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ANONYMOUS
(WILLIAM J. BAYFIELD)

DOWN AND OUT!

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Ex Libris

First published by The Amalgamated Press, London, in
The Sexton Blake Library, 2nd series, Issue 174, Jan 1929

Collected in The Sexton Blake Casebook, Galley Press, 1987

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-10-12

Produced by Roy Glashan
Proofread by Gordon Hobley

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Illustration

The Sexton Blake Library, Jan 1929, with "Down and Out!"


Illustration

Sexton Blake


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27



CHAPTER 1.
The Night Alarm!

ALL through the evening and far into the night, a great gale had been sweeping through Yorkshire. The wind had howled over mountain and moor and dale, while the rain had lashed and splashed and drenched every inch of the county of broad acres.

Dentwhistle Moor in the West Riding had caught the full fury of the tempest. The village of Dentwhistle itself had partly escaped by reason of the sheltering shoulder of the mountainous Caukle Fell, but, half a mile away, one little stone cottage had rocked and rocked in the rushing mighty wind, almost like a boat in a raging sea.

This cottage stood on the high moor, exposed to every wind that blew, at the head of the great mountain-limestone quarries, which formed the district's staple industry, and kept most of the able-bodied villagers employed.

In this lonely cottage—there was no other human habitation nearer than the village, save one—lived old Luke Samways and his wife. Samways had been a quarryman himself for most of his working life, but some years before our story opens, a fall of limestone rock had made a hash of his right leg, and left him permanently lame. From that time, therefore, he had filled the responsible, but somewhat less strenuous, office of timekeeper and night-watchman, a position which carried with it the tenancy of the little stone cottage referred to.

Although called night watchman, his duties rarely necessitated his being up later than ten o'clock, and at that hour, after a final "look round," he had retired as usual on this night of storm.

Accustomed to the moors in all their varying moods from the time he was a child, old Luke scarcely heeded the raging gale, but like the healthy man with an easy conscience that he was, fell to sleep almost as soon as his grey and grizzled head touched the pillow.

With his wife it was otherwise. A town dweller in earlier life, she had never become quite inured to wild moorland weather, spite of her thirty-odd years of happily married life with her husband. Ordinary storms she could stand—and sufficiently forget—but the terrific tempest of to-night had been something that she could not ignore. It had kept her awake till past midnight with its fierce howling. Then, as at last there came a lull, she too fell asleep.

But for barely five minutes! Then something made her start awake instantly, and sit bolt upright in bed!

The violence and suddenness of her movement awoke her husband, too.

"Why, lass, what is't?" he asked. "Why 'ow thou'rt tremblin'? Shakin' like a leaf? What ails tha, Bessie, dear?" She did not answer a second. Only gasped and trembled.

Luke hopped out of bed and switched on the electric lantern standing on the floor near by—the lantern he used on his quarry rounds. Its bright rays fell on his wife's face.

"Why lass, thou'rt as white as paaper! Thou'st been skeered. Whaat's skeered thee?"

"A gunshot, Luke! I heard a gunshot!"

"Nay, nay, tha couldn't a done! Thou must a dreamt it, or belike 'twere the wind! Hark to it now. It's clappin' and yappin' like muskets now. 'Twas the wind tha 'eard!"

"No, Luke, no!" She was out of bed now with a wrap around her. "'Twas a gunshot I heard for sure! And hark to that—merciful Heaven! Hark to that! 'Tis another gunshot!"

There had come a sudden lull in the wind again, and in the lull had come the unmistakable report of a firearm.

"By gum, lass, thou'rt right!" cried the man. "That was a gun—or a revolver more like!"

"As 'twas before!" gasped the woman all trembling and pale. "And hark to that! 'Tis somebody shoutin'! Somebody screamin' for help! Heaven save us! 'Tis as if murder were bein' done!"

"Nay, nay, 'tis nowt as bad as that, Bess," answered Luke as he hurried his clothes on. "'Tis nobbut more than poachers! Bide tha 'ere while I go and have a look round. I'll be back soon, so don't tha tak on, my lass!"

He spoke as comfortingly as he could for his wife's sake. Since the time of the great war, her nervous system had been peculiarly affected by the sound of firearms, owing to the shock of an air raid during a temporary stay in London. But although he spoke thus consolingly, he inwardly had little belief in the words he had used. Poachers? What was there to poach in that district? Or was it the least bit likely poachers would be out on so wild a night as this?

Mercifully the rain had stopped some time before, but the wind, though intermittent, was still blowing great guns at times. It made his electric lantern swing violently as he hobbled towards the great quarry near by, and to cast big, weird, distorted shadows upon what once had been green turf, but was now a wide, white stretch all covered with the dust of limestone, and heaped up with chips and quarried boulders.

It took him but a few seconds to reach the hut at the top of the quarry which served as the timekeeper's office. The door was looked as he had left it, and a flash of his lantern through the window showed it to be empty.

Nothing wrong there, nor anywhere about the quarry entrances so far as he could see. No sign of recent foot-prints in the whitened wet spaces, no sounds from anywhere.

From whence had those shots come, then? Certainly not from the village. That was too far off, and was to leeward of him, so that even if the shots had been fired there, they would never have been heard.

"Help! Help! Help!"

The cries came suddenly to interrupt his speculations. Frantic cries, borne on the wind, which had lulled as to sound but was still blowing with some power.

They pulled him up suddenly, making him swing round and face the other way. At the same moment, footsteps came hurrying from the direction of the cottage he had just left. It was his wife, more scared-looking than ever, but brave all the same.

"Luke—Luke—the green bungalow!" she gasped. "'Tis from there the shoutin's come!"

"T' green bungalow—Mr. Dolby's place? But thou'rt right, lass, thou'rt right. Theer be the shouts agen! But get tha back to the cottage, Bess. 'Tis no fit night for thee to be out. I'll see what's amiss!"

Lame though he was, he hobbled past his wife at a great pace, leaving her to return indoors while he himself went on towards the place mentioned, namely, the "Green Bungalow."

This was barely two hundred yards away, but was hidden from view by a shoulder of the big hill. It was a building of concrete and wood, and was the only other human habitation nearer than the village.

It had been built a few months before by the gentleman who lived there—Mr. Nicholas Dolby. Lived there, that is, at night time and week-ends only. For Mr. Nicholas Dolby was junior partner in the firm of Messrs. Sharron and Dolby, Solicitors, and spent his working days in their offices at Lummingstall, the manufacturing town ten miles away where he practised.

Hating town life and loving the quiet of the country, he had built a comfortable bungalow among the hills, motoring to and from Lummingstall every day. Being a bachelor and unable to get servants to stay in such a lonely spot, he lived quite alone, being cooked for and attended to by old Mrs. Samways who lived close by. Luke also lent an occasional hand in cleaning the car and doing a turn at the little garden, so that he knew the place and Mr. Dolby quite well.

Rounding the shoulder of the hill, and approaching quite close to the green bungalow, an astonishing, not to say alarming, sight met his eyes.

Outside the wooden garage, which was a short distance from the bungalow, stood a tall, spare man. He was attired in a dressing-gown and slippers. His head was bare, his hair unkempt, his face deadly pale, his eyes distraught!

He was standing quite close to the garage door, facing it, while in his right hand was a heavy walking stick. This he was clutching by the wrong end, with the heavy knob raised in air, ready as it seemed to bring it down on the head of somebody evidently shut up in the shed, and who apparently, he feared, might try to break out at any moment.

The moon had come out from behind dense clouds a moment before, revealing the strange scene in all its details. A single glance, therefore, enabled Luke Samways to recognise the figure at once.

"Mr. Dolby!" he panted. "What be all the din? I heerd shots and shoutin's. What's bin happenin'?"

At sound of his voice the solicitor turned a white scared face quickly round.

"You, Samways? Thank Heaven you've come! There's a burglar inside!"

"A burglar, sir?"

"A most desperate ruffian! I caught him breaking into the bungalow! He shot at me but missed, and I managed to stun him with my stick!"

"Heaven save us, sir! T' missus was right, then. 'Twas murder that might a bin done. And t'ruffian's in theer now?"

"Yes. But may come to the break out at any moment. Hurry to the village for the police. My telephone's out of order. Hurry to the village for help at once!"


CHAPTER 2.
Murder is Discovered!

LUKE SAMWAYS hobbled off at a pace astonishing in a cripple. His brain was all in a jumble. Nothing like this had ever come his way before. Burglary—attempted murder. These terrible things were quite alien to the placid though busy life he had led for years in that remote Yorkshire village.

Truly remote was Dentwhistle, a little world of its own, so to say, tucked away amid the rocky hills, far from the busy haunts of men.

Yet not so far away as to distance after all. On a clear night or day great manufacturing towns could be discerned all around it, or rather, the distant haze and smoke of them. Less than twenty miles eastward lay Bradford, with Leeds beyond, while over the Lancashire border lay Burnley to the north-east, and Rochdale to the south-west at almost equal distances. But while those towns teemed with life and noise and bustle, much of the great triangular tract in which Dentwhistle lay remote and quiet as if they had been a hundred miles from any such hive of industry.

Even to-night, with the atmosphere cleared by the dying tempest, the lights of some of these far-distant places could be made out. But Luke Samways had no eyes for them. No thoughts either for aught save the important errand he was on—to get help.

Burglary—attempted murder! These were things right outside his ordinary ken. Now that they had come, it was little wonder that the terror of them should engross all his mind.

Fancy such things coming to such a quiet, retiring, peace-loving man as Mr. Dolby. Such a placid, mild, almost meek gentleman as he was. And none too robust, either. Not the sort you'd willingly pit against a desperate ruffian. Yet he'd tackled this midnight thief, and in spite of being shot at, had boldly faced him, and had managed to stun him with his stick.

"A good plucked 'un, spite o' lookin' so skeered arter it all!" was the watchman's inward comment as he hastened along. "Nobbut a good plucked 'un 'ud atackled a chap wi' a revolver like that. Ha, yon's the village, and yon's the pleece-station. Oim 'opin' Constable Stack'll be at 'ome!"

Constable Stack was at home, just preparing to start out on his night beat. He was startled and excited enough at Samway's news, for serious crime had rarely come his way. But he faced the job eagerly enough, and just waiting to enlist a couple of quarrymen as helpers, at once set off with Luke Samways on the return journey.

* * * * *

Mr. Dolby was relieved enough to see them come. He was still on guard with his knobby stick outside the garage. Still very pale, too, but resolute and full of pluck all the same.

He wheeled round at their footsteps and advanced a pace or two as he caught sight of the policeman's helmet in the moonlight. Constable Stack saluted him respectfully. He not only knew him as a resident of Dentwhistle, but as one of the leading solicitors of the neighbouring town of Lummingstall.

"Startlin' news Samways has told me, sir. Hope you ain't come to any harm?"

"Nothing to speak of, thank you, constable," replied Mr. Dolby, with a somewhat sickly attempt at a smile. "But it wasn't the scoundrel's fault that he didn't kill me stone dead. He fired at me point-blank, but by a stroke of luck I managed to knock his revolver-hand up and the bullet went harmlessly in the air!"

"Where is the weapon, sir? He hasn't got it still, I hope?"

"Oh, no! I managed to stun him with my stick before he could fire a second time, and the revolver fell from his hand. I haven't had a chance to look for it yet, but no doubt we shall find it somewhere about. In those bushes perhaps."

"We must search later, sir. What about the villain himself? Come to yet?"

"I think not. I've heard nothing of him. After knocking him out with my stick I carried him inside and locked him in. I fancy I've heard him groan once or twice, but can't be sure."

"Long time for him to remain insensible, sir. We'd better have a look at him."

"Here's the key, constable," the solicitor said, taking it from his pocket.

"Sticky, sir. There's blood on it!"

Mr. Dolby shuddered.

"Is there? I didn't notice. I was too excited. Must have come from that scoundrel when I cracked him on the head."

Constable Stack turned to Samways and the others as he fitted the big key into the door. "Be ready in case he's waiting his chance to make a dash. Spread yourself across the doorway!" But there was no need for anything of that sort. As the constable threw the door open and flashed his bull's-eye inside the figure of a man was to be seen all huddled up on the ground. Stack was kneeling beside him in a moment, his hand to the man's heart.

"He's not dead! I haven't killed him, surely?" asked the solicitor, painting for breath and with face twitching distressfully.

"Oh, no, sir! His heart's beating, but he's unconscious still. My word, sir, but you fetched him some knock, not but what I'd have done the same thing myself under the circumstances. Look at this bump. Makes his head about twice the size it ought to be. We'd best get a doctor to him. Will one of you chaps go back to the village and fetch Doctor Alford?"

"Ay, I'll go!" replied one of the quarrymen, and hurried away.

"Strong petrol smell about this place," said the constable with a sniff. "Best carry this chap into the bungalow if you don't mind, sir. He'll come to quicker there!"

Two helpers lifted the unconscious man and carried him across to the bungalow, placing him on an old couch in the kitchen.

"Can't do much till the doctor comes, so if you don't mind, sir, perhaps you'll please give me an account of what happened!" and Constable Stack took out his notebook.

"Certainly, constable, not that there's a great deal to tell," answered Mr. Dolby, and in the manner of a trained lawyer told his story briefly and to the point.

He had retired to bed somewhere between ten and eleven, and had been asleep for an hour or more, when he found himself suddenly sitting up wide awake. What had happened to him he didn't know. For a moment he had thought it must have been the noise of the gale, but a second after he had heard other sounds that made him leap out of bed and rush to his window, which, like the rest, was, of course, on the ground floor.

Looking out, he was amazed, not to say startled, at seeing a man gliding away from another window towards the garage, whose lock he started to pick, evidently with the intention of stealing the car inside.

Hastily donning his dressing-gown and seizing a heavy stick, Dolby had rushed out and challenged the fellow. At once the burglar had turned on him menacingly with a revolver. There had been a brief struggle, during which the weapon had gone off in the air. Then having managed to stun the ruffian with his stick, the young solicitor had locked him inside the garage and shouted for help, which had come a few minutes later in the shape of Luke Samways.

"You saw him coming away from one of the bungalow windows, sir? Which window was it?" asked the constable, looking up from his notes.

"The window belonging to the best bed-room," answered the lawyer; and then his face suddenly contorted and he gasped out: "Good heavens! I'd forgotten!"

"Forgotten what, sir?"

Mr. Dolby didn't answer for a second. He stood where he was with a sudden great agitation upon him. With a catch of his breath he blurted out:

"I'd forgotten amid all the excitement that somebody was sleeping in that room. I'm usually alone, but to-night my partner, Mr. Sharron, is staying with me. He's sleeping in that room!"

"The very room the thief was coming away from. And you haven't been to see if old Mr. Sharron's all right. We'd best see now!" cried Stack.

"Yes, at once. Come this way."

They were out of the kitchen and along the passage in a moment. Mr. Dolby led the way right to the other end, hurrying and visibly anxious.

"Here's the room!" he said, controlling himself. "Mr. Sharron's old, as you know, and he's been ill for a long time, so we mustn't excite him too much. I'll just see if he's all right, so wait here a moment."

He opened the door softly and tiptoed into the room so as not to alarm the sleeper. But two seconds later, as he advanced towards the bed, there broke from him such an agonised cry as immediately brought the constable and the others hurrying into the room.

"What is it, sir?"

"Look—look!" almost screamed Nicholas Dolby. "Poor old Mr. Sharron! Look at him! He's—dead!"


CHAPTER 3.
The Grief of Nicholas Dolby.

ALL stared at the figure on the tumbled bed, aghast. All saw in a flash that Mr. Dolby's word were true, and the sight appalled them!

First to recover himself, the constable stepped right up to the bed to take a closer view of the already set features of the old man who lay there.

"Dead—dead for sure!" he murmured with a slow shake of his head. "How did he die? Can't see any—Merciful heaven! Look here!"

His charged speech came as he turned the bedclothes farther back. They were all wet with blood as was the old gentleman's blue-striped sleeping suit.

"He's been shot!" exclaimed the constable. "Here's the bullet wound, see!"

"Shot!" echoed Dolby emotionally. "Then that scoundrel of a burglar shot him, just as he afterwards tried to shoot me! Must have been the shot that woke me. Constable, it's murder—wilful murder!"

"Looks like it, sir. But the bullet seems to be in the groin. Queer for a wound like that to have killed him so soon, don't you think, sir?"

"Ordinarily, perhaps, yes. But not in his case. His heart was so weak! He's been ill for a long time. The shock would be enough to cause death! Oh, my poor, dear old friend and benefactor!"

And kneeling down beside the death-bed, Nicholas Dolby covered his face with his hands and broke down in uncontrollable grief.

The constable and the others looked pityingly on at the younger solicitor's sorrow, for all knew something of the true relationship which had existed between them—a relationship to be explained presently, and indicated in the younger man's use of the words "friend and benefactor."

But there came a quick interruption to this poignant scene. Steps were heard in the passage, and a moment later Dr. Alford entered the room.

* * * * *

His trained eye told him at a glance the truth about the body on the bed. It shocked him greatly. First, because he had been fetched to attend merely to an unconscious man, not to a dead man at all. Second, because Mr. Sharron was a man he had known in years past.

Shock, however, did not prevent him from doing his duty. In a moment he was beside the dead man, examining the bullet wound in his thigh, and searching for other possible injuries.

He, like the constable, was a little surprised that the old lawyer should have died so soon from a leg wound, but on hearing Mr. Dolby's account of the heart disease of long standing, agreed that he might have died from shock.

"Or he may have been choked to death!" he added. "There are marks on the throat, but the bruise hasn't properly come out yet. But about his heart—he was medically attended for that, of course?"

"Oh, yes, first by Dr. Pettry, of Lummingstall, but that was two years ago. It was on Dr. Pettry's advice that he practically retired from business, and went to live at Southport."

"Ah, yes. I must see Dr. Pettry. There'll have to be a post mortem, of course. But I expect he's been medically attended at Southport too?"

"Oh, yes. I forget the name of his doctor there, but that can be easily ascertained from his nurse. Mr. Sharron has, as perhaps you know, been a widower for many years, and had no near relatives."

"Quite—quite! There'll be quite a lot of things to do later, but just now I must see this other man—this burglar. It was on his account you sent for me, I believe. Where is he?"

"In the kitchen, sir!" It was Constable Stack who answered. Mr. Dolby seemed incapable of doing so. He was looking at his old friend and benefactor again, and the sight of him lying there dead, seemed altogether too much for him.

"What's happened? Where am I?"

It was the burglar who gasped out those words. He had been brought to after a few minutes, under the ministrations of Dr. Alford.

During these few minutes as he lay unconscious on the couch, they had been able to take careful stock of him. He was quite a young man, not more than thirty-two. He was moderately tall and quite well built, but thin and ill-nourished, while his face just now was, of course, very pale as a result of the blow on his head which had rendered him unconscious. His clothes were shabby and threadbare, and soaked through with the rain, as if he had been long out in the wild storm. His boots were very down at heel, with holes in the soles. They had let in the water.

Already Constable Stack had removed those boots, had examined them closely with certain significant nods of the head and had then carefully placed them on one side. In addition, he had made many notes in his pocket-book, as to the man's condition and other things.

Now as the man at last spoke, he turned to him, still with his notebook in his hand.

"Why as to that," he said drily in reply to the fellow's gasped questions, "seems to me you ought to be able to tell us about that. What's your name?"

"Wilson—John Wilson!"

Constable Stack wrote the name quickly in his book, then whispered to the doctor: "What about charging him, sir? It's a case of murder—I shall have to charge him with that!"

"Not at once!" the medical man said hastily. "He's very weak at present. Give him a few minutes anyway to recover. Perhaps he'll tell us something about himself first. You can charge him when he's a bit stronger."

The policeman nodded, and turned again to the man who was now half sitting up on the couch rubbing his injured head.

"Now, John Wilson, how come you to be trespassing on private property at this hour of night?"

"I'm sorry, but I came to get shelter," answered the man nervously. "I've been on tramp. I've come from London. Been on tramp for three weeks. I was making for Burnley. But I got caught by the storm out on the moors yonder. I was wet and tired and hungry. Pretty well fit to drop, I was. That's why, when I spotted this house, I made for it, hoping to find some sort of shelter where I might get a bit of sleep."

"You've tramped from London and were making for Burnley," echoed the constable, who had rapidly pencilled the words down. "Why were you going there in particular?"

"Because I'd hopes of getting a job!"

"Why there more than anywhere else?"

"Because I know a gentleman there. Or did know him a few years ago. In the war, that was. I served under him in Flanders—at Ypres, and other places."

"Who was he?"

"Lieutenant Straker! Leastways, he was then. Now I suppose he's plain Mr. Straker. Mr. Adrian Straker. Manager of some big ironworks at Burnley, he is. I see that by chance in a paper. That's what put it in my mind to go and see him in the hopes of a job. Heaven knows I want one bad enough, with a wife and poor little kiddy nigh on starvin'."

"So you're married then? Where do your wife and child live?"

"London. Islington. They lives in a garret at No. 34, Tubb Street."

More rapid note taking by the constable, then further whisperings with the doctor, till he turned again to the suspect with—

"Well, John Wilson, I've heard your explanation, and—well it don't quite fit in with what's happened!"

"How do you mean?"

"You must consider yourself in custody!"

"In custody?" the man panted. "What, just for innocent trespassin'!"

"No—I charge you, John Wilson, with murder!"

"Murder! Great and merciful—"

"Stop! Let me finish! The charge is the wilful murder of Mr. Richard Sharron, by shooting him with a revolver!"

"Great heaven! It's false—it's—"

Again the constable pulled him up.

"Let me finish! My duty is to warn you that you needn't say anything, and that anything you may say will be used in evidence against you!"

"I don't care!" Wilson's face was contorted, and his voice rose to a shriek. "I must speak! This charge—it's horrible—it's monstrous—it's—"

He said no more. Overtaxed by emotion and strain, his strength gave way, and he fell back on the couch and his senses fled from his a second time!

"Gone off again—fainted!" pronounced the doctor, bending over him.

"Ah, couldn't stand the pressure, sir, eh? He didn't expect to be charged so soon with what he's done. Almost like being caught red-handed!"

"I suppose there can be no doubt he did it, constable!"

"How can there be, sir? That yarn of his about coming to the place for shelter is about the lamest I've ever heard."

"Certainly sounded very thin!"

"He'll swing, sir; he'll swing, you can bet. I've absolute proof already that he went into the dead man's bed-room!"

"Proof!"

"Ay, sir, here!" The constable took up the accused man's boots and turned them over to display the sodden, broken soles. "He left plain prints of these behind him!"

"Heavens! Did he though?"

"Yes, one on the window-sill and another actually on the stained boards close to the bedside! 'Twas one of the first things I noticed, and there's absolutely no mistakin' this broken left sole!" The doctor took another look at the unconscious man.

"He'll be coming to in a minute," he said. "You'll be taking him off then, I suppose?"

"Not till the inspector comes, sir. I've already sent a chap to telephone to Lummingstall for him. Till he arrives I must wait here to look after the dead body as well as the prisoner!"

"Quite! That reminds me. Mr. Dolby's in the other room still. He's terribly cut up at this tragedy, poor fellow."

"Not surprising, sir. They do say as old Mr. Sharron had always been more than a kind friend to him. Reg'lar made him, accordin' to all accounts."

"So I've heard. Well, I must see him and try to get him away from these morbid surroundings."

"You mean he'd better not stay on here at the bungalow, sir."

"Quite! I must persuade him to come and stay with me till after the inquest, at any rate."

* * * * *

"Mr. Dolby, my dear fellow, I know how very distressing this must be to you, but you mustn't let it get you down. I get you not to brood on it, or you'll get ill yourself. You mustn't brood on it, you really mustn't?"

It was Dr. Alford speaking to the young solicitor. The scene was the doctor's house in Dentwhistle village, whither he had persuaded Nicholas Dolby to return with him overnight. The time was the next morning, and the two men were seated at breakfast together. They had risen quite early in spite of the fact that they had retired late.

The solicitor certainly seemed in need of the advice given him. His distress was most obvious. His face seemed positively torn with anguish, while his eyes were the eyes of a man who had hardly slept at all, but whose mind had been kept on the rack by fierce grief.

"Thanks, doctor," he answered, in a none too firm voice, "I'll do my best to smother my feelings, but it's a job. This is a blow—the most terrible blow of my life. I can't tell you what Mr. Sharron has been to me. The kindest friend man ever had. Whatever little success I have achieved in life has been solely due to him."

"Oh. come, your own efforts and ability and—"

"Yes, I know all that. But it was Mr. Sharron who gave me the chance to show them. Without him I might have been in the workhouse. He befriended me when I was a poor orphan. He had me educated, he articled me at his office without a ha'penny of fee. He pushed me on and on, and two years ago, when he could no longer attend to business himself, he made me his partner so that I might have a free hand with everything. Yes, he was the kindest friend a man ever had, and now—now to think he should have come to such an end! And last night of all nights! If anything could make it more bitter it was that!"

He was on the verge of breaking down—at a point, in fact, when the doctor thought it better to humour his mood, sad though it was.

"What exactly do you mean, Mr. Dolby? Such an occurrence would be terrible at any time. Why should last night be worse than—"

"Because he was my guest—the only time he has ever been my guest!"

"Really!"

"Yes. As you know, I'm a bachelor, a lonely man. Till Mr. Sharron retired from business more than two years ago, and made me his partner, I never had a home to which I could invite him. I was always in lodgings up to then. But when, through his kindness, my means allowed, I built the green bungalow out on the moors yonder, and bought a car to carry me to and fro. I grew to love my lonely little home, and I always looked forward to the time when I could invite Mr. Sharron to it. For a long time I feared his health would never allow of such a thing. But yesterday, when he came to the office, I found he was well enough. So I asked him, out, and—and—"

"How did it come about?" the doctor inquired gently, to keep the young lawyer from breaking down.

"Mr. Sharron came to the office quite unexpectedly yesterday afternoon. A friend had motored him over from Southport, sixty miles away. I was delighted to see him, especially as he was so much better. He was indeed greatly better after his long rest, and actually announced his intention of getting into touch with the business again. To that end we went through a lot of old deeds and documents together. But the work tired him after a few hours. I saw that a long motor journey back to Southport would be too much for him, so I invited him to pass the night at my bungalow out here."

"Which he accepted?"

"Eagerly—almost joyfully, I might say. And when we got out—I drove him in my little car—he was as enthusiastic about my little home as I was myself." At that moment there came a knock at the door, and a maidservant entered. "It's a police officer, sir; wants to see you. Inspector Yarrow from Lummingstall!" Dr. Alford bent forward and touched his guest on the arm.

"The police, my dear friend! They've probably news." He turned to the maid: "Show the inspector in, please!"

Inspector Yarrow entered. He was a big man with a heavy moustache and clear, shrewd eyes. "'Morning, inspector! Any fresh developments?"

"Oh, so, so, sir!" Yarrow's eyes twinkled triumphantly. "Not very much perhaps, but enough. Enough to tell us we've got the right man. John Wilson killed Mr. Sharron without a shadow of a doubt!"

"You seem very certain. What's happened?"

"Why, in addition to foot-prints in the dead man's bed-room, which we've proved were made by Wilson's broken boots, we found Mr. Sharron's wallet in his pocket!"

"In Wilson's pocket, do you mean?"

"Yes. It contained fifteen pounds in Treasury notes, besides one or two documents. John Wilson's the man without any doubt at all. He'll swing for it!"


CHAPTER 4.
A True Friend's Plea!

NEWS travels fast nowadays, faster than it ever did. Within an hour or two of the events related in the previous chapter, all London was echoing with the "Green Bungalow Tragedy."

Evening paper posters made those three ominous words familiar everywhere, while special editions told London's millions all there was to know about it.

Practically all, that is. There was no mystery out it. The murderer had been caught, not quite red-handed it is true, but nearly so, thanks to the prompt action and courage of the dead lawyer's partner, Mr. Nicholas Dolby. All the newspapers were full of that—the courage of the junior partner, and his deep grief at the loss of his old friend and benefactor.

The one consolatory feature of the whole grim and ghastly business was that the murderer had been arrested. For that John Wilson, out-of-work ex-service man and tramp-burglar, had done Richard Sharron to death, nobody had any sort of doubt. It was a plain case. A tragic drama, but with no mystery about it. Old Richard Sharron, a highly respected Yorkshire solicitor, had been murdered. John Wilson had been arrested for that murder. Later he would be tried, condemned to death, and hanged! That was all there was to it. Having read the grim story, most people were ready to dismiss it from their minds, so complete did it seem.

So thought even Sexton Blake, the famous detective; so certainly thought Tinker, his assistant, as he, like his master, went through the afternoon papers at their Baker Street chambers.

It was part of his job to cut from the newspapers the stories of current crimes as they came to be reported, and to index them up for possible future reference. In this way Sexton Blake's shelves had accumulated thousands of cases, of which only a small percentage were ever afterwards referred to. It was to this "limbo" that Tinker, in his mind, already relegated the "Green Bungalow Tragedy," even as he read it.

"Hardly worth indexing up, is it, guv?" he remarked, after some exchange of views on the detailed accounts both had just read. "Never likely to want it, are we?"

"Perhaps not," agreed Blake, who was so full of Tinker's mind that he had already turned his attention to other matters in the newspaper he was reading. "We're not in the least likely ever to want it. Still, just keep it as a record. Now about that passport forgery business. Look up all the papers connected with it, and—"

But Tinker wasn't to do anything of the sort. Before Sexton Blake could even finish his sentence there came the sound of a taxicab suddenly pulling up at their door in Baker Street, followed by a long and peremptory ringing of their bell.

"Somebody in a hurry, guv."

"Yes, an impatient and excited client, I should say."

"Some duchess lost her favourite Pekinese, and wants you to find it, or—"

Tinker was interrupted this time by steps on the stairs. Following a "Come in!" to her tap, Mrs. Bardell, the housekeeper entered.

"Gentleman to see you, sir. Seems very hagitated, and begs you to see him at once!"

Blake took a proffered card from the tray, and gave a jump!

"How queer!"

"What is? Who it is, guv?"

"Mr. Adrian Straker, Manager, Paragon Iron Foundry, Burnley," read out Blake. Tinker snatched at the evening paper.

"Why, that's the man referred to in the Green Bungalow case, surely?"

"Quite! That's the odd thing about it. He's the gentleman mentioned by John Wilson, the accused man." Blake thought hard for the fraction of a second, then said quietly to Mrs. Bardell: "Show the gentleman up at once!"

Half a minute later and Adrian Straker was in the room. A young man—about thirty-five. Tall, well-built, good-looking, brainy and energetic and terribly excited. So excited that, as was plain, he had all his work cut out to hold himself in.

"How do you do, Mr. Straker?" Blake, who liked the look of him, gave him his hand. "What can I do for you?"

"Let me thank you, sir, for seeing me. I've come about—about that!" His quick eyes had fallen on the afternoon papers spread out on the table with the big headings uppermost: "Green Bungalow Tragedy!"

"Have you read it, sir?"

"Why yes, only a few minutes ago. You are the Mr. Straker mentioned there? Why have you called on me?"

"To ask you to take up the case—to beg you to take up the case on Jack—that is, on John Wilson's behalf. To get you to clear him of this horrible charge!"

"Eh, what—a big order, isn't it?"

"It may seem so, sir, but I'm sure you could—"

"But the case is black against him. Everything points to him. Why are you interesting yourself on his behalf?"

"Because I believe he's innocent!"

Blake stared at his visitor, wondering if in his intense excitement he had taken leave of his senses. "On what grounds do you base your belief, Mr. Straker?"

"Because he says he's innocent!"

"Bit flimsy that, isn't it? I've read the details, and though it's early days, the police case seems complete—absolutely complete already. Everything points to Wilson's guilt!"

"I don't care! I'd believe Jack Wilson's word against everything!" Again came Blake's doubt as to his visitor's sanity, and again he decided in his favour. "What do you know of him?"

"Nothing but good. I knew him all through the War. I was a lieutenant, he was a private. Part of the time he was my batman, and once"—Straker voice quavered with emotion as memory stirred within him—"once at Ypres he saved my life at the greatest risk to his own. Jack's the bravest chap who ever lived. As to doing this—this terrible murder, why, he couldn't—he couldn't!"

Such passion had come into Adrian Straker's voice as touched Blake. In a world which, generally speaking, is so forgetful and ungrateful, the detective revered gratitude as one of the greatest virtues. And he saw that the foundry manager's whole being was steeped in gratitude. Nevertheless, he felt he must not let this sway him too much. He must keep a level head.

"Aren't you letting your war memories run away with you, Mr. Straker," he said in gentlest reproof. "You mustn't, you know. I can quite understand your feelings towards a man who saved your life, but when that man has committed a ghastly crime—"

"He hasn't—he hasn't!" protested Straker hotly. "I tell you he couldn't do such a thing. Without his word, I should have known that, but I've seen him—this morning. I was allowed to have a few minutes' interview with him, and he told me—he swore to me that he was innocent!"

"But in face of all the circumstances? Why, the fact that the papers deal with the matter so fully—they tell us practically the whole of the police case—shows how little doubt there is about his guilt!"

"Oh, I know it looks black—terribly black! But Jack denies it all! He denies that he entered the bungalow at all, let alone the bed-room where the dead man was found!"

"But his foot-prints were found actually in the room. More significant still, the dead man's wallet was found in his pocket. How does he explain these things?"

"He—he can't explain them!" cried Straker, pacing the room all pale and agitated. "They baffle him completely. There is some mystery about it all. That's what I want you to elucidate, sir. That's why I've come to you. I promised poor Jack long ago that I'd stand his friend if ever he needed one. And now he does need one. I want to keep my word. Take up the case in his interest, I beg you to!"

"I can't—I'm deeply sorry, but I can't. I've other things to do, and to do this would be—a waste of time!"

"Oh, no, no; don't say that, sir! I'm not a rich man, but I'm comfortably off. I've got a first-class job. I can find a few hundreds for Jack's sake. A thousand or two for that matter. If money will help to clear him—"

"It's won't, I fear! It's good of you to offer to stand by him like this, Mr. Straker. I admire you for it. But it would be wasting your money. The case is hopeless. It's so strong against him that nothing I nor anybody else could do could break it down. Once again, I am sorry, but I cannot take up the case!"

"You will not save an innocent man's life?" cried Straker despairingly.

"You mustn't put it that way—you really mustn't. If I could believe he was innocent—"

"He is—he is!"

"In face of the evidence already published, I cannot believe it. To my mind it is black—dead black against him! How then could I hope to save him?"

Something like despair was in Adrian Straker's eyes as he suddenly jerked up his head, and said in hollow tones:

"Then save me!"

"Save you—what do you mean?"

"Just that! Save me, Mr. Blake! Save me from a life of misery and self-reproachings! Oh, don't you understand how I feel? I believe Jack innocent, against all the world. Yet because the police and all the world believe him guilty, he may go to a shameful death! Don't you see if I do nothing and such a terrible thing as that should come about, that I could never forgive myself? I, who owe my life to him, who swore to be his friend! How could I ever forgive myself if I should fail in that? How could I ever sleep? How could I ever have one moment's peace day or night. That—that is what I mean, sir, by saving me! Take up the case! Do your best, even though you should fail. I did not think you would fail. But even if you did, I should at least have the consolation of—"

Sexton Blake gripped his hand and pressed it fervently.

"I admire your firm friendship for Wilson," he said. "If just to satisfy you I will make inquiries. I'll make a start at once!"


CHAPTER 5.
Sexton Blake Goes North.

SEXTON BLAKE caught the four o'clock express from King's Cross. It was due at Bradford at 8.26 that night. At Bradford he intended to hire a car and drive out to Lummingstall, lying among the mountains some twenty miles or so away. It was a nuisance having to change, but it seemed the best way, and he had chosen it from several alternative routes.

In the reserved first-class compartment with him were Tinker and Pedro, his famous bloodhound. Adrian Straker was not with them. He intended to return to Burnley by a later train, and had arranged to meet Blake the next day. Full of profound gratitude to Blake for consenting to take up the case, and eager to help all he could himself, he would willingly have accompanied him, but for a task—a duty, rather, as he regarded it—which would detain him in London a few hours longer.

That duty was to go up to Islington, seek out the wife and child of his old friend and soldier-servant, Jack Wilson, and render the monetary help of which they stood in such dire need.

So it came to pass that Blake travelled without him. He wasn't a bit eager or happy. In fact, he was very reluctant and miserable. He had consented to take up the case purely out of pity for Adrian Straker. As to the case itself, Blake had no hope of doing any good with it; not a shadow of hope of saving John Wilson. Even from the evidence published—and the police might well have something else up their sleeve—his doom was as good as sealed. Beyond all reasonable doubt Wilson had committed the murder. He would be tried. He would be found guilty and condemned to death. That seemed sure. Nothing could save him.

No wonder Sexton Blake was glum on the journey. He felt he was engaged on a fool's errand, and nobody likes to feel that. So, apart from some desultory conversation as they sat at dinner in the restaurant car, he spoke but little on the more than four-hours' journey. Tinker, who fully shared the hopelessness regarding their mission, quite understood the reason for his silence, and therefore made but few attempts to rouse him out of it.

Arrived at last at Bradford, Blake sought outside the station for a taxi to take him out to Lummingstall, but found a difficulty. Several drivers were engaged for jobs later in the evening which would prevent their going so far; others hadn't enough petrol for so long a journey; still others were disinclined for a night jaunt among the mountains with so much rough weather about.

"I know where you can get a good car, sir!"

It was a station "cab-runner," who had been following them about, waiting to pick up a tip.

"Where?"

"Garridge just round t'corner, sir."

"Right-ho! Lead on!"

Rinker's Garage, to which the man led them, wasn't a very classy place, but it served. They got an old, big, closed saloon car which promised to suit their purpose, and a driver who knew the way. In a very few minutes they were off.

Through Buttershaw and as far as Halifax the road was quite "towny," but from there a secondary road quickly led them to Bodgery Moor. Here all was wildness and loneliness. Hills—almost mountains—led to great high stretches of bleak moor, interspersed here and there with woods, over which the wind tore, if not with the fury of last night's gale, at any rate, with sufficient power to imbue the journey with the spirit of adventure.

An adventurous journey it was to be! Rocking in the wind, the somewhat ancient car was making quite good speed along a section of road heavily shadowed by woods on either side, when it came suddenly to a stop by the abrupt jamming on of the brakes!

"Hallo! What's up?" cried Blake, leaning over the saloon partition towards the driver's seat.

Round came the driver's face with a scared look on it. But the direct answer to Blake's question came from somewhere else, and somebody else.

"Hands up!"

The startling words came from a masked man standing in the road just ahead of the car and beside the bonnet. In his hand was a revolver, which was covering the driver.

Near him were three other men, also masked, and also with raised revolvers covering Blake and Tinker in the rear part of the car.

"Duck, and hold Pedro down!" whispered Blake hoarsely, and then did an astounding thing.

Vaulting instantly over the low partition, he bundled the unnerved driver out of the seat, jumped into it himself, seized the steering-wheel, and in a second had the car in motion again.

Plop—plop—plop! came three bullets aimed wildly, as the astonished highwaymen scattered to save themselves from the plunging car. There came a jangling of glass.

Plop—plop—plop—plop—plop! came again as the car cleared them and shot forward. For a quarter of a mile the old bus in Blake's hands did marvels in the way of speed. Then he, too, pulled up, and swung his head round.

"All right, laddie?"

"Yes, thanks, guv'nor. Some of the bullets plugged into the car, but we weren't hit."

"You're all right, driver?" asked Blake.

"Yes, sir," answered the shivering man beside him, and lifted a scared white face. "But what a close shave, sir! Whatever would have happened if you hadn't hopped into my seat. I couldn't have driven on to save my life."

"Driving on was the only way to save it," said Blake dryly. "Those ruffians meant mischief." He alighted and stared back along the road.

"No sign of them!" said Tinker, joining him and looking back.

"No, they've scooted before now. Hiding in the woods, no doubt. We must give information to the police at the next village." He turned to the still trembling driver as once again he took the driving-wheel. "Any hold-up like this taken place about here before?"

"Not here, sir, so far as I know. But there have bin one or two cases the last few weeks. One out by Beedleham, and another by Snaggar Snout, in the north Ridin'. Supposed to be done by the same gang, them two jobs was. They robbed the motorin' party and trussed 'em, all up. This may have bin the same crew."

"Shouldn't be surprised. Anyway, we're well out of it." And, without further talk, Blake got going again.

The only other halt was at the next village, where Blake pulled up at the wayside police-station to lay information. Then he drove on to Lummingstall.

Driving straight to the police-station there, he dismissed the car, the driver of which, however, announced his intention of delaying his return till the following morning. He seemed thoroughly shaken and in no mood to risk a recurrence of another hold-up.


CHAPTER 6.
"No hope! John Wilson's for it!"

SEXTON BLAKE struck lucky. Inspector Yarrow was in. He was immensely pleased and flattered to meet the famous criminologist. But even his joy at that was eclipsed by his amazement on hearing why he had come.

He was almost incredulous that a man of Blake's outstanding perspicacity should have started on such a "wild goose chase."

"Clear John Wilson!" he exclaimed, raising his bushy eyebrows as he repeated Blake's own words. "Why, you can't have realised the strength of the evidence against him!"

"I do realise that it's pretty strong," said Blake rather lamely. "But I was hoping there might be a chance."

"There isn't an earthly, Mr. Blake! Neither your nor anybody else can save John Wilson. That chap's for it, if ever a criminal was!"

Blake smothered a sigh. The local officer's opinion was practically his own. His loathness to admit it and chuck up the sponge at the outset was only born of pity for Adrian Straker, and the fact that he had given his solemn word that he would tackle the case without prejudice, and do his very best on the prisoner's behalf. For this reason he found himself forced into a false position, and compelled to endure Inspector Yarrow's banter and very real—though good-natured—scorn.

"Astonishing to find you believing in his innocence, Mr. Blake!" he exclaimed.

"In accordance with our country's laws, I am entitled to assume it till his guilt is proved, inspector."

"Oh, quite so, quite so!" Yarrow's shrewd eyes were twinkling with triumph. "I don't know how much you know of the case, but if you knew what the magistrates will be told to-morrow morning, you'd agree that his guilt was proved already!"

"That so? Well, I won't ask you what the magistrates will be told in the morning, inspector, because I shall be in court to hear it. But you won't mind giving me the leading points, eh?"

"Not at all, not at all! I'll give you two facts, anyway. You may or may not have seen them already. Mentioned in the papers, I mean. Fact one: The prisoner's boot-prints were found in the bed-room of the murdered man. Fact two: The wallet containing money, which belonged to the murdered man, was found in the prisoner's pocket when we searched him!"

"Yes, I did read as much in the newspapers," assented Blake dismally, feeling more and more the falsity and stupidity of his position.

"Yet you've undertaken to try and clear him! To my mind, those two facts alone are enough to hang the fellow."

Blake was inwardly inclined to agree. More and more he regretted his promise to Adrian Straker, and right willingly would he have taken it back if his sense of honour had allowed.

As it wouldn't, he must put as bold a face as possible on it and go through with the business.

"Quite sure they are his boot-prints, I suppose?" he asked, in the manner of a drowning man clutching at a straw.

"Oh, lor, yes!" Yarrow proceeded. "No good challenging that, my dear sir. I'll save you time on that score right away. The boot-prints were left on a strip of Indian matting that lay beside the bed. I've had them photographed. Here are the prints, developed exact size. And here are the boots which made them. Test them for yourself."

He had stepped to a corner, where there was a big bag containing the "exhibits" for the police court next morning. From it he took the objects named, the big photographic prints, and the pair of dilapidated boots, and placed them before Blake.

The latter took up the prints first. Was that a startled look which immediately sprang in his eyes as he looked at them? If it was, he said not a single word as to what it was that startled him. But he looked long at the prints before setting them down.

Then he took up the boots, and turned them soles upwards. They had originally been stout, but had now worn to a pitiful thinness. The heels were right down, while the soles were actually in holes. Strips of brown paper had been placed inside them by the wearer, in a hopeless attempt to make them wearable. Quite a hopeless attempt. The heavy rain of the previous night had soaked the paper to a pulp.

Blake examined them with the utmost minuteness, then placed them down and looked across at Yarrow.

"Any doubt?" the inspector queried, with quizzing eyes.

"About what?"

"About the prints being made by those boots?"

"None at all. So much is certain."

Again Blake was looking at the photographic prints.

"No doubt about these being John Wilson's boots, I suppose?"

"Guess not!" said Yarrow drily. "They were taken straight off his feet by Constable Stack. Those prints seem to interest you a lot, Mr. Blake!"

"Interest—they positively fascinate me!"

"Good prints, eh? As good as I've ever seen. Remarkable prints, to my mind."

"Quite! Made by remarkable feet!"

Sexton Blake spokes solemnly, yet in his manner as well as the words there was such a suspicion of quaint banter as made the inspector look up.

"Don't get you quite, Mr. Blake. In what way are the feet remarkable?"

"Don't know that I can quite tell you. Only they seem so to me."

It was an enigmatic answer. It conveyed no clear meaning to Inspector Yarrow. Only irritated him.

He asked again, pressingly.

"How do you mean the feet are remarkable?"

"Oh, well, they seem very flat."

The mollified inspector burst out laughing.

"Do they? I didn't notice that. Very likely they are. Lots o' men are flat-footed."

"Quite!" Blake paused half-absentmindedly. Then he asked suddenly: "Where is Wilson?"

"Here, at the station. In the cells at the back."

"Can I see him?"

"Not till the morning, I'm afraid. He's asleep now. Rare job the doctor had to get him off."

"Gave him a draught, you mean?"

"Had to. Doctor Filsome was afraid if he didn't sleep he'd go crazy."

"Bad as that?"

"Storming nearly all day. Raving that he was innocent, and asking us to tell his wife he was innocent. That's why the doctor gave him a draught, but even that didn't look like acting at first."

"How was that?" Inspector Yarrow rasped his chin.

"Well, the doctor can't be sure about it, but he's got a strong suspicion that Wilson's a drug-taker!"

"Gee, that's the first I've heard of that! A penniless tramp! How could he get drugs?"

"What's the matter with burgling a chemist's shop?" said Yarrow, with a shrug of his heavy shoulders. "Anyway, Dr. Filsome said he showed symptoms of a man who doped. Don't know how he knew, but that's what he said. Seemingly that's what stopped the sleeping-draught from acting at first."

"But it has acted since. Well, that means I can't see him till to-morrow. That being so, I'll quit."

"Where are you staying, Mr. Blake?"

"At the Unicorn. I'll cut along now. My assistant, Tinker, went on ahead to see about the luggage, and he'll be waiting for me."


CHAPTER 7.
A Planned Affair!

TINKER was waiting for him, most impatiently. Not at the Unicorn Inn (which was only a stone's throw away) but in the street.

Blake met him half-way and instantly saw by his face that he was excited.

"What's up, laddie?"

"Don't quite know, guv, but suspicious things have been happening. That fellow who drove us in the car—"

"What about him?"

"He's a wrong 'un."

"What makes you think so?"

"The pals I saw him meet. Three of 'em. The very three, if I'm not mistaken, who held us up!"

"Heavens, boy, what do you mean? Tell me exactly what's happened."

Tinker did. When Blake had settled with the driver, it was on the understanding that he should drive Tinker and Pedro along to the Unicorn Inn and help with the luggage. But the moment the detective had departed, the fellow's manner had changed. Instead of being respectful to the point of servility, he had become suddenly brusque and defiant. He had certainly driven across to the Unicorn Inn, but that was all. Instead of helping to get the baggage inside, he had dumped it down on the pavement and then driven off, with no more than a morose explanation that he was in a hurry.

"Hurry for what?" interposed Blake. "He wasn't going back to Bradford to-night. He said he was going to stay at Lummingstall till the morning."

"Just so, but I don't thing he meant it. Got something up his sleeve all the time, I fancy. Anyway, his sudden change of manner made me suspicious. So, leaving the porter to look after Pedro and the luggage, I rushed after him."

"Were you able to follow him?"

"Yes. By a bit o' luck he didn't drive far. Pulled up in a back street not far away. Outside a pub called the Blue Boar. He didn't get down, but just yonked away with his horn. It was a signal, as I saw. In a minute a fellow came out, waved to him, then went back into the pub. A minute after he came out again. Two others were with him, and all three got into the car, which at once drove off."

"And you think they were the three who held us up?"

"Well, I couldn't be sure, of course! Couldn't get a look at their faces on the road on account of the masks."

"But you did here in the street?"

"Just a glimpse. Villainous faces they were. Hard-bitten, with steely eyes. Reg'lar racecourse-tough type. I couldn't follow the car, or I would have. Wasn't another car about, for one thing, and for another I couldn't leave Pedro for long."

"Quite! Don't know where the car was going, I suppose?"

"Don't know at all. Nothing was said above a whisper, and they were off in a second or two. But it all struck me as a very funny business."

"No doubt of that. All the queerer if those three men were the actual three who held us up. That would point to a deliberate plot, of course."

Blake thought hard for ten seconds, then said:

"Laddie, we must get back to Bradford to-night!"

"Think they'll have gone back?"

"Don't know, but they may have. Anyway, we've got to see. If it was a plot to hold us up, it looks as if they might have. It's just an off-chance, but it's too important to miss. We'll get back to Bradford to-night. Don't suppose we can overtake them, but if they go back to that garage we might catch them there. Come along, laddie, I must get Inspector Yarrow to help in this."

Inspector Yarrow jumped to the job at once. Blake had previously mentioned the "hold-up," so that he already knew the bare facts. Without knowing in the least what was really in Sexton Blake's mind, he could at any rate see that the driver might have been in league with a highwaymen gang, and have conspired with them to work the hold-up for purposes of robbery. It never occurred to him (as it most certainly did to Blake) that this affair might have any bearing on the murder of Richard Sharron. Nor did it occur to him that it was a personal attack on Sexton Blake. To him, it seemed hardly likely the attackers would know the identity of the detective at all. They would simply regard him as a man who was worth robbing, and make their plans accordingly.

Even so, the affair was sufficiently serious on its own account, and therefore he was quite ready and eager to render the aid now asked.

He gave orders for a big car to be obtained and half a dozen officers to get ready to accompany him and Blake.

While this was being done, he rang up the Bradford police and asked them to set a watch on Rinker's Garage, pending their arrival from Lummingstall.

That being arranged, and the car and police officers ready, the whole party, every man armed with a revolver, set off in a few minutes on their adventurous night ride.

Although they did the twenty miles to Bradford in very fast time, they failed to overtake the fugitives.

Nor could they get any news on arriving at Bradford. The two plain-clothes men set by the Bradford police to watch Rinker's Garage reported "nothing doing." The car for which they had been instructed to look out, had not returned.

It then had to be considered whether inquiries should be made inside the garage as to the character of the missing driver. This was decided against by Blake on his hearing from the local police that the place was already under suspicion.

Rinker—as the proprietor called himself—had only been established in the place a few months. In that brief time he had earned for himself a somewhat shady reputation. There had as yet been no definite charge against him, but he was strongly suspected of having had dealings in stolen cars. The police, therefore, had had him under observation for some time, on and off.

In view of this, Sexton Blake now decided to wait a bit—till next day, at all events. Meantime, the local police would keep a close all-night watch on the place. If the absent driver returned by the next morning, they would detain him for inquiries as to his overnight doings. If he didn't return, they would similarly inform Blake, who would then be guided by events in his future action.

Blake himself, together with the rest of the party from Lummingstall, waited at Bradford an hour or more on the chance of Reuben Gunn (that being the absent driver's name) turning up. But he didn't turn up, and Blake and the others returned to Lummingstall, leaving the Bradford police to the task of watching.

* * * * *

"Think Reuben Gunn will go back in the morning?"

It was Tinker asking the question of Blake that night, when at last they found themselves alone at the Unicorn Inn.

"It's a toss-up, laddie. The fact that he does or does not return, ought to throw light on things, though."

"How?"

"Well, if he doesn't go back, it'll look as if the three men he met were actually the three who held us up."

"That's so. I think they were the same, but of course I can't be sure. But I say, guv! Supposing, for the sake of argument, they were the same, what do you think it all means?"

"It would prove that the hold-up was a planned affair!"

"Yes, of course; but what was the extent of the plan? What was their object in holding us up? Was it just robbery, do you think?"

"Can't make up my mind yet. It might have been just that. That chap loafing about the station yard may have been in co. with an ordinary hold-up gang on the look-out for anybody who seemed worth robbing."

"That would make it very chancy work, wouldn't it? What I mean is most ordinary travellers would have got a taxi in the station yard."

"Quite! That's an argument in favour of its not being an ordinary hold-up for robbery, but something more!"

"You mean—"

"Well, ordinary passengers would only want to go short distances. We failed to get an ordinary taxi because we wanted to go a much longer distance."

"And you think that loafer knew that?"

"He could easily get on to it. Didn't you notice how he followed us round? Directly he saw his chance, he came forward with his offer and took us round to Rinker's. That suggests he'd been specially told off to look out for us."

"Guv'nor, you are making a plot of it! How'd a gang here get to know you were coming to Bradford at all?"

"By their other pals shadowing us in London! They could have seen me booking at King's Cross!"

"But how—"

"The thing's simple. At this end, a gang could easily have known about Adrian Straker's departure for London, while their pals there could easily have shadowed him to Baker Street. The rest would be easy to fix up."

"But Adrian Straker came from Burnley."

"Yes, but he'd been over to Lummingstall to see John Wilson.

"A special visit to a man under arrest, would be quite enough to attract attention from men on the look out for things of that sort."

"Gee whiz! But you're racing ahead, guv'nor! You're linking up to-night's affair with the very murder itself! You're talking of a gang and plots, as if they might have killed Richard Sharron!"

"Why not?"

"Do you think a gang did?"

"It's too early to make up one's mind. One can't decide till one get's more evidence!"

"But you're beginning to think John Wilson may be innocent?"

"I am!"

"Yet you were dead against any such idea when you started?"

"I was."

"What's made you alter your opinion—this hold-up?"

"That's only secondary. It may or may not corroborate my primary idea."

"What is your primary idea?"

"One I got when Inspector Yarrow showed me those photographs of the boot-prints!"

"But they're his trump cars! The very things he most relies on to prove Wilson guilt!"

"And yet the very things which, after all, may prove his innocence!"


CHAPTER 8.
Committed for Trial!

AFTER breakfast the next morning, Sexton Blake and Tinker were on their way to the police station to see the prisoner.

All was in readiness for them. Inspector Yarrow was not there, but he had left the necessary instructions. The visitors were conducted to the prisoner's cell at once. The policeman who conducted them at once went away, leaving them alone with the suspected man.

John Wilson was amazed to see Sexton Blake, whose great name and fame was known to him, as it was to all the world. For a moment he was inclined to resent the visit, believing, as was not unnatural, that the great detective was acting in conjunction with the police.

But on Blake's informing him that he had come at the request of Adrian Straker, his eyes lit up and the heavy expression of his grief-stricken face lightened for a moment.

"God bless him!" he murmured brokenly. "Mr. Straker promised to stand my friend years ago, out in Flanders, and he's doin' it now. I knew he would—I knew he would! He's nigh the only friend I've got in this world; the only one who believes me innocent o' this terrible crime!"

Sexton Blake watched him narrowly. Wilson didn't strike him as being of the criminal type at all—certainly not the type that would commit a brutal murder for the sake of a few pounds. Moreover, he was terribly thin and emaciated. Looked as if he were half-starved, and that he and a good square meal were not regular acquaintances these days. Evidence this—negative evidence, of course, but still of some value—that he was not an habitual criminal, for your habitual criminal doesn't allow himself to go hungry.

For so young a man—he was only thirty-two—he looked strangely old. But this was due to his hollow cheeks, his slightly greying hair, and his wild, lustreless eyes. In their turn all of these things might have been caused by anxiety and suffering arising out of his poverty, and especially out of the terrible position in which he now found himself.

Or they might, of course, have been caused by something else!

Drug-taking, for example! Was he a doper? According to Inspector Yarrow, the police-surgeon had suggested it, but was it probable?

Blake thought it highly improbable, and his experience in such matters was certainly equal to the average provincial police-surgeon's.

Still, something had suggested to Dr. Filsome that the man had been under the influence of drugs. He must have had some good reason for thinking that, and, therefore, it was a matter to bear in mind.

Other things, however, must be gone into first.

"Well, well, Wilson," said Blake soothingly, in response to the prisoner's speech. "It's something to have one good friend who believes in you. Let that help you to keep up your heart. Who knows but what others may come to believe in your innocence, too. I have promised Mr. Straker to do all I can to arrive at the truth, so if arriving at the truth will help you—"

"It will, sir, it will!" cried the young man passionately. "It's all I ask for. If only the truth can be discovered! Heaven grant it may, if only for the sake o' my dear missis and little kiddie!"

"As to that, Wilson, you may be able to help as much as anybody!"

"How can I help, sir?" Wilson cried hopelessly. "I've already told the police all I know about it, but they don't believe me. Nobody believes me except Mr. Straker. Everybody else thinks I killed this old gentleman. And I didn't. I swear I didn't! I swear I didn't even know he was in the house—or who was in the house."

Blake listened and watched him intently. If this man was lying, he was one of the most accomplished actors in the world, was his thought. He encouraged him gently with:

"Please tell me what you've already told the police. I want to get at the truth first hand. Tell me everything you know. Every little detail, just as it happened!"

Wilson began. Up to a point, his story—told with many a suppressed sob and break in his voice—was a repetition of what Sexton Blake already knew from the newspaper accounts, and from the added details told him by Adrian Straker and Inspector Yarrow.

In brief, that part of his recital amounted to what has already been set forth in this story.

Ever since the war he had, like too many others, been unable to secure a permanent job. He had had several that promised for a time to be permanent, but for various reasons—bad trade and other things—they had failed him after a time. He had been various things at various times. A warehouse clerk, a porter, an insurance agent, a canvasser on commission, a clerk again and a porter again.

But all the jobs—most of which had been most precarious even while he held them—had failed him in the end. At times he had drawn the dole, but there came a time when even this failed, owing to some technical default beyond his own control.

Several weeks of semi-starvation had followed. During that time he had tramped all over London in a vain search for work. Only the most strenuous efforts by his young and delicate wife had kept the wolf from the door. Quick and clever at needlework, she had managed to earn just enough per week to pay their rent and buy them dry bread.

In that way they had lived—say, rather existed—until John Wilson could stand it no longer. The work denied him in London—Heaven knew he was eager and willing to take anything—he would seek in the provinces. Anyway, if he could no longer support his wife and child, he would no longer be a burden on her meagre earnings.

Like many another down-and-out, he had gone on tramp in search of work. Striking northward, he had reached the busy Midlands, hoping to find a job there. Failing, he had been in doubt as to his next move, when the chance sight of an old newspaper gave him an idea.

The newspaper contained the prospectus of a new iron-foundry company, and contained the name of Adrian Straker as manager. This filled him with a new hope. Because in this Mr. Adrian Straker, he recognised one whom he had known in the Army. Moreover, on account of some signal service he had rendered him, Adrian Straker had promised always to be his friend, and had told him to be sure to apply to him if ever he were in need of a friend.

Of a naturally independent spirit, Jack Wilson had never so far troubled him. Now, in his great need, he decided to apply to him for work.

During his tramping he had communicated with his wife as often as he could afford the stamp to do so, and at this juncture he wrote to tell her of his intention to make for Burnley, in which Lancashire town the iron foundry was situated.

After days of weary tramping, during which he had suffered many privations, he had reached that part of Yorkshire, beyond Lummingstall, in which our story opened.

Near to the village of Dentwhistle he had been overtaken by the great storm. Drenched through and hungry, and well-nigh exhausted by the violent gale, he had looked about for some sort of place where he might get shelter from the storm and rest for his weary limbs.

It was then that he found himself a little beyond the great quarry and within a little distance of the green bungalow. The sight of the shed—the garage—a little way off, suggested that here was the very place, where he might sleep for a few hours. With that idea he made straight for the place.

Then happened—according to Wilson's statement—a most dramatic thing! He had scarcely reached the garage and started to try to open the locked door, when a sudden rush of footsteps behind him made him jerk round his head!

But before he could properly turn, a man had thrown himself right at him! The man was carrying a stout bludgeon. This he swung aloft, and, before Wilson could do anything to defend himself, he brought it across the side of his head with such terrific force as to knock him clean out!

"And that," concluded John Wilson chokingly, "is all I know about it. That's all I remember until I found myself brought to in the kitchen of the bungalow, with the policeman and the doctor and other people bending over me!"

"Then you know nothing of the murder of Richard Sharron?" asked Sexton Blake.

"Nothing—nothing, I swear it, sir!"

"You never went into his bed-room?"

"I never went into any room! I never entered the bungalow at all!"

"Yet, as you know, your boot-prints were found on the window-ledge, and actually beside the dead man's bed?"

"The police told me so yesterday, but it's all a lie—a cruel, horrible lie! I never entered the room at all!"

"How then do you account for the boot-prints being there!"

"I don't account for 'em, sir—I can't! How can I? I swear I never entered the room—never even went near the window. I swear it—I swear it! Merciful Heaven, sir! Don't you believe me?"

Sexton Blake didn't answer for a moment. He remained silent—in deepest thought. The passionate vehemence of the man's denial impressed him. So, indeed, had the whole of his story, so different in its later part from that recounted by the police.

"Don't you believe me, sir?" demanded the distracted prisoner again.

And then Blake suddenly came out of his silence and spoke.

"Wilson, I want to look at your feet! Your bare feet. Will you let me?"

"I don't see what good that would do. But, of course, sir, of course!"

John Wilson removed the old socks and slippers which had been provided him by the police. "Raise you feet!"

The man obeyed, and Blake examined them closely, noting their exact shape. "Tinker, that bag!"

Tinker passed a small handbag they had brought with them. From it Blake took two pieces of cardboard, carefully prepared with some chemical substance, which he placed on the floor of the cell.

"Stand up, Wilson! Right! Now place your feet on these cards—one on each. Press hard as you can—with all your weight!"

The prisoner obeyed, his eyes full of wonder as to the meaning of these things.

"Step off!"

The man stepped off. Blake took up the cards and examined them with a face like a mask. He placed them carefully in the bag, and took something else out—a pair of worn boots. Not so old or broken as Wilson's own had been, but sufficiently worn for his purpose.

"Put these boots on!"

While Wilson dumbly obeyed, Blake took out two more pieces of cardboard, prepared similarly to the others.

"Now stand on these! Press hard again, with all your weight. That's right! Yes, that's enough! You can take the boots off again!"

While Wilson was doing this, Blake was intently examining the second pair of cards. These he also placed in his bag. His face was still like a mask.

But suddenly it relaxed a little as Wilson handed him the boots back.

"Wilson, you told me just now that you had never entered that room?"

"And I tell you so again, sir. I'd say the same thing with my dying breath! I never did. Don't you believe me?"

Sexton Blake's hand shot out. His already relaxed face wreathed into a smile—a smile of real kindness. "My lad, I do believe you! There's my hand on it!"

"You do, sir—and do—" sobbed the poor fellow. "How can I thank you for saying—"

"Don't thank me, but keep up your heart, lad! Don't despair. I believe what you say—that you never entered that room!"

"But the police believe that I did!"

"The police are mistaken. They'll have proof—from me—that you didn't go into that room!"

"How can you prove it, sir—how can you?"

"It may take time to prove it, but I'll do it. Till I do, you must have patience. You must remain under suspicion and a prisoner. You must place yourself in my hands. Be guided by me entirely! Will you agree to that?"

"Gladly and gratefully, sir!"

"Very well, then. Not a word to anybody as to what I've said or done now. Keep absolutely mum about that. In fact, say nothing till I give you the word!"

"I'll be guided by you in everything, sir. I don't see the meaning of what you've done, sir. Those foot-prints, I mean. May I ask what they—"

"Don't ask anything yet, my friend. I'll tell you in good time. Till then trust me. You're to be brought before the magistrates this morning?"

"Yes, sir."

"The proceedings will be merely formal. Not much more than evidence of arrest, I expect. The police will then apply for an adjournment and will get it. Seven or more days adjournment. That will be all to the good. It will give time to instruct a solicitor, and to get you properly defended at the next hearing. Now before I go, just one or two more questions."

"As many as you like, sir."

"The prosecution says you killed Richard Sharron by shooting him. It says too that you fired a revolver at Mr. Dolby just as he knocked you down with a stick. That, of course, isn't true?"

"Of course not, sir. How could it be?"

"You hadn't a revolver in your hand?"

"I had not, sir. I've never possessed such a thing. If I had, it would have gone long enough ago."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Why, I mean I should have sold it—as I have had to sell many others things—to buy food for my wife and child," Wilson answered bitterly.

"Ah, I see what you mean. Now about the shots. You didn't fire them, yet it's certain they were fired! Two of them. We have that on the evidence of Samways, the night-watchman, and his wife. The question is, who fired them?"

"That's beyond me, sir."

"Oh, quite so, but did you hear them—either of them?"

"No, sir. I heard no shot at all."

"Yet you couldn't have been far off the bungalow when they were fired—the second one at all events."

"I heard nothing of the sort, sir. Perhaps that's not so astonishing after all, considering how the wind was roaring."

"Perhaps not," said Blake thoughtfully. "From which direction did you approach the garage? From the quarry side?"

"No, sir. I came the other way."

"Then the wind was at your back?"

"Yes."

"And would blow the sound away from you. That would account for your not hearing the shots, even if they fired while you were near. That's all now," Blake said, looking at his watch. "I shall see you at the court later on. I may or may not speak to you then. Meantime, I repeat, not a word to anybody about all this. So long for the present."

With another handshake, Sexton Blake quitted the cell, leaving the prisoner far more hopeful than he had been before, but not a little mystified as to the meaning of what he had done and what he meant to do!


CHAPTER 9.
Blake's Deductions.

SOMEBODY else was mystified too—Tinker! He refrained from questions until they were alone in their own room at the Unicorn Inn, but then he opened out.

"What's all this, guv? You started on this job thinking Wilson hadn't an earthly. Now suddenly you tell him you'll clear him! What's done it?"

"His foot-prints!"

"What about them? That's the most puzzling part. All that trouble you went to getting those cards ready with the chemical stuff. What does it all mean?" Blake was opening the bag. He took out the cards and laid them on the table. "Look at 'em!" he said laconically.

"Well, what about 'em guv? Don't see anything every extraordinary about 'em!"

"Quite so. Now look at these! These are a duplicate set of photographs of the boot-prints found in the murdered man's bed-room. I got them from Inspector Yarrow. Compare them with the impressions made in our presence!"

"How can I compare 'em? One set are made with boots on; the other barefoot."

"Oh, well, compare them with these others. The ones made with the old pair of boots Wilson put on."

He spread those cards out too, and Tinker spent a minute in comparing one set with the other.

"Don't see how you can compare these very well either," he said. "How can you? The pairs of boots were quite different. Different soles and heels and—"

"Never mind about that, laddie. It doesn't affect the matter really. My point is independent of actual detail."

"Then I don't see your point."

"Do you see something else? Waiving the difference in the boots, do you see anything similar about the rival prints."

"Why, yes, the length is exactly the same, and the curious outer curve of the foot is the same. But that only tells against Wilson."

"Standing alone it would tell against him—strongly," agreed Blake. "But it doesn't stand alone. There's the inner side of the foot to consider. Do the one set resemble the other in respect to that?"

"It's impossible to say, I was just going to mention that. In the inspector's set the inner side shows as clearly as the other. In your set, in spite of all the trouble you took, it hardly shows at all!"

Blake's eyes suddenly sparkled.

"Now you've hit it, laddie. Hit it at last! Surely you see that the inspector's prints—these impressions which are as perfect on the inner side as on the outer, could only have been made by a man with abnormally flat feet!"

"The puzzling phrase you used last night!"

"Nobody unless they had very flat feet could have a print as perfect as that simply by standing on a mat. You couldn't, laddie. I couldn't! John Wilson certainly couldn't either! He has a high instep, and consequently a very pronounced arch to his foot. With such a foot, the impression left might be quite distinct on the outside, but the inner side would hardly show at all. Wilson couldn't do it, though at my bidding, he tried with all his weight!"

"Why?"

"Because the natural poise of the body allows of very little pressure coming to the inner side. To make such a perfect impression as these, would require a man not merely to be flat-footed, but knock-kneed as well. John Wilson is neither. He is quite straight-limbed and has a perfectly arched instep."

Tinker's eyebrows were lifted high in amazement.

"This is too much, guv'nor! You yourself admitted last night that undoubtedly those prints on the bed-room rug were made by Wilson's boots!"

"By his boots—yes. But not when he was wearing them!" was Blake's amazing answer. "Those boot-prints were, so to speak, faked!"

"How?"

"By somebody who held the boots in his hands—not on his feet at all!"

"Guv'nor!"

"I mean it. The prints are far too distinct and perfect to have been made by a man just standing up-far too equal as to the inner and outer sides!"

"But why should anybody do a thing like that?"

"To throw suspicion on the owner of the boots, of course!"

"Yes, I know, but who would want to do it?"

"Who else but the real murderer?"

"Some other than Wilson!" gasped the astounded Tinker. "Who could it be?"

"Too early to say yet," said Blake. Then, after a brief pause: "There was another curious thing about those boot-prints, too!"

"What was that?"

"The clear impression on the rug was partly due to there being some oily stuff on the broken soles. Petrol, I fancy."

"Quite likely, isn't it? There may have been petrol on the floor of the garage?"

"Perhaps. But John Wilson hadn't been in the garage before the murder! We know that on the evidence of the chief witness against him."

"Mr. Dolby?"

"Exactly! He has stated that the door was locked and that Wilson was trying to open it. That's the only point on which Mr. Dolby and Wilson seem to agree in their conflicting statements. How came the petrol on Wilson's boots before the murder, then?"

"He must have picked it up on the road somewhere."

"That's possible, though not probable. But even if he did, it wouldn't have remained on them in a clear patch. Remember, he had walked through the storm. The heavy rain would have washed his boots, while his walk through the wet grass would have wiped away nearly all vestiges of the petrol. These foot-prints on the bed-room rug are far too distinct and clear to have been made in the ordinary way. The petrol must have been on them like a thin coat of paint. The whole thing points to most careful preparation."

"Then how do you account for it?"

"I'm not trying to—yet. There isn't time now, for one thing." Blake was looking at his watch. "Getting towards half-past ten. Time we got round to the police-court!"


CHAPTER 10.
John Wilson Astounds Blake!

THE little police-court at Lummingstall was crammed full. Everybody in the place had known old Mr. Sharron, and had held him in highest respect. Their curiosity to hear details of the cruel crime, and see the man accused of it, was therefore natural.

Among those who had managed to obtain a place in the court was Adrian Straker. He had returned to Burnley by a late train overnight, and had motored over to Lummingstall just in time for the proceedings.

Sexton Blake had only time to shake him by the hand and to whisper a cheering word or two, before the usher called "Silence!" made him pass to his own seat, just as the magistrates entered the court.

Directly they were seated, John Wilson appeared through a side door. He was attended by two policemen, and was at once placed in the dock, quite close to which Sexton Blake had placed himself.

Just before the proceedings began, Blake leant close to him to whisper:

"Don't forget what I told you! Not a word about what happened at our interview. Mum's the word! Keep your mouth shut and eyes open! For the rest, trust to me. I'll watch your interests!"

John Wilson murmured his thanks, then faced the bench as he heard his name called out. In a moment the clerk of the court was reading the charge, and the hearing began.

As Blake had foretold, the proceedings were to be purely formal. As yet no lawyers were in it, and it was Inspector Yarrow who made the opening statement.

All the same, he went a little farther than Sexton Blake had expected he would. For after briefly outlining the charge, he announced his intention to calling two witnesses. First, Constable Stack, who would give evidence of arrest; secondly, Mr. Nicholas Dolby, the murdered man's partner, who would give some account of certain things which had preceded the arrest.

This was duly done. Constable Stack related the facts as we already know them. Then Nicholas Dolby was called.

As he stepped into the box and was sworn, John Wilson, who had been provided with a chair on account of his wounded head, suddenly sprang to his feet and gave vent to an exclamation. "Silence!" roared the usher.

But it was Sexton Blake who soothed the prisoner in his sudden strange excitement.

"Keep quiet!" he whispered. "Say nothing now! No good will come of it—only harm. Whatever you want to say, tell me later!"

Wilson subsided into his seat. But his lips were still quivering as he stared with all his eyes at the mane in the witness-box. As to that man, Nicholas Dolby, he looked a picture of absolute distress. His face was pale and drawn, his figure bent, while his eyes had in them the look of a man who had suffered much and slept but little.

And when, in quavering accents, he gave something of his life story and told of all the kindnesses he had received at the hands of old Mr. Sharron, there was hardly anyone in court but who realised how much he was suffering, and how deeply he was feeling the loss of his dear old friend, who had been put to death by the hand of a foul assassin.

Following this personal history, which partook of a tribute to the dead man's memory, he told, in low but clear tones, all he could tell of the murder. These things amounted to a repetition of what has already been related in an earlier chapter of our story.

As he left the witness-box and was making his way back to his seat, he came face to face with the prisoner in the dock. It was the signal for the latter once more to spring to his feet and give vent to some exclamation.

This action, which was accompanied by a movement towards the front of the dock and a violent throwing out of his arms, was interpreted as an attempt on his part to wreck vengeance on the man who had just testified against him.

Instantly, therefore, two or three policemen threw themselves upon him, while one snapped a pair of handcuffs promptly on his wrists.

Then, as Wilson sank back again exhausted by the struggle and wrapped in a sullen silence, Inspector Yarrow once more rose to his feet and addressed the Bench.

"That, your worships, is as far as I wish to carry the case to-day. On the evidence given, I respectfully ask for an adjournment of seven days."

"Very well," returned the chairman; "your application is granted. We adjourn the case for seven days. The prisoner will be remanded in custody. Remove the prisoner!"

And Wilson was hurried from the court.

All the way back to the cells he showed signs of the most intense excitement. More than once he half-turned round to Blake, who was following, as if he were bursting to tell him something.

Not till they had reached the cells, however, and were quite alone, did Blake address himself to him. When at last he did, it was to say:

"You seem terribly excited, my friend!"

"I am, sir. So would you be! There's been some terrible mistake, or else I've gone mad!"

"What do you mean?"

"That man Nicholas Dolby!"

"What about him?"

"He swore he was the man who knocked me senseless!"

"Well, so he did, surely?"

"No, no! He wasn't the man who did it at all! It was somebody quite different."

"Eh—what?" Blake had given a start of surprise. "This is something new! So two men attacked you? You never said so before!"

"No, no! There weren't two men—only one! But he was quite different from Nicholas Dolby." Blake stared at him incredulously. "Are you sure?"

"Positive! When Nicholas Dolby went into the box and swore it was he who had outed me, I was amazed! That's why I shouted out. That's what I tried to explain in court."

"I'm glad you didn't anyway! This is a most astounding thing you're saying!" Blake looked at him as if he half-thought he might be mad. "Are you quite certain about it?"

"I was never more certain about anything in my life."

"But it was dark, and the storm was raging at the time."

"No, sir, the rain had stopped then, and the moon had come out. I got a glimpse of the fellow's face just before he up with his bludgeon, and—well, it wasn't Nicholas Dolby!"

"Who was it, then?"

"I don't know. But it was an older man than Dolby—much older! A man of sixty, I should think!"

"So old? Surely you could have mastered—"

"I had no chance, sir. He was on me before I could properly turn round. And although he was that age, he was strong. Very broad, powerful-looking fellow! That's another difference between them. Dolby's taller and slimmer."

"You mention a bludgeon! Mr. Dolby says a walking-stick —the one the police produced. Which was it?"

"What I call a bludgeon, sir! A short, thick thing with a heavy knob. Certainly it wasn't the walking-stick I saw in court."

"This man—this elderly assailant. How was he dressed?"

"Long-grey ulster—or perhaps it was an old dressing-gown. Came right down to his heels, and he held it up as he ran. The collar was pulled up close round his throat, and cap was drawn low over his eyes!"

"This is strange, most strange. It needs the most careful thinking over. But I'm glad you didn't blurt this out in court—very glad. . . . Now what?"

"Hist!" whispered Wilson suddenly. "There's somebody at the spyhole—listening!"

Blake whipped round swiftly and darted silently towards the cell door. As he did so, something seemed to flit away from the spyhole fixed in it. In an instant Blake had the door open. The next, and he had fixed a powerful grip on the collar of a man who was just rising erect. The man was not a police official, but a rather rough-looking workman with a hang-dog expression and cunning eyes.

"Here, I say, what's the meaning of this?" demanded Blake, and shook him like a rat.

"Leggo, leggo! What yer a-doin' of? I'll have the law on yer for this! Leggo afore yer chokes me, will yer?"

"Who are you? What are you?" demanded Blake sternly, and transferring his hold from collar to arm. "I'm Bill Perkins. I'm an honest workin' man, I am. I'm a plumber. I've bin seein' to the pipes in the bath-room."

"Then take my tip, Perkins, stick to your job. When you come here to plumb, plumb, don't pry! Stick to clearing out pipes; don't try stopping up spyholes!"

"Who was a-doin' of it?" asked the man sullenly.

"Didn't I catch you with your eye to that spyhole? Weren't you spying and listening to what was going on in that cell?"

"Me!" cried Perkins, bristling with indignation. "Me do a thing like that! Wot do yer take me for—a Prooshun?"

"But I caught you bending down!"

"To tie up me bootlace. 'Ow else could I tie up me bootlace wi'out bendin' down, I'd like to know?"

Blake didn't answer that question. He didn't believe the man, but felt convinced that he had been looking through the spyhole. Still, as that might just have been idle curiosity, he didn't attach much importance to the incident, and in any case he had scared the main quite enough.

"Well, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, Perkins. So get back to your pipes!" he said.

"Finished 'em," answered the man, shouldering his tool-bag, which he had placed on the floor. "I'll pop off. An' mark me, mister, this is the larst time I'll ever come to a bloomin' pleece-station."

"An admirable resolution, Perkins," laughed Blake, as he watched him depart. "Hope you'll keep it."

* * * * *

"I think it's all right," remarked Blake to John Wilson as he went back to the cell. "I don't think the fellow was really listening."

"But I'm almost sure he had his eye to the spyhole, sir."

"Perhaps he had, but I think it was idle curiosity—nothing beyond that."

"But he may have heard what you'd been saying, sir?"

"I hope not—I think not," Blake said thoughtfully; "but I'll make sure that he had a right to be here, when I see Inspector Yarrow presently."

And this he did when, after a little more talk, he bade good-bye to John Wilson. He didn't see Yarrow, however, because the inspector was not at the station. But he saw the sergeant-in-charge, and was informed that although Perkins was personally unknown to him, a plumber had been at work most of the morning, on some defect in the pipes attached to the prisoners' bath-room at the rear of the police-station. Satisfied so far then, Blake dismissed the incident from his mind.

Before many hours were over, however, it was to recur to his mind with an unexpected significance!


CHAPTER 11.
Conflicting Clues.

MEANTIME he had other things to think about. The morning's happenings had given him much food for thought. The police-court proceedings, and what Jack Wilson had told him afterwards.

Especially the latter. That, indeed, was most startling. He didn't know quite what to make of it. Although hazy about many things, he had made up his mind about certain others. One was that Nicholas Dolby had been the man who had knocked Wilson out. The solicitor had, of course, openly said that, while Luke Samways' statement made a quite clear that it was Dolby who had stood guard over Wilson after locking him up in the garage.

Ha! According to Samways, Dolby had been wearing a long dressing-gown also. Such a loose, flowing garment altered a man's figure considerably. It might easily make a slim man look more bulky than he really was.

Had Wilson been mistaken? Seeing Dolby in ordinary attire in the police-court might well make him believe that he was some other and different man from the one who had attacked him. True that the arrested man spoke of other differences, but on such a wild night, and half-dazed by exhaustion as he was, he might easily be mistaken.

Blake felt, therefore, that he need not attach too much importance to this latest revelation. All the same, he must keep it in mind, for did not the idea of there being a third man about fit in with his newborn theory of Wilson's innocence?

Back at the Unicorn, he had just recounted the latest events to Tinker, when Inspector Yarrow looked in. His face looked excited and not a little worried.

"Glad to have caught you, Mr. Blake. I want your opinion about something. There's a hitch—a complication!"

"So—what's that?"

"I've come to the conclusion there was a second man in it! Wilson had an accomplice!"

"What makes you—what's happened?"

"This!" Yarrow took a fat wallet from his pocket, opened the canvas flap, and selected a photographic print.

"Hallo, finger-prints?" exclaimed Blake. "Whose?"

"The murderer's!"

"You speak dead sure!"

"They were on the dead man's throat! You knew there'd been some throttling going on?"

"Dr. Alford told me there were some throat bruises, and I saw them for myself when I examined the body."

"Well, I had 'em photographed. This is the result!"

"Know whose they are?"

"No, but I know whose they're not. That's where the complication comes in. They're not John Wilson's! I've compared 'em."

"That's one up for Wilson, then?"

"I don't say that. I'm dead sure he was in it. This only shows he had a partner."

"Yet you didn't find his boot-prints in the room—only Wilson's!" Yarrow shuffled irritably.

"Give me time, Mr. Blake. I told you it was a tangle. It'll need a bit of time to straighten it out."

"Quite! But why couldn't the chap have worked independently of Wilson? Why couldn't Wilson have been out of the murder altogether?" Yarrow shook his head resolutely.

"No, I don't give you that. Wilson's boot-prints were found there, and another's finger-prints. That spells a pair. Two of 'em were in it. I've got Wilson already. And I'll get the other."

"Wish you all the luck. You've struck it right, though, with that print. Got a second copy?"

"Like one?"

"Yes. I may be able to lend you a hand in bagging the chap who left his trademark on the dead man's throat. Many thanks!" And Blake pouched the photographic print the other handed him. He was silent a minute, then he asked: "What about that revolver? Found it yet?"

"No. Mr. Dolby thought it must have been thrown among the shrubs or grass, but my chaps couldn't find it. That puzzled me at first, but it doesn't now."

"Why?"

Yarrow tapped the photographic print.

"This second chap! He must have picked it up before he scooted off. Which reminds me that I must be scooting off, too. I've a lot to do."

"He's getting a hustle on, guv'nor," remarked Tinker when Yarrow had hurried away. "What do you really think about these finger-prints?"

"They confirm my belief that somebody else murdered Richard Sharron, laddie."

"Somebody working in co. with John Wilson, do you mean?"

"No, I don't believe that part of Yarrow's theory. I believe Wilson to be quite innocent. But these finger-prints are tremendously interesting and important."

"Guv'nor," said Tinker, with a sudden thought, "do you think it likely that the chap who choked poor old Mr. Sharron might also be the man who knocked Wilson out?"

"I should think it's very probable. Nothing more likely."

"You would?" Tinker stared incredulously. "Then you think Wilson wasn't mistaken, after all? But I say, guv'! If it was another chap who bashed him on the head, why on earth should Nicholas Dolby say that he did it?"

Blake gave him a curious glance.

"I didn't say I thought it was another man."

"But it must have been if—" Tinker broke off. He had caught a most strange expression in the etective's eyes. "Oh, I say, guv'nor, you don't think it was Dolby who—"

"Knocked Wilson out? I do. Hasn't he said so himself?"

"I don't mean that. I mean—I hardly know how to say it. But—but—I say, do you think it was Nicholas Dolby who murdered—"

Blake held up a warning finger.

"I'm going to get hold of Nicholas Dolby's finger-prints! I think I know a way. Pass me that small bag." Tinker obeyed. Blake took out a big sheet of blue paper—brief size, and handed Tinker a pen. "Now, laddie. I want you to take something down at my dictation. The more like a lawyer's clerk that you can write, the better I shall like it!"


CHAPTER 12.
The Missing Wallet.

MR. NICHOLAS DOLBY sat in his private office at the corner of Market Square, Lummingstall.

His face was pale and drawn, and he looked terribly woebegone. Grief at the death of his old friend and benefactor seemed to have affected him deeply, while the ordeal at the police court that morning had clearly added to his distress.

He looked anything but fit for business, yet business must be attended to, and there was none among his several clerks to whom he could entrust it.

There were a lot of things to attend to, for the late years the business had greatly grown. The growth, be it said, was mainly due to Mr. Dolby himself. If old Richard Sharron had done a fine thing for Dolby by making him his junior partner, he had, at the same time, done a fine thing for himself, in that the skill and ability and hard work of Dolby had resulted in a great extension of their clientele. In all Yorkshire there wasn't a shrewder lawyer than Nicholas Dolby, and many were the ironmasters and mill-owners of Bradford and other great neighbouring towns who had discovered this, and, as a consequence, placed their legal business in the hands of this very capable attorney.

Spite of the great distress of mind which his pale face all too plainly reflected, he was forcing himself to concentrate on business. Many deeds and other legal documents were on his desk, and his brow was deeply knit as he scanned their contents.

A tap came suddenly at his door, and a clerk entered.

"Gentleman to see, you, sir. Wants to swear an affidavit."

"Who is he, Docker?"

"Gives the name of Rowlands, sir. Farmer-looking man."

"One minute then!"

Mr. Dolby started to clear his desk of all the deeds and documents, then changed his mind as he moved across the room to what had in former years been Mr. Sharron's seat. "I'll see him at this desk. Show him in."

The caller came in. He was an oldish man, with close-clipped side-whiskers on his hard-bitten face. He was dressed in an old-fashioned tailed coat, Bedford-cord breeches, and leggings. In his hand he carried a soft tweed hat.

"Afternoon, sir," he greeted, in a somewhat raucous voice. "Sorry to trouble ye, but I got a paper from my lawyers in London this marnin', and a letter sayin' I was to swear a happydavid. So seein' by your plate as you was a commissioner for oaths—"

"Quite so—quite so," interposed Mr. Dolby affably. "Sit down, Mr.—"

"Rowlands, sir, be my name. Joe Rowlands, and hoss-dealin' be my business in life. Goes all over the country, I do."

He dived a hand into a capacious breast-pocket, and pulled out a legal-looking paper.

"That be the dockyment, sir. Ye'll see that it consarns the sale of a couple o' hosses, and that the party I sold 'em to says as 'ow—"

"All right, Mr. Rowlands," interposed Mr. Dolby, with a faint smile on his pale face. "There's no need for me to know what the document is about. I merely witness your signature. You have read it, and you are ready to swear that the contents are true."

"That I be, sir."

"Very well, then, if you'll take this Testament in your right hand and kiss it. That's right. Now if you'll sign your name here—your full name. That's right. Now I'll witness your signature in this other space!"

He took the document from his horse-dealing client, and signed it in the allotted space. As he handed it back, he fiddled a moment with his fingers, remarking as he wiped them with his handkerchief:

"The document's a bit sticky, Mr. Rowlands."

"Be it, sir? I was readin' it over at breakfast this marnin'. I allus takes traycle wi' me porridge. Mebbe a dab o' that must 'ave got on the paper. I apolergise and thenk ye, sir. 'Ow much do I owe ye?"

And having paid the statutory fee which the solicitor named, the horse-dealer took his leave.

It was market day at Lummingstall, and he made his way to the enclosure where the "lots" of cattle were still being auctioned. Quite a natural thing for a horse-dealer to do.

But he didn't stay long. After looking at the sheep and several horses with a critical eye, opening one or two of their mouths to look at their teeth, he seemed suddenly to decide that there was nothing there he wanted to buy.

With a lithe ash stick swinging in his hand, and chewing a wisp of hay taken from a wagon, he strolled down one street and up another, until by a somewhat circuitous route he reached the Unicorn Inn.

Quite a number of farmers and cattle dealers were gathered about the inn both inside and out. He lingered among them in a perfectly natural manner for a few minutes.

Then he suddenly slipped from the crowd, and disappeared up the stairs into a private sitting-room on the first floor.

Inside that room sat Tinker. He looked up as his master entered.

Sexton Blake, alias Rowlands, gave a satisfied grin.

"Got what I wanted all right. Quite a good impression of Dolby's finger-prints, I fancy. Nearly spoilt it, though. The stuff couldn't have been quite dry. Dolby remarked how sticky the paper was. Now let's see the results!"

He dived his hand into his pocket, and then his grin faded.

"It's gone!" he gasped.

"The paper?"

"The paper—my wallet—the whole shoot? Somebody has run the rule over me?"

"Gee! Must have been a smart man to pick your pockets!"

"Must have been one of the b-hoys! One of the regulars, and a star man at that. Tinker, lad, we're up against a gang!"

"What do you mean?"

"The deeper we go into this case the more of a tangle it becomes."

"Dolby's in it, you mean, and has got smart accomplices?"

"There are some smart fellows in it whether Dolby is or not."

"But he must be. You as good as said so before. That's why you went to the trouble of dictating that affidavit and pretending your London solicitor had sent it, so that you could get Dolby's finger-prints. And now somebody's pinched your wallet containing the prints. Of course, Dolby's in it. He must have got suspicious of that stickiness and had you followed."

"Even so, he would needed to have had an expert pickpocket on hand. No ordinary man could have done the job so neatly."

"That's true enough, guv. Even a don at the game must have had a nerve to put it across you."

Blake remained quiet a minute, thinking hard.

"I'm not sure we ought to jump to conclusions," he said. "The wallet may not have been pinched at all. Come to think of it I may have dropped it."

"How could you?"

"I did a good deal of stooping in the market. When I was feeling the sheep and bending to stroke the horses' pasterns, and so on. The pocket's big and the wallet was heavy and lopsided."

"How d'ye mean?"

"Well, it had several things in it, including two bullets."

"What bullets?"

"The two I pouched last week when we were investigating that shooting affray at Newport. By the way, it'll be rather serious if I don't get them back. I must advertise the loss, laddie, and offer a reward for the return of the wallet. I must get out some handbills at once. There's a printer round the corner. I must see about it now."

He hurried out at once. The recollection of those two spent bullets had given him fresh concern, furnishing as they did vital evidence in another grave case he had in hand.

"The handbills will be distributed presently," he explained when he returned a few minutes later.

"Haven't given your own name, have you, guv'nor?"

"No. The wallet contains no mention of it. I've offered a reward of two pounds and asked the finder to return the wallet to the police-station. Which reminds me, I must let Yarrow know about it or he'll be puzzled."

They found the inspector in when they arrived. He still had the grave look that had marked him previously. He was still worrying over the suspicion he had mentioned earlier—viz., that there was a second man in the murder with John Wilson.

That belief was founded, as we know, on the discovery that the finger-prints found on the dead man's throat had not been made by Wilson.

When, therefore, Sexton Blake told him of the latest development in connection with those finger-prints, he was simply amazed.

"Mean you suspected Mr. Dolby of the murder?" he exclaimed.

"No, I don't!" Blake's tone was almost snappy with emphasis. "I was anxious to see his finger-prints, that was all. I got them as I've explained. And now I've lost 'em, together with other things. I'll be real glad to get that wallet back."

"I'll let you know at once if anything turns up," answered Yarrow, and fell into deep thought when Blake had gone.

Nicholas Dolby! Was it possible he could have done the murder? Such a thing as that had never so much as occurred to Yarrow. Dwellers in little towns often become little-minded, the effect of environment, and to none does this more strongly apply than to officials. Yarrow was an official in a small provincial place, of which Nicholas Dolby was one of the most prominent citizens, and it had never occurred to him that so highly-respected and prosperous a citizen could possibly be guilty of a foul and dastardly crime.


CHAPTER 13.
In Peril on the Moor.

ON the way back to the Unicorn, Blake was thoughtful, too. His thoughts led him to a decision, for he suddenly said:

"Laddie, we've a job for after dark this evening. I'm going over to Dentwhistle to have another look at the Green Bungalow. If we are up against a gang, I don't want them to see us. Not that we've long to wait. It's beginning to get dark already."

Within an hour, and wearing only slight disguises, they had started for Dentwhistle in a hired car. Blake was in the driving-seat, while Tinker and Pedro sat behind. The detective preferred to drive himself for two reasons. First, because it ensured greater secrecy; second, because he had had enough of hired drivers for the time being. He remember the traitorous Reuben Gunn, who had not returned to Rinker's Garage, and about whom he had so far had no news from the Bradford police.

Their ten-mile run over the moors to Dentwhistle was accomplished fast and safely. There was next to no traffic on those lonely, hilly roads, and the little car was a demon at hills.

But fast as they went, something went faster. On one of the very loneliest stretches, a two-seater went past them like a flash.

"Mad fool!" was Blake's comment. "That's the sort of speed-merchant who deserves to break his neck!"

"See who it was?" Tinker asked, leaning forward.

"No, I was looking after my own job."

"It was Nicholas Dolby!"

"What, a broken-nerved chap like that driving at such a pace."

"He wasn't driving. Another chap was doing that. His chauffeur, I expect."

"Doesn't employ one, as a rule. Always drove himself, I'm told."

"Must have hired a driver since the shock of Richard Sharron's murder upset him. He's not going on to the green bungalow, is he?"

"Oh, no! Yarrow tells me he can't bear the sight of the place now. He's staying with Dr. Alford for the present. He lives at the end of the village. We have to pass the house on our way to the quarry moor. I'll show you. It'll be just as well to make sure Dolby's there—if we can."

There was no difficulty about this, as it proved. Passing through Dentwhistle at a slower pace, Blake slackened still more as they approached Dr. Alford's at the end of the village.

It was a detached place, standing pleasantly back from the road behind a shrubbery and two clipped yews. Beside the house was a little outbuilding that served as garage.

Blake's intention had been to pull up a little beyond the place, and then, by walking back, try to discover whether Nicholas Dolby was there. As it chanced, there was no need to do this. For the doors of the garage stood wide open, and was lighted up. In the light, both Blake and Tinker caught a clear sight of a man standing beside a two-seater car, which had evidently only just been taken inside.

The man was Nicholas Dolby, and he was alone. The man who had driven him from Lummingstall was nowhere in sight.

"He's there all right, so that's that," whispered Tinker.

Sexton Blake nodded, and, quickening up, drove towards the quarry moor in silent thought.

* * * * *

"Ever see anything as plain as this, laddie?"

It was Blake asking Tinker the question. They were inside the bungalow.

The subject of the detective's query was a foot-print on the outside sill of the window belonging to the room in which Richard Sharron had been found murdered. The window was opened wide, and Blake was leaning out.

"Don't know about that," Tinker answered. "The boot-print's fairly distinct still, considering the time it's been there. That's on account of the petrol, and the fact that there's been no rain since, I suppose. But how you can sort of say it's the plainest thing you've ever seen, I don't quite—"

"I don't mean the boot-print itself, laddie. I mean, what it indicates."

"What does it indicate?"

"Fake!"

"You said that about the other print."

"This confirms it. The absurdity of there being a boot-print here at all! Why should there be? A man escaping from this room not only need not stand on this sill, but it would be a positive inconvenience to do so!"

"You mean—"

"He'd kneel! He'd just scramble on to it from this side and then slither over to the ground. His feet would hardly touch the sill at all. Try it."

Tinker tried. As Blake had said, there was no need to touch the sill with his feet—a slight scratch of the heel was all that showed in his case. It required, indeed, a special effort to stand upright on it, and took time.

"Gee whiz! You're right, guv'nor," he said. "It would have delayed a man's escape if he'd stood up."

"And a man who's just done a murder doesn't usually delay unnecessarily in getting away. This boot-print, like the other, was made deliberately by somebody holding the boot in his hand. It was done to throw us off the right scent by fixing suspicion on John Wilson!"

"That means, somebody must have taken Wilson's boots off. He mentioned nothing about that."

"He didn't know. It was done while be lay senseless in the garage. The presence of the petrol on the soles proves that."

"Then, it must have been Nicholas Dolby! Yet, you told Yarrow you didn't suspect Dolby of the murder!"

"I don't suspect him!" Blake answered, with the same emphasis as before.

"Can't make you out, guv!" exclaimed the puzzled Tinker. "If you didn't suspect him, why did you go to all that trouble to get his finger-prints?"

"Finger-print records are useful in any case, and—well, I wanted to make quite sure he hadn't choked Richard Sharron. I hadn't much doubt about it, but I wanted proof."

"And you haven't got it, after all! You've lost the finger-prints and your wallet into the bargain. Will you try to get Dolby's finger-prints again?"

"Don't think it'll be worth the trouble. We shall see! But we'll get on with our search, and then get back to Lummingstall."

For the next three-quarters of an hour they continued their search of the bungalow. More than once during that time, Blake brought his lens into operation, and more than once made notes in his pocket-book. But whether any of these things indicated any clue of importance, he didn't say.

Completing their search, they left by the back door of the bungalow. This brought them quite close to the low hedge behind which they had left their car.

As they approached this, Pedro suddenly made a dart forward, and started to circle round and round the car, growling angrily the whole time. This was all the more strange, since he had behaved himself so well during the time they had been inside. Although he had done a good deal of sniffing around, he had shown very little excitement, except when he had come near to the bed in which the murdered man had lain.

"Hallo! What's up with Pedro?" Tinker asked, as they saw his antics now.

Blake looked grave.

"Seems as if somebody's been about."

"No signs of any fresh foot-prints, or anything."

"That's so. Well, it may be just fancy on Pedro's part. It's clear there's nobody about now, so we'll push on."

Pedro was the very soul of discipline—he had been brought up that way from a puppy. Therefore, when Sexton Blake ordered him into the car he obeyed. But he did so with such apparent reluctance that Blake wondered whether he was doing right in not trying to account for the dog's excitement.

It led to a change of mind even as he started to crank up.

"We must see what's up, if we can, laddie," he exclaimed suddenly. Then to Pedro: "Come along, old chap—find—find!"

No second bidding was necessary. The bloodhound leapt out of the car eagerly. Once more he began his eager circling movements, his nose ever to the ground, his tail straight out and quivering.

Every second his excitement grew, until all in a moment he moved away from the narrow road and across the patch of scrub which had been fenced in as part of the bungalow property.

Blake, with torch flashing, scanned the ground again for foot-prints. He found them in plenty here, but immediately discarded them as worthless, because this was a spot on which the police and others had gathered since the murder, and where, if there was any fresh trail, it had been crossed and re-crossed by a score of others, and so made untraceable by sight.

But not by scent! Pedro proved that by immediately following what must, as it seemed, be a new trail.

It led through a small wicket gate in the fence, and away over a corner of the moor proper. Following this trail for some distance they saw some dark object looming up out of the darkness.

"A cottage!" whispered Tinker.

"Yes, the night-watchman's!"

"Pedro's making for it!"

"So he is. Wonder if old Luke Samways has been up to the bungalow lately. If he has that would account for it. We'll find that out."

Blake had met the night-watchman twice before. First when Inspector Yarrow had introduced him; second, when he had attended at the police-court at Lummingstall.

When, therefore, he knocked at the cottage door a minute later, he was immediately recognised, his disguise being but a slight one.

Explaining why he had called, Blake asked him if he had been up to the bungalow.

"Ooay, this afternoon, sir, aw was oop theer just t'ave a look round. 'Twas just afore dusk."

"You've seen or heard nobody else about?"

"Not a soul, sir, not since t' lads went away whoam from t' quarry. And that was 'fore darkness coom."

"Thank you, Samways, that about settles it then. Good-night!"

"Must have been Samways Pedro scented," remarked Tinker as they made their way back to the car.

"Yes, I suppose so," Blake answered reflectively. "Well, anyway, we've done all we can. We'll shove off now."

They were off in earnest now. For a mile or so all went well. The car, oldish though it was, travelled fast and as smoothly as any other could have done considering the roughness of some of those moorland roads.

But presently there came a change. This was after they had got clear of the great quarries and the village and were running over a particularly desolate stretch of moorland. A perilous stretch, too, the road winding like a twisted knifeboard round the slope of a hill.

To their right the hill ran upward, but to their left it shelved down in a manner to steep as to suggest a precipice.

It was in very truth a precipice, as daylight would have shown, for the split in the hills along that stretch was part of "Vyebury Fault," one of the great mountain breaks for which Yorkshire is famous. Could they but have seen, they would have realised that they were driving along the edge of a deep ravine, with only some dozen feet or so between them and its treacherous edge!

And as ill-luck would have it, it was just at this point when something seemed to go wrong. For no apparent reason the car began to sway and rock, and a moment later gave a violent lurch. The next instant, and it pitched forward and sideways. At the same moment came a snapping sound, and something went bowling away sideways from them. In the glare of the lamps both saw what it was.

A wheel—their front near-side wheel!

As Blake jammed on his brakes, they saw it go spinning down the few feet of sloping road and then disappear from sight over the edge of the chasm!

Bad, but worse was to follow! If the brakes were acting, it was only inadequate. For that matter, what brakes could hold up a car on such a slope? The vehicle was slithering down, propelled by its own weight as well as by the only partly-checked engine.

Frantically doing his best, Blake was forced to recognise the situation.

"Jump, laddie!" he roared. "Jump for your life!"

Tinker stooped to Pedro's collar. Hoisted thus to his feet out of a sleep, the bloodhound at a word leapt from the skidding car, followed by Tinker.

As he jumped, the latter saw Sexton Blake rise in his seat and make a move as if to jump too, but his own leaping brought the body of the car between him and his master, and pitching forward into the road, he could see no more of the detective.

What he could see by the light of the still-glaring lamps was the car itself, slithering to the edge of the ravine, and then over—to fall into the unknown depths beyond!


CHAPTER 14.
Is it Foul Play?

TINKER lay still for a couple of minutes. He had pitched on to the road with some violence. Fortunately he had kept his head up, but the impact of his shoulders had knocked the breath out of him and dazed him.

Never quite knocked out, he was well enough in a little while to sit up. Under the spell of nature's first law, he ran his hands over his bruised ribs and shoulders, and was thankful enough to find that no bones were broken.

The next thing he realised was that Pedro was bending over him, trying to lick his hand.

"Old chap, old chap," he muttered gratefully as he patted the dog's head. "You all right? But the guv'nor—where's the guv'nor?"

He stood erect, full of sudden uneasiness. He looked about him in the darkness, but could see nothing of Blake. He took his electric torch from his pocket and flashed it about. Still he could see nothing of Blake.

"Guv'nor—guv'nor!" he called aloud, but no answer came.

Suddenly his dazed senses cleared. What had happened came back to him in a flash. He remembered seeing the car skidding over the chasm's edge. Sexton Blake had been standing up in it as if about to jump clear. But had he jumped? Had there been time, or had there had been no time to jump. The car had certainly gone over into the abyss—Tinker had seen that—and Blake must have gone with it!

In that event, from the framing of the rest of his thought, Tinker had to shrink. Again he braced himself. He must face whatever was in store for him. Sexton Blake had disappeared, was neither to be seen nor heard. He must be searched for and found. Heaven grant that when he was found it might not be too late!

"Pedro—Pedro!" Tinker cried out now, and turned to where he had last seen the bloodhound.

He got a second though milder shock. The dog was nowhere to be seen either, nor heard. Usually at the word of command he would come bounding forward. Now there was no sign nor sound of him.

This puzzled Tinker for a moment, but only for moment. The next he realised what had happened. Guided by some subtle instinct, the dog had gone to search for his master. Which way had he gone?

Tinker had not long to wait to learn that. Even while he strained his eyes this way and that in search of the dog—calling out his name every few seconds—he got light on the subject.

An answering bark reached him. It came from somewhere in the ravine! Not from that point of it that lay immediately beneath him, and which was where the car had hurtled over, but from some distance way to the right.

"Pedro—Pedro!" he yelled again, and this time the answering bark came from far down in the ravine, almost directly beneath him.

Not only that, but the barking was continuous, and had in it a note of alarm whose meaning Tinker at once guessed.

Pedro had found his master—had found him helpless, and was now giving voice to let Tinker know!

"All right, old boy, I'm coming!" he cried, for all the world as if Pedro was a human being.

He started along the sloping road to the right. From somewhere along there the bloodhound had found a way down. Perhaps the same way would serve his ends. He must see, anyway.

He had not to go far. Barely sixty yards along he found a slight break in the edge of the road. It marked a path which wound down the face of the precipice—not so steep here—and right down into the bed of the ravine.

Tinker's heart was in his mouth. Not on account of the dangerous path—for it was mightily dangerous on so dark a night—but on account of what was in his mind.

Sexton Blake—his beloved master—what had happened to him? Pedro had found him, he felt certain, and in a few minutes he would find him, too.

Heart and brain were too full of deadly fears. All he could do was to descend the perilous path with all speed, and then, turning to the left, hasten along the bed of the ravine towards the fateful spot from which by this time Pedro was sending forth a continual baying that sounded to Tinker's imaginative mind like a death knell!

An agony of suspense lasting three or four minutes, and then he reached the spot towards which he had toiled.

It was Pedro who gave him the first intimation of this. With alternative barks and piteous whines, he came forward to meet him, then turned to lead him to the spot.

In the gloom, Tinker could see only a tangled mass. Switching on his torch, he saw a sight that stabbed him like a knife. Amid a jumble of boulders—some loose, some fixed in the ravine's bed—lay the car. It was a sheer wreck, parts of it smashed to fragments, others twisted and contorted. The bonnet was a flattened, shapeless thing, the engine a silent ruin of pulverised fragments!

But Sexton Blake—where was he? That was the one all-absorbing question to which he sought an answer. It was the bloodhound who provided the answer.

Even while Tinker gazed aghast at the smashed car, Pedro was trying to force his way in among the wreckage. His tearing and scratching drew Tinker's attention that way. Scrambling over a big boulder he came to where the dog was, and flashed his torch again.

At once he saw—saw a sight which froze his blood! Right amid the debris, sprawled out between the splintered hood and the twisted chassis, was a human form—Sexton Blake!

He was lying on his breast, with his face slightly turned away, and his head a little raised, amid a heap of the car's cushions and tumbled leather upholstery.

Even at that early stage Tinker felt thankful that these things had in some measure broken Blake's fall and prevented him coming into direct contact with the rocks. Also, that a section of the car's upper part had been held clear of the detective's head by the peculiar position of the brass rods belonging to the hood.

The realisation of these circumstances lightened Tinker's heart a little. Previously he had been horribly oppressed by the fear that Blake would be dead! How could he escape death after such a plunge into space? Hitherto he had thought that nothing short of a miracle could save him.

Now the miracle seemed to have happened, or something like it. His falling among the cushions and massed upholstery, and the warding off of falling debris by the curious position of the brass rods, were surely a dispensation of Providence almost amounting to a miracle!

With hope rising in his grateful heart, Tinker set to at once to rescue his master from amid the wreckage.

Ten minutes of hauling and lifting, and he had cleared away sufficient of the debris to enable him to crawl through to where Blake was.

Gently lifting him, he turned him over on his back, and with his torch fixed in a niche he gazed on his face.

It was very white—deathly white almost—and he lay very still. But he was not dead. Although unconscious, he was still breathing. Tinker was able to detect that almost at once, and he got to work in an endeavour to bring him back to his senses.

Usually he carried an emergency flask with him, but the fact that he hadn't it with him now filled him with chagrin. This was short-lived, however, for an thrusting his fingers into the detective's pockets he found a phial containing some small glass globes. He recognised them at once as containing a certain chemical which was among the most powerful restoratives known to medical science. Blake had of late carried them about with him, and Tinker knew their use perfectly, having seen the detective administer them to other people.

Taking once of the tiny globes from the phial, therefore, he wrapped it in his handkerchief and crushed it. Averting his own face to avoid getting the potent fumes, he clapped it over the unconscious Blake's mouth and nose, and held it there for the space of a few seconds.

These globules were a recent discovery. Blake had obtained them in Vienna, while attending a great international medical conference there. They represented the latest and greatest discovery in the way of respiratory and cardiac restoratives, and were deemed to be a great advance on anything hitherto used.

In this instance their effect was truly wonderful. Some half-dozen instinctive inhalations—for Blake was not breathing consciously—and there came an astonishing stimulation of heart and lungs.

Within thirty seconds of Tinker's withdrawing the handkerchief, a tinge of colour stole back into Blake's cheeks, while a few seconds later he opened his eyes.

"Hallo, Tinker, old lad!" came in a faint murmur.

Tinker took his hand in a comforting grip.

"Dear old guv'nor!"

"What has happened? I—I can't quite recall." Tinker told him. Blake nodded his head slowly. "Ah, yes, I remember now. The car."

"Something went wrong with it, guv."

"Something was made to go wrong with it, laddie—while we were in the bungalow. Somebody must have done something. Weakened the wheel—filed the hub—or something."

"But—"

"That wheel would never have spun off like that unless. It struck me directly I saw it."

"Who could have—"

"Remember how Pedro behaved. Went mad with excitement. I felt sure that meant somebody had been about."

"But we decided that must have been Luke Samways in the afternoon."

"We were wrong. Must have been somebody later. While we were inside the bungalow. Trail must have led beyond Samways' cottage. We ought to have tried further—"

Blake broke off suddenly. He had spoken jerkily all through. Now he began to pant for breath and to go pale again.

"You're feeling bad, guv?"

"My side. Hurts a bit. Ribs bruised. Lucky to get off with that. Wonder I wasn't killed outright after such a fall. Wonder I came to so quickly."

"That was this stuff, I expect, sir," Tinker said, showing the phial.

"Ah, you found that in my pocket! Amyl compound. You gave me one?"

"Yes, and it brought you round in no time."

"They're wonderful for that. Only the effect wears off so soon. They let you down again, and—I feel queerish again, laddie!" Blake broke off. His hand had gone to his side, his face had gone deadly pale again. He had swooned!


CHAPTER 15.
A Sinister Silhouette!

TINKER gazed at the white face and still form in agonised dismay. The fainting had come suddenly, and he had nothing else handy in the way of a restorative. Nor dare he leave Blake's side to get help.

Yet help must be obtained. He must be carried to a house of shelter, and a doctor must be got to him. How could he bring such help?

In his extremity his thoughts worked like lightning. He remembered that Blake had a police whistle in his pocket. In an instant he had fished it out and risen to his feet.

A moment after, and the whole ravine was echoing to the sound of the shrill blasts he was blowing on it. Blast after blast he blew till the whole air was full of the startling sound!

Hardly had these echoes died away than there came another sound that filled Tinker with alarm!

It manifested itself at first by a mysterious rumble from somewhere high up the precipice. Tinker's glance flew upward in a second, but in the darkness he could see nothing.

But in three seconds he knew what it meant. The rumbling came closer, growing in volume as it came, and taking on the sound of some heavy mass, alternately bumping against limestone projections, and tearing through the stiff and scrubby bushes that grew against the cliff's face. Then:

Crash!

It was the fall of a ponderous boulder as it thundered on to the rocky bed of the ravine, and smashed itself into fifty flying fragments like an exploding shrapnel shell!

The fall came within eight yards of where they were, while a chunk of stone narrowly missed Tinker's head as it hurtled through the air.

Following the first shock of alarm, Tinker's first thought was one of profound thankfulness that he had placed Blake beneath an overhanging ridge of rock which completely sheltered him from any such accident.

It must be an accident, of course? The boulder must have been loosened by the motor-car as it slithered over the edge.

That was Tinker's thought for a moment. The next he knew that he was wrong—that it was no accident! For, in that next moment, came another hurtling rock, to be followed by a perfect fusillade like an avalanche! Smash—crash—smash—crash!

To right and left of him the descending boulders fell, splintering into a hundred heavy missiles, and filling all the air with chalky dust and dangerous chips! One great lump fell plump upon the overhanging rock beneath which Blake was lying, but the protecting roof easily withstood the onslaught and saved him from harm!

But the nearness of the peril filled Tinker with the greatest alarm! Blake was safe where he was from such a bombardment, and he himself had so far escaped hurt, but how long would he do so?

For this was no accident surely! It was being deliberately done! Enemies were at work high overhead! Enemies who, knowing Blake was there, were using these diabolical means to put paid to his account!

Who were they? Was it possible to see? He must try!

Whispering to Pedro to follow him, he made a sudden dash across the ravine. Reaching the other side, he found a narrow crevasse that penetrated steeply into the opposing hillside.

Scrambling some twenty feet up this, he reached a point from where he could see the top edge of the precipice from which the avalanche of rocks had been hurled, and over which the car had plunged. Something at that moment favoured his intention. The bank of backing cloud broke, and the moon peeped out to light up the top edge of the precipice!

Against that clear edge and plainly silhouetted against the skyline, he saw a figure! The figure of a man stooping down, and pressing with all his might against a huge boulder!

Over the edge it came! Down—down the cliff it hurtled, bumping against projections and tearing through scrubby bushes! Then smash—crash—smash—crash, as before, and another shower of flying fragments as before!

Another cloud of chalky dust, too, which shut out Tinker's sight of that sinister figure high up on the cliff-top. When it had cleared away, the figure was no more to be seen!

With all his blood on fire now, Tinker once more took out his police whistle and blew blast after blast upon it. Once more it awoke the echoes, but this time they were not the only sounds that came in answer!

For along the bed of the ravine came hurrying footsteps, and in the midst of them a sonorous shout:

"All right, all right—we're coming!"

A minute later they had come—Constable Stack and half a dozen quarrymen from Dentwhistle. In that quiet district the blasts of the police whistle had penetrated right to the village.

Locating the sounds as coming from Vyebury "Fault," (and divining some sort of accident over the edge), the constable had hastily got together a band of volunteers, and had set out to render aid by the nearest way, namely along the rough bed of the ravine itself.


CHAPTER 16.
Tinker on the Trail.

TINKER sat alone deeply depressed. The time was rather more than an hour later; the scene, a room at the Quarrymen's Rest—the little old wayside inn at Dentwhistle.

In an adjacent room Sexton Blake lay in bed. Thither he had been carried, on a hurdle for stretcher, by the constable and his helpers; while Dr. Alford, who lived at the other end of the village, had been immediately sent for.

On examining the detective, he was in nowise surprised to hear that Blake had complained of pain in his side, when he discovered that two of his ribs were broken! This injury, added to the severe shock to his nerve centres from that terrible plunge in the car over the precipice, was also responsible for his second swoon.

"Lucky to get off with that!" he had declared. "The marvel is that he wasn't killed outright!"

Tinker himself had of course already thought that, but it was cold comfort at the best. When, in response to his further questions, the doctor told him that it might be several hours before the detective came back to consciousness, and that it would certainly be several days before he would be able to get about again, it was not a bit surprising that Tinker should be weighed down with depression.

He tried to shake that off. He knew he must. There was pressing work to do. With Blake out of action, he must work double tides. He could do nothing by waiting at Blake's bedside. The doctor was kindness itself, and he was going to send in a nurse. He, Tinker, was therefore free to start on the work waiting to be done.

His most pressing job lay at the top of the cliffs. At the point where that unknown murderous ruffian had rolled those rocks over. He had scooted off suddenly at the second sound of the police whistle. He must try and track him.

"Come on, Pedro!" he said suddenly, and leapt up.

"We've got to try and track that scum who tried to kill the guv'nor!" he explained to the bloodhound as they set out in the darkness.

Clouds had obscured the moon again and the night was dark. That didn't matter much. He wasn't going to depend on sight. Pedro was to do the tracking by scent, if possible. Still, sight was to play an important part in it, as will presently be seen.

Leaving the village, Tinker followed the road they had gone in the car. As he tramped along with the bloodhound on the leash, his brain got busy with the events of the past few hours. Particularly with the few words Sexton Blake had spoken in that brief interval when he had come back to consciousness.

Foul play! He had suggested foul play!

Had there been? It looked like it. Such a sudden collapse of the car could hardly have come by any other means. That wheel had spun off in a way that truly suggested a partly-filed hub, just as the detective had said. Tinker wished now that he had searched for the wheel in the ravine to make sure. Amid all the anxiety about Blake, and the general excitement, he had forgotten that. Well, the wheel must be searched for later. The chief thing now was to track the man.

The spot where he had been was easy to find—ridiculously easy. Reaching a certain point along the road, close to where the car had gone over, Tinker found his tracks in abundance!

In such abundance that Tinker, trying his master's methods, deduced that the villain wasn't a practised crook, but an amateur at the game.

His boot tracks were everywhere, in the soft grass patch, and on the bare chalky places nearer the edge of the chasm. Boot-prints with odd characteristics! For while the left foot showed as a whole with great distinctness, the right foot was never imprinted in that way. Only the tracks of the toe of it, here and there! The actual toe print in the grassy places, and the scratch of the toe-piece in the chalk!

And what were these other strange marks that accompanied the boot-prints everywhere almost? Round, deep-dented marks that might have been made by a stick upon which the man had pressed with all his weight. Not an ordinary walking stick—too thick. More like a broomstick. Why had the man carried such a thing as a broomstick with him?

As a lever perhaps? He may have used it to work the boulders free, and to lever them over as he pursued his murderous job?

That was the ready explanation Tinker found for the curious marks. But he didn't bother much about that side of the question. His chief concern was to follow the man wherever he had gone, and these curious marks might help in the tracking.

He had found a spot where the man had lain full stretch, evidently to peer over the edge, and here he began his task. He called Pedro to the spot, and bade him take his fill of whatever scent might be there.

That the bloodhound knew what was meant, and that he got what he wanted from his sniffing, became plain. In ten seconds he was bristling with excitement. Then, with tail on the quiver and standing straight out, he backed from the cliff edge and began circling about. After a few seconds of this he turned to the left, and began to amble along the road back towards the village.

"Stuck it!" was Tinker's inward exclamation, and turned to follow the bloodhound.

For nearly half a mile he followed the trail without a hitch. Then came the first check. It was at a junction of roads. One branch led on to the village, the other turned off towards the great limestone quarries.

Here the man seemed to have hesitated. His tracks were all about. That definite left boot and that indefinite right boot, with only the toe showing. And here also, with only the toe showing. And here also, as on the clifftop, the marks of that everlasting broomstick! Oh, yes, the man must be the veriest amateur at the game! No real professional crook would have left his trade mark all about in this fashion!

The check lasted but a few seconds. Then Pedro was off again. He had forsaken the main road, and was taking the side way—the trolley road leading towards the quarries. And here again in the chalky surface were the tell-tale marks in plenty of boots and "broomstick," to confirm as correct the choice the bloodhound had made.

Tinker was able to see this by the light of the moon, which now and then was breaking through the clouds again. If the man had used the broomstick as a lever for the rocks, why then should he have carried the betraying thing so far? Why also should the marks of it be so plentiful? As plentiful as an ordinary walking-stick would have been, yet surely far less convenient to carry. And, come to think of it, judging from the end, what an extra thick broomstick it seemed to be!

The trolley-track led to one of the slopes leading right down into the quarry bed; but, arrived at that point, the bloodhound did not pursue it any further.

Instead, he took a narrow footpath which ran like a strip of white tape along the top of the quarry and only a few feet from the edge. Here again the marks of boots were occasionally apparent where the chalk was soft, and always near to them those other marks of the stout broomstick.

After traversing the full length of the rim of the quarries, the path suddenly turned away into a slight dip, and led straight towards a small solitary house.

Luke Samway's cottage! Tinker had, of course, been there before with Blake earlier that night, and recognised it in a moment.

Pedro was making straight for the door! No, he wasn't. Within fifteen paces of the door, and just inside a fence built of slabs of chalk and wooden piles, which enclosed a space half yard, half garden, the dog turned aside from the house and ambled towards a shed standing on the farther side.

Straight for this he made—straight for the door of the shed without a second's hesitation. The door was closed, and in a moment the bloodhound's paws were scratching on its panels with the fierce energy of impatience to pass through!

Tinker stopped him at that in an instant. The sound of the scratching might betray their presence, and that was the last thing he wanted.

In silence he paused a moment. He looked towards the cottage. There was a light inside the room he guessed to be the sitting-room. No appreciable sound came from it. No sound came from the garden, either. Plainly the night watchman and his wife were safe indoors, and nobody else seemed to be about.

Out went his hand to the latch. The shed door was unlocked, and opened inwards to his push. He passed inside—Pedro going with him—and closed the door softly behind him.

Pedro had rushed past him to the further side of the shed.

His heavy snuffling came across the darkness to Tinker's ears. An eager snuffling telling of the end of his quest—of a "find"!

What had he found? Tinker switched on his torch. In a second he saw.

A stout crutch was hanging from two close-set nails in the wall. Its base was shod with a rubber ferrule and was covered with moist chalk and other soil, and it was at this that Pedro was snuffling so excitedly!

But only for a moment now that it had been shown to Tinker. Then the dog turned aside, and sniffed across the floor of the shed to the other side.

An old box stood there—a box without a lid, and half full of odds and ends. But it wasn't among these that the bloodhound started to rout. It was behind a space between the box and the wall.

Excitement marked him again at once, and Tinker went across. A flash of his torch, and he saw the cause of this fresh agitation.

A pair of boots! Not a real pair, but two boots striking in their oddity! One was of ordinary type, but the other was a surgical boot, with a sole some four or five inches thick!

The toe of this was similarly covered with white moist chalk, as was the whole sole of the other boot!

In a moment Tinker knew the meaning. Luke Samways was a cripple. One leg was shorter than the other. These were his boots.


CHAPTER 17.
Tinker's Deductions.

TINKER caught his breath. That last thought carried with it so many implications. His brain, all afire now, beat back on them step by step.

Those boots belonged to Luke Samways for certain. So did the crutch. The crutch was the "broomstick." That was certain, too. The moist chalk on the ferrule proved it. Besides, come to think of it, a broomstick would never have been carried so consistently like a staff as to make marks beside the boot-prints with such unfailing regularity. But a crutch would—must inevitably—make such marks wherever the crippled carrier of it went.

It followed, then, that it must be Samways whom he had been tracking! Granting that premiss, it must be Samways who had hurled those rocks over the ridge! That meant that he had tried to kill Sexton Blake and him—Tinker—too, for that matter!

Beating still further back, Tinker's reason told him that Samways must have known that Blake and he were down in the ravine—the exact spot—since it would have been utterly impossible for anybody to identify faces or figures from above.

That meant, then, that Samways must have engineered the "accident" to the car! It must have been he who had tampered with the wheel! He could not, of course, have guaranteed where the "accident" would take place, but he would know that the car must collapse soon, and probably by going ahead along the road before the car started, he had actually been a witness of the collapse and the plunge over the cliff!

Anyway, he had engineered it! Come to thing of it, who more likely! He lived close to the green bungalow. While Blake and he were inside he could easily come up to where they had parked the car, and do his foul work unheard and unseen.

Then again, hadn't their first trail led straight to his cottage? It was true that on their visit then Luke Samways had been at home. But what of that? He might have started out directly they had gone, and by some short cut through the quarries still have been a witness of the "accident" which he had foully planned from a distance off.

Having got so far in his deductions, Tinker found his heart pumping hard with excitement. For what did these things portend? Other things of an equally, or even more terrible character!

Whence rose Samways' desire to kill Sexton Blake? Fear, surely! Fear of what? Detection in regard to some serious crime already committed?

Great heaven! Tinker felt his heart almost stop at this sudden thought! Was it possible that Samways had been concerned in the first mystery—the murder of Richard Sharron?

Tinker suddenly shook himself. He felt he was getting out of his depth. The swift current of events and the deductions arising out of them had swept him into deep waters. Much more of it and he would be engulfed. He decided to see Blake first.

He must go before Samways should chance to come out of his cottage and find him there.

Without waiting any longer, Tinker pulled the door of the shed softly after him, and hurried away back to the village.

Reaching the Quarrymen's Rest, he led Pedro through a back door which he had used before, and made for the staircase leading to the bed-room in which Sexton Blake was.

The passage from the door to the foot of the staircase led past the inn snuggery, the door of which now stood partly open.

As he passed this he saw that the room was full of people, the usual collection of quarrymen and other villagers, and one or two strangers in addition. The sound of a familiar voice pulled him up suddenly, and from a point in the dark passage from where he could see without being seen, he stared in at the man whose voice had arrested him.

It was Luke Samways!

He was drinking spirits from a steaming glass, and it was plain from his face and husky, incoherent voice that he had already imbibed far more than was good for him.

This was a double surprise. First, to see Samways there at all; second, to find him in such a condition of advanced inebriety. To have got to that state must have taken time, and he couldn't surely have been there long?

Going slowly and silently up the stairs, Tinker thought out the possible explanation. The night-watchman must have been drinking before setting out for the ridge road. (That would account for his carelessness as to his tracks.) Then, having returned to his own cottage, he must have immediately made for the village inn after changing his boots and depositing the crutch in the outhouse. It seemed a little odd that he hadn't used his crutch for his second outing, but the journey being shorter, he probably didn't feel the need of it, but had contented himself with an ordinary stout walking-stick.

The fact that the suspected man was on those very premises only made Tinker the more eager to tell Blake what had happened, and the more anxious to consult him as to what was to be done. How he hoped that the detective might have sufficiently recovered for this purpose!

But in this he was disappointed. Sexton Blake was still unconscious, no better and no worse than when he had left him two hours before. The nurse whom Dr. Alford had sent for from Lummingstall, told him that.

"He's not likely to come to for some hours," she informed him. "In addition to the broken ribs, the doctor thinks he must have met with some internal injury that's affected his brain." The ominous words made Tinker jump.

"No, I don't mean anything serious to the brain," the nurse explained hastily, "but enough to keep him unconscious for a time. Sleep is the best thing for him. As the doctor says, when he does wake up he'll probably be all right. Except for his broken ribs, of course. They'll take some little time to get right."

With that Tinker had necessarily to remain content. However much he wanted to consult Blake, it couldn't be done. He must needs wait till the detective was well enough before confiding to anybody the details of what had happened that night.

"I'll wait till the morning, anyway," Tinker decided. "The delay won't matter much. The guv'nor may be better to-morrow. If he is, I can tell him. If he isn't, I can decide whether to tell the inspector."

Thinking thus, he went to bed and tried to compose himself to sleep. He was about to drop off when he was rudely awakened by voices outside.

It was closing time, and the revellers had been turned out. Loudest among the boisterous voices was Luke Samways. He was loudly protesting that he was "all ri'" and could walk alone, but with such vehemence and thickness of utterance as belied his words.

Jumping out of bed and looking out of his dark window, Tinker beheld him. In the glow of the inn lamp he could see his contorted face and bleared eyes, and could tell that he was helplessly drunk.

He was being persuaded to go home quietly, and the last Tinker saw of him was his being led by two labouring men along the dark lane leading to his lonely cottage on the moor.


CHAPTER 18.
Inspector Yarrow on the Warpath!

INSPECTOR YARROW was a very efficient officer. Of the plodding, methodical sort, he never allowed the grass to grow under his feet, but kept on in the way he had mapped out for himself in his own stolid way.

While at this stage he never wavered in his belief in John Wilson's guilt, circumstances had forced him to the belief that there was a "second man in it."

The chief of those circumstances were the finger-prints found on the dead man's throat. Discovering that they were not Wilson's finger-prints, he had modified his theory about the murder to this extent.

While still holding to the idea that Wilson had played a leading part—perhaps had actually fired the bullet which had entered Richard Sharron's thigh—he was forced to believe that a second man had done the choking.

Who was that second man? Some other tramp, an associate of Wilson's? A second vagabond, who, with Wilson, had planned to burgle the green bungalow, and had been spurred on to greater crime by the turn of events?

That seemed the most likely theory, but it did not exclude from the inspector's mind other possibilities. It was quite likely that some local man, some ne'er-do-well with whom Wilson had struck up an acquaintance, might have taken a hand in the terrible crime.

With his mind thus inclined, it will be easily understood how eager he was to lend a ready ear to anybody able to give him any information on this point.

Thus, when Tinker motored over to see him at Lummingstall the next morning—he had hired another car for this purpose—he welcomed him with open arms.

This visit followed on a decision by Tinker, on finding still no change in Sexton Blake, to confide to the police-inspector his adventures of last night.

Yarrow listened in amazement.

"I'm not a bit surprised to hear this about Luke Samways. I've always had it at the back of my head that he might be in it."

"You mean in the murder of Mr. Sharron?" exclaimed Tinker, not trying to hide his surprise.

"Sure! I told Mr. Blake almost from the start that there was a second man in it." Tinker let this exaggeration pass without comment.

"Seems to me there must be more than a second man in it. A whole gang, I should reckon, considering all the things that have happened."

"Well, it may be so," said Yarrow loftily. "I haven't had much chance of probing into John Wilson's past yet. When I do, I shan't be surprised to find he's an old hand—a habitual crook. That being so, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that he'd got some of his pals to lend him a hand."

"In the murder, do you mean?"

"No. I don't think there were more than two in that, and Samways may well have been the other." It was almost amusing to watch Yarrow behaving as if he had suspected the night-watchman from the very start. "The gang wouldn't come in till they found that Wilson was in trouble. Then they'd try and get him out of it. That's the most natural thing in the world."

Tinker didn't comment on this either. He might well have done. More confused thinking than the local police-officer was indulging in would have been difficult to find. For he seemed to forget—which Tinker didn't—that Sexton Blake had been working on John Wilson's behalf, and that therefore it was wildly improbable that any "crook pals" of his would set themselves to attack the man who was trying to prove him innocent. But Tinker couldn't hope to rescue Yarrow from this morass of muddled thought, so must leave him to wallow in it for the time being.

Cutting further cackle he got to the "hosses" by saying:

"As to Luke Samways, what are you going to do about it? Arrest him?"

"Not yet. I must watch him first to get more evidence. I shall put a plain-clothes man on to shadow him for a bit. Then if I get any information, I shall act according."

Tinker left it at that. It was all he wanted. Pending Sexton Blake's recovery to direct operations, he preferred this shadowing to an actual arrest which might prove premature. He knew how Blake was always against precipitate action, and always believed in giving a criminal sufficient rope to make sure of hanging him. In this case, that phrase would have a literal as well as a figurative mean, Tinker thought grimly.

* * * * *

With Tinker gone, Inspector Yarrow got to work. Having, so to speak, got his teeth into the possibility of Samways being involved in the murder—as certainly he seemed to be in the attack on Blake—he proceeded to chew and digest it.

The result was that he quickly persuaded himself that Samways was in it—in the whole plot! More, he almost persuaded himself that this belief was not merely the outcome of what Tinker had told him, but that he had suspected the night-watchman's complicity from the start!

In this frame of mind he set to work, and it was not many minutes after Tinker's departure before a plain-clothes police-officer was on his way to Dentwhistle, with instructions to keep an eye on the neighbourhood generally, and on Luke Samways in particular.

That fixed up, Yarrow went out to conduct certain inquiries on his own, not only in and about Lummingstall, but by means of telephone and other messages, in more distant parts of the neighbourhood.

Thus he passed the greater part of the day. If he did not glean much helpful information, he certainly remained full of hope that eventually he would do so.

And he indulged in a lot of dreaming! Always ambitious, he began now to swell with a desire to win promotion by solving this complex mystery of the murder and the after events.

It was the first time in his official career that such a big thing had come his way. Certainly it was the first time he had ever found himself associated in a case with such a big man as Sexton Blake.

And now he was! Not so much associated with him, as pitted against him! Yes, actually that, since Blake had been retained to clear from the murder charges the man who he—Yarrow— had arrested.

Returning to headquarters at Lummingstall after dark that evening, he found a small package on his desk in the office. It was addressed to him, tied up with string, and rather elaborately sealed with dabs of red wax. It was addressed to him personally, and was "registered."

"Came by the six o'clock post, sir!" explained the constable who had taken it in.

Yarrow tweaked through the string with his penknife, and opened the parcel. Instantly his eyes stretched wide with astonishment, while from his throat gurgled the words to himself:

"Sexton Blake's wallet!"


CHAPTER 19.
A Bombshell for Blake!

NO mistake about that. The first glance proved it. Inside the flap of the brown leather thing were the initials "S.B." Moreover, a half-sheet of writing-paper contained these words:

"Enclosed is the wallet advertised on handbills. It was picked up by the sender among some straw in Lummingstall market-place. Contents returned as found."

That was all. No name, no address! No sort of claim of the reward offered! The anonymous message was in printed characters, as was the address on the postal wrapper.

Returned anonymously! That was queer. What did it mean?

Although Yarrow asked himself that question, he didn't waste time speculating on it. He was too eager to know if the contents were indeed intact, as the message said. Not knowing exactly what the wallet contained at the time Blake lost it, he would not be able to check this.

But he knew of two things it had contained. Bullets?

Sexton Blake had mentioned bullets. Yes, and here they were—two exploded, flattened things!

And the paper—the affidavit! The document by means of which Sexton Blake had tricked Mr. Dolby into giving his finger-prints. Yes, that was there, too, finger-prints and all!

This was an important thing—this recovery of the wallet. Not on account of the finger-prints, for, of course, Mr. Dolby could have had nothing to do with the murder—even to suggest such a things was absurd!—but on account of the other things which the wallet contained. The bullets, for example. They were connected with some other case which Blake had in hand, and formed an important link in his chain of evidence. There were other private documents, too, the loss of which had made him anxious to get the wallet back. Oh, yes, it was an important recovery, and Sexton Blake would be intensely glad to hear the wallet had been regained.

Inspector Yarrow therefore went to the telephone and rang up the exchange. In a minute he had got through to the Quarryman's Rest at Dentwhistle. Another minute, and he was talking to Tinker at the other end.

"How's Mr. Blake—well enough to speak to me?" he asked.

"Sorry, he isn't, inspector. He's still unchanged. Still unconscious!" replied Tinker.

"H'm, I'm sorry to hear it. I hoped he'd be well enough to hear what I'd got to tell him!"

"You've had news? Anything important?"

"Not as bearing on the murder mystery. But important to Mr. Blake! His wallet has turned up!"

"By Jove, has it, though? How did you get it?"

Yarrow explained over the wire, adding: "He'll be glad to hear about it, I'm sure."

"He certainly will. I'll tell him directly he's able to understand. About those finger-prints on the bogus affidavit. Done anything about 'em yet?"

"No; I've hardly looked at them. What is there to do about them?"

"Well, I didn't know whether you'd compared 'em with those others." Inspector Yarrow's reply came back in withering tones.

"Not much use doing that! I don't know what was in Mr. Blake's mind when he went to all that trouble to get them. Struck me as an absolute waste of time. Will you come over for the wallet?"

"I can't to-night. The doctor says the guv'nor may come back to his senses any time now. I want to be about when he does. I'll tell him about the wallet at the first opportunity. That'll ease his mind. Meantime, if you'll please keep it till I can come to Lummingstall, I'll be glad."

"Very well, I'll lock it up in my safe!"

* * * * *

That is what Yarrow started to do directly he had hung up the receiver. But he didn't do it!

Halfway across the room to the safe he suddenly halted with the affidavit in his hand.

Why shouldn't he examine those finger-prints? Nothing in it, of course, seeing they belonged to Mr. Nicholas Dolby. He was a highly-reputable professional gentleman—one of Lummingstall's leading townsmen. It was an insult to suspect him, it was an insult even to have taken his finger-prints.

Still, thought Yarrow, he might as well just take a look at them out of curiosity.

Yes, he would examine them, so that when Blake did ask him such a question, he would be able definitely to answer him; able to tell him straight out that the finger-prints bore no resemblance to those found on the murdered man's throat; that it was utterly and absolutely ridiculous ever to have supposed that they would resemble them!

He returned to his seat. He opened a drawer of his desk and took out the photograph of the finger-prints found on the murdered man's throat, and also a big, round magnifying-glass.

A second or two later, and he started on the task of comparing one set of finger-prints with the other.

He studied them for two or three minutes in a casual, almost careless way. Then something suddenly riveted his attention. It made him apply himself to his task with closer interest. Much closer interest! His eyes stretched wide—then wider.

Then he positively leapt from his seat with such a look in his eyes as told of the greatest inward excitement!

* * * * *

As Tinker had said over the telephone, the invalid was expected to return to consciousness at any time now. Dr. Alford, who had been in and out at every opportunity during the day, had noted the favourable signs, and had foretold a happy issue out of them.

One of the most important signs was that Blake's sleep had become more natural and, as a consequence, pulse and heartbeat had become more normal.

The knitting up of the broken ribs, which had been surgically set, would naturally take time, and would necessitate Blake's being bandaged for a week or two. But the feared injury to his head had proved to be but slight, and, with sleep putting this right, there was no reason why the patient should not soon come back to his senses and be reasonably well when he did at last wake up.

It was chiefly because Tinker wished to be close at hand when this desired state of things should come about that made him disinclined to go over to Lummingstall that night. Otherwise he would certainly have motored over to get possession of the wallet.

As it happened, he might safely have done so, for it was many hours before Blake did at last come to—the early hours of the morning, in fact.

But when he did it was well worth waiting for. Because Blake woke up wonderfully well! Leaving out his broken ribs—and the pain from these was greatly diminished by now—he was practically himself again. His brain was quite clear, and his voice was fairly strong as he greeted the delighted Tinker.

Not that he, or Tinker either, said much during the first few minutes. Emotion gripped them too tightly for talk—emotion born of gratitude for mercies vouchsafed. The thoughts filled both of them of how much worse things might have been.

But with these first few emotional minutes over, Blake expressed his willingness to talk, and to hear from Tinker all that had occurred since the frightful moment when the car had collapsed and hurtled over into that dreadful chasm.

"It's wasn't an accident, guv'nor," Tinker told him. "It was part of a diabolical plot to get rid of you!"

Blake nodded his head.

"As I thought!"

"And as you said when you came to for a moment. I soon found out that it was so!"

"How, laddie, how?"

"A few minutes after, when a vile scoundrel started shoving rocks over the cliff! You might have been killed, only luckily you were well protected by a great boulder!"

"Gee! Who could the murderous cur have been?"

"I found that out. With Pedro's help I tracked him. Who do you think it was?"

"I won't try to guess. Tell me!"

"It was Luke Samways!"

"Luke Samways!" Blake's voice drew out the repeated name in a long, incredulous echo. "Surely not! It's impossible!"

"It isn't, guv! It's true. I tracked him. I've proof!"

"I—I can't believe it. Old Luke Samways! It sounds incredible. But tell me about your proofs! Tell me all—every detail!"

Tinker did so. He told him of the crutch tracks, of the odd boot tracks; of the discovery in the outhouse of the chalky boots and the chalky crutch. He finished by telling of Samways' drunken carousal at the Quarrymen's Rest.

Sexton Blake listened intently. Time after time he shook his head as if in doubt, yet how could he ignore all this evidence which Tinker had piled up.

"You have done well, laddie," was his first comment when Tinker had finished. "Luke Samways! Of all people to be mixed up in a vile plot like this, I should have said he was about the last. It seems almost impossible to believe it!"

"How can you do anything else, guv, after what I've told you?"

"Oh, I know, laddie, I know. Don't misunderstand me. You've done well—extremely well. You've discovered things that make it look as if he must be guilty. Yet—yet—you must forgive me—but I'm bound to say I can hardly believe he is guilty!"

"But how can he be other than guilty?"

Whatever Blake might have said was left unsaid. An interruption came. The bed-room door opened, and Dr. Alford entered. Usually calmness itself, he was now plainly agitated. "Why, doctor, what's—"

"Haven't you heard the news—the terrible news—about Mr. Nicholas Dolby?"

"No. What about him?"

"He's been arrested?"

"Good heavens!"

"Yes. Inspector Yarrow arrested him at my house an hour ago, on the charge of murdering Richard Sharron!"


CHAPTER 20.
Still Another Arrest!

A BOMBSHELL bursting in the room could hardly have surprised Sexton Blake more. "Why's Yarrow done it?" he asked in amazement. "What evidence has he got?"

"Plenty, apparently," answered the agitated doctor. "Enough to hang him, he told me!"

"But what is it? What's the nature of it?"

"That I don't know, Mr. Blake. I only saw Yarrow for a minute, and naturally he wouldn't say much. But he may call and see presently, especially as I told him you'd come back to consciousness."

"And he's still in the village, then?"

"He said he was going to be for a bit. From something he said, I fancy he's going to arrest a second man as well!"

"A second man! Who on earth can that be? What game's he playing at?" Blake was frowning, and spoke angrily. "I do hope he's not going to spoil things by making premature arrests!"

"You think the arrest of Nicholas Dolby is premature?" asked the doctor with some eagerness, for the apprehension of the man who had been his guest for the last few days had shocked him considerably, and he would willingly have believed him innocent.

"I don't know what evidence Yarrow has, but I should have said so!"

"You don't think Dolby killed Mr. Sharron?"

"I should have said not—but again, I don't know what Yarrow may have discovered since I was placed hors de combat. Where is Dolby now?"

"In the village lock-up for the time being. I gathered that when the second arrest had been made, the two prisoners would be taken over to Lummingstall."

"Who can the second man be?" queried Blake again.

The answer came from Tinker. A noise outside in the village street had drawn him to the window, and he was looking out. "Gee-whiz, it's Luke Samways!" he exclaimed.

"What do you mean, laddie?"

"Samways is the second man! They've got him down there—in the street! He's handcuffed! They're taking him along to the village lock-up!"

Blake tried to rise up in his excitement, but the doctor restrained him.

"I do hope Yarrow isn't going to mess up things. Is Yarrow in charge of him, laddie?"

"Yes, with a couple of constables. Samways is hobbling along between them."

"Then run after Yarrow, and ask him if he'll please look me up after he's caged his bird! Jingo! How I hope he's not caging the wrong birds! Hurry, Tinker."

Tinker was off like a shot. He was back in two or three minutes, with the news that Inspector Yarrow would call on him directly he'd arranged about the prisoners being conveyed to Lummingstall.

"He said he was coming in any case, sir. He'll be along in a few minutes."

Those few minutes were a time of suspense for Blake. The news seemed to have excited him greatly, and the waiting for details seemed to make him chafe so much that Dr. Alford felt compelled to interpose.

"I'm not sure, Mr. Blake, that I ought to allow you to go into this matter. Your temperature is quite high enough already, and if—"

"Don't put obstacles in my way, I beg you, doctor. I simply must see Yarrow and hear what has led up to these amazing arrests. I do hope he's not making a fool of himself over them, but I'm half afraid—"

He didn't finish his sentence. Steps on the stairs interrupted him. A tap came at the door, and to the doctor's "Come in!" Yarrow himself entered. He came straight across to Blake's bedside with a jaunty air.

"Heard you were better, Mr. Blake. Glad of it—very glad of it!"—and he took the patient's hand.

"Thanks, inspector. But what's all this I hear? You've been moving since I saw you last—during the last few hours."

"Ha, you've heard about it? The doctor's told you? Oh, yes, I should have told you about it if you'd been well enough. But as you were laid up, I couldn't. The time had come to strike, so I struck."

"Nicholas Dolby and Luke Samways, eh? You've taken them both?" said Blake with some dryness in his tone.

"You've got it. Surprised?"

"Very. Samways hadn't been thought of when I last saw you. If Dolby had, you'd ruled him right out!"

"So had you, Mr. Blake, so had you!" chortled Yarrow. "I still do! I don't believe for a moment that Dolby killed Richard Sharron!" Yarrow's eyes flashed a momentary resentment of the other's tone. Then his look changed to a triumphant grin.

"That's because you don't know what I know! Yet you ought to have known it first."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You were on the right track. That affidavit you faked up—the finger-prints on it!"

"Dolby's finger-prints? What about them?"

"They're the same as were found on the murdered man's throat!"

"Eh, what? What are you saying?" Blake sat up in his excitement.

"Identically the same." said Yarrow. "I've compared them with the photograph and—well, they're it! And I found something else on it, too!"

"Good heavens!" Blake's excitement was growing intensely. "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely positive! No doubt about it at all. Like to see for yourself? Here's your wallet, and here's the photo!"

Blake opened the wallet and took out the faked affidavit. His hands trembled violently as he unfolded it, proof position of the way the excitement had shaken his nerve centres.

With the document opened, he stared at it for one moment. Then, without any warning at all save one stifled moan, he slipped down on his pillow, the papers fluttering from his hand!

"Fainted!" The doctor had darted forward. Anger mingled with the concern on his face. "It's been too much for him in his weak state. I was afraid it would be. I warned him!"


CHAPTER 21.
Nicholas Dolby's Silence

THE earlier charge against John Wilson of murdering Mr. Sharron, had caused a great sensation in Lummingstall, as has already been made clear.

But that was as nothing compared to the sensation made the next morning when a second prisoner was placed in the dock and charged with the same offence. The stir that made among the inhabitants was nothing less than stupendous.

It was not to be wondered at considering the position. The prisoner who was now charged was no other than Nicholas Dolby, the dead man's partner. No ordinary partner either, but the man who had been made a partner by Sharron—itself an act which marked, so to say, the culminating kindness of one who had been Dolby's life-long friend.

Remembering that—the whole story was common knowledge—and remembering how Nicholas Dolby himself had always been the first to acknowledge Mr. Sharron's kindness to himself, and how he had never expressed himself in terms otherwise than of the deepest gratitude—remembering these things we say, it seemed altogether incredible that the grateful beneficiary should have killed his benefactor. The thing seemed so far to exceed belief as to stamp the charge on the part of the police as absurd—ludicrous—impossible!

This lack of belief increased the public curiosity, and they crowded the court to suffocation point in their desire to hear what possible justification the police could have for bringing such a ridiculous charge against one of their town's most highly-respected professional men.

They got more than one surprise. The first was Inspector Yarrow's confident air. Nothing suggestive of bluff about him. Only the manner of an efficient officer quite sure of his case—quite certain that he had got the right man!

Surprise the second was the demeanour of Nicholas Dolby. Instead of the clear-brained, alert man of law whom all had been accustomed to—for he himself had practised in that court quite a lot—he was utterly broken and dejected. Absolutely hang-dog!

Called upon to plead, he amazed not only magistrates and onlookers, but even Mr Gregg—one of his fellow-solicitors in Lummingstall who had been retained to defend him—by remaining utterly silent.

"Come, come, prisoner at the bar," urged the Clerk of the Court. "Answer the question. Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"

But still the prisoner kept silent—mute as an oyster. It was only after several whispered urgings by Mr. Gregg that Dolby nodded his head sullenly.

The defending solicitor turned to the bench.

"My client pleads 'Not Guilty!'" he said.

Naturally the plea was accepted, but it seemed strange that the prisoner had not made it himself, eagerly and emphatically. It created a bad impression, sowed the first seeds of prejudice against the accused man. As he sat in the dock with downcast eyes and woe-begone expression, even people who had refused to believe in the possibility of his guilt, began to wonder if....

But Mr. Gregg was speaking:

"In justice to my client," he was saying: "I think it should be explained that this terrible charge has come upon him with such surprise as to overwhelm him. Following on the recent death of the very old and dear friend whose loss he is mourning, the terribly ironical charge of compassing that death has come as an unspeakable shock. This has handicapped him greatly in instructing me. This places me at a great disadvantage in cross-examining witnesses, and therefore—"

Mr. Letbury, solicitor for the prosecution, rose with:

"Nothing will be done to handicap the prisoner's defence. No witnesses will be called to-day, except to give evidence of arrest. When that has been given, I shall ask for an adjournment."

"Very well," assented Mr. Gregg.

In the briefest possible way the prosecution solicitor then outlined the charge and called Inspector Yarrow. Standing in the witness-box, Inspector Yarrow said that, acting on information received, he had, early on the morning of the previous day, proceeded to the house of Dr. Alford at Dentwhistle where Nicholas Dolby was staying, and had then and there arrested him and charged him with the murder of Richard Sharron.

Up rose the defending lawyer.

"Did my client make any show of resistance?"

"Oh, no, sir."

"He consented to go quietly?"

"Quite, sir."

Mr. Gregg paused and bent over his papers. He was seemingly at a loss what else to ask, as he well might be. It was the prisoner himself who prompted him. He suddenly stood up and beckoned. It struck everybody, because it was the first and only time he seemed to rouse himself to take any interest in the proceedings.

Mr. Gregg bent towards him, and their heads remained together for a minute or two in whispered consultation. As a result, Mr. Gregg turned to the witness-box again and asked:

"Inspector Yarrow. You mentioned just now that in making this arrest you had acted on information received. May I ask what was the exact nature of that information?"

"I don't think I ought to answer that at this stage, sir."

"I think I am entitled to the information. I press for an answer!"

Here the prosecuting solicitor interposed:

"The information asked for will be given in evidence at a later hearing. My friend will then get it in the ordinary course. I respectfully submit, gentlemen"—this to the magistrates—"that it's against public policy to forestall what is to be sworn evidence, by anything in the nature of a casual statement."

"We uphold your objection," said the chairman, and Mr. Gregg had reluctantly to submit.

With the evidence of arrest completed by a constable being put into the box, Mr. Gregg said a little dismally:

"I reserve my further cross-examination." Up got Mr. Letbury again.

"That is as far as I wish to carry the case to-day, your worship. I ask for a remand of the prisoner in custody for seven days."

"Yes," nodded the chairman.

And that completed the hearing for that day. But not the excitement. As will now be seen, a small but most important thing was to happen.


CHAPTER 22.
The Man with the Flat Ear!

THE court was empty save for two people. Those two were Mr. Letbury and Inspector Yarrow. "The man's guilty sir. Apart from evidence, his face shows it!"

"Possibly," said Mr. Letbury. "I must admit the prisoner's look and demeanour were all against him. Still, we don't hang people on their faces. The public executioner would be kept pretty busy if we did. We must have evidence."

"And we've got it, sir," answered Yarrow. "Notice how eager Dolby was to know what it was?"

"I did. Nothing struck me more than his suddenly rousing up to ask about that. It struck me as strange—considering how deadly that evidence is—that he should ask about it, and demand to see it."

"So it did me, sir. Because those finger-prints are deadly. Once they are produced, it will prove beyond all doubt that he was the man who choked Richard Sharron to death!"

"Quite so—quite so. That is, of course—what I mean to say is—I suppose there's no doubt at all about the finger-prints being the same?"

"Good lor, no, sir! I've gone over them two or three times most carefully. There's not the smallest doubt. But would you like to see for yourself?"

"Yes. I shall have to see and compare them for myself before the adjourned hearing, so we may as well go through them together now. Where are the photographs and the bogus affidavits?"

"Among your papers, sir. You'll find them in the dossier I handed to you."

"Ah, yes! Let's have a look!" The solicitor drew out a sheaf of papers from a huge envelope, big enough to take foolscap without folding. "Here we are—the photograph, at any rate. The other will be—where is the other?"

He spoke that last words with some petulance. He had gone quickly through all the papers without finding the one he wanted. He went through them again—slower this time—and his brows knitted. "It isn't here!" he said. "You couldn't have given it to me!"

"But I did—I know I did, sir. With the others!" exclaimed the inspector. "It must be there. Let me look, I shall spot it at a glance, sir!" Yarrow didn't spot it at a glance. He didn't spot it at all. "It's gone, sir!" he gasped.

"Gone! But how could it go? I haven't budged from this seat! How can it have gone?"

"Can't say, sir." Yarrow looked almost distracted. "I only know I gave it you with the other papers, and now it's gone. Our strongest big of evidence—the clinching thing! It must have been stolen!"

"Stolen? Impossible! Why, and by whom?"

"What price the man with the flat ear?"

The last words came from the back of the court, and made them both swing round. It was no other than Tinker who had uttered them!

He was standing in the doorway of the court and apparently had just returned. For he had been present all through the brief hearing, but had gone out at the finish of it.

"Who are you?" demanded the solicitor sternly.

"Inspector Yarrow will tell you, sir," and the inspector did.

"Why, I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Tinker. Pleased to meet anybody so closely associated with the famous Mr. Sexton Blake. But what on earth did you mean by those words just now, about the man with the flat ear? Who's he?"

"The man who came and spoke to you just before the hearing began, Mr. Letbury."

The solicitor rubbed his chin in perplexity.

"I don't remember anybody—oh, yes, I do! A man came up to ask me something. A tall, thin, farmer-looking chap, with a hatchet face."

"And ferret eyes and a flat ear!" Tinker added.

"I didn't notice those things. But what about him? He's a farmer or something like that. He's got a dispute on about the sale of some farm implements, and wants to consult me about it. I told him to call at my office later on to-day. You don't think he had anything to do with taking that document?"

"It's gone, anyhow, and he was the only person who came near you. And I don't think he is a farmer!"

"Why not?"

"Well, I've seen him before for one thing."

"When—where?"

"Night before last. Over at Dentwhistle. He was standing drinks to Luke Samways with some other strangers."

"H'm. That may be queer. At the same time there may be nothing in it. He's to call on me at four o'clock this afternoon, so I shall be better able to judge then."

"If he calls. I rather doubt it."

"Why?"

"Because I think he's a fraud. He pitched that yarn about consulting you, so as to pinch that paper. I think he's one of the gang Mr. Blake's been after for some days."

Yarrow made a fidgety movement. This mention of a gang again rather irritated him, but he said nothing.

"I don't see why he shouldn't call on me," the solicitor said. "He seemed genuine enough."

"Don't think he will, sir, for another reason," asserted Tinker. "He's gone off in a car to Burnley."

"How do you know that?"

"Saw him start. I watched him from the moment I recognised him in court. That was when he moved up to speak to you. I watched him all the time, and followed him when he left the court. He joined some pals waiting with a big car near by, and I heard them tell the driver 'Burnley.'"

"Wonder you didn't follow if you were so suspicious," put in Yarrow.

"No need. Somebody else is following, Barry, one of the guv'nor's confidential men. He arrived here this morning. I wired for him directly I knew the guv'nor would be out of action for a time. Barry's gone after the car on a motor-bike, so we may hear more about 'em later."

Mr. Letbury looked thoughtful. He was impressed by what Tinker had told them, and he turned to Yarrow.

"Rather serious that, inspector?"

"Nothing like so serious as it might have been, sir," replied Yarrow.

"Why not?"

"Because I'd already established the fact that the finger-prints on it were identical with those found on the dead man's throat!"

"Ah, yes, I see what you mean. We can easily take Nicholas Dolby's finger-prints again, eh?"

"Just so, sir. And it's suggested a nice little dramatic coup which we can bring off at the next hearing. I'll tell you what I mean later on."

"Right, inspector. I must cut off now. If that farmer chap does turn up, I'll let you know."

"And I'll let you know if I get any news from Burnley," said Tinker. "I'm going over to the guv'nor at Dentwhistle now, I'll 'phone you from there."

Without further parley, Tinker hurried off. After a little more talk, Yarrow and Mr. Letbury also separated.

While the inspector was certainly disturbed by the incident, since it suggested enemies working actively against him, the loss of the actual document did not greatly worry him.

He had had plenty of opportunity to examine it and compare the finger-prints thereon with those found on the throat of the murdered man. He had so compared them, and he had established beyond all doubt, that the finger-prints were the same. Therefore, since the document had served its purpose, its loss did not greatly matter. The theft of it had come too late to save Nicholas Dolby from the incriminating evidence—the absolutely deadly evidence—it contained.

To anybody calmly reviewing the course of recent events, it would have seemed rather more than strange, that since the document had been successfully filched from Sexton Blake's pocket, it should have been returned to Inspector Yarrow, and so allowed him to establish that deadly evidence. The second robbery of the document indicated a desire of the enemy to keep it out of the possession of the police. That was not to be wondered at. But why should it have been returned after the first robbery? That was a problem that baffled Yarrow altogether. It took him so completely out of his depth that he jibbed at wading in to consider it at all.

He resolved to waive all the puzzling side issues and tangled details, and to keep to the main question. Sexton Blake had cleverly obtained Dolby's finger-prints on that bogus affidavit, while he, Yarrow, had discovered that the finger-prints on the document tallied in every detail with the finger-prints found on the dead man's throat.

That meant that it was Dolby who had killed Richard Sharron. It was proof of his guilt which nothing could shake.


CHAPTER 23.
Inspector Yarrow's Coup Goes Wrong!

A FULL week had passed and the day for the adjourned hearing had come.

For Tinker that week had been a time of disappointment, gloom, and suspense. Barry's visit to Burnley had yielded next to nothing. He had certainly followed the car to a public-house in that town, and by entering the bar had heard one of the four men who had travelled in the car, address the suspect as "Larry Dwyer." He had also seen them with their heads together over certain documents. But whether one of these was the stolen affidavit he could not get near enough to see, but since it was on blue paper, considered it might well be.

Gathering from their talk that they intended to stay the night at Burnley, he, too, booked a room, with the intention of further watching their movements.

To his dismay, on rising in the morning he found that Dwyer and the others had gone. Barry had been early, but they had been earlier, and they had taken their leave in the car by which they had come, before daybreak.

Where they had set out for, Barry could not discover. Primed with the number of the car and a full description of the men, he made many inquiries in and about the town. He drew blanks everywhere. Nobody of whom he inquired could give him any sort of definite information. Depressed at his failure, he had returned to Dentwhistle to report, and to lend Tinker a hand in any other direction that might become necessary.

As a matter of fact, however, neither he nor Tinker had been able to do very much during the rest of the week. This was mainly because they did not quite know in what direction to exercise their activities. Never before had they so utterly felt the lack of Sexton Blake's guidance and advice.

And that, during this time, was absolutely impossible to get. Because, during all those weary nights and days, Blake still lay in a condition in which he could not be questioned or worried in any way with current events.

It was true that once or twice he regained partial consciousness, but for the most part he lay in a comatose state. This was all the more curious because during that time his body was rapidly on the mend. The broken ribs were knitting up splendidly. As far as his physical condition was concerned, he showed every sign of being fit as a fiddle in extraordinarily quick time.

Consequently, his state of coma puzzled the doctor not a little, and he was glad to act on Tinker's suggestion to get a specialist—an old friend of Blake's—down from London to see the baffling patient.

The specialist diagnosed the case as one of a curious kind. It was due, in the first place, to a severe shock to the nerve centres from the plunge over the chasm, and, in the second, to some emotional crisis arising out of the sight of the document which Inspector Yarrow had handed him, and which must have given Blake a secondary shock of a somewhat severe sort.

This latter pronouncement, which the specialist made with all confidence, only served to puzzle Tinker the more. He could conceive of no other than a pleasurable emotion coming to Blake, on finding that the missing document had once more been found. How, then, could that have caused such an "adverse shock," as the physician suggested? Yet the latter was quite certain it must have been an "adverse shock" of some kind.

As to recovery, that might be a slow process, or it might come about with the suddenness of the shock itself. One thing was sure, that when the recovery did come, it would be a lasting one. The great improvement in his physical condition ensured that.

During Blake's periods of semi-consciousness—if his state could be so called—some rather odd things had occurred. While incapable of coherent speech, or of answering questions, he had, in a sort of partial delirium, given vent to some strange impressions.

These all had a bearing on the tangled problem he had been investigating, and in nearly every instance brought Inspector Yarrow's name into it.

"Hope Yarrow doesn't make a fool of himself!" "Don't spoil things by premature action, Yarrow!" "Don't arrest Dolby on any account—yet!" "Wait till we know more!" "These other people may have been in it but we haven't spotted the principal yet!"

Such were some of the definite phrases that emerged from a mass of incoherencies during his semi-delirious mutterings. To Tinker they seemed highly pregnant with meaning. Yet what precisely did they mean? What was really lying in Blake's brain to be thus half-hidden, and yet half-revealed by these subconscious ravings?

Tinker would have given much to know, but, alas, it was impossible!

This, then, was the position a week later, when the day for the adjourned hearing had arrived.

The court was even more crowded than before. The stage was set for as thrilling a scene as that or any other police-court had ever witnessed!

Once again a preliminary survey revealed some little surprises. First among these was the entirely different demeanour of the prisoner. Nicholas Dolby had become a changed man from the previous week.

No longer did he appear as a weak, broken, depressed creature. He was now once again the energetic, alert, clear-brained and clear-sighted man that had won him his position as one of the smartest lawyers in the district.

Anxious he still was, of course. Innocent or guilty, to be placed in the dock charged with murder, is a position to breed anxiety. But mingled with that perfectly natural state was a suggestion of intense and righteous indignation at having such a monstrous charge hurled at him. And in his general bearing, and in his many whispered consultations with his advocate, Mr. Gregg, was an air of confidence, an indication of sureness that he would be able to clear himself, and would emerge from his terrible ordeal with his name cleared and his character and reputation triumphantly vindicated.

But Inspector Yarrow was confident, too. More so even that last week. If ever man was sure of his case, Yarrow was that day!

A duel then between two men who were equally certain of victory! Which was to win?

With the stage set, so to say, the curtain went up on the second act—the vital act—of this real life drama.

Certain preliminaries passed without challenge from the prisoner or his solicitor, Mr. Gregg. These preliminaries included a reading over the evidence of arrest given the previous week.

Then came the first witness. This was Constable Stack, who recounted the circumstances under which Richard Sharron had been found dead—killed, as was at first thought, by the bullet wound in the thigh.

This witness was not questioned by Mr. Gregg. The latter had previously announced his intention to postpone his cross-examination till a later occasion. This was a little surprising to the general public, who did not know its inner meaning. The secret of that remained for the time being in the clever brains of the prisoner himself and his defending solicitor.

Perhaps it had to do with the dramatic coup which Inspector Yarrow had planned. They may have got some hint that it was intended to spring some devastating surprise on them, and maybe they were reserving all their energies to fight that!

Dr. Alford went into the box. He gave his evidence in a subdued and somewhat sad voice—as if he gave it reluctantly. Well he might, for he knew it must be against the man whom he had treated as a friend and a guest, and who had actually been arrested in his house!

Not that it was he who was to point the direct accusing finger at the man in the dock. Only the indirect. His evidence was to lead up to other evidence, to be given presently by Inspector Yarrow himself, and it was that which was to fix the guilt upon Nicholas Dolby.

What Dr. Alford testified to was the simple fact that Richard Sharron had not died from a bullet wound, but from suffocation. He had been choked to death by a man's hands. Further he bore witness that in the subsequent bruise induced by the terrible pressure, certain finger-prints had been photographed by the police in his presence, and prints from the negative were to be put in evidence by the police.

Presently these prints were put in—by Inspector Yarrow. When he went into the box, a few minutes later, it was felt by most of those present that the crucial moment was approaching.

There was something about the inspector's bearing that suggested finality! Something about the way in which he carried his sheaf of documents that conveyed the idea that among them he carried the trump card that would win the final trick!

And, in very truth, the great moment was approaching when the dramatic coup which the police officer had planned in conjunction with the prosecuting solicitor, Mr. Letbury, was to be brought off.

* * * * *

Nearly half an hour had passed. Inspector Yarrow had told his story in detail, and had replied to questions put to him by Mr. Letbury.

Then had come the most critical part—his cross-examination at the hands of Mr. Gregg. He had entered into this with the same easy confidence which had marked his manner throughout, and had answered the questions of the defending solicitor without any sort of hesitation or doubt.

For a time. Then had come a gradual change. With the tenacity of a bull-terrier, Mr. Gregg had stuck to his task, and had begun to badger him till Yarrow showed signs of getting rattled.

All the same, conscious of triumph presently, the police officer kept his head. With shrewd brain measured against shrewd brain, it became a duel of wits.

"Now, sir"—it was Mr. Gregg speaking—"you have asserted many things in your evidence-in-chief, among them some very startling ones. One very startling thing in particular to which I will now come."

At these words—addressed rather to the Bench than to the witness—Mr. Gregg squared his shoulders ere he faced full at Inspector Yarrow again.

"The most startling assertion—a most terrible accusation from my client's point of view—was to this effect: That the finger-prints found on the dead man's throat were made by Mr. Nicholas Dolby! Do you still maintain that?"

"Yes, sir. Most certainly."

"On what evidence? You have produced none."

"Pardon me, sir. I stated in my evidence-in-chief that I had compared the finger-prints most carefully."

"With what?"

"With an impression of the prisoner's finger-prints!"

"Where is that impression?"

Inspector Yarrow hesitated, and looked across at Mr. Letbury, who had already risen to his feet and now interposed with:

"I thought I had already made that clear in my opening. The impression of the prisoner's finger-prints was obtained to a certain document by Mr. Sexton Blake, who has been engaged in this mystery in an unofficial capacity."

"Then why has Mr. Sexton Blake not been called to testify to this?" snapped Mr. Gregg.

"Because, unfortunately, he is too ill," answered Mr. Letbury. "Had he remained well, he undoubtedly would have compared the prints. As it was, Inspector Yarrow made the comparison."

"With what? Where is this precious document? This alleged impression of my client's finger-prints? I demand its production!"

Mr. Letbury answered:

"We are unfortunately unable to produce it because it has been stolen!"

"Stolen!" Mr. Gregg echoed the ward in a voice of thunder. "I protest against that. The assertion is only made to prejudice my client!"

"No, no, nothing is farther from our intention," replied Mr. Letbury. "Perhaps I should not have used the word stolen. I beg to withdraw it and substitute lost. The document has been lost!"

Mr. Gregg threw down his brief with a fine gesture of absolute disgust.

"Lost! Stolen—why not 'or strayed'?" he cried, and got his reward in a burst of laughter.

"Yes, yes," he commented when this had died down, "it would really be a laughing matter were it not so serious to my client. Really, really, I ask was ever such a piffling case presented in a court of law before? First, a most important witness fails to appear; secondly, a most damaging statement is put forward as evidence without a shred of proof."

He turned once more to Inspector Yarrow.

"You still assert that the finger-prints found on the dead man's throat were made by Mr. Dolby?"

"I do."

"Your sole evidence in support of that is your comparison with a second set of finger-prints alleged to have been taken by Mr. Sexton Blake? That is your sole evidence?"

"It is sufficient! It is conclusive!"

"But Mr. Sexton Blake—the all-important witness—is not here to give evidence?"

"Because he is too ill to attend."

"While the alleged document is not produced?"

"Because it has been stolen—that is, it is missing!"

Once again came that magnificent gesture of scorn from the defending solicitor. "Missing witness—missing document! Do you seriously expect their worships to accept such flimsy evidence as this?"

"I do. I propose to give them proof that it is true!"

"How?"

Now was the turn of Inspector Yarrow for a triumphant gesture.

"I ask that the finger-prints of the prisoner at the bar be taken now—at this moment! They can then be compared with the photograph, and their worships can be guided by the result."

This was Yarrow's coup, and a buzz through the packed court marked the sensation it made.

If Mr. Gregg was taken aback he did not show it. He merely smiled as he faced the magistrates.

"I think that is quite a good suggestion. I welcome it as the readiest means of clearing my client of every vestige of suspicion. If your worships approve, please let it be done."

The chairman and the other magistrates nodded.

"Just one thing, though," said Mr. Gregg. "Who is to make the comparison of these two sets of finger-prints? It is rather technical work, and needs an expert."

"The expert is here," interposed the prosecuting solicitor. "Anticipating the need, we communicated with Scotland Yard. They answered us this morning by sending Inspector Travis, one of their chief finger-print experts. I trust my friend is ready to accept him as adjudicator in this matter?"

"Quite!" agreed Mr. Gregg. "Let us get on with it!"

But now a momentary objection came from quite an unexpected quarter—from the prisoner himself.

As a police officer approached him with the necessary materials for taking his finger-prints—these had been brought specially into court for that purpose—Nicholas Dolby suddenly asserted himself.

"Why am I to submit to this indignity?" he demanded angrily. "I am innocent! Why should I be submitted to this monstrous indignity?"

The faintest of faint smiles hovered on Yarrow's face for a second, while another sensational buzz passed through the court.

The prisoner's outburst, natural and righteous in some circumstances, was suspicious under these. Surely if he were innocent he sought to welcome the suggestion eagerly, since it would establish his innocence! Yet he was protesting—objecting! Did that mean that he was afraid?

Mr. Gregg, his solicitor, was whispering to him—advising him—pleading with him, it seemed. His pleading won. The lawyer turned to the bench.

"My client is naturally indignant at this odious affront, but is willing to be advised by me. He consents to having his finger-prints taken!"

It was done amid tense silence. It took but a few moments, everything being ready and the apparatus of the most effective kind.

Something else had to be done to fix the impression, but that only took a minute or two. Then all was ready, and the clerk of the court handed the two sets of finger-prints to Inspector Travis of Scotland Yard.

In workmanlike way the famous expert got to work with a powerful pocket lens. The silence could be felt as all watched him. No wonder. On this expert's decision depended the life of that other man in the dock!

Yet, as he scanned alternately one set of finger-prints and then the other, the expert gave no sign of what was in his mind. No emotion played upon his face at all, it remained a grave, impassive mask.

Five minutes passed—ten minutes—a time of almost unbearable suspense. Then the expert rose to his feet and addressed the bench.

"I have finished, your worships."

"You are ready to give your decision—under oath?"

"Yes, sir."

Inspector Travis was placed in the witness-box. The oath had been administered. Every eye was on him. The clerk of the court asked the vital questions:

"You have compared the prints taken of the fingers of Nicholas Dolby, the prisoner at the bar, with those found on the dead man's throat?"

"I have."

"Are the two sets identical?"

"They are not!"

"Not? Then your evidence is to the effect that Nicholas Dolby did not strange Richard Sharron?"

"He could not have done so! The two sets of finger-prints are only similar in superficials. In essentials they are absolutely different!"

Mighty the buzz that swept through the court now. It was hushed by Mr. Gregg rising to his feet with triumph in his eyes.

"That is conclusive," he cried. "On the prosecution's own evidence the innocence of my client is established beyond all doubt. I ask for his immediate discharge without a stain upon his high character!"


CHAPTER 24.
Sexton Blake Straightens the Tangle!

NICHOLAS DOLBY was a free man! Inspector Yarrow was a depressed man! One of the most depressed men in the world. He felt utterly crushed!

And utterly bewildered too! How it had all come about he couldn't begin to understand. Twenty-four hours passed to find him just as puzzled and nonplussed as he had been at that final dramatic moment in court, when Inspector Travis, of Scotland Yard, had exploded his myth, and, so to speak, hoisted him on his own petard!

Then, as he sat miserably in his office, came the first bright bit of news. A telephone message from Dentwhistle. It was to say that Sexton Blake had recovered consciousness at last, and would be glad to see him at the earliest possible moment.

Yarrow was pleased, of course. Greatly pleased at Blake's recovery. But it didn't raise his spirits in regard to the other matter. How could it? He had made an utter fool of himself over those finger-prints. He didn't know how he had done it, but he had.

Asked if he had anything to say about the prisoner being discharged at once, Yarrow had openly challenged Inspector Travis' verdict, and had asked to compare the finger-prints for himself.

The challenge had been accepted. He had seen the finger-prints.

Inspector Travis had stood beside him, had pointed out difference after difference, discrepancy after discrepancy; had proved utterly and absolutely that the two sets of finger-prints were not the same!

And Yarrow had had to admit that. In answer to the further questioning of the defending solicitor, he had not only to admit that he had made a terrible mistake, but abjectly to apologise to the magistrates for having done it, and for having brought such a grave charge against Mr. Dolby on quite inadequate evidence.

It had been the bitterest time of his life. What with Mr. Gregg's revilings, and the chairman of magistrates' stern reproof about official carelessness and inefficiency, he had never felt so wretched in all his police career.

And now, even if that career was not finished, even if presently his terrible blundering might not entail reduction in rank, or possible suspension from duty, it was all up with his chances of promotion.

Deservedly so, for his blunderings had been grievous indeed; how on earth had he come to make them? How had it happened that his previous comparison of the finger-prints had led to his bold accusation of Nicholas Dolby, while his second comparison, under Travis' guidance, had shown them to be entirely different, and made it impossible that Dolby could have been the murderer?

For the life of him he could not account for his amazing mistake. He was not conscious of any aberration of mind at the time of making the first comparison, yet that alone would account for his hideous error.

Such was his state of mind when, after twenty-four haunted hours, he received the message over the telephone, saying that Sexton Blake had recovered his senses, and wished to see him.

Wished to see him! Was Sexton Blake also going to revile him—to crow over him for his miserable blunder? He hoped not—he thought not. Sexton Blake wasn't the sort to crow over a fallen colleague. He was far too big a man. Well, he would go over to Dentwhistle and see him.

He started out at once, miserable as ever. Little did he dream of the tremendous surprise Sexton Blake had in store for him!

* * * * *

"I tell you, inspector, you mustn't reprove yourself too much. You haven't blundered as much as you think you have! You have made mistakes, and you made a tactical error in arresting Dolby prematurely. But though you made a bloomer, it isn't as grievous as you think, nor is it of the kind you think!"

It was Sexton Blake speaking, as he sat up in bed at the Quarrymen's Rest, at Dentwhistle, and he was speaking to the humiliated and contrite Yarrow.

Tinker and Dr. Alford were also present. From them had Sexton Blake already heard the story of the amazing court scene of yesterday, the story being repeated and the blanks filled in by Yarrow himself on arrival.

The inspector heard the famous detective's words in a kind of dream. He could hardly believe his ears. "Not so grievous as I think," he groaned. "Why, no man could have made a bigger ass of himself than I have!"

"Oh. yes, they could. I tell you that although you've made a bloomer, it isn't so bad as you think, and it isn't of the kind you think. You've been tricked!"

"Tricked?"

"Yes. The enemy are a cunning lot. More ingenious and daring that you gave them credit for!"

"Cunning—ingenious—daring! I don't get you, Mr. Blake!"

"I'm not altogether surprised. You see, inspector, you and I were working on this business along different lines. While you were following up your own suspicions, I was following up mine which were different. Unluckily I was put out of action at a critical time. Had I not been, I should have taken action doubtless before now, and the upshot would have been different."

"Tell me what you mean," gasped Yarrow. "Tell me this first. How could I have made that mistake about Dolby's finger-prints? When your wallet was returned to me and I made the first comparison, I made out the finger-prints to be absolutely identical with those found on the dead man's throat!"

"Yes."

"Yet when Dolby's finger-prints were taken in court, they turned out to be absolutely different from the other set."

"Quite so!"

"Why do you say 'quite so'? Weren't they the same?"

"Of course not!"

"But you distinctly told me that the finger-prints on the affidavit were Dolby's?"

"So they were. I still say that."

"But—"

"That paper returned in my wallet wasn't the original affidavit at all. It was a forgery!"

"Eh, what?"

"An impudent but clever forgery! I saw that directly you showed it to me! Do you remember?"

"Of course I remember. It was just then that you seemed to get a shock and went off into a faint!"

"That was what gave me the shock. The discovery that my affidavit—the document Tinker had most carefully written out—had been closely imitated! It was one of the most impudent forgeries I've ever known!"

"Heavens! but I still don't see why it was done."

"The motive was a subtle one. It was done to gain time—to give some of the principal villains time to get away!"

"How?"

"Consider this: Supposing the wallet had contained the actual affidavit I had drafted? That would have shown the real finger-prints of Nicholas Dolby. Supposing you had compared those with the others on the photograph—what would have happened?"

"I should have discovered they bore no resemblance and should never dreamt of arresting Dolby!"

"Exactly! There would have been no red herring drawn across the trail. You would have devoted your energies to getting on the track of the real murderer, instead of wasting a precious week in charging Dolby!"

"You mean to say that Dolby lent himself to this trick? Allowed himself to be charged with murder so as to give the real murderer a chance to get away?"

"Yes. He knew perfectly well he could clear himself when it came to comparing his finger-prints with the others. And it gained time for the other—has, in fact, given him a clear week to get away."

"But if you're right, it clearly shows that Dolby was in it, even if he didn't do the actual killing!"

"Of course he was in it, and of course I'm right. It's a case of the most elementary deduction."

"But the real murderer put his finger-prints on the forged document. Why did he do that? Bit of a tactical error, wasn't it?"

"Might seem so from one point of view, but there were sound reasons for it. Two, anyway. Reason No. 1, is that it wouldn't be easy to get anybody else to give his finger-prints to a document connected with a murder case!"

"They might have got another member of the gang, surely, instead of the actual murderer giving away his trade mark like that."

"Mightn't be easy to induce him. Besides that, there was another important reason. Other finger-prints wouldn't have done. They had to be the murderer's in order to ensure an arrest being made and time being gained."

"I see what you mean. They knew that on getting the document back I should assume that they were Dolby's?"

"Exactly! They also guessed you would at once compare them with those on the dead man's throat, and, finding them similar, that you would arrest Dolby. In that way they'd gain time."

"Yes, quite, only—"

"Only what?"

"Well, you see, Mr. Blake, supposing you'd been all right, you would have defeated their purpose by twigging that the document was a forgery."

"Yes, I know. But they knew I was out of action. They'd taken care I should be. That's another sign of their diabolical cunning. They guessed you'd have to deal with the document, and that you wouldn't detect the forgery. It wasn't easy, for it was cleverly done. That, by the way, affords further evidence of their working in with a highly accomplished gang. The cleverness of the double theft affords further evidence still."

"Look like it, certainly. That makes it all the more remarkable that they should have employed a poor yokel like Luke Samways to help them." Blake shook his head.

"They didn't!" he said emphatically. "That was just a blind, I'm certain. Part of the red-herring trail they've been giving us. Some of the gang got Samways out of the way that night. Lushed him up in the bar downstairs. Plain why they did that."

"Why?"

"To get hold of his boots and crutch, and so mislead Tinker in the way they did."

"Then Samways wasn't in it at all?"

"No more to do with it than you or I. You haven't charged him yet?"

"No, I was waiting for further evidence against him."

"You'll never get it. You'll have to drop the charge and release him. Poor Jack Wilson will have to be released, too. That'll require certain formalities, of course, but when he is released, we shall have to try and get him some compensation."

Yarrow nodded. By this time he had quite come to realise that Wilson was quite innocent, and had been the victim of unfortunate circumstances.

"How far do you think Dolby was in it?" he asked suddenly.

"Up to the neck!" answered Blake. "I believe he connived at the murder. I firmly believe him to have been an accessory after the fact. I shan't be surprised if we discover he was an accessory before the fact as well!"

"Gee! I wonder who could have done the actual murder?"

Blake didn't answer that question immediately. He suddenly closed his eyes and pursed his lips, the while he thought hard. Then he said slowly: "I'm not sure—yet!"

"But you suspect some particular person!" exclaimed Yarrow.

"Very strongly!"

"Good heavens! Who?"

"I can't say—yet. I'll name no names—yet. But it's somebody with a strong hold over Nicholas Dolby!"

"That's a sure thing, or Dolby would never have shielded him by allowing himself to be arrested. But, of course, that's explainable. If Dolby was an accessory, he had to agree to the other's wishes to save his own neck!"

Blake moved his head slowly.

"That's all true, but there's another reason. The hold the murderer has over Dolby is of a different and a stronger kind."

"Don't get you—don't begin to get you! Won't you tell me what's in your mind, Mr. Blake?" Before Blake could answer that there came an interruption. Barry hurried in. "A cablegram from New York, sir," he said, and handed it to Blake.

The latter read it. It was in code, but he quickly deciphered its meaning. As he did so his set jaw relaxed, and he turned to Yarrow with a grim smile.

"You asked me a question a minute ago, inspector. I couldn't have answered it then. I can now! You asked who the murderer of Richard Sharron was!"

"Yes—yes, you've got it?"

"I have. His name is Jacob Ludford."

"Jacob Ludford! Never heard it before. Who is he? A friend of Nicholas Dolby?"

"More than that—closer than that! He's Dolby's father!"


CHAPTER 25.
An Astounding Confession!

SHEER amazement held Inspector Yarrow spellbound for a minute. When he could find his tongue it was to gasp out:

"Nicholas Dolby's father! What in the name of heaven do you mean?"

"Simply what I say."

"But I thought his father had been dead years, ever since he was a child! Even Mr. Gregg in court yesterday, in speaking of the cordial relations between the two partners, referred to Dolby's gratitude to the man who had shown him lifelong kindness ever since he was a tiny orphan boy. That was his exact phrase—'a tiny orphan boy.'"

"A very good phrase, too, to touch the hearts of the magistrate. I've no doubt Mr. Gregg believed it. Everybody did. But it isn't true, nevertheless. Dolby's father is still alive."

"Why has Dolby concealed the fact?"

"For the same reason that he changed his name from Ludford to Dolby. Jacob Ludford is one of the biggest scoundrels unhung. It's about time now that he did hang. He should do before long, for this cablegram is the last link in may chain of evidence, and proves him to have murdered Richard Sharron."

"How does it do that?"

"It's from the New York police. They identify the finger-prints found on Richard Sharron's throat as Jacob Ludford's!"

"How on earth could they have seen the finger-prints?"

"I had them telegraphed from London before I was taken ill. My friend, David Manistry, of the 'Daily Searchlight,' helped me in that with their wonderful new television installation. I'll tell you all about this and other things concerning Ludford later on. Isn't time at the moment. We've got to get busy."

"What to do?"

"First this is to wireless all ships that have sailed from Liverpool during the past week."

"What's the idea?"

"It's likely Jacob Ludford may be aboard one of them. It's almost a sure thing he was one of the men who gave Barry the slip at Burnley. If he hasn't sailed already, he'll try to soon. Therefore all the ports must be warned and watched. Barry must get across to Liverpool and put that in hand right away."

"Can't I lend a hand?" asked Yarrow.

"There's a job in Lummingstall for you, inspector. You've got to arrest Nicholas Dolby again!"

"Eh—what? I think I've had about enough of arresting Dolby!" exclaimed Yarrow, with a shudder. "The charge will be different this time. 'Being an accessory to the murder,' instead of being the actual murderer. You'll be on quite safe ground this time, I assure you."

"When am I to do it?" the inspector asked dismally, not seeming to relish the job a bit.

"I'll give you the tip. But before the arrest is made, before even he gets a hint of this new charge, I'm going to see him."

"You—are you well enough?"

"Quite! My body's been well enough for days past, and now that I've come back to my senses—oh, yes, I'm well enough. Know where Dolby is?"

"In Lummingstall. Staying at the Lion Hotel. I'm told he went back to this office directly the magistrates discharged him as if nothing had happened. He's there to-day too. Marvellous nerve, considering how utterly broke he seemed at the first hearing!"

"We should find him then if we went over now?" said Blake looking at his watch.

"I daresay he'll be there till six o'clock."

"Good! Then we'll go together. I just want a few minutes with Barry to give him instructions, then I'll be ready."

* * * * *

For a man who had been in the dock and stood the charge of murder, Nicholas Dolby looked remarkably fit and well.

So thought Sexton Blake, when, a couple of hours later, he sat facing him in his office at Lummingstall. Blake had been admitted only after some little difficulty. Dolby had sent out word refusing to see him at first, and only the detective's persistence had made him change him mind.

Now that they were together, the solicitor had mounted the high horse; had adopted the scornful and indignant manner of a man who had been shamefully ill-treated.

"Now then, Mr. Sexton Blake, what do you want?" he asked with blustering arrogance.

Sexton Blake was used to handling all sorts of men. He could handle the blustering and arrogant type as easily as any.

"If we're going to have a talk, Mr. Nicholas Dolby, mightn't it as well be a civil talk?"

"Civil!" fumed and lawyer. "Civility to you! To a man who has had the insolence and audacity to bring an outrageous charge against me!"

"Hadn't you better keep to the facts?" Blake's quiet, almost soft tones, were in striking contrast to the other's thunder. "I didn't bring the charge against you. I have never brought any charge against you!"

"It was through you, anyway. It was you who disguised yourself and played cursed trick on me with a pretended affidavit! It was that that led to my being charged in so monstrous a way! It is mean spies like you who—"

"Think it's wise to start calling names?" put in Blake. "It's not at all a nice or polite game, and sometimes it leads to recriminations, doesn't it?"

"Recriminations! Confound you, what do you mean?"

"Well, calling names is an easy game, isn't it, at which two can play!"

"Look here, you infernal imitation policeman! Don't sit there making your vile insinuations, or I'll call in witnesses and make you pay dearly for it!"

"That's for you!" Blake said with an airy wave of his hand. "If you like to have witnesses to hear me call you by a certain name, do so!"

Dolby sprang out of his chair.

"I've had enough of this!" he cried, edging round so that he stood with his back to his desk facing Blake. "What do you mean by those last words? What do you mean by a certain name? Out with it!"

"No, I won't out with it!" responded Blake. "I'll get on with the business. I came to ask a certain question. You're a lawyer, and my question is in the cause of law and justice. Will you answer it?"

"How can I say till you've asked it? What is it?"

Blake paused just one second, fixed the blustering solicitor with his eyes, then asked: "Where is Jacob Ludford?"

What a change came over the lawyer! In an instant all the arrogance seemed to ooze out of him, while the flush of indignation faded from his face and left it grey and bloodless, every little nerve of it quivering! It was sheer will-power that enabled him partly to master himself and to gasp out in hoarse tones:

"Jacob Ludford! What do you mean—who do you mean? The name is strange to me. I know nobody—"

"Oh, yes you do! Come, come, think again! By answering my question, you will save the police some trouble, and may possibly do yourself some good. Now then where is—Oh, no you don't!"

The last four words were a sudden exclamation. As Blake uttered them he leapt forward—heedless of his barely-healed ribs—and in a moment had pinned the lawyer's arms to his sides.

Simultaneously a shot rang out, and a bullet buried itself harmlessly in the floor at Blake's feet! The next instant and the detective had wrenched from the lawyer's grasp the revolver he had suddenly drawn from a drawer of the desk against which he had been leaning!

The game was up. By that impulsive action Nicholas Dolby had thrown in his hand.

At the sound of that shot, two clerks came running in from the outer office, looking very nervous. A moment after, and three men came dashing in from the street.

They were three police officers, with Inspector Yarrow at their head. And they were not nervous!

"Take him!" cried Blake. "I charge him with firing a revolver with intent to do me grievous bodily harm! Other charges will follow, but that will do for the time being."

"No, it won't do!" shrieked Nicholas Dolby as the handcuffs snapped upon his wrists. "Make another charge now! The most serious charge! Charge me with murder. Listen! Take note of my words—my confession! It was I—Nicholas Dolby—who killed my later partner and benefactor, Richard Sharron!"


CHAPTER 26.
The Full Truth at Last.

IT was twenty minutes or so later. Nicholas Dolby was for a second time under arrest, lodged in Lummingstall police-station. Beyond making his astounding confession, he had refused to say another word, but surely he had said enough!

In the inspector's private office at the same police-station, Yarrow and Sexton Blake sat together. The former's face was a study in amazement and bewilderment. That "astounding confession" had in his own words "fairly got him down."

"Is it true?" he asked Blake, not for the first time, though Blake had not answered till now. "No!"

"Then why's he made it?"

"To try and save his father—Jacob Ludford!"

"Mean to say he'd do such a thing—a vile scoundrel like him?"

"Oh, it's not quite the noble act of self-sacrifice it might seem. There's a little bit of filial affection in it, no doubt, but there's something else as well. He's made this pretended confession in order to gain more time. If he can persuade us to stop looking for Jacob Ludford, it'll give him a still better chance of getting away!"

"But if we fail to find Ludford, he'll risk his own neck, won't he?"

"He knows perfectly well he won't. Remember, he's a lawyer, and a cunning one at that. He knows perfectly well that no judge ever acts on uncorroborated confession. It's unlikely that the court would even accept his plea of guilty in a murder charge. Anyway, the judge would never act on his confession alone. He'd require corroborative evidence. The murder would have to be proved. And we can't prove that Nicholas Dolby killed Richard Sharron, because he didn't. Dolby knows we can't prove it. Therefore, he doesn't mind putting up this bogus confession!"

"I still don't quite see his game!"

"Surely you do. Dolby himself sees it very plain. If he's charged with the murder—he alone—it means we waste weeks. Supposing we got him committed for trial, as we should do. Weeks and weeks—perhaps a month or two before the Assizes. What then? At the last minute, just as we think we're pinning him down, out he comes with that rebutting evidence. Those finger-prints on the throat! They're not his! He'll prove they're not his! Down breaks our charge of murder. We could then charge him with other things; but he'd escape hanging, and meantime Jacob Ludford would have got clean away!"

"Ha! I see what you mean now!"

"But we're not going to fall into the little trap he's laid for us. We're not going to charge him with committing the murder. We're going to fix him with being an accessory to it! And we're going to play for time. Just as much time as it takes us to lay Jacob Ludford by the heels. Once we've got 'em side by side in the dock, we can proceed with the capital charge!"

* * * * *

"What about Jacob Ludford, Mr. Blake?" It was Yarrow asking again, after a few minutes' pause. "How did you find out about him? How did you find that Dolby was his son? There are fifty things I want to know. I'm all in a fog."

"Let me dissipate the fog. Let me tell you the full story as I've gradually come to know it."

It took some time to tell the tale in all its details, but this was the gist of the first part of it.

"Nicholas Dolby wasn't an orphan—as for years it had been supposed he was—at the time kindly old Mr. Sharron had taken him under his wing. He was the only child of Jacob Ludford, an arch-crook!

"Some twenty years before, while practising as a criminal solicitor in London, Mr. Sharron had come into contact with him. As the outcome of a charge of manslaughter, Ludford had been sentenced to imprisonment for life, being lucky to escape the charge of murder—and hanging!

"Out of pity for the criminal's young son, Nicholas—then a small boy—kind hearted Mr. Sharron had had him educated, and had afterwards taken him into his office. There he had proved so industrious and competent, that the elder solicitor had given him his "articles," pushed him on, and ultimately given him a share in the business as junior partner.

"But born of such a father, Nicholas Dolby—he had changed his name from Ludford at Mr. Sharron's own suggestion, so as not to handicap his future—had a criminal streak in him. This he indulged when Mr. Sharron was suddenly struck down by illness and was compelled to leave the management of the business to him. Left to himself, Dolby began to realise certain securities entrusted to the firm's charge, and to misappropriate the money!

"He had thought he was comparatively safe in doing this, inasmuch as he thought Mr. Sharron would never be well enough to take any hand in affairs again.

"The sudden and unexpected return of the senior partner to business scared him. His scare rose to panic when he found that it was Mr. Sharron's intention to go through all the manipulated bonds and securities the next day!

"Now all this had happened at a strangely dramatic moment. It coincided with the sudden visit of Jacob Ludford to his son. Some two years before Ludford had been released from prison, and had smuggled himself to the United States.

"His long years of imprisonment, which might have been expected to wean him from criminal paths, did no such thing. After a few months in America, he had got into trouble there. Robbery was the crime he committed, and for this he served a term of fifteen months, at the end of which he had been deported.

"Shipped back to England, he had first of all got into touch with some members of the crook gang to which he had formerly belonged. These men had broken away from the main gang in London, and of late had made Liverpool their centre.

"It happened just then that certain members of the gang were in low water, and were urgently in need of funds to carry out some big robbery they had for some months been planning. Needing five hundred pounds for this purpose, and finding himself so near to the neighbourhood where his lawyer son lived, Jacob Ludford resolved to try and get the money advanced by him.

"Thus it had come about that on the very night Mr. Sharron had decided to stay at the green bungalow, Jacob Ludford was also being sheltered there by his son!"

"So much," said Blake, when he had come to this point in his story, "I found out from certain correspondence I found at the bungalow, and from certain innocent but significant information I obtained from Mrs Samways, who, as you know, did the cleaning there. And practically that's as far as I can speak with certainty."

"And it's quite a lot," said Yarrow. "You astound me at having found out so much. It carries us to the night of the murder, but breaks off before it gets to the murder."

"That's so," agreed Blake. "As to what took place on the fatal night. I have no absolutely definite knowledge. There's a hiatus which still needs filling in. But, knowing what happened before, and also what happened after, it isn't a very difficult matter to fill it in."

"You mean you can guess what happened?"

"I think so. Especially as the guessing is helped by the results of various inquiries I've made as to the character of Jacob Ludford, as well as of his son."

"And what is your guess about it all?"

"Well, I've reconstructed the events of that night this way," went on Blake. "I think that on Ludford's asking for that five hundred pounds, Nicholas Dolby had to refuse him. This because he hadn't got the ready money. Though he had misappropriated a lot of cash, he had kept none of it. Dolby is a born and reckless gambler. What he gained by crime he lost by mad plunging. Bookmakers and bucket-shop keepers have scooped the pool.

"Ludford, I fancy, must have doubted his son's impecuniosity. To convince him of its reality, Dolby confided in him the story of his defalcations. More, he told his father of Sharron's intention to go through certain documents on the morrow, and the great danger in which this placed him. He made it transparently clear that he was on the verge of exposure, ruin, and probably imprisonment.

"This roused the crook-father. I've reason to believe that he's always been a heavy drinker. I believe he drank heavily that night, and I believe that in his bemused brain grew a scheme to kill Richard Sharron, as the only means of saving his son from utter disgrace and ruin."

Blake paused a moment. A far-away look was in his eyes as he reconstructed the terrible thing that had happened that night. Then he went on:

"I believe that that night he did kill Richard Sharron! While the old man lay asleep, he stole in on him and choked him to death!"

Yarrow gasped.

"And the bullet wound in the thigh!"

"Was fired for one of two purposes. Either because in his death agony poor old Richard Sharron put up some resistance, or to put us off the scent."

"How do you mean?"

"Take our attention off the throat bruise, and make it look like the act of a burglar. I'm rather inclined to think it was the latter—a deliberate attempt to fasten suspicion on a burglar—to be exact, on Jack Wilson!"

"Ha, where exactly does Wilson come in?"

"As a perfectly innocent man! Of that I'm dead sure. We can believe Jack's tale just as he told it. He was a tramp. Beat to the wide. Hungry, exhausted, and drenched to the skin, he was just seeking shelter that night—that and nothing more."

"Just at the time when the murder was being done?"

"At that precise moment."

"But how did it come about?"

"Something like this. Whether Nicholas Dolby took a hand in the actual murder or not, I can't say. But he was there—knew it was done, probably knew about it while it was being done. And just as it was being done he probably heard a sound outside. Looking out, he caught sight of Jack Wilson trying to open the garage door."

"Ha, and he rushed out and held him up with the revolver?"

"No, not Dolby. It was Jacob Ludford who did that! That explains what Wilson meant—I told you the story—of its not being Dolby who knocked him out with the bludgeon. It was Ludford."

"But it was Dolby whom Luke Samways saw and—"

"Just so. It was Dolby who planned that. He knew it would be all up if Ludford were seen about. On the other hand, he saw a means of cleverly manipulating circumstances so as to clear himself and his crook-father by fastening the crime on somebody else!

"That somebody—Jack Wilson—was ready to his hand! Things had happened that called for prompt action. A shot had been fired. Somebody might hear it—Luke Samways, for example—and come to see what was amiss!

"Dolby acted on that hypothesis. He doubtless discovered from the light in the cottage hard by that Samways was moving about. What did he do? He first helped his father to lift Jack Wilson into the garage and place him on the floor. Then, carrying out the evil scheme he had thought of, he removed Wilson's boots. With these in his hands he returned to the room where the dead body was. There he made clear imprints of the boots, not only on the floor, but on the window-ledge. Then he returned and put the boots on Wilson's feet again!"

"And after that?" panted Yarrow, aghast at the way the case had been reconstructed.

"After that he did what we know. He knew by this time that Samways was about. Instantly, therefore, after hiding Ludford away, he fired the revolver again and then set up his shouts for help!"

"Which quickly brought Samways along?"

"Exactly, and the rest we know."

"And the revolver—what became of that?"

"It was found by my dog Pedro, among some scrub in the quarry. I found that the weapon belonged to Ludford."

"Ah, Ludford! By the way, Mr. Blake, how on earth did you first get on to the idea of his being Dolby's father?"

"An old birth certificate which I found among some other papers at the bungalow. It happened to coincide with Dolby's birthday, and that set me thinking and raking about. It didn't take me long then to discover that Nicholas Dolby was really and truly Nicholas Ludford. Full of wonder as to why he had changed his name, I went on, and found out all about Jacob Ludford's career as a crook years ago. An old diary found among Mr. Sharron's papers at Southport helped me greatly in that and other matters!"

"Well, you've done the trick this time, Mr. Blake! Done it splendidly! Beaten poor me all ends up! Only one thing remains to be done now, and that is to capture Jacob Ludford himself. Think you'll do that?"

"I've every hope. Barry's busy in Liverpool wirelessing and doing other things. I've every hope we shall get news of Jacob Ludford before long!"


CHAPTER 27.
Conclusion.

SEXTON BLAKE proved to be right in his confidence, but it took some five weeks to happen. Then came the cabled information that Jacob Ludford and two companions had been arrested as they stepped ashore from a steamer from Liverpool at Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.

This was in accord with the instructions of Sexton Blake—who had circularised all possible ports by wireless and cable—and the message further said that the men would be detained pending further instructions from the English police, to whom, of course, Sexton Blake had by now handed the case over.

Those instructions did not take long in the giving. Following certain extradition formalities, Inspector Yarrow—accompanied by other officers, including one from Scotland Yard—made his first journey across the Atlantic.

A few weeks later, and the police party arrived back at Lummingstall with the redoubtable Jacob Ludford and the other two prisoners in charge.

Pending their return, Sexton Blake had more than once visited Nicholas Dolby, who was in prison on remand. More than once he had given the solicitor a chance to mitigate his own share in the infamous crime of murder by revealing the full truth of the share Jacob Ludford had played in it.

But now, in very truth, Dolby did show a redeeming side to his character. Embezzler, plotter, unscrupulous villain though he was, he yet showed that he retained some spark of humanity and a considerable share of filial affection. Though it was pointed out to him that he might save his own neck by telling the whole truth about the murder, he refused resolutely to do it. He would not split on the man who was his father, vile scoundrel though that man was!

Indeed, it touched Sexton Blake not a little to see how Dolby tried to screen his father by taking all the guilt to himself. For he stuck to his confession all through, and when he heard that Ludford had at last been captured, it only had the effect of making him more vehement than ever in his protestations that he was guilty and that his father was innocent.

All in vain these protestations—utterly vain! When in due course the full case was unfolded at the police court, Sexton Blake was able to prove beyond all doubt that the murder had been committed in the way he had already outlined to Inspector Yarrow.

Such evidence was put forward as proved that it was Jacob Ludford who had strangled Richard Sharron, and not Nicholas Dolby at all. At the same time, the younger man had been an accessory both before and after the fact of murder. Therefore, whatever a judge and jury might later on decide about the measure of his infamy, his guilt was abundantly sufficient for the magistrates to commit him for trial with his father.

* * * * *

But Nicholas Dolby was destined never to come before an earthly judge. Only a few days before the date fixed for the trial at York Assizes he was found dead in his cell. Dead by his own hand, so the verdict of the coroner's inquest said. Poisoning was revealed by the post-mortem. It had to be assumed that the poison had somehow or other been smuggled into the prison, though how was never exactly discovered.

* * * * *

Jacob Ludford, his infamous father, was duly arraigned for the crime of murder, found guilty, sentenced, and in the fullness of time launched into eternity, to give an account of his stewardship.

The two men who had been arrested with him, together with four other men taken in Liverpool, were also duly put on trial on lesser but still grave charges. They were proved to belong to a gang which had devoted its energies to burglary, forgery, and other crimes, and who had for long given the police much trouble, not only in the North of England, but in London also.

It was these men who had assisted Dolby and Ludford in the concealment of the capital crime, and who had taken part in the various assaults on Sexton Blake which have been detailed in our story. They were quite properly sentenced to lengthy terms of penal servitude.

Luke Samways was, even as Blake had said, quite innocent. He had taken no sort of part in the attack on Blake that night in the ravine, but had been merely a pliant tool in the hands of the conspirators. Long before the trial came off, he had been discharged from prison without a stain on his character, unless the stern magisterial admonition to "leave the drink alone" may be classed as such.

So, too, had Jack Wilson been discharged long before the great trial came off. Discharged, of course, without any sort of stain on his character. In regard to him, it was generally felt that he had been a most unfortunate victim of circumstances, and that he had been most unjustly dealt with. Therefore Sexton Blake's efforts to get him compensation were strongly seconded by the magistrates and other influential people, and met with success.

This, however, was not the only compensation Jack got. Bestirring himself on the young fellow's behalf, his old friend and comrade-in-arms, Adrian Straker, obtained for him a most comfortable and quite well-paid job in a seaside town.

Here Jack is now living happily with his wife and child—now quite restored to health. Jack's job is a semi-official one, so that if during the next seaside holiday you chance to go to—

But no, we had better not reveal the name of the town. If we did, Jack might find himself the subject of too much curiosity, and, in his own words, he has had "quite enough publicity to last him his lifetime."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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