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T.C. BRIDGES

THE HOME OF HER FATHERS

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RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a 19th-century illustration


Ex Libris

No record of prior publication under this title in the UK or North America

Serialised in several Australian newspapers, e.g.,
The Queenslander, Australia, 10 Aug 1918 ff
The Shepparton Advertiser, Victoria, Australia,
22 Dec 1921-23 Mar 1922 (this version)
The Geraldton Guardian, West Australia, 9 Jun 1925 ff

First e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-03-24

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XL


CHAPTER I. — IN CHASM CLEAVE.

"HILDA, you are not going up the Cleave?"

Sylvia Holt's voice was anxious, and so were her soft blue eyes as she gazed up at her friend, from the boulder on which she was sitting.

Hilda Forrester, creel on back, fly rod in hand, smiled down at the other.

"Why not?" she asked. "It's my own properly, from the rocks down to the trout, a few choice specimens of which I am anxious to bring home for dinner.

"I hate the place," declared Sylvia with unusual energy.

"That's why you are sketching it, I suppose," answered Hilda, with a glance at the dainty water-color which was developing on Sylvia's easel.

"Oh, I don't mind sketching it. I can do that from outside, and the colors are perfectly lovely. But to go up it is quite another thing. It's so huge and gloomy, and I know it is horribly dangerous. I am never easy for a minute while you are up there, Hilda."

Hilda stopped suddenly and kissed the other's soft cheek.

"My dear," she said gently, "you must not let your nerves run away with you. Remember that I have fished the Cleave since I was ten—that I know every inch of it, and that I am as much at home there as I am in my own room at Mariscourt."

"But however well you know it, that would not help you if you slipped," objected Sylvia. "And those pools are terribly deep. Do you know, to me, the river up in the Cleave always has a hungry look. It seems to be waiting for something—waiting and watching and growling softly to itself like a wild beast."

Hilda's delicate eyebrows rose slightly.

"Good gracious, Sylvia. I had no idea you had such an imagination. All the same, I wish you would not draw such comparisons, for I am very fond of the Cleave, and really, even to please you, I can't give up going there. Besides, it is the only possible place where I shall get a trout this afternoon. The water is so low and clear, and the sun so hot that my only chance is in these shadowed pools under the cliff."

Sylvia sighed. She was devoted to her cousin Hilda, but she knew that when it came to a clash of wills there was no question as to which was the stronger.

"You will be careful, Hilda, won't you?" she begged.

"Careful enough to satisfy even you," replied Hilda, and with a bright little nod of farewell walked briskly off towards the month of the Cleave.

Chasm Cleave was one of those gorges through which the moorland brooks escape from the lofty solitudes where they have their birth, into the low country beneath. In the course of ages the swift waters of the little river Ridd had cut their way through the limestone until they had formed a cleft which was nearly a hundred feet deep, but not a quarter that in breadth. It was indeed so narrow that sun rays only penetrated its depths for a few minutes each day, so that the river itself lay in almost constant shadow.

As a result, the steep sides were draped with a perfect riot of ferns, mosses and other plants which love coolness and damp. Higher up, mountain ash, hazel and brambles grew in masses, and in places arched right over the Cleave, turning it into a tunnel of greenery. At the bottom, the river talked softly, now purling down steep stickles, again dropping in foaming falls into the heart of some deep black pool where the trout lay under the overhanging ledges and snapped at the grubs or flies which dropped from the thick foliage above.

It might be fancied that such a place would be impassably. It would have been, but for the fisherman's path which some ancestor of Hilda's had cut very many years earlier. Path, indeed, it could hardly be called. All that had been done was to carve here and there a rough foothold in the cliff on one side or the other. For the most part, the angler or sight-seer had to progress by jumping from one to another, across the great rocks which strewed the bed of the stream.

Three minutes after she had left Sylvia, Hilda had passed out of the blazing sunshine into the cool depths of the Cleave. As she had told Sylvia, she knew every inch of the gorge, and could almost have traversed it blindfold. She smiled indulgently as she thought of Sylvia's gloomy prophecies, and then she reached the first pool, and Sylvia and everything else went clean out of her head as she strove to get her flies upon the water without alarming the shy occupants of the clear depths.

To and fro switched the dainty little nine-foot greenheart, and then the cast was laid across the pool so that the tall fly just touched the creaming edge of the top stickle. As it came curving round with the stream, the water broke with a sudden splash. Hilda struck, and a stout little quarter pounder was dashing about, with the barbed hook fast in his upper jaw. In less than a minute he was in the landing net, and thence transferred to the creel.

"That looks well," said Hilda to herself. "I think I see my half dozen before I reach the head of the gorge."

She was a keen fisherwoman and a very fine one, and at first her prophecy soon seemed likely to be justified. By the time she was half way up the gorge four trout reposed in the creel and not one less in size than the first. Then quite suddenly the fish ceased to feed.

Just here the gorge was at its deepest, while the sides were very nearly sheer precipice. They cut off the breeze, and Hilda found herself almost unpleasantly warm. She paused, and seating herself on the flat top of a great rock, looked up through the thickly interlaced branches overhead. "Why, it's all clouds," she said in surprise. "I wonder if it is going to rain."

As if in answer to her words, a low mutter of thunder boomed sullenly through the sultry air.

"It is," said Hilda, and rose quickly to feet. "I had better get back," she continued. "Sylvia will have fifty fits if she thinks I am up here alone in a storm."

Picking up her rod, she started on the return journey, but had not gone fifty yards before the thunder growled again. This peal, beginning very quietly, rose slowly but steadily in volume and lasted so long that a vague uneasiness stole over Hilda. She had never before heard the echoes of a thunder clap continue for such a length of time.

She paused and looked up. Now she could see the sky more plainly, and its appearance startled her. It was a livid blue-black. The cloud was evidently of enormous thickness, and was coming over fast. The light decreased rapidly. Down here in the bottom of the narrow gorge it was as dim as though the sun had already set, and that although it was no more than four in the afternoon.

And still the muttering roar continued till the whole gorge seemed to vibrate with its booming drone.

"It can't be thunder," murmured Hilda uneasily. "It's getting louder every moment."

She was right. The sound was increasing just like that of a still distant express train which comes rushing along the rails straight towards the listener. And now it no longer resembled thunder. It was a heavy, sustained roar, a sound of infinite menace, and which was undoubtedly coming nearer every moment.

Then, all in a flash, Hilda realised the true cause of the alarming sound, and, plucky as she was, the color left her cheeks, and for a moment she stood quite still, trembling so that she could hardly stand.

It was not the thunder of the clouds but of the water. A storm had burst on the high moor, and a spate was rushing down the river bed. And she, trapped between these towering walls of rock, was at its mercy.

She glanced behind her. Around the next bend, not more than a couple of hundred yards away, a yellow wave crested with livid foam had suddenly burst into sight, and was racing down towards her at the speed of a galloping horse.


CHAPTER II. — THE RESCUE.

MOST women—aye, and most men, too, in Hilda's predicament, would have given themselves up for lost. Small blame to them either, for at first glance the case looked hopeless. On either side rose the cliffs, not merely perpendicular, but actually overhanging. There was no branch within reach, and the ferns, though thick enough, offered no hand-hold.

And inside fifteen seconds the rock on which Hilda stood would be smothered under the advancing flood, and she, if still there, would be swept away not merely to her death, but worse, for her slenderly-beautiful body would be battered among the iron rocks into something upon which no one living could look without a shudder.

But Hilda was thoroughbred. Her ancestors, were men who had fought under Drake, Hawkins and Nelson, and she, girl as she was, had inherited their qualities of presence of mind and quick thought and action in emergency.

She glanced down stream. There was no escape in that direction, for just below, the gorge narrowed to a regular bottle neck, in which the checked flood would heap up hugely. She turned in the other direction, and saw, at a little distance above, a shelf of rock projecting from the cliff, and just within reach if she stretched to her utmost.

A little distance, yes, but even so it was more than doubtful if she could reach it before the wave was upon her. She did not wait to consider, but dropping her rod, made a flying leap to the next boulder, and fled towards the possible refuge at the very top of her speed. It was a race between her and the flood, and it seemed all odds on the flood winning.

The great brown surge was on her as she leaped. Her clutching fingers caught the ledge, and she had the toe of one of her stoutly-nailed brogues in a crevice beneath as the flood reached her. She clung with the strength of despair, but the rushing water lapped her to the waist and wrenched at her with a savage fury. The spray lashed her face, she was blinded by it, and deafened by the roar.

She felt her strength going, her very muscles were cracking with the fearful strain. Another moment, and she must have let go and been swept away, when high above the deep-toned thunder of the flood rang a man's voice.

"Hold on! Hold on! I'm coming!"

Swinging like a monkey from a tree branch high above, the owner of the voice dropped to a ledge a dozen feet above the one to which Hilda still clung. In all the space beneath there seemed no hand or foothold.

She saw him glance down, as though measuring the distance with his eye. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he let his body slide over the ledge, and clutching the rim with crooked fingers, swung, suspended in mid-air.

He let go and dropped again. His body shot through the air, and for a dreadful instant Hilda fancied he would plunge straight into the boiling caldron beneath. But his judgment was true, and he came down exactly on the centre of the lower ledge.

Next instant Hilda felt his fingers grasp her arms.

"Let go!" he said. "I have you."

It required no mean effort of strength to drag her up, but the stranger accomplished it with apparent ease. To Hilda the relief of being in safety was so great that for the moment she completely collapsed, and lay in a heap on the flat surface of the ledge. The man offered no remark, but merely stood by, and Hilda, faint and exhausted as she was appreciated his silence.

She was in perfect health and not given to hysteria in any form, and within a very few moments recovered sufficiently to sit up. She looked up at her rescuer.

"I need hardly say I am grateful," she remarked with a smile that hid her deeper feelings.

"I, too, am grateful that I was on the spot," he answered quietly.

Hilda looked at him. She saw a man of perhaps thirty or less. He was of middle height, very broad-shouldered, and had a square, sensible face, redeemed from plainness by a pair of clear, steady grey eyes. They were wonderful eyes, and Hilda felt their charm at once. She felt that the owner of such eyes was a person to be implicitly trusted—that he could never be anything but perfectly straight and honest. For the rest, he was dressed in a suit of rough and well-worn tweeds of a quiet pattern. Hilda, who had an eye for such things, noticed that his tie was of plain navy blue silk, while his boots, though heavy and well nailed, had evidently cost money.

"And how, may I ask, did you chance to be in such an extraordinary spot?" she asked.

"It was not altogether chance," he confessed with a slight smile, "I, like you, was fishing, and I saw you go up the Cleave. In order not to interfere with your sport, I walked up the hill on to the moor so as to start well above you. I saw the storm break far up on the high moor, and realising that you might be in danger, turned back at once."

"It seems that I have even more to thank you for than I thought at first," replied Hilda, as she rose to her feet and began squeezing the water out of her soaking skirt. "But why did you not come through the Cleave?"

"Because it would have taken longer, and I know how quickly a flood can rush down from the moor."

"Then you evidently know the country?" questioned Hilda.

"I ought to, Miss Forrester," he answered, smiling again. "And might I say that you ought to know me?"

Hilda looked at him again and shook her head.

"I'm sorry, but I don't. Why do you say I ought to know you?"

"Because I am a tenant of yours, or rather the son of a tenant."

"A tenant of mine!" Hilda looked really puzzled. "I am afraid it is very stupid of me, but I am as far from recognising you as ever. You must tell me who you are."

"I am Tom Carew. My mother rents Grendon Farm."

Hilda started slightly. For the life of her she could not help it. This well-bred, quietly dressed man, with his pleasant voice and excellent manners, the son of old Mrs. Carew of Grendon. It seemed impossible.

Carew look no notice of her evident surprise. He was looking down at the foam-flecked sweep of yellow water which raged not more than a foot beneath their narrow refuge.

"It's not rising," he said. "That's one comfort. But I'm afraid you are wet and cold, Miss Forrester."

"I'm wet, but not particularly cold," said Hilda. "And as I fear it is quite beyond us to climb to that rook from which you dropped, I must just be content to remain here until the flood falls. It won't be very long."

"No, this sort of thing falls almost as quickly as it rises," replied Carew. As he spoke he pulled off his coat.

"Allow me," he said, and without waiting for a reply wrapped it around Hilda.

"It will keep you from catching a chill," he added.

The action was so natural that Hilda could not take offence. Besides, she was very wet, and decidedly cold, and the warmth of the thick Norfolk jacket was very comfortable.

She settled herself against the rock, and looked at him again. "I begin to recognise your face," she said frankly, "but I must have been quite a little girl when you left England."

"You were twelve, Miss Forrester. I left just ten years ago."

"And where have you been all this time? I remember your mother telling me that you had gone East. Was it to India?"

"No. I went to the Straits. Malacca, you know. I have been tin mining out there?"

"Then what brought you home again, if I may ask?"

"The death of my father. My mother is getting too old to carry on alone. I felt that I must come back and manage for her."

"I think she has managed very well," declared Hilda, smiling. "I always say she is one of the most satisfactory of my tenants."

"That is very good hearing," replied Carew with a laugh. "I hope I shall follow her good example. But I fear that some of your people do not deserve the same praise, Miss Forrester."

Hilda stiffened, slightly. For the moment she was almost offended that one of her tenants should speak so. But Carew's expression showed that he, at least, was quite innocent of any intentional offence, and her momentary indignation was gone as quickly as it had come.

"You are right," she answered gravely. "Mariscourt is indeed in a bad way. Sometimes I am driven to wonder how I shall carry on at all."


CHAPTER III. — THE STRANGER.

CAREW'S grey eyes were full of sympathy.

"As bad as that?" he said gravely.

"It's the mine," Hilda answered quickly. "Since we had to close it down times have been very bad. Practically all my people lived by it, you know—the village people, I mean. Now they have nothing to depend upon but the quarries, and only a few of those are working. Norwegian granite is so cheap that our people cannot compete."

Carew nodded thoughtfully. "I heard about the mine. It was the first thing my mother told me when I arrived home. The vein pinched out, I believe?"

"It did. Quite suddenly, too. Truman has done his best to find a fresh one, but so far without any success. And I cannot afford to go on cutting. It is terribly expensive work," she ended with a sigh.

"I know," he said, with quick sympathy. "I have had a little of that myself."

"In Malacca?"

"Yes. I was in a mine there—several as a matter of fact."

"You get richer ore there, do you not?" Hilda asked.

"Yes, as a rule. And more of it. Besides, we do not have to go so deep. All the same it is no easy work, I can assure you. The climate is bad, the insects are worse, and transport is the worst problem of all."

He saw the interest in Hilda's face and went on to talk of his experience in the East. He talked extraordinarily well. Listening to him, Hilda could almost see the steep, forest-clad hills and narrow tracks, deep in red mud, up which the bullock team's strained with their heavy loads. She could picture the breathless nights with the clouds of mosquitoes and moths wheeling around the smoky paraffin lamps, while the tired men ate the suppers which had been cooked by a pig-tailed yellow-skinned Chinaman.

She forgot entirely that this man was the son of her tenant, old Mrs. Carew, of Grendon Farm; she even forgot the fact that she and he were seated alone upon a narrow ledge of rock cut off from the world by the flooded river beneath.

It was he who stopped and pointed to the stream.

"The rocks are showing, Miss Forrester. You will not be a prisoner much longer."

"Indeed," replied Hilda, with a laugh, "you have made me forget the fact that I was a prisoner. I have seldom known time to go more quickly."

"I am glad of that," he said gravely. "I do trust that you won't suffer from your wetting."

"I believe I am nearly dry again," smiled Hilda, and looked at her watch. She started slightly.

"Good gracious, it is nearly seven! My cousin will be terrified. Do you think we might risk it, Mr. Carew?"

"Yes, if we are careful," he said, as he rose to his feet.

He dropped lightly on to the rock below, the very one from which Hilda had made her desperate spring.

"Jump!" he said.

Hilda hesitated. "I am pretty heavy," she objected.

"I can catch you," he told her, and Hilda looked the way in which he said it. There was nothing boastful about his words, merely the certainty of a man conscious of his own strength.

She jumped, and he caught her. She was surprised at the ease with which he did it. Her cheeks were slightly flushed as he set her lightly down on the rook beside him.

"You are very strong, Mr. Carew," she said.

"I ought to be," he answered with a smile. "I have had a hard enough training. You know I began in Wheal Settaford when I was only twelve."

"Give me your hand," he continued quietly, "it's an awkward step to the next rock."

It was and there were many more awkward stops before they reached the lower end of the gorge. And all the way he helped her with a care and judgment which brought them through without any shadow of mishap.

When at last they were on firm ground again he pulled up.

"You will be all right now, Miss Forrester?" he said in his quiet way.

"Yes, thanks to you," Hilda replied with a bright smile.

"Then I will get back to my milking," he said, raising his hat.

Hilda stopped him. "I can't let you go without thanking you, Mr. Carew," she said. "No, don't interrupt me. I know you are going to say it was nothing. Well, my life may not be a particularly valuable one, but such as it is I owe it entirely to you. But for your forethought and promptitude I should be—well—not where I am now. I am very grateful."

She held out her hand. As Carew took it, his sun-browned cheeks flushed.

"Believe me, Miss Forrester, that I am very grateful that I was in time," he said. Then he turned abruptly away and went off with a quick, steady stride.

Hilda glanced after him.

"So that is old John Carew's son?" she said thoughtfully. And thoughtful she remained as she walked quickly home.

The sun was setting behind the western woods as she came up the drive to Mariscourt. Its mellow light fell upon the lichened tiles and twisted chimneys of the fine old house, and well as she knew it Hilda caught her breath at the beauty of it all.

Men often love their homes with a very deep affection. Women, though they take pride in their houses, have not so often the same intense feeling. But with Hilda Forrester her love for Mariscourt was an actual passion, and the feeling that, owing to the collapse of the mine from which she had drawn the major part of her income, she might no longer be able to keep up the old place, was an absolute nightmare. She would have sacrificed anything—herself included—to save it from passing into other hands. She idolised every brick of the place.

As she reached the door Sylvia came running out. Her small face was white and drawn.

"Oh, my dear—my dear!" she cried and flung herself into her cousin's arms.

"Don't worry, child," said Hilda gently. "I am quite safe."

"That awful flood! f thought you would be drowned," sobbed Sylvia.

Hilda drew her into the drawing-room and comforted her, and told her of her escape, and Sylvia gradually recovered her equanimity.

"And now we must go and dress, dear," said Hilda, with a glance at the clock.

"Oh, but I forgot!" exclaimed Sylvia. "I had something to tell you, only I was so excited that I forgot all about it. A visitor came just after I got home. It was your cousin from America."

"My cousin from America!" repeated Hilda, startled.

"Yes—Calvin Lee. He is the son of your mother's brother, Humphrey Lee."

"Uncle Humphrey's son—but what an extraordinary thing! I did not even know he had a son. He went to the States more than thirty years ago, and we have never heard of him since. What is the son like?"

"A great, big, handsome man, with a hooked nose and eyes like a hawk," said Sylvia. "He is staying at the Woolpack in Mariscombe, and he is coming up to see you to-morrow.

"And, Hilda," she added confidently. "I believe he is awfully rich."


CHAPTER IV. — CALVIN COMES TO DINNER.

"MR. LEE, miss."

Hilda rose as the maid ushered the visitor into the drawing-room at Mariscourt.

"Sylvia was just right," was her unspoken thought as Calvin Lee came in. He was very big, he was decidedly handsome in a florid fashion, and his great hooked nose and rather prominent eyes gave him a distinctly hawk-like, appearance.

"Real kind of you to invite me, Cousin Hilda," he said as he came forward and took Hilda's hand. His own was so large that it quite swallowed Hilda's, but she noticed instinctively that it was well shaped and well kept. His voice, too, though unmistakably American, was that of an educated man.

"How do you do, Mr. Lee?—or perhaps I should say Cousin Calvin," she replied with a smile. "But you know, I can hardly count you as a cousin yet, seeing that it was only yesterday that I first became aware of your existence."

"I guess you'll find I'm a cousin, all right," he answered, his big, bold eyes taking in her slim beauty with evident appreciation. "That is, if Humphrey Lee was your uncle, which I have no reason to doubt."

"Indeed, so. He was my uncle, my mother's half brother. But he was years older that she, and he went to America long before she was even married.

"Sit down, Cousin Calvin," she continued. "There are still a few minutes before dinner is announced, and I am most anxious to hear all about you, and how you came to find me in this remote corner of Devonshire."

"That was real easy," he answered. "I always knew my dad came from the old country, though he didn't talk a deal about it. When the old man went out last fall he left me all he had, and as he was pretty well fixed I reckoned to take a vacation from business and come across and see the old folks. It wasn't till I got over this side I found they were all gone, and that you were the only one left."

Hilda's face saddened.

"Yes, I am the only one left," she said with a sigh. "My mother died when I was quite tiny; my father only two years ago."

"And you run this big property all alone?" questioned Lee with an interested air.

"Oh, my father trained me well," said Hilda.

"Besides, a place like Mariscombe almost runs itself."

"My! Then it must be different from over our side. You mean to say you don't have an agent to collect the rents and all that sort of clerking work?"

"Oh, I have Steve," replied Hilda with a smile. "Steve Truman, my steward and bailiff. He and his father before him have done all that kind of thing for half a century past. Steve is like his name, the truest friend imaginable, and an excellent servant."

"I'm right glad to hear it's not all on your shoulders, anyway," said Lee. "But you've got a tin mine, haven't you? Does Truman manage that for you, too?"

"The mine is closed," said Hilda, with shake of her head. "The vein has pinched out, and I have at last decided to close down altogether. I can't afford to throw good money after bad in making fresh cuts."

"Too bad! Too bad!" Lee said gravely. "I reckon that means a bad loss for you."

"It does indeed. But it is not so much on my own account that I am troubled. It is my people I think of. Most of them, you see, were employed in the mine, and even if it did not pay much, it gave them a livelihood."

"You ought to turn it into a company," began Lee. But at that moment the door opened and Sylvia, looking extremely pretty in a pale blue dinner dress, appeared. As Lee rose to greet her, the maid followed into the room to announce dinner.

Alone, the two girls dined as a rule very simply, but to-night, in honor of her new-found cousin, Hilda had got out some of the old family plate, and the table looked very well, with its tall silver candelabra, and a mass of summer flowers banked in the centre.

"It's a real pleasure to sit in a room like this," said Lee, glancing as he spoke at the family portraits in their dim gilt frames, which hung on every side.

Hilda liked his appreciation and said so, and the dinner, which was well cooked and capably served, ran a pleasant course.

Lee ate well and evidently enjoyed same old claret which Hilda's father had laid down years before. He was full of questions and it was not until the meal was over that Hilda realized that he had told her next to nothing about himself.

They went back to the drawing-room, and Silvia sang to them. Then Hilda got out a big photograph album and laid it on a small table before Lee.

"Now," she said, "I will introduce you to some of your relatives. Who do you think this is?"

"I reckon that's your father, Cousin Hilda. He's mighty like you."

"Yes, that is my father, and here is my mother. And here"—turning the page—"do you recognise this photograph?"

He looked hard at it for a few moments.

"It's my old dad or his double," he declared at last.

"It is," said Hilda with a smile, "but taken nearly forty years ago. Have you any later pictures of him?"

"Just one, Cousin Hilda. I'll bring it around next time I come. But the old man wasn't any great shakes on pictures. Always said he hadn't the time to fool with the camera chaps."

"I take it, then, that he was in business?"

"He was that. Up to his eyes all his life, so long as I knew him."

"Perhaps that is why he never wrote," said Hilda.

"I reckon that must have been it. When a man gets into business in America he hasn't much time for anything else."

"What was his business?"

"Real estate. Buying and selling town lots mostly."

"And I suppose that kind of thing pays well?"

"Judging by the size of his wad I reckon it did," Lee answered with his deep laugh.

"His 'wad'?" questioned Hilda.

"Bank roll," explained Lee. "You've got to excuse me, Cousin Hilda, if I talk American. You see, this is my first trip across the Pond."

Then he began to question her again. His curiosity seemed insatiable, and Hilda was kept busy answering him until the clock struck eleven; then, apologising for keeping her up so late, he rose to go.

"And what do you think of him?" asked Hilda of Sylvia as the two, after seeing him off, went slowly upstairs together.

"He's so dreadfully big," said Sylvia.

Hilda laughed.

"He is big, and is almost too well dressed, and he is the most inquisitive person I ever met. And—"

She paused uncertainly.

"Do you like him, Hilda?" asked Sylvia directly.

"That's just what I have been asking myself, Sylvia. To tell you the truth. I don't know. I haven't made up my mind yet."

"Well, he likes you," retorted Sylvia, and with a laughing good night, went off to her own room.


CHAPTER V. — UNDER THE MOON.

TOM CAREW had milked his mother's two cows; he had fed the pigs; he had bedded dawn the old horse, which had pulled the market cart to Taviton every Friday for many years past. He had eaten the plain but excellent supper which their one little maid had prepared, under the eyes of Mrs. Carew herself. Now, his day being at last at an end, he sat out in the moonlight on the stone wall by the spring, listening to the tinkle of the running water and smoking an ancient and battered briar.

There was a slight frown on his pleasant, brown face. Clearly, he was thinking deeply, and he sat so still that a rabbit coming out of its burrow began nibbling the short turf within a few yards of him, quite unafraid.

"Poor dear, no wonder she is worried!" ran Carew's unspoken thoughts. "It's a bad job the mine closing down like that. Upon my word, I don't know how she will carry on, for the farms are let cheap, and I don't suppose the old man left her much in the way of hard cash."

All of a sudden he straightened himself and the rabbit fled precipitately to ground. He knocked the ashes out of his pipe and stood up.

"I'll go and have a look at it," he declared. "It may not be so bad as she thinks. After all I ought to know a bit more about tin then any of these folk about here. Yes, I'll walk round now and go through it."

He went into the house, changed his coat for an old one, slipped matches and a couple of candles into the pocket; also a small geological hammer. Then he put his head into the sitting-room where Mrs. Carew was nodding over last week's weekly paper.

"Mother," he said, "I'm going for a stroll in the moonlight. Don't wait up. I've got the key."

"I'd have thought you'd used your feet enough already this day, Tom," replied the old lady. "But, there! Boys are never satisfied. Well, good night to 'ee, my dear. You'll be sure to lock the door when you come in."

Tom Carew smiled as he tramped away down the lane leading from the farm. Nothing would ever change his mother. To her he was still a boy instead of a man of over 30, who had seen a good deal of the world. Yet Tom himself would not have had her anything else.

The lane gave on to the high road which lay broad and empty in the strong moonlight, winding like a white riband along the lower edge of the moor. There was not a cloud in the sky, hardly a breath of wind stirred, but the air was fresh and cool, and he took deep breaths as he swung with long, elastic strides down into the valley. The mouth of Wheal Settaford was in the steep side of one of those narrow combes cut deep into the edge of the moor. As he came round the curve of the road leading down into the combe, he caught sight of the enormous pile of grayish dump which disfigured the green hillside, and of the row of mine buildings, now empty and deserted, which lay close to the main adit.

He caught sight of something else—a tall figure coming up along the cross road which led from the village. "Now, who the deuce is that?" he muttered.

Apparently, the other saw him, too, for he paused an instant, then quickened his pace, and the two met at the juncture of the roads, near the bottom of the combe.

"Evening," said the stranger.

"Good evening," replied Carew pleasantly. And to himself he added "It's the American." Strangers were so rare at Mariscombe that even up at Grendon they had had the news of Calvin Lee's arrival.

"Your name Truman?" asked Lee.

"No, I'm Carew. Were you looking for Truman? He lives in the village, but he's probably in bed by this time."

"Guess I won't trouble him," replied the other with a short laugh. "You live around here?"

"I do. I am a tenant of Miss Forrester."

"Is that so? Then I reckon you know the district real well?"

"Fairly," allowed Carew with a smile.

"You worked in that tin mine?" was Lee's next question.

"I have worked there," answered Carew.

"Too bad, its closing down like this!"

"It is a blow to the neighborhood."

"I guess that's the mouth of it up there in the hill rise?" questioned Lee.

"That's it," said Carew.

"You busy?" asked Lee.

"No. I am just out for a stroll this beautiful night," Carew answered. He had no idea of confiding the real object of his walk to this stranger.

"Say, I wish you'd show me the road up to it."

"I can do that," said Carew, and, leading the way to a gate, opened it and started up the cart track towards the mine.

All the way, Lee kept asking questions which Carew answered discreetly. Like Hilda, he thought he had never met such an inquisitive person. Unconsciously, Lee exhibited a good deal of knowledge of tin mining, but Carew was not surprised. He had met plenty of Americans in Malacca, and knew their sponge-like facility for mopping up all sorts of miscellaneous knowledge, They climbed the steep slope, only to find the main adit barred by a heavy gate of timber.

"Truman has put that up," said Carew. "Evidently he doesn't want anyone prowling about in the galleries."

"Who'll want to prowl in a place like that?" demanded Lee sharply.

"I'm sure I don't know," smiled Carew. "But if they did they'd probably break their necks, and then Miss Forrester might have to pay damages."

"Oh, that's the way of it? Well, I guess when I go through it I'll get someone to guide me," said Lee. "Anyways, I'm mighty obliged to you for showing me the way up here."

As he spoke he slipped his hand in his pocket, took out half a crown, and offered it to Carew.

Carew's first natural impure was to punch him in the eve—and hard.

But he restrained it. He realised that Lee took him for an ordinary farm-hand. Indeed, his clothes were rough enough to justify the mistake.

"Thanks," he said drily. "You needn't trouble."

Lee looked at him in some surprise.

"Guess you needn't get your shirt out! It's perfectly good money."

"I've no doubt of it, but I don't need pay for showing a stranger his way."

"Good night!" he added curtly, and turning away, went off across the hillside, taking a short cut towards Grendon.

He reached a coppice on the far side of the hill and pulled up under the dark shadow of the trees. He was still feeling upset and annoyed at Lee's offer of money—unreasonably, so he told himself, for, after all, the American had taken him at his own valuation. He had told the man that he was a tenant and that he had worked in the mine. Lee was a stranger and knew no better.

He turned and looked back. To his surprise Lee was still near the mouth of the mine. He was moving slowly across the face of the hill, first up and then down.

"Now, what the deuce is he after?" said Carew to himself, and sitting down on a log, waited.

Lee continued to zigzag across the hill face. Sometimes he stopped and rolled aside a boulder. It was plain that he was after something and gradually Carew's suspicions crystalised.

"Gad, I've got it!" he exclaimed and suddenly. "The fellow is looking for another adit. He wants to get into the mine."

The longer he watched the more certain Carew became that he was right. He stayed there nearly an hour before Lee gave up his fruitless attempt and turned back towards the road.

As Tom Career followed his example and walked homewards his mind was busy with what he had seen and even after he had gone to bed he lay awake, wandering what the big American could possibly have been after.


CHAPTER VI. — THE OTHER ENTRANCE.

ALL next day, as he went about his work on the farm, Carew found himself thinking about the incident of the previous night. Somehow he did not like this American stranger who had suddenly descended upon the lonely village, and who, as everyone now knew, was recognised by its mistress as her cousin.

These curious likings and dislikings at first sight are beyond all accounting, but no one can deny that they are facts to be reckoned with. In Carew's case it is possible that there might have been a touch of jealousy to increase his feeling against Calvin Lee. Be that as it may, he could not hide from himself that he had taken a strong aversion to the American.

Nine o'clock that night found him again in the coppice on the slope opposite Wheal Settaford. He had a suspicion, almost a hope, that Calvin Lee would be there again. But an hour passed and there was no sign of him.

"He's not coming to-night, anyhow," said Carew to himself. "I'm wasting my time."

He got up, started to go home, then changed his mind, and walked back in the direction of the mine.

"I wonder if there is another way in," he said to himself. "There used to be old adit round the bend of the hill. Anyway, I'll have a look."

The other approach to the workings which he remembered using as a boy was nearly half a mile from the main entrance and in a deep fold in the hillside. When he reached the spot he found it covered with a thick growth of brambles and nettles.

He stood, looking at the miniature jungle and the moss-grown dump beneath it.

"Humph! Must have been closed years ago," he muttered. "I wonder if it's any use trying to get in?"

The tangle did not look inviting, and he was gazing at it doubtfully when he caught a sound of voices in the distance. He listened an instant.

"Gad, it's the American!" he said, and instantly dived into the thickest of the thorns and hid himself.

"So the beggar's on the job, after all!" he chuckled. "But who in the name of sense has he got with him?"

The night was intensely still. But for the faint tinkle of the Settaford brook among its boulders far below, and the occasional plaintive cry of a curlew from somewhere far up on the moor, there was nothing to break the silence. So quiet was it that Lee and his companion were still a couple of hundred yards away when Carew began to catch the sound of their footfalls among the stones which strewed the hillside.

He longed to look out, but did not dare. The brambles, though thick, were low and he was most anxious not to be seen.

The steps came nearer. Carew's heart began to beat a little faster than usual for it was clear that Lee and the other man were coming straight towards the old adit.

They were not a dozen steps from his hiding place when they pulled up.

"This the place you told me of? Darned if I can see any way in." It was Lee's voice and his tone was distinctly doubtful.

"Aye, this be the place," came the answer in a queer, harsh, drawing tone. "This be the place, sure enough, and yew don't need to worry, maister. I rackon old adit be open enough for even a big man like yew to squeeze himself through."

"Laban Crowle," whispered Carew. "That's Laban's voice or I'm a Dutchman. Now what is the Yankee doing with that drunken old blackguard in tow?"

Carew might well be surprised. In every country village, and particularly in a mining village, you will always find a man of Laban Crowle's type. He is the sort who generally has a little more brains than his companions but is lacking in balance. He does one of two things. Either emigrates, or if he stays at home turns poacher and drunkard, and sinks until he becomes the black sheep of the community, pointed out as an awful example to the youth of the place.

Laban was now about sixty, under-sized, lean, and shifty, yet in spite of his years and his love of strong drink, still tough and wiry, and—as Carew well knew—an uncommonly clever tin worker, and one who knew the whole mine like the palm of his hand.

The vague suspicions which Carew had entertained of Calvin Lee now flared into certainty. Lee meant to explore Wheal Settaford on the quiet. He could have done it openly, if he had wished, for he had only to ask Hilda and she would have had the main adit opened for him. But no, for some reason of his own he wished to do it secretly.

What was this reason? Carew instantly made up his mind to discover it.

Lee was speaking again.

"Well, I'll take your word for it, Crowle. You go right ahead and lead the way. I guess your skin's tougher than mine."

"Yew ain't afraid of a few brambles, be 'ee, maister?" answered Laban, with a touch of sarcasm. "There's worse than brambles inside there, I can tell 'ee that for sure."

"Don't gas. Go ahead," growled Lee.

Old Crowle slipped into the thicket. He went through it like a snake. Lee followed, his big bulk crashing through the brambles.

"Here be the hole," said Crowle. "Yew mind your head now, maister."

Lee did not bend low enough. Carew grinned as he heard a bump and a muffled imprecation.

"I told 'ee to mind out," chuckled old Crowle. "Now yew follow me mighty close or it's more'n your head yew'll be breaking."

There was the sound of a match being scratched and a faint light showed through the thick stems. Next, he heard steps slopping through the slime and water at the bottom of the passage. The footfalls died slowly away and all was quiet again.

Carew rose quickly and pushing his way through the brambles to the mouth of the adit peered into the low-browed tunnel. Far up it he caught a faint spark of light. It was Laban's candle. But even as he watched the glow was gone. Laban had turned a corner.

He hesitated. No one knew better than he the difficulty and danger of trying to follow them. You can shadow a man in the open country, in a street, on a railway, even—if you are careful enough—on an open country road.

But not in a mine. Your light gives you away.

Yet Carew did not hesitate long. Whatever this queer business was he meant to get to the bottom of it. He took a candle from his pocket, lit it, and bending double squeezed into the narrow opening.


CHAPTER VII. — A PERILOUS PASSAGE.

ONCE inside Carew found himself able to stand upright, and, holding his candle high, he stopped a moment to take stock of his surroundings.

They were not pleasant. The floor of the tunnel was several inches deep in muddy slime through which a trickle of water, the drainage from within, made its way. Walls and roof were of reddish clay, mixed with loose stones. The roof was still held in position by the original timbering, but this, in course of years, had rotted until in some places it had fallen completely away, while in others the rough wood was covered with large, pale fungus growths.

Here and there great stones had fallen from the roof and blocked the floor of the tunnel. To Carew's trained eye some of these falls were uncomfortably recent and it was with some dismay that he remembered that he had only a cap on his head, instead of the helmet-like, bowler-shaped hat which the miner always wears in order to protect his skull.

The heavy air had a piercing chill, and Carew found himself shivering at the sudden change from the warm summer night outside.

But there was no time to waste. Taking a long breath and mentally bracing himself for the tough and dangerous job before him, Carew went straight on up the passage. At every step his feet squelched in the sticky mud which shone iridescent with metallic stain, in the light of his candle.

There was no difficulty about finding his way. The two pairs of footsteps were plain before him, the short yet broad, nailed boots of Laban Crowle, and the longer prints of the American's better-made footwear.

He followed them for a couple of hundred feet up the slope, until he came near the left-hand turn which they had taken. Here he put down his candle and went forward without it. He was not taking any chances of being caught napping.

But there was no light visible around the turn, and picking up the candle again he plodded onward, still following the tracks. This gallery was in even worse condition than the first. The timbering, clearly, had not been touched for years, and the roof was in a perilous condition. Twice he came across great falls which blocked the passage from one side to the other, and which he had to crawl over with the greatest care. He chuckled grimly as he thought of the difficulty Calvin Lee must had found in dragging his bulky form across them.

And all the time as he moved cautiously onward, he was wondering what the big American was after. It must be some valuable prize to have induced him to take such risks as he was undoubtedly taking. He could only surmise that the fellow must be after the lost lode.

Yet, if this were the case, how could he possibly have got on the track of it? Had he any inside knowledge, and, if so, where had he got it?

True, some of the Mariscombe miners had from time to time emigrated to the States, but he could not recall any who could have had the necessary knowledge of metallurgy to make even a guess at the location of the lode. Why, Steve Truman himself, had been absolutely stumped! And, surely, Steven knew more of tin mining than anyone else in the place, let alone of Wheal Settaford itself.

It was all a puzzle, and he could see no light at all, yet the only result was to make him the more determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. No tricks should be played on Hilda Forrester if he could prevent it.

He kept plodding patiently along on the tracks which lay so plainly in the mud. From the direction of these tracks it was clear that Crowle and Lee were heading for the newer and more recently used workings.

Carew was thankful for this. He knew only too well the risk he was taking. At any moment the rotten roof might cave in and either bury him or cut him off from behind.

He came to a third fall. It was larger than any he had seen yet. The passage was choked almost to the top. Careful as he was in climbing over it, he dislodged a stone which just missed his head as it fell.

It was shortly after he had cleared this that he caught a faint gleam of light in the distance. Quickly blowing out his candle he slipped into a little blind side passage and waited.

"You reckon this derned old ladder is going to hold me?"

It was Lee's voice and from its tone Lee himself was not feeling happy.

"Yew come up a bit keerful, maister, and I reckon her'll hold," answered Crowle. He and Lee were a long way off, but the tunnel brought the sounds to Carew's ears like a telephone. Lee seemed to make up his mind. There was a slow, scuffling sound rather like that of a bear climbing a pole.

"So they're going to the upper gallery," said Carew to himself, and as soon as their light had vanished he struck a fresh match and pushed on. Up above, as he knew, the floor was rock. It would not be so easy to follow their tracks.

It was fairly good going, for a wonder, and in two or three minutes he found himself at the end of the gallery. Overhead was a shaft cut in the solid rock, up which ran a rough ladder such as are still used in old-fashioned mines. It had been built originally of good stout stuff, but that must have been a generation ago, and the wood had rotted so that great pieces had flaked away, while large bunches of mould and fungus had sprouted from the uprights.

Carew looked at it very doubtfully. He would hardly have believed it fit to bear a man's weight, yet there was no doubt but that Crowle and Lee had climbed it. What they had done surely he could do, for Lee was certainly a heavier man than he. He determined to go up.

But here another difficulty cropped up. He wanted both hands to climb and yet had to carry his candle. If he had been wearing a miner's hat he could have fixed the candle in the brim of it. But he had only a cap, and it was impossible to fasten the candle into that.

There was nothing for it but to blow out the candle and climb in the dark, and though such a risk would have daunted most men he resolved to take it. He therefore extinguished the candle and slipped it into his pocket.

As it happened, this precaution in all probability was the means of saving his life.


CHAPTER VIII. — A CLOSE CALL.

He had climbed perhaps ten rungs and was feeling his way at every step, and moving with the very greatest care, when he found that a rung was missing.

He stopped in order to make sure that the one above was sound, when he heard, or fancied that he heard a slight sound overhead.

Instantly all his senses were alert and he stopped perfectly still, hardly breathing, listening with all his might.

His straining ears caught it again. It was but the merest rustle, but it was enough. In an instant he was certain that either Lee or Crowle, probably both, had caught on to the fact that they were being followed. They had blown out their light and were waiting for him at the top of the winze.

The thought that he had been within an ace of walking straight into their clutches sent a cold shiver down his spine. Crowle, certainly, and Lee, probably, would have as little compunction about scuppering him as a terrier would in killing a rat.

He strained his eyes upwards, but could catch no gleam of light. The blackness was impenetrable. There is no darkness in the upper world which can compare with that in the depths of a mine. Then he set himself to climb down again even more cautiously than he had ascended.

He knew that, humanly speaking, his life depended upon his reaching the gallery floor again without being heard by the pair above. Lee, he took it, was almost certainly armed, and even if he were not, there were plenty of rocks handy. No hungry panther prowling on its prey ever took greater precaution to avoid making a sound than Tom Carew did as he footed it backwards down that clumsy, half-rotten ladder.

Five—six—seven—he counted the rungs as he passed them. He reckoned there were only two more, and when he had passed the ninth, put his left foot down quickly to reach the ground.

He had made a mistake. There was still another rung, and although he found this out before he let go, yet he realised that he had made a slight scraping sound, as he recovered his balance.

The instant this dawned on him he made a quick leap away from the ladder and landed safely on the firm rock of the floor.

His feet had hardly touched the ground before, from above, something came whistling down. It struck the floor with a crash, and sparks flew. Carew felt a violent blow upon his right leg, and down he went sprawling on the rough, wet rock.

"Got 'un, maister, whoever her be!"

It was Crowle's voice, and at the same instant a light shone from above. But the height was so great and the candle flame so feeble that it failed to illuminate the bottom of the winze.

And Carew, fright proving stronger than pain, was up again in a moment, and with hands outstretched before him, scuttering away down the gallery along which he had come.

Would they chase him? He could not tell, but he thought it was hardly likely. In any case, they would waste a deal of the time getting down the ladder. There was another point to his favor. He knew these old workings almost as well as Crowle himself. He ought to be able to dodge them.

His leg was hurting abominably. So far as he could tell the rock which Crowle had flung down had burst to pieces, and a splinter of it had hit him. But he did not dare to stop and light his candle and see what the damage was. He must first get into some position of safety.

There are few things more dangerous than moving about in a mine without a light. At any moment your foot may sink into a hole in the floor, or your head strike against a knob of rock projecting from the wall or roof of the gallery. Besides, there are all sorts of crosscuts in old workings. Wander into one of these and you may either get lost or topple down a shaft or winze, and be smashed to atoms in the depths below.

Carew had to trust entirely to his sense of touch, but his outstretched hands failed him, and all of a sudden his feet caught on loose stones, he stumbled forward and pitched into a pile of broken rock and cold, wet clay.

He picked himself up, gasping with the pain of his injured leg. Yet in a way he was relieved, for he knew that it must be the big fall into which he had plunged.

He waited a moment, listening with all his ears. There was no sound of pursuit, and he set himself, still in the dark, to clamber across the fall. The space between the top of it and the roof was but about eighteen inches wide, and he held his breath as he squeezed through.

He sighed with relief as he found himself at last safe on the far side and here he stopped and relighted his candle.

A glance at his leg showed that his stocking was soaked with blood, but before he attended to his injury he had something even more urgent to do. Fixing his candle on a rock at a safe distance, he climbed back to the fall, and stopped the gap roughly with a few big stones.

He regretted deeply that he had not brought a stick of dynamite with him. With this he might have brought down the whole roof, and so made prisoners of Lee and Crowle. As it was he could not prevent them getting out again; he could only hang them up for half an hour or so. Still even that might give him time to find and fetch Truman, and confront the trespassers as they emerged from the old adit.

Now that he was safe for the moment he gave himself time to attend to his leg. He found that a sharp-edged fragment of stone had struck the calf, making an ugly cut. It had bled so badly that his boot was half full of blood.

All the same, he was relieved to see that it was only a flesh wound. It would have been much worse if the shin bone had been bruised. He tied it up tightly with his handkerchief and made his way as quickly as possible out of the mine.

Coming out of the chill gloom of the galleries the warmth and freshness of the open air were delicious, and Carew thought that he had never before properly appreciated the beauty of the moonlight which flooded combe and tor, and shone silver on the line of sea to the southwest.

But there was no time to spare for such beauties. He had to find Truman with as little delay as possible, and he hurried on down hill in the direction of the village. He had not gone far before he began to feel unpleasantly dizzy and faint. Black specks danced before his eyes. He stopped, sat down on the turf, and pulling down his stocking found that his rough bandage had slipped, and that the wound was bleeding again badly.

He tied it up once more as tightly as possible, and started away again.

But he found it quite impossible to move as fast as before. In fact, his pace became a crawl, and it took him the best part of an hour to cover the short distance between the mine and the village.

Steve Truman had been in bed for more than an hour and was sound asleep when Tom Carew's pounding at his door aroused him. He tumbled out, hurried down, and got an ugly shock when he found Carew bundled up in a heap in the porch, almost insensible, and white as Truman's own night shirt. Being a man with a head on his shoulders, be did not get flustered, but picking up Carew bodily, laid him on the horsehair sofa in the sitting-room, got out a bottle of whisky, and gave his visitor a good stiff drink.

This pulled Carew together wonderfully. A little color came to his cheeks and a little light into his eyes.

"Had a tumble, Tom?" Truman asked quietly.

"Not quite that. Something tumbled on top of me," Carew answered, looking up into the other's face. The solid, sensible, kindly look of Truman gave him a curious sort of comfort. The two were great friends. Though Truman was considerably the older of the two, they had been together a good deal before Carew went out to the Malay, and during all the years of his absence Steven had never forgotten to write to him.

"See here Steve," said Carew quickly. "It's a long story, and I haven't time to tell it all now. The long and the short of it is that Laban Crowle and that big American are in Wheal Settaford, or were an hour ago. What they're after I don't know, and I got this damage trying to find out. I want you to get along there to the old adit in the dip as quick as ever you can and see if you can spot them. I'll stay here and wait for you."

"Do you mean Miss Hilda's cousin is in the mine?" exclaimed Truman with a degree of excitement, which he very rarely displayed.

"That's it, Steve," Carew answered. "But don't waste time—that's a good chap."

"You can lay I won't. But, Tom, what's to do if I meet 'em?"

"Nothing at all. All I want is your evidence to back mine that they really have been in the mine. Catch on?"

Truman nodded. He dived for the cupboard, took out an electric torch, candles, and a miner's hat. He picked up a thick stick and was gone all in a flash.

Carew, through the window, watched his stocky form as he strode down the garden path, and got through the wicket gate on to the road.

"They'll find it a bit difficult to explain away if Steve spots them," he remarked in a satisfied tone.


CHAPTER IX. — CAREW'S CALLER.

"WHAT luck?" asked Carew eagerly as the opening of the door roused him from the light sleep into which he had fallen.

"No luck at all," replied Truman in a disappointed tone. "They had gone before I got there."

"You're sure?"

"Aye, Tom, I'm sure enough. Their tracks coming out were plain for any to see."

"Then you're convinced I wasn't yarning?" said Carew.

"I never thought you were for a minute," replied Truman gravely. "I've known you too long for that, Tom."

"I beg your pardon, Steve. I ought not to have said that I suppose you didn't see anybody?"

"Not a soul. Not likely, either. It's past one in the morning."

"I'm just as glad you didn't," said Carew. "I think we'd better both keep our mouths shut."

"What—keep it from Miss Hilda?" exclaimed Steve plainly startled.

"From her more than anybody. It's this way, Steve, we've got nothing to go on. Suppose we do and tell Miss Forrester. She will get upset, of course, and speak to Lee at once. And what good will that be? You may bet your boots that the fellow will either swear black and blue it's all a lie, and get Crowle to back him. Or else he'll have some plausible excuse at the tip of his tongue. I've been thinking it over while you were gone, and I'm sure the best thing we can do is to keep our tongues still and our eyes open. Sooner or later we'll catch the beggar tripping, and then we'll have the game in our own hands."

Truman still looked doubtful.

"Do you mean we are to let him go prowling in and out of the mine as he pleases?"

"Not much! You and I will go and close up the old adit on the quiet. You can do it alone so far as that's concerned, for a stick of dynamite will bring the whole roof down. Then, if he wants to get inside, he'll have to ask for the key of the gate of the main adit, and that may give us a chance to find out what he is really after."

Truman nodded thoughtfully.

"But what is the man after?" he asked presently.

"That's just what beats me. Can he have come notion where to strike the lode again?"

"I don't see how that is possible," Truman answered. "I've done a deal of cutting lately, and my own belief is that it's pinched out altogether. Anyway, Lee is a stranger to these parts and what can he know that we don't?"

"You don't think that he may have picked up something from White or Hancock, or one of those chaps who went to America?" suggested Carew.

"Not likely. They didn't know anything."

"Then has Crowle put him up to something?"

"That's more probable, for the old blackguard knows more of the mine then most of us. Still it isn't likely, for Crowle could have got a nice little sum from Miss Hilda if he'd keen able to help her about the lode."

"Yes, that's true," allowed Carew, "but it occurred to me that Crowle might possibly be playing Lee for a sucker."

"Pretending he knew something so as to get money out of him, you mean? Yes, that's on the cards, though from what I've seen of Calvin Lee I shouldn't say he was an easy man to humbug."

"Then we come round to it that we don't really know anything of Lee's real object," said Carew, "and therefore our only chance is to wait and see."

"I quite agree with you, Tom, and it's a pity if, between us, we can't manage to get one up on the American. Now strip off that stocking. I'm going to dress that leg of yours properly, give you a bite of food, and bring you a pillow. Then you can sleep where you are for a few hours, and I'll drive you back to Grendon for breakfast."

It was just as well for Tom Carew that his friend was able to drive him home, for he certainly could not have walked. He had to realise that he would not he able to get about for some days.

To his mother he merely explained that he had had a fall, and she at once retorted that it served him right for being so foolish as to "traipse about in the night."

All the same, she tucked him up most carefully on the couch in the sitting-room, and saw to it that he had everything he needed—books, pipe, matches, and tobacco.

Carew, like all active men, hated the idea of being forced to lie up. But he had the sense to know that it was the only thing to do, and that the more completely he rested, the sooner he would be about again. What fretted him most was that he would be unable to watch Lee, but Truman had promised to keep an eye on the man and report progress. Carew settled down with a volume of Fitzgerald, and the resolve to get well as rapidly as possible.

Callers were rare at Grendon. Carew had no idea of seeing anybody, except Truman, during the next few days. So when (about four o'clock that afternoon) there came a tap at the front door, he took it that it was merely the baker or a village child on an errand, and without moving called out. "Come in!"

The door opened, and Hilda Forrester, looking entirety delightful in a light summery frock, lowered her parasol and entered the room.


CHAPTER X. — TEA AT GRENDON.

FOR once Carew forget his manners. He lay quite still and stared.

Hilda smiled. Even if she had lived in a country village all her life, she realised perfectly that Carew's immobility was a tribute to her own appearance. And she was quite conscious that her frock suited her, and that she was looking uncommonly well.

She took a step forward.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Carew," she said demurely.

Carew shot up off his sofa. He forgot his leg, but the twinge of pain which twisted his face was not lost on Hilda.

"Don't move," she exclaimed. "How foolish of you! You will make me sorry that I came."

"I would do anything rather than that, Miss Forrester," Carew answered with an earnestness of which he was hardly conscious. "Please sit down. My mother is in the house somewhere."

"Then you must lie down, first," insisted Hilda. "What do you think Mrs. Carew will say if she finds you on your feet? She will be turning me out of the house, I expect."

Carew laughed, but obeyed, and Hilda took a chair close by. Her eyes had already taken in her surroundings, and she was secretly surprised at what she saw. Carew, since his return, had largely refurnished the sitting-room, and everything was in excellent taste. She noted with surprise the quantity of books, and it did not escape her that Carew himself had been reading Fitzgerald when she came in.

Although she had already come to the conclusion that Tom Carew was a very different man from the farm boy of twelve years earlier, yet she had to see him among these surroundings to realise that his tastes were at least equal to those of the men she was accustomed to meet in the county society in which she moved.

Woman-like, she gave no outward indication of her surprise. She began to talk at once.

"It was Truman who told me that you had hurt yourself," she said. "I was so sorry. How did it happen?"

"A moonlight tramp, and a stupid tumble, Miss Forrester," Carew answered, with a shrug of his shoulders. He did not like deceiving her, but knew that it was necessary.

"Will it lay you up for long?"

"I hope not. It is merely a flesh wound, so I ought to be about again in a few days."

"Indeed, I trust you will. From a selfish point of view. I am anxious that you should get well soon."

Carew's face showed his interest. Hilda hesitated a moment, then went on.

"It is about the mine," Mr. Carew. You told me that you had had a good deal of experience of tin mining in the Malay States. I was wondering if I might ask you to go through Wheal Settaford. Truman, I know, would be glad to have the benefit of your advice.

"Nothing would please me more," said Carew quickly. "I am absolutely at your service. Only don't, please, build on any knowledge that I may have. If Truman has failed to find the lost lode it is highly unlikely that I shall succeed. Still, I will do anything that I can."

"You cannot say more," replied Hilda, with a smile. "I wonder, then, what day you will be able to come. I suppose it will be at least a week before you will be fit to walk again."

"Not a bit of it. Four days at the outside. What do you say to next Monday?"

"I am sure that will be too soon for you to undertake such as heavy piece of work," declared Hilda. "And in any case, I am engaged on Monday. Miss Holt and I and my cousin, Mr. Lee, are going down to Hidden Bay for a picnic. He is anxious to see that part of the coast."

"And a deal more anxious to see its owner," was Carew's unspoken thought, of this unknown American cousin enjoying as much as he pleased of Hilda's society, while he himself was barred by the conventions from so much as paying an afternoon call on the Mistress of the Manor.

"Will Wednesday suit you, Mr. Carew?" continued Hilda.

"Perfectly, Miss Forrester."

"Very well. Then I will tell Truman to have the adit opened, and I will be down myself about 11 o'clock."

So she was coming herself! Carew's heart leaped. Then before he could speak again the door opened, and his mother entered the room.

The old lady was in her ordinary black dress, but neat, tidy, and self-possessed as ever. She greeted Hilda quietly, but with evident pleasure, and at once begged that she would stop to tea.

Carew was desperately afraid she might refuse, but not a bit of it. She accepted at once.

"There is no one who ever gives me such teas as you do, Mrs. Carew," Hilda declared with a smile.

"Then I will leave my son to entertain you, miss, while I see to the scones," said Mrs. Carew, and departed kitchenwards.

"I hope I am equal to the task, Miss Forrester," Carew said, with a twinkle in his grey eyes.

"You managed it very well the other day in the Cleave," Hilda answered demurely. "If you will tell me some more of your experiences abroad, I shall not be dull, I assure you."

Carew, nothing loath, began to talk, and so vividly that it hardly seemed five minutes before the little maid and Mrs. Carew between them brought in the tea.

Many counties boast of their teas, but if it were for her cream alone, Devon must hold first place. And Mrs. Carew's tea included also delicious tuff cakes, home-made strawberry jam, rock cakes, and fresh bread from her own oven, and the finest and richest butter in the world.

"Even my Jerseys don't give butter like this," sighed Hilda.

"Ah, it's the way my boy feeds the cows," said Mrs. Carew, with a proud glance at her son.

"You surely didn't learn how to feed cows in the Malay, Mr. Carew?" said Hilda.

"I learnt that before I went out," Carew answered with a smile. "And I haven't forgotten it. I always liked the farming best, and it was my dream to get back as soon as I could, and take it up again."

Never, in Carew's varied career, had he spent a happier afternoon. Even when tea was over, Hilda seemed in no hurry to go. She and Carew began to chat about books, and if the talk went over Mrs. Carew's head, she had far too much sense and natural good breeding to interrupt. She simply sat and listened quietly, proud in the very soul of her of this son of hers, who was so well able to hold his own even with the mistress of Mariscourt.

Their talk was interrupted by the arrival of a boy with a note for Miss Forrester. He had been to the Court, he said, and Miss Holt had told him that the mistress was at Grendon.

Hilda asked Mrs. Carew's permission to read the letter, and Carew, watching her, saw, or thought he saw, a slight look of disappointment cross her charming face.

Then she smiled.

"It's nothing of any great importance," she said, "merely a line from my cousin to say that he is called away to town, and will be unable to dine with us to-night, as he had promised."

She rewarded the boy with a sixpence, and presently got up herself and said good-bye.

Mrs. Carew saw her out and came back to her son.

"She's a sweet lady, Tom," she said gravely.

"She is, mother," answered Tom with a quietness which concealed much stronger sentiments.


CHAPTER XI. — CAREW BUYS A CAR.

CAREW'S leg mended rapidly and on Thursday night he announced to his mother that he intended to drive to Taviton Market next morning.

Mrs. Carew thought it her duty to protest, but since she had a slight touch of rheumatism herself, for once in a way she was rather glad to have someone else do the weekly shopping. Besides, there was no doubt about it that Tom was quite well enough to walk with the aid of a stick, and that he was pining for a day in the open, after his confinement to the house.

Unknown to the old lady, Tom Carew had a very special reason for going into the market that day. Some weeks earlier he had ordered a car, a small two-seater, and he had heard that Thursday morning, that it was ready and waiting at Blundell's garage. He was bent on bringing it out as soon as possible, and on giving his mother the surprise of her life.

Even she, though she knew that her son had done well in the East, had not the faintest notion that he was a rich man. It would have positively shocked her to realise that he was far better off than the mistress of Mariscourt herself. Carew knew that the very idea of their owning a car would startle her, so he meant to bring it home after dark, and introduce her to it.

He chuckled softly to himself as he drove the stolid old horse up and down the steep hills of the long winding road to Taviton, and wondered what his mother would say to the shortening of the weekly journey from two hours to a matter of twenty minutes.

Reaching Taviton, he drove straight to the garage, and found the car waiting there, spick and span in her new paint. He sent the horse and trap to the livery stable, from which he had arranged to have it driven home later in the day. Then, with a mechanic from the garage alongside him, he took his new purchase out for a spin.

She went like a dream, and Carew, who had had plenty of experience in the East, soon mastered her controls. Feeling very pleased with himself and the car, he took her back, lunched at the market ordinary, hobbled round the shops, and did a long list of commissions for his mother, then, having finished his business, decided to drive home.

Looking at the new motor clock installed on the dashboard, he saw that it was barely four. Since he did not intend to bring the car home in daylight, he decided to make a round. He remembered that he had some business with old Avery, the landlord of the Plume of Feathers up at Moorlands. There was a cart horse Avery wanted to sell him. He made up his mind to go round there and get some tea, then start home between six and seven.

The road to Moorlands is, as the road book has it, "a series of precipitous hills." It was a real test for any car, but Tom's new possession proved fully equal to the task. Indeed, so long as he gave her a full throttle she seemed to be able to take almost anything on second. Although the total climb was well over a thousand feet, and there was not half a mile of level in the whole eight miles, he was in Moorlands by the half-hour.

The little town lay bleakly on a saddle between two lofty tors, and as Carew cleared the thick fir coppices which lined the road leading in from the west, the first thing he saw was the great convict prison lying on the slope to the left of the road.

It was years since he had last set eyes upon it, but so far as he could see there was little change. The great halls, with their long tiers of small barred windows, still rose gray and grim with the workshops and chapel and other smaller buildings grouped around them. All were built of the same gray granite; all were very neat, very clean, and intensely ugly. Even in the bright sunshine of the fine summer afternoon they had a chill, depressing effect, and it was with a sense of relief that Carew swept past them and down the long, broad village street beyond.

The Plume of Feathers was the oldest inn in the place, and time had mellowed its original ugliness. Leaving his car in an alleyway outside, Carew walked round to the door of the bar. Old Avery he knew, would be busy there.

As is usual on the high, cold, windy moor, the doors were double, the inner being a swing door. As he pushed this open Carew became aware of a loud hum of talk. The place was full of men, chiefly warders.

Several were leaning against the bar and among them was a tall, bulky figure dressed in dark tweeds and wearing a grey felt hat. The square shoulders, the thick neck were vaguely familiar to Carew, and instinctively he paused with the door half open.

"Now, Wilcocks, what's yours? A drop more gin?"

The voice was Calvin Lee's.

Instinctively Carew dropped back, softly closing the door again.

"Now what the mischief is he doing here?" he muttered. Pausing a moment, he stood, frowning thoughtfully. Then he slipped out again quietly, went back to his car, started it up, and drove away to Duke's Arms at the far end of the street.

Here he put up the car, went in, and ordered tea. The Duke's Arms was the smart hotel, the one patronised by the better class of tourists and fishermen. Carew chose a table by the windows of the coffee-room, with a view commanding the street, and as he drank his tea and ate his bread and cream and jam he wondered much what could have brought the American to Moorlands.

From his note to Hilda, Lee had been going to London. Of course there was plenty of time for him to have gone and returned. And for that matter he might have run up to Moorlands simply to have a look at the prison. Many tourists did so.

But if that were the case, what was he doing in a rough little public-house like the Plume, consorting with all these warders, standing them drinks, and generally making friends with them? There might be nothing in it, yet knowing what he did of the man and feeling sure that he was crooked, Carew naturally put the worst construction on his actions.

While he sat there the sun went in and looking up, Carew saw that a veil of thin cloud had covered the sky. But there was no sign of rain, and as he still had plenty of time before him, he did not hurry over his tea.

He had finished and drained the teapot of its last cup, when he saw two men passing up the street. One was Lee, the other a warder. Most warders are ex-Service men, and taking them all round, a very fine body. But there are always black sheep in every flock, and this man's red nose and blotched complexion seemed pretty good evidence that he belonged to the latter category.

He and Lee were deep in conversation, and Carew just felt then that he would have given something considerable to hear what they were talking about. But that was out of the question, and he could only sit where he was.

A little way up the road they separated. Lee turned, and to Carew's dismay walked towards the yard of the Duke's Arms. Probably he had his car there, or a horse.

Carew was most anxious that Lee should not know of his presence in the place. But if Lee happened to notice the little car, and ask to whom it belonged, the cat would at once be out of the bag. He jumped up and hurried to the back door, hoping to get out and warn the ostler before Lee arrived.

He was just too late. As he reached the door Lee came in at the gate, and Carew, thinking discretion the better part of valor, dropped back. There was always the chance that Lee might not notice his car.

He took refuge in the smoking room, lit a pipe, and picked up the local newspaper. He half expected Lee to come into the house for a drink, but he did not do so. There was a longish wait, then at last he heard the purr of an engine, and through the window saw Lee's big American car rolling out of the yard with Lee, alone, at the steering wheel.

As soon as he had gained the street Lee turned southwards and accelerated. The car picked up rapidly, and almost at once was round the corner and out of sight. "May as well go, too, I suppose," said Carew to himself rather ruefully.

As he rose it suddenly came to his mind that he had forgotten his business with Avery, so after paying for his tea he went again to the Plume. Avery, a genial old fellow who had originally been in the metropolitan police, welcomed him cordially, and took him into his little snuggery behind the bar, where he produced some ancient and very special sloe gin.

Then the two began bargaining about the horse, and by the time the matter was settled, Carew was astonished to find how dark it had become.

He got up and looked out.

"Hulloa!" he cried in dismay, "a regular fog! And I've a new car to drive home, Mr. Avery."

"It's only a cloud like, on top of the hill," declared Avery. "It won't be so bad down your way. Stop and have another glass o' the gin."

But Carew refused. He knew what fogs can fall on the High Moor, even in summer, and he had no wish to be benighted in one. He hurried out, and five minutes later was in his car and feeling his way cautiously out of the village.


CHAPTER XII. — ON MERITON HILL.

AS he crept along, blowing his horn every few minutes, it occurred to Carew that he had quite forgotten to ask Avery about Lee. Not that it was likely that the old man could have told him anything, for whatever the real meaning of his visit to Moorlands, Carew was convinced that the American was much too cunning to let it out.

All the same, Carew had a sort of feeling that Lee had not been there purely for pleasure, and he resolved to talk to Truman about it when he got home.

Calvin Lee bulked large in Carew's mind. The man was never long out of his thoughts, and each day hardened his resolve to find out what the big, square-jawed American was really after.

Once well outside the village Carew ventured to put on the pace a little. The road, unfenced and open, ran straight across the moor for a matter of five or six miles, and though there was little traffic upon it, there was always the risk of ponies or sheep running across in front of the car.

So, anxious as he was to be off the moor before dark, he did not dare to travel at anything beyond 15 miles an hour, and the light was failing badly when he came at last to the top of Meriton Hill.

Meriton is the sort of hill that a motor driver sees in bad dreams. It is a mile and a quarter long, and has a total drop of over eight hundred feet. For the first half mile it is straight and open, but then the road narrows between high banks, and begins to curve. It is here that the gradient approaches one in five, while at the bottom is a brook spanned by one of these ancient, picturesque, but horribly narrow and high-arched bridges, which artists admire, but drivers dread.

Carew, however, knew every yard of it, and aware that his car had excellent brakes, felt no misgivings. He slowed down, cut out the engine, and began to descent with perfect confidence.

At first he depended entirely on the foot-brake, then as the slope grew steeper, he pulled the lever of the side-brake back a notch at two.

He noticed that the fog which, at the top, had been blowing across in blinding billows of grey, was thinning decidedly, and was delighted to see it. This meant that, at the bottom of the hill, it would probably be quite clear, and he would be able to put on speed and get home in good time for supper.

But it was still pretty thick, and very confusing, and this was what prevented his noticing that his car was gradually gaining speed.

When he did spot it, he pushed his foot brake down as far as it would go, and took up the side a couple more notches.

Still the little car seemed to be travelling too fast, and he quickly tightened the side-brake to its last notch. Even this did not have the desired effect, and for the first time since he had started he felt a pang of real alarm.

He quickly tried to change gear down to second but it was impossible. She was going too fast, and the mere fact of taking out the clutch made her dart ahead at increased speed.

It was quite plain that the brakes were not holding, and, within another few seconds, that the car was actually running away.

Every moment her speed increased, and with a sinking heart, Carew remembered that all the worst of the hill was still before him. Even if he managed to get round the various bends, there was the bridge at the bottom. He thought of a story he had heard of a big car that broke loose near the bottom of the hill, and hitting the high crown of the bridge, leaped 18 feet clear, landing on her side in the ditch, and breaking her driver's arm and three ribs, beside her own back axle.

And the pass at which the car was going was nothing to that at which he would be travelling long before he got anywhere near the bottom.

He came to the first bend and swung round it a most alarming speed. By the time he reached the next, the car was going at over 30 miles an hour. He rounded it on two wheels, actually grazing the bank as he did so. Now came a straight stretch, but a terribly steep one. The hedges flashed by, the wind whistled in his ears. As for his brakes, they might almost as well have been non-existent.

Carew gave himself up for lost. Short of a miracle, nothing could save him. At such moments as these all sorts of queer thoughts flit in fragments through a man's brain. Carew's chief impression at the moment was a furious anger that he would not be at hand to put the hoped-for spoke in Calvin Lee's wheel, and a wonder whether Steve Truman would be able to do it unaided.

Through the thinning mist he saw the next bend loom up. At the same moment he became conscious of a white, fleecy blanket which seemed to cover the road.

Instinctively he turned the steering wheel sightly. At the pace he was travelling the tiniest touch was enough. He felt the near front wheel strike the bank. Then a heavy blow as his chest struck the steering wheel. After that, a sensation of flying through the air. A stunning shock—and that was all.


CHAPTER XIII. — SUSPENSE.

WHEN Carew's senses returned his first impression was one of extreme surprise that he was still alive. He had been so thoroughly convinced that he must be killed that it seemed flatly impossible he could still be in the land of the living.

His chest hurt him, and his head sang like a kettle. Also one of his hands was painful. But when at last he ventured very carefully to move his legs, he found that they, at any rate, worked all right.

Still breathing hard, he raised himself to a sitting position. So far as he could judge, there was nothing broken. He was stiff and bruised, but apart from that, none the worse.

He glanced back at the car. She lay on her side against the bank, fully twenty feet behind him.

Carew passed his hand across his eyes in a dazed fashion.

"The age of miracles can't have passed," he muttered. "Chucked twenty feet clear into the middle of a turnpike road, and not a bone broken! Hardly a ha'porth of damage done! Why, I don't believe that the bandage on my leg is even shifted."

Still in a sort of daze of wonderment, he rose slowly to his feet and it was not until he did so that he heard a piteous bleating under the bank at the far side of the road. In the shallow ditch a sheep lay struggling feebly.

All in a flash Carew understood. He remembered the white something that had caused him to turn his steering wheel, and which had precipitated the smash. It must have been a small flock of sheep strayed down from the moor above. And he, by the greatest piece of luck imaginable, had been flung straight on top of one of them.

"Poor beast!" he said pitifully, and though his head was still spinning dizzily, and he had some difficulty in breathing, he went across to where the creature lay.

It was done for. A glance was enough to show that. He could not leave it to die by inches. He took out his knife. It was a horrid task, yet he felt that it was the least he could do. One quick prick of the sharp blade and its struggles ceased.

Carew went back to the car. He was anxious to solve the mystery of the brakes. Lying as she was on her side, there was no difficulty in examining her. He put his fingers on the shoes of the foot brake, and they came away covered with oil.

"Foul play!" he said softly. "Foul play! Now I wonder if I have Lee to thank for this.

"Yes," he went on, "it's Lee. Depend on it. Somehow he has got to know it was I who went into the old adit after him. Laban Crowle must have found out. Now he suspects me and wants to get rid of me.

"Ah, and he was in the yard at the Duke's for a good quarter of an hour. Plenty of time for him to have found out that the car was mine, and to have played this little trick.

"Well, I'm warned, anyhow. I shan't be caught so easily a second time."

The words were hardly out of his month before a rustle at the back of the hedge, high on the bank above him caught his ear.

Quick as lightning he dropped behind the car, and as he did so a heavy stone weighing at least four or five pounds crashed down, missing him by a matter of inches only.

Carew caught his breath at the narrowness of his escape. A surge of furious anger within him, and his first impulse was to spring clear and make a dash up the bank to confront his cowardly, hidden foe.

But years of knocking about in the East—had given him great power of self-control, and second thoughts warned him that such a proceeding on his part would be merely playing into the hands of his enemy.

Lee, or whatever scoundrel he had hired to do his dirty work, was waiting up there for him, ready with another stone, or perhaps a pistol. A stone most likely, for although there was little likelihood of a shot being heard by any third person in this lonely spot, yet a bullet hole told its own story. Not so a crushed head. That would be merely the natural consequence of Carew's accident.

So instead of moving, Carew remained exactly where he was, and did not budge an inch. The body of the car protected him from any further assault from above. His enemy, whoever he was, would have to come down and meet him on level terms.

A minute dragged slowly by. Carew's ears were straining for any sound of movement from above. But he could not catch even the faintest rustle. The only sound was the tick of drops of water formed by the condensing fog, and falling slowly from the bramble stems on to the body of the car.

It was a long wait, and it needed all Carew's pluck and patience to stick it out. At last the silence was broken again, and a fresh rustle told him that his enemy was stirring once more. But the sound did not tell him what the man was doing, and he could but wait in the same breathless suspense.

It was fairly clear that the fellow knew that his first assault had failed. The question was what he would try next. Would it be another stone or had he a pistol? Carew strained his ears to catch something which might give him a clue to his enemy's intentions.

He had not so long to wait this time. Faint but perfectly distinct, came a slight metallic click. There was no mistaking the sound. It was the cocking of a pistol.

Carew felt anything but happy. What Lee had already done was plain proof that he would stick at nothing to remove any obstacle from his path. The man meant to murder him, and it looked all odds that he could succeed in his purpose. The car, itself, with its light body, was little protection against bullets, especially at such a very close range. If it was really Lee up there behind the hedge, and if the American was reckless enough to chance shooting, Carew could see precious little chance for his own life.

He glanced round, wondering if it would be possible to creep away down the ditch without being heard or seen by his enemy, but decided that such a course was mere foolishness. It was not full dark yet, and Lee was bound to spot him. The only other chance would be to jump up and make a run for it, trusting that in the uncertain light Lee might fail to hit him.

The objections to this course were two: first, that he was still lame from the wound in his leg: secondly, that he was horribly giddy, as the result of his fall. He was very doubtful if he could run at all.

Another rustle above. Carew's heart was thumping most unpleasantly. He had as much pluck as the next man—indeed, a bit more than most, but at present he felt rather like a rat in a hole, with a ferret behind and a terrier waiting outside to snap it up as he emerged. He flattened himself as closely as possible beneath the body and waited breathlessly.

The seconds dragged by and lengthened into minutes. Up above, all was quiet again. It seemed to have become a trial of patience. Carew judged that Lee was waiting his chance and did not mean to risk a shot until he could be fairly sure of hitting his mark.

The impulse to jump up and make a bolt for it almost became irresistible, yet Carew managed to resist it. He knew that it would be simply suicide, for by this time he was feeling the effects of his fall worse than at first. His head was spinning in a most unpleasant fashion, and the mist that swam before his eyes was more than the thin, clamoring fog that surrounded him.

Clop! Clop!—Clop! Clop! The sound, still very faint and distant, sent a thrill through Carew's veins.

It was the beat of shod hoofs coming from the direction of Moorlands. A trap was being driven towards the top of the hill.

He felt like shouting with relief and delight.

But Lee, if it was Lee hiding up there, heard it, too, and next moment another stone, larger than the first came crashing down from above. It struck the car, making the whole fabric ring and shiver with the force of the blow, but doing Carew no harm.

Even at that moment, Carew felt a spasm of anger as he thought of the damage to the new, glossy paint of his beautiful little machine. If he himself had been armed, he would have chanced coming out into the open and risking an exchange of shots with his cowardly enemy.

As it was, he only clung more closely to his refuge.

Two more rocks came thundering down; then Lee's supply of ammunition seemed to run short, and Carew, listening intently, felt almost sure that he heard the man moving.

The hoof beats were closer now, and a moment later he heard them check as the trap reached the top of the hill, and the trot changed to a walk.

But still he had the good sense not to move.

Slowly—very slowly the cart came nearer. Those last few minutes were the most trying of all. But at last he saw the outline of a horse and a farmer's gig loom up through the misty twilight, and the figure of a man walking by the horse's head, and holding the reins.

Then at last he crawled out.

"Hi!" he cried. "Hi! Who is that?"

A moment's pause. Then an astonished voice.

"What! Be that you, Mister Carew. Whatever be the matter?"

"Silas Caunter!" said Carew quickly, as he rose to his feet and staggered dizzily towards the other. And Silas, a neighbor of the Carews and like them a tenant of Miss Forrester, left his horse and jumped forward, just in time to catch the other as he stumbled and collapsed.


CHAPTER XIV. — A MORNING CALL.

"I RECKONED this was just where I'd find you."

Hilda, busily engaged in cutting roses for the table, turned quickly at sound of the voice. Calvin Lee had come up, unheard, across the lawn, and stood beside her. He was wearing an extremely well-cut suit of pale grey flannel, with brown boots and a Panama hat, and Hilda's first impression was that he looked even bigger and more overpowering than ever.

"So you're back again, Cousin Calvin?" she said with a little smile of greeting. "I hope your business in town prospered, and that you enjoyed your trip."

"Guess the trip was too quick for much enjoyment," he answered. "But I had a right nice time coming back. Had the car to meet me at Exeter and took the drive across the moor. Stopped over to Moorlands for tea, and had a look round that mighty big prison they've got up there."

"A horrid place!" said Hilda, with a little shiver. "Ugh, I think I would sooner be hung out of hand than shut up among those hideous bare granite walls."

"Maybe there's some would agree with you, but there's lots come out none the worse," replied Lee, and Hilda caught a green flush in those deep-set eyes of his. "By the bye, I saw one of your chaps up there, having a good time with the warders."

"One of my people?" questioned Hilda.

"One of your tenants—chap called Carew."

Hilda's face changed.

"What was he doing up there?" she asked quickly.

"I told you, didn't I? Helping some of the screws to mop up hot gin at that little bar at the end of the street. Reckon he must have had his share," he added with a short laugh, "for they say he burst up his car on the way home."

"Oh, you're mistaken. It could not have been Mr. Carew. He has not a car."

"Maybe it was someone else's, then," allowed Lee, with a grin. "Anyways old man Caunter picked him up on that big hill last night. The car lay upset in the ditch, and Carew was bumped some, but pretty nigh sober again with the shock."

Hilda's face was very grave.

"There must be some mistake," she insisted. "Mr. Carew does not drink."

Lee shrugged his great shoulders.

"Maybe there is, but anyways the story's all over the village. Old man Caunter told me himself. I met him on his way up to Grendon to see Carew's mother, and ask after him."

"And you saw him drinking yourself?" Hilda's voice was divided between disgust and astonishment.

"I saw him drinking, but I won't say I saw him drunk, for I didn't," allowed Lee.

Hilda turned away, and picked up her roses and scissors which she had laid on a garden seat near by.

"Will you come up to the house, Cousin Calvin?" She asked, in a totally expressionless voice.

Lee walked by her side across the grass. "And how goes the mine?" he asked presently.

"Nothing more has been done since you went away," Hilda replied. "Truman agrees with me that it is no use throwing good money after bad."

"Don't you reckon there's any tin left then in that mighty great hill?"

"I dare say there is a great deal," said Hilda. "But as we can't afford to look for it, there it must stay."

There was a pause, during which they reached the house. As they entered the big, cool hall, Lee spoke again.

"Cousin Hilda, if you'd got plenty of money wouldn't you have another try for that lost lode?"

"Why, of course I should," she answered in surprise.

"Well, see here. What's the matter with borrowing what you want from me?"

Hilda started and faced him quickly.

"From you?"

"Yes. I'm your cousin. I reckon you might as well have it from me as from anybody."

Her eyes softened, but all the same she shook her head.

"No," she said firmly. "I could not do it. I could not borrow money from anybody without being certain that I could repay it."

"Shucks! You can pay me when you like, Cousin Hilda. I guess you know that."

"I know you are very kind, and I am really grateful to you for the offer. But it is impossible, Cousin Calvin."

"Too proud, eh?" said Lee, with his deep laugh. "Well, see here, Hilda," (it was the first time he had called her by her name without the addition of "Cousin")—"see here! Suppose I offered myself along with my pile, what would you say then?"

"I should say that you were a regular Don Quixote," Hilda answered, laughing in her turn.

"You think I'm just talking!" exclaimed Lee, and Hilda was dismayed at the sudden blaze in his eyes. "I guess I never meant anything straighter since I was born."

"Do you mean to tell me that you are asking me to marry you?" asked Hilda, in a voice between dismay and surprise.

"You just bet I am, Hilda. I haven't known you for a long time, but I guess It's long enough for me to make up my mind that I want you a sight more than I ever wanted anything yet. I tell you—"

"Stop, Cousin Calvin!" Hilda raised her hand. "Please don't say any more, it will only distress us both. It is quite impossible!"

"You mean you don't love me?" And though his voice was well under control there was a fire in his deep eyes which frightened Hilda. "Well, I don't reckon you've had time to learn yet, and maybe I've been a bit too sudden over it all. But you give me a chance, Hilda. You just give me the chance, I'll soon teach you."

"Don't, Cousin Calvin! Don't!" begged Hilda. "You are quite right. I do not love you, and I could never think of you in that way. Please, now, be sensible, and don't spoil our friendship by this sort of thing."

Lee paused. He drew a long breath.

"You must promise," said Hilda firmly. "You must promise not to refer to this again. If you will not do so I cannot ask you again to Mariscourt."

Lee shook his head slowly.

"You're asking a mighty lot, Cousin Hilda. Still, I guess I'd do most anything rather than have you stop me coming here to see you. I reckon I'll have to give that promise, only if I do I'll ask you to give me one in return."

"I will if it is possible. What is it?"

"That you'll tell me any time you change your mind."

"Oh, I can give you that promise easily," said Hilda, trying to conceal her relief.

"Then that's a bargain," replied Lee. "And now, as I've said enough for one morning, I'll just be getting back to the hotel. I'll be around with the car to take you and Miss Sylvia to the picnic on Monday."


CHAPTER XV. — THE EAVESDROPPER.

"YOU ought to be ashamed of yourself, Tom. Buying a thing like a motor car all unknown to anybody, let alone your mother. Setting up to be like the gentry. Why, Miss Hilda herself hasn't got one."

Mrs. Carew's voice was quite sharp, but her hands as she dressed her son's small injuries were marvellously deft and tender.

Tom Carew threw one arm round her neck, drew her towards him and kissed her cheek, which was like a pink and wrinkled winter apple.

"It was meant for a little surprise for you, mother," he answered with a smile. "And it's going to be still. You wait a while, and you'll find yourself driving in state to Taviton, beside me, on a market day."

"Me, indeed!" Mrs. Carew tossed her head. "Nasty dangerous thing! I'd as soon trust myself in one of those new-fangled flying machines."

"Well, you may be doing that in a few years' time, mother," laughed her son. "I dare say they'd be taking the place of trains before any of us are much older.

"But, really, mother," he went on more seriously, "there is nothing dangerous about a car. I have driven cars thousands of miles in the East, and never had an accident. This one was caused by oil getting on the brakes, so that they would not hold on the hill."

"And how do you know that won't happen again?" inquired Mrs. Carew. "And next time you mayn't be lucky enough to find a sheep to fall on."

"I'll take precious good care it never does happen again," declared Tom Carew rather grimly. Then he broke off suddenly.

"Hulloa, here's Steve Truman at the gate!"

Steve's honest face wore an anxious expression as he came into the room.

"Good morning, Mrs. Carew," he said. "Morning, Tom. I just come up to see you about something, Tom."

Mrs. Carew deftly twisted in the end of a bandage around her son's wrist.

"I've just finished, Mr. Truman. This silly boy of mine tried to break his neck last night, and a pretty state he was in when Mr. Caunter brought him home. He won't be fit to do a hand's turn for a week to come."

"Come, now. I'm not as bad as that, mother," laughed Tom. "I shall be all right inside of three days. You see if I'm not. There, that's fine. Thank you, mother dear."

Mrs. Carew picked up her scissors, zinc ointment and bandages, and left the room. Tom, who was back on the sofa, turned to Truman.

"Sit down, Steve," he said. "Sit down, and tell me what the trouble is."

"It is trouble all right, this time, Tom," said Steve grimly, "That fellow, Laban Crowle, is spreading the story all round the village that you got drunk last night, and that's how you came to get smashed up."

Carew stared at his friend.

"Me drunk!" he repeated. Then he laughed.

"He'll have a job to get them to believe that."

"It's no laughing matter, Tom," replied Truman, "Throw enough dirt, and some of it's bound to stick."

"Man alive! Who cares what a tipsy old blackguard like Crowle says?"

"But it's not Crowle, Tom, that's behind this story."

"You mean it's Calvin Lee?"

"Aye; Crowle's in his pay. There's no sort of doubt about that."

"Not a ha'porth. I've known that since I saw them in the mine together."

Truman nodded.

"But this means that Lee knows you are after them, Tom," he said gravely.

"He does," said Carew. "I know that, too."

Truman's eyes opened widely.

"Yes, I know it," went on Carew. "Listen, Steve, and I'll tell you what did happen yesterday."

He related the story of his trip to Taviton and his return by Moorlands. He told of how he had seen Calvin Lee treating the warders in the Plume and of the way in which his brakes had been tampered with. Then of the accident and attack on Meriton Hill.

Steve's honest face grew more and more grave as he listened.

"Nice doings for a little old place like this, Tom!" he remarked bitterly.

"It shows us what we're up against," replied Carew "It's our own fault now if we fail to keep our eyes open. There's something pretty big behind all this, Steve, and it's up to us to find out what it is. One thing is quite clear. The American will stick at nothing to gain his object, and means to sweep her way clear of anything that blocks it. I'm the first obstacle, and I'm to go first."

Steve shook his head again.

"It looks like you were right, Tom. The fellow means to have the mine some way or other. It strikes me the sooner you and I have a good look round the better for both of us, and for Miss Hilda, too."

"We'll do it on Wednesday next," said Carew. "Miss Forrester spoke to you about that, didn't she?"

Steve nodded.

"Aye; she told me you'd be coming round that day. I'll have all ready, and you and I will make a proper search."

"You bet we will," agreed Carew. "We'll not leave the place till we've solved the mystery whether it's the lost lode or something else."

The two were talking close to the window, which was open and fronted on the garden. Neither had looked out. Even if they had they would hardly have noticed a figure crouching close under the wall, and almost hidden by the tall sunflowers.

Now that figure rose to its feet, and slipped away as quietly as an old dog fox into the shelter of a tall privet hedge which bounded the flower garden.

"Ho, so it's a going to be Wednesday!" quoth Laban Crowle with a silent chuckle. "Wednesday, 'e says. Well, lots of things may 'appen afore Wednesday."


CHAPTER XVI. — THE CUNNING OF CALVIN LEE.

SINCE Laban Crawle's unpleasant prophecy was unheard by Tom Carew, that it least caused him no extra worry. All the same, the four days that elapsed before the Wednesday fixed for the opening of the mine were anxious ones both for him and for Steve Truman.

Tom spent most of his time resting. He had to get fit for a hard day's work. As a matter of fact, Friday night's upset had done him little harm, and it was only the wound on his leg which still demanded care. Most of the time he spent sitting about out of doors. Since the fog on Friday night, the glass had risen slowly, but steadily. The sun shone all day and every day, and the heat became almost oppressive. It seemed clear that they were in for a long spell of real summer.

Yet in spite of the glorious weather, Carew was anything but happy. He had the feeling that trouble was in the air. By this time he had fully realised that in Calvin Lee he had an enemy both dangerous and unscrupulous, a man who would stick at nothing to attain his end. And that end was, for some mysterious and still unfathomed reason, the possession of the Wheal Settaford tin mine.

Steve Truman was his great comfort during these trying days. The good fellow came up to Grendon at least once in every twenty-four hours, and made reports of the doings of the enemy.

Not that he had much to tell. Lee was apparently lying low. On Sunday he was at the Court for luncheon, and on Monday he and the two girls picnicked at Hidden Bay, going there in his car. It made Carew secretly savage to think that this fellow, a would-be murderer, was able to enjoy as much of Hilda's society as he pleased. The little green demon of jealousy was gnawing at Tom's heart. He did not, of course, know that Hilda had already refused the American. Even if he had, it might not have comforted him very much, for it would not have helped him to see any more of the mistress of the Manor.

Carew was no fool. To himself he had already acknowledged that he was head over ears in love with Hilda. But at the same time he realised the social gulf between them far too clearly to allow himself any hope in that direction. He must worship at a distance and in secret or not at all.

The point that he and Steve most frequently discussed was the safety of the mine itself. By Carew's advice, Truman set a guard over the mine mouth each night. An old fellow named Amos White who could be trusted to keep his mouth shut. He was not disturbed in any way, and it was certain that no attempt was made to enter the mine.

Wednesday dawned at last with a glowing golden sunrise, augury of a blazing day. Carew was up early. His leg was healed, and quite fit again. But he himself was in a nervous state, very unusual for a man of his strong powers of self-control.

He had no appetite for breakfast, and found it difficult to conceal this from his mother, who was always sadly troubled if her sun was off his feed.

The exploration of the mine was to start at eleven, but long before that hour Carew was on the spot, helping Truman and White to remove the barrier which had been constructed across the adit, and to get everything ready.

At eleven he and Truman were waiting outside in the hot sunshine. They were ready, as the French say, to the last gaiter button, but so far there was no sign of Miss Forrester.

"I wonder if she's forgotten," said Truman at last.

Carew started, and stared at his friend amazedly. To him it seemed impossible that she could have forgotten, and yet he had to realise that to her the occasion had little of the significance which it possessed for him. Before he could reply, Truman pointed down the hill.

"There she comes!" he exclaimed in a tone of considerable relief.

Carew looked down towards the road, and saw two figures approaching. They were just passing through the gate leading from the main road on to the track running up to the mine.

He stared a moment, then with a queer little gasp turned to Truman.

"Steve!" he exclaimed sharply: "she's bringing that infernal American with her."

Truman looked glumly at the approaching pair.

"The clever devil!" he growled. "So that's how he's done us in!"

"We ought to have thought of it before," snapped Carew.

"And what good would that have been? We couldn't have stopped her bringing him," retorted Truman.

This was, of course, perfectly true. Neither of them could have said or done anything to prevent Miss Forrester from bringing her cousin with her. None the less, it was bitterly galling for Truman and Carew to feel that they had been outwitted so simply and easily. All this time, their one object had been to keep Lee out of the mine, and here he was, about to enter and examine it as closely as he pleased, under the auspices of its owner. Not only could neither of them object, but they would have to pretend at least to be civil to the ruffian.

Truman was the first to recover himself.

"Sit tight, Tom," he said: "We can watch him anyhow, if he does know anything, there's always the chance he may give himself away."

"A precious slim chance," growled Carew. "He'll be as much on his guard as we ourselves."

"Well, we've got to make the best of it," returned Truman with an irritation rare in a man of his placid temperament.

There was no time to say more, for Hilda and Lee were how quite close. Truman stepped forward to meet them, and Hilda greeted him with a smiling "Good morning."

Then, as her eyes fell on Carew, the smile faded from her lips.

"Good morning, Mr. Carew," she said with a little bow, which was as chill as the tone in which she spoke.

Carew could hardly believe his eyes or ears. For a moment he was absolutely staggered. Hilda had not even inquired after his damaged leg; she had not thanked him for coming.

Something of his emotions must have showed in his face, for suddenly he noticed a gleam of triumphant malice in Calvin Lee's deep-set eyes.

All in a flash he understood. This was Lee's work. It was he who had repeated the village gossip to Hilda. In all probability, it was he who had been responsible for it. Quick rage seized Carew and involuntarily his fingers clenched. He would have given anything to dash his right fist into that great, dark, sneering face which loomed above him.


CHAPTER XVII. — A PLUNGE INTO DARKNESS.

"SHALL we go in?"

It was Hilda's voice which brought Carew to himself, but she was speaking to Truman, not himself.

"Yes, I am quite ready," she went on. "Waterproof, miner's hat, rubber boots and all. And so is Mr. Lee. I suppose you have plenty of candles, Truman?"

"Plenty," Truman assured him. He was lighting them as he spoke, and fixing one in the hat of each of the party. When this was done, the four moved forward up the sloping adit.

Truman led the way, then came Hilda; with Lee's huge bulk close behind, towering over her with a sort of possessive, protective attitude which made Tom Carew grind his teeth in helpless rage. Tom, himself, walked last of all.

A small stream of intensely cold water, the drainage from the mine works, ran down the adit, nearly covering the floor. It was some four or five inches deep, and its bed was reddish mud of the consistency of glue. Horrible stuff to walk in, and progress was naturally slow.

The candle flames flickered weirdly on the thick timber props and on the ruddy colored rock which formed the walls and roof of the passage. As in most of the Devon tin mines, there was more iron than tin in the hillside, and this was what lent a rusty hue to rock, soil and all their surroundings.

Further in, conditions improved somewhat. There was less water at any rate, although here and there heavy drops felt like slow rain from the roof splashing into the mud below.

Carew kept his eyes closely on Lee, but the American seemed more occupied with Hilda than with the mine.

They went on for a long distance. No one spoke. The only sound was the splash and squelch of their feet in the water and the mud.

Truman, who knew every inch of the workings, turned more than once through side galleries. The whole place would have been a maze to any stranger. He would have been lost in five minutes.

All these older galleries were familiar to Carew. Although it was years since he had been in them, he remembered every twist and turning. But after a time he found himself in newer workings. He recognised the run of the main vein, but all this cut had been made during the past ten years.

At last Truman stopped—stopped on the very edge of a deep shaft which dropped into the gloom beneath.

"Here is the last cut, Miss Forrester," he said.

"Yes, I have seen this, Truman," she answered. Then she turned to Tom.

"Perhaps you would like to go down, Mr. Carew," she said with a chill courtesy which stung him cruelly.

"I will do so, Miss Forrester," he answered, and his tone was as cold as hers. "But, as I have told you already I think it is highly unlikely that my experience, such as it is, will be worth anything more than Mr. Truman's knowledge of the mine."

He stepped forward to the head of the ladder which ran down into the black depths. Truman stooped as if to follow him.

"No, Steve," he whispered. "You stay here, please."

Truman nodded, and Carew went down the ladder alone.

Thirty feet below, he reached firm ground, and found himself in a large, vault like chamber from which three ruts radiated outwards in different directions. Switching on a powerful electric light, he set to work to examine the walls.

In spite of his sore heart, he soon became interested in the work, and threw his whole energies into it. With a small hammer he knocked out pieces of rock and examined them closely. He went through each of the three cuts to the very end, and it was half an hour or more before he came back to the central chamber. As he climbed the ladder the first thing he saw above him was Truman's kindly face with a slightly anxious expression upon it.

"Well Tom?" he asked.

Carew stepped off the top rung and joined the group before replying.

"I'm afraid it's no use," he said, with a shake of his head. "There is no sign at all of the vein below there. The fault is a very big one. The whole strata are altered and tipped. You might have to cut down a couple of hundred feet before striking the lode again."

"Or go up a hundred," suggested Lee, speaking to Carew for the first time since they had met.

"If you went up a hundred you would be very nearly in the open air again," replied Carew. "While it is just possible that the vein might be found above, my own opinion is that it is below—and a very long way below."

"In that case, it will hardly be worth while making any further attempt to find it," said Hilda sadly.

There was a moments silence. Carew did not like to speak for fear Hilda might think it presumption on his part. As for Steve Truman, he knew well that Hilda could not possibly afford the heavy outlay necessary for the exploration.

Suddenly Lee spoke, his big voice booming through the low-roofed gallery.

"I believe the stuff's there somewhere or other. May be below, may be above. And I reckon it's to be found again. See here, Cousin Hilda, I'll make you a sporting offer. I'll buy your old mine, and chance finding the stuff."

If Lee had spoken as he had, with the deliberate intention of creating a sensation, he certainty succeeded.

Hilda stared at him, open mouthed; Truman and Carew were equally staggered.

"I mean it," said Lee. "See here. I'll give you five thousand down. What do you say, Cousin Hilda?"

Carew took a step forward. An angry protest was on the tip of his tongue. But he suppressed it. He had sense enough to realise that anything that he said would at once drive Hilda into the opposite camp.

Hilda recovered herself.

"It is a sporting offer, as you say, Cousin Calvin. But it is hardly a matter to be decided on the spur of the moment."

"Why not?" Lee asked quickly. "It's your mine. It don't seem to me that there's anyone else has got any say."

"Perhaps not, from a strictly legal point of view," Hilda answered; "but you see, Cousin Calvin, you don't quite understand how things are in this country. I have to think of the interests of my people before I consider my own."

"That's real nice of you, and I quite appreciate it," allowed Lee. "But seems to me you won't be hurting your folk any. They'll get back on their old job, and find all the work they can do."

"For a time—yes. But what if you fail to find the lode?"

"I guess they won't be any worse off than they are right now," returned Lee drily.

Hilda turned to Truman.

"What do you advise, Truman?" she asked.

"I think tike you do, Miss Forrester—that it's not the sort of thing to decide all in a minute. Besides, we have not gone the rounds yet. There's a deal more I want Mr. Carew to look at before we go out again."

Carew, with an anxious eye on Hilda, fancied that he saw a look of relief cross her face.

She turned to Lee.

"You must really let me have a little time to think the matter over," she said with a smile.

This time there was no doubt about the angry flash of disappointment which gleamed in Calvin Lee's eyes. Before, however, he could speak again there came a dull, heavy thud. The stagnant air shook heavily from some distant concussion, and all the candles went out instantly.

The four were left in pitch darkness, while the echoes boomed and rolled sullenly through the depths of the mine.


CHAPTER XVIII. — NO ACCIDENT.

BEFORE Truman could find or strike a match, Carew had snatched his electric torch from his pocket and switched it on. Its light fell on Hilda's face. She had gone very pale, but showed no other sign of fright.

"A big fall somewhere, Steve," said Carew.

Truman nodded gravely and re-lit the candles.

"Let's hope it's not between us and the mouth," he said with a certain grimness.

"I reckon that's not likely," observed Lee. "Roof was all right where we came through."

"We had better get Miss Forrester out and then we can find out what has happened," said Carew quietly.

"I will go with you," put in Hilda, hurriedly.

"I'll ask you, please, not to insist on that, Miss Hilda," said Truman so gravely that Hilda was evidently impressed.

"Do you think there is danger, then, Truman?" she asked.

"There is always danger when a roof falls," Truman told her. "Indeed, Miss Forrester, I could not let you come. Remember, I am responsible for your safety."

Hilda laughed, but It was rather a shaky laugh. That sudden roar and the rush of the shaken air had been very terrifying.

"Very well," she said. "I am under your orders, Truman."

Truman turned and led the way back towards the mouth of the mine. He went slowly and cautiously, stopping at each cross-cut and throwing the light up the various passages. But they saw no sign of the damage, and in about half-an-hour stepped out again from the damp gloom into such a blaze of sunlight as made them all blink.

Very quietly Truman suggested that Lee should escort Miss Forrester home while he and Carew went back to ascertain the damage, and rather to Carew's surprise, Lee made no objection.

Hilda herself did remonstrate, saying that she had not seen half she wanted to see. But Truman was firm, and she yielded. She and Lee went off together, but it was not until they were both out of sight that Truman and Carew went back into the mine. Truman closed the gate across the mouth of the adit, and locked it.

"He won't find it easy to get in through that, even if he does come back," he remarked, as he turned the key in the lock.

"Wish to goodness I knew what the fellow was playing at," said Carew irritably. He was feeling more upset than he ever remembered. Hilda's treatment had galled him beyond words. It made him furious to think that she could have been influenced by the lies which he now knew had been spread about him. He could not know, of course, of the cunning story which Lee had told her.

"What do you think, Steve?" he went on sharply, as Truman did not answer. "Did Lee see anything while he was with us?"

"How could he?" questioned Truman. "There wasn't anything to see."

"Not a thing," growled Carew. "'Tisn't likely that he knows any more than you or me."

"And yet he wants to buy the mine," said Truman, shaking his head in a puzzled fashion. "A chap like that wouldn't chuck away five thousand pounds unless he expected to get something for it."

"I'm jolly sure he wouldn't," agreed Carew. "Steve, you must take precious good care she doesn't sell."

"I'll do my best. Depend on it," Truman assured him. "But we'll both have to go careful, Tom."

"We shall," said Carew with a groan. "But come on. Let's try and find where the fall is. Must have been a pretty bad one, by the sound of it. Where did the sound come from, do you think?"

"The north side," Truman answered. "I noticed the direction the blast of air came from. It was somewhere between us and the old workings."

"Then we'd best take this turn, Steve," said Carew, pointing to a cross cut on the right.

They went a long way, and still there was no sign of any fall. Then all of a sudden the intense silence was broken by a slight rattle and a plop as of a chunk of stone dropping into mud.

Truman stopped and held up one hand.

"That's it," he said sharply. "A small afterfall. It must be down 'twenty-two' here. Come on, Tom."

He turned as he spoke into the cut so numbered, and proceeded down it very cautiously. They had not gone fifty feet before the light shone upon a mass of piled up rock and earth which completely blocked the passage from floor to roof.

Truman stopped short and pointed.

"There it is. Small wonder, either, for that timbering's been rotten a long while past."

Carew did not answer. He was sniffing the air.

"What's up, Tom?" asked Truman.

"Don't you smell it?" asked Carew sharply.

"Smell what?"

"Dynamite," replied Carew curtly.

Truman stood a few moments, sniffing audibly.

"'Pon my Sam, I believe I do," he said at last. "Yes, it's dynamite, sure enough. But how—how in the name of sense did dynamite come to be fired in a place like this? Why, it's impossible!"

"It doesn't seem as if anything was impossible where that infernal American is concerned," answered Carew.

"Lee—why, what could that chap have to do with it? He never was out of our sight, and none of us came within two hundred fathoms of this place."

"You forget we left the gate open behind us?" replied Carew significantly.

Truman gave a low whistle.

"You mean someone else came in after us?"

"Just so, Tom. I'll bet you that Laban Crowle was hanging around outside, just waiting his chance."

"And that he sneaked in behind us and set this charge and fired it?" said Truman. "But what for? What did he want to do it for?"

Carew replied with another question.

"Isn't this the only way through to the old north workings?"

Truman nodded. "That's so," he said.

"Then it seems pretty clear that Lee didn't want us to come exploring around this way."

Carew stared, first at the ugly pile of raw rubbish, then at Carew's face.

"But there's no lode up this way, Tom. All the ore that was worth anything was cut here years ago."

"I can't help that," said Carew with decision. "If my theory is right, and I believe it is, there's something of value over in this part of the mine. And Lee knows it and means to have it."


CHAPTER XIX. — HILDA GIVES HER PROMISE.

AT the back of the hall at Mariscourt was a small, cosy little room which, during his lifetime, Hilda's father had used as his study and office. Every tenant on the place knew this room, and most had pleasant recollections of it.

While the loafer or ne'er-do-well got short shrift from the old squire, there was never a man or woman in real trouble who had not received good advice and substantial help. The Forresters had always looked upon their property and their people as trusts, for the well-being of which they were directly responsible. One result was that none of them had ever been rich, so far as money was concerned, but, on the other hand, they had been repaid by the love and trust of all their tenants.

Hilda had been devoted to her father and it had been her joy to keep this little room exactly as it had been in her father's time. His rods and guns hung upon the walls, together with foxes' masks and brushes. All his books were still in their places on the shelves, and the ancient mahogany pedestal writing-table which he had used all his life stood where it had always stood, under the window.

It was to this room that Steve Truman came late on the Wednesday afternoon, and found his employer seated at the table with a pile of bills before her and a decidedly worried expression on her pretty face.

She looked up quickly as Steve opened the door.

"Well?" she said questioningly.

"No, Miss Hilda," (except on state occasions, Steve always called her Miss) "no," he said bluntly. "I haven't any good news for you. Mr. Carew and I have been over a deal of the workings, but I can't say that we have found the lode again or any certain sign of it."

Hilda sighed.

"I feared as much, Truman. Then you are going to advise me to sell?"

"Begging your pardon, Miss Hilda. I haven't any such notion in my head. As you said yourself today, a thing like that isn't to be decided on all in a hurry. And, any way," he added with gentle reproof, "it's a sight of years since the Forresters last sold any of their land."

"I know that, Truman; I know that. And, indeed nothing but the bitterest necessity would make me sell. But, as you know yourself, I am at my wits' end for money, There are those cottages in the Hollow needing new roofs, and the Gully meadow ought to be drained. It is going back to rushes and swamp. Then the road to Vitifer Farm requires new metalling. Oh, and there are dozens of other things simply crying out to be done."

"That's very true, Miss Hilda," replied Truman gravely. "You could spend ten thousand to advantage on the property during the next two years. For all that, I wouldn't make up my mind to take Mr. Lee's offer just yet."

"Why not?"

"I was coming to that. In the first place, we haven't finished with the mine yet. It will take Mr. Carew and me a couple of days yet to finish up. He has a notion we might find something worth while in the old workings."

"Do you agree with him?"

Hilda's voice had a sharp note which did not escape Truman's notice.

"Certainly I do, Miss Hilda. I never met a man who knew half as much about the workings as Mr. Carew."

"I would sooner ask your opinion," said Hilda coldly.

"What makes you say that, Miss Hilda?" asked Truman. "I've never worked in any mine but this one, while Mr. Carew has had experience of half-a-dozen. Why, he was underground manager of the Labang for a matter of five years, and that's one of the biggest concerns in the Straits."

"Was he, indeed?"

Hilda was interested in spite of herself.

"He never told me that."

"He wouldn't," replied Truman quietly. "He's not one to blow his own trumpet."

"Then you think he is to be trusted?" asked Hilda, and as she spoke a slight flush rose to her cheeks.

"Trusted!" repeated Truman. "I don't know why you should speak like that, Miss Hilda. I've known Tom Carew since he was a little lad, and there's no man alive I think more of. No—nor that's more respected all around here. I always said he'd do great things, and so he has, and now, when he's made money and could live where he pleases, he comes back and settles down on the old place as simple as you like. Indeed, Miss Hilda, it beats me to think you should doubt him."

Truman spoke with a vehemence which Hilda at least had never heard from him, and as she listened her color deepened.

"I—I had heard things," she began doubtfully, and at that moment there came a tap on the door, and without waiting for a reply Sylvia Holt came into the room.

"I beg your pardon, Hilda," she said. "I didn't know Mr. Truman was here. I came to ask you if you had remembered to order the fish for dinner. Cook says that it has not come."

"Bother the fish!" said Hilda, under her breath.

"Yes. I did forget it, Sylvia, dear," she said aloud. "It's too late now. Tell cook I will come and see her in a minute."

Sylvia departed and Hilda rose.

"Very well, Truman," she said. "I will not sell for the present, at any rate, and meantime I hope that you and Mr. Carew will finish your examination of the mine. Let me hear how things go on. Now I must go. Good evening."

Truman held the door open for her, and followed her out. His face was thoughtful as he walked back to his own house.

"Well, at any rate, I did Tom a bit of good," he said to himself, as he went slowly down the hill. "But I wish Miss Sylvia hadn't come in just then. I'd a few words more to say if I'd had the chance."

Carew was waiting in Truman's snug little sitting-room. He looked up anxiously as the other came in.

"It's all right, Tom," said the overseer. "She won't sell yet a while. She'll give us time to look round."

Carew drew a long breath.

"Thank goodness for that. I've been terrified all that time that Lee might have persuaded her to sign something. Now what about it, Steve? How are we going to handle the job?"

"By night," Truman answered. "At least that's what I think. We've got to be sure the American chap don't get on to what we're after."

Carew shook his head.

"We can't keep it from him, Steve. Put yourself in his place, and what would you think?"

Steve Truman frowned.

"Aye, I suppose I'd feel pretty sure that the first thing the others would do would be to clear up the mess, and see what was hidden behind," he allowed.

"Of course you would," said Carew. "As we know to our cost, Calvin Lee is no fool. He knows well enough that by this time we've found out all about that block in Number Twenty-two, and that our very first job will be to clear it. There's no sort of doubt about that in my mind."

"If he knows that much," returned Truman, "what did he do it for?"

"To gain time, man. To keep us out of that part of the mine until he can get hold of the whole business. He's been reckoning he'll persuade Miss Forrester to sell—counting on it, I fancy."

"Then he's counting his chickens a bit too early," said Truman, setting his jaw grimly. "Tom, I reckon we've got him to rights this time."

"Don't you be too sure. Steve," replied Carew. "In the first place, we've got to clear up all that mess, and in the second to find out what's behind. How long is the clearing going to take us?"

"If we could turn on a force of men we could do it in a couple of days," said Truman. "But I reckon that wouldn't be wise like."

"It certainly would not. We don't want people talking. Strikes me you and I and White will have to do the job between us."

"Then we'll be the best part of a week over it," Truman told him. "It's not the shovel work so much, but there'll be a lot of timbering needed."

"That, of course," agreed Carew. "Well, I'm game. If you'll have the tools and the timber ready, I can start to-morrow."

Truman, who was in the act of filling his pipe, stared thoughtfully at his friend.

"You're taking a deal of trouble over this job, Tom," he remarked.

"Why shouldn't I?" returned Carew quickly.

"Well, you're not getting any pay for it," said Truman.

"My pay will be to score off this blackguard of an American," replied Carew grimly. "If I can show him up for what he really is, I shall be quite content."

"Same here, Tom," said Truman quietly. "Very well. I'll have all ready to-morrow morning."


CHAPTER XX. — A BIT OF BLUFF.

TRUMAN was as good as his word, and when Carew arrived next morning he found the picks, shovels and timber on the spot, and old White waiting with Truman.

Truman carefully locked the gate of the mine behind them, and they lost no lime in getting to work.

It was a ticklish job—indeed, a dangerous one. The explosion had loosened the whole roof of the gallery, and they had to be extremely careful about fresh falls. Even the hard felt hats, which the workers wear are little protection against a ten pound chunk of solid granite dropping square on a man's skull. And some of the loose rocks which they had to bring down before starting to move the big mass of fallen stuff weighed a deal more than ten pounds.

But all three were thoroughly careful and experienced workers, and in the course of the morning they finished all the roof work and began shovelling away the fall itself.

It was hard and tedious work. All the loose stuff had to be loaded into a barrow, wheeled some way and tipped down an old shaft. And there were tons of it.

At midday they were only too glad to knock off, and at Carew's suggestion went outside to eat their dinner. It was a long time since Carew had worked underground, and he was a little soft as the result of lying up so much during the past week. Every muscle in his body ached, and it was pure joy to fling himself down on the short turf in the hot sunshine and lie there basking and smoking till the dinner hour was up.

They had finished their pipes, and it was almost time to go back to work when a shadow fell across them. Looking up, Carew could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the hulking figure of Calvin Lee towering above them.

"Morning," said Lee, quite amiably. "You all look as if you'd been doing right smart work."

"You are right, Mr. Lee. We have," Carew answered quietly.

"Found that old lode yet?" asked Lee, showing his strong, white teeth in a grin.

"You may be sure we shall let Miss Forrester know when we do," responded Carew.

"Meaning that I'm poking my nose in where I ain't wanted," grinned Lee.

Carew shrugged his shoulders.

"You can take it that way, if you like, Mr. Lee."

"Well," drawled Lee, with undisturbed good humor, "I wish you luck."

And with that he swung round and went.

The three watched the great bulky figure striding down the hill.

"Just bluff, Tom, I reckon," observed Truman.

"That's about the size of it," answered Carew, "He wants to make us feel that he is top dog."

"Mayhap he'll learn something different afore he's much older," said Seth White, who seemed to have a fair idea of the situation.

"We must hope so," replied Carew, and said no more at the time.

But later, when the day's work was over, and he and Truman were walking down the hill together, he returned to the subject.

"Lee seems confident, Steve," he said.

"Bluff, I reckon, Tom."

"I'd like to think so, but I can't be sure. You've got to remember that the man has no scruples of any sort or kind. I fear he may have something up his sleeve of which we know nothing."

"I'd like to know whatever it could be," returned Truman stoutly. "We've Miss Hilda's word she won't sell the mine over our heads, and Lee can't stop us from clearing out the fall. What's the chap going to do, Tom?"

"I wish I knew. He may think that we shall be unable to find the lode."

"I reckon if he's found it we can, too. Don't you go worrying your head, Tom. Time enough for that, after we have finished this here job that we're on now."

His quiet commonsense did something to raise Carew's spirits, but, later, when Carew had gone to bed and lay aching in every limb, he began once more to think things over—and the more he thought, the less happy he felt.

Knowing Lee as he did, he felt perfectly certain that the man had something up his sleeve, and he racked his brain to think what trick he could play, or what scheme he might evolve to get the better of Truman and himself.

On the face of it, the cards seemed to be against Lee. Miss Forrester would not sell, and so long as she refused to do so Lee could make no use of his knowledge of the lost lode. And yet the fellow seemed so confident. Was it that he meant to marry Hilda? Did he think she would accept him? Personally, Carew could not imagine Hilda caring for this great, hard-faced, square-chinned man.

Yet he had to confess to himself that Lee had several points in his favor. The cousinship, his money, and powerful personality. Even if Hilda did not love him, she might think it her duty to accept him for his money. Carew knew—none better—how strong was Hilda's sense of duty towards her people. He knew, too, from what Truman had told him, how very short of money she was.

The little green devils of jealousy began to torture him afresh, and he lay and tossed through long hours of the hot summer night, and when at last from sheer exhaustion he fell asleep, it was to dream his troubles all over again.

He woke late, tired and headachy, and never had his bath fresh from the cold spring which rose on the hillside behind the farm, seemed more deliciously invigorating.

It gave him some appetite for the golden eggs and transparent rashers which he found on the breakfast table, and he tramped off to the mine, feeling a degree more cheerful.

That day the three made great progress with the fall. They saw nothing of Lee, but heard that evening that he had lunched at the Court, and afterwards taken the two ladies for a run in his car.

That Lee was "making-up" to the young mistress was the general opinion in the village, and Mariscombe itself was divided into two camps, one favoring the American's pretensions, the other and larger equally against them.

Lee was liberal. He had scattered tips with a lavish hand, and had, on one occasion, bought out almost the whole contents of the village sweet shop, and distributed them among the children. That half of the poor little brats were sick in consequence, was their mothers' affair. The men, as well as the children themselves thought it was a fine thing.

On Saturday the three stuck to their work again all day—Truman and Carew because they were intensely anxious to finish at soon as possible; White because Carew had privately promised him double pay.

That evening, as Carew and Truman went down the hill together, Truman was cheerful.

"We've done fine, Tom. Well be through and finished by Tuesday night."

Carew was silent for a moment.

"And what shall we find when we are through?" he asked. But he spoke as if he did not expect his question to be answered.


CHAPTER XXI. — HIDDEN BAY.

AFTER the past four strenuous days, Carew had decided to make Sunday a real day of rest. Naturally, he fancied Truman would do the same, so he was rather surprised when, just before twelve o'clock in the morning, Steve hove in sight, coming up the lane that led to the farm.

Carew, who was lounging in a canvas chair under the shade of the big sycamore in front of the house, rose and went to meet him.

"Hullo, Steve," he said, "I didn't expect to see you to-day."

"I came up to bring you a bit of news," answered Truman. "Lee's gone again."

Carew gave a low whistle.

"The deuce he has! Where to?"

"London, I reckon. White said he'd taken his car, and driven off to Taviton last night."

"Let's hope he'll stay there," said Carew.

"No such luck. I'm afraid, Tom. He's left all his stuff at the hotel."

"Well, he'll probably be away for the next couple of days, anyhow," said Carew. "Even that is something to be grateful for."

"It is that," agreed Truman. "It'll give us a chance to finish our job in the mine without any of his darned interference."

"No, I'm not going to stay, Tom," he added, as Carew turned towards the house with a hospitable wave of his hand. "I'm going to take a good sleep. Bless you, I need it. I haven't done the work I've done these last three days in ten years past. I'm fair aching all over."

"And so am I," smiled Carew. "Yes, the day's rest isn't going to do either of us any harm. So long, then."

The last thing that Carew expected that day was a second interruption. Yet it came.

About three, when he was back in his chair, dozing peacefully, his mother came across the grass and roused him.

"A lad has brought this for you, Tom," she told him, and gave him a note.

Half asleep, he took it with a drowsy word of thanks. Then as he caught sight of the writing on the envelope, he was suddenly and instantly wide awake.

In a flash he had torn the envelope open. Yes, he was not mistaken. The stiff sheet of parchment paper bore the printed heading, "Mariscourt."

His heart began to thump.

"Dear Mr. Carew," he read. "I have been thinking a good deal about the mine, and have come to the conclusion that I should like to talk the matter over with you. I am taking my boat to Hidden Bay this afternoon. If convenient, will you meet me there between five and six o'clock this afternoon,—Yours sincerely, Hilda Forrester."

Carew sprang up. He caught his mother before she was back in the house.

"Is the boy here?" he asked hastily.

"No, Tom. He said there was no answer, so I let him go."

Carew hesitated a moment.

"Was I wrong, Tom?" asked Mrs. Carew.

"No, mother, dear. It's all right. I can answer the note in person. And—mother, I shall be out this evening."

"I'd have thought you'd been out enough this week already, Tom," replied the old lady, reprovingly.

"So did I," he answered with a smile. "But it's all on Miss Forrester's business, mother, so you can't blame me."

"No, indeed, lad," she assured him. Then suddenly she turned. "You're a good lad, Tom," she said, and, putting her arms around his neck, drew his face down and kissed him. Tom returned her embrace with interest and went back to his chair. But now it was impossible to sit still. His heart was singing within him. Hilda had forgiven him. Unless—she had, she would never have written like this. It did not occur to him to wonder that she had not asked him to the Court. Indeed, the wonder would have been if she had, for such action on her part must certainly have given rise to gossip. Besides, everything that Hilda did was right in his eyes.

All he knew what that within a couple of hours he was going to see and talk to her.

He went indoors and up to his room, where he selected a suit of clothes that he had never worn since his return to Grendon, light tweeds well cut by an excellent tailor. He put on brown boots, and a soft grey felt hat. Then, slipping out quietly, he made his way by field paths down to the beach.

He had a boat of his own, a stout little sailing dinghy, which he sometimes used for sea fishing, and which he kept lying in one of the small havens so numerous along that rocky coast.

He had not met a soul on his way down, and the beach itself was as empty as the day it was made. He got aboard, hauled up the tiny anchor, set the sculls in the rowlocks, and pulled out.

The sea was glassy, There was literally not a breath of wind, and though it was past four, the sun still flared down with almost tropical heat. As he passed the entrance to the cove below the Court, he glanced in, wondering if Hilda had already started. But there was no sign of her.

He looked at his watch.

"Early enough yet," he said and with slow, steady strokes made his way northwards, parallel with the tall granite cliffs. Hidden Bay had gained its name from the fact that anyone not familiar with the coast might have pulled past the mouth without even being aware of its existence. Its entrance was concealed by a curious fold of rock, the northern edge coming round in a curtain-like curve.

The mouth itself was not more twenty yards wide, and through it the tide swirled like a race. It was coming in now, and Carew's dinghy needed but a stroke or two to keep her head straight as she ran swiftly in between the rocks which towered on either side.

Once through the channel she floated on the surface of an oval bay some six or seven acres in extent, and surrounded on all sides by precipitous cliffs. There was, in fact, no way of entering the Bay except by water. To scale the cliffs without a rope was beyond any man's powers, for in most places they actually overhung the narrow rim of shingly beach.

Carew's eyes roved around the beach, but there was no one there. He was not surprised, for it was not yet five. He ran his boat up on to the shingle, took the kedge ashore and fixed it into the shingle close under the cliff foot. Then, finding a convenient rock, a great dry boulder that had broken away from above in some past age, he took his seat upon it, lit his pipe, and settled down to wait.

Time passed, the shadows lengthened, and the clear green water took on a darker tinge. Carew finished his pipe, knocked out the ashes, and once more consulted his watch. It was half-past five.

He looked at the tide, which was crawling steadily up the beach. If Hilda did not come soon there would be no beach left to sit on.

He slipped off his rock and began to walk towards his boat. It was in his mind to pull out to the mouth again to see If Hilda was in sight.

He had not taken six steps before he heard a whizzing sound from above. He slopped dead, and lucky for him that he did so, for next moment a large stone struck the beach not a yard in front of him, sending the shingle flying like fragments from a bursting shell.


CHAPTER XXII. — THE CREEPING TIDE.

CAREW did not waste a single second. He made one dash for the cliff, and the scattered pebbles had hardly reached the ground again before he was flattened against it, safe for the moment under a jutting ledge.

His unseen assailant evidently had plenty of ammunition handy, for he was hardly in safety before another great fragment of granite came hurling down, to crash on to the beach within a yard of the spot where the first had fallen.

"The devil!" growled Carew, and meant it.

For the moment he was so confused by this sudden and unexpected attack that he found it hard to collect his wits. But he was safe for the moment, and it was only a few seconds before his active mind began to work again in its accustomed grooves.

"Lee, of course," he muttered. "But how did he know I was coming here?"

Before he could give any further thought to the matter a rock, weighing at least a quarter of a ton, came thundering over the cliff top a hundred feet above, and, striking the ledge just above him, leaped out nearly as far as the water edge. A shower of splinters rattled about his ears, and a cloud of dust darkened the calm air. But the rim of rock protected him, and he was quite unhurt.

"Sold again!" he said grimly. "Yes, I'm safe where I am. The question is how long will he keep it up." Involuntarily his mind went back to that Friday evening, when he had cowered underneath his broken car on Meriton Hill, under a similar bombardment, and been rescued only by the lucky arrival of Farmer Caunter. It was not a pleasant thought that here, there was no chance of Caunter or anyone else coming to his help.

Stay! There was Hilda. It was nearly six. She must be coming soon. Terror seized him. Suppose, after all, that it was not Lee up there, but some murderous lunatic. Hilda would be running straight into the most appalling danger.

But was she coming? Was—? All in a moment a glimpse of what was perhaps the real truth flashed upon him, and he gasped as though a bucket of water had been suddenly thrown over him.

Thrusting his hand into his inner pocket, he drew out Hilda's letter, and unfolded it quickly. It was the first letter he had ever had from her, and he was not familiar with her handwriting.

Had Lee taken advantage of the fact and was the letter a forgery? Was the whole thing an elaborate trap? The more he considered it, the more likely it seemed to him that this assumption was correct.

Lee, of course, would have plenty of opportunity to help himself to Hilda's notepaper. Also her writing was easily accessible to him, and Carew had little doubt but that forgery was a simple matter to a scoundrel of Lee's variegated accomplishments.

Then again Lee had shown already that he considered Carew the chief obstacle in his path, and so far as that was concerned Carew himself agreed with him. Steve Truman, good honest fellow as he was, was far too simple minded to tackle the American single-handed. He had neither the brains nor the money.

The letter itself added evidence to Carew's suspicious. On the previous occasion, when Hilda had wished to consult him, she had not hesitated to come straight to Grendon. Why, then should she have made this extraordinary rendezvous at Hidden Bay? No, it was not like her to have done anything of the kind, and Carew cursed himself for a fool for having even allowed himself to think it possible.

There was no doubt about it. The plot was Lee's, and a cold rage against the scheming blackguard grew in Carew's heart.

A fresh crash of falling stone drew his attention to his immediate surroundings. Another large rock had been rolled over from above, to fall with terrible force upon the bench.

Carew grinned sourly. He was perfectly safe where he was, and Lee could not get down. He had only to remain where he was until dark, and then slip quietly away. There was no moon.

Another rock fell, and another. The shingle flew in clouds. What was the fellow playing at? He must be aware by this time that his intended victim was in safety.

Still the bombardment went on and then all at once Carew realised what was its real target.

It was the boat.

Each stone was falling nearer and nearer to the dinghy, which lay not more than thirty yards from where he stood, close to the edge of the water.

Real panic seized Carew. Without his boat, he was helpless. Indeed, he was entirely marooned, for, as has been explained, the cliffs surrounding Hidden Bay were beyond even a goat to scale.

For a moment he was on the point of making a mad rush, and trying to launch and push off.

Lucky for him that he realised the idiocy of such a proceeding, for, next moment, a stone better aimed than the rest dropped square into the centre of the dinghy. Splinters flew in every direction, and the stout little craft folded up like a biscuit box that has been stamped upon, and rolled over on her side.

She would never float again, yet the fiend above, not yet content with his work of destruction, continued to pelt her until she was nothing but a litter of splintered planking.

To be forced to stand still and watch this work of destruction drove Carew nearly frantic. Yet he had no choice. To venture out into the open was to court certain death. Just then he would have given anything he possessed to be on top of the cliff, face to face with this ruffian who had tricked him so cleverly and so completely.

Having completely finished off the boat, Lee was apparently satisfied. The stones ceased to fall. By this time it was long past six, and the sun had dropped behind the tall ridges to the west. The whole coast was in shadow. The little bay was calm as a pond, its color under the tall cliffs was the deepest, purest green. The sky was of the serenest blue.

Everything was very beautiful and marvellously quiet. Hardly a ripple lapped on the beach; even the gulls seemed to be taking an evening off, for there was not one in sight, and their thin, harsh crying had ceased completely.

It was all so very sweet and silent and peaceful that Carew felt it positively difficult to realise that, only just above him, at a distance of no more then thirty or forty yards, a man lay waiting with the deliberate intention of murdering him.

Well, there was nothing for it but patience. Lee could not stay there forever. Sooner or later he must go, and sooner or later someone would surely come to the bay. Carew knew that when he did not come home that night his mother would be sure to let Truman know. Truman would soon discover that the dinghy was missing, and after that he would, as a matter of course, start a search up and down the coast.

True, he might not arrive for a great many hours yet, but, after all, the night was warm, he himself had his pipe and plenty of tobacco. There was no great hardship in the long wait.

Afterwards—ah! Carew comforted himself by thoughts of what would happen afterwards. Armed with the forged letter, he could go straight to Hilda, and this time she could not refuse to listen. He and Truman between them would surely be able to convince her of Lee's treachery, and the murderous ruffian would be driven once and for all out of the peaceful village into which he had already brought so much trouble and dissension.

He sat down with his back against the cliff and slowly and carefully filled his pipe attain and lit it. The smoke rings rose straight up in the calm air, and he hoped that Lee would see them and realise that it was no use his waiting any longer.

By degrees Carew regained his usual equanimity, and began to think out his plan of campaign against Lee.

The shadows lengthened. Dusk was stealing over the sky. He could hear nothing from above, and was beginning to hope that Lee had really thought better of it and departed, when his meditations were unpleasantly disturbed by a fresh whizzing sound.

Another rock fell, this time not to the beach but into the water. A cloud of spray rose, and ripples went widening out across the placid surface of the bay.

Carew stared a moment at the spot where it had fallen. Then he started violently.

Well he might. He had suddenly noticed that the remains of his dinghy had disappeared, except for a few fragments that floated along the rim of the quiet sea. The water had already covered the spot where it lay. The tide! He had completely forgotten the tide. It was still coming in steadily.

He glanced at the rock against which he sat, and saw that high tide mark was several feet above his head. So Lee had scored, after all. It was a choice between staying where he was and drowning by inches, or going out into the open and being smashed by a rock from above.


CHAPTER XXIII. — IN THE CHANNEL.

THE shock was an ugly one, and for the moment Carew was very near to despair.

But he was not the temperament to give way to that sort of thing, and he at once set to work to consider if it was possible to get out of this ugly mess. He looked up at the ledge that had so far sheltered him. It ran for a distance of about twenty yards, but to the right, as he faced the bay, there was no cover at all. If he moved in that direction Lee could bombard him at pleasure. To the left, however, there was first a gap of perhaps fifty yards, then another place where the cliff overhung so much that he would be quite safe if he could reach it.

He tried to put himself in Lee's place, and to imagine the thoughts that would be passing in the American's mind. It seemed to him that Lee would probably have stones all along above that wide gap, ready to hurl down. On the other hand, Lee would no doubt expect that his victim would wait until he was actually threatened by the tide before making his bolt, and that, therefore, his best plan was to go at once.

Lee, of course, might be cleverer than he imagined, and have fathomed the probable course of his—Carew's—thoughts. Still, it was worth the chance, and without another second's hesitation, he braced himself and darted off like a sprinter from the hundred yard mark.

Carew was in tip-top training, and the shingle, if rough, was better going than sand would have been. He was more than half-way across the fifty-yard gap before he heard the familiar whizz, and thud of a stone descending from above. He kept on without the slightest pause, and heard the missile strike the beach some yards behind him. Before a second could fall, he was again in safety.

As he reached the second ledge be saw still another projection a good way beyond. At the same time it struck him that he was without doubt a better runner than Lee, and instead of stopping to take breath he kept straight on.

There was always the risk that Lee might have Crowle with him, and have posted him further along the cliffs. This risk he had to take, and did take, and the result justified his boldness, for he gained the goal he had set himself to reach without hearing that dreaded thud and crash which had become so unpleasantly familiar.

He had come over three hundred yards at top speed, and was obliged to pull up and take breath. For the moment he was in complete safety, for the overhung part just here was so great that it was quite certain nothing from above could harm him.

He was now more than half-way to the northern point of the little bay, but so far as he could see there was no more shelter beyond him on this side. Indeed, the cliffs were not so high here as they were in the centre.

On the other hand, the beach itself was much steeper. Some freak of the tide had piled up the shingle at this spot, and although high tide mark was still well above his head, it looked as though it would be more than an hour before the water reached his feet.

By that time, it would be dark, or nearly so. It seemed to him that he had some sort of chance left. A slim one, no doubt, for on a clear summer night like this there would be little real darkness, and if he were forced to swim his head would be a target for Lee's weighty and deadly missiles.

There was hardly one chance in a thousand of anyone coming to his rescue that evening. He quite realised this, and knew that he would have to depend entirely upon himself. But the thought that everything did depend upon his own exertions rather stiffened him than otherwise, and he vowed that somehow or other he would win clear and save Hilda and Mariscombe from the danger which threatened them.

He sat down again with his back against the cliff, and rested. No more stones fell, but this fact did not give him any particular comfort. He was quite sure that by this time Lee was up above again, collecting stones and waiting like a cat at the month of a mouse hole.

The dusk thickened, and the tide crawled slowly but steadily up the sloping beach. Carew watched the sky, but it remained cloudless as it had been all day. There was no sign of any change. At last a star or two began to twinkle in the deepening blue, but it was still far from dark. By this time the water had reached nearly to his feet, and he stood up and stretched himself, with his back against the cliff.

Inch by inch it rose steadily and remorselessly until it was lapping over his boots. Carew looked at these excellent products of the bootmaker with a wry smile, and wished that he was wearing older kit. Then, lifting his feet one after the other, he took off the boots, and tying the laces together hung them round his neck.

The tide rose to his knees. Luckily the water was quite warm. There had been a whole week of blazing sunshine which had brought the sea to a temperature well over sixty. Carew was grateful for this, for it would make all the difference in the long swim that was before him.

Up above all was quiet. In fact, the silence of the summer night was almost uncanny. It was broken only by the low suckings and gurglings of the tide as it crept into little crannies in the rocks.

Carew had made up his mind to wait until the water reached his waist, and he stuck to his resolve. When at last it had crept as high as his lower waistcoat button, he pulled off his coat and waistcoat, his collar and tie, drew a long breath and, slipping softly down, dived under the calm grey surface, and struck out hard.

He swam with all his might until the pressure on his lungs drove him up again to the top. But even then he did not rise higher than was absolutely necessary—only just enough to get a couple of long breaths and fix his position.

He found himself about twenty yards out. There was no sign of anything moving about, and his spirits rose.

"Tricked the beggar, I do believe," he said to himself, and silently dived again.

Most men who have lived long in tropical countries are good swimmers. Carew was no exception. And if the tide had been running out instead of in, he would have backed himself easily to reach the mouth of the bay.

But as it was, the whole journey had to be made against the current, and he did not hide from himself that it was going to be a very tough one. Still, if he had only succeeded in getting away, unseen by Lee, he believed he had a fair chance of success.

His second dive ended about fifty yards out, and as he rose he turned and glanced once more towards the upper rim of the cliff.

He got a nasty shock, for towering against the night sky was a huge figure which could be no one else but Lee.

Down Carew went for a third time, and only just in time. As he dived there came a concussion which almost cracked his ear drums. He knew it for a stone striking the water almost exactly above him.

This time his underwater swim was shorter. His stock of wind was running sadly short. Still he gained some fifteen yards, and though his head was hardly up before the inevitable stone came hurtling down, it fell some dozen feet short.

Using an overhand stroke, Carew struck out at top speed.

Another stone and another, but both were a long way short. Carew could have shouted with relief if he had had breath to do it. He was evidently out of range. Now it was only a matter of plugging along, and getting out of the bay into the open sea. Once outside he could land and hide among the broken rocks of the outer beach, and probably find some way up the cliffs.

Then with an ugly shock a new idea flashed upon him. Suppose that Lee was armed. If the American started shooting nothing could save him.

The thought sent him along at a greater pace than ever. Each moment he fully expected to hear the crack of a pistol, yet none came. It seemed clear that, if Lee was armed, he was afraid to shoot. On a still night like this the sound of shots would carry enormously. And Lee was not one to take risks of that sort.

Carew kept going until his arms ached. Then at last he ventured to slack and take breath. He glanced back over his shoulder.

There was no sign of Lee, and Carew's spirits rose again. It seemed that he had at last shaken off his "old man of the sea."

He swam on again, but more leisurely, and presently found himself close to the narrow entrance of the little bay.

Now the big struggle was before him. He knew, none better, the force with which the tide swirled through that narrow cliff-bound passage. Already he could see before him the oily swirls on the surface, and hear the low hum and rush of the swift current.

He stopped again and trod water, gathering all his breath and energy for the fight. Then making for the left-hand cliff and keeping as close under it as possible, he struck out once more with all his might.

At his first attempt the current seized him and swung him right around. He tried again, and this time did better. He spotted a little projection of rock jutting out level with the water a few yards up the channel, reached it and clung to it.

This gave him a chance to get his wind again, and look round. To his delight, he caught sight of another resting place a little way ahead, a weed-clad rock sticking up out of the channel close under the cliff.

He started again, and using every ounce of energy at his command, just made it.

Clutching the trailing fronds of weed with both hands, he clung there, panting, wondering whether he would ever be able to tackle the rest of the journey.

Phut! Something struck the rock just above his clinging hands with a nasty little thud. For a moment Carew was puzzled. He could not imagine what it was.

Phut! again. This time there was no doubt at all. It was a bullet.

But if a bullet, why no report? He looked up sharply. High overhead, on the opposite side of the channel, a great, gross figure stood upon the cliff top, outlined against the stars. And there was light enough for Carew to see that he had in his hands something like a rifle which he was apparently in the act of loading.

As he raised it up again to his shoulder, Carew dodged swiftly round to the back of the little rock. There was the click of a powerful spring, the whizz of released air, then the bullet smacked upon the rock not more than six inches above his head.

The mystery was solved. Lee was armed with an air gun, one of those powerful weapons which poachers use and which will shoot with quite the power and force of an ordinary twenty-two calibre target rifle.


CHAPTER XXIV. — WHEN THE CLOUD CAME.

FOR a third time that evening Carew was up against it, and this time worse than on either of the two previous occasions. He had two alternatives and only two before him, and both looked about equally hopeless.

He could stay where he was, a target for Lee's silent but deadly weapon, or he could let go, dive, and allow the swift current to carry him back into the bay.

In the latter case he might escape being hit, and on the face of it this was the safer course to take; but on the other hand, he knew of no safe landing-place inside the circle of the bay, and he could not keep afloat indefinitely. It seemed to be a choice between a quick death and a slow one, and on the whole he thought he rather preferred the former.

While these thoughts raced through his head he could plainly see Lee in the act of re-loading his air gun. And this was by no means so quick a process as thrusting a fresh cartridge into the breech of a firearm. Lee had to pump a fresh charge of air into the stock of his weapon, which meant nearly half a minute's hard work. These rifles, as Carew well knew, required a very heavy pressure to fire at anything like long range. He judged the distance between his enemy and himself to be a matter of sixty yards.

A fresh idea occurred to him. The rock to which he was clinging rose about a yard out of the water, and although Lee, from his superior elevation, could shoot right down upon him, yet it did give some sort of protection. He could watch the man as he stood up to shoot, and this would give him time to duck before the bullet could reach him.

On the face of it, it was a forlorn hope. Still, it did give some chance of saving himself, and, on the whole, it seemed better than losing the distance which he had already gained and letting himself drop back into the bay. Also, the long trails of seaweed gave excellent hold for his hands.

He saw Lee finish loading, raise himself to his full height, and take aim again. He did it all with a sort of brutal leisure which made Carew bite his lips in helpless rage.

Phut! At the sound, down went Carew, diving as a dabchick does at the flash of a gun. The water roared in his ears, so that he never heard the sound of the bullet. At any rate, it missed him and he rose cautiously to see Lee bending forward, clearly anxious to ascertain the result of his shot. Apparently he realised that his victim had once more escaped, and at once began to load again. This time he was more cunning. He made a motion as if pulling the trigger, but did not do so.

Carew was not to be caught so easily. He refused to duck, and that shot, too, was a failure.

Lee tried a fresh dodge. He went back out of sight to load and when he had done so crept bark to the edge of the cliff, on his stomach, and without showing himself at all, pushed the rifle over gently.

But there was no cover up there on the bare cliff edge, and Carew caught the gleam of starlight on the barrel and ducked again in good time. Then up he came, ready to observe Lee's next manoeuvre.

Lee still had another trick up his sleeve. This time he went back some distance and approached the cliff edge from a different spot, some twenty yards further up. He caught Carew napping, and if his aim had been as good as his intention, would have had him. As it was, the bullet almost parted Carew's hair and struck the calm water just behind with a peculiarly vicious plop.

But when he tried this dodge again Carew was on his guard and went under in ample time.

So the ugly game went on. Once, Carew was actually hit but it was only the merest craze across the left shoulder. The strain was beginning to tell upon Carew badly, and the constant diving was fearfully trying. The brine stung his eyes terribly, and he began to feel that he could not carry on very much longer.

A new danger developed. The tide constantly rising, crept up the side of his rock refuge, so that, instead of having three feet of it above water behind which to hide, there was barely a foot. Naturally, this greatly increased Lee's chances, and he kept up his bombardment with a brutal steadiness, clearly hoping to exhaust his victim. All this time he had not uttered a single word. The silence was almost more trying to Carew than if the man had abused or sneered at him. At last, and just as he was very near to despair the luck turned a little. A veil of soft cloud, such as often comes off the sea on a fine night, drifted across the sky dimming the stars, and cutting off the light so that Carew could no longer see Lee, nor Lee him.

The shooting ceased, and Carew clung, motionless, anxious eyes upon the sky, breathing deeply, and hoping against hope for the cloud to thicken or spread.

No such luck. In a short time he saw the stars to the northward beginning to reappear. His heart sang again at the thought that, within two or three minutes at most, there would again be light enough for Lee to see him. Well he knew that Lee would never give up. He would stay all night rather than chance his victim escaping.

The stars popped out, one by one. Calm as it was below, there was breeze up above. The cloud was moving along at a fairly rapid pace, and there was no other cloud behind it.

Suddenly Carew made up his mind that he could stand it no longer. At any risk, he would let go and use the two or three minutes' darkness that remained to him in a last effort to reach the open sea.

He believed he had a chance. The tide was getting near to full flood. He knew that by the fact that within the last quarter of an hour, the current had slackened considerably. It no longer tugged and tore at him as it had when he first got hold of the trails of weed. Presently it would turn, but for that he could not afford to wait.

Just as he had made up his mind to make the venture, once more came the dull phut of the air gun. Lee, knowing Carew would not expect it, was chancing a shot in the dark.

It was Carew's opportunity, and he seized it. He gave a low, strangling cry, beat the water with his hand in an endeavor to give as good an imitation as possible of a drowning man, then, letting go altogether, struck out, quietly but steadily, straight across the narrow channel.

It was a risk, but a risk worth taking. If Lee failed to see him as he crossed, Carew calculated that, once well under the opposite cliff, the man could not see him at all. Like all the cliffs around this freakish little bay, this had a distinct overhang.

A dozen strokes took him across, then he set to swim with all the strength left in him out towards the open sea.


CHAPTER XXV. — THE LOG.

ALTHOUGH the stream was not nearly so strong as it had been, it was still running in pretty smartly, and Carew had all he could do to fight it. He was tired, too. No wonder, for by this time he had been in the water for nearly two hours.

Still, the thought that he had tricked Lee filled him with triumph, and he fought his way doggedly onwards. The channel twisted right around to the north, and once behind the bend, Carew knew that he was out of Lee's sight. He gained the angle just before the last of the cloud swept overhead.

Even so, he was still a long way from the mouth, and by this time every muscle in his body was stiff and aching. He began to feel unpleasantly limp and nerveless, and was conscious of increasing difficulty in keeping his head above water.

Yet he dared not relax his efforts for a single moment, for he knew that, if he did so, he would be at once swept back into the danger zone.

On he slogged—on and on, his straining eyes fixed upon the next angle of steep cliff which rose towering blackly out of the dim water at the foot. He would have given anything for a moment's breathing space, but though he watched every foot of the rock as he passed it, he could not find so much as a stack of weed to which he might cling. The tide was so high that the weed was all covered.

Minutes passed, and his strength flagged still more. He was hardly making any progress at all, and it was will power, and nothing else, which kept him up.

Presently he noticed, with alarm, that he was not getting forward at all, but barely holding his own against the run of the tide.

He set his teeth, made a desperate effort, and struggled on for a few yards. The last corner was in sight. Beyond it he could get a glimpse of the open sea, and hear the low roar of the glassy swells breaking gently against the cliff foot. Could he ever reach it? That was the question. He fought his way into the angle behind the projecting rock, and found himself at last in slack water.

Here he was able to stop and tread water and take breath. Even so—even with this rest, he had to realise that he was very near the end of his tether. He could not keep himself afloat for very much longer.

"Rotten luck!" he muttered to himself, and reaching his arms up, groped in the dimness for some ledge or cranny in which he might insert his fingers.

He could find none. The cliff face was smooth as the wall of a house.

At that moment there was a slow swirl in the dark water close in front of him. For a moment his heart almost ceased beating. It seemed as though some sea-monster had risen to the surface prepared to attack him.

The thing, whatever it was, swung slowly closer; then he fell a sudden, heavy pressure on his chest. Instinctively he flung his arms outwards, and they rested upon the rough, soggy surface of a great balk of timber.

Carew drew a long breath. In the nick of time he was saved. This water soaked beam, part, no doubt, of the deck cargo of some timber-laden ship, was enough to keep his head above water. At any rate, he would not drown.

Flung into this little area of dead water by some freak of the tide, the balk was revolving slowly in a quiet eddy, and with his whole weight upon it, Carew rested quietly, waiting for the turn of the tide.

It was not long in coming. Presently the balk ceased to revolve, and lay floating quite still upon the placid surface.

Carew's chief anxiety was lest Lee might again sight him. He looked up constantly, watching the edge of the cliff above him. But he saw nothing, and took comfort in the thought that the American no doubt thought that he was dead. In any case, this spot where he floated lay right under the overhang, and in such deep shadow that it would have been difficult—perhaps impossible, to see into it from above.

At last he felt his friendly beam beginning to move again, but this time in the opposite direction. He kicked vigorously, and managed to work it out of the area of still water, into the main channel. To his joy, he found himself floating with effortless ease straight towards the open sea.

The great log rolled heavily through the passage, bumping occasionally against the cliffs. Carew breathed more freely. At any rate, he was clear of Lee. Now the only question was how best to get ashore.

Once outside, his clumsy craft turning southwards and began to drift in leisurely fashion parallel with the coast. This, of course, suited Carew admirably, and he simply hung on and watched his chance. It was some time in coming, but at last he spotted a break in the cliff. Dark as it was, he knew it for the mouth of a little unnamed cove, which, in his boyhood days, he had sometimes used for bathing. Quite rested now, he abandoned his log and struck out for shore, which he reached without much trouble.

For all that, he was much more done than he had known. When at last his feet reached firm ground, and he waded out on the beach his legs gave under him, and he dropped in a heap on the sand.

He knew it would never do to lie there long, for soft as the night was, his teeth were chattering. He forced his feet into his sodden boots, stood up, and set to climbing the steep path up the cliffs.

As the blood began to run again in his veins, he soon felt better, and started on the long tramp back to Mariscombe.

At two that Monday morning, he arrived at Steve Truman's house, and Steve aroused by the knocking, came down in shirt and trousers to find Carew white as a sheet, and barely able to stand, leaning against the lintel.

"Save us!" he exclaimed. "What's the matter now?"

"Give me a drink, Steve, and I'll tell you," answered Carew, with a feeble attempt at a smile. He tried to step inside, staggered, and Truman was just in time to catch him before he collapsed for a second time.

This time Carew fainted in good earnest, and the next thing he knew was the sting of brandy in his throat and a delightful sensation of warmth. He found himself lying, wrapped in blankets, on the same black horse-hair sofa which had been his couch on that previous occasion, when he had so narrowly escaped from the mine. And over him bent Steve Truman, a glass of brandy in one hand, a spoon in the other, and a very anxious expression on his square, honest face.

As Carew opened his eyes Truman was in the act of forcing another spoonful of the spirit between his lips, but Carew waved it back.

"Steady on, Steve!" he said, and this time he really smiled. "No more of it raw. Give me a drop with some water in it, and then I can spin you the yarn."

"Has Lee been on the job again?" demanded Truman, with a fierceness that sat oddly on his good-natured face. As he spoke he filled a glass with brandy and hot water.

"He has, Steve, but I've foxed him this time. Give me the drink, then listen."

By this time Truman was becoming hardened to stories of violence such as hitherto he had only read or dreamed of. Yet his eyes widened and his jaws dropped as Carew unfolded the tale of the night's doings.

"So you see, Steve," ended Carew, "the beggar thinks he's finished me this time, and that's all to the good."

"But the letter, Tom, the letter," exclaimed Truman. "Looks to me like we've got him proper this time. All we've got to do is to take that there letter to Miss Hilda, and she can't pretend to believe in the chap any more after that."

"The letter!" repeated Carew. "'Pon my soul, I'd almost forgotten all about it. Wait though. It's in my trouser pocket. I put it there when I slipped off my coat before the swim."

Truman turned quickly and took Carew's soaking trousers off the chain where they hung before the fire. He felt eagerly in the pockets, and pulled out something.

It was a lump of sopping pulp which bore no semblance to a letter. Even as Truman tried to unfold it, it fell to pieces in his fingers.

"Precious lot o' good that is," said Truman ruefully, and for a moment the two men stared unhappily at the dripping remains of the evidence they had hoped so much from. "I don't reckon it's much use taking that along to Miss Hilda."

Carew's jaw set.

"Never mind, Steve. He's shot his bolt. We'll get him now—evidence or not."


CHAPTER XXVI. — LEE PROVES AN ALIBI.

"REMEMBER, Lee believes I'm dead," continued Carew. "He's got to go on thinking that for the next few days."

"How—?" began Truman.

Carew lifted his hand.

"Wait! I'll tell you. You must keep me here for the present, Steve. I'll send a note to my mother to explain. You'll take it up for me early. I stay here, doggo, all day. I need a good rest, anyhow. To-morrow might we go up to the mine after dark, and shove on with the work. I shall stay in the mine to-morrow. We ought to finish up by Wednesday. Then we'll have a good hunt for the seam, and if we find it, why, there's no longer any question of Miss Forrester selling, and Lee will have to clear out."

"And if we don't find it?" suggested matter-of-fact Truman.

"My dear chap, we shall. This last performance on Lee's part makes me absolutely certain that he has got on to it. A man who'd take the trouble and risk which he has gone to in order to put me out of the way must be playing for a pretty high stake."

Truman nodded.

"That's true, Tom. Well, your plan ain't a bad one, and now I reckon you had best get some sleep."

Carew was right when he had said he wanted rest. As a matter of fact, he slept the clock round, and it was between two and three next afternoon when he woke.

His fine constitution had enabled him to shake off all the ill effects of his long swim. He was, of course, a bit stiff, but otherwise perfectly all right, and ravenously hungry.

Truman had rashers and fried eggs ready in no time. Also fresh bread, excellent butter and a huge pot of steaming tea; he sat by and watched with evident pleasure while Carew made up for breakfast and lunch.

"Any sign of Lee?" asked Carew, as he helped himself to a second egg.

"No. I went down to the inn, but he's not back yet. But he's coming to-night. Landlord said he'd had a wire from him to say he'd be back for dinner. Came from London, the telegram did."

Carew chuckled.

"'Pon my Sam, the fellow's cute, Steve. He thinks of everything. That message is just to provide him with an alibi in case awkward questions should be asked as to my disappearance. Are they saying anything about it down in the village?"

"They are that," replied Truman with a grin. "Talk! Why, bless you, the village is alive with it! All the old women running in and out o' one another's house, and the tale is that you went fishing on Sunday, and got drowned for breaking the Sabbath."

Carew laughed outright.

"Let 'em talk. So long as my mother knows the truth, it's little I care for what they say."

"Miss Hilda's proper upset, too," said Truman more gravely.

The laugh died from Carew's face.

"Her opinion of me is so bad already that it can't be much worse," he said curtly.

And Steve Truman, seeing Carew's troubled face, forbode to say more on the subject.

That night, as soon as it was dark, the pair went quietly up to the mine, cutting across country and keeping very clear of the road.

White, whom they had been obliged to let into the secret, met them there. The old chap seemed to consider the whole thing a most tremendous joke got up specially for his benefit.

"Haw-haw!" he chuckled. "The folk all thinks as you're dead and drowned, Mr. Carew. Thinks it was a judgment on yew because 'ee went fishing on Sunday. Haw-haw—buzzing like a bee swarm they be. And I could ha' told 'em better if I hadn't had sense to keep my month shut."

All the way up through the galleries to their work, he kept on bursting into queer hoarse chucklings until Carew could cheerfully have clapped a bucket over his head to stop the row.

Carew's stiffness soon wore off with the shovel work, and they got on well that night. Truman and White left about six, but Carew stayed behind. He had blankets, candles and plenty of food, so he picked a dry spot, ate his breakfast, and spent most of the day in sleep.

About eight in the evening he heard Truman and White splashing up towards him. He jumped up to meet them.

"Hulloa, Steve, what's the news?"

"Lee's back," answered Steve, "and he's hired a motor boat, and gone out with four of the men up the coast to look for your body."

Old White burst into a roar of laughter, and Carew himself could not help chuckling.

"'Pon my soul, the fellow's smart!" he said, with half-grudging admiration.

"A darned sight too smart, if you ask me," growled Truman. "Anyone would think you were his long-lost brother by the way he's carrying on."

"Don't grouse, old man," smiled Carew. "Think of the shock when he finds I'm still in the land of the living! But we're wasting time. Let's get ahead."

"One minute, Tom," said Truman, "I saw Mrs. Carew today and she's fretting a bit at not seeing you so long. I thought, maybe, you might run up to the house early in the morning, and spend the day with her. We can't finish the job to-night."

Carew hesitated.

"I don't want to run any risks," he said.

"No need. You go along about four. There won't be a soul round at that hour. And White and I will carry on till six. Then we'll finish up to-morrow night. You ought to go, Tom. The old lady's not so young as she was."

Carew considered a moment.

"All right, Steve. I'll try it. But I must go before light. It's everything that Lee should not get an inkling of what's up until the work's done."

Truman nodded.

"You go as early as you've a mind," he said.

Then they three plodded up to the fall, and set to shovelling once more. But as he worked, a new problem was puzzling Carew. Lee must know by this time that Truman and White were busy on the fall. Why was it that he did not seem to mind this, yet was so deadly anxious that he—Carew—should not get past it and examine the old workings? He could find no answer to this question.


CHAPTER XXVII. — BARE FISTS.

A GOLDEN dawn was just beginning to dim the stars when Carew slipped out of the mine and took his way across the valley to Grendon. It was the quietest hour of all the twenty-four, and the coolest, too. Carew drew deep breaths of the fresh, clear air, which tasted like wine compared with the stuffy atmosphere in which he had lived during the past thirty-six hours.

It seemed highly unlikely that even Crowle would be about so early, yet Carew went carefully. As he had told Truman, he was taking no risks. As a matter of fact, he reached the farm without seeing any human being.

While he had not told his mother all that was going on, he had explained in his note of Sunday night that there was danger threatening Miss Forrester, which he and Truman were trying to avert. It was characteristic of the old lady that she did not ask him a single question as to what had been going on.

Carew, himself, anxious to spare her as much as possible, said nothing about Lee's murderous attempts, but explained his continues absence by saying that he and Truman had been at work in the mine, opening up the fall, behind which they hoped to find the lost seam.

"And glad I shall be, Tom, when you've found it—or lost it," she said. "Almost as glad as I shall be to see the last of that great black stranger that calls himself Miss Hilda's cousin."

"Calls himself Miss Hilda's cousin," repeated Tom Carew in surprise. "Why, mother, Miss Forrester has acknowledged him as her cousin!"

"And how would she know, poor dear?" demanded Miss Carew. "Let me tell you, Tom. I can remember Miss Hilda herself."

"Cousin or not, he's a queer fish," said Tom, philosophically. "And the sooner he clears out of Mariscombe the better pleased we all shall be."

"Yes, he's a bad man, if ever I saw one," declared Mrs. Carew, with unexpected vehemence. She looked at her son in a curious way for a moment or two, then went out of the room to hasten breakfast.

Tom Carew mightily enjoyed his day at home, and the more so because he now felt that he really had got ahead of Lee. He slept all the morning, and in the afternoon browsed in the shade, in a corner of the garden, where he was safe from intensive eyes. He ate a most excellent supper, and as soon as dark had fallen started off once more for the mine.

He was tingling with excitement. This was to be the last spell of work. By morning he and Truman reckoned, that they would be through the fall. Then would come the search for the lost lode, and the more he thought of it the more convinced he felt that they were going to find it.

What a triumph for them, and how delighted Hilda Forrester would be! Once they had it Lee would be out of running. He would not count. There would be nothing for him but to clear out. And after that—well, surely Hilda would be grateful. Surely she would realise how unjust had been her suspicions!

Next moment he heard steps approaching. Heavy, cautious footsteps, and around a bend a few yards away a great, bulky, square-shouldered figured loomed into view.

Carew's heart-beats quickened. Dim as the light was one glance was enough to assure him that this nocturnal prowler was no other than Calvin Lee.

But what was Lee doing here and so late? Carew could find no answer to the question. Surely the man could not have any suspicion that he, Carew, was still alive!

No. That was impossible. The chances were that he meant to visit Mrs. Carew and question her, to find if she had any suspicions.

Carew pressed himself closer under the thick hedge. He meant that Lee should pass him. Then he could follow and shadow him, and find out what he was really after.

Lee came steadily on. His head was bent slightly forward. As on previous occasions, Carew was again impressed by the great size and bulk of the man, and the air of relentless purpose which seemed to emanate from him.

He was almost opposite, and Carew seeing that discovery was inevitable, took the bull by the horns, and stepped quickly out into the open.

"Good evening, Mr. Lee," he remarked quietly.

If Carew had had any doubt as to whether or not Lee suspected that he was still alive, they were at once dispelled by the American's start.

It was more than a start. It was a convulsive jerk.

There the big man stiffened, and stood staring as though a ghost had risen before him.

"And what can I do for you?" continued Carew, in the quietest tone imaginable.

Lee's powers of self-control were marvellous. He pulled himself together almost at once, though the effort was obvious.

"Good evening, Mr. Carew. I was just coming up to see you."

"That was kind of you," said Carew, "especially as I hear that you have spent most of the past two days in searching for my dead body."

"You or your body," replied Lee, and now he had got control of his voice again. "But I guess that was a mistake. You see the folk down in the village got the notion you were drowned."

"Oh, it was the people, was it? I thought it was you."

"Me! I reckon not. What makes you say that, Mr. Carew?" replied Lee, with a perfect assumption of innocence.

Carew's gorge rose.

"What's the use of talking like that?" he demanded. "You know and I know that you did your level best to murder me on Sunday night. If I'm standing here alive this minute, it's only because I was a little too smart for you and your murderous air gun."

Lee shook his great head.

"I don't know what you're talk about, Mr. Carew. Sunday I was in London. I didn't leave till the night train."

Carew lost patience utterly.

"You infernal liar! Do you think you can foist on me a story of that kind?"

Lee's big fists clenched.

"See here, Carew. I don't take that word from no man. You take it back right now, or I'll darned well make you."

It was the opening Carew had been waiting longing for.

"Try it!" he said curtly, and Lee came at him with a rush.

Lee was inches taller than Carew, and must have weighed a matter of 2 st. more than his opponent. But height and weight—though useful in a rough and tumble—count for little against a boxer.

Carew was no professional pug, but, as it happened, boxing had been his pet hobby for years. He had had his first lessons with the gloves, as a boy, from an old sailor who had worked in Wheal Settaford, and all through his years in the Malay States two pairs of six-ounce gloves had hung in his bungalow, to be used whenever he could find a white man to put them on with him.

Lee, no doubt, conscious of his own size and strength, had looked for an easy victory. Besides, to begin with, he had Carew at a disadvantage, penned in a narrow space between him and the hedge. He had counted no doubt on forcing him back against the hedge and finishing him at leisure.

So it was most disconcerting, when his first blow arrived, to find nothing there to meet it; and still more so to receive in return a jolt under the jaw that jarred every tooth in his head, followed by a full blow over the heart which was far the more damaging of the two.

He faced round with a grunt and swung savagely at Carew's head. It was a blow that would have ended the contest then and there, had it got home. But it was not quick enough. In spite of the half-light, Carew saw it coming, ducked, and instead of retreating, came in again.

He tried for the point of Lee's jaw, but here the bad light was against him. Carew's left fist missed the vital spot, but landed near enough to it to make Lee stagger back, gasping. The last thing the bully had bargained for was to run into a two-handed fighter like this.

Carew gave him no rest. Tingling with fierce excitement, he followed his man up, and drove his fist between Lee's eyes, bringing the blood streaming from his nose and half blinding him.


CHAPTER XXVIII. — THE RED GLARE.

CAREW thought he had his man. He was mistaken. Lee was not done yet. Bending double, he caught Carew with both arms round the waist, and with a tremendous effort swung him clean off his feet and hurled him down.

Of course he meant to smash him on the ground, but luck was with Carew. He fell against the bank which was well padded with grass and moss, and bounded up again like a rubber ball.

Lee followed him hard and drove in a right swing which Carew just managed to block with his left forearm. The force of the blow was so great that for the moment his whole arm felt paralysed, and he leaped back hastily out of range, so as to give himself a chance to recover.

Lee thought he had damaged him badly and rushed after him. He was too late. Carew was out in the open, in the middle of the lane. He danced away, and Lee, try as he would, could not land again.

Carew smiled inwardly. Lee was beginning to blow.

But the American was not yet at the end of his tether, and Carew forgot for the moment that the man had no more scruples then a tiger out. Pulling up suddenly, Lee launched a savage kick at Carew's stomach.

If his boot had got home it would have finished the fight instantly—would probably have finished Carew also. It was only his quickness that saved him. As it was, Lee's toe just grazed his thigh.

The blackguardly trick set Carew's blood boiling. Before Lee could recover his balance Carew was on him. He upper-cut with his left and though the blow was not a heavy one, it was enough to jerk Lee's head up.

This gave Carew his chance. He drove with his right and his whole weight went with the blow. Lee threw out his arms, and went flat on his back. His skull banged on the road and he lay still enough.

Carew stood over him for a moment, but Lee did not move. He was knocked out.

Carew laughed softly. He had got his own back and who would blame him for feeling extremely pleased? He was not sentimental enough to waste pity on this murderous ruffian. In fact, his only sentiment was one of regret that the fellow had not stood up to him a little longer, so that he could have punished him more heavily.

"Still, I don't think he'll visit Mariscourt for a few days," he said to himself softly. "Those eyes of his will take a whole lot of explaining, and liar as he is, he'll find difficulty in persuading Miss Forrester that I was drunk when I licked him."

It was highly unlikely that anyone would use the lane after dark. Still there was the bare chance, so Carew laid hold of his late adversary and by main strength dragged him to the side of the road. There he left him and went briskly off to the mine. He smiled again as he thought how thoroughly Steve Truman would enjoy the tale of the night's doings.

He was right. Truman, stolid as he usually was, burst into a shout of delight when he heard of Lee's defeat.

"Good for you, Tom!" he cried, and actually slapped Carew on the back. "I'd ha' given a month's pay to have seen it."

He held up his candle so that the light fell on Carew's face.

"And he didn't even mark you!" he added delightedly. "Tom, I'm proud of you. And so'll everyone be when they hear it."

Carew held up his hand.

"Not a word, Steve! Mind you, you're not to talk of this. Let Lee tell his own story. Sooner or later the truth will come out, but meanwhile I don't want anything said."

Truman grumbled, but promised to obey, and they went on and joined White who was already at the fall. All three set to work with a will for this was to be the last night's work, and to-morrow they hoped to be able to explore the old workings.

At the end of about two hours' Truman suddenly lowered his pick and straightened his back.

"Tom," he said, "I've been thinking."

"A bad habit, Steve, at least when you're on a job like this," returned Carew with a smile.

But Truman's face was serious and he beckoned to Carew to come back a little out of earshot of White.

"You shouldn't have left him there," he said.

"Who? What do you mean?" asked Carew.

"Lee, of course. Don't you see, Tom, the beggar'll be desperate now—up to any sort of devilment?"

"But what can he do? He can't get at you or me. And we are the only people he's really keen to down."

Truman shook his head.

"It's revenge he'll be after. What about your mother, Tom?"

Carew started and his face went suddenly pale beneath his tan. But in a moment he had recovered himself.

"Nonsense, Steve! Even he wouldn't meddle with an old woman. Besides, mother locked the door after me, and there are the two dogs, and Emmie and the maid. And my gun handy. I wish you wouldn't scare me like this," he added half angrily.

But Truman was not convinced.

"It's in my mind he's up to something," he declared. "I don't want to scare you, Tom, but I've got the feeling in me that Lee is making trouble. You'd ought to have tied him up before you left him and then got the cart and taken and shut him up somewhere."

Truman's evident uneasiness began to impress Carew. It was not as if the overseer was a nervous, crotchety person. He was, in fact, the very opposite, stolid and unimaginative to a degree.

"What do you want to do?" he demanded. "If you really think Lee is up to mischief I suppose we'd better go and have a look."

"Aye, that's what I think," replied Truman.

"It means leaving the work," said Carew, looking back at White, who was in the act of wheeling away a barrow full of stuff from the fall. "And that means that we shan't finish to-night."

"That's true, Tom. And if you like to go ahead, why I'll just go out and have a look round."

"No, if you go, I'll come, too," answered Carew. "Just tell White while I slip on my coat."

The two went out together.

As they came near the mouth of the adit, the first thing they saw was a dull red glow.

Each glanced at the other. Then without a word they both started to run.


CHAPTER XXIX. — THE VENGEANCE OF CALVIN LEE.

CAREW reached the open a few yards ahead of Truman, and Truman saw him pull up, as if shot.

"Good heavens!" he muttered. "Look at it!"

He might well exclaim. Across the valley the great slope above Grendon Farm was all ablaze. Grendon gorse, famous all through the country as an unfailing find for hounds, was wrapped in flames which leaped high against the night sky. Though much more than a mile away, the snap and crackle came plainly to their ears.

"That's what he's done," said Truman, and he spoke with a sense of utter conviction.

"Then it's the last thing he'll ever do in this world," answered Carew fiercely, and set off running.

Down the hillside the two raced together, leaping over loose stones, clearing the dykes and gullies, which seamed the slope. There was no danger of falling. The whole countryside was almost as bright as day. The blazing sunshine of the pest fortnight had dried everything, to that the gorse burnt like tinder, and what added enormously to the danger was that a strong breeze had sprung up since sunset, and was carrying the flames and sparks before it, so that the great fire seemed to race through the covert as fast as a man could run. The breeze was from the north-west, and was sweeping the fire in a southeasterly direction, towards the village which lay just where the combe curved due south, towards the sea.

Up to his left Carew could just see the chimneys of Grendon Farm outlined darkly against the red glow behind. The firs behind the house were still untouched, but Carew's heart was sick with fear. He knew that, if the flame did reach them, the barns and outbuildings were certain to catch, and then there would not be a chance in a thousand of saving the dear old house itself.

Crossing the bottom of the combe, the house was hidden from view by the steep rise opposite. A moment later the two were breasting the hill.

Truman's age and heavier build handicapped him. He fell behind.

"Go on, Tom," he shouted. "I'll be there soon."

Carew kept straight on. He burst through the narrow belt of trees where he had hidden on that first night, when he had watched Lee hunting for the second entrance to the mine. As he reached the crest of the hill behind the wood, the whole fury of the fire lay before him.

A sigh of relief burst from his panting lungs, and he pulled up for a moment.

So far as the farm went, the danger was less urgent than he had at first supposed. Between the farm buildings and the gorse ran the mine leat, an artificial channel some 6 feet wide, which carried a stream from a brook high up on the moor, to work the stamps.

This it seemed, had saved the farm, for the wind was blowing parallel with, not across it, and already the worst of the fire seemed to have swept past. It was flaring over the slope of the hill to the right.

Still great clumps of gorse were blazing just behind the farm, and any shift of wind or eddy might carry sparks across into the fir coppice.

Carew was panting, and the perspiration streaming down his face, as he vaulted the fence at the lower edge of the farm garden, and raced across the square of grass before the house.

The first thing he saw was his mother engaged in carrying her most precious possessions out on to the lawn. Minnie, the maid, was helping her. The indomitable old lady was as cool and collected as though she were merely spring cleaning, and Carew felt a little thrill of pride at the sight of her.

She heard him, and turned.

"I wondered if you'd see it, Tom," she observed, quite calmly. "I didn't think you would, you being in the mine."

"It was Steve, mother. He had a notion something was wrong, and made me come out. But I think the house is safe. The worst of it has passed and the wind's taking it over the hill. Wait a minute, I'll go and see. Truman will be here directly."

Without waiting for a reply, he ran round the house, through the stock-yard, and out through a gate into the belt of firs which acted as a break to cut off the wind from the open ground behind. His feet sank deep in dry pine needles, and he shivered to think what fearful hold the fire would have got, once it had reached the wood.

He came to the bank of the leat. The water tinkled on, clear and bright as usual, but the air was full of smoke, which made his throat smart and his eyes tingle.

Right up the opposite bank the fire had cleaned everything down to the very ground. Of all the thick gorse which had been his pride and his father's before him nothing was left but a few blackened and still smouldering stalks. It seemed little short of a miracle that the fire had not leaped the leat. It would have but for the fact that the banks had been kept clear so as to allow the cattle to drink, and that a footpath ran along the near side.

Again he gave a deep sigh of relief. So far as the farm was concerned the danger was over and past. But far over to the right, in the direction of Mariscombe village, the fire was still raging furiously. It's roar and crackle came plainly to his ears. He ran up the leat for a couple of hundred yards just to make sure no spark had set the grass on his side smouldering. All was right, and he turned and hurried back to the farm.

"It's all right, mother," he cried. "No need to move any more of the stuff. We are safe anyhow."

"That's a mercy, Tom," she answered gravely. "But who could have put the fire in the gorse?"

Carew's face hardened.

"I've more than a notion. I know mother. But I'll say nothing till I get proof."

"Where's Truman?" he added. "He ought to have been here by now."

Almost as he spoke the garden gate was flung open, and Truman rushed in. As he came close they saw that his face was white and working.

"Tom," he exclaimed breathlessly, "the fire's got into Brake o' Firs. It's right over the village. Martin's cottage is alight already. The whole place'll go if we don't do something."


CHAPTER XXX. — FIGHTING THE FIRE.

BRAKE O' FIRS, a coppice of considerable size had been planted by Hilda's grandfather sixty years ago, to break the bareness of the hillside opposite the Mariscourt. The trees nearly all conifers, had grown to a height of fifty or sixty feet, and covered the whole face of the slope right down to the village which straggled along the combe below.

It was the wood which the fire had reached and driven by the strong breeze the flames were roaring through it with the force and fury of an American forest.

The trees, dry as tinder from the long spell of great heat, flared like torches, and as each caught a fountain of flame spouted upwards like a small volcano, sending up great gusts of sparks and burning fragments which the wind scattered far and wide over the valley, and the village which wandered along it.

The houses were old and many had thatched roofs. The sparks falling in fiery rain set these ablaze, and already every soul was awake and out, the women and children struggling to save their furniture and small belongings, the men fighting the fires as best they might.

It was a hopeless business and so Carew saw the moment that he and Truman arrived on the scene. There was no water except the brook and a few wells, no home—of course, no engine.

Almost the first person he met was Hilda. Her beautiful face was white and set. She was close to Martin's cottage which was burning furiously and stood there, fearless, under a hail of sparks, directing the men who had made a bucket line from a muddy pool near by.

She turned as Carew came up.

"Oh, Mr. Carew, what are we to do?" she cried in despairing tones. "The whole village will go."

"Leave Martin's cottage alone," Carew answered crisply. "It's doomed. We must set ourselves to save the main street."

"But there is no water. I have sent a telegram to Taviton, but it will be more than an hour before the engine can arrive, and that will be too late."

"Plenty of water in the leat," said Carew. "I want six men with spades. May I pick them?"

"Do! Oh, do!" cried Hilda.

Inside three minutes Carew had his men, and leaving Truman with Hilda, he led them up the hill at a run. They had to make a considerable round, in order to clear the burning wood, but once at the top they were behind the fire and out of the smoke.

Carew picked his spot without hesitation, and set an example to his men by driving his spade into the lower bank of the leat. Knowing what depended on their efforts, the men worked like furies, and inside twenty minutes the bank was cut, the channel dammed below the cut, and the whole volume of water turned down the hill towards the village.

Clouds of steam rose as the rush of water struck in through the burning embers and smouldering trunks. The hissing was like a thousand snakes.

"Do 'ee reckon 'twill ever get there?" asked one of the men doubtfully.

"It will get there all right," Carew answered confidently. "It will make its way down that hollow, and be there nearly as soon as we. Come on, men. Our job is below now."

Carew knew what he was talking about. He had made his cut at a point where, years ago, in time of flood, there had been a burst in the bank, The old channel which the flood water had bitten in the hillside was still in existence, though much grown over, and as he had prophesied, the stream reached the street a very few minutes after he and his men had got back.

At first the water was quite hot, and so choked with ashes that it was like thick, black soup. But it very soon cleared and began to run more freely. Carew set some of his men to dig a pit to hold it. The rest he organised with buckets and ladders to soak the roofs of the cottages that were thatched.

He seemed to be everywhere at once. His orders rang out sharp and clear above the roar and crackle of the flames. He took everything on his own shoulders, organised the work, and saw that everyone did his or her own share. Hilda, working herself at the top of her strength, had time to wonder at him, and for the second time in the last five days some doubt crept into her mind as to whether Lee's assertion as to Carew's drinking bout in Moorlands could possibly be true.

No exertions, however, on the part of Carew or anyone else could make up for the lack of a fire engine. The whole wood was now burning furiously. The heat was terrific, and the glare lit up the countryside for miles around.

The pungent smoke drove down in suffocating clouds, but the sparks were the peril which it was almost impossible to combat.

It was the upper end of the village where the danger was at its worst. Here, the trees formed a solid screen coming right up to the garden fences of the houses, and no fewer than five cottages of the direction were already afire, while as many more were seriously threatened. From them Carew had ordered the removal of all the furniture. He would have attacked the wood itself, but this was impossible. The whole was a roaring inferno which no one could approach.

He centred all his efforts on saving the threatened houses, and though the thatch caught light time and time again, and though his men were fighting under a storm of burning embers and sparks, it looked as though his efforts would be successful. In any case, all the people were out and most of the furniture.

Suddenly came a shout from further down the street.

"Truscott's house have caught. Truscott's be all afire."

Carew, who was at the top of a ladder, flinging bucket after bucket of water on a smouldering roof, looked round. But the smoke was so thick he could see nothing.

A boy came dashing up.

"Muster Carew, can 'ee come? Truscott's be burning."

Now Truscott's was half-way down the street. It was a large cottage and a thatched one. Also, it was near the others. Carew knew that, if the fire really got a hold in that direction, all his labor was lost. The wind would drive the flames across the street and the whole village would be involved.

He turned to his men.

"Let me down," he said. "You carry on here. I'll call you if I want you."

A minute later, he was running hard down the street.

Arriving opposite Truscott's, he was horrified to find that the news was only too true. The roof was blazing furiously. A spark which must have been carried nearly 200 yards had lit it, and in the excitement the fire had not been noticed until it had got a thorough hold.

There was not one minute to waste. The boy who had brought the news was beside him. He sent him flying for the rest of the men and a ladder.

At that very moment Truscott himself dashed up. He had been busy up the street and had only just heard that his own house was afire. He was a little, fat man, a hedger by trade. His round, pale blue eyes were almost popping out of his head, and he could hardly breathe for excitement.

"Minnie!" he gasped. "Minnie! She be inside."

Minnie was his daughter, a child of five, a hopeless cripple from hip disease.

"Nonsense, Truscott!" answered Carew. "Your wife will have carried her out long ago."

"Rachel, she be away, and I didn't think o' Minnie," panted back Truscott. "You let me through, Mr. Carew. I got to get her out."

"Where is she?" he demanded sharply.

"She'm up in the attic," answered the other hoarsely, and made a bolt through the door into the house.

Carew sprang after him. He beat him to the staircase which ran up, steep and narrow, from the living room. As he reached the top, the smoke nearly stifled him. He could hear the roar of the fire overhead, and the air was full of flakes of smouldering straw, which were falling from the burning roof. The heat was frightful.

He stumbled forward, banged against a door, managed to find the handle and open it.

Inside was a murk of smoke lighted only by the dull glare that came through the small dormer window. He could not see the bed or anything else.

"Minnie!" he cried. "Minnie! Where are you?"

There was no answer. The horrible thought came to him that he was too late—that the poor crippled mite had already succumbed to the choking smother.


CHAPTER XXXI. — ON THE ROOF.

HE hurried forward, stumbled on the uneven hoards, nearly fell, but saved himself, then began feeling around the room for the bed. It seemed an eternity before his groping fingers touched the footboard. He felt upwards, for he could see absolutely nothing, and found under his hands a small, motionless body.

"Minnie!" he said again. "Can you hear me?"

No answer. The child, if not dead was insensible. He lifted her, rolled her in a blanket, and started back towards the door. As he reached it there came a heavy thud, then a crimson burst of flame shone luridly through the dense smoke. It took him but a second to realise what had happened. A huge mass of burning thatch had fallen into the narrow passage-way. It completely covered the head of the stairs and already the ancient woodwork was all one flare.

Carew paused. For a moment a sick feeling of horror made him tremble. It seemed that he and the child were both doomed to a horrible death in the heart of this raging furnace.

But he was never one to give up while the least shadow of hope remained. Flinging the door to, he turned back again and staggered across towards the window.

By this time he was choking and could hardly stand.

There was no time to find the fastening. Shifting the child to his left arm, he drove his right elbow through the glass, and the breath of air, hot and smoke stained as it was, was heaven after the sultry suffocation of the room.

He looked out, only to recoil again with a groan. This window opened through the steeply-sloping roof, and one glance was enough to show him that the thatch was afire below as well as above the window.

He shouted. No one seemed to hear. It seemed to him amazing that his men were not yet on the spot. He had not realised that he had not been as yet more than three minutes in the burning house. It seemed more like an hour.

Clearly he must rely on himself. He looked to right and left, and saw that, while to the right the whole thatch had caught, on the other side it was only just beginning to burn. Still, the fire was spreading with terrifying speed, and whatever he did must be done at once.

Somehow he heaved himself and his burden through the window. Light enough she was, heaven knew, yet to move across a steep roof, even if it be thatch, takes both hands as well as both feet.

Carew had only one hand and could travel but slowly. He dug his heels in to the ties and flattened himself backwards against the slope.

The flames above beat down upon him. He could feel his hair singeing. The skin of his face and neck blistered in the scorching heat. The thatch beneath him, too, was burning in places.

Every moment he expected the whole roof to collapse, yet to hurry was out of the question. Once he slipped, there was nothing to stop him. He and the child would go together to the hard street below.

At last he reached the lower edge. He could go no further, and so thick was the smoke that he could not even see if there was anyone below. He shouted loudly.

"Mr. Carew, is that you?"

The voice was Hilda's.

"Yes. I have Minnie here. Is there a ladder?"

"Not yet. Can you hold on for a minute or two?"

"Not for long. The roof is burning underneath me."

A second's pause, then Hilda spoke again.

"Sylvia is here with me. She is bringing a blanket. You must drop the child and we will catch her."

A gust of fiery smoke beat clown on Carew. For a moment he could not answer. When he did, his voice was hoarse and weak.

"All right! Call when you are ready."

A blast of wind lifted the smoke for a moment, and enabled him to get a sight of the two girls below. They were stretching the blanket between them. He saw their faces, white and strained upturned towards him.

"Ready!" cried Hilda.

Carew drove his feet more firmly into the thatch, and catching hold of a tie with his free hand, leaned over, and dropped the child into the waiting blanket. He saw her reach it in safety, and almost at the same moment his hand-hold gave way.

He made a grasp for a fresh hold, found none, and felt himself slipping forward.

"Look out! Look out below! Get out of the way."

It was all he had time to say. Next moment he had keeled over, and all he knew was the crash as he struck the pavement.


CHAPTER XXXII. — OUT OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH.

OUT of death-like depths of unconsciousness Carew struggled slowly back to the knowledge that he had not passed the portals of eternity. But for a long time that was all. He had no memory, no power of connected thought, no sense but that of darkness and dull pain.

This half existence seemed to last for ages. He knew that he was washed, that someone dressed his injuries, and that he was fed. By slow degrees his fevered dreams took on reality, and at last he was able to see the quiet-faced, silent-footed nurse who ministered to him or sat beside his bed.

Next, he began to take in his surroundings. He found that he was in a room that was totally unfamiliar to him. It was large, lofty, airy, and handsomely furnished in an old-fashioned style.

At last, one morning, as the sun began to strike through the big south window, he woke from a restless doze to hear a voice which struck a chord within his brain, and roused him to real recollection.

"How is he, nurse?"

He opened his eyes, and tried to turn in the direction of the door.

"Is that you, Miss Forrester?" he asked.

A pang of terror wrung him. That was never his own voice—that weak, hoarse whisper.

Footsteps brushed softly, but quickly across the carpet, and Hilda stood beside the bed. Hilda in a pale blue linen dress, with her fair hair coiled high on her head, and a look half fear, half delight in her deep eyes. She, at any rate, was real enough.

Carew smiled happily.

"Now I know I'm alive," he whispered, and feebly tried to put out his hand. He felt it clasped in Hilda's cool, firm fingers.

"Thank you," he muttered, then before he knew it his eyes had closed again, and he was sound asleep.

The sun was high in the sky when he woke again, and now his head, which, for ages past, had seemed as if on fire, was cool again. The relief was beyond expression, and he lay quiet a while, with his eyes still shut. He was vaguely wondering if he had really seen Hilda, or if it had been merely one of those fevered dreams which had passed through his brain in endless procession.

No, it could not be a dream. He remembered so clearly the gentle pressure of her hand on his. He smiled again, then a slight rustle beside him made him open his eyes.

Hilda was beside him. Seated in a chair at the bedside, she was leaning her chin on her hands, gazing straight before her, yet evidently looking at nothing, but wrapped in thought.

Carew held his breath. It seemed too good to be true. Lying absolutely still, he studied her perfect profile and noted the delicate clearness of her skin and the way in which the light caught her hair, turning it to spun gold.

There must have been something magnetic in his gaze, for presently she turned her head, and her eyes met his. A delicate color stained her cheeks, and her eyes dropped.

"Awake at last," she said softly.

She roused herself.

"I am so glad," she said, and rose. "I must call nurse. It is time for your beef tea."

"No, please!" begged Carew. "Stay a little. You will do me more good than all the beef tea in the world."

She flushed again, but, smiling, sat down once more.

"Do you know, I have been here three hours," she said, "and all my household duties still undone."

"Then three minutes longer will not make much difference," returned Carew. "Do you know, I thought you were a dream when I first saw you this morning. I have had so many dreams, and such strange ones, and it was wonderful to wake and see that you were real this time."

"Oh, I am real enough," smiled Hilda, "and no wonder you dreamed of me. You see, I have been helping to look after you since your accident."

"Then I am at Mariscourt?" said Carew, and there was a sort of wonder in his voice.

"Yes, we brought you here. It was out of the question to carry you back to Grendon. Do you know," her face grew grave, "we hardly thought that we should get you even so far as this alive?"

"I must be a very feeble specimen to have been so smashed up by a ten-foot tumble," replied Carew, smiling.

Hilda shivered slightly.

"You fell on your head. Oh, it was horrible. Sylvia and I tried to get back with the blanket, but we were too late."

"The child—little Minnie?" exclaimed Carew, suddenly remembering. "Is she alive?"

"Yes. Thanks to you, she was not even burnt. Of course, she was half suffocated, but she was better in a few days. I saw her less than a week ago, and she was quite herself. Indeed, her mother says she has been better in every way since the fire. I think, myself, it is because she is in cool, airy quarters, instead of that horrible attic under the roof. Besides, the weather is cooler since the rain."

Carew stared at her in growing amazement.

"You speak as if all this happened ever so long ago?" he said at last in a puzzled tone.

Hilda looked surprised in her turn.

"So it did. Oh, I forgot. Of course you do not know. You have been here nearly three weeks."

Carew gasped.

"Three weeks!" he repeated faintly.

"Three weeks yesterday," said Hilda, and at that moment the door opened and the nurse came in.

Hilda rose quickly.

"He is himself again, nurse," she said eagerly. "He woke up quite sensible, and has been asking me questions which I ought never to have answered. I am sure he is still too weak to talk."

"He looks amazingly better," declared the nurse, who was a pleasant-faced woman of about thirty. "Doctor Hillman will be delighted. But now he must have his beef tea."

"You will come again?" begged Carew, as Hilda went towards the door.

She nodded brightly.

"Oh, you will see enough of me, Mr. Carew," she assured him.

Then she was gone, and the nurse took charge. Carew wanted to sit up and feed himself, a suggestion which absolutely scandalised Nurse Aylmer.

"Why, you couldn't if you tried," she declared. "I don't believe you could even hold the spoon."

And as Carew found to his disgust, she was perfectly right. He was as weak as a new-born baby, and could hardly so much as turn over in bed. Indeed, even the little chat with Hilda had tired him, so that, as soon as he had finished his cup, he was quite ready to go to sleep again.

When Doctor Hillman came, late in the afternoon, he was surprised and delighted at the improvement in his patient.

"You're better than I expected to see you for another week, Carew," he said. "But you've got a capital constitution, and you have taken care of it, which is more than many men can say. But see here—no liberties. You have had a smash that would have killed most men. If you are wise you may be up in a week. If you are not, I won't answer for the consequences."

"Trust me," replied Carew with a smile. "I know when I'm well off. I say, can I have any visitors? I'm very anxious to see my old friend, Steve Truman."

"I'll see you again in the morning, and if you are fit enough you shall see Truman in the afternoon," was the doctor's promise as he picked up his gloves and hat.

Later, he had a brief visit from Hilda, who brought up fresh flowers from the garden, and chatted gaily as she arranged them. But there was, Carew thought, something a little forced in her gaiety, and he was unable to get her to speak about serious subjects.

He slept well, and next morning felt distinctly stronger. His appetite was coming back, and he enjoyed the dainty breakfast brought up for him.

Very soon afterwards, there was a knock at the door, and Steve Truman came into the room with his heavy, deliberate tread.

His face fell as he set eyes on Carew.

"Tom," he said gravely, "I'm feared you've had a worse time than they told me."

"Oh, I've been pretty badly crocked, Steve," Carew answered, putting out his hand, "but I'm well on the mend now. There's a chair. Sit down, man. Don't be afraid of it. I've been longing to see you, and have got a hundred questions to ask. First of all, what about the mine? Have you opened the fall? What have you found?"

Truman sat down slowly. He cleared his throat.

"Aye, Tom," he said quietly. "White and I got back to it on the Saturday after the fire, and finished out the fall. Then I went through the old workings—every yard of them. I spent the best part of two days in them, but it wasn't no good."

"You mean you found no trace of the lost lode?"

"Not a trace or a sign. And, Tom, I know tin when I see it."

"I know you do." Carew's voice was as grave as his face. "I know you do. I'd back your knowledge against any man's." He paused, and there was a very troubled look in his eyes.

"But, Steve, this puts the whole business beyond any explanation. Surely, there can be no doubt about it—that Lee blew up that gallery in order to keep us out of those old workings?"

"I don't see any other way to explain it," replied Steve, hopelessly.

"Then there must be something there, which he was after. As we've said over and over again, Lee is not the sort to take the trouble and risks that he has unless he had some object in view—and a pretty big object, too, one would think."

"I'm agreed with you there, Tom. All along I've thought that, and more than once I've been back in there in the night, hunting around for fear there was some bit of the mine, some old winze or gallery, that I might have overlooked. But there isn't a yard left I can swear to that."

"It beats me," he went on, half angrily. "It fair beats me. I lie awake nights, thinking of it, but 'tis like ramming my head against a stone wall. It'll take better brains than mine to get to the bottom of all this."

"No use worrying, Steve. You must wait till I can get about again. Then I'll come with you, and we will search the place together. Perhaps it's not tin after all. Lee may believe there's a treasure of some sort hidden there. The mine is an old one, and mad as it sounds, it's just on the cards there might be something of the sort. Wait a fortnight, and you and I will have another shot at solving the mystery."

"I doubt they'll let us in," said Truman. "These new folk are mighty particular."

Carew stared in blank amazement. "What on earth are you talking about, Steve?"

The look on Truman's face matched that on Carew's.

"What's the matter, Steve?" demanded Carew irritably. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

Truman made a queer noise in his throat.

"You don't mean to say you haven't heard?"

Carew was still miserably weak. For once he lost his temper.

"Confound it, Steve, haven't I told you I don't know what you're talking about. How can I have heard anything? I've seen no one to talk to but my nurse and my mother. Tell me quickly, if you don't want to drive me crazy."

Truman's jaw dropped. His face was a picture of consternation.

"Why—why," he blurted out, "the mine's sold."


CHAPTER XXXIII. — CAREW'S BLACK HOUR.

"THE mine sold!"

Carew's voice was dull and heavy. His thin face had suddenly gone quite white.

"I thought you knew. I thought you knew!" said Truman in great distress.

"You mean to say they never told you?"

"I never heard a word," replied Carew blankly. "Steve"—he roused suddenly—"Steve, don't tell me Lee has got it."

"No, Tom. It's not Lee. It's a company in London. The Oxton Syndicate. A man called Westgate came down about the business. He went through, and said he believed the tin was there. Four thousand he offered for the whole thing, lock, stock, and machinery. The business was finished the same day. I couldn't tell Miss Hilda not to sell, could I?"

Carew paid no attention to Truman's very evident distress.

"Of course, you ought to have told her," he answered fiercely. "You should have stopped her at any cost. How could you have been such a fool, Steve? Four thousand. Why, even that blackguard Lee offered more than that."

"Aye, but that was before the fire," pleaded Truman.

"Before the fire!" repeated Carew.

"Yes. Don't you see, Tom, Miss Hilda, she's got to find money to rebuild those cottages that were burnt down, and it was a question of selling the mine or raising a mortgage on the whole property. You wouldn't have had me advise her to do that, would you, now?"

Carew's head dropped back on his pillow.

"I never thought of that," he said heavily.

"If I had only known!" he groaned. "If I had only known."

"What could you have done, Tom?" asked Truman humbly.

"Bought it myself, of course," returned Carew sharply.

Truman stared at his friend. He, no more than anyone else in the place, had any knowledge of Carew's real resources.

"What—you'd have paid four thousand, Tom?" he gasped at last.

"I hope I should have had the decency to offer her more than that," snapped back Carew. "If the lode is found and properly worked, the mine ought to pay nearly that much a year."

"So the whole business is finished!" he added bitterly.

"Don't take it so hard, Tom," begged Truman. "Yes, it's finished, and half the purchase price paid, and the rest to come at the end of the month. The new people are in possession, and they're going to start work at once."

Carew did not answer. He was lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Truman did not half like the look on his face, and got up quietly.

"You're done, Tom," he said. "I'll be going. But you let me know, and I'll come any time."

Carew roused himself to say farewell to the good fellow. But when Truman had gone he closed his eyes and lay very still. It seemed to him that all the spring and driving power had suddenly gone out of his life. What vague hopes he had cherished he had hardly admitted, even to himself, but such as they were, they all hung upon the finding of the lost lode. If he could have done that—and in spite of what Truman had said, he still believed it possible—he felt that he would have had some claim on Hilda's gratitude. Now that hope was dead, and life had suddenly become a dull and empty thing. Even the fact that Lee seemed to have given up the game and taken his departure made no difference.

It was Carew's black hour, and for the time he almost wished that his fall had finished it.

His thoughts were at their darkest when again there was a tap at the door. He roused himself.

"Come in, nurse."

"It's not nurse this time, Mr. Carew," answered Hilda's voice. "She has a headache, and I made her go out. I promised to come and see if you wanted anything."

As she spoke she closed the door and came nearer.

"Why!" she exclaimed in dismay, "what is the matter? You have been overdoing things, Mr. Carew. That talk with Truman has been too much for you."

She quickly poured out a little brandy, and offered him a glass. He tried to take it, but his hand shook so that he could not manage it.

"Wait!" said Hilda, and slipping her right arm under his shoulders, lifted him, while with the other hand she put the glass to his lips.

Carew felt the warmth of her firm young arm. Her soft breath stirred his hair. He shivered with sheer delight.

"Drink it—every drop of it!" she ordered.

If it had been carbolic acid instead of best French brandy, Carew would have swallowed it unquestioningly. He drank it slowly, and Hilda lowered him again like a child to his pillows, and laid the glass on the bedside table.

"There, you look a little better," she said. "But, indeed, I am glad it was I and not nurse who came in. She would have been dreadfully upset. Why, you were white as your sheets! What has Truman been telling you to upset you in this fashion?"

Carew was stiff very weak, and his long illness had to some extent sapped his usual powers of self-control.

"The mine," he blurted out. "Truman told me that you had sold the mine."

Hilda's face expressed her amazement, and Carew realised suddenly that, of course, she was quite unable to understand his point of view.

"You have taken a great deal of trouble over my 'White Elephant,'" she answered. "I fancied you would have been glad to wash your hands of it."

"Glad!" repeated Carew with a bitterness which startled Hilda. "I never was more upset about anything in my life. I meant to find the lode for you."

"But that was impossible," protested Hilda. "I could not have afforded to spend any more money cutting for it."

"I tell you I would have found it for you," replied Carew doggedly.

Hilda glanced at him quickly. Suddenly she realised that there was more beneath the surface than she had in any way suspected, and the knowledge disturbed her strangely.


CHAPTER XXXIV. — THE LAST DAY.

"I—I," SHE stammered. "It is wonderfully kind of you, Mr. Carew, but I could not have allowed it."

"Why not?" asked Carew bluntly. "So far as that goes, I would have leased the mine or worked on shares."

"I did not know," murmured Hilda. "How could I know? Besides—" She stopped suddenly, flushing to the roots of her hair.

"Besides," Carew took up where she had stopped. "Besides you had heard that I was by no means a desirable person, and thought that the less you had to do with me the better."

Hilda's cheeks were scarlet.

"You seem to know everything, Mr. Carew," she answered in a low voice. "Yes, I will acknowledge it. I did hear stories. But if you only knew how I have been hating myself ever since for believing them."

Carew looked up with eager eyes.

"So you don't believe them any more!" he exclaimed. "But tell me what made you change your opinion?"

"You ask me that!" she retorted. "Do you think that I am quite a fool—or that I could suppose that any man who did what you did on the night of the fire was a—that is, had such habits?"

"Was a drunkard, in fact," said Carew, smiling outright. "Well, Miss Forrester, since you have said so much, I may tell you that I am not given that way, nor ever have been."

"Don't!" said Hilda, the color again flooding her cheeks. "I shall never forgive myself."

"Don't talk nonsense," returned Carew, laughing outright, and Hilda, glancing at him again, wondered at the amazing change for the better which had taken place in his appearance during the last few minutes. She tried to ascribe the improvement to the brandy, yet in her heart knew that it was nothing of the sort.

With a tact which Hilda fully realised, and was grateful for, Carew at once changed the subject, and began to talk about the rebuilding of the burnt cottages. Soon they were both so deep in the matter that they forgot everything else and it was only Nurse Aylmer's return that made them realise that they had been talking for the better part of two hours.

After that, Hilda came up to the sick-room once, and very often twice, every day. All the old sense of embarrassment and awkwardness seemed to have passed away. The two talked like old friends, and found plenty to say to one another.

The one subject which they both fought shy of was that of Calvin Lee. Hilda, herself, never mentioned him, and Carew naturally did not question her. It was Truman who kept him posted. Lee, Steve told him, had not been back in the village, and was believed to be in London.

As for the mine, the new purchasers were already on the spot and at work.

"Their manager tells me," said Truman, "that they are making some secret tests with a new magnetic ore-finder."

"Magnetic ore-finder!" retorted Carew with some scorn. "Never heard of such a thing. But I shall be out myself, now in a few days, and I'll go round and interview this manager man."

Carew got better at a pace which almost startled his nurse and doctor. Each day now he was up and sitting in a chair for some hours. His appetite was excellent, and he was fast regaining weight.

But as his strength came his spirits began to fall. He knew that he would soon have to return home, and he did not hide from himself what a wrench it would be to miss his dally talks with Hilda.

If he had loved her at first sight, when he had saved her life in Chasm Cleave, now he fairly adored her. All day his mind was full of her, at night he dreamed of her, and the deeper grew his feelings, the more he cursed the social convention that kept him from declaring them.

Not that Hilda gave any evidence of regarding him as of different clay to herself. On the contrary, she treated him with a frank companionship which he did not believe she bestowed upon other men. He had the conviction that she valued him as a friend, yet he did not dare to go a step further, for fear that such presumption on his part might imperil this friendship—a friendship which, in itself, was the dearest and sweetest thing in his life.

Besides, how could he possibly ask her to marry him? Forresters had been masters and Carews tenants for a hundred years at least. It was reversing the whole order of things. He told himself that such an idea could never have entered her head, and savagely bade himself be grateful for what he had got, and remain content with it.

Too soon came the day which Carew dreaded, the day when Hillman told him that he was fit enough to go home as soon as he liked. Carew was now getting out into the garden for a short time each day, and after the doctor left, he moved slowly down and out to his chair under the tall yew hedge. It was there that Hilda found him a little later.

"Comfortable?" she said brightly, as she picked up a footstool and put it forward.

"You mustn't do that," he said quickly. "It's I should be waiting on you."

Hilda smiled. "Invalids have their privileges," she answered.

"But I am not an invalid any longer. I'm a fraud." Carew tried to speak lightly, but Hilda caught the note of bitterness.

"What has been upsetting you?" she asked quietly, as she stood beside him, and looked down on him.

"The doctor," he answered ruefully. "He told me just now that I was able to go home."

Hilda started slightly.

"Nonsense! You ought not to dream of moving for another week at least."

Carew shook his head slowly.

"I must go to-morrow," he told her.

"To-morrow!" echoed Hilda, and Carew's heart bounded as he caught the note of dismay in her voice.

He looked up, and their eyes met. The unspoken message in his was plain to Hilda. Her eyes dropped and a soft color flooded her cheeks.

"Hilda," he said, under his breath. "Hilda!"

It was at this moment that the latch of the wicket gate leading up from the steps of the sunk fence clicked sharply.

Both turned at once.

"Good afternoon, Cousin Hilda," came a deep voice, and Calvin Lee, his massive figure smart in perfectly cut gray tweeds, moved across the smooth turf towards them.


CHAPTER XXXV. — CAREW GOES HOME.

OF the three Lee was the only one who showed no sign of dismay.

"I'm mighty glad to see you looking so well, Cousin Hilda," he continued, offering his great hand, which Hilda just touched and no more.

"And Mr. Carew," went on Lee, apparently quite at his ease. "I heard of his accident. I hope he is getting along."

Carew pulled himself together.

"You, too, I trust, Mr. Lee. I see that you have quite recovered also." He looked pointedly at the big man's face.

There was just a glint of something in Lee's deep-set eyes, but his expression did not change.

"Yes, thank you," he answered politely. "I feel no ill-effects at all."

Hilda glanced from one to the other. She sensed the deadly antagonism between the two men, yet knowing nothing of the long duel between them, could not even guess at the truth.

At the same time she was secretly furious with Lee. It was not only the casual way in which he had strolled in that annoyed her. She knew now that Lee had deliberately invented the story of Carew's drinking at Moorlands. And if it was in her power, she meant to punish him.

Woman-like, however, she made no sign as yet, merely waited her opportunity.

"And where do you spring from Cousin Calvin?" she asked him sweetly. "It is a long time since you have favored Mariscourt."

"That's a fact Cousin Hilda. I got a message that night you had the fire here, which took me right up to London again, and since then I've been so busy I've hardly had time to sleep. Why, I never heard of the fire till I came back here."

Carew's lip curled, but he kept silence. The cheek of the man was really colossal. He had never hated him worse, yet could not help feeling a certain unwilling admiration for him. The mere fact that he had sized up Carew's own character so accurately as to be sure that he had not told Hilda of his suspicions, was really wonderful.

"I suppose that your holiday is nearly at an end," remarked Hilda. "No doubt you will he going back to the States shortly?"

"Oh, I guess there's no hurry," replied Lee airily. "Maybe I might be some use to you, rebuilding here and that sort of thing."

It was Hilda's chance.

"Thank you, but Mr. Carew and I, between as, have finished the plans. The work has began already."

"I'm mighty glad to hear it," replied Lee, quite unperturbed. "You been getting any fishing lately, Cousin Hilda?"

"I have had something else to do," Hilda answered drily.

"Yes, I guess you've been right busy. But isn't it about time you took a day off? What do you say to a trip up on the moor to-morrow?"

"Thank you, but I shall certainly not have any time for fishing this season," replied Hilda, decidedly.

"I'm real sorry. Then I guess I'll go alone."

There was no snubbing him. He sat and talked for an hour before he left. Hilda watched his tall figure striding across the park, and when she turned again to Carew there was an odd expression on her face.

"He's so big," she said in a low voice. "I wish he was not so big."

Carew merely nodded. He knew exactly what she meant and had felt it himself.

He longed to get the conversation back to the point at which Lee had interrupted it. But Hilda's mood had changed. She was silent and distrait. And when, a few minutes later, the luncheon gong boomed deep and mellow across the garden, she seemed actually relieved.

Nor did the opportunity come again before he left, and next evening found him once more at the farm, and missing Hilda more even than he had thought possible.

For his mother's sake he tried to appear cheerful, and succeeded so well that, whatever her suspicions, she certainly did not voice them.

His health improved rapidly, and he was soon able to ride down to the village. Hilda was there all day and every day looking after her carpenters and masons. She seemed ready, even eager to take his advice on all subjects connected with the re-building.

But they were hardly ever alone, and the opportunity which Lee had interrupted never came again.

Lee was still at the hotel. Carew had more than a suspicion that Lee had more to do than appeared with the mine. But watch him as he and Truman might, they never saw him go near it.

The men of the Oxton Syndicate still continued their experiments with the ore-finder, and no stranger was allowed to approach the mine on any pretext.


CHAPTER XXXVI. — THE STALKER STALKED.

IT was on a dull, heavy afternoon, about a fortnight after his return home, that Carew, making a round of the farm after an early dinner, spotted a man, rod in hand, walking up across the moor, along the edge of Chasm Cleave. It did not need a second glance to assure him that it was Lee.

Carew's suspicions were instantly roused. It was a perfectly hopeless fishing day. There was thunder about, and if there was one thing more certain than another, it was that no trout would rise on such an afternoon.

Lee must know that as well as anyone else. Why, then, was he going fishing, and why, if he must go fishing, was he taking the trouble to go all the way up to the High Moor, when there was far better water and more of it in the valley below?

Quite suddenly Carew made up his mind to follow the American.

He had not yet by any means recovered his full strength. Still, he could walk pretty well, and knowing the country as he did, had little difficulty in deciding on his best course. Circling to the left, he reached the bed of a little rivulet known as Reedy Brook, which ran almost parallel with Chasm Cleave. Its course was through a shallow, marshy hollow which, however, was quite deep enough to hide him from anyone as far away as Lee was.

Reedy Brook rose a couple of miles higher up in a bog called Cross Mire, but before he got as far as this, Carew crept up the side and looked over the edge to make sure that Lee was moving in the same direction.

He was, and Carew dropped back again, The tiny valley along which he was travelling grew so shallow that he was forced to bend almost double is order to find shelter, and he found this sort of walking very tiring. Even up here at the thousand foot level, there did not seem to be a breath of air, and the perspiration stood in big beads on his forehead.

Nearing Cross Mire, he took another look over the rim of the hollow. He looked to the right, as before, but there was so sign of Lee, Then suddenly he spotted him right ahead, and more than half a mile away, walking briskly round the head of the Mire.

What was more, he was so longer carrying his rod.

"What the dickens is he after?" muttered Carew, now really puzzled. "I'm jolly well going to find out anyhow, if I possibly can."

Lee and he were now both well up on the High Moor. All around was a desolation of stunted heather and great bogs. The black soil was seamed and cracked with deep "veins," and Carew, who had shot snipe over every acre of this wild land, fancied that he could follow his quarry across it without much risk of being seen.

Plunging into the nearest vein, he hurried along it at the top of his speed.

This took him about a quarter of a mile before it ended in a bog hole too deep to be crossed. Clambering cautiously out, he found he had gained a little on Lee.

Watching his chance, he crawled through some thick heather, passed behind a pile of granite boulders, and dipped into another vein.

This was not so long as the first, but when he reached the end and again put up his head, he could no longer see Lee.

This gave him an unpleasant shock. Could the American have seen him and doubled back? It did not seem probable, and he stayed where he was, waiting and watching.

Ten minutes passed. Carew was really puzzled. Lee had vanished as completely as though one of the deep bogs had swallowed him. Carew began to fancy that that must actually have been the case. Indeed there were mires up here which would swallow an elephant, let alone a man. Yet, on the other hand, Lee could hardly have been fool enough to walk into a bag in broad daylight, and if he had done so he would surely have shouted for help. Even in the worst of bogs it takes some time to sink.

The only other alternative was that Lee had seen that he was being followed, and had dropped into a vein in order to dodge his pursuer.

Once more Carew raised his head and made a searching surrey of his surroundings.

At first he could see nothing, but presently, looking back in the direction from which he had come, he fancied he caught a movement in a patch of reeds on the edge of Cross Mire. Keeping perfectly still, he watched the spot carefully. He was right. Someone was creeping cautiously behind the screen of rushes, evidently making for the month of the very same vein up which he himself had come.

His heart beats quickened. There was no longer any doubt in his mind but that Lee had spotted him, and turned back and was now on his track. The tables were turned with a vengeance. The stalker was being stalked.


CHAPTER XXXVII. — THE BARE HILLSIDE.

CAREW was not happy. He knew too well that, in his present weak condition, he was no match physically for the big American. He knew, too how utterly unscrupulous was his opponent, and was well aware that he would not stick at murder to rid himself of his rival.

And what fitter place could Lee find or what more perfect opportunity? There was not, in all England, a more desolate spot. It was avoided even by the wild moor ponies and the sheep. There was no grazing and the ground was seamed with gullies and dotted with bottomless mires into which a body, once flung, would never be yielded up again.

To the south, to the direction from which Carew had come, his own house was the nearest, and it was nearly three miles away; to the north there was nothing nearer than the Artillery Camp above Okestock, a matter of six or seven miles at least. Small wonder that Carew cursed himself for a fool, for having run himself into such a trap!

It was no use thinking of going back. That was merely to run into the lion's jaws. No, his plan was to make away north, and try to reach Narrow Combe Gorge. There were rocks there, masses of tumbled granite fit to hide a regiment.

The trouble was that Narrow Combe was nearly two miles away, and that the ground between was mostly open. Also, that he was tired already, and that if it came to running, Lee had him on the hip.

Well, if he could not depend on his muscles, he must make use of his brains. The great thing was not to let Lee see him leaving his present hiding place. Turning, he went back some fifty yards to a cross gully, along which he hurried at best pace. This was not very fast, for the bottom was sticky peat mud, black as pitch, and clinging like glue. It took him far to the right, but at the end broke off abruptly, leaving him a ten foot bank of peat to climb.

He crawled up cautiously, and took of his hat before putting his head over the top. No sign of Lee. Apparently he, too, was stalking up a vein. Carew looked back ruefully at his deep footprints. A blind man could have followed them.

There was no help for that, so over the edge he went, and crawled into some heather near by. Through this he had to make his way for a good fifty yards before he reached another vein, but this one led in the direction he wanted, and was deep, wide and not quite so horribly muddy as the one he had just left.

These veins are caused by water running off the watersheds, cutting through the soft peat down to bed rock. Consequently they are all on considerable slope. The one in which Carew found himself soon began to rise steeply, and he became uncomfortably aware that, at the top of it, he would be on ground so high that he would be visible for miles around. He could only trust to finding cover of some sort, either heather or boulders. As it was, he had to go blindly forward.

Carew was getting very tired. Excitement of this kind is all very well when one is perfectly fit, but it takes a long time to pull round after such an illness as Carew had had, and his heart was beginning to thump uncomfortably, his breath was short, while his knees felt weak and shaky.

Just as Carew had anticipated, he found himself eventually near the summit of a hill, a long, bare ridge known as Carver's Beam. There were tussocks of heather, but no other cover of any sort, not even a boulder.

The only comfort was that Lee was still not in view. Yet this was not an unmixed benefit. Carew did not delude himself with the idea that his enemy had abandoned the chase. He might be within a hundred yards for all he knew.

On the western side of Carver's Beam was a broad valley, which narrowed gradually till, about a mile further up, it became a regular ravine, the gap known as Narrow Combe Gorge. A little stream came down the gorge, and this, as it reached the bottom of the ravine, spread out into a very deep and ugly mire well known to moormen as Narrow Combe Marsh.

It was a very nasty place indeed, for it filled the whole of the valley from one side to the other, and in places could only be passed by climbing up the steep hill on one side or the other. From the spot where Carew crouched, he could see it plainly, with its patches of black stagnant ooze lying sour and repellent among tall reeds and marsh grass. The heavy lowering sky and the utter stillness of the sultry afternoon added to the weird loneliness of the scene.

Carew's objective was the Gorge itself, with its steep, rock-clad sides. There were holes and caves there where he could defy pursuit, and where he could lie hidden until the darkness of night came to his rescue.

But he had to get there, and there were difficulties in the way. He could not go down into the valley, for then he would be in plain view of Lee. Besides, the mire was in his way. There was cover along the hillside, but that was no use to him became the whole slope was cut up by veins, to cross which would take a lot of time and expose him to view at each crossing.

The third alternative was to keep along the crest of the ridge until he was past the marsh and level with the mouth of the Gorge. Here the going was good enough, but there was precious little shelter—nothing but short heather and not too much of that. As there was no choice, he started along the hilltop.

He had to creep all the way, and he found it dreadfully tiring. The strain was as heavy mentally as physically, for he had to keep constant watch for Lee. The man might be moving up any of the gullies on the right hand side of the ridge, and come right on top of him at any moment.

It had been quite early—not more than half-past one—when he had first seen Lee. It was now getting on for three, and the hour and a half of strenuous effort had very nearly exhausted Carew. It was more willpower than anything else that kept him going, as he crept from one tuft of heather to another, and even so there were moments when he was forced to drop flat on his face and lie, breathing hard, until he could gain a little fresh energy to continue on his way.

The worst of journeys have their end. At last Carew was level with the mire, and so far had seen nothing of Lee. He crept across to the left and began the descent of the hill towards the mouth of the Gorge.

Exhausted as he was, his spirits rose a little. It seemed that he had managed to throw Lee off the scent. Or if he had done so, he was, at any rate, well ahead of him. Five minutes more, and he would be safe within the stone-strewn gorge.

Alas, how very often are the chickens counted by the number of the eggs. Carew was half way down the hill when out of the reeds by the side of the Mire, and quite close to the mouth of the Gorge, a head rose, and a pair of deep-set eyes carefully examined the surrounding slopes.

Carew dropped flat, his heart going nineteen to the dozen. It was Lee—whom he fancied he had left behind him, but who, with diabolical cunning, had evidently guessed exactly at what he was aiming, and had cleverly forestalled him.

Carew had heather behind him, not in front. He could hardly hope to remain unseen. Next moment doubt was changed to certainty. Rising to his full height, the huge American came stalking up the hill directly towards him.


CHAPTER XXXVIII. — THE CONVICT.

FOR the first time in all his long duel with the giant American, Carew gave himself up for lost. He could not run, there was no possibility of rescue. The only alternative was to stay where he was.

It would not be much of a fight. He knew that. Still, if Lee did not shoot him out of hand he vowed the great brute should not at any rate, come out of it unmarked.

He lay where he was, breathing deeply, trying to get back some remnant of strength for the final struggle.

Lee seemed in no hurry. Clearly he had sized up the situation as completely as Carew himself. He came up the hill with a long, leisurely stride, and halfway up stopped, turned, and took a deliberate survey of the surroundings.

Carew's eyes were on Lee, not on the desolate country, but as he watched the man he suddenly saw him start slightly.

Lee had seen something. The question was what.

Carew's eyes went roving out across the wild moor, and next moment the blood went throbbing to his heart. He, too, had seen—seen a man standing on the opposite hill side, close to the mouth of the Gorge, and staring across towards Lee.

And this man—this stranger who had appeared with such dramatic suddenness—was an escaped convict.

There was no mistake about it. Carew had seen that ugly uniform too often, and though the man's head was bare, yet the slop jacket, with its red-and-blue stripes, and the coarse canvas gaiters, with their black broad arrows, identified their wearer beyond a question as an inmate of Moorlands Prison.

Lee was staring at this strange apparition as hard as Carew. Carew saw him take a pair of field-glasses from a case slung over his shoulder and focus them upon the convict.

Next moment he had snapped them to, thrust them back, and was off at a heavy run.

Carew gasped. He could hardly believe his eyes. Even thankfulness for his amazing escape was swallowed up in amazement at Lee's astonishing conduct. It was true that the sight of a third person might have been enough to prevent Lee's attacking him. But why—why on earth was Lee bolting?

For bolting he was. He was making straight for the lower end of the mire, and going at top speed, too.

There were more shocks in store for Carew. The next thing he saw was that the convict was after Lee. He was running like a good one. He, at least, was not afraid of the giant.

What did it all mean? Carew, filled suddenly with a burning curiosity, rose to his feet and followed as fast as his weary legs allowed.

By this time Lee was rounding the lower end of the mire. He went too close, sunk knee-deep in the slime, floundered out with a fearful effort, and went pounding up the far side. The convict, meantime, gained a couple of hundred yards, and was not much more than that distance behind when Lee vanished over the far ridge.

It took Carew a long time to cross the valley and climb the far side. When he did at last reach the top, Lee and his pursuer were dots among the distant heather.

Carew pulled up, breathing hard. The air was clearing, and the sun breaking through. He could see that the convict was close on Lee's heels. Lee seemed to be tiring. As he watched, the big man stumbled, and almost instantly the other was on him.

He saw Lee swing round and aim a blow at the other. But the convict seemed to elude it, and next moment the two had closed.

Wildly excited, Carew started down the slope. At any cost or risk he must see the end of this amazing battle, the cause of which he could not even guess at. He had not gone a hundred yards before a deep boom shook the quiet air. He stopped short and looked up at the sky.

The sky above was blue and clear. There was no longer any sign of the thunder which had brooded an hour earlier.

Again came the boom, followed by a clattering like a distant train in a tunnel. Next moment came a thud, a roar, and just beyond the spot where, the two men rolled and struggled on the ground, up shot a fountain of black earth mingled with smoke.

In a flash Carew understood. This was the range of the Okestock Artillery Camp, and firing practice had begun. Yes, there was the red danger-flag flying from the head of the Raven Tor, and there, just beyond the spot where Lee and the convict were locked in one another's arms, was one of the targets.

He stopped short. His heart was thumping. Again came the distant boom, the clattering rush of the projectile through the sky, and a third shell fell some fifty yards short of the target.

He shouted wildly. It was useless, of course. If the pair took no notice of the shells, it was not to be supposed they would hear his feeble cries.

Another gun spoke. Carew's heart was in his mouth as he waited for the shell. With a thrill of horror he saw it pitch almost on top of the two combatants. When the smoke cleared they both lay very still.


CHAPTER XXXIX. — THE MYSTERY SOLVED.

CAREW waited. There was nothing else for it. Intensely as he longed to solve the mystery, if solved it could be, he was not quite mad enough to venture out there under the rain of 15-pound shells.

One after another they came smashing down, churning the turf around the targets, and leaving deep pits in every direction. After the first few shots the gunners got their range, and very few shells fell short. No other dropped close to the two bodies.

Carew's eyes were fixed on these, and after a time he fancied that he saw one move. Watching intently, he became sure. It was the convict in whom life remained. As for Lee, he lay still as the gray boulders around him.

Carew was almost too excited to think, yet was conscious of a strange sense of relief, a feeling as though a nightmare had passed, and a great weight had been lifted from him. If Lee were truly dead, the worst of his troubles were past and over.

For a whole hour the shells crashed and banged; then at last they ceased, and presently down came the red flag, and all was peace.

Rested physically, if not mentally, Carew rose and hurried towards the spot where Lee and his mysterious opponent were lying.

As he neared it, he saw that the convict had managed to drag himself a little way from Lee. He lay, face down, upon the heather, his head upon his crossed arms.

As Carew approached, the man raised himself slightly, and the two stared at one another.

Carew stopped dead.

"Burt—Caleb Burt?" he said in a queer, thick voice.

"Aye, I'm Burt," answered the other in a hoarse whisper. "And who are you that has my name so pat?"

"I'm Carew. Don't you remember?"

"Little Tom Carew as was a nipper in Wheal Settaford when I were captain? Aye, I know you now." His voice tailed away to a whisper. "Gimme some water. I'm nigh dead with thirst."

Carew dipped a hatful from a neighbouring bog-hole. Burt drank greedily.

"That's better," he said gratefully. "Are you much hurt?" inquired Carew.

"Done in," explained Burt briefly. "But cheap at the price, I calls it. If that there shell hadn't come when it did, Harney would ha' had me, anyhow."

"Harney?"

"Aye, that big, black devil there. A chunk o' iron got him in the throat, and his number's up, thank God."

"Why do you call him Harney?"

"Name I knowed him by, up there," jerking his thumb in the direction of the prison.

Carew tingled all over.

"Was he in there?"

"'Course he was. How else could I have knowed him?"

Carew gasped.

"Good lord, what fools we've all been."

Burt looked up at him with a crooked smile.

"He been playing it low on you folk at Mariscombe?" he asked briefly.

"He has," replied Carew with emphasis. "But see here, you'll be lying out all night if I don't go for help."

"Don't you worry about that," replied Burt. "The screws are on my track all right. I been wondering why they haven't found me before. Three or four was up across Narrow Combe Head, not more'n two hours back. You better wait alongside me, and signal 'em when you see 'em. But I'm booked all right It's my body they'll carry back to the Stone Jug.

"You needn't look like that," he added. "I can take my medicine, and bless you! I don't mind now that carrion is off the earth. The only reason I did the bunk was to do him down."

Carew was burning with curiosity.

"Tell me," he said.

"I don't mind if I do. It'll pass the time, like. Give me a drop more water first.

"You wasn't in England when they sent me up?" he began.

"No, but I heard about it from my mother."

"Then I reckon you heard the true tale. Yes, I'm not kicking. I played hokey with the accounts, and I got what was coming to me, though ten years P.S. was a bit stiff. Anyways I never did anything as bad as Harney, who robbed widows and orphans by same city swindle, and he didn't get no more than I did. Well, to make the story short, he and I palled up, and he took a deal o' interest in my affairs, and I reckon I told him pretty nigh all I knew about the mine."

"But the lode was not lost at that time," cut in Carew.

"Lode lost! Bless you, no! But whatever good was the lode? Paid working expenses, and that was about all. No, Carew, it isn't the tin that makes Wheal Settaford worth while."

"Not the tin!" Light dawned suddenly on Carew. "You—you don't mean there's wolfram?"

Caleb Burt chuckled.

"You've learnt a bit since you been foreign, Carew. Aye, you've guessed it. Wolfram it is, and I the only chap that knew it. But what made me fool enough to tell that devil, Harney, is more than I can say. He blarneyed me into it by swearing he'd get me out o' quod. You see his term was up three years afore mine."

Carew nodded quickly.

"I see now. I understand. That was why he went up to Moorlands the other day. Listen, Burt. I'll tell you the game he's been up to."

Burt did listen. He absolutely hung on Carew's words as he told of the self-styled Calvin Lee's exploits at Mariscombe. And when he ended with the chase across the Moor there was a strange light in the eyes of poor Burt.

"It's I took him off you! I'm glad, o' that, Carew, for it seems to me you been Miss Forrester's best friend through all the business. And though I robbed her, I'm fond of her. A grand woman she is, and like her father before her."

He paused a moment, then chuckled again.

"I'll lay this Oxton Syndicate ain't nothing but Harney himself. You'll find it so when you get back. Go for 'em, Carew, and bust 'em. I wouldn't have Miss Hilda lose any more money through me. You're right about the wolfram. It's in the old workings, and you'll spot it quick enough once you lay eyes on it. You can see now why Harney didn't want you poking round in the old roads. You know a bit more than Steve Truman."

His voice was growing weak. He stopped again and looked round.

"I said so," he remarked quietly. "Two screws in sight. Give 'em a hail, Carew. No use leaving the poor beggars to wander round the moor all night, looking for me."

Carew stood up. Sure enough, two men in dark blue uniforms were tramping along the ridge against the sky line.


CHAPTER XL. — SHADOWS ON THE BLIND.

IT was half-past eleven that night when Carew came riding up the lane leading to the farm. He had been all the way to Moorlands with the warders and Burt. It was the least he could do, he felt, for the man who had saved his life. And Burt, though insensible, was still alive in the prison infirmary, and the doctor had hopes of pulling him through.

At Moorlands Carew had hired a horse to take him back, and now seeing the light in the windows, he suddenly began to fear that his mother had been badly frightened at his long absence.

Slipping out of the saddle and hanging the rein over the fence, he hurried to the door.

The sitting-room window was open, and as he passed it he saw not one but two shadows cast upon the blind. He stopped short, for a sob came to his ears.

Then his mother's voice.

"Never you mind, my dear. 'Tis foolish to take on so till you know the worst."

"But the boy says he saw it, Mrs. Carew—saw the shell fall upon them and kill them both. Oh, but I cannot bear it—I cannot bear it."

Career stood frozen. He could not breathe; he could hardly think. The voice was Hilda's.

"And to think I have been so unkind to him!" she went on. "He loved me, Mrs. Carew—he loved me. Once he tried to tell me, but we were interrupted, and afterwards I was too proud to listen—"

Carew waited to hear no more. Next instant, he was at the door. As he flung himself into the sitting-room the two women started apart. They stared at him as though a ghost had risen before them.

For once in his life Carew did not go straight to his mother. He stood, with his eyes on Hilda, who faced him with wide eyes and parted lips.

"Did you mean it, Hilda?" he implored. "Hilda, did you mean it?"

She hardly seemed to hear.

"Tom!" she said softly. "Tom!"

It was enough. Next moment Carew had her in his arms. And Mrs. Carew, with a discretion which did her infinite credit, melted silently out of the room.

It was minutes before Hilda and Carew even realised her absence; it was longer still before they managed to give each other any sort of coherent idea of what had happened.

It appeared that a boy from the village named Bittaford had heard of the escape from the prison, and gone up on the Moor to try to earn the five pounds reward offered for catching an escaped convict. From a distance he had seen Lee chasing Carew. He had followed, lost sight of them both, but spotted Lee again out on the range, struggling with another man. He had seen the shell fall, and in a panic ran straight home to spread the story that "Muster Carew and Muster Lee both on 'em been killed by a gun shot."

"Little brute!" exclaimed Carew, "frightening you like that!"

Hilda looked at him whimsically.

"I think we may forgive him, Tom—don't you?"

Carew laughed outright.

"I could forgive anyone to-night, Hilda. I'm the happiest man in the world."

"Then you had better go and tell your mother so," replied Hilda, "So far you have treated her disgracefully."

* * * * * *

THE news of the engagement between Hilda Forrester and Tom Carew startled the whole countryside. But the scornful comment which it at first evoked died quickly when the whole romantic details leaked out.

And when it became public property that Carew was actually one of the wealthiest men for miles round, and a power in the mining world, it was just those folk who had turned up their noses most steeply, who tumbled over one another to offer their congratulations.

Carew was too busy to worry about sneers or praise. He had got his own lawyers on the track of the Oxton Syndicate, and soon discovered that they were men of straw. He smote them, hip and thigh, drove them out, and before six weeks were over he and Truman had the old mine busy as never before.

Wolfram was fetching an enormous price and there was enough in sight to make Hilda a very rich woman.

The wedding was fixed for a day in the following September.

On the evening before Carew and Hilda stood together on the terrace of the Court, and watched the day shift streaming down the hill.

Carew, who was looking brown and strong as ever, turned to Hilda.

"There won't be much more emigration from these parts for the present, Hilda," he said cheerfully.

"I hope not," she answered. "Do yon know, Tom dear, of all you have done for me, there is nothing pleases me more than to feel you have brought back prosperity to Mariscombe."


THE END


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