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Title: The Four Stragglers
Author: Packard, Frank L. (Frank Lucius)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Four Stragglers" ***

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THE FOUR STRAGGLERS


BY

FRANK L. PACKARD



THE COPP, CLARK CO., LIMITED

TORONTO



COPYRIGHT, 1923,

BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



THE FOUR STRAGGLERS.  II

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


PROLOGUE: THE FOUR OF THEM


BOOK I: SHADOW VARNE

CHAPTER

    I  THREE YEARS LATER
   II  AN IRON IN THE FIRE
  III  THREE OF THEM
   IV  GOLD PLATE
    V  "DEAR GUARDY"
   VI  THE WRITING ON THE WALL


BOOK II: THE ISLE OF PREY

    I  THE SPELL OF THE MOONBEAMS
   II  THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT
  III  THE MAD MILLIONAIRE
   IV  THE UNKNOWN
    V  THE GUTTER-SNIPE
   VI  THE MAN IN THE MASK
  VII  THE FIGHT
 VIII  THE MESSAGE


BOOK III: THE PENALTY

    I  THE WHITE SHIRT SLEEVE
   II  THE BRONZE KEY
  III  THE WARP AND THE WOOF
   IV  THE TIME-LOCK OF THE SEA



PROLOGUE: THE FOUR OF THEM



THE FOUR STRAGGLERS


PROLOGUE

THE FOUR OF THEM

The crash of guns.  A flare across the heavens.  Battle.  Dismay.
Death.  A night of chaos.

And four men in a thicket.

One of them spoke:

"A bloody Hun prison, that's us!  My Gawd!  Where are we?"

Another answered caustically:

"Monsieur, we are lost--and very tired."

A third man laughed.  The laugh was short.

"A Frenchman!  Where in hell did you come from?"

"Where you and the rest of us came from."  The Frenchman's voice was
polished; his English faultless.  "We come from the tickling of the
German bayonets."

The first man elaborated the statement gratuitously:

"I don't know about you 'uns; but our crowd was done in good and proper
two days ago.  Gawd! ain't there no end to 'em?  Millions!  And us
running!  What I says is let 'em have the blinking channel ports, and
lets us clear out.  I wasn't noways in favour of mussing up in this
when the bleeding parliament says up and at 'em in the beginning,
leastways nothing except the navy."

"Drafted, I take it?" observed the third man coolly.

There was no answer.

The fourth man said nothing.

There was a whir in the air ... closer ... _closer_; a roar that surged
at the ear drums; a terrific crash near at hand; a tremble of the earth
like a shuddering sob.

The first man echoed the sob:

"Carry on!  Carry on!  I _can't_ carry on.  Not for hours.  I've been
running for two days.  I can't even sleep.  My Gawd!"

"No good of carrying on for a bit," snapped the third man.  "There's no
place to carry on _to_.  They seem to be all around us."

"That's the first one that's come near us," said the Frenchman.  "Maybe
it's only--what do you call it?--a straggler."

"Like us," said the third man.

A flare, afar off, hung and dropped.  Nebulous, ghostlike, a faint
shimmer lay upon the thicket.  It endured for but a moment.  Three men,
huddled against the tree trunks, torn, ragged and dishevelled men,
stared into each others' faces.  A fourth man lay outstretched,
motionless, at full length upon the ground, as though he were asleep or
dead; his face was hidden because it was pillowed on the earth.

"Well, I'm damned!" said the third man, and whistled softly under his
breath.

"Monsieur means by that?" inquired the Frenchman politely.

"Means?" repeated the third man.  "Oh, yes!  I mean it's queer.  Half
an hour ago we were each a separate bit of driftwood tossed about out
there, and now here we are blown together from the four winds and
linked up as close to each other by a common stake--our lives--as ever
men could be.  I say it's queer."

He lifted his rifle, and, feeling out, prodded once or twice with the
butt.  It made a dull, thudding sound.

"What are you doing?" asked the Frenchman.

"Giving first aid to Number Four," said the third man grimly.  "He's
done in, I fancy.  I'm not sure but he's the luckiest one of the lot."

"You're bloody well right, he is!" gulped the first man.  "I wouldn't
mind being dead, if it was all over, and I was dead.  It's the dying
and the thinking about it I can't stick."

"I can't see anything queer about it."  The Frenchman was judicial; he
reverted to the third man's remark as though no interruption had
occurred in his train of thought.  "We all knew it was coming, this
last big--what do you call it?--push of the Boche.  It has come.  It is
gigantic.  It is tremendous.  A tidal wave.  Everything has gone down
before it; units all broken up, mingled one with another, a mêlée.  It
has been _sauve qui peut_ for thousands like us who never saw each
other before, who did not even know each other existed.  I see nothing
queer in it that some of us, though knowing nothing of each other, yet
having the same single purpose, rest if only for a moment, shelter if
only for a moment, should have come together here.  To me it is not
queer."

"Well, perhaps, you're right," said the third man.  "Perhaps
adventitious would have been better than queer."

"Nor adventitious," dissented the Frenchman.  "Since we have been
nothing to each other in the past, and since our meeting now offers us
collectively no better chance of safety or escape than we individually
had before, there is nothing adventitious about it."

"Perhaps again I am wrong."  There was a curious drawl in the third
man's voice now.  "In fact, I will admit it.  It is neither queer nor
adventitious.  It is quite--oh, quite!--beyond that.  It can only be
due to the considered machinations of the devil on his throne in the
pit of hell having his bit of a fling at us--and a laugh!"

"You're bloody well right!" mumbled the first man.

"Damn!" said the Frenchman with asperity.  "I don't understand you at
all."

The third man laughed softly.

"Well, I don't know how else to explain it, then," he said.  "The last
time we--"

"The _last_ time!" interrupted the Frenchman.  "I did not get a very
good look at you when that flare went up, I'll admit; but enough so
that I would swear I had never seen you before."

"Quite so!" acknowledged the third man.

"Gawd!" whimpered the first man.  "Look at that!  Listen to that!"

A light, lurid, intense for miles around opened the darkness--and died
out.  An explosion rocked the earth.

"Ammunition dump!" said the Frenchman.  "I'm sure of it now.  I've
never seen any of you before."

The third man now sat with his rifle across his knees.

The fourth man had not moved from his original position.

"I thought you were officers, blimy if I didn't, from the way you
talked," said the first man.  "Just a blinking Tommy and a blinking
_Poilu_!"

"Monsieur," said the Frenchman, and there was a challenge in his voice,
"I never forget a face."

"Nor I," said the third man quietly.  "Nor other things; things that
happened a bit back--after they put the draft into England, but before
they called up the older classes.  I don't know just how they worked it
over here--that is, how some of them kept out of it as long as they
did."

"Godam!" snarled the Frenchman.  "Monsieur, you go too far!
And--monsieur appears to have a sense of humour peculiarly his
own--perhaps monsieur will be good enough to explain what he is
laughing at?"

"With pleasure," said the third man calmly.  "I was laughing at the
recollection of a night, not like this one, though there's a certain
analogy to it for all that, when an attack was made on--a strong box in
a West End residence in London.  Lord Seeton's, to be precise."

The first man stirred.  He seemed to be groping around him where he sat.

"Foolish days!  Perverted patriotism!" said the third man.  "The family
jewels, the hereditary treasures, gathered together to be offered on
the altar of England's need!  Fancy!  But it was being done, you know.
Rather!  Only in this case the papers got hold of it and played it up a
bit as a wonderful example, and that's how three men, none of whom had
anything to do with the others, got hold of it too--no, I'm wrong
there.  Lord Seeton's valet naturally had inside information."

"Blimy!" rasped the first man suddenly.  "A copper in khaki!  That's
what!  A bloody, sneaking swine!"

It was inky black in the thicket.  The third man's voice cut through
the blackness like a knife.

"You put that gun down!  I'll do all the gun handling there's going to
be done.  Drop it!"

A snarl answered him--a snarl, and the rattle of an object falling to
the ground.

"There were three of them," said the third man composedly.  "The valet,
who hadn't reached his class in the draft; a Frenchman, who spoke
marvellous English, which is perhaps after all the reason why he had
not yet, at that time, served in France; and--and some one else."

"Monsieur," said the Frenchman silkily, "you become interesting."

"The curious part of it is," said the third man, "that each of them in
turn got the swag, and each of them could have got away with it with
hardly any doing at all, if it hadn't been that in turn each one
chivied the other.  The Frenchman took it from the valet, as the valet,
stuffed like a pouter pigeon with diamonds and brooches and pendants
and little odds and ends like that, was on his way to a certain
pinch-faced fence named Konitsky in a slimy bit of neighbourhood in the
East End; the Frenchman, who was an _Englishman_ in France, took the
swag to a strange little place in a strange little street, not far from
the bank of the Seine, the place of one Père Mouche, a place that in
times of great stress also became the shelter and home of this same
Frenchman, who--shall I say?--I believe is outstandingly entitled to
the honour of having raised his profession to a degree of art
unapproached by any of his confreres in France to-day."

"_Sacré nom_!" said the Frenchman with a gasp.  "There is only one
Englishman who knew that, and I thought he was dead.  An Englishman
beside whom the Frenchman you speak of is not to be compared.  You
are--"

"_I_ haven't mentioned any names," said the third man smoothly.  "Why
should you?"

"You are right," said the Frenchman.  "Perhaps we have already said too
much.  There is a fourth here."

"No," said the third man.  "I had not forgotten him."  He toyed with
the rifle on his knee.  "But I had thought perhaps you would have
recognised the valet's face."

"Strike me pink!" muttered the first man.  "So Frenchy's the blighter
that did me in, was he!"

"It is the uniform, and the dirt perhaps, and the very poor light,"
said the Frenchman apologetically.

"But you--pardon, monsieur, I mean the other of the three--I did not
see him; and monsieur will perhaps understand that I am deeply
interested in the rest of the story."

The third man did not answer.  A sort of momentary, weird and
breathless silence had settled on the thicket, on all around, on the
night, save only for the whining of some oncoming thing through the
air.  Whine ... whine ... _whine_.  The nerves, tautened, loosened,
were jangling things.  The third man raised his rifle.  And somewhere
the whining shell burst.  And in the thicket a minor crash; a flash,
gone on the instant, eye-blinding.

The first man screamed out:

"Christ!  What have you done?"

"I think he was done in anyway," said the third man calmly.  "It was as
well to make sure."

"Gawd!" whimpered the first man.

"Monsieur," said the Frenchman, "I have always heard that you were
incomparable.  I salute you!  As you said, you had not forgotten.  We
can speak at ease now.  The rest of the story--"

The third man laughed.

"Come to me in London--after the war," he said, "and I will tell it to
you.  And perhaps there will be--other things to talk about."

"I shall be honoured," said the Frenchman.  "We three!  I begin to
understand now.  A house should not be divided against itself.  Is it
not so?  We should go far!  It is fate to-night that--"

"Or the devil," said the third man.

"My Gawd!"  The first man began to laugh--a cracked, jarring laugh.
"After the war, the blinking war--after _hell_!  There ain't no end,
there ain't no--"

And then a flare hung again in the heavens, and in the thicket three
men sat huddled against the tree trunks, torn, ragged and dishevelled
men, but they were not staring into each others' faces now; they were
staring, their eyes magnetically attracted, at a spot on the ground
where a man, a man murdered, should be lying.

But the man was not there.

The fourth man was gone.



BOOK I: SHADOW VARNE



--I--

THREE YEARS LATER

The East End being, as it were, more akin to the technique and the
mechanics of the thing, applauded the craftsmanship; the West End, a
little grimly on the part of the men, and with a loquacity not wholly
free from nervousness on the part of the women, wondered who would be
next.

"The cove as is runnin' that show," said the East End, with its tongue
delightedly in its cheek, "knows 'is wye abaht.  Wish I was 'im!"

"The police are nincompoops!" said the outraged masculine West End.
"Absolutely!"

"Yes, of course!  It's quite too impossible for words!" said the female
of the West End.  "One never knows when one's own--_do_ let me give you
some tea, dear Lady Wintern..."

From something that had merely been of faint and passing interest, a
subject of casual remark, it had grown steadily, insidiously, had
become conversationally epidemic.  All London talked; the papers
talked--virulently.  Alone in that great metropolis, New Scotland Yard
was silent, due, if the journals were to be believed, to the fact that
that world-famous institution was come upon a state of hopeless and
atrophied senility.

With foreknowledge obtained in some amazing manner, with ingenuity,
with boldness, and invariably with success, a series of crimes,
stretching back several years, had been, were being, perpetrated with
insistent regularity.  These crimes had been confined to the West End
of London, save on a few occasions when the perpetrators had gone
slightly afield--because certain wealthy West-Enders had for the moment
changed their accustomed habitat.  The journals at spasmodic intervals
printed a summary of the transactions.  In jewels, and plate, and cash,
the figures had reached an astounding total, not one penny of which had
ever been recovered or traced.  Secret wall safes, hidden depositories
of valuables opened with obliging celerity and disgorged their contents
to some apparition which immediately vanished.  There was no clue.  It
simply happened again and again.  Traps had been set with patience and
considerable artifice.  The traps had never been violated.  London was
accustomed to crimes, just as any great city was; there were hundreds
of crimes committed in London; but these were of a _genre_ all their
own, these were distinctive, these were not to be confused with other
crimes, nor their authors with other criminals.

And so London talked--and waited.


It was raining--a thin drizzle.  The night was uninviting without; cosy
within the precincts of a certain well-known West End club, the
Claremont, to be exact.  Two men sat in the lounge, in a little recess
by the window.  One, a man of perhaps thirty-three, of athletic build,
with short-cropped black hair and clean-shaven face, a one-time captain
of territorials in the late war, and though once known on the club
membership roll as Captain Francis Newcombe was to be found there now
as Francis Newcombe, Esquire; the other, a very much older man, with a
thin, grey little face and thin, grey hair, would, on recourse to the
club roll, have been found to be Sir Harris Greaves, Bart.

The baronet made a gesture with his cigar, indicative of profound
disgust.

"Democracy!" he ejaculated.  "The world safe for democracy!  I am
nauseated with that phrase.  What does it mean?  What did it ever mean?
We have had three years now since the war which was to work that
marvel, and I have seen no signs of it yet.  So far as I--"

Captain Francis Newcombe laughed.

"And yet," he said, "I embody in my person one of those signs.  You can
hardly deny that, Sir Harris.  Certainly I would never have had, shall
I call it the distinction, of being admitted to this club had it not
been for the democratic leaven working through the war.  You remember,
of course?  An officer and a gentleman!  We of England were certainly
consistent in that respect.  While one was an officer one was a
gentleman.  The clubs were all pretty generally thrown open to officers
during the war.  Some of them came from the Lord knows where.  T.G.'s
they were called, you remember--Temporary Gentlemen.  Afterward--but of
course that's another story so far as most of them were concerned.
Take my own case.  I enlisted in the ranks, and toward the latter end
of the war I obtained my commission--I became a T.G.  And as such I
enjoyed the privileges of this club.  I was eventually, however, one of
the fortunate ones.  At the close of the war the club took me on its
permanent strength and, ergo, I became a--Permanent Gentleman.
Democracy!  Private Francis Newcombe--Captain Francis Newcombe--Francis
Newcombe, Esquire."

"A rather thin case!" smiled the baronet.  "What I was about to say
when you interrupted me was that, so far as I can see, all that the
world has been made safe for by the war is the active expression of the
predatory instinct in man.  I refer to the big interests, the trusts;
to the radical outcroppings of certain labour elements; to--yes!"--he
tapped the newspaper that lay on the table beside him--"the Simon-pure
criminal such as this mysterious gang of desperadoes that has London at
its wits' ends, and those of us who have anything to lose in a state of
constant apoplexy."

Captain Francis Newcombe shook his head.

"I think you're wrong, sir," he said judicially.  "It isn't the
aftermath of the war, or the result of the war.  It is _the_ war, of
which the recent struggle was only a phase.  It's been going on since
the days of the cave man.  You've only to reduce the nation to the
terms of the individual, and you have it.  A nation lusts after
something which does not belong to it.  It proceeds to take it by
force.  If it fails it is punished.  That is war.  The criminal lusts
after something.  He flings down his challenge.  If he is caught he is
punished.  That is war.  What is the difference?"

The baronet sipped at his Scotch and soda.

"H'm!  Which brings us?" he suggested.

"Nowhere!" said Captain Francis Newcombe promptly.  "It's been going on
for ages; it'll go on for all time.  Always the individual predatory;
inevitably in cycles, the cumulative individual running amuck as a
nation.  Why, you, sir, yourself, a little while ago when somebody here
in the room made a remark to the effect that he believed this
particular series of crimes was directly attributable to the war
because it would seem that some one of ourselves, some one who has the
entrée everywhere, who, through being contaminated by the filth out
there, had lost poise and was probably the guilty one, meaning, I take
it, that the chap finding himself in a hole wasn't so nice or
particular in his choice of the way out of it as he would have been but
for the war--you, Sir Harris, denied this quite emphatically.
It--er--wouldn't you say, rather bears me out?"

The old baronet smiled grimly.

"Quite possibly!" he said.  "But if so, I must confess that my
conclusion was based on a very different premise from yours.  In fact,
for the moment, I was denying the theory that the criminal in question
was one of ourselves, quite apart from any bearing the war might have
had upon the matter."

The ex-captain of territorials selected a cigarette with care from his
case.

"Yes?" he inquired politely.

The old baronet cleared his throat.  He glanced a little whimsically at
his companion.

"It's been a hobby, of course, purely a hobby; but in an amateurish
sort of way as a criminologist I have spent a great deal of time and
money in--"

"By Jove!  Really!" exclaimed Captain Newcombe.  "I didn't know, Sir
Harris, that you--"  He paused suddenly in confusion.  "That's anything
but a compliment to your reputation though, I'm afraid, isn't it?  A
bit raw of me!  I--I'm sorry, sir."

"Not at all!" said the old baronet pleasantly; and then, with a wry
smile: "You need not feel badly.  In certain quarters much more
intimate with the subject than you could be supposed to be, I am
equally unrecognised."

"It's very good of you to let me down so easily," said the ex-captain
of territorials contritely.  "Will you go on, sir?  You were saying
that you did not believe these crimes were being perpetrated by one in
the same sphere of life as those who were being victimised.  Why is
that, sir?  The theory seemed rather logical."

"Because," said the old baronet quietly, "I believe I know the man who
is guilty."

The ex-captain of territorials stared.

"Good Lord, sir!" he gasped out.  "You--you can't mean that?"

"Just that!"  A grim brusqueness had crept into the old baronet's
voice.  "And one of these days I propose to prove it!"

"But, sir"--the ex-captain of territorials in his amazement was still
apparently groping out for his bearings--"in that case, the
authorities--surely you--"

"They were very polite at Scotland Yard--_very_!"  The old baronet
smiled drily again.  "That was the quarter to which I referred.
Socially and criminologically--if I may be permitted the word--I fear
that the Yard regards me from widely divergent angles.  But damme,
sir"--he became suddenly irascible--"they're too self-sufficient!  I am
a doddering and interfering old idiot!  But nevertheless I am firmly
convinced that I am right, and they haven't heard the end of the
matter--if I have to devote every penny I've got to substantiating my
theory and bringing the guilty man to justice!"

Captain Francis Newcombe coughed in an embarrassed way.

The old baronet reached for his tumbler, and drank generously.  It
appeared to soothe his feelings.

"Tut, tut!" he said self-chidingly.  "I mean every word of that--that
is, as to my determination to pursue my own investigations to the end;
but perhaps I have not been wholly fair to the Yard.  So far, I lack
proof; I have only theory.  And the Yard too has its theory.  It is a
very common disease.  The theory of the Yard is that the man I believe
to be guilty of these crimes of to-day died somewhere around the middle
stages of the war."

"By Jove!"  Captain Francis Newcombe leaned sharply forward on the arms
of his chair.  "You don't say!"

The old baronet wrinkled his brows, and was silent for a moment.

"It's quite extraordinary!" he said at last, with a puzzled smile.  "I
can't for the life of me understand how I got on this subject, for I
think we were discussing democracy--but you appear to be interested."

"That is expressing it mildly," said the ex-captain of territorials
earnestly.  "You can't in common decency refuse me the rest of the
story now, Sir Harris."

"There is no reason that I know of why I should," said the old baronet.
"Did you ever hear of a man called Shadow Varne?"

Captain Francis Newcombe shook his head.

"No," he said.

"Possibly, then," said the old baronet, "you may remember the robbery
at Lord Seeton's place?  It was during the war."

"No," said the other thoughtfully.  "I can't say I do.  I don't think I
ever heard of it."

"Well, perhaps you wouldn't," nodded the old baronet.  "It happened at
a time when, from what you've said, I would imagine you were in the
ranks, and--however, it doesn't matter.  The point is that the robbery
at Lord Seeton's is amazingly like, I could almost say, each and every
one of this series of robberies that is taking place to-day.  The same
exact foreknowledge, the hidden wall safe, or hiding place, or
repository, or whatever it might be, that was supposedly known only to
the family; the utter absence of any clue; the complete disappearance
of--shall we call it?--the loot itself.  There is only one difference.
In the case of Lord Seeton, the jewels--it was principally a jewel
robbery--were eventually recovered.  They were found in Paris in the
possession of Shadow Varne.  But"--the old baronet smiled a little
grimly again--"the police were not to blame for that."

Sir Harris Greaves, amateur criminologist, reverted to his tumbler of
Scotch and soda.

Captain Francis Newcombe knocked the ash from his cigarette with little
taps of his forefinger.

"Yes?" he said.

"It's a bit of a story," resumed the old baronet slowly.  "Yes, quite a
bit of a story.  I do not know how Shadow Varne got to Paris; I simply
know that, had he not taken sick, neither he nor the jewels would ever
have been found.  But perhaps I am getting a little too far ahead.  I
think I ought to say that Shadow Varne, though he had never actually up
to this time been known in a _physical_ sense to the police, had
established for himself a widespread and international reputation.  His
name here, for instance, amongst the criminal element of our own East
End was a sort of talisman, something to conjure with, as it were,
though no one could ever be found who had seen or could describe the
man.  I suppose that is how he got the name of Shadow.  Some must have
known him, of course, but they were tight-lipped; and even these, I am
inclined to believe, would never have been able to lay fingers on him,
even had they dared.  He was at once an inscrutable and diabolical
character.  I would say, and in this at least Scotland Yard will agree
with me, he seemed like some evil, unembodied spirit upon whom one
could never come in a tangible sense, but that hovered always in the
background, dominating, permeating with his personality the criminal
world."

"But if this is so, if no one knew him, or had ever seen him," said the
ex-captain of territorials in a puzzled way, "how was he recognised as
Shadow Varne in Paris?"

"I am coming to that," said the old baronet quietly.  "As you know very
well, in those days they were always poking into every rat hole in
Paris for draft evaders.  That is how they stumbled on Shadow Varne.
They dug him out of one of those holes, a very filthy hole, like a
rat--like a very sick rat.  The man was raving in delirium.  That is
how they knew they had caught Shadow Varne--because in his delirium he
disclosed his identity.  And that is how they recovered Lord Seeton's
jewels."

"My word!" ejaculated Captain Francis Newcombe.  "A bit tough, I call
that!  My sympathies are almost with the accused!"

"I am afraid I have failed to make you understand the inhuman qualities
of the man," said the old baronet tersely.  "However, Shadow Varne was
even then too much for them--at least temporarily.  A few nights later
he escaped from the hospital; but he was still too sick a man to stand
the pace, and they were too close on his heels.  He had possibly, all
told, a couple of hours of liberty, running, dodging through the
streets of Paris.  The chase ended somewhere on the bank of the Seine.
He was fired at here as he ran, and though quite a few yards in the
lead, he appeared to have been hit, for he was seen to stagger, fall,
then recover himself and go on.  He refused to halt.  They fired and
hit him again--or so they believed.  He fell to the ground--and rolled
over the edge into the water.  And that was the last that was ever seen
of him."

"My word!" ejaculated the ex-captain of territorials again.  "That's a
nice end!  And I must say, with all due deference to you, Sir Harris,
that I can't see anything wrong with Scotland Yard's deduction.  I
fancy he's dead, fast enough."

"Yes," said the old baronet deliberately, "I imagined you would say so;
and I, too, would agree were it not for two reasons.  First, had it
been any other man than Shadow Varne; and, second, that the body was
never recovered."

"But," objected Captain Francis Newcombe, "if, as you believe, the man
is still carrying on, having been identified once, he would, wouldn't
you say, be recognised again?"

"Not at all!" said the old baronet decidedly.  "You must take into
account the man's sick and emaciated condition when he was caught, and
the subsequent hospital surroundings.  Let those who saw him then see
the same man to-day, robust, in health, and in an entirely different
atmosphere, locality and environment!  Recognised?  I would lay long
odds against it, even leaving out of account the man's known ingenuity
for evading recognition."

The ex-captain of territorials nodded thoughtfully.

"Yes," he said, "that is quite possible; but, even granting that he is
still alive, I can't see--"

"Why I should believe he is at the bottom of what is going on to-day
here in London?" supplied the old baronet quickly.  "Perhaps intuition,
perhaps the mystery about the man that has interested me from the time
I first heard of him in the early years of the war, and which has ever
since been a fascinating study with me, has something to do with it.  I
told you to begin with that my _proof_ was theory.  But I believe it.
I do not say he is alone in this, or was alone in the Lord Seeton
affair; but he is certainly the head and front and brains of whatever
he was, or is, engaged in.  As for the similarity of the cases, I will
admit that might be pure coincidence, but we _know_ that Shadow Varne
did have the Seeton jewels in his possession.  The strongest point,
however, that I have to offer in a tangible sense, bearing in mind the
man himself and his hideously elusive propensities, is the fact there
is no absolute proof of his death.  Why wasn't his body recovered?  You
will answer me probably along the same lines that the Paris police
argued and that were accepted by Scotland Yard.  You will say that it
was dark, that the body might not have come to the surface immediately,
and under the existing conditions, by the time they procured a boat and
began their search, it might easily be missed.  Very good!  That is
quite possible.  But why, then, was not the body eventually recovered
in two or three days, say--a week, if you like?  You will say that this
would probably be very far indeed from being the first instance in
which a body was never recovered from the Seine.  And here, too, you
would be quite right.  But I do not believe it.  I do not believe it
was a dead man, or a man mortally wounded, or a man wounded so badly
that he must inevitably drown, who pitched helplessly into the water
that night.  I believe he did it voluntarily, and with considered
cunning, as the only chance he had.  Go into the East End.  Listen to
the stories you will hear about him.  The world does not get rid of
such as he so easily!  The man is not human.  The crimes he has
committed would turn your blood cold.  He is the most despicable, the
most wanton thing that I ever heard of.  He would kill with no more
compunction than you would break in two that match you are holding in
your hand.  Where he came from God alone knows, and--"

A club attendant had stopped beside the old baronet's chair.

"Yes?" said the old baronet.

"I beg pardon, Sir Harris, but your car is here," announced the man.

"Very good!  Thank you!"  The old baronet drained his glass and stood
up.  "Well, you have heard the story, captain," he said with a dry
smile.  "I shall not embarrass you by asking you to decide between
Scotland Yard and myself, but I shall at least expect you to admit that
there is some slight justification for my theory."

The ex-captain of territorials, as he rose in courtesy, shook his head
quietly.

"If I felt only that way about it," he said slowly, "I should simply
thank you for a very interesting story and your confidence.  As it is,
there is so much justification I feel impelled to say to you that, if
this man is what you describe him to be, is as dangerous as you say he
is, I would advise you, Sir Harris, in all seriousness to leave him--to
Scotland Yard."

"What!" exclaimed the old baronet sharply.  "And let him go free!  No,
sir!  Not if every effort I can put forth will prevent it!  Never,
sir--under any circumstances!"

Captain Francis Newcombe smiled gravely, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, at least, I felt I ought to say it," he said.  "Good-night, Sir
Harris--and thank you so much!"

"Good-night, captain!" replied the old baronet cordially, as he turned
away.  "Good-night to you, sir!"

Captain Francis Newcombe watched the other leave the room, then he
walked over to the window.  The drizzle had developed into a downpour
with gusts of wind that now pelted the rain viciously at the window
panes.  He frowned at the streaming glass.

A moment later, as he moved away from the window, he consulted his
watch.  It was a quarter past eleven.  Downstairs he secured his hat
and stick, and spoke to the doorman.

"Get a taxi, please, Martin," he requested, "and tell the chap to drive
me home."

He lighted a cigarette as he waited, and then under the shelter of the
doorman's umbrella entered the taxi.

It was not far.  The taxi stopped before a flat in a fashionable
neighbourhood that was quite in keeping with the fashionable club
Captain Francis Newcombe had just left.  His man admitted him.

"It's a filthy night, Runnells," said the ex-captain of territorials.

Runnells slammed the door against a gust of wind.

"You're bloody well right!" said Runnells.



--II--

AN IRON IN THE FIRE

It was a neighbourhood of alleyways and lanes of ferocious darkness; of
ill-lighted, baleful streets, of shadows; and of doorways where no
doors existed, black, cavernous and sinister openings to inner chambers
of misery, of squalid want, of God-knows-what.

It was the following evening, and still early--barely eight o'clock.
Captain Francis Newcombe turned the corner of one of these gloomily
lighted streets, and drew instantly back to crouch, as an animal
crouches before it springs, in the deep shadows of a wretched tenement
building.  Light footfalls sounded; came nearer.  Two forms, skulking,
yet moving swiftly, came into sight around the corner.

Captain Francis Newcombe sprang.  His fist crashed with terrific force
to the point of an opposing jaw.  A queer grunt--and one of the two men
sprawled his length on the pavement and lay quite still.  Captain
Francis Newcombe's movements were incredibly swift.  His left hand was
at the second man's throat now, and a revolver was shoved into the
other's face.

The tableau held for a second.

"A bit of a 'cushing' expedition, was it?" said the ex-captain of
territorials calmly.  "I looked a likely victim, didn't I?  Just the
usual bash on the head with a neddy, and then the usual stripping even
down to the boots if they were good enough--and mine were good enough,
eh?  And I might get over that bash on the head, or my skull might be
cracked; I might wake up in one of your filthy passageways here, or I
might never wake up!  What would it matter?  It's done every night.
You make your living that way.  And who's to know who did it?"  His
grip tightened suddenly on the other's throat.  "Your kind are better
dead," said Captain Francis Newcombe, and there was something of
horrible callousness in his conversational tones.  "You lack art; you
have no single redeeming feature."  It was as though now he were
debating in cold precision with himself.  "Yes, you are much better
dead!"

"Gor' blimy, guv'nor, let me go," half choked, half whined the other.
"We wasn't goin' to touch you.  No fear!  Me an' me mate was just goin'
round to the pub for an 'arf-pint--"

"It would make a noise," said Captain Francis Newcombe unemotionally.
"That is the trouble.  I should have to clear out of here, and be put
to the annoyance of waiting a half hour or so before I could come back
and attend to my own affairs.  That's the only reason I haven't fired
this thing off in your face, and I'm not sure that reason's good
enough.  But it's a bit of a fag to argue it out, so--don't move, you
swine, or that'll settle it quicker still!"  His fingers, from the
other's throat, searched his own waistcoat pocket, and produced a
silver coin.  "Heads or tails?" he inquired casually.  "You call it."

"My Gawd, guv'nor," whimpered the man, "yer don't mean that!  Yer
wouldn't shoot a cove down like that, would yer?  My Gawd, yer wouldn't
do that!"

"Heads or tails?"  The ex-captain of territorial's voice was bored.  "I
shan't ask you again."

The light was poor.  The man's features, save that they were dirty and
unshaven, were almost indistinguishable; but the eyes roved everywhere
in hunted fear, and he lumped the fingers of one hand together and
plucked with them in an unhinged way at his lips.

"I--no!" gurgled the man.  "My Gawd!"  His words were thick.  His
fingers, plucking, clogged his lips.  "I carn't--I--"  The mechanism of
the revolver intruded itself--as unemotional as its owner--an
unemotional click.  The man screamed out.  "No, no--wait, guv'nor!
Wait!" he screamed.  "'Eads!  Gawd!  'Eads!"

Captain Francis Newcombe examined the coin; the sense of touch, as he
rubbed his fingers over it, helping out the bad light.

"Right, you are!" he said indifferently.  "Heads it is!  You're in
luck!"  He tossed the coin on the pavement.  "I'd keep that, if I were
you."  His voice was still level, still bored.  "You haven't got
anything, of course, to do any sniping with, for anything as valuable
as that would never remain in the possession of your kind for more than
five minutes before you would have pawned it."  He glanced at the
prostrate form of the thug's companion, who was now beginning to show
signs of returning consciousness.  "I fancy you'll find his jaw's
broken.  Better give him a leg up," he said, and, turning on his heel,
walked on down the street.

Captain Francis Newcombe did not look back.  He traversed the murky
block, turned a corner, turned still another, and presently made his
way through an entrance, long since doorless, into the hallway of a
tenement house.  It was little better than a pit of blackness here, but
his movements were without hesitation, as one long and intimately
familiar with his surroundings.  He mounted a rickety flight of stairs,
and, without ceremony, opened the door of a room on the first landing,
entered, and closed the door behind him.  The room had no light in it.

"Who's there?" demanded a weak, querulous, female voice.

The visitor made no immediate reply.  The place reeked with the odour
of salt fish; the air was stale, and an offence that assaulted the
nostrils.  Captain Francis Newcombe crossed to the window, wrenched at
it, and flung it viciously open.

A protracted fit of coughing came from a corner behind him.

"Didn't I tell you never to _send_ for me?" he snapped out in abrupt
menace.

"'Ow, it's you, is it?" said the woman's voice.  "Well, I ain't never
done it afore, 'ave I?  Not in three years I ain't."

"You've done it now; you've done it to-night--and that's once too
often!" returned Captain Francis Newcombe savagely.  "And before I'm
through with you, I'll promise you you'll never do it again!"

"No," she answered out of the darkness, "I won't never do it again, an'
that's why I done it to-night--'cause I won't never 'ave another
chance.  The doctor 'e says I ain't goin' to be 'ere in the mornin'."

Captain Francis Newcombe lit a match.  It disclosed a tallow dip and a
piece of salt fish on a battered chair--and, beyond, the shadowy
outline of a bed.  He swept the piece of fish to the floor out of his
way, lighted the candle, and, leaning forward, held it over the bed.

A woman's face stared back at him in the flickering light; a curiously
blotched face, and one that was emaciated until the cheek bones seemed
the dominant feature.  Her dull, almost glazed, grey eyes blinked
painfully in even the candle rays; a dirty woollen wrap was fastened
loosely around a scrawny neck, and over this there straggled strands of
tangled and unkempt grey hair.

"Well, I fancy the diagnosis isn't far wrong," said the ex-captain of
territorials critically.  "I've been too good to you--and prosperity's
let you down.  For three years you haven't lifted a finger except to
carry a glass of gin to your lips.  And now this is the end, is it?"

The woman did not answer.  She breathed heavily.  The hectic spots on
her cheeks burned a little wider.

Captain Francis Newcombe set the candle back on the chair, and, with
his hands in his pockets, stood looking at her.  His face exhibited no
emotion.

"I haven't heard yet _why_ you sent for me," he said sharply.

"Polly," she said thickly.  "I wanter know wot abaht Polly?"

Captain Francis Newcombe smiled without mirth.

"My dear Mrs. Wickes," he said evenly, "you know all about Polly.  I
distinctly remember bringing you the letter she enclosed for you in
mine ten days ago, because I distinctly remember that after you had
read it I watched you tear it up.  And as your education is such that
you cannot write in return, I also distinctly remember that you gave me
messages for her which I was to incorporate in my own reply.  Since
then I have not heard from Polly."

The woman raised herself suddenly on her elbow, and, her face
contorted, shook her fist.

"My dear Mrs. Wickes!" she mimicked furiously through a burst of
coughing.  "Yer a cool 'un, yer are.  That's wot yer says, yer stands
there an' smiles like a bloomin' hangel, an' yer says, my dear Mrs.
Wickes!  Curse yer, I knows more abaht yer than yer thinks for.  Three
years I've watched yer, an' hif I've kept my tongue to meself that
don't say I don't know wot I knows."

"Indeed!"  Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders.  He smiled
slightly.  "Then I should say, if it were true, that it is sometimes
_dangerous_, Mrs. Wickes--to know even a little about some things."

The woman rocked in the bed, and hugged her thin bosom against a spasm
of coughing that came near to strangulation.

"Bah!" she shouted, when she could get her breath.  "I ain't afraid of
yer any more.  Damn yer, I'm dyin' anyhow!  It's nothin' to you wiv yer
smug smile, except yer glad I'll be out of the wye--an'--an', Gawd, it
ain't nothin' to me either.  I'm sick, of it all, an' I'm glad, I am;
but afore I goes I wanter know wot abaht Polly.  Wot'd yer tyke her
awye for three years ago?"

"For the price of two quid paid weekly to a certain Mrs. Wickes, who is
Polly's mother," said Captain Francis Newcombe composedly; "and with
which the said Mrs. Wickes has swum in gin ever since."

Mrs. Wickes fell back exhausted on her pillow.

"Wot for?" she whispered in fierce insistence.  "I wanter know wot for?"

"Well," said Captain Francis Newcombe, "even at fifteen Polly was an
amazingly pretty little girl--and she showed amazing promise.  I'm
wondering how she has developed.  Extremely clever youngster!  Don't
see, in fact, Mrs. Wickes, where she got it from!  Not even the local
desecration of the king's English--in spite of the board schools!
Amazing!  We couldn't let a flower like that bloom uncultivated, could
we?"

The woman was up in the bed again.

"A gutter brat!" she cried out.  "An' you says send 'er to school wiv
the toffs in America, 'cause there wouldn't be no chance of doin' that
'ere at 'ome; an' I says the toffs don't tyke 'er kind there neither.
An' you says she goes as yer ward, an' yer can get 'er in, only she 'as
to forget abaht these 'ere London slums.  An' she ain't to write no
letters to me except through you, 'cause hif any was found down 'ere
they'd turn their noses up over there an' give Polly the bounce."

"Quite right, Mrs. Wickes!" said Captain Francis Newcombe
imperturbably.  "And for three years Polly has been in one of the most
exclusive girls' seminaries in America--and incidentally I might say I
am arranging to go over there shortly for a little visit.  If her
photographs are to be relied upon, she has more than fulfilled her
early promise.  A very beautiful young woman, educated, and now, Mrs.
Wickes--a lady.  She has made a circle of friends among the best and
the wealthiest.  Why, even now, with the summer holidays coming on, you
know, I understand she is to be the guest of a school friend in a
millionaire's home.  Think of that, Mrs. Wickes!  What more could any
woman ask for her daughter?  And why should you, for instance, ask more
to-night?  Why this eleventh hour curiosity?  You agreed to it all
three years ago, Mrs. Wickes--for two quid a week."

"Yes," said the woman passionately, "an' I'm probably goin' to 'ell for
it now!  I knowed then yer wasn't doin' this for Polly's sake, an' in
the three years I kept on knowin' yer more an' more for the devil you
are.  But I says to meself that I'm 'ere to see Polly don't come to no
harm, but--but I ain't goin' to be 'ere no more, an' that's wot I wants
to know to-night.  An' I asks yer, wot's yer game?"

"Really!"  Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders again.
"This isn't very interesting, Mrs. Wickes.  And in any case, I fail to
see what you are going to do about it, or what lever you could possibly
bring to bear to make me divulge what you are pleased to imagine is
some base and ulterior motive in what I have done.  It is quite well
known among Captain Newcombe's circle that he is educating a ward in
America.  It is--er--rather to his credit, is it not?"

"Gawd curse yer wiv yer smooth tongue!" said Mrs. Wickes wildly.  "I
knows!  I knows yer got a game--some dirty game wiv Polly in it.  Yer
clever, yer are--an' yer ain't human.  But yer won't win, an' all along
'o Polly.  She won't do nothin' that ain't straight, she won't.  Polly
ain't that kind."

"Oh, as to that, and granting my wickedness," said Captain Francis
Newcombe indifferently, "I shouldn't worry.  Having you in mind, Mrs.
Wickes, I fancy even that would be quite all right--blood always tells,
you know."

"Blood!  Blood'll tell, will it?"  The woman was rocking in the bed
again.  She burst into harsh laughter.  It brought on another, and even
more severe, strangling fit of coughing.  "Blood'll tell, will it?" she
choked, as she gasped for breath.  "Well, so it will!  So it will!"

Captain Francis Newcombe stared at her from narrowed eyes.  "What do
you mean by that?" he demanded sharply.

But Mrs. Wickes had fallen back upon her pillow in utter exhaustion.
She lay fighting painfully, pitifully now for every breath.

"What do you mean by that?" repeated Captain Francis Newcombe still
more sharply.

And then suddenly, as though some strange premonition were at work, all
fight gone from her, the woman threw out her arms in a broken gesture
of supplication.

"I'm a wicked woman, a bloody wicked 'un I've been.  Gawd forgive me
for it!" she whispered.  "Polly ain't no blood of mine."

Captain Francis Newcombe rested his elbows on the back of the chair,
and smiled coolly.

"I think," he said evenly, "it's my turn now to ask what the game is?
That's a bit thick, isn't it--after three years?"

The hectic spots had faded from the woman's face, and an ominous
greyness was taking their place.  She was crying now.

"It's Gawd's truth," she said.  "I was afraid yer wouldn't 'ave give me
the two quid a week hif yer'd known I 'adn't no 'old on 'er.  Polly
don't know.  No one knows but me, an'--"  Her voice trailed off through
weakness.

Captain Francis Newcombe, save that his eyes had narrowed a little
more, made no movement.  He watched her without comment as she
struggled for her breath again.

"I didn't mean to 'ave no fight wiv yer, Gawd knows I didn't.  Gawd
knows I didn't send for yer for that.  I only wanted to ask yer wot
abaht Polly, an' to ask yer to be good to 'er, an'--an' tell yer wot
I'm tellin' yer now afore it's too late.  An'--an'--"  She raised
herself with a sudden convulsive effort to her elbow.  "Gawd, I--I'm
goin' _now_."

With a swift movement Captain Francis Newcombe whipped a flask from his
pocket, and held it to the woman's lips.

She swallowed a few drops with difficulty, and lay still.

Presently Mrs. Wickes' lips moved.

Captain Francis Newcombe, close beside the bed now, leaned over her.

"A lydy 'er mother was, an' 'er father 'e was a gentleman born 'e was.
I--I don't know nothin' abaht 'em except she was a guverness an' 'e
'adn't much money.  Neither of 'em 'adn't no family accordin' to 'er,
an' countin' wot 'appened she told the truth, poor soul."

Again Mrs. Wickes lay silent.  Her lips continued to move, but they
were soundless.  She seemed suddenly to become conscious of this, and
motioned weakly for the flask.  And again with difficulty she swallowed
a few drops.

"Years ago this was."  Mrs. Wickes forced the words with long pauses
between.  "'Ard times came on 'em.  'E got killed in a haccident.  An'
she took sick after Polly came, an' the money went, an' she wouldn't
'ave charity, an' she got down to this, like us 'uns 'ere, tryin' to
keep body an' soul together on the bit she 'ad left.  An' she died, an'
I took Polly.  Two years old Polly was then.  There wasn't no good of
tellin' Polly an' 'ave 'er give 'erself airs when she 'ad to go out an'
do 'er bit an' earn something.  An', wot's more, if she'd known I
wasn't 'er mother she might 'ave stopped workin' for me--an' I couldn't
'ave made 'er, 'avin' lost my hold on 'er--an' I wasn't goin' to 'ave
anything like that.  Polly Wickes--Polly Wickes--the flower girl.
Flowers--posies--pretty posies--that's where yer saw 'er--"

The woman's voice had thickened; her words, in snatches, were
incoherent:

"Polly Wickes--Polly Wickes--Polly Gray--Polly Gray 'er name is--Polly
Gray.  I got the lines an' the birth paper.  I kept 'em all these
years.  'Ere!  I got 'em 'ere."

"Where?" said Captain Francis Newcombe tersely.

"'Ere!"  Mrs. Wickes plucked feebly at the edge of the bed clothing.
"'Ere!"

Captain Francis Newcombe thrust his hand quickly in under the mattress.
After a moment's search he brought out a soiled envelope.  It bore a
faded superscription in a scrawling hand.  He picked up the candle from
the chair and read it:

  "Polly's papers which is God's truth,
      Mrs. Wickes X her mark."


He tore the envelope open rather carefully at the end.  It contained
two papers that were turned a little yellow with age.  Yes, it was
quite true!  His eyes travelled swiftly over the names:


"Harold Morton Gray....  Elizabeth Pauline Forbes.  Pauline Gray...."


There was a sudden sound from the bed--like a long, fluttering sigh.
Captain Francis Newcombe swung sharply about.  The woman's arm was
stretched out toward him; dulled eyes seemed to be striving desperately
in their fading vision to search his face.

"Polly!" Mrs. Wickes whispered.  "For--for for Christ's sake--be--be
good to Polly--be good to--"

The outstretched arm fell to the bed covering--and Mrs. Wickes lay
still.

Captain Francis Newcombe leaned forward, holding the candle, searching
the form on the bed critically with his eyes.  After a moment he
straightened up.

Mrs. Wickes was dead.

Captain Francis Newcombe replaced the papers in the envelope, and
placed the envelope in his pocket.  He set the candle back on the
chair, blew it out, and walked across the room to the door.

"Gray, eh?" said Captain Francis Newcombe under his breath, as he
closed the door behind him.  "Polly Gray, eh?  Well, it doesn't matter,
does it?  It's just as good an iron in the fire whether it's--Wickes or
Gray!"



--III--

THREE OF THEM

Twenty-five minutes later, Captain Francis Newcombe stood at the door
of his apartment.  Runnells admitted him.

"Paul Cremarre here yet?" demanded the ex-captain of territorials
briskly.

"Yes," said Runnells.  "Been here half an hour."

With Runnells behind him, Captain Francis Newcombe entered the living
room of the apartment.  A tall man, immaculately dressed, with a small,
very carefully trimmed black moustache, with eyes that were equally
black but whose pupils were curiously minute, stood by the mantel.

"Ah, monsieur!"  He waved his arm in greeting.  "_Salut_!"

"Back, eh, Paul?" nodded Captain Francis Newcombe, flinging himself
into a lounge chair.  "Expected you, of course, to-night.  Well, what's
the news?  How's the fishing smack?"

Paul Cremarre smiled faintly.

"Ah, the poor _Marianne_!" he said.  "Such bad weather!  It is always
the bilge.  If it did not leak so furiously!"  He lifted his shoulders,
and blew a wreath of cigarette smoke languidly ceilingward.

"So!" said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "Been searched again, eh?"

The Frenchman laughed softly.

"Two very charming old gentlemen who were summering on the French
coast, and were so interested in everything.  Could they come aboard?
But, why not?  It was a pleasure!  Such harmless old children they
looked--not at all like Leduc and Colferre of the Préfecture!"

"One more sign of the times!" commented Captain Francis Newcombe a
little shortly.  "And Père Mouche?"

"Ah!" murmured the Frenchman.  "That is another story!  I am afraid it
is true that his back is really bending under the load.  He has done
amazingly, but though the continent is wide, it can only absorb so
much, and there are always difficulties.  He says himself that we feed
him too well."

Captain Francis Newcombe frowned.

"Well, he's right, of course!  Leduc and Colferre, eh?  I don't like
it!  If we needed anything further to back us up in our decision lately
that it was about time to lay low for a while, we've got it here.
There is to-morrow night's affair, of course, that naturally we will
carry through, but after that I think we should come to a full stop
for, say--a six months' holiday.  Personally, as you know, I'm rather
anxious to make a little trip to America.  I'll take Runnells along as
my man for the looks of it.  He can play at valeting and still enjoy
himself if he keeps out of mischief--which I will see to it"--Captain
Francis Newcombe's lips thinned--"that he does!  That will account for
the temporary closing up of this apartment here.  And you, Paul--I
suppose it will be the Riviera for you?"

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.

"Ah!" he said.  "As to that I do not know, but what does it matter?"
He laughed good-humouredly.  "I have no attraction such as monsieur
with a charming ward in America.  I am of the desolate, one of the
forlorn of the earth in whom no one has more than a passing interest."

"Except Scotland Yard and the Préfecture," said the ex-captain of
territorials with a grim smile.  He rose suddenly from his chair and
paced once or twice the length of the room.  "Yes," he said decisively,
"we'd be fools to do anything else.  It will give Père Mouche a chance
to work down his surplus stock, and the police to lose a little of
their ardour.  It's getting a bit hot.  Scotland Yard is badly flicked
on the raw.  London is becoming unhealthy.  Even Runnells here, whom I
would never accuse of having any delicate sense of prescience, has been
uneasy of late as though he felt the net drawing in."

"You're bloody well right!" said Runnells gruffly.  "I don't know how,
but it's true.  Let the coppers nose a cold scent for a while, I says.
I can do with a bit of America whenever you're ready!"

"Quite so!" said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "It's in the air.  Like
Runnells, I do not know exactly where it comes from, but I know it's
there."

"Monsieur," said the Frenchman, "I have often wondered about the
fourth--stragglers, I think you called us that night--about the fourth
straggler."

"You mean?" demanded Captain Francis Newcombe sharply.

"Nothing!" said the Frenchman.  "One sometimes wonders, that is all.
The thought flashed through my mind as you spoke.  But it means
nothing.  How could it?  More than three years have gone.  Let us
forget my remark."  He flicked the ash from his cigarette.  "Well,
then, as I am the only one left to speak, I will say that I too agree.
For six months we do not exist so far as business is concerned--after
to-morrow night."  He made a wry face, and laughed.  "Well, it will be
dull!  I fear it will be dull, and one will become _ennuyé_, but it is
wise.  So!  It is decided.  And so there remains only to-morrow night.
I was to be here this evening to discuss the details--and here I am.
Shall we proceed to discuss them?  I have made a promise to the little
Père Mouche that when I return he shall eat a _ragoût_ from a veritable
gold plate, and that Scotland Yard--"

The doorbell interrupted the Frenchman's words.

Runnells left the room to answer the summons.  He was back in a moment
with a card on a silver tray, which he handed to the ex-captain of
territorials.

The card tray was significant.  Captain Francis Newcombe glanced first
at Runnell's face, frowned--then picked up the card.  His eyes narrowed
as he read it.  On the card was written:

  DETECTIVE-SERGEANT MULLINS
    NEW SCOTLAND YARD


He handed the card coolly to Paul Cremarre.

"Everything all right so far as you are concerned?" he demanded in a
low, quick tone.

The Frenchman smiled at the card in a curious way, handed it back, and
lighted a fresh cigarette.

"Yes," he said.

"_Sure?_" said Captain Francis Newcombe.

"Absolutely!" replied the Frenchman in the same low tone.

"Very good!" said the ex-captain of territorials.  "Don't look so
damned white around the gills, Runnells.  _And watch yourself!_"  He
raised his voice.  "Show the sergeant in, Runnells!" he said.

A minute later, Runnells ushered in a thick-set, florid-faced man.

"Sergeant Mullins, sir!" he announced, and withdrew from the room.

The sergeant looked inquiringly from one to the other of the two men.

"I'm sorry to intrude, gentlemen," he said.  "It's Captain Newcombe,
I--"

Captain Francis Newcombe waved his hand pleasantly.

"Not at all, sergeant!" he said.  "I am Captain Newcombe.  What can I
do for you?"

"Well, sir," said the man from Scotland Yard, "I'm not saying you can
do anything, and then again maybe you can."  He glanced at the
Frenchman, and coughed slightly.

"Mr. Cremarre is a close friend of mine," said Captain Francis Newcombe
quietly.  "You may speak quite freely before him, so far as I am
concerned."

"Very good, sir!" said Sergeant Mullins.  "Well, then, even if the
papers hadn't been full of it all day, you'd probably know about it
anyway, being as how you were a friend of his.  It's Sir Harris
Greaves, sir--Sir Harris' murder."

Captain Francis Newcombe, as though instinctively, turned toward an
evening paper that lay upon the table, its great headlines screaming
the murder across the front page.

"Good God, sergeant--yes!" he exclaimed.  "It's a shocking thing!
Shocking!"  He jerked his head toward the paper, and glanced at Paul
Cremarre.  "You've read it, of course, Paul?"

"I've never read anything like it before," said the Frenchman grimly.
"The most wanton thing I ever heard of!  Absolutely purposeless!"

"Don't you be too sure about that, sir," said Detective-Sergeant
Mullins crisply.  "Things aren't done purposelessly--leastways, not
them kind of things."

"Exactly!" agreed Captain Francis Newcombe.  "Right you are, sergeant!
But you'll pardon me if I appear a bit curious as to why you should
have come to me about it."

"Well, sir," said Sergeant Mullins, "that's simple enough.  You are the
last one as had any conversation with Sir Harris before he was
murdered."

Captain Francis Newcombe stared at the Scotland Yard man in a puzzled
way.

"I am afraid I don't quite understand, sergeant," he said a little
helplessly.  "According to the published accounts, Sir Harris was
stabbed in his bed, presumably during the early morning hours, though
no sound was heard, and the crime wasn't discovered until his man went
to take Sir Harris his tea at the usual hour this morning.  But perhaps
the accounts are inaccurate?"

"No, sir," said Sergeant Mullins; "as far as that goes, they're
accurate enough.  The doctors say it must have been somewhere between
two and three o'clock in the morning."

"Quite so!" said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "That is what I had in
mind.  The last time I saw Sir Harris was yesterday evening at the
club.  Sir Harris left the club shortly before I did.  I have no exact
idea what the hour was, though the doorman would probably be able to
say, but I am quite certain it could not have been later than half past
eleven."

"It wasn't even as late as that, sir," said the man from Scotland Yard
seriously.  "Ten after eleven, it was, when Sir Harris left; and you,
sir, at a quarter past.  But I didn't say, sir, that you were the last
one as _spoke_ to Sir Harris alive.  Conversation was what I said,
sir--and a lengthy one too.  One says a lot in an hour or so, sir."

"Oh, I see!" said Captain Francis Newcombe, with a smile.  "Or,
rather--I don't!  What about this conversation, sergeant?"

"Well, sir, if you don't mind," said Detective-Sergeant Mullins,
"that's what I'd like to know--what it was about?"

"Good Lord!" gasped the ex-captain of territorials feebly.  "I'm not
sure I know myself--now.  What do men generally talk about over a
Scotch and soda?  I believe we started with the subject of democracy,
and I'm afraid, in fact I'm certain, I talked a good bit of drivel, and
incidentally settled several of the world questions and so on, and then
we drifted from one thing to another in a desultory fashion."

"Yes, sir," said Sergeant Mullins.  "And the things you drifted
to--could you remember them, sir?  It's very important, sir, that you
should."

"Well, if it's important, I'll try," said Captain Francis Newcombe
gravely.  "The shows, of course, and the American Yacht race, horses, a
hunting lodge Sir Harris had in Scotland, and--yes, I believe that's
all, sergeant.  But it's quite a range, at that."

Detective-Sergeant Mullins inspected the bottom button of his waistcoat
intently.

"Sir Harris was a bit of a criminologist in his way, as perhaps you've
heard, sir?" he said.

"Yes, I believe I have heard it said that was a hobby of his," nodded
Captain Francis Newcombe.  "But I wouldn't have known it from anything
Sir Harris said last night, if that's what you mean.  The subject
wasn't mentioned."

"Nor any crime?  And particularly any particular criminal?" prodded the
Scotland Yard man.

Captain Francis Newcombe shook his head.

"Not a word," he said.

Detective-Sergeant Mullins looked up a little gloomily from his
waistcoat button.

"I'm sorry for that," he said.

"So am I, if it would have helped any," said the ex-captain of
territorials heartily.  "But what's the point, sergeant?"

"Well, you see, sir," said the Scotland Yard man, "with all due respect
to the dead, Sir Harris fancied himself a bit, he did, along those
lines.  Some queer notions he had, sir--and stubborn, as you might say.
He's got himself into trouble more than once, and the Yard's had its
own time with him.  He's been warned, sir, often enough--and if he was
alive, he wouldn't say he hadn't.  It's what he's been told might
happen.  There's no other reason, as far as we've gone, why he should
have been murdered.  It looks the likely thing that he went too far
this time, and got to know more than some crook took a notion it was
safe to have him know."

Paul Cremarre smiled inscrutably at the Scotland Yard man.

"I take back what I said about it being a purposeless murder,
sergeant," he murmured.

"Yes, sir," said Detective-Sergeant Mullins.  "Well, I fancy that's
all, gentlemen.  We were hoping that if matters had reached as grave a
state as that--that is, if Sir Harris ever realised how deep he'd got
in--it would have been a bit on his mind, as you might say, and in the
course of a long conversation with a friend, sir, a hint of it, even if
he didn't go any further, might have cropped up."  He buttoned his
coat.  "You're quite sure, Captain Newcombe, thinking it over, that
there wasn't anything mentioned, even casually like, that would give us
a clue?"

"Quite, sergeant!" said the ex-captain of territorials emphatically.

"Well, I'll be going, then," said the Scotland Yard man.  "And sorry to
have taken up your time, sir."

"You've done nothing but your duty," said Captain Francis Newcombe
pleasantly.  He rang the bell.  "Runnells, bring Sergeant Mullins a
drink!"  And with a smile to the Scotland Yard man: "Will it be Scotch,
sergeant?"

"Why, thank you very much, sir," said Detective-Sergeant Mullins.  He
took the glass from Runnells.  "Here's how, sir!"  He wiped his lips
with the back of his hand.  "Good-night, gentlemen!"

"Good-night, sergeant," said the ex-captain of territorials.

"Good-night, sergeant," said the Frenchman.

Detective-Sergeant Mullins' footsteps died away in the hall.

Captain Francis Newcombe's dark eyes rested unemotionally upon the
Frenchman.

The Frenchman leaned against the mantel and stared at the end of his
cigarette.

The front door closed, and Runnells came back into the room.

"Now, Runnells," said Captain Francis Newcombe blandly, "bring us _all_
a drink, and we will talk about--to-morrow night."



--IV--

GOLD PLATE

A motor ran swiftly along a country road.

Two men sat in the front seat.

"My friend, Runnells," said one of the two quizzically, after a silence
that had endured for miles, "what in hell is the matter with you
to-night?"

"I don't know," said Runnells, who drove the car.  "What the captain
was talking about last night, maybe--the things you feel in the air."

"Bah!" said Paul Cremarre composedly.  "If it is only the air!  For
three years we have found nothing in the air but good fortune."

"That's all right," Runnells returned sullenly.  "But just the same
that's the way I feel, and I can't help it.  We're going to lay low for
a spell after to-night, and maybe that's what's wrong too--kind of as
though we were pushing our luck over the edge by sticking it just one
night too many."

The Frenchman whistled a bar lightly under his breath.

"I should be delighted--_delighted_," he said, "to leave to-night
alone--but not the Earl of Cloverley's gold plate!  Have you forgotten
that I told you I had made a promise to our little Père Mouche--to eat
_ragoût_ from a gold plate?  I have never eaten from a gold plate.  It
is a dream!"

"You're bloody well right, it is!" said Runnells gruffly.  "And I only
hope it ain't going to be anything worse'n a dream to-night."

"It is evident," said Paul Cremarre, with a low laugh, "that, whatever
you have eaten _from_, and whatever you have eaten _of_, to-night, my
Runnells, it has not agreed with you!  Is it not so?"

"Look here!" said Runnells suddenly.  "If you want to know, I'll tell
you.  I know everything's fixed for to-night, maybe better than it's
ever been fixed before--it ain't that.  It's _last_ night.  It's damned
queer, that bloke from Scotland Yard showing up in our rooms!"

"Ah!" murmured Paul Cremarre.  "Yes, my Runnells, I too have thought of
that.  But you were at home the night before, when Sir Harris Greaves
was murdered, you and the captain, were you not?  It is nothing, is it?
A mere little coincidence--yes?  You should know better than I do."

"There's nothing to know," said Runnells shortly.  "It's just the idea
of a Scotland Yard man coming to _our_ diggings.  Like a warning,
somehow, it looks."

"Yes," said Paul Cremarre.  "Quite so!  And the headlights now--hadn't
you better switch them off?  And run a little slower, Runnells.  It is
not far now, if I have made no mistake in my bearings."

Darkness fell upon the road; the motor slackened its speed.

"You were speaking of the visit from Scotland Yard," resumed the
Frenchman calmly.  "You were at home, of course, when Captain Newcombe
returned from the club the night before last at--what time was it, he
said?"

"Oh, that's straight enough!" grunted Runnells.  "He came in about half
past eleven, and we were both in bed by twelve.  I've told you it ain't
that.  What would he have to do with sticking an old toff like Sir
Harris that never done him any harm?"

"Nothing," said Paul Cremarre.  "I was simply thinking that Sergeant
Mullins' theory reminded me of something that you, too, may perhaps
remember."

"What's that?" inquired Runnells.

"A rifle shot that was fired one night in a thicket when the Boche had
us on the run," said Paul Cremarre.

Runnells swung sharply in his seat.

"Gawd!" he said hoarsely.  "What d'you want to bring _that_ up for
to-night?  I--damn it--I can see it out there in the black of the road
now!"

The Frenchman remained silent.

Runnells spoke again after a moment.

"He's a rare 'un, all right, he is, is the captain," he said slowly;
"but it wasn't him that did in Sir Harris Greaves.  I'd take my oath on
that.  We was both in bed by twelve, as I told you, and he was still
sleeping like a babe when I got up in the morning."

"And you, Runnells," inquired the Frenchman softly, "you too slept
well?"

"You mean," said Runnells quickly, "that he slipped out again during
the night?"

"Not at all!" said Paul Cremarre quietly.  "How should I know?  I mean
nothing, except that Captain Francis Newcombe is a man like no other
man in the world; that he is, as I once had the honour to
remark--incomparable."

Runnells grunted over the wheel.

"I shan't ask him," he said tersely.

"Nor I," said Paul Cremarre.

Again there was silence; then the Frenchman spoke abruptly:

"Slower, Runnells.  If I am not mistaken, we are arrived.  The lodge
gates can't be more than a quarter of a mile on, and the bit of lane
that borders the park ought to be just about here--yes, there it is!"

Runnells stopped the motor; and then, with the engine running softly,
backed it for a short distance from the main road down an intensely
black, tree-lined lane.

"That's far enough," said Paul Cremarre.  "We can't take any risk of
being heard from the Hall.  Now edge her in under the trees."

"What for?" grumbled Runnells.  "It's so bloody dark, I'd probably
smash her.  She's right enough as she is.  There's a fat chance of any
one coming along this here lane at two o'clock in the morning, ain't
there?"

"Runnells," said the Frenchman smoothly, "I quote from the book of
Captain Francis Newcombe: 'Chance is the playground of fools.'  Edge
her in, my Runnells."

"Oh, all right!" said Runnells--and a moment later the lane was empty.

Still another moment, and the two men, each carrying two rather
large-sized, empty travelling bags, began to make their way silently
and cautiously through the thickly wooded park of the estate.  It was
not easy going in the darkness.  Now and then they stumbled.  Once or
twice Runnells cursed fiercely under his breath; once or twice the
Frenchman lost his urbanity and swore softly in his native tongue.

Five, ten minutes passed.  And now the two reached the farther edge of
the wooded park, and halted here, drawn back a little in the shadow of
the trees.  Before them was a narrow breadth of lawn; and, beyond, a
great, rambling, turreted pile lay black even against the darkness, its
castellated roof and points making a jagged fringe against the sky line.

Runnells appeared suddenly to find vent for his ill humour in a savage
chuckle.

"What is it, Runnells?" demanded the Frenchman.

"I was just thinking that in the five or six years since I was here
with Lord Seeton, you know, I ain't forgotten his nibs the Earl of
Cloverley.  I'd like to see his face in the morning!  He's a crabbed
old bird.  My word!  He'll die of apoplexy, he will!  And if he don't,
he won't be so keen on his 'ouse parties to visiting nabobs and cabinet
ministers.  He didn't send into London and get his gold service out of
the bank for _us_ when we were here."

"Perhaps," said the Frenchman gently, "he did not know that you were
valeting Lord Seeton at the time--or perhaps it was because he did!"

"Aw, chuck it!" said Runnells gruffly.  He stared at the black, shadowy
building for a minute.  Then abruptly: "It's two o'clock, ain't it?
You looked, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Paul Cremarre.  "I looked when we left the motor.  The
time's right.  It was just ten minutes of two."

"Well, what the blinking 'ell's the matter now, then?" complained
Runnells.  "The place is as black as a cat.  They're all in bed, aren't
they?"

"That is not for me to say," replied the Frenchman calmly.  "We will
wait, Runnells."

Runnells, with another grunt, sat down on one of the bags, his back
against a tree.  The Frenchman remained standing, his eyes glued on the
great house across the lawn.

"Aye," said Runnells after a moment, and chuckled savagely to himself
again, "I'd give a bob or two, I would, to see the old boy in the
morning!  A fussy, nosey, old fidge-budget, that's what he is!
A-poking of his sharp little nose into everything, and always afraid
some 'un won't earn the measly screw he's paying for work he'd ought to
pay twice as much for!  It's no wonder he's rich!"

"You seem to have very pleasant recollections of your visit, Runnells,"
said the Frenchman slyly.  "I wonder what he caught you at?"

"He didn't catch _me_!" said Runnells defiantly.  "Though I'll say
this, that if I'd known then that I was ever coming back now, I'd have
kept my eyes peeled, and he'd be going into mourning for more'n his
blessed gold plate to-night!  He didn't bother me none, me being Lord
Seeton's man, but at that I saw enough of him so that the talk that
went on in the servants' hall wasn't in any foreign language that I
couldn't tumble to.  My eye!" said Runnells.  "A rare state he'll be
in!"

The Frenchman said nothing.

The minutes dragged along.  Runnells too had relapsed into silence.  A
quarter of an hour passed.  Then Runnells commenced to mutter under his
breath and move restlessly on his improvised seat; and then, getting up
suddenly, he moved close over beside the Frenchman.

"I say!" whispered Runnells uneasily.  "I don't like this, I don't!
What d'you suppose is up?"

"A great deal, I have no doubt, my Runnells," said the Frenchman
imperturbably.  "More perhaps than you and I could overcome in the same
time--if at all."

"That's all right!" returned Runnells.  "I'm not saying it ain't, but
it's getting creepy standing here and staring your eyes out.  I'm
beginning to see the trees moving around and coming at you, and in
every bit of breeze the leaves are like a lot of bloody voices
whispering in your ears.  I wish to Gawd you hadn't said anything about
_that_ night!  It gives me the--"

"Look!" said the Frenchman suddenly.

From an upper window, out of the blackness of the building across the
lawn, there showed a faint spot of light that held for a few
seconds--and then, in quick succession, a series of little flashes came
from the room within.

The two men stood motionless, intent, staring at the window.

The flashes ceased.

The Frenchman reached out and laid his hand on Runnells' arm.

"No need for a repeat," he said quickly.  "You got it, didn't you?"

"My word!" exclaimed Runnells.  "Two guards--butler's pantry--all
clear!  Strike me pink!"

The Frenchman laughed purringly under his breath.

"Did I not say he was incomparable?  Come on, then, Runnells--quickly
now!"

And now it was as though two shadows moved, flitting swiftly across the
lawn, and along the edge of the building and around to the rear.  And
here they crouched before a doorway, and the Frenchman whispered:

"Don't be delicate about it, Runnells.  This isn't any _inside_ job!
Nick it up badly enough so's a blind man could see where we got in."

"That's what I'm doing," said Runnells mechanically.  His mind seemed
obsessed with other things.  "Two guards!" he muttered.  And again:
"Strike me pink!"

And after a moment, with both door and frame eloquent of the rough
surgery that had been practised upon them, the door opened.

The two men entered, and closed the door silently behind them.  An
electric torch stabbed suddenly through the blackness and played for a
moment inquisitively over its surroundings.

"'Tain't changed a bit, as I said when I saw the plan," commented
Runnells.

They went on quickly.  But where before there had been a steady play of
the electric torch it winked now through the darkness only at
intervals.  A door opened here and there noiselessly; the footsteps of
the men were cautious, wary, almost without sound.  And then, as they
halted finally, and the torch shot out its ray again, Runnells drew in
his breath with a low, catchy, whistling sound.

The torch disclosed a narrow serving pantry, and, on the floor at one
side, a great metal box or chest--obviously the object of their visit.
But Runnells for the moment was apparently not interested in the chest.

"Look at that!" he breathed hoarsely--and pointed to the farther end of
the pantry where a swinging door was ajar, and through which an
upturned foot protruded.

The Frenchman set his bags down beside the metal chest, moved swiftly
forward, pushed the swinging door open, and stepped silently through
into what was obviously the dining room.  And Runnells, beside him,
whispered hoarsely again, but this time with a sort of amazed
admiration in his voice.

"Gawd!" said Runnells.  "Neat, I calls that!  Neat!  What?"

Two men lay upon the floor, gagged, bound and apparently unconscious.
One, from his livery, was a servant in the house; the other was in
civilian clothes.

Paul Cremarre pointed to the latter.

"The man that came out from London with the box from the bank," he
observed complacently.  He pushed Runnells back through the swinging
door into the pantry.  "Well, my Runnells, you were grumbling over a
few minutes' delay, let us see if we can be equally as expeditious and
efficient with infinitely less to do."  He reached the chest and
examined it.  "Padlocks, eh?  Let me see if I can persuade them!"  He
bent over the chest, and from his pocket came a little kit of tools.

Runnells stood silently by.  There was no sound now save the breathing
of the two men, and, as the minutes passed, an occasional faint,
metallic rasp and click from Paul Cremarre at work.

And then the Frenchman flung back the lid, and straightened up.

"Quick now, Runnells--to work!" he said briskly.  "Père Mouche is
waiting for his _ragoût_!"

"My eye!" said Runnells with enthusiasm, as the electric torch bored
into the interior of the box.  "Pipe it!  I've served with the swells,
I have, and Lord Seeton was one of the biggest of 'em, but I never saw
the likes of this before.  Gold plate to eat off of!  My eye!"

"They are very beautiful," said the Frenchman judicially; "but it would
be a sacrilege against art to appraise them in haste and in a poor
light.  Work quickly, Runnells!  And do not fill any one of the bags
too full.  You will find it heavy.  The four will hold it all
comfortably."

"Gawd!" said Runnells eagerly, as he bent to his task.

The men worked swiftly now, without words, transferring the Earl of
Cloverley's priceless service of gold plate to the four travelling
bags.  The Frenchman, the quicker of the two, completed his task first,
and locked his two bags.  And then suddenly he touched Runnells on the
shoulder.

"Listen!" he whispered.  "What's that?"

Faintly, scarcely audible, there came a curiously padded, swishing
sound--like slippered feet.  It came from the direction, not of the
swing door where the two guards lay, but from beyond the door through
which Runnells and the Frenchman had entered the pantry.

"It's some one coming, all right," Runnells whispered back.

"But only _one_," said the Frenchman instantly.  "Quick!  Finish your
job--but don't make a sound."  There was a sudden, vicious snarl in his
whisper.  "Pull that hat of yours down over your eyes.  I'll answer the
door, as you English say!"

He moved back along the pantry with the noiseless tread of a cat, and
took up his position against the wall at the edge of the closed door.
From his pocket he drew a revolver.  It was quite black, quite silent
now--save for the approaching footsteps.

Perhaps a minute passed.

And then the door opened, and a light went on.  A grey-whiskered little
man in a dressing gown, with bare feet thrust into slippers, stood on
the threshold.  He cast startled eyes on a crouching figure in the
centre of the pantry, the tell-tale travelling bags, the gaping
treasure chest, and wrenched a revolver from the pocket of his dressing
gown.  But the Frenchman, reaching out, struck from the edge of the
doorway.  The revolver sailed ceilingwards from the other's hand, and
exploded in mid-air.  And coincidently the Frenchman struck again--with
the butt of his own weapon--and the man went limply to the floor.

Runnells came staggering forward under the load of the bags.

"Strike me dead!" he gasped, "if it ain't the nosey old bird himself!
Serves him proper--sneaking around to make sure he ain't paying money
for nothing, and hoping he'll catch 'em asleep on sentry-go!"

The Frenchman snatched up two of the bags.

"Quick!" he said tersely.


Captain Francis Newcombe raised his head from his pillow, and propped
himself up on his elbow.  A door nearby suddenly opened.  Other doors
were being rapped upon.  Voices came.

The ex-captain of territorials sprang from his bed, thrust his feet
into slippers, threw a bathrobe over his pajamas, opened his door and
stepped out into the hall.  Some one had already turned on a light.  He
found himself amongst a group of fellow guests, whose number was being
constantly augmented.  From other doorways, wary of their extreme
dishabille, women's faces peered out timidly--their voices, less
restrained, demanding to know what was the matter, added an hysterical
note to the scene.

"A shot was certainly fired somewhere in the house, though I couldn't
place where it came from," declared some one.  "I am quite sure of it."

"There is no question about it," corroborated another.  "It woke me up,
and I ran out here into the hall."

"The Earl is not in his room!" announced a third excitedly.  "I've just
been there."

"Ring for the servants!" screeched an elderly female voice.  "Some one
may be killed!"

"For God's sake!" snapped a man gruffly.  "I didn't hear it myself, but
if a shot was fired it's fairly obvious by now that it wasn't fired up
_here_!  What are you standing around like a pack of sheep for?"

"That's what I was wondering," said Captain Francis Newcombe softly to
himself--and joined the now concerted rush down the stairway.

Lights were going on all over the house now, and the men servants began
to appear.  The rush scurried from one room to another.  A cry went up
from some one ahead.  It turned the rush into the dining room, and
there, in their motley garbs, chorusing excited exclamations, the crowd
surrounded the two gagged and bound guards.

Then some one else shouted from the pantry that the metal chest had
been broken open, and that the gold service was gone.  There was
another rush in that direction.  Captain Francis Newcombe accompanied
this rush.  On the floor lay a revolver.  The ex-captain of
territorials picked it up.

"Hello!" he ejaculated.  "It's rather queer this has been left
behind--or perhaps it belongs to one of the two out there in the dining
room."

"No, sir," said one of the servants at his elbow.  "It's the Earl's,
sir.  I'd know it anywhere.  And, begging your pardon, sir, it's a bit
strange that _he_ hasn't been seen since--"

"Here he is!" cried a voice from beyond the farther pantry door.
"Here, lend a hand!  The Earl's been hurt."

Captain Francis Newcombe aiding, the Earl was carried back to the
dining room, and restoratives hastily applied.  Here, the man in
livery, released now, his voice weak and unsteady, was telling his
story; his companion was still unconscious.

"... Gawd knows," the man was saying.  "We was in the pantry, and Brown
there 'e thought 'e 'eard a sound out 'ere in the dining room.  And 'e
gets up and pushes the swinging door open and goes through, and a
minute later I 'ears what I thinks is 'im calling me.  ''Ere, quick,
Johnston!' 'e says.  And I goes through the door, and something bashes
me over the 'ead, and I goes out.  What 'appened though is as clear as
daylight now.  Brown goes through the door and gets hit on the 'ead,
and I goes through the door and gets hit on the 'ead.  And it wasn't
Brown as called to me, it was the blighter that did us in, and--"

The Earl's voice broke in suddenly.

"I'm all right, I tell you!" he insisted weakly.  "There were two of
them ... one behind the door knocked the revolver out of my hand as I
fired, and smashed me over the head with something ... bags, travelling
bags for the plate ... that's the way they're carrying it ... I--"

The Earl's voice trailed off.

"It can't have been more than five minutes ago then," said the man with
the gruff voice, "for they were therefore in the house when the shot
was fired.  They can't have got very far carrying that load.  Quick
now!  We'll search the park."

"But they wouldn't attempt to carry it very far anyway," objected some
one.  "They'd have a motor, of course."

"Exactly!" retorted the other.  "But not near enough to the house to be
heard.  Did any one hear a motor after that shot was fired?  Of course,
not!  We may get them before they get their motor.  Also, we'll use a
motor too!  Any one of the chauffeurs here?"

"Yes, sir," answered a man.

"Good!  Any one armed?"

"I've got the Earl's revolver," said Captain Francis Newcombe.

"Well, there's the gun room," said the man who had assumed command.
"And you servants get lanterns and things.  Look lively, now!  Sharp's
the word!"

And for some reason Captain Francis Newcombe smiled grimly to himself,
as he attached his person to the chauffeur, and, accompanied by three
other pajama-clad guests, raced from the house.

At the garage Captain Francis Newcombe appropriated the front seat
beside the chauffeur, his fellow guests scrambled into the tonneau, and
a moment later the big car shot around the end of the house and began
to sweep down the driveway.  The ex-captain of territorials screwed
around in his seat for a backward glance as they tore along.  Every
window in the great, rambling, castle-like edifice appeared to be
alight; this caused a filmy, lighted zone without, and through this
raced ghostly figures in bathrobes and dressing gowns that were almost
instantly swallowed up in the shadows of the trees; and from amongst
the trees, dancing in and out, like huge fireflies in their effect,
there showed in constantly increasing numbers the glint of lanterns.

But now the motor was at the lodge gates, nosing the main road, and the
chauffeur pulled up.

"Which way would you say, sir?" he asked anxiously.

"I'd vote for whichever is the shortest way to London--that's to the
left, isn't it?" Captain Francis Newcombe responded promptly.  He
turned to his fellow guests.  "I don't know what you think about it?"

"Yes," one of the others answered, "I'd say that's the way they'd most
likely take."

"Very good, sir!" said the chauffeur.  "Left, it is, and--"  He broke
short off.  "There they are!" he cried excitedly.  "Listen!  They're
coming out of that lane there, over to the right!"  He swung the motor
sharply into the straight of the main road.  "There they are!  See
'em!" he cried again, as the headlights brought the rear of a speeding
motor into view.  "The old general back there in the house was right.
They didn't bring their motor any nearer for fear it would be heard.
That's where it has been--up the lane there.  But we've got 'em now!
This old girl'll touch seventy and never turn a hair."

"Corking!" contributed Captain Francis Newcombe enthusiastically.
"You're sure of the seventy, are you?"

"Rather!" exclaimed the chauffeur.  "Look for yourself, sir.  We're
overhauling them now like one o'clock."

The ex-captain of territorials for a moment stared intently along the
headlights' rays to where, gradually, the other motor was coming more
and more into focus.

"By Jove, I believe you're right!" he agreed heartily--and from the
pocket of his dressing gown produced the Earl's revolver.

The motor was lurching now with the speed.  A hundred yards intervening
between the flying cars diminished to seventy-five--to fifty.  _Still
closer_!  The men in the tonneau clung to their seats.  Twenty-five
yards!

Captain Francis Newcombe shouted to his companions over the roar and
sweep of the wind.

"I'll take a pot at the beggars, and see if that'll stop 'em!" he
yelled.  "Better chance over the top of the windshield, what?"

Captain Francis Newcombe stood up, swayed with the car, fired twice in
quick succession and once after a short pause over the top of the
windshield--but the ex-captain of territorials' mark seemed curiously
comprehensive in expanse, for his eyes were at the same time searching
the side of the road ahead.  And now there showed at the end of the
headlight's path a hedgerow bordering close against the side of the
road.  Captain Francis Newcombe fired again, but as the car lurched now
the ex-captain of territorials seemed momentarily to lose his balance,
and with the lurch swayed heavily against the chauffeur's arm.

There was a startled yell from the chauffeur; a vicious swerve--and the
big motor leaped at the hedge.  Came a crash of splintering glass as
Captain Francis Newcombe was pitched head first against the windshield;
a rip and rend and tear as the motor bucked and plunged and twisted in
its conflict with the thick, heavy hedge; and then a terrific jolt that
in its train brought a full stop.

And Captain Francis Newcombe, flung back and half out of the car, put
his hands to his eyes and brought them away wet from a great gush of
blood.

"Carry on!  Carry on!" he cried weakly.  "You'll never have a better
chance to get them."

"My God!" screamed the chauffeur.  "Carry on?  We're a bally wreck!"

"What beastly luck!" murmured Captain Francis Newcombe--and lost
consciousness.



--V--

"DEAR GUARDY"

Captain Francis Newcombe, a bandage swathing his head from the tip of
his nose upward, groped out with his hand for a glass that stood on the
bedside table, succeeded only in upsetting it, and swore savagely under
his breath.  At the same moment, he heard the front door of his
apartment open and close.

"Runnells!" he shouted irritably.  "D'ye hear, Runnells?  Come here!"

A footstep came hurriedly along the hall, and the door of the bedroom
opened.

Paul Cremarre stood on the threshold.

"It is not Runnells," said the Frenchman, staring at the bed.  "I used
my key.  I saw Runnells and another man go out a few minutes ago."

"You, Paul!" exclaimed Captain Francis Newcombe quickly.  "I did not
expect you to return from France until to-morrow.  I thought Runnells
had forgotten something and come back.  That was the doctor with him.
Runnells has gone out for supplies.  They've only just brought me back
from Cloverley's this morning, and the place here was pretty well
cleaned out of necessities."

The Frenchman moved over to the bedside, and grasped Captain Francis
Newcombe's hand.

"Monsieur," he said earnestly, "I am desolated to see you like this.
How am I to tell you of my gratitude?  How am I to tell you what I owe
you?  We would have been caught.  In two or three more little minutes,
Runnells and I would have been _pouf_!"

"That seemed rather obvious," said Captain Francis Newcombe dryly.

"_Bon Dieu!_" ejaculated the Frenchman.  "Yes!  I heard from Runnells,
of course--the whole story in code.  There is only one man who would
have done that.  I, Paul Cremarre, will never forget it.  Never!  And I
say again that I am desolated to see you like this.  Runnells said your
eyes were very badly injured."

"That is Runnells' lack of balance in the use of English," said the
ex-captain of territorials.  "There is nothing whatever the matter with
my _eyes_.  If I am blind for the moment, it is because my eyelids are
kept shut by some damned medical method of torture, and because of this
bandage.  When I took a header into the broken windshield, I got a bit
of a cut that beginning with the bridge of my nose had a go straight
across on each side just under the eyebrows.  They've made a bit of a
fuss over it, wouldn't let me come home until now, and I must still be
tucked up in bed, but--"

"It is more than you make out," said the Frenchman gravely.  "I know
that.  But that your eyes are saved--that is luck!"

"Quite so!"  Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders.  "And
you?--speaking of luck."

"The best!" replied the Frenchman in a low, quick tone.  "Père Mouche
has had his _ragoût_, and afterwards another that was so hot
that--would you believe it?--it melted the dishes.  And, besides, he
has had a stroke of good fortune in getting rid of some other stock, a
lot of it, on the continent.  There will be a nice bank account in a
day or so--to-morrow, if you want any."  His voice grew suddenly less
buoyant.  "But just the same, it is well that we are taking a holiday.
It has caused a furor.  The papers, the Earl, Scotland Yard--how they
buzz!  And the Prefecture more suspicious than ever!  Your English
journals are like spoiled children.  They will not stop crying, and
they are very bad tempered about it.  This morning, for instance.  I
have one here.  Shall I read to you what it says?"

"Good heavens--no!" expostulated Captain Francis Newcombe hastily.
"Everybody from the Earl down to Runnells has read that stuff to me for
a week!  If you want to do anything that smacks of intelligence you can
get me another drink in place of the one I knocked over when you came
in--you know where the Scotch is; and if you want to do any reading see
if there is any mail for me.  I mentioned letters but the doctor said
no.  However, the doctor is gone, so look on the desk in the living
room."

"All right," said the Frenchman, as he turned briskly away.  "_Un petit
coup_ is decidedly in order this morning.  I will have one with you."

He was back presently from his errand.  He filled the glasses, and
placed one in Captain Francis Newcombe's hand.

"_Salut, mon capitaine!_" he said.  "Here's to the cash the little Père
Mouche is getting ready for us--a fat, a very nice fat little dividend!"

"Good!" said the ex-captain of territorials.  "How about the mail?  Any
letters?"

"I've got them here," Paul Cremarre answered.  "There were only three."

"Well, what are they?" demanded Captain Francis Newcombe.

The Frenchman examined the first of the letters in his hand.

"A city letter from Hipplewaite, Jones & Simpkins, Solicitors--"

Captain Francis Newcombe chuckled.

"That's about a hen Runnells ran over a month or so ago.  Extremely
valuable fowl!  Poultry show stock, and all that, you know.  What has
the price risen to now?"

Paul Cremarre tore the letter open.

"Two pounds, ten and six," he said.

"Still much too cheap!" grinned Captain Francis Newcombe.  "The man is
simply robbing himself.  Chuck it away before Runnells sees it.  He
could have settled for a pound three weeks ago.  What's next?"

The Frenchman examined another envelope.

"City letter again," he said.  "From 'The Sabbath House.'"

"Ah, yes!" said Captain Francis Newcombe gravely.  "Most worthy object.
Gave 'em ten quid last month.  A mission down in Whitechapel, you know.
Elevation of the unelevated, and all that.  Shocking conditions!  I
must see that your name goes on that list."

"Shall I tear it up?" drawled the Frenchman.

"Yes," said Captain Newcombe.

The Frenchman remained silent for a moment.

"Well?" prompted the ex-captain of territorials.  "You said there were
three."

"I have put the other on the table beside you," said the Frenchman.
"It is _intime_.  The stamp from America.  The handwriting of a lady.
You will read it yourself when you are able."

"Able!" echoed Captain Francis Newcombe, with sudden asperity.  "I
won't be able to do anything for another week, let alone read.  Open
it!  You know damned well it's only from my ward in America.  And since
I'm going out there as soon as I'm fit again, I'm rather keen to know
what her immediate plans are.  She was going to a school friend's home
for the summer.  I've explained to you before that her mother did a
rather big thing for me once, and I'm trying to repay the debt.  Open
it, and read it to me.  There's nothing private about it."

"But, certainly!" agreed the Frenchman, as he opened the letter.  "It
is only that you are both young, and that the thought crossed my mind
you--"

"Read the letter!" snapped Captain Francis Newcombe.  "If there's any
enclosure for her mother, you can lay that aside."

"There is no enclosure," returned the Frenchman good-humouredly.
"Well, then, listen!  I read:

  The Corals,
  Manwa Island, Florida Keys,
  Tuesday, June 30th.

DEAR GUARDY:

You knew, of course, I was going to visit Dora Marlin and her father,
Mr. Jonathan P. Marlin, this summer, so you won't be altogether
surprised at the above address.  You see, we came here a little sooner
than I expected, so that your last letter, forwarded on from New York,
has just reached me.

I am wild with delight to know that you have decided to come out to
America for a visit.  I showed your letter at once to Dora and Mr.
Marlin, and they absolutely insist that you come here as their guest.
You will, won't you?  You old dear!  You'll have to, else you won't see
me--so there!  You see, we're on an island in the Florida Keys, and
it's ever so far from the mainland, and there's no other place on it to
stay except with us.  I wonder, I wonder if you'll know me?  I'm not
the little Polly I was, you know.

Oh, guardy, it's simply wonderful here!  The house is really a castle,
and it's built mostly of coral, and is so pretty; and the foliage is a
dream--the whole island, and it's really an awfully big one, is just
like a huge garden.  And, too, it's just like a little world all of
your own.  The servants are mostly negroes, with pickaninnies running
around, and they live in jolly little bungalows, ever and ever so many
of them, that peep out of the trees at you everywhere you go.  And then
there is the aquarium.  It's Mr. Marlin's hobby.  I couldn't begin to
describe it.  I never knew such beautiful and wonderful and queer
creatures existed in the sea.

Dora's a dear, of course.  I'm sure you'll lose your heart to her at
once.  And I've already grown so fond of Mr. Marlin, and the more so,
perhaps, because Dora is frightfully worried about him.  I am afraid
there is something very serious the matter with his mind, though a
great deal of the time he appears to be quite normal.  I don't
understand it, of course, because it is all about the financial
conditions in the world; but anyway--


Paul Cremarre stopped reading aloud abruptly.  There was a moment of
silence while his eyes swept swiftly on to the end of the paragraph.

"Well?" inquired Captain Francis Newcombe.  "What's the matter?  Have
you lost your place?"

The Frenchman drew in his breath sharply.

"_Bon Dieu!_" he exclaimed excitedly.  "Listen to this!  It is the lamp
of Aladdin!  It is the Isle of Croesus!  We are rich!  It is superb!
It is magnificent!  Listen!  I read again:


--he has a great sum of money in banknotes here; half a million
dollars, he said.  He showed it to me.  It was hard to believe there
was so much.  Why, you could just make a little bundle of it and put it
under your arm.  I asked him why he had it here, and he patted it and
smiled at me, and told me it was the only safe thing to do.  And then
he tried to explain a lot of things to me about money that I couldn't
understand at all.


Paul Cremarre looked up, and waved the letter about jubilantly.

"Yes, yes!" he cried.  "I am awake!  See!  I pinch myself!  It is
amazing!  In banknotes!  In American money!  _That_ is valuable, eh?
And a little bundle that one could put under one's arm!"

Captain Francis Newcombe's lips were a straight line under the bandages.

"I'm afraid I don't get the point," he said coldly.

"The point!"  Paul Cremarre's face was flushed now, his eyes burned
with excitement.  "But, sacre nom, the point is--a half million dollars
in cash.  And so easy!  It is ours for the taking.  The man is--ha,
ha!--yes, I learned something in the war from the Americans--he is what
they call a nut!"  He tapped his forehead.  "And from the nut we
extract the kernel!  Yes?"

"I think not!" said Captain Francis Newcombe evenly.

"Heh?"  The Frenchman stared incredulously.  "But it must be that you
joke--a little joke of exquisite irony.  Yes, of course; for what could
be better--or suit us better?  We were about to lay low for a while
because it was becoming too hot for us on this side of the water--and,
presto, like a gift of the gods, there immediately awaits us fortune on
the other side!"

Captain Francis Newcombe suddenly thrust out a clenched hand toward the
other.

"_No!_" he said in a low voice.

"_Bon Dieu!_" gasped the Frenchman helplessly.  "But I do not
understand."

"Then I'll try to make it plain," said Captain Francis Newcombe in
level tones.  "There are limits to what even I will do, and it is well
over that limit here.  To go there as a guest of--"

"Monsieur was a guest, I understand, of the Earl of Cloverley a few
days ago," interrupted the Frenchman quickly.

"Yes!" said Captain Francis Newcombe tersely.  "And the guest before
that of many others.  But I did not have a ward to consider upon whose
reputation I was to trade, and which I would wreck.  Do you understand
that?"

"Damn!" said the Frenchman.  "There is always a woman!  Damn all women,
I say!"

"You may damn them as much as you please," said Captain Francis
Newcombe, a grim savagery in his voice; "but there'll be none of that
sort of thing here.  And you keep your hands off!  Do you also
understand that?  There's going to be one decent thing in my life!"  He
stretched out his clenched hand again.  "Curse these bandages!  I wish
I could see your face!  But I tell you now that if any attempt is made
to get that money I'll crush you with as little compunction as I would
crush a snake.  Is _that_ plain?"

"But, monsieur--monsieur!" protested the Frenchman.  "That is enough!
Why should you say such things to me?  I am distressed.  And it is not
just.  You asked me to read a letter, and I read it.  That was not my
fault.  And surely it was but natural, what I said.  Has it not been
our business to do that sort of thing together?  I did not know how you
felt about this.  But now that I know it is at an end.  I have
forgotten it, my friend.  It is as though it had never been."

"All right, then!" said the ex-captain of territorials in a softer
tone.  "As you say, that ends it."

"Shall I go on with the letter?" asked the Frenchman pleasantly.

"No," said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "Give it to me.  I've had enough
of it for now."  He smiled suddenly, as the Frenchman placed the letter
in his hand.  "I'm afraid I'm a bit off colour this morning, Paul.
Sorry!  The trip down from Cloverley's has done me in a bit, and my
eyes hurt like hell.  I'd give a hundred pounds for a few good hours of
sleep."

"Try, then," suggested the Frenchman.  "I'll be where I can hear you if
you want anything.  I won't go out until Runnells gets back."

"Good enough!" agreed Captain Francis Newcombe; and then abruptly, as
the Frenchman rose from his chair: "Speaking of Runnells, Paul--you
will _oblige_ me by saying nothing to him of the contents of this
letter."

"I will say nothing to any one, let alone Runnells," replied the
Frenchman quietly.  "It is already forgotten.  Call, if you want
anything."

"I will," said Captain Francis Newcombe.

The Frenchman's footsteps died away in an outer room.

Captain Francis Newcombe's fingers tightened around the letter he held
in his hand, crushed it, and carefully smoothed it out again.  He lay
there motionless then, his face turned away from the door, his lips
thinned, his under jaw outthrust a little.

"Three years in the planting!" he muttered to himself.  "It has ripened
well!  Very well!  Paul--bah!  What does it matter, after all, that he
read the letter?  I am not sure but that he has already outlived his
usefulness--and Runnells too!"  He thrust the letter suddenly
underneath his pillow.  "Damn the infernal pain!" he gritted between
his teeth.  "If I could only sleep for a bit--sleep--sleep!"

And for a time he tossed restlessly from side to side, and then
presently he slept.


Runnells, in response to a demand from the bedroom, brought in the
luncheon tray.

"You've had a rare whack of sleep," he said, as he laid the tray down
on the table beside the bed.

"What time is it?" inquired Captain Francis Newcombe.

"Three o'clock," said Runnells.  "Here, sit up a bit, and I'll bolster
the pillows in behind you."

"Where's Paul?" asked the ex-captain of territorials.

Runnells did not answer immediately.  In arranging the pillows he had
found a letter.  He looked at it coolly.  It ought to be worth looking
at if Captain Francis Newcombe kept it under his pillow.

"Well?" snapped the ex-captain of territorials.

Runnells placed the letter on the table within easy reach beside the
tray, pulled the table a little closer, and sat down on the edge of the
bed.

"He went out after I got back," said Runnells.  "Said he'd sleep here
to-night, that's all I know.  This is a bit of stew."

Runnells, with one hand presented a forkful of meat to Captain Francis
Newcombe's lips, and with the other hand possessed himself of the
letter again.

Runnells read steadily now.  He conveyed food to Captain Francis
Newcombe's mouth mechanically.

"Damn it!" spluttered the ex-captain of territorials suddenly.  "Do you
take me for a boa constrictor?  I can't bolt food as fast as that!"

Runnells' eyes were curiously, feverishly alight.

"Yesterday you said I went too slow," he mumbled.

"In a great many respects, Runnells," said Captain Francis Newcombe
tartly, "you are an irritating, tactless ass.  But not to be too hard
on you, and especially in view of the last week, I have to admit you
possess one redeeming feature that I am bound to give you credit for."

"What's that?"  Runnells was at the end of the letter now.  He stared
at the bandaged face with eyes a little narrowed, and with lips that
twisted in a strange, speculative smile.

"A fidelity of the same uninitiative quality that a dog has," said
Captain Francis Newcombe, motioning for more to eat.  "And in that
sphere you're a success.  I hope you'll always stick to it."

Runnells made no answer.  His eyes were on the letter again--re-reading
it.

The lunch proceeded in silence.

At its conclusion, Runnells stood up, slipped the letter behind the
pillow again, and gathered the various dishes together on the tray.

"America, eh?" confided Runnells to himself, as he carried the tray
from the room.  "So _that's_ the bit of all right, is it?  And Paul
don't know anything about it!  And the captain don't know--I know!
Half a million dollars!  Strike me pink!"



--VI--

THE WRITING ON THE WALL

It was a night of storm.  The rain, wind driven, swept the decks in
gusty, stinging sheets; the big liner rolled and pitched, disgruntled,
in the heavy sea.

Within the smoking room at a table in the corner Captain Francis
Newcombe turned from a companion who sat opposite to him to face a
steward who had just arrived with a tray.

"How about this, steward?" he asked.  "Is this weather going to delay
our getting in?  I understand that if we don't pass quarantine early
enough they hold us up all night."

"So they do, sir," the steward answered.  "But this isn't holding us up
any, a bit nasty though it is.  We'll be docked at New York by two
o'clock to-morrow afternoon at the latest.  Thank you, sir!"  He
pocketed a generous tip as he departed.

The young man at the opposite side of the table, dark-eyed,
dark-haired, with fine, clean-cut features, a man of powerful physique,
whose great breadth of shoulder was encased in an immaculate dinner
jacket, lifted the glass the steward had just set before him.

"Here's how, captain!" he smiled.

"The same, Mr. Locke!" returned Captain Francis Newcombe cordially.

Howard Locke extracted a cigarette from his case, and lighted it.

"The end of as chummy a crossing as I've ever had," he said.  "Thanks
to you.  And I've been lucky all round.  Cleaned up well in London, and
'll get a pat on the back for it from dad--and a holiday, which,
without throwing any bouquets at myself, I'll say I've earned.  I think
I'll do a bit of coast cruising in that little old fifty-footer of mine
that I've filled your ear full of during the last few days.  Wow!  And
not least of all my luck was Joyce introducing me to you at lunch that
day in the club."

"It's very good of you to say so," said Captain Francis Newcombe.

"Good, nothing!" exclaimed the young American.  "I mean it!  You've
made the trip for me.  And now how about your plans?  I know you're
going on South somewhere, for you mentioned it the other day.  But what
about New York?  You'll be a little while there, and I feel pleasurably
responsible for the stranger in the strange land.  The house is barred,
for the family is away for the summer; but there are the clubs, and I'd
like to put you up and show you around a bit."

Captain Francis Newcombe studied the young man's face for a moment--he
smiled disarmingly as he did so.  Howard Locke was the son of a man of
great wealth, the head of a great financial house, and of a family
whose social status left nothing to be desired--and America was the
Land of Promise!  But one could be _too_ eager!

"I'd like to," he said heartily; "but I fancy I've still quite a little
trip ahead of me, and I'm afraid I'm a bit overdue already.  As you
say, I mentioned that I was going South.  To be precise, I'm going down
Florida way--or do you call it up?--as the guest of a Mr. Marlin."

Howard Locke removed the cigarette from his lips.

"Marlin?" he repeated.  "Not Jonathan P. Marlin, by any chance?"

Captain Francis Newcombe nodded.

"Whew!"  The young American whistled softly under his breath.

Captain Francis Newcombe lifted his eyebrows inquiringly.

"You know him?" he asked.

"No," Locke answered.  "Not personally.  I know of him, of course.
Everybody does.  And I don't want to be nosey and butt in, and you can
heave that glass at me by way of reply if you like, but how in the
world do you happen to know him?"

Captain Francis Newcombe smiled.

"I don't," he said.  "My ward, who has been over here at school for the
past few years, has been a classmate of Miss Marlin, and she is
spending part of the summer with them."

"Oh, I see!"  Howard Locke tapped the end of his cigarette on the edge
of an ash tray once or twice, and glanced in evident indecision at his
companion.

"Go on!" invited Captain Francis Newcombe.  "What is it?"

Howard Locke laughed a little awkwardly.

"Well, I don't know," he said.  "Nothing very much.  And I'm afraid
it's not done, as you English put it, for me to say anything, since he
is your prospective host; still, as you say you are not personally
acquainted with him yourself, I think perhaps you ought to know just
the same.  I haven't anything definite to go on, no authoritative
source of information, but it is rather generally understood that old
Marlin's gone a bit queer in the head."

"Really!" ejaculated Captain Francis Newcombe.  "Good lord!  I had no
idea of any such thing!  And my ward's on this island of his in the
Florida Keys, and--"

"There's nothing whatever to be alarmed about," said the young American
hastily.  "It's nothing like that.  He's as harmless as you are, or as
I am.  It's only on one subject--money.  I suppose he was one of the
wealthiest men in America at the close of the war, and since then he's
been wiped out."

"Wiped out?" Captain Francis echoed incredulously.

"Comparatively, of course," said Howard Locke.  "I don't know how much
he has got left--nobody does.  It's been the talk of the financial
district.  There isn't a share of stock anywhere to be found standing
in his name.  He sold everything; and how much was used to cover
losses, and how much remained to himself no one knows.  You see, the
last few years, to put it mildly, have been hell in a financial and
business way.  The foreign exchange situation has been a big factor in
helping to play the devil with all sorts of holdings.  Values have
depreciated; the market has gone smash.  Industries that were big
dividend payers haven't been able to meet their overhead.  You may not
believe it, but hundreds and hundreds have taken their money out of the
banks, and, insisting on being paid in American gold certificates, when
they couldn't get the actual gold itself, have hoarded it in the safe
deposit vaults.  God knows why!  Just instances the general panicky
conditions everywhere, I suppose.  The aftermath of the war!  History
repeating itself, so the writers on economics tell us.  Small
consolation!  However!  Marlin met with crash after crash.  He lost
millions.  He's not a young man, you know, and it evidently got him
finally in the shape of a monomania.  Finance!  You understand?  He was
on a dozen big directorates and his trouble began to show itself in the
shape of an obsession that everything should be turned into cash,
buildings, plants, everything--into American cash.  Naturally he was
quietly and unostentatiously dropped.  Poor devil!  Certainly, his
losses were terrific.  I don't know whether he's got anything left or
not."

"By Jove!" said Captain Francis Newcombe gravely.  "I'm glad you told
me.  Pretty rough that, I call it."

"Yes," said Locke.  "It is!  Damned rough!  I think everybody was sorry
for him.  And so he's down there at this place of his now on an island
in the Florida Keys, eh?"

"Yes," said Captain Francis Newcombe.

The young American selected another cigarette from his case, rolled it
slowly between his fingers--and leaned suddenly across the table.

"Look here!" he said.  "I've an idea.  I'm going cruising
somewhere--why not there?  The Florida coast hits me down to the
ground.  How would you like to make the trip with me?"

Captain Francis Newcombe leaned back in his chair, and laughed a little.

"I'm afraid not," he said.  "I--"

"Oh, come on, be a sport!" urged Howard Locke enthusiastically.  "The
more I think of it, the better I like it.  I'll have good company on a
cruise, and you'll enjoy it.  And it's quite all right so far as my
showing up there is concerned.  It isn't as though I were foisting
myself on their hospitality.  The little old boat's my home; and, for
that matter, I can drop you and sail solemnly away.  You'll have the
time of your life.  What's the objection?"

"Time," said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "It would take a long while,
wouldn't it?"

"Well," said Howard Locke, "I wouldn't guarantee to get you there as
fast as a train would, but what difference does a few days make?  It
isn't as though it were a business engagement you had to keep."

"No; that's so," acknowledged Captain Francis Newcombe.  "And frankly I
must admit it appeals to me; but"--he looked at his watch--"I don't
know whether I can manage it or not.  Anyway, I promise to sleep on it.
It's after twelve, and time to turn in.  What do you say?"

"That suits me," said Howard Locke, "so long as you promise to say
'yes' in the morning."

"We'll see," said Captain Francis Newcombe.

The two men rose from their chairs, and, crossing the room where
several games of bridge were in progress, stepped out on the deck.  And
here, their respective cabins lying in different directions, they bade
each other good-night.

But now Captain Francis Newcombe, despite the pitching of the ship and
the general unpleasantness of the night, appeared to be in no hurry.
He walked slowly.  It was the lee side, and under the covered deck he
was protected from the rain.  He looked behind him.  The young
American, evidently in no mind for anything but the snugger shelter of
his cabin, had disappeared.  The deck was deserted.

The ex-captain of territorials stepped to the rail, and stared out into
the murk, through which there showed, like pencilled streaks on a black
background, the white, irregular shapes of the cresting waves.  The
howl of the wind, the boom and crash of the seas made thunderous
tumult, conflict, turmoil.  And he laughed.  And spume, flying, struck
his face.  And he laughed again because a sort of fierce exaltation was
upon him, and he found something akin in these wild, untramelled voices
of the elements--a challenge, far-flung and savage, and contemptuous of
all who would say them nay.

And then his eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and his fingers played a soft
tattoo upon the dripping rail.

"I wonder!" said Captain Francis Newcombe to himself.  "I wonder if it
suits my book?"

His mind began to moil over the problem in a cold, unprejudiced,
judicial way.  Was the balance for or against the acceptance of the
young American's offer?  To arrive at Marlin's place in the company of
a man of the standing of Howard Locke was an endorsation that spoke for
itself.  But he already had an unqualified endorsation.  Polly supplied
it.  Still, he could not have too much of that sort of thing.  Would,
then, the man be in the way, a hindrance, a complication?  He could not
answer that off-hand, but it did not seem to be a vital point.  What he
proposed to do on Manwa Island in a general way he knew well enough;
but just how he proposed to do it, and just how long he proposed to
stay there, a week, or a month, or longer, only local conditions as he
found them must decide.

He shrugged his shoulders suddenly.  Neither Howard Locke nor any other
man would make of himself a hindrance--hindrances were removed.  But
there was another point, an outstanding point.  After Manwa Island
there was--America.  True, he had brought Runnells with him, while he
had said good-bye to Paul Cremarre, who had departed for Paris, and
thereafter for such destination as his fancy prompted, for the period,
mutually agreed upon, of six months--but he, Captain Francis Newcombe,
was not prepared to say when, or where, if ever, he intended to
utilise, in the same manner as before, the services of either Runnells
or the Frenchman again.  Certainly not in America, if a lone hand
promised better there!  He proposed to play a lone hand at this Manwa
Island.  It might well be that he would continue to do so thereafter.
And in America an intimacy with Howard Locke, such as this projected
cruise offered, would help amazingly to spread and germinate the seed
already sown by Polly Wickes.  Polly Wickes was his private property!

Captain Francis Newcombe smiled confidentially at the angry waters.

"Yes," he said, "I think it is quite possible that he may be able to
_persuade_ me."

He turned abruptly away from the rail, making for his cabin, which was
on the deck above and on the opposite side of the ship.  And presently,
halting in the lighted alleyway before his door, he turned the key in
the lock and entered.

And then, just across the threshold, he stood for the fraction of a
second like a man dazed--and the door, torn from his hand by a fierce
gust of wind, slammed with a bang behind him.  The cabin was on the
windward side, the window was open, and outside the window, indistinct,
shadowy, as though almost it might be an hallucination of the mind, a
man's form suddenly loomed up.  There was a flash, the roar of a
revolver shot, muffled, almost drowned out in the thunder of the
storm--and Captain Francis Newcombe lay flat upon the cabin floor.

The next instant he flung himself over beside the settee, and protected
here from another shot, raised his head.  The form had vanished from
the window.

A cold fury seized upon the man.  From his pocket he drew his own
revolver, and covering the window as he backed swiftly for the door,
wrenched the door open and made for the first egress to the deck.  Too
late, of course!  The deck was deserted.  He stood there, grim-faced,
tight-lipped, straining his eyes up and down the length of the deck
through the darkness, the rain beating into his face.

And then he began to run again--like a dog seeking scent.  There were a
dozen places up here where a man might hide--the juts of the
superstructure, the great, grotesque, looming ventilators, the openings
through to the other side of the deck.  But he found nothing, no
one--there was only the deserted deck, the drenching rain.  And the
howl of the wind metamorphosed itself into ironical shrieks.

Captain Francis Newcombe returned along the deck, and halted outside
his cabin window.  He examined it critically.  It had been pried open
from the outside--the marks were distinctly indented on the sill, as
though a jimmy, or iron bar of some kind, had been used.

He stared at it, his jaws clamped.  It was unpleasant.  Some one on the
ship had deliberately, premeditatively, attempted to murder him.  There
was something of hideous malignancy in it.  To pry the window open, and
wait there patiently in the storm for the sole purpose of ending a
man's life!  It hadn't succeeded because intuition, or, perhaps,
better, an exaggerated instinct of self-preservation born of the years
in which he had flaunted defiance of every law in the face of his
fellow men, had prompted him, though taken unawares, to act even
quicker than his assailant who lay in wait, and to fling himself
instantly to the floor of the cabin.

Who was it?  Why was it?  Who, on board the ship, had any incentive,
any reason, any cause to murder him?  Save for Locke, the young
American, he knew no one on board, barring Runnells, of course, except
in the ordinary, casual way of shipboard acquaintanceship struck up
since the ship had left Liverpool.  It could not be any one of
these--at least, not logically.  And of them all, it certainly could
not be Locke.  The ship's company?  Absurd!  Runnells?  Still more
absurd!  And so he had eliminated _everybody_, and yet _somebody_ had
done it!

He began to work with the window.  Reaching inside he drew the curtains
carefully together, and then lowered the window itself.  When he
re-entered his room, even providing he were still being watched, he
would not be exposed in the same way as a target again!

He stood there now in the rain, his face hard, with savage, drooping
lines at the corners of his mouth.  Was he being watched now?  Was
there a cat-and-mouse game in play?  Well, two could play at that!  He,
too, could prowl about the ship.  His bed held little of invitation for
him!

He went to Runnells' room.  The man was in bed asleep.  That definitely
disposed of Runnells!

He returned and made another circuit of the upper deck; and then,
forward, by one of the open companionways, he descended to the deck
below.  His mind was in a strange state of turmoil.  It was not
physical fear.  It was as though a host of haunting shapes were being
marshalled against him, were rising up out of the past to disturb him,
jeering at him, mocking him, plaguing him with sinister possibilities.
The past was peopled with shapes, shapes that had lived in the world of
Shadow Varne; shapes which might well be accused of this attempt to do
away with him, could they but take tangible form, could their presence
but be reconciled with the here and now, with this ship, with these
damp, slippery decks, with the drive and sting of the rain, with the
scream and howl of the wind, with the plunge and roll of the great
liner, the buffeting of the waves--if they could but be reconciled with
_material_ things.  He clenched his hands.  He was not as a man who
could search his memory in vain for one who owed him such a debt as
this; it was, rather, that his memory became crowded and confused with
the _number_ that came thronging in upon it, each vying with the others
to shriek the loudest its boasted claim to the attempted retribution
to-night.

He set his teeth.  Where had he failed?  When had he left ajar behind
him the door of the past that allowed any one of these ghostly shapes
to slip through upon his heels?  Ghostly?  There was little of the
ghostly here!  He _must_ have been recognised by some one on board the
ship.  It seemed incredible, impossible--but it was equally
incontrovertible.  Who?  And what did it portend?  To-night he had won
the first hand, but--

_Locke_!  He was standing beside the smoking room window.  Locke was in
there, his back turned, standing beside one of the bridge tables,
watching a game.  It was a little strange!  He had parted with Locke
out here on the deck--and Locke was going to his cabin to turn in.

For an instant Captain Francis Newcombe held there, his brows knitted
in a perplexed frown.  Howard Locke!  It was preposterous; it would not
hold water; it was childish--unless the young American were some one
other than he pretended to be, and there wasn't a chance in a thousand
of that!  His mind worked swiftly now.  Locke had been introduced to
him at lunch in the club by a fellow member a few days before they had
sailed.  That certainly vouched for the man sufficiently, didn't it?
Locke had volunteered the information that he had booked passage on
this ship, and they had not met again until here on shipboard.  If
Locke was what he passed for, if he was of one of the best families of
America, the son of a millionaire, a clever, hard-working and ambitious
young business man, it was untenable to assume for an instant that he
was a potential murderer.  It was even laughable.  There wasn't even
that one chance in a thousand that he could be any other than he
seemed, not a chance in a million, and yet--

"Chance," said Captain Francis Newcombe, "is the playground of fools.
We will see!"

He turned and ran swiftly along the deck.  A minute later he was
standing before one of the two doors of the young American's suite.  A
little metal instrument was in his hand, but it went instantly back
into his pocket--the door was not locked.  He stepped inside and closed
the door behind him.  Locke had one of the best and most expensive
reservations on the ship--a suite of two rooms and a private bath, but
there was a separate door from each of these rooms to the passageway
without, since, naturally, they were not always booked en suite.  And
the room he stood in now was the one Locke used for his sitting room,
and always as the entrance to the suite itself.

Captain Francis Newcombe was quick in every movement now.  He ran
through to the other room--the bedroom--closing the connecting door
behind him.  He switched on the light, and turned at once to the door
that gave here on the passageway.  The key was in the lock, and the
door was locked.  He unlocked it.  The next instant he had a
portmanteau open and was delving into its contents.  It contained
nothing but clothing--shirts, collars, ties, underwear, and the like.
He opened another, and still another with the same result.  Papers!  It
was the man's papers that interested him.

He snarled a little savagely to himself.  There was nothing for it then
but the steamer trunk under the couch--and Locke might be back at any
moment.  He dragged out the trunk--and snarled again savagely.  It was
locked.  He began to work with it now, swiftly, deftly, with the little
steel picklock.  It yielded finally, and he flung back the lid.  Yes,
this was what he wanted!  On the top lay a leather despatch case.  But
this also was locked.  Again Captain Francis Newcombe set to work--and
presently was glancing through a mass of papers and documents that the
despatch case had contained: letters from the father's firm to the son,
signed by Locke senior; a letter of credit in substantial amount; an
underwriting agreement with a London house for the floating of a huge
issue of bonds, signed and sealed, the tangible evidence of young
Locke's successful trip, of which he had spoken.  Incontrovertible
evidence that Howard Locke was no other than he appeared to be, and--

Captain Francis Newcombe sprang for the electric-light switch, and
turned off the light.  There was Locke now!  The pound of the ship, the
noise of the storm, had of course deadened any sound in the passageway,
but he could hear the other at the sitting room door.  There was no
time to replace the despatch case and push the trunk back under the
couch, let alone attempt to lock either one.  The man was coming
now--across the other room.  Captain Francis Newcombe laid the despatch
case silently down on the floor, opened the door as silently, stepped
out into the passageway and ran noiselessly along it.

He reached the door of his own cabin.  His excursion to Locke's cabin
and the evidence of intrusion he had been forced to leave behind him
had put an end to any more "prowling" on his part to-night.  Locke
would probably kick up a fuss.  There would be a very strict search for
"prowlers!"  He snapped his jaws together viciously.  That did not at
all please him.  He would very much prefer that the would-be assassin
should have another opportunity of showing his hand, that the man would
be inspired to make a _second_ attempt.  He, Captain Francis Newcombe,
would be a little better prepared this time!

He pushed open the door of his cabin cautiously--and for an instant
stood motionless, a little back from the threshold, and at one side.
There was always the possibility, remote though it might be, that while
he had been out searching for the other, the man had slipped inside
and, waiting, had made of the cabin a death trap which he, Captain
Francis Newcombe, was now invited to enter.  It was not likely.  It
would require a little more nerve than the firing of a shot through the
window, and then running away.  But, for all that, having failed the
first time, the other might be moved to take what might possibly be
considered more certain measures on the next attempt.  And in that
case--No; the cabin was empty!  The light from the passageway,
filtering in through the open door, showed that quite plainly.

Captain Francis Newcombe stepped inside, and, before closing the door,
looked curiously over the woodwork near the door and on a line with the
window.  Yes, there it was!  The writing on the wall!  The bullet had
splintered a piece of the wall panelling, and had embedded itself in
the wall a little to the right of the door casing.

He closed and locked the door now, shutting out the light, and, with
his revolver in his hand, sat down in the darkness, out of direct range
himself, but where he could command the window.  It was a bit futile.
He was conscious of that.  But there was always the possibility of the
man's return, and there was no other possibility that promised any
better--or, indeed, promised anything at all.

His mind began to weigh, and sift, and grope as through a maze,
battling with the problem again.  Not Locke!  He was rather definitely
prepared to set Locke apart from everybody else on board the ship, and
say that it was not Locke.  Who, then?  Who had any--

He straightened up, suddenly even more alert.  There was some one out
in the passageway now--some one outside his door.  There came a low,
quick rap.

"Who's there?" demanded Captain Francis Newcombe sharply.

Locke's voice answered:

"It's Locke.  May I come in?"

Captain Francis Newcombe crossed to the door, unlocked it, and flung it
open.

"Hello!" ejaculated the young American, as the light from the
passageway fell upon the other.  "Not in bed, and in the dark!  What's
the idea?  Why no light?"

"Because I fancy it's safer--in the dark," said Captain Francis
Newcombe.  "Come in."

"Safer!"  Howard Locke stepped into the cabin, and closed the door
behind him.  "How safer?  Say, look here!  Some one's been turning my
stateroom inside out--been going through my things."

"You're lucky!" said Captain Francis Newcombe tersely.

"Lucky!" echoed the young American quickly.  "What do you mean?"

"That it wasn't anything worse," said Captain Francis Newcombe coolly.
"Some one's been trying to put a bullet through me--only it went into
the wall over there instead.  Here, take a look!"  He switched on the
light.  "See it--there by the door casing!"

"Good God!" exclaimed Locke.  "Yes; I see it!  When was this?"

"Shortly after I left you.  As I opened the door here and stepped into
the cabin, I was fired at through the window.  And the window had been
opened from the outside--there are marks on it--and whoever it was, was
waiting for me."

"That's damned queer," said Howard Locke.  "When I left you I went to
my rooms, and everything was all right.  I went back to the smoking
room because I had left my cigarette case there.  I stayed a few
minutes watching several hands of bridge, and when I went back to my
rooms again I found my steamer trunk open and a case of papers on the
floor."

"Anything missing?" asked Captain Francis Newcombe.

"No; not so far as I know," Locke answered.  "What do you think had
better be done?"

"I think you had better switch that light off, and stand away from the
line of the window."

The young American shook his head.

"No," he said.  "It's hardly likely that the same game would be tried
twice in the same night.  Say, what do you make of it?  It seems mighty
queer that you and I should have been picked out for some swine's
attentions!  What should be done?"

"What _have_ you done?"

"Nothing, so far," Locke replied.  "I came here at once to tell you
about it, and ask your advice.  I suppose the commander ought to be
told."

Captain Francis Newcombe sat down on the edge of his bunk.

"I can't see the good of it," he said slowly.  "We're landing
to-morrow.  It would mean the shore police aboard, and no end of a
fuss; and an almost certain delay, nobody allowed off the ship, and all
that, you know.  I can't see how it would get us anywhere.  You haven't
lost anything; and I--well, I'm still alive."

"That's true," said Locke.  He was staring at the bullet hole in the
wall.  "And worst of all there'd be the reporters.  Three-inch
headlines!  I'm not for _that_!  I agree with you.  We'll say nothing."

Captain Francis Newcombe inspected Locke's back.

"How much of a crew do you carry on this fifty-footer of yours?" he
inquired softly.

"Why not necessarily any one but the two of us and your man, if you'll
come along."  Howard Locke turned around suddenly to face the other.
"Why?"

"Well," said Captain Francis Newcombe quietly, "under those conditions,
as the two victims of to-night, we'd form a sort of mutual protective
society--and perhaps, if the offer is still open, it would be the
safest way for me to reach my destination.  There wouldn't be any
windows for any one to fire through."

Howard Locke lighted a cigarette.

"That's a go!" he said.  "I'm very keen to make the trip with you.  And
if all this has decided it, I'm glad it's happened.  That's fine!  And
now--what are you going to do for the rest of the night?"

"Why, I'm going to bed," said Captain Francis Newcombe casually; "and
at the risk of appearing inhospitable, I should advise you to do
likewise."

"Right!" agreed Locke.  "There's nothing else to do."  He stepped
toward the door, but paused, staring at the bullet mark in the wall
again.

"That bullet hole seems to fascinate you," smiled Captain Francis
Newcombe.

"Yes," said Locke, as he opened the door.  "I was thinking what a
rotten thing it was to be fired at cold-bloodedly in the dark.
Good-night!"

The door closed.

Captain Francis Newcombe did not go to bed.  With the light out again,
he sat there on the bunk.

Long minutes passed; they drifted into hours.

The man's figure became crouched, became a shape that lost human
semblance, that was like unto some creature huddled in its lair; and
the face was no longer human, for upon it was stamped the passions of
hell; and the head became cocked curiously sideways in a strained
attitude of attention, as though listening, listening, listening,
always listening.

And there came a time when he spoke aloud, and called out hoarsely:

"Who's that?  Who's whispering there?  Who's calling Shadow Varne ...
Shadow Varne ...  Shadow Varne...."

And in answer the ship's bell struck the hour of dawn.



BOOK II: THE ISLE OF PREY



--I--

THE SPELL OF THE MOONBEAMS

It was a night of white moonlight; a languorous night.  It was a night
of impenetrable shadows, deep and black; and, where light and shadow
met and merged, the treetops were fringed against the sky in tracery as
delicate as a cameo.  And there was fragrance in the air, exotic,
exquisite, the fragrance of growing things, of semi-tropical flowers
and trees and shrubs.  And very faint and soft there fell upon the ear
the gentle lapping of the water on the shore, as though in her mother
tenderness nature were breathing a lullaby over her sea-cradled isle.

On a verandah of great length and spacious width, moon-streaked where
the light stole in through the row of ornamental columns that supported
the roof and through the interstices of vine-covered lattice work,
checkering the flooring in fanciful designs, a girl raised herself
suddenly on her elbow from a reclining chair, and, reaching out her
hand, laid it impulsively on that of another girl who sat in a chair
beside her.

"Oh, Dora," she breathed, "it's just like fairyland!"

Dora Marlin smiled quietly.

"What a queer little creature you are, Polly!" she said.  "You like it
here, don't you?"

"I _love_ it!" said Polly Wickes.

"Fairyland!" Dora Marlin repeated the word.  "Wouldn't it be wonderful
if there were a real fairyland just like the stories they used to read
to us as children?"

Polly Wickes nodded her head slowly.

"I suppose so," she said; "but I never had any fairy stories read to me
when I was a child, and so my fairyland has always been one of my
own--one of dreams.  And this is fairyland because it's so beautiful,
and because being here doesn't seem as though one were living in the
same world one was born in at all."

"You poor child!" said Dora Marlin softly.  "A land of dreams, then!
Yes; I know.  These nights _are_ like that sometimes, aren't they?
They make you dream any dream you want to have come true, and, while
you dream wide awake, you almost actually experience its fulfilment
then and there.  And so it is nearly as good as a real fairyland, isn't
it?  And anyway, Polly, you look like a really, truly fairy yourself
to-night."

"No," said Polly Wickes.  "You are the fairy.  Fairies aren't supposed
to be dark; they have golden hair, and blue eyes, and--"

"A wand," interrupted Dora Marlin, with a mischievous little laugh.
"And if it weren't all just make-believe, and I _was_ the fairy, I'd
wave my wand and have _him_ appear instantly on the scene; but, as it
is, I'm afraid he won't come to-night after all, and it's getting late,
and I think we'd better go to bed."

"And I'm sure he will come, and anyway I couldn't go to bed," said
Polly Wickes earnestly.  "And anyway I couldn't go to sleep.  Just
think, Dora, I haven't seen him for nearly four years, and I'll have
all the news, and hear everything I want to know about mother.  He said
they'd leave the mainland to-day, and it's only five hours across.  I'm
sure he'll still come.  And, besides, I'm certain I heard a motor boat
a few minutes ago."

"Very likely," agreed Dora Marlin; "but that was probably one of our
own men out somewhere around the island.  It's very late now, and in
half an hour it will be low tide, and they would hardly start at all if
they knew they wouldn't make Manwa by daylight.  There are the reefs,
and--"

"The reefs are charted," said Polly Wickes decisively.  "I know he'll
come."

A little ripple of laughter came from Dora Marlin's chair.

"How old is Captain Newcombe, dear?" she inquired naïvely.

"Don't be a beast, Dora," said Polly Wickes severely.  "He's very, very
old--at least he was when I saw him last."

"When you weren't much more than fourteen," observed Dora Marlin
judicially.  "And when you're fourteen anybody over thirty is a regular
Methuselah.  I know I used to think when I was a child that father was
terribly, terribly old, much older than he seems to-day when he really
is an old man; and I used to wonder then how he lived so long."

Polly Wickes' dark eyes grew serious.

"It doesn't apply to me," she said in a low tone.  "I wasn't ever a
child.  I was old when I was ten.  I've told you all about myself,
because I couldn't have come here with you if I hadn't; and you know
why I am so eager and excited and so happy that guardy is coming.  I
owe him everything in the world I've got; and he's been so good to
mother.  I--I don't know why.  He said when I was older I would
understand.  And he's such a wonderful man himself, with such a
splendid war record."

Dora Marlin rose from her chair, and placed her arm affectionately
around her companion's shoulders.

"Yes, dear," she said gently.  "I know.  I was only teasing.  And you
wouldn't be Polly Wickes if you wanted to do anything else than just
sit here and wait until you were quite, quite sure that he wouldn't
come to-night.  But as I'm already sure he won't because it's so late,
I'm going to bed.  You don't mind, do you, dear?  I want to see if
father's all right, too.  Poor old dad!"

"Dora!" Polly Wickes was on her feet.  "Oh, Dora, I'm so selfish!  I--I
wish I could help.  But I'm sure it's going to be all right.  I don't
think that specialist was right at all.  How could he be?  Mr. Marlin
is such a dear!"

Dora Marlin turned her head away, and for a moment she did not speak.
When she looked around again there was a bright, quick smile on her
lips.

"I am counting a lot on Captain Newcombe's and Mr. Locke's visit," she
said.  "I'm sure it will do father good.  Good-night, dear--and if they
do come, telephone up to my room and I'll be down in a jiffy.  Their
rooms are all ready for them, but they're sure to be famished, and--"

"I'll do nothing of the sort!" announced Polly Wickes.  "The idea of
upsetting a household in the middle of the night!  I'll send them back
to their yacht."

"You won't do anything of the kind!" said Dora Marlin.

"Yes, I will," said Polly Wickes.

"Well, he won't come anyway," said Dora Marlin.

"Yes, he will!"

"No, he won't!"

They both began to laugh.

"But I'll tell you what I'll do," said Polly Wickes.  "After he's gone
I'll creep into bed with you and tell you all about it.  Good-night,
dear."

"Good-night, Polly fairy," said Dora Marlin.

Polly Wickes watched the white form weave itself in and out of the
checkered spots of moonlight along the verandah, and finally disappear
inside the house; then she threw herself down upon the reclining chair
again, her hands clasped behind her head, and lay there, strangely
alert, wide-eyed, staring out on the lawn.

She was quite sure he would come--even yet--because when they had sent
over to the mainland for the mail yesterday there had been a letter
from him saying he would arrive some time to-day.

How soft the night was!

Would he be changed; would he seem very different?  Had what Dora had
said about the viewpoint from which age measures age been really true?
And if it were?  _She_ was the one who would seem changed--from a
little girl in pigtails to a woman, not a very old woman, but a woman.
Would he know her, recognise her again?

What a wonderful, glorious, dreamy night it was!

Dreams!  Was she dreaming even now, dreaming wide awake, that she was
here; a dream that supplanted the squalour of narrow, ill-lighted
streets, of dark, creaking staircases, of lurking, hungry shapes, of
stalking vice, of homes that were single, airless rooms gaunt with
poverty--a dream that supplanted all that for this, where there was
only a world of beautiful things, and where even the airs that
whispered through the trees were balmy with some rare perfume that
intoxicated the senses with untold joy?

She startled herself with a sharp little cry.  Pictures, memories,
vivid, swift in succession, were flashing, unbidden, through her
mind--a girl in ragged clothes who sold flowers on the street corners,
in the parks, a gutter-snipe the London "bobbies" had called her so
often that the term had lost any personal meaning save that it
classified the particular species of outcasts to which she had
belonged; a room that was reached through the climbing of a smutty,
dirty staircase in a tenement that moaned in its bitter fight against
dissolution in common with its human occupants, a room that was scanty
in its furnishings, where a single cot bed did service for two, and a
stagnant odour of salt fish was never absent; a woman that was
grey-haired, sharp-faced, of language and actions at times that
challenged even the license of Whitechapel, but one who loved, too; the
smells from the doors of pastry shops on the better streets that had
made her cry because they had made her more hungry than ever; the leer
of men when she had grown a few years older who thought a gutter-snipe
both defenceless and fair game.

She had never been a child.

Polly Wickes had turned in the reclining chair, and her face now was
buried in the cushion.

And then into her life had come--had come--this "guardy."  He did not
leer at her; he was kind and courtly--like--like what she had thought a
good father might have been.  But she had not understood the
cataclysmic, bewildering and stupendous change that had then taken
place in her life, and so she had asked her mother.  She had always
remembered the answer; she always would.

"Never you mind, dearie," Mrs. Wickes had said.  "Wot's wot is wot.
'E's a gentleman is Captain Newcombe, a kind, rich gentleman, top 'ole
'e is.  An' if 'e's a-goin' to adopt yer, I ain't goin' to 'ave to
worry any more abaht wot's goin' into my mouth; an' though I ain't got
religion, I says, as I says to 'im when 'e asks me, thank Gawd, I says.
An' if we're a-goin' to be separated for a few years, dearie, wye it's
a sacrifice as both of us 'as got to myke for each other."

They had been separated for nearly four years.  As fourteen understood
it, she had understood that she was to be taught to live in a different
world, to acquire the viewpoints of a different station in life, in
order that she might fit herself to take her place in that world and
that station where her guardian lived and moved.  To-day she understood
this in a much more mature way.  And she had tried to do her best--but
she could never forget the old life no matter how completely severed
she might be from it, or how far from it she might be removed even in a
physical sense; though gradually, she was conscious, the past had
become less real, less poignant, and more like some dream that came at
times, and lingered hauntingly in her memory.

The hardest part of it all had been the separation from her mother, but
she would see her mother soon now, for Captain Newcombe had promised
that she should go back to England when her education was finished in
America.  And her education was finished now--the last term was behind
her.  Four years--her mother!  Even if that separation had seemed
necessary and essential to her guardian, how wonderful and dear he had
been even in that respect.  How happy he had made them both!  Indeed,
her greatest happiness came from the knowledge that her mother, since
those four years began, had removed from the squalour and distress that
she had previously known all her life, and had lived since then in
comfort and ease.  Her mother could not read or write, of course, but--

Polly Wickes caught her breath in a little, quick, half sob.  Could not
read or write!  It seemed to mean so much, to visualise so sharply that
other world, to--to bring the odour of salt fish, the nauseous smell of
guttering tallow candles.  No, no; that was all long gone now, gone
forever, for both her mother and herself.  What did it matter if her
mother could not read or write?  It _had_ not mattered.  Even here
guardy had filled the breach--written the letters that her mother had
dictated, and read to her mother the letters that she, Polly, sent in
her guardian's care.  And her mother had told her how happy she was,
and how comfortable in a cosy little home on a pretty little street in
the suburbs.

Was it any wonder that she was beside herself with glad excitement
to-night, when at any moment now the one person in all the world who
had been so good to her, to whom she owed a debt of gratitude that she
could never even be able to express, much less repay, would--would
actually, _really_ be here?  For he would come!  She was sure of it.
After all, it wasn't so _very_ late, and--

She rose suddenly from the reclining chair, her heart pounding in
quickened, excited throbs, and ran lightly to the edge of the verandah.
He was here now.  She had heard a footstep.  She could not have been
mistaken.  It was as though some one had stepped on loose gravel.  She
peered over the balustrade, and her forehead puckered in a perplexed
frown.  There wasn't any one in sight; and there wasn't any gravel on
which a footstep could have crunched.  All around the house in this
direction there was only the soft velvet sward of the beautifully kept
lawn.  The driveway was at the other side of the house.  She had
forgotten that.  And yet it did not seem possible she could have been
mistaken.  Imagination, fancy, could hardly have reproduced so perfect
an imitation of such a sound.

It was very strange!  It was very strange that she should have--No; she
hadn't been mistaken!  She _had_ heard a footstep--but it had come from
under the verandah, and some one was there now.  She leaned farther out
over the balustrade, and stared with widened eyes at a movement in the
hedge of tall, flowering bush that grew below her along the verandah's
length.  A low rustle came now to her ears.  Sheltered by the hedge,
some one was creeping cautiously, stealthily along there under the
verandah.

Her hands tightened on the balustrade.  What did it mean?  No good,
that was certain.  She was afraid.  And suddenly the peace and
quietness and serenity of the night was gone.  She was afraid.  And it
had always seemed so safe here on this wonderful little island, so free
from intrusion.  There was something snakelike in the way those bushes
moved.

She watched them now, fascinated.  Something bade her run into the
house and cry out an alarm; something held her there clinging to the
balustrade, her eyes fixed on that spot below her just a few yards
along from where she stood.  She could make out a figure now, the
figure of a man crawling warily out through the hedge toward the lawn.
And then instinctively she caught her hand to her lips to smother an
involuntary cry, and drew quickly back from the edge of the balustrade.
The figure was in plain sight now on the lawn in the moonlight--a
figure in a long dressing gown; a figure without hat, whose silver hair
caught the sheen of the soft light and seemed somehow to give the
suggestion of ghostlike whiteness to the thin, strained face beneath.

It was Mr. Marlin.

For a moment Polly watched the other as he made his way across the lawn
in a diagonal direction toward the grove of trees that surrounded the
house.  Fear was gone now, supplanted by a wave of pity.  Poor Mr.
Marlin!  The specialist had been right.  Of course, he had been right!
She had never doubted it--nor had Dora.  What she had said to Dora had
been said out of sympathy and love.  They both understood that.  It--it
helped a little to keep up Dora's courage; it kept hope alive.  Mr.
Marlin was so kindly, so lovable and good.  But he was an incurable
monomaniac.  And now he was out here on the lawn in the middle of the
night in his dressing gown.  What was it that he was after?  Why had he
stolen out from the house in such an extraordinarily surreptitious way?

She turned and ran softly along the verandah, and down the steps to the
lawn, and stood still again, watching.  There was no need of getting
Dora out of bed because in any case Mr. Marlin could certainly come to
no harm; and, besides, she, Polly, could tell Dora all about it in the
morning.  But, that apart, she was not quite certain what she ought to
do.  The strange, draped figure of the old man had disappeared amongst
the trees now, apparently having taken the path that led to the shore.
Mechanically she started forward, half running--then slowed her pace
almost immediately to a hesitating walk.  Had she at all any right to
spy on Mr. Marlin?  It was not as though any harm could come to him, or
that he--

And then with a low, quick cry, her eyes wide, Polly Wickes stood
motionless in the centre of the lawn.



--II--

THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT

Captain Francis Newcombe, from the dock where he had been making fast a
line, surveyed for a moment the deck of the _Talofa_ below.  His eyes
rested speculatively on Howard Locke, who, with sleeves rolled up and
grimy to the elbows, was busy over the yacht's engine; then his glance
passed to Runnells on the forward deck of the little vessel, who was
assiduously engaged in making shipshape coils of a number of truant
ropes.  Captain Francis Newcombe permitted a flicker to cross his lips.
It was a new experience for Runnells, this playing at sailorman--and
Runnells had earned ungrudging praise from Locke all the way down from
New York.  Runnells had taken to the job even as a child takes to a new
toy.  Well, so much the better!  Runnells and Locke had hit it off
together from the start.  Again, so much the better!

He lit a cigarette and stared shoreward along the dock.  Manwa Island!
Well, in the moonlight at least it was a place of astounding beauty,
and if its appearance was any criterion of its material worth, it was
a--  He laughed softly, and languidly exhaled a cloud of cigarette
smoke.  There was a lure about the place--or was it the moonlight that,
stealing with dreamy treachery upon the senses, carried one away to a
land of make-believe?  That stretch of sand there like a girdle between
sea and shore, as fleecy as driven snow; the restless shimmer of the
moonbeams on the water like the play of clustered diamonds in a
platinum setting; the trees and open spaces etched against myriad
stars; the smell of semi-tropical growing things, just pure fragrance
that made the nostrils greedy with insatiable desire.

He drew his hand suddenly across his eyes.

"What a night!" he exclaimed aloud.  "It's like the eyes and the lips
of a dream woman; like a goblet of wine of the vintage of the gods!  No
song of the sirens could compare with this!  I'm going ashore, Locke.
What do you say?"

Locke looked up with a grunt, as he swabbed his arms with a piece of
waste.

"I'm done in with this damned engine!" he said irritably.  "It's too
late to go ashore.  They'll all be asleep."

"I'm not going to ring the doorbell," said Captain Francis Newcombe
pleasantly.  "I'm simply going to stroll in paradise.  You don't mind,
do you?"

"Go to it!" said Locke.  "I'm going to bed."

"Right!" said Captain Francis Newcombe.

He turned and walked shoreward along the dock.  Over his shoulder he
saw Runnells pause in the act of coiling rope to stare after him--and
again an ironical little flicker crossed his lips.  Runnells was no
doubt prompted to call out and ask what this midnight excursion was all
about, but Runnells in the eyes of Howard Locke was a valet, and
Runnells must therefore be dumb.  Runnells on occasions knew his place!

He nodded in a sort of self-commendatory fashion to himself, as,
reaching the shore, he started forward along a roadway that opened
through the trees.  He was well satisfied with his decision to bring
Runnells along on the trip.  "Captain Francis Newcombe and man" looked
well, sounded well, and was well--since Runnells, for once in his life,
even though it was due to no moral regeneration on the part of
Runnells, but due entirely to Runnells' belief that he was on an
innocent holiday, could be made exceedingly useful in bolstering up his
master's social standing without bagging any of the game!

"Blessed is he who expects little," murmured Captain Francis Newcombe
softly to himself, "for he shall receive--still less!"

He paused abruptly, and stared ahead of him.  Curious road, this!  Like
a great archway of trees!  And all moon-flecked underfoot!  Where did
it lead?  To the house probably!  This was Manwa Island--the home of
the mad millionaire!  Queer freak of nature, these Florida Keys--if
what he had been able to read up about them was true.  Almost a
continuous bow of islands, some fruitful, some barren, some big, some
small--such a heterogeneous mess!--stretching along off the coast, some
near, some far, for two hundred miles.  Nothing but rocks on one;
tropical fruits and verdure in profusion on another!  Well, the mad
millionaire, if the night revealed anything, had picked the gem of them
all!

He walked on again.  The road wound tortuously through what appeared to
be a glade of great extent.  It seemed to beckon, to lure, to intrigue
him the farther he went, to promise something around each moon-flecked
turning.  He laughed aloud softly.  Promised what?  Where was he going?
Why was he here ashore at all?  Was it possible that he had no ulterior
motive in this stroll, that for once the sheer beauty of anything held
him in thrall?  Well, even so, it at least afforded him a laugh at
himself then.  This road, for instance, was like an enchanted pathway,
and there was magic in the night.

Or was it Polly?

Captain Francis Newcombe shook his head.  Hardly!  Not at this hour!
Thanks to the engine trouble that had delayed them, she would long
since have given up expecting him to-night, even though he had written
her that he would be here.

The house, then?  A surreptitious inspection; an entry even?--there
were half a million dollars there!  Again he shook his head.  He was
not so great a fool as to _invite_ disaster.  To-morrow, and for days
thereafter, he would be an inmate of the house when he would have
opportunities of that nature without number, and without entailing any
risk or suspicion--and time was no object.

He smiled complacently to himself.  Things were shaping up very
well--very well indeed.  The seed so carefully planted years ago was to
bear fruit at last.  The greatest coup of his life was just within his
grasp; and, if he were not utterly astray, that very coup in itself
should prove but the stepping stone to still greater ones.  Polly!
Yes, quite true!  The future depended very materially upon Polly.  How
amenable would she be to influence?--granting always that the said
influence be delicately and tactfully enough applied!

He fell to whistling very softly under his breath.  He had plans for
Polly.  And if they matured the future looked very bright--for himself.
He wondered what she was like--particularly as to character and
disposition.  Was she affectionate, romantic--what?  A great deal, a
very great deal, depended on that.  Not in the present instance--Polly
had fully served her purpose in so far as a certain half million
dollars in cash was concerned, and being innocent of any connivance
must remain so--but thereafter.  England was an exploited field; it had
become dangerous; the net there was drawing in.  Oh, yes, he had had
all that in mind on the day he had first sent Polly to America, but
only in a general way then, while to-day it had become concrete.  Locke
would make a most admirable "open sesame" to the New Land--if Locke
married Polly.  Polly, as Mrs. Locke, would step at once into a social
sphere than which there was no higher--_or wealthier_--and, _ipso
facto_, Captain Francis Newcombe would do likewise.  And given a half
million as stake money, Captain Francis Newcombe, if he knew Captain
Francis Newcombe at all, would not fail in his opportunities!  He had
expected Polly in due course to make a place for herself in social
America; that was what he had paid money for--but Howard Locke was a
piece of luck.  Locke conserved time; Locke opened the safety vault of
possibilities immediately.

He frowned suddenly.  Suppose Polly did not prove amenable?  Nonsense!
Why shouldn't she--if the man weren't flung at her head!  Locke was the
kind of chap a girl ought to like, and all girls _were_ more or less
romantic, and the element of romance had just the right spice to it
here--the guardian she has not seen in years who is accompanied by a
young man, who, from any standpoint, whether of looks, physique, manner
or position, would measure up to the most exacting of young ladies'
ideals!  And to say nothing of the magic spells that seemed to have
their very home in this garden isle--a veritable wooer's bower!  There
would be other moonlight nights.  Bah!  There was nothing to it--save
to put a few minor obstacles in the way of the turtle doves!

Where the devil did this road lead to?  Well, no matter!  It was like a
tunnel, dreamy black with its walls of leaves, dreamy with its
sweet-smelling odours.  In itself it was well worth while.  It
continued to invite him.  And he accepted the invitation.  His thoughts
roved farther afield now.  Locke ... the trip down on the fifty-foot
_Talofa_ ... not an incident to mar the days--nothing since the night
that shot had been fired on shipboard through his cabin window.

His face for a moment grew dark--then cleared again.  If, as through
the hours thereafter when he had sat there in the cabin, it had seemed
as though the shot had come from some ghostly visitor out of the past,
there was no reason now why it should bother him further; for, granting
such a diagnosis as true, Locke and the _Talofa_ had thrown even so
acute a stalker as a supernatural spirit off the trail.  As a matter of
fact, it had probably been some maniacal or drug-crazed idiot running
for the moment amuck.  To-night, with these soft, whispering airs
around him, and serenity and loveliness everywhere in contrast with
that night of storm, the incident did not seem so virulent a thing
anyway; it seemed to be _smoothed_ over, to be relegated definitely to
where it belonged--to the realm of things ended and done with.
Certainly, since that night nothing had happened.

And yet, now, his lips tightened.

It was unfortunate he had not caught the man.  He would have liked to
have seen the other's _face_; to have exchanged memory with memory--and
to have slammed forever shut that particular door of the bygone days if
by any chance he found he had been careless enough to have left one, in
passing, ajar.

He swore sharply under his breath; but the next moment shrugged his
shoulders.  The incident was too immeasurably far removed from Manwa
Island to allow it to intrude itself upon him now.  Why think of things
such as that when the very night itself here with its languor, its
beauty, and--yes, again--its magic, sought to bring to the senses the
gift of delightful repose and contentment?  When the--

He stood suddenly still, and in sheer amazement rubbed his eyes.  He
had come to the end of the tree-arched road, and it seemed as though he
gazed now on the imaginative painting of a master genius, daring, bold
in its conception, exquisite in its execution.  Either that, or there
_was_ magic in the night, and he had been transported bodily through
enchantment into the very land of the Arabian Nights!

A few yards away, he faced what looked in the moonlight like a great
marble balustrade, and rising above this, painted into a hue of softest
white against the night, towered what might well have been a caliph's
palace.  It stretched away in lines unusual in their beauty and design;
columns above the balustrade; little domes like minarets against the
sky line; quaint latticed windows.  And the effect of the whole was
that of a mirage on a sea of emerald green; for, sweeping away from the
balustrade, wondrous in its colour under the moonlight, was a wide
expanse of lawn, level, unbroken until the eye met again the horizon
rim beyond in the wall of encircling trees, a wall of inky blackness.

He moved forward out on to the lawn--and as suddenly halted again, as
there seemed to float into his line of vision from around the corner of
the balustrade, like some nymph of the moonlight, the slim, graceful
figure of a girl in white, clinging draperies, whose clustering masses
of dark hair crowned a face that in the soft light was amazingly
beautiful.  And he caught his breath as he gazed.  And the girl, with a
low cry, stood still--and then came running toward him.

"Oh, guardy!  Guardy!  Guardy!" she cried.  "I knew you'd come!  I knew
it!"

It was Polly's voice.  It hadn't changed.  Was the nymph Polly?  She
was running with both hands outstretched.  He caught them in his own as
she came up to him, and stared into her face almost unbelievingly.
Polly!  This wasn't Polly!  Polly's photographs were of a very pretty
girl--this girl was glorious!  She stirred the pulses.  Damn it, she
made the blood leap!

She hung back now a little shyly, the colour coming and going in her
face.

He laughed.  He meant it to be a laugh of one entirely in command both
of himself and the situation; but it sounded in his ears as a laugh
forced, unnatural, a poor effort to cover a suddenly routed composure.

"And is this all the welcome I get?" he demanded.  He drew her closer
to him.  Gad, why not take his rights?  She was worth it!

She held up her cheek demurely.

"I--I wasn't quite sure," she said coyly.  "One's deportment with one's
guardian wasn't in the school curriculum, you know--guardy!"

"Then I should have been more particular in my selection of the
school," he said.  It was strange, unaccountable!  His voice seemed to
rasp.  He kissed her--then held her off at arm's-length.  Polly!  This
bewitching creature was Polly!  How the colour came and fled; and
something glistened in the great, dark eyes--like the dew glistening in
the morning sunlight.

"Oh, guardy!" she murmured.  "It's so good to see you!"

"You waited up for me, Polly?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered.  "Dora was sure you wouldn't come to-night because
it was so late, and on account of it being low tide; but I was equally
sure you would."

"Of course, I would!" said Captain Francis Newcombe glibly.  "And I'm
here.  We're just in.  I was afraid it was hopelessly late; but I
didn't want to disappoint you in case you might still be clinging to
what must have seemed a forlorn hope, and so I came ashore on the
chance."

"Guardy," she said delightedly, "you're the only guardy in the world!
But what happened?  You were to have left the mainland to-day, and it's
only five hours across."

"You'll have to ask Locke," he smiled.  "That is, as to details--when
he's in a better humour.  In a general way, however, the engine broke
down.  We've been since one o'clock this afternoon getting over."

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "What perfectly wretched luck!  And where's Mr.
Locke now?  And--no--first, you must tell me about mother.  Is she
changed any?  Is she well, and quite, quite happy?  And does she like
her home?  Is it pretty?  And how--"

"Good heavens, Polly!" expostulated Captain Francis Newcombe with
assumed helplessness.  "What a volley!"  But his mind was at work
swiftly, coldly, judicially.  To preface his visit with the
announcement of Mrs. Wickes' untimely--or was it timely?--end, would
create an atmosphere that would not at all harmonise with his plans.
Polly in mourning and retirement!  Locke!  Impossible!  Nor did it suit
him to explain that Mrs. Wickes was not her mother.  He was not yet
sure when that particular piece of information might best be used to
advantage.  And so Captain Francis Newcombe laughed disengagingly.  "I
can't possibly answer all those questions to-night--we'd be here until
daylight.  The mother's quite all right, Polly--quite all right.  You
can pump me dry to-morrow."

"Oh, I'm so glad--and so happy!" she cried.  She clapped her hands
together.  "All right, to-morrow!  We'll talk all day long.  Well,
then, about Mr. Locke--where is he?  And how did you come to make such
a trip?  You know, you just wrote that you were coming down from New
York on his yacht.  Who is he?  Tell me about him."

Locke!  Damn it, the girl was incredibly beautiful--the figure of a
young goddess!  What hair!  Those lips!  Fool!  What was the matter
with him?  Polly was only a tool to be used; not to turn his head just
because she had proved to be a bit of a feminine wonder.  Fool!  The
downfall of every outstanding figure in his profession had been
traceable to a woman.  It was a police axiom.  It did not apply to
Shadow Varne!  A girl--bah--the world was full of them!  And yet--  His
hand at his side clenched, while his lips smiled.

"That's something else for to-morrow," he said.  "You'll meet him then,
and"--what was it he had said to himself a little while ago about
slight obstacles in the way of the turtle doves?--"I hope you'll like
him, though I've an idea that perhaps you won't."

"Why won't I?" demanded Polly instantly.

"Well, I don't know--upon my word, I don't," said Captain Francis
Newcombe with a quizzical grin.  "He certainly isn't strikingly
handsome; and I've an idea he's anything but a ladies' man--though not
altogether a bad sort in spite of that, you know."

"Oh!" said Polly Wickes, with a little pout that might have meant
anything.  "Well, who is he, then--and where did you meet him?"

"I met him at the club in London, and we chummed up on the way over.
It's quite simple.  He was off for a holiday with no choice as to where
he went, whereas I wanted to come here--so we came down in his motor
cruiser.  As to who he is, he's just young Howard Locke, the son of
Howard Locke, senior, the American financier."

"Oh!" said Polly Wickes again.

What a ravishing little pout!  Where had the girl learned the trick?
Was it a trick?  Those eyes were wonderfully frank, steady,
ingenuous--wonderfully deep and self-reliant.  He wondered if he looked
old in those eyes?  _Young_ Locke!  Fool again!  Go on, tempt the gods!
Ask her if thirty-three fell within her own category of youth, or--

"Don't make a sound!" she cautioned suddenly.  "Quick!  Here!"

He found himself, obedient to the pressure on his arm, standing back
again within the shadows of the tree-arched road.

"What is it, Polly?" he asked in surprise.

"Look!" she whispered, and pointed out across the lawn.

A figure was emerging from the trees some hundred yards away, and, in
the open now, began to approach the house.  Captain Francis Newcombe
stared.  It was a bare-headed, white-haired old man in a dressing gown
that reached almost to his heels.  The man walked quickly, but with a
queer, bird-like movement of his head which he cocked from side to side
at almost every step, darting furtive glances in all directions around
him.

Captain Francis Newcombe felt the girl's hand tighten in a tense grip
on his arm.  Rather curious, this!  The figure was making for that
hedge of bushes that seemed to enclose the verandah from below.  And
now, reaching the hedge, and pausing for an instant to look around him
again in every direction, the man parted the bushes and disappeared
under the verandah.

"My word!" observed Captain Francis Newcombe tersely.  "What's it
about?  A thief in the night--or what?  I'll see what the beggar's up
to anyway!"

He took a step forward, but Polly held him back.

"Keep quiet!" she breathed.  "It's--it's only Mr. Marlin."

Captain Francis Newcombe whistled low under his breath.

"As bad as that, is he?"

Polly nodded her head.

"Yes," she said a little miserably.  "I'm afraid so; though it's the
first time I ever saw anything like this."

"But what is he doing under the verandah there at this hour?" demanded
Captain Francis Newcombe.

Polly shook her head this time.

"I don't know," she said; "but I think there must be some way in and
out of the house under there, for I am certain he was in bed less than
an hour ago, because when Dora left me she was going to see that her
father was all right for the night, and if she hadn't found him in his
room, I am sure she would have been alarmed and would have come back to
me.  I--I saw him come out of there a little while ago.  I was sitting
on the verandah waiting for you.  I started to follow him across the
lawn, and then I thought I had no right to do so, and then I saw you,
and--and I forgot all about him."

Captain Francis Newcombe was a master of facial expression.  He became
instantly grave and concerned.

"Well, I should say then," he stated thoughtfully, "that, from what
I've just seen, and from what you wrote in your letter about the
fabulous sum of money he keeps about him, he ought to have a good deal
of medical attention, and the money taken from him and put in some safe
place.  Don't you know Miss Marlin well enough to suggest something
like that?"

Polly Wickes shook her head quickly.

"Oh, you don't understand, guardy!" she said anxiously.  "He has had
medical attention.  The very best specialist from New York has been
here since I wrote you.  And he says there is really absolutely nothing
that can be done.  Mr. Marlin is just the dearest old man you ever
knew.  It's just on that one subject, not so much money as finance,
though I don't quite understand the difference, that he is insane.  If
he were taken away from here and shut up anywhere it would kill him.
And, as Doctor Daemer said, what better place could there be than this?
And anyway Dora wouldn't hear of it.  And as for taking the money away
from him, nobody knows where it is."

Captain Francis Newcombe was staring at the bushes that fringed the
verandah.

"Oh!" he said quietly.  "That puts quite a different complexion on the
matter.  I didn't understand.  I gathered from your letter that the
money was more or less always in evidence.  In fact, I think you said
he showed it to you--a half million dollars in cash."

"So he did," Polly answered; "but that's the only time I ever saw it;
and I don't think even Dora has ever seen it more than once or twice.
He has got it hidden somewhere, of course; but as it would be the very
worst thing in the world for him to get the idea into his head that any
one was watching him in an effort to discover his secret, Dora has been
very careful to show no signs of interest in it.  Doctor Daemer warned
her particularly that any suspicions aroused in her father's mind would
only accentuate the disease.  Oh, guardy, it's a terribly sad case; and
insanity is such a horribly strange thing!  He never seems to--"

Polly was still talking.  Captain Francis Newcombe inclined his head
from time to time in assumed interest.  He was no longer listening.
Polly, the beauty of the night, his immediate surroundings, were, for
the moment, extraneous things.  His mind was at work.  Incredible luck!
The problem that had troubled him, that he had never really solved,
that he had, indeed, finally decided must be left to circumstances as
he should find them here and be then governed thereby, was now solved
in a manner that far exceeded anything he could possibly have hoped
for.  To obtain the actual possession of the money from a
fuddle-brained old idiot had never bothered him--that was a very simple
matter.  But to get away with the money after the robbery had been
committed had not appeared so simple.  Some one on the island must be
guilty.  The circle would be none too wide.  He must emerge without a
breath of suspicion having touched him.  Not so simple!  There would
have been a way, of course; wits and ingenuity would have supplied
it--but that had been the really intricate part of the undertaking.
And now--incredible luck!  He had naturally assumed that the household
knew where the old madman kept his money; naturally assumed that there
would be a beastly fuss and uproar over its disappearance--but now
there would be nothing of the kind.  It might take a few days to solve
the old fool's secret, but in the main that would be child's play;
after that, if by any unfortunate chance an accident happened to Mr.
Jonathan P. Marlin, the whereabouts of the money would forever remain a
mystery--save to one Captain Francis Newcombe.  No one could, or would,
be accused of having _taken_ it!

"... Guardy, you quite understand, don't you?" ended Polly Wickes.

Captain Francis Newcombe smiled at the upturned, serious face.

"Quite, Polly!  Quite!" he answered earnestly.  "Very fully, I might
say.  It must be very hard indeed on Miss Marlin.  I am so sorry for
her.  I wish there were something we might do.  Your being here must
have been a blessing to her."

The colour stole into Polly Wickes' cheeks.

"Guardy, you're a dear!" she whispered.

"Am I?" he said--and took possession of her hand.

What a soft, cool little palm it was!  What an entrancing little
figure!  Who would have dreamed that Polly would develop into so
lovely--no, not lovely--damn it, she was divine!  Polly and a half
million!  Why Locke?  Curse Locke!  The eyes and lips of a dream woman,
he had said; a half million--both his for the taking!  Did he ask still
more?  He was not so sure about Locke having her.  No, it wasn't the
night drugging his senses and steeping his soul in fanciful possession
of desires.  It was real.  If it pleased him, he had only to take, to
drink his fill to satiation of this goblet of the gods.  There was
nothing to stay him.  He had builded for it, and he was entitled to it;
it wasn't chance.  Chance!  There was strange laughter in his heart.
Chance was the playground of fools!  Why shouldn't he laugh, aye, and
boastingly!  Who was to deny him what he would; this woman if he wanted
her, the--

He stood suddenly like a man dazed and stunned.  He let fall the girl's
hand.  Was he mad, insane, his mind unbalanced; was reason gone?  It
had come out of the night, a mocking thing, a voice that jeered and
rocked with wild mirth.

His eyes met Polly's.  She was frightened, startled; her face had gone
a little white.

Imagination?  As he had imagined that night in his cabin on board ship?
A voice of his own creation?  No; it came again now, jarring, crashing,
jangling through the stillness of the night:

"Shadow Varne!  Shadow Varne!  Ha, ha!  Ha, ha!"  It rose and fell; now
almost a scream; now hoarse with wild, untrammelled laughter.  "Shadow
Varne!  Shadow Varne!  Ha, ha!  Ha, ha!"  And then like a long,
drawn-out eerie call: "_Shad-ow Va-arne!_"

And then the soft whispering of the leaves through the trees, and no
other sound.

"What is it?  What is it?" Polly cried out.  "What a horrible voice!"

Captain Francis Newcombe's hand, hidden in his pocket, held a revolver.
To get rid of the girl now!  The voice had come from the woods in the
direction of the shore.  A voice!  Shadow Varne!  Who called Shadow
Varne here on this island where Shadow Varne had never been heard of?
He was cold as ice now; cold with a merciless fury battering at his
heart.  He did not know--but he _would_ know!  And then--

"You run along into the house, Polly."  He forced a cool sang-froid
into his voice.  "It's probably nothing more than some of the negroes
you spoke of in your letter cat-calling out there on the water; or else
some one with a perverted sense of humour in the woods here trying to
spoof us--and in that case a lesson is needed.  Quick now, Polly!  It's
time you were in bed anyway.  And say nothing about it--there's no use
raising an alarm over what probably amounts to nothing.  I'll tell you
all about it in the morning."

She was still staring at him in a frightened, startled way.

"But, guardy," she faltered, "you--"

Damn the girl!  She was wasting precious moments!  But he could not
explain that he had a _personal_ interest in that cursed voice, could
he?

He smiled reassuringly.

"I'll tell you all about it in the morning--if there's anything to
tell," he repeated.  "Now, run along.  Good-night, dear!"

"Good-night, guardy," she said hesitatingly.

He watched her start toward the house; then he swung quickly from the
road into the woods.  He swore savagely to himself.  She had kept him
too long.  There was very little chance now of finding the owner of
that voice.  Had there ever been?  What did it matter, the moment or so
it had taken to get rid of Polly?  The odds were all with the voice,
and had been from the start.  He was not only metaphorically, but
literally, stabbing in the dark.  What did it mean?  Again he swore,
and swore now through clenched teeth.  He knew well enough what it
meant.  It meant what he knew now that shot through his cabin window
had meant.  It meant that he was known to some one as he should be
known to no one.  It meant that of two men on this island, there was
room for only _one_; otherwise it promised disaster, exposure--the end.
A strangling, horrible end--on the end of a rope.

A door of the past ajar!

Who?  _Who?_

He was making too much noise!  Rather than stalking his game, he was
more likely to be stalked.  He had been stalked--when that voice had
cried out.  He halted--listened.  Nothing!  But it was somewhere in
here that the voice had come from.  He could swear to that.

He worked forward again.  Damn the trees and foliage!  How could one go
quietly when one had to fight one's way through?  And it was soggy and
wet underfoot--one's feet made squeaky, oozy noises.

He came out on the beach--a long, curving stretch of sand, glistening
white in the moonlight.  He was amazed that he had travelled so far.
How far had he travelled?  His mind, like his soul, was in a state of
fury, of fear; there was upon him a frenzy, the urge of
self-preservation, to kill.

A structure of some kind, extending out into the sea, loomed up a
distance away over to the right.  He stared at it.  It was a boathouse;
and its ornate, exaggerated size stamped it at once as an adjunct to
the mad millionaire's mansion.  But the voice had not come from the
boathouse--it had come from the woods back in here behind him.

Captain Francis Newcombe retraced his steps into the woods again, but
now with far greater caution than before; and presently, his revolver
in his hand, he sat down upon the stump of a tree.  He held his hand up
close before his eyes.  It was steady, without sign of tremor.  That
was better!  He was cooler now--no, cool; not cooler--quite himself.
If he could not move here in the woods without making a noise, neither
could any one else.  And from the moment that voice had flung its
threat and jeer through the night there had been no sound in the
underbrush.  He had listened, straining his ears for that very thing,
even while he had manoeuvred to get Polly out of the road without
arousing suspicion anent himself in her mind.  He was listening now.
It was the only chance.  True, whoever it was might have been close to
the beach, or close to the road, and had already escaped, and in that
case he was done in; but on the other hand, the man, if it were a man
and not a devil, might very well have done what he, Captain Francis
Newcombe, was doing now, remained silent and motionless, secure in the
darkness.  If that were so then, sooner or later, the other must make a
move.

Silly?  Impossible?  A preposterous theory?  Perhaps!  But there was no
alternative hope of catching the other to-night.  Why hadn't he adopted
this plan from the start?  How sure was he after all that, covered by
the noise he himself had made, the other had not got away?

The minutes passed--five, ten of them.  There was no sound.  The
silence itself became heavy.  It began to palpitate.  It grew even
clamorous, thundering ghastly auguries, threats and gibes in his ears.
And then it began to take up a horrible sing-song refrain: "Who was it?
Who was it?  Who was it?"

What would to-morrow bring?  Shadow Varne!  It was literally a death
sentence, wasn't it?--unless he could close forever those bawling lips!
He felt the grey come creeping into his face.  He, who laughed at fear,
who had laughed at it all his life, save through that one night on
board the ship, was beginning to fight over again his battle for
composure.  Shadow Varne!  Shadow Varne!  Hell itself seemed striving
to shake his nerve.

Well, neither hell nor anything else could do it!  There were those who
had learned that to their cost!  And, it seemed, there was another now
who was yet to learn it!  His teeth clamped suddenly together in a
vicious snap, and suddenly he was on his feet.  Faintly there came the
rustle of foliage--it came again.  He could not place its direction at
first.  It might be an animal.  No!  The rustling ceased.  Some one was
_running_ now on the road in the direction of the dock--but a long way
off.

He lunged and tore his way through trees and undergrowth, and broke
into the clear of the road.  He raced madly along it.  He could see
nothing ahead because of those infernal moon-flecked turnings that he
had been fool enough to rave over on his way to the house.  Nothing!
He drew up for a second and listened.  Nothing!  He spurted on again.
A game of blindman's-buff--and he was blindfolded!

He came out into the clearing with the dock in sight.  Again he stopped
and listened.  Still nothing!

His lips tightened.  It was futile.  He would only be playing the fool
to grope further around in the darkness in what now could be but the
most aimless fashion, robbed even of a single possible objective.  He
could not search the island!  There was nothing left to do but go on
board.

He started out along the dock--and then suddenly, as his eyes narrowed,
his stride became nonchalant, debonair.  He fell to whistling softly a
catchy air from a recent musical comedy.  Runnells had not gone to bed.
Runnells was stretched out on his back on the deck of the yacht smoking
a pipe, his head propped up on a coil of rope.

Captain Francis Newcombe dropped lightly from the wharf to the deck.

"Hello, Runnells," he observed, as he halted in front of the other,
"the artistry of the night got you, too?  Well, I must say, it's too
fine to waste all of it at any rate in sleep."

"You're bloody well right, it is!" said Runnells.  "Strike me pink, if
it ain't!  I've heard of these here places from the time I was born,
but I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't laid here smoking my pipe
and saying to myself, this here's you, Runnells, and that there's it.
London!  I can do without London for a bit!"

"Quite so!" said Captain Francis Newcombe.  He leaned over and ran his
fingers along the sole of Runnells' upturned boot.

Runnells sat up with a jerk.

"What the 'ell are you doing?" he ejaculated.

"Striking a match," said Captain Francis Newcombe, as he lighted a
cigarette.  "You don't mind, do you?  It saves the deck."

Runnells, with a grunt, returned his head to the comfort of the coiled
rope.

"Locke turned in?" inquired Captain Francis Newcombe casually.

"About ten minutes after you left," said Runnells.  "That engine did
him down, if you ask me.  I mixed him a peg, and he was off like a
shot."

"Well, I don't know of anything better to do myself," said Captain
Francis Newcombe.

He turned and walked slowly toward the cabin companionway; but aft by
the rail he paused for a moment, and, flinging his cigarette overboard,
watched it as it struck the water, and listened as it made a tiny
hiss--like a serpent's hiss.

His face for an instant became distorted, then set in hard, deep lines.

Who was it?

The sole of Runnells' boot was dry--quite dry.



--III--

THE MAD MILLIONAIRE

"It's an amazing place!" said Howard Locke.

"Yes; isn't it?" said Polly Wickes.  "But, come along; you haven't seen
it all yet."

"Is there more?" Howard Locke asked with pretended incredulity.  "I've
seen a private power plant; an aquarium that contains more varieties of
fish than I ever imagined swam in the sea; a house as magnificent and
spacious as a palace; stables; gardens; flowers; bowers of Eden.  More!
Really?"

"I think guardy was right," observed Polly Wickes naïvely.

"Yes?" inquired Howard Locke.

Polly Wickes arched her eyebrows.

"He said you weren't a ladies' man."

"Oh!" said Howard Locke with a grin.  "So he's been talking behind my
back, has he?"

"I'm afraid so," she admitted.

"And may I ask why you agree with him--why I am condemned?"

"Because," said Polly Wickes, "it would have been ever so much nicer,
instead of saying what you did, to have expressed delight that the tour
of inspection wasn't over--something about charming company, you know,
even if everything you saw bored you to death."

"Unfair!"  Locke frowned with mock severity.  "Most unfair!  I _was_
going to say something like that, and now I can't because you'll swear
you put the words into my mouth and I simply parroted them."

"Sir," she said airily, "will you see the bungalows and the
pickaninnies next, or the boathouse?"

"I am contrite and humble," he said meekly.

Polly Wickes' laughter rippled out on the air.

"Come on, then!" she cried, and, turning, began to run along the path
through the grove of trees where they had been walking.

Locke followed.  She ran like a young fawn!  He stumbled once
awkwardly--and she turned and laughed at him.  He felt the colour mount
into his cheeks--felt a tinge of chagrin.  Was she vamping him; did she
know that if his eyes had been occupied with where he was going, and
not with her, he would not have stumbled?  Or was she just a little
sprite of nature, full to overflowing with life, buoyant, and the more
glorious for an unconscious expression of the joy of living?  Amazing,
he had called what he had seen on this island since he had been
installed here as a guest that morning, but most amazing of all was
Newcombe's ward.  Newcombe's ward!  It was rather strange!  Who was
she?  How had a girl like this come to be Captain Newcombe's ward?
Newcombe had not been communicative save only on the point that since
she had gone to America to school Newcombe had not see her.  Rather
strange, that, too!  He was conscious that she piqued him one moment,
while the next found him possessed of a mad desire to touch, for
instance, those truant wisps of hair that now, as she stood waiting for
him on the edge of the shore, a little out of breath, the colour
glowing in her cheeks, she retrieved with deft little movements of her
fingers.

Her colour deepened suddenly.

"_That's_ the boathouse over there," she said.

"I--I beg your pardon," said Locke in confusion.  And then
deliberately: "No; I don't!"

Polly Wickes stared.  Again the colour in her cheeks came and went
swiftly.

"Oh!" she gasped; then hurriedly: "Well, perhaps, that is better!
Don't you think those two little bridges from the rocks up to the
boathouse are awfully pretty?"

"Awfully!" laughed Locke.

"You're not looking at them at all," said Polly Wickes severely.

"Yes, I am," asserted Locke.  "And just to prove it, I was going to ask
why that amazing structure--you see, I said amazing again--that looks
more like the home of a yacht club than a private boathouse, is built
out into the water like that, and requires those bridges at all?  Is it
on account of the tide?  I see there's no beach here."

"I'm sure I don't know," said Polly Wickes.  "But they are pretty,
aren't they?--and the place _does_ look like a clubhouse.  And it looks
more like one inside--there's a lovely little lounging room with an
open fireplace, and I can't begin to tell you what else.  Shall we go
in?"

"Yes, rather!" said Locke.

He was studying the place now with a yachtsman's eye.  It was built out
from the rocky shore a considerable distance, and rested on an outer
series of small concrete piers, placed a few feet apart; while, by
stooping down, he could see, beneath the overhang of the verandah, a
massive centre pier, wide and long, obviously the main foundation of
the building.  At the two corners facing the shore were the little
bridges, built in shape like a curving ramp and ornamented with rustic
railings, that she had referred to.  These led from a point well above
high water mark on the shore to the verandah of the boathouse itself.

"Mr. Marlin must be an enthusiast," he said, as he followed his guide
across one of the bridges.

Polly Wickes did not answer at once, and they began to make the circuit
of the verandah.

Howard Locke glanced at her.  Her face had become suddenly sobered, the
dark eyes somehow deeper, a sensitive quiver now around the corners of
her lips.  His glance lengthened into an unconscious stare.  She could
be serious then--and, yes, equally attractive in that mood.  It became
her.  He wondered if she knew it became her?  That was cynical on his
part.  Was he trying to arm himself with cynicism?  Well, it was easily
pierced then, that armour!  It was a very wonderful face; not merely
beautiful, but fine in the sense of steadfastness, self-reliance and
sincerity.  He was a poor cynic!  Why not admit that she attracted him
as no woman had ever attracted him before?

They had reached the seaward side of the verandah.  Here a short dock
was built out to meet a sort of sea-wall that gave protection to any
craft that might be berthed there--but the slip was empty of boats.

She looked up at him now, as she answered his observation.

"He was," she said slowly; "but all the boats are stowed away inside
now.  Poor Mr. Marlin!"  She turned away abruptly, her eyes suddenly
moist.  "Let's go inside."

They found a cosy corner in the little lounging room of which she had
spoken, and seated themselves.

Locke picked up the thread of their conversation.

"You're very fond of him, aren't you, Miss Wickes?" he said gently.

"Yes," she said simply.

"It's a very strange case," said Howard Locke.

"And a very, very sad one," said Polly Wickes.  "I don't know how much
Dora--Miss Marlin--has said to you, or perhaps even Mr. Marlin himself,
for he is sometimes just like--like anybody else, so I don't--"

"I hardly think it could be a case of trespassing on confidences in any
event," Locke interrupted quietly.  "It's rather well known outside;
that is, in what might be called the financial world, you know.  What I
can't understand, though, is that, having lost all his money, a place
like this could still be kept up."

Polly Wickes shook her head thoughtfully.

"Guardy was speaking about the same thing," she said; "but I don't
think it costs so very much now.  You see, it is almost in a way
self-supporting--the vegetables, and fruit, and fuel and all that.  And
the servants all have their little homes, and have lived on the island
for years, and the wages are not very high, and anyway Dora has a
fortune in her own name--from her mother, you know; and, besides, thank
goodness, dear old Mr. Marlin hasn't lost all his money anyway."

"Not lost it?" ejaculated Locke.  "Why, that was the cause of his mind
breaking!"

Polly Wickes looked up in confusion.

"Oh, perhaps, I shouldn't have said that," she said nervously.
"But--but, after all, I don't see why I shouldn't, for you could not
help but know about it before very long.  Indeed, I shouldn't be a bit
surprised if Mr. Marlin showed it to you himself, just as he did to me,
for he seems to have taken a great fancy to you.  He hardly let you out
of his sight this morning."

"He knows of my father in a business way," said Locke.  "I suppose
that's it.  Do you mean that he showed you a sum of money here on this
island?"

"Yes," said Polly Wickes slowly, "after I had been here a little while;
a very large sum--half a million, he said."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Locke.  "That's hardly safe, is it?  I know
the peculiar form his disease has taken is an antipathy to all
investments, but can't Miss Marlin persuade him to deposit it
somewhere?"

"That's exactly what guardy said," nodded Polly Wickes.  "But it's
quite useless.  Dora has tried, but her father won't even tell her
where he keeps it."

Howard Locke rose from his chair, walked over to the empty fireplace,
and, standing with his back to Polly Wickes, opened his cigarette case.

"Captain Newcombe, of course, is quite _au fait_ with the conditions?"
he observed casually.

"Of course," said Polly Wickes ingenuously.  "I naturally wrote him all
about it."

"Naturally!" agreed Howard Locke.

He stooped over, and, striking a match on the edge of the fireplace,
lighted his cigarette.  So Captain Francis Newcombe had known all about
it, had he, even before he had left England?  And yet Captain Francis
Newcombe in the smoking room of the liner on the way across had been
densely in ignorance, and even alarmed for his ward's safety at the
first intimation that her host was a monomaniac!  It was rather
peculiar!  More than peculiar!

Locke turned, and, leaning against the mantel over the fireplace, faced
Polly Wickes.  His mind was working swiftly, piecing together strange
and apparently irrelevant fragments, that, irrelevant as they appeared,
seemed to make a most suggestive whole.  Captain Newcombe had lied that
night on board the liner.  Why?  Who was it that had invaded his,
Locke's stateroom and had searched through his belongings?  And why?
Why was it that now for the first time in four years Captain Newcombe
should have come to visit his ward in America?  He had more than
Newcombe's word for that--Polly here had said so herself; and Miss
Marlin had referred to it in the most natural way when welcoming
Newcombe that morning.  What had an insane old man, who hid away a
half-million dollars on a little island in the Florida Keys, got to do
with the letter received in London and containing those facts that
Polly Wickes had just admitted she had written?  What did it mean?  Was
a certain, insistent deduction to be carried to a logical conclusion,
or was he hunting a mare's nest in his mind?  Was it a mere coincidence
in life, where far stranger coincidences were daily happenings--or was
it a half-million dollars?  And Polly Wickes, here?  Captain Francis
Newcombe--and his ward!  Was it a bird of paradise in cahoots with a
vulture?  No, he wouldn't believe that!  It was preposterous!  There
weren't any grounds for it anyway.  He was an irresponsible fool.  He
became angry with himself.  He was worse than a fool--he was a cad!
The girl's very ingenuousness in what she had said put to rout any
possibility of connivance.  But, damn it--Captain Newcombe's ward!
How?  What was the explanation of that?  And if--

Polly Wickes' small foot beat the floor in a sharp little tattoo.

Locke straightened up with a start.  In his fit of abstraction he had
been gazing at the girl with abominable rudeness.

"I forgot to say," said Polly Wickes severely, "that besides saying you
were not a ladies' man, guardy said something else about you."

"No!  Surely not!"  Locke forced a mock dismay into his voice.  "What
was it?"

Polly Wickes took a critical survey of the toe of her spotless white
shoe.

"He said he didn't know whether I would like you or not."

Locke took a step forward from the fireplace.

"And do you?" he demanded.

"I do not," she said promptly; "at least not when I am utterly ignored
for a whole five minutes, except to be stared at as though I were a
specimen under a microscope."

"I'm awfully sorry," said Locke contritely; "really I am.  I was
thinking of what we had been saying about Mr. Marlin, and--"

She suddenly lifted a warning finger.

"There he is now," she said in a low voice.

Locke turned around.  His back had been to the door, leading to the
seaward side of the verandah, which they had left open behind them.
Mr. Marlin was peering cautiously around the jamb of the door--and now,
as the blue eyes under the silvered hair, which was rumpled and astray,
caught his, Locke's, the old man thrust a beckoning finger into view.

Locke glanced at Polly Wickes.

"I think," she said in a whisper, "that he has been acting more
strangely just of late than ever before.  He wants you for something.
Of course, you must go and see what it is."

"All right," said Locke.

He walked quietly across the room, and out on to the verandah.

"You wanted to speak to me, Mr. Marlin?" he said pleasantly.

It was a queer, strangely contradictory figure, that of the little,
stoop-shouldered, old man, who now seized his arm in feverish haste and
led him hurriedly away from the door.  And quite a different figure
from the Mr. Marlin of the morning!  The white clothes were spruce and
immaculate, but he wore no hat, and, as Locke had already noted, his
hair was dishevelled.  The thin, almost gaunt face, a rather fine old
face, had lost the calm and composure that had marked it, for instance,
a few hours ago at lunch, and there was now a furtive, hunted look in
the eyes, a spasmodic twitching of the facial muscles, a sort of
pathetic tearing aside of the veil that had so jealously striven to
hide the man's affliction; and yet too, and perhaps even more pathetic
in this particular, there seemed to cling intangibly about the old
financier a certain dignity of manner and bearing--the one heritage
possibly of the days when he had been a power, his name a talisman in
the money markets of the world.

"I don't want her to hear," said Mr. Marlin mysteriously.  "I can't
trust her, Locke."

"Can't trust her!" repeated Locke.  "You can't trust Miss Wickes?  Why,
surely, Mr. Marlin, you are making a mistake.  Why can't you trust her?"

"Because," said the old man sharply, "she is the ward of Captain
Newcombe."

Locke stared into the other's face.  A half angry, half--yes, that was
it--cunning gleam had come into the blue eyes.

"What is the matter with Captain Newcombe?" he asked bluntly.

"He's a philanthropist," snapped Mr. Marlin.  "A philanthropist!  And
all philanthropists are fools--with money."

"Oh!" said Locke a little helplessly.  "So that's it, is it?  Yes, of
course!  But I did not know Captain Newcombe was a philanthropist."

"What else is he?" demanded Mr. Marlin fiercely.  "Polly Wickes herself
proves it.  Do you know who Polly Wickes is?  No; you don't!  I'll tell
you!  I heard her tell Dora.  She was a poor girl--sold flowers on the
street corners in London.  Newcombe spends his money like water on
her--education--clothes--thousands.  He is a philanthropist, that is
enough!"

"Good Lord!" muttered Locke to himself.  The man hadn't been anything
like this during the several hours that, off and on, he had been in the
other's company that morning.  The man had seemed almost, if not
wholly, rational then.  It was one of the idiosyncratic phases of the
disease, of course.  There was nothing to do but humour him.  Captain
Francis Newcombe a philanthropist!  Five minutes ago he had come to
quite another conclusion!

"Yes; I see," he said seriously.  They had walked around the corner of
the verandah, and now halfway down the side he halted.  "But there was
something you wanted to speak to me about, Mr. Marlin, wasn't there?"

"Yes," said the old man eagerly.  He looked cautiously around him in
all directions.  "I put great faith in you as your father's son.  I
have never met your father; but I know of him.  I know a great deal
about him.  He is a power.  You must influence him.  The world is
facing a crisis, but we may yet save it from ruin.  I must have a
conference with you where no one can hear or see.  No one must
_see_--do you understand?  That is most important.  Some people think I
am a little touched in the head; but they are the fools.  I shall show
you, my boy, for I shall have with me the proof that I am in earnest,
and the evidence that I practise what I preach.  You shall see for
yourself who is the fool.  To-morrow night"--he fumbled in the pocket
of his coat, and drew out a little book--"what day is to-day, and what
is the date?  Yes, yes, of course; this is Tuesday, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Locke gravely; "to-day is Tuesday."

"Tuesday, the twenty-fifth," mumbled the old man, as he consulted the
book.  "Yes, yes!"  He returned the book to his pocket.  "Very well,
then, to-morrow night.  Meet me in the aquarium to-morrow night at a
quarter past two."

Locke, for the sake of nonchalance, carefully selected another
cigarette from his case and lighted it.  A quarter past two to-morrow
night!  If it were not pitiable, it would be absurd that the old man
should have come down here in this manner to the boathouse to make an
appointment for to-morrow night, when in the natural course of events
he would have been afforded an endless number of infinitely more
convenient opportunities to make the same request!  And why to-morrow
night, other than to-night, or this afternoon, or even now?  And why at
such an hour?  It was useless to ask the question for it found its
answer simply in the workings of a poor, unhinged mind--and yet Locke
found himself asking the question mechanically.

"That's a rather unusual hour, isn't it, Mr. Marlin?  And why to-morrow
night?  Why not to-night, for instance?"

The old man came close, and gripped Locke's arm again with feverish
intensity.  He looked all around him, then placed his lips to Locke's
ear.

"I'll tell you why," he whispered.  "Since last night I have been
watched and followed--watched and followed all the time, all the time,
all the time.  They think I am mad, that my reason is gone.  Ha, ha,
can you imagine that, young man?  Well, they will see!  And so it
cannot be to-night, for I must be very careful, and I must have time to
prepare.  And the hour?  You do not understand that?  Well, I will tell
you something else.  The hour is fixed; it cannot be altered; it cannot
be changed.  It is fixed."  He gripped suddenly with a fiercer pressure
on Locke's arm.  "Ha!  Did I not tell you I was always being watched
and followed?" he breathed excitedly.  "Listen!  Listen!  There is some
one coming now!"

The old man was trembling violently.  Locke laid his hand reassuringly
upon the other's shoulder.  It was quite true that there was distinctly
the sound of some one's footsteps coming across one of the little
bridges from the shore, the one on the far side of the boathouse from
where they stood obviously, for the one on this side was in plain view.

"Why, Mr. Marlin," Locke smiled, "it's only some one coming to the
boathouse.  That's quite natural.  There's nothing to cause you alarm
in that.  But just to set your mind at rest we'll go and see who it is."

"No, no!" whispered Mr. Marlin fiercely.  "No one must know that I
suspect anything.  I can elude them--they're around on the other side
now.  You stay here.  Don't move!  I'm going now.  But remember!
To-morrow night!  You will remember?"

"Yes; of course, Mr. Marlin," Locke replied soothingly.

The old man laid his finger to his lips.

"And not a word about it!  No one must know!  Keep silent!  You will
see!  You will see!  But I must be quick now!  I will elude them.  Keep
silent--not a word!"

The old man was running at top speed along the verandah.

Locke leaned against the railing, his face strangely set, as he watched
the flying figure cross the bridge, and, with head constantly jerking
around to peer first over one shoulder and then the other, disappear
finally along the shore.

"Good Lord!" muttered Locke to himself again.  "And this morning he
appeared to be as sane as I am!"  He frowned suddenly.  "Queer
obsession, that--of being constantly watched!  Since last night!  I
wonder!"

He straightened up abruptly, and drew a letter from his pocket.  He
read it slowly, carefully, several times, as though almost he were
memorising it; and then he began to tear it into little pieces.

"I guess it's safer," he confided to himself; and then with a grim
smile: "Perhaps it's just as well I didn't have anything like this with
me that night on board ship!"

He threw the pieces over into the water, but one fluttered back through
the railing.  And, staring at this, he laughed a little shortly as his
eyes deciphered the typewritten fragment on the verandah floor:

    ll reports approved.  Use
    w Scotland Yard fully pre


He picked it up, tore it into minute shreds, searched carefully to make
sure there were no other wayward scraps, and then started slowly back
along the verandah to rejoin Polly Wickes.

His mind seemed in confusion, coherence smothered in a multitude of
thoughts that impinged one upon the other, each vociferating its right
to sole consideration.  There was Newcombe and that smoking room scene
on the liner, and a letter advising about a half-million dollars, and a
madman, and--no--there was something else, something that was gradually
gaining priority over the rest.  Yes--Polly Wickes!  Well, Polly
Wickes, then ... a flower girl in London ... a lady four years later in
America ... how old had she been when this had happened ... how old had
she been ... confound it, what did he mean by that ... what did he mean
... she couldn't have been more than a child ... a mere child....

He halted, abruptly at the sound of his own name.  Unconsciously he had
almost reached the door leading into the lounging room of the
boathouse.  Polly Wickes was talking to some one--to whoever it was, of
course, whose arrival at the boathouse had frightened old Mr. Marlin
away a few minutes ago.  Ah, yes!  Newcombe!  That was Newcombe
laughing now.

"But just the same," said Polly Wickes, "it _does_ seem a little
strange to me that Mr. Locke would make such a trip with you on so
short acquaintance."

"Nonsense!" replied Captain Francis Newcombe.  "There's nothing strange
about it.  You don't know that type of young American, that's all.  The
'short acquaintance' end of it is purely the insular English viewpoint.
He had a holiday on his hands, as I told you, and he meant to spend it
on his boat somewhere.  We hit it off splendidly together coming over,
and--well, we've hit it off splendidly ever since.  That's all."

"Let's change the subject, then," said Polly Wickes.

Captain Francis Newcombe laughed complacently.

"I was going to," he said.  "I want to speak to you about last night."

"I don't care for your choice," said Polly Wickes in what seemed to
Locke like sudden agitation.  "I haven't been able to get that horrible
cry out of my mind all day, and I hardly slept at all when I went to
bed."

"But, my dear, that is utterly absurd!" Captain Francis Newcombe
returned, with another laugh.  "I can only repeat what I said to you
this morning--that it must have been some boatmen out on the water
cat-calling to each other.  I was startled myself at first, and a bit
angry, I'll admit, at the thought that some one was taking liberties
with us; but I am quite sure now it was nothing of the kind.  You
mustn't give it another thought--really.  It isn't worth it!  But I
wasn't going to refer to that again.  What I wanted to know was whether
or not you told Miss Marlin about seeing her father out there at that
hour of night?"

"Yes," said Polly Wickes.  "I told her; and she said she knew he
sometimes went out night after night for a number of nights, and that,
strangely enough, he'd go out later each night until finally it would
be just before daybreak when he left the house--and then, after that,
for a long while he wouldn't go out at all.  She said she had never
given her father an inkling that she knew, and had never put any
restraint upon him.  As I have told you, what the doctors have warned
her about, and what she is more afraid of than anything else, is
arousing any suspicion in her father's mind that he requires watching
or is being watched.  There is the danger that he might become violent.
In fact, it is almost certain that he would under such conditions,
Doctor Daemer said."

"H'm!" commented Captain Francis Newcombe.

A chair creaked within; a footstep sounded on the floor approaching the
door.

And Howard Locke retreated quietly around the corner of the boathouse.



--IV--

THE UNKNOWN

It was dark in the room, save where the moonlight stole in through the
window and stretched a filmy path across the floor until, in a strange,
nebulous way, it threw into relief a cheval-glass that stood against
the opposite wall.  And in the glass a shadowy picture showed: The
reflection of a man's figure seated in a chair, but curiously crouched
as though about to spring, the shoulders bent a little forward, the
head outthrust, the elbows outward, strained with weight, the hands
clenched upon the arms of the chair.  And then suddenly, with a low,
snarling oath, the more vicious for its repression, the figure sprang
from the chair, and stood with face thrust close against the mirror.

It was Captain Francis Newcombe.

He stared into the glass, his fists knotted at his sides.  It was as
though the two faces flung a challenge one at the other, each mocking
the other in a sort of hideous imitation of every muscular movement.
They were distorted--the lips drawn back, displaying teeth as beasts
might do; and in the shadows the eyes were lost, only the sockets
showing like small, black, ugly, cavernous things.

The minutes passed--long minutes.  A metamorphosis was taking place.
The faces became more composed; they became debonair, suave--and
finally they smiled at one another as though a truce had been
proclaimed.

Captain Francis Newcombe swung back to the chair, and flung himself
down in it again.  It was over for the moment.  For the moment!  Yes,
that was it--for the moment!  But it would come again.  Last night in
his bunk on the _Talofa_ he had lain awake, and lived through hell.
To-day, behind his mask of complaisance, fear had gnawed.  Fear!  And
it had been his boast that fear and he were strangers.

His lips grew tight.

Well, his boast still held good!  What man had ever stood before him,
and taunted him with fear!  This was fear in a different sense.  It was
a fear of the intangible, of what he could not reach, or see, of what
he could not materialise into actual form.  It was the fear of the
_unknown_.

He was on his feet again.

"Damn you!" he snarled.  "Come out into the open and fight!  You
hell-hound, you spawn of the devil, come out, show your face--"

No!  Quiet!  That would not do!  He was in control of himself again,
wasn't he?  It was a game of wits against wits, of cunning matched
against cunning.  But against whom--and what was the stake this
unknown, who had come to plague and torment him, played for?  Revenge?
The law?  A Nemesis rising up out of forgotten things?

His mind prodded and sifted and strove, and in its striving seemed to
jar and jangle and crunch like the parts of some machinery in motion,
which, out of gear, threatened at any moment to demolish itself.

If he went mad--like Mr. Marlin!  Ha, ha!

"By God!" he muttered grimly.  "This is bad--a bad bit of nerves.  If
it was the same blighter who fired at me on shipboard, and it must have
been, why didn't he fire at me again last night when he had an even
better chance, instead of yowling through the darkness?"

That was better!  It was the one trump card in his hand; the card that,
as he had watched the daylight creep in through the tiny portholes of
the _Talofa_ that morning, had determined him, not only to carry on,
but to make it serve as a trap to put an end to this skulking familiar
who had fastened itself upon his trail.  That wasn't fear, was it?

Shadow Varne!  Who was the fool who dared to challenge Shadow Varne!

He was smiling now--but his lips were thin and merciless.

It could no longer be held attributable to some crazed, irresponsible
act, that shot on shipboard, which chance had elected should be fired
through his stateroom window rather than through any other.  Logic now
denied that.  The man who had fired that shot, and the man who had
screamed out in taunting mockery at him last night, were one and the
same.  Well, who was it, then, who had been on the liner, and was now
on Manwa Island?

There were only two.  Runnells and Locke!

Had Runnells had time to change his shoes, or, granting the time, had
cunning enough to have thought of doing so?  No; the chances were a
thousand to one against it.  Locke, then?  But Runnells had said that
Locke hadn't left the _Talofa_.  Were Runnells and Locke in cahoots
together?  They had been extremely friendly on the way down.  But
Locke--it was preposterous!  He knew who Locke was--a young American
business man of good family.  It was curious, though, that Polly should
have made that remark to-day--about a trip like this on such short
acquaintance.  No; there was nothing in that.  It had happened too
naturally.  Locke had a good many pairs of shoes.  Like Runnells', none
of them had been wet; but he was not sure he had found all of them in
the darkness in the cabin with Locke--supposedly at least--asleep there
on the opposite bunk.  Locke could easily have hidden a tell-tale pair;
and Locke was decidedly the kind of man who would have had the
intelligence to do so.

But how could Locke know him as Shadow Varne?

Well, there was Runnells!

His jaws set with a snap.  Was it Runnells?  There was one way to find
out--within the next ten minutes--with his hands at Runnells' throat!
No; that would not do--not yet--save as a last resort.  If it were not
Runnells, then any act like that on his part would disclose his hand,
arouse Runnells' suspicions that this trip to Manwa Island was perhaps,
after all, not entirely a holiday jaunt!

He began to pace up and down the room--but noiselessly, without sound.
His subconscious mind imposed the necessity for silence.

His hands clenched until the nails bit into the palms.  Who was it?
What did it mean?  What was at the bottom of it?  There was no answer
that solved the question even to the satisfaction of a tormented brain
that would have grasped with eager relief at even a plausible
conclusion.  The law?  If the law had proof that he was Shadow Varne,
he would not be an instant at liberty--though he would never be taken
alive again--not even under the helpless condition that had done him
down in Paris for the first and only time, as that old busybody, Sir
Harris Greaves, the fool who loved to play with lighted matches over a
powder cask, had so unctuously set forth.  But perhaps the law did not
have proof, had only suspicion--was only playing a game to trip him
into disclosing his identity.  Revenge?  Then why not another shot last
night, as on the liner; why--

The cycle!  The infernal and accursed cycle again!

Well, whoever it was, they would play with Shadow Varne, would they?
Fools!  Did they think he was one, too--that he could not see the weak
spot in their attack?  Something was holding them back here on the
island from a shot as on the liner; here, for some reason, an attempt
to inspire fear was evidently being resorted to instead.  Something
kept them from coming out into the open; something necessitated this
cat-and-mouse game.  Something, if exposure were actually within their
power, prevented them from exposing him.

That was it!  That was it exactly--the one point on which he would
stake everything and play out the game.  Curse them and their childish
tricks to frighten him!  Exposure was the only thing he feared, because
that would ruin every chance of success here; but if he was safe from
exposure, or if exposure were only delayed long enough--and it need not
be very long delayed, at that--he would have got, as he meant to get,
in spite of God, or man, or the devil, what he had come for!

There was another angle.  What had transpired might not have anything
to do with what had brought him here.

Of course not!  Why should it--essentially?  But it was a menace, a
hideous thing.  It made him think of a picture he had seen somewhere--a
gibbet at a bleak, wind-swept, dark-skyed cross-road with a figure
dangling from it.  One of those damned steel-plate engravings of the
highwaymen days in England!

The unknown!

For a moment he stood still--and then suddenly both fists were raised
above his head.  That was a reason above all others why he should go
on.  The stakes were on the table.  It was not merely a question of old
Marlin's money.  Win or lose here, the menace of that voice that
shrieked the name of Shadow Varne for all to hear now hung over his
whole future.  It must either be removed, or he, Shadow Varne, promised
with ghastly certainty to take the place of that dangling, swaying
thing upon the gibbet chain.  The menace was _here_.  What better
chance was there to fight it than here and now?  Who was the more
cunning?  Who would misplay a card?

Not Shadow Varne!

A grim and cold composure came.  He had two birds to kill with one
stone now--that was all!  Frighten Shadow Varne away?  Bah!  They did
not know Shadow Varne--save only as a name to be screeched out from
some safe retreat in the darkness!  What might transpire in the secret
recesses of his heart, the purely human fact that dismay and fear might
prey at ugly moments upon him, was one thing; to halt him, to make him
even hesitate, was another!  He had never hesitated; he had but moved
the more quickly, speeded up his plans, for time was a greater object
now.  He was at work at this very moment--waiting until the house was
quiet for the night.

Well, it was time now, wasn't it?

A small flashlight played on the dial of his wrist watch.

Just midnight!

He nodded his head sharply, slipped across the room, and, with the door
ajar, stood listening.  A minute passed--another.  There was no sound.
He stepped out into the great, wide hall, and closed his door softly
behind him.

It was like a shadow moving now.

That was Locke's room there; Polly's here--Dora Marlin's opposite.  He
passed them by, silently descended the great staircase, made his way
back along another wide hallway, and finally halted before a door.
This was Mr. Marlin's room.  He listened intently.  The sound of
regular breathing, as of one asleep, was distinctly audible from within.

He smiled grimly as he turned away, and cautiously let himself out
through a French window in the living-room which opened on the
verandah.  From here, he dropped lightly to the lawn.

The money was not hidden in the house.  He was spared from the start
any loss of time in an abortive search of that kind.  There was too
much significance attached to the old maniac's act of creeping
stealthily in and out under his own verandah in the dead of night;
especially when added to this had been the information gleaned from
Polly that Mr. Marlin was in the habit of stealing out of the house at
intervals for a succession of nights on end, though at a later hour
each night.  It was the obvious!  But why a later hour each night?
Rather queer!  But the man's brain was queer!  Why try to square
insanity with the rational?

It was the secret under the verandah that interested him.

But his mind, as he made his way noiselessly along the edge of the
bushes that fringed the verandah, reverted with a certain disturbing
insistence to Polly.  The girl hadn't stopped talking about going back
to England!  She said he had promised her she should when her education
was finished.  Well, perhaps he had--as one makes a promise to quiet a
child!  She wanted to be with her mother.  Quite natural!  But she
hadn't any mother; and, if things went right here, _he_ was rather
inclined to believe that hereafter he preferred America to England as a
permanent place of residence.  He had reiterated his promise, of
course.  He couldn't afford to do anything else--yet.  Sooner or later,
he would have to "explain" to Polly; but when that time came, unless he
had lost a certain facility in explanations that had never failed him
yet, he should be able to turn even the fact that he had kept Mrs.
Wickes' death from her to his own account.  And tell the truth, even if
somewhat inverted, at that!  Solicitude would be the keynote--that,
since Mrs. Wickes was not really her mother, her visit here need not be
spoiled by ill news that would keep.  Solicitude--and all that sort of
idea.  It was a good thing Mrs. Wickes was dead.  Polly wouldn't want
to live in England now.  Mrs. Wickes' death settled that problem,
which, otherwise, he would have had to find some other way of settling.

A minor matter!  Very minor!  Why should it even have crossed his mind?
There was first the money; then, as a corollary, when that was found,
the distressingly fatal _accident_ that would overtake poor old Mr.
Marlin--and, woven into the warp and woof of this, the twisting of a
certain windpipe that would screech its indiscretions for the last time
to a far different tune!

Ah, that was more like Shadow Varne!

He parted the bushes and slipped in under the verandah.  This was the
spot where the old madman had disappeared from view last night.  His
flashlight was switched on now.  It showed a well-defined path, if it
could be called a path, where through much usage the earth and gravel
had been pressed down close up against the side of the house.  It led
toward the rear.  He followed it.  It took him around the corner of the
house, and here, under a flight of steps that led to the verandah
above, he found himself confronted with a basement door.  Captain
Francis Newcombe smiled.  He had never ranked the task of probing the
old fool's actions as one that demanded much ingenuity, or as
presenting any particular difficulty.  It was simply a question of
watching the other without being seen himself; and with the man's mode
of exit and entry from and into the house already known, the rest would
almost automatically take care of itself.

He opened the door and stepped inside.  The flashlight disclosed an
ordinary basement storeroom, and, at one side, a flight of stairs.
Captain Francis Newcombe moved quickly, but without sound now.  He
crossed the basement and crept up the stairs.  Here, at the top,
another door confronted him.  With the flashlight out, he opened this
door cautiously--and again a smile touched his lips.  He had rather
expected it!  The door opened on the lower hall, and almost directly
opposite Mr. Marlin's room.

He stepped across the hall and listened again at the old man's door.
There still came from within the sounds of occupancy; but instead now
of the regular breathing as of one asleep, it was the sound as of one
moving softly around within.

Captain Francis Newcombe retreated to the stairs, closed the door
behind him, descended the stairs, left the basement, and selected a
spot amongst the trees at the edge of the lawn where he could command a
view of the shrubbery bordering the verandah.  It was still a little
earlier than the hour last night when, according to Polly, Mr. Marlin
had gone out, and if, in the bizarre workings of a warped brain, a
later hour each night added to secretness and security, Mr. Marlin was
not yet to be expected for a little while.  Quite so!  He, Captain
Francis Newcombe, had formulated his own timetable on that basis.
There was nothing to do now but wait.

He frowned suddenly.  Suppose, though, Mr. Marlin did not come out at
all?  This might well be one of the nights when--  No!  He shook his
head decisively.  To begin with, he had just heard the man moving
around in his room after having previously been, or pretended that he
had been, asleep; and if Polly's report was based on fact, as it
undoubtedly was, the old maniac, once started on his period of
peregrinations, kept it up until, on the basis of a later hour each
night, his final sortie was made just before daybreak--and taking into
account the hour at which the old man had been out last night, Mr.
Marlin ought at present to be in the thick of one of those periods of
nocturnal activity that would endure for a number of consecutive nights
to come.

In a sort of grim mirth, he laughed softly now to himself.  _One_
night, not a number of nights, would be all that was required!  It did
not entail any distressingly laboured mental effort to understand _why_
the old man went out--it was simply a question of _where_ he went.

The minutes dragged along.  A quarter of an hour went by; it became
half an hour--and then Captain Francis Newcombe drew back silently a
little deeper in amongst the trees.  Yes, there was the old maniac now,
dressing gown and all, and cocking his head to and fro in all
directions as he parted the bushes in emerging from under the verandah.
A moment later, the old man scurried across the lawn to a spot not far
from where he, Captain Francis Newcombe, was standing.  The woods here
surrounding the house were full of little paths and walks, and the
grotesque figure with the flapping gown now disappeared along one of
these paths a few yards away.

Captain Francis Newcombe's lips twisted a little ironically as he took
up the chase.  The head that kept cocking itself around so idiotically
would avail its owner little in the shape of protection!  Apart from it
being too dark to see more than a few feet in any direction now in the
wooded path, he, Captain Francis Newcombe, had not the slightest
intention of trying to keep the other in sight, much less run any risk
of being seen himself.  The sense of sound was quite
sufficient--entirely adequate!  Twigs and dried pine needles snapped
eloquently under Mr. Marlin's feet.  Captain Francis Newcombe's
ironical smile deepened.  His own rubber-soled yachting shoes, combined
with a little precaution, might be relied upon to cause the old maniac
no alarm!

The chase led on, following the turnings and twistings of the path for
perhaps three hundred yards, and then turned into a narrow intersecting
by-path at the right.  Here again Captain Francis Newcombe followed the
sound of the other's footsteps for perhaps another hundred yards--and
then suddenly he halted.  The footsteps had ceased abruptly.

For a moment Captain Francis Newcombe remained motionless, listening;
then with extreme caution he went forward again.  He came presently to
where the path ended at the edge of a small clearing; and here, though
shadowy and indistinct, he could make out just in front of him the
outline of what looked like a little _cabane_, or hut.  He nodded his
head complacently.  From inside the hut he caught the sound of movement
again.  So this was where Mr. Marlin went at nights, was it!

He crept forward on hands and knees now, careful to make not the
slightest noise, made the circuit of the little hut, and halted
again--this time on the side opposite from the door and beneath the
single window that the place possessed.  From what he had been able to
make out in the darkness, the hut appeared to be in a more or less
tumble-down and neglected condition.  It was probably an old tool house
or something of the sort.  Well, that mattered very little!

With his head well at one side of the window frame to guard against any
possibility of being seen from within, he brought his eyes to a level
with the sill, and peered in.  At first he could distinguish nothing;
then gradually a shadowy figure took form in one corner and kept moving
up and down with a motion, which, more than anything else that
suggested itself to him, resembled the motion of a woman assiduously at
work over a washboard.  This was accompanied by a scraping sound.

_Mr. Marlin was digging!_

Captain Francis Newcombe quietly sat down on the ground beneath the
window.  It was quite hopeless to expect to see anything more than he
had seen--for the present!  One would have asked a good deal to have
asked more!  The spot where the old maniac was at work was close up
against the wall at the right of the door and almost directly opposite
the window!

The digging ceased.  Another sound took its place--a sort of crooning,
a sing-song droning sound.  Words, snatches of sentences, became
audible:

"... All!  All here! ... In the darkness where no one can see....  And
I do not need to see--I feel....  Night after night I feel, and my
fingers count....  Money!  Money! ... Ha, ha--and they do not
understand....  Fools!  All fools! ... You will multiply yourself a
hundred, a thousandfold....  Fools!  Blind fools! ... They would not
listen....  They called me mad...."

The crooning went on.

Captain Francis Newcombe with cool nonchalance made himself more
comfortable now by propping his back against the side of the hut.  When
the old fool was through with his puling, and the fondling of that half
million in banknotes that he imagined was so safely hidden, the next
move would be in order.  Until then there was nothing to do except to
exercise what degree of patience he could.

Patience!  He stirred suddenly.  Why exercise patience?  Was it, after
all, absolutely necessary that he should?  A moment's work would do
away with that senile old idiot now.  Mr. Marlin would be found, but
the money would not be found.  That was the plan in its actual essence,
wasn't it?

He snarled, then, angrily at himself under his breath.  That was the
method of the "cusher," which, on a certain occasion, he had branded
with so much contempt!  The record of Shadow Varne was marred by no
such crudeness as that.  A cusher without art!  It brought him a sense
of intense irritation that the thought should even have entered his
mind.

Why had it?

He shook his head.  Was it impatience, or perhaps, rather, a prescience
prompting him to be through and done with this with the least possible
delay?  Were the events that had happened since he had left England
insidiously taking effect upon him to the detriment of his customary
cold and measured judgment?  Well, he would see to it that nothing of
that sort should happen!  Crime was a science; its procedure was
calculated, methodical, orderly, denying scruples.  He had always
approached it as a science; he proposed never to approach it in any
other way.  The case in point, for instance: Once he knew exactly where
this hidden half-million was, where he could lay his hands on it
whenever he desired at an instant's notice--and he would locate its
precise position inside the hut there as soon as the old maniac
returned home to his bed--Mr. Marlin would be removed.  But that must
be accomplished apparently through an accident--and the accident must
be such as to serve as _proof_, so to speak, that Captain Francis
Newcombe could not possibly have had any part in it.  This became the
more essential now in view of that infernal voice last night.  The
nature of the accident itself was a mere detail.  The choice was
legion.  There had been others who, becoming encumbrances in the path
of Shadow Varne, had met with accidents.  What folly to go in there
now--and have the whole island aroused by the crime of murder and
invaded by the police; with the crime itself proclaiming the fact that
the murder had been done for the money the old madman was known to have
had somewhere, but which was now obviously in the possession of _some
one_, to wit, the murderer!

Bah!  What was the matter with him?  Did he need to rehearse the
obvious?  Mr. Marlin's secret would die with him; and, being unable to
find the money, they would give the old maniac more credit for cunning
and originality than was due to the moss-eaten method of selecting a
hiding place under the floor of an old hut!  The pitiful fool!  Under
the floor!  That was where the treasure was always hidden--in every
book he had ever read!

The crooning continued.  It began to get a little on his nerves.  It
was interminable.  Would the man stay here until daylight?  No; that
was hardly likely--not if he ran true to form.  Old Marlin hadn't
stayed out until daybreak last night when Polly and he, Captain Francis
Newcombe, had watched the other go in under the verandah.

It might have been an hour, though it seemed two, when at last Captain
Francis Newcombe rose silently to his feet.  The crooning had finally
ceased, and in its place there came now a series of low, thudding
sounds, as though soft earth were being tamped into place; and then he
heard the door creak a little as it was opened and closed.  An instant
later the footsteps of the old man died away along the path by which he
had come.

Captain Francis Newcombe stepped quickly around to the other side of
the hut, and tried the door.  It was unlocked.  He smiled in a sort of
grim humour as he pushed it open, and, entering, closed it again behind
him.  That was the first sign of intelligence--no, applied to a maniac,
it could hardly be termed intelligence!--well then, craftiness that
measured up in at least a little way to the intensive order of cunning
with which the insane in general were popularly credited.  An unlocked
door was no mean safe-guard.  The last place one would expect to find,
or look for, a half-million dollars would be behind an unlocked door!

His flashlight threw an inquisitive circle of light around the
interior.  Whatever the place had been used for at one time, it was
decidedly neglected and in disuse now.  The flooring was in an advanced
state of decay.  His eyes followed the ray of the flashlight as it held
on a spot on the flooring near the door.  Yes, knowing beforehand that
some pieces of the flooring there had been lifted, he could see that
such was the case in spite of the fact that the pieces had been very
neatly replaced.

The flashlight continued its tour of inspection.  There was a pile of
rubbish and some old barrels over in the far corner.  He stepped
quickly across to these and nodded his head sharply in satisfaction,
as, tucked in behind the barrels, he found what he had been looking
for.  Mr. Marlin had been digging.  Exactly!  Here was the spade.  He
lifted it up and examined it.  Particles of fresh earth still clung to
it.

Captain Francis Newcombe stood still now for an instant to listen.  And
as he listened his brows gathered in a savage frown of annoyance.  Why
this exaggerated precaution?  What did he expect to hear?  What sound
could there be?  The old fool was finished for the night.  There wasn't
the slightest chance that he would return.  Why should he, Captain
Francis Newcombe, waste time now, when with a moment's work he could
satisfy himself that the half-million dollars that had brought him to
Manwa Island was definitely within his reach?  Was that it?  Was it
psychological?  Was it that _voice_ he was listening for again?

He swore fiercely under his breath in a sudden flood of blind rage at
himself; and, crossing the hut, stood the spade up against the wall
within reach, and knelt down on the floor with the flashlight playing
on the two or three sections of board that the old man had removed.
Yes, they were quite loose.  His fingers worked their way into a crack
between two of them.  The old maniac's half-million!  Hidden under the
flooring!  It was child's--

_What was that?_

He was on his feet, the flashlight out, every muscle tense, his
revolver outflung before him.

In God's name, what was that?

It seemed to crash and thunder through the stillness.

Only a knock upon the door?

Again!

Once more--sharp, imperative!

He stood motionless--his jaws clamped like iron.  What was he to do?
If he answered the summons--what then?  How explain the presence here
of Captain Francis Newcombe, the guest, who at this hour should be
peacefully asleep in his bed?  Who was it out there who had knocked
upon the door?  Not the old fool himself who might have come back.  Old
Marlin wouldn't have knocked.  Who, then?

Strange!  A full minute must have passed.  Why were the knocks not
repeated?  There was no sound from without.  He had heard no one
approach--he had heard no one go away.  Only the knocks upon the door.

He was listening now, every faculty alert.  Was some one standing
outside there, as tense, as silent, waiting--as he stood tense and
silent, waiting, here within?  If so, then, that was another angle to
the situation.  It must be so!  There was not a sound out there--there
had not been a sound.  He had heard no one go away.  Well, two could
play at a game like that!  And it would be the other who would show his
hand!

He moved softly toward the door.  In the darkness he felt out with his
hand.  It touched the panel of the door, crept down until it clasped
the knob--and then suddenly, even as he moved swiftly to one side out
of the direct line, he flung the door wide back upon its hinges.

And where the door had stood, there showed now but an oblong of filmy,
hazy murk, scarcely more penetrable to the eye than the black interior
of the hut.  Nothing more!  No, that was not true.  There was something
else--something white, a small white fluttering thing that seemed to
drift and flutter downward to the ground.  No sound from without--save
the night sounds of the woods: The leaves talking to one another; the
stir in the grasses; the low, faint, never-ending chatter of insects.

The watch ticking on Captain Francis Newcombe's wrist became a loud,
discordant thing.  It ticked away the minutes before he moved again.

His eyes became accustomed to the murk outside the open door.  There
was no one there.

That white thing lying by the threshold was an envelope.  It had been
stuck in the door.  He reached out now, and picked it up.  And now he
closed the door again, and, with the flashlight on, he tore the
envelope open.

He stared at the sheet of paper it contained.  The single line of
crude, printed letters seemed to leap out at him from the white sheet,
scorching, burning, searing its message into his consciousness.  He
raised his hand and drew it across his forehead.  It came away wet with
sweat.  He looked around him, snarling like a beast at bay.  A thousand
minions of hell here in the hut were screeching in his ears the words
he had just read:

"_Who murdered Sir Harris Greaves?_"



--V--

THE GUTTER-SNIPE

A clock somewhere in the house chimed the hour.

Midnight!

Polly Wickes rose hastily from the corner of the big
leather-upholstered Chesterfield in which her small figure had been
tucked away.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "I had no idea it was so late.  Every one else
has been in bed ages ago."

"I think," said Locke gravely, "that it is our duty to stand by that
last log.  It's been a rather jolly fire, you know.  I--"

"That is the second one you have put on after having made the same
remark twice before," she accused him severely.

"I know," said Locke.  "I'm guilty--but think of the extenuating
circumstances."

Polly Wickes laughed.

"No," she said.

"This is positively the last," pleaded Locke.  "There may not be any
excuse for a grate fire to-morrow night.  Have you thought of that?
The wind is still howling, but the rain has stopped and the moon is
coming out, and--"  His tongue was running away with him inanely.  He
stopped short.

"Yes?" inquired Polly Wickes demurely.

The great dark eyes were laughing at him--teasing a little.

"Well, confound it," he blurted out, "I don't want you to go!  This has
been a day and an evening that I shall never forget--very wonderful
ones for me.  I don't want them to be only memories--yet."

He met the dark eyes steadily now.  The laughter had gone from them.
He found them studying him for an instant in an almost startled
way--and then the eyelids drooped and covered them, and she turned her
head a little, facing the portièred window beside the fireplace of the
living room in which they stood, and the colour crept softly upward
from the full, bare throat, and stole into her cheeks.

He caught his breath.  He felt his pulse stir into a quicker beat.  She
was very lovely as she stood there with the soft, mellow glow of the
rose-shaded lamp and with the flicker of the flames from the firelight
playing upon her.

"Just this last one," he pleaded again.

She hesitated for an instant, then sat down slowly on the Chesterfield
once more.  And as he watched her, there seemed to have come a curious
quiet upon her.  She did not look at him now--she was staring at her
hands, which were tightly clasped together in her lap.

"Very well," she said in a low voice.  "I think that I, too, would like
to have--that last log.  There is something that I want to say--that I
meant to say this afternoon on the yacht.  I--Mr. Locke, do you know
who I am?"

She would not look up.  He could not see her face.  He knew what she
meant--Mr. Marlin's words of the day before flashed upon him.  There
was something of dreariness in her voice, something that strove to be
very bravely defiant but was only wistful, and an almost uncontrollable
impulse fell upon him to touch her face and lift it gently, and make
her eyes meet his again.  There would be an answer there--an answer
that he had not yet dared put in words.  What right had he to do so?  A
day of dreams on the yacht to-day--that, and yesterday.  Two days!  He
had known her longer than that....

He found himself answering her question automatically.

"What a strange question!"  He was laughing--speaking lightly.  "Of
course, I know who you are."

"Yes," she said gravely, "you know that my name is Polly Wickes--but do
you know anything about me?"

He came and stood a little closer to her.

"I think I know _you_."  His voice had lost its lighter tone.

A little flood of colour came as she shook her head.

"Did guardy tell you anything about me on your trip down here?"

"No," he said.

"I didn't think he had," she said.  "He has always been opposed to
either of us saying anything about it to any one.  Dear guardy!  I know
it is for my sake and that he believes it makes it easier for me, and
generally it does; but--but sometimes it doesn't."  She stopped and
looked up suddenly.  "But I do think it is more than likely that Mr.
Marlin, in his queer way, has said something.  Has he?"

"Look here," said Locke impulsively, "does it really matter--does it
even matter at all?  Mr. Marlin did say something, as a matter of
fact--yesterday, down there at the boathouse, you know."

"What did he say?" she demanded.

"Why," Locke smiled, "something about London, and selling flowers."

"Well, it is quite true," she said slowly.  "That is exactly what I
was--a flower girl in London--on the street corners."

"I sell bonds--when I can--and wherever I can."  Locke was laughing
again--he was not quite sure whether he was striving the more to put
her or himself at ease.  "I can't see any difference on the basis of
pure commerce between the two--except perhaps that the flowers are the
more honest offering of the two.  Bonds sometimes are not always what
they seem."

She shook her head.

"That's very nice of you, Mr. Locke," she said.  She was studying her
clasped hands again.  "But--but of course, as you quite well know, that
has nothing whatever to do with what I am saying.  You know London,
don't you?"

"Why, yes; a bit," he answered.

"Yes," she said.  "I think you do.  Indeed, from what you have said
to-day, I am sure you know it better than any American I have ever met
before; and, indeed, far better than most people who live there all
their lives.  And so--and so"--her voice broke a little, then steadied
instantly--"it is not necessary to go into any details, for you will
understand quite well when I say that I lived in Whitechapel, and even
there where only the cheapest room was to be found, and that when I
sold flowers I did not have any shoes--and to the police I was known as
a gutter-snipe."

He was beside her, bending over her.

"My God, Miss Wickes--Polly," he burst out, "why do you hurt yourself
like this!"

He had called her "Polly."  The name had come unbidden to his tongue.
It had brought no rebuke--or was it that she had not noticed it?

"I would hurt myself more," she said steadily, "if I felt that those
around me could have any justification in believing that I was
purposely masquerading in order to deceive.  That would be
hypocrisy--and I hate that!"  She flung out her hands suddenly with a
queer, little helpless gesture.  "Oh, I wonder if you understand what I
mean; I wonder if I am explaining myself--and if you won't at once
think that I am utterly inconsistent when I say that at school no one
knew anything about my former life?  But, you see, I have never felt
that I was called upon to make the intimate things in my life a matter
of public knowledge.  And in that respect I can quite understand
guardy's attitude in wishing me to say nothing about it, for, in so
many cases, and especially at school, it would have just supplied a
fund for gossip, and--and that would have been abominable."

"Of course, it would!"  There was savage assent in Locke's voice.
"It's nobody's business but your own."

"Oh, yes, it is," she answered instantly.  "It's Miss Marlin's
business--if I come here as a guest."

"Yes," said Locke quickly; "but you _have_ told her, and--"

"Wait!" she interrupted.  "Yes, I have told her; and now I have told
you.  But your two cases are entirely different, and I am not
altogether sure that my reason for telling you is entirely to my
credit, because it--it is perhaps like the child who confesses when he
knows he is sure to be found out.  You couldn't be here with poor Mr.
Marlin very long before you knew.  Do you understand?  I couldn't bear
the thought of you, or any one, thinking I was deliberately trying to
hide the truth, or that, when there was reason to do so, I was afraid
or ashamed to speak out myself."

"I wish you hadn't added that 'any one,'" he said in a low voice.

She did not answer.  She was staring now into the fire.  And he too
stared into it now.  It was full of pictures--strange, drab pictures.
He knew Whitechapel--its stark, hopeless realism; he knew its
children--without shoes.  Was that what she saw there now?  The fire
was dying--beneath the one remaining log, almost burned through now,
there were only embers.  They glowed here and there and went
out--black.  Like some memories!

He looked at her again.  Her face, that he could see now, seemed
strangely pinched and drawn.  Her hand toyed nervously with a frill of
her dress.  And something seemed suddenly to choke in his throat, and a
great yearning came--and it would not be denied.

"Polly!" he whispered, and, leaning over, caught her hand in his.

With a quick, sharp indrawing of her breath as of one in sudden pain,
she rose to her feet and drew her hand away.

"Oh, why did you do that?" she cried out.

"Because," he said, "I love--"

"No, no!" she cried out again.  "Don't answer me!  I didn't mean that
you should answer.  It is only that _now_ there is something else that
I must say.  I--I--"  Her voice broke suddenly.

"Don't!" he said huskily.  "Polly, there is nothing to take to heart.
What could it ever matter, those days?  They are gone now forever.  You
exaggerate any possible bearing they could have on to-day.  Suppose you
were a flower girl, that you have known poverty in its bitterest
sense--would that matter, could it possibly matter to any one who was
not a contemptible snob, or to--"

"There is something else now that I must say."  She was repeating her
own words, almost as though she were unconscious of any interruption.
"You--you make me say it.  I--I never knew who my father was."

She was gone.

He had had a glimpse of a face pitifully white, of dark eyes that
fought bravely against a mist that sought to blind them; and then
before he could move or speak she had run from the room--and he stood
alone before the fireplace.

And in the fireplace the last log fell spluttering, throwing out its
dying rain of little sparks, and lay a broken thing between the dogs.



--VI--

THE MAN IN THE MASK

Again a clock somewhere in the house chimed the hour.  And again.

One o'clock.

Two o'clock.

The embers in the fireplace had long since turned to black charred
things.  Locke raised his head.  Two o'clock!  He had not been
conscious of it when the last little glow had died away.  He had turned
out the light when Polly had gone--and had sat there staring at the
dying fire.  He had not put on another log.  The fire was dead
now--quite dead.  He had been staring into a black fireplace--that was
as black as the room itself.

Two o'clock!

He stood up, and, going to the windows, flung back the portières.  It
was still blowing hard; but the moon was beginning to show through the
scudding clouds.  He brushed his hand heavily across his eyes.  It was
very still in the house; but the stillness itself seemed a disquiet,
untranquil, chaotic thing.  Polly!  Yes, Polly had filled his thoughts
during those two hours--Polly, and Captain Francis Newcombe.  But he
had not forgotten withal the bizarre appointment he was to keep with
Mr. Marlin in the aquarium--at a quarter past two.  One would not be
likely to forget so extraordinary a thing in any case, no matter what
might meanwhile have intervened--even if Mr. Marlin had not been so
grotesquely persistent in his reminders.  A dozen times that day the
old man had plucked significantly at his, Locke's, coat sleeve, or had
signalled mysteriously with his finger to his lips; and twice, with a
childish titter, the old man had come upon him unexpectedly and had
said exactly the same thing on each occasion.

"Tee-hee, tee-hee!" the old man had tittered.  "It is all right for
to-night, my boy--you will see--you will see.  And they thought I was a
fool.  Do not say a word.  Keep quiet--keep quiet--you will see."

What would he see?  What would he learn?  Much--or little?  Would it be
only the babble of a sick brain?  Queer, strange, almost impossible
conditions in this house!  Where would they climax--and how?  Whose
hand held the trumps?

His eyes fixed suddenly on a spot across the lawn.  Something seemed to
have moved there.  Fancy, perhaps; or a shadow cast by the swaying
branches.  The moon was just coming out from under the edge of a
cloud--another moment and he would be able to tell if anything were
there.  Yes!  A woman emerging from the path that led to the shore.
The figure began to cross the lawn, approaching the house.

And then Locke's eyes narrowed suddenly in astonishment.  It wasn't a
woman at all; it was a man wearing a long gown, a dressing gown.  It
was Mr. Marlin.  And the man kept cocking his head from side to side;
and he appeared to be carrying something under the dressing gown--at
least his arm was crooked up as though he held a bundle there.

Locke smiled now a little grimly, as the old man finally disappeared
around the corner of the house.  It was almost a quarter past two.  He
would find Mr. Marlin in the aquarium.

He drew the portières together again, and, leaving the room, went out
into the reception hall beyond.  There was no light showing anywhere
and he was obliged to feel his way along.  The aquarium was in, or,
rather, composed in itself, a little wing built at the rear of the
house, but connected therewith by a short, covered passageway.  He knew
the way quite well--he had been there with Polly on that first day.

That _first_ day!  That was only yesterday ... it was incredible,
impossible....  His mind was running riot as he groped his way to the
rear of the main staircase and into the wide passage that ran parallel
with the length of the house.  But then the whole place was incredible!
The house itself was like a great hotel with its corridors and its
endless number of rooms!  This was Mr. Marlin's room here at his right,
and--

He stood still.  A door on his left had opened.  It shut again
instantly--and then he could hear it being cautiously reopened a little
way.

"Don't you move!" said a voice in a fierce whisper.  "Don't you move!
I can see you!  If you move I will shoot you!"

Locke found his muscles, that had suddenly grown tense and strained, as
suddenly relaxed.  He could see nothing--the door wasn't wide enough
open--but it was the old madman's voice.  Strange, though!  How had the
man got there?  That wasn't Mr. Marlin's room--Mr. Marlin's room was on
the opposite side of the hall.  Yes, of course, there must be an
entrance into the house there of some sort.

"It's Locke," he announced quietly.  "That's you, Mr. Marlin, isn't it?"

"Hah!" ejaculated the other.  "You, my boy, eh?  Well, that's quite
different.  Of course, it's you.  You know the value of being prompt.
Excellent!  Excellent!  Be very quiet--but hurry!  Follow me.  We have
only a little time."

Locke could just make out the old man's form now as the other came
through the door--and then in the darkness it was lost again.  But the
patter of footsteps ahead of him, hurrying along, served as a guide.
He followed the other to the end of the hall, turned into the covered
passageway, and was halted again by the old man, this time at the door
of the aquarium.

"Tee-hee!" tittered the maniac.  "They think they are dealing with a
fool.  Wait!  Wait, young man, I will see that the window shades are
all down before we turn on the light--though there will be no one here
to-night except ourselves--tee-hee!--they will be somewhere else!"

The old man opened the door and disappeared.  And now Locke, as he
waited, and though he listened, could not hear the other moving around
inside--what sound the old man made was drowned by the noise of running
water through the pipes that fed the tanks, and, added to this, the
low, constant drip and trickle that pervaded the place.

Presently the lights went on.

"Here!" cried the old man.  "Come over here!"

Locke blinked a little in the light as he stepped forward.  It
reflected bewilderingly from the glass faces of the tanks that were
everywhere about.  He joined the old man in the centre of the aquarium.
Here there was an open space from which the tanks radiated off much
after the manner of the spokes of a wheel, and this space was utilised
as a sort of luxurious observation point, so to speak, for a heavy
oriental rug was on the tiled floor, and ranged around a table were a
number of big easy chairs.

From under his dressing gown now the old man took a package that was
wrapped in oiled silk, and laid it on the table.

"Money!" he cried out abruptly.  "Hah!  We know its power, young man,
you and I!"  He began to fumble with the cord that was tied around the
package; and then suddenly commenced to titter again.  "Did I not tell
you I was being followed, always being followed?  Well, last night they
followed a wrong scent.  Tee-hee!  Tee-hee!  I told you you would see
who was the fool!  They are there to-night--digging--digging--digging.
Tee-hee!  Tee-hee!  They will dig the place all up before they are sure
it is not there."

Money!  That package!  Locke's lips tightened a little.  Was this, as
he had more than half expected, what he was to "see"--the half-million
dollars at last that Polly had seen?  And what did the man mean by
"wrong scent"?  And "digging"?

"Yes, of course, Mr. Marlin," said Locke quietly.  "Of course, they
will!  But who is it that is following you?"

The old man dropped the package from his hands and leaned across the
table, his eyes suddenly ablaze.

"If I knew, I would kill them!" he whispered.  "It is
everybody--everybody!"

"Perhaps you are mistaken."  Locke spoke in a soothing tone.  "Did you
see anybody following you last night?"

"It is not necessary to see"--the old madman's whisper had become
suddenly confidential--"I know.  They were there--they are always
there--watching--eyes are always watching."  He broke into his insane
titter once more.  "Tee-hee, yes, yes; and we are being watched by
thousands of eyes to-night--look at them--look at them--the pretty
things--see them swimming all around you--but they look and they say
nothing--and they do not follow me."  His voice was rising shrilly; he
began to gesticulate with his hands, pointing with darting little
motions at one tank after another.  "Do you hear?  You need not be
afraid because they watch.  They will not follow us."

Locke sat down leisurely in a chair facing the other across the table.
He was rather curious about this mysterious digging of last night, a
little more than curious--but, also, it was necessary to calm the old
maniac's growing excitement.

"I am quite sure of that, Mr. Marlin," he agreed heartily.  "We should
be perfectly safe here, especially as you say that you have succeeded
in making whoever was following you watch somewhere else.  That was
very clever of you, Mr. Marlin."

The old man put his finger to his lips.

"I'll tell you where it was, young man," he said.  "The old hut in the
woods behind the house.  They think it's there.  They think that's
where I hide the money.  And they'll keep on looking there.  It will
take them a long while.  They will be looking there to-night--and
perhaps to-morrow night, too.  And then they will begin to follow me
again.  But it will be too late--too late for many, many days, because
the time-lock will be set--ha, ha--God supplies the time-lock, young
man--you do not understand that--but can you imagine any one opening a
time-lock that God has made?"

Locke took refuge in a cigarette.  Apart from some mare's nest in an
old hut, it was quite hopeless!  The old maniac's condition was growing
steadily worse.  There was a marked change in even the last twenty-four
hours.  It did not require any professional eye to discern that.

"I think," suggested Locke conversationally, "that you were going to
show me something in that package, Mr. Marlin."

"Yes," said the old madman instantly, and as though quite oblivious of
any digression.  "That is why you are here.  Listen!  You will tell
your father about it.  I do not ask others to do what I do not do
myself.  Your father must do the same.  He must get all the great
capitalists of America to do likewise--it is the only thing that will
save the country from ruin and disaster.  Look!"  The old man ripped
off the cord and wrapper, and there tumbled out upon the table, each
held together with two or three elastic bands, a half dozen or more
small bundles of bank notes.  "See!  See!  Do you see, young man?"

Locke with difficulty maintained an impassive countenance.  He had
expected something of the sort, but it seemed somehow incredible that a
sum so great as Polly had named should be represented by those few
little bundles scattered there on the table in front of him.  He picked
one of them up and riffled the notes through his fingers.  It contained
perhaps a hundred bills, each one of the denomination of a thousand
dollars--one hundred thousand dollars.  He laid the bundle back on the
table.  Others were of like denomination; others again of five hundred.
The full amount was undoubtedly there.

"Do you know how much is there?" demanded the old madman sharply.

Locke regarded the money thoughtfully.  To name the exact amount
offhand might aggravate the old maniac's already suspicious frame of
mind.

"I can see that there is a very large sum," he answered cautiously.

"A large sum!" echoed the madman aggressively.  "And what do you call a
large sum, young man?"

"Well, at a guess," said Locke quietly, "and basing it on that package
I have just examined, I should say in the neighbourhood of half a
million dollars."

The old maniac thrust his head forward across the table, stared for an
instant, and then suddenly burst into a peal of wild, ironical laughter.

"Half a million!"  He rocked upon his feet, his peals of laughter
punctuating his words.  "Bah!  There are five millions, ten millions,
fifty millions there!"  He shook his finger under Locke's nose.  "Do
you hear what I say, young man?"

The blue eyes had become alight with a mad blaze; hectic spots began to
burn in the old madman's cheeks.  Locke nodded his head in a slow,
deliberate manner--as the most effective thing he could think of to do
by way of calming the other.  The whole place, the surroundings, the
grotesque shapes swimming around in the tanks everywhere he looked, the
eyes of the queer sea creatures that all seemed to be fascinated by
that fortune which lay upon the table, the constant drip and trickle of
water, the crazed old man who rocked upon his feet and laughed, were
eerily unreal.  That sea-horse in the tank that faced him from just
beyond the other side of the table, for instance, seemed to be a most
bizarre and unnatural creature both in shape and actions even for one
of his own species!  Half-past two in the morning, in an aquarium with
a madman and a half-million dollars!  Again, by way of appeasing the
other, he nodded his head.

"Listen!" cried the old maniac fiercely.  "You must help me.  Men are
blind, blind, blind!  Europe is crumbling, nations are
bankrupt--chaos--chaos--chaos is everywhere.  Everything else is
decreasing in value; only the American dollar climbs up and up and up.
Sell, sell, sell while there is time!  Commercial houses are tottering,
dividends are not being paid, the employment of labour becomes less and
less--the end is near.  And fools cling to their business enterprises;
and their capital shrinks and is swallowed up and lost.  Lost!"  The
man was working himself into a frenzy.  His voice rose in a shriek.
"_Lost_!  Do you not see?  Do you not understand?  Money alone has any
value.  And the less money there is left in the world, and the more
that is lost, the greater will be the value of what remains.  It will
multiply itself by the thousandfold.  Look!  Look what is on the table
here!  It will become a wealth beyond counting in any case, and if no
one will believe me then the more it will be worth because there will
be the less money to compete against it.  Millions!  Millions!
Hundreds of millions!  But I am not selfish.  I do not wish to see the
ruin of the world.  And you--_you_!  You will now be responsible.  They
will not listen to me because they say I am mad--I, who alone have the
vision to see, and the courage to act.  But your father will listen to
you and he will believe you, and the great financiers of America will
follow your father, and--"

Subconsciously Locke was aware that the old maniac was still talking,
the crazed words rising in shrieks of passionate intensity--but he was
no longer paying any attention to the other.  He was staring again at
the glass tank, behind and a little to one side of the old madman, that
contained the sea-horse.  The creature was most strange!  It was only a
small and diminutive thing, but, unless he were the victim of an
hallucination, it had taken on an extraordinary appearance.  It seemed
to possess _human_ eyes; to assume almost the shape of a face--only
there was a shadow across it.  The water rippled a little.  The
sea-horse moved to the opposite corner of the tank--but the eyes
remained in exactly the same original spot.

Locke leaned nonchalantly back in his chair, though his lips were
compressed now into a thin, grim line.  They were human eyes, and the
shadow across the face was a mask.  Where did it come from?  He began
trying to figure out the angle of reflection.  The face of each glass
tank, of course, with the deeper-hued water behind it, was nothing more
or less than a reflecting mirror.  What was that dark straight line
above the eyes?  To begin with, the reflection must come from somewhere
behind him, and well to one side of him.  Taking into consideration the
position in which Mr. Marlin stood, it must be the left-hand side.  The
tanks, then, that would seem to answer that requirement became
instantly limited in number--it must be either the first or second tank
of those that formed the left-hand side of the alleyway nearest to
where he sat, and that, like the spoke of the wheel, led obliquely to
the wall.  He could not see the wall, but--  Yes, he had it now.  There
was a window there.  That dark line above the eyes was the window
shade--raised six inches or so from the sill.  It could easily have
been accomplished--even if the old madman had carefully drawn every
shade and shut every window in the place, as presumably he had.  The
drip and trickle, the running water, would have deadened any little
sound made in forcing the window, and after that to reach in and
manipulate the shade would have been but child's play.

Locke's eyes shifted now to the old madman.  What was to be done?  The
other, still rocking and swaying upon his feet, still flinging his arms
about in mad gestures, his facial muscles twitching violently as he
shrieked out his words, was already verging on a state of acute
hysteria.  Even to hint at the possibility that they were being watched
would not only have a probably very dangerous effect upon the maniac,
but would in itself defeat any chance of turning the tables on that
watcher outside the window!  Whose eyes were those, whose face was that
behind the mask?  Intuitively he felt he knew--the trail went back,
broad and well defined, to London.  Newcombe!  Captain Francis
Newcombe!  Who else could it be?  His jaws clamped hard together now.
How turn intuition into a practical, visible certainty--by stripping
that mask from the other's face?

The eyes were still there in the tank.

His mind was working keenly, swiftly now.  Suppose he made some excuse
to leave the aquarium and stole around outside to that window?  No;
that would not do.  In the first place, he probably could not get away
from the old madman; and, if he could, he dared not, for the length of
time it would take him to accomplish any such purpose, leave the other
alone with that money on the table and subject to attack from an open
window only a few feet away.  There was only one thing to do.  The man
outside the window there, unaware that his presence was known, would
naturally not consider that he, Locke, was a factor to be reckoned with
when, say, the old madman left the aquarium here to return the money to
its hiding place, wherever that might be; and therefore, if he, Locke,
could manage to keep ward over Mr. Marlin without being seen himself,
the man out there would almost certainly rise to the bait and bring
about his own downfall.  The money was in evidence for the first time;
its whereabouts known--and the man in the mask would be illogical
indeed if he allowed it to be restored to the security of a secret
hiding place without making an attempt to get it when an opportunity
such as this apparently presented itself.  But against this was a
certain risk to which the old man would be subjected; if not a physical
risk, then a mental one--which latter, to one in Mr. Marlin's
condition, would probably be the more dangerous of the two.  And then
there was the chance, too, that if luck turned an ugly trick the money
itself might be in jeopardy.  The old maniac's unconscious co-operation
must be secured.  The hiding place was somewhere outside the house.
That was obvious, both from Mr. Marlin's nocturnal habits, and from the
even more significant fact that the old madman, in coming to this
appointment here to-night, had brought the money with him from
somewhere outdoors.  Also it seemed to be no secret that Mr. Marlin
roamed abroad at night.  Polly had spoken of it without reserve.  It
was therefore but fair to presume that one as interested as was the man
outside the window, and particularly if it were Newcombe, was in
possession of this knowledge, and being in possession of it was equally
capable of putting two and two together, and would expect the old
maniac to go out again to-night--with the money.  If then, without
unduly alarming him, Mr. Marlin could be persuaded to remain in the
house with his money to-night, it would not only be the safest thing
the old madman could do, but would afford him, Locke, if he were right
in his supposition, an excellent chance to trap the man in the mask
while the latter waited for his prey to come out.

Locke, leaning forward now, crossed his arms on the table, and nodded
his head earnestly at the old maniac.  One corner of the table at least
was distinctly visible from where the window would be along that little
alleyway between the rows of tanks, but he was careful not to glance in
that direction.  The reflection of the masked face still showed in the
same place.  What was the old madman saying?  Well, it didn't matter,
did it?  He interrupted the other now.

"You are right, Mr. Marlin," he said gravely.  "I agree with everything
you have said.  It is a most serious situation.  I had no idea that
there existed any such vital and immediate necessity of realising cash
for every description of asset that we can lay our hands upon.  And I
had no idea of the immense potential value that this money here on the
table, for instance, possesses.  As you say, when the crash comes it
will be worth untold millions--a fabulous amount."

"Yes, yes!" agreed the old man excitedly.  He began to pat and fondle
the bundles of bank notes.  "Millions!  Millions!  Hundreds of
millions!"

"The amount is so vast," said Locke, still earnestly, "that I cannot
help thinking about what you said in reference to being followed out
there in the woods last night.  I don't think you should risk any
chance of being followed to-night when you have all this great wealth
with you, even though you are quite sure you have put whoever it may be
off the scent, and that he, or they, will be busy somewhere else.  I
don't think, if I were you, I would go out of the house again to-night."

The old madman straightened up, and for a moment stared at Locke; and
as he stared the red spots began to overspread his cheeks, and the
pupils of the blue eyes seemed to enlarge and darken.  And then with a
sudden sweep of his arms he gathered the bundles of bank notes
together, wrapped them up frantically in the oiled-silk covering, and
thrust the package under his dressing gown.

"Hah!"  His voice rose in a wild and savage scream.  "You think I
should stay in the house, do you?  Hah!  I see!  I see!  That is what
you want me to do, is it?  You want to trick me!  You are one of
them--one of them--one of them!  You could never find the money where I
hide it!  You could never open God's time-lock!  So you want me to keep
it in the house to-night where you can get it!  And you think that I am
a madman and cannot see what you are after!  You are one of them--one
of them that follows--follows everywhere--and watches--and watches!"

He burst into a wild peal of laughter--another and another.  He
clutched fiercely at the package under his dressing gown.  His face was
distorted.  His free hand pounded the table; saliva showed at the
corners of his lips.

"For God's sake, Mr. Marlin," cried Locke, "listen--"

"One of them!  One of them!" screamed the old man--and, turning
suddenly, dashed for the door.

Locke's chair overturned with a crash as he sprang to his feet, and,
darting around the table, started to follow--but the old maniac by now
was already at the door.  He saw the other's hand snatch at the
electric-light switch.  The aquarium was in sudden darkness.  He heard
the door slam.  He groped his way to it, and wrenched at it.

The old madman had locked it on the outside.



--VII--

THE FIGHT

For a moment, grim-lipped, Locke stood there at the door.  He had
accomplished exactly the opposite to what he had intended--the old man,
the money, were both in infinitely greater peril now than under almost
any other circumstances of which he could conceive.  He did not blame
himself--the vagaries, the impulses, the irrational promptings of an
insane mind were beyond his control or guidance.  It was the last thing
he had expected the old maniac to do.  But it was done now; it was too
late to consider that phase of it.  There was work for his own brain to
do--he hoped more logically.

He turned sharply now, and began to make his way as best he could in
the darkness toward the window at the end of that aisle of tanks
outside of which he knew the masked man had stood.  He dared not show
any light here, though by so doing he would have been able to move more
swiftly.  The man who had been at the window was almost certainly gone
now--to watch for the old maniac's appearance outside the house.  And
Mr. Marlin would assuredly, and as quickly as he could, scurry outside
to hide his money away again.  And even if the man in the mask had had
no previous knowledge of the old madman's strange nightly movements,
which would be a very unsafe assumption on which to depend, he would
have _heard_ enough at the window, if not to know, then, at least, to
expect that the old maniac's one thought now would be to secrete his
money, and that the hiding place, this time-lock that God had made, as
the old man had called it, was somewhere outside the house.  But the
watcher's new lurking place might still embrace a view of the window,
and if he, Locke, climbed out with the light behind him--

He was at the window now.  He smiled grimly.  He was pitted against no
fool--but then he never had been fool enough himself ever to place
Captain Francis Newcombe in that category!  The man in the mask had
left no tell-tale evidence of his presence behind him.  The shade was
drawn down; the window closed.

Locke lifted the shade now, raised the window quietly, and stood for an
instant listening, staring out.  He could see little or nothing, other
than the swaying branches of trees against the sky line; and there was
no sound save the sweep of the wind which was still blowing half a
gale.  And now he swung himself over the window sill, dropped the few
feet to the ground--and crouched against the wall, listening, staring
again into the blackness.

Nothing!  The moon, burrowing deeper under the clouds, made it even
blacker than it had been a moment ago.  He straightened up and began to
run toward the front of the house.  It was perhaps a case of
blindman's-buff, but there was not an instant to lose, and, deprived of
any aid from the sense of either sight or hearing, he was left with
only one thing to do.  From the living room window a little while ago,
he had seen Mr. Marlin _coming_ toward the house from across the lawn,
after having presumably just unearthed his money from its hiding place;
the chances were that it was by the same route the old maniac would
_return_ now.

Locke ran on, stumbling, half groping his way through what seemed a
veritable maze of out-buildings here at the rear of the house.  The
minutes seemed to be flying--wasted.  The old maniac, if he had left
the house the moment he had run from the aquarium, must by now have had
a good three minutes' start; and if the man in the mask had at once
picked up the trail, then--

No; he was not too late!  He had reached the front corner of the house
now, and across the lawn, where in the open space it was a little
lighter, something, a blacker thing than the darkness, moving swiftly,
caught his eye.  It was the figure of a man running toward the trees in
the direction of the path that led to the shore, and from which old Mr.
Marlin had emerged earlier in the evening.  And now the figure was
gone--lost in the trees.

But he, Locke, too, was running now, sprinting for all he knew across
the lawn.  It was perhaps sixty yards.  There was no time to use
caution and circuit warily around the edge of the woods.  He might be
seen--but he had to take that chance.  He would not be heard--the soft
grass and the whine of the wind guaranteed him against that.  It was a
little better than an even break.  The figure he had seen was not, he
was sure, that of the old maniac.  The long, flapping dressing gown
would, even in a shadowy way, have been distinguishable.  If he were
right, then, in his supposition, the figure he had seen was the man in
the mask, and old Mr. Marlin was already in there on the path leading
through the woods to the shore.  A cry, sudden, like a scream that was
strangled, came with the gusting wind.  It came again.  From the edge
of the lawn now, Locke leaped forward along the path.  Black, twisting
shapes loomed up just ahead of him.  He flung himself upon them.

A low, startled, vicious snarl answered his attack.  After that there
was no sound while perhaps a minute passed, save the rustle of leaves
and foliage, the _snip_ of broken twigs under swiftly moving, straining
feet.  Locke was fighting now with merciless, exultant ferocity.  It
was the man in the mask he was at grips with--it was not the dressing
gown alone, the _feel_ of it, that distinguished one from the other; he
had even in that first plunging rush in the darkness felt his hand
brush against the mask on the man's cheek.

It was all shadow, all blackness.  To this side and that, close locked
together, he and his antagonist now swayed madly.  The man's one
evident desire was to break away from his, Locke's, encircling arms;
his, Locke's, purpose not only to prevent escape, but to unmask the
other--the moon might come out again at any instant--filter through the
branches--just enough light to see the other's face if the mask were
off.

A peal of laughter rang out.  It was the old madman.  Locke, as he
fought, more sensed than saw the old man's form close to the ground, as
though the other were groping around on his hands and knees.  The peal
of laughter came again; and then the old maniac's voice in a triumphant
scream:

"I've got it!  I've got it!  Money!  Money!  Money!  Millions!
Millions!  Millions!  It's all here!  I've got it!  It's all--"

The voice was dying away in the distance.  Locke laughed a little with
grim, panting breath.  Whether it had been dropped or had been snatched
from him in the first attack, old Marlin had now obviously recovered
his package of bank notes.  He was gone now--running to hide it again,
of course.  In any event, the old maniac and his money were safe, and--

His antagonist had wrenched free an arm.  Locke's head jolted back
suddenly from a wicked short-arm blow that caught the point of his
chin.  A sensation of numbness seemed to be trying insidiously to creep
upward to his brain--but it did not reach that far--not quite that
far--only it loosened his grip for an instant and the shadowy form that
he had held appeared to be floating away from him.  And then, as his
brain cleared, he shot his body forward in a low, lunging tackle.  The
other almost eluded him, but his hands caught and clung to the man's
arm--both around one of the other's arms.  The man wrenched and
squirmed in a savage frenzy to tear himself free.  There was a sound of
the ripping and rending of cloth--something showed white in the
darkness--the other's sleeve had torn away at the armpit.

A white shirt sleeve!  It was a beacon in the blackness.  The man would
not get away now.  There was something more tangible than a
shadow--something to see.  In a flash Locke shifted his hold, and his
arms swept around the other, pinioning the man's hands to his
sides--tighter--tighter.  Neither spoke.  The only sounds were hoarse,
rasping gasps for breath.  Tighter!  He was bending the man backward
now--slowly--surely--a little more.  No--the man was too strong--the
pinioned arms were free again, and Locke felt them grip together like a
vise around the small of his own back.

They lurched now, swaying from side to side like drunken men.  The
mask!  To get at the mask!  They were locked together, the chin of one
on the other's shoulder--straining until the muscles cracked.  Locke
began to raise his head a little.  The hot breath of the other was on
his cheek now--and now his cheek rubbed against the other's mask.

An oath broke suddenly from the man--quick, muttered, the voice
unrecognisable in its laboured breathing; and the other, seeming to
sense his, Locke's, intention, suddenly relinquished his grip, snatched
for a throat-hold instead, and, missing, began then to tear at Locke's
arms in an effort to break away.

And then Locke laughed again grimly.  It would avail nothing to snatch
at the mask and get it off in the darkness here, if by so doing, with
his own hold on the other gone, the man should get away.  There was
another way to get the mask off--and still maintain his grip upon the
other!

They were holding now, seemingly as motionless as statues, the strength
of one matched against the other in a supreme effort.  The sweat broke
out in great beads on Locke's forehead; his arms seemed to be tearing
away from their sockets.  He could feel the muscles in the other's
neck, as it hugged against his own, swell and stand out like great
steel ridges.  And then slowly, inch by inch, he forced his own head
around until his face was against the other's cheek.  He could just
feel the mask now with his lips--another inch--yes, now he had it--his
teeth closed on the lower edge of the mask, chewed at it until he had a
still firmer grip--and then he suddenly wrenched his head backward.

The mask came away in Locke's teeth.  He spat it out.  The other was a
man gone mad with fury now; and with a new strength that fury brought
he strove only to strike and strike again--but Locke only closed his
hold the tighter.  To strike back was to take the chance of the other
breaking loose.  It was too dark to see the man's face, though the mask
was off now--but it could only be a few yards along the path to the
open space of the lawn out there--and the moon would not always be
fickle--it would break through the clouds, and--

They were rocking, lurching, twisting, swaying in their mad
struggle--and now they circled more widely--and branches snatched and
tore at them, and broke and fell from the trees at the sides of the
path.  And here Locke gave a step, and there another, working nearer
and nearer to the edge of the lawn.

And then suddenly there came a half-choked cry from the other.  The man
had tripped in the undergrowth.  Locke swung his weight to complete the
fall--tripped himself--and both, with their balance gone, but grappling
the fiercer at each other, pitched headlong with terrific force into
the trees at the side of the path.

And Locke was for an instant conscious of a great blow, of streaks of
fiery light that smote at his eyeballs with excruciating pain--and then
utter blackness came.

When he opened his eyes again a moonbeam lay along the path, and a
figure in a long dressing gown was passing by.  He was dreaming, wasn't
he?  There was a sick sensation in his head, a giddiness--and besides
that it gave him great pain.  He raised himself up cautiously on his
elbow, fighting to clear his mind--and suddenly his lips tightened
grimly.  There was something ironical in that moonbeam--something that
mocked him in disclosing a figure in a dressing gown instead of a face
that had been unmasked yet still could not be seen.  He looked around
him now.  He was lying a few feet in from the edge of the path, and
against the trunk of a large tree.  Yes, he remembered now.  His head
had struck against the tree and he had been knocked unconscious.  And
the man who had been masked was gone.

He rose to his feet.  He was very groggy--and for a moment he leaned
against the tree trunk for support.  The giddiness began to pass away.
That was old Mr. Marlin who had just gone by.  Well, neither the old
madman nor his money had come to any harm, anyway!  He stepped out on
the path, and from there to the edge of the lawn.  The old madman was
just disappearing around the corner of the verandah.

Locke put his hands to his eyes.  How his head throbbed!  How long had
he lain there unconscious?  He took out his watch.  His eyes seemed
blurred--or was it the meagreness of the moonlight?  He was not quite
sure, but it seemed to be ten minutes after three.  It wasn't very easy
to figure backward.  He did not know how long he and the old maniac had
been together in the aquarium, but, say, half an hour.  Starting then
at the hour of the rendezvous, which had been at a quarter past two,
that would bring it to a quarter of three; then, say, ten minutes for
what had happened afterward, including the fight, and that would make
it five minutes of three.  He must therefore have been lying in there
unconscious for at least fifteen minutes.

The man who had worn the mask was gone now--naturally.  But perhaps it
would not be so difficult to pick up the trail.  Captain Francis
Newcombe's room offered very promising possibilities--and there was a
torn coat sleeve that would not readily be replaced in fifteen minutes!

He made his way now across the lawn, and up the steps to the verandah.
He tried the front door.  It was locked.  Of course!  He had forgotten
that he had left the house by crawling out of the aquarium window.
There was no use going back that way because the old madman had locked
the aquarium door.  Mr. Marlin, though, had some means of entrance--and
if that door through which the man had so suddenly appeared in the back
hall meant anything, the entrance the old man used was likely to be
somewhere in the rear.  But Mr. Marlin would probably have locked that,
too, behind him.

He looked up and down the now moon-flecked verandah--and began to try
the French windows that opened upon it from the front rooms of the
house.  The first two were locked as he had expected.  It was only a
chance, but he might as well begin here as anywhere else.  He tried the
third one almost perfunctorily.  It opened at a touch.

"I'm in luck!" Locke muttered, and stepped inside.

He turned the knob to lock the French window behind him, and found the
bolt already thrown.  Queer!  He stood frowning for an instant, then
stooped and felt along the inside edge of the threshold.  The socket
that ordinarily housed the bolt-bar was gone.  The same condition
therefore obviously existed at the top, as the long bar had a double
throw.

He straightened up, a curious smile twitching at his lips now, and,
making his way silently to the stairs, he reached the upper hall, stole
along it to the door of his own room, and entered.  Here, from one of
his bags, he procured a revolver; and a moment later, his ear to the
panel, listening, he stood outside Captain Francis Newcombe's door.

There was no sound from within.  Softly he began to turn the door
handle--the door would hardly be locked; that would be a misplay; one
didn't lock one's bedroom door when a guest in a private house.  No; it
was not locked.  He had the door ajar now.  Again he listened.  There
was still no sound from within.  Was the man back yet, or not?  The
absence of any sound meant nothing, save that Newcombe was probably not
in the sitting room of his suite--he might easily, however, be in
either the bathroom or the bedroom beyond.

Locke swung the door a little wider open, stepped through, and closed
it noiselessly behind him.  Again he stood still, his revolver now
outthrust a little before him.  The moonlight played across the floor.
It disclosed an open door beyond.  Still no sound.

Locked moved forward.  He could see into the bedroom now.  The bed was
not only empty, but had not been slept in.  He turned quickly and
opened the bathroom door.  The bathroom, too, was empty.

Captain Francis Newcombe had not, then, as yet returned.  With a grim
smile Locke thrust his revolver into his pocket.  It was perhaps just
as well--the time while he waited might possibly be used to very good
advantage!  Captain Francis Newcombe's baggage was invitingly at one's
disposal--the _Talofa_, with its confined quarters, and where, on the
little vessel, it was always _crowded_, as it were, had offered no such
opportunity!

Locke opened one of the bags.  His smile now had changed to one of
irony.  Barring any other justification, turn about was no more than
fair play, was it?  He possessed a moral certainty, if he lacked the
actual proof, that Captain Francis Newcombe had not hesitated to invade
his, Locke's, cabin on the liner and go through his, Locke's, effects.

He laughed a little now in low, grim mirth.  He wondered which of the
two, Newcombe or himself, would be the better rewarded for his efforts?

There was little light, but Locke worked swiftly by the sense of touch,
with fingers that ignored the general contents, and that sought
dexterously for _hidden_ things.  His fingers traversed every inch of
the lining of the bag, top, bottom and sides.  He disturbed nothing.

Presently he laid the bag aside, and started on another--and suddenly
he nodded his head sharply in satisfaction.  This one was what was
generally known as a Gladstone bag, and under the lining at one side
his fingers felt what seemed like a folded paper that moved under his
touch.  The lining was intact, of course, but there must be some way of
getting in underneath it--yes, here it was!  Rather clever!  And
ordinarily quite safe--unless one were actually looking for something
of the sort!  There was a flap, or pocket, at the side of the bag, the
ordinary sort of thing, and at the bottom of the flap Locke's fingers,
working deftly, found that the edges of the lining, while apparently
fastened together, were made, in reality, into a double fold--the
lining being stiff enough, even when the edges were displaced, to fall
back of its own accord into place again.

He separated the edges now, worked his fingers into the opening, and
drew out an envelope.  It had been torn open at one end, and there was
a superscription of some sort on it in faded writing which, in the
semi-darkness, he could not make out.  He stood up, and went quickly to
the window to obtain the full benefit of the moonlight.  He could just
decipher the writing now:

  "Polly's papers which is God's truth,
    Mrs. Wickes X her mark."


For a moment he stood there motionless--but his eyes had lifted from
the envelope now and were fixed on the lawn below.  The window here
gave on the side of the lawn with the trees at the rear of the house in
view.  A man had just stepped out from the shadow of the trees and was
coming toward the house.

Locke stared, even the envelope in his hand temporarily forgotten, as a
frown of perplexity that deepened into amazed chagrin gathered on his
forehead.  The figure was quite recognisable, even minutely so.  It was
Captain Francis Newcombe.  It accounted for the missing sockets on that
French window perhaps--but the man was as perfectly and immaculately
dressed as he had been that night at dinner.  There was no torn
coat--on missing coat sleeve.  The man he had fought with, the man in
the mask, had not been Captain Francis Newcombe.

He laughed now--not pleasantly.  He had obviously been waiting here for
the wrong man.  There was no need of waiting any longer--unless he
desired to be caught himself!  Queer!  Strange!  But there was the
envelope.  Polly's papers!  What was it that was "God's truth"?  At
least, he would find that out!

He thrust the envelope into his pocket, closed the bag, and returned to
his own room.  He switched on the light, hurriedly took the envelope
from his pocket again, and from it drew out two documents.  He studied
them while minute after minute passed, then dropping them on the table
before him, he stood with drawn face and clenched fists staring across
the room.  Polly's birth certificate!  The marriage certificate of her
parents!  He saw again the agony in the dark eyes, he heard again the
agony in the voice that had proclaimed a parentage outside the pale.
And a great oath came now from Locke's white lips.

He flung himself into a chair beside the table.  He fought for cool,
contained reasoning.  These papers--Newcombe!  Did it change anything,
place Newcombe in any better light, because it was some other man who
had worn that mask to-night?  He shook his head in quick, emphatic
dissent.  It did not!  He was sure, certain of that.  The trail led too
far back, was too well defined, too conclusive.  And even to-night!
What was Newcombe doing out of the house at three o'clock in the
morning?  Ah, yes--he had it!  The old maniac's words came back with
sudden and sure significance: "Digging--digging--digging....  The wrong
scent....  The hut in the woods at the rear of the house."

Locke gnawed savagely at his lips.  That was where Newcombe had come
from--the woods at the rear of the house.  It meant that Newcombe was
the one who had been tricked by the old madman's cunning, which could
never have happened if Newcombe had not been stealthily trying to find
the hidden money; it simply meant that Newcombe was the one who had
been on the wrong scent--and that some one else had been on the right
one!

His face was set in lines like chiselled marble now.  Who was this
"some one else"?  Was the question very hard to answer?  The field was
very limited--_significantly_ limited now!  He wasn't wrong, was he?
He couldn't be wrong!  And there was always the torn sleeve!

Locke's eyes fixed upon the two documents on the table again.  Captain
Francis Newcombe!  No; it did not make Newcombe any the less a guilty
man because it was not he who had worn the mask to-night.  Newcombe
stood out sharply defined against the light of evidence which, if only
circumstantial, was strong enough to damn the man a thousand times over
for what he was.  And here, adding to that evidence, was the proof that
Polly's identity had been, and was being, deliberately concealed from
her.  It opened a vista to uglier and still more evil things--things
that only a soul dead to decency, black as the pit of hell, could have
conceived and patiently put into execution.  A child--a gutter-snipe,
Polly had called herself--_rescued_ from naked poverty and the slums of
Whitechapel by a man such as Newcombe, whose only promptings were the
promptings of a fiend!  Why?  Was there room to question further why
Captain Francis Newcombe had years ago adopted such a ward--when now
before one's eyes those years were bearing their poison fruit?  Polly's
introduction into this family here was even at this moment being traded
upon to effect the theft of half a million dollars.  That was too
obvious now to permit denial.  Newcombe was making of a girl,
high-minded, pure-souled, a hideous cat's-paw.  Yes, yes!  All that was
clear enough!  But why should Polly have been deprived of her rightful
name, her claim to honest parentage?  Was it to weld a stronger bond of
gratitude--or make her the more helpless, and therefore the more
dependent upon her guardian?  Where were these parents?  Dead or
living?  There was Mrs. Wickes--Mrs. Wickes, who had posed as the
mother!  Well, there were certain quarters in London where those who
strayed outside the law could be made to talk.  Mrs. Wickes should be
able to furnish very interesting information.  It was not far to
Whitechapel and London--by cable.

His mind, his brain, worked on--but now suddenly in turmoil and misery
despite all effort of his to hold himself in check.

Polly!  Polly _Gray_!

She loved this monster--that she thought a man, and called her
guardian.  Not the love of a maid for lover; but with the love, the
honour, the respect and gratitude that she would give a cherished
father.

The truth would break her heart.  The love her friends had given her,
turned to their own undoing!  The shame would be torture; the
self-degradation, the abasement that she would know, would be beyond
the bearing.  Her faith would be a shattered thing!

Locke's clenched hands lay outspread across the table.  He drew them
suddenly together and dropped his head upon them.

"And you love her," he whispered to himself.  "Do you know what that is
going to mean?  You did not count on that, did you?  Do you know where
that will lead?  Do you know the consequences?"

He answered his own questions.

"No," he said numbly; "I don't know what it is going to mean.  I know I
love her."



--VIII--

THE MESSAGE

Polly Wickes, from her pillow, stared into the darkness.  There had
been no thought of sleep; it did not seem as though there ever could be
again.  She had undressed and gone to bed--but she had done this
mechanically, because at night one went to bed, because she had always
gone to bed.

Not to sleep!

The tears blinding her eyes, she had groped her way up the stairs from
the living room where she had left Howard Locke, and somehow she had
reached her room.  That was hours and hours ago.  Surely the daylight
would come soon now; surely it would soon be morning.  She wanted the
daylight, she wanted the morning, because the darkness and the
stillness seemed to accentuate a terrible and merciless sense of
isolation that had come so swiftly, so suddenly into her life--to
overturn, to dominate, to stupefy, to cast contemptuously aside the
dreams and thoughts and hopes of happiness and contentment.  And yet,
though she yearned for the morning, she even dreaded it more.  How
could she meet Howard Locke--at breakfast?  She couldn't.  She wouldn't
go down to breakfast.

The small hands came from under the coverings, and clasped themselves
tightly about the aching head--and she turned and buried her face in
the pillow.  She might easily, very easily evade breakfast--and
postpone the inevitable for a few minutes, even a few hours.  Why did
she grasp at pitiful subterfuges such as that?

_She was nameless_.

That phrase had come hours ago.  It had scorched itself upon her
brain--as a branding iron at white heat sears its imprint upon
quivering flesh, never to be effaced, always to endure.  She was
nameless.  It wasn't that she had not always known it--she always had.
But it meant now what it had never meant before.  Until now it had been
as something that, since it must be borne, she had striven to bear with
what courage was hers, and, denying its right to embitter life, had
sought to imprison it in the dim recesses of her mind--but now in an
instant it had broken its bonds to stand forth exposed in all its
ugliness; no longer captive, but a vengeful captor, claiming its
miserable right from now on to control and dominate her life.

She had thought of love--it would have been unnatural if she had not.
But she had never loved, and therefore she had thought of it only in an
abstract way.  Dream love--fancies.  But she loved now--she loved this
man who had so suddenly come into her life--she loved Howard Locke.
And happinesss, greater than she had realised happiness could ever be,
had unfolded itself to her gaze, and, love had become a vibrant,
personal thing, so wonderful, so tender and so glad a thing, that
beside it all the world was little and insignificant and empty; but
even as the glory of it, and the joy of it had burst upon her, she had
been obliged to turn away from it--not very bravely, for the tears had
scalded her as she had run from the living room--because there was no
other thing to do, because it was something that was not hers to have.

She could never be the wife of any man.

She was nameless.

Why had she ever found it out!  It might so easily have been that she
would have never known.  That--that no one need ever have known!  She
was sure that even her guardian did not know.

She smothered her face deeper in the pillow as she cried out in
anguish.  She could have had happiness then--and--and it would have
been honourable for her to have taken it, wouldn't it?

She lay quiet for a little while.  No; that was cowardly, selfish.  If
she really loved this man, she should be glad for his sake that she
knew the truth, glad now of the day when she had found it out.  She
remembered that day.  It seemed to live more vividly before her now
than it ever had before.  Mrs. Wickes--her mother--had--had been
drinking.  The words had been a slip of the tongue; a slip that her
mother, owing to her condition at the time, had not even been conscious
of.  Mrs. Wickes had been garrulously recounting some sordid crime that
had remained famous even amongst its many fellows in Whitechapel, and,
in placing the date, had stated it was two years after Mr. Wickes had
died.  Later on, in the same garrulous account, she had again referred
to the date, but had placed it this time by saying that she, Polly, was
a baby not more than a month old when it had happened.

And on that day when she had listened to her mother's tale she had
still been but a child--in years.  She could not have been more than
twelve--but she was very old for twelve.  The slums of London had seen
to that.  And so, the next day, when her mother had been more herself,
she had asked Mrs. Wickes, more out of a precocious curiosity perhaps
than anything else, for an explanation.  Mrs. Wickes had flown into a
furious rage.

"Mind yer own business!" Mrs. Wickes had screamed at her.  "The likes
of you a-slingin' mud at yer mother!  Wot you got to complain of?
Ain't I takin' care of you?  If ever you says another word I'll break
yer back!"

She had never said another word.  In one sense she had not been
different from any other child of twelve then, and it had not naturally
caused any change in her feelings toward her mother; nor in the after
years, with their fuller light of understanding, had it ever changed or
abated her love for the mother with whom she had shared hardship and
distress and want.  She thanked God for that now.  Her mother might
have been one to inspire little love and little of respect in others;
but to her, Polly, when she had parted from her mother to come here to
America, she had parted from the only human being in all the world she
had ever loved, or who, in turn, had ever showed affection for her.
She had never ceased to love her mother; instead, she had perhaps been
the better able to understand, and even to add sympathy to love and to
know a great pity, where bitterness and resentment and unforgiveness
might otherwise have been, because she, too, had lived in those drab
places where the urge of self-preservation alone was the standard that
measured ethics, where one fought and snatched at anything, no matter
from where or by what means it came, that kept soul and body
together--because she could look out on that life, not as one apart,
but with the eyes of one who once had been a--a guttersnipe.

And now?

Now that this crisis in her life had come--what now?  She did not know.
She had been trying to think calmly, but her brain would not obey
her--it was crushed, stunned.  It ached even in a physical way,
frightfully, and--

She raised her head suddenly from the pillow in a sort of incredulous
amazement--and immediately afterward sat bolt upright in bed.  The
telephone here in her room was ringing.  At this hour!  Her heart
suddenly seemed to stop beating.  Something--something must be
wrong--something must have happened--Dora--Mr. Marlin!

It was still ringing--ringing insistently.

She sprang from the bed, and, running to the 'phone, snatched the
receiver from its hook.

"Yes, yes?" she answered breathlessly.  "What is it?"

A voice came over the wire; a man's voice, rising and falling creepily
in a sing-song, mocking sort of way:

"Is that you, Polly--Polly Wickes--Polly Wickes--Polly
Wickes--Wickes--Wickes--P-o-l-l-y W-i-c-k-e-s?"

It frightened her.  She felt the blood ebb from her cheeks.  There was
something horribly familiar in the voice--but she could not place it.
Her hand reached out to the wall for support.

"Yes"--she tried to hold her voice in control, to answer
steadily--"yes; I am Polly Wickes.  Who are you?  What do you want?"

She heard the sound as of a gust of wind from a door that was suddenly
blown open, the beat of the sea, then the slam of a door--and then the
voice again:

"Polly--Polly Wickes."  The words seemed to be choked now with
malicious laughter.  "Why don't you dress in black, Polly Wickes--Polly
Wickes--for your mother, Polly Wickes?"

"What do you mean?" she cried frantically.  "Who are you?  Who are you?
What do you mean?"

There was no answer.

She kept calling into the 'phone.

Nothing!  No reply!  The voice was gone.

She stood there staring wildly through the darkness.  Black ... for her
mother ... dead!  No, no ... it couldn't be true!  That voice ... yes,
it was like the horrible voice that had called out the other night ...
she knew now why it was familiar....

Terror-stricken, the receiver dropped from her hand.

Dead!  Her mother dead!  It couldn't be true!  She began to grope
around her.  The chair--her dressing gown.  Her hands felt the garment.
She snatched it up, flung it around her, and stumbled to the door and
along the hall to Captain Francis Newcombe's room.  And here she
knocked mechanically, but, without listening for response, opened the
door, and, stumbling still in a blind way, crossed the threshold.

"Guardy!  Guardy!  Oh, guardy!" she sobbed out.

Captain Francis Newcombe was not asleep.  Quite apart from the fact
that he had only got to bed but a very short while before, the cards
that night had gone too badly against him, and there was a savage sense
of fury upon him that would not quiet down.  And now, as he heard his
door open and heard Polly call, he was out of bed and into a dressing
gown in an instant.  Polly out there in his sitting room--at half-past
four in the morning!  And she was sobbing.  She sobbed now as he heard
her call again:

"Guardy!  Guardy!  Oh, guardy!"

This was queer--damned queer!  His face was suddenly set in the
darkness as he crossed the bedroom floor--but his voice was quiet,
cool, reassuring, as he answered her: "Right-o, Polly!  I'm coming!"

He switched on the light as he entered the sitting room.  It brought a
quick, startled cry over the sobs.

"Oh, please, guardy!" she faltered out.  "I--I--_please_ turn off the
light."

"Of course!" he said quietly--and it was dark in the room again.

He had caught a glimpse of a little figure crouching just inside the
door--a little figure with white, strained face, with great, wondrous
masses of hair tumbling about her shoulders, with hands that clasped
some filmy drapery tightly across her bosom, and small, dainty feet
that were bare of covering.  And as he moved toward her now across the
room, another mood took precedence over the savagery he had just been
nursing--a mood no holier.  It might be queer, this visit of hers; but
that glimpse of her, alluring, intimate, of a moment gone, had set his
blood afire again--and far more violently than it had on that first
occasion when he had seen her here on the island two nights ago.  It
brought again to the fore the question that, through a cursed nightmare
of happenings, had almost since that time lain dormant.  Was he going
to let Locke have her--or was he going to keep her for himself?  How
far had she gone with Locke?  They had been a lot together.  Well, that
mattered little--if he wanted her for himself he would _make_ the way
to get her, Locke and hell combined to the contrary!  The
woman--against her potential value as somebody else's wife!  Damn it,
that was the wonder of her--that she could even hold her own when
weighed on such scales.  There were lots of women.

He had reached her now, and touched her, found her hand and taken it in
his own.  "What is it, Polly?" he asked gently.  "What's the matter?"

"It's--it's mother," she whispered brokenly.  "The telephone in my room
rang a few minutes ago, and some one--a man--and, oh, guardy, I'm sure
it was the same voice that we heard when we were in the woods the night
before last--asked me why I didn't wear black for my mother.  It--it
couldn't mean anything else but--but that mother is dead.  Oh, guardy,
guardy!  How could he know, guardy?  How could he know?"

Captain Francis Newcombe made no movement, save to place his arm around
the thinly clad shoulders, and draw the little figure closer to him.
It was dark here, she could not have seen his face anyway, but it was
composed, calm, tranquil.  Perhaps the lips straightened a little at
the corners--nothing more.  But the brain of the man was working at
lightning speed.  Here was disaster, ruin, exposure if he made the
slightest slip.  Again, eh?  This was the fourth time this devil from
the pit had shown his hand!  The reckoning would be adequate!  But how
was he to answer Polly?  Quick!  She must not notice any hesitation.
Tell her that Mrs. Wickes was dead?  He had a ready explanation on his
tongue, formulated days ago, to account for having withheld that
information.  Seize this opportunity to tell her that Mrs. Wickes was
not her mother?  No!  Impossible!  He had meant to use all this to his
advantage, and in his own good time.  It was too late now.  He was left
holding the bag!  If he admitted that Mrs. Wickes was dead, he admitted
that there was some one on this island whose mysterious presence, whose
mysterious knowledge, must cause a furor, a search, with possible
results that at any hazard he dared not risk.  Polly would tell
Locke--Dora--everybody.  It was impossible!  But against this, sooner
or later, Polly must know of Mrs. Wickes' death, and--  Bah!  Was he
become a child, the old cunning gone?  He would keep her for a while
from England--travel--anything--and, months on, the word would come
that Mrs. Wickes was dead, and found in the old hag's effects would be
Polly's papers.  The one safe play, the _only_ play, was not alone to
reassure the girl now, but to keep her mouth shut.  Above all to keep
her mouth shut!  But--how?  How?  Yes!  He had it now!  His soul began
to laugh in unholy glee.  His voice was grave, earnest, tender,
sympathetic.

"He couldn't have known, Polly," he said.  "That is at once evident on
the face of it.  How could any one on this little out-of-the-way island
possibly know a thing like that when I, who am the only one who _could_
know, and who have just come direct from England, know it to be untrue.
Don't you see, Polly?"

He had drawn her head against his shoulder, stroking back the hair from
her forehead.  She raised it now quickly.

"Yes, guardy!" she said eagerly.  "I--I see; and I'm so glad I came to
you at once.  But--but it is so strange, and--and it still frightens me
terribly.  I don't understand.  I--I can't understand.  Why should any
one ring the telephone in my room at this hour, and--and tell me a
thing like that if it were not true?"

"Or even if it were true--at such an hour, or in such a manner," he
injected quietly.  "Tell me exactly what happened, Polly."

"I think I've told you everything," she said.  "I don't think there was
anything else.  When I answered the 'phone, the voice asked if I were
Polly Wickes, and kept on repeating my name over and over again in a
horrible, crazy, sing-songy way, and then I heard a sound as though a
door had been blown open by the wind, and I could hear the waves
pounding, and then the door was evidently slammed shut again, and the
voice said what I--I have told you about wearing black for my mother.
And then I couldn't hear anything more, and I couldn't get any answer,
though I called again and again into the 'phone.  Oh, guardy, I can't
understand!  I--I'm sure it was the same voice as that other night.
What does it mean?  Guardy, what should we do?  Who could it be?"

A door blown open by the wind!  The pound of the waves!  Where was
there a telephone that would measure up to those requirements?  Not in
the house!  Captain Francis Newcombe smiled grimly in the darkness.
The private installation was restricted to the house and its immediate
surroundings.  Therefore the boathouse!  The boathouse had a 'phone
connection.  And there was still an hour or more to daybreak!  But
first to shut Polly's mouth.

"Polly," he said gravely, measuring his words, "I haven't the slightest
doubt but that it was the same voice we heard in the woods; in fact,
I'm quite sure of it.  And I'm equally sure now that I know who it is."

She drew back from him in a quick, startled way.

"But, guardy, you said it was only some one catcalling to--"

"Yes; I know," he interrupted seriously.  "But I did not tell you what
I was really suspicious of all along.  With what I had to go on then,
it did not seem that I had any right to do so.  It's quite a different
matter now, however, after what has happened to-night."

"Yes?" she prompted anxiously.

"There can be only two possible explanations," he said.  "Either some
one is playing a cruel hoax; or it is the work of an unhinged mind, an
irrational act, a phase of insanity that--"

"Guardy!" she cried out sharply.  "You mean--"

"Yes," he said steadily; "I do, Polly.  And there can really be no
question about it at all.  Can you imagine any one doing such a thing
merely from a perverted sense of humour?--any one of us here?--for it
must have been some one of us who is connected with the household in
order to have had access to a telephone.  It is unthinkable, absurd,
isn't it?  On the other hand, the hour, the irresponsible words, their
'crazy' mode of expression, as you yourself said, the motiveless
declaration of a palpable untruth, all stamp it as the work of one who
is not accountable for his actions--of one who is literally insane.
And then the fact that you recognised the voice as the one we heard two
nights ago is additional proof, if such were needed, which it very
obviously is not.  You remember that we had seen Mr. Marlin in his
dressing gown disappear under the verandah a few minutes before we
heard the calls and cries and wild, insane laughter.  My first thought
then was that it was Mr. Marlin, and I was afraid that either harm had,
or might, come to him.  I sent you at once back to the house, and I ran
into the woods to look for him.  I did not find him; and, therefore, as
there was always the possibility then that I had been mistaken, I felt
that I should not alarm any of you here, and particularly Miss Marlin,
by suggesting that Mr. Marlin's condition was decidedly worse than even
it was supposed to be.  Is it quite plain, Polly?  I do not think we
have very far to look for the one who telephoned you to-night."

He could just see her in the darkness, a little white, shadowy form, as
she stood slightly away from him now.  One of her hands was pressed in
an agitated way to her face and eyes; the other still held tightly to
the throat of her dressing gown.

"Oh, yes, it's plain, guardy," she whispered miserably.  "It's--it's
too plain.  Poor, poor Mr. Marlin!  What are we to do?  It would hurt
Dora terribly if she knew her father had done this.  I--I can't tell
her."

"Of course, you can't," said Captain Francis Newcombe gravely.  "Your
position is even more delicate than mine was the other night.  I do not
see that you can do anything--except to say nothing about it to any one
for the present."

"Yes," she agreed numbly.

She began to move toward the door.

"It's not likely to happen again," said Captain Francis Newcombe
reassuringly; "and, anyway, you can make sure it won't by just leaving
the receiver off the hook.  Do that, Polly."  And then, solicitously:
"But you're not frightened any more now, are you, Polly?  A mystery
explained loses its terror, doesn't it?  And, besides, the main thing
was to know that your mother was all right."

"My mother--"

He thought he heard her catch her breath in a quick, sudden half sob.

"It's all right, Polly," he said hastily.  "Don't think of that part of
it any more.  Everything's all right."

"Yes; I--I know."  Her voice was very low.  "It's--all right.
I--good-night, guardy."

She had opened the door.

"I'll see you to your room," he said.

"No," she answered; "I'm not frightened any more.  Good--good-night,
guardy."

"Good-night, Polly," he said.

The door closed.

Captain Francis Newcombe stood in the darkness.  And for a moment he
did not move--but the mask was gone now, and the laughter that came low
from his lips was a mirthless sound, and the working face was black
with fury.  And then he turned, and with a bound was back in the
bedroom, and snatching at his clothes began to dress.

There was still an hour to daybreak.



BOOK III: THE PENALTY



--I--

THE WHITE SHIRT SLEEVE

An hour to daybreak!  Passion, unchecked and unrestrained, was stamped
on Captain Francis Newcombe's face as he dressed now with savage,
ferocious haste.  He swore and snarled, making low venomous sounds in
the fury that possessed him.  There was no longer room for the fear
that last night, here in his rooms, had gnawed at his soul itself--the
fear of the _unknown_; there was no longer room for fear in any sense,
whether born of the intangible, or whether it knew its source in man,
or God, or devil--there was only _murder_, that alone, in his heart.

The blows were coming nearer and nearer home.  Too near!  And his
efforts to strike one in return had resulted in little to boast about
so far!  Disaster, ruin, that dangling gibbet chain, were inevitable if
this went on.  He had been _too_ cautious perhaps!  Well, that was
ended now!  He swore again--bitter, sacrilegious in his rage.  The luck
had been running against him.  Even an old fool had tricked him--even a
maniac, a cracked-brained idiot, and one almost in his dotage besides,
had tricked him!  Last night after he had read that infernal message at
the hut he had made no effort to uncover the madman's horde--he had
lain there waiting.  Hours of waiting, patient waiting--listening--his
revolver in his hand--the one chance that the unknown might not have
gone away, might have lingered, hidden in the foliage, to gloat--_and
die_.  He had waited in vain.  To-night he had gone back to the hut
only to find after hours of search that the old madman's money,
wherever else it might be, was not there.  And then he had returned
here--and again the unknown had struck swiftly, viciously, cunningly.

When, where, how would the next blow fall?--unless he could now strike
the quicker, and strike surely!  How much farther was it to the abyss
of exposure?  To-night he had stood perilously close to its edge,
hadn't he?  If he had not been able to pull the wool over Polly's eyes
with the specious explanation that it was old Marlin who had
telephoned, he would--

He stood suddenly motionless, tense, with his coat half on, his working
lips drawn for the moment tight together.  Had it been, after all,
merely a _specious_ explanation?  Was he so sure that it _wasn't_ old
Marlin, after all, who had telephoned?  The old madman was cunning;
and, granting that fact as a premise, his act last night in pretending
to go to his money in the hut must have been prompted by suspicion of
some sort.  The money had never been in that hut.  The bit of flooring
that was loose was flush with the ground beneath, and the ground had
never been disturbed--and this was true of everywhere else in the hut.
The old maniac, then, was suspicious that he was being followed by
somebody, and had set a false trail.  Of whom would he be suspicious?
The question answered itself.  The newcomers on the island, of course.
And, being suspicious of them, he would want to drive them away.  To
frighten Polly into the belief that her mother was dead might very
easily appeal to an insane brain, and even to one that wasn't, as a
very clever and effective means of accomplishing this end
surreptitiously.  Polly might very logically be expected in her grief
to wish to bring her visit here to an end, even if she did not, indeed,
insist on returning to England at once--and the result would be that
all who had come here, Locke, Runnells and himself, would naturally
leave with her.  Why not?  The madman was certainly cunning enough; he
could have telephoned--and the motive was there.

No!  With an angry, self-contemptuous snarl, Captain Francis Newcombe
jerked on his coat.  Was he trying to qualify for an insane asylum
himself?  The old maniac _could_ have done this to-night, otherwise the
explanation made to Polly would have been merely an absurdity; but old
Marlin had not been on the liner and could not have fired that shot
through the cabin window--nor could the old man have known, as
instanced by that voice in the woods, that he, Newcombe, was Shadow
Varne--or known anything of the murder of Sir Harris Greaves.  The man
who had telephoned to-night--making the fourth mysterious blow that had
been struck--was the man who had showed his hand on those three former
occasions.  This was so blatantly obvious that to have allowed his
brain to shoot off at a tangent so idiotic but increased his anger now.

He sneered at himself as he finished dressing.  There was only one man
on the island who could be made to fit into each and every one of the
four niches.  Runnells!  Runnells _had_ been on board ship, even though
at the time Runnells had apparently been asleep; Runnells was in a
position to know, and to know what now appeared to be certainly _too
much_, about Shadow Varne; and Runnells, though the man could _prove_
nothing, was, more than any one else, in a position to entertain
suspicions in reference to the murder of the baronet who meddled so
gratuitously with the affairs of others.

Captain Francis Newcombe slipped a flashlight and a revolver into his
pocket, and made for the door of his room.  Quite so!  All this was
nothing new--no new angle--he had mulled this over a hundred times
before.  But up to now he had held his hand--and for two very good
reasons.  In the first place, he had not been able to bring himself to
believe that it was Runnells, for he could not see where Runnells would
profit by any such game; and, secondly, as he had already argued with
himself, should it not prove to be Runnells, he almost inevitably
disclosed his own hand and his real purpose in coming here to Manwa
Island, and it would in that case make a partner of Runnells--and
partners shared in the profits!  But the time for hesitation on any
such score as that was gone now; not only because the ice he was
treading on, already thin, had nearly broken through to-night, and the
promise of imminent and final disaster was forcing his hand, but
because, in respect of Runnells, the absence of apparent
motive--Runnells would be made to explain that!--counted for nothing
now in view of the fact that he, Newcombe, had more to go on to-night
than he had had before.  Not only was Runnells one who fitted into the
role of the "unknown" on each of the four occasions, but Runnells, as
though to clear the matter of all doubt, knew what surely no one else
on the island could possibly know--that Mrs. Wickes _actually_ was
dead.  He, Newcombe, had himself to blame for that, and it appeared now
that he had trusted Runnells too far; but somebody had had to bury the
old hag.  Not Captain Francis Newcombe!  To have left her in the status
of a pauper for the authorities, or the Mission Boards, or any of that
ilk to have taken care of, and in view of the fact that it must have
been known amongst her neighbours that she had for a long time received
money from somewhere, talk, comment, investigation, official this and
official that would have been invited.  It might have amounted to
nothing--but if a rock that is held in one's hand is not thrown into
the calm waters of a pool the placid surface is not disturbed!  He had
delegated Runnells to interview the undertaker and arrange for the
quiet and unostentatious disposal of Mrs. Wickes' mortal remains.
Runnells, for the time being, did very well as a nephew of the
deceased, who, though in neither close nor loving touch with his
somewhat questionable relation, at least recognised the family tie to
the extent of paying for her very modest and unpretentious obsequies.

Captain Francis Newcombe crept quietly along the hall now.  Runnells'
room, thanks to the hospitable thoughtfulness of Miss Marlin, in order
that the "man" might be nearer at hand and therefore the better able to
serve his "master," was not in the servants' quarters, but was at the
extreme end of the hall here just at the head of the stairs.  Captain
Francis Newcombe's hand felt along the wall to guide him in the
darkness.  He had no desire to stumble over anything and arouse
anybody; Locke, or Dora Marlin, for instance--and he had not forgotten
that Polly was probably lying wide awake.  The only one to be aroused
was Runnells--and that very quietly.  Runnells was a professional
criminal, not a particularly clever one, but possessed, where a
question of self-preservation was concerned, of a certain low cunning
born of his hazardous career, a cunning that was not to be ignored.
Cornered here in his room, for instance, Runnells, though quite well
aware that he, Captain Francis Newcombe, would have no more hesitation
about putting an end to him than an end to an obnoxious fly, would be
equally well aware that here in the house he was possessed of a defence
that rendered him invulnerable because no threat could be put into
execution in silence, and that a cry, a shout, and, if necessary, to
those who came to his succour, a confession of his own past misdeeds in
order to prove his alliance with, and implicate his "master" in
criminal intrigue, would protect him--for the moment--utterly.

But he, Captain Francis Newcombe, had no intention of making any such
unpardonable misplay as that!  Runnells would never look down the
barrel of a revolver with a confidence born of the fact that the
trigger dared not be pulled; Runnells would never feel a grip upon his
throat and still be able to defy the clutching fingers because he knew
they feared the cry, the gasp, the _noise_ of strangulation.  It would
not be in Runnells' room that the man would lay bare his soul through
fear to-night!  Runnells would be played as a fish is played!

Captain Francis Newcombe was halfway along the hall now.  His mind,
despite the fury that from smouldering rage had broken into flaming
heat, was logical, measured, precise.  That telephone message could
have come from nowhere else but from the boathouse.  That was
self-evident.  If Runnells, then, was at the bottom of this, the
question now was whether Runnells had got back to his room yet or not?
And, if he were back, how long he had been back?--the man must be
allowed to undress and get into bed.  To discover Runnells fully
dressed at this hour was to force the issue then and there in Runnells'
room; for Runnells, caught like that, while he might be voluble with
explanations, would of necessity at the same time be thrown instantly
upon his guard, and would not be fool enough to be enticed into any
trap, no matter how apparently genuine the pretence of accepting his
explanations might be made to appear.

Captain Francis Newcombe was at the door now listening.  Runnells
_would_ have had time by now to have got to bed; certainly there was no
sound from within, and--  He drew back from the door suddenly, but as
silently as a shadow.  There was no sound from within, but some one was
creeping, though with every attempt at silence, up the staircase.
Captain Francis Newcombe retreated still a little farther back along
the hall, and, with body hugged now close against the wall, waited in
the darkness.  He could see nothing--not even across the hall; and,
therefore, he was quite secure from being observed himself, but his
hand, in his pocket now, was closed over the butt of his revolver.

The sounds were very faint, but they were equally unmistakable--now the
muffled, protesting creak of a stair tread; now that sound, like no
other sound so much as the padded footfall of an animal, as weight was
cautiously placed on the carpeted stairs.  The footsteps came nearer
and nearer to the upper landing, slow, laborious in their caution and
stealth.  And then another sound--equally faint and equally
unmistakable--the opening and closing of the door at the head of the
stairs.

Captain Francis Newcombe relaxed.  His lips twisted into a smile of
malignant satisfaction.

Runnells!

So it _was_ Runnells who had indulged in that little telephone
conversation; Runnells, the pitiful, foolhardy moth--and the flame!
Runnells, instead of being already in bed, was just getting back.  So
much the better--it would tax Runnells' ingenuity a little beyond its
limitations to explain this unseemly hour!  It made it perhaps just a
little easier to handle and _break_ the man.

Captain Francis Newcombe moved silently back again to the door of
Runnells' room, and again listened at the panels.  The sound of
movement from within was distinctly audible.  Runnells was preparing to
go to bed.

The minutes passed--five--ten of them.  It was quiet inside the room
now.  And then Captain Francis Newcombe knocked softly with his
knuckles on the door--two raps in quick succession, then a single one
followed by two more.

There was a sound almost on the instant as of the sudden creaking of
the bed, and then the hurry of feet across the floor to the door.  Then
silence again.  Captain Francis Newcombe smiled thinly to himself.
Runnells was caution itself.  He repeated the knocks precisely as
before.

The door opened.  Runnells showed as a white, vague figure in his night
clothes.

"What's up?" whispered Runnells anxiously.

"I'm afraid we've been spotted," said Captain Francis Newcombe tersely.

"Spotted!"  Runnells echoed the word with a gulp.  "Who by?"

"Some swine from the Yard, I suppose," replied Captain Francis Newcombe
as tersely as before.  "Do you remember Detective-Sergeant Mullins?"

"Him?" gasped Runnells.  "My Gawd, he ain't followed us here, has he?
Strike me pink!  My Gawd!  I said all along it was damned queer him
showing up at the rooms that night.  Are you sure?"

"Not yet--and I never will be if you stand there gawking," said Captain
Francis Newcombe sharply.  "Go and get your clothes on--and hurry up
about it!  It'll soon be daylight.  Every minute counts.  Meet me down
on the verandah."

He did not wait for Runnells' reply.  It was not necessary.  Runnells
had swallowed bait, hook and line.  Captain Francis Newcombe indulged
in a low, savage chuckle, as, descending the stairs, he unlocked the
front door and stepped quietly out on the verandah.  He had not lunged
in the dark, nor was it chance that had prompted him to endow his bogey
with the personality of Detective-Sergeant Mullins--he had not
forgotten Runnells' white face on the occasion when the man from
Scotland Yard had sent in his card!

And now as he waited on the verandah, the low, savage chuckle came
again.  The boathouse would serve admirably--since Runnells seemed to
have a penchant for it!  It was far enough away to obviate the
possibility of any sound carrying to the house; and, inside, it
possessed light.  He wanted light when he handled Runnells!  Quite
apart from the fact that darkness in itself afforded too many chances
for a lucky escape, he could not _read_ Runnells in the darkness.
Also, affording him a malicious delight, there was exquisite irony in
the thought that the setting for what was to come should be the one
that Runnells had himself chosen to-night--for quite another purpose
than that it should be the scene of his own undoing!

The front door opened and Runnells emerged.

"What's the game?" Runnells asked hoarsely.  "D'ye know where he is?"

It was quite unnecessary to be anything but frank with Runnells as to
their destination.  Runnells, safe in the belief that _he_ had been
mistaken for one Detective-Sergeant Mullins and that his "master" was
wide of the mark and astray, would also enjoy the _irony_ to be found
in a trip to the boathouse.  It would be a pity to deprive Runnells of
anything like that!  Captain Francis Newcombe nodded curtly, as,
motioning the other to follow, he led the way across the lawn.

"Yes; I think so," he said.  "I've reason to believe he's been using
the boathouse to hide and live in."

"Strike me pink!" mumbled Runnells.  "That's what I always said to
myself after that night: I says, 'look out for that bird'--and I was
bloody well right."

"I fancy you were," agreed Captain Francis Newcombe coolly, "though I
didn't think so at the time.  But hurry up!  There's no time to lose if
we want to trap him."

They had entered the wooded path leading to the shore, and, curiously
enough, Runnells was now in front--and in the darkness, as it swung at
his side, Captain Francis Newcombe's hand held a revolver.

"How'd he get here?" Runnells jerked back over his shoulder.  "How'd
you twig it?  And when did he come?"

"About the same time we did, I imagine," replied Captain Francis
Newcombe shortly.  "Don't talk so loud--or any more at all, for that
matter.  The wind has died down a bit, and we might be heard.  Make
straight for one of those little bridges at the boathouse--the one on
this side--the nearer one.  Understand?  And look out for yourself--the
man's no fool, I'll say that for him."

"Right!" said Runnells in a muffled voice, as they came out of the
woods and the boathouse loomed up, shadowy and indistinct, some fifty
yards away.

There was laughter in Captain Francis Newcombe's soul now, a mirth
parented out of savagery and vindictiveness, a laugh at the blind fool
treading so warily and cautiously and silently across the sandy beach
here in order that he should not be denied the shambles!  The laugh
seemed to demand physical, audible expression.  He choked it back.  In
a moment or so more he could laugh to his heart's content.  The
boathouse was only a few yards away now.  He rubbed close against
Runnells' side, as though to preserve touch with the other in the
darkness.  Runnells' revolver was in the right-hand coat pocket, and--

Both men had halted simultaneously.  Close to the boathouse now and in
its lee, the sound of the breaking waves was somewhat deadened, but
from under the overhang of the verandah there had come another sound,
as though a vicious _slapping_ were being given the comparatively
smooth water under the boathouse, and then a sudden floundering and
splashing, and then the _slapping_ again.

Runnells' hand went to his side pocket--but as it came out again with
his revolver Captain Francis Newcombe's hand closed upon it like a
vise, and with a quick twist and wrench secured the weapon.

"What--what did you do that for?" Runnells stammered in a low, startled
way.  "Didn't you hear that in under the boathouse?  There's some one
there.  Maybe it's _him_."

Captain Francis Newcombe laughed now--aloud.

"So you think there's some one in under there, do you, Runnells?" he
drawled.

"Yes," said Runnells, and drew away a little.  "You heard it just the
same as I did, but--but I don't understand what you--"

"You will in a minute!" Captain Francis Newcombe's voice was still a
drawl.  "But meanwhile we'll see whether you're right or not.  You
don't mind going first, do you, Runnells?"  His revolver muzzle was
suddenly pressed against the small of Runnells' back.  "I've known you
to be a bit tricky at times.  Go on!"

Something like a whimper came from Runnells.  He stood irresolute.

"Go on!  In under there!  We'll see this 'some one' of yours first of
all!" Captain Francis Newcombe's voice snapped now.  "Move!"

A push from the revolver muzzle sent Runnells forward.

"What--what are you doing this to me for?" the man burst out in a
shaken voice again.

Captain Francis Newcombe made no answer.  He too had heard the sounds
in under here, but if Runnells were up to some more of his games it
would avail Runnells very little now.  Runnells' body, if there were by
any chance some one ahead here in the darkness, made a most excellent
and effective shield.  It was inky black in here, and now underfoot, as
they went forward, in place of the pure sand there were rocks and a
slightly muddy bottom.

His left hand deposited the surplus revolver in his pocket, and in
exchange drew out his flashlight.  He thrust the flashlight out beyond
Runnells' side in front of them both, and switched it on.

A cry broke on the instant from Runnells' lips--a cry of terror.

"Look!  Look!" Runnells cried.  "Let me go!  Let me get out of here!
This is a horrible, slimy, ghastly hole!  Let me go--let me go!
It's--it's a dead man!"

Captain Francis Newcombe's jaws had clamped.  Into the focus of the
round white ray had come the big concrete pier that supported the
building in the centre, slime-draped, green and oozy now with the tide
still low; and, nearer in again, a black ribbon of water, strangely
like silk in its rippling under the light, for the sea wall way out
beyond had lulled it here into the quiet almost of a pond, lapped at
the shore, lapped and lapped, as though striving with hideous patience
to creep yet another inch onward, and yet another, and always another,
that it might reach a huddled thing that lay still several yards away.

A huddled thing!

Captain Francis Newcombe pushed Runnells ruthlessly forward until they
both stood over it.  And now the flashlight's ray played upon it--upon
a twisted, crumpled form, a dead thing, a man whose clothes in places
were in ribbons as though the very body had been mangled, a man in a
white shirt sleeve where the sleeve of the coat had been torn away at
the armpit, a man around whose neck and across whose face were long,
horribly regular lines of round, lurid marks, near purple now against
the bloodless skin.

And Runnells with a scream shrank back and covered his face with his
hands.

"My Gawd!" he screamed out in terror.  "It's Paul!" he screamed.  "It's
Paul Cremarre!"



--II--

THE BRONZE KEY

Paul Cremarre!

And the man was not a pleasant sight!  The slime, the water and the
mud!  The Stygian blackness that seemed to mock and jeer at the puny
ray of the flashlight!  The _lap-lap-lap_ of the wavelets that echoed
back in hollow, ghostly whispers from the flooring of the boathouse
above!  And Runnells, grovelling, drawing in his breath with loud
sucking sounds.  Noises of sea and air--indefinable--all
discordant--like imps in jubilee!  It was a ghouls' hole!

But Captain Francis Newcombe smiled--with a thin parting of the lips.
He knew a sudden elation, a stupendous uplift.  He found joy in each of
those abominable marks on the face of the Thing that lay at the end of
his flashlight's ray.  They were not pretty--but they were all too few!

"Got your wind up, has it, Runnells?" he sneered--and thereafter for a
moment, though he never let Runnells entirely out of the light's focus,
gave his fuller attention to Paul Cremarre.

The man was dead, wasn't he?  It was a matter that could not be left in
doubt--even where doubt seemed to be dispelled at a glance.  He bent
down over the other.  An instant's examination satisfied him.  The man
was dead.  His eyes roved over the body, and held suddenly on one of
the man's hands.  Rather peculiar, that!  The hand was tightly
clenched.  One did not ordinarily die with one hand clenched and the
other open!  He forced the hand open.  Something fell to the ground.
He picked it up.  It was a large bronze key about three inches in
length.  Cupping it in his hand so that Runnells might not
inadvertently see it, he stared at it speculatively for a moment, then
dropped it into his pocket.

This was interesting, decidedly interesting--and suggestive!  His
flashlight became more inquisitive in respect of the immediate
surroundings.  Those footprints, for instance, in the half mud and
sand, deep, irregular, which, leading up from the edge of the water
some four or five yards away, ended where Paul Cremarre now lay--and
another series of footprints, a little to the right, quite regular,
which, though they also started from the water's edge, lost themselves
in the direction of the beach in front of the boathouse.

Captain Francis Newcombe worked swiftly now.  He searched through the
dead man's pockets, transferring the contents, without stopping to
examine them, to his own pockets--and then abruptly and without
ceremony swung upon Runnells.

"We'll finish this up in the boathouse!" he snapped.

Runnells' reply was inarticulate.

Captain Francis Newcombe, with his revolver again at the small of
Runnells' back, drove the man before him--out from under the verandah,
up one of the ramp-like bridges and into the little lounge room of the
boathouse.  Here, he switched on the light--and with a sudden, savage
grip around Runnells' throat, flung the man sprawling into one of the
big easy chairs.

"Now, my man," he said, "we'll have our little settlement, since Paul
has already had his!  I congratulate you--_both_!  And perhaps you may
have a very early opportunity of letting him know that I did not
overlook him in my felicitations.  Very neat--very clever of you two to
play the game like this!  I must confess that I did not think of Paul
Cremarre in connection with what has been going on.  I fancy that the
very fact of you being here--the three divided, as it were--must have
helped to act as a sort of mental blanket upon me in that respect.  And
even you I was forced to eliminate until to-night because I could not
arrive at any logical reason that would explain your motive--for if I
left the island here you would leave too.  The combination, however,
would be very effective!  Paul Cremarre would be left behind with a
free hand, eh?" Captain Francis Newcombe's voice rasped suddenly.
"Now, then, you cur, what happened under the boathouse here to-night?
What killed Paul?"

Runnells' face was a pasty white.  He shrank back into the farthest
recesses of the chair, and licked nervously at his lips.  He tried
twice to speak--ineffectually.  His eyes seemed fascinated, not by the
revolver that Captain Francis Newcombe had transferred to his left
hand, but by Captain Francis Newcombe's right hand that came creeping
now with menacing, half-curled fingers toward his throat.

"Answer me--and answer quick!" snarled Captain Francis Newcombe.

"I--I don't know."  Runnells forced a shaken whisper.  "So help me,
Gawd, I don't!  I don't know who killed him."

"I didn't say _who_; I said _what_!"  Captain Francis Newcombe's hand
crept still closer to Runnells' throat.  "Don't try any of that kind of
game--you're not brainy enough!  It wasn't anything _human_ that killed
Paul Cremarre."

"No," mumbled Runnells, "no; it wasn't anything human.  Oh, my Gawd,
the _look_ of it!  It--it made me sick.  Those--those round red things
on his face--and the eyes--the eyes--I--I ain't afraid of a dead man,
but--but I was afraid in there."

"Runnells," said Captain Francis Newcombe evenly, "at bottom you are a
stinking coward, a spineless thing--you always were.  But you've never
really known fear--_not yet_!  I'm going to teach you what _fear_ is!"

"No!" Runnells screamed out, and pawed at the other's hand that was now
tight around his throat.  "I'm telling the truth.  I swear to Gawd I
am!  I don't know what happened.  I didn't know Paul was here.  I never
saw him since we left London."

"Don't lie!"  Captain Francis Newcombe coolly and viciously twisted at
the flesh in which his fingers were enmeshed.  "I'm going to have the
whole story now--or else you'll follow Paul Cremarre.  You've seen
enough in the last three years to know that I never make an idle
threat.  It will be quite simple.  You will disappear.  I, myself, will
be the most solicitous of all about your disappearance.  It would never
be attributed to me.  Is it quite plain, Runnells?  You deserve it,
anyway!  Perhaps it's a waste of time to do anything but get rid of you
now before daylight.  I'd rather _like_ to do it, Runnells.  It's
rather bad policy to give a man a chance to stab you a second time in
the back."

The man was almost in a state of collapse.  Captain Francis Newcombe
loosened his hold, and, standing back a little and toying with
caressing fingers at his revolver's mechanism, surveyed the other with
eyes that, in meditation now, were utterly callous.

"I--I know you'd do it."  Runnells, gasping for his breath, blurted out
his words wildly.  "I know it wouldn't do me any good to lie--but I
ain't lying.  Can't you believe me?  I wasn't in it at all.  I never
knew Paul was on the island until just now."

"Go on!" encouraged Captain Francis Newcombe ironically.  "So it wasn't
you who telephoned Polly from the boathouse here a little while ago?"

Runnells' eyes widened.

"Me?  No!" he cried out vehemently.  "I haven't been near here."

Captain Francis Newcombe frowned.  He knew Runnells and Runnells'
calibre intimately and well.  The man's surprise was genuine.  Another
angle!  It was possible, of course, that Paul Cremarre had been playing
a lone hand; but against that was Runnells' own actions to-night.
Well, as it stood now, it was a very simple matter to put Runnells'
sincerity, or insincerity, to the proof.

"No, of course not!" he observed caustically.  "I didn't expect you to
admit it.  Why don't you tell me you spent the evening playing
solitaire, then went to bed and slept like a child until I rapped on
your door?"

Runnells lifted miserable, hunted eyes to Captain Francis Newcombe's
face.

"Because I'm only telling you the truth," he said, with frantic
insistence in his voice.  "And that wouldn't be the truth.  I'll tell
you everything--everything.  You can see for yourself it's Gawd's fact.
I wasn't asleep when you knocked.  I had been out of my room, but I
hadn't been out of the house; and I hadn't been in bed more than ten
minutes when I heard you at the door."

"You rather surprise me, Runnells," said Captain Francis Newcombe
coolly.  "Not at what you say, for I was standing in the hall when you
entered your room--but that for once you are guilty of an honest
statement.  Go on!  What were you doing around the house?"

Runnells gulped, nervously massaging his pinched throat.

"I got to go back to before we left London, if I'm going to make a
clean breast of it," he said, searching Captain Francis Newcombe's face
anxiously.  "I--I knew then about the money out here.  There was a
letter under your pillow the day you got back from Cloverley's, and
when I propped you up in bed for your lunch I--I took it, and read it
while I was feeding you your--"  His words were blotted out in a sudden
cry of fear.  He was staring into a revolver muzzle thrust close to his
face, and behind the revolver were a pair of eyes that burned like
living coals.  "For Gawd's sake," he shrieked out, "captain--_don't_!"

Captain Francis Newcombe dropped the revolver to his side again.

"You are quite right, Runnells," he said whimsically.  "It would be
inexcusable to stem any tide of veracity flowing from you.  Well?"

"I _got_ to make you believe I'm telling the truth," choked Runnells,
"and--and I know now I have.  I didn't say anything to Paul about it--I
was keeping it to myself.  And Paul didn't say anything to me.  I
didn't know he knew about it, and I don't know now how he found
out--but I suppose he must have somehow, for I suppose that's what
brought him here.  As for me, what I read in that letter didn't make
any difference after all, because the minute I got here I knew what
everybody else knew--that the dippy old bird had got half a million
dollars hidden away somewhere."  He hesitated a moment, drawing the
back of his hand several times to and fro across his lips.  "Well,
that's what I was doing to-night, and that's what I was doing last
night.  I was searching the house trying to find out where he'd hidden
the money.  But I didn't find it."

"No," said Captain Francis Newcombe grimly; "I'm quite sure you didn't.
But if you had, Runnells--what then?"

"I--I'm not sure."  Runnells licked at his lips again.  "I know what
you mean.  It--it would have depended on you.  You told me before we
left London that on account of the girl being your ward we weren't to
do anything slippery in America, and if I'd made sure of that and was
sure you wouldn't come in on the job, then I'd have copped the swag and
got away with it if I could; but if you would have come in, then I'd
have told you where it was."

"Anything more?" inquired Captain Francis Newcombe laconically.

Runnells shook his head.

"I've told you straight the whole thing," he said numbly.

It was a moment before Captain Francis Newcombe spoke again.

"Even on your own say-so," he said deliberately at last, "you were
prepared to double-cross me.  Once I let a man toss a coin to see
whether I shot him or not--for less than that.  But you are not even
entitled to that much chance--except for the fact that perhaps after
to-night you'll be less likely to stick your filthy hands into my
affairs.  But even that is not what is outweighing my inclination to
have done with you here and now.  The fact is that, though I regret to
admit it, you are, for the moment at least, more valuable alive."

Runnells straightened up a little in his chair.  He swept his hand over
a wet brow.

"I'll play fair after this," he said hoarsely.  "I take my oath to
Gawd, I will!"

"Or turn at the first chance like the dog who has been whipped by his
master," observed Captain Francis Newcombe indifferently.  "Very good,
Runnells!  I never prolong discussions.  The matter is ended--unless
you are unfortunate enough to cause the subject to be reopened at some
future date!  It is near daylight--and before daylight Paul Cremarre,
what is left of him, must be disposed of.  If the man is found here,
the victim of a violent death, it means an inquest, the influx of
authorities, the possible discovery of Cremarre's identity--and ours!"

"We could tie something heavy on him," said Runnells thickly, "and drop
him in the water."

"We could--but we won't," said Captain Francis Newcombe curtly.  "One
never feels at ease with bodies disposed of in that fashion--they have
been known to come to the surface.  It might be the easiest way, but
it's not the _safest_.  I think you've heard me say before, Runnells,
that chance is the playground of fools.  Besides, our close and
intimate friendship with Paul demands a little more reverent and
circumspect consideration at our hands--what?  Paul shall have a decent
burial.  We'll dig a hole for him back there among the trees."  He
thrust his hand suddenly into his pocket, brought out his flashlight,
and tossed it into Runnells' lap.  "Go up to the house and get a spade,
a couple of them if you can.  There ought to be plenty somewhere in the
out-houses at the back.  And hurry!"

"Yes--right!" Runnells stammered, as he rose to his feet and stood
hesitant as though trying to say something more.

"I said hurry--damn you!" snarled Captain Francis Newcombe.

"Yes--right!" said Runnells mechanically again--and stumbled, half
running, across the room and out of the door.

Captain Francis Newcombe flung himself into the chair Runnells had
vacated.  His mind was on Paul Cremarre now.  What was it that had
caused the man's death?  As Runnells had said, it was a sickening
sight.  Well, no matter!  The mode or cause of death was an incident,
wasn't it?  Paul Cremarre found here on the island, whether dead or
alive, was what mattered--it meant that the menace, that hellish
nightmare of the "unknown," that had been hanging over him, Shadow
Varne, was gone now--that the way was clear ahead--a fortune
here--America once more an "open sesame"--riches, luxury, all he had
builded for, his again to take at his leisure without fear now of any
interference from any source.  And yet he seemed to hate the man the
more because he was dead.  Cremarre had done what no other man had ever
done to Shadow Varne--those black hours--last night--the night before.

His hands clenched fiercely.  He knew a sudden, unbridled rush of anger
directed against the agency, be it what it might, that had caused Paul
Cremarre's death--that had forever removed the man beyond his reach,
and had _robbed_ him of a right that alone was his to settle with the
man.  He had owed the other a debt that he could never now repay--the
sort of debt that Shadow Varne, until now, had never failed to pay.  It
was all clear enough now.  Paul Cremarre, if not from the moment he had
read Polly's letter that morning in London, had finally at any rate
yielded to the temptation that the opportunity of securing so great a
sum of money had dangled before his eyes.  Cremarre, like Runnells, had
very possibly, and perhaps not unwarrantably, been sceptical about his,
Captain Francis Newcombe's, statement that the money here was to be
held inviolable; but whether he had or not made very little difference
in the last analysis, for, either way, it would be obvious to Paul
Cremarre that he would get none of the money unless he got it through
his own secret endeavours, since, even if he, Captain Francis Newcombe,
were after it for himself, Cremarre would realise that he was not to
share in the spoils.

It was quite plain!  It was Paul Cremarre who had fired that shot
through the cabin window in the storm on the liner that night in order
to possess for himself a free hand on the island here.  The man, in
disguise of course, had sailed on the same ship--because he would not
have dared to have left London before he, Newcombe, left, for fear of
arousing suspicions, since he was known to be acquainted with the
contents of the letter; and he would not have dared risk a later vessel
for fear of arriving too late and only to find the money gone should
he, Newcombe, prove to be after it for himself.  It was Paul Cremarre
here on the island who had on those three occasions, ending with
to-night, sought through the medium of fear, no, more than that,
through an appeal to the impulse for self-preservation, to drive him,
Newcombe, away--and leave Paul Cremarre in sole possession of the
field.  And it was quite plain now, too, why the man had not, here on
the island, attempted murder again as he had done on the liner.  It was
not that the chances of discovery were less on board the ship; but that
here a murder would cause an invasion of the island by police and
detectives which would automatically hamper Cremarre in his efforts to
find the money, if, indeed, it would not force him to leave the island
entirely in order to make his own escape.

Captain Francis Newcombe's hand was groping tentatively in his pocket
now.  It was not at all unnatural that the thought of Paul Cremarre had
not entered his head.  To begin with, he had trusted the hound; and,
again, he had sailed immediately on the _first_ ship after leaving the
man in London.  But now!  Yes, that was where the crux of the whole
thing lay--the time spent on that yachting trip of Locke's down the
coast.  Paul Cremarre had probably been on the island for several days
before the _Talofa_ arrived, and--

His hand came out of his pocket.  In its palm lay the bronze key.  He
stared at it thoughtfully.  No, Paul Cremarre had not succeeded in
getting the madman's money prior to to-night, for in that case old
Marlin would have discovered his loss and raised a wild fuss; and,
besides, if successful, Cremarre would have left the island without
loss of time.  Nor had Cremarre been _quite_ successful to-night, for
the money was not on his person; but he had been--what?  Captain
Francis Newcombe stared for another long minute at the bronze key, then
jumping suddenly up from the chair, he crossed over to the table and
began to divest his pockets of the articles he had taken from Paul
Cremarre.  He tumbled them out on the table: A roll of bills; a
passport--made out under an assumed name--to one André Belisle; a few
papers such as railroad folders, a small map of the Florida Keys, some
descriptive matter pertaining thereto, and among these a little book.

Captain Francis Newcombe snatched up the book--and suddenly he began to
laugh, a strange laugh, hoarse with elation, a laugh that even found
expression in the quick, triumphant glitter in his eyes.  Several times
in the short period during which he had been here on the island he had
seen this little book, and more than once he had endeavoured
unostentatiously to obtain a closer look at it, but without success.
It was the old madman's little book--the little buff-coloured,
paper-covered little book that the old fool, he had noticed, would
frequently pull out of his pocket and consult for no reason apparently
other than that it had become a habit with him.  It was a common book,
a very common book--an innocent book.  Its title was on the cover.  It
was a book of tide tables.

And again and again now Captain Francis Newcombe laughed.  The bronze
key and the book of tide tables!  The pieces of the puzzle aligned
themselves of their own accord into a complete whole.  An hour later
every night!  The old madman went out an hour later every night.  _So
did the tide_!  Those footprints there under the boathouse--not Paul
Cremarre's, the other ones!  The succession of nights during which the
old maniac went out until the hour just before daybreak was
reached--and then the period of inaction.  At _low_ water, like
to-night, eh?  Yes, yes!  He did not go out when the tide was low too
early in the evening or too late in the morning; in the former case for
fear of being seen, in the latter because it would be full daylight
before the tide would creep in to wash away the tell-tale footprints.
Paul Cremarre's presence there--his footmarks leading _away_ from the
water to the spot where he had collapsed and died!  Cremarre with a
bronze key in his hand, and the old maniac's book of tide
tables--Cremarre had made an attempt to get the money _after_ the old
man had been there, and something, God knew what, had done him down
instead.  It must have been subsequent to the old man's visit, for
Marlin was now in his room--he, Captain Francis Newcombe, had listened
at the fool's door when he had returned long after three o'clock from
that trip to the old hut in the woods--and three o'clock was past the
hour of low water, and old Marlin had appeared to be quietly asleep,
which under no circumstances would he have been had he been conscious
of the loss of his key and book.  There were a dozen theories that
would logically reconstruct the scene--but none of them mattered.  It
was the existing fact that mattered.  Cremarre, hidden himself, might,
and very probably had, watched the old maniac at work; afterwards,
whether the old man had lost the key and book from the pocket of his
dressing gown as it flapped around him and Cremarre had found them, or
Paul Cremarre, than whom there was no craftier thief in Christendom,
had succeeded in purloining them, again mattered not a whit.  What
mattered was that there was only one place now where the old maniac's
secret depository could be--only one.  And he, Captain Francis
Newcombe, now knew where that one place was.

And yet again he laughed--loud in his evil joy, vauntingly in his
triumph.  It was his now!  There was no longer anything to mar his
plans.  Nemesis was dead!  No haunting thing to strike any more out of
the darkness and drive him back, with bared teeth, against the wall, to
make of him little better than a cornered rat.  Why shouldn't he laugh
now--at man, or devil, or Heaven, or hell!  He was _master_--as Shadow
Varne had always been master.  He tossed the bronze key up in the air
and caught it again with deft, yet savage grasp.  The hiding place was
found.  There was only a keyhole to look for now.  A keyhole ... a
keyhole....  Mad mirth caught up the words and flung them in jocular
song hither and thither within his brain.  A keyhole ... a keyhole....

"You'd raise your cursed voice to bawl at Shadow Varne, would you, Paul
Cremarre?" he cried.  "Well, damn you--thanks!"

Just the turning of a key in a lock!  But the water was too high
now--the tide was coming in.  A key wasn't any good to-night--the place
wasn't locked only by a key, it was time-locked by the tide.  He
snatched up the little book and consulted it hurriedly.  It would be
low tide to-morrow morning at a quarter past three.  Well, to-morrow
morning, then, since he couldn't have a look at the place to-night.  He
could well afford the time now!  And meanwhile with the key gone, the
old maniac couldn't do anything--except raise an infernal row, and
become even a little more maniacal, if that were possible.  Too bad!
But then, the poor old man probably wouldn't _live_ very long anyhow!
And then, besides, quite apart from the tide to-night, there was
Runnells, who--

He swept the articles from the table suddenly back into his pockets.
Where was Runnells?  What the devil was keeping the man?  He should
have been back by now!

Captain Francis Newcombe switched off the light, and, walking quickly
from the room now, closed the door behind him.  And now he frowned in
impatient irritation as he made his way along the verandah of the
boathouse and down to the shore.  Confound Runnells, anyway!  Where was
he?  It was already beginning to show colour in the east, and the
darkness was giving way to a grey, shadowy half-light.  In another
quarter of an hour the dawn would have broken.  There was no time to
spare!

He stood for a moment staring toward the fringe of trees that hid the
path to the house.  There was still no sign of Runnells.  With a quick,
muttered execration at the man's tardiness, he turned abruptly and
began to make his way in under the boathouse.  At the spot where Paul
Cremarre's body lay the slope of the shore was very gentle, and the
incoming tide would therefore cover the ground the more rapidly.  He
had forgotten that.  Paul Cremarre had only been four or five yards
away from what was then the water's edge when he had left him, and
unless he wanted to find the body floating around now, he had better--

He halted short in his tracks, but close to the water now.  His heart
had stopped.  What was that?  Involuntarily now he staggered back a
pace.  It wasn't light enough to see distinctly; it was only light
enough to see shadowy things, things that suddenly moved in the gloom
before him, things that, from the water, waved sinuously in the
air--like slimy, monstrous, snake-like tentacles--that reached out and
crept and wriggled upon the shore itself.  The place was alive with
them, swarming with them.  They _were_ tentacles!  They were feeling
out, feeling out everywhere, and--God, were they feeling out for him!
He sprang sharply backward as a light breath of air seemed to have
fanned his cheek.  He heard a faint _pat_ upon the earth as of
something soft striking there; he saw a slithering thing, like a
reptile in shape and movement, swaying this way and that as though in
search of something upon the spot where he had stood.

He felt his face blanch.  He drew back still farther.  A dark blotch
lay near the water's edge--that was Paul Cremarre's body.  And now one
of those sinuous, creeping tentacles, a grey, viscous, clutching arm,
fell athwart the body--and the body seemed to move--slowly--jerkily as
though it struggled itself to escape from some foul and loathsome
touch--toward the water.

Captain Francis Newcombe gazed now, a fascination of horror seizing
upon him.  Two curious spots showed out there in the water.  Not
lights--they weren't lights--but they were in a sense luminous.  They
seemed to _stare_, full of insatiable lust, gibbous, protuberant from
out of the midst of that waving, feeling, slithering forest of
tentacled arms.

He swept his hand across his eyes.  Was he mad?  Was this some ugly
fantasy that he was dreaming--and that in his sleep was making his
blood run cold?  Look!  _Look_!  Those two luminous spots were coming
nearer and nearer--eyes, baleful, hungry--eyes, that's what they were!
They were coming closer to the shore--to the body of Paul Cremarre.  A
dripping tentacle, waving in the air, swayed forward, and dropped and
curled and fastened around the body--that was the second one there.

It was _too_ light now!  The sight was horror--but the fascination of
horror held him motionless.  There was no head to the thing, just a
monstrous, formless continuation of abhorrent _bulk_ from which were
thrust out those huge, repulsive tentacles--from which was thrust out
another now to fasten itself, for purchase, upon one of the small,
outer concrete piers that rose from the deeper water beyond.

And again the body of Paul Cremarre moved.  And there was a sound.  The
gurgling of water.

It had a beak like a parrot's beak, and the mandibles opened now--wide
apart--to uncover a cavernous mouth.  And the eyes and the tentacles of
the thing began to retreat from the shore.

The gurgle of water again.

A white shirt sleeve showed for an instant--and was gone.

A splashing.  A commotion.  A swirl.  An eddy.

Then in the shadowy light a placid surface, the looming central pier of
the boathouse, the little piers, the roof above--the commonplace.

A voice spoke at his side--Runnells':

"Where's Paul Cremarre?"

Captain Francis Newcombe's handkerchief, with apparent nonchalance,
went to his face.  It wiped away beads of sweat.

"I don't know what you'd call the thing," he said casually.  "The
scientists seem to refer to the species under a variety of names--you
may take your choice, Runnells, between poulpe, devil fish and octopus.
It's a bit of an unpleasant specimen whatever name you choose.  It's
gone now--and so has Paul Cremarre."

"An octopus!"  Runnells stared through the dim light toward the water.
"You mean it--it got Paul?"

"Yes," said Captain Francis Newcombe.  He returned the handkerchief to
his pocket.

"Gawd!" said Runnells in a shaky whisper.  "An octopus!  I know what
that is.  The thing's got suckers that would tear the flesh off you.
That's where those marks on Paul's face must have come from.  He must
have had a fight with it before we found him."

"Yes," said Captain Francis Newcombe, "he undoubtedly did.  It's rather
obvious now that he had just managed in a dying effort to break loose
and reach the shore.  And the brute was crafty enough to know, I fancy,
and waited for the tide to come farther in to bag its prey.  Anyway,
you won't need those spades you've got there now--and incidentally,
Runnells, where the devil have you been all this time?"

Runnells was swabbing at his brow.

"It--it knocked me flat, that did," he said with a sudden, wild rush of
words; "but it ain't any worse than what's happened up there.  Hell's
broke loose--just hell--that's what!  The old bird's gone and done it.
Shot himself, he has."

Captain Francis Newcombe's hand reached out and closed in a quick,
tight grip on the other's shoulder.

"Come out of here!" he said abruptly.  He led Runnells out beyond the
overhang of the verandah, and in the better light stared into the man's
face.  "Now, then, what's this you say?  Old Marlin's shot himself?"

"By accident," said Runnells, nodding his head excitedly; "leastways,
that's what I suppose you'd call it."

"Dead?" demanded Captain Francis Newcombe.

Runnells laughed nervously.

"You're bloody well right he's dead!" he said gruffly.  "Dead as a
herring!  That's what the row's all about."

"Tell your story!" ordered Captain Francis Newcombe shortly.

"Well, when I went up there from here," said Runnells, "I saw the house
all lit up, and the blacks all running around, and the whole place
humming.  And they spotted me, some of the servants did, and all began
talking at once about the old bird having shot himself, and they seemed
to take it for granted that I knew too--d'ye twig?--that I'd been in
the house, of course, and had got up and dressed, having heard the
shots.  The only play I had was to keep my mouth shut and let 'em think
so--and listen to them.  It seems, as near as they knew, that his nibs
had been asleep, and suddenly wakes up and goes blind off his top, and
runs upstairs with a revolver, and goes to Locke's room, and opens the
door and begins shooting, and all the time he's screaming out at the
top of his lungs, 'you're one of them, you're one of them; but I'll
kill you before you open it!'  Locke must have had his nerve with him.
Anyway, he jumped out of bed and tried to get the revolver away from
the old fool.  By this time the whole house was up, and some of the
black servants took a hand by trying to collar his nibs, but Marlin
breaks away from them somehow, and runs for the stairs like a mad bull.
He must have tripped going down, or knocked his arm, or something,
anyway his revolver goes off and when they got to him he was at the
bottom of the stairs with a hole in his head."  Runnells paused for a
moment, but, eliciting no comment, went on again: "Well, while I was
getting all this information that I was supposed to know, Locke comes
out on the verandah and spots me.  'I've just been to your room,
Runnells,' he says.  'Do you know where Captain Newcombe is?'  And I
says, 'No, sir, I don't; leastways,' I says, 'I've been too excited to
notice.'  Then he says I'd better try and find you, and that gave me
the first chance to get away and cop these spades.  I sneaked around
through the woods at the back of the house with them."

Captain Francis Newcombe lighted a cigarette.

"Sneak back with them, then, the same way," he said calmly.

"Right!" said Runnells.

"_Now!_" said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "And you haven't been able to
find me."

"Right!" said Runnells again, and started off at a run.

Captain Francis Newcombe began to walk leisurely across the beach
toward the path leading to the house.  He puffed leisurely and with
immense content at his cigarette.  In the light of certain knowledge
possessed by himself alone, the whole thing was as clear as daylight.
The old maniac had wakened up, and in some way had discovered for the
first time that his key and book were gone--that had set him off.  It
was rather rough on Locke to have been selected as the thief!  But
there was no accounting for what a lunatic would do!

He was chuckling to himself now.  An explanation of his absence from
the house at this hour?  It was too simple!  Polly would substantiate
it.  Polly's scruples about keeping silent were now useless--to him!
He had thought the old madman must have telephoned from the boathouse.
He had got up and dressed, and gone down to see--and, of course, had
seen nothing!

He flicked his cigarette away.  And now he laughed--laughed with the
same evil joy, the same savage triumph, but magnified a hundredfold
now, with which he had laughed a little while ago in the boathouse back
there.  Only the laughter was silent now--it was his soul that rocked
with mirth.  The gods were very good!  The black of the night had
brought a dawn of incomparable radiance!  That was poetic!  Ha, ha!
Well, why not poetry?  He was in exquisite humour.  It was like wine in
his head--that, too, was poetry, wasn't it?--somebody had said it
was--or something like it.  Nor God, nor man, nor the devil could stay
him now!  He had only to be circumspect in the house of death--and help
himself.  Almost poetry again!  Excellent!  The old fool dead!  Even
the trouble and annoyance of staging an accident was now removed.  The
old fool dead--with his secret.  They would hunt a long time--and it
would forever be a secret.

Except to Shadow Varne!



--III--

THE WARP AND THE WOOF

Howard Locke stood leaning with his shoulder against one of the
verandah pillars.  Behind him, in the house, he was conscious of a sort
of hushed commotion.  Out on the lawn in front of him little groups of
negroes stood staring at the house with strained, uplifted faces, or
moved across his line of vision in frightened, pathetically humorous
efforts to keep an unobtrusive silence--walking on tiptoes in their
bare feet on the velvet lawn.  Queer how the black faces were mellowed
into softer colours in the early morning light!

Mr. Marlin was dead.  Locke's eyes half closed; his lips drew together,
compressed in a hard line.  Strange!  In one sense, he seemed still
dazed with the events of the last hour; in another sense, his mind was
brutally clear.  He was dazed because even yet it seemed impossible to
grasp the fact that so sorrowful, and dire, and unrecallable a tragedy
was an actual, immutable, existent truth.  It was not that Mr. Marlin
in a sudden paroxysm of demented frenzy should have done what he
had--even to the extent that the old man's attack should have been
directed against his, Locke's, person.  He could quite understand that.
In the aquarium, only a few hours before, the old man had used
identically the same words that he had shouted as he had burst in the
bedroom door and had begun firing wildly: "You are one of them! ...
You are one of them!"  And then, apart from what had transpired in the
aquarium, there had been the shock of the attack on the path almost
immediately afterward.  The old man had not lost his money, but he had
gone back to the house--he, Locke, had seen that too--and, instead of
sleeping, these things had probably preyed and preyed upon his mind
until he had lost the little reason that had been left to him and a
homicidal mania had developed.  All that was quite easily understood.
As Polly had said, the specialist had predicted it if the old man
became over-excited--and Miss Marlin had feared it.  It was not this
phase, so logically explainable, of what had happened that affected him
still in that dazed, numbed way; it was the fact, so much harder to
understand, that quick and sudden, in the passing of a moment, old Mr.
Marlin was gone.

He straightened up a little, easing the position of his shoulder
against the pillar.  On the other hand, from an entirely different
aspect, that of the _consequences_ as applied to his own course of
action, his mind had been clear, irrevocable, settled in its purpose
almost from the instant that--first to reach the old madman's side--he
had found Mr. Marlin dead.  It was the end!  He was waiting now for
Captain Francis Newcombe to return--from wherever the man had taken
himself to.

The sight of the awed, grief-stricken figures on the lawn stirred him
suddenly with keen emotion.  The girls were upstairs in Dora Marlin's
room together and--  He wrenched his mind away from the course toward
which it was trending.  For the moment it would do neither them nor
himself any good; for the moment he was waiting for--Captain Francis
Newcombe.

A queer smile came and twisted at his lips.  Was it defeat--or victory?

The smile passed.  His face became grave again.  There was Captain
Francis Newcombe now--at the far edge of the lawn.

The man was strolling leisurely toward the house, then, suddenly
pausing for an instant, he as suddenly broke into a run, elbowing his
way unceremoniously through the groups of negroes, and, reaching the
steps, covered them in a bound to the verandah.

"I say!" he burst out breathlessly as he halted before Locke.
"Whatever is the matter?  This hour in the morning and every light on
in the house--and all those negroes out there?"

"I've been waiting for you," said Locke quietly.  "Come in here."  He
led the way to the French window by which he had found entry into the
house a few hours before, and passed through into the room beyond.

Captain Francis Newcombe followed.

"I say!" he repeated, closing the glass door with a push behind him.
"What's up, old man?"

"Mr. Marlin is dead," said Locke briefly.

"Dead!"  Captain Francis Newcombe stared incredulously.  "Why, he
wasn't ill--at least not in that way.  I don't understand."

It was a small room, a sort of adjunct to the library which led off
from it toward the rear of the house.  Howard Locke's fingers were
aimlessly turning the leaves of a book which lay on the table in the
centre of the room, and beside which he was standing now.

"A belief that he was being followed, that some one was trying to take
his money away from him, turned him from a harmless lunatic into a
dangerous madman," Locke said slowly.  "He seemed to believe that I
was, to use his own words, 'one of them,' and he tried to shoot me in
my room.  The household was aroused.  The servants came.  We tried to
subdue him.  But he broke away from us then, and in running down the
stairs fell, I think, and his revolver went off in his hand, killing
him instantly."

"Good God!" said Captain Francis Newcombe heavily.  "That's awful!  And
that poor girl--Miss Marlin!"

"Yes," said Howard Locke, his fingers still playing with the leaves of
the book.

Captain Francis Newcombe appeared to be greatly agitated.  He took out
his cigarette case, opened and shut it several times, and finally
restored it to his pocket with its contents untouched.

"It's ghastly!" he ejaculated; and then in a slower, more meditative
tone: "But with the shock of it over, I can't say I'm particularly
surprised.  He struck me as acting in a more than usually peculiar
manner all day yesterday, and especially last night, or, rather, this
morning--as a matter of fact, it was on account of Mr. Marlin himself
that I was out of the house when it happened.  He telephoned Polly
about four o'clock this morning and nearly frightened her to death.
She came to my room in a pitiful state of distress.  He told her her
mother was dead.  God knows why--except that it shows how mad he was.
From Polly's description of the conversation during which she had
distinctly heard the sound of waves and the slam of a door in the wind,
I decided that he must have telephoned from somewhere outside.  The
only place I could think of was the boathouse.  If the man was as bad
as that, I was afraid something might happen to him, so I dressed and
went out.  It is obviously unnecessary to say that I did not find him.
Polly and I both decided, on Miss Marlin's account, to say nothing
about it, but I can see nothing to be gained now, in view of what has
happened, by keeping silent."

"No; there could be nothing gained by it now," agreed Locke a little
monotonously.  "As you imply, it is only cumulative evidence of the
man's state of mind just prior to his death."

"Exactly!" nodded Captain Francis Newcombe gravely.  "But, after all,
that is apart from the immediate present.  I suppose you have already
seen to what you could here in the house, but there still must be many
things to do."

Howard Locke closed the book, and stepped a little away from the table,
a little nearer the other.

"There are," he said with quiet deliberation.  "But there is one thing
in particular for you to do.  The mail came over from the mainland very
late last night.  It naturally hasn't been touched this morning and is
still in there"--he motioned toward the door leading from the rear of
the room--"on the library table.  There is a letter there for you, a
very urgent one, demanding your instant return to London."

Captain Francis Newcombe's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly--but his
voice was a drawl:

"I don't think I quite understand.  May I ask how you happen to know
the contents of the letter?"

"I am speaking in a purely suggestive sense," Locke answered, his voice
hardening a little.  "There is no letter for you that I know of.  I am
suggesting a plausible explanation which you can make to Miss
Marlin--_and Miss Wickes_--for leaving this place at once."

Captain Francis Newcombe stiffened, but his voice still retained its
drawl.

"I am tempted to believe that insanity is infectious," he said; "either
that, or perhaps my own intelligence is sadly astray this morning.  I
have neither the desire nor the intention to leave here, and especially
at a time such as this when I might possibly be of even a little
assistance to those who have been so hospitable to me, and so I do not
require any excuse, however plausible or ingenious, for going away."

Locke's eyes rested appraisingly for a long moment on the other's cool,
composed, suave face.  Well, was it any cooler, any more self-possessed
than his own?  What of passion that was boiling within did not show on
the surface!

"Nevertheless," he said steadily, "that is the excuse you will give.
One of the motor boats is going over to the mainland in a little while,
and you are going on her.  I have already had your baggage--and
Runnells'--put on board."

"You--_what_?"  The red was suddenly in Captain Francis Newcombe's
face.  He took a quick step forward, his hands clenched.  "My baggage
sent out of the house--by your orders!" he said hoarsely.  "You've gone
a bit too far now, my man, and you'll explain yourself--and explain
yourself damned quick!  Out with it!  What's the meaning of this?"

Locke had not moved.  His eyes had not left the other's face.  There
was something strangely _tempting_ about that face; it induced an
almost uncontrollable impulse to _mark_ it, to batter it, to wreck it
with a rain of blows that would not cease until physical exhaustion
intervened and one could strike no more.  And yet his hands hung idly
at his sides.

"Yes"--Locke's voice was not raised--"I will tell you the meaning of
it.  You are going for two reasons.  The first is because you are
morally responsible for Mr. Marlin's death; and the second is because
you are--_what you are_--and as such, from the moment you say good-bye
to her here, you are going out of Polly's life forever."

Captain Francis Newcombe came still a step nearer.

Locke's eyes had not left the other's face.  He read a cold, ugly
glitter in the gaze that held on his; he saw the curious whitening of
the other's lips--and a knotted fist suddenly drawn back to strike.
And with a lightning movement Locke caught the other's wrist and flung
the blow aside.

"Don't do that!" he said in a dead tone.  "God knows, it's hard enough
to keep my hands off you as it is; but what is between you and me is
not measured, or in any way altered by a brawl--and besides I cannot
brawl here in this house where Mr. Marlin lies dead, and where there is
already distress enough."

For a moment Captain Francis Newcombe did not speak; then abruptly he
began to laugh, and, stepping over to a chair at the end of the table,
flung himself nonchalantly into it.

"Upon my soul, Locke," he said coolly, "what I said at first in jest, I
believe now must be true.  I believe you've gone completely off your
head.  I'd like to hear why you think I am morally responsible for Mr.
Marlin's death; and, particularly, I'd like to know what--"

"I want to get this over," said Locke, with a set face.  "You are
clever.  If it appeals to a certain sense of morbid vanity in you, that
they say all criminals possess, I grant at once that you are as clever
a scoundrel, and as miserable and inhuman and unscrupulous a one, as
ever blasphemed the image in which God made him."

Captain Francis Newcombe strained upward from the chair, his lips
working--but Locke stood over him now and pushed him back.

"Don't get up!" he said with savage curtness.  "You are going to hear
more than that before I am through.  I said you were clever--but your
cleverness will do you no good here.  This is the end, Newcombe.  You
took a child out of the slums of London--bought her in some unholy
fashion, I imagine, from a woman named Mrs. Wickes; you sent the child
out of England to America, and educated her in a school, especially
selected I also imagine, where she would be brought into intimate
contact with, and form her friendships amongst, the daughters of
wealthy Americans of high social position.  Why?  In the light of what
has happened, the answer is plain enough: That you might use her
introduction into these homes as an entrée for yourself to further your
own criminal purposes."

Locke paused.

A cold sneer had gathered on Captain Francis Newcombe's lips.

"You employed the word 'imagine' on both counts," he said.  "I
congratulate you."

"Quite so!" said Locke icily.  "I may even employ it again.  I am not
imagining, however, when I say that you received a letter from Polly
telling you that Mr. Marlin had half a million dollars in cash here on
this island, and--"

"Did Polly tell you that?" demanded Captain Francis Newcombe sharply.

"Innocently--yes," Locke answered.  "And in her letter she also told
you 'all about everything here,' to use her own words, which could not
help but embrace the fact that Mr. Marlin was not right in his
mind--yet, strangely enough, in the smoking room of the liner, you will
perhaps remember, you had had no idea of any such thing, and even
expressed anxiety for the safety of your ward."

Captain Francis Newcombe was painstakingly polishing the finger nails
of one hand on the palm of the other now.

"One might possibly conceive a man to be eccentric and attribute his
idiosyncrasies to that cause--without thought of classifying him as a
raving lunatic," he observed in a bored voice.

Locke shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps there is a better explanation of your _mistake_," he said
evenly.  "You did not, at that time, have the slightest idea that I,
too, would be one of the party on this island."

Captain Francis Newcombe looked up from his finger nails.

"Did you?" he inquired softly.

"Yes," said Locke curtly.

"Ah!"  Captain Francis Newcombe, with eyes half closed now, studied
Locke's face for a full minute before he spoke again.  "I am becoming
rather curious as to just who you are, Locke," he murmured finally.

"You ought to know," Locke responded grimly.  "I imagine it was you who
went through my papers that night in my cabin."

"That is the third time," suggested Captain Francis Newcombe, "that you
have said 'imagine.'"

"Yes."  Locke smiled without humour.  "I happen to _know_, however,
that from the moment of your arrival here Mr. Marlin became more and
more obsessed with the belief that he was being watched and followed.
I know from his own statement that he rather cunningly laid a false
trail--to an old hut in the woods behind the house, wasn't it,
Newcombe?  And it is rather conclusive evidence, I should say, that the
man who followed that trail was the man who was watching Mr. Marlin.  I
saw you coming from that direction at three o'clock this morning.  You
were unsuccessful, of course; but you are none the less, as I said
before, morally responsible for Mr. Marlin's death."

Captain Francis Newcombe leaned back in his chair, and laughed softly,
insolently, contemptuously.

"As I understand the indictment," he said coolly, "it is to the effect
that I left London for the purpose of coming here and stealing some
money that I knew a madman had hidden.  The evidence against me is from
beginning to end purely circumstantial, and most of it is admittedly
imaginative.  The one 'damning' fact adduced is that I was seen coming
from somewhere at three o'clock this morning.  This is a bit thick,
Locke--coming from you!"  His voice was beginning to lose its suavity.
"You don't _imagine_, do you, that any such 'case' as that would hold
water for an instant in any court of law?"

"No," said Locke quietly; "I know it wouldn't.  I quite agree with you
there."

Captain Francis Newcombe's face for an instant held a look of
puzzlement, as though he had not heard aright--then it stiffened into
ugly menace.

"I think you need a lesson!"  He spoke from between set lips.  "This is
no longer merely ridiculous, or absurd, or cracked-brained.  It is
monstrous!"

"Again I agree with you."  Locke's voice was low now, rasping his
words.  "It is so monstrous that, strong as the circumstantial evidence
against you is, I would not have been able to credit it had I not had a
basis for belief that permitted of no denial.  I know you for exactly
what you are.  I know that you are a criminal, that you are one by
profession, that you have no other profession, that you are without
conscience, inhuman, ruthless, a fiend who would do honour to hell
itself."

"By God!"  Captain Francis Newcombe with livid face surged up from the
chair to his feet.

But Locke's face, too, was white now with passion, as with a suddenly
outflung hand he thrust the other away.

"I am not through yet," he said.  "Denial, any attitude of pretended
righteous indignation, or any other attitude that may suggest itself to
you as the best mask to adopt, is hardly worth your while when
attempted with one who once very narrowly escaped being one of your
victims--with a man who once, because you feared he possessed the
information that you know now he does possess, you tried to murder with
cold-blooded deliberation."

"You?"  Captain Francis Newcombe, with head thrust forward, his eyes
narrowed, searched every lineament of Locke's face.

"Look well!" Locke spoke with scarcely any movement of the lips, in a
cold, dead way, without inflexion in his voice.  "Look well!  It will
do you little good.  You never saw my face before.  Shall I tell you
where I first saw _yours_?  It was in a thicket one night, a night
during the great German offensive.  There were four men there.  Three
of them sat together with their backs against the trees; the other lay
face down on the ground a little distance away.  A stray shell burst
nearby.  One of the three, a Frenchman, called it a straggler.  'Like
us,' you said.  I am the fourth straggler."

Captain Francis Newcombe drew slightly back.  He made no other
movement.  He said nothing.  His eyes remained riveted on Locke's face.

"I was almost done in that night," said Locke.  "I'd had two days and
two nights of it.  I did not hear all you said--what particular place
it was, for instance, that had been robbed.  I heard of the share that
each of you had played in the affair.  I saw your faces.  I heard the
Frenchman, a self-admitted crook, hail you as a greater than
himself--yes, as a greater even than any criminal in all France.  I
heard you check him with your name on his lips.  I heard him call your
attention to my presence there.  I heard you say you had not
forgotten--and in a flare of light I saw you with your rifle across
your knees, its muzzle only a few feet away from my head.  Then in the
ensuing darkness I was lucky enough to be able to wriggle silently back
a few yards in among the trees--and a second later I saw the flash of
your rifle shot."

Locke stopped.  His lips were dry.  He touched them with the tip of his
tongue.

The two men stood eying each other.  Neither moved.

Locke spoke again:

"As I crawled out of that thicket I swore that I would pay you for that
shot if it took all my life to bring you to account.  I did not know
your name, I did not know where you came from or where you lived; but I
knew your face--and I was sure, as we are sometimes strangely sure of
the future, that some time, in some place, you and I would meet again.
But it was four years before we did; and in those four years, during
which I have travelled a great deal on my father's business, no man's
face, in a crowd, or merely in passing on the street, whether here or
abroad, but that I searched in the hope that it might be yours.  And
then I saw you--in London--just a few days before we sailed.  I
followed you to your apartment, and I saw the other two--Runnells, and
the Frenchman, whose name I discovered was Paul Cremarre.  I secured an
introduction to you at your club, and I learned from you that you were
sailing within a day or so on a certain ship.  I told you I was sailing
on the same ship.  Within an hour after I had left you at the club, I
did two things: I booked passage on that ship; and I engaged a man who
was recommended to me as one of the best private detectives in England.
With the knowledge that you were a criminal, it was only a question of
a short time then before the detective would unearth your record, or
that you would be caught in some new venture; and meanwhile, leaving
him to work up your 'history,' I crossed with you, and suggested the
yachting trip as I did not intend to let you out of my sight again
until you were trapped.  And I think, but for the fact that you have
been told now, that would have been accomplished even more quickly than
I had expected.  At one of the stops that I purposely made on the way
down the coast on the _Talofa_, I received a letter from the detective
mailed in London the day after we sailed.  He said that developments
had been such that he was working in conjunction with Scotland Yard,
and that he expected to be able to send me a very _satisfactory_ report
within a day or so."

Captain Francis Newcombe took his cigarette case from his pocket for
the second time--but now he calmly lighted a cigarette.

"And so," he said smoothly, "just at the moment when, after four long
years, you are about to reap the fruits of your labour, you tell me to
go.  Where?  Into the trap--waiting for me over there on the mainland?"

"No," said Locke bitterly.  "Where you will; you and Runnells--and Paul
Cremarre.  We'll have no more trouble from any of you here."

Captain Francis Newcombe paused suddenly in the act of lifting his
cigarette to his lips.

"This Paul Cremarre you speak of," he said, "what makes you think he is
here?"

"Because I expected him to be here," said Locke shortly.  "He was one
of the three of you.  He could not very well form part of your retinue
as Runnells did.  He would have to come separately.  I know he is here
because I saw a man wearing a mask last night.  I have reason to know
it was not you; and since I superintended the packing of Runnells'
baggage and have also seen Runnells himself, I know--for reasons that
need not be explained--that it was not Runnells."

"I see," said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "So it must have been this
Paul Cremarre--since the three would be here together.  I regret that I
was not fortunate enough to have the advantage of your viewpoint, even
though you honour me with the credit of having arranged all these
little details.  And so, at the moment of your supreme success we are
to go--we three.  May I ask why this change of heart?"

Howard Locke reached into his pocket and took out a faded envelope that
was torn at one end.

"These," he said, his voice rasping hoarsely again, "are Polly's
papers--her birth certificate, the marriage certificate of her
parents--the proof of perhaps the most contemptible and scoundrelly
crime you have ever committed; I say 'perhaps' because there may be
lower depths of beastliness and inhumanity of which only a mind such as
yours could conceive.  You know where these papers were found.  Besides
using Polly as your cat's-paw and your tool, making her innocence serve
your vile ends, you robbed her of her claim to even honest parentage!"
His face had grown white to the lips, his voice was almost out of
control.  "And yet it is Polly--_Polly Gray_--who is saving you now!  I
have no change of heart.  I never, even on that night in the thicket,
wanted to square my account with you as I do now.  But for Polly's sake
I cannot do it.  I love her more than I hate you.  I want to save her
from the sorrow and distress she would suffer if she knew the truth of
what has happened here; and above all I want to save her from the
misery and shame of having her name publicly connected with yours were
you brought as a common criminal to stand in the dock.  And so you are
going--where I do not know.  Not London, or anywhere else, as Captain
Francis Newcombe any more--for you would no longer dare do that with
the police at last hot on the investigation of your career.  But you
are going out of her life never to contaminate it again.  And this is
the bargain that I make with you--that she shall never hear from you
again.  I compound no felony with you.  I have no power to hold you,
even were I an officer of the law, without specific evidence of a
specific crime.  That such evidence will inevitably be forthcoming is
certain, but for the moment there is no warrant for your arrest.  You
will make the excuse for your departure as I have suggested--and later
on a brief notice of the death of Captain Francis Newcombe in some
distant place will account for your continued silence, and remove you
out of her life."

Captain Francis Newcombe blew a smoke ring in the air and watched it
meditatively.

"Excellent!" he murmured.  "And if I refuse?  To save Polly, you would
have to call your bloodhounds off."

"It is too late for that," said Locke sternly.  "And even if it were
not, it would be better that Polly should suffer even the shame of
publicity than that you should remain in any way in touch with her
life."

"I see!" murmured Captain Francis Newcombe again.  "But with exposure
as inevitable as you say it is, it is too bad that Polly
should--er--nevertheless suffer her share of this shameful publicity
whether I go or not."

"You fence well," said Locke with a grim smile.  "Scotland Yard sooner
or later _will_ know, but they will not make public what they know
until they have laid hands upon their man.  It is _your_ freedom that
is at stake.  I told you I did not think you would venture to return to
London."

"Locke," said Captain Francis Newcombe softly, "permit me to return the
compliment--but also with reservations.  You are clever--but having
overlooked one little detail, as so often happens even to the cleverest
of us all, your scheme as regards keeping Polly in ignorance of my
unworthiness falls to the ground.  That envelope you hold in your
hand--I was wondering--it simply occurred to me--how Polly was to be
informed that--er--her name is--I think you said--Gray."

"I had not overlooked it," Locke answered evenly.  "Polly's parentage
is a matter that precedes your entry into her life by many years; it is
a matter that is logically within the knowledge of this Mrs. Wickes.  I
shall cable London to-day.  There will be means of securing Mrs.
Wickes' confession on this point.  These papers will come from her."

"Ah, yes!" said Captain Francis Newcombe gently.  "Quite so!  Perhaps,
after all, _I_ am the one who overlooked detail.  But if by any chance
this Mrs. Wickes could not be found--what then?"

Locke studied the other's face.  It was impassive; no, not quite
that--there was something that lurked around the corners of the man's
mouth--like a hint of mockery.

"In that case," he said steadily, "I should have done my best to save
her from the knowledge of what you are, for I should have to tell her;
but meanwhile you will have gone from here, and, as I have already
said, she will be saved the brutal notoriety that would attach to her
wherever she went, and until she died mar her life, if Captain Francis
Newcombe's 'case' were blazoned abroad from the criminal courts of
England--and that, in the last analysis, is what really matters."  He
thrust the envelope abruptly back into his pocket, and as abruptly took
out his watch and looked at it.  "I do not want to detain the boat.
You know where to find Paul Cremarre.  Get him, and take him with you.
Your baggage has been searched--so has Runnells'.  I do not for a
moment think you found that which specifically brought you to this
house.  I doubt, indeed, now that Mr. Marlin is dead, if it ever will
be found by anybody.  But in so far as you are concerned, assurance
will be made doubly sure--the three of you will be subjected to a
_personal_ search before you are landed on the other side."  He snapped
his watch back into his pocket.  "Shall I find out if Miss Marlin is
able to see you?"

Captain Francis Newcombe examined the glowing tip of his cigarette with
every appearance of nonchalance--but the brain of the man was seething
in a fury of action.  He was beaten--in so far as the existence, the
entity of a character known as Captain Francis Newcombe was
concerned--he was beaten....  This cursed, meddling fool had beaten
him....  Damn that shot that he had missed in the darkness....  He
could not draw his revolver and fire another and kill this man--not
_now_....  To do that here would be suicide....  And, besides, there
was still half a million dollars....  Quite a sop! ... Mrs. Wickes
didn't count one way or the other--but Paul Cremarre--that was
awkward....  The island must be left in quiet and repose in so far as
anything pertaining to the attempted robbery was concerned--an incident
that with his departure was closed....  Paul Cremarre must be accounted
for....  Well, the _truth_ was probably the safest, since denial would
only result in a search for a _third_ man that Locke knew had been
here....  That Locke should think that Paul Cremarre had come here as
part of the prearranged plan was probably all the better....  It left
no lingering doubts....

He looked up--his eyes cold and steady on Locke.

"I regret, I shall _always_ regret, that I missed that shot," he said
deliberately; "but for whatever satisfaction it will bring you, I admit
now that you have beaten me.  I agree to your terms.  I will go; so
will Runnells--but I can't take Paul Cremarre.  Paul Cremarre is dead.
He died this morning.  A rather horrible death.  I found him on the
shore a little way from the water's edge, his clothes in ribbons--in
fact, one of his coat sleeves was completely torn away and--"

"The man I was looking for had a white shirt sleeve," said Locke
quietly.

"Well, your search is ended then, if that will give you any further
satisfaction," said Captain Francis Newcombe gruffly.  "His white shirt
sleeve was the least of it.  His face and throat were covered with
round, purplish blotches, and the man was absolutely mangled.  He had
the appearance of having been _crushed_--as they say a python crushes a
victim in its folds.  And, damn it, that's not far from what happened!
How he had first come into contact with the monster I don't know, but
he had been in a fight with a gigantic octopus, and had evidently just
managed to crawl ashore out of the thing's reach temporarily, and had
died there."  Captain Francis Newcombe laughed unpleasantly.  "The
reason I know this is because I saw the creature--the tide was higher,
of course, when I found the body--come back and carry off its prey.
You will pardon me, perhaps, if I do not describe it in detail.
It--er--wasn't nice."

Locke stared at the other for a moment.

"That's a rather strange story," he said slowly.  "But I can't see
where it would do you any good to lie now."

Captain Francis Newcombe helped himself to another cigarette, lighted
it, and suddenly flung a mocking laugh at Locke.

"No," he said, "I'm afraid that's the trouble--it wouldn't do me any
good to lie now.  And so I might as well tell you, too, that there's no
use sending that cable to London about Mrs. Wickes, either.  Mrs.
Wickes is also dead.  For reasons best known to myself, I did not
choose to tell Polly about the woman's death, so I fear now that,
lacking that estimable old hag's co-operation in the resurrection of
those papers, you will have to resort to telling Polly, after all, a
little something about her cherished guardian.  However, Locke, on the
main count, that of notoriety, if it depends upon Scotland Yard ever
getting their man, I think I can give you my personal guarantee that
she will never be--"

He stopped, and whirled sharply around.

One half of the French window was swaying inward.

With a low cry, Locke sprang past the other.

"Polly!" he cried.

She was clutching at the edge of the door, her form drooping lower and
lower as though her support were evading her and she could not keep
pace with its escape, her face a deathly white, her eyes half closed.

Locke caught her as she fell, gathered her in his arms and carried her
to a couch.  She had fainted.  As he looked hurriedly around for some
means of reviving her, Captain Francis Newcombe spoke at his elbow.

"Permit me," said Captain Francis Newcombe.  He was proffering the
water in a flower vase from which he had thrown out the flowers.

Mechanically Locke took it, and began to sprinkle the girl's face.

"Too bad!" said Captain Francis Newcombe pleasantly.  "Er--hardly
necessary, I fancy, for me to explain my sudden departure for England
to her--what?  I'll say _au revoir_, Locke--merely _au revoir_.  We may
meet again.  Who knows--in another four years!  And I'll leave you to
make my adieus to Miss Marlin."

Locke made no reply.

The door closed.  Captain Francis Newcombe was gone.

Polly stirred now on the couch.  Her eyes opened, rested for an instant
on Locke's, then circled the room in a strange, quick, fascinated way,
as though fearful of what she might see yet still impelled to look.

"He--he's gone?" she whispered.

"Yes," Locke answered softly.  "Don't try to talk, Polly."

She shook her head.  A smile came, bravely forced.

"I--I saw him from upstairs--on the lawn coming toward the house," she
said.  "After a little while when he did not come in, I went down to
find him.  I did not see him anywhere, and--and I walked along the
verandah, and I heard your voices in here--heard something you were
saying.  I--I was close to the door then--and--somehow I--I couldn't
move--and--I wanted to cry out--and I couldn't.  And--and I heard--all.
And then I felt myself swaying against the window, and somehow it gave
way and--and--"

She turned her face away and buried it in her hands.

Something subconscious in Locke's mind seemed to be at work.  He was
staring at the French window.  It had given way.  It hadn't any socket
for the bolt at top or bottom.  Strange it should have been that
window!  He brushed his hand across his eyes.

"Polly," he said tenderly, and, kneeling, drew her to him until her
head lay upon his shoulder.

And then her tears came.

And neither spoke.

But her hand had crept into his and held it tightly, like that of a
tired and weary child who had lost its way--and found it again.



--IV--

THE TIME-LOCK OF THE SEA

Low tide at three-fifteen!  Captain Francis Newcombe, in the stern of a
small motor boat, drew his flashlight from his pocket and consulted his
watch.  Five minutes after two.  He nodded his head in satisfaction.
Just right!  And the night was just right--just cloudy enough to make
of the moonlight an ally rather than a foe.  It disclosed the island
there looming up ahead now perhaps a mile away; it would not disclose
so diminutive a thing as this little motor boat out here on the water
creeping in toward the shore.

The boat was barely large enough to accommodate the baggage, piled
forward, and still leave room for Runnells and himself.  Also the boat
leaked abominably; also the engine, not only decrepit but in bad
repair, was troublesome and spiteful.  Captain Francis Newcombe
shrugged his shoulders.  The engine was Runnells' look-out; that was
why, as a matter of fact, Runnells was here at all.  As for the rest,
what did it matter?  The boat had been bought for the proverbial song
over there on the mainland, and it was good enough to serve its present
purpose.

Again he changed his position, but his eyes narrowed now as they fixed
on Runnells' back.  Runnells sat amidships where he could both nurse
the engine and manipulate the little steering wheel at his side.
Runnells was a necessary evil.  He, Newcombe, did not know how to run
the engine.  Therefore he had been obliged to bring Runnells along, and
therefore Runnells would participate after all in the old fool's half
million--_temporarily_.  Afterwards--well there were so many things
that might happen when Runnells had lost his present usefulness!

Runnells spoke now abruptly.

"It's pretty hard to make out anything ashore," he said; "but if we've
hit it right, we ought to be just about heading for a little above the
boathouse.  Can you pick up anything?"

"Nothing but the outline of the island against the sky," Captain
Francis Newcombe answered.  "We're too far out yet."

Runnells' sequence of thought was obviously irrelevant and disconnected.

"The blinking swine!" he muttered savagely.  "Stripped to the pelt and
searched, I was--and you, too!  And kicked ashore like a dog!  Gawd,
it's too bad they ain't going to know they'll have had the trick turned
on 'em after all!  I'd give a good bit of my share to see Locke's face
if he knew.  He wouldn't think himself such a wily bird maybe!"

"You're a bit of a fool, Runnells," said Captain Francis Newcombe
shortly.

His train of thought had been interrupted.  Runnells had suggested
another--Locke.  Captain Francis Newcombe's hands clenched suddenly,
fiercely in the darkness.  _Locke_!  Some day, somewhere--but not now;
not until the days and months, yes even years, if necessary, were past
and gone, and Locke had forgotten Captain Francis Newcombe, and
Scotland Yard had forgotten--he would meet Locke again.  And when that
time came there would be no ammunition _wasted_ as there had been in
that damned thicket that night!  Locke!  The fool doubtless thought
that he had been completely master of the situation and of Captain
Francis Newcombe--even to the extent of _obliterating_ Captain Francis
Newcombe.  Well, perhaps he had!  It was quite true that the clubs of
London, and, yes, for instance, the charming old Earl of Cloverley,
would know Captain Francis Newcombe no more--but _Shadow Varne_ still
lived, and Shadow Varne with half a million dollars, even in a new
environment, wherever it might be, did not present so drear and
uninviting a prospect.  Ha, ha!  Locke!  Locke could wait--that was a
_pleasure_ the future held in store!  What counted now, the only thing
that counted, was getting the money actually into his possession--that,
and the assurance that the trail was smothered and lost behind him.
Well, the former was only a matter of, say, an hour or so at the most
now; and the latter left nothing to be desired, did it?

He smiled with cool, ironic complacency.  Locke, having in mind
Scotland Yard, would expect him to disappear as effectually and as
rapidly as possible.  Locke ought not to be disappointed!  He _had_
disappeared; he and Runnells--and, equally important, their luggage.
One was sometimes too easily traced by luggage--especially with that
infernally efficient checking system they employed on the railroads
here in America!  It had been rather simple.  When Runnells and the
luggage and himself had all been dumped with equal lack of ceremony on
a wharf over there on the mainland, he had had some of the negroes that
were loitering around carry the luggage into a sort of storage shed
that was on the dock, and, merely saying that he would send for his
things, he and Runnells had unostentatiously allowed themselves to be
swallowed up by the city.  And then they had separated.  The rest had
been a matter of detail--detail in which Runnells, with the experience
of years, was particularly efficient.  A purchase here, a purchase
there--quite innocent purchases in themselves--and later on a man, _not
two men_, but one man, a man who did not at all look like Runnells,
seeing the chance of picking up a bargain in a second-hand motor boat
somewhere along the waterfront, had bought it and gone away with it.
Later on again, but not until after nightfall, not until nine o'clock
in fact, he, Captain Francis Newcombe, had "sent" for the luggage--by
the very simple expedient of forcing an entry into the shed and loading
it into the motor boat that Runnells had brought alongside the dock.
Thereafter, Runnells, the luggage and himself had disappeared.  Surely
Locke ought to be quite satisfied--he, Captain Francis Newcombe, was
doing his best to guarantee Polly against any unseemly publicity in
connection with Scotland Yard!  And he would continue to do so!  With
any kind of luck, he would be away from the island here again long
before daylight; then, say, a few nights' cruising along the coast,
laying up by day, and then, as circumstances dictated, by railroad, or
whatever means were safest, a final--

With a smothered oath, Captain Francis Newcombe snatched at the gunwale
of the boat for support, as he was thrown suddenly forward from his
seat.  The boat seemed to stagger and recoil as from some vicious blow
that had been dealt it, and then, as he recovered his balance, it
surged forward again with an ugly, rending, tearing sound along the
bottom planks, rocking violently--then an even keel again--and silence.

Runnells had stopped the engine.

"My Gawd," Runnells cried out wildly, "we've gone and done it!"

Captain Francis Newcombe was on his feet peering through the darkness
to where Runnells, who after stopping the engine had sprung forward
from his seat, was now groping around beneath the pile of luggage.

"A reef, eh?" said Captain Francis Newcombe coolly.  "Well, we got over
it.  We're in deep water again.  Carry on!"

Runnells' voice came back full of fear.

"We're done, we are," he mumbled.  "I stopped the engine the minute she
hit, but she had too much way on her--that's what carried her over.
She's bashed a hole in her the size of your head.  She won't float five
minutes."

"Start her ahead again, then!" Captain Francis Newcombe's voice snapped
now.

"It won't do any good," Runnells answered, as he stumbled back to his
former place.  "She won't anywhere near make the shore--it's half a
mile at least."

"Quite so!" said Captain Francis Newcombe.  "But, in that case, we
won't have so far to swim!"

The engine started up again.

"It ain't as though we didn't know there was reefs"--Runnells was
stuttering his words--"only we'd figured with our light draft we
wouldn't any more than scrape one anyhow, and it wouldn't do us any
harm.  But she's rotten, that's what she is--plain rotten and putty!
And we must have hit a sharp ledge of rock.  Gawd, we've a foot of
water in us now!"

"Yes," said Captain Francis Newcombe calmly.  "Well, don't blubber
about it!  We'll get ashore--and we'll get away again.  There's half a
dozen skiffs and things of that sort stowed away in the boathouse that
are never used now.  One of them will never be missed, and we can at
least get far enough away from the island by daybreak not to be seen,
and eventually we'll make the other side even if it is a bit of a row."

"Row!" ejaculated Runnells.

"Yes," said Captain Francis Newcombe curtly.  "Why not--since we _have_
to?  We can't steal a motor boat whose loss would be discovered, can
we?"

"My Gawd!" said Runnells.

The water was sloshing around Captain Francis Newcombe's feet; the boat
had already grown noticeably sluggish in its movement.  He cast an
appraising eye toward the land.  It was almost impossible to judge the
distance.  Runnells had said half a mile a few minutes ago.  Call it a
quarter of a mile now.  But Runnells was quite right in one respect; it
was certain now that the boat would scuttle before the shore was
reached.

"How far can you swim, Runnells?" he demanded abruptly.

"It ain't that," choked Runnells, "I can swim all right; it's--"

"It was just a matter of whether your body would be washed up on the
shore, which would be equally as bad as though the boat stranded there
for the edification of our friend Locke," drawled Captain Francis
Newcombe.  "But since you can swim that far, and since the boat's got
to sink, let her sink here in deep water where she won't keep anybody
awake at night wondering about her--or us.  Stop the engine again!"

"But the luggage," said Runnels, "I--"

"It will sink out of sight quite readily, but run a rope through the
handles and lash the stuff to the boat so it won't drift ashore--yes,
and anything else that's loose!" said Captain Francis Newcombe tersely.
"I can't swim a quarter of a mile with portmanteaus!  Stop the engine!"

"Strike me pink!" said Runnells faintly, as he obeyed and again
stumbled forward to the luggage.

Captain Francis Newcombe sat down and began to unlace his boots.  The
water was nearly level with the bottom of the seat.

"Hurry up, Runnells!" he called.

"It's all right," said Runnells after a moment.

"Take your boots off then, and sling them around your neck," ordered
Captain Francis Newcombe.

"Yes," said Runnells.

Captain Francis Newcombe stood up and divested himself of a light
raincoat he had been wearing.  From the skirt of the garment he ripped
off a generous portion, and, taking out his revolver and flashlight,
wrapped them around and around with the waterproof cloth.  The coat
itself he thrust into an already water-filled locker under the seat
where it could not float away.

"Ready, Runnells?" he inquired.

"Yes," said Runnells.

"Come on, then," said Captain Francis Newcombe.

The gunwale was awash as he struck out.  A dozen strokes away, as he
looked back, the boat had disappeared.  He cursed sullenly under his
breath--then laughed defiantly.  It would take more than that to beat
Shadow Varne.

Runnells swam steadily at his side.

Presently they stepped out on the shore.

Captain Francis Newcombe stared up and down the beach, as he seated
himself on the sand and began to pull on his boots.

"We're a bit off our bearings, Runnells," he said.  "I couldn't see any
sign of the boathouse even when I was swimming in.  And I can't see it
now.  Which way do you think it is?"

Runnells was also struggling with his wet boots.

"We're too far up," he answered.  "I thought I had it about right, but
I figured that if I didn't quite hit it, it would be safer to be on
this side than the other so we wouldn't have to pass either the wharf
or the house in getting to it."

"Good!" commented Captain Francis Newcombe.  "We'll walk back that way,
then."

They started on along the beach.  For perhaps half a mile they walked
in silence, and then, rounding a little point, the boathouse came into
view a short distance ahead.  A moment later they passed in under the
overhang of the verandah.

And then Runnells snarled suddenly.

Captain Francis Newcombe was unwrapping his flashlight.  The faint,
stray rays of moonlight that managed to penetrate the place did little
more than accomplish the creation of innumerable black shadows of
grotesque shapes.

"What's the matter?" he demanded.

"The damned place in under here gives me the creeps after last night,"
Runnells growled.

"It's not exactly pleasant," admitted Captain Francis Newcombe casually.

"You're bloody well right, it ain't!" agreed Runnells fervently.  And
then sharply, as the ray from the flashlight in Captain Francis
Newcombe's hand streamed out: "That's where _he_ lay last night, only
the water's farther out now.  It's blasted queer the thing never
tackled the old madman in all this time."

"On the contrary," said Captain Francis Newcombe, "it would rather
indicate that the brute was a transient visitor."

"Then I hope to Gawd," mumbled Runnells, "that it didn't like the
quarters well enough to stick them for another night."

"I agree with you," laughed Captain Francis Newcombe coolly; "but, as
it happens, it's low tide now and the water is out beyond where we are
going--which may offer an alternative solution to old Marlin's escape.
However, Runnells, that's not what we are looking for--we're looking
for a keyhole."

He led the way forward, his flashlight playing on the big central
concrete pier, some eight feet square, in front of him.  He was
chuckling quietly to himself.  It being established that the old
maniac's hiding place was here under the boathouse, a hiding place that
was opened by a key, and that, except at low tide, was inaccessible,
the precise location of that hiding place became obvious even to a
child.  The row of little piers that supported the structure at the
sides and front were all individually too small to be _hollow_--and
there was absolutely nothing else here except the big centre support.

With Runnells beside him now, he began to examine this centre pier
under the ray of his flashlight.  He walked once completely around it,
making a quick, preliminary examination.  The pier was some six or
seven feet in height, and the concrete construction was reinforced with
massive iron bands placed both horizontally and transversely between
two and three feet apart, the small squares thus formed giving a sort
of checkerboard effect to the mass.  The lower portion was green with
sea-slime.  There was no apparent evidence of any opening.

But Captain Francis Newcombe had not expected that there would be.

"Look for a little hole, Runnells," he said.  "Anything, for instance,
that might appear to be no more than a _fault_ in the concrete.  And
look particularly above high water mark.  The opening is below because
the old man could only get in at low tide; but the keyhole is more
likely to be above out of the reach of the water because it must be
watertight inside."

"Yes," said Runnells.

They made a second circuit of the pier, but carefully now, searching
minutely over every inch of surface.  It took a long time--a very long
time--a quarter of an hour--a half hour--more.

And still there was no sign of either keyhole or opening.

"Strike me pink!" grumbled Runnells.  "It looks like it was sticking to
us to-night!  This is what I calls rotten luck!"

"And I was thinking that it was excellent--even beyond expectations,
Runnells," said Captain Francis Newcombe smoothly.  "The old man has
done his work so well that it is certain no one would _stumble_ on it.
Therefore, when we get away, we do so with the absolute knowledge that
an _empty_ hiding place will never be discovered.  You follow that,
don't you, Runnells?  No one except you and I will know that the money
was ever found--or taken."

"Yes," said Runnells gruffly; "but we ain't got it yet.  And we must
have been at it a good hour already--and the tide's coming back in now."

"Quite so!" said Captain Francis Newcombe evenly.  "But if we don't get
it to-night, there is to-morrow night--and the night after that again.
There are always the woods, and your ability as a thief guarantees us
plenty to eat.  Meanwhile, we'll stick to this side here fronting the
sea--it's the logical place--one couldn't be seen even from under the
verandah back there.  Go over every bit of the iron work now."

Another quarter of an hour passed in silence--save for the lap of the
water that, with the tide on the turn now, had crept up almost to the
base of the pier.  The flashlight moved slowly up and down and to right
and left as the two men crouched there, bent forward, their fingers,
augmenting the sense of sight, feeling over the surface of the cement
and iron that here was barnacle-coated, and there covered with festoons
of the green slime.

"It's no good!" said Runnells pessimistically at last.  "Let's try
around on another side, and get out of the water--I'm standing in it
now."

"It's here--and nowhere else," said Captain Francis Newcombe doggedly.
"And, furthermore, I'm certain it's one of these squares inside the
intersecting pieces of iron.  It would be just big enough to allow a
man to crawl in and out--and not too big or too heavy for one man to
handle alone.  It can't be anything else.  Whatever's here the old man
made himself--no one helped him, understand, Runnells?  His secret
wouldn't be worth anything in that case.  Go on--hunt!"

But Runnells, instead, had suddenly straightened up.

"I thought I heard something out there like--like a low splashing," he
said tensely.

Captain Francis Newcombe paid no heed.  He was laughing, low,
jubilantly, triumphantly.

"I've got it, Runnells!" he cried.  "Here's a bit of the iron down here
that moves to one side--just a little piece.  Look!  And the keyhole
underneath!  I was wrong about the keyhole being above high water--it
isn't, or anywhere near it--but we'll see how the contrivance works."
He thrust his hand into his pocket, brought out the bronze key, fitted
it quickly into the keyhole, and turned it.  A faint _click_ answered
him.  "Push, Runnells, on that square just above the water--it's bound
to swing inward--these iron strips hide the joints."

But he did not wait for Runnells to obey his injunction.  He snatched
the key out of the lock again, and even as he saw the piece of iron
swing back into place covering the keyhole, he was pushing against the
concrete slab himself.  It swung back and inward from its upper edge
with a sort of oscillating movement.  His flashlight bored into the
opening.  Clever!  The old maniac had had the cunning of--a maniac!  It
was quite clear.  Old Marlin had cut away the square and fitted it with
a new block--yes, he could see!--the interior would, of course, have
been flooded at high water while the old madman was preparing the new
block, but that made no difference--the place would always empty itself
at low tide again because the flooring, or base, in there was on the
same level as the lower edge of the opening--and it would be when it
was empty of water, naturally, that the new block would be fitted into
place--and thereafter it would remain empty.

He was crawling through the opening now--the weight of the swinging
block causing it to press against his shoulders, but giving way easily
before his advance.  There was just room to squeeze through.  Very
ingenious!  The walls were a good foot to a foot and a half thick.  The
lock-bar worked through the side of the pier wall into the _middle_ of
the edge of the movable block so no water could get in that way; and
the block when closed fitted in a series of gaskets against the inside
of the iron bands that reinforced the outside of the pier, which
latter, overlapping the edges of the block, hid any indication of an
entrance from view.  It must have taken the old fool weeks!  Again
Captain Francis Newcombe laughed.  His head and shoulders were through
now, and, with his flashlight's ray flooding the interior, he could see
that--

A cry, sudden, wild, terror-stricken, from Runnells reached him.

"Quick!" Runnells cried frantically.  "For the love of Gawd make room
for me--the _thing's_ here!  Quick!  Quick!  Let me get in!"

The _thing_!  In a flash Captain Francis Newcombe wriggled the rest of
his body through the opening, and, holding back the movable block, sent
his flashlight's ray streaming out through the opening.  It lighted up
Runnells' face, contorted with fear, ashen to the lips, as the man came
plunging along; and out beyond, it played on a waving, sinuous
tentacle, another and another, groping, snatching, feeling--and from
out of the midst of these a revolting pair of eyes, and a beak, horny,
monstrous, in shape like a parrot's beak.

With a gasp Runnells came through, sprawling on the floor.

The movable block swung back into place with a little _click_.

Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders.

"A bit of a close shave, Runnells," he said.  "I fancy you're
right--last night was enough to his liking to bring the brute back
again.  Rather a bore, too!  Unless he moves off again, he's got us
penned up until low water."

"That'll be twelve hours," whimpered Runnells; "and it'll be daylight
then--and another twelve before we could get out when it's dark."

Captain Francis Newcombe shrugged his shoulders again.  His flashlight
was playing around him.  The hollow space here inside the pier was
perhaps six feet square, and solid concrete, top, bottom and sides.
This fact he absorbed subconsciously, as he reached quickly out now to
a little shelf that had been built out from one side of the wall.
There was a half burned candle here and some matches, and, lying beside
these, a package wrapped in oiled-silk.  He struck a match, lighted the
candle, switched off his flashlight, thrust it into his pocket, and
snatched up the package.  An instant more and he had unwrapped it.

And unholy laughter came, and the soul of the man rocked with it.  It
rose and fell, hollow and muffled in the little space where there was
scarcely room for the two men to move without jostling one another.
_The money_!  He had won!  It was his!  Locke--Paul Cremarre--Scotland
Yard--ha, ha!  Well, they had pitted themselves against Shadow
Varne--and Shadow Varne had never yet failed to get what he went after,
in spite of man, or God, or devil--and he had not failed now--and he
never would fail!

He was tossing the bundles of bank notes from hand to hand with
boastful glee.

"This'll buck you up a bit, Runnells!" he laughed.  "You'll be well
paid for waiting even if it has to be until to-morrow night--eh, what?"

Runnells, on his feet now, a sudden red of avarice burning in his
cheeks, grabbed at one of the bundles, and began to fondle the notes
with eager fingers.

"Gawd!" he croaked hoarsely.  "Thousand-dollar notes!  Strike me pink!
Gawd!"

Captain Francis Newcombe was still laughing, but his eyes had narrowed
now as, watching Runnells, there came a sudden thought.  Would he
_need_ Runnells any more?  There wasn't any motor boat to run--but it
was a long way in a rowboat for one man over to the mainland.  _Here_
in the old maniac's hiding place--ideal--and a bit of irony in it
too--delicious irony!  Well, it did not require _instant_ decision.
Meanwhile it seemed to be strangely oppressive in here in the confined
space.

"It's stuffy in here, Runnells," he said.  "Pull that door, or block,
or whatever you like to call it, back a crack and freshen the place up."

The "door" was fitted with a light brass handle, similar to a handle
used on a bureau drawer.  Runnells stooped, still clutching a bundle of
bank notes in one hand, and gave the handle a careless pull.  The block
did not move.  He gave the handle a vicious tug then, but still with
the same result.  He dropped the bundle of bank notes, and used both
hands.  The block did not yield.

"I can't move the damned thing," he snarled.  "It seems to be locked."

Captain Francis Newcombe's voice was suddenly cold and hard.

"Try again!" he said.  "Here, I'll help you!  Take your coat off and
run the sleeve, the two of them if you can, through the handle so we
can both get hold."

Runnells obeyed.

Both men pulled.

The handle broke away from its fastenings.  The block did not move.

"It's locked, I tell you," panted Runnells.  "Haven't you got the key?"

"Yes," said Captain Francis Newcombe quietly; "but there's no hidden
keyhole here.  It's locked from the outside--a spring lock.  I remember
now hearing it click.  The old man would set it so that he could get
out, of course, every time he entered.  We didn't."

"Gawd!" said Runnells thickly.  "What're we going to do?"

Captain Francis Newcombe's eyes studied the four walls and roof.  He
spoke more to himself than Runnells.

"Say, six by six by six," he said.  "Roughly, two hundred cubic feet.
Watertight--hermetically sealed--no air except what's in here now.  One
hundred cubic feet per man--short work--very short."

"What do you mean?" whispered Runnells with whitening face--and coughed.

"I mean that brute out there, if it still is out there, counts for
nothing now," said Captain Francis Newcombe steadily.  "We could at
least _fight_ that--we can't fight suffocation.  I'd say a very few
minutes, Runnells, before we're groggy if we can't get air--I don't
know how long the rest of it will take."

Runnells screamed.  His face grey, beads of sweat suddenly spurting
from his forehead, he flung himself against the cement "door," clawing
with his finger nails, where no finger nails could grip, around the
edges of the block.  And then in maniacal frenzy he attacked the wall
with his pocketknife.

The blades broke.

Captain Francis Newcombe, with a queer, set smile, drew his revolver,
and, holding the muzzle close to the wall, fired.  The bullet made
little impression.  With the muzzle now held over the same spot he
fired again.

And now he choked and coughed a little.

The acrid fumes helped to vitiate the air.

"You're making it worse--my Gawd, you're making it worse!" shrieked
Runnells.  "I can't breathe that stuff into me."

"I prefer to be doing something, even if it's pretty well a foregone
conclusion that it's useless--than sit on the floor and _wait_,"
Captain Francis Newcombe answered.  "A bullet probably hasn't the ghost
of a chance of going through--but if a bullet won't, nothing that we
have got to work with will."

The lighted candle on the shelf began to flicker.

Captain Francis Newcombe fired again--once more--and yet still another
shot.

Runnells moaned and staggered.  He went to the floor, his fists beating
at the wall until they bled.

Captain Francis Newcombe watched the candle.

The minutes passed.

The light grew dim.

Captain Francis Newcombe sat down on the floor.

A strange coughing, a mingling of choking sounds.

The candle flickered and went out.

Captain Francis Newcombe spoke.  There was something debonair in his
voice in spite of its laboured utterance:

"The house divided, Runnells.  Do you remember that night in the
thicket?"

There was no answer.

Again Captain Francis Newcombe spoke:

"I've saved two shots.  Will you have one, Runnells?  Suffocation's a
rotten way to go out."

"_No!_" Runnells screamed.  "No, no--my Gawd--no!"

Captain Francis Newcombe's laugh was choked and gasping.

"You always were a stinking coward, Runnells," he said.  "Well, suit
yourself."

The tongue flame of a revolver lanced through the blackness.

Runnells screamed and screamed again.  Sprawling on the floor, his hand
fell upon the package of bank notes he had dropped there.  He tore at
them now in his raving, tore them to pieces, tore and tore and
tore--and screamed.

But presently there was no sound in the old madman's hiding place.


The tides are tongueless.  They came and went, and kept their secret.
In England, Scotland Yard sought diligently for the murderer of Sir
Harris Greaves; and on a little island of the Florida Keys long search
was made for a great sum of money that an old madman in his demented
folly had hidden--but neither the one nor the other was ever found.



THE END



BY FRANK L. PACKARD


  THE FOUR STRAGGLERS
  JIMMIE DALE AND THE PHANTOM CLUE
  DOORS OF THE NIGHT
  PAWNED
  THE WHITE MOLL
  FROM NOW ON
  THE NIGHT OPERATOR
  THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF JIMMIE DALE
  THE ADVENTURES OF JIMMIE DALE
  THE WIRE DEVILS
  THE SIN THAT WAS HIS
  THE BELOVED TRAITOR
  GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN
  THE MIRACLE MAN


NEW YORK

GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY





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