Part 1 out of 7
A ROGUE BY COMPULSION
An Affair of the Secret Service
By VICTOR BRIDGES
With Frontispiece By JOHN H. CASSEL
[Illustration: "A CURTAIN AT THE END OF THE ROOM WAS DRAWN SLOWLY
ASIDE, AND THERE, STANDING IN THE GAP, I SAW THE SLIM FIGURE OF A
Drawn by John H. Cassel.]
THAT BEST OF FRIENDS
I. A BOLT FOR FREEDOM
II. A BICYCLE AND SOME OVERALLS
III. A DUBIOUS REFUGE
IV. ECHOES OF A FAMOUS CASE
V. AN OFFER WITHOUT AN ALTERNATIVE
VI. THE FACE OF A STRANGER
VII. A KISS AND A CONFESSION
VIII. RT. HON. SIR GEORGE FRINTON, P.C.
IX. THE MAN WITH THE SCAR
X. MADEMOISELLE VIVIEN, PALMIST
XI. BRIDGING THREE YEARS OF SEPARATION
XII. A SCRIBBLED WARNING
XIII. REGARDING MR. BRUCE LATIMER
XIV. A SUMMONS FROM DR. McMURTRIE
XV. A HUMAN "CATCH"
XVI. CONFRONTING THE INTRUDER
XVII. THE WORKSHOP ON THE MARSHES
XVIII. A NEW CLUE TO AN OLD CRIME
XIX. LAUNCHING A NEW INVENTION
XX. APPROACHING A SOLUTION
XXI. SONIA'S SUDDEN VISIT
XXII. THE POLICE TAKE ACTION
XXIII. IN THE NICK OF TIME
XXV. A LITTLE FAMILY PARTY
A BOLT FOR FREEDOM
Most of the really important things in life--such as love and
death--happen unexpectedly. I know that my escape from Dartmoor did.
We had just left the quarries--eighteen of us, all dressed in that
depressing costume which King George provides for his less elusive
subjects--and we were shambling sullenly back along the gloomy road
which leads through the plantation to the prison. The time was about
four o'clock on a dull March afternoon.
In the roadway, on either side of us, tramped an armed warder, his
carbine in his hand, his eyes travelling with dull suspicion up and
down the gang. Fifteen yards away, parallel with our route, the sombre
figure of one of the civil guards kept pace with us through the trees.
We were a cheery party!
Suddenly, without any warning, one of the warders turned faint. He
dropped his carbine, and putting his hand to his head, stumbled
heavily against the low wall that separated us from the wood. The
clatter of his weapon, falling in the road, naturally brought all
eyes round in that direction, and seeing what had happened the whole
eighteen of us instinctively halted.
The gruff voice of the other warder broke out at once, above the
shuffling of feet:
"What are you stopping for? Get on there in front."
From the corner of my eye I caught sight of the civil guard hurrying
towards the prostrate figure by the wall; and then, just as the
whole gang lurched forward again, the thing happened with beautiful
A broad, squat figure shot out suddenly from the head of the column,
and, literally hurling itself over the wall, landed with a crash
amongst the thick undergrowth. There was a second shout from the
warder, followed almost instantly by a hoarse command to halt, as the
civil guard jerked his carbine to his shoulder.
The fugitive paid about as much attention to the order as a tiger
would to a dog whistle. He was off again in an instant, bent almost
double, and bursting through the tangled bushes with amazing
The charge of buckshot whistled after him, spattering viciously
through the twigs, and several of the bolder spirits in the gang at
once raised a half-hearted cry of "Murder!"
"Stop that!" bawled the warder angrily, and to enforce his words he
quickened his steps so as to bring him in touch with the offenders.
As he did so, I suddenly perceived with extraordinary clearness that I
should never again get quite such a good chance to escape. The other
men were momentarily between me and the warder, while the civil guard,
his carbine empty, was plunging through the trees in pursuit of his
It was no time for hesitation, and in any case hesitation is not one
of my besetting sins. I recollect taking one long, deep breath: then
the next thing I remember is catching my toe on the top of the
wall and coming the most unholy purler in the very centre of an
exceptionally well armoured blackberry bush.
This blunder probably saved my life: it certainly accounted for my
escape. The warder who evidently had more nerve than I gave him credit
for, must have fired at me from where he was, right between the heads
of the other convicts. It was only my abrupt disappearance from the
top of the wall that saved me from being filled up with lead. As
it was, the charge whistled over me just as I fell, and a devilish
unpleasant noise it made too.
I didn't wait for him to reload. I was out of that bush and off up the
hill in rather less time than it takes to read these words. Where I
was going I scarcely thought; my one idea was to put as big a distance
as possible between myself and the carbine before its owner could ram
home a second cartridge.
As I ran, twisting in and out between the trees, and keeping my head
as low as possible, I could hear behind me a hoarse uproar from my
fellow-convicts, who by this time were evidently getting out of hand.
No sound could have pleased me better. The more boisterous the good
fellows became the less chance would the remaining warder have of
worrying about me. As for the civil guard--well, it seemed probable
that his time was already pretty fully engaged.
My chief danger lay in the chance that there might be other warders in
the immediate neighbourhood. If so, they would doubtless have heard
the firing and have come running up at the first alarm. I looked back
over my shoulder as I reached the top of the plantation, which was
about a hundred yards from the road, but so far as I could see there
was no one as yet on my track.
My one chance lay in reaching the main wood that borders the Tavistock
road before the mounted guard could come up. Between this and the
plantation stretched a long bare slope of hillside, perhaps two
hundred yards across, with scarcely enough cover on it to hide a
rabbit. It was not exactly an inviting prospect, but still the place
had to be crossed, and there was nothing to be gained by looking at
it. So setting my teeth I jumped out from under the shelter of the
trees, and started off as fast as I could pelt for the opposite side.
I had got about half-way over when there came a sudden shout away to
the right. Turning my head as I ran, I saw through the thin mist a
figure in knickerbockers and a Norfolk jacket vaulting over the low
gate that separated the moor from the road.
I suppose he was a tourist, for he had a small knapsack fastened to
his back and he was carrying a stick in his hand.
"Tally-ho!" he yelled, brandishing the latter, and then without
hesitation he came charging across the open with the obvious intention
of cutting me off from the wood.
For the first time in three years I laughed. It was not a pretty
laugh, and if my new friend had heard it, his ardour in the chase
might perhaps have been a trifle cooled. As it was he came on with
undiminished zest, apparently quite confident in his ability to tackle
We met about ten yards this side of the nearest trees.
He rushed in on me with another "whoop," and I saw then that he was a
big, powerful, red-faced fellow of a rather coarse sporting type--the
kind of brute I've always had a peculiar dislike for.
"Down you go!" he shouted, and suiting the action to the word, he
swung back his stick and lashed out savagely at my head.
I didn't go down. Instead of that I stepped swiftly in, and striking
up his arm with my left hand, I let him have my right bang on the
point of the chin. Worlds of concentrated bitterness were behind it,
and he went over backwards as if he had been struck by a coal-hammer.
It did me a lot of good, that punch. It seemed to restore my
self-respect in a way that nothing else could have done. You must have
been a convict yourself, shouted at and ordered about like a dog for
three weary years, to appreciate the full pleasure of being able once
more to punch a man in the jaw.
At the moment, however, I had no time to analyze my feelings. Almost
before the red-faced gentleman's shoulders had struck the ground I had
reached the railing which bounded the wood, and putting one hand on
the top bar had vaulted over into its inviting gloom.
Then, just for an instant, I stopped, and, like Lot's wife, cast one
hasty glance behind me. Except for the motionless form of my late
adversary, who appeared to be studying the sky, the stretch of moor
that I had just crossed was still comfortingly empty. So far no
pursuing warder had even emerged from the plantation. With a sigh of
relief I turned round again and plunged forward into the thickest part
of the tangled brake ahead.
It would have been difficult to find a better temporary hiding-place
than the one I had reached. Thick with trees and undergrowth, which
sprouted up from between enormous fissures and piles of granite rock,
it stretched away for the best part of a mile and a half parallel with
the main road. I knew that even in daylight the warders would find it
no easy matter to track me down: at this time in the afternoon, with
dusk coming rapidly on, the task would be an almost impossible one.
Besides, it was starting to rain. All the afternoon a thick cloud had
been hanging over North Hessary, and now, as scratched and panting I
forced my way on into the ever-increasing gloom, a fine drizzle began
to descend through the trees. I knew what that meant. In half an hour
everything would probably be blotted out in a wet grey mist, and,
except for posting guards all round the wood, my pursuers would be
compelled to abandon the search until next morning. It was the first
time that I had ever felt an affection for the Dartmoor climate.
Guessing rather than judging my way, I stumbled steadily forward until
I reached what I imagined must be about the centre of the wood. By
this time I was wet through to the skin. The thin parti-coloured
"slop" that I was wearing was quite useless for keeping out the rain,
a remark that applied with almost equal force to my prison-made
breeches and gaiters. Apart from the discomfort, however, I was not
much disturbed. I have never been an easy victim to chills, and three
years in Princetown had done nothing to soften a naturally tough
Still there was no sense in getting more soaked than was necessary, so
I began to hunt around for some sort of temporary shelter. I found it
at last in the shape of a huge block of granite, half hidden by the
brambles and stunted trees which had grown up round it. Parting the
undergrowth and crawling carefully in, I discovered at the base a kind
of hollow crevice just long enough to lie down in at full length.
I can't say it was exactly comfortable, but penal servitude has at
least the merit of saving one from being over-luxurious. Besides, I
was much too interested in watching the steady thickening of the mist
outside to worry myself about trifles. With a swiftness which would
have been incredible to any one who didn't know the Moor, the damp
clammy vapour was settling down, blotting out everything in its grey
haze. Except for the dripping brambles immediately outside I could
soon see absolutely nothing; beyond that it was like staring into a
I lay there quite motionless, listening very intently for any sound of
my pursuers. Only the persistent drip, drip of the rain, however, and
the occasional rustle of a bird, broke the silence. If there were any
warders about they were evidently still some way from my hiding-place,
but the odds were that they had postponed searching the wood until the
For the first time since my leap from the wall I found myself with
sufficient leisure to review the situation. It struck me that only a
very hardened optimist could describe it as hopeful. I had made my
bolt almost instinctively, without stopping to think what chances I
had of getting away. That these were meagre in the extreme was now
becoming painfully clear to me. Even if I managed to slip out of
my present hiding-place into the still larger woods of the Walkham
Valley, the odds were all in favour of my ultimate capture. No escaped
prisoner had ever yet succeeded in retaining his liberty for more than
a few days, and where so many gentlemen of experience had tried
and failed it seemed distressingly unlikely that I should be more
I began to wonder what had happened to Cairns, the man whose dash from
the ranks had been responsible for my own effort. I knew him to be one
of the most resourceful blackguards in the prison, and, provided the
civil guard's first shot had failed to stop him, it was quite likely
that he too had evaded capture. I hoped so with all my heart: it would
distract quite a lot of attention from my own humble affairs.
If he was still at liberty, I couldn't help feeling enviously how much
better his chances of escape were than mine. In order to get away from
the Moor it was plainly necessary to possess oneself of both food and
clothes, and I could think of no other way of doing so except stealing
them from some lonely farm. At anything of this sort I was likely to
prove a sorry bungler compared with such an artist as Cairns. He was
one of the most accomplished cracksmen in England, and feats which
seemed impossible to me would probably be the merest child's play to
Still it was no good worrying over what couldn't be helped. My first
job was to get safely into the Walkham woods; after that it would be
quite time enough to think about turning burglar.
I sat up and looked out into the mist. Things were as bad as ever, and
quite suddenly it struck me with considerable force that by lying low
in this fashion I was making a most unholy idiot of myself. Here I was
growing cold and stiff, and wasting what was probably the best chance
I should ever have of reaching Walkhampton. In fact I was playing
right into the hands of the warders.
With an impatient exclamation I jumped to my feet. The only question
was, could I find my way out of the wood, and if I did, how on earth
was I to strike the right line over North Hessary? It was quite on the
cards I might wander back into Princetown under the happy impression
that I was going in exactly the opposite direction.
For a moment I hesitated; then I made up my mind to risk it. After all
the fog was as bad for the warders as it was for me, and even if I
failed to reach the Walkham Valley I should probably find some other
equally good shelter before it lifted. In either case I should have
the big advantage of having changed my hiding-place.
Buttoning up my slop, I advanced carefully through the dripping
brambles. One could see rather less than nothing, but so far as I
could remember the main Tavistock road was on my right-hand side.
This would leave North Hessary away to the left; so turning in that
direction I set my teeth and took my first step forward into the
I don't suppose you have ever tried walking through a wood in a fog,
but you can take my word for it that a less enjoyable form of exercise
doesn't exist. I have often wondered since how on earth I managed to
escape a sprained ankle or a broken neck, for carefully as I groped my
way forward it was quite impossible to avoid all the numerous crevices
and overhanging boughs which beset my path.
I must have blundered into about fourteen holes and knocked my head
against at least an equal number of branches, before the trees at last
began to thin and the darkness lighten sufficiently to let me see
where I was placing my feet. I knew that by this time I must be
getting precious near the boundary of the wood, outside which the
warders were now doubtless posted at frequent intervals. So I stopped
where I was and sat down quietly on a rock for a few minutes to
recover my breath, for I had been pretty badly shaken and winded by my
As soon as I felt better I got up again, and taking very particular
care where I was treading, advanced on tiptoe with a delicacy that
Agag might have envied. I had taken about a dozen steps when all of a
sudden the railings loomed up in front of me through the mist.
I put my hand on the top bar, and then paused for a moment listening
breathlessly for any sound of danger. Except for the faint patter
of the rain, however, everything was as silent as the dead. Very
carefully I raised myself on the bottom rail, lifted my legs over, one
after the other, and then dropped lightly down on to the grass beyond.
As I did so a man rose up suddenly from the ground like a black
shadow, and hurling himself on me before I could move, clutched me
round the waist.
"Got yer!" he roared. Then at the top of his voice--"Here he is! Help!
A BICYCLE AND SOME OVERALLS
I was taken so utterly by surprise that nothing except sheer strength
saved me from going over. As it was I staggered back a couple of
paces, fetching up against the railings with a bang that nearly
knocked the breath out of me. By a stroke of luck I must have crushed
my opponent's hand against one of the bars, for with a cry of pain he
momentarily slackened his grip.
That was all I wanted. Wrenching my left arm free, I brought up my
elbow under his chin with a wicked jolt; and then, before he could
recover, I smashed home a short right-arm punch that must have landed
somewhere in the neighbourhood of his third waistcoat button. Anyhow
it did the business all right. With a quaint noise, like the gurgle of
a half-empty bath, he promptly released me from his embrace, and sank
down on to the grass almost as swiftly and silently as he had arisen.
I doubt if a more perfectly timed blow has ever been delivered, but
unfortunately I had no chance of studying its effects. Through the fog
I could hear the sound of footsteps--quick heavy footsteps hurrying
towards me from either direction. For one second I thought of
scrambling back over the railings and taking to the wood again. Then
suddenly a kind of mischievous exhilaration at the danger gripped hold
of me, and jumping over the prostrate figure on the ground I bolted
forwards into the mist. The warders, who must have been quite close,
evidently heard me, for from both sides came hoarse shouts of "There
he goes!" "Look out there!" and other well-meant pieces of advice.
It was a funny sort of sensation dodging through the fog, feeling that
at any moment one might blunder up against the muzzle of a loaded
carbine. The only guide I had as to my direction was the slope of the
ground. I knew that as long as I kept on going uphill I was more or
less on the right track, for the big granite-strewn bulk of North
Hessary lay right in front of me, and I had to cross it to get to the
On I went, the ground rising higher and higher, until at last the
wet slippery grass began to give way to a broken waste of rocks and
heather. I had reached the top, and although I could see nothing on
account of the mist, I knew that right below me lay the woods, with
only about a mile of steeply sloping hillside separating me from their
Despite the cold and the wet and the fact that I was getting devilish
hungry, my spirits somehow began to rise. Good luck always acts on me
as a sort of tonic, and so far I had certainly been amazingly lucky. I
felt that if only the rain would clear up now and give me a chance of
getting dry, Fate would have treated me as handsomely as an escaped
murderer had any right to expect.
Making my way carefully across the plateau, for the ground was stiff
with small holes and gullies and I had no wish to sprain my ankle, I
began the descent of the opposite side. The mist here was a good deal
thinner, but night was coming on so rapidly that as far as seeing
where I was going was concerned I was very little better off than I
had been on the top of the hill.
Below me, away to the right, a blurred glimmer of light just made
itself visible. This I took to be Merivale village, on the Tavistock
road; and not being anxious to trespass upon its simple hospitality, I
sheered off slightly in the opposite direction. At last, after about
twenty minutes' scrambling, I began to hear a faint trickle of running
water, and a few more steps brought me to the bank of the Walkham.
I stood there for a little while in the darkness, feeling a kind of
tired elation at my achievement. My chances of escape might still be
pretty thin, but I had at least reached a temporary shelter. For five
miles away to my left stretched the pleasantly fertile valley, and
until I chose to come out of it all the warders on Dartmoor might hunt
themselves black in the face without finding me.
I can't say exactly how much farther I tramped that evening. When one
is stumbling along at night through an exceedingly ill-kept wood in a
state of hunger, dampness, and exhaustion, one's judgment of distance
is apt to lose some of its finer accuracy. I imagine, however, that I
must have covered at least three more miles before my desire to lie
down and sleep became too poignant to be any longer resisted.
I hunted about in the darkness until I discovered a small patch of
fairly dry grass which had been more or less protected from the rain
by an overhanging rock. I might perhaps have done better, but I was
too tired to bother. I just dropped peacefully down where I stood, and
in spite of my bruises and my soaked clothes I don't think I had been
two minutes on the ground before I was fast asleep.
* * * * *
Tommy Morrison always used to say that only unintelligent people
woke up feeling really well. If he was right I must have been in a
singularly brilliant mood when I again opened my eyes.
It was still fairly dark, with the raw, sour darkness of an early
March morning, and all round me the invisible drip of the trees was as
persistent as ever. Very slowly and shakily I scrambled to my feet. My
head ached savagely, I was chilled to the core, and every part of
my body felt as if it had been trampled on by a powerful and rather
I was hungry too--Lord, how hungry I was! Breakfast in the prison is
not exactly an appetizing meal, but at that moment the memory of its
thin gruel and greasy cocoa and bread seemed to me beautiful beyond
I looked round rather forlornly. As an unpromising field for foraging
in, a Dartmoor wood on a dark March morning takes a lot of beating.
It is true that there was plenty of water--the whole ground and air
reeked with it--but water, even in unlimited quantities, is a poor
basis for prolonged exertion.
There was nothing else to be got, however, so I had to make the best
of it. I lay down full length beside a small spring which gurgled
along the ground at my feet, and with the aid of my hands lapped up
about a pint and a half. When I had finished, apart from the ache in
my limbs I felt distinctly better.
The question was what to do next. Hungry or not, it would be madness
to leave the shelter of the woods until evening, for not only would
the warders be all over the place, but by this time everyone who lived
in the neighbourhood would have been warned of my escape. My best
chance seemed to lie in stopping where I was as long as daylight
lasted, and then staking everything on a successful burglary.
It was not a cheerful prospect, and before the morning was much older
it seemed less cheerful still. If you can imagine what it feels
like to spend hour after hour crouching in the heart of a wood in a
pitiless drizzle of rain, you will be able to get some idea of what I
went through. If I had only had a pipe and some baccy, things would
have been more tolerable; as it was there was nothing to do but to sit
and shiver and grind my teeth and think about George.
I thought quite a lot about George. I seemed to see his face as he
read the news of my escape, and I could picture the feverish way in
which he would turn to each edition of the paper to find out whether I
had been recaptured. Then I began to imagine our meeting, and George's
expression when he realized who it was. The idea was so pleasing that
it almost made me forget my present misery.
It must have been about midday when I decided on a move. In a way I
suppose it was a rash thing to do, but I had got so cursedly cramped
and cold again that I felt if I didn't take some exercise I should
never last out the day. Even as it was, my legs had lost practically
all feeling, and for the first few steps I took I was staggering about
like a drunkard.
Keeping to the thickest part of the wood, I made my way slowly
forward; my idea being to reach the top of the valley and then lie low
again until nightfall. My progress was not exactly rapid, for after
creeping a yard or two at a time I would crouch down and listen
carefully for any sounds of danger. I had covered perhaps a mile in
this spasmodic fashion when a gradual improvement in the light ahead
told me that I was approaching open ground. A few steps farther, and
through a gap in the trees a red roof suddenly came into view, with a
couple of chimney-pots smoking away cheerfully in the rain.
It gave me a bit of a start, for I had not expected to run into
civilization quite so soon as this. I stopped where I was and did
a little bit of rapid thinking. Where there's a house there must
necessarily be some way of getting at it, and the only way I could
think of in this case was a private drive up the hill into the main
Devonport road. If there was such a drive the house was no doubt a
private residence and a fairly large one at that.
With infinite precaution I began to creep forward again. Between the
trunks of the trees I could catch glimpses of a stout wood paling
about six feet high which apparently ran the whole length of the
grounds, separating them from the wood. On the other side of this
fence I could hear, as I drew nearer, a kind of splashing noise, and
every now and then the sound of somebody moving about and whistling.
The last few yards consisted of a strip of open grass marked by deep
cart-ruts. Across this I crawled on my hands and knees, and getting
right up against the fence began very carefully to search around for
a peep-hole. At last I found a tiny gap between two of the boards. It
was the merest chink, but by gluing my eye to it I was just able to
I was looking into a square gravel-covered yard, in the centre of
which a man in blue overalls was cleaning the mud off a small
motor car. He was evidently the owner, for he was a prosperous,
genial-looking person of the retired Major type, and he was lightening
his somewhat damp task by puffing away steadily at a pipe. I watched
him with a kind of bitter jealousy. I had no idea who he was, but
for the moment I hated him fiercely. Why should he be able to potter
around in that comfortable self-satisfied fashion, while I, Neil
Lyndon, starved, soaked, and hunted like a wild beast, was crouching
desperately outside his palings?
It was a natural enough emotion, but I was in too critical a position
to waste time in asking myself questions. I realized that if burglary
had to be done, here was the right spot. By going farther I should
only be running myself into unnecessary risk, and probably without
finding a house any more suitable to my purpose.
I squinted sideways through the hole, trying to master the geography
of the place. On the left was a high bank of laurels, and just at the
corner I could see the curve of the drive, turning away up the hill.
On the other side of the yard was a small garage, built against the
wall, while directly facing me was the back of the house.
I was just digesting these details, when a sudden sigh from the
gentleman in the yard attracted my attention. He had apparently had
enough of cleaning the car, for laying down the cloth he had been
using, he stepped back and began to contemplate his handiwork.
It was not much to boast about, but it seemed to be good enough for
him. At all events he came forward again, and taking off the brake,
proceeded very slowly to push the car back towards the garage. At
the entrance he stopped for a moment, and going inside brought out a
bicycle which he leaned against the wall. Then he laboriously shoved
the car into its appointed place, put back the bicycle, and standing
in the doorway started to take off his overalls.
I need hardly say I watched him with absorbed interest. The sight of
the bicycle had sent a little thrill of excitement tingling down my
back, for it opened up possibilities in the way of escape that five
minutes before had seemed wildly out of reach. If I could only steal
the machine and the overalls as well, I should at least stand a good
chance of getting clear away from the Moor before I was starved or
captured. In addition to that I should be richer by a costume which
would completely cover up the tasteful but rather pronounced pattern
of my clothes.
My heart beat faster with excitement as with my eye pressed tight to
the peep-hole I followed every movement of my unconscious quarry.
Whistling cheerfully to himself, he stripped off the dark blue cotton
trousers and oil-stained jacket that he was wearing and hung them on a
nail just inside the door. Then he gave a last look round, presumably
to satisfy himself that everything was in order, and shutting the door
with a bang, turned the key in the lock.
I naturally thought he was going to stuff that desirable object into
his pocket, but as it happened he did nothing of the kind. With a
throb of half-incredulous delight I saw that he was standing on
tiptoe, inserting it into some small hiding-place just under the edge
of the iron roof.
I didn't wait for further information. At any moment someone might
have come blundering round the corner of the paling, and I felt that I
had tempted Fate quite enough already. So, abandoning my peep-hole,
I turned round, and with infinite care crawled back across the grass
into the shelter of the trees.
Once there, however, I rolled over on the ground and metaphorically
hugged myself. The situation may not appear to have warranted such
excessive rapture, but when a man is practically hopeless even the
wildest of possible chances comes to him like music and sunshine.
Forgetting my hunger and my wet clothes in my excitement, I lay there
thinking out my plan of action. I could do nothing, of course, until
it was dark: in fact it would be really better to wait till the
household had gone to bed, for several of the back windows looked
right out on the garage. Then, provided I could climb the paling and
get out the bicycle without being spotted, I had only to push it up
the drive to find myself on the Devonport road.
With this comforting reflection I settled myself down to wait. It was
at least four hours from darkness, with another four to be added to
that before I dared make a move. Looking back now, I sometimes wonder
how I managed to stick it out. Long before dusk my legs and arms
had begun to ache again with a dull throbbing sort of pain that got
steadily worse, while the chill of my wet clothes seemed to eat into
my bones. Once or twice I got up and crawled a few yards backwards and
forwards, but the little additional warmth this performance gave me
did not last long. I dared not indulge in any more violent exercise
for fear that there might be warders about in the wood.
What really saved me, I think, was the rain stopping. It came to an
end quite suddenly, in the usual Dartmoor fashion, and within half an
hour most of the mist had cleared off too. I knew enough of the local
weather signs to be pretty certain that we were in for a fine night;
and sure enough, half an hour after the sun had set a large moon was
shining down from a practically cloudless sky.
From where I was lying I could, by raising my head, just see the
two top windows of the house. About ten, as near as I could judge,
somebody lit a candle in one of these rooms, and then coming to the
window drew down the blind. I waited patiently till I saw this dull
glimmer of light disappear, then, with a not unpleasant throb of
excitement, I crawled out from my hiding-place and recrossed the grass
to my former point of observation. Very gingerly I lifted myself up
and peered over the top of the paling. The yard was in shadow, and so
far as I could see the back door and all the various outbuildings were
locked up for the night.
Under ordinary circumstances I could have cleared that blessed paling
in about thirty seconds, but in my present state of exhaustion it
proved to be no easy matter. However, with a mighty effort I at last
succeeded in getting my right elbow on the top, and from that point I
managed to scramble up and hoist myself over. Then, keeping a watchful
eye on the windows, I advanced towards the garage.
I found the key first shot. It was resting on a little ledge under the
roof, and a thrill of joy went through me as my fingers closed over
it. I pushed it into the keyhole, and very carefully I turned the
It was quite dark inside, but I could just see the outline of the
overalls hanging on the nail. I unhooked them, and placing the coat on
the ground I drew on the oily trousers over my convict breeches
and stockings. I could tell by the feel that they covered me up
As I picked up the coat something rattled in one of the side pockets.
I put my hand in and pulled out a box of wax matches, which despite
the dampness of the garment still seemed dry enough to strike. For a
moment I hesitated, wondering whether I dared to light one. It was
dangerous, especially if there happened to be a window looking out
towards the house, but on the other hand I badly wanted a little
illumination to see what I was doing.
I decided to risk it, and closing the door, struck one against the
wall. It flared up, and shading it with my hand I cast a hasty glance
round the garage. The bicycle was leaning against a shelf just beyond
me, and on a nail above it I saw an old disreputable-looking cap. I
pounced on it joyfully, for it was the one thing I needed to complete
my disguise. Then, wheeling the bicycle past the car, I blew out the
match and reopened the door.
Stepping as noiselessly as possible on the gravel, I pushed the bike
across the yard. There was a large patch of moonlight between me and
the end of the drive, and I went through it with a horrible feeling
in the small of my back that at any moment someone might fling up
a window and bawl out, "Stop thief!" Nothing of the kind occurred,
however, and with a vast sense of thankfulness I gained the shelter of
The only thing that worried me was the thought that there might be a
lodge at the top. If so I was by no means out of the wood. Even the
most guileless of lodge-keepers would be bound to think it rather
curious that I should be creeping out at this time of night
accompanied by his master's bicycle.
Keeping one hand against the bushes to guide me, and pushing the
machine with the other, I groped my way slowly up the winding path. As
I came cautiously round the last corner I saw with a sigh of relief
that my fears were groundless. A few yards ahead of me in the
moonlight was a plain white gate, and beyond that the road.
I opened the gate with deliberate care, and closed it in similar
fashion behind me. Then for a moment I stopped. I was badly out of
breath, partly from weakness and partly from excitement, so laying the
machine against the bank I leaned back beside it.
Everything was quite still. On each side of me the broad, white,
moonlit roadway stretched away into the night, flanked by a row of
telegraph poles which stood out like gaunt sentries. It was curious
to think that they had probably put in a busy day's work, carrying
messages about me.
There was a lamp on the front bracket, and as soon as I felt a little
better I took out my matches and proceeded to light it. Then, wheeling
my bike out into the roadway, I turned in the direction of Devonport
and mounted. I felt a bit shaky at first, for, apart from the fact
that I was worn out and pretty near starving, I had not been on a
machine for over three years. However, after wobbling wildly from side
to side, I managed to get the thing going, and pedalled off down the
centre of the road as steadily as my half-numbed senses would allow.
For perhaps a quarter of a mile the ground kept fairly level, then,
breasting a slight rise, I found myself at the top of a hill. I shoved
on the brake and went slowly round the first corner, where I got an
unexpected surprise. From this point the road ran straight away down
through a small village, across a bridge over the river, and up a
short steep slope on the farther side.
I took in the situation at a glance, and, releasing my brake, I let
the old bike have her head. It certainly wouldn't suit me to have to
dismount in the village and walk up the opposite slope, and I was much
too exhausted to do anything else unless I could take it in a rush.
Down I went, the machine flying noiselessly along and gathering pace
every yard. I had nearly reached the bottom and was just getting ready
to pedal, when all of a sudden, I caught sight of something that
almost paralyzed me. Right ahead, in the centre of the village square,
stood a prison warder. His back was towards me and I could see the
moonlight gleaming on the barrel of his carbine.
A DUBIOUS REFUGE
I was going so fast that everything seemed to happen simultaneously.
I had one blurred vision of him spinning round and yelling to me to
stop: then the next moment I had flashed past him and was racing
across the bridge.
Whether he recognized me for certain I can't say. I think not, or he
would probably have fired sooner than he did: as it was, my rush had
carried me three quarters of the way up the opposite hill before he
could make up his mind to risk a shot.
Bang went his carbine, and at the same instant, with a second loud
report, the tire of my back wheel abruptly collapsed. It was a good
shot if he had aimed for it, and what's more it came unpleasantly
near doing the trick. The old bike swerved violently, but with a wild
wrench I just succeeded in righting her. For a second I heard him
shouting and running behind me, and then, working like a maniac, I
bumped up the rest of the slope, and disappeared over the protecting
dip at the top.
Of my progress for the next mile or so I have only the most
confused recollection. It was like one of those ghastly things that
occasionally happen to one in a nightmare. I just remember pedalling
blindly along, with the back wheel grinding and jolting beneath me
and the moonlit road rising and falling ahead. It must have been more
instinct than anything else that kept me going, for I was in the last
stages of hunger and weariness, and most of the time I scarcely knew
what I was doing.
At last, after wobbling feebly up a long slope, I found I had reached
the extreme edge of the Moor. Right below me the road dropped down for
several hundred feet into a broad level expanse of fields and woods.
Six or seven miles away the lights of Plymouth and Devonport threw up
a yellow glare into the sky, and beyond that again I could just see
the glint of the moonlight shining on the sea.
It was no good stopping, for I knew that in an hour or so the mounted
warders would be again on my track. So clapping on both brakes, I
started off down the long descent, being careful not to let the
machine get away with me as it had done on the previous hill.
At the bottom, which I somehow reached in safety, I found a sign-post
with two hands, one marked Plymouth and the other Devonport. I took
the latter road, why I can hardly say, and summoning up my almost
spent energies I pedalled off shakily between its high hedges.
How I got as far as I did remains a mystery to me to this day. I fell
off twice from sheer weakness, but on each occasion I managed to drag
myself back into the saddle again, and it was not until my third
tumble, that I decided I could go no farther.
I was in a dark stretch of road bounded on each side by thick
plantations. It was a good place to lie up in, but unfortunately there
was another and more pressing problem in front of me. Half delirious
as I was, I realized that unless I could find something to eat that
night my career as an escaped convict was pretty near its end.
I picked myself up, and with a great effort managed to drag the
bicycle to the side of the road. Then, clutching the rail that bounded
the plantation, I began to stagger slowly forward along the slightly
raised path. I think I had a sort of vague notion that there might be
something to eat round the next corner.
I had progressed in this fashion for perhaps forty yards, when quite
unexpectedly both the trees and the railings came to an end. I
remained swaying and half incredulous for a moment: then I began to
realize that I was standing in front of an open gate looking up an
exceedingly ill-kept drive. At the end of this drive was a house, and
the moonlight shining full on the front of it showed me that the whole
place had about as forlorn and neglected an appearance as an inhabited
building could very well possess. That it was inhabited there could be
no doubt, for in the small glass square above the hall door I could
see a feeble glimmer of light.
No one could have called it an inviting-looking place, but then I
wasn't exactly waiting for invitations where a chance of food was
concerned. I just slipped in at the gate, and keeping well in the
shadow of the bushes that bounded the drive, I crept slowly and
unsteadily forward until I reached a point opposite the front door. I
crouched there for a moment, peering up at the house. Except for that
flickering gas jet there was no sign of life anywhere; all the windows
were shuttered or else in complete darkness.
At first I had a wild idea of ringing the bell and pretending to be
a starving tramp. Then I remembered that my description had no doubt
been circulated all round the neighbourhood, and that if there was
any one in the place they would probably recognize me at once as the
missing convict. This choked me off, for though as a rule I have no
objection to a slight scuffle, I felt that in my present condition the
average housemaid could knock me over with the flick of a duster.
The only alternative scheme that suggested itself to my numbed mind
was to commit another burglary. There was a path running down the side
of the house, which apparently led round to the back, and it struck
me that if I followed this I might possibly come across an unfastened
window. Anyhow, it was no good waiting about till I collapsed from
exhaustion, so, getting on my feet, I slunk along the laurels as far
as the end of the drive, and then crept across in the shadow of an
I made my way slowly down the path, keeping one hand against the wall,
and came out into a small square yard, paved with cobbles, where I
found myself looking up at the back of the house. There was a door
in the middle with two windows on either side of it, and above these
several other rooms--all apparently in complete darkness.
I was beginning to feel horribly like fainting, but by sheer
will-power I managed to pull myself together. Going up to the nearest
window I peered through the pane. I could see the dim outline of a
table with some plates on it just inside, and putting my hand against
the bottom sash I gave it a gentle push. It yielded instantly, sliding
up several inches with a wheezy rattle that brought my heart into my
For a moment or two I waited, listening intently for any sound of
movement within the house. Then, as nothing happened, I carefully
raised the sash a little higher, and poked my head in through the
It was the kitchen all right: there could be no doubt about that. A
strong smell of stale cooking pervaded the warm darkness, and that
musty odour brought tears of joy into my eyes. I took one long
luxurious sniff, and then with a last effort I hoisted myself up and
scrambled in over the low sill.
As my feet touched the floor there was a sharp click. A blinding flash
of light shot out from the darkness, striking me full in the face, and
at the same instant a voice remarked quietly but firmly: "Put up your
I put them up.
There was a short pause: then from the other end of the room a man in
a dressing-gown advanced slowly to the table in the centre. He was
holding a small electric torch in one hand and a revolver in the
other. He laid down the former with the light still pointing straight
at my face.
"If you attempt to move," he remarked pleasantly, "I shall blow your
With this he walked to the side of the room, struck a match against
the wall, and reaching up turned on the gas.
I was much too dazed to do anything, even if I had had the chance. I
just stood there with my hands up, rocking slightly from side to side,
and wondering how long it would be before I tumbled over.
My captor remained for a moment under the light, peering at me in
silence. He seemed to be a man of about sixty--a thin, frail man
with white hair and a sharp, deeply lined face. He wore gold-rimmed
pince-nez, behind which a pair of hard grey eyes gleamed at me in
At last he took a step forward, still holding the revolver in his
"A stranger!" he observed. "Dear me--what a disappointment! I hope Mr.
Latimer is not ill?"
I had no idea what he was talking about, but his voice sounded very
"If you keep me standing like this much longer," I managed to jerk
out, "I shall most certainly faint."
I saw him raise his eyebrows in a sort of half-mocking smile.
"Indeed," he said, "I thought--"
What he thought I never heard, for the whole room suddenly went dim,
and with a quick lurch the floor seemed to get up and spin round
beneath my feet. I suppose I must have pitched forward, for the last
thing I remember is clutching wildly but vainly at the corner of the
* * * * *
My first sensation on coming round was a burning feeling in my lips
and throat. Then I suddenly realized that my mouth was full of brandy,
and with a surprised gulp I swallowed it down and opened my eyes.
I was lying back in a low chair with a cushion under my head. Standing
in front of me was the gentleman in the dressing-gown, only instead of
a revolver he now held an empty wine-glass in his hand. When he saw
that I was recovering he stepped back and placed it on the table.
There was a short pause.
"Well, Mr. Lyndon," he said slowly, "and how are you feeling now?"
A hasty glance down showed me that the jacket of my overalls had been
unbuttoned at the neck, exposing the soaked and mud-stained prison
clothes beneath. I saw that the game was up, but for the moment I was
too exhausted to care.
My captor leaned against the end of the table watching me closely.
"Are you feeling any better?" he repeated.
I made a feeble attempt to raise myself in the chair. "I don't know,"
I said weakly; "I'm feeling devilish hungry."
He stepped forward at once, his lined face breaking into something
like a smile.
"Don't sit up. Lie quite still where you are, and I will get you
something to eat. Have you had any food today?"
I shook my head. "Only rain-water," I said.
"You had better start with some bread and milk, then. You have been
starving too long to eat a big meal straight away."
Crossing the room, he pushed open a door which apparently led into the
larder, and then paused for a moment on the threshold.
"You needn't try to escape," he added, turning back to me. "I am not
going to send for the police."
"I don't care what you do," I whispered, "as long as you hurry up with
Lying there in the sort of semi-stupor that comes from utter
exhaustion, I listened to him moving about in the larder apparently
getting things ready. For the moment all thoughts of danger or
recapture had ceased to disturb me. Even the unexpected fashion
in which I was being treated did not strike me as particularly
interesting or surprising: my whole being was steeped in a sense of
I saw him re-enter the room, carrying a saucepan, which he placed on
a small stove alongside the fireplace. There was the scratching of a
match followed by the pop of a gas-ring, and half-closing my eyes I
lay back in serene and silent contentment.
I was aroused by the chink of a spoon, and the splash of something
liquid being poured out. Then I saw my host coming towards me,
carrying a large steaming china bowl in his hand.
"Here you are," he said. "Do you think you can manage to feed
I didn't trouble to answer. I just seized the cup and spoon, and the
next moment I was wolfing down a huge mouthful of warm bread and milk
that seemed to me the most perfect thing I had ever tasted. It was
followed rapidly by another and another, all equally beautiful.
My host stood by watching me with a sort of half-amused interest.
"I shouldn't eat it quite so fast," he observed. "It will do you more
good if you take it slowly."
The first few spoonfuls had already partly deadened my worst pangs,
so following his advice I slackened down the pace to a somewhat more
normal level. Even then I emptied the bowl in what I think must
have been a record time, and with a deep sigh I handed it to him to
I was feeling better--distinctly better. The food, the rest in the
chair, and the comparative warmth of the room were all doing me good
in their various ways, and for the first time I was beginning to
realize clearly where I was and what had happened.
I suppose my host noticed the change, for he looked at me in an
approving fashion as he gave me my second helping.
"There you are," he said in that curious dry voice of his. "Eat that
up, and then we'll have a little conversation. Meanwhile--" he paused
and looked round--"well, if you have no objection I think I will shut
that window. I daresay you have had enough fresh air for today."
I nodded--my mouth was too full for any more elaborate reply--and
crossing the room he closed the sash and pulled down the blind.
"That's better," he observed, gently rubbing his hands together; "now
we are more comfortable and more private. By the way, I don't think I
have introduced myself yet. My name is McMurtrie--Doctor McMurtrie."
"I am charmed to meet you," I said, swallowing down a large chunk of
He nodded his head, smiling. "The pleasure is a mutual one, Mr.
Lyndon--quite a mutual one."
The words were simple and smooth enough in themselves, but somehow or
other the tone in which they were uttered was not altogether to my
taste. It seemed to carry with it the faint suggestion of a cat
purring over a mouse. Still I was hardly in a position to be too
fastidious, so I accepted his compliment, and went on calmly with my
bread and milk.
With the same rather catlike smile Dr. McMurtrie drew up a chair
and sat down opposite to me. He kept his right hand in his pocket,
presumably on the revolver.
"And now," he said, "perhaps you have sufficiently recovered to be
able to tell me a little about yourself. At present my knowledge of
your adventures is confined to the account of your escape in this
morning's _Daily Mail_."
I slowly finished the last spoonful of my second helping, and placed
the cup beside me on the floor. It was a clumsy device to gain time,
for now that the full consciousness of my surroundings had returned to
me, I was beginning to think that Dr. McMurtrie's methods of receiving
an escaped convict were, to say the least, a trifle unusual. Was his
apparent friendliness merely a blind, or did it hide some still deeper
purpose, of which at present I knew nothing?
He must have guessed my thoughts, for leaning back in his chair he
remarked half-mockingly: "Come, Mr. Lyndon, it doesn't pay to be too
suspicious. If it will relieve your mind, I can assure you I have no
immediate intention of turning policeman, even for the magnificent sum
of--how much is it--five pounds, I believe? On mere business grounds I
think it would be underrating your market value."
The slight but distinct change in his voice in the last remark
invested it with a special significance. I felt a sudden conviction
that for some reason of his own Dr. McMurtrie did not intend to give
me up--at all events for the present.
"I will tell you anything you want to know with pleasure," I said.
"Where did the _Daily Mail_ leave off?"
He laughed curtly, and thrusting the other hand into his pocket pulled
out a silver cigarette-case.
"If I remember rightly," he said, "you had just taken advantage of the
fog to commit a brutal and quite unprovoked assault upon a warder." He
held out the case.
"But try one of these before you start," he added. "They are a special
brand from St. Petersburg, and I think you will enjoy them. There
is nothing like a little abstinence to make one appreciate a good
With a shaking hand I pressed the spring. It was three years since I
had smoked my last cigarette--a cigarette handed me by the inspector
in that stuffy little room below the dock, where I was waiting to be
sentenced to death.
If I live to be a hundred I shall never forget my sensations as I
struck the match which my host handed me and took in that first
fragrant mouthful. It was so delicious that for a moment I remained
motionless from sheer pleasure; then lying back again in my chair with
a little gasp I drew another great cloud of smoke deep down into my
The doctor waited, watching me with a kind of cynical amusement.
"Don't hurry yourself, Mr. Lyndon," he observed, "pray don't hurry
yourself. It is a pleasure to witness such appreciation."
I took him at his word, and for perhaps a couple of minutes we sat
there in silence while the blue wreaths of smoke slowly mounted
and circled round us. Then at last, with a delightful feeling of
half-drugged contentment, I sat up and began my story.
I told it him quite simply--making no attempt to conceal or exaggerate
anything. I described how the idea of making a bolt had come suddenly
into my mind, and how I had acted on it without reflection or
hesitation. Step by step I went quietly through my adventures, from
the time when the fog had rolled down to the moment when, half
fainting with hunger and exhaustion, I had climbed in through his
Leaning on the arm of his chair, he listened to me in silence. As far
as any movement or change of expression was concerned a statue could
scarcely have betrayed less interest, but all the time the steady
gleam of his eyes never shifted from my face.
When I had finished he remained there for several seconds in the same
attitude. Then at last he gave a short mirthless laugh.
"It must be pleasant to be as strong as you are," he said. "I should
have been dead long ago."
I shrugged my shoulders. "Well, I don't exactly feel like going to a
dance," I answered.
He got up and walked slowly as far as the window, where he turned
round and stood staring at me thoughtfully. At last he appeared to
make up his mind.
"You had better go to bed," he said, "and we will talk things over in
the morning. You are not fit for anything more tonight."
"No, I'm not," I admitted frankly; "but before I go to bed I should
like to feel a little more certain where I'm going to wake up."
There was a faint sound outside and I saw him raise his head. It was
the distant but unmistakable hum of a motor, drawing nearer and nearer
every moment. For a few seconds we both stood there listening: then
with a sudden shock I realized that the car had reached the house and
was turning in at the drive.
Weak as I was I sprang from my chair, scarcely feeling the thrill of
pain that ran through me at the effort.
"By God!" I cried fiercely, "you've sold me!"
He whipped out the revolver, pointing it full at my face.
"Sit down, you fool," he said. "It's not the police."
ECHOES OF A FAMOUS CASE
Whatever my intentions may have been--and they were pretty venomous
when I jumped up--the revolver was really an unnecessary precaution.
Directly I was on my feet I went as giddy as a kite, and it was only
by clutching the chair that I saved myself from toppling over. I was
evidently in a worse way than I imagined.
Lowering his weapon the doctor repeated his order.
"Sit down, man, sit down. No one means you any harm here."
"Who is it in the car?" I demanded, fighting hard against the accursed
feeling of faintness that was again stealing through me.
"They are friends of mine. They have nothing to do with the police.
You will see in a minute."
I sat down, more from necessity than by choice, and as I did so I
heard the car draw up outside the back door.
Crossing to the window the doctor threw up the sash.
"Savaroff!" he called out.
There came an answer in a man's voice which I was unable to catch.
"Come in here," went on McMurtrie. "Don't bother about the car." He
turned back to me. "Drink this," he added, pouring out some more
brandy into the wine-glass. I gulped it down and lay back again in my
chair, tingling all through.
He took my wrist and felt my pulse for a moment. "I know you are
feeling bad," he said, "but we'll get your wet clothes off and put you
to bed in a minute. You will be a different man in the morning."
"That will be very convenient," I observed faintly.
There was a noise of footsteps outside, the handle of the door turned,
and a man--a huge bear of a man in a long Astrachan coat--strode
heavily into the room. He was followed by a girl whose face was almost
hidden behind a partly-turned-back motor veil. When they caught sight
of me they both stopped abruptly.
"Who's this?" demanded the man.
Dr. McMurtrie made a graceful gesture towards me with his hand.
"Allow me," he said, "to introduce you. Monsieur and Mademoiselle
Savaroff--our distinguished and much-sought-after friend Mr. Neil
The big man gave a violent start, and with a little exclamation the
girl stepped forward, turning back her veil. I saw then that she was
remarkably handsome, in a dark, rather sullen-looking sort of way.
"You will excuse my getting up," I said weakly. "It doesn't seem to
agree with me."
"Mr. Lyndon," explained the doctor, "is fatigued. I was just proposing
that he should go to bed when I heard the car."
"How in the name of Satan did he get here?" demanded the other man,
still staring at me in obvious amazement.
"He came in through the window with the intention of borrowing a
little food. I had happened to see him in the garden, and being under
the natural impression that he was--er--well, another friend of ours,
I ventured to detain him."
Savaroff gave a short laugh. "But it's incredible," he muttered.
The girl was watching me curiously. "Poor man," she exclaimed, "he
must be starving!"
"My dear Sonia," said McMurtrie, "you reflect upon my hospitality. Mr.
Lyndon has been faring sumptuously on bread and milk."
"But he looks so wet and ill."
"He is wet and ill," rejoined the doctor agreeably. "That is just the
reason why I am going to ask you to heat some water and light a fire
in the spare bedroom. We don't want to disturb Mrs. Weston at this
time of night. I suppose the bed is made up?"
Sonia nodded. "I think so. I'll go up and see anyhow."
With a last glance at me she left the room, and Savaroff, taking off
his coat, threw it across the back of a chair. Then he came up to
where I was sitting.
"You don't look much like your pictures, my friend," he said,
unwinding the scarf that he was wearing round his neck.
"Under the circumstances," I replied, "that's just as well."
He laughed again, showing a set of strong white teeth. "Yes, yes.
But the clothes and the short hair--eh? They would take a lot of
explaining away. It was fortunate for you you chose this house--very
fortunate. You find yourself amongst friends here."
I didn't like the man--there was too great a suggestion of the bully
about him, but for all that I preferred him to McMurtrie.
It was the latter who interrupted. "Come, Savaroff, you take Mr.
Lyndon's other arm and we'll help him upstairs. It is quite time he
got out of those wet things."
With their joint assistance I hoisted myself out of the chair and,
leaning heavily on the pair of them, hobbled across to the door. Every
step I took sent a thrill of pain through me, for I was as stiff and
sore as though I had been beaten all over with a walking-stick. The
stairs were a bit of a job too, but they managed to get me up somehow
or other, and I found myself in a large sparsely furnished hall lit by
one ill-burning gas jet. There was a door half open on the left, and
through the vacant space I could see the flicker of a freshly lighted
They helped me inside, where we found the girl Sonia standing beside a
long yellow bath-tub which she had set out on a blanket.
"I thought Mr. Lyndon might like a hot bath," she said. "It won't take
very long to warm up the water."
"Like it!" I echoed gratefully; and then, finding no other words to
express my emotions, I sank down in an easy chair which had been
pushed in front of the fire.
I think the brandy that McMurtrie had given me must have gone to my
head, or perhaps it was merely the sudden sense of warmth and comfort
coming on top of my utter fatigue. Anyhow I know I fell gradually into
a sort of blissful trance, in which things happened to me very much as
they do in a dream.
I have a dim recollection of being helped to pull off my soaked and
filthy clothes, and later on of lying back with indescribable felicity
in a heavenly tub of hot water.
Then I was in bed and somebody was rubbing me, rubbing me all over
with some warm pungent stuff that seemed to take away the pain in my
limbs and leave me just a tingling mass of drowsy contentment.
After that--well, after that I suppose I fell asleep.
* * * * *
I base this last idea upon the fact that the next thing I remember is
hearing some one say in a rather subdued voice: "Don't wake him up.
Let him sleep as long as he likes--it's the best thing for him."
Whereupon, as was only natural, I promptly opened my eyes.
Dr. McMurtrie and the dark girl were standing by my bedside, looking
down at me.
I blinked at them for a moment, wondering in my half-awake state where
the devil I had got to. Then suddenly it all came back to me.
"Well," said the doctor smoothly, "and how is the patient today?"
I stretched myself with some care. I was still pretty stiff, and my
throat felt as if some one had been scraping it with sand-paper, but
all the same I knew that I was better--much better.
"I don't think there's any serious damage," I said hoarsely. "How long
have I been asleep?"
He looked at his watch. "As far as I remember, you went to sleep
in your bath soon after midnight. It's now four o'clock in the
I started up in bed. "Four o'clock!" I exclaimed. "Good Lord! I must
He laid his hand on my shoulder. "Don't be foolish, my friend," he
said. "You will get up when you are fit to get up. At the present
moment you are going to have something to eat." He turned to the girl.
"What are you thinking of giving him?" he asked.
"There are plenty of eggs," she said, "and there's some of that fish
we had for breakfast." She answered curtly, almost rudely, looking at
me while she spoke. Her manner gave me the impression that for some
reason or other she and McMurtrie were not exactly on the best of
If that was so, he himself betrayed no sign of it. "Either will do
excellently," he said in his usual suave way, "or perhaps our
young friend could manage both. I believe the Dartmoor air is most
"I shall be vastly grateful for anything," I said, addressing the
girl. "Whatever is the least trouble to cook."
She nodded and left the room without further remark--McMurtrie looking
after her with what seemed like a faint gleam of malicious amusement.
"I have brought you yesterday's _Daily Mail_," he said; "I thought it
would amuse you to read the description of your escape. It is quite
entertaining; and besides that there is a masterly little summary of
your distinguished career prior to its unfortunate interruption." He
laid the paper on the bed. "First of all, though," he added, "I will
just look you over. I couldn't find much the matter with you last
night, but we may as well make certain."
He made a short examination of my throat, and then, after feeling my
pulse, tapped me vigorously all over the chest.
"Well," he said finally, "you have been through enough to kill two
ordinary men, but except for giving you a slight cold in the head it
seems to have done you good."
I sat up in bed. "Dr. McMurtrie," I said bluntly, "what does all this
mean? Who are you, and why are you hiding me from the police?"
He looked down on me, with that curious baffling smile of his. "A
natural and healthy curiosity, Mr. Lyndon," he said drily. "I hope
to satisfy it after you have had something to eat. Till then--" he
shrugged his shoulders--"well, I think you will find the _Daily Mail_
He left the room, closing the door behind him, and for a moment I
lay there with an uncomfortable sense of being tangled up in some
exceedingly mysterious adventure. Even such unusual people as Dr.
McMurtrie and his friends do not as a rule take in and shelter escaped
convicts purely out of kindness of heart. There must be a strong
motive for them to run such a risk in my case, but what that motive
could possibly be was a matter which left me utterly puzzled. So far
as I could remember I had never seen any of the three before in my
I glanced round the room. It was a big airy apartment, with ugly
old-fashioned furniture, and two windows, both of which looked out in
the same direction. The pictures on the wall included an oleograph
portrait of the late King Edward in the costume of an Admiral, a large
engraving of Mr. Landseer's inevitable stag, and several coloured and
illuminated texts. One of the latter struck me as being topical if a
little inaccurate. It ran as follows:
WHEN NO MAN
Over the mantelpiece was a mirror in a mahogany frame. I gazed at it
idly for a second, and then a sudden impulse seized me to get up and
see what I looked like. I turned back the clothes and crawled out of
bed. I felt shaky when I stood up, but my legs seemed to bear me all
right, and very carefully I made my way across to the fireplace.
The first glance I took in the mirror gave me a shock that nearly
knocked me over. A cropped head and three days' growth of beard will
make an extraordinary difference in any one, but I would never
have believed they could have transformed me into quite such an
unholy-looking ruffian as the one I saw staring back at me out of the
glass. If I had ever been conceited about my personal appearance, that
moment would have cured me for good.
Satisfied with a fairly brief inspection I returned to the bed, and
arranging the pillow so as to fit the small of my back, picked up the
_Daily Mail_. I happened to open it at the centre page, and the big
heavily leaded headlines caught my eyes straight away.
ESCAPE OF NEIL LYNDON
FAMOUS PRISONER BREAKS OUT OF DARTMOOR
SENSATIONAL CASE RECALLED
With a pleasant feeling of anticipation I settled down to read.
_From our own Correspondent.
Neil Lyndon, perhaps the most famous convict at present serving his
sentence, succeeded yesterday in escaping from Princetown. At the
moment of writing he is still at large.
He formed one of a band of prisoners who were returning from the
quarries late in the afternoon. As the men reached the road which
leads through the plantation to the main gate of the prison, one of
the warders in charge was overcome by an attack of faintness. In the
ensuing confusion, a convict of the name of Cairns, who was walking
at the head of the gang, made a sudden bolt for freedom. He was
immediately challenged and fired at by the Civil Guard.
The shot took partial effect, but failed for the moment to stop the
runaway, who succeeded in scrambling off into the wood. He was pursued
by the Civil Guard, and it was at that moment that Lyndon, who was in
the rear of the gang, also made a dash for liberty.
He seems to have jumped the low wall which bounds the plantation,
and although fired at in turn by another of the warders, apparently
Running up the hill through the trees, he reached the open slope of
moor on the farther side which divides the plantation from the main
wood. While he was crossing this he was seen from the roadway by
that well-known horse-dealer and pigeon-shot, Mr. Alfred Smith of
Shepherd's Bush, who happened to be on a walking tour in the district.
Mr. Smith, with characteristic sportsmanship, made a plucky attempt
to stop him; but Lyndon, who had picked up a heavy stick in the
plantation, dealt him a terrific blow on the head that temporarily
stunned him. He then jumped the railings and took refuge in the wood.
The pursuing warders came up a few minutes later, but by this time a
heavy mist was beginning to settle down over the moor, rendering
the prospect of a successful search more than doubtful. The warders
therefore surrounded the wood with the idea of preventing Lyndon's
Taking advantage of the fog, however, the latter succeeded in slipping
out on the opposite side. He was heard climbing the railings by
Assistant-warder Conway, who immediately gave the alarm and closed
with the fugitive. The other warders came running up, but just before
they could reach the scene of the struggle Lyndon managed to
free himself by means of a brutal kick, and darting into the fog
disappeared from sight.
It is thought that he has made his way over North Hessary and is lying
up in the Walkham Woods. In any case it is practically certain that he
will not be at liberty much longer. It is impossible for him to get
food except by stealing it from a cottage or farm, and directly he
shows himself he is bound to be recaptured.
Considerable excitement prevails in the district, where all the
inhabitants are keenly on the alert.
THE MARKS MURDER
ECHOES OF A FAMOUS CASE
The escape of Neil Lyndon recalls one of the most famous crimes of
On the third of October four years ago, as most of our readers will
remember, a gentleman named Mr. Seton Marks was found brutally
murdered in his luxurious flat on the Chelsea Embankment. It was
thought at first that the crime was the work of burglars, for Mr.
Marks's rooms contained many art treasures of considerable value. A
further examination, however, revealed the fact that nothing had been
tampered with, and the next day the whole country was startled and
amazed to learn that Neil Lyndon had been arrested on suspicion.
At the trial it was proved beyond question that the accused was the
last person in the company of the murdered man. He had gone round to
Mr. Marks's flat at four o'clock in the afternoon, and had apparently
been admitted by the owner. Two hours later Mr. Marks's servant
returning to the flat was horrified to find his master's dead body
lying in the sitting-room. Death had been inflicted by means of a
heavy blow on the back of the head, but the state of the dead man's
face showed that he had been brutally mishandled before being killed.
The accused, while maintaining his innocence of the murder, did not
deny either his visit to the flat, or the fact that he had inflicted
the other injuries on the deceased. He declined to state the cause of
their quarrel, but the defending counsel produced a witness in the
person of Miss Joyce Aylmer, a young girl of sixteen, who was able to
throw some light on the matter.
Miss Aylmer, a young lady of considerable beauty, stated that for
about a year she had been working as an art student in Chelsea, and
used occasionally to sit to artists for the head. On the afternoon
before the murder she had had a professional engagement of this kind
with Mr. Marks. There had been a visitor in the flat when she arrived,
but he had left as soon as she came in. Subsequently, according to her
statement, the deceased had acted towards her in an outrageous and
disgraceful manner. She had escaped from his flat with difficulty, and
had subsequently informed Mr. Lyndon of what had taken place.
In his re-examination, the accused admitted that it was on account
of Miss Aylmer's statement he had visited the flat. Up till then, he
declared, he had had no quarrel with the deceased.
This statement, however, was directly contradicted by Lyndon's
partner, Mr. George Marwood. Giving his evidence with extreme
reluctance, Mr. Marwood stated that for some time bad blood had
undoubtedly existed between Mr. Marks and the accused. He added that
in his own hearing on two separate occasions the latter had threatened
to kill the deceased.
Pressed still further, he admitted meeting Mr. Lyndon in Chelsea
on the night of the murder, when the latter had to all intents and
purposes acknowledged his guilt.
On the evidence there could naturally be only one verdict, and Lyndon
was found guilty and sentenced to death by Mr. Justice Owen.
A tremendous agitation in favour of his reprieve broke out at once.
Apart from the peculiar circumstances under which the crime was
committed, it was urged that Mr. Lyndon's services to the country as
an inventor should be taken into consideration. Within twenty-four
hours over a million people had signed a petition in his favour, and
the following day His Majesty was pleased to commute the sentence to
one of penal servitude for life.
There is little doubt, however, that Lyndon would have been released
at the end of ten or twelve years.
THE ESCAPED CONVICT'S CAREER
Neil Lyndon is the only son of the well-known explorer Colonel Grant
Lyndon, who perished on the Upper Amazon some fifteen years ago. He
was educated at Haileybury, and Oriel College, Oxford, where he took
the highest honours in chemistry and mathematics. Coming down, he
entered into partnership with his cousin Mr. George Marwood, and
between them the two young inventors met with early and remarkable
success. Their greatest achievement was of course the construction of
the Lyndon-Marwood automatic torpedo, which was taken up four years
ago, after exhaustive tests, by the British Government.
Lyndon is a man of exceptionally powerful physique. He successfully
represented Oxford as a heavy-weight boxer in his last term, and the
following year was runner up in the Amateur Championship. He is also a
fine long-distance swimmer, and a well-known single-handed yachtsman.
Mr. George Marwood, whose painful position in connection with the
trial aroused considerable sympathy, has carried on the business alone
since his partner's conviction. Quite recently, as our readers will
recall, he was the victim of a remarkable outrage at his offices in
Victoria Street. While he was working there by himself late at night,
a couple of masked men broke into the building, bound and gagged him,
and proceeded to ransack the safe. It is said that they secured plans
and documents of considerable value, but owing to the non-arrest of
the thieves the exact details have never come to light.
So ended the _Daily Mail_.
I finished reading, and taking a long breath, laid down the paper. Up
till then I had heard nothing about the news contained in the last
paragraph, and it sent my memory back at once to the big well-lighted
room in Victoria Street where George and I had spent so many hours
together. I wondered what the valuable "plans and documents" might
be which the thieves were supposed to have secured. In my day we had
always been pretty careful about what we left at the office, and
any really important plans--such as those of the Lyndon-Marwood
torpedo--were invariably kept at the safe deposit across the street.
From George and the office my thoughts drifted away over the whole
of that crowded time referred to in the paper. Brief and bald as the
narrative was, it brought up before me a dozen vivid memories, which
jostled each other simultaneously in my mind. I saw again poor little
Joyce's tear-stained face, and remembered the shuddering relief with
which she had clung to me as she sobbed out her story. I could recall
the cold rage in which I had set out for Marks's flat, and that first
savage blow of mine that sent him reeling and crashing into one of his
Then I was in court again, and George was giving his evidence--the
lying evidence that had been meant to send me to the gallows.
I remembered the cleverly assumed reluctance with which he had
apparently allowed his statements to be dragged from him, and my blood
rose hot in my throat as I thought of his treachery.
Above all I seemed to see the fat red face of Mr. Justice Owen, with
the ridiculous little three-cornered black cap above it. He had been
very cut up about sentencing me to death, had poor old Owen, and I
could almost hear the broken tones in which he had faltered out the
"... taken from the place where you now stand to the place whence you
came--hanged by the neck until your body be dead--and may God have
mercy on your soul."
At this cheerful point in my reminiscences I was suddenly interrupted
by a sharp knock at the door.
AN OFFER WITHOUT AN ALTERNATIVE
With a big effort I pulled myself together. "Come in," I called out.
The door opened, and the girl, Sonia, entered the room. She was
carrying a tray, which she set down on the top of the chest of
"I don't know the least how to thank you for all this," I said.
She turned round and looked at me curiously from under her dark
"For all what?" she asked.
"This," I repeated, waving my hand towards the tray, "and the hot bath
last night, and incidentally my life. If it hadn't been for you and
Dr. McMurtrie I think my 'career,' as the _Daily Mail_ calls it, would
be pretty well finished by now."
She stood where she was, her hand on her hip, her eyes fixed on my
"Do you know why we are helping you?" she asked.
I shook my head. "I haven't the faintest notion," I answered frankly.
"It certainly can't be on account of the charm of my appearance. I've
just been looking at myself in the glass."
She shrugged her shoulders half impatiently. "What does a man's
appearance matter? You can't expect to break out of Dartmoor in a
"No," I replied gravely; "there must always be a certain lack of
dignity about such a proceeding. Still, when one looks like--well,
like an escaped murderer, it's all the more surprising that one should
be so hospitably received."
She picked up the tray again, and brought it to my bedside.
"Oh!" she said; "I shouldn't build too much upon our hospitality if I
I took the tray from her hands. "I would build upon yours to any
extent," I said; "but I am under no illusion whatever about Dr.
McMurtrie's disinterestedness. He and your father--it is your father,
isn't it?--are coming up to explain matters as soon as I have had
something to eat."
She stood silent for a moment, her brows knitted in a frown.
"They mean you no harm," she said at last, "as long as you will do
what they want." Then she paused. "Did you murder that man Marks?" she
I swallowed down my first mouthful of fish. "No," I said; "I only
knocked him about a bit. He wasn't worth murdering."
She stared at me as if she was trying to read my thoughts.
"Is that true?" she said.
"Well," I replied, "he was alive enough when I left him, judging from
"Then why did your partner--Mr. Marwood--why did he say that you had
"That," I said softly, "is a little question which George and I have
got to discuss together some day."
She walked to the door and then turned.
"If a man I had trusted and worked with behaved like that to me," she
said slowly, "I should kill him."
I nodded my approval of the sentiment. "I daresay it will come to
that," I said; "the only thing is one gets rather tired of being
sentenced to death."
She gave me another long, curious glance out of those dark brown eyes
of hers, and then going out, closed the door behind her.
For an exceedingly busy and agreeable quarter of an hour I occupied
myself with the contents of the tray. There was some very nicely
grilled whiting, a really fresh boiled egg, a jar of honey, and a
large plate of brown bread and butter cut in sturdy slices. Best of
all, on the edge of the tray were a couple of McMurtrie's cigarettes.
Whether he or Sonia was responsible for this last attention I could
not say. I hoped it was Sonia: somehow or other I did not want to be
too much indebted to Dr. McMurtrie.
I finished my meal--finished it in the most complete sense of the
phrase--and then, putting down my tray on the floor, reverently
lighted up. I found that my first essay in smoking on the previous
evening had in no way dulled the freshness of my enjoyment, and for
a few minutes I was content to lie there pleasantly indifferent to
everything except the flavour of the tobacco.
Then my mind began to work. Sonia's questions had once again started a
train of thought which ever since the trial had been running through
my brain with maddening persistence. If I had not killed Marks, who
had? How often had I asked myself that during the past three years,
and how often had I abandoned the problem in utter weariness!
Sometimes, indeed, I had been almost tempted to think the jury must
have been right--that I must have struck the brute on the back of the
head without realizing in my anger what I was doing. Then, when I
remembered how I had left him crouching against the wall, spitting out
curses at me through his cut and bleeding lips, I knew that the idea
was nonsense. The wound which they found in his head must have killed
him instantly. No man who had received a blow like that would ever
speak or move again.
The one thing I felt certain of was that in some mysterious way or
other George was mixed up in the business. It was incredible that
he could have acted as he did at the trial unless he had had some
stronger reason than mere dislike for me. That he did dislike me I
knew well, but my six years' association with him had taught me that
he would never allow any personal motive to interfere with a chance of
making money. By sending me to the gallows or into penal servitude
he was practically ruining himself, for with all his acuteness and
business knowledge he was quite deficient in any sort of inventive
power. And yet he had not hesitated to do it, and to do it by a piece
of lying sufficiently cold-blooded and deliberate to make Judas pale
If there had been any apparent chance of his being able to rob me by
the proceeding, I could have understood it. But my business interests
as far as past inventions went were safe in the hands of my lawyers,
and although I had told him a certain amount about the new explosive
which I had been working at, it was quite impossible for him to turn
it to any practical use.
No, George must have had some other reason for perjuring his
unpleasant soul, and the only one I could think of was that he had
purposely turned the case against me in order to shield the real
murderer. He had been fairly well acquainted with the dead man, I
knew--their tastes indeed ran on somewhat similar lines--and it was
just possible that he was aware who had committed the crime.
The thought filled me, as it always had filled me, with a bitter fury.
Again and again in my cell I had fancied myself escaping from the
prison and choking the truth out of my cousin's throat with my
fingers, and now that the first part of this picture had come true, I
vowed silently to myself that nothing should stop the remainder from
following it. Whatever McMurtrie might propose, I would see George
once again face to face, even if death or recapture was the price I
had to pay.
I had just arrived at this conclusion when I heard the sound of
footsteps in the passage outside. Then the handle of the door turned,
and McMurtrie appeared on the threshold with Savaroff looming up
behind him. There was a moment's silence, while the doctor stood there
smiling down on me as blandly as ever.
"May we come in?" he inquired. "We are not interrupting your tea, I
"No, I have done tea, thank you," I said, with a gesture towards the
Why it was so, I can't say, but McMurtrie's politeness always filled
me with a feeling of repulsion. There was something curiously sinister
He stepped forward into the room, followed by Savaroff, who closed the
door behind him. The latter then lounged across and sat down on the
window-sill, McMurtrie remaining standing by my bedside.
"You have read the _Mail_, I see," he said, picking up the paper. "I
hope you admired the size of the headlines."
"It's the type of compliment," I replied, "that I have had rather too
Savaroff broke out into a short gruff laugh. "Our friend," he said,
"is modest--so modest. He does not thirst for more fame. He would
retire into private life if they would let him."
He chuckled to himself, as though enjoying the subtlety of his own
humour. Unlike his daughter, he spoke English with a distinctly
"Ah, yes," said Dr. McMurtrie amiably; "but then, Mr. Lyndon is one of
those people that we can't afford to spare. Talents such as his are
intended for use." He took off his glasses and began to polish them
thoughtfully. "One might almost say that he held them in trust--in
trust for Providence."
There was a short silence.
"And is it on account of my talents that you have been kind enough to
shelter me?" I asked bluntly.
The doctor readjusted his pince-nez, and seated himself with some
deliberation on the foot of the bed.
"The instinct to assist a hunted fellow-creature," he observed, "is
almost universal." Then he paused. "I take it, Mr. Lyndon, that you
are not particularly anxious to rejoin your friends in Princetown?"
I shook my head. "Not if there is a more pleasant alternative."
Savaroff grunted. "No alternative is likely to be more unpleasant for
you," he said harshly.
The touch of bullying in his tone put my back up at once. "Indeed!" I
said: "I can imagine several."
McMurtrie's smooth voice intervened. "But ours, Mr. Lyndon, is one
which I think will make a very special appeal to you. How would you
like to keep your freedom and at the same time take up your scientific
I looked at him closely. For once there was no trace of mockery in his
"I should like it very much indeed, if it was possible," I answered.
McMurtrie leaned forward a little. "It is possible," he said quietly.
There was a short pause. Savaroff pulled out a cigar, bit off the end,
and spat it into the fireplace. Then he reached sideways to the chest
of drawers for a match.
"Explain to him," he said, jerking his head towards me.
McMurtrie glanced at him--it seemed to me a shade impatiently. Then he
turned back to me.
"For some time before Mr. Marks's unfortunate death," he said slowly,
"you had been experimenting with a new explosive."
I nodded my head. I had no idea how he had got his information, for as
far as I was aware George was the only person who had any knowledge of
"And I believe you were just on the point of success when you were
"Theoretically I was," I said. "These matters don't always work out
quite so well when you put them to a practical test."
"Still, you yourself were quite satisfied with the prospects?"
I nodded again.
"And unless I am wrong, this new explosive will be immensely more
powerful than anything now in use?"
"Immensely," I repeated; "in fact, there would be no practical
comparison between them."
"Can you give me any idea as to its strength?"
I hesitated. "According to my calculations," I said slowly, "it ought
to prove at least twenty times as powerful as gun-cotton."
Savaroff uttered a hoarse exclamation and sat upright in his seat.
"Are you speaking the truth?" he asked roughly.
I stared him full in the face, and then without answering turned back
The latter made a gesture with his hand. "Leave the matter to me,
Savaroff," he said sharply. "I understand Mr. Lyndon better than you
do." Then addressing me: "Supposing you had all the things that you
required, how long would it take you to manufacture some of this
powder--or whatever it is?"
"It's difficult to say," I answered. "Perhaps a week; perhaps a couple
of months. I could make the actual stuff at once provided I had the
materials, but it's a question of doing it in such a way that one can
handle it safely for practical purposes. I was experimenting on that
very point at the time of my arrest."
McMurtrie nodded his head slowly. "You have been candid with us,"
he said, "and now I will be equally candid with you. My friend M.
Savaroff and myself are very largely interested in the manufacture
of high explosives. The appearance of an invention like yours on the
market would be a very serious matter indeed for us. On the other
hand, if we had control of it, we should, I imagine, be in a position
to dictate our own terms."
"You certainly would," I said; "there is no question about that. My
explosive would be no more expensive to manufacture than cordite."
"So you see when some exceedingly convenient chance brought you in
through our kitchen window it naturally occurred to me to invite you
to stay and discuss the matter. You happen to be in a position in
which you could be useful to us, and I think that we, on the other
hand, might be of some assistance to you."
He leant back and watched me with that cold smile of his.
"What do you say, Mr. Lyndon?" he added.
I did some rapid but necessary thinking. It was quite true that the
new explosive would knock the bottom out of the present methods of
manufacture, and McMurtrie's interests in the matter might well be
large enough to make him run the risk of helping me. There seemed no
reason to doubt that he was speaking the truth--and yet, somehow or
other I mistrusted him--mistrusted him from my soul.
"How did you know about my experiments?" I asked quietly.
He shrugged his shoulders. "There are such things as trade secrets. It
is necessary for a business man to keep in touch with anything that
may threaten his interests."
I hesitated a second. "What is it that you propose--exactly?" I
I saw--or thought I saw--the faintest possible gleam of satisfaction
steal into his eyes.
"I propose that you should finish your experiments as soon as
possible, make some of this explosive, and hand the actual stuff
and the full secret of its manufacture over to us. In return I will
guarantee you your freedom, and let you have a quarter interest in all
profits we make out of your invention."
He brought out these somewhat startling terms as coolly as though it
were an every-day custom of his to do business with escaped convicts.
I bent down from the bed, and under cover of picking up my second
cigarette from the tray, secured a few useful moments for considering