Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.



Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover©

Ex Libris

First published in The Sexton Blake Library,
2nd series, Issue 12, The Amalgamated Press, London, 31 Aug 1925

Collected in The Sexton Blake Casebook, Galley Press, London, 1987

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-06-19

Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories


The Sexton Blake Library, 31 Aug 1925, with
"The Case of the Society Blackmailer"




THE sun was sinking to the west, and the cool of the evening had set in. The day's toil was over at the estancia of San Pablo, belonging to the Señor Hernando Lopez, and the gauchos, as cowboys are called in Uruguay, had finished their supper, and were sprawled lazily on the grass outside of their quarters, smoking and chatting, while a couple of them strummed on guitars.

Not far from them was the house of their employer, built of stone, and surrounded by a wide veranda, and shaded by a clump of willows and acacias which grew by a stream of water.

In all directions stretched the grassy uplands, where thousands of sheep and cattle were grazing; and beyond the ranges was the bare, wind-swept pampas, rolling away to distant mountains, and to wooded valleys.

They were much of the same type, these gauchos, of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, with reddish-bronze skin, and straight, black hair, and beady eyes.

They wore sombreros and cotton pantaloons, and the upper part of their bodies were draped in ponchos, squares of woollen cloth with slits cut in the middle to admit the head.

Their spurs were of silver, and at each man's waist hung a lasso or a bola the latter a rope with a round ball at the end of it.

They were not all Uruguayans, however. Amongst them were two Arizona cowboys, and a Mexican vaquero. And there was also an English youth, Oliver Douglas by name, a handsome young fellow of twenty-five, tall and broad-shouldered, clean-shaven, with a florid complexion and fair hair, and dark blue eyes.

A visitor had arrived at the estancia that day, an English sportsman who had come up-country from Montevideo to shoot deer and ostrich, and he was spending the night with Hernando Lopez.

The gauchos had seen him, and they were talking of him with laughter and jest, and Oliver Douglas was listening to the conversation with vague unrest, when one of the household servants approached the group.

"I have a message for you, Douglas," he said in Spanish. "The señor would have you come to him at once."

"He wants to see me?" asked the English youth, with a slight start.

"Yes, that is what he told me," the servant replied.

"What for, Morale?"

"That I do not know. But you had better be quick, for the señor is not in a good temper."

The servant departed, and Oliver Douglas rose from the ground, shrugging his shoulders. The news of the arrival of the visitor—he had not laid eyes on the Englishman himself, or learned his name—had caused him a little uneasiness.

It was very silly of him, he had felt. There wasn't a chance in a million of that which he feared happening.

But his suspicions had been roused now, and there was a worried look on his face, and a sinking at his heart as he crossed over to the house.

He mounted to the veranda, and passed straight from it into the large living-room, which was furnished comfortably and luxuriously as befitted a wealthy stockraiser.

Two persons were seated here at a table littered with dishes. They had dined, and now they were drinking red wine and smoking black cigars.

One was Hernando Lopez, big and burly, swarthy of skin, with a bushy black beard and moustache; and the other was the English guest—a slim, fair gentleman of perhaps thirty, with aristocratic features, and a blonde moustache that drooped over his lip.

One quick glance at him, and Oliver Douglas knew what to expect. But he did not show any emotion.

"You sent for me, señor?" he said quietly to his employer.

Hernando Lopez nodded, and looked inquiringly at his guest, who lifted a monocle that was suspended from his neck by a silk cord, and screwed it into his eye. For a moment he closely scrutinised the youth.

"Yes, Señor Lopez, I was right," he declared in a slow, drawling voice. "I thought I recognised the fellow when I had a glimpse of him this afternoon, and now I am quite sure."

"He is the same rascal you told me of, then?" said Hernando Lopez.

"He is the same," Hugh Anstruther replied. "Not a doubt of it. We were members of the same club in London before he was kicked out. His real name is Denis Sherbroke, and he is the son of Julian Sherbroke, the millionaire. He led such a reckless and dissolute life that his father cut off his allowance, and turned him adrift. Shortly afterwards the fellow got into very serious trouble. He and the other two rogues tried to obtain a large sum of money by fraud from Sir Harry Royce, a friend of mine. While under the influence of drink Royce was induced to sign his name to a paper which he believed to be an IOU for a small gambling debt, and he subsequently discovered he had backed a bill for three thousand pounds. At the same time the discounted bill had not fallen due. Sherbroke's accomplices escaped abroad, and he was arrested.

"But the affair was hushed up. With great difficulty, through the influence which Mr. Julian Sherbroke exerted in high quarters, he had his son released. There was a strict condition imposed by the police, however. It was understood that the boy was to leave the country at once, and that if he ever ventured back he would be rearrested and charged."

Hugh Anstruther paused.

"That was three years ago," he continued, a sneering smile on his lips, "and now I find young Sherbroke here, at your estancia, in an assumed name." Hernando Lopez's face was as dark as a thundercloud.

"What have you got to say for yourself?" he demanded of the youth. "Do you admit you are Denis Sherbroke, or do you deny it?"

"I don't deny anything," Oliver calmly, replied. "All you have been told is true."

"So you deceived me, eh? You brazenly lied to me! You led me to believe you were an honest young fellow who had fallen on bad times through no fault of your own!"

"Can you blame me, señor? I had to have employment, and you wouldn't have given it to me if I had told you the truth. Haven't I been worthy of your trust? You gave me a chance, and I was grateful. I have led a straight and honest life since I have been with you, and if you will keep me on—"

"Keep you on? Is it likely I would, knowing what you are? I'll have no rogue and swindler working for me! It wouldn't be safe! I dare say you have been waiting and watching for an opportunity of—"

Hernando Lopez chocked with rage.

"You're discharged!" He cried, striking the table with his fist. "I've finished with you! I paid you your wages this morning, and you won't get another peso from me! And now begone, you impudent, lying rascal! I'll give you a quarter of an hour, and if you haven't cleared off by then I'll have you thrashed with whips! You'll get no employment elsewhere in Uruguay! I'll see to that! This is an honest country! Take my advice, and cross the border into Brazil or the Argentine, where you'll find plenty of rogues as bad as yourself!"

Appeal would have been useless, and Oliver Douglas knew it. He stepped to the door, hesitated, and looked at the man who had betrayed him.

"You have done a cruel and heartless thing, Anstruther," he said, in a sullen tone. "If I go clean to the devil it will be your fault. Remember that!"

"Clear out, you crooked dog of a swindler!" roared Hernando Lopez. "Don't stand there! Begone!"

The youth left the house, and more in sorrow than in anger. He could not justly blame his employer. He went to the men's quarters, and came out a few moments later with his blanket strapped to his back, and his automatic-pistol in his belt.

The gauchos had meanwhile heard of his discharge, and they mocked him and jeered at him, calling him vile names as he passed by them.

Oliver did not reply to their taunts. He walked rapidly on, scarcely hearing the abuse that rang to his ears, and did not stop until he was beyond the limits of the San Pablo estancia.

Then he sat down on a stone to consider his plans. He was far up-country, two hundred miles to the north of Montevideo, in a remote province of Uruguay.

He had a month's wages in his pocket, and the meagre savings of three years as well; and to the south-west of him, within a couple of days' journey was a railway-station.

"I'm not going over to Brazil or the Argentine," he doggedly reflected. "It will be Montevideo for me. I'll have a good time there while my money lasts. When it is gone I'll try to get work at the docks, and if there should be nothing doing, I'll have to beg or starve."

He set off again as the sun was touching the horizon, and while he held to his course, bitter thoughts of the past crowded into his mind.

What a heavy price he was paying for his sin—for the crime which had made him an outcast from his native land! Yet he had no right to complain, even if he had been spoilt by an indulgent parent.

No, his punishment was deserved. All Hugh Anstruther had said of him was true. He was a criminal.

Heedless of remonstrances and warnings, he had led a life of unbridled extravagance and dissipation until he had exhausted his fathers patience and been turned adrift from home.

His allowance cut off, craving for money to gratify his desires, he had fallen in with evil companions, and been easily persuaded to join in their plot to swindle the wealthy young baronet. Sir Harry Royce, out of a large sum of money.

The trick prematurely discovered, his accomplices had fled the country, leaving him to bear the brunt. He had been arrested—had suffered the indignity of having his finger-prints taken at Scotland Yard—had been set free through his fathers influence, and had been banished to South America on conditions which forbade him ever to return to England.

He had nearly starved in Montevideo before he met Herman Lopez there and induced the stock-raiser to give him employment at the estancia of San Pablo.

Three years ago that was; and since then he had been working hard, almost cheerfully, and clinging to a very slender ray of hope—the hope that he might some day redeem his character and go home, win his father's forgiveness, and marry the girl be loved.

Muriel had loved him, too, with a steadfast and loyal love, yet her influence had not saved him.

She had often pleaded with him, and the last time he had seen her, on the eve of his departure, she had pleaded with him again, told him she still had faith in him, and made him promise to turn over a new leaf for her sake.

For three years he had kept his promise, and had clung to the slim hope. But now....

"There's no use in hoping any longer!" Oliver said to himself aloud, an angry glitter in his eyes. "Curse that fellow Anstruther! He has ruined the one chance I had of making good! I don't suppose I'll ever get another. I may as well go straight to the devil, and be done with it! That's all that's left to me!"

He had been tramping for more than an hour, and now, in the dusk of the evening, he had reached the crest of a wooded hill. He would not go any farther to-night, he decided.

He climbed down into a deep glade, where tall pine-trees grew, and a stream trickled from beneath a mossy rock, and pink, and purple, and golden flowers spangled the grass.

And as he was gazing about him, looking for a suitable place to make his bed, he was startled by a stealthy, rustling noise behind him.

Swinging quickly round, he saw the shadowy figure of a man, and at the same instant he was struck on the head with a blunt weapon.

He staggered and fell, half-stunned by the blow. He was not unconscious. He was dimly aware of rough hands fumbling at him, tearing at his clothes, but he was utterly helpless.

At length, by a sudden and strenuous effort, he scrambled to his feet, and grappled with his assailant.

"Let go, curse you!" a voice snarled in Spanish. "Do you want me to kill you? Let go, I say!"

A violent jerk broke Oliver's hold, and another blow from the weapon sent him reeling to the ground again. He was completely stunned this time.

For a little while his mind was a blank, and when he came to his senses, with an aching head, he was alone, and all was quiet. He could not hear a sound.

He got up, weak and dizzy, and leaned against a tree. He was still somewhat dazed, and as he was wondering why he had been attacked, and by whom, a sickening fear flashed upon him.

He thrust his hands into his pockets, and withdrew them empty. He had been robbed. The envelope containing his month's wages, and a wallet in which he had hoarded his savings, had been stolen.

His pistol was gone also. He had been left with only his blanket, and his pipe and tobacco-pouch. It was a heavy, disastrous loss—between sixty and seventy pounds, reckoning pesos in English money.

Oliver had no doubt the thief was one of the gauchos, who had warily followed him from the estancia.

"It must have been Garcia, the Mexican greaser?" he cried in a fury. "The rest are decent enough fellows! Yes, I am sure it was Garcia. He has hated me since I knocked him down for kicking a young calf. And he knew I had been saving! He saw me put a wad of peso-notes into my wallet one day!"

There was nothing to be done. If the Mexican was the thief he would waste no time in hiding his plunder. Moreover, Oliver had not recognised his assailant, and could not swear to his identity.

It would be useless for him to go back. He must make the best of his loss. Remembering he had had some loose silver, he searched his pockets again, and found half a dozen small coins which had been overlooked by the thief. They were of trifling value, but they would be a help to him—a great help.

He had to reconsider his plans now. He could not travel by rail, and he was afraid to follow the line to Montevideo lest he should be arrested as a vagabond, and clapped into prison.

"I had better strike due south, over the lonely country," he said. "There is a sort of bridle path to guide me. It will be a tremendously long journey on foot, but I shan't starve. There are a few villages on the way, I believe, and what little silver I have will buy enough food to keep me alive until I reach the city."

And what then? Would he be able to find work? He was too ill to worry about that now. Having slaked his thirst at the stream, he stretched himself on the grass, spread his blanket on top of him, and presently dropped off to sleep.


A WEEK later, after night had fallen, Oliver Douglas came over the brow of a hill, and saw below him, bathed in the glow of the moon, a village of small adobe houses.

They were scattered about, and in the midst of them was a fairly large building, white-walled, and with a square tower. It was a church, commonly called a mission chapel in Uruguay.

Day by day Oliver had been on tramp, and he had covered more than half the distance to Montevideo, in good weather and bad.

He was footsore, tired and hungry, and disreputable of appearance, for his clothing had been torn by thorny bushes, and soiled with mud; his boots were in a wretched state, hard rains had battered and bleached his sombrero, and there was a growth of stubbly beard on his cheeks.

He wanted a meal badly, but the prospect of getting one was not encouraging.

As not a glimmer of light showed anywhere, he was sure the people of the village were all in bed and asleep, and he dared not waken any of them.

He had tried that before, and had been put to flight with a vicious dog snapping at his heels.

"I'll have to stay hungry until morning," he said to himself. "I must find a place of shelter, though. I can't walk any farther to-night."

He wearily descended the hill, went by a number of the dark and silent dwellings, and stopped at the mission chapel.

The door was not fastened. He entered quietly, with a feeling of reverence, and passed between rows of rude benches, guided by the moonlight which streamed in at the windows, to the rear of the sacred building. There was an altar here, and beyond it, at the base of the tower, was a small door.

Oliver meant to sleep on one of the benches, but as he was about to unstrap his blanket from his back he heard footsteps; and at once, on a prudent impulse, he glided behind a massive, upright beam which supported the roof.

At the same moment the front door was pushed open, and two dusky figures appeared. They came straightforward, and paused within a few paces of Oliver, who could see them clearly.

They were two well-dressed men, and to the youth's surprise they looked like Englishmen. One was tall and lean, with shrewd features, and a black moustache, and the other, a plump little man of less than average height, was clean-shaven, and had a jovial, good-humoured countenance.

"Well, Hewitt, here we are at last," said the latter in English, in a squeaky voice. "Up in the wilds of Uruguay. It's the longest trip the chief has ever sent us on—eh?"

"And the most risky," the other replied, in a surly tone. "I wish I was back in London, Carey. This is a devil of a country!"

"Mustn't grumble, my boy!" chuckled the little man. "Mustn't grumble! It's worth the risk. Think of the pay we get!"

"And think what the chief gets," muttered the tall man. "He takes the larger share."

"Oh, no, he doesn't. You don't believe that, and neither do I. As I've often told you, Hewitt, there is some big pot behind the chief—some person in a high position in Society who drags family skeletons from their closets, and rattles their bones, and chooses the pigeons to be plucked, and pulls the strings, and pockets most of the spoils."

"You are right about that, no doubt."

"I am sure I am. The chief couldn't nose out the dark secrets of Mayfair and Belgravia, though he is a bit of a swell himself. As for the game we are working on now, I would like to know how much Mr. Julian Sherbroke will have to fork over."

"It won't be less than a hundred thousand pounds, I'll bet. Perhaps more, Carey."

"A hundred thousand! My giddy aunt! And we'll be lucky if we get five hundred each, over and above our expenses! Still, that's not to be sneezed at, Hewitt. We can't complain."

Mr. Julian Sherbroke! Oliver was breathing hard, and his brain was reeling. It was all he could do to keep quiet. Had his ears deceived him? No, it was impossible.

These two Englishmen, thousands of miles from home, had mentioned his father's name in connection with the business which had brought them to this lonely Uruguayan village. Julian Sherbroke would have to pay one hundred thousand pounds, one of them had said. And they had talked of their chief, of Mayfair and Belgravia, of somebody in Society, of family skeletons.

"Good heavens! what can it mean?" the bewildered youth reflected. "What on earth can it mean? My father has never been in South America in all his life. Not as far as I know. Yet there can't be two Mr. Julian Sherbrokes in London."

The first shock over, he pulled himself together, and remembered that he was in an awkward, if not dangerous, position.

His curiosity had been roused to the keenest pitch. He wanted to learn more—he must—but he would have to be very careful, else he would be discovered; and in that event he would have to beat a rapid retreat, or put up a fight.

There had been no further conversation between the men. The little man was filling a pipe, and when he had lit it the two of them stepped to the small door at the base of the tower.

Then tall man tried the knob, and, finding the door locked, he promptly and deftly wrenched it open with an implement like a jemmy.

"On with the glim, Carey!" he bade.

A shaft of golden flame stabbed the darkness. It was a flashlight in the hand of the little man, and as it played to and fro it revealed to Oliver, from his hiding-place by the beam, a tiny room with damp-stained walls, a slanting shelf at the rear of it, and chained to the shelf a musty volume bound in leather.

He had no doubt what the volume was. It must be the chapel register—the chronicle of births and deaths, and marriages.

The tall man moved to the shelf, and while his companion held the light steady for him, he opened the book, and turned the pages over one by one, slowly scanning each. "Ah, here we are!" he murmured at length. "Have you found one of them?" the little man asked eagerly. "I've found the two, Carey. They are both on the same page."

"How can that be, Hewitt?

"Because there is only an interval of a year between the two entries. One is at the top, and the other is near the bottom."

"Well, hurry up. This is a spooky sort of a place, and it is getting on my nerves. That shadow on the wall looks like a skeleton."

Oliver's bewilderment had increased. He knew with what object the intruders had entered the church.

Taking a knife from his pocket, the tall man Hewitt carefully cut the page from the volume, folded it, slipped in into his breast-pocket, and shut the book. Then he came out of the room with his companion, and closed the door.

"The next thing is to search the padre's house, Carey," he said.

"I don't like the idea," the little man replied uneasily. "Isn't the leaf from the register enough?"

"It's not enough for the chief. You know what his orders were. He believes the padre has some letters and papers in his possession, and we've got to get them. I don't like the idea myself, though, Carey. The village people are half-breeds, descendants of the savage and bloodthirsty Charrua Indians, and they would hack us to bits if we were to be caught."

"Oh, heavens!" groaned the little man, rolling his eyes. "Cheerful, isn't it? What a Job's comforter you are, Hewitt, to be sure! But if we've got to go through with it—"

"What's that?" the other interrupted.

A loose board had just creaked under Oliver's foot. The flashlight played around him, showing his protruding elbows; and at once, knowing he had been discovered, he stepped from behind the beam, and raised his arms.

"It's all right," he said. "You needn't be afraid of me."

The tall man pointed an automatic-pistol at the youth's chest, and the little man Carey kept the light on him.

For a few seconds they stared at him in silence, scrutinising him from head to foot; and in that brief interval Oliver thought quickly, and decided what part he would play.

For his own safety, for his very life—and for another reason as well—he must contrive to deceive these men. Moreover, he must not let them know or suspect he was an Englishman.

"I guess you needn't be afraid of me," he repeated. "You might as well put that gun down."

"Who are you?" demanded the tall man.

"I'm a tramp," Oliver replied, with a silly grin. "That's all. Just an ornery tramp."

"English or American?"

"I'm an American. Been starving out here three years."

"Where did you come from? What are you doing here?"

"I've come from up-country, and I crept in here to sleep, and to hide. I've been chased."

"Chased?" said the tall man. "Who's been after you?"

"A band of Redskins on horseback," Oliver answered. "Hundreds of them. They had tomahawks, and bows and arrows. They wanted my scalp, but I scared them away. I whistled like an army bugle, and you should have seen them run! It was funny!"

The youth laughed—a cackling, idiotic laugh. His captors glanced at each other and nodded.

"He's a looney?" said the little man, in a low tone.

"A bit cracked, Carey," the other assented.

Oliver laughed again.

"That's what they all say," he muttered. "And they're all liars. I'm no more cracked than they are, I reckon, if I do see ghosts and things. Give me some grub, will you?" he continued. "Or give me some money."

"We'll give you nothing," said the tall man. "You'll have to shift for yourself."

"Then tell me where I am? What's the name of the place?"

"You are at the village of San Jacinto. Where are you going from here?"

"I don't know. Anywhere. I'm only a tramp."

"Have you been watching us? Did you see what we did?"

"I saw you go into that little room, and read a book. But its no business of mine."

"No, it jolly well isn't! if I thought—"

The tall man broke off. He drew his companion aside, and for several minutes they carried on a whispered conversation that was inaudible to the youth. Then the little man turned to him. "Do you want a job, Mr. Vagabond?" he asked. Oliver shook his head.

"No, I don't," he sullenly answered. "Work ain't in my line. It never was."

"There won't be any work about it."

"You're trying to fool me, ain't you?"

"No, I'm not. I'll talk straight to you. Gavin Carey is my name, and my pal is Mack Hewitt. The old padre of this village, Father Jose Amaral, has some papers which don't belong to him, and we have instructions to get them. We are going to his house now to search, and we want you to come with us."

"What for? What am I to do?"

"Watch and listen. That's all. If you'll do that we'll take you down to Montevideo with us, and give you enough money to put you on your feet. We have a couple of horses tethered yonder, out on the pampas, and you can ride behind me. How does it strike you—eh?"

Oliver was elated. It was with difficulty he kept a stolid, stupid countenance. The true motive of the proposition was quite obvious to him.

Though he had deceived these men, led them to believe he was a looney, they weren't taking any chances. They did not dare kill him, for one thing; and on the other hand, they were afraid to leave him at San Jacinto because of what he had seen and heard. That was why they had suggested he should help them, and go with them to Montevideo.

All this swiftly occurred to the youth, and as quickly he formed a desperate resolve. For the sake of his father, whom he judged to be threatened with blackmail, he must get from the men the leaf torn from the church register, and what papers they might steal from Father Amaral.

And he would have an opportunity of doing so if he accepted their proposal.

"Well, how does it strike you?" the little man repeated, after a short pause. "Are you standing in with us?"

"Sure thing," Oliver replied, in an indifferent tone.

"And you'll go with us to Montevideo?"

"Sure thing. I don't care where I go."

"Come along, then. We're in a hurry to finish the business."


HAVING left the mission chapel, and gone with stealthy tread along the village street for a couple of hundred yards, Oliver and the two men stopped by an adobe dwelling which was larger than the rest; and was like the others, in darkness.

The door was not secured, for Father Amaral had no need to be afraid of thieves. Mack Hewitt pushed it softly open, and his companions followed him into a room that was dimly lit by the glow of the moon.

Gavin Carey played his flashlight, and the little group saw that they were in the living-room of the house.

It was furnished with Spartan simplicity. No carpet or rug was spread on the stone floor, and the walls were bare, except for two or three religious pictures.

There was an armchair, a stool, a rude table on which were several books, a pipe, and a tobacco-jar. And in a corner, resting on a bench, was a small, rusty chest of iron.

Gavin Carey pointed to it.

"The papers will be there, I'll bet," he chuckled.

"Shut up, you fool!" bade Mack Hewitt in a whisper. "Do you want to waken the padre?"

All was quiet. Not a sound could be heard. Oliver and the little man stood by the table, the latter holding the flashlight, and Mack Hewitt glided warily over to the iron chest.

It was unlocked. He raised the lid, and when he had rested it against the wall he rummaged amongst the contents of the chest, on which the flare of light shone.

"A lot of trash!" he murmured. "Old clothes, a photograph of a Spanish girl, a rosary, a bronze statue of the Virgin, and—"

He paused.

"Ah! What's this?" he added as he held up a packet of letters, loosely tied together with a cord. He took one of the faded envelopes out, and glanced at the letter it contained, then replaced it, and thrust the packet into his breast-pocket, with the leaf from the church register. "Are they what the chief told you to look for?" asked Gavin Carey, in a low tone. Mack Hewitt nodded.

"Yes, I've got them," he replied. "The letter I looked at is signed by Mr. Julian Sherbroke, and the others are in the same handwriting."

"Good business! That's all, isn't it?"

"That's all, Carey. We've finished here."

"Let's get a move on, then. I shan't feel easy until we are in the saddle, Mack."

"Wait a bit! We mustn't leave any traces."

Mack Hewitt rearranged the disordered contents of the chest and lowered the lid.

As he straightened up, a noise was heard, and the next instant a door at the rear of the room was opened, and there appeared the figure of a venerable old man, with white hair and clean-shaven, wrinkled features, carrying a lighted candle.

It was Father Jose Amaral, robed in black, and with a cowl on his head.

"The padre!" gasped Gavin Carey.

Father Amaral lifted one hand in stern rebuke. "Wicked and sacrilegious men!" he exclaimed, utterly unafraid. "Is this a place for you to come to with evil intent? The abode of a priest of God? Would you rob me, who have devoted my life to—"

"Hold your tongue, padre!" Mack Hewitt bade fiercely as he pulled his automatic from his belt. "We don't want to do you any harm, but if you say another word—"

"Don't shoot him, Mack!" Gavin Carey broke in. "I won't have it!"

Oliver's fists were clenched, and he was in a boiling rage. He would knock the two men down if he could, he resolved, and capture them, with the help of the priest.

But before he could make a move Father Amaral, overcome by the shock, tottered against the wall, and let the candle slip from his limp grasp.

He gave a husky shout, and now, realising that he would be unable to clear himself should he be caught, Oliver hastened from the dwelling with his companions. "A nice mess we're in!" muttered the little man.

"Shut up, and save your breath!" said Mack Hewitt. "We must run for our lives!"

Father Amaral was still shouting, louder and louder. An alarm had risen, and it was spreading.

Excited voices were heard from all directions, and as the fugitives raced along the village street two of the inhabitants rushed from a house in front of them—two big, swarthy men, wearing ponchos.

Carey felled one with his fist, and Hewitt rapped the other on the skull with his automatic.

"Come this way, Carey!" he bade as he swerved to the right. "And keep an eye on the looney! Don't let him give us the slip!"

The three darted amongst the scattered dwellings, running as fast as they could, and they were soon clear of the village and out on the open, grassy pampas.

They were not so frightened now. They believed they could escape. Looking back, they saw behind them in the moonlight, in hot pursuit, at least a score of shouting, yelling people.

But beyond them and to the west, at a lesser distance, they could see the two tethered horses.

"Ha! The steeds await us!" panted Gavin Carey, who was jovial sort of a villain. "Once in the saddle and—"

As he spoke an old-fashioned gun roared like a blunderbuss. A slug whistled by Oliver's ear, and at once, to the consternation of the fugitives, the horses jerked up their picket-stakes, and went galloping off in terror.

"Oh, heavens, that's done it!" deplored the little man. "We've lost them, Hewitt! They'll gallop for miles before they stop!"

"Curse the luck!" Mack Hewitt cried. "What the blazes are we to do now? We can't put up a fight against that mob of greasy natives! They are too many for us, even with our pistols!"

"We have just one chance," said Oliver, pointing to the south. "There are woods yonder. We must try to reach them."

"Yes, it's the only chance!" Hewitt assented. "Here goes!"

Altering their course, they ran fleetly, with a hue and cry ringing in their ears. They had drawn their pursuers after them, but by hard efforts they gained a little, and they were a couple of hundred yards in the lead when they plunged into the belt of timber.

It was not very wide. They got through it in half a mile, and broke from the cover on to open and rugged ground.

And now, to their relief, they could scarcely hear the clamour. It was growing fainter, they were sure.

"Our luck's in!" Gavin Carey cheerfully declared. "The natives are going back to the village to find out what the alarm was about."

"Yes, it sounds as if they were," replied Mack Hewitt. "And when they learn that we broke into the padre's house, they will be after as again."

"Do you think so, Mack?"

"It's pretty much of a certainty. We had better push on until we are a long way from San Jacinto." Oliver agreed with his companions. They stopped for a few moments to recover breath, and then continued their fight.

For an hour they trudged across a rolling plain, which brought them to a stretch of scrub, and when they had traversed that they climbed a steep hill, clothed with grass, and came at the top of it to a sandy hollow that was rimmed around with boulders, and shaded by a clump of pine-trees.

"We'll stop here for a time," said Mack Hewitt. "I'm dead tired, and I'm going to snatch forty winks of sleep. You and the looney can keep watch, Carey, though I don't believe we have anything more to fear from the village people.

"It may be days," he added, "before Father Amaral discovers that the letters have been stolen from his chest, and that a page is missing from the chapel register. And it will be so much the better for us!"

Gavin Carey nodded.

"I'll wake you in an hour," he said, "and get a few winks myself. I'm as tired as you are, Mack."


MACK HEWITT stretched himself at the bottom of the hollow, with the sand for a pillow, and fell asleep at once. And Oliver and the little man lay down on the brow of the hill, with their backs against the trunk of a big pine-tree.

Gavin Carey was in a cheery mood, and it was difficult for the youth to believe he was such a scoundrel as he undoubtedly was.

He cracked jokes, and talked of one thing and another. He seemed to have taken a liking to Oliver.

"It will be no use trying to find our horses," he said. "We'll have to walk to the nearest railway station, and travel by train to Montevideo. And we'll leave you there, with a few shillings in your pocket, for we've got to get back to England. Take my advice, my boy, and find work. You don't want to be a tramp all your life, do you?"

He did most of the talking. Oliver played the part of a looney, saying little or nothing, and now and again mumbling incoherently.

But he was thinking—and thinking hard. He knew what he meant to do, after Mack Hewitt had been roused, and Carey had gone to sleep.

He would snatch Hewitt's pistol from his belt, and cover him with it; threaten to shoot him if he uttered a word, and make him promptly hand over the packet of letters—the letters the man had said had been written by Mr. Julian Sherbroke—and the page from the register.

Then he would take to rapid flight, go back to the village of San Jacinto, and give the letters and the leaf to Father Amaral.

"The padre will surely believe my story," he reflected, "and he will be able to explain the mystery about my father, I dare say. I can't imagine what it is. It is the strangest thing I have ever known."

Oliver's opportunity was to come sooner than he had expected, as it happened. Presently, as he was speaking of something, Gavin Carey's voice trailed into a whisper.

His chin sank on his breast, and he began to snore. He was sound asleep.

And now, with a different plan in mind, Oliver crept cautiously into the sandy hollow, and knelt by the prostrate figure of Mack Hewitt.

He could see the letters and the page sticking from the breast-pocket of the man's coat, which was partly open; but as he was reaching them, when his fingers were almost touching them, Hewitt suddenly awoke.

With a startled exclamation he sprang to his feet and struck at the youth, who dodged the blow and scrambled from the hollow. His attempt had failed, and his life was in peril now. "Stop him, Carey!" Mack Hewitt shouted. "Stop him!"

Gavin Carey jumped up at once, but by then Oliver had darted past him, and leapt over the crest of the hill. He went tearing down at reckless speed at the risk of his neck; and as he ran the two men yelled at him, and Hewitt opened fire with his automatic.

Two shots missed, and with the third report Oliver felt a burning pain. The bullet had grazed one side of his head. He floundered on for several yards, staggered blindly, pitched on to a mossy shelf or rock, and lay there limp and motionless.

He was only slightly stunned, though he was unable to rise. He had his senses, and could hear the voices of the two men who were standing above him.

"You've killed the poor fellow!" cried Gavin Carey.

"It serves him right!" Mack Hewitt declared, with an oath. "He's no looney. He's as shrewd as they make them. He's been playing a game with us from the first, else he wouldn't have tried to steal the letters and the leaf. But perhaps he isn't dead. He may be only shamming."

"He isn't, Mack! I'm sure you killed him!"

"I'd better go down and see to make certain."

"No, no, don't! We had better clear out of this as quickly as we can! Come along!"

"Very well, Carey. If any of the village people are searching for us they would have heard the shots I fired."

The talk ceased, and retreating foot steps were heard. Mack Hewitt and Gavin Carey were gone, crossing the top of the hill, and both strongly believed that the young tramp who had tricked them was dead.

The steps faded to silence, and with a thankful heart Oliver sat up. He put his hand to the spot the blood was trickling from, and found the bullet had merely broken the skin. "I'll be getting on now," he thought.

He felt better now, and was able to rise. But his limbs were shaky, and at the first step a fit of giddiness seized him, and he swayed on the edge of the rocky shelf and toppled headlong over.

He could not check himself. Down the hill he went, now rolling and now sliding, clutching at tufts of grass, and at the bottom of the slope he landed lightly in a soft copse of bushes.

He was not hurt. He lay there for a little while, gasping for breath; and when at length he scrambled out from the thicket and got to his feet, he heard rustling, crackling sounds in the scrub beyond him, and saw a number of dusky figures rapidly approaching.

They were already close to him, and before he could take to his heels he was surrounded by a score of the village people.

He was in fear of these swarthy, fierce-visaged natives who were descended from Uruguay. They meant to kill him, he was sure; but they did him no harm, though they handled him roughly, and reviled him in the Spanish tongue.

"You come with us," said one of them, a big man whose poncho was richly embroidered. "You will be punished for trying to rob the holy padre whom we love."

In the wilds of Uruguay the punishment for thieves was summary death, as Oliver knew, and he realised that he was in a desperate plight.

As he had failed to recover the stolen letters he could not prove his innocence. Father Amaral would disbelieve his story, and presume him to be as guilty as were the men he had been with.

He offered no resistance, and said nothing. He would wait, he reflected, and appeal to the padre, who might be inclined to mercy.

In the grasp of the big man, and with the rest of the party trailing behind, Oliver was marched back through the scrub and the woods, and across the pampas to the middle of the village of San Jacinto.

All of the people flocked from their dwellings, and there was a hostile demonstration against the prisoner. A yelling mob pressed about him on all sides. He was cursed and threatened, menaced with knives, and he had no chance of speaking to the padre.

Father Amaral was visible in the background waving his arms and calling loudly, but his voice was drowned by the shrill and angry clamour, and the crush was so great he could not get near the youth, hard though he tried.

Oliver shouted to him, appealed to him, until the big man whom the others called Chica, dealt him a blow and bade him hold his tongue.

"You are a dog of a thief," he cried striking him again, "and you must die! Such is our law! At sunrise to-morrow you will be shot!"

It was a staggering sentence. To be shot at sunrise without the formality of a trial! Would the padre allow that? Could he, would he, prevent it?

No, it wasn't likely. The man Chica, it seemed, was the ruler of San Jacinto. In vain Oliver protested his innocence, demanded to see Father Amaral.

His wrists and ankles were bound with thongs of rawhide, and he was picked up and carried to a sort of a shed and thrust into it. Chica pulled the door shut, remarking that the English dog was securely tied and needed no guard.

The clamour ceased, and the crowd gradually dispersed. Soon all was quiet. The people had returned to their beds.

"There's no hope," Oliver told himself. "The padre can't save me. I'll be shot in the morning."

He thought of home, of his father, of Muriel. Bitter anguish swept over him, and was succeeded by hot wrath. What right had these half-civilised brutes to shoot him? He would escape! He must!

He struggled madly at intervals, making frenzied and futile attempts to loosen the thongs which bound him, until he was completely exhausted.

And he was about to drop off to sleep in sickening despair when the door opened and a black-robbed figure appeared. It was Father Amaral.

"Hush!" he bade in a whisper. "Not a word! Do not speak now! I have come to set you free. You are only a boy, and too young to die in your sins. Moreover, I think you have been led astray by evil companions older than yourself."

The padre was kneeling on the floor. He had no knife, but with his slim, white fingers he tugged and twisted at the youth's fetters, untying the knots.

"It will be better so," he murmured. "Though my people are devoted to me, they will not allow me to interfere with their laws, and they would be very angry if they were to know I had released you. I would have them think it was by your own efforts."

It was done at last. The thongs were all untied. Oliver rose on his cramped limbs, and Father Amaral pressed a parcel in his hand.

"Food for you," he said. "And here also is a little money—as much as I can spare. Get as far on your journey as you can before you stop to rest. And for my sake try to lead a better life in future."

"May Heaven bless you, holy father!" Oliver replied, his voice tremulous with emotion. "I will never forget what you have done for me. I will remember you with deepest gratitude as long as I live. But—"

"The night is drawing to an end," the padre interrupted. "Time is precious to you, and you must not waste it in talk."

"But I must speak! I beg you to listen! You wrong me! I am not as evil as you believe! Not willingly was I with those wicked men!"

"It may be so. I trust it is."

"It is the truth, I swear! I had crept into the church to sleep when the men entered. I saw them go into the small room under the tower, and saw one of them cut a leaf out of the register. Afterwards they discovered me, and had I not pretended that—"

"A leaf cut from the register!" repeated Father Amaral, in a tone of bewilderment. "Can it be possible?"

"You will find it missing," Oliver continued. "That the men took, and more than that. They have stolen a packet of letters from the iron chest in your house."

"What? The letters written by the English señor? This is indeed a most strange thing! I can hardly believe they have been stolen! I will look when I get home!"

"You will not find them in the chest. They are gone, And now, before we part, tell me what it all means. It is a matter which concerns me. What could be the motive for stealing the letters, and the page from the register?"

"Truly, my son, I know not any more than you do."

"You must know, holy father. The men are English, as I am also, and they mentioned a name which—"

"Say no more," bade the padre. "Your life is in peril, and you must be on your way. At any moment we may be discovered. As for the strange things you have told me of, I will consider them. Did I know what they meant I should tell you. Go now, my son! And my blessing go with you, whether you be good or evil!"

Father Amaral spoke the truth. Oliver could not doubt his word. Not from him, it appeared, could he learn the explanation of the mystery.

He was very anxious to question him further, but he dared not delay. He clasped the noble-hearted padre's hand, fervently thanked him again, and slipped from the shed, the gift of silver in his pocket, and the parcel of food under his arm.

When he had walked a few yards, he glanced over his shoulder and saw Father Amaral gliding in the opposite direction.

"I hope I'll be able to repay that good man some day," he said to himself.

There was nobody about, and the moon had gone down. Treading noiselessly, and skulking in the shadow of the dwellings Oliver stole through the slumbering village and when he was clear of it, and out on the open pampas, he put his mind seriously to the position he was in.

In the space of a few hours his whole outlook on life had changed. He had a definite object in view. He must—no, he was going to—checkmate Mack Hewitt and Gavin Carey, and wrest from them the spoils which were to be used as an implement of blackmail.

But how? And when and where? He must think it out carefully. And he did.

There was a railway some miles to the west, and the men would doubtless hasten to the nearest station and go by train to Montevideo, from which port it was their intention to sail for England.

"Those crooked scoundrels believe I am dead," Oliver reflected, "and it will be best to let them think so for a while. I haven't the money to travel as a passenger, but I'll bet I can get down to the city on a goods train, hidden in a truck. It would be no use trying to get the better of the men in Uruguay, though, by legal means or otherwise. So there is only one thing for it. I'll have to sail on the same boat with them as a stowaway. I'll contrive that somehow. I've got to."

It was all planned in Oliver's shrewd head, the daring and reckless scheme. He had a dogged nature. Should there be difficulties, he would conquer them.

Cost him what it might, at the risk of arrest and imprisonment, he was going to return to England with Hewitt and Carey, keep track of them after they landed, learn what the secret was, foil the villains and their chief, and save his father from being blackmailed.

And perhaps he would win back all he had lost by his folly, and marry the girl he loved.

Thus thinking, cheer and hope in his heart again, he trudged across the lonely pampas, weary and footsore, yet resolved to put many miles between himself and San Jacinto by sunrise.

He would be safe then, if his escape had not meanwhile been discovered. And there was little or no likelihood of that, he was confident.

His life had been saved by Father Amaral, and it occurred to him, as he went on, that the loss of his employment at the San Pablo estancia, and the theft of his money, had been blessings in disguise.

But for those misfortunes he would be new at Montevideo, with no knowledge of the sinister secret, and with no prospects for the future.


WHEN a goods train from the far north pulled up in the railway-yard on the outskirts of Montevideo at early dawn one morning, a tarpaulin which covered a truck filled with grain sacks was cautiously lifted, and from beneath it crawled Oliver Douglas.

Having descended from the truck and stretched his stiff and aching limbs, he threw a glance around him, peering into the murky gloom in all directions.

He had his chance. Sure that he would not be observed by any of the train-hands, he darted across half a dozen lines of metals, climbed a grassy embankment, scaled a fence, and bore to the left by a deserted road.

"Well, here I am at last, thank goodness!" he said to himself. "If only those rascals haven't sailed yet! It isn't likely they have."

Oliver was covered with dust and grime, and his stomach craved for food. For three days he had been travelling south, hidden in the truck, and for twenty-four hours he had not eaten a bite.

He still had the few silver coins the kindly padre had given him, however, so he wouldn't starve. But he had no chance of getting food now, at this early hour.

He tightened his belt to stifle the pangs of hunger, and struck into a brisk pace along the road, which presently brought him to the suburbs of the big Spanish capital of Uruguay.

He had a weary tramp before him. He went by miles of small and modest dwellings inhabited by the working classes, by miles of broad avenues lined with stately residences in which immensely rich people lived in Parisian luxury and refinement, and so, finally, to the business quarter of the city, where were restaurants, theatres and cafes, splendid shops, and buildings worthy of any European capital.

At a small place in a side street Oliver brushed the dust from his shabby clothes, washed his face and hands, and ate a hearty meal.

Then he set off again, refreshed and strengthened, and tramped more weary miles; until, about the middle of the afternoon, he came to the vast docks of Montevideo, which stretched along the River Plate as far as the eye could reach, and were crowded with shipping from every part of the world.

With an object in mind, Oliver followed the docks for some, distance, scanning the various vessels, watching them being loaded and unloaded; and at length, with a slight start, he paused behind a tier of casks and looked over the top of them.

"My word, if it isn't the Trinidad!" he muttered. "The boat I came out to Uruguay on! I wonder if Neil Rankin is still the Purser?"'

Yes, there she was, the large ocean liner Trinidad, belonging to the Bannerman Line of Liverpool. For a little while Oliver stood there, gazing wistfully at the vessel; and then he gave another quick start, and ducked his head.

A taxi had just stopped beyond him, and two well-dressed men were getting out of it. They were Mack Hewitt and Gavin Carey, and each carried a kitbag.

The chauffeur having been paid, the men walked straight to the Bannerman Line boat, showed their papers to an officer at the foot of the gangway, and mounted to the deck.

Oliver stared after them.

"They must have booked their passages," he reflected. "They could have got to Montevideo a couple of days, ago by a passenger train. They are going home on the Trinidad, and so am I. I've simply got to. That's all there is about it. But how the deuce can I?"

It was a hard problem, and Oliver sat down on an upturned cask to consider it. Though it would be no difficult matter for him to slip on board the vessel and find a hiding-place, he would almost certainly be discovered during the voyage, and that would spoil his plans.

What was he to do? He gazed into vacancy, his chin resting on his hands; and as he was cudgelling his brains, trying to solve the problem, footsteps approached, and a man stopped in front of him—a lean, rakish little man in a blue uniform and a peaked cap, with a small, scrubby moustache, and a pointed tuft of beard.

"By jingo, it's Dougles, isn't it?" he said with a dry chuckle.

"It isn't anybody else," Oliver replied. "How are you, Rankin?"

"As fit as a fiddle. How's yourself?"

"Is it any use asking that?"

"No, it isn't. So you haven't made good, laddie, eh?"

Oliver shook his head gloomily, and the two were silent for a few seconds. They had been intimate friends on the voyage from England on the Trinidad three years ago.

Neil Rankin, the Scotch purser of the boat, had taken a liking to the youth. He had known him only in the name of Douglas, and had been led to belive that he was going to Uruguay to make a fresh start in life after a quarrel with his father because of his wild and extravagant habits.

"What have you been doing all the time?" he resumed, taking close stock of the shabby young fellow. "Not loafing?"

"No, I've been at an estancia up-country, punching cattle with a lot of greasy gauchos," said Oliver. "I didn't mind the work. I made good right enough. But I got sick of it and cleared out. I hit the trail for the nearest railway-station, and I hadn't gone far when I was attacked and robbed by some scoundrel. He stole my month's wages and all my savings."

"Hard luck that was, laddie."

"It was rough, Rankin. I hadn't any money, so there was nothing for it but to steal a ride in a truck on a goods train. That's how I got down to Montevideo. It was only this morning I—"

Oliver broke off abruptly. Something had occurred to him—a hopeful, cheering inspiration. He hesitated for a moment, thinking quickly.

"When do you sail, Rankin?" he inquired.

"At ten o'clock to-night, with the tide," said the purser.

"Well, I want you to do me a favour—a great favour," Oliver continued. "I'll talk straight to you. I've been a fool, and I'm sorry for it. It was my fault I quarrelled with my governor. I'm going home to tell him what an ass I was, and ask him to forgive me. But I'm dead broke except for some small silver. I can't stay in Montevideo without money, and I can't cable to have some sent to me. So will you—will you hide me on board the Trinidad?"

Neil Rankin shrugged his shoulders.

"You're not asking much, are you?" he said, in a sarcastic tone. "A fine lot of trouble you'd get me in!"

"There wouldn't be any risk," Oliver pleaded. "You could see to that. Don't refuse, there's a good fellow! I can't stay out here another day. You wouldn't leave me in Montevideo to starve, would you? It's a cruel city. I've got to get home as quickly as I can, and the Trinidad is my only chance."

"I'm sorry, laddie, but it can't be done. You know how strict the law is. If you were discovered you would be shipped back to Uruguay, not having any papers, and I would be in a devil of a mess."

"It has often been done before. Listen, Rankin! My name isn't Douglas. I'll tell you who my father is. You may have heard of him. He is Mr. Julian Sherbroke."

The purser whistled through his teeth.

"Mr. Julian Sherbroke!" he repeated, looking at the youth incredulously. "The millionaire! And you say you're his son!"

"So I am," Oliver declared, "It's the truth, Rankin. I swear it is, on my honour."

Neil Rankin was wavering now. He was a good-tempered generous fellow, and he was sorry for the unfortunate youth.

"I'll do it!" he said gruffy.

"You will?" Oliver exclaimed eagerly. "It's awfully decent of you. I don't know how to thank you. How are you going to arrange it?"

"I'll have to hide you somewhere in the hold," the purser answered. "I'll see that you get enough to eat and drink during the voyage, and when we're in the Mersey I'll contrive to smuggle you ashore."

"And will you lend me enough money to travel third-class from Liverpool to London? I'll pay it back. I promise."

"Yes, I don't mind."

"But how am I to get on board here Rankin, without being seen or questioned?"

"I'm not sure. You may have to slip into the water, and climb a rope to the ship's bow. We'll talk of that later. You meet me at this spot, laddie, at exactly nine o'clock. I'll have found a hiding-place for you by then. And now I must be off. So long!"

Neil Rankin nodded and was gone, bending his steps towards the boat. And Oliver, who was hungry again, crossed the docks to look for a cheap restaurant.

He thanked his lucky stars he had fallen in with his old friend the purser. In something like three weeks he would be in England.


Between ten and eleven o'clock that night Mack Hewitt and Gavin Carey, attired in evening-dress, sat in the saloon of the big vessel, eating and drinking and talking of their adventurous trip up-country.

And far beneath them in the hold, in a cramped nook amongst the passengers' luggage, Oliver Douglas was reclining cosily, with a blanket for a pillow, listening to the faint sound of rippling water.

The voyage had begun. The liner Trinidad was gliding down the River Plate, homeward bound.




THERE was a look of deep concern on Sexton Blake's face when he stepped from a taxi at eleven o'clock one morning in front of a pretentious dwelling in Chesham Place, Belgravia.

His arrival was expected. The butler, an elderly man with a sad countenance, let the famous detective into the house, spoke a few words to him, took him upstairs, and showed him into a bed-room on the first floor.

Inspector Widgeon, of Scotland Yard, was standing by the window.

"Good-morning, Blake," he said, in a low tone. "Mrs. Milvern told me on the 'phone she was going to ring you up as she wished us both to be here."

"And she told me," Blake replied, "that she had telephoned to the Yard, and you were coming on. Rather an unusual proceeding under the circumstances, don't you think?"

"Yes, I did think so," the inspector assented. "I had no explanation from her. She merely informed me of what had happened."

"As she did me, Widgeon. Have you seen the lady yet?"

"Not yet. I am waiting for her."

"A doctor has been sent for, I suppose?" Blake continued.

"He has been and gone," said Inspector Widgeon. "He could not do anything. He is returning later, I believe."

They stood in silence, gazing at a lounge-chair that was close to the fireplace. Huddled limply in the chair, fully dressed, was the body of a clean-shaven man who was about forty years of age. One of his hands rested by his side, and in the other, which hung from the arm of the chair, and automatic pistol was tightly clenched.

There was a bullet hole in the front of his jacket, over the left breast, and the edges of it were scorched and stained with blood.

The body was that of Mr. Eric Milvern, a younger son of Lord Branksome.

"He was an intimate friend of yours, I think," said the inspector.

"Fairly intimate," Blake answered. "I liked him very much."

"Have you any idea why he should have shot himself?"

"None in the least, Widgeon. He was in prosperous circumstances—he inherited a considerable sum of money from an aunt—and he was happily married. No, I can't imagine why—"

"She is coming!" the inspector interrupted.

The rustle of skirts was heard. The door was opened, and Mrs. Milvern entered the room and quietly shut the door behind her.

She was a fair woman of thirty, tall and graceful, and a recognised society beauty. Her white, tear-stained checks told how terribly she had suffered from the shock. Apparently she had recovered from it.

She was calm now, strangely, amazingly calm; but there was a curious glitter in her dark blue eyes—a look which was more than grief. She came slowly forward, her gaze averted from the motionless object in the lounge-chair.

"I will tell you at once why I sent for you, Mr. Blake," she said, in a dull tone. "You were my husband's friend, and I want you and Inspector Widgeon to avenge his murder."

"Murder?" Blake repeated, in surprise. "Surely not!"

"Not legal murder," said Mrs. Milvern, very softly and coldly. "No, it can't be called that. But none the less Eric was cruelly, wickedly murdered, and I will never rest until justice has been done."

"What do you mean? Am I to understand that some trouble, some worry, preyed on his mind and drove him to—"

"Yes, Mr. Blake, he was hounded to death—hounded and harried and persecuted, until in despair he took his own life. I know now that was the reason. I did not know before. I did not guess. Until a month ago my husband was his normal self, always happy and cheerful, and in bright spirits. Then I noticed a change in him—a sudden change. He was depressed. He never laughed or smiled. He took no pleasure in anything. He lost his appetite, and moped about the house. I thought he was ill, but he assured me he was not.

"Day by day, week by week, he grew more depressed. I knew he must be greatly worried over something, but I could not persuade him to tell me what it was. He would not even admit he was worried. He said I was talking nonsense."

"I was at the theatre last night with some friends," she resumed, in the same dull, firm tone, "and when I came back my husband had left word that he had gone to bed. This morning he did not come down to breakfast at nine o'clock, our usual hour. I waited half an hour, and then, feeling alarmed, I went up to Eric's room. And here I found him dead, just as he is now, shot through the heart. No one heard the report of the pistol in the night. The shot must have been fired while heavy traffic was passing the house.

"I was distracted with grief. I swooned, and was unconscious for a little while. The servants hurried in, and a doctor was sent for. When I recovered I saw an envelope on the table addressed to me. It was a letter written by my husband. Here it is, Mr. Blake. It will clearly explain to you the reason for—"

Pausing again, Mrs. Milvern took the letter from her bosom, and gave it to the detective. It was a very short one, and it ran as follows:

My Darling Angela,

I am nearly mad. I have deceived you. I wanted to tell you the truth, but I could not. I have been worried and persecuted until I can endure it no longer. My life is an intolerable burden to me. It is blackmail—that old affair which I believed to be dead and buried for ever.

I can't pay the money demanded of me, and for your sake I can't face exposure. There is only one thing to be done, and I am doing it. Forgive me, darling, I beg of you, and try to forget me. Good-bye.

From your broken-hearted husband.


Blake's face was very stern and harsh when he had read the pitiful letter. It had stirred him deeply. He handed it to the inspector, and spoke to Mrs. Milvern.

"I am reluctant to put any personal questions to you—questions which will hurt," he said, "but it is important that I should. What is the old affair your husband refers to? I think you know."

"Yes, I know," Mrs. Milvern replied. "And I am quite willing to tell you. It happened long ago, years before I was married. My husband was wild in those days and fond of pleasure. He was in Paris, and he went to a night gambling club, and there was a fight there. Several persons were badly hurt, and the police came in. Eric had nothing to do with it. He was perfectly innocent. But he was arrested, and for a little while he was in prison, in false name which he gave to the police. He confessed to me when we became engaged, and I laughed at him, and told him it didn't make any difference to me."

"How many years ago was it?" asked Blake.

"At least fifteen years. It may have been more."

"Well, somebody must have recently learned of the matter, and started blackmailing your husband. As a rising young politician the publication of the fact that he had been in prison would be fatal to his prospects. Have you no suspicious? Can you imagine who the person might be?"

"No, Mr. Blake, I can't. I haven't any idea. I never told anybody of what happened in Paris, and I am sure Eric never did. He was too much ashamed."

"Can't you give me any help at all?" said Blake. "I would like to know how the negotiations were conducted. Had your husband any visitors who were strangers to you?"

"No, only intimate friends of ours," Mrs. Milvern answered. "Eric has frequently been out, though."

"Perhaps there are letters in his desk which would throw some light on the mystery.

"There are none, Mr. Blake. I searched his desk thoroughly before the inspector came."

"Did you search his pockets also?"

"I had the butler do that. He found no letters or papers. If Eric had any he must have burnt them. I wish I could help you. If only I could! I have lost the best husband any woman ever had. There was never an angry word between us. Oh, how I shall miss him! How can I live without him? I say again he was murdered—cruelly murdered by somebody who ought to be hanged! You know that as well as I do, Mr. Blake. You were one of his best friends, and—"

Mrs. Milvern's voice rose to a higher pitch.

"You must avenge Eric's death!" she cried, her eyes flashing with passion. "You can, and you must! If you don't, I will! Oh, my poor husband!"

She made a move towards the lounge-chair, but Blake quickly intercepted her, and seized her by the arm.

She struggled with him, and tore herself from his grasp; and then, bursting into a flood of tears, she turned to the door and went out of the room, sobbing bitterly. Inspector Widgeon shook his head.

"Poor lady!" he remarked. "I don't wonder she is so distressed, and in such a vengeful mood. It is a very ugly business."

"Very ugly indeed," said Blake, whose brows were knit. "And not the first one of the kind. I have just been thinking of several things, and I will recall them to you very briefly. It is less than two years since Sir Bruce Maitland secretly and hurriedly sold his residence in Portman Square, and what other property he had, and utterly disappeared. Why? Nobody knew. He has not been heard of to this day."

"I remember the affair," the inspector observed.

"Some months afterwards," Blake went on, "the Marquis of Barleven, a wealthy young man in rugged health, engaged to a princess, went over the Brussels, and was there found dead in his bed at an obscure hotel—dead of poison administered by his own hand. Why? No one knew. There was no explanation."

"None at all," Inspector Widgeon assented. "It was a mysterious case."

"And last spring," Blake resumed, "the Hon. Gertrude Haysboro, a beautiful girl of twenty, daughter of Lord Danesmere, and the fiancee of a duke's son, was found drowned in a pond on her father's estate in Norfolk, on the morning after a big dance at the house. The pond was very shallow. The girl's footprints were traced straight to the edge of it, and into the water. It was so obviously a case of suicide that the coroner would not entertain any other theory."

"I remember that also," said the inspector. "Miss Haysboro had not quarrelled with her fiancee, and she was in perfect health. None of her family or friends could suggest any motive for her rush act. It was another mystery."

Blake nodded.

"Three unsolved mysteries," he said. "Sir Bruce Maitland, the Marquis of Barleven, and Gertrude Haysboro were all prominent in London society, and moved in the same exclusive circle; as, indeed, did Eric Milvern. And of those three people not one left any letter, any written statement, to throw light on their different motives.

"As for poor Milvern's letter, it shows why he shot himself. And it strengthens a suspicion I have had in mind for some time—that the three other persons we have been speaking of were victims of blackmail, and of the same blackmailer."

"I quite agree," replied Inspector Widgeon. "And now I will tell you something which will interest you. Months ago, shortly after the suicide of Lord Danesmere's daughter, our chief at Scotland Yard was informed by one of the cleverest of our C.I.D. men that there was strong reason to believe a secret blackmailer was at work in Society."

"At about the same time," he said, "I made an entry in my notebook which was precisely to the same effect. And I am sure we were both right—the Scotland Yard man and myself. Yes, for the last couple of years some ruthless and crafty scoundrel, some person of high position in the most exclusive circles of Society, a person with an amazing and cunning ability for gleaning dark secrets of the past, has been rattling the dry bones of family skeletons in Mayfair and Belgravia, and blackmailing members of his own class."

"I haven't any doubt of it," said the inspector. "The letter we have just read is plain proof. The blackmailer may be a woman, though."

"That is possible, even likely. Yet a woman would hardly have worked the game on her own."

"You haven't made any investigations, I suppose?"

"No, Widgeon, I have not. I have been too busy. But I shall take the matter up now that my friend Milvern, like the Marquis of Barleven and Gertrude Haysboro, has been driven to suicide. We know of four persons who have baffled the blackmailer, three at the cost of their lives, and one by disappearing; but we do not know how many have yielded to the demands, and paid for silence. Eric Milvern refused to pay—the price was probably too heavy for his means—and I am determined to bring to justice the human fiend who hounded him to his death."

"You will have the stiffest kind of a task, Blake."

"I know that. Of all criminals the blackmailer is the most secure—and the most merciless, remorseless, and diabolical. He is well safeguarded, hedged about by a ring of steel which almost invariably defies the law. But I will get my man sooner or later. It is only a question of time. It will be slow work, as I have not the slightest clue to help me. What a pity poor Milvern did not—"

Blake broke off, a glitter in his eyes.

"Come, Widgeon, let us go," he added. "There is nothing more to be learned from Mrs. Milvern."

With a glance at the huddled figure in the lounge-chair, they left the room and went downstairs; and a low, anguished cry—the cry of a woman whose heart was breaking with grief—came to their ears as they passed out from the house of tragedy into the bright, autumn sunshine.

"I believe the world is getting worse instead of better," Blake gloomily remarked, as he hailed a taxi.

Inspector Widgeon shrugged his shoulders.

"You are in a pessimistic mood to-day," he said.


A CHURCH clock in the neighbourhood was striking the hour of six in the morning when a burly, broad-shouldered man, with a face like a boiled lobster, and a ragged moustache that was chewed at the ends, pounded noisily up the stair of a cheap lodging-house at the top of the West India Docks Road, and flung open the door of a big, dingy room that was as cheerless as a barn.

At first sight one might have taken the room for a large mortuary, for ranged along the walls were numerous low, wooden boxes shaped like coffin-cases, and in each box was a motionless, recumbent figure covered with a blanket.

The man put his hand to his mouth.

"Now, then, it's time to be shifting!" he bellowed like the bull of Bashan. "Wake up! Hustle yourself! Get a move on! D'you hear me, you lazy dogs! What d'you expect for a tanner a night? Come now, hurry along!"

The slumbering figures came to life. They stirred, awoke, and sat up—a motley crew of ragged, dirty vagrants of all ages, from boys to venerable greybeards.

They coughed and yawned; stretched their limbs and rubbed their drowsy eyes. Some grumbled loudly, and some protested in whining tones.

"Hustle yourselves!" the burly man yelled at them. "Clear out of this! D'you hear?"

In fear of Black Mike, as he was called, the lodgers got up stiffly to their feet, and adjusted their tattered garments. By twos and threes they shuffled to the door and slunk sullenly from the room, until only one was left behind.

A youth in soiled and shabby clothes and a grimy shirt, with unshaven cheeks and unkempt hair, was still sitting in his box. He was gazing into vacancy, his thoughts confused, his mind wandering.

The burly man approached him, an oath on his lips.

"Where do you think you are?" he cried in a mocking voice. "At the Hotel Ritz? What are you waiting for, my lord? For the valet with your shaving-water, eh? Or your morning cup of tea? Or a half-pint of champagne and a biscuit?"

He clenched his fist.

"Why the blazes don't you get up?" he bawled. "Do you want me to chuck you out of the window?"

Oliver Douglas collected his scattered thoughts, and suddenly remembered where he was. He scowled resentfully at the man, but did not answer him.

Throwing off his filthy blanket, he snatched his greasy cap and rose. And then, dodging a kick from Black Mike, he slipped by him, ran down the stairs and passed out of the dwelling into a grey, chill gloom of the early morning.

"The insolent ruffian!" he muttered. "It's the last he'll see of me! I'll have to find another place to sleep, and I dare say it will be the Embankment, unless I go without food."

It was hardly daylight as yet, and the air was cold and biting. Oliver felt it the more because he was so recently from the warm climate of Uruguay.

When he had inhaled deep breaths through his nose and slapped his chest with his arms, he went by the group of shivering, homeless vagabonds ejected from the lodging-house, who were loitering on the pavement, and turned from the West India Docks Road into the Commercial Road East.

Presently he stopped at a coffee-stall, and while he sipped a cup of steaming coffee, and munched a stale bun, he considered things.

He had a lot to consider, too. All had gone well with him since he had sailed from Montevideo on the liner Trinidad.

On the arrival of the boat at Liverpool, early the previous morning, he had been smuggled ashore by Neil Rankin; and the purser had lent him enough money for a third-class ticket to London.

Having waited and watched on the Princess Landing Stage, Oliver had seen Mack Hewitt and Gavin Carey come down the gangway—had warily shadowed them to Lime Street Station—and had travelled up to Euston with them.

There he had been very apprehensive, fearing he would lose all trace of the men; for they had got into a taxi, and he could not afford one.

He had ventured close to them, however, and by good luck he had distinctly heard the address they had given to the chauffeur—the name of a street and the number of a house.

And Oliver, knowing as he did that the street was in a fashionable part of the West End, in expensive Belgravia, knew also that the house must be a private residence.

Did Hewitt and Carey live there? No, that was not to be credited.

It was almost certainly the residence of the mysterious chief, the person who had sent the men to the Uruguayan village of San Jacinto; and the packet of letters stolen from Father Amaral, and the leaf cut from the chapel register, would remain in that person's possession.

Thus Oliver had logically reasoned. His primary object had been accomplished, and he did not take the trouble to go to the address he had learned.

For economy's sake, and because he had a nervous dread of the West End police, he had tramped from Euston to the East End—he had gone slumming there when a boy—and had drifted to Black Mike's lodging-house, attracted by a sign which offered beds for sixpence.

And now, after an uncomfortable night, he was up against a stubborn proposition.

He was a disreputable-looking figure, and the price of the coffee and the bun left him with exactly a shilling.

To keep the house in the West End under surveillance, watch the movements of the chief, ultimately get the packet of letters and the register page, and give them to his father—such were Oliver's nebulous plans.

But if he was to carry them out he must have money—and plenty of it—to buy respectable clothes, and to live in decent comfort while he was engaged on his task.

How was he to get it, though? He had pondered over the question during the voyage, and had foreseen that there was only one way. He thought of that way now, and hesitated.

There was no alternative. He must appeal for assistance to the Society girl, the daughter of wealthy parents, who had vainly tried to be his guardian angel. He was not too proud to do so, under the circumstances, as it would not be an appeal for charity.

"I will write to Muriel, and have her meet me somewhere," he reflected. "I can trust her, and if I tell her part of my story she will believe me."

Oliver was sure she would. He had always been truthful with her, and she had been like a sister to him, though she had loved him as well.

He meant to write at once, at the nearest post-office, but when he had finished his frugal breakfast he changed his mind..

He would wait until evening, and, meanwhile, he would go to West End, where he might possibly meet the girl.

Moreover, he was keenly desirous of seeing the parts of London which had been so familiar to him in the past.

His dread of the police had faded to a mere shadow of uneasiness. Shabby and unshaven as he was, he felt there would be little or no danger of his being recognised by anybody as the son of Julian Sherbroke.

He went on foot. He could not afford to ride, with only a shilling in his pocket.

At a slow pace, his hands thrust into his pockets he slouched along the Commercial Road, reminded of the country by the loads of hay, and carts filled with vegetables, which passed him.

At Aldgate he entered the City at the hour when thousands of people—the advance army of the day's toilers—were hastening to their employment; porters and office-boys, strutting junior clerks, and pretty girl-typists, who mostly wore biscuit-coloured stockings and brown and yellow plaid-coats.

It seemed to Oliver that the crowds were greater than they had been before. Everything interested him.

He gazed in wonder at the new buildings, at the larger and improved types of motorbuses, at the orange-painted cabs which flamed conspicuously amidst the traffic.

He thought of the vast wealth stored around him, in the safes and strong-rooms of banks and business houses, as he tramped through Cornhill and Cheapside.

At the end of Newgate Street he glanced at the Old Bailey—he had very nearly been tried there—and on the Viaduct he paused to look at Blackfriars Bridge in the distance.

Beyond Holborn Circus, where were mammoth shops, he loitered at the plate-glass windows.

He traversed New Oxford Street and passed Oxford Circus; and as he held on to the west his heart ached now and again, and he smiled bitterly.

He was a ragged vagrant, outside the pale of society, with the shadow of a crime hanging over his head. He was close to his home, but if he were to go there he would be turned away.

At length coming to the Marble Arch, he went into Hyde Park. He walked along the main avenue, to the south, until he got a glimpse of his father's palatial residence in Park Lane; and then with a lump in his throat, he bore to the right and struck across the grass.

He was tired now, and presently he sat down on a bench at a secluded spot. It was the hour of noon, and the air was warmer, though the sun was veiled by a soft, pearl-grey mist.

There was nobody in the vicinity. Over on the Serpentine, wild-fowl squawked and cluttered, and from Rotten Row throbbed the sound of smooth gliding vehicles.

A trumpet pealed at Knightsbridge Barracks. Motor-horns blared raucously in Piccadilly.

When Oliver had been sitting there for a little while, thinking of the huge city that stretched for miles and miles on all sides of him, he grew drowsy, and fell asleep.

Roused by approaching steps, he opened his eyes, and gave a quick start. A man was standing in front of him—a man with shrewd, clean-shaven features.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, in a suspicious tone.

Oliver stared, and was tongue-tied for a moment. His heart was thumping, and he could feel his cheeks flush.

He had often seen this man before, in the West End. He knew him to be Charles Fenner, a C.I.D. detective, attached to Vine Street.

"What are you doing here?" the man repeated.

"Nothing," Oliver mumbled. "Only having a rest. I'm one of the unemployed."

"I daresay. One of the kind that wouldn't take employment if it was offered. Hyde Place isn't the place to look for work. You had better be moving on."

"All right."

Oliver rose, and shuffled off. Through apparently, he had not been recognised—he had feared he would be—he was still apprehensive. He was afraid his identity was suspected.

He walked slowly for some distance, and when he had got to the eastern end of the Serpentine, he yielded to the impulse to glance back, and perceived that the detective was following him.

And now seized with sudden terror, he lost his head, and did a foolish thing. He took to his heels, and with the man in chase of him—he looked back again—he scrambled through the shrubbery, darted amongst the trees, and emerged on to the footpath that skirted the Row.

A few yards to his left was a blue car, and a pretty, fashionably-dressed girl was in the act of stepping into it.

Oliver had a glimpse of her face, and the next instant, as the car moved, he raced after it, and caught it up.

Leaping to the footboard, he jerked the door open—slammed it shut as he sprang in—and dropped on to a seat opposite to the startled girl.

"Don't be frightened. Muriel!" he panted. "It is I—Denis Sherbroke! Don't you know me?"

Muriel Treverton uttered a low exclamation, and, leaning forward, she gazed closely at the shabby youth.

"Yes, I know you," she said quietly. "I do now. I didn't at first. You have changed."

"And I look like a tramp, Muriel. I'm not fit to be here with you. I'm sorry, but I had to—"

"Why did you jump in, Denis?"

"I was in danger. I was chased by a Vine Street detective—a man who knew me in the old days. I wonder if—"

Pausing, Oliver stood up, and peered through the oval glass at the rear of the car.

"I'm safe," he declared. "I can't see anything of the fellow. He ran after me because I was so stupid as to run away from him. I was afraid he might recognise me. I am sure he didn't, though."

The car was gliding through the gates at Hyde Park Corner. Muriel Treverton reached for the speaking tube, and gave instructions to the chauffeur, who drove west towards Knightsbridge.

There was short interval of silence. The girl's face was very grave and troubled.

"We are going for a long ride," she said, "so we will have a chance to talk."

"It-it is awfully kind of you," faltered Oliver, who felt his position keenly. "What do you think of me?"

"I think you have made a great mistake," Muriel replied. "You ought to have stayed out in South America. You have broken your promise. Why have you been so foolish as to come back to England, where you are in danger of arrest?"

"I had to come. There was a reason."

"Not a good one, Denis, I am afraid."

"Yes, it was a good one. When you have heard what it is I am sure you won't blame me for—"

Oliver stopped for a moment. "There's one promise I've not broken," he continued. "The one I made to you the night before I sailed, when you said you still had faith in me, and begged me to turn over a new leaf for your sake. And I did, Muriel. I kept my word. I've been honest and sober. I haven't done the least thing one could be ashamed of.

"Soon after I went out to Uruguay, I got work at an estancia a couple of hundred miles up-country, herding and branding cattle with a lot of uncouth gauchos. For three years I've been working hard, and saving money. I made good, and tried to comfort myself with the hope of being allowed to return to England some day—the hope that I could redeem my character, and earn my father's forgiveness, and justify your faith in me.

"And I should still be on the estancia, playing the straight game, if it hadn't been for an Englishman who had known me in London turning up there on a visit. I won't tell you his name, though he did a low, caddish thing. I wouldn't have thought he was capable of it. He denounced me to my boss, Hernando Lopez and I was discharged on the spot, and sent adrift. I hit the trail down-country, and I hadn't gone far when I was attacked and robbed by one of the gauchos, who had followed me in the dark.

"He stole my money and my pistol, and I had to do the journey on foot instead of travelling by rail to Montevideo, as I had meant to. It was all for the best, as it turned out. For a week I tramped over the pampas, and one night, when I reached the little village of San Jacinto—"

Oliver paused, and hesitated. It has been his intention to confide only partly in Muriel Treverton, but he changed his mind now, and concluded he would give her his full confidence.

Having told her of his adventure in the mission chapel at San Jacinto, and the amazing conversation he had overheard, and the theft of the packet of letters at Father Amaral's house, he related in detail everything which had happened since; from his flight from the village with his companions, to his arrival at Euston from Liverpool, and the address to which the men Hewitt and Carey had been driven.

In the course of the narrative he had made clear what his plans were, and when he had finished, he looked appealingly at the girl.

"Do you believe my story?" he asked.

"Of course I do," Muriel replied. "I believe every word of it. You were always truthful with me."

"And do you think now I did right in coming home?"

"I certainly do, Denis. You had your chance, and you took it. Yes, the proper thing was for you to come back, and try to save your father from being blackmailed, in spite of the risk of being arrested. It was splendid of you! How brave and courageous you were! What narrow escapes from death! If that noble priest hadn't set you free you would have been—"

The girl's voice choked with emotion, and, clasping Oliver's hand, she drew him over to her side. And for just a moment she threw her arms around him, and pressed her lips to his stubbly cheek.

"Poor boy!" she whispered, as she released him.

"That was sweet of you!" Oliver said, in a husky whisper. "You are the one and only friend I have in the world! I was afraid you had forgotten me!"

"You knew I wouldn't," Muriel answered. "I will always be the same to you. Didn't you mean to write, to me?"

"Yes, I was going to, this evening. And I found you instead."

"Well, Denis, we have a lot to talk about. What a bewildering mystery you discovered out in Uruguay! What can those stolen letters, and the leaf cut from the register, have to do with your father?"

"I have no idea. I can't imagine any more than you can. To my knowledge, father was never in Uruguay. I feel sure of one thing, though, Muriel. There is no shameful secret in his past life."

"I don't believe there is. There can't be. Whatever the mystery may be, it isn't disgraceful. But it is a serious matter, if those wicked men expect to make him pay one hundred thousand pounds. What a pity you can't put the police on the track of the men But if you told them, I suppose you would be arrested. You must carry out your plans, Denis. And you must succeed. If you get the letters and the leaf, that will prevent the men from blackmailing your father, and he will gladly forgive you, and will see that you don't get into trouble with the police for coming back from Uruguay."

"Yes, that's the way I look at it. That is why I returned, Muriel. It will be a difficult task, and a dangerous one, perhaps, but it will be worth the risk. If I succeed it will mean everything to me, I think—all I have lost through my mad follies."

"Yes, Denis, all you have lost. I am thinking of that, too."

There were tiny wrinkles on Muriel Treverton's brow, beneath the drooping ringlets of chestnut brown hair.

Her light brown eyes were bent in pity—and more than pity—on the shabby figure of the youth to whom she had been faithful and loyal for years, refusing to believe, even in the darkest hour, that he was beyond redemption.

"I am going to talk to you bluntly," she went on. "You are absolutely destitute, and I must help you, else you won't be able to do anything at all. Don't let foolish pride stand in your way."

Oliver winced. The words hurt. Yet the offer had spared him the humiliation of asking for assistance.

"I am not too proud to accept help from you," he meekly replied.

"It wouldn't make a bit of difference if you were," said the girl. "You are badly in need of money, and you must have some at once."

"You may lend me some, Muriel. I will repay every penny of it some day."

"It will be a loan, of course."

Opening her vanity-bag, Muriel took out a gold chain-purse, and look from the purse a bunch of crumpled banknotes.

"There are thirty pounds here," she said, slipping the notes into Oliver's hand. "That will be enough for the present. Get shaved, and have your hair cut, and buy a complete outfit of clothes. Find decent lodgings somewhere—I should try Bloomsbury—and come to my house at nine o'clock to-night, for supper."

Oliver's eyes were dim.

"You are an angel of mercy, dear!" he murmured. "Heaven bless you! But I daren't come to your house, much as I should like to. It would not be safe."

"It will be perfectly safe," said Muriel. "Father and mother have gone to the South of France for a month. There are only Aunt Mary and I at home, and my aunt is an invalid, and doesn't leave her room. As for the servants, they are all fairly new, including the chauffeur. Not one of them was with us when you used to call in the old days, so you won't have anything to fear. We will have another long talk, Denis, about your plans. I will give you a bearer cheque for a couple of hundred pounds, to get on with, and perhaps I shall be able to do more than that for you."

"You can't help me to baffle the blackmailers, Muriel."

"I know I can't. I was thinking of something else. I won't tell you now what it was."

During the conversation a number of miles had been covered. The car had crossed part of Putney Heath, and was running along the Portsmouth road.

The chauffeur turned it round at the bidding of his young mistress, and while he drove back to town, the girl, wishing to divert Oliver's mind from sad thoughts, induced him to talk of his life on the estancia in Uruguay, and listened to him with interest.

They were in the Brompton Road, near Sloane Street, when they were held up in a block of traffic. And now Oliver rose.

"I will leave you here," he said. "And you must see that your chauffeur does not talk of to-night's affair."

"Do not worry about that," Muriel replied. "He is a good man and will act discreetly. Good-bye! Nine o'clock to-night, remember. I will expect you."

Oliver nodded. He opened the door and stepped out. Closing the door behind him, he dodged between a lorry and a cab and gained the pavement.

He walked over to the north side of Knightsbridge, and a few moments later he was rising towards Piccadilly on the top of a red General, his heart full of gratitude to the girl who had helped him in his sore need.

He was cheerful and confident. Muriel Treverton still loved him. He could not doubt that. For her sake and for his own, difficult and dangerous though his task might be, he would win through.


SEXTON BLAKE filled in the pink slip of paper, tore it from his chequebook, and put it in his pocket. He was leaving town shortly, and he needed some money.

He picked up a letter he had received that morning, and when he had read it again he thrust it into a pigeon-hole, lowered the lid of his desk, and rose.

"Where are you off to?" asked Tinker.

"I am going to my bank to cash a cheque," Blake replied. "I am short of cash."

"And when do we go to Plymouth, guv'nor?"

"Not until this evening. We will travel by the night express. You might ring up Paddington and book a couple of sleeping-berths. Inspector Henshaw wants my help and I can't well refuse, as he has done me one or two good turns. And, what's more, I am interested in the case. I doubt if the murder was committed by the escaped convict from Dartmoor, though the evidence against him is very strong."

Blake went to the door as he spoke.

"I probably won't be back for luncheon," he added. "I have some business to attend to in the City."

Tinker turned to the scrap-book in which he had been pasting newspaper clippings, and Blake left the house and hailed a taxi, and drove to the London and Northern Capitals Bank in Cheapside.

As he entered the long, marble-paved lobby he noticed that a door straight beyond him was open to the width of an inch or so, and that somebody was peering from it; and the next instant the door was opened a little wide, and Mr. Randolph, the manager, made a quick and furtive sign to Blake, who judged at once that something was amiss.

He strolled forward carelessly, not glancing to right or left, and as soon as he had passed into the private office Mr. Randolph softly shut the door.

"I'm glad I got a glimpse of you," he said, pointing to another door which was open, and led to the inner premises of the bank. "I want you to see somebody. A gentleman who is at the third window from my office. Take a good look at him Hurry!"

The doorway was at right angles to the front of the building. Blake stepped to it, and, craning his neck to one side, he saw the person who had been mentioned.

Standing at the third window, talking to a clerk who was inside the grill, was a tall, well-dressed man of middle-age, with a florid complexion, a heavy, fair moustache, and a bushy beard that drooped to his chest.

There was a short conversation between the two. Then the gentlemen nodded, shrugged his shoulders, and left the bank.

Blake turned to the manager. "Well?" he said, in a puzzled tone.

"Wait a moment," bade Mr. Randolph. And with that he spoke to the clerk, who was approaching him. "What did the gentleman have to say about it, Wilkins?" he inquired.

"He was a bit irritable at first, sir," the clerk answered, "and then he said it didn't matter, and he would come back before three o'clock."

"He didn't appear to be uneasy?"

"No, sirIn, he was quite cool."

"Very well. That's all, Wilkins. I shall be engaged for a little while. See that I am not disturbed." The clerk withdrew, closing the door behind him. Blake took a chair, and Mr. Randolph sat down a this desk.

"Did you ever see that gentleman before?" he asked.

"No; to the best of my knowledge I never have," Blake replied. "He was an entire stranger to me. Why did you want me to look at him?"

"I had a reason," said Mr. Randolph. "A stupid one, perhaps. At all events, I'll have your opinion. I would like to know what you think. You are acquainted with Mr. Julian Sherbroke, who is a customer of the bank. I had a visit from him several days ago. He instructed me to sell some securities of the value of seventy thousand pounds, and put the money to his credit, which I did.

"And to-day this gentleman comes in and presents Mr. Sherbroke's cheque, drawn to bearer, for fifty thousand pounds. The clerk brought it to me. The signature was genuine. I could not dispute that. Yet I hesitated. To gain time, I had Wilkins tell the gentleman there was not sufficient cash available at the moment, and asked him to return later. I was inclined to ring up Mr. Sherbroke. Immediately afterwards you came in, and it occurred to me to—"

The manager paused and laughed.

"Everything is in order, of course," he continued. "You heard what Wilkins told me. The gentleman was perfectly cool. No doubt he will come back. As for the securities, why shouldn't Mr. Julian Sherbroke have instructed me to sell them? Even millionaires can't always lay their hands on large sums of money when they want them."

"Not always," Blake assented. "But it is rather an unusual thing, I imagine, for a millionaire to fill in a cheque, payable to bearer, for so large an amount as fifty thousand pounds."

"Yes, it is," said Mr. Randolph. "Very unusual. That is what I had in mind at the first. You have roused my suspicious again, Blake. What do you think of the matter?"

"It is a trifle queer, I will admit."

"Then you must advise me what to do. Shall I pay the cheque if it is presented again?"

"You can't refuse to pay, Randolph, if you are satisfied the signature is genuine. On the other hand, Mr. Sherbroke has rather a hot temper, and if you were to question him about the matter he might—"

Blake broke off, and for a few moments he was silent, puffing at a cigar the manager had given him. The fact that Julian Sherbroke was an immensely wealthy man, and prominent in society, taken in connection with the sale of the securities, and the fifty-thousand-pound cheque—these things had started a vague train of thought in the shrewd detective's mind.

He was thinking of Sir Bruce Maitland, of the Marquis of Barleven, of Gertrude Haysboro, and of Eric Milvern.

Could it be possible that Julian Sherbroke was being blackmailed? If so, what was the reason? He certainly would not have consented to pay a large sum of money—any money at all, indeed—under a threat to expose the shameful and criminal part of his son had played in the affair of Sir Harry Royce.

He would have stubbornly refused, for though young Denis Sherbroke's disgrace had been kept out of the newspapers, it had been common talk in Society at the time, and amongst some of the general public as well.

"What do you advise me to do?" Mr. Randolph repeated.

"Leave it to me," said Blake, rousing from his reveries. "I'll see Mr. Sherbroke. I will slip round to his offices, and mention the matter to him."

"I will be more than thankful. Suppose I ring him up after you go, and tell him you are coming to see him."

"Very well. You can do so if you like."

"And you will come back to tell me what he said, Blake?"

"Yes, I will come back. There will be ample time before the gentleman returns with the cheque."

"You believe he will?"

"I haven't a doubt of it, Randolph. I am certain he will return."

Blake rose, and produced his own cheque. And when the manager had brought him the money he left the bank and walked round to the large building in Throgmorton Street, in which were the office of Mr. Julian Sherbroke, the millionaire financier.

He was known there. It was not his first visit. The clerk to whom he gave his card took him to a waiting-room and left him there; and almost at once he came back, looking very startled.

"I am afraid Mr. Sherbroke is ill, sir!" he exclaimed. "Will you please come?"

Blake jumped up and hastily followed the clerk, who led him along a passage and threw open the door of the private office.

Within, huddled in a limp attitude in an armchair behind his desk, was an elderly gentleman of stoutish build, clean-shaven except for short, sandy whiskers.

He appeared to be in a state of collapse. His head was thrown back. His face was very white, and he was breathing hard.

One hand clutched the receiver of the telephone on the desk, and with the other he was tugging at his collar.

Blake surmised at once what had happened, and as quickly he realised, was convinced, that his vague suspicious had been correct.

"It is nothing serious," he said quietly to the clerk. "Mr. Sherbroke will soon be all right. I know what has upset him; he has been worrying over a certain matter, and I have called to have a talk with him about it. You can go now. Don't announce anybody else while I am here."


THE clerk did not hesitate. Knowing who the detective was, and believing what he had been told, he promptly withdrew, shutting the door behind him.

Blake stepped forward, and stood by the desk. Mr. Julian Sherbroke was recovering now. The colour ebbed back to this cheeks, and he straightened up in his chair.

He pulled himself together, but he could not conceal the shadow of apprehension in his eyes. He frowned at Blake, though he had been on friendly terms with him for years.

"I would like to know what excuse you have for meddling in my private affairs, sir?" he said curtly.

"I suppose you refer to my visit to your bank," Blake replied. "You have been talking to the manager on the telephone."

"Yes, sir, I have been!" snapped Julian Sherbroke.

"And what did he tell you?"

"He didn't want to tell me anything, except that you were coming round to see me. But I got more than that out of him. A most inquisitive and impertinent fellow, is Randolph! He is not fit for the position he holds! And I let him know it! He had no right to utter a word to you about the fifty-thousand-pound cheque I drew yesterday! Not a word! he should have paid it on the spot, without questioning!"

"I don't agree with you. Under the circumstances, Sherbroke, I think the manager was justified. You must not blame him for trying to guard your interests. In the first place, I have more than once been retained by the bank, and I enjoy their confidence. Furthermore, it was an unusual thing for a cheque for so large an amount to be presented, and drawn to bearer at that."

"Haven't I the right to draw what cheques I please, as long as the money is there to meet them?"

"Of course you have. In this instance, though, there was ground for some slight suspicion."

"Suspicion be hanged! I am amazed that—"

The millionaire broke off, flushed with anger, and hammered the desk with his fist. "You have had your trouble for nothing, Mr. Sexton Blake!" he declared. "I have instructed Randolph to pay the cheque when the holder of it returns, and that is the end of the matter!"

"You have told him that on the telephone?" Blake said heatedly.

"Yes, I have!"

"You can cancel your instructions. Take my advice, Sherbroke. Ring up the bank and tell Randolph you have changed your mind, and wish to stop payment of the cheque."

"Stop payment? I will do nothing of the sort, sir! How dare you dictate to me? You must be stark mad, Blake, to come here and tell me how to conduct my own business! The matter is at an end, as I said before!"

"No, Sherbroke, it is not at an end. It is only at the beginning."

The two men measured glances, gazing at each other steadily. They were at cross-purposes. Julian Sherbroke's face showed both uneasiness and defiance.

Blake knew just what was in his mind, and he wanted badly to draw him out. But how was he to do so? It was a stubborn character he had to deal with.

What should be his next move? It would be useless to handle the millionaire with gloves on. No, he would have to bully and browbeat him.

"When I came in," he said, after a brief pause, "you were almost in a state of collapse. You looked as if you had a fit of apoplexy."

"Absurd!" muttered Julian Sherbroke, "Ridiculous! I had been talking excitedly to Randolph, and I was suddenly overcome by the heat of the room."

"That was not the reason," Blake went on. "You were upset by what the bank manager told you—that I had learned of the fifty-thousand-pound cheque, and was coming round to question you about it. To put it bluntly, you were afraid of me."

"What utter nonsense! Why should I be afraid of you?"

"I will tell you why, Sherbroke. Because you are too much in fear of the scoundrel to expose him."

"Blackmailed? Me? It's a lie! Confound your impudence, Blake! I'll tolerate no more of it! Clear out of this! Begone, or I'll—I'll—"

Julian Sherbroke's voice chocked. He sprang to his feet, his cheeks purple; and as he was spluttering with rage and shaking his fist at the detective, he swayed like a reed—turned pale—sank down in the chair—and tugged at his collar again.

There was a carafe of water on the desk. Blake poured some into a glass and gave it to the agitated man, who drank it, and presently sat up, his features twitching.

He was not angry now. There were only fear and appeal in his eyes.

"It's no use trying to keep anything from you," he said in a husky tone. "I'm sorry I spoke to you as I did, Blake. You were quite right. I am in the clutches of a cursed blackmailer. You can't help me. I won't let you. But I will tell you the whole story."

"Before you do that," Blake replied, "ring Rudolph up, and instruct him not to pay the cheque."

"No—no, I won't!" Julian Sherbroke cried.

"I say you will! You must!"

"And I say I won't Not if you clapped a pistol to my head! I dare not stop that cheque, Blake!"

"Then I will—"

"No, you shan't! Keep away from the telephone! I'll smash it if you come near!"

"You fool! Will you let that scoundrel rob you of fifty thousand pounds?"

"I can't help it! if you try to stop the payment of the cheque I will tell you nothing! And you will find out nothing!"

Blake shrugged his shoulders. He had to give in. He knew it would be a waste of breath to press his demand any farther.

"You will be sorry for this, Sherbroke," he said as he sat down. "Very sorry. And now let me have your story." he added.

"It will be in confidence," replied the millionaire. "Is that understood?"

Blake nodded. Julian Sherbroke drank another glass of water, and then, speaking in a low tone, he began his narrative.

Many years ago, when he had barely laid the foundation of his fortune, and was unknown in Society, a City company with which he was connected had sent him out to Uruguay to purchase large tracts of cattle lands.

"I was little more than a youth at the time," he continued. "I was fond of adventure, and I enjoyed the rough life out there. Though I travelled on horseback to distant places, I made my headquarters at the village of San Jacinto, where I lodged with the Spanish padre, Father Amaral.

"He had living with him an orphan niece, Mercedes Amaral, who was the loveliest girl I had ever seen. I fell madly in love with her. I proposed, and was accepted; and when I asked the padre's consent to our marriage, he told me the history of his niece, saying he felt it was his duty to do so.

"It appeared that Mercedes' surname was Valdez, not Amaral. Her mother, the sister of Father Amaral, had run away and married a notorious ruffian and bandit, Pedro Valdez, who was a low-caste half-breed. Several years afterwards Valdez was caught and hanged, and his wife returned with a child to her brother's house, where she died a month later.

"Such was the story, and it was a very ugly one. But it did not turn me against Mercedes. I loved her just as much. We were married at San Jacinto by her uncle, in the mission chapel, and for the better part of a year we led a perfectly happy life. Then I went far up-country to the borders of Brazil.

"I was absent for some weeks, and when I returned to the village—I had meanwhile written a number of letters to my wife—a terrible shock awaited me.

"Mercedes was dead and buried. She had died of a fever, leaving a baby girl who was only two or three weeks old. Father Amaral wanted to keep the child, but I loved it for my wife's sake, and refused to give it up entirely. The girl was christened Carmen, and I left her with her grandfather and came home. I did not tell anybody of my marriage. I kept the secret, though I had no particular reason for doing so."

Julian Sherbroke paused for a moment.

"To shorten the story," he went on, "my little daughter lived with Father Amaral for some few years, and then he sent her to England, at my request, and I took her to a convent-school in France to be educated. At about that time I married again, but I did not tell my wife of my previous marriage. She did not know, nor did any of my friends, that I had ever been in Uruguay.

"My son Denis was born, and a few years afterwards my love for Carmen having increased, I took a step I had been contemplating for a long while. I brought her to my home in London, letting it be understood that she was my ward, the daughter of a very old friend of mine who had recently died in France. She was then eighteen years of age, and she had grown to be a beautiful and accomplished girl. She could speak English as fluently as French, and—"

"Your ward?" Blake interrupted, with a slight start. "You mean Miss Evelyn Kerr?"

"Yes, that was the name I gave her," assented Julian Sherbroke.

"And she married Lord Morpeth?"

"She did, Blake. Seven years ago."

"Did she know you were her father?"

"No, I let her believe that she was really my ward. As for her early childhood, the three of four years she spent with Father Amaral at San Jacinto, she had forgotten all about that short period of her life."

Blake nodded gravely.

"Go on," he bade. "The blackmailing affair is next. How did that come about?"

Julian Sherbroke hesitated, his face sombre. "Somebody learned of my first marriage," he replied.

"So I supposed. How could the information have leaked out after so many years?"

"I have not the remotest idea, Blake. It is a mystery to me. At all events, less than a week ago, I had a visit from a man who dealt me a staggering blow. He had in his possession, he declared—and I could not doubt him—the letters I had written to my wife while I was up-country in Uruguay, the chapel record of my marriage to Mercedes Valdez, and the record of my child's birth. And he also said he knew, and could prove, that my wife was the daughter of a half-breed bandit who had been hanged for robbery and murder. The fellow demanded a hundred thousand pounds, threatening that unless I gave him the money, and swore to hold my tongue, he would go to Lord Morpeth and tell him the whole story. And I had to come to an agreement with him."

"You had to, Sherbroke?"

"Yes, there was nothing else for it. Yesterday I gave the man a cheque for fifty thousand pounds, and when I have given him another cheque for the same amount, a month from now, I am to receive the letters and the leaf which was cut from the church register at San Jacinto."

"Who is this man?" asked Blake. "You know his name."

"I know what he calls himself," Julian Sherbroke admitted. "But I won't tell you."

"I dare say you have been to see him. Where does he live?"

"I won't tell you that, either, Blake. I have told you too much as it is. I have broken my promise."

"Your promise?" exclaimed Blake, his eyes flashing with scorn. "A promise to a filthy blackmailer! You are a fool! The biggest fool I have ever known! You must stop the cheque, defy the scoundrel, and help me to have him arrested!"

"No, I can't!" cried Julian Sherbroke. "I daren't! I won't! It's no use trying to persuade me!"

"You must, for your own sake."

"It is impossible I tell you! I am too much afraid, Blake! You don't realise the position! It is not a question of my own sake at all! I would willingly pay twice as much money rather than—"

Julian Sherbroke broke off, a look of keen distress in his eyes. He leaned forward, his hands clutching the edge of his desk.

"You don't understand!" he said hoarsely. "I will tell you what I am afraid of! Carmen is everything to me! I love and adore her! She is just like her dead mother, except that she shows no trace of Spanish blood! She is happily married! She is devoted to her husband, and he is devoted to her! But Lord Morpeth is a member of the Government, and he is a proud man! He believes in caste! It is his religion! He boasts of his Norman blood, of his titled ancestors, of their valorous deeds through the past centuries, of their favour with kings and courts!

"What would he think—what would he do—if he were to learn how he had been deceived—if he were to find out that his wife's grandfather was a half-breed Uruguayan bandit who had been hanged for murder?

"He would be furious! He would forgive neither me nor Carmen, ignorant thought she is of the deception! He would have nothing more to do with her! He would cast her off, find a means of divorcing her, and break her heart! Yet you want me to let her suffer shame and disgrace for my sin!

"You would have me run the risk, for a few paltry thousands of pounds, of Lord Morpeth learning the truth! I won't do it! By heavens, I won't I shall protect my daughter if it costs me my whole fortune! You understand now! Don't say any more! I won't listen to you!"

Blake shook his head impatiently. He did not think the millionaire's fears were exaggerated. He knew himself that Lord Morpeth was a man of intense, unbending pride—as proud as Lucifer.

But that consideration did not weigh with him. He was determined not to let the matter rest as it was, for he was almost certain he had got on the track of the secret blackmailer of Society, the atrocious scoundrel who had hounded Eric Milvern to suicide, and other persons as well.

"You are unreasonable, Sherbroke," he said in an irritable tone.

"No, I'm not," replied Julian Sherbroke, who was calmer now. "I am thinking of Carmen. I won't give you any further information. Not that I could. I know little enough."

"If you stop that cheque," said Blake, "the man will put the screws on, and I can have him tripped up, and his claws cut."

"I told you I wouldn't do it, and I won't. If I stopped payment of the cheque the fellow would go straight to Lord Morpeth."

"He would not. Don't you believe it, Sherbroke. He would have another shot at you."

"Let us drop the argument. You can't change my mind. I would like you to help me, though, if you will."

"You are talking in riddles," Blake complained. "How can I help you if you refuse to help me! You need help pretty badly. You don't know what it means to yield to the rapacious demand of a blackmailer, as you have done. In all probability, when the month has expired, the man will get another fifty thousand pounds from you, and trick you out of the letters and the marriage and birth records. And he will keep on blackmailing you."

"The same thing has just occurred to me," said Julian Sherbroke. "That is why I asked for your help. You go ahead with the matter, quite on your own. I won't give you any assistance. If I did I might show my hand, and in revenge the scoundrel would go to Lord Morpeth. But I think you are clever enough to lay him by the heels, and force him to give you the letters and the other proof."

"You think so, do you? I've got to find the man first, remember."

"You had a good look at him at the bank, I believe."

"Yes, Sherbroke, I did."

"Well, you have seen him, and I don't mind telling you he lives in the West End. So you have two clues, so to speak, to start with."

Blake considered. He was exasperated by the obstacles which had been put in his way, and by the millionaire's stubborn folly. He had some valuable information, however, and he felt that he stood a chance of success.

Moreover, if his efforts should fail, he would have an opportunity at the end of a month, when the time came for payment of the second cheque.

Yet he could not be sure of that. He made another futile attempt to persuade Mr. Sherbroke to open his lips, and then, on a sudden impulse, he jumped up and stepped over to the telephone.

"What are you going to do?" exclaimed Julian Sherbroke, thrusting out his arm.

"I want to talk to Randolph," Blake replied.

"You shan't countermand my instructions!"

"Don't be alarmed. I merely wish to put a question to the manager."

"Very well."

The arm was withdrawn. Blake picked up the receiver, and was promptly connected with the Northern Capitals Bank in Cheapside. He recognised the voice that answered his call.

"Blake speaking," he said. "Has that fifty-thousand-pound cheque been presented again?"

"Yes—presented and cashed," the manager replied. "I paid it by Mr. Sherbroke's instructions."

"How long ago?"

"Not more than ten minutes. It is all right, Blake, isn't it?"

"Quite all right, Randolph. Good-bye."

Blake dropped the receiver on its hook. He was keenly disappointed, and he did not hesitate to say so. "The cheque was paid ten minutes ago, Sherbroke," he declared. "Otherwise I should have waited outside the bank, and shadowed the man."

"I thought that was your idea in telephoning," Julian Sherbroke replied.

"And you are glad it didn't come eh?"

"I am not sorry, Blake. The fellow might have discovered you were following him, and he would have suspected I had set a police-trap for him. And there is no telling what he would have done in revenge. I have reason to be afraid of him."

"You are a coward. Sherbroke! I am disgusted with you! You want my assistance, yet you put stumbling-blocks in my path! How do you expect me to accomplish anything? I will throw the case up, and leave you to make the best of your precarious positions, unless you will—"

Blake paused abruptly.

"You've got to give me further information!" he said sharply and sternly. "Who is the blackmailer? Tell me for your daughter's sake! Be quick! What is his name?"

Julian Sherbroke was frightened into compliance. "The man calls himself Charles Desboro," he faltered.

"Where does he live? What is his address?"

"He lives at No. 189A, Ponter Street. Now you have got so much out of me, what steps do you propose to take? If the man is led to suspect I put you on the track he will go to Lord Morpeth."

"You needn't worry about that."

"I can't help worrying, Blake. Do be careful, I beg of you."

Blake sat down, and lit his pipe. Somewhere or other, he was pretty sure, he had heard the name of Charles Desboro mentioned. When or where it was the could not remember.

Who was this Charles Desboro? Was he the real blackmailer, or was he a go-between? He was most likely the latter, and, if so, it was to be presumed that the letters and the marriage and birth records were not at his residence in Ponter Street.

Be that as it may, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible, to get at the man. Blackmailers were strongly entrenched, safe from arrest and punishment, unless they should be exposed by their victims.

And Julian Sherbroke was determined not to expose Charles Desboro. He was very foolish, but there was some excuse for him. He was willing to be bled extortionately rather than risk his daughter's happiness.

Thus Blake reflected for a little while, and at length he rose, shrugging his shoulders. He would have to work on his own. He knew he could not induce Mr. Sherbroke to take action against the blackmailer.

"Leave the matter to me," he said as he picked up his hat from the desk. "I will do what I can."

"It is very good of you," Julian Sherbroke answered.

"And meanwhile, if you have any communication from or with the man Desboro you must let me know."

"I will, Blake, you can depend on that."

Blake stepped to the door, and paused. His thoughts had drifted to the affair of three years ago, in which he had played some part.

"By the way," he asked, "have you heard anything of your son since he went out to South America?" Julian Sherbroke's face darkened.

"Nothing whatever," he replied, "and I don't wish to hear. I have finished with him."

"He wasn't vicious. He was weak, and easily led. I hope he has made good. Perhaps he found employment in Montevideo, and has stuck to it."

"More likely he is begging in the gutters. I don't care which. It is a matter of indifference to me. Oddly enough, I imagined I saw him standing outside a window of my house one night this week. It was only a delusion, Blake. The boy would not have dared to come back to England."

Blake nodded.

"I must hurry off," he said. "I am going down to the West Country to-night on professional business. I will see you again when I return. Good-afternoon, Sherbroke. Try to keep cheerful."


BLAKE and Tinker were not long absent from London. On the fourth day after their arrival at Plymouth they succeeded in tracing and arresting the murder of an old farmer at Yelverton Junction—the crime had not been committed by the escaped convict from Dartmoor, as the detective had shrewdly surmised—and that night they travelled back to town.

Blake found no letter from Julian Sherbroke awaiting him, and at noon the next day he went down to Scotland Yard to see Inspector Widgeon.

The inspector was alone, sitting at this desk in the room overlooking the Embankment and the river, with a disorderly litter of papers in front of him.

He took a cigar from his mouth, and turned to Blake with an odd sort of grin, which was almost invariably a sign that he had something up his sleeve.

"Hallo!" he said. "Sit down! What have you been doing since I saw you last at Chesham Place? Searching for the society blackmailer?"

Blake shook his head.

"I am about ready to tackle that job," he replied. "You haven't put any of your men on to it, I suppose?"

"No, they have been too busy," said Inspector Widgeon. "They haven't had any time to look for blackmailers, with this crime wave sweeping London. I wish you luck. Let me know how you get on, will you?"

"Not until I have made some progress. Then I may come to you for assistance."

"I doubt if you will. Set a thief to catch a thief! Unless one of the blackmailer's victims should squeal, you won't stand an earthly chance of—"

The inspector broke off, and grinned again.

"I am going to give you an interesting piece of news," he continued. "As I have often told you before, you missed your vocation. You are too tender-hearted, Blake and too easily deceived by human nature, to be a good detective. You ought to have founded a home for penitent crooks, with all the luxuries of Broadmoor, and an abundance of cigars and champagne and truffles. Oh, you and your Dartmoor shepherds!"

"Oh, why do you think that?' murmured Blake, wondering what was coming.

"You remember the affair of young Denis Sherbroke three years ago," Widgeon answered. "It was as much due to you as to his father's influence that he was discharged from custody, and allowed to go abroad, on the strict understanding that he would never return. It was his first offence. He was weak and easily led. There was good in him. It would be a great pity to send him to prison. That's what you said about him, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," Blake assented. "And I believed it."

"Well, you were wrong, and I was right. The boy was rotten to the core!"

"What have you heard of him, Widgeon?"

"What have I heard? Mr. Julian Sherbroke's scapegrace son is back in London, and he has broken into a house in the West End, with intent to commit a burglary."

"I am amazed to hear it, and very sorry," said Blake. "Can it be true?"

"Of course it is true!" declared the inspector. "I know what I am talking about, The fellow broke into a house in Ponter Street."

"In Ponter Street? Whose house?"

"The residence of a Mr. Charles Desboro."

Blake gave a quick start, but Inspector Widgeon did not notice it. He chuckled and rubbed his hands. He was enjoying his triumph.

"I will give you the facts," he went on. "It is a modern house of red brick, semi-detached, with a small patch of garden at the front, and a narrow passage running along one side to a large garden at the rear of the premises.

"Between ten and eleven o'clock last night a constable who was on duty in Ponter Street—Gibbon by name—heard shouts, and saw a man slip out of the front gate of Mr. Desboro's residence and take to his heels. He chased him for a short distance, lost him in the darkness, and returned to the house, which was in a state of excitement.

"Mr. Desboro let the constable in, and told him what had happened. The burglar had got access to the house through the kitchen, crept upstairs to a study on the first floor, and forced open a roll-top desk. A servant discovered him. She called for help, and by the time Mr. Desboro had rushed up the fellow had dropped from a window into the passage at the side of the dwelling and made his escape. Gibbon examined the desk, and found clear impressions of finger-prints on it. He warned Mr. Desboro not to let them be disturbed, and subsequently he reported the affair to his superintendent, who telephone to Scotland Yard. One of our men went to Ponter Street, and photographed the finger-prints. And after the plates were developed here this morning—"

The inspector paused and chuckled again.

"The finger-prints corresponded exactly," he added, "with those which were taken of Denis Sherbroke three years ago. There can't be the slightest doubt that he was the burglar. You see the mistake you made, now, don't you?"

Blake shrugged his shoulders and smiled. He was not irritated, not even chagrined. He was so interested in what he had learned that he didn't care a rap for the inspector's jibe. Furthermore, he was inclined to believe that the joke was not on himself. "He who laughs last laughs best," he quietly remarked.

"You have a hide as thick as a rhinoceros!" Inspector Widgeon retorted. Blake's eyes twinkled.

"I suppose I'll have to admit I was wrong about young Sherbroke," he said. "By the way, have you had from Gibbon's superintendent the full report made to him by the constable?" Widgeon nodded. "The full report," he replied.

"Had Mr. Desboro's desk been ransacked?" Blake asked.

"Yes, the contents were in confusion."

"Was anything stolen?"

"Nothing at all, Blake."

"Was there any money in the desk?"

"Thirty pounds in Treasury notes, in a small drawer. The young rascal must have been frightened away before he had a chance to find the money."

"I dare say," murmured Blake. "Does Mr. Desboro know that the finger-prints have been identified?"

"Yes, he does," the inspector answered. "He rang up a couple of hours ago to inquire."

"You told him whose finger-prints they were?"

"I did, Blake. And I also told him not to mention the fact to anybody, and he promised he wouldn't."

Blake knit his brows.

"It is rather a pity," he said, half to himself.

"A pity?" repeated Widgeon. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing in particular. I was just thinking. What are you going to do about the matter? I should not inform Mr. Julian Sherbroke if I were you."

"No, I shan't. I'll spare him the blow at least for the present. As for the boy he will catch it hot for breaking his promise. It may be difficult to find him. But it won't be long until he is tripped up, and then I'll put him through the mill on the old charge. His position is that of an arrested and accused person who has escaped and fled the country and returned. The charge still hangs over him. It has not been withdrawn. He can be taken straight before a magistrate and remanded."

Blake had scarcely been listening to the inspector.

"It will be much more difficult to find young Denis," he said, "if he should learn that his fingerprints have been identified at the Yard. You will be wise to keep the Ponter Street affair out of the newspapers."

"I am going to keep it out," Inspector Widgeon replied. "I have already seen to that. I am sorry I told you, come to think of it."

"Why are you sorry?"

"Because you will probably search for the boy yourself, and if you find him you will repeat the good Samaritan act, and smuggle him off abroad again." Blake laughed.

"Once bitten, twice shy!" he said.

"Once!" sneered the inspector. "More times than I can count on my fingers and thumbs!"

This was a gross exaggeration, though it was true that, astute as Sexton Blake was in his judgement of character, he had on several occasions been deceived.

But he was sure he had not been deceived in young Denis Sherbroke, and he would have liked to tell Widgeon so. That would have been indiscreet, however.

He resisted the temptation, and, leaving the inspector to his work, he drove home and told Tinker what he had learned.

"There's an easy problem for you," he continued, when he had finished the story. "Did Denis Sherbroke return to lead a life of crime or not? Was it merely a curious coincidence that he should have broken into the house of the man who is blackmailing his father or was it not? Was robbery his motive, or had he another motive?"

For only a moment Tinker was perplexed.

"It was more than a coincidence!" he exclaimed. "That is too far-fetched! My word, guv'nor, he must have broken in to search for the letters and the other evidence. It is almost incredible, though." Blake shook his head.

"No, it isn't incredible," he declared. "There is a simple explanation. Denis Sherbroke was in Uruguay, and Charles Desboro sent someone out there to get the letters Julian Sherbroke wrote to his wife and the leaf from the register in the chapel of San Jacinto. And by some accidental means, either at the village up country or down at Montevideo, Denis encountered the man, got wind of his game, sailed for England on the same vessel with him, shadowed him after he landed, and traced him to Desboro's house, in Ponter Street."

"That's the explanation," Tinker assented. "It was plucky of the fellow, wasn't it? I'll bet I know what his idea was. To do his father a good turn, and have him forgive him, and get him out of the scrape that forced him to leave the country three years ago.'

"Yes, no doubt. Creditable motives. The boy has risked his freedom, a term of imprisonment, to foil the blackmailer."

"Well, guv'nor, here's wishing him the best of luck!"

"I wish him the same, Tinker. And with all my heart. And I hope he will elude the police." Blake sat down as he spoke, his brows wrinkled.

"Things are rather complicated, aren't they?" he said. "Charles Desboro will be alarmed, and on his guard, since he knows it was Julian Sherbroke's son who got into his house, and must suspect what his object was. I wonder if the young fellow will make a second attempt? I shouldn't be surprised if he did. There is going to be work for you to do, Tinker. You knew Denis. You might try to find him, and if you succeed you will bring him to me. And we must set a watch on Mr. Desboro. That is the main thing. I don't believe he is the actual blackmailer, and if I am right he hasn't got the documents. They will be in the possession of—"

Blake paused.

"Here comes Mrs. Bardell with the luncheon," he added, as he heard the stair creaking to a ponderous tread. "We will finish our conversation later."


BITTERLY disappointed by the failure of his attempt in Ponter Street, Denis Sherbroke stayed in the seclusion of his lodgings for several days, brooding over his troubles and wondering what he should do next. He was not discouraged. Failure had not weakened his resolve to achieve the object on which so much depended.

He meant to make a second attempt shortly, for he had been frightened away before he had throughly searched Mr. Desboro's desk, and he believed that the letters and the document were there.

Meanwhile he had spent a very dull time, and at eight o'clock one evening, tempted to take a little pleasure in the West End, and trusting that the false moustache he wore would protect him from recognition, he left the house in Bloomsbury and strolled down to Piccadilly Circus.

Concluding to go to Odler's Brasserie in the Quandrant—it was an old haunt of his—he went in by the rear entrance in Glasshouse Street, and paused on the threshold to take a furtive survey.

He threw a sweeping glance beyond him, and, seeing no one whom he knew, he seated himself at a small, unoccupied table close to the door.

He was facing the Quadrant entrance, and presently, after he had ordered a glass of beer and a sandwich, he looked over his shoulder to see who was behind him.

For a moment his attention was drawn to a couple of Frenchmen who were having a heated argument, and when he looked the other way his heart gave a quick throb.

In the brief interval somebody had taken the vacant seat opposite to him—a well-dressed gentleman, clean-shaven, with ruddy, good-humoured features. It was Mr. Charles Fenner, of Vine Street.

"Hallo, Sherbroke!" he said cheerfully, smiling at the youth.

Denis felt his cheeks burning. It would be useless for him to deny his identity; he knew that. His first impulse was to take to flight, but he checked it, thinking he might have a better opportunity later.

By an effort he pulled his wits together and tried to appear at ease.

"How are you, Mr. Fenner?" he replied, as calmly as he could.

"Quite well, my boy," said the C.I.D. man. "And you look the same."

"Yes, I'm all right," said Denis. "Can I offer you a drink?"

"No, thanks. I just stopped to have a little chat. I hope I'm not intruding."

"Not at all. I'm glad to see you, Mr. Fenner."

"Very good of you. By the way, I believe I saw you in Hyde Park the other day."

"Yes, you did," Denis assented. "I am sorry I couldn't wait to talk to you. I was in a hurry."

"I noticed you were," Charles Fenner replied. "So you have come back to England, eh?"

"Yes, I got homesick out in Uruguay. There is no place like the old country."

"I'd have stayed out there, my boy, had I been you. It was a healthier climate for you."

"I had my reasons for not staying there any longer; and they were good reasons."

"What about your promise, and the penalty for breaking it?"

"That's up to you, I suppose."

Charles Fenner nodded.

"You were a fool to come back, knowing you were liable to be arrested on the old charge," he said dryly, dropping his bantering tone. "And you were a bigger fool to break into that house in Ponter Street the other night."

Denis stared open-mouthed.

"What—what house?" he gasped.

"The resident of a Mr. Charles Desboro," said Charles Fenner. "They have you nailed at Scotland Yard for that job."

"I don't believe it! How could they have—"

"By the finger-prints you left on the desk, Sherbroke. Amateur cracksmen are usually careless in that way."

Denis was hard hit. His position has been bad enough before, and now it was much worse. There were two charges against him, and he would probably be sent to penal servitude.

Should he tell the detective the whole story, and throw himself on his mercy? No, even should his statements be believed, the police would be powerless. They would have no legal right to enter Charles Desboro's house, with or without a search-warrant. They could take no steps whatever against him.

It rested with him, Denis, to recover the documents, and baffle the blackmailer; and if he were to do so he must escape.

He thought of all this very quickly, and pretended to be more frightened than he was. With a shaking hand he lifted his beer-mug to his lips, and spilt some of the contents as he put it down.

"You've got me, Mr. Fenner," he said in a husky voice. "What are you going to do with me?"

"I'm going to take you round to Vine Street, my boy," the detective replied.

"Right you are, sir. I'll—"

Like a flash Denis was on his feet, and as quickly, in two strides, he was at the door.

Out he went, and when he had darted across Glasshouse Street, dodging at the peril of his life between two cars, he sped past the Monico, whipped round the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, and ran as fast as he could, pushing roughly and swiftly through the crowd on the pavement.

He did not pause to look over his shoulder. Whether or not he had eluded the detective he did not know. He thought he heard shouts, but he was not sure, as the traffic was making a deafening noise.

He hesitated at Denman Street, and ran on as he observed a taxi crawling slowly beyond him, opposite to the Trocadero.

He overtook it—sprang to the footboard—jerked the door open—and called to the chauffeur: "The Scala, Fitzroy Square! Hurry, please! I have an appointment!"

The cab shot off as Denis tumbled in and shut the door. Was he safe? He waited until he had gone by Rupert Street, and then, peering from the plate of glass behind him, he had a glimpse of Charles Fenner getting into an orange taxi at the corner of Denman Street.

His heart sank. The detective had been in pursuit of him, and was on his track.

"I'll be run down in the end, I dare say," he muttered. "But I'll give the fellow a chase for it. He may lose me."

The two cabs raced up Shaftesbury Avenue and round by the Palace; and they were about the same distance apart—a couple of hundred yards—as they drew near to the top of the Charing Cross Road.

And now an idea suddenly occurred to Denis. He might easily escape, he reflected, if he had a little time. Even a minute would be enough.

He lowered the window and spoke to the chauffeur.

"I've got to go home for something I forgot," he said. "Take me to No. 58, Doughty Street, Bloomsbury."

The taxi swerved to the right, into the flaming lamps of New Oxford Street; thence to Hart Street, and from that to the Theobald's Road.

Denis looked back again, and his spirits rose.

"I believe I can do it," he said to himself. "I am pretty sure I shall."

The orange-coloured taxi had been held up by the traffic at Southhampton Row. It was clear now, and was keeping to the pursuit; but it had lost some ground, and was farther behind than it had been before.

The chase was nearing its end now. Soon the leading taxi turned to the left, throbbed along John Street, and stopped in front of No. 58, Doughty Street.

Denis leapt out, gave the chauffeur five shillings, hastened across the pavement, and pulled his latchkey from his pocket as he stepped into the wide portico of the old-fashioned dwelling.

The orange cab had not yet appeared at the corner of Theobald's Road as he opened the door.

He pushed it shut, and shot the bolt, rapidly mounted the stairs, and entered his comfortable bedroom, which was at the back of the first floor.

"That's done it," he thought. "I'm all right now, and I can take some things with me, though I haven't much time to spare."

He took a small kitbag from the wardrobe, and hurriedly filled it with clothes and boots and toilet articles.

Then he went to the window, and raised the sash, and as he swung over the ledge, his bag in one hand, he heard shouts in Doughty Street, and loud hammering on the front-door of the house.

He let go and dropped, and landed lightly in a thick clump of shrubbery beneath him.

He was in a large garden which stretched at the rear of the dwelling, and when he had raced to the bottom of it—he could still hear the detective hammering on the front-door—he unlocked a gate in a high wall, and slipped through into Doughty Mews.

He glanced right and left, saw nobody, and glided from the mews to a deserted street, along which he walked at a rapid pace.

He turned corner after corner, and paused at a dark spot. All was quite behind him. He was safe, at least for the present.

"That was a near thing," he reflected. "What a fool I was to go to the brasserie to-night! The police will be inquiring for me at Lodging-houses all over London to-morrow. Well, there is only one thing to be done, and I'll have to do it. I hope it won't come to that, though. I had rather have stayed in Doughty Street."

He prudently held to the north, thinking of what he had learned from the Vine Street detective, until he came to Euston Road. Then he hailed a taxi. "The Marble Arch, please," he said to the chauffeur.


MR. CHARLES DESBORO, a handsome, middle-aged gentleman with a blonde moustache and steel-blue eyes, had risen later than his usual habit; and by the time he had tubbed and dressed, and finished his breakfast, it was nearly eleven o'clock.

Having glanced at the newspaper, he rose from the table, and went upstairs to his study on the first floor, taking with him unopened the one letter he had received by the morning delivery.

A fire was burning in the luxuriously-furnished room, and between the two windows was the roll-top desk Denis Sherbroke had broken into.

He would not have found what he was after, however, even if he had not been interrupted in his search.

There was nothing in that desk—or in the house—which Mr. Desboro would have been afraid to let the police see, or anybody else.

He unlocked it, and raised the lid, and carefully chose a cigar from a box of Rothschilds; and when he had set it alight he tore open the sealed envelope, and took from it a printed card of invitation to an exhibit at a Bond Street art gallery of a collection of paintings of the Black Forest in Germany, by an English artist.

Mr. Desboro did not care a rap for the Black Forest, but he was none the less very much interested in the card. He held the reverse side of it to the heat of the fire, and gradually there appeared in pale purple, word by word, a number of lines of fine writing. And this writing, which had been done with invisible ink, ran as follows:

It was a difficult task, but I have succeeded. I went to Oxford to make inquiries, and after a long search I found at a shop a good photograph of Julian Sherbroke's son, taken in a group when he was in the cricket team of his college. He is the same boy who was hiding in the mission chapel at San Jacinto that night. There isn't any doubt about it at all. As for other matters, your instructions have been carried out, Carey has made such arrangements as you wished, and all is in readiness. We are waiting for further orders.


The letter pleased Charles Desboro, and it did not please him. He smiled rather sourly, then frowned. He had been clinging to the very dim hope that his suspicions might be wrong.

He tossed the letter into the fire, and he was thoughtfully pacing the floor when the telephone bell rang.

He picked up the receiver. "Hallo!" he cried.

"Is that you, Charles!" replied in French a clear, mellow voice—obviously a feminine voice.

"Yes, he is speaking," Charles Desboro answered in the same tongue. "How are you this morning?"

"Don't ask conventional questions. It is stupid. Have you any news for me about Julian? It is several days since I talked to you last. You remember what you told me you were going to do."

"I have done it, Highness. Julian is a safe proposition. I have had him under strict surveillance. He has been leading the normal life. He has not been to Baker Street—you imagined he might go there—nor has been to Scotland Yard. He will give no trouble, be assured."

"I am glad to hear it. He is a man of violent temper, and I feared he might yield to it, and make up his mind to fight. So he has been taking it quietly, has he?"

"Yes, it would seem so," said Charles Desboro. "And now I will have a report from you, if you please. You know what about, If there is one man in the world of whom I and again, by cleverness inconceivable, he has got on my track, and has beaten me. It is impossible, certainly, that he can get at me, much less at you.

"Yet it sticks in my mind that the events of the last couple of years, and in particular the recent suicide of his friend Milvern—I was strongly opposed to that affair, you will recall—may have aroused Blake's suspicious, and that he is working secretly.

"You promised to find out what his movement were, if you could. I left that to you because of your opportunities, and because it would have been no safe task for any of my staff of assistants. They would rather, one and all, swim across the Styx than keep watch in Baker Street."

A little short laugh floated over the wires.

"You can disabuse yourself of the least apprehension, my friend Charles," the woman replied. "I know that Monsieur Blake is not engaged on any secret work. On the contrary, he has been leading a life of idleness and pleasure, as is his habit when he has nothing else to do."

"You are sure of that, Highness?"

"Absolutely. Of late Monsieur Blake has been much in the public eye, as by chance I have seen and learned. Last Tuesday night I nodded to the distinguished gentleman at Lord Carchester's reception. On Wednesday night he dined at the Ritz—I was two tables removed from him—with Sir Algernon Chetwynd, our High Commissioner in Borneo. The day before yesterday, I have been informed, he was one of a party who had luncheon at the Maison Jules at the invitation of Cavendish Doyle, the Secret Service man, who has for the past month been revelling in hair-breadth escapes in Moscow. And last night, as it happened, I saw him at Her Majesty's Theatre, in the Duchess of Shetland's box. Voila! Are you satisfied?"

"My mind is relieved," said Charles Desboro. "When Sexton Blake works he does not play, as I am well aware."

"Be cheerful, then," the woman answered. "I would like to have a personal chat with you. But I must shun Ponter Street as I would a pestilence. You will have to wait until I give another party. Perhaps I won't invite you, though. At the last one I had, which you attended as the Count de Roncelles, you neglected me shamefully."

"I will atone for it next time. And now to business again, Highness. I have just had a report from Hewitt. It is in regard to the matter I spoke of at the beginning of the week."

"Yes, I remember. And what does Hewitt say?"

"He has discovered positive confirmation of my suspicious—a photograph of Julian's son. It was the boy Denis who played the spy on Hewitt and Carey in the mission chapel at the Uruguayan village of San Jacinto."

"I am not surprised," said the woman. "I was certain of it from the first. I wonder if Julian knows his son is back in London?"

"I am sure he does not," Charles Desboro replied. "And it would make no difference if he did. He would be little or none the wiser for what his son could tell him. It would not induce him to fight."

"You don't think it is a serious matter, then?"

"Of course not, Highness. The boy won't dare go near his home in Park Lane. He knows he is in danger of arrest, and he will lie low."

"He may try to break into your house again."

"I am hoping he will. I shall be prepared for him."

"What do you mean? Don't be too rash. Are you thinking of—"

"Never mind about that, Highness. My judgment is better than yours."

"Well, if you have nothing more to tell me I will ring off. That doddering old bore, the Earl of Griffenhurst, is waiting downstairs. My maid has just brought me his card. I believe he is going to propose to me again. What a pity he hasn't a family skeleton, too! He is worth a million, you know. Good-bye! But wait a moment! A word of advice! Do you think you could find a desert island thousands and thousands of miles from anywhere?"

"Why do you ask such a silly question, Highness?"

"Because one of these days, my dear Charles, you will have Sexton Blake so hot on your track that you will have to utterly disappear—if you should be lucky enough to get the chance. Good-bye!"

There was a rippling peal of laughter—and silence. Charles Desboro swore as he dropped the receiver on its hook, and for an instant a golden glint flashed in his steel blue eyes. He did not relish the lady's jest.

"One of these days it will come to a final issue," he reflected. "That is true. But I will get Sexton Blake before he can get me."

The golden glint was still in his eyes, and had the detective of Baker Street seen it he would at once have known the man's real personality. For under another name—his right one—Charles Desboro was the most daring and notorious of crooks, one of the cleverest of criminals and rogues.

"No, I am not afraid of Sexton Blake!" he muttered.

He lied to himself. He was afraid, and his face was clouded as he sat down at his desk. He had told her Highness he was afraid.

He quickly recovered his confident spirits, however. He wrote a letter, and when he had sealed and stamped it, and addressed it to somebody in the East End—it was written with invisible ink—he pressed an electric-bell. His valet shortly appeared—a lean wiry man, dark and clean-shaven.

"Yes, sir?" he said.

"You remember the matter I spoke to you about the other day?" Charles Desboro replied.

"I remember, sir," the man assented.

"Well, Croxted, I propose to carry out my plans. I have written to Hewitt. He will get the letter this evening, and will come promptly bringing with him the things which will be necessary. And night after night hereafter, beginning with to-night, you and Hewitt will set a watch, and will be ready for immediate action."

"Very good, sir."

"I don't believe the trap will fail, though it may be some days before anything happens. As for Carey, whose assistance will be needed, he already knows just what he is to do, and he has made the necessary arrangements. Each night he will be at a garage in this neighbourhood, and a telephone message will fetch him quickly with a cab."

Charles Desboro paused.

"That's all for the present," he added, "here is the letter, Croxted. Take it at once to the nearest post-office, and put a sixpenny special-delivery stamp on it."

The valet departed with the letter. Charles Desboro finished his cigar, lit a fresh one, and went downstairs to the library.

He took a volume of travels from a bookcase, and as he settled comfortably in a lounge-chair by the fire, a raucous shout rang to his ears:

"Extry! Speshul 'dishun! All the latest racing tips! Extry!"

A ragged and grimy lad, with a bundle of newspapers under his arm, was passing by the house. He loitered for a moment, and went slowly on, crying his wares: "Speshul 'dishun! Latest racing tips!"

He did not go very far. He presently turned into a side-street, and entered a dairy-shop, where he took a seat at a marble-topped table, and called for a glass of mild and a bun.

"It's a hard life, isn't it?" he facetiously remarked to the waitress who brought his order.

"If you're referring to me—" began the girl.

"I mean myself, miss," said the lad, with a sigh.

"You look as if you led pretty hard life. I dare say I'll have to scrub the chair you're sitting on, to get the dirt off. You might have found a coffee-stall open if you'd gone down Victoria way."

"I'm quite comfy where I am, thank you. And please don't be impertinent. If you was what they call world-wise you'd know fine feathers don't make fine birds. Suppose I was to tell you I was a detective in disguise. What would you think?"

"I'd think you were balmy. And I believe you are. What kind of a bee have you got in your bonnet? Do you imagine you're Mr. Sexton Blake?"

"I am a detective, miss, honest," declared the lad. "I'm employed by a big swell of a millionaire to protect his lovely daughter from being kidnapped by a Society villain who loves her for her father's money."

"You go chase yourself!" snapped the girl, tossing her head. "I've had enough of your nonsense!"

She flounced away, and Tinker grinned. He couldn't wonder that his presence was regarded as a blot on the immaculate cleanliness of the dairy-shop; for he was more ragged and dirty, and more thoroughly disguised, than he had ever been before when working for Sexton Blake.

From head to foot he looked like a waif of the gutters. His shabby, shapeless cap was too big for him, and drooped over his ears.

He wore no collar. His boots were in holes, and a bit of string was tied round one of them to keep if from falling off.

And grease-paint, and other artifices, had so altered his features that no one could have traced in them the remotest resemblance to Blake's young assistant.

"I'm about fed up with this sort of thing," he said to himself, as he sipped his milk and munched his bun. "I've been at it for nearly a week, and there's nothing doing yet. When Mr Desboro leaves the house he goes alone to a restaurant, or a cafe, or a theatre, and he doesn't talk to anybody. And when he's at home he doesn't have any callers. He's either playing the game on his own, or he's afraid to meet the real blackmailer anywhere. I'll have to stick to it, though. As for that Sherbroke chap, I guess he's too much afraid of the police to go near the house in Ponter Street."

Having finished his frugal luncheon, Tinker rose, ostentatiously wiped the chair he had been sitting on with a grimy handkerchief, left a copper on the table, and slouched out.

"Good riddance!" the waitress called after him.

"It's a pity you wasn't taught manners when you was young, my girl," the lad retorted. "You're too old to learn now."


AT eight o'clock one evening, while on the way to his post of duty, Tinker went into a newsagent's shop in a quiet little thoroughfare near Ponter Street, and came out with a packet of cigarettes.

It was several days since he had chaffed the dairy waitress, but he looked the same waif of the gutters. His appearance was unaltered, except that he wore a greasy muffler around his throat.

He walked for a few yards, and stopped to light a fag at the entrance to Rayburn's garage; and then, being in no hurry, he lingered to watch a man in his shirt-sleeves who was cleaning a car and chatting with another man.

The former was Jim Harris, an employee of the garage. He had just come on night-duty, and the man he was talking to was a friend who had dropped in.

"I saw you at the Red Lion last evening," the latter remarked. "Who was the bloke you were with?"

"Is name's Leary, and 'e's a chauffeur," said Jim Harris. "That's about all I know of him. 'E' 'as 'is own cab, and there it is yonder, that blue one. Three days ago 'e put it up 'ere, and 'e 'asn't 'ad it out since. As a matter of fact, 'e's been sleepin' in it."

"Sleeping in his cab—eh? What's the idea?"

"E told me what, Creech. It appears 'e's been 'ired steady by a wealthy company promoter, round in Lennox Gardens, who's expecting any night to be called by telegram to Paris to do a big deal there in the morning, and 'e wants to be driven sharp to the Croydon Aerodrome as soon as 'e gets the message. That's why Leary 'as been sleeping in is cab—so 'e can pop off quick if 'e should be rung up on the telephone. What 'e does with 'imself in daytime I dunno."

"A queer sort of a tale, it strikes me."

"It does sound a bit thick. I guess its all right, though."

"Is the fellow asleep over there now, Jim?"

"No, 'e's been and gone. 'E said 'e was going to 'ave a 'alf-pint at the Red Lion, and 'urry back."

Tinker had heard the conversation, but he was not interested in the tale of the man Leary. He went on, and when he had turned a corner into Ponter Street he walked slowly, his hands thrust into his pockets, wishing he was at home by the fire instead of on duty on this bleak and chilly autumn night.

As he drew near to Mr. Charles Desboro's residence, he noticed that it was all in darkness, and as he reached the gate he saw beyond him, by the glow from a lamp, the approaching figure of a burly policeman.

He had not been seen himself, he was sure, and he was anxious not to be seen. He would probably be arrested on suspicion for loitering in this aristocratic street.

He paused by the gate, which was partly open, and, on the impulse of the moment, he slipped through into the patch of garden and crouched in the shelter of a clump of shrubbery to one side of the tiled path. "I hope to goodness nobody will see me from the house!" he thought.

The policeman's measured tread came nearer and nearer. He loomed in sight, stopped to flash his lantern, and passed by.

Tinker waited a little while before he rose to his feet, and he was gliding to the gate when, startled by stealthy footsteps behind him, he glanced over his shoulder. Two constables were darting towards him, and the next instant he was in their grasp. "We've got you, my lad!" said one. "Don't give us any trouble!"

Tinker was too surprised and bewildered to offer any resistance, and it would have been useless if he had. Tightly held by the arms, he was led hastily along the path to the house.

The door had already been thrown open by a servant, and when Tinker and his captors had entered the hall, where now the electric light had been switched on, the door was pushed softly shut.

The constables let go of the lad, and one of them thrust him down on a bench; and as he sat there, his face in shadow, his mind worked quickly and shrewdly.

He was not deceived. It was all clear to him. A cunning trap—doubtless a trap with murder for its object—had been set for Denis Sherbroke; and he, Tinker, had fallen into it.

These men in uniform were not real policemen. They were accomplices of Charles Desboro, and they were thus disguised, as officers of the law, to divert suspicious should anybody see them leaving the house with the youth for whom they had been watching night after night.

All this passed swiftly through Tinker's mind, and it occurred to him also that very likely the chauffeur, Leary, who had been sleeping in his cab at nights at Rayburn's garage, was another member of the gang, and had been held in readiness to aid their plans.

"I'll bet I'm right," the lad reflected. "Mr. Desboro would have been afraid to have Denis Sherbroke arrested. He wanted to get rid of him for good and all. What will they do with me? That's the question. I dare say they will find out their mistake, and if they don't I'll have to tell them."

Only a brief interval had elapsed since Tinker had been brought in, and he row heard footsteps overhead.

A tall, handsome man in evening dress, with a blonde moustache, came down the stairs to the hall, Charles Desboro had arrived on the scene. "So you have caught the fellow?" he said.

"Yes sir, we tripped him up neatly," replied one of the constables. "He was hiding in the shrubbery at the front."

"I thought he would venture back one of these nights. I will telephone to the neighbouring garage and have a cab sent round."

"Very good, sir. It will be best to have a cab. We will take our prisoner to Scotland Yard, and—"

The man broke off abruptly, and drew a sharp breath as he got a good view of Tinker's face in the light.

"Good heavens, sir, we—we have made a mistake!" he faltered. "We've got the wrong party!"

"The wrong party?" Charles Desboro exclaimed in consternation. "What do you mean?"

"It's a mistake! This-this isn't Mr. Julian Sherbroke's son!'

"The devil is isn't! Are you sure, Hewitt?"

"I an dead certain, sir. I've seen young Sherbroke, you'll remember. He is a bit taller than this fellow, and a trifle heavier built. And he don't look the least like him."

"So you've brought a stranger in here! A ragamuffin of the gutters!"

"You shouldn't blame us, Mr. Desboro, begging your pardon. We only obeyed our orders. The fellow was hiding in the shrubbery, and—"

"Curse you for an imbecile, Hewitt! You're a pair of blithering, blundering idiots! You in particular! You, who've seen young Sherbroke, talked to him, spent hours in his company!"

"But it was dark in the garden, sir, for one thing. And it never occurred to us that it might be somebody else who was—"

"It should have occurred to you! Why the blazes didn't you flash your lantern on him? I've a good mind to—"

Fury stifled Charles Desboro's voice, and on the instant he was transformed into a human tiger. A golden glint, like tiny points of fire, played in his steel-blue eyes. One corner of his lips curved inward, showing his teeth. His fist clenched, he drew his left arm up and back, level with his shoulder, and held it so as if he was about to strike.

"You blundering idiots!" he repeated in a snarling tone. "You imbeciles! It was for a less mistake than you've made I smashed Starkey, in Vienna, three years ago!"

The bogus constables shrank in terror form their infuriated chief, and the servant who was standing by the door—he appeared to be the butler—turned white.

But no blow was struck. Charles Desboro let his arm drop, and in a trice his passion was gone, leaving a grey pallor on his cheeks.

"You've had a warning!" he said. "Don't forget it! You won't get another!" There was a brief silence. Fortunately no one glanced at Tinker, who was striving to hide his agitation. His brain was reeling. He felt as if everything was swimming round him.

"Gosh. I know him now!" he said to himself. "My word, what a discovery!"

He had suddenly learned who Mr. Desboro was. He knew him well, and, knowing he was equally well known to the man, he was in mortal terror lest his identity should be suspected, and his facial disguise rubbed off. If so his life would not be worth a moment's purchase.

"What shall we do with the fellow, sir?" asked the constable who had been addressed as Hewitt.

Charles Desboro smiled grimly.

"I think I shall telephone for the cab," he replied in a low, tense tone.

"I wouldn't sir, if I were you."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't believe any harm has been done, sir."

"I am not so sure of that, Hewitt. However, we will see."

By now Tinker had pulled himself together, and was prepared for the ordeal he expected.

His life was at stake, hanging by a thread; but he sat calmly on the bench with his chin raised, with a sullen, dogged expression on his grimy face, while Charles Desboro scrutinised him closely, intently, studying every detail of his features.

Had not the light been artificial the lad would have been lost. As it was the grease-paint and pencil marks were not detected by Charles Desboro, and what vague suspicion he had entertained was lulled. He was led to think it was a genuine ragamuffin he was gazing at.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "What's your name?"

"Billie Smith, sir," Tinker answered. "I'm an orphan. I 'aven't got no father and mother, and I've got no 'ome."

"How do you live?"

"Any old way I can, sir. I 'ang out in Whitechapel mostly."

"You're a young crook, I dare say. You came to the West End to-night to break into some house, and you chose mine, eh?"

"No, sir, I didn't," whined Tinker. "I wasn't going anywhere in particular. I seen a policeman coming, and that's why I slipped into your garden and 'id in the bushes."

"That's a poor excuse," said Charles Desboro. "I haven't any doubt you meant to—"

"The boy's story is true, sir," the man Hewitt interrupted. "Croxted and I were watching him from round the corner of the wall, and he hadn't much more than crept into the shrubbery when a constable passed by."

"Was the fellow still in hiding when you seized him?" Charles Desboro inquired.

"No, sir, he had got to his feet, and was moving towards the gate."

"You think he was about to leave the garden, then?"

"I am sure he was, sir. He couldn't have seen or heard us until we grabbed him." Tinker's spirits rose. The peril he feared most had been averted, he felt. But he was still apprehensive. What if he should be handed over to a genuine constable?

"Don't 'ave me arrested, sir!" he begged, screwing a dirty knuckel into his eyes. "I wasn't goin' to break into your 'ouse—'onest I wasn't! Let me go, please!"

Charles Desboro hesitated. His suspicious had been further lulled by Hewitt's statements, yet he wasn't altogether satisfied.

"Don't you live in Baker Street, my boy?" he rapped out sharply.

Not a muscle of Tinker's face twitched.

"I dunno where Baker Street is, sir," he muttered, in a puzzled tone. "There ain't one in Whitechapel."

"Do you know Sexton Blake?"

"Do I know 'im? Lor' lummy, sir, 'e's the detective bloke what pinched me once for stealing some jewels! 'E let me off because I promised 'im I'd keep straight, and if 'e was to find out—"

Tinker's voice faltered, and he sprang to his feet. There was terror in his eyes.

"Don't send for Mr. Blake, sir!" he cried hoarsely. "Not 'im! 'E'd get me a year, 'e would! I'd rawer be took to the police-station! But give me a chance, sir, won't you? It ain't as if I'd broken in 'ere. I was only 'iding in your garden!"

Charles Desboro shrugged his shoulders. He was quite satisfied now. He stepped to the door and opened it.

"Clear out!" he bade. "You can go."

"You're a toff, you are, sir!"

"Clear out my boy! Be quick about it!"

"Yes, sir, thank you."

The door was softly shut behind Tinker as he left the house, but he did not hear the latch click.

Judging that he was under observation, he stopped in the gateway, and stood there for a few seconds, peering around him, as if he was afraid of being seen by a constable.

Then he stepped out of the garden, and at a leisurely pace he walked along Ponter Street to Sloane Street, where he climbed to the top of a 'bus.

He changed to another one at Hyde Park Corner, and a quarter of an hour later he let himself into the house in Baker Street with his latchkey, and mounted the stairs to the consulting-room.

The bloodhound, stretched on a rug, languidly flopped his tail, and Blake, who was sitting by the fire, looked up from the book he was reading. He glanced at his watch.

"It's only a little past nine o'clock," he said, "What's amiss that you are back so early?"

"I have some news for you," replied Tinker, who was fairly bursting with excitement.

"You have shadowed Mr. Desboro to some West End residence, eh?"

"No, guv'nor, it isn't that."

Tinker related the whole story of his adventure, beginning with the conversation he had overheard at Rayburn's garage. He omitted the most important part of the narrative, though. When he had finished, Blake frowned at him.

"You reckless, careless youngster!" he said severely. "You have had a narrow escape. I wonder Mr. Desboro didn't discover you were disguised."

"I wonder myself he didn't," said Tinker. "I fooled him, though."

"Luckily for you, my boy."

"And the game was well worth the risk, guv'nor, for I discovered who Charles Desboro really is."

"Indeed? Who is he?"

"He is Basil Wicketshaw!"

It took a great deal to stir Sexton Blake's phlegmatic nature, but he sprang to his feet now, a startled exclamation on his lips, and stared incredulously, in black bewilderment, at the smiling lad.

Basil Wicketshaw! One of the most daring, dangerous, clever, and resourceful crooks in the world! Blake's old enemy! The man who had baffled him on numerous occasions, slipped from his clutches again and again when he was sure he had him!

Tinker was enjoying his triumph.

"You needn't gaze at me as if I was daft," he said. "It's a dead certainty."

Blake shook his head.

"I can hardly believe it," he declared. "I had a good look at Mr. Desboro in the Northern Capital Bank that morning."

"He was disguised," said Tinker. "You know how clever he is at making-up."

"I am not convinced. The last we heard of Wicketshaw he was running a gaming den at Manila, in the Philippine Islands. He would have been afraid to venture back to England."

"He's back right enough, guv'nor, and he is living in Ponter Street, in the name of Desboro. You can take that from me straight."

"Why are you so sure?" asked Blake. "You haven't told me yet."

"I'll tell you now," Tinker replied. "I'll give you the clearest proof. Basil Wicketshaw is left-handed, you will remember. Well, when he flew into a rage with the bogus constables he clenched his left hand, and drew his arm back, as if he was going to hit out. That's an old trick of his."

"Anything else, my boy?"

"Yes. His dark-blue eyes flashed as if they were shot with gold. You've seen that often. And he sucked in his lips at one side, showing his teeth. Two more old tricks of Wicketshaw's, guv'nor. Three in all. What do you think now? Am I right?"

Blake nodded. He was convinced. He could not dispute the assertion in the face of the lad's statements, And he should not have been so incredulous at first, knowing the prince of rogues as well as he did.

"I suppose there can't be any doubt about it," he said, dropping into his chair again. "The use of the left arm, the golden glint in the eyes, and the sucking in of the corner of the lips—that's Basil Wicketshaw to the life, and Charles Desboro is Wicketshaw. Many a man has been betrayed by ineradicable mannerisms. In Wicketshaw's case they are involuntarily displayed—the first two of them—only in moments of the most violent rage."

"And that's what gave him away to me," Tinker replied. "But is Basil Wicketshaw the real and original blackmailer? How about that?"

"I am pretty certain he is not," said Blake, after brief reflection. "No, there is somebody behind him, somebody who has been prominent in Society for years. With all his cunning and cleverness, and the acquaintance with prominent people he has enjoyed from time to time in assumed names, Wicketshaw could not have discovered the dark secrets, the family skeletons, which drove Sir Bruce Maitland into exile abroad, and led to the suicide of the Marquis of Barleven, the Honourable Gertrude Haysboro, and my friend, Eric Milvern. Nor is it likely he could have found out anything about Mr. Julian Sherbroke's first marriage in Uruguay many years ago. No, my boy, he has been playing second fiddle to someone, possibly a woman, who is as ruthless and merciless as himself."

"Then we can't have him arrested yet, guv'nor."

"Oh, no; it is not to be thought of, badly though the police want him. We should gain nothing by disclosing his identity to Scotland Yard, for he hasn't the documents in the Sherbroke case in his posession, I am certain. We'll have to wait, and be patient. It is of vital importance to run the real blackmailer, the Society vampire to earth; and that can be done only by keeping Basil Wicketshaw under surveillance, as far as possible. Or Desboro, as we will continue to call him.

"As for the events of to-night, it is obvious Desboro and his accomplices have been watching for Denis Sherbroke to put in an appearance—it was a shrewd idea, the bogus constables—and the man Leary, who has been in readiness night after night with his cab at a neighbouring garage, is one of the gang. It looks as if they meant to murder the young fellow, and perhaps throw him into the river, should they catch him. But I doubt if he will be so foolish as to make a second attempt at the house in Ponter Street. I wish I could find him. He could tell an interesting story of things that happened in Uruguay, and it might help us to—"

Blake paused and filled his pipe.

"I feel rather uneasy," he went on. "There is no telling what Denis Sherbroke will do. Suppose you go back to Ponter Street, and keep watch until a late hour."

"Just what I was thinking of," Tinker replied, "I had better change my disguise first, though."

"By all means," Blake assented. "You mustn't go as you are. It would be asking for trouble."

It did not take Tinker long to prepare. He set off a few minutes later, wearing a faded bowler, and a shabby suit of blue serge. A bird's-eye handkerchief was knotted about his throat, and he had an automatic pistol in his pocket.

He took a cab to Knightsbridge, and walked the rest of the way; and he had not gone far along Ponter Street when he saw a blue taxi coming from the direction of Rayburn's garage—saw it swing round, and saw it stop in front of Charles Desboro's residence.

The chauffeur's back was turned towards Tinker, who was within about twenty yards of the house. At once, risking discovery, he darted forward to the adjoining dwelling, which was flush with the street, and with quick and noiseless tread he slipped into the wide portico, and crouched behind one of the massive pillars.

He was none too soon. Mr. Desboro's butler appeared, stepped to the gate, and looked to right and left.

Then he raised his hand as a signal, and out of the house came the two bogus constables, leading between them a tall youth with a small moustache. They crossed the pavement and got into the taxi, and the servant, who had followed them, spoke to the chauffeur in a low tone, yet so distinctly that he was heard by the concealed lad.

"The shortest route, Carey," he said. "Victoria Street and the Embankment to Blackfriars."

"Right you are," the chauffeur replied. "I have my instructions."

The cab glided away, and the butler returned to the house and shut the door. Tinker waited for a moment, and then crept out from the portico.

"They've got him!" he said to himself. "They've got Denis Sherbroke! And there isn't another taxi in sight! What the deuce am I to do?"

Suddenly he thought of something, and was off like a shot. He walked rapidly past Charles Desboro's residence, and then, quickening his pace, he hastened on to a side street and turned into it.

A few more yards, and he was at Rayburn's garage. Jim Harris, the man on night duty, was standing inside the open doorway, and a light was burning in the office at the rear of the premises.

"I want your help." Tinker said breathlessly. "I'm Sexton Blake's assistant. I've been working on a case for him, and—"

"What are you trying to put over me?" Jim Harris interrupted, staring at the lad in derision.

"I'm not lying!" Tinker earnestly declared. "That man Leary, who has been sleeping here at nights in his cab, has pitched you a yarn. He's a crook, and he's just been round to a house in Ponter Street to pick up two other crooks, and a young fellow they've kidnapped."

"You're not kidding me, are you?" asked Jim Harris.

"Dead straight, I'm not! It's the truth. We've got to go after the men in a cab or a car. They haven't much of a start. They're going by Victoria Street, and the Embankment. I'm afraid they mean to murder the young fellow. I'm sure of it!"

"So Leary is a crook, eh? I thought there was something queer about 'is tale. There was a telephone-call for 'im a bit ago, and when 'e left with 'is cab 'e said—"

"Never mind what he said! Don't waste time in talking. If we hurry we may catch up with the blue cab on the Embankment. I've told you the truth. You'll be sorry if you refuse. There will be murder done!"

"I believe you," said Jim Harris, nodding. "I guess you're not pulling my leg. You're sure that's the way the party are going—along the Embankment?"

"Yes, I heard the instructions given to Leary," Tinker replied.

"Well, I'll come with you. We'll take the two-seater Wolseley over there. It will overhaul any cab that was ever—"

"For Heaven's sake, stop talking and—"

"'Old your 'orses, my lad! The boss is 'ere, and I'll 'ave to tell 'im where I'm going. I'll say there's somebody want's to 'ire a car and chauffeur for an hour or so."

Jim Harris hurried to the office, spoke briefly to Mr. Rayburn, and hurried back.

He snatched his coat from a peg and put it on, and a few seconds later the Wolseley car, with Tinker and the man on the driving-seat, slid out of the garage, ran round into Ponter Street, and went racing towards Grosvenor Place in pursuit of the blue cab.

"If I could think of any objick other than what you've said," observed Jim Harris, "I might think you 'ad a box of tricks up your sleeve."

"You wait and see," replied Tinker. "We have a big job on, and afterwards you can drive me to Baker Street, if you like, and I'll introduce you to my guv'nor."


TINKER had made no mistake, of course. It was Denis Sherbroke he had seen from his hiding-place in the portico.

A little while before the reckless youth had got access to the garden at the rear of Charles Desboro's residence, intending to lie concealed in the shrubbery until a later hour, and then make a second attempt to get the documents which he believed to be in the desk in Mr. Desboro's study.

But vigilant eyes had watched his movements, and he had promptly fallen into the hands of the two constables, who had marched him into the house and confronted him with Charles Desboro.

The conversation between the two had been limited to a dozen words or so. Mr. Desboro had not even mentioned the youth's name, though he knew who he was, and knew why he had broken into the house on a previous occasion.

And Denis, well aware that Charles Desboro knew, had prudently kept his mouth shut. A cab had been telephoned for, and when it arrived he had gone sullenly and quietly with the constables, not doubting that they were genuine officers of the law.

His arrest was a hard blow to him, but he had a ray of hope to cling to.

"If I can get an interview with some big police official," he reflected, as he was driven away from the dwelling, "perhaps he will believe my story, and let me go. And there's Mr. Sexton Blake, who helped to save me from prison three years ago. I shouldn't care to tell him, though. He would take up the case himself, and that wouldn't suit me. I want to cheat that scoundrel Desboro by my own efforts, so my father will be more readily forgive me. And I'll do it yet, somehow or other, if I have the chance."

Yes, if he were to have the chance. But he would be a fool to count on that. His hope faded. There were two serious charges hanging over him, and whether or not the police should credit his amazing story, he would certainly not be set free. It was improbable that even Sexton Blake could accomplish that.

The cab was gliding down Grosvenor Place now, and presently it crossed the Buckingham Palace Road, and swerved into Victoria Street.

"You are taking me to Scotland Yard, I suppose?" said Denis, who was seated between the two constables.

"Yes, your old friend Inspector Widgeon is very anxious to see you," one of the men answered. "He's a credit to the Yard, he is. He suspected you would make another attempt at Mr. Desboro's residence, and he set a trap for you."

"Why didn't he send you in plain clothes? It's the usual thing, isn't it?"

"No, my lad, it isn't. Not always."

The cab crossed Parliament Square, and bore to the right, turned from Bridge Street on to the Embankment, and went rapidly on.

And now Denis, who had been absorbed in gloomy thoughts, looked from a window and had a glimpse of the private gardens at the back of Whitehall.

"I say, we've passed Scotland Yard!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, I know we have," replied the man Hewitt.

"How's that? Why did you lie to me? Where are we going?"

"Don't get excited, my lad. It's all for the best. Out of sympathy for your father, Inspector Widgeon and Sexton Blake decided that instead of putting you on trial, should you be arrested, they would send you abroad again. They have fixed things with the skipper of a vessel which is lying in the Thames below the Tower Bridge, and that's where we are taking you. It's nothing to grumble about, is it? You can consider yourself lucky."

"That be darned for a tale!" said Denis.

He said it to himself, though. That Sexton Blake and the inspector should have arranged beforehand to ship him abroad in the event of his being caught, and without seeing him, was utterly absurd.

Of a sudden the truth flashed to his mind with almost stunning force. He was not deceived. These men were not real constables.

They were disguised accomplices of Charles Desboro, and he was afraid—with good reason—that they meant to murder him, and throw him into the river.

While he was in Mr. Desboro's house, Denis had merely glanced at his captors, both of whom were clean-shaven.

He gazed furtively and closely at them now, and traced in the features of one of them a likeness which took his thoughts back to Uruguay. "I know you, Mack Hewitt!" he cried.

With that he sprang to his feet and gave a lusty shout for help. He was at once dragged down, and before he could shout again one of the men dealt him a blow on the jaw, and the other seized him by the throat. He struggled as hard as he could, unable to utter a sound, until he was nearly suffocated.

His senses swam, and when he recovered clear consciousness his wrists were tied and a handkerchief was bound tightly over his mouth. "You—you scoundrels!" he wheezed.

"We ought to have gagged and bound the fellow at the first, as I told you," one of the men said to the other. "He might have jumped out of the window, Mack." Mack Hewitt laughed.

"I wanted to see how he would take it," he replied. "I was ready to tackle him."

Denis tugged and strained at his wrists, but he could not loosen the cords. The cab shot by Charing Cross, and it was about to glide under Waterloo Bridge when the chauffeur pulled up abruptly to avoid a tramcar which was crawling slowly from the mouth of the Kingsway tunnel.

And at the same moment, to Denis Sherbroke's intense relief, a police-inspector, who was standing near, stepped to the open window and peered through it.

"What's this?" he demanded. "Where do you men belong?"

"B Division, sir, Chelsea," Mack Hewitt glibly answered.

"Where are you taking your prisoner?" asked the inspector.

"To Cannon Street Station, sir, and down to Rochester, where he is wanted for burglary. He was caught at a house in Pimlico this morning."

"Why have you gagged him?"

"He isn't gagged, sir. His mouth was badly cut while he was resisting arrest."

"It sounds a bit fishy to me. Take off the fellow's bandage. I want to talk to him."

"Certainly, sir! We are in a bit of a hurry, but—"

With that Mack Hewitt thrust his arm from the window, grasping a life-preserver, and as quickly he struck at the inspector, who staggered and fell as the weapon crashed on his head. And the next instant the chauffeur started the cab, and drove on at dizzy speed. A hue and cry rose, and soon faded in the distance.

Mack Hewitt looked back.

"It's all right!" he declared; "there's no other cab coming after us."

"There will be, Mack," said his companion. "Hadn't you better tell Carey to go a different way?"

"No fear! Several persons heard what I told the inspector, and they know now I was lying, so the safest way for us will be past Cannon Street Station."

"Yes, that's true. I see the idea."

Denis was bitterly disappointed. He had rather have been in the hands of the police than in the clutches of these scoundrels. He had identified one of them as Mack Hewitt, and he had learned since that the chauffeur was Gavin Carey.

He was completely helpless. If he was to be murdered, and he so believed, there would be no chance of escape for him.

Hewitt looked back again.

"We've done the trick, Croxted," he said, "There's something in sight a long stretch behind, a cab or a car, but I'll bet it don't come any closer to us. Carey will see to that. He has his eyes open."

The blue cab had darted across New Bridge Street at Blackfriars, and was in Queen Victoria Street.

It turned into Cannon Street, and raced steadily and swiftly on—by Eastcheap and Mark Lane and Trinity Square, past the Tower and the Royal Mint, by Upper East Smithfield, down Nightingale Lane, and round by the docks to the district of Wapping, where it stopped in a quiet and gloomy street.

It was the end of the journey. A throbbing noise swelled faintly in the rear for a moment, and was drowned by the hooting of a tug.

The two men got out of the cab with their prisoner, and spoke a few low words to the chauffeur, who at once drove away in the direction of Shadwell.

And Denis, dreading the worst, was led by his captors along a narrow alley, to a flight of stone stairs, at the bottom of which a small boat was tied to a ring.

Fifty or sixty yards off shore, out in the Lower Pool, a vessel could be seen swinging at her moorings—a large, rakish-looking vessel, with lights burning fore and aft. Mack Hewitt pointed to it.

"There's your ocean liner waiting for you, my lad!" he said, with a chuckle. "The tramp-steamer Calabar, commanded by Captain Dan Bludsow. You're going a good many thousand miles with him before you put foot on dry land. You won't have to pay your fare. Carey has fixed that, He's a pal of the skipper, who's been expecting you at any time."

So the scoundrels did not mean murder! It was such a great relief to Denis that he felt almost cheerful.

But when he was seated in the stern of the boat with Mack Hewitt, while the other man bent to the oars, his heart sank to the depths of depression.

He was to be shanghaied. Yes, that was the word for it. He was going on the tramp steamer to some far-distant country, on a voyage that would probably last for weeks and months. And then, he supposed, he would be put ashore to shift for himself.

It was a crushing blow to his hopes and plans. He would lose all he had been looking forward to, he was afraid—paternal forgiveness, the withdrawal of the old charge against him, and the girl he loved.

He had been beaten by Charles Desboro, who had shrewedly hit on this means of getting him out of the way.

"I dare say by the time I get back to England, if I ever do," he reflected, "that villain Desboro will have squeezed a hundred thousand pounds out of my father, and he and his accomplices will have disappeared. I wish to goodness I hadn't gone to Ponter Street to-night!"

The boat slid alongside of the vessel, and was made fast to the bottom of a ladder.

It was no easy task for the two men to climb with their prisoner, who was still bound and gagged, but, without mishap, they reached the top of the ladder and stepped on to the deck.

They had not been heard, for a stiff breeze was blowing. Their arrival was expected, however, and three men immediately came towards them from a shadowy part of the deck, into the glow of a swinging lantern.

Two were ordinary seamen, and the third, who wore a peaked cap and a shabby suit of blue serge, was obviously the skipper. He was a big, burly man, red-faced, clean-shaven, except for a scanty fringe of black beard.

"So you've caught your bird at last, eh?" he said gruffly.

"Yes, he fell into the trap to-night," Mack Hewitt replied.

"Well, if he hadn't, you'd have missed me," said Dan Bludsoe.

"Missed you?" Hewitt repeated. "How's that? You told Carey you weren't sailing for several days yet."

"So I did. But I'm sailing with the tide at daybreak to-morrow, as it happens. I got all the cargo into the hold sooner than I expected. The rest of the crew will soon be coming on board. I gave them a couple of hours leave."

"And about the voyage, Dan? I think Carey said your first port of all was Mombasa."

"Not a bit of it. I'm calling at Freetown and Luanda and Durban and Zanzibar, but you can take it from me this young fellow won't be put ashore until we're in the port of Mombasa. And then, if he tries to kick up a row, I'll charge him with being a stowaway."

"That's the place—Mombasa. When are you likely to arrive there?"

"It will be three or four months, I reckon. I'll keep my part of the bargain. And what of the money? Have you got it with you?"

"Of course I have, Dan."

Mack Hewitt drew the skipper aside. They held a short and whispered conversation, and a packet of banknotes changed hands.

Then they turned their attention to Denis, who had been making furtive and futile efforts to get his wrists free.

"Come along, my lad!" bade Dan Bludsoe. "And let me give you a word of advice. If you behave yourself, you'll have nothing to complain of. If you don't—well, you'll get a taste of a rope's end and be clapped in irons. That's the sort of a man I am!"

The skipper descended the companion-way, carrying a lantern, and Hewitt and Croxted followed with Denis, who was thrust into a small, cramped cabin which had a tiny porthole.

The door was locked on him, and he sat down on the edge of a bunk and listened to the retreating footsteps.

Presently he heard the faint creaking of oars, and knew that his captors were pulling ashore in the boat.

He had no chance of escape. A few more hours, and the tramp steamer would sail with him, bound on a voyage of months around the coast of Africa, and he would be a helpless prisoner on board until the vessel reached Mombasa, where he would be turned adrift.


A FEW moments after Hewitt and Croxted landed at the water-stairs and disappeared in the alley, a youth, who had been lying flat on an adjacent wharf, lowered himself to the stairs, got into the boat, cast off, and fitted the oars to the rowlocks.

The youth was Tinker. The Wolseley car had held steadily and warily to the chase from Blackfriars, where Jim Harris and the lad had glimpsed the blue taxi ahead of them, to the bottom of Nightingale Lane, and it had been only a couple of hundred yards in the rear, moving very quietly, with its lamps out, when the occupants of the cab got out of it and the chauffeur drove on towards Shadwell.

Tinker had hastened forward alone, and from the mouth of the alley he had seen the two men and their prisoner embark in the boat, and pull in the direction of the moored vessel.

His fears thus allayed, believing as he did that Mr. Desboro had previously arranged to be rid of Denis Sherbroke by having him shanghaied, Tinker had quickly retraced his steps to the car paid Jim Harris, told him he would not need any assistance from him, and sent him back to the garage.

He had then hurriedly returned to the alley, and climbed to the wharf which jutted to one side of the water-stairs; and while lying there, within a short distance of the vessel, he had seen by the light of a lantern the two men talking to the skipper on the deck—had seen Denis Sherbroke taken below, and had seen Hewitt and Croxted come ashore.

It was a dangerous enterprise. He would almost certainly be discovered, and if so there would be trouble; but as he was armed with an automatic he was fairly confident of success.

"It isn't as if I had to deal with Desboro's men," he reflected, as he bent to the oars. "The skipper isn't that kind. He has been paid for the job, and I dare say I can strike fear into him, and force him to set Denis free."

The tide was on the flow, and Tinker let it carry him some yards above the stern of the vessel before he pulled close alongside of it, opposite to the Middlesex shore.

Where he had tied the boat at the bottom of the ladder, he listened for a few moments, and then, satisfied that he had not been seen or heard, he very cautiously mounted the ladder until he could get a view of the whole vessel.

He could hear confused voices, but there was nobody in sight. He had his chance.

He stepped on to the deck, glided stealthily to the companionway, and descended to a narrow passage, where he stood peering about him in the gloom. He dared not call out, lest some of the crew should be sleeping below.

Taking an electric-torch from his pocket, he moved to one side, and stopped at a door that was locked.

The key was in the lock, and without hesitation he turned it, pushed the door open, and played the flashlight beyong him.

He was on the threshold of a small cabin, and Denis Sherbroke was sitting on a bunk, staring in surprise.

Tinker slipped over to him, tore the handkerchief from his mouth, and untied his wrists.

"Hush!" he bade in a whisper. "Don't talk loud! It's all right! I've come to set you free!"

"Thank heaven!" said the youth in a low tone. "But how did you know I was here? Who are you? You don't look like one of the crew."

"I'm not. You used to know me. I'm Tinker, Sexton Blake's assistant, and I followed you in a car from Ponter Street to Wapping."

"You can't fool me! You're not Tinker!"

"I am, honest. Only I'm disguised. Come along, while we have the chance. There's a boat waiting for us. Mind you don't make any noise."

Tinker put the flashlight back in his pocket, and with Denis at his heels he crept quietly from the cabin, and up the companionway.

And he had no more than stepped on to the deck when his heart gave a quick throb, and he whipped out his automatic.

"Darn the luck!" he muttered. "Keep cool, Denis! Leave the palaver to me!"

They were discovered. A couple of yards in front of them stood the skipper, and close behind him were the two members of the crew. On Dan Bludsoe's face was an expression of blank stupefaction.

"What the blazes!" he ejaculated, with an oath, as the pistol was pointed straight at him. "What do you mean, you whelp, by sneaking on board my ship, and letting this young fellow out of his cabin? Put that gun down! Be quick about it!"

"I'll bore a hole through you if you're not careful!" Tinker replied, in a truculent tone. "I'm not afraid of you! Stand where you are! If any one of the three of you lifts a finger I'll shoot him! I came on board to rescue my pal, and I mean to do it!"

"The devil you will!" snarled the infuriated skipper, showing his teeth. "The lad's going on a voyage to Africa for his health, and I reckon you'll have to go with him!"

Tinker laughed. "I don't think!" he said. "We're not sailing with you, either of us! We're going ashore, old son, or whatever your name is!"

"It's a name you won't forget—Dan Bludsoe!"

"Well, Mr. Dan Bludsoe, you had better keep your temper and listen to what I've got to say to you. I'm going to talk to you straight! You don't want a row, I'm jollysure, and we don't want one either. This isn't a police affair. You needn't be frightened. You let me and my pal go quietly, and you won't hear any more of it, I'll promise you."

"I'm hanged if I will, you impudent brat!" spluttered Dan Bludsow.

"You can't help it," said Tinker. "I've got the whiphand. Suppose I was to fire a shot in the air and blow a police-whistle? What would happen? It wouldn't be long until you were in Wapping police-station."

"If you were to try to bring the police, my lad, you would soon be at the bottom of the river with a cracked skull."

"Don't get the wind up, captain. What's the use? You've been paid to shanghai my pal, and you won't lose the money. So what have you got to grumble about? Come, stand back, and let us pass!"

Dan Bludsoe did not move, though the pistol was still pointed at him. He turned to the two sailors. "This young crowing cock is only bluffing, men," he told them, "he won't dare shoot."

"Daren't I?" said Tinker. "You'll see!"

He spoke defiantly, but he knew his bluff had failed. The situation was desperate now. In all likelihood, it seemed, the Calabar would sail in the morning with two prisoners on board.

What was to be done? Tinker had no intention of shooting, of course, either to kill or cripple. "We're in a pretty tight corner," he whispered to Denis Sherbroke.

Denis nodded, he had been listening to the conversation with his fists clenched, and was spoiling for a fight.

"We'll have to rush the three of them." he murmured. "There's nothing else for it."

"I'm afraid not!" Tinker replied. "I'll have another try first, though."

And with that, clinging to a slender hope, he stepped a little closer to Dan Bludsoe, and jammed the pistol almost into his face.

"I'll show you if I dare shoot or not!" he said fiercely. "Will you let us go, or must I—"

"You're trapped, you fool!" the skipper interrupted in a jeering tone. "Look behind you!"

Tinker did not look. On the instant he tumbled to the trick. But the words startled him, none the less.

He involuntarily lowered his arm, and before he could raise it he was covered by two revolvers which the two sailors had quickly jerked from their pockets.

Dan Bludsoe roared with laughter.

"The boot's on the other leg now!" he declared. "Get below, both of you, and as quick as you can! Your pal will have company on his voyage to Africa!"

For a moment Tinker hesitated, boiling with rage; and then, as he was about to throw himself recklessly on the skipper, his attention was attracted by the sound of creaking, splashing oars from the direction of the Surrey shore.

He saw a long, lean boat with several men in it gliding down-stream within a hundred yards of the vessels, and he knew at a glance what it was. His heart gave a throb of joy.

"That's done it, Mr. Dan Bludsoe!" he exclaimed, "there goes one of the Thames Police galleys! Do you see? You'll let us go now, I'll bet! If you try to stop us we'll shout for help, and I'll fire every darned chamber of my pistol! The police will come on board, and the lot of you will be arrested! Stand back, you scum! Stand back!"

They did stand back—three baffled, frightened men, in terror of the Thames Police. They dared not run any risk. They knew an alarm would be raised should they attempt to make a move.

There was a murderous glitter is Dan Bludsoe's eyes, and he and the sailors swore bloodcurdling oaths. But not one lifted a finger to stop Tinker and Denis, who darted swiftly by them and ran across the deck to the left side of the vessel.

They rapidly swarmed down the ladder, and they were adrift in the boat, with Tinker at the oars, before the police-galley had passed by the steamer on the Surrey side.

"If it hadn't been for that galley," said Denis Sherbroke, "you and I would have been carried off to Mombasa. We've had a narrow escape."

"A miss is a good as a mile," Tinker replied. "It was a mighty close shave, though. So you were to have been taken to Mombasa—eh?"

"Yes, that's what you saved me from, and I'll never forget it. How did you do it, Tinker? I can't imagine, unless you happened to be near when I was put into the cab at Ponter Street."

"I did happen to be there. It wasn't by chance, old chap. I know at lot more than you think I do, and we have a lot to talk about. But not now. We'll wait a bit."

They were some yards from the Calabar now. Glancing over their shoulders, they saw dusky figures watching them from the deck.

"They're taking it very quietly," Tinker remarked.

"They can't come after us," said Denis, "for the rest of the crew have gone ashore with the ship's boat."

As the men Hewitt and Croxted had landed at Wapping, Tinker judged it best to avoid that locality, and rowed down for a short distance against the tide to Ratcliff, where he ran the boat on to a strip of mud and gravel between two wharves.

A narrow passage, and a dark little thoroughfare, brought Tinker and Denis to Broad Street, and here they bore to the left, and went along the Shawell High Street to George Street.

Tinker was perfectly familiar with the neighbourhood, as he was with all of the East End—and practically all of London.

"There's no chance of a taxi hereabouts, Denis," he said. "It's just struck me I'm as hungry as a bear. How about you?"

"I'm hungry myself," Denis assented.

"Suppose we have some grub, then, as we're not in a hurry?"

"Where can we, Tinker?"

"I know of a fairly decent place close by. Black Dave's, in Upper East Smithfield. No frills—no swallow-tailed waiter—food sort of chucked at you—eat with your knife if you want to. But everthing's clean. We'll feed there, and afterwards we'll pick up a cab at the Mint, or at Aldgate."

They had no distance to go. Five minutes later they were sitting at a small wooden table at the rear of a long, low-ceilinged room, drinking tea from large cups of coarse, chipped china, and devouring thick slabs of bread-and-butter.

The other customers of the cheap eatinghouse were mostly rough seafaring men. The waiter was a Chink, and Black Dave the proprietor, who sat at a high stool by the door, was a swarthy Jamaican.

"Feeling cheerful now, old chap?" asked Tinker, with his mouth full.

"A good bit more cheerful than when I was on board that tramp-steamer," Denis Sherbroke replied, in rather a dull tone.

A feeling of constraint fell between them, and for a little while they went on with their meal in silence. Denis was wondering how much Tinker knew; and Tinker, on his part, was wondering if he could win his companion's full confidence, and get him to Baker Street. At length he guardedly approached the subject.

"I was watching Charles Desboro's house in Ponter Street to-night," he said. "That's how I happened to see you carried off in a cab by those two bogus constables."

"Why were you watching?" Denis inquired. "Did Mr. Sexton Blake send you there? Does he suspect that Charles Desboro is a crook?"

"Yes, he has his suspicions of the gentleman," said Tinker. "It was you I was keeping my eyes open for, though."

Denis gave a quick start.

"You were keeping your eyes open for me?" he repeated. "Oh, I understand now! It was because of the affair of a week and more ago, when I broke into Mr. Desboro's house for a good reason. I left finger-prints behind, and they were identified as mine at Scotland Yard. There was no mention of that in the papers, but, of course, Mr. Blake learned from the police, and that is how he came to put you on my track."

"That's right, He heard from Inspector Widgeon."

"And he is very angry with me, I suppose, because I returned from South America."

"No, he isn't a bit angry, Denis. The fact of the matter is, he knows just why you came back to England, and why you broke into Mr. Desboro's house. So there you are!"

Denis Sherbroke stared in consternation and amazement. "How the deuce did Mr. Blake find out?" he asked.

"He tumbled to it," Tinker replied. "The guv'nor was led to believe, in the first place, that your father was being blackmailed. So he called at his offices in the City, and Mr. Sherbroke admitted he was in the power of a Mr. Charles Desboro, of Ponter Street, who had in his possession certain documents which must have been stolen by somebody at a village up-country in Uruguay. Your father told the guv'nor he had paid fifty thousand pounds to Desboro, and had promised to pay another fifty thousand at the end of a month, when the documents would be given to him."

"So Mr. Desboro has already had fifty thousand pounds from my father, Tinker?"

"Yes, a week or so ago. That is what the guv'nor discovered, and afterwards, when he learned about the finger-prints from Inspector Widgeon, and remembered you have been in Uruguay, he suspected you had tumbled to the game out there, and come back to try to get the documents from the blackmailer, for your father's sake."

"So I did. It's all true. That's why I broke into Charles Desboro's house, and I would have broken in again to-night if I hadn't been caught."

"You've been a darned fool, to put it bluntly," said Tinker. "You ought to have come straight to the guv'nor with your story, and got him to help you. You know what those documents related to, I suppose?"

"I don't," Denis declared. "I haven't the least idea. It is a mystery to me. You know, don't you?"

"Your father told Mr. Blake," Tinker answered evasively. "But it is a private and confidential matter, and the guv'nor keeps such things pretty much to himself. I can tell you one thing, though. It is nothing to your father's discredit—nothing he need be ashamed of."

"I have been sure of that from the first, Tinker. By the way, does my father know I am back in London, and what I have been doing?"

"No, he believes you are still out in Uruguay. Mr. Blake thought he had better not to let him know. He has been working on the case. He couldn't arrest Charles Desboro, as he had no proof against him, so he has had me set a watch on the house. And I got into a nasty scrape myself to-night, not long before you were—"

Tinker paused abrumptly.

"Good heavens, look!" he gasped.

The door had just been opened, and Mack Hewitt and Croxted had entered the restaurant, with Gavin Carey at their heels.

They saw the two lads at once, and for a moment they stared at them in dumb stupefaction.

"I'm blowed if there isn't young Sherbroke!" cried Hewitt. "How the blazes did he escape from the vessel?"

Tinker and Denis were on their feet in a trice, and turning to the rear of the room, they knocked down the Chinese waiter in their haste—flung open a door—ran through a kitchen where a woman was cooking—and ran out to a yard.

With a shrill clamour ringing in their ears, they scrambled over a low wall, and dropped into an alley; raced along that, and emerged from it in a quiet street.

They were hotly pursued. They could hear Hewitt and the other crooks shouting with rage. But by rapid sprinting, and dodging round corner after corner, they gained steadily on their pursuers.

The blind course they held to brought them at length to Dock Street, and then, the hue and cry having faded behind them, they whipped across Royal Mint Street, and walked calmly up Aldgate East Station.

"We left without paying our bill," said Denis, with a grim smile.

"No fear!" Tinker reufully replied. "I hadn't any loose silver, so I put a ten-shilling note on the table, and I forgot to pick it up when we bolted. I've half a mind to go back for the change."

Seeing no cab in the vicinity, they went on towards the City, and found a taxi in Leadenhall Street. They got into it after Tinker had given instructions to the chauffeur, who drove along Cornhill, and down Queen Victoria Street.

Denis was uneasy.

"Where are we going?" he inquired.

Tinker hesitated.

"To my place," he answered.

"This isn't the way to Baker Street."

"Not the nearest, I know. I told the man to drive rather a long way round, so we would have plenty of time to talk."

"Well, you can drop me before we get to Baker Street, and I will take another cab to my lodgings."

"Where are they, Denis? Where have you been living?"

"I had rather not tell you, if you don't mind."

Tinker did not press the point. He wasn't going to let the youth give him the slip—not if he could help it.

He spoke of his unpleasant experience in Charles Desboro's house, and of the pursuit of the blue taxi in the Wolseley car.

And then, after a little urging, Denis told the whole story of his amazing adventures out in Uruguay; speaking first of his life on the estancia of San Pablo, and then of his discovery of the men Hewitt and Carey in the mission-chapel at the village of San Jacinto, of what they had done there and in the padre's house, of his subsequent narrow escapes from death, of the means by which he had got a passage to England on the steamer Trinidad, and of his arrival at Euston Station with the men, where he had overheard the address in Ponter Street they gave to the cab-driver.

"I took a big risk, Tinker," he continued. "I had promised I would never come back, and I knew what it would mean if I was arrested—a couple of years in prison. If I were to be arrested before I could do anything, I mean. But there was another way of looking at it. Fate had played me a strange trick up in that Uruguayan village, and given me a chance such as I couldn't have hoped to get in a thousand years.

"A chance of redeeming what I had lost in the past by mad follies. It was that that lured me back to England. I believed that if I could steal the packet of letters, and the page cut out of the church register, from the blackmailer, and thus save by father from being forced to pay a huge sum of money, he would readily forgive me, and would use his influence to have that old charge against me withdrawn. And I had another motive—a girl I love. She had faith in me before and after my disgrace, and the thought of her kept me straight while I was out in Uruguay. And now that I've returned—"

Denis paused for a moment, showing emotion.

"Do you blame me for shadowing Hewitt and Carey to England?" he went on. "If you had been in my place, Tinker, wouldn't you have done the same thing? Wouldn't you?" Tinker nodded.

"I jolly well would," he declared. "I'd have jumped at the chance, as you did. No, I don't blame you, old chap. You've been a silly ass, though. You should have come to the governer, and told him all you have told me, and got his advice and his help. He wouldn't have had you arrested. You needn't have been afraid of that."

"I wasn't," said Denis. "It was for another reason I din't go to Mr. Blake. I was sure he would have taken the matter in hand, and I wanted to recover the documents on my own, without any help from anybody, so all the credit would be mine, and my father would be the more willing to forgive me. And his forgiveness will put me right with the police and with the girl I've spoken of."

"Well, I don't suppose you mean to work on your own now, after what has happened to-night?" Tinker replied.

"Of course I do," Denis said stubbornly. "I'll stick to it, and when I have got the documents I'll bring them to Mr. Blake, and let him to the rest."

"It won't be a bit of use, old chap. Apart from the risk of trying to break into Charles Desboro's house a third time, the documents aren't there."

"They aren't? How do you know?"

"It's my govenor's opinion, Denis. He is sure Mr. Desboro isn't the real blackmailer. He believes there is somebody higher up, and that person has the letters, and the page of the register."

"Who is the person, Tinker?"

"That's what the gov'nor has been trying to find out. He hasn't even a suspicion as yet."

"Then he had better leave it to me. I'll find out who the person is, and I'll get the documents." Tinker was irritated.

"Can't you see you are talking nonsense?" he said, in a sharp tone.

"I'm going to get the documents myself," Denis vowed. "I'll show you what I can do. I'm not going to let you or Mr. Blake spoil my chance."

There was a short interval of silence. Tinker lit a cigarette, and Denis sat gazing from a window.

The taxi had travelled by way of the Strand and Piccadily and Berkeley Street, and it had now passed the grounds of Devonshire House, and was skirting the east side of Berkeley Square.

"It's a pity you're so darned obstinate," Tinker remarked. "At all events, you must come home with me and have a talk with the guv'nor."

"I had rather not," Denis quietly answered. "I don't want to talk to Mr. Blake."

"He won't eat you, old chap. He'll only give you some good advice."

"I'll think about it, Tinker. Perhaps I had better come."

Denis had hardly more than uttered the words when he sprang quickly to his feet, and as quickly he threw open the door on the right, stepped to the footboard, and leapt from it backwards. The cab was moving rapidly, and it had gone, some yards and as about to swerve towards the bottom of Davies Street before Tinker could stop it.

He jumped out to the right, and, bidding the chauffeur wait for him, he hurried to the rear of the cab.

He saw Denis Sherbroke running beyond him to the right, saw him whip round the upper corner of Bruton Street, and raced after him as fast as he could.

But when he reached the corner, in the brief space of a few seconds, there was no sign of the youth in all the length of the street, much to his surprise.

"That's very queer!" he muttered. "What the deuce has become of the fellow? I was close behind him. He couldn't have got more than a third of the way to Bond Street, at the most!"

Tinker walked slowly along the north side of Bruton Street, perring down every area, and into every portico, until he was within a short stretch of Bond Street.

Then he crossed over and looked into all the areas and doorways on the south side of Bruton Street as he retraced his steps to Berkeley Square.

"Confound the fellow!" he said to himself, as he stopped on the corner to glance behind him. "He tricked me neatly. He must have got into one of those empty dwellings by a basement window. Well, I'll be sorry one of these days he gave me the slip. He's a darned plucky chap, though. I must give him credit for that."

Tinker returned to the waiting cab, and without gratifying the chauffeur's curiosity, he drove home to Baker Street.

It was less than an hour past midnight—events had moved in rapid sequence—and Sexton Blake had not gone to bed yet. He was lounging in a big chair by the fire, smoking a pipe, when the lad entered the room.

"What have you been doing?" he drawled, as he rose. "You look as if you had been wallowing in a dustheap."

"I've been wallowing in adventure," Tinker declared. "My word, there's a lot happened since I went back to Ponter Street, guv'nor!"

He related the whole story, from begining to end, and when he had finished Blake shook his head gravely and narrowed his eyes.

"It was keen, shrewd work," he said. "You did uncommonly well. But what a pity those men discovered you and Denis Sherbroke in Black Dave's restaurant."

"I know it is," Tinker assented.

"Yes, it is unfortunate," Blake continued. "The men will go to Charles Desboro to-night with their tale, and Desboro will suspect—believe, in fact—that it was you who rescued Denis from the skipper of the vessel, and that I have had you watching his house."

"It will give him a fright, won't it, guv'nor?"

"Exactly. And I didn't want him to be frightened, my boy. Desboro will make some prompt move, I dare say, to bring matters to a head. Very likely he will go to Julian Sherbroke, accuse him of opening his lips to me, and demand the other fifty thousand pounds. As for young Denis, his courage and zeal, his dogged determination to get the documents without help have blinded his discretion. So you believe he crept into some empty house in Bruton Street, eh? I have just been thinking that—"

Blake did not finish the sentence, He broke off, and a vague look of conjecture crept into his eyes.

"No, there is no telling what Charles Desboro will do," he said, "now that he will be led to suspect me. You must keep a stricter watch on him than before, Tinker, no matter what the risk. I may take a hand in the game myself," he added, "but it won't be to-morrow night. I have an appointment at my club, and afterwards I am going on to Lord Maltraver's reception."


ON the following evening Sexton Blake dined at his club in Pall Mall with his old friend, Sir Roger Murchison, the famous traveller and explorer, and when he left there at nine o'clock, immaculately attired in evening dress, he strolled round to St. James's Square, where innumerable private cars were parked.

Accompanied by other persons, he trod on a red carpet, beneath an awning, and was ushered by a servant into Maltraver House, a large and imposing dwelling which was the town residence of Lord Maltraver and his wife.

They were staunch Tories, and they were giving a reception to-night in honour of the new Conservative Government, of which Lord Maltraver was a member.

Several hundreds of guests were present, all from pre-eminent walks of life, not one but had some claim to distinction.

Having received a hearty welcome from his host and hostess, Blake strolled here and there, stopping to talk to little groups of friends of his, now cracking a joke with one of his Majesty's judges, and now discussing the merits of vintage port with a bibulous bishop.

A length he ascended the stairs, and as he was going along the hall, on his way to the ball-room, he paused by the open door of a small smoking-lounge which was empty except for one person.

Standing by the fireplace, with a cigar in his mouth, and his hands in his pockets, was Mr. Julian Sherbroke.

He beckoned to the detective, and Blake, after throwing a glance to right and left, entered the room. "How are you, Sherbroke?" he said. "You have fled from the crush—eh?"

"Yes, I've been talking till I'm hoarse," the millionaire replied. "I was glad to find a quiet spot."

"You don't look very well."

"I know I don't And I'm not feeling well, either. What have you been doing? Any news?"

"No, not yet. I thought I might have heard from you, Sherbroke."

"I had nothing to write about, for nothing has happened. Matters are at a standstill."

There was a brief silence. The faint frou-frou of silken skirts came from the hall—drew nearer to the door—and ceased. Blake and his companion had not heard the rustling noise.

"I've been worried since the day you called at my office," continued Julian Sherbroke, in a peevish tone. "I wish I hadn't told you the story, and let you help me. I was a fool to break my promise to that scoundrel Desboro."

"Oh, no, you were not!" Blake declared. "No harm has been done. On the contrary, it was fortunate you did tell me."

"What was the use? The fellow is too clever to let himself be caught in your clutches. You can't trip him up. At all events, I want you to drop the affair, and leave it entirely to me."

"I have no intention of dropping it, be assured."

"I insist on it, Blake. I won't let you take any steps whatever. I am afraid. I would do anything to avoid exposure. Money is no object to me. I hate the idea of being blackmailed, naturally; but when the time-limit has expired I shall pay Charles Desboro another fifty thousand pounds, after he has given me the documents, and that will be the end of the matter."

"The matter is not going to end in that way," Blake replied. "It is my duty to prevent you from being blackmailed, and I an going to see you are not. You will hear from Charles Desboro in a day or so, I imagine. He will probably call on you, or write to you, and if he does either you must at once communicate with me."

"No, I will not," Julian Sherbroke said doggedly. "I refuse. It would be a different matter if you could get the documents from the scoundrel, but as there isn't a chance of that—"

Blake raised a warning finger as he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. A moment later several gentlemen entered the smoking-lounge, and, leaving Mr. Sherbroke with them, Blake went out.

He passed on to the ball-room and stood in the doorway, listening to the strains of the orchestra, and absent-mindedly watching the dancers swinging to and for to the measure of a fox-trot.

Julian Sherbroke's injunction to him had gone in one ear and out of the other.

"I must baffle that fellow Desboro," he said to himself. "He has bled Sherbroke of fifty thousand pounds, and he shan't get another penny from him. I'll spoil his game somehow or other. But I don't see my way clear as yet. It is a difficult problem."

Betwen ten and eleven o'clock that night a handsome Packard car, driven by a chauffeur in a private livery, turned from Knightsbridge into Sloane Street, glided down that thoroughfare for some distance, and pulled up at the edge of the pavement.

A lady stepped out of it—a tall and beautiful woman of less than forty, with dark hair, lustrous black eyes, and a complexion that was like ivory faintly tinged with olive.

She wore an evening-frock made by the most expensive costumeier in the Rue de la Paix, and a string of superb diamonds glittered on her neck.

But the splendour of her gown, and the flaming fire of her jewels, were hidden by a grey cloak which swathed her graceful figure from head to foot.

The fur collar of it was muffled about her throat and chin, leaving only her eyes and the tip of her nose visible.

"You will wait here, James," she said to the chauffeur. "I don't want you to drive any farther because the friend I am going to visit is seriously ill, and must be kept very quiet."

With that the lady hurried away. She disappeared around the corner of Ponter Street, and when she had walked for a short distance she stopped in front of a dwelling, entered the portico, and rang the bell.

The door was opened shortly by the butler, and before he could prevent her the lady had brushed by him into the hall.

Her features were still hidden by the fur collar, and she raised it a little higher as she spoke. "Is Mr. Desboro at home?" she asked.

"Yes, madam, my master is at home," the butler replied, in a stiff tone, "but I doubt if he will—"

"I wish to see him, and at once," the lady interrupted, an imperious ring in her voice. "Don't keep me waiting."

"If you will give me your card, madam, or your name, I will—"

"I won't give you either, my good man. You need not announce me. I know where to find your master. Let me pass, please!"

The butler, who had been barring the way, hesitated for a moment; and then, as a pair of dark eyes flashed angrily at him, he reluctantly stood to one side.

And the lady, crossing the hall to the left, opened a door, stepped into the library, and closed the door behind her.

Charles Desboro rose from a chair by the fire, turned round, and stared in amazement.

The lady moved towards him, and lowered the collar of her cloak.

"It is I, Charles," she said quietly.

Charles Desboro gazed at her in anger and surprise.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed. "You! Are you mad, Highness? What possessed you to come here, to my house?"

"I had to come," the lady answered. "It was necessary. I have news for you. Most alarming news."

"What is it? Tell me quickly!"

"Be patient, Charles. I have come straight from the reception at Maltraver House in my car. I left it in Sloane Street. Sexton Blake was at the reception, and so was Julian Sherbroke. I saw Mr. Sherbroke go into an empty smoking-room, and shortly afterwards I saw the detective go in. I crept close to the door and listened, and heard them talking of you."

"Of—of me, Highness?"

"Yes, of you, I did not hear all of the conversation. I was disturbed by some gentlemen coming upstairs, and had to steal away. But I heard quite enough."

"Go on!" Charles Desboro said hoarsley. "What did you hear, Highness? What did you learn?"

"I learned this, Charles," the lady replied, a vicious glitter in her eyes. "Julian Sherbroke has broken his promise! He has told everything to Sexton Blake, and Sexton Blake is on your track!"


SEXTON BLAKE left Maltraver House towards twelve o'clock. As soon as he got home he changed his clothes, and he was pottering about the consulting-room, in his old, shabby smoking-jacket and shabby slippers, trying to decide which of his collection of rare tobaccos would be best for breaking in a new and ornate pipe of German meershaum, when Tinker came striding in with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.

Jerkingx off his faded bowler, he flung it into a corner, and dabbed with a handkerchief at the greasepaint on his face.

Blake read the signs. He knew something had excited his young assistant.

"Be careful!" he bade. "You barely missed that Chinese porcelain jar, which is worth a couple of hundred pounds. What's the matter with you? Are you rehearsing your part of an East End hooligan?"

"Ask me another!" Tinker replied. "I'm going to be a reputable member of Society again. No more rags and tags for me!" Blake was slightly puzzled.

"Am I to understand that Charles Desboro has disappeared?" he inquired.

"No fear, guv'nor! He is still hanging out in Ponter Street. I don't think he will need any more watching, though."

"What on earth are you talking about, my boy?"

"The gentleman has had a visitor to-night. That's what. The proud and haughty Lady Clara Vere de Vere. In other words—"

Tinker paused for an instant.

"In other words guv'nor," he continued, in a serious tone, "the beautiful Duchess of Windermere has called on Mr. Charles Desboro!"

Blake gave a quick start, and nearly dropped the meershaum pipe he had taken from the rack.

"Impossible!" he ejaculated. "Incredible!"

"The Duchess of Windermere!" Tinker repeated. "It wasn't anybody else! You can take it from me I'm right!"

"Then she must be the real blackmailer, my lad!"

"Sure thing, guv'nor! She must be!"

Blake nodded. He was not so sceptical now, for his mind had swiftly recalled what he knew and had heard concerning the lady.

Hermione^, Duchess of Windermere! The beautiful aristocrat, queen of Mayfair, who was at the top of the social ladder!

There was a strain of Spanish blood in her veins. Her mother, belonging to a Madrid family of ancient lineage, had married an English baronet.

They had settled in England, and ten years ago their lovely daughter Hermione had married the Duke of Windermere.

He was seventy at the time, more than double his wife's age, and three years ago he had died. He had left only a moderate fortune to his widow, for his estate had been sadly reduced by high taxation, and the death duties demanded by the Crown had made a further hole in it. "It staggers you, guv'nor' doesn't it?" said Tinker, after a pause.

"It did at first," Blake assented. "It doesn't seem so incredible now. The Duke of Windermere was a comparatively poor man. It has been common talk for several years that the Duchess has been living far beyond her means. People wondered how she contrived to keep up such extravagant state at Windermere House, in Grosvenor Square.

"And there is another point to be considered, my boy, in view of the amazing discovery you say you have made. The old duke was the biggest gossip and scandal-monger of the Victorian and Edwardian reigns. He sought for scandal. He did not wait for it to come to him. But he was too discreet to talk of all he learned. He kept most of his secrets for posterity, and put them down in writing. To my certain knowledge he left a volume of memoirs in manuscript, which was not to be published until thirty years after his death. And in all likelihood that manuscript fell into the hands of—"

Blake broke off.

"I haven't heard your story yet," he said. "Are you positive there is no mistake?"

"I'm dead sure, guv'nor," Tinker replied. "But I'll leave it to you to judge. I was hiding in an area, over the day, when a tall, slim lady, who was wrapped from her head to her feet in a grey cloak, came along Ponter Street. She stopped in front of Mr. Desboro's house and rang the bell. As soon as the door was opened she walked in, and when she came out, half an hour later, I shadowed her to Sloane Street, where a car driven by a chauffeur in livery was waiting for her.

"I picked up a taxi and followed the car, which went straight to Windermere House. The lady got out, and I saw a gorgeous footman open the door of the house as she was crossing the pavement, and saw him bow to her as she passed in. So there you are!"

Blake nodded again.

"You have stated a clear case," he said. "It was the Duchess of Windermere who called in Ponter Street, and the duchess is the society vampire whose existence I suspected from the first. She got possession of the volume of manuscript left by her husband, the memoirs filled with scandalous advantage. She had been dipping into the pages of them, raking up family skeletons, victims with the help of Basil Wicketshaw, alias Charles Desboro, who probably had an acquaintance with her previously.

"What a terrible, atrocious woman! She hounded Eric Milvern to death—and the others I have mentioned. By heavens, what a satisfaction it will be to me to expose her, and bring her to justice with Basil Wicketshaw!" In Blake's eyes, under the knit brows, was a stern and ruthless glitter. He regarded a blackmailer as the most detestable human being on earth.

"There's no mistake about her being the Duchess of Windermere," said Tinker. "Not a bit of it. But Charles Desboro has often figured in society in different names, so isn't it possible the lady called on him for some reason other than we suspect?"

Blake shook his head.

"No, it is not," he declared. "Why did she leave her car in Sloane Street? Why didn't she drive all the way to the house in Ponter Street? Because she feared the car night be seen standing there by sombody who knew it by sight. I can readily account for her visit. I was at Maltraver House to-night. Julian Sherbroke was there, and the Duchess of Windermere also was amongst the guests. Mr. Sherbroke was alone in a small smoking-room, and I went in to speak to him. The duchess must have seen the two of us there as she was passing the open door, and she stopped, hiding in the hall by the doorway, to listen to our conversation.

"We talked in ordinary tones, as there was no one else in the room; and Julian Sherbroke mentioned the fact, I remember, that he had told me all about Charles Desboro and the blackmailing game. The listening lady heard that, and probably everything else. And that is why she drove from Maltraver House to see Charles Desboro. She was alarmed. She had no doubt I was on the track of her accomplice. And she must have given Desboro a bad fright and a shock, though his suspicious must have been roused by the circumstances of young Denis Sherbroke's escape from the vessel, of which he must have been informed last night or to-day by those men."

"Well, that settles it, what you've told me," said Tinker. "The duchess certainly listened to you and Mr. Sherbroke talking, and if she is the chief blackmailer—and we can be sure she is—she has the documents of the case.

"Of course she has," Blake replied. "She would not have left them in the possession of Charles Desboro, since he had the risky task of conducting the negotiations."

"What the deuce are we to do, then? What we discovered to-night doesn't help us much. How are we to trip up Mr. Desboro and the lady?"

"That is the problem, my boy. We can't obtain a search-warrant against the Duchess of Windermere. We have nothing to justify such an application. And we can't break into her residence."

"Well, guv'nor, it looks to me as if Charles Desboro and the lady would get the other fifty thousand pounds from Mr. Julian Sherbroke, and we couldn't arrest them. There is nothing else for it, unless we could get the documents. And if we did get them, by some means or other, what would be the use? Mr. Sherbroke would not bring a charge against Desboro."

"No, he would not. He is stubborn about that, and there is some excuse for him. He would give his whole fortune to save his daughter, Lady Morpeth, from shame and disgrace. I have to do that myself, and I also want to punish this wretched woman and her accomplice. As for the documents, I have been wondering if there is any means of getting at them. It might possibly be done, but it would be at grave risk to you and me, and to—"

Blake paused, a troubled look on his face. While talking he had filled his pipe from one of the tobacco-jars on the cabinet, and he now lit it, and sat down.

"I am going to recall something to your mind, Tinker," he said. "Three years ago and more, on the evening before Denis Sherbroke sailed for South America, he asked my permission to call on a girl he was fond of."

"I remember," Tinker replied.

"The girl was a Miss Muriel Treverton," Blake went on, "the daughter of Harry Treverton, the banker."

"I remember that, too, guv'nor."

"And her father lived in Bruton Street."

"I didn't know that. Or I had forgotten it. Bruton Street? That is where Denis Sherbroke disappeared last night. My word, guv'nor, I sholdn't wonder if he has been living in Mr. Treverton's house! If it is close to the corner of Berkeley Square, and Denis had a latchkey, it would account for—"

"That's enough," Blake interrupted. "We'll drop the subject for the present. I have some instructions for you now. Get up early to-morrow, and go to Ponter Street, and watch Charles Desboro's house I have an idea he may go to Mr. Julian Sherbroke's residence, or to his offices in the City. Should he do either you will promptly telephone to me, and if I am not at home you will leave a message with Mrs. Bardell. In any event, come back early in the evening.

"Thats all, Tinker. And now be off to bed. I want to think."

Tinker was not a bit inclined to go to bed. He was anxious to know what his master proposed to do. At a second bidding he left the room, however; and for a couple of hours Blake sat smoking by the fire, seriously and gravely considering what was in his mind, now rejecting it as too dangerous, and now giving it fresh considration.

"I'll take the risk, if it can be arranged," he said to himself, as he tapped his pipe on his heels and rose. "It is the one and only way."

Tinker was up and gone by nine o'clock the next morning, and Blake was out of bed a few minutes later, and splashing in his cold tub.

He had his breakfast, and read the paper, and wrote a couple of letters. And shortly before eleven o'clock, after giving a message to Mrs. Bardell, bidding her say he would not be absent long should Tinker telephone, he left the house.

He hailed a taxi, and drove to the corner of Bruton Street, where he got out; and then he walked along the north side of Bruton Street, and rang the bell of a stately residence that was very close to Berkeley Square.

A servant opened the door to him. He inquired for Miss Treverton, and at the same moment a pretty girl appeared. She had heard the inquiry, and she looked in surprise at the detective.

She did not know who he was, but observing that he was a well-dressed and gentlemanly person, she took him into the library. She was inclined to think she had misunderstood his remark to the servant.

"You asked for Mr. Treverton, didn't you?" she said. "My father is in the South of France."

Blake shook his head.

"I called to have a few words with you," he replied.

"With me? I don't know you."

"Blake is my name, Miss Treverton—Sexton Blake. And I wish to see Denis Sherbroke." The girl grew very white.

"How—how should I know anything about him?" she stammered.

"You know a great deal about him," said Blake. "He has been living here. Don't deny it, please. It will be useless. But don't be frightened. I only want to talk to the young gentleman."

"Is that all? You are't going to arrest him?"

"No, I assure you I am not, Miss Treverton. You can believe me. I was a good friend to Denis three years ago, and I am here as his friend now. He has nothing to fear from me."

"I am so glad. You did frighten me at first, when you told me who you where. I was sure—"

The girl paused. She had recovered from her agitation, and the colour had flowed back to her cheeks.

"You are right, Mr. Blake," she said quietly. "Denis Sherbroke is in the house. He was in trouble, in danger of arrest; and I persuaded him to live here for a time as my cousin, in the absence of my parents. I didn't think there was any harm in it. I knew Denis had returned from South America for a good reason, a creditable reason, and—"

"You know why he came back?" Blake interrupted.

"Yes, of course I do. He told me all."

"Well, Miss Treverton, fetch him to me now. Tell him not to be uneasy. I am anxious to help him in his task, and I think he may be able to help me. He learned the night before last that I was—"

Blake broke off abruptly. The door had just been opened, and Denis Sherbroke walked into the room. He gave a slight start as he saw the detective, but he did not show any alarm. He did not even change colour.

"So you have found me, Mr. Blake," he said. "I thought it likely you would, after learning from Tinker of my quick disappearance in Bruton Street the other night." Blake nodded.

"That's right," he answered. "I remembered the young lady living in this street you called on, with my permission, three years ago."

"Well, you might have let me alone," Denis continued. "I have a certain thing to do, and I won't be interfered with."

[Some text appears to be missing in the source file.]

"Yes, the whole story—all you told him. I don't blame you for coming back to England. You ought to have come straight to me, though."

"You know why I didn't, Mr. Blake. I mean to get the documents from that villain Desboro, and I am going to do it somehow or other. I want to give them to my father with my own hands, and tell him I recovered them for his sake by my own efforts, without any help from the police. It wasn't cricket of you to run me down, even as a friend. You learned of the matter from my father, and cut in between me and Desboro. Won't you drop the game, and let me have my chance?"

"Your chance?" Blake repeated. "Would you be foolhardy enough to try a third time to break into Charles Desboro's house?"

"Yes, I would!" the youth declared.

"If you succeeded—which is imposible—you would not find the documents in Mr. Desboro's desk, or anywhere in the house. They are not in his possession."

"They—they are not? Are you sure, Mr. Blake?"

"He has not got them, my boy. You can believe that."

"Tinker told me the same, sir; but I thought he might be trying to deceive me, so I wouldn't make another attempt."

"No, he told you the truth. Charles Desboro is merely an agent, so the speak, of the real blackmailer. And the documents are in the possession of that person."

There was a look of consternation on Denis Sherbroke's face. He had doubted Tinker, but he could not disbelieve Sexton Blake.

"Do you know who the real blackmailer is?" he asked.

"I have my suspicious," Blake replied.

"Tell me the name of the person, and where he lives, and give me a week to get the documents. Will you?"

"No, I won't do that. You have been playing a fool's game, against hopeless odds, and there must be no more of it. Come, my boy, be sensible. Let us work together. You need my assistance—you can accomplish nothing without it—and I think you can help me. Nothing is more difficult than to get the better of a blackmailer, but—"

"That is just what I told Denis, Mr. Blake!" the girl broke in. "I have been trying to persuade him to stop risking his life, and go to you. But he wouldn't listen to me. He is very obstinate. Perhaps you can persuade him."

"I dare say I can," Blake answered. "I will have a confidential little talk with him, if you don't mind."

Muriel Treverton took the hint. She left the room, and Denis sat down in a chair by the fire.

"There's a girl in a million for you. Mr. Blake," he said, a note of emotion in his voice. "She had faith in me before I went wrong, and she has been loyal and faithful to me ever since. The truest kind of love—that's what it is. I knew I could depend on Muriel to give me a helping hand, and she did. She lent me money, and sheltered me in her father's house, and encouraged me to hope that everything would come right some day."

Blake nodded absently.

"Yes, she is a noble girl, is Miss Treverton," he said, "and for her sake you must be reasonable. I have a certain plan in mind, and my object in coming here this morning was to talk to you about it. I should not care to take it on myself, so you must—"

"If there is anything to be done I will do it on my own," Denis sullenly interrupted.

"Have patience," bade Blake. "If the plan succeeds the credit will be yours, not mine. I won't tell you now what it is. I will only ask you a couple of questions. If you had a chance of getting those documents—a chance of a most dangerous nature—would you take it?"

"Indeed I would!" Denis exclaimed. "I shouldn't hesitate for a moment, no matter what the risk. You try me, sir!"

"I am going to," Blake assented. "If I see the way clear. And now tell me if you are acquainted with the Duchess of Windermere? I have an idea you are."

"I often met the duchess in Society, in the first year after I came down from Oxford."

"Do you think she would know who you were if she were to see you now, without your false moustache?"

"Yes, I dare say she would recognise me, I haven't changed much. But what has the Duchess of Windermere got to do with—"

"You will know later," said Blake. "I want you to come home with me now. I will explain everything to you at luncheon. Tell Miss Treverton you are going to my place, and will spend the night there."

The youth went off at once, and Blake stood by the fire smoking a cigarette, a grave expression on his face.

It was indeed a dangerous and daring plan he had conceived, solely on the strength of shrewd deductions. If it were to succeed, well and good. If it should fail the consequences would be disastrous, and in more ways than one.


SHORTLY after eleven o'clock that night, when the Duchess of Windermere came home in her car from a theatre, a little group of men were standing in shadow over by the railings of the Grosvenor Square Gardens—three plain-clothes detectives from Scotland Yard, and Sexton Blake and Inspector Widgeon, the latter with a search-warrant in his pocket.

And at the back of Windermere House, where was a large garden, Denis Sherbroke way lying flat on a balcony that projected from the first floor of the residence.

To one side of him was a French window, which was not locked, and the window opened from one of the suite of private apartments occupied by the duchess.

"I'm a darned fool to be here," Inspector Widgeon said to Blake, as he saw the lady enter the house, "and you are a bigger one. I never heard of such a mad-cap enterprise."

"It is worth the risk, isn't it?" Blake replied.

"Yes, if it comes off. But if things go wrong you know what will happen."

"I do, my dear fellow. In all likelihood young Sherbroke and I will appear in the dock at Bow Street to-morrow."

"You will, Blake, mark my words. And for young Sherbroke it will be a short step from Bow Street to Brixton. As for you, I will not oppose your application for bail."

"Thanks, Widgeon. Very kind of you. But don't count your chickens before they are hatched."

The inspector remarked that his chickens were as good as hatched, or something to that effect and Blake bent his gaze on the dwelling opposite.

He was in keen suspense. Very soon he would know the result of his plan.

The Duchess of Windermere was in the hall, hesitating by the open door of the dining-room. Cold supper was laid there for her, but she was not hungry. She had dined at the Corona before going to the theatre.

She had the butler open a half-bottle of champagne, and, having drunk a small glass of the wine, she went upstairs to her luxuriously furnished sitting-room, where soft-shaded lamps were burning, and a fire was crackling in the grate.

Her maid was waiting for her, and when she had helped her off with her wraps, and carried them in the adjoining boudoir and returned her mistress sent her away, saying she would not need her again to-night.

Denis Sherbroke, out on the balcony, was trembling with excitement, his eyes fixed on Hermione, the beautiful Duchess of Windermere, who was standing pensively in the rosy glow of the lamps.

She took a gold-tipped cigarette from a case, lit it, and chose a French novel from a bookshelf; and then, as she was about to sit down by the fire, she heard a rustling, scraping noise.

She saw a shadow outside the French window, and the next instant it was pushed open and there darted into the room a youth in dusty, shabby clothes, and a ragged cap. There was a wild in his eyes, and he was pale with fright.

"I—I'm trouble!" he panted. "You're got to help me!"

The duchess gazed at the shabby figure in anger and scorn.

"Stand perfectly still!" she bade. "And don't tell me lies! You are a thief! I am going to call my servants and have them—"

She stopped abruptly, catching her breath, and stared open-mouthed.

"You—you are Denis Sherbroke!" she gasped. The youth nodded.

"I thought you knew me at first," he said, speaking in an agitated voice.

"You here!" exclaimed the duchess, "Julian Sherbroke's son! You have dare to break into my house!"

Denis moved a little nearer to her, and held out his arms appealingly.

"Please help me!" he begged, shaking like a leaf. "Dont's let me be caught! I'll tell you the truth! I came here to-night to search for those papers—you know what I mean—and Sexton Blake and the police were outside, over by the garden ralings. They saw me, and knew who I was! They chased me round the corner, and I climbed the wall, and dropped into your garden, and got up to the balcony by a tree. They're after me! They want me for that old charge. Do hide me somewhere! Don't let me be arrested!"

The duchess was alarmed.

"What papers are you talking about?" she asked. "I don't understand!"

"Oh, yes, you do! I've been spying on Mr. Charles Desboro, as you know. You called on him last night, and—"

"So that is why you came to my house to-night! You silly fool! I'm not afraid of you! I shall hand you over to the police!"

"No, duchess, you daren't! I haven't told you yet why they were outside with Mr. Blake! They are after you, too! I heard them talking! They have a search-warrant!"

"A search-warrant! I don't believe it!"

"It's the truth, duchess! They have found out you have the papers!"

"What can have led them to suspect that?"

"I don't know, unless they learned from Mr. Desboro! I have an idea he has been arrested! And now show me where to hide, duchess! Tell the police you haven't seen me! I think they are ringing the bell!"

The Duchess of Windermere did not answer. She was terrified. Her brain was fairly reeling. Charles Desboro must have betrayed her, she thought.

Ignoring the presence of Denis Sherbroke, she did exactly what he had hoped she would do.

Snatching a steel paper-knife from a table, she hasted to a Chesterfield couch, ripped the convering of it open with deep and rapid slashes, thrust her hand in, and drew out a bulky envelope that was sealed.

Meaning to burn it, she hurried towards the fireplace; but before she could reach it Denis seized her by the arm, swung her round, and tore the envelope from her.

"That's mine!" he declared. "That's what I came for!"

The infuriated woman, realising she had been tricked, at once flung herself at the youth, raving in a passion.

For a few seconds they struggled, swaying to and fro; and at length, giving Denis' wrist a twist, the duchess jerked the envelope from him, and tossed it on to the blazing fire.

She had no more than done so when Denis broke her hold of him and gave her a push that sent her reeling to the couch.

Then he sprang to the fireplace, plucked the scorched envelope from the flames, darted to the door, and was gone.

He sped along the passage, and went tearing down the stairs to the hall, aimed a blow at a servant who tried to stop him, reached the frot door, and threw it open.

"I've got the documents, Mr. Blake!" he shouted, flourishing the envelope. "I've got them!"

Sexton Blake and Inspector Widgeon ran across from the gardens, followed by the three plainclothes men; and the whole party, accommpanied by Denis, entered the house, brushed by a little group of bewildered and agitated servants, dashed up the stair, and hurried into the sitting-room.

They were just too late. The Duchess of Windermere was lying on the rent couch, in a limp attitude, a greenish froth oozing from her lips.

There was a glassy stare in her sightless eyes, and in one hand was clenched a tiny empty phial of blue glass.

Blake felt her pulse.

"She is dead!" he exclaimed. "She has taken poison!"

"Clear proof of her guilt,' said the inspector, as he sniffed at the phial.

"Her possession of the documents would have been sufficient to prove that, Widgeon."

"Well, she has cheated the law. And now for Charles Desboro, eh?"

"Yes, at once. We shall learn from Tinker whether or not he is at home."

Leaving one of the plain-clothes men behind, the rest of the party, with Denis Sherbroke, hastened from the house.

They picked up a taxi in Grosvenor Square, drove to Ponter Street, and stopped within fifty yards of Charles Desboro's residence; and a moment later, as they were about to get out, Tinker appeared.

"You have missed the gentleman, guv'nor," he said. "Mr. Desboro has been gone for at least twenty minutes. He went off in a cab, and I heard him tell the chauffeur to take him to Lord Morpeth's house in Curson Street."

"Lord Morpeth's house!" Blake repeated in consternation. "I know why he has gone there, I believe! We must go after him as quickly as we can! Get in, Tinker," he added. "You can come with us."


THAT night, as it happened, Mr Julian Sherbroke had dined at his son-in-law's residence in Curzon Street. After dinner the little party of three—Mr. Sherbroke, and Lord Morpeth and his wife—had retired to the library; and they were sitting there, at a game of cards, when there was a rap at the door.

It was opened at once, and a tall, handsome gentleman in evening-dress, with a blond moustache, walked into the room, and closed the door behind him.

"I must apologise for this intrusion, my lord," he said calmly, "and for persuading your servant that it was not necessary to announce me. Desboro is my name—Charles Desboro. I called to see your lordship, but as Mr. Sherbroke is here, and my business relates more to him than to you, I will address myself to him, and I trust you will not interfere."

Lord Morpeth and Julian Sherbroke were on their feet, the latter obviously agitated.

"You can guess what I want with you, Mr. Sherbroke," said Charles Desboro, in an icy tone. "You have broken your promise. You told Sexton Blake everything, and put him on my track. You have played me false, and you must pay for it. It is your habit to always carry a cheque-book, I believe. Have you one with you now?"

"Yes, I have," Julian Sherbroke huskily assented.

"Very well," Charles Desboro continued. "You will come with me to my house now, and then give you the documents you are so anxious to have, and you will give me a cheque for one hundred thousand pounds drawn to bearer."

"I—I am willing to do that, if you will wait until to-morrow."

"No, it must be to-night at once. If you refuse I will reveal something very unpleasant to Lord Morpeth and his wife." Julian Sherbroke hesitated.

"I will go with this gentleman, Morpeth, if you will excuse me," he said. "It is a matter of private business, and—"

"Private business, be hanged!" Lord Morpeth angrily interrupted. "Do you suppose I am blind? A hundred thousand pounds for certain documents! You are being blackmailed, I am sure! Let this impudent fellow say here what he has to say! You are not going with him!"

"I must, Morpeth. Really I must!"

"You will not! I shan't let you! Don't be coward! Don't be frightened by this scoundrel's threat! Let him reveal his secret, whatever it is! I'll wring it from him if you won't!"

"No, no, Morpeth! Leave the affair to me, I beg of you! It is not anything disgraceful, but I would much rather pay than—"

"You shan't pay a penny, Sherbroke! I will see that you don't!"

Charles Desboro shrugged his shoulders. "It will be much better if you do not interfere, my lord," he said suavely. "Mr. Sherbroke wishes to pay, and you can't dissuade him."

"Hold your tongue, sir!" bade Lord Morpeth, "Mr. Sherbroke will listen to me, not to you!"

There was a brief, tense silence, while Lady Morpeth gazed in apprehension at her father. Julian Sherbroke's face was a study of conflicting emotions. What should he do? He felt that he exposure of the secret was inevitable, whether or not he should yield to the extortionate demand, and of a sudden his courage rose.

"I have already paid you fifty thousand pounds, you cur, and I will pay you nothing more!" he declared. "Now do your worst!"

The challenge was flung in Charles Desboro's teeth. He was beaten. He knew it. Only one thing was left to him, and that was revenge.

But he kept his fury under control, and turned to Lord Morpeth.

"Your lordship will kindly bear in mind that I have been forced to the disclosure I am going to make to you," he said quietly. "It will be a shock to you. Many years ago, when Mr. Sherbroke was out in Uruguay, he married the niece of a Spanish padre, who lived at the village of San Jacinto. The girl's name was Mercedes, and her mother had married Pedro Valdez, a notorious bandit, and a half-breed of lew caste, who has hanged for robbery and murder.

"Mr. Sherbroke's wife died, leaving him with a child. He returned to England, kept his Uruguayan marriage a secret, and sent for his child. He had her brought up and educated at a convent school in France, as his ward; and subsequently he brought her to his home in London, in the name of Evelyn Kerr.

"And you, my lord, ignorant of the girl's parentage, and of the sordid history of her grandparents, married her in the belief that she was—"

An oath burst from Lord Morpeth's lips, and clenching his fists, he dealt the blackmailer a smashing blow that knocked him down. The man scrambled to his feet, and was promptly knocked down again by Julian Sherbroke.

Once more he got up, cursing with rage; and now, as both men rushed at him, he whipped a pistol from his pocket and held them at bay. Slowly he backed to a French window, flung it open, darted out to the garden at one side of the house—and as quickly disappeared in the darkness.

"Let the fellow go," said Julian Sherbroke. "We couldn't catch him if we tried."

Lord Morpeth nodded, and turned to his distressed and weeping wife. His face was very tender.

"Don't cry, Evelyn!" he bade. "It's quite all right! You have nothing to worry about, my dear! Love is stronger than pride. Have you no faith in mine?"

He had hardly spoken when the door was opened, and Sexton Blake and Inspetor Widgeon entered the room, followed by Tinker and the two plain-clothes men. Blake glanced around him.

"Where is Charles Desboro?" he asked. "He has been here, hasn't he?"

"Here and gone," replied Lord Morpeth.

Widgeon and his men at once hastened in pursuit, through the window to the garden.

Lord Morpeth related to the detective all that had occured, and when he had finished he slipped his arm around his wife's waist, and kissed her.

"The disclosure doesn't make a bit of difference to me, Blake," he said. "I have a reputation for stiff-necked pride, I know. But I married my wife for love, and I don't care a hang for her family history. I wish her father had come to me at the first. It would have saved him fifty thousand pounds, and a lot of worry.

"I wouldn't like to go deep into my own family history," he added, with a smile. "I believe one of my ancestors was killed in a common brawl hundreds of years ago, and one fled abroad after stabbing a friend in a quarrel, and another was hanged for persistently killing the king's deer on Exmoor in the reign of Henry the Eighth."

Lord Morpeth paused. "Have you been on the track of that rascal Desboro?" he inquired.

"Yes, for some time," Blake answered. "But there was somebody higher up. You will be astounded to hear that the real blackmailer was the Duchess of Windermere. So I learned last night. I went to her house to-night with the police, to arrest her, and we found her lying dead on a couch in her sitting-room. She had taken poison."

The beautiful Duchess of Windermere! Lord Morpeth and his wife gazed at each other incredulously.

It was a staggering surprise to Julian Sherbroke also, and now he had another surprise; for Denis Sherbroke, who had been waiting in the hall, made a dramatic entrance into the room.

"This will explain why I broke my promise, and came back to England," he said, as he gave his father a bulky envelope, which was scorched at the edges. "It contains the stolen packet of letters which you wrote to your first wife when you were in Uruguay, and the page which was cut from the register in the mission chapel at San Jacinto."

It was Sexton Blake who told the story to the bewildered man—the whole story from beginning to end, including an account of the adroit and dangerous means by which the youth had induced the Duchess of Windermere to reveal the hiding-place of the documents.

"You have reason to be proud of Denis," he continued. "For your sake, Sherbroke, he risked his freedom and his life. It is greatly to his credit that he succeeded, and I shall make it my business to see that the old charge which has been hanging over him is withdrawn."

Julian Sherbroke clasped his son's hand.

"I am more than proud of you, my boy," he said. "We will try to forget the past. You will come home with me to-night, Denis, and start life afresh. That you have recovered these documents means everthing to me. The secret which I did wrong to conceal will no longer haunt me."

Footsteps were heard in the garden, and Inspector Widgeon and The Scotland Yard men came into the room. They had failed. They had not discovered any trace of Charles Desboro.

Blake shrugged his shoulders. "It is just as I expected," he said. "We will hurry along to Ponter Street now, but I am quite sure we shall not find the scoundrel there. And I very much fear we won't find him at all."

There is not much more to be told. The tragic death of the Duchess of Windermere, and the fact that she had been a society blackmailer, caused a great sensation.

Basil Wicketshaw, alias Charles Desboro, eluded errest. It was learned that he had succeeded in escaping abroad, and the men who had been his accomplices had probably gone with him, for the search made for them in London was of no avail.

As for Denis Sherbroke, he had the reward his courage and daring deserved; and when he was married to Muriel Treverton, shortly after Christmas, Sexton Blake and Tinker were honoured guests at the wedding.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.