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EDGAR JEPSON

BARRADINE DETECTS

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First published by Herbert Jenkins, London, 1937

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-03-22

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ABOUT THIS BOOK

The story revolves around Maurice Frederick Turpin Oliver Vine, Earl of Barradine and Sharples, who, despite his noble status, finds himself needing to work for a living. Thus, he establishes the Twentieth Century Detective Agency.

Assisted by his secretary, Miss Barber, Barradine tackles various problems. However, his greatest challenge arises when Mary Fearn, a young woman seeking to recover her fatherís stolen money from fraudulent financiers, presents him with a series of puzzles.

Caught between his professional duty to foil her daring schemes and his human urge to help her avenge her fatherís plight, Barradine faces a delightful dilemma.

The novel is filled with breezy, light-hearted detective escapades.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER I
The Tube of Radium

THERE are people alive even to-day who think that it was all very well for Maurice Frederick Turpin Oliver Vine, Earl of Barradine and Sharples, to found and finance the Twentieth Century Detective Agency, for there cannot be too many Detective Agencies, but that it showed a lack of the natural dignity proper to his class for him to take a leading part in its activities.

His Aunt Harriet, the Duchess of Amersham, was the only person who dared to reproach him with his profession, for he could make himself astonishingly disagreeable, even offensive, to any one, relation or no relation, who interfered with him. But she was a dauntless woman, who interfered with every one, and he made allowances for this when he told her patiently that the money helped to keep up Barradine and the work kept him out of mischief.

She was more intelligent than most of the dauntless, and she let it go at that—lest worse befall.

Nevertheless, on that very bright First of June he was annoyed that the work should be keeping him out of mischief, for with the sun shining like that and a warm wind blowing, it was the very First of June to get into mischief on.

His noble resolution to stick to business was melting fast in that sunshine, for it was just as likely as not that no fresh client would seek his help that day, and the various business of the old clients was settling itself or being dealt with by letters, when his telephone rang and his brisk secretary, Miss Barber, informed him that Lord Spanswick's secretary had rung up to say that Lord Spanswick wished to consult him and could he see him at once.

"Yes. Dossier, please," said Barradine.

Spanswick was a public man, and there should be most of the facts about him.

In five minutes Miss Barber brought them. Lord Spanswick was seventy-five years of age, a prominent member of the Royal Geographical Society, and a prominent newspaper scientist, dabbling in chemical and psychical research, and he had also been a dabbler in finance.

"His income is over forty thousand a year," said Miss Barber, who knew something about all the prominent.

"Yes, and he has a woollen brain, I'm told," said Barradine. "Wasn't he mixed up in some financial scandal? Yes—of course—the Ural Bonanza Syndicate. He was one of the Syndicate."

"But he had no connection with it at the time of the smash," said Miss Barber.

"No: he was one of the people who got out in time—probably the catspaw of the man who bolted with the money," said Barradine. "What was his name?"

"James Q. Bliss."

"That's it. Well, when Spanswick arrives, let him wait for ten minutes to get his wits cleared. He's sure to arrive flustered."

Miss Barber went.

Ten minutes later she announced the arrival of Lord Spanswick; ten minutes later there shambled into Barradine's office a large, loosely built, shabby man with a helpless, flustered air; and Barradine had a strong impression that an amiable and perhaps more than usually intelligent sheep had entered, though a real sheep could not have been disfigured by an incredibly sandy beard. Lord Spanswick's eyes were of a pale blue; his mouth was large; his lips were loose; his sandy hair was sparse; and he had the chin of an eagle.

Barradine was not surprised that he was a long time coming to the point; but it would have been unkind, as well as useless, to try to hurry him. At last he learned that Spanswick had been dabbling in research into radioactivity; had bought a tube of radium for £5,000 for that purpose, kept it, out of research hours, in a safe along with the Spanswick jewels, and that that tube of radium had been stolen two days before. He had been for putting the matter into the hands of the police at once; but Lady Spanswick's suspicion that it had been stolen by some one in the Castle had rendered that course impossible. He did not for a moment agree with her; he was convinced that every one in the Castle was above suspicion, and that it was the work of a burglar; but there it was, and the police were out of the question.

Barradine might have been merely irritated by such a monster of incapacity; but he was sorry for him. He was the heaven-born dupe; plainly gold bricks flew to him as steel filings fly to a magnet; he needed a keeper, or rather a nursemaid. But he was a gentleman.

"It doesn't look like the work of a burglar," Barradine said. "A burglar would surely have stolen the jewels, for there aren't a dozen people in Europe or America to whom you could sell a five-thousand-pound tube of radium; and all of them would want to know where it came from. You might as well steal a white elephant."

Spanswick looked at Barradine earnestly as if he were pondering his words, then frowned unhappily and said gravely: "I cannot agree with you, Lord Barradine. A white elephant, or indeed a grey one, would be much more difficult to conceal; and also there would be the further difficulty of feeding it. If I were er—er—er—addicted to theft—which I am not—I should much prefer to steal a tube of radium."

"There is that," said Barradine patiently; but he looked at his client more earnestly.

They were both silent while Barradine, frowning, considered the matter.

Presently he sat upright and said: "Well, the sooner I come to Spanswick Castle the better. As it is, too much time has already been lost. I suppose that there is a village with an inn near the Castle?"

"I—I'm afraid I should not like that: your staying at an inn. I—I haven't told any one there that the tube of radium has been stolen, except, of course, my assistant in my work. Lady Spanswick said that it would make unpleasantness and spoil her house-party. Your visits and investigations would be very difficult to explain, if you were at the inn. My nephew, Oliver Morton, who advised me to come to you, suggested that you could quite well visit the Castle as my guest—a scientific enquirer of—er—kindred tastes if you like—and so your presence would not excite attention. I want the radium recovered of course. But it is essential—er—quite essential that it should be recovered without any—er—er fuss or scandal."

It was indeed a good suggestion; Barradine perceived that he could take one of his staff with him, as his valet, who could deal with the servants much better than he himself. He did not think it possible that a servant should have stolen the radium; but he must make sure. He accepted the invitation.

The matter of his fee was soon settled. Lord Spanswick offered to pay all out of pocket expenses and £250, five per cent. of the value of the radium, when Barradine recovered it.

Too much time had already been lost; and Barradine arranged to meet him at Paddington at 2.30 and go down with him to Spanswick Castle; also he instructed one of his staff, an intelligent, middle-aged man of the name of Forbes, to be at the station at that hour, with his clothes, to act as his valet. Forbes had been a footman in his youth and was therefore the very man to handle the servants. Then he gave the instructions which would carry on the office till his return, lunched, went to his flat in Knightsbridge, had Mulliner, his man, pack his clothes, reached Paddington at 2.28, handed over his luggage to Forbes, and took their tickets.

The train started at 2.35. At 2.34.50 Lord Spanswick was brought on to the platform in a flustered condition by a harried-looking servant, who said to Barradine in a tone of resignation that he would bring the luggage down by the next train.

Barradine had hoped to have spent the journey discussing the matter of the stolen radium. But Spanswick seemed incapable of discussing matters of fact; instead he discussed hazily the psychology of the European and Oriental criminal. In the course of the discussion he told Barradine, with a modest enough air, that as soon as he had finished his researches into the matter of radio-activity, he had hopes of revolutionizing the science of criminology, and had already put in a little ground work by the personal study of a criminal who lived in great style at the Paragon Hotel and was known to the police as Smarmy Sam.

To Barradine's relief a careful cross-examination assured him that Smarmy Sam had merely mulcted Lord Spanswick of £20, had never visited Spanswick Castle, and did not know that he had owned a tube of radium.

They reached the Castle at half-past four. It was a picturesque, if mixed, building, since it had begun in the reign of Edward III, had been enlarged by comfortable additions in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, James II, and Queen Anne, and finished in the reign of George III. It stood on the crest of a ridge some four hundred feet above the level of the sea, and enjoyed admirable views from back and front over broad valleys. It was plainly a charming place to visit.

They found Lady Spanswick and her guests having tea in the vaulted hall of the old Castle, so that Barradine lost no time in making their acquaintance. From the criminal point of view they were not promising. Sir Frederick Pollock, the famous gout specialist, did not need radium in his beneficent work; Lord and Lady Duckwater were, Barradine knew, far too rich to steal it; Mrs. Acheson, a young and flaccid widow, and Reginald Fairclough, Lord Spanswick's only, but stolid, son, would plainly have made a hopeless mess of stealing even apples. Miss Fearn, was far too pretty to steal. The only promising member of the gathering was the famous K.C., William Sturge-Tebbutt, known, strictly among themselves, to His Majesty's judges as Bloody Bill.

Mr. Sturge-Tebbutt should not have been in any need of a five-thousand-pound tube of radium, for he was making at least ten thousand a year at the criminal bar. But a man's needs are not regulated by his income but by his tastes; and it was common knowledge in the polite world that the tastes of Mr. Sturge-Tebbutt were of the most expensive kind. To the eye, moreover, he was of the genuine predatory type: a big, hard-eyed, thin-lipped, heavy-jowled man, with a vulturine nose. Yes: he was undoubtedly promising, for apart from his looks, with criminal connections, he could find the way to sell the radium—if he did not already know it.

Kind fortune gave Barradine a comfortable chair beside Miss Fearn, by far the most attractive person in the gathering. She was certainly charming to the eye, for she had the most beautiful dark-brown eyes, mysterious pools, he had ever seen; her skin was of a clearness, almost luminous, very rare in dark people; and her dark-brown hair was so soft and silken that he was sorely tempted to stroke it. He set about making the best of his position with considerable and, in him, unwonted earnestness, for he was much less susceptible to women, than they were to him, and he found her pleasant and sympathetic and as intelligent as her good forehead promised, that is, she was quick to see his jokes and laugh at them. They were a little apart from the others; and though she seemed a favourite and there were interruptions he had her very much to himself, and before tea was over they were on the way to establish the important fact that, for the most part, they liked the same things.

Barradine enjoyed his tea.

After tea he went with Lord Spanswick ostensibly to see his laboratory. They did see it, for Spanswick must show it to him before he took him to the scene of the theft, for it was the apple of his eye. It was the last word in laboratories. There he made the acquaintance of his assistant in his researches, a somewhat gloomy, aggressive, hard-headed young man of the name of Gregson, from Lancashire, plainly an enthusiast in the matter of radioactivity, for he set Lord Spanswick right in his accounts of the experiments which had been cut short by the loss of the tube of radium, with a quite remarkable brusqueness.

He set Barradine wondering. Scrupulousness is not an unfailing attribute of scientific enthusiasts. Considering that the tube of radium would be far more effective in his own hands unhampered, Gregson might have felt it his duty to acquire it.

As they came away from the laboratory, Barradine said to Lord Spanswick: "What do you know about Mr. Gregson? What's his record?"

Spanswick looked at him in his slow-witted way for twenty seconds and then said with a deeply pained air: "Gregson is above suspicion. He's an enthusiast—a genuine enthusiast. Why, when I told him that the radium had been stolen he was quite rude to me, almost violent indeed—for letting it get stolen. Of course he apologized as soon as he grew calm; and I overlooked it—an enthusiast, you know. But he has been depressed ever since—very depressed."

It sounded satisfactory; but Barradine decided rather cynically that such a worthy young fellow would bear watching. He was the second person in the Castle, who would know how to sell a tube of radium.

At last they came to the scene of the crime, Lord Spanswick's study. It was the third of a series of four rooms on the first floor of the left wing. First was his bedroom, second his dressing-room, then his study, and last a small library of scientific books. As they came into the study, a stout man, working at a desk before the window, rose, and Lord Spanswick said: "That will do for to-day, Mr. Roff."

Barradine had plenty of time to examine him as he put away his papers; and he had rarely seen a more shifty-looking person. The broad expanse of his flabby face made his eyes appear closer together than nature had really set them; and though he kept casting curious glances at Barradine they never once met his. When the door closed behind him, Barradine said: "Who is Mr. Roff? What's his record?"

"Oh, Roff is above suspicion," said Lord Spanswick quickly. "He's my secretary, and really manages all my property. He's invaluable; he relieves me from all trouble about it, and leaves me free for more important matters. Besides, he did me a great service—a great service. He was secretary of the Ural Bonanza Syndicate, of which I was a member; and thanks to his information and advice, I resigned my seat on the board and got rid of my holdings more than six months before the crash and the scandal came. He's quite above suspicion, Roff—the soul of honesty."

If he was, his face belied his soul. Barradine considered him almost as promising a suspect as Sturge-Tebbutt or Gregson, except that they should know how and where to sell the radium.

But all he said was: "And now for the safe."

It stood in the left-hand corner of the room, covered by red velvet curtains. Lord Spanswick had still the four keys which had come with it from the makers. One he carried with his other keys; the other three, neatly labelled "Keys of Safe" were in the top-drawer of an open chippendale bureau in the opposite corner of the room. Barradine learned that that bureau was seldom locked, and that Spanswick often left his bunch of keys lying on the table in his dressing-room. It was cheerful hearing. But Barradine did not say so.

Spanswick opened the safe and showed where the tube had lain on the shelf. It had been the first thing on which the eye fell when the safe was opened. He was quite clear about that. He was more vague about the size of the ebony box, closed by a strong spring, in which, enclosed in an air-tight lead case, the tube had been kept; but Barradine gathered that the box was about six or seven inches long and two inches broad and deep, an uncommonly easy object to conceal.

Then Barradine questioned him about the people who, to his knowledge, had been in his study on the evening of the day he had put the radium back in the safe and on the morning of the day on which he had missed it. Roff had, of course, been in it for some three hours; Gregson had passed through it on his way to the library where he had done an hour's reading after the laboratory had been closed for the day; Watson, his valet, had been in the dressing-room in both the evening and the morning. Moreover his guests often came to look for him in his study.

Barradine asked him whether any one else had used the library, and by some fortunate chance he remembered that Sturge-Tebbutt, who as a rule went to bed two hours after any one else, had gone to the library, when the rest of the party went to bed, to look through a new American treatise on criminology.

Barradine's saturnine face had grown a little grimmer; he asked patiently whether Spanswick had locked the bureau that night. He had not; on finding the tube of radium gone, he had at once gone to the drawer in the bureau to see if the spare keys of the safe were still in it, and found that the bureau was not locked.

Barradine asked him whether Sturge-Tebbutt had ever seen the tube of radium in its ebony box. Spanswick told him that all his guests had seen it. He had shown it to them three nights before its disappearance and made a simple experiment or two, to entertain them.

Barradine did not suggest that he had forced the thief's attention to it, or assure him that the cleverest accomplice could hardly have made the theft easier than he had done. He only said frankly that it was his opinion that Spanswick's theory that the radium had been stolen by a burglar was untenable and that the recovery of it promised to be a long, difficult, and expensive business.

Spanswick said confidently: "I'm sure that every one in the Castle is above suspicion."

"So you've told me," said Barradine morosely. "But to be quite frank with you I already suspect three of them."

Spanswick looked a trifle taken aback; but he said: "Oh, well. I've full confidence in your judgment—full confidence. But I must insist that there is no scandal. All I want is the radium; I do not even wish to know the name of the thief. I am only interested in ameliorating the lot of Humanity with the radium."

He ended nobly on the grand note.

"Splendid," said Barradine gloomily.


CHAPTER II
Suspects

THE Earl of Barradine and Sharples had not nearly as much confidence in his judgment as had Lord Spanswick, who knew nothing about it. But he had little hope of finding evidence at the Castle, and even less of finding the radium any longer there.

His chance would, or at any rate might, come, when the thief tried to sell the radium, and in that Spanswick's refusal to have any scandal was hampering. If the thief were wise, he would sit on the radium, metaphorically, for four or five years to allow Lord Spanswick time to forget, as he would easily do, its very existence. Barradine's hope was that it had been stolen by some one who could not wait five years for the money.

But though neither the evidence nor the radium might be any longer at the Castle, there was work to be done there: he had to sift out the dwellers in it, at any rate from Sturge-Tebbutt and Roff and Gregson and any of the servants Forbes might select, the one or two to watch, and at once he instructed the office by telephone to inform the firms who dealt in radium and the leading radiologists that between four and five thousand pounds' worth had been stolen and to invite them to inform the Agency should any one try to sell any quantity of it for the possession of which they could not account. That, he thought, should spoil the thief's prospect of selling it in England, for there are very, very few private buyers. Also he instructed the office to try to discover the financial position of Lord Spanswick's guests.

Spanswick Castle was the most pleasant place in which Barradine had ever investigated a crime: thanks to Lady Spanswick, the excellence of Spanswick's chef was only equalled by the excellence of his cellar, and his guests saw nothing of him between breakfast and dinner. It was indeed her party. After breakfast her guests went down to the golf links, and Barradine contrived to play in the same foursome as Mary Fearn. Sturge-Tebbutt also contrived to play in it. There was indeed no keeping them out of it, for both of them were used to getting their own way.

Barradine found that it was she who made the Castle such a pleasant place for the investigation of crime: she was a delight to the eye, and a stimulating companion, owing to a rather astonishing vein of bitter cynicism, which ran through her talk and gave it an uncommon piquancy.

Sometimes it jarred on Barradine; always it delighted Sturge-Tebbutt.

Barradine also contrived to spend quite a lot of time in the laboratory, or in Lord Spanswick's library in the left wing, cultivating the acquaintance of Gregson and Roff. The latter was the easier to cultivate since he found the Castle dull and was ready always to discuss the books. The evening, or rather the night, Barradine devoted to Sturge-Tebbutt. Dinner was over by nine; the party strolled in the gardens for some twenty minutes, and then settled down to Contract—Barradine and Sturge-Tebbutt always cut into Mary Fearn's rubber—till about half-past eleven.

Sturge-Tebbutt could not bring himself to go to bed so early and was pleased to find someone to share his vigil. He was an interesting talker on a dozen subjects, and was often witty and amusing with a jovial brutality—especially on such subjects as women, His Majesty's judges, and the prominent politicians of his acquaintance. He was restrained enough, even suave, in his talk the first two evenings; then he grew frank, and displayed freely his superman's outlook on life. The outlook on life of an intelligent wolf must be uncommonly like it, Barradine thought. Nothing amused him better than to rouse Barradine's impatient disgust: it made him laugh his odd, croaking laugh.

But Barradine found him not only quite interesting but amazingly intelligent; and he began to hope heartily that he had not stolen the radium, since, if he had, the chance of recovering it looked quite small. Tebbutt would make no slip in selling it; and he made no secret of the fact that he seldom lost sight of any able criminal whom he had so hardily snatched from the clutches of the law. He had therefore his pick probably of the fences of England, and Barradine took it that he would oblige at least four of them with equal shares of the radium at a good price. It was the obvious way of disposing of it.

Barradine was really hoping against hope that Sturge-Tebbutt had not stolen the radium, for if a tube of it came his way easily, he could not see him keeping his hands off it, and that tube had come his way easily indeed.

Barradine saw to it that the skilful Forbes searched his bedroom and his portmanteaux; but he did not find the radium. Barradine had not entertained the smallest hope that he would. But nothing must be neglected.

While Sturge-Tebbutt and Barradine were somewhat intimate acquaintances at night, during the day they were rather rivals, for he too, found Mary Fearn very attractive, and did his best to keep her to himself. Barradine observed with pleasure that fortunately and perhaps naturally Sturge-Tebbutt did not attract her greatly, that she seemed to dislike him. She showed a pleasing and praiseworthy firmness of character, hardly to be expected, except for her cynicism, in so charming a creature, in keeping him at a distance. Barradine liked her the more for this.

Then, as was natural in Sturge-Tebbutt, he tried to impair Barradine's liking for her. He told him that she was penniless, since her father, Colonel Fearn, had been a friend of Spanswick, had been enthusiastically shepherded by him into the Ural Bonanza Syndicate, and lost nearly all his money in that swindle. She subsisted therefore on her winnings at Contract—she was, indeed, a good player—and on the credit she enjoyed from staying always at good houses.

He ended by saying: "You've only got to notice the letters she gets. Four out of five are bills."

He laughed unpleasantly.

"But why should I notice the letters Miss Fearn gets?" said Barradine in his most offensive tone and manner. "There's always some damned outsider expecting me to act as he does."

Sturge-Tebbutt was quite unembarrassed; he said: "Well, you seemed interested in her."

Barradine said nothing; nevertheless the information startled him a little. He was sorry for her; he admired the spirit in which she bore herself in her difficulties; but he was disquieted: here was another person with a motive, and it must be gone into. He did not think there was anything in it; but he had taken on the job, and it was going to be done thoroughly.

The expert, Forbes, easily found a chance to search her belongings, and he made sure that the tube of radium was not among them. Barradine had not expected that it would be, but he was relieved. At the end of the week Forbes reported that he could find no reason to suspect any of the servants.

Barradine had asked Spanswick to tell him at once if either Roff or Gregson asked for a day's holiday. Two nights later he informed him that he had given Roff leave to go to London the next day. Accordingly Barradine instructed the office to meet Forbes at Paddington; Forbes went to London by the same train as Roff, unobtrusively, pointed him out to the assistant awaiting them, and returned to Spanswick. Roff returned on the following afternoon, looking refreshed. The office reported that he had spent the day and night in a round of the simple pleasures which, doubtless, most appealed to him.

That was that.

Barradine, naturally, observed Mary Fearn's letters and found that Sturge-Tebbutt had been right in saying that four out of five of them seemed to be bills. She appeared, moreover, to regard them with equanimity. Certainly they did not spoil her appetite.

Sturge-Tebbutt's story threw light on the cynicism, apparently so inappropriate in her. There was little doubt that the loss of her father's money had revealed the shallowness of several friendships she had enjoyed. Barradine's attitude to her became somewhat protective.

It became uncommonly protective for a few minutes on the afternoon after Roff's return. After lunch Barradine spent some time with Spanswick and Gregson in the laboratory and heard Gregson ask Spanswick, with an obviously unfeigned testiness, when they were going to have some radium again. He left them, learnt from the butler that Mary Fearn was out in the gardens, and then, from one of the gardeners, that she was walking along the path by the lake, as they call the big pool at the end of the gardens, with Sturge-Tebbutt. He walked briskly to join them to go down to the links.

The path by the lake was thickly turfed and he went along it noiselessly, and was not half way down it when he heard Mary Fearn cry out. He sprinted, came round the corner of the path and found her struggling with Sturge-Tebbutt, who was trying to kiss her. Barradine did not say anything; he went for him.

Sturge-Tebbutt saw him, loosed Mary Fearn, and hit out. Barradine ducked, closed, got his grip, and by a simple wrestler's trick heaved him over his shoulder into the lake. The bank was five feet high. Sturge-Tebbutt went into the water with a splendid splash.

Mary Fearn gazed at Barradine with her eyes wide open and said softly: "Goodness!"

"Damping his spirit," said Barradine lightly; but he looked grim enough.

They watched him gain the bank and climb it about twenty yards up the path; Barradine was ready for another tussle. He had thoughts of going into the lake with him this time and throttling him a little under the water. It would be even more damping.

But Sturge-Tebbutt merely shook himself like a wet dog, glared at Barradine, said: "Stringy brute!" and walked off down the path to the house with a quiet, dignified air.

Mary Fearn said gratefully: "Thanks so much."

"It was a pleasure," said Barradine grimly.

She was flushed, and her eyes were shining. He had never seen her look so pretty.

They turned and walked about thirty yards in silence; then she cried: "It's a horrid shame! That cad would never have dreamt of doing such a thing when my father was alive and we had plenty of money."

"Surely you over-rate Sturge-Tebbutt's self-restraint?" said Barradine.

"No. You don't know what a difference it makes in the way all kinds of people treat you—having no money," she said bitterly.

"I suppose it does," said Barradine.

He was not at all surprised that Sturge-Tebbutt did not invent some excuse to withdraw himself with delicacy from the Castle; but he was surprised that he showed no rancour towards him for giving him that bath. That night he talked to him with his usual frank familiarity. He had the sense not to speak of Mary Fearn.

The days passed in the same pleasant round, and at the end of a fortnight the party broke up. Barradine was annoyed to have made very little, if any, progress towards discovering who had stolen the radium or where it was. He had not even been able to eliminate wholly any of the four people who might possibly have it—Sturge-Tebbutt, Roff, Gregson, and Mary Fearn. He had very little doubt that neither Mary Fearn nor Gregson had it, and he did not believe that Roff had it. But he could not quite eliminate them. It was most likely that Sturge-Tebbutt was the criminal. But there was no evidence. It must be found.


CHAPTER III
Sturge-Tebbutt Complains

BUT Barradine did not neglect the other suspects: Spanswick undertook to let him know if either Roff or Gregson came to London, in time for them to be picked up and watched, and Lady Spanswick also undertook to see that he did so. Also he instructed the office to have Sturge-Tebbutt and Mary Fearn met at Paddington and watched. He did not quite like to do this in the case of Mary Fearn. But he was taking no chances, and he told himself, that, after all, if she had the radium, it was much better that he should know it and prevent her from getting into prison for trying to sell it. Moreover, she would never know that he was having her watched.

Nevertheless it was an unpleasant business, for, thanks to his having thrown Sturge-Tebbutt into the lake, they were on very friendly terms.

They travelled to London together; his Bentley met him, and he drove her and her dour-looking maid to her flat in Grandcourt Mansions in the Finchley Road, and stayed on to tea with her.

It was neither a large nor expensive flat, but there were some good things in it, and as they were smoking after tea, he rose to examine two jade figures on the mantelpiece and said that they were uncommonly pleasing.

She waved her hand round the room and said with vengeful satisfaction: "All these things belong legally to Daddy's creditors. But the rogues didn't get them."

"You must have been encouraging trade," he said.

He saw no reason to let the friendship lapse, and she seemed to be of the same mind, for she accepted his invitation to dine with him at Grosvenor House with manifest pleasure.

The next morning Barradine received an invitation from Sturge-Tebbutt to dine with him at Eldon Court, in the Inner Temple, on the Thursday. The invitation was a pleasing indication that the eminent K.C. bore no grudge against him for bathing him in the lake, but Barradine had an impression that, unless he misjudged Sturge-Tebbutt, a commoner who had bathed him would not have received any such invitation. Since he always felt that he could not see enough of any suspect in a case he was handling, Barradine at once accepted the invitation.

That night Mary Fearn dined with him at Grosvenor House and danced, and both enjoyed the evening. In the matter of the radium nothing happened: neither Rolf nor Gregson came to London; neither Sturge-Tebbutt nor Mary Fearn made any suspicious move.

It occurred to Barradine that Sturge-Tebbutt was the one of the four who could sit on the radium for months, or even years—if he had it.

Nothing happened. On the Thursday he dined with Sturge-Tebbutt. The other guests were a seasoned Tory politician and a well-known surgeon. It was a dinner for gourmets and the wines and cigars were of the first quality. The talk also was good. But Barradine's attention wandered now and then. It wandered to a safe, screened by red velvet curtains, in the left-hand corner of the room. He would have liked to see the contents of that safe.

He did.

They were drinking their coffee when Mainwaring, the surgeon, said to Sturge-Tebbutt: "You said you were going to the Ibbetson sale. Did you get anything?"

"Three first-class pieces—and I had to pay for them too."

"Let's have a look at them," said Mainwaring.

With the alacrity of a collector showing his treasures, Sturge-Tebbutt rose and opened the safe and came back with three intaglio rings and handed them to Mainwaring, who examined them and passed them round. Barradine had eyes chiefly for the open safe: he saw seven shelves and on each shelf a tray of rings; on the eighth shelf, the top shelf, he saw two jewel cases and beside them a packet, wrapped in brown paper, about eight inches long and three inches thick.

When the three rings came round to him he displayed an immense interest in them, indeed he almost grew excited about them. Sturge-Tebbutt was delighted; he invited Barradine to come to see the whole collection. They made the appointment for half-past five the next afternoon—there would be plenty of light.

At a quarter to five the next afternoon Miss Barber was in Barradine's office, making a package eight inches long and three inches thick out of a shaving-soap tin full of pebbles. She got it to his liking in everything but weight. He thought it too light: the tin should have been filled with lead; they had no lead; he must make it do.

He arrived at Sturge-Tebbutt's chambers punctually and was taken up to the room in which they had dined in the flat above them, and there he found the safe drawn forward in front of the window and Sturge-Tebbutt refreshing his taste from a tray of rings on the top of it, and at once they began to look through the collection.

Barradine had learnt a lot about intaglios before Sturge-Tebbutt gave him his chance by going to the fireplace to knock out his pipe: when his back was turned Barradine changed the packets with a deftness really creditable in an amateur.

But he did not leave at once: he stayed on and learnt quite a lot more about intaglios. But when he did go he moved quickly, and in less than a quarter of an hour Miss Barber was carefully opening the abstracted package, which was neither as large as Barradine had thought nor as heavy as he had expected, in his office. Out of the brown paper she took a shaving-soap tin, opened it, took out a layer of cotton wool, and poured out on to the table nine small brown pebbles.

Uncut diamonds.

"What ever are these?" she said.

"If you ask me, I should say that they were a compulsory tribute from an ungrateful client," said Barradine.

"And what are you going to do with them, m' Lord?"

"Forget all about them. And when you have packed them up again and sealed the package and departed, I beg that you too will forget you ever saw them," said Barradine.

"Very good, m' Lord," said Miss Barber.

It did not take her long to pack up the diamonds and seal the package.

She went.

Reflecting gloomily that there was no £250 for him in it, Barradine addressed the packet, in block letters, posted it at the Charing Cross Post Office, and went to his flat in Escorial Mansions by Tube, instead of by taxi, because there had not been £250 for him in the packet.

He stepped into the lift, and as it went up, the liftman said: "There's a gen'leman to see you, m' Lord. Very himpatient 'e is, 'ammering like one o'clock on your door 'e's bin. I told 'im that if you weren't in you'd be sure to be back to dress for dinner."

"You told him right," said Barradine. "I have come back to dress for dinner. But after all it's not necessary. Run me down again."

"Right, m' Lord," said the liftman, and he ran him down.

As he went out of Escorial Mansions into the street Barradine wondered how Sturge-Tebbutt had come to discover his loss so quickly: he must have been going to gloat over the diamonds before his dinner. But it did not really matter: it was no part of his scheme of life to interview an angry man on an empty stomach.

He went to his club; he dined; he played Contract.

At 1.15 a.m. he entered Escorial Mansions, and the night porter said: "There's a gen'leman waiting for you, m' Lord."

"Still?" said Barradine patiently.

"Yes, m' Lord. But he's quieter now," said the porter.

"Many people are quieter between one and two in the morning."

"They are, m' Lord," said the porter. "It was when 'e come back at heleven that 'e made most noise."

"Drunk, I suppose?"

"Well, sprung, m' Lord—sprung."

When Barradine and the porter reached Sturge-Tebbutt, he appeared to be still sprung, for he sprang at them clamouring with immense excitement for his diamonds. Since he did not believe that they were Sturge-Tebbutt's diamonds Barradine was able to assure him with an easy mind that he had not got his diamonds, which was true, and that he knew nothing about his confounded diamonds, which would not have been true, had they been Sturge-Tebbutt's diamonds.

It was a wordy affair.

The night porter did not shorten it; he kept saying to Sturge-Tebbutt in shocked accents:

"But this is the Earl of Barradine and Sharples, sir."

And every time the eminent K.C. said something about the Earls of Barradine and Sharples that won't bear print.

At 1.35 Barradine took Sturge-Tebbutt and the porter into his flat, gave them a whisky and soda, turned them out, and went to bed.

He did not lie awake congratulating himself on the success of his flair for radium the previous day.


CHAPTER IV
Mary Fearn Complains

HE awoke next morning in a certain blankness of spirit: a promising trail had petered out in an annoying fashion, and though he had displayed ingenuity and resource, nothing had come of them. But he was not disheartened: Sturge-Tebbutt still had that safe. He had not seen what lay at the back of that eighth shelf. If stolen, or at any rate improperly come by, diamonds lay in the front of it, stolen radium might very well be lying at the back.

He did not therefore withdraw Rogers, the man who was watching Sturge-Tebbutt, from the job, not even when Sturge-Tebbutt, a week later, went to Manchester. It was true that his home was in Manchester, but radium could be sold in Manchester nearly as well as in London. Rogers reported no action of Sturge-Tebbutt that looked like an attempt to sell radium, so that Barradine did not dash to Manchester. He was giving an unusual amount of his time to the dances of the Season—at least to dances at which he met Mary Fearn. He did not wish to go to Manchester, yet he was not a susceptible man.

Sturge-Tebbutt had been in Manchester a week when Barradine received a shock. He came to his office one morning to read in the report of Miss Glossop, the girl who was watching Mary Fearn:

"At 4.30 went to 317 Harley Street. Left 4.52. Taxi Ladies' Empire. Left 7.5."

"Who are the doctors at 317 Harley Street?" he said sharply to Miss Barber.

She reached for the Post Office Directory, and in three minutes she read out: "Sir Basil Haynes, F.R.C.S., Holloway Johnson, M.D. and Benjamin Carter, M.D., B.Sc."

"Any of them a radiologist?"

She reached for the Medical Directory, and in three-quarters of a minute she said: "Dr. Benjamin Carter."

Barradine considered. Yes: it was a business he would handle himself.

A quarter of an hour later he was in 317 Harley Street. Luckily he found Dr. Carter in and disengaged. His card brought him to the doctor's consulting-room at once, and he found the doctor an amiable old gentleman of sixty. He apologised for troubling him and asked him if he could put him in the way of selling a tube of radium.

Dr. Carter turned gloomily; he eyed Barradine gloomily; he said gloomily: "People seem to think I'm a radium exchange. Only yesterday a young lady came to ask me where a friend of hers could sell a tube of radium which had been left him by an uncle—a Norwegian Professor. I didn't know that any Norwegian Professor had possessed a tube of radium of the value of five thousand pounds, and I obtained a perfect exhibition of feminine vagueness. She thought that Stockholm was the capital of Norway."

"Really, I'm awfully sorry to have bothered you. I didn't know that you had already been consulted about the disposal of the radium. I must apologize for wasting your time. Good morning," said Barradine, making for the door.

"Not at all. Not at all," said Dr. Carter more graciously. "The young lady knows exactly what to do."

The devil she did!

Barradine drove back to the office in a bad temper. He was angry with Mary Fearn. She had again placed him in an awkward position. Here he was: he must arrange to have her flat searched as soon as it could be done, and she was dining with him in the evening. But it had to be done: he must get that radium from her before she could land herself in some hopeless hole in her efforts to sell it. Spanswick must in the end go to the police. The expert Forbes was disengaged; he was instructed to bring the radium from Mary Fearn's flat without delay. Barradine told him all he knew of her mode of life.

Barradine was, naturally, not wholly unlike a bear with a sore head at dinner that evening. Mary Fearn seemed somewhat distressed by it, and did her best to soothe him. It grew plainer and plainer to him that he was acting in her best interests. He let himself be soothed.

Nothing happened for the next three days.

From Miss Glossop's reports Barradine gathered that Mary Fearn was making no attempt to sell the radium by interview, whatever she might be doing by post. During the week-end Forbes took advantage of her having gone out to dinner and let her dour-looking maid go out for the evening, to search her flat. He did not find the tube of radium.

Barradine was vexed by his failure: he had grown uncommonly anxious to have her out of danger; he was worried about her. He believed that, in spite of Forbes' failure, the tube of radium was in the flat. He could trust her intelligence to hide it well. He was even restless, and the next day he went to tea with her to make sure that no harm had yet befallen her, and to suggest dinner and a show that evening. Her maid showed him into her sitting-room and said that her mistress was dressing.

He sat down and gazed gloomily, but keenly, round the room; he might by some lucky chance hit on the hiding-place Forbes had missed. The room was very well kept and uncommonly tidy. Everything was spick and span, except for a dingy old silk vanity bag half hidden under a cushion on the couch. Barradine's eyes kept coming back to it; its incongruity seemed to draw them to it; it was such a shabby object that it was quite out of keeping with the room. Suddenly the idea flashed on him; he almost leapt across the room, opened the bag, and thrust his hand into it. It was empty; but a knuckle struck against something hard. There was a lump in the lining.

In ten seconds he had slit the lining with his penknife, and taken out a small oblong box, wrapped in tissue paper, and thrust it into his pocket. He had replaced the bag and sat down again in his chair as the door opened and Mary Fearn came in.

He was rather on tenterhooks during that tea; but his saturnine face showed no uneasiness. He left at half-past five and when he was going down the stairs he took his find from his pocket and examined it. It was the tube of radium.

Now that he knew the truth, he ought to have been horrified. But he was hard to horrify. Perhaps if any other girl but Mary Fearn had stolen it, he might have been horrified. It is not likely: he was too tolerant of human frailty. He was only annoyed, very much annoyed.

He drove back to the office and sent off Miss Barber to Spanswick Castle with the radium.

He had now time to be really annoyed, and he was most annoyed because he had to clear away all pretence and let Mary Fearn know that he had relieved her of the radium. He felt that it was not at all the kind of thing for a hard-boiled sleuth to do; but there it was: he had to do it. Till it was done he would feel so uncomfortable.

He was incapable of perceiving that perhaps it was rather late to feel uncomfortable, that he ought to have felt uncomfortable earlier, when he was deceiving a guilty girl. But he did perceive that that was the view that Mary Fearn would probably take. Trembling with annoyance, he walked up to Swan and Edgar's and bought the best handbag they had in the shop, and took a taxi to Grandcourt Mansions. He was fuming less when he arrived.

Mary looked up from the Evening News, in which she was reading, ruefully, the results of the afternoon's racing, with an air of surprise when her maid ushered him into her sitting-room, and the surprise deepened as she took in the astonishing blackness of his saturnine face, and her guilty conscience quickened her heart at least two beats.

"Back again?" she said, and then to her maid: "Dry Martinis, Martin."

Martin went, and Barradine said: "Well, I made such a mess of that bag, cutting the radium out of it, that I had to bring you another at once."

She jerked up out of her chair and reached the couch in one movement, caught up the vanity bag, looked at the tear in it, and her eyes slowly filled with tears; she said in dolorous accents: "What a beastly shame! That radium was mine."

"Nothing of the kind!" said Barradine sitting down in an easy chair. "What was yours—at least it would have been if you'd sold the stuff—was six months or a year, with or without hard labour, according to the judge you got."

"I tell you it was mine!" she persisted. "Lord Spanswick let my father in for forty thousand pounds in Ural Bonanzas, and cleared out of them himself without losing a penny, when he could have got him out too. The radium was some of it back."

"Not in London in the twentieth century it wasn't," said Barradine with conviction. "With Spanswick it would be sauve qui peut when his own hide was concerned every time—that panic-stricken old sheep wouldn't give a damn for any one else, and the law would back him up all the time and all the way. It was made by Spanswicks for Spanswicks, and six months or a year is what you'd have got."

"I don't believe it. Lord Spanswick would never have gone to the police," she said.

"Spanswicks always go to the police—in the long run. He'd have had to have that radium back," Barradine asserted.

She hesitated, looking at him, shaken; then she said: "Well, any way it was no business of yours. You've played me a rotten trick, pretending to be my friend, and letting me down like this. You can clear out and stay away, and I don't want to have anything more to do with you."

"And that's the thanks I get for saving you from six months' hard."

Martin came in with the cocktails.

"Will you go!" said Mary, for Barradine sat still.

"All right! All right! I'm going," said Barradine. "But after this painful discussion I want a drink."

He took a cocktail from the tray Martin held out to him.

"You are," said Mary, "the perfect pig."


CHAPTER V
The Stolen Picture

BARRADINE found Mary Fearn's last words inaccurate—the perfect pig has no arms, but four legs—but comforting. They were not exactly the words a young woman addresses to a youngish man she will never forgive. But he thought it better to leave her to ponder his contention that he had done her a service in relieving her of the radium, before he presented himself before her again, and he stayed away from Grandcourt Mansions. She might miss him.

On the third day he paid into his bank Lord Spanswick's cheque for ¬£343, ¬£250 for his fee and ¬£93 for expenses, and felt that he was getting his radium back too cheaply. But Miss Barber, who kept the accounts, could not make the expenses more than ¬£93. Nevertheless it was a pleasing cheque. He came back to the office—it was only a matter of walking from the Bank of Scotland in Piccadilly to Manfred House in Jermyn Street—and found Miss Barber talking to a tall, thin, overdressed, foreign-looking fellow.

"Ah. Here is Lord Barradine," she said. "Let me introduce you: Sir Constantine Argyropoulo—Lord Barradine. A new client, m' Lord."

Barradine led the new client into his office, told him to sit down and sat down at his desk facing him. Sir Constantine shook the shiny silk hat he was holding, nervously, and gazed at him, hesitating. With his protruding, glassy eyes and his protruding, parted lips in a dry face, he looked like an imperfectly kippered herring.

Barradine disliked him. He reflected pensively that it was odd that he should so often dislike his clients. He did not hurry him; to hurry them meant in the long run a loss of time; he gave him full time, disliking him more and more, to make up his mind.

Then he said: "Well?"

Sir Constantine jumped.

"You are discreet—quite discreet, your Lordship?" he burst out jerkily.

"Of course I'm discreet," said Barradine with a weary impatience.

"I have lost a picture—a fine picture—a masterpiece. I want it discovered discreetly. It is not an ordinary robbery. It must not be talked about," said Sir Constantine, emphasizing his points by dabbing his hat at Barradine, and his eyes stuck further out of his head.

Barradine at once believed that there was something fishy about the business, and he said coldly: "Our trade formula is secrecy and despatch."

He thought that "trade formula" was better than "motto" for Sir Constantine.

"Good! You had better come to my house—to the scene of the crime. Can you come at once, your Lordship?" said Sir Constantine.

"Yes," said Barradine without eagerness, and he rose and took his hat from its peg.

A new Rolls-Royce was waiting; and they drove to Grosvenor Square. All the way, with tears in his eyes, Sir Constantine pulled away at his yellowish-brown chin: plainly he was very sorry for himself. When they came to his house he bustled out of the car, pulling Barradine along by the arm, bustled through the hall, into a room on the ground floor, and halted him in front of a picture.

"There! Your Lordship!" he cried with tears in his eyes and voice. "They stole my Botticelli—my splendid Botticelli—the 'Venus in Cyprus'—worth three thousand pounds—and stuck that daub in its place. It isn't worth half-a-crown, your Lordship!"

It was indeed a crude daub, a late copy by an inferior artist. Indeed it looked to Barradine as if it could not have been painted more than three or four years; and it was an oil-painting at that. He remembered dimly that he had once seen the original—at Breno.

He remembered it the more clearly because he had only seen it after a good deal of trouble, for it was in the gallery of an Italian nobleman, who did not admit the public to it. Indeed, he never would have seen it, had he not been with Gordon Hughes, who was an enthusiastic admirer of Botticelli, and had fairly forced his way into that gallery. Sir Constantine's "Venus in Cyprus" must have been a replica of the Breno Botticelli. But the odd thing was that it looked to Barradine to be in the same frame; he could almost swear to the broken corner.

It was uncommonly odd. Italian masterpieces are no longer allowed to leave Italy. But of course if Sir Constantine's picture had been a replica, the frame might easily be a replica too.

"It is a daub. Where did you get the original?" said Barradine.

Sir Constantine had not expected the question, for he winced, blinked, hesitated, and stammered: "I b-bought it from a—a friend."

"At Breno?" said Barradine in a rather chilly tone.

"No, no, no! In England! At Bristol!" he said quickly.

He seemed to be a poor liar for a Levantine—if he was a Levantine. Barradine thought him rather too yellow for a Levantine. He wondered whether the picture stolen from him had been stolen from Breno, or merely left Italy quietly.

"It is as foolish to lie to your detective as it is to lie to your doctor," he said in an even chillier tone.

He was not taking any nonsense from a sub-Levantine English knight.

Sir Constantine gasped; his eyes seemed to come dangerously far out of their sockets. He said hastily and somewhat breathlessly: "Yes, yes! Of course! I—I g-g-got it in the way of business—from an Italian nobleman. He—he needed money. He—he'd be greatly distressed if it came out that he—he'd sold it."

"Prison or fines are distressing," said Barradine sombrely.

"And it would injure me—in my business. I am one of a syndicate that arranges the flotation of Italian loans. Il Duce would not like it," said Sir Constantine.

No wonder he had not called in the police.

"He would not," said Barradine with conviction. "And this picture-smuggling is a sideline from your financial business. I suppose it pays well."

"I shouldn't touch it if it didn't," said Sir Constantine with simple dignity.

There was a pause while Barradine considered; then he said:

"Did any of your financial friends know the story of the picture?"

"No, no," he said unhappily. "I would not tell them. The business is already overcrowded. They would rush into it—all of them."

"The picture-smuggling business?"

"Yes."

"They may have guessed it," said Barradine. "I am not the only man in England who has seen the Breno Botticelli. And they would have known that you couldn't go to the police. But why on earth did you hang it on the wall here. Why put temptation in your friends' way? Why didn't you keep it in your safe?"

"I like to be open and above board, your Lordship. People, even American collectors, pay less for pictures out of safes; they are suspicious. Besides, a collector might come in any day—on the chance of my having something. They know that I sometimes have things. Besides, this is my smoking-room and private office. Very few people come into it—only people I know, for special, very private business—and collectors."

"I see," said Barradine, and he turned and surveyed the room.

It appeared to be a mixture of a smoking-room and an office. The decoration was gorgeous; in the right-hand corner was a roll-top desk with a typist's table beside it, both adorned with carving. The walls were covered with large pictures in broad, gilded frames, scenes from the private lives of several infants.

"I see that the rest of your pictures are modern," said Barradine gloomily.

"Staley-Brimbers—straight from the walls of the Academy. I bought them for the rise, your Lordship," said Sir Constantine proudly. It seemed to give him some satisfaction to address his detective correctly.

Barradine took the copy of the Botticelli from the wall and examined the back of it. Whoever had taken out the back to change the canvases had worn gloves, a man's gloves—a large hand.

"When was the picture stolen?" said Barradine.

"Yesterday," said Sir Constantine. "I was away from one till three, lunching with Baron Narni. When I came back at three the picture had been changed. I did not find it out till four."

"That was odd," said Barradine.

"Why was it odd?" snapped Sir Constantine with a sudden touch of childish anger. "I was busy. I don't like these old pictures. I sell them. I don't look at them. No. Some of my friends laugh at me and say I have no sense of beauty. But look at my Staley-Brimbers! Straight from the Acad——"

"What made you notice the change?" said Barradine, tearing him from his grievance.

"It was Miss Carter—my new secretary. We were having tea; and she said: 'I don't like this new picture as well as the one that was in the frame.' Then I saw that I had been robbed; and I spilt my tea on my legs; and it was hot."

"How do you know the Botticelli hadn't been stolen two or three or ten days?" said Barradine.

"I looked at it yesterday morning. I was wondering why people thought it beautiful," said Sir Constantine.

"Who was in the room between one and three?" said Barradine.

"It was stolen between half-past one and half-past two," said Sir Constantine with certainty. "Miss Carter was away at lunch, then Solly Fitzgerald came at a quarter to two and said he would wait a while on the chance of my coming back, and write a note if I didn't. He would wait here. He said he couldn't stand the pictures in any other room but this, and in this they were merely poisonous. Poisonous! My Staley-Brimbers! Straight from the——"

"Solomon Fitzgerald, the collector?" said Barradine sharply. "Had he ever noticed the Botticelli?"

"Yes. He tried to buy it off me ten days ago. But of course I wouldn't sell it to him. He doesn't pay enough. Besides, I was going to sell it to an American—confidentially. I didn't want it in Europe. Il Duce would not like it—no. Solly bothered me about it; and yesterday he had a roll of music with him when he came—a thick roll. He buys music for his daughter Miriam. I know he does—often," said Sir Constantine. "He went away at two; and then the Countess of Borrett came."

"Wait a minute. Did he leave that note for you?" said Barradine.

"Yes, yes. That was all right—about some shares. And Lady Coughtrie Borrett came in here to write a note for me—about—about a loan—a private loan. She was only here thirteen minutes. Harrison, my butler, keeps the time any one stays. He has orders. It is business."

"Lady Borrett took some time—over a note. Had she ever seen the Botticelli before?" said Barradine.

"Yes; a week ago—when she came first about the loan. She did not know it; but she knew it was good. She said, if it was hers, she'd sell it and pay some of her bills—she's very hard up. But of course she was only joking. She was carrying a card-board box. At least Harrison thought it was." Then suddenly he waved his hands in the air, snapping his fingers, and cried: "It's that roll of music. Solly! He stole it in that roll of music!"

He might have done, Barradine thought.


CHAPTER VI
Raphael and Solomon's Song

SIR CONSTANTINE'S transport ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

"I should like to talk to Miss Carter," said Barradine.

"You can't. She's away. She has gone to a sick friend. She would go. And she's only been with me a fortnight," said his client in aggrieved accents.

"What kind of a woman is she?" said Barradine.

"She isn't a woman. She's a girl—a pretty girl. She is of the magnetic type—with red hair and green eyes—wonderful green eyes—emerald."

He spoke in a tone of enthusiasm which would hardly have delighted Lady Argyropoulo.

"Well, I should like to see the servant who let Solomon Fitzgerald and Lady Coughtrie Borrett in and showed them in here," said Barradine.

"It was Harrison, my butler," said Sir Constantine, pressing the electric bell on his desk.

Harrison came, a staid, intelligent man of fifty; and Barradine questioned him about Solomon Fitzgerald. He was sure that Solomon had come at a quarter to two and gone at two. Lady Borrett had come about two minutes after he had gone and gone at 2.15. The roll Solomon carried was thick and long, as if the pieces of music had been rolled longways. No: it was no longer when he went than when he came, or thicker. Harrison was sure of this; he watched parcels; such strange people came to the house; it had become a habit.

"And what kind of parcel was Lady Borrett carrying?" said Barradine.

"It was a long parcel, sir, over a yard long, and about four inches broad and deep. It looked like a cardboard box, for it seemed quite light," said the butler.

"And you're quite sure that these were the only people in this room between half-past one and half-past two yesterday?" said Barradine.

Harrison hesitated; then he said rather reluctantly: "Well, sir, as I came along at half-past two from my pantry to let Miss Carter in, I did see Mr. Raphael come out of this room with a portfolio under his arm. But I can't say how long he'd been in it."

"And who is Mr. Raphael?" said Barradine.

"My son. He will be a painter," said Sir Constantine mournfully. "And he'll never make any money at it—never. He is not practical. He does not know what the Public wants. No. He sneers at my Staley-Brimbers—sneers at them. He said it was sacrilege to hang the Botticelli in the same room—sacrilege, though he was only an illustrator. He is scornful, your Lordship—always. But there: his mother would call him Raphael and not Albert."

"An enthusiast, is he? Picasso, I suppose," said Barradine.

"A dreamer—an impractical dreamer, your Lordship," said Sir Constantine almost tearfully.

"Well, as Miss Carter is away there is not much more to be learnt here," said Barradine. "We had better settle the matter of my fee. I shall want all expenses paid and a hundred and fifty pounds, five per cent. of its value, on the recovery of the stolen picture, and fifty pounds at once on account of expenses."

He had come right down to the hard bedrock of the financier's soul. He argued, wrangled, haggled, and raved. He offered Barradine fifty, seventy-five, a hundred, and a hundred and twenty-five. He was a broken man when he agreed to pay the hundred and fifty. Why—why had he told Barradine so much?

Then Barradine said: "I shan't want the hundred and fifty of course, if it turns out that your son has substituted this daub for the picture by way of asserting the dignity of art."

Sir Constantine leapt at the suggestion, a transfigured man.

"Why didn't I think of it?" he cried. "That's what has happened, your Lordship! We shall find it in his rooms! Come along! At once! There is no need to write the cheque for fifty pound on account of expenses, your Lordship! Come along!"

He dashed out of the room and mounted the stairs with the bounds of an antelope. Barradine did not compete with him.

When Barradine reached the third-floor, he found Sir Constantine in a studio, bare and austere indeed after the gorgeousness of his smoking-room and the hall and staircase, on his knees, shaking furiously, by both handles, the locked bottom drawer of a chest of drawers, and speaking very rudely to it as he shook.

Barradine shut the door, watched him and listened to him, lighting a cigarette the while.

Then he said: "I see that there is a bunch of keys on the table. Perhaps the key of the drawer is among them."

Sir Constantine sprang to his feet, seized the keys, and dropped on his knees beside the drawer. Barradine thought that he tried every key in the bunch before the right one. Then Sir Constantine opened the drawer; and there was the portfolio.

He opened it with a cry of triumph; it only contained the immature drawings of an art student.

Then the door opened; and there entered, scowling, the short, thick, untidy, shock-headed art student himself.

"What—the devil—are you doing here?" he said in angry surprise.

Sir Constantine rose, looking uncommonly sheepish, and stammered timidly: "We thought it was a j-j-joke."

"You thought what was a joke?" snapped his son.

"The B-B-Botticelli. You c-c-came out of m-my study yesterday with a p-p-portfolio. The Earl of Barradine and Sharples thought you m-m-might have t-taken it as a j-j-joke," said his father. "My son Raphael, you——"

Raphael did not let him finish, and there followed a painful family scene. Raphael's first contention was that Sir Constantine was a pretty father to accuse his son of theft; his second that Sir Constantine was no gentleman to come sneaking into his room to pry into his locked drawers. Plainly he had cultivated the habit of plain speaking.

Sir Constantine was deeply distressed and frightened by his violence. Presently Raphael had him leaping about the room in bursts of excited protest, waving his arms, and snapping his fingers.

When at last both of them paused for lack of breath, Barradine said phlegmatically, callously: "All this won't help us to recover the Botticelli."

Sir Constantine went limply to the door.

Raphael shouted at him: "You'll be saying I stole a Staley-Brimber next! Hanged if I don't clear out of the house!"

They left him. Sir Constantine went down the stairs like a beaten hound.

He mopped his brow and wailed: "I wouldn't have had this happen for a hundred pounds. Raphael is so sensitive. He won't be fit to live with for weeks."

Barradine did not think that sensitiveness could be Raphael's failing; but he only said cheerfully: "Never mind. You've established the fact that he hasn't got the Botticelli."

"Damn the Botticelli!" said Sir Constantine from the heart.

And then he had to write the cheque for fifty pounds on account of expenses.

Before Barradine went he established the fact that the thief had carefully swept up the dust and any pieces of dirt that had fallen from the inside of the frame of the picture while he was changing the canvases, and his forethought did not promise an early solution of the problem. Also he established the fact that Miss Carter had carried away no parcel of any kind.

There were left to examine the roll of music of Mr. Solomon Fitzgerald and the brown paper parcel of Lady Coughtrie Borrett. Barradine went straight back to the office and got to work. There was nothing he could do himself, except instruct and cheer on his staff. The roll of music seemed fairly plain sailing, and before three o'clock Forbes learnt that Solomon Fitzgerald had bought three of Bing Crosby's songs at Augener's. At four o'clock Harris, one of Barradine's staff, called on Miss Miriam Fitzgerald. Washing his hands in invisible soap and water, he apologised for troubling her, but his firm had missed a valuable MS., the MS. of a new song, and they believed that the shopman had, by mistake, packed it in a roll of Bing Crosby's songs, which her father had bought the day before.

She was able to assure him that this was not so. Her father had come straight to the dining-room from the street at about ten past two, late for lunch, and had given her the roll of music just as it came from the shop. She had opened it herself directly after lunch and there was no MS. of a song in it.

Harris had no doubt that she was speaking the truth, and his judgment was good. Barradine thought that they were lucky to have eliminated the roll of music and the portfolio of Raphael so quickly; the parcel of Lady Coughtrie Borrett promised to be rather more difficult. Also, if he succeeded in learning that it had contained the Botticelli, it would be yet more difficult to recover it. She enjoyed the reputation of being an able woman.

Harris, who was a good-looking young fellow, and so well fitted for the job, was told off to get into touch with her maid; and the rest of the staff set about enquiring of picture-dealers if they had lately sold a copy of Botticelli's "Venus in Cyprus," and if so, to whom. Barradine wrote to Gordon Hughes asking him to inform him when, of late years, the "Venus in Cyprus" had been copied, and by whom. It was possible that he knew, or could find out, for he collected all kinds of out-of-the-way information about Botticelli's pictures, and had excellent copies of three or four of them. If he could give Barradine the name of the copyist, Barradine might learn from the copyist the name of the dealer to whom he had sold it, and through the dealer come to the thief.


CHAPTER VII
Barradine Discovers the Thief

HARRIS, an expert in such matters, made the acquaintance of Lady Coughtrie Borrett's maid within twenty-four hours, and was able to give Barradine the gratifying information that she was not keeping company with anyone at the moment; that she seemed ready to welcome his advances; that she was able to go out with him nearly every evening. Gordon Hughes did not answer Barradine's letter; Barradine thought it likely that he was making enquiries.

A few days later he called on Sir Constantine to report progress and learn if he had discovered any new fact bearing on the problem. He seemed depressed; but he was relieved to learn that Solomon Fitzgerald had not conveyed the picture away in the roll of music. He no longer spoke of the Botticelli with enthusiasm, and had discovered no new fact. Barradine gathered that his depression arose from the uncompromising attitude of his son Raphael.

That night he found Mary Fearn at a party, and thinking that he had given her time enough to recover from the loss of Lord Spanswick's radium, he asked her for a dance. He was pleased when she gave him one, though there was a certain lack of graciousness in her manner: he gathered that they made a fresh start.

He learnt that she had been staying at the Tomlin-Bartlett's country-house in Wiltshire for a few days and it had been a good party. Perhaps the country air, plus the good party had softened her; perhaps she had just cut her losses. He knew that she was quite intelligent enough to cut her losses. At any rate it was very pleasant: her brown eyes were, he thought, the most beautiful brown eyes he had ever seen.

Then, when they were sitting out after a dance she asked him what work he was doing now; and he said that he was trying to clear up a little matter for Sir Constantine Argyropoulo.

She looked at him and smiled, and knitted her brow in an effort to recall him to her mind; then she said: "Isn't he a fish-faced Greek, who looks like a sardine?"

"Not a sardine. He isn't silvery enough, though his name is Silvertown. He's like an imperfectly kippered herring," said Barradine.

"That's it—a horrid man—a swindling company-promoter. I wonder you work for such people," she said reproachfully.

"Oh, if they're robbed, you know," said Barradine. "How are your creditors?"

"Very peaceful. You see Vogue announced that a marriage had been arranged between me and the Earl of Saintsbury," she said looking at him with the most innocent expression.

"But he's old enough to be your grandfather!" cried Barradine, rather shocked, and certainly annoyed.

"Do you think he's as old as that? He doesn't look it," she said, looking even more innocent. "Anyhow, my creditors think that it would be an excellent match. I should be so well provided for and be such a good customer."

Barradine scowled. Then he had a strong impression that she would not marry the Earl of Saintsbury—for all those creditors. But he was sure that it was not the moment to suggest an alternative. Besides, there was more than one alternative.

"Yes: that's true," he said.

She frowned at him, but her eyes twinkled: "I've told you what you are," she said.

Next morning Harris reported that he believed that a few pounds would buy any information Lady Borrett's maid could give, since she disliked her mistress and was leaving her. Barradine authorized him to spend five.

The picture-dealers proved disappointing: all of them who were approached, and among them was every important dealer in London, had not had a copy of the "Venus in Cyprus." Indeed they could not remember ever having had one. But of course there were many other unimportant picture-dealers yet to be questioned, and it would take time.

Harris's next report cleared up the matter of Lady Borrett's brown paper parcel. He had examined it himself. It had stood on end in the corner of her bedroom in her Knightsbridge flat. He was certain that it had not been opened since the shopman tied it up. It contained an umbrella she had bought to give a niece on her birthday. Since he and her maid had the flat to themselves for the evening, he had made assurance doubly sure by searching it thoroughly. The picture was not in it.

Barradine was rather disappointed. Having eliminated the roll of music and the portfolio, he had had considerable hopes of the brown paper parcel. Now, unless he could get something fresh, and he seemed to have had everything there was to get, all depended on finding the picture-dealer who had sold the thief the copy. He must go to Sir Constantine's house again to make further enquiries. He was inclined to think that the young Raphael might have bluffed them. Yet he could have sworn that his furious indignation was genuine.

He was on the point of starting when the second post brought a letter from Gordon Hughes. He wrote that he had been away, he would have written sooner. The Breno "Venus in Cyprus" might have been copied in the sixteenth century, though no copy was known; it had not been copied for the last three hundred years, and it had never been photographed.

This was indeed startling. Sir Constantine had made a stupid mistake: the substitute must be a copy of some one else's "Venus in Cyprus." It was a subject other painters had surely painted. Barradine perceived that he must have it photographed and circulate the photograph among the dealers. He took a taxi to Grosvenor Square.

As he entered the hall the door of Sir Constantine's study was thrown wide open with great violence; and a large, dark, curly-headed man stood on the threshold.

He said loudly over his shoulder: "You thought I was as big a thief as yourself! But I'm not, you rotten Levantine rogue!"

With that he stalked across the hall and out of the front door in a very dignified fashion.

Barradine found Sir Constantine standing in the middle of the study. He appeared to be about to burst into tears—floods of tears. As Barradine entered he cried fiercely: "You and that damned picture will be the ruin of me! That was Solly Fitzgerald. I shall never do another deal with him!"

"But what has the picture got to do with it?" said Barradine coldly.

"Raphael told him that the Botticelli had been stolen," wailed Sir Constantine. "He put two and two together and saw that your man's visit to Miss Fitzgerald, to enquire about the lost manuscript of a song, meant that I had suspected him of stealing the Botticelli in the roll of music. He went to Augener's and learnt they had not lost any song. I shall never do a deal with him again!"

Barradine did not say anything about deceit and tangled webs or the way of the transgressor; Sir Constantine was not in a condition to bear it well.

He only said: "That's unfortunate. I have ascertained, too, that Lady Coughtrie Borrett did not take it."

"And that isn't all," wailed Sir Constantine. "Raphael has left the house; he has gone to Chelsea; and Lady Argyropoulo is furious. She spits fire! More fire than ever! What I have suffered from that woman!"

He flung out his hands in a gesture of such deep despair that Barradine felt sure that Lady Argyropoulo must take after her son.

"That's unfortunate too," he said. "And also we seem to have made a mistake about that daub. It isn't a copy of the Breno 'Venus in Cyprus' at all. It must be a copy of a replica—or more likely of a picture of the same subject by another painter."

"That's what Miss Carter said; she said it wasn't a copy at all, but the original," said Sir Constantine with a groan. "She made me put it on the receipt. I sold it to her—the day before yesterday."

"You sold it to her?" cried Barradine. "As Botticelli's actual 'Venus in Cyprus'?"

"For three pound ten—without the frame," said Sir Constantine more cheerfully.

"But you knew it was a copy, and you said it wasn't worth half-a-crown," said Barradine, and his eyes were sparkling.

"Yes. But she doesn't know anything about pictures. And she liked it. Besides, I was in a bad temper about Raphael and she heard me swear at it. She said I should be a happier and better man without it. It was true: I did hate it. So I sold it to her for three pound ten—without the frame. The frame is worth a bit—those old frames are."

"Three pounds ten was a pretty stiff price to charge a girl who works for a living for a daub like that," said Barradine in disgusted accents.

"She gave it," said Sir Constantine firmly. "Business is business." Then, again on a wailing note, he added: "And now she's making a fuss too. She says she won't ever work for me again. I've lost her; and she was magnetic. Where's her letter?"

He went to his desk, looked through a pile of letters, took one from it and thrust it into Barradine's hand, saying: "Read it. There's gratitude!"

The letter ran:


Dear Sir,

I must decline to work for you any more. I believe that you tried to cheat me over that picture. I do not believe that you really believed when you sold it to me that it was the genuine "Venus in Cyprus." I think you are a rascal.

Yours faithfully,

Mary Carter.


Barradine read the letter and gasped; he took a short note out of his pocket and compared them. He was right! The letter was signed "Mary Carter," but the hand-writing was Mary Fearn's!

He said rather loudly: "You told me she had red hair and green eyes!"

"Who?"

"Your secretary! This Mary Carter!" said Barradine still loudly, and he banged the note against the letter.

"She has—red hair—emerald eyes. She is magnetic," said Sir Constantine, startled.

Barradine said softly: "Of all the damn fools!" and then he began to laugh, and he laughed and laughed.

Sir Constantine had never before heard a Peer laugh with such unforced merriment, and so much of it; he said in awed accents: "You laugh. There is a joke. But I do not see it. What is the joke in Miss Carter's leaving me?"

Barradine looked at him and checked his laughter: "I don't think you'd see it," he said, and then the explanation flashed on him. He added sharply: "Did you have anything to do with the Ural Bonanza Syndicate?"

Sir Constantine drew himself up with an air of very cold dignity; he said coldly: "It is a matter I never discuss. I have been misrepresented—in the Press. My action was perfectly correct—merely businesslike."

"Yes: it is also the explanation of the disappearance of the Botticelli," said Barradine dryly. "What's more: I've learnt about it too late, I fancy. You sold the Botticelli two days ago."

"I sold the copy—three pound ten without the frame," said Sir Constantine, coldly and very distinctly.

"You sold the Botticelli for three pounds ten without the frame," said Barradine, and he laughed again.

"But it is nonsense! I never sell for less than I give! I gave a thousand for that Botticelli. It was worth three," said Sir Constantine in a tone of finality.

"Right: have it your own way. But I must be off. I'm pretty sure that I'm too late, but I must see what can be done. Good morning," said Barradine, and he walked out.

He went back to the office and rang up Mary Fearn, and asked if he might call to take her out to lunch.

"I want to talk to you particularly," he added.

"About marriage or pictures?" she said and laughed.

"Both," said Barradine stoutly.

"I'm only interested in pictures—about a quarter past one?"

"Right!" he said, relieved by her acceptance.

He might yet recover the Botticelli. But he did not think it likely.

At a quarter past one he entered her sitting-room and found her at the table, dealing with some handfuls of bills.

His quick eye grasped the fact that they were receipted bills, and he knew that he would never recover the Botticelli.

"I've been having a field day—or rather a field morning," she said. "In some of the best shops in London there are people shedding tears of joy. They have been paid."

"You were pretty quick getting rid of it," he said.

"Getting rid of what?"

"The Botticelli."

"Yes: you taught me. If I'd been quicker with the radium, you'd never have got it," she said quickly.

"But you would."

"Me? Got what?"

"Six months," he said grimly.

"Oh well: I might have done. But it was awfully clever of you to get on to the picture. How did you do it?"

"Your letter, of course."

"Yes: I saw the danger of your recognising my hand-writing. But I thought the letter would keep your imperfect kipper quiet and I'd risk it," she said thoughtfully.

"But what I want to know is: how you did it. Of course you painted the Botticelli over with oil paint instead of the proper tempera and walked out of the office with it under Argyropoulo's eye. I expect he wrapped it up in brown paper for you, But how did you know that it had been smuggled out of Italy, and how did you get your eyes green?"

"It was all quite simple. You know that that beastly Greek is a moneylender?"

"So I gathered."

"Well, it occurred to me that I might cull a loan from him that need never be paid—you know that the swine was one of the original directors of the Ural Bonanza Syndicate and got out with a packet of loot."

Barradine nodded, frowning his disapproval of her plan.

"So I went in a red wig and with my eyes green," she went on, smiling and with sparkling eyes. "Surely a sleuth like you knows how that's done: you just paint the bottom of your eyelashes green, and it reflects or something. Well, directly I came in the Greek kind of sprang and said: 'Ha! You are Miss Carter—my new secretary. Why did you say you could not come?' and I changed my mind on the spot. Why not hang round for a while and look into things? And of course I could stenograph—I learnt when I found I was broke. But there was too much affection I didn't appreciate lavished on me in the jobs, and I thought I should be safer as a lady at large, and I chucked stenographing. That kippered Greek was looking at me as if he could eat me; so I told him that I had changed my mind; and was engaged on the spot. Of course that kind of stenographing I could do on my head, and of course Sir Constantine must make a favourable impression on me because I had made a favourable impression on him, and he had to tell me how astute he was, and he became mysterious about the Botticelli, and I gathered that his having it was a great feat. Of course I thought that he had stolen it from an orphan—or perhaps a widow. But I went into the matter, and as it happened I know a Botticelli expert—a man of the name of Gordon Hughes—and he told me enough to make it clear that the 'Venus in Cyprus' had been smuggled illegally out of Italy. I know a man at the Italian Embassy—he dances very well—and I talked to him about the picture. And weren't they keen about it? Of course I did not tell them where the picture was, and they fixed it up that if ever I came into the Embassy with the 'Venus in Cyprus' I should find five hundred in cash waiting for me with the assurance that nothing unpleasant should happen to me however I came to have brought it back to its native land. And two days ago I brought it back to its native land, for the Embassy's Italian ground, you know, and people in Bond Street are weeping tears of joy."

Barradine laughed: "Congratulations and compliments," he said. "I can't think of a more appropriate ending to an incident."

"Yes," she said gravely. "But five hundred pounds is not forty thousand."

"No: but people are weeping tears of joy in Bond Street," said Barradine.

"Yes: I suppose I must consider it a beginning," she said with a sigh.

"If you don't consider it a beginning, I'm sure Argyropoulo does," said Barradine.

They went off to Grosvenor House to lunch.


CHAPTER VIII
Barradine Crashes a Gate

IT was a good lunch: the payment of her debts to the tune of four hundred pounds had put Mary Fearn in very good spirits, and Barradine brought her nearly back to the relation in which they had been before he had taken Spanswick's tube of radium from her. He came back to the office in a good temper and told Miss Barber to make out Sir Argyropoulo's account for expenses and a cheque for the balance, if there were one, from the cheque for fifty pounds he had torn from the financier in advance.

In five minutes she brought the account, £46 10s. 0d., and a cheque for £3 10s. 0d., the balance. As Barradine signed the cheque he marked the fact that £3 10s. 0d. seemed to be a sum common at the moment in the financier's life.

Then he dictated a letter to him. It ran:


DEAR SIR CONSTANTINE,

I enclose the account for the expenses incurred during the enquiry into your loss of Botticelli's 'Venus in Cyprus,' and my cheque for the balance of the £50 you paid me in advance.

I have discovered that this picture came into the hands of the Italian Embassy in London and is probably on its way to Italy. For your guidance, I am given to understand that Il Duce is, or will be, if his attention has not already been drawn to it, exceedingly annoyed to learn that you had it smuggled out of Italy, in which country it will now form part of the national collection.

Yours faithfully,

BARRADINE AND SHARPLES.


He looked at his signature and once more thought how much more like the name of a business firm it looked than the signature of a Peer; once more he reflected that it was wholly the fault of his ancestors, who had thoughtlessly added the Irish Peerage to the English. But he was satisfied with the letter: it would give that imperfectly kippered Greek to think.

On the morning after the next he learnt that it had indeed given him to think. But he was careful to answer the somewhat intemperate letter in which the cheque was acknowledged, to point out that it was not, as Sir Constantine asserted, his, Barradine's, fault that Signor Mussolini was, or would be, annoyed with Sir Constantine, but Sir Constantine's own fault for encouraging a breach of the law of Italy.

He thought it only businesslike to keep such a point clearly in a client's head—to rub it into it in fact, if that could be done.

He had not made the hundred and fifty pounds by recovering the "Venus in Cyprus," but he was not dissatisfied. Sir Constantine's £46 10s. 0d. would pay the expenses of the office for at least a month, and the fact that she had beaten him in the matter of the Botticelli had almost wiped away Mary Fearn's ill-feeling about the abstracted radium, and that was much more important.

At the same time, her remark that five hundred pounds was not forty thousand, had left him uneasy: it meant that she was going to try to recover some more of that forty thousand pounds, and doubtless by methods quite as likely to land her in gaol. He cudgelled his brains; but he did not see what he could do about it, unless he married her straight away, and she would certainly not let him do that.

He came out of his flat and walked down the stairs, on his way to the garage in which he kept his car, pondering this matter earnestly. He thought that a forty mile run, twenty miles out and twenty miles back, along the Great North Road would freshen him before he began a quiet hour or two's Contract at White's on his way to the Warham, a more retired club, at which he would get a really high game till the hours grew small and cool. Forty yards down the street he saw a strip of red carpet across the pavement, heard the clacking of a recent fox-trot, and gathered that his new neighbour, Sir Joseph Josland, one of the Captains of the Synthetic Cream Industry, was giving a dance.

He paused to observe the guests, and gathered from the size of the cars, and of the fine women and stout fellows they were setting down, that other Captains of the Food Industries were rallying round Sir Joseph.

They did not look to him to be quite the people to brighten a dance.

Then a small car drew up to the red carpet and a tall, pale young man and a lovely lady stepped out of it and crossed the road and went into the house. The lovely lady Barradine did not know; the tall, pale young man he did. It was his late valet, Henry Turner, who had left his service suddenly, after robbing him of seventy pounds.

It had been an ingenious theft, and Barradine had not taken the obvious course—he had little use for the obvious course—and handed Henry over to the police; he had made him disgorge the money and then given him a thundering hiding, without offering him the choice between a hiding and gaol, though he had guessed that Henry was one of those delicate, supercilious souls who would much prefer gaol to a hiding, and sacked him.

He grinned at the sight of Henry entering Sir Joseph's house: he somehow seemed to be going to the right party.

He walked on ten yards and pulled up: suppose Henry was going to the party on business and not pleasure?

He thought it over for a minute; then he told himself that it was no business of his and would mean a fuss on a hot night and probably make him late getting to bridge. Besides, he had a fancy that Providence might be using Henry as Sir Joseph's crumpled rose-leaf, and who, he asked himself, was he to baulk Providence? He did not really like Captains of Foodstuffs.

He walked on to the end of the Square.

Then he turned back. After all, though he probably bounded high and often, this Foodstuffs was a neighbour, and he could not let him down.

The obvious course to take was to tell him or his butler that a thief had joined the dance, point out Henry, and go. But as he went into the house it struck him that he might be wronging Henry: Henry might have reformed and been received into congenial, commercial society. If not, it would be pleasing to watch Henry at work and pounce on him in the act. Of course, it would mean crashing the gate, and he had read in some newspaper that London's leading hostesses had set their faces against crashing the gate. But, he told himself, you cannot please everybody and yourself too; so he shut up his flat, went through the door of the house, and made for the stairs.

On them he ran into Lady Dymchurch, and she said: "Whatever are you doing in this galley, Lord Barradine? I thought you never mixed with millionaires."

"Chocolate biscuits," he said. "I'm so fond of them that I've crashed the gate."

She laughed and said: "Yes. Who is she?"

He had forgotten that he seldom had luck when he shunned the obvious course, and was careless. He came to the door of the ballroom during an interval between two dances and stood on the threshold, looking to see if any of the twenty people in it were Henry and the lovely lady. They were not. They were mostly fine women, bediamonded against one another and sparkling, he thought, like Golconda when the sun comes out after a shower.

And then a confounded, officious butler, who must have been announcing people and knew him of course, bellowed: "The Earl of Barradine and Sharples!"

There was nothing for it, and he stepped into the room, and the fine women looked at him.

Then a voice on his left, a trifle rough and not well under control, said: "You are getting on quick, Jossy! However did you get Lord Barradine to come? He's most exclusive."

Barradine turned at the first words and saw a fine women speaking to a short, red-faced, pear-shaped man, evidently Sir Joseph Josland himself.

He was looking at Barradine, and his eyes began to sparkle, as if he did not like him; in fact, he looked rather like a bull about to charge, but a bit doubtful about it, and Barradine told himself that the idea that he was bound for his chocolate biscuits, without being invited to the feast, was irking him, but he did not know what you did with exclusive people.

Then Sir Joseph must have made up his mind to rally round England's leading hostesses, for he came at Barradine with a kind of toddling rush and said in a stern, loud voice: "The Earl of Barradine and Sharples, I believe?"

"Yes," said Barradine.

"Well, I didn't invite your Lordship to my dance, and I'll trouble your Lordship to clear out!" he said in the same stern, loud voice.

"I didn't come to stay," said Barradine. "But I saw an uncommonly able young thief come into your house, and I stepped in to spoil his game."

Was Sir Joseph taken aback? He was not. He looked tremendously knowing and barked a short, nasty laugh, and said: "Yes, yes, of course. It's a good story, your Lordship. But it won't wash. You gatecrashers always have a good story. I'll trouble your Lordship to clear out."

"Certainly," said Barradine, and he turned and walked out of the room.

As he went down the stairs he passed Lady Dymchurch, who had lingered to talk to a friend.

"Going already, Lord Barradine?" she said. "Isn't she here?"

"He is," said he.

"Who?" she said quickly.

"A very capable young thief of my acquaintance," he said. "So look out for your pretty necklace."

He walked out of the house and turned towards the garage again, vexed: he had meant well; but his night's good deed had not come off, and he did not like the way Sir Joseph had baulked him; he did not like his factory abruptness. In fact, he was convinced that something had to be done about it—something in the way of instruction in good manners. Of course those few words about Henry to Lady Dymchurch would upset the dance a good deal: she would know that they were true. But they were not enough.

Then he heard light footsteps pattering along the pavement behind him, a hand was laid on his arm, and a pleasing voice said: "I'm dreadfully sorry, Lord Barradine."

Barradine stopped short and looked into an uncommonly pretty and uncommonly distressed face. The blue eyes looked bluer for the tears in them; and looking down as he was, the pretty face seemed set in a kind of halo made by the light from the necklace of big diamonds round her neck.

"I'm Cecily Josland," the pretty girl went on, "and I am so dreadfully sorry that my father was so rude to you."

It was unusual for Barradine to be taken aback; but he was. He did not know what to do—she looked so distressed. He thought that he had better be sympathetic.

"It was terrible—terrible;" he said in a sad voice, laying his hand on the hand on his arm.

He did not often get sympathy when he had shrunk from the obvious course, and he liked hers. He felt that he had earned it, and she was such a very attractive sympathiser.

"I don't know what to do about it—I really don't," she said with a catch in her voice, looking into his face.

His saturnine face easily wore an expression of melancholy, and it was wearing one—deep melancholy. It seemed to be the right expression for the sympathy he was getting.

"No more do I," he said in a yet sadder tone; and he slipped the little hand, that rested on his arm, through it and walked on down the street with bowed head.

She came along with him, hardly knowing what she was doing, he thought.

"It must have cut you to the heart—before all those people," she said in the same grieved voice.

"It did—it did," he murmured.

"I don't know what's to be done," she almost wailed.

"I'm sure I don't," said he; and they walked on in a kind of crushed silence.

Her sympathetic face and voice had given him a definitely crushed feeling.

At the bottom of the street they stopped. The obvious course to take was to thank her for her sympathy and take her back. Again he shrank from it: he wanted more of that sympathy—a lot more.

Also he had an idea.

He said: "We must think it out. Are you very keen on dancing?"

"Not at this dance. I hate that crowd of noisy, stupid people in this heat," she said very firmly. "On a night like this I feel I ought to be in the green country."

"Kindred spirits—the green country for you, the green cloth for me," said Barradine. "I'll take you into the country for an hour or so."

She hesitated a moment; then she said: "I should love it. We've got to think out what's to be done, and things grow so much clearer to one's mind in the country."

Then he hesitated. "You may be missed and get into trouble," he said.

"No: not for doing what's right," said she.

That settled it, and he took her round to the garage, and in five minutes she was sitting beside him in his Bentley, moving briskly to the North.


CHAPTER IX
The Opulent Soup Tureen

THERE was not much traffic, but Barradine gave all his attention to getting quickly through it. Now and then he glanced at his sympathetic companion: she seemed to be thinking hard and frowning. Then they were clear of London, on the broad, open road.

He leant back and said: "Have you thought of anything?"

She shook her head, and said in a hopeless kind of voice: "No. Haven't you?"

"No—only my blasted social career—if it is blasted," he said sadly.

She shivered and looked at him as if she despaired of finding any way of repairing the harm her father had done.

"Perhaps we'd better sleep on it," he suggested. "I always seem to think better when I'm asleep—more easily. There'll be nothing to distract my attention. One or other of us may get an idea in our sleep, you know."

"Sleep?" she said miserably. "I shan't sleep with this on my mind. Will you?"

He said that he thought that he would, for he was an orphan and used to Fortune's knocks.

"You've got at least a father—a shield and buffer. A rebuffer too," he added. "But now I come to think of it, I don't really care about discussing an unpleasant incident on a splendid night like this, with the moon shining—it's the full moon, by the way. Let's talk about something pleasanter. Are you mad at the full moon? I am—at full moons in the summer—always."

Looking up at the moon, she said that she really did not know, and he assured her that it was quite all right to be mad at the full moon, that all the really nice people were. He spoke with great seriousness, and added earnestly that a lunatic asylum with her would have no terrors for him.

She looked at him and said reproachfully: "I wonder you can joke after that dreadful thing my father did at the dance."

He told her that he had forgotten it for the time being, and she had better forget it too; that being with her in the open country and the moonlight made him forget everything else; having started, he went on to tell her many other things that her beautiful eyes and the moonlight seemed to call for, more eloquently and apparently with greater sincerity than any one had ever told her before. He was certainly moonstruck, and after a while they seemed to be liking one another immensely, and then they were talking quite seriously.

Among other things he told her about Henry and how he had saved him, with a stick, from a felon's cell.

"Poor young man," she said.

He knew she would say it—not a thought to his so nearly losing seventy pounds!

He drove twenty miles out, paused for a while to admire the moon, and came back to the West of London.

Then he said: "I don't know about you, but that unpleasant incident at the dance seems to have made me ferociously hungry. Incidents do. Shall we have supper at the Corniche? They have a very decent brand of champagne there to drink as you dance the small hours away."

"There! I knew I should think of something!" she said joyfully. "You'll come back to supper with me—at home. That will make everything all right."

He protested that it was out of the question—quite impossible—never done! But she would not listen to him, and after that drive he was hardly in a position to oppose her gracefully when she was so sure that his coming to the house at her invitation would make everything all right.

"Everything except your father," he said at last, giving way.

"He shouldn't be so hasty," she said firmly.

It was certainly to shrink from taking the obvious course.

As Barradine had thought likely, Sir Joseph Josland had already been learning not to be so hasty. Tommy d'Umphreville, the secretary who ran his social racket for him, told Barradine about it later.

Barradine's warning to Lady Dymchurch, to look out for Henry and her necklace, had gone round the gathering quickly, and the people present, who knew Barradine, knew that if he said that an able young thief was among them, he was. And he had gone, and nobody could point the thief out.

"Those fat women had come with the pick of their safes on them," said Tommy; "and they got uneasy, and then they got scared. I saw them touching their necklaces every twenty seconds or so, to make sure that they were still there, and when a young man they didn't know came near them they fairly held on to them with both hands and scowled at him. I got off a lot of complimentary dances.

"There was a blessed blight coming over the show, and I really thought that every one with ninepennyworth of diamonds on them would make a bolt for home and safety and it would be a frost, when Lady Brinsley-Wiggins, the wife of the Nut Oil King, you know, had a great idea; she came to me and asked whether Jossy had a safe on the premises. He had—he keeps Miss Josland's jewels and the gold plate in it—and half a dozen of them put it to him and then trooped away upstairs with him and put away the gauds and got happily into the supper room, and everything in the garden was perfectly lovely.

"But Jossy looked more than a bit peeved by it, and then he missed Miss Josland, and after looking for her for a bit he came to me and started to ask where she was. But I was hard at it, keeping the show going, and a bit annoyed about the way he'd treated you, and I interrupted, I asked, must he chuck out one of the men everybody wants in their houses and never gets, when he had gone out of his way to do him a good turn, and whether he thought I liked looking like the world's worst mutt, for letting him loose without a muzzle, and if he wanted me to run his social racket to let me run it and not butt in like a human Bu and muck things up.

"I always talk plain talk to Jossy; it's the only kind he understands. And blest if he didn't say with that man-of-iron air he uses to cow the bosses of the Zahm Synthetik Aktiengesellschaft and similar rackets:

"'That's done and done with!'

"I laughed 'Ha! ha!' and told him that if he thought that he'd done with you, he'd got another think coming.

"He gnashed his teeth at me and said: 'Where's Cecily? I haven't seen her for three dances.'

"'Miss Josland's all right,' I said. 'She's got some sense. She doesn't need a nurse at her elbow all the time. The less she's seen the more fun she'll get. They always do.'

"He gnashed his teeth at me again and went off and sent a couple of footmen to look for her, and they reported that she wasn't on the premises anywhere. So he came to me again, and asked me where she could be and what was to be done.

"You can leave a little trouble behind you when you don't get preferential treatment, laddie.

"My guess was," Tommy went on, "that your able young crook had collared Miss Josland and that infernal necklace, too, and I knew that it was Jossy's guess as well. But we didn't say it. No more did I tell him that it served him right for not minding me when I told him not to load a girl of that age with a thirty-thousand-pound necklace like that. Of course he couldn't bear not having some one belonging to him outshining Lady Brinsley-Wiggins and Lady Ponder and the wives of the other Foodstuff Kings. What use was there in telling him? But we agreed that, just as a matter of form, we'd better put Scotland Yard on to it, and when the Yard heard that it was a matter of a thirty-thousand-pound necklace, they took pains about it. Two good men were round at once.

"We didn't want any fuss, for the dance was going quite well now. Besides, a fuss couldn't do any good; and the 'tecs didn't make any fuss. But they found out in a brace of shakes that she'd gone out of the house just after you, and a footman had seen you and her talking together down the street.

"Then I knew you had had a hand in it, and it was all right—not that I had been what you might call really perturbed, for Miss Josland is a very nice girl and quite intelligent, and she never stands any nonsense from Jossy, so she wouldn't from any one else. But I wasn't going to make things easy for Jossy. What Jossy wants to learn is manners; so I let him instruct the 'tecs to get busy. But I caught one of them as he was going out and told him he needn't get too busy, and I let Jossy go to and fro among the glad throng, gnashing his teeth and smiling horribly."

As Miss Josland and Barradine came into the house after their drive he said: "Look here: what I've really come back for is to dance with you, and I like to dance with flesh and blood, or perhaps I should say 'flesh,' and not with cold stone; besides Henry might be one of a gang. Do you think you could put that necklace away in some safe place?"

Really, he did not like to see it on her; she was much too young.

She evidently took much the same view of it, for she said: "I never ought to have worn it. It's ridiculous at my age. But my father made such a point of it. I'll put it in the safe. Come along."

They did not go up the main staircase, but up a side staircase to the second floor and into a room with cupboards nearly all round it and an old-fashioned safe in the corner behind the door. She left him in it while she fetched the key to the safe, and came back and opened it. A blaze of flashes came at them from a shelf which looked to be covered with diamonds.

"Goodness! Whatever's this?" she exclaimed.

"The diamonds of your guests," said Barradine. "They have heeded the gipsy's warning and put them away."

The obvious thing was to put her necklace with them and leave them where they were; but again he shrank from the obvious course.

"It isn't really safe to leave all these diamonds in an old contraption like this," he said, rapping the safe with his knuckles. "A fifth-rate burglar would open it in twenty seconds with a hairpin. And if there is a gang in the house with Henry, they'll know by now where to look for them."

"It is old," she said. "It was in the house when we came, and my father hasn't had time to get a new one. What do you think we'd better do with them?"

"Well, the best way to hide a thing from burglars, who probably haven't read The Purloined Letter, is to put it in a quite simple place. No burglar will look for a couple of hundred thousand pounds-worth of diamonds in a quite simple place. Is that other key the key of these cupboards?"

"Yes," she said, and took the keys from the safe and handed them to him.

He opened the farthest cupboard first. The shelves were covered with pieces of modern plate, and on the top shelf were five soup tureens, rich with répoussés garlands and massive.

"That's the place—the middle soup tureen," he said with conviction.

He stood on a chair; she handed the necklaces up to him, and he dropped them into the middle tureen, stepped down, said: "Safe bind, safe find," locked the cupboard and gave her the keys. She took them back to their place and returned to him.

As they went downstairs he said: "Of course you won't tell anyone of the safe hiding-place till the ladies ask for the necklaces, or one of the gang is sure to hear about it."

She looked up into his still melancholy face hard, and then she laughed. He asked what the joke was.

She only said: "You have a revengeful nature."

They came into the hall and up the main staircase. On the landing stood her father, talking to three fine women. At the sight of her his eyes opened wide; then he saw Barradine, and his mouth opened too.

"Where have you been?" he said to her in not much more than a whisper. "And where's your necklace?"

"I've been for a drive in the country with Lord Barradine. It was so hot here," she said, looking him very straight in the face. "And I've put the necklace away. And we're ever so hungry. Come along, Lord Barradine."

Barradine smiled at Sir Joseph, a kind smile, and they went on towards the supper room; but out of the corner of his eye Barradine saw Sir Joseph look at the three fine women and the three fine women look at Sir Joseph: such looks. He felt that they had no appreciation of the modern touch.

They went into the supper room, and the butler dashed at them and took them to the table reserved for Cecily. They sat down and Barradine looked round. There were not many people in the room, for most of them had already had their first supper and were dancing, or rather jogging round again. But there, three tables away from them, was Henry!

"Why, there's Henry!" said Barradine loudly, but tactlessly.

Neither Henry nor the lovely lady with him took any notice of him; they appeared not to have heard him; they had risen and were moving away with their backs to him.

"There's gratitude!" said Barradine in a tone of disgust. "After the thrashing I gave him!"

He turned to Cecily and said: "Who's the lady?"

"I don't know. I never saw her in my life before," she said.

"Never mind," said Barradine. "A friend of Sir Joseph without doubt. But they haven't made their coup yet, or they wouldn't be at supper, and now that they've seen me they'll go."

But he beckoned to the butler, told him that the tall young man and the lady who were moving quickly towards the door were crooks, and he had better see them quietly off the premises—quietly—without any fuss. The butler went after them.

They turned to their supper and talked about things that interested them, chiefly about Cecily. Presently the butler came to them to tell them that Henry and the lady had gone, and that there had been no fuss.

They had finished their supper and Barradine had given Cecily a Sullivan and lighted one himself, when they gathered that there was trouble going. There was a noise as if a large number of ladies were talking in an excited way and simultaneously on the landing. Then a robust young woman hurried into the room and said something to a fine woman at a table near the door.

The fine woman rose and said in an excited, way: "My necklace! Gone? Whatever will Pa say? 'e giv' it me!" And both of them hurried out of the room.

Cecily looked at Barradine and said that she really must go and tell them that their necklaces were safe. Barradine said that she had better give them a little time to reflect on the vanity of riches and learn to be careful not to entrust their diamonds to the wrong person.

She smiled, but she said firmly: "You've worried my father quite enough," and rose.

And then they came—six or seven fine women, all heated and talking briskly to Sir Joseph and Tommy d'Umphreville and the butler. Sir Joseph was not looking like a man of iron. No man of iron can listen to six or seven heated fine women talking briskly at the same time and preserve his aplomb; he looked more like a man of wool.

They came straight to Barradine's and Cecily's table, and Sir Joseph said to him: "My butler tells me that your Lordship saw the young thief you spoke of in this room—actually in this room—and let him get away."

"Of course. You didn't want two unpleasant incidents in one evening, did you?" said Barradine. "Besides, you can't expect me to spend all my life trying to help you, you know."

Six or seven heated fine women—they were too large to count—said that they were surprised, or that they never did, or that they couldn't think what he was thinking of, or why didn't he tell the police at once. And they said these things loudly and briskly and several times, each of them. Every one in the supper room was taking an interest in the chat, and a lot of people were coming in to take an interest in it too.

And Barradine said: "I don't call in the police—not into other people's houses. I told Sir Joseph that there was a crook in his house. It was for him to call in the police."

"Of course!" said four fine women.

Sir Joseph ground his teeth.

Then he saw Cecily's bare neck and remembered and almost howled: "Where did you put your necklace, Cecily?"

"I put it with the others," said Cecily.

"In the safe?" he shouted.

"No," she said.

"Then where did you put it?"

"In the soup tureen."

"In the what?" he roared.

"The middle soup tureen in the end cupboard in the plate room," she said.

Barradine thought that all the fine women gasped simultaneously. It was a gasp.

He said firmly: "I insisted on it, Sir Joseph. A fifth-rate burglar could open that safe of yours in twenty seconds with a hair-pin. The necklaces are much safer where they are—much. No burglar looks for diamonds in a soup tureen."

Of course Tommy d'Umphreville was the first to laugh, and then a good many other people laughed, and naturally the women began to speak briskly, all at once, to Sir Joseph about his foolishness in giving them such a fright. While they were speaking to him Cecily and Barradine slipped away to the ballroom, and they soon learnt that they had been born to dance together.

When he went she came down to the front door with him and accepted his invitation to lunch with him at Grosvenor House on the Thursday.

Then she looked up at the sky and said with a little sigh: "But the full moon will be over."

"That's the weakness of full moons. They're so brief," he said.

As he walked up the street, he told himself that it was too late to saunter to the bank where the baccarat blows, but he had had a good evening and advertised his power of preserving diamonds. But he could not reckon it a very useful circle to advertise it in: these fine women never got into trouble; they were past the troublesome age.


CHAPTER X
An Unpleasant Client

BARRADINE saw and heard nothing of Mary Fearn for a day or two. But he enjoyed a pleasant lunch at Grosvenor House with Cecily Josland on the Thursday, and after it he went round to Grandcourt Mansions and learnt from the porter that Mary had gone into the country for a few days, to play golf at Littlestone and had left a message that she was leaving London in a hurry and would probably be back on the Monday.

Barradine thought it a pity that he had not known that she was going to Littlestone, for he could have lent her his house on, or rather under, Dymchurch Wall. But probably she was staying with friends. Then, suddenly, he felt a change would do him good; London was jading in the heat wave; Dymchurch was as refreshing a place as he ever came across.

He drove back to the office, and Miss Barber told him that a client was waiting for him—had been waiting for him, not patiently, for over an hour. He told her to bring him in, and went into his office.

At once she ushered in an undersized young man of about twenty-five, whose clothes were such a perfect mixture of the sportsman's and the stockbroker's that Barradine at once placed him in some such speculative market as oil or rubber. Once more he took a dislike to a client.

He seemed rather nervous, which was uncommonly surprising in a fellow of that type, and sat eyeing Barradine and opening and shutting his mouth as if he could not bring himself to tell his story.

"Well, what do you want?" said Barradine sharply.

He did not like the cheques of his trousers or the cut of his morning coat, or his thick lips, or his lumpy nose, or his red-rimmed eyes, set so close together, or anything about him, and he expected to hear that he wanted something shady.

He did not think that he would take on the job; after all he did not at the moment want a job; he wanted a change.

"I've lost a friend—my partner—Mr. Dee Montmorency," said the young man in a high-pitched, squeaky voice.

"Reginald Dee Montmorency—the bucket-shop-keeper?" said Barradine, and there was no sterling ring of pleasure in his voice.

"The outside broker—yes," said his client.

"Why don't you go to the police?" said Barradine, frowning.

"No. No police for us!" cried the client quickly, and then he added more slowly: "I couldn't rely on the police to keep it secret like I can on your Lordship, and there are some big deals on, and we'd lose thousands if it was known as Monty 'ad disappeared—thousands."

"Are you sure that Scotland Yard has not scooped him up quietly?" said Barradine.

It was not a pleasant question; but the client took it as quite natural.

"Not a chance of it!" he cried confidently. "Monty's been as careful as careful—always 'is motter has always bin: 'Inside the Lor.' No: it's a fair old mystery—a real one. He's losing money—good money every hour 'e's awye. There's one big deal on which, if he isn't back in a fortnight, it'll fall through. I can't handle it. I'm his partner. My nyme's Mr. 'icks—Hicks."

Barradine began to feel that he did want the job.

"Do the police want him for any earlier—business?" he asked.

"No! I tell you it's a fair old mystery. Monty left his flat on Tuesday night; and yesterday he had a lunch fixed up with a mug—a financier from Glasgow. It meant at least a couple of thou, I don't believe a traction engine could have kept Monty away from that lunch. No: he's abducted; that's what 'e is. And I want you to find him right now."

Barradine decided to take on the job. There was certainly plenty of money, there might be a good advertisement in it; at any rate it should be amusing.

"Very well, I'll find him for you," he said. "My fee will be two hundred guineas and our expenses—if I succeed."

"That's a bit stiff," said Mr. Hicks.

"Well, we'll make it two hundred and twenty guineas," said Barradine pleasantly. "It's all the same to me."

Mr. Hicks looked at him; then he said hastily: "Oh, that'll be all right—quite all right."

"Of course it will," said Barradine. "And if you'll be so good as to write me the cheque, we'll get to business."

Mr. Hicks's little eyes opened wide; and he said with excessive hauteur: "Payment in advance is quite unusual—between gentlemen."

"Quite," said Barradine. "If I don't succeed you'll get the money back—less out-of-pocket expenses."

Mr. Hicks looked at him again, mumbled that he was in his hands, and gloomily wrote out the cheque. By an oversight in a business man he made it two hundred pounds and not guineas, and had to write another for two hundred and twenty guineas; he made that out for pounds; the third was correct.

Barradine put it into his note-case and said: "And now what's your own theory?"

"I think it's a jane," said Mr. Hicks. "Monty's a oner for the skirts; and in the old days, when he was more of a Napoleon of finance, they used to run after him. He thought it was for himself. But it wasn't: he's not the kind of man; they only ran after him because he was a Napoleon."

"Can't you cut it a little shorter—less of the history of his life?" said Barradine. "Who is the woman?"

"Search me. I can't think who she is. It's someone I don't know. But there is someone I'm sure because he's been dropping 'ints."

"Hints?" said Barradine.

"Yes. Last Sunday I was dining with him at his place at Maidenhead, and 'arris was there. He always gives himself airs about women—Harris does. And Monty told him that he didn't know what romance was; and he seemed awfully bucked about it too. I think it's a society jane. He used to knock about a lot with nobs before his three big companies went bust—his tips, you know. He 'ad to tip the shares of course. It's one of the women he met then—I'm sure of it somehow. And she's abducted him."

"You haven't got much to go upon," said Barradine.

But he questioned him, and learnt that Dee Montmorency, in evening dress, had left his flat in Bruton Street at half-past six on Monday evening in a hired motor car, taking with him two leather suit-cases packed with summer clothes. He had not told his servants where he was going; but he had said that he was returning on Tuesday night, or at the latest on Wednesday morning. He seemed in excellent spirits.

That was all Mr. Hicks could tell him; and it was not much.

"Well, I must have a photograph of Dee Montmorency," said Barradine.

"You won't get that!" said Mr. Hicks quickly. "Monty knows a great deal too much to have any photos of him knocking about. He said that you never knew what was going to happen in High Finance, and burnt them all years ago."

Barradine felt that he could hardly congratulate the abducting lady, if there were one, on her prize: the more he heard about him the less he liked him.

"That's hampering," he said.

"Well, you know, financiers don't get photographed. You never see them in the illustrated papers," said Mr. Hicks. "But you can't miss Monty: he's got a big, thick beak on him and his lips are very thick and his hair is black and crisp, with a shine to it, and his eyes are black and not too large for such a big man."

"No. I don't think I can miss him," said Barradine. "If it weren't for my fee, I should certainly try to."

He rose, took his hat and stick, and said: "We'll go round to his flat and see what can be learnt there."

There was the usual block in Bond Street; they left the taxi and walked.

Barradine did not learn anything fresh from Dee Montmorency's servants. As soon as he had done with them he set about telephoning to the nearest garages, and the third he rang up had supplied the car. Hutton, the man who had driven it, was at the moment at the garage, disengaged. Barradine went to it, and Mr. Hicks went with him.

Hutton was a stolid fellow. But when Barradine asked him if he remembered calling for a big, big-nosed, black-haired, dark gentleman from Everton Mansions on Tuesday at 6.30, he awoke to sudden animation, and said with a certain heat: "Do I remember the bloke? I should bally well think I did! Great Scott! I drove him to the corner of Ebury Street, and there was a young lady, one of those red-headed ones, but a little peach, waiting for us in a motor coat and carrying a hand-bag. The gentleman got out and opened the door of the back. But she wanted him to drive the car and to sit beside him."

"Fancy Monty driving a car!" interjected Mr. Hicks.

"I didn't fancy him driving any car I was in charge of, I can tell you," said Hutton firmly. "Then she said that she would drive the car, and he could sit beside her. But he begged and begged her not to."

"It would shake old Monty up a bit—the idea of being driven by a girl at night," said Mr. Hicks, still the commentator.

"Then she said she wasn't going to sit in the back of the car and be bumped up and down all the way; and she got into the seat beside me and said: 'Let her go as soon as you get a clear road. I do like to go fast.'"

"That was nice for Monty—nothing he hates more than speeding," said Mr. Hicks.

He seemed cheerful about it.

"Well, I asked him where to; and he said Hythe," Hutton went on. "I'd been told at the garage that it would be a long journey, and I'd brought petrol for it. The young lady chatted to me and was very pleasant-spoken. But, Lord! when we got out of London and I let the car out a bit, I thought the bloke at the back would have a fit. He howled at me to go slower—howled he did. We stopped at the White Horse, at Tonbridge, where supper was waiting for them. At first the young lady didn't want to stop, and said so pretty straight. She seemed to treat him like the dirt under her feet."

"That isn't at all like Monty!" said Mr. Hicks in a tone of considerable astonishment. "He wasn't one to stand nonsense from a jane. She must be a top-hole little piece for him to let her treat him like that."

"She was a lady; and he wasn't a gentleman," said Hutton with decision. "But he persuaded her to have supper; and they didn't hurry over it either; so it was past eleven when we got to Hythe. Then the young lady directed me, straight through the town and out the other side into Romney Marsh. Two miles further on we turned to the right, inland. Then it was turning after turning and very slow going, for it was a dark night and most of the way a dyke full of water to turn into on both sides of the road.

"The young lay told me the turnings to take, and she must have known the country well, for we went on for the best part of an hour.

"Then she said: 'Here we are at last. Stop at that gate.'

"I stopped and they got out. I could not see any house; it lay back from the road. The bloke paid me. Then the young lady gave me directions very carefully, and said good night, and hoped I shouldn't miss my way—very pleasantly. But I missed it all right; and I went round and round that marsh for hours; and when it grew light I was still in the middle of it and nearly out of petrol. I stopped at a pub and knocked them up and had breakfast. It was called The Plough and was three miles from anywhere. Then I turned in and had a good sleep—I wanted it. When I got up I cleaned the car and since I had about enough petrol to go a mile, I was just sending off a yokel to buy me a tin when one of those baby Austins come along. A young lady was driving it, a pretty one, too, but not as pretty as the one I drove down—not by a long chalk—and there was a young fellow with her, her brother I should think; and they sold me a tin of petrol; and it was all plain sailing after that, for I could see where I was going. But I do remember that job—I haven't forgotten it—not much!"

A suspicion and not a pleasing suspicion was taking form in Barradine's mind; he had his own views of the length of the arm of coincidence.

But he said sympathetically: "I should think you hadn't. Of course you can't say whereabouts in the Romney Marsh you dropped your fares——"

"And I wouldn't if I could. It's the young lady's business," said Hutton firmly.

From that attitude he could not be moved. Either he really did not know, or the redheaded young lady had made an impression on him. Yet he did not look an impressionable man. They came away.

"Well, it's quite clear that Dee Montmorency stopped somewhere in the middle of Romney Marsh," Barradine said to Mr. Hicks. "Somewhere in an area of about thirty-six square miles, I take it. It's a good job that the area is thinly inhabited. There probably aren't as many houses in it as in the hundred square yards in which we are standing; and of course everybody will know every one else's business. I ought to find him for you before the ten days are up—easily. But at the same time it looks to me as if he was doing the abducting—not the lady, and mayn't want finding."

"That's what it looks like. But what I don't like about it is that she treated him like the dirt under her feet. That's uncommonly fishy, that is," said Mr. Hicks. "Monty's not the man to stand that sort of thing."

"A change will be good for him," said Barradine. "I'll get down to Dymchurch this evening and start hunting at once."

"For gord's sake, get him!" said Mr. Hicks. "We'll lose thousands if you don't."


CHAPTER XI
The Search in the Marsh

TAKING Mulliner, Henry's successor, and Mrs. Mulliner, his cook, Barradine drove down to Dymchurch that evening, and found, thanks to the wire he had sent, that one of the coast-guards' wives had the Wall House ready for them. Mrs. Mulliner cooked the supper Barradine had brought down with them, and after it he tried to work out, on a large scale ordnance map of the Marsh, the wanderings of Hutton.

It was difficult to understand why the car had turned off the coast road so near Hythe, for taking the time Hutton had spent running through the Marsh, the house to which he had taken the Dee Montmorency and the redheaded girl must be at least as far as Lydd, probably beyond it, and they could have used the straight coast road for a good many miles nearer to it. He could only suppose that the red-headed young lady was confusing Hutton about the true position of that house.

All the way from London his suspicion of the identity of that red-headed young lady had been growing stronger and stronger.

But the puzzling thing was the position of the inn, The Plough: it was less than five miles from Hythe—it ought to have been at least eight—in the Northern part of the Marsh, half a mile from the Military Canal of the days of Napoleon and the hills up to which the sea had once flowed.

After some thought Barradine came to the conclusion that Hutton had been circling round the inn for some time before he had been stopped at the house, which was probably within a mile or two of it.

That was the most likely part of the Marsh in which to find it and the lost Dee Montmorency.

The next morning after breakfast, therefore, taking sandwiches and a flask of sherry, he drove straight to The Plough and began to hunt round the Marsh round it for the Dee Montmorency's prison. There were not many houses to the square mile: there was the hamlet of which The Plough doubtless was the social centre, and two or three farms. None of them looked likely to be prisons. Then two miles from The Plough he found the likely house.

It stood fifty yards from the road, in a walled, neglected garden, old, covered with ivy, rather sinister, he thought, and had it not been for the smoke which came from one chimney, he would have sworn it was empty.

That, he thought, was the eternal mistake of kidnappers: they always hid the kidnapped in some empty part of the country, where every one for at least five miles round made it their business to know everything about them in about three days, instead of keeping them at the top of an eight-roomed house in Golder's Green, where the people on the other side of the party wall would feel no interest in them for at least five years.

Well, they would by now know a good deal about the Dee Montmorency's kidnappers at The Plough.

He drove back to it slowly, for it was too early for it to be open, making a circuit and allowing himself to enjoy the country morning and the country sights, and reached it five minutes after opening time. It was not open; no one frequented it at that hour in the morning. But when he knocked the door was opened by the landlord, a genuine Marshman with the genuine neolithic air of sodden stupidity, and Barradine remembered the immense difficulty of getting anything of the Marsh folk, even though there might be no reason whatever why they should keep anything they knew to themselves. They seemed to suffer from a deeply-rooted, ancestral secrecy, a centuries-old obsession.

The landlord of The Plough was of the country: he looked at Barradine suspiciously; suspiciously he brought him a bottle of Bass in the tap-room; he listened to his affable talk with deeper suspicion. But Barradine knew how to question, and at the end of twenty minutes he had fairly dragged out of the landlord the simple facts that the house was called the Dykeside, that it was rented by a London lady who came down in the summer, or let it, that he did not know whether she, or any one else, was in it at the moment, that she wrote books, that he did not know whether she was young or old because he had never seen her, and had not wanted to see her, and nobody had told him. He parted with each piece of information as if it were a secret of national importance.

When he had dragged it from him, Barradine did not think the information of great value. He went into the matter of whether there were any other houses except farm houses in the neighbourhood. The landlord shook his head and was dumb.

Well, there was nothing for it: he must keep an eye on Dykeside. He paid for his Bass, which he had found a grateful drink on that hot morning. But before he settled down to his watch on Dykeside he made a more extended circuit in search of other likely houses, and found none.

Then he drove to within a quarter of a mile of Dykeside and walked to a clump of willows two hundred yards from it, ate the sandwiches which Mrs. Mulliner had made for him, and washed them down with the sherry, lit a cigar, and settled down to his watch.

It was slow work: he ought to have brought a book. Also it was work which Forbes could do better than he. He would wire for him. It was pleasing to think that financiers were paying all expenses: there was no need for parsimony.

At six o'clock nothing had happened, except that at a quarter to five smoke had again come from a chimney on Dykeside, and he had deduced that a kettle was being boiled for tea. It was no diversion; no one came out of the house after tea. At six he drove back to Dymchurch, pausing at New Romney to wire the office to send Forbes next morning.

After dinner he went out and strolled down the sea-wall towards Littlestone, and a mile down it he found Mary Fearn. She was with her uncle, a grey-haired, fierce-looking man of fifty-five, who was being wheeled along in an invalid chair by her cousin, an uncommonly good-looking boy of about nineteen, who, it seemed, was on leave from Sandhurst. Later Barradine learnt that he was only seventeen; but he was big enough and strong enough to be twenty.

Barradine was pleased to see Mary, and he was also pleased to see that her eyes brightened and she flushed faintly at the sight of him.

She introduced him to her uncle and cousin; and then she said: "You never told me that you were coming here."

"I didn't know myself," said Barradine. "But I have a place, the wall House, at Dymchurch, and I fancied a change, and I got a chance of combining business with pleasure and I did not let it slip."

"Business? Oh, surely not business in the peaceful old Marsh!" she cried.

"Very much in the peaceful old Marsh," said Barradine.

"I never knew a peaceful spot yet—and I've known a good many—which did not need the attentions of the police," said Sir John.

"You certainly do combine business with pleasure, Lord Barradine," said Mary, with a mischievous glance at him. "The first time that I met him was at Spanswick Castle, Uncle. He was hunting for something there—a tube of radium, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Barradine.

"And you found it too, I remember," she said, and made a hideous face at him over her uncle's head. "But it will be rather fun to have you working here. We shall be able to help you, shan't we, Frank?"

"Rather!" said the boy with cheerful eagerness.

They could be useful helpers. Mary Fearn, with a very little training, would be indeed a valuable assistant. But——

They moved on down the Wall, talking about Dymchurch, the bathing, and the golf at Littlestone. Barradine found that they were staying at Craigburn, a house on the edge of the village; Sir John had taken it for the summer.

Frank was pushing the chair, and after a while Mary and Barradine dropped behind the other two. They talked of the moon rising over the sea and how good it was to get away from London to such a delightful place.

Then she said, in quite a casual tone: "And what are you looking for this time?"

"A pretty young lady with red hair," said Barradine.

"But how perfectly dashing!" she cried. Then she laughed and said: "But of course I sometimes wear red hair myself. You're sure it isn't me?"

"Not at all," said Barradine a trifle sourly.

"But how splendid! And it's your turn to catch me again."

If it was acting, it was thundering good acting, he thought.

"Look here: did your father ever have any dealings with a bucket-shop-keeper of the name of Reginald Dee Montmorency?" said Barradine sharply.

"Reginald Dee Montmorency? Oh, come: there can't be any such person!" she cried.

"Probably, almost certainly not," said Barradine. "But that's what he calls himself."

She frowned, pondering; then she said: "My father never mentioned his name, and I should certainly remember it if he had. No one could forget it."

She was certainly telling the truth.

"But the rogue was mixed up with the Ural Bonanza Syndicate," said Barradine.

"Not when my father was," she said confidently.

Nothing could sound more accurate, and it might be accurate: he could not at the moment check it. He scowled at the rising moon.

"It is odd that we should have been opponents twice," she said thoughtfully.

"Not at all," said Barradine, a trifle annoyed at getting nowhere. "The people you have been—been——"

"Say 'robbing.' Do!" she said, and she laughed with genuine glee.

"Getting level with," he amended. "They have good reasons for avoiding Scotland Yard and an open scandal, as you know, and the Twentieth Century Agency is very well-advertised. Have you seen a red-haired girl, a pretty one, in the Marsh anywhere?"

"Oh, yes: I have," she said, and raised her voice and added: "Whereabouts in the Marsh was it that we saw pretty red-haired girls, Frank?"

"One at New Romney, one at Dungeness, and two at Newchurch," said Frank over his shoulder.

"He carries a list of them in his head," she said.

"Too long a list," said Barradine, again suspicious.

They talked of other things; he walked back with them to Craigburn, and talked and smoked and drank a whisky and soda. Then having arranged to bathe with Mary and Frank before breakfast next morning, he walked back to Wall House.

He had an enjoyable bathe with them; and after a large breakfast he set forth again on his search—Forbes would not arrive till lunch-time—and drove about the roads round The Plough for an hour, in hope to meet his red-haired quarry on her way to her day's shopping. He found that Dykeside that morning showed no signs of being inhabited: no smoke came from any of its chimneys; no one appeared at any of its windows. The Marsh is a poor place for a watcher—so little cover. Except for some clumps and lines of willows, from the first floor windows of the house there was a clear view on all four sides of it. He could not therefore potter in his car along the roads round it; motorists did not potter about roads so lacking in interest.

After a while he decided to knock up Dykeside, to try for some information on the spot, and walked openly along the road to it. He knocked at the front door and waited. He had waited about four minutes and was on the point of making a tour of exploration round the house, when he heard a heavy step in the hall. The door opened, and a large woman of a cook-like appearance and with a bad squint, her arms covered with flour as if she had come straight from the pastry-board, surveyed him grimly.

He apologised for disturbing her and said that he had heard that the house was to be let, and asked if he might speak to her mistress.

She said very grumpily that he had heard wrong: that the house was not to let or likely to be let, and she wasn't going to disturb her mistress at her work for a thing like that, and fairly slammed the door in his face.

No one is as uncivil as that without reason, Barradine thought, and he had little doubt that her mistress, though she might not be working, might easily, on occasion, display red hair.

He walked back to his clump, fairly satisfied: he would almost have bet even money that Dykeside was the Dee Montmorency's prison, and he was in it.

Soon after lunch he drove back to Wall House: Forbes should have arrived. He had arrived and fed. Barradine at once hired a bicycle for him, put it on the car, drove them both to the willow clump near Dykeside and left him to watch it.


CHAPTER XII
The Red-Haired Girl

CONFIDENT that the business was in capable hands, Barradine allowed himself to enjoy the change. That night he met Mary Fearn and Sir John and Frank on their evening walk along the Wall, and brought them along to Wall House for whisky and soda and cigars; he bathed next morning with Mary and Frank and played golf with them most of the day, and spent the following days in the same pleasant way.

Forbes Watched Dykeside, using field-glasses, most of the day and far into the night, and learnt very little. Tradesmen from Hythe brought food; an elderly lady sometimes sat in the front garden; the squinting cook used the back garden. At night he could go nearer the house, and would have gone yet nearer, had it not been for a bad-tempered dog they let loose.

But he was of the opinion that there was also a man in the house, in one of the bedrooms at the back, a man who whined. But he was not sure.

Of the red-haired girl he saw nothing.

Barradine did.

On the fourth morning, just as Barradine was starting for golf, a wire came from Mr. Hicks. It ran:


MEET ME TWO FIFTY-ONE NEW ROMNEY—HICKS."


Barradine played golf, lunched at home, drove the Bentley to New Romney and met him. He appeared distressed, and thrust a letter at him. It ran:


Dear H.

Put two thousand sovereigns into ten bags of two hundred each sealed up. Bring them to New Romney by the 2.51. Walk across Littlestone links to the end nearest Dymchurch. On the path a red-haired young lady will meet you and say, 'Once aboard the lugger and the girl is mine.'

Give her the money and ask no questions but scram.

Tell nobody and don't fail me.

Dee M."


"Mad, I suppose," said Barradine.

"Mad? Dee Montmorency? And he tells me to hand over two thousand thick uns. Not on your life, he isn't! He's in a two thousand quid hole. That's what he is," said Mr. Hicks with profound conviction.

"You're going to do it?"

"Of course I'm going to do it, and lucky it is we've bin buying thick uns for months—Dee Montmorency's nuts on gold—or I mightn't 'ave got them in time. But here's where you git on to the red-haired skirt!"

They took a cab to the links—two thousand sovereigns weigh a bit. Barradine put Hicks on the path, told him to walk straight on to Dymchurch after he had handed over the suitcase, let him get two hundred yards ahead, and followed him.

Rather more than half-way across the links a girl came out of a clump of bushes and accosted Hicks. She wore no hat, and her hair shone red in the sun. Barradine saw them talk for a minute or two; Hicks gave her the suitcase and turned and came back. The girl went back into the clump of bushes.

Smiling, Barradine walked briskly to it. As he drew near the clump she came out of the other side of it with the suitcase in her hand, staggering a little under its weight. For a moment he did not recognise her; then he saw that it was Mary Fearn.

He had known it all the time—he told himself that he had.

But he was annoyed.

As he came out of the other side of the clump, she turned and saw him.

Something in his expression amused her: she set down the suitcase and began to laugh.

He did not laugh; he said grimly: "So it was you."

"It was me all right," she said.

"Then you'll just hand that suitcase over to me," he said.

"I shan't. Why should I? The nice gentleman gave it me, and it's mine."

"You will," he said. "I've caught you red-handed this time."

"You've caught me red-haired, you mean," she said.

"Red-haired and red-handed," he said. "But give me that suitcase."

"I won't. The two thousand pounds isn't really mine to give you. I'm going to give it to Mr. Dee Montmorency."

"I'm acting for him—through his partner. And I insist on it," he said yet more sternly.

She scowled at him, hesitating; then she cried: "Oh, take the old suitcase! I don't want to carry it! It weighs about a ton."

It was heavy; but he was pleased to get it so easily. He had expected a far more bitter contest. He opened it and made sure that the ten bags were still in it and still sealed up. She might have hidden some of them in that clump of bushes.

They walked towards the Dymchurch road in silence. He was too vexed to talk; and she was scowling.

Presently she said triumphantly: "But after all it doesn't bring you any nearer your Dee Montmorency."

"Doesn't it? We'll see about that," he said.

"It doesn't," she said. "Why, even if you knew where he was hiding, and I've got him in the safest place in the Marsh, you couldn't get at him. I've taken care of that. You only took that tube of radium from me because I didn't know you were after it. Now I know how clever you are, I'm ever so much more careful."

"It's monstrous that you should do such things—luring a fellow like that down from London!" he said severely. "It's kidnapping and blackmail."

"If you only knew how little luring there was about it," she said and laughed wickedly. "And as for blackmail, I'm only getting back some of the money he stole from my father. He was one of the swindlers behind Ural Bonanzas. And what's more: if he doesn't get that money, he'll be furious. He wants it for a special purpose. Why, he's—he's just hungering for it!"

She laughed again heartily, as if she had in her mind something very amusing indeed.

"I'm not going to let you blackmail people however much they deserve it—so there!" said Barradine with immense determination.

"And I'm going to do exactly as I like—so there!" said she with no less determination.

They walked the last hundred yards to the road in silence. At intervals a mischievous smile seemed to break out on her face and be repressed. He was not comfortable: could there be a catch? No: not with a suitcase of that weight!

Then she said: "I must take this wig off. I can't ruin Frank's reputation by letting him be seen driving about with a red-haired lady."

She took off the wig and pulled and patted her hair smooth. She was taking her loss well. It was no use: he could not go on being angry with her. Besides, it was no use: she must be suffering from an obsession.

Then she said with the most natural sincerity: "Do you think that red hair suits me?"

Barradine laughed and said: "Your hair ought to be bright red. Judas had bright red hair, and so did the Brinvilliers."

"I've told you what you are—once and for all," she said coldly, and walked on, swinging the wig in her left hand.

As they reached the edge of the links Frank came down the road in his baby Austin. He did not seem surprised to see them together. She stepped into the car and took her seat beside him.

Then she said: "I'm sorry there isn't room for three, Lord Barradine. I'm afraid you'll find it very trying, carrying that suitcase all the way to Dymchurch on such a hot afternoon. It isn't as if you were strong."

"Oh, I shall manage all right," said Barradine coldly. "I can wait for a 'bus."

"Well, please bring the suitcase and the money round this evening," she said.

Frank drove back over the links. Barradine did not watch them. He plodded up the road to New Romney Station and the Bentley. They were nearer than Dymchurch. He was glad to put the suitcase in the Bentley.

Mr. Hicks had only just reached Wall House when Barradine arrived, and Mulliner had given him a double whisky and soda; he was smoking a large cigar with a large gold band round it. Barradine's cigars were too mild for him.

"I've recovered the money and discovered who the kidnapper is," said Barradine with pardonable triumph, setting down the suitcase on the table.

"That is a score!" said Mr. Hicks cheerfully, and then: "Hey! What's this? This ain't the suitcase I brought! It's a wrong un!" He opened it and looked inside: "And these aren't the same bags! Mine were wash-leather."

"What?" said Barradine, staccato.

"They've—they've bin changed!" cried Mr. Hicks, and he held one out to Barradine.

Barradine snatched it from him, broke the seal, and poured out on the table a silver stream of shillings!

They stared at them.

"Diddled, by Jove!" said Mr. Hicks softly.

Barradine saw the whole trick in a flash. Mary Fearn had had this suitcase and these ten bags of shillings in the clump of bushes ready against his intervention. When she had left Mr. Hicks and gone back into the clump she had just changed the suitcases and stepped out of the back of the clump, carrying the one that contained the shillings. She had done it inside of two minutes, and then played him for a poor fish. She and Frank had had all the time in the world to collect the gold from the clump of bushes.

His first feeling was annoyance at having been tricked; and then he began to laugh, it had been so neat. He went on laughing. Mr. Hicks gazed at him with a wry face.

"We're certainly up against ingenuity and resource," said Barradine.

"Those red-headed skirts are just the devil," said Mr. Hicks with gloomy certainty. "But perhaps it's just as well that Dee Montmorency has got his money: 'e's hapt to get shirty if you don't do exactly as he says."

Barradine did not think to tell him that Mary Fearn's hair was not red.

He said: "There's no reason to suppose that he will get his money, or, if he gets it that he'll be allowed to keep it. But it's an advantage to know the kidnapper, or at any rate the kidnapper's agent."

"Decoy—if you ask me," said Mr. Hicks gloomily.

"Decoy—if you like. But you're still sure that Dee Montmorency has been kidnapped?"

"Dead sure," said Mr. Hicks with unabated confidence. "That two thou. is blackmail, or Monty wouldn't have asked for it in gold."

"M'm. And you still want him finding?" said Barradine, wishing to be sure that the events of the afternoon had not induced his client to change his mind.

"Findin'? I want 'im rescuing!" said Mr. Hicks with vehemence.

"Right. It shall be done," said Barradine.

He liked to keep his clients cheerful.

There was very little for them to discuss with advantage, for Barradine did not mean to provide any food for discussion. Mr. Hicks drank another stiff whisky and soda. As they talked he put the shillings back in the unsealed bag, and the bag back in the suitcase. When the taxi he had ordered came to take him to the station, he laid a caressing hand on the suitcase and said: "I'll take this along with me: even an 'undred saved out of Monty's money is better nor nothink."

"You won't!" said Barradine with decision. "It was a pretty high-handed job to take a suitcase full of shillings from a young lady on a golf-links, highway robbery in fact—roughly, and if you think that I'm going to chance any trouble about it, I'm not! It's going back to the young lady."

"That's all very well. But 'ow am I to know as them shillings do git back to their proper owner?" said Mr. Hicks.

It was hardly tactful. The events of the afternoon had not been such as to fill Barradine with warm satisfaction, and he suddenly felt annoyed.

He said in a tone of manifest sincerity: "I know you to be a dirty little rogue, but if you have the faintest doubts about my honesty, I will here and now knock your ugly little head off your dirty, skimpy shoulders. Have you any doubts about it?"

Mr. Hicks's mouth opened and stayed open, and he paled: "N-N-N-o-o. N-N-N-o-o! your Lordship! N-N-None!" he fairly gasped. "It was just a matter o' business!"

"Well, keep your business to the gulls you rob!" said Barradine with unabated unpleasantness. "And now clear out before you're kicked out!"

He wore the air of one whose boots are itching to stand no nonsense from a bucketshop-keeper.


CHAPTER XIII
The House in the Marsh

THAT night directly after dinner Barradine drove to Craigburn with the suitcase full of shillings, and found Mary, Sir John, and Frank drinking their coffee.

"I've brought your suitcase, Miss Fearn," he said and set it on the floor.

"Thank you so much," said Mary in the same matter-of-fact tone, with no display of triumph.

"Why didn't you let her carry it herself?" said Sir John. "She's been worrying herself all dinner about your over-tiring yourself with it. She says that you're not strong and you oughtn't to carry a heavy thing like that."

Apparently she was establishing a legend that he was a weakling—by way of teasing him.

"I'm naturally quixotic," he said, instead of warmly defending himself against the aspersion on his muscles.

They finished their coffee and went down the Wall on their usual evening walk. When Barradine and Mary fell behind, she almost apologized for the trick. She said:

"But you forced me to do it. I knew you'd give the two thousand back to those rogues if I didn't. You will interfere. Of course I know it's your job and all that, but I wish you'd interfere with someone else. You'll never get anything out of interfering with me, now that I know about you."

"Never mind," he said. "Those laugh best who laugh last."

"There: I knew you'd bear malice," she said in an aggrieved tone.

"I don't—not a bit," said Barradine. "It was all in the way of business. I don't expect to make my money easily at this game. But I really shall have to find Dee Montmorency to restore my self-esteem."

"I expect in the end I shall have to let you find him—just to soothe you," she said.

He laughed and said: "All I want is a fair field and no favour. But I tell you what it is: when you've got this fixed idea of getting square with the people who robbed your father out of your head, you might do worse than take a post in the Twentieth Century Agency. You'd be invaluable."

"It would be rather fun," she said thoughtfully.

She told him later that she and Frank had been for a drive in the Marsh after tea; and he was strongly inclined to believe that the two thousand sovereigns had gone to Dykeside. It seemed possible that when he made the raid on Dykeside he had in mind, he might not only rescue the Dee Montmorency but also recover the money.

He found that he was not eager to recover the money: Mary Fearn must be weakening his moral sense: he was beginning to feel that the money really was hers.

But when on reaching the Wall House later he found Forbes eating his supper, he learnt that no car had called at Dykeside that day, so that the two thousand sovereigns had not gone there.

Most of the next four days he spent on the links with Mary. Then there came a letter from Mr. Hicks, enclosing one from the Dee Montmorency himself, in which he instructed him to deliver another two thousand pounds in gold to the lady on the links without any interference of any kind, and cursing him uphill and down-dale for having interfered with the first consignment. He declared that that interference had cost him seven hundred and fifty pounds and done no good of any kind. It had not.

Mr. Hicks adjured Barradine not to interfere. He had only sent him the information because it might prove of use in rescuing his partner.

Barradine could not see how it could be of any use, if he was not allowed to interfere. He began to work out his plan for raiding Dykeside. Forbes was strongly opposed to any such raid: he would not take part in any such raid himself; it would be too illegal for him.

Barradine perceived that he would have to do the raiding alone.

It had to be done.

Two mornings later he went to the links, expecting to find Mary and Frank, waiting to make up a foursome. Instead he found a note from her to tell him that they had been, all of them, called to London for a week. He cursed, and then he had a happy idea: Craigburn would be empty; they would take with them Mary's maid and the old valet, who looked after Sir John; he would go over it.

But he did not hurry to do so: the village women who did the rough work might still be there, cleaning up. He played two rounds of golf, and then he went.

The house stood back from the road, screened sufficiently by shrubberies. He knocked and made sure that it was empty; then in three minutes he was through the scullery window.

Sure enough in the study was a wastepaper basket full of torn-up letters and envelopes. He set about a careful examination of them. He had been at it about two minutes when he heard a curious bumping sound in one of the upper rooms.

The house was not empty!

He listened and heard it again. Then he hurried upstairs quietly. The bumping came from a back bedroom. He opened the door quietly, and on the bed he saw a man in black who was bumping up and down with furious energy.

It was the lost Dee Montmorency! Gagged and bound!

In about a minute Barradine had freed him and he sat up. Barradine had seldom seen a more repulsive-looking object. It was more like a hog than even a Dee Montmorency. A rich growth of stubbly black beard made his ugly face appalling. His tousled, bristly hair matched his beard in stubbliness. Between the two blacks his dirty face was slate-grey. He was still in evening dress, crumpled and frowsy; his crumpled shirt matched his dirty face. He was panting from his exertions, and his eyes were full of tears.

"I thought you'd never 'ear. But you've saved me," he said.

It was nothing to be proud of.

"Hicks employed me to find you," said Barradine rather coldly.

"Oh, the time I've had!" he said with a sob. "Starved—starved, that's what I've been."

"But why?" said Barradine.

"The idea was to bleed me. But I wouldn't be bled. I'd sooner starve. But after two days I got so hungry, I had to give in. Three hundred a day was what they charged me—three hundred! That red-headed little devil said she had a soul above boarding-houses, but I had insisted on coming as a boarder, and she couldn't charge me less. For two days I had full meals. I paid by cheque. Of course I gave them stumers, and the cheques came back, and they were furious. That devil of a boy—he said it wasn't playing the game, and I must be tunded. He did it with an ash-plant. Weals—I don't think! I'm black and blue."

Barradine vainly tried not to laugh; and it was not a loud laugh.

"That's it—laugh!" said the financier bitterly. "They starved me for the next two days. Then I got two thousand in gold—from London. They made me pay six hundred sovereigns for the two days they had fed me. Then they gave me THREE DOG-BISCUITS A DAY!" He yelled it at Barradine. "It was eggs and bacon and meat and veg. and beer those first two days. Now it was only dog-biscuits and water. A hundred sovereigns a dog-biscuit! A hundred sovereigns each! I had to count out the money myself! I had to do it or die of hunger!"

"A pretty stiff price," said Barradine, still with a certain lack of sympathy. "I suppose they had been reading Monte Cristo. But hang it! You ought to have stuck more than two days!"

"No: I live 'igh," said the financier pathetically.

His high excitement died down suddenly; and again he became morose and tearful. He almost moaned: "And that devilish red-headed girl—complained—that acorns weren't in season. Acorns! She said that they would suit me better than dog-biscuits—at ten sovereigns apiece!"

"It was lucky for you they weren't in season," said Barradine.

Then the Dee Montmorency grew excited again and cried: "And one day she wanted to brand me! She came with a red-hot poker and wanted to brand a T on my nose. She said that nothing could spoil it." He sobbed. "The boy stopped her, or she'd have done it then and there."

"Oh, no: she wouldn't. At least I should think that she was only—only teasing you," said Barradine in a soothing tone, but he doubted it.

"She would, I tell you!" he shouted. "And then she wanted the boy to put a pig's ring through my nose. She bought one on purpose. She said it would look so much more natural with a ring through it. And that devilish boy laughed so much I thought he'd do it!"

Barradine laughed softly. There was certainly no limit to Mary Fearn's fancy.

"But why was she so hard on you?" he said.

"She said her father had lost a lot of money in the Ural Bonanza Syndicate. If every mug, who got caught, starved a financier, where would business be? The City would have to shut up shop! And as if that wasn't enough, that green-eyed devil came and told me this morning that they were off, and I was going to be left to starve to death."

He sobbed again.

Barradine observed that Mary had again used the complete disguise, and he was glad of it.

"But you saved me," the financier went on. "And I'll never forget it—never. I'll give you the first good tip I hear of."

"Thanks," said Barradine, with no warmth. "But hadn't you better have a bath and change? These look like your kit-bags."

The Dee Montmorency jerked off the bed stiffly and tottered across the room with little yelps of pain. He was stiff. Barradine saw him into the bathroom and lit his pipe and waited. He did not have a bath because the water was tepid and not hot. He had a small wash. It made very little difference. Barradine sent a small boy to the station for a taxi. They drove, with the suitcases, to the hotel.

The Dee Montmorency's first meal was indeed a disgusting performance. No self-respecting wolf, however hungry, would have eaten as he did.

When he had finished Barradine said: "Will you swear an information against this red-haired girl at Hythe, or in London?"

He looked at him blankly.

"I'll expect she'll get it hot if the police can find her, and some corroborative evidence," said Barradine. "But it will be an amusing case. I shan't miss a scrap of it. Her counsel will make you sweat in the witness-box."

His client ground his teeth and then he swore.

"Case?" he howled. "There'll be no case! I'm not such a blankety-blank fool as that! I cut my losses. Why, half-a-dozen people I've done business with would be up to similar games with me at once! And cleverer games: they'd bleed me and do me in. Case? Not on your life! That's where that little red-headed devil has me! Why, if this business came out, I could never show my face in the City again. They'd offer me dog-biscuits! Dog-biscuits would come by every post."

That was all right, Barradine thought.

He paused, then he ended, almost solemnly: "But it will be a lesson to me, mark you. I'll never monkey with a red-headed skirt again—unscrupulous—utterly unscrupulous!"

It seemed to Barradine that when the Dee Montmorency talked earnestly of the unscrupulousness of other people, there was no more to be said. He was reassured in the matter of Mary Fearn: if the financier or his agents did pierce her disguise, he would not prosecute, and his reasons for not doing so were excellent. If he did his life would truly be a storm of dog-biscuits. Barradine felt that people who had only met him once would send him dog-biscuits—just to show him the impression he had made on them.

He had all he wanted of him and more. He left him to find his way to London, and drove to the Wall House to lunch. He found a wire awaiting him; it ran:


YOU WILL FIND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN CRAIGBURN.


But he had already found it.


CHAPTER XIV
The Last Seat on the Wall

BARRADINE had done what he had come to do; but he saw no reason to leave Dymchurch. He did not wish to seem to rush to London after Mary Fearn; she must not be encouraged in her malpractices. If he was needed at the office, he could reach it in three hours. He stayed on.

On the third day the weather turned muggy and oppressive, and after dinner he came across the wooden bridge from his balcony on to Dymchurch Wall to find the night and the sea uneasy. It was dark and still; the tide hardly rippled on the sand. From over the sea, far away, came faint, unhappy cries and a moaning, or he fancied there did. They did not sound human, but as if troubled spirits were complaining. Only once before had he known a Dymchurch night eerie like that.

It was just past eleven, for he had set down his novel when the church clock struck. As he walked along the Wall towards the Redoubt, some of the uneasiness of the night seemed to be creeping into him. Then, as he came abreast of the Barn House, the stillness was broken by the harsh rattle of a motorcycle starting on the road by the builder's yard, two hundred and fifty yards away.

Relieved, if anything, after the first jar, by the clatter, he strolled on. He heard the motorcyclist, riding hell for leather, turn off the Hythe road into the Marsh, and then a moan at his very feet startled him. On the ground at the end of the last seat on the Wall was a huddle of white—a woman in a white frock.

"What the devil?" he said and stooped over her, and added: "What's the matter? Are you ill?"

Another moan was the answer. He snapped on his cigarette lighter and saw that she was lying on her face, and the great stain on the back of her evening frock was red.

It was a jar. But he dropped on one knee, snapped on the lighter again, and turned her over, saw her ghastly face and knew her. It was Muriel Murwood, the wife of that little skug, Sir Jeremiah Murwood. He had known her before her marriage, when she was Muriel Pointdexter and one of the Bright Young People of her day. Her frightened, despairing eyes looked into his, but no recognition dawned in them. He knew those hopeless eyes; she was in a very bad way indeed—dying.

He shouted: "Murder! Murder!" and turned her, very gently on to her side and saw the blood welling from a little hole in her left side. He made a bandage with his handkerchief and strips from her frock and tied it round her, trying to stop the bleeding. All the while he was shouting at the top of his voice: "Help! Murder! Help!"

He wanted help.

He had tied the bandage pretty tightly over the wound when running feet came along crunching the pebbles, and young Chivers, from the Barn House, pulled up with a jerk and asked what was the matter.

"She's dying, I think. Shot in the back. Fetch Warner," said Barradine. "Then wake my man and tell him to get the police-sergeant. Bring the whisky decanter off the table on my balcony and a glass. Quick! For God's sake!"

Chivers swung round and sprinted. Barradine knelt, holding the dying girl as comfortably as he could, and the minutes, long, long minutes, passed. He fancied that her weak pulse was growing weaker. Then Chivers was back with the whisky, and poured a little into a tumbler and tried to give it her. Barradine thought she was past swallowing: it ran out of the corners of her mouth.

Then Warner, the doctor, came with his bag and an electric torch. He wasted no time, but got to work, laid the girl on her side, cut off Barradine's bandage and looked at the wound and shook his head. Then he opened his bag. He was injecting strychnine when the police-sergeant came with Mulliner.

The sergeant turned the ray of his torch on to Lady Murwood's face and said sharply: "Why, it's Mrs. Pointdexter!"

"It's Lady Murwood, the wife of Sir Jeremiah Murwood, of Norchester Hall, near Oakshott," said Barradine.

"Well, she's been living at Ravenshoe, in the Circle, as Mrs. Pointdexter—for the last two months," he said, and he began to run the ray of his torch over the ground round the seat, examining it carefully. The doctor injected the strychnine.

The sergeant stepped to the edge of the Wall, looked down, and said sharply: "What's this?"

He slipped over the edge of the Wall on to the apron. Barradine stepped to the edge and looked down to see him bending over the sprawling body of a man, and he dropped down from the Wall and stood beside him. The sergeant handed him his torch, raised the body gently, disclosing a patch of blood on the stones, and turned it over and looked at the back.

"Shot, or maybe stabbed, in the back too," he said. "I thought when I saw him first it might be murder and suicide. But it isn't. It's murder. Do you know him too, m' Lord?"

Barradine turned the ray on to the pale, smiling face and recognized Broadbent.

"Yes," he said. "It's a man of the name of Broadbent—Oliver Broadbent. Hunts big game and explores a bit. Commanded a battalion during the war and was high in command of the Black and Tans in Ireland after it."

The sergeant laid the body down and took the torch and ran the ray over the stones round the body.

"Must have jumped up from the seat when he was shot and pitched off the Wall," he said. "One of those Black and Tans, you say, m' Lord?"

Warner came to the edge of the Wall and said gravely: "She's gone, poor creature. There was nothing to be done."

"Here's another, Doctor," said the sergeant.

The doctor let himself down and made his examinations: "Dead too," he said.

"How long, sir?" said the sergeant quickly.

"Less than a quarter of an hour. A bullet wound in the back, too," said Warner.

"They can't be bullet wounds!" snapped Barradine. "I must have heard the shots. I've been reading on my balcony for the last two hours, and the night's as still as death."

"They're bullet wounds all right. I ought to know. I've seen plenty," said Warner.

He had had three years on the Western Front.

"But I must have heard the shots too. The windows were wide open. I hadn't been in bed five minutes when I heard Lord Barradine's first shout, and I had been some time getting to bed," said Chivers.

He was wearing pyjamas.

"Sounds as if the man who shot them used a silencer," said the Sergeant.

"And I fancy he came on a motor-cycle," said Barradine. "I was some way down the Wall when I heard a motor-cycle start from somewhere near the builder's. He went hell for leather down the Hythe road, and turned off into the Marsh near the first Martello tower."

"Yes: I heard him start, and he did go a lick," said Chivers.

The sergeant made a note of it.

There was a pause.

Then Barradine took hold of the situation firmly; he sent the sergeant to telephone to the Folkestone police, and get a stretcher and bearers, and had the bodies carried to Lady Murwood's bungalow. He himself kept the Wall round the seat and the apron below it clear of people, for half the village had awakened and had hurried to the spot. The doctor went off to bed; Chivers went home and changed and came back and waited with Barradine by the seat for the Folkestone police. They did not talk much; but they discussed the motorcycle which had started on the road by the builder's yard and gone off into the Marsh. It seemed likely that the murderer had come and gone on that motor-cycle, for it did not look at all like local work.

Then the Superintendent and a detective and two police-constables arrived from Folkestone. Leaving the police-constables to keep the Wall clear, the sergeant took the Superintendent and the detective to Ravenshoe, to see the bodies and search for evidence that might throw light on the crime. Barradine went with them. It would be light enough at three to search for traces of the man who had shot them, at the scene of the crime itself. Later Barradine gave the Superintendent supper, and Mulliner entertained the sergeant and the detective. Barradine told the Superintendent what he knew of Lady Murwood and Broadbent. The Superintendent also jumped at the fact that Broadbent had been a Black and Tan.

"You think the shooting might have been Sinn Fein vengeance?" said Barradine. "But all that happened so long ago."

"Some of them as hate have long memories, m' Lord. And then some executed man's child may have grown up," said the Inspector.

"But why on earth should he shoot Lady Murwood?" said Barradine. "She was a child in the nursery in those days."

"Some of those Irish would shoot a baby in its mother's arms," said the Superintendent with prejudice. "And among the old Sinn Fein murderers is a likely place to find a Maxim silencer. They'd use them."

At a quarter to three they went to the last seat on the Wall, for it was growing light quickly. At three it was daylight, and they began to search for traces of the murderer. It would not be easy to find any. The road along the top of the Wall was as dry as a bone and covered with loose pebbles; it would take no imprint of a foot. The grass on the turfed bank, which is the face of the Wall on the Marsh side, was also as dry as a bone, so that if, as was probable considering the excellence of the shooting, the gunman had lain down to shoot, the grass would not have kept the impress of his body. The sergeant and the Superintendent and the detective after searching the road and the banks and finding nothing, looked at one another with disappointed eyes.

Then Barradine said: "If the gunman went away on the motor-cycle I heard, and whoever it was he went away in the devil of a hurry, he probably came up that fence from that gate, pretty well under cover."

He pointed to the gate from the road into the field by the builder's house.

Provincial police, they looked a trifle resentful of the suggestion of a layman; but Barradine had a title and must be treated with deference.

The Superintendent said reluctantly: "There's something in what you say, Lord Barradine. We'll have a look at it."

They went down the fence, slowly, examining every foot of it; all the way the dryness of the soil and grass had prevented any imprint. They searched the ground and hedge by the gate for some mark that would show that a motor-cycle had stood there: not a mark.

"It was just a chance," said Barradine.

"Yes," said the Superintendent. "Does any one in these three houses own a motor-cycle, Sergeant?"

"No, sir."

"As soon as the people in them are up enquire whether any of them had a visitor on a motor-cycle who left at eleven last night," said the Superintendent. "The man we want may have come and gone on a motor-cycle, though it's more likely that he dogged Lady Murwood and Mr. Broadbent from the bungalow, sneaked down that bank and up it and shot them as soon as they had settled down on the seat."

It was.

"If it was the motor-cyclist, it looks as if he must have known their habits and known exactly where to find them," said Barradine.

"He might. It looks as if they might have been watched for days—nights rather," said the Superintendent. "But then he might just as well have come down last night and dogged them."

They went back to the Wall, and they examined it again, all the way to the Circle, in which Ravenshoe stands. They searched the sands for a trail to the sea, for the tide had been low, in case the gunman had gone down to throw the weapon into the sea. There was no trail.

There was nothing more to be seen, or learnt. Barradine went to bed.


CHAPTER XV
The Inquest

NEXT morning the crime experts of the London newspapers came about eleven; the sightseers were already there, Hythe and Folkestone were full of holiday makers. They came in thousands. Every pebble on the Wall within twenty yards of the last seat had gone before half-past one, every blade of grass round it by three; the seat itself would have gone too, in fragments but for the police.

Barradine allowed the reporters from six of the leading newspapers to interview him; Mulliner kept off the others. He learnt nothing more during the day, except that no motorcyclist had spent the evening and gone away at eleven from any of the houses by the builder's. But that was not much; a motor-cyclist might have been held up there for a while by engine trouble. No stranger had been seen hanging about the Circle. Chivers came in to see him two or three times. He told him that the police had got into touch with Sir Jeremiah Murwood, who was staying at the Pavilion Hotel, at Frinton, and that he was on his way to Dymchurch, that Lady Murwood's brother had already come and was at Ravenshoe.

Barradine knew Johnny Pointdexter well, and he walked, making a circuit on the sands, for the Wall was crowded, to the bungalow, to see whether he could be of any use. He found him badly cut up, for he and Muriel had been much fonder of one another than most brothers and sisters. Barradine said what he could in the way of consolation. It was not much. Pointdexter told him presently that the autopsy had been held, that a revolver bullet had almost grazed Muriel's heart, that Broadbent had been shot through the heart.

It was good shooting.

Then he broke out: "That devil Murwood did it! I'm certain of it! I've told the police so!"

Barradine made allowances—Pointdexter had had a bad shock—and he said: "But he couldn't have been at Frinton and Dymchurch too. And he could hardly have come all the way from Frinton and got back."

"He wasn't at Frinton! I'm certain of it!" cried Pointdexter. "He couldn't have been!"

"The police will make quite certain about that," said Barradine. "And I know that Murwood is a nasty piece of work; but why should he shoot Muriel?"

Pointdexter gave the reasons, violently: Murwood hated her and so did his sister, Sarah. She ought never to have been allowed to marry him; it was the Duchess's doing, and of course eighty thousand a year was eighty thousand a year. But Muriel had found out what a mean brute he was before they had been married a month. There had been rows and rows and rows, Sarah joining in and backing him up. But Muriel—well Mu could always hold her own in a row; she kept cool and stuck to the truth. She had more than held her own, and they had come to hate her; he had seen it.

"I suppose Broadbent was the trouble," said Barradine thoughtfully.

"Good lord, no!" Pointdexter almost shouted. "There was no man in it! Mu was as straight as a die. It was money and meanness, all the time. Oliver was just an old friend—came over from Folkestone to cheer her up." He stopped short then he went on: "By jove, I never thought of that! It would make Murwood worse—if he knew about it. He was always furiously jealous. But the money and the scandal would be enough. You see Mu was fed up—they were such stickers—such poisonous stickers—and she'd cleared out and dropped his name and was bringing an action for a judicial separation, and she'd have won it: he'd abused her and thrown a box of the cheap cigars he smoked at her before Menzies, their butler, and a footman—because she objected to the smell. They were cheap, those cigars; he tried them on me once. They never dreamt she'd chuck it—eighty thousand a year, you know—and it was a hell of a shock. They'd been so awfully bucked by his marrying her; it had raised them to a position they'd never dreamt of, and this action was going to knock them off it for keeps, and put them back where they belonged—if Mu chucked him like that, they were just dirt."

"Yes," said Barradine doubtfully. "But—murder?"

"You don't know them—you couldn't imagine what snobs they are," Pointdexter persisted. "Sometimes they fairly made me sick. And when Mu cleared out and started this action, Jeremiah simply fell off his perch and grovelled to her to drop it, and she wouldn't. And on the top of it there was the money: her settlements were heavy—I saw to that myself—and it just infuriated them to think she'd be getting away with ten thousand a year, spending it away from Norchester and Brook street. That was the last straw. I'll swear it!"

"Not good enough," said Barradine. "A man doesn't shoot his wife for a last straw like that—not when he's got seventy thousand a year left."

"It was the two things. You don't know Jeremiah," said Pointdexter, quite unmoved.

"There's a third thing, and you've missed it," said Barradine: "Was Murwood a good shot?"

"Couldn't shoot for nuts."

"Well, one bullet grazed your sister's heart, and the other went through Broadbent's, said Barradine. That's the shooting of an absolute expert—with a revolver or automatic. I'll be hanged if as rotten a bridge-player as Murwood could shoot like that with anything!"

That pulled Pointdexter up; he glared at Barradine; then he said explosively: "If he didn't shoot Mu, he had her shot!"

"And that's quite another matter," said Barradine.

Pointdexter would not dine with Barradine or sleep at the Wall House; he was his sister's executor, and he was going to use his powers to prevent Murwood from setting foot in Ravenshoe. Barradine heard later that he did so—ungraciously.

Barradine stayed with him for two hours, then came away, considering poor Lady Murwood's bad luck in her marriage. Those marriages between the New Rich and the New Poor, he reflected, did not often turn out well, and Murwood was a poor specimen of the New Rich. His father had begun the war as a third-rate ship's chandler in Liverpool and ended it with three millions. Jeremiah had been polished, by tutors, very late in his boyhood, and the polish had not, in a manner of speaking, "took."

Barradine read the accounts in the morning papers very carefully, and the only fresh fact he learnt was that Murwood had been playing Contract in his hotel at the moment his wife was shot. Barradine was sorry for Murwood's partners: he knew his bridge.

Every paper was on to the fact that Broadbent had been a Black and Tan; three of them made Barradine's point: that such shooting, with a revolver or an automatic, was the shooting of a first class shot—a gunman. They rather more than hinted that the murderer might be found in the ranks of the I.R.A.

Also the newspapers brought the motorists. For hours the roads to Dymchurch were nearly as slow driving as the roads to Epsom on Derby Day.

At the inquest Barradine sat by Pointdexter. Barradine was the first to give evidence, and both he and Chivers were questioned at length about their not having heard the shots. Then came the medical evidence, and the police evidence and then that of the arms expert. It was that the bullets had been fired from a Service revolver fitted with a Maxim silencer: his reasons were that no reports had been heard; that both those heavy bullets with those heavy charges behind them had remained in the bodies, though neither had been stopped by bones, and a silencer diminishes the velocity of a bullet; the bullets were scored with the marks that bullets fired through a silencer might show; the shooting was the shooting of an expert in the use of a revolver; a body like the Sinn Feiners were much more likely to possess silencers than a private individual. Probably the police had prompted the Coroner to ask that question.

Then the Fletchers, the man and wife who were Lady Murwood's servants at Ravenshoe, gave evidence. They were questioned about her movements on the night of the murder and then about her relations with Broadbent. They both stated that those relations had been merely friendly, that he had driven over from Folkestone three or four times a week to cheer her up, they thought; that there had been no lovemaking. Of course they were old family servants of the Pointdexters, but Barradine believed their evidence. The Coroner did not shake it.

An uncle of Broadbent gave evidence, chiefly about his career, and the Coroner asked many questions about Broadbent's activities as a Black and Tan, and elicited the fact that for three years after he left Ireland he had received threatening letters.

Evidently the theory of the police was that the murder had been committed by an Irishman disgruntled by the old troubles.

Barradine was not ready to accept it.

Then Murwood was called. He had been sitting with his sister—she was his twin sister—on the opposite side of the room, and Barradine had been marvelling as he had marvelled before, for both of them were members of the Bridge Club he belonged to, the Warham, at their astonishing likeness: the same small faces of the same muddy, greasy brownness; the same pale blue eyes; the same tight-lipped little mouths; the same pointed chins; the same insufferable smugness. They sat hunched forward in the same attitude, listening to the evidence with the same absorption. He was a little man, about five feet two; she was an inch taller, and but for his moustache, would have looked the manlier of the two. That moustache and the fact that she was a Contract-player of the first class and he the worst Barradine ever played with, were the only differences he could see between them.

Murwood gave his evidence quietly, without hesitation: Lady Murwood was living apart from him; they had had disputes about money matters; she was extravagant and resented his trying to curb her extravagance; finally she had left him and was bringing an action for a judicial separation from him; he was defending it. No: they had had no dispute about other men—only about money. They had certainly not quarrelled about her intimacy with Broadbent. It was a friendly intimacy and no more. Indeed, as a matter of form, he had had her watched by private detectives during part of her stay at Dymchurch, and they had confirmed his belief that the intimacy was merely friendly. He had their reports in his pocket. No: Lady Murwood had no enemies that he had heard of: she was a very popular woman; he did not believe she had an enemy in the world.

His evidence and his alibi seemed to Barradine to let him out absolutely. The Jury brought in a verdict of murder against some person, or persons, unknown.


CHAPTER XVI
Ginger Ale

AS they came out of the Village Hall, Pointdexter said: "Murwood paid the gunman."

"It's possible. If there is a gunman and they catch him, they may find out," said Barradine. "But that Sinn Fein business looks to me a bit far-fetched. It's all so long ago. Of course Sinn Feiner, whom Broadbent got run in, may have just come out of gaol—thirsting for his blood. But why should he shoot your sister?"

"She might have spotted him."

"No. Of course he was using a silencer and might have thought she might give the alarm before he got comfortably away. But it isn't likely. He could reckon that he would have had plenty of time to run down the hedge to his machine before she grasped what had happened sufficiently to act on it. But if a Sinn Feiner has just come out of prison, and Broadbent did get him into it, it should make it much easier for the police."

"I don't think much of these police," said Pointdexter in a tone of dissatisfaction.

"They'll call in Scotland Yard in a day or two," said Barradine confidently. "This is too big a job for them to handle—especially with this Irish side."

"And the trail will be cold."

"There isn't any trail," said Barradine.

"Well, look here: you deal with this kind of thing, take on this business for me. I want some one I have confidence in, to reinforce these police."

"All right. But it may run you into quite a bit for expenses," said Barradine.

He had never handled a murder case, and was keen to try his hand on one.

"That's all right."

"There is one thing: you'll be able to get out of the police a good deal of what they've learnt, and that should be useful to me. So don't let them know that I am working on it."

"I won't," said Pointdexter.

Barradine was right: three days later the Folkestone police called in Scotland Yard, for the case was naturally exciting the full attention of the Press. Scotland Yard began to look for a Sinn Fein avenger.

The Folkestone police had already begun to look for him, having the ports watched and making enquiries about the movement of motorcyclists on the roads round the Marsh. The Irish police gave Scotland Yard every help, for the English papers had taken up the theory of the Sinn Fein avenger and were working it for all they were worth, and rubbing it in that the Sinn Fein had murdered a woman all these years after Ireland had been freed, and that was a slur Ireland could not stand.

But the gunman had indeed vanished into the night, and the police could not find a trace of him. Slowly the clamour died down. Then a month later, the Daily Mail discovered that a small coterie of the Sinn Fein gunmen, imported from America in the old days, had migrated from Dublin to London three or four years before and settled in Hoxton and embarked on the career of motor bandits with varying success, and that discovery revived the interest in the murder of Lady Murwood and Broadbent.

Barradine had all the while been doubtful that there was any Sinn Fein avenger. He had stayed on at Dymchurch for another fortnight, following the doings of the police, and making enquiries of his own, with the help of Forbes. Mary Fearn, who had returned to Craigburn with Sir John and Frank, was immensely interested in this work, and sometimes went with him on his expeditions. He had a feeling, it was not strong enough to be a belief, that the murderer had come from a lair in the Marsh. He could give no reason for it, except that he had heard him turn off into the Marsh. The fancy rather stuck in his mind. He questioned dozens of people, but he did not find any such lair, and he learnt no more than the police had learnt about the motor-cyclist.

Both he and Mary said very little about the Dee Montmorency. She seemed to regard the business with unobtrusive satisfaction. Since she had made four thousand pounds out of it, this was not unnatural. Barradine did not take the sufferings and the loss of the Dee Montmorency to heart; he was only concerned with the matter of whether her activity would get her into trouble. Owing to her happy choice of dog-biscuits, this activity was not going to get her into trouble.

And then she said: "If this goes on—a few four thousand pounds, I mean—I shall be quite provided for."

"Oh, hang it all! You're surely not going to try any more of these tiresome games," said Barradine in some disgust.

"Of course I am! How much would you say, taking into account my beauty and intelligence, I needed to have a good enough dowry to make a really decent marriage?" she said in accents of earnest inquiry.

"I think I should leave your intelligence out of it," said Barradine coldly.

She laughed joyfully.

On the evening of the day on which the Daily Mail published its discovery of the migration of the Chicago gunmen from Dublin to Hoxton Barradine was dining with the Amblethwaites, and they talked about it. Presently another of the guests, a man named Harry Jordan, said: "It's a bit queer, but I was playing Contract with Murwood at the very time his wife was shot on Dymchurch Wall—at the Pavilion Hotel at Frinton."

"It's a queer experience to play Contract with Murwood at any time. You have my sympathy, if he was your partner," said Barradine.

"What for? He played a first-class game," said Jordan. "I think he won every rubber."

"Murwood!" said Barradine loudly.

"Yes: Murwood," said Jordan. "That night he played faultless bridge from nine to three. Not a slip."

"Then he must have been faultlessly drunk! I wonder he could see the cards for the whisky running out of his eyes."

His dislike of Murwood had increased.

"But he didn't drink whisky. He drank dry ginger ale at dinner and all the evening," he said snappily.

"Incredible!" said Barradine.

"It was so!" Jordan said.

It was incredible. But Jordan stuck to it, and he was a good player and he knew what he was talking about; he even declared that Murwood played two or three tricky hands brilliantly. They grew rather heated about it, and had to drop the subject.

But it stuck in Barradine's mind; it even worried him; and though he left the Amblethwaites' rather late, he simply had to take a look at Murwood's bridge. He had not played with him for months; something in the way of a miracle might have happened. Murwood was nearly sure to be at the Warham. He was. Barradine sat down by the table at which he was playing, to watch the play.

He threw away five tricks in three hands.

He ordered another whisky and soda with his usual air of smug satisfaction, though his partner was telling him all about his play. Thoroughly bothered, Barradine rose and looked round for a table to play at, and chose that at which Miss Murwood was playing. The rubber was just over. He cut against her, and lost a maiden rubber in two hands. She played both hands. The first was a runaway hand; she made four tricks in spades. The next hand she made five tricks in diamonds; Barradine and his partner ought to have saved a trick; but she fairly outplayed them. They paid; she leant back in her chair with a smile of smug satisfaction and looked round the room.

Then she called to a waiter: "A dry ginger ale, Carter, please."

Barradine's mind did not work; it jumped.

He rose, said that he must be going, and almost ran to the telephone and rang up Johnny Pointdexter's flat. Pointdexter answered himself, and Barradine said he was coming round for a talk.

"Right," he said. "But what's the matter? You sound as if you'd had a jolt."

"Oh, no: not a jolt," said Barradine and rang off.

He was cool enough when he reached Pointdexter's flat, and sat down quietly and mixed himself a drink and lit a cigar.

Then he said: "Did you ever play Contract with Murwood?"

"No. But I've played some contraption he believes to be Contract, dozens of times, worse luck—the worst player in Europe," said Pointdexter with profound conviction.

"Did you ever see him drink ginger ale from eight o'clock at night till three in the morning?" said Barradine.

"Never! Nor from eight o'clock at night till one minute past eight. Champagne and whisky, and too much of both, are Jeremiah's drinks."

"Did you ever play bridge with Sarah Murwood?" Barradine went on.

"Rather—one of the best players I ever struck," said Pointdexter. "But what are you getting at?"

"Did you ever see her drink ginger ale?"

"Dry ginger ale—buckets full. Beastly muck!" said Pointdexter, and he shuddered.

"The Jeremiah Murwood who played bridge at Frinton the night Muriel was shot, played faultless bridge from nine o'clock at night till three in the morning, and from eight till three he drank dry ginger ale," said Barradine slowly.

Pointdexter looked at him. He was puzzled. Barradine saw his mind working, he saw it jump.

It jerked him to his feet, looking rather pale, with his mouth open and his face working, and said so softly that Barradine hardly heard him:

"God's—truth! Sarah in a moustache!"

Then he dropped down into his chair and stared at Barradine.

"But where was Jeremiah if he wasn't playing Contract at Frinton?" said Barradine.

"On—Dymchurch—Wall," said Pointdexter in a dry kind of voice—throaty.

They looked at one another.

Barradine gave Pointdexter a minute or two to get used to the idea; then he said, "Well, it doesn't look to be much use telling any one; they wouldn't believe it—though, hang it all! if they can believe that Murwood could play faultless bridge from nine o'clock at night till three in the morning and drink dry ginger ale all those hours, they ought to be able to believe that his horrible sister could wear a moustache! But it's too big a job for me to handle; we've got to put it to the police, even if they do laugh, and to-morrow morning we'll go straight to Scotland Yard. I know one of the Commissioners, Langford, and he knows at any rate that I'm not a hopeless fool, and he'll listen to what I've got to say."

"Yes: I see that it's pretty hopeless," said Pointdexter. "But it might revive his interest in the business."

He mixed himself another drink; then he said, "I've got something that may be of use—photos of Murwood and Sarah in an album among Mu's things I brought away from Dymchurch. At any rate we can show your Commissioner how exactly alike the two loathsome brutes are."

He took the album from a drawer in a bureau and the photographs from the album, and they studied them.

"Nasty pieces of work," said Barradine. "But they might as easily be ships' chandlers or second-hand clothes sellers as murderers."

Pointdexter stared at them; then he said, "Loathsome's certainly the word, and you've got to bear in mind that it wasn't only the money and the scandal, it was ever so much more, just hate. If looks could have blasted, Mu would have been shrivelled up many a time—I've seen it—especially Sarah. They can both hate, these two, I can tell you."

"Greed, fear, and hate, motives enough," said Barradine. "And that woman would be infernally jealous of anyone like your sister."


CHAPTER XVII
The Bullets and the Bill

AT eleven o'clock next morning they were at Scotland Yard and they had not to wait long before they were taken to Assistant-Commissioner Langford's office, and Barradine told their story and showed him the photographs. He did not show any inclination to treat the story lightly.

"I've heard stories quite as queer as this, Barradine," he said. "And you're right when you say that the double discrepancy, the Contract and the drink, is uncommonly impressive. You're sure that Jordan is a good player and knows what he's talking about, and that I may take it for certain that the player at Frinton was a really good player, and you tell me that you have never known Sir Jeremiah Murwood to drink anything milder than whisky and soda at the bridge table. We must certainly go into it. It's really the very first thing in the nature of a likely theory that has so far cropped up in the case, and we've had conferences and to spare on it. But, mind you, it's going to be a devil of an alibi to break—if it is an alibi."

He sent for Chief-Inspector Lansdown, who was in charge of the case, and the files of reports of the work of the detectives on it, and they discussed them, and went through them again, in search of points that would bear out this new explanation of the crime.

Then Langford said, "There's one point that must be gone into. The only silencer of which we can trace the sale during the last six months was sold by an armament firm to a lady who was buying it to send to a brother in Nairobi. There seems to be just a chance,"—he took up Sarah Murwood's photograph and looked at it—"after what you have told me, that this photograph might—might prove useful. So I'll keep it."

"There's just one other point," said Barradine. "I've had a strong feeling that the murderer had a place in the Marsh from which he came to spy upon Lady Murwood and Broadbent before he murdered them. He must have known that he'd find them on that seat—if not that night, at any rate some night. At any rate it's probable that he did, and it means watching from not so far away."

"It does. It would be worth while to look into it, Lansdown," said Langford. "The Kent police could do it best."

Barradine could do no more, and he took his leave. He did not ask Langford to let him know how the enquiry along this new line went, for he thought that it would, and should, be kept secret. Later he learnt that the arms merchant had at once recognised the photograph of Sarah Murwood as the photograph of the lady who had bought the Maxim silencer for her brother at Nairobi, and when he was shown Sarah Murwood herself, was sure that she was the woman.

Sarah Murwood had one brother—Sir Jeremiah.

The Yard had at last something to go on, and ten days later Langford rang up Barradine, told him that the Kent police had found an unoccupied bungalow on the hills above the Marsh, near Sandling, and would he like to come with him to take a look at it? Barradine drove Langford down to it.

It was a nice bungalow and well furnished, and it stood well back from the road, among trees and in a well-grown garden. Inspector Lansdown met them there.

Langford was informative; he said to Barradine: "This looks like the kind of place you suggested. Its owner is in Austria, and he has never let it to any one. But someone has been using it, someone who has a motor-cycle. He has kept it in the kitchen. Also in the cellar there are a case and a half of Sir Jeremiah Murwood's favourite whisky and twenty-seven empty bottles of it. We have learnt that that whisky was bought, six cases of it, from Sir Jeremiah's wine merchants, by a bearded motorist and taken away by him in his car. We found gum and crape hair in a drawer in the best bedroom, and eight pairs of dirty cotton gloves, and that is all we have found—no revolver, no silencer, not a finger-print—nothing to connect the place with the murder. But four months ago Sarah Murwood bought a Maxim silencer. You put us on to that; so you've rather a right to see how far we've got and how we're stuck. Besides a fresh eye is always a fresh eye."

They went over the bungalow. With eight pairs of cotton gloves in it, it was no wonder that there were no finger-prints. The only paper in the bungalow was a pile of seven bills for four and eleven-pence, or rather seven copies of the same bill, sent in by a persevering grocer of Hythe, but of no use to the police because they had been made out to Mr. Blakemore, the owner of the bungalow, and not to the unknown who had borrowed it.

"There's just one thing," said Barradine after they had explored the bungalow. "If Sir Jeremiah's your man, where did he practise his shooting? Both those wounds were through the heart or very near it, and it was first-class shooting with a revolver. He must have put in a lot of practice, and the bullets will be somewhere about, you know."

"Well, that's something to look for," said Langford.

They went out into the garden, but in it they found no sign of a target, and then they went into the young orchard at the end of the garden. It ran to the foot of a hill; when Barradine saw the wall of turf, rising where the hedge should have been, he said: "And there's your range, if he used it."

Someone had used the hill-side as a range: at the height of a man's head the turf had been cut to pieces for several feet, and wood splinters showed that a target had been set over the torn turf.

Lansdown went back and fetched a spade from the tool-house. He did not have to dig deep to come to bullets.

"These bullets certainly ought to carry the same marks as the bullets in the bodies," said Langford, studying one. "We shall have moved a step if they do."

"One never knows," said Barradine.

They sat down on the turf and lit cigars from Barradine's case and watched Lansdown dig. About two feet in the hill seemed to be solid lead; most of the bullets had been damaged by other bullets. But scores of them were whole.

As Lansdown dug Langford told Barradine what they had discovered since he had put them on to the probability that Sarah Murwood had personated Sir Jeremiah at Frinton; they had learnt that on the day before the murder Sir Jeremiah had started for Frinton with three suit-cases, one of which he had packed himself, and on the way to the station he had called at his sister's flat and left one of them. The same afternoon Sarah's maid had, as previously arranged, gone for her fortnight's holiday. It was a service flat; she had no other servant. The police had been able to learn nothing about Sarah's movements during the time that elapsed before she appeared with her brother at the inquest. The porter of the flats had a hazy remembrance that Sir Jeremiah had appeared at the flats on the morning after the murder, and if he was right, it was probably the disguised Sarah. But it was a hazy memory.

Nothing was known about her movements for about forty-eight hours. They were the hours she should have spent, disguised, at Frinton.

They had not questioned her because they did not wish her or her brother to know that they were suspected.

Lansdown dug eleven hundred bullets, whole and broken, out of the side of the hill, and they selected twenty to be tested by the expert in ballistics, and put the rest in a sack in the tool-house.

They were walking towards the car, and Langford was complaining that if the bullets did connect the bungalow with the murder, they were a long way from having found anything to connect Sir Jeremiah with the bullets, when, as they were passing the door of the bungalow, Barradine stopped short, frowning.

"It's odd," he said. "But there's something I saw but didn't grasp—you know the feeling. It's something in the house."

"Then the sooner you see it again and grasp it the better," said Langford, and Lansdown unlocked the door, and they went in.

"Here we are!" said Barradine at once. "It's these bills on the hall table. Who put them on it? Did you, Inspector?"

"No, m' Lord. They were on it when I first entered the house. I suppose the Kent police put them on it when they first came in," said Lansdown.

"But perhaps they were on it when the Kent police entered," said Barradine, and he picked up the copies of the bill and began to go through then carefully.

The fifth copy he showed to Langford. On it was a blackish, greasy thumb-print.

"I take it that you have Murwood's fingerprints," he said.

"We've got them," said Langford.

"Well, I think it might be worth your while to compare this thumb-print and any other prints you find on these bills with them. It looks to me as if someone coming in with his hands dirty from a motor-cycle might very well have picked this bill up and put in on the table, carelessly. At any rate it's worth making sure. It's so obvious that that bill has nothing to do with the borrower of the bungalow that I distrust it."

"Right, we will," said Langford. "But even if it proves to be Sir Jeremiah's thumbprint, it's going to be a difficult business to get a conviction, though I'm bound to say that the circumstances are mounting up."

"You've only got to put Sir Jeremiah in the dock, and his face will do the rest," said Barradine confidently.

"It will certainly be a help," said Langford.


CHAPTER XVIII
A Busman's Holiday

BARRADINE drove Langford back to London and gave him dinner at the St. James' Club, and they talked shop with great satisfaction. The next afternoon Langford rang him up to tell him that the expert in ballistics had declared the bullets in the hill at the bottom of the orchard of the bungalow had been fired from the same revolver, fitted with the same silencer, as the bullets which had killed Lady Murwood and Broadbent, and that the finger-print experts had pronounced the thumb-print on the bill to be the thumb-print of Sir Jeremiah Murwood.

"Good," said Barradine. "Now you won't be long."

"I don't know about that," said Langford. "But there will certainly be developments to gladden the hearts of editors."

Barradine went to examine a collection of netsuke at Gleneby's Sales-rooms in a cheerful mood.

Netsuke are those little Japanese carved figures in wood and ivory, of gods and men and beasts and fruit and flowers. The brothers De Goncourt declared that there are Michelangelos among the old makers of netsuke; and Barradine had never found reason to doubt the dictum. He collected them.

And the first person he saw and the last person he wished to see at Gleneby's was the Bhoskin.

It was the Bhoskin who had given Barradine a strong impression that the Canadian police had been either languid or overworked—probably, judging from the activities of Canadian politicians, overworked. On no other grounds could he explain the fact that that amazing gang of Canadian crooks who came to London during the War and intrigued and swindled and stole and never went back to Canada, had been at large to cross the Atlantic. Of these the Bhoskin was by no means the most obscure, and at the sales of netsuke at Gleneby's the Bhoskin shone.

Now the chief collectors of netsuke in London were a small band and known to one another. They were uncommonly keen: but there was a certain amount of give and take among them. If it was a matter of a tortoise, none of them bid very severely against Blenkinsop; or against Mrs. Harwood, if it was a matter of a fish; or against Harringay, if it was a matter of a Dutchman. The dealers saw to it that they paid a fair price. But the Bhoskin upset everything. He wrested tortoises from Blenkinsop, fishes from Mrs. Harwood, and Dutchmen from Harringay. He wanted everything. As he had stolen the best part of a million, he got it.

At first they did not notice the Bhoskin. When he began collecting, his taste ran to the modern, elaborate, fussy netsuke which came fresh from the Tokyo carvers by every steamer, and to which no one who knows anything about netsuke dreams of giving house-room. The dealers saw to it that he paid good prices for them: the collectors never competed with him. Then his taste suddenly improved, and he began to go for the real thing. At first Barradine wondered at the soundness of his judgment; then he discovered that he was using the judgment of his fellow collectors. When one of them started bidding in earnest for a netsuke, the Bhoskin would jump in and outbid him. As soon as Barradine discovered this they could deal with the matter. They gave in their commissions to Gleneby for the netsuke they wanted and bid earnestly for those they did not want. The Bhoskin got them all.

Barradine was the first to call him the Bhoskin=B. Hoskin=Benjamin Hoskin. The Bhoskin sounded better; all the collectors thought so.

He was tall and lanky, with corrugated features, a shiny leather face, smooth, shiny black hair, and the hardest eyes, slate-coloured, Barradine could remember ever having seen.

He noticed that the Bhoskin did not wrest netsuke from him as violently as he did from the other collectors; and he rather wondered at it. One day the Bhoskin explained.

He was sitting next to Barradine at a sale and both of them bid for a netsuke; the Bhoskin dropped out and let Barradine have it.

Then he said in a low voice, for Barradine's ear only: "There's no need for us to eat one another, your Lordship. You with your title and me with my money, we're It. But these other poor fish can just fade out of my way."

So that was it.

Having thus broken the ice, he became an acquaintance of Barradine's—at Gleneby's. Barradine was not an easy man to be acquainted with, if he did not approve of the acquaintance. He did not approve of the Bhoskin, and he tried to make it plain. The Bhoskin could not see it. He would be an acquaintance; and he was—at Gleneby's. If he came across him anywhere else he could not see him. Often the Bhoskin refused to remain invisible. He would dash at Barradine and invite him to come an' peck a bit o' lunch, or peck a bit o' dinner. This might be a Canadian formula, Barradine thought; if not it must be an English phrase his acquaintance had picked up at some boarding-house near the docks soon after he escaped from Canada. Barradine did not peck.

And here again was his acquaintance, and Barradine apostrophized him under his breath, nodded to him, and began to examine the netsuke.

Presently, over his shoulder, came the raucous voice of his acquaintance: "That's a good netsuke," he said.

It was a good netsuke, a namazu fish, the fish that makes all the earthquakes in Japan, and it was the genuine, essential namazu fish in cherry wood, really fuller of life than any namazu fish who ever made an earthquake. Barradine wanted it.

He had observed that though the Bhoskin paid big prices for netsuke, he hated doing so; therefore he said maliciously: "Yes: and you'll have to pay a good price for it, if you want it, and you'll never see your money back if you live to be a hundred."

"You think so?" said the Bhoskin gloomily.

"I'm sure of it," said Barradine.

The Bhoskin sighed and went across the room and began to examine the Japanese sword-guards, listlessly. Barradine saw that his face was working curiously. He stared at it and understood, almost on the instant, that it was working like that with greed. It was astonishing—sickening—a man with at least three-quarters of a million as upset as that at the idea of paying a stiff price for a thing he really wanted! He must be the last word in greed. Evidently, too, he was just being the genuine, original Bhoskin. He looked uglier than ever.

Now since a great many valuable Oriental objects of Art are small and extremely portable, when they are on view there are always two or three of Gleneby's staff about, doing nothing in particular, but being uncommonly observant. Barradine left the netsuke and looked through the sword-guards. Sometimes one took his fancy, and he bought it. He did not definitely notice, he was just aware that when he had looked through the sword-guards the Bhoskin went back to the first tray of netsuke on which, among thirty others, was the namazu fish. Then he came back to the sword-guards. Since he never bought a sword-guard, Barradine suspected that he was about to be invited to peck a bit o' something—tea perhaps.

Then about four minutes later he did notice that a policeman came just inside the doorway with Jenkinson, one of the staff, and stood rather blocking it.

Then Jenkinson said: "Mr. Gleneby would like to see you, Mr. Hoskin."

He spoke in an odd, almost dictatorial voice.

"See me? What about?" said the Bhoskin.

"I think you know, sir," said Jenkinson quietly.

"I don't!" said the Bhoskin sharply.

"Oh yes: you've taken a netsuke from the first tray," said Jenkinson positively.

"Me? Taken a netsuke? You're a liar!" said the Bhoskin; and he was indeed raucous.

Jenkinson shrugged his shoulders and nodded towards the policeman: "It's no use making a fuss," he said dryly. "You'd better come to Mr. Gleneby quietly."

The Bhoskin hesitated, scowling at him. His leather face could neither pale nor flush; but Barradine observed that it had gone a little white, grey rather, about the nostrils; and it also seemed to him shinier than usual. He had the netsuke. Almost without thinking, he stepped briskly across to the first tray of netsuke and ran his eye over it, and he knew what to look for.

"Why, the Miwa namazu fish has gone!" he said. "The best piece on the tray!"

"Thank you, m' Lord," said Jenkinson. "You saw Mr. Hoskin handling it."

Barradine hesitated. He did not wish to be dragged into the business. But the collector in him rose to the surface; here was a chance of getting rid of the Bhoskin for good and all—and righteously.

"Well, he admired it, and I told him he'd have to pay a big price for it," he said.

"You'd better come along to Mr. Gleneby," said Jenkinson to Hoskin.

Hoskin looked at the policeman; and Barradine distinctly saw him measure him. Then he began to shout. He'd never heard of such a thing in his life!... It was damned nonsense!... A man of his standing!... Never in his life had he been treated in such a way!... He'd go to Gleneby all right!... And let Gleneby look out!... His lawyers would have something to say about this!... A darned lot to say about it!

The big room rang and echoed with his roaring.

He turned and stalked to Gleneby's office. The policeman and Jenkinson followed him. Barradine decided to see it out. He had hopes. He went too.

The Bhoskin threw open the door of the office and stalked in. He threw down his hat and gloves and stick on the table by the door, faced Gleneby at his desk, raised his hands above his head, and shouted: "Your blarsted man says that I've stolen one of your blarsted netsuke! Search me! Search me!"

His harsh voice seemed to jar the air of the small room.

Gleneby was old and very gentle and very polished. Barradine reckoned that people who are always handling beautiful things grow like that.

He rose with a startled air and said: "What's this? What's this?"

"Mr. Hoskin has taken a netsuke—a namazu fish from the first tray," said Jenkinson.

"It's a lie! Search me!" shouted the Bhoskin.

It was odd: he had not got the namazu fish. Barradine knew it by his voice. Gleneby stared at him and began to tremble.

"Get on! Get on! You're going to go through with it now! Search me! Search me! Get on!" bellowed the Bhoskin.

The row he made in that confined space was fairly nerve-shattering.

Jenkinson and Gleneby were almost wilting; and the old man said in a shaky voice: "Are you sure, Jenkinson? Quite sure?"

"Certain," said Jenkinson doggedly, "I saw 'im tyke it."

"Get on! Search me! Get on!" bellowed the Bhoskin, if anything louder and more nerve-shattering.

"It's his own idea. You haven't asked to search him," said Barradine, showing Gleneby the way out.

Gleneby worked his lips as though his mouth had gone dry; but he took it: he said: "Well, since you insist on it, Mr. Hoskin—officer."

"I don't insist on it! You're going to hear from my lawyers about it! Blarst you! Get on with it!" bellowed the Bhoskin, and he began to throw the things in his pockets on to the desk.

He emptied his pockets; then the policeman, looking stolid enough, went through Hoskin thoroughly. He did not find the namazu fish.

"That's all the gentleman's got on 'im," he said gloomily, nodding towards the Bhoskin's handkerchief, keys, cigar-case, and note-case, and money on the desk.

"Thank you. I'm sorry to have troubled you, officer," said Gleneby in a tone of distress.

The policeman walked haughtily out of the office and shut the door with decision.

There was a pause, a somewhat unpleasant silence.

Barradine watched the Bhoskin—there was something odd.

Then Gleneby turned to the Bhoskin. He looked very old. He said in a shaky voice: "I'm sorry, Mr. Hoskin—extremely sorry. I apologise for Jenkinson's mistake."

Then the Bhoskin broke loose. Swear? Barradine had never heard anything like it. He cursed Gleneby and then Jenkinson with a wealth of detail that left nothing about them uncursed. Barradine had been right in supposing that his leather face could not flush. But it turned blackish.

The odd thing was that Barradine felt that it turned blackish with relief, not anger. He had got the namazu fish. Barradine was sure of it.

The Bhoskin picked up his hat and gloves and stick, turned, and cursed Gleneby and Jenkinson again just as furiously. Then he stalked out of the office, leaving them white and shaking; and Gleneby dropped back into his chair in a heap as if his legs and spine had suddenly given out together.

Barradine followed the Bhoskin. He was unsatisfied.

He followed him out of the Sale-rooms into Verulam Street and fell into step beside him. The Bhoskin took off his hat and mopped a shiny forehead and looked up and down the street for a taxi.

"A stroll in the fresh air after all that violent emotion, I think," said Barradine.

The Bhoskin hesitated; then, as Barradine had hoped, the joy of walking about the West End of London with an Earl proved too much for him, and he fell into step.

Then he said: "My, that was a close call!"

He had the namazu fish.

"It was," said Barradine.

And he realised that the Bhoskin's real emotion all the while had been fear, intense fear.

"I guess I showed those poor fish where they got off," said the Bhoskin and laughed boisterously in an immense relief.

Barradine fairly scowled; where had the brute hidden the netsuke?

He dropped back a pace and looked him up and down, and his eye caught the knuckles of his left hand in which he held his gloves. They were not white; that leathery skin could never turn white; but they were a dirty grey.

That hand was gripping something much harder than a glove, and it was gripping it as hard as it could grip.

Of course! The namazu fish! The brute had had it in his glove all the time!

And there at the top of the street, not twenty yards away, was a policeman, looking at them coldly.

Fifteen feet further on Barradine put his foot in front of the Bhoskin and urged him over it, and as the Bhoskin measured his length at the policeman's feet, he sat heavily down on him and said sharply: "Look out, officer! He has the stolen netsuke! It was in his glove all the time!" And he gripped the hand that held the fish.

The policeman acted with celerity and judgement; he bent down and wrenched the gloves out of the Bhoskin's hand and from one of them he drew the namazu fish.

"That's it, officer," said Barradine.

"Let 'im git up, sir," said the policeman.

The Bhoskin rose, scowling and dishevelled and dirty and still short of breath, and the policeman gripped him.

He felt deeply the scurvy way in which he had been tricked.

"Will you charge 'im, sir, if I take him along to the station?" he said.

"No. It isn't my netsuke. You'd better take him back to Gleneby's. It's their business," said Barradine with decision.

"Comerlong," said the policeman, and he began to propel the Bhoskin down the street. "And if you'll come too, sir," he added over his shoulder to Barradine.

The curious had gathered round them in bulk, and there was a procession to the Sales-rooms. When they came into them they found that Gleneby and his staff were all in it, hunting for the netsuke, of which they believed the Bhoskin had disembarrassed himself the moment he perceived that he had been detected. He was welcomed warmly but not kindly.

They went into the office, and having given the policeman his name and address Barradine left them to listen to the Bhoskin's loud explanation that it had been a joke. He did not expect that he would be believed or that he would be prosecuted because, as he pointed out to Mary Fearn at dinner that night, millionaires never are prosecuted till they have lost their money, so that it was useless for him to expect the advertisement he deserved for a neat piece of detection, and that in detecting for no fee he must be reckoned to have enjoyed a busman's holiday.

"But I don't suppose the rogue will dare to come to Gleneby's again," she said.

"Gleneby will certainly see to that, and the Bhoskin will be warned off every other decent Sales-room," said Barradine in satisfied accents.

"Well then, I don't think that you can be reckoned to have had a busman's holiday. You get well paid for it—in netsuke."

"Carping I call it," said Barradine.


CHAPTER XIX
Primrose Armada

MARY FEARN laughed: "Well, you shouldn't be an orphan," she said. "Orphans never get any credit for anything. But business must be very slack for you to be taking even a busman's holiday, or rather having one thrust on you."

"Yes. But I never worry about its getting——"

"You never worry about anything. At least you haven't since I've known you," she interrupted.

"Yes, I have: I've worried about you more than I've worried about anything since I was very young," he protested. "But I was saying that I never worry about business being slack because it's its nature to go by leaps and bounds and pause between each. It won't pause for long. Before the week is out I shall be the active sleuth again."

It was only Monday. He was giving it time.

"The inactive sleuth would be better. I've never known you hurry over anything. But I have a feeling that you're in for a spell of idleness. I can't see why there should be a job to get," she said.

"You forget Satan and the idle hands, and I'll take six to one in socks or stockings that I have a job in seventy-two hours," he said quickly.

"I'll take you. How long is seventy-two hours?"

"Three days."

"Right."

He made a note of the bet, with exaggerated carefulness, and then—they were dining at Grosvenor House—they danced, and after dinner they went on dancing. It was not much past twelve when he put her into a taxi, for she was playing in a golf match at Ranelagh the next day, and she said that she had to be fit.

As the taxi disappeared, it seemed to him that it was too early to go to bed, since it would never do to go to the office early when there was no work in hand, for it would look to Grudging Fortune as if he were unduly eager for a job and render her less ready to provide one.

He had a mind that worked like that.

On the other hand there was the Warham and the possibility of making at Contract the money which was not flowing in at the office—possibly more money. He stopped a taxi and was driven to the Warham.

The fact that most of the members of that club were very much richer than himself, but with no sense whatever of the responsibilities of wealth, since it had been acquired by accident or luck, at the latest by their fathers, added to his pleasure in winning their money.

When he came into the club they were only playing the high stakes he liked to play, at one table. He cut into it; he won two rubbers; he was cut out. The opponent who had just paid him seventy pounds, was also cut out.

It was the Tuffin, a young man of twenty-eight, and the only son of Tuffin's egg-whisks, who had so much money that he was known, frankly, as THE TUFFIN.

As a rule he avoided Barradine, for, though he was never rude, Barradine contrived to make it plain that he was conscious of a great difference in their stations. But to-night he sought him out because he wanted something from him, and no burr could stick tighter than the Tuffin wanting something. But since what he wanted, Barradine's help, cost money, he was some time coming to the point.

At last he rather blurted out: "I say, you run an agency for finding out things, don't you, your Lordship?"

"I do," said Barradine in wholly non-committal accents.

"Well, it's your fees: are they very heavy?"

"The fees are quite reasonable; it's the expenses that are sometimes heavy."

The anxiety in the Tuffin's face deepened to misery, and he said in anguished accents: "I do like to know the price of a thing."

"Ah, I'm not a cynic," said Barradine in a tone of rather unkind indifference, considering how his young acquaintance was suffering.

"Well, do you think that if I told you what I wanted, you could fix an all-in price for it?"

There are people who humour the suffering. But the only use for the Tuffin that Barradine had was to win his money at Contract Bridge.

"I do not," he said.

The Tuffin groaned; then he said, "Well, I'd better tell you and then you'll be able to see. But I do think a fellow-member of the club ought to get preferential treatment."

"Not a very intelligent thought," said Barradine. "I'll listen to you till the rubber stops. Then I shall play."

The Tuffin plunged into a tangled, rambling tale about the East End, a tie-pin, a highway robbery, and a girl-rescuer, all very confused, and ended by saying:

"And she said, 'Primrose Armada,' and that was all she would say."

He pulled fiercely at his small moustache, which looked to have been carefully modelled on the toothbrush.

"Let's get this exact," said Barradine. "You asked her her address, and all she would say was 'Primrose Armada'? Did you tell her you were Tuffin's Egg Whisks?"

"Of course I told her I was the Tuffin," said the Tuffin sharply, "I always do. You always tell a girl, who doesn't know you, that you're the Earl of Barradine and Sharples, don't you?"

"Always," said Barradine, and he did not even blink. "Your strange story grows stranger. Wearing a diamond tie-pin, you go to explore London's underworld. In Pennyfields about midnight a thief snatches it; as he bolts, a lady sticks a cane between his legs, and he comes a cropper that jolts the pin out of his hand, and she gives it back to you. You thank her, and after you've told her that you're the Tuffin, the only address she gives you is Primrose Armada. A wonder girl!" He looked at the Tuffin harder, though he felt him to be an atrocious little skug, and added: "You are bent on learning where Primrose Armada is. Let's begin with the tie-pin and get that right. I take it that it's the diamond tie-pin you're wearing. Did it grow on you? Or did you buy it?"

"I bought it," he said a trifle restively.

"Extraordinary," said Barradine.

The Tuffin's hard and empty black eyes came a little farther out of his head, and he said, "You're pulling my leg."

Barradine looked at his spindly shanks carefully till he had to shuffle his feet, and said in a kind voice: "Your leg is safe from me. But why have you come to me with this story? Why not some ordinary agency?"

"Well, everybody at the club says that you're one of the cutest men about town, and I thought you might be better able to help me find out where Primrose Armada is than an ordinary agency. I know lots of the best business brains in London; but they wouldn't be any use for a simple thing like this. The fact is, I've fallen for that girl, and she's the first I've really fallen for since I was a lad; not that there haven't been plenty ready to help me fall for them."

He pulled at the toothbrush with a fatal air.

"Millionaires are always irresistible," said Barradine, and then he snapped: "Are your intentions honourable?"

The Tuffin wriggled and said uncomfortably: "I fancy they'd have to be. She's a lady as well as a peach."

Barradine smiled at him kindly and said: "Well, since you're not out to snatch a Pennyfields maiden's heart with the lure of gold, I'll tell you where she lives." The Tuffin's face grew bright. "She lives at Primrose Castle, Court, Grange, Manor, House, Villa, Chambers, or Cottage in Armada Park, Road, Lane, Square, Vale, Hill, Avenue, Place, Terrace, Crescent, or Mews in some city, town, village, or hamlet, in the United Kingdom or Ireland." The Tuffin's face was not so bright. "Or she lives at Armada something in Primrose something in the same district."

The Tuffin had grown quite glum and said: "Yes. But——"

"The rest is easy for the man of millions," Barradine broke in. "It's merely a matter of an expert in directories. He'll find a Primrose something in an Armada something, or an Armada something in a Primrose something in five minutes, or five years. Go to the British Museum, find an expert, and once aboard the Armada, the girl is yours."

"That's all very well, but I don't want to wait five years!" cried the Tuffin impatiently. "I want to find that girl now, and I want a real expert to look for her! What'll your fee be?"

Barradine wanted the job; he wanted to be sure that Mary Fearn should not be able to adopt a tone of moral superiority by winning her bet; he said: "All right. If you're so keen on having me in this flattering way, I'll do it for twenty guineas and my expenses."

"Right. But it's those expenses I don't like," said the Tuffin gloomily.

"Never mind: you'll like them less when you get the bill," said Barradine, and he began to give his mind to the job.

Where on earth was Primrose Armada?

Possibly the girl had been testing the strength of the Tuffin's wish to see her again; more likely she had made up her mind that he was one of the things one tries to see only once. He did not really think that the solution of the problem would be found in directories; a girl who tripped up a thief in Pennyfields at midnight would hardly live in a Primrose house or an Armada villa—she would surely live nearer Piccadilly Circus, where such simple names of dwellings are unknown.

He played two more rubbers at Contract, went home, and fell asleep, pondering the problem. The next morning he pondered it at home and discussed it with his staff; even with the Post Office Directory and the list of the London streets, they did not make a step towards its solution. They found an Armada Road and Primrose Road and an Armada Street; but Miss Barber found no Primrose dwellings in Armada thoroughfares or Armada dwellings in Primrose thoroughfares.

Barradine went to lunch at White's, and as he came into the dining-room he saw the man to consult: Starton, a brother Peer of a sedentary habit, who devoted all the time he was not busy with games of chance, to historical research. Barradine asked him what he could tell him about the Armada, for the catch was probably there.

"Not my period," said Starton pleasantly. "I can only tell you that it was sent by Philip the Second of Spain in 1588 to conquer England, but was scattered by the English Fleet, and tried to go home round Scotland and came to grief."

"Thanks," said Barradine. "Is there any connection between the Armada and primroses?"

"I never heard of any, and I know Elizabethan literature pretty well. Besides, nobody noticed the primrose before Wordsworth," he said.

That was that; but it left Barradine battling with the problem at intervals in the games he played and at meals till one o'clock in the morning. He was still battling with it when he went to sleep, and he must have gone on battling with it in his dreams, for he awoke with the words, "Primrose 1588," ringing in his ears.

He said a few kind words about primroses and a few more about the Armada and went to breakfast annoyed. In the middle of it he suddenly took a deep breath and laughed. But he had solved the problem! "Primrose 1588" was the telephone number of the lady of Pennyfields!


CHAPTER XX
The Sixteen Lohans

BARRADINE went on with his breakfast with an easy mind and a better appetite, considering. The obvious thing to do was to tell the Tuffin and let him get on with it. But once more he found that he had no use for the obvious thing; once more he gave occasion to his half-witted acquaintances to say that he was mad: he was not just going to let the Tuffin get on with it. His interest in the problem had awakened his interest in the lady who had set it. Perhaps she wasn't a lady; the Tuffin was hardly an expert in such matters. Barradine felt that for the Tuffin's sake, a client, he ought surely to find out if she was really a lady and fit for a young millionaire, such a horrible young millionaire, to fall for. Besides, there was Pennyfields; Pennyfields, London's Chinese quarter at midnight, and a lovely lady. Primrose Armada might lead him to Pennyfields at midnight and the kind of doings he liked—doings with a zip to them.

He rang up Primrose 1588. A pleasing voice, a girl's, asked who was speaking.

"Is that Primrose Armada?" said Barradine.

"Oh!" said the pleasing voice in a startled tone. There was a pause and she added, "Is that Mr. Tuffin?"

"It is not," said Barradine rather coldly. "It's the man who solved your problem."

"Oh," she said, and paused again, and then, "What is it you want?"

"Only the reward," said Barradine.

"What reward?" she said quickly. "There isn't any reward."

"Oh, there must be a reward for solving a problem—surely," said Barradine. "I thought the solver would be allowed to make your acquaintance. Mayn't I?"

She hesitated, then said cautiously, "What do you want to make it for?

"I thought it might lead me to Pennyfields and doings—doings with a zip to them," said Barradine.

There was a long pause, as if she were thinking it out; then she said, "But I don't even know your name."

"My name's Barradine."

She began: "Not the Lord Barradine who is——"

"——always getting into the papers. Yes. But wrongfully, mind you," Barradine broke in. "Always leaving the court without a stain on my character."

"The Lord Barradine who runs the Twentieth Century Detective Agency I was going to say," she went on. "But where could we meet?"

"Thanks awfully," he said gratefully. "What about Grosvenor House at half-past four? We could dance if you felt like it. Dancing helps to make acquaintance."

"Very well," she said. "But how shall I know you?"

"Well, let's see. I'm dark—with a melancholy mug. But, in addition, I'll wear the white flower of a blameless life—the gardenia—and stand about six feet away from the right door-post."

"Right," she said and rang off.

He came away from the telephone pleased. For the moment Mary Fearn had passed out of his adventurous mind.

He lunched at White's, played a couple of rubbers, and was waiting, six feet away from the right-hand doorpost of the door of Grosvenor House, gardenia in buttonhole, at half-past four. At half-past four to the minute there came through the swing door the lady of Pennyfields. Barradine knew that it was she before she smiled, rather doubtfully, at him, though she was not at all like any of the pictures of her he had imagined: she was much younger, not more than eighteen, and she was even prettier, with large dark eyes in a charming face of a clear warm paleness. Her figure was as charming as her face, and she walked with a swing that was almost a little swagger.

Stepping forward, he said: "I'm Barradine."

"My name's Quainton—Seraphita Quainton," she said, and he knew at once who she was, the daughter of that dare-devil Roger Quainton, his distant cousin by marriage.

They shook hands and smiled at one another seriously, and he took her to the dancing room and chose a table and ordered tea. She was quite at her ease with him, already a woman of the world, in fact, as Roger Quainton's daughter would be. He told her how he had solved her problem, or rather how his Unconscious, doubtless in communication with hers, had solved it in his sleep.

"That's an uncomfortable thought," she said. "But I'm not at all sure that I want Mr. Tuffin to know my address. Couldn't you give him a wild-goose chase to go on? A few wild-goose chases won't do Mr. Tuffin any harm—a man who wears a diamond pin—in Pennyfields at night, too."

"Right. Wild-goose chases harden Tuffins," said Barradine.

Then they danced and talked about more important things. He learnt that she spent very little of her time in England, but travelled all about the world with her father. All the while he grew surer and surer that she had not come for the fun of the thing—he told himself that she wasn't the kind; he felt that there was something in the background, something worrying her; there was an air of strain about her, and when they were not talking she was frowning and absent-minded.

At last he said bluntly: "What's the trouble?"

"What trouble?" she said in a startled voice.

"The trouble you're in—the trouble that took you to Pennyfields the night before last and brought you here this afternoon?"

She looked him over slowly with eyes that seemed to be measuring him; then she said slowly: "It was what you said about being led to Pennyfields and doings with a zip to them and your running that Detective Agency that really made me come this afternoon. If you really meant it, and I think you did, I could lead you to Pennyfields and doings, and you could help me."

"I meant it all right," said Barradine firmly and hopefully.

"Well, it's my father. He's lost. He's a collector of Chinese ivories and, like most collectors, he's rather mad about his collecting. Have you ever heard of the ivory Lohans?"

"Never," said he.

"Not many people have—in Europe. There are sixteen Lohans. They were very holy men and followers of the Buddha; and in the middle Ming period a great Chinese artist in ivory carved the sixteen of them, each out of a single tusk, figures more than three feet high. You can't find such tusks nowadays. It's not the best period in Chinese carving; but this artist—whose name no one knows, of course—was born out of his time, and his work is beautiful. Dad learnt about them, and set his heart on getting them, all sixteen. He has been after them for more than ten years, and took seven years to get the first nine, and often it was dangerous work. For the last three years, owing to the troubles in China, things have moved quicker—the owners of these Lohans, which were scattered about in the big cities or near them, were readier to sell them, and he got six more. Then the last Lohan gave him more trouble than all those six; it was more trouble to find and more trouble to buy, and when he'd bought it, it was stolen from him. But he learnt that it was coming to England, and we believe it came in the same steamer that we did."

"So you were in China with him?" said Barradine.

She nodded and went on: "We could find no trace of the sixteenth Lohan when we landed, but Daddy got on its track in London. He learnt that a very rich English collector had found out, a bit late, about the Lohans, and made up his mind to have them, and was ready to go to thirty thousand pounds for them. His agents had been scouring China for them, without finding them, of course, but finding everywhere that Daddy had collected them. They think that he has only seven of them; for one of those agents, a London dealer in Oriental objects of art, came to Daddy and offered him fourteen thousand pounds for the seven. Daddy refused the offer and offered him three thousand pounds for the sixteenth; but he swore he knew nothing about it. Three days ago Daddy, who was hot on the track of it, disappeared, and I was getting worried about him. Then the night before last I was rung up on the telephone, and Daddy's voice said: 'A damned little fish-eyed collector——' and stopped short as if he'd been prevented saying any more. I saw that he was in trouble again, and I found out that the call came from a house in Lemon Street—it runs out of Pennyfields—the house of a man we know, a German called Fuchs, who knows more about what's going on in the East than most of the people on the spot—he put us on to three of the Lohans—so I took Daddy's malacca swordstick and went straight down to see him. But the house was shut up and looked empty, and no one came to my knocking. Yet I'm sure that Daddy's in it, and I've got to get him out of it."

"But you don't mean to tell me that any one would kidnap a well-known man like your father—in London—to-day?" said Barradine in no great astonishment.

"You don't know Daddy," she said rather patiently. "Daddy wouldn't want any kidnapping; he'd go straight there if he thought that his Lohan was in the house, and start tearing it off Fuchs in such a way that he'd give him every excuse for holding him, if he had men enough to do so, and that's what he is doing. Most likely he won't let him go till he hands over the seven Lohans he knows he's got. And that Daddy'll never do."

She spoke with a quiet and absolute certainty that convinced Barradine, and he said gravely, "No wonder you're worried. I suppose these gentry wouldn't stick at much."

"They'd stick at nothing," she said, and for a moment her eyes were bright with a glimmer of tears.

"Very well, we'll get him out of that house," said Barradine quickly, though he had no notion whatever how it was to be done.

"Thanks awfully," she said, and she looked at him as if she expected him to set forth the exact way of doing it then and there.

"But how?" he said.


CHAPTER XXI
The Lure

BARRADINE lit a Sullivan and lay back in his chair pondering. The only thought in his mind was that collectors were all mad. She watched him as if she expected instant illumination. Then he did perceive an odd fact.

"I suppose it was coming away from the house in Lemon Street that you rescued the Tuffin?" he said.

"Yes," she said, wondering what that had to do with the business.

"And your father's words were: 'A damned little fish-eyed collector'?"

"Yes."

"It's odd: but I know a little fish-eyed collector, and so do you," he said. "And now I come to think of it, it struck me at the time that a diamond pin was a queer thing to wear when you're exploring London's underworld. I wonder."

"You wonder what?"

"Whether the wealthy collector who is set on getting the sixteen Lohans and probably had the sixteenth stolen, is our young friend the Tuffin. I know he's a collector of ivories, for a man at the Warham Club told me so; also he told me that he was one of those collectors who not only collect but make money out of collecting—buying in Europe and selling in the States—thousands, he said, the Tuffin made, though he stinks of money already."

"It does look odd," she said, suddenly all alert attention.

"Well, you go to Pennyfields to look for your father, and there you meet the Tuffin wearing a diamond pin—a diamond pin in Pennyfields at midnight, mark you. Only an imbecile would explore the underworld for fun in a diamond pin, and the Tuffin is not an imbecile. He had forgotten he was wearing that pin. Suppose he wasn't exploring the underworld at all, but going to Fuchs's house to worry those seven Lohans out of your father?"

"He was certainly close to Lemon Street and going towards it when we met," she said, frowning thoughtfully.

"Well then, I wonder," said Barradine.

She looked at him hard and earnestly, with her forehead still creased by that thoughtful frown, for a good minute, working it out.

Then suddenly she turned and said fiercely: "I don't! I don't wonder at all! Not if that slimy little beast I met in Pennyfields sells ivories in the States! Daddy told me that the complete set of the Lohans would be worth about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars there, and this little beast is trying to get them for about half that." She rose and added, "Where does he live? I'll go and talk to him!"

She would talk to him: her lips and chin were set, her eyes were blazing.

"Wait," said Barradine quietly. "You've precious little to go on."

"I've got enough," she said with absolute certainty. "I feel in my bones that this slimy little beast had the sixteenth Lohan stolen, and he's trying to worry those seven others out of Daddy."

Barradine had quite a respect for a woman's intuitions, and this one came on the top of his hunch.

"Wait," he said quietly. "If you let the little skug know you've guessed that he and Fuchs have collared your father, you treble your father's danger."

She quieted down a little and sat down and said between her clenched teeth, "If I could have the little beast quite to myself for half an hour, I'd risk that!"

Barradine went on considering. They had very little to go on: his hunch, her intuition, and a diamond pin. But he was ready to go on them, and she had given him an idea of the way to make a start.

"The first thing we have to do is to make sure that the little skug is at the bottom of the business. If we know that, we can get on," he said. "To do it we want him, as you say, to ourselves, and I can see a way of getting him to ourselves for six hours. We ought to be able to put the fear of God into him in that time."

"Oh, we ought!" she said vengefully.

"Yes. And I shall be relying on you for just one thing—to tell me when he's lying," said Barradine. "It's no use a skug like that trying to lie to a woman; she'd always know—she's bound to know."

"I'll tell you that," she said with absolute confidence.

"Right," he said. "Can you lay your hand on any of the Lohans?"

"On fifteen," she said.

"Two will do. I just want to set the scene for our interview. Come to my flat, 17 Escorial Mansions, Knightsbridge, at a quarter to ten to-night in your prettiest frock, with two of the Lohans your father collected, and you, the Tuffin, and I will have a jolly little supper together."

"But what an idea!" she said, and she laughed.

"I'll ring him up at once," he said, and went to the hotel telephone.

Barradine knew that it was any odds that the Tuffin was playing Contract at the Warham; he rang him up and in less than three minutes heard his grating voice.

"That you, Tuffin? If you're not engaged this evening, would you like to meet Primrose Armada?" said Barradine.

"Primrose Armada? You don't mean to say you've found her already?" he said in an excited voice.

"Of course I've found her already. You don't suppose it takes me twenty-four hours to find a girl in a little place like London?"

"Well, I'll be hanged!" he said in a stupefied kind of voice.

"Of course—but probably not to-day," said Barradine cheerfully. "Will you come to supper at my flat at ten o'clock to-night, to meet her?"

There was a pause; then the Tuffin said in a very suspicious tone, "Look here: you haven't been stealing a march on me?"

"I'm not a marrying man. I'm only acting for a moment as a matrimonial agent," said Barradine.

"Oh, I see. Yes. I shall be delighted to come—charmed," he said quickly, in a tone of relief.

"Right," said Barradine. "And bring that cheque for twenty guineas with you. Not pounds—guineas," and he rang off and went back to Miss Quainton.

"Is he coming?" she said eagerly.

"He's coming," said Barradine cheerfully. "And if once we're sure that he's at the bottom of the business, he's put himself outside the law, and you can go pretty far with a man who is outside the law."

They went on dancing till six, and then they had a dozen oysters apiece and a small bottle of champagne—to stay them till supper time—and then they went home to dress.

At twenty to ten Barradine went into his dining-room and found Mulliner putting the finishing touches to the table. His flat was on the second floor, to be a bit above the fogs, and since it was well built, with thick walls, there was little fear of anyone hearing any objections the Tuffin might yell; but Barradine made sure that there should be no interruption.

He said: "The gentleman who is having supper with us to-night is a merry soul, Mulliner. So if you hear any strange noises, you needn't put yourselves about."

"Yes, m' Lord," said Mulliner.

"See that he gets all he needs to drink," Barradine added.

"Yes, m' Lord," said Mulliner, and a shadow of a smile passed over his knowing face.

Barradine stepped back into his smoking-room, and at a quarter to ten Mulliner showed Miss Quainton, looking a dream in a soft, clinging frock of a delicate shade of lemon yellow, into it, and laid two large parcels on the table. Barradine welcomed her and told Mulliner to open them; he did so, and set the two ivory Lohans on the table. Barradine thought that they looked brainy and benignant lads—but beauties? Well, perhaps they would grow on him. They carried them into the dining-room and set them on a cabinet to the left of the door, and went back into the smoking-room.

"I want you to go gently with the talk," Barradine said to her. "Don't bother to lead up to the subject; the Lohans will do that all right, if the Tuffin is really after them. Also I shan't give him your real name. It might be a shock and spoil his supper and produce dumbness."

"I understand," she said.

At five to ten the Tuffin was with them, quite Assyrian, Barradine thought, with two pearls the size of filberts in his shirt front, four diamonds of the size of walnuts in his cuffs, and another in his ring—well, they seemed about that size; at any rate, they shone as large. With a splendid air he handed Barradine the envelope which contained the cheque for twenty guineas.

"You've met Miss Primrose Armada," said Barradine, putting it into his pocket.

"My fair incognita," said the Tuffin, grabbing her hand with a gallant and languishing air, which made Barradine on the instant and so early in the evening itch to kick him.

They drank their cocktails and talked about the weather, and then went into the dining-room and sat down at the table. The Tuffin was put facing the Lohans; but for the time being he had no eyes for anything but Miss Quainton. It was certainly a case of unrequited love at first sight, and Barradine had to keep the talk going, cheerfully, till the unrequited lover recovered enough to feel that he really must impress Miss Quainton and let her see what a fine rich fellow he was. He began to brag; and was well started when his eyes fell on the Lohans. Barradine was watching him: he stopped short, and his eyes opened and then his mouth.

He recovered and went on, and Barradine enjoyed watching him; his eyes were dragged now to Miss Quainton and now to the Lohans; they distracted him from Miss Quainton and she distracted him from them. He was like an unfortunate needle between two magnets, and on the top of it it was obvious that he wanted his supper badly. Probably with supper ahead he had economically eaten no dinner. So he would gaze into Miss Quainton's eyes and tell her the huge price he had paid for something, wolf a mouthful, glare at the Lohans, return to Miss Quainton, and repeat the round. All the while Mulliner was seeing to it that he had all he needed to drink.

It was the wine that brought him through, and when they came to the coffee and Grand Marnier, and Mulliner left them, he was entirely his splendid young self. He smiled at Miss Quainton sultanesquely, rose and walked with a lordly air across the room to the two Lohans, examined them, turned, took his cigar out of his mouth with an airy gesture, blew out a large puff of smoke, and said:

"I like those two ivories, Barradine. Name your price. You shall have a cheque now."

Again he waved the hand that held the cigar in the lordly way that, Barradine fancied, Croesus used when he was showing those treasures to illustrious guests.

The offer was sudden, but Barradine was prepared; he said: "I couldn't put a price on those two Lohans. They're unique—at any rate there are no others in Europe."

The Tuffin laughed a kind of snorting laugh, and said loftily: "Unique in Europe? My dear chap, what are you talking about? I've eight of them."


CHAPTER XXII
Negotiations

"THERE aren't any eight to have," said Barradine, obstinately.

"There are sixteen," said the Tuffin. "And inside of two years I shall have the lot."

Miss Quainton was bent a little forward, looking tense, and Barradine was afraid she might interrupt.

"Yes, yes: I know all about collectors' talk when they're set on getting a thing," he said quietly and laughed unpleasantly.

"Does your Lordship doubt my word?" said the Tuffin with tremendous loftiness.

"Not for a moment," said Barradine. "But I'll bet you an even monkey that you can't show me eight ivory Lohans to match those two. We'll go round to your place now and take a look at them, and Miss Armada shall be the judge."

The Tuffin was taken right aback; then he said: "No: I can't show them to you to-night. But they're as good as mine. My agent is concluding the deal, and I'll bet you a monkey that I'll show them to you within ten days." And then he turned as ugly-looking a thug as ever Barradine saw and added, "My agent has instructions to let no consideration stand in the way of his getting them."

Barradine rose and strolled to the door, turned the key, and took it out of the lock, turned to him and said casually: "So you think it will take Fuchs ten days to starve those Lohans out of Mr. Quainton?"

There was a chill in his voice.

Change? Change was hardly the word: it was an absolute dithering sag; the Tuffin fairly gave at the knees as he stared at Barradine with his mouth open.

Then he did the very thing Barradine wished him to do; he dashed for the door on the other side of the room, rushed into the smoking-room and across it to the door into the corridor. It was locked. That rush did away with any need for admissions or confession.

Followed by Seraphita Quainton, Barradine went into the smoking-room and caught him by the scruff of the neck, shook him so that his teeth played at castanets, and dumped him hard on a chair.

"Sit there," he said in his most savage voice. "I want Mr. Quainton and the ivory Lohan Fuchs stole for you, and I want them at once. How do I get them?"

The Tuffin sat up and swallowed hard and said in a feeble blustering voice: "I don't know what you're talking about, Lord Barradine. I don't know any one of the name of Fuchs or Quainton."

"I suppose that was why you bolted?" said Barradine in the same ferocious tone.

Then followed a heated parley, in which Seraphita Quainton took a withering part, and if an eloquent and indignant tongue could scarify, the Tuffin would have bled from head to foot. They heard a good deal from him about an outrage and his solicitors, and hand over Mr. Quainton and the Lohan he would not, though Barradine assured him he'd make him if he had to flay him with a blunt dessert knife.

Then Miss Quainton said in a brisk and business-like voice, "We're wasting time. The first thing to do is to tie him up."

"Help!" howled the Tuffin. "Help! Murder!"

"The first thing to do is to gag him!" said Barradine, compressing the Tuffin's throat to silence him and then forcing his handkerchief into his mouth.

Then with the Tuffin's own tie he bound his hands behind his back and then dumped him at full length on the couch so that he could see the fire, and thrust a poker into it and laughed a blood-curdling laugh.

The fire had been looking unnecessary on that hot evening.

"Shall I begin on the soles of his feet?" he said to Miss Quainton and repeated the blood-curdling laugh.

The Tuffin's eyes were sticking well out of their sockets; indeed they looked likely to come right out and roll down his cheeks. Barradine was sure that the hot iron would not have to enter into his sole very far. He was also sure that if he stuck out, he had them beaten, that you cannot, in England, burn the soles of one of Nature's gentlemen with a red-hot poker—unless you are sufficiently exasperated, and they were not.

Then Seraphita made the suggestion of a lifetime; she said: "Yes: begin with his soles, and while the poker's getting red-hot, you might tickle them. It often sends people mad."

"Splendid!" said Barradine, and he pulled off the Tuffin's left shoe, and in less than twenty seconds the trussed-up skug was jerking—Barradine had never seen such jerks—and as he jerked he was turning black in the face, and the tears were running down his cheeks.

Barradine stopped and said: "When you're ready to talk business, you signify the same by nodding your head."

The Tuffin seemed to try to nod his head off.

"It's wonderful what can be done by kindness," said Barradine with kindly satisfaction. He lifted the Tuffin and sat him on a chair at the table, untied his arms, cleared a space, and found paper and a fountain pen. The Tuffin was snivelling.

Barradine said: "Just write a cheque for Fuchs for the amount he's asking for the Lohan he stole for you."

The Tuffin wrote a cheque for £3,000 like a lamb, a weeping lamb.

Barradine took it and said, "Now write, 'Dear F., The bearer, the Earl of Barradine and Sharples, will handle Q. all right for us. Give him the Lohan. Do everything he wants. You'll get your commission. Yours truly, Cuthbert Tuffin.'"

Sniffling, the Tuffin wrote it.

"Now, how does one get into Fuchs's house?" said Barradine.

"Four single knocks, one after the other—slowly," moaned the Tuffin.

Barradine bound his hands behind him, gagged him, and returned him to the couch, sat down and wrote notes to Langford and Lansdown, handed them to Miss Quainton and said, "If I don't ring you up inside of two hours, lock this little skug in here, bucket down to Scotland Yard and give whoever is on duty these. Tell them to open them at once, and take whatever police they detail for the job, to Fuchs's yourself. And have you and your father in the course of your adventures fixed up any password that will let him know I come from you?"

"Yes. Say to him, 'It's a far cry to the Oxus,' and he'll know at once," she said.

"Good. You can hold the little skug?" said Barradine.

"I'll keep the poker red-hot," she said grimly.

That was that, and Barradine guessed that the Tuffin realised it.

About twenty minutes later Barradine stepped out of his car and knocked four slow knocks on Fuchs's door. This should be the toughest part of the business; but he had two good appeals to Prussian mentality, his title and Tuffin's cheque. It was a good three minutes before the door was opened by a lanky, hatchet-faced ruffian.

Barradine stepped quickly inside and slammed the door and snapped, "Take this letter to Fuchs at once!"

"'ere: 'oo are you ordering about?" growled the thug.

"You," said Barradine. "Get on!"

It worked. It does. He got on. Barradine stood in the passage, sniffing the queer-smelling spicy air, and listening. There seemed to be plenty of people in the house. He could hear murmuring voices in rooms on the ground-floor and on the floor above. Then the lanky ruffian appeared on the stairs and said: "Comerlong."

Barradine went upstairs, and was shown into a bedroom, luxuriously furnished and frowsty. Sitting on the side of the bed was a stout, square-headed, respectable gentleman, wearing glasses and blue pyjamas with a purple stripe—keeps in touch with the Fatherland, Barradine thought—and frowning at the Tuffin's letter. As Barradine came in, he rose, brought his heels together and bowed respectfully—the title was working all right—gave Barradine a very civil good evening and looked at him hard. His face seemed to please him, for his face cleared.

But he said, tapping the letter, "This is bad. It will not do. The young Tuffin had no right to tell you. Too many people know."

"I'm not the only one he's let into the secret," Barradine said. "And why the devil did you let Quainton get at the 'phone?"

"He said nothing they can go to the police with," he said quickly.

"At any rate they're going—if they haven't gone," said Barradine. "And I want to get away before the police come."

"Hell!" said Fuchs. "But what are you going to do? You can't handle that madman Quainton. No one can."

"I can," said Barradine. "But first of all here's Tuffin's cheque for the Lohan you stole for him. I want to take it with me."

Fuchs took the cheque, and his face cleared wonderfully. It was a perfect guarantee of his visitor's bona fides. He hurried out of the room and came back with the ivory figure and handed it to Barradine and asked him what he was going to do.

"I'm going to take Quainton away for a conference with me and Tuffin. There's no time for a longish wrangle here, with the police coming. If he doesn't agree to our terms for the seven Lohans, I'm going to bring him back."

"Bring him back! How? How?" howled Fuchs.

"It's perfectly easy. Quainton's a man of honour. Take me to him, and I'll show you how it's done," said Barradine in a confident tone.

Looking a trifle flabbergasted and devilishly uneasy, Fuchs took him up to a room at the top of the house, opened the door for him to enter, and switched on the light. It lit up a windowless room empty except for a single chair. On it was sitting a tall man, with a handsome, weatherbeaten face and wild eyes, chained by the ankle to a staple in the wall. He had been in a severe scrap: there was a big, black bruise on his forehead, a long cut in his left cheek, and his clothes were torn.

He blinked at the sudden brightness, and Barradine stepped briskly in and said, "Hullo, Quainton, old chap! It's a far cry to the Oxus. What? So you're in another devil of a mess, I find. Well, I've come to get you out of it, with the Lohan, if you'll show a little sense."

Quainton grasped the use of the pass-word; he had never set eyes on Barradine before, but he said sulkily: "Oh, it's you, is it?"

"It's me," said Barradine. "And I'm going to take you along for a quiet talk with Tuffin about this business. But you'll have to give me your word of honour to come quietly, and that if we don't come to terms, you'll come straight back here directly I ask you, and let Fuchs chain you up again."

Quainton gazed at him, scowling; then he said, "It won't be any use. But I may as well hear what you two swine have got to say. I'll give you my word of honour to come back here whenever you ask me to."

"That's all right," said Barradine cheerfully. "Undo the shackle, Fuchs."

Fuchs looked from one to the other of them, doubtful.

"Get on," Barradine growled. "I don't want to be here when the police come, and I'm not going without Quainton."

"That settled Fuchs. He took a key from his pyjama-jacket pocket and unlocked the shackle."

Quainton rose and stretched himself, and they went downstairs, followed by the uneasy Fuchs, out of the house, and into the car without exchanging a word. Barradine did not say good-bye to Fuchs.

When the car was fairly started Quainton said, "I'm very much obliged to you, sir—very much obliged. But who are you? And how did you get into it? And how on earth did you get on to Tuffin?"

"I'm Barradine. I came into it because Miss Quainton was anxious, and that diamond pin that's always stuck on him put me on to Tuffin."

"Well, I'm thankful it did, for I was in a worse hole than it looked," said Quainton gratefully. "Kidnapping isn't much in Fuch's line—really I forced myself on him—and he was beginning to get frightened, and if I'm frightened of anything, I'm frightened of a frightened man—he was beginning to plan how to dispose of the body, I fancy. How on earth did you get round him?"

Barradine told him how his title plus the Tuffin's cheque had worked on a Prussian mentality, and he laughed and said, "Of course—quite good psychology to bluff on."

Barradine took him to his flat, since Seraphita was there and supper was ready, and he could have the needed bath, after gratifying his desire to speak to the Tuffin.

They came into the smoking room to find the scene unchanged: the Tuffin still lay on the couch, looking thoughtful and morose; Seraphita sat in an easy chair; the poker was still in the fire, still red-hot. She sprang up with a little cry and threw her arms round Quainton's neck and kissed him.

When he had finished telling her how sorry he was for having troubled her, he turned to the Tuffin and said, "I'll give you twelve hours' law, you nasty thief and cur. If you're not out of the country by twelve to-morrow I'll thrash you till my arm gives out."

Tuffin looked at the arm, the right, in a sickly way, and seemed to have nothing to say. It did not look an arm that would give out quickly.

Barradine untied him and rang for Mulliner and put Quainton in his hands, and told him to show the Tuffin out of the flat. He went, looking more like a disgruntled rat than the anything and left England next morning and no address.


CHAPTER XXIII
Mary Fearn Goes Detecting

SERAPHITA wished to thank Barradine at length for rescuing her father, but Barradine cut her short by declaring that her father had done all the thanking needed and more. Then he told her of his brief interview with Fuchs, and she expressed a small and doubtful hope of being able to prevent her father from thrashing that polished German within an inch of his life—not that, she thought, he would get into grave trouble if he did. Then, refreshed by his bath, her father joined them, and they went back to the supper table to keep him company. They could not eat any more supper, but they could drink.

It was an amusing supper, for Quainton talked of his adventures in mid-China, and they parted the best of new friends.

The next morning Barradine saw, with very little surprise, headlines in his newspaper:


DEVELOPMENTS IN MURWOOD MYSTERY
ARREST OF SIR JEREMIAH AND MISS SARAH MURWOOD


He read that they were appearing before the magistrate at Bow Street and drove down to the Court and saw them committed for trial. The magistrate was quite satisfied with the evidence the police produced against them, and there was no talk of adjourning the case. They reserved their defence.

Barradine congratulated Langford, as they came out of the court, on having decided to take action, in spite of his doubts that he would get a conviction, and Langford said, "Well, it was your certainty that their faces would convict them that turned the scale. I believe that they'll reinforce the evidence strongly enough. At any rate there's no doubt of their guilt, and if the jury can't see it, every one of intelligence will, and they'll get kicked out of things."

"I should think that Murwood will certainly blow his brains out if he is prevented from destroying the temper of his partners at Contract," said Barradine rather vengefully.

"And that will serve the ends of Justice fairly well," said Langford.

"Yes. But not as well as hanging," said Barradine.

"Well, we must hope for the best," said Langford, not hopefully.[*]

[* Sarah Murwood swept away Langford's apprehension. In her fear for her own skin and to strengthen her defence that she had acted wholly under her brother's influence and gone, disguised as him, down to the hotel at Frinton in utter ignorance of his real reason for sending her there and under the belief that it was a joke, she turned King's evidence and easily ensured his conviction. But she did not escape, for the incredulous jury convicted her of having been an accessory before and after the fact. But owing to her having secured her brother's conviction, and her plea that she had acted under his influence, she got off with ten years' penal servitude.]

That morning Mary Fearn decided that her accomplished fox-terrier, Poppet—he had already appeared in three illustrated weeklies in the act of carrying golf balls he had found in the rough after she had sliced her drive—needed exercise, and since she was lunching with Barradine she would give him that exercise by walking up to Grosvenor House.

She came out of Grandcourt Mansions buried in thought, and Fortune turned her steps up Vicker's Street. It was not out of her way, but it was a street to be avoided. Poppet preferred it to the more civilised thoroughfares. Her nose informed her that she had taken the wrong turning. Its protests penetrated her mind. But she was already forty yards up the street, and smells or no smells, she was not going to retrace her steps all that way. Wrinkling the protesting organ with cold firmness, she went on and came to the Police Station. Once more the well-known and detestable name of James Q. Bliss sprang at her eyes.

It was on a new hand-bill on the notice board—or rather the headline was new: "¬£1,500 REWARD." The original headline had been: "¬£500 REWARD." It had risen by ¬£250 a time to this splendid height. The rest of the hand-bill she knew by heart: It offered that reward for information that would lead to the arrest of that eminent financier, James Q. Bliss, one of the leading lights of Ural Bonanzas. Deeper wrinkles, wrinkles of bitter scorn, rucked up her protesting nose, as, for the hundredth time, she read the useless description of him: "Pale blue eyes, short, flattish nose, projecting teeth, light-brown hair, small moustache, middle height, age forty-two." It was a waste of print. England was full of those formless, colourless men of forty-two. Mary was convinced that she herself had seen over half a million of them in London alone. That description would never lead to the arrest of James Q. Bliss.

She set her little white teeth and clenched her little white fists: that ¬£1,500 ought to be hers! It would be hers if men weren't such creatures! She knew that James Q. Bliss was in the Island of Barbados—or to be accurate she was sure of it. She had assured the police that he was, and they would not believe it. ¬£1,500! A sudden light of high resolve came into her deep brown eyes: and her little white teeth came unset and her little white fists came unclenched.

She arrived at Grosvenor House almost on the minute and found Barradine waiting for her. He did not at once tell her that she had lost her bet, and she did not tell him of her resolve to go to Barbados to discover James Q. Bliss. Both preferred to defer their tidings till after a strengthening lunch.

Barradine was the first with his tidings: "I have won those six pairs of socks," he said. "I have not only had a job but I have done it and been paid."

And he told her how he made the acquaintance of the Quaintons and rescued Quainton from the agent of the Tuffin.

"Right. Tens, I suppose?" she said.

"Yes. How did you guess?"

"Your foot looks to be about the same size as Daddy's. But I've come to the conclusion that this detecting is not so very difficult, and it is better paid than most jobs, and I'm going to Barbados to do a little detecting myself," she said.

"That sounds very tiresome," he said. "I shall be left without any one to dance with, and I shall feel the shortage of healthy exercise. If you must go detecting, why don't you come into the Twentieth Century Agency, as I've suggested, and detect there?"

"Because there isn't enough money in it. I'm going to detect for fifteen hundred pounds."

"And that sounds a very nice fee," he said. "What are you going to detect?"

She told him the story of James Quintilian Bliss: how he was one of the men who had ruined her father. Indeed he had produced the final smash of Ural Bonanzas by bolting with thirty thousand pounds of the company's money, and the police had been hunting him ever since.

"I've told Scotland Yard that he's in Barbados; but they won't hear of it, because for the three weeks before they discovered that he'd stolen the money, his secretary received letters from him from Algiers, Tunis, Jeddah, and finally from Jerusalem, and they believe that he's gone into hiding in the Near East. But I have a hunch that those addresses were somehow faked, that he didn't post those letters himself, that he's really in the West Indies, in Barbados, and not in the East at all."

"Well, you must have some reason for such a definite hunch," said Barradine. "I'm always ready to give full credit to womanly intuition. But those letters were facts, you know."

"Reason enough for me," she said firmly. "Some months before the smash he was dining with us—we did have horrible people to dinner, for business reasons, in those days—and Daddy began to talk about Barbados, where he had been stationed for three years when he was a subaltern, and an odd part of the island about Joe's River, and the horrible Bliss was immensely interested and kept coming back to the subject. I work it out that it was just about the time that he was beginning to think of scooping up the money and bolting, and he'd be looking for a place to bolt to."

"It might be. The financial mind works oddly," said Barradine doubtfully. "I should want a bit more to go on before I bought a ticket for Barbados."

"Oh well, the horrible Dee Montmorency has put up the money, and I'd better go while I'm out of debt and with some of it invested. It won't be wasted. I shall be seeing some of the Western Hemisphere."

"Ah well, it's a wild-goose chase. But I'm not going to dissuade you," said Barradine after a moment's reflection on the uselessness of any such attempt. "But it's possible that since you're dealing with an inveterate financier, there may be a spot of danger, and I want you to cable me before you start anything. I shall feel very uncomfortable if you don't promise, and I'll be with you by the next steamer."

"I'll promise all right. But if you had ever come across the horrible Bliss, you'd see how very little reason there is to be afraid of his being dangerous," she said readily.

"I don't know: the cornered rat can be devilishly nasty," said Barradine.

"Ah, but I shall very likely stay with my cousin, Richard Harding, who lives with his family on an estate in St. Andrews, which is the parish in which Joe's River is, and the parish in which the horrible Bliss will be hiding. My cousin will look after me."

"Not as well as I shall," said Barradine confidently.

So it came about that a fortnight later he reminded her of that promise as he said goodbye to her on the Irrawaddy, at Southampton, and later he watched that steamer move down Southampton Water, with a certain sense of blankness.

Mary was, rather to her surprise, suffering from a like sense of blankness. But it passed more quickly, for ahead of her lay the broad Atlantic and the spacious Tropics and an unusual, exciting errand.

The doubts of Barradine, and the incredulity of other friends had not weakened at all her faith in her hunch; somewhere near Joe's River James Q. Bliss was waiting for her to give the information that would lead to his arrest. She had not informed her cousins the Hardings that she was coming lest they should talk of it; she was travelling as Katherine Harding, her mother's maiden name, that James Q. Bliss might not see the name of Mary Fearn in the list of arrivals by the Irrawaddy, take warning, and move yet further into the sunset.

She found that she was sharing her stateroom with a Barbadian lady named Howard, who seemed rather frightened of her. At dinner she found herself surrounded by Barbadians, an amiable, sun-stewed, sallow folk, with eyes of the palest blue, high cheek bones, and small noses. From their manner she gathered that she inspired a certain timidity into them. It seemed odd. She knew that there was nothing formidable in her appearance; indeed she had always believed it to be engaging. She had often been told so. Later she found that it was their natural attitude towards the English. She was amiable to them.

Then at a table on the other side of the saloon she recognised a face that she knew—the tanned face of a good-looking young man who wore an uncommonly gloomy air. Her eyes sparkled with mischievous interest. Would he recognise her? He would not.

She grew a trifle absent-minded, seeking some method of putting the young man in the way of brightening the voyage for her, for she was always willing to combine pleasure with duty, and he was the most interesting person in sight. Presently she observed that he kept looking at her rather oddly—as if he did so against his will. She had a strong feeling that that was no way for a young man, however gloomy, to look at her. As she rose from the table, she gave him a friendly nod and smile. His mouth opened as if he gasped. He bobbed his head with an air of bewilderment.

Five minutes later as he passed her on deck he gave her an earnest look, as if he were trying to refresh his memory while the light was good.

"That young man isn't a Barbadian, is he?" she said to Mrs. Howard, who was sitting beside her.

"No, no: an Englishman, John Latchford. He lives with his brother at an estate called Paragon, in St. Andrews. People don't like them. And they are so odd. They keep quite to themselves. They've never returned a call," said Mrs. Howard. Then she assumed a darkling air and added: "Some people think that there is something wrong about them."

"Wrong?" said Mary.

Mrs. Howard lowered her voice to a whisper: "They think they may be hiding from the police."

"Well, they're wrong. They haven't done anything that the police could touch them for," said Mary with decision.

"But why do they behave like that?"

Mary hesitated. She decided to learn more about things Barbadian before she told her.

The next morning the Irrawaddy was bustling down the Channel in a stiff breeze. Very few people came to breakfast. Mary was one of them. She gave John Latchford another friendly nod and smile. He was looking gloomier than ever. That did not prevent him from surveying her frequently with interested but puzzled eyes. She felt that she really must do something to relieve his spirit of that weight.

In view of the detection before her she had provided herself with some technical literature—adventures of Sherlock Holmes, three works by Gaboriau, and two by Wilkie Collins. She came on deck, with a Sherlock Holmes volume in her hand, to find John Latchford reading in his deck chair.

She stopped as she passed him and held out her hand, and said: "How are you, Mr. Latchford?"

He sprang up, shook hands and stammered: "How d-d-do you d-d-do?"

"I don't believe you know me from Adam," she said a trifle plaintively. "It's hardly flattering that you should have forgotten me so completely!"

He stared at her mischievous, smiling face, looked abashed and said: "I—I'm awfully sorry. I've been racking my brains about it. But I don't seem able to remember."

"Well, after all it isn't of much importance, is it?" she said, moving on.

He fell into step beside her, assuring her that it was of great importance, and begged her to tell him. She refused, on the ground that if she had made such a slight impression on him, it was not worth while.

"But that's just what's so odd about it," he protested. "You couldn't possibly make a slight impression on anybody. Besides, I know quite well that we've met; but I can't remember where."

"The wonder is that, being a man, you remember as much as that," she said lightly.

"No! The wonder is that I don't remember every single thing about it!" he protested.

"Well, as a matter of fact we were not introduced; but we met at the meeting of the shareholders of Ural Bonanzas after the smash, and we talked quite sympathetically."

"Of course! But it's no wonder I forgot. That day I didn't know whether I was standing on my head or my heels." He paused and added: "B-B-But then you know what happened to my unfortunate father?"

"Yes: I know that he fell among a gang of crooks and got six months in the second division for being so careless. What about it?"

"Wh-Wh-What about it? B-B-But don't you realise that you're talking to the son of a felon?" he stammered.

"Not really a felon, you know. If he'd really been a felon, he'd have got a lot more than six months. And anyhow what about it? I'm the daughter of a Major-General, and I can assure you that lots of the most intelligent people in London consider a Major-General much worse than a felon. But I don't let it worry me. They live in Bloomsbury."

He appeared to choke a little in his effort to swallow his astonishment. "It's awfully decent of you to look at it like this," he said.

"But how do you expect me to look at it? Like a pawnbroker?"

"Oh well—I—er—er—people don't, you know."

"Sensible people do. But what are you doing in Barbados?"

"We've got a small sugar plantation."

She thought that they had had enough of an unpleasant business of his father's imprisonment, and she began to question him about the life he and his brother led. When, about an hour later, she left him to go to her stateroom she looked back from the companion-way to see him sitting in his chair looking rather dazed, as if he was amazed at what he had been doing.

To his surprise he spent the whole afternoon with her. He had decided that she must not be seen to be on friendly terms with him. But it seemed to happen inevitably; he did not know how. She could have told him. She did not. He liked it. He had never been on friendly terms with any one a tenth part as charming. But she was careful to make it clear that only friendliness was possible; she spoke of the man she was going to marry. But he felt that even friendliness must stop—at once.

He got no chance of stopping it that night, for she brought Mrs. Howard on deck and devoted herself to her. He might have stopped it again next morning, for he spent most of it with Mary—again to his surprise. But somehow he could not find the way to do so. At lunch he decided to be firm and stop it that afternoon. He did not get the chance. She was with Mrs. Howard and two Barbadian ladies, resolutely making friends with them, since they might help her in her enterprise, till dinnertime. He began to acquiesce.

The fact that another victim of that predatory rogue James Q. Bliss should be living in Barbados seemed to Mary odd, but she could see no reason to tell John Latchford of her errand. Barradine knew about it, and that was enough; anything known to three people was no longer a secret. Moreover, she did not see how he could help her to find the crook, though his estate marched with that of her cousin in St. Andrews, the very parish in which she expected to find her quarry hiding. Her cousin would know more about St. Andrews than this newcomer. But she was curious to know how he and his brother had come to choose that very parish to settle in.

He told her that they had not exactly chosen it; but that after the smash and the death of their father an unknown friend of his had offered to help them buy the estate, and it had seemed so far away and out of the world that they had accepted the offer gratefully. They could not even guess who that unknown friend was, for he preferred to do good by stealth, and the business had been done through his lawyers. It had irked them that they had never even seen him to thank him; the only return so far they had been able to make was to put up a friend of his, a consumptive clergyman, ordered to a warm climate.

Also she learnt a great deal about the life of the two brothers in the island. It seemed to be a lonely life.


CHAPTER XXIV
Elimination

SHE had hoped that, after she had explained so clearly to John Latchford that he exaggerated the odium he and his brother had incurred from their father's misfortune, he would have set about making friends of some of the Barbadian passengers. But he remained as aloof as before, and she felt that she would have to do something about it. She was soon given the opportunity. She had become popular with the Barbadians on board; they deplored her friendship with Latchford; they felt that they ought to put it to her, so young and unprotected, that she must drop it; they rather bullied Mrs. Howard into undertaking the job. She approached Mary with considerable timidity and put it to her.

"But I don't see that the Latchford's extraordinary morbidity about their father's having been in prison for six months for getting into the hands of a gang of crooks and being made the scapegoat is discreditable. In fact I think it's silly, but really quite creditable," said Mary.

"What? Is that all it's about? Poor young fellows!" said Mrs. Howard. "Why, ever so many people in Barbados——"

She stopped short in her island story and went away, the bursting repository of important information.

Two days later John Latchford said to Mary a trifle wistfully that the Barbadians on the Irrawaddy seemed to be uncommonly friendly people, and that two or three women had gone out of their way to be nice to him.

"Yes," said Mary coolly. "Now that they know all about you, they take a perfectly common-sense view of the matter. I told you you were worrying about nothing."

"You told them?" cried Latchford.

Mary felt uncomfortable; but she said calmly enough: "Yes. I had a hunch it was best to get it over. You and your brother won't have to go on worrying about whether they know or not; and you'll see that the nice ones will be quite all right."

"You told them without consulting me?" he said in a stupefied tone, glaring at her.

"That's right," said Mary in a kind voice. "I had a hunch you'd stop me—or try to."

"Well I'm damned!" he said softly, jumped up, and began to pace the deck with a considerable show of agitation.

Mary let him pace for awhile; then she called to him: "When you have finished taking exercise——"

He bumped down into his chair and said, "I'm so upset I can't think."

"You're such a poor thinker," said Mary frankly. "I've done this thinking for you, so you can let up on it. Good night."

She rose and fled before relations could grow strained.

At breakfast next morning he looked almost cheerful, and she congratulated herself on having done the right thing.

After it he came to her and said, "Things still seem topsy-turvy. But I believe you were right."

"All you have to do is to be nice to the people who are ready to be nice to you," she said in the accents of a school-mistress.

"I believe you're right, and I'm awfully obliged to you," he said gratefully.

Then the Irrawaddy came down into the Tropics. Mary felt sticky from morning till night, and she was sticky. Her only desire was to sit quite still and drink lemon squashes. John Latchford saw to the lemon squashes. She could not pursue comfortably her studies in the art of detection. Her only comfort was that she looked cool. Her clear, pale skin was not perpetually adorned with a rich and slimy glaze like the skins of her English fellow-passengers. At the end of three days her pores began to behave with a trifle less frenzied activity.

They came to Barbados in a red dawn; and Mary was positively shocked. Were the drabbish-green expanse of cane-fields that ran so flatly from the staring white town to the hills many miles away, those dingy palms on the beach, those dull mahogany trees the lush and spacious Tropics? She was ashamed of them.

About eight hours after the Irrawaddy made her landfall Barradine left for Barbados on the Douro. He had grown uneasy about Mary. Ready as he was to trust her to deal with most matters even more capably than most women, he felt that she might easily be unable to cope unaided with a defaulting financier in the Tropics. He had better be at hand to help her.

When John Latchford learnt that she had not written to tell the Hardings that she was coming, and that she intended to stay at an hotel, he took matters into his own hands. He would drive her to the Crane Hotel, which was much cooler than hotels in Bridgetown, and from which she could bathe during all the heat of the day, and take a note to her cousin to inform him that she had arrived and was staying at it.

His brother, Robert, was one of the first to come on board. He seemed immensely surprised to find John on such friendly terms with a pretty girl. They took her ashore with her luggage and started for the Crane in their Ford. All along the staring white road across the plain Mary felt the last thing in stickiness. The two brothers talked of the estate and sugar and the rainfall and of John's visit to England, and of their consumptive guest, who, it seemed, had proved not only a cheerful conversationalist but far too good a picquet-player for Robert. Mary studied the country, especially the negro villages—"streets" the brothers called them—through which they passed. She perceived how easy it would be for a man to buy one of those little huts in a village on some side road and live securely hidden.

The Latchfords left her at the Crane and went on. Mary made great haste into the sea; she emerged only for lunch, and returned to it. She was called out of it. She found that the Hardings had come to take her to stay with them at their house Fair View.

She was loth to leave the cooling sea. But she would be in a much better position, in the Parish of St. Andrews itself, to pursue her quest from Fair View. She accepted the invitation, but she thought it wiser not to tell them of her errand till she knew more of the Parish of St. Andrews.

She found the air at Fair View, nine hundred feet higher up and quite open to the strong and steady Trade Wind, much cooler.

The Hardings expressed surprise that the so aloof Latchfords had been so helpful to Mary, and she at once gave them the reason of that aloofness. They were pleased indeed to learn it; they agreed that that reason was absurd; they declared that they were going to have no more of it. The breaking down of this barrier would give them two real neighbours, or rather three, for the Parsons, for whom their consumptive guest sometimes took duty, found him an uncommonly agreeable person.

Mary felt that, having set this right, she could apply herself to the business of finding James Q. Bliss with an easy mind.

She did not. She began to learn about the Tropics. That evening they seemed to her to be composed wholly of whistling frogs and mosquitoes. She could not hear herself speak for the din made by the former; and apparently word had gone round among the latter that a juicy morsel had fallen from Heaven. They came, in hundreds, to make sure, and went on making sure; on the second morning she ruefully counted some hundred and fifty bites on her hands and wrists and ankles; one eye was closed; and her face was swollen and bumpy. She was feverish and miserable, in no condition to devote herself to the art of detection. It was a good week before she could really apply her mind to anything. Then the mosquitoes were still irritating but no longer devastating. Then she had enough energy to put to her cousin her theory that it would be easy for a white man to buy a hut in one of the negro villages and lie hidden for years.

"But he couldn't lie hidden for days!" Harding protested vehemently. "It would be all over the parish inside forty-eight hours. He could never get away with it."

"Then I may take it that no one has done it in this parish for years?" she said, not very cheerfully.

"You certainly may," he said confidently.

It was a blow, but it did not weaken her conviction that somewhere in the parish lurked James Quintilian Bliss. It was a matter for careful and unobtrusive enquiry and for elimination. She had to get particulars of all recent arrivals in the Parish and get a look at each of them till she found him. It was most likely, she thought, that he had bought a small estate; but he might be staying, as a paying guest, with some planter or overseer. She soon gathered that it would be easy to learn if he were staying with a planter, difficult to learn if he were staying with an overseer, for the overseers did not move in the society of the parish, and the people she met knew very little about them.

Now that she had recovered somewhat from the mosquitoes she went to tennis parties with the Hardings. And since James Q. Bliss had met her, she always wore the dark glasses which she had brought with her from England, making the excuse that her eyes were weak. They were a reasonable disguise against anyone not actually looking for her. On her way to the first tennis party she was able to eliminate one latecomer to the island, Latchfords' consumptive parson, a dark-haired, dark-bearded thin man, coughing on the verandah of Paragon. To eliminate him made her feel thorough, though Paragon was the last place in the world in which the financier would take refuge. At the party itself she eliminated another, the friend staying with the planter. A lathlike man six feet two in his stockings, he could not possibly be the tubby Bliss.

On the way back it occurred to her that it was possible that the financier had not yet reached the refuge of his dreams, that he was still on his way to Barbados. It was not a pleasant thought, for she saw no reason to linger in the Tropics. But there it was: either he was on the island or on his way to it.

She had been on the island a fortnight when the Hardings took her to the weekly afternoon reception at Government House. She wore the dark glasses, though she had no expectation of finding James Q. Bliss there. But in detection you must be thorough.

A number of people she had met at tennis parties were there, and Robert Latchford had come out of his shell and brought his guest with him. She was having a pleasant time, with her new acquaintances, when, as they were watching the tennis, to her amazement, walking towards her across the lawn, came Barradine!

To him, looking for her, at any rate, her glasses were no disguise.

He greeted her warmly, for it was a relief to him to find that she had so far come to no harm from her financier, and she thrilled faintly to his grip. She introduced him to her impressed friends. She perceived that he looked cool enough to be at a garden party in England; but then, she told herself, he would.

Presently he withdrew her from her friends, and they strolled about together while she told him of her failure to find the financier. Both of them kept finding themselves thirsty and the buffet grateful. The consumptive friend of the Latchfords was also finding it grateful, for when they came back to it for their third lime drink, they found him still there, still entertaining the same group of Barbadian worthies, now a little more loudly, for he was not drinking lime drinks.

Quite carelessly Barradine said, "Do all the Church dignitaries on the island dye their hair and beards to drink whisky and soda in?"

Mary's eyes opened; then she opened her mouth and gasped, "You—you don't mean it!"

"Why not? Oh——"

Mary stared at the dyed parson. The whisky had brightened his small, pale blue eyes. She saw that they were the eyes of James Quintilian Bliss; she could swear to them. Her nostrils dilated, and her own eyes sparkled.

"Steady on!" said Barradine quietly.

They went out into the garden, and he said, "You don't mean to say that it's your man."

"Of course it's the swindling rogue! And I've been living within three hundred yards of him for days and never dreamt it! And you come along and spot him in less than half an hour," she said in rather mortified accents.

"It's my job," said Barradine. "Besides it's difficult to spot from three hundred yards away that a man has dyed his beard."

"Oh, it wasn't only that. But he's staying with people who have been injured and smashed up by his swindling—of course they'd never met him as I did—as a Parson! And he has been taking duty all over the island, and making himself popular."

"Very astute," said Barradine. "No one would dream of looking for him there, or of his becoming a practising parson."

"I should think not! But what do I do now?"

"Well, you can't make a scandal by having him arrested at Government House," said Barradine firmly. "But that's all right; the little victim is playing with the whisky, quite regardless of his doom, and he'll go on playing with it. You want to make sure of the reward, and your cousin and I will take you along to Police Headquarters to swear an information, or whatever the local procedure is."

They went to Harding and told him of Mary's discovery. He was astonished enough. But when he was satisfied that Mary was sure of the true identity of the black-bearded parson, he drove her and Barradine down to the Police Headquarters. They found that the name of James Quintilian Bliss was known to the Bridgetown Police. Scotland Yard had not accepted Mary's hunch, but it had thought it well to warn them that the swindler might take refuge in the island. The Superintendent-in-Charge perceived that it was a matter for the Chief of Police, and he rang him up at Government House, where he was attending the reception.

He came at once and perceived immediately the importance of the business—the kudos that would accrue to the Barbadian police if they captured a swindler of world-wide notoriety, who had slipped through the meshes of the far-flung net of the Yard.

But he possessed the island caution, and he cross-examined and cross-examined Mary until Barradine said: "Look here, sir, you've only got to gaol the blighter for a couple of days and keep him away from hair dye, and you'll have all the corroboration you want. His beard will be coming through tow-coloured."

"By Jove, yes!" said the Chief of Police.

He acted. He went himself with an Inspector and two detectives to wait in a car outside Government House till Bliss left with Robert Latchford, and then he would let them run a mile out of the town before he made his arrest, so that Government House need not come into the matter. Mary remained at Headquarters till Bliss should be brought in, that she might make a thorough examination of him.

The arrest was made; the parson protested loudly that he was not James Quintilian Bliss, the absconding financier, but that he was Mr. Wilkinson, a clergyman. But when he was brought into the office Mary could examine him more closely, and she was surer than ever that he was James Q. Bliss, and he was charged and removed to a cell.

Harding invited Barradine to dine at Fair View, and the Chief of Police himself drove out to Paragon to examine the belongings of the black-bearded parson. He dined there with the Latchfords, who were deeply annoyed that the impudent Bliss has been taken from them before they had learnt who he was and knocked, as they phrased it, the stuffing out of him for ruining their father. Later he came across to Fair View to tell Mary that in the false bottom of the parson's trunk they had found thirty thousand pounds in Bearer securities, and eight bottles of hair-dye in the trunk itself, and that the Bearer securities fairly settled the matter.

Barradine agreed with him; he said he did not believe that even the Mr. Wilkinson, the clergyman mentioned by Wordsworth, had as much money as that.


CHAPTER XXV
An Accident

MARY and Barradine were not detained on the island long. By using Air Lines, the detectives who came to fetch Bliss back to London reached the island three days before the next steamer left for England, and all the while Bliss had been putting forth a tow-coloured beard, three-quarters of an inch of it at least. The formalities were ready to be gone through; they went through them; Barradine and Mary caught the steamer; Bliss and the detectives caught it too.

When Barradine arrived at the office the morning after his arrival in London, he found that Miss Barber and the staff had handled competently the business that had come in during his absence—the discomfiture of a not very capable blackmailer, and the rescue of the silly daughter of a Nottingham lace manufacturer from a shady suitor, interested only in her father's money.

Barradine had worked out formulæ for handling such cases; the staff had only to apply them intelligently, and he had chosen it for its intelligence.

It was not till the fifth morning after his return that a really serious piece of work was offered to him. Miss Barber rang through that a Mr. John Tugwell wished to consult him, and Barradine told her to bring him in.

He was acquainted with Mr. John Tugwell, slightly.

Miss Barber brought him in, and Barradine observed that the ingenuous and plump and contented young man he had met, had grown thin and careworn and much older than he should have grown in the time that had elapsed since that meeting, and he remembered that he was in some way concerned with the accident which had happened to Pamela Denning.

At the sight of Barradine, Tugwell stopped short and said, "Oh, I didn't know you ran this show!"

There was something rather tactless in his tone.

Barradine ignored it; he said, "I thought all London knew that I ran it."

Tugwell hesitated; then he said, "Oh, well——" and he sagged down in the client's chair, and seemed to have forgotten why he had come.

Barradine gave him a couple of minutes to settle; then he said gently, "You came to consult me?"

Tugwell pulled himself together; he said wearily, "I did, and I may as well. You know about Pamela Denning—the accident that happened to her."

"I know that her car went over a cliff; but I don't know any particulars. What were they?"

"But that's just it! It was her car that went over the cliff, but it wasn't her. You've got it in one! She wasn't in it. And I can't get the police to see it and go into what really happened."

Barradine was backing the police. But he pulled a note-pad towards him and said, "You'd better tell me all about it, and I'll see whether I can help you."

Tugwell sat upright and looked a trifle less dispirited: "Well, it was like this," he said. "Miss Denning left London one Friday night to spend a week-end in the country without telling anyone where she was going. She was like that, you know—very independent. And when the tide went out on the Sunday morning her Siddeley Sports Model was uncovered at the foot of the cliffs beyond Saxbridge. I went down at once—I—well I was interested in her—and I found that everyone took it for granted that she'd had an accident.

"I didn't think it likely, for she was an absolutely first-class driver, and when I saw the cliff and the car-tracks, I was sure that she hadn't. Only an utterly careless ass could have driven over the edge of the cliff as that car had been driven. But I couldn't get the police to see it. There was a pig-headed old Superintendent, who'd made up his mind that it was an accident, and he wouldn't let any one think even that it could be anything else."

"They're often like that," said Barradine sympathetically.

"At last they told me that they knew exactly what happened to people who were drowned just above Saxbridge, and in two days she would come ashore somewhere about a mile below Salchester. But she didn't come ashore in two days, and she hasn't come ashore and she never will come ashore, because she hasn't been in the sea to come ashore!" His voice rose to a wail. "And then old Pilkington found that she owed a lot of money, and he decided that she had committed suicide. Pamela! As if she'd worry about her creditors! Any worrying that was to be done, she'd let them do—all the time. I told him that he was a silly old goat, and offered five hundred pounds' reward for information about what had happened to her. But not a soul has come forward with any."

He was silent, and he looked as if he could easily burst into tears, and Barradine was very sorry for him. The only actual fact that was against the theory of accident was that the body had not come to the surface below Salchester. But then, a body in the sea——

"But what do you think did happen to Miss Denning?" said Barradine.

"Foul play!" said Tugwell confidently. "If she's dead, she has been murdered."

"But have you got any real reasons for thinking so?"

"Well, she certainly expected to come back; she was fully engaged for the next week. Also, she'd been talking a bit mysteriously about how she was going to get a packet of money that would clear off all her debts. But it's more a hunch I've got than actual facts. At least it's stronger than a hunch. I want the business gone into as the police ought to have gone into it, and I'm willing to pay for it. I tell you, I know it wasn't an accident!"

"All the trails will be cold," said Barradine.

"I know they will."

Barradine looked at him thoughtfully and tapped on his desk, considering. Then he said, "Well, before I take it on, I must be pretty sure that I can be of some use to you. I'll think it over and let you know."

"You can be of use to me all right," said Tugwell rather desperately. "All I want is to know that everything has been done that could be done."

"Well, leave your telephone number, and I'll let you know at four o'clock," said Barradine.

Tugwell went, and he looked very miserable. Barradine hoped that he would be able to find a way of helping him, but he did not think it likely.

He must have more information before he decided to give the rein to his inclination to take the job on, and it was to hand. Half an hour later he took a taxi to Grosvenor House to lunch with Mary Fearn.

She came in very good spirits, because she had just learnt that her claim to the £1,500 reward for bringing about the capture of James Q. Bliss, had been admitted, and she would get the sum in full.

"So you see how wise you were not to try to prevent me from going," she added.

"I've been seeing that—distinctly—ever since I didn't try," he said dryly. "But I want your advice about taking on a piece of work. What do you know about Pamela Denning and Tugwell?"

Mary knitted her brow thoughtfully and said slowly, "Well, I know that she was the worst piece of luck poor Tuggy ever had. She was just the Queen of gold-diggers, and he was the answer to her maiden prayer. He was infatuated, and he was slow. She was a bit swifter than the wind. But I noticed that wherever Pam went and at whatever speed, Tuggy managed to get there at just about the same time. Of course everyone laughed at his infatuation: it was just hopeless. But Pam, who, for all that angel face of hers, was as hard as she was wilful, exploited it to the limit. It would have been the same with any one; all she knew was that she had come into the world to have a good time, and she did not care who paid for it, or how little they got for their money. She took Tuggy's presents, his money, his meals, his shows, his running about to do things for her, all his life in fact, and except the privilege of paying for her amusement with swifter people, gave him nothing. The one good thing she did for him was to keep on refusing to marry him—except, of course, falling over that cliff."

"Not what you'd call a really nice girl. And what do you think about that fall?" said Barradine.

"I don't know what to think. Poor Tuggy is so certain that there was no accident, and that she wasn't in the car when it went over the cliff, and of course she did go away without letting any one know where she was going, and she was a very good and careful driver. Besides, her body has certainly not come to the top."

"Then there's that hunch of his. He struck me as being exactly the kind of innocent whose hunches should be attended to—the kind who are on the psychic side, I mean, and he wants me to try to get to the bottom of the business for him," said Barradine.

"Do you think you can?"

"I doubt it. The trail's cold."

"For goodness' sake have a shot at it if there's a glimmer of a chance!" she said quickly. "Poor Tuggy is taking it so hard, and we're all so sorry for him now. I believe he'd be much better if you made it clear that it was an accident after all."

"You can't think of anyone who might have had a reason for bumping her off?"

"Not a soul—though, mind you, she knew some bad eggs—attracted them, I think. Of course I wouldn't put a spot of blackmail past her, and that's always dangerous."

"Well, since you approve of it, I'll take it on," he said gracefully.

"Oh, I do!" she said.

At four o'clock therefore he rang Tugwell up and told him that he would do his best to get to the bottom of Pamela Denning's disappearance.

Tugwell was delighted; his doubts of Barradine's capacity seemed to have wholly vanished; he told him that he did not mind if it cost him twenty thousand pounds, if only he learnt the truth, and then he asked him when he was going to begin.

"I shall drive down to Saxbridge directly after breakfast to-morrow morning," said Barradine. "The trail's cold enough. I don't want it to get any colder."

"Look here," said Tugwell rather breathlessly, "can I come with you?"

Barradine hesitated: it looked to be an affair which might take a long time, and once he allowed Tugwell to take part in it, he could see no way of not allowing him to go on taking part in it, and in his misery he promised to be a depressing companion. Of course he would be useful: he had many details at his fingers' ends and knew the ground. But what decided Barradine to allow him to come with him was the thought that it would probably be good for him; action should take him out of himself.

"Right," he said. "Come along to my flat at half-past ten to-morrow—seventeen, Escorial Mansions, Knightsbridge—and we'll drive down. Bring any photographs of Miss Denning you have. They should be useful."

"I will. Thanks very much indeed," said Tugwell in a tone of immense thankfulness.

At half-past ten he was at the flat with his suit-case, and Barradine thought that he already looked a little brighter at the prospect of actually doing something in the matter, and he was glad that he had let him come. Taking Mulliner to valet them, they started.

They did not talk till they were out of London and on a broad, clear road; then Barradine said, "I should like to know more about Miss Denning's friends—plenty of bad eggs among them, I'm told."

"It never occurred to me that any of them had anything to do with it, though she was certainly uncommonly pally with wrong 'uns always. Let's see: there was Billy Hopkins, but he's in Dartmoor—cheques, you know—and then there was that poisonous Egyptian, Muley Pasha he called himself, and I always thought he started life as a donkey-driver; I wouldn't put blackmail or kidnapping past him. But he went to Vienna. Of course he may have come back, but I don't believe he has—I should have heard of it. And there was that Russian woman, the Countess Turinsk, who gave me the creeps; somebody said she was incredibly old, but voronoffed. She said that Pam was the very image of her when she was young, and Pam let her spend a packet on her whenever she was in London. But the worst of the lot was a perfectly foul Pole, Swinsky we called him, who came from Chicago; but I heard he had gone back there. It was extraordinary how Pam fell for any nasty piece of foreign work that came along—a regular disease."

He ended on a note of exasperation, an echo of earlier exasperations.

"M'm. You don't think any of these people led her into anything unlawful, and she grew afraid of the police?" said Barradine.

"You couldn't lead Pam any more than you could drive her, and she was far too cute to get outside the law," said Tugwell confidently.

"Well, I'll set the staff to make enquiries about them. They may get something. After dinner I'll take down anything you know about their haunts."

"It will make it easier," said Barradine.

They lunched at Rodbourne, and arrived at Saxbridge about an hour and a half later, and Tugwell went to the Police Station to ask whether the police had discovered any new facts. They had not. He gathered that they had not been looking for new facts, that for them the affair was closed. He told them that they were a pack of wretched slackers, as he had told them before, and came away, fuming, but leaving them once more hurt and indignant.

Barradine was exploring the town, not hopefully, for it was a sleepy-looking place and the inhabitants looked stupid. But he found a tobacconist who looked brighter than most of them and also found him ready enough to talk about the greatest local event in the last ten years. From him he learnt that the people of Saxbridge accepted the view of the police and of the jury at the inquest that it had been an accident, and Barradine thought that important and not encouraging.

And then the tobacconist said: "But mind you, sir, there was one thing I did think odd, and that was the young lady's luggage. It said in the papers she took with her clothes for the week-end. Well, that would mean at least a suit-case, and if that suit-case was too heavy to float, it ought to have been found in her car or near it, and if it wasn't too heavy to float, it ought to have come ashore—it's not like a body—but it hasn't."

"Have the police looked for it?" said Barradine.

"Not to my knowledge. Their minds were quite made up from the beginning. It's only the young gentleman from London, the friend of Miss Denning, as has had any doubts about it. I haven't myself really—only there is that suit-case."

"Yes: there certainly is that suit-case," said Barradine.

He went back to the Saxbridge Hotel and found that Tugwell had come back from the Police Station, and they drove to the point in the cliff from which the car had fallen. The rain had not washed away the tracks of the car in the turf on the verge of the cliff, and Barradine agreed with Tugwell that it would have been quite difficult for a skilful and careful driver to go over the cliff at that point.

Then they went to look at the car, and Barradine found it to be a staring yellow.

"But hang it all!" he said. "The police could have traced a conspicuous car like this every step of the way from London!"

"But they didn't," said Tugwell bitterly.

That night after dinner Barradine gathered from Tugwell and wrote down all the particulars that he could give him about Pamela Denning's friends, and he posted them to the office to facilitate the enquiries the staff were to make.

Then he questioned Tugwell about the luggage that Pamela Denning had taken with her, and Tugwell was able to tell him that it was one heavy pig-skin suit-case. He had given it to her.

It was certainly unlikely to have floated, and it should have been found in or near the car.

"I don't see that it matters," said Tugwell gloomily. "If her body hasn't come ashore, why should the suit-case?"

"But it does matter," said Barradine. "The suit-case ought to have been found. If it was not in the car, it had been left in the place where she had spent the Friday and perhaps Saturday night, and that might have been forty miles away."

"By Jove! So it might!" said Tugwell, grasping the importance of the missing suitcase.

"And that's the place we've got to find, and if these police here had made enquiries at once, when that yellow car was fresh in people's minds, they'd have been led straight to it. That's where the solution of the problem is, for why didn't the people it belongs to come forward to say that she had stayed there?"

"It might have been an hotel, and they didn't spot that it was her," said Tugwell.

"Of course. But if the police made a point of that yellow car, they'd have spotted her at once. So I don't think it was an hotel."

They were silent in frowning consideration of the matter; then Tugwell said: "I gave her that car. I have one exactly like it—the sister car."

"You have? We must have it at once and use it! A dozen people will remember a car like that for every one who remembers the driver!"

"Of course they will!" said Tugwell.

At once he rang up the garage at which he kept his cars, and gave orders that his Siddeley Sports model should be driven down at once, and when they awoke next morning, it was in the hotel garage, ready for them to use it.


CHAPTER XXVI
A Long Hunt

AFTER breakfast they set out in the yellow Sports model to try to find someone who had seen a lady driving a yellow Sports model somewhere near Saxbridge on the two days before Pamela Denning's car had been found at the bottom of the cliff.

Barradine gave particular attention to the hotels and inns and garages, especially those on the London road, at which she might have stopped for a drink or petrol. Also he questioned at length many regular users of the local roads, carriers, haulage contractors, and even doctors, and Tugwell was surprised by his faculty of inducing them to rack their memories for a girl in a yellow Sports model. What Tugwell did not notice was the trouble Barradine took to keep him from brooding on his loss, keeping his mind right off it and on their search, telling him of odd cases he had handled, making him talk about himself. Tugwell, indeed, was already looking a changed man, brighter, less careworn.

Then on the eighth day of their search, at Chaddlesdon, thirty-five miles from Saxbridge, they found the owner of a lorry, a carrier and hauler, who could "pretty nearly swear" that Tugwell's was the car he had seen a lady driving on a Friday evening about six weeks before. It was such a good car that it had impressed itself on his mind, and he had never seen one like it before, and he knew it was a Friday because Friday was the day on which he always went to Knipley, and it was just outside Knipley that he had seen the yellow car.

Barradine was of the opinion that he really had seen Pamela Denning on her way to her unknown destination.

It was a step: they had brought Pamela to Knipley—twenty-five miles from Saxbridge. There they stuck; they could find no one in Knipley who had seen her yellow car, no hotel or lodging-house at which she had stayed.

They had been searching Knipley and its neighbourhood for two days when Barradine said that he wished to consult the Saxbridge Police, and since Tugwell had established a locus standi, of sorts, in the affair, he had better introduce him to the Superintendent. The next morning therefore Tugwell went with him to the Police Station and introduced him to the Superintendent and added that he was a friend of Miss Denning and interested in her disappearance.

"Ah, yes: a sad business, m' Lord—a sad business," said the Superintendent.

"And queer," said Barradine. "I can't find out where she spent Friday night. She couldn't have fallen over the cliff on the Friday night or you'd have found the car on the Saturday and not on the Sunday. Where was she?"

"Oh, she may have slept the night fifty or sixty miles away, m' Lord," said the Superintendent a trifle airily.

"But since she was at Knipley at half-past seven, it's more likely that she stayed in the neighbourhood."

"At Knipley, was she?" said the Superintendent sharply, taken aback. "At half-past seven? Fancy that!"

"Yes. Didn't you know?" said Barradine maliciously. "But what I want to know is: Have there been any other disappearances that haven't been accounted for, from Saxbridge, or the neighbourhood? Have any other girls disappeared?"

"No: not from Saxbridge, or near. But now you come to speak of it, m' Lord, there was a girl disappeared at Ocklington about two years ago. Amy Porter, her name was, the daughter of a labourer, and the funny thing about it was that she was a cripple, and you don't expect cripples to run away exactly, do you?" he beamed on them.

"And you never found her?" said Barradine.

"Well I didn't have the handling of it. Ocklington is just over the border of the county—Knipley way. So of course it was handled by the Knipley Police. They didn't find her, and what's more they didn't find any reason why she should have run away. No young man, or trouble with relations, or money trouble, for she 'ad a good job, or wanting to go on the films, which, being a cripple, she wouldn't. A pretty girl she was, too, for we made enquiries about here, and I've got her photo. Would you like to see it?"

Barradine said that he would, and the Superintendent found it after a short search, and handed it to him.

When he had looked at it he handed it to Tugwell, who glanced at it and cried: "Why, what a likeness! It's the image of Pam!"

Barradine drew the photograph of Pamela Denning, which he was using for purposes of identification, from his pocket and compared them.

"Yes: there is a strong likeness," he said.

"Now, that's funny!" said the Superintendent.

"It's not so funny as odd," said Barradine.

They learnt from the Superintendent that Ocklington was a small village three miles beyond Knipley and twenty-eight from Saxbridge, and also he told them how to get to it. They thanked him and started.

"It's very queer that this Amy Porter should be so like Pam and both should have disappeared," said Tugwell. "But if she had something to do with Pam—was a poor cousin, or a sister on the wrong side of the blanket, I mean—it would explain what Pam was doing in this part of the country."

"It might have explained her being in it two years ago, but not her being here a month ago," said Barradine. "Did Miss Denning ever talk about this part of the country, say that she knew it?"

"Not that I remember. But then she might be keeping it dark—because of Amy Porter, you know." Tugwell suggested.

"Also she might not. There may have been no connection between her and Amy Porter—not of that kind," said Barradine, frowning thoughtfully. "Besides I can't think that she would have thought such a connection of any importance."

"Then what is your idea?" said Tugwell.

"I haven't got an idea. I haven't any facts to have an idea on," said Barradine. "But there's a queer point: you told me that that creepy Russian, Baroness Turinsk, said that Miss Denning was the image of her when she was young. Well, here's another girl who must have been the image of her when she was young. Both have disappeared."

"It is queer. But the connection's a bit thin."

"No connection's thin in detection," said Barradine sententiously. "Besides, the whole thing has become fantastic! Two pretty girls disappear and not a man can be found to account for either!"

"That is certainly rum," said Tugwell.

"At any rate it's worth a wire," said Barradine.

They reached Knipley in thirty-five minutes, and from there he sent a wire to the office. It ran:


CONCENTRATE ON TURINSK AND WIRE RESULTS.


They drove on, and from the top of a hill they looked down on Ocklington in the valley below. Barradine stopped the car.

"Let's take a look at the houses of the gentry round about, in case she didn't stay in the village," he said. "Why, there don't seem to be any."

"There's a house on the right a bit down the hill—I can see it through the trees," said Tugwell.

He drove on, and two hundred yards down the hill they came to a fine example of romantic Victorian architecture, a long, red-brick, two-storey house, battlemented, with a turret at each of the four corners, a rather taller central tower, and a Norman porch of the period—1870. It was labelled (on the gate-posts) The Towers.

Barradine told him to stop, and they looked at it through the big iron gates. It was empty and had been empty for years, to judge from the wild and over-grown garden and moss-covered drive and the way the creepers grew over some of the windows.

"Built by some retired business man of Wardour Street tastes in the 'seventies," said Barradine. "She didn't stay the night there. No one has—for years."

They drove on to the village and stopped at the little inn, the Cart and Horses. Bread and cheese and beer was all it had to offer, and over this lunch in the taproom the landlord, a stout, rubicund and sociable soul, drank a pint and chatted with them. Presently Barradine showed him Pamela Denning's photograph and asked him if he had ever seen that young lady.

He looked at it: then he scratched his head and said: "But that ain't no young lady. That's Amy Porter dressed swell."

It was not easy to persuade him that it was not; but it was a good introduction to the subject, and they had from him the full story of the disappearance of Amy Porter.

He ended by saying: "Spirited away, she were—fair spirited away."

The village had plainly no explanation of the disappearance; it was no less at a loss than the police. Then Barradine asked him if there were many gentry in the neighbourhood.

"No, sir: it isn't a neighbourhood for gentry, so to speak. There aren't half a dozen fam'blies living within three miles, there aren't."

Barradine asked him the names of them. Tugwell recognised none of them; Pamela Denning had never mentioned the name of one of them—to him.

Moreover, he had not seen any yellow car driven by a lady, that he could remember, neither had his wife, nor his daughter, nor his ostler-mechanic.

Ocklington was a disappointment.

They spent the rest of the day hunting the country round it for someone who had seen Pamela Denning in her yellow car; again they had no luck, and they returned to their hotel disgruntled.

They were in the Saloon Bar, drinking a glass of sherry before dinner, when the Saxbridge telegraph boy brought a wire for Barradine, a wire from the office.

He glanced at it and said: "The dossier of the Turinsk. They've been pretty quick. Let's see——"

And he read out:


"RUSSIAN MILLIONAIRE... OVER SEVENTY... BEST CIRCLES... HEAVY DRINKER COCKTAILS... CRAZY ABOUT REJUVENATION... VORONOFFED TWICE... REPUTATION BAD... LONDON, SAVILE HOTEL... COUNTRY, THE TOWERS, OCKLINGTON."


"Well, I'll be hanged!" he added as he grasped fully the last words.

"We were pretty near to something," said Tugwell.

"We were merely the length of the garden path from the house where Miss Denning spent that Friday night," said Barradine confidently.

"Do you think so?"

"I'm sure of it."

"But hang it! We decided that no one had spent the night there for years!" Tugwell protested.

"Yes: without having got the facts. But it does look as if no one had stayed in it for a long time," said Barradine, weakening a little. "But we'll make sure directly after breakfast tomorrow."

Tugwell was immensely excited—veritably on tenterhooks; he slept very little; he thought that Barradine would never finish his breakfast; seeing his condition, Barradine insisted on driving, and the car seemed to crawl.

But they were in the Bar of the Cart and Horses at a few minutes past eleven, and the landlord filled their glasses and his own mug.


CHAPTER XXVII
The Clean Windows

THEN Barradine said to the landlord: "When I asked you about gentry yesterday you never told me about the people at The Towers."

"Them gentry, m' Lord! Why, they was foreigners!" said the landlord, honestly English.

"I'm told that the lady is a Baroness," said Barradine.

"Ah, yes: one o' them foreign Baronesses and acting as such. Gentry behaves as gentry. But she was never no use to Ocklington, she wasn't. Why, we never knew when she was down at The Towers an' when she wasn't. Talk about keeping yourself to yourself! Why, there was never nothing like it: she even got her bread from 'ull. Everything come from 'ull. I think if her servants wanted a quick 'un they must a gone to 'ull to git it. The only time one of them came in 'ere, 'e arsked for vodky. Why even the workmen who did the repairs before she come 'ere, four year come Michaelmas, come from 'ull."

"Do you mean to tell me that that garden has only been neglected for four years?" said Barradine.

"No, m' Lord: that's a good ten years neglect, that is. The Baroness never bothered to do nothing to the garding—being a foreigner, I suppose," said the landlord. He coughed, assumed a darkling air, lowered his voice, and added: "That's 'ow we come to know as the 'ouse 'as got itself 'aunted."

"Haunted?" said Barradine.

"'Aunted it surely is, m' Lord. It's like this, you see: that garding is the best place for birds' nestses for miles round, and a bit over two munce ago—the beginning of May it were—my young nephew, Dick Sprott, and another boy, a friend of 'is, Jack Pittaway, was birdsnestin' in that garding. And they were 'untin' the shrubs at the back of the 'ouse, when Dick sees an 'orrible face, all teeth and 'air, grinning down at 'im, from the nursery winder—leastways it has bars across it like the gentry's nurseries 'ave—an' then Jack Pittaway sees it, and they ups and outs for 'ome, and I'll lay odds they did a record to the village. They busts in 'ere, an' never in my life did I see boys a quarter so scared. They seed it all right, and a devil's face it were! That's what that 'ouse 'as got 'aunted with."

So impressive was he that there was a pause; then Barradine said, "But didn't anybody go to the house to see what it was?"

"Go to that 'ouse, m' Lord? Into it?"

"Yes."

"No, m' Lord. Nobody in this village 'as gone into that 'ouse, nor never will!"

From his tone he seemed as deeply offended as surprised by the suggestion.

"Oh, well—two boys—they might have imagined anything was looking at them through those dirty windows," said Barradine.

And then he questioned the landlord, carelessly enough, but at length, about the foreigners at The Towers, for how long had they occupied it four years before? Had they ever come back? Had they been back in it two years before? Had they been in it lately?

"They was 'ere for a good three months to begin with, an' they was certainly 'ere for a time two years ago. But about lately, I can't say. They comes so suddenlike and secret, we never know when they're at The Towers an' when they're not."

"So they might have been back at The Towers for days at a time without any one in the village knowing that they were there," said Barradine.

"They might that," said the landlord.

They finished their drinks and went back to the car.

"Before we go out into the country to hunt for that yellow car I should like to take a look at The Towers," said Barradine. "If the Baroness was down a month ago, there should surely be some signs of it."

"Right," said Tugwell, and he set the car going up the hill.

Barradine opened the big, iron gates. They were stiff, but they did not stick. Tugwell drove the car in, and Barradine left the gates open, in case it seemed advisable to leave quickly. They walked round the house, looking into each room through the dirty windows. Every room was empty of furniture, and the dust lay thick on the floors. It might have been years since any one had stayed in the house.

In the left-hand wall, on the first floor, was the barred window at which the hairy ghost had appeared.

"We may as well see if that ghost is still in residence," said Barradine.

He picked up a handful of gravel and threw it at the window. It rattled against it and fell back; no hairy face came to look down at them. They looked into the garage; there were no car-tracks on the dusty floor.

"There does not seem to have been any one here for at least two years," said Barradine at last with conviction but with no satisfaction.

They returned to the car and drove out of the garden and Barradine shut the iron gates. They decided to search the district to the south. Barradine could see no hope of success; the trail was too cold. He was somewhat consoled by the thought that the hunt was doing Tugwell a world of good; he had been taken out of himself in a great deal of fresh air, and he was putting on weight and cheerfulness. He had better go on searching a while longer.

They had gone a little more than a mile, when Tugwell said, "I wonder why all the bottom windows were dirty and the top ones clean.

"What!" said Barradine loudly.

"Didn't you notice? I thought it rather rum," said Tugwell.

"I must be going blind! Let's get back!" said Barradine sharply.

They went back, and Barradine again left the iron gates open. Also he took a heavy spanner from the tool-box.

"In case the ghost was lying low," he said.

They went to the back of the house, and with the straight blade of a stout clasp knife he pushed back the fastening of the small window of a pantry and raised the sash, and they climbed in. Barradine opened the pantry door and they listened.

Not a sound.

Moving slowly and very quietly, they came into the front of the house.

In the dust of the dimly lit hall and the uncarpeted stairs were the footprints of half a dozen people—men's footprints, women's footprints.

"These are too clear to be two years old; the edges haven't fallen in at all," said Barradine.

They went up the stairs. Half way up the first flight Tugwell stopped short.

In a hushed, troubled voice he said, "There's something damned queer about this house!"

"Emptiness and damp and shut windows," said Barradine.

And then he caught the queerness himself; there was something more.

He took it that that psychic sensitiveness he had suspected in Tugwell had been more quickly aware of it. It was queer and indefinite; but he knew that he would not be surprised if the hairy-faced ghost came to the head of the stairs and down them, and he could not laugh at himself in that dusk.

They came to the top of the stairs into a corridor which ran the length of the house, and there was next to no dust—no more at least than could be accounted for by its not having been swept for two or three weeks. They stopped short and listened again, and again heard nothing but their own breathing.

Barradine opened the first door on the right, and they looked into a fully furnished sitting-room.

"They lived on this floor and left the bottom of the house unfurnished and unswept, so that any prying villager would not dream they were in it," said Barradine.

"It looks like it," said Tugwell, and his teeth chattered faintly.

"What's the matter?" said Barradine.

"Hanged if I know! This place is beastly!" said Tugwell, and he looked oppressed and distressed.

"It's certainly devilish creepy," said Barradine, and he did not know why they were whispering in an empty house.

They looked into four more rooms, all bedrooms—two had been occupied by men and two by women. It was odd, but except for the film of dust which covered everything, they might have been still in use; garments lay on chairs; a pot of skin food was open, its lid lying beside it; on all the beds were folded pyjamas.

The room at the end of the corridor was a well furnished kitchen; by the sink stood dirty saucepans, dishes, plates, glasses, which had been waiting to be washed for weeks.

As Barradine looked round it his puzzled frown grew deeper: "There's something devilish queer about this!" he said. "They must have left, all of them, in no end of a hurry. Why?"

Tugwell shook his head; he was looking even more oppressed.

The door of the next room was ajar. It was bare, unfurnished, uncarpeted; the window was heavily barred—the window from which the ghost had looked down on the birds-nesting boys. In the left-hand corner was a heap of hay; beside it, a broken chain hung from a hasp in the wall; a faint, musky smell hung on the air.

"The lair of the ghost! The boys were right," said Barradine. Then he saw the broken chain and added sharply: "And the ghost broke loose!"

"The beast, you mean!" snapped Tugwell.

"What beast?" said Barradine, and on the words he stepped to the next door.

It was locked. But the key was on the outside. He turned it, opened the door, said loudly: "The devil!" and stood still on the threshold.

Over his shoulder Tugwell looked into a room fitted up as an operating theatre; on the operating table lay two women, side by side; the white-aproned surgeon, black-haired, black-bearded, lay against the opposite wall; two feet from him, sprawled on its face, lay a great ape.

The floor was covered with the glass of smashed bottles which had crashed down from a small table sent flying.

There was a stench.

"Good God! What happened? Who are they?" he cried.

Barradine thrust him back, slammed the door, turned the key, put it in his pocket.

"They're Pamela Denning and the Countess Turinsk. There's no need to look. You must not look!"

Tugwell leant against the wall; he was pale and sick. He stammered: "B-B-But I d-d-don't understand. What were they doing?"

"It's plain enough," said Barradine. "The ape explains it all. Voronoff stuff. The surgeon, whoever he was, doing a gland transference operation. I'd half a notion that we were up against something of the kind when I learnt that Amy Porter was the image of Miss Denning and both of them were the image of the Countess Turinsk, a millionairess crazy on rejuvenation. She'd probably persuaded Miss Denning to sell her some of her glands."

"She wouldn't want much persuading if the price was good," said Tugwell rather bitterly. "But where does the ape come in?"

"My guess is that there was to be a second operation: first the human glands, some gland, the removal of which would be fatal, or they wouldn't have tried to destroy the yellow car at Saxbridge. But of course Miss Denning did not know of that; she had only sold glands which she didn't want, and which could have been removed with very little danger."

"The swine!" growled Tugwell.

"They were," said Barradine. "The ape would be used for a second operation—the ape glands to reinforce the human glands. But she broke her chain and burst in on the first operation when the women were already under, smashed the bottle of anaesthetic, filled the room with the vapour, and was overcome by it, while she was throttling the surgeon, and finished off by it along with the other three. If it hadn't been for that ape we should never have found Miss Denning or a trace of her; she'd have been buried in the garden—where you'll find the body of Amy Porter. At least that's my guess."

"You're right," said Tugwell. "Poor Pam—poor Pam."

"She did not suffer," said Barradine. "She knew nothing—she felt nothing—she was under the anaesthetic before the ape burst in."


CHAPTER XXVIII
Loose Ends and an Opal

TUGWELL groaned again; there was a silence, then he said, "But who locked this door on the outside?"

"The anaesthetist—obviously. The surgeon must have had an assistant for an operation like that," said Barradine. "He bolted from the ape."

"And locked the other three in with it?"

"Lost his nerve, I expect," said Barradine.

"The swine!" said Tugwell.

Then he pulled himself together, and added, "The next thing is the police, I suppose."

"I was thinking not," said Barradine slowly. "We've just done the pig-headed country brutes' work for them, and I'm in favour of giving them a jolt that will encourage them to do it themselves next time. I'm for giving this business straight to the Press, the Daily Wire for choice. It will make no end of a fuss about its very own murder."

"And that's what Pam would have loved," said Tugwell.

"I'll telephone from Knipley."

They did not go at once; they explored the floor above and found one bedroom that had been occupied, evidently by a servant. Barradine dismissed him with the words: "Bolted with the anaesthetist."

They went downstairs, fastened the pantry window, let themselves out of the front door, and confidently left the house to keep its gruesome secret. They drove to Knipley, and in twenty minutes Barradine had the Editor of the Daily Wire on the telephone. It was indeed a scoop, and he was promised full credit for his discovery. A star reporter and the chief photographer were despatched to the Chreston aerodrome, twenty miles away, and Barradine and Tugwell met them at The Towers at a quarter to five, and they got to their work and finished it before peaceful Ocklington even knew that they had arrived, and they were off back to the aerodrome in time to get to the office of the Daily Wire by nine o'clock.

Barradine and Tugwell went back to their hotel for the night, and Tugwell, vengeful and burning to say a few words about accident to the police when they arrived at The Towers, rose before the lark and the arrival of the Daily Wire in those parts, and bucketed off to Ocklington.

Early as he arrived the reporters and photographers of the evening papers and the Press agencies, who had driven through the night, were before him, and The Towers was in a lively bustle.

Still vengeful, Tugwell poured into sympathetic ears the story of the pig-headedness of the Saxbridge police, and then he suggested that the Press should further demonstrate its greater alertness by finding the body of Amy Porter, which was, according to Barradine, buried in the garden. The Press accepted the suggestion with enthusiasm; it had The Towers and the now awaking Ocklington to itself. The awakened villagers were bribed to dig; the Evening News picked one likely spot, the Star another, the Evening Standard a third, and three groups of villagers dug away.

At nine o'clock curious girl motorists, who hurried over their breakfasts, began to arrive; then, informed by the Daily Wire, came the Knipley police and tried to take over, but the Press fairly held its own. Then Barradine came, and while he was being photographed the Star digging party found the skeleton of a young woman, who had been buried in quicklime at the foot of a monkey-puzzle tree in the big shrubbery at the back of the house.

And then at the right moment came the Chief Constable and the Superintendent of the Saxbridge police, and Tugwell was able to relieve his feelings. He did so at length, and pleased reporters made verbatim reports of the more pregnant parts of his speech.

The coming of the Chief Constable enabled the police to take charge of the affair, and at Barradine's suggestion—they did not like him for having wiped their eye, but they listened to him as to an oracle—they put in train a search for the anaesthetist who fled. Barradine did not think that they would find him, and he proved right; but he thought that they had better look for him, for he felt that such anaesthetists are better under lock and key. They started to look for him too late.

The Ocklington doctor identified the skeleton of the young woman, which the Star had dug up, as that of Amy Porter, by its twisted foot, and Barradine was able to drive back to London that afternoon, feeling that he had quite cleared up the mystery, and with Tugwell's cheque for five hundred pounds for having done so in his pocket. Tugwell stayed behind to make arrangements for the funerals. Neither Pamela Denning nor the Countess seemed to have any kin.

Finding himself oddly unquiet at not having seen Mary Fearn for days, Barradine rang her up and invited her to dine and dance with him at Grosvenor House, and she came.

Her first words were, "I really think I shall have to accept your offer to join your Agency. You seem to get not only plenty of interest and fresh air out of it, but also lots of glory. Your unrecognisable picture is in every paper, and you're one of England's forty-hour heroes. The drawback is that you would always be expecting me to marry into it, and you might take advantage of your position as one of those brutal employers, to stop my week's wages if I didn't."

"Well, as you'll marry into it anyhow, you may as well join it and get used to it," said Barradine.

"Do you think I shall marry into it?" she said, looking at him earnestly.

"Yes: but I'm not at all sure."

"And of course if I did marry into it, there'd no longer be any need for me to provide for myself."

"There would not."

"Then all I've got to do now is to collect my dowry."

"What do you mean?"

"I never think that a woman ought to marry nowadays without bringing some money of her own into the matter," she said, and there was a mischievous glint in her eye which he did not like, and he guessed she was presenting a reason, quite specious, for some enterprise she had in mind, of which he would certainly disapprove.

"You haven't got to do anything of the kind. There is enough to run to decent settlements, and you must have at least five thousand already."

"I don't think that's enough."

Barradine had learnt the futility of arguing with her about methods of making money, or rather of trying to argue her out of some method of making money, and he said in resigned accents, "Well, I hope that it doesn't mean that you'll be spending what should have been our honeymoon in prison."

"How could I?" she said. "We haven't fixed the date of our wedding. In fact we haven't decided definitely to get married yet. No, I'm only going to look round."

They gave their mind to the meal.

Then she said, "I'm going to Carnforth Grange for the week-end. Are you?"

"Argyropoulo's place?"

"Yes."

"I wasn't. But if you are, I will. I have a standing invitation—a pressing standing invitation. The good fellow is climbing with a superb fury. He must have nearly burst with joy when you accepted. But I hope this isn't one of the places where you're going to look round."

"It's the kind of place where one should look round. He is supposed to be stiff with money," she said thoughtfully.

"Aren't you afraid of his recognising you? Has he never said, 'I'm sure I've met you somewhere before'?"

"Gracious, no! I'm not a ten-pound note. Besides I was wearing my green eyes during our short, but profitable, acquaintance. He is no use at humans, only at money."

"That sounds true," said Barradine. "Well. I'll call for you at ten on Friday. We shall get there in time for dinner, unless we have more punctures than our fair share."

"Thanks. I should like that," she said.

Barradine rang up Sir Constantine Argyropoulo and accepted his standing invitation for the following week-end and Sir Constantine was delighted. On the Friday Barradine found Mary ready to start at ten o'clock, and taking Poppet with them, they had a pleasant drive up to Carnforth Grange, and though it was a long drive, they reached it in time to dress for dinner.

They found the house party the typical house party of the wealthy climber who has not reached the peaks, second-rate in fact and uncommonly rich in those elderly ladies who often said of Mary Fearn, "I can't quite make Mary Fearn out," without pausing to consider that there was no reason why they should. Also they often said of Poppet that he was the kind of dog Mary Fearn would have—with an accent on the would. Yet all that could really be urged against Mary and Poppet was that they always seemed to enjoy good spirits and to have no perceptible use for elderly maidens and dowagers of good blood.

The suggestion of those dowagers that Poppet should always be muzzled was unreasonable; no one could expect a vital, wire-haired fox terrier, whose left eye looked out of a black patch, not to nip the hind-quarters of obese pekes. Besides, if he had been muzzled how could he have retrieved Mary's golf balls, lost in the rough, an accomplishment which had made him famous, with photograph, both in the Prattler and in Rural Life.

The wonder of some of the members of the house party of the long and leathery, but liquid-eyed, Levantine, Sir Constantine Argyropoulo, that Mary and Poppet and the Earl of Barradine and Sharples should also be members of it, was more reasonable. Sir Constantine had but lately emerged, with knighthood, from the depths of finance, and was no further advanced in his ascent than the foothills of Society, but Mary and Poppet and Barradine were always to be found in the house parties on its highest peaks.

Yet the members of the house party might have guessed that Mary was at Carnforth Grange because Barradine was also one of the house party, had he not been young, about thirty, and Mary was as well known for her aloofness from young men as Poppet was for his retrieval of lost balls; she said that they never did anything, except play games, and could only talk about what they were going to do, but she preferred men who had done things. She was, therefore, not popular with young men, and that was of no importance. Moreover, if they had guessed that Mary was there because Barradine was, they would have guessed that Barradine was there because Mary was, and that would have been very satisfactory. But they only wondered.

It was at dinner that night that the talk turned on mascots. Lady Monnington began it; then a young explorer, Grimshaw, told them about the amulets of the mountain tribes of New Guinea, among whom he had lately done ten months' very useful work, all the while in considerable peril. That was why he had been invited to Carnforth Grange; his name was in everyone's newspaper. Other people told of amulets and the luck they had brought other people, and Sir Constantine began to fidget. Mary, who was sitting on his left, began to wonder what was the matter with him, for when Sir Constantine, very much a child of Nature, fidgeted he fidgeted. She was beginning to think that he had been bitten.

She was wrong; it was his nature—emulously Levantine. Always he suffered from the itch to make himself valued; he could not bear any one to be in any way better or have anything better than himself. Some people indeed said that he was a lying boaster. They were right. Now he did not pause to consider the foolishness of frankness, as he would have done had it been a matter of business; the temptation was excruciating. He had never been exposed to it before. Amulets! These people talk about amulets! What did they know about amulets?

His fingers opened and shut; his large, liquid, shifty eyes rolled about in his yellow, leathery face; he ground his teeth. No! It could not be borne!

"Amulets? But you do not know about amulets! Not a thing!" he cried fiercely, in rich and ringing accents. "I will show you an amulet—an amulet which works!"

Most of the guests were a little taken aback by his passionate vehemence, but not much. They knew him to be emotional. They watched him calmly as he thrust a long yellow finger down his long yellow neck and scrabbled about and drew up a bit of chain and then at the end of the chain a stone that shone and sparkled fiercely red.


CHAPTER XXIX
The Bishop's Opal

"THERE!" he cried. "A bishop's amulet! One of the amulets the early Christian Bishops got into trouble about. Yes! In the fourth century and again in the eighth. They plastered themselves with amulets. Yes. And the Popes rebuked them and forbade it. I learnt all about it at the British Museum. And look at it! Yes: look at it! Lucky? A million and a half pounds it brought me. Pounds! Not francs! Not marks! Pounds!"

His guests looked at it.

Flushed purple with enthusiasm, he unclasped it from the chain and handed it to Mary. It was the finest opal she had ever seen, as large as a walnut and of a wonderful, rich, shifting red, the pendant of a dream, and she was not afraid of opals: born in October, the opal was her stone.

"It is a beauty," she said in a rather hushed voice.

Lady Monnington, the expert in mascots, broke in shrilly: "Oh, but Sir Constantine: a fiery opal! You're not going to tell us that a fiery opal ever brought any one any luck. Why the ordinary opal is bad enough—but the fiery opal! It's the most evil stone there is!"

Sir Constantine looked at her and scowled; his liquid eyes hardened; he could ill brook contradiction outside business; a man of his wealth, he felt and strongly, should not be contradicted. In business he was used to contradiction—lots of it.

"Is that so?" he almost snarled. "But you know everything. Yes?" And he stuck out his long, yellow forefinger and wagged it at her. "But you do not know that it is the birthday. Yes. I will tell you that no opal hurts any one who was born in October. Never. No. It does them good. Yes. I was born in October." His harsh voice softened and he went on: "But to do good this red one must be stolen. Every time a red one must be stolen. The monks knew; it was the legend. Give it. No good!" He threw out his arms. "Buy it. No good!" He threw out his arms. "Steal it. Ah!" He threw out his arms yet more widely.

Few would have expected it of them, but some of his guests, Mary and Barradine among them, blinked lightly, and Lord Monnington broke in with a certain tartness, for it struck him that once more his wife had dragged him to a house on the foothills of Society in which a Liberal Peer (Industrial, but staunch) should hardly be found.

"And may I ask, Sir Constantine, how you became possessed of this—er—remarkable stone?"

And he gave his wife a look that made her say to herself, with painful foreboding: "I'm going to have trouble with Tubby again!"

Mary dotted the "i" by saying in a tone of eager interest, "Yes, Sir Constantine, how did you get the opal?"

Sir Constantine coughed sharply as he remembered that Lord Monnington stood for the moral side of English Politics, and gone was the itch to make himself valued; gone his anger at Lady Monnington's slur on his opal.

Suavity itself, he said smoothly, "It was during my travels—when—yes—I was young. I found it in a monastery in Thessaly. The monks knew the legend, and they knew the amulet was older than the monastery. They were proud of it. But they did not think it of great value. I was not rich in those days; but I had enough money to buy it from them. Yes."

His guests kept their faces straight, but they did not believe a word of it: "Of course he had stolen the opal!"

They were wrong in not believing a word of it: two details were true; he had travelled when young, but after he had found the opal, and he had not been rich; novices in monasteries are seldom rich.

Lord Monnington opened his mouth to speak, and shut it again. But again he looked at Lady Monnington, and again she said to herself: "I'm going to have trouble with Tubby again!"

She said aloud, quickly: "That's very interesting what you say about fiery opals never injuring those who are born in October, Sir Constantine."

"Never," said Sir Constantine firmly, almost vehemently, and they were off the thin ice.

Mary passed the opal to the man on her right, and her eyes kept straying to it as it went round the table; once they strayed to the face of Sir Constantine: there was an incongruity. It was not the right kind of face for the possessor of that lovely stone—too yellow and leathery.

The guests seemed to be about evenly divided into those who believed in the opal's luck-bringing properties and those who did not. Among the latter, and vehement, was Lord Monnington. It seemed to him that by disbelieving he was vindicating honesty. His was the political mind; this was Liberal reasoning.

When the ladies went into the drawing-room, nicely set with bridge tables, after dinner, Mary walked straight through it and through one of the long windows on to the narrow terrace from the edge of which the ground ran down in a wooded slope so steep as to be almost a cliff, and in five minutes Barradine left the dining-room by a like window and joined her. They did not linger on the terrace; Mary had no desire to play bridge with Sir Constantine, who would, she felt, insist on being her partner, and in spite of the opal and his good cards, would loose her a great deal more than a player of her quality should lose. Indeed, she did not wish to play bridge at all on that lovely night with half the harvest moon so bright, and when the rest of the men came into the drawing-room and bridge, she and Barradine were settled, quite happily, in a well-cushioned summer-house in the wood above the Grange, enjoying an even finer view than that from the terrace in front of the dining-room and drawing-room—when they could spare the time to glance at it. Somehow—neither knew exactly how—they had decided to get married, and it was very nice.

But presently they settled back in the chair and faced the view, and then Mary's mind turned to the astonishing luck of their host and the amulet that had brought it to him, and she said: "That opal of Sir Constantine's? Do you believe that it was that that brought him his million and a half?"

"Call it three-quarters of a million," said Barradine firmly. "Don't ask me if I believe in that opal. I don't know. And you'll find that most people who study luck, don't know either."

"Grimshaw seemed to believe in it."

"Oh, those people who knock about the ends of the world among wild savages see such strange things," said Barradine.

"I'm sure that opal would be the very thing for a business like your Agency—a queer kind of business with such a lot of hunches and intuition in it. Why, I believe that if you had that opal, in a year you'd be doing as big a business as Scotland Yard itself."

"No, I shouldn't. My birthday's in August."

"I'm afraid it's too late to change that now," she said in a tone of regret. "But one thing I do believe, and that is that Sir Constantine has no right whatever to that opal."

"Oh, yes: he has—a prescriptive right."

"Not if he stole it."

"If he stole it when he was young, he must have had it at least twenty years, and I fancy, though I don't know, that that would give him a prescriptive right to it," said Barradine.

"The trying thing is that it has given him good luck in robbing widows and orphans," she said thoughtfully.

"Well, that's exactly what a fiery opal would do if Lady Monnington's right about them."

"But it ought to be stopped."

"Of course it ought to be stopped," said Barradine. "But it has the firm support of the Law, and no one can stop it. But I like the way old Monnington cut the ugly Greek gun-runner short in the middle of his bragging."

"Yes; it was pleasing," said Mary, and she added irrelevantly: "But that opal really belongs to anyone who can get hold of it."

"Most things do, if you like to risk a year's hard labour," said Barradine, whom a very good dinner and very good wine had rendered rather dense.

"Yes, I suppose the Law would look at it like that," she said.

"It is apt to be wrong-headed," said Barradine, and the subject dropped.

About an hour later they joined the rest of the party, and found themselves so sleepy after their long day in the open air that they went to bed.

The next morning they escaped to the golf links before Sir Constantine could arrange that Mary should play with him. She shrank from him, for he was almost a super-rabbit.

The Carnforth links gave Poppet's talent for finding Mary's lost balls full scope: Sir Constantine had had them made, when he bought the estate, six months before; they were not mature; the greens were rough; the rough was fearsome. Since they were not using caddies and were in no hurry, there were pleasing pauses in their game. Then they came to the sixth hole, and in the middle of the fairway was an unusual bunker, of which Sir Constantine was uncommonly proud because it had not its like in Scotland: in the middle of the drive from the tee a gully runs across the fairway, and from the middle of the gully rises a fir well above it. If you hit the fir the odds are that you lose your ball in the thick brushwood in the gully; if you miss the fir the odds are that you lose your ball in the thick brushwood on both sides of the fairway.

As he teed up his ball, Barradine said: "Hang that tree! This must be Argyropoulo's ball mine Grimshaw told me about. Every guest loses three balls in that confounded gully! If only Poppet would take the trouble to retrieve other people's balls and not only yours, the beastly gun-runner would not collect any of mine after I've left."

"No truly faithful dog would dream of retrieving any one's ball but his owner's," said Mary firmly. "But hold on a minute and give me that one."

He gave it to her. She dipped it into the ball pouch of her golf bag and rubbed it against the side of it and gave it back to him.

"There you are," she said. "You may lose the hole, but you won't lose your ball. Poppet will see to that."

A little surprised, he took it. Then he sniffed and laughed.

"Aniseed! Well, I'll be shot! So that's the secret! Is it your own tip?"

"My very own."

"Splendid! Poppet gets the credit of it. That dog's becoming a legend."

"He certainly gets asked out a lot, and I expect that dozens of rabbits are trying to teach their dogs to retrieve lost balls by kindness. I wonder how they are getting on," said Mary.

"Not too fast, I'll bet."

He drove and missed the fir and found the rough.

"I tell you Scotland is no place for golf!" he said bitterly.

"That's what I say," said Mary.

He teed up her ball, and she drove. She drove straight at the top of the fir. The ball hit an outer branch and ricocheted over it on to the middle of the fairway just beyond the gully.

"Fluked it, by Jove!" he cried in mock disgust.

"Not a bit of it! I drove at the tree and hit the tree. It was a very decent shot," Mary protested. "And now we've got to find your ball."

The rough was really impossible, and they did not hunt for long. They left it to Poppet, and he did not hunt for long: he brought the ball out.

The notion of acquiring, surreptitiously, Sir Constantine's amulet had been in Mary's mind ever since she saw it; but vague, unsubstantial, rather a counsel of perfection than a notion, until, with his Levantine self-appreciation, he dramatized himself as a cave-man, and crystallized it into a very firm purpose. The dramatisation took place the next afternoon, when politeness had compelled her to play golf with him, and she was giving him a stroke a hole and taking a pound a hole off him with effortless monotony. Then, as she was teeing up at the eighth hole, the furthest from the pavilion and well screened by bushes, she suddenly found herself clasped in his arm, and he was, as she phrased it to herself, slobbering all over her face.

"Stop it, you ape! Loose me!" she cried fiercely, and struggled hard.

She was strong, but he was stronger, and with loud protestations of devotion he went on hugging and kissing her. Then her wits cleared, and she became aware that Poppet was dancing round them and barking happily under the impression that his young mistress and her host were engaged in a merry game.

"Sick him, Poppet! Sick him, boy! Sick him!" she cried.

On the instant her intelligent pet perceived his error, leapt lightly forward, buried his teeth in the tendon Achilles of the financier, and tried to make them meet.

In this he failed, but they served their purpose: Sir Constantine loosed Mary and leapt about the teeing-ground, howling imprecations in a tongue she did not know, and aiming wild and fruitless kicks at her dancing pet. When he tired of this and he could give her his undiverted attention, he heard an eloquent, but as unfavourable a description of his nature, his manners, and what was worse, of his appearance, as ever a man heard fall or rather leap from a woman's lips, and since she was holding a niblick in what looked very like a firm grip, and Poppet, standing beside her, was displaying many teeth, he accepted the rebuff, but not in the ungrudging spirit in which it had been dealt out to him, but in the disgruntled temper of a baulked cave-man.

They broke off the game, and returned to the house, the financier limping and complaining bitterly of her prudery, to which he seemed quite unused, and now and then, when a twinge took him, uttering a shrill curse in that unknown tongue—one of the more obscure Thessalian dialects—to which he reverted in moments of profound emotion.

But it was not the rebuff he felt so deeply; it was Poppet's bite, for he was not of a romantic nature.

Mary said never a word more; she was seething in too deep an anger. She did not for a moment feel, as Sir Constantine did, that Poppet had avenged her; Sir Constantine's offence was far too enormous to be punished by a dog-bite. She could have procured for him a more painful punishment by telling Barradine of his outrageous behaviour; there would have been a veritable explosion of the qualities which go to make the truly dangerous Peer, and he would break if not every bone in Sir Constantine's body, at any rate some of them. It was not enough; it would be a fruitless, old-fashioned kind of vengeance—forgotten as soon as Sir Constantine's bones had set and the soreness had worn off.

No: he had robbed her father and now insulted her. Her vengeance must be so signal that the leathery rogue would remember it for years. For a time she was at a loss to find such a vengeance; then she thought of the opal. There was her vengeance! Signal indeed! If she took the opal from him, she could take his luck too. He would remember that for years.

Her vague notion became a fixed purpose.

The fact that, if there were any truth in the legend, by acquiring the opal she transferred his luck to herself weighed with her.

If it did, that would be a considerable dowry to bring to her marriage into the Twentieth Century Detective Agency.


CHAPTER XXX
Mary Collects Another Instalment

BUT when Mary came to consider the matter of prising a Levantine Financier loose from his mascot, her purpose did indeed appear a counsel of perfection, and his habit of wearing the opal next his skin by day and almost certainly by night, made the business none the easier. If she could find no unobtrusive way of withdrawing it from its retreat under his vest, the job could not be done.

She cudgelled and cudgelled her brains till it was nearly time to dress for dinner, and Barradine had spoken three times about her absentmindedness before she found a possible way of luring the opal from its retreat.

She would make use of Lady Manwaring.

Lady Manwaring was her cousin and a real, not an industrial, Peeress—no Manwaring between the first earl and the ninth, her cousin's husband, had ever done an honest day's work, or indeed dreamt of doing an honest day's work, in his life—and the fact that she was coming to stay at the Grange was up to the present the very crown of Sir Constantine's social achievement. Lady Manwaring could withdraw the opal from Sir Constantine's bosom without an effort. That success stimulated Mary's wits, and before she had finished dressing for dinner they had found a method of preventing the opal from returning to its retreat.

She needed an assistant; she dressed quickly and knocked at Barradine's bedroom door and called through it to him to hurry up with his dressing and come down.

When he came down she said: "That beastly ape, Sir Constantine, has been behaving badly—really badly."

"What did he do? I will push his face through the back of his head," said Barradine with some heat.

"No, sweet, you won't. The cave-man flourishes in this Scottish air, and he would certainly summon you for an unprovoked assault, and you couldn't reveal the provocation. Besides I want to get square with him with my own little hands, and I've thought of a quite amusing way. But I want your help."

"I should not do the pushing before witnesses."

"No. I want to do it myself," she said firmly.

"All right. What do you want me to do?"

"When we're in the drawing-room after dinner, if I say pretty loudly, 'Whoever's that?' I want you to switch off the light—without being seen doing it, if you can."

"I think I ought to be able to manage that," he said. "But what's the game?"

"It isn't a game, and you'll see if it comes off. It will be rather a score—off that Levantine thief. But let someone else turn the light on, and don't be near it."

"Very good. Theirs not to reason why. But a practical joke won't go down well in this gathering. They're a very solid and respectable crowd," he said carelessly.

"It isn't exactly a joke, as I've told you. It's just a score," she said, and laughed softly.

He looked at her a trifle suspiciously: he had heard that laugh before: it was soft, but it was sinister. He shrugged his shoulders. It was Sir Constantine's funeral, not his; the yellow thief should behave.

Lady Manwaring had arrived, and in his triumph Sir Constantine forgot Poppet's bite, except when he walked, and at dinner was rather more than his usual ebullient self; he set about making himself valued from the first oyster. It was oppressive. It was a relief, therefore, when the ladies went to the drawing-room.

Safely in the drawing-room, Lady Manwaring said that their host was an extraordinary man, and she said it in a tone from which it might be gathered that she felt that little would be gained by such men becoming common.

"He's certainly got an extraordinary amulet," said Mary. "It's not only an early Christian Bishop's amulet, it's an opal."

That was enough; Lady Manwaring's curiosity fairly flared up, for her modern interest in the occult was as great as the next woman's, and everybody in the room tried to gratify it at the same time. Presently Sir Constantine entered with the men, eager once more to make himself valued, only to find it already done; the amulet had won Lady Manwaring's liveliest interest; in two minutes his fingers were groping for the chain; he pulled the stone out, unclasped it and handed it to his seething guest.

She was handling it and asking excited questions about it, when Mary cried sharply and loudly, "Whoever's that?"

They turned to see her staring out of the window into the deep darkness before moonrise, and out went the light.

There was a blank silence for a breath; then every one began to talk at once, and rough fingers, which she took to be those of its owner, took the opal out of Lady Manwaring's hand.

Sir Constantine stepped briskly towards the door and nearly came a cropper over a chair; one of the guests switched on the light; people said: "How odd! Who turned off the light, or was it the main?"

No one suspected Barradine, who, in the darkness, had put twenty feet between himself and the switch, and it had been decided that some one had played a joke, when Sir Constantine asked Lady Manwaring for the amulet.

"But you took it, Sir Constantine! You took it out of my hand—when the light was out," she said in startled accents.

"But no! No! I did not take it!" said Sir Constantine in accents even more startled.

"Well, someone took it," she said, and the two of them looked round the room for someone to come forward with the opal.

No one came forward with the opal.

It did not at once dawn on the party that the opal had gone to stay, that its going had not been a joke.

Then Lord Monnington remembered Mary's exclamation. "What was it you saw, Miss Fearn?" he said. "When you called out, I mean."

"I'm not sure that I saw anything. But I thought that a strange face showed out of the darkness on the terrace and disappeared again—a man's face."

"It was certainly a man who took the mascot from me," said Lady Manwaring. "He was quite rough."

"But no one could have crossed the room in the darkness and gone straight to Lady Manwaring and taken the stone from her," said Lord Monnington.

"A Thessalian monk might have done," said Barradine.

"But the light was switched off by some one in the room," said the man who had switched it on. "It must have been."

People looked at one another with vexed eyes; there was a thief in the room; other people were suspecting them. It was disgusting! It was outrageous! Disgust mounted as they made futile suggestions.

Mary gave expression to their feeling; she said, "People oughtn't to have things that get stolen! It's disgusting!"

They looked at Sir Constantine with disgust, and were silent, frowning, or scowling, at him.

He felt it: he was not being valued, and his opal had gone.

He burst out, "But it is enough! A joke is a joke! Yes! This one has gone far enough! Yes! Too much! Give me my opal!"

His guests looked at him; he felt that their gaze was stony, their eyes hard. No one stepped forward and held out the opal.

It had gone.

"Give me my opal—my beautiful opal! Give me my beautiful luck, thieves!" he yelled.

No one gave him his opal. They looked at him with the same hard eyes, in silence.

Mary broke it; she said in a tone of even deeper disgust, "He made a million and a half, he says, out of his silly old opal. How much more does he want? But I suppose the only thing for us to do is to be searched. Someone had better ring up the police at once. Where are the nearest police?"

"Glen Tuggie," said Lord Monnington.

"No, no! Never the police!" cried Sir Constantine.

"Well, it's your opal," said Mary. "But it would be pleasanter for every one to have the police in—except the man who has the opal, I mean."

"Never mind the police! Never! Search yourselves! Search yourselves!" said Sir Constantine, or rather he howled it.

The guests raised no objections to searching themselves, or rather to searching one another; some of them seemed to consider it a joke; not even Lord Monnington objected.

But once more Lady Monnington said to herself, "I'm going to have trouble with Tubby again!"

The ladies stayed in the drawing-room and searched one another; the men went to the smoking-room and searched one another; then the ladies went to the smoking-room, and the servants searched the drawing-room. No one found the opal.

Barradine kept insisting that they ought to be searching a Thessalian monk, that he had come for his opal and gone away with it.

The suggestion weakened his guests' trust in Sir Constantine.

He became an almost pathetic figure of woe; but not in the eyes of his guests: all of them believed that in the beginning he had stolen the opal; some of them believed that he had stolen it again. They said so. But not to him.

The searching was over, and no opal had been found. Mary went out on to the terrace, and having once more suggested that what they really wanted was a Thessalian monk, Barradine followed her.

She was leaning on the parapet of the terrace, and he said in patient accents, "What on earth did you do with it?"

"Do with what?" said Mary innocently.

"The opal."

"Oh, that. I threw it through the window well over this parapet, and I expect it's somewhere down there," she said, nodding towards the bottom of the slope.

"Well, I'll be shot! You've made me an accessory before the fact—and after," he said in the same patient accents.

"No, sweet; there isn't an accessory before or after the perfect crime. Besides it isn't a crime at all. That ape stole the opal. It wasn't his, and now he won't have any luck in robbing widows and orphans."

"His success as a financier should end," Barradine admitted. "But it seems rather a pity to throw away such a charming stone."

"Doesn't it?" she said. "But you can't say I haven't got square with that ape of an arms merchant, and I'm clearing out of this place directly after breakfast to-morrow—Sunday or no Sunday!"

"Right. I'll drive you back in time for dinner. I'm in a hurry to have those banns put up," said Barradine.

She laughed.

At breakfast the next morning Mary told Sir Constantine that she was returning to London at once. On the instant Lord Monnington said that he and Lady Monnington were also going. Lady Monnington did not protest, her premonition that she "would have trouble with Tubby again" had proved right.

"I have to get back some time to-night. So I'll drive you up, Miss Fearn," said Barradine.

"Thank you. I do prefer it to the train," said Mary.

Sir Constantine was still too depressed by the loss of his opal to be deeply moved by this curtailing of his house party. He murmured in his throat, a harsh murmur.

Then Mary insisted that her luggage must be searched before she left; Barradine and the Monningtons said that it was an excellent idea. Therefore it was done; but it cast a shadow on their departure, and they left their fellow guests yet more uncomfortable.

The road from Carnforth Grange to the road to the main road runs along the bottom of the slope from the terrace in front of the dining-room and drawing-room. In the middle of it Mary asked Barradine to stop, and he stopped.

Then she said thoughtfully, but not unhopefully, "I wonder if the scent has held."

"The scent? What scent?" said Barradine.

"Aniseed on opal. You don't suppose that a sweet young English girl would throw away a lovely stone like that just to get square with a Levantine crook without giving it a chance, do you, sweet?" she said in reproachful accents.

"I should have guessed it," said Barradine in resigned accents. "Not, mind you, that I think that 'sweet' is quite the right word for me."

"Oh, yes: it is," said Mary, and she let Poppet out of the car and said, "Seek, boy, seek!"

"I shall be relieved if the scent hasn't held, and he fails to find it," said Barradine with quiet sincerity.

"To think that the man I have arranged to marry should display a bourgeois ideology!" said Mary in a tone of mournful reproach.

"But the Bolshie doesn't go to prison for theft."

"What words you do use! You forget that there's a matter of forty or to be exact thirty-three thousand pounds owing to me from the directors of Ural Bonanzas. If the scent has held, you can knock another two thousand off that, to say nothing of the widows and orphans being free from the further depredations of a leathery rogue."

Barradine shrugged his shoulders. He knew that marriage was a matter of give and take; he felt that he was getting a little practice.

They watched the tops of the bushes move in the circles in which Poppet was hunting. For some time it looked as if the scent had not held and he would not find the opal. Then he came towards the car in a straight line.

"He's got it!" said Mary, and she sprang out of the car.

Poppet came out of the bushes, and he dropped the shining opal at her feet.

She picked it up, wiped it, dropped it into her hand-bag.

She stepped back into the car, saying in triumphant accents: "Bringing the family jewel with her!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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