XXIII. Face to Face.

     XXIV. In the Square.

      XXV. On the Track.

     XXVI. Serena Again.

    XXVII. In the Smoking Room.

   XXVIII. The Lamp Goes Out.

     XXIX. The Silver Lamp.

      XXX. Bedroom 14.

     XXXI. A Chance Encounter.

    XXXII. Lady Barmouth's Jewels.

   XXXIII. Gems Or Paste?

    XXXIV. In the Vault.

     XXXV. The Cellini Plate.

    XXXVI. A Stroke Of Policy.

   XXXVII. A Pregnant Message.

  XXXVIII. The Cry in the Night.

    XXXIX. Preparing The Way.

       XL. The Magician Speaks.

      XLI. The Worm Turns.

     XLII. A Piece of Music.

    XLIII. The Trap is Baited.

     XLIV. The Substitute.

      XLV. Caught.

     XLVI. The Music Stops.

    XLVII. "A Woman Scorned."

   XLVIII. The Proof of the Camera.

     XLIX. Proof Positive.

        L. On the Brink.

       LI. Against the World.

      LII. The End of it All.



THE YELLOW FACE



THE YELLOW FACE



CHAPTER I.
NOSTALGO.


The flickering firelight fell upon the girl's pretty, thoughtful face;
her violet eyes looked like deep lakes in it. She stood with one small
foot tapping the polished brass rail of the fender. Claire Helmsley
was accounted fortunate by her friends, for she was pretty and rich,
and as popular as she was good-looking. The young man by her side, who
stood looking moodily into the heart of the ship-log fire, was also
popular and good-looking, but Jack Masefield was anything but rich. He
had all the brain and all the daring ambition that makes for success,
but he was poor and struggling yet, and the briefs that he dreamed of
at the Bar had not come.

But he was not thinking of the Bar now as he stood by Claire
Helmsley's side. They were both in evening dress, and obviously
waiting for dinner. Jack's arm was around Claire's slender waist, and
her head rested on his shoulder, so that by looking up she could just
see the shadow on his clean-cut face. Though the pressure of his arm
was strong and tender, he seemed as if he had forgotten all about the
presence of the girl.

"Why so silent?" the girl said. "What are you thinking about, Jack?"

"Well, I was thinking about you, dearest," Jack replied. "About you
and myself. Also of your guardian, Anstruther. I was wondering why he
asks me so often and leaves us so much together when he has not the
slightest intention of letting me marry you."

The girl colored slightly. The expression in her violet eyes was one
of pain.

"You have never asked my guardian," she said. "We have been engaged
now for over six months, Jack, and at your request I have kept the
thing a dead secret. Why should we keep the matter a secret? You are
certain to get on in your profession, and you would do no worse if the
world knew that you had a rich wife. My guardian is kindness itself.
He has never thwarted me in a single wish. He would not be likely to
try and cross my life's happiness."

Jack Masefield made no reply for a moment. It was perhaps a singular
prejudice on his part, but he did not like the brilliant and volatile
Dr. Spencer Anstruther, who was Claire's guardian. He would have found
it impossible to account for this feeling, but there it was.

"My guardian has plenty of money of his own," Claire said, as if
reading his thoughts.

"There you are mistaken," Jack replied. "This is a fine old house,
filled with beautiful old things. Anstruther goes everywhere; he is a
favorite in the best society. Men of letters say he is one of the
finest talkers in the world. But I happen to know that he has very
little money, for a lawyer told me so. That being so, the £2,000 a
year you pay him till you marry or come of age is decidedly a thing to
take care of. On the whole, dearest, we had better go on as we are."

Claire had a smile for her lover's prejudices. Personally she saw
nothing amiss with her guardian. She crossed over to the window, the
blinds of which had not yet been drawn, and looked out. She looked
across the old-fashioned garden in front of the house to the street
beyond, where a few passengers straggled along. On the far side of the
road stood an electric standard holding a flaring lamp aloft. The
house opposite was being refaced, so that it was masked in a high
scaffold.

As was the custom in London, the scaffolding had been let out to some
enterprising bill-posting company. It was a mass of gaudy sheets and
placards puffing a variety of different kinds of wares. In the centre,
bordered by a deep band of black, was one solitary yellow face with
dark hair and starting eyes. At the base was the single word
"Nostalgo."

An extraordinary vivid and striking piece of work for a poster. The
face was strong and yet evil, the eyes were full of a devilish
malignity, yet there was a kind of laugh in them too. Artists spoke
freely of the Nostalgo poster as a work of positive genius, yet nobody
could name the author of it. Nobody knew what it meant, what it
foreshadowed. For two months now the thing had been one of the
sensations of London. The cheap Press had built up legends round that
diabolically clever poster; the head had been dragged into a story.
The firm who posted Nostalgo professed to know nothing as to its inner
meaning. It had become a catchword; actors on the variety stage made
jokes about it. But still that devilish yellow face stared down at
London with the malignant smile in the starting eyes.

"Jack, they have put up a fresh 'Nostalgo' poster on the hoarding
opposite," Claire said. "I wish they hadn't. That face frightens me.
It reminds me of somebody."

"So it does me," Jack replied, with sudden boldness. "It reminds me of
your guardian."

Claire smiled at the suggestion. The guardian was a large, florid man,
well-groomed and exquisitely clean. And yet as Jack spoke the yellow
face opposite seemed to change, and in some way the illusion was
complete. It was only for an instant, and then the starting eyes and
the queer smile that London knew so well were back again.

"You make me shudder," Claire said in a half-frightened way. "I should
never have thought of that. But as you spoke the face seemed to
change. I could see my guardian dimly behind it. Jack, am I suddenly
growing nervous or fanciful? The thing is absurd."

"Not a bit of it," Jack said stoutly. "The likeness is _there_. It may
be a weird caricature, but I can see it quite plainly. Don't you
recall how Anstruther breaks out into yellow patches when he is
excited or angry? I tell you I hate that man. I may be nonsensical,
but----"

Jack paced up and down the room as if lost in thought. The light was
shining on the face on the hoarding--it seemed to look at him with
Spencer Anstruther's eyes.

"There is something wrong in this house," he said. "I feel it. You may
laugh at me, you may say that I am talking nonsense, but there it is.
The strange people who come here----"

"Sent by the police mainly. Don't forget that my guardian is one of
the greatest criminologists of our time. There is no man in London who
can trace the motive of a crime quicker than Mr. Anstruther. There was
that marvelous case of those missing children, for instance----"

"Oh, I know," Jack said, with some suggestion of impatience in his
voice. "And yet, if you don't mind, we will say nothing of our
engagement at present."

Claire contested the point no longer. After all she was very happy as
things stood. She had plenty of chances of meeting her lover, and Mr.
Anstruther seemed to be altogether too wrapped up in his scientific
studies to notice what was going on under his very eyes. He came into
the room at the same moment humming a fragment of some popular opera.

There was nothing whatever about the man to justify Jack Masefield's
opinions. Spencer Anstruther was calculated to attract attention
anywhere. The man was tall and well set up, he had a fine commanding
face softened by a tolerant and benign expression. People looked after
him as he walked down the street and wondered which popular statesman
he was. In society Anstruther was decidedly welcome, amongst men of
learning he was a familiar figure. His scientific knowledge was great,
certain publications of his were regarded in the light of text-books.
Altogether he was a man to cultivate.

"I am afraid that I am late, young people," he said in a smooth,
polished voice. "I hope you have been able to amuse yourselves
together in my absence. You look moody, Jack. Don't those briefs come
in as freely as you would like? Or have you been quarreling?"

"No, sir," Jack replied. "We never quarrel; we are too good friends
for that. We have not the excuse in that way that lovers are supposed
to possess."

"We have been studying that awful poster," Claire said. "I wish
somebody would take it away. Jack is always seeing some likeness in
it. He says that you----"

The girl paused in some confusion. Anstruther smiled as he put up his
glasses.

"It is a complex face," he said. "Whose features does it remind you of
just now, Jack?"

"Yours," Jack said boldly. He flashed the word out suddenly. Half to
himself he wondered why he always felt a wild desire to quarrel with
this man. "I hope you won't be offended, sir, but I can see a
grotesque likeness to you in the famous repellent Nostalgo."

Claire looked up in some alarm. She was wondering how her guardian
would take it. The log fire in the grate shot up suddenly and
illuminated Anstruther's face. Perhaps it was the quick flare that
played a trick on Claire's fancy, for it seemed to her that suddenly
Anstruther's face was convulsed with rage. The benign pink expression
had gone, the features were dark with passion, the fine speaking eyes
grew black with malignant hatred. Claire could see the hands of the
man clenched so hard that the knuckles stood out white as chalk. And
there with it all was the likeness to Nostalgo that Jack had so boldly
alluded to. The fire dropped and spurted again, and when it rose for
the second time the face of Spencer Anstruther was smooth and smiling.

Claire passed her handkerchief across her eyes to concentrate the
picture of fiendish passion that she had seen. Was it possible that
imagination had played some trick on her? And yet the picture was as
vivid as a landscape picked out and fixed upon the retina by a flash
of lightning on a dark night. The girl turned away and hid her white
face.

"I should like to meet the artist who drew that face," Anstruther
said, with a smile. "One thing I am quite certain of--it is not the
work of an Englishman. Well, it has found London something to talk
about, and the advertisement is a very clever one. I dare say before
long we shall discover that it is exploited in the interest of
somebody's soap."

"I am inclined to favor the view that Nostalgo is something novel in
the way of a thought-reader or a spiritualist," Jack said. "It seems
to me----"

The dining-room door was thrown open by a woman servant, who announced
that dinner was served. They passed across the hall into a large
dark-walled room, the solitary light of which was afforded by a pair
of handsome candelabra on the table. There were not many flowers, but
they were all blood red, with a background of shiny, metallic green.
The woman who waited passed from one plate to another without making
the slightest sign. As she came into the rays of the shaded candles
from time to time Jack glanced at her curiously. She was dressed in
sombre, lustreless black, with no white showing at all. There was no
cap on her head--nothing but a tangle of raven-black hair. Her brows
were black and hairy, her skin as dark, so that her faded eyes were in
striking contrast to her swarthy appearance. Her hands were very
strong and capable, the mouth firm to the verge of cruelty. And yet
there was something subdued, something beaten about the woman, as if
she had been taken in a wild state and tamed. Anstruther seldom
addressed an order to her in words; a motion of the hand, the raising
of an eyelid seemed to be sufficient for those pale, tired eyes, which
somehow never for one instant relaxed their vigilance.

The woman was a mystery of the house; she seemed to be entirely
dominated by her master's will. And yet there were strength and
passion there, Jack felt certain. The fanatic only slumbered. A pansy
fell from one of the flower vases, and Jack started out his hand to
replace it.

"Did you ever see the evil face in the heart of a pansy blossom?" he
asked, for there was a pause in the conversation. "It is a demon
face--and familiar too. Miss Helmsley, whose face does this saffron
heart of the pansy remind you of?"

Claire took the pansy from Jack's hand and studied it with a frown on
her pretty face.

"Why, of course." she cried. "I see what you mean. It is Nostalgo, the
man with the yellow face."



CHAPTER II.
THE CHOPIN NOCTURNE.


Claire gave the desired assurance, and rose from the table. She would
have Jack's coffee saved for him in the drawing-room, she said.
Anstruther lit a cigarette, and began to talk of crime. Crime and
criminals had a fine fascination for him. Scotland Yard offered
valuable inspiration for his new book on the criminal instinct, and in
return he had been in a position to give the officials yonder one or
two useful hints. The case he had on hand just now was a most
fascinating one, but, of course, his lips were sealed for the present.
Jack forgot his dislike in the fascination of the present.

"Stay here and finish your cigar," Anstruther said as he rose and
pitched his cigarette into the fire. "I'll go into my study and work
this thing out with the aid of my violin. I may be an hour or so, or I
may be longer. If I have finished before eleven o'clock I'll come up
with my fiddle, and we'll get Claire to play. If you require any more
claret you can ring the bell."

Jack sat there for a time smoking and thinking matters over.
Presently, from the study beyond, came the sound of music. Really,
Anstruther was a wonderful man--he seemed able to do anything. He was
not perhaps a great performer on the violin--his playing was a little
too mechanical, and seemed to lack soul--but the execution was
brilliant enough. Jack opened his cigarette case only to find that it
was empty. There was a fresh supply in the pocket of his overcoat,
which was hanging in the hall. He would be just in time for one more,
and then he would join Claire in the drawing-room. The hall light had
been turned low, so that, as Jack stood in the vestibule fumbling in
his coat pocket, he was not visible, though he could see what was
going on in the hall behind him.

There was a spot of light at the head of the staircase. Somebody was
standing there looking down into the hall--somebody in a rough jacket
buttoned to the throat and wearing a pair of rubber-soled shoes, for
the intruder made not the slightest noise. Jack wondered if some
impudent burglar was raiding the house at this hour. If so, he would
get a warm reception presently. Jack stood there as the figure came
down the stairs and turned along a corridor to the left of the
drawing-room. But there was no challenge and no fight, for the simple
reason that in the hall light, as the stranger passed, Jack recognized
the face of Spencer Anstruther. There was no doubt about it; there was
no possibility of a mistake here.

Inside the study the music once more began. Very gently Jack tried the
handle of the door, but it was locked. Under ordinary circumstances
this would have excited no suspicion; perhaps there was another way
into the room by way of the corridor. But if so that did not explain
why Anstruther was creeping about his own house in the semblance of a
burglar, and wearing rubber-soled shoes. There was something creepy
about the whole business. Jack returned to the vestibule again, and
from there he passed into the garden. The study was at the side of the
house, and a belt of shrubs outside afforded a pretty good cover.
There was the study under with the blinds down and a strong light
inside. Jack noted that it was a French window, a window frequently
used, because the stone step outside had been worn by the pressing of
many feet.

The smooth melody of Chopin was playing on inside. Jack stooped down
to where he could see the lace flowers on the blind, and looked into
the room. There was a little slit in the blind where the sun had worn
it, and by this slit the whole of the room could be seen. The music
had softened down to a _piano_ passage taken very slowly. But Jack was
not thinking of the music now at all, though the strains were soothing
and flowing enough.

He rubbed his eyes to make sure that they did not deceive him. No, the
room was plain enough, so was the sound of the music. And with it all
_the room was absolutely empty!_



CHAPTER III.
THE MYSTERY OF THE STRINGS.


It was the most extraordinary thing in the world. Beyond question the
room was absolutely empty. Jack could see to the far side; he noted
the pictures and the flowers and the vases on the mantelpiece. His
view was naturally narrowed by a small spyhole, but there was no
portion of the room hidden from him, though he could not quite see the
whole of it at one time.

The music was proceeding quite smoothly, though with pauses now and
again. It was followed now and then by what sounded like subdued
applause.

Jack stepped back from the window. He wanted to make certain that he
had not mistaken the room. No, the sounds of music came from the study
right enough. At the risk of being discovered he crept back into the
house again and tried the study door. It was locked, and what was
more, the key was in the lock, as the application of an eye testified.

And the music was proceeding quite swiftly again. The mystery was
absolutely maddening. Jack wondered if there was some cabinet in the
study hidden from view where the player had taken up his stand. At any
rate somebody was playing Chopin's music--playing it very well. There
was no magic about the thing.

The hall of the house was very quiet, nobody seemed to be about.
Occasionally there came the sound of mirth from the servants' hall,
but nothing more. Fully determined to get to the bottom of this
mystery, Jack returned to the garden again. Once more his eye was
glued to the slit in the blind. He could make nobody out in the room.
There was little fear of his being detected, because a belt of shrubs
hid the window from the road.

Without the slightest warning a figure appeared in the room. It was
impossible to see where she came from, but of necessity she must have
entered by the door. Jack was a little uncertain on that head, for his
glance was not directed towards the door for the moment.

He saw the figure of a woman, young and exceedingly well dressed. She
was wearing an evening gown of white satin that showed up the creamy
pallor of her skin, for her neck and shoulders were bare. The neck was
rather thin, Jack noted, and the shoulders more inclined to muscle
than beauty. For a young girl it struck Jack that the upper part of
her body looked old. But the face was dark and wholesome, and against
the deep eyes and swarthy complexion the girl's hair was dazzling. It
was beautiful, rippling hair, changing color as the light flashed upon
it.

"Well, this is a bit of an adventure," the watcher told himself. "But
where's the person in the room who let the young lady in? Somebody
must have let her in, because the door was locked and the key on the
inside. I saw it there, so I can swear to that fact. But who is she?"

There were many answers to the problem, for Spencer Anstruther was a
man who had countless strange visitors. His vast knowledge of crime
and the ramifications of human depravity brought him in contact with
large numbers of people. Men and women in distress often came to him,
and they came in increasing numbers since Anstruther had got the
better of a gang of scoundrels in a recent famous blackmailing case.
Sometimes these people came on their own initiative, sometimes they
were sent by the police. But Anstruther never said anything about
them. He looked upon himself as a confidential agent. Claire could
have told of many curious visitors at all hours, though Anstruther
never so much as alluded to them afterwards.

But this girl did not look in the least like anybody in trouble. Her
dark features were almost expressionless; there was no display of
violent emotions there. Her gaze slowly wandered round the room as if
looking for something; she had much the aspect of a pupil whose
attention is called to a blackboard by a master. As Jack watched, it
seemed to him that he had seen this girl before. He could not
recollect anybody in the least like her; that contrast of dark skin
and fair hair was striking enough to impress itself upon the most
careless mind, and yet Jack could not give the face a name. He could
not permit himself to believe that he had made a mistake. He knew
perfectly well that the expressionless features were quite familiar to
him.

The girl stood for some little time, as if waiting for her lesson.
Jack's eyes were glued so closely upon her that he did not notice the
coming of another person--a man this time. He was a young man, with
sleek, well-brushed brown hair, and dark, well-groomed moustache
turned up after the fashion affected by the German Emperor. The man
was perfectly well appointed, his evening dress and white waistcoat
were faultless. His face was strong, but it did not convey anything
intellectual. There were scores of such men to be seen any day during
the London season, all groomed the same, all apparently finished in
the same machine.

The man bowed and smiled to the lady, and she bowed and smiled in
return. It was rather a graceful bow; it seemed to Jack that she
looked at her companion to see if it were quite correct. Then the two
proceeded to talk in dumb show, partly by signs and partly by fingers.
The mystery was getting deeper--one of these two was a deaf mute,
perhaps both of them. Was this one of Anstruther's cases, or did it
possess a far deeper significance?

The solution was beyond Jack Masefield. He might have been on the
track of a mystery, and on the other hand he might merely be doing a
little vulgar eavesdropping. If it was the latter, and Anstruther
found him out, he need not hope to visit Claire at home any more.
Anstruther was most particular about these things, as Jack knew; but
he set his teeth together and decided to take the risk. He felt pretty
sure that there was something here that touched the household deeply.

He turned just for the moment, with an idea that somebody was behind
him. But the strip of lawn was quite clear. Jack could see through the
belt of trees to the street again beyond, with its great arc light
flaring on the yellow face of the mysterious Nostalgo and his
starting, half-laughing eyes. That weird face seemed to form a fitting
background to the room mystery.

But Jack had his eyes to the slit in the blind again. Inside the
pantomime in show was still going on. The girl seemed to be getting a
lesson of some kind, and her tutor appeared to be pleased, for he
smiled and clapped his hands from time to time. Then he took out his
watch and consulted it with a frown. As he glanced up the girl crossed
the room to the mantelpiece and opened the face of the clock. With a
quick movement she put it back half-an-hour.

The man in the faultless evening dress nodded approval. There was a
little pause before he approached the window and stood so that his
shadow was picked out clean against the strong light of the room. Then
he rapidly signaled with his arm. One arm went up, there was a noise
of rings and a flutter of drapery, and then a heavy curtain was jerked
over the window, and Jack could see no more. Try as he would, no ray
of light could he make out. It was as if the lights had been switched
off, leaving the room in utter darkness.

What on earth did it all mean? Beyond doubt the young man in evening
dress had signaled to somebody outside when he stood close against the
window and raised his arm. Jack congratulated himself on the fact that
the slit in the blind was low down, so that he had not to stand
against the light. He slipped into the belt of shrubs and watched for
a moment, but no further sign came.

What were those people inside going to do? The solution flashed upon
Jack instantly. They had not come there so perfectly dressed for the
mere sake of seeing Spencer Anstruther. They had not been spending the
evening anywhere, dining and that kind of thing beforehand, for they
looked too spruce and fresh for that. The woman's toilette in
particular had evidently been just donned, as if fresh from the hands
of her maid. And she had put the clock back half-an-hour.

"They are going somewhere in half-an-hour," Jack decided. "Hang me if
I don't follow them. By the right time it is half-past ten. Anstruther
said he should not come up if he failed to get his business finished
before eleven, at which time he will expect me to go. I'll go up to
the drawing-room and talk to Claire for a little time just to avert
suspicion."

He crept back into the house without being seen, he finished his
claret, and dropped the stump of his cigarette on to his dessert
plate. As he made his way up the stairs the music began again. That
music was not the least maddening part of the mystery.

"What a time you have been," Claire said as she tossed her book aside.
"All by yourself down there! Really, Jack, you modern young men are so
cold-blooded that----"

"I'm not so far as you are concerned, dearest," Jack, said as he
kissed the girl. "I had something to do; I was working out a case that
puzzled me."

"A case in some way connected with the law, I suppose?" Claire asked.

"Well, yes," Jack replied. He quite believed that the case was
connected with the law. "I begin to see my way to its solution. I
suppose there is not the slightest chance of your guardian coming up
to-night?"

Claire replied that it did not look like it. Evidently the solution of
the music problem was not an easy one, for the violin was going again
as if it had only just begun.

"It makes me feel creepy," Claire exclaimed. "Fancy the idea of
tracking a criminal by means of divine melody like that! Jack, don't
you notice something strange about it?"

"I should say that I do," Jack said. "Why, the whole thing--really, I
beg your pardon, darling. I--I was thinking about something else. It
was the case I alluded to just now."

"My dear boy, you are very strange in your manner to-night," Claire
said. "You look pale and distracted. Trust the eyes of love to see
anything like that. You haven't bad news for me, Jack?"

Masefield forced a smile to his lips. It was hard work to maintain his
ordinary manner in the face of the strange scene that he had witnessed
that night.

"I have certainly heard no news since dinner time," he said. "What did
you expect me to say?"

"I thought that perhaps you had mentioned me to my guardian; that you
had changed your mind, and told him that you and I were going to be
married some time."

"No, your name was never mentioned, dearest. Anstruther was full of
his case and gave me no opportunity. He went off directly he had
finished his tobacco. As a matter of fact, Claire, I am more resolved
than ever to say nothing about our engagement to Mr. Anstruther."

"It is very strange that you mistrust him like that, Jack."

"Perhaps it is, little woman. Call it instinct, if you like. I know
that women are supposed to hold the monopoly of that illogical
faculty. They dislike a man or a woman without being able to say why,
and in the course of time that man or woman turns out to be a villain.
There is no denying the fact that I feel the same way towards your
guardian. I am convinced that once he knows the truth you will be in
danger. I said before that he is a poor man, and the enjoyment of your
£2,000 during the time----"

"My dear Jack, you are perfectly horrid," Claire murmured. "If I were
a nervous girl you would frighten me. As it is, I feel certain that
you are utterly wrong. My guardian is one of the most delightful of
men. If he were not, plenty of clever people would have found it out.
And, besides, why do so many unfortunate people come to him to advise
them, which he does with great trouble to himself and no hope of
reward?"

Jack admitted that perhaps he was wrong. And he had no desire either
to frighten Claire. He had not the slightest intention of telling her
what he had discovered that night.

"Let us be less personal," he said. "What was the strange thing that
you noticed about your guardian's playing?"

"That it is so much better than usual," Claire said. "There seemed
more passion and feeling in the music. My guardian is a brilliant
violin player, but I have not hitherto noticed much feeling in his
style. Now, listen to the thing that he is playing at present."

"Chopin's Fantasie in F," Jack muttered. "I know it very well indeed.
It is a favorite of mine."

There was certainly plenty of expression and feeling in the music.
Jack was bound to admit that. The fantasie came to an end with a crash
of two chords, and Claire clapped her hands.

"Beautiful!" she cried. "I must really compliment my guardian on the
improvement in his style. You are not going already, Jack? It's not
quite eleven yet."

"I'm very sorry, dear, but I have that case to look into to-night,"
Jack said, with perfect truth. He saw that the hands of the big clock
on the mantelpiece were creeping on to the hour. "Anstruther won't
come up to-night; he said he should be here by eleven if he were. And
he gave me a hint not to stay later. I shall see you at the Warings'
to-morrow night. Good-night, darling."

Claire put up her red lips to be kissed. She would have seen Jack to
the door, but he pointed out that the night was chilly and Claire's
dress thin. Neither would he have the butler summoned. His coat and
hat were in the hall, and he would get them himself. A moment or two
later and he was standing in the garden behind the strip of shrubs. He
was quite free to act now; he had nobody in the way. As he stood
there, a distant church clock boomed the hour of eleven.

"Now we shall see what we shall see," Jack muttered. "I'm going to
find whether there is a mystery of the house or whether these people
are merely Anstruther's clients. Oh!"

As he spoke the dark curtain over the study window was pulled back,
and the figure of the young man in the evening dress was clean cut
against the light. Then a black arm pulled for the catch of the
window, and the young man, pushing the blind aside, came out. He was
wearing an overcoat now, and a tall hat. He seemed to be waiting for
somebody.

Then the figure of the dark-faced, fair-haired girl came out. She was
cloaked from head to foot in a blue wrap trimmed with feathers; her
fair hair was not covered. No word was spoken, but Jack could see that
they were conversing still by signs.

The watcher wondered if he had time to get inside the room. But that
little idea was dismissed at the outset, for the young man pushed the
window to carefully and the latch clicked. It was quite evident that
the long sash closed with a spring lock, which was a most unusual
thing for French windows to do. As the strange pair went down the side
path Jack stepped into the open. He wanted to assure himself as to the
window being fastened. He pulled at it hard, but it did not yield. At
the same moment from the window of the room came a strange, brilliant
crash of music. Yet that room was absolutely empty, as Jack would have
been prepared to swear in any court of England.

"I'll wake up either from a dream or in a lunatic asylum presently,"
he muttered. "And now for those other people. Good thing they had no
idea of being followed."

Jack was in the road now, and taking his way through the quiet nest of
squares between Bloomsbury and Regent's Park. He could see his quarry
a hundred yards or so before him; there was nobody else, and there was
not the slightest chance of those in front being lost. A horse's hoof
clicked on the wood pavement as a well-appointed hansom passed the
tracker. Then he saw the hansom pull up by the curb and the deaf mutes
in front jump in, as if the whole thing had been arranged, and drive
off.

The thing was so sudden and unexpected that Jack was nonplused for a
moment. There was no chance of following these people, for there
probably was not another hansom within half-a-mile of the spot. Jack
stood hesitating in the silence of the road; he could hear the steady
flick-flack of the horse's hoofs as the rubber-tired hansom hurried
on, and then suddenly the horse's hoofs stopped. They had not died out
in the distance; they had merely stopped.

Jack hurried forward; he had not given up all hope yet. He might
overtake the hansom and by good luck meet an empty one going towards
the Strand. As he turned a corner, he saw to his surprise the figure
of the young man in evening dress come silently towards him on the
other side of the road. Then the stranger crossed the road and turned
down the far side of the square as if he were going to complete the
circuit and join his cab again. As the man vanished Jack heard a
thudding sound, followed by a sound like the tearing of stiff paper,
like the rattle of peas on a drum, a queer stifled cry, and then
silence. On the impulse of the moment, Jack turned and followed.

At the angle stood a row of houses, some of them being repaired. Jack
heard somebody speak to somebody else a little way down the road. He
looked across at the opposite houses to see that they were in
scaffolding and that they were plastered with bills. A little way
above the ground in front of the centre house being repaired was one
of the repulsive, clever Nostalgo posters with the yellow face looking
out.

But there was something else lying there at full length on the
pavement, the body of a man with his face up to the stars. With a
little cry Jack crossed the road. Almost instantly a policeman stood
by his side.

"Drunk," he said. "A gentleman who's just gone down the road told me a
man was lying drunk on the pavement. My word, sir, but he's got the
complaint pretty bad."

"He has," Jack said, with a catch in his voice. "The man isn't drunk;
he's dead. He's been murdered. Shot through the head and breast. Show
your lantern here, officer."

The officer flashed the strong, searching rays on the face of the dead
man. As he did so he gave a cry, and pointed to the hoarding behind
him with a finger that shook a little.

"Dead, sir, and murdered, beyond doubt," he said. "But that's not the
strangest part of it. Look at his face and the expression of his eyes;
look at the yellow face and----"

"Good heaven!" Jack cried. "The yellow face, the face of the
diabolical poster behind you. As I am a living man, we have found
Nostalgo in the flesh."

The dead man grinned up, the poster grinned down. And the face of the
dead and the face in the print were exactly the same!



CHAPTER IV.
THE SPEAKING LIKENESS.


Masefield looked at the figure on the pavement in a dazed kind of
way. Beyond all question there lay the embodiment of the famous
Nostalgo poster. London had been discussing the mystery of the poster
for weeks already. The amazing hideous cleverness of it had struck the
popular imagination, the artistic side of it had appealed to those of
culture. Nobody had the least idea what it was intended to convey.
Every daily paper promising a correct solution on a certain day would
have added tremendously to its circulation.

Then there had been those who had declared that the poster was a
portrait; they had held that no artist could imagine a face quite like
that. And here was dread confirmation of the theory. Absolutely the
poster and the dead man were identical. The same long, thin nose, the
same starting eyes, the same suggestion of diabolical cunning in the
smile.

In the poster Nostalgo wore a turn-down collar and a loosely-knotted
red tie. It was the same with the dead man on the pavement. As to the
rest, his dress was conventional enough--a frock coat and gray
trousers, a tall silk hat which had rolled into the road.

"Don't you think that you had better search his pockets?" Jack
suggested.

The constable replied that it was not a bad idea. But a close
examination produced no definite result. There were no papers on the
body, nothing beyond a handful of money--gold and silver and coppers
all mixed up together in the trousers pocket. There was not even a
watch.

"This game's beyond me," the officer muttered, as he blew his whistle.
"We must get this poor chap conveyed to the police station. Foreigner,
ain't he?"

But Jack could not say. The sweeping, coarse black hair pushed back
from the bulging forehead, and the yellow, guinea-colored face
suggested the Orient. But the lips were thin like the nose, and these
might have belonged to some Spanish hidalgo. It was impossible to
decide.

"You were close by," the policeman said. "Didn't you see anything,
sir?"

"Nothing whatever." said Jack. "I was just passing along on the side
of the square at right angles with this spot. I certainly saw a young
man come along, but I didn't notice him much. I expect he was the
young man who told you that a 'drunk' awaited you here."

"I expect he was, sir; young man with his moustache turned up like the
German Emperor's."

Jack started, but said nothing. It was not for him to say anything of
the strange sight that he had seen in Spencer Anstruther's study. The
young man in question had left his hansom; probably he had come back
for something forgotten; therefore, on the whole, Jack felt that he
could not in any way connect him with this mystery.

And yet Spencer Anstruther's young friend must have been close by at
the very moment the murder was committed. It seemed impossible to
believe that he had not heard that choking cry, and that strange noise
like the tearing of calico or the scatter of peas on a tray. But, on
the other hand, the murdered man had been shot, and shooting implies
noise. Certainly Jack had heard nothing that in any way would be
connected with the firing of a revolver.

And yet there was that tearing sound, and the strange fact that the
Nostalgo of the poster had tears in him in exactly the same place as
the real man who had been wounded. There was a plot calculated to
puzzle Spencer Anstruther himself, and Jack said so aloud.

"I don't think as even he'd guess this," the policeman said. "Friend
of yours by any chance, sir?"

"I had not left his house five minutes before I found that body," Jack
said. "If you like, I will go back and bring Mr. Spencer Anstruther
here."

Here was a chance to get at the other business, the mystery of the
strange music. It was a legitimate errand enough, but the policeman
shook his head. He did not want to take anything so important upon his
own shoulders, his inspector being "down on that kind of thing." Two
constables with the ambulance came at length. They asked no questions,
but hoisted the body up and turned immediately in the direction of
Shannon Street police station.

"I think you had better come along, sir," the first policeman
suggested to Jack. "It's just possible that the inspector may want to
ask you a few questions."

Masefield followed. He smiled just a little as he noted the speaker's
tone. If not exactly in custody, he was at least expected to give a
good account of himself. To his great relief he found the inspector
not in the least disposed to assume the official manner; on the
contrary, he seemed rather a timid man, though his eyes were steady
enough.

"I have told you everything, sir," Jack said at length. "I only wish
it might have been more. If there is any further way in which I can be
of assistance to you----"

"You are very good, sir," the inspector said. "What we have to do now
is to push the matter forward before the scent gets cold. It is very
imperative that we discover who this man is. The first person to apply
to is the firm of advertising contractors who posted those bills. Did
anybody happen to notice the firm whose hoarding the deceased man was
found against?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," Jack said, as the officer shook his
head. "Not that that is a sure find for you, Mr. Inspector, seeing
that those bills appeared on the hoardings of all the bill-posting
firms in London. Still, they may have emanated in the first place from
one firm, and perhaps that firm was Freshcombe & Co."

"That being the name on the top of the hoarding we are speaking of?"
the inspector asked. "You have a keen eye for detail, sir; it was very
smart of you to notice that."

"Not at all; it was almost an accident. The mere fact of finding the
prototype of the famous Nostalgo poster was sufficiently startling to
brace all one's faculties. In glancing at the hoarding I saw the name
of Freshcombe & Co. on the top. The name was impressed upon my memory
by the fact that quite recently I appeared for Freshcombe & Co. in an
action they brought against a rival firm for damages. That is why I
have the name so exact."

The inspector smiled with the air of a man who is well pleased with
himself. In that case Mr. Masefield practically knew the head of
Freshcombe & Co., and where he lived. In that event the inspector
proposed to go direct to the gentleman in question and ask for a few
particulars.

"There I can help you again," Jack said. "I had several interviews
with Mr. Freshcombe through his solicitor, and one of them took place
in Mr. Freshcombe's own house in Regent's Park Crescent."

The inspector waited to hear no more. One of his men would call a cab,
and perhaps Mr. Masefield would be good enough to go as far as
Regent's Park Crescent and smooth the way. It was getting late now,
but Jack had no objection. He was keenly interested in this mystery,
and he must get to the bottom of it if he could. He had a few
questions to ask as the cab rolled away, but none of them struck the
inspector as being to the point. But Jack knew better.

Fortunately Mr. Freshcombe had not gone to bed, though the house was
in darkness. The stout little prosperous-looking man of business
started as he caught sight of the inspector's uniform. Something in
connection with burglary rose uppermost in his mind as he asked his
visitors' business.

"I hope there is nothing wrong," he stammered. "Ah, how do you do, Mr.
Masefield? Will you gentlemen be so good as to step inside. There is a
fire in the dining-room. Anything in the way of a cigar, or----"

But the inspector came to business at once. It was plain that his
story interested the listener, for he followed with eyes of rounded
astonishment. He punctuated the story with surprised grunts.

"Bless my soul!" he explained. "Whoever would have thought it? I never
expected that there was anybody like that famous poster. I had two
thousand of them through my hands in the way of business, and they
struck me as clever, very clever indeed. Personally, I regarded them
as theatrical bills."

"Then you can't tell us anything about them?" the inspector asked,
with an air of chagrin.

"Nothing whatever," Freshcombe replied promptly. "As I said before,
the posters came to us in the ordinary way of business. There was an
air of secrecy about the whole thing."

"Which did not attract your attention? Did not appeal to your
suspicions, I mean?"

"Not a bit of it. The advertiser wanted to create an air of mystery
and sensation. How well that has been managed I leave you to guess.
Being, moreover, exceedingly shrewd, the advertiser did not mean his
name to leak out. I received a note one day asking my terms for
displaying a thousand of those posters on all the hoardings in London,
and my people sent in a quotation."

"That letter came from another business house, I presume, sir?" the
inspector asked.

"No, it didn't. It was from a certain Mr. John Smith, and was written
from the Hôtel Royale, and on the official paper of the hotel. Three
days later the posters arrived per a firm of carriers, and the same
afternoon a check drawn by John Smith on the City and Provincial Bank.
We cashed the check and posted the bills. I may say that, in the usual
course of business, I should not have known this; but I was a little
struck by the posters and their mystery, so I made inquiries. I assure
you that I have not time to go into these minor details as a rule."

"I am rather disappointed," the inspector said. "I hardly expected
this. The mystery of the posters----"

"Was part of the cleverness of the scheme," Freshcombe interrupted.
"As a rule, these things leak out and spoil the game. Why,
half-a-dozen newspaper men have been asking questions in my office."

"Then you don't even know who printed the posters?" Jack asked. "Have
you any more left?"

"I fancy the posters were French," Freshcombe said. "They had
evidently been repacked before they came to me. No, we have none left;
they were all posted last week. I haven't even one as a specimen."

Mr. Freshcombe would have pushed his hospitality, but the others
declined. The inspector was not going to give up the chase like this.
Could Mr. Freshcombe find a London Directory, or in any way help him
to ascertain the name and address of the manager of the City branch of
the City and Provincial Bank? Mr. Freshcombe could supply both
details. The bank manager in question was a large shareholder in the
firm and enjoyed an important position. As to his residence, it was in
Piccadilly, over the bank's branch there. Mr. Carrington was a man of
fashion, so that, if he were at home, it was unlikely that he had gone
to bed. A moment later and the cab was proceeding towards Piccadilly.

Mr. Carrington was not only at home, but he was entertaining friends.
There were lights in all the windows of the handsome suite of rooms
over the bank, and a chatter of voices assailed the ears of the
callers as soon as the mahogany door was opened. Mr. Carrington was
giving an evening party, the footman explained, and he did not like to
be disturbed. But the sight of the inspector's uniform was not without
its effect, and the intruders were ushered into a little room at the
top of the stairs. The door was not quite closed, so that the
strangers could see down a handsome corridor into a fine drawing-room
beyond. Jack could recognize some of the guests, whereby he knew that
Mr. Carrington kept very good company.

"I feel like an intruder," Jack said, as he stood looking out of the
room. In his evening dress he might have passed for a guest himself.
"If Mr. Carrington is in a position----"

Jack paused suddenly. He was face to face with the third great
surprise to-night. For there in the corridor, and coming towards him
now, was the fair-haired, dark-skinned girl whom he had seen with the
young man in Spencer Anstruther's study. There was no mistake here, no
illusion. The girl walked along with her head down, making a sign from
time to time to the man by her side. He was a perfect stranger to
Jack, who dismissed him from the situation altogether as a mere
vacuous man about town. If the woman was here, the youth with the
imperial moustache was not far off, Jack thought. "I think that you
were going to say something, sir," the inspector ventured. But Jack
had quite recovered himself by this time. He made some commonplace
remark, and then Mr. Carrington came into the room. He was polite, but
not at all anxious for his visitors to remain. Would they be so good
as to get to the point. The inspector told his story with considerable
brevity. Mr. Carrington was pleased to be interested. It was a strange
and startling romance as it stood, but the bank manager did not see
his way to afford any solution of this mystery. "I haven't quite
finished, sir," the inspector said quietly. "That bill-posting was
paid for by a check drawn on your City branch, of which you are
manager, by one John Smith. Now, this John Smith----"

"Which John Smith?" Mr. Carrington asked, with a smile. "My good sir,
do you know that we have some two thousand five hundred accounts at
our City branch? Probably the name of John Smith is the commonest in
the world. Without making any very definite statement, I should say
that we have over two hundred accounts in the name of Smith, and
probably a third of them John Smith. I can quite understand your
anxiety to get on the track of the right man without delay, but that
could not possibly be done to-night. I could not even get at the
ledgers without two of the cashiers being present. But I will make it
a point to be at the bank at ten o'clock to-morrow morning and meet
you there. It is impossible to do any more to-night."

The inspector nodded his head somewhat sadly. He quite saw the force
of what Mr. Carrington was saying. He could do no more than make an
appointment for the following day. He wished Carrington good-night and
turned to go, followed by Masefield. In the corridor somebody called
Jack by name. He turned to see a colleague of the junior Bar standing
before him.

"Hullo!" the latter said, "where did you turn up from? I had an idea
that you were a friend of Carrington's. Get your coat off and join us
in a game of bridge." The situation was just a little embarrassing,
but Carrington came to the rescue. Masefield was dressed for the part,
so to speak, and would he not remain? There would be dancing
presently, and----

But Jack decided promptly. He whispered the inspector to precede him
and wait for him in the cab. Carrington passed on as Jack stood just a
moment chatting with his old friend and school-fellow.

"I came here to-night on rather important business," he said. "There
is no occasion to go into that now. But I want you to do something for
me, my dear fellow. In hunting up one mystery I feel pretty sure that
I have come on the track of another. There is a deaf and dumb girl
here--there she is, with that Johnny chap in the resplendent white
waistcoat. I want you to find out who she is and where she comes
from."

"That's all right," Richard Rigby responded. "Nice-looking girl, with
fair hair and dark eyes. Sort of striking theatrical get-up, don't you
think?"

"Well, now you mention it, perhaps it is rather in that way. But that
isn't all, Dick; unless I am greatly mistaken, the girl came here with
a fair chap whose moustache is turned up after the fashion of the
German Emperor. Find out all about him, too, and I'll look you up at
your chambers the first thing in the morning. I must not keep my
friend waiting. Good-night."

Jack passed along the corridor in the direction of the staircase.
There were many palms and ferns there, with screens behind which
people could sit and not be seen except by their partners. Jack paused
with his foot on the thick pile of the carpet, for just in front of
him was the girl with the southern face and fair hair. Her head was
still bent low, her fingers were working. What her companion was like
Jack could not quite make out, for his back was turned. The girl
looked up at him with a flash of anger in her eyes, her lips moved,
and sound certainly came from them. Jack could just catch the words.

"Don't drive me too far," she said. "Take care and not drive me too
far, because----"

The girl suddenly lapsed into silence again and her fingers began to
work. The couple passed behind a screen of palms and ferns, and Jack
could see them no more.

"Well, this has been a night and a half," he said. "Where is it going
to end? I wonder if my friend the inspector will be disposed to accept
my suggestion?"

The inspector gave Jack's suggestion the most careful attention. He
had not thought of it before.

"We'll go back to the scene of the murder," Jack said. "There is a
strong electric light in front of the hoarding, and the Nostalgo
poster is only a few feet from the ground. Moreover, it has only
recently been put up, and it is quite clean and fair. Depend upon it,
there is some trade-mark upon the bill, even if it is only a cipher.
Of course, you see the importance of finding out who posted that
bill?"

"Of course, sir. How do you propose to get at the facts?"

"By examining the bill with the aid of a strong magnifying glass. I
have no doubt that, being a detective, you have such a thing in your
pocket at the present moment? Good. Then, all you have to do is to
order the cab to drive to the corner of Panton Street and stop there."

The cab arrived at length and the occupants dismounted. They did not
take the cab quite as far as the scene of the murder for obvious
reasons, but walked on there alone. It was quite still now, and
nobody was about save a passing policeman, who had orders to give
notice if anybody was coming. It was just as well that the curiosity
of passers-by should not be aroused.

"Now for it," Jack said, breathing a little faster in his excitement.
"Perhaps we had better have the assistance of your lantern as well. I
thought that the poster was there. It was there. I'll swear that that
is the very spot, just where that picture of the pretty girl taking
the pills is. Good heavens, man, the poster has _gone!_ It has been
covered up since we were here before by that mustard advertisement. At
the hour after midnight the thing has been done. But the right thing
must be underneath. See! The poster is wet!"

Jack advanced to tear the poster down, but the inspector pulled him
roughly aside.

"Don't touch it," he said hoarsely. "Whatever you do, don't touch it.
_Wait!_"



CHAPTER V.
A VANISHED CLUE.


Jack Masefield paused for Inspector Bates to say more. Possibly the
officer was possessed of some brilliant idea, but after the first
glance at his face it was easy to see that he was as nonplused as Jack
himself. It was only the professional caution that spoke; there was no
illumination at the back of the policeman's brain.

"I had hoped that perhaps you had discerned something," Masefield
said.

"Not quite that, sir," Bates admitted. "So far I am as much in the
dark as you are yourself, but my experience is that nothing is to be
gained by haste. What I mean is that a thoughtless movement often
destroys a clue of the utmost value. I should like to stand here for a
moment and consider my position."

Jack drily remarked that there could be no objection to the course
proposed by Inspector Bates. It was very late now; there was nothing
to be seen, so that the train of thought of the inspector was not
likely to be interrupted. He stood facing the great boarded hoarding
with its wealth of gaudy pictorial advertisements, but his face did
not lighten, and the moody frown was still on his brow.

"Blessed if I can make anything of it," he said in vexed tones.
"Here's a man found dead under the most amazing circumstances. There
seems to be no motive for the crime; nothing has been removed from the
body so far as we know; the man evidently died where he fell. That he
was killed I dare say the medical examination will show."

"So far the crime is commonplace and vulgar enough," Jack Masefield
suggested. "Scores of these things happen in London every year. Some
are found out, but some remain mysteries to the end of time; but this
particular crime seems to be peculiarly terrible. First of all, London
for some time has been doubly attentive to the yellow-faced posters.
No greater advertising circular has ever appealed to the public.
Nostalgo is a personality about as great as some of our leading
actors. Still, nobody has really regarded Nostalgo as a living force,
and I find him dead on the pavement here right in front of one of his
own posters. Is that coincidence or an amazing happening?"

"Both, I should say, sir," Bates replied. "An amazing happening in any
case. But to find the man dead in front of one of his own posters may
be no more than a coincidence. You see, there are so many Nostalgo
posters about."

But Jack was loth to give up his point.

"I admit that," he said; "but the particular poster we find up is a
fresh one. It was more or less shot-marked, as I pointed out to you;
it was marked much as the body of the dead man was marked. If you
remember, I suggested examining the poster by means of a magnifying
glass, in the hope of finding some kind of printer's trade-mark, and we
come back here for that purpose. We find the poster pasted over with a
commonplace advertisement of somebody's mustard. Surely that is not
coincidence. For some reason or other the poster was covered by
design. It is not the habit of the bill-poster to go about the work at
midnight."

"Ah, there you are not altogether correct, sir," Bates exclaimed. He
felt that he was on pretty safe ground now. "The working bill-poster
is not tied to time. He has a certain amount of work to do, and he
does it pretty well when he pleases. Sometimes they have to work very
late. For instance, a stock piece put up at a theatre may prove a
draw, and the management desire to keep it going for a time. Then
there is work late at night for some firm of the paste-pot."

"Quite so, inspector; but does that apply to the harmless, necessary
mustard advertisement?"

"Not directly, perhaps. But suppose there had been a sudden rush of
new and urgent work, the routine would have fallen behind. Please
understand that the bill-poster does not career round in a casual way,
sticking up a poster just where it suits his fancy. All these
hoardings are rented, and big advertisers contract to have so many
sheets displayed every week; in fact, it is a most desultory business.
Depend upon it, the bill-poster who so lately posted up that alluring
mustard tin had nothing to do with the business."

It was all so logical and conclusive that Jack was compelled to drop
further argument. At the same time, it seemed rather foolish to stand
there doing nothing.

"Look here," he said, struck by a sudden idea; "why not pull that
mustard poster down, and get at the real source of the truth. The
paper is still wet, and I dare say we might find a ladder behind the
hoarding. Let us pull it down, and take the whole thing to the
police-station and examine it at our leisure."

There was no objection to this, as Bates was bound to admit. It was a
very easy matter to find a way behind the hoarding and secure the
firmest of many ladders. A short one was sufficient for the purpose,
and very soon the great sheet that contained the mustard advertisement
was pulled off the wooden hoarding and lay in a heap on the pavement.
In the place of it, fresh and strong, was the yellow face of Nostalgo.
Jack took the inspector's lamp and regarded the poster carefully by
the magnifying glass. But there was no imprint to be seen, nothing to
lead to the identity of the firm who printed the placard.

"I can make nothing whatever of it," Masefield was fain to admit at
last. "There are the shot holes plainly marked, as if somebody had
used an air-gun or a pea-rifle. Beyond that I can see absolutely
nothing of the slightest significance. The best thing for us to do is
to see the contractor who has the job in hand in the morning, and get
him to saw the poster out of the wooden hoarding for you. The strong
light of day may make a difference; but I am not as yet absolutely
satisfied that that mustard poster was placed exactly on the top of
the yellow face quite by accident."

Bates did not contest the point. He was getting tired and sleepy, and
it was very late. "Very well," he said, "we will return to the police
station in Shannon Street and have another look at the dead man. It is
just possible we may find something there. At the same time, it may be
just as well to be on the safe side. I'll get one of my men to come
here and keep an eye on the hoarding to-night. It is on the cards that
he may see something suspicious. I'll send a plain clothes man here to
watch."

As Bates blew softly on his whistle a constable turned up and saluted.
He was to stay where he was until relief came, Bates explained. Then
he and Jack Masefield went off in the direction of Shannon Street
station. The place was perfectly quiet; nobody had been brought in
lately; there was no sign of the tragedy here. In a rack near the
back, lighted by a skylight some six feet from the ground, lay the
murdered body of the man with the yellow face. The malignant look had
gone from his face; he seemed calm and placid. As Jack bent over him
it seemed to him that there was a movement of the heart. He pointed
this out to the inspector, who shook his head.

"People not accustomed to these things often make the same mistake,"
he said. "I have heard witnesses swear that the body of this or that
man was not bereft of life, and in this belief they have been quite
certain. Then a doctor comes along and proves beyond a doubt that
death has taken place perhaps five or six hours before. Muscular
action is what probably deceives people. That poor fellow is dead
enough."

Masefield did not argue the matter. It was a sickening business, and
he felt that he would gladly see the end of it. Not so Bates, who was
inured to this kind of thing. Very rapidly and skilfully he went over
the body in search of anything that might be likely to lead to the
identification of the deceased. But the pockets were doubtless empty;
there was no watch or chain, or purse, no marking on the linen.

"Not even a laundry mark?" Jack suggested. "If my reasoning is
correct, a laundry mark has frequently proved of the greatest
assistance."

"No mark whatever." said Bates. "The shirt, for instance, is of
ordinary make, the class of thing that one buys ready-made at a shop,
and which has usually its maker's mark on. There has been a mark of
some kind on the neck band, but it looks as if it had been blocked out
with chemicals. See how much whiter and thinner the neck band is. We
are simply wasting our time here."

Jack said nothing; he could only shake his head sadly. The more the
mystery came to be probed the more maddening did it become. A close
investigation of the clothing presented as little result; there was
nothing even about the boots to prove where they had been made. If the
man was a criminal, and his general air suggested that, he had taken
the most amazing precaution to prevent identification in case of
accidents. Jack looked at the clear, dark features. This was no man to
take anybody into his confidence. Success or failure, or crime, must
all be undertaken alike alone and unaided. This face would never
have led anybody to rejoice with him in good fortune, or sympathize
with him in failure.

"Well, I think I had better be getting to my rooms," Masefield said.
"I have given you my name and address. I'll come round to-morrow and
see if you have made anything out of the poster in the daylight. One
thing is pretty certain--there should be no difficulty, if a
determined effort is made, to discover the people who printed the
picture of the yellow face. There are not many firms in this country
capable of such work."

"There is the Continent," Bates suggested. "I'm afraid that it will be
very much like looking for a needle in a hayrick. Still----"

What deep philosophical remark Bates was going to make Masefield was
not destined to hear, for at the same moment there was the sound of a
sudden disturbance in the office beyond. The hoarse voice of a
sergeant was heard demanding to know what this little game meant,
there was a groan, and the collapse of a heavy body on the floor.
Bates strode into the office.

"What is all this row about?" he demanded.

"It's Gregory, sir," the sergeant replied. "Went off half-an-hour ago
on some special work for you, or so he _said_, and here's he back as
drunk as a lord; regularly collapsed on the floor, he did. It's not
the first time, either."

A sudden suspicion burst upon Masefield. He knelt by the side of the
plain clothes man and felt his heart. There was a peculiar red mark
round the man's neck as if something had been pulled very tightly
round it.

"The man is no more drunk than I am," Jack said. "He has been
attacked, and his breath is wholly free from any suspicion of drink.
Look at that mark round his neck."

Very slowly the prostrate man struggled to a sitting position. When
the fact had once been ascertained that there was no suggestion of
intoxication, brandy was administered to him. He had a strange story
to tell. He was carrying out instructions when suddenly somebody came
behind him and placed a rope round his neck. Before he could recover
himself he was partially strangled; he lost consciousness and lay on
the pavement. When he came to himself again he was quite alone. He had
managed to struggle back to the station, and once there had collapsed
on the floor. Robbery was not the motive, for he had lost nothing.

"It's all part of the same mystery," Jack decided. "Something was
going on behind that hoarding, and the criminals did not want the
policeman to see. I shall walk back to my rooms that way. No, you had
better not come along, inspector, in case you are spotted. I shall
just walk very coolly by and keep my eye on that hoarding.
Good-night!"

There was nothing more to be done, so Masefield was allowed to depart.
He had ample food for thought as he walked along the deserted streets.
He came at length to the great hoarding where the poster had stood. He
stopped just for a moment, almost too amazed to move; then he forced
himself to go forward again. _For the striking Nostalgo poster was
gone. It had been sawn neatly out of the boards of the hoardings
leaving a blank square eye in its place!_



CHAPTER VI.
VANISHED!


It was not to be supposed that this had happened without attracting
the Argus eye of the Press. The nightbirds of journalism had been
hovering about, seeking their prey of sensational copy. They haunted
the police station with a hope that something might turn up--the hope
that every reporter has that sooner or later he may happen on a good
thing that has in it the making of some columns of red-hot descriptive
matter.

One of them, hungry and lynx-eyed, had seen the body of Nostalgo
carried to Shannon Street station. There might have been a paragraph
then; there might have been a column. At any rate, the chance was too
good to be lost. The reporter was on the best of terms with the police
for a square mile or so; indeed, his living more or less depended on
the good fellowship of the local authorities. The sergeant had first
of all set the ball rolling; the reporter had seen the body; he had no
difficulty in recognizing the striking likeness between the dead man
and the poster. Younger men would have rushed off at once and made a
long paragraph of this, manifolded it, and sent it broadcast along
Fleet Street.

But not so the old and cunning hand at the game; his instinct told him
that there was more to come. There was more to come, probably in the
shape of the shaken Gregory, who presently told the reporter his part
of the story. This was a case when a cab was justified. Half-an-hour
later the reporter was closeted with the chief sub-editor of the
_Daily Planet_, a halfpenny morning paper dealing largely in
sensations. The sub-editor's eye gleamed as he listened to the
reporter's story. This was something after his own heart.

"Write two columns of it," he said. "You can use Daly's room. Serve it
up as hot as you can with plenty of scare heads. We'll give it the
first place on page five. You had better have a stenographer, as time
is pressing." Therefore it came about that the half million or so of
readers of the _Planet_ had the shock at breakfast the following day.
With its tally of many dazzling sensations, the _Planet_ had never
been more successful than in this. The thing was admirably done. The
mystery was puzzling to a degree. Before ten o'clock the following
morning London was talking of little else. It was discussed in the
train, on the top of the omnibus, in City offices. The name of
Nostalgo was on every lip.

The editor-in-chief and the chief shareholder in the _Planet_ Company
came down to the office very early in the forenoon, an action quite
unusual with him. But his keen instinct scented a good thing for the
_Planet_ here. The thing was exclusively his own, and he meant
to work it to the last ounce. The little man with the bald head and
gold-rimmed monocle had created a pretty scheme by the time he had
reached his office. Without loss of time he sent for Mr. Richard
Rigby. Rigby came in response to the summons. He found journalism more
remunerative than the Bar.

"This is the best thing we have ever had," Mr. Van Jens said in his
staccato way. "I'm just going to show the British public what an
American journalist can do with the thing. It's pretty clear to me
that the police have blundered, as they always do, and that they
have got right off the track of the truth. We're going to solve the
mystery, Rigby, and you're the man I have picked out to do it. In the
first place, you are a clever actor, and you have pluck. Go about it
in your own way, and take your own time. Never mind the expense; spend
£1,000 if necessary. Only get to the bottom of the thing, if it's
merely to prove to the police that they can't do without the Press. By
the way, isn't Masefield a friend of yours?"

Rigby admitted that such was the case. He did not pretend to follow
the quick working of his chief's brain; few men were competent to do
that. Van Jens was leaning over the _Planet_ in order to read the
report of the Nostalgo affair.

"I saw Masefield last night," Rigby said. He did not tell Van Jens
that Jack had met him at Carrington's, for that was a matter
concerning Masefield alone. "Do you think he is likely to be of any
assistance to me?"

"It is just possible. You see it was Masefield who actually found the
body of the man who we call Nostalgo. It is possible also that
Masefield knows more than our reporter got to find out. You had better
hint to Masefield that there is a chance of getting a commission from
us to write a serial for one of our weekly journals--he is in the way
of doing that kind of thing. Anyway, get him to regard it in a
favorable light. If you handle the man properly, I feel quite sure
that he will offer you valuable information."

Rigby nodded. He did not tell Van Jens that Jack Masefield was a close
friend of his, for that point had nothing to do with Van Jens, who
regarded Rigby as the typical smart unit of the smart paper, and none
too scrupulous where men were concerned. As a matter of fact Rigby had
his code of honor; possibly his chief would not have considered it.
Come what might, Rigby was not likely to take any advantage of
Masefield.

"All right," he said; "you may rely upon me to do all that I can. By
the way, if I am to take this case in hand, I must not be tied as to
time. I mean, that somebody else must be drafted out to do my regular
work and--and to say nothing if I don't show up here regularly. I
think that only fair."

"Only fair, it is," Van Jens replied. "I'll see to all that. And I'll
leave instructions with the counting house that you are to draw on me
to the extent of £1,000 if necessary. And now you had better go off to
Masefield without delay."

It was not yet eleven o'clock, and Rigby felt pretty certain of
finding Masefield at home. He was perfectly correct in his
conclusions, for Jack was busy just putting the finishing touches to a
short magazine story. The morning papers lay in a pile on the table,
but as yet he had not had time to open them. Rigby helped himself to a
cigarette.

"Hope I don't intrude," he said. "If I am in the way, kick me out at
once."

"You are never in the way here, Dick," Masefield smiled. "As a matter
of fact, I have just passed the last page of this story for the
_Grasshopper_. It's always a pleasure to sit down and write a story
when you have a fair commission for it."

"You will soon have plenty of them, my boy," Rigby said cheerfully,
"especially now that you've got your name in the papers. Seen the
_Planet_ to-day? You haven't? Well, you are pretty prominent on page
five, let me tell you. One of our men got hold of that sensational
Nostalgo business, and then made a picture of it. Just run your eye
along the report, and tell me what you think of it. Pretty hot, isn't
it? Now can you tell me anything?"

"Anything fresh in regard to the affair you mean?"

"You've got it first time. As a matter of fact, Van Jens has placed
the thing in my hands, and I'm to get to the bottom of it if it costs
the paper £1,000. Van Jens suggested that I should come and see you
and pump you. The bait to you is a commission for a big serial in one
of our weeklies. But apart from all that, Jack, I'm quite sure that
you will be ready to help me for old sake's sake."

"Of course I will," Masefield said heartily. "Really, there is very
little to tell; your man seems to have got it down very fine. But I
can tell you all about the shot marks and the missing poster, only you
must not publish that."

"My dear fellow, you don't quite understand my position. I'm not sent
as a mere scare writer in this business; I'm more of an amateur
detective, with a pocket full of money. My task is to beat the police
at their own game, and prove the superior intellectual force of the
Press. Then I shall write the whole story, and the _Planet_
circulation will go up to a million."

"Then I'll tell you all that there is to know," Jack replied. "When I
have finished my story, I shall have a few questions to ask you. Get
your note-book out."

Rigby had no cause for complaint on the score of Masefield's
narrative. In the description of the shot marks and the subsequently
missing poster he felt that he had conquered a fine point of the
situation. He took another cigarette, and Jack did the same. "Now I'm
going to ask you a few questions," the latter said, "and I should not
be surprised that in replying to my queries we throw some fresh light
on the object of your search. You will recollect meeting me at
Carrington's last night?"

"Of course I do. I took you for a fellow quite above that kind of
thing--playing the amateur detective."

"Notably, as I was in evening dress. As a matter of fact I had been
dining with Spencer Anstruther, and it was in leaving his house that I
found the body of the man we had better call Nostalgo. Of course I
recognized him by the likeness to the poster. Subsequently Inspector
Bates and myself discovered the name of the firm who posted the
creation. We went off to see the head of the firm, and he could tell
us very little, except that the placards came from some John Smith,
who had an account with the City and Provincial Bank. The latter fact
accounts for my being at Carrington's last night."

"Exactly. And you asked me to keep my eye on a pretty girl, who was
deaf, and who had for attendant cavalier a chap with a moustache like
that of the German Emperor."

"I am coming to that," Masefield went on. "I told you that I had been
dining with Anstruther. Now these two people left Anstruther's house,
for I followed them. I will tell you a more striking thing about them
later on, but I want to have my side of the affair cleared up first.
Tell me what happened after I left Carrington's with Inspector Bates.

"Well, I kept my eye on these people, as you asked me. I tried to get
some information about the fair one from Carrington himself, but he
didn't seem to like the subject. He seemed depressed and a little bit
uneasy, I thought; said it was a sad case, sort of relation of his,
and that the man with the moustache was a foreign count or something
of that sort. I wouldn't press the matter, as it would have been in
bad taste, you see. But, all the same, I did keep an eye on these
people, as you asked me, and the end of it was that I followed them
when they left the house. I don't know what made me do it."

"At any rate I'm glad you acted in that manner," Jack said. "Did they
go back in the direction of Anstruther's house? Did they take a cab?

"Not in the ordinary acceptance of the word," Rigby explained. "They
walked as far as the top of Regent Circus, where a private growler was
waiting. The cab was all black, the driver had a black livery. I could
not see his face, as it was tied up with a silk handkerchief as if the
fellow had toothache or something of that kind. The four-wheeler was
evidently waiting for them, for they got in at once."

"Anybody else inside the cab?" Jack asked.

"By Jove, I was nearly forgetting that!" Rigby exclaimed. "I was just
flush with the cab as it passed a lamp. There was another figure in
the cab, a man, and as the light shone on his face I was about
staggered by his resemblance to the poster of Nostalgo. I only saw the
face just for an instant, but it is impressed upon my mind as if the
man were standing before me at this very minute. Singular, was it not?"

Jack nodded dumbly. This was another new departure in the strange
mystery. For the man seen by Rigby in the black four-wheeler could not
possibly have been the same Nostalgo that Jack had found, seeing that
the latter had been lying in Shannon Street some hour or two before
the time that Rigby was speaking about.

"You did not follow them further, I suppose?" Masefield asked.

"No; I didn't go as far as that. And at the moment I didn't think
anything as to that Nostalgo business No. 1, so to speak. If I had,
you may bet your bottom dollar that I should not have lost the
opportunity. The cab drifted away without any direction being given;
so I went along, without giving it more consideration, to my club. Eh,
what?"

Inspector Bates had hurried into the room without ceremony. His face
was pale and agitated.

"Something strange come out at the inquest?" Jack asked.

"No, sir," Bates gasped, "for the simple reason that there has been no
inquest. You can't hold an inquest without a body. What do I mean?
Why, that the body has vanished from the room, leaving not a hint of a
clue behind!"



CHAPTER VII.
NO. 4, MONTROSE PLACE.


The inspector stood there with his hand on his heart, as if he had run
far and fast. So far as Jack could see, Bates was suffering from some
strong emotion. He flopped down in the chair indicated for him, and
took Jack's proffered cigarette with a shaking hand. Although his
feelings were not exactly under the control one would have expected
from one of the leading lights of Scotland Yard, there was at the same
time a certain suggestion of grim humor playing about the corners of
his mouth. Jack looked across at Rigby and smiled significantly.

"Evidently a new development of the case," Jack said, glancing once
more at his friend. "As a matter of fact, inspector, I have just been
telling Mr. Rigby all about last night's ghastly business. By the way,
you will recollect, of course, that Mr. Rigby is my friend whom we met
at Mr. Carrington's last night. Not to make too long a story of it,
there are sidelights of this business of which you are not at present
aware--but all that is beside the point. What I want you to tell me is
about this disappearance of the body of Nostalgo. Seriously, do you
want my friend and me to believe that the body of a dead man has
disappeared from Shannon Street police station right under the eyes of
the authorities?"

"Well, that is about the size of it," Bates admitted ruefully.
"Naturally enough, we look forward to important developments at the
official inquiry. I had a chat late last night with the doctor, who
seemed to be of the opinion that the dead man had been shot with
something quite new in the way of a weapon."

"What, do you mean a new projectile or a new sort of small arm?"
Masefield asked.

"Well, not exactly that," the inspector replied; "but something quite
new in the way of a missile. There were marks on the breast of our
unfortunate friend which indicated the presence of a shot of some kind
that did mortal damage without leaving traces of anything material
behind."

"Oh, that is all very well, so far as it goes; but what I want to get
at chiefly is the cause of the disappearance of the body," Rigby put
in impatiently. "What is the good of trying to establish all sorts of
new theories when you have not so much as a dead body of the deceased
man before you? It seems incredible to me that this outrage could have
been committed in a police station. Was no one about--was the whole
place deserted, whereby some stranger could have coolly stepped in and
walked off with the body of a powerful man?"

"Well, that is not so difficult as it might seem," Bates said eagerly.
"As a matter of fact, our mortuary is merely an outside room which at
one time had been used as a kitchen. Mr. Masefield will recollect last
night noticing that the light of the room consisted entirely of a kind
of skylight. The ceiling is exceedingly low, so that it would be quite
possible for a tall man to lift the body through and carry it away
without the least trouble, provided, of course, that he had sufficient
strength. At any rate, there it is, and we have to make the best of
it."

"I hope that you have managed to keep this matter from the public so
far," Masefield said. "I don't think anything will be gained by
allowing this new sensation to get into the papers. The best thing we
can do is to come round to Shannon Street with you and see if we can
lay our hands upon anything in the way of a clue. My friend Mr. Rigby
has had a lot of experience in amateur detective work; I dare say you
recollect his success in the matter of the Mortlake coiners, on behalf
of the _Planet_."

Bates expressed his willingness to fall in with this arrangement. Not
that he had any particular confidence in amateur detectives generally;
but he was so bewildered and disheartened at present that anything was
preferable to his own painful thoughts. The police station was reached
at length, and a thorough search of the shabby little apartment at the
back of the office made. But no amount of investigation served to
throw any light on this new phase of the mystery. It was even as Bates
had said: with the darkness of the night, and expecting no
developments of this kind, a bold and unscrupulous character might
easily have entered the room and taken away anything, however bulky,
without much chance of detection.

Nothing daunted by the want of success attending his efforts, Rigby
climbed on to the roof and looked around him. He was particularly
struck by the deserted area at the back of the police station. It was
some distance from his coign of vantage to the nearest house. No doubt
at one time the open space had consisted of fertile gardens, but the
same space was now given over to arid grass and a few stunted trees--a
scene of desolation indeed. On the opposite side, some two hundred
yards away, the backs of a terrace of large houses looked blankly on
the scene. Rigby, with a new idea entirely in his mind, inquired the
name of the terrace. Bates smiled with the superior air of the
professional, and replied that it was Montrose Place.

"And what class of people live there?" Rigby asked.

"Well, rather mixed, I should say," Bates replied. "There was a time,
not so many years ago, when Montrose Place was quite fashionable. Mind
you, they're exceedingly good houses, quite good enough for any
moneyed class; but I understand that the landlord is by no means a
liberal man, and, as the houses have fallen out of repair, they have
become void."

Any further information on this head was cut short by the sudden
calling away of the inspector. It seemed to Masefield that Rigby was
by no means disposed to mourn for the official's company. He stood
with his brows bent frowning at the sombre row of houses in front of
him, but, from the quick working of his hands, Masefield could see
that his versatile friend's brain was busy.

"I see you have made a discovery," Masefield said quietly. "Would you
mind telling me what it is?"

Rigby pointed to the fourth house from the end of the terrace. Did
Masefield notice anything about it peculiar? he asked. But Masefield
did not see anything about the house at all ominous or suggestive,
except that the windows were grimy and dirty, and that the erstwhile
fashionable silk blinds were hanging in tatters like banners behind
the murky glass.

"But surely you see something?" asked Rigby impatiently. "For
instance, take the third window on the left over the ledge, which
probably is that of the bathroom. Don't appear to be looking, and, at
the same time, keep your eye casually on the window."

With a quickening of his pulses, Masefield glanced up in a vague kind
of way in the direction of the window. He felt instinctively that in
some way the deserted house was involved in the disappearance of
Nostalgo. There was not much time for speculation on this point. Very
slowly and cautiously the blind was raised, and a haggard face peeped
out. It was like a picture from some old print, this strange weird
yellow face behind the grimy glass. So thick was the murky dust upon
the casement that it was impossible at so short a distance to decide
whether the features were those of a man or a woman. Anyway, the face,
if it were that of a man, was clean-shaven, the pale head half hidden
behind a tangle of thick black hair. It was only for a moment that
this weird face presented itself to the eager eyes of the spectators
below; an instant later and the whole phantom had vanished.

"Now, what do you think of that?" Rigby asked eagerly. "Don't you
agree with me that this strange apparition has something to do with
the story? Now, supposing you or I had some powerful inducement for
getting hold of the missing body, could we find a better place to work
from than that deserted house?"

"Provided always that it is deserted," Masefield said guardedly.
"Don't let's go quite so fast. Surely your own experience must have
taught you what strange creatures one often sees as caretakers in good
houses?"

"So much the better for me," Rigby replied. "If you are correct in
your suggestion, it will make my task all the more easy; for, come
what may, I am going to see the whole inside of that place before I
sleep to-night."

Rigby walked back into the police station with the air of a man who
has said his last word on the matter. It was no advantage to him,
working as he was on behalf of his own newspaper, to mention his
discovery to Bates. Possibly Masefield's common-sense view of the
problem might have been the correct one, after all, in which case
Bates would have had the laugh of his unprofessional ally. But Bates
had evidently been called out on other business, so that there was no
occasion to say anything to him at all. Declining to return to
Masefield's rooms and there discuss the matter further over tea, Rigby
went thoughtfully back to the office of the _Planet_. He dined alone
at his club, lingering till about ten o'clock over the evening papers,
and then proceeded on his way to Montrose Place by the somewhat
circuitous route of Covent Garden.

But there was more method in Rigby's madness than met the eye. The
sleek, well-groomed barrister and journalist who entered the shop of
Jonas the costumier shortly after ten o'clock, emerged a little before
eleven carefully and effectually disguised as a seller of newspapers.
Then, with the fag-end of a cigarette of doubtful quality in his
mouth, he slouched along towards his destination.

Montrose Place from a front view was considerably more prepossessing
than the similar outlook that presented itself from the back. At least
half the houses were tenanted by people of means, judging from the
neatness of the blinds and the amount of light displayed in the
various windows. Yet, at the same time, it was quite evident that
Bates' estimate was fairly correct.

The first three houses in the terrace bore plates of highly polished
brass, testifying to the fact that doctors were not lacking in the
locality. No. 4, however, stood out in marked contrast to its
neighbors. There was no chance of Rigby's presence there exciting
undue suspicion, for there was not a soul to be seen in the terrace.

Emboldened by this fact, Rigby had no hesitation in lighting a vesta
and making a comprehensive examination of the door-steps. They were
dirty enough in all conscience; no housemaid had knelt there for many
months or even years past; but Rigby's sharp eyes did not fail to note
the fact that some one more than once recently had left footprints on
the grimy flags. They were not dearly indented footprints; indeed,
there was a misty hesitation about them which at first puzzled the
amateur detective exceedingly.

He struck another match after looking cautiously up and down the
terrace. Nobody was in sight; the precaution was quite unnecessary;
the blue flame picked out the misty footprints grimed into the filthy
steps, and then Rigby understood. Whoever made those marks had been
wearing rubber-soled shoes.

"And new shoes at that," Rigby muttered to himself. "I can see the
pattern in the centre of the sole clearly indented now. And the
prints go and come up and down the steps quite regularly. Now, the
fact that somebody comes here and wears new rubber shoes makes it
clear that the wearer has been here very recently. It is also evident
that the wearer wears rubber-soled tennis shoes so as to make no
noise. I feel pretty certain that I am going to learn something now."

But Rigby was a little too sanguine. In the first place, he had to
gain admission to the house, the front door of which was locked. It
was perhaps a significant fact that, though the lock of the door was
green with rust, the edge of the rim of the hole where the latch-key
indented was bright and clear at the edges.

"Evidently used regularly," Rigby went on. "Now, the ordinary
caretaker does not usually sport a latch-key; he or she generally uses
the area door. I should not wonder if the area window was open; I'll
try it."

The area window was not open, but the loose catch had been carelessly
pushed to. The blade of a stout penknife sufficed to prize the catch,
and a moment later Rigby was in the housekeeper's room, safe from all
outside observation.

There was no sign of life here; no vestige of it on the stairs leading
to the big rooms overhead. Rigby could not but notice what a fine
house it was; the last tenant had evidently been lavish in the way of
decorations. With a match in his hand carefully shaded from the
window, Rigby crept up the stairs. He could see in the dust lying
there the constantly repeated footprint of the rubber shoe, indicating
that the owner of that shoe was in the habit of spending a great deal
of time there.

But now, so far as he could judge, the house was absolutely deserted.
He tried door after door softly, and each yielded to his touch,
revealing gloom and desolation and dirt by the faint light of the
vesta. As each stump burned low Rigby carefully dropped the end of it
in his pocket. He was conscious of a feeling of disappointment. Almost
before he was fully cognizant of that feeling he paused in an attitude
of rigid attention. Something like the sound of a smothered cough
struck on his ear; it seemed to him that he could hear somebody
approaching. The stair creaked, and Rigby drew back into a doorway.

He was not mistaken. Somebody was coming up the stairs.



CHAPTER VIII.
THE CHOPIN FANTASIE.


It was nearly two hours later before Rigby crept cautiously down the
steps and emerged by the way in which he had entered the house. The
street as before was absolutely deserted; so far as Rigby could see he
might have been in a city of the dead. Despite his disguise and the
artistic make-up of his grimy face, an acute spectator would not have
failed to notice the agitation of his features. He crept with
trembling footsteps to the roadway, and clung to the railings with a
swaying air of one who has seen things the tongue refuses to describe.
Then his natural courage, fanned by the cool air of the evening and
the sense of being no longer isolated, returned with virile force to
him. Mechanically he fumbled in his rags and produced from a breast
pocket a silver cigarette-case, that might have got him into serious
trouble if a lynx-eyed policeman had been near at hand.

"Well, I have seen some queer things in my time, but, as the poet
says, 'never aught like this,'" Rigby said, with teeth that chattered
a little. "I really must have one of my own cigarettes."

Despite his excitement, Rigby was conscious that he ought to be just a
little ashamed of himself. He had always prided himself upon the fact
that his nerves were perfectly under control and that nothing ever put
him out, otherwise he would not have occupied the position he did at
the _Planet_ office. He began to feel the effect of the cool night
air, which braced him like a tonic. As he stood there waiting for
something--though he would have found it difficult to say what--a
policeman came slowly down the street. Rigby stooped and pretended to
be busy with his stock of papers.

Some spirit of mischief moved him to chaff the representative of the
law, and at the same time test to the utmost the disguise that he was
wearing.

"Paper, sir?" he asked. "All the winners--horrible murder in Grosvenor
Square. Ain't you going to buy one?"

Apparently the officer was one of the good-tempered sort, for he only
smiled, and in a more or less gruff voice ordered the news-vender to
move on.

"Just waiting for my pal, sir," Rigby explained. "I have never come
down this street before, an' I'll take good care never to come down
here again. Why, half these houses seem to be empty. Look at that show
opposite. 'Ow long since anybody has lived there?"

"Before I came on the beat, anyway," the policeman explained. "Do you
want to take one?"

With a laugh at his own pleasantry the policeman stalked off down the
street, leaving Rigby easier in his mind and quite satisfied that his
disguise would stand any ordinary test.

He leaned against the area railings absolutely undecided as to what to
do next. With a certain new caution almost amounting to cowardice--a
feeling of which he would be ashamed at any other time--Rigby turned
his back upon the man who was advancing down the street. At the same
time, so full was he of the horrors that he had lately witnessed, the
amateur detective quite forgot the fragrant cigarette so out of
keeping with his character. The stranger pulled up and, crossing the
pavement, tapped Rigby familiarly on the shoulder.

"You are not so clever as you think you are," the stranger remarked
coolly. "You may be a very smart chap, Dick, and I may be a very dull
one, but I have certainly sufficient brains to know that the average
newspaper tout does not smoke Turkish cigarettes. Besides, after our
conversation this morning, I felt pretty certain that you would make
an attempt to get inside that house."

Rigby laughed in a way that suggested that his nerves were in a
considerably frayed condition.

"So that's you, Jack," he said, with a sigh of relief. "Yes, you are
quite right; in fact, I told you I should not rest to-night until I
had seen the inside of that house."

"And did the expedition come up to expectations?" Masefield asked
eagerly.

"My dear fellow, I have had some weird experiences in my time, but I
would not go through the last hour again for the wealth of the Indies.
In fact, if I tell you what I've seen, you would set me down for a
doddering lunatic."

The look of self-satisfaction on Jack's face faded away. He shivered
with a strange weird feeling, that strange presentiment of something
dire about to happen. Again, why should he doubt the fact that
something terribly out of the common had happened to Rigby after his
own amazing experiences?

With his hand on the arm of his friend, he walked abstractedly the
whole of the terrace. Here a great arc light threw a stream of pallid
blue upon the motley coloring displayed upon a big hoarding. In the
centre of the hoarding, well displayed, was the terrible placard
disclosing the grinning features of Nostalgo.

"By Heaven!" Jack exclaimed, "there is no getting away from the
features of that grinning devil. I know as well as if I had seen it
down in black and white that the awful experiences which have so
changed you lately have to do with that yellow face."

"I am not going to deny it," Rigby replied; "and, what is more, I am
not going to tell you what I have seen in the last two hours--at
least, not at present. And now tell me, to change the subject, what is
your private opinion of Spencer Anstruther?"

To say that Jack was taken aback by the suddenness of the question
would be a mistake. It will be remembered that on the occasion
Masefield last dined with Anstruther he had pointed out to Claire the
amazing likeness between Nostalgo and her guardian. Not that it was
possible for anybody to notice this except when Anstruther was moved
to great emotion; but the fact remained. And now to find that Rigby's
mind was so strangely moved in the same train of thought was, to say
the least of it, disturbing.

"What do you mean by asking that question?" Jack said guardedly.

"For goodness' sake do not let us have any of this unnecessary caution
between friends like ourselves," Rigby said, with great feeling.
"Believe me, my dear friend, I am not asking this question out of idle
curiosity. As man to man, is he a magnificent genius or the greatest
criminal the world has ever seen?"

Thus put to it, Jack had no hesitation; indeed, he could have had no
hesitation in replying to such a direct question as this.

"I am going to speak quite candidly to you," he said. "As you are
perfectly well aware, knowing the man quite as well as I do, he is,
like most geniuses, an exceedingly poor man. At the same time, unlike
most geniuses, he is as unscrupulous as he is clever. I have more than
an idea that he could tell us all about this affair, but I prefer to
pose as a person who has come into it by accident, and who is only
languidly interested. I have had some hesitation in mentioning my
estimate of Anstruther's character to his ward, but I feel very uneasy
so far as Claire is concerned. I know for a fact that Anstruther is
painfully hard up; really, there are times when his financial straits
are absolutely desperate. This being so, it has occurred to me more
than once that Claire's money must be a strong inducement to prevent
her marrying, for instance, myself."

"That is by no means a remote contingency," Rigby suggested drily.

"My dear fellow, to be perfectly frank with you, Miss Helmsley and
myself have been engaged for the past two years. Mind you, this is a
dead secret. I have a presentiment, call it foolish if you like, that
the announcement of this fact to Anstruther will be the first moment
of real danger for Claire. But why do you so suddenly spring this
question upon me?"

By way of reply Rigby drew his companion into the comparative shadow
of a doorway. He had hardly done so before another figure came
jauntily down the street--a tall, slim figure which seemed strangely
familiar to Masefield.

"The whole place seems to reek of Anstruther to-night," Jack said, "or
perhaps it is my disordered imagination. But if that is not Anstruther
himself, my eyesight strangely deceives me."

"If you knew as much as I do, or you had learned what I have learned
the last hour, you would not be surprised," Rigby said. "However, we
will soon settle that. I'll just step across the road and try and sell
him a paper." Before Jack could lay a detaining hand on the arm of his
friend, Rigby was half way across the street. In the approved raucous
voice of the tribe, the amateur news-vender tendered Anstruther an
_Echo_. He waved the offer aside, and made his way down the street
with the air of one who has a definite object in view. With a whine
artistically uttered, Rigby fell back upon the doorway in which
Masefield was concealed.

"Anstruther beyond all shadow of doubt," Rigby said triumphantly.
"Now, I am not a betting man, but I will lay you any odds in reason
that our interesting friend enters No. 4. Ah, what did I tell you?"

Surely enough, Anstruther paused in his stride before the dilapidated
door of No. 4. With one swift glance up and down the street to make
certain that he was not observed, he drew a latch-key from his pocket
and disappeared within the dingy portals. On the still night air the
click of the latch-key and the muffled banging of the door could be
heard all down the road. Rigby drew a sigh of relief.

"Well, I think that'll do for to-night," he said. "I reckon I have had
just about as much as my nerves will stand. No, I am not going to tell
you anything, and I have no stomach for further adventures this
evening. I am going straight to bed, to sleep if I can. Come around
and see me to-morrow afternoon."

But curious as he was, and anxious also as he was, Jack was forced to
decline the proffered invitation. Besides, he had promised to take
Claire to a matinee concert at the Albert Hall, to hear a new
violinist who so far had only performed twice before in England.
Signor Padini had come to the metropolis with a marvelous reputation,
but so far he had hardly fulfilled expectations. Still, it was not the
habit of music-lovers like Claire and Masefield to accept a verdict of
this kind at second-hand. Therefore they had determined to hear the
new virtuoso for themselves.

Not that any thoughts of a harmonious and musical kind were running in
Jack's mind as he walked home to-night. Try as he would, he could not
dismiss the idea that some grave peril was impending, and that Claire
was likely to be the central figure of the tragedy. But it is the
blessed privilege of youth to throw off the haunting cares and doubts
that assail their elders, and Jack suffered little on the ground of
sleeplessness that night.

All the same, the haunting fears were with him again on waking in the
morning.

But perhaps Claire noticed something of this, for she put the direct
question to her lover when he called on her the next afternoon. Yet
Jack had no intention of saying anything for the present. He began to
speak somewhat hurriedly of the new violinist, Signor Padini, and so
the conversation lasted till the Albert Hall was reached.

There was nothing particularly attractive in the concert generally,
and both waited somewhat impatiently for the foreigner to appear. He
came at length, tall, slim, and clean-shaven, and Claire noticed with
an amused smile that for once she was in the presence of a master who
eschewed long hair. She turned and whispered something to this effect
to Jack, who did not appear to be listening.

"Now, where have I seen that fellow before?" he muttered. "Call me
foolish if you like, say this man is an absolute stranger to England
if you please; but I am absolutely prepared to swear that his face is
quite familiar to me."

But perhaps it was merely a chance likeness, Claire suggested. She was
far too interested in the musician to take much heed of what Jack
said. Evidently this man knew his business to his finger-tips; the way
in which he handled his bow would have proved that to any critic.
Claire glanced down the programme; and no sooner did the wild sweeping
music come streaming from the strings than the whole audience thrilled
responsive to the master's touch. He was not, after all, playing the
piece standing against his name on the programme, but the peculiar
weird and mournful rhapsodie of Chopin's that Jack had heard
Anstruther interpreting two nights before. He leaned back; his eyes
were half closed with a strange sensation that he was listening to
Anstruther now. He turned to suggest something of this to Claire, and
to his surprise he noticed that her face was paler than his own.

"Does anything strike you?" he whispered. "Have you a feeling, like
myself, of having gone through all this before?"

"Dreadful!" Claire shuddered. "I know exactly what you mean. It is the
same, precisely the same, as if my guardian had crept inside the body
of Padini---- There! Did you notice that particular slur, that strange
half hesitation? I declare, I feel certain that this Padini was in my
guardian's study the other night. Jack, you must get at the bottom of
this; there is some mystery here which we must solve, and that without
delay."

Jack rose from his seat and buttoned his coat firmly about him.

"Ay," he said, "a deeper mystery than you are aware of. Stay here
while I go behind the stage. I am going to see Signor Padini, and get
to the bottom of this business at any cost."



CHAPTER IX.
THE MAN WITH THE FAIR MOUSTACHE.


Claire sat there, her mind half on her music and half on the
extraordinary conduct of her lover. Not that she did not trust him
implicitly; but, still, it seemed strange that he should have gone off
without explaining the cause of his agitation.

Some one next to her touched her on the elbow and asked a question as
to an item on the programme. The question was repeated twice before
Claire realized that she would have to pull herself together. She
replied quite at random; then she looked about her, and became
cognizant of the fact that Padini was still on the stage, bowing his
acknowledgments of the thunderous applause which had greeted his
magnificent efforts.

Yet a closer glance did not serve to show Claire anything sinister in
the artist's personality. He was pale and clean-shaven, palpably very
nervous, and yet pleased with the warmth of his reception. Surely
there could have been no mystery connected with a man like this.

On the other hand, the marvelous likeness between his playing and the
execution in the same piece displayed by Anstruther two nights ago
could not possibly be overlooked by any one professing to any musical
knowledge at all. Claire hoped that the inevitable encore would
produce a repetition of the same piece.

Surely enough, Padini came forward and struck the opening bars of the
same rhapsodie. With eyes closed and mind eagerly concentrated on the
music, Claire followed every passage with rapt attention. There was no
longer any possibility of mistake. The Padini interpretation of the
piece was exactly that of Anstruther. Was Anstruther, therefore, a
consummate master of his art or a showy humbug or charlatan? Could it
have been possible that this new artist had been concealed in the
Panton Square library two nights before? But, on the face of it, this
was absolutely impossible. Padini had only been in England a little
over eight and forty hours, and his first appearance in London had
been at a musical "at home" on the same night that Anstruther had
played the Nocturne in Panton Square.

Claire was still debating this problem in her mind when Jack returned
to his seat. He looked a little pale and shaky, but the grim smile on
his face was determined enough. "My dearest girl, I am going to ask
you a little favor," Jack whispered. "I hope you won't think it the
least rude of me, but I want you to excuse me going back with you.
Can't you guess that there is something more than meets the eye here?"

"I should be very blind indeed if I did not," Claire replied. "Jack,
what is the meaning of this strange mystery? Either Signor Padini was
at our house the other night, or my guardian learned to play that
rhapsodie after having had lessons from the man on the platform before
us."

"I may be wrong, of course," Jack said, "but I feel pretty sure that I
have guessed the problem. That is why I want you to go off by
yourself, and leave me to play the detective so far as Padini is
concerned. It is not altogether a pleasant job, but I am going to
follow that fellow when he leaves the Hall."

So saying, Jack rose from his seat, and Claire obediently followed his
example. Once outside, Jack called a cab, and gave the driver his
instructions.

"I think that will be all right," he said. "You may expect me to come
round after dinner, my darling girl. I hope you are not in the least
annoyed with me; but there is danger ahead for you and me, and it is
my duty to prevent it at all hazards. I declare if I had not almost
forgotten one of the most important things I had to say to you. On no
account are you to breathe a word of this afternoon's visit to your
guardian. He is not to know that you have been with me or anybody else
to the Albert Hall to-day."

Claire glanced at the pale, anxious face of her lover and gave the
desired assurance. She felt perfectly safe in his hands; he would tell
her all there was to be told in due course; and now for the first time
she congratulated herself on the fact that her engagement had been
kept a secret from Anstruther.

Meanwhile Jack had returned to the back of the Hall. So far as he
could recollect, Padini was down on the programme for no further item
that afternoon, therefore it was only a matter of waiting till the
violinist emerged, and following him to his destination. But Jack had
succeeded in consuming three cigarettes without any sign of the artist
rewarding his patience. Taking half-a-crown from his pocket, he
crossed the road and proceeded to interview the stage-door keeper.

"Oh, that foreign-looking chap, is it?" the stage-door guardian said.
"Signor Somebody or other who plays the fiddle. Why, he's been gone
the last ten minutes."

"Gone!" Jack exclaimed, with palpable dismay. "Why, I have been
watching most carefully for him the last half-hour. Was he wrapped up
or shawled in any way?"

Whilst Jack still stood arguing there a slim young man, with fair
moustache turned upwards _à la_ German Emperor, passed and repassed
him hurriedly. The stranger passed into a smartly appointed hansom and
vanished.

"Well, there's your man," the doorkeeper exclaimed. "He must have
forgotten something and returned for it."

Jack muttered his thanks, parted with his half-crown, and went into
the roadway thoroughly puzzled. He could not for a moment doubt the
word of the doorkeeper, who was naturally an expert in a recognition
of faces. As a matter of fact, the man with the turned-up moustache
was the same individual who had been so mysteriously concealed in
Panton Square, and who had afterwards accompanied the deaf-mute girl
to Mr. Carrington's. On the stage Padini had appeared as a slight,
slim man, whose face was absolutely devoid of hair.

Jack stood thoughtfully in the middle of the road, wondering what to
do next. His first idea was to go at once and look up Rigby. He must
have been standing there a great deal longer than he had imagined, for
presently he saw the smart hansom return and take its place on the
rank. Here was a slice of luck indeed. Jack crossed over and hailed
the hansom.

"Here, I want you to drive me to the office of the _Planet_," he said.
"I suppose you know where that is. Do you want to earn an extra
half-sovereign?"

"That's the way I was educated." said the cabman, with a grin. "Oh, my
last fare, is it? Well, I can easily answer that question. Gent with
the cocked-up moustache. I have just driven him to 5, Panton Square."

Jack stepped into the hansom, feeling that luck was entirely on his
side. He knew now that he was on the track of something more than mere
coincidence. For 5, Panton Square was no less a place than the
residence of Spencer Anstruther, Claire's guardian. Here was proof
positive that Padini, the violinist, a perfect stranger to London, was
at any rate on terms of friendship with Anstruther. There was nothing
for it now but to seek out Rigby and tell him all that had happened
without delay. Rigby was found in his room at the _Planet_ office,
mournfully drawing skeletons on a sheet of blotting-paper. He nodded
thoughtfully as Jack came in; then, catching sight of the latter's
eager face, asked what was in the wind.

"I have been making discoveries galore," Jack responded. "You would
hardly expect me to do that through the medium of an afternoon
concert; but there it is. You have heard of this new violinist, Signor
Padini, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes," Rigby said indifferently. "Well, a typical class of foreign
boomster, I suppose."

"That is not the point," Jack proceeded to explain. "You will
recollect what I told you about the empty study in Anstruther's house
from which the music proceeded in that strange, unaccountable manner.
Naturally, I thought the player was Anstruther himself--Anstruther
wonderfully improved or inspired beyond all recognition; but now I
know that such was not the case. Dick, there is something devilish in
this strange business--the empty room, the unearthly music, the
strange appearance of that young man with his deaf-mute companion,
followed so closely by the death of Nostalgo. What does it all mean?"

"I will give a thousand pounds to know," Rigby responded.

"Well, I think I can tell you," Jack went on. "You will recollect the
night before last, during our chance meeting at Carrington's, that I
asked you to keep an eye on a young man with moustache turned up _à
la_ German Emperor. Would you be surprised to hear that this young man
was no less a person than Signor Padini?"

"Impossible!" Rigby exclaimed. "How could you prove such a statement?"

"Well, I am going to prove it, anyway. Together with Miss Helmsley I
went to hear Padini this afternoon. By some strange freak of fate he
had chosen Chopin's Rhapsodie in F as his item on the programme.
Directly he began to play my mind went back to that strange, weird
music in Anstruther's study. It was not I alone who noticed this
subtle resemblance; in fact, Claire recognized it as soon as I did.
Mind you, every musician of note has his little tricks and fancies
which are absolutely peculiar to himself. When I shut my eyes, I could
literally hear Padini playing in Anstruther's house.

"I sent Claire home in a cab, and proceeded to wait till Padini
left the Albert Hall. I missed him, of course, for Padini was a
clean-shaven man on the stage. As a matter of fact, he must be a very
conceited creature, seeing that in private life he wears a fair
moustache. I got that from the doorkeeper; but, what is more to the
point, the cabman who drove me here is the same man who half-an-hour
ago dropped Padini at Anstruther's house. Now, I would like to know
what you make of that."

Rigby listened thoughtfully to all that Jack had had to say. The
significance of the revelations was not lost upon him.

"And yet, I dare say, Anstruther would deny any knowledge of Padini if
you asked him," he said. "Still, we know a great deal, and, clever as
Anstruther is, he cannot possibly conceive the fact that we are so
closely acquainted with his movements. Let's go and call upon the
beggar, shall we? Pretend that we want to consult him on some matter
of business. Anything will do. Did you keep your cab?"

"Well, yes; it occurred to me that we might want him again, and,
besides, the driver can prove that he left Padini at 5, Panton
Square."

Panton Square was reached at length; the cabman had been discreetly
dropped at the corner of the street. Jack rang the bell, which was
answered by Serena. In the full light of the afternoon sunshine her
strange, inscrutable face looked more haggard and strange than usual.
There was the same furtive droop of her eyelids, the same pitiable
shake of her hands, that suggested the beaten hound, that Jack had so
often noticed before. He would have given much, as a writer of stories
himself, to have known the secret history of this woman. Docile and
tame as she appeared to be, she was still capable of passionate
emotion, or the dilatation of her black pupils spoke falsely. Though
she was meek and friendly enough, there was ever a suggestion that she
was on her guard.

"Your master in?" Rigby asked breezily. "But we know that he is. Don't
you trouble about us; we will go to the study ourselves."

Serena stood there as if something gripped her throat and choked her
utterance.

"But my master is not at home." she protested. "He has not been at
home all day; neither do I know what time to expect him to-night. I
fancy he is out of town altogether."

"That's rather awkward," Rigby said. "We came here on business,
expecting to meet a friend of ours. I suppose you have seen nothing of
him--a tall, slim young man, with rather a fierce type of moustache?"

"There has been no visitor calling here to-day," Serena replied, with
the air of one who repeats a well-learned lesson. "I am the only
servant in the house at present, and should have known if anybody had
called."

Jack did not dare to glance at his companion, feeling that those dark,
interrogating eyes were fixed upon his face. A sudden impulse moved
Jack; he decided upon trying the effect of a swift surprise. He tapped
the woman familiarly on the shoulder.

"Come, come," he said, with a jocular ring in his voice. "Do you mean
to tell me that you have not had a visit to-day from Signor Padini?"

A stifled cry broke from the woman; she clenched her hands in an
attitude of pain.



CHAPTER X.
WHAT DID SHE KNOW?


Nothing was said for a full minute. Serena stood there, gazing from
one to the other as a child might do who finds herself in the presence
of two harsh taskmasters. There was something pitiable about her
hopelessness; the fighting glint had left her eyes; she stood there
downcast and shaking as a slave might do.

"I am afraid I do not understand what you mean," the woman said.

In a way Jack was feeling very sorry for Serena. Ever since he had
known Anstruther and been a friend of the household the woman had held
a certain subtle fascination for him. Though Jack had not made as yet
much progress in the paths of literature, he had all the quick
dramatic feeling which is essential to the making of a successful
novelist.

It had often occurred to him that so mysterious a figure as Serena
would have made a splendid character for a strong novel. He watched
the woman carefully now; he saw how her breast was heaving, and what a
great fight she was making to keep her emotions under control.

"I am afraid I must press you for an answer," Jack said. "Signor
Padini can be nothing to you, and yet you start and cry out when his
name is mentioned as if I had struck you a blow. Now, tell me, was the
man I speak of a visitor to this house last night? What time did he
come?"

"My master's business is my master's business," Serena said sullenly.
"He tells me nothing--he tells nobody anything. And who am I, a humble
servant like me, to ask questions of my master?"

Rigby shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. He began to see that there
was nothing to gain here. He nodded to Jack and half turned away. But
Jack was not to be so easily suppressed.

"But, surely," he urged, "you would be doing no harm in telling us if
a foreign gentleman called here last night?"

"I will tell you nothing," Serena cried. "Why do you come and bully a
poor woman like this?"

And yet, at the same time, though Jack knew how faithful she was to
her master, he could not but feel that she was not antagonistic to
Claire and himself. With a sudden impulse he pushed his way into the
hall, followed by Rigby.

"We all make mistakes sometimes," he said. "Now, are you quite sure
you have made no mistake about your master? Mr. Anstruther is a law
unto himself; he comes and goes as he likes, and it is just possible
that he might have returned without you being aware of the fact. There
is nothing to be frightened about; we are not here to murder him for
the sake of his Apostle spoons."

As Jack ceased to speak he made a swift sign to Rigby behind the
woman's back, and the latter understood. He would go off to the
library and see for himself if Anstruther had returned. As the hall
door closed behind him, Serena rushed impulsively forward and threw
herself headlong at Jack's feet. Her attitude had entirely changed;
she was no longer the half-dumb slave of circumstance, no longer a
mere machine answering to the call of her master, but a living,
palpitating woman. The change was so quick, so dramatic and
unexpected, that Jack had no voice of protest left to him.

"For heaven's sake, do not do it!" Serena whispered hoarsely; "and, if
not that, for your own sake I implore you to stay your hand. Oh, I am
not so blind and foolish as you think--I am not the dull, stupid
creature that my master takes me to be. You can deceive him where love
and honor are concerned, but you cannot blind my eyes, because I have
loved, alas! too well myself. Do not think that I pry and watch, for
such is not my nature. And yet I know as well as if you had told me in
so many words that Miss Claire and yourself are something more than
friends. I cannot speak more plainly because I dare not; but if you
would save the girl you love from the terrible danger that hangs over
her, you will be blind to all that goes on in this dreadful house."

The words which had begun so hoarsely and quietly came at the finish
with the torrential force of a mountain stream. Surprised as he had
been, Jack's self-possession had not quite deserted him. Hitherto he
had regarded the silent Serena as an old woman, but now that her face
was transformed and glowing with emotions he could see that she was
still comparatively young. He could see also, and the fact gave him a
vague sense of satisfaction, that this woman's sympathies were
entirely with Claire and himself.

"Will you get up, please?" he said, and his own voice was just a
little shaky. "It is not right for a woman to kneel to a man like
that. Serena, you are not what you seem. You are not a servant in the
ordinary acceptation of the word; you spoke just now like a refined
and educated woman. You may say that is no business of mine, and,
indeed, I do not wish to pry into your past, but you must see that
this matter cannot possibly stop here. You denied just now that Signor
Padini had been here at all. You denied the presence of your master,
and yet I can hear his voice on the other side of the study door at
this moment. You will perhaps also deny that you heard of No. 4,
Montrose Place."

It was merely a bow drawn at a venture, but the shaft seemed to strike
home to the feather. Serena had risen painfully and slowly to her
knees; she staggered back against the table and contemplated Jack with
dilated eyes.

"Oh, you have gone further than I dreamed." she moaned. "You are a
strong, masterful man, and I see now that nothing I can say will turn
you from your purpose."

"Since you have made up your mind to that," Jack said grimly, "perhaps
you had better be candid with me and tell me all you know. For some
time past I have felt a strong conviction that Anstruther is no better
than a consummate scoundrel. Discreet as he is, I have come to the
conclusion that this is no house for Miss Helmsley. I am quite certain
that you would find both of us more sincere friends than the man you
call your master. Why not, therefore, leave him and throw in your lot
with us?"

The woman wrung her hands piteously; Jack could see the tears rolling
down her face.

"Oh, if I only could--if I only dared." she whispered; "and yet I
cannot, even if it were only for your sakes. If you only knew what was
hanging over you--but I must say no more. When that man comes to me,
when I stand before him with his eyes looking into mine, I am
compelled to give him up the secrets of my very soul. I wish from the
bottom of my heart that----"

Serena clutched at her throat with a quivering hand, as if something
choked her, and rushed impulsively from the room. She had said
nothing, and yet she had said so much. Her very reticence, her
hesitation to speak definitely against her master, had proved
conclusively to Jack what a consummate scoundrel Anstruther was. He
was still debating the matter in his mind when Rigby came back to him.
The latter did not speak; instead of that, he took Jack by the arm and
piloted him quietly and firmly to the front door. They were in the
street before Jack could ask the meaning of this cautious conduct.

"One can't be too cautious in a case like this," Rigby explained. "It
was just as I had expected. Anstruther was at home; he, indeed, had
not been out all day, which fact was proved by his still being in
dressing-gown and slippers. Our usually self-contained friend had
either been dissipating last night or he has had disturbing news; at
any rate, he was very pale and shaky, and did not seem in the least
pleased to see me. Not that I think that he was in the least
suspicious of my visit."

"Did you happen to see anything of Padini?" Jack asked eagerly. "Well,
I did and I did not," Rigby explained. "At any rate, the Italian was
not in the study, though he had been there, from the simple fact that
a music case and a rather jaunty-looking Homburg hat rested on a side
table. Did you happen to notice if Padini was wearing a Homburg hat
this afternoon?"

Jack was able to reassure his friend on that point, whereupon Rigby
proceeded to ask if anything had happened during the time he was left
alone with Serena. Rigby listened with interest to all that Jack had
to say.

"That's a woman we ought to get hold of," he said thoughtfully.
"Unless I am greatly mistaken, she can tell us all we want to know. As
a matter of fact, she has told us a great deal, though perhaps without
knowing it. At any rate, from what you say, she is quite aware of the
fact that something uncanny is going on at 4, Montrose Place. I feel
perfectly certain that the body of Nostalgo was smuggled away _via_
that empty house; we know perfectly well that Anstruther is in the
habit of going there, and we are equally sure that the very mention of
the house filled Serena with terror. As we have plenty of time on our
side, and there seems to be no immediate hurry, you and I are going to
keep our eye on that place. You were very anxious last night to know
what I had seen there. Well, you have plenty of pluck and courage of
your own; you shall come with me presently and verify the thing for
yourself."

"Do you mean to say we are going to keep a vigil there to-night?" Jack
asked.

"That's about the size of it," Rigby answered coolly. "You had better
come round to my rooms not a moment later than half-past ten. Mind
you, we are not going there as ourselves, but you can leave a disguise
quite safely to me. Don't bring a revolver or anything noisy of that
kind; something in the way of a thick stick would be much safer. By
the way, didn't you tell me that you were going to see Miss Helmsley
to-night? Take my advice, call there and dine as if nothing had
happened, and directly Anstruther makes an excuse to return to his
study, slip away from the house without the formality of leave-taking
and come to my place at once."

It was not easy work for a straightforward fellow like Jack to sit
with Anstruther on the other side of the table, discussing trivial
topics as if there was nothing grim and terrible behind this picture
of refined home life. Jack was conscious of carrying himself off
fairly well, what time Anstruther rose from the table with an excuse
that he had work to do.

"Please don't think I am avoiding your company," Anstruther said
pleasantly, "and don't be annoyed if you hear the sound of my violin
presently. As a matter of fact, my thoughts are always clearest when
inspired by the sounds of music."

Jack muttered something suitable to the occasion, and exchanged
glances with Claire directly Anstruther left the room.

Just as that genius had prophesied, the sweet strains of the violin
stole from the study presently. Claire listened with an interest which
was vivid and thrilling beyond words.

"Now, listen to that." she cried. "Did you ever hear anything like it?
Did you ever hear Mr. Anstruther play in that style and manner before?
Note the little slurs, the half hesitation, which is at once so
dramatic and artistic. If you close your eyes, you might swear that
you are listening to Padini himself."

"It really is amazing," Jack murmured. "Padini to the life; the
Italian to a semitone. And yet we know perfectly well that it cannot
be Padini, because at this very moment he is waiting to take his turn
at the Queen's Hall concert. Claire, you must try to get to the bottom
of this. I cannot possibly believe that this infernal juggling is
conceived merely to satisfy the vanity of Anstruther, for, in the
first place, we form so small an audience. There is something behind
this much more serious than the soothing of a clever man's vanity. And
now I must be off."

Claire pleaded with her lover to stay a little longer, but, mindful of
Rigby's strict injunctions, he was fain to refuse. In the light of
recent knowledge he had no occasion to feel sure that Anstruther was
still on the premises, despite the fact of those exquisite strains of
music emanating from the library. He had not forgotten the strange
experience in that direction two nights before. Still, the sweet,
melancholy melody could be distinctly heard by Jack as he crossed the
road.

Rigby was impatiently awaiting his friend, and he had all the
disguises sent up to his bedroom. He listened eagerly to all Jack had
to say whilst artistically making himself up as a news-vender. A
glance at himself in the glass reassured Jack; he felt pretty sure in
his mind that no one could possibly recognize him attired as he was
now.

"What's the programme?" he asked, completing the illusion with a short
clap pipe. "Are we going straight away to Montrose Place?"

Rigby replied that that was the intention. It was getting near to
eleven o'clock before the friends reached Montrose Place; so far as
they could see they had the terrace entirely to themselves. A
policeman strode majestically down the road, flashing his lantern here
and there, and finally disappeared from sight.

"Now's our time," Rigby said eagerly; "no chance of being interrupted
for the next ten minutes. You stand at the top of the steps whilst I
sneak down and open the window. We 'shall have to fumble our way
up-stairs, because it is by no means safe to use matches. Still, I
have the geography of the house quite clear in my mind. Come along."

They were in the grim, dusty house at last. Jack was conscious only of
the intense darkness and musty smell of the place. Carefully piloted
by Rigby, he reached the second floor landing at length, and there
Rigby grasped his arm significantly. There was no sound at first save
the scratching of mice behind the panel or the flutter of some ragged
blind swayed in the piercing draught. Then suddenly it seemed to Jack
that a solemn footfall sounded in a room close by, a door opened with
a pop like a pistol crack, and a long slit of light, dazzling in its
brilliancy, fell like a lance upon the dusty floor. Somebody laughed
somewhere, a laugh that sounded so near and yet so far away; then the
door opened wider, and a partial view of the interior of the room
could be seen.

Utterly taken by surprise, moved and horrified to the depths of his
soul, Jack could have cried out, but for the hand clapped upon his
mouth like a steel trap.

"Not a sound," Rigby whispered sternly. "For heaven's sake, restrain
yourself, and look, look!"



CHAPTER XI.
THE SHADOW ON THE WALL.


Jack needed no second bidding; he was only too anxious and eager to
follow the direction of Rigby's outstretched finger. He was by no
means lacking in the nerve and pluck which generally go to a young man
of fine physique and clean habit. But there was something about the
whole of this affair, a creeping suggestion of diabolical crime, such
as one only encounters in the wildest realms of fiction.

And yet it seemed to Jack that his reading of the daily press recalled
things just as vile in every-day life. With teeth clenched firmly,
with a stern resolution to do nothing very likely to precipitate what
might have been a terrible catastrophe, Jack looked into the room
before him. As the door was half open and the two friends were hidden
in the blackish shadow, it was possible to watch without the slightest
chance of being seen.

For an empty house, dusty and gloomy and deserted as it was, the room
in front of our two adventurers presented a striking contrast to the
rest of the place. There was no window, or at least, where the window
ought to have been, something in the way of an iron shutter stood, and
over this a great wealth of silken hangings was artistically arranged.
As to the rest of the apartment, the furniture was directly in keeping
with the abode of a millionaire. Jack did not fail to notice the rich
Persian carpet, the luxurious chairs and settees of the First Empire
period, the fine pictures on the walls. The walls, too, had been
recently decorated, so that there was not a single jarring note to mar
the harmonious whole. There were flowers, too, grouped in the corners
of the room and piled cunningly around the electrolier standing on the
centre table.

"Now, that is a strange thing," Jack whispered. "So far as I could
see, so far as I can see now, there is no sign whatever of the
electric lighting in any other part of the house. Do you suppose that
these people have taken this house in the ordinary way, or is it
possible that----"

"Not a bit of it," Rigby replied. "They're not the sort of people to
do anything as foolish as that. Nor would there be any occasion to go
to the expense. Depend upon it, they know all about the character of
the owner of this property, and that it is not in the least likely to
let unless put thoroughly in order."

"Then, what about the electric light?" Jack suggested. "That would
have to be put in by somebody. These people could not tap the main, or
anything of that kind."

"There's a much simpler way than that, my dear fellow. Dr. Adamson
lives next door, and I know perfectly well that he has electric light.
It does not require much technical knowledge to wire a house, and
anybody with a small amount of common sense could easily drill a small
hole through a partition and attach a wire to one of the main lines
next door. I think that explains the problem."

Jack had no further question to ask for the moment. His full attention
now was concentrated on the occupants of the room. There were three of
them altogether, two being dressed like superior mechanics, and were
evidently there for some purpose connected with machinery. The third
man, superior in every way to his companions, had his back turned to
the door, so that it was impossible to get a glimpse of his features.
He had in front of him an ingenious-looking arrangement, not unlike a
magic lantern or a contrivance for throwing cinematograph pictures on
a screen. At a sign from him, one of the workmen drew back the silken
draperies covering what ought to have been the window, and a white
sheet stood confessed.

"Give me the third slide by your left hand," the operator commanded.
"That will do. Now switch out the light."

There was a click and a jerk, and immediately the whole room was
plunged in darkness save for the fierce disc of blinding light that
flashed upon the screen. Almost immediately a dazzling disc was
transformed to the face of a man. Jack clutched at the arm of his
companion.

"By heaven! do you see that?" he whispered. "It is nothing more nor
less than the face of Nostalgo. Do you think this is merely a
development of some novel form of advertisement, or is it possible
that these fellows have hit upon some novel way of putting in
posters?"

But Rigby had nothing to say. He was too deeply interested in the
spectacle before him. It had occurred to him for the moment that there
might have been something in what Jack suggested. It was just possible
also that what he took to be a large sheet was no more than a wide
stretch of paper.

At any rate, there was no hurry. There would be plenty of time to
ascertain whether the supposed sheet on the wall was paper or not.
Rigby had made no reply to Jack's cogent question, but he seemed to be
quite as interested as his friend.

"Hang me if I know what to think of it," he said at length. "It seems
to me as if these fellows were trying to work out something quite new
in the way of lantern slides. Mind you, it is just possible that we
are mistaken altogether in our assumption that Anstruther is carrying
out some cunning rascality. These men may, after all, be no more or
less than honest workmen."

"I can't quite see that point," Jack replied. "Honest workmen do not,
as a rule, come in this furtive way to an empty house. Besides, look
at them."

"That is all very well," Rigby argued. "But supposing that you were
engaged upon some secret process which you did not want anybody to
know anything about. And, besides, Anstruther is quite a genius in his
way, and there is no reason why he should not be engaged upon
inventing some new process of lithography."

"In that case," Jack said, "is it not a strange coincidence that they
should be manufacturing these Nostalgo posters? I grant you that
Anstruther is absolutely a genius, but his talents always take a
sinister bent; in fact, I don't think the fellow could be honest if he
tried. Still, we have plenty of time to find out."

"Do you really think that is paper?" Rigby asked. "It looks to me like
it."

"It looks to me like it, too," Jack said; "but we shall have to
possess our souls in patience."

"Hang me if I don't go and see," he said. "No, I don't see that there
is any great danger unless they should happen to turn up the light
again, and I do not suppose they will do that until the experiment is
finished."

"For goodness' sake, do nothing rash," Jack implored. "From what we
have already seen, we have to do with a gang who would not hesitate to
cut our throats if it served their purpose."

The thing, after all, was not so hazardous as Jack had imagined. Just
for an instant, as if by accident, one of the shaded electrics on the
wall flashed out in a pin-point of diamond light.

"You clumsy fool!" growled the man behind the lantern. "What did you
do that for? You might have spoilt all my work by your blundering
folly."

The erring workman grunted out something in the way of an apology and
a promise that he would be more careful in the future. Here, then, was
Rigby's opportunity. He knew now that there was no likelihood of the
light being turned on again for some time to come. All he had to do,
therefore, was to creep cautiously, wriggling like a snake across the
floor, until he could touch the huge screen and ascertain whether it
were paper or cloth.

He took a penknife from his pocket and opened a small blade. So dense
was the darkness of the room by contrast with the vivid lane of light
thrown upon the screen that the journey was practically devoid of
peril, so long as no one touched the switch of the electrics.
Therefore Rigby crept along, his nerves braced to the highest tension
and an exhilarating sense of danger strong upon him. He could see now
that the white sheet extended from floor to ceiling, the edges of it
seeming black and firm like an iron plate in contrast with the
brilliant white centre.

He was close to it now, so close indeed that, with a cautious movement
of his arm, he could touch the sheet. A single prick with a sharp
point of his knife gave him all the information that he needed. It was
a sheet of paper surely enough. A moment later Rigby was standing by
Jack's side once more.

"Paper," he whispered. "Really, this adventure is likely to prove
prosaic after all. Don't you think we are rather making a mountain out
of a molehill? We know that Anstruther is a great rascal, but at the
same time he is an exceedingly clever man, and, as you know, inclined
to be secretive. Now, isn't it just possible that our friend has hit
upon some new process of photo-lithography, and that we are witnessing
an experiment to demonstrate the value of the new idea."

"I don't think so," Jack replied. "Indeed, since you have been away, I
have made something in the way of a discovery also. Mark well the
picture thrown upon the screen yonder. You know what it represents, of
course?"

"Well, naturally. I have seen the diabolical face of Nostalgo on too
many posters not to be absolutely familiar with his ugly mug. Depend
upon it, those fellows are printing the famous poster in some way
known to themselves. Maybe we shall see that self-same sheet on some
hoarding to-morrow."

"But that is not what I meant at all," Jack proceeded to explain. "If
you are as familiar with the poster as you say you are, you will
notice a considerable difference in this one. In the first place, the
face is a little more in profile, and surely you must notice the
difference in the hands."

"Right you are," Rigby replied. "In the present instance the hands are
half-extended, as if in the act of clutching something. Strange that I
had not noticed that before. What do you make it out to be?"

"Hush!" Jack whispered. "I think our ingenious friend behind the
lantern will explain that for himself."

The leading operator in the room gave a short curt sign and the
brilliant lights flashed up once more. The slide was also drawn from
the lantern, but the sinister features of the dark, repulsive face
upon the screen did not vanish as might have been expected. On the
contrary, the grim face frowned down as if it had been brushwork from
the pencil of some imaginative artist. One of the workmen approached
the sheet and dragged it to the floor. Then the three men in the room
bent over the poster and examined it critically.

"It seems to me that the hand is a little out of drawing," the leader
of the trio remarked critically. "Give me the paints--the white paint,
I mean."

The speaker took a brush heavily charged with some white pigment and
proceeded to touch up the hand. He cut this portion from the sheet and
placed it in the slide of the lantern. Then another large sheet of
paper was erected in front of the window, and the lights turned out
again. Almost immediately there appeared upon the disc the shadow of a
huge, bony hand uplifting a dagger in a menacing attitude. A grunt of
approval came from the man behind the lantern, and once more the
lights were turned up.

"There, what did I tell you?" Jack asked eagerly. "I am sure the
different attitudes of that man's hand are meant for signs."

"Indeed, it would seem so," Rigby was forced to admit. "We'd better
stay here and await developments."

For the next hour or so the mysterious process of printing the posters
continued. It was exactly as Jack's ingenious mind had forecast. In
every instance, although the dark and sinister features remained the
same, the attitude of the hand was different. It was a strange and
most important discovery that the two friends had made; but, instead
of making their task easier, the problem had become still more
intricate. Was all this part of some cunning device for attracting
public attention, something absolutely new in the way of
advertisement, or did it signify a deeper and more sinister purpose?

Jack recollected now how frequently Anstruther had alluded in his
hearing to the ramifications of secret societies. With his intimate
knowledge of criminality, and having every assistance from the police
always at his disposal, Anstruther's acquaintance with the seamy side
of life was extensive and peculiar. But was he now helping the police
as usual, or was he engaged himself upon some ingenious conspiracy for
the aggrandizement of himself and his satellites?

It was difficult to say, it was still more difficult to prove
anything, seeing that the work of printing was still proceeding in
silence. If these men would only speak, if they would only utter some
word which might give a clue to what they were doing, the spies would
have been more satisfied. Their only hope was to watch and wait on the
off-chance of a careless word.

They were listening so eagerly indeed that they almost failed to
notice the sound of a footstep which now echoed on the stairs. They
were so close to the door that any one reaching their landing from
below could hardly fail to make out the outline of their figures.
Rigby had barely time to drag his companion back into the velvety
darkness beyond before the newcomer was past them and had entered the
room.

"How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?" the newcomer cried.
"How are you getting on? Nobody interrupting you--seen nothing of the
police or anything of that kind?"

"No doubt as to who that is," Rigby whispered. "I should recognize
Anstruther's voice anywhere. I told you he was at the bottom of this
business."

Anstruther stood before them, tall and distinguished in his evening
dress, and there was no sign about him that he was doing anything more
than pursuing a quite normal occupation.

"Not at all a bad evening's work," he said. "Are we all here, or is
Carrington late again? Confound that fellow! I begin to wish we hadn't
taken him into the business at all. But I do not think he is at all
likely to play me false; it will be a bad day's work for him if he
does."

"Carrington, too," Jack muttered significantly; "that is your rich
banker friend, Dick. The plot thickens apace. It seems impossible for
anybody to come in contact with Anstruther and retain his
respectability."



CHAPTER XII.
LOCKED IN!


Quite unconscious that his most dangerous enemies were so near,
Anstruther carefully selected a cigarette and lighted it. He proceeded
then to make a careful examination of the pile of posters at his feet,
and smiled his approval. "Very good, very good indeed; those hands
stand out beautifully. Within a week's time from now the message will
have been carried from London to St. Petersburg and from Paris to
Constantinople. The men I am after cannot get away from me. Whatever
great capital they are in, that poster confronts their eyes like an
avenging conscience. Then they realize their helplessness and bow to
the inevitable. You may doubt me if you like; but I tell you that this
scheme is absolutely sure and safe."

"Provided that we have the money to carry it out," the man behind the
lantern grunted. "Don't forget that. Clever as you are, you can't make
money by merely holding up your little finger. You promised us a
thousand pounds when we had finished our part of the bargain, and that
was completed a month ago. Of course, you have got the cash in your
pocket?"

A frown of annoyance crossed Anstruther's face. There was a clenching
of his hands not unlike that depicted by the poster of the mysterious
Nostalgo; he made a half step forward; then he seemed to get himself
in hand again, and smiled carelessly. "As a matter of fact, I have not
the money in my pocket. Things are not going quite as well lately as I
could have wished, but it is only a matter of a day or two anyway;
nay, it is only a matter of hours. Is the woman here?"

The man behind the lantern sulkily declared that he knew nothing about
the woman, and cared less. He asked pointedly whether they were to
expect Mr. Carrington that evening, and, if so, whether his visit was
likely to be attended with substantial results.

"I tell you I don't know," Anstruther said angrily. "I told him to be
here at eleven o'clock, but I suppose he has funked it. But the woman
is a very different matter. Jacob, go into the back room and bring her
in here."

"Not I," the man addressed as Jacob replied. "I don't forget the last
time we met. She may be milk and honey to you, but she is prussic acid
as far as I am concerned."

Anstruther stepped to the doorway and whistled softly. It might have
been a call given to a well-broken dog, so careless and contemptuous
was it. Indeed, Anstruther did not wait to see the result of his
summons, but returned to the room with the easy assurance of a man who
knows that his lightest call will be obeyed.

Almost immediately the two watchers standing on the landing were
conscious of a shadowy form passing close to them. They had no time to
shrink back, they had not even time for surprise, when a light hand
was laid on the arm of each and an eager voice began to whisper in
their ears.

"Rash to the verge of madness," the melancholy voice said sadly. "I
warned you not to come--I implored you not to take a hand in this
business. I could have settled it all for you if you had left it all
to me; but youth ever will be served. Won't you go away even now and
leave it all to me?"

There was something so pitifully imploring in the speech that the
listeners thrilled in sympathy. From the first word they had no
difficulty in guessing the identity of the speaker. It was none other
than Serena who was addressing them in those despairing accents.

"I am afraid you are too late, Serena," Jack said. "Besides, we have
some one else to consider in the business. It is possible that your
efforts may be successful as far as we are concerned; but we have
discovered to-night that Anstruther is plotting against the happiness
of many people who are as innocent as ourselves. I tell you, we must
see this thing through now. But why stay here, why linger, when your
tardiness is likely to increase our trouble?"

At this point Anstruther advanced towards the door and whistled again,
this time more sharply. With a sigh of deep regret Serena walked
forward and entered the room. In the bright light of the apartment her
face looked paler and more dejected than usual. Though Jack had seen
for himself the volcano of passion and emotion of which Serena was
capable when not under the influence of her employer, he could not
fail to notice how tame and frightened she appeared to be now. It was
as if Anstruther possessed something like a power over her. Her dark
eyes seemed mechanically to follow his every movement; he had only to
raise his hand and her look followed it.

"So you have come at last," Anstruther said. "How long have you been
in the house?"

"I came as soon as you told me, master," Serena murmured, like one who
talks in her sleep. All will power seemed to have gone out of her for
the moment. "What would you have of me to-night?"

Anstruther replied harshly that Serena must know perfectly well what
was required of her. Nevertheless he proceeded to detail his
instructions, which were still unfinished when another footstep was
heard upon the stairs and a newcomer entered. The two watchers outside
were not in the least surprised at the pale, somewhat conceited
features of the violinist Padini; indeed, they were past all surprises
now. Padini had bowed with an air of exaggerated politeness to Serena.

"Ha, ha, my coy fascinator," he cried, "so I am not to be deprived of
the pleasure of your company. I am not likely to soon forget the
enchanting evening we spent together _chez_ Carrington. I am sorry to
be late, Anstruther, but the fact is, your English audiences are not
so cold as I had first imagined. Positively they would not let me off
with less than four encores. _Ma foi_, you must have had the full
value of your money in your chamber music to-night. A rare treat for
Miss Helmsley; doubtless she has noticed the marvelous improvement
made by her guardian in his playing of late."

The violinist chuckled as if in the enjoyment of an exquisite joke.
Serena flashed him a glance of bitter hatred and contempt.

"I should like to know the meaning of this," Rigby whispered. "I
suppose it refers in some way to the mysterious music which you told
me about last night. Do you think it possible that Serena could
enlighten us on this point as she appears to know all about it? If
not, why does she look at Padini in that scornful way?"

Any further signs of enjoyment on the part of Padini were cut short by
an impatient oath from Anstruther.

"That is mere child's play," he exclaimed. "Very clever and all that
kind of thing, but an intelligent schoolboy might have done as well."

Jack intimated in a whisper to Rigby that he himself stood in the
position of the said intelligent schoolboy. He had a pretty shrewd
idea how the thing had been managed, and to what purpose; but there
would be time enough to explain all that presently. What they had to
do now was to stay as long as possible, and gather all they could from
a careful study of the proceedings taking place in the room. It was
Anstruther who first broke the silence.

"Are we going to stand fooling here all night?" he exclaimed angrily.
"Padini, get that exaggerated fur coat of yours off, and make yourself
up to look like an English gentleman as far as possible. You will find
everything necessary in the room at the back of the house. The same
remark applies to you, Serena. My word! To think that a woman so pale,
so haggard, as you are now can make up to look like eighteen and
possess the beauty of Diana! What a pity it was you ever left the
stage!"

The woman's face flushed angrily. There was a nervous tension about
her to-night that Anstruther had never noticed before. Was she going
to be defiant? he asked. Did she understand what she was doing when
she proposed to measure her strength against his? But the flame still
raged on Serena's hot cheeks, and her lips were still hard and
mutinous.

"Take care you do not drive me too far." she whispered hoarsely. "A
cat is a harmless creature enough, but I read once of a cat that
turned upon a man and killed him. You dare to taunt me with my past.
When I think of what that past might have been but for you, I declare
that I could find it in my heart to kill you. I am so weak and timid,
you are so strong and brave; and yet even you must sleep at times, and
a man asleep is as harmless as a babe. A spot of gray powder, a drop
of liquid no larger than a pin's point placed between your teeth, and
the career of Spencer Anstruther is finished."

The words were uttered with such dramatic force and intensity that
even Anstruther refrained from smiling. It seemed to the listeners
outside that here was a great genius lost to the stage.

"I should not care to encounter that woman's hostility," Rigby
murmured. "Look at the intense expression of her face. But, really, I
hope she is not going to defy him to-night. If she does we are likely
to have trouble for our pains."

But Serena's outbreak of passionate anger was over as swiftly as an
April shower. She looked up in the face of her master as a dog might
do that had been convicted of theft. Anstruther smiled with the air of
a man who merely tolerates a passing anger of a fellow creature. It
was as if he had caged this woman so that he could watch her passions
and emotions as a naturalist studies the habits and ways of loathsome
insects.

"I suppose you must give vent to your feelings sometimes," he said.
"And now that you have had a little fling we had better get on with
our business. You will go with Padini to-night to----"

"No, no!" Serena cried. "I implore you to spare me that humiliation
again. What have I done that I should have to endure all this--what
can be possibly gained by it?"

For the first time Anstruther displayed real signs of anger. "Now,
listen to me," he said. "Once for all, I tell you not to speak to me
like this again. Do you think I have studied you all these years for
nothing? Do you suppose I do not know how disloyal you are in your
heart towards me? There is one class of woman who has to be ruled by
fear alone, and you are one of them. You will do to-night what I ask
you, not merely to-night, but by months and years, in and out, it will
be for me to order and you to obey. And, whilst we are on the subject
you are to say nothing further than you have already said to Mr.
Masefield. You understand what I mean?"

It was quite evident that Serena understood the full significance of
Anstruther's speech. Pale as her face had been before, it turned now
to a still more deathly pallor. She essayed to speak, but her lips
refused the office.

"I don't quite follow you." she managed to stammer out at length. "If
you accuse me of disloyalty----"

Anstruther intimated that that was exactly what he did mean. It was
rather an uncomfortable moment for Jack, listening there. He was
beginning to fully realize the marvelous cunning of the man with whom
he had to deal. He wondered how it was possible for Anstruther to
discover the gist of his conversation with Serena that afternoon. He
was saying something of this in a whisper to Rigby when Padini
returned to the room. The violinist was dressed now exactly as he had
been attired two nights before when Jack had seen him at Carrington's
chambers. His jaunty air for the moment had vanished; he looked
suspicious and uneasy. Anstruther's keen eye noticed this as it
noticed everything.

"Now, what's the matter?" he asked. "Have you seen a ghost or
something equally terrible?"

"No, I haven't," Padini replied sulkily. "But lam pretty sure there is
somebody in the house. I am ready to swear that I saw the shadow of a
man moving on the landing outside."

With a contemptuous smile Anstruther walked towards the door. There
was perhaps no immediate danger for the listeners, seeing that
Anstruther evidently attached no importance to Padini's statement; but
it was just as well to be on the safe side. Rigby slipped quietly into
a doorway leading to a bedroom and dragged Jack in after him. Then he
closed the door very gently and waited for further developments. He
had not long to wait, for almost immediately there was a click of the
latch, and Anstruther's receding footsteps melted into silence.

"Well, that sets your mind at ease," Anstruther was heard to say. "If
there are any birds here, I have them safely caged."

With a feeling of apprehension, Rigby laid his hand on the door-knob.
His worst fears were absolutely realized. He and Jack had been locked
in the room.



CHAPTER XIII.
THE PARABLE.


There was no help for it; they could only wait to see what
circumstances had in store for them. It would have been just as well,
however, to have known what was in Anstruther's mind when he locked
the door. So far as the prisoners could judge, Anstruther had spoken
with a kind of jocular contempt, and had apparently acted more to
soothe Padini's nervous fears than as if he had moved on the spur of
his own suspicions. Rigby had not failed to notice this, and Jack was
inclined to agree with him as they discussed the matter in whispers.
At any rate, a quarter of an hour passed without any signs without.

"Well, my friend," Rigby muttered, "you always were fond of
adventures, even as a boy, and now you seem likely to get your fill of
them."

"I don't call this an adventure at all," Jack replied; "not much
chance of action here. The prospect of being locked up all night in
this cell of a place is not at all alluring. Just try that door
again."

But the attempt proved abortive. It was pitch dark there, a darkness
like that of Egypt, which could be felt. The mere fact of the sense of
sight being suspended seemed to increase the hearing of the prisoners,
for they did not fail to note every word that was passing in that room
across the corridor. It was plainly evident that the business
arrangements which had brought those people here to-night were
practically finished, for presently Anstruther could be heard walking
down the stairs, shouting his final instructions as he went. A moment
later the fine slit of light which gleamed like a thread under the
door of the vacant house died away swiftly, therefore proving to Jack
and Rigby that the house had been plunged into darkness. It was a
proof also that the conspirators had left the premises.

"I think this is where we come in," Jack muttered; "we'll give them
another five minutes or so, and then we will run the risk of striking
a light. I suppose you have got some matches in your pocket?"

Rigby had purchased an extra-sized box of vestas as he came along, so
that there was no trouble on that score. The liberal five minutes had
expired before the scratching of a match, and a spurt of blue flame
illuminated the room. It was by no means an inviting apartment, being
absolutely devoid of furniture save for a tattered carpet on the
floor. The carpet had obviously been a good one in its day, in spite
of the dust which lay so thickly upon it; the decorations of the walls
had evidently been an expensive business. At the same time, it was
quite patent that the room had been used for the storage of valuables,
seeing that the door fitted close and was lined on the inside with
steel. The window, too, was barred heavily, though it was far enough
from the ground.

"Well, we are in a nice mess," Jack muttered. "So far as I can see, we
shall have to wait here till morning and then summon assistance by
means of the window. In the meantime we can devote our energies to
making up some ingenious story with a view to deceiving the police. So
long as it is daylight, I don't think we have much to fear from
Anstruther and Co. Do you think the light shows through the window?"

There appeared to be no fear of that, seeing that the curtain was a
comparatively thick one. Over the mantelpiece were the pipe and
bracket of a solitary gas-jet. In a fit of idle curiosity Rigby turned
on the tap and applied a match to the burner. Much to his surprise, a
blue fishtail flame spurted out bright and clear.

"Well, these people don't seem to have half done it," he exclaimed;
"they've evidently tapped the gas much in the same way that they tap
the electric light, but why they want both beats me."

"Doubtless for something like business purposes," Jack suggested. "It
is pretty evident that these people have a lot of mechanical
contrivances here, therefore something in the way of heaters would be
necessary. My word, how close this room is!"

Rigby was emphatically of the same opinion. He turned off the roaring
flame of gas and pulled back the curtain from the window. He
successfully fumbled for the catch, and at length managed to raise the
sash. The cool, sweet night breeze was grateful to a degree after the
stifling atmosphere of the room.

There were no lights to be seen, for the simple reason that they were
at the back of the house, and looking down into a dreary sort of
forecourt formed by the houses on either side and a big building
beyond. As their eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, it was possible to
note the fact that the forecourt had at one time been carefully
cultivated, for a broken fountain could be made out, and what appeared
at one time to have been a well-tended rose garden.

"There's somebody down there," Rigby whispered. "Unless I am greatly
mistaken the said somebody is smoking a most excellent cigar. Can't
you smell it?"

"Of course I can," Jack responded. "These seem to be rather an
aristocratic type of rascal. If you look across to the far corner,
beyond that fountain place, you will see the tip of a cigar glowing
like a star."

It was exactly as Jack had said. They could see the cigar glowing and
fading as the smoker inhaled or exhaled the fragrant tobacco, and a
moment later they saw something more. Out of the gloom there
approached the figure of a woman, tall, slender, and bareheaded, her
dress hidden by a long black cloak that reached to the ground. She
spoke quickly and hurriedly, so quickly indeed that the two men at the
window found it impossible to follow what she said. They could see
pretty plainly, however, and did not fail to notice the fact that the
strange woman appeared to be pleading for some favor. She stretched
out her long, bare arms to her companion in an attitude of
supplication; her long-cloak fell away from her shoulders, disclosing
an evening dress of some pale, transparent material. There were
diamonds, too, in her fair hair.

"What is the use of wasting my time like this?" the man with the cigar
demanded. "You ought to have been at your destination long ago."

"But I couldn't go, I really couldn't, until I had seen you again.
Besides, there is no place like this, and no better spot for an
interview that one wants to keep a profound secret. For instance, it
is hardly possible that any prying eyes are overlooking us. I can't
imagine anybody being hidden in this old house. When Anstruther locked
that bedroom door just now, do you really suppose he imagined there
was anybody on the premises?"

The smoker responded with a contemptuous grunt; it was evident that he
entertained no suspicions on that score.

"Perhaps I am unduly nervous and excited to-night," the woman went on.
"But I could have almost imagined that there were spies following
Anstruther to-night. If I were alone and had no more pressing thing to
do, I would go back into the house and unlock that door. Imagine my
feelings if I really did find two spies there."

"What confounded nonsense you are always talking!" the smoker burst
out. "I suppose this comes of writing poetry. Who on earth do you
suppose is in the house?"

"How can I possibly tell? The police, perhaps, or perhaps somebody who
is interested in Anstruther's beautiful ward, Claire Helmsley. I am
fond of Claire, and would suffer much so that she should escape
injury. Really, I could make a story out of this, Richard. I would
find Mr. Jack Masefield in that room, together with his friend Dick
Rigby. I would whisper to them that it would be safer for them to stay
where they were for the present, and that later on I would come back
and release them. Oh, what nonsense I am talking, to be sure!"

The smoker affirmed this in a manner none too complimentary.

"You are without exception the wildest sentimentalist I ever came
across. You are trying my patience a bit too high. Why don't you go
about your business and leave me to mine?"

The woman laughed softly to herself as if she was half amused by her
own secret thoughts. She did not seem to notice, or perhaps she wanted
to ignore, the brutal outspokenness of her companion. For some reason
or other it occurred to the listeners that she was trying to gain
time. At any rate, there was no longer room for doubt that she was
doing her best to warn the listeners.

"Can you make nothing of her features?" Jack asked eagerly. "My eyes
are pretty keen, as a rule, but I can discern no more than the
shimmering outline of her dress. If fortune is on our side presently,
we must follow her and ascertain where she lives."

"That wouldn't be at all a bad move," Rigby said. "She may be a
sentimentalist, and a poet into the bargain, but that does not prevent
her from being an 'exceedingly clever woman. She is deceiving that
bullying fellow in a way that is worthy of the best diplomatist."

"She is going to speak again," Jack whispered. "What did she say? I
quite failed to get that last sentence."

Rigby replied that he had failed to catch it, too, for the words were
spoken in low tones which did not carry to the window above. The man
laughed in the same brutal fashion, and begged the woman begone, as
she was only a hindrance there.

"I am going." she said. "Take care of yourself, Richard, and don't
imagine that Anstruther is likely to be of much use to you when the
time of danger comes. He has ever been the blighting curse that hangs
over us, and something tells me that he will be your curse as well as
ours."

The man laughed scornfully. He did not seem to be afraid.

"Evidently that woman is a very great deal cleverer than my friend
gives her credit for." said Rigby. "Don't you see that she was talking
to us? Her speech was merely a kind of parable. I don't know who she
is or whence she derived an inspiration, but one thing I am absolutely
certain about--she knows perfectly well that the pair of us are locked
in this room, and she is equally aware of the fact of our identity.
All we have got to do now is to smoke a cigarette each and quietly
wait till our fair friend comes and effects our release."

"Haven't you any idea who she is?" Jack asked. "At any rate, there is
nothing common about her. She speaks like a lady, and is most
assuredly dressed like one."

"I should think you are more likely to know that than I." said Rigby.
"Whoever that woman is, or whatever gang of scoundrels she is mixed up
with, it is quite evident that she knows Miss Helmsley well, and that
she is a great friend of hers. You must know surely pretty well the
full extent of Claire Helmsley's acquaintances. Can't you recognize
the voice? Does not the outline of her figure give you something to go
on?"

"I am afraid you have me there," Jack said. "You see, Anstruther is an
exceedingly popular man, he goes a great deal into society, and
naturally Claire generally accompanies him. She could not have less
than a hundred acquaintances she has made in this way."

"Then you can't help me out in this way?" Rigby asked.

Jack was emphatically of the opinion that he could not. He ran his
mind over a score or two of Claire's most cherished acquaintances. But
not one of them tallied in the least degree with the lady down below.
Besides, the darkness rendered an actual recognition almost
impossible.

All the friends had to do now was to possess their souls in patience
and await the time when their mysterious friend should come to their
assistance. That she would come they felt absolutely certain. She
might have been the wild, sentimental creature which the man with the
cigar had called her; but, at the same time, she had both coolness and
courage, or she would not have hit upon the ingenious method of
speaking indirectly to them as she had done.

"Unless I am greatly mistaken," Rigby said thoughtfully, "we are going
to make a real useful friend here. What is that I see down below?
Surely there is something like a carriage driven into the yard."

Surely enough, it was a vehicle of some kind, painted black, and with
not too much glittering varnish about it. So far as could be seen in
the gloom, the conveyance in question was a brougham of some kind. It
came into the yard with a strange suggestion of ghostliness about it,
for the tires were thickly coated with rubber; the horse itself
appeared to be similarly shod.

"I fancy we have seen something like that before," Jack suggested
drily.

"Right you are," Rigby responded. "Of course, one can't be quite
absolutely sure, but that looks very like the vehicle used by those
people the other night. You know what I mean--the brougham I saw used
by the deaf mute and her companions the night we ran against one
another at Carrington's."

"Right beyond the shadow of a doubt," Jack said. "Who is this mystic
conveyance for, I wonder--the man or the woman?"

Evidently it was for the woman, for she stood with her long wrap
fastened closely about her whilst the man with the cigar opened the
door. The horse was turned round, and vanished as it had come, without
the slightest noise; indeed, the whole thing might have been a figment
of the imagination.

"I hope that does not mean that our last chance has gone," Rigby
suggested. "But we must have faith in our fair friend. One thing is
pretty certain--if she means to come to our assistance she is not
going very far away."



CHAPTER XIV.
NOSTALGO AGAIN.


There was silence for some time between the friends. They had
speculated as far as possible on the chances of the future, and now
there was no more to be said. At the same time, the situation was not
devoid of elements of interest, seeing that the man with the cigar had
not as yet departed. Evidently he was waiting for somebody, for he
lighted a fresh cigar from the stump of his old one, and sat down on
the edge of the fountain with the air of a man who knows how to
possess his soul in patience. He sat thus for some time; then he stood
up at length with an air of strained attention and gave a grunt of
relief. Out of the shadows there emerged another man, muffled to the
eyes and wearing a big slouch hat upon his head.

"So you have come at last," the man with the cigar muttered. "I
thought you were going to keep me here all night."

"It is all very well for you," the newcomer said. "You can walk about
the world with your head held up; you have no occasion to hide
yourself from the light of day. If only this business was done and
over, you would never find me in one of Anstruther's schemes again."

There was something exceedingly striking in the voice of the speaker;
it was by no means an unmusical voice; the enunciation was clear and
defined. But there was a peculiar rasping ring in it, a jarring,
metallic discord as if some one had struck two plates of steel
together. It was a commanding voice, too, and the man with the cigar
seemed to feel it.

"I suppose you know your own business best," he muttered in a tone
which was plainly intended to be that of an apology. "Funny thing,
isn't it, that you and I should be conspiring here, within a pistol
shot of Shannon Street police station? Those chaps yonder are still
scratching their heads over the disappearance of the man they call
Nostalgo."

The other man laughed; his voice rang as an echo rings in a cave. He
laughed again a little more gently.

"Yes," he said, "we could throw a very blinding light on that mystery.
Have they offered any reward for the discovery of the body?"

"Oh, dear, yes," the other man chuckled. "Two hundred pounds and a
free pardon to any accomplice not actually connected with the outrage.
Wouldn't it be a fine thing to earn that reward?"

"I'll think it over and see if we can't manage it." said the newcomer.
"Fancy hoodwinking the police in that way! All the same, I don't quite
like this reward business; it's just the thing to appeal to that
scoundrel Redgrave. Anstruther never made a greater mistake than when
he took Redgrave into his confidence. That fellow would do anything
for a few hundred pounds."

"Well, you will have an opportunity of sounding him presently. He is
coming to see you about those West African bonds. As for myself, I
have business of greatest importance in the East-End. I only stayed
here till you came because Anstruther said that it was absolutely
imperative for you to have these papers to-night."

So saying, the speaker took a small packet from his pocket and handed
it over to his companion. He turned away, and a moment later had
vanished into the night. The sole remaining man appeared to be
restless and ill at ease. As he paced up and down the ragged and
deserted forecourt, the two friends, cautiously peeping through the
up-stairs window, could see that he was lame and that one shoulder was
higher than the other. He was muttering to himself, too, in some
foreign language that conveyed nothing to the listeners.

He came to a pause presently, and, fumbling in his long coat, produced
a cigarette case and a box of matches.

"I wonder if I really dare," he muttered, this time speaking in
English slightly flavored with a foreign accent. "Surely no one can
see me; surely I shall be safe in this well of a place. If only I
could manage without matches."

But there has been no way yet invented of lighting tobacco without
matches. As the match flared out the stranger's face was picked out
clean and clear against the velvet background of the night. As if in
full enjoyment of his tobacco, the man threw his head back and filled
his lungs with the fragrant smoke. He had not yet dropped the match,
so that its rays caught full the upturned face. So clearly did the
face stand out that the whole action might have been conceived with
the idea of giving the watchers a perfect view of it.

"What do you make of that?" Jack whispered excitedly. "Don't ask me to
say, because I know the man as well as I know my own father. The point
is, do you know him?"

"I should say that everybody in London does," Rigby responded, "seeing
that the face has been glaring down on London for the past two months.
Yonder man is Nostalgo and none other."

"No mistake about that," Jack said. "In that strange, weird light,
what an awful face it is! And yet there is something about it, too,
some half-pathetic suggestion that almost removes one's feelings of
repulsion."

"I have noticed that, too," Rigby said. "But why did you not tell me
that our mysterious friend was practically a hunchback?"

"But he wasn't," Jack protested. "I am absolutely certain that the man
I found apparently dead close to Panton Square three nights ago was as
straight and well set up as you or I. Why, I helped to put him in the
ambulance; I saw his body laid out in the mortuary at Shannon Street
police station. I am prepared to swear that that man was without a
physical blemish, and I am quite sure that Inspector Bates will bear
me out in this. And yet that man down there smoking his cigarette is
as misshapen as Richard III."

As to this point there was no question. The man below was pacing
quietly up and down the forecourt in the full enjoyment of his
cigarette, and little heeding the curious watchers overhead. It was
easy to see that, so far as physical development was concerned, he had
been but ill-favored by fortune. One leg was considerably longer than
the other, causing the fellow to shuffle along with a sideways motion
not unlike that of a crab.

"Unless that fellow is a bold contortionist, we have evidently two
Nostalgos to deal with," Rigby said thoughtfully. "And yet it seems
impossible there can be two faces like that in the world. One thing is
pretty certain--the supposed dead body you conveyed to Shannon Street
police station the other night must have been very much alive. If we
could only get away from here to follow him."

"Not much occasion to trouble about that, I am thinking," Jack said.
"This man is evidently a tool or accomplice of Anstruther's. I am
certain we shall see him in Panton Square sooner or later. As to the
man Redgrave they were speaking about just now, I happen to know all
about him. He used to be in Anstruther's employ as a kind of
secretary--a clever, well-educated fellow, whose weakness was drink.
Ha, here comes another one."

Surely enough, another figure crept into the forecourt. Nostalgo, if
he it was, paid no heed to the stranger for a moment or two. In a
half-timid fashion the man who had just entered the forecourt bowed to
his misshapen companion and intimated that he awaited his pleasure.
Nostalgo turned upon him with a snarl.

"So they have sent you, after all," he said. His clear, ringing voice
vibrated with contempt. "Is this the best thing Anstruther can do at a
critical moment like this? I want a man, not a miserable coward like
you. Besides, I don't trust you; I never shall trust you again. And,
unless I am greatly mistaken, you have been drinking."

"We are in luck again," Jack whispered. "This is the very man I spoke
about, Redgrave in the flesh. Are we going to learn anything, I
wonder?"

The newcomer protested whiningly that not one drop of ardent liquor
had passed his lips that day.

"You miserable, prevaricating hound!" Nostalgo cried. "Go back to
Anstruther, and say that I will have none of you. Tell your master
that my time is short, and that an hour from now will make all the
difference. He knows that I dare not stay; he knows what hideous
disaster even the slightest delay may produce, and yet he sends you of
all men to help me in this crisis."

"But Anstruther cannot possibly do anything else," Redgrave whined.
"It is absolutely imperative that he should be at Carrington's by
midnight. Carrington is not to be trusted; he wants watching as
carefully as a cat watches a mouse. You will have to put up with me,
sir."

Nostalgo paced up and down the dreary forecourt with the air of a man
who is deep in thought. His limp and straggling gait was by no means
lost upon the watchers overhead. He came to a halt at length and sat
on the edge of the broken fountain, his head upon his hands, deeply
immersed in thought. He might have been a graven statue, so rigid and
still was his figure.

The effect of this upon the cowering, watching Redgrave was peculiar.
There was something of the cat in his own movements as he came inch by
inch nearer to Nostalgo. It was as if a child was timidly making
overtures to a dog of uncertain temper. Near and nearer Redgrave came,
till he was standing directly over the bent figure of his companion.
He might have been miles away for all the heed that Nostalgo gave him.

Then quick as thought, and with a snarling, savage cry that echoed
strangely between the four walls of the forecourt, Redgrave fell
furiously and with headlong impetuosity upon the doubled-up figure of
his prey.

"I have got you now, you misshapen devil!" he screamed. "You are going
to be worth at least two hundred pounds to me to-night."

Utterly taken by surprise, Nostalgo collapsed under the sudden and
furious assault. Something gleamed and flashed in the uncertain light,
and the horrified onlookers from the window above saw that Redgrave
had a knife in his hand.

"You poisonous scoundrel!" Rigby yelled. "Drop it, I say--drop it, or
it will be the worse for you."

But Rigby might have been speaking to the wind. He yelled again and
again, yet the two men below, locked in a deadly embrace, did not
appear to heed; indeed, it was more than probable that they could hear
nothing at all. More by great good fortune than anything else,
Nostalgo had managed to grip the hand that held the knife and was
holding it in a tenacious clutch. Over and over the pair rolled,
like two hungry dogs fighting for a bone, their clothes torn and
mud-stained, their features grimed almost beyond recognition. It was
a grim and gruesome sight to the two eager watchers. A sense of
helplessness, a wild desire to do something was upon them; but they
might just as well have been fettered prisoners for all the use they
were.

"If only we could open this door," Rigby sighed passionately. "If only
that mysterious lady could come to our assistance."

It was like a prayer that was answered. There was a click, a sudden
wide swinging open of the door, and the lady in evening dress came
headlong into the room.

"Quickly, quickly!" she panted. "Oh, it does not matter who I am or
where I came from! If you would not have the destruction of a man's
soul on your conscience, come with me at once."



CHAPTER XV.
LADY BARMOUTH.


Quick as the whole thing had been, the action on the part of the fair
stranger had not taken Rigby by surprise. He had half expected some
development of this kind; he was ready for the dramatic moment, and
took full advantage of it. Almost before the lady was in the room he
had applied a match to the gas burner, and turned it full on. There
was a quick, flashing vision of some one magnificently attired, for
the white diaphanous drapery and the gleaming diamonds showed from
where her wrap had parted at the neck. Perhaps she dimly comprehended
the significance of Rigby's man[oe]uvre, for she turned somewhat
scornfully from the hissing gas jet.

"Oh, there is no time for that!" she cried. "It can matter little or
nothing who I am, at any rate for the present. Did you follow me just
now? I hope you understood that I was speaking to you?"

"We gathered that, madam," Rigby said politely; "but really we are
wasting time in idle compliments."

The stranger's face fairly beamed with gratitude. She turned and
pointed in the direction of the door. There was no need whatever for
further words; the friends knew exactly what she wanted.

The gesture was eloquent enough. The lady who had so strangely and
unexpectedly come to the assistance of the friends intimated to them
as plainly as words could speak that there was no time to be lost, and
that the sooner they were off the premises the better. Jack did not
wish to delay; he had no desire to be caught like a rat in a trap, nor
for a moment did he forget the fact that this woman who spoke in
parables had risked much to come to their assistance. On the other
hand, Rigby, being cooler and more collected than his friend, and,
like a journalist, more prone to go into details, was disposed to
linger for explanations. His hesitation was by no means lost on the
fair stranger. Once more she pointed to the door, this time with an
imperious gesture.

"Oh! why do you hesitate?" she murmured. "Why do you stand like a
schoolboy staring into a shop window? I know you are here for some
desperate purpose; I can more than guess the reason for your visit.
You are men of intellect and understanding, therefore you must clearly
see the danger of even an instant's delay."

The lady turned away as if she had finished. Jack might have found it
in his heart to be a little ashamed of Rigby, but, after all, the
temptation to give way to curiosity was absolutely overwhelming. Jack
pulled himself together at length, and dragged angrily at Rigby's arm.
He felt just a little inclined to flush under the contemptuous gaze of
their beautiful rescuer.

"Oh, do come along," he said. "My dear Dick, you are positively guilty
of bad taste in this matter."

"Really, I beg your pardon," Rigby said humbly. "But you can quite
understand my feelings. Good-night, madam."

Despite the wild hurry-scurry and the excitement of the moment, Jack
had not failed to notice the exquisite beauty of the strange woman's
face. She was quite young, about twenty-five or thereabouts, and yet
her fair face, without a line or wrinkle in it had a suggestion of the
Madonna, as of one who had suffered much. She flew down the stairs,
heedless of the darkness, and into the forecourt beyond.

"Pray to heaven we are not too late." she said. "It seemed to me just
now that I was barely in time, but surely----"

The woman stopped, and passed her hand across her face just as one
does who wakes from an evil dream. And in sooth she had cause enough
for her astonishment. Where two bodies had been locked in a death
struggle a minute before, only one remained now. The other had
vanished utterly. And it needed only a cursory glance to see that the
form lying there was not the misshapen outline of Nostalgo.

"This is amazing," the fair stranger said, as she bent over the body
of the unconscious man. She did not appear to be the least afraid now;
all her coolness had come back to her; she suggested a trained nurse
on the battlefield. "Surely my eyes did not deceive me, surely I saw
two men in a death struggle there as I came into the courtyard?"

"There is not the slightest doubt about that," Jack murmured. "Why, we
were actually watching the fight at the very moment you opened the
door. Do you know who this fellow is?"

The lady shook her head, but Jack noticed that she did not repudiate
all knowledge of the stricken man.

"I can tell you if you want to know." she said, "but we can discuss
that point later on. What we want to know now is how far this man has
suffered from his injuries."

Heedless of the dust and dirt, heedless of her resplendent attire, the
lady had thrown herself on her knees beside the prostrate body. She
laid her hand upon his heart, and bent her head down listening
intently.

"At all events he is not dead." she said, "neither can I see any sign
of a wound. He has evidently been stunned by some tremendous blow. Ah!
see, he stirs."

The injured man opened his eyes in a feeble, spasmodic kind of way,
and gazed languidly about him. Rigby, fully alive to the possibilities
of the situation, grasped Jack by the arm.

"My dear fellow," he exclaimed, "you say you know that man, and
naturally he knows you. Do you think it wise to remain in sight, and
thus give him a chance to recognize you?"

Redgrave lay as if lost to all consciousness once more. Despite her
dreamy, Madonna-like face, the strange lady was not blind to the
danger of the situation.

"I think you are quite right." she whispered hurriedly. "It would
never do for this man to recognize you. I feel sure that heaven has
sent you both to be my friends in the hour of my deepest despair. Who
and what I am can be explained presently. But that man is coming to
very fast, and it were far better if he did not see you."

Rigby nodded his emphatic approval. Together with Jack he withdrew
behind the shelter of a clump of bushes where it was possible to hear
everything without being seen. Meanwhile Redgrave had raised himself
to a sitting position, and, with his back to the fountain, was
stupidly contemplating the fair figure before him.

"I suppose you can understand what is said to you?" the lady asked.
"For instance, you can tell me what brings you here to-night?"

"I dare say I could if I liked," Redgrave groaned, "but I am not going
to do anything of the kind. This comes of having women mixed up in a
business like ours."

"Woman or not, that has nothing to do with your murderous assault on a
harmless stranger just now. It is absurd for you to deny any knowledge
of me. You have heard of Lady Barmouth before."

Behind the shelter of the bushes Jack nipped Rigby's arm
significantly. He had learned something now.

"Did you hear that?" he whispered. "Of course you have heard of Lady
Barmouth often enough. I have never met her myself, but I have often
heard Claire speak about her. A beautiful South American girl, I
believe, married to a sulky brute who never goes outside his house
from one year's end to another. I don't know whether he drinks or what
it is, but I fear that Lady Barmouth has a very bad time of it."

Jack would have probably volunteered more information on this point,
only the cross-examination of Redgrave had begun again, and he did not
wish to miss a word that he said.

"It is idle to prevaricate with me," Lady Barmouth was saying. "I will
ask you nothing as to your late encounter, because it is evident that
you had greatly the worst of it, and that your would-be victim has
escaped. But what is more to the point, I want to know what has become
of my brother?"

"Your brother!" Redgrave stammered, as if utterly taken aback by the
suddenness of the question. "I--I don't know in the least what you
mean."

"Oh, what is the use of wasting your time and mine like this?" Lady
Barmouth cried. "My brother came here by special appointment to meet
Mr. Spencer Anstruther, and I came on my own self-initiative to see
what my brother was doing."

Here was fresh information for Jack and his companion. It mattered
little for the present who Lady Barmouth's brother was, but evidently
she had greatly mistrusted him; hence her appearance in the courtyard
to-night. It was, therefore, by no means difficult for the friends to
guess that the aforesaid brother had been the man who had so lately
accused Lady Barmouth of being a sentimental fool. The night's work
was being by no means wasted.

"I know nothing whatever about your brother," Redgrave said sulkily,
"and I know nothing about Anstruther either. The man who was here just
now--the man who made that murderous attack on me, I mean--was a
perfect stranger. But this is no place for a lady like you; you had
better go home, and keep out of this sort of scrape for the future.

"So saying, Redgrave scrambled painfully to his feet, and lurched off
in the direction of the doorway leading to the lane beyond. It was
only when they were satisfied that he had absolutely departed, that
Rigby and Masefield emerged from their hiding place and joined Lady
Barmouth. There was a sad, wistful expression on her face.

"You heard all that." she said. "Mind you, I am assuming that you are
no parties to the vile conspiracy of which Anstruther is the head. I
should like to have your assurance on that point before I proceed any
further."

"If there is one man in the world whom we desire to expose and render
harmless for the future, it is Spencer Anstruther," Jack said
vehemently. "But how did you know we were here at all?"

"Because I happened to be in the house when you came," Lady Barmouth
explained. "I caught sight of your faces as you moved in front of the
light proceeding from that room up-stairs, and I divined by a sort of
instinct that you did not belong to Anstruther's gang. Then it came to
me that I had seen one of you gentlemen before in the company of Miss
Helmsley. I think, sir, I may be pardoned if I assume that Miss
Helmsley is something more than a friend of yours."

"To be perfectly candid with you, we are engaged to be married, only
it is a profound secret at present," Jack explained. "After telling
you so much, I think you might be equally candid with us."

"Indeed I will!" Lady Barmouth exclaimed. "Any one to whom Claire
Helmsley has given her heart must be a good and true man. As I told
you just now, I saw you on the stairs; I also heard what that strange
man said about there being spies in the house; I saw you creep into
the room, and I saw Anstruther lock the door upon you. The rest you
know for yourselves."

"But that does not explain why you are here," Rigby ventured to
suggest.

"Why I am here to-night I cannot even tell you," Lady Barmouth said,
in low, nervous tones. "The secret is not mine; it concerns one I love
more than anybody else in the world. One thing I can tell you: Claire
Helmsley is in great danger so long as she remains where she is living
now. You must get her away, Mr. Masefield; you must get her away at
any cost."

Jack nodded gravely; he had not been blind to this danger for some
time. What he wanted to know now was if Lady Barmouth had any idea of
the identity of the man who had successfully got the better of
Redgrave. But on that head Lady Barmouth could say nothing; she had
returned for the express purpose of relieving Masefield and Rigby from
their awkward situation, and in so doing she had come quite
unexpectedly upon the combatants. Even in the dim light she had seen
that a murderous struggle was taking place, and this being so, had
hastened headlong up-stairs with a view to securing assistance. More
than this she could not possibly say.

"What we want to do," Rigby suggested, "is to go away quietly
somewhere, and discuss this matter thoroughly. I need not point out to
your ladyship the manifest danger of staying here. Anstruther or any
of his tribe may be back at any time, and then we shall be caught like
rats in a trap."

"That matter is easily settled," Lady Barmouth replied. "Could you
come home with me? It is by no means late yet, and you would not be
long in getting rid of those disguises of yours. They are excellent
disguises, but they did not prevent me recognizing you, Mr.
Masefield."

"There is no deceiving a clever woman," Jack smiled. "I should like
nothing better than a chance to discuss this matter at length--but
Lord Barmouth? Would he not think it somewhat singular that two
strangers like ourselves----"

"Nothing of the sort!" Lady Barmouth cried eagerly. "My husband never
goes outside the house; he is suffering from a trouble so terrible
that I try not to think of it if I can. I may, however, tell you that
his trouble is intimately connected with the black business that
brings us here to-night. It may seem to you that I am a mere frivolous
society butterfly. Ah, if you only knew!"

The trio had worked their way into the street by this time. A private
hansom stood a little way down the road. Lady Barmouth smiled a little
as she contemplated her two companions.

"I am afraid we should be a suspicious-looking party in the eye of a
passing policeman." she said. "No, I think it would be just as well if
I walked to my hansom alone. Then you can go back to your rooms and
attire yourselves as English gentlemen should be attired at this time
of the evening. Then you can come to my house; I will tell the
servants I am expecting two friends to supper. You know the address."

Jack intimated that he knew the address perfectly well. The suggestion
was by no means a bad one; there could be no possible suspicion
aroused by the fact that Lady Barmouth was having two friends to share
her late meal. The clocks were striking twelve as Jack and his
companion walked up the steps of the big house in Belgrave Square.



CHAPTER XVI.
THE BOSOM OF HER FAMILY.


A resplendent footman took the names of the callers, and preceded them
to the drawing-room. It was no uncommon thing for Lady Barmouth to
invite a score or so of friends to supper after a reception or
theatre. The footman intimated that his mistress was alone now, and
that she was at present in the hands of her maid; therefore the
callers had ample time to study the surroundings of so mysterious a
person as Lord Barmouth.

That remarkable man, as everybody knew, had only been married a little
over two years. Two years ago he himself had been a more or less
popular figure in society. In the first place he was exceedingly rich,
by no means ill looking, in fact he was a remarkably fine type of an
all-round athlete. He was a triple blue at Oxford, a wonderfully keen
shot, and a dashing polo player. At his house in the Shires his
hunters were noted, as likewise were his coverts. Two years ago any
man would have esteemed it a privilege to call himself Lord Barmouth's
friend, and be free of his guns and his horses.

But now all this was changed. Barmouth had gone away to South America
with a view of something new in the way of sport. Naturally his
movements were followed carefully by the society papers. They
chronicled all his doings faithfully, and presently Belgravia was
officially informed of the fact that Barmouth was in Mexico, where
he had become engaged to be married to the daughter of a settler
there--an Englishman of good family who had taken unto himself a
Mexican wife. Three months later the announcement of Barmouth's
marriage was in the _Times_. It was understood that he was not coming
home quite yet; indeed, something like two years elapsed before the
big house in Belgrave Square was set in order for the owner and his
bride. The strange whisperings and muttered scandal began at once. But
on one point society was in perfect accord--whatever trouble hung over
the household, it could not possibly be a fault of Lady Barmouth's.
The woman was a lady to her finger-tips; she took her part naturally
and easily in society; she fell into her place like one to the manner
born. As everybody expected, there was nothing lacking in the lavish
hospitality which had always been a tradition of the Barmouths. Men
went down to their country houses in the winter to shoot and hunt, men
and women came to Belgrave Square to lunch and dance and dinner--there
was no more popular figure in society than Lady Barmouth.

And there it seemed to end. From the day of his arrival in England
until the present moment not a soul had looked upon Lord Barmouth with
the exception of his wife and his faithful valet. What was the source
of the trouble nobody knew, and nobody guessed. It was in vain to try
to bribe the servants, for they were just as much in the dark as
anybody else. It was perhaps a mistake to say that nobody had ever
seen Lord Barmouth, for occasionally he entered the dining or
drawing-rooms when some very old friends were there, but previous to
his entry the lights were always turned out. Whether this was due to
some strange form of disease, or perhaps some phase of madness, was a
point never explained. Lady Barmouth, beyond a cold statement that her
husband was suffering from a peculiar malady, said nothing, and,
indeed, it would have been in very bad taste to have asked. It had
only been a nine days' wonder after all, and it mattered little to
society in general so long as the hospitality of the house of Barmouth
did not suffer.

It was under the roof of a man like this that Rigby and Jack found
themselves as a fitting end to a night of amazing adventure. There was
nothing to denote a discordant spirit in the house. Here was the
magnificent suite of drawing-rooms brilliantly lighted and luxurious
to a degree, on the walls of which were pictures of price. There was
about the house the decorous, smooth, velvety silence which seems to
be tradition in all well-ordered establishments. It seemed almost
impossible to believe that the sinister wing of tragedy should hang
over a home like this. A few minutes later Lady Barmouth came into the
room.

"I am sorry to keep you waiting." she said, "but I have been having a
little chat with my husband. As I have already intimated to you, his
misfortunes are not altogether unconnected with this Anstruther
business. My dear husband has suffered cruelly at the hands of certain
people; indeed, so cruelly has he suffered that he seems to have lost
all life and hope altogether. Ah, if you had only seen him as I saw
him for the first time two years ago! There is one thing, however, I
will ask you to do--pray do not say a word to him as to the
circumstances in which we met to-night."

"Then we are to have the pleasure of seeing Lord Barmouth," Jack
exclaimed. "I quite understood that he----"

"This is an exceptional case altogether. In the strict sense of the
word you will not see my husband, but he desires the privilege of a
few words with you. Now, let us go into the dining-room and talk this
matter over. There will be no servants present--it is the one meal of
the day which I prefer to partake of without the presence of one's
domestics."

The dining-room was not the usual apartment devoted to state feasts,
but a small room on the first floor, cozily and comfortably furnished,
and more with an eye to confidences than anything else. The servants
were absent as Lady Barmouth had intimated, so that it was possible to
discuss the events of the evening without the chance of being
overheard.

"Now tell me candidly," Lady Barmouth said at length, "have you any
ideas to offer as to that mysterious disappearance from Shannon Street
police station? I am asking you this, Mr. Masefield, because it was
you who actually found the body of the man who most people speak of as
Nostalgo. Really, now, was that unfortunate man so very like the
wonderful poster of which London has had to say so much of late?"

"The likeness was amazing," Jack explained. "It quite frightened me.
Talking about the poster in question, there is another likeness that I
have not failed to note. Of course, if you put the man I mean and the
poster side by side, nobody could possibly see the resemblance. But in
moments of anger, there is a strong likeness between the poster and
Spencer Anstruther. Don't laugh at me, Lady Barmouth; I assure you it
is absolutely true."

But Lady Barmouth was by no means in the way of laughing at Masefield.
Her pale face took on a still more creamy pallor, the pupils of her
dark eyes were strangely dilated. "That is a most strange and
wonderful thing." she said, as if speaking to herself. "Mr. Masefield,
it is most fortunate that we met to-night. You have just told me
something which will prove of the utmost value later on. We will not
discuss that now, there is no time. But there is one thing that I am
going to ask you to do for me; I want you to influence Claire Helmsley
in my favor. I have taken a great fancy to her; indeed, I like her far
more than any girl in London. This is all the stranger because I
believe I am in a position to do her a great service. I _know_ that I
am in a position to do her one. But one stipulation I make, and that
is--she must be told everything."

Jack hesitated. It would be indeed a dangerous thing to acquaint
Claire with all that had happened so long as she was under the same
roof as Spencer Anstruther. She was not accustomed to restrain her
feelings and emotions, and with his swift, subtle instincts,
Anstruther would find out that there was something wrong immediately.
Jack pointed this out to Lady Barmouth at some length.

"I don't think so." she said thoughtfully. "Claire is a clever girl,
she is in splendid health, and not the least likely to fear Anstruther
or anybody else. It is, of course, not nice to have to play a part,
but think of the information that Claire could glean for us so long as
Anstruther regards her as little more than a child and behaves to her
accordingly."

"Believe me, I am only too anxious to get at the bottom of this
dreadful business," Jack said earnestly, "and there is nobody more
anxious than I am to get Claire outside the sphere of Anstruther's
influence altogether. Still, I am quite willing to try. I will see
Claire to-morrow, and tell her everything."

Lady Barmouth's face beamed with a delight that was almost childish.
She looked and acted like one who had had a great weight taken off her
mind. That Jack had come to a wise decision she felt certain. She was
saying so, speaking very briskly and freely, when the lights of the
room were extinguished by some invisible agency, and the apartment
left in utter darkness save for the wood-fire which smouldered on the
hearth.

"I do hope you have all finished," Lady Barmouth cried. "It is quite
evident that my husband thinks so, or the lights would not have been
extinguished by turning off the switch outside the door."

Both Jack and Rigby muttered something to the effect that they had
finished. Lady Barmouth produced a tiny silver spirit lamp from the
sideboard, the blue flame of which was little larger than a pin's
point, sufficient to light a cigarette, but insufficient to illuminate
a scrap of paper a foot away. In silence the cigarettes were handed
round, and the well-trained voice of a servant was heard announcing
Lord Barmouth. A closely muffled figure crept into the room, and
proceeded to bury itself in a big armchair by the side of the
wood-fire.

"These are my friends, Mr. Rigby and Mr. Masefield," Lady Barmouth
said cheerfully. "I have told them that you would like to have a few
words with them, George. You will find these gentlemen willing to
speak quite freely."

"That is indeed good of you." The deep, clear ringing voice came from
the fireplace. "I have been praying for something like this for the
last twelve months. Still, it is more with Mr. Masefield than Mr.
Rigby that I wish to speak. You have made a great discovery to-night,
I understand. You have found out the source of those Nostalgo
posters?"

"I think I have done more than that," Jack explained. "I have not only
discovered their source, but I know where they are printed, and the
process of their manufacture. If you like to put yourself in my hands
and accompany me to-morrow night, you shall see the whole scheme for
yourself."

Lord Barmouth was of opinion that it was not wise in the circumstances
to take any such step. He cross-examined Jack at considerable length,
his questions being pointed with marked intelligence. At the same time
he said little or nothing about himself. Lady Barmouth sat there
smiling behind the cover of the darkness, infinitely glad to see her
husband taking an interest in the affairs of life once more.

"Don't you think it is rather late to-night?" she suggested; "besides,
we are going too fast. With your intimate knowledge of the situation,
and with the help of these gentlemen, surely we can devise some scheme
for getting the better of that fiend Anstruther."

"Ay, you are right," Barmouth said, his deep voice ringing through the
room. "I see a way now, a way as clear as daylight."

In his passionate emotion he dashed his foot forward so that the point
of his shoe came with force against one of the logs in the grate. A
blue flame spurted up, and died as suddenly as it had come. Jack and
Rigby rose to leave. No sooner were they outside than Jack clutched
his companion's arm eagerly.

"Did you see nothing?" Jack whispered. "By heaven, Lord Barmouth and
the Nostalgo we saw in the forecourt to-night are one and the same
person!"



CHAPTER XVII.
WHICH MAN WAS IT?


Rigby's astonishment was frank and undisguised. It was quite evident
that he had noticed nothing suspicious about the look or attitude of
Lord Barmouth; indeed, he had been on the far side of the table when
the master of the house had entered the room. But he was not
altogether prepared to accept Jack's statement unless he could verify
it by something more than a mere expression of opinion.

"Are you quite sure of that?" he asked. "Mind you, this is an
exceedingly important matter, and if what you say is true, we have
opened up a quite fresh development of the mystery."

"I am absolutely certain of it," Jack declared. "I had not the least
idea of anything of the kind till we were both on our feet ready to
go. It was at this point, you will remember, that Lord Barmouth
displayed some feeling and accidentally touched the logs of wood on
the fire with his foot. In the spurt of flame which followed, I had a
perfect view of his face."

"Would you mind describing what you saw?" Rigby asked.

"You have only to look at the nearest poster displaying the features
of Nostalgo, and your question is answered. It was only a flash, but
the face was impressed upon my mind in the most vivid fashion. There
was the same sinister expression of face, the same repulsive twist of
the mouth, the same inexpressible gleam of the eyes. You know what I
mean: the whole thing was exactly as we see it, on half the hoardings
in London. Of course it is the face of a leering Mephistopheles. And
yet I don't know; it occurred to me that there was something very
pathetic and at the same time kindly about Barmouth's aspect. You know
what I mean: imagine a kind-hearted, good-natured actor made up as
repulsively as possible, and yet with the suggestion of his natural
disposition behind him."

"Yes, I fancy I understand what you mean," Rigby replied thoughtfully.
"But you don't suggest that the man really was made up, do you?"

Jack replied that he did and he didn't. There was something unreal
about Barmouth, and yet it was impossible to believe that that
sinister face was anything except just as nature made it. The friends
walked along side by side in silence before another idea occurred to
Rigby.

"It seems to me," he said, "that we must believe in the existence of
two Nostalgos. The one you found near Panton Square was dead; in fact,
the police sergeant testified to the fact. How or by what means that
man's body was so mysteriously spirited away we are not very likely to
find out. At any rate it is quite fair to assume that his friends had
some desperate reason for spiriting the body away. Therefore, we may
logically infer that Lord Barmouth cannot possibly be the same man you
saw in Panton Square."

"That is a very fair assumption," Jack admitted. "But to carry your
argument a bit further, we are bound to assume that there are no less
than three Nostalgos. The suggestion is almost farcical, but there it
is."

"What do you mean by three?" Rigby asked.

"Well, don't forget the man we saw in the forecourt of the house in
Montrose Place. No mistake about his being a Nostalgo."

"Quite so," Rigby admitted. "I am with you there. But how do we know
for certain that Nostalgo No. 2, so to speak, and Lord Barmouth are
not the same man? Did you notice anything strange about the appearance
of Barmouth as he came into the room to-night--that he was humpbacked
or misshapen in any way?"

Jack was bound to admit that he had not noticed anything of the kind.

"I don't think we shall ever do much good unless we go direct to the
fountain head," Jack said thoughtfully.

"Mexico," Rigby cried. "I see exactly what you mean."

"Mexico it is. We know perfectly well that when Barmouth went off to
Mexico two years ago on a sporting expedition he was a normal man like
you and me. If he had been so terribly disfigured by birth or accident
as he appeared to-night we should have known it. A man in his position
with an infirmity like that cannot hide it from the light of day. To
carry the thing to a logical conclusion, if Barmouth had been like
that when he went away, why should he be so dreadfully troubled about
it now?"

Rigby applauded this sound reasoning. He could see that Jack had
something on his mind, and urged him to proceed.

"I don't quite know what to make of it," Jack said. "As I observed
just now, we seem to be face to face with the fact that there are two
or three Nostalgos, and for all we know to the contrary, there may be
a score more knocking about London. It has occurred to me more than
once that these men must belong to some secret society."

Rigby was inclined to laugh at the idea. On being asked by Jack to
explain what he saw that was fatal to the theory, he replied logically
enough that such a thing was out of the question.

"My dear fellow, just think what you are saying," he exclaimed. "So
far as my reading teaches me, the great object of a secret society is
to be secret. Besides, you don't suggest for a moment that these men
belong to any particular tribe, especially as we know perfectly well
that Lord Barmouth, who is an Englishman, belongs to them. Nor would
you want me to believe that these men are in the habit of having their
faces operated upon by some ingenious doctor, so that they are in the
position to recognize one another when they meet."

Jack was bound to admit that Rigby had the facts entirely upon his
side. It seemed absolutely childish to believe that sane men would do
this kind of thing, especially when it was very evident that these
various Nostalgos were only too anxious to hide themselves from the
light of day. Rigby did not pursue his advantage; he was quite content
to judge that his argument had prevailed from the expression of Jack's
face.

"But we need not carry that argument any further," he said. "I judge
from your expression that you have another theory."

"I was just coming to that," Jack said. "We will assume for the sake
of argument that when Barmouth went to Mexico he was without blemish
of mind or body. That being so, he must have met with some terrible
adventure which has resulted in this terrible disfigurement. Mind you,
it is a disfigurement; it certainly is not natural; for instance, no
three men could possibly have faces like that as the result of a freak
of Nature. What I am trying to think is this: Barmouth got mixed up in
some hideous secret society, and that he either carries on his face
the badge of the tribe, or he has been purposely disfigured out of
revenge for some dereliction of duty. However, this is only
speculation after all, and we can do nothing till we have some fresh
facts before us."

"I am inclined to think very highly of your theory all the same,"
Rigby said. "There is no questioning the fact that we have to look
towards Mexico for an elucidation of the mystery. By Jove, I have
nearly forgotten something. Wouldn't it be a good thing to find out if
Anstruther had ever been to Mexico?"

"Of course it would," Jack exclaimed. "I'll see to that. I will go to
Anstruther's to-morrow night and learn there. It will be hard indeed
if I am unable to answer your question next time we meet."

It was fairly late the following afternoon before Jack found himself
in Pan ton Square again. He had practically promised Lady Barmouth to
tell Claire everything, but a natural reflection had shown him that
this was not quite prudent. Not that he objected to take Claire into
his confidence, but what he greatly feared was the girl's inability to
control her feelings in the presence of Anstruther after she had
learned everything. But, as Jack looked into the face of his
betrothed, his doubts gradually vanished. It was a courageous as well
as a beautiful face, and it occurred to Jack that Lady Barmouth had
not done badly when she had selected Claire to be her confidante in
this painful matter. Claire's dark eyes were turned interrogatively
upon her lover. Perhaps he was looking a little more serious than
usual; at any rate his grave face told her that he came with news of
importance.

"My dear boy, what is the matter?" Claire asked. She twined her hands
about his arm, and laid her head caressingly on his shoulder. It was
impossible to resist that pleading upward glance. "I am sure you have
something important to say to me."

"Against my better judgment," Jack laughed. "Yes, I am going to tell
you something about your guardian."

Claire listened with the deepest attention as Jack proceeded to speak
freely of the adventures of the last two days. He watched the change
of her face, the flush and the pallor, and the dawning resolution
which gave her mouth strength and firmness.

"I do not think you need be afraid for me," Claire said. "I will be
brave and resolute; I will do my best to hide my feelings from Mr.
Anstruther. This is a dreadful business altogether; but, dreadful as
it is, we cannot draw back now. You have told me some strange things,
but some of your facts are not facts at all."

"In what way have I been mistaken?" Jack asked.

"Well, as to Mr. Anstruther, for instance. You say that you saw him at
Montrose Place last night for the best part of an hour."

"Well, so I did," Jack declared. "If you want anybody to prove that,
ask Rigby. Anstruther was there somewhere about half-past ten, and
when he left he had not the slightest intention of going home."

"Most extraordinary," Claire murmured. "Listen to what I have to say,
what I should have to swear to if this thing ever went into a court of
justice. Shortly after dinner last night Spencer Anstruther went
directly to his study; he had not been there very long before he was
playing his violin, and this he continued to do till one o'clock this
morning. Now what do you make of that?"

"It seems almost incredible," Jack said. "Was there a break at all in
the performance?"

Claire replied that there was a break of perhaps twenty-five minutes
to half-an-hour, so far as she could judge, somewhere about eleven
o'clock. Jack smiled with the air of a man who makes a discovery. This
was just the period when Padini had turned up in Montrose Place. There
was no time to go into theories now, but Jack felt that he would have
a surprise for his friends later on.

"Tell me, tell me," he said, "do you think you can recollect the names
of all the pieces that Anstruther played last night? I want you to try
and repeat them to me exactly in the order that they occurred. This is
more important than you would imagine."

It was a somewhat difficult task, but Claire managed it successfully
at length. For a long time the girl bent thoughtfully over her writing
table, and presently produced a neat list on which were inscribed the
names of some ten or fifteen classical compositions.

"I think you will find that practically correct." she said. "I may not
have recollected the exact order, but I think that is good enough for
your purpose."

Masefield was quite sure of the fact. He folded the list, and
carefully placed it in his pocket.

"Now there is one more thing I should like," he said. "Now, as you are
perfectly well aware, Padini was giving a recital last night at the
small Queen's Hall. You will remember this, more especially as your
music agent sent you a programme, a thing he always does when there is
anything of importance going on. Now, do you think you could find that
programme for me? Not that it very much matters, because I can step
'round to Smithson's and get one for myself; still, if you happen to
have it in the house----"

But Claire was quite certain that she had the programme somewhere. She
produced it presently from a mass of papers on the piano.

"Now we shall get at it," Jack said. "I see by this programme that
Padini is down for no less than six items. He had a most enthusiastic
audience, as I happen to know, which really means that he played about
twelve pieces altogether. Now I will read to you the first four of
these compositions. They are respectively Etude 25, Chopin;
Wiegenlied, Brahms; Moszkowski's Five Waltzes; Liszt's 'Die Lorelei.'
Now, unless I am greatly mistaken, you will find that those pieces
were played in the same order by Anstruther in his study last night.
Is not that so?"

"Amazing!" Claire cried. "Absolutely it is exactly as you say. What
does it mean?"

"We will take the list right through till the end if you like," Jack
replied. "The same thing will apply to both lists. Now is it not an
extraordinary thing that those two men should have gone through
exactly the same programme, item by item, without the slightest
variation? And all the time they were some two miles apart?"

"It seems absolutely incapable of explanation," Claire cried. "Oh! the
explanation will be simple enough when the time comes," Jack laughed;
"but you will see for yourself that the thing is not quite finished.
It is obvious enough that Padini's recital finished at about eleven,
whereas you say that Anstruther went on till about one o'clock in the
morning. The next business is to find out where Padini was playing so
late--possibly at a smoking concert or something of that kind. At any
rate I am going to find out, and then I shall discover that the
supplementary programme will be exactly the same as your list."

"Is it some new science?" Claire asked, "some wonderful new discovery
that Mr. Anstruther is perfecting before he submits it to the world?"

"Not a bit of it," Jack said practically. "There is nothing occult
here. And now I must go. I will see you at dinner."



CHAPTER XVIII.
THE EMPTY ROOM.


Jack went off, bent upon putting his discovery to the test. There was
not the slightest trouble in ascertaining where Padini had passed the
hours between eleven and one of the previous evening. As Masefield had
anticipated, the artist had been persuaded to lend his services to the
Bohemia Clef Club, where he had been the lion of the evening. The fact
Jack ascertained at the club itself, a musical member affording him
all the information he desired. The previous night's talent had been
of a very middle class nature, so that Padini had found himself in
great request. He had been exceedingly obliging, so Jack's informant
said, and had practically played straight away for a couple of hours.
Jack jotted down the names of the various items executed by Padini,
and on comparing them with the list given him by Claire, found that
they tallied exactly.

"The plot thickens," he murmured, as he walked rapidly away in the
direction of the _Planet_ office, there to lay his most recent
discoveries before Rigby. "What an ingenious rascal we have to deal
with, to be sure!"

Rigby was emphatically of the same opinion. He did not see how it was
possible to better Jack's suggestion that he should dine at
Anstruther's that night and ascertain all he could as to Anstruther's
past, and especially as to whether the latter had ever been in Mexico.

"There is one little thing we have quite overlooked," Jack suggested
as he rose to depart. "We have got to get inside that study.
Anstruther's game is to lock himself in and pretend that his violin
soothes his mind and induces a proper train of thought. That's his
story, of course. I have ascertained that Padini is doing nothing
to-night, but that will not prevent the music going on all the same.
Now if you could hit upon some scheme whereby----"

"I know exactly what you mean," Rigby said; "you want to see the
inside of the study just at the critical moment. I think our game is
to make a diversion outside. I'll just turn over the matter in my
mind, and if I can see a really artistic way of doing it, I will send
you a telegram just before you go to dinner. The diversion, of course,
will come from the outside of the house."

Jack felt sure that the matter was quite safe in the capable hands of
Dick Rigby. He was surer still when a little before eight o'clock his
landlady handed him a telegram containing just three words from Rigby.
Before he slept that night, Jack felt pretty sure that the mystery of
Anstruther's violin practice would be a secret from him no longer.

It was hard work to keep his feelings under control, to sit in the
drawing-room before dinner was announced and exchange commonplaces
with his brilliant host. Anstruther had rarely been in better form; he
had the air and mien of a man with whom the world goes very well
indeed; success seemed to stand out in big letters upon him. Usually
Anstruther was a man of moods; to-night he was merely a society
creature with apparently no heed of the morrow.

If Jack had any misgivings on the subject of Claire's behavior towards
her guardian, his uneasiness was speedily set at rest. The most
critical observer could not have detected the slightest jarring note.
It was all the same through dinner: Anstruther monopolized most of the
conversation, and Claire followed every word with flattering
attention. Dessert was on the table at length before Jack carefully
led up the conversation to foreign travel. He had seen much of the
world himself, so that there were several places of mutual interest to
be discussed with Anstruther.

"There is one part of the world, however," Jack said, as he carelessly
peeled a peach, "that I have always been curious to see. I allude to
the land of the Aztecs, those wonderful ruined cities of Mexico, of
which we know so little and profess to know so much. Now, don't you
think that those people must have been of an exceedingly high state of
civilization?"

The question was so innocently asked, and Jack's artistic deference
was so subtly conveyed, that Anstruther fell headlong into the trap.

"I should say there is not the slightest doubt about it," the host
responded. "I have been there; indeed, I spent a goodish part of my
time in and about Montezuma."

"And about when would that be?" Jack asked.

Anstruther explained, without giving definite dates, that it was about
two years before. Jack proceeded to discuss the matter in a casual
kind of way. He was anxious to know whether any of the old customs of
the Aztecs still prevailed; he had heard that to a great extent the
religion of these people had been built up on freemasonry. Did, for
instance, Anstruther believe in the legends of terrible revenges which
these people used to inflict upon their enemies?

But Anstruther declined to put his head further into the lion's mouth;
he seemed to become suddenly a little uneasy and suspicious and
changed the conversation to safer grounds. Still, Jack had learned
quite as much as he had expected to learn, and Anstruther's very
reticence confirmed Jack in the feeling that his host knew everything
there was to know about the terrible misfortunes of the man or men
called Nostalgo.

It was getting fairly late now, and Jack was beginning to wonder
whether the hour had not yet arrived for Rigby's promised diversion.
If it came now it would be merely wasted, seeing that nothing could be
gained by Rigby's ingenious device until Anstruther was safe in his
study. He showed no signs, however, of any disposition to move; his
face had grown placid again, and he was talking with all his old charm
of manner on various topics of interest.

Jack did not fail to notice the figure of Serena as she flitted
noiselessly about the room. It had not escaped his notice, either,
that the woman had appeared more than usually anxious and eager when
Mexico had been mentioned. Serena disappeared from the room a moment
in her soft, flitting manner, coming back a moment later with a
telegram, which she laid silently by her master's side. Anstruther
opened the envelope carelessly, and glanced at the contents.

Just for an instant his face grew dark as a thunder-cloud, and
something like an oath escaped his lips. It was all like a lightning
flash, but the swift change had not been lost on Jack. Anstruther
twisted up the telegram carefully, and thrust it in one of the shaded
candles before him, as if he needed a light for his cigar. Jack felt
that he would have given much for a sight of that telegram, but
already it was a little pile of gray ashes upon Anstruther's dessert
plate.

"A great nuisance," the latter said airily; "that is the worst of
being a man of science. But I am not going out to-night for anybody. I
have got some new music I want to try over presently."

Jack murmured something appropriate to the occasion. Claire had
already left the table, with the suggestion that perhaps the men would
like coffee in the drawing-room.

"You stay here and smoke." said Anstruther; "you won't mind my leaving
you, of course, especially as I am so anxious to get back to my
music."

So saying, Anstruther pitched his cigar end on the ash tray, and moved
off in the direction of his study. He had a gay, debonair manner now;
he hummed a fragment of an operatic air as he walked along. There was
the jangle of a telephone bell presently; almost immediately
afterwards the study door was heard to shut and lock, and the music
began.

"It seems almost impossible to believe that that can be Anstruther,"
Jack said to himself. "No man could improve like that in so short a
time. I wonder what Rigby is doing. I hope he won't spoil the pretty
scheme by over-haste. Probably in the course of half an-hour he will
deem it time to begin."

Evidently Rigby had been of the same opinion, for a full half-hour
elapsed before a sound came from outside the house. Anstruther was
well into his second theme before there was a sudden knocking and
hammering on the front door, and a stentorian voice burst into cries
of "Fire! Fire!"

So spontaneous and natural was the whole thing, that Jack was taken
absolutely aback for a moment. It occurred to him, of course, that a
fire had broken out inside the house, and that some passer-by had
discovered it. Again came the hammering on the door and the strident
shouts of those outside. Jack made a leap for the hall, and raced
up-stairs to the drawing-room three steps at a time. Claire had
thrown her book aside, and stood, pale and startled, demanding to
know what was the matter.

"Somebody outside is calling 'fire,'" Jack explained hurriedly; "not
that I fancy there is much the matter--the kitchen chimney or
something of that kind. There they go again!"

Once more the hammering and yelling were upraised; a frightened
servant crept across the hall to the front door and opened it. And
yet, despite all this turmoil, the beautiful soft strains of music
below were continuing. Not for a second did they cease; the player was
evidently too wrapped in his music to be conscious of outside
disturbances. Not that the clamor lacked force and volume, for now
that the front door was open the din was absolutely deafening. Through
the break in the disturbance the sweet, liquid strains of music went
on. Fond of his instrument as Anstruther might have been, he could be
wide awake and alert enough on ordinary occasions, as Jack knew only
too well. Why, then, was he so callous on this occasion?

"Had not you better go down and arouse my guardian?" Clare suggested;
"surely he is the proper man to look to a thing like this."

Jack tumbled eagerly down the stairs, and thundered with both fists on
the study door. As he had more than half expected, no response came to
his summons. The music had become still more melodious and dreamy; the
player might have been far away. As Jack turned, he saw that some
half-dozen men were standing in the hall, one of whom gave him a
palpable wink. It was Rigby's wink, and Jack detected it instantly.

"There don't seem to be so very much the matter, sir," Rigby said. "No
more than the kitchen fire. Only we thought we'd drop in and let you
know. You chaps go to the kitchen and see what you can do."

"How on earth did you manage that?" Jack asked.

"Only a matter of burning a little magnesium light by the back door,"
Rigby explained, with a grin; "but it seems to me only part of our
duty to acquaint the master of the house with the fact that something
is wrong. Is that him playing now, Jack?"

"Nobody else," Jack replied. "Isn't it wonderful? Anybody would think
he was a great artist absolutely lost to all sense of his
surroundings. Still, as you say, it is our duty to let him know what
is going on, even if we have to break in the door."

Rigby grinned responsively. Secure in his disguise, he was not afraid
of being taken for anything else but a street loafer eager to earn a
more or less honest shilling. He tried the door and found it locked;
he ran back a pace or two and hurled himself with full force against
the oak door. Crack went the door on its hinges, the woodwork gave
inwardly, and the room was disclosed to view.

The music had not stopped or faltered for an instant, the whole
apartment was flooded with a delicate melody. Jack stood there puzzled
and bewildered, and with a feeling that he would wake presently and
find that it was all a dream.

"Absolutely stupendous!" he cried; "music fit food for the gods, and
not a sign of the player!"

For the room was absolutely empty!



CHAPTER XIX.
A BROKEN MELODY.


There they stood in the empty room, neither speaking, and gazing about
them as if they expected some solution of the strange mystery to fall
upon them. The wildest part of the whole thing was that though the
music continued in the same sweet, harmonious way, there was not the
slightest suggestion or indication of where it came from. It could not
possibly have been a phonograph or a gramophone or anything of that
kind, as the instrument in that case would have been in sight. And yet
the whole room was flooded with that beautiful melody as if an
invisible choir had been there making the music of the gods.

"I declare it makes me feel quite queer," Rigby said; "but of course
there must be some practical explanation of it. Can you suggest any
common sense solution?"

"No, but I am quite sure that Anstruther could," Jack replied. "This
has nothing to do with the other world. What's that?"

Though Jack spoke coolly enough, he was feeling just a little nervous
himself. From the hall beyond came a quick, buzzing noise, like a
muffled circular saw, which resolved itself presently into the wild
whirling of the handle of the telephone, as if some one were trying to
get a call in a desperate hurry. Rigby jumped at once to the
explanation, and Jack proceeded immediately to make a close
examination of the room.

He was still in the act of doing so, when a startled cry from Rigby
brought him up all standing. An instant later and Anstruther was
there, demanding to know the meaning of this unwarrantable intrusion.
Rigby congratulated himself upon his disguise; he had no fancy at that
moment to be recognized by Anstruther.

"Who is that loafer yonder?" Anstruther demanded passionately. "What
is the blackguard doing in my study? And, if it comes to that, what
are you doing here too?"

Jack proceeded to explain exactly what had happened. In spite of the
confusion of the moment, he had not failed to notice the fact that the
music had ceased directly Anstruther had entered the room. It was
quite evident that Anstruther had not the slightest idea of Rigby's
identity. He was clearly taken in by the story of the fire, and
pitched Rigby a half-crown, which the latter acknowledged hoarsely,
after the manner of the class he was made up to represent.

"Well, I suppose it is all right now," Anstruther muttered. Usually
cool and collected enough, he looked white and very much agitated.
Something had evidently gone terribly wrong with that man of blood and
iron. "Get these fellows out of the house, please, Masefield. I have
had a great deal to worry me to-night, and I want to be quiet."

There being nothing further to wait for, and Rigby, having practically
gained his point, departed with an intimation to Jack that he would
wait outside for him. Masefield could see that Anstruther was
regarding him with an eye of deep suspicion. But it was no cue of
Jack's to notice this; he w r anted to make matters as smooth as
possible.

"I suppose you were not very faraway?" he said. "I heard your violin a
few minutes before the fire broke out. I wonder you did not see it for
yourself."

Anstruther's face cleared slightly, though Jack noticed that his hand
trembled, and that his pallid lips were twitching. With a commonplace
expression or two, Jack turned and left the house as if nothing out of
the usual run had happened. He found Rigby patiently waiting for him
at the corner.

"Well, what do you think of that?" Rigby asked. "I am exceedingly glad
to find that Anstruther did not recognize me. A most unlucky thing
that he should have come back like that. Given a half-an-hour alone in
that room, it would have been an odd thing if we had not solved the
mystery of the invisible musician. But it is hardly safe to stop and
discuss the question here. Walk on to the _Planet_ office, and wait
for me there."

"Is there any more to be done to-night?" Jack asked, when he and his
friend were alone once more, seated in the latter's office. "Shall we
stop here, or do you want to proceed further before you go to bed?"

"Well, you can do as you please," Rigby said. "I don't know that I
particularly desire your services at present. My notion is to go back
to Panton Square, and hang about on the off-chance of seeing
something."

"And spend half the night in dodging the police," Jack laughed.
"That's a very primitive idea of yours; I flatter myself I have a much
better idea than that. Anstruther will never betray himself; we
haven't the slightest chance of trapping him. Now, unless I am
altogether out of it, Padini is the man we want to get hold of. He is
exceedingly vain; like most artists, there is nothing secretive about
him, and I am told that he is particularly fond of a glass of
champagne. Depend upon it, that fellow will talk fast enough when the
time comes. If he doesn't, we can make him."

"But we must have something to go upon," Rigby observed thoughtfully.
"I think we are justified in assuming that the fellow is a wrong 'un;
anyway, our hands will be greatly strengthened if we can find
something to his discredit."

"That's exactly what I mean to do," Jack said. "Now Bates is quite as
much interested in this matter as we are, and though you have backed
yourself against the police in this case, there is no reason why you
shouldn't make use of them. Besides, we are not bound to tell Bates
too much. If there is anything to be found out to the discredit of
Padini, Bates is the very man for our purpose."

But, as it transpired subsequently, Bates was not available. He had
just gone off, so the sergeant said, having been called in to
investigate a burglary quite recently discovered in Belgrave Gardens.
It was something exceedingly neat in the way of a burglary, the
sergeant explained, with the air of a connoisseur in such matters; in
fact, the place had been routed during the progress of a big
reception. No ladders had been used, no wedges or commonplace
implements of that kind; indeed, it was more than suspected that the
burglary was the work of two of the guests.

An unfortunate footman, being where he ought not to have been, had had
his suspicions aroused by the movements of two distinguished-looking
men in evening dress. He had come quite unexpectedly upon them in one
of the corridors, and had so far forgotten himself as to want to know
what they were doing there. Immediately one of them had felled him
with some blunt, heavy instrument, and he had only just time to yell a
note of warning before he fainted. The cry was taken up at once, and
immediately the corridor was filled with men guests. In the confusion,
and owing to the fact that the thieves themselves were in evening
dress, it was impossible to lay hands on the culprits. All this the
sergeant told his visitors with an air of great enjoyment.

"If you give us the number we will walk round there," Rigby said.
"Thank you very much."

The big house in Belgrave Gardens had lost most of its air of
simmering excitement by the time the two friends reached there. They
were informed that Bates had nearly finished his investigations, and,
indeed, the inspector came into the hall at that moment, accompanied
by Lord Longworth. He held in his hand a beautifully embroidered silk
muffler--one of those choice affairs which are large enough to cover a
dinner table, and yet small enough to go into a waistcoat pocket.

"Very strange indeed, your lordship," Bates was saying; "I can't
understand it at all. Here is your injured footman prepared to swear
that one of his assailants was wearing that muffler when he came into
the house, that is, on his arrival. And here we have Mrs. Montague
ready to swear that the muffler belongs to her. Whether she likes it
or not, I really must insist upon my right to take this wrap away with
me. If it proves to belong to Mrs. Montague, why, of course----"

And the detective shrugged his shoulders. A moment later, and he was
in the street with Masefield and Rigby. He listened carefully enough
to the dramatic version of the story they had to tell him, and
professed himself ready to do anything required of him.

"Of course, I know nothing whatever about this violin mystery," he
said. "I have quite enough to do to look after the native element in
the way of rascality. But there are ways and means of getting the
better of the gentle foreigner."

"But I always understood that Scotland Yard employed detectives of all
nationalities?" Rigby observed. "Haven't you got anybody on your staff
with a knowledge of international crime?"

Bates responded that such was the case. If the friends liked, he would
go with them at once to the residence of Superintendent Zimburg, and
there see what could be done. "As far as I am personally concerned, my
own hands are very full to-night."

"Your sergeant told us that this was a very interesting case," Jack
suggested. "Is it possible that this burglary was the work of some
guests invited to the house?"

"Honestly, I believe it to be the case," Bates proceeded to explain.
"After all said and done, modern society is a pretty queer mixture.
Given a good presence and a good address, plus the appearance of the
possession of money, it is quite possible for a man to get anywhere.
Take a big reception like the one that Lord Longworth gave to-night.
Now, it would be quite fair to assume that his lordship and his wife
were not personally acquainted with at least a third of the guests
present. Somebody takes a friend, and that friend takes somebody else,
and there you are. Of course, you are aware of the fact that at all
big weddings nowadays it is absolutely necessary to employ detectives.
To-night's business was exceedingly neat and novel, and might have
been wonderfully successful but for the footman. All the same I am
quite certain that the thing was executed by somebody who is actually
a guest of his lordship."

"And not so much as a clue left behind," Jack laughed.

"Well, there is, and there isn't," Bates admitted. "I had a good look
round when everybody was gone, and the only thing I could lay my hands
on was this wonderful silk muffler. Nobody owned it; the injured
footman declares that he saw a gentleman arriving earlier in the
evening who had this muffler about his neck. Here was a fine clue, I
thought to myself. And then Mrs. Montague comes back in her brougham
and claims this thing as her own. Distinctly annoying, don't you
think?"

"Annoying enough," Rigby agreed; "but is the muffler in question so
very much out of the common?"

Bates was emphatically of the opinion that such was the case. He
produced the thing from his pocket, and the three men proceeded to
examine it in the light of a street lamp. Jack appeared as if about to
say something, then suddenly changed his mind, and began to whistle
instead. They came at length once more to Shannon Street police
station, where Bates telephoned to Superintendent Zimburg, asking the
latter if he would come round immediately. He arrived a few moments
later--a slim, dark little man, with a vivacious manner and a beard
with an interrogative cock to it. He smiled in a greasy sort of way at
the suggestion that there might be some prominent foreign scoundrel in
London with whom he was not acquainted.

"I know the whole gang," he said. "That is exactly my business. Have I
seen anything, or do I know anything of this Padini? Probably I do,
but not under that name. Oh, yes, it is quite a usual thing for some
of the pink of cosmopolitan rascals to be talented. For instance, I
know at least three who might have made great names as artists, only
they prefer the seamy side of life. There is another who might have
been a poet. Therefore, I see no reason why this Padini, or whatever
his proper name may be, should not be a really great violinist. If you
have such a thing as a portrait----"

But Bates had nothing of the kind, and the whole thing looked like
coming to a deadlock, when Rigby suddenly recollected that a portrait
of Padini was to be obtained at the office of the _Planet_. The
violinist's portrait had been produced in the _Planet_ two days
before, and the original was still lying about the office.

"I'll take a cab and be back in ten minutes," Rigby said.

He was back in the prescribed time, and produced a cabinet portrait of
Padini, which he handed over to the superintendent.

"Now, what do you make of that?" he asked.



CHAPTER XX.
THE MOUSE IN THE TRAP.


Zimburg pulled the lamp across the table, and through his glasses
carefully scrutinized the features of the violinist. "Very strange,"
he muttered; "it is not often that I am puzzled. Offhand I should have
said that I have never seen this face before, but the more I look at
it, the more certain I am that the features are quite familiar to me.
At the same time there is some subtle change which baffles me. It may
be the eyes, or the nose and the mouth--that it is impossible to say.
Anyway, I should be prepared to arrest this man on suspicion, and take
the risk of finding out all about him afterwards."

"I suppose any slight alteration makes a difference in the
photograph?" Jack asked. "After all said and done, photography is a
very weak reed to lie upon. Can't you tell us exactly what is puzzling
you?"

Zimburg threw up his hands with a suggestion of despair. A sudden
light flashed across Jack's mind. He recollected that Padini, so far
as the stage was concerned, appeared with a clean face, but in private
life it had been his whim to adopt a moustache strictly on the lines
of that worn by the German Emperor. It was apparently an insane thing
to do, and savored more of conceit than of anything else, but no doubt
the thing had its advantages.

"Do you happen to have such a thing as a paint-box and a brush on the
premises?" Jack asked. "If so, I think I shall be in a position to jog
Mr. Zimburg's memory."

As it happened, the necessary implements were there to hand. There
were occasions, Bates explained, when such things were necessary. Now
and then some sprig of the nobility who had dined not wisely but too
well found himself in the cells in a more or less dilapidated
condition, and here it was that the paint-box came in. Black eyes and
discolored faces and that kind of thing, Bates explained. "I assure
you that a dash or two of paint makes all the difference in the
world."

Jack smiled as he bent over the photograph, and with a few subtle
touches decorated the face with a fierce blond moustache. He handed
the card over without comment to Zimburg. The little man's face fairly
beamed with delight.

"Ah! but you are a clever gentleman," he cried. "Now I know our
friend. Yes, yes, but he is a very clever man. And older than he
looks, mind you; that fellow has eluded the Continental police for
years. It would be absurd to try and give his real name, for probably
he has forgotten it himself. Yes, I have heard of his playing before;
not that I regarded him as quite good enough for a public platform.
Wherever that man goes, roguery follows as a matter of course. Depend
upon it, his appearance here means mischief. I will have him carefully
watched, and before long I shall have the pleasure of laying him by
the heels."

"Don't do that, at least until you are absolutely obliged to," Jack
said eagerly. "We are interested, deeply interested, in the movements
of Signor Padini. It is more or less of a private matter, but if you
could provide us with some means of getting a hold on that fellow we
should be exceedingly obliged to you."

Zimburg promised to do his best, and departed. For some little time
Rigby and Bates stood discussing the most recent developments of the
case, whilst Jack sat in a thoughtful attitude, evidently puzzling
something out.

"Do you call Zimburg a really clever detective?" he asked at length.
"It seems to me that he has a poor memory for faces. For instance, he
had not the slightest idea who the man Padini was till that moustache
was added to the face of the photograph."

Bates, eager in defense of his colleagues, remarked that a little
thing like that often made a vast difference.

"That is one of the great advantages of the Bertillon system," he
explained. "I don't care how clever a man may be--and when I speak of
a clever man I mean a policeman in this instance--he is often utterly
deceived by some slight physical change. Take the case of the late
Charles Peace if you like. I understand that he could alter the
expression and even the shape of his face entirely. Make your mind
quite easy, for Zimburg will work it all out like some ingenious
puzzle. I suppose you are aware of the fact that the London and Paris
police have thousands of careful records made of the measurements of
well-known criminals?"

"But Zimburg can't very well measure Padini," Rigby argued. "He can't
make him drunk, or anything of that kind."

"No, but he can have him arrested on some faked-up charge," Bates
laughed. "That little game has been played more than once when we
wanted the measurements of some clever criminal who had never passed
through our hands."

"That is very ingenious," Rigby said, "and I shan't forget it. If
facts like those were more widely known, I fancy you would get more
assistance from the Press."

Bates emphatically repudiated the suggestion.

"I have often heard you say, in fact it is rather a fruitful source of
complaint to the police, that the newspapers do them more harm than
good," Jack said reflectively; "but I think I can see a way whereby
the Press could give you a good leg-up in the case of this Belgrave
Gardens mystery. Dick, is it too late to get a paragraph inserted in
to-morrow's _Planet?_"

"Oh, dear, no," Rigby explained. "Probably no paper in London goes to
bed later than we do. We make it a point of keeping open till the last
possible minute, and we have a good hour before us yet. But what are
you driving at?"

"Well, it is this way. It is pretty clear that one of the thieves was
wearing that embroidered scarf which was also claimed by Mrs.
Montague. Probably there were two such mufflers, but that does not
affect my argument. Of course, a description of this affair will
appear in to-morrow's _Planet_, but I should like to embroider on it a
bit. Suppose we add to the report a paragraph to the effect that the
thief left a marvelous wrap behind him. We could say that it was
absolutely unique, and all that sort of thing, just the sort of silly
gossip that your readers are so fond of. We could hint that the scarf
still remains at Belgrave Gardens for identification. Now it is a
thousand to one this paragraph reaches the eye of the thief, or is
brought to his notice. This being so, he will lose no opportunity of
getting the wrap back again. All you have to do is to keep the house
carefully under observation, and your man falls into your hands like a
ripe blackberry. What does the inspector think of our little scheme?"

Bates pondered the matter a moment or two, and then cautiously
remarked that at any rate there could be no harm in it. Whereupon the
two friends went away together, and half-an-hour later a spicy
paragraph had been constructed for the delectation of the _Planet's_
readers to-morrow. Rigby threw the paragraph aside, and whistled
up-stairs to the composing room.

"You look as if you had something at the back of your mind," he said,
passing the cigarettes across to his companion. "Jack, you have found
something out?"

"Upon my word, I believe I have," Jack replied. "It is rather soothing
to one's vanity to get on the inside track so far as a detective is
concerned. But it would not have been at all fair on my part to have
said anything to Bates, seeing that you are investigating this
Nostalgo business on your own account. Not that I am absolutely
certain of my facts now, but I shall be after I have seen Miss
Helmsley in the morning. Now, is there anything else we can do
to-night? I suppose even an indefatigable journalist like yourself
goes to bed sometimes."

Anstruther was fortunately out when Jack called at Panton Square the
next morning. He smiled to himself as he noticed a copy of the
_Planet_ on the hall table. It had evidently been carefully read, and
on page 5, where the account of the Belgrave Gardens burglary
appeared, somebody had ticked the paragraph with a pencil. Miss
Helmsley was in the drawing-room, the housemaid said, and would see
Mr. Masefield if he would go up-stairs. Claire was looking a little
pale and distracted, Jack thought; her eyes bore evidence of the fact
that she had passed a restless night. But her face lighted up, and the
old charm of feature reasserted itself as Jack entered.

"Come, come, this won't do," he said, half tenderly, half playfully.
"Positively I shall have to kiss the color back to those pallid lips
of yours. What is worrying you so much, dearest?"

"Nothing worries me so long as I am with you," the girl said, as she
stood with Jack's arm about her. "And yet I almost wish that you had
never told me what you did yesterday."

"You cannot wish it more than I do, sweetheart," Jack murmured; "but
don't you see that it was almost necessary? There is some desperate
rascality going on here, and your happiness could never have been an
assured thing till we got to the bottom of it."

"But that is just what frightens me," Clare protested. "I cannot get
out of my mind the recollection of what happened last night. I shall
never listen to that music again without the feeling that some unknown
danger is hovering about me. I am frightened, Jack, frightened to my
very soul. And yet the whole thing can be explained; I am sure you can
explain it yourself if you like?"

Jack replied that he hoped to do so in a few days. He assured Claire
that there was nothing supernatural about the thing. For both their
sakes he exhorted Claire to be brave. The red mouth grew hard and
firm; there was a look of resolution in the girl's blue eyes.

"It shall be even as you say." she cried. "But tell me, has anything
fresh happened since last night?"

"Nothing that is worth speaking of," Jack said, feeling a little
ashamed of his evasion. "Did Anstruther go out again last night? By
the way, he seldom wears an overcoat; at least, so I understood him to
say. When he came in last evening, after the fire broke out, I noticed
that he was not wearing an overcoat then. Where does he get those
wonderful embroidered scarves from?"

"He has only one, so far as I know," Claire explained. "Originally
there were three, but two were either lost or given away. Wonderful
work, is it not?"

"Wonderful work, indeed," Jack agreed; "but he did not tell me where
they came from."

"So far as I can understand they came from Mexico. The silk is really
Chinese, of a quality which is made only for the imperial palace of
Pekin. To steal this material is an offense punishable by death, but
it is sometimes smuggled out of the town, and clever natives of
Southern Mexico do the embroidery. But why are you so curious about
this scarf?"

"Oh, I merely thought I should like to get one like it," Jack said
carelessly. He had no intention of frightening Claire more than was
absolutely necessary. "Couldn't you let me see it for a minute or two?
I suppose you know where it is kept?"

Claire knew perfectly well where to lay her hands upon the scarf.
Anstruther was a methodical man, and hated to have his things lying
about. He only used the scarf at such times as he was in evening
dress. Claire went off, and Jack was by no means surprised that he had
to wait a quarter of an hour. When Claire returned her hands were
empty; there was a puzzled frown between her usually smooth white
brows.

"A most extraordinary thing." she said. "I cannot find the scarf
anywhere. It is quite certain that Mr. Anstruther is not wearing it; I
thought perhaps he had thrown it carelessly down last night in the
excitement of the moment, and therefore I asked Serena if she had seen
anything of it. But she declared that she knew nothing, and yet at the
same time she seemed to be extraordinarily upset and agitated by my
simple question. She is not an emotional woman, as you know; therefore
her conduct is all the more amazing. But the fact remains that this
scarf cannot be found, and so I cannot oblige you. I will ask Mr.
Anstruther if you like----"

But Jack emphatically wanted nothing of the kind. He was in a hurry
now, he said, and would call again later in the day. He made his way
directly to the _Planet_ office, where he found that Rigby had just
arrived.

"No, there are no fresh developments," he explained. "Did you take my
advice last night, and have the house in Belgrave Gardens watched by a
private detective in addition to the policeman engaged by Bates?"

"Of course I did," Rigby replied. "As a matter of fact I have two men
at work there; one to relieve the other, and report progress from time
to time. In fact, one of them has only just come in. He has very
little to say, but that little was an eye-opener. I have ascertained
that Anstruther is not even acquainted with Lord Longworth, and yet
one of the first men to call in Belgrave Gardens this morning was
Spencer Anstruther. Now, do you think he had anything to do with last
night's business; otherwise what do you suppose he called for?"

"That is exactly what I am here to tell you," Jack said. "The
scarf which formed so important a clue belonged to Anstruther. It is
missing from his house; in fact, I called there this morning on
purpose to examine the thing. We have hit the right nail on the head
this time--the lost property in the hands of Inspector Bates is beyond
a doubt the cherished possession of Spencer Anstruther."



CHAPTER XXI.
A LEADER OF SOCIETY.


It was a most important discovery that Jack had made, and Rigby did
not fail to see what developments it was likely to lead to. If what
Masefield had said was true--and Rigby saw no reason to doubt it--here
they had Anstruther directly connected with crime.

"Do you really think that our friend actually engineered that business
at Lord Longworth's?" Rigby asked.

"I can come to no other conclusion," Jack replied. "You must
understand that Anstruther is a kind of a specialist in crime; he has
frequently been consulted by the police, and, I believe, has brought
off some wonderful results. He has even written a book on the subject.
Now, we know Anstruther to be an unscrupulous rascal. The police
looked upon him as a brilliant aid to themselves. If a man like this
chooses to play the part of a criminal Dupuin, see what marvelous
opportunities he has. He knows everything about the movements of the
police; he can anticipate all their schemes. It is as if Bates himself
had turned burglar. Whatever Mrs. Montague might say, it is pretty
certain that the embroidered scarf belongs to Anstruther. Quite
inadvertently he left it at Lord Longworth's last night, where he was
passing in the crowd as an invited guest."

"I know that sort of thing is done," Rigby said. "A very impudent
example came under my notice the other day. The thing is much easier
done than one would imagine."

"Do you mean to say," Jack asked, "that it is possible for a
gentlemanly scoundrel to walk into the house of some great society
lady giving a reception, and not be spotted immediately for what he
is? It seems absurd!"

"Not a bit of it!" Rigby replied. "To the audacious everything is
possible. Supposing a duchess is giving a reception. She has asked
perhaps a thousand guests. Half-way through the evening she is so
tired and worn out that she does not know or care to whom she may be
speaking. Here is the chance for the gentlemanly swindler we are
talking about. Of course he is perfectly dressed; he has the most
exquisite manners. He lounges up to his hostess, and, after the usual
greetings, makes some confidential remark about some friend of the
family, which immediately stamps him as one of a certain set. All he
has got to do now is to saunter along as if the whole place belonged
to him, and help himself to such costly trifles as his mind inclines
to."

"Did you ever know of a case in point?" Jack asked.

"My dear chap, I not only know of a case, but I was more or less party
to it. It was done for a bet, and I was one of the losers. It was so
easily managed that I should not in the least mind trying it myself."

"Well, it seems very odd to me," Jack murmured. "Still, if you know it
has been done, there is an end of it."

"Well, it has been shown pretty conclusively." said Rigby, "that
Anstruther must have been there last night."

"Quite so," Jack went on. "At any rate the scarf was left behind. I
recognized it as soon as ever I saw it in Bates's hand; therefore I
was absolutely sure that Anstruther had been at the reception. That is
why I suggested that paragraph in the _Planet_. It is just the sort of
silly gossip that papers publish after a sensational crime, and is
calculated to hamper the police more than help them. I felt quite sure
that somebody or other would bring that paragraph to Anstruther's
notice, and that he would lose no time in trying to recover the scarf.
I dare say there are other scarves like it in existence, but they are
not so common that Anstruther could afford to take any risk. That he
realized the gravity of the situation is proved by the fact that he
has lost no time in calling at Lord Longworth's to recover the missing
property. I think I have made my case very clear."

"Nothing could be clearer," Rigby replied. "Anstruther is at the
bottom of this business. I should say he is the cleverest rascal in
London at the present moment. And mark the cunning of the beast. Don't
you see how easy he can prove an alibi? If he were met face to face
now, and taxed with the fact that he was at Lord Longworth's last
night he would politely deny it, and, if pressed, have not the
slightest difficulty of demonstrating that he was elsewhere."

"But I don't quite see," Jack interrupted, "exactly how that----"

"Clear as mud," Rigby said. "Why he has only got to call his servants
and Miss Helmsley to prove that he was in the study all the evening
playing his violin."

"How stupid of me," Jack muttered. "The full beauty of that little
scheme had been lost on me. There is a good deal we have to learn yet.
But I can't stay talking to you any longer this morning, as I promised
Claire that I would go and see Lady Barmouth. I have told Claire
nearly everything there is to learn, and she is quite willing to be a
friend of Lady Barmouth's and share her troubles. I will see you later
on in the day."

Jack went off in the direction of Lord Barmouth's house. He had some
little hesitation in calling so early in the day, but then the matter
was imperative, and he knew that Lady Barmouth would be glad to hear
Claire's decision. The lady in question was sitting in her boudoir,
accompanied by two secretaries, who appeared to be tremendously busy
with a long visiting list and some exquisitely-designed cards of
invitation to a masked ball. But Lady Barmouth, heedless of Jack's
apologies, declared that she had always time to spare for him.

"It is not I who am so busy." she said; "in fact, this is merely
mechanical work. I am giving my great party of the season, and now
that I have made out the list of intended guests, the rest is merely
mechanical."

So saying, Lady Barmouth led the way into an inner drawing-room, the
door of which she carefully closed.

"You have some news for me." she cried eagerly. "I am quite sure you
have come straight to me from Miss Helmsley."

"That is the fact," Jack said gravely. "Rather against my better
judgment, I have told Claire everything. She knows now the class of
man her guardian is; she knows that she will have to be terribly
careful lest he should suspect. But Claire has a courage and
determination which came quite as a surprise to me. I think the secret
will be safe in her hands."

"Yes! yes!" Lady Barmouth cried; "but what about me?"

"I was coming to that. It seems to be a case of mutual sympathy
between you. As a matter of fact it seems to me that Claire likes you
as well as you like her. Anyway, she is going to see you this
afternoon, when you can talk matters over without reserve. But tell
me, does Lord Barmouth take any kind of interest in these festivities
of yours?"

"He is goodness and kindness itself," Lady Barmouth said warmly. "He
has always insisted that his misfortunes should not interfere with my
personal enjoyment. At a dinner, or a reception, or an ordinary dance,
my husband never shows himself. Despite his terrible misfortunes he
thoroughly enjoys his amusements; he likes to mingle with people,
seeing everything, and not being seen himself. That is why I give so
many of these masked balls. This is going to be an extra smart affair,
and I am asking my lady friends to wear as many jewels as possible."

"Claire told me something about it," Jack said. "I gathered that she
is to be one of the invited guests."

"I am asking both Miss Helmsley and Mr. Anstruther," Lady Barmouth
explained. "There is some danger in asking the latter, but one has to
take these risks."

Jack murmured something that sounded sympathetic. Had Lady Barmouth
only known it, the risk was far greater than she imagined. If Jack's
suspicions were correct that Anstruther was mixed up with a gang of
expert thieves, here then was a golden opportunity. The mere fact of
it being a masked ball simply added to his opportunities. So deeply
did Jack ponder over this, that it was some little time before he
grasped the fact that Lady Barmouth was still giving him details of
the forthcoming function.

"I am asking a lot of most prominent actresses." she said, "together
with a number of leading musicians, and they are getting up a kind of
morris dance. Of course, the music will be supplied by a small band of
famous artists, and I am getting this new man Padini to be present."

Here was more news with a vengeance. But there was nothing to be
gained by telling Lady Barmouth what had been elicited with regard to
Padini.

"I presume I shall be honored with an invitation," Jack suggested. "I
see from the expression of your face that I am to be a guest. Might I
beg the favor of a card for a friend of mine?"

"More mysteries!" Lady Barmouth laughed. "Oh, you need not tell me
unless it is absolutely necessary. You shall take the card away with
you if you like, and deliver it to your friend personally."

Jack was seeing his way pretty clearly by this time. He was
anticipating more than one important discovery during the progress of
the masked dance. The card he had begged was, of course, for Rigby,
and it would go hard if between them they did not discover something
of importance.

"Now, I am going to speak to you on a more or less painful topic,"
Jack said gravely. "And I am going to ask you to be exceedingly candid
with me. I want you to tell me what is the exact connection between
Lord Barmouth and the Nostalgo posters which are so prominent in
London at present."

The jeweled pen with which Lady Barmouth had been scribbling on the
two invitation cards fell from her fingers on to the blotting pad.
There were trouble and unhappiness in her eyes, her face had turned
deadly pale; it was some little time before she spoke.

"Must I really tell you that?" she almost pleaded. "You are striking
directly at the root of the unhappiness which poisons this house. It
is not as if you really knew anything----"

"But indeed I know more than you give me credit for," Jack urged. "It
was of no seeking of mine; it was not the result of any vulgar
curiosity; but last night when your husband was here I caught one
glimpse of his face in the light of the log fire. And there I saw at
once that I was face to face with Nostalgo. Believe me, it is with the
greatest possible regret that I have to speak like this, but I am near
to the heart of the mystery, and if you are plain and frank with me I
am sanguine enough to believe that I can remove your unhappiness
altogether."

"But the secret is not my own," Lady Barmouth faltered.

"Then let us assume that I have wrested it from you," Jack murmured.
"It is no fault of yours that I know so much. It is no fault of yours
that you are in some way under an obligation to somebody--an
obligation which compelled you to be in Montrose Place last night.
Luckily for us you kept your appointment. But there was somebody else
also keeping an appointment in the courtyard. Whether he came there
dragged by the force of circumstances, or whether he came to watch,
matters little. But as he paused to light a cigarette and the pallid
blue of the flame shone on his face I recognized--Lord Barmouth."

The listener said nothing; she merely bowed her head over the blotting
pad before her.

"Ah! I feel the circumstances are too strong for me." she said. "It is
as if you were pushing me over the edge of a precipice. I cannot
decide this matter on my own initiative."

"That is exactly the line I hoped you would take," Jack cried eagerly.
"After his interview with us last night, Lord Barmouth must be
perfectly sure of the fact that Rigby and myself are actuated by the
kindest motives towards him. Go and see him now, tell him all that I
have said to you, and ask him if he will be good enough to grant me a
ten minutes' private conversation. I am sure he will do this; indeed,
if he refuses, there are others interested in the matter who may cause
him to say in public what he declines to admit in private."

"I will do as you suggest," Lady Barmouth replied, "though I fear you
will be met with a refusal as firm as it is courteous. If you will
excuse me for a moment----"

Lady Barmouth said no more, but turned hurriedly and left the room.
That she was very deeply moved Jack could see for himself. She came
back presently, with a wan, white ghost of a smile on her lips, and a
remark to the effect that Lord Barmouth was not prepared to accede to
Jack's request offhand, but that he would give it his earnest
consideration, and send his decision in the course of a quarter of an
hour.

"It is exceedingly awkward for me," Jack said; "you can see how
delicate the ground is I stand upon. But believe me I am only being
cruel to be kind. I am sure that when I have finished my interview
with Lord Barmouth he will be exceedingly glad that he has consented
to see me."

"Oh, I quite understand your feelings," Lady Barmouth exclaimed. "It
must be dreadful for a gentleman to appear obtruding like this. But
are you quite sure that the figure you saw in the courtyard at
Montrose Place last night was my husband? You seem to have forgotten
the other Nostalgo who was supposed to have been found dead by
yourself in Panton Square the other night."

Jack admitted readily enough that there were many sides to the mystery
as yet unsolved. He was still discussing the point, when the footman
entered, and gravely announced that Lord Barmouth was waiting to see
Mr. Masefield. Lady Barmouth rose to her feet at once, and escorted
Jack to a small room at the end of the corridor. The apartment was in
complete darkness; it was just possible to discern the outline of a
figure in an armchair.

"I am pleased to see you, Mr. Masefield. I think you will find an
armchair on the other side of the fireplace. My dear, I shall be
pleased if you will leave Mr. Masefield and myself alone together."



CHAPTER XXII.
THE PORTRAIT.


Jack sat there silently enough, waiting for Lord Barmouth to speak.
The difficulty and delicacy of the situation were by no means lost
upon him. He shuffled about uneasily in his chair, trying to make
something definite out of the still figure opposite him.

"I quite appreciate your feelings," Lord Barmouth said, in the deep,
thrilling tones that Jack remembered so well. "It is no nice thing for
a gentleman to thrust himself into the private sorrows of an
unfortunate man like myself. But my wife has told me all that you have
been recently saying to her. You seem to be under the impression that
you saw me in Montrose Place last night; in fact, that you recognized
my face, which I imprudently disclosed whilst I was lighting a
cigarette. Mr. Masefield, I am not disposed to deny the accusation."

"I hope you will be perfectly candid with me," Jack said, speaking
with some hesitation; "believe me, I am actuated by the highest
motives; believe me, I would do anything to rid you of the shadow that
darkens your life. Of course, I have my theory on the subject of the
strange business; a business which has been literally thrust upon me
by stress of circumstances. Up to a short time ago, like most people,
I looked upon the Nostalgo poster as a high ingenuity in the way of
advertising art. It was a wonderful effort, and most cleverly
executed. But I should not have been in the least surprised to find
that Nostalgo was an acrobat or a juggler, or even some new and clever
way of introducing a fresh kind of soap to the credulous British
public."

"Yes," Barmouth said thoughtfully, "I suppose one would have been
satisfied in that way."

"But I speak with the discovery that I was mistaken," Jack went on.
"The first thing that aroused my suspicions was more a girlish fancy
than anything else. Of course you know Mr. Spencer Anstruther very
well by name?"

"Ay, I know him by something more than name," Barmouth said, in deep,
thrilling tones. "If that scoundrel had never been born I should--but
I am interrupting you. Pray proceed."

"Well, to revert to what I was saying," Jack went on, "that Nostalgo
poster was hardly fully impressed upon my mind's eye, before I began
to notice some grotesque resemblance between it and Spencer
Anstruther. Without hurting your feelings, the poster is devilishly
hideous; Anstruther, on the other hand, is a singularly handsome man.
But, despite all this, despite my common sense, I could not rid myself
of the idea that the likeness was somewhere.

"A chance remark of mine served to confirm my impression. It threw
Anstruther into a sudden fit of passion. His face was literally
convulsed with fury, but only for an instant. Still, that instant
sufficed. There was Nostalgo in the flesh before me--the same drawn-up
lips, the same hideous squint of the oblique eyes, the same dreadful,
hawkish look about the nose. A second later the likeness was gone. I
cannot forget, I never shall forget my feelings at that moment. If I
fail to interest you----"

"You are interesting me more than words can tell," Barmouth said
hoarsely. "Pray proceed."

"There is not much more to tell," Jack said. "Perhaps you have heard
of the Nostalgo devil whom I found dead the other night in Panton
Square? I mean the man whose body so mysteriously vanished from the
Shannon Street station?"

"Yes, I heard of that," Barmouth admitted; "but you will not be in the
least astonished to learn that the whole affair was no surprise to me.
All the same, I think you will find later on that the supposed victim
is not dead at all. And now I am going to speak, and you are going to
listen."

Jack intimated that he desired nothing better. He could make out the
outline of the figure opposite him, wriggling and twisting in his
chair.

"As you are quite aware, a little more than two years ago I went to
Mexico. There was no thought of evil in my mind; I went out merely
with an eye to sport. I have been fond of adventure all my life, and
Mexico seemed to afford a fine field for such amusements as I was
looking for. But the shooting was a great disappointment, and I had to
turn elsewhere for recreation. A little later on I found myself in
Southern Mexico, living with a half-savage tribe, who showed signs
that at some long-forgotten period the same tribe had enjoyed a high
state of civilization. As a matter of fact, there were two of these
tribes living only a few leagues apart, and both exceedingly
antagonistic to each other.

"Of course I had to throw my lot in with one section, and take care
that I didn't fall into the hands of the other. The reason of this
bitterness I discovered arose from the fact that both claimed
possession of a belt of land which was supposed to contain gold. Now,
I am an exceedingly rich man, as you know. But I got the gold fever as
badly as if I had been the neediest adventurer who ever wielded pick
and shovel.

"I had been told by my friends that the leader of the other section
was an Englishman like myself. He was supposed to have married one of
the women of the tribe, and adopted their manners and customs. Of
course, I needed no one to tell me that only such a powerful incentive
as gold could have persuaded an educated Englishman to remain
permanently with a tribe. This other section was far the more powerful
of the two, and they gave us fair warning that any of us that were
caught in the gold belt would be likely to suffer for it. This was
quite good enough for me. Picking out a score of the most daring
adventurers, we made up our minds to put in some exploring without
delay. I may mention the fact that some of these adventurers were
Europeans also. Anyway, we set out one evening, and morning found us
lighting our camp-fire right in the heart of the gold belt.

"On that occasion I had been left behind to look after the cooking
whilst the others pushed on to a likely spot where indications of the
precious metal might be found. My companions had hardly disappeared
from sight before a man came riding up to me and demanded my business.
It was quite easy to see that he was an Englishman, despite the fact
that he was arrayed in the full war paint of the tribe. He was a fine,
powerful man, and his face denoted great intellectual gifts. Come, Mr.
Masefield, you are a clever man yourself, and therefore will have no
difficulty in guessing who the stranger was."

"Anstruther for a hundred," Masefield cried.

"You have guessed it exactly, as I thought you would," Lord Barmouth
went on gravely. "It was Anstruther, and no other. He wasted no time
in demanding to know what I was doing there. He warned me of the
dreadful pains and penalties likely to occur if I remained where I
was, but I laughed him to scorn. By way of reply he gave a shrill
whistle, and there emerged from the scrubby brush a small misshapen
man with the most hideous face that it has ever been my lot to look
upon. Need I describe that face, Mr. Masefield?"

"No," Jack said, in an awed voice. "It was another Nostalgo."

"Once more you have guessed it," Barmouth went on in the same grave
way. "Anstruther pointed to the shrinking figure by his side, and told
me that I must either go back at once, or that I must suffer the same
fate as the man by his side. My blood was hot then; I cared for no
man. I do not exactly know how it commenced, but presently we were
exchanging revolver shots, each determined to do for the other. I
suppose somebody crept up behind me, for I was just conscious of a
terrible blow on the back of the head, and then I remembered no more.

"When I came to myself I was lying in a deserted hut, absolutely
alone, and with a feeling upon me that I had just recovered from a
long and painful illness. There was food beside me, a little native
spirit in a bottle; my clothes were neatly laid at the foot of my bed.
When I reached the open I recognized the fact that I was in a spot
some fifty miles on the far side of the gold belt. From the length of
my beard I calculated that I must have been lying there for some three
weeks. My horse I found outside, and, feeling strong enough to proceed
on my journey, I rode off in the direction of the tribe to which I was
attached. I was feeling fairly well, and conscious only of a strange
tightening sensation in the muscles of the face.

"At that moment I had no conception of the awful misfortune which had
overtaken me. I was glad enough at length to come in contact with one
or two members of my tribe. Judge of my astonishment when they fled as
if in terror at my approach. It was the same in the village. I might
have been afflicted with some loathsome disease, seeing how everybody
ran at my approach. I reached my hut at length, tired, and hot, and
angry, my first idea being to shave and make myself respectable. A
glance at my looking-glass revealed the whole hideous truth. I was as
I am at this moment: a ghastly caricature of a man, who dared not look
his fellow creatures in the face."

It was some time before Lord Barmouth spoke again. It was not for Jack
to interrupt the tenor of his painful thoughts. But the silence was so
long that he felt bound to speak at length.

"But how does this give Anstruther such a hold on you?" he asked.

"That is another matter entirely," Barmouth explained, "though, of
course, it touches on the main issue. You see, that though Anstruther
knows me as the James Smith I used to be called in Mexico, he has not
the remotest idea that I am Lord Barmouth. In fact, that man
blackmails me."

"I don't quite follow," Jack said.

"I admit it sounds a little complicated," Barmouth went on. "_As_ my
real self Anstruther does not know me. Why should he interest himself
in an apparently broken-down hypochondriac? The man he cares about is
'James Smith,' the Nostalgo whom he regards as a relative of my wife,
and who lives here in some secluded part of the house. Heaven only
knows if he is really aware of the truth, for he is so clever a
scoundrel that he is quite capable of deceiving me on that point till
the time is ripe to expose me and degrade me despite the sums of money
I have paid him. I do not know, I dare not ask. Call me a coward if
you like, but if you had gone through what I have----"

Barmouth paused, and wiped the moisture from his forehead.

"If I were not Lord Barmouth," he continued, "I would care little or
nothing for what he says; but for the sake of my wife I have to submit
to his persecutions. Therefore it is that at certain seasons of the
year I meet Anstruther in Montrose Place and hand him over a thousand
pounds. But there is one drawback to Anstruther's mastery of the
situation. There are other men who were as vilely treated as myself,
and some day Anstruther will fall by the hand of one of them.

"If you ask me why those hideous posters have been lately dotted about
London, I can't tell you; I feel quite sure that they are some
ingenious design of Anstruther's. I feel quite sure also that that
Nostalgo you picked up the other night was here after Anstruther's
blood, and that he died at Anstruther's instigation. My only
consolation is the fact that my wife absolutely refused to break off
her engagement on the strength of my terrible disfigurement. It was a
long time before I yielded, but yield I did at length. And now that
you know so much, perhaps you will be so good as to draw up the
blinds, and let us talk face to face; that is, of course, if you do
not object to----"

Jack hastily disclaimed any objection. He drew the blinds aside, and a
flood of light poured into the room. It was a little difficult to
repress a shudder at first, but he found himself presently talking to
Barmouth as if his face had been like those of other men.

"You will find some cigarettes; this is my own room," Barmouth
explained. "I furnished it more with an eye to comfort than anything
else."

But Jack was not listening. He took up a cigarette mechanically, and
was gazing intently at a photograph in a large silver frame standing
on the mantelpiece. It was the face of a woman; a dark melancholy
face, with mournful eyes.

"Would you mind telling me who that is?" Jack asked.

"A sister of my wife's," Barmouth explained. "It is rather a sad
story."

Jack said nothing. But the face looking into his own was the face of
Anstruther's servant, Serena.



CHAPTER XXIII.
FACE TO FACE.


It was perhaps fortunate for Jack that Lord Barmouth appeared to be
engrossed in his own painful thoughts. At any rate he did not seem to
notice that his youthful visitor's gaze was fixed so intently upon the
photograph. So far as Jack could see, the picture had been taken some
years before, and had not that wild, defiant, yet half-sad expression
which marked Serena to-day. There was not much time to think, but Jack
rapidly made up his mind. He would say nothing to Barmouth of his
discovery, but would open up the matter as delicately as possible with
Lady Barmouth. It was not a nice thing for a comparative stranger to
intrude upon sacred griefs like this, but the discovery was so likely
to lead to important results that it would have been folly to
hesitate. It was some considerable time later before Jack left Lord
Barmouth, who shook him warmly by the hand, and implored him to come
again.

"You can imagine what a lonely life mine is," Barmouth murmured; "my
wife is devotion itself, but one longs for the company of a man
sometimes."

Jack promised sincerely enough that he would come again and often. He
had taken a great liking to the lonely man who bore his cruel
misfortunes so well. He had not intended at present to worry Lady
Barmouth with the recent discovery, but she happened to be crossing
the hall, and looked upon Jack eagerly and curiously.

Jack was about to say something to Lady Barmouth, when some one called
her, and she turned away. Evidently she had no intention to allow
Masefield to leave the house without satisfying herself as to the
result of his interview with Lord Barmouth. With this feeling upon
him, Jack lingered in the hall. He suddenly recollected that he had
left his gloves behind him, and returned for them. He found Barmouth
standing before the fireplace, apparently lost in thought. Jack had to
speak twice before his host realized the fact that he was no longer
alone.

"I came back for my gloves," Jack explained. "I left them on the
little table behind there. I am sorry to intrude upon you again, but
since you have been so kind to me----"

"On the contrary, it is you who have been so kind to me," Barmouth
said. "I am not sorry you came back, because I have been thinking over
the interview which we have just concluded. I might have told you a
great deal more than I did; indeed, I was perhaps unwise to be so
reticent. If you will come and see me again----"

"I will come and see you as often as I can get an opportunity," Jack
said warmly. "Apart from the gratification of my vulgar curiosity, I
have been wonderfully entertained by your experiences. I saw Lady
Barmouth in the hall just now, and I know that she is anxious to learn
how we got on together."

Jack went out again, with a feeling that he was more and more drawn
towards his unfortunate host. He lingered in the hall for a moment
gazing at the fine pictures and the artistic arranging of the flowers,
hoping that Lady Barmouth would return. He had not long to wait, for
presently she came floating down the stairs again. There was a pleased
smile on her face.

"Oh, I am so glad you stayed so long." she said. "My poor George must
have enjoyed your society or he would not have detained you. I am sure
you got on very well together."

"We got on very well indeed together," Jack explained. "I have now a
pretty shrewd idea of this Nostalgo business. During my interview with
your husband I made a still more stupendous discovery."

"Something that affects my husband's case?" Lady Barmouth asked
eagerly.

"I think it touches it very deeply indeed," Jack said gravely. "May I
intrude upon you for another five minutes? Mind you, I have said
nothing of this to Lord Barmouth, because it seems to me to concern
you alone.

Lady Barmouth led the way back to the small drawing-room again. Her
eyes were fairly dancing with curiosity. "It is about your sister,"
Jack said--"the sister whose photograph stands on the mantelpiece in
your husband's room."

"Oh, must we really go into that?" Lady Barmouth asked, with a shade
of coldness in her voice. "There are matters so sacred that even the
most sincere friend----"

"Believe me, I am speaking under the strongest sense of duty," Jack
urged. "Nothing else would induce me to speak. Lord Barmouth told me
it was a very painful subject, but we must go into it."

"It is a painful subject," Lady Barmouth murmured. "She was my
youngest sister, and very dear to us all. I do not say she had no
faults; indeed, she had far too many. But she was very lovable in
spite of her headstrong ways and her quick fits of passion. She never
got on particularly well with my father, who all the same cared for
her very much indeed. She was sent at the age of seventeen from
Southern Mexico, where we lived at that time, to finish her education
in London. I don't know why, but it seemed to be assumed that she was
the daughter of very rich parents, and that in the course of time she
would inherit a great deal of money. Be that as it may, she contrived
to fall head over heels in love with her music-master, and they ran
away together and got married. We never quite knew the name of the
man; however, it was something quite foreign, and, judging from what
happened afterwards, probably was no more than an alias. My sister's
letter to her father announcing her marriage was returned to her
unread, and she was given to understand that she could no longer
consider herself one of the family. That sorry scoundrel who had
brought so much unhappiness on the poor girl's head basely deserted
her, and from that day to this I have seen nothing of the poor child.

"She did not write to you, she did not communicate with you in any
way?" Jack asked.

"I have just told you that I have never heard of or seen the poor girl
since. She was as proud as she was high-spirited, and after what had
happened would have died rather than have appealed to any of us for
assistance. But why do you ask?"

"Because I recognized in the portrait in question the features of one
who I see nearly every day of my life. There can be no question about
the matter at all, Lady Barmouth--your sister has been for a long time
Spencer Anstruther's housekeeper."

"You astonish me; you move me more than words can tell. My sister in
the house of that man? Do you mean to suggest for a moment----"

"I am not suggesting anything whatever that is wrong," Jack said
earnestly. "For some time past I have been trying to make a study of
the poor woman who calls herself Serena----"

"That is my sister's second name," Lady Barmouth interposed.

"Yes! But I have not made much progress. It is quite evident to me
that your poor sister has had a terribly stormy past. Not that her
spirits are broken, for there comes ever and again in her face the
look of one who is prepared to fight to the bitter end. All the same,
she is absolutely under the domination of Spencer Anstruther; she
watches his every movement; indeed, it is almost as if he had
hypnotized her. But that there is anything wrong--oh, no, Anstruther
simply regards your sister as one of his creatures."

"I am quite unnerved by all you have to tell me," Lady Barmouth cried.
"It has always been my prayer that my poor sister and myself should
meet again, because I, for one, have never blamed her for that which,
after all, is more her misfortune than her fault. She was very young
at the time that she gave her heart into the keeping of that
scoundrel, very young and very romantic. And goodness knows she paid
enough for her folly. I must see her at once. I will go with you----"

"Not to Anstruther's house," Jack protested. "Think of the danger of
it."

"But Mr. Anstruther merely knows me as Lady Barmouth. He knows nothing
of Lord Barmouth as Lord Barmouth. We can easily assume that I came to
ask the character of a servant. Oh, do not let us wait! If you only
knew how anxious I am to see Serena again!"

Jack shrugged his shoulders and allowed the point to pass. At any rate
he suggested that Lady Barmouth should possess her soul in patience a
little longer. Usually the hours between five and seven were spent by
Anstruther at his club, where he often indulged in a rubber of whist;
indeed, he was very regular in this respect. Jack expounded all this
to Lady Barmouth, who listened to him with more or less impatience.

"Let it be as you please." she said. "I am afraid you do not quite
understand my feelings; still, you have been so good and kind and
patient all through this miserable business that I am loth to do
anything to mar your chances of success. Come and have a cup of tea
with me, and then it will be time to start."

It was a little after six before Jack and Lady Barmouth set out in the
direction of Panton Square. They came to the house at length, and Jack
rang the bell. Some little time elapsed before there was any response,
and Jack rang again. He was getting slightly uneasy by this time; so
many things had happened lately that therefore it was possible that
something equally strange might have recently been enacted in Panton
Square. He pulled the bell again, this time furiously.

"It looks as if everybody was out," Lady Barmouth suggested.

"And yet I fancy I can hear somebody," Jack said, with his eye on the
keyhole. "I am sure that I saw somebody flit across the hall. Let us
try again."

Another furious peal at the bell brought a halting footstep, as if
dragged unwillingly in the direction of the door, and then a voice
inside faintly demanded to know who was there.

"Who are you?" Jack asked--his fears had rendered him a little
impatient, "and what have you to be afraid of? Please open the door. I
tell you that----"

"Is that really you, Jack?" the voice inside said in tones of deep
relief. It was easy to detect that Claire was the speaker now. "I will
open the door for you at once."

There was a fumbling at the bolts and latch, and then the heavy portal
swung back. Claire's face was very pale, her hands were trembling, and
there was something like terror in her eyes.

"I hope nothing wrong has happened?" Jack said anxiously.

"Well, no," Claire explained, "nothing what you might call really
wrong." All the same, she was holding her hand to her heart like one
who has run fast and far. "It was not on my account that I feared; it
was for Serena's sake."

"Are you and Serena alone in the house?" Jack asked.

"Absolutely. The other two maids have gone out for the day, and, as my
uncle is dining at his club, I did not bother about a set dinner, and
was going to have a small dish sent up for myself. A few minutes ago
Serena came to me in a state of terrible agitation, saying that
somebody had called to see my guardian. Though he was assured that Mr.
Anstruther was out, and was not likely to return before it was time to
dress for dinner, the man persisted in refusing to believe the
statement. He pushed his way into the hall, and locked the door behind
him, saying that it was his intention to search the house. He was so
rude and overbearing that Serena was naturally frightened, and came to
me. I hope you won't blame me unduly, but I was as frightened as
Serena herself. I summoned up courage at length to face this man, but
when I reached the hall I found that he had unlocked the door again,
and had vanished. But not before he had been all over the house."

"Was he rude, or did he use anything like violence?" Jack asked
heatedly. "Oh, this sort of thing is abominable. Ask Serena to come
here, and give me a description of the fellow. Then I will go off at
once, and place the matter in the hands of the police."

So agitated and upset was Claire that she had entirely overlooked the
presence of Lady Barmouth, who stood in the dim shadow of the hall
listening to this amazing story. She went off now in the direction of
the kitchen, where she seemed to be engaged in persuading the
terrified Serena to come forward. The latter came presently, with a
trembling, halting footstep, and Lady Barmouth shrank closer against
the wall. The electric light had not been switched on yet, so that it
was almost too dark to recognize the features of Anstruther's
housekeeper. Jack rather wondered to see Serena so terribly upset.
Broken as she was by misfortune, and dominated as she was by
Anstruther's strong personality, she did not lack pluck and spirit, as
Jack had seen on more than one occasion.

"You seem to have been subjected to a rather unpleasant experience,"
he said. "What class of man was the fellow who insisted on pushing his
way into the house like this? A half-intoxicated workman, or some
loafing rascal."

"Oh, nothing of the kind," Serena replied. She was getting her voice
well under control now. "The man was dressed as well as yourself, Mr.
Masefield. It was not his appearance that frightened me in the least,
at least not his outward appearance. Nor was he in the least abusive
or violent."

"But tell us what he looked like," Jack said impatiently. "I want a
description for the benefit of the police."

Serena seemed to hesitate for a moment, and a curious expression
passed like a shadow over her worn, sad face.

"Oh, you will not laugh at me, you will not make fun of what I am
going to say? It was not quite dark; in fact, there was plenty of
light when I opened the door for that man. His hat was turned down,
and his coat collar was turned up. As the door was thrown open, he
lifted his hat to me with a natural courtesy that belongs to every
well-bred man. And then I saw his face. It was exactly the same face
as that."

Serena broke off suddenly, as if her emotions were too strong for her.
The front door had not yet been closed; the strong flare of a great
arc light lit up the hoarding on the far side of the street. With a
trembling hand Serena pointed to the central poster on the hoarding.
Jack started as he followed the direction of her shaking finger.

"What!" he cried; "Nostalgo! Another Nostalgo! Do you mean to say that
he has been here to-night?"

"Yes," Serena said simply, "it is just as I have told you."



CHAPTER XXIV.
IN THE SQUARE.


Jack said no more for the present. He closed the front door quietly,
not forgetting, however, to glance at the great clock, and stopping to
calculate that a good half-hour must elapse before Anstruther
returned. It would have been a great misfortune indeed if the latter
had come home at that moment. In a mechanical kind of way Serena
turned into the dining-room, where she proceeded to pull down the
blinds and switch on the lights. At a sign from Jack, Lady Barmouth
remained where she was for the moment, and Masefield, together with
Claire, entered the dining-room.

"I am bound to ask you a few questions," he said, turning to Serena.
"For instance, I have yet to learn why the walking image of that
poster should have frightened you so terribly."

"It was Adolpho returned from the grave," Serena murmured. Apparently
she was talking to herself. "Beyond all question poor Adolpho----"

She paused in some confusion, and looked guiltily from Claire to Jack.
The latter was not slow to take up the point.

"So you have actually seen the man before?" he demanded. "Well, we
will not discuss that at present. A little later on perhaps I shall
ask you to speak more freely. Meanwhile, I may as well tell you that I
came here to-night with a lady desirous of seeing you."

Serena was alert and eager in a moment. Jack could see that the
fighting look had returned to her face; her eyes dilated strangely.
She seemed to guess by some subtle instinct exactly what was going to
happen.

"My sister." she whispered. Her voice was very strained and low.
"Something tells me that my sister is here. I pray you go away and get
rid of her at once. Tell her any lie, invent any falsehood. If you
have the slightest feeling for the most miserable woman in the world
you will do this thing for me."

"But it is too late," Jack protested. "Lady Barmouth is with me; she
is waiting in the hall at the present moment, and she has already seen
your face."

"But I do not understand," Serena cried, stretching out her hands
hopelessly. "I have but one sister whom I believe to be living, and
her name is Grace. Lady Barmouth cannot possibly be anything to me."

"Lady Barmouth is your sister all the same," Jack explained. "She
married Lord Barmouth after you left home; she has told me your sad
story, and you must believe that she has been looking for you
everywhere. Surely you would not punish yourself for that which was
after all merely an act of girlish folly?"

Serena covered her face with her hands and burst into tears. Her head
fell forward on the table. Presently an arm stole about her neck. When
she looked up again it was to meet the tender and softened gaze of
Lady Barmouth.

"And so we meet again like this after all these years," Lady Barmouth
said gently. "Oh, my dear Serena, how could you go off like that; how
could you leave us all without a word or a sign? Our father was a
harsh man; his pride was his besetting sin, but he would have forgiven
you and taken you to his heart again if only you had returned to the
old home. Didn't you suppose that I cared? And after all said and
done, what is your crime? You trusted a man who was not worthy of your
affection, and he deserted you because you lacked the money for which
he married you. If that is a crime, then there are many thousands of
poor women in the world in the same sad plight."

Meanwhile Jack and Claire had crept quietly from the room. It would
have been indelicate to remain there in the circumstances. Jack,
looking at Claire, noted that the tears were also in her eyes.

"What a strangely pathetic thing," Claire murmured. "How did it come
about, Jack?"

Jack explained the story of the photograph, but Claire was hardly
listening. It seemed such a strange, sad story to her, this pathetic
meeting between the two sisters.

"But you don't suppose that Mr. Anstruther knows?" Claire asked. "You
do not imagine for a moment that he is aware of the fact that Serena
is Lady Barmouth's sister?"

"I hope to goodness no," Jack exclaimed. "But I don't see how the
thing could be possible. To begin with, the sisters are not in the
least alike, and in addition to this Serena had not the least idea
that Lady Barmouth had married. What I am most afraid of now is that
Anstruther should come back and discover those two women together."

"Claire nodded gravely, with one eye on the clock. It was only a
matter of minutes now when Anstruther would return. He was dining at
his club to-night, Claire explained, with Mr. Carrington, at eight
o'clock, and as it was now a quarter past seven, there was not much
time for him to dress and get back to St. James's Street again.

"In that case I must intrude myself upon those two ladies," Jack said
firmly. "I will put Lady Barmouth in a cab and send her home. It will
be quite easy for the sisters to arrange a meeting at Lady Barmouth's
house. Keep Anstruther out of the dining-room if he comes in."

Jack strode resolutely across the hall, and placed the matter tersely
and vigorously before the sisters. "It would never do," he explained,
"for Anstruther to find you here at this moment."

Serena's eyes were swollen with weeping. There were the deep marks of
tears upon her cheeks. Lady Barmouth's worldly training had stood her
in better stead, but she also carried traces of emotion which could
not be wiped out in a moment.

"I am going to put you in a cab at once," Jack said. "Anstruther may
be here any instant, and you can imagine how necessary it is to keep
him in the dark. Besides, you can easily arrange a meeting in a safer
atmosphere than this."

With a brief remark to the effect that she would communicate with
Serena again, Lady Barmouth left the room, and permitted Jack to
escort her to a cab. The latter breathed more freely as the clatter of
the horses' hoofs died away. He ran back quickly to the house again to
give a few last words of instruction to Claire.

"You look all right now," he said, "but Serena's case is entirely
different. Take my advice, and send her up to her room. If you are not
going to dine in the proper sense of the word, there is no reason why
Serena should appear again till Anstruther has gone to his club. And I
will go, too; I don't want our worthy host to know that I have been
here this evening."

Jack went off thoughtfully in the direction of the square. It was a
particularly good-class neighborhood, and generally very quiet at this
time of the evening. The half-hour past seven had just struck from a
neighboring clock. In most of the dining-rooms on the north side of
the square brilliant lights demonstrated the fact that folk were at
dinner. With the exception of a solitary policeman nobody was in
sight. As is usual with the majority of London squares, the place was
none too well lighted, and there were just sufficient lamps to throw
the shadows of the garden in deeper relief. It had often occurred to
Jack how easy crime and violence would be in circumstances like these.

Jack's imagination was working freely now; indeed, it would have been
odd if his brain had not been screwed to a high pitch by the events of
the day. Coming towards him now, swinging along at a good pace, was a
tall, slim figure, which seemed familiar to Masefield. As the figure
paused under a lamp to look at his watch, Jack could see the figure
was that of Anstruther. He congratulated himself upon the fact that he
had got away from Panton Square before Anstruther returned. He crossed
the road in a casual sort of way, and passed along under the shadow of
the houses so that Anstruther had no idea how he was being watched.

The latter paused again, just by the entrance to the square gardens,
the gates of which had not yet been locked, though it was considerably
past the hour when the gardens were closed to the public. Anstruther
stood there as if debating something in his mind, then suddenly
another figure came like a lightning flash from inside the garden
gates, and fell upon Anstruther with terrible swiftness.

So sudden and unexpected was it that Jack could hardly believe the
evidence of his own eyes. Anstruther gave one gurgling cry, his hands
went up as if imploring assistance, then he settled down to a fray
which could only end in one fashion. It was impossible where Jack
stood for him to make out anything more than the mere outline of the
man who had so unexpectedly fallen upon Anstruther. But there was no
mistaking the grimness of his intention: there was sinister design in
every movement of the body This was no common square thief, intent
upon a paltry meed of plunder, but a man who had deliberately picked
out his prey with the intention of mauling it to the death.

All this passed as it were in the twinkling of an eye. Jack knew now
that he would have to pull himself together and advance to the rescue.
As he flew across the road he heard in a mechanical sort of fashion
the heavy footstep of a policeman clanging on the quiet pavement some
little way off. Here, at any rate, was aid fairly close at hand. But
Jack was not the kind of man to wait in an emergency like this. Before
he could cross the road he saw that Anstruther was prostrate on the
pavement, with his assailant kneeling cat-like upon his chest. The man
was evidently fumbling for something, probably a weapon of the
noiseless kind, for Jack could see his right hand working in a hip
pocket. With a headlong leap Jack fell upon the would-be assassin, and
clutched him by the throat. At the same time a police whistle
shrilled.

But the man kneeling on Anstruther's chest was not taken aback for an
instant. With a quick upward motion of his body he pitched Jack clean
over his head, and, rolling off Anstruther's chest, darted like a
snake into the gardens. By this time three policemen were upon the
scene. "No, I don't think he is hurt much," Jack explained, as
Anstruther scrambled to his feet, and gazed wildly around him. "No
damage done, eh?"

Anstruther explained that he was none the worse for his adventure. He
seemed to be under the impression that he had been the victim of some
loafer's cupidity. He could give no description of his assailant;
indeed, he said that he had no idea now but to get away and keep an
important appointment. He tossed his card over to the police, and went
coolly down the road.

"We can get that fellow all the same," Jack said. "He is in the
gardens somewhere. Suppose you three men stand round the square while
I go inside and drive him out. One of you lend me a lantern."

The quest was by no means a long one. At the fourth cast of the
lantern Jack descried his man crouching down under a belt of laurels.
He reached forward and dragged the fellow up by the neck.

"I am a bigger man than you are," Jack said. "Do you come quietly, or
are you going to take it fighting?"

By way of reply the man raised his hat; his face was exposed.

"I am not going to take it at all," he said. "You will be good enough
to put the police off my scent and have a cab handy so that I can get
away without being seen. We have met before, sir."

It was a fitting crown to a day of surprises. For the man who stood
before Jack was the same Nostalgo he had conveyed in the guise of a
dead body to Shannon Street police station.



CHAPTER XXV.
ON THE TRACK.


The man standing there showed not the slightest trace of alarm. There
was just the suggestion of a smile on his face, as if he felt
confident of his position. Jack could even see that he was fingering a
cigarette case, as if he were thinking more about tobacco than
anything else. He advanced a little nearer to his pursuer, and the
suggestion of a smile broadened to a look of absolute amusement.

"It seems to me that we have met before," he said, with an accent that
left no doubt as to his nationality. "But I have just reminded you of
the fact. The question is, what are you going to do?"

"Well, you are a very cool hand," Jack replied. "My obvious duty is to
hand you over to the police for the attempted murder of Mr. Spencer
Anstruther."

"Instead of which you are going to do nothing of the kind," the
stranger replied. "Besides, you are quite wrong. I am prepared to
admit the assault on Mr. Anstruther, but as to murdering him--nothing
of the kind. Besides, you know perfectly well you are consumed with
curiosity to know all about my mysterious self."

Jack smiled to himself despite the gravity of the situation. The
stranger had hit off his thoughts exactly.

"You are naturally anxious to know," he said, "what happened to me
after you were good enough to escort my unconscious body to Shannon
Street police station. I see you are a little dubious as to whether I
am the right man or not; but if you looked at me carefully, you would
see there is no mistake whatever."

Jack advanced a few paces nearer the speaker, and surveyed him closely
in the blinding light of the lantern. There was no doubt whatever that
this was one and the same Nostalgo. There was a certain mark in the
shape of a crescent scar on his chin, the same scantiness of eyebrow,
and the same peculiar droop of the lids.

"I am quite satisfied that you are the same man," Jack said.

"That's all right," the stranger cried, eagerly. "Of course, I know
quite well that you are deeply interested in this Nostalgo mystery,
and good fortune has placed you in the position to find out all about
it. Get rid of those fellows, and call me a hansom. As a guarantee of
good faith, here is my card. The address leaves a great deal to be
desired, but I assure you my quarters are a great deal more
comfortable than the locality would convey. If you have not yet dined,
perhaps you would not mind partaking of my bread and salt."

Jack did not hesitate a moment longer. It was, perhaps, playing it
rather low down on the police, but it seemed almost a criminal folly
to waste so golden an opportunity as this. If the man had been given
in custody for the murderous assault upon Spencer Anstruther, there
would be long and tedious investigations, which would not only delay
the solution of the trouble, but perhaps scare away others who were
more or less party to the mystery. After all said and done, Anstruther
was not a penny the worse for his adventure, and no harm could be done
in defeating the so-called ends of justice.

"You stay where you are," Jack said, "and I will see what I can do for
you. The police are On three sides of the square, leaving this side
open to me. It is only a matter of a little patience, and the thing is
accomplished."

Jack emerged cautiously into the road and looked about him. So far as
he could see the street was deserted, though he could hear the
constables making signs to one another on the other three sides of the
square. Whilst he was still debating in his mind what to do, an empty
hansom crawled towards him. Jack ran back and signed to the driver not
to stop.

"You can earn a sovereign if you like," he said. "Don't ask any
questions, but do exactly what I tell you. Turn back, go just to the
corner of the square, and then return slowly; when you are opposite
the gates, pull up as if there was something the matter with your
horse. Then a man will come out and jump into your cab. You are to
drive him to the address which I am going to give you without asking
any questions. Here is your sovereign, and now listen carefully to the
address. That's all."

Jack returned hurriedly to the gardens, at the same time whistling
loudly as if he had need of assistance. It was not long before the
three constables came swarming over the railings, guided to the right
spot by the flash of Jack's lantern.

"Now's your time," he whispered hurriedly. "There is a hansom waiting
for you by the gate, and the driver knows exactly what to do and where
to take you. He is already paid his fare."

The man Nostalgo smiled and vanished. It was an easy matter to satisfy
the police that their quarry had eluded Masefield, and that he was
still hiding somewhere in the gardens. Jack left them to their search
presently under the plea that he had no further time to waste. He
walked as far as Albany Street, and there took a cab to Mare Street,
Hackney.

It was not a particularly desirable neighborhood, as the man Nostalgo
had pointed out. The destination was a side street of great dingy
houses, which a generation or two back had been inhabited by wealthy
tradesmen and the like. Now the large houses had been cut up into
small flats and tenements, and for the most part were occupied
by artisans and the like. The gutter swarmed with children,
disheveled-looking women stood gossiping on the door-steps; round a
flaming gin palace a group of loafers had gathered. It seemed to Jack
high time to dismiss his hansom, for evidently vehicles of that kind
were not frequent visitors to the street. More than one of the loafers
lounging heavily against the greasy walls looked pointedly at Jack,
but he was not the class of man to be tackled single-handed, and
therefore he was allowed to proceed unmolested to No. 14, where he
asked for Mr. James Smith.

A surly-looking porter, evidently considerably the worse for drink,
replied that Smith lived on the fifth floor.

"Not that I have ever seen him," he growled, propitiated by Jack's
half-crown; "sort of secretive chap, only goes out after dark and all
that sort of thing. Shouldn't wonder if the police came and walked off
with him any day; but that's no business of mine, so long as he pays
his rent regularly and don't give no trouble. Keeps a couple of
servants, he does; but they ain't English, and we don't have no truck
with them."

Unenlightened by this fragment of a biography, Jack made his way up
the greasy staircase. There must have been scores of families living
in the self-same house, for Jack could hear the cries of children, and
an occasional oath from some angry man. He came at length to the fifth
floor, the outer door of which was closed, and on this he knocked. He
knocked a third time before the door was cautiously opened, and the
sallow, almond-eyed face of a Chinaman peered out. Apparently the
Celestial was satisfied as to his visitor, for he merely bowed and
stood aside so that Jack might enter. Then the door was closed again
and locked. There was another door at the end of a dingy passage, the
walls of which had not been papered for years; but a passage through
this revealed a different state of affairs entirely.

It was idle to enquire by what magic this thing had been brought
about, but here, in this home of wretchedness and desolation, was a
luxurious and comfortable home. In what appeared to be the hall was a
remarkably fine specimen of Persian carpet. There were Moorish
hangings, luxurious lounges and divans--the whole illuminated by a
shaded lamp which depended from the ceiling. Jack could see other
rooms beyond, quite as luxuriously furnished. In one of them a table
had been laid out with a fair white cloth, and on the snowy damask
appeared to be what was a perfectly appointed meal.

Jack could see the shaded lights falling on the flowers and silver,
upon gold-necked bottles, and ruby wines in cut-glass decanters. A
negro dressed like an English butler came silently from the room,
carrying a silver coffee service in his hand. It was a fairy kind of
dream, coming as it did upon the edge of stern reality. Jack would
have been surprised had he not been long past that emotion. As it was,
he allowed the Chinese servant to relieve him of his hat and coat,
after which he was escorted to a small room at the back, where his
queer host was smoking something quite exceptional in the way of a
cigar.

"I thought you would come," he said. It was only when he stood up
under the full light of the lamps that Jack could see what a fine
figure of a man he was. "Sit down and try one of these cigars--dinner
will not be ready for quite a quarter of an hour. You are rather
surprised to find anything of this kind here, eh?"

"Well, rather," Jack said drily; "you hardly expect eastern palaces in
the slums. I won't be vulgarly curious and ask why a man of your
apparent means prefers to take up his quarters here, but what I want
to know is this--how on earth did you manage to get all this luxury
and refinement here without arousing the suspicions of your neighbors?
There are men--ay, and women, too--under the same roof who would
murder you cheerfully, if only to get hold of your silver coffee
service."

"Oh, that's explained easily enough," Nostalgo cried. "My two servants
are very faithful to me; they practically know no English, and when
they go out they are dressed very very differently to what you see
them now. As to the rest, we smuggled the things here a few at a time,
and we did the papering and upholstering between us. As to why I
choose to live here--ah, that is quite another matter."

The stranger finished with a stern abruptness that told Jack pretty
plainly he was not expected to ask any further questions on that head.
"You will know more about me presently," he said. "Meanwhile, I dare
say you are curious to know what brought me lying apparently dead near
Panton Square, and how my body disappeared from the police station. Of
course, you suspect Anstruther of being at the bottom of the whole
business; in fact, I presume Lord Barmouth told you all about that."

Here was another surprise, but Jack did not express it in words. He
merely nodded, as if he took the whole thing for granted.

"We will let that pass," he said. "But why did Anstruther desire to
have you put out of the way like that?"

"Well, it was either Anstruther or myself," the stranger said coolly.
"To give you some idea of the feelings I entertain towards Anstruther,
I will ask you to kindly look at that craotint over the mantelpiece.
You may not believe it, but that picture represents me before I came
under the baneful influence of the man we are discussing. Will you
please look at it carefully?"

It was barely possible to recognize in those handsome features the
almost repulsive ugliness of Nostalgo. Perhaps he read something of
this passing through Jack's mind, for he smiled with exceeding
bitterness.

"Yes, I don't think I need much justification. You know all about that
business in Mexico, but Lord Barmouth was not the only victim. I also
was left penniless and mutilated, and I swore that if ever fortune
favored me, I would be even with Anstruther before I died. Fortune has
favored me, and I am here with one set purpose before me."

"To kill Spencer Anstruther," Jack cried.

"Oh, dear, no," Nostalgo said; "do you suppose that I can think of no
more terrible revenge than that? When you saw me holding that
scoundrel to-night I had quite another purpose in my mind. If
everything had gone well with me, London would have been startled
to-morrow to hear of the strange disappearance of Spencer Anstruther.
But you were good enough to prevent me, and I cannot blame you for
that. But I am talking about myself, though you would like to hear
more of other matters. I promised to tell you how I got away from
Shannon Street police station. I expect my case puzzled the doctor,
did it not?"

"You puzzled him exceedingly," Jack said. "How did you manage it?"

"I was shot in a peculiar manner, and with a peculiar weapon,"
Nostalgo explained. "The whole device was an invention of
Anstruther's--in fact, I saw it in operation in Mexico. It is a kind
of air gun arrangement that propels a sort of poisoned bullet encased
in celluloid. The bullet penetrates a part not necessarily vital and
dissolves there. There is practically no wound, the virulent poison in
the bullet spreads all over the system and speedily does its work. But
in my instance the shots fired were not fatal, for the simple reason
that I am wearing a thin coat of highly-tempered chain mail."

"But the doctor did not notice that," Jack exclaimed.

Nostalgo made no reply for a moment; he seemed to be thinking about
something else. His varying moods had not been lost upon Jack. He was
stern and silent, then again happy and cheerful, and once more grim
and sardonic. If he did not care to speak now, Jack had no desire to
press him. He felt quite sure that the stranger had taken a liking to
him, or he would not be enjoying his present novel situation. Nostalgo
broke the silence at length as if he had suddenly realized that he was
not alone.

"You have not traveled much, I presume?" he asked.

"No," Jack replied. "Only the usual Continental trips and all that
kind of thing. Mine has been a very prosaic life up to now, and I have
never found myself in the heart of a great adventure before. Now it
seems to me as if I were going to have enough mystery to last me
forever."

"Ah, as Shakespeare says, 'There are more things in heaven and earth
than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' Had you lived my life, and
knew the world as I know it, you would not be astonished at anything.
Probably if you had read what I have told you in a novel, of the
sensational kind, you would have pitched the book aside with a laugh
of contempt. And now, confess it, have you ever heard before of a
decadent modern man walking about in a mail shirt and being plugged by
mysterious bullets, and all this in the streets of London?"

"Well, I confess that it does seem a little strange and outlandish,"
Jack admitted. "But when I come to think of it, and when I look at
you, I can no longer hesitate. Some men are born for picturesqueness
and adventure, and you are one of them. But all the same the doctor
was utterly deceived."



CHAPTER XXVI.
SERENA AGAIN.


Nostalgo smiled and shook his head. The doctor had not made an
examination of him at all; and he explained he had simply given him a
cursory glance and pronounced that the whole thing had been fatal. No
doubt a thorough examination would have taken place later on, only
that the victim had returned to his senses, and, having his own
reasons for secrecy, had escaped by means of the overhead light in the
mortuary.

"There you have the whole thing in a nutshell," he concluded. "It was
fortunate for me that I knew exactly how to get away, for the simple
reason that I had been keeping a close eye upon Anstruther's
movements, and knew all about that hiding place in Montrose Place. To
a certain extent I made my escape through Montrose Place. There is
only one thing I find that is difficult of explanation. Now I know for
a fact that Anstruther was otherwise engaged on the night of that
murderous attack upon me. Who, then, was it who fired the bullet?"

"I think it is just possible I can enlighten you there," Jack said.
"Did you ever chance to hear of a man called Padini?"

The name conveyed nothing apparently to Nostalgo, who rose at the
same moment and suggested that dinner was possibly ready. It was a
well-served meal, cold for the most part, Nostalgo explaining that
anything in the way of elaborate cookery had for obvious reasons to be
done off the premises. It was possible to talk freely before the
servants, who seemed to be entirely in their master's confidence.

"Tell me about this Padini whose name you mentioned just now," the
host said. "So far as I know, I have never heard the name before."

"That is exceedingly likely, considering that Padini is only one of
the many aliases. The man I mentioned is an exceedingly fine
violinist--clean shaven and artistic-looking, and perhaps just a
little effeminate. On the stage he looks rather boyish, but in private
life it is his whim to assume a moustache closely resembling that of
the German Emperor. I know this as a fact, because I have met him
wearing his moustache at the house of a man called Carrington--a rich
bachelor banker who has a very elaborate establishment in Piccadilly."

A heavy scowl crossed the face of Nostalgo.

"So you know that sorry blackguard, do you?" he asked. "Upon my word,
Mr. Masefield, you seem to have mixed up with a rare lot of
scoundrels."

Jack was politely incredulous; he had never heard anything to the
detriment of Mr. Carrington, who was partner in a well-known City
bank. Still, he remembered now that he had heard Carrington's name
mentioned by Anstruther that time he was hiding in Montrose Place with
Rigby.

"Oh, I am perfectly certain of my facts," Nostalgo cried. "It may be
news to you, but Carrington's bank is on the verge of collapse. I know
that, because they have twenty thousand pounds of mine in their hands.
I was acquainted with Carrington before I went to Mexico, and as good
fortune favored me, I sent a great deal of my earnings to Carrington
for investment. When I came home I called upon him one night and
explained my altered appearance. He appeared to be fairly satisfied
till I asked for my securities. Then the rascal showed himself in his
true colors. He pretended to believe that I was an impudent impostor;
he laughed my strange story to scorn, and refused to part with
anything until I could prove my identity beyond question. He knew
perfectly well that at the time I could do nothing of the sort, and
there the matter stands for the present. I suppose that Carrington is
a friend of Anstruther's?"

Jack explained that Anstruther and Carrington were dining together at
the former's club at that self-same moment. Nostalgo nodded, as if the
information was not displeasing to him. "Very good," he cried.
"Everything is going our way now. I will get you to accompany me on a
little expedition presently. And as to this man you call Padini, I
think I have a pretty good notion of his real identity. And now take
some more of that wine, and let us discuss matters generally, apart
from this wretched business. Let me try and make you forget what a
physical wreck I am."

A more entertaining companion Jack could not have wished for. His host
seemed to have been everywhere and seen everything; he was a thorough
citizen of the world, and a charming companion to boot. Jack was
astonished to look up presently and see that it was already past
eleven o'clock. Nostalgo followed his glance and smiled. He rang the
bell and ordered coffee to be served at once.

"Just one more cigar and a liquor," he suggested, "and then we must be
off. Meanwhile, there are one or two things I must do in regard to my
personal appearance. Like the modern plain young woman, I am compelled
occasionally to resort to a beauty doctor. It is a case of where
Nature fails Art steps in."

So saying, Nostalgo passed the cigar box across the table and
sauntered from the room. It was some half-hour before he returned, and
when he did so he was changed almost beyond recognition. At the same
time, the almost hideous ugliness had only given way to another form
of repulsive feature. Nostalgo smiled sadly as he seemed to follow
Jack's thoughts.

"It is only a change after all," he said; "for change is sometimes
necessary. If you have quite finished, we are going to walk down as
far as St. James's Street, where I will get you to go into
Anstruther's club, the Salisbury, and ascertain if he and Carrington
are still there. You can easily make an excuse to do that."

"As it happens, there is no occasion to do anything of the kind,"
Jack said. "I am a member of the Salisbury Club. I will go into the
dining-room and see if those men are still there; and if they have
already gone, I will try and ascertain where. Come along."

The Salisbury Club was reached at length, and Jack entered, followed
by his companion. There was no reason why the latter should not come
into the club, Jack urged. With his hat pulled down over his eyes
nobody would recognize him or note anything peculiar in his
appearance.

The club was fairly crowded by this time, for the theatres had begun
to empty, and members were trooping in the direction of the smoking
and card rooms. The dining-room was still comparatively full, for
though dinner was practically a thing of the past, a great many
suppers had already been served. As Jack glanced carelessly about the
room, he noticed Anstruther and Carrington seated at a table at the
top. There was a third man with them, who had apparently just come in,
for his opera cape was still about his shoulders. Jack touched his
companion on the arm.

"There our men are," he whispered, "and judging from the amount of
wine upon the table, I should think there they are likely to stay. We
are fortunate, too, in another direction. Please take note of that man
in the opera cape--that is the man Padini. Perhaps you can tell me if
you have ever seen him before."

Nostalgo gave a queer and dry chuckle, and Jack could see that his
eyes were burning under the edge of his hat.

"You are quite right about our being in luck," he said hoarsely. "So
you want to know if I am acquainted with the little man in the opera
cape. I know the scoundrel perfectly. It seems to me that all the
scores I have to pay are going to be wiped off in London. Now I think
we will get on our way."

Nostalgo strode away as if he had quite made up his mind what to do.
Once outside, he turned off in the direction of Piccadilly, walking so
rapidly that Jack had some considerable difficulty in keeping up with
him. The man had evidently something on his mind, for he was muttering
to himself as if he had entirely forgotten his companion. He came out
of his brown study presently, and laughed a laugh of grim amusement.

"I am a little mad at times," he said, in explanation of his queer
conduct; "but you must not mind that. You have behaved exceedingly
well to me, and I am taking you entirely into my confidence. You asked
me just now if I knew Padini. I explained to you that I knew him very
well indeed, but not under that name. He used to be with Anstruther
all the time that the latter was in Mexico. Not that he is the class
of man to care much for the rough life we led out there, because he is
physically a great coward, though his cunning and craft are equal to
those of his master. We knew him out there for a very skilled
performer on the violin, but I never expected that he would blossom
out into a leading platform artist. I should have thought that the
fellow was too lazy and too casual to tie himself down to a settled
programme. But I dare say it is all part of some scheme of
Anstruther's."

"That I am absolutely certain about," Jack said. "Seeing that you have
been so candid with me, I will be equally candid with you, and tell
you something very strange. It has to do with Padini and his violin."

Jack proceeded to explain at length the apparently strange coincidence
of the items on Padini's concert programme and their simultaneous
playing in Anstruther's study. It was a somewhat complicated story,
and Nostalgo did not quite take it in at first. When he thoroughly
grasped the situation, he was grimly pleased to pay a high compliment
to Anstruther's ingenuity.

"I think I can grasp the meaning of it," he said. "If Anstruther ever
found himself in a tight corner--and he is very likely to before
long--he has a magnificent alibi. But here we are; just wait till I
get my key out."

To Jack's great surprise Nostalgo paused before the front door of
Carrington's chambers, and proceeded to fit the key in the latch as if
he were the master of the premises. Very coolly he pushed the door
back and bade Jack enter. "But this is something like burglary," the
latter protested. "Burglary or not, we are going in all the same,"
Nostalgo growled. "You will see presently something that will surprise
you. But stop--surely there is some one coming down the hall."

The hall light was a very dim one, so that it was impossible for the
moment to determine the identity of the woman who came down the
stairway towards them. She carried in her hand a candle, which had the
effect of keeping her face half in shadow. It was evident that the
woman had heard the key in the door, and had come down to see if her
master required anything.

Satisfied that she was mistaken, she set the candle down on the table.
Her features were quite plain now--the sad yet defiant face of Serena.
A grasp like a vice was laid on Jack's arm, and his companion's voice
whispered hoarsely in his ear.

"Great heaven!" Nostalgo said. "And she is here. Oh, the villainy of
it, the villainy of it!"



CHAPTER XXVII.
IN THE SMOKING-ROOM.


The woman looked about her as if half expecting to see somebody 'there
who had come with evil intent. Jack could not fail to notice the
extreme nervousness and agitation of her face. She was no longer quiet
and subdued, as he had been accustomed to see her in Panton Square;
she seemed as if some force had dragged her there against her will.
She advanced towards the table, and, taking up a hat and coat lying
there, proceeded to put them on as if she had finished her task
whatever it was. If anything had frightened her, it was not, at any
rate, the suggestion of burglars, for there was nothing of physical
fear to be detected about her.

So far as Jack could discern, his companion appeared to be equally
disconcerted. But there would be plenty of time presently to learn
what Nostalgo knew about Serena. Events were moving rapidly now, and
Jack felt that he would have plenty to tell Rigby later on. They stood
aside till Serena had left the house, making sure that the latch was
down, and that no one could enter the premises without a key. Jack
turned to Nostalgo with an interrogative glance.

"The more we go into this thing," he said, "the more do we find one
mystery piled upon another. Do you know that unfortunate lady?"

"If you do not mind, I would much rather you did not press that
question," Nostalgo said, coldly. "I am going to help you all I can; I
am going to do everything in my power both for your sake and mine; but
there are some things which will not bear discussion, and this is one
of them."

Jack turned away, feeling just a little hurt and disappointed. He
would have found it difficult to say why, but he had taken a strange
liking to the man by his side, perhaps because the man was suffering
more from terrible misfortune than from his own imprudence.

"We will let it stand over for the present," he said, "but to be more
candid than you are, I am greatly interested in that poor woman. I
have known her for a long time now, and, as a novelist, I am bound to
say that she greatly fascinates me. She always strikes me as a woman
who has been tamed--she is so like a performing lion or tiger, if you
will permit me the simile."

"I think I know what you mean," Nostalgo said. "The class of animal
you speak of paces restlessly about its cage, a picture of moody
discontent and more or less physical fear. And then the time comes
when all the old savage instincts burst forth, and years of cruel
treatment are avenged in the course of a moment."

"And so it would be with Serena," Jack said. "I have seen her cower
and tremble before her master; I have seen her hand him a knife in the
humblest possible fashion. And then I have seen her hands clench on
the handle, and a gleam come into her eyes--on more than one occasion
I have half expected to see her lean over and cut her master's throat
from ear to ear. After this, perhaps, you may be disposed to say more
on the subject?"

"We have never met, we have never been introduced," Nostalgo
explained; "but I know who she is and all about her just the same. Do
not press me more at present; the secret is not entirely my own. I can
only tell you this: it was a great shock to me to meet that
unfortunate lady to-night. But perhaps you know who she is?"

"I know perfectly well who she is," Jack said, "though the knowledge
has come to me quite recently. Up to a day or two ago I regarded her
in the prosaic light of Anstruther's housekeeper. She has always
interested me, because she has always seemed to me to be a kind of
wild animal who has been cleverly tamed. I have seen her like a tiger
ready to spring; I have seen the lurking demon of passion in her eyes,
as if she could destroy Anstruther and rejoice in the deed. And then a
word from him or a glance, and she has cowered as timidly as the wife
of the veriest bully in the world."

"But that isn't telling me who she is," Nostalgo said, impatiently.

"Well, she is Lady Barmouth's sister, to begin with," Jack said. "Now,
perhaps, you may be inclined to be more communicative."

Nostalgo shook his head in a sorrowful manner, and proceeded to lead
the way up-stairs. It was not lost upon Jack that his companion seemed
to know his way about the house just as one would who had lived there
for some time. He even seemed to know where to lay his hand upon each
electric switch; in fact, his familiarity with the surroundings was
apparent to the meanest understanding.

"One more word before we leave the subject," Jack said. "I showed you
to-night the man who calls himself Padini. You recognized him as a man
whom you had known in Mexico, and you left me to understand that he
was as great a scoundrel as Anstruther, only that he lacked the
necessary courage to carry his schemes into effect. Would it surprise
you to know that this Padini is the husband of the poor woman who has
just gone out?"

Nostalgo shook his head with the air of a man who is not hearing
anything for the first time. As he had intimated before, the secret
was not his own, and he showed no inclination to go into the matter
now. He led the way to the first landing, from which the living-rooms
branched off. Here was the fine, spacious hall where Jack had found
himself on the night he had met Rigby there; the big ferns and palms
were still scattered about; the evidences of luxury were plain. Only a
rich man could have occupied so fine a suite of apartments. Nostalgo
smiled as all these objects of art and luxury met his eye.

"All is not gold that glitters," he said; "in fact, nothing that
glitters is gold. All this kind of thing would be calculated to
impress any client who came along, but the British public is getting
to understand the value of outside show. Let me see--this used to be
the drawing-room in the old days, when----

"Nostalgo flicked up the lights, and there, bathed brilliantly by the
flashing rays, was a room that would not have disgraced a palace.
Carrington was a man of taste and feeling; his pictures were good, and
his china would have fetched much money at Christie's. The lights
were down again, and Nostalgo walked away in the direction of the
dining-room. He might have been some contemptuous servant displaying
his master's treasures to the admiring eye of a colleague. Everywhere
the foot sank deeply into velvety carpets. Many fine sets of armor
graced the corridor. There were one or two pictures of price here,
also; a Corot, a dainty little Meissonier, a sketch or two from the
brush of same other modern painters. Deeply interested as he was in
the adventure, Jack did not fail to note and do justice to
Carrington's taste.

"A whited sepulchre," Nostalgo murmured. "It is a poor jewel, after
all, that lives in this perfect setting. Now, here is the dining-room.
What do you think of it--old oak and old blue china with Flemish
pictures of the best school? Elegant, is it not? You need not wonder
why the women run after Carrington. But we will give them something to
talk about presently."

With the assured step of one who knows every inch of the way, Nostalgo
moved on to a small apartment behind the dining-room. This was fitted
in the form of a smoking-room, with deep and cozy armchairs and
comfortable divans against the Moorish walls. The whole thing was
Moorish, from the decorations on the walls and the wonderful brass
lamps depending from the painted ceiling. At the far end of the room
were two double stained glass doors leading into a conservatory. The
warmth here was grateful, and seemed to touch the senses drowsily. As
to the rest, the conservatory was filled with masses of graceful
feathery palms and ferns, beyond which was tier upon tier of red
geraniums. The whole effect was wonderfully pleasing and artistic, and
Jack did not hesitate to say so.

Nostalgo was not so enthusiastic.

"I wasn't thinking so much about that," he said drily. "I was
regarding this little garden more in the light of a hiding place. You
and I are going to play the eavesdropper, my friend. It is not a
congenial occupation, I know; but there is precious little of anything
congenial about this business. Carrington will be here presently, and
probably Anstruther will accompany him."

"You are a bit of a detective in your way," Jack smiled.

"The conclusion is only what any one would call obvious," Nostalgo
replied. "In the first place, all the servants have gone to bed, or
that poor woman whom we saw down-stairs would not have been so careful
to see that the door could not be opened without a latch-key. On the
table behind you is a big silver salver with two glasses, a couple of
syphons of soda-water, and a spirit-stand. What other conclusion do
you come to than that Carrington is returning presently, and is
bringing a friend with him?"

"I quite follow you," Jack said, "but there is one thing I don't
understand. How is it that you can find your way about this house in
so familiar a manner?"

"Ah, that is not so obvious," Nostalgo replied. "And yet the
explanation is perfectly simple. Before I went to Mexico I was a
friend of Carrington's. In those days his father was still alive, and
he had not succeeded to so large a share of the business. As a matter
of fact, Carrington and myself lived here together. He frequently
discussed with me the improvements he would make here when once he was
in a position to do so. The place where we are standing now used to be
my dressing-room."

It seemed to Jack that Carrington must have been a cool hand indeed,
and he suggested something of this to Nostalgo.

"Cool with the courage of despair," the latter said. "The night I came
home and called on Carrington here, I thought he would have had a fit
of apoplexy. Disfigured as I am, I am certain that he recognized me,
but The Yellow Face 198 he was not slow to take advantage of my
misfortunes. Directly he had recovered himself he became painfully
polite, though he refused to acknowledge me as his quondam friend. You
can quite see the point of that--so long as I could not prove my
identity, he was able to keep me out of my property. But we have
already discussed that point. And now you know why I am so familiar
with the house, and how it comes about that I have a latch-key to fit
the front door."

Nostalgo was apparently prepared to say more, only his quick hearing
detected a suspicious sound below. He strode swiftly across the room,
and switched out the light that had illuminated the room and the
conservatory. It was an easy matter to find the hiding place amidst
that tangle of ferns and flowers, and the two had hardly done so
before the smoking-room door opened and Carrington came in, closely
followed by Anstruther and Padini. The latter seemed to be terribly
put out about something, for he flung his hat and coat upon the floor
and dropped into a chair with an attitude of defiance.

"It is all very well for you," he exclaimed heatedly. "We do all the
work and take all the risks, and you walk off with the profit. I tell
you it is absolutely dangerous to work a scheme like ours from the
Great Metropolitan Hotel."

There was a sneer on Anstruther's face as he helped himself to a
cigarette and poured out a carefully-moderated dose of whiskey and
soda.

"You little rascal," he said. He had the air of a man who, having
tamed lions, was now contemptuously engaged in subduing less noble
animals. "If you talk to me like this I will let you down altogether.
You cannot injure me, but I can ruin you, body and soul. Go to your
kennel, you hound."

Padini cowered before the flashing anger in Anstruther's eyes, and he
muttered something to himself that might have been an apology; but the
"listeners were a little too far away to hear.

"It is all very well for you," Padini whimpered. "You can call me a
coward if you like--I am. It is not like you to run any risks at all.
So long as I am at the Great Metropolitan Hotel, so sure is there
danger."

"Send him off about his business," Carrington growled. "Why did you
allow him to follow us here at all? He ought to have been in his own
room by this time carrying on his share of the programme."

"Well, give me a programme," Padini said, with some show of spirit.
"How am I to know what Anstruther wants unless he tells me beforehand?
Is it to be nothing but Chopin to-night?"

In the same way that one humors a spoiled child, Anstruther took a
note-book from his pocket and jotted a few names upon it.

"I think that will about do," he said. "Start with the 'Grand
Polonaise,' and take the 'Fantasie in F' afterwards; then stick
steadily to the programme I have marked on that sheet of paper.

Padini rose obediently enough now, and donned his hat and coat. He
would have helped himself to a small modicum of refreshment, only
Anstruther put him sternly aside. "None of that," he said, "and not
one spot of anything till you have finished your night's work. We know
what you are when you start. Now go at once."



CHAPTER XXVIII.
THE LAMP GOES OUT.


Meanwhile, Carrington had been pacing up and down the room, obviously
troubled and ill at ease. Anstruther watched him with a gleam of
malicious amusement in his dark eyes. This strong man liked to feel
that he had everybody in his power; it was good to him to know that he
could move others as the man behind the curtain moves the puppets in a
marionette show. It was not particularly that Anstruther cared for
crime for its own sake, but he loved to be subtle and mysterious; it
was a joy to him to get the better of his fellow creatures. Had
Carrington but known it, the major part of the trouble which was
racking his mind now had been brought about by the very man to whom he
turned most readily in the hour of his misfortunes. He poured himself
out a liberal dose of whiskey, and gulped it down without the
formality of adding anything to it. He flung himself angrily into a
chair.

"Now that that little ape is gone we can discuss my affairs," he said.
"My dear Anstruther, I am the most desperate man in England to-night."

"I think I have heard that remark somewhere before," Anstruther said
cynically. "Most people talk like that when they owe twopence-ha'
penny they can't manage to pay. But tell me, are your affairs in such
a state as that?"

"They could not possibly be worse," Carrington said, moodily. "Since
my father died, practically all the financial side of the business has
been left to me. Like the fool that I am, I was not content with the
handsome profit that the concern was bringing in. I started
speculating for myself, and I was unlucky from the start. I lost my
head and plunged desperately, but that is not the worst of it. Not
only is all the property at the bank mortgaged to its full value, but
I have taken and disposed of securities belonging to clients. Every
morning I go down to the bank I do so with my heart in my mouth. It
only needs the smallest spark to fire the whole mine. I should not be
surprised to find myself in jail to-morrow night. Now, you are a
clever man, quite the cleverest man I have ever met--can you show me
any way out of the difficulty?"

"My dear fellow," Anstruther said presently, "clever men can do most
things, but there is one thing in which they generally fail. They
can't command money just when they want it. As you are perfectly well
aware, I am as desperately hard up as you are yourself. If you could
give me two or three days----"

"But something must be done within the next eight and forty hours!"
Carrington exclaimed. "For instance, there is that confounded affair
at Lady Barmouth's."

"But how does that concern you?" Anstruther asked.

"I was just coming to that. You see, we have a great many
clients--ladies--who keep their jewels with us. Take the case of the
Duchess of Plymouth, for instance, and Admiral Scott's widow. But
those are only a few of many. Now I know perfectly well that all these
ladies will be round the day after to-morrow to obtain their jewels,
for the purpose of wearing them at Lady Barmouth's masked ball. Not to
put too fine a point upon it, they won't get their jewels, because
they are not there."

"Mortgaged or sold?" Anstruther asked, curtly.

"Mortgaged to the utmost penny. You can imagine my feelings every time
the door of my private office is opened and I am told that a client
wishes to see me. I cannot for the life of me see any way out of it.
Nothing less than a quarter of a million of money would set me on my
feet again."

Anstruther smoked thoughtfully, his brows knitted into a frown. It was
some time before he spoke, Carrington watching him with sickening
anxiety. There was something pathetic in his belief in Anstruther's
ability to get him out of this terrible position.

"There are more ways of doing it than one," Anstruther said presently.
"In this instance we can take a hint from the daily papers. Supposing
that the bank was mysteriously robbed--the safes forced open and all
that kind of thing?"

"Yes, and the whole thing exposed in twenty minutes," Carrington said,
bitterly. "The robbing and gagging of cashiers has been slightly
overdone lately. I can't call a single case to mind in which the
scheme has not fallen to the ground. Take the case of those stolen
banknotes, for instance. And even supposing that nothing could be
proved against one, there is always a large section of the public
ready to regard the trouble as nothing more than a mere swindle. An
affair like that would be the finishing touch; it would ruin the
bank's business utterly."

"And incidentally save your skin." said Anstruther, significantly.
"Oh, no; this is going to be a much more artistic affair than that. If
you could get me a plan of the bank premises, including the safes and
the cellars and all that kind of thing, I believe I could hit upon a
scheme ingenious enough to deceive the police and gain you the
sympathy of the British public."

Carrington shook his head wearily. He had expected something much more
brilliant and original from Anstruther than this.

"The plan you want would take days to prepare," he said, "to say
nothing of the fact----"

Carrington jumped to his feet joyfully. His moody face cleared, and
something like a smile shone on his features. "What a fool I am!" he
cried. "Why, I have the very thing on the premises; in fact, I have
two copies. It was only a few months ago that the bank premises were
thoroughly restored and a fresh set of strong rooms added. I feel
positively certain that in my safe here I have two sets of tracings of
the architect's plans. I'll get them for you. Only I hope you won't
make the same blunder over this business as you did at the affair of
the man whom we will call Nostalgo Seymour."

Anstruther laughed unpleasantly. Jack's companion, listening intently
from his hiding place amongst the ferns, gripped his companion by the
arm. "That's me," he whispered, with almost a suppressed chuckle. "I
am the man they speak of as Nostalgo Seymour."

Jack pressed the arm of his fellow conspirator by way of
acknowledgment. He was far too interested in what was going on inside
the brilliantly-lighted room to care to talk; indeed, he had forgotten
the presence of his comrade altogether. He could see that Anstruther
had risen to his feet and was pacing the room, evidently nettled by
Carrington's remark. "If you want to be friends, don't mention that
matter to me again," he said. "It is the one failure of my life. To
get Seymour out of the way is imperative. I trusted the matter to
Padini, and he failed me."

"I would have trusted nothing to Padini," Carrington said.

"Oh, yes, you would," Anstruther growled. "Especially if he had done
so many artistic jobs in the same line for you. But I did not know,
unfortunately, till too late, that the little rascal has been drinking
more lately than was good for him. The fact is, he has lost his nerve.
And yet he might have felt himself justified in believing that his
mission had been attended with complete success--but go and get your
plans. I will have a good look at them now, and I will call to see you
to-morrow at the bank as if I came on business, and you shall show me
all over the premises. It will be surprising, indeed, if I cannot show
you some safe way out of the present difficulty."

As Carrington went off jingling a bunch of keys in his hand, Jack
could feel the man whom we will now call Seymour fairly trembling with
excitement. It seemed more than once as if he was bent on darting from
his hiding place and confronting the two scoundrels in the inner room.
But evidently he was placing great restraint upon himself, for he
turned to Jack and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. At the
same instant, Carrington returned with a large roll of tracing paper
in his hand. There was an agitation about him scarcely warranted by
the circumstances of the case. It was as if he had seen something
dreadful during his brief absence. Anstruther looked at him with some
scorn. "What a face!" he growled. "If you go down to the bank looking
like that you will have a run on the concern in half an hour. No
ghosts about here, I suppose?"

"It isn't that," Carrington said hoarsely; "but it is something I
have found in the corridor. It was lying on the floor close by the
dining-room door. Tell me, have you ever seen it before?"

With a shaking hand Carrington laid a small silver-mounted moleskin
tobacco pouch on the table. At the same moment Jack noticed that his
companion had given a great start. There was no need for Jack to be
told that the tobacco pouch in question was Seymour's property, and
had been dropped by him accidentally a little time before.

"Why, you don't mean to say this belongs to Seymour," Anstruther
cried, and there was a real anxiety in his voice. "Yes, you are quite
correct; I distinctly remember Seymour buying this peculiar pattern of
filigree silver. Now you see why I wanted to get that fellow out of
the way. I have tried to believe that he was dead and gone, but not
only is it quite evident that he is very much alive, but also it is
equally plain that he has been here to-night."

Carrington fairly shook as he hoarsely muttered his opinion that
Anstruther was right. He glanced timidly about him, as if expecting to
meet the face of Seymour; he stepped towards the conservatory, as if
suspicious that the crimson flowers were hiding his enemy there. Then
he gave a shaky half-laugh at his own fears.

"My nerves are all rags to-night," he said. "Positively I imagined
that I could see that dreadful scarred face of Seymour glaring at me
from behind the bank of geraniums. Call me a coward if you like, but I
must really ask you to turn up the light in the conservatory. I dare
not do it myself."

Something like a curse broke from the rigid figure by Jack's side.
From overhead there dangled an electric light swinging on a long,
pliable flex. An instant later, and there would come a brilliant blaze
of light if Anstruther could have reached the switch towards which he
was contemptuously strolling. An instant later, and the eavesdroppers
would have been discovered; but Seymour rose grandly to the situation.
With one bound he was across the floor of the conservatory, and
literally tore the switch from its place. Instantly the fuses
connected with the two rooms short-circuited, and the brilliant light
of the inner room was swallowed up in the throat of a great velvety
darkness. The thing was so swift, so clever, and so unexpected, that
Jack could only gasp. He was conscious of the fact that Seymour had
left his side, but only for a moment.

"Confound the light!" Carrington cried. "Give me a match, and I'll
light the lamps. This is the second time lately the same thing has
happened."

The feeble spurt of a vesta made a tiny blue flame, but it was
sufficient to show Carrington the position of two silver lamps. He
lighted one of these and then the other, and placed them on the table.
As he did so his face grew white again, his tongue began to stammer.

"The plans," he gasped. "Surely I put two on the table? Where is the
other?"

"The other," Jack's companion whispered, with a hoarse chuckle of
triumph, "is quite safe in my breast pocket."



CHAPTER XXIX.
THE SILVER LAMP.


The wonderful coolness and audacity of his companion filled Jack with
admiration. He had forgotten for the moment that there was any danger
at all. It seemed to him to be a good thing to have so adroit and
cunning a colleague to work with. The whole thing had been so
wonderfully swift; hardly a moment seemed to have elapsed between the
extinguishing of the light and the return of Seymour with the
duplicate of the plan safely in his pocket.

What he proposed to do next Jack could not guess for the moment,
neither did he much care. At the same time, he felt quite convinced of
the fact that Seymour had some deep scheme in his mind. Jack's spirits
rose in quite an unaccountable way. He warmly congratulated himself on
the fact that he had found Seymour and brought him into the campaign
against Anstruther. The danger was by no means over yet, as Seymour
must have recognized; but that did not seem to trouble him much, for
he was shaking now with suppressed mirth, and was evidently enjoying
the situation as one does a screaming farce from a comfortable place
in the stalls.

Jack was about to whisper something of this to his companion, when the
latter checked him with a touch on the arm. Inside the room, in the
comparatively moderated light of the lamps, Jack could see Carrington
fussing about uneasily. "I tell you that there were two plans," he
muttered. "I am absolutely certain there was a duplicate. If you have
played any kind of trick upon me I hope you will confess it at once."

"Trick be hanged, suppose that I indulge in practical joking? I say
you have made a mistake; the duplicate plan is somewhere else."

"And I am equally certain that it was with those papers," Carrington
blustered. "They were lying side by side a minute ago. And now one of
them is gone, and you want me to believe that it has been spirited
away by unseen hands."

"I don't want you to believe anything of the sort," Anstruther
replied. "Not a minute had elapsed between the time that the light
went out and the moment I lighted the match. What a nervous,
frightened fool you are. You will be saying next that Seymour is
concealed somewhere in the room, and snatched this brilliant
opportunity for purloining these papers. Really, we are getting on.
Hadn't you better look round the house. You will have to go to bed
presently, and I should advise you to lock your door."

All this brutal sarcasm was utterly lost upon Carrington. He was as
frightened and nervous as a lonely woman in a lonely house, who has
discovered some strange man there. He darted from the room, followed
by Anstruther's contemptuous laughter, and returned presently, saying
that he had made a thorough search of the flat.

"Most assuredly nobody is on the premises," he said. He was by no
means convinced yet that Anstruther was not playing some cunning trick
upon him. "It is most extraordinary. You may say what you like, and
prove what you like; but I am ready to swear that I brought both those
plans into the room with me five minutes ago."

"Oh, look up the chimney," Anstruther growled. "Take all those plants
out of your conservatory, and see if the thief hasn't vanished up the
water pipe. I am sick of all these nervous fears and hysterical
suspicions. It has always been the curse of my existence that I can
never lay hands on an accomplice who is anything but a knave or a
fool."

Without heeding the savage outburst, Carrington took one of the little
silver lamps from the table, and, holding it up by its crystal
receiver, advanced cautiously in the direction of the conservatory.
Jack held his breath, and prepared for the worst. He felt pretty sure
now that he and Seymour would be discovered. Not that he much minded,
except that he was extremely anxious not to be recognized by
Anstruther; but that risk had to be run. It was a pity, too, seeing
what a marvelous amount of information had been gleaned during the
last half-hour; but that was all part of the game.

"Is it possible he has vanished through the skylight?" Anstruther
sneered.

Carrington muttered that there was a drop of some thirty feet outside
the conservatory. He still advanced with the lamp in his hand, and
peered about him with an anxious face. The moment was a critical one
indeed, and Jack wondered if Seymour's wonderful fertility of resource
would be equal to the occasion. In the dim light of the lamp he saw
Seymour's right arm steal out, and his sinewy fingers close upon a
piece of hose pipe attached to a tap in the wall. Evidently this had
been used for watering the flowers. The gardener responsible for the
well-doing of the rooms doubtless understood his work, and watered
each pot separately, instead of spraying the whole place
indiscriminately; for attached to the hose-pipe was the small nozzle
meant to convey a fine single jet for some distance.

Jack began dimly to understand what Seymour meant to do. It was going
to be a dangerous experiment, but danger was quite absolutely
necessary if the eavesdroppers were to escape unrecognized. If
Seymour's plan was absolutely successful, there was just the chance of
them getting away without their presence there being indicated at all.

Jack saw the lean, brown hand stretch forth and turn on the tap in the
wall. Then the tap at the end of the hose slid round, and a tiny spray
of water, fine as a needle and strong as the arrow from a bow, struck
the chimney of the lamp, now nearly red hot, and a tremendous smash of
cracking glass followed.

Carrington staggered back, and a kind of hysterical scream broke from
his lips. With his nerves strung at high tension, the shock of the
bursting explosion rendered him nearly mad with terror. Seymour turned
off the tap again, feeling sure that his business was well done.

"By Jove, that was wonderfully smart, and quickly done," Jack
whispered to his companion. "I rather pride myself upon the ingenuity
of my stories, especially as regards the plots of them, but I never
could have thought of anything quite like that."

"Not bad," the other said quite coolly. "It was all a matter of
accuracy of aim and steadiness of hand. But to a man like myself, who
has had vast experience of big game shooting, a little affair like
that is a mere nothing."

"But you might have missed," Jack said. "The deviation of that spurt
of water by even so much as a hair's breadth would have carried it
full into Carrington's face, and then our presence must have
inevitably been discovered. That is where the dramatic side of it
appeals to me."

"It appealed to me also," Seymour whispered coolly. "But I had only to
imagine that the lamp was the face of a famous old man-eating tiger
who nearly did for me four years ago in Upper Burmah, to render my
hand absolutely steady. If we had been discovered, we should have had
to have fought our way out; but I think you will agree with me that I
have managed the affair in a much more artistic way than that."

Jack agreed cordially. He was watching now with breathless eagerness
to see what was the full measure of Seymour's success. Carrington had
staggered back with a startled cry, though even as yet he did not know
the danger that was to follow.

"By heaven, you have done it well," Jack muttered.

"I think I have," Seymour whispered complacently. "It occurs to me
that I have not left much to be desired."

It was done even better than he had anticipated, for a few drops of
the cold water had trickled down the receiver of the lamp and mingled
with the oil there. From all parts of the brass work round the flame
a blue, fiery vapor gushed out. With a cry of dismay Carrington
almost threw the lamp upon the table; it tottered and fell sideways,
and an instant later a stream of burning oil was flowing over the
table-cloth, and dripping in long tongues of flame upon the carpet.

"For heaven's sake be careful, you clumsy coward," Anstruther cried.
"You'll have the whole place on fire; those lamps are very pretty to
look at, but dangerous to use."

But Carrington was not listening at all. He seemed to have lost his
head entirely. But, frightened as he was, he did not fail to notice
that the liquid flame was licking the other set of plans which were
lying on the table. Just for an instant his mind was clear enough to
see the necessity of saving the papers. He leaned forward and made a
clutch at them. Something hot and stinging seemed to be gripping him
by the fingers; he snatched his hand back again, and dragged the
table-cloth, more than half of which was in flames, to the floor.
Crash fell the second lamp, its crystal receiver smashed by the fall,
and in the twinkling of an eye the whole room was in flames.

So sudden, so swift and unexpected was the whole thing, that Jack
could only gasp. He was so lost in admiration of Seymour's quickness
and coolness, that he quite failed to realize the danger in which he
and his companion stood. Less than a minute had elapsed since Seymour
put his scheme into execution, and yet already the smoking-room was
one mass of lambent flame.

"Well, you have done it this time," Anstruther yelled. "Clear out at
once, or there will be no occasion for me to trouble about either of
us any further. Give an alarm; go out in the street, and yell for the
fire engine."

Carrington needed no second bidding. Together with Anstruther he raced
down the stone staircase and into the street. Jack could hear his
companion chuckling with triumph and delight.

"Rather a close thing that," he said coolly. "And now we had best look
to ourselves. No chance of making a dash through those flames without
being badly burned; besides, I have no doubt there is some other way
out of it. Push those windows to, Mr. Masefield; there is no reason
why we should be suffocated here."

By closing the windows leading to the smoking-room, which was now a
roaring mass of flame, it was possible to cut off the heat and smoke
for a moment, and perhaps gain sufficient time to discover another
means of retreat.

But this was easier said than done. With the aid of a match or two,
Seymour found the window at the back of the conservatory, which opened
outwards. So far as he could see there was a drop of something like
thirty feet into a kind of alley at the back of the flats. "We shall
have to wait our chance," Seymour said. "There are several more flats
in the building, and no doubt there will be plenty to do for the
firemen later on. In all probability, Anstruther and Carrington are
mixed up in the crowd which you may be quite sure has collected by
this time. Shall we wait on events, or shall we open the window and
yell for assistance? We can pretend that we were cut off by the fire."

On the whole, Jack thought it would be better to wait. They were quite
safe for the next quarter of an hour, at any rate, and in that time
much might happen.

"It is worth risking," he said. "What a great thing it would be if we
could get away from here without those men knowing that anybody had
been on the premises. Suppose we try our hands as amateur firemen.
There is plenty of water here."

But Seymour did not think it would be worth while. A hose and pipe as
small as that which they had at their disposal would not be likely to
be of much use in dealing with the roaring tornado of flame behind the
closed glass doors. The conservatory, too, was getting intolerably
hot, but that discomfort was avoided by opening the window. There was
just the outline of a leaded balcony to be seen above the arch of the
conservatory; then, greatly to Jack's delight, he saw the movements of
some figures below, and then a ladder was slowly raised until it
rested against the leads of the balcony.

"That is for the benefit of the people up-stairs," Seymour suggested.
"Possibly they cannot make the inhabitants of the upper flats hear
what is going on. See, the ladder is quite clear by this time--I
expect those firemen have got in through a window somewhere. Push this
window back, and see if you can reach the ladder."

It was a comparatively easy matter to reach the ladder, as Jack found
to his great delight. A moment later he and Seymour were upon it. They
slid rapidly down, and found themselves at length in the alley without
anybody being a penny the wiser.

"Well, of all the lucky chances," Jack exclaimed. "We are well out of
that. Let us go round to the front and see what is going on there."

A great crowd had assembled in front of the burning flat. The red
outlines of a couple of engines could be seen; beyond the crowd there
was a sound and regular rush of pumping water; and presently the crowd
seemed to understand that all danger was over. Jack touched his
companion's arm, and called his attention to the fact that Carrington
and Anstruther were standing within earshot of them.

"And what are you going to do now?" asked the latter.

"Oh, I shall go off and stay at the Great Metropolitan. No, you
needn't come along--I have had about enough of your company for
to-night."

Carrington called a hansom, and was whirled away. Seymour smiled in a
significant manner.

"Wouldn't it be as well," he suggested, "that you also found it
convenient to pass the night at the Great Metropolitan? Padini is
there, too, and it is possible that you may----"

"Right you are," Jack said eagerly. "Then I can call upon you in the
morning and report progress. Good-night."



CHAPTER XXX.
BEDROOM 14.


Jack had not waited to ask any idle questions; he had felt quite sure
from Seymour's manner that the latter had some great scheme in hand.
It was very pleasant and exhilarating to feel that a man of Seymour's
wonderful fertility and courage should be enlisted on his side.
Masefield was not without hope that the discoveries of the night were
not yet complete. He strolled away in the direction of the Great
Metropolitan, turning these things over in his mind.

It seemed to him that the clerk in the office of the mammoth hotel
regarded him somewhat suspiciously, seeing that he had arrived without
luggage of any kind; but a deposit of a sovereign soon set that matter
right. It occurred to Jack as a good idea to secure a bedroom as
nearly as possible next to that of Carrington. The hotel was not
particularly busy, he discovered, for nobody had come in enquiring for
bedroom accommodation during the last hour. This was a discovery in
itself, for it testified to the fact that Carrington had not yet
arrived.

It was nearly an hour before he came, and then he appeared in a
desperate hurry. Discreetly Jack remained in the background, but he
was close enough to hear Carrington arguing and protesting that he
must have a certain room. The matter seemed to be settled amicably at
length, and Carrington took his key and departed. Jack strolled across
to the office again. He had decided on a bold policy.

"I am going to ask you to give me another room," he said. "I want to
be as near as possible to the gentleman who has just gone up-stairs. I
think if you do as I ask you it may save the hotel trouble. What was
the number of his room?"

The clerk was friendly enough, and inclined to talk. Was it a police
matter? he asked. Jack responded gravely that he was not in a position
to say too much, but his mysterious manner had the desired effect, and
the exchange was made.

"I haven't put you exactly next to that gentleman," the clerk
explained. "You see our bedrooms are on a sort of cubical
system--corridors down both sides, and the bedrooms back to back, if I
may so express it--with a ventilating grating between them for the
sake of air. That gentleman's bedroom is 28; therefore your room,
exactly behind it, is No. 14. I hope I have made myself plain."

Jack replied that the thing was perfectly clear. Indeed, the system
was in considerable vogue on the Continent. He lingered a little
longer in the big lounge hall, where he smoked a cigarette or two, so
as to give Carrington time to get to bed. It occurred to Jack, in an
idle kind of way, that perhaps Carrington was deceiving Anstruther, or
why had he not come straight to the hotel? Instead of that, he had
evidently gone off somewhere in a desperate hurry, and had returned at
length to the hotel looking very exhausted and agitated. Jack pondered
this matter in his mind as he went up to his own room.

It was a comfortable enough bedroom, for the Great Metropolitan was
noted for the luxury of its appointments; indeed, the room was fit for
anybody. The lighting was exceedingly efficient; even over the bed was
a pendant, evidently intended for those who cared to read after they
retired to rest. Jack smiled as he noted the elaborate dressing-table
and wash-hand-stand, to say nothing of a huge winged wardrobe, which
was almost as big as a bedroom itself. Behind this wardrobe, fairly
close to the ceiling, was the open grating which formed a ventilating
shaft between the one room and the other one behind it.

Jack carefully closed the door, and with the aid of a chair managed to
climb to the top of the wardrobe. He found that the grating was
constructed on the swivel principle, very like a big cheval glass, so
that by tilting it slightly it was just possible to see into the next
room.

In the room aforesaid the lights had not yet been turned down, so that
evidently Carrington had not gone to bed. The watcher could hear him
impatiently pacing the room and muttering to himself from time to
time. The muttering was exceedingly incoherent, but from the gist of
it Jack seemed to make out that Carrington was expecting somebody. On
the far side of the room was a wardrobe very much like the one upon
which Jack was perched, except that it had large plate-glass doors
which reflected practically everything that was taking place inside
the room.

Jack could see Carrington now, lounging in a comfortable armchair and
impatiently turning over a great mass of papers which lay on a table
before him. On the table also was a box of cigars, flanked by two
glasses and the necessary ingredients for the manufacture of whiskey
and soda. There could be no longer any doubt about it: Carrington was
expecting a friend. So far as the watcher could see, there was no
hurry. He was quite prepared to sit up all night if necessary, and had
no feelings of delicacy in listening to what the two scoundrels were
going to say--provided always that the expected visitor was a
scoundrel, of which Jack had very little doubt.

As he stood there, his whole mind strained to attention, it seemed to
him that he could hear the sound of music somewhere. To his trained
ear there was something familiar in the method of the player. Jack
wondered where he had heard that finished execution before. Then it
suddenly flashed upon him.

"How stupid," he muttered to himself. "I had quite forgotten that
Padini was here. That is Padini, without a shadow of a doubt, carrying
out the programme that Anstruther made out for him."

The music was not far off; it seemed to Jack that he could almost hear
the scraping of the bow. It was not lost upon him, however, that the
whole of the pieces were Chopin's compositions. The music ceased
presently with a sudden twang, much as if the E string had violently
parted. A moment later, by the aid of the friendly mirror, Jack saw
Carrington's door open, and the figure of Padini come in. Carrington
glared at the intruder.

"What do you mean by keeping me waiting all this time?" he growled.
"Didn't you get my telephone message?"

"And hadn't I got my work to do?" Padini retorted. "I dare say you
consider yourself to be an exceedingly clever fellow, but once you
elect to match your wits with Anstruther, you will find yourself a
lost man. It is no use you being in a hurry; as a matter of fact, I
should have kept you a full hour longer, only I have broken my E
string, and I don't happen to have another one on the premises."

With an angry gesture Padini threw his violin on the table. In a
mechanical sort of way Carrington looked at the severed string. He was
always a suspicious man, for it was an axiom of his never to trust
anybody, and he was wondering now if this were not part of some dodge
being worked out by his visitor. His face grew a little anxious as he
held one end of the broken string between his thumb and finger.

"I suppose you call this a simple fracture," he said. "String worn
out, and all that kind of thing. If you will look at it carefully, you
will see that it has been half cut; you can actually see how far the
knife has gone."

Padini examined the string carefully. His face also had grown a little
gray and anxious.

"It is exactly as you say, my friend," he exclaimed. "But I wonder how
that was done, and why. It is not as if I left my violin about--one is
not so careless with a genuine Amati like mine. I brought the fiddle
back with me from my afternoon recital, and I am prepared to swear
that there was nothing the matter with it then. I locked it up in my
box, and there it stayed till a couple of hours ago. Now what does
this mean? Does anybody suspect us? Has Anstruther's clever scheme
come to the knowledge of anybody? The police, perhaps, might have
discovered----"

"The police have nothing whatever to do with that," Carrington said
angrily. "What have any of us done to bring ourselves within the reach
of the law--at present? The man that we have most to fear is Seymour.
How you came to let him slip through your fingers the other night is
an absolute mystery to me."

Padini shrugged his shoulders, and something like an oath escaped him.
By aid of the friendly mirror Jack obtained a perfect view of his
face. It was white and sinister; the dark eyes gleamed like living
coals.

"But Seymour must be dead," the violinist said hoarsely. "We know he
is dead; did we not read it in the papers? It may be that some friends
stole his body for purposes of their own, but dead he is. If I thought
he was still alive, I should have to leave London; I dare not stay
here with a horror like that hanging over me."

"You are absolutely wrong," Carrington cried. "Seymour is still alive;
he is still in London, thirsting for vengeance. He is rich, he has the
courage of a lion, and the mind of a Machiavelli. You smile, my
friend, but it is the smile of a thoroughly frightened man. Seymour is
after you; he is after me. Look at this. Don't say you fail to
recognize it."

"It is his tobacco pouch," Padini faltered.

"Yes; I thought you would recognize it. And where do you suppose I
found that to-night? In my own room, lying on the floor. Do you want
any greater proof than that, that Seymour was working in my own rooms
to-night?"

Padini nodded moodily. Jack noticed how his hand trembled as he helped
himself to the whiskey and soda. "I am sick of this," he muttered. "I
mean to get out of it--I am as anxious as you are to get outside
Anstruther's influence. That is why I am here to-night. I am going to
tell you my plan--call it murderous and treacherous if you like--which
is the only way of settling Anstruther's claims upon us. If you have
any pluck at all--if there is anything of the man about you----"

"No, no," Carrington faltered. "I tell you I dare not."

As the speaker broke off, Jack was conscious of something like an
altercation outside his door. The night porter was protesting that
something or other was not his fault; the other man's voice was
equally sure that it was. It did not require much intelligence to
discover that the newcomer wanted that particular room. With a thrill
Jack recognized the voice of Anstruther. In an instant he had made up
his mind what to do. Like a flash he came down from the top of the
wardrobe, switched on the light over the bed, and proceeded softly to
unlock the door. There was a knock on the panel at the same moment.
Jack glanced hastily round, and bundled one or two of his belongings
into the wing of the wardrobe. He had barely time to conceal himself
there, before the handle of the door turned and Anstruther entered.

"You can see it is exactly as I said," the latter remarked. "I engaged
this room an hour ago. It is quite evident that no other guest has
taken this apartment. If he were here, surely there would be a
portmanteau, or a dressing-case, or something of that kind. Take this
half-sovereign, and say no more about it. If there is any fuss I will
take the blame."

The man departed; the door was locked behind him, and a moment later
Jack could feel the heavy form of Anstruther climbing to the top of
the wardrobe.



CHAPTER XXXI.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER.


It was impossible, boxed up as he was in the stuffy atmosphere of the
wardrobe, for Jack to hear anything of what was going on in the next
room. But it was pretty easy to guess what was the meaning of
Anstruther's strange intrusion. There was only one thing for it, and
that was to possess his soul in patience and hope that Anstruther had
no intention of spending the night there. It was perfectly obvious
that he had come only with the intention of hearing what was taking
place in the next room. It was impossible for anybody possessed of
ordinary intellect not to admire Anstruther, whose brilliant qualities
could not be ignored. Even now, excited as he was, Masefield could not
repress his admiration for the man he both feared and disliked.

It really was a marvelous thing that Anstruther should be so soon upon
the track of the man with whom he had parted on friendly terms not an
hour ago. Was this the result of some perfect system of spying, or was
it that Anstruther's wonderful instinct led him to believe that
Carrington was ready to plot against him whilst professing to act upon
his advice? Masefield had plenty of time to ponder this question, for
the figure on the wardrobe above gave no signs as yet of having had
enough of it. Nor was Jack's situation rendered more pleasant by the
knowledge that he might have to pass the night in a perpendicular
position and half stifled by the stuffy atmosphere of the wardrobe.

But there was always comfort in the knowledge that Anstruther's main
object was to hear the conversation in the next room. It might
possibly last not much longer; at any rate, Carrington would have to
go to bed some time, and the sooner the better.

An hour passed. An hour which seemed the whole of a long night came to
an end at length, and then there was some sound, as if of a body
cautiously moving overhead. Jack drew a long breath of relief, or at
least as long a breath as was possible, considering his stifling
surroundings. The critical moment had arrived. Had the conference next
door finished, or was it merely an interlude? Jack wondered. He had
been bound to push the door of the wardrobe open a little, and now he
saw a long slit of light, which told him that Anstruther had turned up
the lamps again. He could hear the latter pacing the room in a
restless kind of fashion, and muttering to himself as if he were not
entirely satisfied with what he had heard.

Jack, greatly daring, ventured to push the wardrobe door open slightly
further. He caught a side view of his enemy as the latter sat moodily
on the bed, with apparently no intention of removing his clothing. It
was quite within the bounds of possibility now that Anstruther, having
satisfied himself, would leave the hotel altogether. A moment later
and Jack saw that his conclusion was the right one. Anstruther turned
towards the door.

"No reason to stay here any longer," he muttered. "I'm as tired as a
dog. I suppose my nerves are not what they used to be, or perhaps I am
growing old; at any rate, this sort of thing tells upon me more than
it used to. Certainly that half-sovereign of mine was well laid out.
Oh, you contemptible pair of rascals--so you think you are going to
get the best of Spencer Anstruther. We shall see. And as to
Padini----"

The speaker shook his fist in the direction of the next room, and
walked quietly in the direction of the door. Jack could hear the key
turn in the lock. He felt a suggestion of draught as if the room were
now open to the corridor. The next instant the lights vanished, and
Anstruther had left the room. Jack crept out into the comparatively
pure atmosphere, and wiped the moisture from his forehead. He
preferred to remain in the darkness till he had made up his mind what
to do. Looking up in the direction of the ventilator, he could see
that the lights were now extinguished in Carrington's bedroom. This
was plain evidence of the fact that the conference was concluded, and
that there was no occasion to stay any longer.

"I'll get out of it too," Jack muttered to himself. "It is only a
matter of forfeiting my sovereign, and what I have learned is cheap at
the price; but I shall have to be cautious."

It was perhaps fortunate for Jack that a somewhat large rush of late
guests came into the hotel at the same moment. Most of them were
racing men returning from a big meeting up north. Anyway, the servants
appeared to be particularly busy, so that Jack felt that he could slip
away without any suspicions as to his movements. He waited just a
moment till the corridor was practically empty, then sauntered towards
the head of the stairs with the air of a man who has just come in.

He had practically reached the big square landing, when a bedroom door
opened cautiously, and a man's face peeped out. It occurred to Jack
that possibly this man was looking for something, or that he was going
to deposit his boots outside, or something of that kind. But the
stranger, who was about half-dressed, did nothing of the kind. On the
contrary, he raised his finger in a mysterious manner, and beckoned
deliberately to Jack. He did not appear in the least agitated; on the
contrary, his expression was one of caution and mistrust. Jack,
thinking that it might have been a little play of fancy on his part,
would have moved on, only the stranger stepped briskly outside and
touched him on the arm.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" Jack asked politely. "I suppose
your bell's gone wrong, or something of that sort; I am quite at your
service."

"Will you be good enough to step inside my room?" the stranger said.
"The request will probably strike you as being somewhat out of the
common, but I really have something important to say to you."

As was quite natural in the circumstances, Jack hesitated for a
moment. Like most people, he had heard and read a great deal about
strange hotel outrages, and it occurred to him now that he might have
been chosen for the victim of one of these. Possibly the stranger was
mad, or possibly he was suffering from alcoholic excess. But Jack felt
more reassured as he carefully examined the features of the stranger.

He was a tall, slim man, who palpably was recovering from some
dangerous illness. It was either that, or he was far gone in
consumption. Jack could see that the mere act of standing there was a
weariness of the flesh; he noted also the attenuated arms, which at
one time or another must have been exceedingly powerful, for the
sinews and muscles seemed to hang upon the bones like rags.

But it was the face of the man that attracted Jack's attention most.
It was long and lean and pallid; there were thin strips of plaster
skilfully bandaged about the eyes and mouth, and down the sides of the
long, hawk-like nose. Still, behind it all, there was ever the
suggestion that this man was a sportsman and an athlete. Jack seemed
to know by instinct that his new acquaintance was a man who had passed
much time in warm climates. He began to wonder if the stranger had
laid violent hands upon himself. It was very strange to see all that
maze of plaster, as if the face had been carved in some grotesque
fashion with a knife.

"Do please come inside for a moment," the stranger pleaded. "I assure
you I mean no harm, and our conversation may result in a wonderful
deal of good. You evidently regard me as a kind of lunatic. Well, in
some respects, perhaps, you are right; but there is a good deal of
method in my madness."

Jack still hesitated. The stranger sighed bitterly.

"I see I must be candid with you," he said. "I am taking a great risk,
but I am trusting you because I never make a mistake about a face. You
have been closeted for some time in the same room with Spencer
Anstruther, but that you are an accomplice of his I feel sure is
impossible. _Now_ will you come inside my room?"

Jack hesitated no longer. He strode into the room, and his new
acquaintance closed the door behind him. The apartment was furnished
half as a sitting, half as a bedroom. A fire burned in the grate, an
invalid armchair was pulled up to one side of it. There was plenty of
proof, also, of the fact that the occupant of the room was an invalid.
Here were bottles with chemists' labels; here were some cotton wool
and a case of surgical instruments. In one corner of the room was a
small iron bedstead, which was obviously placed there for the use of a
male nurse. "You are quite right," the stranger said, as if reading
Jack's thoughts. "As a matter of fact, there is no reason why you
should have accepted my invitation at all--one hears of so many
strange things happening in these big modern hotels. As you imagine, I
am just recovering from a dangerous illness, the result of a very
delicate operation. But we need not go into that. What you are dying
to find out is how I know all about Spencer Anstruther."

"I confess I am a little curious on the point," Jack said drily. "You
are taking a great risk when you mention his name and assume that I am
no friend of his."

"You couldn't be with a face like yours," the stranger replied. "A
dupe, perhaps, or a man he was making use of; but never one of his
infamous gang. And yet you were in that room with him a long time
to-night."

Jack hesitated a moment before he spoke again.

"Look here," he said. "You have been fairly candid with me, and in
return I will be as candid with you. Anstruther is a great scoundrel,
and it is to my interest and to the interests of those I love that the
man should be exposed and rendered harmless for the future. Now, how
did you know that we were in the same bedroom together?"

"That is easily explained." said the other. "My male nurse was
suddenly called away this evening on important business. I have been
feeling so much better the last day or two that I decided to do
without a substitute. Mind you, I knew perfectly well that Anstruther
was frequently in the habit of spending an occasional night here. And
I had my own reasons for keeping out of his way. But something
happened to my bell to-night, and I had to go to the top of the
corridor and use the bell there. It was quite by accident that I saw
you enter Bedroom No. 14, and it was quite by accident, also, that I
heard Anstruther demand to know why he could not have the same room. I
listened with curiosity, because the thing struck me as very strange.
It struck me as stranger still when I heard Anstruther say that the
room was empty, and saw him close the door behind him."

"A kind of vanishing trick," Jack smiled. "Well, yes, if you like to
put it in that way," the other said. "It was either one of two
things--you were there as an accomplice, which I refuse for one moment
to believe, or you had hidden yourself in the room for the purpose of
watching Anstruther. In fact, seeing that circumstances were going for
you, you laid a neat little trap for Anstruther. Have I not guessed it
correctly?"

"Your deductions are perfectly sound," Jack said. "I deliberately
chose that bedroom with the full intention of overhearing what was
going on in the room behind. When I heard Anstruther come in, I hid
myself in the wardrobe and stayed there till he left the room. Now I
have told you all that has happened so far as I am concerned. It is
your turn to be communicative."

"I am exceedingly sorry to appear discourteous," the stranger said;
"but I am afraid I cannot tell you very much. The mere mention of
Anstruther's name always throws me into a kind of terror. I may be
able to help you later on, but for the present I am bound to silence.
But tell me now, do you see any likeness between Anstruther and
myself?"

The question was asked with an eagerness that struck Jack as being far
beyond the necessity of so simple a query. The speaker seemed to
fairly tremble for Jack's reply.

"There does not begin to be any resemblance," he said. "The question
strikes me as being a strange one. And now let me ask you a question.
From what you say, you appear to know Anstruther exceedingly well.
Now, did you ever notice his likeness to anybody? You have seen him
when he has been greatly moved to passion, I suppose?"

The stranger shuddered, and turned away his head.

"That is sufficient answer for me," Jack said. "I dare say you have
noticed those strange Nostalgo posters. Did it ever occur to you that
Anstruther is not unlike those pictures?"

The effect of the question was extraordinary. The stranger looked at
Jack with eyes filled with terror.

"Strange, very strange," he muttered hoarsely. "You have hit it
exactly. May I ask, have you ever been in Mexico?"

"No," Jack replied; "but I know a man who has. Did you ever meet an
individual out there called Seymour?"



CHAPTER XXXII.
LADY BARMOUTH'S JEWELS.


Jack had merely drawn a bow at a venture, but the shaft went home to
the feather. By instinct he seemed to divine the fact that the
stranger who knew so much of Anstruther's inner life might also know
as much as the man called Nostalgo, otherwise Seymour. This instinct
did not play Jack false, for he saw his companion stagger back as if
he had been shot. He fell into a chair, and plucked feebly at the arms
of it with his fingers.

"You are on dangerous ground indeed," he said hoarsely. "Have you a
wife depending on you, or one you love? If so, turn your back upon me
at once, and never see my face again."

It was a warning deep, thrilling, and impressive. But Jack merely
shook his head and smiled. He had no intention of turning back now.

"I know too much or too little," he said. "Mr. Seymour is by way of
being a friend of mine--in fact, I was the means of doing him a great
service the other night. But I see from the expression of your face
that you know all about that."

"Have you seen Seymour in the daylight, just as he is?" the stranger
asked eagerly. "You know what I mean."

"I know what you mean perfectly well," Jack replied. "I _have_ seen
Seymour just as he is. To make another shot, I have also seen Lord
Barmouth just as he is."

The stranger sat bolt upright in his chair, and regarded Jack with
grim satisfaction.

"This is good news indeed," he said. "I am pleased to find out that I
am betraying no secrets in my conversation with you. What I want you
to do is this--I want you to arrange a meeting between Seymour and
myself. It will be dangerous for me to leave the hotel at present, so
that you must arrange it in a way that Seymour can come here."

"If you will be good enough to tell me your name," Jack suggested. "It
is just possible----"

The stranger shook his head, and hoped that Jack would not deem him
guilty of being discourteous if he withheld his name for the present.
He took from a desk a small, curiously-designed ring, and passed it
across to Jack.

"I think you will find that all that is necessary," he explained. "If
you will take that ring and say that it came from the owner, I am
quite sure that Seymour will be willing to fall in with my wishes. And
now, I will bid you good-night, sir. It is good to know that we have a
man of your courage and intelligence on our side."

So saying, the stranger rose to his feet, and extended his long, slim
hand to Jack. He intimated that Jack might come and see him from time
to time, but that caution would be absolutely necessary.

"Ask for Jabez Smith," he said. "That is the name under which I am
known here. If you only knew how fortunate a thing it is that we have
met to-night! But Lord Barmouth and Seymour will be able to prove that
to you presently. Once more, good-night."

The door closed behind Jack; he heard the click of the lock, and found
himself alone in the corridor. He could see that there were still many
people smoking and chatting in the big lounge below. The great hall
door was not yet closed, so that it was possible for Jack to slip into
the street absolutely unnoticed. He felt restless and excited, and
absolutely devoid of any desire to rest. Sleep in the circumstances
would be out of the question. It was no use going home, there to toss
and fret all night. It was just possible, too, that Rigby had not yet
left the _Planet_ office, as it was barely one o'clock. Anyway, a walk
in the cool night air was bound to prove invigorating. It did not much
matter, however, whether Masefield saw Rigby or not. He could tell him
all this exciting history in the morning.

But Rigby was still in his office, waiting for a proof; after which he
declared he meant to go to the Press Club for supper. It was an
entertaining supper, for Jack's narrative was piquant enough, as he
had so much to tell. "Well, you have had a night of it," Rigby said
enviously. "Who are you that you should have all the luck like this?
Here have I been all the evening, doing nothing to earn the approval
of my proprietor, whilst you have been getting at the heart of the
mystery. I shall have to divide my fee with you, Jack."

For a long time they discussed the matter in all its bearings. What
seemed to interest Rigby more than anything else was the scheme
proposed by Anstruther to get Carrington out of his serious position.
He saw great possibilities now that the plan of the bank premises had
come into the possession of the man Seymour, especially as the
conspirators were unaware of this.

"We ought to be able to make a good thing out of this," he said
thoughtfully. "Of course, it will all have to be worked out very
carefully; but I should like to catch those fellows in the trap they
have laid for others. After all, it makes no difference to you how
Anstruther is got out of the way, so long as he receives a good dose
of penal servitude. That once being done, we shall be able to work
quite openly, and it is evident that your new friend Seymour can
expound the whole of the Nostalgo business. I shall get my special
article for the _Planet_, after all; but it will be more thanks to you
than to my own efforts."

"Well, you needn't tell Van Jens that," Jack laughed. "Give me the
outline of your scheme."

"I want to force Carrington's hand. I want him to understand how
desperate his situation is, so that he and Anstruther must take action
at once. Now, for instance, you tell me you heard Carrington say
to-night that his bank has a great amount of jewelry in its keeping.
Is that so?"

"They _had_ it in their keeping," Jack said, drily.

"Well, that is exactly what I mean," Rigby responded. "And Carrington
is in mortal terror lest some great lady should come along at any
moment and demand her gems. You will remember telling me that
Carrington was especially apprehensive over the great masked ball
which is coming off at Lady Barmouth's in two days' time. Do you
happen to know any of the titled women who are asked? If you could get
one of them to go round to Carrington's to-morrow and ask for her gems,
why----"

"I see exactly what you mean," Jack cried eagerly. "We should force
the hands of those two scoundrels, and compel them to do something
without delay. By so doing, also, we should upset the delicate schemes
of Anstruther--?"

"You have got it exactly," Rigby murmured. "Can you bring this about?
It should easily be done."

"I don't see very well how I can do it myself," Jack responded. "But
Claire knows a great many of these people, and I should think she
would not have the slightest difficulty in doing what we need. Anyway,
I'll go round and see her to-morrow morning, and tell her exactly what
has taken place. Is it all that time? Really, I must go to bed and try
and get some sleep. Good-night."

After all, youth will be served, even in the way of sleep; and Jack
was surprised to find, on waking next morning, that it was nearly ten
o'clock. It was nearly twelve before he knocked at the door of the
house in Panton Square and asked to see Claire. It was Serena who
answered the summons--Serena, gray and silent and subdued in the
morning light. All the same, she gave Jack one swift, furtive
glance before her eyes sought the floor again.

"I will go up to the drawing-room myself," Jack said. "So you are none
the worse for your last night's adventure, Serena? Come, you need not
look at me like that, and pretend not to understand. What were you
doing in Mr. Carrington's flat last night?"

A sound like a sob broke from Serena, but she answered nothing. "If
you only knew how profoundly sorry I am for you," Jack said softly.
"When the time comes, you will have to speak; and when the time comes
we shall deal with you as kindly as possible. Although you refuse to
speak now, you must not believe otherwise than that. We know
everything. We know, for instance, where you were last night, and we
have nothing to learn as to the deaf mute and the young man who has a
fancy to wear his moustache in the same form as the style affected by
the German Emperor."

Serena listened, with her eyes fixed mutely on Jack's face. It seemed
to him that she was bursting with anxiety to speak, but that some
strange force held her tongue and choked her utterance.

"Do not go too far." she said presently, in a strained, hard whisper.
"Not that I mean to threaten you. Believe me, I am all on your side;
but I dare not speak. You may call me coward if you like; you may say
that I have no nerve or courage; but if you had gone through the hell
that my life has been the last few years, you would wonder that I had
the strength of mind to look even the feeblest fellow creature in the
face."

Just at the moment when it seemed to Jack that Serena was likely to
take him into her confidence, she turned abruptly away, and
disappeared in the direction of the kitchen. Jack went slowly and
thoughtfully up-stairs to the drawing-room, where he found Claire with
her hat on ready to go out. It was clear that she had not expected
him, but her welcome was none the less warm for that.

"I am afraid I shall have to detain you a little time, dearest," Jack
said. "A great deal has happened since I saw you yesterday, and I
think you ought to know most of it. Sit down a moment, please." Claire
sat by her lover's side, and listened intently to the strange story
that he had to tell. It was clear from the expression of her blue eyes
that she was a little fearful for her lover. She clutched his arm
impulsively, and he responded to the touch. It was not difficult for
him to realize what was passing in her mind.

"You need not have any anxiety as far as I am concerned," he said.
"Very fortunately for us, those scoundrels have not the least idea
that we know so much of their movements. But what I came here
especially for this morning was to ask you if you knew anybody going
to Lady Barmouth's dance whose jewels are in the keeping of
Carrington's bank? I think I explained Rigby's point to you. Do you
know anybody who could help us?"

"I know one who could help you who is not very far off, dear old boy,"
Claire smiled. "You seem to have forgotten that I am rather an
important person in my small way. Did I never tell you of the jewels
that my grandmother left me?"

"I declare I had quite forgotten them," Jack said. "I never care to
associate you with money, especially as I have so little of my own.
Diamonds, weren't they?"

"Diamonds and sapphires," Claire explained. "They are really almost
unique in their way. I generally keep them, on the advice of my
guardian, with Mr. Carrington. Let us go round there now and ask for
the gems."

It was not exactly what Jack had meant, because it occurred to him
that Carrington might easily vamp some excuse so far as Claire was
concerned, and then get Anstruther to invent some reason why the
jewels were not forthcoming. Still, it might do, and there was no
reason why they should not try it.

"I was going really to see Lady Barmouth," Claire explained. "But I
can call in there as we return from the city. Let us have a hansom at
once."

The imposing offices of the City and Provincial Bank were reached at
length. There was nothing inside or outside the place to denote that
the concern was trembling to the verge of bankruptcy. Mr. Carrington
was not busy, a polite cashier informed them, and he would be pleased
to see Miss Helmsley at once. Jack followed in behind Claire, and he
could not but be impressed by the ease and assurance of Carrington's
manner. The latter did not show the slightest signs of agitation when
Claire explained her presence there.

"Certainly," he said. "You have come, of course, provided with your
guardian's signature. No? I am afraid we cannot dispense with that
formality. Send it on by messenger, and one of our own clerks shall
bring the jewels round. What a delightful morning it is! Good-bye."

Jack accepted his checkmate cheerfully enough. It was exceedingly
adroit and clever on Carrington's part, and some other method of
forcing his hand would have to be adopted. Jack was bowing himself
out, when some one else came sailing into the room; and, to his great
delight, Jack recognized Lady Barmouth. He divined at once what she
had come for and what her errand was.

"Good-morning, all of you." she cried, gaily. "Mr. Carrington, you
will not thank me for disturbing you this time of the day, but as I
happen to be passing this way I thought I would save trouble. Will you
be so good as to hand me over my jewels?"

Carrington made no answer. His face was pale as ashes.

CHAPTER XXXIII.
GEMS OR PASTE?


It was a dramatic moment, especially for Claire and Jack, who fully
appreciated the peril in which Carrington stood. The fact was not
hidden to them that Carrington's excuse to Claire was but an ingenious
way out of a terrible difficulty. On more than one occasion Claire had
herself fetched her jewels from the bank, and no objections had been
raised. Still, Carrington was clearly within his legal right, and Jack
could not but admire the swiftness with which he had got himself out
of the tangle. His own face was a model of absolute indifference; he
just glanced at Claire to see if she expressed any suspicion. But
Claire smiled in a way so natural and artless that Jack had no fears
of her for the future.

With Lady Barmouth, however, it was quite a different matter. As yet,
she knew nothing of the terrible straits in which Carrington found
himself involved. She had come down for her jewels in the ordinary
way, as she had done many times before, and expected to take them away
with her. Carrington affected to be talking to somebody down the
speaking tube, but in reality he was fighting to gain time and work
out some ingenious excuse. Jack enjoyed his dismay with a feeling of
grim satisfaction. But Carrington was not quite done with yet;
evidently he had not sat at the feet of Anstruther for nothing. He
looked up presently, and smiled with the air of a man who is only too
willing to do anything for his client.

"Will you take a seat for a moment, Lady Barmouth?" he said politely.
"I see that you know Miss Helmsley and Mr. Masefield. I must go and
speak to our cashier for a moment."

"You cannot get the jewels yourself?" Lady Barmouth asked.

"No," Carrington explained. "Of course, we are bound to take
precautions. I have no more power to open one of the safes by myself
than one of my junior clerks."

"That would be awkward if you wanted anything out of bank hours," Jack
suggested. "How do you manage then?"

"Well, we simply don't manage," Carrington said. He was quite himself
again by this time. "I can no more get into the strong room that you
could. I should have to get the manager and chief cashier before a
safe could be opened."

All this sounded plausible enough, as Jack was bound to admit.
Carrington went off with a jaunty step, as if he had all the millions
of the Bank of England behind him. Jack wondered how he would get out
of the mess. But the solution of the puzzle was quite easy. Carrington
came back with a look of annoyance on his face.

"I am exceedingly sorry, Lady Barmouth," he apologized. "The fact is,
Mr. Perkins has been called away on important business to our West-End
branch. He cannot possibly get back in less than an hour. Do you want
your jewels in such a hurry?"

Lady Barmouth was fain to confess that she didn't. She would not
require them till the following evening; only some time must
necessarily be spent in the cleaning of them.

"Plenty of time for that," Carrington smiled. "I will send a special
messenger in a cab to bring the cases to your house by lunch time. I
hope that will be convenient to you."

Lady Barmouth, innocent of the part which she was playing in the
comedy, replied that that arrangement would suit her exceedingly well;
indeed, she was sorry to give so much trouble. She swept out of the
bank parlor, followed by Jack and Claire. A well-appointed brougham
stood outside, and she smilingly offered her companions a lift.

"I am going to take Claire back to lunch with me," she said. "Can I
set you down anywhere, Mr. Masefield?"

"You can set me down, if you please, on you own door-step," Jack
smiled. "As a matter of fact, I was just going to see Lord Barmouth,
and now I have something serious to say to you. Were you satisfied
just now? About the jewels, I mean?"

Lady Barmouth looked puzzled as Jack followed her into the brougham.
She saw nothing, so she said, to arouse any suspicions, except that
she thought a needless fuss had been made over her gems. She was still
discussing the matter, when the brougham reached Belgrave Square, and
the three alighted. Once they were in the drawing-room, Lady Barmouth
turned to Jack and asked him what he meant. He shook his head
doubtfully.

"I am afraid I am going to upset you very much," he said. "But unless
I am greatly mistaken, you are never likely to see your diamonds
again."

Lady Barmouth stared open-mouthed at the speaker. She explained that
her diamonds were of great value; indeed, some of the stones were
historic. Those diamonds had often been mentioned in personal
paragraphs, which are such a feature in the modern newspaper, and Jack
recollected a description of them perfectly well. He proceeded to
explain, at considerable length, the history of his last night's
adventure. Lady Barmouth's face grew still more grave when at length
the recital was finished.

"This is a very serious matter." she said. "Do you know this is likely
to cost Lord Barmouth something like fifty thousand pounds? The City
and Provincial Bank does a good deal of business with people well
known in Society, and I am afraid many of us will be involved. What do
you suppose has become of those diamonds, Mr. Masefield?"

"They have been pawned, of course," Jack said. "Carrington has taken
that dreadful risk in the desperate hope of retrieving his position.
But the whole scandal is bound to become public property before eight
and forty hours have passed."

There was nothing for it now but to wait and see what time would bring
forth. Lord Barmouth was not yet down; indeed, his man said that he
would not appear till after luncheon. But there was no lack of
animated conversation in the drawing-room, and the discussion was
continued till the gong rang for lunch.

"I tell you what I think the best thing to do," Lady Barmouth said, as
Jack held the drawing-room door open for her. "You are a barrister,
and accustomed to deal with legal matters. If those stones fail to
arrive by half-past two, I will give you my written authority, and you
shall take it to the bank and insist upon something definite being
done."

Luncheon was a thing of the past, and it was getting on towards three
o'clock, when a cab drove up to the door, and a footman announced the
fact that a gentleman from the City and Provincial Bank desired to see
Lady Barmouth. She returned presently, beaming with smiles, and
announced that Jack had been mistaken; for the gems had not only been
delivered, but had also been handed over to the speaker's maid.

Slightly taken aback, Jack expressed a natural curious desire to see
the stones in question. Lady Barmouth rang the bell, and presently a
smart French maid appeared, bearing four shabby-looking cases in her
hand. They were laid on the table, and Jack suggested that Lady
Barmouth should open one of them.

"I see you are still suspicious." she smiled. "Evidently things were
not so desperate with Mr. Carrington as you appear to imagine. What do
you think of those?"

With pardonable pride, Lady Barmouth lifted the cover of one of the
cases and displayed the flashing contents to Claire's admiring eyes. A
livid stream of flame dazzled and blinked in the sunshine. Claire's
cry of delight was echoed by an exclamation of astonishment from Lady
Barmouth.

"There is some extraordinary mistake here." she said. "I admit that
these stones are exceedingly beautiful, but, unfortunately, they are
not mine at all. They look to me much more like the property of the
Duchess of Birmingham. I have no pearls or emeralds--my jewels are all
diamonds and sapphires. The cases must have been changed; a mistake
easily accounted for, as they are both green wraps."

But Jack was not in the least convinced. This was some desperate
expedient to lull Lady Barmouth's suspicions to sleep for the time.
And doubtless Carrington had gone off hot foot to Anstruther, and
implored him to find some way out of the terrible difficulty. Another
idea occurred to Jack, but this he did not dare to mention for the
present--it was too suggestive of a situation from some melodrama.

"I think I can explain the whole thing," he said. "But, first of all,
I should like to take Lord Barmouth's opinion on the matter. Probably
he has finished his own lunch by this time. Will you see if he is
ready to receive me?"

Lord Barmouth was glad enough to see Jack, and welcomed him quite
cordially. Then Jack laid the jewel cases upon the table, and
proceeded to relate once more the story of last night's happenings. He
concluded with a description of his visit to Carrington, and
epitomized the incident of the changed jewels.

"Certainly a most extraordinary thing," Barmouth said. "I rather
gather from the expression of your face that you have some solution to
offer."

"Indeed I have," Jack said eagerly. "This is merely a trick to gain
time, and an exceedingly clever trick, too. Carrington had naturally
assumed that we know nothing of his desperate position. If we were in
the dark on that point, the mistake would look exceedingly natural.
But, knowing what we do, the situation is entirely changed. I don't
believe those are the Duchess of Birmingham's diamonds--I don't
believe they are diamonds at all."

"By Jove! You have hit it exactly," Barmouth cried. "What a really
magnificent idea! Carrington has no diamonds; therefore he lays out,
say, a couple of hundred pounds in some showy-looking paste, and sends
them round here as my wife's gems. She, absolutely innocent of any
deception, sends them back and asks to have the mistake rectified.
Back from the bank comes a polite note of regret apologizing for the
mistake, and promising the proper stones for to-morrow, the cashier
having left for the day."

"Exactly my idea," Jack cried. "But we can soon settle that, Lord
Barmouth. You have only to telephone to your family jeweler, and ask
him to step round here for a moment."

Barmouth fell in with the suggestion at once, and a telephone message
was dispatched to the famous firm of Flint & Co., in Bond Street. Mr.
Flint himself arrived a few minutes later, and the dubious gems were
laid before him. He had not the slightest hesitation in giving his
verdict.

"Paste, my lord," he said briefly, "and pretty poor stuff at that. I
can see that, even in this dim light. See how dull these stones are!
Real gems, even in semi-gloom, shimmer and sparkle, but these don't
show up at all. The whole lot did not cost more than two hundred
pounds; in fact, these things are little better than stage jewels."

"Can you tell us where they come from?" Jack asked.

"Certainly I can, sir," Mr. Flint replied, promptly. "There are
occasions when clients of ours are compelled to exchange the real for
the false. In cases like that we go to Osmond & Co., of Clerkenwell,
where these came from. I hope there is nothing wrong."

Barmouth said politely that that matter could be discussed on a future
occasion. He would not detain Mr. Flint any more for the present, and
the latter bowed himself out of the room.

"What do you propose to do now?" Barmouth asked.

"Well, with your permission, I propose to strike while the iron is
hot," Jack said. "It is quite evident that this rubbish has been
purchased very recently from Osmond's. If you will allow me to do so,
I will go at once with the cases to Clerkenwell, and ascertain the
purchaser. If we can bring Carrington to book promptly, we may recover
Lady Barmouth's jewels yet."

Barmouth had nothing to say except in praise of this suggestion.
Accordingly, Jack set off in a cab for Clerkenwell, where he had no
difficulty in finding the fine business premises of Osmond & Co. He
lost no time in diplomacy, but proceeded to lay the whole matter
before the head of the firm.

"You will see there is something very wrong here," he said. "This
manufacture of yours has been deliberately substituted for some
valuable gems belonging to a lady whose name I am not at liberty to
divulge for the present. Mr. Flint, of Bond Street, says that the
paste has been purchased from you. We have absolute proof of the fact
that the stuff was bought during the past two hours. I shall be glad
if you will tell me the name of the purchaser. I don't suppose the
stuff was booked.

"Mr. Osmond explained that theirs was practically a cash business. A
few inquiries elicited the fact that the paste had been bought about
two hours before by a tall, slim gentleman, who had driven up in a
hansom cab. There was another gentleman in the cab, but he had not
entered the shop.

"Were the jewels paid for in cash?" Jack asked.

They had not been paid for in hard cash, the cashier explained. The
bill had come to two hundred pounds altogether, and had been made out
to a Mr. Morrison. He had paid for them with twenty ten-pound notes in
a most businesslike way, and gone away again--the whole thing not
having taken more than five minutes. Jack suggested that he would like
to see the notes. They were fresh and clean, but across the face of
all of them was a circular blue mark bearing the words, "City and
provincial Bank!"



CHAPTER XXXIV.
IN THE VAULT.


Here was proof positive enough to convict Carrington of the crime
which had been alleged against him. Nor did Jack doubt for a moment
that Anstruther was at the bottom of this daring and original scheme.
The mere fact that there was another man in the cab with Carrington
was sufficient to prove this point, for nobody else was likely to
accompany the bank manager on so delicate and private an errand. Where
the fatal mistake came in, was in Carrington taking the Bank of
England notes from his own safe, and ignoring the fact that the
official blue stamp was upon them.

As Jack stepped into the street, he had pretty well made up his mind
what to do. Not for a moment did he believe that Carrington had an
accomplice amongst his own staff. Jack reached the premises of the
City and provincial at length, and asked to see Mr. Carrington. He was
told that that gentleman had suddenly been called out on important
business, and was not expected back to-day. But Masefield was not in
the least disappointed to hear this. There was nothing for it now, but
to return to Belgrave Square, and tell the Barmouths what had
happened. He found Lord Barmouth in the drawing-room, where the blinds
had been pulled down. Lady Barmouth had gone to an important function
which she could not very well ignore, and had taken Claire along with
her. Lord Barmouth listened gravely to all that Jack had to say.

"I am very much afraid that my wife will have to put up with the loss
of her gems," he said. "No doubt they and many others are pledged with
some great firm of pawnbrokers. The only consolation one has is the
possibility of getting the stuff back by paying half its price over
again. But matters cannot be allowed to rest here. Carrington knows
that he is at the end of his tether; consequently, that clever bogus
burglary you heard discussed last night _must_ take place this
evening. What do you propose to do? In my present unfortunate
condition I can't interfere. The only thing I can do is to leave it
entirely in your hands."

Jack went off presently to seek Rigby, whom he found at his rooms. The
latter looked up eagerly, for he could see from his friend's face that
Jack had a great deal to tell.

"There is one little thing that seems to stand in the way of our
ultimate success," Jack said, thoughtfully, "and that is as to Lady
Barmouth's brother. I am afraid that he is in some way mixed up with
this business--to his detriment, I mean. I should not care to do
anything likely to cause additional pain to that estimable lady after
all her great kindness."

Rigby looked up in some bewilderment. Apparently he did not quite
understand the drift of Jack's argument.

"I may be very dense," he said, "but I don't follow you. What can Lady
Barmouth's brother have to do with it?"

"Well, you must cast your memory back to the night of the great
adventure, when Lady Barmouth played so courageous a part, and got us
out of a serious difficulty. Do you follow?"

"I think I do now," Rigby said slowly. "Oh, yes; it is all coming back
to me. Lady Barmouth asked Redgrave where her brother was, and
Redgrave replied that he knew nothing about the individual in
question. But, my dear fellow, you have not proved to me yet that Lady
Barmouth has a brother."

"Now you are puzzling me," Jack murmured.

"Not at all. On the night I speak of, Lady Barmouth had to act on the
spur of the moment. It was necessary to gag a bit to play for an
opening. You are taking too much for granted. If Lady Barmouth has a
brother, you will probably find that he has nothing to do with this
matter. In any case, why worry about him to-night? We seem to have a
big adventure before us so far as I can gather from what you have just
told me. And if you are still in doubt, it will be quite an easy
matter to see Lady Barmouth in the morning, and ascertain from her
whether or not our proposed line of action is likely to do any harm. I
don't suppose that Lady Barmouth knows or cares anything for Redgrave,
who appears to be a kind of sottish tool of Anstruther's."

"Quite right," Jack agreed. "And now, come along and let us set the
ball rolling again. I think that I have told you everything. And now
we will go off without delay, and see Seymour--the man I told you
about, who was with me last night."

Rigby assented to the suggestion eagerly enough, and together they set
out in the direction of Seymour's rooms. There was not much chance of
the latter being out, seeing that he had his own cogent reasons for
not facing the daylight, and surely enough it turned out as Masefield
had expected.

Seymour was dawdling over his tea with a cigarette and a French novel,
a bored expression on his face. That face, however, became eager and
animated as Jack came in and introduced Rigby to his host.

"Things are beginning to move rapidly then," Seymour exclaimed. "Your
face speaks of action, Mr. Masefield. Is it about Carrington? You have
discovered something fresh."

"I think I have discovered pretty well everything," Jack replied. "I
have managed to force that fellow's hand, just as Rigby suggested I
should. He has consulted Anstruther, as we knew he would; and a pretty
scheme for gaining time they evolved between them. But perhaps I had
better tell you everything."

Seymour pitched his French novel aside, and his intelligent face
beamed with animation. The story was told at length, and Seymour
warmly congratulated the speaker upon his astuteness and intelligence.

"I quite agree with you," Seymour said. "If Carrington's good name is
to be saved at all, that bogus burglary must take place to-night."

"By the way!" Jack exclaimed. "There is one thing I quite forgot to
tell you--that is the little adventure I had last night at the Great
Metropolitan Hotel. I found an invalid gentleman there--or, at least,
he found me--who seems to know all about Anstruther and his movements.
He knows you, too; indeed, he seemed to be overjoyed that you are in
England. He had some hesitation in mentioning his own name, but he
said that if I gave you a certain ring which is now in my possession,
you would understand everything."

Jack laid the ring upon the table, and Seymour pounced upon it like a
hawk would pounce upon a mouse. A grim smile played about the corners
of his mouth, but, self-controlled as he was, he could not altogether
hide his feelings.

"Tell me all that happened with my friend last night," he asked. "It
has an important bearing on this case."

Jack proceeded to explain, Seymour listening in an attitude of rigid
attention.

"This is the best news I have heard for some time," he said. "You can
make your mind quite easy on one thing--Anstruther has nearly shot his
bolt. After to-morrow I will get you to arrange a meeting between
myself and my old friend at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. Meanwhile,
there is much to be done. It is quite certain that great things are
going to happen at the City and Provincial Bank to-night. I think we
shall have a pleasant little surprise for Anstruther and Co."

Seymour rose, and took a roll of tissue paper from a small safe in the
corner of the room.

"These are the plans of the City and Provincial Bank," he
explained--"the plans that came so luckily into our hands last night.
I have studied them very carefully. As a matter of fact, I did not
come straight home last night, but passed the hours till nearly
daylight prowling about the bank. Without the plans, my scheme would
be quite futile; but I think now that I have the whole thing very
prettily mapped out. Just come and look at this with me. It is really
very simple."

As Seymour had said, the plan was simplicity itself. It not only gave
a very intelligent idea of the situation of the vaults and strong
rooms, but also the back premises and the lanes behind were clearly
marked.

"Now I want you to follow this very carefully," Seymour went on. "We
can ignore the front of the building altogether, because that faces on
Gresham Street. Here the police pass the same premises every three
minutes, so that nobody could force an entrance that way, not even the
would-be burglars with their keys. But if you look at the rear of the
place, you will see that there is a small alley leading out of
Farringdon Lane, and this alley ends by a kind of back entry into the
bank which is used by the caretaker. I have ascertained that there are
two night watchmen, so that there is not much danger of trouble. By
the side of this door is a small window, the latch of which I have
ascertained to be defective.

"I suppose no one has ever troubled to see to this, for the simple
reason that admission to the bank premises by no means implies getting
to that part of the building which is devoted to business purposes.
Not that we particularly want to penetrate very far, because it is our
scheme to watch what is going on, so that we may be able to confront
the scoundrels when the proper time comes. A careful examination of
these plans shows me that we shall be able to get as far as the bank
proper, which means the counting house, and from thence down the steps
to the vaults where the strong rooms are situated."

"Have you got keys of all these?" Jack asked.

"There will be no necessity for us to provide keys," Seymour chuckled.
"You see, Anstruther and Co. will be bound to enter the bank from the
back premises. By learning this plan off by heart, we come to know
exactly which way they will get to the vaults. Of course, they will
come provided with keys--Carrington will see to that. All we have to
do is to hide under a counter or something of that sort, and wait till
our friends come along. Naturally, they will not dream that any one is
on the premises besides themselves. As to the rest, you must leave
that to me and fortune. You had better stay here and dine, and we can
set out for the City about eleven o'clock."

It seemed to both Rigby and Masefield that it would be impossible to
improve upon this plan. They dined comfortably and discreetly, and it
was somewhere about half-past eleven when they turned their faces in
the direction of the City. No one appeared to notice them, for they
walked rapidly along, with the air of men who had business before
them, and the police appeared to be few and far between. They came at
length to the little alley at the rear of the bank, and here it
behoved them to be cautious. They waited till the beat of the
policeman's feet died away down the lane, and then they darted down
the dark entry. Seymour produced a tiny electric torch from his
pocket.

"There is the window," he whispered. "I am going to get on your
shoulders, Mr. Rigby. Once I am through, I can pull you others up.
There is no sort of danger."

"Oh, but there is," Jack protested. "You have utterly forgotten one
thing--did you not tell me there were two night watchmen on the
premises?"

Seymour chuckled, and was understood to say that they would find
Anstruther had removed that difficulty for them. Seymour seemed so
sure of his ground that Jack waived his protest. A minute later
Seymour was through the window, and the others followed swiftly.
Rather recklessly, or so it seemed to Jack, Seymour waved his electric
torch so as to form a line of light in front. He smiled grimly as he
pointed to two unconscious figures reclining back as if hopelessly
drunk in a pair of deep armchairs. They came so suddenly upon the
unfortunate victims that Jack fairly started. But so far as Seymour
was concerned, he had appeared to have expected something of the kind.
He again chuckled hoarsely.

"What did I tell you?" he asked. "Did I not say that Anstruther and
Co. would very kindly get the caretakers out of the way for us? You
see the caretakers would have been just as much of a nuisance to them
as they are to us. They have been carefully hocussed, and not until an
alarm is given in the morning will they be in a position to say
anything."

The last danger being apparently removed, the trio proceeded to make
their way to the bank premises proper, and there made themselves as
comfortable as possible under one of the counters in the counting
house. It was very quiet there, so quiet that they could hear the
tramping footsteps of the police outside, and the singing of some
belated reveler. They lay there till they heard the great clock of St.
Paul's strike the hour of one. There was a sound then of heavy
footsteps tramping along the corridor, and presently a great blaze of
light filled the counting house. It was perfectly safe, for the heavy
iron shutters excluded every ray from the outside. Seymour rose
cautiously, then ducked his head again.

"Just look," he whispered. "Make sure who it is."

Rigby raised his head cautiously, too. The light fell full upon the
face of the intruder--the white, stern face of Anstruther.

"Now for it," Seymour whispered; "the play is about to begin."



CHAPTER XXXV.
THE CELLINI PLATE.


So far as Anstruther was concerned, he might have been going about his
usual business. He evidently had no fear on the score of interruption,
and, indeed, there was little cause, seeing that the bank was so
substantially built, and that from top to bottom the windows were
protected with iron shutters.

"There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of," he said. "Good
gracious, man, have you no pluck at all? I declare when I look at you
that I could kick you as one does a cowardly cur."

But Carrington was impervious to insult. His face was ghastly, and the
strong glare of the electric lights showed the beads of moisture upon
his forehead.

"It is all very well for you," he growled. "The greater the danger the
better you seem to like it."

"There isn't any danger," Anstruther protested. "Didn't you tell me
that the police had no special orders as far as the bank was
concerned? And everybody knows you have two night watchmen.
Besides--oh, I have no patience with you!"

Anstruther turned away from the other, and began to fumble with the
lock of a small black bag which he carried in his hand. He signified
to Carrington that the latter should lead the way to the vaults below.
Carrington produced a bunch of keys from his pocket. Anstruther
sneered openly.

"Oh, that's it," he said. "Going to make it all smooth for us, are
you? Of all the fools I ever came across! Why not go outside and tell
everybody what we are going to do? Those are all patent shove locks,
which the most expert thief could never pick, and you are going to
tell the police later on that they have been opened with an ordinary
key. Don't forget that you have got to face the police later on, and
endure a cross-examination that will test your nerve to the uttermost.
We are going to blow those locks up, and these are dynamite cartridges
to do it."

Carrington's face was almost comic in its dismay. His ghastly,
sweat-bedabbled face fairly quivered. But he made no further protest;
he bent before the sway of Anstruther's master mind.

"I don't wish to interfere with you," he stammered. "But the infernal
noise which is likely to----"

Anstruther kicked his companion aside.

"We either do it or we don't do it," he said. "It doesn't matter a rap
one way or the other to me. Now which is it to be?"

Carrington hesitated no longer. He simply submitted himself entirely
to the hands of his companion. In a dazed, fascinated kind of way he
watched Anstruther insinuate a dynamite cartridge of minute
proportions into the lock of the door. Then Anstruther drew Carrington
back as far as possible, and the tiny fuse began to work. There was
just a tiny spurt of blue flame, followed by a muffled shock, and the
door fell slowly back.

"There," Anstruther cried triumphantly. "What do you think of that? Do
you suppose that noise was heard outside? Now come on; let us serve
them all alike."

The sound of their footsteps came to the ears of those watching in the
counting house, and at frequent intervals the sullen explosions could
be heard. Seymour rose to his feet, and whispered to his companions to
follow. They crept cautiously along the flagged stairway until they
reached the vault in which the two strong rooms were situated. A
couple of electric lights gave sufficient illumination for the purpose
of the amateur burglars, who were now busily engaged on the locks of
the strong room. This was altogether a different business to blowing
in the lock of an ordinary door, for the entrance to the strong room
was secured with six bolts, all of which would have to be destroyed.

It was possible to find a secure hiding-place in the thick darkness
outside the radius of the two electric lights. It was an interesting
moment, and even Seymour was conscious of a sensation of excitement.

"Stand back," Anstruther said. "Everything is ready. You had better
lie down on your face, as I am using six charges now instead of one.
If they all go off together the thing will be accomplished to our
mutual satisfaction."

The hint was not lost upon the listeners. There was a moment of
intense excitement, and then came a dull, heavy roar, that seemed to
shake the building almost to its foundations. Almost before the
reverberations had died away, the huge door of the strong room swayed
with a zigzag motion, and came smashing on the floor.

"There," Anstruther cried triumphantly. "What do you think of that, my
friend? I flatter myself that that is a real workmanlike job. All you
have to do now is to keep a stiff upper lip, and give the police all
the information they require. Anything of value inside?"

"Not very much, I am afraid," Carrington responded. "A fair amount of
old family plate, and perhaps twenty or thirty thousand pounds' worth
of securities. I suppose we had better leave all that there; look
better, don't you think?"

"Leave your head there," Anstruther sneered. "Now I put it to you, as
a man supposed to be possessed of sense--would any thief leave a
single item of value behind?"

Anstruther asked the question with a contemptuous curl of his lip. He
was wiping his hands now on a piece of greasy cotton waste in which
the dynamite cartridges had been wrapped to prevent contact.

"This is going to be a unique sort of burglary," he continued. "Trot
out what you've got in the way of plate, and I'll take my pick of it
as a kind of fee in reward for my night's service. If there is one
soft place in my heart, it is for antique silver. Take your time--we
are not in the least likely to be interrupted."

With his coat off and his shirt sleeves turned up, Carrington set to
work in earnest. Once he had plunged headlong into the business, he
seemed to have lost all his nervousness and hesitation. One after the
other the great wooden cases were turned out and examined by
Anstruther as eagerly as a schoolboy pores over something new in the
way of a bird's nest. Presently he held aloft a magnificent specimen
of a silver dish. It was perfectly plain: fine old hammered silver,
bearing a quaint design around the edge.

"Benvenuto Cellini for a million," he cried. "Dish and ewer, together
with a set of the finest posset cups I've ever seen. How much over ten
thousand pounds would this fetch at Christie's? Well, I'm very sorry
for the late owner, but exceedingly pleased so far as I am concerned.
I'll take this for my fee, Carrington."

The two dived into the strong room again, where they appeared to be
overhauling other boxes of treasure. The gleams of the electric light
fell upon the service of plate which Anstruther had so greatly
admired. By its side, in strange contrast, laid a piece of cotton
waste with which Anstruther had wiped his hands a minute or two
before. Without a word of warning to his companions, Seymour darted
across the floor of the vault; and, seizing the cotton waste,
proceeded to rub it vigorously over the surface of the service of
plate which Anstruther had marked down for his own.

His conduct was so unexpected and so peculiar, that Jack and Rigby
could only look at one another in astonishment. They did not know in
the least what to make of this extraordinary man[oe]uvre on the part
of their colleague. But there was evidently much method in his
madness; he was not in the least likely to run the risk of detection
to gratify an apparently meaningless whim. He was back again an
instant later, and Jack could hear him chuckling to himself as if he
had accomplished something quite out of the common. He seemed to feel
that some explanation was necessary.

"I dare say you thought that peculiar," he said; "but you will
understand all in good time. I didn't go out of my way to spoil
everything for the mere sake of playing amateur housemaid."

Apparently the task which Anstruther and Carrington had set themselves
was finished by this time, for they came out of the strong room empty
handed. All the same, their figures appeared to be pretty bulky, and
doubtless their pockets were well filled with illicit gain.

"But you don't mean to carry that stuff home," Carrington protested.
"Well known as you are, it would be an act of criminal folly to carry
that plate through the streets at this time of the morning. As to
myself----"

"But have you no private safe of your own?" Anstruther asked. "The
same remark you made to me just now applies to you. Is there anything
more to wait for?"

Carrington disappeared within the strong room again for a last look
round, followed by Anstruther. They had no sooner disappeared than
Seymour was on his feet again, making hurriedly for the stairway
leading to the counting house. He had not been gone many seconds
before there came stumbling noisily down the stairs the form of one of
the night watchmen, rubbing his eyes drowsily, and asking what was
going on. It was quite evident to Rigby and Jack that Seymour had
deliberately aroused the sleeping man for some subtle purpose of his
own. The man cried out again to know what all this meant, and
Carrington and Anstruther came darting from the strong room.

"By heaven! He has come to his senses," Anstruther muttered. "I
thought that dose was quite strong enough. I am very sorry, but seeing
that he has learned so much----"

There was murder in Anstruther's eyes, and Carrington saw it. Still
dazed and stupid from the result of the drug, the watchman was gazing
about him like a man just emerging from a heavy bout of intoxication.
It was evident that he did not recognize his employer, though senses
and reason were fast coming back to him. As he staggered towards the
strong room door a murderous look crept into Anstruther's eyes again,
and something bright gleamed in his hand. Carrington hastened forward.

"No, no," he cried hoarsely. "I will have none of that, I have gone
too far already. I could bear with imprisonment, but the mere thought
of a noose round my neck----"

He almost staggered up to the dazed watchman, and shook him violently.
The latter seemed to comprehend at length.

"Wake up, Gregory," Carrington stammered. "There has been a burglary
here. I had occasion to come down to the bank for something, and found
that the premises had been broken into. Go for the police."

Anstruther studied the watchman's features with broody, malignant
eyes. His quick brain was working rapidly. It was quite evident that
the watchman had not yet fully grasped the situation. It would be some
time before he could find a policeman and give him a fairly coherent
account of what had happened.

"Not a moment to be lost," he cried. "Let us go up-stairs at once to
your room and lock all this stuff up in your private safe. No one will
think of looking for it there. Now don't say you haven't got the key
with you."

Carrington nodded breathlessly, and immediately Anstruther began to
pack up the Cellini service of plate which had so greatly fascinated
him.

"Come on at once," he said. "Let us get this stuff in hiding, and then
we can face the police."

They had only to don their coats again and make their way as soon as
possible to Carrington's private room. As they passed up the stairs
Seymour signed to his companions to follow.

They were only just in time, for as they emerged into the alley the
watchman was returning with the constable. They squeezed close against
the wall, securing the friendly cover of the darkness, and a moment
later they were in Gresham Street.

"What is to be done next?" Rigby said.

"I think that is pretty obvious," Seymour chuckled. "So far as I can
see this is a nice little job for Inspector Bates."



CHAPTER XXXVI.
A STROKE OF POLICY.


Jack nodded significantly to his companion, as much as to signify that
Seymour must be allowed to have his own way. The latter had taken the
matter into his own hands from the first. It was quite evident that he
was working out some deep and subtle scheme, and the others were
disposed to give him a free hand.

"Would you like to see Bates now?" Jack asked.

"Most emphatically not," Seymour laughed. "It is no cue of mine to
come in contact with the police until I have seen my way quite clear.
Besides, you are by no means certain yet that Bates will be put on to
this case, and be given the opportunity of investigating the startling
burglary at the City and Provincial Bank. Again, it may be too much
for Bates's nerves if I burst upon him suddenly, and he recognizes me
as the dead Nostalgo who was so mysteriously spirited from Shannon
Street police station. No; on the whole, I should prefer that you
should go and see Bates alone. Tell him exactly what happened and what
you saw to-night, leaving me out of the question. Then come and see me
some time to-morrow afternoon, and I will tell you what to do next."

"One moment," Rigby exclaimed, as Seymour was turning away. "What was
that idea of yours about the cotton waste?"

Seymour winked significantly, and remarked that it was time he was in
bed. With a cheery nod to his companions, he turned his face in an
easterly direction and strolled off down the street.

"Now there's a clever man for you," Rigby cried. "Quite as clever a
man as Anstruther, and I should say a great deal more subtle. But let
us go as far as Shannon Street police station, and tell Bates our
story."

Bates had been detained rather late. He had only just come in, and was
preparing to go home when the two friends entered. He had no need to
ask if they had anything of importance to communicate to him--he could
glean that from the expression of the friends' faces. He led the way
to his private room, and passed the cigarettes across the table.

"It's about Carrington," Rigby explained. "But perhaps I had better go
back a bit, and tell you one or two little things you don't know."

It was a fairly long story, and it thoroughly aroused Bates to a sense
of action. His questions were clear and intelligent; he followed the
narrative, punctuating it here and there with shrewd suggestions.

"Mind you," he said. "I have been expecting something like this for a
long time. All the same, I can see that you gentlemen have only told
me half the story. Still, I can't complain, especially as I see my way
to make a good thing out of this. When I tell the people at Scotland
Yard all I know they are pretty sure to put me on the case--indeed, I
will make a special favor of it. You say that you saw Anstruther
blowing up all those locks, and you are pretty sure that the great
bulk of the plunder is in Carrington's private safe. You don't suggest
that Anstruther carried that service of plate home with him?"

"Anstruther wouldn't be such a fool," Rigby said curtly. "He is much
too cool a hand for that. He will feel quite sure that the stuff is
perfectly safe where it is, and fetch it away from the City a bit at a
time. Of course, he won't do this till the affair has blown over and
he is quite safe in so doing."

Bates was inclined to share the speaker's opinion. There was no more
to be said for the present, and he intimated his intention to go up to
Scotland Yard and ask the authorities to put him on the case. Jack and
Rigby went their respective ways, a clock somewhere striking two when
they parted at length.

Precisely as Bates had prophesied, the mysterious burglary at the City
and Provincial Bank caused the greatest sensation the following
morning. The later editions of the evening papers were full of it.
Carrington had been interviewed by more than one bright reporter;
indeed, he had been dragged out of bed for the purpose, and he had
been understood to say that the bank's loss could not fall far short
of a million unless the thieves could be promptly arrested. The story
was vividly told, Carrington's distress and agitation being expressly
accentuated.

But this was not the worst part of the distracted bank manager's
story. There had been in the possession of the bank a tremendous lot
of valuable personal property belonging to various esteemed clients.
All this had disappeared, and more than one great lady in London was
mourning the loss of her family jewels. The greatest sympathy was felt
with the bank; it was only one or two carping critics who were asking
questions.

They were pertinent questions, too; a desire, for instance, to know
what Carrington could possibly be doing on the bank premises at so
late an hour. But these were merely pin pricks, and the great bulk of
the population felt nothing but sympathy for Carrington. The only
people who had a fairly good grip of the real state of the case
besides Rigby and his companions were the Barmouths and Claire
Helmsley. Jack saw Claire in Lady Barmouth's drawing-room late the
following morning, and explained to her and Lady Barmouth what had
happened the night previous.

"It is most mysterious," Claire said, "and almost impossible to
believe that my guardian had anything to do with the matter. I dined
very quietly at home last night, and sat up till long past one
finishing a novel in which I was deeply interested. I can assure you
of this--that from half-past nine till the time I went to bed Mr.
Anstruther's violin practically did not cease. If I were brought into
the case as a witness, I should be bound to swear that my guardian was
in his study during the whole time that the burglary was taking
place."

"That is another phase of the mystery that we have to solve," Jack
said. "It is all very clever and very ingenious and very useful, but
seeing is believing. After all, Anstruther was there last night, as
three of us are prepared to testify."

"Then in that case I shall never see my jewels again," Lady Barmouth
said. "But what are the police going to do about it, Mr. Masefield?
The thing cannot be possibly allowed to remain here. If they were to
arrest Mr. Carrington at once and search his safe----"

"But the police don't work quite in that way," Jack interrupted.
"Besides, Carrington is not the only one. The chief villain in the
play is Spencer Anstruther; and at the present moment he is in a
position to prove a perfect alibi. It is not the slightest use laying
Carrington by the heels till we are in a position to prove
Anstruther's alibi to be nothing but an ingenious mechanical fraud.
Don't you recollect the case of the Ph[oe]nix Park murders? In that
case the police could have laid their hands upon half the culprits
within a few days. They preferred to wait months, until every one of
the gang were swept up in the meshes of the law. I will go and see
Bates presently, and ascertain if he has anything fresh to tell us."

It was quite late in the afternoon before Jack managed to get a few
words with the inspector. He seemed to be very cheerful and sanguine,
and dropped a hint to the effect that his morning had not been
altogether wasted.

"Oh, we are going on, right enough," he exclaimed in answer to Jack's
question. "In the circumstances, they can do nothing else. Most of my
morning has been spent in calling on the various unfortunate people
whose valuables were deposited at Carrington's bank, and getting a
full description of the same. After that I made the rounds of the
principal pawnbrokers and such people as advance money on real
property."

"Did you find anything of the missing stuff?" Jack asked eagerly. "I
mean, did you see any of it?"

Bates explained that up to now he had been successful in three
instances. He knew where to lay his hands upon the tiara of diamonds
that had only been deposited with Carrington four days ago.

"It belongs to one of our fashionable society leaders," he explained,
"and really is a most magnificent piece of work. Mind you, Carrington
must have been a great fool, or he must have been desperately pressed
for money, to pledge these things in London. He could have sent them
to Amsterdam or Paris, where they could have been broken up and
disposed of in such a manner that it would have been impossible to
trace them. This might have entailed a financial sacrifice, but see
how safe it would have been. I feel pretty sure that within the next
two days I shall trace every atom of the lost property."

"But it is usual to pledge such valuable jewels in this casual way?"
Jack asked.

"Certainly it is. The thing has been done over and over again. In a
great many instances the lady does not go through the ordeal herself,
but sends a maid or some confidential servant with a note addressed to
the pawnbroker, and asks for ten thousand pounds, or whatever it may
be. That is how this business has been worked."

"But the pawnbrokers?" Jack protested. "When they come to see a list
of the missing jewels a full story must be told."

Bates admitted the ingenuity of the suggestion. It was just possible
that there was danger in that direction. Still, as he pointed out, no
one could blame the pawnbrokers for not recognizing from a bald
printed description certain gems pledged at their establishments.

"But I think you can leave that safely to me," he said. "There is
nothing to prevent me from applying for a warrant for the arrest of
Carrington, and producing all that damning evidence from his private
safe; but by doing this we are practically allowing a greater ruffian
to escape."

Jack cordially agreed with this view of the case. He proceeded to
speak at some length as to what he had seen and heard the night before
last in Carrington's smoking-room.

"You must not forget," he said, "that the man who was with me on that
occasion is in possession of the duplicate plans of the bank cellars."

"Oh, no," Bates cried. "I have not overlooked those plans; in fact, I
particularly wish to have a glance at them. And, by the way, sir, you
appear to be very reticent over the name of the companion who was with
you on that important occasion."

"We will merely call him Seymour," Jack said, cautiously.

Bates smiled in a queer, significant kind of way.

"I will be more candid with you than you are with me," he said,
"though you have told me more than you intended. Now, tell me if my
suspicions are correct--is not this 'Seymour' and our missing Nostalgo
one and the same person? It is a mere deduction on my part, but----"

"I suppose I had better admit it at once," Jack said. "Besides, you
are bound to know sooner or later. Why not come with me and see Mr.
Seymour now?"

Bates replied that he would be only too delighted. They set off
together without delay, and presently found themselves at Seymour's
residence. The latter was doing something mysterious with a file and a
pair of handcuffs, both of which he threw aside as his visitors
entered. He extended his hand cordially to Bates.

"I am not in the least surprised to see you, inspector," he said. "In
fact, I rather wanted to do so. Now, frankly speaking, are you not a
little puzzled to know how to lay Anstruther by the heels?"

"We will come to that presently, sir," Bates said quietly. "I shall be
glad in the first place to know what hold Anstruther has on you
gentlemen who have so suffered at his hands. Anstruther is a
blackmailer, I know. But you are a man of pluck and courage--why can't
_you_ fight him in the open? I can quite understand that there are
others broken in health and spirit, who dare not have their story told
and dragged before the diabolical curiosity of the cheap press. But in
your case, why, it seems to me----"

"Yes, yes," Seymour interrupted. "But suppose you have a dear friend
in whom you are interested? And that friend had done somebody a great
wrong? And supposing that Anstruther knew all this? My friend is poor,
but I am not. Let us go farther and grant my friend a daughter--a
beautiful girl who is just coming to the front in the world of art.
She is passionately attached to her father; any disgrace to him would
break her heart. And it is in my power to save this dear child by
letting Anstruther believe that both myself and others who have
suffered are afraid of him. Surely you have heard of many such cases,
Mr. Bates?"

Bates nodded. The field was clearing wonderfully. "You will pardon
me," he said. "It was stupid of me not to think of that before. The
blackmailer generally strikes through the innocent. But another
question. Why did Anstruther publish those Nostalgo posters at all?"

"There, to a certain extent, you have me," Seymour confessed. "You
see, it is only recently that we Nostalgos have drifted together in
London. We must give Anstruther credit for having discovered this.
Mind you, there may be many others who have suffered, and are now
hiding in silence. They would be nerveless wrecks for the most part.
Anstruther probably wanted to let them know that the terror was not
dead. You see, it is like the sign of some secret society, reminding
members of the long arm. But who can say what was uppermost in the
mind of Anstruther? Suppose that the whole dramatic thing had failed
in its purpose? What then? Why, Anstruther would have probably turned
the posters to some business purpose--a new soap, a novel kind of
pill--why, many business houses would gladly buy the reversion of the
Nostalgo posters, and make a good thing out of them. I may be wrong,
but that is my view. Besides, how are we to know how many other
Nostalgos have not dropped into Anstruther's net through those
diabolical posters?"

"It is possible you are right," Bates admitted. "Nothing seems to be
impossible in the way of crime. But as to Anstruther?"

"I have a heavy debt to pay to him," Seymour said, with a ring in his
voice. "And I am in a position to show you how you can lay him by the
heels. I presume my friend Masefield has told you everything. That
being so, all you have to do is to open Carrington's private safe, and
carefully remove a service of Cellini plate which you will find there.
When I say carefully, I mean carefully--the thing is not to be
fingered. Take it away to the police station, and place it in your
glass case. Then, if you follow my advice, within eight and forty
hours I pledge you that you shall have evidence against Anstruther as
clear and convincing as if it had come from heaven itself."

A silence followed, so impressive was Seymour's speech. Then Bates,
who appeared to be utterly puzzled, promised that the thing should be
done. At the same moment, there was the sound of an altercation on the
outer landing, and a hoarse voice was heard asking some imperative
question. The voice struck familiarly on Jack's ears. He glanced
significantly at Bates.

"The very man himself," he cried.

"Yes, Anstruther," Seymour said, in his deep, ringing voice. "Friend
Anstruther. Shall we ask him in?"



CHAPTER XXXVII.
A PREGNANT MESSAGE.


There was no mistaking the fact that it was Anstruther who was
standing outside and speaking in tones which denoted that he was not
altogether pleased with himself. It might have been a coincidence, or,
at the same time, it might have been intentional; though the latter
suggestion did not appear probable.

"Surely he can't have found us out yet," Jack cried. "If he had done
so it would hardly be policy to make so much noise about it. What do
you think, Mr. Bates?"

Bates responded cautiously that he did not know what to think. The
real solution came from Seymour.

"There is no coincidence about it at all," he said. "We know perfectly
well that Anstruther is a clever criminal, but even clever criminals
cannot bring off important campaigns without the aid of subordinates.
I have not taken up my quarters here entirely by accident, though, of
course, it was necessary for me to be as far off the beaten track as
possible. I have seen Anstruther here on more than one occasion, and I
think you will find he has come to consult one of his satellites."

"There must be a good few shady people here," Bates observed, "though
I don't know much about the locality."

Seymour explained that there were plenty of doubtful characters living
in the tenement. He suspected at least three burglars who had rooms on
the same floor. Probably Anstruther was looking for one of these, and
for some reason or other the fellow had denied himself. The loud tones
had ceased now, and it was evident that Anstruther had either left the
house or found the man of whom he was in search. The discovery,
however, was too important to be allowed to rest like that, and Bates
had a proposition to make. He suggested the advisability of putting
one of his own spies on to watch Anstruther and keep an eye upon him
for the rest of the day. There would not be the slightest uncertainty
about this, seeing that Anstruther was so well known to the police
generally.

Bates crept carefully away, and returned presently with the
information that Anstruther was still on the premises.

"I met one of my men in the street," he explained. "He was just back
from a job this way, and spotted Anstruther coming in here. Our friend
is not likely to shake off the fellow that I have put upon his track.
Meanwhile, we are wasting time here."

Seymour was decidedly of the same opinion. A minute or two later the
trio made their way into the street, leaving Seymour alone. He had
been informed by Bates that he would be kept posted of Anstruther's
movements by means of special messenger, and that his services would
be called upon if necessary. Thus assured, Seymour went back to his
mysterious business with the handcuffs and file, quite content to wait
till his time came.

It was quite dark before the first message arrived. Anstruther had
stayed where he was till seven o'clock, after which he had gone out
and called at a neighboring shop, which was kept by a man engaged in
the occupation of making brass plates. This, so the message said, was
merely a blind for the manufacture of the finest specimens of
burglars' tools. Anstruther had entered the shop with nothing in his
hand, but had emerged presently carrying a small square parcel which
might have been a picture frame. Thus encumbered, he had returned to
the tenement, and was now closeted in the set of rooms below Seymour's
with a man called Gillmore, otherwise "Simple Charlie," a cracksman
who stood quite at the head of his profession.

Seymour's eyes gleamed as he glanced over the letter. He felt that he
must be up and doing something. It occurred to him as a good idea to
make an attempt to be present at the interview between Anstruther and
his confederate. It was absolutely dark now, so that Seymour had no
hesitation in raising his sitting-room window, which faced the back of
the house, and seeking to find some means for entering the set of
rooms below.

So far as he could see at first, the thing appeared to be impossible.
His quick eye noted the fact that a powerful light burned in the room
below, for the shadow of it was thrown strongly upon the blank wall
opposite. To the left of Seymour's window was a large drain pipe used
for conveying the rain water from the roof to the sewer below. It was
an easy matter for Seymour to lash a rope firmly to the floor with the
aid of a handspike, and to gently lower himself to the floor below by
means of the pipe. The business was no easy one when it came to
climbing proper, and only a strong man like Seymour could have
possibly done it. He dangled thus perilously in mid air, working his
way down inch by inch, till at length his feet rested on the sill of
the window below.

As he had half expected, the window was without a catch, which was
quite in accordance with most of the fittings in the tenement. Leaving
his rope to dangle harmlessly within reach until it would be required
again, Seymour passed coolly into the room. He rubbed a match
cautiously, and by the aid of it saw that he was in a small bedroom
evidently devoted to the uses of some bachelor, for the bed had been
made in a most perfunctory way, and the floor was liberally strewn
with tobacco ash. Lying on the table was a plan of some large mansion,
with footnotes here and there plainly denoting the fact that the house
had been marked down for some ingenious burglary. Seymour smiled to
himself.

He had evidently found his way into the quarters of which he was in
search. Listening intently, with his ear closely glued against the
wall, he could detect the sound of voices on the other side. He was
not personally acquainted with the voice of "Simple Charlie," but the
round, full tones of Anstruther were quite familiar to him.

Seymour was, however, not content merely to listen to what was going
on. Very softly he made his way from the bedroom into the passage
beyond. The door of the next room was not closed; indeed, there was no
reason for the precaution, seeing that the door at the end of the
passage was locked. There was a pungent smell of tobacco, mingled with
the odor of a good cigar, and presently the loud pop of a cork and the
fizzing gurgle of what Seymour rightly guessed to be champagne. By
creeping close and twisting a little sideways, Seymour got a fairly
good view of the room.

He could see Anstruther lounging in a comfortable armchair, a cigar in
his mouth, apparently quite at home in his humble surroundings. The
other man was sucking moodily at a short pipe, and glanced uneasily at
his companion. He was not much like the commonly accepted type of
burglar, being slight and dark, and somewhat timid-looking in
appearance. But every now and again the glance he turned upon
Anstruther was positively murderous in its hateful intensity.

"Now, what on earth are you driving at, guv'nor?" he growled. "No
getting at the bottom of you. I never feel like a fool except when I
am working for you."

"That, my good Charles," Anstruther said smoothly, "is where education
comes in. If you had had my advantages you might have stood very high
indeed. As it is, you are an exceedingly good workman, and I, though I
say it that should not, am a very good master. I suppose you know
perfectly well that I am in a position to give you away at any moment.
I could hand you over to the police, who would take very good care of
you for the next fourteen years, and you could not give me a simple
scratch in return. For instance, we will suppose it is my whim to
identify you with that bank burglary last night. Of course, you were
not there, but I could prove that you were, all the same. And no
cleverness of yours could save you from a conviction."

Gillmore wriggled uneasily on his chair. His eyes followed
Anstruther's every movement like those of a dog severely punished;
there was a suggestion of the hound that would have bitten his master
if he dared.

"I know all about that," he grunted. "And you know I've got to do
everything you ask me. It only seems the other day that poor Brown
defied you to do your worst and lost his life over it. That was a
lesson to me. Not but what I wouldn't be ready and willing to knife
you if I thought it was safe. I am pretty bad, and so are some of the
others; but outside of hell itself there is no black-hearted scoundrel
as bad as you."

The man's voice fairly vibrated with passion; but Anstruther lounged
back in his chair with the air of a man who has just received a high
compliment. He was a man who loved power. He liked to feel that he
could pull the strings and move the actions of other men even when
they fought desperately against his iron determination.

"All this is so much waste of time," he said. "I came here to-night to
get you to do something for me, and you will have to do it, whether
you want to or not. You know what disobedience means--three hours'
freedom, and fourteen years in jail. No more of your confounded
nonsense; listen to what I have to say."

"Oh, I'll do it right enough," Gillmore growled. "Mind you, it's a
pretty big risk. The police have got an idea that I was engaged in
that Maidenhead business. I know they've been watching me so close
that I can't get rid of a bit of stuff, and I have come down to my
last half-sov."

"I'll see to that," Anstruther replied. "What you have to do now is to
make your way into the Great Metropolitan Hotel. You shall come with
me presently, and I will show you the room I want you to enter. To a
man of your ability the thing is ridiculously simple--quiet side
entrance, iron fire-escape ladder, and all the rest of it. All you
want is a few tools."

"But I haven't got any," Gillmore protested. "I was glad enough to get
away from that Maidenhead business with a whole skin."

Anstruther pointed significantly to the flat brown paper parcel which
he had brought in with him. "You will find everything you want there,"
he said. "All you have to remember is this. You are to go up the
ladder and make your way to the door at the head of the second
corridor. A row of bedrooms runs along the corridor, and the room you
have to enter is No. 16. That is a sitting-room attached to one of the
bedrooms. I don't want you to do anything neat in the way of a
burglary; you have simply to take a letter which I will give you and
leave it on the table in the sitting-room. I want the whole thing to
be absolutely mysterious, and here is a five-pound note for your
trouble. And now I am going out, and you are to follow me. I will lead
you directly to the quiet spot at the rear of the hotel, and the rest
you must do for yourself. I don't think there is anything more for me
to say."

Gillmore nodded in a surly sort of fashion. He was terribly afraid of
Anstruther, who used all his creatures like puppets, and never
afforded them the slightest information. His power was all the greater
for this; he knew that he was hated as much as he was feared. He put
on his hat and coat now, and Gillmore rose also. Seymour darted away
back through the bedroom and on to the window ledge again. It struck
him as just possible that Gillmore might want to use his bedroom, in
which case the chances of being discovered were great. But Seymour
made his way back again to his own sitting-room. Once there he lighted
a cigarette and sat down to think over the situation.

It was not long before he had made up his mind what to do.

Evidently there was no great hurry over the little scheme which
Anstruther had planned in connection with the Great Metropolitan
Hotel, and doubtless an hour or two would elapse before Gillmore found
his way into the corridor. It would not be prudent to carry out the
plan until the hotel was getting fairly quiet, so that Seymour had
plenty of scope for a counter stroke.

He spent the next hour or so in his bedroom intent upon some sort of
disguise. Something in the way of a mask, accompanied with side
whiskers and a pair of spectacles, changed him beyond recognition. A
little while later, and he found himself engaging a room at the Great
Metropolitan. He appeared to be rather particular about his choice,
and finally decided that No. 18 would suit his requirements. As he had
expected, No. 18 was exactly opposite the room chosen by Anstruther
for Gillmore's little plot. Once this was settled, it seemed to
Seymour that there was no occasion for hurry. It was eleven o'clock
before he made his way up to his bedroom. He did not close the door,
nor did he turn the light on. He sat down grimly and patiently in the
darkness to await developments.

The corridor was perfectly silent now, and either the occupants of the
hotel had retired to rest, or had not yet returned from the theatre.
This was the time, Seymour felt pretty certain, that Gillmore would
set to work. With his room door ajar, Seymour had a perfect view of
the room on the other side of the corridor. It seemed to him that he
could hear somebody now coming stealthily down the passage. Then
another sound grated on his ear--it was an unmistakable cry of pain
and fear from the room opposite.

Seymour crossed the corridor and coolly entered the room opposite.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.
THE CRY IN THE NIGHT.


There was a man in the room surely enough. He was but half dressed; he
had fallen forward over a table, apparently in a state of collapse. He
seemed to be seeking something; and then Seymour saw that he was
clutching at a bottle of brandy, of which he appeared to be in evident
need. There was no suggestion of intoxication about him, so that
Seymour had no hesitation in forcing a few drops of the potent fluid
between the man's pallid lips.

Strange as the situation was, Seymour did not fail to notice the
extraordinary way in which his companion's face was cut and scarred
and bound with sticking plaster. Then he suddenly realized to whose
assistance he had come. This was surely the man Jack Masefield had
told him about--the man who had sent him the ring, and who knew the
whole history of the Nostalgo business. The invalid opened his eyes
presently, and gazed in a dull kind of way at Seymour.

"I have been ill," he said. "Since my operation I have been accustomed
to these kind of fainting fits. It was very good of you to come to my
assistance."

"Not at all," Seymour said. "I was in my room on the other side of the
corridor, and I heard you cry out. Is there anything more I can do for
you?"

"Yes," the stranger said. There was a strange thrill in his voice.
"Take off that mask of yours, and let me see my old friend Seymour
once more. I should have recognized your tones anywhere."

"I am glad that my old chum Ferris should recognize me," Seymour said,
in a voice that trembled a little. "But I dare say that you will
wonder why I am here. I can assure you it is no coincidence. But what
have you been doing to your face? The last time I saw you you were
what I am now."

With a bitter laugh Seymour swept his disguise away, and the hideous
likeness to Nostalgo stood confessed.

"There is a picture for you," Seymour laughed; "and upon my word you
are not much better. Are you attempting to get rid of those damning
marks that you and I are meant to carry to the grave--those marks of a
scoundrel's vengeance?"

"But I shall not carry them to the grave," Ferris said. "My dear
friend, if I had the pluck and courage you yourself possess, I should
not have cared so much. But that scoundrel Anstruther haunts me like
my own shadow. I managed to elude his search; I hid myself in London.
He knew I was here somewhere, and he hit upon that devilish scheme for
preying on my imagination. I am alluding to those Nostalgo posters.
Most people regard them as no better than an ingenious advertisement,
but the scalding truth is known to me. They meet my eye whenever I
take my secret walks abroad; they deface the hoardings to remind me
that I am still Anstruther's slave."

The speaker wiped his heated face. He made a more or less successful
attempt to hide his deep feelings.

"I had almost lost hope," he continued. "I had made up my mind to be
blackmailed to my last farthing by Anstruther, when fortune brought me
in contact with a clever French doctor who had heard something of the
vengeance of the Nostalgos. He assured me that he had treated one of
us with absolute success. I found out that my young friend was a
brilliantly clever surgeon, and after a little natural hesitation I
decided to place myself in his hands. He operated upon the muscles of
my face with a view to removing the hideous mask which disfigures what
was once a passably good-looking face. The shock to my system was
great, and I am but slowly recovering. But when I do recover, I feel
quite certain that I shall be as I was before I fell into the hands of
Anstruther's creatures in Mexico. I am a pretty sight now, I admit;
but if you look at me you will see that the repulsive hideousness has
gone."

Seymour gazed long and thoughtfully into the white face of his
companion. There was a sudden uplifting of his heart, and the tears
rushed to his eyes. It was no ordinary weakness that moved him like
this.

"I see, I see," he murmured. "Once you are yourself again, you can
defy Anstruther; indeed, he would not know you at all. I have had to
fight him at a terrible disadvantage. If only I could remove this
terrible scourge from my face--then I could stand up to him, and his
reign would not be for long. But events are pressing so fast that I
could not possibly spare the time at present to follow out the
treatment to which you have been subjected. But afterwards I shall be
only too glad to place myself in the same hands that you have been
through. The mere thought that some day or other I shall be able to
walk the streets like any other man that God has made, fills me with
such a joy that I could sit down and cry like a child.

"But why be so fearfully afraid of Anstruther?" Seymour asked.

"Because I am in his power," Ferris whispered. "I have done a great
wrong in my time, and Anstruther knows it. That fiend seems to
discover everything. Fortune has enabled me to redress the wrong, but
Anstruther holds the proofs of my guilt. I really ought to have gone
to my relatives and confessed everything, and defied him. But with a
face like mine!"

"I understand," Seymour said grimly. "But, unless I am greatly
mistaken----"

Seymour broke off suddenly, and snapped out the electric light. He
took the astonished Ferris by the arm, and fairly bundled him into his
bedroom. There was no time to explain. A fresh idea had suddenly come
to Seymour, and he decided to put it through. His quick ear had told
him that somebody was fumbling at the door of the sitting-room, and
that somebody could be none other than Gillmore. The burglar had
evidently not yet arrived, or Seymour would have heard something of
the mysterious note. His idea now was to gain possession of the note
and Gillmore at the same time.

"What on earth is the matter?" Ferris whispered.

Seymour clicked his lips for silence. He could hear Gillmore in the
sitting-room by now. He slipped from the bedroom into the corridor,
and approached his foe by the other door. But apparently Gillmore's
ears were as quick as those of his antagonist. He pitched the letter
on the table, and, seeing that escape by way of the door had been cut
off, coolly flung up the window and fell headlong out. Seymour
repressed a shuddering cry. Gillmore evidently cruelly miscalculated
the distance to the ground, for as Seymour looked out of the window he
could hear a series of heavy groans below. It was obviously his duty
to give the alarm and send for a doctor without delay, but this he
hesitated to do.

He called Ferris in, and explained rapidly to him what had happened.
The distance from the window to the ground was some twenty feet.

"I am going to fetch him up," Seymour explained. "I suppose you have
got one of our old lassos amongst your baggage? You have? Good! Let me
have it at once, and I will drag our friend up in here, and then we
can send for that doctor of yours. This unfortunate rascal is a mere
tool of Anstruther's, and I want to make use of him."

The lasso was procured at length, and one end twisted round the leg of
Ferris's bed. It was not an easy job that Seymour had set for himself,
but he managed it at length, and, quite overcome with his exertions,
laid the body of Gillmore on the couch. The latter was quite
conscious, and apparently not nearly so much damaged as might have
been expected. Seymour went over him with the practiced hand of one
who has dealt with many accidents by flood and field. He smiled more
cheerfully.

"Not so bad as I expected," he said. "A broken collar bone and a
dislocated ankle. You have had a very narrow escape, Mr. Gillmore. It
will be just as well, perhaps, if you moisten your lips with a drop of
this excellent brandy."

Gillmore started at the mention of his name, but he did not refuse the
proffered stimulant. He saw that he had been caught like a rat in a
trap, and, like most of his tribe, was prepared to make the best terms
he could for himself, regardless of his confederates.

"You might just as well make a clean breast of it," Seymour said. "You
came here at the instigation of Mr. Anstruther. Your task was an easy
one for a man of your abilities, but you see I happened to know that
you were coming, and that made all the difference. Is that the letter
on the table?"

Gillmore growled out something to the effect that it was. Ferris took
up the letter, and read it carefully.

"Just as I expected," he murmured to Seymour. "A mysterious
communication from Anstruther, only Anstruther's name does not appear
upon it. I am threatened with all kinds of pains and penalties if I do
not immediately part with the sum of five thousand pounds. And you
might tell me what you propose to do with this man."

"Leave him here for the present," Seymour explained. "We can take your
doctor into our confidence, and nobody will be any the wiser. It is a
very odd thing to me if we don't get some valuable information out of
this Gillmore. You may be certain of one thing--he could tell us a
great deal about Anstruther if he chose to speak. If you will give me
the address of your doctor, I will go off and fetch him at once. Of
course, I shall bring him here as if he came to see you. I think you
are quite safe with the fellow."

Seymour went off presently, having donned his disguise again, feeling
that he had done a good night's work. His first act was to telephone
to Bates at Shannon Street police station, and ask if the latter was
still keeping an eye on Anstruther. Bates replied in person to the
effect that everything possible had been done in that direction.
Anstruther returned home about ten o'clock, and at present was amusing
himself with his violin in his own study. Bates, moreover, had
ascertained that Anstruther had no intention of leaving the house
again that night; in fact, he had told one of his servants that he had
caught a chill, from all of which it might be gathered that Bates's
spy had been very successful in his shadowing of Anstruther.

So far, everything was quite satisfactory. It only remained now to
call at Masefield's rooms, and acquaint him with what had happened.
But Jack was not in, his landlady informed Seymour; as a matter of
fact, she had no idea when he was coming back; indeed, he had gone off
somewhere to a fancy dress ball. It was then that Seymour recollected
that this was the night of Lady Barmouth's great dance. A little at a
loss to know what to do next, Seymour went slowly off in the direction
of Panton Square. He hung about Anstruther's house for some little
time, still feeling dubious in his mind as to whether the latter was
really going out or not. He waited long enough to see a carriage drive
up to the door, and in the brilliantly-lighted hall he could see a
graceful figure in fancy dress being carefully wrapped up by
Anstruther himself, who came down the steps, and saw Claire into the
carriage. He appeared to be carefully muffled, and spoke with a
strained voice of one who suffers from a bad cold.

"I hope you will enjoy yourself, my dear," he said. "Pray convey to
Lady Barmouth my sincere regrets and apologies. In the circumstances I
am sure she will excuse me."

The carriage drove off, but still Seymour lingered there, feeling
quite sure that this was part of some scheme of Anstruther's. He
decided to wait, at any rate, for the present, and for the best part
of an hour he paced up and down, till at length his search was
rewarded. The light in the study suddenly went out, though Seymour
could hear the music still going on, and then another figure emerged
from a porch. It was the figure of a man assuredly decked out in some
fancy dress; but Seymour was not in the least deceived, and knew
perfectly well that he was following Anstruther.

The latter walked right away until he came at length to Belgrave
Square, where he stopped for an instant before a house in front of
which a scarlet cloth crossed the pavement. Into this hall of dazzling
light the form of Anstruther vanished. Just as Seymour had expected,
his quarry was going to the masked dance after all. He made up his
mind instantly what to do. He accosted one of the footmen standing
inside the hall, and, pressing a coin in his hand, said he must see
Mr. Masefield at once. Would the footman go up-stairs and announce
that Mr. Masefield was wanted, in a loud voice? The coin had the
desired effect, and a moment later Jack was in the hall. He strolled
up to Seymour in a casual way, and demanded haughtily the reason for
this intrusion.

"You did that very well," Seymour whispered. "I came to tell you that
Anstruther is here after all; in fact, he has just come in. Now I have
a little scheme of my own. Go and tell Lord Barmouth that I am here,
but that I should like to appear as a guest. I don't think that he
would mind, at any rate----"

"Not he," Jack whispered, excitedly. "Really, there is no reason for
me to do anything of the sort. I can easily tell Barmouth afterwards,
and if you have any scheme for getting the best of Anstruther, you
will be a welcome guest in this house."

"Good!" Seymour replied. "I will go off to a costumier's at once, get
fitted with a dress, and be back here in half-an-hour. Then I shall
pretend that I have left my card behind, and ask for Mr. Rigby. Just
as well not to ask for you again."

Jack nodded his emphatic approval. Seymour moved towards the door with
a deferential air of one who apologizes for an unwarrantable
intrusion. Once in the road he hailed a passing cab, and gave him the
costumier's address.

"Wellington Street," he said curtly; "and drive as quick as you can."



CHAPTER XXXIX.
PREPARING THE WAY.


Seymour was not away longer than he had anticipated. Only thirty-five
minutes had elapsed before a cab drove up to the house in Belgrave
Square, from which descended a tall man guised as a magician. It was
not a particularly original dress, but it thoroughly served the
purpose which Seymour had in hand. He wore a long red cloak, coming
down to his heels, the hem of which was embroidered with queer signs
and symbols. On his head was a black velvet skull cap, and a long
white beard and moustache completed the illusion.

Seymour stood still for a moment, and fumbled about as if to find his
card. Then Rigby, effectively disguised as an executioner, came
forward and proffered his services.

"It's all right," he whispered. "I have been talking it over with
Masefield, and he did not think it would be prudent to meet you here a
second time. Besides, we have to be very careful; we are not aware how
much Anstruther knows. He might have got to the back of our plot for
all we know to the contrary."

"I did not quite catch how he was dressed," Seymour said. "Would you
mind telling me what he is wearing?"

Rigby proceeded to explain that Anstruther was rigged out in a costume
of some Indian tribe. He could be especially noticed by the
exceedingly high plume of eagle's feathers which he was wearing in his
headdress. Seymour chuckled aloud.

"I thought it all out as I came along," he said. "When I saw Masefield
a little time ago I only wanted to come here more or less out of idle
curiosity; but a little idea occurred to me as I called my cab. I am
going to thoroughly enjoy myself this evening; in fact, this is the
first time I have had an opportunity of mingling with my fellow
creatures for three years. But that is not the point. If you keep
fairly close to me you will have the chance of seeing how I shall get
on Anstruther's nerves presently."

"Do you mean to say you are going to begin at once?" Rigby asked, "or
would you not like to see Barmouth first?"

Seymour intimated that there was no hurry, and that the little drama
he had in his mind would be best played out at supper time. That meal
was intended to be a rather fast and furious affair, where all the
guests were supposed to always act up to the characters which they
personified.

"Therefore I should very much like to see Barmouth," Seymour said. "If
you can arrange a meeting for us in some quiet spot I shall be
exceedingly obliged to you."

Rigby went off, with an intimation that he would not be long. He came
back presently, and signified that Seymour should follow him. The two
proceeded as far as the head of the staircase, and there, in a small
room at the end of the corridor, Barmouth stood awaiting Seymour's
entrance. No sooner was the latter inside, than his host closed and
locked the door. He turned up the light, and snatched his mask from
his face. On the impulse of the moment Seymour did the same.

Save for the difference of their coloring, the two men were almost
identically alike. Perhaps in the whole world it would have been
impossible to find two refined and educated men so hideously and
atrociously ugly. One man's eyes were blue, the other one's
dark-brown; but this made no difference. All amiability of expression,
all frankness and sincerity, seemed to have been literally cut out of
their features. Most men would have turned from them with loathing and
disgust. They stood there looking at one another, the very image of
the Nostalgo posters that London was still discussing so eagerly. As
Seymour dropped Barmouth's proffered hand, the latter burst into a
bitter laugh.

"No reason to try and flatter ourselves," he said. "When I look at you
or you look at me, we both know that we are forever outside the pale
of civilized society. We can make the most of an occasion like this,
but these happy hours are few and far between."

"Well, do you know, I am not so sure of that," Seymour said. "Let me
have a cigarette, and we will discuss the matter together. Do you
happen to remember Ferris?"

Barmouth indicated that he remembered Ferris perfectly well.

"In fact, we were all victims of the same ceremony," he said. "What a
ghastly business it was! And that fiend of an Anstruther looking on
without a drop of pity in his heart for his fellow countrymen, whose
sole crime was that they were in the hunt for gold like himself. But I
want to try and forget all that. Do you mean to say you have met
Ferris?"

"Ferris is at the Great Metropolitan Hotel at the present moment,"
Seymour explained. "More or less accidentally he ran against
Masefield. Jack Masefield happened to mention that he knew me, and
there you are. However, I dare say you can get Masefield to tell you
the story another time. The point is, that Ferris has discovered a
brilliant French surgeon who has operated upon him--he says, quite
successfully. He is a mass of plaster and knife marks now, but he says
that in the course of a few weeks he will have resumed his normal
expression."

A great cry broke from Barmouth. His agitation was something dreadful
to witness.

"Cured," he whispered. "Absolutely cured and like other men again. Oh,
it seems like a dream; like something too good to be true. To think
that you and I, old friend, are going to stand out once more in the
broad light of day with no mask needed to conceal our hideousness! You
will undergo the operation?"

"Ay, as soon as ever I have done with the Anstruther business,"
Seymour said in his deep voice. "Once let me see that rascal beyond
the power of further mischief, and I place myself in that man's hands
at once, if it cost me half my fortune. There is a girl waiting for
me, Barmouth--a girl who mourns me as dead. You can see how impossible
it was for me to let her know the truth."

"And yet my wife knows the truth," Barmouth said thoughtfully.
"Hideous as I am, she refused to give me back my freedom."

"She is a woman of a million," Seymour said, not without emotion; "but
then Lady Barmouth discovered the truth. I don't think you ever would
have told her on your own initiative."

This was so true that Barmouth had nothing to say in reply. He
appeared to be deeply immersed in thought. The settled melancholy of
his face had given way to an eager, restless expression. He was like a
man in the desert who, past all hope, had found aid at the last
moment. He paused in his stride and sat down.

"I dare not dwell upon the possibilities that you have opened up
before me," he said. "I had long abandoned all kinds of hope. Still,
there are plenty of useful years before me. This is the first moment
that I have felt what happiness means since we fell into the hands of
that gang of Anstruther's. You will recollect, of course, the wild
stories that our tribesmen used to bring in to us about what happened
to anybody who dared to cross the gold belt."

"The legend was very common out there," Seymour said. "If you will
recollect, it was popularly supposed that some heathen god presided
over the gold mines, and that it was a sacrilege for any stranger to
make an attempt on the treasure. The natives there firmly believed
that the outraged god imposed upon the adventurers a disease that
rendered them so hideous that no man could ever bear to look upon
their faces again."

"They were not far wrong there," Barmouth said grimly. "Or, where did
those medicine men derive their knowledge of surgery? I recollect very
little that happened after I found myself gagged and bound in that
wonderful old temple, but I do know that one of those priests operated
upon me with a lancet. When I came to myself, I was as you see me now.
But you, too, went through it in your turn."

Seymour shuddered with the horror of the recollection of it.

"I don't think we need go into that," he said. "The extreme punishment
would never have been inflicted upon us had it not been for
Anstruther. With his wonderful ascendancy over the tribe--and goodness
knows how he got it--he seemed to be able to persuade them to do
anything. The terror of it all, the hideous mystery, only served to
keep others away."

"And yet Anstruther must have lost his ascendancy," Barmouth said, "or
he would never have returned home without bringing a huge fortune with
him. We have absolute proof of the fact that he is a poor man. But the
truth of that will never be known."

"I am not so sure about that," Seymour said. "I hope before long to be
able to hold the whip over his shoulder and force him to speak. I have
my little scheme arranged, and I fancy you will derive some little
amusement if you will watch the working of it. Of course, you know how
Anstruther is dressed?"

Barmouth was perfectly cognizant of Anstruther's disguise.

"The dress of the old tribe," he said; "with the painted feathers, and
all the rest of it. When he was pointed out to me just now by
Masefield I could hardly restrain my feelings. Mind you, he is not
here with a mere view to social enjoyment. He declined my wife's
invitation. He told Miss Helmsley that he did not feel well enough to
turn up, and yet he is here like any other invited guest. Now, what is
he up to?"

"It would be hard to say what Anstruther is up to," Seymour replied.
"Doubtless he has some deep scheme afoot; but he is not the only one,
and we shall see who gets the best of it in the long run."

Barmouth was quite content to await developments. Knowing Seymour so
well, he felt quite sure that the latter was not without a scheme
likely to defeat Anstruther's intentions. He did not care to come out
as yet and mingle with the other guests, he said; at the same time he
had no desire to stand in the way of Seymour's amusement.

"Oh, I am going to amuse myself all right," Seymour said. "Don't
forget that it is nearly three years since I last sat by the side of a
woman, and listened to the music of her voice. For three years I have
lacked the refining influence of woman's society, and I always
preferred the other sex to my own. I can move about here and pick out
my partner as I choose. I care nothing for her face, for the simple
reason that I cannot see it; which, very fortunately for me, is
mutual. I am going to pick out all those with lovely voices. I dare
say you will laugh at me."

"Not a bit of it," Barmouth exclaimed. "My dear fellow, I know the
feeling exactly. But when is this little comedy of yours coming off? I
must be present at that."

"Just after supper," Seymour explained. "When your excellent champagne
will set all the tongues wagging. And now, if you don't mind, I will
just have a walk round and see that my confederates are carrying out
their instructions."

It was a brilliant scene, indeed, that Seymour viewed through his mask
on reaching the great ballroom. A dance was in progress. There were
very few people sitting out, and the dazzling waves of color weaved in
and out like the spray of the sea against a huge rock in the sunshine.
A limelight had been arranged high up in the gallery, and from time to
time threw quick flashes of different colored views upon the dancers.
The effect was most brilliant; just a little dazzling to the eyes. But
it was full of a sheer delight for Seymour, who had so long been
denied the pleasures of life.

"Very effective, is it not?" said Jack, as he came up. "Quite a novel
idea in a private ballroom. Come and have a glass of champagne with
Rigby and myself. He is waiting for us in the buffet. I hope you had
an enjoyable chat with Barmouth."

"I was exceedingly pleased to see him again," Seymour said. "All the
same, I am glad that there was no one else present. An Englishman does
not care to display his feelings to an outsider."

Rigby was waiting as Jack had explained, and for some little time the
three sipped their champagne whilst they talked over the situation.

"I want you two to be as near as possible to me at supper time,"
Seymour went on to explain. "And I want you to take your cue from me
when I give it you. Mind, you must not look for any sensational
developments--this is merely a comedy for our private amusement. I am
going to give Anstruther a bit of a fright, and at the same time force
his hand, so that when he is prepared to move he will play right up to
us. As to the rest, keep your eye on the magician!"

"I wish you would be a little more explicit," Jack said.

"My dear fellow, there is nothing to be explicit about. Perhaps
Anstruther will smell a rat, and decline to be drawn into the thing at
all. Still, I'm not much afraid of that."

A clock somewhere struck the hour of midnight, and a moment later the
strains of the band died away. The old family butler threw open the
double doors leading to the dining hall, and announced supper in a
loud voice.

"Come along," Seymour said. "The play has commenced."



CHAPTER XL.
THE MAGICIAN SPEAKS.


The dining hall presented an appearance quite as striking and imposing
as the ballroom. It was magnificently paneled with Elizabethan oak;
the grand old buffets and furniture dated from the same period. The
supper was laid out on a series of small tables forming a horseshoe,
so that it was possible to move from one to the other without
interruption. Each table had its separate electric light stand, round
which were trailed sprays of red roses. With its shaded lights, its
dim, carved walls, with its glitter of crystal and glass, the room
presented a picture that was not easily forgotten. But there were
other things quite as important to think of as the artistic side of
the scene. A few moments later, and Anstruther came in with a tall
woman, whom Rigby instantly recognized as a great society leader, on
his arm. It was evident enough that while Anstruther knew his supper
partner perfectly well, she was utterly puzzled as to his identity.

"So much the better for us," Seymour said, as Jack pointed this out to
him. "But I must get back to my partner. I want you to try and keep me
a place at the same table that Anstruther sits at. I hope you will
manage to secure Lady Barmouth for me. You will recollect that was to
have been part of the programme."

The matter was arranged easily enough, and presently Seymour and Lady
Barmouth were seated opposite Anstruther and his companion. They had
all at once plunged gaily into an animated conversation. By this time
the guests had found their level, and had thoroughly settled
themselves down to enjoyment. It was just possible that a great many
people recognized numbers of their friends there, but for the most
part the recognition was ignored and the illusion maintained.

"Really this is a most charming picture," Seymour said, addressing
Anstruther in the friendliest fashion, though he had taken great care
to modulate his voice. "With all my skill in the art of magic I could
not have evolved a fairer scene than this. And my experience dates
back a thousand years."

"Quite the most respectable type of family magician," Anstruther
laughed, as he helped himself liberally to champagne. "We are all so
dreadfully modern nowadays. I suppose you have nothing to do with
up-to-date methods. No palmistry, I presume?"

Seymour was delighted to find Anstruther ready to take up the spirit
of the game. "Nothing comes amiss to me," he said. "To conjure up a
scene like this would, perhaps, tax my efforts pretty severely, but I
should get there all the same. If anybody requires a little something
in the way of perpetual life or untold gold, they have only to drop me
a postcard and the thing is as good as done."

"Delightful," Anstruther's partner cried. "I was just wondering how I
was going to settle my racing debts, and now you come forward in the
kindest way, and relieve me of all further anxiety. It is really more
than kind of you."

"As for me," Anstruther said, "I am concerned more with the future
than the past. I have a little scheme on hand which is troubling me a
good deal. Without going into details, shall I be successful? Now, can
you tell me that?"

Seymour gravely consulted a crystal ball, which he had taken from the
pocket of his flowing robe. Others were listening by this time, for
the conversation at Seymour's table was both amusing and interesting.
He looked up from the ball in the same grave fashion. "You are giving
me a hard task," he said. "I do not know you; I have not even seen
your face. And yet your soul is reflected in my faithful crystal, and
your heart's desire lies bare before me."

"But you have not told me if I shall be successful," Anstruther said.
"That is the point, after all."

"You will not be successful," Seymour said in a loud voice, which had
the desired effect of attracting much attention to the speaker. "There
is something dark that stands between you and the thing you so much
desire. The crystal is not so clear as usual, but I can see in it a
face. It is a strange face--dark and repulsive, and yet absolutely
familiar. Yes, it is the face of the poster, the features of which
have puzzled London for the last three months. It is this face which
comes between you and your heart's desire. Do I interest you?"

Quite a score of guests were listening by now. They were thrilled and
puzzled, and not a little interested. Seymour was playing his part
splendidly; even Jack and Rigby, who were in the plot, had to admit
that. Nothing could be seen as to the way in which Anstruther took
this shot, for his features were hidden behind his mask; but Rigby
noticed that his hands were clutched upon the edge of the table-cloth,
is if they were about the throat of some hateful foe. Anstruther sat
quite quietly, almost rigidly, for a few moments, then burst into a
hoarse, strident laugh.

"This is ridiculous," he said. "Surely you must be aware of the fact
that those Nostalgo posters are nothing more or less than a clever
advertisement."

"Nevertheless, they have more to do with you than you imagine,"
Seymour went on in the same grave way. "They stand between you like a
sheet and the execution of your plans. Let me look into my crystal
again. Ah, the scene grows clearer. I see a ruined temple; I see some
weird religious ceremony, and the unconscious form of a man laid out
for a sacrifice. He rises at length; he is no longer good to look
upon, his face has become the face of Nostalgo. Call it foolish if you
like----"

With a cry of something like anger, Anstruther rose to his feet. He
seemed to suppress himself almost immediately, then sat down again.

"Capital!" he exclaimed. "I dare say it is exceedingly clever, but, at
the same time, so much Greek to me. What I want is information about
the future."

"I should say you are a traveled man," Seymour said calmly. "You have
spent a great deal of your time in adventure abroad. Now, let me
hazard a guess. You have been in Mexico?"

Anstruther curtly admitted that such was the fact. In spite of the
gravity of the whole thing, and Seymour's admirable acting, he was
getting nervous and excited. He would have given much to have removed
the mask of his tormentor and studied the face behind.

"It is the little trifles of life that interest you, then," Seymour
said. "I am afraid you are very material, sir. Well, we will be
prosaic if you like. For instance, my crystal tells me that you are
fond of works of art; in fact, you are a collector of such things.
What would you say if I were to prophesy that you are going to add
largely to your treasures in the course of the next few days? To be
precise, one of your hobbies is old silver. Like most collectors, you
will do pretty well everything to gain your end."

"I am afraid that is about true," Anstruther admitted.

"Spoken like a man of the world," Seymour went on. "For a long time
you have coveted a fine specimen of Cellini silver work. A whole set
of it will pass into your possession, if it has not already done so,
and the unique service will not cost you a farthing."

Seymour delivered this shot calmly enough, pretending to be gazing at
the crystal all the time. But the way in which Anstruther writhed
about in his chair was not lost upon Jack and Rigby, who were watching
the drama with breathless interest. Anstruther had half risen from his
seat again, and then had forced himself down once more, as if
struggling with his hidden emotions.

"I should like to see that precious crystal of yours," he sneered. "It
seems nothing but a piece of glass to me."

By way of reply, Seymour gravely polished the crystal on his
serviette, and passed it across to Anstruther with instructions to
hold it firmly in his palms long enough for the imprint of his fingers
to fix themselves. Anstruther laughed as he complied with these
instructions. Then the crystal was laid upon the table very carefully,
and was rolled into a small cardboard box, and there swathed in cotton
wool. With the same grave demeanor, Seymour called for wax and
something unique in the way of a seal. A servant came presently with a
piece of violet sealing wax, and one of the guests proffered his
intaglio ring as a seal.

"I am going to ask a favor," Seymour said. "I should like the
gentleman to seal the box, and hand it over to another guest, who will
take care of the whole thing for the next three days. You will all see
what I mean--I want to prevent the possibility of the box being
tampered with. Will the gentleman kindly seal the packet, and will
another gentleman kindly offer to take care of it?"

The box was sealed at length with the intaglio ring, then another
guest came forward and volunteered to keep it in his charge. "That is
exceedingly good of you," Seymour went on; "only you will quite see
that we cannot carry this through properly unless the gentleman who
has taken charge of the box volunteers his name."

"No trouble about that," the second guest cried. "I am Sir Frederick
Ormond, Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs. I hope that my name will
be sufficient guarantee."

Seymour nodded, and the statesman dropped the packet into the pocket
of his cloak. Anstruther laughed unpleasantly.

"And what is the upshot of all this to be?" he asked. "It is on the
knees of the gods," Seymour said gravely. "Your individuality will
become impressed upon the crystal through the grips of your hands, and
at the end of the period suggested you will be able to see your whole
future there. I dare say Sir Frederick will produce the crystal when
the proper time comes."

Anstruther turned away with a little laugh of contempt, and, as if
nothing out of the common had happened, Seymour turned and began to
discuss ordinary topics with his hostess. Supper was practically over
by this time, and most of the guests were streaming back once more in
the direction of the ballroom. Amongst the few who still remained were
Jack and Claire, the latter, of course, being Jack's supper partner.

"That was very cleverly done," Claire said. "I suppose there is some
hidden meaning behind it?"

"Of course," Jack said. "Only I have not the remotest idea what it
was. Don't let us go back to the ballroom yet--I have discovered one
of the jolliest little places leading off the hall, where we can sit
and have a cozy chat without the least fear of interruption."

It was precisely as Jack had said--a little alcove, dimly lighted and
filled with ferns, from which they could see much that was going on
without being seen in their turn. It was very quiet down there, and
Jack made the most of his opportunities. A silence fell upon the pair
presently, one of those long, delicious silences, only possible where
there is a perfect understanding. Jack came out of his reverie
presently, conscious that Claire was gripping him tightly by the arm.
With the point of her fan she indicated the figure of Anstruther, who
had come down evidently in search of the telephone. The instrument was
almost immediately opposite the alcove, and Anstruther, little
dreaming that he was being watched, plied the handle vigorously. He
gave a number presently which was his own in Panton Square.

"Are you there?" he whispered; "are you there? Confound the girl! why
doesn't she speak? Oh, so you are there at last. What? Oh, yes, yes. I
am speaking to you. You know who I am. Yes, there is danger--danger
that is urgent and immediate. I have no time to explain now; you are
to come here masked at once. Do not come to the front door, but to the
lane behind. You will find a small, green gate there, with Number Five
upon it in white letters. I will see that the gate is unlocked. Then
make your way straight up the garden, and into the summer-house which
is at the top of the marble steps by the fountain. You are not to be
more than half-an-hour."

Anstruther rang off, and replaced the receiver on the hooks. He
strolled away without the slightest idea that every word he said was
audible to the pair of lovers in the alcove. Jack turned to Claire
with eager eyes.

"This must be seen to immediately," he said. "Go back to the ballroom
as if nothing had happened and wait for me there. As for myself, I am
going to smoke a cigar in the garden, and wait to see who the
mysterious individual is who has been so peremptorily summoned here.
You see how important it is."

Claire saw that there was much in what Jack said. Obediently enough
she went off to the ballroom, and waited eagerly for the return of her
lover. He seemed a long time coming, and nearly an hour had passed
before he came back and strolled up to Claire in as casual a way as
possible. But she could see that his eyes were gleaming behind his
mask. He was breathing fast, too.

"Have you discovered who it was?" Claire asked eagerly.

"Yes," Jack replied. "They are both together. As I more than half
expected, the fresh arrival is Serena."



CHAPTER XLI.
THE WORM TURNS.


Meanwhile, it is necessary to go back for a few moments to the garden
and summer-house where Jack had been waiting, to see who was going to
keep the assignation with Anstruther. On the whole, it was not
unpleasant work, seeing that the night was very fine and warm, and at
the same time dark and velvety. There were not many gardens in London
as finely proportioned as those behind Barmouth's residence. It was
wonderful, in the midst of that atmosphere, that flowers and shrubs
could flourish so kindly. There were not many paths, most of the
ground being given over to turf, so that Jack's feet made no noise as
he walked along in the direction of the green gate which gave upon the
lane beyond.

The gate turned out to be a door in the wall hidden from view inside
by a deep belt of shrubs. It was here that Jack hid himself, and stood
smoking his cigar with a determination to stay there all night if
necessary. The best part of an hour had elapsed before there was a
noise outside, and a hand turned the latch. Jack dropped his cigar,
and ground it into the soft earth with the heel of his slipper. By
this time his eyes had got accustomed to the darkness, so that it was
not a difficult matter to make out the outlines of the approaching
figure. The figure was that of a woman, evidently dressed for the
evening, and wearing a mask.

Jack was not to be deceived; he knew that form perfectly well, even if
he had not recognized the dress, which the wearer had used the night
of his visit to Carrington's.

"Serena," he whispered to himself. "Well, I might have expected that.
Now to see what will happen next."

Jack made his way hurriedly across the lawn, and took up a position
behind a belt of pampas grass, where he could not only see into the
summer-house, but also hear what was going on there. He was only just
in time, for almost immediately the towering headdress of Anstruther
appeared, and its owner made his way directly to the summer-house. Jack
could see Serena as she hurried along. On the still night air every
word could be distinctly heard. There came to Jack's ears a whispered
apology from Serena that she was sorry for the delay.

"You might have ruined everything," Anstruther said savagely. "I told
you to be here within half-an-hour at the latest."

Serena replied humbly that she could not get there before. She had to
dress, and she had had to get the other servant out of the way.
Anstruther muttered impatiently.

"I suppose it is impossible for a woman to keep to time," he said.
"And now listen to me. There is something going on here which even I
cannot fathom. I feel as if I were being laughed at; as if an unseen
net was about my shoulders, and that a hidden hand was ready to close
it at any time."

Jack listened eagerly to what followed. It was quite evident from what
Anstruther said that Seymour's performance had made a deep impression
upon him. For once in a way Anstruther was puzzled and frightened. He
told Serena at considerable length all that had taken place during
supper.

"There is more than meets the eye here," he said, "and that fellow
said either too little or too much. One thing is quite certain--he is
pretty intimately acquainted with my inner life in Mexico. Now who is
he, and how does he know all this?"

"If you don't know, I can't tell you," Serena replied.

"No; but you are going to find out," Anstruther responded. "You are
going to mingle with the other guests as if you were a friend of Lady
Barmouth's, and I will sign to you presently what I want you to do.
You have plenty of nerve and resource, and you must find some way of
removing the mask from the face of my friend the magician. But that is
not all. I have a very shrewd suspicion that this mysterious Lord
Barmouth is no other than the man James Smith, who has been so useful
to me from a pecuniary point of view."

"You think Lord Barmouth and James Smith are the same person?" Serena
cried. "Oh, that is quite impossible."

"That remains to be seen." said Anstruther. "You know all about Lord
Barmouth's reputation as a recluse as well as I do. Therefore, it will
be part of your duty to get a sight of Lord Barmouth also. Mind you, I
may be mistaken, but I have a strong impression that when you come to
look at Barmouth you will see the features of James Smith. What the
certainty of this means to me you can pretty well guess. Hitherto
I have treated Smith as a comparatively poor man, never guessing
for a moment that he was the enormously wealthy Barmouth, but in
future----"

Anstruther paused significantly. The listener thrilled as he realized
the danger in which Barmouth stood. But his whole attention now was
concentrated upon Serena. He could see that she had drawn herself up
to her full height; from the motion of her hands, she was evidently
moved by some strong feeling. It flashed upon Jack all at once that
Anstruther was asking Serena to plot against the happiness of her own
sister--Lady Barmouth. That that was the chord that Anstruther had
touched, Serena's first words proved.

"You are asking too much." she said. "I will not do it. There are
times when I feel that this life of mine can endure no longer. I have
worked hard for you; I have been the slave of all your schemes; I have
forgotten that I possess a conscience."

"Yes; and you forget what you owe to me," Anstruther responded. "But
for me you would long since have stood in a felon's dock. If you will
think of the time when you and your boy----"

"No, no!" Serena cried. "I will not have it. What do I care if I alarm
the people inside. For the sake of that black past I have consented to
be your tool and slave. And yet I feel sometimes that you are playing
with me; that the whole thing is nothing more or less than a cruel and
deliberate lie on your part, and that my boy still lives. If I thought
so; if I only thought so----"

Serena plunged forward, and Jack could see that something glittered in
her hand. There was the confused suggestion of a struggle, the sound
of an oath from Anstruther's lips, and the tinkle of metal upon the
floor of the summer-house.

"So you have got one of your mad moods on to-night," Anstruther
panted. "Do not push me to extremes, because you know what that means.
Will you obey me or not?"

Jack could see Serena pass her hands across her eyes; he could hear
the quick sobbing of her breath. "I was wrong." she said presently. It
was marvelous how quickly she had recovered herself. "I will do your
bidding. Let us go inside, and you can show me the man whose face you
desire to see."

The two moved off together, and entered the house, where they were
quickly lost in the throng of guests. It was at this point that Jack
joined Claire again, and told her rapidly what had happened.

"I will go to her at once," Claire said. "It is quite evident, from
what you say, that this poor woman acts entirely under the sinister
influence of Anstruther. It would be a good thing, I fancy, to appeal
to her better nature." Possibly it had been better for him to go off
and warn Seymour, but the strong curiosity of the moment prevailed. He
was just a little anxious about Claire, too. And Seymour was so full
of cleverness and resource if anything untoward happened.

The scheme commended itself to Jack. He would leave everything to
Claire for the present. Then, when she was ready, she could come to
him again. Apparently Anstruther had given Serena all her
instructions, for Claire found her seated by herself in a corner of
the ballroom watching the dazzling scene. Claire crept quietly to her
side, and touched her on the shoulder.

"Serena." she said gently. "Serena, I want you."

There was a violent agitation, that shook the listener's frame; but
she rose very gently, and passed along the corridor by Claire's side
without the slightest protest. They came to a little alcove at length,
and Claire bade her companion sit down.

"I know why you are here to-night." she explained. "I even know what
your appointed task is. But, what is still more important, I am
acquainted with the hold that Anstruther has upon you. Believe me, you
have no firmer friend in the world than myself. Tell me your sad
story, and let me see if I can help you."

The gently spoken words were not without their effect. Heedless of
consequences, Serena removed her mask, and proceeded to wipe the
streaming tears from her eyes.

"I _will_ tell you everything." she murmured. "You know already that
Lady Barmouth is my sister, and you are acquainted with the fact that
Padini is my husband; but nobody knows besides Anstruther that I was
once the mother of a little boy. I was always wilful and headstrong. I
was always ready to throw away my happiness for the whim of the
moment. That is why I married Padini, who basely deserted me when he
found that I had no money. A month after our marriage I was alone in
the world, almost starving. I was too proud to send to my friends; I
had meant to wait till my money was exhausted, and then throw myself
into the river. But I dared not do that, because of the fresh young
life which I knew was coming to me. I managed to make a little money,
and when my child was born I was comparatively happy. When the boy was
about eighteen months old, Anstruther found me out, and professed a
desire to become my friend. It was about that time that Padini turned
up again, and began to blackmail me. I cannot tell you exactly what
happened; they say I tried to kill him because he would have taken my
child from me. At any rate, I have always been informed that I might
have suffered a long term of imprisonment if Anstruther had not stood
my friend."

"But this does not give him so great a power over you," Claire said.
"A mere act of charity like that----"

"But I have not told you everything," Serena whispered. "For a short
time I was a mad woman. And when I came to myself again, they told me
that I had killed my boy. Oh, I have no wish to dwell upon that
dreadful time--I hardly dare to think of it without a wild desire to
lay hands upon myself. And yet there are times when I believe the
whole thing to have been a wicked lie, a pure invention on the part of
Anstruther. At these times I believe that my boy is still safe and
sound, and that some day we shall meet again. This is the whole secret
of the reason why I have clung to Anstruther, and why I have been the
slave of his base designs. But this story must be told to no one, not
even to Lady Barmouth."

Serena might have said more, only the sound of approaching footsteps
warned Claire of the necessity for caution. She whispered to Serena to
replace her mask--a precaution that was none too soon, for Anstruther
was impatiently coming down the corridor side by side with another
man, whom Claire recognized as Lord Barmouth.

"I have been looking for you everywhere," Anstruther said. "What do
you mean by hiding yourself here?

"It was quite clear that Anstruther had lost his head for the moment.
Lord Barmouth paused, and looked at the other sternly and coldly. Yet
he hesitated, as if half afraid to speak. He had the advantage over
Anstruther in knowing who the latter was, while still preserving the
secret of his own identity.

"I presume this lady is your wife," he said. "You would hardly speak
even to a sister in that tone of voice."

"You are candid, sir," Anstruther said bitterly. "If you knew who I am
I have not the slightest doubt----"

"I know perfectly well who you are," Barmouth said quietly. He had
quite made up his mind what to do now. "Will you be good enough to
step this way for a moment?"

Anstruther followed, until Barmouth reached his own private room. Then
he locked the door, and put up the light. "Now that we are face to
face and free from interruption," he said, "I am going to speak still
more candidly to you. But first let me ask you a question. Why did you
decline the invitation of Lady Barmouth on the plea of a severe chill,
and then come here afterwards, as if you wanted your presence in the
house kept a secret?"

"Really," Anstruther stammered--"really, I cannot recognize your right
to cross-examine me like this. In the very unlikely event of your
being my host----"

"We will discuss that presently," Barmouth replied. "Permit me to
remind you that you have not yet answered my question, Mr. Anstruther.
You will not deny your identity?"

Anstruther laughed awkwardly, and, seeing that the game was up,
removed his mask and pitched it on the table.

"What I have done is not exactly a crime," he said. "I changed my
mind, and came at the last moment."

"At the last moment," Barmouth echoed significantly. "You have been
here for the past two hours."

Anstruther moved towards the door. He declared, with some heat, that
he would have no more of this, unless the other could prove his right
to ask these questions. Barmouth turned away for a moment, and when he
faced round again his face was bare of the mask.

"Now you recognize my right," he said. "You black-hearted scoundrel, I
am Lord Barmouth."



CHAPTER XLII.
A PIECE OF MUSIC.


In other circumstances, Anstruther would have been pleased with the
turn of events. He knew now that Smith, whom for so long he had been
persecuting, was the rich Lord Barmouth. This, too, saved a deal of
trouble; for instance, Serena need not have been brought here at all.
Now Anstruther would be able to blackmail Barmouth for thousands,
whereas he had been content with hundreds from the more humble Smith.
Barmouth smiled, as he followed Anstruther's train of thought. He was
reading the other's mind like an open book.

"I know exactly what you are thinking about," he said. "You are not
sighing for lost opportunities; you are going to make it all up in the
future. Still, I have puzzled you and, perhaps, frightened you a
little. You are perfectly well aware why I have concealed my identity
for so long. And you would give a great deal to know why I have so
suddenly come out and met you in the open. On that point I have no
intention of gratifying your curiosity. You may put your mask on
again, and I will resume mine; but of one thing you may be certain.
Either as Lord Barmouth or as James Smith, not one farthing more will
you ever receive from me."

Barmouth turned contemptuously away, and unlocked the door.

"Now you can go your way, and I will go mine," he said. "I shall say
nothing of this to Lady Barmouth; at least, not for the present. Make
the best of your evening's pleasure. It will be the last time you will
ever be under my roof.

"With an irritated feeling of defeat Anstruther stalked from the room,
followed by Lord Barmouth, who lost no chance of hunting up Jack and
Rigby. He told his interested listeners what had happened.

"I think you have acted wisely, Lord Barmouth," Rigby said. "We are so
hot upon the track of Anstruther now that a day or two makes little
difference. At the same time, I cannot quite see why Anstruther should
have come here in this mysterious way, when he might have accompanied
Claire quite openly."

Jack was inspired with a sudden idea.

"It's all a question of alibi," he said. "We know perfectly well what
an ingenious scheme Anstruther has put up so that he may be what an
Irishman would call in two places at the same time. Here is a
magnificent opportunity of getting to the bottom of that mysterious
music business."

"Right you are," Rigby cried. "It would be like flying in the face of
Providence to throw away such a chance. Anstruther is here, and likely
to remain, and so is Serena. You may depend upon it that the other
maid has gone to bed, so that we should have the house in Panton
Square all to ourselves. You know the ropes better than I do, Jack.
Can you tell us a good way of getting into the house without playing
the burglar?"

Jack thought a moment, then an inspiration came to him again; the
thing was quite simple.

"We can walk into the place as if it belonged to us," he said. "When
Claire came away, Anstruther told her that he should retire early.
Claire did not wish to keep the servants up unduly, so she took a
latch-key with her."

"Absolutely made for us," Rigby exclaimed. "You go off to Miss
Helmsley and borrow her latch-key, and we will get to the bottom of
the whole mystery whilst Anstruther is enjoying himself here."

Jack came back presently with the latch-key in his possession. It was
an easy matter to get out of the house without being observed; then a
cab was called, and the two proceeded to Jack's chambers, where they
stripped off their fancy dresses hastily and assumed more civilized
attire.

"I vote we take Bates into this business," Rigby suggested. "I've got
a little idea of my own, which I will tell you about after we have
been to Panton Square."

Unfortunately the services of Inspector Bates were not available, for
he had been called out on some business of importance, and was not
expected back till the following morning.

"We shall have to go through it ourselves," Jack said. "You will have
a fine lot of copy for the _Planet_ a bit later on. I declare I am
getting quite fascinated by my present occupation. Shall we take a
cab, or would it not be more safe for us to walk?"

Panton Square was reached at length, and No. 5 appeared to be in total
darkness. As the friends had anticipated, Serena's fellow servant had
gone to bed, for neither at the front or back of the house was there
so much as a glimmer of light to be seen. An application of the
latch-key to the door proved quite successful, and a minute later the
two friends were inside. They had not the slightest hesitation in
putting up the lights, so that the passing police might infer that the
occupants of the place had returned. Not that he wanted to trouble
much about anything but the study, seeing that it was there that the
mysterious music always emanated.

It was an ordinary-looking room enough, the walls being entirely lined
with books. There were books everywhere, not an inch of space being
available for more. The ceiling was quite plain, and the closest
search failed to disclose anything in the way of an apparatus by which
the sounds of music could be conveyed from a distance into the study.
Jack looked round with a puzzled frown.

"All the same, it must come that way," he said. "I know perfectly well
that one of Padini's recitals came into this room as if it had been
carried by some electrical means."

"A sort of telephone, I suppose," Rigby said. "Of course, we have all
heard of the theatre-phone, but that theory would not work out in this
case. With the dodge in question you have to plug both ears with a
kind of receiver, and even then the music is only audible to those
using the little receivers. In the present instance I understand that
the whole room is flooded with melody, just as if the player were
actually here."

"You've got it exactly," Jack explained. "I have heard it myself, and
so has Claire; and both of us spotted the music as being in precisely
the style of Padini. Hang me if I can see the slightest sign of how
the thing is worked."

Rigby said nothing; indeed, he was hardly listening. He was pacing
round the room pulling armfuls of books out here and there, as if
expecting to find some cunning device hidden behind the volumes. He
stooped to pick up Anstruther's violin case, which lay upon the floor.
The case had been recently dropped, or some weight had fallen upon it,
for the lid was cracked all across, and the hinges were broken. Rigby
gave a little cry as he threw back the lid.

"Here's a discovery for you," he exclaimed. "Anstruther's violin with
the neck broken off. If you will look at it closely, you will see that
it is covered with dust, and evidently has not been used for days. Of
course, it is just possible that Anstruther possesses two violins----"

"I know as a matter of fact that he doesn't," Jack said. "This is his
Cremona right enough. I have had it in my hands a hundred times."

"We are getting on," Rigby laughed. "This room has been flooded with
melody night after night, and yet we know for a fact that Anstruther's
violin has been absolutely useless."

"That does not help us to a solution of the problem," Jack said. "But
I have an idea. We shall never get to the truth through Anstruther,
but Padini may help us. Now it is very improbable that Anstruther will
be back under an hour. I'll stay here whilst you go off to the Great
Metropolitan Hotel and see Padini. If you flatter him a bit, he will
probably play to you. He will certainly do this in his own room,
because professionals of mark never practice in public. What I am
driving at is this: I feel quite certain that whatever Padini plays to
you, I shall hear in this room."

"Excellent," Rigby cried. "I will go at once."

Late as it was, Padini had not gone to bed; indeed, one of the
corridor servants informed Rigby that the violinist had been
practicing on his violin for the past hour. Without the slightest
hesitation, Rigby made his way into Padini's room. The latter looked
up with a puzzled air of surprise; evidently he had been taking a
little more champagne than was good for him.

"I seem to know your face," he said. "Of course you do," Rigby said
smoothly. "Don't you remember me interviewing you for the _Planet?_ I
happened to be in the hotel, and I thought I would look you up. I
suppose it would be too much to ask you to play something to me? I am
passionately fond of music, to say nothing of being a great admirer of
yours. Besides, I have a particular desire to hear you to-night."

Padini looked up with just a shade of suspicion in his eyes. Rigby
felt that perhaps he was going a bit too far. He proceeded to flatter
the artist to such an extent, that Padini's suspicions were quickly
lulled to rest. There was a half-empty bottle of champagne on the
table, but Rigby refused the proffered hospitality.

"No, thank you," he said. "I came to hear you play. I know it was a
great liberty on my part and, if you like, you can turn me out at
once; but I wish you would play something."

Padini rose rather unsteadily, and reached for his violin. Once his
fingers grasped the neck of his instrument, he seemed to be himself
again. Rascal as the fellow was, there was no doubt of his great
artistic qualities. He handled his bow with the air and grip of a
master. He started some slow movement from one of Beethoven's sonatas,
and Rigby lay back in his chair, giving himself up entirely to the
delight of the moment.

It seemed, if Padini once started, he would not know when to stop, for
he played one piece after another, entirely forgetting that he had an
audience. Across Rigby's brain there came floating the germ of a great
idea. Padini finished a brilliant passage, and the bow fell from his
hands.

"There, my friend," he said breathlessly. "Never have I played better
than I have done to-night."

"You are indeed a master," Rigby said, and he meant every word that he
uttered. "An artist so great as yourself should be a composer also.
Have you published anything at all?"

The flattered artist replied that he had not published anything so
far, but there were one or two little things which he had written in
his spare time, and these he intended offering to some publisher who
was prepared to pay a price for them.

"Would you mind playing me one?" Rigby asked. "I should prefer a piece
that nobody has ever heard."

Padini swept his bow across the strings, and proceeded to play a
perfect little gem in a minor key. To a certain extent it reminded
Rigby of Gounod's "Ave Maria," though its originality and breadth
deprived it of any suggestion of plagiarism.

"Perfect in its way," Rigby said. "Would you mind giving me the score?
If you will, I can get a good price for it from the _Planet_ people.
We are going to publish music at reasonable rates, and there is no
reason why you should not have fifty guineas for yours."

Padini declared that he quite shared Rigby's opinion. He took a sheet
of manuscript music from a drawer, and threw it carelessly across to
his companion.

"There you are," he said. "Make the best bargain you can for me. What?
You are not going already?"

Rigby muttered something to the effect that he had not yet finished
his work at the office, and that he must tear himself away, much as he
would like to have stayed to hear more of that beautiful music. A few
minutes later Rigby left the room. As he glanced back he saw that
Padini had fallen into his armchair again, and was already half
asleep. Rigby smiled to himself, wondering what Padini would say if he
knew the purpose to which the sheet of manuscript music would be
devoted. He called a cab and hastened away in the direction of Panton
Square, where he expected that Jack would be still awaiting him. The
lights were up at No. 5 just as they were when Rigby had started for
the Great Metropolitan Hotel; but, all the same, he took the
precaution of whistling softly, in case anything had gone wrong. The
front door opened cautiously, and Jack's head peeped out. A moment
later, and Rigby was inside.

"Well?" he demanded impatiently. "Anything happened?"

"A great deal," Jack replied. "For half-an-hour everything was quiet,
then that wonderful music started again. Mind you, I haven't the
remotest idea where it came from; I am just as much in the fog as
ever. But it filled the room as if some great artist was invisible to
me. I could recognize Padini's touch. Of course, I am assuming that
you found him at home, and persuaded him to play to you. Can I take
that for granted?"

"It is exactly as you say," Rigby explained. "Please go on."

"Then I will tell you what Padini played. He started with the first
part of 'The Moonlight Sonata.'"

Rigby nodded and smiled. His smile broadened as Jack proceeded to tick
off the pieces of music just as they were played. "There was one,
however, that I could not follow," he said. "It was that lovely little
thing at the end. I am absolutely certain that it was an original
piece of music."

Rigby laughed as he produced the scrap of manuscript from his pocket.
There was an expression of triumph on his face.

"Original, and in my possession," he cried. "This scrap of paper
contains the key of the whole situation."



CHAPTER XLIII.
THE TRAP IS BAITED.


Jack looked inquiringly at his friend. He had not yet fully grasped
the significance of Rigby's remark. He asked for an explanation. Rigby
went on to speak rapidly.

"It's like this, you see," he remarked. "When I saw that fellow just
now and got him to play to me, a rather good idea came into my mind.
So long as Anstruther can manage to delude us into believing that he
spends most of his evenings in playing classical music, we can't get
much further. Classical music is open to everybody; and if we allege
that on a certain evening Anstruther performed one of Beethoven's
sonatas--or, rather, that Padini performed it--we should have great
difficulty in proving our point."

"I think I can catch your idea," Jack said.

"I thought you would. My idea was to get something original;
something, if possible, that Anstruther has never even heard. He
couldn't very well play a piece he had never heard, now could he? I
asked Padini if he had anything of the kind in hand, and he played the
piece which you so much liked. As I said just now, I have the thing in
my pocket; and by means of that simple sheet of paper we are going to
trap Anstruther."

"I don't quite see it," Jack said.

"What I mean is that we are going to manage it between us. Unless I am
greatly mistaken, events will move very rapidly to-morrow night.
Anstruther must of necessity be out most of the time after dinner, but
the music in the study will go on all the same. You must manage to
dine in Panton Square to-morrow night, and I will work the thing from
the Great Metropolitan Hotel with Padini. In the course of the evening
Padini will play the melody which we are now talking about, and you
will hear it. Now, I know Miss Helmsley is a very capable pianist, and
I want her to follow the air carefully, so that she will be able to
play it by ear. Then we shall be in a position to ask Anstruther the
name of the piece that attracted her so much. Miss Helmsley can pick
it out on the piano for him, and ask him to play it again. You can
imagine his difficulty, but you can hardly imagine a way out of it.
This is only a side issue, I know; but it will all tell when we bring
Anstruther to book and expose the whole conspiracy."

Jack appreciated the point, and promised to do his best to bring the
comedy to a successful issue. There was nothing for it now but to
reassume their fancy dresses and return to Belgrave Square.

By this time a considerable number of the guests were moving on
elsewhere, though the majority of those present meant to see the thing
through. As the cab bearing Jack and Rigby drove up they saw the tall
figure of Anstruther coming down the steps. He stood there as if
hesitating for a moment, then called a passing cab and gave some
directions to Piccadilly.

"Any money I know where he is going to," Rigby said. "My dear fellow,
you go inside and see Miss Helmsley, whilst I take this cab back to
our rooms and change again into civilized attire."

"What are you going to do now?" Jack asked.

"I am going to follow Anstruther," Rigby explained. "I feel so
restless to-night that I can't settle down to anything. So I am just
going to follow that fellow, who is most assuredly going to see
Carrington."

It was half-an-hour later before Rigby found himself, minus his fancy
dress, in Piccadilly opposite the rooms occupied by Carrington. It was
very late now, and Piccadilly was absolutely deserted, save for a
passing policeman and a stray night cab whose driver appeared to be
asleep upon the box. Rigby hesitated for a moment, a little uncertain
as to what to do.

There was no difficulty in ascertaining as to whether Carrington had
or had not gone to bed, for the lights were up in his sitting-room,
and presently a shadow appeared upon the blind. Doubtless this was
Carrington, and all speculation was set at rest an instant later by a
second shadow on one of the blinds. The gigantic headdress of
Anstruther loomed large against the light. There was nothing for it
now but to wait patiently upon the course of events. Rigby pulled at
the leg of the slumbering cabman, and brought him to a sense of his
responsibilities.

"I don't want to take your cab anywhere," he explained. "All I want is
to hire it for an hour or so and sit inside. You can go to sleep again
if you like, and I'll wake you when I am ready to go. It will be an
easy way of earning half-a-sovereign."

The cabman grinned and nodded as Rigby disappeared into the recesses
of the cab. It was, perhaps, an hour later before the door leading to
Carrington's flat opened and Anstruther came out. Evidently he had
left his fancy dress behind him, for he was attired in a rough coat
and deerstalker hat. Carrington appeared to be dissuading his friend
from something, and Rigby could hear the latter laugh in reply.

"I tell you it must be done," Anstruther said, "and it will have to be
done to-morrow night. I shall see friend Charlie without delay. If he
is not in, I shall leave a settled note for him."

Anstruther strode off down the street, and presently hailed another
night cab which was crawling down the road. Rigby sat up and aroused
his own driver.

"Here's another five shillings for you," he said. "Keep that cab in
front of you in sight, and follow it till it stops. Then you shall
have fifteen shillings. Unless I am greatly mistaken, you will not
have very far to go."

As a matter of fact, Rigby had summed up the situation quite
correctly. The mention of the name of Charlie had given him the clue
he required, this same Charlie being none other than the professional
cracksman who had been engaged by Anstruther to deliver the letter at
the Great Metropolitan Hotel to Ferris. This deduction proved to be
absolutely correct, for a little time later the first cab pulled up in
front of the tenement house where Seymour had taken up his temporary
quarters. Rigby dismissed the cab, and followed cautiously. He was in
time to see Anstruther take a key from his pocket, and let himself
quietly into the rooms occupied by the individual who was known to his
friends and admirers as "Simple Charlie." Then Rigby turned and
knocked for admission at the outer door of Seymour's apartments. The
latter did not appear in the least surprised to see Rigby.

"I came here quite by chance," the latter explained. "I quite expected
to be told that you had not returned home yet. Lady Barmouth's dance
might have kept on till daylight."

"I had to come away," Seymour explained. "In fact, I lost sight of
Anstruther, and it rather put me out. Can you tell me anything about
him? But of course you can, or you would not be here."

Rigby explained at length what had taken place during the past hour.
Seymour chuckled as he listened.

"Rather a good joke," he said. "Here is Anstruther looking for his
friend 'Simple Charlie,' whilst all the time we have that desirable
individual tight by the leg at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. I suppose
you can pretty well guess what's going to happen? Anstruther was
desperately frightened to-night by my allusion to that set of Cellini
plate. He will know no peace of mind until that stuff is removed from
Carrington's private safe. There will be another burglary, of a sort,
and 'Simple Charlie' has been selected to open the safe. You see, as
the safe is not in the vaults, but in Carrington's private office, it
would never do to use dynamite there."

"That is all very well," Rigby objected. "But how is Anstruther going
to make use of 'Simple Charlie' so long as the latter is in our hands?
That seems to be rather an objection."

"Oh, I have thought all that out," Seymour laughed. "From what you
told me just now, it is evident that Anstruther means to leave a note
for his pal if the latter is away. In the event of 'Simple Charlie'
being professionally engaged elsewhere to-morrow night, he will be
asked to find a substitute. As we are perfectly well aware of the fact
that there is no chance of Anstruther finding his friend at home, it
is only logical to assume that he will leave the note behind. In a few
moments that note will be in our possession, and we shall be in a
position to read it at leisure. Then I will take it the first thing in
the morning round to the Great Metropolitan Hotel, and force 'Simple
Charlie' to write a suitable reply. Do you follow me?"

"Oh, quite," Rigby said. "You are going to choose your own substitute.
Have you fixed upon him yet?"

Seymour chuckled in reply, but declined to afford any information for
the present. He suggested that Rigby should go outside and see if
Anstruther had gone yet. Rigby came back presently with information to
the effect that the burglar's outer door was locked, thus fairly
assuming that Anstruther had executed his task and had gone. Seymour
produced the simple apparatus by means of which he had entered the
burglar's rooms on the last occasion.

"I am going to get that letter," he explained simply. "You need not
have any fear about me. Open the window, please."

In less than five minutes Seymour was back again with the letter in
his hand. He laid it on the table, and then proceeded to steam the
envelope open with the aid of a kettle of hot water which he procured
from the kitchen.

There was very little in the letter, but that little was to the point.
The writer curtly commanded the recipient to meet him to-morrow night
at a quarter to twelve outside the Mansion House Station of the
Underground Railway. The recipient was enjoined to come prepared for
business, and the last three words had been underlined. In the event
of this being impossible, "Simple Charlie" was asked to procure a
substitute, and let the writer of the letter know this not later than
ten o'clock the next morning at the old address and in the old way. It
was perfectly plain.

"You see exactly what this means," Seymour said. "I take it that the
old address means Panton Square. But 'Simple Charlie' will have to
tell me all about that in the morning. He shall write to Anstruther
and put everything in order first. I have prepared a very pretty
little surprise for Anstruther."

Seymour chuckled again, but refused to gratify Rigby's curiosity. He
was taking no risks, he said; he even went so far as to seal down the
letter again and return it to the burglar's rooms.

"We cannot afford to make a single mistake," he said. "Any little slip
might ruin the whole delicate business."

There was nothing further to do, at least, so far as the night was
concerned. It was getting very late now, and Rigby declined Seymour's
offer of a whiskey and soda and cigar. He turned as though to go, and
held out his hand to Seymour. Then he paused, as a sudden thought
struck him.

"There is one thing we have forgotten," he said. "Don't you think it
would be as well to take Bates into our confidence. We had arranged to
do so really, but when we called an hour or two ago at Shannon Street
police station he was not in. I don't know whether you agree with me
or not, but I think he would be extremely useful to us just now."

Seymour nodded and chuckled. He seemed to be in the enjoyment of some
good joke which he desired to keep to himself.

"Oh, we must have Bates in this, by all means. Perhaps you would not
mind leaving a message as you go along, and ask him to be good enough
to call here not later than nine to-morrow morning. I think I can
promise Inspector Bates that his time with me will not be wasted. And
now, if you must go----"

Rigby took the hint and departed. He left the message for Bates, who,
he was informed, might not be at the office the whole of the next day.
This being so, Rigby rose early, and made his way to Shannon Street
police station directly after breakfast. He was fortunate enough to
catch Bates, who appeared to be in a tremendous hurry. He had five
minutes to spare, he explained, but a quarter of an hour had elapsed
before Bates rose and rang his bell.

"The other business must wait," he said. "Important as it is, I will
go and call on Seymour at once."



CHAPTER XLIV.
THE SUBSTITUTE.


It was nearly eleven o'clock before Bates reached Seymour's rooms. He
listened patiently to all that the latter had to say, and he chuckled
grimly when Seymour's plot was laid before him.

"Upon my word, sir, you ought to have been in the force yourself," he
exclaimed. "I never heard a neater scheme. I have been puzzling my
brains the last day or two for some way of getting hold of Anstruther.
I can nobble Carrington at any moment; in fact, I have a warrant for
his arrest in my pocket now. You see, I can easily prove that he has
been disposing of his clients' securities, but that hardly affects
Anstruther. I suppose you want me to go round to the Great
Metropolitan Hotel, and compel 'Simple Charlie' to act as bonnet for
us. I have not the slightest doubt that he will be able to find a good
substitute if he likes. But there is one little difficulty in the way
which you have not thought of."

"Oh, yes, I have," Seymour replied. "I know perfectly well what you
mean. You mean that even a burglar has some code of honor, and that he
would hesitate to betray a pal into such a trap as this. But if the
substitute that I have in my mind is acceptable to you, there is no
reason for further anxiety."

Seymour scribbled a name on a sheet of paper, and handed it across to
Bates. The latter laughed as he read it.

"Oh, most assuredly you ought to have been in the force," he said.
"The thing is so clever, and yet so delightfully simple."

Meanwhile, Masefield was carrying out his side of the programme.

He saw Rigby once or twice during the day, and the latter informed him
that everything was going splendidly. "I was at the Great Metropolitan
Hotel this morning," he explained; "in fact, I was present at the
interview between Bates and a man known as 'Simple Charlie.' We had
not the slightest difficulty in getting that rascal to do everything
that we wish. He seemed ready to do anything to save his own skin. As
I told you just now, the old address mentioned in Anstruther's letter
was Panton Square. By ten o'clock this morning Anstruther had received
a letter, in 'Simple Charlie's' handwriting, saying that it was quite
impossible for him to come himself, but that he would send an
efficient substitute, who would meet Anstruther at the Mansion House
Station at the appointed time. All you have to do now is to invite
yourself to dinner at Panton Square, and in the course of the evening
you will be pretty sure to hear the music going on in the study as
usual. Of course, Anstruther will not be there, but that will make no
difference to the harmonic programme. And mind you listen carefully
for the original piece of music you heard last night."

"How are you going to manage that?" Jack asked.

"Well, you see, we have divided ourselves up into three companies,"
Rigby explained. "You are going to look after Panton Square, Bates and
Seymour will engineer the campaign as far as the City and Provincial
Bank is concerned, and I am going to have supper with Padini. He
elected that the supper should take place in his own room at the
hotel. You can guess why."

Jack began to see matters more clearly now. The task allotted to
himself was plain and simple. He would have preferred something more
in the way of adventure; but, after all, somebody must do the ordinary
work. He managed to see Anstruther in the afternoon, and intimated to
him that he was dining in Panton Square that night. Anstruther replied
that he was glad to hear it; possibly, Jack thought, because there
would be an ear-witness to prove the music in the study.

It was nearly eight o'clock when Jack strolled into the drawing-room
of Panton Square, and found Claire alone there. He deemed it prudent
not to tell her too much of what had taken place the last few hours;
indeed, he was more concerned to hear the latest information about
Serena.

"I have not seen much of her to-day," Claire said. "I do not know what
to make of her at all. Last night late she came into my bedroom, and
we had a long talk about her boy. It is a very strange thing, Jack,
that only this morning a man arrived to see my guardian--a man who
seemed to be annoyed at Mr. Anstruther's refusal to pay him a sum of
money. I happened to overhear a few words as they parted. The stranger
declared that if he did not have something definite by Saturday, 'he
would send the kid back.' I should have thought nothing of this unless
I had heard Serena's story last night, but, taken in conjunction with
what she said, I shouldn't wonder if the man in question had not the
custody of the poor woman's child."

"This is interesting," Jack said. "Did you take any particular note of
the man's appearance?"

Claire replied that she had not failed to do so. But she had not
followed him, though her suspicions were aroused. Jack debated the
thing in his mind for a moment before he spoke again.

"We know perfectly well," he said, "that Anstruther is terribly
pressed for ready money. He is certain not to send that check, and it
is equally certain that the man will call again for the cash on
Saturday morning. It will be an easy matter to get Bates to lend me a
plain clothes man and follow the fellow wherever he goes. But you must
understand----"

What more Jack would have said was prevented by the entrance of
Anstruther, closely followed by the announcement of dinner. It was not
a gay meal, for the host was moody and depressed. He talked
brilliantly at times, then lapsed into a reverie, and appeared not to
hear when spoken to. Claire rose presently with a sigh of relief, glad
to get away from the gloom of the dining-room and its depressing
atmosphere. Anstruther smoked half a cigarette, and then threw the end
down impatiently.

"I must really get you to excuse me," he said. "But my head is so bad
that I can hardly hold it up. I am afraid that even my music will fail
to soothe me to-night."

Jack murmured something in the way of polite sympathy. He was glad of
the opportunity to be able to escape to the drawing-room, where he sat
for a long time discussing the situation with Claire. It was pleasant
and soothing to sit there with his arm about her and her head lovingly
upon his shoulder; but, happy as they were, they could not altogether
shake off the feeling of impending evil. All this time the music of
the violin floated mournfully from the study. Eleven o'clock struck,
and still the melody went on. Claire roused herself a little
presently, and a look of pleased interest crossed her pretty face.

"What a delightful little composition." she said. "I have never heard
that before. I am quite sure that is original."

"Listen very carefully," Jack said. "I want you to impress that piece
of music on your mind."

The piece was finished at length, and then repeated once more. As the
last strains died away, Claire rose from her comfortable seat and
crossed over to the piano. Very quietly, yet quite correctly, she went
through the whole composition.

"I am glad it has so impressed you," Jack said. "You will, perhaps, be
surprised to hear that Anstruther has never heard that piece of music
in his life, and that it was composed by Padini, who has never played
it to anybody till last night, when he performed it for Rigby's
benefit. Not only this, but he gave Dick Rigby the original manuscript
to get published for him. I know this is only a small matter, but
these small matters will make a mountain of evidence against
Anstruther when the time comes."

"It is very extraordinary," Claire murmured, "to think that that music
should sound so charming and natural, when we know that all the time
the player is a mile or two away. You are sure that my guardian is not
in his study, Jack?"

Jack was sure enough on that point. It was a few moments later that
Serena came quietly into the room with a request that Mr. Masefield
would go to the telephone, as some one desired to speak to him on
pressing business. Jack rose with alacrity.

"I shall soon be able to prove to you that Anstruther is a long way
off, or I am very much mistaken," he said. "Very well, Serena, I will
come down at once."

The voice at the other end of the telephone inquired cautiously if
that were Mr. Masefield. Jack replied that it was, but even then the
questioner did not appear to be satisfied.

"I think I recognize your voice," he said, "but one has to be very
careful in sending messages to Panton Square. How goes the music?
Anything original to-night?"

"One piece," Jack smiled. "I know what you mean, and I don't mind
making you a small bet that you are Inspector Bates."

The voice at the other end of the telephone chuckled.

"You have got it quite right, Mr. Masefield," he said. "I am Bates
sure enough. And you needn't worry about going down-stairs to see
whether or not Anstruther is playing at Paganini, because he isn't on
the premises at all."

"Where are you speaking from?" Jack asked.

Bates replied that he was speaking from a public call office in the
neighborhood of Mansion House Station. All he wanted to do was to make
sure that Jack was still in Panton Square, and now that his mind was
easy on this score, he could devote himself to the serious business of
the evening. Anstruther had just been shadowed outside the Mansion
House Station, where he was apparently waiting for the substitute so
kindly provided for him by "Simple Charlie."

The message ceased here, and the connection was cut off. Jack would
have been just a little surprised if he had seen the transmogrified
Bates who had been speaking to him over the line. The inspector
crossed the road and disappeared into the shadow. Anstruther stood
there, glancing impatiently up and down the road as if waiting for
somebody that was late. A figure slouched up to him, and a hoarse
voice whispered in his ear:

"Party of the name of Maggs," he said in his gin and fog voice. "Pal
of 'Simple Charlie.' Old Charlie couldn't get away to-night, so he
sent me instead. Don't you be disappointed, guv' nor; you will find me
just as clever with them bits of steel as Charles himself. Bit of
burglary, ain't it?"

Anstruther nodded curtly.

"We had better walk along," he said. "I suppose your friend explained
to you that this little job will put twenty pounds in your pocket? It
is a mere matter of opening a safe. The getting into the premises is
perfectly simple, because I have come provided with the keys. You know
the City and Provincial Bank?"

The other man grinned, and remarked that banks generally were a bit
above his form. Anstruther smiled as he reflected that he had the keys
of the bank premises proper in his pocket, so that there would be no
great difficulty in getting into the counting house, and from there to
Carrington's private office. As to the night watchmen--that was
another matter altogether. In the face of recent happenings, they
would be more alert than they had been in the past; but, at the same
time, their attention would be bestowed more upon the cellars than the
office.

The road was entirely deserted now, as Anstruther crossed the street
and gently turned the key in the outer door. A moment later, and the
pair were in Carrington's private office. They could afford to turn
the lights up, for the iron shutters outside made a perfect screen. In
one corner of the room stood the safe upon which the man who called
himself Maggs was intended to operate. Anstruther pointed at it
impatiently.

"Get to work at once," he said. "There is something inside that I must
take away to-night."

"A fine set of Cellini plate, I presume?" Maggs said, in an entirely
different voice. "No, you don't, Mr. Anstruther. If you put your hand
in your hip pocket, I'll blow your brains out. I have the advantage of
you here, and I am going to keep it."

"Who the deuce are you?" Anstruther stammered. His hands had fallen to
his side, and his face was pale and ghastly. "Who are you?"

The so-called burglar snatched away his wig and ragged beard, and with
a handkerchief changed the aspect of his face.

"I am Inspector Bates," he said. "Very much at your service."



CHAPTER XLV.
CAUGHT!


Bates had laid his plans very carefully and very well indeed. In many
respects Rigby had got the best of the detective, but this was as much
due to circumstances as anything else. Still, when it came to the
technical side of the case, Rigby was no match for the inspector. It
was nearly nine o'clock before Bates called at Carrington's rooms and
asked to see the latter. There was no occasion yet for Bates to assume
the very effective disguise with which he was to trick Anstruther.
There would be plenty of time for that. Carrington was just finishing
his dinner--so his man said. He was not very well, and did not care to
see anybody. But Bates put the man aside in his own easy way, and
walked into the dining-room without the trouble of announcing himself.

That Carrington was suffering from some mental and physical excitement
was perfectly plain. His face was ghastly pale, his eyes were
bloodshot, and there was a twitching of his lips which told a plain
tale to an experienced officer like Bates. Carrington scowled, and
demanded the meaning of this unwarrantable intrusion.

"I don't think you will find it unwarrantable when you have heard me
to the finish," Bates said. "Nor will it pay you to take this tone
with me. I am an inspector from Scotland Yard, and unless you answer
my questions freely, I shall have to put them in a more disagreeable
form."

Carrington changed his note altogether. His face became still more
pallid. He motioned Bates to a chair. He would have found it hard to
have spoken just then. Bates waited a moment to give the other time to
recover. Carrington at length found words to ask Bates what his
business was with him.

"It is with regard to your affair at the bank," the inspector
explained. "You may not be aware of the fact, but the case has been
placed in my hands by my superiors."

"Oh, you are alluding to the burglary," Carrington said.

"We will call it a burglary for the present," Bates replied, with a
significance that there was no mistaking. "I have gone into the matter
carefully, and I have come to the conclusion that there was no
burglary at all."

Carrington jumped to his feet with a well-simulated air of
indignation. He advanced towards Bates threateningly.

"You insolent scoundrel!" he cried. "What do you mean? Do you know you
are dealing with a gentleman and man of honor?"

"Softly, softly," Bates replied. "I think we had better understand one
another. I have in my possession at the present moment a warrant for
your arrest for fraud and embezzlement, relating to certain jewels and
other valuables deposited in your keeping by various clients. It is in
my power to execute that warrant at once. The case is much too serious
a one for bail, and it is for you to say whether you will remain for
the present in your comfortable quarters, or pass, at any rate, the
next two months in jail."

Carrington made no further show of fight. He collapsed into his chair,
and wiped his wet forehead distractedly.

"You don't mean that," he groaned. "There must be some terrible
mistake here. Why, all the evidences pointed to an ingenious and
daring burglary. The night watchmen were drugged, as you know, and the
thieves employed dynamite to blow up the safes. No one regrets the
loss of all those valuables more than I do, but even banks are not
secure against the modern burglar. Those safes were crammed full of
valuables, as I could easily prove."

"They were," Bates corrected. "But I am in a position to prove a few
things, too. You would give a great deal, I suppose, to know where
those valuables are?"

Carrington replied to the effect that he would give half his fortune
for the desired information. Bates smiled.

"You need not worry about it," he said. "I have a list in my pocket of
the big pawnbrokers in London where most of the goods were pledged. In
three cases the pawnbrokers in question are in a position to swear to
the identity of the man who handled the jewels. You would not, of
course, mind meeting these people?"

But Carrington had no reply. He looked so helplessly at Bates that the
latter could not but feel sorry for him. "I am afraid the game is up,
sir," he said. "My investigations of this case prove most conclusively
that you are at the bottom of the whole thing. We know perfectly well
that recent speculations of yours have brought about a financial
crisis in your bank. In your desperate need, you realized the
securities which certain clients had left in your hands. It was only
when Lady Barmouth called for her gems that the situation became
acute. But that will form the basis of another charge."

"But that was all a mistake," Carrington gurgled eagerly. "I sent Lady
Barmouth her gems, but they proved to be those belonging to somebody
else. I assure you that was quite an error."

Bates shrugged his shoulders impatiently. He was getting annoyed with
this, man, who refused to follow his lead. "We know all about that
ingenious fraud," he said. "We are quite aware of that clever business
of the paste gems, for which you gave £200 at Clerkenwell. You paid
for that rubbish with Bank of England notes marked with the stamp of
your establishment. It was a very happy idea of yours and
Anstruther's."

Carrington groaned feebly; he began to fear the very worst.

"You seem to know everything," he said. "Perhaps you can tell me the
story of the burglary?"

"I am coming to that presently," Bates said coolly. "Now you were at
your wits' ends to know what to do. You knew perfectly well that many
of your clients would require their jewels for Lady Barmouth's dance.
They were not forthcoming, for the simple reason that they had been
pledged elsewhere. You had not the necessary cunning to devise some
scheme to shift the blame from your shoulders, so you called in your
friend Anstruther. It was he who hit upon the idea of the burglary. It
was you who placed temptation in the way of the night watchmen through
the medium of a couple of bottles of drugged port wine. After that the
rest was easy. You had only to enter the bank with your own keys----"

"Stop a moment," Carrington cried eagerly. "You seem to forget that
even I cannot enter the vaults of the bank without duplicate keys in
the possession of various cashiers."

"Now, listen to me," Bates said impressively. "This discussion is
absolutely irregular. It is my plain duty to arrest you at once and
convey you to Bow Street. But if you help me, I may be in the position
later on to do you a service. We know precisely how Anstruther used
the dynamite; we know precisely what happened in the vaults, and how
most of the few valuables that remained were conveyed to your own
private safe. More than that, we are perfectly well aware what fee
Anstruther demanded for his trouble. Need I go into the matter of that
service of Cellini plate?"

Carrington threw up his hands with a gesture of despair. He was
crushed and beaten to the ground by the tremendous weight of evidence
with which Bates was overwhelming him.

"It is no use fighting any longer," he said. "I confess to everything.
I shall plead guilty, and afford you every information in my power. Do
you want me to come along with you now?"

On the whole, Bates rather thought not. He had effected his purpose,
and sooner or later Carrington would have to become his prisoner. He
knew that the latter would speak freely enough, like the craven coward
that he was; but there was Anstruther to be thought of. Bates rose to
leave.

"You can remain where you are for the present," he said. "But if you
will take my advice, you will make no attempt to escape--you are too
carefully watched for that; and now, good-night."

Bates went off in the direction of the City feeling that the last hour
had not been wasted. On the strength of recent information, he would
have felt justified in arresting Anstruther also. But he had a
wholesome admiration for that individual, and the more evidence
secured against him the better. Therefore it was that Bates was about
to carry out the latter part of the programme, in which he was to play
the part of substitute for "Simple Charlie." The programme had been
easily arranged. There had been no difficulty in persuading the
burglar to write the desired letter to Anstruther, and Bates had made
up his mind from the first that the mythical Maggs should be none
other than himself. From first to last the thing worked admirably.
Anstruther was utterly deceived by the detective's admirable disguise,
which he had assumed after leaving Carrington, and had fallen headlong
into the trap.

Therefore it was that the two men stood facing one another in
Carrington's office. Anstruther white and furious, Bates coolly
contemptuous, with a revolver in his hand.

"What have you to say for yourself?" Bates asked. "Have you any reason
to show why I should not take you straight to Bow Street on the charge
of burglary?"

Anstruther was fighting hard to regain possession of himself. Bates
could not but admire the marvelous courage of the man. Anstruther's
laugh had something quite genuine about it.

"We are making a great fuss over a little thing," he said. "I came
here because Mr. Carrington was not well enough to accompany me. There
are certain things of mine in my friend's private safe here, and
unfortunately he has lost the key. It was imperative that I should
have my property to-night, and that will, perhaps, explain my presence
here. Does that satisfy you?"

"I should be easily satisfied if it did," Bates said coolly. "I should
like to know, for instance, why you require the assistance of a
professional burglar. I know perfectly well that you called in the
assistance of 'Simple Charlie,' but I was in a position to force that
individual's hand--hence my appearance in his place."

"Really, Mr. Bates," Anstruther smiled. "I had expected better things
from you. You are perfectly well aware of the fact that I am
acquainted with half the thieves in London. It was no use asking any
safe-maker in London to try to pick that lock, because it happens to
be a French make. In such awkward circumstances as this it is no new
thing to call in a cracksman when things are wanted in a hurry."

"I am afraid that won't do," Bates said. "You had plenty of time to
call in legitimate assistance, whereas so recently as last night you
visited 'Simple Charlie' and left a note for him."

Anstruther smiled politely. He was perfectly cool and collected now--a
match for any detective in the force.

"We can settle the matter in two minutes," he said. "All you have to
do is to call in one of your men from outside and send a note to
Carrington, who will reply to the effect that I am here with his full
knowledge and consent."

"Can't do it," Bates said curtly. "I have no man to send. As a matter
of fact, I am alone in this business."

Anstruther bent down his head to conceal a smile. There was something
devilish in the cunning ferocity of his eyes. He had discovered an
important fact, and Bates did not seem to understand for the moment
what he had given away. He felt quite sure that he had matters in his
own hands now. He strolled slowly round the table, and proceeded to
examine carefully the lock of the safe.

"Do you really think you could open this?" he asked. "If you could I
should have no difficulty in proving to you----" Anstruther broke off
suddenly; his left foot shot out dexterously, and Bates came half
stumbling on his knees. Like lightning Anstruther grabbed for the
revolver. He had Bates's wrist in a grip of steel, forcing his hand
back till the fingers were bound to relax their grip on the weapon. A
moment later the revolver was kicked away, and the two men were
struggling desperately on the floor.

There was no mistaking the look on Anstruther's face. He was going to
murder Bates if he could. It would never do for any living soul to
know that he was here to-night. Once Bates's mouth was silenced
forever, he could hurry back to Panton Square, and there prove such an
alibi as would hold good in any legal court in the world. All these
things passed through that wily brain as his hands clutched closer at
Bates's throat.

It was touch and go with the latter. The only thing he could do was to
fight for his breath, and husband his strength for a final effort
later on. He looked straight into the gleaming eyeballs of his
assailant now, but he could not see the faintest suggestion of pity
there. The world began to dance before his eyes; a thousand stars
seemed to be bursting from the dark sky; then came along the corridor
the echo of fast-approaching footsteps.

"Curse it," Anstruther muttered. "Another moment, and I should have
been safe. Take that, you hound."

With one final blow he jumped to his feet, and, sprinting across the
office floor, darted into the shadow of the night.



CHAPTER XLVI.
THE MUSIC STOPS.


Bates was sitting up in bed nursing an aching head, and plotting out
schemes whereby he could best retrieve the disaster of the previous
night. It was fortunate for the inspector that one of Carrington's
night watchmen should have heard something of the disturbance on the
previous night, and come hotfoot to his assistance. There was no great
damage done beyond a bruised face and a general shock to the system.
Bates felt all the better for a good night's rest, and was quite ready
now to carry on the campaign against his powerful foe. It was some
time in the afternoon before Jack Masefield put in an appearance at
Bates's lodgings, having been summoned there by a special messenger.
Jack smiled as he noticed Bates's somewhat dilapidated condition.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "You do not seem to have been as
successful as you might--I mean over last night's business. Was the
thing a failure, or were you satisfied?"

Bates explained that up to now the battle was a drawn one. He had a
feeling that Jack would be able to help him, and that was why he asked
him to call this afternoon.

"I am not in the least dissatisfied with my last night's work," he
explained. "In the first place, we have Carrington absolutely at our
mercy. I let him know what we have discovered, and he will do anything
for us that we desire. After that, I played the part of the mythical
Maggs, and in due course disclosed myself to Mr. Anstruther. Perhaps I
was a little too confident; anyway, I gave him a chance to murder me,
and he responded to the opportunity with absolute enthusiasm. But for
the opportune arrival of the night watchman, Scotland Yard would have
lost one of its most distinguished ornaments. It was a very near
thing, I assure you."

"But what could he possibly gain by that?" Jack asked.

"Well, you see, I had let him know that I was quite alone in the
business," said Bates. "At the same time, he was not aware that my
information was so complete. If he could murder me and get safe home
without being detected, he was in a position to prove an absolute
alibi. Of course, I did not dream that I was running any risk of my
life--but that is not the point. You will remember my suggesting to
you yesterday the advisability of you dining in Panton Square last
night. I suppose that was all right?"

Jack replied that he had followed Bates's instructions out implicitly.
He had done all he could in that way.

"Very well, then. You see what I am driving at. I take it for granted
that Anstruther's mysterious musical friend was much in evidence last
night. I have no doubt that Miss Helmsley and yourself listened with
rapt attention to the music in the study."

"We had every opportunity of doing so," Jack said.

"That is precisely what I expected. Anstruther must have left the
house a little after ten o'clock, and I don't see how it was possible
for him to return much before half-past twelve. I suppose you didn't
happen to see him when he came in?"

"Indeed I did," Jack said. "It was quite half-past twelve when I was
leaving the house. The music was still in progress, but when I slipped
out of the front door, Anstruther was rapidly approaching the house
running across the lawn. He seemed very much annoyed and put out when
he saw me, and muttered something to the effect that he had heard
somebody trying the front door. I understood him to say that he had
not been out all the evening, but that was all nonsense. I could see
by his boots that he had been walking some considerable distance. Of
course, you see what the dodge is: he does not leave the house by the
door, but by the French window leading from the study to the garden.
This window he leaves unfastened, so that he can get back at any time
without a soul being any the wiser. Of course, there was always a
chance of somebody finding the window unlatched, but that is a small
matter."

"Is the window always left open?" Bates asked thoughtfully.

Jack replied that he thought so. Bates smiled with the air of a man
who is perfectly well satisfied.

"I am going to get up presently," he said. "After I have had a bath
and some tea, I shall be quite fit for duty again. I want you to find
some pretext for calling at Anstruther's just after dinner, because I
may need your assistance."

"What are you going to do?" Jack asked eagerly.

"Well, in the first place I am going to arrest Mr. Anstruther," Bates
replied. "In the second instance, I have another little scheme, which
we need not discuss now. I want you to go as far as Mr. Rigby's
chambers and get him to keep an eye on Padini, and see that last
night's programme is repeated, if possible. This is rather an
important thing. I think I can trust Mr. Rigby to manage it."

Jack went off obediently enough, and subsequently ran Rigby to earth
at the offices of the _Planet_. The latter seemed delighted at the
turn which affairs were taking. He began to see now that he would be
able to carry out for his paper the series of sensational articles
required by the proprietor. "We shall have a splendid scoop," he said.
"Indeed, one might almost make a three-volume novel out of it. I am
only too sorry that I can't be at Anstruther's to-night and witness
the arrest. I shall leave you to supply all the graphic details. I can
easily manage the Padini business this evening by writing to the
fellow that I have a check to pay over and shall call at his rooms
late to-night. I am sure to find him there. He is very hard up, and
the money is certain to fetch him."

"There are other things connected with this business," Jack said,
"which puzzle me. For instance, there is that affair of the mysterious
Mr. Ferris, whose acquaintance I made at the Great Metropolitan Hotel.
I am quite sure, also, that Seymour has some deep design on hand. You
may be absolutely certain that that business of the crystal ball
played off on Anstruther at Lady Barmouth's dance the other night was
not mere flummery."

Rigby was of the same opinion. He was anxious to know if anything had
been yet done in the matter of Carrington's private safe and the
service of Cellini plate which Anstruther had coolly appropriated for
himself. But on this point Jack had no information to offer. He did
not doubt that the whole thing would be explained in a few hours now.
He killed the day as best he could, and after dinner turned his steps
in the direction of Panton Square. Mr. Anstruther and Miss Helmsley
had practically finished, Serena explained, but they had not yet left
the dining-room. Anstruther raised his brows significantly as Jack
entered the dining-room, but his manner was polite and cordial enough
as he invited the visitor to a seat and a glass of claret. He did not
look in the least perturbed or put out; on the contrary, Jack had
seldom seen him so easy and self-possessed. His neuralgia was quite
gone. He had charmed it away as usual, he said with the soothing aid
of music.

"How is it you never bring your violin up to the drawing-room?" Claire
asked. "We hardly ever have any duets together."

"After next week," Anstruther promised. "Really, I am a great deal
more busy than I appear to be, and I feel it quite easy to play and
think at the same time."

Jack glanced across the table significantly at Claire, and she seemed
to divine what he was thinking about.

"I thought I knew most of your music," she said, "but there was one
little item last night that took my fancy immensely. I feel quite sure
that you composed it yourself."

Anstruther disclaimed any such gift. Fond as he was of his violin, it
had never occurred to him to try his hand at original composition.

"All the same, I really must get it," Claire persisted. "I am sorry
that you do not recall the piece at all. If you will come into the
drawing-room with me, and can spare me a few minutes, I will strum the
piece over to you. It so fascinated me that I committed it to memory.
Do come along for a moment."

Anstruther laughed, as Jack thought, rather uneasily. He tried
skilfully enough to divert the conversation into another channel, but
Claire's enthusiasm refused to be baffled. Anstruther's face darkened
for a moment, and there was a look in his eyes that boded ill to
somebody. He rose and walked across towards the door, and up the
stairs in the direction of the drawing-room..

"Very well, if you must," he said. "I can give you ten minutes. I dare
say it is some silly trifle that I have heard somewhere without
recognizing its source."

Claire seated herself at the piano, and played the little piece off
with both brilliancy and feeling. As a matter of fact, she had been
practicing it several times during the afternoon until she had it
absolutely correct. The slow, mournful chords died away at length, and
then Claire turned to her guardian with a smile.

"That is it," she said. "That is the little piece that so fascinated
me last night. Surely you can tell me the name of it and where it came
from?"

The question was apparently simple enough, but Anstruther appeared to
be absolutely incapable of answering it.

"Do you mean to say you could forget a thing like that?" Claire
protested. "It seems to me impossible."

"Perhaps it made less impression upon me than it did you," Anstruther
muttered. "I haven't the slightest recollection of playing it myself.
In fact----"

Anstruther broke off in absolute confusion. The incident, trivial as
it seemed, had upset him altogether. He was about to betray himself by
saying that he had never heard the piece before, and that it had no
place amongst his music; but he pulled himself up just in time. He
bitterly blamed Padini's carelessness. It was no part of the programme
for his double to give him anything but pieces of music with which he
was absolutely familiar. What he might have said and done was
frustrated by the appearance of Serena, who announced that a gentleman
down-stairs desired to see Mr. Anstruther.

Jack felt his pulses beating a little faster, for he had had no reason
to inquire who the stranger was. Serena's eyes were demure and
downcast as usual as she replied to Anstruther's question that the
gentleman down-stairs was none other than Inspector Bates, of Scotland
Yard. Only just for an instant did Anstruther falter and turn pale,
then he was absolutely himself again. He almost wished now that he had
not waited so long. He had his ingenious alibi, it was true, but even
that might fail. There were so many meshes in the nets of Scotland
Yard. In a calm, even voice he ordered Serena to show the stranger
up-stairs. Bates came at length, a little pallid and bruised, but
otherwise little worse for his last night's adventure.

"And what might be your business with me, inspector?" Anstruther
asked. "It is some time since I had the pleasure of meeting you. Will
you please take a seat?"

"I do not see the necessity," Bates responded. "As my business is
private, perhaps you will be good enough to follow me to your study. I
will speak if you like, but----"

"You may say anything you please," Anstruther said defiantly.

"Then I arrest you on a warrant, charging you with attempted burglary
last night," Bates said pithily. "You were on the premises belonging
to the City and Provincial Bank with a felonious intent of breaking
into a safe between the hours of eleven and half-past twelve. Need I
say any more?"

"Amazing," Anstruther laughed. "Fortunately I have my witnesses at
hand to prove that I was not off these premises during the hours you
mentioned. As a matter of fact, I was in my study playing my violin
all the time."

"Sounds ingenious," Bates muttered, "but in these days of clever
mechanical contrivances--by the way, is not some one playing the
violin down-stairs now?"

Despite his command of himself, a furious curse broke from
Anstruther's lips. For even as Bates spoke, there came sounds of
liquid melody from the study. Not only was this so, but, furthermore,
the piece in question was precisely the same as the one that Claire
had just been playing over to her guardian. The girl rose to her feet,
and looked across at Jack significantly. Bates smiled in the manner of
one who has solved a great problem.

"Really, a most remarkable coincidence," he said. "I am afraid this
rather spoils the simple beauty of your alibi, Mr. Anstruther; unless,
perhaps, you have some friend who entertains your household at such
times as business calls you elsewhere. But let us go down-stairs and
see for ourselves."

"No, no," Anstruther cried furiously. "You shall not do it. You shall
not interfere. I'll kill you first."

"Come along," Bates responded. "Come with me and witness the solving
of the mysterious problem."



CHAPTER XLVII.
"A WOMAN SCORNED."


It was plainly evident that Bates believed in his ability to solve the
problem. Anstruther had quite thrown the mask off by this time, and
stood glaring vindictively at the inspector. It was absolutely
maddening to a man of his ability to be caught in a sorry trap like
this. One of the strongest points in Anstruther's schemes was the fact
that hitherto he had always been on the side of the police. He had
been regarded as one of them, so to speak, so that many of his
ingenious plots had been guided solely by the action of the
authorities. It had never once occurred to him that he might have been
an object of suspicion at Scotland Yard.

"You might just as well take it quietly," Bates said. "We know the
whole thing from start to finish. It will go a great deal easier with
you if you give us all the information that lies in your power and
save us trouble."

"That is the usual course, I believe," Anstruther sneered. "But you
have a different man to deal with in me. I am quite at a loss to
understand what you are doing here at all."

Bates shrugged his shoulders, and walked in the direction of the door.
He had no difficulty in seeing that Anstruther had made up his mind to
see this thing through to the bitter end. Therefore, it was quite
useless to try and get him to see matters in a reasonable light.
Anstruther stood there, white, silent, and furious, whilst all the
time the amazing music was going on in the study.

Mysterious as the whole thing appeared to be, there was almost an
element of farce in it. Here was the very man who relied upon his
devotion to his violin to save him in the hour of danger, actually
listening, so to speak, to his own performance. He had little doubt
what Bates meant to do, for the latter was already half-way down the
stairs on his way to the study. With a sudden impulse Anstruther
followed. He passed Bates with a rapid stride, and, standing with his
back to the study door, defied the inspector to enter.

"You do not seem to understand," Bates said. "The warrant I have for
your arrest gives me the right of searching the whole house. If you
persist in this absurd conduct, I shall have to call my men in and
remove you by force."

The two men faced one another, both angry and excited, and ready to
fly at one another's throats. And yet the whole time their ears were
filled with the beautiful melody of the music, as it floated from the
room behind.

"What are we going to do?" Claire asked. She was standing with Jack at
the top of the staircase. "Is it not time that we declared ourselves?"

Jack whispered to Claire to remain where she was a moment, and slipped
out of the house into the garden unperceived. It had suddenly occurred
to him that perhaps the window leading from the study to the garden
was unfastened. He recollected that this was the means by which
Anstruther left and returned to the house. It would have been
imprudent on the latter's part to use the front door, and there was
not much risk in leaving the study window unlatched.

It was just as Jack had expected. The long French window gave to his
touch, and a moment later he was in the room. As it happened on the
previous occasion, he could see not the faintest trace of any
mechanism by means of which the melody was conveyed from the Great
Metropolitan Hotel to Panton Square. And yet the whole room was
flooded with it; rising and falling in triumphant strains, as if
mocking the intellect of a man who had brought this wonderful result
about. But there was no time to speculate on that, no time for close
investigation. On the other side of the door the voices of Anstruther
and Bates were rising to a still more angry pitch, and Claire's tones
of expostulation came to Jack's ears. As he crossed the room he could
see that the key was in the door. He flung it open, and Anstruther
came staggering backward into the room, closely followed by the
detective.

"You can see that the game is up," the latter said coolly. "Why not
make a clean breast of it? I shall find out how this is done, if I
have to pull down the house to do it."

Anstruther smiled in a scornful kind of way, and flung himself
doggedly into a seat. He bade Bates do his worst, and prophesied that
the police would suffer for this indignity. But Bates was not
listening. He was pacing rapidly round the room with his ear to the
wall, as if scenting out some clue to the mystery. A moment later, and
there came into the room the form of Serena.

One glance at her sufficed to show that she was not the Serena whom
Jack had known so long. The demure, downcast eyes were no longer
seeking the floor as of old; there was no shrinking and timidity on
the part of the woman now. She was changed almost beyond recognition.
She walked with a firm, elastic tread, her shoulders were thrown back,
and her head uplifted fearlessly. From under his heavy brows
Anstruther glanced at her suspiciously.

"Go away," he commanded hoarsely. "How dare you force yourself in here
like this! Go, woman."

But the tones of command had evidently lost their power. There was no
shrinking on Serena's part. She advanced into the middle of the room
as if the place belonged to her.

"No, no." she cried in tones as clear and ringing as Anstruther's own.
"Your power has gone forever. For three long patient years I have
waited for this moment. God only knows what my life has been, and what
a hell your cruelty has created for me. But the cord is broken now.
Only to-night I have learned the truth. I have been your good and
faithful servant; I have stooped to do your hateful work; I have been
the ally of criminals--of your creature Redgrave, amongst others; and
all because I thought you held my life in the hollow of your hand."

"Tell them the story of your boy," Anstruther sneered.

"I will tell them the truth," Serena cried. "You said you could hang
me if you liked. You pretended that in my delirium I had taken the
life of my darling child. You were shielding a murderess, as I
thought. But it was a black and cruel lie. Give me back my wasted
years, you coward; give me back my sleepless nights and dreary days.
But, thank God, that time has passed. My boy is alive--alive! He is
safe in the house at present!"

Anstruther started as if some loathsome insect had stung him, then
dropped sullenly back in his seat again. Bates turned to Serena and
called her attention to the music.

"You seem to be in a communicative mood to-night," he said. "You need
not fear any one for the future--Redgrave, or anybody else. I
understand this last scoundrel is safe in the hands of the New York
police, who were wanting him badly. Perhaps you can tell us the
meaning of this extraordinary concert we are listening to. If you will
be so good----"

Serena made no reply in words, but crossed to the side of the room
opposite the door, and tugged at a volume which was the centre of a
set of some classical dictionary. The volume came away quite easily in
her hand, bringing other dummy books with it; and then the interested
spectators saw that the books in question were no more than painted
gauze. In the orifice disclosed by the stripping away of the sham,
there appeared to be something that resembled a mouth of a great
silver trumpet. This was partly plugged with a set of sensitive metal
plates, which were evidently intended to act as a diaphragm for the
record of musical expression.

"There you have the whole thing in a nutshell," Serena said, speaking
quite naturally and quietly. "It is very ingenious, and yet, at the
same time, it is not entirely original. It is an adaptation of the
theatre-phone, in connection with a somewhat modified form of
telephone. The recording instrument is situated in my husband's in the
Great Metropolitan Hotel, and he has only to start his performance
there, and the music sounds here quite as distinctly as if he were
actually playing in this apartment. It seems exceedingly simple, now
that you know how it is done."

It did seem simple, indeed, after listening to Serena's explanation.
Bates turned to Anstruther, and asked him if he had anything to say;
but the latter shook his head doggedly. He felt quite sure that the
game was up, though he had no intention whatever of giving himself
away. And yet, despite his danger, he was still the connoisseur
enjoying the beautiful music made by Padini's violin. But to Claire,
who had crept into the room unobserved, the whole thing was horrible
and unnatural. Such lovely music as Padini was playing now was but a
sorry accompaniment to all this vulgar crime and intrigue. The girl
shuddered, and placed her hands over her ears as if to shut out the
liquid melody.

"Oh, I wish it would stop." she said. "I do wish it would stop."

As if in answer to this prayer, the long, wailing notes died away, and
the music fainted into nothingness. At the same time, Bates approached
the mouth of the trumpet, and blew shrilly on his police whistle.
There was a pause just for an instant, and then, to Jack's surprise,
came the voice of Rigby clear and distinct.

"Is that you, Inspector Bates?" he asked. "We have just finished at
this end. I am afraid there will be no more music to-night, as two of
your detectives have most inhospitably insisted upon breaking up our
concert, and escorting Signor Padini to Shannon Street police station.
Shall I come round there, or will you come round here? Do you get my
voice quite clearly?"

Bates replied grimly that he did. There was no occasion whatever to
trouble Rigby any further to-night. Then the inspector turned to
Anstruther, and tapped him on the shoulder.

"I think there is no reason to carry this farce any farther," he said.
"You will be good enough to consider yourself my prisoner. Would you
like to walk to Bow Street, or shall I call a cab?"

Anstruther intimated that it was all the same to him. He knew
perfectly well now that the whole thing was exploded. There was
something bitter in the reflection that he had been found out at last
and laid by the heels over so paltry a business as the bogus burglary
at the City and Provincial Bank.

"I think I'll walk," he said. "No, you need not call any of your men,
and you need have no fear of personal violence."

"All right," Bates said. "Though I am still suffering from the shaking
up you gave me last night. Come along."

"I must apologize for all this trouble," Anstruther said, turning to
Claire, and speaking in quite his natural manner. "I must leave you to
manage as best you can for the present. I dare say you will be able to
manage with Serena."

He turned curtly on his heel, and walked to the door. Of Jack he took
no notice whatever. A moment later the front door closed sullenly, and
Anstruther was gone.

"The house smells all the sweeter for his absence," Jack said. "My
dearest girl, you can see now what a narrow escape you have had. I
only hope, for your sake, that the fellow has not been tampering with
your fortune. You must not stay here after to-morrow. The place will
be simply besieged by newspaper reporters and interviewers. I must
find some house for you----"

"You need not trouble about that, Mr. Masefield," Serena said. "There
is one house where both of us will be welcomed with open arms. Need I
say that I am alluding to Lady Barmouth's?"

Jack gave a sigh of relief; for the moment he had quite forgotten Lady
Barmouth. At any rate, for to-night Claire and Serena could stay where
they were, and they could go to Lady Barmouth's in the morning. Then
Jack remembered all that Serena had gone through, and warmly
congratulated her upon the recovery of her boy. "It means all the
world to me," Serena cried. "It fell out exactly as Miss Helmsley said
it would. When that man called to see Mr. Anstruther again, I told him
who I was, and he took me to my child at once. The stranger had been
very kind to the lad. He knew nothing of the rascality and villainy
behind it all, and he was only too glad to see mother and son united."

"And Padini?" Jack suggested. "You must not forget----"

"I want to forget everything about him," Serena cried. "I shall be
glad, really glad, to know that that man is outside the power of doing
mischief for the next three years. Do not ask me anything else--do not
ask me, for instance, why I was playing the deaf-mute that night at
Carrington's rooms. I don't know. I was a mere slave and tool in
Anstruther's hands, and had to do exactly as he told me. It was only
by the merest accident that I discovered how the trick of the music
was done, and that I should have had to have kept to myself if my dear
boy had not been so marvelously restored to me. Perhaps at some future
time, I may be disposed to tell you more. For the present, all I want
to do is to sleep. I am longing for that one night's sweet repose
which has been so cruelly denied to me the last few years."

Jack said no more. He left the house presently with the intention of
seeing Rigby at once, and then of calling on Lady Barmouth the first
thing in the morning, and making such arrangements as would conduce to
the comfort of Claire and Serena.



CHAPTER XLVIII.
THE PROOF OF THE CAMERA.


Society generally had plenty to talk about in the way of scandal next
morning, when it became known that Spencer Anstruther had been
arrested in connection with the burglary of the City and Provincial
Bank. The only paper giving anything like the account of the arrest,
naturally, was the _Planet_, which paper vaguely hinted at further
disclosures in the early future. Jack read the account over the
breakfast table, and smiled as he recognized the hand of Rigby in all
this. He would see Rigby presently, and ascertain exactly what had
taken place last night at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. First of all,
he had to see Lady Barmouth, who had already heard something of the
news. She listened with vivid interest to all that Jack had to say,
then announced her intention of going to Panton Square at once.

"I shall bring my sister and Claire here." she said. "They shall stay
as long as they please. As to my sister and her boy, I shall be
delighted to have them. I presume there will be some sort of
proceedings against Anstruther this morning?"

To the great disappointment of the public, when Anstruther came to be
charged at Bow Street the evidence was purely formal. The prisoner had
elected not to be represented by a lawyer, and, with a view of
expediting the proceedings, had formally pleaded guilty to the charge,
and asked to be committed to the Central Criminal Court, which took
place a week from now. "Clever chap that," Bates said, as he and
Rigby, together with Jack, turned into Covent Garden. "Pretty cool,
too. He wants to save time, of course, and get the thing over before
we can complete our chain of evidence. But I fancy that by the end of
a week we shall be able to produce all the witnesses we want."

"I expect so," Rigby said. "By the way, don't forget about that
service of plate. Seymour says it ought to be conveyed to Scotland
Yard and the photographs taken at once. I have a letter from Seymour
in my pocket in which he asks me to go round and see Sir Frederick
Ormond, induce that gentleman to take the sealed crystal ball to your
headquarters, and to see that the seal is not broken, except in the
presence of one of your leading officials. Then you can get both sets
of photographs done at once."

Bates had his hands full for the next few hours. Then, towards four
o'clock, he made his way to Carrington's flat. Under plea of
indisposition, the latter had not been out for a day or so; but, as a
matter of fact, Bates had given him a pretty broad hint to keep clear
of the bank premises, and to consider himself more or less as a
prisoner on parole. Carrington's knees knocked together, and his face
turned deadly pale as Bates came into the room.

"So you have come again," he stammered. "I hope, perhaps, that--don't
say I am your prisoner."

"I am afraid that's what it comes to," Bates said. "We can't let you
off altogether, you know. But you help us, and give us all the
information in your power, and I'll do my best to get you let off as
lightly as possible. It makes all the difference between two years'
imprisonment and seven years' penal servitude."

"Am I to come with you now?" Carrington managed to stammer out. "Is
there no such thing as bail?"

Bates shook his head. Carrington would have to pass the night, and
doubtless a good many succeeding nights, in the police cells; but,
first of all, they were going as far as the bank. Bates explained that
there was no reason, for the present, why Carrington should stand
confessed as a prisoner. The bank officials need know nothing whatever
about it. What Carrington had to do now was to hand over the service
of Cellini plate at present locked up in his private safe. The
detective gave his promise that the plate in question should be
restored to its proper owner in due course, though he refused to
gratify Carrington's curiosity as to why he had specially selected
this particular art treasure.

An hour later the Cellini plate was safe in Bow Street, together with
the crystal globe; and before the week was out both articles had
undergone some mysterious process of photography, not altogether
unconnected with sheets of glass. Meanwhile, Anstruther was preparing
his defense as best he could, and Carrington had been twice remanded
on a charge of fraudulently dealing with the property of his clients.
The two cases excited the greatest interest, and on the following
Monday morning the Central Criminal Court was packed with society
people eager to hear the charges against Spencer Anstruther.

Anstruther stood there, quite calm and collected, with just the touch
of a cynical smile on his lips. He looked round the court as if in
search of acquaintances, but no one responded. Many people whom he
knew quite well affected to look over his head. But cool and
deliberate as he was, Anstruther had all his work cut out to keep his
feelings in control when the barrister who represented the Crown
proceeded to call witnesses. The name of Seymour resounded down the
corridor, and a tall man with his face muffled up and a slouch hat on
his head stepped into the box. He bowed gravely to the judge, and
apologized for wearing his hat. A moment later his hat and coat
slipped away, and he turned his face half defiantly to the light.
There was an instant's breathless pause, then a veritable shout of
astonishment, as the Nostalgo of the posters stood face to face with
those whose curiosity had been so deeply touched during the past four
months.

"My name is Seymour," he said quietly, as if quite unconscious of the
tremendous sensation his appearance had excited. "I have known the
prisoner for some years. Before I unfortunately made his acquaintance,
I was not the human wreck you see now, but a man like my fellows. But
I need not go into that. What I propose to do now is to tell the story
of the burglary at the City and Provincial Bank.

"Previous to my visit to Mexico, I occupied with Mr. Carrington the
rooms which are now his. I have in my pocket a latch-key which opens
the front door. It matters little now why I wanted to make a search of
Mr. Carrington's rooms, but I did make that search, and I was hidden
in the conservatory behind the smoking-room with Mr. John Masefield on
the night that the prisoner and Carrington planned the sham burglary
at the bank. The whole scheme was revealed to us, and I shall be
prepared to tell the jury presently what steps I took to see the
so-called burglary carried out. It is sufficient for the present to
say that it was carried out, and that I witnessed the whole
proceedings in the company of Mr. Masefield and a journalist on the
staff of the _Planet_, Mr. Rigby by name.

"I should like, at this point, to call the attention of the jury to
what we saw when the bank strong room was forced. So far as valuables
are concerned, the safe was practically empty, save for a service of
Cellini silver plate. Other witnesses beside myself will tell you that
the prisoner claimed that plate as a reward for the ingenious way in
which he had plotted to preserve Carrington's reputation. When I heard
this, a sudden inspiration came to me. With a piece of greasy rag I
hastily smeared the surface of the set of plate. I will come to my
reason for doing that presently. When the whole affair had been
finished, the prisoner was half minded to take the service of plate
back with him at once to his house in Panton Square. But Carrington
dissuaded him from this on the grounds of prudence. Therefore the
prisoner carried the plate up-stairs and deposited it in Carrington's
private safe. There it remained for a day or two, pending some way of
conveying it to Panton Square.

"But in the meanwhile something happened which aroused the prisoner's
suspicions. He made up his mind that he would himself remove the plate
from Carrington's safe by means of another burglary. Carrington
refused to have anything to do with this, but the prisoner got his own
way by the simple expedient of stealing Carrington's keys. The
prisoner is more or less intimately acquainted with some of the
cleverest thieves and housebreakers in London. There was no time to
call in an honest expert to open Carrington's safe, but the prisoner
was equal to the occasion. He called upon a well-known housebreaker
who passes by the name of 'Simple Charlie.' I know this, because for
some time I have been watching the man in the dock. I have my own
reasons for keeping quiet and living in an out-of-the-way place, and I
have a set of rooms fitted up in what is more or less a common lodging
house.

"By good fortune the man known as 'Simple Charlie' had rooms in the
same block of buildings. When the prisoner called upon him the
housebreaker was out, so that a note was left for him. This note I
managed to get hold of and read. Together with a friend of mine named
Ferris, we laid a little plot for 'Simple Charlie.' We compelled him
to find a substitute who would operate upon the safe, and that
substitute was no other than Inspector Bates, as doubtless he will
tell you later on."

It must be clearly understood that Seymour did not stand in the box
and reel off his evidence in the glib way of one who is making a
speech for the prosecution. On the contrary, the fascinating evidence
he gave was in reply to questions asked by the representative of the
Crown, occasionally supplemented by a query or two from the judge. All
this time Anstruther stood in the dock, his face knitted in an ugly
frown. Despite his easy air, his confidence was fast deserting him.
Any other man would have been crushed and broken by the deadly weight
of a testimony like that of Seymour's. In his heart of hearts
Anstruther was sick and frightened. Never for a moment had he dreamed
of anything like this. Seymour stood before him without a trace of
expression on his scarred, repulsive face. And yet every word he
uttered was as another month on the long sentence he was already
anticipating.

Anstruther came out of a dream presently, and realized with a start
that Seymour's deadly revelations were still going on. A moment later,
and the Crown Counsel suggested that Seymour should stand down for a
moment, and that Bates should take his place. The detective came into
the box alert and smiling. He told how he had impersonated the
mythical Maggs, and how he had accompanied Anstruther to the City and
Provincial Bank.

"At this point I should like to ask you a few questions." said Counsel
for the Crown. "I understand that you have become possessed of the
service of silver plate to which the last witness has already alluded.
He spoke just now of some device of his whereby the service of plate
was smeared with grease as it lay on the floor of the vault, and
before it was conveyed to Carrington's safe. Now, has this any
important bearing on the case?"

"I think you will find that it has an exceedingly important bearing on
the case," Bates said. "You will remember, sir, that Mr. Seymour made
a special request that the plate should be carefully photographed. You
will remember, also, that the prisoner himself carried the plate to
the safe and deposited it inside. We have had the plate carefully
photographed, with a view to identification by means of finger marks.
That is what we call a part of the Bertillon system. But, perhaps, I
had better explain."

Bates's explanation was carefully followed by an almost breathless
audience. Bates held up a sheet of glass in his hand.

"I have here," he said, "a photograph taken from a silver cigar case.
It is the considerably enlarged impression of finger prints left on
the cigar case by a burglar who was scared away before he could secure
his booty. By comparison of this impression from the cigar case side
by side with one of the other permanent prints at Scotland Yard we
were enabled to identify and convict the thief."

"Quite so," the barrister said. "The jury follows you. Is it your
intention to prove that on the Cellini plate marks have been found
corresponding with the lines on the prisoner's hand?"

"This is preposterous," Anstruther cried. "It is nothing less than a
vile conspiracy. I defy the police to be able to prove that the marks
of my fingers are on the plate. And even if there was more resemblance
discovered it would be out of the question for the police to compare
them with any impression of my own."

"You are doing no good to your case," the judge interposed. "You will
have plenty of opportunity to ask questions later on."

"With the permission of the jury I shall prove that," Bates said.
"Before I proceed any further, may I ask your lordship if you will
have Sir Frederick Ormond called? Sir Frederick will recollect the
night of Lady Barmouth's dance, when one of the guests, disguised as a
magician, gave him a sealed packet to take care of. When that packet
came to be unsealed and photographed by our experts, we had no
difficulty in discovering----"

A deep groan broke from Anstruther's lips.

"By Heaven!" he cried. "I had forgotten the crystal!"



CHAPTER XLIX.
PROOF POSITIVE.


Anstruther's denunciation of himself rang out loud and clear, so that
it was heard to the uttermost parts of the court. Nothing could have
condemned him more than that speaking cry; there was wanted no witness
more damning than his white face and staring eyes. In sooth, he had
quite forgotten the crystal globe. It all came back to him now, and he
saw vividly and clearly the semi-comedy which had been enacted at Lady
Barmouth's dance by himself and the so-called magician. To a man of
Anstruther's capabilities, the idea that he had walked headlong into a
trap laid for him was maddening. He had devised so many cunning
schemes for the lowering of others into confessions of crime, that it
was all the more galling to find himself hoist with his own petard.

It was in vain that he strove to recover the ground he had lost. He
could see a grim smile on the face of the judge, and even the
suggestion of amusement in the jury box. He seemed as if about to
burst into passionate protest, then placed his hands upon his lips,
and maintained instead a stolid silence.

"Perhaps I had better make a little explanation here," Counsel for the
Prosecution said. "A great deal turns on the matter of this crystal
ball. The witness Seymour has already explained to the court the story
of the Cellini plate up to a certain point. That story we shall
substantiate presently by calling the witnesses Masefield and Rigby.
Your lordship will understand that Lady Barmouth's now historic dance
took place subsequent to the robbery at the City and Provincial Bank.
The witness Seymour has already told you that he overheard the whole
conspiracy between the prisoner and Carrington, by means of which the
public would have been deluded into believing that a great robbery had
taken place. The witness Seymour has also informed you that he had
meant to be present when this bogus burglary took place--an event that
subsequently happened. It was only when the Cellini plate lay outside
the bank strong room that the most ingenious idea occurred to Seymour.

"He has told us how, by means of a greasy rag, he smeared over the
service of plate, which was subsequently placed by Anstruther's own
hand in Carrington's safe. Beyond all question, the imprints of
Anstruther's fingers must have remained on the plate; indeed, we shall
prove this beyond question before long. By way of making the thing
absolutely certain, it was necessary to get a proper impression of
Anstruther's hands. Hence the comedy of the magician--a little comedy
which shall be explained later--which character was quite easily
carried out at a fancy dance like Lady Barmouth's. I am aware, my
lord, that my proceeding is a little irregular, but I want to clear
the thing up as I go along. If the prisoner has any objection, I will,
of course, conduct my case----"

"The prisoner has no objection whatever," Anstruther growled. "I say
the whole thing is a conspiracy, and a rascally one at that."

"The proceedings are somewhat irregular," the judge
interposed, "but seeing that the prisoner declines to be legally
represented----"

Anstruther shrugged his shoulders, and the Prosecuting Counsel went
on. He had little more to say on the present head. He now proposed to
call Sir Frederick Ormond.

The popular young statesman stepped into the witness-box with a jaunty
air, and a smile which suggested amusement; in fact, he seemed to
regard the whole thing in the light of a very good joke.

"I want you, Sir Frederick," the Crown lawyer went on, "to tell us
exactly what happened in regard to this magician business at Lady
Barmouth's house the other night."

"Really, there is very little to tell you," Ormond smiled. "I regarded
it as all part of the fun. I was sitting close to the table occupied
by the prisoner and the mysterious magician; in fact, I regarded the
whole thing as a pure piece of comedy got up between those gentlemen
to amuse the guests."

"You had no notion of the magician's name, then?" the lawyer asked.
"You were not taken into the secret?"

"Oh, dear no. It seemed to me to be a very clever piece of acting. I
must confess I was just a little impressed when the crystal was placed
in the box, after being firmly held by the prisoner for a few moments.
The magician asked for the box to be sealed, which was done, and the
thing subsequently passed into my possession."

"Stop one moment," Anstruther cried. "That box was sealed up and taken
away by you. Nobody else touched it?"

The witness explained that nobody handled the box besides himself
until Inspector Bates fetched it away under an authority from Scotland
Yard. Sir Frederick went on to explain that he had been present when
the seal of the box was broken.

"Nobody could tamper with it during the time you had it, I suppose?"
Anstruther asked. "You kept it under lock and key?"

"The whole time," the witness cried. "You must understand that I am
quite used to keeping valuable documents and that kind of thing. I
took that box straight ho me, and locked it securely away in a drawer
in my safe, where it remained until the police fetched it."

Asked if he had any further questions to put, Anstruther sullenly
declined. He still harped upon the string that this was a criminal
conspiracy got up against him by the police, and insinuated that the
mysterious magician was nothing else than a detective smuggled into
Lady Barmouth's house for the purpose of trapping him.

"I think it would be as well, my lord, to sweep away this impression
at once," the Crown Counsel exclaimed. "I propose to put the magician
in the box without delay."

Anstruther stared open-mouthed as Seymour once more came forward. The
prisoner's quick intellect saw the whole scheme quite clearly now.
Pressed as he was, and in danger as he was, he had just a touch of a
grim smile of approval. It was a trap entirely after his own heart.
Yet his eyes held a menace as they met those of Seymour. The latter
returned the gaze. There was a merciless gleam in his own pupils as he
faced the jury box.

"Here we have the mysterious magician," the Crown Counsel explained.
"Perhaps you will tell us how you came to think of this thing. A mere
outline will do."

"It came to me when I was watching those men in the vaults of the
bank," Seymour explained in his deep, ringing voice. "I am very much
interested in crime and criminals, and more than interested in the
prisoner at the bar. I cannot forget--I shall never forget--the fact
that, but for him, I should be as other men. To be revenged on him,
and to expose one of the greatest scoundrels the world has ever seen,
I came back to England. I found the prisoner a popular figure in
society. I discovered that my task would be no easy one. I had,
moreover, to be careful--my face is one that it is not easy to
disguise. From the very first good fortune was on my side. I made one
discovery after another--all tending to the discredit of the prisoner
at the bar. I have already explained to the court how I became in a
position to overhear the conspiracy that led to the robbery of the
bank. Other witnesses will tell you in greater detail what happened
that night at the bank. It was only when I heard the prisoner coolly
arranging to appropriate that magnificent service of plate that my
idea occurred to me. I was going to prove that the plate had been
through Anstruther's hands. Of course, I am quite familiar with the
Bertillon system, and here was a chance of putting it into practice. I
hastily smeared the silver with grease, in order that the marks should
be all the more distinct."

"What does all this acting lead to?" Anstruther cried.

"I am just coming to that," Seymour said quietly. "I knew that when
the plate came to be photographed by the police, the finger prints
would show quite clearly on the glass slide. It is necessary to have a
corresponding set of prints, hence my idea of the magician and the
crystal ball. As a matter of fact, Lord Barmouth is a great friend of
mine; indeed, we have suffered a lot at the hands of the prisoner. It
was, therefore, not difficult for me to procure an invitation to Lady
Barmouth's dance, which I attended in the dress of a magician. I was
the magician. I arranged the plan myself, and I obtained the
impression of those finger tips, which will show presently, when they
are compared with those taken from the set of Cellini plate. I have
nothing more to say for the present."

Anstruther intimated that he had no questions to ask the witness. He
had come into court prepared to take advantage of anything in his
favor, trusting to his intelligence and audacity to pull him through.
But not for a moment had he guessed how strong a case the police had
piled up against him. Not that he gave the police any credit for the
business at all. He could see quite clearly that they would have done
nothing without the aid of Seymour. Had the latter not taken in hand
the matter, the police would never have discovered his connection with
the bogus burglary; and, however much Carrington might subsequently
have suffered, the main rogue in the play would have gone off scot
free.

It was a dramatic story that Seymour had told the court, and every
word that he had said was followed with the most rapt attention. The
sensation of seeing Nostalgo in the flesh would have been enough for
most people, but when one of the most mysterious personages that had
ever excited the attention of London stood up like this, the central
figure of a great crime, the excitement was multiplied a hundredfold.

There was a pause here, and the lawyer of the Crown looked
significantly at Bates. The latter rose, and produced a cardboard box
and something that looked like an exaggerated camera. There was a
breathless pause, for everybody was on the tiptoe of expectation. Even
the judge leaned forward eagerly, wondering what was going to happen
next.

"We are going to prove the identification of the finger marks," the
lawyer explained. "For this purpose we shall have to darken the court,
and throw the photographs on a large sheet which has been pinned to
the wall at the back of the building. I trust your lordship will have
no objection to this course."

The judge was understood to say that he objected to nothing calculated
to further the ends of justice. The fashionable audience thrilled.
Society settled down to the knowledge that it was going to have a new
sensation. Ladies ceased the rustling of their fans, and the
whispering and giggling stopped, for here was a drama far more
realistic and terrible than anything ever seen upon the stage. A man's
future literally hung upon the fair white cloth suspended from the
wall at the end of the court.

The lights went out one by one, until there was nothing left but the
pallid flame of the lantern lamp, which faintly picked out the eager
eyes and parted lips of the excited spectators. Then the lamp
vanished, and almost immediately a brilliant disc of light was thrown
on the white sheet. In the long lane of flame the little motes of dust
and fluff danced and flickered. Here and there, as a hand or an arm
went up from those at the back of the lantern, ghostly accusing
shadows seemed to flit. Out of the darkness the voice of the Crown
Counsel came with a startling suddenness.

"In the first instance," he said, "we propose to throw on the screen
the magnified photograph of certain finger impressions taken from the
Cellini plate. These photographs were made at Scotland Yard, and
developed by the expert who is now assisting us in this matter. Here,
my lord, and gentlemen of the jury, is the first of the magnified
photographs."

The great white shining disc disappeared as if by magic for a moment,
and then upon it there stood out a wonderful reproduction of the right
and left palms and finger tips of a human hand. Magnified so largely,
every line and scar and little filament could be seen. It was as if
some painstaking engraver had worked up the whole thing under a
powerful microscope.

"There we have the impression of the prisoner's hands as taken from
the Cellini plate," the lawyer went on. "If we are wrong, it is for
the prisoner to prove it. But to make matters absolutely certain, the
next plate will show the same finger prints as taken from the crystal
ball. We know from the highest authority that the crystal ball was
last in the hands of the prisoner."

The photograph vanished, the great white disc shone out again, and
once more it was obscured by an almost precisely similar photograph.
It would have been an expert, indeed, who could have found out any
dissimilarity between the two pictures.

"And now, to make matters doubly sure," the lawyer said, "we propose
to reproduce the two photographs superimposed one on the top of the
other."

Another exciting moment followed, a pause of almost painful interest;
and then the two slides were placed in the lantern at once. They stood
out on the sheet, just a shade misty and indistinct, like a badly
printed picture; but the veriest novice there could see at once for
himself that they were the same hands. As suddenly as it had vanished
the lights flashed up again, and every eye was turned upon
Anstruther's white and rigid face.

"My lord," he said, in a hoarse, strained voice, "with your
permission, I should like it adjourned until to-morrow."



CHAPTER L.
ON THE BRINK.


It was quite evident that the strong man was breaking down under the
strain of these damning proofs. He would, apparently, have said more
if he could, but his lips were dry, and the back of his throat
appeared to have turned to ashes. With a shaking hand he lifted the
glass of water which had been placed on a little ledge before him, and
drank it down eagerly.

"What object do you expect to gain by this course?" the judge asked.
"If you have any witnesses to call----"

Anstruther intimated that he had. The eager audience appeared to be
disappointed. It was as if they had just witnessed the first act of a
powerful drama which had ended abruptly owing to some unforeseen
circumstance. Still, the prisoner was likely to have his own way over
this, seeing that he was undefended by counsel; indeed, it was only
fair that no obstacle should be put in his way.

"Very well, then," the judge said briefly. "The case is adjourned till
ten o'clock to-morrow morning."

Five minutes later the court was deserted, and another judge was
listening to some prosaic case of no importance whatever. Seymour had
made his way rapidly out of court, followed by a curious crowd. He was
quite calm and collected, though he had taken the precaution to hide
his features as much as possible. Jack and Rigby caught him just at
the moment that he was entering his cab.

"Where are you going to?" the latter said. "I have got a thousand
questions to ask you. Don't run away like this."

"I wasn't going anywhere in particular," Seymour explained. "I have
nothing to do but to kill time. It seems to me that I have very little
more to do in the way of ridding the world of Mr. Spencer Anstruther.
Call it unchristian if you like, but there is a feeling deep in my
heart that I shall be able to rest in future without the wild desire
of always being at that fellow's throat. I don't think they will want
me to-morrow morning."

"What do you suppose Anstruther is up to?" Jack asked.

"Suicide." said Seymour curtly. "I know that man far better than
either of you. And if this verdict goes against him to-morrow--as
assuredly it will--he will find some way of putting an end to his
life."

Jack look significantly at Rigby, who nodded.

"Come round to my rooms," he suggested, "and let us talk this matter
over. And now that you have once appeared in public, and now that you
have once told part of your story in the witness-box, you might, at
least, disclose the rest of it to two sympathetic friends like
ourselves."

Just for a moment Seymour seemed to hesitate.

"Very well," he said. "If you don't get it from me you will from Lord
Barmouth. If it had not been for Ferris and your discovery of him at
the Great Metropolitan Hotel, nothing would have induced me to say a
word. But I have more than a hope now that before long I shall stand
before the world a changed man, and be able to take my place amongst
my fellow creatures without being the subject of vulgar and idle
curiosity. I will tell you everything when we get as far as your
rooms."

It was over a whiskey and soda and a cigar that Seymour proceeded to
tell his story. Both Jack and Rigby had heard the best part of it
before. They knew all about the Mexican tribe and the dangers of the
gold belt, but the cream of the mystery to them was the way in which a
man of ordinary appearance could be transformed into so repulsive an
object.

"The whole thing." said Seymour, as he approached the most fascinating
part of his narrative, "was the way in which those people revenged
themselves upon outsiders who had the temerity to invade the region of
the gold belt. Mind you, they were a powerful tribe, and in some
remote age or other had evidently been highly civilized. At the time
Ferris and Barmouth and myself had the misfortune to find ourselves
prisoners in their hands, they were absolutely eaten up with
priestcraft. As I think I told you before, the most powerful man in
the tribe was not a native at all, but an Englishman. You will not be
surprised to hear that the Englishman's name was Anstruther. I did not
know then as I know now what that man had gone through to learn the
secret of where the great masses of gold were hidden. Interrupting my
narrative for a moment--have either of you ever noticed a faint
resemblance between Anstruther and any other Nostalgo like myself?"

"I have," Jack cried. "Especially in moments of passion."

"That I can quite easily understand," Seymour went on. "When
Anstruther first fell into the hands of those people he was served in
exactly the same way as I was served myself; in other words, one of
those diabolically clever surgeons in the tribe turned him into a
Nostalgo. Don't ask me how it is done; don't ask me to explain how the
muscles are cut and knotted and twisted so as to give one the hideous
deformity of face which is my curse at present. But Anstruther carried
the same intolerable burden in his day. Why he was retained amongst
the tribe; why he was not sent out into the world as an example to
others, is not for me to say. Perhaps he made himself useful, for he
is a clever man. Perhaps they had need of his services. At any rate,
the devilish surgeon who could make a man look like a hideous demon
fully understood the art of restoring a face to its normal aspect."

"But Ferris has discovered a surgeon who can do that," Jack explained.
"He has already told us so."

"It is on Ferris's little Frenchman that I mainly rely," Seymour said.
"Otherwise, I should fade out of this business, and you would see me
no more."

"There is one thing I cannot understand," Rigby put in. "Why did
Anstruther cause all those posters to be placed on the principal
hoardings of London?"

"Because Ferris had escaped him," Seymour explained. "You see, he
wanted Ferris very badly. He could blackmail him, and hoped to go on
doing so with impunity. But Ferris gave his tormentor the slip, and
placed himself in the hands of that clever French surgeon. Once the
cure was complete, Ferris could have passed Anstruther in the street
without the least fear of being recognized. He had only to change his
name, and the thing was done."

"But I don't quite understand yet," Jack said.

"Well, you see, Ferris is a very sensitive man, and cursed with a
lively imagination. That was where Anstruther's wonderful intellect
came in. He had lost his man, and was determined to find him once
more. Hence those accusing posters, that were destined to meet
Ferris's eye at every turn, and so play upon his nerves that he would
be glad to give himself up, and make the best terms he could. It was
just the sort of scheme to appeal to Anstruther, and I am quite sure
that if Ferris had not met his friend the surgeon, the plan would have
been brilliantly successful. And now, if you don't mind, I should like
to go as far as the Great Metropolitan Hotel and talk this matter over
with Ferris. I am not in the least likely to be called to-morrow;
indeed, it seems to me that I have finished my task so far as
Anstruther is concerned. This being so, the sooner I place myself in
the hands of the French surgeon the better. My word! If you men could
only understand the life I have led the past three years!"

Seymour turned away, and hid his face for a moment. The other two
could respect and understand his feelings, for a long pause followed.
When Seymour paused again, he was more calm and collected. He pitched
his cigar into the fireplace, and suggested calling a cab and going
off to the Great Metropolitan Hotel at once. Ferris appeared only too
glad to see them; indeed, he was much better and more cheerful than he
had been a night or two ago, when Fate had so strangely brought Jack
and himself together. Most of the plaster had been removed from his
face by this time, and, so far as his visitors could see, there were
only the faintest traces that the knife had been used to remove the
terrible brand of the Nostalgo scourge.

"I expect to be out in two or three days," Ferris explained. "I shall
walk the streets with all the more pleasure now that I know there is
no chance of meeting Anstruther. I have just been reading an account
of the trial in one of the evening papers."

Seymour grasped his old comrade's hand, and drew him eagerly to the
light. It was brilliant sunshine outside, so that the face of Ferris
was picked out clearly. Despite his assumed calmness, there was a
trembling anxiety in Seymour's eyes. Long and earnestly did he gaze at
the pale features of his friend.

"Yes," he muttered. "Yes, I can hope at last. What a wonderful
operator your surgeon must be. So far as I can see, you have no marks
whatever, except here and there some star-shaped scars, which will
vanish in the course of a few days."

"They will be gone altogether at the end of a week," Ferris said. "At
least, so my doctor says."

"Amazing!" Seymour cried. "Why, I myself have tried specialists in
nearly every capital in Europe. Every one of them was utterly ignorant
of how the thing had been brought about, and not a single operator of
the lot could give me the faintest hope of my ever being any better;
and yet here you find a comparatively unknown man, who places his
finger on the right spot at once. How did he manage it?"

"That is quite easily explained," Ferris said. "You will not be
surprised to hear that this Doctor Benin has led a life of adventure.
He was out in Mexico four years ago with an exploring party, and
accidentally came in contact with the same tribe that has cost us both
so dear."

"Ah," exclaimed Seymour. "Now I begin to understand. Like the rest of
us, Doctor Benin was after the gold. I presume he came under the ban
of the tribe, who made a Nostalgo out of him, and turned him out as
hideous as the rest of us."

"You have guessed it exactly," Ferris said gravely. "For over a year
Benin was experimenting on the muscles of the face. He discovered, at
length, that certain of these muscles had been drawn up by some
ingenious process, and partially paralyzed. This it was that gave the
face of every Nostalgo its peculiar hideous appearance. Benin
discovered, at length, a means by which the temporary paralysis of the
muscles could be removed, and a man's normal expression restored to
him. You know what I was at one time--look at me now! I tell you that
in a month from now you can be absolutely restored to the world,
without people shuddering and turning away as they pass you in the
street. The same remark applies to Lord Barmouth. Once Anstruther is
out of the way, we shall come back to our own again, and know the
meaning of happiness once more."

"I think that Barmouth ought to know this," Jack said. "I have already
told him about Mr. Ferris, and he is anxious for a meeting to be
arranged. But I must go off now, and inform him how successful the
operation has been."

Jack found Barmouth pacing up and down the study in no enviable frame
of mind. On inquiry, it turned out that Anstruther had sent Barmouth a
summons to appear at the trial the following morning and give evidence
on his behalf.

"Of course, this is a mere act of simple spite," he said. "He merely
wants to expose me to the gaze of the world, and thus spoil the rest
of my miserable life for me; but I shall go, I have quite made up my
mind to that. At the same time, Anstruther will not realize his
purpose. I shall take the precaution to practically hide my face with
strips of sticking plaster, and let it be understood that I am
suffering from the result of an accident."

Jack proceeded to turn the conversation in the direction of Doctor
Benin. He could not complain that he lacked an interested listener.
Barmouth would see Benin without delay; indeed, he would call upon him
after he had given evidence at the trial to-morrow. There would be no
difficulty about this, Jack said, for Benin was pretty sure to attend
the hearing in person. Jack's prophecy was borne out next morning by
the appearance of Benin in the well of the court. The first witness
called was Barmouth; who, true to his promise, had disguised himself
almost beyond recognition. As he stepped into the witness-box,
Anstruther turned upon him savagely from the dock, and then the face
of the latter, with the light upon it, was plainly visible to the
little French doctor. Heedless of his surroundings, heedless of the
solemnity of the occasion, the Frenchman jumped to his feet, and
pointed a shaking finger in Anstruther's direction.

"Murderer, murderer!" he cried. "Dog, is it you?"

Anstruther paused, and threw up his hands like a man who is shot. He
fell back, a collapsed heap, on the floor of the dock. A warder rushed
forward and raised the prostrate figure.

"I think he is dead, my lord," he said simply.



CHAPTER LI.
AGAINST THE WORLD.


Anstruther lay there to all appearances quite dead. So swift and
dramatic had the whole thing been, that nobody moved for a moment;
indeed, a greater portion of the excited audience did not seem to
grasp what had happened. Rigby turned and looked at Benin, who was
frowning in the direction of the dock, and breathing hard as if he had
run fast and far. Then one of the warders in the court moved to the
assistance of his colleague, and between them they raised the prisoner
so that his haggard face appeared over the edge of the rail. With an
assumption of indifference, the Frenchman dropped back into his seat
again.

"Surely he is not afraid of you," Jack whispered. "And yet I feel
quite certain that your appearance frightened him terribly."

"He has good need to be afraid of me," Benin growled. "I could hang
that man--I could prove him guilty of murder. For, look: that man and
myself have met in Paris. You have little notion of the extent of his
crime. But he is not dead--men of that type do not die so easily. See,
he is opening his eyes again."

Anstruther had struggled into an upright position, and was feebly
gasping for water. He gave one half-frightened glance in the direction
of the Frenchman, who shrugged his shoulders, as if to say the whole
affair was no business of his.

"I shall not betray him," he whispered to Rigby. "It is a painful
case, which will be no better for being dragged into the light of day.
Besides, that man will be punished enough; a long term of imprisonment
will be worse to him than hanging. He understands, now, that I am not
going to betray him."

Anstruther was himself again at last. He stood rigid and erect; there
was the faint suggestion of a smile upon his face.

"Merely a passing weakness," he murmured. "I have to apologize to the
court for the trouble I am giving. May I be allowed to make a
statement?"

"It would have been far better if the statement had come through your
counsel," the judge said. "I warned you from the first that you were
imperiling your position by refusing to accept legal aid. If the jury
find you guilty----"

"The jury may find me guilty or not," Anstruther said. "I am
sufficiently strong a man to know when I am beaten. Therefore I do not
propose to waste the time of the court by carrying my defense any
further. I have assisted the police on many occasions; indeed, I have
been a great help in bringing a number of notorious criminals to
justice. But I pay the prosecution this compliment--never once in the
whole course of my career have I worked out anything neater than the
scheme which has placed me in my present position. I desire to plead
guilty to the whole thing. I did conspire with Mr. Carrington over
that bank business, and with my own hands I removed the Cellini plate
to the custody of Carrington's private safe. I am not in the least
penitent. I am not in the least sorry for myself. In the
circumstances, I would act precisely the same again. You may do what
you like with me, and pass any sentence you think fit. I don't think
there is any need for me to say more."

The speaker bowed gravely to the judge and resumed his seat, which he
had asked for as a favor. Failing any reply on the part of the Crown
Attorney, the judge began to sum up the case. He made no comment, but
curtly and drily sentenced the prisoner to fourteen years' penal
servitude. The latter rose to his feet, and intimated that he was
ready. With a firm step and the faint shadow of a cynical smile on his
lips, he walked down the steps and thus disappeared forever from the
society of his fellow men. The whole thing was over now, and the
dramatic trial was finished. It was, perhaps, a fitting ending to a
sensational case, which had been full of surprises from beginning to
end. In spite of it all, Jack looked grave and somewhat anxious. Now
that the affair was over, he could find it in his heart to have a
little pity for Anstruther.

"Why so grave and silent?" Rigby asked.

"I think you understand," Jack said quietly. "It always seems to me a
sad thing to see a man of such brilliant talents in so degraded a
situation. Anstruther might have done anything. With an intellect like
his he might have climbed to the highest places. And yet he prefers
deliberately to remain a criminal."

"The criminal instinct must have been always there," Benin said.
"There are some men who cannot go straight, and your brilliant
Anstruther is one of them."

The audience was pouring out of the court now, talking eagerly and
excitedly of the events of the morning. Only a few people remained
now, and, glancing indifferently over them, Jack noted the pale,
anxious features of Carrington. The man lingered behind, as if afraid
to face the open air. He shrank back shaking and despairing as Bates
walked over in his direction.

"Very sorry, Mr. Carrington." said the latter, "but my duty is quite
clear before me. We had our own reasons for not placing you in the
dock along with your friend, because we might have had to call you as
a witness. As I promised you, I will do all I can to let you down as
easily as possible, but I hold a warrant for your arrest on the
grounds of theft and conspiracy, and I am bound to execute it. You
will be good enough to come this way, please."

The wretched man whined and whimpered. But there was nothing for it
now but to follow the detective, and, so far as Carrington was
concerned, the story is finished. By this time Jack and his companions
were in the street. They lingered there chatting together, uncertain
as to what to do next, when Benin proceeded to solve the problem. He
suggested the advisability of his having an interview with Lord
Barmouth without delay.

"You tell me his lordship has already heard of me," he said. "After my
own experiences, I can imagine what his feelings have been the last
few years. I want to see him at once, and convince him that within a
month he will be free to stand before his fellow men, as Ferris will
be within the next few days."

Barmouth had lost no time in leaving the court directly he discovered
that there would be no occasion for him to enter the witness-box.

When Jack and the others reached Belgrave Square, Barmouth had already
removed the strips of plaster from his face, and was walking up and
down his study with the restless air of one whose mind is ill at ease.
All the same, he seemed to divine the cause of Benin's presence, for
he held out his hand and smiled gratefully.

"I know you come to me in the guise of a friend, Doctor Benin," he
said. "Is it too much to hope that you can cure me as you cured my
friend Ferris?"

"There is no doubt about it whatever," the Frenchman said. "It is all
a matter of an operation on the muscles of the face. You will be
yourself again; even that horrible yellow tinge will disappear from
your skin. I should like, if possible, to operate upon Seymour and
yourself at the same time. I dare say you have some quiet country
place that we could go to?"

There was more than one such retreat, as Barmouth proceeded to
explain. They talked over the matter eagerly and earnestly for some
time, until a message arrived that Mr. Anstruther earnestly desired an
interview with Lord Barmouth. The latter started and shook his head.
He had no disposition whatever to see Anstruther again. But as he
thought the matter over, kindlier thoughts prevailed. After all, the
man was past all power of mischief, and despite the way in which he
had carried himself off, must have felt his position most keenly. On
the whole, Barmouth decided to go.

He found Anstruther pacing up and down his roomy cell. The man looked
haggard and drawn. Well as he had himself in hand, Anstruther's
twitching lips betrayed his emotion.

"I dare say you wonder why I sent for you," he said. "You need not be
afraid of me; they have rendered me quite harmless. They have even
taken away my watch and chain and money. Why they left me this little
pearl-headed scarf pin I don't know--probably they overlooked it. It
is these little careless things which prevent the Force from being
quite as efficient as it might be."

Anstruther smiled in a peculiar way as he spoke. But Barmouth did not
appear to notice. Anstruther walked up and down the cell, talking
freely as he went.

"It was exceedingly good of you to come," he said, "especially as I
have done you so grievous a wrong. You will be perhaps pleased to hear
that all the sufferings I underwent in Mexico were wasted. I never so
much as laid my hand upon an ounce of the gold for which I risked my
life; indeed, at the end I just contrived to save my mere existence.
When I sent for you to-day it was most sincerely to ask you to pardon
me for all the harm that I have done to you and others. I was going to
tell you in any case the means by which you could be restored to your
normal appearance. If the case went against me to-day I had determined
to write to you and give you the address of Doctor Benin. But when I
saw him in court to-day I knew perfectly well that you and he had
already met, and, therefore, there was no reason for me to say
anything. You and I have always been antagonistic; I do not bear you
any ill will for that."

"And I can assure you that there is no ill will on my side," Barmouth
replied. "Mind you, I cannot forget all the sufferings that I have
undergone at your hands. It is strange what men will do when the greed
for gold is upon them, and how little good does it tend to when the
gold comes. Only a few hours ago I was longing to meet you face to
face under such conditions as would render your death a secret. I
would have killed you like a dog, I always meant to kill you. When I
was paying blackmail to you under a name other than my own I was ever
plotting the opportunity which would have betrayed you into my hands.
I should have deemed it no crime to have rid the world of a scoundrel
like yourself. And yet, as God is my witness, when I see you here like
this, an outcast and a felon, when I think of the terrible way in
which your great talents have been wasted, I have nothing but pity for
your lamentable condition."

Anstruther took a step forward, the veins on his forehead knotted, his
hands were clenched in a paroxysm of passion.

"Don't talk like that," he said hoarsely. "Don't begin to pity me, or
I shall fly out and strangle you. If there was no chance of you ever
being anything but what you are--I mean so far as your personal
appearance is concerned--I would willingly change places with you at
this moment. And I was a Nostalgo myself, and know what the punishment
means. But I did not bring you here to talk entirely about myself. I
have felt for a long time that Jack Masefield has viewed me with
suspicion. Perhaps he thinks I am unaware of his engagement to Claire.
Why, I knew every movement of his. He will be surprised to hear that I
knew he was in the cupboard near Padini's room the time I was spying
about there. What was I after? Well, Padini had certain papers of
mine, and it was not policy to accuse him of the theft _then_. Just as
if open-minded people like those could deceive me. I can quite forgive
Masefield for his caution, but you can tell him that Claire's fortune
has suffered nothing at my hands. Not that I wish to take any credit
for that; it is merely that the other trustee, being a shrewd lawyer,
was too clever for me. However, Claire has her two thousand a year
intact, and she is free to marry Masefield when she likes.

"There is another matter of which I wish to speak to you--that is, as
regards Serena. I understand that she is Lady Barmouth's sister. Well,
I am glad of that, because the poor woman and her boy will have a
happy home in future. I behaved abominably to Serena: I lied to her, I
tricked and tormented her, so that I might get her in my power, and
make use of her wonderful talents as an actress. She believed that I
held her life in the hollow of my hand, and therefore she was the
veriest slave to my will. But nothing wrong, Barmouth; Serena is as
good and pure as your own wife. I understand that Padini has been
arrested owing to his having taken a hand in that musical jugglery of
mine.

"For Serena's sake he must be got rid of. All you have to do is to
drop a line to the Director of Public Prosecutions in Paris, and say
that Monsieur Lemarque is masquerading in London as Padini, the
violinist. After that I don't think Serena will be troubled with her
precious husband any more. And now I will not detain you any longer.
If you will accept this pin as a souvenir I shall be glad. You see it
is a small pearl on a gold wire. There is one peculiarity about it.
The pearl is hollow, and it often occurred to me how useful it would
be to conceal a drop or two of some virulent poison inside in case one
fell into the hands of the authorities."

Filled with a sudden suspicion, Barmouth darted forward. The faint
mocking smile of Anstruther's face told him as plainly as words could
tell exactly what was going to happen. He reached forward and clutched
Anstruther. It was too late.

"For Heaven's sake, Anstruther," Barmouth cried. "Think; pause before
you do anything so rash, so blasphemous."

"It is very good of you," Anstruther said quite coolly. "I know you
mean well, but this is the way I prefer myself."

He placed the pearl within his lips, and crushed it with his teeth.



CHAPTER LII.
THE END OF IT ALL.


Barmouth could see a little speck of foam like a white feather on the
lips of his companion. He saw Anstruther throw up his head, and the
apple of his throat moved as if in the act of swallowing. The whole
thing had been so swift and unexpected, that Barmouth could not blame
himself for what had happened. There was no occasion to tell him that
the pearl had contained some deadly poison, for already the effect of
it was apparent on Anstruther's features. He gasped painfully as if
some terrible pain had gripped him by the heart, his features twitched
horribly, yet he smiled with the air of a man who is by no means
displeased with himself.

"Yes," he said quite naturally, "I think it will be just as well if
you called in the warder who is watching us through that grating in
the door, and tell him everything that has happened."

Barmouth lost no time in doing so. There was a great tramping and
commotion in the corridor outside, and presently Bates and the prison
doctor rushed in. By this time Anstruther was seated on the only chair
in the cell; there was a heavy bead of moisture on his face. He smiled
faintly at Bates.

"It is exactly as Lord Barmouth has said," he explained. "When your
people deprived me of everything that I possessed they forgot to
remove a tiny pearl-headed pin from my scarf. It was only a very small
pearl--you could have bought the thing in any West-End shop for a
sovereign; but the gem was not so innocent as it appeared to be.
Inside I had caused to be placed one spot of deadly poison no larger
than a pin's head. I have had it there for years in case of an
emergency. I have always had a presentiment that sooner or later the
end would be thus, and I am much too active-minded a man to dare to
pass years in jail. I should have gone mad under treatment like that.
Therefore, you see I was quite ready for you. I had only to take that
pin from my tie, and make the tiniest puncture in the tip of my
tongue, then all I had to do was to crush the pearl within my teeth,
and the thing was done. There need be no inquest; the poison in
question was one spot from the fang of a cobra. See, the end is very
near."

Anstruther staggered to his feet, threw his hands above his head, and
collapsed in a heap on the floor. There was one fearful shuddering
contortion of the muscles, and after that a rigid stillness. The
prison doctor bent down, and examined the silent form carefully. He
shook his head gravely.

"My services here are absolutely useless," he said. "The man is dead.
I only wonder that he lived so long. It was a sad ending to what might
have been a brilliant career."

"It was a brilliant career," Bates muttered. "We never had a detective
in the Force as clever as Mr. Anstruther. Shall I call a cab for you,
my lord? There is nothing to gain by your waiting any longer."

Barmouth nodded in an abstracted kind of way; he hardly appeared to
heed what Bates was saying. In the same dreamy fashion he was driven
homewards. On reaching Belgrave Square he found that Benin had gone
off on some business, leaving Jack and Rigby behind him. In a few
words he told the others what had happened. There was nothing more to
be said on the matter, and no great feeling was expressed, seeing that
Anstruther had never been anything else but an enemy to all of them.

"He seemed desirous of making amends at the last," Barmouth said. "For
instance, he has shown us a way whereby my wife's unfortunate sister
can be forever free of Padini. Also he informed me that Miss Claire
Helmsley's fortune is absolutely intact. He was cynical to the last,
and suggested that Jack here should marry the lady of his choice
without delay."

"That is very good of him," Jack said drily. "But as far as I am
concerned, I shall not be in the least sorry to hear that Claire has
nothing. I do not want the suggestion made that I am in any way a
fortune hunter. It is not a pleasant idea."

"What is the good of talking that nonsense," Rigby exclaimed. "My dear
fellow, you are getting on splendidly with your literary work, and in
a year or so from now your income will be quite equal to Miss
Helmsley's. Besides, nobody who knew you would think of accusing you
of fortune hunting. And so long as Miss Helmsley shares the opinions
of your friends, I don't see that it in the least matters to anybody
else."

Lady Barmouth came into the room at the same moment with an intimation
that Claire was up in the drawing-room, and would like to see Jack as
soon as he was at liberty. Jack went off with alacrity. There was a
soothing feeling now that no obstacle any longer stood in his path. He
had no fear of the future, so far as Claire was concerned, Anstruther
being once out of the way. It was only at this moment, with the
knowledge of a placid future before him, that Jack realized how great
the mental strain had been.

He found Claire waiting for him in the drawing-room. She advanced with
a smile upon her face, and he took her in his arms and kissed her,
feeling at last that she was his own, and that there was no shadow of
further crime between them. He was just a little grave and silent, and
love's quick eyes were there to detect the sombre shade on his face.
Very quietly Jack told Claire all that had happened. It was some
little time before either spoke.

"I am glad to find that your fortune is intact, my dearest girl," Jack
said. "I shall have to work hard now, so that when the good time comes
I shall be able to marry you, feeling that my position is equal to
your own. It must not be said----"

"It is not going to be said," Claire replied, looking up into her
lover's face with a winning smile. "Jack dear, I know exactly what is
running in that silly head of yours. I can see I shall have to be very
severe with you. Now answer me a question, sir."

"A dozen if you like," Jack replied. "What is it?"

"Well, about the time we first met, and you were so foolish as to fall
in love with me. Confess it now: did not you regard me as a poor
dependent of Mr. Anstruther's, without so much as a penny of my own? I
knew that you loved me long before you told me so--I felt it here at
my heart. And yet when you asked me to be your wife, not so many weeks
ago, and suggested we should keep the matter a secret as we were too
poor to marry, you did not know then that I was an heiress in a small
way."

"I am prepared to admit it," Jack said. "But you see, my darling, it
is pretty certain that some people----"

With a pretty little imperious gesture, Claire laid her hand on her
lover's lips. Her eyes looked sweetly into his.

"I am not going to hear another word." she cried. "Oh, what does it
matter to anybody as long as we are satisfied. My dearest boy, do you
want me to go down on my knees, and implore you to marry me? I will do
it if you like."

Jack's reply was evidently suitable, and to the point, for the fond
look came over Claire's face again, and for some time they were
silent. It was Claire who broke the silence at length.

"You need me." she whispered. "We shall be none the less happy,
because that dark cloud of poverty is not likely to dim our future. I
have pictured to myself a dear little house in the country where we
could have roses and trim lawns and old world gardens, and where you
could work in a beautiful study lined with old oak and filled with
blue china. I don't mind telling you, Jack, that I have picked out the
house, and my other guardian is now settling the purchase of it for
me. Think how nice it would be to be able to sit down every morning
with a contented mind, and not care whether you did one page or
twenty, so long as you felt sure that you were doing nothing but your
best work. I always think every author ought to have a fortune of his
own, and thus be without the necessity of turning out his work by the
yard, so to speak."

Claire might have said more, only she noted the dancing imp of
mischief in Jack's eyes. He kissed her tenderly again.

"I had no idea I was going to have so practical a wife," Jack said.
"But do not let us be altogether selfish; let us give a thought or two
to other people. There is not the slightest reason why the full
significance of this Nostalgo business should ever be made public. And
no more posters will appear; the public will marvel for a time and ask
questions, then the thing will be forgotten when the next great
sensation comes along. I will tell Rigby that he is to mention no
names when he tells his wonderful story in the _Planet_--at least, he
is not to mention the names of any of our friends. Now let us go down
to the dining-room, and see what they have arranged. I am very anxious
to know."

Meanwhile, all the arrangements had been completed by those most
concerned. As Lord Barmouth explained, he had a very quiet country
place in the neighborhood of Hindhead, and there the operation upon
himself and Seymour was to take place.

"I want Claire to come with me," Lady Barmouth said. "Of course,
Serena and her boy will be with us, and I understand that arrangements
are being made to rid us finally of the attentions of Signor Padini.
The place is near enough to London for Mr. Masefield to run down as
often as he finds it possible. My dear Claire, you are looking so
radiantly happy, that I need not ask you if you have settled matters
with Jack."

"It was not an easy task," Claire laughed and blushed, "I almost had
to go down on my knees to him. He said he would be accused of fortune
hunting or something equally absurd."

"I am exceedingly glad to hear of it," Lady Barmouth said heartily. "I
have set my heart upon a little programme, and I hope you will allow
me to carry it out. I want the marriage to take place from our house
at Hindhead. Lord Barmouth will give you away, and we'll make quite a
society affair of it."

"But not till Lord Barmouth is quite right," Claire said. "Dear Lady
Barmouth, you are too kind to me. Let me confess that I had hoped for
something like this, but I did not intend to marry Jack till I could
have all my good friends there. In perhaps three months' time it may
be possible that all this----"

"Two months," Lord Barmouth laughed. "Both my good friend Seymour
here, and myself, will be perfectly well by that time. I have thought
it all out, and there need not be any gossip at all. It will be merely
announced in the society papers that I have recovered from the painful
malady which has so long afflicted me, and there will be an end of the
matter. We are all going down to Hindhead to-morrow, and the operation
takes place on Saturday. According to what Dr. Benin said, it is a
mere matter of a fortnight in bed, and at the end of a month we shall
be quite like other people. Now let us have dinner in the study
without the servants. It will be quite pleasant to wait upon
ourselves."

Very quietly and unostentatiously the little party set out for
Hindhead the following day. Not even the servants knew what was in the
wind; they merely gathered that Lord Barmouth was never really well,
and that he was taking an invalid friend with him. Dr. Benin's arrival
caused no sensation, the household staff being informed that a clever
surgeon had come from Paris, who hoped to restore their master to a
normal state of health.

It was a fortnight later that Barmouth and Seymour came down-stairs
looking a little drawn and white, but otherwise exactly like two
ordinary men who had just recovered from some commonplace illness.
Serena was there with her boy, but not the Serena of old. Years seemed
to have fallen from her shoulders, there was a color in her face, and
a sparkle in her eyes which fairly astonished Jack when he saw her. He
pressed her hand silently, saying no word, and Serena understood him
more thoroughly than if he had been gifted with the finest eloquence
in the world.


It was all ended and done with at last; the organ had pealed out its
triumphal march, the cherry-cheeked children had cast their last
handful of flowers at the feet of the happy bride, the wedding was
over, and now the carriage stood at the door. Claire recollected it
all clearly afterwards, but at the moment she felt like one who dreams
pleasant things. It was only when the prosaic banging of the railway
carriage door struck upon her ears that she came entirely to herself
again. The train was speeding through the peaceful landscape, Claire
leaned her head tenderly on Jack's shoulder, and a sigh of happiness
escaped her.

"What is that sigh for?" Jack asked tenderly.

"Peace and happiness," Claire cried. There was just a suggestion of
tears in her eyes. "It seems so strange to be with you like this, and
yet only the other day--but I will not think of that. We will say no
more about the dark days, but dwell entirely with the happy hours to
come."

Jack bent and kissed the quivering red lips. Then a great content came
into their hearts, and they were silent.



THE END.





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