Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE water was perfect, the breeze upstream, Peter Carr was putting his flies across the gently-rippling pools with his usual skill. Yet not a fish would move, not the tiniest rise rewarded his best efforts.
He paused at last and glanced upwards scanning the sky, seeking for some solution of the mystery. Sure enough, up over the craggy summit of Omen Beam a fluff of snow-white mist was rolling like a monstrous ball of cotton-wool.
"Fog!" he muttered ruefully. "Hang the luck! That puts the hat on any chance of a basket to-day. I may just as well give up at once and get back home."
He reeled up, fastened his tail fly into the lowest ring, and turning, tramped off up the steep hillside.
Before he was half-way to the top the edge of the mist cloud enveloped him, cutting off his view of everything beyond a radius of forty or fifty yards.
A stranger to the moor might well have been nervous, but Peter knew his way, and picked his path among the grey boulders and thick gorse and heather with the light step of the trained athlete.
Thicker and thicker the fog rolled down. The billowing waves at times nearly blinded him, then would lift enough to show his surroundings for a matter of a hundred yards or more. Beads of moisture formed on the rough surface of his thick Donegal tweeds, and dripped from the brim of his cap.
A stone wall loomed through the smother. He climbed it, and much to his delight found himself on the main road.
"Good business!" he remarked cheerfully. "I didn't waste many steps. And now for home and a hot bath, a change, and a real creamy, jammy tea."
Peter had tramped a good many miles that day, and the prospect of a quiet evening over a glowing peat fire was distinctly pleasing. But before he had gone another quarter of a mile he was roused from his pleasant reverie by a shrill call for help.
He pulled up short.
The voice was a girl's voice, but where it came from was somewhat doubtful. Fog plays queer tricks with ears as well as eyes.
"Help! Oh!—will no one come?"
"Keep quiet—curse you!" was the low savage reply, and the girl's voice was shut off as though a hand had clutched her throat.
This time there was no doubt in Peter's mind about the direction from which the voices came, and he was off down the road at the top of his speed.
He had not far to go. Barely a hundred yards further on he came upon a tableau which might have been lifted straight out of a picture palace.
On the broad strip of sheep-bitten turf, beside the road, a big, brawny-looking man was holding with both hands a girl who, by the look of her, had already put up a pretty good fight.
The man was dressed in that particularly hideous attire which is worn only by inmates of his Majesty's convict prisons, and which consists of a red-and-blue slop jacket, a Glengarry cap, and breeches and gaiters of a drab hue plentifully besprinkled with broad arrows. His face, heavy-jawed, strong, and vicious, was not improved by a quarter-inch growth of black stubble.
"Quiet—curse you!" Peter heard him growl again. "Give me what you've got, and I'll let you go. If you don't, I'll choke the life out of you."
Peter had won the welter-weight championship of his university in the previous year, and naturally was trained to keep his temper in emergency. But this was a bit too much, even for a boxer's sang froid. Every drop of blood in his body boiled, and covering the last few yards in three jumps, he hurled himself upon the convict.
Yet quick as he was, the other was almost equally quick. He dropped the girl, who staggered away against the wall, and spinning round, was in time to face Peter's onslaught.
Peter, confident in his own powers, went right at the fellow. It gave him a nasty jar when he found that the straight left which he had meant for the convict's jaw, was deftly turned aside, while he himself had to guard a dangerous right swing.
The man knew more than a bit about boxing, and into the bargain was a good three inches taller than Peter and with a proportionately longer reach, Peter realised with great promptitude that this was not going to be any walk-over, and altered his tactics accordingly.
Instinctively he fell into the crouching attitude of the trained fighter.
The convict left him little time to consider. Realising apparently that his antagonist was a boxer, he came in with a rush, trusting, no doubt, to his height and bulk to knock Peter off his feet.
The weight of his charge and the iron hardness of the man's body warned Peter that he was up against a very stiff proposition. He gave ground, and as ill-luck would have it, caught his left heel on a loose stone and turned his ankle badly. A sharp twinge of pain darted up his leg, he staggered, and the convict, seizing his chance, swung a weighty punch to his body.
Peter as near as possible went down. If he had, he would certainly never have been given a chance to get up again. But somehow he saved himself, and jumped sideways just in time to elude a tremendous upper cut.
The convict overbalanced, and before he could steady himself Peter got his own back in the shape of a punch on the jaw which staggered his big opponent.
It was a blow that would have put a weaker man out, but the big brute merely grunted, gave back a little, then came on again more viciously than ever.
For the moment it was all Peter could do to save himself from the hurricane of blows which the lag rained in. His ankle was hurting abominably, and he realised that the stumble was likely to cost him dear. He was very anxious and uneasy.
The convict, finding that he could not get home, retreated a step or two. He was blowing a little, a fact which gave Peter a gleam of hope. Now was the time for Peter to go in, but he did not trust his ankle, and was forced to wait for the next attack.
It was not long in coming. In rushed the big lag. Not knowing Peter's reason for standing on the defensive, he evidently fancied that he was funking or over cautious. He slugged for all he was worth. Peter stood his ground and slugged back. He had to take punishment, but he gave it, too. He kept shooting short-arm blows to the body, and some of them—he knew by his opponent's face—were damaging.
Once more the big lag dropped back, breathing hard. It was only for a moment. Almost instantly he flew in again, this time to be met with a straight left that flattened his nose and staggered him.
Peter resolved to risk it. He followed him up and ripped in blow after blow. But the great convict seemed made of iron. Peter could not knock him out, and now such pangs were shooting up his leg as made him almost sick with agony. To add to his troubles, one eye was closing, and into the other blood was streaming from a cut on his forehead. He was half blind.
He knew he could not last much longer, and made a last bid for victory. Waiting his chance, he measured the distance with his left, then drove his right straight for the point. His fist went home with a thud that jarred every nerve in his own body. The convict's arms flew up, he swayed to and fro like a tree that is just sawed through, then crashed over on to the grass.
And Peter, in very little better case, was only saved from following him by the girl who, springing forward, caught him in both arms and lowered him gently to the turf.
DURING the next few misty moments Peter was only conscious that the girl was mopping the blood from his face with a totally inadequate handkerchief, and crooning over him as a mother over a hurt child.
Presently he pulled himself together.
"Did the fellow hurt you?" he demanded anxiously.
"No. He was trying to rob me. But you?"
"My ankle. I sprained it at the beginning. That's the trouble. What are we going to do? That sweep ought to be carted back to prison."
"Never mind him." The girl spoke urgently. And Peter, beginning to recover, realised that her voice was perfectly delightful, and was matched only by the charm of her face. Her hair, of that reddish gold which goes with a perfectly clear complexion and deep blue eyes, had come down in the struggle, and hung about her shoulders in a wonderful shining mane.
"Never mind him," she repeated. "Our house is quite close. If I help you can you get as far?"
"I'll try, anyhow. It's not Otter's Holt, is it, by any chance?"
"Yes, that is where I live."
"Then you are Miss Lovell."
"I am Joyce Lovell. But do not stop here, talking. That horrible creature may come to himself, and you can't fight him again."
"I'm rather afraid I can't," replied Peter ruefully. "It's about as much as I can do to stand. I say, are you sure you can help me? I'm awfully heavy."
"I am very strong," she assured him. "You need not be afraid to lean on me."
She had not boasted. Slender as she was, Peter found that she was quite equal to the task. And this was lucky, for without her help he could not possibly have gone many steps.
Otter's Holt lay in a curve of the hill above the Arrow. It was a charming old house, backed by fine timber and with gardens stretching steeply to the water's edge. But the fog hid its beauties, and in any case Peter was in no condition to appreciate them. The journey, short as it was, took the last ounce out of him, and it was heaven to sink on to a deep-springed sofa and get the injured leg off the ground.
"Father is out," Joyce told him, as she rang the bell. "But my brother Jasper is at home."
"Fox," as an elderly butler came in answer to the bell. "This gentleman is hurt. Fetch some brandy, please, and ask Mr. Jasper to come here."
"But what about the convict, Miss Lovell?" put in Peter quickly. "He'll he getting away if some one doesn't go after him."
"I will see to that," Joyce answered. "The gardener and another man shall go. And we will telephone the prison."
The butler hurried away, and next minute the door opened again to admit a slightly built, keen eyed young man, who limped a little as he walked. He was darker than Joyce, but so like her in features that Peter knew him at once for her brother.
Joyce quickly explained what had happened, and Jasper went off at once to organise the capture of the convict.
Fox came with the brandy. It was fine old Cognac, and the fairly stiff mixture which Joyce administered did Peter a world of good.
"And now for the ankle," said Joyce, as she stooped to unlace Peter's boot.
He objected vigorously. "It's no work for you," he declared. "Let me do it."
"Good patients always obey their nurses," quoth Joyce, paying no other attention to his remonstrances. With the deftest fingers in the world, she removed his muddy boot, and then his stocking.
She shook her head at sight of the ankle. It was badly puffed, and blackening ominously.
"You are not going to put that to the ground for the next fortnight," she said in her gentle yet decided way.
Peter pulled a long face.
"What a beastly nuisance! I was looking forward to a real good time with the trout."
"You will have to look forward to a very dull one on this sofa, I am afraid," replied Joyce.
"B—but I can't go inflicting myself on you," stammered Peter in sudden confusion. "Why—why, you don't even know my name or anything about me."
"The first deficiency is easily remedied," said Joyce calmly. "As for your second assertion, it is not quite true. I know"—her voice was suddenly grave—"that you are a brave man and a gentleman."
Peter flushed hotly.
"My name is Carr—Peter Carr," he said quickly, to cover his confusion.
Joyce looked up from the ankle which she was now engaged in bandaging.
"Son of Sir Anthony Carr?" she questioned.
"No—he is my uncle. My father and mother died when I was a youngster, and Uncle Anthony took me over."
Something in Peter's voice brought a gleam of sympathy into Joyce's eyes.
"My mother is dead, too," she said gently. "Is that comfy?" she added, as she put a pin in the bandage.
"Splendid!" declared Peter. He was beginning to think that the spell of enforced idleness might not be so bad, after all.
"Then I think I will ring for tea," said Joyce. "Father will probably be in by this time."
Almost as she spoke Mr. Lovell entered the room. He was a small, dry, withered man, but his blue eyes were still almost uncannily bright.
"What's this I hear, Joyce?" he began. "You have been attacked by a convict? This is what comes of your wandering about the moor by yourself. I have always told you—"
Joyce cut him short.
"This is Mr. Carr, father. He rescued me, and was badly hurt in doing so. He is nephew of Sir Anthony Carr, whom I think you know."
"Yes, yes. Of course, I know Sir Anthony very well. Visited Carr Holme, too. So you are his nephew. Dear me, what a singular coincidence! I am very glad to welcome you to Otter's Holt, and I trust you will stay here until you are quite recovered."
The little man was too effusive to please Peter, and he was glad when tea came in. It was a real country house tea, with hot scones, cress sandwiched, fruit cake, and quantities of cream. Joyce waited on Peter, and Peter did himself well. His fight had not spoilt his appetite.
Tea was nearly over before Jasper Lovell reappeared. He was very much annoyed.
"The fellow has got clean, away," he announced. "The men tell me that there is not a sign of him."
"It is simply disgraceful—" began his father angrily, but, as before, Joyce cut in.
"The warders are sure to have him sooner or later," she declared. "It is years since any convict got clear away from Moorlands."
Presently the old gentleman departed, and Joyce went off, too, leaving her brother to entertain Peter.
The two got on very well, and Peter took a great liking to the keen, clever youngster, whom a bad accident as a boy had left lame for life. Jasper, on his side, was full of admiration for the lean young athlete, of whose boxing prowess he had heard much, and insisted on learning all the details of the fight. Before he went to bed that night Peter decided that his lines had fallen in pleasant places, and that his period of enforced idleness was going to be quite a cheery one.
It was. Joyce and Jasper looked after him splendidly. One or other was with him almost all day. It was a most peaceful and pleasant existence, tempered only by the fussiness of old Lovell, and by the annoying news that the convict, whose name according to prison records was Jabez Golt, had not been retaken.
By the tenth day of his stay at Otter's Holt, Peter had made two discoveries. One was that he could hobble about with the aid of two sticks; the other that he was in love with Joyce.
One morning, coming down to breakfast, he found a letter on the breakfast table, addressed to him in the queer, crabbed hand of his uncle.
And this is what he read:
Dear Peter,—I trust that you are now well enough to return to town, for I wish to see you at once. The matter is urgent, and affects you as well as myself. I have told you that my eldest brother,—David Carr, disappeared abroad, many years ago. His death was legally presumed before I inherited. I hear to-day from Calvert and Keene that a man who claims to be David's son has turned up from the Argentine. They tell me that his proofs are perfect or admirably forged. If the former, I am penniless, and so are you.—Your affectionate uncle, Anthony Carr.
PETER read the letter through twice before he got the whole sense of it into his head. Then he sat down rather suddenly, and stared round the room which he still had all to himself.
"Good Lord!" he muttered blankly. Then, after a pause, "Poor old uncle!"
"What is the matter, Peter?"
Peter stared up. He had not even heard Joyce enter the room.
"What is the matter?" she repeated anxiously. "Oh, Peter, you have bad news!"
"None too good, Joyce," Peter answered, smiling wryly. "But read this, and see what you make of it."
She took the letter, and he watched the anxious look deepen on her face as she read it.
"Oh, Peter, your poor uncle!" she exclaimed.
"It doesn't follow that it is true," said Peter stoutly. "The whole thing may be a plant. I have beard of such things before now."
"So have I," Joyce answered quickly.
"Hulloa, you two, what are you conspiring about?"
Both looked up as Jasper limped into the room. "Why aren't you eating your breakfasts?" he continued chaffingly. "Everything is getting cold."
"Shall he read it, Peter?" asked Joyce.
"I shall be glad if he will," replied Peter, and Joyce handed the letter to her brother.
Jasper ran his eye over it. He had the faculty of getting the sense of everything written or printed almost at a glance.
He gave a low whistle.
"Enough to spoil any one's appetite," he said. "But look here, Peter, don't take it too seriously. The whole thing may be a plant."
"That's exactly what Peter said," put in Joyce eagerly. "It would be too dreadful if it were true."
Jasper looked at Peter.
"Who are those people, Calvert and Keane?" he asked in his quirk way.
"My uncle's own lawyers," Peter told him. "A good, sound firm."
Jasper looked rather grave.
"You think the proofs are good then?" said Peter.
"My dear chap, how can I tell? They say 'perfect or admirably forged.' Surely, it's as likely to be the latter. Is your uncle a rich man?"
"He has about eight thousand a year, I believe, besides the place. You'd never believe it, though, to look at him. He wears any old clothes, and lives in the gloomiest flat in the West End, with no one to look after him but his man, Scrutton. All he cares about are old miniatures and snuff-boxes, and things like that."
"You are his heir?" inquired Jasper.
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"He has always led me to suppose I was. You know I manage Carr Holme for him, and he gives me three hundred a year for doing it."
"Yes. He says this business affects you as well as himself. Well, you will have to go up and see him."
"Of course I shall. I must be off at once."
"There's no great hurry. The train does not leave Cleverton until 12:35, and I will run you down in the car. Eat your breakfast, old chap, and don't be downhearted."
"What's this? What's this?"
Mr. Lovell had just come in, and overheard the last few words. "Mr. Carr going away? Surely, this is very sudden!"
Peter explained the situation. Old Lovell watched him with beady eyes.
"A claimant!" he said in his jerky way. "A claimant! Dear me, this is very serious. I am very sorry for Sir Anthony and you, too, Carr. It is a dreadful thing to lose all one's money in a minute, as it were, like this."
"Don't be so previous, father," cut in Jasper a trifle impatiently. "The case has not even been tried yet. These so- called proofs may be nothing but forgeries."
"Ah, I hope so. I hope so. But I fear it is hardly likely. It is sad, very, sad. Joyce, this toast is like leather, Ring the bell for some fresh."
"How the mischief did he ever come to be the father of Joyce and Jasper," was Peter's unspoken thought, as he went on with his own breakfast.
He did not eat much. His news had quite spoilt his appetite. As soon as he could he got away and went upstairs to pack.
He finished his portmanteau and came down again to fetch his rods from the gun-room. In the hall he met Joyce, who came straight up to him.
"You must not mind father, Peter," she said earnestly. "It's just his way."
His eyes told her what his lips dared not utter. She flushed suddenly and looked down.
"Joyce, I must not," he said hoarsely. "I may be nothing but a beggar."
She glanced up again, and smiled adorably.
"Beggars may beg, Peter," she answered softly.
"Oh, Joyce," he whispered. Then his arms were round her and his lips met hers.
At the sound of Mr. Lovell's voice the two started apart. Watch in hand Joyce's father came bustling into the hall.
"Oh, here you are, Carr," he said in his jerky way. "It is past eleven—time for you to start. Jasper is waiting."
Whether he suspected anything or not, Peter could not tell. At any rate he gave the pair no chance for any further love-making, and five minutes later Peter was in the car and spinning away towards Cleverton.
"You'll write and tell me what happens?" were Jasper's last words as the train began to move.
"Of course I will," Peter answered. "And—and, Jasper, give my love to Joyce."
Jasper showed no sign of astonishment.
"I will," he said heartily, and then Peter was whirled away.
The train was late. Peter did not reach London until nearly nine. Taking a taxi he drove straight to his uncle's flat, which was in one of those high narrow, old houses in King-street.
Peter had his own latch key, so there was no need to ring. To his surprise the flat was in darkness, and the first thing he was conscious of was a heavy, and peculiar odour.
A sudden uneasiness assailed him as he felt hastily for the switch. Light flooded the narrow hall, but there was no sound of movement.
"Scrutton!" he called.
There was no reply.
He went straight into the sitting-room. This, a regular museum of miniatures and similar works of art, was empty. About it, too, hung the same strange sickly smell.
Peter, growing more and more uneasy, hurried to his uncle's bedroom and knocked at the door.
No reply. He did not wait, but went straight in and turned on the light.
This room, like the drawing-room, was a mass of small pictures and of cabinets full of miniatures. The bed stood against the far wall. The clothes were disarranged as though some one had pulled them off roughly.
And beside the bed lay Sir Anthony, flat on his face on the floor, his arms stretched straight out. His grey hair was dabbed with blood and a pool of blood reddened the carpet.
One glance was sufficient to assure Peter that his uncle was stone dead.
PETER was still a very young man, and this was the first time that he had come into contact with violent death. The shock was so great that, for the moment, he felt positively sick. For some moments he stood stock still, staring down at the poor, broken body that lay so still upon the blood-soaked carpet.
But this did not last long, and with a sudden feeling of self- contempt for what he wrongly thought was cowardice on his part, he bent down quickly, and took his uncle's hand in his.
It was quite cold, and fast growing stiff. Clearly, not a trace of life remained. Peter's next impulse was to lift the body and lay it on the bed. But he pulled up short. That would never do. He must not meddle until the police had viewed the scene of the murder. He realised, too, that it was his business to call them.
He stepped back towards the drawing-room in which was the telephone. Before he reached the door he stopped again.
"Scrutton," he said half aloud. "Where's Scrutton? He must be somewhere about."
Scrutton was his uncle's servant, a rather silent, middle-aged man who had been with Sir Anthony for some years, and did everything for him.
Full of the idea of finding Scrutton, Peter hurried into the kitchen, which was at the end of the passage. The door was shut. As he opened it a whiff of the same sweet, sickly odour that filled the rest of the flat met him. But here it seemed stronger still.
He pulled the switch over, and a flood of light illuminated the small, neat room, and showed him Scrutton flat on the floor between the table and the gas range.
The man lay so still that for a moment Peter fancied that he had shared his employer's fate. But a second glance showed that he was still breathing.
Peter bent over him.
"Scrutton!" he said loudly, "Scrutton!"
Scrutton did not move or show that he had heard. His eyes were closed. Peter went across to the window and flung up the sash. The reek of chloroform was so strong that his own head was spinning.
Then he made a second attempt to rouse Scrutton. He dashed water in his face and shook him. Scrutton mumbled something, like a man talking in his sleep. Then he collapsed again, and Peter could not bring him round by any means known to him.
There was nothing for it but to call the police, and Peter went back again up the passage towards the sitting-room.
His hand was on the receiver to lift it, when he paused again. He hated the idea of bringing in the police. He knew of course, that he must do so sooner or later, yet he wanted badly to find out a little more before he telephoned.
So far he had not the faintest idea of the motive for the murder. He suddenly remembered his uncle's letter and thoughts of Tudor Carr. Was it possible that Tudor had anything to do with the crime? But he dismissed the idea almost instantly. If Tudor Carr's proofs were good it was the very last thing he was likely to do. If bad, then the killing of Sir Anthony made no difference, for he himself was still the heir.
The only other explanation seemed to be burglary. He could easily find out whether anything was missing, and this he determined to do before he called up the police station.
For a second time he went back into the bedroom. The sight of his uncle's body made him shudder afresh, but he conquered his repulsion by an effort of will, and began to search the place.
The very first thing he saw was his uncle's gold watch and bunch of heavy, old-fashioned seals lying on the dressing-table. Near it was a little heap of loose silver.
There were a pair of gold backed hair-brushes close by. All these things were among the first that would have attracted the attention of a thief.
Then there were the miniatures. Peter looked all around, and, so far as he could tell, nothing was missing from the walls. He could not, of course, be sure, but there was no perceptible gap anywhere.
Peter was aware that his uncle sometimes kept a good deal of money in the flat. He constantly visited auction rooms, and was in the habit of paying cash for any purchase he made. Peter stepped back once more into the sitting-room, and tried the upper drawer of the small Chippendale writing-table which stood near the window.
It was open, and there, at the very top, lay the old-fashioned Russian leather pocket-book which his uncle always carried.
Peter opened it, and found it stuffed with notes, some of them of large denominations. He stood staring at them. So it was not burglary after all. Yet if not, what could the motive be? The whole thing was most mysterious.
He was roused from his reverie by a slight sound. It was the creak of a board, and Peter spun round wondering who was about.
Seeing nothing, he went quickly out into the passage.
There was no one there, yet Peter felt sure he had not been mistaken. He hurried to the kitchen, but still no sign of life. Scrutton lay just as he had left him, breathing heavily, and still insensible.
"Must have been some one coming up the outer stairs," said Peter. "Well, I can't get any forrader, so I suppose the only thing is to call up the police."
This time he did not hesitate, but went straight to the telephone stand, and lifted the receiver.
"What number?" came a voice from the exchange.
"Give me the nearest police station," said Peter. "Quickly, please. It is urgent."
"That is Vine-street," came the answer. "I will put you through."
A moment later he was explaining what had happened to an unseen inspector of police.
"Yes—yes," came the quick answer. "No need to give details. I will come round at once."
"And bring a doctor, please," said Peter. "Scrutton, the valet, is still insensible."
"Very good. I will do so. Expect us within ten minutes. Good- bye."
Peter hung up the receiver, and looked round once again through the open door at that still figure on the floor. All of a sudden he felt horribly lonely.
There had never been any particular bond of affection between himself and his uncle. Sir Anthony was not that sort. At the same time, the old man had always been good to him in his stiff, dry way, and he had been the only relation Peter had known since the death of his parents.
Now he was dead, and Peter was left not only alone, but, if Tudor Carr's story was true, penniless and without prospects of any kind.
Penniless! The word formed itself aloud upon Peter's lips. It had an ugly sound. But it was worse than that. Peter, though not particularly extravagant, had lived like most young men who have good expectations. He was in debt. He hardly knew how much he owed, but it was certainly several hundred pounds. Tradesmen had never made any bones about giving him credit, and naturally enough he had taken advantage of their readiness. Now, if Tudor Carr were really the heir, he himself was not only a pauper, but actually bankrupt.
Like a flash came the thought of those notes. The money would, at any rate, be enough to put him square with the world, and after all it was his own. His own, at least, until the other fellow proved his claim. He knew that Sir Anthony, had he been alive, would have given him as much, had he asked it.
At that moment, Peter believed that he had a perfect right to the money. There was no feeling in his mind that he was doing anything dishonest, and walking straight across to the desk he took the pocket-book and counted its contents.
The amount was just over eight hundred pounds. He slipped the case into his pocket, and had hardly done so before he heard steps on the stairs below. He went straight to the door of the flat, and opened it. Three men were outside, a tall, grave-faced inspector, a black-coated doctor, carrying a bag, and a burly police sergeant.
"THE murder was committed between two and three hours ago. Death was caused by one blow on the head. It must have been delivered with tremendous force for the skull is completely crushed."
Such was the verdict of Police Surgeon Hodgetts as he rose from beside the corpse.
Curtin, the tall inspector, nodded. He turned to Peter.
"Where is the valet, Mr. Carr—Scrutton I believe you called him?"
"In the kitchen," Peter answered. "He seems to have been chloroformed. I could not rouse him."
He led the way, and Curtin and Hodgetts followed. Mayfield, the sergeant, remained in the bedroom.
Scrutton was still on his back on the floor, but he seemed to be breathing more easily. The air in the room was fresher.
Hodgetts set to work at once, and using some strong restorative soon brought him round. Presently he was sitting on a chair, and answering Curtin's questions.
But it speedily became clear that he could throw no light upon the crime. He had, he said, been heating some soup for the master when all of a sudden a rug was flung over his head, and a pair of arms clipped him around the body. He had struggled, but his assailant was too strong for him. He had been flung to the floor. Then the man had knelt upon him and got him by the throat through the rug and choked him until he was insensible.
That was all he knew. Curtin questioned him keenly, but got nothing more out of him. Scrutton declared that he had not even heard the man come into the room. Not, he added, that that was anything wonderful, for his hearing was none too good.
Curtin took Peter back to the drawing-room, and closed both doors.
"You will allow me to ask you a few questions, Mr. Carr?"
"Anything you like," Peter answered readily.
"I understand you came up from Devonshire to-day?"
"I did. I arrived at Paddington at 9 and drove straight down here. I let myself in with my own key, and switched on the light. There was no one in the drawing-room, so I went into the bedroom. Then I found my—my uncle."
Peter shivered slightly as he spoke. In spite of his self- control, his nerves had suffered.
"Then you rang us up?" suggested the inspector.
"No. I came back towards the telephone, but suddenly thought of Scrutton, and went to look for him. It was not until I found that I could get nothing out of him that I rang you up."
"Then how long was it from the time you reached the flat before you called the police station?"
"I really don't know," Peter answered. "It might have been five minutes. It might have been ten. I never looked at the clock."
Curtin nodded. He was silent a moment. "Has anything been stolen, so far as you know?"
"Nothing. My uncle's watch and some money are on the dressing- table. I do not think that anything else has been meddled with."
"It would seem," said Curtin, "that Sir Anthony was going to bed when he was attacked?"
"I cannot say. He was expecting me. I came in answer to a letter which I had from him this morning."
"May I see the letter?"
Peter hesitated a moment. But he realised that, at the inquest, the whole story must come out.
"Yes," he said. "I will show it to you."
Curtin's eyes widened a little as he read Sir Anthony's letter.
"So there is a claim against the estate?" he said.
"Apparently. But that is all I know. I never heard a word of it until I got that letter this morning."
Curtin nodded again.
"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Carr," he said in his grave way. "And now I will call an ambulance, and have the body removed. There will be a preliminary inquiry to-morrow, but the inquest must be delayed until we can make inquiries. Where shall we find you? Will you stay here?"
"No." Peter's voice was sharp. "I could not possibly stay here. I shall go to Harcourt's Hotel as soon as I can get a taxi."
"Very good," said Curtin. "The sergeant shall call you a cab, and I will ring you up in the morning, and tell you when and where you will be wanted."
THE preliminary inquiry was over, but this had been a merely formal matter. As Inspector Curtin had said, the inquest was delayed until inquiries could be made. At present there was not the faintest clue either to the murderer or the cause of the murder. As Peter was leaving, a quiet, middle aged man met him.
"Good morning, Mr. Carr," he said gravely, "This is a very terrible business." Peter, who had been wrapped in his own thoughts, started slightly. Then he quickly put out his hand.
"Good morning, Mr. Calvert. I did not even know you were here. Yes, it's a horrible thing altogether, and for the life of me I can't imagine who can have done it. I was wondering—" He paused. "We can't talk here," he said, abruptly, "too many people."
"Come back with me to the office," said Mr. Calvert. "I want a talk with you. Here is a taxi. We will drive."
"I think I know what you were going to say," continued the solicitor after they had taken their seats in the taxi. "You were going to suggest that this new claimant had something to do with the murder?"
"That was it," Peter answered.
"I don't think so," Calvert told him. "I don't think so for a moment. Not only would there be no possible object in such a crime, but you have only to see Tudor Carr to feel certain that he is incapable of anything of the kind."
"What sort of man is he?" asked Peter with interest.
"You shall see for yourself. I made an appointment with him for half-past twelve. He should be at my office by the time we arrive."
"What about his proofs?" questioned Peter.
Mr. Calvert looked grave.
"I had better be quite straight with you, Mr. Carr. We have submitted them to Mr. Sterne, the handwriting expert and he pronounces them genuine. There is no better authority than he."
Peter drew a long breath, but did not speak.
There was sympathy in the lawyer's eyes as he glanced at the younger man.
"We can fight if you wish," he said.
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"What's the use? If the proofs are really genuine, and I see you think they are, I don't want to try and keep this cousin of mine out of what is really his. No, I shan't fight, unless you advise it."
"I cannot conscientiously advise it," replied the lawyer gravely.
"Then we will let it go at that," said Peter, with a touch of recklessness. "By-the-bye, did my uncle leave any will?"
"Yes, he left everything to you. But the will is worthless. The claim, you see, was made before Sir Anthony's death."
"But here we are at our destination," he added, as the cab pulled up in front of a rather sombre looking house in John- street.
Mr. Calvert got out, paid the driver, and opening the door with a latch key led the way into an oak-panelled passage.
It was not the first time that Peter has been inside the house. His uncle had taken him there, while still a small boy, and he well remembered the curious musty odour that seemed to haunt the solemn old house.
A clerk came out from an inner room.
"Mr. Tudor Carr and Mr. Paul Bassett are here, sir," he said.
"Thank you, Simms. Show them into my office, please."
"Who is Mr. Paul Bassett?" asked Peter in a low voice as he followed Mr. Calvert into the lofty, formal-looking room that was his private office.
"A friend of your cousin's. A sort of bear-leader, I should imagine, if I may put it so crudely. But hush! Here they come."
Simms opened the door, and two men so startlingly different from one another that Peter thought that he had never seen such an amazing contrast.
The first was not more than five feet five in height. He had a small pale face, a little fair moustache, watery blue eyes, and an uncertain manner. The second was well over six feet, broad- shouldered, dark, with a face as strong as the other's was weak. Peter had an impression of very dark eyes deep-set on either side of a jutting nose, of a tight-lipped mouth under a close-cropped dark moustache, and of a chin like the toe of a boot. The little man was badly dressed in a light suit, with patent boots, yellow gloves, and a blue tie; the big man, on the contrary, was perfectly groomed, and wore his clothes like one accustomed to patronise a good tailor, and not to cavil at their cost.
Before Peter could collect his ideas, Mr. Calvert was introducing the new comers.
"Mr. Tudor Carr, Mr. Peter Carr," he said, and Peter found himself shaking the limp hand of the little man. The latter flushed painfully and seemed much embarrassed.
"Mr. Paul Bassett," continued the lawyer, and the big man gave Peter one quick grip, and a sharp glance from his deep-set eyes.
"I—I have just heard about Sir—Sir Anthony," stammered Tudor Carr. "I—I'm awfully sorry."
In spite of the situation Peter almost smiled. The idea of connecting this poor little atomy with a murder was simply absurd.
Mr. Calvert spoke.
"It is a terrible business," he said gravely. "And yet in a way it simplifies matters so far as the claim is concerned. I have, as suggested, submitted your papers, Mr. Tudor Carr, to the handwriting expert. He pronounces them genuine. Under the circumstances Mr. Peter Carr has decided not to contest your claim."
"Er—ah, that is very good of him," said Tudor, in his odd, hesitating way. "I—I quite see that it's—it's rough on him, and I think we ought to do something for him—that is if he doesn't mind."
He turned to the big man.
"W-what do you say, Bassett?"
"Time enough to talk of that, later," said Bassett, speaking for the first time. His voice matched his appearance, being deep and rather harsh.
Bassett's tone annoyed Peter.
"Never mind about me," he said curtly. "There is after all no question of sentiment in the matter."
"That's the way to look at it," replied Bassett, and there was a suspicion of irony in his tone which galled Peter. But his words did more than annoy Peter. There was some tone in them that touched a chord of memory in his mind. It seemed to him that he had heard this voice before, and he gave Bassett a quick, searching glance.
The impression grew upon him that this was not the first time that they had met, yet rack his memory as he would he could not bring to mind when or where.
Bassett gave him little time for thought. He rose.
"We may as well be moving, Tudor," he said. "Your business seems to be finished for the present. I presume, Mr. Calvert, that Mr., or I should say Sir, Tudor Carr will simply come into his late uncle's property, as next heir?"
"That is so," replied the lawyer. He spoke rather stiffly. It seemed as though he rather resented the presence of this third party.
"There are, of course, the usual formalities to be observed," he continued. "There must be a valuation for probate and duty will have to be paid before Sir Tudor Carr can take possession."
"Quite so. He understands all that," said Bassett easily. "I trust you will attend to all that for him!"
"If Sir Tudor Carr desires us to do so," replied Mr. Calvert.
"Yes—yes," said Tudor hurriedly. "Of course I do. I—I shall be much obliged if you will do it."
He picked up his straw hat and yellow gloves, nodded awkwardly to the lawyer and his cousin, and followed Bassett out of the room.
Calvert looked at Peter.
"A curious couple," he said in his dry way.
"Poor little beggar," answered Peter. "He daren't call his soul his own. But who is this fellow Bassett?"
"Indeed, I wish I could tell you. But except that he comes from Montevideo and claims to have been a friend of your uncle David, I know no more than you."
"From Montevideo, eh? Let me see, that's the capital of Uruguay." Peter got up from his chair as he spoke. "Well, Mr. Calvert, I am very much obliged to you for all you have done, and now I think I will be going."
"Stay and lunch with me," urged Calvert. "I want to talk to you about your prospects."
Peter thanked him, but refused. He had the feeling that he must be alone. He went straight back to his hotel, but instead of lunching, walked into the reading-room, and sat down to write to Joyce.
He told her all that had happened.
"So you see, Joyce, dear," he went on. "I am left practically penniless, and that is the end of it so far as you and I are concerned. I am not one of those clever chaps who can carve out a fortune, and turn up a millionaire inside twelve months, and so I am not going to ask you to wait for me. It wouldn't be fair. Not that I shall ever forget you. I shall love you always—as long as ever I live. I don't think I need tell you that, for I believe you know it as well as I do. I've had the best time of my life the last fortnight. Even if I never see you again I would not have that washed out. I can even be grateful to that convict chap—"
Peter stopped suddenly in the midst of his sentence. His pen dropped from his fingers, and he sat perfectly still, staring blankly in front of him.
For as he had written the last two words an idea had flashed across his mind—an idea so mad, so seemingly incredible that, vivid as it was, he could hardly bring himself to believe it.
It was this—that the convict Jabez Holt and the well- dressed, urbane Paul Bassett were one and the same person.
"MAD! Impossible!" These were the words that framed themselves on Peter's lips.
And on the face of it, the idea was indeed about as crazy a one as could possibly be imagined. How, by any stretch of coincidence could a convict barely a fortnight out of Dartmoor, have turned into the well-dressed, apparently wealthy and prosperous man from whom Peter had parted not an hour ago?
Reason told him that the suggestion was fit only for a lunatic; instinct warned him that he was right. There is no other way by which you become so well acquainted with another man's personality as by fighting him, and struggle against it as he might the conviction burned itself more and more deeply on Peter's brain that Bassett and Holt were indeed one and the same. How the change had been effected he did not even pretend to guess. The fact remained and that was enough.
Minute after minute Peter sat motionless in his chair at the writing table. The big room was empty, but for himself. Every one else in the hotel was at lunch. At first his mind was in such a whirl that he could not think consecutively. Gradually, however, he calmed down and began to go into the pros and cons of the situation.
If it was the truth; if he was right in his supposition! Again, he was staggered at the possibilities which loomed before him.
Jabez Holt was a criminal. As Peter knew, he had been serving a sentence of ten years for a particularly brutal assault. Yet, as Bassett, he was bear-leader to, and apparently in charge of Tudor Carr. The natural conclusion was that, in spite of the evidence of the handwriting expert, Tudor's proofs and credentials were not genuine.
In that case, he and not Tudor was still the heir, and Joyce—Joyce might still be his.
He sprang up. He snatched up the unfinished letter which he had been writing to Joyce, and taking it in both hands was about to tear it across and across and fling the fragments into the waste-paper basket. Then with equal suddenness he changed his mind. A grim smile parted his lips.
"Better be sure, first," he said half aloud, and folding the letter carefully, slipped it into an envelope, and placed both in an inner pocket.
He turned as if to leave the room, then paused undecidedly. What was he to do next? What use was he to make of this knowledge which had come to him so strangely?
His first idea was to hurry off and lay it before Calvert. The lawyer would advise him what best to do. But on second thoughts he decided against this idea. It seemed to him that he must make sure, first. He must see Bassett again. Yes that was the best plan, and the one which most appealed to a man of Peter's direct and simple mind.
Next, it occurred to him that he had not Bassett's address. Calvert would know it, and this time as he made for the door there was no indecision in Peter's step or manner.
As luck had it, Mr. Calvert was still in his office, and he himself answered Peter's ring up. Peter gave no reasons for wishing to know the address. He merely asked for it right out. And the lawyer, on his part, asked no questions, but gave it promptly. It was 60-B Jermyn-street.
The western end of Jermyn-street was not ten minutes' walk from Harcourt's Hotel, and Peter, putting on his hat in the hall and taking up his gloves and stick, strode off there at a rapid pace.
Sixty-B proved to be a block of bachelor flats. Inquiring of the hall porter, Peter heard that Mr. Tudor Carr and Mr. Bassett were in No. five on the second floor. Yes, the man believed, that they were both at home, but he would telephone up and find out for certain.
They were at home. Mr. Peter Carr wished to see Mr. Bassett. Very good. Would Mr. Carr come up?
As Peter mounted the stairs, he realised that his heart was beating more rapidly than usual. But it was rather with that pleasurable excitement which the fighting man feels before going into the ring. For Peter, if not particularly clever or brainy, was a real fighter.
It was Bassett himself who opened the door, Bassett with his deep-set eyes, dark hair, dominant chin, and extraordinary well dressed and prosperous appearance.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Carr," he said in his deep and rather harsh voice. His manner was perfect, yet there was an air of faint surprise about him. He seemed to be saying, "What on earth have you come here about? I had thought we had done with you."
This nettled Peter, yet he did not show it. He had had time to prepare himself for the meeting, and he meant to carry it through.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Bassett," he answered quietly, "there was a matter which escaped my attention when we met this morning. Can I have a word with you in private?"
Basset made no demur.
"By all means," he answered. "Come in."
Peter followed him into a large sitting-room, which was furnished in the expensive yet tasteless style so usual in apartments of this kind.
Tudor Carr was sitting smoking a cigarette in a deep chair by the window. He rose at once, and as his eyes fell on Peter, a flush rose to his small, round face. Peter was struck for a second time by the puny size and mean appearance of the little man. He realised more strongly than ever how completely he must be under the thumb of the other.
Bassett gave Tudor no chance to speak.
"Do you mind going into the dining-room, Tudor?" he said. "Your cousin and I have a small matter of business to talk over."
"All—all right," stammered Tudor, and instantly made himself scarce.
Bassett waited until the door had closed behind Tudor, then turned to Peter.
"And now, Mr. Carr?" he said, suavely.
"And now, Mr. Holt?" retorted Peter.
If Peter had hoped that the other would betray himself, he was mistaken—very much mistaken. Bassett's only sign of surprise was a slight elevation of his heavy eyebrows.
"Holt!" he repeated. "I do not understand. Why do you call me Holt?"
Peter stood his ground. "Because that is the name under which you went on the occasion of our previous meeting."
The other shook his head.
"There is some mistake," he said patiently. "The only other occasion upon which I have had the pleasure of meeting you was this morning at your lawyer's office."
The man's manner was so perfect that Peter was almost staggered. Almost, but not quite. He still stuck to his guns.
"I refer to our meeting of last Wednesday fortnight," he answered.
"My dear sir," said the big man in a tone of patient toleration, "I really have not the faintest idea what you are talking about. Last Wednesday fortnight I was at sea."
"Not when you are still carrying a mark of our last meeting?" Quick as a flash Peter pointed to a small white scar on the other's lower lip. He remembered as clearly as possible the blow that had left it, and the cut on his own knuckles from the convict's teeth.
Paul Bassett lifted his big hand to his lip and fingered the little scar. Suddenly he laughed.
"I have carried that mark for nearly twenty years," he answered. "It was made when I fell from a horse on my first trip up into the Ilonos."
His manner was so absolutely confident that for the first time during their interview Peter was really staggered. He began to ask himself if it were possible, after all, that he was mistaken. All the probabilities pointed to his being so. Even the man's hands, smooth and carefully manicured, showed no sign of the heavy spade and pick work which is the lot of the convict at hard labour. Again, if this were indeed Jabez Holt, how came it that he could move about at ease in crowded London and under the very eyes of the police?
True, he wore a moustache, and his hair showed no signs of a convict's crop. Yet the moustache might be false and the hair a wig. These things can be so perfectly done as to be beyond detection unless actual force be used.
Yet in spite of all this, that inward voice still warned him that he was right, and that Paul Bassett was no other than Jabez Holt, the man with whom he had battled so desperately on the moor on that foggy afternoon.
He pulled himself together.
"You are very clever," he said, scornfully. "The fact that you have changed yourself as you have proves that. But you can't bluff me. And I think you will find it more difficult still to bluff the police, once I put them on your track."
Bassett's face changed slightly. A certain hard and dangerous look came into his deep-set eyes.
"My young friend," he said smoothly, yet with a certain threatening ring in his deep voice. "If I were you I would not talk about the police."
"Why not?" demanded Peter. "They are the people to deal with men of your stamp."
"And what about you?" retorted the other, and now there was no disguising the sneer in his tone.
"What about me?" echoed Peter. "I have no reason to fear the police?"
"Are you sure? Think a little. Cast your mind back a matter of seventeen hours or so."
"Seventeen hours ago. That was nine o'clock last night. The very time at which I discovered that my uncle had been murdered."
"Just so," Bassett paused, and fixed his penetrating eyes upon Peter. "Just so. And what about that eight-hundred pounds?"
Peter's jaw dropped. For the moment he was as completely knocked out as though he had received a full punch on the solar plexus.
The eight hundred pounds! To tell truth, he had not given the money a thought since the minute when he had taken it. But how—how did this man know anything about it? That was the question which swamped for the moment every other consideration. Barring himself, the only living person in the flat at that moment had been Scrutton. And Scrutton had been lying on the floor in another room, the kitchen, drugged and completely insensible.
How then was it possible that Bassett could have learned of the matter? The thing was incredible. How could he even have known of the existence of the money?
"Ah, that touches you," continued Bassett ironically. "Does it strike you that people in glass houses should be the last to throw stones?"
But Peter, if staggered, was not beaten yet. It flashed across his mind that a board had creaked outside while he was in the drawing-room of the flat. He remembered how he had searched in vain for the cause of the sound.
"So you were hidden in the flat," he retorted, looking Bassett full in the face. "Does it occur to you what construction the police would place on that fact? It is not prison you would have reason to fear, but the gallows!"
Bassett shrugged his great shoulders.
"That will do you no good, my young friend. I can prove by two witnesses that I was not within a mile of your uncle's flat last night. And in any case, you dare not go to the police. You know it."
Deep in his heart Peter did know it, and never did a man regret anything more bitterly than he regretted the taking of that money. At the time it had seemed the most natural thing in the world. He had, indeed, hardly given the matter a second thought. The fact had been that at the time he was in such a confused state owing to the shock of discovering his uncle's dead body, he had been unable to see things in a true light. Now he did so, but now, alas! repentance was too late.
Bassett seemed to read his thoughts.
"You have made your bed, Mr. Peter Carr. Now you can lie on it. You have robbed a dead man, and that, in the eyes of the law, is a degree worse that robbing a living one. I can fancy what the judge would say in summing up. You have robbed a dead man, you have stolen from a living one, and incidentally you have taken toll from his Majesty's exchequer. The very least sentence you are likely to get is five years' penal servitude. No, on the whole, I think you will be the last person to denounce me to the police."
Peter writhed inwardly. All that Bassett said was true. He had cut the ground from under his own feet. By that one act of madness he had destroyed his whole life and happiness. He had lost his chance of fighting for his inheritance, and, with it, his chance of winning Joyce.
But the fighting spirit was not yet dead within him. He faced Bassett firmly.
"Then you acknowledge that you are afraid of the police," he said. "You cannot deny that you are an escaped convict?"
"On the contrary, I deny it entirely," replied Bassett. "I will defy you or any one else to prove it. Your idea that I have anything to do with Jabez Holt is the merest moonshine. It is as mad as the suggestion that I am concerned in the death of Sir Anthony Carr. What I will admit to you is that I am not anxious to have the police prying into my affairs. I am not denying that they might cause me trouble. I do not wish to have anything to do with them, and I defy you to go to them. You quite understand?"
Peter's temper, kept so long under constraint, suddenly flamed.
"Understand!" he exclaimed. "Yes, I understand so well that even now I am in two minds to risk it. It would be worth any punishment I had to bear to see you back in the prison where you belong, and that wretched little impostor shorn of the fortune which you have stolen for him."
Bassett's thin lips curled in a sneering smile.
"Try it!" he said. "Try it, my friend. But let me assure you that all your attempts will merely recoil upon your own head. Nothing you can do will shake Tudor Carr's position. He is your cousin, and the rightful heir. You may cause me some temporary inconvenience, but you will most certainly ruin yourself."
He paused, and his keen eyes seemed to bore into Peter's brain.
"Take my advice," he went on in a quieter tone. "Keep your eight hundred. You can make eight thousand out of it if you are clever. And keep your mouth shut. That is all I have to say to you."
"I shall do as I think best," returned Peter. "Don't fancy for a moment that you have done with me."
He turned as he spoke, and left the room. Bassett did not speak or move. The last glimpse Peter had of him, he was standing were he had stood all through the interview, with the same enigmatic smile on his thin lips.
Peter had retired in good order, yet in the soul of him he knew that he had been defeated, and in all London there was no sorer heart than his as he walked back to his hotel.
Arrived there, he went straight to his room, locked the door, and sat down. He had the feeling that he must be alone, yet now that he was alone, this did not seem to help him.
Presently he rose and began to pace restlessly up and down. He could not think clearly. The fierce anger he felt against Bassett clouded his judgment.
Again and again he cursed himself for having been such a fool as to take those notes, and thus put so powerful a weapon into the hands of his enemy. Even now, however, he was unable to see that there had been anything criminal in the act. Had Sir Anthony been alive, he would have given him the money.
At the same time, he could realise clearly enough that Bassett was right in what he had said. Judge and jury would take no such light view of his transgression. In their eyes, the fact that he had taken the money from a dead man would make the crime the blacker.
By degrees his thoughts came back to Joyce. What view would she take of what he had done? He began to realise the horror that she would feel if she read in the newspaper that he had been arrested for theft.
Now at last he began to see his fault in its true proportions, and dropping again into his chair he leaned forward and buried his face in his hands.
How long he sat there he did not know, but by degrees his fit of despair passed, and he was able to think more clearly. He began to wonder if there was no way of putting things straight again. Could he not by any means restore the pocket book with its contents to the drawer from which he had taken it!
The idea acted like a tonic. All of a sudden he was on his feet again. He went to his portmanteau, unlocked it, and took out the pocket book. He ran through its contents. The whole sum was there. Fortunately, he had not changed a single one of the notes. He still had enough spare cash about him to settle his hotel bill and give him a few pounds to go on with.
The next question was how to manage the restitution, He thrust his hand into his pocket and drew out a key. It was the latch key of his uncle's flat. His face brightened. Armed with that, it ought not to be so difficult after all.
His first idea was to start off at once. But on second thoughts he decided that this would not be wise. People would be about, and the chances were that he would be seen going in or out. No, he must wait until after nightfall. That was the prudent course to take.
He glanced at his watch, and saw that it was only just 4 o'clock. Four or five hours to wait. How on earth was he to put in the time? He sat down again, but his impatience was too great to allow him to remain still. It occurred to him quite suddenly that he had had no luncheon, indeed nothing to eat since breakfast at half-past 8. He rang the bell, and ordered tea.
In spite of his long fast, he was not hungry. At least he was not conscious of any sensation of hunger. He meant merely to drink his tea. But when one is young and healthy appetite asserts itself. He ate his buttered toast and cake to the last crumb, and felt all the better for it.
Yet when he had finished it was still only half-past 4 and he felt more restless than ever. He took an armchair, and tried to read, but found it impossible to fix his attention on his book. There was nothing for it but to go out and walk.
He went swinging away at a quick rate up to Hyde Park corner, turned into the Park, and went straight up to Kensington Gardens. More than one woman glanced at the fine, upright, well-dressed figure, but Peter himself, wrapt in his own thoughts, would have passed his own brother if he had had one.
Eventually he returned to the hotel a little after 7, and as he did not intend to dress, washed his hands and went down to the grill-room. His tramp had given him fresh appetite, and he made a fair meal. This brought him to a quarter past 8, but even so it was hardly dark. He felt, however, that he could wait no longer, so putting on his hat and a light overcoat, started for King- street.
As he approached the well-known house his heart began to beat hard. But summoning all his will power, he went steadily on. There were very few people in sight, and he flattered himself that no one noticed his entry into the house.
Inside the hall, he paused. He was breathing quickly. But luck was kind to him. The hall was empty. Not even the hall porter was visible. He was probably at his supper. Peter did not waste a moment, but ran lightly up the stairs.
On the landing he paused again. There was no one about, no sound at all except the hum of distant traffic.
Out came his key, and in a thrice he had slipped it into the lock. The door opened noiselessly, and he found himself inside.
Closing the door as softly as he had opened it, he lifted his hand to the switch. There was a slight click and a glow of subdued light flooded the well-known room, and showed him everything just as it had been on the previous evening.
Peter drew a long breath of relief. The worst was over. He was going to succeed. And with success he could snap his fingers at Bassett. The game would be his.
And then, before he could take one single step in the direction of the desk, a low, deep laugh broke the silence, and out from behind a screen stepped the tall, bulky figure of Bassett himself.
FOR a second time that day Peter stood speechless, too staggered to collect his faculties. Bassett stood opposite watching him, with the same ugly smile on his lips.
"So you came to put the money back," he observed in his harsh, sneering tone. "I felt sure that you would try it, and I have been waiting for you for an hour past. But it won't work, my young friend," he continued, jeeringly. "It won't work. I am not quite such a fool as to let you escape from your difficulties so easily. As I told yon this afternoon, you have made your bed, and you must lie on it."
The hateful sneer in his voice roused Peter. All his fighting spirit flamed up. He had thrashed Holt before. It came to him that his one chance was to thrash Bassett now. Without a second's hesitation he leaped at Bassett, driving a blow at his jaw with all his might.
But Bassett had been watching him, and had seen the warring gleam in Peter's eyes. He sprang back out of reach, and before Peter could get at him again, had whipped a pistol from his pocket.
"No, you don't!" he snarled.
Peter found himself gazing down the muzzle of a short automatic. It was a tiny weapon, yet at that moment its muzzle looked the size of a cannon.
The bravest man can do nothing with a pistol at his head. Peter stopped short.
"You coward!" he said.
Bassett laughed again.
"Prudence, my dear sir!—prudence!" he answered. "I am not taking any foolish chances in dealing with a young firebrand like you."
"No!" His face and voice changed like magic. "Keep back, you fool. If you attack me again I shall shoot without hesitation. Oh, I am safe enough. This little weapon is almost soundless, but it will put a bullet through your head safely enough. If I have to shoot you, I shall leave the pistol in your hand, and those notes in your pocket. I think that will be quite sufficient. Robbery, remorse, suicide—you know the sort of thing."
Peter's arms dropped to his side. He was beaten, and he knew it. That moment was the most bitter he had ever passed through.
"That's better!" said Bassett, reverting to his lighter tone. "Now you will kindly leave the premises, on which you have no right to remain. At once—please!"
His pistol never wavered for a moment, and Peter by this time knew the man well enough to make very sure that he would shoot, if forced to. There was nothing for it but to go.
"And you may as well hand over your key," continued Bassett.
Peter complied without a word. Bassett saw him out, locked the door behind him, and followed him down the stairs. He had slipped the pistol back into his pocket. There was no longer any need for it, for Peter could not get back into the flat.
Outside in the street, Bassett bade Peter good-night politely, and walked away towards Jermyn-street. Peter, sick at heart, went back to his hotel.
It was little sleep Peter got that night. For hours he tossed about in a state of mind not easily described. A score of wild schemes passed through his mind, only to be dismissed, one after another. Rack his brain as he might, there was no way out. Bassett was top dog, and he, by his own criminal foolishness, had ruined himself and lost Joyce.
Lost Joyce! That was the heart-breaking part of it. For the money, Peter cared nothing in comparison. But the loss of the money meant the loss of Joyce. Even if Joyce herself would face poverty by his side, he knew too well that her father would have none of it. John Lovell was not the sort to allow his daughter to marry any man who was not merely well off, but rich. During his stay at Otter's Holt, Peter had had plenty of time to sum up pretty accurately his host's character. He was of very different metal from either his daughter or his son.
Towards morning he dropped into a troubled sleep, and did not wake until past 9 o'clock. When he rang for his shaving water, the man brought up some letters forwarded on from Otter's Holt. Among them was an envelope addressed in Joyce's well-known hand.
His fingers shook as he tore it open.
"My dearest Peter." The words sent a thrill to Peter's sore heart. "We have just had the dreadful news. We saw it in the paper. I am afraid it must have been a terrible shock to you. Poor Sir Anthony! Who could have been so brutal as to do him to death? Jasper said at once that the murder must have something to do with the claim to the property, but I do not see what grounds he has for saying so. It seems to me more like a burglary. But you will tell us. I am hoping to hear to-morrow morning."
Peter stopped reading, and picking up his coat slipped his hand into the pocket, and took out his half-finished letter to Joyce. He looked at with a woeful smile. Then he went on with Joyce's letter.
"I do not know what difference this will make to you Peter," she wrote, "but whatever it is I hope and trust that it will make no difference between you and me. Perhaps you will think me dreadfully bold and forward to write like this, but after all, Peter, it is your own fault. I can't help knowing what you meant when you kissed me. And so, whatever fortune lies before us, good or ill, I sign myself, your Joyce."
Peter's eyes were moist as he finished the letter. He raised it to his lips and kissed the signature.
"The sweetest, dearest girl that ever lived," he said fervently. Then came the revulsion.
"Oh, Joyce," he groaned. "To think that I should have proved so unworthy of you!"
He read the letter over again and yet a third time. Every word was precious to him. What a girl! And what luck was his to have won her love! It was many minutes before he at last folded the letter, replaced it in its envelope, and began to dress.
As he dressed his mind was busier than his hands. He was thinking things over from every point of view—trying to discover if there were any chance for happiness.
Joyce did not mind poverty. She had said as much. But Peter, young as he was, realised clearly that he had precious little notion how to make his own living let alone to provide for a wife. He had no idea of office work, and he had not been trained for any profession. The only thing he did know anything about was land agency, and he was perfectly well aware that positions of that kind are few in number and that they usually go by favour.
The more he thought the worse his prospect seemed, and the lower his spirits sank. There was no way out. Whatever happened, it was bound to be years before he could be making anything like a decent income, and the question before him was whether it was fair to Joyce to allow her to waste her youth in a long and uncertain engagement.
One thing he was certain about. This was that he must answer her letter at once. She would be expected a letter that morning. He must not let her wait another day. Yet what to say he could not decide.
Suddenly he made up his mind that he would telegraph, and as soon as he had finished dressing, he went straight to the nearest post office.
"A thousand thanks for your letter. Am writing to- day.—Peter."
That was the message he sent, and went back to the hotel a little comforted, yet still in a very dejected state of mind.
As he ate his solitary breakfast he began to turn to the more immediate problems which confronted him. He realised with something of a shock that he had something less than ten pounds between himself and the streets. He had no balance at the bank. In fact, he was slightly overdrawn.
Of course there was the eight hundred, but that Peter could not bring himself to touch, at least for the present. It seemed to him like the price of his life's happiness. It made him shiver to think of it.
Clearly, the first thing to do was to find cheap lodgings; the second to discover some way of turning an honest penny.
Peter knew as little of one as he did of the other. Whenever he had been up in town he had stayed either at his uncle's flat or in an hotel. Nearly all his time he had put in at Carr Holme, of which, for the past two or three years, he had been practically in charge.
He had a vague remembrance that Bloomsbury was the part for cheap lodgings, and after breakfast made his way thither, travelling, with new-found economy, on top of a bus.
Arrived in the neighbourhood of the British Museum, he was bewildered by the choice of residences. Every other house had a notice over the door, "Apartments." But when he came to inspect the rooms, his very soul shuddered at their drab dreariness.
He went from one to another, finding nothing that seemed even possible, at least so far as his purse was concerned. At last he landed up in Mecklenburg-square far away, near the Gray's Inn Road. By this time he was so sick of his search that he resolved to take the next he came to.
This was a small sitting-room and an even smaller bedroom on the top floor. They were at any rate clean, and the windows looked out over the square. For these and breakfast and attendance he agreed to pay twenty-seven shillings a week, and then discovering to his dismay that it was past twelve o'clock, hurried back to the hotel.
Here be lunched, packed, paid his bill, and calling a taxi, put his luggage aboard, and drove away to his new residence.
His heart sank lower than ever as he unpacked and tried to put things in some sort of order. The poverty of his surroundings was only one remove from squalor. He looked at the threadbare carpet the cheap paper on the walls, the flimsy deal washstand, and the rickety little table off which he would eat his breakfast and inwardly contrasted them with the great, spacious sunny rooms at Carr Holme.
As he took his clothes out of his portmanteau, he came upon the pocket-book. For the moment he had forgotten it completely. Now it suddenly occurred to him that it would be madness to keep such a sum in these rooms. He ought to have banked the money at once. Whether he used it or not, it must be placed in safety.
He glanced at his watch. It was not quite three yet. Time enough to catch the bank, and without delay he slipped the case into his inner pocket, took his hat and gloves, and hurried off.
Peter's bank was in Leadenhall-street. He reached it in less than half an hour, only to find the doors closed.
PETER could hardly believe his eyes. He looked at his watch again. The hands still pointed to 10 minutes to 3!
Suddenly he understood. It was clear that he had forgotten to wind it the previous night, and the watch had, of course, run down. The time was actually a little past 4.
He was turning away disconsolately when an idea crossed his mind. Why not go and see M'Gregor?
Roy M'Gregor was a young Scotsman who had been at Brasenose with Peter. He was the son of a ship owner whose offices were within a stone's throw of the bank, and Peter knew that he had lately been taken in as junior partner by his father. Roy was a practical sort of chap, and just the man to give good advice. He might even be able to find some sort of work which would tide things over until he could make up his mind what best to do.
So instead of returning to his solitary diggings for which he already had conceived a sort of horror, Peter walked on eastwards. He found the office without trouble, and its solid, respectable, if rather gloomy appearance gave him a comforting impression. He went in and inquired for his friend.
But Roy was not in.
"Mr. Roy has gone down to the docks, sir," he was told. "He has gone down to see about the unloading of the 'Pontefract Castle' just in from Lagos."
Then noticing Peter's look of disappointment, the clerk added, "You can easily find him, sir. The ship is lying in the Salisbury Dock. You go down the Commercial road and any one will direct you."
Peter thanked the clerk, and going out, turned eastwards again and walked down as far as the Aldgate Pump. Here he took a bus and climbed to the top. He looked round with interest as he drove down the broad street. This was all new ground to him. He had never before been so far East.
Just after he had taken his seat a man came and sat down beside him. A middle-aged common-looking man dressed in rather worn blue serge, and wearing a hard hat. Peter noticed that he had a vaguely sailor-like appearance. Presently this man turned to Peter.
"Wind's fallen easterly, sir. Looks like a spell o' fine weather."
"I noticed that," said Peter. "But I expect it makes more difference to you than to me."
"Meaning as I'm a seaman and you're a landsman," replied the other, with a grin.
"Am I right?" asked Peter. He was quite pleased to talk. Anything was preferable to his own company.
"You're right, sir. Right both ways. I'm just a going back to my old barky, and as we're due out again to-morrow, I ain't sorry for a clear spell. Them narrow seas ain't no joke in thick weather like what we had a fortnight agone."
Peter remembered the fog on the moor, and sighed. It seemed impossible to forget his troubles, even for a few brief minutes. Then it occurred to him that here was the very man to direct him to his destination.
"I am on my way down to the docks," he said. "I want to find a ship called the Pontefract Castle which is lying in the Salisbury Dock. Would you direct me?"
"That's rum," he said. "What you might call a coincidence, so to speak. My ship, the old Eagle is berthed not a hundred yards from the Pontefract. If you likes to come along with me, I'll take you right there."
"Thanks very much, I shall be glad," Peter answered.
The 'bus trundled onwards, and Peter's new friend kept up a continual flow of conversation. He seemed to have knocked about all over the world. He told Peter that he was second mate aboard the Eagle. This made Peter stare a bit, for he had certainly not taken the man for an officer.
The masts of ships had begun to loom above the house tops, and there was a smell of tar in the air when the man rose and intimated to Peter that this was their place to alight.
"It's a bit of a walk still, mister," he said as he led the way down a side street. "But I know all the cuts hereabouts, and I can take you there as quick as any one."
"I got to get my bag on the way," he continued. "But I reckon you won't mind waiting a minute while I fetches it."
The man certainly seemed to know his way. And that was just as well, for Peter, alone, would have soon been utterly lost in the maze of narrow alleys which ran in and out along the water front. Squalid places they were, and every third house seemed to be either a public house or a ship's chandlers.
His guide turned again to the left down a sort of passage way. The place reeked with a sour, unpleasant smell. Peter wondered how people could possibly live in such a poisonous atmosphere.
His companion noticed his discomfort.
"Bit thick, ain't it? It's the heat as brings the smell up. But, lor' bless you, you don't notice it arter you been here a hour or two."
"I shouldn't care to try the experiment," said Peter, trying to smile.
"You won't have to mister, for here's the house."
He stopped and pushed open a door from which the cracked paint was peeling. Then he paused and looked back at Peter.
"You better come in a minute, mister, I reckon the air ain't so bad inside as it is out. Ain't so hot either, anyways."
Peter paused a moment. The house looked almost as bad as the street, but as the man had said, it was at any rate not so hot. Besides, he would at any rate escape the inquisitive stares of a flock of ragged, dirty children who were gathering already, attracted by the unusual spectacle of a young man wearing West End garb in these unsavoury purlieus.
"Thanks," he said, "I will come in and wait."
The sailor man ushered him into a room on the ground floor. It was a stuffy, little place, but better furnished than might have been expected from the outside look of the place. There were the usual curiosities which a sailor brings home from sea—pieces of coral, a couple of hideous Eastern idols, some Andaman Island spears, and a model of a full rigged ship.
On the table stood a bottle of spirit and, to Peter's surprise, a syphon of soda of a well-known brand. "Help yourself, mister," said the other hospitably. "It's thirsty weather. I'll just run up, and get my bag. Won't keep you a minute."
He went out, closing the door behind him, and Peter heard his heavy boots thumping up the stairs. He did not avail himself of the proffered hospitality, but wandered round the room, looking at the various objects of interest.
True to his word, the sailor did not keep him waiting very long. Presently, he was back, carrying a big bundle of dunnage and a small bag.
"Here I am, all ready," he said. Then his eyes fell on the bottle.
"Why, you ain't had a drink, mister, I don't call that friendly. When Jack Peasley says a thing he means it, and don't you forget it."
He seized the bottle, and before Peter could interfere, had poured a still three fingers into each of two glasses.
"Steady on!" said Peter hastily. "Soda is all I want."
"You needn't be afraid of it," rejoined the other. "It's good stuff, though I say it as bought it."
He stopped suddenly.
"But maybe you're a abstainer," he added hastily.
"No, I'm not," Peter answered smiling. "And since you are so kind. Well here's wishing you a prosperous voyage."
He took the nearest glass, filled it up with soda, raised it and drank.
"Here's luck!" said the other. "I was right, wasn't I? Nothing the matter with that, eh?"
"Very good stuff, indeed," replied Peter. "But do you know, I never tasted whisky quite like it before."
Peasley burst into a loud laugh.
"Whisky! Blimey, that ain't whisky! It's old West India rum."
Peter laughed, too.
"You'll think me very verdant, I'm afraid, but the fact is I have never even tasted rum."
"Never too late to mend, says I," replied Peasley.
"Try another toothful. It's mild as milk, and wouldn't hurt a child."
"Thank you. No more," said Peter. "Do you know, I don't think it's as harmless as you make out."
As he spoke, he was conscious of a curious giddiness. The little room seemed to swim in a mist. It cleared again, but now Peasley suddenly looked different. His head seemed to broaden, and his figure to shorten, just as you see yourself in one of those distorted mirrors, in a toy shop.
"What's the matter?" he heard the man ask jeeringly, but his voice sounded a long way off. "You ain't cocked on three fingers be you?"
"I—I must get out into the air," said Peter thickly. "I—I don't feel well."
He started towards the door, but staggered and caught at the table. Everything in the room was now turning queer colours. They were iridescent, like a pool filmed with oil.
"No, sir, you don't go outside while you're like that. You'd be pinched right off," he heard Peasley say. "Sit you down. It'll pass off in a minute."
As he spoke he took hold of Peter and pressed him back into a chair. Peter now felt as if his head weighed ton. He was no longer capable of consecutive thought. There was a roaring in his ears. Presently his head fell forward, and he began to breathe heavily. His eyes closed.
Peasley stood in front of him, watching him keenly. All the smile was gone from his face. His look had grown hard and calculating.
He turned, picked up the glass from which Peter had drunk, and smelt it.
"Good stuff!" he muttered with a sneer. "Aye a bit too good for the likes of him. By gum, but he's sound off already!"
He lifted Peter's head. It fell forward like that of a dead man. It was clear that he was quite unconscious. Peasley's hard fingers slipped into the breast pocket of Peter's coat. They came out, grasping Sir Anthony's pocket book. Peasley opened it quickly, and as he saw the thick roll of notes his small eyes gleamed, and his thin lips pursed in a soundless whistle.
"Gor blimey, but this is a bit of all right," he said aloud, and after one quick glance round thrust the book and notes into his own pocket.
LOOKING out from his bedroom window, Jasper Lovell saw the postman coming up the drive, and hurried down. But prompt as he was, Joyce was at the door before him, and as he arrived was taking the letters from the man.
"Well?" he said rather breathlessly.
Joyce turned to him, and there was a guzzled, anxious look upon her sweet face. She shook her head.
"No, Jasper," she said sadly. "Nothing!"
Jasper looked almost as troubled as she.
"I can't understand it," he said gravely. "It isn't like Carr."
Joyce laid her hand on her brother's arm. "Jasper," she said, "there is something wrong."
Jasper roused himself.
"Of course, there is a lot wrong, Joyce dear," he answered. "Carr has lost all his money as well as his uncle. It's enough to upset any one."
"But not enough to prevent his writing," Joyce spoke with an air of absolute conviction. "It is two days now since I got his telegram, in which he said that he was writing that day. And since then, not a word. Jasper, something has happened to Peter."
"How do you mean, Joyce?"
"I mean that the people who planned his uncle's death are after him too. And I believe it is Tudor Carr, the man who pretends to be his cousin."
"Is his cousin," corrected Jasper. "The papers say that the proofs are beyond dispute—so much so that Peter has refused to fight the case."
Joyce shook her head again.
"No, Jasper. I believe that the whole thing is a swindle. You said, yourself, when you first heard of the murder, that this Tudor Carr had a hand in it."
"But that was before I saw the report in the London papers," argued Jasper. "I don't think so now."
"Then who did it?" demanded Joyce. "It was not burglars. We know that."
A frown crossed Jasper's thin face.
"I don't know, Joyce. How can I tell, with so little to go on?"
"Then get more, Jasper. You have better brains than most people, and a legal training into the bargain. You must find out for me. I cannot bear this suspense."
Jasper took her by the arm.
"Come into the breakfast room, Joyce," he said. "We will talk it over there. Father won't be down for ages yet."
He led her in, and helped her to an egg, toast and coffee. But she could not eat. She was far too anxious and excited.
Jasper watched her unhappily. He and she were devoted to one another. The fact that their mother had been dead so long, and that they, neither of them, got on with their father, had thrown them very much together. Jasper's lameness made an added bond. It caused him to be so much at home, and made Joyce very tender with him.
"Look here, Joyce," he said presently. "I'm quite willing to do anything I can to help you, but I've got to ask you one thing, first. Are you and Carr engaged?"
Joyce flushed a little, but her clear eyes met her brother's squarely.
"Yes, Jasper. At least,—well—he began to say something just as the car came round. And—and he kissed me."
Jasper nodded. "That's good enough. Peter Carr isn't the sort to kiss a girl unless he meant it. He's a good chap, Joyce, and there's no one I'd sooner have for a brother-in-law. The only trouble is that I'm afraid that now he has got no money to marry on."
"That makes no difference at all," replied Joyce with decision. "Not to you, perhaps, dear. But dad won't look at it that way, and perhaps Peter doesn't either."
"Peter doesn't! What do you mean, Jasper?" asked Joyce quickly.
"My dear girl. A man doesn't generally ask a girl to marry him unless be can support her. That is the view that Peter may take."
"But he has asked me," returned Joyce. "And he knows—I am sure he knows that I—I like him. And in any case he would write."
Jasper nodded again. There was a puzzled look in his deep set eyes.
"Yes, I agree with you. I'm sure he would write."
"Then we come back to where we started," said Joyce. "He would have written, and he has not. So something must have prevented him. And I want you to find out what has prevented him."
"You mean you want me to go to town?"
"I do, Jasper. I want you to go at once. Oh, Jasper, I can't bear the suspense. It is killing me."
Jasper got up, went across to his sister, and kissed her tenderly. "Don't worry, old girl, I'll go. But I don't know what excuse I shall make to father."
"No need to make any at all. Don't you know that he is going down to Wheal Miriam this morning?"
Jasper's face fell.
"That infernal tin mine again! I believe he is in it up to his ears. You mark my words, Joyce. He is going to come a cropper over that mine if he is not careful."
"Oh, I dare say. But what does it matter now? The great thing in that he will be away, and for two or three days, probably."
"You will change your view as to it mattering, if we lose all our money, Joyce," said Jasper, ruefully. "But as for Peter, yes, I'll go."
"I knew you would," Joyce answered gratefully. "I will drive you to the station, Jasper."
"Then you will please eat some breakfast first," returned Jasper, with decision. "I'm not going to risk myself in the car with a young woman who will probably faint from hunger."
"I will do my best, Jasper," said Joyce, dutifully, and just then the door opened, and their father came bustling in.
He was full of his mine. He told them that it was going to make their fortunes.
"Such a lode as you never saw!" he exclaimed in his queer jerky way. "And tin going up in price every day. It's the chance of a lifetime."
"I thought that the Malayan mines had knocked out Cornish tin, father," suggested Jasper mildly.
"What—at that distance, and with all their shipping expenses! Nonsense! Who told you such a fairy tale?"
He gabbled on about the mine, and gobbled his breakfast at one and the same time. He never for a moment noticed Joyce's pale face, nor did he so much as mention Peter Carr. No man could have been more utterly out of sympathy with his children.
Immediately after breakfast he bundled off, and Joyce and Jasper sighed with relief, and set about preparations for Jasper's journey to town.
They were not long about it, and little more than an hour later, Joyce was seeing her brother off from Cleverton station.
"You will go straight to Harcourts'," she said. "And the minute you have any news, wire me."
"Right you are, Joyce dear," Jasper answered. "And keep your spirits up. I don't suppose for a minute that there is anything wrong."
Next moment the train began to move. Joyce stood on the platform, waving until the train passed out of sight in the cutting beyond the station, then turned back to the car, feeling more lonely and unhappy than ever she remembered.
She got no news that night, but that she had not expected. Jasper would not reach London until 9 o'clock. Next morning she was up bright and early, and waiting for the postman as usual. The first thing she saw was the buff envelope of a telegram. It was addressed to herself. Her fingers shook a little as she tore it open.
This was what the read:
"Peter left Harcourts' three days ago. Address not known. Am making all possible inquiries."
Joyce dropped into the nearest chairs; the colour ebbed from her cheeks.
"I knew it," she said below her breath.
But it was only a minute or so before her native plunk came back to her. And with it the light of a new resolve dawned in her eyes.
She rang for her maid.
"Milly," she said, "I want you to pack my small suit case. I have to go up to London for a night."
Once she had made up her mind, Joyce wasted no time. The chances were that her father would not be back for at least three days. But even if he did return, she did not care. Convinced as she was that something had happened to Peter, she had made up her mind to solve the mystery, regardless of anything else. Arrived at Cleverton, she telegraphed Jasper to expect her and secure a room. Then she caught the Exeter train, and in due course was whirled up to London in the South Western express.
Jasper met her at Waterloo. She noticed at once that his face was graver than usual.
"I say, Joyce," he began. "This is a bit crazy, isn't it? What's the Governor going to say?"
"I don't care what he says. After all I am my own mistress. Have you any news, Jasper?"
"None, I am sorry to say. Here's a taxi. Get in, and I'll tell you what I have done."
He packed her in, with her things, and told the man to drive to Harcourts.
"I am staying there," he said. "It seemed best, in case Peter returns there. He must come back, you know, for the inquest. That will be on Wednesday."
"He will come if he can," said Joyce. "Tell me, now, what have you done?"
"I went and saw Calvert, the lawyer, early this morning. He told me that he had seen Peter, and advised him not to fight the case. Sterne, the handwriting expert, has pronounced Tudor Carr's proofs to be genuine.
"Later, after luncheon, Peter telephoned him, asking for Tudor Carr's address. He did not say why he wanted it. I got Tudor's address, and went there. It's a flat in Jermyn-street. Joyce it is foolish to connect Tudor Carr with any sort of a crime. He is the most miserable little atomy of a man you ever saw."
"But what did he say?" broke in Joyce. "Had Peter been to see him?"
"Yes, he had been there that same afternoon. But apparently it was not Tudor he came to see; it was a man called Bassett. Bassett is Tudor's friend, a sort of bear-leader. A big capable man, by Calvert's account."
"You saw Bassett?" Joyce asked quickly.
"No, he was out, and though I called again later I did not see him."
"Did Tudor Carr say when Bassett would be in?"
"He did not seem to know, but thought he would be back to- night."
Joyce did not hesitate a moment.
"Call to the driver, Jasper. Tell him to go there—to Jermyn-street—at once."
PETER woke to a consciousness of miserable pain and sickness. His head ached and throbbed so that he could not think. His mouth was dry as a plank, and tasted like brass. His eyes seemed as though leaden weights lay upon them. Never in all his life had he felt so ill.
At first he lay perfectly still. To move was torture. He did not even attempt to open his eyes. He could remember nothing of what had happened.
Time passed, and slowly he became aware of a steady grinding sound, continuing with an unceasing beat. The next thing be realised was that the bed or whatever he lay upon was not steady, but was rising and falling at regular intervals.
At last, with a great effort, he opened his eyes.
The first thing he saw was a roof of badly painted deal boarding, within 18 inches of his face, but it was still some moments before he realised that this was the bottom of another bunk similar to the one on which he lay.
Then he glanced to the left, and saw that he was in a small two-berth cabin, very untidy and none too clean. The door was closed.
Now the steady grinding resolved itself into the beat of engines, and with a gasp, half horror, half amazement, Peter realised that he was in a ship and—by the motion—apparently at sea.
The movement had sent a throb of agony through his aching head. He dropped back, and strove hard to think.
By slow degrees memory came back and with it the picture of that little room in the alley off the Commercial-road, the mean face of the man who had called himself Peasley, and of the drink of rum which he had taken at Peasley's invitation.
"Drugged!" he muttered. "Drugged and shanghaied! And in London, too!"
Peter had read of such things, but they had happened in San Francisco, Rio, or far off places like those. That such a thing could happen in London and in the twentieth century struck him with a strange sense of unreality. Yet, there it was. There was not the slightest doubt but that he had been drugged, and that he was now aboard a steamer of some sort.
He was still in a half-dazed condition. It took him a long time to get his ideas sorted out. But by decrees, he came to the question, why he had been treated in this extraordinary fashion.
With that came the memory of the money he had been carrying, and he thrust his hand into his breast pocket.
He tried all his other pockets with feverish haste. His watch remained, also the few pounds that he had in his purse. His pipe and tobacco, too. But the pocket-book, the notes, as well as papers and letters which had been with them, all these were gone.
"I might have known it," he groaned. "How could I have been such a fool?"
It was all clear now—at least, he thought so. The man, Peasley, must have been watching him when he stopped outside the bank, must have realised that he had money about him, and thereupon set to work deliberately to trap him.
The whole sum was gone. The eight hundred pounds for which he had sacrificed his prospects, his life—and Joyce.
Joyce's sweet face rose before him, and he realised that she was lost to him for ever. He turned his face to the wall and groaned again.
It was thirst that drove him to move once more. He looked round the cabin, and caught sight of an enamelled iron jug standing on the fixed wash basin in the corner.
He struggled up, but was so giddy that he had to clutch at the edge of the upper bunk to save himself from falling. The pain in his head was cruel.
Somehow he managed to stagger across and get hold of the jug. The water was stale and none too cool, yet it tasted delicious. He drank deeply, and lay down again.
The water did him an immensity of good, and he soon began to pick up. Having been always a very temperate man, the drug had had a very powerful effect upon him. Yet at the same time the very fact of his health and strength and fine constitution enabled him to shake off the effects much more quickly than most other men.
His head cleared rapidly, and he began to wonder what ship this was and where he was bound. Peasley had spoken of his ship as the "Eagle." Peter wondered whether this was the "Eagle," and if so whether Peasley was aboard. His lips tightened as he began to think of his next interview with that gentleman.
And if Peasley was aboard—why, perhaps there was a chance, after all, of recovering his money. A little gleam of hope crept into his mind, and he started to consider what was his best course to pursue.
It was dull and misty outside, but by the failing light he gathered that it was past sunset. That would work out about right, too, for it had been only a little after four when he had met Peasley. If he had got him aboard at once, and the ship had sailed, say, at five, it would now be about eight, and she would just be feeling the swell in the Thames mouth.
Peter's first inclination was to go straight up on deck and tackle the skipper. But if young, he was no fool. He felt sure that the whole business must have been carefully arranged, and that Peasley had probably bribed the Captain pretty heavily. Therefore, it would be little use appealing to that person. And, although Peter had no notion of being carried on unresistingly to the ends of the earth, he knew that at present he was in no fit state to make a fight for it.
Clearly his best course was to go easy, to begin with; to find out where he was and how the land lay, and then to shape his plans accordingly.
He got up again and tried the door. To his surprise it was not locked. He opened it softly, and put his head out into a narrow gangway.
For'ard, a few feet away, the passage led into a good-sized cabin. A table was laid for a meal. Peter noticed that the cloth was none too clean, that the knives were bone-handled, and the spoons and forks of dingy pewter. The whole place looked mean and second-rate. As a matter of fact, it was the typical feeding- place for the officers of a cheap tramp steamer, but this was a kind of craft of which Peter had, so far, no experience whatever.
As Peter stood there, clinging to the doorway for support, for he was still abominably dizzy, a man came into the saloon from the far end, carrying a tray of dishes. He was a lanky, sour- looking fellow, in a greasy serge suit.
"Hi!" said Peter, and beckoned.
The man stopped a moment, looked at him, then laid his tray deliberately on the table, and came forward.
"What do you think you're doing out there?" he demanded. "You'd better get back to bed."
His coolly insolent tone made Peter's blood boil. He was within an ace of jumping forward, seizing him, and giving him a forcible lesson in manners. But prudence won the day, and he refrained.
"I should be glad of a cup of tea," he said, mildly. "Can you bring me one?"
"You'll 'ave to wait till I've got the cabin supper," returned the man roughly, "After that, I'll see what I can do."
Peter bit his lip, and retired again into his stuffy cabin to wait with what patience he might. An hour dragged by, and it grew almost dark. Looking out through his port, Peter could see lights at intervals. He gathered that the ship had turned to the South, and was running down through the straits, but fairly close to the Kent coast.
At last came a shuffling step in the alley way outside, the door opened, and the steward appeared carrying a tray. It was innocent of a cloth, but on it was a metal teapot, a mug, a plate of chunky bread and butter, and a candle.
"'Ere you are," he said roughly. "This'll 'ave to do for you to-night. I got enough to do without fetching and carrying for the likes of you."
Peter, who had bean sitting on the edge of his bunk, rose swiftly, and with a jump got between the man and the door. The steward put the tray down in a hurry, and spun round, facing him.
"What do you think you're a doing of?" he demanded truculently.
Peter looked him up and down. The man's eyes watched him uncertainly. Peter saw that he had gained his first point. The steward was scared.
"I was thinking," said Peter smoothly, "of reading you a lesson in manners."
"You get out o' my way or I'll teach you something," retorted the steward.
"I mean to learn a good deal from you," Peter answered. "No, stay where you are. I should hate to lay hands on you, but if I do I shall do the job thoroughly."
Peter's calm demeanour, quiet speech, and, above all, the dangerous glint in his eyes, clearly made an impression. The fellow scowled, but did not offer to move.
"Now," said Peter. "What ship is this?"
"What, don't you even know that much?" sneered the man. "She's the 'Eagle,' o' London."
"How do you think I am likely, to know anything about it," demanded Peter "seeing that I was drugged before I was brought aboard?"
"Drugged, you calls it?" returned the fellow, showing his yellow teeth in an ugly grin.
Light began to dawn on Peter.
"You don't believe me?" he said.
"Well, it wasn't what your pal said when 'e 'anded you over to the skipper," returned the steward.
"He said I was drunk, I presume?"
Peter's quiet voice and manner were evidently making an impression on the man. In spite of himself, he spoke more respectfully as he answered:
"'E said you'd been on the bat a week, and can't blame me for believing of it."
Peter glanced down at his clothes. They were covered with dust and dirt. He was in a shocking pickle altogether. He smiled dryly.
"Come to look at myself, perhaps I can't," he said. "At the same time, you can take my word for it that what I say is true. I have been drugged and robbed, and am on this ship against my will. Who is her captain?"
"Mortimer Pratt, 'is name is," answered the steward. He spoke as if he thought that the name must be familiar to Peter.
"Well, just tell Captain Pratt that I should like to see him, will you? I have to be put ashore at once."
The steward stared at Peter a moment, as though not quite sure whether he was serious or not. Then he burst into sudden laughter.
"Put ashore!" he chuckled. "Ha! Ha! That's a good 'un. We're off Dover this minute, and we don't touch nowhere till we reaches the River Plate."
PETER looked at the steward.
"I wouldn't laugh if I were you," he said, and there was something in his voice which pulled the man up, all standing.
"I—I couldn't help it, sir," he stammered.
Peter noticed the "sir," and was satisfied. He was glad now that he had not laid hands on the man. He had been precious near it.
"Now, perhaps you will kindly take my message to Captain Pratt," he said.
The steward's face changed.
"Don't ask me for to do that, sir," he begged.
"I—well, you see, sir—I'd get it 'ot, and it wouldn't do you no good. 'E's a strong-tempered man, is Captain Pratt."
Peter pursed his lips thoughtfully. So this was a "bucho" skipper. Well, it was all in keeping with the rest of the amazing business.
"I suppose, then, I shall have to go and see him myself," he said at length.
"Don't you go for to do it," exclaimed the steward, and now there was no mistaking the man's earnestness. "'E's in a awful taking to-night. 'Tain't safe for any one to cross him."
"But, my good man, I am being carried further from London every hour, and I can assure yon I have not the faintest intention of being taken all the way to South America."
"You can't 'elp it, sir," urged the steward. "There ain't nothing would make the cap'n put into port once 'e's got started."
"Then he will have to put me on a homeward bound ship," answered Peter.
"'E can't do that in the night," said the other hastily. "You take my advice, sir. Don't you go to make a fuss to-night. You wait till the morning, and than 'ave a talk with 'im. Maybe 'e'll be more reasonable then. And we shan't be a long way off the South Coast, so 'twon't make no difference so far as that goes."
Peter stared hard at the man. But he saw plainly that the steward was very much in earnest. He was evidently in a great fright of the captain. Also, what he said about it being impossible to transship a passenger in the dark was true enough, especially as the weather was thick.
There was another point to be considered. He, himself, was still very shaky. He was certainty not fit for the row which seemed on the cards. He badly wanted a good night's sleep.
"All right," he said at last. "I believe your advice is good, and I will wait until morning."
He put his hand in his pocket and took out one of his few remaining treasury notes.
"See here," he said, "I want something better to eat than this. And I want you to take my clothes and brush them well. Can you do that for me?"
The steward's pale eyes gleamed covetously as he took the notes. It was quite clear that tips did not often come his way.
"All right, sir," he answered eagerly. "I'll get you a good supper, and I'll fix up them clothes for you. Would you like some 'ot water, sir?"
"I should," said Peter.
The steward hurried off, and Peter smiled a little to himself. The encounter had raised his spirits a trifle. He drank his tea. It was coarse, black stuff, but hot, and strong as porter. It did him good, and he sat down again to wait for the steward.
It was some time before the latter returned, but when he did come he brought a bowl of thick and not bad-looking soup, and a large piece of fresh and crusty bread. Also a can of hot water, a piece of soap, a razor, and a shaving brush.
"You could 'ave some meat and vegetables if you liked, sir. But I thought as 'ow the soup would suit your stummick better."
Peter thought so too, and told him so. He thanked him, and asked him to come back in about half an hour for the clothes.
The steward, now quite friendly, agreed to do so, and Peter sat down to his soup.
It did him a world of good, and by the time he had finished it, he was able to take a decidedly brighter view of things in general. Peter was one of those people who require opposition to bring out the best in them. He knew now that he was up against it "good and hard," as the Americans say, and here his training as a fighting man stood him in good stead. He meant to make himself fit for whatever was going to happen next day.
The steward returned to find Peter in his bunk again and took the clothes away, promising to return them in the morning. Then Peter, deliberately putting his troubles out of his mind, composed himself to sleep.
The motion of the ship was very slight. The monotonous chug of the engines was not enough to keep him awake, and presently he was sleeping as quietly as a child.
Tired out with his long and heavy day, he never moved until the opening of the door aroused him, and there was his friend, the steward, with a cup of tea, a can of hot water, and the suit well brushed and tidy again.
"I'll bring you your breakfast in 'ere, sir," said the man. "An' it there's anything else as I can get you, you've only got to ask."
Peter declared he was all right, and getting up, shaved carefully, had a good sluice down, and dressed. He was relieved to find that the effects of the drug seemed to have quite worn off. He was himself again, and fit to tackle the problems of the day.
The steward brought him fried bacon, bread and butter, marmalade and tea, and as he ate his breakfast he considered what was before him.
The first thing was to persuade the captain to put him ashore, or else to transfer him to an inward-bound boat. At all costs, he must get back, for there was the inquest coming on, and his evidence was essential. He shuddered to think what might be said, if he were missing from the inquiry.
Yet he knew, from what the steward had said, that it was no easy task that was before him. Clearly, Captain Mortimer Pratt was no lamb. It seemed, too, that the ineffable Peasley had represented his passenger to be a dipsomaniac. Without doubt, he had bribed Pratt pretty heavily to get his victim out of the way.
The more he thought of it the more unpleasant the outlook became, but the more Peter stiffened in his resolve to go through with it.
It was a dull morning as Peter put his head out of the companion and looked round. The sea was calm and grey, and the sky, likewise grey. The steamer, as she plugged steadily onwards through the greasy swells, looked as dingy as her surroundings. While there was no fog, the weather was too thick to see more than two or three miles, and there was no land or any other vessel in sight.
All this Peter took in at a glance. Then his eyes went straight to the bridge, and the burly figure that stood beside the helmsman.
Duncan, the steward, had told him that Captain Pratt was on deck, and Peter stared with interest at the man who was bound to have so much to do with his immediate future. But Pratt had his back to him, and beyond the fact that he was thick-shouldered and bull-necked, Peter could tell nothing.
Peter was doubtful what best to do. He was well aware that a passenger had no business on the bridge, and he had no wish to start the interview by giving Captain Pratt any just cause for complaint. So he stood there, in the opening, waiting and watching.
Men were at work on the deck. They were a rough-looking lot, but all were busy, and no one paid any particular attention to him.
Some minutes passed, then all of a sudden, he saw Pratt lean forward across the canvas dodger of the bridge rail.
"You, there—you, Fenwick," he bellowed. "What's that you got in your mouth?"
Fenwick, whoever be was, was for'ard, and Peter could not see him. But the voice—well, the shipper's voice told Peter that the steward's account had not been exaggerated. It was the coarsest, harshest voice that Peter had ever heard.
"I ain't doing no harm, sir," came a reply. "I'm only chewing a bit o' baccy."
"Only chewing, are you? Only chewing and spitting on my deck," sneered Pratt. "I'll teach you!"
With that he was off the bridge, and down on the deck with a speed which showed that, heavy as he was, he had still plenty of activity.
Peter walked rapidly forward. He came up the port side, and as he passed under the bridge a thud and a cry of pain made him quicken his pace. He was just in time to see a man lying on his back on the deck, with Pratt standing over him. "Spit on my deck, will you? Chew tobacco when you're at work. You dirty hog!"
He said a good deal more than this, but his words were not of the sort that can be reproduced in cold print.
"Now, get on with your job!" he continued threateningly, and swung round, to find himself face to face with Peter.
Peter's expression probably said more than words. Pratt pulled up short.
"What do you think you're doing here?" he demanded truculently. "Who told you you could come for'ard?"
The tone made Peter fairly bristle, but this was just where his training told.
"I fancied that a passenger was free of any part of the deck, except the bridge," he answered evenly.
"How do you know you're a passenger?" retorted Pratt, with a sneer on his thick lips.
"Because it seems hardly likely that you would have taken me aboard unless my passage had been paid," replied Peter, as quietly as before.
A puzzled look crossed Pratt's face. Peter's quiet manner seemed to perplex him.
"Passenger or no, you've got no right up here," he said harshly. "I'll thank you to stay in your cabin or aft. And don't let me catch you talking to any of my crew."
"I have not the least desire to talk to any of your crew," responded Peter. "It was you to whom I wished to speak!"
"What do you want to say to me? Out with it, sharp. I've got no time to waste."
"I was going to ask where and when you propose to put me ashore," said Peter.
PRATT stared at Peter, but Peter's face was perfectly impassive.
"Three weeks, if we're lucky," he snapped. "That's how long the trip'll take us. And we're bound for the Plate, if you want to know."
Peter shook his head.
"I have to be in London next Wednesday," he answered.
Pratt gave a sharp bark of a laugh.
"I gave orders you wasn't to have no drink aboard, but I suppose you had some on your clothes," he sneered.
"No," said Peter. "I am not in the habit of carrying drink either inside me or otherwise. And I think you know just as well as I that I was not drunk but drugged when I was shanghaied aboard yesterday."
"I haven't worried my head about it one way or the other," returned Pratt curtly. "And I sure haven't time for it now. Jest you get aft, and keep out of my way. That's all I'm asking you for the present."
"I'm sorry to disoblige you," said Peter still as mildly as before. "But I am afraid you don't understand. I have to be in London within the next three days in order to give evidence at an inquest. I must ask you either to put me ashore at an English port or else transfer me to some in-bound vessel."
Pratt's eyes took an ugly gleam.
"If you're not drunk, you're crazy. Get aft before I put you."
Peter's blood boiled. It was all he could do to keep himself in. But he drew a long breath and succeeded. "Look here, Captain Pratt. I have been drugged and robbed. Part of the money stolen from me is in your possession at this minute, a bribe to get me out of the way."
He got no further. Pratt clenched his fists and came at him in a silence that meant business.
But Peter had never taken his eyes off the man, and he saw what was coming. He ducked sideways and the bully's left whizzed past his ear without touching him. Then without giving an inch Peter countered hard, hitting Pratt square on the nose.
He side stepped, and as Pratt rushed him again, struck up his right with his own left, and landed him a punch in the jaw which set him rocking.
That was Peter's chance to have finished the fight, but he did not take it. He fancied Pratt had had enough.
"Now will you put me ashore?" he asked.
Pratt's answer was unprintable. He gathered himself again, and came in like a hurricane. He was not a beauty at the best of times, and Peter's first punch had not improved his looks. His nose was flat on his face, and the amount of blood he had spilt was astonishing.
He was not as tall as Peter, but he weighed at least twenty pounds more. And just at this moment he was stark mad with fury.
As he came, he hit out with right and left. Once more Peter slid under his left arm, and before he could pull up, got in a heavy body blow. It caught Pratt in the short ribs and made him gasp.
By this time every soul on deck had gathered in a circle around the combatants. Blank amazement was written on every face. That this youngster could stand up against the redoubtable skipper was a fact so astonishing that they could hardly believe their eyes. Not one of them made a sound. They stood stiff as stone images, with staring eyes and gaping mouths.
Peter's last blow, heavy as it was, had not taken the steam out of Pratt, but it had the effect of making him a trifle more cautious. This time he tried to cover up, and did succeed in countering Peter's drive for the jaw.
He let out again with all his might, but his footwork was nothing like Peter's. Peter eluded him easily, and banged in two more blows to the body, both over the heart.
It was rage that kept Pratt going, a sheer fury and nothing else. He was breathing like a broken winded horse as the painfully straightened up.
There was a grim smile on Peter's lips as he watched his adversary. Those last two blows had shaken Pratt badly, but even now he was not out.
Once more he rushed—charged, rather like a mad bull, head down, meaning to butt Peter in the stomach.
They were tactics new to Peter, but he met them with admirable promptness. He brought up his knee suddenly, and Pratt straightened again with surprising quickness. Now Peter, saw that this was no time for squeamishness. Pratt meant murder, therefore mercy of any sort was out of the question. It was time to put the brute out, and to do it quickly. There was always the chance that one of the mates might come on deck.
Before the skipper could recover from the dazing effect of a hard and solid knee bone planted in the centre of his forehead, Peter jumped in, and hit him with his right in his thick, beefy neck.
The blow jerked Pratt's head up, and gave Peter the chance for which he had been waiting. With all the weight of his body behind his fist, he drove his left upwards and forwards at Pratt's jaw.
The blow landed beautifully on the side of the chin, within an inch or two of the point. Up shot Pratt's hands, and down went his body on the deck with a crash that made the solid planks quiver.
Peter looked round at the circle of men.
"I'm sorry," he said pleasantly. "But he brought it on himself."
"Sorry? Sorry be hanged!" spoke up one of them. It was Fenwick, the man whom Pratt had knocked down for chewing. "Sorry be hanged! He asked for it, didn't he?"
"Aye, he asked for it, and by thunder he's got it," said another. "And I hopes it'll do 'im good."
"Lookout, George," said Fenwick suddenly. "'Ere's the mate."
Peter glanced round quickly. A man was hurrying along the deck towards them. A tall, thin person with sandy hair and a pale, uncertain eye. Peter breathed a sigh of relief. So far as he could see, there was nothing to fear from this man.
"What's this? What's this?" exclaimed the mate jerkily. Then, as he caught sight of Pratt lying flat on the deck, his expression changed to one of such horror and amazement that Peter nearly laughed.
"The captain!" he gasped, with sagging jaw. "Who has done this?"
"I have," Peter answered. "Captain Pratt went for me, and whatever has happened was entirely his own fault. These men will bear me out."
"It's the truth, sir," said Fenwick boldly. "Captain Pratt, he'd a killed this young gent if he hadn't ha' fought him."
"But—but this is a terrible business," stammered the mate. He was pitiably upset.
"He's only knocked out," replied Peter, rather scornfully. "If you will have him laid in his bunk he will soon come round."
"Shall we take 'im below, sir?" asked Fenwick.
"Yes—yes. That will be best."
Without waiting for further orders, two of the men picked up the insensible Pratt, neck and crop, and trotted off with him below. They did not handle him too carefully.
Peter wasted no time in tackling the mate.
"Look here. Mr. —," he began.
"Milsom—Milsom is my name," said the other hastily.
"Well, Mr. Milsom, the cause of my argument with Captain Pratt was that I told him I had been drugged, and brought aboard the ship against my will. I informed him that I was due in London in a few days to give evidence in an important case, and that I wanted him to put me ashore, or else on an inward-bound ship. What are you going to do about it?"
"M-me! I have nothing to do with it. I am not captain."
"You are in command so long as your captain is in his present condition," said Peter grimly.
"I have nothing to do with it," repeated the other in a high- pitched voice. "I give you my word I can't interfere. You must wait until Captain Pratt comes to himself."
Peter looked the mate very straight in the face. He saw plainly that the man was in a pitiable state of fright and indecision. He was afraid of Peter, but much more afraid of Pratt.
"Your precious captain won't be fit for much for 24 hours to come," he said. "And it just as well you should understand me first as last. I've got to be put ashore somewhere on the English coast. And it's up to you to do it. Do you see?"
"Yes—yes," gasped Milsom, who was literally trembling with nervousness. "I understand perfectly. B-but you see for yourself it is impossible at present. We are now past the Isle of Wight. There is no harbour nearer than Torbay."
"What about Portland Roads?" cut in Peter.
"Y-yes, but it is coming on thick again. I could not risk that. Plymouth would be better."
"Plymouth, if you like. It's all one to me," said Peter. "But don't try to shirk it. That's all I can say. I'll not be carried off to South America, if I have to fight every man in the ship, first."
"I—I trust you will not have to resort again to violence," stammered the miserable Milsom. "I will do my best to persuade the captain to put you ashore at Plymouth or to transfer you to some inward-bound vessel."
"Never mind the captain," retorted Peter grimly. "You'll do it yourself, or I'll know the reason why," he added, "I propose to stay on deck and watch. I'm not taking any chances, let me tell you."
"I give you my word you shall be transferred if there is an opportunity," said Milsom earnestly, and Peter, satisfied that Milsom was at last thoroughly cowed, let him go.
Modest as Peter was, he could not help seeing that he had suddenly become a hero in the sight of the crew of the "Eagle." A man who could lay out their redoubtable skipper, and do it, moreover, with such ease, was one to swear by. As he walked forward again, he caught glances of admiration and respect.
Milsom climbed the bridge ladder and took charge. Clearly, none of the men troubled their heads about him. They carried on comfortably enough. Peter took up a position on a coil of rope right for'ard, and lit a pipe. Presently, he was conscious of a low voice from somewhere near by.
"Mister! I say, Mister!"
He glanced round and saw Fenwick making pretence to be busy close by.
"Yes, what is it?" he asked quietly.
"We wants to say as we're all proper pleased at what you did to the skipper, sir. There ain't one of us as wouldn't have gave a month's pay to see 'im laid out proper."
"Be you a pro, sir, if I may ask? he added.
"Bless you, no," replied Peter, smiling in spite of himself. "Only an amateur."
"Blimey, but I believe's you'd 'ave a chanst in the ring," said Fenwick. "There's some I've seed as fights for a living as couldn't stand up against you. Crimes but you did paste 'im proper!"
"How is he?" asked Peter. "Have you heard?"
"Still sort o' silly, sir. The stoo'ard, he's a-lookin' arter 'im."
Peter considered a moment.
"See here, Fenwick," he said. "I want to tell you that I was robbed and drugged before I was put aboard here. And I have to get back to London within the next three days. Mr. Milsom has promised to put me ashore at Plymouth or else to transfer me to some inward-bound ship. What are the chances?"
"Rotten, sir," answered Fenwick without a moment's hesitation. "The mate, he don't cut no ice aboard the 'Eagle.' And if you asks me, he's about as likely to make into Plymouth as to go back to London."
"Hmm, I thought as much," said Peter. "Then what about putting me aboard some other craft?"
"'E might do that if we seed one afore the old man gets around again," replied Fenwick cautiously. "But I don't reckon we'll 'ave the chanst, sir."
"Because it's coming on thick again. You look down to the sou'-west, sir. See that there bank o' fog. We'll be right in it afore many minutes, and I don't reckon we'll be out of it afore dark, if then."
Peter pursed his lips in a soundless whistle.
"What on earth am I going to do now?" he muttered.
FENWICK was right. Within another five minutes, the "Eagle" had run into the fog bank.
It closed around her, grey and dismal, putting off all view of everything beyond a couple of ship lengths. Moisture settling on the rigging and ratlines dripped heavily to the deck. All was dull and dismal.
Peter remained on deck. It did not seem to be much use, for there was nothing to be seen, except the rolling clouds of vapour. But he was too restless and uneasy to go below.
He had fully expected to see Milsom ring down to half speed. He did nothing of the sort, and the tramp ploughed onwards at a steady 10 knots. The only concession she made to the fog was to sound her horn at two minute intervals.
Presently Peter spoke to Fenwick again.
"Any chance of its clearing?" he asked. Fenwick shook his head.
"T'aint likely, sir. Not afore night, anyways. Bad luck for you, sir," he added sympathetically.
Peter's lips tightened.
"It may make it more difficult," he said, "but one way or another I mean to get ashore. Keep your eyes open, Fenwick, and if you see even a fishing boat, let me know."
"I'll do that, sir," said Fenwick. "And if I was you, sir, I'd go below and get some dinner. It's always as well to be stoked up."
It was good advice. Peter realised that, and glancing at his watch found that it was nearly 1 o'clock. He went down to the cabin, and found the table laid, and Duncan in the act of bringing in the meal.
At that moment in came a man whom Peter had not seen before, but whom, by his uniform, he took to be the second mate. He was a shortish, thick-set fellow, with a dark, forbidding face. His looks were not improved by the fact that his nose had been broken at some time or other, and not properly set. It had a bad bend to the left.
He marched straight in and took his seat without a word to Peter, and Peter, not to be outdone, sat down quietly without a second glance at the ill-mannered fellow.
The meal consisted of a sort of stew, and some boiled rice and prunes. Duncan, the steward, waited, and Peter was aware that the man was uneasy. He determined to get a word with him later.
The second mate, whose table manners matched his appearance, gobbled his food, got up and went on deck. Peter turned to Duncan.
"What is his name?" he questioned. "Lurgan, sir. Second mate he is, and—"
"Yes," said Peter encouragingly.
"He's another like the skipper, sir," whispered Duncan, with a nervous glance in the direction in which Lurgan had gone.
"Thought as much," said Peter briefly. "And I presume he is taking the next watch?"
"That's right, sir."
Peter glanced ruefully at his cracked knuckles. Duncan ventured to grin.
"I reckon you could best him, sir," he said in a very low voice.
"I hope to goodness I don't have to try it," replied Peter. "I'm sick of this sort of thing."
Duncan paused a moment.
"'E won't put you ashore for the arsking, sir," he said.
Peter merely nodded.
"We shall see," was all he said, and rising from his seat, went slowly up the companion.
On his way he met Milsom coming down. The first mate gave him a queer half-nervous nod, but Peter pulled up.
"What about Plymouth, Mr. Milsom?"
"I—I don't know, Mr. Carr. It's very thick, and getting worse."
Peter's jaw stuck out.
"You have got to know," he said grimly. "As I have told you, I don't mean to be carried to South America."
"I will do my best for you," Milsom assured him. "I give you my word I will do what I can."
Peter looked hard at the man. In his soul, he realised that Milsom was a broken reed. He would do nothing on his own. He was a mere cipher compared with the skipper or with Lurgan. He stood aside and let him pass, then went on up to the deck.
His thoughts were not pleasant ones. Ten to one, Lurgan had already been in communication with Pratt. Pratt was not going to back down if he could help it, for he now had his own grudge to satisfy, as well as Peasley's commission.
It was this infernal fog that had upset everything. But for the fog they would surely have sighted some in-bound vessel and he could have forced Milsom to put him aboard.
He stood by the port rail, staring out into the murk, and even as he waited from somewhere not half a mile away came the melancholy hoot of a fog horn answering that of the "Eagle." But of the ship itself he could see nothing. So thick had it turned that see might have passed within three hundred yards without even her outline being visible.
He looked round for Fenwick, but Fenwick was no longer on deck. Then he remembered that the watch had been changed. Not one of the men who had seen his battle with Pratt was about. These were a new lot—Lurgan's watch.
Even so, he noticed that they were eyeing him covertly. It was clear that the tale had been told in the fo'c'sle, and that the man who had thrashed Bully Pratt was an object of no common interest. He waited a while, then selecting a man who looked a trifle more intelligent than his companions, moved towards him.
"Any chance of it's clearing?" he asked pleasantly.
"Don't look like it, sir," the man replied civilly. "When it's like this, we mostly carries it all down the Channel. But I reckon you'll find it nice and bright when you comes on deck to- morrow morning."
Before Peter could speak again, he was conscious of a step behind him, and turning found himself face to face with Lurgan. The second mate was scowling angrily, and the result was to make him look more than ever like a badly bred bull terrier.
"I'll thank you not to talk to men on watch, Mr. Carr," he said harshly.
Peter did not reply at once. He was looking Lurgan up and down, and trying to make up his mind whether the man was looking for trouble. It might be that he fancied himself as a bruiser, and thought that he could success where Pratt had failed. Or, again, there might be something more behind it—some idea or plot.
Then quite suddenly something occurred which changed his thoughts abruptly. A puff of wind lifted the thick veil of vapour a trifle, and there, in full sight, was a good-sized steamer, a tramp like the "Eagle," but bound eastwards, not westwards. She was almost, but not quite, level with the "Eagle,"' and would evidently pass her within a quarter of a mile.
Peter pointed to her.
"There's my chance," he said quickly. "Mr. Lurgan, you must put me aboard that steamer."
Lurgan glared at him.
"What the blazes do you think you are talking about?" he demanded coarsely. "Do you think you own this ship?"
Peter's eyes blazed, but he restrained himself.
"Mr. Milsom promised to put me aboard the first inward-bound vessel we sighted," answered, with forced calmness. "It's up to you to redeem that promise."
"It's up to me to teach you your place, it seems to me," answered Lurgan, and Peter saw that the man's fists were clenched, and that he was already in an attitude of offence.
Like a flash, he realised that he would have to fight for it again, and now there was no time to waste.
Instantly he sprang away. Lurgan rushed, but Peter side stepped and tried a body blow as Lurgan passed.
The quickness with which the second mate chopped it down showed that he knew more about boxing than Pratt. So did the way in which he came round on his toes, and drove a rapid left and right at Peter's head.
Peter slipped the first blow, pushed up Lurgan's left, and came in, left foot foremost. His left first, travelling in a short upward swing, met Lurgan's chin and drove his head back.
That gave Peter his chance, and he smashed with his right for the point.
The blow came in too far back. Peter's fist met the second mate's neck with a sharp, chopping sound. Lurgan reeled and stood rocking, half dazed.
Furious that he had failed to knock out the fellow, and in a panic lest he should be too late to catch the passing ship, Peter hauled off and drove relentlessly at Lurgan's face. He smote him on the very point of the nose, and if that nose was a wreck before, now it was derelict for ever.
Peter hardly waited to see the fellow go down. He was already racing for the bridge. Up the ladder he went like a flash, and reached the man at the wheel.
"Steer for that ship over there," he ordered. The man gaped at him, open-mouthed.
"Don't you hear me? Steer for that steamer over there I mean to be put aboard her. Do it at once, or I'll handle you as I have your captain."
The man's eyes fairly goggled. Never in his life had he been in such a terrible fix. This was the mad passenger who had already knocked out both the shipper and the second mate. He knew too that, if he obeyed, life for the next three weeks would be spelt with a capital "H."
"I can't do it," he gurgled. "You'll 'ave to knock me out, too."
Peter understood. He seized the man, and without hurting him more than he could help, flung him aside. Then he himself grasped the wheel and spun the spokes.
Peter had never handled any craft larger than a five ton yacht. He was conscious of a feeling of amazement that this great lump of a ship obeyed her helm so easily. Round she came, and to his joy he saw her pointing straight towards the other steamer.
But the latter had already passed, and though her lookout must have seen the curiously manoeuvre of the "Eagle" she paid no attention whatever, but kept serenely on her course. Peter was nearly frantic. If there were only some way of calling her attention! Unfortunately, he had not the faintest idea what to do, and there was no one to tell him.
His eyes were fixed upon the other steamer. It seemed to him that the "Eagle" was gaining slightly. But the fog was thickening again, and already she was becoming hazy and indistinct.
Peter grew desperate. He was almost prepared to run the other craft down rather than risk losing her. So keen was he on watching her that he never saw two men who came swiftly but silently up the bridge ladder.
The first warning he had of their presence was a rush of feet.
He let go the wheel and spun round. As he did so, Lurgan, his face covered with blood, was on him. Close behind was Pratt, his heavy features convulsed with rage.
"Hold him!" roared Pratt, with an oath. "Hold him, Lurgan!"
Before Peter could get clear, Lurgan's arms were round him, and he and the second mate went down together.
"Hold him!" yelled Pratt again. "Hold him! I've got the irons."
PETER had not been caught altogether unawares. Even as he struck the planks, he slewed over to one side, and drove his right elbow backwards and upwards with all his force.
It struck Lurgan under the jaw with tremendous force, driving his chin back and jarring every tooth in his head. For the moment, he was absolutely paralysed and Peter did not wait for him to recover. Rolling nimbly over, he bounded to his feet like a rubber ball, and leaving Lurgan where he lay charged straight at Pratt with silent, vengeful fury.
Brute as he was, Pratt had pluck. Seeing what a hammering he had received at Peter's hands only a few hours earlier, it needed pluck to stand up to him a second time.
Peter caught the ugly gleam in his enemy's eyes; and realised that the man had recovered from the earlier battle, and was his dangerous self once more. It flashed across him that he could not afford to fight him again. Even it he beat him, the delay would be fatal to his chance of catching the other ship.
At the last, moment he side-stepped, Pratt made a wild grasp at him, but failed to touch him. Next instant Peter was down the ladder and on the deck, and racing aft.
"Stop him! Stop him!"
Pratt's voice was hoarse with fury. He himself came tearing after Peter.
"Stop him! Five pounds to the man that holds him," shouted Pratt again.
Even the bribe produced no takers, and Peter reached the stern unmolested. There he pulled up and gave one quick glance at the other steamer. She was not three hundred yards away, but still visible through the fog.
With one loud shout of defiance, Peter sprang upon the rail, balanced an instant, then dived far out into the sea.
The water roared in his ears. It seemed to him that he was going to the very bottom. The weight on his head had become terrific before he could arrest his downward course, and struggle upwards once more. There was just one grain of comfort about it. He knew that he was safe from the screw.
When he did at last reach the surface, it was to find himself bobbing and spinning helplessly in the foaming wake of the ship. The "Eagle" herself was already a full hundred yards away.
She was turning. He could see that, and suddenly it came to him that Pratt meant to pick him up.
It seemed to Peter that anything would be better than that. Indeed, he would have almost preferred drowning. He turned, and began swimming with all his might in the direction of the other ship, which he could still see pretty plainly through the fog. At the same time, he shouted for all he was worth.
He glanced back once more at the "Eagle." Yes, she was turning, and getting back on her old course. This would bring her past him. More than that! She would come right in between him and the other steamer, and cut him off from the sight of any one who might be watching from her. He struck out desperately, hoping against hope to able to pass in front of the "Eagle."
Quite useless! It was but a few moments before he realised that the only result would be that he would be run down, stamped deep under the water, and eventually torn to pieces by her racing screw.
With an inward groan, he stopped swimming, and trod water. Another minute and the "Eagle" was between him and the inbound steamer. She came on at full speed, kicking up a great wave in front of her blunt bows. Peter saw Pratt's disfigured face peering over the rail, and Lurgan's looking if anything the worse of the two alongside him. Both were grinning evilly.
"You pair of beauties!" shouted Peter. "But let me tell you I'd sooner be in the sea than on your cursed ship!"
The chances were that they did not hear him. At any rate, they did not answer, nor was any attempt made to stop the way of the steamer. She came past at her full ten knots, leaving Peter helpless and alone in the cold waves.
Not quite alone, either. For as she passed some one—Peter could not see who, but suspected it was Fenwick—flung something overboard, which fell with a splash quite close to him. It was a life-belt. "Thanks," shouted Peter, and then the churned water from the wake caught him again, and swirled right over his head. By the time he had cleared his eyes, the "Eagle" was already dim in the fog, while of the other ship, only a vague shadow showed her whereabouts. Then down dropped the mist shroud thicker than ever, and blotted out both vessels from view.
"Out of the frying pan into the fire," said Peter. He spoke aloud, trying to cheer himself a little. In his secret soul he realised that his position was absolutely desperate.
He had not the faintest notion where he was, how far from shore, or in which direction the land lay. It might be within a mile or two for all he knew, but the fog cut off everything.
He was a good swimmer, but even the best of swimmers cannot keep afloat in the open sea for an indefinite number of hours And the sailor to whom he had last spoken had held out no hope of the fog clearing.
For the moment he had forgotten the life-belt. Suddenly he saw it bob up close by on top of a small wave. He struck out for it, caught it, and managed to buckle it around him.
The relief was great. It raised him so high in the water that the little waves no longer splashed in his face.
What was the next thing to do? Inaction was horrible, yet so far as he could see there was nothing to be done except float idly, and chance being picked up. There were still some hours of daylight left, and he knew that he was well in the track of steamers.
If it were not for the fog!
It occurred to Peter that fog was playing a curious part in his life. It was in a fog that he had first met Joyce; the greatest event in his life. It was fog now that threatened to finish his career.
Time passed. The water which had at first not felt particularly chilly, seemed now to be turning colder. Peter realised that the reason was because he was floating, and not attempting to swim. He struck out again, but the belt hampered his efforts, and the chill crept steadily into his bones. His teeth began to chatter.
Suddenly out of the murk came a new sound, and Peter strained his ears to listen.
It was a horn, but surely not a fog horn such as the "Eagle" and the other steamers had used. This was not nearly so loud, and had none of that harsh resonance of the steam-blown horn.
The sound died, then after a minute or so came again. This time Peter was certain that its source was not very far away. He took a deep breath, and shouted at the utmost pitch of his voice. He waited, but there was no reply. By this time he was one quiver of anxiety and eagerness. It was maddening to feel that rescue was so near, and yet so impossible to attain to. Strain his eyes as he might, they met nothing but the grey folds of the clammy curtain of mist, drifting endlessly past.
Once more the thin sound came bleating through the smother. This time Peter felt sure that he knew exactly from what point it came, and roused to sudden energy he set out swimming hard in that direction.
As before, the belt hampered his efforts, and he moved with painful slowness. Yet be dared not get rid of the belt, for he felt that his strength was failing, and knew that he could not keep afloat long without it.
He swam for about five minutes, but never a sound came again. He began to fancy that he must have dreamed it. He stopped and shouted again, but was horrified to find how feeble his voice had grown.
No answer. Cold despair gripped his heart, but he would not give in. Still he swam on, not knowing where he was going or what progress he was making. He was getting desperately weary, and presently cramp seized him. It was in the calf of his left leg, and the pain was agonising. The muscles drew up in a hard lump, and though he kicked out with all his might, and straightened the tangle for a few moments, the pain kept coming back.
Once more he shouted.
Was there an answer? He thought there was, but before he could make certain the sound was drowned by the mighty blare of an enormous fog horn, and out of the mist cloud loomed up suddenly the cliff-like bows of a great twelve or fourteen thousand ton liner.
To Peter's horrified eyes, she seemed right on top of him, and turning he struck out frantically in the opposite direction.
Next moment, her steel side, tall and dark as a castle wall, towered over him. He heard the hiss of the water passed by her sharp prow, and saw the great tow wave curling upwards.
He yelled again, but the shout was cut short. The wave broke clean over his head, and drove him down. He struggled hard, beating the sea with his hands in a vain effort to keep himself up.
It was useless. The salt water filled his lungs. Fiery flashes seemed to dance before his eyes. Then his struggles ceased, and the great liner swirling heedlessly by at sixteen knots an hour, left him bobbing helpless and insensible in hot creaming wake.
THE taxi pulled up at the door of 60B Jermyn- street, and Jasper got out. Joyce was about to follow him, but he stopped her.
"Wait till I find out whether Bassett is in," he said. "It is no use your coming in unless he is, for Tudor Carr can tell you nothing."
He went into the hall, and Joyce waited impatiently. In little more than a minute Jasper came limping back.
"All right, Joyce," he said. "He is in at last, and I have asked the hall porter to telephone up and announce us."
He turned to his driver.
"Wait, please," he said. Then he helped Joyce out, and they went up the stairs together.
The outer door of the flat was open, and Jasper had hardly put his finger on the bell before the sitting-room door, too, was flung open, and Bassett's commanding figure appeared in the entrance.
"We have no man yet," he said with a smile. "This is Mr. Lovell, is it not? My name is Bassett."
"Yes, I am Jasper Lovell. And this is my sister, Mr. Bassett."
"Come in, please," he said, and led the way into the big, brilliantly lighted sitting-room.
A small fire was burning in the grate; these were flowers about. In spite of its garish furniture, the place looked comfortable. But Bassett was its only occupant, of Tudor Carr there was no sign.
Bassett pulled up a comfortable chair.
"Sit down, Miss Lovell," he said courteously. His deep, harsh voice was modulated to a softer tone. His dress and manners left nothing to be desired.
"You will forgive the absence of Sir Tudor Carr," he continued. "He is, I am sorry to say, delicate, and by doctor's orders goes to bed early. But he has mentioned your two calls to- day, Mr. Lovell, and I am only sorry that I was not at home."
He paused, with an air of expectancy.
"Then, no doubt, he told you what I called about," answered Jasper.
"He told me that you were a friend of Mr. Peter Carr, and that you were anxious to find him," said Bassett suavely. "Believe me, I shall be very glad if I can give you any useful information."
"The reason we are anxious is this," explained Jasper. "Mr. Peter Carr wired to us on the afternoon after the murder of his uncle that he was writing the same day. We have had no letter then or since. He has left the Harcourt Hotel without leaving any address. I understand from Mr. Calvert, his solicitor, that he telephoned to him on that same day, asking for your address. I presume, therefore, that he called on you that afternoon."
"That is so," replied Bassett. "He did call here, and I saw him. But it was only about a small matter of some personal property of his—clothes and so on—which he wished to recover from his uncle's flat. Later, I went there with him, and he took the things away. Since then I have not seen or heard from him."
Jasper paused a moment, then spoke again. "You will forgive my saying this, Mr. Bassett. But why should you have gone with him to the rooms in King-street? I should have thought that it was Sir Tudor Carr's business entirely."
"Quite so. From a legal point of view, I have no status at all. But I was a friend of Sir Tudor's father. It was I who brought Tudor to England, and it is simply because of his delicacy that I act for him. As a matter of fact, I suggested to Mr. Peter Carr that he might just as well go by himself. But be refused to do so. He said that since everything had now come into his cousin's possession, he would prefer that either he or I should be there. Personally, I thought it extremely nice of him."
Before Jasper could speak again, Joyce cut in:
"Did he seem cheerful? Did he speak to you at all of his plans?"
Bassett turned to her courteously.
"For a man who had just lost almost his only living relative, as well as all his prospects, I thought him remarkably cheerful, Miss Lovell. And as to his plans, all that he told me was that he thought a man in his position stood a better chance in the Colonies than in England."
"But he had no capital," said Joyce quickly. "I know that he had very little money indeed."
"I suspected as much," answered Bassett gravely, "but I could not be certain. As a matter of fact, Sir Tudor was very anxious to do something for him. He would have liked him to continue to manage Carr Holme. But Mr. Peter Carr would not hear of it, so Sir Tudor, who is a shy, nervous person, said no more."
"Just like Peter," said Joyce softly.
"But I do wish I knew where he was," she added. "Why did he leave the Harcourt?"
"Forgive me, but the reason seems obvious," replied Bassett. "The Harcourt was too expensive for him. I have no doubt that he went in search of cheaper lodgings."
"Then surely he would have written from there?"
"He might have done so, and the letter have failed to reach you. The post is not infallible," said Bassett. "Or, again, he may have met with some accident, or been taken suddenly ill."
Then seeing how white Joyce suddenly went, he broke off abruptly.
"I am sorry, indeed, to have frightened you," he said, contritely. "But one must consider all possibilities in a case like this."
Jasper rose from his chair.
"Quite so," he said rather shortly. "We are obliged to you, Mr. Bassett, for such information as you have given us. And now, as my sister is tired, I will take her to our hotel. To-morrow I will put a thoroughly good detective on the track. Good- night."
He gave Joyce no chance to speak again, but hurried her off downstairs to the waiting taxi, and ordered the man to go straight on to the Harcourt.
"Why were you in such a hurry, Jasper?" complained Joyce. "Mr. Bassett might have given us some useful ideas. He seemed quite inclined to be kind and helpful."
"Kind and helpful!" echoed Jasper. "My dear Joyce, the man was lying from beginning to end. Couldn't you tell that much?"
Joyce gazed at her brother in astonishment.
"How do you know that?"
"I don't merely know it, I felt it," was Jasper's curious answer.
Joyce was silent. Knowing Jasper as she did, she was aware that he would not speak in this way unless be had good reason. His intuition was wonderful. She had proved that many a time already. A horrible sense of insecurity came over her, and she did not speak again until they had reached the hotel.
Jasper, took her to her room, and presently they went down to get some food.
"You say you are going to get a detective, Jasper?" she asked.
"I think it will be our best plan, dear," Jasper answered. "Even if there is no question of foul play, it is quite possible that Peter might have had an accident of some sort. Or he may be ill. A detective can make inquiries at all the hospitals, and he may be able to find the taxi-driver who drove Peter away from the hotel."
"Yes, I see," she said gravely. And Jasper, realising that she was struggling to keep her tears back, said no more.
Soon after supper Joyce went to her room, but Jasper remained downstairs, hunting through a directory. He made a list of several detective agencies, and determined to call one up first thing the following morning. Then he himself went to bed, but not to sleep. He lay awake for hours, considering the situation from all points.
He was dreadfully anxious, and that not on Joyce's account only. He himself had grown very fond of Peter, and was personally most anxious to find out what had become of him.
Brother and sister alike looked pale and heavy-eyed as they met next morning for breakfast, and neither made much of a meal. As soon as he had finished Jasper got up.
"Joyce," he said. "I want you to wait for me. I have telephoned Cleeve's Agency, and I have a man coming from them. He is due now."
Before he could leave the dining-room, a messenger entered, and came towards their table.
"Mr. Lovell?" he asked.
"Yes," said Jasper.
"Telegram for you, sir," said the boy.
Jasper took the envelope, and tore it open. Joyce, watching him, saw his face change.
"Any news?" she asked breathlessly.
"Not of Peter. It's from father," he answered, and handed it across.
She took the slip and read it.
"Return at once. Urgent. Lovell."
"What does he mean?" she asked quickly.
Jasper's face was grim. "It means that he has been bitten," he replied. "That tin mine. At least, that is what I gather.—"
"Then—then we must go home," gasped Joyce.
"You must, Joyce," said Jasper quietly. "I shall wait and come down by the night train. Whatever happens, I'm going to see this man first, and put him on Peter's track."
"WHAT'S the matter, dad?"
Joe Pollard, son of Abel Pollard, smack owner of Lemm Harbour, was watching his father, who was standing up and straining his eyes through the fog.
"Thought I heard a shout, Joe," answered the elder man.
"Seemed to come from over to loo'ard, where them steamers passed a while back. Listen now."
The boy leaned forward, his round, brown face damp with the fog dew, and the moisture dripping from his black sou-wester.
"Aye, there 'twas again," said Abel Pollard. "Give a hail, Joe."
Joe opened his mouth to shout, then closed it again abruptly.
"'Twasn't no shout," he said sharply. "It's another of them dratted steamers. Put her over, dad. The blamed thing's coming up right aft of us."
Abel put the tiller hard over, but the breeze was so light that the smack had barely steerage way. She answered her helm sluggishly.
Next moment the thick air shook to the monotonous bellow of a fog horn, and out of the murk right aft loomed the lofty bows of a huge liner.
Father and son both held their breath. It seemed all odds on their being cut down and stamped under by the vast steel monster that came rushing upon them, eating up the sea at the rate of a mile every three minutes.
But luck was with them. She swirled past within a biscuit toss, and left them rocking and plunging in her tempestuous wake.
"Close call, dad!" gasped Joe, as her great stern swept by.
"And no thanks to them we wasn't run down," answered his father bitterly. "What business have they got to travel like that in such weather as this?"
"Well, they didn't get us that time, anyway," said Joe philosophically. "But 'tisn't no use taking any more chances, dad. It ain't going to lift, and I reckon we might as well put back."
"Aye, we'll be getting along, Joe," replied his father, "get a bold o' them jib sheets, lad."
"Wait a jiffy!" Joe's voice was suddenly sharp. "There's something afloat there. Gosh, you were right, dad! It's the chap as you heard shouting. See him?"
"Aye, I see him." As he spoke Pollard put the tiller over, and the smack headed for an object dimly seen through the smoky mist wreaths. "Stand by with the boat hook, Joe."
"Steady, dad!" cried Joe presently. "Luff a little. That's right. Poor beggar, he can't help himself."
He reached out, and deftly inserted the point of the boat hook into the collar of Peter Carr's coat and drew him alongside. His father brought the boat up into the wind, and called the third hand to take the tiller. Then he stepped forward and helped his son to lift Peter aboard.
"I doubt he's dead," said Joe gravely.
Young as he was, this was not the first victim of the cruel sea that he had seen. Peter's face was grey, his lips were blue. His eyes were tightly closed, and there was no sign of breathing. "He's bad, Joe," replied the elder Pollard. "But I don't reckon he's dead. Wasn't five minutes ago he was shouting. Lift him into the cabin, and let's see what us can do for him."
"Mark,"—this to the third man—"get her round, and run for home."
Both the Pollards were well skilled in first aid to the apparently drowned. They had Peter's soaked clothes off in a jiffy, and rolled him in a dry, warm blanket.
"Get a hot brick for his feet, Joe," said Abel. "My, but he's a fine built young fellow! Nice looking, too. Be a thousand pities if he slipped his cable. I'll lay some girl 'ud be sorry."
"Work his arms, dad," advised Joe. "He's full of salt water."
The pair worked over Peter for more than twenty minutes before they were rewarded by the faintest sign of returning life. Then at last he drew a fluttering breath, and presently his heart began beating steadily. But even so, he did not regain consciousness, and was still insensible when the smack glided alongside the little stone pier at Limm.
The fog wait thick as ever, and there was no one about.
"Reckon we'd best take him up to the house, Joe," said Abel Pollard. "You run on and tell mother. Mark and I will bring him up on one of them hand carts."
A notable housewife was Mrs. Pollard, and no bed could have been cleaner or better aired than the one in which Peter was tucked up, in the best bedroom of the Pollard's little stone built house. But even now he was still unconscious, and at last Mrs. Pollard grew anxious.
"Joe," she said, "you'd best go across and fetch the doctor. Looks to me as if there was more the matter with the young gentleman than we can see."
"All right, mother," replied the good-natured Joe, and was off at once.
Plump, bald, little Dr. Dicksee had attended the sick and injured of Limm Harbour for a matter of thirty years. His kindly face grew grave as he examined Peter.
"It's chill," he said. "He's been in the water a longish time. Looks to me as if the poor fellow was in for a go of rheumatic fever. What do you think, Mrs. Pollard? Shall we send him up to the Cottage Hospital?"
"That wouldn't do him any good, sir—the state he's in," answered the kindly woman. "No, I reckon he'd better stay here. We can manage right enough?"
"Who is he, I wonder," said the doctor thoughtfully. "Do you know what ship he came from, Abel?"
"There was two steamers passed us two hours or more afore we picked him up, doctor," Pollard answered. "Both was bound Eastwards, and I reckon both was tramps. But 'twas too thick to tell anything about 'em."
"Some young chap coming home, on the cheap, from the states, most likely," suggested Dicksee. "Are there any papers by which you can identify him?"
"There's no papers about him, sir," replied Pollard. "Joe and I looked all through his clothes. There's a little money, a watch, and a pipe and tobacco pouch. Not a thing else."
"What about marks on his clothes?" inquired the doctor.
"There's the initials 'J.L.' on his handkerchief," said Mrs. Pollard. "But none of his other things are marked. Young men don't trouble to get their things marked. It's only after they're married, their wives see to that for them."
"So he is a bachelor, you think, Mrs. Pollard?" smiled Dicksee.
"Sure of it, sir," she answered promptly. "There isn't a darned place even in his socks."
"Proof positive," agreed the doctor, and smiled again. "Well, Mrs. Pollard, he is a fine looking young fellow, and no doubt we shall be able to discover his identity later on. I hope he will be able to tell us himself. Meantime, I am only too glad to leave him in your care. I know he would not be better looked after, even in his own home. For the present, there is nothing to do but keep him quiet and warm, and give him some medicine which I will send. I shall be in again in the morning."
He nodded, and went. Mrs. Pollard stood looking down at Peter's flushed face.
"Yes," she said softly. "A fine looking young man, to be sure. And gently bred, too, by the look of him. I'm glad I didn't let them take him up to the hospital."
She turned and picked up the handkerchief which she had been showing to the doctor.
"J.L.," she said, looking at the monogrammed initials. "Now I wonder what that stands for?"
She did not know, of course, and even Peter, himself, had not been aware of the fact that one of his handkerchiefs had been accidentally changed with one of Jasper Lovell's in the wash. It was just this chance—this and the fact that Peter had for a few minutes changed the course of the "Eagle," which prevented Doctor Dicksee or any one else at Limm from connecting their patient with the missing Peter Carr.
DR. DICKSEE had diagnosed Peter's case correctly. It was rheumatic fever. The long exposure following on two days of extreme distress and anxiety, to say nothing of the violent exertion entailed by his two fights aboard the "Eagle," had proved too much for him, and he was very ill indeed.
For more than a week he was either delirious or unconscious, and it was only Mrs. Pollard's careful nursing and the good little doctor's constant care which pulled him through.
And meantime the papers were full of the "Flat Mystery," as it was called. The murder of Sir Anthony Carr and the strange disappearance of his nephew filled columns of the Press, and was talked of, even in the bar of the "Three Choughs" at Limm, where the smack captains sat and smoked in the evenings.
Jasper's detective had soon traced the taxi driver who had driven Peter to Mecklenburg Square, but Peter, it will be remembered, had not even seen his landlady when he left for the city that afternoon. And try as he would, the detective could not pick up the trail.
The police were equally at fault. Small wonder, for who would notice a solitary young man travelling on top of a 'bus, and even if they had, who would have traced Peter and his companion through the maze of narrow alleys among which Peasley had purposely conducted him?
Ten days passed, and Dr. Dicksee's face which at times had been really anxious, assumed a more cheerful expression.
"He's pulling round finely," he announced to Mrs. Pollard. "He has a splendid constitution, and has taken care or himself. If he keeps on as he's doing, he's going to be a credit to us, Mrs. Pollard. I don't even anticipate any heart trouble as so often happens with rheumatic fever."
"He seems quite sensible like to-day, sir," answered Mrs. Pollard. "But he don't say anything. Just lies there and looks at me with those blue eyes of his. So sad he looks, it almost makes me cry."
"He is very weak still," the doctor explained. "As he gains strength he will become more cheerful. Don't encourage him to talk. Quiet and good feeding are what he needs now."
As a matter of fact, Peter did not want to talk. He was still so weak that he could hardly think. He was content to lie still in a dreamy state, and take his medicine and food as they came. Sometimes the image of Joyce drifted before his tired eyes, but even that was vague. It seemed to him that years instead of days had elapsed between the time when he had jumped from the "Eagle's" rail and the present.
But that sort of thing began to pass. His fine constitution and the excellent training in which he had always kept himself told, and he mended faster than he knew.
There came a morning when he woke with a feeling that he wanted to move, that he desired sun and air. Mrs. Pollard coming in with his breakfast, noticed the change at once.
"Why, you're better, sir," she declared, as she placed the tray on the table by his bedside.
He smiled up at her.
"I am better," he answered, "much better. And it is thanks to you that I am. You have been very, very good to a stranger."
He spoke with such feeling that the kindly woman was touched. Tears rose to her eyes, and she stopped and patted him on the shoulder.
"No one could have had an easier patient," she told him. "Now don't you worry about anything. Just lie still and eat and get well. Wait now. I'll crack your egg for you."
Peter ate his breakfast with appetite. The fresh egg, the good bread and homemade butter were delicious. When he had finished, Mrs. Pollard coming to take away his tray, found him still sitting up in bed, propped with pillows.
"You'd ought to lie down," she remonstrated, but Peter declared that it would do him good to sit up.
"And, Mrs. Pollard, could you—that is would it be a trouble to you to get me a newspaper. I haven't known what is going on in the world for ever so long."
"There's yesterday's Sunday paper downstairs, sir. But do you think you're fit to be reading?"
"Let me try," begged Peter. "If I find it too much, I promise you I will stop."
She fetched the paper, and took the tray. Peter waited until she was outside before he opened it. Almost the first thing he saw was a heavily lined heading, "The Flat Mystery."
For a moment the letters swam before his eyes. Then they steadied, and he began to read. Once started, he could not stop. He read the whole two columns.
Though this was the second week since his illness began, the news was fresh and up to date. He gathered that, owing to his absence, the inquiry had been postponed a week, and had at last taken place on the previous Wednesday.
The verdict was "Murder by some person or persons unknown," but that Peter had anticipated. The part that naturally most deeply interested him was that about himself. He went hot and cold alternately as he read the details. As he had fully expected the coroner's strictures had been severe. He had plainly hinted that the principal witness had absconded for some reason best known to himself.
Then Peter caught Jasper's name, and his heart warmed as he read his friend's evidence in his favour. Jasper had spoken plump and plain on his behalf. He had said straight out that he considered it much more likely that the guilty persons had made away with him.
"'Mr. Jasper Lovell,'" said the report, "'spoke so clearly and convincingly that he undoubtedly carried the jury with him. We understand that this young gentleman had read for the Bar. Judging by his evidence in this case, he should have a great future before him.
"'Unfortunately, he was no more able than any one else to throw light on the mystery of Mr. Peter Carr's disappearance, and this, in spite of the fact that he acted most promptly and had engaged a detective to search for Mr. Carr, before the police even knew of his disappearance.
"'The whole case is a most extraordinary one; and the double mystery of the murder of Sir Anthony Carr and the sudden disappearance of his nephew seems destined to add one more to the long list of enigmas which are beyond the powers of a Sherlock Holmes.'"
Peter drew a long breath. After all, it was not so bad as he had expected. At any rate, no one had actually accused him of being concerned in the murder of his uncle.
He ran through the report once more, and now he noticed that, although Tudor Carr had given evidence, there was no mention whatever of Bassett. Evidently the latter had been cunning enough to keep clear of it. Consequently, nothing had been said of the missing eight hundred pounds. Apparently it had not been missed at all, but seeing what large sums Sir Anthony had been in the habit of keeping by him or of spending outright on such trifles as a miniature or a snuff box, there was nothing wonderful about this.
So Peter felt that his character was clear in Joyce's eyes, and was grateful accordingly.
Suddenly he dropped the paper. He sat quite still, gazing into space. An idea had flashed through his mind. Joyce, no doubt, by this time believed him dead. Why should he not remain so?
He could never hope to marry her. Was it not better then that he should take the chance that offered and disappear—change his name and assume a new identity?
The thought boiled and bubbled in his brain. All sorts of ideas were welling up when suddenly he heard the door below open, and Dr. Dicksee's cheery, voice.
"Good morning, Mrs. Pollard. And how is J.L.?"
"J.L." Why did the doctor call him that? For an instant his thoughts flew to Joyce, and he wondered whether anything of hers had been found upon him.
But this was impossible. Her photograph, the only thing which she had given him, was with his other possessions in his portmanteau, at Mecklenburg Square. No, it could not be that.
But Jasper's initials—they were the same. And a suspicion of the truth came to him. It might be that a handkerchief of Jasper's had been in his pocket.
Dr. Dicksee was speaking again. In a lower tone now, but the door, was ajar, and the voice came plainly enough up the one short flight of stairs.
"Better you say, Mrs. Pollard. I'm glad, but quite expected it. There was a change yesterday. Now tell me, have you found out who he is?"
"I have not asked him, doctor. But I haven't a doubt he'll tell me to-day. Why he's ate every crumb of his breakfast, and there he is sitting up, strong as you please, and reading a newspaper."
Peter heard the doctor's amused laugh.
"Upon my word, he is getting on. Well, I'll go up and see him, and perhaps he will tell me about himself."
He came stumping steadily up the steep stairs, and next moment the stout, cheery, little man was in Peter's room.
"Well, my young friend, you certainly do me credit," he began.
"It's the least I can do, doctor," answered Peter. "You and the Pollards have been kindness itself."
"Tush, man, what are we in this world for unless it's to help our fellows?" smiled Dicksee. He paused and looked hard at Peter.
"Yes, you are well on the road to recovery," he continued. "I shall let you get up a little to-morrow. You ought to be down by the end of the week. Now tell me, is there any one you want us to write to or communicate with as to your safety?"
Peter was expecting the question. All the same, his voice was a little unsteady as he answered.
"No, doctor, there is no one at all."
Dicksee was clearly surprised.
"You don't mean to tell me that there is no one in the world who cares whether you are dead or alive. Why, you are quite a young man! Have you no parents living?"
"No. My father and mother are both dead, and I have no near relation except a cousin whom I hardly know."
Dicksee was silent for some moments. He was watching Peter keenly. But Peter was speaking the truth, and plainly the doctor realised as much.
"But surely you have friends?" he said presently in a softer tone.
Peter could not lie to the good little man.
"Yes," he said frankly. "I have friends. And yet, doctor, I do not want them to hear of me at present. Believe me, I have very good reasons, although I would rather not tell them to you."
Dicksee shrugged his plump shoulders.
"A doctor is like a lawyer, remember, my young friend. His profession binds him not to betray confidences. Still, you must not think that I want to force any from you."
Peter considered a moment.
"I will tell you this much, doctor. It is not for my own sake, but for another's, that I am anxious to conceal my identity for the time being. Will you forgive me if that is all I tell you now?"
"Indeed I will, my boy. And now tell me what I can do for you."
The colour rose to Peter's thin cheeks.
"I should think you had done enough already," he answered with feeling. "You and Mrs. Pollard, between you, have saved my life—and—and I have no means whatever of repaying you."
"Tut! Tut! Don't talk like that!" returned Dicksee. "I am, perhaps fortunately, a bachelor, and not a very poor one. You are not inflicting any hardship on me, you see. And as for the Pollards, they are quite comfortably off. So you can just make your mind easy, and devote your energies to getting quite well."
He put out his hand as he spoke, and Peter took it in a grip which proved that illness had not quite destroyed the power of his young muscles.
Dicksee left his patient feeling much comforted. His kindness had done much to soothe Peter's sore heart. He lay down again and dozed peacefully, and woke to really enjoy his dinner.
Next day he got up and sat in a chair by the open window. Old Pollard came up to see him, and the two rapidly became good friends. Realising that he must have a name of some sort to go by, and remembering the initials which Dicksee had given him, Peter called himself John Latham, and it was by this name he was known in Limm.
He grew stronger rapidly, and being very anxious to do something in return for the Pollard's hospitality got them to teach him netting. He soon became expert, and spent hours each day mending nets.
As he grew better, he began to consider what he was to do when he left Limm. The Pollards liked him. They were quite willing to keep him indefinitely. Abel said as much. In his rather solemn way, he suggested to Peter that if he had no other plans he might as well stop and help with the fishing.
But Peter knew that he was not cut out for that sort of work. His interests were all on land. He liked the sea well enough, but had not that love of it which a fisherman must have in the heart of him. Besides, a plan was shaping in his head. There was an old friend of his father's, Richard Ventry by name, who had a place on the Somerset border, and with whom he had stayed more than once as a boy. Ventry was a great sportsman, and one of those men who can keep a still tongue under any circumstances. It was in Peter's mind to go to him, tell him his whole story, and ask him for a job as gamekeeper.
The more he thought of this idea the more it commended itself to him. He knew that he could trust Ventry, and he knew also that what he himself wanted was hard and steady work. Fishing, with long periods ashore in bad weather, would give him too much time for thought. The recollection of Joyce and of all that he had lost was unbearable.
His idea crystalised into resolve, and at last he told Dr. Dicksee what he meant to do. He did not actually mention Ventry's name or that of his place. He merely said that he thought of applying for work to an old friend of his father.
To his relief, the doctor agreed that his plan was a good one.
"I shall be sorry to lose you," said the good little man, sadly. "I enjoy having a man of education to talk to. But although you could no doubt make a living here in Limm, it would be no life for a man like you. Yes, I think you are wise to go."
So next day he told the Pollards that he meant to leave. They were really sorry. All of them, even the stolid Joe, had become really fond of their visitor. Yet they were most sensible. Just like the doctor, they agreed that Limm was no place for a man like Peter. Peter himself wondered rather grimly what they would think if they knew the sort of post he was actually contemplating.
So one bright morning in early September, Peter finally took leave of his kind friends. Before going, he insisted on presenting Abel Pollard with his watch. It was a gold one, and the only thing of value which he possessed.
Mrs. Pollard wept openly. Abel and Joe said little, but that was their way. As for Peter, there was a lump in his throat as he finally left the comfortable little house for the station. He had just enough money in his pocket to pay his fare, third class, to Brockstone, the nearest station to Brackenhurst, Richard Ventry's place.
He had said good-bye to Dicksee the previous evening, so he was surprised as well as pleased to find the little doctor on the platform.
"I had just time to run up and see you off," said the latter in his cheery way. "Now, mind, Latham, I want you to write to me if you are in any sort of trouble."
"I'll write to you anyhow," declared Peter. "I should be a nice sort of swab if I didn't."
"I shall always be glad to hear from you, my boy. Well, here's your train, and luckily for you, you've got no luggage to worry about. Here's a carriage."
Peter got in. Dicksee stood at the door, chatting. There were very few passengers, and the wait was but a short one. The guard's whistle blew.
"Good-bye, once more, Latham," said Dicksee. Then as the train was actually moving he thrust an envelope into Peter's hand.
"Just a little memento of our acquaintance," he said. "It may come in handy."
Before Peter could thank him the train had moved off. The last Peter saw of his friend was his bald head shining in the sun, as he waved his hat from the platform.
Then Peter opened the envelope. The contents were two five pound notes and a slip of paper. On the latter was written:
"Don't be offended. It is not good for any man to start penniless on his travels.—R.D."
Again the lump rose to Peter's throat.
"You have to be hard up to realise how much kindness there is in the world," he said to himself, as the train rumbled steadily on its way.
It was only a two hours' journey to Brockstone, and Peter's spirits rose a little as he recognised the big hill humped to the north, and the long bracken covered slopes where he had shot his first rabbits.
He had no fear of any one recognising him, for it was seven or eight years since he had last been at Brackenhurst. But he himself saw more than one familiar face as he walked up the narrow village street and took the steep road over the hill.
At the top he paused. Before him lay a deep valley with the river Wroth running like a silver thread beneath its hanging woods. Almost exactly opposite was the house. Not a big place, just an old-fashioned English country house with mellow red brick walls covered with a mass of ivy and Virginia creeper. In front smooth lawns sloped towards the river; behind was a beech wood with a populous rookery. Behind that again a heather clad hill still ruddy with ling bloom.
The blue autumn sky was dappled with great soft clouds, the shadows of which floated quickly across the peaceful scene.
It was the sight of the heather which brought back Joyce to Peter's mind, and his spirits, which had been brighter for the time, now dropped again. Her sweet face rose vividly before him, and for the hundredth time he wondered if he would ever see it again.
For a moment he paused uncertainly, then set his teeth and started down the hill.
A narrow, high-arched bridge carried the road across the Wroth. Peter stopped again to look over the parapet and see if the big trout still lay under the shelving rock in the pool below. Sure enough, a fish was there, but he smiled to himself and realised that it could hardly be the same that he had seen so many years before.
Then he went straight up to the house, and rang the front door bell.
A man servant answered his ring, but it was not Paulett, Ventry's old butler. This was a stranger who glanced rather doubtfully at Peter. And Peter, suddenly remembering that he was attired in cheap, ready-made tweeds which he had acquired from the village tailor in Limm, found himself colouring under the inspection.
But he despised himself for the snobbishness of the thought, and asked a little curtly. "Is Mr. Ventry at home?"
"Mr. Ventry?" repeated the man. "No, sir, he is in Africa."
Somehow it had never occurred to Peter that Ventry might be away. The answer left him speechless.
"He has been away for nearly a year," continued the man. "He talked of settling in East Africa. The house is let."
Peter felt as though the ground had been cut away from under his feet.
"Thank you," he managed to say, and turning went back down the drive, feeling as lost as a stray sheep.
HE found himself on the bridge again, and stood there idly watching the same big trout. But while his eyes were on the fish, his mind was busy with the problem of his future.
Rack his brain as he might, he could not think of any one else to apply to. True, he had friends near Carr Holme, but Tudor Carr would be there, and in any case Peter's pride shrank from trying to get employment from any of them. Besides if he did so, Joyce would certainly hear of it. So, too, would others, and the whole story of the past weeks would come out.
No, that was out of the question. The only possible course seemed to be to return to Limm. Yet Peter hated the idea. To do so seemed a sort of confession of failure. In any case, he did not feel in the least fitted for life as a smack hand. Guns, ferrets, and dogs—he knew about these and loved them. He had no such feeling for hooks and nets.
A curious sound roused him from his thoughts. Curious, yet to him familiar enough. It was the sharp hiss of a cast line.
It came from behind him, and turning, he was just in time to see the tip of a salmon rod flash out from behind a thick mountain ash which hid the head of a pool, fifty, or sixty yards below the bridge.
Although the person casting was invisible, he could see the line flash forward and the fly fall lightly on the edge of a large eddy near the opposite bank.
It was a pretty cast, and so was the way in which the fly was worked across the water, and Peter watched with sudden interest. He moved across the bridge so as to get a sight of the fisherman, and to his astonishment saw that it was a woman.
Plenty of women can use a trout rod deftly, but it is not so common to see one handle a fourteen-foot salmon rod, much less put a fly right across a biggish pool in such masterly fashion.
Then before Peter could take stock of the lady came that sudden, mighty splash which sends a thrill through any angler's frame. Next moment she struck, and instantly followed the tremendous, hurricane rush of a well-hooked fish.
In all sport there is nothing to beat that first rush of a hooked salmon. One talks of playing a fish, but when that fish is a goodly salmon the tables are turned. It is the salmon that plays his captor.
This fish went straight down the pool, travelling like a flash. Peter could hear the scream of the reel. He saw the line cutting the water like a silver wire. He caught a glimpse of the woman running hard along the rough bank.
Then he himself was off the bridge, over the wall, and racing after her.
He saw at once that she knew what she was about. She had the rod-point well up and was holding the butt against her chest. But the bank was one mass of broken rocks, and she could not travel as fast as the fish. Line was flying out at tremendous speed, and the salmon was heading straight as a die for the lip of a small fall which ended the pool.
Peter glimpsed the fish itself, a dark shadow beneath the clear brown water, and saw that it was a big one—nearer twenty than fifteen pounds.
"Hold him! Hold him! He'll break you if he gets over the fall!" he shouted.
Hold him she did. The big split cane bent like a bow under the tremendous strain, and for an ugly five seconds it seemed long odds on the cast breaking. But the good tackle held, and the fish, suddenly sickening of the strain, turned sharp, and went up the pool as fast as he had come down.
Now Peter saw fresh danger looming.
"Look out!" he cried. "He's making for the Double Rock."
The Double Rock was not visible above the surface, but Peter remembered it clearly—remembered Richard Ventry's warning him of its perils. He had seen it, too, when the river was lower than it was now. It consisted of two rocks which leaned together, leaving a tunnel between them. Any. fish that succeeded in driving through that tunnel could, of course, smash the best cast that ever was tied, or the line either for that matter.
"Double Rock," panted the lady. "Where is it?"
"Just where he is heading," Peter answered sharply. "Not twenty yards further up. Keep him out of it or he will break you in the tunnel."
Again she put on the strain; again it was a case of pull lady, pull salmon.
"All right!" cried Peter, gleefully. "He's cleared it. Now let him go. Let him get up into the heavy water at the head of the pool. He'll tire himself there."
As he spoke, the big fish leaped. For an instant he seemed to hang suspended in the air, a bar of ruddy silver gleaming in the sun. Then down with a splash that flung the foam in every direction, and straight for the pool as hard as he could go.
Following Peter's advice to the letter, she let him go, then as he plunged into the white boil at the head of the pool she gave him the butt again.
"Topping!" cried Peter. "Now you've got the edge off him. Where's the gaff? I see—strapped behind you. Don't worry I'll get it."
The gaff, a collapsible affair, was hung on a belt around the lady's shoulders. Peter deftly snapped it off, opened it out and advanced along a ledge running out into the pool.
But master fish was not done yet. Tiring of his vain efforts to fight his way out through the top stickle, he came round again, and made a second dash for the tunnel. For a moment, the danger was acute as ever, but once more the lady headed him off, and after two or three wide circles he came again up stream.
"Now!" said Peter. "Get him up here if you can. I think he's about ripe for the gaff."
The fish was still travelling fast. Behind him, Peter heard the lady running up the bank. Then without the slightest warning, a thud, a cry of dismay, and the line went slack.
Whirling round, he saw the lady flat on her face on the shingle. She had stumbled over a rock and fallen.
"The fish!" she gasped. "Never mind me!"
Peter took her at her word. He snatched up the rod. But the salmon, feeling the strain relaxed, was making a last bid for liberty. The line was again ripping off the reel at a most alarming pace, and the fish itself was already nearly at the foot of the pool.
Peter ran like a hare, reeling as he went. His heart was in his mouth. It looked all odds that he would not be able to prevent the salmon getting over the fall, in which case its mere weight was almost certain to snap the cast.
Just in time he got the strain on, and turned it within three yards of the lip of the fall. The big fellow was really tired now. Peter reeled in rapidly, and soon had the fish in shallow water.
Now he could see plainly its noble proportions. He was certain it would turn the scale at close on twenty pounds. He had never heard of a twenty pounder in the Wroth. Nearer it came and nearer. Then of a sudden Peter realised that the cast was frayed nearly through. It was hanging by a mere thread. The least extra strain and it would snap. And the gaff—the gaff lay where he had dropped it on the bank, right away up near the head of the pool.
There was only one thing to do if the situation was to be saved. Still keeping a steady but gentle strain, Peter whipped out his handkerchief and wrapped it round his right hand. Then he walked straight into the water and cautiously approached the fish.
Luckily it did not move. Stooping, he slipped his right hand under it, and tailed it.
The moment his grasp tightened, the fish made a last, frantic struggle, and only a salmon fisherman can realise the enormous muscular strength possessed by a twenty-pound salmon. Peter was almost dragged off his feet, and but for the handkerchief he could never have kept his grip on the slippery scales.
But he held on like grim death, and turning struggled back to shore. Another moment and he had dragged the splendid capture clear up on the shingle, where it lay flapping heavily.
"I was bringing the gaff. Could you not wait for it?"
The lady, flushed and eager, was beside him.
Peter glanced up with a smile, then gently tightened the cast. It snapped like pack thread.
The lady gasped.
"Oh!" she said. "Oh. I never knew."
"It was rather a close call," said Peter quietly. "The main thing is that we have got him.
"I hope," he added, "that you are not hurt?"
"Not hurt a bit, only shaken," she answered. "But I cannot be too grateful for your assistance. Without it, I should have lost that beauty. And that would simply have broken my heart."
She laughed as she spoke, but all the same it was quite clear that she meant it. Peter, looking at her, saw that she was a tall, rather finely built woman of about forty, She was not bad looking, with plentiful brown hair, good features, and a nice straight pair of light blue eyes. But her complexion was spoilt by sun and wind, and her hands were brown as a man's. For the rest she wore tailor-made tweeds, with a short skirt, and stout, well nailed boots.
"I am very glad I was on the spot," said Peter, simply. "It would have been rotten luck to lose such a good fish. I don't fancy a better one ever came out of the Wroth."
"You know the river," she said.
"I do," Peter replied. "I have caught many a trout here in old days. You see, I knew Mr. Ventry."
"Ah. I am his tenant," she told him. "My names is Lascelles, Anne Lascelles."
She spoke as frankly as a boy.
Peter bowed. "John Latham is mine," he answered, and hated himself for being forced to deceive her.
"Do you live near here?" she asked.
"No. I came from the coast this morning. I came to see Mr. Ventry. I did not know he was away."
"Too bad!" she said. "And now you have got wet in my service. You must come up and lunch with me, and we will find you a change, and get your things dried."
It was delightful to Peter to find his rough clothes ignored, and to be treated as an equal, and his first impulse was to accept with gratitude.
Next moment he realised that it was impossible.
"Thank you very much," he said, "but I fear I cannot accept your most kind invitation."
"Because," answered Peter, and in spite of himself his voice was rather grim, "because my business with Mr. Ventry was to ask him for a job as gamekeeper."
Anne Lascelles stared.
"A gamekeeper!" she repeated in a tone of utter amazement. Then quite suddenly she burst out, laughing.
She stopped as suddenly as she had begun, and stared at him with curious intentness.
"Forgive me," she said, "but are you serious?"
"Perfectly serious," Peter answered gravely.
"As it happens I want a gamekeeper," she said. "Do you think I could induce you to take service with me?"
"If you will give me a trial, I will do my best," Peter assured her.
TUDOR CARR sat in a big chair in a corner of the sitting-room in the Jermyn-street flat. He was doing absolutely nothing, just gazing vacantly in front of him. The very size of the chair and of the room made him look even smaller and more insignificant than usual.
At last he stirred, and his pale eyes turned towards Bassett, who was seated at the writing table, deep in a pile of legal- looking papers. Bassett, immaculately dressed as usual, was smoking a big cigar, and occasionally refreshing himself from a tall glass of amber liquid which stood beside him.
The windows were open, for it was a warm evening, and from Piccadilly came the low roar of London's traffic.
Suddenly Tudor spoke.
"I say, Paul, what's become of Peter?" he asked in his thin, high-pitched voice.
Bassett went on writing for a moment or two. Then he laid his pen down and swung slowly round, facing Tudor.
"That cousin of yours, you mean?" he asked.
"Yes. The one we met in the lawyer's office. I haven't seen him since. I've been thinking I ought to do something for the chap."
"He's gone," he answered. "Didn't you know?"
"Gone—where?" asked Tudor, vacantly.
Bassett suppressed a smile. Tudor never read a newspaper. Bassett took care of that. He was absolutely ignorant of the trial or of any knowledge of Peter's sensational disappearance.
"Gone to America—Canada, I believe," Bassett answered.
"What for?" asked Tudor.
"To make an honest living, I hope," said Bassett quietly. "But I have my doubts."
Tudor stared at him with prominent eyes.
"I didn't want to tell you, Tudor," continued Bassett, smoothly. "Still, I suppose I'd better. You're his cousin, and you ought to know. The fact is, that Peter Carr is a bad lot."
Tudor's eyes bulged.
"A bad lot?" he repeated. "W—why, I rather liked him."
"Yes; he's good-looking and taking and all that. But all the same, he's a wrong 'un, Tudor. I'll tell you. Remember that first evening before we met at the lawyer's office. The same night your uncle was killed."
Tudor nodded assent.
"Well, I have never told any one but you what happened that evening, and I want you to promise not to tell any one else. Will you give your word?"
"Yes, of course," replied Tudor, clearly flattered.
"Well, I was at King-street that night. Yes, I was there the very night that your uncle was murdered."
Tudor's jaw dropped.
"Was—was he dead?" he gasped.
"Yes, but wait and I'll tell you," said Bassett, speaking very clearly, as if to a child.
"I had gone there to see the old gentleman, and ask him if he was willing to recognise you as his heir. Well, when I got there, there was some one there before me. The door of the flat was open, and I went in. What do you think I saw? There was that precious cousin of yours seated at Sir Anthony's desk and busy opening one drawer after another.
"He was so busy that he never even heard me, and I stood just outside the door and watched. Presently I saw him take out a pocket-book. He opened it, and it was full of notes. He looked at the notes, counted them, and stuffed them straight into his pocket. Then he got up and went to the telephone and rang up the Vine-street Police Station, and told them that his uncle had been murdered."
Tudor had been listening wide-eyed.
"And what did you do?" he gasped.
"Went away as quickly and quietly as I could," replied Bassett. "A man who could rob his dead uncle like that was quite capable of accusing me of having murdered him."
For some moments Tudor sat gaping. The poor little man's intellect was very limited. It took him some time to grasp what he had heard. But at last he digested it. Then he spoke again.
"I say, Paul—you—you don't think he murdered the old gentleman?"
Bassett shook his head.
"I must confess I have often wondered," he said gravely.
"Then—then he ought to be hung."
"Well, of course he ought," allowed Bassett. "But after all he is your cousin, and think what a fearful scandal it would have been! No, I thought it better to get rid of him. I saw him next day, told him what I knew, and made him own up. So I informed him he could take the money, and use it to get a fresh start abroad. Don't you think I was right?"
"You are always right, Paul," said Tudor, nodding his head. "I don't know what I should do without you."
At this moment the tinkle of the electric bell thrilled through the flat. Bassett got up.
"Tell you what you can do, Tudor," he said with a smile. "Get off to bed. Here's my lawyer coming, and we've got to have a talk over your affairs."
Tudor rose as obediently as a child.
"All right, Paul. I'll be off," he said.
Bassett waited until he was out of the room before answering the bell. The man whom he admitted might, of course, have been a lawyer, but he certainly did not look like it. He was an under- sized person of perhaps fifty. His skin was yellow, he had a nose like a vulture's beak. His forehead was high and bald, and his eyes—they were the most repulsive feature in his highly unpleasant face. They were so curiously filmed that, at first sight, one might have supposed their owner to be blind, yet as a matter of fact Lazar Sartori could see as well as any man of his age, more particularly if the object was anything to his own advantage.
At present they were turned full on Bassett.
"Well," he said questioningly. "How does it go?"
Bassett did not answer at once. He looked his visitor up and down.
"I wish you'd get some decent clothes, Lazar," he said irritably. "A nice object you are to be visiting a West End flat!"
"What's the matter with my clothes?" snapped Sartori. "Pah! You think too much of clothes and food."
"Better than thinking of nothing but gold," retorted Bassett.
"And how much clothes or food would you get without gold?" snarled the other, dropping into a chair. "Where's the—the cub?" he demanded curtly.
"Gone to bed. I didn't want him to see you."
"Nor I to see him. But I have no time to waste. Tell me at once how things are going."
It seemed odd that Bassett did not resent the hectoring tone of this modern Shylock. At any rate he did not seem to.
"Well enough," he answered. "I am converting everything into cash or bearer bonds."
"You have not finished yet?"
"No—nor half," replied Bassett sulkily. "There's plenty of time, and it's no use rousing the suspicions of the Bank or that old fool, Calvert."
"You have the power of attorney then?"
"Let me see how far you have got," said Sartori, and crossing to the writing table he began to run through the documents thereon. At last he looked up and grunted.
"Well enough, so far as it goes. But you will have to be quicker. I am not going to have you wasting time just because you enjoy loafing here in London."
"Then you will have to let me have some more money," growled Bassett. "I want another five hundred."
"You are always wanting money," retorted Sartori, and there was an ugly gleam in those filmed eyes of his. "Do you know you are spending fifty pounds a week?"
"And little enough, too, seeing the way we live," answered Bassett angrily. "I ought to be asking twice that. After all, I'm taking the big risk."
Lazar Sartori fixed his filmy eyes on Bassett.
"Risk! You talk to me of risk, you fool," he said slowly. "One word to the police, and where would you be? It would not be Dartmoor this time," he went on, and there was a world of hidden meaning in his soft voice.
Bassett moved uncomfortably. For once his usual self control seemed in danger of giving way. The colour faded slightly from his olive cheeks. There was a glint in his deep set eyes that might have been rage or fear—or both.
But he pulled himself together quickly.
"Come, Lazar, don't talk that way," he said in a slightly strained voice. "It's no use threatening me. After all, we were both in this thing."
"Both—yes," replied Sartori, "but be good enough to remember that you depend absolutely upon me. You owe everything to me, and in return I exact obedience. Now listen. You are to finish this business as rapidly as possible, and to let me know as soon as it is finished. Then I will tell you exactly what to do."
He rose as he spoke, but Bassett stopped him.
"Wait a moment," he said. "There is something else I want to speak about. I am arranging to take the cub down to Carr Holme. I thought of going on Monday, next."
"The pictures and plate. There may be stuff worth turning into money."
Sartori considered a moment.
"Yes," he said at last. "That is a good idea. But you must be careful, Bassett. You must be very careful to make it appear that Carr is selling the things himself."
"You can trust me for that," answered Bassett. "I shall take no chances. Will you have a drink before you go? No, I forgot. You do not drink. Well, good night."
Sartori left as quietly as he had come. Once the outer door was closed, Bassett strode across the room, picked a cigar from a box, and bit the end off savagely.
"Threaten me, would you?" he muttered between his teeth. "You ugly old fiend, just wait a bit. Once I get a quiet five minutes with you in the right place I'll warrant you don't threaten me again."
He lit his cigar, and slowly his scowl changed to a grin hardly less ugly.
"Think you've got me at the end of a string, eh, Lazar? But that's just where you fall down. You don't know everything. No, by Gad, you don't. And one thing you don't know is about the will. What's more, you won't be able to say anything when you do know. I'll take care of that."
He laughed deep in his throat.
"I'll scoop the whole pile, and leave you to whistle, my beauty. And do it legally, too."
Again he chuckled, and picking up the whisky decanter, mixed himself such a drink as only a man of his iron frame could have swallowed without fuddling himself completely.
PETER was brushing Sam, the big curly-coated retriever, and whistling softly as he did so. He had been at Brackenhurst for nearly two months, and liked it, his work, and his employer.
Indeed, Anne Lascelles was a most likeable person. Very well off, absolutely unconventional, a sportswoman to the tips of her fingers, generous, quick tempered, but straight as any man. Peter could hardly have found any one better to work for.
Of course, she had realised from the first that Peter was a man of good birth and education, and also that there was something in his past which he desired to hide. Yet with infinite tact she had never even hinted at a question. She had given him plenty of work, good pay, a capital cottage, and been content to see that he did his job to her satisfaction.
Peter loved the work, and was happier than he had been for many weeks. Not that he had forgotten Joyce. She was never out of his thoughts for long at a time. And on wet days, when kept indoors, or at night he had his black hours—hours when he yearned for a sight of her with a longing that was agony.
Joyce was his mate, the one woman in the world for him. That he had realised long ago. He had also realised that by his own foolishness—he did not mince matters, but to himself called "wickedness"—he had made himself unworthy of her.
Hard work had done Peter good. It had cleared his mind, and he had no longer any delusions. He made no excuses for himself, and now he had the conviction that, even if things were different, he could not approach Joyce Lovell again until he had made full atonement for the theft of the eight hundred pounds.
A footstep on the gravel path made him look up. Miss Lascelles was standing close by.
"Good morning, Latham," she said. "Have you been to the upper ground about those partridges?"
Peter straightened himself. He was a fine figure in his well- cut breeches and rough tweed coat.
"Yes, Miss Lascelles. There are five coveys there—strong ones, too."
"I am glad. I have some people shooting to-morrow. Will you be ready at ten?"
Miss Lascelles was a hospitable person, and she and her elderly aunt, Miss Elizabeth Lascelles, who lived with her, entertained a good deal. Peter went about his business, warned the necessary beaters, and made all the usual preparations. He went to bed early, rose at six, fed his dogs, cooked his own breakfast, and a little before ten was at the usual starting place.
There were four guns, two brothers called Hetherington who were neighbours, and two men whom Peter bad not seen before, who were guests in the house. They were a young soldier, Captain Burgess, and a stockbroker named Winston.
Miss Lascelles herself was not going out.
"I shall meet the party at luncheon," she told Peter. "It will be brought out to Shaugh Farm. And I shall bring the rest of the party with me."
She gave him a few instructions, and they started off. It was a perfect October morning, bright, clear, and cool. By this time Peter knew his ground thoroughly and where every covey was likely to be found. What was more, he had trained his beaters well, and was on good terms with them. Consequently sport was excellent, and by one o'clock the bag was sufficiently heavy to satisfy every one.
Shaugh Farm was a picturesque old place on a hill side, a couple of miles from Brackenhurst, and as the shooting party topped the crest above it, they saw the car, driven by Miss Lascelles herself, just drawing up in front of the farm.
"There they are," said Captain Burgess, who was walking next to Peter. "Good business! I can do with some lunch. What do you say, keeper?"
"Oh, I am hungry enough," replied Peter with a smile.
Burgess glanced at Peter sharply.
"Do you know you remind me of some one?" he said. "The likeness has been bothering me all the morning, and even now I can't quite get it. But I've either seen you or your picture within the last few months."
Peter just managed to repress a start. He had almost forgotten the danger of being recognised. Burgess, of course, had seen his photograph in one of the many papers which had published it during the Flat Mystery sensation.
"They say every one has his or her double," he answered lightly. "I have never met mine, but I dare say he exists for all that."
Burgess did not reply. But he kept glancing at Peter. He was evidently puzzled, and Peter himself was anything but happy. It would be the cruellest luck if he were recognised.
As soon as possible he got away from Burgess, and on pretence of looking after his beaters kept away until his party had joined the others at luncheon.
His own luncheon was brought to him presently. Miss Lascelles always insisted that he should have his luncheon from the house on these occasions. It was one of the many kindly little actions by which she showed her appreciation of her gentleman keeper.
The beaters were feeding in a barn; Miss Lascelles and her guests were picnicking in the orchard. Peter found a snug corner in the rickyard, where he ate his meal in the centre of a circle of silent, expectant dogs. He was hungry, and the pigeon pie and cold apple tart were excellent. But while he enjoyed his meal, he was not quite happy. Burgess had given him an ugly jar. He decided that he would see as little as possible of him during the afternoon.
He was giving the scraps to the dogs when Miss Lascelles came across the yard.
"I want them to try Fernycoombe this afternoon, Latham," she said. "There may be some cock there. And the rest of us will walk up with you as far as the head of the Coombe. I don't think we shall be in the way."
"Not if you are in charge," replied Peter with a smile.
Miss Lascelles smiled back.
"That is very nice of you, Latham," she said. "I must endeavour to deserve the compliment."
"We are quite ready," she added. "Will you tell the beaters."
Peter gave his beaters the necessary directions, then went to the orchard. The party were gathered around Miss Lascelles, chatting, laughing, and smoking. There were, Peter saw, seven in all. As he came nearer one of them, who had been sitting on a camp stool, got up. He was a slim-built young man, and the first thing Peter noticed about him was that he limped slightly.
Next moment he had turned, and Peter saw his face.
He was Jasper Lovell!
Peter pulled up short, then instinctively stepped sharply aside under cover of a low-spreading apple tree. He breathed quick and hard as he scanned the rest of the party from his place of hiding.
A mist seemed to rise before his eyes, and his knees felt suddenly weak. The girl who was sitting down by Miss Lascelles, half hidden by the men grouped around her, was Joyce.
There was no time to consider how or why she was there. The one, the only fact was that she was there, and Peter, shaken and stunned as he was, realised that at all costs, she must not see him.
He turned and walked blindly back round the corner of the out- buildings. There, out of sight of the party, he stopped, and tried to think.
It was impossible. His brain refused to work. The only thing he could realise was that Joyce was within fifty yards of him, and that he wanted her more desperately than he had known he could want anything. His whole being was filled with an intense longing for one look at her. He felt as if he could give the rest of his life for half an hour, alone with her.
To a man in his condition time is nothing, it was with a fresh shock that he realised that the duties of the afternoon were before him. How was he to get out of it?
Before he could make up his mind what to do, there was a step behind him.
"I say, keeper," came a voice. "Are you ready? Miss Lascelles is waiting."
Peter, swinging round, was face to face with Jasper.
Jasper stopped as short as Peter had done a few minutes previously. His eyes widened, and a look of incredulous amazement overspread his thin, keen face.
"Peter!" he gasped.
For a moment Peter could not speak. Jasper came a step nearer.
"Peter!" he said again. "It is Peter?"
Peter found his voice.
"Yes, Jasper. Yes it is I. No, I can't explain. In any case, there isn't time. You must get Joyce away. You understand? She must not see me now."
Jasper paused a moment. His keen eyes seemed to search Peter's very soul.
"I haven't an idea of what you mean," he said. "But you are right. She must not see you like this, and unprepared. But I cannot possibly get her away at a moment's notice. It is you who must get yourself out of sight."
"I can't." So great was the strain that Peter's voice sounded harsh and unnatural. "I have to go up the Coombe with the party. I am the gamekeeper, remember!"
"The gamekeeper!" repeated Jasper. "Good Lord!—I was forgetting."
He paused again, then the words came with a rush.
"Peter, is there any reason why Joyce should not know—any real reason, I mean?"
"Yes. No. Oh, Jasper, I don't know," said Peter in desperation.
"Is it simply because you are poor-broke?"
"No. There's worse than that."
Jasper's face changed.
"Peter—Peter, you don't mean that you had anything to do with Sir Anthony's death?"
"My uncle's death. Good God, Jasper, you don't mean to say you think that?"
"No, no, of course, I don't. It's you yourself are putting ideas into my head. What is the reason, then?"
"I—I've done a rotten thing. I can't tell you now, Jasper. But I will. But we must do something now. We shall have Miss Lascelles herself here in a minute."
Jasper looked hard at Peter again. He seemed satisfied.
"Peter," he said, "I don't believe it's anything very bad. Anyhow, I'm going to chance it. I'm going to tell Joyce. It will be something for her to know you are alive and well. Meanwhile you go on ahead with your beaters. I'll make up some story for Miss Lascelles—say you found a thorn in a dog's foot or something, and that you will follow in a few minutes. Do you see?"
"Yes, Jasper. And God bless you, old chap. I can't say what your kindness means to me."
"Rot!" said Jasper, with his old smile. "Now, buck up! You've got to go through it this afternoon, but I'll see you later, and somehow we'll fix things up. Mind, I've a lot to tell you too."
Peter's head was whirling as Jasper limped quickly away. It was all he could do to get a grip of himself. Yet, in spite of everything, his heart was singing. He was going to see Joyce again. That was the only thing that mattered.
With a great effort he did pull himself together, and with his dogs at his heels slipped round the other side of the house and so up the lane at the back towards the Coombe. By walking rapidly he got there ahead of the rest of the party, and was waiting as they came up.
He had eyes for no one but Joyce, and the first thing he noticed was that her face, sweet and charming as ever, was thinner than he had known it—thinner and paler.
He caught just a glimpse of her, then turned resolutely away, and began to be desperately busy placing his men.
The Coombe was thickly wooded. There was little difficulty in keeping out of the way. Yet, although he knew that he must not exchange even a look with Joyce, his heart sank when they reached the head of the steep valley, and he saw Jasper and Joyce turn back with their hostess.
That afternoon seemed a century long. Peter attended to his duties mechanically. His mind was following Joyce, and he was longing for the evening when he might see Jasper again and explain things to him.
Every thing has its end, and at last he found himself back at his cottage. He fed his dogs, his ferrets, and his chickens. He finished off his outside duties, and it was not yet six, and still daylight. Then he went into the house, made up the fire, and put on the kettle. Jasper has not said when he would come. Peter fancied it would be after dinner.
"I wish I knew," he said, and without knowing it spoke aloud.
"Wish you knew what, Peter?" came a quiet voice, and Peter, teapot in hand, spun round to see Joyce herself standing in the doorway.
"WHAT is it you wish you knew?" asked Joyce again, and smiled the little sweet smile which Peter remembered so well.
That smile made Peter forget for a second everything that had happened, everything except that he was a man and that this was the woman he loved.
Opening his arms wide, he strode towards her.
Suddenly he stopped short.
"Oh, Joyce!" he said, with a long drawn breath that was almost a groan.
"What is the matter, Peter dear?" Joyce asked gently.
"The matter," he repeated. "Has not Jasper told you, Joyce?"
"Jasper told me that you had some reason for hiding yourself like this," Joyce answered. "I have come to ask you what that reason is, Peter."
There was despair in Peter's eyes, as he looked at her. Never had she seemed more utterly sweet and desirable. To think that, by his own act, he had cut himself off from her, was an agony hardly to be borne. He turned away to hide his shame in his face.
Came a light touch on his shoulder, and Joyce's voice soft and coaxing.
"Tell me, Peter dear. Don't he afraid of frightening or shocking me."
Peter was no coward. He straightened himself, and looked his sweetheart in the face.
"Joyce," he said, and his voice was harsh with the strain he was putting upon himself. "Joyce, you must not touch me. I am a thief!"
But Joyce hid not remove her hand from his arm.
"A thief, Peter?" she repeated gently. "Surely not!"
"It is true, Joyce. I stole eight hundred pounds."
Still Joyce did not move away.
"Tell me," she said as quietly as before.
"I'll try to," said Peter miserably. "Sit down there, Joyce."
He set a chair for her, and standing in front of her told her quite plainly and simply of that terrible evening when he had discovered the body of his murdered uncle in the flat at King- street, and of how he had found and appropriated the eight hundred pounds which lay in the pocket book in the drawer of the desk.
When he had finished he stood silent, like a criminal judged guilty and expecting sentence.
Joyce sat waiting as if she expected to hear more. Then as he remained silent, she spoke.
"Is that all, Peter?"
"Isn't it enough, Joyce?"
"But I don't understand. You were your uncle's heir. The money was as good as yours."
"I was not, Joyce. Tudor was the heir, and I knew it."
"You did not know that for certain until next day. You did not see the lawyer, Mr. Calvert, until next day."
"That does not excuse me, Joyce. I had had my uncle's letter, telling me that Tudor's claim was probably good."
"Then when you found it was good, why did you not hand back the money?"
"It was too late," groaned Peter. "Bassett knew that I had taken it."
"Bassett knew?" Joyce frowned anxiously at mention of the man's name. "What had Bassett to do with it, Peter? Tell me the whole thing."
So Peter told her—told her how he had tackled Bassett and taxed him openly with being Jabez Holt, the convict.
Joyce interrupted him with a sharp little cry.
"The convict—the man who attacked me and whom you fought and beat, Peter. Oh, I do believe that you are right. I always felt that I had seen the man before. But go on! Go on! I want to hear every word."
Peter went on. He told her of Bassett's threat, of his own attempt to put the money back in the flat, and of his failure. He told how he had left the Harcourt Hotel for lodgings, of his meeting with Peasley, and of his being drugged, and waking aboard the "Eagle."
Joyce's breath came quickly as he related the story of his fights with Pratt, the skipper, and his brutal second mate, and she paled as he told of his struggle for life in the foggy sea.
But her face softened again when he spoke of the kindness he had received from the good Pollards at Limm and from plump little Dr. Dicksee.
And so Peter came to his meeting with Anne Lascelles and to the end of his story.
When it was finished he stood where he was, looking at her with shamed but longing eyes.
"And that's all, Peter?" she said.
"That is all, Joyce."
"Was that all that was keeping you from me—the eight hundred pounds, I mean?"
"Wasn't it enough?" he asked sadly.
She looked up at him.
"You foolish boy!" she said softly.
"Joyce!" Peter's voice was sharp with mingled emotions.
That tender little smile curled her lips again.
"Peter, did you really think that a woman who loved you would give you up because of a blunder like that?"
"Joyce, do you mean it?" cried Peter incredulously.
He saw his answer in her face, and next instant she was in his arms.
At last she drew herself gently away.
"Sit down, Peter," she said. "Yes, you may sit beside me, but—but you must be wise now, and first of all you must promise me that you will never do foolish things again. I mean that, whatever happens, you must always tell me at once."
"I promise," said Peter, and his voice was solemn.
"Very well then. And now I have a good deal to tell you. Listen."
So Joyce, in her turn, told how she and Jasper had gone up to London, and of their visit to the rooms in Jermyn-street and their interview with Bassett.
"Jasper told me," she said, "that all Bassett said was lies. At the time I hardly believed it, but now that I have heard your story I see that he was perfectly right. I have not the slightest doubt but that Bassett arranged with this man, Peasley, to kidnap and rob you. He wanted you out of the way, and no doubt thought that, if he could land you in South America without a penny in your pocket, he was rid of you altogether."
"But, good Heavens, Joyce, is the whole thing a swindle? Is Tudor a fraud? Remember, Calvert and the handwriting expert declared that Tudor's proofs were genuine."
"Tudor Carr may be genuine," Joyce replied, "but, surely, I need not tell you that Bassett is not. Why, you yourself recognised him as the ex-convict, Holt.
"Oh, he is a horrible man!" she exclaimed, with sudden passion.
"He is about the limit," said Peter grimly. "But all the same, Joyce, the whole thing is beyond me. I can't pretend to understand it, any more than I can tell who killed my poor uncle."
Joyce shook her head. "I am as puzzled as you," she said. "If Tudor Carr came from South America, how did he fall into the hands of Bassett, when we know that Bassett had only escaped from Dartmoor a fortnight before?"
"It's a hopeless puzzle," declared Peter. "I can't make head or tail of it. If I only had the money, I would go to Montevideo myself, and try to dig out the truth."
"Why should not Jasper go?" exclaimed Joyce. "He would find out, if any one could."
"Jasper," returned Peter, amazed. "But my dearest, how could I ask him to do so? It would cost at least a hundred pounds."
Joyce's face saddened.
"Yes, I suppose it would, and now that father has lost so much, we, Jasper and I, have only our own little money which came from our mother. And that we have to use to keep things together at home."
Peter stared at her.
"Your father lost his money! How? I never knew."
"That wretched tin mine. The Wheal Miriam. Don't you remember?"
"Oh, that! Yes, I do remember his talking about it. But I had no idea that he was deeply dipped."
"He was, Peter," replied Joyce, with a wry smile—"very deeply indeed. He has lost so heavily that, if it were not for the three hundred a year which Jasper and I each have, we should have had to give up Otter's Holt."
"Oh, my dear!" said Peter. "I am so sorry."
But Joyce smiled bravely.
"Never mind, Peter. It might have been worse. At any rate, we are able to carry on, and that is the main thing. The worst part of it is that father is now trying to force me into what he thinks will be a rich marriage."
"With whom?" he demanded.
"Can't you guess?" asked Joyce—"with Mr. Paul Bassett."
Peter sprang to his feet.
"With Bassett. Good Heavens, Joyce! Is he mad?"
Before he could say anything more, there was a knock on the outer door. Joyce held up a warning finger. "Quietly Peter; dear. That must be Jasper."
Peter paused a moment, then controlling himself, stepped quickly across and opened the door.
He started sharply. It was not Jasper. The visitor was Miss Lascelles herself.
PETER was so startled he could not find a word to say. The colour rose to his cheeks, and he stood silent and horribly confused. What Miss Lascelles would think at finding Joyce alone with him in the cottage he could hardly imagine.
Of the three Miss Lascelles herself remained by far the most composed. "Well Joyce?" she questioned, looking not at Peter, but at the girl.
Joyce who, for a moment, had seemed almost as confused as Peter, recovered quickly.
"Don't be shocked, Cousin Anne," she said. "Peter and I have been engaged for quite a long time."
Miss Lascelles raised her fine eyebrows. "And who may Peter be?" she questioned.
Peter spoke up.
"It is all my fault, Miss Lascelles. Though I called myself Latham, my real name is Peter Carr."
"Peter Carr!" For once Miss Lascelles was really startled, and showed it. "You don't mean that you are Sir Anthony's nephew?"
"I am," said Peter quietly.
He turned to Joyce. "I owe it to Miss Lascelles to explain, Joyce."
"You can tell Cousin Anne anything," declared Joyce. "It won't go further. I can guarantee that."
"Joyce is right," said Anne Lascelles. "You can rely upon my discretion."
So Peter plunged hastily into his story again.. He did not tell it at length, as he had done to Joyce, but gave only the merest outline. But he did not spare himself, and Joyce was secretly proud that he did not attempt to excuse himself in the matter of the eight hundred pounds.
Miss Lascelles listened without a single interruption, but her expression showed her extreme interest. When Peter had finished she drew a long breath, and spoke.
"Upon my word, Mr. Carr, I don't know what I ought to say to you. I knew, of course, that you were not of the class from which gamekeeper usually spring, but I confess that it never entered my mind that you were the missing witness, or Sir Anthony's nephew."
"And now I suppose you will tell me that you no longer require my services," said Peter sadly.
Miss Lascelles smiled. "On the contrary, I could not ask for a better gamekeeper. But, Mr. Carr, remember you cannot marry Joyce on the wages that I pay you."
"I know that," Peter answered with a touch of bitterness. "But it seems to me the only job that I am fit for."
Joyce spoke again.
"Cousin Anne, Peter hid himself, and would not even let me know he was alive because he was so ashamed about that money which he had taken. But my own belief is that it was all a trap set by that horrible man, Bassett, and Jasper even thinks that Bassett may have had something to do with Sir Anthony's death. My idea is that, if you will keep Peter on here for the present, Jasper and I will try to get to the bottom of the business. Peter may turn out to be the heir after all."
Miss Lascelles looked from one to the other, and a very pleasant smile parted her lips.
"I think, Joyce," she said, "that your Peter is something of a Don Quixote. I think, too, that you and I must have a good talk over matters. For the present, Mr. Carr shall stay on here, if he wishes to do so. At any rate, until we have done something to unravel this strange tangle."
Joyce went across to the elder woman, and flinging her arms around her neck, kissed her impulsively.
"You always were a dear, Cousin Anne," she said warmly.
Miss Lascelles kissed her in return. Then still with an arm around Joyce, she turned to Peter.
"I am going to take this young woman home now," she said. "And since you prefer to remain my gamekeeper, I unfortunately cannot ask you to dinner. But we shall not be shooting to-morrow, and if Jasper likes to come and see you, and to bring his sister with him—well, even I, as Joyce's chaperone, cannot object to that."
"Now Joyce," she added, "you can say good-night to your gamekeeper, and then you can join me outside."
Nodding a kindly adieu to Peter, she went out.
Joyce's eyes were glowing.
"Isn't she a dear, Peter?" she exclaimed.
"Next to you, Joyce, she is the finest woman in the world," said Peter, with absolute conviction.
A minute later he was alone—alone, but happier than he had ever hoped to be. He dropped into a chair, and heedless to the hissing kettle, sat lost in pleasant dreams. For the time being, difficulties and dangers were forgotten, and all he cared to remember was that he had found Joyce again, and that she had forgiven him.
At last he got up, cooked his supper, ate it, and then, after cleaning his guns and doing various evening duties, went to bed and slept more soundly and happily than for many weeks past.
Next morning dawned brilliant as ever, and Peter whistled cheerily as he went about his work. He kept on looking out for Jasper and Joyce, and about 10 o'clock saw some one coming down across the fields from the direction of the house.
By the slight limp he knew that it was Jasper, but he was bitterly disappointed to see that he was alone.
He went out to meet him. Jasper greeted him with a laugh.
"Don't swear at me, Peter! I know it was Joyce you wanted and not me. But you shall see Joyce some time to-day, and meantime it is I who want a yarn with you."
"It's jolly good of you to come," declared Peter as he took Jasper's hand. "I can't imagine why you two take so much trouble about a useless fellow like me."
Jasper looked up quickly, and his keen eyes dwelt for a moment on Peter's good-looking, wind-tanned face.
"Well, you see, Peter," he said, whimsically, "we happen both to be rather fond of you. And even if I wasn't, I realise that you are necessary to Joyce's happiness. Now do you get the hang of it?"
"I only know that you are two of the best people on earth," replied Peter, and quietly as he spoke, he meant every word of it.
"Come in," he added. "Thanks to Miss Lascelles, I am living in the lap of luxury."
"She's a real good sort," declared Jasper, as he glanced round the cosy sitting-room. "It's funny that we never happened to mention her to you while you were at Otter's Holt. She is a cousin of our mother, and is Joyce's godmother. We used to stay with her when she lived up in Norfolk, but this is the first time we have been here."
"But I haven't come to talk about her," he went on, as he took the chair Peter offered him. "It's your affairs we have to discuss. Joyce has told me everything, so we can start fair."
"One moment!" cut in Peter. "I have a question to ask first. Joyce was telling me, just as Miss Lascelles came in, that that scoundrel Bassett was worrying her, and that your father was backing him. Is this a fact?"
Jasper looked grave. "Unfortunately, it is. He and that unfortunate little Tudor have been at Carr Holme for some weeks. Father insisted on calling. You know, Bassett saw Joyce in town, and that's how the trouble began. Since they came to Carr Holme, Bassett has been over almost every day on one pretext or another. He has got father absolutely under his thumb, and Joyce has been having a most unhappy time of it.
"Now, don't get excited, Peter," he continued, as he noticed the angry light in Peter's eyes. "Even father can't force Joyce into having anything to do with the scoundrel. Still, it is up to us to unmask him as soon as possible and clear the air if we can."
"I know," agreed Peter. "Of course it is. But the trouble is that we are helpless. I have not ten pounds in the world, and without money I don't see how it is possible to fight this blackguard."
"Now you're getting excited again, Peter," said Jasper, smiling. "We are not quite so helpless as you fancy. And just to prove this to you, I my tell you that I am off to South America on Saturday next to make a little private investigation into the affairs of your cousin and his unpleasant bear-leader."
Peter's eyes widened.
"Going to South America? My dear Jasper, how can you possibly afford it? Joyce has told me about the state of your finances."
"Our finances have nothing to do with it," replied Jasper, smiling again. "Miss Lascelles is putting up the money, and we are going to do things in style."
ON a chill yet sunny day late in November, Peter, gun under arm, walked up the hill behind his cottage. The particular business on which he was engaged was shooting rabbits for the big house, and his eyes were on Stumps, his wire-haired terrier who was working steadily through the dead bracken.
A slight rustle, a brown flash, up went Peter's gun and with the sharp crack of the report bunny rolled head over heels and lay still.
Peter was in the act of picking up the rabbit when he heard another rustle, and straightened himself quickly.
"Not a rabbit this time," came the voice he loved best of all, and here was Joyce, trim in a rough, warm, tweed suit, and her charming face aglow with the frosty air. Peter's eyes lit. "My darling, I didn't know you were back at Brackenhurst," he exclaimed; And glancing round to make sure no one was in sight, he caught her to him and kissed her.
"I only arrived last night, Peter," she told him. "I thought it might be a nice surprise for you. That is why I did not tell you. And I have another surprise, too. A letter for you from Jasper. It came yesterday with one to me."
"Yes, read it at once," she went on. "I'm aching to know what he says. All he told me was that he had got to Montevideo all right, and about the voyage, and that sort of thing. I expect he has kept the real news for you."
Peter tore open the envelope, and rapidly glanced through the closely written sheets.
"News!" he exclaimed presently. "Yes Joyce, I should think there was news. Whom do you think he has run across?"
"I can't Imagine," Joyce answered.
"Why, Scrutton. Scrutton, who was Uncle Anthony's valet. He is out there. As Jasper says, this is a bit more than a coincidence.
"Yes," he went on, "Jasper says that Bassett must have shipped him out to South America. Listen!"
"It was quite by chance," he read, "that I ran across the man. He is employed in one of the big hotels here, and it was only through my happening to dine there with a man I met on the ship that I saw him. He has changed his name to Jackson, but I recognised him at once, for I had seen him, you know, at the inquest.
"Luckily, he did not know who I was, and I went back next day, and pumped him quietly. No need to tell you all he said. Indeed it would take a ream of paper to write it all. But you know I am not quite a fool at this sort of thing, and eventually I managed to win his confidence to some extent.
"The fact is the man is in very bad health, and miserably home sick, and was only too glad of a chance to talk to a fellow countryman. Now don't go fancying that I have solved the whole puzzle, for I have not. Scrutton is a tight-lipped sort of person, and I didn't really get much out of him. But putting two and two together, I am fairly certain that it was Bassett who paid his passage out here, and who got him this job.
"This strengthens my conviction that Bassett is the prime mover in the whole business, but the puzzle is, of course, how he who had so lately escaped from prison would have got hold of Tudor Carr, as he has. It is, of course, physically impossible that he could have gone to South America and back in the period that elapsed between his escape and the death of your uncle. There must, therefore, have been some third person in the business of whose identity we are still ignorant.
"I don't mean to lose sight of Scrutton, but meantime I am busy trying to discover where your uncle, David Carr, lived, and all about him and his son, Tudor. Calvert, you know, gave me something to go on, and if I can once get the connection between David Carr and Bassett then I shall begin to feel that I am on the track.
"I'll write again as soon as I have anything worth writing about. Meanwhile, sit tight, old chap, and believe me, yours ever, Jasper Lovell."
"That sounds good enough," said Peter: "What do you think, Joyce?"
"I think it's perfectly splendid," agreed Joyce. "And I'm quite sure, Peter, that if any one can get to the bottom of this business that person is Jasper."
"I've always thought so," said Peter warmly. "And I can't tell you how good I think it is of him, and of Miss Lascelles."
"Talk of Angels!" said Joyce suddenly, "Here is Cousin Anne herself."
Sure enough the tall, handsome figure of Miss Lascelles had just come into view across the field. She waved her hand to Joyce, and quickened her pace. As for Joyce, she turned to meet her godmother, and Peter followed.
Miss Lascelles' face was graver than usual. That was the first thing that Peter noticed about her. The second was that she, like Joyce, had a letter in her hand.
"I have news for you, Mr. Carr," she said, as they met. "Bad news, too, I am afraid. I have just had a letter from Mr. Ventry's solicitors to tell me that he is dead. He was killed by a lion near Nairobi about a month ago."
Peter's face went very grave.
"I am sorry," he said, "Very sorry indeed. He was almost the last of my father's friends."
"But," said Miss Lascelles, "here is something else which may interest you, a cutting from the 'Times,' which has been enclosed in the letter. Read it aloud."
Peter took It wonderingly. This is what he read:
We regret to have to record the death of that well-known sportsman and explorer, Mr. Richard Ventry, F.R.G.S., who was killed by a wounded lion near Nairobi on October the 17th last. Curiously enough, his death recalls another still recent tragedy. We refer to the murder of the late Sir Anthony Carr. By Mr. Ventry's will it appears that he has left the sum of two thousand pounds to Mr. Peter Carr, nephew of the late Sir Anthony. It will be remembered that the unexplained disappearance of Mr. Peter Carr was perhaps the most startling feature of this mysterious case.
Peter looked at Joyce and Joyce looked at Peter.
"Two thousand pounds, Peter!" said Joyce. "Oh, but that is splendid."
"Yes, Joyce. Now I shall be able to repay the eight hundred."
"YOU will be careful, Peter. Don't risk running into that dreadful man, Bassett. I feel sure that he would murder you if he found that you were still in England."
Joyce's warning words rang in Peter's ears as he walked slowly down King-street. Since their return from Carr Holme, Paul Bassett and Tudor Carr had left their rooms in Jermyn-street and taken over Sir Anthony's old flat.
Peter was not particularly afraid of Bassett trying to murder him, yet he had every intention of doing his best to avoid that gentleman. He was perfectly well aware that his mission had not the slightest prospect of success unless he could see Tudor alone.
He was not feeling cheerful. He frankly hated the job before him, which was that of repaying to Tudor the eight hundred pounds. The explanation he would have to make was anything but pleasant. Yet he did not hesitate at all. He had made up his mind to go through with it, for he felt it would be out of the question to marry Joyce until he had cleared this matter up.
The weather was not of the sort to make any one feel cheerful. A fine drizzling rain was falling, and it was very cold. There had been, of course, some delay in obtaining his legacy, and it was now only three weeks to Christmas.
Peter was not trusting entirely to chance in getting a private interview with his cousin. He had been in town three days already, and had ascertained that Bassett went out most nights, and most always by himself. The man went in for all sorts of dissipation, and clearly did not relish an evening spent alone with the unfortunate Tudor. This was Peter's second visit to King-street during the evening. He had been there before dinner, and hung about for half an hour. But clearly Bassett was dining at home, so he himself had had some food in a near-by restaurant, and was now waiting again in the hope of seeing Bassett leave.
This time the fates were kind. He had not been waiting for more than a quarter of an hour before he heard a taxi call, and saw that it was the hall porter of the flats who was whistling. A moment later a cab came flying up, and Peter, hidden in a side street, and with his overcoat collar turned well up around his ears, saw Bassett's tall figure come striding out, and step quickly into the waiting vehicle.
He was not near enough to hear the direction, but this did not trouble him; he waited only until the taxi had started, then went straight for the entrance.
The porter was seated in his chair, smoking a pipe, and evidently making himself comfortable. He was a new man to Peter, new that is since Sir Anthony's death. He looked up as Peter entered.
"Is Mr. Carr at home?"
"Yes, he's at home, sir. But like as not he's in bed. He's an invalid, and goes to bed early."
"I'll chance that," said Peter with a smile. "Yes, I know the flat. Don't trouble to come up."
Peter had a curious sense of repulsion as he reached the door of the flat. The horrid memory of his last visit rose again in his mind. It was with a distinct effort that he rang the bell.
There was a pause of same moments. Peter began to think his cousin really had gone to bed. Then all of a sudden the door opened, and there stood Tudor. He was wearing a long flannel dressing gown and had felt slippers on his feet.
He blinked at Peter. "Who is it?" he asked in the squeaky voice which was so like a mechanical toy.
"I am your cousin, Peter Carr," said Peter quietly. "And I must apologise for so late a call. But I came, to see you on business."
"Peter Carr!" exclaimed the little man. "You can't be. Peter Carr is in America."
"He isn't, I assure, for I am he," replied Peter, but inwardly he took note of what Tudor had said. It made him certain that Bassett was the man behind his kidnapping.
"May I come in?" he added.
"Yes. No." Tudor was twittering with nervousness.
"I really must, please," said Peter firmly, and gently pushed past into the room.
"Paul—Mr. Bassett is not here," said Tudor, more agitated than ever. "I don't know anything about business."
On the face of it, this seemed only too true. Peter's heart sank. It might be impossible to make this poor little creature understand his errand. However, he made up his mind to try.
"It's the simplest matter possible," he said, speaking very clearly and distinctly. "I have come to ask you to receive a sum of money which I owe to you."
Tudor seemed to wake up suddenly. There came an odd glitter in his pale eyes.
"You mean the money you stole from me," he cried sharply,"—the eight hundred pounds."
Peter felt himself flushing hotly. Yet he managed to keep his temper. He remembered that he deserved the taunt.
"Yes," he answered. "I suppose that you are right, and, as I told yon, I came to ask your pardon, as well as to restore the money. But you must remember—"
Tudor cut him short.
"I don't want to remember anything. I don't want to see you at all. You stole my money, and I believe you murdered Sir Anthony."
Peter was absolutely staggered. It was as though a kitten had suddenly turned into a tiger. For a moment he could only gasp. But only for a moment.
"That is a very serious accusation, Carr," he said curtly. "And a very foolish one, too. Have you any reason for making it?"
"It's no use your talking," declared Tudor. "I know all about you. Paul told me."
His voice was almost a shriek. He was dreadfully agitated.
Peter looked at him with a sort of despair. He felt that he might as well argue with a two-year-old child. Still he must try.
"Listen to me, Carr. I give you my word that I am entirely innocent of this dreadful thing of which you accuse me. Remember, Sir Anthony was not only my uncle, but my adopted father, and I was very fond of him. Nothing in the world would have induced me to hurt him."
"Then why did you steal his money?" cried Tudor.
"He was dead when I got here that evening. He was lying there on the floor." Peter pointed to the very spot. "And you must remember that, although he had written and told me about you, I was not to know that you were really the heir. Still, I know that I did wrong in taking the money, and now I have come to ask you to take it back."
His long speech had no effect, whatever, on Tudor. Paul Bassett had done his work too well. The wretched youth was absolutely under Bassett's control.
"I don't believe a word of it," he retorted with more violence than seemed possible from so frail a creature.
"Paul said you were a bad man, and I believe him."
Peter clung to the remains of his patience.
"At any rate, you will take the money?" he said.
"I won't take anything. You can pay it to Paul if you want to."
"I don't want to. The money belongs to you, not to Bassett."
"I can't help that. I won't take it, I tell you. All I want is for you to go away."
Peter's sorely-tried temper gave at last.
"You little fool!" he said angrily. "Fancy a creature like you being my cousin, and Sir Anthony's heir! You ought to be in a lunatic asylum."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before he realised that he had blundered. Tudor went very white.
"I may be a fool," he almost screamed, "but I'm not a murderer. Go away, or I will ring for help."
Peter stared at him for a moment. Tudor was shaking all over with excitement. His upper lip was twitching in an unpleasant fashion. He looked as if he were on the verge of a fit.
It was no use. Peter realised that. He shrugged his shoulders.
"I've done what I could to put things right," he said. "It's your own lookout now if they go wrong."
Without another word he swung out of the flat and walked straight downstairs. He was so angry that he noticed nothing until he found himself in the street again, facing the chill drizzle. He stopped a moment and took a long breath.
"I've done my best," he said bitterly. "That finishes it."
Turning up his collar again, and pulling his hat down over his eyes, he strode off to his hotel. This was not the Harcourt, but a smaller, cheaper place lying just off the Strand.
It was a long time before he could get to sleep. Tudor's open accusation proved that Bassett had told him in so many words that he, Peter, was responsible for Sir Anthony's death. He wondered if Bassett had told others the same story, and his anger against the man rose to a pitch that almost frightened him. He determined that, somehow or other, he would tackle the fellow and silence his slanderous tongue. But how to do it he had not the faintest idea, and Jasper, who might have advised him, was still away.
When he did at last doze off, his sleep was broken by most unpleasant dreams, and he woke late and fagged. He had no appetite for breakfast, and after drinking a cup of coffee went back to his room to pack. He had made up his mind to go straight back to Brackenhurst, tell Joyce and Miss Lascelles of his failure, and wait there until Jasper got home again.
There was a knock at his door. A waiter appeared.
"A gentleman to see you, sir."
Peter, busy folding a pair of trousers, turned quickly.
"Can it be Jasper?" was his thought. "Who is it?" he asked.
"He gave no name, sir," answered the waiter; before Peter could reply the door opened wide, the waiter disappeared, and a square-looking, broad-shouldered man of about 50, with a short grizzled moustache, stepped into the room.
"I am Inspector Slayne, of Scotland Yard," he said. "You are Mr. Peter Carr?"
"That is my name," replied Peter in surprise.
The other stepped forward and laid his right hand on Peter's shoulder. "Then," he said gravely, "it is my duty to arrest you."
"What for?" demanded Peter sharply.
"For the murder of your cousin, Sir Tudor Carr," was the answer.
THE shock was so great that for a moment Peter could only stare blankly. At last he found words.
"You must be crazy," he said. "I saw Tudor Carr last night, and left him—"
The inspector cut it sharply.
"It is my duty to inform you that anything you say now will be used in evidence against you."
"But do you mean to tell me that Tudor Carr is dead?" demanded Peter in a voice between horror and curiosity. "His body is lying in his King-street flat at the present moment," answered the inspector grimly.
"And he was murdered, you say?"
"It is not my place to answer questions at present, sir," replied Inspector Slayne, with a sort of cold civility. "The charge will be read over to you at the station, and you will be afforded facilities for employing counsel."
Peter drew a deep breath. His thoughts were in such a muddle he could not clear them.
"What happens now?" he asked.
"You will come with me to Bow-street, where you will be detained for the present," replied the inspector. He paused. "You will give me your word to come quietly?"
Peter laughed harshly.
"You don't think I'm fool enough to run away," he said.
"Very well then. Kindly walk beside me. I have a taxi waiting."
No one took any particular notice as the two went out to the waiting taxi. Not that Peter would have cared if they had. He was in a half-dazed state.
Tudor dead! Who had killed him—and why, and when? These were the questions that echoed in his brain, and found no answer.
The taxi pulled up. Peter got out mechanically, and accompanied Slayne up a passage into a large, bare, but very clean-looking office. A lean, military looking man who was seated at a desk, rose to his feet.
"This is Mr. Peter Carr," said Slayne. "Mr. Carr, this is Inspector Heathcote. He will read you the charge."
Heathcote glanced at Peter with eyes which were like gray steel for keenness. He took a document from a pigeon hole, and opened it.
"—felonious intent and malice aforethought, did kill and murder the said Tudor Carr—" The words conveyed nothing to Peter, who was still in a half-numbed condition.
"You are at liberty to communicate with your solicitor or send any other message," said Heathcote presently, and now he spoke in a much more human tone.
Peter pulled himself together. He must let Joyce know what had happened. There were to be no more concealments between him and her. And—yes—he must send for Calvert.
"Thank you, inspector," he answered. "I should like to send for my solicitor. Can I telephone for him?"
"Certainly, or if you will give me his number it shall be done for you."
"Holborne 0987," said Peter. "His name is Calvert. And then if I may have pen and paper, I will write some letters."
"You will be able to do that in your room, Mr. Carr. You will understand, too, that whatever you write is liable to be used in evidence against you."
"That does not trouble me, at all Inspector," said Peter quietly. "When I left my cousin last night he was as well as you or I."
Heathcote gave him another glance from those watchful eyes of his.
"I would not talk if I were you," he said drily. "Inspector Slayne will show you to your quarters."
Peter shrugged his shoulders, and followed Slayne. The latter conducted him to his cell, which was in fact a small bed-sitting- room plainly but not uncomfortably furnished. The only suggestion of prison about it were the heavy iron bars which crossed window.
'"I shall have to search you, Mr. Carr," said Slayne, half apologetically. "It is the rule."
"Oh, very well," said Peter, and lifted his arms above his head while the inspector went through his pockets and took out all the contents, except his handkerchief.
"These will be entered," he said, "and a receipt given you. If there is anything you want, you have only to ring. Here is writing paper and pen and ink."
Peter thanked him and he went away, locking the door behind him. By this time Peter had to some extent got over the first shock of his arrest, and went quietly to work on his letter to Joyce. He told her exactly what had happened on the previous evening, speaking openly of his errand. He realised now that the unhappy business of the eight hundred pounds was now bound to become public property. There was nothing for it but to face it with what pluck he might. At any rate, he had the enormous consolation of knowing that, whatever happened, Joyce and Jasper, too, would stand by him.
He had hardly finished his letter before Mr. Calvert was announced. The grave expression on the lawyer's face gave Peter a fresh and unpleasant shock.
"It is good of you to come so quickly," said Peter gratefully, as he took the elder man's hand.
Mr. Calvert gave him a searching look.
"One does not waste time in a case of this kind," he answered rather drily. "If it were only for the sake of the family name I should not have delayed."
"You don't think me guilty?" said Peter sharply.
Calvert paused a moment before replying.
"No," he said quietly. "But this I will say—that you have a most extraordinary faculty for getting into unpleasant situations."
"Hang it all! I couldn't help it," retorted Peter.
"There I differ," replied the lawyer. "Under the circumstances, you could hardly have done a more foolish thing than visit your cousin as you seem to have done last night."
"Certainly I visited him. I had very good cause for going there."
"I shall be glad to hear it."
"All right," said Peter who was rather nettled by the tone that Calvert had taken. "But before I tell you my story, I want to hear how and when Poor Tudor was killed—that is if he really was killed," he added.
"He was most undoubtedly killed," Calvert answered, with a grim edge to his voice—"murdered just as your uncle was, and in the same room. What was more, it was done with your stick."
Peter's jaw dropped.
"My stick," he gasped. "Good lord, I remember now. I was in such a rage I went off without it, and I've never thought of it from that moment to this."
He paused. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Calvert. I don't wonder you seemed to doubt me."
"No, Peter, I don't think I ever doubted you," replied the lawyer in a much more human tone. "You are not the stuff that murderers are made of. Still it did occur to me, knowing that poor little man as I do, that you might possibly have lost your temper with him, and struck him. And it would not have taken much more to kill him than to kill a rabbit."
"Just for that reason, I could never have brought myself to touch him," said Peter. "But I freely confess I did lose my temper with him. You see he called me a thief and abused me up and down."
"Called you a thief?" interrupted Calvert.
"Yes. But wait. I'll tell you the whole story, and then you can judge for yourself. Sit down, it's a bit of a yarn."
Calvert knew already of Peter's adventures up to the time that Dick Ventry had left him his legacy. He had secured the money for him. It was from that point that Peter began, and carefully related all that had happened since coming to London. He repeated his conversation with Tudor almost word for word.
Calvert listened attentively, once or twice throwing in a quick question. When Peter had finished, he sat quiet for some moments, his fingers twisting and untwisting his gold watch chain.
"You were mad to go and visit Tudor as you did," he said at last. "Why could you not have asked me to return this money?"
Peter flushed a little.
"It—it would have seemed to me like shirking an ugly job," he answered.
Calvert nodded. "I see what you mean," he said not unkindly. "But it was foolish, and it has landed you in a very ugly mess. We must have the best counsel we can get."
"You think badly of it?" said Peter quickly. "Tell me, is there other evidence against me?"
"Unfortunately, there is. So far as I have learnt, two witnesses overheard your quarrel with Tudor. They are Besley, the hall porter, and a man called Atherton who has the upper flat. So far as circumstantial evidence goes, the net could hardly be more complete."
Peter's cheeks lost their colour. It seemed to him as though he were suddenly standing on the edge of a chasm, a chasm so deep, so dark that he could not see the bottom.
But it was always in the tightest place that Peter's pluck came to his rescue.
"We must find the real murderer," he said. "And if you want my opinion, Mr. Calvert, the man is Bassett."
Calvert gazed at Peter as if he thought he had suddenly taken leave of his senses.
"Bassett!" he repeated. "What an extraordinary idea! Why, he has been living on Tudor all this time, and with Tudor's death his income dries up at once. Don't you realise that you are now the heir?"
Peter shook his head. "I can't help that," he said doggedly. "It's my firm belief that Bassett murdered both my uncle and my cousin. I know that it was he who got me kidnapped. Please remember, Mr. Calvert, that Bassett is an ex-convict."
"That is as may be," replied the lawyer. "We have no proof of it beyond your assertion, remember. I quite agree with you that Bassett is a highly unpleasant knave, but as for your suggestion that he is the murderer, that in my opinion, is midsummer madness."
As he spoke, he rose and picked up hat and gloves.
"There is no time to waste," he said. "The preliminary hearing will take place to-morrow morning. I am going now to see if I can secure Frank Colborne to conduct your defence. He is quite the most brilliant of the younger men. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Peter, "and thank you a thousand times for all your trouble."
Mr. Calvert smiled his dry little smile. "Time enough to thank me when this is over," he said. "Keep your spirits up, my boy, and when they question you tomorrow tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
"I mean to," said Peter quietly.
All the same, when Calvert had gone, Peter found it distinctly difficult to live up to the first part of his injunction. It was quite plain that Calvert took a pretty serious view of the case, and what with the stick, the quarrel, and the two independent witnesses, Peter had to confess to himself that matters looked black indeed. He cursed himself again for his carelessness in leaving his stick behind.
Then his thoughts went to Joyce, and from her to Jasper. It seemed to him that Jasper's evidence would be worth more to him than any one else's.
Suddenly he determined to cable to Jasper, but then it occurred to him that he had not his last address. He must get Joyce to cable.
Yes, and in any case he must wire to Joyce. The whole business would be in the papers next morning, might indeed be in to-day's. She might read of it before she got the letter he had just written.
He rang, got a telegraph form and sent the longest message he had ever sent in his life.
That done, he felt a little easier. He picked up a book and tried to read. But time dragged horribly, and he was grateful indeed when a constable opened the door and announced Mr. Colborne.
Peter saw a tall, slim man beautifully attired. He had a thin, curiously colourless face and sleepy, heavy lidded eyes.
"Good morning," he said, and his voice was as tired as his face.
Peter's heart sank. Was this the man to whom fate was to be entrusted. Was his life or death to depend on this anaemic looking dandy?
COLBORNE seated himself leisurely. He laid his hat and gloves on the table. He pulled up his trousers carefully so that they should not bag at the knees.
Peter watched him with a growing feeling of hopelessness.
Having made himself quite comfortable, Colborne looked up, and stared thoughtfully at his client.
"So you think it was Bassett?" he drawled.
Peter was so startled that it was a moment before he could find his tongue.
"Mr. Calvert has told you, then?" he blurted out at last.
"Yes, but I'd rather hear it from you. Let's have the whole yarn."
Having told it all so recently to Calvert, Peter's memory was clear, and he related the whole story from the beginning. Colborne sat with his eyes half-closed. He never interrupted once. When at last the long yarn came to an end, the young barrister lifted his sleepy eyes and fixed them on Peter.
"H'm!" he said in a low voice. "A queer mess! Still—"
Then all of a sudden he seemed to wake up.
"You believe Bassett to be the ex-convict, Holt?"
"I'm almost certain of it," replied Peter.
"You fought him. You ought to know. If we can prove it, the whole case against you will collapse. Now, one or two more questions."
He fired off a dozen at least, amazing Peter by the absolute grip he seemed to have on every incident he had heard. Then he made a few brief notes on a loose sheet of paper and rose.
"Very interesting case," he said. "I shall start on Bassett to-day. The trial won't be for at least a fortnight, and time is on our side. You shall hear from me as soon as I get anything worth having. Good-bye!"
"A jolly sight smarter than he looks," was Peter's verdict, and feeling somewhat comforted, settled down to his book.
Afternoon brought a telegram from Joyce.
"My poor dear boy. Have cabled Jasper. Expect me to- morrow.—Joyce."
In spite of his unpleasant position there was a glow at Peter's heart, as he folded the message carefully and put it in his pocket. Joyce, at any rate, believed in him, and for the moment it seemed that nothing else mattered. For the time he forgot the ordeal that was before him next day.
Joyce did not arrive in time for the preliminary examination, and when Peter found himself in the dock in the centre of an absolutely packed court, he felt most uncomfortably nervous. Barring Calvert, he could not see a friend. The one expression on the sea of white faces that surrounded him seemed to be a devouring curiosity. There was a buzz of eager whispers, a sound, however, which was promptly quenched by a sharp order of "Silence!" from the magistrate's clerk.
The proceedings, fortunately for Peter were brief and formal. Inspector Slayne gave evidence of Peter's arrest; then Inspector Heathcote stated, in curt, business-like terms, the case for the police. He ended by asking for a remand.
Colborne at once got up and asked that bail might be granted. But the magistrate flatly refused, and presently Peter found himself back in the cell.
Colborne came in for a minute. He seemed in a hurry.
"Don't be worried that they wouldn't give bail, Mr. Carr. I only asked as a matter of form. I can't stay. I have another case."
"What about Bassett?" begged Peter.
"Nothing as yet. But I've a good man on his trail. You can be quite sure we shan't waste any chances," he added, and smiling, thrust out his hand.
His grip was astonishing for such a languid-looking person, and had a most invigorating effect on Peter.
Then, with a nod, he was gone.
Later, about three in the afternoon, came Joyce.
Her sweet face seemed to bring sunshine into the bare little room, and with her in his arms, Peter felt once more that nothing mattered.
"It's Bassett, of course, Peter," was the very first words she said.
"That's what I think," said Peter, "and I am glad to say that Colborne my counsel, agrees. He is having the fellow shadowed, and trying to prove that he is really Jabez Holt. He says if he can do that the whole case collapses."
"Of course it will," Joyce answered.
Peter thought she looked a little pale, but she was as bright as possible. He was not to know the agonies she had been through since getting his message of the day before.
"And now tell me all about it," she went on. "Of course I have seen the papers, but I want the true story now."
"You must have left before you got my letter," Peter answered. "Sit down, dearest, and I'll tell you. But, first, I want to say how awfully good of you it was to come."
"Do you think that anything would have kept me away?" asked Joyce, with the least touch of reproach in her voice. "But it was quite easy. Dear Cousin Anne came with me, and we are staying at her house in Campden Hill."
"She is a brick," declared Peter fervently. "And now I'll tell you all I know about this horrid business."
The story took a long time in the telling, for Joyce was full of questions. The winter dusk had fallen before they finished their talk, and it was time for Joyce to go.
"I shall come and see you every day, Peter," she pronounced as she said goodbye.
Peter looked at her standing there, slim and dainty. His heart was in his eyes.
"I don't deserve you, Joyce," he said, and big voice was hardly steady. "I'm nothing but a muddler."
She came back, and putting her arms round his neck, drew his head down.
"You are my man, Peter dear," she said softly. "That is the only thing that matters."
Peter felt very lonely when she had gone. He hated the enforced inaction, and it came the harder because his life had always been such an active one. The days dragged terribly, and but for Joyce's daily visits, would have been unbearably long.
Colborne came once or twice, but had no news.
"We can't get a thing against the beggar," he said one day, with a touch of unusual irritation. "He probably knows he is being watched. But by Saturday next I shall hear whether he really did come down from Uruguay with your cousin. The 'Algoma,' the ship in which Tudor Carr travelled will be in that morning."
"By the bye," he added, "have you heard from Jasper Lovell?"
"Not a word as yet," Peter answered. "We cabled again yesterday. Probably he is up country, beyond the reach of the telegraph."
"H'm, I hope we shall hear before Tuesday," said Colborne as he left.
Tuesday was the day of the trial, and Peter grew nervous as time passed, and there was still no word from Jasper. Saturday came, and with it Colborne again. This time his usual nonchalant air had worn rather thin. He was frowning as he entered the room.
"Well?" said Peter eagerly.
"Not well," snapped Colborne, producing a telegram from his pocket. "Bassett did travel home in the 'Algoma,' with Tudor Carr. We have not only his name on the passenger list, but a description of him from one of the officers, from the purser and a steward. You were mistaken, Carr."
Peter's jaw set obstinately.
"I don't believe it," he said. "The more I think it over the more certain I feel that Bassett and Holt are the same."
"Well, we can't prove it," Colborne answered shortly. "So we have lost our best trick."
"Still," he added, "there are others. We'll make a fight for it, Carr. We'll make a fight for it."
BESLEY, the hall porter, had given his evidence. Mr. Atherton, himself a barrister, had spoken as to the high words he had overheard that night in the rooms below his. The stick had been exhibited.
Mr. Cleave, a surgeon living in King-street, had spoken as to the cause of death. One blow on the head from the stick had caused it. He mentioned the fact that Tudor's skull was so thin that a blow which would have merely stunned an ordinary man had been sufficient to kill him.
Then Bassett was called. Peter watched him as he entered the box. He was perfectly groomed as usual, and with his tall figure and dark, handsome, saturnine face, made an evident impression on audience and jury alike.
He took the oath quietly, and seemed as cool as the judge himself.
"I was out on the night of the murder," he began in his deep voice. "I left King-street a little after half-past eight, and drove to the residence, of a friend, Mr. Sartori, where I stayed until nearly twelve o'clock. When I returned found Sir Tudor Carr lying on the floor. He was stone dead, and the stick which you have seen lay beside him.
"I called Besley at once, and sent him for the doctor. He confirmed my verdict and said that Sir Tudor had been dead for at least two or three hours. Besley then mentioned the fact that a gentleman had called just after eight. He spoke of the quarrel. But you have heard his evidence, so I need not repeat it. That, I think, is all I have to say."
He stepped down, and Lazar Sartori appeared to corroborate.
"Shylock come to life again," Peter heard some one remark in a piercing whisper. He himself stared with interest at the extraordinary looking person, but Sartori's evidence, took only a few moments, then Bassett came back to be cross-examined.
Colborne wanted to know how he came to be living with Tudor.
"I was a friend of his father," Bassett answered quietly. "Mr. David Carr lived in Montevideo under another name. I was his executor, and it was only when I came to go through his papers that I discovered his real identity. Then I took steps to secure his son's rights. Sir Tudor Carr was somewhat feeble both physically and mentally. He required constant care and companionship, which I gave him to the best of my ability."
"You managed all his financial affairs," suggested Colborne.
"Certainly I did. At the same time. I took no step without consulting him."
"And you lived at his expense?"
"That, too, is perfectly true. Still I think that the labourer is worthy of his hire. I had given up my own business in Montevideo to look after Sir Tudor."
Colborne asked other questions, all of which Bassett answered promptly and courteously. Peter's spirits dropped lower and lower. With every sentence Bassett spoke it seemed to him that his own chances grew slighter. Clever as Colborne was, Bassett was his match. He was never at fault. He never contradicted himself.
At last Peter went into the box. Colborne had at first wished to keep Peter's story quiet. But failing to get anything against Bassett, he had decided that honesty was the best policy.
Peter was very nervous. When he confessed how he had taken the eight hundred pounds, he felt himself flushing painfully, and was horribly conscious how damaging the admission must be.
It grew worse when he spoke of his meeting with Bassett in Jermyn-street. Colborne had warned him against mentioning his suspicions that Holt and Bassett were one and the same, and this made the whole incident sound hollow and unconvincing.
The account of his being shanghaied by the man Peasley was easier to tell, but it was difficult to suggest that Bassett had anything to do with it. And the mere fact that he had afterwards buried himself at Brackenhurst did not help matters. He could not speak of the real reason, and it sounded as if he had simply been afraid to make himself known.
Counsel for the Crown did not even trouble to cross-examine to any extent and Peter felt that matters were going from bad to worse. As he left the box, he glanced across at Joyce, and saw her face white and drawn with anxiety. As for Colborne, his lips were set tightly. Clearly, he, too, was not happy.
The winter day was closing in; the lights were lit. The atmosphere of the Court was thick and heavy. Peter felt utterly worn out and so sick and dispirited that, but for Joyce, he would hardly have cared what happened.
Colborne rose for the defence. His was a brilliant speech, yet Peter barely listened. He had a conviction that it was all useless, that the jury had already made up their minds. The evidence was too damning for any ordinary person to feel real doubt as to his guilt. Unless Bassett had killed Tudor, who else was there but himself who could have done it? And how could Bassett be guilty if he had not been there?
Colborne finished, and the counsel for the Crown followed.
It seemed hardly necessary for this gentleman to marshal the facts against Peter in the dry, business-like way which he employed. They were clear and deadly enough already.
At last it was over, and the judge began to sum up. He hardly spoke a dozen words before there was a stir in the court. An usher came forward, and the judge stopped short and listened to a whispered communication. He frowned.
"Very irregular," Peter heard him say, "Yet, under the circumstances—"
He raised his voice.
"Gentleman, a fresh witness in this case has just arrived. He is Mr. Jasper Lovell, and declares that he has important evidence. Although it is irregular, I propose that, with the consent of my eminent friend, Mr. Rankin, we hear him."
Peter's heart began to thump. He looked at Joyce and saw her sweet face light up. Next moment, brown and thin, but keen-faced as ever, Jasper was limping briskly, into the box.
As in a dream, Peter heard him say that he had come straight from Montevideo, but owing to bad weather had reached Southampton only at twelve o'clock that day.
He declared that he had evidence that Bassett had at one time been Sir Anthony Carr's valet, that he had robbed him and cleared out. "His real name," he said, "is not Bassett. It is Molesco. His father was a Spanish-American, but his mother English.
"I have proofs here," he went on, showing a bundle of documents, "that what I say is true. Quite by chance, Bassett happened upon Mr. David Carr, who was then dying of softening of the brain in the little up-country town of San Sebastian. Bassett went through his papers, and saw at once that here was his chance both of revenge and profit. He waited only till David Carr was dead, then brought his son to England.
"Realising that Sir Anthony was certain to recognise him, he killed him."
He got no further. The judge cut in curtly.
"Have you any support for such a serious statement?" he demanded.
The silence in the court was breathless. Every eye was fixed on Jasper.
"Yes, my lord. I have a witness with me who, if he did not see the actual murder, yet was in the next room when it was committed."
"Produce him!" ordered the judge, and a moment later Scrutton, the valet, was helped into the court by two men. He was too weak to walk alone, and his parchment-like face and glazed eyes were plain proof that he was a doomed man.
He had almost to be lifted into the witness box.
The judge looked at him with pity in his eyes.
"Mr. Lovell testifies that you were in the next room at the King-street flat, when Sir Anthony Carr was murdered," he said gently. "Will yon tell us if this is the case?"
"Yes, my lord," Scrutton answered in a thin, weak voice. "I am, as you see, a dying man, and I wish to tell the truth before I go. I was Sir Anthony's servant. A few days before his death the man known as Paul Bassett met me in the street. He took me into a public-house and we became friendly. Then he told me about Mr. Tudor Carr being the real heir. He showed me papers to prove it. But he said there was another paper he wanted, and that was in Sir Anthony's flat. He offered me fifty pounds to let him have a chance of getting it, and promised me a good situation besides. I saw that if Sir Anthony lost his title and money I should be left stranded, and in the end I agreed. The arrangement was that, to prevent suspicion, I was to be chloroformed, and left tied up."
He paused, gasping for breath. A constable gave him a glass of water. He drank and went on.
"About eight that evening, Bassett came and I let him in. He had another man with him, tall and big as himself, but I could not see their faces for both, wore masks. The second man did not speak, but I recognised Bassett by his voice. They tied me up and chloroformed me, and the next thing I knew the police surgeon was bending over me, and Mr. Peter Carr and an inspector standing by."
He paused again, and lifted his right hand impressively.
"Before God, my lord, I had no idea they meant murder."
There was another breathless pause.
"And afterwards?" asked the judge.
"Afterwards Bassett gave me a ticket to South America, and told me I'd better stay there, for if I showed myself again in England I should get ten years' penal servitude."
The judge beckoned to a police officer, and spoke to him in a low voice.
The officer shook his head. "The witness, Bassett, has left the court, my lord," he said aloud.
"Then have a warrant made out at once for his arrest," ordered the judge.
IN Peter's bare little cell he and Joyce clung to one another like two children.
"Oh, Peter!" she whispered; "Oh, my dear! So you are safe at last."
Peter could hardly speak. The strain had been greater than he knew. He held Joyce closer and kissed her again.
There was a knock at the door, and they started apart.
"It's all right, dear people," came Jasper's voice. "Just come to tell you that I am after him."
"After whom?" asked Joyce.
"Bassett, of course. I believe he's gone to Carr Holme to pick up the spoil before he clears. Don't worry about me. Colborne is coming, too, and we have a police inspector along. No time to explain now. Good-bye."
"If only I could go, too!" breathed Peter.
Joyce laid a small hand on his arm. "I'm glad you can't, Peter. You have done enough fighting already."
Peter drew her down into a chair beside him.
"A splendid chap, Jasper," he said.
"It will be almost worth while marrying me to get such a brother-in-law," Joyce answered with a touch of her old fun.
Peter laughed, then grew silent again.
"There's a lot I don't get the hang of yet," he said thoughtfully. "I'm still as sure as ever that Bassett was the convict. But if so, then who was the man who came home with poor Tudor?"
"And who was the man who helped Bassett with the murder?" added Joyce. "Scrutton said there was another."
Peter shook his head.
"We shall have to wait for Jasper to explain. I only hope he catches Bassett. If he doesn't—"
Peter's eyes were on Joyce's face, and he stopped suddenly. He realised that if Bassett were not caught he himself was not yet clear.
They talked for a while, then Anne Lascelles came and took Joyce away. In spite of his anxieties, Peter slept well that night.
Next morning he was hardly dressed when a telegram was brought him.
"Got him. Everything cleared up. Expect me about twelve.—Jasper."
The next four hours were the longest Peter had ever known. But Jasper was punctual, and when he came brought Joyce with him.
"Came in a car. Picked her up on the way," he explained briefly. "All right, Peter. Don't look so haggard. You'll be out of this before night."
"But Bassett—where is he?" demanded Peter.
"I shouldn't like to bet," replied Jasper. "But his body is in an out-house down at Carr Holme."
"Dead?" gasped Peter.
"Dead as Judas. And so is his friend—accomplice I should say—Lazar Sartori. We found them both on the study floor. Bassett had been shot through the lungs; Sartori had a large knife sticking in him, but luckily we were in time to hear what he had to say before he went out."
Peter stared, wide-eyed, as Jasper paused an instant just to enjoy his breathless interest.
"Sartori was the man behind it all," he said. "He put up the money so that Bassett or rather Juan Molesco could bring Tudor to England. He had Molesco under his thumb from the beginning. And his brother, too."
"His brother?" questioned Peter sharply.
"Yes, that's where the hitch came in. That's where I was hung up, myself, until I got Sartori's confession. Juan Molesco had a twin brother, Pedro. The two were so alike that you could not tell the difference. Juan was the brains, Pedro the muscle. Juan, having the brains, robbed your uncle and escaped. That was eight years ago. Pedro, at the time, was fireman in a liner. A year or two later, he stabbed another fireman, and it was he who went to Dartmoor for ten years. It was he whom you fought on the Moor, Peter, that foggy evening. Now do you begin to see daylight?"
"Peter nodded. His eyes were alight with eagerness.
"Then which did the murder?" he said quickly.
"Pedro in both cases. At least Sartori swears it was Pedro who killed your uncle, and it seems certain that he also murdered Tudor. The chances are that he was hidden in his brother's bedroom at King-street all that evening. Juan must have known you were going to call, and have planned the whole thing out before he left. He must have meant all through to kill Tudor as soon as he had skinned him."
Peter drew a long breath, but it was Joyce who spoke.
"The wretch!" she cried. "Oh, but I am glad he is dead."
"It's just as well for all of us," said Jasper drily.
Peter raised his head suddenly.
"There's one thing I don't understand. Why did these two, Sartori and Juan Molesco fight?"
"That's simple," replied Jasper. "Juan was playing a double game. He had converted everything he could into cash or bearer securities. When he saw me arrive, he knew the game was up, and without a word to Sartori went straight off to Carr Holme. Sartori, however, was watching him. He followed—and caught him.
"And now," he added, "the thing that remains is to catch Pedro. And since his description is already in every port, that won't take long. The police will have him within twenty-four hours. And then—"
Another sharp knock at the door, and without waiting for an answer Colborne came in.
"Got him," he said curtly, and for once there was a real gleam in his sleepy eyes.
"Pedro?" snapped back Jasper.
"Yes. He's in gaol at Southampton. Congratulations, Carr—Sir Peter, I should say."
He smiled, then turned to go.
Jasper, with infinite tact jumped up and followed.
"I want to hear all about it," he said. "I'll come with you."
The door closed behind them, and Peter and Joyce were left alone. There was a moment's silence, then Peter rose to his feet.
"Joyce," he said, "I owe it all to you and Jasper. Now I am going to begin to pay my debt."
Stooping, he lifted her fingers to his lips.
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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