Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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IN the seclusion of her cabin Eve Nisbet was wearing hardly more clothes than her namesake, yet despite the scantiness of her attire the heat seemed more than she could bear.
For reasons of economy Eve had taken the cheapest berth available in the Multan Castle, and that meant an inside cabin on the lower deck. During the first stage of her journey from New Zealand, this had not mattered, but now, twenty-four hours out of Colombo, the sticky heat of the Indian Ocean made life a misery and sleep impossible.
There are limits to human endurance, and Eve decided that the deck was the only place possible on a night like this, so slipped into her pyjamas, pulled on a dressing gown, inserted her pretty feet into a pair of mules and went up.
The night was calm but the sky thick with cloud, and sheet lightning flickered in the North-West. The old ship was pushing through the calm sea at a steady fifteen knots, and her motion made a breeze that was very refreshing after the dreadful stuffiness below. Eve found her own deck chair and cocked her toes up with a sigh of relief. She chuckled under her breath.
"What would Jane say if she could see me?" she murmured.
"Why should Jane say anything?" came a man's voice from the gloom close by.
"Who are you," Eve asked, startled.
"Keith Hedley," was the prompt reply.
"Age twenty-eight, nationality British, passenger from Colombo to London. No special vices, but at present very hot and very bored and full of hope that Miss Nisbet will allow me to sit and talk to her a while."
His voice was deep and pleasant, and as he stepped out of the thick shadow there was just light enough for Eve to see a clean cut profile above a pair of broad shoulders.
"You sound all right," Eve said with a laugh. "Always supposing your account of yourself is true. Yes, you can sit down and talk to me. But how did you know my name?"
"I've been on board for twenty-four hours and I'm not deaf or dumb," Keith retorted as he stretched himself on the next chair.
"You said you had no vices. What about inquisitiveness?"
"You can be inquisitive in a good cause and then it isn't a vice," Keith answered. "Now tell me about Jane."
"Jane is my sister-in-law," Eve replied, "or rather my half sister-in-law. I've lived with her almost all my life. She's very proper, and she'd have fits if she could see me sitting here at one in the morning, in my pyjamas, talking to a strange young man."
"She'd feel much happier to know you were in safe company than all by yourself," Keith said promptly. Eve laughed again, and Keith Hedley loved the sound.
"Nothing like having a good opinion of yourself," she jeered.
"I'm hoping to make you share it when you've known me a little longer," Keith said, and something in his voice gave Eve a small thrill. They sat and chatted. Keith was very easy to talk to and Eve found herself telling him all about her life on the farm of her half-brother, Peter Dane, at Wanguni, in the South Island.
"Peter's a dear," she said, "but, he is much older than I. And Jane is kind as can be, but we have very few neighbors and life isn't exactly exciting."
"So you got fed up and made a break," Keith suggested.
"Not quite that. An old friend of my mother, Agatha Lynd, sent me an invitation to come and stay with her in London. She even sent me money for my passage. So of course I came."
"Agatha Lynd," Keith repeated slowly. "I have met a lady of that name."
"You know her!" Eve exclaimed. Keith shook his head.
"I don't think it could be the same."
"But why not? And Agatha is not a common name."
"You forget how many people there are in London. Everyone has a namesake."
"But why don't you think this is my Miss Lynd that you know?" Keith laughed.
"I couldn't imagine her as anybody's friend, let alone your mother's." Eve stuck to her point.
"Do you know where she lives?"
"I don't. I only met her at a dance a year ago when I was last in England."
"My Miss Lynd has a flat in Suffolk Street, Kensington.
"I haven't a notion where this one lives. Let's talk about yourself. It's much more interesting."
"I've talked quite enough about myself. I want to hear about you. What brought you East?"
Instead of answering Keith held up his hand. Two men were pacing the deck, talking in low voices. They came past within a couple of yards of Keith and Eve, but did not see them. As they went by Eve caught a sentence from the taller man of the two.
"Do you want to hog it all? There's plenty for both." What the other answered Eve could not hear, but, from the tone in which he spoke, it did not seem as if he was in the best of tempers.
"Hog it all," repeated Keith softly. "I don't know what the bone of contention is, but I do know that whatever it is Youd Tarver would never leave a penny piece for the other chap."
"Youd Tarver—what a funny name. Who is he, Mr. Hedley?"
"Everything that's beastly." Keith answered deliberately. "He calls himself a Commission Agent, but his one aim in life is to do down the other chap. And I must say, he generally succeeds."
"He sounds perfectly horrid," said Eve with conviction. "Has he ever done you down, Mr. Hedley?"
"He's tried," Keith answered.
"And what did he get?"
"A thick ear," said Keith with a faint chuckle, and Eve laughed merrily. Keith grew grave again.
"I wonder who that chap is with him," he said slowly. "American by his accent. But I don't think I'll worry. Probably one of the same kidney." Eve stirred.
"I think I'll go down," she said. "It's cooler now, and perhaps I can get some sleep." As Keith helped her up there come the sound of a loud splash from the darkness aft.
"Man overboard!" someone shouted, and Keith was gone as swiftly as a shadow. To Eve it seemed impossible that anyone could move so quickly.
Other things moved. There was a hoarse shout from the bridge, a bell rang, and from the stern came a loud splashing as the engines were reversed and the screws began to turn in the opposite direction. Men appeared from nowhere, pulleys creaked as one of the aft lifeboats began to swing down from the davits, and at this moment a searchlight blazed out, flinging a white beam across the long, smooth swells.
"Oh, there he is!" cried Eve leaning over the rail and pointing to a black dot against the side of one of those swells, but a steward who had appeared beside her answered:
"No, Miss. That ain't him. That's the gent as went over after him."
With a queer shock Eve realised that the dot was the head of Keith Hedley.
THE boat smacked into the water, but though driven by eight stout oars it seemed to Eve that it crawled like a beetle across the smooth hills of brine. Her eyes were fixed on that small, dark dot which rose and fell, now high on the summit of a wave then lost to sight in the dark hollow between two crests.
Somehow the news had spread, and, in spite of the hour, men and women in all sorts of queer attire were watching almost as breathlessly as Eve herself.
"He's gone!" gasped a woman.
"He's not. He's swimming like a seal," retorted a man.
"Are there sharks?" asked someone else in a horrified whisper, and Eve found herself shuddering in sudden horror.
"Not out here," was the scornful reply, evidently from a brother.
"Who was it fell over?" came a question.
"Don't know, but that's captain Hedley who went after him. You know—the wild beast man."
"Jolly good effort!" exclaimed the former speaker. "There, the boat's reaching him. He'll be all right."
Sure enough the boat was at last up with Keith Hedley and Eve sighed with relief as she saw him pulled aboard. But still the searchlight played on the sea and still the boat circled, rising and falling on the silken swells. So for another ten minutes, then came a sharp blast from the ship's siren and the boat's head turned and she came back to the ship. With man-of-war like promptness she was hooked on and swung up.
"You didn't get him?" said First Officer Milsom, who was at the rail.
"No, sir," replied the coxswain. "Not a sign of him. Captain Hedley didn't see him either."
"He was hurt in falling, Mr. Milsom, or he had heart failure," said Keith. "There never was a chance of saving him."
"Well that wasn't your fault, Captain Hedley," said Milsom. "It was an uncommon good effort on your part, and I'll see it's properly logged. Come and have a drink or will you change first?"
"Oh, I'm not cold. I'll have a drink. Who was the chap?"
"Kemp is his name. So Mr. Tarver tells me. I don't know any thing more than that, but of course there'll be an inquiry in the morning. Come." He led Keith through the staring throng and Eve saw them vanish into the chart room. As she went below her face was thoughtful.
"The wild beast man," she said under her breath. "Now what did he mean by that?" She paused. "But he's nice," she continued presently. "I'm sure he's nice." She stretched herself on her bed and was soon asleep.
At Colombo a number of fresh passengers had joined the ship, among them a Major Kingscote and his wife who had been visiting a planter son in Ceylon. They sat at Eve's table and Eve had already made friends with Mrs. Kingscote, a plump, pleasant, still pretty woman of forty-five. She and her husband were busy with their grape-fruit when Eve appeared.
"Good morning, my dear," said Mrs. Kingscote. "Have you heard about the excitement last night?"
"I saw it—I saw the whole thing," Eve told her. Mrs. Kingscote's eyes widened.
"No! Tell me!" she exclaimed. So Eve described how she had been driven on deck by the heat, how she had talked to Keith Hedley, how they had seen Tarver pass with another man, and how Keith had gone overboard on a vain attempt at rescue.
"Good work—by Jove," declared the Major, laying down his spoon; but Mrs. Kingscote went straight to the heart of the matter.
"Was it Kemp you saw with Tarver, Eve?"
"I don't know. It was too dark to see faces, and I should not have known Kemp if I had seen him. It was Captain Hedley who said that one of them was Tarver."
"Did he say anything more about Tarver?" put in the Major.
"Yes." Eve lowered her voice. "I gathered he did not think much of Tarver."
"I shouldn't think he did," said Major Kingscote. "The fellow's a crook! I heard a lot about him from our boy, Ronald. I shouldn't wonder—"
"Hush!" broke in Mrs. Kingscote, in a quick whisper. "People are listening, Bill. Next thing you know you'll be up for libel."
"Sorry, m'dear," said the Major, looking rather confused. "Well talk it over on deck."
"There is going to be an inquiry," Eve told him. "This morning, Mr. Milsom said."
"They won't get anything on Tarver," the Major declared. "He's far too cute. All the same—"
"Stop it, Bill!" ordered his wife, and once more the Major subsided.
Half-an-hour later they were all on deck. So, in spite of the weather, which was dull, sultry and threatening, were most of the other passengers.
"All talking of the same thing," said Mrs. Kingscote, and turned to her husband. "Now for the libel, Bill," she added, with a slight smile.
"It's no libel! The blighter chucked Kemp overboard. After what Miss Nisbet heard the chap say. I'm sure of it."
"It does sound like it," agreed his wife thoughtfully. "The question is whether Eve will have to say so at the inquiry."
"No need for that," put in the Major hastily. "Hedley heard it. Hulloa!—here he is—and Zoe with him." Eve stared. Yes, here was Keith, coming up on deck, and with him, holding his hand exactly like a child a great ape.
"Zoe!" she exclaimed. "That monkey?"
"It's not a monkey, Miss Nisbet," the Major explained. "It's an orang. Hedley collects wild animals for zoos. But this one is for a film company. She's quite tame."
"Not only tame, but a perfect lady," said Keith as he joined them. "Shake hands, Zoe!"
Zoe obediently shook hands all round. As Eve's small hand vanished within the huge cool, black palm of the ape, she felt a moment's panic. She had the knowledge that the creature had only to give one squeeze and her hand would be pulp. Keith saw.
"Zoe would never hurt any friend of mine," he told her. "In spite of her appearance she is really the gentlest creature. Look at her eyes." Eve looked into the brown eyes of the ape.
"I see," she said "They are soft. Yes. I like her." Curious glances were cast at the group by other passengers but most of the Multan's people were too busy with the event of the previous night to think much of anything else.
"Tell me Mr. Hedley," said Eve, "when is the inquiry?"
"Will they want me?"
"No I can tell them all that is necessary."
"Are you going to mention what we heard?"
"Every word, and I wish there was more. If I can spoke Master Tarver's wheel I shall feel I've done my day's good deed."
"It was fine of you to go over after that man," said Eve softly.
"Don't give me any credit, Miss Nisbet. I only wanted to get him alive so that he could give evidence against Tarver. Besides, there was no danger in a calm, warm sea like that."
"They said there were sharks," said Eve with a shiver.
"Sharks aren't as bad as they're painted, and they don't follow steamers very often." He wrinkled his nose. "I say, isn't there rather a queer smell?"
"I've noticed that," said Eve. "Rather like fat upset on a stove." The Major turned.
"I've been smelling it ever since breakfast." Before he could say more there was the sharp trill of a boatman's whistle from forrard which was taken up aft. Keith's eyes widened.
"Boat drill!" he exclaimed. "But what a time to have it—just before the inquiry! Still, it's all part of the game. Come on, people. Come on, Zoe."
"ALL passengers on the boat deck, please," came a sing-song voice. "All passengers on the boat deck!" repeated someone else below and the passengers, some startled, some merely bored, came pouring up from below. Within five minutes practically all, in number about 200, were present, waiting for orders.
The skipper, Captain Baring, was on the bridge. He spoke through a mouth trumpet.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have some rather unpleasant news for you, but, mind you, I say unpleasant—not dangerous. Some of you have been noticing a queer odour. Its cause is fire in a cargo of copra in the forehold." A woman shrieked but a man beside her said "shut up!" so roughly that she became silent. The big voice boomed again from above.
"There is no cause for panic. The ship herself is in no danger. Men are already fighting the fire which will be under control within a few hours. The only danger is from the fumes. They are not only unpleasant but actually poisonous and I do not propose to risk the lives of passengers. Therefore, I am going to embark you all in the boats. The liner Dunoon is within 50 miles of us. She will pick you up and convey you to Southampton."
"What about our luggage, sir?" sang out somebody.
"If you will be kind enough not to waste time by interrupting me," said the Captain testily. "I was going to tell you that you can have an hour to collect your hand luggage before taking to the boats. Your heavy luggage will be delivered safely and forwarded by the Company." Eve turned Keith.
"Is he telling the truth, Captain Hedley?"
"You may depend oft that. But you'd better get busy with your packing. You have only half an hour. And bring a warm coat. You may need it in the boat."
"My packing won't take long," said Eve with a smile, but all the same she obeyed. Below, the reek was most unpleasant, and Eve wasted no time in stuffing her small possessions into her suitcase, then, since the stewards were all frantically busy, she carried it herself to the boat deck.
Everything was going like clockwork. Discipline was perfect, and there was no panic, though some of the women were rather white faced. Eve was at once marshalled into line, and, to her relief, saw that Keith, was to be in the same boat. She and the other women were helped in first, then the men swung aboard and the boat was carefully lowered. Eve held her breath as the boat dropped through thirty feet of space, but it reached the water safely and was at once pulled away to a distance of fifty yards.
"Are you all right, Miss Nisbet?" came Keith's voice and there he was with Zoe with him, just behind her.
"Quite, thanks," Eve answered, rather breathlessly, "b-but I never knew a boat was so small or the sea so big."
"It does make a difference," Keith agreed with a smile, "but it won't be for long. The Dunoon should be here in about three hours."
"Three hours!" said Eve.
"Not scared, are you?" asked Keith, surprised.
"Scared," repeated Eve in an unhappy whisper. "I should think I was. I shall be sea-sick in about three minutes."
"Good Lord! I never thought of that," said Keith in dismay. He pulled out a flask. "Try a sip of this. It's old brandy." Eve choked a little over the strong spirit, but it did her good, Color came back to her cheeks.
"I could do with a drop of that myself," said someone who sat behind Keith. Keith turned and faced a thick-set man, greenish-grey eyes and thin lips gave him an odd resemblance to a bird of prey. Keith did not speak, he merely screwed the cap on the flask and put the flask back in his pocket. The thin lips of the other man drew back, like those of a snarling dog.
"So it's you, Hedley," he said in a voice which, though little more than a whisper, had a quality so venomous it made Eve shiver. He merely smiled, but his smile made Eve more uncomfortable than Tarver's scowl.
"Yes, Tarver, we meet again. Convenient, too, for I've been wanting to ask you a question." Tarver got hold of himself.
"Yes," he said drily.
"Tell me," said Keith softly. "What were you trying to hog from Kemp?"
Tarver recoiled as if from a blow. The color drained from his face. Keith sat perfectly still, watching him.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Tarver answered, and it was marvellous how quickly he had got his voice under control.
"You'll know more after the inquiry into Kemp's death," said Keith, but Tarver only raised his eyebrows.
"Threats from you, Captain Hedley, don't cut much ice. I am quite ready for any inquiry." He drew back as he spoke and at the same time Eve's fingers closed on Keith's arm.
"That was stupid of you," she said in a whisper. "You shouldn't have threatened him."
"Couldn't help it," Keith answered, "but I won't say anything more. Lie back and make yourself comfortable."
Excitement had made Eve forget her qualms. She allowed Keith to make her comfortable and presently she actually managed to doze off and did not wake until a shout proclaimed the arrival of the Dunoon. Within a very short time all the passengers from the Multan were safe aboard the other ship, and the boats went back to the Multan. Captain Baring sent word that the fire was confined to the forehold, but that he would have to take his ship back to Colombo.
The officers and crew of the Dunoon were kindness itself, but the passengers not so genial. It was no joke for them to have two hundred extra people piled in on top of them. Everyone had to double up. Eve was lucky. She got a small cabin with Mrs. Kingscote. The Major had to share a larger one with Keith Hedley and two other men.
Meals, too had to be duplicated, but again Eve was fortunate for she was able to share a table with the Kingscotes and Keith Hedley. Keith and she sat together on deck afterwards, but Eve, tired with the excitement of the day, went down early. As she passed down the corridor to her cabin suddenly Tarver was standing in front of her.
"May I have a word with you, Miss Nisbet," he begged. Eve stiffened.
"I don't want to talk to you. Please let me pass."
"I can't force you to listen to me, but what I have to say will make a great difference to your future, Miss Nisbet. Has anyone ever told you that you are an heiress?"
In spite of herself Eve was interested. What penniless girl could fail to be at hearing such a startling announcement?
"I don't suppose you do," Tarver went on. "Yet it is true. As it happens, I am one of only two people who know this." Eve's heart was thumping. Tarver might be a knave, he might even be a murderer, yet now he was telling the truth. She was certain of it.
"I am listening," she said with dignity. Tarver paused. His queer grey-green eyes were fixed on her with singular intensity.
"I want something in return for this information," he said slowly.
"Money!" Tarver shook his head.
"No—a kindness. Tell me, you were with Captain Hedley on deck last night when Kemp and I passed?"
"And you heard Captain Hedley threaten me in the boat."
"He believes I killed Kemp. I did not kill Kemp. He committed suicide. All the same, if Captain Hedley gives the evidence against me that he has threatened to give, and if you back it I may find myself on trial for murder. Do you begin to understand, Miss Nisbet?"
"It seems fairly clear," Eve answered coolly. "You want me to refuse to give evidence."
"And if I am called as a witness, what then?"
"You can say you heard nothing." Eve shook her head.
"I did hear, Mr. Tarver and if I'm asked I must say so. Let me pass, please."
TARVER did not move.
"Think a minute, Miss Nisbet. A million is a pretty good pay for so small a favour as I am asking you, and I am the only man in the world who can give it you, the only one who knows the facts."
"Did Kemp know?" Eve asked, and Tarver recoiled as it she had struck him in the face. Before he could recover Eve was past. Next moment she was inside her cabin and had closed and locked the door. She sat on the edge of her bed feeling rather breathless.
"And it was true," she said presently. "I'm almost sure he was telling the truth." She paused and thought a while. "Then he did kill Kemp," she murmured with a shiver. "He—he is a murderer." She undressed quickly, and it was not until she was ready for bed that she unlocked the door. When Mrs. Kingscote came in Eve's eyes were closed, and to all appearance she was asleep. Actually it was hours before she slept, and when she did she wished she hadn't for the hooked nose and green-grey eyes of Youd Tarver figured unpleasantly in her dreams. It was a real relief when the stewardess brought her morning cup of tea and let the early sunshine into the cabin. After the woman had left the room Mrs. Kingscote looked across.
"What's on your mind, Eve?" she asked in her quiet, pleasant voice.
"What do you mean?" evaded Eve.
"My dear, you moaned and gnashed your teeth so that I was quite frightened. I got up once to look at you."
Eve was silent a moment. At first she had not meant to tell anyone of her meeting with Tarver. The whole thing was so absurdly melodramatic. Yet now she felt the need to talk to someone.
Once started, the story came easily enough. Mrs. Kingscote did not move or say a word until Eve had finished. Then she nodded.
"I don't blame you, my dear. I shouldn't have slept a wink after such an encounter. The odd thing is you seem to believe that Tarver was telling the truth."
"I do believe that," Eve said slowly.
"Have you any rich relations?"
"I don't know much about my relations," Eve answered. "I don't remember my father at all, and my mother died when I was quite small and left me to my half-sister, Jane. I have heard Jane speak of an old relative of my father who was very well off, but I'm afraid I didn't pay much attention. I don't even know his name."
"I should write and ask."
"I will," said Eve. She frowned. "But why did Tarver say that he was the only person who knew the facts? He declared he was the one man in the world who could give me this fortune. What is more—he meant it."
"That is odd," Mrs. Kingscote agreed. "Eve I think you should tell Captain Hedley."
"I don't want to be laughed at," Eve said.
"Keith Hedley won't laugh, my dear—not at you, anyhow." She smiled a little as she saw Eve blush. "In any case, it is only right to tell him. He will be the other witness against Tarver, and the fact that Tarver has tried to bribe you is strong evidence against him."
"I'll tell him," Eve promised.
"Now go and have your bath," Mrs. Kingscote said. "A cold shower will do you good."
The day was hot and calm, and the decks of the Dunoon unpleasantly crowded. Eve found no chance of a quiet talk with Keith that morning. After lunch there was the usual siesta, and later Eve joined the Kingscotes for afternoon tea. Keith came up presently, and Zoe with him. The orang walked upright, clinging to his arm. She sat on a chair and handled her cup of tea like a perfect lady.
As soon as tea was over Keith took Zoe down to her quarters, then came back and suggested to Eve that it was cool enough for a stroll. They found a quiet spot forward and leaned over the rail, watching the bow wave break endlessly across the silken veils.
"Has Tarver been bothering you?" Keith asked suddenly.
"How did you know?" Eve said quickly.
"Mrs. Kingscote said you had something to tell me. Naturally I thought of Tarver."
"Yes, it's Tarver," Eve said. "He stopped me last night on the way to my cabin, and offered me a million not to give evidence." Keith turned and gazed at Eve.
"A million," he repeated. "Seems a nice bit of money. Tarver must be richer than I thought."
"But it isn't his. It's mine," Eve explained, and Keith burst out laughing. "There I told Mrs. Kingscote you'd laugh at me!" Eve said in an injured tone.
"Not at you—at Tarver," Keith said, quickly. "The idea of his bribing you with your own money is distinctly quaint. But evidently there's more in this than I know. Suppose you tell me the whole thing." Eve did so and, after she had finished speaking Keith stood silent, frowning a little.
"Of course, it's all nonsense," said Eve presently.
"I don't think so," Keith said. "Tarver could hardly put up a bluff like that. You have to remember that he is in a tight place. True, no one saw him heave Kemp overboard but your evidence will make things very awkward for him."
"I see," said Eve slowly.
"And I see something else," Keith answered. "Which is that I shall have to take this story to the Captain." Eve's eyes widened.
"Why? Surely there's no hurry. They can't hold any inquiry until we reach England."
"But Tarver is aboard—and free." Eve looked up quickly.
"You don't think—" she stopped. "No, it's too silly."
"Nothing silly about it, Eve." If she noticed that he had used her Christian name Eve did not show it. "A man who has committed one murder won't stick at a second to save his neck. I'm taking you back to the Kingscotes, then I'm seeing the skipper."
Eve did not see Keith again till dinner, or hear what he had done until some time later. It was not until they were alone that he told her.
"It's all right, Tarver is in his cabin and is to stay there—that is except for half an hour's exercise night and morning. And then, of course, he'll be under guard." Eve shivered slightly.
"He'll know it's my doing," she said. "And think how he'll be hating me."
"That's the last thing I'd worry about," Keith said. "Now let's talk about something nicer."
"Your work," suggested Eve. "I want to know how you catch wild beasts."
Eve could not have hit on a happier subject. Even the most modest of men will talk about his hobby, and Keith loved the wilds and their inhabitants, and had an amazing knowledge of his subject.
Eve was entranced. She had known vaguely that the capture of wild animals was a risky business, but it had never occurred to her, for instance how difficult and dangerous it was to get a tiger out of a pit trap into a cage or to handle ten feet of living death in the shape of a king cobra.
Time slipped by without either noticing, until Eve suddenly woke to the fact that the decks were deserted. She got up quickly.
"I must go down. It's not fair to keep Mrs. Kingscote awake. But I've enjoyed every minute of our talk."
"Our talk! Seems to me I've been doing all the talking."
"That's what I wanted," Eve declared. "I could never have told anything half so interesting."
"I'm not so sure of that," Keith said, and something in his voice gave Eve an odd thrill.
As he spoke two men came pacing past. They were Tarver and the Quartermaster detailed to guard him. Light coming from a window of the smoking room fell upon his face, which looked yellow and unwholesome. He turned as he passed and fixed his greenish eyes on Eve and Keith felt the girl shiver. He pressed her arm.
"It's all right," he said quietly. "He can't hurt you." Eve drew a quick breath.
"Not now, perhaps, but he will. You, too, if he can, Keith."
EVE lay flat on her deck chair, too limp to move. All the way up the Red Sea it had been getting hotter and hotter. The deck outside the awnings burned the feet, the faint breeze coming off the Arabian Desert felt like the breath of a furnace.
She, young and vigorous, as she was, found it very trying, and Keith, who had been through the Red Sea half a dozen times, admitted that the heat was unusual.
"But cheer up," he said. "We'll be in the Canal to-night, and you'll find a big drop in temperature once we're past port Said."
The sweltering day seemed a week long. At five they entered the Canal, but it was no cooler. After dinner Keith joined Eve on deck. During the past week they two had seen much of one another. It was the first time that Keith in all his rather lonely life, had met a girl he definitely wanted to marry. It wasn't only her looks, and Eve with her lovely complexion, slim figure, fair hair and dark blue eyes, had real beauty. It was the girl's personality that attracted him. As for Eve she had never met anyone at all like Keith, She was tremendously attracted by him. but was not sure that she was in love with him. That was largely Keith's own fault. Keith Hedley was a man's man and did not in the least understand women. If he had he could easily have swept Eve off her feet.
"Glass is falling," he remarked. "Skipper thinks there's wind coming."
"Wind!" repeated Eve. "How splendid!" Keith shook his head.
"Not the wind we're likely to get here, Eve. Remember, there is desert on both sides of us." They sat and chatted.
"How long are you staying in England?" Keith asked.
"I haven't an idea," Eve confessed. "As long as Miss Lynd wants me, I suppose."
"You don't seem to know a lot about your Miss Lynd."
"Not much," Eve agreed. "Still she must be a good sort or she wouldn't have sent me the invitation and the money to come."
"She might—" began Keith, and just then a weird swishing, wailing sound which seemed to come out of the sky cut his words short. He jumped up. "Quick!" he exclaimed. "We must get under cover."
"What's the matter?" demanded Eve, startled.
"A sand storm," said Keith as he pushed open the door of the lounge and bundled her in. Next moment the wail turned to a roar, the big ship heeled to the force of the wind, and all the outside lights were eclipsed by what seemed a thick brown fog.
"Just to time," Keith remarked. "Phew! but this is the worst ever. I doubt if we shall be able to move till it's over."
He was right. The Dunoon was headed into one of the deep embrasures which are cut at intervals in the banks of the canal and moored bow and stern, and there she lay for three hours while sand in tons scoured her decks and piled in drifts in every angle and corner.
Just, after midnight the storm passed as suddenly as it had come and the liner's engines began to throb. The air was clear, the temperature down twenty degrees, and, though the heat was that of an English July day, it felt cool compared with what they had been through. Eve, who had hardly slept during the past two nights, went straight to bed and did not move until the stewardess come in at eight. The woman was bubbling with excitement.
Eve sat up.
"That Tarver, Miss. He's gone."
"Tarver—gone! How, where?"
"That's just what they don't know, Miss. His port was open and they think he got out during the storm."
"Then he's drowned."
"No, Miss. Remember we were tied up to the bank. He could have got ashore easy enough."
"I'd forgotten. So he could. But in that storm! He couldn't get far, could he?"
"They haven't heard anything of him. They wirelessed as soon as they missed him. They say he's sure to be picked up." Eve waited till the stewardess had left the room then turned to Mrs. Kingscote.
"Oh, I do hope they don't catch him," she said earnestly.
"They are bound to, Eve. There is no hiding place for man on the desert."
"I suppose we shall hear when we get to Port Said."
"We are certain to. And, Eve, one thing. Tarver won't be in this ship."
"But I shall see him again at the trial," Eve said.
"My dear, that need not worry you. Either they will hang him or he will go to prison for life." Eve shivered.
"Even then he will be hating me." Mrs. Kingscote came across, sat on Eve's bed and put an arm around her.
"You are foolish, Eve. You are letting this man get on your nerves. Put him out of your mind altogether."
"I wish I could," Eve answered, "but, I can't get his face out of my thoughts. I feel that he will do me harm and—and I think he will hurt Keith, too."
"Keith Hedley is quite capable of taking care of himself and—of you, too, if you let him." Eve looked round.
"You mean that—that Keith wants to marry me? He hasn't said so."
"He will say it before we get home," said Mrs. Kingscote smiling. "Now we had better dress. We shall be in Port Said almost as soon as we have finished breakfast."
Eve was with Keith on deck as the Dunoon steamed slowly into the big port at the north end of the Canal The whole ship was in a ripple of excitement about Tarver's escape, but the general opinion was that he could not have gone far. Keith thought the same but did not say so. He knew Eve's feelings too well.
"Don't worry," he said. "We shall get news as soon as any one. Sawbridge, the fourth officer, has promised to let me know when they hear anything. Ah, here he is." Sawbridge, smart in white uniform, came across the deck.
"Have you heard?" Eve asked quickly. "Is there any news of Tarver?"
"We've heard from Suez, Miss Nisbet, but there's no news. The fellow has vanished. If you ask me, I'd say he was drowned trying to get ashore or else swallowed up by the sand."
"Swallowed by the sand?" repeated Eve.
"Nothing more likely," said Sawbridge. "No one could face a storm like that in the open and, if he tried, he would have been blinded and forced to lie down. Then he would be buried in a few minutes. But I must go. This is my busy day." Eve turned to Keith.
"Is it horrid of me to be glad, Keith?"
"Why should it?" he answered. "If Sawbridge is right it's the best thing that could have happened. Tarver was a bad hat and the world is well rid of him. Now what about going ashore? We don't sail until four o'clock."
The passage up the Mediterranean was delightful, and the Bay, too, was kindly. It was dead calm when the ship passed Ushant and Eve went to bed that night full of eager anticipation.
A melancholy roar roused her next morning, and she sat up hastily, still half asleep, not yet realising what the sound was.
"Fog, Eve," said Mrs. Kingscote. "Bad luck to run into it at this time of the year."
"Fog," wailed Eve. "Then we shan't see the white cliffs or anything."
"Don't be so sad, my dear. It may clear. If it doesn't I only hope we keep a respectable distance from the cliffs—white or otherwise."
There was no sign of clearance when Eve went on deck after breakfast. The big ship was nosing her way up the Channel at little more than half speed through a blanket of foggy mist. Everything dripped dismally and at regular intervals the whole ship vibrated to the harsh bellow of the fog horn.
"Thick as soup," said Keith in a disgusted voice as he joined Eve, "and I'd been looking forward like a kid to your first glimpse of the old country. But this won't last. Odds are the sun will break through before midday."
"Then we shall see Beachy Head and Dover." In her excitement Eve caught Keith's arm and her touch made him tingle. Her face turned up to his was flushed with excitement, her eyes were shining. She looked so charming that Keith forgot all else except that he wanted Eve above everything on earth.
"Eve," he began.
The luck was all against him.
There came a loud shout from the bows.—"Port—port your helm!" a bell rang sharply from the bridge, and the ship quivered as her engines were reversed.
The warning had come too late. Next instant there was a fresh shouting, followed by a splintering crash.
"That's torn it," Keith said. "No, you don't want to look, Eve. It may be beastly. Go back into the lounge while I see if I can do anything."
The decks which a minute earlier had been deserted were fitted with excited passengers, orders were being shouted from the bridge, a boat was being lowered. It plopped into the calm grey sea, and a hundred heads leaned over the rail to watch it. Major Kingscote came alongside Eve.
"What was it, Eve—a fishing boat?"
"We couldn't see," Eve answered. "We just heard a shout, and then the crash."
"It's this infernal fog," growled the Major. "Who'd have thought of weather like this in June?"
"There she is!" came a shout. "There's the wreck." The hull of a forty-foot launch loomed through the mist, her deck almost level with the water. The Major craned forward.
"Great Scott, they have made a mess of her. She's sinking. Is there anyone aboard, Eve?"
"Three men," Eve answered. "And another in the water—swimming. There—they've reached him. It's all right, Major, they'll get the others."
They did, but it was a close call. As they hauled the third man into the boat the battered remains of the launch rolled over and disappeared. The watchers aboard the liner cheered the rescuers who came pulling smartly back. In a very few minutes the four rescued men, dripping with salt water and shivering with the chill, were on the liner's deck and were hurried below for a change. Keith came back to Eve.
"It's all right. They got them all. The launch was the Fly-by-Night, but I don't know who the owner is. There's the lunch gong. Coming?"
At lunch Eve noticed that Keith ate very little. She knew the reason and little thrills ran through her whenever she glanced at his clean-cut face. When lunch was over Keith got up.
"I must see to Zoe," he whispered to Eve. "I'll be up soon. You'll be on deck?"
"I'll be somewhere about," Eve answered and wondered afterwards how she had been able to speak so quietly. She went straight up and to her delight found that the fog at last was breaking. She went straight to the rail straining her eyes for a first glimpse of her native land and tingling with excitement. The fog kept lifting, something white gleamed through a rift.
"Oh!" cried Eve, and was quite unconscious that she spoke aloud. "England!"
"You must be a Colonial," came a voice with a slight American accent and Eve turned to see standing next her a man whom she had never seen before. He was dressed in a rather ill-fitting suit of grey flannel. She had two impressions—one that he was the handsomest man she had ever seen in her life; the other that there was something odd in his eyes. Both these ideas were swamped by annoyance. People from the Dominions simply hate being called Colonials.
"I am English," she answered briefly.
"Sorry," he said smiling. "Guess I ought to have known. Colonial girls don't have complexions like yours. Eve stiffened.
"It's quite plain you are not English," she retorted.
"What makes you say that?" asked the other still smiling.
"An Englishman would have better manners," said Eve and turned away. In a flash he was by her side. He had the quickness and something of the grace of a cat.
"You're not cross?" he said. If he had made a real apology Eve might have forgiven him but he was still smiling and Eve grew angry.
"I don't know you," she said, "and I don't want to know you." Instead of being dismayed the man burst out laughing.
"What a little spitfire it is!" he chuckled. "You look even prettier when you frown." Eve stopped short and faced him Her eyes were very bright, her cheeks flamed.
Before she could speak here was Keith. His face frightened Eve. She had no idea he could look like this.
"It's all right. They got them all," but Keith paid no attention. His big brown hand closed on the man's shoulder and wrenched him round.
"Clear out!" he said in a low, dangerous voice. With a quick twist the other broke free.
"Sorry!" he sneered. "Didn't know I was poaching."
A number of passengers had begun to crowd round the three. Keith paid no more attention than if they had been so many flies.
"Will you go?" he said, "or do I have to make you?"
"Make me," repeated the other. "I doubt if you could. But if the lady prefers you why that's her business." With a bow to Eve he turned and strolled away, still with the same sneering smile on his handsome face.
Keith watched him for a moment then turned to Eve. But Eve was gone. Keith caught a glimpse of her passing into the lounge. He followed and caught her at the head of the companion.
"Eve—" he began. She turned on him.
"Why did you make that scene?" she asked him furiously. "Humiliating me before all those people." Keith looked at her dumbly.
"I—I thought—" he stammered.
"You thought I was such a fool I couldn't manage him," Eve said bitterly. "Please go away. I don't want to speak to you any more."
MRS. KINGSCOTE found Eve in their cabin. She had heard what had happened and was not surprised to see traces of tears on Eve's face. She sat beside her and put an arm round her.
"Making mountains out of molehills, my dear?" she remarked. Eve stiffened.
"It was a horrid scene, Mrs. Kingscote. All those people heard what that detestable man said."
"Yet anyone would think you were more angry with Keith than with him, Eve." Eve bit her lip.
"Who is the man, Mrs. Kingscote? Do you know?"
"The owner of the yacht we ran down. His name is Sagar. He came in for a big property in Devonshire, Crofton Close. Any amount of money, I believe."
"Sagar!" Eve repeated. "Sagar, that is the name I have been trying to remember all this time. The rich relation Jane talked of." A look of dismay crossed her face. "He can't be my cousin." Mrs. Kingscote laughed outright.
"What a joke." She paused "Yet it's quite likely, Eve. Sagar is not a common name." Eve looked thoughtful.
"This must be the old man's son. But if he is, then Tarver was wrong about my being the heir. Yet I truly believe he meant it."
"He might not have known that your old cousin had a son," said Mrs. Kingscote. "But no doubt we shall find out. Now powder your nose, Eve, and let us go up and get some tea. And you'll be civil to poor Keith?" she added. Eve, busy with her mirror, nodded.
"He will have to apologise," she said.
To Eve's secret dismay, Keith did not appear at tea. After tea Eve waited in her chair on deck, but still there was no sign of Keith. By this time the liner was in the Thames, and the Major told Eve that they would be at Tilbury before midnight.
Eve went down to dress for her last dinner aboard ship. At any rate she would see Keith at dinner. Her heart beat a little faster than usual as she saw his lean upright figure crossing the big saloon, but she did not like the odd set expression on his face as he took his usual seat beside her.
He ate in silence and Eve grew annoyed again. She vowed to herself she would not speak until he did. But dinner ended without Keith addressing a single word to her directly, though he spoke to the Major and to Mrs. Kingscote. As soon as the meal was over Keith got up.
"I must say good-bye," he said. "I have to see about getting Zoe's cage up. Good-bye, Major. Good-bye, Mrs. Kingscote. It has been very pleasant to travel with you." He turned to Eve. "Good-bye, Miss Nisbet," he added with a bow, and walked away without looking back.
As soon as Eve could escape she made for her cabin, flung herself down on her bed and sobbed miserably. A touch on the shoulder roused her. Mrs. Kingscote was looking down at her.
"Eve," she asked quietly, "what did you say to Keith?"
"I—I told him I didn't want to speak to him again."
"And he has taken you at your word. Can you blame him?"
"Of course, I can," said Eve with spirit. "He ought to have known I didn't mean it."
"My dear, you don't in the least understand a man like Keith Hedley. He has been abroad ever since he left Sandhurst. He has no experience of women. I more than fancy that you are the first he ever had any feeling for. He did his best for you this afternoon. Instead of being grateful you snubbed him. You have hurt him so badly that I doubt if he will come near you again unless you ask him."
"And he pretended to be in love with me," cried Eve.
"There's no pretence about it. That is why he is so badly hurt. Eve, the next move will have to come from you—that is, if you don't want to lose him." Eve sat up.
"I—I am fond of him," she confessed, "but I can't go running after him at this time of night."
"Then wait till the morning. I will make a chance for you to see Keith and after that it's up to you." Eve flung arm around Mrs. Kingscote's plump neck.
"You're a dear," she said. "I promise you I'll eat humble pie."
Next morning Eve was up early, put on her prettiest frock, and did her hair with great care, then went on deck with Mrs. Kingscote. Major Kingscote came towards them.
"Where's Keith, Bill," his wife asked.
"Hedley—oh, he's gone. A pal of his, a flying man called Trask, turned up and insisted on Hedley coming with him. Going to fly him down to Barnham, I understand." He stopped short. "Hulloa, Eve, what's the matter? You're white as paper."
"Shut up!" said Mrs. Kingscote in a forcible aside. "Eve's not very well this morning. Get her a chair." The Major, the kindest man alive, bolted off to fetch a chair, and Mrs. Kingscote whispered quickly:
"Buck up, Eve. Keith has a flat in town. You will see him again sooner or later. If you feel up to it you'd better come down to breakfast."
Eve pulled herself together and went down to the saloon, where she managed to drink some coffee. It was all very well for Mrs. Kingscote to promise that she would see Keith again. She herself knew better. She had driven him away, and why should he ever come back? She had an odd, numbed feeling. The real hurt would come later. Major Kingscote fussed over her kindly.
"Isn't your friend coming to meet you?" he asked.
"I don't know," Eve answered. "But don't worry about me. If I don't get a message soon I shall collect my things and go up to London by train."
The Kingscotes had to go. Eve saw them off the ship. Then she went back to her chair on the deserted deck, feeling more lonely and forlorn than ever before in her life. Stewards and others passing on their business, cast curious glances at the pretty girl sitting alone and wondered why she was not going ashore with the rest. Then suddenly a man stopped in front of her, and Eve looked up, saw Sagar.
SAGAR no longer wore the ill-fitting grey flannels. He was in well cut blue serge with a smart fawn hat.
He raised his hat and smiled, but the smile was very different from the sneer of the previous day.
"Miss Nisbet," he said, "I am your cousin, Jack Sagar, I want to beg your forgiveness for that stupid scene yesterday. The bare and brutal fact is that I was drunk. Don't be shocked. Drink is not my failing, but when they pulled me out of the water they gave me a very stiff whisky with hot water and lemon. Although I did not realise it till later, it made me quite tipsy. I don't recollect exactly what did happen but I know I made a fool of myself. I can only throw myself on your merry, and hope that you will pardon me."
Eve could hardly believe her eyes or her ears. She sat silent so long that Sagar seemed to think that she was not going to forgive him.
"I am sorry," he said very quietly. "My offence was beyond pardon. I quite understand. Goodbye." He was turning away when Eve recovered her voice.
"Stop, please." He stopped and stood before her, silent, head bent. "I do understand," Eve went on "You were very rude and I was very angry, but, if it was as you say, that makes a difference."
"I was rude and you were quite right to be angry," Sagar said gravely. "Thank you very much for your kindness and if, later, you feel you can accept me as a cousin it will make me very happy."
"Are you really my cousin?" Eve asked.
"In a way, yes. My father, John Sagar, was your mother's uncle. He went to America when quite a young man and made a great deal of money in oil. He was nearly fifty when he came home and bought Crofton Close. Then he married Ethel Fancourt and I was the only child. My mother died when I was only three, my father and I did not get on and, when I was fifteen I ran away and went to Montana. I had almost forgotten England when, a little more than a year ago, I heard that my father had died suddenly. He left no will so I was heir to everything." Eve nodded.
"Now I understand. I have heard my half-sister, Mrs. Dane, speak of your father, and when I heard your name I remembered that there was some relationship."
"I, too, have heard my father speak of your mother," Sagar said. "And now you have come home."
"Yes I am asked to stay with Miss Agatha Lynd, an old friend of my mother."
"Agatha Lynd!" Sagar's face brightened. "But I know her. At least I know a lady of that name."
"How odd!" Eve exclaimed. "Where does your Miss Lynd live?" she asked.
"In Chalmington Mansions, Suffolk Street, Kensington."
"Then she is the same," Eve said quickly. "Tell me, what is she like?" Sagar smiled.
"A rather elderly lady who pretends to herself that she is young. But a good sort. I feel sure."
"She must be or she would not have asked me like this."
"Is she coming to meet you?"
"I don't know," Eve confessed. "I was hoping for a message. But she may not know the ship is in."
"I am pretty sure she does not," Sagar said. He paused a moment. "Miss Nisbet, let me drive you up to London. My car is waiting."
"Are you going to London? I thought you lived in the country."
"Crofton Close is in Devonshire, but I have a flat in Charles Street. That's where I am going now. I shall feel happy if you allow me to do you this small service."
"Thank you!" said Eve, simply. "I shall be grateful."
Sagar called a steward, and Eve's baggage was brought up. A saloon car was waiting with a liveried chauffeur, a thin, sallow-faced man. Sagar handed Eve in and took his seat beside her.
It was the first time Eve had ever been in such a car before, and its power and silence absolutely awed her. She leaned back in her deeply-cushioned seat, and in spite of her troubles, began to almost enjoy the new experience. Presently Sagar spoke.
"You've had your share of excitement since leaving home, Miss Nisbet. A fire in your first ship and something like a murder, I heard." Eve shivered slightly.
"I beg your pardon," said Sagar quickly. "I shouldn't have mentioned it. It must have been rather horrible."
"It was horrible," Eve agreed. "But the wretched man is dead, so that ends it."
"Dead!" Sagar repeated. "I thought he got away."
"He got away from the ship," Eve said, "but there was a terrible sand-storm at the time, and we were told there was not a chance of anyone living through it."
"If it would not worry you, I wish you would tell me about it, Miss Nisbet. I am interested because I have a notion that this Tarver is the very same man who was concerned in a kidnapping case in Los Angeles when I was there about four years ago."
"Of course, I'll tell you," Eve said, and did so. The interest with which Sagar listened was flattering.
"You tell a story well," he said. "I take it, then, that nothing more has been heard of Tarver since that message from Suez?"
"Nothing at all," Eve said, and was surprised at the look of relief which crossed Sagar's face.
"You knew him?" she asked.
"I knew the people whose child he kidnapped," Sagar answered, and his voice was suddenly harsh. "If Tarver had been burned to death instead of merely suffocated it was no more than he deserved." He caught the startled look in Eve's eyes and laughed suddenly. "Forgive me, I had no business to speak in that tone. Let us forget the man and talk of something else."
By this time the car was in London, and almost before Eve knew it they had reached the big block of flats called Chalmington Mansions.
"Wait a moment in the car, Miss Nisbet, while I see the porter about your luggage," Sagar said and went in. He was away for some two or three minutes and came back with the porter.
"I phoned up Miss Lynd," he said. "It is just as I expected. She did not know the ship was in. I will take you to the lift." He managed everything for her and did it so well that Eve was grateful. He stopped a moment at the gate of the lift.
"May I call, Miss Nisbet? I have not many relations and now, I have found one I should hate to lose sight of her."
"I shall be glad," Eve answered. "And thank you very much for all you have done." The gate clanged and the lift shot upwards.
THE lift stopped at the fourth floor, the liftman flung back the gate and pointed.
"Number 27, Miss—just to your left. That's Miss Lynd's."
Eve thanked him and pressed the bell, the door opened and she got the shock of her life.
There stood the most extraordinary figure, tall, gaunt, in a shabby pink dressing gown. Her face must once have been pretty, but now was a ruin. Sharp nose, sunken cheeks, shining with some oil or grease, faded blue eyes, scanty fair hair, streaked with grey.
Her mother's friend! Impossible! Eve recoiled, sure that she had entered the wrong flat. But the apparition was speaking in a quick, high-pitched voice.
"So you're Eve. Well, I never! And here I am, not dressed or anything. But I didn't expect you so soon. Sit down, my dear. Make yourself comfortable while I dress."
Eve pulled herself together.
"Don't trouble about me at all, Miss Lynd," she begged, "Let me go to my room and unpack while you dress."
"Why, of course. That will be fine. This is your room, my dear." She led Eve down the narrow passage and opened a door to the left. The room was of good size and comfortably furnished. Miss Lynd was still talking.
"I hear the man coming with your things. You open the door for him, my dear. I can't have him see me looking like this. My maid, Rose Prosser, will be in presently. I must run." Run she did with her dingy dressing gown flopping ground her bony, slippered feet, and Eve went to open the door.
The porter carried in Eve's suitcases and when he had left Eve sat down to try to sort out her chaotic impressions. The thing was impossible. Miss Lynd might well be the same age as her mother but as for their being friends, that was out of the question. True, Jack Sagar had warned her, but the reality was beyond belief. This haggard, untidy ruin, why had she sent for her, what did it mean, and how was she going to live with her?
For the second time that morning Eve felt desperate. It came into her mind to ring for the porter, tell him to take her things down, drive straight to the shipping office and ask for the next boat back. She got up and opened the door of her room to make sure that Miss Lynd was not in sight. As she did so a key turned in the lock of the flat door and a woman came in.
Eve stared. She couldn't help it. The newcomer was short, plump, with red cheeks and snapping black eyes. She wore a bright pink dress and a dark green hat which, combined with her high-colored cheeks, made a contrast that almost stunned Eve.
The newcomer came forward with a smile that showed a set of excellent teeth.
"Why, you must be Miss Nisbet. I didn't know you was coming this soon. If I had I'd have been here earlier. I'm that sorry." In spite of her odd appearance, Eve found herself liking the girl. She was so frank and downright; a complete contrast to her mistress.
"We reached Tilbury late last night," Eve explained. "Mr. Sagar drove me up. You are Rose Prosser."
"That's me name, Miss. You've seed her, I suppose?" jerking her thumb in the direction of Miss Lynd's room.
"Miss Lynd let me in," Eve answered.
"And pleased she was to be woke out of her bed before she'd got her war paint on," remarked Rose with a chuckle so infectious that Eve found herself smiling. "Shall I unpack for you," she went on, "or shall I get you a nice cup o' tea?"
Eve felt that a cup of tea was exactly what she wanted. She said so and Rose bustled off to her kitchen. Eve began to unstrap a suit case. The meeting with this queer maid had changed her mind. In any case it would be abominably discourteous—and undignified—to bolt. Besides—there was just the chance she might meet Keith. If she returned to New Zealand she could never hope to see him again. Rose returned with the tea and set the tray down.
"Sit down, Miss and drink your tea. I'll finish that for you."
"Have you been with Miss Lynd long?" Eve asked.
"Jest on a year. Been near leaving two or three times, but she ain't so bad once you gets used to her." Again Eve wanted to laugh but checked the impulse. "How came you to know her, Miss?"
"Miss Lynd is a friend of relations of mine. She kindly asked me to stay with her," Eve answered. Rose shook her head in puzzled fashion.
"Funny," she said. "You're the first as ever has stayed here since I came. And the fuss she's made! All new furniture for this room."
Rose went out with the tray and Eve had just finished tidying away her things when there was a tap at the door.
"May I come in, Eve?"
The voice was that of Agatha Lynd, but the woman who entered was so totally unlike the haggard slattern who had let her in that Eve could hardly believe it was the same person. Miss Lynd wore a gown of spotted foulard with a pretty scarf around her thin neck. Her face was a miracle of art which made her look twenty years younger while her head was crowned with a wig just tinged with grey and so perfect that no one could have taken it to be anything but natural. The only signs of age which she had not been able to conceal were the lines around her pale blue eyes and the prominence of the knuckles in her bony hands.
"So you're had some tea, Rose tells me, and I see you've unpacked," she began in her thin, high voice. "I'm so sorry I ran away but I couldn't bear you to see me looking like that. But what a pretty girl you are, Eve! Dear me, I didn't know I was going to be hostess to a beauty. Why you'll have all the young men running after you. But perhaps you've got one already?"
"I'm not engaged, Miss Lynd, if that's what you mean. And I want to thank you for being so very kind as to ask me for this visit."
"Not at all, my dear. It's a pleasure, and a duty, too," she added, "when I think how good your dear mother was to me."
"Oh, do tell me about her," Eve begged.
"Why, of course I'll tell you," said Miss Lynd. "But not now, my dear. I want to take you out shopping. You'll need some evening things, I expect."
"But I can't afford new clothes, Miss Lynd," Eve said hastily. Miss Lynd tapped her playfully on the shoulder.
"That's my business, my dear. A pretty girl like you must be prettily dressed. We'll walk down Kensington High Street and see what we can see."
A girl in love may lose interest in food, but she has to be very far gone before she loses interest in clothes, and, in the excitement of buying two new evening frocks, evening stockings, and shoes and such undies as she had never yet possessed, the dull misery that had been lying like lead on Eve's heart ever since Keith's brief farewell lessened a little.
That night Miss Lynd took Eve to the theatre and would have taken her to supper afterwards but Eve pleaded that she was tired. Next morning she breakfasted alone. Miss Lynd, it seemed, never appeared before eleven. Her things had come from the shops and Rose was delighted to be allowed to unpack them.
"They're lovely!" Rose declared. "You must have spent a heap of money, Miss."
"I didn't spend any," Eve said. "Miss Lynd gave them to me." The maid's dark brows rose in arches of amazement.
"She bought all these, Miss Eve! Well, I never! Wherever did she get the money? It ain't six months since she said we'd have to leave the flat because she couldn't afford the rent."
Next morning came a note from Jack Sagar, inviting both of them to dine at the Cosmopolite and afterwards dance at the Imperial. Miss Lynd was delighted.
"Mr. Sagar knows how to do things, Eve. And he's sending his car for us. You'd better wear that pale blue dress."
At seven that evening, when Eve, wearing one of her new frocks, came out of her room Rose was overcome with admiration.
"My word, Miss, you'll knock 'em all," she exclaimed delightedly.
Jack Sagar was waiting for them in the foyer.
"It was nice of you to come, Miss Nisbet," he said, but though he spoke very quietly Eve saw the admiration in his eyes.
That evening, for the first time in her life, Eve realised the power of money. She had never eaten such a dinner, drunk such wine, or seen such perfect service.
Sagar did not say much. He seemed content to let Eve absorb the new impressions. It was Miss Lynd who did the talking. She seemed to know at least by sight—almost everyone of importance and kept on pointing them out to Eve.
"That's Ashby, the R.A., Eve," she whispered. "And there's Vivian Stewart, the novelist. And who's that coming in? That well-set-up man with the one who looks a grown-up school-boy. I know—I remember. It's Captain Hedley."
EVE looked up and met the direct gaze of Keith Hedley. For a moment their eyes locked, then he bowed slightly and passed on to his table. Eve felt sick with dismay. What must Keith think, seeing her here with Sagar? How all chance of ever speaking to him again was lost and gone.
"Yes, that is Captain Hedley, Miss Lynd," Eve heard Sagar say. "He was in the Dunoon so Miss Nisbet knows him. A fine fellow. I'm told he went into the sea after a man who fell overboard." He turned to Eve.
"I have apologized to you for my bad behaviour the other night but not to Captain Hedley. If you will excuse me I will go and do so now." Eve started. She could hardly believe her ears. Yet he meant it. There was no doubt of that. She pulled herself together.
"Do," she said, trying hard to keep her voice level and Sagar rose at once.
Eve saw him stand by Keith's table. She saw his lips moving but strain her ears as she might, she could hear nothing. He went on talking smoothly, quietly and, to Eve's amazed delight she saw Keith's expression change. The set look passed from his face, she saw him glance in her direction and her heart beat violently.
Then Keith spoke and, if he was not cordial he was at least civil. Eve saw him introduce Sagar to his companion who slim, curly-haired and looked about twenty. This Eve knew was Dicky Trask, Keith's flying friend. The three chatted for a minute or two, then Sagar turned to came strolling back.
"You seem to have pacified him," Eve said lightly.
"He was extraordinarily nice about it," Sagar answered. "He and Mr. Trask are coming to have coffee with us in the lounge."
"That's splendid," said Eve. She felt suddenly and amazingly cheerful Keith and she were going to be friends again. Nothing else mattered.
The reality was disappointing. Keith was friendly, but it seemed to Eve that he had changed. He had put up a guard. The worst of it was that she had no chance of a word alone with him.
Eve had definitely made up her mind to eat humble pie. She got no opportunity of doing so. The five sat together over their coffee and liqueurs, and Dicky Trask did most of the talking. He was the cheeriest person bubbling with stories and laughter and Eve could not help liking him.
"I'm looking after Zoe while Keith's in town," he told Eve. "I took them both down by air, and Zoe simply loved it."
"Then Captain Hedley is staying in town for a while?" Eve asked.
"For a few days anyhow, but he's busy. He's off to the East again in about three weeks."
Eve gasped. She hoped Dicky hadn't noticed, but he had. He had already seen that Keith was not happy, and the minute he first set eyes on Eve he had spotted the cause. He wondered what the trouble was and decided it was up to him to try and put things right. He began cunningly.
"Keith and I have been pals for years. He's been jolly good to Joyce and me. Joyce is the girl I'm engaged to," he added confidentially. "I'd like you to meet her some time."
"I'd love to meet her," Eve said "What is she like?"
Dicky produced a snapshot of the girl with a small smiling face and the daintiest little figure.
"There she is. What do you think of her." Eve gazed at the picture.
"She is charming," she answered, then sighed. Dicky heard the sigh.
"Miss Nisbet, you're worried, and I believe I know what's worrying you." He paused. "Shall I go on?"
"Go on," Eve said in a very low voice. Dicky continued.
"I've been noticing that Keith isn't himself. He hasn't said anything, but I've seen him looking at you, and a man doesn't look at a girl like that unless he's jolly fond of her. Tell me, have you and he had a row—a quarrel?"
"We have," Eve answered in a whisper. "And—and it was all my fault."
"I'll bet it wasn't," said Dicky with a smile. "You probably said something and Keith got huffy."
"I did say something," Eve agreed. "I—I told him I didn't want to speak to him again."
"And he took it for gospel," Dicky chuckled. "Just like old Keith. He knows as much about girls as I know about star fish. I take it you two want five minutes together to straighten things out."
"You're a wizard, Mr. Trask," Eve said.
"I'm an engaged man," Dicky answered. "And I like to see my friends as happy as I am." Eve looked at him.
"I think you're a dear," she told him. Dicky laughed again.
"You'll be making Keith jealous to say nothing of Joyce. But I'll fix it. Have you a telephone?"
Eve gave him the number and he noted it on his cuff. Then he looked at Keith.
"Time we were shifting, old man." Keith got up.
"You're right, Dicky. Good-bye, Miss Lynch, good bye, Mr. Sagar, and thanks for your hospitality." He shook hands with Eve. "Good-bye," he said. "I hope you're enjoying London."
"Everyone is very kind," Eve said but again she felt a stab of disappointment. Yet Dicky gave her fresh hope.
"Trust me," he whispered.
"We'd better be moving, too," Sagar said. "The car's waiting."
Sagar danced as well as he seemed to do most other things but he did not monopolise Eve. He introduced other men. He also found partners for Miss Lynd.
"He does things wonderfully, doesn't he, Eve?" said Miss Lynd, as they drove home. "And, do you know, he wants us to come and stay with him at Crofton."
"When does he want us to go?" Eve asked in sudden dismay.
"Next Tuesday. Why, what's the matter? Don't you want to go?"
"I'm enjoying London," Eve said lamely.
"But we shall be back. We shall only be there tor ten days or so. We go from Paddington—" She gabbled on but Eve was not listening.
Tuesday, and this was Friday. Would there be time for Dicky to redeem his promise?
Rose brought tea at half past eight.
"Did you enjoy it, Miss?" she asked eagerly. Before Eve could answer the telephone bell rang.
"Drat it!" cried Rose. "Some of them tradesmen." Eve spoke quickly.
"It may be for me. If so hold the line, Rose." Eve sprang out of bed and almost before she had her dressing gown on Rose was back.
"Yes, it's for you Miss. A gentleman named Hedley." Eve flew.
"Yes!" It was all she could do to keep her voice steady as Keith's voice came to her ear. "Eve speaking."
"DICK'S been telling me," Keith said. "Eve is it true that you didn't mean what you said on the ship?"
"A girl doesn't always mean what she says, Keith—especially when she's cross. You ought to know that."
"I don't. I never had the chance to learn." Eve laughed softly.
"I was a pig, Keith. I'm sorry."
"You're a dear, Eve, when can I see you? Can I call?" Eve hesitated.
"I don't think it would be much good. You see there's only one sitting room and Miss Lynd—"
"Then I'll tell you what," Keith broke in. "I'll ask you both to dinner at my rooms. Dick's here and we'll have Joyce and they'll take her off our hands."
"Fine!" said Eve. "Where are your room?"
"77 Walford Street. Just off Sloane Square. Half past seven. That do?"
"That will be splendid."
"Then good-bye, my dear. I—I won't be such a fool again."
Eve had finished her breakfast and the morning paper before Miss Lynd appeared. Eve bade her a polite good morning, and told her of Keith's invitation.
"And you accepted it!" Miss Lynd's voice was oddly sharp.
"Why, of course. I thought you'd enjoy it."
"I hardly know Captain Hedley."
"You talked to him a lot last night. And I know him quite well. He's very nice." Miss Lynd frowned.
"Please don't accept any more invitations without first consulting me," she said in an offended tone.
"I'm sorry," Eve said quietly but inwardly she was surprised and puzzled.
Whatever Miss Lynd had said or thought that morning, she was amiable enough in the evening, and was ready in all her war paint soon after seven. She and Eve took a taxi to Walford Street and were met at the door by Keith. The look he gave Eve set her pulses throbbing. Upstairs they found Dicky Trask, another man whom Keith introduced as Major Mountford and a girl whom Eve recognised at once as Joyce. Joyce—her other name was Lovell—was even prettier than her picture. She was the most joyous little creature imaginable, and Eve and she took to one another at once. Keith got a word aside with Eve.
"I asked Mountford so as to make up a bridge four. He's as keen as Miss Lynd." Eve's eyes twinkled. "I didn't suspect you of such cunning, Keith," she answered, and then Jan Prout, a stocky Devon man, who had been Keith's batman in the Army, announced dinner.
Compared with the banquet of the previous night, this was a simple meal, but Eve had never enjoyed one more. Afterwards they moved into the sitting room which had French windows opening on a balcony, and as the night was warm these were wide. Eve saw Miss Lynd's eyes gleam at sight of a bridge table set out ready with cards and scoring blocks.
"Joyce and I are not experts," Dicky explained, "but we're quite keen. And Major Mountford is jolly good. Shall we cut for partners?" Keith waited until they were settled, then glanced at Eve.
"Come and get a breath of air on the balcony," he suggested casually. They stood together, looking down into the quiet street along which only an occasional car or taxi glided quietly.
"At last," Keith said softly. "Eve, I was an awful idiot."
"And I told Dicky it was I who was going to eat humble pie," Eve answered with a little laugh. "Let's call it square, Keith."
"That's sweet of you. How jolly you look, Eve. That pale blue you're wearing is just the right colour." Eve laughed again.
"For a man who knows nothing of woman, you're learning fast. But it is a nice frock. Miss Lynd gave it to me." Keith glanced back at Miss Lynd who was studying the cards she held in her bony hands.
"I can't imagine that woman was a friend of your mother, Eve."
"I can't, either," Eve admitted. "What's more, I can t get her to talk about mother. But she's very kind. She paid my passage, she has refurnished my room, and she's given me quite a lot of clothes."
"She seems to be a pal of Sagar," Keith said. "Eve, what do you make of that chap? Do you like him?" Eve considered a moment.
"I can't say I like him. But he's been amazingly kind and considerate, and, after all, he's a sort of cousin." She looked at Keith. "You don't like him?"
"I bar the chap, but then you may say I'm jealous."
"Yes, Sagar's in love with you. Didn't you know it?"
"He is. I saw him looking at you last night—sort of proprietary look which made me hot. So you can't blame me for being jealous. Besides, he's a rich man, while I make a very moderate income by a lot of hard work."
"I'd never marry a man for his money," Eve said.
"I don't believe you would, Eve. The question is would you marry me without it?" Eve's eyes twinkled.
"Is this a proposal, Keith?"
"You know it is, Eve, will you marry me?" Eve turned serious.
"I haven't a penny, Keith. I don't want to be a drag on you."
"Darling, you'd be an inspiration for any man." He caught her hand and drew her into the comparatively dark space between the two windows. His arms went round her, and for the first time in her life Eve knew real kisses.
Presently she drew back, half scared, very happy.
"Be careful, Keith dear. Someone might see."
"Who cares? Let's go in and tell them."
"What—right in the middle of their rubber? Keith, don't be heartless!"
"Well, sit out here till they have finished, then tell them." He found a couple of chairs and put them between the windows.
"When will you marry me, Eve?" was his next question. "It'll have to be soon. Dicky told you I was going East again in three weeks."
"Three weeks! But, Keith, I'd have to let Jane know. Oh, and I'd forgotten—were going down to Mr. Sagar's place in Devonshire on Tuesday."
"Going to Sagar's place? Eve, you can't!"
"But I must, Keith. Miss Lynd has accepted the invitation for both of us and it would be simply awful if I refused to go."
"But this is Friday," said Keith, "and I have to go to Hamburg to-morrow and shan't be back till Tuesday. How long are you going for?"
"Ten days or a fortnight, Miss Lynd said." Keith groaned.
"That leaves only a week after you come back. Then I shall be away for four or five months. My idea was to get married at once, have a honeymoon in Scotland, then I could leave you here while I did my job in Africa."
"It sounds perfect, Keith, but it can't be done. You have to remember that Miss Lynd has spent a lot on me and expects me to stay with her a while. I shouldn't feel happy if I went off after being with her for less than a week." Keith was frowning. He was clearly disappointed. "You do understand, Keith?" Eve begged.
There was a sudden commotion in the sitting room. A thump, the tinkle of a falling ash tray. Keith and Eve both sprang up. Miss Lynd had slumped forward with her head on the card table.
"She's fainted," Joyce explained, "Keith, you and Dicky lift her on to the couch." They lifted her on to a couch and Keith hurried for brandy.
"You'd better ring up a doctor Keith," Eve said, but Miss Lynd spoke feebly.
"No, it's only one of my attacks. Give me a little brandy, please, and let me rest a while. Then I shall be able to go home."
"TELEPHONE, Miss," said Rose, popping her head into Eve's room at eight next morning. "It's Captain Hedley," she added in a quite unnecessary whisper. Eve woke with a start and sprang out of bed. Without waiting even to put on slippers or dressing gown she ran to the 'phone. Rose, with amazing self-denial, retired to her kitchen.
"Yes, is it you, Keith? This is Eve."
"You needn't tell me that, darling. How is the old cat? I say, I don't want to be nasty, but I believe it was a put-up job."
"Don't be so shocked, darling. We found out afterwards that the light reflected from the room made a mirror of that open french window. It's on the cards that she saw us."
"Oh, Keith, how horrid! I don't think it's true. She wasn't a bit well when I got her to bed. I've been up with her half the night."
"And I've dragged you out of bed," said Keith remorsefully.
"I'm glad. I was longing to talk to you."
"I've precious little time," Keith said, "Dicky's here, waiting to drive me to Croydon. I have to go in five minutes. Eve, do you think Miss Lynd will be able to go to Devon?"
"I'm afraid she will. She's dead set on it."
"Then I shan't see you for a fortnight!"
"I hate the waiting as much as you," Eve said. "But now that I know you love me, I'm happy, and I'd wait a lifetime if I had to."
"Darling," said Keith intensely. "But it won't be that, anyhow. I'm going to marry you before I leave for Africa so you'd better make up your mind to that. There's Dicky calling. All my love, dearest."
"Keith, you'll miss the bus." Eve distinctly heard Dicky's voice. Keith hung up hastily, and Eve went back to her room and began to dress.
Miss Lynd appeared at eleven as usual. She was in a distinctly crotchety mood and began questioning Eve about Hedley and Eve soon realised that she suspected that there was some understanding between him and Eve. But Eve was now very much on guard and Miss Lynd got nothing out of her.
Most of that day Miss Lynd lay on the sofa and Eve stayed in and looked after her. Sunday was equally dull and on Monday Miss Lynd was packing. Actually Eve was rather relieved when Tuesday morning came and they started for Devonshire.
That journey gave Eve her first sight of the English countryside. It was a lovely June day and the views delighted her. Her chief regret was that she had not Keith with her to share her pleasure.
Sagar met them at North Road with the car. He had gone down on the previous day. He wore a grey tweed suit which must have come from a first-class tailor. His pale blue tie, perfectly polished brown shoes and pearl grey hat were all of the best, yet Eve had a passing thought that he was just a little too well dressed for the country.
Crofton Close lay a few miles from Moretonhampstead on the North side of the Moor and was approached by a long and hilly drive. As the car topped a steep slope Eve saw before her a valley down which tumbled a brook in a series of falls and pools and on the far side a long, low house built of weathered grey granite. The walls were covered with creepers, and gay flower beds and lawns dropped in terraces to the little river. The hill side behind was covered with magnificent timber, beech, larch and fir. Eve sat quite still, her eyes fixed on the scene in silent delight.
"You like it?" Sagar asked. "You needn't answer," he went on. "I see you do."
The car had crossed the bridge and was moving slowly up the steep slope leading to the house.
"Whats that?" Eve asked sharply, pointing to a large, ivy-clad building among the trees some half mile to the right.
"The old house," Sagar told her. "It's huge but little better than a ruin. No one lives in it except ghosts. Not that I believe in them," he added with a laugh. Eve shivered slightly.
"It's horrid," she said. "It spoils everything." Sagar shrugged.
"Sorry you don't like it. I don't either. But it would cost a fortune to pull down. The walls are four feet thick. Here we are. Come in and have some tea."
The Dower House was as charming inside as out. Eve came straight into a square hall with an enormous old-fashioned fireplace. The floor was solid oak and the roof raised with great oak beams. The furniture, too, was black oak but some modern chairs, handsome rugs and a low tea-table gave an air of comfort. Eve felt at once that the old house was friendly—just as friendly as the other, the ruined Close, was hostile.
Then she got a shock The man who brought in tea was as ugly as his master was handsome. Unless she had seen him Eve could never have believed that any man could be so hideous. His huge square head was set upon shoulders of gigantic width, his nose was a mere blob and his eyes, very close together, were so deep in his head they were hardly visible. His legs were short, his arms long and the backs of his hands were covered with a felt of hair. Yet he was most correctly dressed in a black coat and dark trousers and by the way he set out the tea, seemed to know his work.
"Will you pour out, Miss Lynd," Sagar said. He turned to Eve. "I saw you looking at Holt. He isn't a beauty, but he's a mighty good servant. I found him in Montana, darn near starving and got him a job. When I came into this place he insisted on coming with me. What's more, I have his wife and daughter." He grinned. "Don't be scared. They're not as ugly as he."
The tea was excellent and for the first time in her life Eve ate saffron cakes with Devonshire cream and whortleberry jam. Afterwards Sagar rang and a middle-aged woman, not bad looking, but whose face had no more expression than a rag doll answered it. Sagar addressed her as Mrs. Holt and asked her to show Miss Lynd and Miss Nisbet their rooms.
Upstairs the house was as pleasant as below. Eve's room large, airy with deep window seats and walls of pale golden yellow, delighted her. It faced the gardens, and the tinkle of the stream was mingled with the murmur of bees in the honeysuckle outside. There were yellow roses on the dressing table.
"I hope all is as you like, Miss," said Mrs. Holt formally.
"It is delightful," said Eve impulsively, "the prettiest room I have ever seen. And the flowers. Thank you so much." A faint look of surprise showed for an instant in Mrs. Holt's pale eyes.
"Thank you, Miss," she said and went softly away.
Eve sat on a window seat and looked out on the peaceful gardens.
"I wonder why I like this house so much," she said to herself, "—and why I dislike its master." For without knowing why Eve had come the definite conclusion that she actually disliked her cousin. After a while she got up and began a letter to Keith.
She wrote a lot about her journey and how she liked the house, but suppressed any mention of the odd butter and his expressionless wife. She sealed the letter and addressed it to Walford Street, then opened her bag to find a stamp.
Her purse was gone. It was definitely not in the bag. She searched frantically but found no trace of it, With it had gone not only her stamps but all her money and her return ticket.
EVE tried to control the panic which threatened to overwhelm her. There had been more than seven pounds in her purse. Now she was penniless.
She tried to remember how or where she had given the thief his chance but failed. For the life of her she could not see where she had been careless.
Eve went down the passage and tapped at Miss Lynd's door. Miss Lynd was in a dressing gown, lying on her bed. She did not look best pleased to be disturbed.
"I'm sorry to bother you," Eve said, "but I have lost my purse."
"Lost your purse! How very careless of you, Eve."
"But I was not careless," Eve told her. "It was in my bag, and my bag hasn't been out of my sight since we left London."
"But that's impossible," returned Miss Lynd in the thin, sharp voice which Eve disliked so much. "A purse can't fly out of a bag. You must have left your bag in the train long enough for someone to open it and steal the purse. How much was in it?"
"Nearly eight pounds—all I had." Miss Lynd sat up. She seemed upset.
"You had better write to the railway company, and explain what has happened. You must have lost it on the train." Eve bit her lip.
"I haven't even a stamp," she said.
"Oh I can give you stamps. Hand me my bag." Eve found the bag and Miss Lynd produced half a dozen stamps.
"I'll find some money later," Miss Lynd said in a kinder tone, "but I haven't much with me, and anyhow you won't want money while you're staying here."
It was cold comfort, but Eve was grateful for the stamps. She thanked Miss Lynd and went back to her room where she wrote until it was time to dress for dinner.
Dinner was good, but since there were only three in the party cards were out of the question, so Sagar turned on the wireless, a magnificent set and they had a concert picked from various stations.
As Eve went to her bath next morning a tall slim girl ran past. Eve caught a glimpse of a white, frighted face.
"What is it?" Eve called. "Is someone hurt?"
"Mother, Miss. I heard her call."
Eve followed. She found her way through the back hall into the large flagged kitchen where Mrs. Holt lay back in a chair moaning with pain and an elderly woman watching stupidly while Mrs. Holt's daughter was bending over her. Eve saw the upset kettle and knew at once what had happened.
"Scalded?" she asked quickly.
"It's her arm, Miss," said the girl. "Oh, what can we do? She's in such pain."
"Get me the sweet oil, flour and some soft rags," Eve ordered.
Eve had not lived on a farm without learning a deal about homely remedies. In a very short time she had Mrs. Holt's arm protected from the air by a paste of flour and oil.
"Thank you Miss," she said in a faint voice. "Thank you kindly. The pain's not nearly so bad."
"We must get her to bed," Eve said to the girl. "I'll help you take her to her room."
Soon Mrs. Holt was resting comfortably. The girl who was her daughter, Esther, came out of the room with Eve.
"She never says much, Miss," said Esther, "but she's as grateful as I am. I didn't know what to do any more than Mrs. Causier, and it was dreadful to see her suffer like that."
"But didn't your father know what to do," Eve asked.
"Mr. Holt!" Two spots of color flamed in Esther's pale cheeks. "He's not my father, Miss."
"I didn't know," Eve said quickly. Esther looked half ashamed of her outburst.
"He's my stepfather, Miss. In any case he wasn't in the kitchen when it happened. Thank you again for all you've done."
"No love lost between those two," Eve said to herself as she went back to her room. "Well I don't blame Esther. Holt's a horror." She had no faintest notion of how great a return this act of kindness was going to bring her on a future day.
Eve breakfasted alone with her host.
"What would you like to do to-day?" he asked.
"Fish," said Eve. Sagar looked blank.
"Gee, and I haven't even a rod," he answered. Eve was astonished.
"You have a river like that and don't fish?"
"I'm not much on shooting or fishing," Sagar said. "But, see here, you shall fish all you want. I'll send Maltby to Exeter and he shall get the tackle. Make a list and he'll be back by lunch. I suppose it won't be too late then."
"Trout rise best in the evening," Eve said gravely, but Sagar's ignorance of such a simple fact amazed her.
"We'll have a ride this morning if you'd like it," Sagar said.
"Nothing I'd like better," Eve told him, and as soon as breakfast was over went up and changed. Horses were waiting in charge of a young stable lad.
All the land they rode on that morning belonged to Sagar. He had twelve hundred acres of farms and nearly three thousand of moor. He seemed proud of his possessions, yet extraordinarily ignorant of them.
Another thing Eve noticed was that, when he let himself go, Sagar talked American. He used American expressions and his accent became more nasal. But this, of course, was accounted for by the years he had spent in the States.
When they got back Eye found that Maltby had brought a lovely little split-cane rod with the latest in reels, a landing net and casts, and flies sufficient for a lifetime.
She got off alone on the river that afternoon and caught a few trout and enjoyed it, but in the evening Sagar got her to dance, and while they danced whispered compliments. Eve was no fool. She realised Sagar wanted to marry her, and that it was going to be very difficult to stave him off.
Next morning came the longed-for letter from Keith. Keith wrote:
Lorenz, the man I'm working for, has just heard that one of his agents has sent down a consignment of animals to Kaka on the Niger. He wants me to go out and bring them back. It's so urgent that I'm to go by 'plane. The beauty of it is this. By doing this job I get out of my trip up country and ought to be back in England in little more than a month. Then I shall get at least three months' leave before I have to start out again.
You see what this means to us, darling. We can get married and have a real honeymoon.
There was more, but this was the part that rejoiced Eve, so that she went to breakfast, flushed and starry eyed, and looking so lovely that Sagar could not keep his eyes off her.
They rode again that morning and Sagar was oddly silent, but Eve, busy with thoughts of Keith, paid little attention. They went up over Ruff Tor, and as they came to the hundred foot pile of weathered granite which towered on its summit Eve pulled up and slipped off.
"I want to climb to the top. The view must be glorious," she told Sagar. "Do you mind looking after my pony?"
"No need," said Sagar. "Pull your reins over his head and let them hang and he'll stand till the cows come home."
It was a stiff climb but the view was worth it. From the top a quarter of Devon and a wide stretch of the wild Cornish Moors were visible, while beyond the smoke of Plymouth, a strip of vivid blue which seemed to climb into the sky was the sea.
"It's lovely," Eve breathed. She turned to Sagar. "You're not looking at it," she reproached him.
"I'm seeking something a deal more lovely," said Sagar with his eyes on her face. "Eve, you're the prettiest girl I ever set eyes on and the sweetest. Do you reckon you could like me enough to marry me?"
EVE'S first feeling was of sharp annoyance. The very thing she had been trying to avoid had happened, and it was her fault for not being more careful.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Very sorry, but I'm engaged already, so you see—"
"To Hedley?" Sagar snapped out, and there was a flash of something in his odd, half-veiled eyes that frightened Eve.
"I didn't know," he said quietly. "It's a shock. You see, Eve, I'm mighty fond of you."
"I didn't want you to like me in that way." Eve's heart was soft and she was really distressed.
"I don't reckon one can help one's feelings—not when they run that way," said Sagar, with a shrug. "Well, it can't be helped and I hope you won't hold it against me."
"Of course I won't. It's a great compliment—the greatest you could pay me." She looked at him again but he said nothing. They rode home in silence. Eve wished Sagar would talk, but he never opened his mouth. She was glad when they got back.
She went to her room, changed and sat on the window seat, thinking. She felt thoroughly depressed. Presently she went down and found Miss Lynd in the drawing room, deep in one of the detective stories which were her only reading.
"Had a nice ride?" said Miss Lynd glancing up.
"Not very nice. Mr. Sagar asked me to marry him. Miss Lynd dropped her book.
"Oh, I'm so glad, Eve."
"You are taking it for granted that I said, 'yes'." Miss Lynd sat up straight.
"But of course you said yes. Such a match for a girl in your position. You are lucky, Eve."
"I am. I refused him," Eve said. Miss Lynd stared at Eve as if she could not believe her ears.
"You refused him. You must be mad."
"I should have been mad to accept him. One can't marry two men and I am engaged already."
"To Hedley that menagerie man? He's a pauper. He can hardly keep himself, let alone a wife." Miss Lynd paused and seemed to be trying to get a grip on herself. "Eve, don't be foolish," she implored. "Mr. Sagar is one of the richest men in England. As his wife you will be one of the greatest ladies of the country. There isn't a girl in London who wouldn't jump at such a chance. Do be sensible."
Miss Lynd was shaking with agitation. Eve sat down opposite her.
"All that may be true, Miss Lynd, but I don't like Mr. Sagar; I never could like him. Keith Hedley's my man and the money doesn't make any difference at all."
"You wouldn't talk like that if you were my age," retorted Miss Lynd. "Money is everything in this world. I've lived more than fifty years and I know."
"I'm afraid I can't make you understand, Miss Lynd," she said gently.
"I understand that you are a little fool," returned Miss Lynd angrily. "I refuse to countenance your throwing yourself away on this Hedley. I stand as your guardian while you are in England and I refuse my permission." Eve rose.
"I am twenty-one, Miss Lynd, and I am afraid I must deny your authority in this matter. I tell you quite definitely I am going to marry Captain Hedley and that I do not wish to have anything more to do with Mr. Sagar."
"And I tell you that you will stay here until you have made up your mind to marry Jack Sagar." Eve was roused at last.
"I can't stay in the house of a man whom I have refused to marry. You must know that as well as I do, Miss Lynd."
"I'm not leaving," Miss Lynd's tone was definitely hostile. "And how are you going to?" she added with a sneer.
For the moment Eve had forgotten the loss of her purse. Now remembrance came like a thunderbolt, and with it sudden suspicion.
"So that is why I have lost my money," she said so sharply that Miss Lynd started.
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"I hardly think it necessary to explain, Miss Lynd. But if you want it in so many words I will tell you that I believe my purse was stolen after I reached this house." Miss Lynd thrust out her skinny right arm towards Eve.
"You dare talk like that!" she screamed. "You dare to insult me! Leave the room."
Eve was as angry as the older woman but had better control of her temper. She stood very still gazing straight into the other's wrinkled face. Miss Lynd's eyes dropped.
"Yes," said Eve at last. "I think it is time I went." Turning, she left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. She went straight to her own room and changed. Then she glanced at her watch. It was almost one.
"Too late now," she said quite calmly, "Besides, I want my lunch."
A moment later the gong sounded and she went down. Jack Sagar met her in the hall.
"Don't let this make any difference, Eve," he said in a low voice. "I won't offend again." Then in a louder tone—"Miss Lynd isn't coming down. She sent word that she isn't very well and will lunch in her room."
"I'm sorry," Eve said in a perfectly level voice and went into the dining-room. She made a thoroughly good lunch and chatted casualty to her host. It almost made her laugh to realise what a good actress she had suddenly become.
"I should like to try the river again this afternoon," she said to Sagar. "There's a nice breeze."
"I hope you'll get some trout," Sagar said and that was all.
Half an hour later Eve started, carrying her rod in her hand and with her fishing bag slung over her shoulder. If the bag was rather full no one but herself noticed that fact or knew that it contained instead of tackle, a change of clothes, night things and all Eve's smaller valuables.
She walked up the river, casting occasionally across a pool, until she was well out of sight of the house then, hiding the rod in a hollow tree she left the stream and cut across to the road, when she turned in the direction of Moretonhampstead.
By three she had reached the town and was strolling along the street, looking for a jeweller's shop. She found a small one and went in. A short, elderly, bald-headed man was behind the counter.
"I am on a walking tour," Eve told him, "and I have had the ill-luck to lose my purse. Luckily I have a gold bracelet which has no special sentimental value. I am wondering if it is worth enough to see me home." The old chap gave Eve a quick glance, but could see no reason for doubting her story.
"May I see it," he said pleasantly and Eve handed over the bracelet. It was a heavy, old-fashioned thing left her by her mother. The jeweller tested and weighed it.
"I can give you seven pounds for it," he said. Eve smiled.
"That," she said "will more than see me home." The man paid her over seven Treasury notes and Eve thanked him and went out to find the Post Office.
The next thing was to look up the telephone number of the Kingscotes. The trunk call was put through but the voice which answered was not familiar.
"Is Mrs. Kingscote at home?" Eve asked. She got a shock.
"She and Major Kingscote are away for a week. They won't be back till Friday next. They are on a driving tour in Wales."
"Thank you, I will write," said Eve and hung up. She stood with her pretty forehead puckered in a frown, wondering what next to do, then like a flash came the thought of Joyce. She had not Joyce's, address but Dicky would know, and he would he at Bragnell Aerodrome. A second trunk call was put through and to Eve's delight, she was told that Mr. Trask was "somewhere about" and they would find him. The wait seemed long, but at last him heard someone at the other end.
"You, Miss Nisbet!" came Dicky's voice. "Where are you?"
"Moretonhampstead in Devonshire."
"Is anything wrong?"
"Quite a lot. I've had a row with Miss Lynd and I've run away. I wondered if Joyce would help me, but I haven't her address."
"She's in rooms in Greenwell Gardens in Chelsea. Number is 12. See here, I'll send her a wire to expect you. When do you get to Waterloo?"
"Nine," said Eve. "You're an agent, Mr. Trask."
Eve heard him laugh as she hung up, then she walked briskly to the station and took her ticket. The tram was almost empty. She leaned back comfortably and considered things.
They might be worse, she decided, a great deal worse. Though Miss Lynd's outburst had shocked her, yet the break had to come sooner or later and now it was complete. Miss Lynd had tried to sell her to Sagar. She had failed and that was the end of it. Now there was nothing to do but wait until Keith came back and then they would be married.
The first Eve saw on getting out at Waterloo was Joyce's bright little face. She took both Eve's hands.
"I don't in the least know what's wrong, but I'm terribly glad to see you," she exclaimed. "Let's get a taxi and then we'll talk." Talk they did, and by the time they reached Greenwell Gardens Joyce knew all about Eve's adventures.
The house was tall and gloomy but Joyce's tiny flat was the very reverse. It was bright and cheerful and a dainty supper was laid out on the table. Over the meal the two girls still talked, and Eve learned that Joyce worked in a shop at three pounds a week.
"I'm going to pay my share so long as I'm here," Eve said firmly.
"You'll do just what I tell you," replied Joyce, "or you'll find me a lot worse than Miss Lynd. Now you'll go to bed. You must be worn out after the day you've had."
"I'm very happy," said Eve as she kissed the other. "You and Dicky are dears."
Joyce had to be at the shop by nine. After she left Eve went straight to Miss Lynd's flat. Rose's eyes widened in amazement at sight of her, and again Eve had to explain at length. Rose was indignant.
"The old cat. It's my belief she planned the whole thing. If she thinks I'm going to stay after this she's got another think coming And now you'll want your things, Miss. I'll pack them for you."
Between them they packed Eve's spare suit case and Eve took a taxi back to Greenwell Gardens. When Joyce came home that evening tired out she found, everything in apple-pie order and supper waiting. She clasped her hands in delight, then kissed Eve warmly.
"My dear, you can't imagine what this means to me. It's just heaven. I wish you could stay with me always."
"I would if I hadn't another job on hand," Eve said with a laugh.
"You'll stay till Keith comes, won't you?" Joyce begged.
"I love staying here," Eve said. "I wasn't happy a minute in Devonshire. I sort of knew what was coming."
"That's all over," Joyce told her. "There's no reason why you should ever see Miss Lynd again—or Sagar. Keith will take jolly good care of that, I'm sure. Have you written and told him?"
"I can't. He didn't give me any address. I have to wait till he comes home."
Those were very pleasant days Eve spent in Joyce's little flat. She wrote to Jane and told her something of what had happened. She also wrote a polite letter to Sagar explaining why she had felt forced to leave but putting no blame on him.
All the same, the more she thought things over the more puzzled she became. For the life of her she could not see why Miss Lynd had sent for her from New Zealand or given her the money to come home. It did not seem possible that Sagar had put her up to this for, as far as she knew, Sagar was not even aware of her existence until he met her in the ship. Joyce was as puzzled as she.
"Anyhow, it doesn't matter," Joyce said with her gay laugh. "Keith will be home in a few weeks and then you have nothing to do but get married and live happily ever afterwards."
"I wish he'd write," said Eve. "I'm hoping every day for the letter I don't get."
On the very next morning Eve got the long expected letter from Keith. It had been posted at Oran and sent by air mail. He told her that he was just off on his flight across the desert.
"I have a private 'plane and feel no end of a swell. It's going to cost Lorenz something, but he says it's worth it. These animals must be got to the coast as quickly as possible."
Joyce went off to her work and a little later Eve went out to shop. She had nearly reached home when a man came down the street carrying a sheaf of evening papers.
"All the news!"
"Plane disappears in desert," were the words she read on the bill he carried. A cold hand seemed to grasp Eve's heart, yet her fingers were quite steady as she found a penny and proffered it. There was no need to open the paper; the news was on the front page.
Anxiety is felt at Oran concerning the fate of a 'plane which left this place on Tuesday last for Dakar. It reached Beni Abbes, but has not since been heard of and fears are entertained for the fate of the passenger and pilot. The passenger is an Englishman, Captain Keith Hedley, well known as a collector of wild animals. It is understood that he was on a special mission for the Hamburg firm of Lorenz.
HOW she got back to Joyce's rooms Eve never knew. Yet when she did reach them, instead of fainting or doing anything silly of that sort, she laid her purchases on the table sat down and tried to think what best to do.
Suddenly her surroundings faded out and in their place the figure of Keith rose before her eyes. She saw him tramping across an illimitable stretch of flat stony ground under a burning sun. She saw his face which was burnt almost black, his eyes bloodshot from the glare, his lips cracked with thirst.
"Keith! Oh, Keith!" she called, stretching out her hands towards the figure, which seemed so terribly clear.
It vanished and the familiar walls of Joyce's room with their cheap but pretty pictures were around her. Eve sat up straight.
"He's not dead," she said aloud, "but how—how can I help him?"
In a flash the solution came to her. The newspaper. Yes, that was her best chance. She went straight downstairs and found a taxi, got in and told the man to drive her to the office of the "Evening Chronicle." A tall commissionaire in a dark uniform met her at the entrance.
"Can I see the editor?" she asked.
"Have you an appointment, Miss?"
"No." Eve held out the fatal paper and pointed to the headline.
"This—this is what I have come about. I—I want news."
"You are a relation, Miss, of Captain Hedley?" Eve saw sympathy in the man's eyes.
"I'm engaged to him," she said. The commissionaire had a soft heart and the distress of this very pretty and charming girl appealed to him.
"The editor is not in yet, Miss, but the news editor is upstairs. I will see what I can do." He got busy with the house phone and in a few moments hung up.
"Mr. Babbage, the news editor, will see you, Miss. This boy will take you to his room."
Eve thanked him and followed the boy. A lift shot up and landed her to a quiet corridor.
Mr. Babbage sat behind a tidy desk. He was a young-old man with a round smooth-shaven face and a pair of brown, intelligent eyes. These widened a little at sight of his visitor for he was not expecting to see such an extraordinarily pretty girl. He got up quickly, shook hands and drew up a chair.
"Have you any more news of Captain Hedley?" Eve asked immediately. Babbage shook his head.
"None," he said gravely. "I understand you are engaged to Captain Hedley?"
"Yes, and—and I am terribly anxious." Eve's voice shook a little in spite of her effort at self-control.
"I don't wonder," Babbage said gently. "But you must not think that because the 'plane is missing, it has crashed. It may have been forced down in some remote oasis where Captain Hedley will be perfectly safe."
"He is not killed," Eve said quietly. "I saw him walking across the desert."
"You saw him!"
"Yes," said Eve simply. "When people are very fond of one another I believe they can sometimes communicate. I saw him as plainly as I see you. He was alone, walking across a great stretch of gravel. The sun was terrible and he had no water. I could see that his eves were bloodshot and his lips cracked. Oh—" Eve's voice quivered again. "If I could only have been with him!"
It takes a great deal to impress a man like Babbage, yet Eve's quiet speech convinced him that she was speaking no more than the definite truth. He tried to comfort her.
"The mere fact that you saw him walking may mean that he had some definite goal in view. Another thing, since he has lived much in the wilds he is more likely to survive than one who has not his knowledge." The way Eve's face lighted up gratified Babbage.
"Yes, that is true. He may be safe but oh Mr. Babbage, how am I to find out?"
"If you give me your address you shall have any news we get."
"You are kind," said Eve gratefully and got up. But Babbage had no idea of letting her go yet.
"Tell me something about Captain Hedley, Miss Nisbet. You might give us material for an article on his doings. The more publicity his disappearance has the more likelihood of people looking for him."
Very artfully he began to question her and when Eve told of how Keith had gone overboard after Kemp and of the disappearance of Youd Tarver the News Editor realised that he had a big story.
Eve talked and talked. It was all about Keith. She barely mentioned Sagar but did say that he was her cousin and that she had been staying with him.
When at last Babbage was satisfied he sent Eve home in a taxi and returned to his room to put her story into form for the late night edition.
Back at the flat, Eve found it impossible to sit still. She busied herself with all sorts of odd jobs but did them mechanically. Her whole mind was given up to thoughts of Keith.
At half-past four a knock made her jump. It was a messenger from Babbage with a note to say that so far no news had come through. He also sent a copy of the late edition with Captain Hedley's story. It was headed "The Lost Hero," and below:
"Captain Hedley's fiance tells the story of the big game hunter who has vanished in the Sahara." Eve read it and was absolutely shocked. It seemed to her a dreadful thing that the full story of her engagement to Keith should be blazoned in this way. She was still reading when the door opened and Joyce ran to her.
"Oh, my dear!" was all she said, and Eve buried her head on the other's shoulder. Joyce kept silence, just hugged and patted her and Eve soon recovered.
"Dicky phoned," Joyce said "Eve, have you heard anything?"
"There's no news yet," Eve said, "but he's not dead, Joyce. I saw him alive." Joyce looked scared and Eve smiled. "I'm not crazy, dearest, though no doubt you think so. Listen."
She told Joyce of her vision, and Joyce listened with parted lips. She was intensely interested. Then Eve went on to tell of her visit to Mr. Babbage. She held up the paper.
"And look at this, Joyce! It's dreadful, I never dreamed he would publish all this." Joyce grasped the paper and quickly read the story. Her eyes shone.
"But it's splendid, Eve. Everyone will read it and be interested. They'll be starting search parties. Eve, I think you did the wisest thing, and I'm sure Dicky will agree."
And while they talked suddenly Dicky himself came quickly into the room. Dicky's face was white, he looked five years older and Eve realized how very deep was the bond between him and Keith.
"He's not dead, Dicky," were her first words.
"You have news?" Dicky gasped. Eve again explained her strange vision and like Joyce, Dicky was impressed. Then Joyce showed him the paper and he nodded approvingly as he read.
"This is all to the good, Eve," he said. "It may mean that someone will put up money for the search.
"Would it cost a lot, Dicky?"
"Quite a lot. But I'd do it quick enough if I could get a 'plane. It's too late to do anything to-day, but to-morrow—"
"It's Sunday to-morrow," put in Joyce and Dicky looked dismayed. But only for a moment.
"It doesn't matter," he said, "I'll get one somehow."
They had supper quietly together and sat and talked. Dicky told Eve much about Keith, that she had never heard before.
It was nearly ten when a messenger arrived with a night telegram for Eve. Her fingers shook a little as she tore open the envelope. The other two watched breathlessly. They were both terribly afraid. Presently Eve looked up.
"It's from Mr. Sager. He says he has just heard of Keith's disappearance. He suggests that a search should be made at once and offers to put up any money necessary." Dicky stared.
"Sagar, you say?"
"Yes." Eve was quite calm. "Read it."
Dicky glanced through the message.
"Didn't think he was so decent," he said. "Accept at once, Eve. I'll go."
"GOOD-BYE, Joyce darling."
Unheeding the clicking cameras, Dicky hugged Joyce tightly. "Good-bye, Eve," he said, and gave her hand a firm grip. Then he scrambled into the cabin of the big 'plane of which the propeller was spinning slowly.
He advanced the throttle, the machine began to move and the air stream flattened the grass behind her. Quickly and still more quickly she rolled, then, despite the heavy load of petrol, was in the air. The two girls gazed until she was quite gone, then turned to the car in which Mr. Babbage himself had brought them.
He dropped them at Joyce's flat and they went up together. This was Monday morning and Joyce had the day off. Her employer who called herself Madame Estrella, but whose real name was Sarah Cole, had given her a holiday. A clever woman, she realise the value of publicity and the fact that her employee's name was figuring largely in the news decided her to treat Joyce as well as possible and not risk some other fashion shop snapping her up. Over breakfast the two talked.
"Joyce," said Eve, "you'll have to go back to work to-morrow. I can't stay here alone, doing nothing. I want work—hard work. Do you think Madame would take me on?"
"She'd jump at it. She'd pay you a good salary."
"It isn't the money," Eve said, "though of course that would help. I want something to keep me from thinking."
"I know," Joyce said gravely. "I'll ring her up."
Later Joyce rang up her employer and asked if she could find work for Eve. Just as she expected, the good lady jumped at the chance. She was quite frank about it. Eve as an assistant would probably not be worth more than a pound a week for the present but, for the sake of publicity, she offered her three pounds a week for a month. Afterwards they could come to some fresh arrangement.
Eve accepted and next day went to work with Joyce. The shop was in Burton Street and Eve liked Madame who was tall, dark, rather stout with a deep voice and a decided manner. The girls, of whom there were five, including Joyce, seemed nice.
Knowing her story, they were all kind, while Joyce gave her useful hints. By the end of the day she was getting the hang of things. Eve was tired out when she got home.
She slept that night—the first night's sleep she had had since Friday.
Next morning Joyce was made happy by a cable from Dicky. He had reached Beni Abbes in safety and was starting at dawn on what he hoped was the last stage of his journey. "Don't worry if you don't hear for a week," he ended.
That week was the longest Eve had ever known and when Saturday came at last there was still no news. On that day the Kingscotes drove up to town and next day took the two girls out in their car.
When they got home they found a cable from Dicky. It was addressed to Joyce. Eve watched her read it and saw Joyce's face go white.
"Not Dicky?" Eve said quickly.
"Dicky's all right. It's—it's—"
"Let me have it, Joyce." Eve said very quietly. Joyce handed her the form.
"Keith dead. Tell her. Dicky."
That was all.
DICKY arrived late on Tuesday evening. His face was almost black—it was so burnt; he looked thin and pinched and years older. Joyce gave him a wordless hug, then Eve who had been sitting by the window came across. Her face had lost colour and sharpened, but she was perfectly composed.
"Tell me, Dicky," she said gently. "But sit down first. You look all in." Dicky dropped into a chair. All the life seemed to be drained out of him.
"They crashed," he said abruptly.
"But Keith was not killed then," Eve told him.
"No. It's a pity he wasn't. Oh, Eve, I don't know how to tell you." His face was working and Eve laid a hand on his arm. "You loved him, too, Dicky. But, remember, I couldn't go. You are the only one who knows." Dicky's lips tightened. He went on.
"I found the 'plane. It was about half-way between Beni Abbes and Tanderi. It had burned. I examined it but there were no bodies, no bones. I searched but could find no tracks. It was stony country. Then I went up again and saw palm trees a long way to the East. It seemed to me that was what they would make for if they'd seen it from the air.
"It was an oasis, a small place with one well and just a few people. There was one man who talked a little French. His name was Boulifa. I think he was part Arab, part French. He told me that some of his people had found the bodies of two Roumis (Europeans) about three miles out. They had brought them in and buried them. He showed me the graves and gave me this." He took Keith's wristwatch from his pocket and handed it to Eve.
Eve sat perfectly still, dry-eyed, gazing at the small chromium-plated watch with its blackened leather wrist band.
"Thank you, Dicky," she said. "Thank you very much indeed." Then she got up and went softly into the other room. Joyce looked at Dicky.
"Oh, Dicky!" she cried, and flung herself into his arms.
Eve refused to take a single day off work or to wear black. Keith had told her once how deeply he disliked that form of mourning.
She wrote to her sister, telling her briefly what had happened and saying that, for the present at least, she was staying in England.
"I have found work that I can do," she wrote. "I have discovered that I have the knack of trimming hats. I am getting three pounds a week, living quite comfortably with Joyce Lovell and even saving a little. My chief anxiety is for Joyce. She is not strong and comes home exhausted each evening. What she needs is a holiday, but that is just what we can't afford. A week at a cheap seaside lodging would be worse than useless."
Eve was right about Joyce. The work and the heat together were too much for her, and on one especially hot afternoon she fainted. Eve took her home in a taxi, put her to bed and called in a doctor. He overhauled Joyce, came out and said to Eve.
"There is nothing organically wrong, but she is completely run down. What she needs is a month's rest by the sea or in country air. That, with plenty of good food, should put her on her feet again."
When he had gone Eve sat down and racked her brain. She could see no way out. She had a few pounds saved, but not nearly enough for a month in the country. In any case she could not let Joyce go alone.
At last she got up, and set the kettle on the gas ring. She had just made the tea and cut some thin bread and butter when there came a knock. Opening the door she stepped back in surprise. Her visitor was Jack Sagar.
"May I come in," he asked. Then he saw the tray. "If it's inconvenient I can call some other time," he added.
"Come in," said Eve quietly. "Sit down, won't you. I have to take this tray to Miss Lovell, who is not very well. I will be back in a moment."
When she came back she found Sagar sitting with his hat and gloves on his knee. He seemed oddly stiff, almost nervous.
"I have been away," he said, "and I only came to Town yesterday. I wanted to know how you were and what you were doing."
"I am very well, thank you," said Eve. "And I have work which keeps me busy. I want to thank you very much for your kindness in providing money for the search."
"It was the least I could do," said Sagar. "I am your only relative in England. And Eve I was mighty sorry that—that it turned out as it did." Eve's upper lip quivered slightly.
"I can't talk of it yet," she told him.
"I don't want you to talk of it or of anything that will hurt you. My main reason for coming here was to tell you how sorry I am about the way you had to leave my house. I wouldn't have had it happen for all I've got."
"Yet it was your fault," said Eve looking at him very straight.
"I know that right enough." Eve was surprised at the bitterness of his voice. "I paid Miss Lynd to bring you down."
"Did you pay her also to bring me home?" Eve asked. He nodded.
"I did. You see, Eve, I've been in love with you a right long time."
"What do you mean?" Eve at last was really surprised. From a notecase Sagar took a small unmounted photograph and handed it to Eve.
"You recognise that," he asked.
Eve stared at a picture of herself, a snapshot showing her seated on a pony in front of her brother-in-law's house in New Zealand.
"Yes, I remember that. It was taken about a year ago by a man who stayed the night."
"His name was Kerry. He showed me this picture and I begged it from him. I fell in love with you from that minute. First, I thought of going out to New Zealand, then I decided to get you home. I thought, if you saw Crofton, you might like it well enough to take me with it. There's the whole story for you."
Eve looked at her cousin and wondered why she could not like him better. He spoke again.
"Eve, you're thin. You look tired. Don't you get any holiday?"
"I am hoping to have one shortly."
"But not the sort you ought to have. See here, you say Miss Lovell isn't well. Won't you both come down to Crofton for a bit. You can bring anyone you like and I won't bother you."
Eve's first impulse was to refuse, then came the thought of Joyce. A perfect holiday for her at no cost at all except their fares. And, with Joyce there, she herself would feel safe. Sagar was watching her.
"I hope you'll come," he said simply and went away. Eve walked into the other room.
"Was that Sagar?" Joyce asked eagerly.
"It was. And he wants us both to go down to Crofton." Joyce's eyes widened.
"You wouldn't go, Eve—not after what happened last time!"
"That wasn't Jack Sagar's fault, Joyce. It was Miss Lynd's."
"But you hate the man."
"I don't like him," Eve admitted. "But listen. The doctor has told me that you must have a change. He said definitely a month's rest and good food. Joyce, I think we should go."
Joyce lay back against her pillows. A little flush of excitement stained her pale cheeks.
"It would be perfectly heavenly, Eve. To think of a whole month in that lovely air and scenery!"
"Very well," Eve said quietly. "I'll accept." Joyce stretched out a thin arm.
"But, Eve, Madame will never let us both go for a month. She might let you for she likes you, but not me."
"Leave that to me Joyce," Eve said. "I feel sure it will be all right. Madame thinks more of you than you fancy. Now rest until supper."
Eve was right about Madame. Next day, when Eve told her what the doctor had said, she agreed that Joyce should have her four weeks. "And as for you, Eve, you've earned a holiday. You've brought me a lot of business and you've worked hard and well. You shall go but, mind you, I expect you to come back and carry on."
"I should be very ungrateful if I didn't," Eve said. "Thank you very much, Madame."
The next thing was to let Dicky know. Eve did this by telephone and Dicky was very grateful.
"It will make a new girl of her. Eve, you're a dear," he said. Eve then called up Sagar who was evidently delighted.
"I will meet you at Exeter," he said. "I'm very glad you are coming."
Sagar's chauffeur, the saturnine Maltby, was at Exeter to meet them, and the great car gilded smoothly up and down the big hills and through deep tree-shaded lanes. Joyce was entranced. She looked better already. Eve noted with pleasure that the depressed Mrs. Holt greeted her with a faint smile, while Esther was clearly glad to see her again. They had tea then Joyce went to her room to rest and Eve strolled out.
Eve had never yet been up to the Close itself and she wondered whether a nearer view would make any difference to her feelings concerning it. So far from this being the case the nearer she came to the old house the more she disliked it.
It stood on a narrow ledge on the steep hill side so the house itself was narrow and tall. It looked like a fortress with its immensely thick granite walls, high narrow windows and a front door of solid oak studded with huge rusty nails. The front was completely covered with a mat of ivy which did not look as if it had been cut for years, and had quite hidden some of the windows.
She went round to the back and found a yard enclosed by high walls with no way in except by a locked door. Behind the house were tall trees, making an almost impenetrable wall and looking extraordinarily black and gloomy in spite of the bright sunshine. In front of the house immense thickets of nettles raised their ugly heads. Over all reigned a profound and gloomy silence.
Eve shivered and turning, walked quickly away towards the river. There she found the hollow tree in which she had hidden her rod. It was quite unharmed and she brought it back to the Dower House and set to work to put her tackle in order.
Eve could not sleep that night. Coming back to Crofton had stirred up old emotions. It seemed impossible that only a few weeks had passed since the day she had escaped to London and said to herself that she would never see Sagar again. Keith was never long out of her thoughts, and to-night she had the fey mood on her. When at last she drifted off into a half sleep it seemed to her that she saw him again.
He was standing in front of a tent made of some very dark stuff and he himself was wearing a blanket-like garment with a hood over his head. He was gauntly thin, his face was burned almost black, and he had a thick beard and moustache. He was gazing out into the distance but what his eyes rested on was beyond Eve's vision. What she could see with the utmost distinctness was the look of longing in his eyes.
"Keith!" she cried, and, as before, the vision faded and she was lying in her bed in the dim greyness of early dawn.
EVE lay awake a long time thinking, wondering. This second sight of Keith had moved her deeply. Could he possibly be alive? She had never seen anyone look more alive. As the light grew her commonsense asserted itself. Dicky's evidence had been definite. She could not hope to see Keith again on this earth though she had the strongest faith that he survived on some other 'plane and that he and she would at last meet again. Meantime she had her life to live on this earth and her duties to do. She slept again, peacefully, and did not wake until Esther came in with her morning tea. She came down to breakfast, her serene self, and this time did not tell even Joyce what the night had vouchsafed her.
The days passed pleasantly. Sagar kept his word and did not trouble her in any way. Eve's joy was to see the improvement in Joyce. Within a week she was walking all over the place; her appetite had doubled and she was putting on flesh. She went fishing with Eve, she rode, she bubbled with laughter and grim Mrs. Holt spoiled her shamelessly.
The third week of their stay at Crofton was at an end, the days were shortening when one morning Eve found a letter on the breakfast table addressed in Jane's familiar writing. She opened it and began to read. Joyce happening to glance up from her toast and marmalade, got a scare.
"Eve, what's the matter?" she asked quickly. "Jane's not ill—or Peter?"
"No, Joyce. But they're ruined."
"Ruined," repeated Sagar who had just come into the room. "Who is ruined, Eve?"
"My brother-in-law and sister. Their house, all their farm building, are burned."
"That's bad," said Sagar with a frown. "But I reckon they're insured?"
"They are not. That's the terrible part of it. Peter used to carry an insurance but the slump hit him hard and he let it lapse."
"How did it happen?" Sagar asked.
"Jane says that someone must have done it on purpose. There was a gale and suddenly the barn, which was full of hay, blazed up. The wind scattered burning embers everywhere and in a few minutes the other buildings and the house were all ablaze. They had to run for their lives. They lost everything—even their clothes."
"Oh, Eve, how dreadful?" cried Joyce. "What are they doing?"
"Staying with the Pendereds, our nearest neighbours. Peter is trying to salvage what he can, but the farm is of no use without buildings."
"It's a real bad business," said Sagar. "I'm mighty sorry." Holt came in.
"Telephone call for you, sir," he said and Sagar went out.
"Eve, this is terrible," Joyce said. "Can't we do anything?"
"What can we do, my dear? It's money they want and that's what we haven't got."
"It's dreadful—dreadful," Joyce said sadly. "Oh, why aren't we rich." She looked at Eve. "You're not eating anything, Eve."
"I can't my dear. It would choke me. I must go and write to Jane. Ask Mr. Sagar to excuse me." Sagar came back.
"Gone to write to her sister. Oh, Mr. Sagar, this is a dreadful business."
"Dane ought to have carried on insurance," Sagar said. "It was clean crazy not to."
"Well, he didn't and Eve told you why. And now they're ruined. They need a thousand pounds."
Sagar frowned, he drank some coffee, laid his cup down and looked at Joyce.
"I reckon it's up to me to do something," he said slowly. Joyce's charming face lit up.
"Oh, Mr. Sagar, it would make Eve so happy if you could help them."
"It's for her sake. I'd do it—not theirs," said Sagar rather harshly.
Joyce bit her lip. She felt suddenly doubtful. Was it right to let Eve be under such an obligation to Sagar? Sagar had been watching her and seemed to read her thoughts. He spoke again.
"Will you tell her I'll put up a thousand pounds. If she'll give me the address I'll have the bank cable the credit. And Eve needn't think she is under any obligation." Joyce sprang up.
"Mr. Sagar, you are the kindest man. I'll tell her at once."
A moment later Joyce burst into the morning room where Eve was writing.
"Eve, it's all right. Mr. Sagar will lend them the money. He wants their address. He will cable it." Eve looked up from her letter and there was a curious expression on her face.
"You told him, Joyce?"
"Of course I told him. He asked. All I said was that they needed a thousand pounds. Did I do wrong, Eve?"
"No, Joyce, dear. And—and it is very kind of Mr. Sagar."
"But you don't like being under any obligation," Joyce said quickly. "Eve, darling, I'm sorry." Eve stopped her.
"You are not to be sorry, Joyce. When you came in I was trying to make up my mind to ask him. Now I must go and give him the address and thank him."
She wrote Peter Dane's address on a slip of paper and went out. Sagar was in his room he called his study, but, as he seldom wrote and hardly ever read, this was hardly a correct description.
"Joyce has told me," she said. Eve always went direct to the point. "I've come to bring the address and my deepest thanks. A thousand pounds is a lot of money, Mr. Sagar." Sagar looked at her from under his drooping eyelids.
"It's a lot of money but not too much for me to afford. I'd like to know if it would buy me one thing." Eye stiffened slightly. He had told Joyce there were no conditions, yet seeming there were. "It's only a small thing, Eve. Could you manage to call me Jack. After all, I am your cousin."
"But of course," said Eve, secretly greatly relieved.
"Thanks, a lot," said Sagar. He glanced at a calendar on the wall. "Only three more days. Say, I shall be mighty lonely when you folk go. I reckon I shall take a run over to Paris." Eve opened her lips to speak, then checked herself. She know it was useless to urge him to stay here and turn himself into a country gentleman. It wasn't in him.
"That's Peter's address, Jack," she said.
"I'll see to it," he told her.
He did not refer again to the business. It seemed he could be generous without expecting return. Yet Eve was never at ease with him. She tried hard to like him but something in his make-up defeated her.
In the afternoon Eve went fishing. There had been rain the previous night and the river was in good order. Eve went further than usual and, following the stream up, left the in-country and reached the Moor. Here the little river was fascinating to an angler. The clear water slightly tingled with peat came tumbling down over granite ledges in falls and rapids, forming deep pools where the small, strong trout rose readily to her fly. The keen air, the wide stretches of turf and heather and the great tors with their crowns of ragged rock gave a marvellous contrast of colours under a stormy sky. Eve loved fishing. It was about the one thing that took her mind off her troubles.
Her creel was growing heavy. Then came a splash of rain in her face. It passed, but over the heights to the east the sky was like an ink blot. She realised she had better get home if she wanted to avoid a ducking. Turning, she walked quickly back along the brook.
Ahead she saw a small mob of Highland cattle. They belonged, she knew, to Farmer Silas Caunter who had bred them from Scottish stock. Fine, shaggy little beasts—Eve who had been accustomed to cattle all her life did not give them two thoughts except for admiring them and thinking how well they fitted into this wild moorland scene.
As she came nearer one suddenly broke away from the rest and faced her. It was a bull, and Eve felt slightly uncomfortable. The creature looked distinctly hostile. Eve decided to cross the brook but could find no way of doing so without wading waist deep. The water was high from the rain of the night. She walked straight on, facing the animal and hoping it would turn away before a decided front.
The bull had no such ideas. It bellowed, then began to tear up the ground with its horns. Before Eve could make up her mind what best to do, the creature charged.
EVE did the only thing possible—jumped over the bank into the river. The water was to her waist and so cold it made her gasp. Also the current was so strong it was all she could do to keep her feet. In front was a low ledge of rock dividing the pond into two. Eve scrambled on to it. There was a loud bellow behind and turning saw the bull on the edge of the bank, showing every sign of annoyance that Eve had escaped.
"Shoo!" cried Eve waving her arms. This only made the bull angrier. His small eyes glowed red with fury and the noise he made was astonishing.
Eve was not frightened but she was distinctly annoyed. The only way out of her fix was to wade across the far side of the pool, but when she came to look at it she found this was not to be done. The water was too deep and the current so strong that she did not fancy trying to swim. There seemed nothing for it but to sit down and wait. The bull, however, who had all the time in the world at his disposal, decided to wait, too. He stamped up and down, bellowing at intervals.
Meantime the cloud over the High Moor grew blacker and blacker and thunder began to roll in the distance. There was a big storm up there on the heights, and the chances were that it would spread downwards before very long. Eve had no waterproof and she was already unpleasantly cool from her wetting. The worst of it was that help was the last thing likely.
Half an hour dragged past. The bull remained on guard. Eve looked again at the water. She was trying to make up her mind to risk the swim. To her dismay she realised that the river was rising fast. It was plain that very soon the water would cover the ledge.
There was nothing for it but try to swim across to the opposite bank and by this time it was a dangerous task. Eve did not like the coiling eddies, where flecks of yellow foam spun swiftly. Yet there was no help for it and she had began to peel off her skirt when she heard a shout in the distance. Here came Jack Sagar running.
Eve's first feeling was intense relief, her next fear. Site waved her arms.
"The bull!" she called. "He's dangerous." Sagar paid no attention to the warning. He merely quicken his pace. As he came nearer Eve saw that he had not even a stick.
"Be careful," she called again. "The bull is savage."
"I'll teach him to be savage," Sagar answered, and at the sound of his voice the bull turned and regarded the newcomer. Here was someone he could get at. That was evidently the thought in his bovine mind, and after a preliminary bellow he charged.
Eve held her breath. For the moment she entirely forgot her own danger in fear for Sagar. Out in the open, with no weapon, it did not seem that he had a chance against this savage beast.
He stood quite still, his eyes fixed on the bull which came thundering down upon him. At the last moment, just when the sharp horns were within a few feet of his cheat he stepped swiftly to one side.
What happened next was so swift her eyes could hardly follow it. Sagar's arm shot out, and as the bull passed he caught it by the left horn and with a quick spring was on its back, grasping a horn with each hand.
The bull seemed paralysed by this unexpected attack and pulled up so short that it skidded. Eve saw its head go sideways. Sagar was flinging all his weight on the right horn wrenching the bull's head over so that it almost seemed as if its neck would be broken. The struggle lasted but a few seconds, then the stocky beast crashed heavily on its right side while Sagar jumped clear as it fell.
All the fight was knocked out of the bull. It scrambled up, shook its head uncertainly, then trotted meekly away to join the rest of the herd.
Sagar arrived at the bank in time to help Eve out of the water. Next minute, with a dull roar, a yellow flood wave thundered round the curve just above the pool and instantly the ledge was covered by a raving brown flood.
"Mighty good thing I came up after you," said Sagar. "It was Joyce sent me. Said it was going to rain and you hadn't any coat." Eve's eyes were shining.
"How did you do it, Jack? It was like a bull fight, but much more exciting. I never dreamed that anyone could jump on the back of a charging bull let alone throw it as you did." Sagar smiled.
"You wouldn't think much of it if you'd ever seen a Western rodeo. It's one of the regular stunts. Bull-dogging we call it and there'll be a dozen or more men in for it. They have to throw bullocks and tie them and the one that does it quickest gets the money."
"It was a wonderful piece of work," Eve said warmly. "You saved my life, Jack." She pointed to the river roaring down bank high. "I should have been somewhere under that," she added. Sagar said nothing and suddenly Eve realised that the man loved her as much as it was in his power to love anyone. She felt oddly shaken.
"The rain is coming. We had better get back," she said. Big drops were falling. Sagar got her light waterproof which he had dropped before facing the bull. He held it for her to put on, then they two walked back to Crofton.
The storm passed, grumbling away into the west, the rain ceased. They paused on the bridge to look at the river which was coming down in full and splendid flood. Its hoarse roar filled the quiet evening air. The sun was breaking through the clouds making the raindrops sparkle on the leaves and grass. The flower beds in front of the house were a carpet of brilliant colour. Eve felt that she had never loved a place so much.
Suddenly Sagar was speaking.
"Eve I can't stand it. I'm going back to America. I'll sell this place." Eve was startled.
"Sell Crofton?" she repeated in dismay.
"What's the use of it to me?" he asked harshly. He paused, then struck by a new idea went on. "Say, I'll give it to you, Eve."
Eve gazed at him wide-eyed.
"Yes," he said. "You like it. You'll run it properly. I'll give it to you. The rents are pretty good. You can live here all right."
"But I can't take it," Eve answered faintly. "It's impossible—utterly impossible."
"I guess you'll have to if I deed it to you."
Eve looked again at the house—the friendly house she loved so well. Never before had she fully realised what the ownership of such a place would mean. She had lost Keith. The best of her life had gone with him, yet here she could live contentedly and usefully. She could be friends with the tenants, she could have Joyce and Dicky to stay. She might even make Dicky manager and then he and Joyce could marry. Sagar meant what he said. Of that there seemed no doubt.
All these thoughts went through her mind in a flash.
"You'd better say yes," he said. She shook her head.
"No, it's impossible. It can't be done, Jack."
"You know you've got to have the place—even if you have to take me with it." He looked at her again from under his half-closed eyelids. "There I reckon I've broken my word but you won't be hard on me, Eve."
Eve leaned against the parapet of the bridge. She was trying to recover herself, to think clearly. Keith was gone. Why after all, should she not marry this man and see what she could make of him? At any rate she would be mistress of Crofton. That in itself would be wonderful.
Sagar seemed to be reading her thoughts.
"I wouldn't bother you much, Eve. You could run things to suit yourself. And you know by this time that I love you." Eve put out her hand.
"Give me a little time, Jack. I don't love you and I don't know whether I've any right to marry you. I feel I'm being bribed. Wait till to-morrow and I'll try to tell you."
"I'd wait a week or a month," Sagar said, and they started up to the house.
Eve slept little that night. She had never felt so hopelessly unable to make up her mind.
From every worldly point of view marriage with Jack Sagar was ideal. Jack was young, healthy, extremely good looking. He had pluck, too, and generosity. In both these qualities he had proved himself that day. Above all he was in love with her.
As his wife she would have a great position and great opportunities. She thought of all she could do for Peter and Jane, for Joyce and Dicky. Yet Eve was honest enough with herself to know that what most attracted her was the ownership of this kindly house where she would always feel at home.
On the other side was the one fact that she did not love Jack Sagar, did not even like him. Was it right to marry a man you could not care for and let him be the father of your children?
Lying there in the warm darkness, with her windows open and the scent of the late roses in her nostrils, Eve looked back over the past few months and wondered if she could be the same gay young thing who had left New Zealand with the one thought of seeing London and having a good time. It hardly seemed possible. Meeting Keith had changed her, and the change was so great she hardly knew herself.
She thought of Keith and wondered if, from whatever planet it was on which he now existed, he could see and sympathise with her. Eve was a one-man woman. She was certain that she could never really care for any other.
Towards morning she dropped asleep from sheer fatigue. But sleep brought no decision and when Eve came down to breakfast she was as undecided as ever. Sagar was not down yet but Joyce was and Joyce looked up at her with troubled eyes.
"Eve, you're worried," she said accusingly.
"Just tired, dear," Eve said. "I had a hard day yesterday." Joyce locked doubtful but before she could speak again Jabez Holt came in with the letters. His gross hideousness seemed to Eve a blot on the exquisite morning.
"Ah, here's one from Dicky!" cried Joyce in delight. Eve, who had no post, smiled. The joy which these two had in one another was a constant delight to her. Eve was helping herself to an omelette when she heard a cry of dismay from Joyce and turned quickly.
"What is it, Joyce? Dicky's all right?"
"Dicky's lost his job. The Club's gone to smash. Oh, Eve."
"My dear, so long as he's not hurt," said Eve with relief.
"But you don't understand, Eve. Dicky put all his money into shares in the Club. It was only £300 but it's all gone." Eve came and stood by Joyce and put a hand on her shoulder.
"I didn't know that. I'm very sorry, Joyce, dear." Tears were in Joyce's eyes.
"This puts the finish on it, Eve. Now we shall never be able to marry."
That was what turned the balance.
"You shall, Joyce. I'll help you. I'm going to marry Jack Sagar."
JOYCE looked up quietly. Her lips were parted. There was a look of extreme amazement on her charming little face. Before she could find words Jack Sagar came in.
"Good morning, Eve," he said. "Good morning, Joyce." He looked at Eve questioningly and Eve continued to smile. His face lit up but he had the good sense not to say anything. He turned to the side table and began to help himself to kidneys and bacon. Breakfast was a silent meal. Joyce was too upset to talk. Eve did not know what to say, while Sagar never made conversation. But afterwards he followed Eve into the garden.
"Eve,"—for once he was stammering and hesitant—"Eve, is—is it all right?" Eve faced him grave and quiet.
"If you mean will I marry you the answer is yes." He took a step forward but she raised her hand.
"Wait! I have to make conditions and you may not like them. In the first, place I want time. It isn't two months yet since Keith Hedley died. I must have at least six months. Secondly—and this sounds horribly mercenary—I want settlements. Not a great deal, but enough money to help my friends without calling on you."
Sagar considered a moment, then nodded.
"I guess those terms are reasonable. I'm agreeable, Eve."
"You are kind," she said gratefully. He looked at her hungrily and Eve knew what he wanted. She forced herself to let him kiss her and it was all she could do to repress a shudder. But Sagar did not notice. There was triumph in his look.
"Six months," he said. "That will be all right." He laughed. "Looks like I'll get turned into a squire after all." Just then Jabez Holt came into sight, and for once Eve was glad to see him.
"You're wanted on the telephone, sir," he said, and Sagar frowning, followed him into the house.
Joyce came out and walked straight across to Eve.
"Eve did you mean it?" she asked directly.
"Yes, Joyce," Eve said with equal directness. There was a puzzled look on Joyce's face.
"I never thought—" she began, and stopped.
"That I would marry anyone after losing Keith." Eve ended for her. "Is that it?"
"That's what I wanted to say, only I thought it was horrid of me," Joyce said simply.
"My dear, you are quite right. But Keith is gone. Jack seems to want me and, as his wife, I can do something for him and more for others." Joyce was distressed.
"I see what you mean, Eve, but will you be happy?"
"Happiness is relative, Joyce. Since Keith has gone it seems that I must just make the best of things." Joyce hugged her.
"Oh, my dear. I hope you will be happy."
"At any rate I shall see you happy, Joyce," said Eve. "Jack is a good business man and I hope I will be able to reorganise the Flying Club or, if not, find something good for Dicky. Now I must write to Jane. She at any rate, will be pleased with the news."
One way and another Eve was busy all the morning. Next day she and Joyce would have to park and get ready for their journey and Eve was anxious for one more afternoon of fishing. The river was still high but running down fast. By tea-time it was fishable and Eve told Sagar that she was going out.
"I may be late," she said, "but don't wait dinner. I can get something when I come in."
"You're not going on the Moor?" said Sagar. Eve assured him she was not and getting her rod from its rack, started.
All day Eve had been wondering whether she had done the right thing by promising to marry Jack Sagar. It was an intense relief to get her mind off the problem even for an hour or two. Fish were rising well and she was so busy she forgot the time and was startled to find it was growing dusk. She packed up and started back.
Eve left the river and cut across a field to a stile leading to the road. As she neared the stile she saw a man walking slowly down the road in the direction of the Close. To Eve it seemed that there was about him something vaguely familiar.
The man wore a shabby blue serge suit and a very old and stained soft felt hat. He was bearded and looked as if he had been weeks since his last visit to a barber.
Some instinct made Eve pull up and wait until he had passed the stile. Then she had full sight of him, slouching along with his eyes fixed on the ground. She drew a quick breath.
"Tarver," she said in a horrified whisper. Eve was badly shaken. She had been so certain that the man was dead that to see to see him alive made her feel as if she was watching a ghost and sent cold chills crawling down her spine.
For a few moments she felt too confused to think but her brain cleared quickly and it came to her that, in some way or other the man had found where she was and was after her. There could be no other reason for his appearance here in Devonshire.
She went quietly up to the stile and, sheltering behind the hedge waited and watched. She saw Tarver reach the drive gate of the Dower House, stop and look towards the house. Then he turned away and went on down the road.
Eve waited until he was quite out of sight before she ventured to climb the stile. Then she hurried to the gate and up the drive. All the way up to the house she was racking her brain as to what the man wanted, the reason for his trailing her. She wondered if it was her duty to ring up the police. She got a mental picture of the arrest, the trial, Tarver in the dock, herself in the witness box and decided that it was not good enough. She determined to keep silent and see what would happen.
She was late for dinner but Joyce had supper for her and at ten, declaring she was tired, she went up to bed. It was pleasant to get out of her clothes and stretch herself between the cool sheets, but sleep would not come.
She began to wonder afresh about Tarver. How had he escaped the sand storm, how had he got to England and why? Surely he must know his danger. Scotland Yard would of course have all the details of Kemp's death, as well as a full description of his killer. If anyone recognised Tarver he would at once be arrested. Again, why should he follow her. He could not expect to get anything out of her. The more she thought the more hopelessly fogged she became.
She heard the hours strike—eleven then twelve, she tried hard to stop thinking and at last began to succeed. Then all in an instant she was more wide awake than ever. Through the wide open window which was quite close to the head of the bed she had heard a sound.
In a flash she was out of bed and at the window. Again came a sound and now she knew what it was. A french window below had been opened and closed again. Naturally she thought of Tarver and a nasty spasm of fright shook her. But Eve had far too much character to give way to panic and she stood motionless, listening quietly.
There came a fresh sound, very faint indeed yet, after a while, distinct enough for her to be certain that two people were talking in the room below.
The idea had occurred to her that Holt had let Tarver into the house. However much her feelings had changed towards Holt's master Eve had no liking for the man. The more she saw of him the more thoroughly she distrusted him.
She thought of calling Jack Sagar then decided against it. She would go down herself and make certain whether it was Tarver before raising any alarm. She put on slippers and her dressing gown, and softly opening the door stole down the stairs.
The hall was dark but by this time she knew every inch of it and she made not the slightest sound as she crept across to the door of the morning room. The door was heavy and fitted tightly. Even when she put her ear against it all she could hear was a faint murmur of voices.
Eve thought of the garden door. This opened out from a small room called the workroom in the north side of the house. She slipped back through the swing door into a very dark passage, groped her way through it into the workroom and had no difficulty in unlocking the garden door. Then keeping close under the creeper-clad wall she reached the nearer of the two french windows of the morning room.
The curtains had been neatly drawn at bedtime. She knew that because she had been into the room to fetch a book before going up. Now one was slightly awry, leaving a narrow opening which gave a view into the room. One light only was on but that was plenty to show Eve the two people who were beneath it. It was all she could do to believe her eyes when she saw that they were Tarver and Jack Sagar.
TARVER, wearing the same shabby suit in which Eve had seen him a few hours earlier was sitting in an arm chair. He was smoking one of Jack Sagar's cigarettes, and on a table beside him was a half empty tumbler. Eve had a sideways view of his dark, evil face. She noticed that he seemed perfectly at his ease. That was more than could be said for Jack Sagar, who sat facing him. Sagar was leaning forward in his chair, the arms of which he griped with savage force. His good-looking face was disfigured by a scowl which made it almost repulsive.
If Eve could see she could not hear. The two sashes were firmly closed and the thick plate glass cut off sounds. It was maddening to watch the lips of the two men moving alternately, yet to be unable to hear a word of what they were saying.
When Eve had got over the first shock of amazement her wits began to work and Eve wits were quick. She was able to see that Tarver had some hold over Sagar and that he was letting him know it. But what was that hold? Eve's mind went back to that steaming night when she had first met Keith and had first seen Tarver. She remembered Kemp's words, "Do you want to hog it all? There's plenty for two." Was it—could it be Sagar's property to which they were referring? The more she thought of it the more likely it seemed. And yet what could be the secret which gave these two vultures their hold over Jack Sagar?
Now Tarver had stopped talking and Sagar was speaking. Plainly protesting, yet protesting it seemed, uselessly. Presently Eve saw him put his hand into his breast pocket—he was still in evening clothes—and take out a bill-fold. She saw him count out notes. She saw him hand them to Tarver who took them greedily yet without any sign of gratitude and tucked them away in his own pocket. Then as he rose from his chair Eve realised her own danger and stole swiftly away.
Regaining her room Eve looked at her watch. It was half-past one. She felt exhausted both in mind and body. She got into bed, and though she did not in the least expect to do so, went to sleep.
In the morning she was first down to breakfast. Presently Sagar came in and Eve gave him a quick look. He did not show a sign of anything unusual and Eve was astonished. He suggested a ride.
Eve said quietly that she would ride with him and they rode up on the Moor. When they reached Wistern Tor Eve pulled up and got off.
"I want to talk to you, Jack," she told him. A look of faint surprise crossed Sagar's face. He dismounted and sat down on the boulder which Eve indicated. Eve went straight to the point.
"Jack, how do you come to know Youd Tarver?" she asked. Sagar's face changed and hardened. All of a sudden he looked ten years old. He was angry, too.
"I guess you'd better explain," he said.
"That's easy," said Eve. "I couldn't sleep last night. I heard a noise and came down. There were voices in the morning room. I went round outside and looked through the window. The curtain was not quite drawn and I saw you and Tarver."
"You heard what we said?" he asked harshly.
"No," said Ere honestly. "I couldn't hear but, from what I saw, I gathered that the man was blackmailing you. You gave him money."
Sagar sat tight, studying Eve from under half-closed eyelids. Then he shrugged.
"No use telling you lies, Eve. You were right. The swine was blackmailing me." He paused again a moment, then went on. "I reckon I ought to have told you before, but I believed the fellow was dead and thought I'd let sleeping dogs lie. You told me yourself he was lost in that sand storm. It wasn't till yesterday, when I had a letter from him that I knew he was alive. Now you'll have to have the whole story.
"I've told you I was living to Montana before the old man died and left me the place. Montana's a rough State. One night I was in a saloon in a little town called Gold Star. Tarver was one of the bar tenders in the place. Four of us were playing poker. They were Bert Wallace, John Harkell, a man named Lamotte, and myself.
"Lamotte had Indian blood. A queer-tempered fellow who hated losing. He was losing pretty heavily that night. Suddenly he turned on Ben and accused him of cheating.
"Ben was my friend, and since he was lame from a fall and couldn't fight I tackled Lamotte. It was the rule of the Saloon that everyone gave their guns to the bar tender when they came in so there wasn't any shooting. But there was a devil of a fight. Lamotte was a bigger man than I and a foul fighter. He kicked me in the groin and laid me out." He stopped and shrugged again.
"Fights in a bar room aren't pretty, Eve. I was mad clean through, and I reckon the things I said to Lamotte wouldn't bear repeating. The least was that I'd kill him. Harkell, too, and some of the others didn't like Lamotte's way of fighting and Lamotte cleared out. I was pretty bad, and they laid me on a saddle blanket in the corner till I was able to walk.
"By that time the others had left, and when I got up there was no one in the room but Tarver. I asked him for my gun, and just as I got it Lamotte came back for his which he'd forgotten.
"Then the row started afresh. Lamotte, who had put his pistol in his holster pulled it, but I was a split second quicker and next thing Lamotte was on the floor with a blue hole in the centre of his forehead. I turned to Tarver.
"You saw, he pulled first." Tarver looked at me oddly.
"You were the only one to shoot," he said. "I reckon this is a job for the sheriff." He'd got a sawed-off double-barrel in his hands. I hadn't a chance.
"You dirty blackmailer," I said. He was quite cool.
"You won a bit to-night," he said.
"Sixty dollars," I told him.
"I'll take that to keep my mouth shut," he said, "but you'd best clear out. Sagar paused again and looked at Eve.
"Like a fool I paid him. Like a worse fool I cleared. Next thing I heard was that there was a reward out for my arrest. I moved again and changed my name. Then I saw notice of my father's death and came home to claim the money.
"I'd forgotten Tarver but he hadn't forgotten me. Somehow he tracked me down and found me in London. You can't kill a man in England and get away with it. I bargained with him, paid him a lump sun and bought him a ticket to Singapore. I reckoned I'd seen the last of him, but I might have known better." Once more he paused and his lips tightened. "You know the rest," he ended.
Eve sat quite still. He was frowning slightly.
"What about Kemp?" she asked. "Where does he come in? He must have known what Tarver knew."
"It looks like it," Sagar agreed, "but how he came to know I can't tell. I never heard of the man until you mentioned him."
"But now you know that Tarver killed Kemp, doesn't that square matters. I mean you can threaten Tarver with being arrested."
"That's the very first thing I did," said Sagar. "He took it quite coolly and told me to go ahead and have him arrested. Then we'd both be hanged together."
"What arrangements have you made with Tarver?" Eve asked.
"He wants two thousand pounds. Says he can buy a business in Peru with that money and that, once he's safe out of England, I can trust him not to come back."
"You can never trust a blackmailer," Eve said. "If he can't come he will write. He will go on extorting money from you for the rest of his life or of yours."
"No," said Sagar. "He won't do that, I have already written to a lawyer I knew in the States to go to Gold Star and fix up the business."
"Fix it up?"
"Yes. In a place like that money will do anything. This man—his name is Melville—will find Wallace and Harkell and, with their testimony, get the indictment quashed. After that I can snap my fingers at Tarver."
"Why didn't you do that at once?" Eve asked.
"It never occurred to me until I consulted my own solicitor in London." Eve nodded.
"I hope very much that your plan will work, Jack, but I tell you quite frankly that I have not the least idea of marrying a man who is being blackmailed."
"I reckon that's only reasonable," Sagar agreed. "But I'll have it all fixed up before December, even if I have to go out myself to America." Eve glanced at her wrist watch.
"We had better get back to lunch," she said. Sagar nodded.
"Afterwards I'll run into Exeter and see the bank manager. I'll get that money off to-day."
"It's very good of you," said Eve quietly. Sagar drove off immediately after lunch; the girls were busy packing and getting ready for their journey. Sagar himself went with them to Exeter to see them off. He tipped the guard, and they were looked after like royalty on the way up.
"He's very kind," Joyce said to Eve. "I—I wish I liked him better." Eve shrugged.
"That's the trouble with me. But I suppose I must make the best of it." Joyce did not reply but she looked troubled.
Dicky met them at Paddington. He had borrowed a car from a friend and drove them to Greenwell Gardens. To their surprise tea was ready laid and the kettle boiling. Dicky explained.
"It was Rose Prosser. She has a job in a tea shop in Victoria Street, and it was her afternoon off. She's a brick, that girl."
"I hope she'll come to me at the Dower House," Eve said.
"At the Dower House?" Dicky repeated.
"Yes, Dicky. I'm going to marry Jack Sagar." Dicky's boyish face hardened.
"Eve, have you gone crazy?"
"I don't quite know," said Eve. "But listen." She told him of Sagar's ready help for Peter and Jane and of his offer of the Close. Dicky's face did not relax.
"Bribes," he said curtly. "Eve that man's rotten and Joyce and I would rather starve than see you marry him."
"Dicky!" cried Joyce in distress, but Eve raised her hand.
"If Dicky thinks this is true he has a right to say it, Joyce. I don't think so, myself, or I shouldn't have promised to marry Jack. I've told him plainly that I have no affection for him but he does not seem to mind. I believe I can help him and perhaps make him a more useful man." Dicky was biting his lip.
"Eve, Joyce and I are pretty fond of you, and I know you well enough to be sure, you aren't influenced by Sagar's money. But I tell you it won't work and, personally, I mean to do what I can to stop it." Eve looked at him very kindly.
"You needn't be in a hurry, Dicky. I've bargained for six months' delay, so in any case I shan't be married till next year."
They were interrupted by a knock and when Joyce called "Come in," a sturdy figure blocked the door.
"You, Jan," said Joyce in surprise. Jan Prout touched his forehead.
"I'm glad I found 'ee in, Miss. I heard you was down to Devonshire."
"We are only just back," said Joyce. "What can we do for you, Jan?" Jan fished in his pocket and brought out an envelope.
"I was sorting the Captain's clothes, seeing as the moth didn't get in 'em, and I found this in a pocket. It were addressed to Miss Nisbet so I brought it along."
Eve took it quickly. She had gone rather white and her fingers trembled a little as she tore open the letter. Presently she looked up.
"It's his will," she said. "He—he has left everything to me except a hundred pounds to you, Dicky, and fifty to Jan. It—it's four thousand or a little more." Jan broke the silence.
"But a will ain't no good till the one as makes it is dead," he said. A spasm of pain crossed Eve's face. Joyce saw it and spoke.
"Jan, it's no use hoping. Mr. Trask saw his grave."
"He didn't see who was buried there," returned Jan.
"They gave me his watch, Jan," said Dicky. "Do you think I would believe he was dead if I didn't have to?" Jan remained unconvinced.
"The Captain wouldn't die in any desert as ever was unless someone killed him. And that ain't likely. Anyway ain't going to take that money till I've been there and seen his body." He stood a moment looking at them, then touched his forehead again and was gone.
EVE'S eyes were full of unshed tears.
"Can he be right, Dicky?" she asked. "Can Jan be right?"
"No Eve! What object could that man Boulifa have had in lying? Get that will proved and use the money. That's what Keith would have wished. It makes you independent and that's what Joyce and I want you to be."
"We do," said Joyce quickly.
Eve sat silent a few moments. When she looked up her face was calm again.
"Very well Dicky I will do as you wish. But now I think I will go and lie down a little while." Dicky opened the door for her, then came back to Joyce.
"Joyce," he said in a low voice. "Eve must never marry Sagar," and gave her a quick kiss. "I must go dear," he continued. "I'm looking for a job with Northern Aviation. I'm to see the Manager after office hours."
Eve called on Keith's lawyer, Mr. Dawes and gave him the will. He was very kind and promised to do all that was necessary. She wrote to Sagar, thanking him for their visit and his kindness and had a reply in which Sagar said that Tarver had not been back.
"It's a mighty funny thing," he wrote, "for he was to come and see me the evening after you left. If he's been run down by a car I shan't be morning, but I reckon that's too good to be true."
Dicky failed to get work with Northern Aviation, so Eve decided to help him. What Dicky wanted was to buy a second-hand plane and start a taxi pilot. Eve drew £700, made him take it and almost at once he had as much work as he could do.
Four weeks passed, then one Friday evening Eve had a letter from Jane, full of gratitude for the money sent by Jack Sagar.
"It makes all the difference," Jane wrote. "We can rebuild, we can carry on. I cannot tell you how grateful we are to you, Eve, and to Mr. Sagar. I hope and pray, my dear, that you and he will be happy together.
"The enclosed letter will interest you. I found it in one of the few boxes rescued from the fire. It was written by Jack Sagar's mother to your mother, and tells of the birth of her son whom you are now going to marry."
Eve carefully unfolded the enclosed letter. The paper was yellow and beginning to get brittle with age it was a peasant ordinary letter, but near the end Eve came upon a sentence which startled her.
"We are calling our little boy John after your John because he has the same blue eyes."
Eve read it again.
"Blue eyes," she said aloud, "but Jack's eyes are not blue."
She tried to think what colour they were, but it was difficult to know because of Sagar's old trick of keeping them veiled under half-closed lids. Yet she was certain they were not blue.
Could eyes change colour? On the spur of the moment she rang up Dr. Sanford who had attended Joyce, and asked him if the colour of a baby's eyes ever changed in later life.
"I never heard of such a thing," he replied in a rather astonished voice "No, there could be no permanent change of colour."
Eve thanked him and rang off. Each moment she was feeling more and more disturbed. If Jack Sagar's eyes were not blue why then he could not be Jack Sagar. That seemed the only possible conclusion and to Eve a terrifying conclusion.
Eve was alone in the flat. Joyce was out at a party. She got up and walked up and down the room. Presently it came to her that she could not stand the suspense. She picked up a time-table. There was a train for Moretonhampstead at 8.35. She could easily catch it. She rang up Madame who agreed to let her have Saturday off. She wrote a note to Joyce, staying that she had to see Jack Sagar and would be back on Saturday, then she changed her dress, put things for the night into a light suitcase and left for Paddington.
Joyce coming home about eleven found the note and got a shock. She went to bed still wondering about the cause of Eve's sudden journey.
Eve's train was due at Paddington at nine on Saturday evening, but the clock struck half-past, then ten and still no sight of her. It was plain that she had missed the 4.15 fast train and now she could not reach Paddington until 2.40 in the morning. So Joyce at last went to bed.
When she woke on Sunday morning and found that Eve had not yet arrived Joyce grew frightened, and put a call through to Crofton. With only a very short delay Jack Sagar was at the phone and Joyce anxiously inquired about Eve.
"What! Isn't she back?"
"No," said Joyce.
"I cant understand it," said Sagar. "She arrived here early yesterday morning, having walked from Moretonhampstead. She told me that she had decided to break our engagement. I did my best to persuade her not to. It was no use and there was nothing for it but to let her go. So I sent her in the car to Exeter to catch the 12.50. Maltby drove her. That tram gets in at 3.45. She ought to have been with you at tea time yesterday."
"She wasn't. She isn't here now. Oh, what has become of her?" cried Joyce, terrified.
"Don't be frightened, Joyce," said Sagar. "Go to Paddington and inquire if anyone saw her. She was wearing a blue dress and a hat to match. If you don't get any news go to the police."
"Don't be frightened," Sagar had said, but Joyce was very badly scared. If Eve had been due at Paddington at a quarter to four she had now been missing for eighteen hours. Where could she be? She called up Dicky and was lucky enough to get him at once.
"Dicky, Eve's gone." She heard him gasp.
"No, disappeared. Listen." Quickly she told him what had happened and what Sagar had said. "He told me to go to Paddington and inquire. I—I—"
"Steady, old girl," said Dicky. "It's a rum business, but there's no need to think anything serious has happened to Eve. Go to Paddington and I'll meet you there under the clock. And try not to worry. Ten to one she's sent a message which didn't reach you."
Joyce put on her hat and hurried out. She and Dicky got to Paddington almost at the same minute and went straight to the inquiry office. Joyce was able to describe accurately the dress Eve had worn which was of blue linen. Notes were taken, and a promise made that the ticket collector on the 12.45 should be questioned. Meanwhile it was suggested to Dicky and Joyce that they had better go to the police.
They went to Scotland Yard, but the fact that it was Sunday made things difficult, and when at last they got back to Greenwell Gardens even Dicky felt discouraged.
They had called up the Kingscotes, who knew nothing; they had found and talked to Rose Prosser, who was terribly upset; they had even interviewed Miss Lynd, who had learned precisely nothing. For hours the two sat in Joyce's pretty room, racking their brains to solve the mystery of Eve's disappearance, and when at last Dicky left it was with a promise to be back first thing in the morning.
Joyce looked terribly white and wan when Dicky arrived next day.
"You can't go to work, Joyce," he said firmly. "We must ring up your shop and tell them." Joyce did so, and was almost astonished at the shock her news caused. Madame demanded all details, and told Joyce that she was not to spare money for the search, if it was wanted. She herself would supply it.
"Tell you what, Joyce. I'll ring up Babbage. He was awfully good about poor old Keith."
Dicky had a brain wave.
He did so and told him everything. Babbage was very keen about the story, for he realised that it had big news value.
"You don't think Sagar has anything to do with it, Mr. Trask?" he suggested.
"I wouldn't put it past him," said Dicky.
"Well," said Babbage. "If you don't get any mews at Paddington I'd go down and talk to the gentleman."
"Just what I will do," said Dicky.
"I'll have the whole story in our next edition," Babbage promised. "Now you'd better get on to Paddington and I'd be obliged if you'd give me a call from there to let me know if there's any news."
There was news. The collector distinctly remembered a lady who sat by herself in a third-class carriage near the rear of the train, wearing a dress and hat similar to those that Joyce described. Joyce looked at Dicky.
"Then she did reach London."
"She must have," said the collector. "It's a non-stop train." Joyce shook her hear helplessly.
"Then either she's had an accident or there's been foul play."
"IT looks like it," said the collector gravely. "But I wouldn't worry, Miss. The police will be sure to find her. I do hope it will be all right, Miss."
By Monday evening everyone in London—everyone, that is, who read an evening paper—knew of Eve's disappearance, The police, spurred by the publicity, made every effort to trace Eve, but without the slightest success. They had not even a clue to report. Not a soul had noticed Eve leave the train or Paddington Station.
Late that night Joyce and Dicky sat together. They were both tired out and utterly discouraged.
"Could anyone have kidnapped her?" said Joyce. "She—she's so pretty."
"I'd be sorry for anyone who tried it," replied Dicky. "Eve's no doll. She keeps herself fit and is strong as a steel spring."
"I know, but I'm trying to think of everything," said Joyce wearily. "She hasn't any enemies; you couldn't imagine her losing her memory."
"Unless Sagar doped her," said Dicky. Joyce's eyes widened.
"I hadn't thought of that. But it's impossible, Dicky. She was all right in the train when the guard took her ticket. He'd have seen if there was anything wrong with her. Besides, what would he do it for?"
"Revenge became she wouldn't marry him." Joyce shook her pretty head slowly.
"That's another thing that puzzles me. Why did she suddenly make up her mind to break her engagement? She hadn't said a word to me about it. It looks as if she must have heard something about him. She might have had a message or a letter by the evening post."
"Likely enough," replied Dicky, "but we can't know. There's no sign of any such letter."
"She'd have taken it with her," Joyce decided. "Oh, Dicky. I feel as if I should go crazy if I think much more."
"That won't help Eve, old thing," said Dicky kissing her. "I'm taking Babbage's advice and going down to Crofton to-morrow to talk to Sagar." There was a rap on the door.
"Not another reporter," said Joyce.
"If it is I'll soon send him about his business," Dicky exclaimed. "Come in!" he said sharply.
The door opened and there stood Keith.
With a slight cry Joyce fell back in her chair. Keith sprang across.
"Joyce, my dear, I'm sorry. I ought to have 'phoned." Joyce's eyes were fixed upon him with a look of something like awe.
"You—it's really you," she said slowly. For the moment Dicky had been struck dumb as Joyce. Now he moved.
"It's Keith," he said as he grasped the other's hand. "It's not a ghost." He gazed at his friend. "And yet I saw your grave."
"Only I wasn't in it," said Keith drily. "Dicky, it's good to see you and Joyce again, but where's Eve?"
Dicky's jaw dropped. Joyce's face showed equal dismay.
"What's wrong?" Keith demanded urgently. "What makes you look at me like that? She—she isn't hurt—ill—?"
"She has disappeared, Keith," said Dicky bluntly. "I—I thought you'd know. It's in all the papers."
"Disappeared!" Keith echoed. "How could I know? I flew to Croydon. From there I came here as fast as a taxi would bring me. Papers—I haven't seen any papers." Dicky pulled a chair forward.
"Sit down, Keith."
"Sit down with Eve missing."
"That's what I said." It seemed as if Dicky was suddenly the elder of the two. "You'll sit down and you'll have a whisky. Then you'll listen to what I have to tell you. As for looking for Eve the police and half London are doing that and Joyce and I have hardly sat down for two days."
"Two days," Keith repeated. Yet he obeyed Dicky and dropped into the chair. Dicky poured out a drink—a stiff one. Keith drank and his face looked a less ghastly. He put down the empty glass.
"Go on," said hoarsely.
Dicky began with the story of Eve's first visit to Crofton and how she had run away from the Dower Home. He told of her second visit. It was not until he spoke of Eve's engagement to Sagar that Keith interrupted.
"She promised to marry that swine?" he exclaimed.
"It was for her sister's sake and Joyce's," Dicky insisted.
"She hated it," put in Joyce. "And anyhow she broke it off."
"Wait, Joyce. I must tell him about that," said Dicky. "Eve went off on Friday last, Keith. She went down by the night train and Sagar—Joyce talked to him over the 'phone—says she came to break her engagement."
"But why?" Keith put in sharply. "Something must have happened to make her change her mind."
"It looks like it," said Dicky frowning, "but Joyce and I simply can't imagine what. Anyhow she went. According to Sagar she got to Crofton in the morning and they had a talk. Eve broke off her engagement was going to walk back to Moretonhampstead but Sagar says he sent her to Exeter in his car with his chauffeur where she caught the express for Paddington. It's a non-stop train and gets in at a quarter to four. Eve ought to have been back here by tea-time on Saturday but she never arrived.
"Sagar's lying," said Keith between his teeth. "He's keeping her."
"No, that won't work, Keith," Dicky answered. "Joyce knows what Eve was wearing. It was a blue linen frock with a hat to match. The ticket collector on the train saw a lady in this dress in a third-class carriage. Joyce and I have seen the collector and talked with him, and there's no doubt Eve was in the train."
"Then Sagar had someone to meet her at Paddington," Keith declared. "They've lured her off somewhere." Dicky's face fell.
"I never thought of that," he answered slowly. Keith sprang up.
"I'm going straight down there and I'll get the truth out of Sagar if I have to break every bone in his body." He started towards the door. Dicky sprang in front of him.
"How are you going, Keith?"
"Quickest way I can. Train, I suppose."
"The next train for Exeter goes at 12. It's only just after ten now. Do you want to kick your heels at Paddington for an hour and a half." Keith passed a hand across his forehead.
"Sorry, Dicky. I—I can't think very clearly."
"I shouldn't think you could," said Dicky. "Sit still and we'll get you some food." He hurried into the little kitchen and Joyce followed.
"Dicky," she said in a quick whisper. "Keith isn't fit to go alone. Jan is still in Keith's flat. Ring him up. Tell him to come here." Dicky's tired eyes brightened.
"Good notion, Joyce. Jan's the man. He's a level-headed beggar and if I explain things he'll keep Keith out of trouble. I'll slip down and ring him from the kiosk opposite."
"And tell him to bring some of Keith's things," Joyce added, "That suit he's wearing makes him look like a tramp."
"Right," said Dicky, and went back into the sitting-room.
"Just running down for something," he said quickly to Keith. "Back in a minute." When he got, back he found Keith eating cold tongue and bread and butter under Joyce's supervision, while a rich aroma of coffee rose from a steaming pot.
Dicky kept a tactful silence until Keith had finished his meal then, as Joyce poured out the coffee, the door opened and Jan, carrying a suitcase, strode into the room. Keith jumped up.
"Jan!" he exclaimed. Jan dropped the suitcase and sprang forward.
"I knowed it," he said as he grasped the other's outstretched hand. "I told 'em all as no desert could ever kill you, Captain." His little dark eyes were glowing with delight his happiness was so intense it reacted on the rest. Even Keith smiled.
"It's good to see you again, Jan," he said warmly. "Yes, I've come out alive though that's pretty much of a miracle."
"A miracle you've told us nothing about," Dicky put in.
"Tell us," Joyce begged.
"I began at Oran," Keith said. "As you know, I was to cross the Sahara by air and I had wired for a plane to be ready. It was ready but the pilot I'd engaged, an Arab called Ahmet, had gone sick and I found a Frenchman named Le Gal acting as substitute. He was a sallow-faced fellow with sly eyes and I disliked and distrusted him from the first moment I saw him. But there was no choice. I had to carry on and certainly he knew how to handle a plane. We got to Beni Abbes all right and spent the night there. As you know, Dicky, it's wicked country beyond barren, waterless and the sand storms are bad. We both wore packs—parachutes—in case of accident.
"We'd been flying about three hours when Le Gal got up and took a header over the side of the cockpit. For a moment I thought he'd got sun-struck and gone crazy but, as you may imagine there wasn't much time for thinking of anything but the 'plane. I grabbed the stick just in time to save her from going into a tail spin.
"But you've never flown!" gasped Dicky.
"I've never piloted a 'plane," Keith said, "but I've travelled thousands of miles by air and knew the controls. As soon as I'd steadied her I looked down and there was Le Gal dropping quite comfortably towards a car which was evidently waiting for him. It flashed on me then that the whole thing was a plant and for a moment I fairly boiled. If I'd been a pilot like you Dicky, I'd have gone down and charged that car with the 'plane and taken my chances.
"But that was a bit beyond me. I decided to carry on and try to reach El Maruk. I didn't know exactly where it was but I did know we were due to pass over it and I had the compass. If I kept the course I felt sure I'd get there."
"And you'd never flown before!" breathed Dicky, but Keith paid no attention. He went on.
"I flew on for about ten miles, then the engine began to sputter. I opened the throttle but that didn't do any good. The engine went dead and there was nothing for it but to come down." The others sat silent. Joyce's face was white while Dicky, who understood better than the rest Keith's ghastly predicament, leaned forward, hardly breathing.
"I GOT down," said Keith. "I shouldn't be here if I hadn't. In fact I made rather a good landing but the ground was much rougher then it looked from above. One wing struck the ground and I was chucked out. Which was luck for me because the machine took fire. When I got to my legs the whole thing was a mass of flames."
"I found her skeleton," Dicky said.
"You came after me!" Keith exclaimed.
"Of course I did. Incidentally, Sagar paid the bill." Keith bit his lip.
"Yes, but that doesn't mean he hadn't something to do with it," Dicky answered. "It might have been part of a plan to escape suspicion."
"Meaning that he felt sure I was dead," Keith said grimly.
"The wonder is I got out alive," Keith went on. "I had no water. The heat was frightful. Mirages flickered on the horizon and I kept on making for what looked like palms and lakes of fresh water. Later—I think I went off my head. Then I saw what looked like camels. It was a caravan on it's way to the Salt mine at Tanderi. They took me with them.
"Tanderi is a ghastly place where the salt is got from a brine swamp by slaves. If they'd left me there I should never have got out alive. Luckily for me, I speak Arabic and they found I was a good shot and could get game when they could not. So they took me with them and in the end I reached the coast at a little place called Kebir where I was picked up by a French cargo boat.
"I meant to let you know of my safety by wireless, but the old tub had no wireless. We landed at Marseilles and here I am." He glanced at the clock. "I must get to Paddington."
"Jan is getting you a taxi," said Dicky. "Have you money, Keith?"
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Because Jan found your will and Eve took charge. She's spent some of your money in buying me a new plane," he added uncomfortably.
"A jolly good thing too," Keith said, "That plane may come in handy before we're through. Good-bye, Dicky. Good-bye, Joyce. It's good to feel I have you both to help me."
Keith's train was a slow one, but even so he reached Crofton at breakfast time. Like Eve, he was struck with the charm of the Dower house and with the grim appearance of the Close itself.
"Looks like a ready-made prison," he remarked to Jan.
"It surely do," Jan agreed, "but that there Sagar, he'd be too clever to use such a place to shut up Miss Eve." Keith shrugged.
"Probably. Now see here, Jan. I don't want you to be with me when I call on Sagar. I don't want Sagar, or any of his people to know you're here. You'd better find some place where you lie doggo and wait for me." Jan pointed to a big pollarded oak.
"It looks like I could climb up there and stay a month of Sundays without no one seeing me." Keith nodded.
"It's as good a place as any. I'll wait till you're safe then I'll go up the drive."
Jabez Holt answered Keith's ring.
"Mr. Sagar's only just down, sir," he said civilly enough. "Please come in." He ushered Keith into the drawing-room, which the morning sun lit up most pleasantly. Keith had hardly time to look round before Sagar entered. His face showed no sign of surprise.
"I'm glad to see you alive, Captain Hedley," he said. "Your friends had given up all hope."
"Yes, it's a bit of a miracle," replied Keith. "I needn't tell you what I've come about," he added.
"Miss Nisbet's disappearance of course," Sagar said gravely. "Have you seen Miss Lovell?"
"I saw her last night."
"Then you know just what happened," Sagar answered.
"I know what you told her," Keith answered.
"Just so and that's all I know, but I'll be glad to answer any questions."
"That's what I came for," said Keith smoothly. "I'd like to ask what reason Miss Nisbet gave for breaking the engagement."
"Just that she wasn't fond enough of me—nothing else."
"And then?" Keith questioned. Sagar shrugged.
"I told her that of course, I couldn't keep her to it if she felt the way she did, and she started to leave. So I ordered the car and my chauffeur, Maltby, drove her to Exeter. Maybe you'd like to see my chauffeur?"
"Thank you. I should." Sagar rang and in less than a minute the sallow-faced Maltby arrived.
"Captain Hedley wants to ask you some questions," Sagar said, and went out of the room.
Keith questioned Maltby keenly, but the man added little to what his master had said. He remembered that Miss Nisbet had worn a blue dress. He had driven her straight to Exeter and reached there about twenty past seven. That was the last he had seen of her.
Maltby left and Sagar came back. He told Keith how devoted his servants were to Eve and of Eve's love for the Dower House.
"I'll tell you straight, Captain Hedley," he said. "It was this house as much as anything that made her promise to marry me. I offered it to Eve," he added, and for a moment his drooping eyelids lifted and his odd greenish eyes were fixed on Keith's face. "She can have it now if we can find her," he continued. Keith drew a long breath.
"Where is she, Mr. Sagar?"
"I wish I knew." Sagar paused then went on with a jerk. "Say, had she any enemies—anyone who'd have been interested enough to kidnap her?"
"Enemies!" repeated Keith curtly. "Surely no one in the world is less likely to have an enemy than Miss Nisbet."
"That's a fact," said Sagar, "but I've just thought of one man who didn't seem to like her. A fellow called Tarver."
"He's dead," Keith cut in. "He was wanted on suspicion of murder, but escaped from the ship in the Suez Canal during a sand storm. He was never heard of again."
"You're wrong, Captain Hedley. Tarver's alive. He followed Eve down here. Eve told me that when she was coming back from fishing on the last afternoon of her stay here, she saw Tarver passing down the road by the drive gate. I wanted to warn the police, but Eve wouldn't have it." Keith was very much disturbed.
"I believe Tarver did murder Kemp," he said. "Eve and I heard him and Kemp quarrelling one night on the promenade deck of the ship. Shortly afterwards there was a splash and a cry of man overboard! Kemp had vanished. Tarver, of course vowed he had committed suicide. Sagar nodded.
"It looks as if Tarver was a pretty bad fellow," he said. "It's on the cards he followed Eve to town and kidnapped her so as to prevent her talking and giving evidence."
"You told the police?" he said abruptly.
"I haven't," Sagar confessed. "Fact is I'd forgotten all about Tarver until just now. But I'll do it right now. I'll ring up Exeter."
He went out and Keith sat staring blindly out of the window. All his thoughts were of Sagar. He was struggling to sort out his impressions of the man, wondering whether he himself was altogether wrong in his suspicions, yet feeling quite unable to stifle them. Sagar came back.
"I've told them," he said. "The Inspector asked me the same thing you did—why I hadn't told them before. Anyhow they're going after Tarver right away. I reckon they'll get him all right." Keith frowned.
"Somehow I can't see Tarver in this. Even if he did get through that storm alive he hadn't a penny. And surely England is the one country he would have kept out of. He must have known the risk of arrest."
"If it wasn't Tarver who got her, who could it have been," Sagar asked. "Eve's not the sort of girl to lose her memory or go straying off." Keith bit his lip. Sagar was voicing the same thoughts that he himself had been thinking all the way down. He got up abruptly.
"I must go back to London. Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Sagar." Sagar, too, rose.
"I wish I could be of some use, Captain Hedley. Is there nothing else you'd like to ask me?"
"I can't think of anything," said Keith. "Good-bye."
"You seed Sagar, sir?" Jan asked as he met his master.
"I've seen him," Keith answered.
"And didn't get nothing from him. I'll be bound."
"That's perfectly true," Keith agreed glumly. "I don't know whether he's an injured innocent, or one of the cleverest blackguards unhung."
"Last word's the true one, sir," said Jan briefly. "But I've seed someone as might be better. The policeman come by a minute ago. Decent looking chap. We'd catch him if we walked sharp."
"The very man," said Keith. "Come on."
Keith and Jan had not been walking more than five minutes before they sighted the policeman's tall upright figure. They came alongside and Keith wished him good morning. The policeman responded civilly and the three fell into step.
"You're a stranger, sir," said the policeman.
"Yes. I came down to see Mr. Sagar. My name is Captain Hedley."
"Not the Captain Hedley as was lost in the desert."
"The same. Only you see I was found."
"You were lucky, sir. I've seen enough of the desert to know how lucky."
"Were you in Egypt?" Keith asked.
"Yes, and with Allenby in Palestine and Syria."
"I was in the Fusiliers," Keith said, "but not till after the war."
"Then maybe you'd remember my son, Sir. Dingle's the name."
"Indeed I do. I remember him as a smart young Corporal."
"He's a Sergeant now, sir," said Dingle with pride. Keith nodded.
"He was the sort to get on. Tell me, Dingle, how much do you know of Miss Nisbet's disappearance?"
"Not as much as I'd like to, sir."
"When did you last see her?"
"No longer ago then last Saturday."
"You saw her then!" Keith's voice was eager. "Was she coming or going?"
"She was leaving, sir. She was in Mr. Sagar's car. And here's a funny thing. I stopped as the car passed and when I saw her I saluted, but she never paid any attention at all."
"Did she see you?"
"She couldn't help seeing me. I wasn't five yards from her and the car was going slow up Meripit Hill."
"Did you see her plainly?" A slight frown crossed Dingle's broad, brown face.
"Not to say quite plainly, sir. Her face was in shadow like, but I'd have known that blue dress she had on anywhere." He paused. "What was you thinking, sir?"
"I don't know what I was thinking, Dingle. Miss Nisbet and I were engaged, and to come and find her missing has hit me rather hard." Dingle nodded gravely.
"I'd think it would. Well, sir, our people will do all they can to find her. Are you going back to London?"
"I suppose so. The search is all at that end."
"I wish you good luck, sir, and if there's anything in the world I can do you've only to ask." He pointed to a by-road. "I turn off here." Keith shook hands and thanked him.
"I call on you if I want you, Dingle. You may be sure of that."
Dingle turned up the side road and Keith and Jan walked on. But as soon as Dingle was out of sight Keith pulled up and faced Jan.
"Anything strike you particularly in what Dingle said, Jan?" Jan nodded.
"I knows what you mean, sir. About Miss Eve not noticing Dingle."
"You've hit it. What do you make of it?"
"Well, it might have been the young lady was that worried she didn't notice nothing.
"It might, Jan."
"But it might have been someone else," said Jan. Keith's face was tense.
"I was waiting for you to say that. In that case Miss Nisbet never left Devonshire at all."
"Never left the Dower House, you might say," rejoined Jan.
He nodded. "It might be," he added slowly. "I wouldn't put that trick past Sagar."
"What are we going to do about it, Jan?" Keith asked.
"It looks to me like we better do a bit of scouting. Evidence is what we want."
"Just so, but how are we going to get it?" Jan pondered.
"One thing's sure," he began "Sagar, he wouldn't keep the lady in his own house. He'd have hid her somewhere. What about that there old house on the hill?"
"You, yourself, said that was too obvious," Keith answered. "It's the first place anyone would think of. But it may not be Sagar at all. There is another man who might have done it." Keith told Jan about Tarver. Jan listened carefully, then spoke.
"Tarver might have wanted to do it but I don't see just how he would have done it. It ain't what you might call easy to kidnap a grown woman—not in broad daylight on a fine Saturday afternoon." Keith considered Jan's opinion for a few moments, then nodded.
"The more I think of it the more convinced I am that you are right and that Tarver had nothing to do with it. All the same I won't take any chances. I'm going on to Moretonhampstead to telephone Mr. Trask and tell him the whole story. Then I think that you and I will set to work to get that evidence you talked of. I'm not going back to London until I am quite certain Miss Nisbet is not in Devonshire."
In order to avoid all chance of suspicion, Keith drove back to Exeter. At a garage in a side street off the Close, Keith hired an ancient car, and this they loaded with food, blankets and materials for camping. Keith also provided himself with a pair of powerful glasses.
Before leaving the town he wrote a letter to Dicky, explaining the situation and telling him that in spite of the Tarver rumour, he was not leaving Devonshire until he had made certain that Eve was not hidden in or near the Close. Then he and Jan had left Exeter in the old car and driven by side roads round to the little village of Belling which lays to the west of Crofton.
From this place a cart track crossed the Moors towards Crofton, and the two waited until dusk before driving up it. The car they hid in a hollow half-way up the hill, then carried their goods up to a camping place amid the tall gorse which covered the top of Ruff Tor. Keith meant to keep a watch on the Dower House. Eve, if she was hidden in or near the Close, had to be fed. He hoped to see someone leaving the house with food and so to find out if his suspicions were true.
Night was closing down by the time that he and Jan got settled. They made their meal by the light of one candle in an old-fashioned lantern, then rolled up in their blankets and slept under cover of the little tent Keith had purchased. They were out before daylight and Jan made coffee over a spirit lamp, then Keith went to his post of observation.
It was chilly and everything was soaked with dew. Grey dawn rose in the eastern sky and slowly turned to pink, but there was no sign of life about the Dower House, except a curl of smoke from one chimney. Then through the still air came the sound of a door opening.
The sound made Keith stiffen. A minute later he saw a man appear and walk along a path which led beside the kitchen garden in a northerly direction. Quickly he focussed his glasses.
"Holt," he said in a whisper.
"Holt right enough, sir," came Jan's voice close behind him. "And got a basket, too."
"He's going towards the Close," Keith said eagerly.
"It do look that way," Jan agreed.
Holt went along the path leading to the Close, then left it and began to climb the hill. Keith lay like a stone, but his heart was beating hard. Holt stooped, bent down and picked something from the ground. He went a little further and stooped again. An angry exclamation escaped Keith.
"He's picking mushrooms," Jan chuckled.
"That's what it be. Fooled us proper that time, he did." Keith frowned, but Jan was not disturbed, "Best wait a while," he suggested. "It might be camouflage, so to speak."
"He couldn't think anyone was watching," Keith argued.
"As I said before. Sagar ain't missing no bets," Jan answered. But Holt went on picking mushrooms and, when he had filled his basket, returned to the house. Keith's face hardened.
"I'm tired of this. I'm going down to have a look."
"What at, sir?"
"The Close, of course," Keith said impatiently. "This is my chance."
"Your chance to be spotted. Anyone can see you from the house. Listen, sir. It's going to rain afore long. That'll give you the chance you're wanting."
Keith bit his lip. He was savagely impatient. Yet he knew Jan was right, so settled down to wait.
Towards midday clouds began to blow up. It began to drizzle, and soon the whole face of the country was hidden by veil of thick fine rain.
"Reckon us might be moving," said Jan.
"I'm doing the moving," Keith said. When Keith spoke like this Jan knew he meant it.
"Very good, sir," he said formally, then in a different tone. "You'll take a gun, sir."
"Yes, and that cold chisel we got in Exeter. It may be useful for forcing a door."
"Or cracking a chap on the head," Jan replied. Keith took it, went out of the tent and vanished almost at once in the driving rain mist.
There was little chance of being seen. The mist was so thick that nothing was visible at a distance of more than 50 paces.
Once in the wood he was out of the wind and the only sounds were the drip of water and his shoes squelching through the peaty mire. He came at last to the back of the Close which loomed dark and high against the greyness. The wall of the yard behind the house, as Eve had found it weeks earlier, was high, and the one door leading into it was securely fastened. Keith examined the ground for any trace of footsteps but could find none. He worked round to the front of the house and, like Eve, wondered that anyone could have built such a forbidding mansion.
Arrived at the north-east corner, he stopped and looked round carefully, but the rain was thick as ever so that the Dower House was quite invisible. He went to the front door and tried it. He fully expected to find it locked and was startled to discover that this was not the case. Keith stepped quickly inside and closed the door behind him.
He found himself in a hall. To the left were two doors, to the right an archway leading into a large room with a fireplace on the south side. At the far end the passage was cut by one crossing it.
Anything more dismal and forlorn than the appearance of this interior Keith could not imagine. The boarded floors were thick with dust, and what little light came through the grime-encrusted windows showed walls from which damp had peeled the old-fashioned paper, which hung in mildewed festoons.
He took out a torch and flashed its beam on the floor, and in the plaster which had fallen from the ceilings. It seemed certain that, wherever Eve was, she was not prisoned in this desolate abode.
Keith still had it in his mind that there might be cellars. Old houses usually have a wine cellar, and in that case there should be some entrance to it inside the house. He set to searching but found no sign of cellar stairs.
At last he gave it up and, feeling thoroughly disheartened went back towards the front door. Some instinct made him pause and go instead to one of the hall room windows, which, as it happened, was a lucky move, for, as he peered through the trails of untrimmed ivy, a man came into sight, walking across in front of the house. It was Sagar himself, wearing a waterproof and carrying a gun.
CONFIDENT that he could not be seen, Keith watched the man pass within 20 paces. When almost opposite the front door, Sagar paused and Keith thought for a moment that he might be coming in and wondered where he could possibly hide himself. As Sagar stopped he looked up at the house and Keith could see a most curious expression upon his face. A sort of savage triumph, the look a man might cast at one of whom he has been afraid yet who is no longer a danger to him. It was only a flash, a mere momentary impression. Then the heavy-lidded eyes drooped again, and Sagar passed on. Keith waited a good five minutes before leaving and breathed more freely as he slipped out of sight into the wood.
Back in the tiny tent Keith told Jan what he had seen or rather what he had not seen.
"So you see, Jan," he finished, "wherever Sagar has hidden Miss Eve, it isn't in the Close." Jan scowled.
"He's got her somewhere around. I'm sure of it. I'll lay there's cellars if we could only find them."
"I'll go again this evening and get into that yard," Keith declared.
"Not to-day, sir. If you do you'll get trapped."
"What do you mean, Jan?"
"Sagar knows as we're here," Jan said bluntly. "He or one of his chaps has been here this afternoon. I found his tracks. I tried to follow but it weren't no use in this smother." Keith swore softly.
"This is the very devil. Then it's no use staying here."
"Not a morsel," Jan answered. "We can't do no good here. Don't take it so hard, sir," he added. "I reckon Miss Eve is safe enough. You said yourself as Sagar was fond of her."
"But she's in his power and doesn't even know I'm alive. It's pretty hard, Jan."
A little later the two men made their way down the west side of the hill to the spot where they had left the car. The car started without trouble and Keith kept her on first gear as they bumped slowly down the rough track towards Belling.
Rain still fell heavily as they reached the road and were able to put on a little speed. Then Keith had to get down again on to second to climb the long slope leading to the top of Sleepy Tor, and it was a relief to change to top, and get the old car up to thirty. There were only a few hundred yards of level then the road began to drop away. In the valley below the swollen Strane roared hoarsely. The car gained speed and Keith braked.
There was a snap, the car leaped forward; Keith made a desperate effort to get her into second but it was impossible.
"Brakes gone," he said briefly to Jan. "Looks like we're for it."
"You can't never get her across the bridge," Jan said in Keith's ear. "Her's crocked."
"Then I'll have to turn her off and chance it," Keith answered.
The car was gaining speed every moment and Keith knew that it was certain death to try to cross the bridge. The only chance was if he could switch the car off the road on to the Moor. For the life of him he could not remember whether there was any place between him and the bridge where the road bank was low enough to give him that chance and the mist was too thick for him to see. Jan spoke.
"Right-hand side, sir. You'll see her in a second."
The words were hardly out of Jan's mouth before Keith did see it, a spot where the bank was replaced by a slope. He wrenched the car round, her front wheels hit the slope exactly where Keith meant them to and the little car left the ground in a flying leap. She dropped with a crash that almost flung Keith out of his seat and did throw all their baggage out from the locker behind. Yet the wheels held and the car, her momentum hardly checked, shot onwards. Keith tried to hold her across the face of the hill, but a great lump of granite looming up ahead forced him to let her go downhill, and there was the river right in front of them, bank high, its brown waves crested with yellow foam.
"Jump, Jan!" Keith shouted, but it was too late. The car shot like a diver over the bank and dropped with a mighty splash yards out in the torrent.
With the quickness born of long travel in wild places Keith had pulled himself clear of the steering wheel almost before the bonnet hit the water. The car tilted sideways and Keith was flung clear into the rushing river. He was up in a moment, and, dashing the water from his eyes, looked round for Jan. To his horror, there was no sign of him.
Suddenly an arm showed above the mill race rush and Keith struck out desperately in pursuit He was a fine swimmer. The trouble was the rocks and eddies. Just as he had almost reached Jan Keith was caught in an eddy which spun him round and sucked him down. Calling up all his reserves of strength he fought free and with a desperate effort grasped Jan's coat. He pulled Jan's head up, but Jan's eyes were closed and his body limp.
Keith looked round. He and Jan were now in the very centre of the flood, being carried swiftly down stream. There was no one to help. Jan's life as well as his own depended on forcing his way to the bank, so summoning all his remaining strength, he began the struggle. He was tired already. The cold, too, was numbing. Twice he neared the bank, and each time a whirling eddy swept him out again. When he neared it a third time he was very nearly done. But this time the flood was kinder. He gained the bank and with one hand grasped a tuft of heather which overhung the water. The tough stalks held in spite of the strain, but Keith could get no footing. Alone he might have scrambled out, but with Jan he was helpless. Yet the idea of letting Jan go never even occurred to him.
HIS strength failed fast, his senses were beginning to leave him when suddenly something flopped on the bank above him. A deep voice said:
"Hang on, mister." A long arm reached out and grasped Jan by the collar of his coat. "I got un," said the rescuer, who was, Keith saw, fully six feet high with a chest like a barrel.
With a haul and a heave Jan was drawn to safety, but by this time Keith was so done that he could only hang limply while the man on the bank got hold of him and drew him up with extraordinary ease.
"I seed the car a rushing down that hill like mad," said the rescuer. "I seed her jump into the river. So I says to myself, 'Tom Lillicrap, there's trouble,' and I came a running."
"Which was a good thing for me," Keith answered hoarsely. "But look to Prout here. I'm afraid he's in a bad way."
"Prout," repeated Lillicrap in his deep voice. "Prout. Why I be bothered if it isn't old Jan hisself." He ripped open Jan's soaked clothes and laid his great hand on Jan's heart. "Still beating, zur. But her've got more water inside un than should be. I'll see to un."
"See to un," he did. He rolled Jan over on his face, pressed the water out of his lungs and started artificial respiration and in a very few minutes Jan began to breath again. Lillicrap rose.
"Got to get un to bed soon as may be," he said. "I'll carry un if you walk. Bain't no great way to my place."
He lifted Jan's twelve stone on to his back and strode away up hill. Keith marvelling at the Moorman's tremendous strength, followed. It came as a surprise when, after walking no more three hundred yards he found himself at the door of a one-storeyed cottage built of granite and roofed with slate.
Lillicrap opened the door of a low-ceiled living-room with a dull peat fire glowing on an open hearth. He laid Jan on an old horse-hair covered couch.
"Best get your clothes off, zur," he said to Keith, and found him a towel, a pair of corduroy trousers, and a flannel shirt.
"How's Jan?" Keith asked presently.
"Sorely bruised, zur, but her'll be all right. Tough as a old shoe be Jan Prout."
"You know him?"
"Bless 'ee, we was at school together up to Climsland. I ain't seed un for years, but her don't change much. Be he working for 'ee?" Keith glanced at Lillicrap's big, square, honest face.
"Yes," he said. "My name is Hedley——Captain Hedley. That mean anything to you?" Tom Lillicrap nodded.
"Wasn't you the gentleman as was lost in the desert in Africky?
"You've got it. See here, Lillicrap I have a good deal to tell you. Will you wrap up Jan and sit dawn and listen." A gleam of interest showed in the big man's grey eyes. He nodded.
"Reckon us'll have a drop of something hot first, zur." He turned to Jan rolled up in a heated blanket, then went into the back room and came back with a bottle and glasses.
"Plymouth gin, zur," he explained. "Baint nothing like it for the innards."
"Which I can quite believe," said Keith with a smile. "Your good health, Mr. Lillicrap, and my thanks for saving my life."
"Mine, too," came a feeble croak from the couch and there was Jan with his eyes open. "And a drop o' that same wouldn't hurt me," he added.
Lillicrap was across in two strides, lifted Jan and set his own glass to his lips.
"Fine!" said Jan. "That puts life back into a body."
"Wonder be as either of 'ee is living this minute," said Tom. "Old Strane don't lose much she've got un in her maw." Keith sat up straight. His tired eyes brightened.
"We're dead, Jan. We're both dead," he exclaimed.
Tom Lillicrap's eyes widened. He looked so astonished that Keith actually laughed.
"It's all right, Lillicrap. Do you know Mr. Sagar?" The big man pursed his lips.
"Knows un by sight," he answered. "He be a foreigner." Keith nodded.
"Then listen. I'm going to tell you all about him." Lillicrap's interest was caught from the first. He sat quite still with his grey eyes fixed on Keith's face and did not say a word until Keith told why he and Jan had camped on Ruff Tor. Then he broke in.
"So Sagar, he knowed you was there all the time."
"He knows now," Keith said. "One of his men found our camp."
"Aye, and filed them brakes o' yours, I'll be bound," growled Lillicrap. "It were murder."
"Yes," said Keith, "and the beauty of it is that Sagar probably believes he's succeeded in finishing us. That's what I meant when I said that Jan and I were both dead." Lillicrap chuckled deep in his throat.
"You'm right, zur. Odds are he had someone watching. That un must have seed car go into river."
"But did he see you pull us out again?" Keith questioned.
"Baint likely," replied Lillicrap with decision. "No, you'm dead far as he'm concerned. All same us had better be sure."
"If one of Sagar's chaps were watching her'll be looking at the car this minute. If I goes down I'll find out who her be and all about un," Lillicrap put on his heavy black oil-skin and went out. Keith turned to Jan.
"It was lucky for us, running into Lillicrap. He seems a sound fellow."
"He's a proper man," Jan said. "With him a helping us, won't be long afore we have Miss Eve safe."
It was nearly an hour before Tom Lillicrap came back. Jan was sleeping and he came softly across the flagged floor.
"It were just as I said, zur," he told Keith. "That shover fellow Maltby, were down there. Told me he were walking down the hill when car come by him like a streak o' lightning. He said as he heard her go into the water but it were all over afore he got there. 'Poor gentleman!' he said, and his yaller face was long as a fiddle." Tom chuckled.
"Course I played up. I told un a few tales on the way of how no one ever got out of a big flood like that and swallowed un like milk. Then I said as us had better tell Dingle and let un start search for the bodies."
"You did fine," said Keith. "Now if you can put up with us for the night to-morrow we'll get on with the job."
There was a good bed in the inner room. Jan had that, Keith had a mattress on the floor and Tom slept on the couch in the living room. Tired as Keith was, he could not steep. There was too much to think of.
Sagar's attempt on his life had made it plain that he had no scruples whatever. It had cleared away the whole fog of doubt which had hung about the man. Keith no longer had the faintest doubt that Sagar was responsible for Eve's disappearance. Whether she had gone back to London or not Keith felt certain that at present she was in Sagar's power. Anyhow she was here and he was going to find her.
To-morrow he would start—then all of a sudden his weary brain went blank and he slept. He was roused by Tom Lillicrap who told him that breakfast was ready.
"What's the weather?" Keith asked.
"Her have stopped raining, but fog be thick. Her won't clear to-day."
Jan woke and Keith brought him food. Poor Jan was so stiff he could hardly move and his left ankle was badly swollen. All the same he was mad keen to go with Keith on his next exploring expedition, but Keith told him plainly that this was impossible.
"See here, Jan." he went on "To-night I must get up on that hill top and watch. I must find out where Miss Eve is if it's any way possible. Once I've done that I'll come for Tom or yourself—or both—to help me. Will that satisfy you?"
"It don't satisfy me a bit," said Jan half angrily, "but I knows it bain't no use my arguing."
THE fog had gone, the sky was clear and the stars twinkled frostily as Keith lay in his old hiding place on the top of Ruff Tor and waited for the dawn.
It seemed ages before there was any sign of life outside the Dower House. This time Keith had no glasses nor any pistol. Both had been lost in the smash. His only possessions were his money, his pipe and pouch and a small flashlight which, having been kept in a waterproof case, was still serviceable. His only weapon was a big clasp knife which Tom Lillicrap had thrust on him. But the morning light was crystal clear and there was no mistaking the bulky form of Jabez Holt who, as before, came along the path leading towards the wood. Nor was there any doubt about the fact that he carried a basket.
"He can't pick mushrooms this time. That's one thing sure," Keith whispered to himself. "It's a damned sight too cold for mushrooms this morning."
Holt indeed made no pretence at picking mushrooms but went straight across the path. Keith's heart beats quickened for it seemed to him that the man was going direct to the Close. He was wrong, for presently Holt turned up hill. He was making not for the house but the wood, for a point a good way above the house.
Holt went straight to the wood and vanished among the trees. Keith itched to follow him but knew it would be madness. Nearly an hour elapsed before Holt showed up again. He still carried his basket but now it swung lightly on his arm. He went steadily back by the way he had come and vanished into the house.
Keith was intensely excited. There was no doubt in his mind that Holt had been taking food to Eve. Eve then was hidden either in the wood or in the cellars of the Close. Excitement made it almost impossible for Keith to keep still, yet he knew that to venture on to the open hillside in daylight was madness. He was bound to be seen.
He studied every yard of the hillside beneath, wondering, if by any trick of the woodcraft of which he was a master, he could reach the wood. But now the whole slope was bathed in sunshine and no one could have moved on it without being seen from the windows of the Dower House.
Since it was impossible to sit still Keith began to work his way through the gorse. He made towards the east side of it and gained the eastern edge of the covert.
Now he saw something which he had not seen before. One of those deep furrows which in Devonshire they call a "vein" cut the hillside. Formed by some ancient cloudburst. It ran straight down from the northern edge of the wood. With a sudden exulting throb Keith saw that here was a ready-made and secret road to the spot he was so keen to reach.
Forgetting everything else in his excitement he dropped into the vein and within a few minutes was safe among the trees at the top of the wood. Holt's heavy footprints were still visible and with Keith's long experience of following spoor he traced them until he reached an outcrop of rock thickly covered with ivy. He glanced at this but saw no opening and passed on. He soon became aware that there were no tracks on the far side so, returning, went round to the back of the rocks and climbed up. There was a hollow in the centre where the ground was deep in dead leaves. No ordinary man would have given the hollow a second glance but Keith saw at once these leaves had been recently disturbed, then smoothed over.
He climbed down and it was all he could do to keep back an exclamation of triumph. Between two rocks, and, with its opening perfectly hidden from above by an overhanging slab, a tunnel opened in the face of the hill. It hardly needed the footmarks on its greasy floor to make Keith certain he had found what he was looking for.
Keith had been underground before. But he had never been in a tin mine and it struck him as a most unpleasant place, the chill dampness of the air and the sour smell of dry rot from the mouldering timbers were a nasty combination.
All the way the broad footmarks of Holt were plain and among them Keith noticed prints of a smaller, neater shoe, which, he felt sure, was Sagar's. The passage went on, trending always downwards. Then suddenly the light of Keith's torch fell upon a floor which filled the passage and barred his way.
The door was solid and thick and had not even a handle. Keith was staring at it blankly, wondering how on earth he was going to get through when his eyes fell on the key hung on a nail fixed in the right hand wall. He took the key down. It turned with hardly a sound and the door opened easily. He went in, closed the door behind him and locked it. The light of his torch showed him a cellar but not in the least the type of cellar he had expected.
This was a horrible place. The walls were of native rock, the floor paved with ancient flags among which pools of stagnant water glistened. Piles of rubbish lay against the walls. No prisoner could possibly have lived in such a place.
Turning his light upon the floor Keith saw at once the marks of Holt's huge feet. They led to the back wall where a second door confronted him. Here, too, the key hung conveniently and Keith did not lose a moment to opening the door.
He got a fresh shock, for facing him was a narrow staircase running steeply upwards. Keith realised that it was built within the thickness of the back wall of the Close.
Locking this second door behind him Keith started up the steps. He counted them as he went and they numbered sixty-three. Then he stepped out into a passage with a board floor lighted only by a skylight of frosted glass. In a flash he understood. Here on the top floor of the ruinous house was Sagar's cunningly contrived prison.
For a moment he felt as if he could hardly breathe. Eve, he felt definitely certain, was within a few steps of where he stood.
KEITH went forward cautiously. There were three doors on either side of the passage. Plain doors, but solid and new. First he tried the doors on the outer side. When he came to the second and turned the handle he distinctly heard someone move inside. He listened for some moments then ventured a whisper.
No reply, and he spoke again a little louder.
"Eve, are you there?"
He heard a low moan.
"Oh, God, don't torture me. I can't bear it," came Eve's agonised voice. Keith flung discretion to the winds.
"It's Keith, Eve," he called in a firm voice. "I'm no ghost. I'm alive and well. It was all a plot of Sagar's. I escaped. I'm here to get you out." Eve came running to the door.
"Keith, oh Keith, it is you! I think I've known all the time you couldn't be dead."
"Eve, it's so good to hear your voice. But how can I open the door? Is there a key?"
"There's no key, Keith. Holt locks the door and takes it away."
"I'll try and burst the lock."
"You can't Keith. You'll only hurt yourself," but Keith had drawn back and now flung himself with all his weight against the door.
It did not budge.
"You're right, Eve. I can't break it down. I must get a tool of some sort. There's a cellar below. I'm sure I can find something there."
"But suppose someone comes?"
"They can't. I've locked the outer door of the cellar. Sagar can't surprise me."
"Then go, Keith, only be quick. I'm longing to see you."
"I, too, girl dear. Now I'm going but I'll be back in a very short time."
He went down the long flight at reckless speed and set to searching desperately for some tool that would force the door. He delved and dug, getting covered with filth, and grew almost desperate when his torch began to fail.
The light was turning blue when, under the very last pile his groping fingers felt something heavy and he dragged out an iron bar about three feet long. Next minute he was racing back up the stairs.
"I've found an iron bar, Eve. I think it will do."
"Splendid! Oh Keith. I'm quivering with excitement."
"Keep steady, darling. I'm beginning."
Keith tried to force the end of the bar between the jamb and the door, but the end was too thick. He explained to Eve that he would have first to cut a nick with his knife. Luckily Lillicrap's knife was heavy and sharp, and quickly bit into the wood. Even so it was some minutes before the hole was deep enough to allow him to insert the blunt end of the bar. He forced it home, threw his weight on it and, with a crunch, the door burst open.
There was Eve, thin, pale but with her eyes shining gloriously. To Keith she seemed more lovely than ever. She flung herself into his arms.
"Keith—Oh, Keith!" was all she said, but the tone told Keith much more than the words. For a few minutes he held her close. Then Eve drew gently back.
"We must go, Keith. How do we get out?"
"There are stairs in the wall. They lead to the cellar. The way out is through an old mine adit with an entrance in the middle of the wood." Eve's eyes widened.
"How did you find it?"
"I followed Holt's trail. This way, Eve. My torch is finished. We shall have to depend on matches."
They went down the steps and through the cellar, but stops to light fresh matches delayed them. Keith carried his bar. He had to keep it as a weapon in case they met Sagar.
Eve walked steadily and presently daylight showed.
"We're on the last lap now," Keith said. "Only a few yards and we shall be in the open."
A moment later they stepped out into the little hollow amid the rocks. Keith held up his hand for silence and listened. There was nothing suspicious.
"I must help you up, Eve," he said.
He dropped his bar, caught her round the waist, and was in the act of lifting her when the blued barrel of a pistol caught the light as it was pushed over the rim of rock exactly above them.
"Lift her down again, Hedley," came Sagar's voice. "And don't try to play the fool or I shall shoot you in the shoulder." He laughed and Keith had never heard an uglier sound.
"Keith, do as he says," Eve said in a low, strained voice. "He would murder you without a pang." Sagar laughed again.
"You're right, Eve. Bumping off a gent I dislike as much as I do Hedley wouldn't give me no pangs whatever." Keith was thinking hard and swiftly. If there had been the fainted chance of escape he would have taken it without hesitation But there was none. Even without Holt and Maltby, what hope had he against Sagar's gun.
"Very good, Eve," he said in a flat voice and followed her into the adit. Next moment Sagar leaped lightly down after them, and almost at once Holt followed.
"You'll stay and watch, Maltby," Sagar ordered. "And if you see that Prout chap you know what to do."
With Sagar and Holt at their heels Keith and Eve were marched back down the long passage. Presently they were back to that filthy cellar which Keith had hoped never to see again. Then he and Eve were herded up the stairs and into the dreary passage. Sagar spoke.
"Holt, you see Miss Nisbet into her room, then come right back. I'm taking no chances with this gent."
"You better not, boss," Holt responded. "He's plumb dangerous." Keith looked Sagar in the face.
"Do you really think you can get away with this sort of thing—kidnapping and murder?" he asked. Saga laughed.
"I've got away with things a durn sight harder on the other side," he answered.
He chuckled again. Like all criminals, he was intensely vain. He went on: "I guess you're going to be quite an ace to my game Hedley. I'm having a right difficult job to persuade Eve to marry me, but now she knows I have you under my thumb it's going to be a heap easier," Holt came back.
"She's safe, boss. What about this bloke? Want me to take him for a ride?" The man spoke as coolly as if he was discussing the fate of a trapped rat. Sagar shook his head.
"I guess he'll be more use to me alive than dead. The girl's fond of him. Say, how much do they give those fellers up at the prison when they're on punishment diet?"
"Eight ounces of bread and a jug of water," Holt answered.
"Half a pound of bread. Say, he can have that the first day and six ounces the second, and so on till he gets down to nothing. I reckon the girl's going to squeal before he plumb starves."
Then Keith was on him. Disregarding Sagar's pistol, he hurled himself at the man with such sudden fury that Sagar had not time to pull the trigger before Keith's fist caught him on the jaw and sent him crashing against the wall.
Sagar's eyes glazed. He was out on his feet The pistol dropped from his limp hand. Keith stooped to snatch it up. It was a mistake, as he stooped the huge bulk of Jabez Holt fell upon him. His head hit the floor with a force that stunned him.
When he came to himself his head felt as if it was splitting and he was conscious of nothing but pain. By degrees he managed to open his eyes. He found himself lying on a hard bed in a bare and dismal room. The only furniture was the bed, one wooden chair, and a table. There was an opening in the wall to the left and one window, but this had a grille of iron bars set on the inner side. Looking out he saw the green of foliage opposite. These were the trees at the back of the Close and he knew that he was prisoned in the room next to Eve's.
He tried to sit up but the effort made him so dizzy and sick he had to drop back again. Thoughts of how he had come to this pass made his brain throb with fresh agony. His only hope was to lie still and keep his mind blank. This was no easy matter yet Keith succeeded and at last fell asleep.
WHEN he woke it was growing dusk. He managed to get up and stagger to the opening where he found a small lavatory with tap and basin. He drank, doused his head, and felt better. Then he made his way to the window.
The window frame was set in the outside of the enormously thick wall, the bars on the inside. Pushing his arm through, Keith could not come anywhere near reaching the glass. Though he knew the yard was below he could not see it.
The key clicked in the lock, and Keith turned to see Holt. Behind him was Maltby with a pistol. Holt carried a plate on which was a chunk of dry bread. He looked at Keith.
"Trying out your prison, mister?" he sneered. "You re welcome if it amuses you. The inner walls is a foot thick, the floor's cement. I reckon you'll stay here till hell freezes or the boss gives orders to take you out. And when you comes out, pal, that's the time to say your prayers." He chuckled coarsely. "Here's your grub. Make the most of it for to-morrow you won't get as much, and next day you'll begin to get right down hungry." Keith kept silence. Holt turned.
"All right, Maltby. Let's go," he said. The door slammed and Keith was left alone. He was not hungry but he broke off a small piece of his bread and ate it slowly.
His head was not quite so painful, and he began to consider whether Eve and he had any chances at all of getting out of this horrible plight.
By this time Tom Lillicrap and Jan would be wondering why he had not returned. The question was what they would do. What Keith feared was that Tom would come to look for him. If he did that would probably be his finish.
Jan—Jan was different. He would be for letting Dicky know what had happened. But what could Dicky do? With his simple, straightforward nature he would be no match for Sagar.
Suddenly Keith remembered that Eve was in the next room. He rapped on the wall in the hope he might hear. There was no reply and, as the last gleam of light faded Keith dropped on his bed and lay very still.
That night was the worst Keith had ever spent. Eve filled his mind. Sagar, as Keith had already realised, was in love with Eve, but it began to be clear that a man of his type would not take the risks Sagar was taking just to marry a girl. Keith's thoughts harked back to that night at sea when Tarver had promised Eve a fortune if she would engage not to give evidence again him. He remembered that the real Sagar was a distant cousin of Eve. Putting two and two together he began to realise that Eve must be the real heiress to the Sagar property. In that case everything was clear. The sham Sagar wished to marry Eve in order to make himself safe.
If this was true—and Keith had no doubt it was true—things were worse even than he had imagined for, now, if there was one thing more certain than another, Sagar would never dare to let him live and, if he was dead, there was no one to help Eve.
The mere suggestion of Eve being married to this gangster murderer filled Keith with such horror as almost drove him mad. For hours he sat them in the dark, fighting devils in the shape of ugly thoughts until at last he fell back, worn out, in a sort of coma.
It was daylight when he came to himself, a dim light only, for rain had began and the grimy window showed little but a driving veil of mist. Keith got up, stripped and doused himself with cold water. He ate another small portion of his bread.
If the night had been bad, the day was almost worse. Nothing to do but think. No food but the remains of his dry bread and—what for him was almost worse—no tobacco. He had no means of telling the time, for outside the rain still fell steadily, and there was no gleam of sun. The silence was unbroken and the room almost unbearably stuffy. This Keith did manage to remedy, for he broke a leg off his chair, and with it succeeded in smashing a pane of the window.
After what seemed a month, Keith heard the key turn. Holt came in. He carried a roll of bread, which he dumped on the table.
"Six ounces to-day," he said, "and you wouldn't get that much if I had my way." His beady eyes fell on the broken window. "Still trying I see," he grinned. "But it's no good, mister. Even if you got friends outside they'll never know where you are. And it's a sure thing you'll never be able to tell them." He turned and went out, locking the door behind him.
Since Keith had no knife, he broke the loaf with his hands. Something sharp scratched his finger He dug it out and gazed in amazement at a small file.
He could hardly believe his senses. Who could have put it there? But what was the use of wondering? He had a friend in the enemy's camp, he had a file. It was astonishing the difference made by this four inches of steel. He felt almost cheerful. Slipping the file into his pocket, he ate his bread, and then went to the window and set to work on a bar.
Keith was surprised to find how slow a task it was, and how difficult. The fact that the file had no handle made it still harder. When darkness fell, and it was no longer possible to work, he was half-way through the bottom of the bar. He went to bed in a very different frame of mind from the previous night, and slept soundly.
He was up at daylight, drunk a glass of water, and found himself very hungry. He ate about half his remaining bread and went to work again. At the end of two hours the bar was so nearly cut through that he was able to push it sideways and creep through.
The window was so filthy it was difficult to see much through it. The frame was of the casement type, but evidently had not been opened for years. Seated in the embrasure. Keith got a foot against it and pushed until the rusty hinges yielded and the window swung open. Keith peered out, and the first thing he saw was that the ivy at this height would not bear his weight. There was a down pipe to the left of the window, but this was just out of reach. He groaned with disappointment. All his work it seemed, had been for nothing.
Keith looked down. Forty feet beneath was the brick-paved yard. But now it was no longer empty. He saw two kennels, and as he watched, a dog came out of one. This dog was the size of a mastiff, the color of a lion. Keith knew the breed. This was a cross between the mastiff and the Cuban bloodhound. There is no finer watch-dog in the world, none more powerful or more savage.
He drew back and began to think. Even if he had had a rope he had no chance against these two great beasts. Then a fresh idea came to him This was to use the bar as a weapon. He could stand behind the door and floor Holt as he came in. Then with luck, he might trust to surprise to get Maltby.
It was a pretty desperate attempt, and the odds were that Maltby would shoot first. Yet there did not seem to be any choice. He went back to the window and tested the bar. He felt sure he could jerk it free.
It was at this moment that a familiar sound reached his ears. The drone of a distant aeroplane. In a flash he had scrambled through the opening again and flung open the window. Leaning out he stared up at the sky. The sound grew louder and next moment he saw a small biplane coming from the North. Keith had never seen Dicky's new machine yet would have staked his life that this was it. He leaned dangerously out of the window and waved his handkerchief.
The machine did not dive. It came straight on and Keith's heart was like lead The plane was almost overhead when suddenly he saw her rock, making that well-known movement called "wagging a wing." At the same moment a flash of white showed overside.
Keith almost sobbed with gratitude. Now he knew that Jan had in some way got word through to Dicky and what was far more important—that Dicky knew definitely where he was. It only remained for Dicky to land at the nearest available spot and collect help; then, so far as Sagar was concerned, the jig was up.
Keith closed the window replaced the bar, smeared dirt over its cut end, then set himself to wait. He was trying to picture where Dicky would land, whom he would collect, and how long it would take him and his reinforcements to arrive. An hour, two hours, perhaps.
He had not nearly so long as that to wait. Less than half an hour elapsed before he heard hurried steps on the floor of the passage. It could not be Dicky. It must be Sagar. Next moment his door was flung open and Sagar appeared. He carried a gun. Holt stood behind him, but Maltby was not in sight.
"You heard the plane?" Sagar asked, but Keith remained silent.
"Some of your smart friends are getting busy," Sagar said. "That was Trask." He laughed harshly. "He wouldn't find you in a month," he sneered. "All the same I'm taking no chances. Eve's coming with me aboard my yacht. I reckon she'll be mighty glad to marry me by the time we get to—where I'm going. As for you—" his voice became suddenly venomous—"You can stay here and rot."
Keith sprang but it was too late. The heavy door slammed in his face. The thought of Sagar dragging Eye away nearly drove Keith crazy. He flung himself madly at the door. Someone came running down the passage.
"Boss—boss!" It was Maltby's voice.
"What's up?" demanded Sagar.
"Miss Lynd's at the house and an old coot with her. Calls hisself Colonel Kingscote. I told 'em you wasn't at home, but it wasn't no good. They're a sitting in their car in the drive. There ain't no getting by them." Sagar's reply came curt and sharp.
"I'll fix it. You stay here, Holt. Maltby, come with me and watch the tunnel entrance. I'll be back right soon."
His steps sounded crisply down the passage and Keith gave silent but fervent thanks for the delay. This must be Dicky's doing and it showed brains. He had temporarily barred Sagar's escape For all that Keith was still desperately uneasy. There were no means by which Dicky could find the secret way into the Close. If only he himself could get into touch with Dicky.
He went back to the grille, pulled out the bar climbed through and opened the window. In the yard below the two hounds were pacing to and fro. The great brutes were very much on guard. If Dicky climbed over into the yard his shrift would be short. But there was no sign of Dicky or of anyone else.
From the yard came a sound like the breaking of an egg. Keith saw something which looked like a tennis ball drop on the bricks below and break. A faint vapour rose and spread. One dog rolled over, the other came up quickly and it, too, fell on its side and became rigid.
"Gas!" Keith muttered and watched with quivering eagerness. A hairy head showed on the roof of the coal house opposite. Keith's eyes widened as he saw Zoe appear. Zoe had a rope. She was hauling something up. Dicky appeared beside the orang and waved to Keith.
Keith put his fingers to his lips. Dicky nodded and he and Zoe dropped silently into the yard. Dicky recoiled the rope and hung it round Zoe's body. Keith understood. Leaning out as far as he dared, he whistled softly.
Zoe looked up, saw Keith and began to climb. At first she climbed by the ivy then, when this became too thin to bear her weight, paused, looked round, saw the down pipe and stretching out one immensely long arm took hold of it, swung across and came up quickly. Within a few moments she was level with the window. She reached the sill and with hardly an effort pulled herself alongside Keith. Her furry arms went round him and the little cooing sounds proved her pleasure at finding her master.
As he petted her Keith swiftly loosened the rope, tied one end to a bar and dropped the other to Dicky. At that moment heavy steps sounded in the passage.
KEITH had not even time to warn Dicky. He was back to the room in a flash. With one jerk he tore the bar loose. As he sped across the room he heard the key turn in the lock and stepped swiftly to one side.
"What's up to here?" Holt asked harshly, then up went his big fist grasping the heavy pistol, and another second would have spelt death for poor Zoe had not Keith intervened. It was no time for mercy, and the iron bar thudded on Holt's bullet head. Keith snatched up the pistol and dashed back to the window.
"All right, Dicky," he called. "It was Holt, but I've nobbled him. Hang on. Zoe and I will pull you up."
Aided by Zoe's enormous strength, Keith soon had Dicky safe on the window ledge.
"No time to explain things," Keith said swiftly. "Got to get Eve out. She's in the next room. Sagar may be back any minute and Maltby. They'll come by those stairs at the end of the passage." He dashed through the door to that of Eve's room, turned the key and flung the door open.
She was standing in the middle of the room, white, shaken, but sight of Keith put fresh life into her.
"Oh, Keith. I heard someone fall. I thought they'd killed you." Keith laughed.
"You must have thought I'd gained a lot of weight on bread and water, darling. That was Holt. But come quickly. Dicky is here."
"I'm here, Eve," came Dicky's voice, "and so is Zoe. And Keith has Holt's gun. I don't think we need be scared of Sagar." Eve was not so sure.
"He's desperate, Dicky. He'd kill any or all of us if he got the least chance."
"She's right, Dicky," Keith said. "I'll tell you what we can do—slip down into the cellar and lay for Sagar. If I have the bar and you the gun, Dicky, he and Maltby won't stand much show.
"Good egg," said Dicky. "Let's go." As they started out of the room Keith pulled up short.
"What's that knocking?"
"Another prisoner," Dicky said "Darned if Sagar hasn't started a private gaol!" Keith spoke.
"Eve, go find out, will you. Dicky and I will keep a look out." Eve went quickly. She tapped on the door, and Keith saw her put her ear close against the panel. Alter a moment or two she came quickly back.
"It's Tarver," she said.
"Tarver," Keith repeated "Then it is true. Sagar said he came down here."
"He was here," said Eve. "I saw him. He was blackmailing Sagar."
"Quod's the only place for a blackmailer," Dicky said. "I vote we leave him."
"No," said Keith. "We must take him. He's the one man who knows the truth about Sagar. But there's no key in the door," he added frowning, "and delay is dangerous. I'll have to use my bar." He fetched it then turned to Dicky. "Holt's moving. Tie him Dicky, and give Eve the gun. She must watch the stairs."
Eve nodded and took the revolver; Keith hurried to Tarver's cell. Another moment and the door came open with a crash.
"Tarver!" Keith called and a man staggered out. A man with an inch of grey stubble on his filthy face and eyes red rimmed and bleared. The smell of him nearly made Keith sick.
"Tarver!" Keith repeated and Eve involuntarily turned. Next instant Keith heard her scream and whirled to see her helpless in Sagar's powerful grasp. He held her with one arm and had wrenched the pistol from her grasp. Shielding himself with Eve's body, he pointed the weapon at Keith.
"Drop that bar!" he ordered.
"Drop it, Keith," begged Eve in an agony as Keith hesitated. Keith saw Maltby's head over Sagar's shoulder, saw, too, that he was armed. He let the bar clatter to the floor.
"Put up your hands, Hedley," Sagar continued. "Straight up!" Keith obeyed. He was wondering desperately if Dicky would be able to do anything, but Dicky had no weapon.
"Maltby," said Sagar, "this is your job. Go ahead while I hold the girl." Maltby began to move forward, passing Sagar and keeping close to the wall. With an odd shock, Keith realised that he was to be shot down under Eve's very eyes.
Maltby came steadily forward and Keith's gaze was so firmly fixed on him he saw nothing else. He did not see a long black arm shoot snake-like out of the door of his prison room and seize Sagar's left shoulder. Zoe had suddenly taken part to the game.
Sagar had not seen it himself. He was too busy holding Eve, and the shock and the pain made him yell. His scream caused Maltby to turn his head and that gave Keith his chance. Bending double, he flung himself at Maltby's legs.
Maltby fired and Keith felt the bullet graze his left shoulder. Head down, he hit Maltby in the stomach, sending him crashing to the boards. Maltby struggled to raise the pistol, but Keith smashed him in the face with his fist, knocking his head backwards against the floor with a force that stunned him. Wresting the pistol from Maltby's limp hand he sprang up. The whole thing had not taken five seconds.
As he came to his feet there came the crash of another report. Eve was on the floor at Sagar's feet and beside the wall lay Dicky, either dead or stunned. Zoe had her long arms round Sagar and hers was no love grip. Sagar had his right arm free though his left arm was pinned to his side by the ape's hold. He was struggling to get the muzzle of his pistol round so that he might shoot the orang.
The danger to Eve, if he fired again, was extreme. Keith reached him in two jumps. Sagar pulled the trigger again but Keith kept to the left and the bullet buried itself in the ceiling.
It was no time for half measures. The barrel of Keith's pistol thudded on Sagar's head, and he went limp in Zoe's hold.
Keith looked round. The only person besides himself who was on his feet was Tarver. Sagar, Maltby, Dicky and Eve were all flat. Keith dropped on his knees beside Eve. To his intense relief, though unconscious, she was unhurt.
Keith turned to Dicky. Sagar's first bullet had gone through the top of his left shoulder. Keith hurried into his cell to fetch water. When he came back he was rejoiced to find Eve sitting up. She stared at Keith as if she could not believe her eyes.
"I—I thought he'd killed you," she said hoarsely.
"The boots on the other foot, darling, They're all finished—Sagar, Holt and Maltby. But it's thanks to you and Zoe that Sagar didn't win out."
"To me." Eve's tone was bitter. "It was all my fault—the whole thing. I looked round when I ought to have been watching the stairs."
"So would anyone else. You're not to blame yourself," said Keith as he put the glass to her lips. As he rose he heard steps on the stairs and whirled, pistol in hand.
"Don't shoot, Hedley," came the comfortable voice of Major Kingscote as he, followed by Mrs. Holt, Esther and Tom Lillicrap came up into the passage. He looked round with mild curiosity. "Got some prisoners, I see. Dingle's below," he added, "Looks as if there was work for him."
"DINGLE—the policemen you mean?" The shaky voice gave Keith a shock. He looked at Tarver's shrunken form and quivering lip and felt almost sorry for him. Major Kingscote, too, was staring at Tarver.
"It's Tarver, Major," Keith explained. "Sagar's had him shut up here for days. He's about all in."
"Poor devil," Kingscote said and shrugged. "But we can't do anything. He has it coming to him." Tarver came forward.
"You've got to save me, Captain Hedley." He pointed to Sagar. "I'm the only one who can tell you about him."
"It's true. I believe," Keith said to Kingscote.
"Then put him back in one of these rooms. I can let him out after Dingle has collected his prisoners." The Major went down after Dingle who, with two other constables, was guarding the passage below.
Dingle was thrilled, but was too good a policeman to show his excitement. He gathered his three prisoners and promised to come back to the Dower House later in the day.
As soon as the prisoners had been taken away Tom lifted Dicky on to his broad back and carried him off. The rest, with Zoe, followed. Miss Lynd met them at the Dower House. She kissed Eve with real affection. The first thing was to put Dicky to bed and ring up a doctor. Then Keith went upstairs to have a badly-needed shave and bath while Esther took Eve to her room. Major Kingscote meanwhile went back to the Close to fetch Tarver.
By the time he got back with his prisoner breakfast was ready, and he, Eve, Miss Lynd and Keith sat down to it in the sunny dining-room. They asked Tom to join them but he was shy.
"Eggs and bacon, Hedley," said Kingscote. "Aren't you ready for them?"
"Rather!" said Keith with an almost boyish grin. "I'd like to know how you came into the picture, Major."
"Simple enough. Trask 'phoned me. Your man, Jan, had wired him that you had disappeared and he believed you were in the Close. Trask asked me to bring Miss Lynd and go straight to the Dower House. The idea was to keep Sagar from bolting. It all worked out just as he said. Miss Lynd played up finely—told Sagar the police were worrying her to know where Miss Nisbet was and she'd come to find out. Of course, Sagar swore he'd never seen Eve since last Saturday, and finally she pretended to be persuaded and we drove off. But Dingle and his chaps were waiting, hidden in the shrubbery and when Sagar went back, they followed. So did I. That's my story. Now I'd like yours."
"There's a good deal of it and some that I don't understand myself," Keith said. "Suppose we finish our breakfast, then collect the others, Mrs. Holt and her daughter and Tom, and between the lot we may get things straight."
"Not a bad notion," the Major agreed. "Is Tarver to be of the party?"
"No. We'll have him in later. Tarver's a nasty bit of goods. Eve says he's been blackmailing Sagar."
"He chose the wrong man," said Kingscote drily.
The doctor game downstairs as the party entered the hall.
"It's a perfectly clean wound," he said in an answer to Keith's inquiry. "And,"—he smiled—"Mr. Trask is so fit physically I don't think we shall have any trouble."
"Can we see him?" Keith asked. "We badly want a talk with him."
"Yes, if you don't stay too long. I gather there's been some excitement."
"Quite a bit," agreed Keith. "You shall hear more to-morrow doctor. We can't talk until things are settled so I'll ask you to keep quiet about it."
DICKY, who seemed quite himself again, grinned cheerfully as the room filled.
"Regular committee meeting," he said. "Who'll be chairman?"
"You Dicky," said Eve.
"All right. Then first let's hear how Sagar caught you." Eve told them about the letter from her sister, how she had called up Dr. Sanford and asked whether eyes could change colour. Hearing this was impossible, she had gone straight down to Devonshire and tackled Sagar.
"I see now it was the silliest thing I could have done," she said ruefully. "Sagar was far too clever for me. He explained that he had had a rare kind of ophthalmia in Arizona and that he had been blind for some time. A clever doctor had cured him but his eyes had changed color. 'I can find you the newspaper account,' he said. 'And I have my birth certificate and other papers. Drink a cup of coffee white I fetch them.' I drank the coffee and when I woke I was in that awful place." She looked across at Keith.
"Shouldn't he come next, Dicky." Dicky nodded, and Keith talked.
"Dicky knows how I escaped in the desert," he said. "I'll begin with how I came down here with Jan."
The room was very silent as Keith spoke. Only when he told of the car running away and his plunge into the flooded river Eve drew a quick breath. Keith told how Sagar had trapped him and of Sagar's threat to starve him until Eve consented to the marriage. When he had finished he looked at Dicky.
"Two things I can't explain. One, how Eve was seen on the train when she certainly wasn't there; the other, who sent me that file simply saved the situation."
"I think I can tell you who sent the file," Eve said. "Mrs. Holt." Mrs. Holt raised her head.
"It was the least I could do, Miss Eve." Esther who sat next her mother spoke suddenly.
"And I'm glad, too. No one will ever know what mother has suffered from that man. And it was for my sake she married him because we were just about starving." She turned to Eve.
"It was I who wore that dress in the train, Miss Eve."
"You, Esther!" Esther bit her lip.
"Sagar made me—" she stopped. "May I tell them, mother?"
"Yes, my dear."
"Mother drew father's pension after he was dead," Esther said. "She wrote his name on the voucher. We hadn't a penny left. Sagar got to know." She stopped with a sob, and Eve got up and went to her.
"My dear, I understand, I don't blame you a bit. Anyhow the man who calls himself Sagar will never trouble you again—or Holt either." Dicky broke in.
"Which brings us to the most important point of all—who is Sagar? Do you know, Mrs. Holt?"
"I don't sir. Holt may, but he's never told me."
"Tarver will know, Dicky," Eve said. "Shall we have him in?"
"Might as well," said Dicky. "Will you fetch him, Keith?"
Tarver was shaved and washed; he had also had a good breakfast. He looked more like the original Tarver—too much like him, Keith thought, as he brought him across the landing.
All in Dicky's room gazed at the man as Keith indicated a chair. Dicky spoke.
"Mr. Tarver, you have said that you are the one person who knows the real identity of the man who calls himself Jack Sagar?"
"That's so," Tarver answered.
"Then perhaps you will tell us." Tarver pursed his thin lips.
"A bit sudden, aren't you?" he remarked. Dicky leaned forward.
"Just what do you mean by that, Mr. Tarver?"
"I mean," said Tarver, "that before I talk I'd like to know where I stand. You may pump me dry, then hand me over to the police." Dicky looked across at Keith.
"There's some thing in what he says, Keith. What do we do about it?"
"It's a bit awkward," Keith admitted. "Actually it's up to us to hand him over to justice. The police want him on suspicion of murdering Kemp."
"I didn't kill Kemp," said Tarver, flatly. "He jumped overboard himself. He was broke and had cancer. I can prove that."
"Shall we give him the benefit of the doubt?" said Keith.
"I'd say yes," put in Major Kingscote.
"All right," Dicky said. "That's a bargain. Tell us all you know and you can go, Mr. Tarver."
"That's not enough," Tarver answered. "What I am able to tell you will be worth a large fortune to Miss Nisbet besides putting the finish on Sagar I want to know what I get out of it."
"What do you want?" Dicky asked. "A ticket to South America?" Tarver smiled bleakly.
"I want ten thousand pounds."
"I'm afraid," said Dicky gently, "that you won't get ten thousand pence!" Tarver's grey-green eyes narrowed.
"Then Miss Nisbet gets nothing."
"But you will hang," suggested Dicky.
"They can't hang me," said Tarver coolly. "No one saw Kemp go overboard and they didn't get his body." He faced them all.
"I've got stuff to sell, and, if I don't get my price, I don't sell."
Here was a moment's silence then quite quietly Tom Lillicrap came to his feet.
"Did 'ee say as the police reckoned this chap were dead, Cap'n?" he asked of Keith.
"That's the idea, Tom." Tom nodded.
"Then bain't no murder to kill a dead man." He stepped across the room, his huge hands caught Tarver and whipped him off his chair as easily as if he had been a child.
Tarver gave a sharp scream and beat at Tom with his fists. He might as well have beaten Cleopatra's Needle. Tom tucked him under his arm and held him helpless.
"Tom you can't kill him," said Keith.
"Then tell 'ee what, Cap'n. Us'll put un back where her belongs. Likely he'll think better after her's been there a week or two."
"You can't do it," shrieked Tarver. "It's against law."
"Nice one you be to talk of the law," said Tom. "Open the door, Mrs. Holt if you please."
Mrs. Holt opened the door and Tom strode out.
"What a man!" said Dicky admiringly. "He carried that chap as I'd carry a puppy."
"And he's taking him back to that dreadful house," said Eve with a shudder.
"Best thing to do," declared Dicky. "But it won't be for long. Master Tarver will sing a different song after he's been there for twenty-four hours."
"Won't need to be as long as that, zur." Tom came back into the room, still carrying Tarver. "Her have changed mind already." He dumped Tarver back into his chair.
All Tarver's self-confidence had left him his face was the colour of ash. He kept glancing from side to side like a trapped animal. Dicky didn't waste time.
"You can think yourself lucky, Tarver. Now get on with it. What do you know about Sagar?"
"He isn't Jack Sagar. His name is Salter—Rudd Salter."
"An impostor. Then where's the real Sagar?"
"Dead. Salter killed him."
Eve went very white and Keith stretched out and took her hand. Tarver went on.
"Sagar had a gold claim near Boulder in Montana and took in Salter as partner. I worked in the Saloon at Boulder. They used to come in and play cards. One night they quarrelled over a poker game. Salter slapped Sagar's face and Sagar pulled his gun. Though they both fired almost the same instant, it was Sagar went down.
"From the western point of view it was all fair and square. But the Sheriff was down on shooting, so Rudd Salter said he'd clear out—which he did. I thought the whole thing kind of funny for Jack Sagar's gun was pointed straight at Salter's chest. Didn't seem possible he could have missed. So later I got hold of Sagar's gun and examined it. The cartridges were dud. No bullets. I saw the whole thing was a plant and began to wonder what was behind it. Next day I went out and searched Salter's shack and under the stove found part of a burnt letter signed by the old man, Jack's uncle. Then, of course, I knew. Rudd had stolen Jack's papers and was going to impersonate him."
"So then," said Dicky, "You thought you would have your share. Was that it?"
"I'd as good a right to it as he," replied Tarver.
"And how came you in the East?" Keith asked.
"Rudd went home by way of San Francisco and I followed him. I had a chance to make a bit of money in the straits, so I stayed there a while. There wasn't any special hurry."
"Quite so," said Keith drily. "And now I suppose the only other thing you have to tell us is that Miss Nisbet is next heir to the Sagar property."
"That's it," said Tarver glumly.
Mrs. Holt got up quickly. Her grey face was transfigured.
"Oh, is that true?"
"It's true all right," said Tarver. "And now you know, can I go? You promised I could." Keith looked at Dicky.
"We did promise."
"Yes let him go," said Dicky. "Will you see him off the place Lillicrap." Tom grinned.
"I'll do that, Mr. Trask," He rose as he spoke, but with a squeal of terror, Tarver bolted. They heard him rattle down the stairs, the front door banged. Tom chuckled.
"Looks like her'd had enough of me. Reckon I better go back and tell old Jan. Her'll be proper pleased." He went off. Mrs. Holt and Esther followed, and after them Colonel Kingscote and Miss Lynd. Dicky looked at Eve.
"I'm a bit pleased, myself, Eve," he remarked Eve went across, bent and kissed him.
"We owe most of it to you, Dicky. I must 'phone to Joyce and Keith will have to get into touch with his lawyer. I think we're all going to be quite busy for some time to come." She and Keith went out and down the stairs, and out into the garden. Eve stood looking across the lovely valley to the great solemn hills beyond. She turned to Keith.
"It's very hard to believe I own all this, Keith."
"You'd be a very rich woman, Eve," said Keith soberly.
"And a good thing, too. Think of all the people we can make happy. Dicky and Joyce and Peter and Jane. Mrs. Holt and Esther, Rose Prosser, Jan and Tom Lillicrap."
"To say nothing of ourselves," said Keith softly.
"We'll be the happiest of them all," declared Eve as she put her arms round his neck and kissed him on the lips.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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