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"FLIP, old lady, you're getting fat," Nicholas Goade murmured reflectively to the small white dog who sat by his side.
Flip, who hated personalities, snapped at a passing fly, and, missing it, yawned. Goade rose to his feet and knocked the ash from his pipe.
"Putting on weight myself," he continued. "We'll leave the car where it is to-day and go for a tramp."
Man and dog presently left the village where they had spent the night and mounted to the moorlands. They left the road and tramped through the sunlit spaces of rich meadowland, skirted a cornfield and followed the wanderings of a trout stream flecked with silver and clear as polished glass. Deserting it when it entered the purlieus of a private domain, they made for the higher land, climbing for an hour or more until they reached at last a plateau of wilder and more broken country, which stretched to the foot of a distant range of hills. Goade, mopping the perspiration from his forehead, threw himself upon the turf with his arms extended and his face upturned to the sun.
"Doing us both good," he murmured lazily.
Flip, who was sitting on her haunches breathing rapidly, suddenly sniffed the heather-scented air, turned her head, and emitted a short bark. Goade turned lazily over on to his side to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. His frame stiffened a little as he watched. He frowned slightly. Presently he scrambled to his feet.
"Looks odd, Flippy," he murmured; "very odd."
A man running in the vicinity of a railway station, pursuing a bus, or with the sombre enthusiasm of an athlete in training, is an ordinary sight enough, but a man running across a great expanse of empty country without any apparent destination, and following no definite track, is a very different matter. Half hidden by the shadow of a rock, Goade watched the approaching figure curiously. The fugitive—if he was a fugitive—was a small, dark man, sombrely dressed and of weedy build. He ran with much effort and in slipshod fashion, his head down, breathing heavily, taking uneven strides, and more than once disappearing altogether from sight as he stumbled into a heather bush. His course, if persevered in, would have taken him thirty or forty yards away from where Goade was standing, but seeing the man and the dog he gave a little cry and turned straight towards them. Almost at that moment, from some unseen place, there came the report of a gun and a shower of small shot pattered into the bushes around. Goade, mounting a little knoll, looked angrily in the direction from which they seemed to come, but there was no indication of any other human being within sight. He turned his attention to the young man who now, with a desperate effort, had covered the last few intervening yards and thrown himself upon the ground close at hand.
"Oh, Gawd!" he exclaimed. "Gawd!"
Flip edged a little farther away. She had no high opinion of the newcomer; neither had Goade. A person more utterly out of touch with his surroundings could scarcely be conceived. He was obviously of Semitic origin, city born, probably a Londoner. His soiled collar, the flashy glass pin in his tie, the thin, pointed shoes, his masses of heavily oiled black hair now hanging in untidy strips about his face, seemed all to belong to the crowded thoroughfares of Houndsditch or Whitechapel. They certainly struck a strangely discordant note in this land of brawny, apple-cheeked men, sunshine, and perfumed open places.
"Gawd!" the young man repeated, struggling to control his sobbing breath.
"What's the matter with you?" Goade asked. "And who was that firing?"
"'Im, I should think—blast 'im!"
Goade filled his pipe deliberately.
"I may be dense," he acknowledged, "but 'im' seems to me a little vague. I should like to know who it was out there in the middle of the moor pattering us with shot."
The young man raised himself upon his elbow; his complexion was a pasty shade of green ; he had obviously been very badly frightened.
"Guv'nor," he begged, "you don't 'appen to 'ave a pocket flask with you?"
"I don't carry such a thing," Goade replied. "Plenty of good ale and cider in all the little pubs in this part of the world."
"Not enough on 'em," the newcomer groaned. "Pubs! There ain't even a house in sight. Gawd! I could do with a drink!"
Goade drew out a map and studied it for a moment.
"There should be a hamlet within three miles of here," he remarked. "In the meantime can't you tell me what scared you?"
The young man shuddered.
"Mate," he said, "you've 'eard of wild cats and wild boars and such-like."
"My knowledge of natural history carries me thus far," Goade acquiesced.
The other stared at him.
"You wouldn't be kidding," he declared, "if you'd see'd what I've seen, I've seen a wild man. What about that?"
"Good for you," Goade replied coolly. "He seems to have frightened you pretty badly. Tell me about it."
The young man pointed across the moorland towards the belt of hills.
"I'm staying at a farm there," he explained. "Doctor thought I might be turning a bit consumptive. I live in the Bethnal Green Road—name of Bill Aarons. Good for business, but it ain't a 'ealth resort. I come down here for an 'oliday."
"An excellent idea," said Goade. "Go on."
"I got a motor bike and a side car. I didn't mean to bring the side car along, but I thought there might be a bit of skirt 'anging around, so I hitched it on at the last moment. There's a girl at the farm—stand-offish but all right—I tell you, Guv'nor, she's a peach!"
"A girl at the farm," Goade repeated. "Good! We're progressing."
"Can't say as she's seemed partial to me exactly, but to-day, when I was starting for a ride, she said she'd come along. I've arsked 'er often enough before, but she didn't seem somehow to cotton to me. Well, she would go 'er own way—made me strike across a road that wasn't fit for a farm wagon, let alone my outfit. I kept on wanting to stop and talk a bit, but she made me go on until the road ended. Then she got out and stared down this way. 'I'm going to walk for a short time,' she said. 'You can stay here and smoke cigarettes. I may be gone an hour or two.' "
"Not very pally, that," Goade remarked.
"I thought she was kidding," the young man confided. "It's the loneliest part of the moor I've seen—huge boulders of rocks, very little grass even—but she started off. I don't know whether she expected me to follow or not. Anyway, I'd brought her out for the afternoon and I wasn't going to be shaken like that, so I hopped along and tried to take her arm. I thought it would be all right if we rested in the shade of one of the boulders, but she wouldn't listen to me. Mabel Crocombe, 'er name is, and she's a looker, I can tell you. Anyway, we walks along a quarter of a mile or so—I trying to kid 'er on to being a bit pally, and she acting like as though she wanted to shake me. 'You can't go walking about 'ere by yourself,' I told 'er. 'Anything might 'appen to you.' 'You leave me alone,' she snapped. 'I know what I want to do.' ... Gawd!"
He had recovered his breath by this time, and his body had ceased to tremble. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with a blue silk pocket handkerchief which had seen better days.
"Bill Aarons ain't taking that sort of stuff from any skirt what comes out with 'im, so I just let 'er know it. I had me arm round 'er waist, and I was just pointing out a nice place to sit and talk things over, when, I give you my word, Guv'nor, something came up out of the earth— something that must have been a man, but strike me 'e didn't look it!"
"Out of the earth?" Goade murmured reflectively.
"That's wot it seemed like," the young man maintained. "He just popped out of the middle of that great slanting boulder you can see yonder; must be a kind of cave. Well, 'e made a funny sort of noise and blowed if 'e didn't lift me up by the collar and shake me as though I were a puppy dog. He'd got great brown paws, hair all over 'is 'ead, and, Gawd, I thought at first 'e was naked."
"And was he?"
"He'd no shoes on, or stockings, only a pair of corduroy breeches and a kind of shirt. His skin was pretty nearly black, and when he picked me up he was roaring like a bull. Then he set me down and laid 'old of the girl by the wrist. Mabel shrieked, but she couldn't get away. Then he bellowed to me. 'If you're within sight in ten seconds,' he shouted, 'I'll smash every bone in your body!' Strike me lucky, he meant it, too!"
"What did you do?" Goade enquired.
"What did I do?" the young man repeated scornfully. "That's a good 'un! I legged it, as 'ard as I could."
"And left the girl there?"
"What good could I 'ave done? I tell you, he's a wild man, a giant. His arms were bigger than my legs. He could put me in a sandwich and eat me."
Goade rose to his feet and gazed at the boulder to which the young man had pointed. Even as he stood up there was again the report of a gun from the same direction. Bill Aarons, with a yell of terror, fell flat on his face. This time, however, there was no sound of pattering shot.
"Come on, Flip," Goade called out.
"You ain't going there, Guv'nor?" the fugitive demanded in an awe-stricken tone.
"Of course I am," was the curt reply. "What do you suppose is happening to the girl?"
"Don't you butt in, mate," the young man begged. "You're a big fellow, but 'e could do you in in ten seconds."
Goade, ignoring his companion, started off briskly. The latter hesitated, then followed a few yards behind. Presently he stopped.
"I tell you you're barmy, Guv'nor," he called out.
Goade turned around and looked at him, and the young man slunk behind a rock...
Nevertheless, as he drew near the heap of boulders from which the shot had come, Goade glanced around him a little anxiously. The place was the loneliest he had met with in all his wanderings—a stretch of picturesque but barren country, with nothing to tempt the farmer, either herbage for cattle or soil for planting. There was no road marked upon the map for several miles; a few whortleberry bushes here and there—otherwise neither vegetation nor flowers. One could well believe that months might elapse without even a passer-by. It was certainly, Goade decided, as he neared his destination, a most unpleasant place for an adventure such as the young man Aarons had indicated. He turned the corner of the huge boulder warily, and then stopped short. There was an opening which led underground, which might well have been the entrance to a cave, and in front of it a girl lay stretched upon the ground...
Goade's mind, working swiftly, received several absolutely instantaneous impressions. In the first place, there were no signs of any struggle. The girl's hair—beautiful hair it was, of a light shade of brown—was neat and unruffled. Only her hat—a sort of tam-o'-shanter—had fallen on one side. Neither her country skirt nor jumper were in any way disarranged, but her face was ghastly pale as she lay there moaning. Goade, every sense alert, listened intently as he gazed stealthily around. There was no sound from that opening at the base of the boulder, from which the wild man of Bill Aaron's imagination had without a doubt issued. The girl was alone with the sky above, lying on a carpet of scanty herbage. He leaned over her, felt her pulse, and chafed her hands. Already she showed symptoms of awakening consciousness. She was a handsome girl of the best Devonshire type, largely made but shapely, with creamy complexion and good features. Her mouth, a little open, displayed excellent teeth; her hands, though brown, were well-shaped and capable. Suddenly she opened her eyes, and he saw that they were blue.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"You're quite all right," he assured her. "On the moor. You came with a little man, Aarons. Had a scare, hadn't you?"
She sat up. Very slowly she turned her head towards the narrow opening underneath the boulder, and as she did so he saw the returning colour fade again from her cheeks. He assisted her to her feet and supported her with his arm.
"Lean on me, and try to walk a few yards," he begged.
"I can walk," she faltered, "but don't leave me."
They moved slowly towards the grassy wall on the other side of which was the motorcycle. On their way they passed a small tarn. He paused for a moment, soaked his handkerchief in it, and bathed her temples. She drew a little sigh of relief. Her footsteps became less hesitating. She even smiled feebly at Flip, who, with many upward glances, was trotting importantly by her master's side.
"Where do you come from, you and your little dog?" she asked.
"On a tramp from Chidford," he answered. "Your escort found us on the edge of the moor. Something seems to have terrified you both. When you feel better, I should like you to tell me about it."
She clutched at his arm.
"It was nothing," she declared feverishly; "nothing at all."
He stopped short. They were close to the gate now, and, making a wide detour round the moor, stumbling on for a while and then hiding; he could see a small, black object—the young man, Aarons.
"But there was something," he persisted. "The young man was terrified. 'A wild man,' he said, who came out of the ground and stopped you both."
"It was just his story," she replied. "I was angry with him because he tried to be familiar. I told him to go, and he went, and then suddenly I felt faint."
Goade was silent for a moment. The girl was a bad liar, but what concerned him most at the moment was curiosity as to her motive. They had reached the bank now on the other side of which was the motor cycle, with its side car.
"I fancy your escort is making his way back," he said. "Shall we rest here?"
She assented. They sat on the bank with their faces to the moor. About quarter of a mile away, Aarons was shuffling down the grass-grown lane towards them.
"So you just fainted," Goade remarked.
"I do sometimes," she confided. "I was sorry that I had come out with that young man. I always disliked him."
"You are sure that nothing else happened to frighten you?"
"Nothing at all."
He looked back at the boulder thoughtfully.
"It's a lonely spot," he observed, "one might easily find a hiding place there."
"Why should any one in these parts want to hide?" she demanded in a low tone. "There isn't a village for miles."
"Some one is hiding there at the present moment," he said quietly.
"How do you know?" she asked with a sort of breathlessness which almost choked her words.
"Well, for one thing," he told her, "the heather just in front had been pushed on one side and broken down by some one passing in and out. There was the imprint of a man's footstep close to the opening, a burnt match, and—"
"Stop!" she interrupted. "There is no one there. I am sure there is no one there. It was Mr. Aarons who lit a match and whose footmark you saw."
He looked along the track towards the rapidly approaching figure.
"We'll ask the young man to tell us all about it," he suggested.
She laid her fingers upon his arm.
"Don't," she pleaded. "I beg of you that you don't. Go on your walk, wherever it may lead you. I have a reason for asking."
"I couldn't do that," he assured. "I am too curious by disposition. Your companion has told me that he saw a wild man jump out of the ground. I find you on the spot in a dead faint. It is a situation which must be cleared up."
She withdrew her arm from his.
"You are a very foolish person," she said. "There are many who have lost their lives through curiosity."
He looked back towards the boulder. He almost fancied that the heather bush which partly concealed the opening was moving, as though some one were looking through. The girl was watching him feverishly.
"Perhaps," he reflected, "it would be better if I were to make my way to the nearest police station and bring some one with me."
"Don't do that either," she implored. "Please don't do that."
"There is some one there then?" he asked swiftly.
"I don't know," she answered. "If there is, why not leave him alone? What business is it of yours or any one's? I hate people who interfere."
Mr. Bill Aarons from the Bethnal Green Road came shambling up.
"Strike me, Mister, but you're lucky!" he exclaimed, casting one more fearsome glance across the moor. "Get in, Miss, if you're ready. We'll tootle off. This part of the world ain't 'ealthy."
He bent over the machine, started the engine, swung himself into the saddle and opened the door of the side car for her.
"Now then," he begged. "Let's get out of this while we can."
The young woman caught hold of Goade's arm.
"I realise now," she said, "you came to help me. You thought that I was in danger. That was very brave of you. There was nothing there really to be afraid of, though."
Aarons swung round in his saddle.
"Gawd!" he cried. "Nothing to be afraid of! You may call me a coward, both of you. I dessay I am. I tell you, if ever I see a sight like that again, it'll be the end of me. Step in, Miss. If I think of 'im, I'll get the shakes again."
As she took her place she leaned towards Goade.
"Don't go back there!" she pleaded.
"I can't promise," he answered.
She looked at him in obvious distress.
"My name is Crocombe," she said—"Mabel Crocombe. We live at the Wood Farm behind the trees yonder. Will you come and see me?"
He nodded, and stood with his hat in his hand, watching them climb the crazy path, the engine knocking and a little cloud of blue smoke coming out of the exhaust. They completed the ascent, however, and reached the brow of the hill, the girl turning round to wave her hand as they disappeared. Goade filled his pipe and reflected. There was without doubt adventure—it might possibly be an ugly adventure—waiting for him a hundred yards distant. The state of terror to which the young man Aarons had been reduced could scarcely have been attained by normal means. The man who had found temporary shelter in the bowels of the earth underneath that boulder must have some reason for his isolation, some manifest and evil quality to account for the state of collapse to which he had reduced the two intruders. It was a matter which seemed to demand investigation. On the other hand, this was his vacation. There was no particular reason why he should not obey the girl's eager pleading and turn his back upon the whole scene. Logically that seemed to be his only sane course. He arrived at this conclusion, and definitely hammered it into his mind as a basis for action. Afterwards, with a little sigh, he did what he had known all the time he would do, he swung over the grassy wall, shortened his stick in his hand, and, with Flip at his heels, picked his way across the moor towards the boulder. He paused outside and listened. There was no sound to be heard. Then he raised his voice.
There was no reply for a moment. He kicked against the side of the rock. Suddenly a voice issued from the darkness—a voice which came to him as a shock.
"Hullo yourself! What do you want?"
"A word with you."
There was the sound now of light footsteps. Goade drew back, puzzled. The voice which had answered him had been the voice of no yokel, no wild, half-civilised creature. It had both the cadence and the quality of a voice belonging to a man of education. Nevertheless, he stood prepared for trouble; still half expecting it. Then the heather bushes were parted and Goade, accustomed to surprises, gasped. A slim, clean-shaven, well-built young man, in ancient but excellently cut tweeds, calmly presented himself. He was unarmed and his single monocle looked as though it had never left his eye. With one hand he rearranged his hair which had been slightly disturbed pushing his way through.
"Hullo, Goade!" he exclaimed. "What the devil are you doing in this part of the world?"
Goade for a moment was speechless. He looked the young man up and down. There was no doubt that he was a person of cultivation and breeding. With a few slight changes of country to town attire he would have been perfectly in his place in Bond Street or sauntering along Piccadilly. Furthermore his face was not wholly unfamiliar.
"You seem to know my name," Goade said. "I can't say I recognise you."
"We've come across one another once or twice," the other replied. "My name's Erriscombe—Cecil Erriscombe. I was in 'The Brown Mask' at the Royalty. Some one brought you round the first night."
"I remember, of course," Goade admitted. "All the same, you must forgive me if I seemed a little taken aback. The last person I expected to see crawling out of a hole in the earth was a popular jeune premier. What the devil are you doing here, man?"
Mr. Cecil Erriscombe smiled. He produced a gold case, selected a cigarette himself, and extended the case to Goade.
"To tell you the truth," he confided, "I'm sick of all ordinary holidays. I was doing a tramp across the moors and I came upon this place in a thunderstorm. I thought it would be a jolly good idea to settle down here for a week or ten days, and try nature at first hand. You remember I was in 'The Arcadians,' and the idea always rather appealed to me. I bought some stores and moved in a week ago. I've had a thundering good time, but I'm off to-morrow."
"God bless my soul!" Goade muttered, still a little dazed.
"My bathtub has been the tarn there," the other continued, leaning back on the boulder where they were seated, and watching the smoke from his cigarette curl upwards; "also my looking glass. I've a few odds and ends inside, but nothing worth speaking about. The only thing I regret is that I haven't had a camera to take me in my make-up."
"In your what?"
"In my make-up," the young man repeated coolly. "You see, the first day I was here, a tramp tourist and then some children picking whortleberries annoyed me and spoilt my idea of what complete solitude should be, so I wired to London for an aboriginal disguise à la George Robey—tomahawk and all—and I've had some fun," he concluded, with a grin, the genuineness of which his companion for some reason felt inclined to doubt.
"I should say you have," Goade remarked, his sense of puzzlement increasing. "You've frightened a young man out of his senses, and I found a girl in a faint outside."
"I'm sorry about that," Erriscombe declared.
"I meant to frighten the young man, but when I heard nothing more of the girl I thought she'd made off in the other direction. She didn't cry out or anything, or I should have heard it. She's all right now, I hope?"
"She's all right," Goade assented tonelessly. "She's gone off home with the young man."*
"And, by Jove," Erriscombe reflected, with a queer little smile, "won't the countryside be prowling round here in a day or two to see the wild man. I think I'll leave the outfit to amuse them, and clear off. What part are you making for, Goade? We might as well push on together."
"I thought of calling first at that farm behind the trees there," Goade replied, "just to let the young lady know she's nothing to be terrified about. Afterwards I've got to get back to Chidford where I left my car."
"Chidford will do me all right," Erriscombe agreed with obvious eagerness. "What about your going up to the farm, as you want to, and picking me up on your way back? I've got a few oddments I might put in my knapsack. Anyway, it won't take you more than an hour there and back. We shall get to Chidford in time for a glorious high tea. I'm not sure that I shall be sorry to sleep inside sheets again."
"All right," Goade acquiesced. "I'll be glad to have you—take you along in the car to-morrow, if you like. Let's have a look at your quarters," he added, peering through the heather bush.
The young man indulged in a slight grimace.
"I'd rather you didn't," he confessed. "I'm by way of being a little fastidious, and it's more than ordinarily stuffy and untidy down there. I've slept out of doors the last two nights."
Goade nodded thoughtfully. Suddenly Flip darted past him through the opening and disappeared in the gloom. A moment later he heard her sharp bark from down below.
"What is it, Flip?" he called out.
There was no reply. Instead, Flip's bark suddenly changed into a howl. Erriscombe's fingers which held his cigarette shook.
"For God's sake, call the little beast," he begged. "What a hideous sound."
Goade rose to his feet and looked at the young man by his side gravely.
"I've only once before heard her howl like that," he said. "I'll have to go down, Erriscombe."
The young man stood motionless.
"What do you mean?" he asked, after a moment's pause.
"I'll have to go down and see what my dog's howling at," Goade explained. "Sorry, Erriscombe."
He suddenly gripped him by the arms and felt him all over.
"All right," he added, as he released him. "You can wait for me, if you like, or come."
Erriscombe shrugged his shoulders and produced an electric torch from his pocket which he handed to Goade.
"You'll want that," he said. "Be careful of the third step. You needn't be afraid. I'll wait for you."
Goade took the torch and stumbled down. The air was good enough, and at the bottom of the three roughly cut steps the floor was carpeted with dried heather. There was a place in the corner where some one had apparently slept, a few dirty cooking utensils, and a basin which had been used to bring water from the tarn. Goade's first glance around showed him these things; his second, something far more horrible. From a recess, leading apparently into an extension of the cave, stretched a man's leg, roughly booted, hairy, and tanned by the sun. Goade crept forward and flashed on his light. A large, scantily dressed man, with a huge crop of hair and beard, lay motionless upon his side. There was a faint smell of gunpowder in the air, a gun and empty cartridge case upon the floor, a little wisp of blue smoke still lingering in a distant corner. Goade stood upright for a moment, looking around him. Then he turned slowly away and mounted the steps into the daylight. Erriscombe was seated upon the boulder, the sun flashing upon his monocle, but as Goade appeared he rose to his feet as though to greet some one. Goade, coming gasping into the sunlight, rubbed his eyes for a moment. A few yards away, the girl was hastening towards them, her arms outstretched.
"Cecil!" she cried. "Cecil!"
The young man shook his head slowly. She came sobbing into his arms.
"It couldn't be helped, dear," he said. "Goade happened along, and that's the end of it."
"You'd better neither of you say anything more," Goade advised them. "You know who I am, Erriscombe. I'm on a vacation, but I'm still an officer of Scotland Yard all the same. I'll have to take you back to Chidford."
Erriscombe nodded. The girl was seated upon an adjacent boulder, rocking slowly in her misery.
"That's all right, Goade," the young man said.
"I shall give you no trouble. As to keeping silent, that's my affair. I have a fancy to tell you exactly what took place, here on this spot, with Mabel listening."
"It's against my advice," Goade reminded him.
"Last summer," Erriscombe went on imperturbably, "I came down here for a holiday. I stayed at Wood Farm. How shall I put it in plain words? I became attached to Mabel, who was, I believe, half engaged to that clod down there—son of a farmer at Chidford. Do you remember anything, Goade? A newspaper case? We kept it fairly quiet, but the Sunday papers got hold of it."
"I begin to remember," he acknowledged.
"Well, I wasn't quite the blackguard some people thought me because I came from London and was an actor. I went away for a time, and Mabel left to stay with an aunt in Exeter. We were married, and I came back here to complete my holiday. We made a mistake, of course," he went on, "in not announcing our marriage, but I was due to open at the Haymarket a month later with a part which was to have been the part of my life. I knew that it would mean permanent success for me, and I knew that I would have a better chance if I kept my marriage secret until after the show was thoroughly started. Of course people gossiped a little about us, but Mabel didn't care; she knew it would be all right directly. The trouble came with that brute with whom I have just squared matters."
Erriscombe paused and looked up to where a hawk was circling overhead as though wondering what was going on below. Then he continued.
"This man—Crang, his name was—went about the country like a crazy loon, and every one warned me to be careful. He tracked us one day and found us out here. I did my best, but what was the good of it, Goade? He is six feet six, with the muscles of an ox, and, although I could box a bit, it's never been one of my hobbies. He pounded me pretty well into a jelly—thrashed me, Goade, with Mabel running screaming about. Have you ever been thrashed?"
"I don't know that I have," Goade admitted.
"Well, I tell you it's hell. I had about half an hour of it before the blackness came. Then he must have given me a few kicks before he left me. There was no first night at the Haymarket for me. I was in Exeter Infirmary for a month, and Crang went to prison for two years—'Attempted Manslaughter.'"
There was another silence. A solitary curlew had drifted across the sky with mournful little calls. Mabel had begun to sob, and Goade waited gravely. He intended now to hear every word.
"You've never been thrashed, you said, Goade?" Erriscombe recommenced. "There's something in a man's blood seems to turn sour at the thought—something in oneself, I suppose, born at one's public school, and carried through the 'varsity into life. I have always known what the consequences would be. I knew there was only one thing to bring me peace of mind again, and I've done it. I had to kill the man who thrashed me. A fortnight ago I read that he'd broken out of prison and was supposed to be hiding somewhere around. I felt I knew where I should find him. I travelled down here. I had a revolver, but I didn't use it. You'll find it in the tarn there. I shot him with his own double-barrelled gun."
"Who fired the first shot at Aarons?" Goade asked.
"Crang," Erriscombe explained. "It was Mabel and her little cockney who drew him out of his lair. I was lying waiting a few yards away—waiting for him to come out. Mabel hurried from the farm to stop the mischief if she could. Crang heard their voices and came up. He scared the little man out of his life, had a shot at him, and left the gun against the boulder. Whilst he was talking to Mabel I got it. He heard me and turned around. I shot him. It was all I could do to drag him down to his hole, but I did it. Just as I was coming up again I heard you, so I waited. I invented the story about the George Robey outfit because I knew Aarons would tell you what sort of a man it was who had frightened him. Now, what are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know," Goade confessed.
They sat and looked at one another. Erriscombe rose to his feet and crossed to his wife's side. His arm went around her waist, and her head sank upon his shoulder.
"I had to do it, dear," he whispered. "It's a load gone—a great load."
"Let's make sure that the man's dead," Goade suggested, after a brief pause. "Come and help me Erriscombe."
They descended the steps and dragged the heavy body into the outer cave. Farther they were incapable of moving him. Goade stripped off his coat, examined the wound, and turned abruptly around.
"Fetch some water in that basin," he directed. "He's not dead."
For half an hour or more Goade worked, cutting up his own shirt to make a bandage. Erriscombe had some brandy, a few drops of which they forced between Crang's teeth at the first sign of returning consciousness. Finally Goade staggered out into the fresh air.
"The man's as strong as an ox," he announced. "He may live. In fact, I feel sure he will."
"And now?" Erriscombe asked again.
"And now?" the girl repeated, her eyes fixed upon Goade.
"Can you drive a car?" the latter enquired.
"Any make," was the confident reply.
Goade pointed across the moor.
"You'll find my car there," he indicated. "Take it and drive round to the farm. Send a wagon and all the strong men you can find down to the lane there. That young man Aarons can mount his motor cycle and fetch a doctor. You'll have to leave the rest to me. I'll do the best I can."
He held out his hand which Erriscombe gripped. No words passed between them; only a single glance of understanding. The girl went bravely off by her husband's side. Goade waited until they were out of sight. Then he made his way to the tarn and fetched more water. When he returned and descended the three steps, the man's eyes were wide open. Goade sprinkled his forehead, felt his pulse, and sat down by his side.
"You've been shot," he said.
"Aye," the man muttered.
"If I were you," Goade went on, "I should forget it."
The man looked at him vacantly.
"You slipped coming down the steps, carrying your gun. It went off and you were hit. I came along and found you. You see, you're a Devonshire lad; you understand fair play. You half killed Erriscombe. He can't fight, but he had to get it back on you. You're quits now. He's married to Mabel. Nothing can alter that."
The man lay quite still. His features twitched. He looked as though he were trying to understand.
"You haven't seen Erriscombe to-day," Goade persisted. "You've been alone all the time until I found you. I heard the gun go off, and I came across. You'll get well, but they may ask you questions. You're a sportsman, Crang, I'm sure. Keep your mouth shut, and I'll do my best to help you for breaking jail. I'm a head man at Scotland Yard, and I've influence there. You understand?"
"If the chap's married right and proper to Mabel," the man said slowly, "I don't wish 'e no more harm. I fell down them steps, master. That's right. I aren't seen Erriscombe. I got it now. Gi'e me some more water."
Goade held the bowl to his lips. Then he listened.
"They're coming to fetch you," he announced. "You'll be all right, Crang. You'll stick to it?"
"I surely will," was the emphatic reply. "It were ordained they should marry, and you can tell Mabel it's all right."
The man's strength was amazing. He was almost able to sit up. Goade made his way out to the fresh air, and beckoned to the labourers who were already climbing out of the wagon in the lane.