Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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RABBITS—that was what Jerry Aylmer was after as, gun in hand he made his silent way through Furzy Brake. There was an open space of green sward between the lower edge of the brake and the river Arrow, where he was generally sure of a shot. But on this sunny autumn morning there was not a rabbit in sight; instead, a girl seated on a camp stool with a little easel in front of her was painting.
Jerry stopped as if frozen, and stood, staring. There was every excuse, for never in all his twenty-three years had Jerry set eyes on so enchantingly pretty a girl. She was slim, and had lovely dark blue eyes and light brown hair with golden lights in it. Her face was oval: her mouth tender, with delicately curved lips. Her clear skin, faintly tanned, denoted perfect health and a love of the open air. She wore a tweed coat and skirt, brown stockings and stout tan shoes, yet plain and workmanlike as her clothes were, Jerry could see that everything she wore was good.
"Who can she be?" That was the question in Jerry's mind. And his second thought was: "If I could only speak to her."
This was his own land, and the average modern young man would have made no bones about such a simple thing as saying "Good morning" to a strange young woman who had invaded his premises.
But Jerry, brought up by old Captain Aylmer in a small seaside village, was anything but modern, and instead of advancing boldly, stepped softly back into the thick of a culvert, where he could watch without being seen. The girl stooped to dip her brush in the little tin of water beside her, and in doing so upset it.
"Bother!" she said emphatically, then laughed, and, getting up, took the tin and made her way down towards the river. Jerry had an impulse to run forward and offer to do it for her, but an odd feeling of shyness prevented him.
There were rocks edging the river which was shrunken by long drought. The girl had to cross them in order to reach the water. Jerry was enchanted by the light grace of every movement she made. She gained the top of a great flat rock and knelt down to fill her tin. Then suddenly Jerry heard her give a quick, sharp little cry and, dropping his gun, raced down the slope.
"What is it? What is the matter?" he cried, as he reached her.
"A little snake," she answered rather breathlessly. "It—it has bitten me."
Even as she spoke, Jerry saw the whip-like tail disappearing in a track of the rock, and knew it for a viper.
"Let me see," he said sharply, and she raised her right arm. On the upper side, just above the wrist, were two tiny punctures hardly larger than would be made by a couple of needles.
"It's a viper," said Jerry, curtly, as he pulled out his handkerchief and started to twist it round the arm above the bite. "I know what to do, but I've got to hurt you. Do you mind?"
"I don't mind," she said, looking up at him, and Jerry gasped at the sheer beauty and bravery he saw in those blue eyes. Quickly he tightened the handkerchief, twisting it until it bit into the delicate flesh, then out came his knife. Jerry was one of those neat-minded men who are never without a really sharp-bladed pocket-knife. She watched him as he opened the knife, and then took out a cigarette lighter, the flame of which he used to sterilise the end of the shining steel.
"Now, look the other way," he said, and she obeyed. It says much for Jerry's nerve that his hand was quite steady as he made two deep cuts across the bite. Then as the blood spurted, he raised the arm to his mouth and began to suck the wound. The girl flinched slightly at the cut, but afterwards sat perfectly still. At last Jerry stopped.
"I don't think there's much poison left," he said. "How are you feeling?"
"All right," she answered, bravely, but Jerry saw how pale she was, and it frightened him.
"I wish I had some brandy. Will you wait here till I run back to my place and get some? It's not far."
"I'd rather go home," she said.
"You can't walk," said Jerry. "I shall have to fetch my car for you."
"Mine is in the lane," she told him. "Perhaps, if it isn't asking too much, you'd drive me back."
"Of course, I'll drive you. Is—is it far?"
"About five miles. I live at Short End."
"Then—then you are Miss Clavell?"
"I am Jill Clavell," she said, with a faint smile, "and I think you must be Mr. Gerald Aylmer, of Long Barton."
"That's it," said Jerry. "Now, listen to me, Miss Clavell. I think the worst of the poison is out of your arm, but you are not going to be very fit for a day or two, and you must not walk. You must allow me to carry you to your car."
"You can't!" Jill's voice was full of dismay. "I'm far too heavy and—and it's ever so far!" Jerry smiled.
"It's about three hundred yards, and as for your weight—well, I've helped load a ship before now. Honestly, it won't be anything to me." She glanced at him and noted his deep chest and narrow waist and big muscles showing through his thin jacket.
"I suppose I must obey my medical adviser," she said with a faint twinkle in her lovely eyes.
Next moment he had lifted her and was swinging away across the rough ground. His heart beat hard, but it was not Jill's weight that affected that organ, for Jerry had not been boasting of his strength. It was the precious nearness of her, the delicate scent of her hair in his nostrils. He was throbbing with a strange joy that was new to him. Jerry, of course had not reached his present age without being attracted by pretty girls, but he had never yet seen one whom he thought more than merely pretty, and certainly none to count in the same class as Jill Clavell.
The car, a neat two-seater stood on the turf at the side of Narrow Lane. Jerry lifted Jill in carefully.
"Is it hurting much?" he asked, anxiously, as he examined the arm.
"Throbbing a little, but nothing to worry about," Jill assured him.
"You ought to have some brandy," he said, frowning.
"There's plenty at home, and we'll be there in less than a quarter of an hour. Once out of this rutty lane, you can make her travel."
Jerry knew the road to Stort End, and as soon as he reached the main road put his foot down on the accelerator. Twelve minutes later the car swung through big old-fashioned gates and sped up the drive.
"What a jolly old house!" were the words that burst involuntarily from Jerry's lips as he first saw Stort End.
"A good description, Mr. Aylmer," agreed Jill. "It's not beautiful, but it is jolly and comfortable."
Stort End was one of those square Queen Anne houses, solidly built of red brick. A wing had been added on the south side which held a billiard room. In front a great stretch of perfect turf dropped in wide steps to a little lake, and the park was studded with clumps of really fine timber. The house itself was covered with Virginia creeper, now just beginning to turn bronze and scarlet, and on each side of the front door were long borders blazing with scarlet geraniums. In the mellow sunlight of the September afternoon the whole effect was one of warmth and color.
"You're not carrying me this time," said Jill with a smile as Jerry stopped the car and sprang out. "The patient is quite able to walk," and, before Jerry could answer a clear, sweet voice came through the open hall door.
"Why, Jill, you're early," it said, and another girl appeared, limping with the aid of a stick. She was smaller than Jill, a little elfin-like creature, yet so like Jill that Jerry knew she must be a sister. Then, as she saw Jill's bandaged arm, her bright face changed. "Oh, my dear, what is the matter?" she exclaimed.
"Miss Clavell has been bitten by a viper," Jerry told her. "But don't worry. The poison is out, and all she needs at present is a little brandy.
"I don't believe I even want the brandy," Jill declared. "This is Mr. Aylmer, Fay, and"—more seriously—"it's entirely due to him that I am little the worse for a very nasty accident."
"That was splendid of him," declared Fay, and the look she gave Jerry told him he had made a friend. "Bring her in, Mr. Aylmer," she went on. "I'll get the brandy."
Jill allowed Jerry to help her into the hall. In spite of her pluck, she was really feeling a little faint, and she meekly swallowed the tablespoonful of old brandy which Jerry prescribed. Fay, meantime, telephoned for the doctor—"just to be on the safe side," as she remarked. She wanted Jill to go to bed, but Jill flatly refused.
"I really don't feel any worse than if a couple of wasps had stung me," she declared. "I'm just going to rest on the sofa till lunch."
"Then I'll be going," said Jerry, but both sisters cried out at once in protest.
"You must stay for lunch," Jill begged. Fay backed her, and Jerry, who was secretly only too anxious to stay, allowed himself to be persuaded. The doctor came—old Tennant from Tavernton—and looked at Jill's arm.
"You are lucky, young lady," he remarked. "This is the month in which the viper's venom is the worst. You'd have had a very bad arm if it hadn't been for our friend here. As it is, the only damage is the cuts, and they are so clean I don't think you'll have even a scar." He turned to Jerry. "Where did you learn your surgery?"
"At sea mostly," said Jerry. "There's a beast called the sea viper. It has a poison fin and I got stung myself once. Lord, how it hurt! My dear old dad showed me what to do." The doctor nodded.
"And you remembered and you did it rightly. I congratulate you. As for you, Miss Jill, you'd better keep quiet tor twenty-four hours, and after that you'll be as well as ever."
He dressed the cut and went away, refusing an invitation to stay to lunch. Jill's eyes glowed with gratitude as they rested on Jerry.
"I didn't realise until now how much you'd done for me," she said softly. "I'm really grateful."
"And so am I," Jerry answered, and something in his voice or his look brought the colour flushing to Jill's cheeks.
The lunch in the great old square dining-room was simple, but to Jerry entirely delightful. Afterwards they sat and talked. The girls each smoked one cigarette, but Jill found a cigar for Jerry. He learned that they had inherited the place from their stepfather, Hugh Willoughby, that they both loved it, and that, except for an occasional visit to London, they rarely left it.
Fay questioned Jerry with a sort of innocent yet perfectly open curiosity that he found delightful. And he for his part was only too pleased to tell of his early days at Salterton, of school at Blundells, and of his small adventures by sea and land. Mostly by sea, for he had been all down the Mediterranean on a coasting steamer with Captain Aylmer, and had done a deal of sailing in small boats.
Fay was half child, half woman, and in spite of her crippled leg, the result of an accident two years earlier, was as sweet tempered as Jill herself. She was, so Jerry realised, very clever and quick-witted. Suddenly a car drove up to the door and Sappho, the old spaniel, raised her head and growled.
"Bother!" said Fay quickly. "It's Mr. Faul."
"Faul," repeated Jerry.
"Yes, the man who has leased Lifford. He's a big engineer—at least, he says he is," she added in a malicious little whisper as a maid announced the visitor.
WHETHER Bertram Faul was or was not a big engineer, he was certainty a big man, and Jerry, annoyed as he was at the interruption, had to admit that he was also a good-looking one. Faul stood about six feet, and, with straight nose, high-arched eyebrows, fair hair, and fair—and unusually heavy—moustache, reminded Jerry of an illustration of one of Ouida's guardsmen of last century. He wore gray tweeds, the smartness of which contrasted with Jerry's country-made jacket and breaches, and Jerry realised in a flash that he had a precious good opinion of himself.
Another thing that Jerry realised as quickly was that he was not going to like Mr. Faul. There was a possessive look in his hard eyes as they rested on Jill which, so to speak, put up all Jerry's hackles.
Jill introduced the two men, and they bowed formally. Jerry noticed that the visitor looked at him just as a dog looks when it spots a strange dog on its own premises, and Jerry's own eyes hardened as he stared the other squarely in the face. Fay of course, observed their antagonistic attitude at once.
"Mr. Aylmer saved Jill's life this morning, Mr. Faul," she said, innocently, and was rewarded by a distinct start on the part of the visitor.
"What happened?" he asked in a slow drawling voice.
"A viper bit her and he sucked the wound," Fay told him.
"That was indeed heroic," Faul answered in a tone which made Jerry long to kick him.
"It wasn't that so much," Fay said, quietly. "It was knowing what to do and doing it. Would you have known, Mr. Faul?" she asked, turning her big eyes on him.
"I hope so," said Faul. "I have had to do with worse snakes than vipers in Brazil." He turned to Jerry.
"You are a farmer, aren't you? The question was simple enough, it was the way Faul asked it that made Jerry boil. But he was too wise to betray his annoyance.
"Yes, I'm a farmer," he answered, easily.
"A poor game, I fear, in these days," said Faul.
"I'm not complaining," replied Jerry. "It's the slackers who do most of the grousing."
"I hear you're a fisherman, too," went on Faul.
"Yes, when I have time," said Jerry, wondering what Faul was driving at.
"I have heard of you from Anders," said Faul significantly. Jerry's lips tightened.
"I had forgotten he was your keeper. You might give him a hint as to the etiquette of fishing."
"He has strict orders about poachers," said Faul. Jerry opened his mouth to reply, then, seeing the troubled took on Jill's face, thought better of it, and as luck had it just then a maid came in with tea. Fay poured out and Faul at once took the opportunity to move nearer to Jill.
"What was it all about?" Fay whispered to Jerry, as she gave him his cup.
"Tell you later," replied Jerry, in an equally low voice. Fay nodded.
"Mind you do. Don't worry," she added, kindly. "Jill doesn't like him any better than I do. And don't go running away."
"I won't," he promised, and he did not. On the contrary, he waited his chance, and reminded Jill that she had promised to show him her sketches. Jerry was fond of painting, and had met many artists down at Salterton, but it was a subject of which Faul knew nothing. So Jerry talked and Faul was reduced to silence. You might almost say a sulky silence, only Faul was too clever to let this show. It was half-past five when Jerry took his leave.
"I have my cows to milk," he explained, "and only one man to help."
Fay, who had a little car of her own, offered to drive him back, but Jerry preferred to walk.
He had passed the drive gate and was swinging down the road at a brisk pace when he heard a car behind him. It pulled up as it came alongside, and Jerry saw that its driver was Faul.
"Can I offer you a lift?" drawled Faul.
"Thanks," said Jerry, "but I want exercise. It's kind of you all the same."
"It wasn't out of kindness I asked you," Faul answered, coldly. "I wanted a few words with you."
"No time like the present—so long as they're few," retorted Jerry. If Faul wanted to be rude, well, two could play at that game. Faul's grey eyes hardened. Jerry, watching him noticed that they had a greenish tinge.
"They're few enough," he said. "I merely wanted to remind you that I allow no trespassers on my land."
"Apropos of what?" asked Jerry mildly.
"Apropos of your taking a sea-trout on my water last week, Mr Aylmer."
"My good sir. I hooked it on my own water, and merely followed it up stream over your boundary. Any sportsman will tell you that I had a perfect right to do that."
"Anders saw you land the fish in Maiden Pool, which is on my land. I have no proof that you did not hook it there."
"Except my word," Jerry reminded him. Faul laughed harshly.
"That is unsupported testimony," he sneered.
"So I am a liar as well as a poacher," said Jerry, and though he was in truth very angry, his voice was quiet as ever. As he spoke he stepped forward, and raising his right hand gave Faul a sharp slap on the face.
For a moment Faul was too astonished to move. Faul had an enormous opinion of himself and that a mere boy, and a beggarly young farmer to boot, should dare to strike him almost paralysed him. Then with a furious oath be flung open the car door and sprang out.
"I'll kill you for that," he vowed as he drove a heavy blow at Jerry's head.
Seeing that be was inches taller than Jerry and at least two stone heavier, a spectator, if there had been one, would have decided that Faul was quite capable of carrying out his threat. But if the onlooker had known that Jerry had been fighting almost ever since he could walk he might have changed his opinion. A boy had to hold his own in the streets of a small seaport town, and the battles are not always conducted on Queensberry rules.
Ducking like a dab-chick beneath Faul's left arm drive, Jerry stepped in instead of away, and drove a short jab to Faul's body which made him gasp. Before be had recovered from his surprise Jerry had leaped out of reach. Faul, furious, but with confidence still unshaken, came after him. He was a boxer, and did not mean to let the smaller man have a second chance. He slid in with long cat-like steps and feinting with his right drove with his left at Jerry's jaw.
Jerry saw the blow coming, and ducked, but was not in time to escape it altogether. Faul's heavy fist caught him above the eye with a force that almost stunned him. Before he could get away another blow came flush to the ribs, knocking the breath out of his lungs.
Penned in the narrow limits of a roped ring, Jerry would have had small chance to escape, but here on the open road he was able to spring away out of reach of the other. Faul came after him fiercely.
"Fight, curse you!" he snarled, and got a second shock as Jerry, who was rapidly getting his wind back, suddenly sprang in and drove in an upper cut which reached Faul's chin and stopped him as short as if he had run into a wall. Before he could get his guard up Jerry had hit him again over the heart, and this was much the more damaging blow, for Faul was fond of the good things of his life, and in nothing like Jerry's condition. In desperation he closed, flinging all his twelve stone weight upon the younger man.
Jerry asked nothing better. He knew all the rough and tumble tricks. In a flash he had cross-buttocked the other, and down went Faul, flat on his back on the hard road. Jerry on top of him. Jerry broke loose and leaped to his feet, nimbly as a squirrel.
"Had enough?" he asked drily as he looked down at the prostrate man.
"No, damn you!" howled Faul as he sprang up and made a wild rush at Jerry. His cut lip was streaming with blood and his face was twisted with almost insane fury. Jerry realised that the man was killing mad, and that this was no time for half measures. Springing aside, he easily avoided Faul's blind charge, and as the man passed hit him with all his force on the jaw.
The force of the blow was such that it jarred Jerry's arm to the shoulder, but it finished the battle. Dead on his feet, Faul toppled slowly over and crashed into a bramble bush at the side of the road.
Jerry dragged him out of the bush and waited till he came round.
Faul sat up slowly, and the look on his face was venomous as that of a trapped stoat.
"Shall I drive you home?" Jerry asked, but instead of answering, Faul struggled to his feet, climbed unsteadily into his car, started the engine, and drove off. Jerry shrugged as he watched him go. Then he looked at his cracked knuckles and grinned.
"I don't fancy he'll interfere with me again," he remarked. He was wrong—but then Jerry did not yet know Faul.
BILL BEEKS, Jerry's man-of-all-work, met him at the farm-house door. Bill was an old sailor, a short, thick-set man with an enormous chest, hands like hams, and an immense power of work. He was also a first-class cook and devoted to Jerry, though he treated him as if he was still a boy.
"You're late!" he said, gruffly. "I've finished the milking." Then he frowned. "You've been fighting."
"I couldn't help that, Bill," said Jerry with a smile.
"Did you lick him?" Bill asked, quickly.
"Who was it?"
"The chap who lives at Lifford," Jerry answered, and a queerly anxious look crossed Bill's grizzled face. "Not Faul?"
"That's his name. Now don't be cross, Bill. First he called me a poacher and then a liar. What could I do?"
Bill shook his head. "Nothin', I reckon. Still, I'd rather it had been anyone else."
"Why? What's the matter?" demanded Jerry with a touch of sharpness, but Bill refused to give a reason.
"You keep clear of that 'un, Jerry," was all he said. "Now you bed down the mare, and I'll get supper."
It was a glorious evening, and Jerry did not feel like staying in the house. After supper he took his rod from the rack in the big low-roofed sitting-room, slung his creel over his shoulder and strolled down to the river. The water was low and clear, too clear for daylight fishing, but there was always the chance of a peal (sea-trout) rising after sunset. Jerry scrolled slowly along the bank, casting now and then, but his thoughts were busy with the events of the day rather than his fishing.
"The loveliest thing that ever lived," he found himself saying aloud, then he flushed uncomfortably and looked round to make sure no one had heard him. He need not have worried, for the only living thing in sight was a water rat sitting up under the opposite bank washing its face with its beautifully shaped forepaws.
A sudden splash startled Jerry from his dreams. A big fish had risen in the shadowed water under the far bank.
"Not a hope," said Jerry to himself as he noted the sulky stillness of the black depths, yet all the same his line sang in the air as he made a couple of false casts, then the fly dropped lightly close to the bank. Jerry allowed it to sink a little; then raising the rod tip began drawing it towards him.
The line stopped and Jerry's heart dropped a beat, then it tightened, and he struck. Out of the dusky depths shot a gleaming bar of silver at least a yard in length.
"A salmon!" gasped Jerry as he reeled in furiously. With a resounding splash, the splendid creature dropped back and headed up stream with the force and fury of a tornado, and Jerry ran frantically in pursuit. Jerry's rod was only a ten-foot greenheart built for trout, not salmon, and his cast merely 3-x gut. It was impossible to stop the mad rush of the monster. All he could to was to follow, hope for the best, and expect the worst.
Weir Pool, where he had hooked the big fish, was barely a hundred yards from his northern boundary fence; beyond was Lifford land. But it was not until he had splashed through the broad shallow stickle beneath that fence, and was well into his enemy's territory that he realised that fact.
Not that it worried him particularly, for by all the rules of sport an angler can follow a hooked into his neighbour's water. On and on went the salmon until it reached Maiden Pool, where it began to show signs of fatigue and, instead of facing the heavy water at the top, began to swim round and round. Waist deep in the tail of the pool, Jerry fought it skilfully.
"Hi, you, didn't I warn you last week against coming on our place again?" came a harsh, disagreeable voice, and Jerry glanced up to see a tall, thin man with a face as unpleasant as his voice standing on the bank above him.
"It's all right, Anders," he answered. "I hooked him in Weir Pool. It's a salmon. Get a gaff—that's a good chap."
"Gaff indeed!" snapped Anders, who was evidently in a very bad temper. "Gun more like. You come right out of that river, and hand over your rod." Jerry lost his temper.
"I'll see you damned first," he cried.
"Ho—insulting of a keeper in pursuit of his duty," snarled Anders, as he scrambled down the bank and waded into the water. He had a stick in his hand, and as the frightened salmon shot past him caught the taut line with the crook of his stick. The cast snapped like a thread, and the line flew back.
"You swine!" roared Jerry and flinging the rod to the bank went for the keeper. Anders scuttled back to the bank, and was scrambling up it when Jerry caught him.
Anders turned and struck at Jerry with his stick. Dodging the blow, Jerry hit him squarely between the eyes and the man staggered back, lost his footing and went down on the shingle.
Next moment something dropped on Jerry's head like a ton of lead. The world went black and he, too, collapsed in a senseless heap.
THE late dusk lay heavy on the river, and the woods as Jerry became conscious. The silence was broken only by the soft gurgle of the shrunken stream. Jerry's head ached abominably, his eyelids felt as if weighted with lead, while for the moment he was quite unable to remember what had happened. He tried to move, but the stab of agony above his eyes forced him to drop back with a groan of pain.
By degrees recollection came back. Anders—Anders had broken his line and lost him his fish. A dirty trick. He remembered punching the keeper in the face, and seeing him reel backwards and fall. Then who was it who had hit him? He tried to think, but the effort was too much, and for a while all went dim and hazy. But Jerry was young and strong, and within a few minutes his head cleared again, and it came to him that he must get home. Bill would be wondering what had become of him. Very slowly he raised himself to a sitting position. His head still hurt: he felt dreadfully weak and dizzy, yet the pain was bearable.
A dark something lay beside him, and he saw that it was a man. There was just light enough left to recognise the face of Anders. Anders still insensible.
"Must have hit him harder than I thought," Jerry muttered. "I did catch him a pretty good smack." He leaned over the man and as he did so, noticed an ugly dark stain which reached from Anders's hair to his chin, down the left side of his face.
"Blood!" said Jerry, vaguely. "Cut his head as he fell. I suppose." It struck him that Anders was curiously still, and suddenly he began to feel a queer discomfort. Forgetting his dizziness, he got to his knees and examined the man. Anders was not breathing. Jerry ripped open his shirt and waistcoat, and laid his head against Anders's chest.
"Good God!" he gasped. "He's dead!"
"What else do you expect after the way you hit him?" The voice made Jerry start violently, and looking up, he saw Faul's tall figure standing over him.
"Hit him!" Jerry repeated. "I gave him one punch with my fist!"
Faul shook his head.
"No fist did that. The man's skull is crushed. You must have used a stone," He stopped. "Ah, here it is—and covered with blood."
Jerry felt as if he were in a bad dream. Frowning, he struggled to remember, but was still weak, giddy and confused.
"Then who hit me?" he asked, slowly.
"I don't know," Faul replied, "but I suppose Anders did. I wasn't here to see."
Jerry struggled to his feet. His senses were coming back.
"Is it likely," he demanded, facing Faul, "that he could hit me after such a blow as he has had? It strikes me this is a plant, Mr. Faul."
"I suppose it is only natural that you should say that, especially after our encounter a few hours ago," he answered, calmly. "Yet, if you will think, you will realise that it is impossible. I have only just come down from the house. My servant Griggs can testify to that."
Jerry passed his hand across his forehand. He was definitely convinced that he was the victim of a plot, yet for the life of him he could not understand how it had been worked. Anders had not hit him. He felt certain of that. Yet he had seen nobody else near him.
A man as tall as Faul himself appeared suddenly out of the bushes on the opposite bank, and jumped down the bank on to the strip of shingle beneath.
"Yes, Joe!" Jerry shouted. "Come over here."
The other came straight through the river, wading nearly waist deep through the dark pool as calmly as if he were walking on pavement. But that was Joe Spangler all over. This tall loosely-built young man who was Jerry Aylmer's best friend, was the hardest-bitten sportsman on the Moor. Cold and heat were alike to him, and his skin, burnt red as morocco leather, proved that he lived in the open. He glanced down at Anders's body.
"Looks as if he'd got his," he remarked, briefly.
"He's dead," said Faul. "Aylmer killed him."
"And it looks as if he'd nearly killed Jerry," said Joe. curtly. "What happened, old son?" and Jerry told him how Anders had broken his line and lost him his fish.
"So I knocked him down," said Jerry, "and then something fell on my head and stunned me, and when I came round, here was Anders dead and Faul accusing me of having murdered him."
"Did it himself more likely," returned Joe, calmly. "He and Anders were about as friendly as a tom-cat and a terrier."
Faul flared up.
"You'd better be careful what you're saying, Spangler. There's such a thing as the law of libel."
"So I've heard," said Joe, drily, "and it might land you in the soup if you talk any more rot about Aylmer being a murderer."
"All the evidence points that way," said Faul, "I found him bending over Anders, and here is the stone he did it with. You can see for yourself it is covered with blood and hair."
"And what brought you to the spot at such an opportune moment?" asked Joe.
"This is my own land," retorted Faul. "I always walk after dinner. And as for your foolish accusation, my valet Griggs can testify that I left the house less than a quarter of an hour ago."
"Got it down fine, haven't you?" said Joe, sarcastically. "Well, you're not going to kid me or anyone else that Jerry killed your keeper." He turned to Jerry. "We'd better be shifting back, old man, That head of yours needs a plaster, and Bill will he starting a search party."
"If you think you are going to take Aylmer away and arrange his escape—" Faul began, but Joe cut him short.
"Don't be a bigger fool than you were made," he said, curtly, "Jerry isn't going to run away. You can come and collect him in the morning if you still stick to your fool notion that he knocked out Anders. Come on, Jerry." Faul hesitated. He was boiling with rage, yet knew himself no match for Joe. And he had had his stomachful of fighting already that day.
"Very good," he said harshly. "But remember that, if you do connive in Aylmer's escape, you yourself will get into serious trouble." He turned on his heel and marched away.
"Of all the swine," said Joe scornfully.
"He's that and more," said Jerry. "All the same, it's a nasty mess, Joe. He'll go the limit, for he hates me."
Joe nodded. "Bill told me of the show this afternoon. I'd have given my best gun to have seen you put it across him. Yes, he'll do the dirty, so far as he can, but don't worry. No one is going to believe that you bashed Anders with a rock."
"You wouldn't and Bill wouldn't," said Jerry, "but it might be different with a judge and jury who'd never seen me."
"Stop croaking and come home," ordered Joe, "Here, take my arm and I'll help you across the stickle."
Jerry was extremely glad to get home for he was dreadfully giddy and shaky. Bill Beeks, a treasure in any real trouble, bathed and bandaged his head, then helped him to bed and gave him two aspirins with hot whisky and water. Inside ten minutes Jerry wee sleeping like a child and Bill went back to the sitting-room to find Joe spread out in Jerry's arm-chair, with a blackened old briar in his mouth.
"I'd like to hear all about this bust up, mister," said Bill gruffly.
"I was waiting to tell you," Joe answered, and gave him the facts so far as he knew them. A heavy frown formed on Bill's weather-beaten face.
"If you ask me, this here's a put-up job," he said at last.
Joe looked up at the old sailor. His eyes were a curiously bright, clear blue.
"Any one who wasn't born a fool could see that. All the same it's a hell of a mess, Bill."
Bill nodded. "Faul's out to get square," he growled. "It's that girl."
"You mean Jerry's fallen for her?"
"Looks like it. He was at Stort End all day. That's where he met Faul."
Joe whistled softly. "Great snakes!" he muttered, "it's worse than I thought. Faul's been after her for weeks. Mad for her, they say. He'll go the limit, 'specially after the licking Jerry gave him."
"We'll have the police here before morning," Bill said, grimly.
"You can take your oath to that. Looks like we'd better get him away."
Bill shook his head. "He wouldn't go," he declared. "Jerry ain't that sort. He'd say it was like owning up he'd done it."
"Likely you're right," Joe admitted. He sat quiet a while frowning and puffing at his pipe. "We'd better stick," he said at last.
"I reckon that's best." Bill agreed, gravely. "And if they do arrest him you go get Lawyer Brand to defend him."
"I'll do that. He's a good man." Joe got up and knocked out his pipe. "I'll take a bit of shut-eye," he added. "Likely they'll be here early."
As he spoke there was the sound of a car outside, and Spangler swore aloud. "Darned if they aren't here already," he growled. "I'll lay that's Faul's car."
HE was right. There came a knock at the door, and Bill opened it to admit the stocky form of Seth Croker, the local constable.
"And what do you want? asked Bill, sarcastically.
"I have a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Gerald Aylmer," said Croker, gravely.
"What's the charge?" demanded Joe.
"Causing the death of Alfred Anders," replied the constable.
"I suppose you didn't hear that Anders nearly murdered him," retorted Joe.
"I didn't hear nothing about that. Where is Mr. Aylmer?"
"In bed, and by gum he's going to stay there," said Bill.
"He've got to come with me," returned Croker, gravely.
"He ain't going with you afore morning," retorted Bill, hotly. "So don't you think it."
"He's pretty badly hurt, Croker," Joe cut in, "and he's asleep. He can't be moved before morning."
"Be those doctor's orders?" Croker asked.
"We haven't had the doctor, but we'll get him if you like. I tell you straight, that Mr. Aylmer is not fit to be moved."
"You'll let me see him, Mr. Spangler?"
"Yes, you can see him if you'll be quiet about it. Come with me."
He took the constable upstairs, opened the door of Jerry's room softly and showed him the sleeping man. Jerry's face was very pale, blood showed through the white linen which bandaged his head. Croker looked at him a moment and softly withdrew.
"I reckon you're right," he said "but I'll have to stay. And you best get the doctor first thing in the morning. Then I'll knew when he's fit to be moved. Now I'll go and send the car back."
"Faul's driving you, I suppose?" said Joe.
"No, it's his man, Brower."
He went out, and Joe spoke to Bill.
"Croker's all right. He's leaving Jerry till the morning. Be civil to the chap, Bill."
"Aye, I got no quarrel with Seth Croker," said Bill. "I reckon he can sleep on the couch. You best go to bed, mister."
"All right, but wake me early. I've got to fetch the doctor as soon as it's light. I'll take Jerry's car."
It speaks well for Joe's nerves that he slept soundly until Bill Beeks called him at dawn. Then he drove off to Taverton and fetched Dr. Tennant.
When they reached Long Barton Jerry was awake and drinking a cup of tea, which Bill had brought him. The kind old doctor overhauled him.
"You can thank your stars that you have a remarkably sound skull, young man," he said, presently. "The blow you had must have been a pretty bad one, but you won't be any the worse."
He paused. "What! You want to get up?" he continued, then pursed his lips. "You'd be the better for a day in bed, but I can't say it will do you any serious harm to get up."
"Then up I get, Doctor," said Jerry with decision. "I want to get this business squared up as soon as I can. When is the inquest?"
"They'll probably hold it to-day. This is an ugly charge, Aylmer. I doubt they'll give you bail."
Jerry's face hardened.
"I don't care. None of my friends will believe that I bashed Anders with a chunk of rock."
"Of course they won't—especially one young woman I could mention," said the Doctor with a twinkle behind his glasses.
Jerry reddened. "I—I hope you're right," he stammered. "But she doesn't know yet."
"I shall see her this morning. Shall I tell her?"
"I wish you would," said Jerry, quickly. "Joe has told you all about it, hasn't he?"
"Yes, I know the whole story, And you can count on me as a friend, Mr. Aylmer."
"Thank you, sir," said Jerry, very honestly. "Now I'll get up."
Bill insisted upon Jerry and Croker having breakfast before they left, then Joe drove them to the police station at Taverton. The inquest, they heard, was to be at two that afternoon.
"I'll get Brand, Jerry," said Joe. "And don't you worry. We'll fix everything." Joe went straight to Brand's office, and found that he had just arrived. Brand was the best-known lawyer in that part of Devon, a smooth-faced man with greying hair and keen, grey eyes. Joe began his story, full of indignation against Faul's dirty plot, but his indignation changed to dismay when he saw how grave Brand's face grew.
"You look as if you believed Aylmer had done it," he broke off.
"It isn't a question of what I believe," Brand answered. "It's what the Judge and jury will believe. Look at it from their point of view. Aylmer has already had trouble with Anders over following a fish across the boundary. He does it again. Anders and he quarrel. Aylmer doesn't deny that; nor does he deny that he struck the keeper. A little time later he is found bending over Anders's dead body, and beside him is a stone covered with blood and hair, undoubtedly the weapon with which Anders has been killed. I tell you, Mr. Spangler, the evidence is simply damning."
"You're making it sound like cold-blooded murder. I've known Jerry Aylmer for years, and I tell you he's the last man to do such a thing. If you ask me, it was Faul who killed Anders."
The lawyer shock his head.
"If he had he would certainly not have waited on the spot. Besides, he seems to have proof that he had walked straight down from his house, and it is certain that a considerable time had elapsed between the quarrel and the finding of the body. It was still daylight when Aylmer and Anders quarrelled. It was almost dark when Faul found them."
Joe opened his mouth to speak, but Brand checked him. "I'm not saying I believe in Aylmer's guilt. Knowing him as I do, I am convinced that he could never be guilty of such a crime. Yet evidence as to character won't in itself save a man accused as Aylmer is."
"It's all a plot of Faul's. I'll take my oath to that," said Joe, doggedly.
"Then the sooner you collect some evidence to that effect, Mr. Spangler, the better for Aylmer," replied Brand. "But I want to warn you that the Coroner's jury is not in the least likely to discharge him, and that all the odds are that he will be committed for trial at the assizes. I think it would be wise to warn him of this."
"I'll tell him what you say," said Joe gruffly, and got up. All the spring had gone out of his walk, and he looked ten years older as he left the lawyer's office. He took the car and went to fetch Bill, whose evidence would be needed at the inquest.
To his surprise another car stood outside Long Barton, and when he went in he found a girl talking to Bill, a little slim bit of a thing who leaned on a stick.
"This be Miss Fay Clavell," said Bill. "It's Mr. Spangler, miss, Jerry's friend." Fay turned, and Joe gasped. Joe was not a lady's man, yet Fay's dainty beauty left him speechless.
"I'm so glad to meet you, Mr. Spangler," said Fay, giving him her tiny hand. "Jill, my sister, sent me over. She wanted to come herself, but the doctor wouldn't let her, But I am her deputy, and if there is anything we can do you have only to tell me."
"That's damn kind," Joe pulled up and got as red as beet. "I mean its topping of her and you." Fay smiled at him. There was something attractive about this big, shy young man with the brick-red face and bright blue eyes.
"I don't mind your swearing," she said. "I've been pretty near it myself ever since I heard what happened last night. The idea of trying to fasten a thing like that on Mr. Aylmer!"
"It's a put-up Job," Joe exclaimed. "It's that dirty dog—I—I mean that nasty fellow Faul."
"I think 'dirty dog' is quite a good description, Mr. Spangler," said Fay, demurely. "But tell me what we can do."
"It doesn't seem to me there's much any of us can do till after the inquest. But Jerry will be no end bucked to hear your sister sent to inquire."
"Give him all our best wishes, Mr. Spangler," said Fay, earnestly. "And will you telephone to us as soon as the inquest is over?"
"You bet I will, Miss Clavell," declared Joe, and went out with her to help her into her car.
"Getting quite a lady's man, ain't your?" said Bill as Joe came back.
Joe got red again.
"If her sister's as pretty as she is, I don't blame Jerry one bit," he said, firmly. "Gosh, Bill, I hope I can 'phone those girls good news this afternoon."
"Same here," said Bill, gravely, as he put on his hat and went out to the car.
Anders's body had been brought into Taverton, and the Coroner's Court was crowded. It was long since there had been such a sensation in the little county town.
The Coroner was Mr. Reuben Hannaford, a quiet old gentleman, who knew his business thoroughly. Brand did his best for his client, but Faul's evidence was deadly. What made it worse was that the man gave it so quietly and almost reluctantly. Questioned as to the fight between himself and Jerry, he said openly that it was his fault.
"I offered Mr. Aylmer a lift," he said, "and was annoyed when he refused it. I lost my temper, and was rude, and he smacked my face. The result was a fight of which I got the worst. I beg the court to believe that I bore no malice."
"The dirty liar," growled Joe in Bill Beeks's ear. "If I ever get next him I'll lay there won't be enough left of him to bear malice or anything else."
Jerry told a perfectly straight story, and Joe Spangler bore out what he said.
The only other witness was Griggs, the valet, a smooth fellow, who spoke in a soft, precise voice, and swore that it was twenty minutes past eight when his employer left the house. There was no manner of doubt that at least half an hour had elapsed between the time of Jerry's meeting with Anders and the arrival of Faul.
Brand wisely did not attempt to throw suspicion on Faul. He made the suggestion that some one else, an enemy of Anders, had watched the struggle between him and Aylmer, and got behind Jerry and hit him over the head, and had then deliberately murdered Anders. The Coroner pursed his lips.
"It hardly seems a likely suggestion," he said, drily, "and unless supported by evidence cannot have weight with the jury."
He was right. It had no weight, and the jury, after only twenty minutes' deliberation, returned their verdict that Anders had met his death at the hands of Gerald Aylmer.
"That is equivalent to a verdict of murder," said Mr. Hannaford, gravely.
"We don't say that, sir," said the foreman, hastily. "We call it manslaughter."
"It does not matter what you call it. The degree of guilt will have to be settled at another court than this. Gerald Aylmer will be kept in custody to stand his trial for the killing of Alfred Anders."
FOUR people sat in the pretty drawing-room at Stort End. They were Jill and Fay Clavell, Joe Spangler, and Bill Beeks. Joe was speaking.
"Brand says there's only one chap who can do the trick. That's Gordon Scaife."
"Then we must have Scaife," said Jill quickly. Joe fixed his bright, blue eyes on Jill's face.
"Brand doubts we can get him. He is a pretty big bug, Miss Clavell."
"I know that. Everybody knows that Scaife is the greatest criminal barrister in the country; but it is only a question of money."
"That's just it, Miss Clavell," Joe said, anxiously. "Jerry hasn't a bean except the farm."
"What does that matter?" Jill exclaimed. "He has friends. I will be responsible for Mr. Scaife's fee."
"You!" Joe's eyes widened, but Jill, though she flushed hotly, stuck to her guns.
"The whole thing is largely my fault, Mr. Spangler. The least I can do is to put up the money. After all I can afford it. I am a rich woman."
"Bravo Jill!" said Fay, softly.
"And bravo, too, say I," added Joe, admiringly. "It's fine of you, Miss Clavell."
"But you mustn't tell him," exclaimed Jill. "You won't, Mr. Beeks, will you?"
"You can take your oath to that, miss," said Bill in his deep bass. "Jerry'd just about have a fit if he knowed."
"I hope he doesn't dislike me as much as all that," said Jill gently. Bill went red as fire.
"'Tain't that, 'tain't that at all," he protested, hoarsely.
"I know," said Jill. "I understand it's just that he wouldn't have a woman paying for his defense. But you don't mind, do you?"
"Course I don't mind. I think like Mr. Spangler does—as it's fine of you."
"Then that is all right," said Jill. "Mr. Spangler I want you to go up to town to-morrow and see Mr. Scaife."
"You bet I will," said Joe, briefly. "And he'll come, too, if I have to tie him."
He looked at his wrist watch.
"If I start now I can catch the mid-night out of Taverton. The I'll be on this gent's doorstep when he gets to his chambers in the morning. Come on, Bill. Stir those old stumps of yours."
"Have you enough money, Mr. Spangler?" Fay asked, shyly.
Joe thrust a hand in his pocket and pulled out a battered note case.
"Plenty," he said, "but thanks all the same, Miss Fay. I'll wire you some time to-morrow." He dragged Bill out and a moment later the sisters heard the whine of his powerful two-seater as it flashed down the drive.
"We are lucky to have a man like that to help us, Jill," said Fay. Jill did not answer and Fay, turning, saw her sister sitting, with her hands locked tightly together while her charming face was set with a look of such strain as Fay had never before seen upon it. The younger girl turned and laid her small hand upon Jill's shoulder.
"As bad as that, darling?" she said softly.
"Pretty bad, Fay," agreed the other. "You—you see I like him."
"I think you love him, my dear," said Fay, wisely. "But don't worry. We will save him."
"You really think we can?" Jill asked, earnestly.
"With Gordon Scaife's help, yes. That man is a marvel, Jill. I read his speech when he defended John Harman last June. It made me cry." She paused, then went on:
"Come to bed, Jill. You want sleep."
"But I shan't sleep," said Jill. "Jerry in prison! Oh I can't think of anything else."
"You must think of him acquitted—free," said Fay, firmly. "And—and it wouldn't do any harm to pray for him a little, dear."
Jill got up and hugged her sister.
"You do help," she said, quickly. "All right, Fay—I'll go to bed. And I do hope that Mr. Spangler gets Gordon Scaife."
"I'm quite sure he will," declared Fay, and she was right, for just before twelve next day a telegram arrived—
"Got Scaife. Tell Brand. Coming back to-night—Joe."
Fay drove in at once to tell Brand and the relief in the lawyer's face when he heard the news told its own story. Late that evening Joe turned up at Stort End. He was very cheerful.
"Scaife's coming down to-morrow to see Jerry," he said. "That's a man, I tell you. Sort of big, if you know what I mean. Got a voice like a bell. I never did meet anyone that made me feel just like he did. I'll lay odds he will turn Faul inside out.
"I do hope you're right," said Jill, earnestly.
"I'm right, Miss Clavell. I'll tell you why. Scaife is keen. Why, he made me tell him every single thing. I talked to him more than an hour. Then he said. 'Aylmer seems to have some pretty good friends,' and I said, 'You bet he has. Every one's Jerry's friend who knows him.' And he laughed, and said. 'I'm looking forward to meeting him, Mr. Spangler. And I'll do that to-morrow.'"
Joe's cheerfulness put fresh hope into Jill, and since she was now quite well again she decided to drive with Joe to Exeter next day and meet Scaife. They took Bill Beeks with them.
When they got back in the evening Fay was delighted to see the change in her sister. Jill looked happier than at any time since Anders's death.
"Joe did not exaggerate," she told Fay. "Gordon Scaife is a wonder. He fills you with confidence. He believes in Jerry's innocence, and he'll make the judge and jury believe."
"And how is Jerry?" Fay asked.
"Quite calm and cheerful, Fay."
"I'm sure he was glad to see you," said Fay, and laughed softly as she saw the colour rise in Jill's cheeks.
Since the autumn assizes were due in three weeks Jerry had no long time in prison. Joe told the girls that Scaife had sent down a detective to collect evidence, and that he was quite confident of Jerry's acquittal, yet even so, Jill found the waiting very trying.
The assizes opened on a Monday, and Jill asked Gordon Scaife to come down on Saturday and spend the Sunday at Short End, and he accepted. He wrote that he was driving down from Taunton, and would arrive for lunch.
Lunch time came, and there was no sign of him, but, since the day was foggy, Jill was not surprised. Suddenly, about half-past one, Ezra Chowne, Jill's farm bailiff, came galloping up to the house, and by the look on his face it was clear something was very wrong.
"There has been a terrible accident, Miss Jill," he told her. "Car has gone over the side of the road into a ditch along by Badger's Holt. We got the gent out and sent for doctor, but he's badly hurt." Jill went pale as death.
"Who is he?" she asked.
"He's the lawyer gent—him as you was expecting, missie."
THROUGH the wet darkness of a stormy September night the headlamps of a car flung misty beams on the great square front of Stort End, and Jill Clavell, springing to her feet, ran to the door and opened it.
"Is it you, Mr. Spangler?" she called in a voice which she vainly tried to steady. Joe got out and came towards her. All the spring had gone out of his step, and as the light, shining through the open door, fell on his face, Jill saw it set in lines that she had never seen before.
"Tell me," she said in a low, strained voice, but Joe seemed unable to speak. His lips moved, but no sound came. Fay came limping from the back of the hall, her stick tapping on the polished floor. She slipped an arm through Joe's.
"We have to hear sooner or later, Joe," she said, gently, "and we would rather hear it from you than anyone else."
"I know. That is why I came," said Joe in a queer, hoarse voice. "They—they found him guilty." There was a shocked silence. Joe broke it.
"Dawn them!" he cried, fiercely. "They never gave Jerry a chance. The judge said no one else could have done it, and the jury were just a flock of sheep."
"But—but Mr. Murcott, his counsel!" broke in Fay.
"Murcott's a fool," replied Joe, savagely. "I'd have made a better job of it, myself. Murcott was scared of the judge. He never half cross-examined that swine, Faul, As I've told you already, Jerry never had a dog's chance."
"I knew how it would be," said Jill, bitterly. "Gordon Scaife was the only man who could have saved Jerry. From the moment I heard of his accident I had no hope."
"Accident?" repeated Joe, "I'll lay there wasn't much 'accident' about it. You can take your oath, Faul had a finger in that pie. Chowne found a big patch of grease on the road at the turn." He paused. "But for everything Jerry suffers," he went on, bitterly. "Faul shall suffer twice. I'll see to that." His blue eyes glittered, and a vein in his forehead swelled and pulsed. It was difficult to realise that this was the cheerful, slangy Joe Spangler whom the two girls had come to know so well. Fay pulled him gently towards a chair.
"Sit down, Joe," she ordered, and he obeyed. "We can settle with Faul later," she went on. "First, we want to know what happened at Exeter. You have only told us that Jerry was found guilty. Was it of murder or manslaughter?"
"Not—not murder?" gasped Jill.
"No, Miss Jill, it wasn't murder," Joe said, quickly, "It was manslaughter; but that ugly old judge sentenced him to seven years' penal servitude."
Jill went very white.
"Seven years!" she repeated in a horrified voice.
"He gets a third off for good conduct," Joe reminded her.
"But even so it will be nearly five years before he is free," cried Jill. "Oh, Mr. Spangler, isn't there something we can do? Can't we appeal?"
"I asked Brand about that," said Joe. "He says it ain't a bit of good unless we get some fresh evidence."
"And since Faul is the only man who can give us that, there isn't much hope for Jerry," Fay said, sadly.
There was silence for a few moments; then Fay spoke again. "You are tired out, Joe. You must have some food. Supper is laid in the dining-room. Come in and have something to eat—and drink."
"I would be glad of a drink," Joe admitted, "But I don't feel like eating." However, after Fay had given him a whisky and soda Joe found his appetite and managed a helping of cold pie with salad and a bit of stilton cheese afterwards. As Fay found out, he had had nothing since breakfast.
For a long time the three sat and talked together, but always they came to a dead end. At last Joe got up.
"Time I went home," he told them. "But don't think that I've given up, for I haven't. I'm going to have a yarn with old Bill. Bill's smart, and maybe he can see some way that we haven't seen."
"You'll come to-morrow," begged Fay.
"Surely I'll come," Joe promised with unusual gentleness. "We three are Jerry's friends. Between us we ought to be able to do something to help him."
The girls watched him drive away through the rain, then Jill dropped in to a big chair and covered her face with her hands. Her slim shoulders shook with heavy sobs. Fay limped across and put an arm around her sister's waist.
"Cry if it does you good, darling," she said softly, "but don't give up yet."
"But what can we do?" asked Jill in a muffled voice.
"I don't know yet," said Fay, "but Joe will do something. And perhaps we can help."
"Joe is a good fellow," said Jill. "I do believe he'd do anything to help Jerry."
"He'd stop at nothing," declared Fay. But even Fay had no idea to what lengths Joe Spangler would go for his friend. Joe was one of those single-minded men who were capable of taking any chances to help a pal, and even while the two girls were talking of him he was already sitting with Bill Beeks in the living-room at Long Barton. The two men discussed appealing for a new trial, and the chances of getting fresh evidence, but all seemed equally useless.
Silence fell and Joe lay back in his chair, pipe in mouth, staring at the ceiling and frowning. At last he sat up, knocked the ashes out against the fender and started to refill the bowl from a pouch full of coarse-cut tobacco.
"Don't look like we've got much forwarder Bill," he said. "But we can't leave Jerry in quod. Five years in the jug will just about finish him."
Bill nodded. "Aye," he said, "it will kill him, or more like, drive him mad. Looks to me there is only one thing to do, Joe."
"Get him out."
Joe's very blue eyes widened. He whistled softly.
"You mean fix up an escape?"
"That's right," said Bill, stolidly.
"A big job," said Joe, thoughtfully. "Where will they put him?"
"Dartmoor most like."
Joe's face fell. "We'd never get him clear of Dartmoor," he muttered.
"True, but he has got to serve his separates first. That's six weeks in some smaller prison. I was reckoning to get him away before ever they put him inside the Moor." Joe stopped filling his pipe, and leaned forward.
"I told Miss Clavell you would see a way. Go on, Bill, Out with it."
"I don't know whether it's any good," said Bill, doubtfully, "but I been thinking a lot ever since I got home I'll tell you what my notion is."
Joe had told the girls he was going home, but he never got home that night. When dawn came, he and Bill Beeks were still discussing Bill's plan, going over it again and again, thinking out everything for and against it, trying to provide against any mishap. At last Joe stood up, stretched and yawned.
"It's pretty near watertight, far as can see, Bill. But I reckon we'll sleep on it before we start. Now all I've got to ask is, whether we tell anyone else of this notion of yours."
"Them gals, you mean?" said Bill.
Bill frowned, thoughtfully. "Best not," he said at last. "Not as I don't trust 'em for they're true blue. But 'tain't fair, bringing 'em into what'd be a nasty mess-up if anything went wrong."
Joe's face cleared. "You're dead right," he said. "Then we run this show off our own bat."
"A VISITOR for you, Aylmer."
Jerry, seated on a wooden stool in his barren, spotlessly-clean cell in Blaxton Gaol, looked up dully at the warder who stood in the doorway. Although a week had passed since Mr. Justice Crawford had pronounced his sentence, he was still numb with the shock of it. It would have been bad enough to find himself in prison for a crime he had really committed; it was hell to be in this position when he knew himself to be innocent. Day or night, he could not forget the horror of it.
"Come on. Don't keep me waiting all day," said the warder, gruffly.
Jerry got up and silently followed the other out of the cell and down the long stone-flagged corridor. If he felt any curiosity as to the identity of his visitor he did not show it.
At the end of the corridor the warder stopped and, with a key which hung from his belt, unlocked a heavy steel gate. They passed down a flight of steps, through another gate, and crossed the prison yard to a building in which was the long narrow chamber used as the visitors's room.
A grille of steel bars ran the length of it, and on the far side of this grille stood a lawyer-like person in a well-cut morning coat. On the bare white deal table lay a shining silk hat, a pair of gloves, and a small black bag.
"Good-day, Mr. Aylmer," said the visitor, quietly, and at the sound of the voice Jerry just managed to repress a start. He caught a quick glance from behind the spectacles which the visitor wore, and pulled himself together.
"I am Mr. Dallow, of the firm of Drake and Callow," went on the other. "I am asked by Mr. Beeks to bring this Power of Attorney for you to sign on his behalf, so that he may be able to administer your estate during your—Dr—absence." He spoke in a cold, dry tone which helped Jerry to pull himself together. Inwardly Jerry was seething with excitement, for, in spite of the amazingly clever disguise, he had instantly recognised Joe Spangler.
Joe's fair hair was dyed black; his eyebrows had been darkened, and his florid complexion had been cleverly toned down. His face seemed longer and narrower than Jerry had known it; altogether the change was so great that hardly anyone but himself could have recognised Joe.
"Will that suit you, Mr. Aylmer?" continued Joe.
"Yes, certainly," replied Jerry, controlling his voice with an effort, "I shall be very grateful if Bill—that is, Mr. Beeks—will look after Long Barton. Please thank him from me."
Joe opened his bag and took from it a legal-looking document which he spread out on the table. He turned to the warder.
"Officer," he said, politely, "I have permission from the Governor for Mr. Aylmer to sign this. Would you wish to see it so as to be sure that all is right."
"That is not necessary, sir," replied the warder, who, if rough, was not a bad fellow. "All I'll ask is that you stand clear while he signs."
"Very well," said Joe. "Here is a fountain pen, Mr. Aylmer, and you will see the place where you append your signature, marked with a cross in pencil."
Jerry's heart was thumping as he took his seat at the table. What was in the wind he had no idea, whatever, but he was quite sure that it was something to his advantage. Joe would not have risked this disguise without good reason.
"You had better read the document through carefully before signing it," Joe went on in his driest voice. "It will be as well to see if any alteration is needed so that it can be done before your removal to another prison."
To Jerry, with all his senses tuned to the highest pitch, it seemed certain that Joe had accented that word "removal," but he said no word, he did not even look up as he drew the document beneath the grille and began to read it.
At first sight it seemed just an ordinary power of Attorney but Jerry was already prepared to find something beneath the surface and he was not disappointed, The first thing he discovered were two letters traced in minute characters in the ornamental margin. They were "D.P.," and only a moment's thought was enough to tell him they stood for Dartmoor Prison. These letters had been written In some kind of chemical which was only now becoming visible or—perhaps—was already fading away. By degrees he collected the whole message.
"You go to Dartmoor Prison. Open carriage window in Marston Tunnel. Distract warder's attention.
"You feel sure that you quite understand the instructions?"
Joe's voice, dry as ever, broke upon Jerry's ears, and he looked up.
"I do," he said, steadily.
"Then please sign it and pass it back to me." It was all Jerry could do to steady his hand, for every pulse in his body was thumping. It surprised him to see that his signature was so legible, and he was equally surprised at the steadiness of his own voice as he thanked "Mr. Dallow" for his kindness and bade him goodbye.
A few minutes later he was back in his cell, but now no longer a prey to dull despair. All his apathy was gone, and for the rest of that day and for days afterwards his brain was busy with Joe's mysterious message. It cheered him beyond measure to know that his friends had not forsaken him, and he vowed to himself that he would do his share when the time came.
A CONVICT, a man sentenced to penal servitude, serves the first few weeks of his sentence in a local prison, in what is practically solitary confinement. When this period is up he is sent to the larger convict prison in charge of a warder. Sometimes a party of prisoners travel together, in which case they are accompanied by two warders, but Jerry knew that he was the only prisoner who was going to Dartmoor from Blaxton, and therefore that there would be only one warder with him. What he wondered most was which warder would be chosen to escort him. He expected that it would be Drew, an elderly, stout and rather sleepy man, and it gave him a nasty shock when he found it was Gribble, who was notorious as the hardest 'screw' in Blaxton.
Gribble was short and square in body and grim and square in face. One of the old-fashioned type, hard as nails, all for discipline; it was said of him that he had never been known to give a kindly word to any of his charges. Jerry's heart sank when, early one fine morning in late autumn he found himself at Blaxton Station in charge of this man.
In old days a prisoner was marched in convict dress and in handcuffs from the black maria to the waiting train, in full view of the assembled passengers. To-day his dress is less conspicuous, and some care is taken to shelter him from the public gaze, yet even so Jerry's cheeks were painfully flushed as he was hurried across the platform to the waiting train. He looked round quickly, hoping to see Joe, but there was no one in the least like him. His spirits sank still lower, for he had felt certain that Joe had meant to travel by the same train. The message, if it meant anything, had meant that an attempt would be made to rescue him during the journey.
The compartment reserved for him and his warder was in the last coach of the train. Gribble bundled him in and pulled the blinds down, and Jerry noticed that the guard was careful to lock both doors of the compartment. Gribble paid little attention to his prisoner. Curtly ordering him to sit down he took his own seat, opened a morning paper and composed himself in solemn silence for the journey.
It seemed a long time before the train started. Jerry had no newspaper to divert his thoughts and, owing to the drawn blinds, could see nothing of what was going on outside. He was dreadfully uneasy. Suppose something had gone wrong; suppose Joe had missed the train. If that had happened it was all up, for, once in Dartmoor, escaped was out of the question.
Five years—almost five years to serve. Cut off from everything that made life worth living. A number, not a man. He stirred restlessly, and Gribble lowered his paper.
"Sit still, can't you?" he ordered so harshly that Jerry felt a surge of anger run through his veins.
Suddenly he became aware that the train was moving. He sat back and tried desperately to steady himself. He must keep calm, for all his faculties would be needed when the time came for the escape. He brought his mind back to the message. The window was to be open as the train passed through Marston Tunnel. And, as the train entered the tunnel he was to distract the warder's attention. At present both the windows were closed, and since the day was warm for the time of the year the carriage was already becoming uncomfortably stuffy. But Gribble, one of the old school, seemed quite unaffected by the heavy atmosphere.
Jerry glanced at the stiff figure of the warder, then at his own steel-locked wrists, and racked his brain for some way of attaining his object. He felt perfectly certain that it was no use appealing to Gribble, yet if diplomacy failed what hope had he left?
One thing was in his favor. He knew the line, for he had travelled it more than once, and he was aware that he had plenty of time. Marston tunnel was beyond Riverton Junction, and they would not reach it for more than an hour. He settled down with what patience he could. Gribble, still deep in his paper, never said a word, and on the whole Jerry was grateful for his silence.
The sun blazed down on the carriage roof. For a day so late in the autumn it was amazingly warm, and the heat in the carriage was making Jerry feel almost faint. He bore it as best he might, for he was resolved that he would wait until they had passed Riverton before he made his request to have the window opened.
Riverton at last. He heard an unseen porter call the name. Some minutes went, then the train moved on again. Jerry turned to the warder.
"Would you mind, sir, if we had a window down?" he asked politely.
Gribble was the sort who would always rather refuse a favor than grant it. More than that, he cherished at intense dislike for the gentleman lag and delighted in an opportunity to take it out of one of this hated class. He scowled at Jerry.
"What's the matter? Want to make a break, eh?"
"All I want is a little fresh air," Jerry answered, quietly.
"Fresh air, indeed!" sneered Gribble. "You will get plenty of that in Dartmoor, I'll warrant. No, you can't have the window open. Sit still, and don't let me have any more of your lip."
Jerry's temper had been sorely tried that morning. The man's brutality set a match to it, and the explosion was inevitable. He sprang to his feet. Gribble made a snatch at his truncheon, but before he could draw it Jerry was on him. Raising his locked wrists he brought both fists down on the warder's head with such force that the man collapsed in a heap, and lay insensible, breathing heavily. Revulsion came upon Jerry.
"I've done it now," he muttered as he gazed dully at the prostrate man. "Suppose Joe doesn't come?"
At that moment the whistle shrieked as the engine entered the tunnel. This roused Jerry, and with nervous haste he sprang across to the right hand window and seized the strap. He got it open just as the carriage shot into the clanging darkness.
"Open carriage window," the message had said, but Jerry remembered that it had not specified which window. By the light of the electric lamp in the roof which had just been switched on, he stumbled across and opened the other window.
Gribble had not moved yet.
Marston Tunnel is nearly two miles long, and the gradient to the centre is heavy. A train takes fully five minutes to pass through it. Jerry stood leaning against the door, looking down at Gribble. He was sweating with suspense and as he was not too proud to confess to himself—sheer funk. If the help he hoped for did not come he would be called to account for his assault on Gribble, and, short as had been his experience of prison life, he had already learned enough to know just what happens to the convict who assaults a warder. He would he lucky if he escaped the cat.
The voice came from the right-hand window, and Jerry swung round to see the head and shoulders of a man leaning forward through the open window. For a moment Jerry gaped in amazement. The voice—he knew the voice right enough, but the face and figure were completely strange. This stout farmer with his mutton-chop whiskers, low collar and flat cravat, with a brassy-looking horseshoe pin in it—could it be Joe? Another moment resolved his doubts, for the voice came again.
"Give me a hand, man! The wind's nearly tearing me off!"
"You, Joe!" gasped Jerry, as he sprang across the carriage and hauled the other in. Instead of answering, Joe was gazing at the warder. His lips pursed in a soft whistle.
"Phew!—you've distracted his attention all right!"
"I had to," said Jerry, fiercely. "It was the only way." Joe stepped quickly across to Gribble and examined him. He took the key from the warder's pocket and quickly unlocked Jerry's hand cuffs.
"He's out, all right," he said. "If he comes to, we must gag him."
"But—what—?" began Jerry. He stopped with a quick intake of breath, for Joe was flinging off his broad-skirted coat, revealing the fact that he wore another beneath it.
"Good dodge, eh?" he chuckled. "Yes, I've two of everything, and since you're a hit bigger than me, the top lot ought to just about fit you. Strip off and change."
"But what about getting out—getting away?" Jerry asked, as he rapidly set about putting on the clothes that Joe flung off. "Have you forgotten that we shall be at Meripit in about four minutes?"
"Steady, old son!" said Joe, quietly. "Don't panic, Bill and I have got it all cut and dried. It's right, we stop at Meripit, but there is no reason anyone should disturb us—not with the blinds down. We've a car waiting at Dunnabridge.
"Dunnabridge! Why not at Meripit?"
"No time," said Joe, briefly. "We will be out of this tunnel before you are ready. And after that we have to change carriages. I'm counting on doing that in Mar Tor Tunnel." He gave Jerry a sharp glance. "Are you game to try the foot-board?"
"I'm game for anything except Dartmoor," said Jerry, fiercely.
As he spoke, the train began to slow into Meripit Station, Joe had already closed both windows and pulled down the blinds. He looked forward to make sure that there was no sign left of his unceremonious entrance, and as he did so, Gribble suddenly stirred, grunted, and sat up.
IN a flash both men were on the warder. Joe thrust a handkerchief into his mouth while Jerry pinned him down.
The train came to a stop.
"Meripit. Change for Grimathorpe," came the sing-song voice of a porter. There were steps outside. Gribble, coming to himself, began to struggle hard. He was a powerful man and it was all that the other two could do between them to hold him down and keep him from crying out. Jerry felt as though he were in the grip of some ghastly nightmare. Would the train never move?
Someone stopped outside the carriage. The handle turned and Jerry's heart seemed to stop beating, For the moment he had forgotten that the carriage door was locked.
"No, sir, you can't get in there. It is reserved," came the porter's voice. There was a disappointed growl and the steps moved on. If the train did not move soon, Jerry felt that he would collapse.
At last a jerk; then, slowly at first, but rapidly quickening its pace, the train moved out of the station, Joe acted.
"Hold him, Jerry! he said, and Jerry changed his grip while Joe flung his whole weight on the warder. Then with one hand Joe slipped a small bottle out of his pocket, and drawing the cork with his teeth poured part of the contents on to the handkerchief. The sweet, sickly odour of chloroform filled the carriage, and Gribble, realising what was coming, fought fiercely. But the other two held him relentlessly, and after a few moments his struggles slackened, his head dropped back and his burly body went limp.
"Had to do it," said Joe, regretfully, as he turned and pulled the window down. It was time, too, for both he and Jerry were beginning to feel dizzy from the effects of the fumes.
"Hadn't we better tie him?" suggested. Jerry.
"No. No time. He is safe for a quarter of an hour, and before that, the job will be settled one way or the other." As he spoke the train roared into Mar Tor Tunnel. Joe sprang to the offside window.
"Come on, Jerry!" he cried and with a key which he took from his pocket, unlocked the door. "You go first, I will be close behind. The next compartment. Bill's there waiting."
Jerry scrambled out on to the foot-board. The train was running fairly fast and the rush of air nearly tore him from his hold. For a moment his brain reeled. Prison food, lack of sleep, and the tension of the past few moments combined to unnerve him. He clung, helpless, feeling it impossible to move.
"Get on!" cried Joe in his ear. "Damn it, man, don't funk it!"
The insult braced Jerry to sudden action, and groping in the roaring, smoke-filled darkness, he managed to grasp the sill of an open window. At once two strong hands caught him and hauled him bodily into the compartment.
Once inside Jerry felt everything spinning around him and dropped limply on the seat.
"Is he hurt?" It was Bill's voice, but the man who spoke was dressed in rusty black, with a soft, black hat and looked like an itinerant preacher.
"No, but he's been tried a bit too high," returned Joe who had struggled in after Jerry. "Got the brandy Bill?" Bill was already lugging a flask on his pocket.
"What about that there screw?" he asked anxiously as he poured some of the spirit into a cup and put it to Jerry's lips.
"Safe for 10 minutes anyway. Had to dope him," said Joe with a quick shrug.
"Did you tie him?"
"No time," Joe answered, briefly. "But it is all right, Bill. We are due at Dunnabridge in eight minutes."
"Eight minutes," repeated Bill. "Hope to heaven we ain't late."
The brandy pulled Jerry round.
"Sorry I was such an ass Joe," he said, hoarsely. Joe laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't call yourself fool names, old son. I funked it myself. Here, have another nip."
"No, that's enough if I'm to keep my head. What happens next?"
"Sit tight till we get to Dunnabridge. As I told you, we have a car there."
Those next six or seven minutes seemed like as many hours. The train appeared to crawl and all three sat, silent, listening for any sound from the next carriage. At last it began to slow down.
"Here's Dunnabridge," said Bill.
The train came to a standstill. Jerry sprang to his feet, but Joe checked him.
"Steady! We're not at the platform yet," he said. Though he tried to speak naturally his voice was strained and hoarse.
"It's the screw. He's pulled the cord," growled Bill. Joe glanced out of the window.
"Rot. It's only the signal against us," he retorted. "Sit tight."
A minutes went by—two. Even Joe's nerve began to fail. He knew that, if the delay lasted much longer, it must be fatal. The effects of the chloroform could not last for more than another couple of minutes.
"We ought to have tied him," he muttered under his breath.
At last a jerk, and the train moved on.
"There's the car," said Jerry as he grasped the door handle. Again Joe pulled him back.
"Go slow," he said. "Wait till the train has stopped. Whatever you do, don't hurry. I'll go first. You and Bill follow. Pull that cap well down over your eyes, Jerry."
The train stopped again, but this time beside the platform, and Joe, who had pulled on a light overcoat, stepped out.
"Any luggage, sir?" asked an eager porter.
"No," Joe answered quietly, then turned to the others.
"Come on, you chaps," he said. "Don't be all day." Without haste, yet without loitering he walked to the exit.
"Tickets, please," said the collector.
"Three," Joe answered, casually, as he handed them over, then he paused a moment.
"How far to Okestock?" he inquired.
"Eight miles, sir. Turn to the left when you get out of the village."
There was a sudden commotion behind them. People began to run towards the back of the train. Jerry felt a mad inclination to bolt, but Joe turned, deliberately:
"Hulloa, what's up?" he asked of the collector.
"Don't know, sir. Someone taken ill, I fancy."
"Oh, well, I don't suppose we can help. Come along, you chaps." Coolly as ever, he led the way to the car. It was not his own. Indeed, Jerry had never seen it before. It was a twenty Stanton, old and rather rusty, the sort you can pick up second-hand for a few pounds.
Joe got in and took the wheel. He pressed the starter and the engine wakened at once. Quite deliberately Joe put her in first gear and then into second. She moved away at a steady pace. Jerry glanced round. There were a dozen people grouped around the rear end of the train, and they seemed to be lifting someone out of a carriage. He felt a difficulty in breathing, yet managed to sit quietly in his place. The car turned a corner, and as the platform was lost to view Joe changed noiselessly into top and put his foot down.
"A bit closer than I allowed for," he remarked as the speedometer needle flickered upwards. "Still, I reckon we have left 'em guessing, eh, Jerry?"
Jerry did not answer. At that moment he could not have uttered a word without breaking down.
THE stout old car groaned and creaked as she panted up what might once have been a cart-track, but which no wheeled vehicle had used for a generation.
No one but Joe Spangler would have attempted to have taken a car over such ground, and even he, with all his knowledge of the Moor, could not have done it if the ground had not been unusually dry. Twisting in and out among boulders, bumping into holes, clawing and skidding up slopes so steep the wheels could hardly find a grip, Joe worked the old bus up the hillside towards a gap which was almost as narrow as a railway cutting.
"Keep your eyes skinned," he ordered. "Sure you haven't seen anyone, Bill?"
"Don't you worry, Joe," said Bill. "No one ain't seed us since we left the road, and it ain't like as anyone will. Mist's thickening fast."
"First bit of real luck we've had since we started," said Joe as he twisted the steering wheel to avoid a thick clump of heather. "All the same I hope it don't get too thick. You and I, Bill, have a goodish way to go before we reach home."
Jerry wondered what Joe meant, yet asked no questions. He was content to leave everything in Joe's competent hands. Besides, he knew Joe would tell him everything when they reached the end of their Journey.
They were near it already. Another few minutes and the old car reached the top, and Joe steered her into the cut between two high, heather-clad banks. Before them Jerry saw a good-sized hollow at the bottom of which was a black-looking pool about half an acre in extent. Beyond, a hill rose steeply and in the face of it he saw a dark hole, beneath which lay a great clump of reddish earth.
"The Black Dagger!" he exclaimed. "The Dagger Mine."
"Right first time," replied Joe with a grin. "And the Dagger Pool, too, old lad. And that means as much as the mine."
"Are you going to leave me here?" Jerry asked.
"That's the notion. And the car."
"And the car?"
"Yes. It seems a bit of a shame, for the old bus has served us well. But it's the only way."
"What do you mean, Joe? Where are you going to leave her?"
"In there," replied Joe, pointing to the pool.
As he spoke he had manoeuvred the car to the top of a steep slope above the pool.
"Out you get!" he ordered.
Jerry jumped out; Joe and Bill followed, and Bill began unloading some large bundles from the back.
"Got it all?" Joe asked. "May as well have the cushions," he added. "They will make a bed for Jerry."
He hauled them out and flung them on the heather. Then he got in again and restarted the engine, He pushed up the throttle lever, then put the car into gear and as she began to move leaped nimbly out. The car drove forward over the lip of the slope, and plunged down the step, gaining speed rapidly.
Nearing the rim of the little lake she hit a rock, leaped bodily into the air and plunged into the water. A huge cloud of spray arose in the midst of which she vanished. Waves rolled out across the smooth black expanse, and when they smoothed again the poor old car had completely disappeared.
"Hard luck!" said Jerry, and Joe nodded.
"Couldn't help it, Jerry. It's the only way. Bill, and I decided long ago that we had to destroy every bit of evidence. It's certain that the car must have been noticed while she stood outside Dunnabridge Station, and, of course, her number was known and her description will be sent to every police station. They will he watching for her everywhere, but I will lay they will never find her."
"Never in this world," agreed Jerry. "No one but you would ever have dreamed of driving her to a place like this." He looked round. "I take it this is to be my residence for a time."
"That's it," said Joe. "It isn't Piccadilly, but it's not prison either." He paused and looked round. "There's not much chance of anyone spotting us here, especially as fog's coming on. All the same, we aren't taking any risks. Bill and I will show you your apartments and help you in with the luggage. Then we will have to push along."
He picked up one of the big bundles, Bill took another, and Jerry collected a third smaller one and the cushions.
Heavily loaded, the three made their way around the pool to the mouth of the mine.
The adit was a low-roofed tunnel with a floor of sticky mud through which ran out a thin stream of red-dish water, drainage from the workings. Joe led the way in and not until he was well inside did he pull out a flash lamp and switch it on.
The white light shone on rock walls and mouldering timbers which supported the roof. The air was fresh enough yet struck chill and damp. Jerry shivered a little but comforted himself with the thought that bad as it was, this place would be infinitely better than Dartmoor Prison.
As they went deeper in, the slope grew steeper and the floor drier. Joe turned out of the adit into a gallery which led to the left, and scrambling up a steep rock slope turned—this time to the right—and stopped.
"Here's your home from home," he remarked, and Jerry stood and gazed round in great surprise.
"Why, it's a regular cave," he exclaimed.
"It is a cave all right, Jerry. I reckon the chaps who found it were just as surprised as you. Pleased, too, for there was a big vein of almost pure tin along that far wall. Anyhow, it is fairly dry and well ventilated and we have fixed you up an oil stove so you can keep warm and do your cooking. Here are your oil cans against the wail, and here are your pots and pans. We have brought you a good lamp and a few books and there are cigarettes in this air-tight box. This bale holds blankets and a waterproof, and as for grub—there is plenty for a month.
"You're a wonder, Joe," declared Jerry with real gratitude. "I can never thank you and Bill enough for all this."
"Don't talk rot," said Joe, gruffly. "Anyhow, it was Bill's notion, not mine."
"Don't you believe him, Jerry," growled Bill. "It's true I had the notion of fixing up an escape, but Joe, he arranged all this. I couldn't have done nothing without him." There was a lump in Jerry's throat, and for a moment he could not speak.
"Some day I'll be able to tell you how grateful I am," he said, hoarsely, "I—I can't now." Joe smote him on the shoulder.
"Dry up, you silly old ass," he said. "You'd have done as much for either of us. Now see here," he went on more briskly, "you've got to sit tight until the excitement dies down. For a week or so they will be scouring the country for you; then, when they don't find you, they will think you have got abroad. Bill and I reckon you will have to stay here for about a month. Anyhow, don't move until I come for you. Is that a go?"
"Anything you say, Joe," replied Jerry, simply. "I'll sit tight." He looked up sharply. "But what about you and Bill? Won't they suspect you?"
"They can suspect as they like," said Joe, drily, "but they will be darn smart if they can fix anything on us. At the present moment I'm in London staying with my cousin Dick in Hampstead. It's a cast-iron alibi. As for Bill here, he's at home, laid up with a chill, and old Mrs. Hannaford nursing him. You know she ain't going to give anything away."
"'Pon my Sam, you're thought of every blessed thing!" said Jerry with real admiration.
"We worked it out pretty careful, Bill and I," he said. "But now we must be going, old son. This mist is just what we needed, and before dark we'll both be safe home and no one the wiser. So long."
Jerry checked him.
"One more thing before you go. Does Miss Clavell know anything of this?"
"Not a thing. Bill and I reckoned it was not fair to tell her. But she and Miss Fay, they'll be pretty pleased when they read the newspapers to-morrow."
"Give her my—my remembrances," begged Jerry.
"I'll give her a bit more than that," chuckled Joe as he squeezed Jerry's hand.
"Take care of yourself," growled Bill, whose voice was deepest when he was most moved. "I'll see ye some way afore long."
Then they were gone, and Jerry, standing at the mouth of the mine watched them until the mist swallowed them up. He turned and went back to his cave, feeling more lonely than ever he had felt in all his life.
WITH the oil stove and lamp still going, Jerry's cave looked almost cheerful, and he was busy for a long time unpacking and storing the goods that Joe and Bill had provided.
It touched him to see how carefully these had been chosen. There was, for instance, a sleeping bag in which the sleeper could keep warm, even in an Arctic blizzard, and a dozen or more of his favorite books, while the cigarettes were of the brand he liked best. As for food, there was all that anyone could want, and he set to work to cook a really good supper. He had had nothing since his breakfast, and when the rashers of best Wiltshire began to frizzle in the pan the smell of them made him furiously hungry.
After six weeks of monotonous prison fare he found he had acquired a new appreciation of real food, and he thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful of his meal, from the bacon and eggs and buttered biscuits on which he started, to the tin of pears and cup of coffee on which he finished.
Then he suddenly realised that he was very tired, so after just one cigarette he rolled up in his sleeping bag, and blowing out his lamp was asleep before he had time to start thinking.
Next morning, when he went to the mouth of the adit, he found it still foggy, but the fog was thin, and within an hour had drifted away, and the sun was shining from a pale blue sky.
Joe had warned him not to show himself, and, of course, there was no cover up at this height. Yet since the mouth of the adit faced south-east he was able to enjoy the sun for a couple of hours without actually going outside. A tiny breeze sprang up, rippling the surface of the pool below, and although it was now late autumn Jerry could not help thinking how delightful it would be to take a quick plunge in the cold, clear, soft water.
A low droning sound breaking on his ears, he looked up and saw an aeroplane come rushing over the head of Misty Tor. Instinctively he sprang back and waited while the drone grew louder. The aeroplane passed overhead, not more than four or five hundred feet up, so low, indeed, that Jerry plainly saw the head of a man as he peered over the edge of the cockpit.
"Looking for me," he said to himself, bitterly, then shivered with thankfulness that he had not yielded to temptation and gone out into the open. The aeroplane passed out of sight in a north-westerly direction, but in about twenty minutes came back again, flying a slightly different course.
Most of that day Jerry spent at the mouth of his burrow, but never once did he dare to venture outside. About two in the afternoon he saw a couple of men appear on the high ground less than a mile away, and notice that they had a dog with them. A bloodhound, he thought, though at this distance he could not be sure. This gave him a fresh fright, and his heart beat painfully as he watched them. But they passed down the bridle path leading towards Strane Cot, and he saw them no more.
A little later, clouds covered the sun, and a very cold wind began to blow. The clouds thickened, and rain came up from the south-west. Jerry breathed a sigh of relief, for the rain would wash out not only footmarks, but also any scent the hounds could follow.
All the same, his spirits were low as he went back to his cave. He was realising that he was a hunted fugitive with all the forces of the law against him. And a hunted fugitive he would remain to the end of his life if he could not manage to clear himself.
Even if he were not caught, even if Joe and Bill managed to get him away, how was that going to help? He would have to change his name and identity and hide himself in South America or some place clean off the map, and even then could never feel safe.
Worst of all, he would never again see Jill Clavell. The thought filled him with despair. All that night he hardly slept, and next morning as he stood at the mouth of the adit, looking out into a day of high clouds and strong wind, he felt almost desperate. Had it not been for the risk to Joe and Bill he would have started then and there for Stort End.
Yet Jerry was neither a fool nor a weakling. He had the pluck and strength to fight his misery, and by degrees be struggled out of the depths into which he had fallen. Even so, the next days were bad, almost as bad as those weeks of numb horror in Blaxton Gaol.
A week passed—the longest week Jerry had ever known. Most of the time it rained in torrents. At last it stopped; there came a day of fog, and Jerry, frantic for exercise, decided it would be safe to take a walk.
He waited till about two in the afternoon, then climbed the hill above the mine and started to make a round. He knew the lie of the land, or thought he did, and reckoned on walking in a circle and coming back through the gap opposite, the same through which Joe had driven the car.
Like everyone who lives on Dartmoor, Jerry was accustomed to fogs, and this did not seem especially thick. What Jerry forgot was that moor fog is always worse on the high ground, and when he reached the top of the hill he could not see ten yards in any direction. However he was not going to be done out of his walk. It was the first for two months, so he turned to the right and carried on.
Next thing he knew he had floundered into a bog hole nearly up to his waist. Even on the high tops these little pits of slime are common enough. By the time he had struggled out he had lost all sense of direction, but even then he was not worried, for he had noted the point from which the wind blew, and that, he believed, was as good as a compass.
It was Jerry's ill luck that the wind had shifted from south-west to north-west, and the result was that he walked right away from the mine, and found himself going down hill instead of up. He turned and tried to hark back, but that was no good.
Half an hour later he had to own to himself that he had not the faintest notion where the mine was. He was completely lost.
NOTHING makes a man feel so completely helpless as being lost on Dartmoor in a thick fog. The dense, grey curtain that hangs around him deadens his senses, and the utter silence makes things worse. There are no landmarks, and there is always the danger of stumbling into a bog or into the open mouth of some old quarry or tin working.
If it is bad for an ordinary tourist, imagine what getting lost meant to Jerry Aylmer. Every man's hand was against him, for by this time his description was placarded everywhere, and all the Moor men would be keen to earn the reward offered for taking him.
On the face of it, Jerry's wisest course would seem to be to have stayed where he was until the fog lifted. The trouble was that a fog like this would probably not lift until next day, and that no man, however strong, could stand exposure for a whole night on these bleak heights. Even in summer the nights on the High Moor are yet very cold. It was now the end of October, and there was no shelter of any sort nearer than his cave.
"Of all the fools that ever lived you are about the biggest, Jerry Aylmer!" said Jerry aloud, as he stood straining his eyes uselessly through the wall of vapour that surrounded him.
The breeze was no use to him, for by this time he had realised that it was the shift of wind which had betrayed him. And, of course, he had no means of telling in which direction it had shifted. The faint current of air might be coming from any point of the compass. He shivered in the chill dampness, for he was wet to his middle from his plunge into the bog.
Well, it was no use standing still, so after thinking things over, he decided to make a fresh cast in the hope of discovering his own track. He remembered that he had crossed a tiny rivulet where his footsteps would be plain in the soft mud, and he started to find this wee stream. It was nearly an hour before he reached it, and then he set to following it down. Luck was against him, for he had struck it just a hundred yards below the place where he had first crossed it, so now every step took him farther from his refuge. Then at last he did come upon footmarks, and took them for his own. Actually they were those of a man who had come that way snipe shooting earlier the same day.
Jerry followed them carefully back up a long slope until he came upon stony ground, where he lost them completely. Then he ran into a patch of thick gorse, and since he was certain he had never passed this, knew that he had blundered. He harked back, and after a long time, struck the little brook again. At least he thought it was the same, but in point of fact it was another.
There are dozens of these little runnels after heavy rain. He went back up it, only to strike a patch of really bad bog, which forced him to turn once more.
The fog was thicker than ever, and the autumn dusk was closing down. Jerry was getting really scared. It was quite plain that he would never find the mine again before dark, and equally plain that he must find cover of some sort.
He decided to follow the small stream down into the valley. He reckoned that it probably ran into the Strane and he remembered an old blowing house near that river, which would give him some sort of shelter for the night. So he turned again and walked as quickly as he dared down beside the little watercourse.
It was very nearly dark when, at last, he heard the hoarse roar of the parent river and found himself on its bank. Turning to the right, he followed it down. The going was very bad and often he was over his knees in mire. The only way to keep out of actual danger was to stick close to the bank, and since the river was in flood he kept on splashing into deep, little backwaters. Altogether it was a nightmare journey.
It grew so dark that he might have passed within half-a-dozen yards of the blowing house without seeing it. As he found out afterwards, he did actually pass it.
Hours went by. He looked at his wrist watch which had a luminous dial, and saw that it was past seven. He had been walking over the worst country in England for more than five hours, and he was wet to the skin and tired out. Incidentally, he was ravenously hungry.
Another half-hour passed and now the fog was thinning. The fact was that he was on much lower ground where the mist did not hang so heavily. Also the breeze had strengthened, and it was bitterly cold. If the sky cleared, it would freeze sharply before morning. Then, quite suddenly, Jerry saw a light in front of him.
A light meant a house, and a house was just what Jerry knew he should avoid, yet, on the other hand, the thought of warmth and food drew him like a magnet. He decided that he would go nearer and have a look round. If it was a Moor farm there might be a haystack in which he could bury himself and sleep till dawn, then he could find his way back to the mine.
Groping forward, he found himself up against a stone wall which surrounded a small patch of enclosed land in the middle of which was not a farm house but a cottage. The light he had seen came from two curtained windows and showed a well-cultivated garden beneath the windows. He climbed the wall and tip-toed round to the back. There was no haystack and the only outbuilding was a small, bare shed. No shelter there and for all the use it was to him he might almost as well stay out on the open moor.
Nearly desperate, Jerry made his way to the front of the cottage and peered through one of the two lighted windows. He looked into a neat living-room where a woman, and a boy sat at supper. The woman, who wore a black dress, had her back to him, so that he could not see her face, but the boy, who sat opposite the window, was a good-looking, well-set-up youngster of about 12.
Jerry was so near he could see everything on the table—the joint of cold meat, the loaf, the pat of home-made butter and the big black pot of tea—and the sight of the food made him perfectly ravenous. A great mass of peat turves burned redly on the hearth, and a lamp with a pretty shade lighted the pleasant little room.
Jerry waited and watched and racked his brain for what best to do. There did not seem to be any man in the house, and surely a woman and a boy would not be particularly dangerous. The odds were that they had never seen him before and would not recognise him. He could tell them he was a tourist from Taverton who had lost his way. Yes, surely he could pitch a yarn that would go down.
Stronger and stronger grew the temptation, and suddenly Jerry made up his mind. He went to the door and rapped. There was a pause of perhaps half a minute, then the door opened and a pleasant smell of turf smoke and food flowed out to Jerry's starved nostrils. In the opening stood the boy and Jerry saw that he was even better looking than he had at first thought. With his straight figure, crisp chestnut hair and clear blue eyes, he was a remarkably handsome little fellow. Jerry who, a moment before, had been shivering with nervousness, was now perfectly cool.
"Good morning," he said, pleasantly. "Is your father in?"
The boy looked at the soaked and muddy figure with a curiously direct gaze. He seemed to recognise a gentleman beneath the mud-stained clothes.
"I haven't got a father," he said, "but mother is in."
"May I see her, please."
"I'll call her," said the boy. "Come in, sir."
The woman came. She was about thirty-four or five, fair like her son. Must have been pretty once, Jerry thought, but now she was thin and her face had gone a little hard. Jerry wished her good evening.
"My name is Austin," he said. "I am staying at Taverton and I started out for a walk this morning, and got lost in the fog. As you see—" he stepped forward—"I have been in almost every bog on the Moor. I have not the least idea where I am, and I am tired out. So when I saw your light I knocked in the hope that you would let me rest a little and would put me on my right road."
Jerry was conscious that, whilst he was speaking, the woman was quietly examining him. But his voice and manner seemed to reassure her, and he knew that his clothes—which were his own—would pass muster, even if they were wet and dirty.
"Come in, sir," she said, and her voice, Jerry noticed, was not that of a Moor woman, but more clear-cut and refined. "You're a long way from Taverton, and you certainly have had a bad time. Alec and I were just having our supper and if you can eat cold mutton we shall be glad if you will share it."
"I could eat a horse," said Jerry with a smile, "but I am not fit to sit down as I am, indeed I am not fit to come into your house at all."
"You'd like a wash, I'm sure," she said. "Alec, take this gentleman to your room and get some hot water from the kitchen. I'll be laying another place."
The boy, with a self-possession beyond his years, ushered Jerry up the narrow stairs into a small but exquisitely clean bedroom, Then he ran down and came back with a jug of hot water, after which he withdrew, closing the door behind him.
Jerry washed luxuriously and was brushing his hair when a slight but familiar click made him start. Swinging round, he made one jump for the door. The handle turned, but the door was fast.
"YES, you are locked in," came the woman's voice from the other side. "And this time, Gerald Aylmer, you won't escape as easily as you did from Dunnabridge a week ago. You are locked in and I have sent Alec for the policeman. I knew you at once for the man who killed my husband."
The shock was so great that for the moment Jerry felt stunned. So this was Mrs. Anders! Could any more fantastic stroke of ill-luck have been imagined than to fall into her hands? As it happened, though he knew Anders was married, he had never seen his wife. Faul had brought Anders from some place in the Midlands, when he first took Lifford.
"It is useless for you to try and escape," Mrs. Anders went on, resolutely. "I have a gun in my hands, and shall not hesitate to use it if you try to break down the door."
Jerry dropped limply on the bed. He fully realised that Mrs. Anders meant exactly what she had said, and that it was no use putting his shoulder to the rather flimsy-looking door. He wondered for an instant how far it was to the police station and how long Alec would take to fetch him.
But this state of collapse did not last long and in less than a minute Jerry was on his feet. He was not going to be caught again if he could help it, and if the door was locked there was still the window. Creeping cat-like across to the window he raised it softly and looked out.
To his amazement the air was quite clear. With one of those sudden changes so frequent on the heights of Dartmoor, a breeze had suddenly got up and swept the fog away like smoke.
This window, he saw, was in the back of the house, and it was not a dozen feet to the ground. He did not wait a moment, but slipping his long, lean body through the opening, grasped the sill firmly, then lowered himself and dropped without a sound on to the soft earth beneath. There he stood a moment, listening intently, but there was no sound from above and stepping cautiously he made down the slope to the little garden towards the brook.
There was, he realised, only one way of making good his escape, namely to slip down into the water and wade under cover of the bank until he was quite out of sight of the house. He would have to go down stream, for the river was in half flood from the recent rains and the current too strong to wade against. This, Jerry knew, would take him farther from his refuge in the old mine, but that could not be helped. Once away, he would give them a run for their money.
His chief fear was that the water would be too deep to get into it at all. These mountain streams came down with such force and fury that a man cannot stand in water much above his knees. Imagine then, Jerry's surprise when, on reaching the bank, he found the bed of the river nearly dry. A mere trickle of water dribbled from pool to pool among the big granite boulders.
This was against all reason, for, less than half an hour ago, the water had been roaring down nearly bank high, but as he paused in wonder suddenly the explanation flashed upon him. Somewhere up on the High Moor where the river ran through the black depths of Chasm Cleave, there had been a big rock fall, a slide which had dammed the river with hundreds of tons of boulders and earth.
That was it, without a doubt, and at the present moment the penned flood was pounding up behind the dam until its ever increasing weight should burst the barrier. This same thing, Jerry remembered, had happened on the Arrow the first winter he had come to Long Barton. For three hours the river was practically dry; then it came down with a roar and a rush that took every bridge out for miles down.
But this was all in his favor, for now he could go up stream instead of down. What was more, he could walk dry-shod under the bank and so remain hidden. He wasted no time, but dropping over the bank began to pick his difficult way over the shingle and boulders. He went as fast as he dared, for all his energies were set on getting as long a start as possible. It was a chance to get clear, and he was not going to waste it.
The sky was clearing fast; stars were beginning to show, and presently a crescent moon was visible behind a ragged edge of wind-torn cirrus. Its light showed him something which he had not seen before—the slim black outline of the foot-bridge which crossed the Strane about three hundred yards above the cottage.
The bridge was a danger point, and recognising this Jerry increased his pace. He was very tired and aching with hunger, yet he hardly thought of his physical suffering in his intense anxiety to make good his escape. But the going was shockingly bad, and when he got nearer the bridge he was dismayed to find that there was a pool below it, a pool so deep and steep-sided that there was nothing for it but to climb up out of the river and make a round.
This was a risk, for Mrs. Anders might have missed him by now, and be following him with the gun, but it was a risk that had to be taken, and the quicker the better. There was no saying when that dam might go out and, once it went, there would be no more walking in the river bed, or anywhere near it, for that matter.
Jerry was in the very act of climbing the bank when a low distant roar broke on his ears, a roar that grew louder and closer with amazing and terrifying speed.
"THAT'S done it!" Jerry muttered. He paused a moment, with his head above the rim of the bank, looking this way and that, trying to make sure that no one was within sight, while the thunder of the flood came leaping from the hills above.
The river was coming down with a vengeance, and Jerry realised that everything might depend on which side of it he emerged, for if caught on the wrong side he was done for. The trouble was that he had no idea at all from which side the policeman was coming. Whilst he hesitated, a small figure shot into sight, running along the footpath towards his right—that is the opposite side of the bridge.
It was young Alec Anders, and by the pace at which he was travelling it seemed clear that he knew just what was coming. Jerry sighed with relief for the boy was alone. Seemingly he had not been able to find the policeman. Then Jerry ducked down again beneath the bank so as to make sure that the boy would not see him.
Above the thunder of the flood which was sweeping down with the speed of a train, he heard the quick clatter of nailed boots on the planking of the bridge and saw the slight figure of the boy outlined against the sky. Next instant he saw something else. A great brown wave humped like a camel's back above the banks, was rushing upon the bridge with frightful speed. He leaped from his hiding place.
"Run, Alec! Run!" he shouted as he raced for the bridge. He had best have kept quiet. The sudden shout startled Alec who stopped short. It was only for a second, then he was running again, but that second's pause made all the difference.
The damage was done, for, sweeping like a mad monster across the pool, the flood reached the bridge just before Alec was clear, and the furious force of hundreds of tons of racing water ripped the wire stays like pack thread.
Jerry, dazed by the roar and thunder of the racing flood, had a vision of the whole bridge swinging across towards him in one piece. And dark against the yellow foam he saw the boy still clinging to the rail.
Jerry did not stop to think. There was no time for that. Reckless of the almost certain death that awaited him, he plunged forward. His eyes were on the boy and he saw nothing else. A rush of water caught him to the waist and forced him back. Its icy chill made him gasp for breath. A spinning eddy seized him like a giant's hand and tore his legs from under him. He flung himself forward, clutched at something half seen in the roaring smother and found himself clinging to a stout wire which was the hand-rail of the bridge.
Just above him he saw Alec dragged flat out on the surface of the torrent, yet still clinging for dear life to the same wire of which he himself had hold. By sheer strength of will and muscle Jerry hauled himself up until he was able to reach the boy.
"All right, Alec," he cried, "I've got you."
There was a fresh rush of water, and the wire stay twanged like a banjo string under the terrific strain. Jerry felt sure it would snap and braced himself for the final plunge. At that instant a fresh eddy came spinning out of the central torrent, For a moment the water, cold as death washed right over the heads of Jerry and Alec. Yet somehow, Jerry kept his hold, then he was on the top again and felt that he and the boy together were being swung back right over the bank and into the shallower water which surged over the grass.
"Let go, Alec!" he shouted in the boy's ear.
Alec obeyed and at once he and Jerry together were rolling over and over in the rim of the flood. For some seconds it was even chances whether they were swept back into the remorseless jaws of the torrent.
It was a rock that saved them, the sharp top of a granite boulder, whose roots were deep in the earth. Flung against it, Jerry seized it with a grip of iron, for he knew it was the one thing that stood between them and death. He got his legs down and fought the greedy waters until he and the boy together had scrambled into safety.
Then came the reaction and all Jerry could do was to lie still, gasping for breath, so giddy he could not move or see. The struggle coming on top of all he had done that day, had drained the last ounce of strength and energy from his body. But Jerry was young and very strong, and presently the worst of the dizziness passed and he was able to raise himself.
The moon was now bright, and in its pale light he could see Alec lying very still. He was breathing, but insensible. Jerry could not leave him where he was. The boy would die of cold and exposure. He must take him back. There was nothing else to do.
Jerry staggered to his feet and picking up the lad in his arms, started back towards the house. He was still wretchedly weak and giddy and he staggered as he went.
`The distance was less than a quarter of a mile, yet to Jerry it seemed endless. One thing be realised grimly; it did not much matter whether the policeman had been warned or not, for, in his present condition, Jerry knew that he could never get back to his mine.
Before he was half way to the cottage someone came running, There was a sharp cry "Alec! Oh Alec!" and Mrs. Anders came panting towards him.
"Here he is," said Jerry between chattering teeth. "Don't worry. He's not hurt."
The woman pulled up short.
"Y-you!" she cried staring at Jerry as if she could not believe her eyes.
"He pulled me out, Mummy." Alec, who had got off much more cheaply than Jerry, had come round and was eagerly explaining. "I was on the bridge when the big flood came and the bridge broke and I was just going to be drowned when he jumped in and pulled me out."
"Y—you did this?" gasped the woman.
"There wasn't anyone else, Mrs. Anders, so it was up to me," said Jerry, trying to speak lightly, yet not succeeding very well.
"And—and you were bringing him back?"
"I couldn't leave him on the bank, could I?" Jerry's patience was wearing a little thin.
"I—I don't know," said the woman, vaguely. "Oh, and I sent for the policeman." She stopped short and stared at Jerry. "Did you kill Anders?" she demanded suddenly.
JERRY drew a long breath.
"I hit him in the face with my fist, Mrs. Anders. That, as I swore at my trial, was the only blow I gave him."
Still the woman stared at him. In the dim moonlight her pale eyes searched his face, desperately.
"I—I believe you," she said at last. "A man like you—a man who'd risk everything to pull a child out of the water couldn't be a murderer."
Jerry felt an extraordinary sense of relief—almost of elation.
"Thank you, Mrs. Anders," he said simply. "Then if you believe that, you had better take Alec and let me go."
"Go," she repeated. "You can't go like that. No, you must come into the house and get dry and have some food."
"And an escort back to Moorlands?" said Jerry, quietly.
"No—no." And then Alec broke in.
"Mum, I didn't see the policeman. He was out and there was no one there. And then I heard the flood, and ran back."
"So no one knows," exclaimed Jerry with a gasp of relief.
"No one knows," said Mrs. Anders. "No one but Alec and I. You will come back with us, Mr. Aylmer?"
Jerry did not hesitate. He felt he could trust this woman, and he walked with her back to the house. She herself took him upstairs and found for him a suit of her husband's. It was a joy to rub himself down with a rough towel and get into dry clothes. Although he was aching in every muscle he felt better already when he came down into the living-room.
"Drink this," said Mrs. Anders, handing him a glass. It was whisky mixed with lemon juice, sugar, and hot water, and Jerry thought he had never tasted anything so good. She pulled up a chair for him by the fire and Jerry realised that he had never yet fully appreciated the life-giving flow of burning peat.
While he had been upstairs she had made fresh tea and poached a couple of eggs. He ate these with bread and butter and afterwards cold mutton, and finished up with more bread and butter, blackberry jam, and two large cups of hot tea.
At first he had been almost too tired to think, but now the warmth and good food had restored his faculties, and he began to wonder at the amazing change in the woman's attitude.
"I can't believe it," he said, suddenly. "An hour ago you were my worst enemy; now you are my kindest friend."
Mrs. Anders flushed slightly.
"It seems almost as strange to me, Mr. Aylmer. And yet—yet I know I'm right."
"You are right," Jerry said, gravely. "Yet someone killed your husband. And whoever it was simply used me as a scapegoat. Tell me, had Anders any enemies?"
"Plenty," said Mrs. Anders, frowning. "Alfred was a hard man, and he made enemies. There were poachers up at home who'd sworn to get him. But down here—well, we haven't been here very long, and I don t know of anyone who'd got a bad enough grudge against him to kill him." She sighed, "If he was a hard man at his job he was a good husband, and I'd think no trouble wasted if I could find his murderer."
"To me it is a matter almost of life or death," he told her. He saw the sympathy in her face.
"I wish I could help you, Mr. Aylmer," she said, earnestly. "Have you no idea yourself who did it?"
"You can say anything you've a mind to," she urged. "After what you have done for Alec to-night, I will tell nothing to harm you."
"Then tell me," said Jerry, "how did Anders get on with his employer—with Mr. Faul?"
She frowned again.
"He didn't like him any too well, but Mr. Faul paid him good wages, and I never heard there was any quarrel between them. What were you thinking, Mr. Aylmer?"
"Frankly, I have always had the idea that Faul had something to do with the business. You know he and I had had a tussle that afternoon, and he vowed vengeance—and meant it."
"But you don't think he killed my husband?" said Mrs. Anders, sharply.
"I don't see how he could have done so—that is, if Grigg's evidence was true. What I do think is that he may have set someone else to do it, simply in order to get me into trouble, That is why I asked you if Anders had enemies."
Mrs. Anders sat gazing into the fire. Her forehead was wrinkled, and Jerry could see she was thinking hard. Presently she looked up and met Jerry's anxious eyes.
"There is Brower," she said slowly. "Brower is one of Mr. Faul's men. Sometimes he drives the car, sometimes he acts as beater. He is a bad man."
"Brower—I know him by sight," said Jerry quickly. "A thick-set fellow with a permanent scowl on his face."
"That's the man. I don't know that he was an enemy of my husband, but Alfred didn't like him."
"No one could like a man with a face like that," said Jerry. "Mrs. Anders, I believe that you have hit the right nail on the head. At any rate, you have given me something to work upon. I will tell Mr. Spangler what you have said, and I hope he may be able to use the information."
"He will have a hard time to get anything out of Brower," said Mrs. Anders, with a shake of her head. "There's ugly stories afloat about that fellow."
"Then all the more likely that he is the criminal," Jerry answered, as he rose to his feet. "I wish," he added, "that I could see Mr. Spangler, but that is impossible. Now that you have fed and warmed me, Mrs. Anders, I had better be on my way."
"You weren't thinking of going to-night," she protested. "You are not fit—and it is dark, too, and the fog might fall again. No, you stay till morning, Mr. Aylmer. You can leave at daybreak, and there won't be anybody about then."
"It wouldn't be fair to you, Mrs. Anders," said Jerry, gravely. "Suppose anyone came in and found you harbouring an escaped prisoner."
"And who's to come?" she retorted. "Moor folk go to bed early, and anyway, now the bridge is down, there couldn't anyone come from the other side. No, you stay and get a bit of sleep on the couch here. And I'll wake you in good time." She meant it. Jerry could see that she meant it, and truly the thought of that long tramp back in the darkness made him shiver.
"Thank you very much," he said, gratefully. "I will do as you say. It will be a long time before I forget your kindness," he added.
"It's not for you to talk of gratitude, Mr. Aylmer," she replied, "not after what you have done for us this night. Now I'll fetch some blankets and you can sleep sound. No one will disturb you."
Stretched on the big, old-fashioned couch, cosy in thick blankets, with no light in the low-roofed room except the red glow of the peat fire, Jerry felt a sense of peace and comfort to which he had long been a stranger. This adventure which had begun so badly had turned out so fortunately that he felt new hope.
Brower—the more he thought of him the more certain he felt that he was on the track of the real criminal. He began to consider ways and means of getting at the truth, but he was too tired to think, and suddenly was sound asleep.
Next thing he knew, someone was shaking him gently. He opened his eyes, drowsily, and saw Mrs. Anders fully dressed, bending over him.
"It's half-past five, Mr. Aylmer," she said, "but I'm afraid you can't leave yet."
"Why—what's the matter?" demanded Jerry, sitting up.
"The weather's changed again," she answered, "and it's snowing terribly."
"SNOWING," repeated Jerry. After all, he was not greatly surprised, for he remembered how cold it had turned as the fog lifted and knew how quickly the weather changes on the Moor.
"Snowing—that's a nuisance."
"It's something worse than a nuisance, Mr. Aylmer," said the woman, gravely. "It's almost a blizzard. Listen to the wind."
As she spoke, Jerry heard the shriek of the gale in the chimney and felt the whole house shake. Jerry had not undressed except to take off his coat. He got up and went across to the window. The panes were covered with thickly-drifting snow and outside the darkness was pale with the glimmer of snow. He whistled, softly.
"You're right, Mrs. Anders. It is pretty bad. Still, there is one thing in my favor. No one will be about on a day like this."
"I don't think you understand, Mr. Aylmer. This is worse than the fog. There is not a living man could find his way across the Moor in a storm like this."
"But I've got to get back," said Jerry, blankly.
"I don't know where you are going, Mr. Aylmer," she said, gravely, "and I'm not asking; but, by the look of you when you came in last night, you had come a long way, and it is my guess you were hiding out somewhere on the High Moor. If it is as bad as this, here, think what it will be on the Tops. You will go to your death if you try to cross the Moor to-day."
Jerry listened with growing dismay. He could not possibly stay where he was, yet, if he did not get back to the mine, he had no notion where to go. He went to the door and opened it. The force of the wind slammed it back; in an instant the passage was full of feathery flakes. Outside, the snow was drifted already a couple of feet deep against the wall. The whole world was white and the cold made him gasp.
"You see, I am right, Mr. Aylmer," said Mrs. Anders. "You will have to stay till this is over. But don't worry," she added, kindly. "If anyone does come—which isn't likely—we can hide you upstairs. Now you had best rest a while longer while I get breakfast."
In spite of his anxiety, Jerry found breakfast a very pleasant meal. There was plenty of food in the house, and Mrs. Anders was a good cook. The eggs and bacon were perfect, and Alec made capital toast over the glowing peat fire. The boy could not do enough for Jerry, and he kept on talking about his rescue from the flood.
As daylight came the fury of the storm grew greater. A howling nor'-easterly gale drove clouds of fine snow across the great open expanse and, minute by minute, the drifts grew deeper. It was out of the question for Alec to go to school, so he and Jerry sat by the fire and talked while Mrs. Anders busied herself about the house.
These autumn storms on the Moor are often fierce, but they do not last so long as the winter blizzards. By midday the snow had ceased and the sky began to clear. Yet the drifts, even here, were three to four feet deep, and that meant double on the High Moor. Also the snow was soft, so that at every step a man would sink to his middle. No one could cross the Moor until the thaw came. That might be forty-eight hours hence, or it might be a week.
Jerry's face was troubled as he turned to Mrs. Anders, but she remained cheerful.
"You will just have to wait, Mr. Aylmer, and you will be as safe here as anywhere else and a deal more comfortable."
"But it may be a week before I can get back, Mrs. Anders," he protested. "It isn't fair to you or Alec."
"That's our business," she said, calmly. "Anyhow, it's no use worrying over what can't be helped, We will warn you in good time if we see anyone coming, and no one will bother you up in Alec's room."
So Jerry stayed, and by way of passing the time told Alec sea stories. He liked the boy, and Alec became devoted to him. That night it froze sharply, and next morning the surface of the snow was hard enough to carry Alec's light weight. He declared his intention of going to school. Jerry had an idea.
"Can you post a letter for me, Alec?" he asked, and Alec said that of course he could. Jerry wrote to Bill and told him exactly what had happened and asked him, if possible, to get word to Joe. He asked Mrs. Anders to address the envelope so that there should be no risk of the handwriting being recognised. Then he set himself to wait, but, meanwhile, he was able to make himself useful. He cut kindling wood and brought in peat and water for his hostess.
Twice that day he had to slip upstairs, once when the postman came and, later, when a neighbor from the village struggled through the snow to visit Mrs. Anders. The postman brought a newspaper, which Jerry devoured eagerly. Tucked away at the bottom of a column was a six-line paragraph headed "Escaped Prisoner," and saying that it was believed that Gerald Aylmer had reached London and that the ports were being carefully watched. "It seems certain that he has not succeeded in leaving the country," the paragraph ended. Jerry showed this to Mrs. Anders.
"They are beginning to forget me," he said.
Before she could answer there was a knock at the front door, and Mrs. Anders started.
"Serves me right," she said, "for not looking out. You can't go upstairs, Mr. Aylmer. Slip into the kitchen and through into the scullery. You will be all right there."
Jerry went swiftly and silently, closing the doors behind him. He was not greatly worried, for it was quite certain that the police did not know he was on the Moor, and in any case Mrs. Anders's cottage was the very last place where anyone would be likely to look for him.
A few minutes later Mrs. Anders came after him.
"It's Mr. Spangler," she told him, "He is in the kitchen. You can talk there without anyone disturbing you." The two men met with outstretched hands.
"You old juggins," said Joe, with a grin. "Bill nearly had a fit when he got your letter."
"You can call me anything you like, Joe," said Jerry. "But, honestly, the last thing I thought of was getting lost in the fog. Still, there is one good thing come of it. Mrs. Anders knows now that I didn't kill Anders."
"That is something to the good," agreed Joe, "All the same you've put us in a peach of a hole. We can't get you back to the Dagger Mine till this snow is gone, and that won't be for a week."
"And I oughtn't to stay here," said Jerry, gravely. "Faul might turn up here any day."
"Faul's our worst trouble. He is fair raving about you getting away. He has told everyone that I did it, and he watches me like a cat watches a mouse. That jackal of his, Bart Brower, has been hanging round my place the whole of the past week."
"I believe Brower's the man we want," said Jerry, and Joe pursed his lips.
"Quite likely, but how the deuce are we going to prove it? And Brower ain't the only bad egg on this side of the Moor. There is Gregory Mold."
"I'd forgotten him," said Jerry gravely. "But you're right. He is a bad hat, and since he lives by poaching it's likely he had a down on Anders."
"He is helping Brower to keep tab on me and Bill," said Joe. "You can't go back to Long Barton, Jerry, and my place is equally barred. I'd take you up to Bristol or London if it was not for this cursed snow. But the roads are blocked and the police are still watching all the railway stations. You are properly penned up."
FOR some moments the two men were silent, then Jerry spoke.
"I'll have to try back to the mine, Joe. If I wait till night, perhaps the snow will be frozen hard enough to hold me."
Joe shook his head.
"Nothing doing, old son. It's all of seven miles over the worst of the Moor, The only way anyone could cross would be on ski, and we haven't any even if you could use them."
"But as I tell you, I can't stay here. There must be some place where I can hide.
"There is just one," said Joe. "That is Powder Mills."
Jerry's face brightened.
"That's a good notion. The old buildings are sound enough. There is wood and water, and if anyone came snooping round there is the old underground store. I'll walk up there to-night."
"You won't," said Joe, "Not with Brower and Mold messing about, to say nothing of Policeman Croker."
"Then how the deuce am I to get there?" demanded Jerry.
"In the car. The road's open that far, for they have cut the drifts."
"But if anyone meets us they will spot me."
"No, they won't for you'll be squatting down in the bottom covered with a rug, Don't worry. I'll fix it up so you will be safe. I'll come along after dark and you meet me at Nun's Cross. That is about as far as I can get the car. Young Alec will go ahead of you and keep a look-out. If he sees anyone you will just have to duck down in a drift."
So it was arranged, and at dusk, Jerry, still in Anders's clothes, said goodbye to Mrs. Anders and went off.
It was a horrid night, thawing and foggy, and they never saw a soul. Joe was waiting opposite the old Stone Cross, and Jerry, after shaking hands with Alec and thanking him warmly, got in and lay in the bottom of the car covered with a rug. There was a sack of grain in the back, for Joe used his old car for carting all sorts of stuff, and with the hood up there was little chance of Jerry being seen. Joe had to drive slowly, for the roads were very bad, but they saw no one until they were a mile or so past Long Barton. Then Joe spotted a man standing in the middle of the road and waving his arms for the car to stop.
"I'll have to stop," he said over his shoulder to Jerry. "If I run past him I'll only make him suspicious. Lie still, and he will never see you." Jerry lay very still. He was badly scared, yet he trusted Joe. Joe stopped the car and the man came up. Jerry heard Joe draw a quick breath.
"You, Bill! Good gosh, you had me scared stiff."
"You'd a been worse than scared if I hadn't stopped you," Bill said. "That chap Mold is around on the road near the old mill. I'm thinking he seed me carrying in that stuff this afternoon, or if he didn't someone else did and told him."
Joe whistled softly.
"This is a peach of a mess. What in the name of all that's blue are we to do now?"
"You will have to take him back to Mrs. Anders, Joe. There ain't no other place he can be safe in."
He broke off, then:
"Watch out, Joe. I'd better get inside. Here is another car coming." But before Bill could get in the other car was alongside and had pulled up sharply.
"Is that you, Mr. Spangler?" came a clear, sweet voice.
"Good gracious it is Miss Fay!" gasped Joe. "Yes, it's me, Miss Fay," he answered.
"Is there anyone with you?" Fay asked.
"Is that all?"
Joe hesitated. He would have told lies to anyone except Fay.
"I think you have Jerry with you," she said, softly.
"How in the name of sense did you know that?" asked Joe in amazement. "I didn't know. I guessed. I knew you had him hidden on the Moor, and I thought he was at Powder Mills. I drove past there just before dark and saw Gregory Mold hanging about. I was coming to tell you."
Jerry put his head up.
"You were quite right, Fay. They were taking me there, but Bill spotted Mold and has just stopped us. I am going back to where I came from."
"He can t do it, Miss Fay," said Joe. "Snow's too deep up on the High Moor. I'll have to take him to my place to-night. There's a loft where he can sleep safe and to-morrow, maybe, we will be able to get him out."
"I have a better idea than that," said Fay. "Take him to Stort End."
"What—with all that staff of yours! You're crazy, Miss Fay."
Fay laughed a little. It was something new for Joe to call her crazy.
"None of the staff will know anything about him except our dear Mrs. Robins who was our nurse when we were small and is as ourselves. Listen, Mr. Spangler. There is a top floor at Stort End which we never use except for lumber. And a fire escape goes up there so that anyone could go away at the back of the house without being seen. Jerry will be perfectly safe there and quite comfortable.
"But what if they search the house?" said Joe, uneasily.
"They won't because they have done that already," said Fay, triumphantly. "Now don't stay talking here in the road. Let Jerry get into my car and I will take him back, You two get home as quickly as you can."
"It ain't so bad," said Joe, slowly. "What do you think, Jerry?"
Jerry hesitated. While he was crazy to see Jill again he was so selfishly in love that he did not realise the risk he was causing to her and Fay.
"I know what you're thinking, Jerry," said Fay, quickly, "but indeed the risk is hardly worth troubling about. And Jill and I have a plan for getting you abroad quite safely. Besides, even if the house were searched there is a hiding place which no one knows of but Jill and myself. You can come with a clear conscience."
"She's right," said Bill, suddenly. "Take him along, Miss Fay. But be mighty sure no one sees him afore he gets to the house."
Jerry bade a hasty farewell to Joe Spangler and Bill, and a minute later was in Fay's car. He crouched down in the bottom, covered with a rug, but the precaution was needless, for they did not see a soul on the way back, and in a very short time the lights of Stort End showed up.
Instead of going to the front of the house, Fay drove straight into the garage and left Jerry there while she went to tell Jill.
Jerry remained in the car. It was very cold and he was only too glad of the rug. He waited and waited and nothing happened, He began to grow very uneasy, yet dare not move. At last he heard a car, and looking round saw the glare of headlights as a covered car swept down the drive.
"Just a caller," he said to himself, and a minute later Fay came limping back.
"Faul has been here," she said, and Jerry saw that her face was white and frightened.
"Faul?" repeated Jerry. "Was he looking for me?"
"I don't think so, but there is trouble, Jerry. I can't explain now. I don't even understand quite what is wrong. I must get you into the house. That's the first thing."
THE fire escape ran down the east side of Stort End. Tall yews and thick box trees grew close to this side of the house and hid the lower part of the long iron ladders. Though the rungs were covered with half-frozen snow, Jerry had no great difficulty in climbing to the top floor, where he found a window open. There was no light inside, and he hesitated a moment.
"It is all right, Jerry," came a voice from within. "I thought it better not to have any light. Come in."
"You—Jill!" said Jerry, as he caught her outstretched hand and stepped in through the open sash. Then—it seemed quite natural, though how it happened he did not know in the least—Jill was in his arms. For a moment he held her tight, then suddenly released her.
"Oh, Jill, I should not have done that!" he said, sadly.
"Don t be silly!" she answered, softly. "You wouldn't have done it unless I had let you." In the darkness he felt her soft arms round his neck and her lips on his. "There now," she said with a little laugh. "Do you feel better?"
"Better than I ever felt in my life, Jill—and worse. Even if I were cleared I'm a poor man and you are a rich woman."
"What does that matter? This is the twentieth century, Jerry, not the nineteenth, and if I choose to fall in love with a poor man—well, he has just got to put up with it. But perhaps I'm not as rich as you think. Mr. Faul has just been telling me that Stort End isn't mine at all."
"Stort End not yours!" Jerry's voice was harsh and sharp. "What's the damned fellow mean?"
"Steady, Jerry; it's no use getting angry. But we won't stand here in the dark. Come into the room that we have got ready for you, and then we can talk." She led him a few steps down the passage and opened the door. Candles lit a small but comfortable room, and a pleasant glow of firelight filled the place. The one window was closely curtained. "Sit down, Jerry. That is quite a good chair." She smiled as she looked at him.
"Why, you're a regular keeper! Where did you get those clothes?"
"They belonged to Anders. But, tell me, Jill, what's this new lie of Faul's?"
"I hope it is a lie," she said, gravely. "You know that this place came to Fay and me through my stepfather, Hugh Willoughby."
"I know that."
"He came home from America," Jill went on, "a widower, and settled here. It seems he had come into Stort End through a cousin's death. Then he met my mother, who was a young widow. Dad died young. He fell in love with her, and though I don't think she was exactly in love with him, she was quite fond of him. Anyhow, she married him, and he was very good to her and to us children. He was thrown out hunting and died from the effects of the accident. He left everything to mother and to us after her." She paused.
"That's all plain enough," said Jerry. "Where does the trouble come in?"
"In this way. Faul said that dad had a son by his first wife, and that this son is still alive, and that since Stort End is entailed it belongs to the son."
"And I suppose," said Jerry sarcastically, "Faul told you that if you would marry him he would keep his mouth shut."
Jill's eyes widened.
"How did you guess that, Jerry?"
"It didn't take much guessing," said Jerry, curtly. "I know Faul."
"You are quite right," Jill answered. "That is exactly what Faul did say."
"And I can tell you what you said," remarked Jerry.
"Told him to go to the devil, or words to that effect."
"You must be a mind reader, Jerry. Yes, I'm afraid I wasn't exactly polite." Her eyes flashed with sudden anger.
"The idea of the man suggesting that I should be his partner in a swindle of that sort?"
"Or of taking you to be fool enough to believe such a pack of lies," said Jerry, scornfully.
Jill leaned forward. Her hands were clasped around her knees, and her lovely face was eager. Her hair was slightly ruffled, and in the dancing firelight she made an enchanting picture.
"Do you really think he was lying, Jerry?" she asked, anxiously.
"Of course, he was lying. Is it likely that your stepfather, who seems to have been a real good sort, would never have told your mother if he had really had a son alive?"
"Dad was a good sort," said Jill. "Though I was quite small when he died I was very fond of him. And mum had come to adore him. It was grieving over his loss that killed her. Yes, Jerry, I think you are right. He would certainty have told us if there had been any danger of someone else having a better right here than ourselves. Unless—" she paused, and frowned a little—"unless he did not know."
"But he must have known," insisted Jerry, "Didn't he ever speak of his first wife?"
"I don't remember his ever doing so, but I seem to remember that she was lost at sea."
"Then how could his son, if he ever had one, be alive? The story's absurd. It's just another lie of that infernal Faul."
Jill held up a slim hand.
"Now, Jerry, you are getting angry again. You must not do that, for we shall need all our wits to get out of this mess." The words brought Jerry back to his own plight.
"The only thing for me is to clear out of the country and change my name. In South America I might get a fresh start."
"I don't think I want to live in South America," said Jill.
Jerry bit his lips.
"My dear, give it up. Put the whole thought out of your head. It is madness."
"So you don't want to marry me?" said Jill in a small voice.
Jerry sprang up.
"Jill, I would give the whole of the rest of my life for one week with you. I never knew till I met you what life was. But even if I could get out of England I could not be selfish enough to ask you to marry a man in my case, Think! I shall never be able to face a policeman without a shiver. The law knows no limit and if I lived to be 60 I could still be arrested and taken back to serve my sentence."
"I know all that, Jerry," Jill answered simply. "I have thought it over a hundred times. Yet, if you had really killed Anders it would make no difference. I knew that from the first minute we met." Jerry was shaken to his very soul. He dropped on his knees in front of her.
"I think I'm the luckiest man that ever lived," he said, unsteadily, as he took her hands and pressed them to his lips. "Jill, if you say so, I'll go back to prison and serve my sentence cheerfully, knowing you are waiting."
Jill lifted his face and kissed him softly on the forehead.
"No, Jerry, we have got you out, and we will keep you out. I don't feel that we are doing anything wrong in that. And, somehow, we will find out the truth of this horrid business and then you will be free."
There came a light tap at the door. Fay limped in.
"My dear people, Jerry's supper is nearly cold. And after all, you will have plenty of time to talk afterwards."
MRS. ROBINS had left the tray at the top of the stairs and Jill fetched it. There was half a roast pheasant with bread sauce and chipped potatoes, and an apple pasty, the crust of which fairly melted in Jerry's mouth. For drink Fay had provided a bottle of very excellent claret warmed to just the right temperature.
Jill went downstairs. For the girls thought it best that one of them should remain below so as to avoid any suspicion.
Not that there was much real danger, for the only man in the house was Robins who acted as butler, and was as deeply devoted as his wife to his two young mistresses.
Fay saw Jerry eat a good meal and herself lighted a cigarette for him. Then she sat down opposite and began to ask questions.
"Has Jill told you, Jerry?"
"Yes, and I've told her that the whole thing is a lie. Faul's simply trying to blackmail her."
Fay cocked her head sideways like a wise little sparrow.
"I'm not so sure, Jerry. I don't think Faul's the sort to try a bluff like that. There must be something behind it."
"You really think there is a missing heir?" he exclaimed.
"I think there must be one," Fay answered.
"Then tell Faul to produce him," said Jerry.
"Well, of course, he would have to produce him or else the whole thing falls to the ground." Fay replied.
"I believe it's bluff," Jerry insisted. "He thinks that you two girls know nothing of business."
"Then he's due for a shock, Jerry. Jill and I are not so simple as all that."
Jerry flung out his arm.
"If only I could tackle the brute!" he cried, angrily.
"So you will one of these days," Fay comforted him. "Somehow we are going to find out who really killed poor Anders. Have you any idea at all, Jerry?"
"I have. Mrs. Anders put me on the track. She thinks it was either Brower or Mold."
Fay was all eagerness.
"She told you! What I'm wondering, Jerry, is how in the world you got on the right side of that poor woman. I would have thought she was the first person to hand you over to the police."
"So she was. She locked me up and sent her boy for the police. I got out of the window, and then there came a flood, and I pulled the boy out, and she came round."
Fay's eyes widened.
"Have you told Jill?" she demanded.
"No. Somehow I thought she knew."
"Of course she doesn't know." Fay got up, and picking up her stick made for the door. "But she's going to hear. And you're going to tell the story properly—not in the miserable, bald way you have told me—Oh, it's all right," she added, "the maids will be in bed by now and it's quite safe."
She fetched Jill, and between them they made the reluctant Jerry give a full account of the rescue of Alec.
Jill's eyes shone.
"I'm proud of you, Jerry. What is more, you have helped us all, for now we have something to work on."
"You mean about Brower and Mold," said Jerry. He shook his head. "But I don't see how you are going to make either of them talk."
"Joe will," Fay declared, and her tone made Jerry glance at her, thoughtfully. Then he spoke again.
"Now I have to talk about myself," he said, "One thing is certain. I must not stay here."
"Why not?" Jill demanded.
"Because sooner or later someone is bound to suspect," said Jerry, gravely. "No," he went on, firmly. "I'm not going to stay. I would rather give myself up than let you girls run the risk of sheltering me."
Jill looked worried, but Fay laughed. She had a delightful little tinkling laugh.
"You are getting all worked up about nothing, Jerry. Joe has a plan for getting you away in an aeroplane."
Jerry was listening eagerly, and Fay, after a little pause, went on:
"Did he ever tell you of a friend of his called David Mortimer?"
"Yes. He and Mortimer were at school together, and Mortimer's brother married Joe's sister. They are oil people with heaps of money."
"Go up top," smiled Fay. "Well, David Mortimer has taken to flying and has a 'plane of his own. He is going to fly to Romania and will take you. Everything is arranged. A passport and all the necessary papers. You will be quite safe there, Jerry, and can stay until we prove your innocence."
"It sounds wonderful," said Jerry, slowly. "But does Mortimer know who I am?"
"No," Fay answered. "Joe thought it best that he should not know. We are pretending that you are a Secret Service man, and you go disguised as Mr. Mortimer's mechanic. He is to pick you up on Friday week. He is coming here for the night, and you will start at dawn. The park gives a good landing ground," Jerry sat very still. "What's the matter, Jerry?" Fay rallied him. "Aren't you pleased?"
"It isn't that," said Jerry, slowly. "It's just that I'm running away and leaving you in all this trouble."
"This business of Faul, you mean," said Fay. "But, Jerry you could not do anything, and we shall not be helpless. We have a very good lawyer, and then there is Joe."
"That Is true," Jerry agreed, "Yet all the same I feel horribly selfish."
"You are not to feel that way at all," cried Jill, suddenly. "And you can always remember that you gave Faul a good beating."
"If I had known what I know now I should probably have killed him," said Jerry, grimly. "Jill, if Faul comes again I hope you and Fay will tackle him firmly. Tell him that he must produce this precious heir."
"We will do that," Jill answered, quietly. Then she glanced at the clock.
"Bedtime, Fay. She has to go at ten, Jerry. Doctor's orders." Fay got up obediently, and Jerry noticed once more how fragile she looked. She came across and took both his hands.
"I think I will give you a goodnight kiss, Jerry, if Jill won't be jealous. No, don't blush, I know all about it."
She stooped and kissed him on the cheek, and Jerry returned the kiss. Then she picked up her stick and limped out of the room.
"Think of having a sister like that, Jill," said Jerry, unsteadily, "I—I never had one, you know."
"I know," said Jill, gently, and Jerry took her in his arms.
SHUT away on the top floor, on the blind side of the house, Jerry could see nothing except the kitchen garden and the big trees beyond. But with the window open he could hear, and that was certainly a car that had come up the drive. He wondered if it was Joe or some other visitor.
An hour passed, then came a light step in the passage outside and a tap at his door. Jill entered, and the look on her face frightened Jerry.
"It was Faul," she said, quickly.
"It was Faul and Jerry, it's worse than I thought. Fay and I defied him, and challenged him to produce the heir."
"'So you thought I was bluffing?' he said, and the sneer on his face was horrible, 'I can bring him any time you wish at two days' notice.'
"'Then do so,' I told him. He laughed, and the laugh was worse than the sneer.
"'You won't like him,' he said, 'He is a bad hat. He drinks like a fish, and gambles away every penny he can lay hands on.'"
Jill paused, clasping her hands in despair. "Oh, Jerry, he must be a dreadful man. If he comes he will ruin the place. Think of our poor tenants!"
"It isn't of them I'm thinking, but of you, Jill—you and Fay," Jerry answered.
"Yes, there's Fay to be thought of," Jill agreed, sadly. "She and I will be left with hardly anything, and she needs every care. Sooner or later there will have to be an operation on that injured leg, and it will cost a great deal of money. I'm at my wits' end, Jerry."
So was Jerry, only he would not add to Jill's troubles by saying so. Before he could think of any comfort to give her, Fay's stick was heard tapping along the passage and Fay came in with a yellow envelope in her hand.
"A telegram for you, Jill," she said. "I thought I had best bring it up."
"Thank you, dear," said Jill as she tore open the envelope. "I only hope it is not more ill news." But as she read it the expression on her face told the other that it was.
"Read it," Jill said as she handed it to Jerry. He read it aloud.
"'David crashed to-day near Lympne. Not badly hurt, but wrist broken and trip is off. Tell Fay. Joe.'"
There was silence for a moment, then Fay laughed.
"I'm rather glad. Jerry would be a long way off in Romania."
"Are you quite crazy, Fay? How can we hide him?"
"I must go back to the mine," said Jerry. "The snow's melting fast. I can get back there to-morrow night."
"That awful place! No, Jerry, no."
"And I say no, too," said Fay. "I think we will keep him here, Jill."
"Keep him here!" repeated Jill in amazement. "We could for a week or two, but it would be dreadful for him, penned up in one room all the time."
"I was not thinking of keeping him up here, Jill. I have a better plan than that. Brimble is getting old and rheumatic. Why not pension him off and let Jerry take his place. You have often talked of doing so."
Jill stood silent, gazing at her sister. The suggestion staggered her so that she could find no words.
Fay went on:
"It was Jerry's gamekeeper's clothes that put the idea into my head. If we made him up, darkened his face, dyed his hair black, and let him grow a moustache, I don't believe anyone would recognise him. The beauty of it is that this is the last place where the police would dream of looking for him."
Jerry's eyes brightened.
"Fay, I believe you have solved the problem," he exclaimed, eagerly. "A moustache would change me a lot, and, as you say, I could dye my hair and darken my skin. I know enough about game to handle the job without arousing any suspicion. If you pensioned off Brimble no one would think twice about a new man coming. It would all be quite natural."
He turned to Jill. "What do you say, Jill?"
"Oh, I don't know, Jerry." Jill looked very troubled. "It seems to me it would be a terrible risk. Faul or Brower might recognise you."
"I should take jolly good care not to go near them," Jerry cut in. "Believe me, Jill, I should stick to my job and take no risks. And the great thing is that I would be here on the spot, if I were wanted."
"Yes, and if anything went wrong you would come plunging in and then the fat would be in the fire," said Jill, unhappily.
"If I ever come plunging in I would make a good job of it and leave no evidence," said Jerry with a laugh. "I think you can trust me, Jill," he added, quietly. "You and Fay would always be my first thought.
"You can trust me all right," said Fay to Jill. "In any case I don't see we have much choice."
Jill was torn between her eagerness to keep Jerry at hand and her fear of his being recognised, but Fay and Jerry were both so keen on carrying out the idea that at last she gave her consent. Then Jerry harked back to Faul.
"Did Faul say he would bring this precious heir?" he asked.
"He has given me a week to think it over," said Jill, bitterly. "He still believes that I shall agree to marry him, and so save Stort End."
Jerry's lips tightened and a dangerous look came into his eyes.
"There," said Jill, sadly. "I knew you couldn't control yourself, Jerry."
"It is a bit hard, I will admit," allowed Jerry. "But I can and I will. My advice is to wait until Faul comes again, and tell him you want to see this man. He can bring him here as his—Faul's—guest, for you to look him over. That means delay, and every day gained is something. Once I'm free to move about I may be able to get evidence against Brower and Mold."
"He's right, Jill," said Fay. "Now, Jerry, you can start growing your moustache, and to-morrow I will tell Joe about our plan, and he will get the dye for your hair. Joe is pretty useful at make-up."
"I should think he is," smiled Jerry. "I tell you, when he came in through that train window, I wouldn't have known him from Adam until he spoke."
Fay nodded her wise little head.
"That reminds me. Your voice will give you away if you are not careful. You must practice talking broad Devon."
"Her bain't no fule at thaat, missie," drawled Jerry and was rewarded by a thrill of laughter.
The next few days Jerry spent in cultivating a moustache and gradually darkening his skin and hair. Jill did not like it a bit She vowed he was rapidly becoming a total stranger. In truth the change was amazing and Jerry, looking at himself in the glass, stared at the strange reflection. He also altered the way of doing his hair, pulling a curl down in a sort of griff over his forehead.
Meantime Jill pensioned off old Brimble—who was not at all sorry to give up his work and let it be known that she was engaging a new keeper from up Barracombe way. George Chowne was his name, and his testimonials, she declared, were excellent.
Jerry was delighted when the day came for him to leave his attic. Though no man had ever had a pleasanter imprisonment, he was pining for the open air.
The days were now growing short, and it was arranged that Jerry should slip down the fire escape after dark and present himself at the back door, wheeling a bicycle. The idea was that he should represent himself as having ridden all the way down from the former place. Robins was to receive him and take him through to be interviewed by Jill in the gun-room.
It all worked without a hitch, and Jerry almost laughed at old Robin's wooden expression as he led the way through the back hall past the pantry and opened the gun-room door.
"The new keeper, Miss Jill," he said, aloud. Then in a whisper to Jerry. "Come back to my pantry afterwards, sir."
Jill looked as if she did not quite know whether to laugh or cry. Jerry solved the problem by slipping an arm round her waist and kissing her.
"It is the last chance I shall get for a long time," he told her, and just then came a crash overhead, the loud banging of a door and a shrill cry of "Fire!"
"FAY'S room!" gasped Jill, but Jerry was already in the hall and racing for the stairs. As he gained the landing, a terrified maid ran into him.
"Miss Fay!" she screamed. "She's in there. Oh, she will be burned."
Smoke was pouring out of an open door, making a fog on the landing. From the room came an ominous crackle of flame. As Jerry plunged through the door the reek of burning oil nearly choked him. He saw in a moment what had happened. A lamp had upset, and a stream of blazing oil was all across the floor. The carpet was alight, and a big screen had caught and was burning furiously.
"Fay!" he cried, sharply, but there was no answer, and the smoke was too thick to see anything. He charged through the flames and bumped into a bed. Fay was not in it, and Jerry felt a spasm of fright. The smoke was choking him, and he knew he could not hold his breath much longer. A tongue of flame shot up from the burning screen, and its light, penetrating the smoke for a moment, showed Jerry a little tumbled figure lying flat on the floor beyond the bed. Next moment he had snatched Fay up, but when he turned towards the door he found himself cut off by the leaping flames.
He did not know the room, for he had never before been in it, but suddenly he saw that there was a window in the wall beyond the bed. He tore aside the curtain, flung it open, and looked out. Beneath was the roof of the billiards room, but covered with lead. The drop was only about eight feet.
Alone, Jerry would have thought nothing of it, but with Fay in his arms, light as she was, it was risky, for any jar might damage her injured leg. The air rushing in through the open window cleared the smoke from this side of the room, and gave Jerry a little time.
Fay had fainted. He let her down again and pulled a blanket from the bed. Then he picked her up, and folding her in the blanket, tied the ends around his own neck, so that she hung across his back. Then he was through the window, and, lowering himself carefully, had her safe on the roof below.
By this time the whole house was aroused, and he saw Blake, the gardener, running from the cottage with a lantern. Jerry shouted to him that Fay was safe, and told him to bring a ladder. Blake wasted no time in obeying the order, and in less than three minutes Jerry with Fay had reached the ground.
"I'm Chowne, the new keeper," Jerry told Blake. "Where be I to take her?"
"Round to front," was the answer. "Her ain't hurt, is she?" Blake added, anxiously.
"No, her's fainted—that's all," said Jerry, as he followed Blake round to the front. At the door he paused and handed her over to Blake. In spite of his excitement he did not forget the risk of Jill losing her head and calling him by his name.
Blake carried Fay in, and Jerry waited long enough to see that she was in Jill's charge, then dashed upstairs again and took charge of the fight against the flames.
By this time the whole of Fay's room was a furnace, fanned by the draught from the open window. Robins, who had kept his head, was at work with a chemical fire extinguisher, but it was too late, and the draught was too strong for this to have much effect. Jerry saw that if something were not done quickly the whole of Stort End was doomed. He turned to Blake, who had followed him up.
"Is there a tank in the top of the house?" he asked.
In point of fact he knew there was, but even in this urgency he had to be careful not to betray his knowledge.
"Yes," said Blake.
"And a hose?"
"There be one in the yard."
"Then get her quick. Meantime, I'm shutting that there window. Keep the extinguisher going, Mr. Robins," he added, as he turned and raced downstairs.
The ladder was still in place. He reached the roof, made a spring for the window-ledge, pulled himself up, and managed to close the sash. When he got back Blake was dragging the hose up to the top floor. He and Blake together got one end of it into the tank, and then unrolled the hose off its reel and carried the other end downstairs. Within a marvellously short time a powerful stream of water was playing on the flames.
For the next five minutes it was touch and go. The ceiling was cracking, and if it came down or if the fire burned through the floor it would be impossible to save the house. But the water did the trick. The blaze died down, and the smoke turned to steam.
"Us have got her now," said Blake, triumphantly as he turned the jet on the last patch of crimson glow. Then he looked round at Jerry.
"Lucky thing for us all as you comed when you did, Muster Chowne. Us wouldn't never have thought of that there tank."
"Don't be praising me," said Jerry, with a laugh. "You and Mr. Robins have surely done your share."
All the same, he was not displeased at the praise, for he felt that it was a great thing to start on good terms with the other men. "Her's all out now," he added, "but there be a proper mess to clean up. The room below must be nigh drowned."
"Lucky it bain't the drawing-room," said Blake. "Her's only the morning-room. But that's bad enough, I reckon."
"Us might so well go down and see what us can do," suggested Jerry.
What he really wanted was to see how Fay was. He was very anxious about her. In the hall he met Mrs. Robins, and got a chance of a word with her while Blake went ahead.
"Miss Fay's all right," the housekeeper told him. Then she echoed Blake's remark. "It was a happy thing you were here, sir. If you hadn't, we'd have had no roof over our heads this night."
Jerry smiled at her.
"For goodness' sake don't call me sir," he whispered. "And tell Miss Jill and Miss Fay that everything's all right now. Blake and I are going to clean up in the morning-room."
The morning-room was in a terrible pickle. The water had brought the plaster down and everything was covered. White lime-water was still dripping from above. Blake and Jerry had to take each separate piece of furniture, wipe it down, and carry it into the gun-room. Every single picture and ornament had to be moved. The whole room would have to be replastered and redecorated.
On a table in one corner were a number of framed photographs, and Jerry was gathering these when he stopped with a gasp. He glanced round quickly at Blake, but Blake luckily had his back turned, so had not noticed Jerry's agitation.
Then Jerry did a queer thing. He picked up a small photograph framed in a rather shabby old gilt frame and deliberately slipped it into his inner coat pocket. After that he went on with his work.
IT was late before the house was got into some sort of order. Jill had ordered the cook not to trouble about dinner for herself and Fay. They had eaten poached eggs and bread and butter, but when at last the mess was cleaned up and it was quite certain that there were no smouldering beams to cause a fresh outbreak supper was made ready in the kitchen for all the staff, and Jerry found himself one of the party.
He did not mind, In fact he rather welcomed the opportunity, for he wanted to see if his disguise was good and to test his Devon dialect. Not that he had much doubt as to the latter, for he had lived on the Moor long enough to pick up the soft slurring Devon accent.
It amused him to find himself something of a hero among the maids. Blake had not been sparing in his praise.
"Her's got a head on her shoulders," the gardener vowed. "If her hadn't, Miss Fay would be a cinder this minute."
"Likely we'd all have been burnt if he hadn't been here," said Selina, the cook, as she pressed another helping of cold beef on Jerry. Selina was fair, fat, and forty, a pleasant tempered woman and an excellent cook. She was devoted to her two young mistresses.
Jerry made a really good supper, and was delighted to find that the staff accepted him as one of themselves. Afterwards Blake kindly took him down to the keeper's cottage, which was only a few hundred yards from the house. Brimble, or rather his housekeeper, had left it all very neat and tidy, and Jill had seen to it that the larder was properly stocked. There were even a dozen bottles of beer, and Jerry won Blake's heart by insisting that he should have a nightcap.
"To-morrow I'll show 'ee round," Blake promised. "Bain't a hard place, this, and you couldn't ask to work for two nicer young ladies."
"I'm sure of that," said Jerry, warmly. "And a proper nice staff, too." Which compliment sent Blake off, almost purring.
When he had gone and the door was shut Jerry took the photograph from his pocket. It represented a lady with a baby—a very small baby who could not have been more than a few weeks old. It must have been taken a good many years ago, for it was badly faded. Jerry took it out of its frame and examined it carefully.
"It's the same," he said at last. "There's no doubt about that. But what does it mean?" He was still considering the problem when he stretched his tired limbs on a hard but delightfully clean bed, nor was it solved when sleep overtook him.
Next morning Jerry was up bright and early and had cooked and eaten breakfast before Blake arrived. Blake showed him the kennels and the coops, where in the spring the young pheasants were reared. Blake had been doing Brimble's work the past few days, so was able to give Jerry many useful hints about his job.
"They wants a few couple rabbits up to the house." Blake concluded so Jerry took his gun and went to fulfil the order.
It was a crisp autumn morning with a touch of hoar frost on the grass, but the sun shone brightly, and the air was like champagne to Jerry after his long imprisonment in the house. Every minute was a joy.
He had knocked over two couple of rabbits when he saw a familiar figure coming towards him through the trees. It was Jill, dressed in a red-brown tweed coat and skirt and wearing tan brogues and a small, close-fitting hat. She looked fresh and bright as the sun-washed morning, and Jerry's heart beat faster as he turned to meet her.
"Goode morning, miss," said Jerry, touching his cap. She laughed.
"Don't be silly. No one can see us." Quite naturally she put up her face, and Jerry kissed her fondly.
"How is Fay?" was his first question.
"Not a bit the worse. I've kept her in bed this morning, but she is getting up after lunch. But, oh, Jerry, if you hadn't been here!"
"Don't think of horrid things, Jill, darling. I say, I hope you are well insured."
"Fully." She paused. "But what's the good if Stort End is going to this dreadful man?" she added, sadly.
"I don't believe in this missing heir, Jill," said Jerry firmly. "If he exists at all he is probably a fraud. I stick to it that Faul is just trying it on."
She gazed at him for a moment in silence.
"Do you really believe that, Jerry?"
"I do. Honestly, I do."
"You have some reason," she said, suddenly, and Jerry got rather red.
"I'm not sure. Don't ask me anything yet, please, Jill?"
Jill frowned a little.
"It isn't fair to keep me in suspense, Jerry," she complained.
"I can't talk yet, Jill. Indeed, I can't. Wait a day or two and just as soon as I know anything for certain I'll tell you."
Jill was not quite pleased, yet she already knew Jerry well enough to be sure that she could not make him talk unless he wanted to. She cut short their walk and went back to the house.
What Jerry wanted was a talk with Fay, but it was not till next day that he got it. Then he saw her come out to her car, and it seemed quite reasonable that he should offer to get it out of the garage for her.
"I want a talk with you, Fay," he whispered as he opened the door for her.
"Be down by the Druid's Stone at four o'clock," Fay answered, swiftly. "Have you any news?"
"I don't know whether it's news or not," said Jerry, "but I'm in a deuce of a hole, and I want your advice very badly."
"You'll get it," replied Fay with a flashing little smile and was off.
The Druid's Stone was one of those ancient stone pillars which were set up by some forgotten race, perhaps three thousand years ago. It was not far from the house, yet hidden from it by thick shrubbery. Immense rhododendrons formed a thicket on one side and on the other were gnarled old laurels. There was very little risk of interruption. Jerry was there in good time and presently Fay came limping from the direction of the house. Her eyes twinkled as they roved over Jerry's well-built frame.
"You make a capital keeper, Jerry. Your own mother wouldn't know you." A shadow crossed his face, and Fay laid a hand upon his arm.
"I'm sorry, Jerry dear. I shouldn't have said that."
"Nonsense!" Jerry answered, smiling. "Yet it's odd you should have mentioned my mother."
He took the photograph from his pocket. "Do you know anything about this, Fay?"
Fay took it and looked at it. A tiny frown crinkled her smooth forehead.
"Yes, I remember this. It was in the morning-room. What made you take it, Jerry?"
"First tell me who these are," Jerry said, pointing to the photograph. Fay still frowned. She seemed to be racking her memory.
"This photograph belonged to Dad," she said at last.
She looked at the back and saw that the photographer's name was Ladd and that his address was Pittsville, Ohio.
"Yes, it was his, Jerry, I'm not certain, but I believe it is a photograph of his first wife."
"And her baby," put in Jerry.
Fay's eyes widened.
"Then there is an heir," she exclaimed.
"So it seems," said Jerry, quietly. "Now, see here, Fay." He pointed to the front of the photograph—the lower edge. "Do you see anything?"
Fay held the worn old picture up to the light, and nodded.
"Yes, some words in pencil, They are nearly rubbed out, but I think I can read something." she paused. "E-l-l-e-n. Yes, it's Ellen—and 'G'—" she shook her head. "I can't make out the rest, but the word ends in 'D.'"
"What about 'Gerald'?" Jerry asked in the same quiet voice.
Fay looked again at the writing. "You're right. It is Gerald."
Suddenly she lowered the photo and gazed up into Jerry's face. Her eyes were wide and full of wonder.
"Gerald," she repeated. "Jerry—do you mean—oh, it can't be."
"I'm afraid it is," said Jerry, grimly. "You see I happen to have the duplicate of that photograph at Long Barton, and it is a picture of my mother and myself."
"BUT your name is Aylmer!" Fay exclaimed.
"No. That is not my real name. Captain Aylmer adopted me. Actually, I never knew until now what my real name was."
"I don't understand," Fay said.
"It's easily explained. I was picked up from a boat at sea—a baby still too young to talk or know anything—by Captain Aylmer, who then commanded the tramp steamer Fleetwing.
"There were two seamen in the boat, and myself—no one else. One man died as they lifted him aboard; the other lived long enough to tell Captain Aylmer that we were the only survivors from the yacht Ivanhoe, sunk by collision with a derelict off Cape Florida. My mother had been in the boat, but had died two days earlier, and they had been forced to put her body overboard. Those two good fellows had given me the little remaining water and so kept me alive.
"The photograph, the duplicate of this, was found by Captain Aylmer in my clothes, and was the only clue to my identity. Later, he wrote to the photographer, but got no reply, and afterwards found that the shop had been burned in a big fire which destroyed the whole street." He stopped, and both stood looking at one another.
Fay broke the silence.
"Then—then you are Gerald Willoughby, and the real owner of Stort End."
"It looks like it," said Jerry, uncomfortably. "But, Fay, you know I never would have mentioned it if it hadn't been for Faul." Fay still looked at him, then suddenly broke out into a trill of laughter.
"What are you laughing about?" demanded Jerry, in a puzzled voice.
Fay looked at him very kindly.
"I always knew you were a dear, Jerry, but I never knew quite what a dear until this minute."
"I'm glad you're pleased, Fay," said Jerry, "but really, I don't know what I've done to deserve such a compliment."
"All right, Jerry. Then I'll just say how pleased I am to welcome my new brother."
Jerry started, and a horrified look crossed his face.
"But I'm not your brother, Fay."
"Or Jill's," laughed Fay. "No, Jerry, of course you're not any real relation at all. Still, since your father married my mother I think we can claim you as some sort of kin."
"I wouldn't ask anything better," said Jerry earnestly, "but, Fay, I've told you all this because I want your advice."
"Why didn't you tell Jill last night?" inquired Fay.
"Of course, I didn't tell Jill. Do you think I want to turn her out of her home?"
Fay laughed again.
"Oh, Jerry, you are a joy, Don't you realise that Stort End isn't hers or mine any longer?"
"I don't realise anything of the sort," said Jerry, stubbornly, "It remains hers and yours so long as I don't make any claim to it. The only reason I told you was to prove that Faul is lying."
Fay turned serious.
"I know, Jerry, Yet surely you know Jill and me well enough to be certain that we would not keep anything that wasn't ours?"
"Oh, Jill is like that, I know," said Jerry half angrily. "That's just why I wouldn't tell her. But you're more sensible, Fay. That's why I'm asking your advice."
"You mean you want me to be your accomplice in cheating yourself—is that it, Jerry?" asked Fay.
"Do be serious," begged Jerry. "I don't want Jill to know anything about it if it can possibly be helped. On the other hand, I don't see how I can avoid telling her, because if I don't she will go on believing in this blackmailing business of Faul's."
Fay nodded. She was serious enough again now, and at once went right to the heart of the matter.
"You've got to tell her, Jerry. There's absolutely no help for it. But why worry? You love Jill and she loves you. When you are married what does it matter who owns Stort End?"
"But we can't get married," returned Jerry quickly. "How can we so long as I am nothing but an escaped convict?"
"That's only a temporary objection, Jerry. Truth will out. I do believe that. And Joe and the rest of us are somehow going to prove your innocence."
Jerry shook his head.
"I can't see much chance of it, Fay," he said, sadly. "All the same I'm going to try to believe it. There's just one grain of comfort. Whatever Jill thinks or says, she can't hand over the place to me so long as I am—what I am."
"That's true," said Fay, thoughtfully. "But you agree with me that she has to be told."
"Yes, you've convinced me of that. Then will you tell her, Fay?"
"I'll tell her at once," Fay promised.
"And I know it will take a big weight off her mind. She's been worrying herself ill over this drunken fellow whom Faul has been promising to bring."
"It looks as if he'd bribed somebody to play the part," said Jerry, frowning.
"It does," agreed Fay. "He's got to carry out his bluff."
"In that case," said Jerry, "he'll have to produce proofs of some sort, showing that the fellow is the heir."
Fay's lip curled.
"He'll do that, Jerry. I wouldn't put forgery beyond Master Faul."
"It's an awful mix-up," groaned Jerry. "And this discovery of mine doesn't seem to help us much, for you can't tell Faul that I am the missing heir."
"No, we can't do that, Jerry," Fay agreed. "But it's a great thing to know for certain that Faul's man is a fraud. And there's another thing you haven't quite realised. If Faul produces this precious heir and gives her proof that he is the heir, Jill loses everything. But it's Jill's money Faul is after."
For the first time since the beginning of their talk a smile lit Jerry's face.
"You're right, Fay. I'd never thought of that. It looks to me as if we'd got friend Faul in a cleft stick."
"Fay! Fay!" Jill's voice came echoing from the direction of the house.
"It's tea-time, and I'm going to catch it for staying out in the damp," said Fay with a twinkle in her eyes. "Bye-bye, brother Jerry."
Jerry watched her as she limped briskly away towards the house.
"A sister like that," he said to himself. "Jerry, my lad, whatever happens, even, if you have to serve your seven years, you're a lucky chap." He picked up his gun, which he had laid against the great stone, and started back towards the house. Selina had issued an invitation to tea in the kitchen, and Jerry wasn't sorry to escape boiling his own kettle.
Just before he reached the drive he heard a car coming up from the direction of the lodge gates, and, with the instinct of the hunted, drew back quickly among the trees.
Which was lust as well, for, as the car came into sight Jerry saw that it was Faul's. He was alone, and a disagreeable scowl disfigured his big fair face. Clearly he was in a very ugly mood.
JERRY, making his rounds next morning, saw Jill coming through the trees and pulled up short. Jill came straight up to him.
"What's the matter, Jerry?" she asked, looking up at him. "Why didn't you come to meet me?"
"Has—has Fay told you?" Jerry asked.
"Of course she has told me, Jerry, dear, you didn't think that would make any difference? You should have told me yesterday."
"I didn't want you to know at all," said Jerry, unhappily.
Jill frowned a little.
"That sounds as if you didn't trust me Jerry."
"It wasn't that, Jill. It—it's awfully hard to explain."
"It's not a bit hard for me to understand, my dear," said Jill, slipping her arm through his. "You didn't want to claim the place because you—you are fond of me. And you wouldn't have done it but for Faul."
"That's it," said Jerry, eagerly. "And, Jill, please promise me it shan't make any difference."
"It's made a lot of difference—very welcome difference. Now I know for certain that Faul is a scheming swindler, and that this heir he has been telling me about is a fraud. It's taken a load off my mind."
Jerry's sigh of relief made Jill smile.
"What a boy you are! You don't know much about women, Jerry."
"I hope to learn," said Jerry as he stooped to kiss her. It was quite safe, for they were in the thick of the wood. "But what does Faul say?" he went on. "I saw him driving up just after Fay left me yesterday evening, and I've been wondering all night what he was after."
"He came to tell us that the heir was coming to stay with him next Monday, and suggested bringing him over."
"By Jove, he's pushing things," exclaimed Jerry. "He must he getting desperate. But, Jill, Fay pointed out last night that if Faul put up this chap as heir to Stort End he was cutting his own throat, because you'd be left without anything."
"I know," said Jill quietly, "we don't think Faul can have convinced this man of his that he is the heir. Fay and I have talked it over, and it seems more likely that he is a creature of Faul's who has been bribed to play the part so as to force me to marry Faul. Afterwards he would take his money and clear out."
"That's about the size of it. Oh, Jill," he sighed, "if I were only free to tackle Faul! I wouldn't let him off as cheaply as I did last time."
"I'm sure you wouldn't," said Jill. "And, really, I don't think I should mind what you did to him. He's a horrible man. But, as it is, you must keep quiet and not run any risks."
"Then what are you going to do?" Jerry asked.
"I think we had better let Faul bring this man to Stort End. It gives us a little more time. Fay is seeing Mr. Spangler to-day and telling him what has happened, and perhaps he can find out something."
"I'm jolly sure he'll try," said Jerry. "Yes, I believe you are right. Let Faul bring the man, and at the same time demand his proofs. You can hand them over to your lawyer, and there'll be a further delay while he looks them over."
They talked a while longer, then Jill went back to the house, and Jerry carried on with his work. He was dreadfully uneasy, yet at the same time most grateful that Jill had taken it all so well. He wished very much that he could get a yarn with Joe, but this was impossible at present. Later, perhaps, Fay could arrange it.
The next few days went quietly. Joe had told Fay that the search was dying down, yet he sent strong warning to Jerry to take no risks. And Jerry took none. He played his part so carefully that he was sure none of the staff at Stort End had the faintest suspicion of his real identity. He generally managed to see Jill for a few minutes each day, but they had, of course, to be desperately careful. Then one morning she told him that Faul was coming next day and bringing the heir to luncheon.
"You must keep quite away," Jill warned him. "In spite of your disguise Faul might recognise you."
"But I want to see this fellow," Jerry insisted.
"You can do that easily enough if you hide among the rhododendrons close to the drive. They are to come a few minutes before one. But you will be careful, Jerry," she begged.
"I'll run no risks, darling," Jerry promised. "I've got to think of you and Fay, you see."
"And of yourself. It would break my heart if you were taken to that awful prison."
"Even that would be better then your marrying Faul," said Jerry, as he kissed her.
Next day he was waiting in the shrubbery as Faul's car came up. The drive being narrow and curved, Faul had to reduce speed, and Jerry got a good look at his companion.
"Not much of a chap," he muttered to himself, for at first sight the young man looked quite ordinary. But just then the fellow happened to turn his head in Jerry's direction, and Jerry began to change his mind. "I'm not so sure," he said beneath his breath. "I don't like those eyes."
The bogus heir was of middle height, rather broad in the shoulders, and this appearance was exaggerated by the American-cut overcoat he wore. He had a broad, rather flat face and sandy hair; and his eyes, set very far apart, were like bits of pale blue glass. Jerry had seen eyes like these before. They belonged to the bucko mate of an American schooner, a man who had a shocking bad reputation with his crew.
Faul pulled up opposite the front door, and he and his companion got out.
"Say, it's a right nice place," Jerry heard the second man remark in a regular "Down East" drawl. "The dame who owns this is sure lucky."
Jerry's lip curled in disgust.
"Why, he's simply a New York tough," he remarked to himself. "The idea of springing a fellow like that on Jill and Fay!" His fists clenched as he watched Faul, and his lips tightened. He would cheerfully have given five years of his life to be able to walk across and tell Faul exactly what he thought of him.
Robins came to the door. Faul and his companion went in, and Jerry, making a round through the trees, went back to his cottage for his midday meal.
His usual healthy appetite had deserted him, and he ate little. Half an hour later he was back at his post of observation. Quite what good that was he could not have told had he been asked, for it was certain that luncheon was not yet over, and in any case the dining-room was on the other side of the house.
Though it was a sunny day with very little wind. It was cold work standing about, and Jerry began to feel rather a fool, and had almost made up his mind to get back to his work when the door opened and Jill came out with the "heir." Jerry was not stupid enough to feel jealous, yet the knowledge that this swindler could walk openly with Jill while he himself had to lurk in the bushes made him furious.
Two things Jerry saw at once, one that Jill was worried, the other that her companion was just the reverse. His sallow cheeks were slightly flushed and his hard eyes more glassy than ever. It was plain that he had had at least one drink over the mark. He was talking hard.
"As I said to Mr. Faul, this is sure a nice place, Miss Clavell. If there's anything I do admire It's these old English homes. We got nothing like this in the little old United States. I reckon It's what they call Elizabethan, ain't it?"
"It's not so old as that, Mr. Willoughby," Jill answered, and Jerry felt a queer, unreasoning anger that this fellow should bear—even temporarily—his own name.
"It's right restful to the eyes," the man went on. "A case where every prospect pleases," and he leered at Jill. "Say, what's the matter with sitting down on this here seat? The sun's right warm, and you gave me such a nice lunch, Miss Jill. I don't feel like taking a lot of exercise." He plumped down on a garden seat which stood in a little bay between two clumps of rhododendrons and was not 20 paces from Jerry's hiding plane.
Jill hesitated. It was plain to Jerry that she did not want to sit next this man, but she had no choice, so seated herself as far as possible from him.
"Say, you don't need to be scared of me," remarked the heir with a grin. "I don't bite." He moved towards Jill, and in spite of himself Jerry took a step forward. Neither of the others heard the rustle. The heir was too drunk and Jill too frightened. Jill rose to her feet.
"It is cold, I think we had better go back to the house, Mr Willoughby," she said with quiet dignity.
"What—just when we're beginning to enjoy ourselves. Say, you wouldn't be so unkind as that. I like you, Miss Jill."
Jill's eyes flashed. Jerry saw that she was really angry.
"I am going in. You can come or not as you please," she said, coldly. The man stretched out and caught her by the arm.
JILL went very white.
"Let me go!" she said in a low, quick voice, but the fellow, laughing, kept his hold. Jill struck him across the cheek with her open hand, and instantly his laugh turned to a snarl.
"So that's your game, Think a lot of yourself, don't you?" He tightened his grip and dragged Jill back on to the seat, Then he caught her round the waist with the other arm.
"You're sure going to pay for that," he said.
A red mist rose before Jerry's eyes, all thought of anything but Jill's danger fled from his mind as he leaped from his hiding place and burst through the bushes, In three jumps he reached the American, and catching him by the collar wrenched him away from Jill with such force as to burst open his shirt-collar and tie and tear his coat half off him.
"Get out before I kill you!" he ordered in a low, grating voice. His face was set like stone, his eyes were blazing, he was angrier than he had ever been in his life.
The other man staggered, but did not fall. Two ugly spots of colour burned in his sallow cheeks, and his eyes went hard as marbles.
"Say, who the hell do you think you are, butting in like that?" he snarled.
"Never mind who I am," replied Jerry. "If you know what's good for you, get out."
"I'll go when I get good and ready, not for a dirty tyke like you," retorted the American, savagely. "And talking of what's good, keep your hands off of me—see?" Jerry paid not the slightest attention to the threat.
"Are you going?" he asked, coldly. As he spoke he stepped forward.
"Be careful—oh, be careful," cried Jill. "He has a pistol."
"Just what I should have expected," said Jerry, scornfully. "For the last time are you going?"
He saw the man's right hand flash to his hip pocket, and come out grasping an ugly snub-nosed automatic pistol. Jerry sprang forward, grabbing at his arm.
Jill heard the sharp crack of smokeless powder, and saw Jerry stop short. Then his legs crumpled beneath him, he dropped in a heap to the ground and lay still.
"Jerry, Oh, Jerry!" Jill cried as she flung herself down beside him.
Running feet crunched across the gravel. Faul, dismay written on his big, handsome face, came at full speed down the drive.
"Do you think you are still in Chicago?" he hissed.
The American glared up at him like a cornered cat.
"See what the fellow did to me!" he snarled. "Do you reckon I was going to stand for that?"
"Whatever he did to you, you probably deserved it," retorted Faul. "Now, if you know what's good for you, get out. If you don't you'll probably be hanged."
"He ain't dead," whined the other. The last remnants of Faul's temper evaporated. His ponderous fist shot out and sent the gangster sprawling six feet away on the drive. The pistol fell from the nerveless hand, and Faul snatched it up and thrust it into his own pocket.. Then, leaving the half-stunned American where he lay, he turned to Jill.
"I can't say how sorry I am, Miss Clavell," he said, earnestly. "But I told you this fellow was a bad hat. Is the keeper badly hurt."
Jill looked up. Her face was white as paper, but her eyes flamed with scorn and contempt.
"I don't knew whether he is dead or alive, but I and my sister will see to him. Please take your murderer with you and go. I never wish to see you again."
A spasm twitched Faul's face. Brute as the man was, he was fiercely in love with Jill, and her scorn stung him bitterly.
"It wasn't my fault," he answered, quickly. "And I can't leave you like this. At least let me carry him to the house." He stooped to lift Jerry, but Jill pushed him desperately away.
"Go!" she cried. "Can't you see you're not wanted," At that moment Jerry opened his eyes and saw Jill bending over him.
"It's all right, Jill," he said in a hoarse whisper. Low as Jerry's voice was, Faul caught the words and started slightly. For a moment he stared hard at Jerry, then an ugly smile twisted his lips. He straightened his tall body.
"Very well, Miss Clavell, I am going," he said, coldly. He turned and went across to the American. Catching him by one arm he jerked him to his feet and half dragged, half led him across to his car. Flinging the man in with as little ceremony as if he had been a sack of coal, he got into the driving seat, started the car, and drove straight away down the drive.
"NO, the wound is not dangerous," said Dr. Tennant. "Luckily the bullet missed the bone of the leg and has gone right through; but the poor fellow has lost a lot of blood, and will have to lie up for at least a fortnight."
Jill sighed with relief.
"I'm so glad, doctor. Though Chowne has not been with us long we are attached to him. As you know, he saved my sister's life in the fire the first evening he arrived."
"Yes. I heard of that. A good piece of work. He's a fine fellow, a clean, healthy young man, and I'm only too glad that the damage is no worse. How did it happen, Miss Clavell?"
"He was showing one of the other men how to handle an automatic and somehow it went off."
"It might have been worse. Well, I've done all I can for the present, and what you have to do is to keep him quiet. I'll be in again to-morrow."
He shook hands and went away, and Jill walked slowly upstairs to the room where they had put Jerry. Mrs. Robins met her at the door.
"He's quite all right, Miss Jill, but very anxious to have a few words with you. You go in and I'll wait in the next room. But don't be too long," she added, warningly. "He's weak and he ought to have a sleep."
"I won't be long," Jill promised, and went in, closing the door behind her.
"Oh, Jill, I am a fool," were Jerry's first words.
"That's what I shall call you if you talk such nonsense," replied Jill with a smile.
"No. You must not be kind to me," said Jerry, with bitter self-reproach. "You warned me over and over to be careful, then the first thing that happens I lose my head and ruin everything."
Jill raised her eyebrows.
"You mean you'd have let that horror kiss me, Jerry?"
Jerry bit his lip.
"No! No!—and yet—"
"Well, he would if you hadn't come when you did. Jerry, it's no use crying over spilt milk. You couldn't have done anything but what you did do and I should he the last to blame you."
"Spilt milk," repeated Jerry, "The question is, is it split? I mean does Faul know?"
Jill had not seen Faul's face when Jerry had whispered her name.
"I don't think he does," she said. "If he had recognised you he would surely have said so. But he went away without a word."
Jerry's face was very anxious.
"I wish I knew," he said, slowly.
"Dr. Tennant didn't recognise you, Jerry. That moustache and your hair being dyed makes you so different. I don't see how Faul could have known you."
"It isn't what I look like; it's what I said," replied Jerry. "A keeper doesn't call his employer by her Christian name."
"But you only whispered it, Jerry. The chances are he didn't hear."
"I hope he didn't," said Jerry, very earnestly. "But if he did—"
"If he did I don't think he would dare do anything. We could retaliate by accusing him of trying to swindle us out of Stort End and of getting you shot." Jerry, flat on his back, shook his head slightly.
"You don't know Faul. He's the sort to take any chances for revenge. Even if we forced him to clear out he would write to the police before he went."
Jill laid a cool hand on Jerry's hot forehead.
"Jerry, you are exciting yourself," she said, gently, yet firmly. "And that's very bad for you. If Faul did recognise you we shall know soon enough, and then Fay and I will act accordingly. Worrying won't help you or any of us. The great thing is for you to get some sleep. Then you will get well more quickly and be able to help us. Do you understand?"
"I understand very well, my wise lady," said Jerry with a faint smile. He reached out, caught Jill's hand and pressed it to his lips.
"Now, I'll be good," he said. "Give me my draught and I'll go right off to sleep."
Jill measured out the dose, and slipping her arm around his neck raised his head for him to drink it. Then she stooped and kissed him.
"Now sleep," she said, "or I'll know the reason why." Then Jill went down and talked to Fay, but Fay, of course, could not help her. She had been in the house and seen nothing of the excitement.
"But you're right, Jill," she said. "We shall know soon enough whether Faul did recognise Jerry. And I think Jerry is right, too, and that Faul will do anything to get his revenge. He hates Jerry terribly." She shrugged her slim, shoulders. "Anyhow there is one good thing. We've got rid of that dreadful heir, and now let's have tea and we shall feel better prepared for whatever is going to happen."
They had tea, and had just finished when a boy arrived with a note addressed to Miss Clavell. Jill's heart dropped a beat as she read the address.
"It's Faul," she said.
"Then open it, dear. Don't keep me in suspense," said Fay quietly. Jill opened it and Fay saw her sister's face go very white as she read. Presently Jill looked up.
"He recognised Jerry," she said in a voice of cold despair.
"I was afraid of it," Fay replied. What does he say, Jill?
"That if I don't give my promise to marry him, Jerry will go back to prison."
"Does he give any time limit?" Fay asked.
"He wants his answer at once."
Fay's delicate lips tightened.
"That's sheer bluff, and it seems to me that it's time we tried a little of the same medicine. Jill, write and tell him you are amazed at his insolence. Say that you have already caught him out in an attempt at blackmail—that you know this man he brought here as heir is a fraud, and that his documents are forgeries. Tell him that if he attempts to tell about Jerry you will have him and his wretched dupe arrested, and that there will also be the charge of wounding Jerry. Do you get all that, Jill?"
"What's the use, Fay. He will know it's bluff, just as well as we do."
"Yes, my dear, but it gives us time, and time is what we want. Jerry can't be moved now, but he might to-morrow or next day."
"Where?" Jill asked, hopelessly.
"Joe will know. As soon as it's dark I'm going to drive over and see him. Now write the letter." Jill wrote it and it was sent off. About an hour later Fay went out, got her car, and drove away.
The lodge gates were closed, and Fay knew it was no use shouting, for old Judd, the lodgekeeper, was deaf as a post. So she stopped the engine, switched off the lights, got out, and was limping towards the door of the lodge when an angry voice reached her from the road and she stopped short. The voice was that of the poacher, Gregory Mold, and by the sound of it the man was half drunk and quarrelsome.
"Be you going to pay me that five bob, or be you not?" he demanded harshly.
"How can I pay when I ain't got it, ye fule?" retorted the other, and his voice, too, Fay knew. It was Bart Brower's.
"You be lying. You got plenty of money. I'll lay Faul paid you well for that there job.
"Hush up, ye fule," hissed Brower, and the fury and fear in his voice made Fay shiver with excitement.
MOLD, pot-valiant, refused to recognise the threat in Brower's voice.
"It be all very well for you to tell me to hush up, Bart Brower," he sneered, "but sims to me you better pay your debts afore you shoot off your mouth."
"Pay my debts, indeed!" retorted Brower. "A nice one you be to talk! Bain't I been buying drinks for you all, evening?"
"And so you'd ought," Mold answered. "You owes me that for keeping my mouth shut all this time. Don't be forgetting as I seed yee do the bloody deed."
"Damn you!" Fay heard Brower snarl with savage ferocity, then came the thud of a heavy blow, followed by a deep groan and a fall. After that a moment of silence, in which Fay could only hear the thick breathing of Brower, it was too dark to see what he was doing, but a dragging noise seemed to argue that he was pulling the other man's body off the road into the ditch.
Fay, hidden behind the gate post, felt almost ill with excitement. She would have given almost anything to be able to go out and confront Brower and tax him with his crime, yet knew that this was out of the question. Having committed two murders, Brower would certainly not make any bones about a third if his neck depended on it. There was nothing for it but to wait until she could get help. She had not long to wait.
"It were his own fault," she heard Brower mutter under his breath. "He bringed it on hisself." The next moment he was running hard down the road.
Fay waited until the sound of his footsteps died away, then began rapping sharply on Judd's door. Judd opened. He was old and bald and he stared at Fay's agitated face in stupid surprise.
"Come out, quickly," Fay shouted in his ear. "A man has been murdered in the road." Judd's eyes bulged.
"A man murdered, missy? Who be that?"
"Mold—Gregory Mold; but don't stand gaping, Judd. Bring a light." Judd lit a lantern, picked up a thick stick, and came stumping out. He had once been a gamekeeper and had plenty of pluck.
"You best stay here, Miss Fay," he said. "Us don't want you to get hurt."
"The man who did it has run away," Fay told him; "I heard him." Judd unlocked the big iron gates and Fay followed him out into the road. The first thing the lantern light showed was an ugly dark patch on the dusty surface. Judd saw it.
"Blood," he said. "That's where the mortal deed were done, but they've took him away."
"Brower dragged him into the ditch," Fay said in the old man's ear. She pointed and, sure enough, there was the body. In spite of his age Judd was still a strong man, and stooping down he dragged Mold's heavy body out of the shallow ditch. Mold was an ugly sight, for there was blood all over his face. He had not shaved for several days, he was filthy, and he reeked of drink. Judd laid him flat on the grass and examined him.
"Her ain't dead, Miss Fay, but her's had a cruel crack on head. Reckon better leave 'un here and fetch a cloth and stop that there bleeding. Then us'll go for doctor."
"No need," Fay told him. "I have my car here. I'll go at once. And you'd better get a rug and cover him up, Judd."
"I'll do that, Miss Fay," Judd promised, and Fay limped back to her car, started it again, and went off. In spite of her lameness she drove well, and did not spare her engine as she raced through the night to Taverton. She found Dr. Tennant just finishing his dinner. He jumped up quickly.
Fay explained quickly, but, of course, said nothing as to the conversation she had overheard between Brower and Mold. The doctor pursed his lips.
"I ought to be a surgeon, not a doctor," he grumbled. "All right, Miss Clavell, I'll go straight out. No, you needn't take me. My engine is still warm. I only got in an hour ago."
Fay was glad, for she badly wanted to see Joe, so as soon as Tennant had left she drove round to Joe's house. Joe himself opened the door, and his very blue eyes brightened at sight of Fay. But the strained look on her small face warned him of trouble, and without a word he led her in and put her in a chair by the fire.
"There's more trouble, Joe," Fay said, but he held up his hand.
"I see that, but before you tell, just drink this." He poured out a small glass of home-made sloe gin, and made her swallow it.
"That's right," he said, as he took the glass from her. It was wonderful how gentle Joe could be, and this thought flashed across Fay's mind as she looked up at his tall, wiry figure. "Now I'll listen," he continued.
Fay told him everything, beginning with the row between Jerry and the "heir," going on to the ultimatum from Faul, and finishing with the assault by Brower on Mold. Joe pursed his lips in a soft whistle.
"Great snakes, things have been happening. But, Fay, that's the biggest luck ever, you overhearing the row between those two blighters. And Mold's alive—that's better still. If we can get a confession from that bloke it looks like all Jerry's troubles are ended."
Fay shook her head.
"Mold is the last man to talk unless he is actually dying. And Faul is desperate. If he hears what has happened he will go straight to the police, which means Jerry being dragged back to prison. And that will just about break Jill's heart. The first thing we have to do, Joe, is to hide Jerry in some place where Faul can't find him. After that we can tackle Mold." Joe stood silent a moment, thinking.
"You're right, Fay," he said at last. "You generally are. Can Jerry be moved?"
"He has a nasty hole in his leg, but it's well bandaged, and so long as he doesn't have to walk I don't see why he shouldn't be moved."
"Then we'll do it to-night," said Joe. Fay's eyes widened.
"But where? Where can we take him? That's the question."
"Mrs. Anders," replied Joe without hesitation. "It's the only place where Faul won't look for him."
Fay gave a little laugh.
"It's you who are right this time, Joe. Yes, if Mrs. Anders will have him he'll be safe there, for Faul has no idea that Jerry has made friends with her. I'll tell you what, I'll go there at once and ask her, then come straight back to Stort End."
"That's the ticket," said Joe. "And meantime I'll get my old bus out and go round to help with Mold. If we can get Mold to talk we needn't worry."
"Don't count on that, Joe," Fay said, gravely. "I don't suppose Mold will be able to talk for some time to come. Brower hit him terribly hard, and he's probably got concussion."
"Take a lot to give Mold concussion," said Joe with a slight grin. "His head is solid ivory."
He stopped and looked quickly down at Fay. "Not worrying, are you, Fay?" he asked in a curiously gentle voice.
"Not so much as I was. You take a lot off my shoulders, Joe."
"I'd—I'd like—" stammered Joe, then stopped short while his weather-tanned cheeks went the colour of brick dust.
"What would you like?" asked Fay innocently.
"Tell you some other time," said Joe, gruffly. "Here, I'll put you in your car." Fay limped meekly after him, but there was a twinkle in her eyes which did not go well with that meekness.
LESS than an hour later Fay pulled up at the lodge gates of Stort End. There were lights in the lodge, and she went straight in. Joe met her.
"All right?" he asked in his brief, jerky way.
"Quite all right. Mrs. Anders will take him in. She was simply sweet about it. How is Mold?"
"Got concussion just as you said, and still off his chump. Don't suppose he'll be able to tell us anything till to-morrow. Tennant gave orders the fellow was to be kept quiet till he came again in the morning.
"Then we'd best be shifting Jerry to Mrs. Anders's," Fay said, quietly.
"Robins and I will tend to that," Joe told her. "Time for little girls to be in bed."
Fay looked at him roguishly.
"Getting quite bossy, aren't you, Joe?" Then as he went red again she laughed. "I'll be good. Anyhow, let's go and tell Jill all about it. She'll be thinking I'm lost."
Fay was right, for Jill was beginning to worry over her sister's long absence, and was much relieved to see her arrive safely with Joe. She listened eagerly to Fay's story of the quarrel between Brower and Mold.
"So Jerry was right," she exclaimed, "and it was Brower who killed Anders, Oh!—" she clasped her hands in excitement—"Oh, if only we can get Mold to tell what he knows."
"We'll make him tell, all right," Joe said. "But our job now is to get Jerry safe. Mrs. Anders has promised to take him."
"But he's not fit to be moved," Jill objected.
"Don't worry about that," Joe said. "That bus of mine is as good as an ambulance. Robins and I will lift him in, and I'll guarantee he'll be none the worse. Anyhow, he's got to be out of here before morning." Jill frowned.
"I hate to let him go. And what about the doctor? What are we to say to him?"
"The truth, I reckon," said Joe, soberly. "Tell him the whole story, Miss Jill. A doctor's like a priest—he don't tell secrets."
"Joe's right," put in Fay. "It's the only thing to do. And Dr. Tennant—well, I think he likes us better than he does Faul."
Jill yielded, but one thing she insisted on. Jerry was not to be moved until the maids had all gone to bed.
"And meantime," suggested Fay. "I'm just beginning to remember that I haven't had any dinner."
"There is cold supper in the dining-room," Jill said. "Come in." They ate cold chicken and ham and an apple pasty with Devonshire cream, and Jill made coffee for them. Then they sat and smoked cigarettes and chatted in low voices. The old house grew very quiet, and presently Joe glanced at the clock.
"Time to start, I'm thinking. I'll take a look round first."
"Look round," repeated Jill, uncomfortably.
"Yes—Just want to make sure that the house isn't being watched," said Joe.
"I hadn't thought of that," said Jill.
"But Faul may have," said Joe, drily, He slipped out by a side door and was gone.
The night was mild and still, and the two girls turned the lights out and sat by an open window, waiting and listening.
"Can't hear a thing," whispered Jill presently.
"You wouldn't," Fay answered. "Big as he is, Joe can move just like a cat. But if he catches any one—" her delicate lips tightened—"that man won't do much more spying."
"You know him very well, Fay," said Jill.
"I understand him," Fay answered, quietly. "Joe Spangler is more than just a sportsman, Jill."
"I know it," said Jill, gently. Some minutes passed, then suddenly Joe was back in the room.
"All serene," he said.
"Then there was no one about?" Jill asked.
"No, but there would have been if Mold and Brower hadn't fallen out," Joe answered. "I'll lay odds Faul had set them to watch the house." He chuckled. "Gad, I'd like to see Faul's face when he finds the bird has flown."
"We may see it to-morrow," said Fay. Joe glanced at her.
"Would you like me to be here, Fay?" Fay shook her head with quiet decision.
"No, Joe. The less he sees of you the better. Besides, I wouldn't trust you in the same room with him."
"I don't know I'd trust myself," said Joe, frankly. "Now if Robins is ready, let's fetch Jerry down and finish the night's work. I suppose Jerry knows."
"He knows," said Jill, "and Robins has wrapped him up. Be careful with him, Joe. We mustn't risk that wound opening."
"He'll never know he's being moved," Joe promised, and was as good as his word. Even Fay was amazed at the ease and skill with which Joe carried Jerry. Within a very few minutes Jerry, packed in blankets, was safe in the back of the car, and Jill was filling up the corners with fruit, delicacies, and books. There were no lights on, and even if any one had been watching they would have been puzzled to know what was going on.
Joe turned to Fay.
"See here, Fay. Faul won't know Jerry's gone, so why tell him?"
"But he may demand to see him."
"Tell him Jerry can't see any one. Doctor's orders. Remember time's everything. Once we get Mold to talk Faul is snookered. My advice is to bluff Faul all you can."
Fay looked up at him, and even in the dim light from the window he saw the smile on her small face.
"All right, Joe. I'll bluff. Now go ahead. Jill and Jerry have had plenty of time to say good-bye."
"W-will you say good night to me, Fay?" Joe stammered. Fay reached up suddenly, threw her slim arms round his neck, and kissed him on the lips.
"I think you deserve that, Joe," she said with a small laugh. "Now go."
Joe found his way blindly to the car, climbed in, and started her up.
"I saw," came Jerry's voice behind him. "All the best, old man."
"MR. FAUL, madam," said Robins formally as he ushered the big man into the drawing-room. Robins loathed Faul but was far too good a servant to show it. Jill rose and faced her caller. She stood very straight, very much mistress of herself, very much the lady of the house.
As for Faul, he did not seem so sure of himself as usual. He fidgeted with his gloves, and his big face was blotched and streaky. He looked as if he had not slept the previous night, and that was indeed the case, for things had happened which had shaken even his cast-iron nerve. Jill did not speak, for she had no intention of making things easier for this man, and he for his part seemed to find it difficult to begin. When he did speak his voice was harsh and jerky.
"I've come for your answer," he said.
"Answer to what?" replied Jill.
Jill laughed and her laughter brought a dull red to Faul's cheeks.
"There is no answer," she said.
With an effort Faul pulled himself together.
"I regret to press you, but I require an answer," he said, firmly. "What is more, I mean to have it without delay. When will you marry me?"
"Never," said Jill, still with the same scornful smile.
Faul bit his lip.
"I don't think you quite understand," he said, smoothly. "Harbouring an escaped criminal is not an offense on which the law looks kindly. The punishment, I am told, is two years' hard labour. Not only you but your sister also, is involved, and whatever you might feel able to suffer yourself, I know you too well to think that you would let your sister go to prison." Jill shivered slightly, for this was, indeed, a point of view which had not yet occurred to her. Faul saw his advantage.
"If you marry me you end all your troubles. I will see that Aylmer gets safely out of the country, and as for Stort End, it shall be settled on you so that your tenants, of whom you think so much, will not suffer."
"And what about your heir?" Jill asked, pointedly.
"You need not worry about him," said Faul, significantly.
"I'm not," Jill answered. "You see I happen to know that this wretched killer whom you brought here yesterday is a fraud, like yourself."
Faul stiffened, and Jill saw his hard eyes flicker.
"What do you mean?" he demanded, harshly. "You saw the papers which prove him to be the son of your stepfather."
"All forgeries," retorted Jill. "You see," she went on slowly, making a pause between each word, "I happen to know who is the real heir."
Faul's lips fell apart; you might almost say his jaw dropped and his big frame sagged slightly. He stared at Jill for some seconds. Then he forced a laugh.
"You are an adversary worthy of my steel," he answered. "That's a bluff I should never have thought of. Together you and I can achieve anything. There are no limits."
Jill remained unmoved.
"You think it a bluff. You judge me by yourself and believe that I am lying. Bring forward your heir, Mr. Faul, and his proofs. Make a claim in the courts and see what happens."
Her voice rang with such convincing sincerity that Faul realised at last she was speaking nothing but the truth. Jill saw he was staggered and was quick to follow up her advantage.
"So you see, Mr. Faul, your whole plot tumbles to the ground. Instead of the rich wife you are looking for I am only a pauper."
Faul stared at her.
"Are you telling me that you have informed this heir of his inheritance?" he demanded in a queer, hoarse voice.
It was on the tip of Jill's tongue to answer "yes" but she checked herself. Why tell Faul anything more than she had to tell him? Faul mistook her silence.
"I'm glad you were not foolish enough for that," he said, grimly. "Please remember that I forbid you to tell him."
Faul took a step forward, his eyes suddenly hard.
"Do it and see what happens," he threatened.
Jill did not flinch.
"What will happen?" she asked.
"Aylmer will go back to prison that very day," snapped Faul. "And you and your sister will follow him," he added harshly.
"And what about Brower?"
Jill had not meant for a moment to betray her knowledge of the real criminal, but for the life of her she could not help the sharp retort. It went straight to the mark. Faul's big body quivered as if a heavy fist had struck him, and for a moment his eyes were blank. But the man had marvellous control of himself, and almost instantly pulled himself together.
"Brower?" he repeated with a jeering laugh. "What fairy tale are you springing now, Miss Clavell?"
Jill's eyes met his, squarely.
"The bluff is all on your side, Mr Faul. And lies cannot prevail against truth. I not only know that it was Brower who murdered Anders, but I have proof of it."
Faul's lips drew back, showing his large white teeth. He breathed hard, and for a moment his face was beast-like in its fury. Jill's heart sank. She realised that she had driven the man to desperation, and was terrified of what he might do next. Yet after a moment he regained his self-control.
"Ah, so you have proof," he said, quietly. "May I ask what proof?"
"You can ask, but I shall not tell you," said Jill firmly.
He laughed, and Jill thought she had never heard an uglier sound.
"I don't think I need to be told," he said. "You are clever, Miss Clavell, but for once you have over-reached yourself." He laughed again. "Adieu until our next meeting," he added mockingly, then bowed and left the room.
From the window Jill saw him get into his car and drive rapidly away; then she hurried to find Fay and tell her of Faul's threat. Fay's face went very grave as she listened to Jill's account of the interview. She shook her small head.
"You were splendid, Jill, I wish I could have heard you defying him. But you shouldn't have said anything about Brower. That was the one mistake you made."
"I know. I see it now. What do you think Faul will do now, Fay?"
"He will get at Mold, Jill. If he can stop Mold from telling what he knows we are helpless."
"But he can't do that," said Jill, quickly. "In the first place, Mold is too ill to see anybody, and then there is the nurse Dr. Tennant has sent up. She would not allow Faul to go near him."
Fay shook her head.
"He will do something to prevent Mold telling. Faul won't stop at anything, Jill."
"That is true," Jill agreed. "If you had seen the look on his face it would have frightened you. It was like a wild beast suddenly peering out. All the same I don't think he can do anything yet. We are safe for a day or two. Meantime, we must watch Mold, and as soon as he comes to himself see if we can get a confession from him."
"I doubt if he will talk," Fay said, gravely. "A man like that is simply terrified of giving evidence in a court of law."
Jill's lips tightened.
"He has got to talk," she began, and just then Robins knocked and came in.
"The nurse has sent Judd up, Miss Jill, to say that Mold has come to his senses. She thinks you should come to see him."
Jill sprang up.
"I'll come at once, Robins."
AFTER leaving Stort End. Faul drove straight to Brower's cottage. Though Faul had bluffed Jill and pretended that he still held the upper hand he was actually very uneasy.
Knowing nothing of the quarrel between Brower and Mold, he could not imagine how Jill had come to suspect Brower, let alone get proof, as she said, against the man. He had believed that no one but himself and Brower knew the truth about the attack on Anders, and could not imagine how the facts had leaked out. For the sake of his own skin Brower would never have talked.
Brower's cottage at the far end of the straggling village was in a shocking state of disrepair. The windows were broken and dirty, the roof had been patched with sheets of rusty galvanised iron, it was years since a spade had been used in the garden, and the house was surrounded by thickets of tall nettles blackened by early frosts.
Faul thumped at the door, but there was no answer. The door was locked; no smoke rose from the chimney. He went round to the back, but there was no one about. Swearing under his breath, he walked back to the car.
A woman was coming down the lane. Her dark skin and very dark eyes argued gipsy blood. Faul went towards her.
"Good day, Mrs. Mold. Do you know where Brower is?" She stopped short and scowled at him.
"It bain't thee I'd tell, if I knowed, Mr. Faul. 'Tis the police."
Faul managed not to show his dismay.
"Why, what's the matter, Mrs. Mold?" he asked, easily. "What's Brower been doing?"
"You bain't heard?" she asked, still glowering at him.
"I've heard nothing," Faul assured her.
"The dog! He have nigh killed my husband."
"How? When?" Faul's voice was suddenly sharp.
"Last night. Cracked him over the head with a club. Miss Fay, her found him lying bleeding like a stuck pig."
"Miss Fay found him—where?"
"Outside the lodge gate. Her got the doctor for him and he be lying abed in the lodge now."
Faul stood silent, but his thoughts were busy and his quick brain was putting two and two together. So these two fools had quarrelled, and Brower had lost his temper and attacked Mold. And Mold must have said something which Fay had overheard. She had, of course, told Jill.
The question was how much Mold had said. After all, whatever it was, it could not have been much, for though he might suspect a lot, Mold knew nothing. Besides, he would be afraid to talk. It was bad, but it might have been worse, and already Faul was planning how to repair the damage.
"I am very sorry to hear this, Mrs. Mold," he said, quietly, "Browser must have been drunk. But don't worry. I'll see to it."
He pulled out his pocket book and took from it a pound note. "Take this to carry on with, Mrs. Mold. I'll see you have enough until Mold is better." The woman took the money, but gave no word of thanks.
"Likely Mold'll die and then Brower'll hang," she said vindictively.
"Oh, I trust he is not so bad as that," said Faul smoothly, but inwardly he was thinking that, if only Mold did die, it would be the very best thing that could happen. He got into his car again and drove straight bark to Lifford. Then he changed into rough shooting clothes and heavy boots, put biscuits and a flask into his pocket, and picked up a gun. He had a pretty good idea where Brower had hidden himself, but was not running any risk of being seen, searching for him. If anyone watched, he was just snipe shooting. Then he walked off across the Moor.
It was a dull day, but very mild for the time of year. The purple of blooming heather had passed some weeks since and the great Moor had taken on its withered, winter-like colour. The only relief was the occasional bright green where a spring broke out of he hillside.
Faul tramped steadily onwards in a north-easterly direction. There was no path, or even track, yet he seemed to know exactly where he was going. He crossed the high ridge of Omen Beam, dropped again into a wide valley below, climbed again, then dropped once more towards a wide stretch of black, desolate looking bog.
He was now reaching the very heart of the Moor. There was not even a pony in sight. The only living things were a pair of ravens which flew high overhead, croaking hoarsely.
Skirting the upper edge of the great, gloomy mire, he climbed a long slope and reached a hill-top crowned with a huge and fantastically-shaped tower of grey, weathered granite. Here he stopped and got his bearings and took a drink from his flask and after a short rest pushed on. A thin rain was beginning to fall.
The ground dropped away slowly, then there was a hoarse roar of tumbling water, and Faul was standing on the edge of a great cleft. Broken cliffs fell steeply to a river which rolled noisily; white sheets of foam falling into deep black pools. This was Chasm Cleave and the river was the Arrow, less than five miles from its source.
Faul turned and looked behind him, but there was nothing living within sight. He began to walk slowly along the rim of the cliff.
A roughly-dressed man came out from behind a rock below. He had a three-pronged spear in his hand, and he went to the edge of a pool and peered down into it. He moved slowly along the edge, then stopped again, and raising his spear darted it down into the water. Something struggled desperately beneath the surface, then out came the spear and on its prongs writhed a silvery salmon of about eight pounds' weight.
At sound of Faul's voice the man started sharply and looked up. A look of relief crossed his broad, coarse face and he straightened his big body.
"All right, Mr. Faul. Be you coming down?"
"How the devil can I get down?" demanded Faul, harshly.
"Walk on a bit. There's a way. I'll show 'ee."
Faul walked on and presently came to a break in the cliff where a small tributary stream broke in from the moor. It was steep, but Faul got down without trouble.
"Poaching again?" he remarked sourly, as he glanced at the impaled salmon.
"Got to live, mister," Brower answered. "And I ain't got a lot o' grub in the cave."
"Take me to the cave. It's too wet to stand out here. I have to talk to you," said Faul.
Brower gave the big man a doubtful glance, then nodded.
"All right," he said, curtly. "This way," He led the way down stream for perhaps a quarter of a mile. In places the path was a mere ledge not two feet wide with a sheer cliff to the left and the roaring river on the right. One false step meant a drop into swirling depths where no man, however strong a swimmer, could live. Then Brower turned, and clambering up some dozen feet of steep broken rock, reached the high narrow mouth of a cave and stepped inside. Faul followed.
A few steps in, and the narrow passage opened into a large rock chamber some thirty feet deep and twenty feet wide. It was furnished with a rusty oil stove, three packing cases and a bed made of heather with a couple of dirty grey blankets. Faul's lips curled as he looked round.
"A nice place to live in," he snarled.
FAUL seated himself on a packing-case with his gun across his knees.
"What's all this about Mold?" he asked, sharply.
A startled look flashed across Brower's face.
"Mold," he repeated. "What be asking that for?"
"It seems a natural question, seeing that you have half killed him."
"Only half, were it? Pity I didn't finish the job. But how come anyone knows it were me?"
"It's all over the village. His wife told me." Brower scowled.
"I can tell you that. It was the younger Miss Clavell. At least she found Mold 'bleeding like a pig,' as his wife said."
Brower started up, and now there was real fear on his broad face.
"Where were the gal?" he demanded.
"I don't know, I don't know anything except what I've told you. Where did this happen?"
"Outside the lodge gates. The dirty dog were putting the black on me."
It was Faul's turn to look scared.
"What do you mean? How could he blackmail you? He doesn't know anything."
"Don't he? Maybe he don't. But he says as he were in the bushes alongside the river that night as Anders got his."
"Did he say that last night?"
"He said, 'Don't forget as I seed you do it.'"
Faul drew a long, whistling breath.
"If Fay heard that," he muttered under his breath, and for a moment looked almost panic-stricken. But Faul was always the best when forced into a corner, and he very quickly recovered.
"It's a pity you didn't hit him a bit harder," he remarked, grimly. Brower snorted.
"His head must be solid bone," he growled. "It were a proper welt I give him."
"Well, he is alive," replied Faul, "and while he is alive you are in a hole. If he talks there is every kind of trouble. The best thing you can do, Brower, is to clear out."
"Where to, mister?"
"South America, You would be safe there."
Brower shook his head. "I ain't got no use for them foreign parts."
Faul frowned, "There will be snow soon, and then what can you do?"
"I'll be all right," said Brower, stubbornly.
"You'll be in quod, my friend," said Faul, curtly. "And if Mold gives evidence—" He touched his neck with a significant gesture, but Brower refused to be frightened.
"I ain't worrying, mister. If Mold tries to say anything I'll put the blame on him." Then, as he saw Faul's eyes widen, he went on:
"There's a sight more evidence against him than against me. It is well-knowed as Anders catched him netting rabbits and would have quodded him if you hadn't interfered."
"I wish to God I hadn't," muttered Faul. "Then he'd have been safe out of the way."
He paused, then. "I still think you would be safer abroad, Brower," he said, "I'll pay your passage to Rio or Buenos Aires."
"And what would I do when I got there?"
Faul smiled, bleakly.
"A man with your talents would make more money there than in England."
Brower shook his head.
"Bain't no use to me, mister. I don't know the lingo. I'll hole up here a while. I don't reckon they cops ever heard tell of the Druid's Den."
"I think you're foolish," Faul said, frowning. "See here, Brower, I will make it worth your while to go abroad for a year or so."
Brower looked at the other sharply and greedily.
"Wot'll you give me, mister?"
"Your fare and a hundred pounds."
"Bain't good enough," replied Brower with decision. "Say five, and I'll think of it."
"I can't give you five hundred, but I'll send you twenty pounds a month so long as you stay away."
"I bain't going," said Brower, brusquely.
Faul looked at the other thoughtfully. His big hands tightened for a moment on the gun which he held across his knees. Had Brower known it, he was never nearer to death, for it was in Faul's mind to shoot him then and there and sink his body in the river. It was not Faul's way to allow anything or anybody to interfere with his plans, and Brower threatened to be dangerous.
It was only the thought of Mold that checked Faul. Mold, if he talked, might be even more dangerous than Brower, and he would have to depend on Brower to settle the man. He could not do it himself.
He rose slowly to his feet.
"All right, Brower," he said. "Then you had better stay here for the present. But it's going to be awkward for you if Mold talks."
"For you, too, mister," returned Brower, harshly. "Don't forget that."
"For me, too—perhaps," agreed Faul. "But not so awkward as for you, Brower." Again he touched his neck significantly. "I'd keep an eye on Mold if I were you."
Brower gave a grating laugh.
"I'll do that thing," he promised, savagely.
"I'll keep you posted," said Faul. "I shan't come here again just yet, but you'll find a note in the usual place whenever there's anything you ought to know." With a nod he went out of the cave and started back through a cold drizzle.
THE nurse had washed Mold, she had even managed to shave him. Wearing a clean nightshirt belonging to old Judd, he looked a very different creature from the drink-sodden, blood-stained wreck that Fay and Judd had picked up the previous night.
Not that Mold was a beauty at best, for his nose, broken in some poaching fray, had never been properly set, and hung over towards his left cheek, while a long red scar across his forehead helped to give him a distinctly sinister appearance. His head was wrapped in clean bandages, and loss of blood had drained the colour from his swarthy face.
"Are you better, Mold?" Jill asked as she stood beside his bed.
"Aye, us be better, Miss Jill, thank 'ee kindly."
"You were pretty bad last night when my sister found you."
"Reckon us had had a glass too much, Miss Jill. Took a proper tumble, us did."
"It wasn't a tumble that cracked your head open, Mold," Jill said, plainly.
The man looked at her from under lowered eyelids. Seemingly he was wondering how much she knew. Jill went on.
"My sister was at the gate," she remarked, significantly.
A faint grin twisted Mold's thin lips.
"Reckon her knows more'n us thought her did."
"She knows a good deal," said Jill. "She knows for instance, that it was Brower who hit you over your head."
An ugly gleam showed in Mold's deep-set eyes.
"Her's a bad 'un," he growled.
"We all know that," said Jill frankly. "We are trusting to you to prove it, Mold."
Mold shut up like an oyster. Jill could plainly see how terrified he was of the risk of being forced to give evidence against Brower.
She tried another tack.
"Mold, the doctor says that if my sister had not found you last night and brought help you would have bled to death. Don't you owe her anything for that?"
"Us be grateful, surely," the man muttered.
"Then show your gratitude and tell me why Brower attacked you."
"Us was both a bit over the mark. Us had words," Mold answered, cautiously.
"My sister heard those words," Jill said. "You were accusing Brower of having killed Anders, Mold." She saw Mold's eyelids quiver slightly, but that was his only sign of emotion.
"Her must have been dreaming. Us never said no such thing," he answered, coolly.
"She wasn't dreaming. She wasn't mistaken. Listen to me, Mold. For a long time past we have been nearly sure that it was Brower who killed Anders, and not Mr. Aylmer. You know the truth. You saw Brower kill the keeper. Surely you cannot keep silence and allow an innocent man to suffer for a crime he never committed."
"Miss Fay—her's mistook," Mold answered, doggedly. "Us never seed no one killed. Us'd help 'ee if us could, Miss Jill, but there bain't no way to do it."
"I can't understand you, Mold," she said after a pause. "Brower has tried to murder you, and you and I know he has done another murder. Any one would think you'd be glad to tell."
"Bain't nothing to tell," Mold repeated, obstinately.
"You say so, yet I know better. Listen, Mold, I'll give you money If you'll tell. You shall have fifty pounds—a hundred if you like."
She had touched him at last, for she saw the spasm of greed which convulsed his face, and for a moment believed that he was going to speak. But the impulse passed, and his ugly dark face went blank again.
"What be use of offering money like that? Us can t tell what us doesn't know," he said, and at last Jill realised that it was useless.
"Very well," she said curtly. "Have it your own way. There is nothing my sister and I would not have done for you if you would speak. If you prefer that an innocent man should suffer when a few words from you would save him, all I can say is that some day you will be very sorry." She looked at him once more, but his face remained blank as ever. There was nothing for it but to go home and tell Fay that she had failed.
Fay was very troubled at Jill's news.
"Would it be any use my going to see Mr. Brand, the lawyer," she asked, "and telling him what I overheard?"
Jill shook her head.
"That's only second-hand evidence, Fay, and I'm sure it's no use unless Mold would corroborate it. I can't think why he won't speak."
"I can," said Jill. "At least I think I can. He's afraid."
"Do you mean that Faul would have him killed as he had Anders killed?"
"I don't think it's that. I think Faul has some hold over him."
"Such as he has over us," said Jill with a bitterness very foreign to her sweet nature. "Oh, Fay," she added, "what have we ever done to get into the hands of such a monster?"
"Don't lose heart, Jill," Fay said, kissing her. "Somehow we are going to get the better of him."
"I wish I knew how," sighed Jill.
The next three days were a nightmare of suspense. Every hour Jill expected Faul again, yet he made no sign. He neither came nor wrote. No visitors at all came to Stort End, not even Joe, but Joe wrote to Fay to say that Jerry was safe end that his leg was mending wonderfully. "It won't be a week before he can walk," Joe added.
On the fourth evening old Judd came posting up to the house and asked to see Jill. When she came down she found the old man very much upset.
"Mold, he've gone," he told her.
"Gone?" repeated Jill.
"Yes, Miss Jill. You knows the nurse left yesterday, and his wife came in to look after him. I were up the drive sweeping the leaves, and when I come back they was both on 'em gone."
"I didn't dream he was well enough to get up," said Jill in his ear.
"More did I, miss, but there it is. Went off without a word. I hopes you won't blame me, miss."
"No, indeed, Judd. You couldn't know. I dare say, after all, you're not sorry to get rid of him."
"Glad I be, the ungrateful dog," growled Judd.
Fay came in and Jill told her.
"This is Faul's doing," said Fay at once.
"And what will he do next?" Jill asked, unhappily.
It rained all that night and blew a gale. Next morning the sun came out and shone on trees from which the last yellow leaves had been stripped and on puddles of water in every hollow. Jill went about her household duties with a white face. She had slept badly, and her head ached, A little after eleven a car came up the drive. She hoped it was Joe, and her heart sank when she saw Faul's big car.
For a moment she felt like telling Robins to say she was not at home, yet her natural pluck came to her help. It was no use putting off the evil day, and she was standing in the drawing-room when Faul was ushered in.
He was, as usual, perfectly dressed and groomed, and his big face looked as impassive as ever, yet somehow Jill sensed a change. She was right, for, without any of the usual courtesies, Faul came straight up to her.
"I thought you were bluffing me the other day," he said, harshly "Now I know it. I am tired of these delays. When will you marry me?"
JILL was sick of fencing with this man.
"I'd sooner die," she said and spoke with such bitter emphasis that Faul stopped short. His big cheeks turned dull red and for a moment he was at a loss. But, as always, he pulled himself together.
"Yes, but would you sooner Aylmer died?" he asked, harshly.
"There's no fear of that," Jill answered.
"You said once that he would die if he were taken back to prison. And that's where he will go if you still refuse your consent to become my wife."
Jill faced him bravely.
"He isn't going back to prison," she asserted.
"Counting on your proofs, are you?" Faul asked with a sneer.
"Never mind what I am counting on. Gerald Aylmer is beyond your reach."
"Another bluff!" Faul laughed. "Upon my word Miss Clavell, your profession should have been the stage."
"No bluff at all, Mr. Faul. Mr. Aylmer is hidden where you will never find him. If you don't believe me you are welcome to search the house. I will take you over it if you like."
Faul's eyes narrowed. A dangerous look crossed his big handsome face.
"It isn't I who will do the searching—it's the police," he retorted, fiercely.
"Then send for the police," Jill answered, curtly. "I should prefer their company to yours."
Again the red flush rose in Faul's cheeks. If Jill had thought for a week she could not have said anything to hurt this man more, for, in his selfish way, he loved her. The shook had the odd effect of calming him.
"Will you give me your word that Aylmer is not at Stort End, Miss Clavell?" he asked.
"I have already told you so, and it is true."
"I pay you the compliment of believing you. It was clever and I don't know how you did it. But you can't get him out of the country. You know me well enough to be sure that, when I set my hand to the task, I complete it, and sooner or later I shall find him and hand him over to justice."
"Justice!" Faul had called Jill an actress, and it is very sure that no actress ever uttered a word with more superb scorn. Faul was not abashed.
"Call it anything you like. Anyhow, Aylmer goes back to prison. You may defer the evil day, Miss Clavell. You can't avoid it."
Jill drew herself up.
"I'm getting a little tired of these endless threats," she began, but he cut her short.
"Then why force me to make them?" Suddenly he changed his tone. His hard voice became soft and imploring. The change was so great that Jill could hardly believe her ears.
"Believe it or not, I love you, Jill. I'm mad for you. I may be hard to others, for I've always had to look out for myself, but I'd never be hard to you. I'm sound in health, not a drunkard or a drug-taker. I'm not bad to look at; I'm a man of decent birth. I'd make you a good husband and, together—with your beauty and money, and my knowledge of the world—we could go anywhere, do anything. Put that callow boy out of your mind and marry me. You'll never be sorry."
He stopped, breathing hard, and Jill realised with amazement that he, at any rate, was not acting. He meant every word, and did actually believe himself to be in love with her. Blackguard as she knew him, she felt for a moment a little less bitter towards him, and when she spoke her tone was more gentle than before.
"All you say may be true, Mr. Faul, yet if you know so much of the world you must be aware that a woman does not marry a man simply because he is in love with her. Marriage can't be one sided, and even if I had not met Mr. Aylmer I could never have loved you."
"I could make you," he broke in fiercely, but Jill shook her head.
"You are wrong. You could not." She paused a moment, then went on. "And you—you talk of loving me, yet you do not even know what love means. No, listen," she said, quickly, as she saw his lips move. "If you really love any one you want to see them happy, and you cannot be happy yourself unless they are happy. Love that you force upon another is not love at all, for true love has nothing of self in it."
If she had hoped for any result from this appeal Jill was doomed to disappointment. A sardonic smile twisted Faul's lips.
"Pretty sentiments, Miss Clavell, but they don't seem to me to mean much. I never posed as an altruist, and I should certainly not find any joy in giving you up to a rival. It would save a lot of trouble if you would get it into your head that it is you I want."
He paused and fixed his hard eyes on Jill. They seemed to burn with a slow and ugly fire. "It's you I want," he repeated. "And you I mean to have. Sooner or later you will marry me, and the sooner you give your consent the better for yourself and every one concerned."
The brutal selfishness of the man's speech filled Jill with angry disgust. She shrugged her slim shoulders.
"You said I do not talk the same language," she said, wearily. "I think you had better go. And please do not come here again, for if you do I shall not see you."
"The next time I come," Faul laughed, "will be to tell you that I have found Aylmer. And then"—his face changed again and became full of ugly threat—"then you will be only too glad to see me—for it will be your and his last chance."
"FAUL'S doing the job thoroughly. He had a 'plane up this morning."
The speaker was Joe Spangler, and though his tone and manner were as casual as ever Fay at least saw that he was both angry and anxious.
"But he couldn't see anything from a 'plane," said Jill quickly.
"Don't suppose he could, but it shows how keen he is," Joe answered. He flung the butt of his cigarette into the fire. "Mind if I smoke a pipe, Jill?"
"Of course not, but what's the idea of the 'plane?"
"Thinks we've hidden Jerry out somewhere on the Moor. Trying to spot some one taking grub to him," said Joe as he pushed tobacco into the bowl of a blackened old briar.
"He can't see through the roof of Mrs. Anders's house—that's one good thing," said Fay.
"He can't," said Joe, "but the swine's wasting no chances."
"You're worried, Joe," said Fay.
"A bit," Joe allowed. "We can't keep Jerry at Mrs. Anders's for ever. He's nearly well, and crazy to get out."
"You've seen him?" Jill asked, keenly.
"Sneaked round there at one o'clock this morning and had a yarn with the lad. He sent his love to you, Jill."
"He is really better?" Jill asked, eagerly.
"Mended-up as good as new. That's the trouble. He wants fresh air and exercise."
"Is there no place we could take him?" asked Jill, despairingly.
"Not while Mr. Blooming Faul and his little friends are scouring the Moor. Honestly, there ain't a dog's chance."
"And we don't seem much nearer to getting any evidence against Brower," said Fay, gravely. "What's become of Mold, Joe?"
"Blowed if I know. I've been to his place every single day. His wife says he left the next day after she took him away from the lodge. She don't know where he is."
"It looks to me as if Faul had sent him off somewhere," Fay suggested.
"To keep his mouth shut. That's a notion," Joe said, quickly.
"But hasn't Mrs. Mold told the police?" Jill asked.
"Not blooming—that is, not likely," Joe corrected himself. "The last thing the Molds want is to have Choker inquiring into their little amusements. Mold's away half the time and no one takes any notice."
"Yet it seems that our only chance is to find him," said Jill earnestly.
"I wish I could," said Joe. "Bill and I would make him talk." His blue eyes went suddenly hard, and Fay realised just what would happen to Mold if Joe did lay his hands on him.
He got up. "I must be pushing along," he said. "Got to see Bill. Don't worry too much, Jill. We'll pull out of this mess all right." Fay went out with him to his car. "Jill is worrying, Joe," she said, as they got outside. "She's terrified of Faul."
"He's a dirty dog," said Joe, softly.
"One of these days I'm going to beat him up so his own mother won't know him."
Fay's small hand tightened on his arm.
"No, Joe—not yet. But if you will wait until Jerry is cleared then I don't mind what you do to him."
Joe came again next day, but had no news. Mold was still missing. But he told Fay that Faul was still as busy as ever. His own man, Griggs, Brower, and two fellows who looked like private detectives were combing the countryside.
"Looks to me," said Joe, "as if Faul felt sure that Jerry wasn't far off."
"And if he finds him!" cried Fay.
"He ain't found him yet," said Joe, "so keep your heart up, Fay girl."
Next morning Fay, coming down a little late to breakfast, found Jill sitting quite still at the end of the table, reading a letter, and one glance was enough to make her certain that something was dreadfully wrong. For Jill's face was white as stone and her lovely eyes full of terror.
"What is it, Jill, darling?" Fay asked, quickly.
Jill looked up.
"Faul—he's found Jerry. It—It's finished, Fay."
With shaking hands Fay took the letter.
"Dear Miss Clavell," she read. "It was clever of you, but then I always said you had brains. Yet if I may say so without boasting, so have I and after all it was only a matter of finding out who of your neighbours was buying more food than usual. Now I trust that you will admit yourself beaten. You told me the other day you were tired of threats, yet you force me to make a last one. You will marry me within three days or I hand over Aylmer to the law.—Yours faithfully, B. Faul.
"P.S.—I trust you will not be so unwise as to attempt to move Mr. Aylmer again. I may tell you that Mrs. Anders's house is watched day and night."
Fay's small face flamed.
"Brute!" she cried. "Oh, If I were only a man!"
"Even if you were a man, Fay, you could do nothing," said Jill's perfectly level voice.
"I'd kill him," cried Fay. For once she had completely lost her usual calm.
"And be hanged," said Jill. "No, my dear, I'm beaten, and that's the end of it."
"What do you mean?" cried Fay in dismay.
"What can I do except consent to marry him?"
"You can't—oh, you can't, Jill."
"My dearest, there is no choice."
"There is. Jerry wouldn't allow it for a moment. He'd far sooner go back to prison. He said so."
"I know he would, but I am not going to let him. Besides, Jerry isn't the only one to think of."
"What do you mean, Jill?"
"There's you, Fay, and Robins and Mrs. Robins, and Mrs. Anders. Every single one of us would go to prison."
Fay's eyes widened.
"They couldn't!" she cried. "They couldn't be so unjust."
"They could and they would. I have looked it all up, Fay, and it is true that any one who knowingly shelters an escaped prisoner is liable to imprisonment."
Fay gasped, but said nothing. She was trying to get her ideas straight. Jill went on in the same stonily calm voice. "I shan't see Mr. Faul. I shall write and tell him that I accept his terms."
With a great effort Fay managed to get control of herself.
"No, Jill. Wait," she said.
"What's the use of waiting? We can do nothing."
"That isn't certain. There's still a chance that Joe may find Mold. Faul says three days. Take the three days. Don't answer till the very last minute you have to."
Fay's cheeks were flushed, her eyes were brilliant, there was something so compelling about her that Jill yielded.
"Very well, Fay," she said dully. "I'll wait." Fay limped across and flung her arms around her sister's neck.
"Don't look like that, darling," she begged. "Remember the old saying about it being darkest before dawn. You can't marry Faul. God couldn't let anything so dreadful happen."
A faint smile came to Jill's pale lips.
"He's given me a sister who will never desert me," she said softly. "I'll try and keep a shred of hope, Fay dear, but miracles don't happen."
"Mold isn't a miracle," said Fay. "But if Joe finds him it'll he a miracle if Mold doesn't talk." She paused a moment. "Now I'm going to pour you out some tea and you are going to drink it. After that I am going off to see Joe. And this time he and I are going to do something."
"You won't do anything rash, darling," Jill begged.
"We'll be very careful," Fay said, but it was just as well that Jill did not know what plans were working in her sister's busy mind.
JOE'S face, as he heard Fay's story, was sterner than she had ever seen it. Yet when she had finished there was no outburst from the tall, spare, blue-eyed man she had come to love so well. On the contrary, he sat quite still for some moments. Then he got up suddenly.
"We'll go and see Jerry," he said briefly.
"Go and see Jerry, but—"
"There are no 'buts' about it, Fay. They can't stop us. At least, I'd like to see 'em try," he added, and she saw his big fists clench as he spoke. "You can drive me," he added.
Fay obeyed like a lamb. Joe was the one person whose decisions she never questioned. At the same time she rather wondered what would happen when they neared Mrs. Anders's house.
Nothing at all happened. If Faul's watchers were about, they were not visible. But Mrs. Anders's face was a study in dismay when she saw her two visitors.
"I didn't dream to see you come in broad day like this," she said in a horrified tone. "Some one might see you."
"Makes no odds if they do, Mrs. Anders," said Joe, briefly. "Faul's found him."
Mrs. Anders went very white. A look of terror came upon her face. Fay slipped her hand through the woman's arm.
"Don't be frightened, Mrs. Anders. Mr. Faul hasn't told the police, and we hope to stop him from doing so. But Joe wants to see Mr. Aylmer first."
"He's in his room. Shall I call him?"
"I'll go up and see him," Joe cut in at the top of the stairs.
"What's the matter, Joe? Nothing wrong with Jill?"
"Nothing wrong with Jill," said Joe gruffly as he followed Jerry into his room. "I thought you'd know what was up from our turning up in broad daylight."
"Yes. He's on to you."
For a moment Jerry stood silent.
"Any chance of getting away?" he asked presently.
"Not a dog's."
"Didn't suppose there was. Well, there's only one thing to do, Joe."
"Give myself up."
"I don't know that'll help," said Joe curtly.
"Not help—what do you mean?"
"Of course you'd bust Faul's chance with Jill, but that would only make him keener to blow the gaff. He'd be all out for revenge."
Jerry bit his lip.
"You mean he'd try to do Jill down?"
"And Fay and Mrs. Anders and the whole bunch of us."
"I think the best thing I can do is to slip out after dark, find Faul, and finish him."
"You mean you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb," said Joe.
"'Pon my Sam, Jerry, if it wasn't for the girls I'd almost say 'yes.' Any one who mopped that lump of iniquity off the face of Devonshire would be doing his country a good turn And I'd help." He paused, frowning. "But we have to think of the girls. Faul would be missed. There'd be a hell of a row, and the whole thing would be bound to come out. Besides, Jill and Fay wouldn't stand for it."
"I quite see all that." Jerry's voice was curiously quiet. "But is there any alternative?"
"I can't see one unless we can find Mold."
"And make him talk."
"I'll make him talk all right if I get my hands on him," Joe stated, and any one looking at him could see that he meant exactly what he said. "But the fellow's vanished, and Bill and I can't find him. The odds are Faul's got rid of him."
"I wouldn't put that past him."
"Then the only hope is Brower," said Jerry.
"And that's slim," Joe answered, "for he knows as well as we do that his neck's in the noose if he talks."
"We're in a cleft stick, Joe," Jerry said gloomily. "Got anything to suggest?"
"I don't see any way out, if that's what you mean. But Faul's given Jill three days, so you'd better sit tight and Bill and I will have another look for Mold."
"And if you don't find him?"
Joe looked at his friend.
"I don't know, old son. But Fay hasn't given up yet, and I'm damned if I do."
He went down and Jerry saw him and Fay drive away. Saw, too, a man lurking in the gorse covet on the hill side above the road, watching through a pair of field glasses.
Mrs. Anders came up. There were tears in her eyes.
"Miss Fay's a dear, Mr. Aylmer," she said, "She don't ever think of herself."
"I know," said Jerry, gently. "You've heard the unpleasant news, Mrs. Anders."
"I have that; but Mr. Spangler, he told Miss Fay we're not beat yet."
"You're like Miss Fay," Jerry said. "You don't think much about the trouble you may get into, Mrs. Anders."
"They won't do anything to me," said Mrs. Anders, confidently. "It's Miss Jill and Miss Fay I'm thinking of."
"And Mr. Spangler. I've got the lot of you into trouble," Jerry answered.
"It's not your fault," said the good woman, quickly, "so don't go blaming yourself. It's that there Faul and Brower."
She stopped suddenly, and Jerry saw a light in her eyes. "I've just thought of something, Mr. Aylmer. Didn't Mr. Spangler say it would be all right if he could get hold of Mold?"
"Yes, but that's just what he can't do. He and Bill have hunted the whole country side, Mold has vanished."
"Have they tried Chasm Cleave, Mr. Aylmer?"
"Chasm Cleave—not that I know of. Let me see, that's near the top of the Arrow. I know it. I've fished there. But, surely to goodness, it's not a place any one could live in. There's not a house within miles."
"No, there's no house, but there's a cave. It's called Druid's Den, and it's just below the place where a little stream called the Reed Brook runs in."
Jerry frowned slightly.
"What made you think of this all of a sudden, Mrs. Anders?"
She shook her head.
"I don't know why I thought of it, but I suddenly remembered my husband telling me about that cave and saying he'd been there and found some one had been camping in it. And he said they were salmon poachers."
"Salmon poachers. Then all the odds are that Mold used the place," said Jerry eagerly. "I wish you'd thought of it before Mr. Spangler left."
"So do I." She frowned. "How it'll be a job to catch him. And Alec away at school and won't be back till evening. I must go myself."
"You mustn't." Jerry's voice was sharp. "Faul's men are hanging about. I spotted one just now."
"But Mr. Spangler's got to know—and the sooner the better."
"Yes, he must know, but you'll have to wait till Alec comes back from school." He stopped short and Mrs. Anders wondered at the way in which his eyes brightened. "Listen! I've an idea. You remember how I got out of the window of this room that night you locked me in."
"Indeed I do, Mr. Aylmer. And sorry I am—"
"No, you should be glad. I am, for it's given me an idea. I'll go out the same way to-night. It's the back of the house, and Faul's men won't be watching there. I'll drop down into the bed of the brook and slip away up stream. Luckily the water's low."
"And get away? But where will you go?"
"To Chasm Cleave, Mrs. Anders," said Jerry, and Mrs. Anders saw that he was actually smiling. "It's all right. I know the way and there'll be a late moon."
"But it's dangerous, it's dreadfully dangerous. Even if you get safe away from the house they'll be at the cave. Oh, Mr. Aylmer, they may murder you like they did my husband."
"Not if you'll lend me your husband's gun," said Jerry.
His eyes were shining. The thought of what he might do that night gave him new life, "Don't make any more objections, Mrs. Anders, I'm going."
THE ugly bullet-hole in Jerry's leg had healed famously, but Jerry knew that a sudden jar would not be good for the wounded limb, so when the time came to start he borrowed a box cord from Mrs. Anders and tied one end to the window frame. The gun was slung across his back, and in his pockets he had cartridges, biscuits, a flash-lamp, and a flask. On his head was an old dark coloured cap, and, he had blackened his face with soot, so that he might the less easily be seen.
The night was cold, clear, and star-lit, but Jerry was glad, for Faul's watchers would not he so likely to keep close to the house. Alec had been scouting, but had not seen any of them. Jerry reckoned one would be down the road, where he had seen a man already, and another somewhere on the upper side, whence he could watch the back door. He chuckled to think that the last place they would dream of watching was the wall he intended to descent. He believed he could dodge them, but if not he was quite ready to meet them.
It was about nine when he slipped out of the window and dropped silently to the ground. There he crouched, waiting and listening, but there was no sign or sound, so he crept away among the gooseberry bushes to the river, crawled over the bank, and made his way quietly up the bed of the river, crawled over the bank, and made his way quietly up the bed of the stream. The water was low, and though the going was rough he managed well enough.
Presently he was close to the bridge. Here he had to leave the stream bed, for the water was too deep to wade. He waited, and it was lucky he did so, for suddenly he heard the scratch of a match. A man on the bridge was lighting a pipe. Jerry crouched under the bank, and presently the man began walking slowly down the arch of the bridge towards the road. Then Jerry, bending double, waded the shallow at the tail of the pool, scrambled out at the far side and took to the heather.
For a long way he crept and crawled. The only danger spot was the road, but the watcher's pipe showed his position, and Jerry crossed in safety After that it was easy—at least comparatively easy—for Jerry had not been boasting when he had told Mrs. Adders that he knew this part of the moor. But the going was bad, and Jerry, in soft condition, had to spare himself and go slowly.
Even so his wounded leg began to ache before he had covered more than half his journey and the gun to feel as if it were made of lead. Yet he kept going, and soon after ten the moon rose, and that made things better.
At last he heard the roar of the river at the bottom of Chasm Cleave, and found himself standing on the rim of the cliff looking down into dim depths. He dropped on a boulder and rested a few minutes. He ate a biscuit and took a drink from his flask.
Tired as he was in body, his mind had never been more clear, and he had a curious sense of confidence. He never doubted for a moment that he would find Mold in the cave, yet oddly enough his thoughts did not go beyond that. It did not occur to him that Mold might be guarded, or that, even if he found him unguarded, the man might not be willing to talk.
Presently he was on his feet again and making his way down into the gorge alongside the little tumbling Reed Brook. There was no fear of being overheard, for the sullen roar of the Arrow filled the cold night with a constant monotone of sound.
Once in the gorge, Jerry moved cautiously along the fisherman's path. There was no moonlight down here and it was no place to make a false step. He had some difficulty in spotting the mouth of the cave, and when he did he realised that if any one were watching they could not help seeing him as he scrambled up the rock slope to the entrance. Yet, come to think of it, there was little chance of any one being on guard at this hour of the night, so Jerry went straight up the steep.
Nothing moved. There was no light or any sign of life, and Jerry tiptoed into the narrow entrance. He did not dare to switch on his flashlight, so felt his way by running his fingers along the wall.
Suddenly he caught a faint glow and slopped. The glow appeared to come from a lamp turned low. In here the rock walls cut off the sound of the river, and, listening intently, Jerry heard a man snoring. A thrill of excitement tingled through his tired body, and he went on again slowly until he reached the mouth of the chamber. Now he saw that the light came from an oil stove burning smokily in the middle of the place.
The light was enough to show him two men lying, one at the far end, the other to his right. The one at the far end lay on a bed of heather, but the one to the right on a rough cot made of planks laid over two packing cases. He could not see their faces, but the odds were that the man on the heather was Mold and the other his gaoler.
Jerry stood quite still, straining his eyes into the dimness. After a few moments the man on the heather, stirred and groaned. Then he ground his teeth horribly. He was in the grip of some evil dream. The noise roused the other.
"Damn you, Mold, shut that row or I'll come across to you."
The voice was so savage in its threat that every drop of blood in Jerry's veins seemed to boil. He sprang towards Brower and covered him with the gun.
Brower's face went yellow, his eyes bulged; he looked like a man who sees a ghost. Small wonder, for surely the last person on earth he could have expected to see was Gerald Aylmer.
There was a queer grin on Jerry's face as he stood there. Not by nature a revengeful man, he was yet enjoying the terror he had thrown into this bullying brute.
"Perhaps it's Mold who'll come across this time," he said with a grim chuckle. He was suddenly quite cool again, completely master of the situation.
"My God! us wishes us could, sir," came from Mold. "If 'ee only knowed what he'd done to me! But I can't. I'm tied." Brower did not speak at all. His nerve had gone; he lay shaking.
Jerry considered a moment. He knew it would not do to take any chances.
Brower had twice his strength. Presently he spoke.
"Brower, get up—be sharp," he added, crisply. "This gun's loaded and I'd like nothing better than a chance to blow your head off."
Brower got up. He was fully dressed except for his boots.
"Watch out, sir. He'm got a pistol," Mold called, hoarsely.
"I see that. Drop it on the floor, Brower."
Scowling, Brower obeyed. He was recovering from his first panic, and Jerry wondered what to do with him. He looked round and saw a ledge on the opposite side of the cave eight feet up.
"Climb up and stand on that," was his next order. "No remarks, please," he added sarcastically as Brower swore under his breath. He kept the gun on Brower until he was on the ledge. Jerry reckoned the man would not dare to jump down, and even if he did he would make a good deal of noise about it.
Then Jerry went over to Mold. He laid the gun against the wall, took out a knife, and set to cutting the ropes by which Mold was tied to two ring-bolts set in the floor. Mold was in a miserable state, filthy, dirty, and half-starved. An inch of stubble covered his hollow cheeks; his eyes were sunk into his head.
"A blessed thing for me as you come, sir. Us 'ud have been dead afore another day passed."
"I hope you'll prove your gratitude," said Jerry drily as he hacked at the stiff cord.
"Us'll do that, mister," growled Mold deep in his throat. "Us can tell and us will."
"You'd better start at once, then," came a mocking voice. "It'll be interesting to hear just what you have to say."
Jerry straightened and wheeled to find himself looking into the barrels of his own gun, and above them the face of Faul.
THE shock was so great it left Jerry speechless. Faul laughed. An ugly laugh full of gloating anticipation.
"You played right into my hands, Aylmer," he said. "Just because you were not interfered with when you left you thought you had dodged my watchers. But I knew within fifteen minutes and—here I am."
Jerry had got over the first shock of surprise, and faced the other coolly.
"Here you are, as you remark, Mr. Faul," he answered. "And what are you going to do about it? Have Brower murder me as he did Anders? Or are you doing the job yourself?"
Faul scowled. He was the sort who hates sarcasm especially when directed at himself.
"I should advise you to keep a civil tongue in your head," he said coldly. "You don't seem to have grasped the fact that you are absolutely in my power."
"Indeed I do," said Jerry. "I loaded that gun, myself. Now I'm waiting to hear what you're going to do about it."
"That is simple," replied Faul. "Brower can look after you as well as Mold. Indeed"—he grinned again—"I think he will enjoy doing it. You will stay here until I send the police for you. And when you are in Dartmoor I will post you a piece of wedding cake."
The veins on Jerry's forehead swelled and his eyes took so dangerous a glint that Faul again raised the gun, the muzzle of which he had lowered slightly as he talked.
"No use a bandying words with him, mister."
The speaker was Brower, who had taken advantage of Faul's arrival to get down from his uncomfortable perch. "You hold the gun on him white I ties him up." The murderous glare in the man's pale eyes proved that Faul had spoken no more than the truth when he had said that Brower would enjoy the job of gaoler to Jerry.
Suddenly came an unexpected interruption. In their gloating triumph neither Faul nor Brower had realised the fact that Mold was free. Still less did they realise that he had Jerry's knife, which Jerry had dropped as Faul surprised him. Now Mold, driven frantic by the idea of fresh imprisonment, had collected himself for a spring, and, knife in hand, dashed at Brower.
Brower, his eyes on Jerry, did not see what was happening until Mold was on his feet. As for Faul, he at the moment had his back to Mold. Brower's hoarse yell of alarm was his first warning.
For once Faul did a foolish thing. He turned to swing the gun on Mold. It was a chance that Jerry was not likely to miss. He did not try to hit Faul, because in this dim light he might mist the vital spot. Besides, he knew that he was weak. Instead, he kicked with all his might, catching Faul on the knee-cap with the toe of his heavy boot. With a yell of agony Faul collapsed, and, dropping the gun, fell heavily on the floor of the cave.
Faul's yell was echoed by one from Brower as Mold's knife slashed him all down the inside of the left arm, but Jerry had not a glance to spare for either. The situation was too critical for any niceties. Stooping swiftly he snatched up the gun, and as he did so Faul kicked at him savagely, just missing his head and catching him heavily on his bad leg. Jerry retaliated by raising the gun butt and hitting Faul across the skull—a blow which, for the moment, at any rate, stunned him.
Faul being safe, Jerry turned his attention to the other two. They were on the ground, struggling together, Brower cursing horribly. Mold silent except for the hoarse panting of his breath.
Mold still had the knife, and his one object was to finish Brower, but the man was gaunt and weak with starvation, cramped with imprisonment, and his strength was failing fast. Already Brower had hold of Mold's right wrist and was reaching for Mold's throat with his right arm. Left alone, there was no doubt of the outcome. In spite of his wound Brower was bound to get the better of it.
Again Jerry raised the gun. Brutal as it might seem, he had to put Brower out. The issues were too big for any misplaced chivalry. The stock thudded upon the big brute's head and Brower went as limp as his master.
"Good for you!" Mold muttered, thickly, and was raising his knife again when Jerry caught him by the collar and dragged him off.
"You shouldn't ha' done that, sir," said Mold in a curiously weak voice. Then as Jerry released him he dropped, rolled over on his back, and lay limp as the other two. He had fainted.
"Poor devil!" muttered Jerry as he felt for his flask. And just then a wave of vertigo made him stagger, and to save himself from falling he sat down quickly on Mold's bed. His leg felt wet and warm, and, looking down, he saw his trousers, from the knee down, red with blood.
The kick had done it. The wound had opened again and Jerry knew that he was losing blood at a dangerous rate.
UNSCREWING the stopper of the flask Jerry took a stiff drink, then picking up the knife slit his trouser leg, and with his handkerchief made a sort of tourniquet above the wound. This partly stopped the flow of blood, but not entirely. He bit his lip.
"This is a sweet show," he said to himself. "If either of those blighters come round I'm a gone coon." He tried to move so as to give Mold a drink, but the way the blood spurted warned him that his only chance was to keep perfectly still.
"If I faint that'll be the finish," he continued. He took another small drink and felt a degree better. His brain at any rate was clear enough, and as he sat there, with the gun across his knees, he began to figure out his chances. So far as he could see there was no hope of help before next day. There was little chance of Alec Anders getting news to Joe until he went to school; then, supposing Joe got away at once, it would be 10 or 11 before he reached the cave. Ten hours to wait—could he stick it. He drew a long breath.
"I've jolly well got to," he said, and felt for a cigarette. Blood was still leaking from the wound; he could not quite stop it. The question was how much he could lose without fainting.
The minutes dragged by slowly. Jerry was cold. He began to shiver. Then he noticed that Brower was stirring. The man moved, groaned, tried to sit up, then dropped back.
"I've got the gun on you, Brower," said Jerry. He was horrified to find how weak his voice was. Brower made a second attempt and sat up. Blood had trickled down his face. He was a horrible sight. He glared at Jerry, and Jerry felt that the man realised just how weak he was and was only waiting.
"Better if I put a charge in him at once," Jerry thought as he watched him, but, of course, he could not, He looked at Mold, but Mold was still insensible. Jerry had a ghastly fear that he might be dead, but, watching carefully, saw he was breathing.
Now Faul began to move. He, too, was coming round. Cold despair clutched at Jerry's heart, for he knew he could never last out the night. Within an hour—two hours at most—he would collapse and be at the mercy of these two brutes. Yet it was not of himself he was thinking, but of Jill.
Faul's eyes opened, he raised his hand to his head and felt it.
"I'll bet it's sore," thought Jerry inconsequently.
Faul raised himself slowly and looked round.
"No use trying anything yet, mister," said Brower. "He've got the gun."
Jerry noticed the sinister emphasis on the word "yet." Faul noticed it, too, for an ugly grin lifted his upper lip. Plainly he was content to wait.
A sound came from the mouth of the cave. Jerry looked up sharply. Could it be Joe? A flash-lamp shone, and its light showed—not Joe, but the stocky figure of Constable Croker.
The shock was so great that Jerry could neither move nor speak. He sat, staring. Faul, for the moment, was equally dumbfounded, but recovered more quickly than Jerry.
"Here's your prisoner, constable," he said. "He's half killed the lot of us, but we stopped him getting away."
"Liar!" said Jerry. He pointed to Brower. "Constable, here's the man who killed Anders. Mold here will tell you the truth."
Croker shook his head.
"Don't look like Mold could say nothing. And, anyways, the law says as you did it, Mr. Aylmer. I got to take you back."
"Wait, Croker, Get Mold round first. Hear what he says."
"Do your duty, officer," Faul ordered, harshly. "Here is your escaped convict. You'll get the reward for returning him to prison. Brower and I can attend to Mold."
"They've tended him so well they've nearly killed him already," said Jerry, bitterly. "They'll murder him as they, did Anders if you don't rescue him, Croker."
Croker's mind was single action. Again he shook his head.
"I'll come for Mold to-morrow. It's you I got to take, Mr. Aylmer."
Jerry slumped. He saw it was hopeless. He spoke to Faul.
"Your previous schemes have gone west, anyhow. With me back in prison Miss Clavell is safe from your dirty hands."
Faul's big cheeks went dull red, and he heaved himself up.
"Be careful!" said Jerry and his voice was ice. "I still have the gun."
"You give that gun to me," said Croker, sharply, as he came forward. Then he was arrested in mid-stride as a hand fell on his shoulder.
"All right, Croker. I'll take the gun. You see to Mold."
Joe Spangler was cool and collected as ever, and behind, him loomed the burly form of Bill Beeks.
Croker turned sharply.
"Be you interfering with an officer in discharge of his duty, sir?"
"Not me," said Joe with a grin. "Mr. Beeks and I have come to help. Here, take the gun, yourself, if you like." He took it from Jerry's almost paralysed hand and handed it to the astonished Croker.
"Keep an eye on Brower," he advised. "Bill, you watch Faul while I tie up Jerry's leg. The poor beggar's bleeding to death."
With his strong, skilful hands he ripped a big bandanna handkerchief to stripe and fashioned a bandage. In three minutes he had stopped the bleeding. No one attempted to interfere, even to speak, for Joe's personality, when he chose to exert it, was tremendous.
Next he turned his attention to Mold. He picked him up, laid him on Brower's bed, and, mixing some whisky with water, poured it down his throat.
The effect was magical. Mold's eyes opened.
"More, mister," he begged, hoarsely, and drank greedily.
"The chap's nearly dead of thirst," said Joe.
"So'd 'ee be if Brower'd had 'ee for a week," growled Mold. "By gum, us be glad you come, sir," he went on.
"Same here," said Joe, briefly. "I was just in time. And now, Mold, if you want to get a bit of your own back, here's your chance. Tell us what happened that night down by the river—tell us who killed Anders."
"Who killed Anders! Why, 'twere Brower. Us seed 'un do it. Mr. Aylmer her couldn't know anything of it, for her were lying stunned. Brower had hit 'un first."
"A pack of lies," broke in Faul, in hoarse fury, but Bill cut him short.
"Another word out of you and someone else'll get stunned," he said, ominously.
"You can swear to this, Mold?" asked Joe.
"You'll be sorry if you do," snarled Brower.
"No us won't," retorted Mold. "Us 'ud be a sight better off in quod than in this here cave. They don't stint the grub in quod, anyways."
"Don't worry, Mold. You won't go to prison," said Joe.
"Won't 'ee?" began Brower, savagely, but this time it was Croker who stopped him.
"Keep your mouth shut," he ordered harshly. "I won't have 'ee interfering with the course o' justice. I've heard what Mold said, and if so be he'll sign a statement, looks to me like Mr. Aylmer is cleared. I'm an officer of the law, and 'tis my duty to arrest Mr. Aylmer, but I tell 'ee all I never did believe as Mr. Aylmer did that terrible deed. And I believed it less than ever when I found that Griggs a-bullying Alec Anders to-night. That's what brought me out here."
"If you're an officer you're a man, Croker," said Joe, heartily. "Here's a notebook; here's a pencil. Now I'll take down what Mold says, and you can witness it. And after that"—he chuckled—"well hell may freeze for all I care."
ABOUT 10 next morning two cars arrived at the little police station in the village of Stort End. Joe, Bill, and Jerry were in one, Croker, with Brower and Faul—the two latter handcuffed—in the other. They carried Jerry in and put him to bed in Mr. Croker's spare room. Jerry, of course, was still a prisoner until legally pardoned. Faul and Brower were herded together into the little whitewashed lock-up. Joe stretched himself and yawned.
"I'm sleepy as a badger," he grumbled. "Still, I reckon I got to go and fetch the doctor before I can turn in."
"You leave that to me," said Bill, gruffly. "You got another job on your hands."
"Go and do it, Joe," said Jerry from the bed. "Tell Jill I'm waiting for her. Tell her something else, Joe. Tell her we owe it all to our brother-in-law to be, or if you don't I will."
Joe went red.
"Dry up, you old ass," he growled. Then he chuckled.
"When she does come," he said, "I'll lay you have something else to talk about." He waved his big hand. "Be good," he added, and tramped off.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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