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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES

THE MOTOR-CAR MYSTERY

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Based on a magazine advertisement (ca. 1935)


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First published by F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1933

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-11-27

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"The Motor-Car Mystery," F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1933


TABLE OF CONTENTS



Frontispiece.

Illustration

Over and over again they lost the tracks.


CHAPTER 1. — THE MAN WITH THE STICK

THE car swerved suddenly, and Bob Falconer leaned over, grabbed the wheel, and straightened her just in time to save her from the ditch.

"What's up, Garbett?" he asked sharply.

The chauffeur passed his hand across his forehead. His face was ghastly white.

"You're ill," exclaimed Bob.

"My head," Garbett answered hoarsely. "It's my old ague on me again."

Bob's face lengthened. He was very sorry for Garbett, an old soldier who was his Uncle George's chauffeur, and who was driving him and his brother Guy for a holiday at Fern Manor on the Moor. But this sudden illness threatened an ending to all their jolly plans.

Guy, who was sitting behind with the camp gear, leaned forward. He was the elder of the two, a steady, practical sort of boy, not so good-looking or clever as Bob, but much more level-headed.

"We're quite close to Williscombe village," he said. "Why shouldn't we leave Garbett there at the Cottage Hospital, then telephone to Uncle George about him and ask if we can take the car on? Uncle knows I can drive all right."

Bob brightened up at once.

"Good egg, Guy. Let Garbett get in at the back, and you take the wheel."

Poor Garbett lay back in the tonneau, and Guy drove on. They were lucky enough to find the doctor in, a kindly man who at once promised to look after Garbett and showed them where to find the telephone. Luck still held, and they got their uncle, Mr. Burlton, almost at once, and he, knowing that they were less than twenty miles from Fern Manor, gave his permission.

"But go slowly," he warned, "and be very careful with the car."

Guy promised, and they were soon off again. Now luck deserted them. A mile further on they got a puncture, and by the time they had put on the spare wheel it was nearly dark. Next they missed their way, and it was not until after crawling for nearly an hour up steep, narrow lanes that they came out at last on the high, open, heather-clad moor.

"Hurray!" cried Bob. "I know where we are now. Shove her along, Guy."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before the headlights went out, and Guy was forced to pull up in a hurry. Both jumped out and began to investigate. It was no good. They were not experts and could not trace the trouble. Guy shrugged his shoulders.

"That's cooked our goose for to-night," he said. "We can't drive without lights. We shall get run in if we do."

Bob grew quite cross.

"You take it precious calmly, Guy. What the mischief are we going to do?"

"Why, camp, of course. There's a brook down there in the hollow. We can run the car that far. We've got our tent. What are you kicking about?"

There was not only a brook but a nice level patch of grass simply made for camping. Guy ran the car on to it, and in a very short time the tent was up, a fire lighted, and the kettle slung over it. Guy, who was a scout, knew the last thing about camping, and soon all was snug and shipshape. Very cosy it looked, too, with the firelight reflected on the canvas of the tent and throwing a gleam on the swift water just beyond.

The kettle was just boiling and Guy spooning tea into the pot when they heard steps crashing through the gorse behind them. Next moment a tall man in shabby tweeds and carrying a thick stick strode into the circle of the firelight. His long, narrow face was convulsed with rage.

"Who are you?" he demanded in a harsh, high-pitched voice. "What are you doing here on my land? Get off it at once."

Bob's eyes flashed. He was about to answer the man in the same angry strain, but Guy caught him by the arm and quickly stepped in front of him.

"I'm sorry if we're trespassing," he said quietly, "but surely this is common land!"

"It's within my rights," retorted the other sharply. "I am Lord of the Manor. You can't stop here."

Guy remained perfectly calm.

"I hope you will let us stay till morning, sir," he said politely. "We are Mr. Burlton's nephews, and we were on our way to Fern Manor when our lights went out, and we had to stop."

"Fern Manor—Mr. Tarvin's place? Are you friends of his?" questioned the other sharply.

"We are friends of his son. We go to the same school," Guy answered. "We are to spend a fortnight camping on his place."

The tall man's expression changed. It was still sour enough, but he was no longer in such a towering rage. He looked round.

"Is that your car?" he demanded.

"It belongs to our uncle," explained Guy.

"Where's your chauffeur?"

Guy still kept his temper.

"He was taken ill, so I am driving."

The tall man stood silent. He was frowning, and seemed to be thinking hard.

"Very well," he said at last. "I give you leave to stay here to-night. But if you do any damage you'll have to pay for it." Then without another word he turned and tramped off into the darkness.

"Sweet creature!" remarked Bob a he watched him v vanish. "Don't know how on earth you kept your temper with him."

Guy smiled in his quiet way.

"Only thing to do, old chap. It was better than being kicked off our camping ground at this time of night."

"I suppose it was," allowed Bob. "I say, do you think he's mad?"

"More bad than mad, if you ask me," said Guy with a shrug. "But let's forget him. I'm jolly hungry."

The advice was good, and so was the supper. They had bacon grilled over the fire, new bread and butter, about half a pot of raspberry jam, a good chunk of cake apiece, and they finished a big pot of tea. Then after they had washed up and put everything tidy for the morning they were quite ready to turn in.

Guy had cut a lot of bracken, and with a blanket on top this made a capital mattress. Soothed by the tinkle of the brook, they were soon as sound asleep as ever they had been in their lives while outside the fire burnt down to dull red embers.

Guy was the first to wake. The sun, just risen above a tall, rock-crowned tor to the east, was flinging a shaft of golden light through the opening of the tent. He shook his brother by the shoulder.

"Wake up, Bob. The sun's up. We've got to make breakfast and shove on."

Bob rubbed his eyes sleepily, then sat up.

"I say, what a topping day!" he exclaimed. "What about a bathe in the brook?"

"Good egg!" said Guy. "Here's a towel. Come on."

He flung a towel to his brother, and the two ran down to the brook and plunged into a clear bubbling pool.

"Phew, but it's cold!" panted Bob as he came up.

"Makes you feel alive," returned Guy as he scrambled out. Then he gave a shout that scared Bob. "Where's the car?" he cried.

Bob followed him out of the water and stood dripping, staring all around.

"The car," he repeated. "It—it's gone!"

Gone it was. There were the wheel tracks on the turf, but of the car itself not the shadow of a sign.


CHAPTER 2. — SURPRISES

GUY was the first to recover himself.

"Don't stand shivering there, Bob," he said sharply. "We can't do anything until we've dressed."

He ran to the tent, and Bob, who seemed almost stunned by their misfortune, followed. Guy was flinging on his clothes with lightning speed.

"I'll bet it was that ugly chap who came round last night," said Bob.

"Don't talk," said Guy. "Dress."

Inside five minutes the two brothers had their clothes on, and Guy went straight to the spot where they had left the car.

"I don't see how anyone could have moved it without our knowing," he said. "We should have heard the engine."

Bob was examining the wheel tracks.

"They didn't start the engine," he said. "Whoever he was, he was cute enough to turn the car by hand, and run it down the slope. See, here are the marks of his heels deep in the turf."

"You're right," agreed Guy. "I see now. He let the car run down as far as the level ground by the brook; then I expect the noise of the water drowned the sound of the engine."

"Yes, here's where he started it," said Bob as he followed the tracks, "and then he went right out on the road."

"Which way did he turn?" asked Guy.

"To the right. That's the direction of Fern Manor."

"And of a dozen other places," replied Guy. "Bob, what are we going to do? It's no use chasing a motor-car on foot."

"We've got to find the car somehow," said Bob. "Think of the state of mind Uncle will be in!"

Guy nodded. "Of course we've got to find it. But we must have help. We ought to get hold of the police."

"It's miles back to that village where we left Garbett," said Bob "I vote we walk on to Fern Manor and ask Mr. Tarvin what's best to do."

Guy considered a moment. "I dare say you're right," he answered. "It's a bit risky leaving all our stuff behind, but I suppose we must chance it."

"The things will be all right," said Bob. "It's hardly likely that there will be two lots of thieves along in one day. And we can get there and back in about two hours."

Guy nodded, and they started up the road at a sharp pace. The road crossed a steepish rise, and as they gained the top the boys saw a deep combe beneath them, with the road crossing a bridge at the bottom. And just on the near side of the bridge was a car—an empty car drawn up close to the side of the road. Bob stared at it a moment, then gave a yell of delight.

"It's our car! Come on, Guy," he cried and started running at top speed.

Side by side the two raced down the steep hill, and sure enough it was their uncle's car that was standing by the roadside. Bob put his hand on the radiator.

"Quite cold!" he said. "She's been here ever so long."

"She doesn't seem to be damaged in any way," added Guy after a hasty inspection. "No, there's not a thing wrong with her."

"Must have been some silly fool playing a practical joke," growled Bob. "Get in, Guy, and let's drive back to our camping ground."

Guy got in and pressed the starter. There was no result.

"I'll give the handle a turn," said Bob.

But the result was the same. The engine showed no sign of life. Guy got out again, lifted the bonnet, and inspected the engine.

"Seems all right," he said, and turned to the tank. Bob heard him give a low whistle.

"Might have known it," Guy said. "Not a drop of petrol left. The tank's as dry as a bone. That's why the thief stopped."

But Bob looked more puzzled than before.

"In that case what made him turn the car round like this? She's facing back the way she came."

It was true. The car's bonnet pointed back towards the camping ground. Guy frowned as he considered the matter.

"Come to think of it," he said, "she had petrol in her last night to run quite a distance. And here she is less than a mile from her starting point."

"Then you may depend upon it, she's been further," said Bob shrewdly. "My notion is that the chap, whoever he was, just borrowed her and meant to bring her back and leave her where he found her."

"You may be right," agreed Guy. "Anyhow he's gone, and we have the car back safe and sound. You stay with her while I go back to the camp. Luckily I put our spare tin of petrol in the tent last night."

"I'll stay," said Bob. "I'm not going to let the car out of my sight till it's safe under lock and key."

Guy fetched the petrol, they drove back to the camp, and it was not until they got there that they realised that they had had no breakfast. So they lit a fire and cooked and ate a good meal. Then they packed up, loaded all their kit into the car, and drove off to Fern Manor. As they reached the drive gate a small two-seater came out and passed them. Beside the driver was sitting a policeman.

"Hullo!" said Bob. "That's funny. What's a bobby doing here at this hour of the morning?"

"We shall jolly soon know," his brother told him. "Here are Nick and Vera."

He pointed as he spoke to a tall, slim, dark boy who was coming down the drive accompanied by an uncommonly pretty girl of about thirteen.

"Hullo, you chaps!" cried Nick. "Where on earth have you been? We expected you yesterday, and we were in no end of a stew when you didn't turn up."

Guy explained the delay caused by Garbett's sudden illness and how their lights had given out and they had camped on the Moor.

"And then some blighter stole the car in the night," added Bob.

"Stole your car!" cried Nick. "Why, we had a burglary last night. Someone's got away with Mother's pearls."

"So that's why we met the policeman," said Guy.

"Yes, and a lot of good he's done. You've got your car back all right, but there's not a sign of Mother's pearls, and she and Dad are in an awful way."

"I'm frightfully sorry," said Guy. "They were worth a lot, weren't they?"

"I should rather think they were," replied Nick. "Quite three thousand pounds."

Bob Falconer whistled softly. "Three thousand! That's a lot of money."

"Yes, Bob, and there's worse than that," Vera Tarvin broke in. "But we'll tell you all about it afterwards. First come up to the house."

"Jump in, Vera, and we'll drive you and Nick up."

"We'll stand on the running-board. There's no room inside," said Nick. "And I say, Guy, we'd better take you straight to your camping ground. It's all ready for you."

Guy agreed, and under Nick's direction drove the car down a tree-shaded drive. About a hundred yards along there was a little opening in the trees where the turf sloped to a big pond of clear water.

"Here you are," said Nick. "Now we'll help you unload, and then we'll go up to the house."

"And I say, can we lock up the car?" said Bob. "We don't want to run any risk of having her stolen again."

"There's a jolly good padlock on the garage door. She'll be safe enough there," Nick told him.

They put the car up, then all four started for the house.

"What did you mean about there being 'worse than the theft,' Vera?" asked Bob.

Vera looked very serious. "It's worse in this way Bob. You see Dad has lost a lot of money because a bank broke. It's so much that he was afraid he'd have to sell our place. Then Mum said she would sell the pearls to save the house. And now that the pearls are gone I don't see what we can do."

Bob frowned. "It's a bad job, Vera. But haven't the police any notion who stole the pearls?"

"The Inspector talked a lot about a chap called Charles Cook who was let out of Dartmoor a week or two ago," replied Nick Tarvin. "He thinks he did it."

"Why does he think so?" asked Guy in his practical way.

"I don't believe he has much to go on so far as I could make out," replied Nick. "What the Inspector says is that Cook knows this part of the world, and was seen over Foxenholt way about a week ago. Since then no one seems to know where he is."

"Which way is Foxenholt from here?" asked Bob suddenly.

Nick pointed. "You must have passed it on your way here," he said. "It's quite close to the brook where you camped last night."

Bob whistled softly. "I wonder if it was Cook who borrowed our car," he remarked.

The other three all gazed at him.

"'Pon my word, it's on the cards, Bob," said Guy. "Yes, it's possible.'

"But not a bit probable, Guy," said Nick Tarvin. "A rough chap like Cook would hardly know how to drive a car, and then you had no lights, either."

"Oh, I expect Cook could drive all right!" said Guy. "The modern burglar is quite up-to-date. The unlikely part is that Cook would be hanging about in one spot on the Moor for a whole week." He paused. "Is there any house about there, Nick?" he asked.

"Foxenholt is a house. It belongs to Dad, but is rented by a man called Fearon," said Nick. "And there are some miners' cottages not far off."

Guy nodded. "All occupied?" he questioned.

"No, there are some old ruined ones. Yes it's on the cards that Cook hung out in one of them."

"Then hadn't we better go and have a look?" suggested Guy.

"The police are there already, I expect," said Nick, "but we might go there to-morrow. Today you have to get your tent fixed up."

"Come on," said Vera. "Nick and I will help you with your tent."

The four hurried back to the place where the kit had been unloaded, and set to work on the tent. Though the boys were to have their meals in the house they had been keen to sleep out, and that was why they had brought the tent. Besides, Mrs. Tarvin was rather an invalid and not sorry to be spared the noise of two extra boys in the house. They made a good job of their camping ground and dug a trench all around the tent in case of rain. Then they had a picnic lunch and afterwards went fishing in the pond and caught a lot of dace. Altogether they had a topping time, and it was not until seven that they went up to the house for supper.

Mr. Tarvin, who had been out all day with the police, was just back, and Guy's first question was whether anything had been heard of the pearls. Mr Tarvin shook his head.

"Not a word, Guy," he said very soberly, "and there is no sign of this man Cook. Has Nick told you how serious the loss is?"

"Yes, sir," said Guy. "And Bob and I are awfully sorry to hear it."

Mr. Tarvin shook his head again.

"We shall lose the place, I fear," he said sadly, and just then a maid came in with a card. Mr. Tarvin looked at it and frowned. "Mr. Fearon," he said aloud.

"Yes, sir," said the maid. "And he wishes particularly to see you."

"Show him into the study, Bessie," said Mr. Tarvin, and went out of the room.

As the door opened Guy and Bob saw the visitor standing in the hall, and both started. Bob turned to Nick.

"It's our friend of last night," he whispered, "the beggar who was so nasty to us."

"What—the chap who tried to kick you off your camping ground?" exclaimed Nick.

"The very same," said Bob. "And if old Guy hadn't soft-sawdered him he'd have done it, too. Who is he, Nick?"

"Blessed if I can tell you much," replied Nick. "All I know is that he rented Foxenholt from Dad two or three years ago, and he's been living there ever since. He's a queer fish, and we've never had much to do with him. He isn't popular with any of the people round here."

"He wouldn't be if he treats them as he treated us last night," put in Bob.

"No, he seems to have been fairly rude," said Nick.

"But he toned down when we told him we were going to your place," said Guy.

"Ah, that's because he wanted to be civil to Dad," remarked Nick. "I forgot to tell you that he's been trying to buy Foxenholt from us."

"Wants to buy, does he?" said Guy slowly. "But of course your father won't sell."

"Rather not," Nick answered emphatically. "Why, we've had this property up here on the Moor for hundreds of years, and Dad is Lord of the Manor."

Bob turned sharply to Guy. "Why, that fellow Fearon said last night that he was Lord of the Manor."

"Well, he jolly well isn't," exclaimed Nick. "He's nothing but the yearly tenant of Foxenholt. He's got no more right over the Moor than you have. He can't even fish or shoot without leave from Dad."

While they were talking they suddenly heard the door on the opposite side of the hall flung open, and Mr. Tarvin's voice raised angrily.

"No, Mr. Fearon, it is no use your insisting. I have told you already that I refuse to sell an acre of my property."

Fearon's answer they could not catch through the closed door of the drawing-room, and a moment later the front door banged. Mr. Tarvin came into the drawing-room, looking much upset.

"That man Fearon is becoming a perfect plague," he said angrily. "Fancy his turning up at this hour to try to buy Foxenholt!"

"Perhaps he has heard of the loss of the necklace, Mr. Tarvin," said Bob shrewdly.

Mr. Tarvin started slightly. "I wonder," he said thoughtfully. "Yes, it's quite possible, Bob. But I should never sell to a fellow like that. He wouldn't know how to treat the moormen. Let us put him out of our minds. Supper is ready."

Supper was rather a silent meal, for both Mr. and Mrs. Tarvin were evidently much worried. Guy and Bob tried to turn the talk into more cheerful channels, but it was not much of a success. After supper, the four younger members of the party played cards till about nine, then Guy and Bob said good night, and started back to their tent. It was a fine night, and as they walked slowly down the drive the two talked things over.

"Tell you what, Guy," said Bob. "I'm beginning to suspect that chap Fearon."

"What of?" demanded Guy.

"Stealing the pearls. And I'll tell you why. Remember how he asked about the car? Well, I've reckoned it out, and there was just enough petrol in the tank to take her as far as this and back to where we found her."

Guy shook his head. "My dear chap, a man like Fearon wouldn't risk a burglary."

"I don't know so much about that," replied Bob. "He's evidently keen on buying that place, and—hullo!" He broke off short. "What the mischief is that?"

The two paused and listened a moment.

"It's a car!" cried Guy. "It's our car. Someone's stolen it again." As he spoke he was off as hard as he could run.


CHAPTER 3. — WHAT NICK FOUND

"THE gate, Bob," cried Guy. "Make for the drive gate."

The drive of Fern Manor curved widely, and Guy saw that their one chance of stopping the car was to reach the gate ahead of it. Bob realised that his brother was right, and the two went tearing through the shrubbery, making a straight line for the gate.

As they came out into an open space they caught sight of the car rushing round the curve, and almost level with them, but there was not light enough to see who was driving. The only thing they could be sure of was that there was only one person in it.

Guy sprinted for all he was worth. He saw the big iron gates right ahead and noticed that they were wide open. Once the car was through it would be all up so far as he and Bob were concerned, for the road was wide and open. The one chance was to reach them first, and Guy strained every nerve to do so.

He heard the beat of the car's engine, and it seemed to be right on top of him. He knew that he stood a good chance of being run down by the thief, but this did not make him hesitate for a moment, and he raced for the gate.

Luckily for him, there was a second sharpish curve close to the gate, and the thief was forced to slow for this. As he did so Guy darted ahead, and seizing the gate flung it to with all his might. As it clanged back against its post with a force that made it quiver, Guy heard a screech of brakes and spinning round saw the car come to a dead stop not twenty paces away.

With a shout he ran back towards it, but before he could reach it the driver had leaped from the driving seat and plunged into the bushes. Guy followed him, but by this time he was so blown that he could hardly run at all. Next moment he had caught his foot in a twisted root and was flat on the ground.

"Guy, are you hurt?" came Bob's voice.

"N-not a bit!" panted Guy, as he struggled to his feet. "But where's the thief? Where's the chap who was stealing our car?"

"Gone," Bob answered. "I can't even hear him any longer, and it's a jolly sight too dark to find him in this thick stuff. But never mind. Thanks to you, the car is all right."

"I wish we could have caught him," growled Guy. "This is about the limit, to have the car stolen two nights running."

"It's certainly a queer game," agreed Bob. "I wonder if it was the same fellow."

By this time they had got back to the car, and lighting one of the lamps, Guy examined her.

"Thank goodness, she seems all right," he said. "But how on earth did the beggar get her out of the garage? You locked her up all right, Bob?"

"You bet I did, and Nick put the key away. But we shall see when we take her back."

They had to drive the car out into the road to turn her; then they took her back very quietly to the garage. They hoped to slip her in without being heard, but Jock, Nick's terrier, began to bark, and Nick came out. To say he was amazed when he heard their story is putting it mildly.

"How on earth did the beggar get the door open?" he exclaimed, and taking a lamp went to examine "By Jove, he's picked the lock!" he declared. "Never mind. There's a jolly big padlock in the house. I'll get it, and we'll fix the door up properly."

As he ran off Bob turned to Guy.

"I believe it was that beggar Fearon again," he said.

Guy shook his head. "It beats me, Bob," he said.

When Bob woke the next morning, Guy, fully dressed, was standing by his cot.

"Hullo?" said Bob. "Where on earth have you been?"

"On the trail," replied Guy. "Bob, I've found the tracks of that chap who bagged the car last night, and I've spotted where he got over the wall. Look here, I vote we try to follow them."

Bob was up like a shot.

"Rather!" he exclaimed. "Let's tell Nick and all go. And Jock might help, too. If we could only find where the fellow went we could tell whether it was Fearon or not."

Guy nodded. "Right you are. Then dress as quickly as you can, and let's go up to the house."

Nick was as keen as the two Falconers and Vera vowed she would go too. They had not told Mr. and Mrs. Tarvin anything about the attempt to steal the car, for, as Nick said, his people had enough worry already. So all they said was that they were going to have a whole day out on the Moor, and as soon as breakfast was over they got the cook to cut some sandwiches, and the four, with Jock the terrier, started out.

The marks where the thief had got over the wall were plain enough, and they had not much difficulty in finding which way he had turned. But when they got on the Moor itself it was really hard work. Over and over again they lost the tracks and had to cast about carefully to find them again.

Jock was not much use, and they had to rely on their own eyes.

More than once they were on the point of giving it up as a bad job, then one or other making a big cast would pick up the trail again on soft ground, and shout to the others. By midday they had covered about three miles; then they sat down under shelter of some big boulders to eat their lunch.

"Where are we, Nick?" asked Bob.

"Not such a thundering long way from Foxenholt," was the reply.

"Then it's Mark Fearon," said Bob quickly.

Nick shook his head. "That doesn't follow. At any rate these tracks are not leading to Foxenholt. They're running too far to the east."

"Where are they leading?" questioned Guy.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. "I can't imagine. There isn't a house for miles and miles in this direction."

"Perhaps it's that convict man," put in Vera hopefully. "He might be hiding out in a cave or an old mine."

Nick started slightly. "That's a notion. There is an old mine out this way."

"The Dagger Mine, isn't it?" said Vera.

Nick nodded. "Yes, an old tin mine, but it hasn't been worked for years and years.

"If it's this chap Cook, we may have trouble with him," said Guy in his practical way.

"Don't worry," said Nick with a grin. "I expect we can run faster than he. Besides, if he is there, he'll be hiding in the mine, and we'll go back at once for help."

"That will be the best plan," agreed Guy. "Now let's push on. This trailing takes an awful time."

They finished their sandwiches and moved on. The ground here was rather boggy, so the trail was plainer, and they got on more quickly. At last Nick stopped and pointed to a scar on the hillside.

"There's the Dagger Mine," he said. "And the trail leads straight to it. Tell you what; we'd better not walk right up. If we slip down into that hollow below we can get pretty near without being seen at all."

"All right," said Guy. "You lead the way."

Nick was very cunning, and he knew the Moor well. After half an hour of dodging and creeping he brought them out on to the back of a hill right behind the mine.

"I'll see if the coast is clear," he said and crawled forward. When he came back his dark eyes were shining with excitement.

"Have you seen him?" panted Bob.

"No, but someone has been working the old mine," was Nick's astonishing answer.

"Someone working the mine!" repeated Vera quickly.

"Yes," said her brother. "There's fresh earth on the dump. I'm sure of it."

"But I thought it was worked out years ago," objected Vera.

"So did I," agreed Nick, "but there it is. Go and look for yourself if you don't believe me."

"Oh, you know better than I!" said Vera meekly. "But what does it mean?"

"I don't know any more than you do," answered Nick. "But it's jolly clear there must be something there, or they wouldn't go to all the trouble and expense of opening up the old adit."

Bob cut in. "We're forgetting all about the chap we're chasing. Hadn't we better go ahead and see if his tracks lead into the mine?"

"He'd never take refuge there if there were workmen about," said Guy.

"No, I don't suppose he would," agreed Nick. "But I didn't see any men about. Tell you what: I'll go and scout again, and find out if anyone is working. If there isn't we can go on."

The others agreed that this was the best plan, and Nick went off again. It was sometime before he came back, and his news was that no one was working in the mine, but that he had spotted the footsteps—the same as they had been following—as far as the entrance.

"You don't know how far they went in?" asked Bob anxiously.

"No, I expect he's a long way in."

"Nick, you know these mines," said Guy, "Whereabouts would a fellow like that find shelter? Would it be anywhere near the mouth?"

"No. You see, these tin mines are not holes in the ground, but tunnels which run into the hill side. The adit, as we call it, slopes upwards so as to carry the drainage out. So all the adit itself is wet as can be, and usually nothing but mud. But further in there are galleries and chambers cut in the rock where it would be fairly dry. A chap could sleep in one of the bigger cuts."

"Could we track him if we went into the mine?" asked Guy.

"We might, but it would be precious difficult. You see, his steps would be all mixed up with those of the chaps who've been working there. Besides, we'd need good lights, and miners' hats too."

"Hats?" repeated Bob in a puzzled tone.

"Yes, to save your head from stones. Rocks fall from the roof, you know."

"I didn't know," said Bob, "but I'll take your word for it. Anyhow, it doesn't seem as if we could make much of a job of it even if we did go inside."

"One more question, Nick," said Guy. "Did you spot whether this chap's tracks came out again?"

Nick shook his head. "I didn't. I tried to find out, but the ground's all churned up with the miners' boots. I'm pretty sure I spotted our man's steps going in, but whether he came out again or not I don't know."

"Then what had we better do?" asked Bob.

"Get home again and tell the police," said Nick promptly.

"We'd better tell your father, hadn't we?" suggested Guy.

Nick objected. "Poor old Dad is worried silly about the necklace," he said. "I'd much sooner not tell him anything about this business until the police have had a look round."

Guy looked grave. He did not quite agree with Nick, but thought better not to say so.

So he raised no objection, and as it was nearly tea time the four started back at a brisk pace towards Fern Manor.

"Whose land is this?" asked Guy of Nick as they tramped alongside.

"Common, but Dad has rights over it," replied Nick.

"Mining rights?"

"Yes."

"Then surely you ought to tell him that someone is playing about with his mine?"

Nick did not answer. He was gazing in the direction of Fern Manor.

"What's all that smoke?" he said sharply, pointing to a dull cloud rising against the clear blue of the evening sky.

No one answered, but all started to run. They thought it was the house and were badly scared.


CHAPTER 4. — FIRE!

THERE was a biggish ridge between the valley up which they had been travelling and Fern Manor. The four went up the long slope at a speed which left them breathless. They never stopped for bog holes, heather, gorse or rocks. Guy and Nick, having the longest legs, reached the top first, and pulled up, panting.

"It—it isn't the house anyhow," gasped Nick in a tone of intense relief.

"No, it's the woods," answered Guy, "but I say, it's jolly close to the house."

He stood staring, and certainly the sight was enough to make anyone stare. Fern Manor was protected from the north and east by great belts of fir plantation. Some of the woods were nearly a hundred years old, big fine trees, but other parts were young plantations only about twenty feet high. Here the trees grew close, and underneath and between them was a mass of heather and of whortleberry bushes.

The weather had been unusually fine for some weeks, and this undergrowth was dry as tinder. Now it was all afire, and the boys could see the flames creeping in a great red sickle towards the house. An enormous cloud of smoke rolled upwards, darkening the sky and completely hiding the gabled roof of Fern Manor itself.

"Is the house in danger?" asked Guy anxiously.

"It is if the fire gets across the brook," replied Nick. "Then it would be right in the shrubbery by the garden, and I don't know what might happen."

By this time Bob and Vera, both very blown, had joined the other two. Vera was horrified and really frightened. Nick did his best to console her.

"It's all right, Vera," he said. "Dad will have everyone out, and they'll stop it from getting across the brook. See here, Guy and I are going to run on and lend a hand. Bob will come along with you. Now don't run all the way, for if you do you'll be so fagged that you'll be no use at all. Promise, Vera."

Unwillingly Vera promised; then Guy and Nick started off at a steady jog. As they got nearer they began to hear the deep roar of the flames. Every now and then there was a sharp crackle as a fir tree caught and went off like a rocket, sending a fountain of sparks showering high into the smoke-filled air. So thick was the smoke that the boys had to make a round to windward in order to reach the gardens. Down by the brook they heard shouts, and forcing their way through the blinding smother found Mr. Tarvin and half a dozen men with buckets flinging water from the brook on the bushes on both sides of it. Without a word, they pulled off their jackets and set to work to help.

Most fortunately the breeze was light and did not harden. If it had nothing could have saved the shrubberies. Even as it was, flying sparks and embers kept falling among the laurels and rhododendrons, and presently Mr Tarvin asked the two boys to go back to the house and get some sacks which they were to soak, and use to beat out any outbreaks of fire on the near side of the brook.

The two ran off together, but even up near the house the smoke rolled in such blinding clouds that it was impossible to see more than a few yards, and Guy, trying to make a short cut, lost sight of Nick. He blundered into a flower-bed, shouted, but got no answer, so made his way round by the gravel walk to the far side of the house.

The garage loomed up through the smoke. There was someone at the door, trying to open it! For the moment Guy thought it was Nick, but as he came nearer he saw that it was not a boy, but a man, a rough-looking man with a black beard. This man was making a desperate effort to force the staple of the padlock.

For a moment Guy was so amazed that he stood quite still, staring fixedly at the stranger. And the latter not seeing Guy worked with frantic energy to open the garage door. He had an old screw-driver in his hand, the blade of which he had forced through the big staple holding the padlock, and he was doing his best to wrench the staple out. Luckily, Nick, when he had hammered it in on the previous evening, had turned the ends up on the inside, so it was no easy job to get it out.

Guy did not hesitate long. He was not the sort to get angry easily, but this third attempt on the car was too much. Besides, it came to him all of a sudden that this fellow must have been responsible for firing the plantation. No doubt he had done it just to give him this chance of getting at the car. With a rush, all the more dangerous because it was silent, Guy hurled himself at the thief.

With the dull roar of the fire and the drifting fog of smoke it seemed certain that the man would not notice Guy's approach. Yet he did. Some sixth sense must have warned him, for before Guy had covered half the distance the fellow dropped his screw-driver, spun round, and bolted down the back drive.

"Nick! Nick! This way!" shouted Guy at the top of his voice and was off in chase as hard as he could go.

Just then a great cloud of smoke carried by the light breeze blew down, completely filling the drive and hiding the fugitive from Guy's sight. The next moment there was a crash among the undergrowth, and Guy realised that the man had turned off the drive into the shrubbery. Guided by the sound, he followed. In front he could hear the fugitive rushing along, but the bushes and the smoke prevented him from seeing him.

"Nick!" he shouted again. "Nick!"—and this time he heard a reply:

"All right, I'm coming."

The shrubbery was very thick, and Guy, who had already done a lot of running, stumbled badly over a twisted root. Then he suddenly found himself up against a wire fence. He pulled up short, and listened, but now he could no longer hear the steps in front. The wire was the boundary of a chicken yard. He ran round it, and reached the wall of the kitchen garden. This was too high to climb, and he did not know which way to go, right or left. He chose the right and ran on.

In another fifty yards he was at the upper end of the garden, and on the edge of the plantation. There was an open field in front, but to his bitter disappointment not a sign of the man he had been chasing. He realised too late that the fellow must have turned to the left and not the right, and that by this time he was out of reach.

Still he did not give up, but ran out across the field. On the far side of the field was open moor, but across this the smoke hung a fog, and there was no one in sight. Sick at heart, Guy turned back, to see Nick hurrying towards him.

"What's up?" panted the latter. "What's the excitement?"

When Guy had told him, Nick gave a dismayed whistle.

"But what did the chap want?" he demanded.

"Why, the car of course," replied Guy.

Nick shook his head. "Look here, Guy, this is too much," he said. "The car isn't a Rolls-Royce. She's not new, and not worth a lot of money, is she?"

Guy nodded. "No, she's pretty old, and not worth more than a hundred pounds at the outside," he said.

"Well, a chap isn't going to take all the trouble and risk that this fellow has taken just to steal a car like that," declared Nick. "It isn't reasonable. I tell you, Guy, there's something behind all this that we can't understand."

Guy stood silent with a puzzled frown on his face.

"I think you're right, Nick," he said presently, "but it beats me completely. I could understand someone running off with the car when it was standing out on the Moor, but to break into the garage twice running is the limit. And I haven't any doubt that it was the thief or some accomplice who set fire to the woods so as to get everyone away from the house. If we hadn't been sent for the sacks the man would have got into the garage all right."

"Well, he didn't get in," said Nick. "And the car's safe enough for the time being. So now we'd better get back and help Dad with the fire."

This was sound sense, and back they went. The smoke seemed to have thinned a great deal, and suddenly Nick gave a shout.

"The wind's changed, Guy. Gone right round to south."

"So it has. That's a bit of luck," said Guy. "It'll save the shrubberies."

He was right, for when they got back to the brook with their wet sacks there was no longer any need for them. Mr. Tarvin had gone across the brook with his men to stop any further outbreak in the fir plantations, and the boys hurried over to help.

For the next hour they were too busy to think of anything else; then suddenly Guy felt a big drop of warm rain strike his face, and looking up saw that a heavy cloud was coming up. In another five minutes a really heavy shower was falling, and all danger was over. Tired out and black with ash and smoke, the fire-fighters hurried for shelter.

Guy and Bob met in Nick's room, and while they washed Guy told Bob about the last attempt on the car.

"So you see it can't be the man from the mine," Guy ended.

"I don't see that a bit," replied Bob quickly. "Nick himself said that he couldn't be sure that the fellow hadn't come out again. The chap might have spent the night there, then gone out early in the morning and slipped back here. He could have hidden near the house to wait his chance."

Guy nodded. "You may be right, Bob. But the whole thing is beastly mysterious."

"I'll lay it's that beggar, Fearon, who's at the bottom of it," declared Bob.

"But Fearon wouldn't go hiding in the mine," objected Guy.

"I don't say it's Fearon himself, but some pal of his," said Bob. "And I vote we go and search that old mine."

"So do I," said Nick. "I can get candles and miners' hats from an old chap near here, who used to be a miner himself. His name is Seth Caunter. We won't take Vera, but we three ought to be able to tackle any man we come across."

"Aren't you going to tell your father, Nick?" asked Guy.

"Not until we know something," said Nick firmly.

"Well, I think you ought to," declared Guy.

Nick shook his head. "If we tell him Mother will hear, and she'll be simply scared stiff at the idea of fellows lurking about the place all the time."

"I agree with Nick," said Bob. "Besides, we want to do this thing off our own bats. But, I say, the rain has stopped. Hadn't we better go and fix up the garage door so that it will be really safe?"

"I'm going to sleep there to-night," declared Guy.

The three went out, and Guy took his bedding from the tent and was carrying it to the garage when he heard Bob shouting to him.

"What's up?" he demanded.

"Didn't you say that thief had a black beard?" asked Bob.

"Yes, I'm sure of it."

"Well, here it is. Here's the beard," said Bob. "I've just picked it up in the bushes by the drive."

Guy took the beard and examined it. He shook his head.

"All it tells us is that the man was disguised," he said.

"Then it might have been Fearon," said Bob.

"Or the convict fellow Cook, or anyone else," replied his brother. "It's up to us to find out."

"And the mine's the place to look. I feel that in my bones," said Bob.

"We'll go there again to-morrow," said Nick. "I'll get the hats and candles and things tonight. I shall just have time before supper."

He went off, and Guy finished shifting his bedding from the tent into the garage. He also cut a thick heavy stick in the plantation, one with a big knob at the end. Bob grinned at sight of it, but Guy was very serious.

"If that black-bearded beggar comes again I'm jolly well going to be ready for him," he vowed.

A little later Nick Tarvin came back with three miners' hats. They were shabby old billycocks made of very thick felt and each fitted with a candle holder set on the brim in front. He got the cook to give him a whole packet of candles; then there was just time to wash and tidy up before the gong went for supper.

They were all pretty tired and also very hungry after their hard day tramping and fire-fighting, and not much was said by anyone during the meal. Mr. Tarvin was looking not only dead tired, but also very worried, and Guy and Bob felt awfully sorry for him. They knew how devoted he and Mrs. Tarvin were to their old home, and how desperately hard they would find it to be forced to leave it. Just as they had finished the maid came in with a note for Mr. Tarvin.

"The messenger is waiting for an answer, sir," she said.

Mr. Tarvin tore open the envelope, and the boys saw his face darken as he read the contents. Then suddenly he burst out:

"Upon my word, this is the limit!"

"What's the matter, Philip?" asked Mrs. Tarvin.

"It's this confounded fellow Fearon again. He says that if I will not sell Foxenholt he thinks I might accept an offer for the whole property. He actually makes an offer. Upon my word, I have a mind to ride down there at once and tell him what I think of him."

"No, do not do that, my dear," remonstrated Mrs. Tarvin. "After all, you know we may be forced to sell."

"But not to him!" exclaimed her husband angrily. "Nothing would induce me to let a man like that own Fern Manor."

"Then send him a polite note to say so, Philip," was Mrs. Tarvin's advice, and Mr. Tarvin got up quickly and went out.

No one felt like cards or any games that evening, and about nine the Falconer boys said good night. Guy had not told anyone but Nick of his intention of sleeping in the garage, and he himself would much have preferred the tent. But once he had rolled up in his blankets he was so tired that it was only a few moments before he was sound asleep.

At first his sleep was dreamless, but then he began to dream that he was back in the plantation fighting the fire. And as fast as he put it out the man with the black beard lit it again. He seemed to hear the striking of one match after another. He woke with a start, and sat up, only too grateful to find that it was a dream and not reality. Then he realised that it was a real sound which he had heard in his dream and which had ended by waking him. Some sort of tool was working in the lock on the inner side of which he, Guy, had left the key.

Guy rose softly to his feet. It was in his mind to shout for help, but if he did so he would only scare the intruder away. And he was keen to see who he was. Besides, he had his stick. Suddenly there was a little snick, Guy heard the creak of hinges, and as the door swung open he ducked down quickly and grabbed his stick, then slipped behind the car and crouched down out of sight.

He caught sight of a space of grey as one leaf of the double doors swung slowly back, and against the grey was outlined the figure of a man. But there was not light enough to see his face. All Guy could see was that the intruder wore a cap and a muffler round his neck. Guy's grip tightened on his club; he made ready to spring.

Came a little click, and a thin beam of white light from an electric torch illuminated the gloom. The light wavered a moment, then fell upon Guy's empty blankets. In his excitement Guy had entirely forgotten that his empty bed would give him away. He was furious with himself for his foolishness. He heard the man draw his breath quickly, saw him step back, then he jumped.

But the man heard him and flashed his torch straight into Guy's eyes, completely dazzling him. Guy made a sweeping blow. His intention was to knock the torch out of the man's hand, but the latter was too quick. Before Guy could recover himself, the fellow had dropped the torch and sprung upon him. Guy found himself flat on the floor with a great weight on his chest and two bony hands gripping at his throat.


CHAPTER 5. — IN THE DEPTHS OF THE MINE

GUY struggled desperately, but was quite helpless. The man who was kneeling on his chest was twice his weight, and that weight alone was enough to hold Guy down, and squash all the breath out of his body. Guy tried hard to cry for help, but the cruel grip on his throat reduced his efforts to a feeble croak. The man who held him never said a word, and his silence was even more terrifying than threats.

Guy was choking. He caught the man's wrists in his hands, and made a frantic effort to tear away the strangling grip, but he might as well have tried to move two bars of steel. The hard fingers tightened, the blood roared in Guy's head, he could not breathe, great crimson lights seemed to flash and wheel in front of his eyes. And then, just as he was at his last gasp, he suddenly heard a sharp "yap, yap" followed by a growl, and something came rushing into the garage.

For the first time since the beginning of their encounter, Guy's adversary uttered a sound. It was a yell of pain followed by a savage curse. The sharp teeth of Nick's terrier had met in the calf of his leg. Letting Guy loose, he sprang to his feet and turned on the dog, kicking at him savagely.

But Jock was not such a fool as to let himself be caught in that way. He bounced back, barking furiously. The din echoed through the quiet night. The robber dashed out of the garage after him, and Guy, though he was more than half choked, made a frantic effort and staggered to his feet. He caught up the club and staggered after the man.

"Help!" he shouted hoarsely. "Help!"

The man turned on him.

"Stop that or I'll swing for you," he growled, and Guy thought his last hour had come.

But Jock was still ready, and waiting his chance. In the dog flashed again, and judging by the yell from the intruder his second bite was at least equal to the first. Once more the man spun round, kicking out savagely. By this time Guy was getting his breath back, and as the fellow turned he struck at him with his club. Unfortunately the blow fell short, yet even so it staggered the brute.

Once more he came round at Guy, but Guy swung up his club again, and the fellow hesitated. At that moment came a shout from the distance.

"Guy! Guy! What's the matter?" It was Bob's voice.

This was too much for the visitor, who spun round and fled at full speed, followed by Jock who was yelping triumphantly. Guy tried to follow, but his head was spinning. He had been very nearly strangled. Suddenly everything went misty, he grasped at the door-post, missed it, and collapsed.

* * * * *

WHEN Guy came to it was to find himself on his blankets, a candle had been lighted, and Bob was leaning over him with a very anxious expression on his face and a stable sponge in his hand with which he was dabbing cold water on his brother's face. He gave a sigh of relief when he saw Guy's eyes open.

"My dear chap," he said, "I thought the brute had killed you."

"He would have but for Jock. But why was the dog so long in coming?"

"I suppose he was up at the house. You know he sleeps in a basket on the porch. Anyhow, it's a good thing he came when he did."

"Did you get the chap?" Guy asked.

"Good heavens, no! He was out of sight before I reached you, and when I found you flat on the ground looking as if you were dead I never gave him another thought. How are you?"

"All right," said Guy. "And I'll tell you just what happened."

When he had done so Bob gave a whistle.

"This is the limit," he said. He paused. "Look here, Guy," he went on presently, "there's more in this than meets the eye. It can't be the car they want. They'd never take such risks. I believe there's something hidden in it. Could it be the pearl necklace?"

Guy's eyes widened as he stared at Bob.

"I wonder," he said slowly. "Yes, it's possible, Bob. For as you say, it's beyond reason that these people want the car just for itself."

"I think it's jolly likely," declared Bob. "You lie down, Guy. You're looking like nothing on earth. I'll search the car."

He closed the garage door, wedged it tight, then with the aid of an electric torch set to searching the car. He looked in every locker and corner, he probed the cushions and upholstery, and though Guy told him that pearls would not last long in petrol he even tried the tank. He spent a good half-hour on the job, and at last stopped with a snort of disgust.

"It's no use," he said in a very disappointed voice. "There's nothing in the old car."

There was no answer, and looking at his brother Bob saw that he was sound asleep.

"Poor old chap!" he said softly. "He's had a rough passage." He started for the door, then stopped. "No, that beggar might come back," he said. "I'll jolly well stay here for the night."

There were some rugs in the car, and rolling himself in two of these Bob was soon as sound asleep as Guy.

There was no further disturbance that night, but when Guy woke he was very stiff and sore. So he and Bob went down to the pond, and had a plunge in the cold water, after which Bob gave his brother a good rub down with a rough towel, and Guy declared that he felt heaps better. They went up to the house for breakfast, to find that Mr. Tarvin had already left for the market town of Okestock, to see his lawyer.

Nick and Vera were seething with excitement when they heard of the latest attack, and Nick declared that the next thing was to follow Bob's plan and examine the mine. Vera hated being left behind, but in any case her mother was not well, and she had to stay at home to look after her. She promised also to guard the car. So with sandwiches in their pockets, plenty of candles, and their miners' hats, the three boys started off immediately after breakfast. They went quietly up the valley, and as on their previous visit Guy and Bob hid in the gorse while Nick went forward to investigate.

He came back with news that the coast seemed clear, and that he thought the best thing was to get into the mine at once. So putting on the dirty old hats with which Seth Caunter had supplied them, they hurried to the mine mouth.

It was a small tunnel not more than five feet high cut into the hill side. A stream of dirty-looking water ran out of it, and the floor was deep with soft red mud into which their feet sank over their ankles. Once inside they stuck their candles in their hats and lighted them, then, with Nick leading the way, plunged into the heart of the hill.

The adit was very narrow and so low that both Nick and Guy had to stoop as they walked; the sides and roof were timbered, but many of the old supports looked half rotten and were covered with ghostly-looking white fungus. After the warm sunlight outside the air struck cold and dank, and had a heavy, unpleasant smell.

Neither Guy nor Bob liked it a bit, but Nick, who had often been into tin mines, plodded stolidly along through the mud, and the others had nothing to do but follow.

The floor rose at a steady slope, and as they got further in the stream grew smaller, but the mud was still deep and sticky. At last they came to a sort of chamber some ten feet square and six high, and here two passages or galleries ran out right and left. After examining the floor carefully Nick chose the left. After they had gone a little way further he pointed to the roof.

"See, they've been putting in new timbering," he whispered. "Someone is working the mine."

Then he went on again, but after going perhaps fifty yards he stopped.

"Listen!" he whispered.

All three stood silent as mice. The silence was intense and the darkness around them was barely relieved by the guttering candles. Then quite suddenly out of the blackness beyond came a sound—a deep, hollow groan.

Not one of the three boys moved. To say truth, even Guy felt cold chills running down his spine. There was something hideously uncanny in the sound which came out of the blackness of the mine. Then, as they waited in breathless suspense, the sound came again, the same deep groan, full of misery and despair. Guy pulled himself together.

"It's not a ghost, anyhow," he said hoarsely. "A ghost couldn't groan like that. It must be one of the workmen who has got hurt somehow."

"But there are no workmen in the mine," objected Nick.

"Well, it's a man, anyhow," insisted Guy. "And he wouldn't groan if he wasn't in pain. It's up to us to go and see what's up. What do you think, Bob?"

"Y-yes. We've got to go and see," agreed Bob.

"Come on then," said Guy.

"Come on," echoed Nick, and all three began to move slowly forward.

They had not gone far before they heard the groan once more, and this time they could tell that it came from some place to the left of the gallery down which they were moving. But they were still unable to see anything or anybody. There was no light visible. Then, as they stole onwards, suddenly Nick caught Guy by the arm:

"Stop!" he whispered sharply.

Guy and Bob both pulled up. Nick had turned right round, and held his ear close against the rock wall of the gallery. For perhaps fifteen seconds he stood perfectly motionless; then he turned to the others.

"There's someone in the mine," he whispered sharply. "Not the chap who's groaning. Whoever he is, he's behind us. He's come in after us."

"I expect he's come after the chap who's hurt," replied Bob in an equally low voice.

"He may have," said Nick cautiously. "But we'd better not take any chance. Someone might have been watching us, and seen us go in. If you ask me, we'd better hide."

"You think it might be the burglar chap?" suggested Bob.

"I can't tell a bit," said Nick. "But it's as well to be on the safe side."

"Where could we hide?" asked Guy.

"I'll show you," Nick answered, and turned quickly back. A few yards, and he stopped opposite to a deep recess. "Get in there," he said softly.

As soon as they were inside he blew the candles out, and they were plunged into such utter darkness that it felt as if it were solid like black velvet.

"Not a sound now," whispered Nick warningly, and right on top of his warning that dreadful groan came sobbing again out of the gloom.

A minute dragged by, seeming as long as an hour; then from the direction of the entrance all three could clearly hear the sound of steps squelching up the adit.

"You were right, Nick," whispered Bob, but Nick only nudged him hard as a sign to keep still.

The steps came steadily nearer, and after a while a dim ray of light pierced the blackness and danced on the wet roof of the gallery. The three boys flattened themselves against the wall, hardly daring to breathe. The light grew steadily stronger; the footsteps rang clearer on the hard rock of the gallery floor, and suddenly came swiftly past the recess—so quickly that none of the three boys caught sight of the man's face. All they could see was that he was wearing a dirty overall, and on his head a regular miner's hat. But instead of a candle in the hat he carried an electric torch. In the other hand he had a parcel of some sort.

Bob, whose sense of smell was very sharp, could have vowed that he caught an odour of bacon. The man vanished, as his steps could be heard passing further down the gallery. Guy ventured to step forward softly and peer around the angle of the recess. He caught a glimpse of the visitor turning to the left down another passage. Next minute the silence was broken by a laugh, a harsh, sneering laugh. Then a voice:

"Well, Cook, you've had time to think it over. Have you changed your mind yet? Are you going to tell me where the necklace is hidden?"

The necklace! Guy's heart jumped so that he could hardly breathe, and for the moment he felt half sick with excitement. So Bob had been right; here was Cook in the mine, and they were at last going to learn the truth about the extraordinary happenings of the past days. Then the new-comer was speaking again.

"What, sulky, my friend?" he jeered. "That won't do you any good."

Bob nudged Guy. "It's Fearon," he breathed in his ear.

"Of course it's Fearon, but shut up and listen," replied Guy.

Next moment they heard Cook's voice.

"What right hev you to leave me here like this?" he whined. "Why, you ain't no bettern' a murderer."

Fearon laughed an ugly, grating laugh.

"I'm glad you are coming to your senses at last," he answered. "You are beginning to understand that might is right in this case. And as for murdering you, I have already told you that I mean to keep you here until I get the truth out of you. Now then, where is the necklace?"

Cook's answer was to burst out into a torrent of abuse. It was not pleasant to listen to, and all three boys felt like stopping their ears. As for Fearon, he made no attempt to reply, but merely waited until the ex-convict had finished. There was silence, broken only by Cook's hoarse breathing. Then at last Fearon spoke again.

"Now that you've got all that off your chest, Cook, are you going to own up?" he demanded, in his coldest, harshest voice.

Cook gave a sort of sob.

"I believes you're the devil hisself," he groaned.

"You've said that before," said Fearon. "You can say it again if you like, or as often as you like. Only it won't make any difference. Here you are, and here you will stay until you own up. You are hungry and thirsty now, but if I have to leave the mine again without your story you will be a deal worse off in that respect, for I shan't come back for another twenty-four hours."

"Then I'll be dead, and you won't never know where them pearls are," snapped Cook.

Fearon only laughed. "Oh, no, I'm not afraid of that! A stout fellow like you can last a week or more without food or drink. Only it isn't pleasant. By this time to-morrow you will be in very bad pain indeed."

"You're a devil," groaned Cook.

"You become tiresome, my friend," said Fearon, and there was an edge to his voice. "I propose to give you one minute more. At the end of sixty seconds, if you have not told me where I can find the Tarvin necklace, I shall go. And, as I have told you already, I shall not return for twenty-four hours. On the other hand, if you are sensible and will speak, I shall give you those sandwiches and this bottle of beer. The said sandwiches are made of bacon, nice, fat, boiled bacon with mustard. Here, smell them. Here, smell them."

Guy's fists were clenched, his muscles were twitching. This was torture worthy of the Inquisition, and, in spite of the fact that he knew Cook to be a criminal and a bad lot, his one desire at that moment was to hurl himself at Fearon and give him a thorough hammering. He could hear Bob beside him breathing hard, and knew that both he and Nick felt equally angry.

But Guy knew that he must not move or betray his presence, for that would spoil everything, and, gently pinching Bob's arm, he remained quiet as a mouse. Came another groan from Cook; then the man spoke sulkily.

"How am I to know as you'll keep your word?" he growled.

"As to that you'll have to take your chance," replied Fearon. "But there are the sandwiches, and I am quite ready to hand them over in exchange for your information."

"Orl right," answered Cook, in a hoarse, surly tone. "The pearls is in the motor-car. Now gimme them sandwiches."


CHAPTER 6. — THE CONVICT'S CONFESSION

THE pearls in the motor-car! Guy gasped with amazement. How could that be so, when Bob had already searched the car inside and out, and found nothing? He half turned towards his brother, then pulled himself up, for Fearon was speaking again.

"In the car! That's no news. I was sure of it. What I want to know is in what part of the car they are hidden."

"In the spare tyre," growled Cook. "Now gimme that grub."

Fearon gave a short bark of a laugh, which echoed oddly through the black silence of the old mine.

"A smart notion," he said. Then, with a sudden change of tone: "I wonder if you're telling me the truth."

"S'welp me, it's the truth and nothing else," cried Cook. "Gimme that there grub, mister."

"H'm, I think I had better make sure first," said Fearon. "Here, I'll give you one sandwich, Cook. You shall have the rest when I get back."

If Cook had been angry before it was nothing to the rage which now seized him.

"You dirty cheat!" he roared. "I might 'a knowed you'd have double-crossed me. You gives your promise as you'll gimme the grub and turn me loose if I tells you; then you goes back on your word. There ain't a lag in Blackmoor as'd do a trick as dirty."

Fearon grew angry in his turn.

"Shut your mouth, fellow!" he snapped. "Shut it at once, or maybe you'll stay here for good and all. I'm not sure that it wouldn't be the best plan after all to leave you here."

The threat terrified Cook.

"Don't go talking that way, mister," he almost shrieked. "It's not right. You wouldn't go for to murder a pore chap as ain't done you no harm."

"Shut up!" ordered Fearon. "Eat your sandwich and be grateful. Anyhow, I'm going to find out whether your story is true before I turn you loose."

"But you can't go there now," urged Cook, evidently in an awful fright. "Ef you tries it, likely you won't get back here at all."

Fearon laughed again.

"Evidently you've had some experience," he chuckled. "But you needn't be afraid, Cook. I shall manage much better than you did. And if your story is true I shall turn you loose some time during the next twenty-four hours. Meantime you can just stay where you are. You deserve that and more for the dirty trick you tried to play on me."

Cook began to protest again, but Fearon paid no attention. The boys saw his lantern flash as he turned, and presently heard his heavy tread as he came back along the gallery.

All three shrank back into their recess, and stood pressed against the wall, silent as mice, hardly daring to breathe until their enemy had passed. They did not stir until he had turned the corner and the sound of his footsteps were beginning to die away in the distance. Then Nick Tarvin spoke, in a quick whisper.

"Guy, he's after the pearls. We've got to beat him to the Manor."

"Don't worry," replied Guy quietly. "How is he going to get at our car in broad daylight? The garage is locked, and Vera is keeping an eye on it. He can't do a thing until night, and perhaps not then. No, what we have to do now is to interview Cook and find out what really did happen. Then we've got Fearon just where we want him."

Nick hesitated, but Bob struck in.

"Guy is right, Nick. And if we can collect Cook as witness your father will be awfully pleased. Don't you see?"

Nick agreed that he did see. Then Guy said:

"Now for Cook. You'd best let me go alone and talk to him. You can listen and chip in if he makes any trouble."

"Are you going to turn him loose, Guy?" Bob asked quickly.

"Not until he has owned up, and told us all we want to know," Guy answered firmly.

Guy well knew the value of surprise and, instead of relighting his candle, found his way along the gallery by means of his little electric torch, which he shone upon the ground just in front of his feet. In a few steps he came to the opening into the chamber where Cook was imprisoned; then he suddenly raised the light and flashed it full into the opening.

The ex-convict was sitting hunched up on a big baulk of timber, to which he was chained by one leg with a thin but strong-looking chain. As the bright flash cut through the gloom the man started violently and flung up his hands to his eyes. Then he lowered them again and stared at Guy. And if ever Guy saw amazement in a man's eyes, he saw it now in Cook's.

"How did you get in here?" demanded the man shakily.

"The same way you did," said Guy quietly.

Cook did not answer. He was still gazing at Guy as if he could not believe his eyesight. Guy did not wait for him to speak.

"Well," he said coolly, "that was quite an interesting little talk you had with Fearon. But he doesn't seem to have treated you too well."

"Fearon!" Cook's voice was a snarl. "He's the dirtiest dog as ever lived."

"Not much honour among thieves, eh?" said Guy with a smile.

Cook stood up. "Mister," he said imploringly. "You let me loose, and I take my dying oath as Fearon won't bother you no more."

"But even then we should still have you to deal with," suggested Guy.

"Me! Not much. All I want is to leave this here country afore the cops get on to me."

"They are pretty much on to you already," said Guy. "They want you for stealing Mrs. Tarvin's pearls."

Cook's lips twitched. He scowled savagely.

"And who put me up to prigging 'em? Tell me that, mister."

"Why, from what I overheard, I judge it was Fearon."

"Then you judges right. Fearon it was as hired me to do the job. Mister, you better let me loose, or he'll have that there necklace. Ef you overheard our talk you knows I had to tell him where they was."

"I don't think there is any special hurry," replied Guy. "And before I turn you loose I want to know why you hid the necklace in our car."

"I'll tell you," replied Cook. "But just gimme something to drink. My throat's that dry I can't hardly speak."

Guy had a flask of cold coffee in his haversack. He gave Cook some, and the man drank thirstily.

"Thank ye, mister," he said. "I needed that right bad. Now I'll tell you about this here business. I was up to Fearon's place that night as you and your brother camped by the brook, and it were Fearon hisself as give me the tip to use your car. Then if anyone seed me I was to say as you'd sent me on with a message as you'd had an accident."

Guy grinned. It was just like Fearon.

"Well, as it turned out, the job was easy as pie, and I were out o' the house with the pearls safe in my pocket afore one in the morning. Then—" He stopped and hesitated.

"Then," said Guy, "I suppose it occurred to you that the pearls were worth more than Fearon was paying you, and would be better in your pocket than his."

For once the crook looked rather shame-faced.

"I won't say as that ain't the truth," he answered. "But it weren't until I was near back where I started that the notion took me. Next thing I knowed the car stopped, and, there being no juice in the tank, I couldn't get her no further."

"Then why didn't you take the pearls with you and clear out?"

"Cos I was scared of Fearon. I wanted to go back to him and prove to him as I hadn't got the pearls. I reckoned I'd get 'em easy enough next day." He stopped. "Mister," he said earnestly "if you wants to save that there necklace you better look sharp about it. That Fearon, he's cunning as a fox, and I'll lay he'll find some way of laying his hands on 'em afore night."

The man was so very much in earnest that Guy felt a trifle uneasy.

"But Fearon can't break into the garage in broad daylight," he objected.

"He won't try that," replied Cook. "He'll pretend as you're hurt and wants the car."

"But Mr. Tarvin knows him," said Guy. "He knows him and wouldn't trust him.

"Mr. Tarvin may know him, but that don't make no difference. He've got more'n one chap working for him. There's one called Runton as I've seed, and a bad un he is. He'll get in some way. Depend on that," Cook ended.

Guy frowned. "Bob! Nick!" he called.

Cook's eyes widened as the other two boys came running, but he made no remark.

"Cook here Says that Fearon will try to sneak in at once and have a try for the pearls," he began.

"We heard him," put in Bob.

"And I think we'd best hurry back," said Nick.

"What are we to do with this chap?" questioned Guy.

"Take him with us," Bob answered.

"Yes. Take him with us," agreed Nick.

Guy spoke to Cook. "If we let you loose will you come quietly?" he asked.

"Lumme, I'd go anywheres to get out o' this here black hole," said Cook. "Anyways, ef you leaves me here, Fearon'll croak me, that's a sure thing."

"All right then, we'll take you along," said Guy. "But I'll thank you to remember that there are three of us, and if you play the fool we shall give it you hot."

"Ye don't need to threaten me," whined Cook. "I'd a sight sooner be back in the Stone Jug than messed up here, clemmed an' starved."

Guy nodded. "Give him some more grub, Bob," he said. "I'll knock the staple out."

It took some time to get out the staple which held the chain, and meantime the ex-convict wolfed every mouthful that the boys gave him. At last the man was free of the log, but, as it was impossible to get the chain off his body without a file, he had to carry the loose end. Guy was not sorry for this, for it would make it all the harder for Cook if he tried to bolt, and he had no intention of letting him go.

They started out of the mine, Bob and Nick leading the way, then Cook, and Guy last. As they marched down the long sloping adit it occurred to Guy that Cook might possibly know something of the reason why the old mine was being worked again. He asked him the question, but the ex-convict did not even know that there had been any work done.

"I never seed no one here, except Fearon," he told Guy. He shivered. "Lumme, you couldn't pay me to work in a place like this," he said.

Guy himself was glad to be out of the damp, chilly darkness of the place, and to see the sun again. Nick halted the party at the mouth of the adit while he took a good look round, but he could not see a soul. There was not a sign of life except a few Moor ponies and some black-faced sheep.

Guy kept a sharp eye on Cook as they tramped rapidly back towards Fern Manor, but the man made no attempt to escape. He was a haggard, unshaven wreck, and looked as if he had suffered badly both in mind and body during his imprisonment in the black depths of the mine. His only thought at present seemed to be to get square with Fearon. He said openly that he did not care if he went to quod so long as he took Fearon with him.

The party were about a mile from home and could already see the house among its trees when Nick stopped short.

"Someone coming!" he said sharply. And then: "I do believe it's Vera."

Sure enough, a slim, short-skirted figure was running across the Moor towards them.

"What in the world is she after?" asked Bob in surprise.

It was not long before they knew. Vera saw them almost as soon as they saw her, and quickened her pace. As she came near they saw that her face was white and scared.

"Why, Vera, old thing, what's up?" asked her brother.

She gazed at him in amazement.

"Then you're not hurt?" she cried. "The boy said a stone had fallen on you in the mine."

"What boy?" demanded Nick sharply.

"The boy you sent. I don't know what his name was."

"We never sent any boy." Nick turned to Guy. "It's a plant," he snapped out angrily. "It's that beast Fearon again. He's done it just to get Vera away so that he may get the pearls."

"The pearls! What do you mean?" cried Vera.

But her words were wasted on empty air for all three boys, dragging Cook with them, had started full pace across the Moor in the direction of Fern Manor. And Vera, who was already quite blown with her run from home, could not keep up.

Cook himself had all he could do to keep pace with the boys, but what he had heard from Vera had made him as anxious as any of them to stop Fearon before he got away with the pearls, and though his breath whistled in his throat he managed he keep going. Luckily, it was not far, for if it had been the ex-convict would never have lasted out.

Bob was the first to reach the garage. The others heard him give a howl of despair.

"Too late! The car's gone!" he cried.

Sure enough, the door wide open, and the place inside empty. Guy and Nick were struck dumb. They could only gaze at one another in blank dismay. Cook was the first to speak.

"Told you he'd fool you, didn't I?" he said hoarsely. "Ef you listened to me and come right along, this here wouldn't have happened. Now he's got away with them pearls, and you can bet your last bob as you'll never see 'em again—" and just then Vera came tearing up, very much out of breath.

"What's happened," she asked breathlessly,

Nick told her. "The pearls were hidden in the car. Fearon's bagged the car and got off with it and the pearls."

Vera's eyes opened very wide.

"Fearon got the car!" she repeated. "Of course he hasn't!"

"Then who has?" demanded her brother. "It's gone. The garage is empty."

"Of course the garage is empty," replied Vera. "Do you think I was going to leave the car there when I had to stop guarding it?"

Nick's mouth opened wide, but no words came. It was Guy who spoke.

"W-where did you put it then?" he gasped out.

"In the old coach-house," said Vera calmly, "If you hadn't rushed off in such a hurry I would have told you before."

The relief was so great that it left the boys quite shaky. Then, entirely forgetting Cook' they all three made a rush for the coach-house which was round at the back of the newer garage buildings.

"You can't get in without the key," said Vera as she followed them.

Nick fairly snatched the key from her and swiftly unlocked the door. There was the car safe and sound.

"You're a topper, Vera!" cried Guy. "But how did you do it?"

"Oh, I got the two men who were working in the garden. They pushed it across. Now where are the pearls?"

Guy was already in the act of lifting the spare wheel from its socket. He laid it on the ground, and shook it.

"It's all right," he cried joyfully. "I can hear something rattle."

He began unscrewing the valve.

"That's no good," said Bob. "Cook might possibly have got them in that way, but we certainly can't get them out. We shall have to take the tyre off the wheel and cut the tube."

"I expect he had to cut the tube anyhow," said Nick. "We'd better ask him."

Guy started up. "Great snakes, I'd forgotten all about the beggar!" he exclaimed. "Where is he? Here, Bob, you carry on with this while I fetch him."

He scuttled off. Bob and Nick went on with the job while Vera watched with intense interest. A minute later Guy came tearing back.

"I can't find him. I believe he's hooked it," he said breathlessly. "Come on, you chaps. We've got to find him. Lock the door and let's search the place. Vera, you stay on guard."

For the next ten minutes Vera stood by the locked door of the garage alone. Then the boys came back.

"It's no use," said Bob very despondently. "The chap's simply vanished. There's not a sign of him anywhere."


CHAPTER 7. — TOO CLEVER

"WHAT does it matter," said Vera, "so long as Mother's pearls are here?"

"It matters a whole lot," Nick told her. "Without Cook we haven't evidence to convict Fearon."

"I don't understand," said Vera.

"No, of course she doesn't," said Guy. "We haven't told her yet what happened in the mine. But let's get the pearls out first. Then we can talk things over."

"That's the ticket," said Bob. "Once we've got the pearls, then we can settle our plans."

They had to cut the tube to get them out. Cook, they found, had slit and patched the tube, then blown it up again. But the pearls were there all right, roughly wrapped in a piece of newspaper, and they took them straight off in triumph to Mrs. Tarvin.

At first Mrs. Tarvin could hardly believe her eyes; then, when she was really assured that her necklace was safe, she almost cried with sheer relief and delight. After that, she locked them up most carefully in her dressing-case and hid the case where no intruder would be likely to find it. By that time tea was ready, and the whole party realised that they were more than ready for it.

Mr. Tarvin was not yet back, and while they were all tucking into hot scones and cake the boys told Vera and her mother about what they had seen in the mine.

"So that dreadful man, Fearon, is the real thief!" exclaimed Mrs. Tarvin.

"And he ought to be put in prison," declared Vera.

"Of course he ought," agreed Nick, "but the bother of it is that we don't know how we are going to catch him now that Cook has gone."

"I'm frightfully sorry we let him go, Mrs. Tarvin," said Guy. "It was all my fault."

"Never mind, boys," replied Mrs. Tarvin. "You have done splendidly, and I am sure no one could blame you. And I think that, if you will tell the police of what you saw in the mine, they will certainly arrest this abominable man."

Bob who had been silent for some minutes suddenly spoke.

"I believe we could get evidence all right against him," he said.

Everyone looked at him.

"How do you mean?" asked his brother.

"Why, Fearon doesn't know that we know where the pearls were hidden. He doesn't even know we were in the mine or that we turned Cook loose."

"But he'll find Cook gone when he goes to the mine to-morrow," cut in Guy.

"Let him," said Bob. "He won't be any the wiser as to how Cook got away. And you may be sure that Cook himself won't tell him. No, Fearon is under the impression that the pearls are still on the car, and since he missed them to-day, he'll be planning out another scheme to get them." Bob paused a moment. "Let's give him a chance," he said.

Nick whistled softly.

"That's a jolly good plan, Bob. You mean leave the garage open to-night?"

Bob shook his head. "I don't think that would be much use. Fearon may not try again to-night. No, I vote we go to him this time."

"You're crazy, Bob," said Nick sharply.

"Not a bit, old chap. My notion is this. Guy and I will give out that we are going home, and Fearon is sure to hear. Then I thought we might 'break down' outside his place, and in sight of it. Ten to one, he'll come out and offer to help."

Mrs. Tarvin shook her head.

"That is much too dangerous a plan, Bob," she protested. "You don't know what violence a man like that might use in such a case. Why, he might kill you both."

But Bob laughed. "Why should it be dangerous?" he said. "Why shouldn't a policeman or Mr. Tarvin himself be hidden behind the hedge?"

Nick jumped up, his eyes shining.

"A topping scheme, Bob. Don't you think so, Guy?"

Guy nodded in his deliberate way.

"It does sound as if it might work," he agreed. "We'd better see what Mr. Tarvin thinks."

"Thinks of what?" came a deep voice, and at that moment Mr. Tarvin himself entered the room.

Everybody began to talk at once, but It was Vera's voice that her father heard first.

"They've got the pearls, Dad. The boys have got the pearls."

"The mischief they have!" exclaimed Mr. Tarvin, but the relief in his eyes was ample reward for all that the boys had done in the last few days. He sat down, and made Guy tell him the whole story. Then he laughed. "You've beaten the police at their own game, my lads. It's really very smart of you." He paused. "So our friend Fearon is at the bottom of all this abominable plot. The case is clear enough. He wanted to force me into selling not only Foxenholt, but the whole property. But now, thanks to you, he can never succeed. Quite the contrary. Instead of becoming Lord of the Manor here, it looks to me as if he would accompany his friend Cook to Blackmoor. The only fear is that, since Cook has escaped, we shall have trouble in getting a conviction."

"That's just what we were saying, sir," said Guy. "But Bob has a plan for getting the evidence that we want,"—and Guy went on to explain Bob's plan.

Mr. Tarvin considered for a few moments.

"Yes," he said slowly. "Yes, it is a decidedly bright idea. But suppose that Fearon gets hold of Cook again?"

"That's not likely, Dad," said Nick. "Cook is scared to death of being shut up in the mine again. He'll keep very clear of Fearon."

Mr. Tarvin nodded. "Yes, that sounds likely. The next thing is to make sure that Fearon sees you going past."

"Oh, he'll see all right! We'll make sure of that, sir," said Bob. "Foxenholt is right above the road, and we can easily stage a breakdown. The best way will be to have a tyre blow up. That will make a good bang which he's sure to hear."

They talked the matter over thoroughly, and it was agreed that the experiment should be tried the next day but one. Mr. Tarvin promised to see the police and arrange the trap. Meantime the car would be watched and not a word said about the recovery of the pearls.

That evening and the next day were the jolliest times that the Falconer boys had had since their arrival. The Tarvins were quite cheerful again, for now that they had the pearls back they were no longer afraid of losing their home. True, they might have to sell Foxenholt, but Fern Manor was safe for the present.

On the second morning all was ready, and the two boys got out the car. Nick was very sick that he could not go too, but Mr. Tarvin thought it best that there should be only the two Falconers in the car. Everything had been carefully settled, down to the exact spot where the policeman was to be hidden and the tyre was to burst.

Cool-headed as Guy usually was, he was conscious of a feeling of excitement as he drove the car away down the road. He went at a fairly leisurely pace, for he thought it quite likely that Fearon had a spy hanging about.

Sure enough, just after the car left the gate a boy on a rather shabby motor-bicycle shot past and went down the road in the direction of Foxenholt at a great pace. Bob nudged his brother.

"That's the chap. Depend on it," he said.

"I hope so," Guy answered. "I'll give him plenty of time anyhow."

He went on quietly. About a mile further the road dipped through a small wood. Guy had reached the bottom and was changing down to second gear to climb the opposite hill when a hoarse voice called sharply:

"Hands up, you two! Stop the car!"

Then a masked man stepped out from among the trees holding a revolver in his right hand, which he pointed straight at Guy's head.

Guy obeyed. He had no choice. Of course he knew that the masked man was Fearon, and it came to him that this man was a far more dangerous enemy than he had imagined. Quite clearly, he had made up his mind to hold up the car at a time and place chosen by himself.

"Get out of the car, you two," ordered the masked man.

Bob looked rebellious, but Guy spoke to him in a whisper.

"Do as he says, Bob."

The masked man heard. He laughed harshly.

"Yes, you'll find discretion the better part of valour, my young friends. Understand that, if either of you try any tricks, I shan't hesitate to shoot. Go off to the side of the road, turn your backs, and stand perfectly still. You'd best remember that I shall be watching you."

The boys obeyed.

"It's all right, Bob," Guy whispered. "He won't get anything."

"But what will he do when he finds that the pearls are gone?" asked Bob in an equally low voice.

"I don't fancy that he will wait to open up that wheel here on the road. There's always the chance of someone coming along."

Bob grinned. "Yes, there's a bit of a sell in store for him, but all the same the laugh's on us, for we've lost our evidence. We can't swear to him in that beastly mask."

Though Bob's voice was very low Fearon must have caught some sound from him.

"Shut your mouths," he ordered curtly.

Seconds dragged by, each seeming as long as a minute. Guy and Bob could not see what Fearon was doing, but they could more or less judge of his movements by the sound. It was clear to them that he was getting the spare wheel off. At last he spoke again.

"Turn round, and come back to the car."

The boys saw at once that the spare wheel was gone. Apparently Fearon had hidden it in the ditch or the wood, for there was no sign of it anywhere. Fearon himself stood close by the car, still holding his pistol. Guy stared at him, but the mask covered his whole face, and though Guy was certain of the man's identity he realised that he could not swear to it. He thought of the policeman hidden two miles away, and longed for someone to come. But this upland road never carried much traffic, and at present there was no one in sight in either direction. But Fearon was evidently taking no chances.

"Get into the car," he ordered. "Turn her and drive her back the way you came."

As before Guy had no choice but to obey, but he pretended to be clumsy about turning the car, and took as long over the job as he dared. It was no use. No one came along the road. He was feeling very sore indeed as he drove back up the hill in the direction of Fern Manor. Fearon had outwitted him and Bob very thoroughly, and even though he had not got the pearls the whole of their carefully-laid plot had gone awry.

"They'll laugh at us when we get back, Bob," he said ruefully. "And as for that unlucky policeman, he'll be there all day, for we can't go back and warn him."

"But we must," answered Bob. "Surely there's some way round. Yes, I know there is."

"It's about twenty miles," said Guy. "You've got to go round by Alton." He paused and considered a moment. "Tell you what, Bob. Suppose I go on a little way and then turn and drive back as hard as I can. If I give her full throttle she'll take that hill beyond the wood on top, and even if Fearon is still hanging round with his gun, he'd have a job to hit us."

"And he wouldn't be expecting us either," chuckled Bob. "Good egg, Guy! Let's try it."

Guy drove over the top of the hill so as to be out of sight of Fearon, then backed into a gateway and turned. Just as he was coming back into the road there came a sharp cry from the wood which they had just left—a cry which was followed by the crash of a pistol shot.

Guy did not say a word. He changed swiftly to second, then to top, and sent the car flying forward. As she topped the rise, Bob gave a shout. In the road at the bottom of the hollow, two figures were struggling together.

One was on his back at the edge of the road; the other was kneeling on him, and trying to throttle him. The man in the road was the one with the mask. His pistol, which must have dropped from his hand as he fell, was lying a little way off on his right. The other—it was Bob who spotted his identity first.

"Cook!" he gasped. "It's Cook, and he's slaying Fearon. Quick, Guy, or he'll have finished him."

Guy sent the car flying down the slope; then cutting out his engine jammed the brake down hard. The car skidded slightly but came to no harm, and almost before she had come to rest, Bob was out, closely followed by Guy.

So intent was the ex-convict on his job of getting even with his enemy that it was not until Bob was almost on top of him that he looked up. Then it was too late. Bob went for him like a thunderbolt, and by the very force of his rush knocked the man backwards into the road with a force that momentarily stunned him.

"You attend to Fearon, Guy. I'll handle this chap," cried Bob, as he whipped out a length of cord from a pocket, and began to tie Cook's wrists together.

Fearon, half choked as he was, made a vicious grab for his pistol, but Guy got it first. Fearon seized him by the leg and brought him down. But Guy when really roused was as quick as his younger brother. The pistol rose like a flash, and the steel barrel, taking Fearon between the eyes, laid him flat. Next moment Guy was following Bob's example, and within the next minute both Cook and Fearon were so yell trussed up that they were helpless as a couple of babies.

"And that's that," said Bob, scrambling to his feet. "I think we've got our own back. Now, Guy, drive off and fetch the bobby while I stand guard."

Guy merely nodded, sprang into the car, and was off instantly. He certainly wasted no time on the way, for it was barely ten minutes before he was back with the policeman.

"All safe," was Bob's greeting. "And, Guy, Fearon's been trying to bribe me with the pearls to let him go. I told him they were safe at Fern Manor, and he nearly had a fit."

The big policeman got out and inspected the well-bound pair. He grinned slowly.

"You've made a mighty good job of it, young gents. Now if you'll help me lift 'em into the car I reckon we'll take 'em straight to the station."

* * * * *

THERE was no trouble about evidence at Fearon's trial, and he went to penal servitude for five years. But Cook, against whom the charge was not pressed and who was proved to have acted under Fearon's orders, got off with six months' hard labour. Runton who had been acting as Fearon's gardener had taken alarm and cleared out. He was not seen again.

Meantime, Mr. Tarvin had not been idle. He had the Dagger Mine thoroughly examined, and it was found that, though the tin had long ago pinched out, there was a good vein of something much more valuable, namely tungsten, a metal used in alloying steel. This of course explained Fearon's enquiries to buy the property; it was he who had been trying to work the old mine.

A City company at once made Mr. Tarvin an offer to work this, and so well did the mine pan out that all fear of having to sell any of the Fern Manor property was soon at an end. His gratitude to Guy and Bob took the shape of a jolly little two-seater so that this year the brothers will be able to spend their summer holidays in a tour quite on their own.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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