Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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DAVE HALLAM heard the car coming up behind, but had not specially noticed it. Why should he? There was nothing to distinguish it from the score of other big, powerful saloons which had whirled past him during the past few miles. Most of the drivers seemed to be in a frantic hurry, all had power and to burn. Dave himself could easily have got eighty out of his motor cycle which, although not new, was in perfect condition, but he was never one for rushing madly along the high road. He preferred to enjoy the beauty of the spring evening, the soft cool air of the Dunstable Downs; he was in no hurry, and was cruising along at a modest speed.
It was not until the car was almost upon him that he glanced round, then a spasm of horror shot through him. The big car travelling at twice his speed, was coming straight at him. Either the driver was drunk or he meant murder. There was no space to dodge, for Dave's machine was already within a yard of the kerb. He accelerated frantically. It was no use. Next Instant the near-side mudguard of the saloon struck his hind wheel. He felt rather than heard the crash, knew himself to be hurtling through the air. He had a flashing glimpse of the tar and gravel footpath beneath him, then came a thud and— oblivion.
How long that lasted Dave had no means of knowing. The next thing of which he was conscious was something cold and wet on his forehead, and a strong, pleasant scent of eau-de-cologne. His eyelids felt heavy as lead, but he managed to open them, and looked up into the anxious face of the prettiest girl he had ever seen in all his twenty-four years of life.
"Th—thanks awfully," he said vaguely, and tried to sit up.
The girl sighed with relief.
"I thought you were dead," she told him.
"So did I," Dave managed to grin—"and in heaven." He stretched himself gingerly. "I'm awfully grateful to you," he said in a more serious tone. "It isn't every girl who'd stop like this."
There was no smile on the girl's face. On the contrary, her expression was very grave.
"I suppose you know that was no accident," she said.
Dave pursed his lips.
"Quite. I was only a couple of hundred yards behind, I saw you swerve, and I saw the car follow you. Whoever was driving meant to kill you."
Dave passed his hand across his forehead. He was still giddy, but his head was clearing.
"You didn't get the number by any chance?"
"It was the first thing I thought of but I couldn't. The plate was covered with mud or dust."
He struggled to his foot. He swayed a little and, springing up quickly, she caught him. She was nearly as tall as he, with a deep-bosomed, long-limbed figure, and Dave felt the strength of her as her fingers closed on his arm.
"You are hurt," she declared.
"Just shaken—nothing else," he assured her. "Indeed, I've come off jolly well—which is more than can be said for my poor old bike," he added as he glanced down at his machine.
It was a complete wreck. The back wheel looked like a cross-word puzzle, the front fork was cracked, and several spokes gone in the front wheel. The girl pointed to her car which was a small saloon.
"If we could fasten it on to the luggage rest we might get it into Dunstable," she said.
"Yes, and what about your paint? No, if you'll stop at the nearest garage and send someone out with a lorry that will be the best plan."
"And what about you?" she asked.
"Oh, I'll manage," said Dave.
She considered a moment.
"I think you had better come with me," she said, gravely.
"That's very kind of you," Dave answered, simply, and followed her to the car. He was glad to drop into the seat alongside her for, in spite of his protestations, he was feeling decidedly shaky. It was the very force of the collision that had saved him, for he had been flung clear across the footpath on to the grassy bank beyond. She started her engine and changed her gears as quietly as Dave could have done himself. There was an air of quiet competence about her, which appealed immensely to Dave. He was not the sort who admires the fluffy girl. Neither spoke until, a few minutes later, she stopped at a garage half way down Dunstable's long broad street. The proprietor himself was standing at the door. He nodded to Dave.
"Hallo, Hallam! Where are you bound?"
"I was bound for London, Martin, but I've had a smash. The remains of my bike are a mile back down the road. Think you could salvage her for me?"
"Of course. But how are you going to get to town? The last train has gone."
Dave's face fell.
"Confound it! I'll have to have a car."
The girl spoke.
"I am going to London. I will take you on if you like."
"That's most awfully kind of you," he said, earnestly. "My appointment is rather an important one."
"Go straight ahead. I'll see to the bike. Sure there's nothing else I can do?"
"You might lend me a clothes brush," said Dave. He turned to the girl. "Can you wait just a minute?"
"I'm in no hurry at all," she assured him, and he went in with Martin. Five minutes later he was out again. He had washed his hands, brushed the dust out of his clothes and got a patch of plaster for a cut on his left palm. Incidentally he had swallowed a small tot of brandy which Martin provided, and which had done him a world of good.
"You found a friend," said the girl with a smile as they ran out of the town.
"A second one you mean. Oh, I know Martin. You see I'm in the business myself."
"Yes, I drive for Trevor at Roborough."
In spite of herself the girl's eyes widened slightly. Dave read her thoughts.
"Yes—I am a taxi driver," he said.
The colour rose in her clear cheeks.
"I work for my living, myself," she answered, quietly.
"I beg your pardon," Dave said, quickly, and she laughed.
"At present I'm a chauffeuse. I am looking after this car for a friend. So we are in the same boat."
Dave longed to ask her more about herself. He did not even know her name. Dave had plenty of self confidence, yet somehow he could not frame the question. He sat silent glancing at her, sideways, and the more he saw of her the more he admired her. He was sure she was Scottish. Her clear skin, her soft yet rich colouring, her thick auburn hair—everything about her spoke of the strong, Northern air. Her voice, too. He noticed, also, that her nose was short and straight, her mouth wide and generous and that, when she smiled, she showed teeth that were beautifully white and even.
"You drive well," he said.
"I've done a good deal of it," she said, quietly, "Dad taught me when I was quite small."
"He is—not alive?" Dave asked.
Her eyes misted.
"He died last year. He—he was all I had."
"I know," said Dave gently. "Mine was my pal—more like a big brother than a father." There was silence again while she steered through crowded St. Albans, It was nearly dark now, but it was Saturday night and the traffic was heavy. The nearer they came to London the thicker it grew, and to make matters worse it had come on to rain. The glare of headlights on the wet road made driving really difficult, and the girl had to give all her attention to her steering.
"Where do you want to be set down?" she asked at last.
"I'm going to Brook-street, but set me down anywhere. I can take a Tube."
"I can drop you in Brook-street. I'm going to Victoria to meet my employer. I have plenty of time."
"You are an angel," Dave declared, and she laughed and drove on. Fifteen minutes later she slowed into Brook-street.
"Here's the house," said Dave, pointing to an imposing looking mansion. With its fine portico, gleaming mahogany door and window boxes filled with ivy-leaf geraniums. It spelt "millionaire" in big letters. He did not notice the quick look of surprise which crossed the girl's face for he was in the act of opening the door. He stepped out.
"I can't thank you enough," said Dave as he stood on the pavement with his hat in his hand. "My errand here is rather an important one, and if you hadn't given me the lift I should have been late." He paused and plucked up his courage. "Won't you tell me your name—please."
She hesitated an instant, then shook her head.
"No, I think I won't. If Fate means us to meet again we shall. If not—goodbye." She let in her clutch, and her car shot away down the long, wet street.
"Damn!" said Dave fervently, but all the same he was not too upset to get and memorize the letter and number of the car. Then he mounted the steps and rang the bell.
"HULLOA, Ford, you're looking fine," said Dave to the plump butler, who opened the door. "How's Uncle James?"
"Much as usual, Mr. David," replied the man with a smile.
"Which means he's not as bad as he thinks he is," said Dave with a chuckle. "I say, I hope I'm not late."
"No, Mr. David, you're in good time," replied the man. "The master is not down yet. You'll take a cocktail, sir?"
"I will—and glad of it, Ford. I had a bit of a tumble on the way. No, I wasn't hurt, but a drink won't do me any harm." Cocktails were ready on a silver tray, and as Dave finished the perfectly mixed drink a tall, thin old man came slowly down the stairs into the hall.
"So you've got here," he remarked rather unnecessarily.
"You asked me, Uncle James," said David, stopping forward with a smile.
"Ye asked yourself," retorted the other. His voice was harsh, and had a strong Scottish accent.
"I asked if I could come and see you and you asked me to dinner," Dave corrected him. "You didn't expect me to waste a chance of getting a decent feed for once, did you?" A footman opened the dining-room door.
"Dinner is served, sir," said Ford, and Dave followed his uncle into the dining-room.
It was a lofty and handsome room where shaded electrics threw a soft light on a table bright with flowers and silver. James Kirkstall lowered himself carefully into the chair at the head of the table, David sat opposite, and the footman served the oysters, while Ford poured David a glass of excellent sherry. James did not take oysters. He toyed with something in a bowl, which looked like arrowroot.
"Your appetite's good, I notice," he said, drily.
"Never better, uncle," replied David, cheerfully.
"I doubt ye get oysters where ye live."
Dave shook his head. "You don't run to oysters on my wage."
"Most likely ye get all ye are worth," said James, with a twist of the lips that might have been meant for a smile.
"Ye wanted to see me. What was it aboot?" he asked, abruptly.
"That's easily told, I want to borrow a thousand to buy a partnership with Tom Trevor."
"A partnership in yon little wayside garage—is that it?" The scorn in the old man's tone was biting. Dave was not dismayed.
"That all it is at present, but with a bit of capital we could make it a fine business. The place is growing fast, and Trevor knows his job. Given the money, and in three years' time we'd be in clover."
"And what security have ye to offer?"
"None, except my word, Uncle—you know that as well as I do."
"I do not know it. Your father left ye seven thousand pounds."
"I've told you where that went. Grant Gorsley had every bob of it."
"Ay, ye let yourself be swindled by a fellow like that and his moonshine companies. How would I know my thousand wouldn't follow those others down the drain?"
"Five minutes' talk by Tom Trevor would convince you, Uncle." The old man shook his head, but when Dave began to protest he silenced him with a gesture.
"Listen to me, David! Do ye know what I am worth?"
"Oh, a million or so, I expect."
"Mair than that. I could sign my name for three million pounds, and—and I am a deeing mon."
"Then, hang it all! A thousand won't hurt you."
"It isn't a thousand I'm thinking of—it's three millions. Ye are my sister's child, David, and though I wasna fond of your father, after all, ye are my nephew."
Dave stared. Well aware of his Uncle James's opinion of his business capacities, the idea that he had any chance of inheriting oven a part of these millions had never occurred to him.
"I thought Mark was your heir," he blurted out.
"Yon big lummock?" Uncle James's voice fairly grated. "And what would he do with three millions?"
"Make three more, I expect."
A grim smile twisted the other's lips.
"Most like," he remarked, "but I dinna want my talents wrapped in a napkin, so to speak. Listen to me, David. I'm minded to make ye my heir, but on condeetions. Ye know nothing of finance and I'm no wishing to see the money I've worked so hard for fall into the hands of bucket-shop keepers. Ye will give up these foolish ideas of cars and such and enter my city office, and there ye will stay until I have the assurance ye know how to handle money. Ye can live here with me. Noo, what have ye to say?"
Dave sat silent. For the moment he hardly knew whether he was standing on his head or his heels. From fifty shillings a week to the prospect of something like eighty thousand a year was too much of a jump to realize. But the office! He was familiar with that office and with its grim, stiff, suffocating atmosphere. Endless rows of figures, and he knew himself for the world's worst accountant. He was quite certain he would never satisfy McCaskie. James stirred in his chair.
"Weel?" he said at last.
Dave shook his head.
"It's no good, sir," he said slowly. "I'm no use indoors. I can drive a car better than a pen."
Two red spots showed in James's sallow checks.
"Ye mean ye willna accept my offer—that ye'll turn down three millions because ye are afraid of a few years' work in an office." He leaned forward. "David Hallam, I always knew ye were a fool, but never till now did I realise the depth of your foolishness. To-night ye have lost a chance that any other man of your age in England would have jumped at."
Dave saw that the old man was hurt as well as angry, and he felt bitterly sorry.
"It isn't that I'm afraid, Uncle James. It's simply that I could never do it. I'm useless at figures—always was, always shall be. I'd only end by upsetting McCaskie and you, too. Lend me the thousand and leave your millions where they'll do some good."
"I wilna lend ye so much as saxpence," returned James bleakly and finally. "And noo, if ye have finished your coffee, I will be saying good night to ye—and good-bye." Dave rose. He felt a little sick, and he was not quite sure that he was not all his uncle had called him. Yet except that he was a little pale he managed to keep his feelings hidden.
"Good night, Uncle. And—and thanks for a most excellent dinner."
James could not refrain from a last taunt.
"Ye could have had as good a one every night of the week if ye were na the biggest fool in three kingdoms." And with these words ringing in his ears Dave made his way out into the street.
It was half-past nine and the only train that would take him home left at eleven-fifty. It would land him at his station at half-past one and then he would have to walk home. Not good enough, he decided, and making his way into Piccadilly took a bus for the Circus. He went to the Piccadilly Palace, and was lucky enough to get a room.
It was too early for bed, and in any case Dave felt sure he would not sleep. He strolled into the little inner smoking-room and ordered a drink, lit a cigarette and made himself comfortable in a corner with an evening paper. He did not read. His mind was too full of the events of the past few hours, and, oddly enough, it was the girl rather than his uncle who filled his thoughts. Why would she not tell him her name, and what did she mean by saying that, if Fate meant them to meet, they would?
"Hanged if I'll leave it to Fate," said Dave to himself. "Not so long as I've got the number of her car."
"I told you not to come here." The words, spoken in a mere whisper, yet with a hissing note of anger, roused Dave from his dream. What was more, he knew the voice for that of Gerald Farne. The very man who, he firmly believed, had tried to murder him only a few hours since.
FARNE—what was Farne doing here, and to whom was he talking? Dave hadn't long to wait for an answer to his unspoken question.
"We're safe enough here," came a second voice, and Dave cocked his ears eagerly. This was Grant Gorsley, the smooth scoundrel who had robbed Dave of every penny by inducing him to invest in a company whose shares a man of Uncle James's experience would not have had as a gift.
Dave could not see either of the speakers for they were just round the corner in the outer smoking-room. "We're perfectly safe," repeated Gorsley. "There's not another soul in the place."
"What about that inner room?" Farne asked.
"I looked in. There's no one there." Dave grinned and thanked his stars for the leather screen which had hidden him so completely from Gorsley's prying eyes. Farne was speaking again.
"All the same, you are breaking our compact," he said coldly. "It was arranged we should never meet or recognize one another outside the office."
"I know," said Gorsley, smoothly, "but I simply had to see you to-night. I rang you up three times, but couldn't get you. Then I remembered you were dining here and I've been hanging round for more than two hours, waiting for a chance to speak to you."
"What's the trouble?" Farne demanded.
"That Wreford business. Wreford's got the wind up, and is trying to back out."
"Damn the fellow!" muttered Farne. "Who's been putting him wise?"
"I haven't a notion, unless it's Hallam."
"Hallam," Farne's voice, usually soft as silk, grated suddenly. "You needn't worry about him. He's where he'll never do any blabbing again."
"What do you mean, Farne?" Gorsley was scared. "What's happened to him?"
"He had an accident—fell off his bicycle."
"You—you didn't—" began Gorsley, but Farne cut him short.
"No need for any comments on your part. What about Wreford?"
"You'll have to see him. It's no good my tackling him. You're the only person who can do anything with him. And you must do it to-morrow. I have to put the business through on Monday."
"But I'm going to Brighton to-morrow." Farne's voice was sharp with annoyance. "It's all fixed up."
"Your trip will cost us five thousand apiece," said Gorsley, bluntly. Farne swore, bitterly.
"This is the holy limit," he snarled. He paused. "All right, I'll do it. I'll see him first thing in the morning. I'll take him down with us. The fat-headed fool will spoil the party, but that can't be helped. Now slide out. I'll follow in five minutes."
Dave heard Gorsley go out. He himself sat still as a mouse. He was horribly afraid Farne might come in and see him, and that wouldn't suit his book at all. But his fears were groundless, and five minutes later Farne followed Gorsley out of the smoking-room. Dave got up and stretched himself. He chuckled softly.
"So Master Farne thinks I'm a gone coon. I'm afraid he's due for a shock." He went out, cautiously, and without entering the hall or lounge slipped quietly up to his room. There he got on the telephone.
In spite of all his excitements, Dave slept well, but he gave his chambermaid a shock by demanding breakfast at eight next morning, in his room. It was, she thought, an unearthly hour for a Sunday morning. Before nine Dave was in the Tube on his way to Notting Hill, whence he walked to Pembridge Place, where Wreford lived.
Dave knew Horace Wreford fairly well, for they two had been at Clifton together, and had seen one another at Old Boys' dinners and similar occasions. Not a bad chap, Horace, but not what you might call bright. Quite recently he had come in for a nice bit of money from an uncle and one of those pleasant houses in Pembridge Place, and there he had settled down, was entertaining mildly and generally enjoying himself. Of course he was just the sort to fall into the clutches of a smooth sharp like Gorsley.
Horace met Dave in the hall. He was plump, with a pleasant, round face and a slight stammer. He was genuinely pleased to see Dave.
"It's j-jolly good of you to come, Hallam," he said. "H-have you had breakfast?"
"Yes, I've fed. But I'll bet you haven't."
"J-just going to. Come and have a cup of coffee."
"When are you expecting Farne?" Dave asked as he followed his host into a very comfy little breakfast-room.
"Farne!" Horace was so surprised he forgot his stammer. "How did you know he was coming?"
"Never mind how I knew, but that's what brought me, old son."
"I d-don't understand."
"You jolly well will before I've done with you, and I'm not going to waste words either. Farne and Gorsley are partners in the same bucket-shop, and they're reckoning to share up ten thousand quid of yours between them."
"F-Farne—Gorsley's partner! Are you sure?"
"I ought to be," Dave's voice was bitter. "They've had every bob of mine between 'em."
"G-good gosh!" stammered Horace, his eyes goggling like gooseberries. "B-but I've never heard Farne mention Gorsley."
"Of course you haven't. That's their game. I believe I'm the only person outside their precious selves who knows they're partners. And it's not the safest kind of knowledge, either. Farne tried to murder me yesterday."
Some of the colour faded from Horace's plump cheeks, but he said nothing. Dave's face and tone carried conviction.
"Don't look so scared," said Dave with a grin. "As you see, he made a mess of it. Give me that cup of coffee and I'll spin you the whole yarn." Which he did and Horace's silence was a tribute to his interest. When he had finished Horace drew a long breath.
"I'm f-frightfully grateful to you, Hallam. It's true I felt a bit doubtful about this investment, but if Farne had recommended it I'd have gone into it."
The parlour-maid opened the door.
"Mr. Farne has called, sir," she announced.
"S-show him in," said Horace all in a twitter. Like a shot Dave slipped out of his chair by the table and dropped into a deep arm-chair in front of the fire, the back of which was high enough to hide him almost completely.
"Hulloa, Horace, you old slacker, aren't you ready yet?" The contrast between Farne's present genial voice and that of the previous night struck Dave as almost incredible.
"I—I don't think I can come," stammered Horace.
"Not come! Why, what's up? Are you ill?" And then Dave rose and turned towards Farne.
Tall, well built, with good features and fair hair, Farne was a distinctly handsome man who, as a rule, looked younger than his thirty-five years. Now as he faced Dave his whole face sharpened, deep lines showed under his eyes, and for a moment he looked haggard, almost old. It was only for a moment. A man such as Farne has almost infinite self-control. Dave spoke first.
"I suppose I'm the last man you expected to see," he remarked, sweetly.
Farne's pale blue eyes hardened till they looked like bits of turquoise. He had had a very nasty shock, but he was himself again and could give as good as he got.
"If you'd said the last I wanted to see you'd have come nearer the truth," he retorted.
"Especially here," he answered, and the emphasis on the last word left no doubt of his meaning. Farne bit his lip. He was not accustomed to being brow-beaten like this. He turned to Wreford.
"If you've quite done with this—Dr—gentleman, I'd like a chat with you, Horace."
Horace looked horribly uncomfortable.
"I—I don't think I want a chat with you," he gaped.
"And I'm quite sure he doesn't," put in Dave.
Farne's eyes glittered.
"I'm talking to Wreford, not you," he snapped. Dave came a step nearer.
"And I'm talking to you—you murderer!"
FARNE'S fists clenched and Dave stiffened. He thought Farne was going for him. But Farne seldom did the obvious. The look of rage changed to one of sarcastic amusement.
"Murderer!" he repeated with a laugh. "And whom have I been killing lately?"
"Your memory is short," said Dave, "seeing that it's barely fourteen hours since you did your best to do me in."
"Oh!" drawled Farne. "How and where—may I ask?"
"When you ran me down yesterday evening in the chalk cutting just beyond Dunstable."
Farne shook his head.
"You're dreaming, Hallam. It's more than a month since I last drove through Dunstable."
"Of course you'd deny it—to me," Dave answered, "but you weren't so reticent last night when you were talking to Gorsley."
"You were—" Farne cut himself short. "I haven't the least idea what you are talking about," he said, curtly.
"You began all right, Farne. Yes I was listening. I was in the inner smoking-room, neatly hidden behind a screen so that Gorsley never spotted me. I heard every word of your interesting conversation. You may remember you told Gorsley that I should never trouble either of you again. So you must have felt fairly sure you had finished me. I also heard your pretty little plot to get money out of Wreford. Incidentally, that's why I'm here this morning."
The hate that glowed in Farne's pale eyes was like a lightning shaft. But it passed as quickly as it had come and Farne's voice was quite under control as he answered.
"You're smarter than I thought, Hallam, and you've had the devil's own luck. All the same that won't help you. Let me warn you here and now to keep your mouth shut. You were alone last night and your unsupported word is absolutely valueless. I was nowhere near Dunstable yesterday. I can prove that by more than one witness. Talk, and I'll sue you for slander."
"A fat lot of good that will do you," he said. "My present salary is fifty bob a week. Besides, Farne, wouldn't you find it a bit awkward if the story of my seven thousand came out in court? You and Gorsley have shared that up between you so there's not much left in the way of pickings." He laughed again. "One comfort; you won't get Wreford's money quite as easily as you got mine. Now don't you think you'd better go?"
For once Farne seemed uncertain. There was such a passion of fury in his eyes that Horace Wreford's pink face went quite pale. Yet once more the man's almost inhuman self-control won the day.
"Yes, I'm going," he said with a queer, twisted smile. "To our next meeting, Hallam!"
The door closed behind him and for a moment there was silence in the warm, comfortable room with its pleasant odours of coffee and fried bacon. Dave was the first to speak.
"I'll have that cup of coffee now, old son. I think I've earned it."
"Earned it! B-by gum, y-you've saved me ten thousand pounds." He gazed at Dave with popping eyes. "B-beats me how you stood up to him like that. I-I don't mind telling you I was scared pink. I-I thought he was going to murder you."
Dave grinned again.
"He simply hated leaving that job undone, Horace. I'm pretty sure he'd have tried it if it hadn't been for your embarrassing presence."
Horace looked acutely unhappy.
"B-but he'll only wait for another chance. He—he can't afford to have you alive, knowing what you know about him."
"You've hit the nail slap on the head, Horace. Before this he only suspected that I knew of his being in with Gorsley. Now he's definitely sure of it. But what about that coffee?"
"I-I'm frightfully sorry," Horace apologized as he filled a cup and topped it off liberally with cream. "Help yourself to sugar, Hallam."
"My friends call me Dave," said the other, and Horace looked at him gratefully.
"T-that's awfully decent of you, Dave. B-but look here. N-now I'm going to say something and—and I don't want you to interrupt me." Horace was positively spluttering with eagerness, but Dave merely nodded. "Y-You are driving cars out in the country," Horace went on. "J-just the sort of job to give that brute a ch-chance to kill you. S-see here. Why shouldn't you come and live with me? I-I've p-plenty of room and I-I'd simply love to have you."
Dave leaned over and laid a hand on Horace's shoulder.
"Horace, you're a white man, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate your offer. But the fact is I can't afford to loaf. I have my living to make, and I must carry on with my job. Besides, Tom Trevor is not only my employer but my pal, and he depends on me quite a lot. So I've just got to refuse."
Horace looked very crestfallen.
"Isn't there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes. Are you busy to-day?"
"I haven't anything on till evening."
"All right. Then drive me down to Roborough and have lunch with Tom and myself." Horace brightened.
"Rather!" he exclaimed as he jumped up and rang the bell.
Horace was not a venturesome driver but with the power of the big engine the miles dropped away swiftly, and it was not yet twelve when they reached Roborough.
"There's the garage," said Dave pointing.
"J-jolly nice, too," declared Horace. Horace was right. Small as the place was, it was a pleasant contrast to most of its kind. It stood a little back from the road, with plenty of room to drive in. The building was plain enough, but it had a neat, compact and tidy appearance. Borders fragrant with wallflowers were on either side of the door. Even the petrol pumps seemed less obtrusive than usual.
"Tom's got good taste and he's very proud of his little show," said Dave. "Here he is."
A man came out to meet them. Tom Trevor was short, dark, efficient. He had formerly been a racing driver, and limped a little as a result of the smash which had ended his career on the track.
"Hulloa, Dave. Thought you'd be here for lunch. Where's the bike?"
"I had a tumble and left her at Dunstable. Got a lift to Town and have come as you see in comfort and luxury," Dave answered. "This is Horace Wreford, Tom. He was at Clifton with me. Think we can give him some lunch?"
"If he can eat boiled pork and pease pudding," said Tom as he shook hands with Horace.
"Y-you bet I c-can," said Horace, eagerly. "I l-love it, b-but I'm scared to mention it to my cook. She's so-so infernally high toned."
"Shove your bus into the yard, Wreford. Afraid you'll have to loaf around for an hour or so. Mother Hubbard won't be ready for us till one."
"I-I'll be quite happy," Horace vowed. "I l-love cars." He drove in, leaving the other two together. Tom turned to Dave and Dave saw the question in his eyes. He shook his head.
"You didn't get it, Dave?" said Tom.
"Not a bob," Dave paused. "All the same the old lad offered me a fortune." It took a good deal to astonish Tom Trevor, but now his eyes widened, and his lips formed into a soundless whistle.
"You mean he's going to make you his heir?"
"He wanted to, but the conditions were too stiff. It meant going into his office under M'Caskie. You know M'Caskie?"
"He's a terror. You'd never have stuck it. No need to say more, Dave."
"I don't know," said Dave slowly. "If I'd taken it on I could have put up the money we need so badly."
"Put that clean out of your mind," said Tom curtly.
"We'll do well enough. Business is improving every day, and—" He broke off. "Here are more customers. Got to get busy."
Right up to one o'clock there was a rush, and Tom and Dave and their staff of two were kept busy. Then things quieted down and leaving Sam Sperry, Tom's mechanic, in charge, Tom, Dave, and Horace went in to lunch. Tom and Dave lived over the garage, and were looked after by Mrs. Hibbert, a plump widow, whom they affectionately called Mother Hubbard.
THE pork was tender as butter, the pease pudding soft as mashed potato. The second course was rhubarb tart with cream, and they finished with good Cheddar cheese and biscuits and beer.
"N-never ate a better lunch in my life," asserted Horace. "I w-was hungry, too. Th-that fellow, Farne, spoilt my breakfast." Tom Trevor, in the act of lighting a cigarette, looked up sharply.
"Farne—you know him, Wreford?"
"Yes, b-but I'm not going to know him any more. He—he tried to kill Dave." For a second time that day Tom looked really surprised.
"First I've heard of it." He turned to Dave. "This sounds a bit thick. Isn't the fellow content with robbing you of your money? Let's hear about it."
"I didn't want to worry you, but since Horace has given the show away I suppose I'll have to tell you."
Tom never said a word as he listened to the story of how Dave had been run down on the previous evening, how he had been picked up by the girl, and taken to Town. He said nothing of his interview with his uncle, for Tom knew about that, but went on to tell of what he had overheard in the smoking-room of the Piccadilly Palace. He finished with a brief account of his meeting with Farne in Horace's rooms. Then at last Tom spoke.
"Of all the swine," he exploded. Then he calmed down. "I'm glad you told me, Dave. It's just as well that Wreford and I should both know about this business."
"Then you don't think much of Farne's threats about suing me for slander?"
"Bah—the fellow's talking through his hat. He'd never dare take you to court, whatever you had said. Even if you haven't proof that it was Farne who ran you down, your evidence would be enough to damn Farne for ever in the eyes of all decent people. He'd never again be able to show his nose in London."
"That's what I thought," Dave agreed.
"All the same, it's a nasty, bad business," Tom continued, gravely.
"How do you mean?" Dave asked.
"Mean! You're not blind, are you? Can't you see that, so long as you are in the land of the living Farne won't know a quiet minute. Once the story gets round that he's in with Grant Gorsley, what happens? All his schemes are blown on, and instead of ten thousand pounds a year, which is just about what he spends now, I don't reckon he'd have as many pence."
"Trevor's right, Dave," put in Horace. "I-I was thinking about it all the way down. F-Farne saw what happened when you warned me. If-if you ask me, he and Gorsley are plotting this minute how to get rid of you."
"Which is precisely what I was going to say, myself," remarked Trevor quietly. "What's more, you can take it from me they aren't going to waste time about it."
"A nice pair of Job's comforters you are," he declared. "After all, it isn't so jolly easy to murder a chap in this country and get away with it."
"And who'd have been the wiser if you'd been killed last night?" retorted Trevor. "Even this girl you speak of didn't get the number of the car, and you can't swear to the driver having been Farne."
"That's true," Dave agreed. "He might have paid someone else to do the job for him."
"And you can bet your sweet life that he's got plenty more at his beck and call who'd do the same job all over again for a few quid. A man like Farne knows that side of London."
"What do you suggest I should do—buy a suit of chain mail?" asked Dave with a grin. Tom Trevor did not smile.
"You'll have to be precious careful, Dave. No night driving or anything like that. And the less you're alone the better."
"I wan-wanted him to come and live with me," said Horace, "b-but he wouldn't."
"I think he'll be safer here," said Trevor gravely. Then he got up. "It's past two. I must get back to my job and let Sam have his dinner."
"And I m-must get back to Town," said Horace. "I-I don't believe I shall do any driving after dark just now."
"I think you're wise," agreed Trevor, "and I'd be a bit careful crossing the streets the next few days, Wreford."
They went down and saw Horace off. As they turned back into the garage Sam Sperry came to meet them. Sam was a little Cockney, an absolutely first-rate mechanic, and a thoroughly sound man. Tom Trevor knew how good he was and gave him a free hand, and Sam was loyal to his boss, was but actually fonder of Dave than of Tom.
"Hulloa, Sam's done something. I know the symptoms," Trevor said to Dave. Sure enough, Sam was bubbling with excitement.
"You know the old two-seater," he began eagerly. "The blue one as you said you'd take £20 for."
"I know," nodded Trevor.
"I just sold her for £25."
"Good man! Then you get ten per cent. Who bought it?"
"Chap from Luton. Name of Salter. Said he'd seed it advertised in the paper. Travels in hats, he does. Nice, pleasant-spoken feller. He paid me cash and took it away. Driven west." He produced a bundle of rather dirty treasury notes and handed them over. Trevor counted them and handed back two pounds, ten shillings to Sam.
"Told you business was looking up, Dave," he said. "She not a bad old bus, but I'd have taken £15 cash for her. She's been on hand for nearly three months."
Just then a car pulled up for petrol, followed by another with a choked filter. A fine Sunday is always a busy day at a roadside garage. Dave, as well as the rest, had little leisure that afternoon.
Just after six a stranger came in. He was driving an old tourer which had seen its best days, and was making a horrid noise. Dave looked at the car which had been shamefully misused. The oil sump was practically dry, and the pistons were beginning to seize.
"This will be a long job," he said. The man, a powerful-looking fellow of about thirty, seemed dismayed.
"I have to get to Birmingham to-night," he said.
"Well, you won't do it in this car," Dave answered rather shortly.
"Can I hire a car?" the man asked.
"I'll see," said Dave, and went to find Trevor. Trevor was in his little office. He went to the door and had a quick look at the man. He frowned.
"We can't afford to turn down a customer, but you're not going to drive that chap, Dave."
"Suspect—that's the word, Dave. The fellow may be right as rain, but you're not going off alone with anyone, let alone a bird who has every look of a professional pug.
"But hang it all, Tom," Dave remonstrated. "Sam can't drive him. It's his evening off. And as you say, we can't afford to turn down good money."
"I'll drive him," said Trevor, quietly, but when he spoke in that tone Dave knew it was no use arguing. Still he did make a protest.
"He might turn on you, Tom. I don't like the looks of him." Trevor laughed.
"He's not going to murder me for the ten shillings odd he'll find in my pocket. And the old bus isn't worth a killing either."
"Well, take a gun," begged Dave. Trevor laughed again.
"I'll do that if it'll ease your mind. Tell the chap I'm getting out a car for him." Dave did so.
"Are you going to drive me?" the man asked.
"No, Mr. Trevor will drive you," Dave replied. He was watching the other keenly, but could not tell whether he was disappointed or not. The stranger's face had about as much expression as a lamp-post. Five minutes later Trevor and the queer fish drove off. Sam came up.
"Like me to stay a bit, Mr. David? I can quite easy."
"No need at all, Sam. The rush is over, and if anyone wants petrol I can see to it. You go home to your missus."
"You'll 'phone me if anything special comes along."
"I'll do that," Dave said, and Sam departed. He lived in the village barely half a mile away, and Trevor had installed a telephone in his house so that Sam could be called up in case of urgency.
After the rush came a quiet period, and presently Mrs. Hibbert called Dave to his supper. The room had a window opening over the entrance to the garage, so that, if anyone came in, Dave could both see and hear them. But he ate his supper in peace, and it was nearly dark before the next car drew in. To Dave's surprise it was the one that Sam had sold at lunch-time.
"Hullo!" he said. "You've brought her back. Nothing wrong, I hope."
"Nothing wrong with the car," replied Salter, who was a very ordinary-looking, rather pasty-faced man of about forty. "Trouble is with me, personal, so to speak. I've been spending the afternoon with friends near Northampton. I felt a bit queer when I started, and now my head's aching fit to split. Migraine, my doctor calls it. I don't feel I could drive another mile, so I'm asking you to put up the car, and I've got a bed at the Swan. I'm going to turn in right away and take two aspirins, and I'll be all right in the morning."
"Very good," said Dave. "I'd drive you down to the Swan, only I'm alone here."
"It don't matter," Salter answered. "'Tain't far, and I'll go quietly. Likely the fresh air'll do me good."
"What time will you want the car in the morning?"
"Round about eight," said Salter. "Looks like there was room in the very place the old bus came from," he added, and slipping in the clutch, drove in. Dave noticed that he handled the old car like an expert, and backed her in between two others as neatly as he could have done it himself. Then he said good-night and went slowly off towards the village.
It was dark now and getting chilly. Dave looked round to see that all was right, then closed the inner doors and went upstairs. Being alone, he could not go to bed until Trevor returned, so he changed his shoes for slippers, and his coat for a dressing-gown, then stretched himself in a long wicker chair, lit a pipe, and picked up a book, becoming so absorbed that he quite forgot his surroundings. Suddenly he heard the bell and the headlights of a car blazed outside. He jumped up rapidly, exchanged the dressing-gown for his coat, ran down and unlocked the door. At first he had thought it was Trevor, but the car outside was driven by a liveried chauffeur. An elderly gentleman put his head out of the window.
"So sorry to disturb you at this hour," he said courteously, "but we are short of petrol and I have to get back to London to-night."
"No trouble at all, sir," Dave answered as he lifted the hose. The chauffeur, a strapping fellow, jumped out and unscrewed the tank cap and in a very few moments the tank was filled. The cap had been screwed on and the owner had handed Dave a treasury note in payment when, from within the garage came a sudden burst of crimson flame followed by a thundering explosion.
"That's a bomb, mister," said the chauffeur, sharply. "I'll move the car." Dave for the moment was completely stunned. He stood staring at the garage. The whole roof was down and already the interior was burning fiercely. There were half a dozen cars in the place, all with petrol in the tanks. Next moment the chauffeur was with him again.
"Lucky for you, you wasn't inside, mister," he said and Dave realized that he was right and that, but for the chance of this car calling for petrol, he would have been roasting in that inferno of petrol-fed flame.
"You're right," he said as he plunged in to the office. "Got to save the books," he cried. The chauffeur had an extinguisher from the car. It was only a small thing, yet enough to check the flames for a moment. Then he rushed in after Dave and between them they got most of the stuff out of the office. They were only just in time for as, between them, they managed to roll the small safe out there was a fresh crash and the rest of the roof came down.
"Ain't a thing to be done," said the chauffeur. "All the fire engines in London couldn't save the place. Hope as you're insured."
"Not enough to cover it," said Dave. He turned sharply to the other. "You said a bomb."
"And I meant it. I've seed and heard too many of them things to make any error." He paused. "Know anyone who's got a grudge against you, mister?"
"Yes," said Dave, grimly. "But proof's another thing." The chauffeur shrugged.
"That's true." He pointed. "Here's the fire engine." The engine from Roborough was coming, drawn by two horses at a gallop. "Not that they can do a lot," he added.
"You've done a lot," said Dave. "I'm very grateful to you."
"Don't mention it, sir. I'll be pushing off now. The boss wants to get to London. His name is Robert Earle in case you wants us as witness. You'll find the address in the London Telephone book."
Dave shook hands with the good fellow and just then Jim Holcote, chief of the volunteer brigade, sprang off his engine and came running up.
"Here's a pretty job!" he exclaimed. "Too late to do much I'm afraid, Mr. Hallam. Still I'll get the hose rigged."
It was far too late to do anything, and, as the chauffeur had said, all the engines in London could not have saved the place. The only thing left was to keep the fire from getting at the petrol in the tanks under the pumps.
Holcote questioned Dave as to the cause of the fire. Dave simply told him that he had heard an explosion inside the garage, and in a moment the whole place was in flames. He was careful not to mention any suspicion of foul play.
An hour later Tom Trevor drove up to find his smart garage a heap of smouldering ruins. Yet when he saw Dave his anxious face lit up.
"Thank God, they didn't get you, Dave. When I came over the hill and saw the glow I knew well enough what was up. I tell you straight I never expected to see you again. How did they do it?"
"A bomb," Dave told him and explained exactly what had happened. Trevor nodded.
"Salter, of course, with Farne at the back of him. He'd planted a bomb with a delayed fuse or something of the sort in the old bus. He meant to get us both."
"And all the time we were suspecting the other chap," Dave said.
"He was all right. If it hadn't been for him Farne was bound to have got one of us. Only one would have come down to the pump."
"I've saved the papers from the office," he said. "The insurance will be all right, Tom."
"The insurance won't cover half of it. And there were three private cars inside which weren't covered at all. Farne hasn't managed to murder us, Dave, but he's ruined us all right."
FORD came into the big, sunny room where his master lay in a long chair by the open window. In the morning light James Kirkstall looked even more gaunt and cadaverous than on the previous evening.
"Miss Kerr to see you, sir, by appointment."
"Show her up," replied James. "And see we are not disturbed."
"Very good, sir." A minute later and he was back ushering into the room the very charming Scottish girl who had dropped David Hallam at the house less than twenty-four hours earlier.
"Miss Aline Kerr, sir," said Ford. Old James's deep-set eyes kindled as he saw the tall, graceful figure of his visitor, and Aline flushed a little under the keen gaze.
"Come ye in, lassie." The old man's creaky voice was almost soft. He pointed to a chair near his own. "So ye are Ronald's daughter. I'm glad to see ye." Aline's smile lit up her rather grave face most charmingly. She took the chair, and sat upright, facing James. "Ye mind me of your mother," James went on.
"You couldn't say anything nicer than that, sir," Aline replied in her soft rich voice. "Then you knew her as well as my father?"
"Her and your good father both." He paused. "I'll no be saying that, if your father had na been my best friend, I might not have asked Bella Maclean to be Mrs. Kirkstall." He smiled grimly, yet Aline saw beneath that smile, and realized that this hard old man had actually been in love with her mother.
"Father always called me Bella," she said softly.
"Then I'll call ye Bella, myself," said James. "And now will ye tell me about yourself. It's little I've heard of Ronald Kerr since I left Dundee mair than thirty years gone. He wrote me once some years ago and sent me a picture of his daughter Bessie, but that's all I've heard from him. I didna even know he was dead until I got the letter he wrote me just before he died. How did he come to be losing his money?"
"He was crushed by business rivals," Aline told him. "He tried hard to keep things going, but after my mother died he seemed to lose heart. He was ill, himself, and before he recovered, the crash came and he went bankrupt."
"He should have written to me before," said James with a frown. "Why did he no do that?"
"I think he was too independent," Aline said, gently. "He was never one to ask for help."
"That's true. I mind him well. For all that I'd have helped had I known he needed it."
"I wish I had known," Aline said, simply.
"Ye have a brother, have ye not?" James asked.
"I had two," Aline told him. "Both older than I, and two sisters. Bessie, the eldest, the one you have the photo of, died when she was twenty. Kenneth was drowned at sea five years ago. Jock went out to the Malay States and did well until his firm closed down and he lost his job. He is married and his wife and little girl are in England."
"And what will they be living on?"
"Lisbeth teaches in an art school and gets a very small salary. I help all I can."
"And what are ye doing, yourself?"
"I have been driving a car and acting as secretary to Miss Caryl Kingscote. But Caryl has lost money lately, and though she wants me to stay on with her, I know she can no longer afford my salary. So I thought perhaps, sir, you could find me another post."
The old man looked at her very kindly. Every minute he liked her better. Her soft Scottish accent was music in his ears and her manner was perfect—quiet, respectful yet so frank it charmed him.
"Tell me," he said at last. "Have ye ever thought of marrying?"
Aline looked up, quickly. For the moment she thought James was chaffing her, but when she realized he was perfectly serious soft colour again flooded her cheeks. Yet her eyes were quite steady as she answered.
"I suppose every girl thinks of getting married some time or other."
"Are ye engaged then?" The sharp dismay in James's voice made Aline laugh, and her laugh was as charming as her voice.
"No, indeed," she answered. James drew a long breath, evidently of relief, and she eyed him curiously. What in the world was this strange yet kind old man driving at now? Suddenly he looked troubled again.
"There'll be someone ye have a fancy for. A girl like you, now. You're a pretty woman, Bella."
"Thank you, sir," she said with a little bow. "But, no." Then all of a sudden she flushed again. Dave Hallam's face had suddenly flashed into her memory.
James did not notice the added colour. He was delighted with her little touch of coquetry, but deadly serious in the plan that had come, full-fledged, into his head.
"Ye have sense, Bella, as well as good looks. Now listen to me. I am minded to find ye a husband."
"I'd rather have a job," Bella protested. "I must earn money so as to help Lisbeth. Jock, too, if I could." James leaned forward. His expression was so serious that Aline felt a little frightened.
"Do ye know what I am worth, my dear?" he asked.
"I know you're a rich man, Mr. Kirkstall."
"I'm mair than a rich man. I'm a millionaire, Bella. And I'm no long for this world. My doctor tells me that."
"But you're not old," protested Bella. "Not if you and my father were boys together."
"I'm older than he. I'm nigh on sixty-four. But it is na years, my dear. I'm an ill man. I canna digest my victuals. But never mind that. What I have to say to ye is this. If ye will be guided by me in choosing a husband ye need have no fear for your people. Will I go on?"
"If you please," said Aline, sedately. James nodded approval.
"I knew ye were a sensible girl. Then here is the gist of the matter. I have a nephew and I am minded to leave him my money. But the lad knows no mair of business than a baby, and it is na my thought to have the millions I've worked for scattered and wasted as they would be in his hands. But if he had a good, sensible wife the case would be deeferent. Now what have ye to say, Bella?"
A little colour had come into his sallow cheeks, his deep-set eyes were very bright, and Aline, again feeling a little frightened, realized that he was in deadly earnest.
"I—I don't know what to say," she stammered. "To tell you the truth, I don't think I could possibly marry the sort of wastrel you describe."
"I would na say he was a wastrel. He does na drink to excess. I dinna think he has any vices, and he is no a bad looking lad."
"Is that all you can say for him, Mr. Kirkstall."
"I wish ye would na call me Mr. Kirkstall," said the old man with sudden irritation. "Canna ye say 'Uncle James'?"
Aline was touched.
"I'll be pleased and grateful to. But it sounds as if I were going to be your real niece, and I am not going to make any promises until I have seen this young man. Besides, he might not like me."
"If he didna like ye, he'd be a bigger fool than even I take him for." Aline could not repress a smile.
"What is he like?" she asked.
"I have na a picture of him," said James, "but he's a fine, strong-bodied chap. Healthy, too. I'm told he's good at games and that he's a fine dancer."
Aline laughed outright.
"I can't congratulate you on your powers of description, Uncle James. There must be some thousands of young men in London who are big and healthy and good at games. What coloured eyes has he?"
James frowned thoughtfully.
"They'll be blue if I'm no mistaken."
"Then he's fair?"
"Aye, and brown hair."
"And what about his disposition?"
"Oh, it's no so bad? He's no bad tempered anyway, and—and he likes dogs."
"That's the best thing you've said about him so far," declared Aline.
"Then ye will meet him?" said the old man, eagerly.
"If you wish it," Aline answered, "but—but I don't suppose for a moment he will like me."
"And why would he not? Any man with eyes in his head would be apt to like you, my dear."
"But I might not like him," said Aline.
"Ye canna tell about that till ye have seen him. And since ye have no objection to that I will arrange it as soon as maybe. Where will I write to you, Bella?"
She gave him an address in Mecklenburg Square, then got up to go, but hesitated a moment before she said good-bye.
"You will not say anything to him, Uncle James?" she begged.
"Set your mind at rest about that, Bella. I will na mention you to him at all. All I will say is that I wish him to marry a girl I have chosen for him. After that you two can settle it for yourselves." He fished out his pocket book and took a note from it.
"Will ye take a little present from your uncle that hopes to be." She remonstrated, but he made her take five pounds, and Aline went away with the happy feeling that she had found a friend.
"And the nephew," she said to herself with a little smile. She was wondering if he was David Hallam.
TOM TREVOR sat in Sam Sperry's little house writing letters. His face looked pinched, and though he was only thirty-eight the grey was showing in his dark hair. Thirty-eight isn't very old, but it is no age to make an entirely new start in life, and that was what was facing Trevor. Every penny of his savings had been spent building the garage, and he had gone into debt to equip it. The insurance would be little more than sufficient to pay his debts.
A car drove up. Trevor, deep in thought, hardly heard it. The door opened and he turned to see a girl in the doorway. No, hardly a girl for she was quite thirty. Small, trim, compact, with dark brown hair and dark eyes, she was extremely pretty. Trevor's tired face lit up.
"Oh, Tom. I'm so sorry. I only heard an hour ago and I came at once."
"It's like you," said Trevor taking both her hands. "You always were the kindest girl."
"Kindness won't rebuild a burnt building," Caryl Kingscote answered. "What are you going to do about it? Will the insurance be enough to rebuild?"
He shook his head.
"No, I shall have to find a job and start again."
Her face fell. These two were not engaged, yet were something more than friends. As soon as he was on his feet from a financial point of view Trevor had meant to ask Caryl to marry him, and Caryl knew that as well as he did. Now she took her courage in both hands.
"Tom, in spite of my losses I still have £500 a year. I—I want you to marry me and use my money to restart your business." The smile that lit up Trevor's tired face made him look quite young again.
"Caryl, you're the sweetest thing God ever made. Sit down, my dear." She shook her head.
"Not till I've had your answer, Tom." He took her by the shoulders and gently pushed her into a chair.
"I can't possibly argue with you if you stand over me like that, Caryl," he remonstrated.
"That's just what I don't want you to do, Tom—argue, I mean. Here I come and propose to you and—and you won't give me an answer." The troubled look came back to his face.
"Caryl, I can't—"
"You mean you won't," Caryl Kingscote had a temper of her own. Her eyes became very bright.
"Caryl, listen," Tom begged. "You have always known that the dearest wish of my life is to marry you. Only yesterday I was saying to myself 'Another six months, and if things go on as well as they are going I can ask her.' Now I'm broke—flat broke. And—and I can't take your money to start again."
"Oh, I know the old argument," Caryl's voice was bitter. "A man can't take money from a woman. But he can from his wife. That's why I asked you to marry me. If you won't—"
Trevor's face was pale as he gazed at her.
"And supposing I failed. Supposing I lost your money as well as mine—what then?"
"If I am willing to take that risk, surely you should be," Caryl answered.
Trevor shook his head. He was a man with a very strong sense of right and wrong. To risk Caryl's money in his own business was against his code, and once he had made up his mind he was not the sort to change. But Caryl Kingscote was equally strong-willed.
"Tom, I want your answer, please," she said. "Yes or no?"
Trevor hesitated an instant. It was not that he had any idea of changing his mind. He was only thinking how best to soften his refusal. And at that very moment came a knock on the door. Trevor looked at Caryl. She nodded. Perhaps she was relieved as he was that the interruption had prevented a quarrel.
"Come in," said Trevor, and in came Dave. One glance at his face was enough to show that he had good news. He stopped short at sight of Caryl. Trevor turned.
"You know Miss Kingscote, Dave?"
"I've met her once," Dave said as he shook hands.
"I live so far away," said Caryl with a smile.
"She's come to sympathize with us," Trevor said.
"Jolly nice of you," declared Dave. "But see here, Tom. Here's some more sympathy." He handed a cheque to Trevor, who stared at it as if he could not believe his eyes.
"Don't goggle," chuckled Dave. "It's Horace Wreford. A cheque for two thousand. We're to repay it when and how we like. Great, isn't it?" Trevor's face lit up, but before he could speak Dave was talking again. "See here, we can rent Powell's place while we rebuild. We can buy a couple of second-hand cars for the hire work. Our old customers will stick by us. I don't see why we should lose a penny."
Caryl was frowning. For the moment she was actually jealous, then her good sense came to her aid.
"I'm glad, Tom. And I think Mr. Hallam is right."
"Of course he's right," cried Trevor. "It's all his doing, too, Caryl. He saved Wreford from a big loss to a bucket-shop sharp, and this is Wreford's gratitude."
Caryl made a little face.
"Then my suggestion is declined with thanks."
Trevor slipped his arm round her. She looked surprised but did not move.
"Dave," Trevor said. "Do you know what Caryl had just asked me before you came?"
"I might guess, Tom. She was offering to lend you the necessary."
"More than that, Dave—much more. She offered to marry me."
"Tom!" protested Caryl, trying to draw away, but he held her.
"Don't tell me you refused!" said Dave.
"I didn't say yes because I didn't want her to risk her little fortune. But now—"
"Now, if you don't say yes, you're no friend of mine," declared Dave with a laugh, and slipping out closed the door behind him and took refuge with Mrs. Sperry in the kitchen.
"You've had good news, sir," said that lady, who was exactly the tall, rather gaunt woman whom a little wizened fellow like Sam might have been expected to choose as his life partner. "I can see it in your face."
"I have," Dave agreed. "Jolly good news. We have money to rebuild the garage and we're going to start just as soon as we can get the bricks and mortar."
Mrs. Sperry's face lit up.
"Oh, I must tell Sam," she cried. "He'll be that pleased." She was off into the garden, where Sam was busy planting potatoes. And Dave, watching, smiled as he saw the delight with which Sam received the news. Life, he decided, wasn't so bad even if Farne was thirsting for his blood.
Presently he heard Trevor and Caryl come out of the sitting-room and peeping out saw two more happy faces. He waited discreetly until Trevor had seen Caryl into her car. Then it struck him that there was something familiar about the car, and hurrying out of the back door and round the side of the house he was just in time to spot the number plate as Caryl drove away.
"It's the same," he exclaimed in delight. "It's the girl's car." He was so eager and excited he never noticed the boy who had come in at the gate until the latter was actually offering him a letter.
"Express delivery," the youth explained as he handed it over. Dave thanked him and glanced at the address which was written in rather shaky characters. He tore open the envelope and Trevor came up as he was reading it.
"What's up?" demanded the latter. "You look as if someone else had sent you a cheque."
"Cheque! Read that," gasped Dave, as he thrust the letter into his friend's hand.
"Nephew David," the letter began. "You will no doubt be surprised to hear from me after our last meeting. Yet in spite of your foolishness I have not quite given up hope of you. I have a proposition to put before you, and will ask you to come to luncheon with me at one o'clock on Tuesday next. Your Uncle, James Kirkstall."
Trevor read it through twice, and there was a frown on his face as he looked up.
"What do you make of it?" Dave demanded.
"Are you sure it's genuine?" Trevor asked.
"Genuine! What do you mean?"
"Is it from your Uncle? I wouldn't put it past Farne to fake a letter like this just to lure you up to Town."
Dave shook his head.
"It's Uncle James, all right. See how it begins—and ends. If it had been a forgery it would have begun 'Dear David' and ended 'your affectionate uncle,' or something of that sort. Also, he'd have said 'lunch' not 'luncheon.' It's genuine all right, Tom, but what on earth is this proposition? I told Uncle James straight I wouldn't go into his infernal counting house."
"Hanged if I know," said Trevor. "Perhaps he's heard of the fire and is going to offer some help."
"Not he," replied Dave with conviction. "He hates the whole show. Thinks there's nothing in it."
"Are you going?"
"Yes," Dave answered. "After all, he's my uncle."
"Then Sam shall drive you up. You're not going alone."
"Aren't you forgetting we haven't got a car. I'll go by train, Tom. Then I'll be all right."
Trevor frowned again.
"I'm not so sure. Farne's mad to finish you. I don't think you quite realize how keen he is or how cunning."
"I'd be a fool if I didn't, especially after last night's little do. But don't worry, Tom. I'll take the 10-35 express. It's a corridor train, and even Farne would be put to it to try anything there with ticket collectors and waiters popping in and out."
Trevor still frowned.
"I don't like it. Farne is fox as well as wolf. See how he fooled us over that fire business."
"What do you want me to do—hire a nurse, or wear a suit of chain mail?"
"I want you to realize what you're up against."
The smile faded from Dave's face.
"I do. As a matter of fact. I know Farne better than you do. His god is gold, and he has just about as much heart or feeling as a shark." He paused. "Tom, I want to ask you a question. Hasn't Miss Kingscote a—a companion?" The change in Dave's voice was so complete that a look of surprise crossed Trevor's face.
"A companion—why, yes, I believe she had."
"Had—you mean she's left?" Dave exclaimed in dismay.
"Yes, she was only with her for a short time. You see Caryl's lost money and can't afford a companion any longer. But what's the matter, Dave? You look as if someone had punched you in the jaw."
"That was the girl who picked me up on Saturday night," said Dave. "Tell me, Tom, what is her name?"
"I really don't remember. I only met her once. You mean a big tall girl, with a strong Scottish accent."
"Big!" Dave's voice rang with scorn. "Man, she was lovely, and her voice—I never heard anything so perfect in my life. Soft and sweet. It was like the wind in the fir trees."
Tom Trevor whistled softly.
"Sorry, old son. I didn't realize. But don't worry. Caryl can give you her name and address."
"So she can. Is she on the 'phone?"
"Yes, but she's going up to Town to-day on business. I'll call her up to-morrow, and get the address for you." He chuckled. "So you've got it, too, Dave?"
"I have," said Dave, quietly. "If I don't marry that girl I'll never marry any other."
Trevor smote him on the shoulder.
"Wish you good luck, old lad. I'm sure she's nice, or you wouldn't like her. Now let's go down and see Powell about renting his yard. And after that I must see Gilland. He'll do the new building for us."
The rest of the day was one rush of work. Before nightfall men were busy converting Powell's big old stable yard into a temporary garage, and Gilland, the builder, had promised to start in the morning clearing the site of the burned building.
Dave hated taking a day off just when they were so busy, yet felt that he owed it to his uncle to accept his invitation. He knew how he had disappointed the old man by refusing his offer, and as he walked down to the station he was racking his brain to imagine what the new proposition could be. What worried him was the thought that his uncle might have decided to offer him some other job—not in the office. If that was the case he didn't know how he could refuse, yet on the other hand, it would mean giving up his work with Trevor, and—what at this moment seemed even more important—his search for the girl.
The train came roaring in and Dave selected a compartment in which there were already three very ordinary looking business men.
"They won't murder me," he said to himself with an inward chuckle, and taking the fourth corner opened his newspaper. He did not read much, for instead of the print a girl's face floated before him. He saw again those sea-blue eyes and remembered the perfect purity of her skin, and the rich tones of her voice. He wondered again why she had refused to tell him her name. "She must have known about Caryl and Tom," he decided. "And yet, even if she had, how could she have known about me, for Caryl had only seen me once?" Puzzling over this problem, the miles slipped swiftly by and suddenly Dave found that the train was slowing down the long gradient into Euston. He threw down his paper, took his hat from the rack, and stepped out on to the crowded platform.
There he stood a moment, glancing sharply round. He had no reason to suppose that Farne even knew of his journey yet; but, as he had told Trevor, he was fully aware of the man's remorseless cunning and so was taking no chances. Though he saw nothing suspicious he decided against taking a taxi and resolved that the Tube would be the safest means of finishing his journey. He walked down the long platform and, obeying the company's notice kept to the left down the flight of stairs leading to the booking office.
A crippled man was hobbling in front of him on crutches. He moved aside to let Dave pass, then as Dave did so suddenly thrust out one crutch and tripped Dave. The action was so quick, so clever that no one else noticed it. Dave made a desperate, but vain, attempt to save himself. He crashed forward down the stone steps and lay in a motionless heap at the bottom.
EUSTON is always a busy station, and the crowd that collected around Dave at the foot of the stairs grew larger every moment.
"He fell all the way."
"He's dead—neck's broken!" were the horrified comments. Dave lay very still. Whether or not his neck was broken, at any rate he was quite unconscious of the interest he was arousing.
The usual prompt London policeman was speedily on the spot, and shouldered his way through the throng.
"What happened?" he demanded of one of the two well-dressed men who were bending over Dave.
"He slipped on the stairs and fell the last five or six steps," replied one of the pair. His voice and manner were full of sympathy, and the policeman perhaps did not notice how ill they fitted with his hard face and ice-blue eyes.
"Stand back, please," said the policeman to the crowd, and kneeling beside Dave examined him.
"He's not dead," he said to the pale-eyed man. "If you'll stay with him a minute I'll ring for an ambulance."
"No need for that, officer. My friend here and I will take him home and put him to bed. I think he is only stunned."
"He is a friend of yours?"
"He is my cousin, Jack Monahan. He and I and Mr. Stuart here were going to lunch together at my rooms in Charles Street. If you would be kind enough to help us carry him up we will put him in a taxi."
"Very good, sir," replied the policeman and the three between them lifted Dave and carried him up the steps. The first of the long row of taxis standing in the station was called up and they were just about to lift Dave into it when a small man in a well-worn blue serge suit arrived on the scene.
"No, you don't, mister," said Sam Sperry, to the pale-eyed man. "I was just too late to prevent you trying to murder him but, thank God, I'm in time to stop your finishing your dirty job."
"What do you mean, fellow?" retorted the other. "Who are you?" He stared down at Sam with a superior air which made Sam fairly boil.
"Fellow, indeed! You know darn well who I am—just as well as you know who Mr. Hallam, here, is." The policeman who for the moment had been taken completely aback by Sam's sudden onslaught, recovered himself.
"What's your name, and what business have you with this gentleman?" he demanded. Sam was a Londoner and had the Londoner's respect for the Law. Besides, angry as he was, he realized that he must get the policeman on his side or the results would be serious for Dave.
"My name is Sperry," he answered promptly. "Sam Sperry. I work for Mr. Trevor at his garage at Roborough and this gent as is hurt, he's Mr. David Hallam, Mr. Trevor's partner. They've tried to kill him twice before this, and Mr. Trevor, he didn't want Mr. Hallam to come to London—thought he was running into danger, like. So he sent me along, only I wasn't to show up unless Mr. Hallam needed me."
"Tried to kill him!" Naturally this was the point the policeman seized upon.
"Who's tried to kill him?" The ice-eyed man broke in. "This delay is not doing our friend any good," he said curtly. "And as for this man, surely it is evident that he is not sane. Will you please make him stand aside while we lift Mr. Monahan into the cab." But Sam's intense earnestness had made a strong impression on the policeman.
"I'm not so sure," he said, frowning. "Seems to me there's something funny about this. We'll just take the injured gentleman into the waiting-room until I can call an Inspector." The pale-eyed man's lips tightened. A very dangerous look crossed his face yet he seemed to realise that, once he lost his temper, he lost his cause, too.
"The whole story is simply preposterous, officer. As I have told you, this is Mr. Monahan, my cousin, and Mr. Stuart here will bear me out."
"It's the fact," said Mr. Stuart scowling. He pointed to Sam. "That man is either crazy or suffering from some delusion."
"You talk very fine," cut in Sam, sharply, "but it don't alter the fact that his name ain't Monahan but Hallam. See here, officer, if you wants proof, you ring up Mr. James Kirkstall of 307, Brook Street, the millionaire gentleman. He's Mr. Hallam's uncle and that's where Mr. Hallam was going. If you look in his pocket you'll likely find the letter of invitation—that is, if these here gentlemen ain't stole it."
The emphasis Sam put on the word "gentlemen" was perfect, and brought a grin to the faces of several of the bystanders. The crowd was still increasing. It was blocking the whole place.
The policeman acted sharply.
"We'll do as I say," he said, curtly. He called a porter. "Help me carry this gentleman to the waiting-room and you gentlemen come along. You, too, Sperry. The Inspector'll soon sort out this business."
The pale-eyed man was desperate, He turned to the crowd.
"This is an outrage," he declared. "Here are two of us anxious to take care of my injured cousin, and just because a lunatic butts in he's to be left lying in a railway waiting-room while a fool of a policeman waits for his Inspector."
"Shame!" cried a red-faced man, but there was a broad grin on his face. The rest of the spectators were by no means the sort who care to hear a policeman called a fool for doing his duty. Some of them said so. Pale Eyes realized his blunder; realized, too, that he was on the edge of a very nasty hole—if, indeed, he was not in it already.
"I'll find an Inspector myself," he said loudly, and pushed his way into the crowd.
"You find an Inspector and you'll find yourself in quod— where you ought to have been long ago," Sam shouted after him. "You ain't going to let him bunk off, are you, officer?" he added, urgently.
"I'll know 'em again," said that official, sharply. It was too late to make an arrest, and he knew it. The precious pair had already vanished in the crowd. The policeman, Sam and a porter carried Dave into the waiting-room on Number 6 platform, and laid him on a couch.
"Better fetch a doctor," said the policeman, but the words were hardly out of his mouth before Dave stirred and opened his eyes. He looked up vaguely and saw Sam standing beside him.
"That was no cripple!" was his first remark.
"Cripple! What do you mean, Mr. David?" Sam asked, as Dave collected himself.
"Where am I?" he asked, and Sam told him.
"You took a pretty bad tumble, Mr. David," the little man went on. "How did it happen?"
"Chap who pretended to be a cripple tripped me with one of his crutches. Lord, I came a purler! I suppose they thought they'd finished me."
"Not them!" retorted Sam. "They was taking of you off in a taxi to do that."
"And you stopped 'em," exclaimed Dave. "But how do you come here, Sam?" he added in a puzzled voice.
"Mr. Trevor sent me—and a jolly good thing he did, if you ask me, Mr. David. Only I was in the back of the train and I missed you getting out. Are you hurt bad?"
"Head's pretty sore," said Dave, ruefully, "and one eye's a bit off. Otherwise I'm all right. But I say, what's the time?"
"Good Lord! I shall be late for lunch! See here, Sam, like a good chap, go and telephone to my uncle. Tell him had a bit of an accident. Don't say anything more than that."
"Who is your uncle, sir?" broke in the policeman who had been listening intently to the conversation.
"Mr. James Kirkstall," Dave told him.
"Then it looks like what Sperry said was right."
"You can bank on anything Sperry said," replied Dave.
"Then I wish I'd took in them two chaps," said the other, regretfully.
"What two chaps?" Again there was explanation.
"I see," said Dave. "Yes, they were after me all right. But I say, officer, do you think you could raise a drink before we proceed with our conversation? I've a notion a drop of whisky might clear my head. It feels rather muzzy."
"I'll do that," said the good fellow. "You lie quiet. You're not fit to move yet. It was a bad fall you had." A long and fairly cool whisky and soda did Dave real good, but the price he had to pay for it was a regular catechism by the policeman as to the reasons for the attack on him.
Dave told him straight that he had no more idea of the identity of the people who had attacked him than the policeman— less, indeed, because he had not seen them. Nor had he any proof of the identity of their employer.
"A certain man persuaded me to invest all my capital in a dud company," he continued. "I lost every penny and naturally we had a row. Quite frankly I suspect him of wanting to get square with me, but I have no shadow of proof and I'm certainly not going to voice my suspicions and get into trouble for slander or something of that kind."
"You may be right, sir," agreed the other. "But to my mind it's better to risk an action in court than risk being knocked on the head. If I was in your shoes I'd go round to the Yard and ask to see Inspector Leishman. Anything you told him wouldn't go further, and he'd give you better advice than I can."
"I'll bear that in mind," Dave told him. "And now I think I'd better get up and hurry on to my uncle."
He tried to sit up, only to drop back with a gasp. His head was spinning like a top. Just then Sam came in.
"I couldn't get your uncle, Mr. David, but I spoke to his butler. Nice chap, name of Ford. He said he'd explain to your uncle and told me to tell you he was very sorry and he'd see some lunch was kept for you so it didn't matter how late you was."
"Then I'll keep still for a few minutes longer," said Dave. He fished out two half-crowns and offered them to the policeman, but the latter smiled and shook his head.
"I'll take the price of the drink and no more, sir. And you mind what I said about the Inspector."
"I will," Dave promised. He shook hands with the good fellow and the policeman went about his business.
IT speaks well for the toughness of Dave's constitution and especially, for the soundness of his skull that when at half-past two he reached his uncle's house he was very nearly himself again. Sam came with him in the taxi. Sam flatly refused to let him out of his sight and Dave briefly explained things to Ford, who promised to look after the little man.
"Lunch has been kept for you, sir," Ford went on, "but the lady has gone."
"The lady, who is she?"
"Miss Bella Kerr, sir."
"Bella," Dave repeated.
"That's what I heard the master call her. I'll go and tell him you're here. You come with me, Sperry."
Dave, left alone in the big drawing-room, was wondering about the "lady." It wasn't like Uncle James to invite women to his house. Bella Kerr. The name was Scotch.
Naturally his thoughts turned instantly to The Girl. It was just at that moment he caught sight of a photograph in a plain silver frame, which stood on a small console-table. He had seen it before but never specially noticed it. Yet, subconsciously his mind had registered the fact that it was signed with the name of "Kerr."
He stepped across and picked it up. It represented a rather plain, rather delicate-looking girl of perhaps twenty, and was signed "B. Kerr."
Odd, on what small things big issues turn. This was, of course, the portrait of Aline Kerr's elder sister, the one who had died. If she had only happened to have signed herself "Bessie" instead of "B. Kerr," what a difference it would have made to Dave's life! David Hallam, like most very healthy and vigorous men, had a natural aversion to sickly women. He felt sorry for them, but they had no attraction for him. Just then he heard his uncle's shuffling steps outside the door, and, laying down the photograph, went across the room to meet him.
"You're looking better, Uncle," he said, cheerfully, as he shook hands.
"Mair than I can say for you," replied James, giving his nephew a disparaging glance. "Your left eye is no a pretty colour. What made ye fall down the stairs?"
"A man tripped me."
"A big fellow like you, now, ye'd ought to have more sense than to allow yourself to be tripped," James said, sarcastically, "and this is a nice hour to be coming to luncheon. The girl's gone." Dave understood two things, first that his uncle was in no pleasant temper; secondly, that he had been asked specially to meet a girl. He began to wonder what was up, but was too wise to ask pointed questions.
"And who is the lady, Uncle?" he inquired, casually.
"Her name is Kerr. Ye will hear about her in good time," replied his uncle acidly. "Now come in to your luncheon unless your tumble has spoiled your appetite."
"No fear of that," said Dave with a smile. "I'd have to be pretty bad to turn down a meal cooked by your chef."
He followed his uncle into the dining-room and Ford served him with whitebait most delicately cooked, and poured him a glass of excellent pale sherry.
"I'm hearing ye were burned out," said James.
"That's true," agreed Dave. "Luckily, a friend has found the capital to rebuild and, with the insurance, I don't think we shall lose."
James grunted. It was plain he was not pleased. Cutlets of Welsh lamb followed the fish. They melted in the mouth. Ford gave Dave some burgundy, the like of which hardly exists in these post-war days. It had a fragrance resembling that of fresh picked strawberries.
Dave's evident appreciation softened his uncle a little, but he was still grim and Dave saw that he was only waiting for Ford to leave the room. The excellent meal came to an end. Ford put port on the table, served the coffee and cigars and departed. James fixed his keen eyes on his nephew.
"Ye will be wondering what I asked ye for after our parting last Saturday, David," he said.
"You're right, Uncle. I've done nothing but wonder ever since I had your letter."
The old man smiled, frostily.
"Did ye think I was going to ask ye again to come into the office?"
"No," said Dave frankly.
"Ye were right. I asked ye here to meet a girl."
"Too bad I couldn't get here in time," said Dave. "Couldn't she wait?"
"She could not," James scowled. "The fool of a woman she's stopping with was ailing." He paused and Dave wondered what was coming next. "I'm an ill man," James went on. "I have na long for this world and the thought of my money troubles me."
"I thought you'd made up your mind to leave it to Mark," Dave said.
"Then ye'd better think again," snapped James. "Do ye mean to tell me ye care nothing for three millions of money?
"Of course I care for money. So does everyone who isn't a born fool."
James pursed his lips.
"Well," he said, "in spite of all that's passed ye can have it." He paused and raised a finger. "But there's a condeetion attached. Noo, do ye want me to go on?" Dave had an odd feeling of unreality. It didn't seem possible, after all that had happened, that Uncle James's millions could come his way.
"Will I go on?" repeated James impatiently. Dave collected himself.
"By all means, Uncle. I'm listening."
"Weel then, ye can have the money if ye will also have someone to take care of it."
Dave's eyes widened.
"A trustee, you mean?" James made a noise that might have been meant for a laugh.
"Ay, a trustee, if ye like to put it that way, but it's no the sort of trustee that you are thinking of." Dave shook his head. Even now he was far from suspecting his uncle's real meaning.
"What would ye say to a wife?" questioned James.
"A wife!" gasped Dave.
"Aye, lad," James's voice had suddenly lost its harshness. "That's what ye need. A nice, sensible lass that'll look after ye and your money, both." Dave drew a long breath. The l whole plot burst on him like a thunderclap. The girl who couldn't wait for him—she was the one his uncle had picked as a wife.
"Who is she?" he demanded. "What's her name?" All the fun and lightness had gone out of his voice. James frowned as he gazed at him across the table.
"She's from Kirkmichael, the daughter of my old friend, Ronald Kerr. Her name is Bella Kerr."
Dave's hand shook as he picked up his cigar which he had laid in the ash tray. Bella Kerr, the sickly looking girl whose photograph he had so recently been studying. Mentally he contrasted her with The Girl and knew instantly that all the millions in the Bank of England could not bring him to marrying her. He had an almost irresistible impulse to jump up and bolt out of the house, yet in common decency he could do nothing of the kind, for he knew only too well how firmly his uncle's mind was set on this new project.
James, knowing nothing of the storm that his suggestion had aroused in Dave's mind, went on.
"She's a sweet lass, David,—and what's mair—a sensible one. If you and she make a match I'll gie ye a house and a good allowance, and the two of ye will share my money after I'm gone." He was so deadly earnest that Dave was almost at his wits ends what to do or say.
"Does she know anything about this—this plan of yours?" he got out at last.
"Aye, I've talked to her."
"And what did she say?"
"She said what any sensible lass would say—that she would like to meet the gentleman to see if he pleased her before making up her mind on the matter."
"Did she say that?" he gasped and James grew angry again.
"What else would she be saying? No lady would jump at a loon she had never seen, however gilded he might be."
"N-no, of course not," Dave said, hoarsely.
"What's the matter with ye?" demanded James irritably. "Do you think yourself too fine for the lass I've chosen for ye?" He paused then, as David did not answer, went on in a rather milder tone. "The girl, as I've told ye, is the daughter of my old friend, and it is but natural I'm wishing to do something for her. She would make the best kind of wife for ye, David. She would na squander my millions and dinna think she would let ye do it either. Now I meant ye to meet to-day, but this mishap has prevented it. When will ye see her?"
Dave shrugged his shoulders despondently.
"What's the use, Uncle? I've no wish to hurt her feelings."
"Do ye mean that ye will na consider my proposition?" James's tone was ominously quiet.
"How can I?" cried Dave. "Just think—the two of us meeting, each knowing—well, what we do know. Can't you see for yourself it puts the hat on the whole business straight off?"
"I canna see aught of the kind," retorted James, harshly. "If the girl is willing to meet ye, who are you to be saying we are too fine to see her?"
Dave grew desperate.
"It isn't that at all, but if you can't see it for yourself it's no use my trying to explain. It comes to this. You can't mate two human beings as if they were horses or cattle."
James's hot temper which had been smouldering for some minutes flared up.
"And is that your last word, ye ungrateful loon?"
Dave tried to soften the blow.
"I'm sorry, Uncle—" he began, but the old man cut him short.
"Save your sorrow for yourself, for ye'll need it." He touched the bell and Ford appeared.
"Show this gentleman to the door, Ford," he said, harshly, "and if he calls again I'm no at home to him. Ye'll remember that." For once there was no "Yes, sir," from Ford. Instead he stood staring as if he was not sure whether he had heard aright.
"All right, Ford," said Dave, quietly, and went into the hall. Ford followed.
"Oh, Mr. David, what's happened?" he asked in distress. He was fond of Dave.
"My uncle's angry with me. It's no use worrying, Ford." Before he could say anything more Sam was at his elbow.
"Mr. David," he said in an excited whisper. "Who do you think's outside?"
"No, but you ain't far off. It's Salter."
"The blighter who burnt us out?"
"That very same chap. He's disguised, but I can swear to him. I been watching him through the window."
"What's he doing?"
"Driving a taxi. Just a-cruising up and down. Bet you a quid he's waiting to pick you up when you leaves."
"Good heavens!!" gasped Ford. "Shall I 'phone for the police?"
"Wouldn't be a bad notion," said Sam.
Dave stood frowning. Clearly he was thinking hard. Suddenly he grinned.
"No, we won't send for the police. After all, we have no definite proof against the fellow. See here, Sam. I've a better notion than that. Let's take his cab."
It was Sam's turn to stare.
"Are you crazy, Mr. David? Once we got in that cab I don't reckon we'd get out very easy."
"Not if we didn't know who was driving us, but the fact that you spotted Salter makes all the difference."
Sam's forehead knitted.
"I don't see as that helps very much."
"But of course it does. It makes all the difference. We shall be looking out and ready for any game he tries to play. And we shall be two to one."
"Don't try it, sir," said Ford, earnestly. "It's an awful risk."
"I don't think there'll be much risk, Ford," said Dave quietly. "My idea is that the taxi is fitted with locks on the doors so that we shan't be able to get out. There'll be blinds, too, which Salter can pull down so that we shan't be seen. No doubt he reckons on taking me straight to Farne."
"That's it," said Sam with conviction. "You can bet your last bob on that."
"Yes, but suppose we take a hammer or something of the kind so that we can smash the window."
"Or Salter's skull," put in Sam grimly.
"Or Salter's skull," agreed Dave with a smile. "Only we don't want to slay him. We want to catch him and force him to talk. If we can make him confess that Farne paid him to burn the garage, Farne is in the soup."
Sam gave a sudden chuckle.
"By gum, you're right, Mr. Dave. We'll do it. Mr. Ford can you raise a hammer?"
Ford looked very unhappy.
"Yes, I can get a hammer," he said, "but all the same I think it's a terrible risk."
FORD brought a hammer, just an ordinary carpenter's hammer, but Sam gripped it and said it would serve. Then he hid it under his coat.
"You ought to have a pistol as well," said Ford, looking very serious, "but there isn't one in the house."
"Not the sort of weapon Uncle James would have much use for," said Dave. "But don't worry, Ford. The hammer will be quite sufficient to break the glass, even if it's splinter-proof."
"I don't like it, Mr. Dave," wailed Ford. "I wish you wouldn't go taking these crazy chances. Sperry, here, has told me of what's been happening, and it's plain that this man, Farne, is seeking your life."
"And now we're seeking his," said Dave. "Remember the old saying about 'Thrice blest is he who gets his blow in first.' If we can get the goods on Master Farne, life will be a much pleasanter thing in the future. It's perfectly beastly, feeling that you can't move without some swine laying for you round the corner."
"Why don't you call in the police?" questioned Ford.
"Because, so far, I've no proof against Farne," Dave told him. "Once I get it it won't be long before I have the fellow in quod."
"The cab's coming back," said Sam, swiftly. "You go out and stop him, Mr. Ford." Ford hesitated, but at a quick nod from Dave, yielded and went out.
"Taxi!" he called, and Salter came gliding up. Dave stepped in. Purposely he did not even glance at Salter. Sam followed him.
"Tell him Euston," Dave said to Ford.
"Good-bye, sir," said Ford, and Dave saw by his face how troubled the good fellow was.
"Good-bye, Ford. You might let me know how my uncle is."
"I'll do that, sir," Ford promised as he closed the door. The taxi slid away in the direction of Euston.
"Blinds, you said, Mr. Dave," said Sam as he took out his hammer, "but I don't see 'em." The words were hardly out of his mouth before there was a click, and in a flash an opaque veil fell across each window as well as the glass partition in front separating them from the driver's seat.
No wonder he exclaimed for the transformation from light to darkness was so sudden as to be almost uncanny. But Sam recovered in a moment.
"Strike a match, sir," he said, sharply. Dave did so, and Sam felt the nearest windows.
"Blinds!" he muttered. "They're steel shutters."
"Smash them," said Dave, sharply. "Quickly! There's a darned queer smell. Gas, I believe." Sam lifted his hammer and struck with all his force at the shutter. But the laths of which it was made were of tempered steel, and the blow had no effect whatever.
"Shout!" cried Sam. "It's our only chance." They yelled with all the power of their lungs, but their voices sounded muffled in this black box. And the taxi was travelling fast, evidently through a quiet, back street. Sam tried to dig the head of his hammer underneath the shutter, but it had dropped into a slot and he could get no leverage.
"If we don't do something quickly we're finished," gasped Dave. "The gas is pouring out. Where is it? If I could only find the nozzle." Striking fresh matches, he searched frantically but could not find the point from which the gas was coming. And each moment the air grew worse.
Dave saw Sam drop back. The hammer fell from his nerveless hand. He stooped, picked it up and made one last desperate effort to smash the shutter. But already his head felt as big as two. His mouth and nostrils were full of a sickly, sweetish flavour, and all the power went out of his limbs. Another moment and he, too, had dropped back. His senses left him, and he lay, sprawled, with his head on Sam's shoulder, completely unconscious. A minute later the driver slackened speed and leaning down pushed over a lever at his feet.
"About time, too," he remarked with a nasty chuckle. "Boss wants 'em alive, not corpses."
Next thing of which Dave was conscious, was a splitting headache and a thirst which made his mouth feel like burnt leather. He groaned.
"So you ain't dead," came a voice from close by but, for the moment, Dave was only conscious that it was vaguely familiar. Memory, dethroned by the narcotic gas which he had breathed, had not yet begun to function.
"The swine, I believe they've finished him," came the voice again, and by degrees it dawned on Dave that Sam was speaking. But why was he speaking? Where was he? What was he talking about? All these questions seemed to need a reply. Dave made a straggle and opened his eyes, but such a stab of pain pierced his head that he closed them again hastily.
"Mr. David," came Sam's voice once more, anxious and urgent.
"I'm here, Sam," Dave answered, but his voice was so thick and hoarse he hardly recognized it. With a resolute effort he opened his eyes again and found himself looking up at a dirty white ceiling, only about seven feet above him. "W-what's happened?" he asked.
"That taxi. You ain't forgotten. The dirty swine gassed us." Memory began to return.
"Gas," repeated Dave. "T-that's it. I remember now. So-so they got us."
"They got us all right," Sam's voice was bitter. "A pretty pair of mugs we were!"
"Have you any idea where we are, Sam?"
"Might be in Jericho for all I knows," replied Sam. "But I reckon we're still in London." Dave tried to move, only to find that he was tied hand and foot. A rope around his body fastened his arms to his sides while his ankles were tightly bound with what looked like a length of box cord. As his sight came back he saw that Sam was fastened up in similar fashion, and that their prison was evidently a top-floor room, a bare, dirty, unfurnished garret with no window, except a skylight in the roof. But, like Sam, he could not form a guess of its whereabouts.
"You're right, Sam," he said. "Only I'm the mug, not you. I've let you in for this and I'm sorry."
"You ain't any more a mug than me," retorted Sam forcibly. "I was just as much for it as you was."
Dave began to recover.
"We won't argue about that," he answered quietly. "We're in a hole. Question is whether there's any way out."
"Not tied like we are," groaned Sam. "I've been trying to work my hands loose for five minutes or more, but 'tant't a bit of use."
"Then it's my turn to try," replied Dave. Try he did. The effort sent pangs of agony through his head, but he stuck to it manfully. He found he could move his right arm about an inch up and down. That was all. A nasty chill crawled down his spine as he realized what this meant. Sooner or later—probably sooner— Farne would arrive with the express object of wiping him off the face of this earth.
"It's no good," he said at last to Sam. "I can move my right arm a little, but I can't get my hand past the coils of rope. If I could only reach my waistcoat pocket there's a knife there, and I believe I could open it."
"A knife," cut in Sam. "Do you reckon I could get it? If you was to roll over close to me maybe I could reach it."
"If you only could," said Dave longingly. "Stay where you are. I'm coming across."
If anyone thinks it an easy matter to roll across a bare board floor with hands and feet firmly tied, they had better try it. They will soon be convinced to the contrary. And Dave had to manoeuvre himself so that his waistcoat pocket was exactly opposite Sam's right hand. The room was not particularly warm, but he was sweating like an unclipped horse before he managed to get into the right position. At last he did it, and Sam got his fingers into the pocket.
"I can't feel no knife," he said.
"It's a little flat thing with a safety razor blade in it," Dave said. "I can feel it there. Get your fingers a bit further in."
"Right, I got it," panted Sam at last. "But how in thunder am I going to open it?"
"You can't do it alone. Hold it and I'll use my left hand to pull the blade out."
"You got brains," said Sam admiringly. "There, she's open."
"Don't drop it," Dave warned him. "Hold it tight while I rub the cord against the blade." This took time, and every moment Dave expected the door to open and Farne to appear. Yet the house remained quiet, and all they could hear was a distant rumble of traffic. Now and then came the hoot of a steamer's siren, from which it was clear that they were not very far from the river. It did not add to Dave's comfort to realize that they were so close to a convenient burial place.
It was lucky the blade was a razor one for the pressure that Dave was able to put on it was so slight that, with an ordinary penknife, it would have taken an intolerable time to shear through the hard cord. As it was, barely a couple of minutes elapsed before the first coil gave way with a snap.
Next moment Dave had his arms free. Luckily they had not been tied long enough quite to cut off the circulation. He could still use his hands and it was only a matter of seconds before he had sliced the cord around Sam's body.
"Watch out!" Sam said in a hissing whisper. "There's someone coming."
Sure enough, steps sounded hollow on an uncarpeted stairway.
"Lie still," warned Dave in an equally low voice. "Let him think you're still tied." Quick as a flash, he cut the cord binding his own ankles, then pulling the other cords back into position around his body, lay still.
Next moment the door opened and a man came in. It was not Farne but Salter.
There was not much light in the room. It was near sunset and the weather had turned cloudy while the glass of the sky-light had not been cleaned for years. Salter saw nothing wrong. The two prisoners were lying where he had left them. In any case the last thing he could have suspected was that either of them was loose. He came forward.
When Dave had first seen him, Salter had seemed just an ordinary sort of working man. Now, somehow, he looked different. His eyes had a hard stare, and his lips were thinner than Dave had thought. He stood over the prisoners.
"Enjoying yourselves?" he sneered. "Thought yourselves smart, didn't you? Oh, I know. I found the hammer." He chuckled, delightedly. "Won't the boss laugh when tells him how after recognizing me, you walked right into my taxi? Smart! Yes, but you got to be a deal smarter afore you matches yourselves against me—let alone the boss."
Sam looked up.
"You'll laugh all right when you gets a ten year stretch for arson, Mr. Blooming Salter," he said. Salter's face went suddenly savage.
"I'll learn you to give me your cheek," he cried and stooping slapped Sam's face with his open hand.
Dave came to his feet like an uncoiled spring. He had just time to see the almost ludicrous expression of dismay on Salter's pale face before his fist connected with the man's jaw. All the rage and misery Dave had felt during the burning of the garage was behind that blow, and after it there was no expression of any sort on Salter's face. He lay limp as a wet sack against the wall. Dave slashed the cords round Sam's ankles.
"Tie him," he snapped. "And gag him. The key's in the door."
"LUMME! You didn't half hit him," chuckled Sam as he obeyed. "This is a bit of all right."
"Don't crow," Dave warned him, curtly. "We have to get out of the house, and for all we know the whole of Farne's gang are below. See if Salter has a gun."
But there was no pistol on Salter. Dave went out on to the landing; Sam followed. A narrow flight of stairs went to a lower floor, which seemed to be inhabited, for the passage below was carpeted.
"I can't hear anything," said Dave. He paused. "I wish we had a weapon of some kind, if it was only a stick."
"We'll find one," said Sam. "Come on down." Cautiously they picked their way down the narrow stairs, and pausing at the bottom listened again.
"There's someone talking down below," Sam whispered.
"Yes, but behind a closed door," Dave answered. "We might be able to slip past and reach the street door."
"Anything you say." They went on quietly, and creeping down a passage with two bedroom doors on each side came to the head of the stairs leading to the ground floor. Suddenly a door below opened.
"Carl!" shouted a man. "Carl, where are you?"
"That'll be Salter he's calling for," muttered Sam, his lips close to Dave's ear.
"Carl!" came the voice again, harsh and angry. There were hasty steps in the hallway below. Dave had noticed that one of the bedroom doors was ajar. Like a flash he caught Sam by the arm and drew him in.
"We've got to stop him," he whispered. "If he finds Salter tied it's all up. Leave him to me." There was not a moment for discussion, for the man who had shouted was already running up the stairs. Luckily the passage was very dark. Dave had to trust to this and to the fact that the fellow could not possibly expect any attack.
Next instant he saw the man coming along the passage. As he came level Dave sprang, hitting with all his force.
It is not easy to give a running man a knock-out blow. Dave's fist caught him not on the jaw, as he had intended, but under the ear. Still it did the trick. The force of the blow knocked the man off his feet, and as he went down his head bit the wall opposite. He was hardly on the floor before Dave had hold of him and began dragging him into the bedroom. Time, too, for again a door banged below, and a startled voice called:
"What's up, Worrell?"
"Get him in here and shut the door," Dave whispered. "The row was enough to rouse the whole house." They got him in, and closed and locked the door just as another man came hurrying up. They heard him pass their door, then his footsteps rattled up the second flight to the attic. Dave ripped the ties from the window curtains, and was binding his prisoner.
"It's one o' them chaps as tried to get you at Euston this morning," Sam said, swiftly, "the one as had eyes like blue ice."
"Glad I socked him," muttered Dave as he finished his job and rose swiftly to his feet. "Next thing is to get out."
"'Tain't no use thinking of going out the front way," Sam told him. "There's more'n one down below by the sound of 'em. What about that there window?"
Dave flung it open, and they both looked out. The window faced to the back of the house and, beneath, was a sloping slate roof which was evidently that of the kitchen, for a chimney came up through it. Below that was a yard surrounded by a high brick wall. It had begun to rain and the gloom of a wet evening was thickening over London.
"That's our best bet," said Dave.
"All very well, but how are we going to get out of that there yard," growled Sam.
"Worrell, where are you?" came the voice they had last heard.
"Getting anxious, ain't he?" said Sam with a faint grin as he followed Dave out of the window. The roof was steep and slippery, but they managed to slide down as far as the chimney from which point Dave glanced back towards the house. If anyone happened to see them out of a window it would be all up, but fortunately it had not yet occurred to anyone inside to look out. Dave slid down to the gutter from which it was only about a nine feet drop to the ground He let himself down, clung to the gutter and dropped, and Sam who, if small, was active as a cat, followed.
"All right so far," whispered Dave as the two crouched under the house wall. The kitchen window was to their right, a door leading from the house into the yard on their left, and just opposite was a door in the yard wall.
"If that's open, we're all right."
"But I bet it's locked. Wait here and I'll see." Like a shadow Sam Sperry stole across the yard, but Dave's spirits which had risen in the excitement of the escape dropped with a bump when he saw that the little man was right and that the door was locked.
"What about the wall?" asked Sam swiftly as he returned. The wall was a good eight feet high and topped with broken glass.
"If we had time—" began Dave, and just then came a yell of alarm from the top of the house.
"Fat's in the fire," muttered Sam. "What'll we do now?
"There's just one thing to do," said Dave, and made for the back door.
"He's crazy," gasped Sam, but all the same he followed.
This door was not locked. It led straight into the kitchen a biggish room but gloomy and far from clean. The remains of a meal lay on the bare deal table, and there were unwashed dishes at the sink. Cooking was evidently done on a gas stove, but there was an old range on one side and Dave spotted lying on it a heavy iron poker, which he promptly annexed. Up above footsteps pounded and there was a confused noise of voices.
"They know we're gone," said Dave. "But they haven't found out yet which way we went."
"They won't be long," replied Sam. "They'll find that locked door."
In spite of the excitement Sam kept his head. He filled a glass with water from the tap and handed it to Dave and got another for himself. Dave drained it to the last drop.
"That saved my life, Sam," he said, and as he spoke, a loud crash resounded from above.
"They've got out of the window—they're on the roof," shouted someone.
"The roof, you fool! They're in the yard! Down—quick!"
"Come on!" snapped Dave, and grasping his poker, flung open the inner door of the kitchen. A passage floored with oilcloth ran the whole length of the house. Dave saw the front door with a fanlight over it immediately opposite. He ran for it, followed by Sam.
"There they are!" came a savage shout, and Dave, glancing up, saw a thick, heavy-set man pounding down the stairs. The light from an electric bulb overhead showed his thick, flattish nose and battered features. He was without doubt an old pug, and Dave realized in a flash that, once this fellow got his hands on him, he was done. He thanked his stars for the poker.
If the front door had been open it would have been all right, for Dave saw he could reach it before his ugly enemy gained the foot of the stairs. But the door was not open.
Quick-witted Sam realized exactly the state of affairs, and darted past Dave to open the door. It was one of those infernal affairs with a double latch—the kind you have to use both hands to open. It meant a delay of perhaps three seconds, but three seconds mean a lot in as tight a place as this.
The ex-pugilist came thundering down the stairs. The whole house seemed to shake with the weight of him. He was making straight for Sam. Dave sprang between and aimed a blow with the poker at the big brute's head. The fellow flung up his left arm to save his head, and the poker thudded on the muscle of the forearm, either breaking or paralyzing it, for it dropped to his side.
It did not stop him. Roaring with rage and pain he flung himself on Dave. Dave tried to spring back out of reach, but in this narrow passage there was no room, and the man caught him with his right arm with a grip that felt as if it would crack his ribs.
It was no time for Queensbury rules. Dave hacked him on the shin and knocked him off his balance; but he still kept his hold, and the two went down together on the passage floor with a mighty crash.
All the big fellow's weight came on top of Dave, and since It was not much short of fifteen stones, knocked every ounce of breath out of his body. The poker clattered out of his hand, and he lay still. Sam swung round like a flash and snatched up the poker. Dave heard a thud, and his bulky enemy went limp.
"Are you hurt bad?" asked the little man, anxiously.
"N-no—only winded," gasped Dave. For his size Sam's strength was amazing. He seized the big pug and rolled him off Dave, then helped Dave to his feet.
"Come on!" he hissed. "There's more on 'em upstairs."
Dave leaned against the wall, panting. The front door was wide, and the wet, cool air poured in. "Come on!" urged Sam. "If you can't walk I can help you. Let's get out o' this!"
Dave drew a long breath.
"I'm all right. See if that big lout has a pistol."
"If he has, what odds do it make? He ain't going to be able to shoot—not this side of to-morrow. Come on, can't you?"
"Don't be in such a hurry," Dave answered. "I don't believe there's more than one man left on his legs in the house, and surely the two of us can handle him. We started out to get evidence against Farne. There's probably some in the place if we can only find it, and we shall never have a better chance."
"A fat chance you'll have if Farne hisself comes here. And you knows Salter was expecting him. What I say is let's go while the going's good."
Dave shook his head obstinately.
"You go, Sam. I'm going to search the place before I leave."
"That's not the way to talk to me, Mr. Dave, and you knows it."
"I'm sorry, Sam," said Dave. "I ought to have known better, but you don't quite realize what it would mean to me to get the goods on Farne."
"I sees that all right, but I don't believe you'll get anything here. Farne ain't the kind to leave papers scattered round."
"This is Farne's house, Sam. If proof is to be found anywhere it's here. Just a letter from Gorsley to him would be enough."
"And suppose he comes in on top of us?" Sam said.
"We can lock and bolt the door. Then we shall hear him and be waiting for him."
"All right," he muttered. "Only I tell you straight I don't like it."
Dave pointed to the big fellow whom Sam had floored.
"We'll tie him first, then find out whether there's anyone else in the house."
"He don't hardly need tying," said Sam, but all the same he fastened the man's wrists and ankles with a couple of handkerchiefs. Dave meantime shot the bolt on the front door. Then they both went upstairs.
The man with the queer eyes was where they had left him. Seemingly the ex-pugilist had been in too much of a hurry to untie him or even take the gag out of his mouth. Sam looked at him.
"Funny!" he muttered. "I'd have sworn there was two fellows talking up here when we was in the kitchen."
"I thought so, too," Dave agreed. "We'll have to search the whole place."
The house was not big. There were only four bedrooms on the first floor, and two attics under the roof. There was no one in any of these rooms except the pale-eyed man and Salter, and they were both tied and gagged. They looked in the cupboards and under the beds yet found no sign of any fourth man. They pulled out the drawers of the chests of drawers but found only clothes.
"Nothing up here," said Dave. "Let's try the ground floor." The room on the left of the entrance was evidently a dining-room, but, since the occupants of the house appeared to take their meals in the kitchen, it seemed to have been used only for smoking and drinking. There were two empty whisky bottles on the side-board and the stuffy place reeked of cheap tobacco. Nothing there worth investigating, so they tried the other side.
Here was a contrast. A sitting-room quite decently furnished with good leather-covered armchairs, while there were well-framed prints on the wall. A Turkey carpet covered the floor, and a fire was neatly laid in the grate.
"Farne's room," said Dave, eagerly, and turned to a roll top desk against the far wall. The roll top was down, but to Dave's surprise the key was in the lock. He opened it quickly but the pigeon holes held only stationery. He began opening the drawers. Sam, with his usual caution, had pulled down the blind of the window facing the street.
"Found anything?" he asked coming across to the desk
"Nothing that's any good," Dave answered in a disappointed voice. "Account books, receipts, circulars, but nothing of the kind I want."
"Told you so," said Sam. "Farne ain't one to leave papers around promiscuous like. You'd do more good if you looked in the safe."
"The safe! Is there one? I haven't seen it."
"I ain't seed it myself, but I reckon it's there just the same. If we shift this here desk we'll soon know." The desk was not heavy. They moved it easily and, sure enough there was the door of a safe set in the wall.
"How in sense did you know?" demanded Dave.
"Used my eyes. There's marks on the carpet where this desk has been moved."
"By Jove, you're right. But I never spotted it. Next question is how are we to open it."
Sam examined the door.
"It's a cheap old-fashioned thing," he pronounced. "If I had a cold chisel and a hammer it wouldn't take long to bust it. Wait a minute. I'll see what I can find in the kitchen."
Still carrying his poker Sam went quickly out. He was hardly out of the room before Dave heard a sharp cry.
"Watch out, here's Farne!" As Dave whirled and sprang towards the door there came a curious spitting noise, then the sound of a fall. Heedless of danger, Dave dashed into the passage, and only just avoided treading on the body of Sam which lay flat on its back with the head close to the front door.
At the other end of the passage, just inside the door leading from the kitchen, Farne stood. He wore a thin dark overcoat, and the brim of a soft felt hat was pulled down over his eyes. In his right hand he held a pistol, which Dave saw was fitted with a silencer.
"You've killed him!" gasped Dave almost beside himself with grief and rage.
"Yes, and I shall kill you, too, if you come a step nearer. Raise your hands above your head."
The icy chill in Farne's voice, to say nothing of poor Sam's body on the floor, were deadly proof that he meant exactly what he said, and though every vein in Dave's body was pulsing with fury, he had just sense enough to obey. For a moment Farne stood, gazing at him. Not a muscle in the man's amazingly handsome face moved, yet there was a cold implacable look in his eyes, which was evidence of his bitter hate. Then he stepped forward, still keeping the muzzle of his pistol rock-steady on Dave's heart.
"Go back into the sitting-room," he ordered. "Make no false move or it will be your last." Dave turned and went. He felt a faint wonder at this delay. Farne, he knew, meant to kill him. Why then did he not do it at once? If he had one dead body to get rid of it would be just as easy to handle two.
"Now turn round," Farne ordered. Again Dave obeyed. He had no choice. Inwardly he was writhing, but he kept his feelings from showing in his face. Farne glanced at the desk.
"So that's what you were after," he said with a sneer. "And failing that, the safe. I suppose you thought you were all right, with the front door locked. It didn't occur to you that I might have a key to the yard door, or that one of my men had got away to warn me." He smiled, hatefully. "I tell you, Hallam, you'd better have taken your chance of escape while you had it. It's too late now." He paused. "Nothing to say, eh?" he jeered.
"What do you want me to say?" retorted Dave—"beg for mercy?"
"Perhaps you will before I've finished with you," remarked Farne, significantly.
"One doesn't beg a hyena to spare one," he said, quietly.
A touch of angry colour rose to Farne's face. The man was almost insanely vain. If Dave had compared him to a lion or tiger he would have been pleased, but the word "hyena" cut him on the raw. For an instant his finger tightened on the trigger and Dave fully believed that the end had come. Yet Farne checked. It was plain that he wanted Dave to savour the full extent of his helplessness before he finished him.
"I'd be a bit careful what I said if I were you, Hallam," Farne went on. "I don't think you quite realize your position."
Dave's lip curled.
"I realize that I'm in the power of a cowardly blackguard who has twice my strength, yet uses a pistol because he's afraid he might get his pretty face marked if he met me on even terms."
A spasm of fury convulsed Farne's face. For a moment Dave saw the man's devilish self appear and wondered how he could ever have considered him good looking.
"I was going to finish you mercifully with one bullet," he snarled. "Now I'll beat you to death with my bare hands." As he spoke he dropped his pistol and sprang at Dave.
DAVE was perfectly aware that Farne's threat was no idle one. The man was far stronger than he and, not only that, had a reputation as a boxer. Yet so far from being frightened, Dave's only feeling was one of delight that his taunt had been successful and that he would have a chance to mark that sneering face before he himself went down.
He had not much time to think. Farne was on him like a flash and Dave was perfectly well aware that one blow from Farne's powerful fist might easily knock him out. He himself knew just as much or as little about boxing as the ordinary public schoolboy. Of course he had fought but he had never boxed, and he knew that any attempt to meet Farne's attack scientifically must end in immediate disaster. Instead of stepping aside to avoid Farne's attack he put his head down and met his rush with a charge.
Nothing more greatly embarrasses a swordsman than to meet a man who has never fenced, yet is full of fight, and the same is true to some extent of a boxer. Farne's blow, meant for Dave's jaw, glanced harmlessly off his shoulder, but Dave's head met Farne square in the chest and almost knocked him off his balance. Almost, but not quite.
If Dave had been wise he would have, clinched while Farne was off his balance and tripped him. Instead, he hauled off, and hit. He was too high. His fist landed on Farne's cheek instead of his chin. Next moment Dave felt as if a thunderbolt had struck him, as Farne got him just over the heart with a left jab.
Farne stepped in to finish it, but if Dave was no boxer he was a strong man and hard work in the garage had kept him in the pink of condition. He dodged the rush, and ducking again battered gallantly at Farne's ribs. It was too good to last. Farne, realizing the danger of delay, feinted with his left, swung his right and Dave struck the floor on his left shoulder with terrific force.
Before he could recover or regain his feet, Farne was on him. Kneeling on Dave's chest, Farne seized him by the throat. But Dave was not done yet. In spite of the choking grip he drove upwards with his left fist and caught Farne square on the nose.
Such a blow is not a serious matter to a trained boxer, but it is exquisitely painful. Blood fairly spurted from Farne's nostrils, and the surprise made him loosen his grip. Dave flung himself sideways, got one arm round Farne's neck, and the two struggled desperately in a silence broken only by their panting breath. For a while Dave held his own, but Farne was not only stronger than he but also heavier. A sudden violent wrench and Farne was on top again.
Dave saw the man's blood-stained face close about his and again felt the choking grip on his throat. Farne's eyes, hard as blue turquoise, glared down into his. Holding him with one hand, Farne raised the other fist.
"You'd have found shooting easier, Hallam," he sneered.
Dave tried to answer, but could do no more than make a croaking sound in his throat. Black specks were dancing before his eyes; his senses were going. He wished that Farne's fist would fall and beat out the last of his senses, but with calculating cruelty Farne refrained from that merciful blow. The last of Dave's senses were leaving him when it seemed to him that a shadow appeared behind Farne. An arm rose, there came a thud, a heavy weight fell upon Dave, and that was the last he knew.
WHEN, for a second time in that evening, Dave struggled back to consciousness someone was bathing his battered face with a wet sponge. Opening his eyes he stared at the man who was bending over him.
"Sam!" he said, in a tone of utter amazement. Sam chuckled.
"S'pose you're thinking as it's a ghost, but it's Sam right enough, Mr. Dave."
"B-but Farne shot you."
"He shot me all right," said Sam lifting a hand to his head, round which was tied a red-stained handkerchief. "And I reckon he thought like you did—that he'd finished me. Matter of fact the bullet just grazed my skull. It knocked me out but arter I'd laid there and bled a bit I come round. Just in time, too, I reckon," he added, significantly. "Your face was pretty nigh as black as used engine oil when I came in with my poker."
"I was so nearly gone that I didn't recognize you, Sam," Dave answered. "Another half minute and he would have finished me." He paused. "Is he—did you finish him?"
"No such luck," said Sam gruffly. "But all the same he's not going to be in any state to play his dirty tricks for a time to come."
"THERE'S a telephone message for you, Mr. Roston," said that gentleman's secretary as he returned from lunch. "I have left it on your desk."
Mark Roston nodded and picked up the slip, but as he read it his rather dull, grey eyes widened and a look of extreme, almost incredulous surprise, came upon his big square face.
"Uncle James wants to see me," he muttered, "and as soon as possible. Good God, he must be dying!" He snatched up his hat and gloves and the pace at which he left the office made his middle-aged bespectacled secretary fairly gasp. She went to the window and looked out.
"He's taken a taxi!" she exclaimed, and now she was sure that something serious must have happened, for in Mark's thrifty existence a taxi was a rare investment. On this occasion, however, he did not even wait for his change and handing the driver half a crown strode up the steps of the Brook Street house and rang.
"Mr. Kirkstall—how is he?" were his first words as Ford opened the door.
"Much as usual, sir," Ford answered, quietly. "He is expecting you."
James sat in his long chair. His face seemed more gaunt and saturnine than ever and the look he fixed on Mark was anything but friendly.
"I hope you are well, Uncle James," Mark got out.
"Ye ken very well ye do not hope anything of the kind. Ye would na have come so quick if ye had na thought I was dying."
This was so unpleasantly true that Mark was struck dumb. Being unfortunately devoid of any sense of humour, he was hopelessly at a loss when in the presence of his uncle whom he feared as well as disliked.
"Sit down," James ordered and Mark obeyed. He looked as he felt, horribly uncomfortable.
"Ye are wondering why I asked ye to come," stated James.
"I am," Mark answered, bluntly. The queer grimace that passed for a smile distorted James's face.
"Then I'll tell ye. I wish ye to marry."
Mark's eyes widened, his jaw dropped.
"No, I am na crazy, though that's what ye are thinking," James went on with brutal directness. "Are ye engaged, or have ye any girl in your mind?"
Mark shook his head.
"I've been too busy to think of a wife. Besides, I can't afford to marry."
"But ye could if I left ye a million."
Well aware of the dislike which James had always entertained both for his father and himself, Mark could only stare.
"Lost your tongue, have ye?" James jeered. "Ye did na count on getting that much money."
"I did not," Mark answered. "I thought your money would go to my cousin, David."
"And so it would if he'd had the sense to take it."
This was too much for Mark.
"You can't mean he wouldn't take it?"
"Maybe he'd have taken the money but he would na take the condition that goes with it."
"And what was the condition?" Mark got out.
"The same I'm offering you—a wife."
A wife. Mark's greedy mind was busy. Probably she was old and ugly, but if she was sixty and blind a million would gild her. Yet Mark had sense enough to know that he must not show himself too eager.
"Let's have this clear, Uncle James," he said. "You are proposing to leave me a million of your money if I marry according to your wishes. Is that it?"
"Ye could na put it clearer if ye were a lawyer," replied James sarcastically. "Listen to me. I was minded to leave my money to David Hallam, but the lad is a fool. He's wasted his own bit, and I have no wish to see my fortune follow that down the drain."
"I should think not, indeed," put in Mark with what he considered a proper show of indignation, but James snapped him up.
"Will ye wait till I have finished before ye offer your comments," he said acidly. "As I was telling ye, I offered to make him my heir if he would marry the young woman I had chosen for him. But it seems he wishes to pick his own wife, so he would have none of it, and I told him to go."
"The young fool!" For the life of him Mark could not keep back the scornful exclamation. James looked at him.
"Aye, it's no the sort of foolishness ye would be guilty of, Mark. I'm thinking ye wad na be so particular."
Mark was no fool. He realized that there are times when honesty is the best policy.
"You are right, Uncle James. I've been in business long enough to know the value of money. I'd marry any decent woman for a million."
James's lip curled.
"Ye need na be afraid that I'll push a trollop on you. She's more than decent. She's the daughter of an old friend of mine, and a fine, sonsy lass. Ye can see her when ye wish, and if you two make up your minds to marry ye will share my fortune between ye."
"I am agreeable, Uncle James," Mark answered, "but what about the lady? It may be she will not care to be turned off from one cousin to another."
"Ye need na worry your head about that. She has na seen David, and all I've told her is that it's my nephew I want her to marry. Now get ye gone and see her. Here is her name and her address. But mind ye—" he raised a skinny forefinger—"there's to be no delay. I'm no long for this world, and I want to see the business finished before I go. If ye are not married before I take to my last bed ye will not get a penny. My fortune will go to charity."
"It won't be my fault if there is any delay," Mark promised as he took the slip of paper. "Good-bye, sir."
Mark's brain was in a whirl as he left the big house and hailed a second taxi. He and this unknown girl were to share the whole of Uncle James's vast riches. It was too good to be true. He thought of David and his lips curled.
"Of all the fools!" he said, aloud. It did, indeed, seem incredible to him that any man could turn his back on such a fortune. Mark's god was money, and though he was drawing two thousand a year from the business he had inherited from his father, this faded into insignificance compared with Uncle James's millions.
The taxi took him down Guildford Street and Mark found himself for the first time in his life in that little-known square which lies just off noisy Gray's Inn Road.
A thin, overworked woman opened the door and stared in surprise at Mark's big, well-dressed frame.
"Miss Kerr?" Mark questioned, and she nodded.
"Come this way, please, sir," she said and ushered him into a bare yet clean-looking dining-room. Mark gazed round at the horse-hair seated chairs, the square table in the centre of the room, the large print of Queen Victoria over the ancient sideboard and was inwardly thanking his stars that he had not to live in such a place when the door opened and Aline came in.
"Mr. Roston?" she said in her soft Highland voice. Mark was a man with no quality of imagination. If he had formed any picture at all of the girl whom James had spoken of as "a fine sonsy lass," it was of a plain, middle-class sort of woman who would need all his uncle's millions to make a possible bride. He was totally unprepared for this beautiful girl with her exquisite complexion, sea-blue eyes and tall and splendid figure. Words failed him, and he simply stood quite still staring open-eyed at this marvellous vision.
COLOUR flushed Aline's cheeks. She was not unaccustomed to being stared at. No girl as pretty as she escapes that sort of attention, but there are limits.
"You wish to see me, Mr. Roston?" she said in a tone which pulled Mark up sharply and restored his wandering senses.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Kerr. I had no intention of being rude, but—but—" He stopped abruptly, feeling that if he finished his sentence he would only make matters worse than before. Aline, of course, understood perfectly. She felt inclined to smile but not a sign of that inclination showed on her face.
"Will you not sit down," she invited. Mark lowered his big body on to one of the shiny horse-hair chairs. The short delay gave him time to collect himself and to decide that, with a girl like this, the less he beat about the bush the better.
"I have just come from my uncle, Mr. Kirkstall," he said. "He wished me to call on you at once."
Aline felt as though something heavy had dropped upon her head. The shock of disappointment was so great it was all she could do to keep it from showing in her face. Up to this moment she had cherished the idea that old James's nephew, the one that he wished her to marry, was David Hallam. Indeed, she felt certain of it and though she had had no intention whatever of falling into his arms, yet since their first meeting, he had occupied a very large place in her thoughts.
She glanced again at the man who sat opposite. He was big and by no means bad-looking, but Aline noticed that his tall frame was already inclining to stoutness. His square, solid face, his dull eyes, his conventional dress and appearance made her heart sink within her.
Mark was feeling for words. Hard business man that he was, Aline's beauty had knocked him quite off his balance.
He was conscious of a whole new set of feelings, and was hardly sure of whether he liked them or not. There is nothing which gives a greater shock to a selfish man than to fall in love.
"I think you will know the object of my call," he went on. "It's a queer sort of proposition and a bit embarrassing for both of us, but my uncle's a queer man."
"He's a very kind man," said Aline.
"It was kind of him to send me to you," Mark said and then he nearly blushed. It was about the first time in his life he had ever paid a girl a compliment. However it broke the ice and he gained confidence.
"You understand my uncle's point of view, Miss Kerr," he went on. "He doesn't want to split up the fortune that he's spent his whole life in accumulating."
"I can understand that," Aline agreed. "What I can't understand is why he bothered about me. You are his nephew, and, I presume, his nearest relation."
"That is true," said Mark, "but from what he told me you are the daughter of one of his oldest friends and so perhaps his idea was to—well—kill two birds with one stone."
Aline was silent and Mark went on, carefully choosing his words as he spoke.
"Up to now I have been so busy making a living I have never given a thought to marrying. My uncle knows this and it would not please him to think of his money being in the hands of a bachelor. If I may say so I think his idea is to found a family who would do him credit. I'm not a man to boast," he added with unaccustomed modesty, "yet I come of a decent family and I don't think I have any vices. As for you—" he bowed—"any man might be proud to have you for his wife." Aline did not like the man, yet had to admit to herself that he spoke fairly.
"It seems then," she said, "that you and I are to be the victims of Mr. Kirkstall's whim." Mark caught the touch of bitterness in her voice and spoke quickly.
"Not at all, Miss Kerr. I would not dream of asking you to marry me until you'd had the opportunity to know something of me. That's all I'm asking for the present."
There was something in his voice which made Aline look up quickly. For a moment their eyes met and Aline was amazed, even startled, to see that Mark's heavy face had suddenly come alive. For the first time in his life Mark forgot everything except the fact that he wanted this lovely girl more than he had ever wanted anything in the whole course of his commonplace existence.
"Aline," he exclaimed. "It isn't more than ten minutes since I first saw you, but I tell you straight that, if you'd have me, I'd marry you to-morrow."
"Even without Mr. Kirkstall's millions?" she asked demurely.
"Without a penny," declared Mark and for the moment he meant it.
No girl could help being moved by such a declaration. Aline was touched and at the same time a little scared, for Mark's grey eyes were now bright and hungry. It was on the cards that, if Mark had actually caught her in his arms, he might have swept her off her feet metaphorically as well as literally—might even have made her forget Dave whom, after all, she had only seen once. But Mark failed to seize his moment. Back into his cautious brain flashed the memory of Uncle James's millions and the danger of losing all by being too hasty. The flash of passion passed.
"I'm sorry, Miss Kerr," he said in a quieter tone. "I had no business to talk like that, even though I meant it—every word. I will tell you what I suggest. My mother is still alive though my father is dead. She will write to you and ask you to stay at our house. It is near St. Albans. She will be delighted to have you as our guest and that will give you time to—to make up your mind."
Aline hesitated. She had a feeling that, once she accepted this invitation, her fate was sealed. Instinctively she was aware that she did not want to marry this man, yet on the other hand she had to think of the bitter need of her brother, his wife and their child.
"It's very kind of you," she began "but—"
Mark sensed her feelings.
"You are not to feel tied," he put in, quickly. "If you find you cannot like me enough you will just say so. But give me the chance. That's all I ask."
"It would be churlish to refuse, Mr. Roston," she said gently. "If you and your mother want me I will come."
"I'm glad," he said, and there was no doubt he meant it "Good-bye." Another minute and Aline, at the window, was watching him stride away down the pavement. She went back to her sister-in-law with a queer, dull, empty feeling in her heart.
THAT feeling was intensified by her first sight of Mark's home. The house called Faraway, was the worst type of late Victorian villa with a tall, blue-slate roof and stuccoed walls. It was all ugly gables and meaningless ornaments. It stood on high ground about fifty yards back from the road and was approached through an ornate gate by a newly-gravelled drive. The lawn was studded with beds of various shapes, filled with brilliant flowers in violently contrasting colours. There was not a weed anywhere, the shrubs were all trimmed down to the last inch; everything was terribly tidy, and shockingly un-homelike.
The stout, pale-faced, overdressed woman who was waiting at the head of the steps was as artificial as everything around her and Aline's heart sank still lower as Mrs. Roston welcomed her effusively, at the same time staring at her keenly with prominent grey eyes behind gold-rimmed pince-nez.
"So good of you to come. I hope we can make you comfortable. Mark will be back about six. He has told me all about you. Come in and have tea." She talked in a high-pitched jerky voice, which grated horribly on Aline's nerves, and led her into a drawing-room where the furniture was as expensive, uncomfortable, and tasteless as the house and garden.
Tea was brought in. Aline had a healthy appetite, but the wafers of bread and butter and small, dry, pale cakes did little to satisfy it. Mrs. Roston never once ceased talking, and Aline was actually relieved when, sharp at six, Mark turned up. But she soon realized that he was absolutely under his mother's thumb. He had no say whatever in the management of the house, and he sat, stiff as a poker, trying to make conversation. Aline was grateful when at last her hostess showed her to her room, and she was able to sit quiet for a little.
Dinner was better than tea, but not much, and, afterwards, Aline had to sit in the awful drawing-room and answer strings of questions about herself, her people, and Uncle James— especially Uncle James. It was evident that Mrs. Roston took the marriage with her son as a settled matter, and by bedtime Aline was so nearly desperate that she felt like bolting. But Aline had both courage and character. She had promised Mark to give him a trial, and she felt it due to both him and herself to carry out her undertaking. All the same she did not sleep much that night, and when she did it was Dave's face not Mark's, that floated in her dreams.
Next morning Mark announced that he was coming home for lunch, and would take her for a drive. It was a relief to get out of the house, and Mark, if not brilliant, was a safe driver.
"I will teach you to drive," he told Aline, and looked amazed when she answered that she was already able to drive. He opened his eyes still more widely when he heard that she had earned her living by acting as chauffeuse. But he did not offer to let her take the wheel.
The atmosphere of the house stifled Aline, and she counted the days until her week was up. Yet she knew that, before she left, she must tell Mark that she could not marry him. She dreaded the interview.
The crisis came quite unexpectedly. Aline's week was not up until the Tuesday, but on Sunday Mark asked her to come for a walk after tea. There was a wood on the high ground a mile or so behind the house and Aline, sick of roads and traffic, suggested that they make for it.
It was a dull, warm, heavy evening, but the trees were lovely in the brightness of their spring foliage, and the air sweet with the scent of blossoming hawthorn. Aline loved it, but Mark, who was purely a townsman tramped in silence. Suddenly he spoke.
"Aline, Mother was asking whether she could announce our engagement?"
Aline, who had been watching a thrush carrying food to its hungry nestlings, turned.
"Our engagement," she repeated. "I have yet to learn that we are engaged."
"I thought it was an understood thing."
She shook her head.
"I told you I would give you a week, Mark. The week is not up yet, but since you have broached the subject, it gives me the chance to say that I cannot marry you." The dismay on Mark's face was laughable, only Aline did not feel in the least like laughing.
"B-but—Uncle James!" he stammered. "We shall neither of us get a penny if we don't marry." Aline's fine eyes flashed, yet she did her best to control her temper.
"Do you think of nothing but money, Mark? Would you marry a girl who tells you plainly she does not care for you, simply for the sake of money?"
Mark's cheeks reddened.
"I care for you. I could make you care for me," he answered, obstinately.
"You couldn't, Mark. You're not my sort. We haven't an interest in common. We should be miserable together."
"Why should we be miserable? If it came to that, we should each have our share of the money. We could see as much or as little of one another as we liked."
Again Aline felt a surge of anger, and again she did her best to subdue it.
"That isn't my idea of marriage, Mark. I'd sooner share a cottage with a man I loved than lead the sort of existence you are planning."
Mark's eyes narrowed.
"That's romantic foolishness. No one can get on in this world without money. Do you mean to tell me you are going to turn down the chance of being one of the world's richest women just for silly sentiment?"
"I mean just that," Aline answered, firmly, and the scowl on Mark's face deepened.
"And you don't give me a thought," he said, angrily. "You'll ruin me as well as yourself." His blatant selfishness roused Aline.
"Don't talk nonsense, Mark! You are very comfortably off, and in any case, I shall tell Mr. Kirkstall that the fault is mine, and that he is not to blame you. You will probably get all the money instead of only half."
"You know very well that isn't so," cried Mark. "He told me himself that every penny would go to charity if we did not marry." He pulled himself up. Mark was too canny to let his temper run away with him.
"Listen to me, Aline," he went on in a quieter tone. "You've never had money, and you don't in the least realize what money means. It isn't merely a matter of living in a big house, travelling where and how you like, wearing pretty clothes, and mixing with all the nicest people. Think of the good you can do with it. This brother of yours. You could set him up in any business he'd like, and never miss the money. Your niece could go to the best schools, your sister-in-law would never have to work again. Then your father's old friends—some of them, I know, are very badly off. Consider what you could do for them. I don't suppose you have the faintest conception what a million means, and we should not have one, but something like three millions between us."
Mark was so much in earnest he was almost eloquent. Aline stared at him with an unpleasant fascination.
"And I love you," he went on. "I may be just a hard business man, but you're the first and only woman I ever cared about. Every day you've been here I've come to love you more." He stretched out to take her hand, but Aline drew back. The movement was purely instinctive. She felt—knew she could never bear this man to touch her. As for marrying him, no money in the world could tempt her to do that.
Mark saw the movement, and it maddened him, robbed him of all self control. He took a quick step forward and flung his big arms around her supple body, crushing her to him. His lips pressed against hers.
It was far too late for that kind of caveman stunt. Aline, who was strong above the strength of most girls, and boiling with passionate anger, tore herself loose. Stepping back, she struck him with all her force in the face, her firm fist cutting his lips so that the blood spurted. Then she sprang away.
Mark's face was livid as he stood there, glaring at the girl, and the look in his eyes terrified her. At that very moment a couple of children picking blue-bells came running into the open glade. With a muttered oath, Mark swung on his heel and stalked away.
ALINE stood still, watching him until the trees hid him from her sight. She had to stand still for she was quite unable to walk. Her knees felt unpleasantly weak, and she was shaking all over. But for the children, who were watching her curiously, Aline would have collapsed and sat on the ground. She looked round, saw a fallen tree a little way off, reached it and dropped upon it thankfully.
The children moved on but Aline sat still. She was trying to think, but her mind refused to work. Her only idea was that she must never see Mark again, or his mother. She decided that she would go straight back to London. Her things could follow later.
Aline had immense vitality, and when the shock had worn off she got up and started in the direction of St. Albans. It was not more than a couple of miles to the station and, although it was growing late, she felt sure she would get a train to Town. She was in St. Albans, and quite close to the station before she remembered that she had no money. Her bag containing her purse lay in a drawer in her dressing-table at Faraway.
The shock was a horrid one, and she paused opposite a shop window, wondering what on earth she was to do. The only articles of value which she possessed were her mother's ring and a cheap little wrist watch. The ring she always wore, and would not have parted with on any account; on the watch she might possibly get five shillings at a pawnshop. But it was Sunday, and the shops were closed.
Aline wondered if it would be any use offering the watch at the ticket office in exchange for a ticket, yet shrank from the ordeal of explanation. Suddenly another idea flashed into her mind. Caryl—Caryl Kingscote lived not far from Dunstable, and Dunstable, Aline thought, could not be more than ten miles away. Ten miles, a three hours' walk. She glanced at her watch, and saw it was not quite six. "I can get there before she goes to bed," she said to herself, and having made up her mind made a start.
Aline was a good walker, and for the first hour she swung along at a smart pace. Then she began to lag a little. The fact was that she had done little walking since leaving Caryl and that the food at Faraway had not suited her. More than that, she had had no tea and was beginning to feel hungry. At the end of another half-hour she was beginning to look longingly at the cars which shot by. Once a man half pulled up but one glance at his heavy, lascivious face was enough for Aline. However tired she was, she was not going to accept a lift from a man of that sort.
All this time the weather had been thickening and towards eight rain began to fall. Thin stuff at first, but gradually getting heavier. And Aline had neither coat nor umbrella. She came to a sign-post and in the waning light saw that it marked five miles to Dunstable. And Aceway, Caryl's house, was two miles from the town in the direction of Luton. Aline's heart sank to the very soles of her wet shoes. She was rapidly getting wet through, and a horrible sinking feeling made her realize her bitter need of food.
Suddenly there was a bright flash followed by a deep roll of thunder, and down came the rain in sheets. Aline realized that she must have shelter of some kind. There was not a car in sight, not even a lorry. Watling Street was as deserted as a country lane. To the right was a large bare pasture field, but to the left of the road lay a thick little wood. Aline had learned, like the rest of us, of the dangers of standing under a tree in a thunderstorm, yet death by lightning seemed a mild fate compared with being drenched to the skin by this furious rain. She fled for the trees and was lucky enough to find a big old beech with huge limbs spreading from a thick crown only about eight feet above the ground. Here she was sheltered from the rain, and not only that but was able to sit on a projecting root.
For a time she felt a little happier, but the worst of it was that the rain showed no sign of ceasing. It was one steady drumming downpour. Also it began to grow very dark. And with the passage of time Aline did not grow any less hungry. By nine she was almost desperate. She bitterly regretted her hurried decision to take this preposterous walk.
All of a sudden she saw a light. A lamp or candle had been lit in a house just behind the wood. Forgetting the folly of hasty decisions, Aline decided to go to this house and ask shelter till the rain ceased. "They might even give me a cup of tea," she thought, hopefully.
There was a path through the wood. It was horribly muddy but Aline ran along it through the splashing rain and came to a garden gate. It was now so dark that all she could see of the house was that it was small and looked old. The garden seemed to be mostly overgrown gooseberry bushes, but a weedy path ran up to the door. The light was in the window to the right of the door, but a dirty curtain prevented her from looking in. From within came a faint rumble of voices. Aline did not like the look of the place and hesitated before knocking. But the rain was coming down with pitiless intensity. She raised her hand and thumped on the door.
The voices were silent, and for nearly a minute nothing happened. Aline was on the point of knocking again when the latch creaked, the door opened and she saw before her a large man with a bald head, heavy eyebrows and a shiny red nose. He fairly reeked of spirits though he did not appear to be drunk. He held a candle in his hand, and stared at her suspiciously from under his shaggy brows. His eyes were red and inflamed.
"What do you want?" he growled. Aline was badly frightened but too wise to show it.
"I am walking to Dunstable and have been caught in the rain," she told him, quietly. "I saw your light and decided to ask for shelter." He still stared at her, then at last seemed to make up his mind.
"Come in," he said.
The room he led her into was filthy but the smell was worse than the dirt. A second man, not as tall as the first but broader and fatter was sitting in a chair. He had taken off his shoes and socks and his large dirty feet were extended in front of him. A glass was on the bare deal table at his elbow and a particularly foul clay pipe between his broken teeth.
"Got a visitor, Seth," said the big man.
"And a pretty one, too," remarked the bare footed fellow with a leer. "'Ave a drink, my beauty."
ALINE had never been so frightened in all her life, nor at the same time more desperately conscious that it would be fatal to show any signs of terror. It was out of the question to bolt. The door was closed and the bald man—of whom, by the way, she was much more afraid than of the fat one—was between her and it. She smiled at the fat man.
"That is very kind of you," she answered, "but I'm afraid it is not the sort of drink I am accustomed to. A cup of tea is what I am longing for."
"Sorry, lady," said the fat man, "we ain't got no tea. A drop o' gin wouldn't do you no harm."
"It might," said Aline smiling again. "You see I am hungry. I stupidly came away without my purse." Her steady voice and quiet manner had their effect on the half tipsy fellow.
"That's bad," he said, "and we ain't got no grub either— nothing but a bottle of booze and some baccy. But sit down miss. May as well rest your legs till the rain stops." There was a handful of fire in the grate, just a few burning sticks. Aline did not sit down, but went closer to the grate, and held one foot to the small flames.
"Rain won't stop this side o' daylight," said the bald man, and Aline became conscious that his eyes were fixed on her ring. It was a valuable ring, a sapphire set with diamonds. She reproached herself bitterly that she had not hidden it before coming in, but now it was too late for regrets. Calm as she appeared, she was thinking desperately, trying to form some plan of escape. And meantime the rain drummed on the roof and splashed from the overloaded gutter.
The fat man was already too drunk to be dangerous, but Baldhead had had just enough liquor to make him ugly. She shivered inwardly at the thought of what might happen if she could not get away. She spoke again.
"It is not much of a fire, is it? But I suppose fuel is short."
"There's more sticks in the back kitchen, Seth," remarked the fat man. "Fetch some for the lady."
"Fetch 'em yourself, you fat goat," retorted the other.
"Perlite, ain't yer?" growled Fatty, but all the same he rose uncertainly to his feet and made through the door into the passage which ran through the house. Aline heard him stumbling in the darkness.
"Drunk as Joseph's owl," sneered the man called Seth. He turned to Aline. "Pretty ring you got, missie. Lemme look at it."
Aline's heart was thumping so that she could hardly breathe. She turned slowly. Then with one sweep of her arm she knocked the candle off the table, and sprang past Seth. It was the candle trick that saved her. Seth wasted perhaps a second in trying to save it. That gave Aline time to pass him. But as she shot through the door with a speed of which she had never believed herself capable she heard his savage oath and the thud of his heavy feet on the bare boards as he came in chase.
The front door was closed. Aline knew she must have time to open it. She paused just long enough to slam the room door with all her force in the man's face, then leaped for the front door, got it open and raced away down between the sopping gooseberry bushes.
Seth was not far behind. Indeed he was so close that she could plainly hear his panting breath. The garden gate was open, Aline went through like a hare and down the wood path. Here she gained. Her lighter weight helped her through the morass of mud. Even so she had little hope. At this time of night and in such weather there would be little traffic. And unless she found help Seth was bound to run her down. By the time she reached the road the breath was sobbing in her throat and her lungs felt as if they would burst.
Dark—all dark, not a car in sight. Blindly she turned North and ran straight up the middle of the road. But she was failing now. She knew it was hopeless and that, within less than a minute, this horrible man would seize her. It was only absolute horror of the thought of the grasp of his great dirty hands which kept her going.
A finger of light reached through the streaming gloom, there came the hum of a powerful engine and the swish of rubber tyres hissing through the film of moisture covering the road. Aline kept straight on. She would far sooner be run down and killed than caught. A klaxon shrieked its warning, there came a screech of brakes, an angry shout.
"What the hell! Are you trying to commit suicide?"
"Help!" cried Aline but her voice was a mere whisper. She stopped, flinging up her hands in a gesture of entreaty. The car swerved but did not stop. Next instant the driver had accelerated and shot away Northwards.
"Oh! Oh!" gasped Aline. It seemed sheerly incredible that any man could be such a brute. For the moment she had forgotten the suspicion with which motorists regard any attempts to stop them at night. She looked back. Seth, frightened, had retreated. He was out of sight. And Aline, herself, had got her breath back. She began to run again. But next moment her heart sank as she heard the thump of Seth's heavy boots on the tarred road. He had realized the state of affairs and was in chase once more.
Aline was in despair. Also she was almost completely exhausted. Every muscle in her body ached, her nerves screamed for rest, it was only her native pluck that kept her going. Seth gained fast.
"Thought yourself clever," he roared. "You stop or I'll—" His threat was unrepeatable and Aline felt almost paralysed with sheer horror. It was all so like the worst kind of nightmare that she half wondered if it could be real.
The brute was almost on her. His great hands were reaching out to grasp her when again white light lit the gloom and again came the purr of a swiftly working engine. Aline hardly noticed. She was, in fact, very near the state of being unable to notice anything. Seth, too, in the fury of the chase, paid little attention to the car. No doubt he believed it would sweep past, like the other.
A horn hooted fiercely, the car skidded as the brakes were flung on, but the driver was an expert for he managed to bring the car to a standstill before her wheels struck the kerb on the near side of the road. Seth in the act of seizing his victim, paused and looked round. He saw the door flung open and a man leap out. But he meant to have that ring and with an oath turned to meet the driver.
He might as well have tried to meet a thunderbolt. Aline standing, panting for breath, saw the man from the car drive at the big tramp like a battering ram, saw a fist shoot out and heard the thud of it as it reached Seth's jaw. The white glare of the headlights showed all, plain as day. Seth's great arms shot up, he reeled backwards and crashed into the centre of the road. The fall finished what the blow had begun. He lay still. The driver bent over him.
"Serve you jolly well right if I left you there to be flattened out by the next car that comes along," he remarked. "What do you say, young lady?" He turned to Aline, then a look of utter amazement came upon his face.
"You!" he stammered. Aline swayed and Dave Hallam, springing forward, was just in time to save her from falling.
ALINE had never fainted in her life, and even now she did not quite lose consciousness. She felt herself lifted into the car and a warm rug rolled round her.
"Drink this," came Dave's voice, and she gasped a little as she tasted the sting of spirit. "Now lie back and be comfortable," Dave ordered. She opened her eyes, and colour rose to her pale cheeks as she saw Dave's anxious face bending over her.
"I don't want to bother you with questions," he said, "but this brute who was attacking you. Shall I tie him up and send the police for him from Dunstable?"
"No—no. Just drag him to the side of the road and leave him. I never want to see him again." She shivered as she spoke, and Dave began to realize the strain she had undergone.
"Right!" he said briefly and, jumping out, hauled Seth's big body on to the grass verge and left him there.
"Wish I'd used a spanner," he said as he got back in the car. "Where are you bound for, Miss—Miss—" He laughed. "I don't even know your name."
"I am Aline Kerr," she said, "and—and I can't thank you for what you have done."
"Then don't," smiled Dave. "And let me enjoy the feeling that I've had a chance to do something to repay the very big debt I owe you. Now tell me where you are bound," he added, briskly.
"I was on my way to a friend's house, Miss Kingscote."
"Miss Caryl Kingscote. Why, I've been trying to get hold of her for days past—so as to find out your name," replied Dave. "Unfortunately she's away from home. Didn't you know?"
"I didn't." Aline's face was full of dismay. "Oh, I don't know what I shall do. You—you see, I have no money with me." Dave realized that there was something very wrong indeed, but had too much sense to ask questions.
"I know what you can do. I'm on my way back to Roborough, to the garage where I work. Mrs. Sperry, wife of one of our men, will be delighted to give you a bed for the night, and to-morrow we can talk things over." As he spoke he started the car again and without waiting for an answer drove away up the broad, empty road. Aline, too utterly weary to think and only too grateful to be in good hands once more, lay back in the deep cushions, pulled the rug more closely around her chilled body and closed her eyes.
The car, old but powerful, which Tom Trevor had bought second-hand, for his hire work, was roomy and fast and it seemed hardly any time before Dave drove into the yard which he and Trevor had fixed up as their headquarters while the new garage was being built.
"Sam!" Dave called as he jumped out, and Sam appeared from the office. "Sam, this is Miss Kingscote's companion, Miss Kerr. She was going to stay the night with Miss Kingscote, but didn't know the lady was away. It was too late for her to go back to London so I brought her on. Do you think your wife can give her a bed?"
Sam took one glance at Aline and nodded.
"That'll be all right, Mr. Dave," he said, promptly. "I'll run across and tell her. You can bring Miss Kerr along in a few minutes."
"Is there a fire in the office, Sam?"
"Aye, a good one. And a kettle. I were just brewing a pot of tea."
"Good man! That's exactly what Miss Kerr wants." Sam hurried off and Dave helped Aline out. The little office looked cosy, with a bright fire in the open stove and a kettle hissing on top. Dave drew up a chair and Aline sat and held her chilled fingers to the blaze.
"You'll have a cup of tea," Dave said.
"There is nothing in the world I should be more grateful for," Aline assured him, "and—and a biscuit if you have it."
"Why, you're hungry!" exclaimed Dave.
"Starving," she said with a smile. "I've had nothing since lunch."
Dave looked horrified.
"And it's nearly ten," he exclaimed as he ladled tea into the old brown pot and poured in boiling water. Leaving the tea to brew, he opened a cupboard and fetched out milk, sugar, a tin of biscuits, some potted meat and a cake. He and Trevor always kept food in the office for very often they were back too late for a regular meal in their lodgings.
It was a joy to him to see the natural healthy colour come back to Aline's face as she drank the hot tea and ate biscuits, but all the time he was wondering what could possibly have brought her to such a plight. And Aline realized his thoughts and thought the more of him that he asked no questions. She asked him the first.
"How came you to be driving up Watling Street just at the right moment?"
"Oh, the usual thing. A customer had missed the last train to Town and I ran him up to Belsize Park." He paused. "I'm very happy I came when I did," he added in a grave tone. "That fellow was dangerous."
"A terrible man! It was my ring. That was what he wanted. It was my mother's."
Dave nodded. Before he could speak again here was Sam. "Thought you wasn't never coming," he said with a grin. "My missus is ready and waiting, miss. You better drive her up, Mr. Dave. It's still raining."
The distance was little more than a quarter of a mile, and Dave dropped her at the door.
"I'll come for you after breakfast," he said. "Sleep well."
Aline gave him her hand.
"Good night, Mr. Hallam. And thank you a thousand times for all you have done for me." Her voice shook a little and Dave realized that she was very near to breaking down.
"Don't think of it," he said earnestly. "Just go to bed and to sleep." He hurried away and Aline obeyed.
In spite of all she had been through, that night spent between Mrs. Sperry's clean, lavender-scented sheets was the happiest and most peaceful she had known for a long time past.
Dave, too, was extraordinarily happy as he sat in the office smoking and waiting for the man who would relieve him at twelve. Of course, it was just luck, meeting the girl like that, yet if he had arranged the whole incident it could not have turned out better.
"She's prettier and sweeter than I ever thought she was," he said aloud. "And plucky too. Any other girl would have been in hysterics."
"Who'd have been in hysterics?" came a voice, and Dave started round to see Tom Trevor at the door. He did so much explaining that it was nearly one before he got to bed.
"IT was silly of me," Aline admitted. "I quarrelled with the people I was staying with, and suddenly made up my mind to go back to my sister-in-law with whom I am living in London. Then I found I had no money, so decided to walk to Caryl's house."
Dave looked up from his toast and marmalade. He and Aline were breakfasting together—Dave by special invitation from Mrs. Sperry.
"I can't imagine you quarrelling with anyone," he declared.
Aline laughed. She was herself again after a good night's sleep.
"It's plain you don't know me, Mr. Hallam. I have a terrible temper."
"I'll bet it was their fault, not yours," returned Dave doggedly. He had already reached the stage when a man does say that sort of thing.
"Well, the quarrel was none of my seeking," she answered gently, and that was all. If Dave had hoped to hear more he was disappointed. But he did not show it.
"And now you will like a lift back to London," he said. She made a little face.
"I suppose I must go back. There's nothing else for it." Dave was puzzled.
"Don't you want to go, Miss Kerr?"
"What I really want," said Aline earnestly, "is work. Since Caryl Kingscote could no longer afford to keep me I have been hunting in vain for something to do. But, you see, I am fit for so little. I have no degree."
"You don't want a degree to drive a car," Dave broke in, and Aline laughed.
"No, but there are so many men looking for work of that sort that women are at a discount."
Dave's eyes were eager.
"Can you keep books, Miss Kerr?"
"Simple ones. I have learnt ordinary double-entry." Dave laid down his cup and gazed at her.
"Tom was telling me we needed a book-keeper. I say—would you consider work of that kind? I'm afraid the pay wouldn't be much, but—but it might be a sort of stop-gap while you looked for something better."
"I should be very glad of the chance," Aline said simply. "The fact is that I am pretty nearly at the end of my resources."
Dave sprang up.
"I'll see Tom. That'll be fine." He was gone all in a rush. Aline sat where she was. There was a rather delightful smile on her lips.
"Just a boy," she said to herself. "But—what a dear boy."
Dave found Trevor in the office.
"Miss Kerr wants a job, Tom. She understands bookkeeping. What about taking her on?" Trevor smothered a grin. Being in love, himself, he thoroughly understood the situation and was sympathetic. But he was older and more cautious than Dave.
"Do you know anything about Miss Kerr, Dave?"
`"Why—Why, she's a gentlewoman. Anyone could see that."
"Quite so. But what about her business capacity? Have you anything to go on?"
Dave looked rather blank.
"I expect Miss Kingscote would tell us," he suggested.
"Caryl's away, and I don't fancy Miss Kerr did any book-keeping for her. She drove her car and acted as companion."
"She might drive for us. There are lots of old ladies who like a woman driver."
Trevor shook his head.
"It's a book-keeper we need, Dave. See here, I'm quite willing to give Miss Kerr a trial, but I must have someone who can do the job properly. Things are looking up. The fire gave us an advertisement. I've sold two cars this week. We really need a book-keeper but she must be up to her work."
"Give her a trial," Dave begged.
Trevor permitted himself a smile.
"All right, Dave, I'll do that. She shall have a week. But I can't pay more than two pounds. Will you tell her."
"I'll tell her," said Dave jumping up. "She can live at the Sperrys'. They'll take her for twenty-five shillings a week."
"Which leaves her fifteen shillings for clothes, spending money and everything else. It's not a lot for a girl like that, Dave."
"Dock me ten bob and make her's fifty," Dave suggested.
"Don't be a fool, Dave," retorted Trevor, gruffly, and luckily Dave still retained sufficient sense of humour to laugh.
Aline gratefully accepted Tom Trevor's offer, and within forty-eight hours had proved herself perfectly capable of handling the simple books. She did more than that. Before the two days were up she had become the most popular person in the establishment. Sam simply worshipped her, Bert, the other mechanic, obeyed her slightest wish. Trevor wrote to Caryl and told her that he didn't know how she could get along without Aline, who, Caryl always expected, was as nice a girl as he had met. He added that Dave was a lucky devil. The village people also took Aline to their hearts, the children especially. As for Dave, he was in the seventh heaven, but, perhaps luckily, too busy to see very much of the girl to whom he had given his heart. Trevor's staff was but a small one, and Dave was driving all day and, often, part of the night as well.
Aline herself, though happy in her work, was not without her worries, of which the chief was Mark. She knew Mark well enough to be quite sure that he was not going to lose a million without putting up a fight, and although she had warned her sister-in-law against giving him her address she was afraid that, sooner or later, he would track her down. And then there would be devil to pay.
She would have liked advice as to what best to do, but did not know where to look for it. Naturally she was not talking to Dave on the subject. Of course, she knew that Dave was in love with her, and she could not possibly explain to him how Mark had treated her. Dave, quiet as he was, had a hot temper, and she shivered to think what might happen if he heard the whole story. She decided at last that the best thing she could do was to wait until Caryl Kingscote came home, then run over and consult with her. Caryl had heaps of common sense, and knew her way about the world. Her advice would be worth having.
Unfortunately for Aline the climax came sooner than she had expected. On the Saturday morning following the Sunday on which Dave had rescued her, Aline was busy in the office when a car drove into the yard. Cars were coming in and out all the time, Aline did not even look up.
"I say, my man, is this Mr. Trevor's garage?" came a voice, and Aline started so that she dropped her pen. She got up quickly and went to the window, and there was Mark's big car and Mark himself standing beside it.
"Yes," Sam Sperry answered gruffly—he hated being called "my man."
"Yes, this is Mr. Trevor's place."
"Ah, then where is Miss Kerr?" demanded Mark.
Aline looked round wildly, but the office door led straight into the yard, and there was no other way of escape. It was no use trying to avoid the interview. She walked straight out into the yard.
"I am here, Mr. Roston," she said with that calm dignity which was natural to her. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
MARK ROSTON was completely taken aback. He had had all kinds of trouble in tracing Aline, and had been forced to leave his business to look after itself for nearly a week. He had arrived at Roborough, full of righteous indignation, for he had convinced himself that Aline had treated him very badly, and that she owed him a humble apology. Instead, he was faced by this tall and perfectly composed young woman, who spoke to him like an ordinary customer, and asked if there was anything she could do for him.
"I—I came to take you home," he blurted out. It was not in the least what he had meant to say, and his words gave Aline an opportunity of which she was quick to take advantage.
"Home?" she repeated, slightly raising her beautifully arched eyebrows. "But this is my home."
"I mean back to Faraway," returned Mark, trying hard to keep his temper.
"Oh, to your home! Isn't it a pity that you did not think of that earlier?"
Mark bit his lip.
"I've been looking for you for a week. My mother has been quite ill with anxiety."
Aline remained calm.
"Is that my fault or yours?" she asked, and Mark had the grace to blush.
"You might have known that what I did was only on the impulse of the moment. I didn't mean to be rude. I wouldn't do it again."
Aline seemed to grow taller. Her voice had the chill of one of her native mountain peaks as she spoke again.
"One experience of the kind is enough, Mr. Roston."
Mark grew desperate.
"You're not going to turn me down for good just on account of a moment's foolishness. You can't mean that, Aline?"
Aline made a little impatient movement.
"I am not turning you down on that account. I had already explained to you the reasons why I could not and would not marry you. Nothing has occurred to make me change my mind. And now, since I am busy, perhaps you will leave."
Mark went quite white.
"So you prefer my cousin?" he said in a very nasty voice. Aline looked at him rather as if he were some unpleasant kind of insect.
"Your cousin. Oh, you mean Mr. Hallam. Yes, certainly I prefer him to you. He is at any rate a gentleman." Mark had asked for it, and he had got it, but the taunt made him even more furious than before.
"The man who refused to marry you," he sneered. "Oh, yes, it's true. Uncle James offered you to him before I came on the scene, but David wasn't having any."
Aline remained—outwardly at any rate—perfectly composed.
"No doubt he had his reasons. At any rate, he has made it plain that money is not his god." She turned and went back into the office, closing the door behind her. Mark was not a man given to strong language, but now he swore with such wholehearted fury that Tom Trevor, who had, himself unseen, been watching from within the workshop, came out.
"You seem annoyed," he remarked. "Is there anything we can do for you?" Mark glared.
"You can go to hell!" he told him.
"I shall have a good pilot," he suggested. Mark's big fists clenched, and for a moment it looked as if he were going to attack the other. But he had just sense enough left to keep him from this extreme of foolishness. Turning, he scrambled into his car, started the engine, and drove off. Trevor watched him.
"Sweet creature!" he remarked. "Who the deuce is he, and what did he want with Aline?" He chuckled softly. "Gosh!—the way that girl handled him! I only wish I could have heard all she said."
Still smiling, he went back to his work. Aline, too, had gone back to her work, but she was not smiling. She sat in her chair with her elbows on the desk, her chin propped in the palms of her hands, staring blankly in front of her.
Aline Kerr was a girl with more common sense than most, but even the most common-commonsensical of young women is apt to feel hurt when she hears that the man to whom she has given her affection has refused to marry her.
It must be remembered that so far Aline had been told nothing of Dave's connection with James Kirkstall. She did not even know that Dave was his nephew. Having herself dropped Dave at the house in Brook Street, she was, of course, aware that there was some connection between the two, but it had never occurred to her that Dave was Mark's cousin. The two men were so totally different.
Dave himself when talking to her had never mentioned his uncle. That was natural, for the last thing he was likely to tell the girl he loved was that he had been offered a million to marry another. A modest fellow, he hated the recollection of that interview, and had done his best to put it out of his mind altogether. Nor had he ever spoken of Mark. He hardly knew him— had not met him for years.
Aline sitting there alone in the quiet little office, was putting things together as best she could; but, of course, with very inadequate knowledge. Knowing nothing of Dave's mistake over the name Bella and the photograph of her sister, she could not help but believe that it was herself that Dave had refused to marry. In a way she sympathized, for, like Dave, she hated the money side of the bargain, yet all the same, she felt very sore. She was much too honest to hide from herself that she was already very fond of Dave. In point of fact, she was almost as much in love with him as he with her, and it was just that fact which made her unable to reason with her usual clearness.
If she was annoyed with Dave, that feeling was nothing compared with her anger against old James. Her cheeks went scarlet as she put things together, and realized that James had first tried to get David to marry her; then, when that failed, had turned to Mark.
"Horrible old man!" she exclaimed, passionately. "First David—then Mark. If I ever meet him again—" She broke off for the door was opening. Dave came in. He was just back from the station and had not seen Trevor.
"Aline—" they already called one another by their Christian names—"Aline," he said cheerfully, "it's my evening off. What do you say to a drive?"
"I don't think I care for one," replied Aline in such a cold impersonal tone that Dave was staggered.
"What's the matter?" he asked anxiously—"got a headache?"
"I am quite well, thank you," Aline replied.
Dave moved forward so as to get a sight of her face.
"You don't look it." His voice was full of solicitude. "You spend too much time, cooped up in this little office. I'm sure it's bad for you. Try my prescription. Tea on Beacon Hill. Gorgeous view. Lots of fresh air."
"Not to-day, thank you," said Aline and now Dave realized that something was very wrong. What it was he had, of course, not the faintest idea.
"What's the matter, Aline?" he asked in a voice that was so unhappy that it made Aline angrier than ever. She was perfectly aware that she was behaving badly but, woman-like, took it out of Dave.
"I have told you there is nothing the matter. Cannot you take no for an answer?" Her voice was positively sharp, her manner so utterly unlike anything that Dave had known before that he was taken completely aback. He was hurt but he was also a little angry.
"I'm sorry," he said shortly and went straight out of the office.
Trevor was alone in the workshop cleaning a plug.
"What's the matter with Aline?" Dave asked him.
"I suppose it's that big lout who came here about half an hour ago, who upset her."
"Big lout—who was he?" demanded Dave.
"I don't know him from Adam," replied Trevor. "He turned up in a closed car and asked for Aline. She came out and met him in the yard. I didn't hear much of what they said, but I gather she dressed him down properly. He was like a lunatic by the time she got through with him. Swore like a trooper."
"You don't know his name?"
"I tell you I never saw him before."
"But what did he want with Aline?"
"What's the use of asking questions I can't answer," said Tom, impatiently. "All I can tell you is that they evidently knew one another, and I gathered he thought he had some claim on her." He grinned. "Shouldn't wonder if he was your hated rival."
Dave did not smile. He looked worried. That the "big lout" was his cousin, Mark, never entered his mind. He did not even know that Aline had met Mark, let alone stayed at Faraway. He himself would hardly have recognized his cousin if he had seen him.
"Tell you what, Tom," he said slowly. "I shouldn't wonder if he was one of those people she was staying with before she came to us."
"I had the same idea. He probably proposed to her and she turned him down."
"Swine," growled Dave. "I wish I'd been here."
"You needn't worry," said Trevor drily. "I was keeping an eye on the proceedings. But I'm sorry he upset her."
Dave shook his head.
"He upset her properly, and the funny thing is that she seems to want to take it out of me."
"I wouldn't trouble too much," Trevor consoled him. "Girls are like that. Leave her alone for a bit, and she'll come round." Dave knew the advice was good and did his best to follow it. He kept away from Aline all the rest of that day. Next morning she was in the office at her usual hour, and Dave hoping that all was right again, yet feeling rather nervous, went in.
"Good morning, Aline," he said. She raised her head from her work.
"Good morning, David," she answered, and that was all. If Dave had been wise he would have seen that she was still all on edge and gone out again. But he was too much in love to be sensible.
"Are you all right again?" he asked.
"Why do you say 'again'?" she asked in her coolest tone.
"I—I thought you weren't very fit yesterday," stammered Dave.
"So you did not believe me when I told you I was perfectly well," said Aline, severely. If Dave had said he was sorry and then gone off all might yet have been well. Instead he tried to argue.
"That man who came yesterday—Tom thought he had worried you."
Aline's fine eyes flashed.
"So Mr. Trevor was spying? And you and he have been I discussing me and my visitor." Dave was almost paralysed. He had not dreamed Aline could speak like this. It never occurred to him that she had passed an almost sleepless night and that her nerves were strained nearly to breaking point. The thought that she had been used as a sort of pawn by James Kirkstall irked her intensely. Indignation came to Dave's aid.
"You know very well that Tom would never dream of spying on you. It is absurd to say such a thing. He did not hear a word the man said; he does not even know his name. After all, Trevor is your employer, and he and I are to some extent responsible for you."
"You! What have you to do with it?" Twin patches of red glowed in Aline's cheeks. "I am responsible to Mr. Trevor for my work. Neither he nor you have any right to pry into my private affairs." By this time Dave was as angry as Aline, but he had his nerves under better control.
"I don't know why you are talking to me like this," he said. "I can't think what I have done to offend you?" He stood watching her a moment, but she did not speak. And just then came a tap at the door.
"Mr. Trevor wants you, sir," said Sam, and Dave followed him out.
The angry colour faded from Aline's cheeks, her eyes filled with tears, but she brushed them away quickly and turned again to her books.
DURING the three days following Mark Roston's futile visit to Roborough no one suffered more than his elderly secretary. Mark had never been what might be called a genial employer, and was always more apt with blame than praise. But Miss Seager knew his ways, did her work well and, if she got few kind words had so far escaped harsh ones.
Now all was changed. Nothing pleased Mark, he found fault with her every hour of the day, he had even sworn at her. On the Thursday morning following the Saturday of Mark's interview with Aline things had reached such a pitch that Miss Seager, sitting trembling at her desk in the outer office, was wondering whether she could possibly stand another day of it. Jobs were not easy to find, especially by a woman of Miss Seager's age. Yet the poor lady had begun to feel that she would prefer an almshouse to this constant nagging and abuse.
Mark was in his office and even through the closed door she could hear him muttering angrily. Then came a crash as he flung a ledger or some heavy book on the floor. Next moment he would stride out. Unfortunate Miss Seager was positively shaking when there came a knock at the outer door and in walked Gerald Farne.
It was a warm morning and Farne was in a well-cut flannel suit. His brown shoes were dark mirrors, he wore the tie of a famous cricket club. Of the blow which Dave had dealt him there was no longer any sign.
"Is Mr. Roston in, Miss Seager?" he asked in his pleasantest tone. It was part of Farne's creed to be civil to underlings. It cost nothing and often paid good dividends.
"He is in, Mr. Farne," said Miss Seager, hesitatingly, "but— but I don't think he is very well."
"Late nights," smiled Farne. Then he laughed. "No, of course not. Mr. Roston never indulges in that sort of thing. Tell him I have some business for him and perhaps he will feel better."
Miss Seager was a little cheered. Mark could not well swear at her in face of this fine gentleman. She knocked and went in. Mark scowled at her.
"What do you want?" he asked, harshly.
"Mr. Farne wishes to see you, sir. He told me to say he had some business for you."
"Show him in," snapped Mark and Miss Seager escaped thankfully.
"Morning, Roston," said Farne in his most cheerful tone as he came in with outstretched hand. "I wanted to see you about Consolidated Copper." He broke off. "What's the matter?" he asked, sympathetically. "You don't look up to your usual form. Working too hard?"
"It's not work," said Mark, heavily.
"Whatever it is, it's not doing you any good, my dear fellow," said Farne in his most honeyed voice. It was, of course, the purest humbug on his part, for he cared no more for Mark than he did for Miss Seager. But it was part of his policy to learn all he could about those with whom he had dealings. Long ago he had realized that knowledge is power. Not only power, for frequently it could be turned into solid cash.
Mark gazed at his visitor. A cold, reserved man, he would usually have been the last to confide in one who was, after all, merely a business acquaintance. But there are times in the lives of all men when a confidant is necessary, and the tragedy of the life of a man like Mark Roston is that he has no friends. He felt a sudden irresistible urge to talk.
"It's not work," he repeated. "Business is pretty good. Might be worse anyway." He paused. Much as he wanted to talk, he did not know how to begin. Farne helped him.
"You're not well, Roston. You look as if you were not sleeping."
Mark gave a bark of a laugh.
"Sleep! I've hardly slept an hour on end the past five nights."
"Five nights," thought Farne swiftly. "Then something happened last Saturday. So it's not business. Why, the fellow must be in love!" The idea struck him as so comic he nearly laughed, but no sign of amusement showed on his smooth face. He leaned forward.
"Have you seen a doctor?"
"No doctor can help me," Mark answered. He paused again and Farne waited in silence. Instinctively he felt something big was coming, yet he was not in the least prepared for Mark's next words.
"I've lost a million pounds, Farne."
For the life of him Farne could not control a slight start. A million pounds. And the man was telling cold truth. All Farne's predatory instincts were aroused, and he tingled with sudden excitement. Yet when he spoke his voice held nothing but sympathy.
"That's a lot of money. Is there no way of saving it?" Mark shook his head.
"I've tried all I know, but she won't have me."
Again Farne's brain worked with lightning speed. So his first surmise had been right. It was a girl. But what woman in London had a million in her own right? Farne, you may be sure, kept tab on all available heiresses. That was part of his business. Yet at the moment he could not think of any who was mistress of such a sum.
"Women are the very devil," he drawled. "But I take it, Roston, that you are not what might be called an expert in handling women. Don't be offended. Personally, you are the sort who might well attract a girl, for women like big, strong men. But on the other hand I should say that you had little experience of the other sex, and that your sturdy honesty left you rather helpless in dealing with them."
Mark lapped up this blatant flattery as a cat drinks cream.
"I dare say you're right, Farne. I never had much to do with women. I've been too busy. But this girl—well, at first it seemed all right, and then quite suddenly she turned against me." He frowned. "It's the most extraordinary business—quite beyond me to understand—for she loses as much as I do by refusing to marry me."
Farne pricked up his ears.
"You mean to tell me that you and she were each to have a million if you married? Man, I never heard such a story. It's a regular fairy tale."
"It's solemn truth," Mark answered, soberly. "If it won't bore you I'd like to tell you. You might be able to give me useful advice."
Farne glanced at his wrist-watch.
"I have half an hour to spare," he answered. "And if you think my experience would be of any use to you I'm sure you are very welcome. Advice is cheap," he smiled.
"Yours might be very useful to me," Mark said. Like most of Farne's acquaintances, he knew nothing of the man's real character, but looked on him as a smart and wealthy man about Town, who dabbled a little in business as a sort of side show. "You have heard of old James Kirkstall?" he asked.
"Yes, I've heard of him, but I know nothing about him except that he is rich and old, and a bit of a hermit."
"He's rich enough," Mark said. "He's worth about three million. Incidentally he is my uncle."
Again Farne started slightly, for this was news to him. He had never imagined that old Kirkstall was more than ordinarily wealthy and he was quite unaware that Mark Roston was his nephew. His face hardened slightly for mention of James Kirkstall had made him suddenly remember David Hallam. David he knew to be a nephew of James. So these two were cousins! But he kept his knowledge to himself and his voice was all sympathy as he spoke.
"I begin to understand. The old man has been choosing a wife for you."
"That's it. He had me up at his house the other day and told me that if I married a girl he'd picked for me, the daughter of an old friend of his, he would leave us his fortune."
"And what was she like—possible?"
"Lovely, Farne. The finest-looking girl I ever saw in my life."
Farne whistled softly.
"You were in luck, Roston."
"So I thought, especially when she consented to come and stay with my mother and myself at Faraway. She was there five days and I thought all was going well, but when I asked her to marry me she turned me down cold."
"Damned if I blame her," was Farne's inward comment, but his face showed nothing of his real feelings.
"That was rotten luck," he said. "Perhaps you didn't go the right way to work."
"I don't know," said Mark despondently. "I—I tried to kiss her and she struck me in the face." Farne had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. He could picture the scene perfectly.
"Then what happened?"
"She bolted. I thought she'd gone back to her sister-in-law in London, but she hadn't. I spent a week looking for her and found her at last working as a clerk in a garage up at a place called Roborough on Watling Street." Farne had all he could do to repress the surge of fierce excitement which rose within him.
"I asked her to come back to Faraway," Mark went on, "but she treated me like a stranger. The fact is that my cousin had got hold of her and poisoned her mind against me."
"Your cousin?" In spite of the tumult within him, Farne's voice was cool and casual as ever.
"A man called David Hallam. Have you ever met him?"
"I know him by sight," drawled Farne. "So he is trying to cut you out with the heiress?" He laughed.
"I'm interested, Roston," he went on. "I think, like you, that you have been badly treated, and if you care for my help you are welcome to it."
MARK gazed at Farne as if he could not believe his ears, but seeing that the other meant what he had said his dull eyes brightened.
"You're a good fellow, Farne," he declared. "I shall be only too grateful." Then his face fell again. "All the same I don't see what you can do. Miss Kerr has practically refused to speak to me."
"Cheer up," said Farne, smiling. "In matters of this sort it's half the battle to be cheerful. My notion is that you have been taking it all far too seriously. Women hate that sort of thing—" he paused.
"If I'm to do anything for you I must know more about things," he continued. "Mind if I ask a few questions?"
"Anything you like," Mark answered.
"What is the lady's name?"
"Aline Kerr. She is Scottish, and her father was an old friend of Uncle James."
"Apart from the lady, had you any hope of inheriting from your uncle?"
"No. He and my father didn't get on. And my mother is only his half-sister. I had always thought my cousin, David Hallam, would be the heir."
"Then did he and your uncle quarrel?" Farne asked. "What occurs to me is that, if your cousin was his favourite it's odd that the old man didn't first offer him the chance he has now given you?"
"He did. He told me he had."
"And Hallam turned the offer down?"
"Yes. That's what my uncle said."
Farne's lip curled, scornfully. It was just the sort of damn fool thing Hallam would do—refuse a fortune for some ridiculous scruple. Farne's hatred of Dave did not blind him to Dave's real character. He thought him a fool yet knew he was honest.
"But see here, Roston," he said. "There's one queer discrepancy in your story. If Hallam turned the girl down, why should she have taken up with him like this? I understand she is working for the same man who employs him."
Mark shook his head.
"That beats me, too, but there she is at Roborough, working for a man called Trevor, and my cousin is either a partner or at any rate employed in the same business."
Farne thought for a moment or two, then spoke again.
"You have no idea what happened after Miss Kerr left your house?"
"No, and I haven't been able to find out." Again Farne considered.
"What day was it she left?"
"The night of the thunderstorm," Farne said thoughtfully. "It's on the cards that Hallam picked her up in a car during the storm."
"I dare say you're right, but I don't know." Mark was growing despondent again for, so far, Farne had not done much to help him.
"Buck up," said Farne. "We're at a deadlock at present simply because we don't know enough of what's been going on. Now quite evidently it's no use your going to Roborough."
"Not a bit," agreed Mark.
"But there's nothing against my visiting the place and having a talk with Trevor or some of his men?"
"What about Hallam?" Mark objected. "You said you'd met him. He might get suspicious."
"Quite so. The thing will be to make sure he is not there."
Mark's eyes widened.
"Don't be thick, Roston," smiled Farne. "Surely it's simple enough. If he drives for Trevor, what's easier than to arrange for him to be off on a long trip—Cornwall or Scotland?"
"I hadn't thought of that," replied Mark, "but of course you're right."
"As a matter of fact I have a friend who wants to go to Inverness," Farne said. "I'll arrange that he goes to Trevor for a car and that he takes Hallam to drive him. Then I'll get to work."
Mark was cheering up wonderfully.
"I wish I had your brains, Farne," he said, wistfully. He paused and looked hard at the other. His native shrewdness came to the surface.
"All the same I don't quite see why you should take so much trouble on my account."
"I'm a selfish sort of person, Roston, and I'm going to suggest to you that we put this thing on a business footing. You say there's a million involved. Will you pay me five per cent if I arrange your marriage with Miss Kerr?"
Mark's jaw dropped.
"Fifty thousand pounds! It's a lot of money," he said, doubtfully. A gleam of contempt showed for an instant in Farne's intensely blue eyes.
"And you get £950,000. I shouldn't say it was a bad bargain, Roston. Still, of course—" He picked up his hat and gloves as if to go. Mark thrust out a big hand and caught him by the arm.
"No, don't go. I agree. I will pay you five per cent of all I get from my uncle on condition that you arrange my marriage with Miss Kerr. The money to be paid in four equal instalments during the year after my marriage."
"You'll give me that in writing?"
"Very good. There's only one other thing. You will have to put yourself entirely in my hands."
Again Mark looked doubtful.
"You don't mean anything illegal?" he questioned.
"Of course not. There'll be no abduction or anything of that sort. What I mean is that you may have to leave your business for a bit. Would you be able to get away for as much as a month?"
"I could manage that," said Mark.
"All right. Now you can leave everything to me. Don't do anything until you hear from me."
"And you think you can manage it?" Mark asked, anxiously.
"I don't often fail in anything I undertake," replied Farne, and Mark watching him saw his eyes had gone as hard as turquoise. Then he laughed. "And a man will do a lot for fifty thousand pounds," he added. He nodded in friendly fashion to Miss Seager as he passed through the outer office.
"Mr. Roston's feeling better," he told her, and ran lightly down the stairs. It was not until he was safe in a taxi that he allowed himself to laugh. He lay back and chuckled satanically.
"Fifty thousand pounds—and my revenge. Gad, but I'm actually glad I didn't finish you, David Hallam. It'll be heaps more fun to take your girl away, and see your face when I've done it." He picked up the mouthpiece of the speaking tube.
"Not the club, driver. Take me to 21, Full Moon Street."
"WHEN'S this thing going to stop?" Tom Trevor's usually quiet voice was almost sharp as he sat gazing at Dave, who faced him at the other side of the supper table. Aline had just left the room after bidding them a quiet good night. During the whole meal she had hardly spoken a word. "Frankly, Dave, I'm fed up," Trevor continued. "I take on Miss Kerr at your urgent request; for a few days all goes as merrily as possible, then you two fall out, and since then I might as well be living in a deaf and dumb asylum."
Dave bit his lip.
"I've no more notion when it's going to stop than you, Tom. Do you think I'm enjoying it?" His tone was so bitter that Trevor felt suddenly remorseful.
"Sorry, Dave. If there was anything I could do to help you I would. Matter of fact, I've tried to get Aline to talk, but not a word. That girl has a will of iron and the pride of Lady Lucifer." He paused. "Strikes me," he went on, "the best thing would be that you two shouldn't see so much of one another."
"That's exactly what I was going to suggest to you," Dave answered. "Only I hated leaving you in the lurch when you're so busy."
"Decent of you, Dave, for I know pretty well what you're feeling, but in point of fact you can get away for a while without hurting the business."
"There's a chap called Ashby lives at Fancourt. I had a letter from him to-day, asking if we have a good-sized, comfortable car, and driver. He wants to go on a month's fishing trip up to North Scotland."
"We ought to suit him all right," said Dave. "Do you suggest I should drive?" Trevor took the letter from his pocket and looked at it.
"Ashby says he would prefer a man of some education," he remarked with a grin. "I suppose you'd qualify."
"I'm fairly well educated in fishing, if that's what he means. All right, Tom, I'll go. You'll keep an eye on Aline?"
"I'll see your cousin doesn't run off with her," promised Trevor. "Now I must call up Ashby and find out when he wants to start."
Ashby was in a hurry. This was Tuesday and he wanted to get away the following Thursday. He wished to be called for at eight in the morning and to spend the night at Carlisle. Trevor assured him it would be all right and mentioned his terms, which, after some haggling, were accepted.
Dave left the garage just after seven on Thursday morning and Aline learned, through Sam, that Dave would be away for a month. It gave her a nasty shock to think that he had not told her or even said good-bye. In sober truth Aline was every bit as sick and tired of the quarrel as Dave himself. The trouble is that it is so easy to quarrel and so infernally difficult to make it up.
That day dragged horribly. It had been some consolation for Aline to see David passing up and down. The knowledge that she would not set eyes on him for a month left her in the depths. She began to toy with the notion of writing to him, but her pride stood in the way. Towards four o'clock the younger mechanic, Bert, knocked.
"There's a gentleman and lady asking for you, miss." Panic seized Aline. Mark must have brought his mother to plead his case.
"Who are they?" she asked, breathlessly.
"Here's their cards, miss," said Bert, and Aline was relieved and puzzled when she saw two quite strange names. They were "Colonel George Beauchamp" and "Lady Mary Golding." She glanced in the little mirror over the desk, smoothed her hair, then went out.
A powerful car stood in the road, with a liveried chauffeur at the wheel. It was the smartest outfit imaginable and the occupants of the car matched it. As Aline approached, Colonel Beauchamp stepped out of the car. He was apparently about fifty, had a heavy moustache and wore glasses. In a very smart suit of grey tweed he was the picture of a retired army officer.
"Miss Kerr?" he asked.
"I am Miss Kerr, but I don't think—"
"That you ever set eyes on me before," replied the Colonel with a smile. "You haven't, and I don't even suppose you will remember Lady Mary, though she, at any rate, has seen you often enough."
"Mary, this is Aline Kerr. Would you know her?" The lady lifted a face which was a miracle of make-up, and examined Aline. Then she laughed, a little tinkling laugh.
"It's a shock, George. Last time I saw her she was about three foot nothing. And now, a daughter of the Gods. But I must explain. I'm a friend of your mother, Aline. We were at school together until she married. Even after that I visited them at Kirkmichael, and saw all you young people make your appearances. Then I married Francis Golding and went with him to India, and afterwards to Fiji. I've never been at home for more than a few months in all the past fifteen years, but now my husband is dead and I have come back. England may have a horrid climate yet it's the only country to live in."
She rattled all this out at a speed which somehow matched her appearance for she was small, brisk, bird-like and very smart. Her make-up was so good she did not look a day over forty, yet Aline felt sure her real age was ten years in excess of that figure.
"You are very kind," said Aline in her rich, deep voice. "And to come all this distance. But I can't think how you found me."
"That was simple. I have always kept in touch with your brother Jock, so knew his wife was in London. I got your address from her." Aline felt happier. She had been afraid all along that these visitors had been in touch with Mark.
"Will you not come in?" she asked. "I have only my little office here, but I live not far away, and I could give you a cup of tea."
"That's sweet of you, my dear," said Lady Mary, "but I have a better plan. Let us drive you to the River Hotel at Bedford, and have tea there. We can bring you back at six. Will you come?"
"If I can get leave, Lady Mary. I will see Mr. Trevor."
"Why, of course," said Trevor. "And don't hurry back. The change'll do you good." So Aline drove off with her new friends. Lady Mary was full of talk, but the colonel, who seemed to be the owner of the car, did not say much. Aline, however, noticed that he watched her a good deal. She couldn't make up her mind whether she liked him or not.
At the hotel, tea appeared with the magical speed of service, which is the privilege of owners of expensive cars. A most excellent tea and, seated in a bow window, looking down on the river, Aline enjoyed both the good food and the surroundings. Lady Mary kept on talking. She wanted to know how Aline liked her work, whether she liked Trevor, how long she had been at Roborough. Aline answered freely enough, except that she did not speak of David. Now and then she noticed the colonel watching her with an intentness which puzzled her.
At last Aline had to remind her new friends that it was time for her to get back.
"I have seen nothing of you yet," Lady Mary lamented as they drove southwards. "When you get your holidays you must stay with me in London. I have a little flat in Full Moon Street. You'll come, won't you?"
"I shall like to," said Aline, "but I'm afraid I shan't get any holiday just yet."
"We'll see about that," declared Lady Mary. "I shall interview Mr. Trevor myself, and if he refuses I shall just find you another job. My dear, you've no right to be wasting your sweetness in a desert like this."
"Mr. Trevor is very good to me," Aline protested. "I have no complaints." They dropped her at the garage, and Aline thanked them for the outing.
"It has been a very pleasant change," she said, earnestly, "and I think it so kind of you both to take all this trouble on my account."
"Rubbish, my dear," laughed Lady Mary. "We've enjoyed it as much as you. You'll hear from me again soon." She waved from the car window as they drove away, then when the car had rounded the corner and was out of sight of the garage turned to the colonel.
"She's a beauty, Gerald. Properly dressed, that girl would make a sensation in society. And you're going to marry her to that lump, Mark Roston!" The colonel, otherwise Gerald Farne, laughed harshly.
"Marry her to Roston. Not much. I'm going to marry her myself. Now listen, Mary. I've planned it all out."
ON a morning about a week after Aline's excursion, Tom Trevor came into the office with a letter in his hand.
"This is from your friend, Lady Mary Golding, Aline." Aline looked up quickly.
"What is she writing to you about?" she asked in surprise. Trevor smiled.
"She is imploring your hard-hearted employer to grant you a short holiday."
"But that's absurd," protested Aline. "I've only just begun my work here. I can't expect a holiday this year." Trevor seated himself on the edge of the table and looked whimsically at Aline.
"You have worked very well, Aline, and I shouldn't dream of keeping you right through the year without a change. Lady Mary tells me she is going for a sea trip down the Mediterranean in the Camden Castle. She wants to take you with her."
"The Mediterranean—Italy!" Aline's face lit up with sudden delight, then the brightness faded and she shook her head. "No, of course it's out of the question."
"That's for me to say, isn't it?" replied Trevor. "If I can spare you why shouldn't you go?"
Aline's fine eyes were full of gratitude.
"You are the kindest man, Mr. Trevor. All the same, even if you gave me the time I couldn't go. I—I have got no clothes for that sort of trip."
"That is an objection which Lady Mary seems to have foreseen. She writes that she does not wish you to be at any expense and that she desires to provide the necessary outfit."
Aline clasped her hands.
"People are too kind," she exclaimed in a voice that was not quite steady.
Tom Trevor smiled.
"No one could help being kind to you, Aline. Then I may tell her you will go?"
Aline protested, but Trevor was firm.
"You may never get such a chance again," he told her. "And it will do you good physically and mentally. I shall get the advantage in your work when you come back."
"But who will do the books when I'm away?"
"There again things fit in. A nephew of mine, Jack Kempson, is coming here as a sort of apprentice pupil. He can manage the books for a few weeks. Got any more objections?" But Aline had none.
"You start on the 17th," Trevor added, glancing at the letter: "You'd better go up to Town next week-end about your clothes. Lady Mary says she can manage it all in a day. I'll leave you the letter and you can write to her."
Aline wrote and next morning Lady Mary Golding had just finished reading the letter when Farne strolled into her sunny little morning-room.
"So you've heard," he said and stretched out his hand for the letter. Lady Mary did not hand it over at once. She looked up at him and there was an odd and unusual expression on her face.
"She's much too good for you, Gerald," she said, slowly. Farne's very blue eyes widened slightly.
"What's the matter, Mary—indigestion or remorse?" he drawled, then in a sharper tone. "Give me that letter." He took it, read it and nodded.
"Couldn't be better. See she has all she wants in the way of frocks. Nothing makes a woman happier than to be well turned out, especially when she's never had any clothes."
"So you mean to marry her?" said the other in the same quiet tone.
"Of course I mean to marry her," Farne replied curtly. "And you'll do your damnedest to help." He looked round at the pretty room with its expensive furniture and fittings. "I don't know what maggot you've got in your brain, Mary, but you'd better remember that you wouldn't be enjoying all this if it wasn't for me. A back room in Bayswater is about all your income would run to."
She shrugged her thin shoulders.
"I know that," she answered. "But I know you, too, Gerald, and I can't think of any worse fate for a girl than to be your wife."
Farne scowled in sudden anger.
"That'll be quite enough, thank you. If you're tired of working for me, say so. There are plenty of broken-down society women who'd jump at the job."
"Oh, I'll carry on," she said, bitterly. "I can't help myself." She paused, then suddenly looked up at Farne.
"What are you doing about Roston?" she asked and Farne chuckled.
"Just exactly nothing."
"Suppose he hears?"
"How can he? The girl's not going to tell him. I've ordered him to sit tight until he hears from me. The first thing he hears will be that the girl is Mrs. Farne."
"Aren't you afraid he may murder you?"
"That lout! Why, if he had a wife and I took her away from him he'd only go and see his lawyer."
"What about the other cousin?" This time Farne did not laugh. His eyes hardened.
"Between ourselves, Mary, he's the only man I've ever met who has stuck up to me. That's why I sent him to Scotland. It'll be all over and done with before he gets back."
"You seem very sure."
"Of course I'm sure. When I make plans they're watertight. If you do your part we can't fail. And just to keep you up to the mark I'll mention that there will be five thousand coming to you when it's all set and sealed." If Farne had expected any sign of gratitude or even pleasure from Lady Mary he was disappointed. Her expression remained grave, even gloomy.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked impatiently. "Here you are, going to have a jolly good time at my expense and the prospect of a small fortune to come and you look like a cat that's lost its kitten." Lady Mary raised her head, and her face, in spite of its wonderful make-up looked old and haggard.
"I don't like it, Gerald. I have a feeling that this business is going to land us in trouble."
"Of all the damned croakers—" began Farne angrily, but she raised her hand.
"Before you begin swearing at me, listen. I know you are mad on this girl, and, truly, she is charming enough to turn any man's head. But there's one thing, or, rather person, you seem to have left out of your calculations."
"James Kirkstall. Who is to say whether he will leave his millions or any of them to Aline Kerr if she doesn't marry one of his nephews?"
"That's the first sensible thing you've said this morning, Mary. It would be damned awkward if the old man turned crusty and it's the very point that first occurred to me. But I've made inquiries. As you know, I have my own sources of information. Kirkstall has quarrelled with Hallam, he dislikes Roston but he is devoted to this girl. Years ago he was in love with her mother. Now are you satisfied?"
Lady Mary shrugged once more.
"On that point, yes." She sighed. "I'll carry out orders, Gerald. You can depend on me for that."
FARNE had boasted that his plans were watertight. So they were up to a point. But a link went just where he least expected it and Farne never heard it snap. Ashby got a chill out fishing and developed pneumonia.
The doctor, hastily summoned by Dave, hurried Ashby into hospital at Inverness and told Dave that, although there was no particular danger, Ashby certainly would not fish again that season, and would be in hospital for at least a month.
Now if Ashby had been one of Farne's gang his first task would have been to wire to Farne. But he was not. He was quite a decent fellow and had no idea of Farne's real activities or of the plot in which he himself was a perfectly innocent accomplice. So he merely told Dave that he had better take the car back and bade him a kindly farewell. The result was that, instead of being away for a full month, Dave was back at Roborough in just under a fortnight.
"How is Aline?" was his very first question and when Trevor explained that she had gone he was utterly upset.
"But I wrote you all about it," Trevor said.
"I never got the letter. Where did you send it?"
"To the post office at Whitebridge."
"That explains it. There was no water in the river and we only stopped one day. I'll bet it's there still."
"I'm sorry, Dave, but I don't know why you're so worried. This Lady Mary Golding is an old friend of Aline's mother."
"Did Aline recognize her?"
"Hardly. She hadn't seen her since she was about three."
"Then there's no proof that this woman is what she says she is. The whole thing may be a plant."
"You don't suspect your cousin?"
"I jolly well do. Don't you see, if Mark is in the ship, he'd get Aline all to himself for three weeks."
"If it was three months Aline wouldn't speak to him," returned Trevor. "She loathes the man." He paused, frowning a little. "It's no use your worrying, Dave," he went on. "Best thing you can do is to run up to Town in the morning, call at your cousin's office and make sure whether he's there or not."
"I'll go and talk to the blighter," growled Dave.
"All right, only keep it to words. I don't want to have to go up and bail you out of the police station."
"I'll be careful. All the same, if he's been up to a dirty trick of this sort, it will be a job to keep my hands off him."
"Aline won't thank you for any scandal," Trevor warned him. "All right, take a car and go early."
It was little after ten next morning when Dave arrived at Mark's office. He was surprised and, to some extent, relieved when Miss Seager told him that Mr. Roston was in. A minute later Dave found himself, for the first time for years, face to face with his cousin. His first impression was "How big he's grown!" his second, "How infernally ill he looks!" Mark certainly did look very far from fit. His cheeks were a bad colour and the whites of his eyes had a yellow tinge. His temper apparently was in equally bad order, for he scowled at Dave.
"What do you want?" he demanded, harshly.
Dave could be equally abrupt.
"I came to find out what you've done with Miss Kerr," he retorted. The effect of the question on Mark was surprising. His eyes widened, his jaw dropped.
"Miss Kerr!" he repeated. "What do you mean? Where is she?"
Dave had sense enough to see that the other's astonishment was genuine.
"So it wasn't you," he said slowly.
"What the devil are you talking about?" demanded Mark recovering a little.
"I'm talking about Miss Kerr. I thought it was you who had lured her away from Roborough, but I begin to see I'm wrong."
"For any sake explain," cried Mark, violently.
"I'm going to. I've been away for a fortnight. When I got back last night I found that Miss Kerr had gone off on a sea trip with a woman who claims to be a friend of her mother. I took it that it was a trick of yours. If I'm mistaken I apologise."
To Dave's astonishment Mark was now looking badly scared. His face had gone white, beads of perspiration stood on his forehead.
"Where has she gone?" he gasped.
"To the Mediterranean in the Camden Castle."
"And who with?"
"Lady Mary Golding, she calls herself."
"That woman! And—and I—" He pulled himself up short—only just in time. In his anger he had been on the point of blurting out words that would have given away his own plot with Farne. Dave stared at him suspiciously.
"Why do you say 'that woman'?" he demanded. "What do you know about her?"
"I know she's a bad lot," Mark answered. "A regular gold-digger. The last thing likely is that she ever knew Miss Kerr's mother."
Dave's face hardened.
"But what's she after? What's her object? Miss Kerr's got nothing."
"She will have," said Mark, significantly. "She'll have Uncle James's money."
It was Dave's turn to start.
"You're crazy. What's she got to do with Uncle James?" Mark stared at his cousin. His slow brain was working at unusual speed. Impossible as it seemed, he was forced to the conviction that Dave was really ignorant of Aline's connection with Uncle James, yet how could that be when old James had told him in so many words that he had offered Dave his millions if he married Aline? Mark, of course, knew nothing of Dave's blunder over the photograph, or of James calling Aline "Bella," yet realized that there was something he did not understand. At the same time suspicion was dawning in his mind that Farne was up to some crooked game, for he knew that Lady Mary was Farne's creature. Altogether he was in a desperate state of mind.
"What's Miss Kerr got to do with Uncle James?" Dave repeated, impatiently. "Why do you say she'll have his money?"
Mark had to say something.
"He told me so," he blurted out.
Dave's eyes narrowed.
"So that's why you've been after her," he sneered, and Mark's heavy face reddened.
"How about you?" he retorted.
"It wasn't for her money," was Dave's sharp answer. Then not so much mindful of Trevor's advice to avoid a row as anxious not to waste another moment, he turned, and before Mark could make up his mind what to say or do next, was out in the street.
Jumping into his car Dave drove straight to Brook Street. He meant to have it out with Uncle James. Ford opened for him, but when Dave demanded to see his uncle the plump butler shook his head.
"Very sorry, Mr. Dave, but he's in bed to-day. And anyhow he won't see you. His orders were never to let you into the house again."
Dave bit his lip.
"Ford," he said, quickly, "that young lady who came here some weeks ago—what was she like?" Ford looked a little surprised.
"The young lady," he repeated. "She was tall, sir, and held herself well. Very sweet looking with wonderful blue eyes and the prettiest hair I think I ever saw." He broke off. "Why, what's the matter, Mr. David?"
"Can't tell you now, Ford—no time," said Dave, and the astonished butler saw him jump into his car and drive rapidly away.
"MY God!—what a fool I've been!" muttered Dave, as he swung southwards towards Cockspur Street. Luckily for him, his driving was almost instinctive, for his mind was on anything but the traffic as he made for the office of the Green Star Shipping Company.
Within a very few minutes he had the full particulars of the route and time-table of the Camden Castle, and a list of her passengers. Yes, there were the names of Lady Mary Golding and Miss Aline Kerr, but there was no mention of Gerald Farne. But that did not reassure Dave. Farne might easily join the ship at some intermediate port, such as Marseilles.
Leaving the office, he drove to his bank in the City. Some instinct had made Dave keep a little nest-egg of one hundred pounds. It was his entire capital. Now he drew it—every penny. He also borrowed a Bradshaw, which he studied for a few minutes.
"Plenty of time," he said to himself, as he turned the car north again. Once he reached the Watford by-pass he trod on the accelerator and wasted so little time that he was back at Roborough by lunch-time. During the meal he told Trevor his whole story, and Trevor was full of sympathy.
"I ought never to have let her go," he said, gravely. "But these people seemed so very much all right, and Aline herself accepted them."
"I don't blame you a bit, Tom," Dave declared—"not a bit. Even now I'm not sure there is anything seriously wrong; but—"
Trevor cut in.
"You're thinking of Farne."
"You're sure it's not your cousin?"
"Absolutely! Mark's amazement was genuine."
"But how could Farne know anything about Aline?" Dave flung up his hand.
"There's very little that man doesn't know. He has spies everywhere. And since I defeated him the other day there's nothing he'd stick at to get square. You know I got that letter of his, proving him to be in with Gorsley. It's at my bank, with an explanation, in a sealed envelope, and I wrote to Farne that, if I was killed or died, it would be opened and the contents published. The result is, he dare not continue his attempts to murder me, but I've only driven him underground. If he can harm Aline—" His face went suddenly white and fierce. "If he does, I'll kill him," he ended in a voice that was thick with fury. Trevor laid a hand on his arm.
"Steady, old lad! If things are as you think, you'll need all your faculties to deal with them. I take it, you're off to-night?"
"By the 7:40 from Charing Cross. I can pick up the ship at Genoa."
"Right. Do you want money?"
"I've enough, thanks, Tom."
"Wire me if you want more. I have some balance at the bank."
"You're a good friend, Tom," said Dave, fervently. "And I hate to leave you in the lurch just when you're so busy."
"That's the last thing to worry about. Bring Aline back safe. Next to Caryl, there's no woman I think more of. Now go and pack. Bert shall drive you up."
"No need for that. He can take me to Bletchley to the 4:18. That will give me plenty of time to cross London."
"Anything you like, Dave. You'll keep me posted?"
Dave nodded and went out. He had plenty to do before he started.
Bert drove him to the train and fetched him an evening paper. But Dave did not read it. He sat back in his third-class carriage, deep in thought, and the more he thought the more convinced he became that Farne had some finger in the pie. He wished he had time to make enquiries in London, time to find out more about this Golding woman, but that was impossible. If he was to catch the ship at Genoa he must travel straight through, for then she was going to Malta and after that, to the African coast.
There were not many people on the boat train and Dave found an empty smoker. But just at the last minute two women got in. They were youngish, well dressed and apparently friends who had just met for they were full of talk. Dave paid no particular attention until he heard one of them say:
"I was so surprised to meet you, Lily. You wrote me from Brighton that you were going down the Mediterranean in the Camden Castle."
"So I was dear, but I couldn't get an upper deck cabin, so I didn't go. I'm not sorry now, for I hear the ship is very full."
"I've never been on one of those tours," said Lily. "Are they nice?"
"It all depends on the people," the other answered. "If you get a nice crowd it's very jolly indeed, but in some of the ships you find a queer lot. They play bridge or poker for a living or try to sell you shares in some shady company."
"I know the type you mean. I met one of them the other day, a Lady Mary Golding. At bridge she's an absolute terror." The other woman glanced quickly at Dave but he, with the brim of his hat pulled down over his eyes, was pretending to be asleep.
"I knew her," she answered in a lower tone. "And oddly enough I saw her name in the list of the Camden Castle passengers. Yes, she's just the type I mean. I don't believe she has a hundred a year of her own, and she lives in a flat in Full Moon Street where the rent alone must be about £300."
Lily's eyes widened.
"How does she do it? She can't make all that out of bridge."
"No, of course not." Her voice dropped to a whisper yet Dave heard. "Billy Wilson told me that she's in with a bucket-shop keeper called Grant Gorsley, and sells shares for him to her smart acquaintances. That's where—" The train plunged into a roaring tunnel, but Dave had heard enough. His worst suspicions were confirmed, and he no longer had any doubt but that Farne was at the bottom of the business.
He lay back, very still, consumed with a cold fury, so angry that he could not think or plan, and this mood lasted all through his journey until at last he stepped out of the train at Genoa. He had never before been in Italy and, ordinarily speaking, would have been intensely interested in his surroundings. As it was, his one idea was to reach the ship as speedily as possible.
The Camden Castle was not yet in, and he learned was not expected until the evening. This was really a blessing in disguise for, since Dave found it impossible to sit still, it led him to go for a long walk all round the town. The exercise did him good, steadied him and gave him an appetite. He dined at an hotel and by the time he had finished an excellent meal felt much more master of himself. When he came out of the dining-room the hall porter told him in excellent English that the Camden Castle was just in.
Dave's heart was thumping as he reached the quay alongside which the big liner was tied. Yet now he was quite cool again and felt that, even if he met Farne, he would not fly at his throat. Going aboard, he inquired for the purser. That plump and courteous official whose name was Holmes, informed him that Lady Mary Golding and Miss Aline Kerr were aboard, but that Miss Kerr had unfortunately got a chill, and was in bed in her cabin. He feared it would be impossible for Mr. Hallam to see her that evening.
"When are you sailing?" Dave asked.
"At eight to-morrow morning," said the purser, then seeing Dave's look of dismay, he explained: "We are twelve hours late owing to bad weather, and we do not want to cut short our stay at Malta. So our passengers have to give up their day in Genoa."
Dave did not hesitate.
"Have you a spare berth?" he asked.
Holmes shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hallam. We are booked up."
THE shock was so great that for a moment Dave could not even speak. Holmes, a decent fellow, realized that there was something more behind all this than he had yet heard. Of course he had noticed Aline's beauty, and he saw that Dave was a personable young man. He began to have some inkling of a love affair.
"I'm really sorry, Mr. Hallam," he went on. "We had two cabins, and they have both been booked by cable. I found the messages on arrival here."
Dave had hold of himself again.
"May I ask if one was booked by Mr. Gerald Farne?" Holmes nodded.
"Yes." It was on the tip of his tongue to add, "Is he a friend of yours?" but the flash in Dave's eyes stopped him.
"I'll bet the man's his rival," was his thought.
Dave spoke again.
"It's important that I should see Miss Kerr before the ship leaves. I have come all the way from England on purpose to do so. Would there be any opportunity of seeing her in the morning?"
"I can't say, Mr. Hallam, but honestly I don't think so. She's not at all well. But her friend, Lady Mary Golding, no doubt, you could see her."
"My message is for Miss Kerr," Dave answered curtly, and Holmes shrugged his broad shoulders.
"It's most unfortunate, Mr. Hallam, but you see for yourself I can't help you."
"I do, and thank you for your courtesy," said Dave. He paused. "Would there be any chance of my getting passage for Malta and catching the ship there?" he asked.
Holmes shook his head.
"Hardly, I'm afraid. There's the Serapis, but she won't sail till the day after to-morrow. I'm not sure about the Italian boats. You might inquire."
"I'll do so," said Dave, and went back up the broad stairs to the upper deck. Though he carried himself well, Dave was feeling almost desperate. The knowledge that Farne would be aboard shortly and that Aline was left entirely in his power was enough to drive him mad. What made it worse was the feeling that here he was within a few yards of Aline yet utterly unable to speak to her. True, he could leave a note, but would it ever reach her? At any rate it was worth trying, and he made for the writing-room. To reach it he had to pass through the smoking-room, and just as his fingers were on the handle of the door a man in the uniform of a ship's officer coming out of the smoking-room almost ran into him.
"Sorry," he said, then as his eyes fell on Dave's face he pulled up short. "Dave, you old scoundrel! What the blazes are you doing here?"
Dave's hand shot out.
"Justin!" he exclaimed. "Justin Darrow! Last time we met you were sailing a half-rater at Mersea."
"A busman's holiday. I've been with the Green Star for years and now I'm second officer of this steam hotel." He glanced at his wrist-watch. "I've plenty of time. Come and have a drink. We must have a yarn." He drew Dave into the smoking-room and rang for a steward.
"What's your poison?"
"Whisky and splash," Dave said. He did not care what he drank, he was so overcome with this unexpected meeting. For Justin Darrow was more than a mere acquaintance. He and Dave had been at prep school together and spent holidays in one another's homes. True, they had not seen much of one another for some years past, yet they had never quite lost touch, and when Dave's father died Darrow had written an uncommonly nice letter.
"I'll tell him the whole thing," Dave decided. "I don't know whether he can do anything, but if he can't it won't be for lack of trying." He plunged into his story, making it as short as possible. The changing expressions on Darrow's face were proof of his intense interest.
"And now Aline is ill," Dave ended, "and I can't see her, and the purser tells me you're sailing at eight in the morning.
"And this blighter, Farne's coming aboard to-night—is that it?" Darrow asked, sharply.
"To-night or in the morning. And, Justin, he's the very worst kind of swine."
"Swine's too kind a word by what you've told me. Dave, I've met your girl and she's a peach. We've got to do something about this."
"If you'll keep an eye on her I'll be everlastingly grateful, Justin."
"But why not yourself, man?"
"I told you. I can't get a berth."
Darrow thumped his big fist on the table.
"That's all pie. On a ship like this there's always room for one more man. See here, Dave. Old Holmes is a bit of a stickler, but he's not a bad sort. I'll go and have a yarn with him, and if he can't squeeze you in anywhere I'll ask the skipper if I can put you in my cabin. There's an extra bunk and you won't mind roughing it."
"Man, I'd sleep in a coal bunker or on the bare deck so long as I could stay aboard," declared Dave with emphasis.
Darrow jumped up, then paused.
"Dave," he said in a lower tone. "How much may I tell Holmes? I mean, if I mentioned Farne, it might make a difference."
"Say anything you like. You know Holmes. I don't."
"I bet I can fix it," he said and went.
Dave sat waiting. The change in his fortunes had been so sudden he felt quite overwhelmed. But hope had come back, and he felt certain that, if he could once see Aline and have a talk with her, all would yet be well. He would explain everything and throw himself on her mercy. He felt she was really fond of him. It was nearly half an hour before Darrow returned.
"I've had the deuce of a time with Holmes," were his first words. "He vowed there wasn't a berth in the ship. I had to tell him about Farne. That made him think. Then he sent for the chief steward. The upshot is that a cabin on D Deck which has been used for storage purposes will be cleared for you. It's dark and not too well ventilated but I told him you weren't particular. It'll cost you forty quid. Can you manage that?"
"I can manage that all right," said Dave, "and I can't tell you how grateful I am to you, Justin. Now I'll go to the hotel and get my kit. I'd better sleep aboard."
"Much better. The cabin will be ready in an hour. And see here, David, if there's any trouble with this fellow, Farne, I want you to keep your hands off him. We don't care for fisticuffs in a show like this."
"I'll do my best," Dave promised and went off. He was back in half an hour with the suitcase which was his only luggage; then, as his cabin was not yet ready, he went to the writing-room and started a letter to Aline. Deep in this, he hardly noticed heavy footsteps close by. It was a queer sound between a grunt and a gasp that made him look up to see Mark Roston standing on the other side of the table, staring at him as if he could not believe his eyes.
"YOU here?" Mark got out, but Dave had found time to recover himself.
"Any objection?" he asked, briefly. Slow-witted Mark could find no immediate answer, and Dave who had no idea of helping him out sat back in his chair, looking up with a perfect poker face. There was, he felt sure, something behind all this, which he did not fully understand. He hoped that Mark might give it away. Mark glanced round. There were very few people in the room, and none close to the table where Dave was writing.
"What do you want here?" Mark demanded.
Dave saw he was growing angry.
"My good Mark, what a question!" he drawled. "Must I ask your permission to take a trip abroad?"
"You're not here on any trip," retorted Mark. "You came after Aline."
"And if I did?" Dave said, softly.
"You've no right. You turned her down." Mark's voice rang so loud that an old lady across the room looked up in surprise.
"A little softer please, Mark," Suggested Dave. "Even if we are cousins we don't want the whole ship to know that we are quarrelling."
"I'm not quarrelling," snapped Mark. "I merely want to know what business you have with Aline."
"Hang it all! She's my secretary, not yours," said Dave with an aggrieved air.
"You didn't come here because she's your secretary," Mark insisted.
Dave remained calm.
"Then what did I come for?" he asked.
Mark's jaw tightened. He began to look dangerous.
"That's what I want to know. It's what I mean to know."
"Then I'll tell you how to find out, Mark. Go and ask Farne." Dave had hoped for results. He got them. Mark recoiled almost as if Dave had hit him.
"Farne!" he gasped. "What do you mean? Where is he?"
"Somewhere in this ship," Dave told him. Mark passed his hand across his forehead with a gesture so bewildered that for a moment Dave felt almost sorry for him.
"In this ship—he can't be," he muttered.
"If you don't believe me," said Dave, "go and ask the purser."
Red spots showed in Mark's cheeks.
"The swine!" he growled in so savage a tone that Dave's suspicions flared up hotter than ever. Ever since he had learned of Lady Mary's connection with Gorsley he had, of course, known that she must be a creature of Farne. And now it seemed clear that Mark, too, was mixed up with Farne.
"What's upsetting you, Mark?" he asked mildly. "From what the purser told me, I thought you and Farne had been travelling in company."
Mark glared at him.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he answered, harshly, and swinging round hurried out of the room.
"Going to look for Farne, I'll lay," said Dave to himself. "But I'll also bet he doesn't find him. Even if he did he'd get no change out of the fellow." He smiled a little to think how completely helpless the heavy-witted Mark would be in Farne's cunning hands, then turned back to finish his letter to Aline.
The next thing was to be sure it reached her. Dave felt pretty certain that this Lady Mary person took good care of Aline's correspondence. If she was in Farne's employ that would be her first care. So Dave went down to his cabin which was now ready, rang for his own steward, talked to him nicely and gave him a ten shilling note, then made inquiries as to how best the note could be handed to Aline. The steward, a decent fellow, scented a love affair and declared that he, personally, would hand the letter to Miss Kerr's own stewardess who would give it into Aline's own hands.
So far so good. The next thing was to find out whether Farne had arrived, but after making a tour of all the public rooms, including the bar, Dave could see no sign of his enemy, and since it was getting late decided that the best thing was to turn in. He lay awake for a while, thinking things over, and it was past twelve when he finally got off to sleep. When he awoke the ship was under way.
Dave rose, bathed, shaved, dressed and looking quite smart in a suit of grey flannel, went up into the sunshine of a glorious morning. There was no sign of either Farne or Mark and, so far, no reply from Aline. Dave got hold of his steward and made discreet inquiries. The man said that Miss Kerr's stewardess had told him that the lady was much better, but was not getting up until the afternoon. The stewardess had assured him that Miss Kerr had had the note, and Dave frowned a little, wondering why he had received no reply. But perhaps Aline was not up to writing, and anyhow he would see her later in the day. He thrilled at the thought and feeling fairly content, went to breakfast.
Dave's appetite for the excellent fare provided in the dining saloon would not have been as good as it was could he have overheard the conversation between Gerald Farne and Lady Mary Golding, which was actually going on while he ate his kidneys and bacon. Farne came into Lady Mary's cabin just as she had finished dressing. His eyes were hard as two turquoises and his lips one straight line.
"So I can't even trust you to obey orders," he began with brutal directness. Lady Mary stiffened. She was not without pluck, and she was angry at this accusation which seemed to her totally unfounded.
"I have no idea what you are talking about, Gerald," she answered coldly.
Farne thrust a note into her hand.
"Read that," he said. It was Aline's reply to Dave's note, which Farne, by bribery, had managed to intercept. Lady Mary's eyes widened as she glanced through it. They softened a little, too, for it was a delightful little letter which, in every sentence, reflected Aline's joy at hearing that Dave was on the ship. She looked up into Farne's hard, handsome face.
"I had no idea that Mr. Hallam was aboard," she told him. "How could I? You told me that he was away in Scotland."
"I told you not to let the girl get any letters," Farne said harshly.
"And she hasn't. I have opened everything that came for her by post." She paused. "You are unfair, Gerald," she said with spirit. "You are saddling me with your blunders."
Farne's eyebrows went up a fraction of an inch. The worm was turning and he did not quite like it. He would have liked it less if he had known the thoughts that were seething in the other's breast. Lady Mary was still human, and during the few day she and Aline had been together, had become really fond of the girl. Aline's sweetness and charm had got under her skin, and every day she had felt more strongly the horror of allowing Farne to marry her.
If Farne did not realize all this he was far too clever to keep up his bullying tone and his voice was much milder as he spoke again.
"You're right. You couldn't know about Hallam. But his coming complicates things. Incidentally, Roston is here, too."
"Mark Roston!" repeated Lady Mary, sharply. "But that—"
Farne raised his hand. "No need to get excited, Mary. In point of fact I'm rather relieved than otherwise. I intend to play those two cousins off, against the other. They're jealous as cats. Meantime your job will be to keep the girl in her cabin."
"But she is nearly well," said the other, quickly. "I don't see how that will be possible."
"My dear, don't be silly," smiled Farne. "I'll give you a bottle of medicine. It won't hurt her, but after she's taken it I don't think you'll have any trouble in keeping her below for a few days."
Lady Mary's lips tightened but she did not speak so Farne went on.
"All I want is that you should keep her quiet until we reach Algiers. Then I shall take her ashore, and when she comes back she'll be Mrs. Gerald Farne." He smiled and it came to the woman that, if the devil ever smiled, he must look exactly like Gerald Farne.
FARNE'S lips might smile, yet, inwardly, he had no sense of amusement, for the arrival of David Hallam had upset all his plans. How Dave had got there, how he had ever come to know of their plans—of all that Farne was still ignorant, but the knowledge that somehow his carefully-laid scheme had gone agley filled him with fury.
It was awkward from any point of view for, of all his many victims, Dave was the only one whom Farne had ever feared. Not personally, for, to do Farne justice, he had plenty of physical courage, yet like all his kind, he was superstitious. Hallam, so it seemed to Farne, had luck on his side. Three times he had escaped from apparently certain death and now here he was very much alive and evidently full of fight.
Farne could not afford to have his plans upset. Only he knew how deeply he was dipped. A big company which he and Gorsley had recently launched had completely failed to attract investors. If something was not done and done quickly it would mean ruin for both of them—probably worse than ruin for, if this company crashed, there would be an investigation and, once that started, the end was certain. Seven years' penal was about the least which he and his accomplice could expect.
Farne had been immensely taken by Aline's beauty but it was not that which had induced him to double-cross Mark. Mark's fifty thousand would hardly have been enough to save the situation in which Farne found himself, but, once it was known that he was the husband of the heiress to James Kirkstall's millions, he could raise almost any money he pleased.
Farne's idea was to get Aline ashore at Algiers, take her for a trip inland and engineer an accident which would delay them until after the ship had sailed. Then—his lip curled grimly as he considered the matter—he could arrange things so that she would have to marry him to avoid a scandal. Even if she refused he could hold her and extract a ransom from old James. He himself, of course, would not appear in this matter of ransom. He could always find a figurehead, some needy adventurer who would do all that was necessary for a few hundreds.
His difficulty was to handle the situation until the ship reached the African coast, for once Aline got into touch with David Hallam the fat was in the fire. He trusted, however, to the drug which he had with him and, going straight to his cabin, fetched the bottle and personally handed it to Lady Mary. Then he went to breakfast.
As he entered the saloon Dave came out. Dave half stopped, but Farne passed him as though he were a complete stranger. He did not even give him a glance. Dave's lips tightened.
"So that's your little game," he said to himself. "I'm to be ignored. All right, Master Farne, but perhaps I'll find means to make you sit up and take notice." Then he went in search of Justin Darrow. On the sun deck he saw Mark hanging about, looking like a fish out of water. Mark was not a good mixer. Besides Farne, Dave and Aline, he didn't know a soul aboard, and did not seem likely to. He had no hobbies or amusements and was already bored stiff.
Darrow was on the bridge, so Dave waited until his watch was over, then went with him to his cabin and told him of the progress of events, so far as he knew them. Darrow was keen as mustard.
"So you've had no answer from Miss Kerr. But I'll bet she sent one."
"Then I suppose this Golding woman got hold of it," growled Dave.
"Either she or Farne. I've spotted Farne, Dave, and he's all you say. A chap in my job learns to size up men, and in spite of Farne's good looks I wouldn't trust him round the corner. Of course his plan is to keep you two apart."
"But Aline's stewardess told my steward that she—that is Aline—was almost well again and would be up this afternoon. Then Farne can't stop my seeing her."
Darrow pursed his lips.
"You're a bit optimistic, old man. What's to prevent a little mistake in Miss Kerr's medicine—a small dose of some Opiate?"
Dave went quite white.
"I—I never thought of that, but you're right. It's just what Farne would do. Darrow, we must stop that at any price. What about the ship's doctor?"
Darrow shook his head.
"Not a hope! You can't go to a doctor and tell him that one of his patients is in danger of being drugged. He'd go to the old man and there'd be hell to pay. In the end Farne would sue you for slander."
"Farne wouldn't," said Dave significantly. "All the same I see what you mean. We don't want the captain in this. But you know the ropes, Justin, and I don't. Have you any suggestion to make?"
"Yes. There's a stewardess who's a trained nurse and whom I know pretty well. She looked after me when I had flu. Her name is Miss Goode, and it exactly fits her. She'll take a note from you and deliver it personally. In that note you can warn Miss Kerr not to take any medicine."
"Splendid!" cried Dave. "I'll write it at once."
"You can write it here. I'll find Miss Goode." Dave wasted no time in penning the note, and had hardly finished it before Darrow returned with Miss Goode, a capable, pleasant-faced woman of about fifty. Darrow introduced Dave.
"You needn't explain, Dave," he said. "I've done that. Miss Goode will take the note at once and bring the answer here."
Miss Goode went off but was back in less than five minutes. Her kindly face was very grave.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hallam, but I didn't see her. Lady Mary met me at the door and told me that Miss Kerr was asleep and couldn't be disturbed. She was very polite but quite firm about it."
"I'm very much obliged to you, Miss Goode," he said, in a curiously quiet voice. Then he went to the door. Darrow sprang after him.
"What are you going to do?" he demanded.
"Find Farne," said Dave, in the same odd, restrained fashion. Darrow grasped him by the arm.
"And try to knock his head off. No, you're not, my son. Not in this ship." There was a dangerous look in Dave's eyes, and for a moment Miss Goode held her breath. But Darrow went on quickly. "I've a girl of my own. I know exactly what you're feeling, Dave, and I'm all out to help you. So is Miss Goode, so is every decent person in the ship. But you won't get anywhere by having a row with Farne, and you'll only cause a scandal which will recoil on Miss Kerr."
The ugly look passed from Dave's face, but he was still obstinate.
"You said we couldn't go to the captain, Justin. I can't see anything for it but tackling Farne."
"And what good will you do with Farne? He'll deny everything, laugh at you. You've no proof of any kind."
"Damn it all, I must do something," cried Dave, fiercely. "You'll leave it to me," said Darrow firmly. "And with your leave I shall go to the captain."
"That's right, sir," put in Miss Goode. "It's the only thing to do."
"Now?" said Dave.
"No, he's off duty and possibly asleep. I'll catch him just after lunch. You needn't worry too much about Miss Kerr. They won't have given her anything to harm her."
"You're a good chap, Justin. I'll leave it to you."
DAVE spent a wretched morning. He could settle to nothing. He tramped up and down the deck, thinking—thinking. He burned with rage when he thought of Farne, and if Farne had turned up it is likely that, in spite of all Darrow's warnings Dave would have tackled him. But Farne kept to his cabin. A row was the last thing he wanted.
Lunch time came, and Dave descended to the saloon. But he could not eat, and soon left the table and went up again. The sunshine of the morning had gone, and the sky was heavily clouded. As he walked forward he saw a tall girl standing by herself with her back to him, leaning over the rail, and looking down into the water below. He pulled up short, then strode forward again.
"Aline!" he said in a voice half suffocated with emotion. She turned, and her face lit up with a lovely glow.
"Dave!" She gave him both her hands. If there had not been others in sight she might even have given him her lips. Dave thrilled at the grasp of her cool firm fingers, but he was still overcome with amazement at seeing her on the deck.
"How did you get here, Aline? I—thought you were too ill to leave your cabin."
"Did you not get my note?"
"No. And I sent you another about ten this morning, but Lady Mary would not let my messenger into your cabin. She said you were asleep."
"You never got my note of yesterday! What became of it?"
"I expect Farne got it," said Dave, grimly.
Aline gazed at him.
"Don't look like that, Dave. Your face is positively murderous. And who is Farne? Do you mean the man you told me about, who helped to steal your money?" It was Dave's turn to stare. He had been so obsessed with Farne's presence in the ship that it had not occurred to him that Aline knew nothing except what he had told her in his brief note the previous evening.
"I'm all in the dark, Dave," said Aline with a faint smile.
"You won't be for long," replied Dave vigorously. "Let's sit down somewhere, and I'll tell you." He paused. "But first I must send a note to Darrow to stop him from going to the captain."
Aline's eyes widened, as she saw him scribbling on a page from his notebook. She was beginning to realize that there was something serious afoot. Dave folded the slip, addressed it to Darrow, and handed it to a passing steward to deliver. Then he took Aline up forrard where they found a quiet corner.
"Oh, it's good to see you again," he said so fervently that Aline flushed.
"And I'm glad, too, Dave," she answered gently, "but we came here to talk," she reminded him. "I want to know exactly why you have hurried out here and what Mr. Farne has to do with it all." Dave pulled himself together and, beginning with his unexpected return from Scotland, told her all that had happened. Aline listened in silence but the changing expressions on her face proved her intense interest in Dave's story.
"It was Darrow who suggested that they might drag you to keep us from meeting," he said. "And it seemed so horribly likely that I sent off a note at once, warning you not to take any medicine that Lady Mary brought you. When Miss Goode told us that you were asleep we both felt sure that Darrow was right and we agreed to go to the captain."
A puzzled frown creased Aline's forehead.
"She did bring me some medicine quite early this morning and after I took it I did fall asleep. But I woke about eleven, and didn't feel any the worse."
"Then either it wasn't strong enough or you are not susceptible to drugs of that kind."
Aline looked more troubled than ever.
"I don't understand. Lady Mary has been very kind to me. I like her, and I don't believe she would do anything so horrid as drugging me."
"If she is paid by Farne she might not be able to help herself," Dave urged.
Aline looked utterly bewildered.
"But what has Mr. Farne got to do with it?" she asked.
"He wants to marry you," Dave told her curtly.
"Wants to marry me!" repeated Aline. "B—but I don't even know the man."
Dave looked up. This was getting difficult, but he felt he had to go on.
"Farne will do anything for money, Aline."
"But I have no money," said Aline, more perplexed than ever.
"He reckons that you are Uncle James's heiress," Dave said, bluntly.
"The man is a fool," Aline's soft voice was almost sharp. "I have no more likelihood of inheriting Mr. Kirkstall's millions than Mr. Farne himself." Then quite suddenly she remembered the bargain that old James had tried to drive with her, and Dave, watching her, saw a hot flush rise through the clear skin of her cheeks.
"The whole thing is simply disgusting," she exclaimed. "I shall leave the ship at Malta and go straight home." She got up quickly, but Dave caught her hand.
"Aline," he begged, "wait a little. I have more to tell you."
Aline's pride had been very badly hurt. The look she turned on Dave was anything but friendly.
"I have heard enough," she declared. "I have quite made up my mind. Let me go." Dave let go at once and this surprised her so that she hesitated. It was exactly what Dave had been counting on.
"Aline," he said humbly. "I have a confession to make." If he had thought for a month he could not have made a wiser remark. What girl can resist a confession from the one man who matters. But she was not giving in too easily.
"I don't want to hear it," she said. "You can't tell me anything I don't know."
Dave looked at her simply.
"Did you ever have a sister, Aline?" The question was so totally unexpected that Aline momentarily forgot her anger.
"A sister—yes. But what has that to do with the present state of things."
"More than you think," said Dave, and cunningly paused again. He was relieved to see that Aline no longer showed signs of leaving. "What was her name?"
"And did Uncle James have a photo of her?"
"Why—why yes, I believe he did."
"Then that explains it all, Aline. I thought it was she whom he wanted me to marry. But—" he paused again. "How could I after I'd seen you?"
The change that came upon Aline's face made Dave's heart leap, but love had given him wisdom.
"Am I forgiven, Aline?" he asked in a small voice.
"My poor Dave," was what she said, then she was in his arms. One kiss, then she drew away, her cheeks scarlet, her eyes like stars.
"Someone might see," she whispered, breathlessly.
"And if they did!" retorted Dave. "You're going to marry me. All the same, there's no one. Give me another kiss, darling." Dave took more than one, then held her at arm's length.
"I can hardly believe it," he said, and his voice was not quite steady. "It's almost too good to be true."
"Don't say that, Dave, but—but all the same it's just what I feel." And at that moment big drops of rain splashed on the deck.
"Oh, hang!" cried Dave, then he caught her by the hand and together they ran for shelter—ran so fast that they never saw the one person who, himself hidden, had been watching them for the past five minutes.
It was Mark Roston, and his heavy face was contorted with fury, while his lips worked like those of a madman.
FARNE was reading in his cabin when, without so much as a knock, the door burst open and Farne, jumping up, found himself facing Mark Roston.
It was on the tip of Farne's tongue to tell the other what he thought of his conduct, but one look at Mark's face made him hastily change his mind. For this was a Mark whom Farne had never before seen, a man whose face was dark with rage, who looked really dangerous.
"You damned swine!" he thundered, "so you sold me." It was a long time since anyone had talked to Farne in such a strain and an ugly flash showed in his hard blue eyes. But he restrained himself.
"Have you lost your senses, Roston?" he demanded with well simulated indignation. "Abuse is hardly what I expect after coming all the way from England to help you."
"To help me," sneered Mark. "And three minutes ago I saw Aline in my cousin's arms."
There was nothing of pretence in Farne's amazement. Even Mark could see that.
"Miss Kerr on—on deck!" he exclaimed. "Impossible! I have spent all my time since I came aboard, making certain that she could not leave her cabin."
"That's what I saw anyhow," retorted Mark sullenly. Farne sprang up, then checked himself.
"I must believe you, Roston, but I can't understand it. Listen to me. The man who was to keep Hallam up North fell ill. So Hallam came back, found that I had arranged this trip for Miss Kerr and started for Genoa the next day. The moment I learned of it I followed."
Mark broke in.
"I know all that. David came to see me on his way. If he hadn't I should never have known about Aline being on this ship. But I see it all now. You arranged it so that you could marry her yourself." He laughed harshly. "Only you've over-reached yourself, and Dave has got her."
For a moment Farne was staggered into silence. It had never for a moment occurred to him that the thick-headed Mark would fathom his scheme. There was one thing he had not realized—that Mark was actually in love with Aline. It was love, not money, which had sharpened Mark's blunt wits and made him realize the truth.
But the shock passed swiftly and next instant Farne was again the cold and crafty schemer.
"I begin to understand," he said, slowly, and speaking apparently rather to himself than to Mark. Then he looked at Mark. "Yes, if you thought that, I cannot blame you for being angry. But there is one thing you forget, Roston. I have never even met Miss Kerr. And why should I wish to marry her? You seem to think I am after her money, but that is absurd for you told me yourself that it was only if she married you she would inherit from James Kirkstall."
Mark frowned in puzzled fashion for Farne's air of limpid innocence would have deceived a wiser man. Farne went on in the same measured tone.
"The trip I arranged entirely on your account. The idea was this. When we got to Algiers Miss Kerr was to be kidnapped. Oh, she'll be quite safe," he added with a smile. "Then Lady Mary was to cable for you. You would come rushing out, rescue the lady, and in common gratitude she would have to marry you."
Mark's face relaxed a little.
"But why didn't you tell me all this before she started?"
Farne made a pitying gesture.
"My dear fellow, you'd have been all on edge, waiting for that cable. I don't do things that way." Watching Mark, Farne saw that he had swallowed it all. He drew a breath of relief and went on more briskly. "Hallam's arrival is a nuisance, yet it needn't upset our plans. We must arrange it so that he does not again see Miss Kerr. Listen, I have a plan but you must carry it out." He went to the door and locked it, then in a low voice gave Mark his directions. Mark's florid face went pasty as he listened.
"I've got to do that?" he said, thickly.
"It's you or nobody," Farne stated, firmly, and Mark's jaw tightened.
"All right. Give me the bottle," he said and presently left the room with a small bottle safe in his pocket.
The moment he was gone Farne made straight for the suite which Aline and her chaperone shared. He was about as angry as ever he had been in his life. Lady Mary must have played traitor, and the lot of the traitor in Farne's camp was never an easy one.
The room was rather dark for rain was still falling and the light not on. Yet there was enough to see the figure of Lady Mary lying on the couch under the far wall.
Farne closed the door and switched on a light. He went and stood over the woman.
"Wake up," he said, in a low, bitter voice.
Since she did not move he caught her by the shoulder and his powerful fingers bit deep into her flesh.
Still no movement or sound. Farne caught his breath. For a moment he believed she was dead. Bending down he laid his ear against her chest and to his relief found she was breathing. He shook her, he dashed water in her face, he made every effort to rouse her, but all in vain.
"So she took it herself," he said between his teeth. An expression of satanic rage came upon his face.
"But that won't save her," he added, savagely, as he left the room.
IT was a long time before Mark could get hold of Dave. He had to wait until after Aline went to bed. Then he came up to his cousin.
"David, can you spare me five minutes?" he asked. Dave gave him a quick look. "I want a talk with you," Mark went on, quietly. "I'm not going to quarrel," he added. He looked so dejected that Dave was sorry for him.
"All right," he said with a glance at his watch. "I don't want to turn in just yet."
"Then come to my cabin," said Mark, and led the way. Arrived there, he gave Dave a chair and offered him a cigarette. He himself took a chair opposite. Dave saw he was very nervous, but that did not surprise him.
"David," said Mark, hoarsely. "Do you mind telling me if you and Aline are engaged?"
"We are," said Dave, frankly.
Mark bit his lip.
"I suppose you won't believe me when I tell you I was in love with her—not her money."
"I don't know why I shouldn't believe you. Any man who had seen Aline might fall in love with her. Still, Mark, you must admit it was the money that attracted you in the first place."
"That's true," said Mark in a colourless voice. Dave knocked the ash off his cigarette. He was so happy himself, that he felt suddenly sorry for Mark.
"It's the fortune of war, Mark," he said in a kindly tone. "Anyhow, I think you'd sooner see Aline marry me than Farne." The start Mark gave all but upset the whisky bottle at his elbow.
"Marry Farne!" he exclaimed. "But he told me—"
He paused in confusion.
"He told you he was working for you—isn't that it?" asked Dave, quietly. Mark reddened but could find no reply. Dave went on.
"If you knew as much about Farne as I do, Mark, you'd shun him like the plague. There isn't a worse or more dangerous man alive to-day. Three times he has tried to murder me. Once he deliberately ran me down with a car and left me for dead, once he tried to bum me alive and a third time he kidnapped me and it was only through sheer luck and hard fighting that I got out alive."
Mark's eyes bulged, his jaw dropped. A thrill of terror shook him. Violence was utterly foreign to his nature and the idea that he was mixed up with a potential murderer horrified him. He felt as if he were standing on the brink of a black abyss into which a single step might precipitate him.
"Tried to murder you!" he gasped.
"I can give you chapter and verse and bring witnesses if you want them," said Dave quietly. "Aline herself saw Farne run me down. Mark, Farne's god is gold and I am convinced that he got Aline on to this ship with the definite purpose of marrying her and securing Uncle James's millions." Mark sat absolutely still. It never occurred to him to doubt Dave's words. All he had said confirmed Mark's own suspicions. Dave, watching him, saw his face harden and grow grim.
"And he tried to rope me in to do his dirty work," Mark said with a ferocity which amazed Dave. Dave sat silent. He felt a confession was coming.
Instead there was a shock which nearly flung him out of his chair. The whole great ship quivered. Then the engines stopped.
"W—what's happened?" asked Mark, suddenly pale.
"Hit something," replied Dave briefly. "Come on." Without waiting for the lift, he raced up the stairs, Mark close at his heels. So quick was he that he gained the deck well ahead of the crowd of passengers who were pouring up from below. The rain had stopped, but the night was very thick and dark. He met a quartermaster.
"Collision?" he asked briefly.
"Hit something, sir. Think it's a derelict," said the man and ran on. Dave hurried towards the bow. He could see nothing. Passengers were pouring up from below, but already officers were ready to reassure them. Yet, on the other hand Dave saw that the boats were being swung out and that the wireless was busy. Then, as luck had it, he saw Darrow.
"Is it serious, Justin?" he asked in a low voice.
"Bad enough," was the swift answer.
"We've hit submerged wreckage. There's a big hole in the bow and the fore compartment is filling. But there's no immediate danger. The watertight doors are shut."
"Thanks," said Dave briefly and ran below to Aline's cabin and knocked. Aline herself opened. She was fully dressed and quite cool.
"Is it a collision, Dave?" she asked.
"We've hit a derelict. No immediate danger, but they're getting the boats out. You'd better come on deck."
"I'm quite ready, but Lady Mary is asleep, and I can't wake her. Have a look at her, Dave." He followed her in. Lady Mary was still on the couch. She was breathing regularly enough, but Dave could not rouse her.
"She's taken a sleeping draught," Dave said.
"And someone has been trying to wake her," Aline added. "The front of her dress is all wet."
"Farne for a dollar," Dave answered. "We shall have to get the doctor, Aline."
"I'll find him," said Aline, quickly. "I know my way to the dispensary."
"You won't find him—" began Dave, but she was gone. Aline could move like a flash. Dave turned again to the sleeping woman. He had no cause to like her, yet it came to him that her face in repose was not actually evil, but actually rather pathetic.
It was quiet enough down here on C deck. By this time practically all the passengers were out of their cabins, and on the upper deck. Dave heard a slight sound behind him, and turned to see Farne at the door. The mask was off, and if ever murder was written clear on a man's face it was on Farne's at this moment.
Dave saw Farne glance swiftly round the cabin as if to make sure that no one was in sight, then his right hand dipped into the pocket of his dinner jacket to come out grasping a stubby black automatic, to the barrel of which was affixed a silencer.
"HADN'T you better put that thing back?" Dave asked, and was almost surprised at the quietness of his own voice. For he knew beyond any shadow of doubt that Farne meant to kill him.
"I'll put it back when I've finished with it—and you," Farne answered. There was a gloating eagerness in his voice that Dave did not like at all.
"Aren't you forgetting that letter at my bank, Farne?" he asked. "It's to be opened at my death whether you are supposed to have anything to do with it or not."
Farne's lips parted slightly, showing his very white teeth.
"It doesn't matter how many letters you've written, Hallam. They won't safeguard you. I'm done for already, so far as England is concerned. I've just had a wireless to say that Gorsley is arrested." Again his teeth showed in that nasty, mirthless grin. "So I've had to change my plans, and since you won't be alive to make more mischief I'll tell you what I intend. At Algiers I shall take Miss Kerr ashore and hold her for ransom. I mean to have half a million out of old Kirkstall, and that will be enough to start me afresh in South America." Dave's heart was thumping, yet he managed to keep his emotions from showing in his face.
"And do you really imagine you can get away with a stunt like that?" he sneered. "Miss Kerr isn't a baby. She knows all about you and nothing would induce her to be in your company for a minute. Another thing you seem to have forgotten. This ship is much more likely to go to the bottom than to Algiers."
Farne's grin became a snarl.
"If she goes to the bottom you'll go with her," he said in a voice that was brittle with rage.
Dave saw the pistol rising.
"All right, Mark," he said. "Grab him."
Farne glanced round and that gave Dave the chance for which he had been waiting. He covered the space between them with one jump and struck the other like a thunderbolt. The pistol squibbed off with a queer spitting sound and Dave felt as if a red hot poker had burned his right side. The force of his unexpected attack drove Farne backward against the door. The latch gave way and both crashed into the passage outside.
Dave had won the first trick, but he was not at all sure whether that was going to do him much good. He knew Farne's almost inhuman strength, knew, too, that he himself was wounded.
He fell on top of Farne and managed to seize his right wrist. Farne, with his left, hit Dave a chopping blow on the side of the head, which half stunned him. Then Farne swung his body sideways and, in spite of Dave's best efforts, rolled over. All Dave could do was to cling like a bull-dog to Farne's pistol hand, but a second blow caught him on the jaw and he almost collapsed. His grasp relaxed, Farne was in the very act of wrenching his arm free when there came a scream, a rush of feet and here was Aline flying down the passage.
That she had no weapon of any kind mattered nothing. Like a tigress in defence of her own, she flung herself on Farne, knocking him backwards by the weight of her lithe young body. With an oath Farne wrenched away. All his boasted self-control had deserted him; he was like a mad beast intent only on killing.
But the delay had been fatal to Farne, for next instant another rescuer was on the scene. Mark Roston charged down the passage like a bull elephant. All his rage against Farne had boiled to the surface, and none of his City acquaintances would have recognized the smug business man in this reckless savage.
Farne saw him coming and took a snap shot at him. Mark flinched as the small bullet tore through the muscle of his right arm, but that did not stop him. Before Farne could fire again the toe of Mark's number nine shoe caught him in the stomach and down he went, writhing like a scotched snake.
"Oh, well done, Mark!" cried Aline, as she hastily snatched up the pistol. "Did he—did he hurt you, Dave?"
"Nothing to signify," said Dave as he scrambled to his feet. "We must tie him up," he added, swiftly.
"The doctor's coming," said Aline and almost as she spoke Macintyre, the ship's doctor, was on the spot. His eyes widened as they fell on the two wounded men and on Farne still writhing on the floor.
Aline spoke swiftly.
"That man"—pointing to Farne—"tried to murder Mr. Hallam, and shot Mr. Roston when he came to his help. He must be tied up."
Macintyre, canny and capable, acted instantly.
"Towels," he ordered, briefly, and when Aline had fetched them he deftly tied Farne, and dragged him into the cabin. He gave a quick glance at Lady Mary.
"She's all right for the present. Now let's see about your wounds, gentlemen. Get some water, Miss Kerr, please."
"What about the ship, Doctor?" Dave asked.
"Safe enough for the present. Her fore compartment is full but the bulkhead holds, and the Persian, of the Blue Ball line, is coming up fast." He looked at his two patients and noticed the blood staining Dave's white shirt front.
"You first, Mr. Hallam. Sit down, I'll help you strip. Miss Kerr, will you find Miss Goode or one of the nurses? I needn't warn you to say nothing to anyone else."
"I have an ambulance certificate," Aline told him, quietly. "I can do all that is necessary."
Macintyre gave her a quick, admiring look.
"Good," he said briefly, and opened his bag. In a trice he had Dave stripped to the waist and was examining the wound.
"Is it serious?" Aline asked in a low voice.
"No. The bullet glanced off a rib. A lot of blood but wonderfully little harm done. Give me the lint." With steady capable hands he washed and plugged the wound, then ran a roll of plaster round Dave's body.
"You can dress again now," he said, and turned to Mark. "You're lucky, too," he said after a brief inspection. "The bullet has missed the bone and there's only a clean hole through the muscle. All the same you'll have your arm in a sling for a fortnight. Now what about this beauty?" he went on as he looked down at Farne. Suddenly he flung himself down on his knees beside Farne.
"Good God, he's dead!" he exclaimed.
Mark went rather white.
"I—I kicked him in the groin. I had to or he'd have shot again."
Macintyre glanced up.
"Don't worry, Mr. Roston. You didn't kill him. He's poisoned himself." For a moment or two there was dead silence. Mark was the first to speak.
"And a good job, too," he said bluntly.
"I'm inclined to agree with you," said Macintyre as he rose to his feet. He paused. "And if you two gentlemen will agree to keep silence about this evening's proceedings I think you will find that the Company is not ungrateful." Dave and Aline exchanged glances. Both felt an extraordinary sense of relief.
"You can depend on us," said Dave.
"And on me," added Mark.
Macintyre nodded. "Thank you, gentlemen. Now I will get help and have the body removed. After that I suggest an adjournment to my quarters. I think a little stimulant is indicated."
ON a Saturday morning about a fortnight later, Aline sat in her little office at Roborough and frowned over a letter she had just received.
"Aline," it ran, "I'm not very good at making apologies, but I'm believing that's what I owe you, and I'd not like to die with your father's daughter feeling sore against me. So I'll take it kind of you if you will come and see me once more. But if you decide to come it had better be soon.—James Kirkstall."
The last thing that Aline had ever wished or intended was to visit the old man again, yet now she felt that it would be brutal to refuse his request. She got up and went out to find Tom Trevor. An hour later she was in a car, on her way to London. Ford smiled as he let her in.
"I'm glad you came, miss. The master's in a poor way." Ford was right, for James, lying as usual in his long chair, looked more gaunt and cadaverous than ever. Yet his lined face lit up as he saw Aline.
"I thought ye'd come, lassie."
"I very nearly didn't," replied Aline trying to speak severely, yet failing. Somehow the old man looked terribly pathetic, sitting there, all alone in spite of his millions.
"So ye are going to marry David after all?" said James.
Aline's fine eyes widened.
"Yes, but how do you know, Mr. Kirkstall?"
"Ye may as well say 'Uncle James.' Ye will be my niece when ye have married him."
"That may not be for a long time," said Aline, quietly. "But I want to know how is it that you know anything about it?"
"They're not all as hard-hearted as ye, Bella. Mark came to see me."
"Don't call me Bella," said Aline, sharply. "That's how all the trouble started."
James stared at her, and she realized he did not understand.
"That photograph of Bessie," she said quickly. "Dave thought it was she whom you wanted him to marry." James dropped back in his chair, and a queer cackle that might have been meant for laughter came from his lips.
"It's nothing to laugh about," Aline's voice was severe enough now. "You nearly wrecked all our happiness by your crazy scheme."
"Aye, lassie. I'll allow I'm a terrible poor hand at the match-making." Then his tone changed.
"Aline, my dear, there are no condeetions in the will I made yesterday." In spite of herself Aline was impressed. "David, Mark and yourself—ye three will share and share alike." For a moment Aline could not speak. She had felt so definitely certain that James's millions would go to charity that she could not realize this sudden change of fortune.
"Is it fair, lass?" James asked. "For if ye dinna like it there's still time to change."
"I don't see why I should have any share," she said.
"Weel, ye can give it away if ye've a mind to," said James, drily. "But I think ye will find the siller useful." It flashed on Aline what she could do for her brother, her sister-in-law, even for poor broken, repentant Lady Mary.
"I'll try and make good use of it, Uncle James," she said, gently. James chuckled again. Somehow he looked younger and stronger.
"Then now I'll dare put a condeetion on ye. It's this—that ye and Dave get married before you're a month older. In spite of the doctors, maybe I'll live long enough to see the lad who'll carry on the family. Now, gi'e me a kiss, my dear. And dinna blush—though I'll say it becomes ye."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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