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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE PLUNDER PIT
(THE STOLEN MASTERPIECE)

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Ex Libris

Serialised in the UK as "The Stolen Masterpiece" in:
The Hawick News, Jul 13-Sep 28 1934 (12 parts)

Serialised in Australia as "The Stolen Masterpiece" in, e.g.:
The Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld), 1929
The Chronicle (Adelaide), 1929
The Central Queensland Herald, 1931
The Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld), 1931
The Manning River Times, 1932
The Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW), 1933
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, 1934
The Maryborough Chronicle, 1934

First book edition: F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1937

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-08-05
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

Only the original raw text of this book is in the public domain.
All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Illustration

"The Plunder Pit," F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1937


TABLE OF CONTENTS



CHAPTER I. — ON THE CRAG FACE

A FAINT rumble of sound boomed through the hot, sunny air. Out to the north-west, in the direction of the Welsh coast, a dark cloud shadowed the sea, end from time to time a pale flash blinked in its heart. Jim Coryton hastily knocked out his pipe on the gunwale of the boat, and began to haul in his line.

'Wake up, Pip,' he said. 'There's a storm coming.'

No reply. Peter Paget, his plump legs stretched straight out, his bead propped comfortably against a couple of cushions, slumbered peacefully. Jim picked up the boat hook and prodded him gently, and Pip opened round blue eyes and gazed at his friend.

'What's up?' he inquired sleepily.

Jim laughed. '"But it often appeared when the gale had cleared, that he'd been in the bunk below,"' he quoted.

Pip gave him a sorrowful look, mumbled something about letting 'a chap sleep, damn you!' and once more closed his eyes. But just then the thunder spoke again, and this time with no uncertain voice. Pip sat up with a start, and one glance at the ominous black cloud cleared every trace of sleep from his eyes.

'Gosh,' he said, 'it's going to be a buster. Get up the anchor, Jim. We've got to shift, and sharp about it.'

The little kedge was rather badly caught among the rocks at the bottom, and by the time Jim had freed it and got it up, the whole sky to the north-west was covered with a purple pall, and the thunder boomed incessantly.

'Not a breath of wind,' said Pip sharply. 'Jim, we'll have to pull for it.'

'Back home?' questioned Jim, doubtfully.

'Great Scott, no! We must get to land as quickly as ever we can. There's wind there, when it does come.'

'But, my good Pip, we cant land on those infernal cliffs,' remonstrated Jim, glancing at the grim granite rocks of the Cornish coast.

'There's a small cove just north of that point,' Pip told him. 'I've never been into it, but I know a stream runs out there. We can find some sort of shelter, and wait till this blows over. Pull, man! We haven't got much time.'

Jim merely nodded. He had complete faith in Pip, who, as he was aware, knew the whole of this coast, from Bude to Newquay, as well as any, professional fisherman. He set to pulling vigorously and the stout little dinghy went surging across the calm water towards the land. But it was not going to be calm very long, for already Jim could see a line of white foam along the surface. Pip saw it, too.

'I'll set the sail on her,' he said. 'Keep her moving.'

Short and stout as he was, Pip could handle a boat with any man, and the speed with which he got the sail up and tied down the reef points was worth watching. As he finished, the great arch of cloud swept over the sun, wiping, out its bright light. Then with a roar the wind was on them.

'Sit tight,' Pip cried, as he took the tiller, and the little boat heeled and went racing through the short steep waves. Jim was not at all worried, for he had complete confidence in Pip. He obeyed orders, and sat tight while Pip headed for tho point of rock.

A brilliant flash lit the gloom, followed by an ear-splitting crack, then down came the vain with tropical fury, drenching them both to the skin.

'Shan't be long at this rate,' bawled Pip, as the wind heeled them far over, and the water hissed whitely along the lee gunwale. 'I only hope the channel's clear.'

'I'll watch for rocks,' Jim answered, and after that neither spoke until they were almost level with the great crag which marked the south entrance to the cove. Then Pip sang out: 'All clear?'

'Seems all right,' Tim shouted back as the channel opened in front of them. He broke off short and stared suddenly. 'Great Scott!' he cried. 'Look at that fool of a woman.' He pointed to a figure which they could see dimly through the rush of rain, standing at the base of the cliff, about fifty yards to the right of the entrance to the cove.

'How the devil did she get there?' demanded Pip in dismay.

'Don't know, but she won't stay there long,' said Jim. 'The waves are breaking over that ledge already. She'll be drowned for a certainty if we don't get her off.'

His words were whipped away by a sudden gust of wind which roared down on them, and he had to yell to make himself heard. Pip did not waste breath. He saw at once that Jim was right, and that there was no time to lose.

'All right,' he answered. 'Get the oars out, Jim.'

Taking advantage of a momentary lull, he put the boat round with her head to wind, then while Jim steadied her with the oars, he swiftly got the sail down. The little craft bobbed wildly in the rapidly-rising sea, but Jim managed to keep her steady until Pip had finished stowing the sail.

'Let her drift in stern foremost,' he directed, as he picked up a coil of rope, 'but don't let her get too close, or she'll be smashed to bits. The only chance will be to chuck a rope to the woman and tow her off.'

As the boat drew closer to the cliff foot, Jim saw that the woman was a mere girl, and that she was standing on a fairly wide ledge, which was constantly hidden by spouts of foam from the breaking waves. He had not, however, much time to watch her, for it took all his strength to hold the boat against the furious drive of wind and sea, and prevent her from falling off into the trough.

Tho girl had seen them now. She had turned, and was facing them with her back against the cliff, which rose sheer behind her. Pip had scrambled past Jim, and stood in the stern with the rope in his hand. 'That'll do, Jim,' he cried. 'We daren't go in any further. Try and hold her now.'

The boat checked, and Jim wrought till his muscles cracked In the effort to keep her clear of the raging turmoil at the foot of the cliff. Pip steadied himself in the stern and waved the coil of rope.

'You must catch it,' he shouted to the girl above the roar of the surf. 'We can't land. We must tow you off.'

'I understand,' the girl answered in a high, clear voice. 'I shall be all right. I can swim.'

'She's a cool customer,' was Jim's thought, and just then came disaster. With a sharp crack one of the oars snapped off short, and in an instant the wind caught the boat and swung her round broadside into the surf.

'Jump!' roared Pip. A wave picked up the boat, tossed it high on the crest, and both men jumped for dear life. They sprawled on the ledge, just as a loud crash behind them announced the end of the boat. A small, but capable hand helped Jim to his feet, and he looked round to find Pip already scrambling up, apparently little the worse.

'Boat's done for,' he said. Jim turned round painfully, for his knees had suffered, and was just in time to see a mass of broken planks disappearing in a welter of foam.

'Oh, I am sorry!' cried the girl.

'So am I,' said Jim ruefully; then as he looked at the girl his face cleared a trifle, for even in that unpleasant moment he was quite sure he had never seen a prettier or more charming person. And the girl for her part was looking at him with an interest that' surprised him.

Pip cut in. 'Jim, the tide's rising. We shall be washed off this ledge inside ten minutes.'

'I can't help that,' said Jim. 'What are we going to do about it?'

Pip had no suggestion to make, and indeed their plight seemed, perfectly hopeless, for the cliff rose like a wall behind them, and the ledge was under water in the direction of the cove.

The girl came to the rescue. 'There is only one thing to do. Climb the cliff. No, I am not crazy.' she added with a quick smile. 'There is a way up and I had just found it when I was caught by the storm. Follow me and hold on tight.'

It was no joke working along the ledge, for every wave broke over them. Luckily the rocks were covered with tough sea-weed which gave them something to cling to. Presently the girl stopped and pointed to a narrow ledge some eight feet up.

'That is the way,' she explained, 'but it is out of my reach. If one of you would lift me?'

A wave breaking waist-high cut her short, and for a moment they all had to cling like limpets. When it passed Pip spoke. 'Give me a back, Jim. I'll go up first, then you can help Miss—?'

'Tremayne,' she put in. 'Nance Tremayne.' Pip was more active than he looked, and he scrambled rapidly on to Jim's shoulders, grabbed the ledge and hauled himself up.

'All right,' he sang out. 'Now you, Miss Tremayne.'

Miss Tremayne made no bones about it, she was on Jim's shoulders quicker than Pip, and Pip helped her to the ledge.

'Big wave coming,' he sang out. 'Here, catch this, Jim.' Ha dropped one end of the rope which, luckily, he had managed to bring ashore with him, and it was only this that saved Jim, for the wave washed him clean off his feet, and but for the rope would have carried hint back into the sea. He was thankful, indeed, when, very breathless and battered, he found himself alongside the other two.

'That's splendid,' said Nance Tremayne brightly. 'Now we can go straight ahead.'

Jim looked up at the towering rock wall. 'Are you not a bit optimistic, Miss Tremayne?'

'I do not think so,' she answered with a smile. 'I have studied all this cliff face with glasses from the sea and planned a way up. It may be a stiff climb, but I believe it is possible.'

'Is cliff climbing your hobby?' Jim asked, but she shook her head.

'Not cliff—caves,' she answered cryptically, and without further explanation started.

'Gosh, she's like a cat!' said Pip, staring open-eyed as he watched her scramble from ledge to ledge. Her soaked clung to her slim figure, the wind and rain beat upon her, yet she went on and up, with a steadiness end confidence which delighted Jim as well as Pip, yet gave them all they knew in follow. It was no joke breasting that cliff face, with the knowledge that one slip or miss-step would mean a particularly messy and unpleasant death, and more than once Jim's heart was in his mouth when a gust flattened Nance Tremayne against a crag and forced her to cling until it passed.

Rather more than half way up a narrow ledge gave a chance to take breath, but instead of resting Nance moved along it to the mouth of a cave and stood peering into the dark tunnel. Jim followed.

'Is this your cave?' he asked with a laugh.

There was no answering smile on her face as she turned. 'I don't know,' she said gravely. 'I wish I did.'

The rest of the way was easier, but, as they climbed, Jim puzzled over this odd remark, yet could find no solution.


CHAPTER II. — THE MAN ON THE MOTOR BIKE

'I SAY, how lovely!' exclaimed Jim as he stopped on the cliff top and gazed down at the valley which lay to the right, and the quaint, old, stone built house, standing on the slope immediately below them.

The quick summer storm had passed and the sun's rays gleamed on the wet grass, the tall beech trees which backed the ancient house, and the gay little river that tumbled through the bottom of the glen.

'You like it?' asked Nance with a smile.

'I do,' said Jim. 'I never saw anything I liked so well. That old house exactly fits its surroundings. Whose is it?'

'Mine,' replied Nance, with a touch of pride. 'And since you have lost your boat in helping me I hope you I will let me offer you luncheon.'

'Impossible in this kit,' growled Pip in a voice meant only for Jim's ear, but Nance heard and laughed.

'You need not trouble yourself on that score,' she assured him. 'There is only my uncle and one other person besides our two servants and we live very quietly. We cannot afford to do anything else,' she added frankly.

'Then thank you very much,' said Jim. 'And may I introduce myself. I am Jim Coryton, lord of a few barren acres of Cornish soil, and this is Peter Paget, better known as Pip. He is an artist and lives at Corse, where I have been staying with him, and I'm willing to bet that he is aching to paint your wonderful old house.'

'Jim's right,' said Pip, with unusual earnestness. 'It's the most wonderful old bit of masonry I've ever seen.'

'It is called Rabb's Roost.' Nance told them as they walked on. 'It was built by a privateer called Reuben Rabb in the 17th century. I fancy he must have done pretty well out of his pirating for he certainly spared no expense in building. The walls are four feet thick. His only daughter married a Tremayne, and so it has come down to me. My father died when I was quite small, and my mother five years ago. So, as I was left all alone, my uncle Robert Tremayne, came to look after me.'

'And what do you do with yourself?' Jim asked bluntly. Nance interested him immensely and he wondered how such a bright, vivid creature could live in this remote valley with no company but an uncle.

'I always find plenty to do,' Nance assured him. 'I have the house and my garden. I fish and sail. Of course, there is no society, but really I am never dull.'

While they talked they passed through the trees and came to the house by a gate leading into the garden It was a great square place that would have been grim only for the mellowed colouring of its weather-beaten walls, the masses of creepers, and the beauty of its wide windows.

As they went up the steps the great iron-studded oak door opened; and a stout, genial-looking man of about fifty, dressed in rather shabby grey tweeds, appeared.

'Why, Nance—' he began, and stopped, gazing in evident surprise, at the two young men.

'My uncle, Mr. Paget,' said Nance. 'And this is Mr. Coryton, Uncle Robert. They saved my life and lost their boat in doing it, so the least I could do was to ask them to luncheon.'

'Saved your life! exclaimed the other. 'Nance, what mad prank have you been up to?' Then, as his eyes fell on Jim Coryton's face, he started quite sharply, and stood gazing at him with a look of such amazement as badly puzzled Jim.

But Mr. Tremayne recovered himself quickly. 'Come in, gentlemen,' he begged. 'Come in and we will find you some dry things. Then at lunch I must hear all about it.'

He led them through a lofty, stone-paved hail up a broad oak staircase into a bedroom, hurried off and came back with a great bundle of clothes and clean towels.

'I hope you will be able to make out,' he said courteously. 'Please ring if there is anything you want.'

'Jolly old bird,' observed Pip, as the door closed behind their host. 'And the girl's not bad looking.'

Jim, pulling on a pair of grey flannel trousers, looked at him pityingly. 'You poor fish, she's lovely.'

Pip's grin was hidden by the shirt he was pulling over his head, and he wisely held his peace until they both had finished changing.

'You look a howling swell, Jim,' he observed, as they went down. 'Those clothes might have been made for you.'

'They really might,' admitted Jim. 'Nice stuff, too. I wonder whose they are.'

But his curiosity on this point remained unsatisfied, for their host appeared at the foot of the stairs and led them into the dining-room, where Nance, changed and dainty, was already waiting. As they entered the room Jim noticed that Nance gave him another quick, surprised look, but he had not time to wonder about it, for a plate of most excellent cold beef occupied all his attention.

Robert Tremayne courteously refrained from questioning his guests until they had finished their first course, but when the beef was succeeded by apple' pasty and Cornish cream he begged Jim to tell his story.

'We were fishing, sir, and got caught in the storm and ran for the cove. Then we saw your niece on the rock, and went to fetch her, and an oar broke, and the boat got smashed. So we landed, and Miss Tremayne showed us a way up the cliff; and—and that's all.'

'All,' repeated Nance with scorn. 'It's quite evident you are not an author, Mr. Coryton. I never heard such a lame story in my life. The fact is, Uncle Bob, that they both risked their lives to reach me and lost their boat.'

'But my dear Nance,' remonstrated her uncle, 'will you tell me what you were doing at all in such a place.'

'Looking for the cave,' replied Nance. 'I found it, too.'

'The cave?' repeated Robert Tremayne. 'You don't mean—?'

'I do,' cut in Nance. 'Of course I don't know if it really is the other entrance, but there is a hole running deep into the cliff face.'

She turned to her puzzled guests.

'I must explain,' she said. 'The story is that Reuben Rabb hid his treasure in some deep hole in the rock under the house and that there is a way into it from the cliff face. Of course, it's all nonsense.' she added, with a laugh, 'but Uncle Bob won't let me say so, for he thinks it a good bait to attract P.G.'s.'

'What's a P.G.?' Pip blurted out.

'A paying guest, Mr. Paget,' said Nance. 'Since the house is so big and our means so small, Uncle and I have gone into the hotel business. We have one guest already, and another coming in soon.'

'What a topping notion!' exclaimed Pip, 'and, I say, do you really allow your P.G.'s to go hunting?'

Mr. Tremayne spoke. 'We do,' he said quite seriously. 'Nance laughed but there is good evidence that one piratical ancestor die really hide his loot in some cave or cellar. He must have been a rich man or he could never have, built such a big house, and we know that he died only two years after it was built. There were no banks in those days, and a man like Rabb would never have trusted his gold in the hands of the Jews. Besides there is his will, leaving 'my treasure of Spanish plate to my beloved daughter, Miriam.'

Pip's eyes widened.

'I say, this is topping. I've always longed to go treasure hunting. May I come as a paying guest, Mr. Tremayne, and help in the search.'

'I hope you will stay as long a you like, Mr. Paget.' said Mr. Tremayne gravely. 'There can be no question of payment after what you and Mr Coryton have done for my niece.'

Pip looked rather confused. 'I didn't mean—' he began, but just then the door opened and a big, solemn-looking man came in. He was about 40 and good-looking in a heavy way, with china- blue eyes, pink skin, and a fair moustache.

'Just in time for lunch. Mr. Aylmer,' said Nance. 'Let me introduce you to Mr. Coryton and Mr. Paget.'

Aylmer bowed to the two men, and took his seat silently.

'Did you get any fish?' Mr. Tremayne asked him.

'Four, then the storm came and spoilt the rise,' said Aylmer briefly as he began on his beef. After that there was not much more talk, and presently Nance got up.

'You will excuse us, Mr. Aylmer.' she said. 'I want to show our friends the house.'

'Terribly silent person, is he not?' she said to Jim and Pip as they reached the hall. 'I call him Stately Edward,' she added with a twinkle of fun.

'Is he treasure hunting?' asked Pip.

'I don't think so. He spends most of his time fishing. Now would you like to see the house?'

'Rather!' said Pip keenly, and Nance took them all over the strange old place beginning with tho upper floors and ending with the huge stone paved kitchen. Here a bright-eyed little man, and a tidy-looking woman were busy.

'These are Mr. and Mrs. Ching,' said Nance.

'Ching,' replied Pip, and the little man turned quickly. 'You, Mr. Peter. Why, fancy you being here!'

'You know Ching, Mr. Paget?' exclaimed Nance in surprise. 'I used to anyhow,' said Pip as he shook hands with the little man. 'Ching was our footman at Corse when I was a kid.'

Ching fairly beamed with pleasure. 'Fifteen years ago, Mr. Peter, and I have been with Mr. Tremayne and Miss Nance going on six years. You staying here, Mr. Peter?'

'He is staying the night at least.' put in Nance, 'and I hope, longer. These two gentlemen saved my life this morning, Ching. The storm caught me on the Shag Rock, and if it had not been for them I shouldn't be here now.'

'You don't say, miss!' exclaimed Mr Ching, but the look in his eyes told Jim a good deal more than the mere words. He realised that Ching was devoted to Nance.

'Well, this is nice,' said Nance, as they left the kitchen. 'Fancy your knowing Ching, Mr. Paget!'

'I know him for a real good man,' said Pip.

'He is all of that,' said Nance! mm warmly. 'He and his wife run the whole house for us. They are perfectly wonderful. And now what would you two like to do?'

'We ought to think of going home,' said Jim.

'That is the one thing you are not to think of,' said Nance earnestly. 'Please stay, at any rate, for the night. It will be such a pleasure to my uncle—and to me. Mr. Aylmer is so very silent, and it is a long time since we have had any real visitors.'

'It's awfully kind of you,' said Jim. 'If you are sure it is not putting you out?'

'Quite—quite sure,' vowed Nance. 'There, that's settled, and now tell me what you will do.'

'I want to sketch the house,' said Pip promptly.

'You shall have drawing paper and pencils, even some colours.'

'And I would like to look at the brook.' said Jim. 'I haven't even seen a trout for ages.'

'Then you shall catch some,' declared Nance. 'Uncle Bob's rod is in the gun room.'

The rod, if old, was a beauty, Uncle Robert's fly-book was well stocked, and presently Jim found himself wandering along the bank of a most entrancing little river. The storm had coloured the water slightly, and the warm sun brought up a big hatch of fly. The pools were starred with rising fish, and, as his casting skill came back, one lusty little trout after another came to the net.

Of late Jim had been working in London, and it was years since he if had enjoyed such fishing. Entirely forgetful of time, he walked on and on until dusk found him far up the high moor, surrounded by great heather-clad hills, on which the only sign of civilisation was a bare road drawn like a grey riband across the waste.

He looked at his wrist-watch and whistled softly.

'I shall have to hurry to be back for dinner,' he remarked aloud. 'I'd best get to the road. It will be quicker than the river bank.'

He reeled up, fastened his fly into a ring, settled his heavy creel on his back, and started for the road. Before he reached it he saw a man on a bicycle top the rise to the east and come down the long hill at a tremendous pace.

'He's in a deuce of a hurry,' he said to himself.

Next moment the distant bark of a motor cycle's exhaust came to his ears, and grew rapidly louder. Then against the pale evening sky he saw a second man flash into sight on a powerful machine, and roar down the slope at something like a mile a minute. The man on the motor-cycle was near enough to see his face. He passed in a cloud of dust and rapidly overhauled the pedal cyclist.

As he came near the latter Jim saw the cyclist look round.

'Stop!' shouted the motor rider in a loud, harsh voice, but the other sprang from his machine, and letting it fall in the road dashed away across the moor. The motor cyclist also stopped and Jim saw him draw something from his belt. The sharp crack of a pistol echoed across the moor, and the running man flung up his arms and fell.

A passion of anger surged through Jim's veins. 'You damned murderer!' he roared and started running hard towards the man with the pistol. For a moment the latter paused and Jim, had a feeling he was going to fire. Perhaps it was Jim's fearless rush that alarmed him, perhaps he thought other help was at hand; at any rate instead of firing he swung his leg over the saddle of his bicycle and was away like a flash down the long white road.

Since pursuit was out of the question Jim hurried across to the fallen man, who lay face down in the heather. At first Jim feared he was dead he lay so still, but in a moment he saw he was still breathing. His face was buried in the thick soft heather, so Jim stooping, got his arms around the man's body and lifted him so as to lay him in a more comfortable position as he turned the man over Jim got the shock of his life, for he found himself looking down at his own double.

The same black hair, the same straight nose, firm chin, and clear brown skin. The eyes, it is true were closed, yet Jim had the faintest doubt they were the same dark blue that he himself had inherited from his Cornish mother.


CHAPTER III. — THE PICTURE

THE wounded man's eyes opened, and, just at Jim had felt certain, they were blue—very dark blue. They completed the extraordinary resemblance between himself and this stranger, and for the moment Jim was too lost in astonishment to think of anything else. The other, the wounded man, also saw the likeness, for, as he stared up at Jim, a puzzled look spread across his face.

'Who are you?' he asked hoarsely, and there was something like fear in his voice.

'My name is Coryton,' Jim answered quietly.

'You're not one of them?' demanded the other anxiously. Jim saw that he was still suffering from shock, and answered gently. 'If you mean have I anything to do with that ruffian who shot at you, certainly not.'

The wounded man sighed with relief.

'I thought not. I felt you were all right. But where is that fellow on the motor-bike?'

'Gone. He cleared as I ran up. I'd been fishing,' Jim explained, 'and I saw the whole thing.'

'But my pic—my parcel?' exclaimed the other sharply.

'Is this what you mean?' said Jim picking up a small roll wrapped in waterproof, and very carefully tied up. A look of intense relief came into the wounded man's eyes.

'That's what he was after. Thanks be he didn't get it. You're sure he's gone?'

'At the rate he was travelling, he is a good five miles away this minute. And now, suppose you let me have a look at this hole he's made in you. You're bleeding rather badly.'

'It's frightfully good of you,' said the other gratefully, and Jim set to work. The blood was coming from the man's right side, and Jim, after getting his waistcoat and shirt open, found a small blue mark where the bullet had entered and a large hole behind where it had come out.

'You're in luck,' he said. 'I don't know much about gunshot wounds, but I'm pretty sure the bullet has glanced on a rib. Anyhow It's come out. If I can stop the bleeding you'll be all right.'

Jim knew just as much or as little about surgery as the average man gets from an ordinary ambulance course. At any rate his knowledge was sufficient to enable him to pad the two wounds and fasten a tight bandage made of ties and handkerchiefs round the young fellow's chest. Then he got some water from the brook and was pleased to see a little colour come back to the other's face.

'And now,' he said, 'I'd better take your bicycle and go for help. You're not fit to walk.'

'No!' exclaimed the other in a panic, then he pulled himself up. 'Forgive me,' he said, in a quieter tone. 'You see they've been chasing me for a week, and my nerves have gone all to pot. But indeed I can walk quite well, and I'd much sooner you didn't leave me alone.'

Chased for a week! Dick's surprise showed itself in his face.

'They were after this,' explained the other, indicating the parcel. 'I've had the deuce of a time; and now that I've got it so near home I naturally don't want to risk losing it.'

'You're none too fit to move,' said Jim. 'How far have you to go?'

'A couple of miles. A place called Rabb's Roost. Do you know it?'

'I ought to,' said Jim. 'I'm staying there.'

'You know my father?'

'If your father is Mr. Robert Tremayne, I do.'

'He is my father. I'm Maurice Tremayne.'

'I hadn't heard of you,' confessed Jim. 'My acquaintance with your father is only a few hours old. My friend, Paget, and I had the good luck to give Miss Tremayne a little help during the storm this morning, and since we lost our boat in doing so she asked us to stay the night.' He laughed. 'It's your father's rod I have been using all the afternoon.'

'This is great,' said Maurice, delighted, and he laughed, too. 'Now I really feel safe with you.'

'You ought to,' said Jim drily.

Maurice nodded. 'You mean the likeness. It's simply amazing. When I woke up just now and saw you I thought I was seeing myself in, a looking glass.' He gazed frankly at Jim. 'By gad, we might be twins, only I fancy I'm a year or two the younger. I don't wonder that blighter on the motor bike was scared when he saw the double of his victim coming after him.'

'That explains it,' said Jim. 'I was wondering why he cleared out in such a hurry. But see here, Tremayne, it'll be dark in another hour, ana we ought to be back. Do you think you could sit on your bicycle if I pushed it?'

'I can walk all right,' vowed Maurice.

'You wouldn't get far,' Jim assured him. 'You'd only start that wound bleeding again. I think my plan is the best.'

'It's uncommon good of you,' said Maurice gratefully. 'Luckily it's nearly all downhill, so we ought to manage without killing you.'

'It would take a lot to kill me,' laughed Jim, as he helped the other to his feet.

'You take the parcel. It's a picture,' said Maurice. 'And if we are attacked again I want you to promise not to think of me, but only of the picture.'

'That's rather a tall order,' said Jim, as he steered the other towards the road. 'May one ask why it means so much?'

'It's a Memling,' said Maurice simply. Jim shook his head.

'That doesn't mean anything to me, Tremayne. I've heard of Raphael and Velasquez, but there my knowledge of old masters ceases.'

'Memling was a Flemish painter of the fifteenth century,' Maurice explained, 'and even in those benighted days was known from England to Italy. His colours were so wonderful that they are as bright to-day as they were when he put them on canvas four hundred and fifty years ago. And his backgrounds—but you must see them to appreciate them. They're wonderful!'

'Must be if a man is ready to commit murder for one,' remarked Jim.

'Oh, there's more to it than that,' Maurice answered quickly, but Jim checked him.

'You've talked about enough for the present, Tremayne. I mean, you're going to need all your energies for this ride. You shall tell me the rest when we're safe at home.'

'I daresay you're right,' Maurice I admitted, as Jim helped him on to the bicycle and started.

With one of Maurice's arms over Jim's shoulder they got along pretty well, but all the same, it was a slow job. An anxious one, too, for Maurice evidently expected another attack. But all the way home they did not see a living soul, and they arrived at the Roost just as the lamps were being lit.

Peter was waiting on the bridge.

'You're a nice chap, Jim,' he began, and then he saw Jim's double, and stood, speechless.

'This is Maurice Tremayne, Pip,' Jim explained briefly. 'He's had an accident, but is not badly hurt. Cut up to the house and tell Ching to get a room ready, and explain things to his father and Miss Tremayne. Be sure to tell them he's not badly hurt.'

'Right,' said Pip, and went like a shot. It was not the first time that Jim had marvelled at the way the plump little man could move when there was occasion to do so.

By the time Jim and Maurice reached the door Mr. Tremayne and Nance were there to meet them.

'An accident, Mr. Coryton?' asked Tremayne anxiously. 'Not badly hurt, Mr. Paget says.'

'Nothing to make a song about, Dad,' said Maurice pluckily, but as he came into the light and his father saw how white he was, his own face went ghastly.

'I give you my word it is not serious,' said Jim quickly. 'He has lost some blood, but a few days in bed will put him right. Shall I go for a doctor?'

'No doctor,' said Maurice firmly. 'I mean it. Ching can fix me up.'

Nance had hurried into the dining room, and now came back with two fairly stiff-looking whiskies and soda, one of which she handed to Maurice and one to Jim.

'Best thing I ever drank,' vowed Maurice, as he finished his glass. 'Ah, here's Ching. Give me an arm to my room, Ching, and don't look so worried. I'm not going to die on you, yet.'

With Ching on one side and Pip on the other, Maurice went upstairs. At the top he looked round.

'Take care of the picture, Coryton,' he said.

'You bet,' Jim promised, and just then he caught sight of a face looking round the half-open dining-room door.

It was Edward Aylmer's, but so changed that Jim hardly recognised it. The sleepy eyes were wide and bright, the whole expression had a look of aliveness which was positively startling. It was only a glimpse, for, catching Jim's eye fixed upon him, Aylmer drew back at once.

'A queer bird that,' said Jim to himself as he went up to his room for a wash. 'Strikes me he'll bear watching.'

He locked the picture in a drawer before he came down and put the key in his pocket.


CHAPTER IV. — A STEP IN THE NIGHT

SUPPER was waiting when Jim came down. So was Nance, in a pale blue crêpe de chine which suited her fair skin admirably, and Jim thought she looked more delightful than ever.

'Maurice has been telling me,' she said eagerly. 'It was splendid of you, Mr. Coryton. That man might have shot you.'

'Not he!' laughed Jim. 'He was much too scared.'

Nance nodded. 'Yes, Maurice told me. But, of course, the likeness was the first tiling that struck me when you came to my help this morning. You must have thought it odd, the way I stared at you. Uncle Bob, too, got a shock. Now sit down and eat. You must be starved.'

'Not after that luncheon you gave me. All the same, I'm hungry.'

'Then sit still and I will help you. This is a home-grown chicken and the lettuces are from my garden.'

'It's the best chicken I ever ate,' Jim vowed, as he set to. 'Tell me, how is the patient?'

'Wonderfully well, considering all things,' Nance answered. 'Ching has dressed the wounds. Ching is almost as good as a doctor.'

'But ought you not have a doctor?' Jim asked.

'Maurice won't. He is desperately anxious to keep the whole thing quiet, until Mr. Vanneck come for his picture.' Then seeing Jim's blank look, 'Has he not told you?' she added.

'I wouldn't let him talk,' Jim said. 'All I know is that he has got hold of a wonderful old picture and that someone has been trying to steal if from him.'

'It is a Memling,' Nance explained. 'There are very few of his paintings in existence, and this is worth an enormous sum. Mr. Adrian Vanneck, the Boston collector, bought it in Italy six months ago, but as you know, Italian law is strict about letting old masters out of the country, and the only way is to smuggle them out. Maurice knows Italy well and speaks Italian like a native, and Mr. Vanneck offered him five hundred pounds to get the picture for him. As you see, Maurice has succeeded.'

'But good heavens!' broke in Jim, 'You don't mean to say that the Italians employ gunmen to chase smugglers!'

'No,' said Nance. 'I doubt if the Italian authorities are even aware that the picture is out of their country. That gunman was employed by Paul Sharland.'

'And who may he be?'

'It is a little difficult to say. He calls himself a collector, but Maurice calls him a crook. One, thing is certain. He has a bitter grudge against Vanneck, and will go to any lengths to spite him. In some way—Maurice does not know how—he got wind of this transaction, and planted two of his men at Genoa with directions to waylay Maurice and take the picture from him. He knew, of course, that Maurice could not go to the police, and reckoned to get hold of the picture, take it to America and sell it there for a large sum. Maurice was told of this plot, and with the help of an Italian friend named Rimi, trapped the two thieves and left them locked in a cellar while he got safely to the boat.'

Jim chuckled, 'That was smart.'

Nance went on.

'That was not the end of it. Sharland had another agent on the boat, who drugged Maurice and turned his cabin inside out, But Maurice had the picture in the ship's safe, so again they missed it. At Marseilles Sharland's people were still after him and they stole his suit-case, substituting another exactly like it. But the picture was in the lining of his coat so they failed for a third time. At Paris Maurice dodged them, took a car, drove to Cherbourg and came over on a White Star boat to Southampton. That seems to have thrown them off the scent, for they thought he was coming to Croydon by air. So Maurice reached Bude and, thinking himself quite safe, hired a bicycle to ride home. You know the rest.'

'I do,' said Jim, gravely. 'Has Maurice any notion who the fellow was who tried to murder him?'

'He is not certain, but he thinks it is a man named Midian. A year ago he caught Midian poaching our river. He was using dynamite which, as you know, kills every fish in the Pool. Midian turned nasty and attacked Maurice, but Maurice is quite a good boxer, and managed to knock the man down. Midian rolled into the river and was half drowned before Maurice got him out. He made the most fearful threats and is the sort to carry them out.'

'Did Maurice recognise him?'

'No, for Midian, as he remembers him has a beard, and this man was clean-shaven. Still, I think he is pretty sure about it.'

Jim nodded. 'And what happens now?' he asked.

'The next thing is to let Mr. Vanneck know we have the picture. Mr. Vanneck is in New York, but as soon as he hears be will come for the picture in his yacht.'

Jim pursed his lips. 'Which means at least a fortnight's delay,' he said; 'and meantime you have to keep the picture here. 'I don't want to alarm you Miss Tremayne, but doesn't it occur to you that the gentle Sharland may keep a pet burglar?'

'Exactly what Maurice said, but luckily we have a hiding place that would defy any burglar. It is a cellar with a secret door. If you will give me the picture I will put it then myself.'

'Good!' said Jim. 'And may I ask how many people know of this secret hiding place?'

'Just four—my uncle, myself, Maurice and Ching.'

'Not Aylmer?' Nance looked at him rather oddly.

'Why do you ask that. Mr. Coryton? You are not suspecting him of being Mr. Sharland in disguise?'

'I am not suspecting him of anything. It is only another case of Dr. Fell.'

'Dr. Fell,' said Nance puzzled. Then she laughed. 'Of course, and I have much the same feeling,' she added, confidently. Then she got up. 'I must go and see to Maurice. Mrs. Ching will bring you some coffee, Mr. Coryton.'

Jim opened the door for her, and she ran lightly upstairs, turned at the top and gave him a little friendly wave of the hand before disappearing Into her cousin's room.

'You're right, Jim,' came Pip's voice out of the dimness of the hall.

'What are you talking about, Pip?'

'She's more than nice-looking. She's a very nice girl.'

'I didn't need a whole day in find that out,' retorted Jim, and then Mrs. Ching came with coffee in delicate little Sèvres cups, and the two men lit cigarettes and sat down together.

'Jim,' said Pip, as he laid down his cup, 'this is a rum start.'

'I take it you've heard all about it?' said Jim.

'Yes; Mr. Tremayne told me.'

'I agree,' said Jim. 'It is a very rum start, and I think it's just as well that you and I are here for the night.'

'You mean that this Sharland per son might try something?'

'He's tried murder already,' said Jim, drily.

Pip nodded. 'But the picture is safe at present.'

'So Miss Tremayne tells me, and with four men in the house I don't fancy there'll be any attempt in night.'

'Five, you mean?' said Pip.

'I wasn't counting Aylmer.'

'Why not?' asked Pip. 'He's a pretty hefty chap.'

'Oh, he's all that; but—well, I don't quite cotton to him.'

'He's all right,' said Pip. 'He and I had a long yarn this afternoon while you were out. He's quite a good sort.'

'I'll take your word for it,' said Jim, smiling, as he pinched out his cigarette. 'I think I'll turn in, old chap. I'd pretty fagged.'

'I should rather think you were. Go ahead. I'll have another cigarette, and follow your example.'

Jim was asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow, but it was another hour before Pip went up, and even then a long time before he got to sleep. A breeze had sprung up, blowing in from the sea, and the wind moaned around the old house, making strange and eerie sounds.

At last Pip dropped off, only to be awakened by a knocking, repeated at regular intervals. It kept on and on with maddening reiteration, until at last Pip could stand it no longer. So he got up, lit a candle, and went to Investigate. The sound came from below, and Pip became convinced that it was one of the Venetian blinds in a window below, which had come loose from its fastening and was flapping in the breeze.

'I must stop that, of I shan't get a wink,' he said to himself, and taking the candle, opened the door and started for the head of the stairs. Pip's room was on the west side of the house, facing the sea, and he had to go along a passage and through a swing door to gain the head of the stairs.

As he opened the swing door the draught blew out his candle, and to his disgust he found he had left his match-box in his bedroom. As he hesitated, wondering whether to go back for it or chance finding his way in the dark, ha heard a slight sound. He spun round, but quick as he was, the other was quicker. A pair of arms caught Pip round the waist, he was tripped with neatness and despatch, and found himself flat on the floor with a man's weight on top of him.


CHAPTER V. — BROKEN GLASS

'LIE still!' hissed a voice in Pip's ear. 'Lie still, by gum, or I'll let you have it.'

'What the deuce!' gasped Pip. 'What in blazes are you doing, Ching?'

'You, Mr. Peter!' The dismay in Ching's voice almost made Pip laugh. 'I thought it was that there Aylmer.' As he spoke he got up quickly and helped Pip to his feet.

'Aylmer?' questioned Pip. 'What made you think I was Aylmer?'

'Because he's always a-prowling round,' replied Ching viciously. 'And when I heard a door open I made sure it was him.'

'But what would he be after?' asked Pip, in amazement.

'The treasure, I reckon,' Ching answered.

Pip laughed softly. 'But why should be hunt that at night when He is at liberty to do so in daylight?'

'I don't know, Mr. Peter. But he's been round the house more nights than one.'

'That's odd,' said Pip thoughtfully. 'You don't think he'd be after the picture, do you?'

'That's more'n I can say, sir, but I don't trust the gent, and he ain't going to get away with anything in this house so long as I'm here to watch.'

'Funny you don't like him,' said Pip slowly, 'for Mr. Coryton feels the same way.'

'And so would you, Mr. Peter, if you knew him as well as I do. Well, I'm glad it wasn't him this time, and I only hope I didn't hurt you, sir.'

Pip chuckled. 'Take more than your weight to hurt me, Ching. And luckily we fell on the carpet, so we don't seem to have wakened anyone. Oh, by the bye, there's a blind rattling below, that's what brought me out of bed.'

'I know which it is. It's in the smoking-room. I'll fasten it, sir, and you go back to bed.'

Pip went back to bed, but not to sleep, for he was puzzling over what he had heard from Ching. Himself, he had rather liked Aylmer, with whom he had had quite a chat the previous afternoon. One thing very certain was that Aylmer knew a good deal about painting, while another impression Pip had got was that Aylmer was quite well off.

'Yet Ching hates him,' he mused, 'and Jim dislikes him on sight. Pretty funny nest of mystery we've tumbled into, but—I don't want to leave it.' And with that thought uppermost in his mind he fell asleep.


THE wind from the sea had brought up rain, soft summer stuff, and next morning the high moors inland was hidden by a gently- falling drizzle. Maurice was better, so Nancy told them at breakfast, then, as Aylmer was present, she talked of general things. Aylmer, as usual, spoke little, but when he did speak his voice was quiet, and his manners were extremely good. Pip, watching him covertly, wondered what the others could possibly have against this reticent, well-bred, well-dressed man.

Breakfast over, Aylmer got up.

'I think it will clear later,' he said. 'And the water is almost perfect. I shall put on a macintosh and try for a few fish.'

'Tight lines,' said Pip genially, and with a nod of thanks Aylmer left the room.

'And Paget and I must be leaving,' said Jim, and was surprised, and at the same time delighted to see the look of dismay on Nance's mobile face.

'But you can't,' she exclaimed sharply. 'Not with Maurice—' She pulled herself up. 'Forgive me. I am forgetting that you may have business of your own.'

Pip laughed. 'Business! My dear Miss Tremayne, I never had any business in my life, except making vain attempts to sell my pictures. And as for Jim here. I'll swear he hasn't any for the next fortnight. If you really want us we are both very much at your service.'

'Pip is perfectly right, Miss Tremayne,' said Jim. 'Only if we do stay you might make use of us.'

His heart warmed at Nance's look of relief.

'You are the two kindest men I ever knew,' she vowed. 'And you make it easy for me to ask the favour I was going to ask. Will one of you go to Bude and send the cable to Mr. Vanneck?'

'Of course. I will,' Jim answered readily. 'Give it to me and I will be off this minute.'

'But we have no car,' Nance said, 'and it's a long way.'

'Your cousin's bicycle is here, and I'm quite a decent cyclist,' said Jim. 'I will be there and back before lunch.'

'Where do I come in?' asked Pip, with an injured air.

'You'll go and pick up the creel full of trout I jettisoned last night,' Jim told him. 'After that you can watch till I come back.'

Pip grinned. 'All right. After all, your long legs will do the journey quicker than my short ones. And bring some baccy when you come. I haven't a pouchful left.'

'I will write the cable,' said Nance. 'It will be in cypher, Mr. Coryton, so you need not be afraid of anyone else knowing what it is about.'

'Right,' replied Jim, 'and meantime I'll get the bicycle.'

The machine seemed none the worse for its tumble on the previous night, but Jim went over it and oiled it carefully. As he wheeled it round he found Nance waiting with the form.

'I wish it were not so wet,' she said regretfully. 'But here is Maurice's fishing coat which he hopes you will wear. And—' she hesitated—'What about taking Maurice's pistol, too?'

'You mean in case I meet the gentle Midian,' smiled Jim. 'Well, it might be a good idea.'

'I have it here,' said Nance, handing him a small but useful- looking automatic, 'He says that you must remember it goes on shooting as long as you keep your finger on the trigger.'

'All the worse for Midian,' laughed Jim. 'Tell your cousin that, if I do meet Master Midian I shan't take my finger off the trigger.'

He jumped on the machine and peddled away, and as he reached the road and turned to the left, he saw Nance still in the porch watching. He waved his hand, then the trees hid her, and he was riding slowly up the long, steep slope down which he had wheeled Maurice on the previous evening.

It was not a nice day, for the rain fell steadily, and though Maurice's coat kept Jim's body dry it failed to protect his knees, which were soaked until the water ran down his legs into his boots. As he reached higher ground he found himself in the clouds. The mist was so thick he could not see one telegraph post from the next. Little streams gurgled in the heather, puddles splashed under his tyres. There was only one consolation, which was that if Midian or any of his precious gang was watching they would have their work cut out to see him. But the road was deserted, and for the first three miles he did not meet a living soul.

Then he struck the main road and turned north, and after that met an occasional car or lorry. He plugged along steadily, and in little more than an hour later he found himself in the straggling town of Bude. No doubt there were holiday-makers about, but they were not visible. Streets and window panes streamed alike, and the usually bright little resort was in a state of complete eclipse.

Jim found the post office and sent his cable, then he visited the nearest hotel and sampled the favourite West Country drink, gin hot with sugar and lemon. After that he bought Pip a tobacco and a box of really good chocolates, which he had wrapped carefully against the rain. Inside twenty minutes he was ready for the road again.

There was no let-up in the rain; if anything, it was heavier than before. No wind, and it fell straight from the low-lying clouds. The water sloshed in Jim's shoes, and, as he turned at last into the branch road leading to Rabb's Roost, he thought with longing anticipation of dry things, luncheon and, perhaps, the company of Nance over a fire.

All down hill here, and he put on the pace. He was a mile from, the turn and on the steepest of the slope when he caught a suspicious gleam on tho wet road ahead and swerved quickly. He avoided a nasty, jagged piece of glass by a matter of inches only to hear a sharp pop and a quick hiss which told that he had hit a second. Braking, Jim hopped off in a hurry, but the front tyre was hopelessly crushed and completely flat.

'Damn!' said Jim, very loudly and distinctly, and paused to wonder whether it was worth while attempting a mend or whether it would be quicker to walk the rest of the way. He was not given time to decide, for a shadow that lurked behind a gorse bush leaped, and before Jim could straighten himself, let alone pull his pistol, something heavy as lead fell across the back of his head and stretched him senseless on the wet road.


CHAPTER VI. — BUTCH

WHEN Jim struggled back to life all he was conscious of was the worst headache he had ever known. His head felt as big as two, it throbbed in the most dreadful fashion and, when he tried to move, the pains that shot through it made him giddy and sick. He closed his eyes again and lay perfectly still.

By degrees he realised that he was lying on a pile of dry leaves or bracken in a place that was nearly dark, but how he had got there he could not remember, and any effort to do so brought the pain to an unbearable pitch. He was cold all over his body, but his head was burning. His mouth and throat were like parchment ana his tongue felt swollen and stiff.

Someone moved. He heard the soles of boots grate on stones, and be came vaguely conscious that a man was standing near him. but he dared not open his eyes.

'Ye dog-gone fool!' came a sharp voice. 'You coshed him too hard. You've done him in.'

'His head ain't that soft, Butch,' replied a second voice. 'And anyways, I owe him one fer near drowning me last fall.'

'You better remember the boss don't pay you to work off your own grudges,' said the man called Butch cuttingly. 'Another thing, this ain't Maurice. Not if what you told me yesterday about getting him with your rod was true.'

'If it ain't Maurice Tremayne it's his twin brother, so it's all in the family,' replied the other speaker, with a brutal laugh.

'You'll laugh the other side of your face if this bloke don't come round,' threatened Butch.

In spite of the pain in his head Jim was listening keenly, and had already realised that it was Midian who had 'coshed' him. Butch, by his voice, was American, and it was clear that these two ruffians had got him away to some hiding place and meant to hold him there for the purposes of their own.

'You leave him be and he'll come round all right,' said Midian, and Jim heard him turn on his heel and tramp away. The other man did not follow, and Jim, who was suffering agonies from thirst, decided to appeal to him.

He stirred slightly and opened his eyes. 'Water,' he gasped, and the sound of his own voice almost frightened him, for it was like the croak of a frog.

'Ain't dead, anyways,' remarked Butch, speaking rather to himself than to Jim. He turned away, and Jim saw him pass out through a doorway opposite.

Now that his eyes were open, Jim saw that he was lying in a bare, ruinous place, built of stone, with a slate roof and a roughly-paved floor. With his knowledge of the Cornish moors, he recognised it at once as an old mine building.

There are scores of deserted, disused mines scattered over the length and breadth of the Cornish moors; gaunt, dismal relics of long-past prosperity. No better hiding place could be imagined, for a gang of criminals, for these places remain unvisited from one year's end to another. Not even a tramp or a tourist comes near them. The risk is too great, for shafts of unknown depths drop down through the granite rock into pits full of cold, dark water.

Where he was, Jim could not even guess, for he had no idea how long he had been unconscious after Midian's brutal blow. He might be five miles from Rabb's Roost, or he might be twenty. He could not even tell what time it was, for the only opening high in the wall gave upon a grey sky from which the rain still poured down ceaselessly. As for his ears, all they could tell him was that water was running somewhere near, for he could distinctly hear the splash and tinkle of a runnel.

He wondered whether they had missed him at the Roost, and there drifted back to his mind a remembrance of the box of chocolates he had bought in Bude to give to Nance. A spasm of anger seized him at the thought of these falling into the filthy hands of Midian.

These vague thoughts were interrupted by the opening of a door, and the man, Butch, returning with a tin mug in his hand. Butch, Jim saw, was a very different type from Midian. He was middle-sized, squarely-built, and wore a rough, blue serge suit and square-toed boots. At first sight he might have passed for a good-class artisan or mechanic. But his mouth was oddly straight and thin-lipped, and his eyes were pale blue, with a cold bleak look in them, which told its own story.

'Drink this,' he said, as he gave Jim the mug. The effort of lifting his head made Jim groan with pain, but Butch did not offer to help him only looked at him in a cold, detached way, and remarked, 'I thought he'd done you in when I first seed you. But there—Midian always was a fool.'

The mug was full of hot tea, black, strong stuff, with no milk and a good deal of brown sugar. The sort of drink that Jim would ordinarily have refused to touch, but now—now it was exactly what he wanted. He drained it to the last drop and fell back with a sigh of relief. Butch looked at him critically.

'Aye, you'll do now. Better take a nap, then you'll be all right.'

'I'm too cold to sleep,' Jim told him, and now lie spoke in a more natural voice. Butch grunted. 'We ain't got no blankets, except what we uses ourselves, but I reckon there's a couple o' sacks. You can have them.'

He fetched them and flung them down and Jim managed to pull them across his soaked legs, and presently grew warmer and dropped into sleep.


IT was grey dawn when he woke again, and although his head still ached, the pain was nothing like so bad as it had been. The rain had ceased, and outside all was quiet, except for the tinkle of the rill. A less pleasant sound was of heavy snoring, and looking round Jim saw that Midian had made up a bed in the other corner, and, rolled in an old army blanket, was sleeping soundly. He could see nothing of Butch. Jim's first idea was escape, and he felt for the pistol which Nance had given him. He was, however, hardly surprised to find that gone. His pocket-book, too, had vanished, and so had everything of value, even to the packet of tobacco he had bought for Pip. Midian, of course, for Butch, bad man as he undoubtedly was, did not strike him as being a sneak thief.

Jim glanced again at the sleeping Midian and wondered whether he could tackle him. He sat up cautiously and was horrified to find how shaky he was, and how his head swam. Actually, he had only just escaped concussion, but that he did not know. Being, however, in possession of his full senses, lie realised clearly that in his present state his chances in a tussle with this long ruffian would be exactly nil. He was not even quite sure whether he could walk, but meant to try.

Giddiness seized rum again as he got softly to his feet, but this passed, and with one eye on Midian he made for the door. He had been so sure it was locked that it was a real shock when it opened easily, it was a worse shock when he found Butch outside, leaning against the bare wall of the building with a half-burnt cigarette between his thin lips.

'Better?' remarked Butch, without moving. 'And where was you going, mister?'

'For some water,' Jim answered calmly. Butch nodded in the direction of the little leat which brought water from the hill above, and Jim, kneeling beside it, drank, then washed. The water, clear as crystal and cold as ice, was extraordinarily refreshing, and Jim spent nearly five minutes splashing it over his bruised head.

He got up, dripping, to find Butch alongside.

'Know where you are?' asked that gentleman, in his faintly nasal voice.

Jim looked about, but the mine-house was in a deep basin, with high, heathery hills on all sides. A black swamp occupied the bottom of the valley, with a broad ring of white cotton grass around it. The old mine road, now grassgrown, skirted this and wound away up the far hill. There was not a single landmark of any kind in sight.

'No,' said Jim frankly. 'I haven't a notion.'

Butch chuckled softly. 'It wouldn't do you much good if you did know, mister, for you ain't going to leave here till we gets our price.'

'And what may that be?' asked Jim, with an air of innocence.

Butch chuckled again.

'You knows as well as I do. It's that there picture.'

It was Jim's turn to laugh.

'Then I'm afraid you'll have to keep me a long time. The picture is not mine and my name is not Tremayne.'


CHAPTER VII. — MIDIAN BRINGS A MESSAGE

BUTCH was not at all dismayed when he learned that Jim was not Tremayne.

'I knows that. Your name's Coryton, and it was you as scared that silly fool, Midian, after he'd as good as got the picture. But I reckon them Tremaynes will trade all right at least when they hears what's going to happen to you if thew don't.'

'Something with boiling oil in it?' suggested Jim.

Butch took him quite literally.

'I did see a feller have his hand held in a frying pan full of hot bacon grease,' he told Jim in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, which made Jim shiver inwardly, 'but I don't hold with that sort o' thing, myself, unless o' course you gotter make a chap squeak. In your case—' he looked at Jim reflectively, 'we was going to tell them as you wouldn't get no grub until we got the picture.'

'But why pitch on me?' asked Jim lightly. 'I'm a mere outsider, and have nothing to do with the picture.'

'Then why did you take that there cable for Vanneck?' asked Butch directly.

'I was staying in the house,' said Jim, still fencing. 'They take paying guests.'

Butch nodded. 'I knows all about that. But you ain't no paying guest, and it ain't any use pretending you are.'

Jim's heart sank. This fellow knew everything. But he stuck to his guns.

'It's true I'm not a paying guest at present, but I never knew the Tremaynes or anything about them until the day before yesterday.'

'You knowed enough to run an' help young Maurie Tremayne when Midian were after him. You saved him and you saved the girl. You're in this up to the neck, Mister Coryton, and here you stays until you starves or until I gets the picture.'

He spoke with a horrible air of finality which made Jim's spirits sink lower than ever.

He tried another tack. 'There are police even in Cornwall,' he remarked, but Butch only smiled bleakly.

'I ain't losing any sleep over them Cornish flatties,' he answered. 'It 'ud take a regiment of 'em to find this here place, and you'd be dead before they'd got started.'

'You're full of pleasant thoughts, aren't you, Mr. Butch?' retorted Jim, but his sarcasm fell flat.

'It's the picture I wants,' said the other. 'I ain't got any special spite against you.'

'Well, I hope the spite doesn't begin just yet,' said Jim. 'Not till after breakfast, anyhow.'

'No,' said Butch. 'You gets your grub to-day. But if they turns you down, then God help you.'

With that he pointed to the door of the mine house. 'You'll stay inside arter this,' he ordered. 'And my advice to you is, don't try any games. I'm mighty useful with guns of all sorts, and I've killed a running deer at a hundred yards with a hand gun.'

He followed Jim into the building where Midian, an unpleasant sight with his unshaven face and blood-shot eyes, had arisen and was cooking breakfast over a small oil stove. He looked up at Jim.

'Trying to do a bunk?' he sneered.

'Trying to wash,' replied Jim. 'I suppose it's no use asking you for the loan of a piece of soap?'

'Gimme any back talk and you'll get soap all light,' snarled Midian ferociously.

Jim stepped up to him.

'See here, Midian, I didn't ask to be brought here, but now I am here I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head. If you've any more remarks to make now's the time to make them. Mr. Butch will see fair play.'

Jim knew the risk he was taking, but he knew, or thought he knew, Midian's type. He was not mistaken, for after glaring at him for a few seconds the man's eyes fall.

'I don't want no trouble,' he said sulkily.

'And I'm sure I don't,' replied Jim cheerfully, as he took his seat on an old packing case.

The food, though rough, was plentiful. There was fried bacon, stale bread but good, butter in a tin and any amount of strong black tea. Jim, who had had nothing for nearly twenty-four hours, except the cup of tea overnight, which Butch had brought him, was desperately hungry and made a thoroughly good meal.

'Eat, hearty,' said Butch, with the first touch of humor he had yet betrayed.

'Just what I'm doing,' smiled Jim. 'I've got to stoke up to- day if I am to starve to-morrow.'

'I ain't reckoning you'll do a lot of starving,' said Butch drily.

'I'm not so optimistic,' Jim answered, as he cut another slice of bread. 'By the bye, how are you going to approach Mr. Tremayne?'

'We done that already,' Butch told him. 'They got the letter this morning and likely they're reading it this minute.'

'You certainly don't waste any time,' said Jim. But how do you get an answer? You can hardly expect the local postman to deliver to this address.'

'We got our postman all right,'; Butch answered. 'We'll hear to-night or tomorrow early.'

'And if you get the picture, I go?'

'Sure, you go. No one ever said as Butch Harvey failed to keep his end of a bargain.'

Jim fell silent. He was thinking hard. Knowing the Tremaynes as he did, he had very little doubt but that they would yield to Butch's blackmailing demand, and send the picture. Maurice was still in bed, and Nance and her uncle would be so horrified at the idea of their guest being a prisoner that all they would think of would be I his release.

His one hope lay in Pip. Pip for all his casual ways, had a backbone of good solid common sense, and could be trusted to do the sensible thing, and communicate with the police. For Jim did not believe that the police were as helpless as Butch made out. And they could enlist civilian help to beat the Moors.

The only other way of solving the problem was to make his escape, but that, for the present at least, was a pretty hopeless proposition. In the first place he was not fit for a hard run, in the second he had not the faintest idea which way to go, and there was the additional objection that Midian and Butch seemed never to let him out of their sight.

By the time breakfast was over the sun had broken through the clouds, and there was every prospect of a beautiful day. Midian took the dirty crockery out to the leat, to wash up, and Jim took advantage of his absence to tackle Butch.

'Will you take my parole, Mr. Harvey?'

'Parole—what's that?' asked Butch, puzzled.

'My word not to try to escape. You said I was to stay in here, but I'm hankering to be on the heather in the sun. After all,' he added with a smile, 'I couldn't do a bunk if I tried. I'm much too feeble.'

'And yet you was ready to fight Midian,' remarked Butch, with a sort of unwilling admiration.

'That was pure bluff,' admitted Jim.

A slow grin crossed Butch's hard face. 'I knowed that. Well, you're a gent, and I'll take your word. Only, if I whistles you come right in. You hear me?'

'I hear, and you have my word. I promise not to make any attempt to escape until after sunset.'

'And then you won't have a chance,' retorted Butch. 'You can go along out.'

Midian scowled at the sight of Jim outside, and he made no remark, and Jim was careful not to go far.

He lay down on his back in the nearest patch of heather and began thinking things over. But somehow the only thing on which his thoughts would concentrate was Nance's face, which rose as clearly before his mind's eye as if it's owner was standing in front of him.

'The sweetest girl I ever met, the sweetest I shall ever meet,' he murmured.

Bees hummed drowsily in the purple heather bloom, a curlew cried plaintively overhead, a soft breeze tempered the heat of the sun, and Jim drifted off into a land of dreams where for the time he forgot his troubles.


WHEN he woke the shadows showed that noon was long past. He went to the leat and drank deeply of the ice-cold water and again bathed his head. There was still an ugly lump where Midian's brutal blow had fallen, but the dreadful ache had almost gone, and he felt infinitely better. Jim was one of those Spartans whose school-days had been in the time of the Great War. He had learned as a small boy the art of keeping fit and had practised it over since, with the result that he had practically recovered within twenty-four hours from a blow which would have killed a weaker man.

He went back to his nest in the heather and drowsed and lazed until about five o'clock, when a low, sharp whistle reached his ears, and remembering his promise he got up and came straight into the mine house.

'Someone coming,' Butch explained briefly. 'No, it ain't no flattie,' he added with a ghost of a smile. 'Most like it's one of our chaps, but I ain't taking no risks. You stay right here until I finds out.'

He called to Midian who was sleeping in the inner room, and gave him whispered directions, and the man went out. There was a long wait before Midian came back with an envelope, which Butch at once tore open. Jim's heart boat a little faster as he recognised Nance's writing.

Butch read it through slowly, then looking up saw Jim's eyes fixed on him.

'You don't need to worry,' he remarked. 'They ain't raising a mite of trouble. Soon as ever they're sure as we're the ones as really holds you, they're a going to give us the picture.'

Jim suppressed an angry exclamation. He was bitterly disappointed.


CHAPTER VIII. — A BID FOR FREEDOM

BUTCH was almost cheerful at supper that evening. He seemed to have taken, a liking to Jim, and began to tell him of certain adventures, rum-running across the Canadian border. He had acted as driver of powerful armoured cars which rushed straight through all barriers and a hail of bullets. His extraordinary disregard for human life horrified, yet at the same time fascinated Jim.

To do Butch justice, he seemed to, think as little of his own life as of those of others, and he mentioned quite casually that he carried the scars of five bullet wounds. 'But you can't go on with that sort of thing indefinitely,' said Jim. 'I thought boot- leggers saved their money and retired to houses with gold knobs on the doors and silver-fitted bathrooms.'

'I had a right nice packet saved two years ago,' Butch told him, 'but I got into a game one night and soaked the lot.'

He looked at Jim with a ghost of a smile. 'You don't need to worry. I don't reckon I'll starve.'

Jim did not think he would live to do so. It was much more likely that Butch's life would come to a sudden and violent end, and Jim found himself with an odd feeling of sympathy, almost with an odd feeling of sympathy, almost sorrow, for the outlaw. But this feeling did not interfere with his determination to escape if any chance to do so offered. He had no intention of the Memling Madonna falling into Sharland's hands if he could do anything to prevent it.

Butch sat smoking and talking until nearly midnight. He shared his tobacco with Jim, and even offered him a glass of whisky. At last he yawned and rose to his feet.

'Guess I'll turn in,' he said.

Jim's spirits rose, for Midian had been asleep for three hours past.

They fell again when Butch roused his confederate and ordered him to stand guard.

'Don't take no chances with him,' he ordered, with a nod in Jim's direction, and Midian, who was extremely sulky at being, waked from sound sleep observed that something unmentionable would happen to himself if he took any chances, while as to what would happen to Jim his language was still more luridly expressed.

Jim lay down and pretended to be asleep, but instead of sleeping covertly watched Midian. His one hope was that the man might drowse at his post. It was a vain hope, for Midian, seated on a packing case with his back against the door, filled and smoked pipe after pipe of coarse black tobacco. The worst of it was that Butch was sleeping in the same room, and Jim watched him look to the magazine of his pistol and place it in his pocket before lying down. Jim racked his brain for any plan for getting away, but could find none. He had no weapon of any kind, not even a stick, and even if there was any hope of successfully tackling Midian, the noise would certainly rouse Butch who, he knew, was a light sleeper.

Now and then Midian consulted a large silver watch which he took from his waistcoat pocket, and at last got up and crossing to Butch shook him awake.

'Four o'clock,' he growled.

Butch got up quietly, and glanced across at Jim. 'You might just as well have your sleep,' he remarked.

'How do you know I haven't been asleep?' retorted Jim sharply.

'I weren't born yesterday,' was Butch's calm answer, and Jim had to realise that a rabbit in a steel gin would stand as good a chance of escape as he. Yet he vowed to himself that, if these fellows did get the picture, he would somehow get it back again.

With this thought firmly fixed in his mind, he fell asleep and did not wake until the clatter of the frying pan told him that Midian was preparing breakfast, Butch allowed Jim to go out and wash in the leat, but watched him the whole time.

'It wouldn't do you any good to fun,' he advised quietly. 'And I'd hate to spoil your fishing with a bullet in your leg.'

Jim had nothing to say, for he was perfectly aware that his gaoler was not bluffing. He was equally aware that the man read his intentions like an open book.

Butch ushered him back into the mine house and helped him to food. He was kind, even courteous, yet Jim was certain that if anything went amiss and the picture was not delivered, he would keep his word remorselessly as to starving his prisoner.

'Who is bringing you the picture?' he asked, when breakfast was over and Midian outside, cleaning up.

'A fellow as I can trust,' was the dry reply.

'When do you expect him?'

'Some time before night.' He paused. 'You want your liberty today?'

'No,' said Jim sharply, and the other shrugged. 'Then you'll have to stay inside,' he said.

'You watch I don't get out,' retorted Jim, but Butch only smiled.

Jim had a deliberate purpose in what he had said, for a plan had been brewing in his mind for some hours past, a perfectly crazy idea, yet the only one that offered the slightest hope of preventing the Sharland gang from getting the picture. The plan depended for its success on his being left alone inside the mine house, and this was the chance he was waiting for. A pretty thin chance, for during the whole of the previous day there had not been a minute during which one or other of the men had not been hanging around.

Jim chucked himself down on his bed of fern and pretended to doze. Butch stayed outside and smoked in the sun, but Midian sat at the door with a pipe between his teeth and his unpleasant eyes fixed upon Jim.

And so the morning dragged by, the longest morning Jim had ever known. At the mid-day meal of bread and cheese, Butch chatted Jim in his dry way.

'Reckon you're sorry you didn't give me your parole or whatever you calls it,' he remarked.

'Be a sportsman,' said Jim. 'Give me a hundred yards' start, and you won't see me for dust.'

'I guess you wouldn't find much sport about it,' said Butch.

'I don't believe you could hit me at that distance,' Jim insisted, but Butch's thin lips tightened.

'I wouldn't advise you to try,' he said coldly.

Midian went to the leat, but came back quickly and said something to Butch in a voice too low for Jim to hear, and Butch got up at once and followed him outside. At the door he turned.

'I'm a-going to lock you in, Mr. Coryton,' he said curtly, 'and if you got any regard for your skin, don't try getting out.'

'How can I, without a pickaxe?' Jim retorted, but the moment the door was closed he was on his feet and hurrying into the inner room.

Jim Coryton was a Cornishman born and bred, and every Cornishman is a miner. Without being an expert Jim knew enough of tin mines to be fairly sure that an adit (or gallery) ran from the back of the mine building into the hill. He knew, too, that a tin mine has, as a rule, more than one adit. This one had certainly a second, for he had already spotted another opening higher up the hill and about a quarter of a mile from the mine house. His idea was to get into the near one and out by the far one.

This may sound a simple matter; but in point of fact it was nothing of tho sort. The mine had been closed down for years— certainly for half a century, and the odds were strong that the timbers supporting the roof of the interior galleries had long ago rotted away, allowing the roof to fall. It was even chances that Jim would find his way blocked before he had gone far. Even if it was not blocked, there would be rotten places where the slightest jar might cause a fall. In a working mine the miners wear a special hat to protect their heads from falling stones.

But the worst of it all was that Jim had no candle, and how was he going to find his way through a maze of dark, underground tunnels without light he did not care to think. The odds were all upon his getting lost and wandering into some blind alley in the heart of the hill, or falling down one of the winzes, the deep shafts which connect one level with another. He shivered a little as he thought of such a fate, lying crushed at the bottom of such a pit, with no possible hope of rescue or escape, yet even this fear did not alter or check his resolution.

Inside the inner room he paused. Sure enough, there was a black tunnel mouth at its inner end. A thin stream of water leaked out from the darksome depths and poured away through a drain in the floor. They—Midian and Butch—would know where he had gone, but even they would hardly dare to follow. Then he saw something else. A box of matches and a candle end lying on an upturned packing case. He snatched them up and plunged into the tunnel. The floor was deep, sticky mud, but he pushed on quickly. In a few steps the light had faded and he was squelching onwards through a darkness that might be felt.


CHAPTER IX. — TRAPPED

THE roof of the gallery was so low that it was impossible for six-foot Jim Coryton to stand upright. He had to keep his head bent and to watch the roof where jutting rooks threatened his head. Many of these rocks had fallen and lay In the mud which covered the floor. This shone with a red iridescence from the tin ore with which It was charged; it was deep, sticky, and bitterly cold. The water trickling through it was very little above freezing point.

A hundred yards up, and Jim stopped and listened, but there was no sound of pursuit. He pushed on again. The air was heavy and charged with a harsh odour of decay, but it was breathable and his candle burned clearly. He came to a cross-cut and paused, undecided as to whether to turn up it, but decided to go further first. He did not go far, for presently he found his way barred by a roof fall, a block so complete there was no possibility of passing it. There was nothing for It but to turn back and take the passage to the left along the cross-cut. At any rate, It was the right direction, but Jim doubted whether it reached the other adit which he knew to be a good deal higher than the level which he had reached.

This cross-cut was drier than the main gallery, but the sides and roof were in very bad condition, and the floor littered with huge lumps of rock, among which it was difficult to pick his way. He had to go slowly. The cut curved slightly to the right, and the light of the candle fell upon another block. Jim's heart sank, for now there seemed nothing for it but to go back. He began to realise why there was no pursuit. Probably Midian knew that there was no way out, and he and Butch were waiting below, grinning in their sleeves at the knowledge that their prisoner would be forced to return.

The thought drove him frantic, and he went up to the barrier and examined it, and found that the fall did not quite reach the roof. There was a space a foot or a so wide between it and the gap from which the rock, had fallen. He saw that it would be just possible to crawl through this opening, yet the risk of doing so appalled him, for the whole roof above was so unstable it looked as if a touch would bring it down. He climbed carefully up the side, and looking over, saw the cut stretching away as far as his candle light carried. He saw, too, that it sloped upwards, and quite suddenly made up his mind that, come what might, he was going over. That fellow Midian would not have the chance to crow over him if he could help it.

Flat on his stomach, he drew himself cautiously across the top of the great pile of jagged stones. He hardly dared breathe, each moment expecting the roof to crash upon him, but nothing fell, and with a gasp of relief he drew himself clear. He was safe on the far side when, with a sudden roar, a fresh fall crashed down, and when the dust had subsided he was able to see that now there was no possibility of getting back. It was a terrifying situation, and though Jim had as much pluck as the next man, and more than some, a shudder ran down his spine. For if the road beyond was closed he was helplessly penned in a living tomb from which he could never escape.

The cut rose, and seemed, so far as he could judge, to be running in the right direction, the walls and floor were drier, and he got on faster. Almost too fast, for he came upon a winze, a great shaft dropping to unknown depths, and only just pulled up in time. There was no way round, and the plank bridge which, had once spanned it had long ago mouldered and dropped. Nor was there any way across except by jumping, and, although the breadth was no more than six feet, the lowness of the roof made the jump difficult and dangerous. There was, however, no help for it, so Jim hardened his heart and jumped. He fell as he landed, and big candle went out, leaving him in a darkness so intense the very air felt solid. A chunk of rock dislodged from the edge of the winze went rattling downwards, banging from wall to wall, to fall at last with a sullen plunge into deep water.

Jim's fingers shook so that he had difficulty in striking a match and relighting his candle, and when it was at last burning he remained quite still for some moments, breathing deeply and trying to steady his shaken nerves. His head was aching again and he found he had by no means got over the effects of the slow Midian had dealt him.

Presently he was on his feet again and going forward. The next thing that attracted his attention was a cut in the right-hand wall. A most unusual sort of cut, for it ran up at a tremendously steep angle, almost one in two. Where it led, Jim could not see, for it went up and up like a chimney shaft. He saw the remains of iron staples fast in the rock, and realised that formerly a ladder must have been fixed to climb this shaft. His candle was burning low, so he did not waste time, but went on again.

Once more the gallery curved, and as Jim rounded the bend he came, not to a fall, but to the blank end of the cut. He stood quite still, gazing at the wall of solid rock and trying to realise that this was the finish.


CHAPTER X. — ALL FOR NOTHING!

NO way forward, no way back, for the fall had cut off all possibility of return. A pleasant prospect truly, and small wonder that Jim was conscious of a horrible sinking feeling; at the pit of his stomach. But this did not last long. He stiffened.

'I'm not done yet,' he said aloud. 'There's that shaft.' He went quickly back to the shaft and looked up it.

Looking did not give him much comfort, for, on the face of it, the place was beyond anyone to climb, at least single-handed. Two men might have managed it they had a rope—but one?

Then Jim glanced at his candle and got a fresh fright. There was only an inch left. To die in the dark—that was a fate too awful to contemplate. 'I'd go mad,' said Jim to himself, and hastily set about fixing the candle on the brim of his hat. Then, without giving himself any more time to think of the difficulties ahead, he started to climb.

One thing in his favour was that the rock was 'sound, a second help was the iron staples which, though badly rusted, still remained firm in their positions. Without these the climb would have been utterly impossible, but there they were at regular intervals, each giving a hand and a foothold.

And so, foot by foot, Jim won his way up that perilous place, every moment aware of the 'fact that one mistake, one slip, would mean death. The climb seemed endless, every muscle in his body ached, his hands were torn, his nails split, sweat streamed down his face, almost blinding him. More than once he believed he had reached the end of his tether; it was only the thought of death there in a living tomb of rock and in the dark that spurred him to fresh exertion.

His candle flickered wildly, throwing jumping shadows on the smooth rock sides of the shaft. He knew it could not last much longer and the thought drove him on. His head began to spin and queer flashes of light danced before his straining eye-balls. Then, just as he felt he could do no more his groping finger's found a ledge, he gave a last desperate heave, hoisted his body over a sharp edge of rock, fell forward on a level surface, and, for the first time in his twenty-four years, fainted.

It is never a pleasant business coming out of a fainting fit even when all possible help is at hand, and the patient is stretched on a sofa with smelling salts and sponges of cool water at hand. Imagine Jim's plight when, struggling back to consciousness, he found himself in pitch darkness, lying face down on rough rock, with his feet actually still hanging over the emptiness out of which he climbed.

He dragged himself up to a sitting position. His head throbbed horribly and he felt weak and limp. But the worst of it was the darkness. He struck a match. There were only about a dozen left in the box and his candle was nothing but a patch of grease with a bit of black wick in it. He twisted this into a taper lit it, and scrambling to his feet, hurried forward. By this time he had not the faintest idea where he was and hardly any sense of direction. All he knew was that the opening was probably somewhere to the left.

He staggered as he walked, but the fear of the darkness kept him going and up here the going was fairly good. His eyes were on his tiny taper which was burning away with terrible speed. And, when it was done! He could not bear to think of what would happen. Bit by bit it went down; he reckoned he had covered pretty nearly three hundred yards when it flickered and went out. There was nothing left, except his matches.

He pushed on in the dark, feeling cautiously with his hands. Once he bumped his head badly, then, a little later, found himself up against a blank wall. He had to take half a dozen breaths before he could steady himself to light a match, for he fully believed that he had once more struck a blind alley. The light gave him a ray of comfort, for this was not the end of the alley, but a place where it turned to the right.

Holding his match between shaking fingers he hurried on. The match burnt out, and again he felt his way forward in black darkness. He began to wonder how long he could stand the strain and the suspense, how long before he started screaming and running. He had read of such things; it was only now that he realised how hideously possible they were.

A pale glow showed ahead, a luminous patch the size of a man's head, and very much that shape. For an Instant Jim believed that either he was looking at a ghost or that his eyes were playing him tricks, but common sense came to the rescue and he remembered the luminescence of the fungus which grew on the decaying timbers.

He struck another match and at once the light vanished, but when this match burned out there it was clearer and larger than before. It gave him some sort of a guiding mark and he resolved not to strike another match until he had reached it. So, he went on slowly—very slowly, but the odd thing was that the patch grew larger, brighter, yet seemed no nearer. Jim's heart began to beat hard for a faint suspicion was dawning in his mind as to the real nature of the light.

As he groped forward it grew larger still became circular in shape, and presently there was no doubt any longer in his mind. He made a run and stumbled headlong out in me glorious sunshine which he had hardly hoped ever to see again. The light blinded him, he fell on his face and covered his eyes with his hands. He was aching in every bone and muscle, yet so full of triumph at he success that he hardly fell the pain.

Then a drawling voice spoke.

'You took a hell of a lot of trouble for nothing, didn't ye, mister?' And Jim, looking up, saw Butch Harvey standing over him.


CHAPTER XI. — JIM GOES HOME

THE shock knocked Jim off his balance and he simply lay and stared up at Butch. He could not nave spoken to save his life.

'You've sure had a tough time,' went on Butch, and there was no malice in his voice. If anything a rough sympathy.

Jim did not speak, and Butch continued. 'You might have knowed, as I knowed, which way you'd gone. I'd have stopped you if I could, but you was plumb out of sight and hearing afore I found you'd gone. So there weren't nothing for it but to come round here and wait till you got out. Not as I ever thought as you would get out.' He paused, but Jim was still silent, and after a little Butch spoke again. 'There's a friend o' yours a- waiting for you down by the mine, but it don't look to me like you're in any shape to walk.'

Jim sat up.

'A friend!' he repeated. 'What do you mean? Who is it?'

'Feller named Ching. Butler, ain't he, over to Tremaynes?'

Jim stared at Butch. 'What brings Ching here?' he demanded hoarsely.

'He's come for you, I reckon,' said Butch, with his bleak smile. 'Then—then he's brought the picture?'

'Sure, he's brought the picture. You knows you couldn't go unless he had.'

The news was too much for Jim. He almost collapsed.

'No need to take it that hard,' remarked Butch. 'You gotter remember as business is business. I'm paid to get that there picture, and I got it, and I hope there ain't no hard feelings. I ain't got none anyways.'

He pulled a flask out of his pocket. 'Here, take a drink o' this,' he said. 'It ain't rye, but I've tasted worse.' He poured some of the spirit into the metal cup and handed it to Jim.

It was undiluted Scotch, and did Jim a wonderful lot of good. His head cleared and he was able to think again. The damage was done, the picture was in Butch's hands, and now the one hope before him, and the Tremaynes, was to get it back again. But it was only too plain that in his present stale he could do nothing in that direction, while Ching, of course, would be equally helpless. The best course was to get back to the Roost as quickly as possible and organise pursuit.

He struggled to his feet, but would have fallen if Butch had not caught him by the arm. 'You better sit down again a piece,' the latter advised.

'No, I can walk,' returned Jim. 'I'm all right.'

'You're about as right as a drowned kitten,' retorted Butch. 'Gosh, you looks as if you'd been through a stone breaker.'

He was right, for Jim's clothes hung in rags, his hands were raw, his face plastered with red mud from the mine, and smeared with blood, while the toes of his shoes were worn completely through.

'I can walk,' repeated Jim and started. Butch held him by the arm and guided him down the hill side, and Jim did not refuse his help for he could never have walked alone. Midian was waiting at the door of the mine house, and grinned scornfully as Jim came staggering up.

'Thought yourself mighty clever, didn't ye?' he jeered. Butch fixed his cold eyes on the man. 'Shut your trap,' he said curtly. 'He's done what you wouldn't dare do for all your bluff.'

Midian scowled, but did not venture to make any retort. Quite clearly he knew which of the two was boss. Jim dropped on a boulder, and Butch opened the door of the mine house.

'You kin come out now, Mr. Ching,' he said. 'Here's the gent, and I reckon the sooner you gets him home and to bed, the better.'

Ching stepped out, then, at sight of Jim, stopped short. He swung on Butch like a terrier on a bull.

'What have you been doing to him?' he demanded angrily. 'You'd never have had that there picture if I'd knowed the way you'd been treating Mr. Coryton.'

'It's not his doing, Ching,' said Jim hastily. 'It's any own fault entirely.'

'I got a car about a mile away,' said Ching. 'Think you can make it sir?'

'I can make it with a little help.' said Jim firmly. 'Let us be going.'

'You better stop and rest a piece and have a cup of coffee,' advised Butch, but Jim shook his head.

Butch read his thought. 'I reckon you're in a hurry to start chasing of us,' said with his chill smile.

'I am,' said Jim grimly.

'You're welcome,' said Butch. 'Only I'll tell you right now, it won't be a mite of good. That there picture will be a long ways off afore to-morrow morning. Well, good-bye, Mr. Coryton, and hope there's no hard feelings.'

'Not against you personally,' Jim assured him, 'but all the same, look out tor yourself when we meet again.'

'I been looking out fer myself fer nigh on forty years,' said Butch quietly. 'I guess I'll go right on doing it.'

'A tough nut if ever I saw one, sir,' said Ching, as he started off with Jim leaning heavily on his shoulder.

'I've met worse,' said Jim.


CHAPTER XII. — A HAPPY ISSUE

JIM hardly said a word on the way to the car. In point of fact it was about all he could do to walk, without trying to talk. He would never have done the journey at all but for Ching's help, but Ching, though a small man, was tough and wiry, and, at last, they sighted a small two-seater, standing on a cart track, close by a brook.

'Sorry I couldn't get her no nearer, sir,' said Ching. 'I'd never have got her this far if it hadn't been for the fellow as guided me.'

'Who was he?' asked Jim.

'A little wizened chap, a cockney, I'd say, sir. It was him as brought us news of you, and made the bargain.'

'And you let those brutes have the picture!' said Jim bitterly.

'About time, too, sir, judging by the look of you,' replied Ching a little drily. He glanced at Jim, whose appearance was simply deplorable, and made a suggestion.

'If you was to sit down here by the brook, sir, maybe we could wash off some of that mud, and I've got a flask of coffee, and some sandwiches in the car, in case you was hungry.'

Ching was a real handy-man, and although he could not, of course, mend Jim's tattered garments, he effected a considerable improvement in his general appearance. Some excellent egg and ham sandwiches and a tumbler of whisky mixed with ice-cold water from the brook helped to restore Jim to his normal self.

Then they got into the car which, Jim learned, had been lent by Aylmer, and drove off. It was a long, slow and bumpy journey before they reached the main road, and the sun was near setting before they came within sight of the ivy-clad walls of the ancient house by the sea.

'There's Miss Nance, waiting for you, sir,' but Jim did not answer. He was in the very depths. Knowledge of the sacrifice which the Tremaynes had made for his sake left him dreadfully unhappy.

Yet here was Nance waiting for him, Nance with such a delightful smile of welcome on her charming face that sent a glow of pleasure to Jim's sore heart.

'You are safe. Oh, I am glad,' were her first words, and she gave him both her hands. Then, as she saw the state he was in, the smile left her face. 'Oh!' she cried sharply. 'Oh, what have they been doing to you?'

'Nothing,' Jim assured her earnestly. 'I tried to get away and made a mess of it. It was quite my own fault.'

Nance was looking at him in a way which set Jim's heart beating furiously. He had to fight down a mad impulse to seize her in his arms, then as he turned to go up the steps a wave of giddiness swept over him and he swayed slightly.

Nance caught him quickly.

'You are ill. You are hurt! Lean on me. Please do. I am quite strong.'

For a heavenly moment Jim did so, then Pip came leaping down the steps.

'You silly old ass, Jim,' he exclaimed. 'What have you been doing to yourself?'

'He's been right through one off them old mines. Mr. Peter,' explained | Ching from the car. 'Trying to get away, so as to save the picture. Proper plucky job, sir, and no fault of his it didn't come off.'

'Sort of thing he would do,' said Pip, reproachfully. 'You always were a crazy old idiot, Jim.'

'Help him into the house and don't talk,' said Nance severely, and though Jim vowed he was all right the two took each an arm and led him up Into the hall, where they put him in a big armchair.'

'He must go to bed at once,' continued Nance. 'He has a most dreadful bruise on his head,' she said to Pip.

'Please—no!' begged Jim. 'A bath and some clean clothes and a cup of tea, then I shall be my own man again. Honestly, I mean it,' he continued, in response to Nance's doubtful gaze.

'We'll try you out, old son!' said Pip. 'Come on up. But are you sure you wouldn't like something stronger than tea?'

Jim laughed quite naturally. 'Even Butch gave me whisky, to say nothing of Ching. Bed will certainly be my portion if I have any more.'

Pip took him up to his room and turned on the bath for him. 'You'll I find your own kit here now, Jim,' he said. 'I sent to Corse for our suitcases.'

'A good job, too,' said Jim. 'I don't want to ruin any more of Maurice's things.'

Half-an-hour later Jim turned up in the hall looking so spruce that Nance gazed at him in surprise.

'I told you,' said Jim, and she laughed.

'You are really rather wonderful,' she said.

'I 'shall be much more wonderful when I've had some tea,' Jim answered.

Tea was ready, tough cakes with Cornish cream, rich and yellow, and strawberry jaw; the tea itself in a beautiful old silver pot, all the appointments so dainty and perfect.

'You can't think how good it looks to me, Miss Tremayne,' said Jim, earnestly. 'The last meal I ate was cooked by Midian.'

'I want to hear all about it.' said Nance, 'but after tea,' she added firmly, 'not before.'

So Jim drank his tea and ate the tough cakes, which were not in the least tough, but fresh out of Mrs. Ching's oven, and afterwards Nance questioned him and drew from him the whole story of the past two days. Butch interested her intensely.

'But he does not seem to have been bad at all,' she declared. 'Could a man like that have really intended to starve you?'

'Make no mistake about that,' Jim laughed. 'Butch would starve his own grandmother if he thought it necessary for the success of any of his plans. With him it is simply a matter of business. All the same,' he added, 'I am dreadfully sorry you let him have the picture.'

Nance's eyes widened.

'But he did not have the picture,' she said.


CHAPTER XIII. — THE CELLAR

JIM fell back in his chair.

'Did not have the picture!' he repeated, almost too 'surprised to speak at all.

'Do you mean that Mr. Paget did not tell you?' asked Nance quickly.

'He never said a word. But I don't understand. I am quite sure that Butch Harvey would never have let me go without it.'

'Oh, this is too bad,' said Nance vexedly. 'Of course I thought that you had heard. What we sent to Harvey was a duplicate which Mr. Paget painted.'

For a moment Jim gazed at Nance, as if he could hardly believe what she was saying; then the tense expression left his face, and suddenly he began to laugh.

'Oh!' he gasped. ''What a joke! What a topping idea! Splendid! Splendid!'

'I'm glad you take it so well,' said Nance quite seriously. 'I think that in your place I should be dreadfully annoyed to think that I had been through so much for nothing.'

'Not a bit. Not the least bit in the world,' Jim assured her. 'I feel nothing but relief that the picture is still safe. I was worried sick to think of the sacrifice you and Maurice had made for my sake.'

'Nonsense!' exclaimed Nance indignantly. 'Surely you know that we would not have left those horrible men starve you!'

'I know already that you are the kindest people I have ever met,' said Jim in a tone that brought a slight flush to Nance's cheeks. He thought a moment. 'Then Ching didn't know?' he asked.

'No. We thought it would be better that he should not know.'

Jim nodded approval. 'Quite right. If he didn't know he would, of course, be much more convincing.' He laughed again. 'It was a great scheme. Whose idea was it. Miss Tremayne?'

'Mr. Paget's. He was splendid. He worked fourteen hours with hardly a break, doing the copy. He used an old canvas which we luckily had in the house, and do you know, when he had finished, none of us could tell the difference between the two. It was the cleverest imitation you could possibly imagine.'

'Pip's a bit of a genius at that sort of thing,' Jim told her. 'He has done a lot of copying at the National Gallery. It's the work he is keenest on.'

'It was great luck for Maurice and for all of us, your coming here,' said Nance seriously. 'You have been our good angels ever since your arrival.'

'You will make me blush next,' laughed Jim, then he turned serious. 'That copy—it has fooled Butch, Miss Tremayne, but it certainly won't fool his employers.'

'I suppose not,' said Nance doubtfully.

'No doubt whatever about that,' said Jim, with decision. 'Pip has often told me that even the cleverest copies can be detected, and, of course, a hastily prepared thing like this would not deceive an expert for a minute. You can take it that, as soon as the copy is in Sharland's hands, that gentleman is going to be on the trail again. How long will it be before Vanneck can arrive to claim his property?'

'We had a cable to-day,' Nance answered. 'He says he hopes to arrive in about three weeks.'

Jim pursed his lips. 'Three weeks, and meantime, you have to keep the picture in the house.'

'Oh, it is safe enough,' Nance assured him. 'Come and I will show you where it is kept.'

Jim demurred. 'Isn't it better to keep the secret to the original four?' he suggested.

'Of course I should not let any stranger know,' said Nance, with an emphasis on the word stranger that pleased Jim greatly. 'But Mr. Paget knows, and certainly you ought to know, too.'

She got up and Jim opened the door for her. Nance led him through a swing door, along a stone-floored passage which led past the pantry where Ching was busy.

'I want the key of the cellar, Ching,' she said, 'and a lantern.'

Armed with these, she went to the end of the passage and unlocked a door beyond which a flight of stone steps led down into darkness. 'I will go first,' she said. 'Be careful, Mr. Coryton, for the steps are steep.'

Jim following her down the steps found himself in a large cellar, walled with the same heavy masonry of which the house was built The floor was solid rock.

'What a builder that ancestor of yours,' he remarked. 'I can't imagine how Master Rabb and his men did a job like this without dynamite.'

'This is nothing,' said Nance. 'Wait till you see the inner cellar.'

Crossing the floor, she held the lantern against one of the stones. At once a section of the wall about four feet high by three wide swung slowly and quite silently inwards. Ducking her head, Nance passed through, and the light showed a second room about ten feet square and seven high hewn in the virgin rock on which the house was founded.

'There, what do you think of that?' she asked. 'And it is dry as a bone and perfectly well ventilated.'

'It's rather wonderful,' agreed Jim. 'Where does the air come in?'

'Through small holes in the roof. Pipes come out in the walls of the house. The picture is here,' she added, pointing to a large wooden chest made of solid oak and bound with great iron clamps.

'This, I think, was Rabb's money chest,' she said as she took a large key from a hook on the wall, and inserted it in the lock. 'The lock, you see, is as good as the day it was made, and here is the picture.'

She took it from its wrappings and held it up. Even by the poor light of the lantern Jim was able to see the exquisite blue of the Virgin's mantle and the daintily painted landscape visible through an opening in the wall of the stable.

'Is it not lovely?' Nance asked.

'Lovely indeed,' declared Jim with very real admiration. 'And now Pip copied it in one day beats me completely.'

He turned and glanced towards the door.

'But I say, is it wise to show it, with these doors both wide open?'

'Why not?' asked Nance simply. 'No one could come down the passage without Ching seeing. Not that there is anyone to come.'

'Aylmer,' suggested Jim.

Nance gave a little laugh. 'Cellars would not interest the Stately Edward. Besides, in any case, he is away. He went up to London yesterday, and will not be back for some days.'

'That's good,' Jim blurted out, and then was conscious that Nance was gazing at him in surprise.

'Why do you say that?' she demanded.

'I—I hardly know,' stammered Jim. 'I—I suppose I don't quite cotton to the chap.'

Nance looked a little troubled. 'I am sorry you should say that,' she said gravely.

'Why?' ventured Jim.

'Because—' she hesitated. 'Because I am not quite sure whether I like him, myself.'


CHAPTER XIV. — TWO'S COMPANY

PIP was painting on the lawn next morning when Jim, rod in hand, strolled up. A good night's rest had done wonders and Jim was quite himself again. He watched his friend washing in the sky for a moment or two, then spoke.

'Pip, don't you think it's pretty risky keeping that picture in the house?' he asked.

Pip flicked some water from his brush and looked up.

'Where do you want to keep it?' he questioned.

'In the bank.' Pip grunted. 'We'd have to get it there, and that would be a jolly sight more risky than keeping it here.'

'Sharland, you mean?'

'He or his gang. We've pretty good proof of his organisation already.'

'Who is Sharland?' asked Jim.

'Search me,' said Pip. 'No one seems to know anything about the chap. Maurice has never seen him. All we know is what Vanneck has told Maurice.'

'It's a rum business.' said Jim thoughtfully. 'I fancy it may be rummer before it's ended.'

'You mean they may tackle the house—try a burglary.'

'Something of that kind.'

'Then I suppose we must stay until Vanneck has taken the thing away.'

Pip cocked his head on one side. 'I'll swear that ain't worrying you any,' he chuckled.

'Oh, I'm very comfortable here,' replied Jim calmly, but Pip had no mercy.

'You old humbug, you know you'd jolly well stay if you had to sleep on straw and live on porridge.'

Jim's answer was to pick up Pip's jar of painting water and hold it over his head.

'Pax!' cried Pip. 'I'll be good.'

'You'd better,' threatened Jim. Another word from you and I'll make you drink it.'

'Why are you making such dreadful threats, Mr. Coryton?' came a laughing voice and Jim turned a delicate puce colour as he spun round to meet Nance.

'Shall I tell?' jeered Pip. 'Horn you see him in his true light, Miss Tremayne,' he continued. 'A brutal bully.'

'I expect you deserved it, Mr. Paget,' said Nance with a twinkle of fun in her eyes. She looked at Jim's rod. 'Are you set on fishing, Mr. Coryton?'

'I'm set on anything your ladyship wishes,' Jim replied, with his best bow. 'I was thinking of going cave hunting,' said Nance. 'And I could do with a little assistance.'

'Singular or plural?' asked Pip, but he did not get any change out of Nance.

'I could not think of taking you away from your painting just when the light is right,' she answered demurely. 'If Mr. Coryton will give me a hand that will be quite enough.'

'I feel sure than Jim's hand is very much at your disposal,' said Pip maliciously, but the others paid no attention, for they had already started.

Pip watched them with a whimsical expression on his plump face. 'Good luck, old son,' he said, under his breath. And then, 'By gum, they make a good-looking couple.'

'I think a rope is all we shall need,' Nance was explaining to Jim. 'I have one in the coach-house. We can get it on our way.'

They got the rope and climbed the steep hillside behind the house. It was beautiful weather, and so clear that the Welsh coast far away across the Channel was plainly visible. The sea lay like a flat blue plain beneath the massive cliff, it was a very different scene from the last time Jim had viewed it, when squalls of rain and wind beat furiously against the streaming rock.

'Here is the place,' said Nance brightly. Jim looked over.

'Doesn't look so bad today,' he smiled. 'I remember how puzzled I was at your interest in that cave.'

'But you understand now.'

'Of course, you think it may connect with the cellars under the house.'

'It's only a think,' laughed Nance. 'But you see there is a sort of path down to the mouth—or what was a path.'

Jim nodded. 'Yes. It has weathered a lot in three centuries, but I can quite imagine it was a path once. If we rig the rope it will be easy going.'

They rigged the rope, and found the descent easy enough.

'Not much of a cave,' said Nance in a disappointed tone as she peered into the irregularly shaped opening: not more than five feet high.

'It may not be much, but it's very interesting,' said Jim.

'Why?' Nance asked. 'Because caves of any son are rare in this type of rock.'

'You mean it is not a cave, but an artificial passage?' asked Nance eagerly.

'No, it is natural, but, of course, art may have aided nature.'

'Let us see,' cried Nance quickly, as she took out a flash lamp, switched it on, and hurried into the opening.

'You had best let me go first,' begged Jim, but Nance either did not or would not hear, and Jim followed her in. The floor sloped steeply and was so smooth that Jim felt certain that men had been busy on if at some time in the past. Full of interest and excitement Nance hurried forward at a great pace, but Jim, keenly mindful of his unpleasant experiences in the old mine, was uneasy.

'Not so fast,' he called out, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before he saw Nance slip.

'Oh!' she cried sharply, and, before Jim could reach her, she had pitched forward. He saw her shoot out of sight, then the torch clattered on the rocks and went out, and there was nothing but silence and darkness.


CHAPTER XV. — THE MAN WHO WATCHED

JIM'S fingers shook so that he could hardly strike a match. When he did succeed the light showed Nance lying fiat on her back at the bottom of a short steep slope.

Two strides took him down it and he dropped on his knees beside her.

'Nance,' he cried, 'Nance, darling, are you hurt?' And then the match burned his fingers and went out. He struck another and picked up the torch and tried the switch. To his great relief the bulb was undamaged and the light came on. But Nance was still lying quiet with her eyes closed, and Jim became almost frantic.

'Speak to me, Nance,' he begged. 'Tell me you are not hurt?'

To his intense relief her eyes opened, and as she looked up Into his anxious face she smiled slightly.

'No, I am not really hurt, but I got a dreadful bump,' she added ruefully; 'Let me be quiet a minute, Jim, until I get my breath.'

Jim save a great sigh of relief, and something in his face touched Nance for she smiled again, a very tender little smile.

'You poor boy,' she said softly. 'I didn't mean to frighten you.'

'You scared me nearly out of my wits,' said Jim reproachfully.

'What,' just by a little tumble?'

'It wasn't that,' said Jim soberly. 'I was thinking of—of yesterday.'

'The mine,' said Nance quickly. 'Of course. I ought to have remembered. I am sorry, Jim.'

The Christian name came quite naturally, but it gave Jim a little throb of pleasure.

'You are sure you are not hurt?' he asked again.

'I expect to have a bruise or two,' laughed Nance, 'but really I am none the worse. Now let us go on and see what we can see.'

'You had much better give it up for the present,' Jim urged. 'I am sure you are badly shaken.'

She laughed again and sprang nimbly to her feet. 'You are not. going to put me off like that,' she vowed.

'Then I am going first,' said Jim, and started.

The floor of the passage rose a little, then dipped afresh, running down at a steady slope. Jim went cautiously, holding the torch so that its light fell upon the rock some paces ahead. Suddenly he stopped—stopped so short that Nance almost bumped into him.

'What is—?' she began, but when she saw what Jim was pointing at she did not finish her sentence.

It was a pit, a great black gap extending from wall to wall of the gallery.

Jim stooped and picked up a pebble. He took a step forward and let it drop from his outstretched fingers. There was dead silence for a couple of seconds, then a sullen plop came up from the depths.

Nance went rather white.

'Now do you wonder I was frightened?' Jim asked.

She shook her head. 'No, Jim,' she answered with a little shiver. She came a little closer and gazed down into the black pit. 'There is no way across?' she asked.

'Not without a ladder or a plank,' Jim told her. 'I haven't the nerve left to jump it.'

'Do not suggest such a thing,' said Nance, her fingers closing on his arm. 'I—I think we had better go back.'

She was very silent as they retraced their way to the opening, and when she emerged on to the ledge she stood still, breathing deeply. 'I cannot think how you came through that mine, Jim,' she said presently. 'I could never have done it. I am sorry I ever took you into the cave.'

'You need not be,' Jim answered with a smile. 'Thank goodness I haven't quite lost my nerve. Another day we will bring a plank and cross that pit and see what is beyond it.'

'It goes in the direction of the house,' Nance said.

'More or less,' allowed Jim. 'But it doesn't seem likely to me that there is any connection between it and your cellars. That pit is natural, not artificial, and I should think it would choke off anyone who tried to get through. It seems to me that our best plan is to hunt for another secret door in your cellar.'

'I have.' Nance told him. 'I have spent hours looking for one. I do not think there is a stone in the wall that I have not examined. After all, the Plunder Pit is probably just a legend.'

'I'm not so sure,' replied Jim thoughtfully. 'After what you showed me yesterday I have a distinctly high opinion of your ancestor's ingenuity. With your permission I am going to take a hand in the treasure hunt.'

'I hope you find it,' said Nance quickly, and Jim, giving her a quick glance, decided that she actually meant it and felt strangely pleased.

But Nance did not give him a chance to become sentimental.

'Let us get back,' she said. 'I feel sure it is near tea-time, and Mrs. Ching has promised us saffron buns. Does not that make you feel greedy?'

'I do nothing but eat,' Jim lamented. 'If I stay here much longer I shall have to have all my waistcoats let out.'

Nance laughed merrily. 'You will need a great deal of sustenance if you are going treasure-hunting. I assure you there is nothing more wearing.'


PIP was still painting, but a table laid under a copper beech gave promise of tea. Explaining that she really must go and tidy up, Nance hurried away in the direction of the house, and Jim stretched his long limbs on the turf near Pip and lit a cigarette. Pip finished painting-in a tree behind the house, and brush in hand, turned to his friend.

'Find anything, Jim?' he inquired.

'A darned big hole which went right down to sea level.'

'No other discoveries?' suggested Pip, innocently.

'None,' said Jim, a trifle shortly.

'Well, at any rate you enjoyed your walk,' persisted Pip. Jim sat up. 'Of course, I enjoyed my walk. What are you driving at?'

'Nothing—nothing,' said Pip. 'But I am afraid this place does not agree with you, Jim. Or perhaps it was that thump on the head. Your temper is getting dreadfully short.'

Jim rose to his feet, 'Nance isn't here to protect you now,' he said threateningly. Pip grinned.

'So you've got as far as calling her Nance. Well, that's something, at any rate. You'd better sit down, Jim, for here's Ching with the tea.'

As Ching set out the saffron buns and other good things, he addressed Jim.

'Did you find anything, sir?'

'Nothing but a mighty big hole about twenty yards in, Ching. That stopped us going any further.'

'How wide is it, sir?'

'Seven or eight feet.'

'Then it could be crossed by a plank?'

'Yes, but it would' be rather a job to get a plank down there.'

'I suppose it would,' agreed Ching.

Nance came up with some letters. Post arrived late at the Roost.

'I have heard from Mr. Aylmer, Ching. He comes back the day after to-morrow.'

'Very good, miss. I will have his room ready,' said Ching, as he picked up his tray and went back to the house.

'Uncle Bob is having tea with Maurice,' Nance told the two men, 'so you will have to be content with my company. Let me see, two lumps for you, Mr Paget, and none for you, Jim.'

'I protest,' said Pip, and Nance looked at him in surprise. 'Why should he be Jim, and I Mr. Paget? I've known you just as long as he has. In fact I believe I spoke to you first.'

Nance blushed a little, then laughed. 'I should hate to hurt your feelings,' she answered. 'What am I to call you—Peter or Pip?'

'Pip, I think, please. But so long as it's not Mr. Paget, I don't mind.'

'Pip it shall be then,' smiled Nance, as she handed him his cup.

It was a very pleasant little meal. The tea was delicious, the saffron buns beautifully made, and the three who sat around the table chaffed one another light-heartedly.

At last Nance got up.

'Letters,' she said, 'I have not written one for a week,' and with a gay nod went lightly across the lawn. Jim gazed after her and half rose.

'No, Jim,' said Pip firmly. 'You know very well you can't help her to write letters. Besides, I want to talk to you.'

Something in Pip's tone made the other realise that he was in earnest.

'Go ahead,' he said, as he dropped back in his chair, and handed his cigarette case to Pip. Pip looked at him.

'I suppose that picture is really safe?' he said.

Jim's eyes widened. 'You know where it is as well as I do. No one could get near it unless they knew the secret of that door in the cellar wall. But why do you ask?'

'I'll tell you. While you were taking your little constitutional I got a bit thirsty and went to the house to get a drink. As I came out of the French window of the smoking room it struck me how wonderful the light was on the opposite hill, and I stood looking at it. All of a sudden spotted something moving among the gorse high up on the hill. You know I have pretty good eyes, and I knew in a minute it wasn't a pony or a sheep. I went back and got a pair of glasses. Old-fashioned things and beastly difficult to focus, but I finally got them on the spot, and sure enough it was a man hiding in the gorse and watching the house.'

'Midian!' Jim exclaimed.

Pip shook his head. 'No, it wasn't Midian. It was a bloke I've never seen before. Not so tall as Midian, and better dressed.'

'It must have been Butch then,' declared Jim. 'I don't know who it was,' said Pip. 'And anyhow, I couldn't see much of him. But I can swear to it, that he was watching the house.'

'Let's go and collect him,' said Jim eagerly. Pip shook his head. I don't know whether he saw me or not, but anyhow he shifted away. He was gone long before you and Nance came back.'

Jim looked thoughtful. 'This means then that Sharland has discovered the trick you played on him, Pip, and that he is on the war path again.'

'That's about the size of it,' said Pip briefly. 'Do we tell Nance?'

'No need,' Jim answered. 'She's got enough to think of. We'll tell Ching and let it go at that.'


CHAPTER XVI. — STEPS IN THE NIGHT

JIM took the first opportunity of telling Ching about the watcher, but Ching took it very calmly. 'No more'n what I was expectin' sir,' he said. 'But they won't get into the house very easy, and even, if they does, what can they do? Sharland's lot don't know anything about the inner cellar, and I reckon they might search for a month without finding it.'

'They'd certainly have their work cut out,' Jim agreed. 'And with four able-bodied men in the house, we ought to be fairly safe. All the same I shall feel a lot happier when Mr. Vanneck has taken away his precious masterpiece.'

'Maybe that won't be the end of it, sir,' said Ching. 'There's still the treasure.'

'You believe in that?' asked Jim, in some surprise.

'I don't see why not, sir. The master believes in it, and it always seemed to me that if there was one secret cellar, there might just as well be another.'

'There's something In that,' agreed Jim. 'I'm sure I hope the treasure will be found. It would be a great thing for the family.'

'It would be a wonderful thing for them, sir. It's hard for a lady like Miss Nance to live here without a car, or any society or amusements. And you wouldn't believe, sir, what a deal of work she does, herself, in the house.'

'I'd believe anything of Miss Tremayne as long as it was good,' said Jim warmly.

A ghost of a smile crossed Ching's lips, but he made no comment.

'I'll see to the doors and windows myself, to-night, sir,' he promised, as he turned away.

Nance was very gay that evening. After dinner she turned on a gramophone and danced with Jim. She offered to dance with Pip, but Pip reluctantly confessed that dancing was not among his accomplishments. Afterwards they three and Mr. Tremayne played bridge for sixpence a hundred. Robert Tremayne was very fond of a rubber and played a good, if rather old-fashioned game.

It was nearly twelve before they went to their rooms, but Ching was still up. He brought drinks into the smoking-room last thing, and took the opportunity of assuring Jim that all doors and windows were well secured, and Jim thanked him and went to bed.

He lay a little while thinking, but his thoughts were not of the picture. They were of Nance, and they were very pleasant ones. She had been so friendly and sweet all day, and had let him call her Nance.

Jim was a modest man, with a very modest estimate of his own abilities, but he did not think he was deceiving himself in the belief that Nance liked him. In time she might love him—as he loved her. And so presently and very happily he went to sleep.


THE next thing Jim knew was a hand shaking him by the shoulder and a voice in his ear.

'Mr. Coryton—Mr. Coryton, wake up, sir.'

Jim opened his eyes and blinked at the light in them. Ching was at his bedside, Ching, wearing an old-fashioned nightshirt tucked into a pair of black trousers with one brace over his shoulder, and a look of sharp excitement on his thin face. He had a candle in a tin candlestick in one hand, and a thick stick under his arm.

Jim sat up quickly.

'What is it?' he asked in a whisper.

'I don't know, sir, but there's someone in the house. I heard them moving downstairs.'

Jim leaped out of bed and thrust his feet into a pair of slippers.

'Have you waked anyone else, Ching?' he questioned.

'No, sir. No time.'

Jim strode across the room, opened a drawer and took out Maurice's pistol and torch.

'All right,' he said swiftly. 'I'm ready.'

'Go quiet as you can, sir,' whispered Ching. 'We wants to catch them, not scare 'em off.'

'Right. You'd better blow out your candle. I know the way.'

Jim was thrilling with excitement as he crept down the stairs. He felt he would give anything in reason to meet up with Master Midian on anything like even terms. He owed that gentleman a private grudge which he naturally longed to satisfy. Then if they if could only capture the robbers what a triumph it would be!

He paused on the landing half-way down and listened, but there was not a sound. The house was quiet as a grave. All he could hear was Ching's breathing close behind him.

'Are you sure it wasn't a false alarm?' he whispered.

'Sure and certain,' replied Ching. 'I heard steps plain as I ever heard anything, and a door creaked.'

'What door was it?'

'Couldn't say for certain, but it sounded like it was the front.'

'It's closed now. If it wasn't we should feel the draught,' Jim told him. 'I'll go to the front of the hall, you go to the back. Sing out if you see or hear anything.'

Jim went down the rest of the stairs and at the bottom he and Ching parted company. He crossed the hall to the front door, the other moving towards the back where the swing door gave on the passage leading to the pantry and kitchen. The front door was closed. It fastened with a spring lock, which, from outside, could be opened only with a latch key, and satisfied on that score Jim tried the drawing room.

Though there was no moon it was a clear night, and a certain amount of light came through the upper part of the tall windows, above the curtains. Enough to be sure the room was empty, and with a feeling that there was no time to lose, Jim went quickly back across the hall into the dining room. Heavily curtained, this room was dark, so Jim closed the door and switched on his light.

Again, not a sign of life and all three windows were fast. He tried the smoking-room and the small gun room with exactly the same result.

'Ching must have been dreaming,' he said, and followed him into the back of the house. He heard a movement and paused with one hand on the pistol in his pocket. Someone was moving at the end of the passage, and without hesitation Jim switched on his light again. Its white ray showed Ching standing just outside the kitchen door.

'I can't And nobody,' said the man, with a very puzzled expression on his face. 'And the windows are all fast.'

'Same here,' said Jim. 'There's not a sign of any disturbance. Ching, are you quite certain you didn't hear something outside and imagine it was steps?'

'If it was the last word I ever said I'd swear it was steps I heard,' Ching answered, and there was no mistaking the deadly earnestness with which he spoke. 'They were the steps of a man, and I heard them in the hall. Mrs. Ching, she heard them, too.'

'Then what has become of him? How did he get in? How did he go out?'

'That's more than I can say, sir, unless—unless he's in the cellar.'

Jim tried the door of the cellar steps, but it was fast.

'If he's there he must have had a pass key and locked it behind him.'

'He must have had a key to get into the house,' said Ching. 'So it's likely he had one to the cellar as well.'

'It seems a bit beyond belief,' said Jim. 'But we'd better see. Who keeps the cellar key?'

'Miss Nance, sir. She has had it since the picture came here.'

'Then I think we must wake her—' Jim began, but before he had finished his sentence Nance's voice broke in.

'Who is it? What is the matter?' and turning quickly Jim saw her coming through the swing door.

She had a candle in her hand and was wearing a pink dressing gown and pink quilted slippers on her bare feet. Her cheeks were still flushed with sleep and to Jim she seemed prettier than ever.

'Ching heard someone moving,' he told her. 'But I think it must have been a ghost for there isn't a sign of any stranger in the house. However, we thought we ought to try the cellar.'

'I will fetch the key,' Nance said at once. She was back very quickly with key, and Jim unlocked the door.

'You wait, Nance,' he said. 'It is cold and damp down below.'

'No, please,' she said, with a little smile, and followed the two men down. Ching, who knew the secret of the inner door, opened it.

'Thank goodness, it is a false alarm,' said Jim, as the light fell upon the coffer, closed just as he had last seen it.

'We may as well make sure,' said Nance, as she took down the key and opened the chest. Then a little sharp cry escaped her lips.

'It is gone,' she said. 'The picture is gone.'


CHAPTER XVII. — MORE MYSTERIES

NANCE'S announcement was so astonishing that Jim found difficulty in believing it. But when he looked over her shoulder the truth became unpleasantly apparent, for the chest was completely empty. The Memling Madonna, wrappings and all, had vanished, and there was no sign, to show it had ever been there.

Ching was the first to speak.

'I told you, sir,' he said, with a faint note of triumph in his voice which annoyed Jim.

'You told me someone was moving in the house,' he retorted, 'but will you kindly tell me how they got into this secret cellar, and more than that, how they got out again, without our seeing or hearing them?'

'I've no more idea than you, sir; but, anyways, they've got the picture,' said Ching stubbornly.

'Someone has got the picture,' said Jim, 'but I don't see how it could be any of Sharland's gang.'

'Who else could it be?' asked Nance. 'There are only five of us who know the secret of opening this place—we three, Mr. Paget, and Maurice. Even my uncle does not know. And I am sure that none of us have removed it.'

'What about Mr. Aylmer?' asked Ching.

'Mr. Aylmer cannot possibly know of it,' said Nance. 'Besides, he is away, so he does not come into the business at all.'

'No, of course he can't,' agreed Jim. 'I suppose that, after all, one of Sharland's people must have got hold of the secret. But we are wasting time. We must reach the house.'

Carrying his torch, Jim ran back through the other cellar and up the steps, and Ching followed, but a search of every room on the ground floor only deepened the mystery.

The windows, as well as the outer doors, were all properly fastened, and there was not a sign of anyone having passed in or out.

Ching went upstairs and visited Mr. Aylmer's room, but that was empty, and so far as could be seen, in exactly the same state as when Aylmer had left. They went outside and searched the garden, but here, again, without finding the slightest trace of any disturbance.

Coming back, Jim met Nance in the hall.

'I am beat,' he told her. 'The whole business is an utter mystery.'

'It is most curious,' Nance agreed.

'Curious is too mild a word,' said Jim. 'I don't know any word to fit it, unless it is 'supernatural.' There is no trace of how the thief got in or got out of the house. And even supposing that side of it is solved, how did he know the picture was in the inner cellar, and how did he know of the existence of the cellar itself? I'll swear none of us have mentioned it, except among ourselves, and Ching vows he has not even told his wife.'

Nance did not speak, and Jim went on. 'How long have you known of it, Nance?'

'About a year, Jim. I had been reading a book about old houses and hidden rooms, and one wet day I went down and began searching. It was quite by chance that I found the concealed spring which opens the door. I told Maurice, but not Uncle Bob, and I am sure that I have never mentioned it to another soul until you and Pip came.'

'Are you sure that he one ever saw you go in there?'

'I do not think that anyone ever saw me, Jim. I was always careful to close the door on the stairs before opening the secret door. Besides, who was there to see? Mr. Aylmer is the first stranger we have had in the house.'

'Ching says Aylmer is keen about the treasure,' said Jim.

'Ching does not like him, though why, I do not know, unless it is his very quiet, reserved manner. But I am fairly certain that Mr. Aylmer knows nothing of the secret entrance. In any case the fact that he is in London puts him out of the reckoning.'

Jim ran his fingers through his hair. 'That is true, Nance. The more one thinks of it the worse the puzzle becomes.'

'Then do not think,' said Nance gently. 'The picture is gone and we can do nothing about it until daylight. We had better go back to bed, and in the morning I will tell Maurice and we will plan what is best to be done to recover it.'

'You are wonderful, Nance,' Jim declared. 'Any other girl would have been most frightfully upset.'

'I am upset, Jim,' she confessed. 'So upset that I simply dare not let myself go. I must think of Maurice, you see.'

'You think of everyone, except yourself,' vowed Jim. 'But this time there is going to be someone to do some thinking for you. Pip and I will get that picture back if it's humanly possible.'

A little smile came on Nance's lips as she lifted her eyes to his.

'You are a very great comfort to me, Jim,' she said softly.

Jim glowed with pleasure. He took a step forward, and just then Ching's step was heard as he came through from the back.

'Damn!' said Jim under his breath, and though Nance pretended not to hear, there was a little twinkle in her eyes as she ran upstairs.

Ching came up. 'It fair beats me, sir,' he said in a very worried voice.

'Me too, Ching,' agreed Jim. 'The oddest part of all is how the fellow got away without our seeing or hearing him.'

'I believe it was that there Mr. Aylmer,' said Ching, but Jim grew impatient. 'You are allowing your dislike for Mr. Aylmer to blind you, Ching. A man can't be at two places at once, and you must remember that it was only to-day, or rather yesterday, that Miss Tremayne heard from him that he would not be back before tomorrow.'

He paused.

'It must be Sharland's lot,' he added presently. 'Mr. Paget saw a man watching the house yesterday afternoon. In some way they must have got hold of the secret of the inner cellar, and they had the picture and were leaving when you heard them.'

Ching's lips moved, then he seemed to think better of it, but there was an utterly unconvinced look on his face when he turned away, and with a brief 'Good night, sir,' went towards the back staircase.

Jim, too, went up to bed. But he lay awake for a long time, thinking, and it was nearly dawn before he dropped off to sleep.


CHAPTER XVIII. — WHY WORRY?

'I THINK the best thing we can do is to call in the police,' said Pip at breakfast next morning, and he spoke in an unusually serious tone.

Nance shook her head. 'Maurice will not have it. He says that Mr. Vanneck told him that he was on no account to call in the police, for then the story would be bound to get into tho newspapers, and the Italian Government would make a terrible fuss. It would make it impossible, so Mr. Vanneck says, for him to spend his holidays in Italy. He would be refused a passport.'

Pip grunted. 'Yes, I suppose Mussolini would raise Cain. Then it looks as if we'd got to be our own police.'

'That's about the size of it,' agreed Jim. 'The question is what does Scotland Yard do in a case like this?'

'Take fingerprints,' suggested Pip vaguely.

Nance smiled. 'How do you do that?' she asked.

'Hanged if I know,' replied Pip. 'Footprints would be more to the point,' said Jim. 'If we could only find out how the thieves got into the house it would be something.'

Pip looked doubtful. 'There's been no rain since that day you went to Bude, Jim. I doubt if there will be much in the way of marks. But we'll have a look, if you like.'

They had a look, a very long and careful look, but could not find a trace. Then Pip suggested that the thief or thieves must have had a car or some sort of vehicle in which to make their escape, so they went to the road and looked for fresh tyre marks.

Again no luck, tor the I last marks they could find were those of the grocer's ancient Ford from Bude. 'They might have come by boat,' Jim suggested. 'A boat makes less noise than a car.'

'And leaves no tracks.' added Pip, sadly.


THE whole day was spent in searching for clues. Jim took Maurice's bicycle and rode as far as Bude, inquiring on the way if any strange car had been seen, while Pip took a boat and went up the coast making similar inquiries. Pip got nothing, but Jim was a little more fortunate. At a cottage near the spot where the branch road cut into the main road, a woman told him that she had heard a car pass down the branch road about one in the morning. She had not heard it go back, but then she could have gone to sleep, so it might nave passed without her hearing.

Jim went back and made inquiries at the only two houses which besides the Roost, were served by this branch road, but no car had come to either of these, nor did the people know anything of the passing of a car. Jim then examined the road itself for tracks, but this was pretty hopeless, for the rough, stony surface was too dry to carry permanent marks of tyres.

It was nearly tea-time when he got home, and told Nance what he had done.

'But its not a bit of use,' he added. 'We don't know whose car it was, who was in it, where they came from, or where they went. The police might find that out, but we can't.'

Nance shook her head. 'Maurice won't have anything to do with the police. He says that Mr. Vanneck would sooner lose the picture.'

'It is lost all right, Nance,' said Jim grimly. 'And there's only one way to get it back.'

'What is that?'

'Find Sharland, catch him as his fellows caught me, and hold on to him until he is ready to disgorge.'

Nance laughed outright. 'My dear Jim!' she remonstrated.

'I mean it,' said Jim quietly. 'I do, indeed. In a case like this we have to take the law into our own hands.'

Nance shook her head. 'I hope you will not try anything of the sort. In any case you cannot, for none of us knows where Sharland lives, or anything about him.'

'Vanneck could tell us.'

'Then we must wait until he comes.'

'That will be too late. I suggest that we cable to him in the cypher! Maurice uses and ask for Sharland's address.'

Nance's face grew serious. 'I am almost sure that Maurice will not I agree, Jim.'

'I will ask him at any rate,' declared Jim, and hurried off upstairs.

Five minutes later he was down again.

'You were wrong, Nance, he said. 'He doesn't object, so after tea I am going to Bude to send the cable.'

'What a knight-errant you are, Jim!' said Nance, in a tone between admiration and disapproval, but Jim smiled.

'All I ask is to serve my lady,' he replied, an answer which brought a delightful colour to Nance's cheeks.

The message was sent and Jim made arrangements to have the answer delivered when it arrived.

It was long after when he got home, and he was really tired. Pip met him at the gate.

'By Jove. I'm glad to see you back, old man,' was his greeting. 'Ching and I have been in a rare stew.'

'Why? What about?'

That fellow was watching me house again just before dusk. Ching and I both saw him. We went out and tried to round him up, but he got away in the darkness.'

Jim was utterly puzzled. 'What are they watching the house for when they've got the picture?' he demanded.

Pip shrugged. 'Blowed if I know. We thought that perhaps he was laying for you.'

'I don't see how that would help them, for even if they had got the cable they couldn't have made anything of it.'

Pip shrugged again. 'I can't make anything of it either. See here, Jim, I stay up to-night, and if anyone does get, on the job I'll jolly well fill them up with number eights from Maurice's scatter gun. As for you, you had better turn in. You look about played out.'

Jim was played out, and as soon as he had had some supper, went straight to bed. No sound of gunfire roused him, and he woke next morning with nothing but a slight stiffness to remind him of his toils of the previous day.

A cold bath and a good scrub with a rough towel soon put his muscles into working order, and be dressed and went down to find Nance already in the garden, picking flowers for the table. She greeted him with a friendly smile.

'Is it a detective I meet this morning?' she inquired, 'or merely Mr. Jim Coryton?'

'Just Jim,' was the reply. 'I can't do anything in the detective line until I get that reply from Mr. Vanneck.'

'Then please will you take me fishing,' Nance requested. 'The butcher did not call yesterday, and the larder sadly needs replenishment. I have already told Ching that he must shoot me some rabbits.'

'I can't think of anything I should enjoy so much as taking you fishing,' said Jim. 'My only objection to such a delightful programme is that I don't think I have any right to enjoy myself when you and Maurice and your uncle are so worried.'

'Worrying is the silliest occupation in the world,' Nance told him. 'The old proverb that 'what can't be cured must be endured' is one of the few that I don't quarrel with. Besides, why should we worry? I am not suggesting that the loss of five hundred pounds is a small matter, yet it will not ruin us. If Maurice had been killed that would have been dreadful; but thanks to you Maurice is very little the worse. The rest of us are very fit, the weather is lovely, so again I say—why worry?'


CHAPTER XIX. — THE NEW P.G.

TO a fisherman there is no water more enchanting than a moorland brook where trout are rising. A chalk stream holds larger fish, a Highland loch may provide a bigger basket, but a little moorland river breaking down in falls and runs and deep swirling pools has them beaten a mile.

On this August day the moor was at its best. Soft clouds moved slowly across the brilliant blue of the sky and chequered the purple hills with soft shadows. Along the brook itself tall clumps of purple loosestrife bloomed, and the steep banks were covered with a wealth of deep green ferns. The white tails of rabbits flicked among the tall bracken, and birds were everywhere. Meadow pipits, wagtails, summer snipe, while now and then a water ouzel flitted from rock to rock. Overhead the curlews wheeled and called their wild, plaintive cry, and more than once a wide-winged heron flapped up from a shallow pool.

It was all so perfect that even their troubles tell away from Nance and Jim, and they enjoyed themselves like two children. So as not to be separated, they took the pools turn and turn about, and Jim soon found that Nance could lay as straight a line across the water as he himself. The little brown trout were rising well, and though some were so small they had to go back, the creels soon began to grow heavy.

Mid-day found them two miles from the house, and both of them hungry enough to thoroughly enjoy their luncheon. Nance found a big flat rock, and then they spread their sandwiches and cake, while Jim cooled the bottle of cider, which he had carried, in a little spring of icy water. They finished every crumb, neatly buried the paper in which the sandwiches had been wrapped, and Jim handed his cigarette case to Nance.

'Two Turkeys in the corner,' he said. 'I put them in on purpose for you.'

'You really are the most thoughtful man,' said Nance, as she put one between her lips and took the lighted match Jim offered.

'I caught it from you,' replied Jim. 'You are always thinking of other people, so it's about time someone thought for you.'

'It's very nice to be thought for,' said Nance softly.

Jim looked at her. 'I'd ask nothing better,' he said. 'I would like to think for you always, Nance.'

Nance made no pretence of misunderstanding him.

'No, Jim,' she said gently. 'I could not allow that.'

'Why not?' urged Jim.

'Nance, you do like me?'

'I like you very much, Jim,' said Nance frankly, 'but—that is all.'

Jim went rather white. 'Is—is there anyone else, Nance?' he asked. 'No, Jim, there Is no one else.'

'Then cannot you give me any hope, my dear?'

'I—I do not know,' said Nance uncertainly. 'You—you must give me time.'

Jim's face relaxed. 'If that's all—' he began, but she stopped him.

'Jim, do not misunderstand me. I do not know whether it is all. I have told you there is no man I like better than you, but I should never marry a man just because I liked him. It would have to be something better than that.'

Jim was not at all discouraged. 'Of course it would, and I'm not going to put up any silly arguments on the subject. All I ask is a fair chance, Nance.'

'I can promise you that much, anyhow,' Nance answered with a smile, as she threw down the end of her cigarette and put her foot on it. Then she rose and picked up her rod. 'And now I think we had better fish back,' she said. 'Mr. Aylmer will probably be in by tea-time.'

'He'll be back sooner than that,' said Jim, as he pointed to a car which had just topped the rise, the very same rise, by the bye, where he had first seen Maurice appear, chased by Midian.

Nance turned and shading her eyes with her hand from the sun gazed at the two-seater which was coming rapidly down the slope.

'Yes, it is Mr. Aylmer, but—but there is someone with him,' she said, and then a look of dismay crossed her face. 'It must be Major Hallam,' she exclaimed.

'Major Hallam,' repeated Jim, puzzled. 'Yes, our new P.G. In all the excitement of yesterday I quite forgot that he was due to-day. Jim, this is terrible. His room is not ready, or anything.' Nance looked positively tragic, but Jim only laughed.

'The best thing to do will be to stop them, and get them to give you a lift,' he said, and without waiting for her consent, ran forward, shouting.

Aylmer saw him and pulled up, and his companion got out and walked down the hill to meet Jim. Jim crossed the river by jumping from rock to rock, and hurried up the opposite slope. As he came nearer he saw that the stranger was a well set-up man of about thirty-five. Not a bit the type of the retired major, for he was lean in the flanks, broad-shouldered and remarkably well- dressed. Good-looking, too, though in rather a hard way, with pale-blur eyes, bleak as a winter's sky.

'Major Hallam?' asked Jim.

'Yes, and you are Mr. Coryton aren't you?'

'I'm Coryton. Can you give Miss Tremayne a lift back to the house?'

Instead of answering, Hallam sprang forward and ran past Jim down the slope. At the same moment there was a faint cry followed by a splash.

Jim turned just in time to see that Nance, attempting to cross the river by the stones, had missed her footing and gone sideways into the deep pool below.


CHAPTER XX. — JIM IS JEALOUS

THE pool was small but deep, and the dark water took an ugly spin under the high bank of black peat. As Jim raced after Hallam he saw Nance's head rise in the centre of the pool. She struck out at once, but the swirl was too much for her, and the undertow dragged her down.

Hallam reached the bank ahead of Jim, and without waiting even to fling off his coat, made a big jump and struck the water, feet first, quite close to Nance. He vanished for a moment, then came up with his right arm round her.

'It's all right, Coryton,' he shouted. 'I've got her. No need for you to come in.' He struck out down stream, and in a few strokes came to the lower end of the pool and found his feet. Then he and Nance waded out together.

'Well, I am silly,' said Nance ruefully, as she swept the water from her eyes with her hands. She looked up at Hallam and smiled. 'What a dreadful introduction, Major Hallam! What am I to do, apologise for spoiling your clothes or thank you for polling me out?'

'Neither,' replied Hallam. 'The best thing you can do is to get into the car as quickly as possible, roll up in my overcoat, hurry home and change.'

His hard face relaxed as he spoke and his eyes warmed. Nance was not one of those girls who owe their charm to rouge and lipstick and even in her dripping garments was attractive as ever. Jim felt a nasty little jab of jealousy as he saw the admiration in Hallam's eyes.

'There does not seem to be much choice,' replied Nance, 'for I certainly cannot go on fishing like this.' She turned to Jim. 'What will you do?' she asked.

'Walk back,' Jim told her. 'You are sure you are none the worse, Nance?'

'Not in body,' said Nance with a laugh. 'Mentally, I am humiliated by being so stupid as to tumble off those stepping stones.'

'We all get falls, even without being proud,' smiled Hallam. 'And anyone might slip on those stones for they are smooth as glass. Come, Miss Tremayne. If you stand talking any longer, you will catch cold. Let me carry your creel up the hill.'

'I shall see you at tea, Jim,' said Nance, as she started lightly up the hill.

Jim watched Hallam help her into the car and saw them drive off. For him the joy of the day was gone. He started fishing again, but his heart was no longer in the sport, and presently he reeled up, fixed the tail fly in a ring and, leaving the river, climbed to the road and tramped towards the Roost.

Poor Jim—he was in a very bad mood. In the first place he felt that he'd blundered in proposing to Nance. He ought to have known it was too soon. A girl like Nance, he told himself, was not the sort to give her heart to a man whom she had only known a week. On top of that he had let her fall into the river and allowed another man to rescue her. That was not his fault, but all the same it rankled And Hallam was so infernally good looking—just the sort to catch a girl's fancy.

All the way home he kept chewing the end of bitter thoughts and gradually sinking deeper into a slough of depression, so that Pip, meeting him at the bridge, and noting the gloom on his face, got quite a shock.

'Good gosh, she's turned him down!' was Pip's thought, but he was much too wise to give it utterance. Instead, he said cheerfully, 'Hulloa, Jim, how many did you get?'

'About a dozen and, a half.'

'Good man. You've earned your tea.'

'Is Nance all right?' Jim asked. 'Bless you, yes. Right as a trivet. She's looking after Hallam.'

Jim's lips tightened. 'What do you think of that chap, Pip?'

'I've hardly seen him,' replied Pip, in some surprise. 'Bit of a shock, his turning up like this.'

'Pip,' said Jim, in a low voice, 'seems to me I've seen the fellow somewhere, and can't think where.'

'Nothing wonderful In that, old lad. A deuce of a lot of people must come in and out of that bank of yours.'

Jim shook his head. 'I don't think I saw him in the bank. I wish I could remember where.'

'I shouldn't worry. Anyhow, what does it matter?'

'I don't suppose it does matter,' said Jim slowly. 'And yet—'

Pip slapped him on the back. 'You've got the blue devils, old man. Your liver must be out of order. Come and drink a dish of tea and you'll feel better.'

Tea was on the lawn, as usual in fine weather. When Jim came out after a wash he found everyone around the table, except Maurice, who was still in his room. Hallam had changed into light grey flannels and looked extremely smart. The cut of his clothes, the excellence of his brown shoes, the costly seal ring on his left hand, all went to prove that he was a rich man. He was chaffing Nance as Jim came up.

'For a lady who declares that she has forgotten her guest, you do things pretty well. Miss Tremayne. Confess it was all pretence.'

'Indeed it was nothing of the sort', protested Nance. 'I had quite forgotten that you were coming to-day. But as I told you, I had some excuse for my forgetfulness.'

'Indeed, yes,' replied Hallam with sympathy. 'Yet surely it is very uncommon for burglars to visit so remote a house as this.'

'That depends on what they are after,' said Aylmer. If was so unusual for him to speak that the rest all stopped to listen. 'These, however, were not ordinary burglars,' he continued, 'but came to steal a special object.' He turned to Nance. 'I hear they succeeded, Miss Tremayne.'

Nance looked a little embarrassed. It seemed as if she had not quite counted on the loss of the picture becoming public property, yet after a moment's thought she appeared to realise that it could hot be kept secret from guests in the house.

'Yes, Mr. Aylmer,' she answered. 'They have stolen the picture.'

'Too bad,' said Aylmer slowly, 'but I understood it was hidden in a place where it could not be found.'

'So we thought,' said Nance ruefully, 'but we were mistaken.'

'Of course you have inform the police,' said Aylmer, but Nance shook her head. 'My cousin did not wish us to do so.'

Aylmer nodded. 'Perhaps he is wise,' he remarked and relapsed into his usual silence.

Hallam had laid down his cup and was leaning forward with an expression of keen interest. Nance saw and laughed.

'Go on, Major Hallam. Ask any questions you like. I know you must be dying of curiosity.'

'I am,' Hallam confessed. 'Only perhaps you would rather not speak of this matter to a comparative stranger.'

'Since everyone else in the house knows all about the matter, it would be unfair as well as impolite to keep you in the dark,' she said. 'The picture is one that was bought by an American collector in Italy and smuggled out by my cousin. We were to keep it until is owner called for it and we have failed to do so. That is all.'

'Who are these burglars you speak of?' Hallam asked.

Jim watching him wondered a little at his keenness.

'We believe them to have been employed by a man named Sharland,' Nance told him. 'That, at least, is the opinion of my cousin.'

'And who is Sharland?'

'A bad lot, evidently, but that is about all I know,' Nance answered lightly.

Hallam picked up his tea cup.

'Have you any proof that this Sharland is the thief?' he questioned.

'None,' said Nance. 'The whole thing is a complete mystery.'

Hallam was not yet satisfied. 'One other question, Miss Tremayne. Where did you keep the picture!'

Nance shook her head. 'That is the one question I must not answer,' she said gently.

'I should not have asked it,' said Hallam. 'What I am going to ask is that you will keep your promise to show me over this wonderful old house of yours.'

'Of course I will,' said Nance brightly. 'I am ready now.'


CHAPTER XXI. — THE SECOND BLOW

THAT night after dinner Nance danced with Hallam, then when Jim hoped his turn would come Hallam asked her to play and presently volunteered to sing. He had an excellent baritone and had been well taught. Jim hardly got in a word edgeways.

Next day it was the same story, for Hallam planned a picnic to the Hermit's Stone, a queer old Cromlech miles away on the desolate moors. Pip went and Aylmer, but Jim was so piqued he refused and spent a lonely day pretending to fish, but doing very little good. You cannot fish unless your mind is on the job.

That evening there was more music, and Jim, who had no talents in that direction, was left in the cold. He grew angry as well as hurt, for it seemed to him that Nance was purposely avoiding him. Pip, who was nobody's fool, had spotted the trouble and was hardly surprised when, next morning, Jim suggested to him that he had outstayed his welcome, and it was time to leave.

'That's not like you, Jim,' said Pip, and his usual smile was conspicuous by its absence.

'What do you mean, Pip?'

'Why, that I never saw you show the white feather until now.'

'It's not that. Pip. I think she would be happier if I left.'

'If by 'she,' you mean Nance, I differ entirely,' said Pip. 'But even if that was the case, what about the old man and Maurice? They are depending on us to help them recover the picture.'

'I don't see the faintest chance of recovering it,' Jim answered heavily.

'What about your plan for tackling Sharland? It was you who cabled Vanneck for his address.'

'I've had no reply, so that's no good.'

'A reply may come any time.' Pip paused. See here, Jim,' he went on presently, 'I'm awfully sorry for you. I know you are gone on Nance, and I don't blame you, for she's a perfect dear. But if, you'll take a pal's advice you'll stick to your guns. You're as good a man as Hallam any day.'

'She doesn't think so,' said Jim, unhappily. 'You can't tell what a girl thinks,' Pip answered. 'Anyhow, you can't go at present, for it wouldn't be playing the game.'

'You really think so, Pip?'

'I don't think—I'm sure. Another thing which I was just going to tell you. I have to go up to town tomorrow, for I've just heard from Laycock, my solicitor, that he wants to see me about my sister's affairs. I'm her trustee, you know.'

A look of dismay crossed Jim's face. 'You mean I have to stick here alone?'

'You have,' said Pip, plump and plain. Then his old smile came back. 'Buck up, my lad! All my bets are on you.'

'I wish I had your confidence,' said Jim sadly. 'But I'll take your advice and stick.'

'Good man,' said Pip warmly. 'I'll swear you won't regret it.'

All the same Jim did regret it, for things were worse after Pip had gone. Jim did not care for Aylmer, and since Hallam followed Nance like her shadow, he had to fall back on Uncle Robert, who was genial but not exciting. He paid a visit to Maurice, who was still in bed, but so much upset by the loss of the picture that he could talk of nothing else. Taking it all round, Jim had a precious thin time during the next few days.

On the third day he at last got a reply to the cable he had sent to Vanneck. Vanneck regretted that he had no idea of Sharland 's address or whereabouts. That was all. Jim took the message to Nance.

'That is just what I expected,' was her comment, but when Jim asked her why she said that he got no satisfactory answer.

'You could not expect him to know, could you?' was all Nance said.

'Then we are at a dead end, Nance?'

'I—I don't know. I am not so sure,' said Nance, and stopped suddenly, as if she thought she had said too much.

'What do you mean?' Jim questioned uncompromisingly. 'Is there anything else I can do, or try to do?'

Nance hesitated, and it was not like her to hesitate. 'Not now, I think, Jim.' she said at last. 'In that case I am doing no good here, Nance, and I had better go.'

There was no mistaking the look of dismay that came upon Nance's face.

'No—no, you can't go. You cannot desert us now, Jim. You promised to stay and help us.'

'But I am not helping. I am doing nothing. I—I don't even see anything of you these days, Nance.'

There came a look into Nance's eyes which made Jim's heart leap, and just then the door opened and there was Hallam, spruce as usual.

'Aren't you coming, Miss Tremayne?' he asked. 'The boat is ready.'

'Damn!' said Jim under his breath, and Nance gave him a quick look.

'We will finish our talk later,' she whispered. 'I must go now. I am coming, Major Hallam,' she said in a louder voice, and Jim was left disconsolate.

Another unhappy day dragged to its end, and again that evening Hallam monopolised Nance. Jim's temper was suffering, and he longed for a chance to quarrel with the man, but Hallam never gave him the ghost of one.

That night Jim vowed to himself that he had had enough. As soon as Pip came back he would go. He slept badly, woke early, and at grey dawn had just dozed off again when there came a sharp tap at his door.

'Who's there?' he asked.

'Nance,' was the astonishing reply which brought Jim into dressing gown and slippers and out of his room in a matter of seconds. There was Nance in her pink quilted silk dressing gown, her bare feet in slippers, and a very scared look on her face.

'Oh, Jim,' she said. 'Ching has gone.'

'Ching gone!' repeated Jim stupidly. 'Dead, do you mean?'

'No,' sharply. 'Gone away. Disappeared. Mrs. Ching has just told me.'

Jim pulled his wits together. 'Sorry,' Nance,' he said. 'I was half asleep. Can you give me any details?'

'Yes. Mrs. Ching says that she woke up and he was not in the room. She did not worry because he sometimes gets up and goes round the house in the night. But when she woke again after daylight and found he was not there she was frightened, and got up and went down to look for him. She says he is not anywhere in the house.'

'Has she tried the cellar?' Jim asked.

'She said she had been everywhere,' Nance told him.

'Get back to your room, Nance. I'll shove on some clothes and set to work. Don't worry. The chances are he is outside somewhere.'

His confidence plainly cheered Nance, but she was still doubtful. 'That man who watched the house,' she suggested. You don't think—'

'No, I don't,' said Jim. 'It wouldn't do him any good to watch in the middle of the night, and now the picture is gone there is nothing to attract a burglar. Besides, Ching isn't dumb, and he'd have shouted if anyone had tackled him.'

Nance seemed distinctly happier. 'You are always helpful, Jim. I will go and try to console Mrs. Ching while you search. Come and tell us as soon as you find him.'

'Right oh,' said Jim. 'I'll jump into some togs and get to it.'

He dived back into his room and dressed in record time. Inside five minutes he was downstairs searching the ground floor. There was no sign of Ching. Next, he made a survey of all the windows and doors—and here he got his first clue, for the back door, leading out of the passage by the kitchen, was unlocked. The door itself was closed, but the bolts were drawn and the key had been turned.

'He's outside all right,' said Jim to himself as he went out. In spite of his anxiety he was very happy, for the mere fact that Nance had come to him rather than Hallam pleased him immensely.

The sun was just rising and everything sparkled with diamonds of dew. But there was no dew on the path and no tracks on the wet turf beyond. Jim cast round, then, as he could find no traces, began a search of the grounds. He scared some early rabbits and put up a hare in the kitchen garden, but these were the only signs of life, except birds.

'Where the dickens has the fellow gone?' he muttered as he turned downhill towards the river. Here, just at its mouth, the little stream was tidal and a small boathouse held one boat. The boathouse was locked, and through the window Jim saw the boat. It was certain at any rate that Ching had not gone off by water.

Turning, Jim walked up the bank towards the bridge. All of a sudden he stopped short and gazed at something which lay on the edge of the bank. It was a cap, a rather ancient tweed cap of a sober brown hue. Jim knew even before he picked it up that it was Ching's. He whistled softly.

'So it's the river, eh? Well, I'll take my oath it's not suicide—Ching's the last man to do that.' Unconsciously he spoke aloud, and it gave him the shock of his life when he got an answer.

'Then it's murder,' came a harsh voice, and turning he saw the tall, stiff figure of Aylmer, dressed with his accustomed neatness, and standing just behind him.


CHAPTER XXII. — AYLMER PROVES HELPFUL

'CONFOUND you!' said Jim irritably. 'I wish you would not creep up on a fellow like that. You gave me a most infernal fright.'

A ghost of a smile crossed Aylmer's face. 'I am sorry,' he said, with unexpected politeness.

Jim stared at him a moment. 'Why do you say it is murder?' he demanded.

'You said it was not suicide,' replied Aylmer, in his precise way, 'and I am inclined to agree with you, for there is no apparent reason for the man to commit suicide. Yet here is his cap, and there, if I am not mistaken, signs of a struggle. The only alternative appears to be murder.'

Jim looked more closely at the bank, and, sure enough, there were marks at the water's edge—not very distinct marks, it is true, yet they appeared to have been caused by a man's body falling, or being forced over into the water.

Jim drew a long breath. 'Who could have murdered him—and why?' he asked.

'That is a question which I am quite unable to answer,' said Aylmer. 'It seems to me to be a matter for the police.'

Jim groaned. 'What a business! But I suppose you are right. I must go and tell Miss Tremayne.'

'Tell her, please, that I am at her disposal if there is anything I can do to help,' said Aylmer. 'My car may be useful.'

'That's very good of you,' said Jim, with real gratitude, and turned back towards the house to discharge his unpleasant errand.

Nance's face went white as she heard of his discovery.

'Oh, poor Ching!' she said. 'Jim—Jim, who can have done such a dreadful thing?'

'It may not be true,' Jim urged. 'I mean it doesn't follow that the poor fellow has been drowned. He might have been dragged into a boat.'

'I hope you are right,' said Nance, earnestly, 'but from what you tell me, I am terribly afraid something has happened to him. But it is his wife I am thinking of more than anyone else. I must tell her, Jim.'

'Shall I do it for you!' Jim asked. 'No, no.' It will come better from me, though the best is bad enough. They were so fond of one another, Jim.'

Her eyes were full of tears, and Jim had to fight a passionate impulse to seize her in his arms and kiss them away.

She turned, then paused. 'You must tell Uncle Robert, Jim.'

Jim watched her go towards the kitchen, then went upstairs and knocked at the door of Mr. Tremayne's room. He was still sound asleep, and it was some moments before Jim could make him understand what had happened. But when he did understand he was much upset.

'Ching murdered!' he exclaimed. 'But this is terrible. Ching hadn't an enemy in the world.'

'I don't suppose he had,' said Jim. 'But the chances are that he found, or heard, someone trying to break in, followed them, and then the brutes chucked him into the water. That seems to me the only way to account for it.'

'I suppose it is,' said the other unhappily. 'It's that abominable picture. We have had nothing but trouble since Maurice first got hold of it. And what is to be done now!' he asked.

'There's only one thing to be done—get the police in, Mr. Tremayne.'

'Good lord, Maurice will be so up set,' groaned Mr. Tremayne. 'Yet, of course, you are right, Coryton. But who is to fetch them? We have no telephone.'

'Aylmer has offered his car, I will go with him if he will take me.'

'But you have had no breakfast, Coryton.'

It was so like Uncle Robert to think of food that Jim almost smiled. Almost, but not quite.

'We won't think of that, Mr. Tremayne. We will get a cup of coffee at Bude. Have you any instructions?'

'Yes, ask for Sergeant Bradshaw, and tell him all about it. A good fellow, and I know him well. He won't make such an infernal fuss as some of these younger fellows.'

'I will ask for him,' Jim promised. 'Don't worry too much, Mr. Tremayne. Ching may be all right after all.'

'I wish I could hope so,' said the other dismally. Jim had never seen him so collapsed.

Aylmer was waiting at the foot of the stairs.

'Well?' he said in his dry way.

'Miss Tremayne is very grateful for your offer,' said Jim, 'and Mr. Tremayne has asked me to see a certain Sergeant Bradshaw. So perhaps you will take me with you.'

'Certainly,' said Aylmer. 'The car is at the door. We had better get along.'

Aylmer drove extremely well, and his two-seater was in perfect running order. They reeled off the hilly miles to Bude at a great pace, and the town was only beginning to stir when they arrived.

'If you will go to the police station I will order breakfast at the Swan,' said Aylmer. It was the first remark he had volunteered since leaving the Roost, but Jim was bound to admit it was a sensible one.

So Jim went to the police station where he was lucky enough to find Sergeant Bradshaw; a big, quiet, middle-aged man, who listened attentively to Jim's story, asked a few pertinent questions, and promised to come out at once.

That being arranged Jim made for the post office and sent a wire to Pip telling him briefly what had happened. The worst of it was that the only address he had was Pip's club.' Pip was not staying at his club, but generally lunched there, so he was likely to set the message by one o'clock. This would make it too late to come down the same day, but Jim hoped it would bring him on the morrow.

At the Swan he found breakfast ready. Aylmer seemed to have excellent ideas of what this meal should be, and the chef had carried them out well. There were Torbay dabs, equal to, but fresher than, Dover soles, some excellent kidneys and bacon, and coffee, which was remarkably good for an English hotel. In spite of his worries Jim ate well and felt better.

'If you have nothing else to do we had perhaps better get back,' said. Aylmer, as he lit a cigar. 'The police may wish to ask us questions.'

'I'm ready when you are,' replied Jim, who was filling his pipe, so without another word they started.

Bradshaw and one of his men were on the spot when they arrived, and I Bradshaw, it appeared, had already examined the scene of the supposed struggle, and collected some information.

'Not a lot,' he told Jim. 'There isn't a lot. It's a rare queer case Mr. Coryton, for, as' everyone says, Ching had no enemies. I knew the man myself and liked him. Seems to me the only explanation is that one that you and Mr. Aylmer have put up— that someone tried to break into the house, or that Ching heard someone outside and chased them, and they turned on him and chucked him in. The funny thing is no one heard anything.'

'What are you going to do?' Jim asked. 'I suppose it's no use dragging for the body?'

'None at all,' said Bradshaw with decision. 'The tide was running out. If the man was hit on the head and thrown in, the body may be miles away by now.' He paused. 'Only thing I can do,' he went on presently, 'is to go back to Bude and set the wires working and round up any suspicious characters. But if, as I'm afraid, they came by boat, that won't be much good.'

Good fellow as Bradshaw was, Jim breathed more freely when he had left. Yet the state of things was awkward, to put it mildly.

Ching was gone, Mrs. Ching was in her room, weeping her eyes out. The only domestic help was a gawky girl who acted as potato- peeler, dishwasher, and scullery maid. She had not, Jim knew, the foggiest notion of cooking, and it was certain that the whole burden of the housework would fall on Nance.

'It's an infernal shame,' said Jim to himself. Then the bright idea occurred to him that perhaps he could help. He was not a chef, but at Blundell's he had learned to make toast and fry sausages. At any rate he could offer his services and the notion of a day spent in assisting Nance in any capacity made his heart beat faster.

As he made his way towards the kitchen he heard a thud and a hull, smothered exclamation of pain. The sounds came from the cellar and hurrying along the passage he found the door at the head of the cellar steps open-

'Oh, Major Hallam, have you hurt yourself?' came Nance's voice, and there was Nance holding a candle bending over Major Hallam, who was flat on the stone flags.


CHAPTER XXIII. — JIM'S BAD DAY

FOR a moment Jim's only feeling was one of surprise and wonder as to what on earth Nance and Hallam together were doing in the cellar, but it was followed by a Hasty pang of jealousy. A man as much in love as Jim can never take an unprejudiced view.

Meanwhile Hallam was picking himself up.

'I'm all right,' he said, but he did not seem to be, for he was leaning against the wall, standing on one leg and holding on to his left foot.

'You have hurt your ankle,' said Nance, with a sympathy that must have been very consoling to Hallam, but made poor Jim writhe.

'Ricked it a bit,' said Hallam. 'Nothing to worry about, Miss Nance, I assure you.' He put the foot to the ground as he spoke, but winced as he did so.

'You are really hurt. Let me give you an arm up the stairs,' said Nance. 'Thanks, awfully,' said Hallam, but this was a bit too much for Jim.

'All right, Hallam,' he called. 'I'll give you a hand.' He ran down the steps, and got hold of Hallam none too gently.

'Be careful, Jim,' said Nance, but Jim was already lugging his rival up the steps. He got him as far as the hall where Hallam dropped into a chair.

Nance followed, full of sympathy. 'I will get a bandage and some lotion,' she said. 'No, you get them, Jim. The things are in the cupboard in the bathroom.'

Jim bit his lip as he hurried up the stairs. 'I believe she's in love with the blighter,' he muttered under his breath. He got the things and had to stand by while Nance carefully bandaged the damaged ankle, then it was his job to help Hallam to the sofa in the smoking-room. It seemed a perfect age before this was done and Hallam made comfortable.

'I'd have thought there was trouble enough in the house without that fellow tumbling down and damaging himself,' said Jim to Nance, as he followed her back towards the kitchen. 'What on earth were you doing with him in the cellar?'

It was not the most tactful speech in the world, nor was it surprising that Nance resented it.

'We were looking for Ching,' she answered rather shortly. 'But I'd been in the cellar long ago, and so had Bradshaw, but we couldn't find a trace of him there.'

Nance made no reply, and all of a sudden a horrid suspicion came into Jim's mind.

'Nance,' he exclaimed. 'You weren't showing him the secret cellar?' Nance turned on him, and the pink spots on her cheeks were a danger signal. Sweet-natured, as she was, Nance had a temper.

'And if I was?' she retorted.

'W-what—showing the cellar to a stranger like Hallam?' gasped Jim.

'It is true that I have known you five days longer than I have known him,' said Nance.

'Do you mean that I am a stranger, too?' inquired Jim bitterly. It was not the soft answer that turns away wrath, and Nance grew angrier still.

'You, can please yourself as to that, Mr. Coryton,' she said icily. 'You might remember, at any rate, that the cellar is mine and not yours, and that I have a right to show it to anyone I please without asking your permission.'

Jim bowed. 'I apologise,' he said harshly, but Nance was not listening. She had gone straight on into the kitchen and closed the door.

One might almost say banged it.

Jim stood where she had left him, feeling half stunned. 'I've done it now,' he said at last, in a low, bitter voice. 'That's the finish.'

He turned back into the hall, picked up his cap, went out, and walked blindly away across the bridge and up over the heath beyond.

When a woman is really miserable she locks herself in her room, lies flat on her face on her bed and weeps. In the case of a man, to whom the luxury of tears is denied, physical exercise is the only antidote.

Jim, angry with Nance, with Hallam, but most of all with himself strode on and on, without noticing in the least where he was going. He saw nothing, not even the sky, though that was rather well worth looking at, for a tremendous thunder cloud was piling up in the North-West, and the vast ranges of cumulus, towering against the blue, made a truly magnificent sight.

It was the sudden eclipse of the sun which roused him from his trance, and he looked round to see the storm sweeping up behind him in blue-black majesty and no house within miles. Stay, there was shelter of a sort. He saw a building on the hillside opposite, a building that had an oddly familiar appearance.

Yet even so he had to stare at it for several seconds before he recognised it as the old mine-house where Butch Harvey and Midian had imprisoned him.

It gave him a queer shock and his first impulse was to turn right round and make in the opposite direction, a flash of white fire lit the heart of the cloud and a dull roll of thunder shook the sultry air. This storm was going to be no child's play, and Jim realised that even the old mine-house, with all its sinister associations, was better than nothing. It was not likely that anyone was there, and in any case Butch Harvey and Midian must have long ago departed.

He started running and gained the place just as the first huge drops came spattering down, each making a splash as big as a penny. The door was closed and he put his shoulder against it, but it opened so easily he stumbled in, very nearly on his head.

A dry, nasal voice came from the gloom inside.

'You sure didn't wait to knock, mister. But I ain't blaming you any. It's going to be right wet.'

Another flash of lightning flung out the frame of a man seated on an old packing case, with a black cigar between his lips, and a hard hat on the back of his square head. Jim gave a gasp.

'Butch!' he exclaimed. The other rose to his feet.

'Dog-gone if it ain't Mr. Coryton,' he exclaimed, and put out his hand which Jim took which Jim took without and hesitation. 'Set down,' said Butch cordially. 'Have a seegar.'

'I'll light a pipe, if you don't mind,' said Jim. He took out his pouch and, as he did so glanced round quickly. An apology for a smile crossed Butch's thin lips.

'S'all right,' he said. 'Ain't no one here but me.'

The rain came drumming down on the roof and the increasing darkness was lit by shafts of flame. The thunder became almost continuous. Butch shifted closer to Jim.

'Was you looking for me, mister?' he asked.

'Not I,' replied Jim, who was somehow cheered by this odd encounter. Of course it was possible that Butch had some grudge against him for the way be had been fooled over the picture, yet Jim did not really think that this was the case. And he had conceived an odd liking for this businesslike, yet kindly-minded crook.

'Not I,' he repeated, with a smile. 'I was never more astonishes than to find you here.'

'Jest so,' replied Butch wisely. 'An' that's why there ain't no place safer.'

Jim actually laughed. 'I see the way you reason it out. Like a fox going back to an old earth. Yes, you probably are safer here than anywhere else. But what beats me is why you are here at all. I thought that, now you'd got the picture, you would have been half way back to the States.'

A crash of thunder louder than any yet made speech impossible for some seconds, and the next flash of lightning showed Butch gazing straight in front of him, his pale face expressionless as a mask. Jim waited for a pause in the storm and went on.

'If I'm not asking too much I wish you would tell me how you, or your crowd, managed to get the real picture in the end.'

Butch took his cigar out of his mouth and turned to Jim. 'There ain't nothing to tell, mister,' he said drily. 'We ain't got the picture.'

Jim stared. 'You haven't got the picture?' he repeated.

'Honest, we ain't, mister,' said the other, and something in his words or manner carried conviction to Jim's mind.

'But you know it's gone?' he asked sharply. 'We know it's gone,' said Butch equably. The storm was passing, and it was becoming easier to talk. 'Sure, we knows it's gone.'

'Then who's got it?' Jim blurted out. That queer apology for a smile showed on Butch's thin lips.

'That'd be telling, mister,' he remarked drily.

'You mean you know?'

'I wouldn't go so far as to say that,' replied Butch cautiously, 'but I'll allow I have my suspicions.'

'And you won't tell them?'

'You couldn't hardly expect that could you?' said Butch. 'Not after the way you fooled me first time.'

'I had nothing to do with that,' Jim reminded him. 'It wasn't till I got home that I found out what had happened.'

Butch nodded. 'That's true. You're a right brave man, Mr. Coryton, but you ain't no poker player.'

'What do you mean?'

'I mean as you couldn't act innocent if you wasn't innocent. You get me?'

Jim laughed a little ruefully. 'I expect you're right. Then you won't even tell me whom you suspect of being the thief?'

'No, mister, I won't,' was the reply. 'But there ain't no hard feelings, at least on my side. Will you take a cup of coffee afore you go?'

Jim hesitated. He had had nothing since breakfast and there was a unpleasant vacancy below the third button of his waistcoat. And yet—

Butch smiled again. It was almost a laugh. 'Thinking I'd may be dope you. You don't need to worry. You can pick your cup when it's made.'

'I'm sorry,' said Jim frankly. 'Of course, I'll have some coffee and I glad of it. And I'll take whichever cup you offer me.'

A gleam that was almost kindness showed in Butch Harvey's hard eyes as he lit an oil stove and put a blackened kettle on. The coffee, strong and hot, and mixed with plenty of condensed milk, was most welcome, and Jim made a considerable hole in a tin of biscuit which Butch opened. While they ate and drank they talked.

'You've gotten rid of Midian, I see,' said Jim.

'That's one fellow I sure hope I'll never see again,' said Butch.

'I agree,' said Jim. 'He's pure brute. You don't know where he is do you?'

'I don't, mister and I don't want to.'

Suddenly Jim remembered the man who had been spotted watching the Roost on two occasions. He told Butch and asked him if he thought it was Midian.

'I couldn't say, Mr. Coryton. It wasn't me, anyways.'

'I was wondering if he had anything to do with Ching's disappearance,' said Jim thoughtfully. Butch laid down his cup.

'Ching,' he repeated. 'That stiff little man as came to bring the picture and fetch you back?'

'Yes.'

'You say he's disappeared.'

'Yes.' Jim saw no reason why he should not tell Butch, for Butch might possibly be able to throw some light on the occurrence. 'Yes,' he repeated. 'He disappeared last night, and I found his cap by the water early this morning. We are very much afraid that someone has knocked him on the head and thrown him in. That's what made me think of Midian.'

Butch's thin lips lightened till they became a mere line, and a frown showed on his forehead. 'It sure sounds like Midian's work,' he said at last, speaking apparently to himself. Then he looked up at Jim. 'Are you going back to this here Rabb's Roost to-night, Mr. Coryton?' he questioned.

'Of course,' replied Jim, in some surprise.

'Then you be mighty careful or yourself,' said Butch. Jim's eyes widened. 'You don't mean that I am to share China's fate, Butch?' he exclaimed.

'I ain't, putting that past them,' said Butch. 'See here, Mr. Coryton, you're a while man, and I likes you, and I says again, you be careful. Keep your eyes open. Don't go snooping round alone. And if I was in your shoes, I'd quit that place an' go somewhere else, and I'd do it right away.'

Jim could not doubt that the man was in earnest, and was very much astonished. 'Can't you tell me any thing else?' he begged.

Butch shook his head. 'It's likely I've said too much already,' he remarked gloomily. He lifted the pot. 'Another cup of coffee, mister?'

'No more, thanks!'

'Then I reckon you'd better be moving. You've a right long way to go, and it ain't going to be healthy for you to be out by your lonesome after dark.'

Jim got to his feet.

'All right,' he said. 'I'll be moving. Goodbye, and good luck!'

'Keep that last wish for yourself,' said Butch, 'for I reckon you'll need all the luck in the world if you don't take my advice and move from these parts.'


CHAPTER XXIV. — A WASTED WARNING

ONE of those wonderful Bristol Channel sunsets bathed the Roost in crimson light as Jim came down the opposite slope. It was very beautiful, yet to Jim, in whose soul was something of the Celtic superstition of his Cornish forefathers, there was something ominous in the blood-red glare. All the way home, as he tramped through the sopping heather, Jim's mind had been full of Butch 's warnings, and the more he thought of them the more puzzled he became.

The main thing that stood out was that Sharland had not got the picture. Jim was certain that Butch had not been lying an this point. But if not Sharland, who was it? The more he thought the more puzzled he grew—so puzzled indeed, that for the time his own troubles were almost forgotten.

He remembered how, on his first night at the Roost, Ching had warned him against Aylmer. Well, Aylmer might have been interested in the search for the treasure, but to connect him with the loss of the picture or the disappearance of Ching was manifestly absurd. In the first place he had been away on the night the picture had been taken, and in the second he had been the first to suggest calling in the police to solve the mystery of Ching's disappearance.

Hallam. Equally absurd, for Hallam had not arrived until after the picture had been stolen. Jim disliked Hallam intensely, yet had too much sense to allow his dislike for the man to blind him to the fact that Hallam was an ex-Army officer and a man of excellent character, who had done good work in the war. Nance had told him this, and that she and her uncle had had the best of references before taking him as a paying guest.

Ching—was it possible that Ching had been playing a double game? Jim dismissed the suggestion with hardly a second thought, for apart from his own liking for the little man, Pip knew all about him. There remained Robert Tremayne and Maurice. But Robert Tremayne did not even know the existence of the inner cellar, and as for Maurice, he was the worst sufferer by the loss of the picture.

Jim gave if up and his thoughts turned to Nance as he crossed the bridge and went up to the house.

Aylmer was the only occupant of the hall, sitting reading, in his usual silence. He looked up as Jim came in.

'Get caught?' he asked briefly. 'No, I sheltered in an old mine house,' Jim answered. 'Any news?'

'None,' said Aylmer gravely, and that was all.

Jim went up to his room and changed. Under the circumstances if web hardly likely that there would be dinner, but he knew that Nance would provide a meal of some sort. He hurried down and waited in the hall, for his hope was to catch Nance alone and apologise for his conduct that morning. He believed that, if he could only get five minutes alone with her, he could put things right, and was prepared to eat any amount of humble pie to earn her forgiveness.

Vain hope, for instead of Nance, Uncle Robert appeared. He seemed to have got over the shock of Ching 's disappearance for he beamed on Jim and began to apologise for the fact that dinner would be replaced by cold supper.

'To-morrow I hope we can get someone in,' he went on. 'At present Nance is practically singlehanded. Awkward, too, for Hallam is too lame to leave the house. He has strained his ankle and can hardly hobble.

'Can I be of any use?' Jim asked.

'Very good of you to offer, my dear Coryton, but I am afraid not. I myself volunteered to give Nance a hand, but she would have none of it. She is immensely independent.'

'She is wonderful,' said Jim warmly, 'but she cannot be expected to feed a houseful of men, and tomorrow I think you must allow Paget and myself to take our departure.'

Mr. Tremayne looked sad. 'Perhaps you are right,' he said. 'Mr. Aylmer has already announced his intention of leaving to- morrow. Without poor Ching our whole household seems to crumble.'

At that moment Aylmer appeared, and was followed by Hallam, hobbling slowly with the aid of a stick. Jim's heart sank, for now all chance of getting a word alone with Nance was at an end.

Sharp at eight, Hannah, the little, maid, sounded the gong, and just then Nance came hurrying down. Jim, watching her saw that she was, rather pale, yet that she looked charming as ever, in a pale blue frock, with a shot-silk scarf over her shoulders.

'Cold food, dear people,' she said, as she took her place at the head of the table, 'but I am not going to apologise under the circumstances.'

'I should rather think not,' said Hallam quickly, almost, indignantly. 'I think you are a marvel, Miss Nance.'

Nance gave him a little smile, but did not vouchsafe Jim so much as a glance much less a word. Poor Jim! In spite of his long, hungry day on the moor all his appetite left him and he sat silent, and gloomy, eating little and only answering the questions which Uncle Robert fired at him every now and then.

While the others ate he was planning how he could get a word with Nance later. He had the excuse that he wanted to tell her of his interview with Butch, but excuse is no good without opportunity, and Nance gave him none. For the first hour after supper she was helping Hannah, in the kitchen, then she came back to the drawing room and, announcing that she was tired, asked to be excused. She went straight to her room and that, so far as Jim was concerned, was the end of it.

Uncle Robert's pet game was backgammon, a pastime which Jim abhorred, but by way of penance he played a couple of games with the old gentleman, then took himself upstairs. To himself he vowed that he was far too unhappy to sleep, but when a healthy young man has been up since five and walked a matter of twenty miles, Mother Nature usually takes a hand, and Jim's head had not been five minutes on the pillow before he was as sound asleep as he had ever been in the whole course of his life.

He slept and he dreamed, and his dream was that he had gone down into the inner cellar to look for Ching and had become somehow aware that Ching was hidden in the old chest. He had, therefore, opened the chest and was looking down into it when someone came up behind, caught him, thrust him in and slammed down the lid, leaving him to suffocate. He struggled desperately but in vain, and woke to find that this was no nightmare, but a horrid reality.

Something, a rug or blanket, was actually wrapped round his head And a heavy weight lay upon his body and stomach, while at least one pair of hands held him down.

Jim fought furiously, kicking and struggling with frantic energy. He tried to cry out for help, but the blanket muffled his cries and cut off his breath, while the weight upon his body made it impossible to move. Presently he was choking—suffocating and as the air was cut off from his struggles grew feebler. His lungs seemed to swell as if they would burst his chest, his throat was dry agony, sparks appeared to flash and coruscate before his eyes. Then his senses left him and he lay limp.

'He'll do now,' came a gruff whisper, 'is all clear outside?'

A slight pause while the second man listened at the door.

'All clear,' came a voice, pitched as low as that of the first speaker.

'Then help me down with him,' said the latter.


CHAPTER XXV. — CHING TELLS HIS STORY

IT is a beastly thing to be choked into insensibility— practically as bad as hanging—but the coming to life again after such a process is almost worse in that it is slower and quite as painful. When, in addition, you have to struggle back to consciousness in pitch darkness, with your hands fast tied and lying on cold stone, the business is about as bad an experience as can befall a man.

Yet that was how Jim Coryton found himself when his senses began to come back to his numbed brain. It was indeed only by degrees that he recognised his plight, for his head ached so that he could hardly realise anything beyond the pain of it. His throat was equally painful, and terribly dry, his tongue felt like a stick, while his eyes were balls of fire.

At first, too, his memory refused to work. He could not recall to mind what had happened, and it seemed to him that he must be dead and had gone to some black place of torment. But Jim Coryton was a strong man, in first-class health and condition, and presently the numbing effects of the shock began to wear off his half paralysed lungs began to inhale air, and the blood to flow again through the choked arteries.

After that the mental processes carne slowly back to, work, and he remembered the nightmare that had changed into a horrible reality.

Reality! But what was this reality? Where was he? How had he come there? Who were his attackers, and how had they come upon him so suddenly?

This brought him a step further back to Butch, and Butch's warnings. Butch had told him he was in danger, but once he had reached the Roost he had not given that warning a second thought. He had gone to bed, and to sleep, without even locking his door. What a fool he had been—oh, what a fool!

The conviction brought a groan from him, and the groan brought an echo. I But was it an echo? He could almost swear that it was from another throat than his own, and he lay still and silent, almost without breathing, listening with a fierce intentness. Seconds dragged by, but he heard nothing.

At last the suspense grew too much for his strained nerves. 'Who is it? Who is there? Answer, can't you?' he cried aloud.

And almost instantly the answer came. 'It's Mr. Coryton,' said a voice, so low and hoarse it web only just audible. For a moment Jim's surprise was so intense that he was literally unable to speak. At last his dry lips framed one word, 'Ching!'

Yes, it's Ching, sir,' came the butler's voice, out of the blackness. 'B-but I thought you were dead—murdered. I found your cap down by, the water-side this morning and marks of a struggle. We had the police and they, too, thought you were drowned.'

'Better for me if I had been, sir,' said Ching, and his voice was so thin and weak it wrung Jim's heart. 'Drowning is an easier death than starving in the dark like this.'

'I don't understand,' said Jim. 'How did you come here? Who put you here? Where are we?'

'I don't rightly know where we are, sir, but I know who put me here. It was that there Aylmer.'

'Aylmer!' repeated Jim, almost too surprised for words. 'Impossible! It was Aylmer who went with me for the police this morning.'

'Like his dirty cunning,' said Ching bitterly. Sheer anger lent a little strength to his voice, so that Jim could hear his words more plainly. 'He did it just to put you off the scent, sir. He knew as the police couldn't find me.'

'But tell me—explain,' begged Jim 'I can make nothing of it.'

'There ain't a lot; to tell, sir. You know as I've told you before that Mr. Aylmer was after the treasure. That first night you were here—you remember?'

'I remember that right enough, but I'm afraid I didn't pay much attention to your warning, Ching.'

'But I told you no more than the truth, sir, and when the picture went I suspected him of having a hand in the job.'

'But he was away in London.' exclaimed Jim, bewildered.

'You've no proof of that, Mr. Coryton, except his bare word. It's my belief he was never twenty miles from here. You knew a car came here that night.'

'I know a car came down the branch road. You mean that was his?'

'I've no proof yet sir, but I'm pretty sure of it. Anyway, l made up my mind to watch him. Last night—or perhaps it was the night before—'

'It was last night,' put in Jim.

'Yes, sir, but I feel as if I'd been here a week. Well, last night I heard I a board creak. To say the truth, sir, I have fixed two boards so that they will creak if anyone steps on them. I heard it and I was up quick, and out. It was Aylmer right enough. Dark as it was I could swear to that by the height and bulk of him. Aylmer, and going down the stairs quiet and cautious as a big cat. I know the house. I know the boards that creak and them that don't and I followed him. No trouble for I knew as well as if I'd been told just which way be was going. Across the hall, through the swing door into the passage. Inside the passage he stopped and turned on a little torch. I saw the gleam of it through the crack under the door.

'If I'd had sense I'd have gone back for you sir, but I was so afraid of missing him, and so sure I could tackle the job myself that I only waited until he was inside the cellar before I went after him through the door He had closed the Cellar door, but I had oiled the hinges myself, and knew they would not squeak, so I gave him time to go below and followed.

'There he was with his torch in his hand, stooping over a flagstone in the floor. He kneeled down and did something—I couldn't see what, but I take it he was shifting a spring on something. Anyhow part of the wall swung back just like that way Miss Nance found into the secret cellar; only this was in the left hand wall. Then Aylmer stood up, took a good look all round and walked through this opening.'

Ching paused. His voice was so hoarse Jim could hardly hear him. 'It's my throat,' whispered the poor little man. 'It's dry as a bone.'

Jim said nothing, but his whole soul was seething at the thought of the torture Aylmer had inflicted on Ching. It occurred to him, too, that very soon he would be in the same plight.

Presently Ching went on. 'I gave him plenty of time before. I followed. Of course I was a bit excited for I reckoned he'd found the way down to old Rabb's plunder pit. I went quiet as a mouse and I could sec his light bobbing along a good way ahead. He was walking down a passage cut in the rock, and sound as the day a was made. A bit damp in places and ran at a slope downwards?'

'But it was madness. Ching,' put in Jim. 'What chance had you against a great brute of a man like that?'

'I know that now, sir, but I didn't think of it at the time. I was mad keen to find out just where he was going and what he was about. It wasn't the treasure I was thinking about so much as the picture. You see, I reckoned he'd hid it somewhere down below. Besides I didn't reckon on tackling him. My notion was to see what he was about, then clear out and come back.'

He paused once more to get his voice back, then went on.

'And that's what I'd nave done only for a bit of bad luck. The passage curved, and Aylmer and his light went out of my sight round the curve. I could still see the glow of it, but for the rest I was pretty much in the dark, so I didn't notice that I'd come on a steep slope or that the floor was wet with drip from the roof. I had on a pair of thin crepe-soled rubber shoes. Fine things to walk quiet in, but terrible bad on, wet stone. Next thing I knew, my feet slipped from under me and I came down such a crack as near stunned me Before I could get my feet again I saw the light coming back and knew as he'd heard me. I got up and started to run, but bless you, I hadn't a chance. My feet kept, slipping and anyhow his legs is twice as long as mine. I wasn't half way bark before he had me. His hands is like iron. You wouldn't believe how strong he is. He caught me round the back of the neck and scragged me till I dropped. Then he turned the light on me. 'I thought, it was you,' he said, speaking quiet as you like, but the glitter in those eyes of his fair scared me. 'Three times you've trailed me,' he said, 'but this is the last.'

I thought he was going to finish me there and then, but instead he turned me over on my face, put his knee in the small of my back, pulled my arms round, and tied my wrists together. Then he placed me up like I was a sack of coals, flung me over his shoulder and walked on down the slope. I wouldn't say how far we came, for I was still all dazed like with the fall and the throttling. All I know is that we came out into a wide place, a kind of cave, and there he dumped me down and left me. What with the shock, and everything, I reckon I fainted. Anyways the next thing I remember I was here alone in the dark, and here I've been ever since.'

'The swine!' said Jim fiercely. He was so angry at Aylmer 's treatment of Ching that, for the moment, he forgot his own troubles.

'And you can't get loose, Ching?' he asked.

'I've tried till I was sick, sir, but he's tied me too well for that.'

'Have you a knife about you?'

'No, sir. And if I had I couldn't reach it.'

'I know, but I thought I might.'

'He ain't taking no chances,' said Ching bitterly. 'How did he get you, sir?'

Coryton explained. He told the whole story of the previous day, of his meeting with Butch, and Butch's warning.

'It's all my own fault,' he finished. 'I never even locked my bedroom door, and they caught me while I was sound asleep.'

'They? Who was the other, sir?'

'I wish I knew, but I was out. They choked me till I was insensible. Still, it must have taken two to carry me down here.'

'I reckon it did,' said Ching slowly. 'But Aylmer's as strong as a bull. He could have done It alone.'

'No,' said Jim. 'I'm pretty certain there were two of them. One sat on me and the other got the blanket over my head.'

'Then Aylmer must have let this other chap into the house. That was a bit of a risk.'

'Not so much as you'd think. Mr. Paget is still away and Major Hallam is laid up with a sprained ankle. I was the only able- bodied man left In the house.' Jim heard Ching stir. 'I was wondering what they tackled you for, sir, but now I'm beginning to see,' said the man.

'How do you mean?'

'Why, this is the night he's fixed to get away with the stuff.'

'What stuff—oh, the picture you mean.'

'The picture,' repeated Ching. 'No, sir, Aylmer could have taken that away any time he'd a mind to. It's the treasure I'm thinking of.'

Jim whistled, or rather tried to, for his lips were too dry for sound. 'The treasure. Of course that's it, Ching. Now I begin to understand. Aylmer has found the plunder pit, and we are probably in it this minute, but the stuff was too heavy for him to get it away single-handed, especially as the only way to carry it out was through the house. So he had to wait until he could get outside help. In the meantime the picture came along, and he stole that, too, and hid it here with Rabb's stuff. It all fits in.'

'You're right, sir,' said Ching eagerly. 'I reckon you've hit the nail on the head.'

Jim went on. 'Then he had to clear the house, so first he got rid of you, Ching, and next of me. That leaves no one but Hallam and Maurice who are both disabled, Mr. Tremayne who sleeps like the dead, and—and Miss Tremayne.'

He stopped with a gasp.

Suppose Nance heard and came out of her room. He knew how fearless she was. Brute as Aylmer was he hardly thought he would injure Nance, but the man with him—his accomplice.

'Ching,' he asked, in a voice that was not too steady, 'who is helping Aylmer? Who is the second man?'

'Hard to say, sir,' said Ching. 'But if you asked me I'd say most like he'd got Midian.'

Jim groaned. Ching had only confirmed his own suspicion, but it made him sick with fear to think what might happen to Nance if she met this inhuman brute.


CHAPTER XXVI. — A MIDNIGHT MYSTERY

JIM'S day would not have been so miserable as it was had he been able to see into Nance's brain or heart, or wherever a woman keeps her emotions. But even the youngest girl is infinitely more skilful in concealing her thoughts and feelings than the oldest and most experienced man, and no one would have been more surprised than Jim could he have known that Nance was very nearly as unhappy as he.

She was fond of Jim—fonder of him than of any man she had met—and she had realised from the first how much he had been attracted to her. His proposal on that day when they went fishing had not surprised her, but she had told him the truth when she said that she was not yet quite sure of herself. Since then he had disappointed her, for she had the feeling that he ought to have trusted her instead of getting cross and sulky.

In spite of that, the quarrel of the morning had upset her more that she would own, even to herself. All day she sad been so busy with household affairs that she had had little time to think', but when she went to bed it all came back, so instead of going comfortably to sleep, she lay awake for a long time, and when at last she did drop off her sleep was light and broken by sad dreams.

All of a sudden she found herself broad awake. A sound had disturbed her, and her first idea was that someone was in her room. Instead of screaming, as some girls would have done, she remained perfectly quiet, listening. The room was not quite dark, for Nance slept with windows wide and curtains drawn back, so as to allow the fresh sea air to pour in, and, as her eyes became accustomed to the very dim light, she made fairly certain that she was mistaken, and that no intruder was in her room. Then remembering that the door was bolted on the inside, she smiled at her own fears.

Yet on thinking it over, she felt sure that someone had tried the handle of her door, so out she got, put on dressing-gown and slippers, and went quietly to the door. She pulled back the bolt, turned the handle, and got the shock of her life when she found that the door would not open. The key was inside, so it could not be locked, but when she put her weight against it, she found that it was quite fast.

Now Nance was really frightened, and small blame to her, for it was a sure thing that something wrong was afoot. She badly wanted to call for help, but a moment's reflection showed that the only effect would be to put the intruders on their guard. The thing was to get out, if that were possible. She tried the door again and found that it was fixed by a wedge jammed under the bottom.

Nance's hobbies was chip carving, and she had the tools in her room. She got a chisel and a mallet, and after waiting until she was sure that there was no one outside, lit a candle, put the point of the chisel against the wedge, and muffling the handle with a handkerchief, managed to loosen the wedge and push it back.

After that it was an easy matter to open the door, but first she put out the candle, then stood in the opening, listening. Her heart was thumping so loudly that at first It seemed to deafen her, but Nance had plenty of pluck, and presently she was breathing normally and listening intently. She fancied she heard a faint sound down below, but could not be sure.

She waited another minute, then, as all was quiet, lit her candle again and hurried to Jim's room. She knocked twice, but there was no answer, so at last she turned the handle. The door opened at once, but the light showed the room empty.

It showed more than that. The bed was all in confusion, the clothes pulled off on the floor. Jim's slippers lay by the bedside, and his dressing-gown hung on its peg on the door.

If Nance had been frightened before, now she was terrified, for it was plain that something had happened to Jim. She struggled against panic, wondering what to do. Maurice was still almost helpless, Major Hallam lame. It seemed that the only person who could help was her uncle, and, as she knew by experience, he was little use in an emergency. Still, it was Hobson's choice, and she hurried to his room. Suddenly a door opened behind her, and someone came plunging out. Nance just suppressed a scream as she turned to see—Pip.

Pip, with a surprised face and a suit of pink and white- striped pyjamas.

'Oh, Pip!' she gasped. 'Oh, I am so glad to see you.'

'What's the matter?' demanded Pip; then, as he saw how white her face was and how she trembled, his tone changed.

'Don't be scared, Nance. Jim wired me this morning. I got back by the last train and took a car out. I had my latchkey, so came in quietly. Now tell me what is wrong.'

'I—I don't know, Pip. Jim's gone.'

'Jim gone! Where?'

'That's just what I don't know. Burglars are in the house. I heard them, but when I got up my door was fastened with a wedge. I got it open and went to Jim's room. He isn't there. His bed is all pulled to pieces and his slippers and dressing-gown are there. They've taken him, Pip. They've killed him—like they did poor Ching.'

'Don't you believe it, my dear,' said Pip, stoutly. 'Old Jim would take a lot of killing. And I don't believe they've killed Ching, either. Thieves don't kill people, unless they have to. They're just as keen on keeping their necks unstretched as you or I. See here, put on a few clothes and some stout shoes, and we'll go and see what's happened.'

His cheery confidence may have been assumed, but it put fresh heart into Nance, and she hurried back to her room. Pip, too, bolted back into his room and flung on some clothes. He took a torch, a candle, and some matches, and was ready just as Nance came out, dressed and with shoes on.

The old house was creepily silent as the two crept down the stairs. The night was very still, after the storm off the afternoon.

The old house was creepily silent as the two crept down the stairs. The night was very still, after the storm of the afternoon. Pip's eyes were quick, and the very first think he saw were muddy marks on the polished boards of the hall. He pointed them out to Nance, but she shook her head.

'They may be Jim's boots or anybody's. Lots of people came in and out, after the rain.'

'These are not Jim's footmarks anyhow,' Pip declared. 'They're hobnails. Look at the holes they've made in the boards. And they come from the front door. I'm going out to see.'

He tried the front door.

'Hulloa!' he whispered sharply.

'It's open, and I'll swear I snapped the catch when I came in. Nance, someone has opened if with a latchkey.

'Jim has one,' Nance told him, but Pip was already outside, and she followed him. With his torch Pip traced the foot-marks down towards the drive gate. There was no mistaking the big hobnails and the boot itself was at least two sizes larger than that worn by anyone in the house.

They reached the gate without hearing or seeing anyone, and then came another surprise.

'A car,' said Pip below his breath. 'Whose car?' It was a big, old Daimler, a powerful looking machine that stood in the road with its light out. Pip felt the radiator which was quite hot.

'Hasn't been here long,' he added.

'I never saw it before,' said Nance.

'It's the burglar's car,' said Pip. That means they're still in the house.'

'Or in the cellar,' added Nance eagerly.

Pip nodded. He was already busy with a knife and a sharp hiss of air from the back tyres explained what he was about.

'They won't get far with that,' he remarked, as he saw the two tyres go flat. 'But I'll just make quits sure.' He opened the bonnet and turned the petrol tap.

'That'll do,' he said. 'Now for the cellar.'

They hurried back to the house. In the porch. Pip stopped a moment and selected a heavy stick from the rack, then he turned on his torch again and followed the great muddy hobnails across the hall through the swing-door.

'You're right, Nance,' he said. 'They went to the cellar. Now I think you'd best leave the rest of the job to me.'

'And have you murdered, too. I can't. I won't,' replied Nance forcibly.

Pip shrugged. 'All right then. Only for heaven's sake keep behind me.'

The tracks led down the cellar steps and across the floor.

'They've found the secret cellar,' whispered Nance.

'They haven't,' retorted Pip, impolitely. 'The marks go to the left, and—and by gum, Nance, look at this.' He pointed to a double set of tracks which led straight to the left-hand wall of the cellar and there disappeared.

For a moment he and Nance gazed at one another, then Nance, quick witted, jumped to the explanation. 'There's another way out—another secret door.'

'To the Plunder Pit,' added Pip. 'That's it. Not a doubt about it. But how the deuce are we to find the way to open it?'

Nance shook her head. 'I've tried every inch of these walls, Pip, and I'm sure as can be that there is no second spring like the one I found before.'

'But they've found it.'

'Who are they?' asked Nance.

'I don't know any more than you do, and it don't make much odds. All we know is that they've gone through there, and that they've either collared Jim, and taken him with them, or else he's followed them.'

'We know something else,' said Nance quickly, 'that they're down there still.'

'Yes, by Jove. Because their car is still there. I tell you what, Nance. They've found the Plunder Pit, and brought that car to carry off the treasure. But now we have them on toast. They're in a regular trap.'

Nance did not share his jubilation.

'So is Jim,' she said severely.

Pips face fell. 'So he is.'

Nance turned her bright eyes on him.

'What are you going to do, Pip?'

'Why, wait here, I suppose. They'll have to come back this way. I can stand here in the dark and lather em over the head as they come out.'

'Do you propose to treat Jim that way?'

'No, of course not.' Pip was a little annoyed.

'I don't think much of your plan,' said Nance. 'We don't know what they are doing to Jim. They may have hurt him. I expect they have, for I'm sure he fought them in his room. Besides, how do you know that they have not another way of escape?'

'How could they?' questioned Pip.

'I don't know,' said Nance, 'but, since they have found their way in, it is quite clear they know a great deal more about it all than we do, and they may very well have found another way out.'

Pip began to look really worried.

'Have you any plan, Nance?' he ask quite humbly.

'A sort of one,' said Nance doubtfully. 'You know that cave which Jim and I explored, the one that we passed the mouth of on that day we climbed the cliff?'

'Yes, I remember,' replied Pip slowly. Then his face suddenly cleared. 'You mean they might get out that way?'

'No,' said Nance. 'I mean that we might get _in_ that way.'

CHAPTER XXVII. — THE BOLT HOLE

PIP drew a long breath. 'You're, right, Nance. It might work. But didn't you say there was a big crack the floor of the cave?'

'Yes, but that can be crossed by a plank, and we can easily let a plank down the cliff by a rope.'

Pip frowned. 'I don't know about being easy, in the middle of the night. But I'm game to try.'

Then he stopped and frowned. ''But suppose they come out this end while we're messing about on the cliff.'

'Don't be stupid,' said Nance quickly. 'Surely we can lock the cellar door and leave Uncle Bob to watch it with his gun.'

Pip nodded. 'Yes, of course, only couldn't Hallam make a better job of it.'

'No,' said Nance, with a sharp crispness which surprised Pip. 'Major Hallam is lame, and we don't want him in this at all.'

Pip gave her a quick look, but made no comment. 'All right,' he agreed. 'Then you go and tell your uncle and I'll raise a rope and a plank.'

'You will find them both in the tool house,' Nance told him. 'I got the plank ready some days ago.'

'You're a bit of a wonder, Nance,' said Pip, but she did not hear. She was already half way up the cellar stairs. Pip followed, locking and bolting the door behind him and making it extra secure by means of a rope and other things.

Nance went straight to her uncle's room, roused him and told him briefly what had happened. Uncle Bob, usually the mildest of men, grew purple with indignation.

'The damn scoundrels. B'gosh, I'll handle 'em.' He was out of bed with amazing speed; and thrusting his feet into slippers, waddled over to the corner where his gun stood. He had kept it in his bedroom ever since the troubles began.

'I'll handle 'em,' he said again, and Nance, satisfied, went quickly out. Instead of going straight downstairs she crossed to Hallam's room and knocked. There was no reply. Without hesitation she opened the door and looked in. The bed was empty.

Nance nodded. 'I thought as much,' was all she said, as she ran quickly down the stairs and out of the house.

Pip was ready. He had the plank, the rope, an iron peg, a mallet, and a hurricane lantern. Nance took the lantern and insisted upon carrying the rope also. Then she led the way while Pip followed with the plank balanced over his shoulder. Up on the brow of the cliff it was so quiet and peaceful that it was hard to realise their errand. The only sounds was the slow hiss and gurgle of the small waves moving against the cliff foot.

Alone, Pip would not have known where to start, but Nance knew the ground as well as her own garden, and found the exact spot where she and Jim had planted their peg on the former occasion. It was only a few days ago, yet so much had happened since that it seemed a month.

Pip knocked in the peg with a few blows from his mallet and fastened the rope securely to it. He flung the loose end down over the cliff face and prepared to climb down.

Nance stopped him. 'I will go first,' she stated. 'I mean it, Pip, for I know the cliff face far better than you.'

'Gosh, you're a good plucked 'un!' said Pip, under his breath, for it was a terrifying business to swing over the brow into the darkness, with all that tremendous drop beneath. But Nance made little of it and went down rapidly, finding every foothold with amazing certainty, and stopping now and then to direct Pip, who blundered once and sent a loose stone rolling down the steep to leap and plunge into the sea far below.

'Steady!' she said in a low voice. 'They might hear.'

'Glad I didn't go with it,' said Pip. 'I'm scared pink.'

'You're doing very well,' Nance encouraged him. 'Here's our journey's end,' she added, as they reached the ledge.

'Wish it was,' growled Pip. 'Where's the cave?'

'Here. Hank a handkerchief over that lantern please. We must not risk being seen.'

'But you don't know whether this cave leads to the treasure place,' said Pip.

'I don't _know_, but I am surer than ever of it. How I wish Jim and I had gone again and made sure!'

As she spoke she was advancing into the mouth of the cave. Covered as it was, the lantern gave only the dimmest glow, and carrying the plank they had to go slowly. The more so because Nance remembered the ugly steep slope leading to the mouth of the crack. When she reached the slope she beckoned Pip, and he pushed the plank forward.

Nance helped to slide it to the edge of the crack, then the two between them lifted and handed it along until it spanned the chasm.

'This is where I lead,' whispered Pip, and, for once Nance made no objection.

'I'll hold it,' she said.' The plank bent unpleasantly under Pip's solid eleven stone, but Pip walked steadily across and turning, held the plank for Nance, who crossed with equal ease. Then they moved on again.

'Be very careful,' Nance whispered. 'There may be another crack.'

'Don't be gloomy,' retorted Pip. 'I don't believe it for a minute. It's quite good going.'

It was. The floor was smooth and sloped gently downwards. Pip was thinking to himself how extremely unpleasant it would be if the thieves took it into their heads to come out this way, but he did not voice his fears.

They went on and on until Pip began to feel they must be well under the Roost itself; and just then a sound came echoing up out of the depths and struck their ears with the force of an announcer's voice coming from a loud speaker.

'Keep your hands out of that. You hear me.'

Pip dropped as if he head been shot, at the same time covering the lantern with his soft, felt hat.'

'Good gosh!' he whispered. 'It's Aylmer.'

'Aylmer!' repeated Nance, in evident amazement. 'So he's in it, too!'

'The dirty dog!' growled Pip. 'Then Ching was right, after all. But who's the other?'

As if in answer a second voice came to them. A voice so harsh, so cruel, that in spite of herself Nance shivered.

'Wot's the matter?' it snarled. 'I ain't doing no harm.'

'And you won't while I'm watching you,' returned Aylmer, in a tone that neither Pip nor Nance had ever heard from him. It was every bit as brutal as the other man's, but held a ferocity which, as Pip put it to himself, 'beat the other to a frazzle.'

'Who is it?' whispered Nance.

'I don't know for certain,' Pip answered, in an equally low voice. 'But I'll give odds it's that very same fellow that shot Maurice and tried to harm Jim.'

'Midian, you mean?'

'That's the gent,' said Pip. 'Gadzooks, Nance, but we're in pretty company.'

Nance did not reply at once. She was listening. From where she and Pip stood they could hear but not see. It was evident that the passage in which they stood led to this secret chamber called the Plunder Pit, but that there was a curve or angle beyond which cut off all sight of it. They could not even see any reflection of the light which Aylmer and his accomplice must be using.

'They must be packing up the plate,' said Nance at last.

'And quarrelling over it,' replied Pip. 'I take it Master Midian was trying to help himself to something' on the sly.'

'That is what is sounded like,' agreed Nance. 'Pip, I can't understand it. I never thought that he was a criminal.'

'It is a bit of a shock,' allowed Pip.

'What are we going to do?' asked Nance again.

'There's only one thing to be done so far as I can see,' Pip' told her. 'Clear out.'

'What', and leave the thieves to steal everything? You're joking, Pip.'

'Not a bit. If we leave and pull the plank away they are prisoners. The cellar door' is fast, and your uncle is witching it with his gun. They can't get the stuff away or get out them- selves.'

'But Jim,' said Nance quickly. 'You are forgetting Jim. They have him there and perhaps Ching as well. They may murder them both if they realise that they are trapped.'

'They won't murder them,' said Pip, 'but, of course, they can hold them as hostages and use them to make terms. Yes, Nance, I'll admit that we are rather badly up against it.'


CHAPTER XXVIII. — JIM'S PLAN

FAINT, clanking sounds came from below, as of someone lifting a heavy weight.

'That's enough mister. I can't carry no more.' The voice was Midian's.

'Right,' answered Aylmer curtly. 'I can take the rest, and that'll be the lot.'

'That's the lot,' repeated Midian sulkily. 'And don't you forget as we've to get it out through the house.'

'Mind your own business,' snapped Aylmer. 'I'll attend to that.'

Nance laid a hand on Pip's arm. 'Now is our chance,' she whispered quickly. 'They are going back to the cellar with the plate. If we slip into the treasure room we can release Jim.'

'You're right,' said Pip. 'Only don't say 'we', for this is my job.'

'No, Pip, I must come.'

'You'll stay right here, Nance,' said Pip, and the tone in which he spoke surprised Nance into silence. She had never dreamed that the cheery, happy-go-lucky Pip could speak in such a voice. 'See here, Nance,' went on Pip. 'You go back to the plank and guard it. You can take the lantern, for I have a flash You had better cross to the far side, and be ready to pull the plank away the moment we're across it.'

'But—?' began Nance.

'No buts about it. This job's got to be done quickly. Just remember that cellar door is locked, and the minute Aylmer finds he is locked in he will smell a rat, and either he, or Midian, or both, will come back in a hurry for Jim. Jim, if he's there, is their trump card.'

'I suppose you are right, Pip,' said Nance, with unusual meekness.

'I know I am right. I am going now.'

'You will be careful, Pip,' begged Nance. 'And—and take care of Jim.'

'You bet,' said Pip with emphasis as he hurried forward.

Nance watched him a moment until the faint gleam or his torch disappeared around a curve of rock, then she herself turned and went back up the passage. She was surprised and annoyed to find how shaky and trembly she felt.

Pip went down the passage as quickly as he dared. He found that it curved to the left, and by way of precaution switched off his light. Just as well that the did so for now he was able to see a faint gleam in the distance. He also heard a shuffling of feet as of men carrying heavy weights, and putting two and two together, was sure that these were Aylmer and Midian, carrying their loads of plunder back from the Plunder Pit to the cellar.

So far so good, for this gave him his chance to reach the spot where he believed Jim to be imprisoned. The trouble was that there were still so many unknown factors. There was the chance, for instance, that Aylmer had a second accomplice who was keeping guard; the chance that Jim was not there at all, and—worst of all—the chance that Aylmer and Midian might come back into the Plunder Pit before he could escape from it.

He waited until the light in the distance vanished completely, then switched on his own torch again and moved forward. He kept the little circle of light on the floor in front of him. He had to, because there was always the danger that another of these unpleasant chasms might be yawning to devour him. But the floor was firm and smooth enough, and presently he perceived that the passage was widening and that he was entering a cave or rock chamber. Switching off his light he stopped and listened carefully. He could still hear a faint sound of footsteps in the distance, but that died away and the silence seemed intense.

Pip was not accustomed to caves and the darkness weighed upon him like something solid After a little he heard another sound— it was someone breathing, breathing quickly, as if excited, and he felt certain that the person, whoever it was, was not far off. He determined to risk it.

'Jim,' he whispered.

A moment's pause, then Jim's voice, plain as possible, and filled with incredulous joy. 'You, Pip!'

'It's Pip all right, old son. Is it safe to turn on the glim?'

'Yes, for Aylmer and Midian have gone. Ching is here.'

'Good business,' said Pip, as he turned the lens of his torch upwards. The thin ray wheeled pencil-like through the gloom and rested on Jim—Jim, flat on his back on the cold damp rock, barefooted, wearing nothing but pyjamas. He was shivering with cold and there was blood on his face. Close by was Ching, dressed in shirt and trousers, blue and pinched, and looking more dead than alive, At the sight Pip made a remark which he would not have cared to have Nance hear. It consigned Aylmer and his accomplice to a place warmer than the cave.

'Don't waste time swearing, old man,' said Jim. 'Cut us loose as quick as ever you can. We want to catch those swine before they escape with the loot.'

Before he had finished speaking Pip was beside him, cutting the cords.

'They'll come back all right, Jim. We've locked the cellar door and Uncle Bob is waiting outside with his scatter-gun.'

'Good man!' said Jim, with warm approval. 'You got in by the cliff passage, I take it.'

'Yes, and Nance is waiting by the plank across the crack.' Jim was on his feet, rubbing himself to get the chill out of his veins, and Pip was busy with Ching.

'We'll have to hurry,' said Jim. 'Those two beauties will be fairly foaming when they find they can't get out.'

'That'll be all right. They'll try to break the cellar door,' said Pip. 'I say, have they got the treasure with them?'

'Every durn bit of it,' replied Jim. 'You never saw such a pile of stuff in your life. Lovely old silver and some gold plate, too. Took 'em two journeys to carry it up to the house. It was all in that big old chest there.'

Pip was too busy cutting Ching loose to even look at the chest. But when he had finished Ching did not move. Pip lifted him, but the poor little man dropped back like a wooden doll. Every muscle in his body had gone stiff.

'I'm sorry, sir,' he said hoarsely. 'I can't walk a step.'

'Never mind,' Pip encouraged him 'We'll carry you. Lend a hand, Jim, if you're able.'

'Oh, I'm able enough. I've only been here an hour, but Ching has been here since last night.'

'The dirty dogs,' growled Pip, as he carefully lifted Ching again. He took him by the shoulders and Jim took him by the legs, but they had not gone three steps before a fearful outcry came ringing down the rock passage from the direction of the house.

'They're on to it,' snapped Jim. 'Hurry.'

It was all very well to say hurry, but two men cannot do much hurrying when they have a third to carry, who Is completely helpless, as was poor Ching. Then came Aylmer 's voice, sharp and clear, in spite of the distance.

'The door's locked. The old man's on the job.' Midian answered. 'Tell him we've got Coryton and Ching. Tell him we'll cut the livers out of them if he don't open.'

'We'll do it, too,' said Aylmer with an oath. 'Midian, you go back and fetch up Ching. When old Tremayne hears him scream I'll lay he'll open the door quick enough.'

'Good gosh, we're in the soup!' Pip muttered. 'We'll never get Ching away in time.'

'And you have no gun,' lamented Jim. 'Pip, there's just one chance. You and Ching hide behind that old chest. I'll stand out here and wait for Aylmer. When he comes I'll bunk.'

'He'll shoot you.'

'I'll bet he won't. He wants me alive not dead. And it he does, he won't hit me. Give me your torch, and you and Ching get behind the chest. Quick, you old ass. I can hear steps in the passage.'

They were Midian's hobnails clanking on the stone. Pip had no doubt of that. Pip did not think much of Jim's plan, but at the same time he himself could not think of any better one. And something had to be done quickly, or the whole lot of them would be caught and Nance left alone in the tunnel. He and Jim carried Ching quickly to the one hiding place in the cave. The great old, black, oaken chest which, with its lid wrenched away, stood close to the right hand wall of the cavern. They laid Ching in the narrow space behind and Pip crouched down alongside.

Jim, bare-footed, ran across to the entrance of the seaward passage and stood there. He had Pip's torch, but as he reached the spot he switched it out. Next moment, Midian, carrying a powerful bull's-eye, entered the cave from the other end.


CHAPTER XXIX. — THE PIT

JIM was in a tight place and knew it, yet, in spite of that fact and of all that he had been through, the sight of Midian's face, when he saw that his prisoners had vanished, nearly made him laugh. Midian, a low type, an utterly uneducated brute, was like the rest of his class, intensely superstitious, and his first glare of surprise was followed by one of actual terror.

'So 'elp me, Gawd!' he gasped. 'They're gone.' Then all of a sudden he gave a yell. 'Aylmer, they're gone!'

'Gone!' came back Aylmer's voice from the distance. 'You crazy fool, they can't be gone.'

'Come an' see fer yourself,' retorted Midian in a voice that was shrill with surprise and fear. 'I believe the devil's took 'em,' he added.

Jim heard Aylmer's boots thudding down the tunnel and realised that be at least would not share Midian's view of the disappearance. Suddenly flashing his torch full in Midian's face he sprang out into the open.

'Not gone, but going,' he jeered, and darted up the tunnel.

Instantly, Midian pulled out a pistol and fired, but Jim was already in the passage and the heavy bullet wasted itself in the rock. In the confined space the report thundered like a cannon, and the shock had the effect of extinguishing Midian's lantern.

Jim did not see this happen because he was already in the passage, but he heard Midian yell with rage, and knew that something was wrong. Midian's yell had the effect of bringing Aylmer racing into the cave.

'What happened?' he cried harshly. 'Who are you shooting at?'

'Coryton. They've gone up that there passage.'

'Hell!' snarled Aylmer, rushing forward. His brain worked twice as fast as Midian's and he did not waste a moment in chasing Jim. Jim heard him and saw his light come flashing round the curve behind him. Jim ran as hard as he could run, but was handicapped in two ways. In the first place he was frightfully stiff and cold and in the second he had no shoes, and the rough rock bruised his feet badly.

'Stop!' shouted Aylmer, his harsh voice rolling up the tunnel. 'Stop or I shoot.'

Jim only ran the faster. He was not much alarmed at Aylmer's threat, for a running man cannot do much with a pistol when running hard uphill. What Jim was afraid of was the rift, for he did not know when he might come on it. Aylmer did not shoot. Probably he knew that it would be a waste of time, but he ran faster than ever and by the sound Jim knew that he was gaining. Midian, too, was coming up fast behind.

Where was that rift? Jim's flesh crawled at the thought of the plunge Into those black depths. Suddenly he saw a faint light ahead, and his heart leaped, for he knew this must be Nance's light as she kept guard at the bridge. Jim forgot his bruised and bleeding feet and sprinted for all he was worth. He saw the yellow gleam of the plank, reached it and in two jumps crossed it.

'You, Jim!' cried Nance.

Jim had no time to answer, for Aylmer was not ten strides away. Flinging himself flat on the edge of the chasm he seized the plank and jerked it back. Aylmer must have seen it being dragged away, but he was too close to stop. He made a wild leap, but whether his foot slipped or he misjudged the distance, no one but himself ever knew. Jim had one flashing glimpse of the man's face as he dropped. A ghastly scream, then the black depths swallowed him.

'Oh!' gasped Nance, as she staggered back against the wall of the tunnel almost fainting with horror. Jim had no time to attend to her for here was Midian. Midian heard Aylmer's scream, but he himself had no light, and, of course, knew nothing of the rift, nor could he tell what had happened. No doubt he supposed that Jim had struck Aylmer down. But in the shrouded light of Nance's lantern he was able to see her and Jim, and with a howl of fury came straight at them.

'Look out!' yelled Jim, but the warning went for nothing, and before anything could be done Midian had followed Aylmer into the pit. Jim was too excited to be shocked.

'It's all right, Nance,' he said. 'They've only got what they were asking for. If you knew what they'd done to Ching you wouldn't waste much sympathy on them.'

'B-but it's awful,' said Nance faintly. 'Can't anything be done?'

'Not a thing,' said Jim, but all the same he switched on his torch. 'I'll have a look, if you like,' he added.

He was in the act of turning, and in another moment would have been leaning over the rift when a sharp cry from Nance stopped him short. Next instant a man sprang out of the gloom behind and flung his arms round Jim. The attack was so unexpected that Jim was knocked over and went flat on his face with his new opponent on top of him.

He did not need anyone to tell him that the man's object was to force him over the edge to share the fate of Aylmer and Midian, and but for Nance's warning his enemy would certainly have succeeded. As it was, Jim was still a good yard from the fatal edge and recovering from his first surprise struggled desperately. Humping his body upwards, he raised his opponent clear off the ground, but the man was immensely strong and do what he would Jim could not break his grip.

Inch by inch he found himself being pushed forward nearer and nearer to the edge of the chasm, and though he fought with all his force he was helpless. His only hope was that he could drag the ruffian down with him. But the other shifted his grip and getting one arm under Jim's throat began to force his head back. The pain was awful. Jim felt as if his neck was being broken. His strength was leaving him and he was almost helpless when suddenly he heard the thud of a blow, everything went dark, but at the same moment his enemy's grip relaxed and his whole body went limp. With a last effort Jim rolled free, and lay panting, too done to move.

'Jim—Jim!' came Nance's voice out of the gloom.

'I'm all right,' he answered hoarsely. 'W-what happened?'

'Oh—oh—I hit him with the lantern. H-have I killed him?'

'I hope so,' said Jim grimly. 'Anyhow you stopped him from killing me. Another moment and he'd have had me over. I say, what about a light?'

'Wait. Don't move or you may fall over. I have matches.'

Nance's hands shook so that she broke two matches before lighting one.

'The lantern is broken,' she said.

But Jim, who had now got his breath back, caught sight of a small, dark object on the floor and picked it up.

'Pip's torch,' he said. 'Hurray, it's all right. Now let's see who this blighter is,' he continued.

He turned the thin white ray on the face of the insensible man and a gasp of amazement burst from his lips.

'It's—it's Hallam!'

If it was possible for Jim to be any more surprised than he was already, Nance's answer had that effect.

'I thought so,' she said.

Jim gazed at her blankly.

'B-but I thought you loved him, Nance,' he stammered.

'Loved him—a scoundrel like Paul Sharland? Oh Jim!'


CHAPTER XXX. — JIM IS NO LONGER JEALOUS

IT was perhaps lucky for both Jim and Nance that at this moment the subject of their conversation began to show signs of returning to life. Jim, whose own costume consisted of nothing but a suit of blue and white pyjamas, could hardly spare any essential portion of it to make a rope, so spotting a silk handkerchief sticking out of Hallam's pocket, used that to tie the fellow's wrists tightly behind his back. Then hunting Hallam's other pockets he found a second handkerchief and made his ankles fast. He had just finished this job when Hallam's eyes opened and he tried to move.

'I'd keep pretty still if I were you,' remarked Jim. 'If you roll once you'll go over the edge and join your accomplices.'

'Accomplices!' retorted Hallam savagely. 'They have nothing to do with me.'

'Is that so?' asked Jim politely. 'Well, that question can be thrashed out at Exeter Assizes.' He turned to Nance. 'Meanwhile we have to fetch Pip and Ching from the Plunder Pit. Are you game, Nance?'

'Let me do it, Jim,' begged Nance. 'Look at your feet, all bleeding. There is no danger now and indeed I am not a bit afraid.'

I'm jolly sure you're not,' said Jim warmly. 'But it's all on my way back to the home, Nance, so I may as well go.'

'You're not leaving me here in the dark!' exclaimed Hallam.

'Indeed we are,' Jim assured him. 'Keep quite still, and you'll be all right. But if you move we shan't break our hearts.'

He held the plank for Nance and they went back quickly to the cellar.

'Aylmer and Midian in the Pit!' exclaimed Pip, when Jim had given him the news. 'If that isn't the best ever. And Hallam is Sharland—that knocks me endways. But we can't stop to talk. We must get Ching back. I've rubbed him well, but he's half dead with cold and damp.'

Nance held the light as they carried Ching back. The secret door was now wide open so they had no difficulty in reaching the upper cellar where the first thing they saw was four great sacks bulging with tarnished plate.

'And there's the picture, too,' said Nance eagerly. 'Uncle,' she called, 'it's all right. You can let us through.'

Poor Uncle Bob! His eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw the battered procession and heard of the exploits of the night.

'I'll never have any more paying guests again, Nance,' he vowed with unusual energy.

'We won't need to, Uncle Bob,' said Nance, with a pale smile. 'We've got Reuben Rabb's treasure as well as the picture. Now help us to get Ching to his room. The poor man is half dead, and Jim's feet are cut to pieces. Jim, go and dress at once.'

'At once,' said Jim gaily, and, in spite of his battered feet ran upstairs without a limp. What were a few cuts or bruises when Nance was kind? When he came down again, completely clothed, he found Nance alone in the hall.

'Pip and Uncle Bob have gone to fetch Sharland,' she said. 'No, there is no need for you to go. Pip is very competent and Uncle Bob has his gun.'

'Nance,' questioned Jim, 'how in the world did you know he was Sharland?'

'I suspected it from the first,' she said. 'You see Major Hallam is a real person, and, as it happened. I had seen his photograph. When this new arrival did not correspond with the picture you cannot blame me for getting suspicious. Then I wrote to Nell Strode, who knows Major Hallam, and got a specimen of his writing, and when I found that did not correspond either, I was certain. Besides, Nell told me that Major Hallam had gone to East Africa.'

'How awfully clever of you, Nance!' said Jim admiringly.

'You have not been thinking so lately,' remarked Nance, a little drily.

Jim got red. 'I—I was so beastly jealous, Nance,' he confessed.

'And are you jealous now?'

Jim saw the twinkle in her eyes: he took one quick step forward and caught her in his arms.

'You shall never give me another chance!' he vowed.

'Jim! Jim!'

Pip came stumping into the hall and stopped short.

'Well. I'm darned!' he said, as he saw the two sitting side by side and both decidedly pink-cheeked. 'Am I to condole or congratulate!'

'Congratulate me and condole with Nance,' replied Jim promptly.

Pip chuckled happily. 'Hurrah for you both,' he said. 'But see here, you'll have plenty of time for spooning tomorrow. Hallam is safely locked up and to-morrow is going to be a busy day. What about a small spot of whisky and a wink of sleep—eh, people?'

'Sensible as ever, Pip,' smiled Nance. 'What a husband you'll make for some girl some day.'

Pip laughed, yet his laugh did not ring quite true. 'I must wait until I find your double, Nance,' he said.


THE END