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A Rogue by Compulsion by Victor Bridges

Part 4 out of 7

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chance such as few men have had--a chance that will mean wealth and
freedom and--and--love." She breathed out the last word almost in a
whisper, and then, raising her hands to my shoulders, drew down my
face and pressed her lips to mine.

I have no dislike to being kissed by a beautiful woman; indeed, on
the previous occasion when Sonia had so honoured me I had distinctly
enjoyed the experience. This time, however, I felt a trifle
uncomfortable. I had a kind of unpleasant sensation that somehow or
other I was not quite playing the game.

Still, as I have said elsewhere, an escaped convict cannot afford to
be too nice in his emotions, so I returned her kiss with the same
readiness and warmth as I had done before. Then, straightening myself,
I unlaced her arms from my neck, and looked down smilingly into those
strange dark eyes that were turned up to mine.

"I'm a poor sort of host," I said, "but you see I am a little out of
training. Won't you have some tea or anything, Sonia?"

"No, no," she answered quickly. "I don't want anything. I must go in a
minute; I have to meet my father with the car." Then, taking my hand
between hers, she added: "Tell me what you have been doing yourself.
Have you seen your cousin--the man who lied about you at the trial? I
have been afraid about him; I have been afraid that you would kill him
and perhaps be found out."

"There's no hurry about it," I said. "It's rather pleasant to have
something to look forward to."

"But you have seen him?"

I nodded. "I had the pleasure of walking behind him for a couple of
miles yesterday. He looks a little worried, but quite well otherwise."

She laughed softly. "Ah, you can afford to let him wait. And the girl,
Joyce? Have you seen her?"

She asked the question quite dispassionately, and yet in some curious
way I had a sudden vague feeling of menace and danger. Anyhow, I lied
as readily and instinctively as Ananias.

"No," I said. "George is the only part of my past that interests me
now."

I thought I saw the faintest possible expression of satisfaction
flicker across her face, but if so it was gone immediately.

"Sonia," I said, "there is a question I want to ask you. Am I
developing nerves, or have I really been watched and followed since I
came to London?"

She looked at me steadily. "What makes you think so?" she asked.

"Well," I said, "it may be only my imagination, but I have an idea
that a gentleman with a scar on his face has been taking a rather
affectionate interest in my movements."

For a moment she hesitated; then with a rather scornful little laugh
she shrugged her shoulders. "I told them it was unnecessary!" she
said.

I crushed down the exclamation that nearly rose to my lips. So the man
with the scar _was_ one of McMurtrie's emissaries, after all, and his
dealings with Mr. Bruce Latimer most certainly did concern me. The
feeling that I was entangled in some unknown network of evil and
mystery came back to me with redoubled force.

"I hope the report was satisfactory," I said lightly.

Sonia nodded. "They only wanted to make certain that you had gone to
Edith Terrace. I don't think you were followed after the first night."

"No," I said, "I don't think I was." Precisely how much the boot had
been on the opposite foot it seemed unnecessary to add.

Sonia walked to the table and again opened her bag. "I mustn't stay
any longer--now," she said. "I have to meet the car at six o'clock.
Here are the keys." She took them out and came across to where I was
standing.

"Good-bye, Sonia," I said, taking her hands in mine.

"No, no," she whispered; "don't say that: I hate the word. Listen,
Neil. I am coming to you again, down there, when we shall be
alone--you and I together. I don't know when it will be, but soon--ah,
just as soon as I can. I can't help you, not in the way I mean to,
until you have finished your work, but I will come to you, and--and...."
Her voice failed, and lowering her head she buried her face in my
coat. I bent down, and in a moment her lips met mine in another long,
passionate kiss. It was hard to see how I could have acted otherwise,
but all the same I didn't feel exactly proud of myself.

Indeed, it was in a state of very mixed emotions that I came back into
the house after we had walked together as far as the corner of the
street. The mere fact of my having found out for certain that the man
with the scar was an agent of McMurtrie's was enough in itself to give
me food for pretty considerable thought. Any suspicions I may have had
as to the genuineness of the doctor's story were now amply confirmed.
I was not intimately acquainted with the working methods of the High
Explosives Trade, but it seemed highly improbable that they could
involve the drugging or poisoning of Government officials in public
restaurants. As Tommy had forcibly expressed it, there was some
"damned shady work" going on somewhere or other, and for all Sonia's
comforting assurances concerning my own eventual prosperity, I felt
that I was mixed up in about as sinister a mystery as even an escaped
murderer could very well have dropped into.

The thought of Sonia brought me back to the question of our relations.
I could hardly doubt now that she loved me with all the force of her
strange, sullen, passionate nature, and that for my sake she was
preparing to take some pretty reckless step. What this was remained to
be seen, but that it amounted to a practical betrayal of her father
and McMurtrie seemed fairly obvious from the way in which she had
spoken. From the point of view of my own interests, it was an amazing
stroke of luck that she should have fallen in love with me, and yet
somehow or other I felt distinctly uncomfortable about it. I seemed
to be taking an unfair advantage of her, though how on earth I was to
avoid doing so was a question which I was quite unable to solve. I
certainly couldn't afford to quarrel with her, and she was hardly the
sort of girl to accept anything in the nature of a disappointment to
her affections in exactly a philosophic frame of mind.

I was still pondering over this rather delicate problem, when there
came a knock at the door, and in answer to my summons Gertie 'Uggins
inserted her head.

"The lidy's gorn?" she observed, looking inquiringly round the room.

I nodded. "There is no deception, Gertrude," I said. "You can search
the coal-scuttle if you like."

She wriggled the rest of her body in round the doorway. "Mrs. Oldbury
sent me up to ask if you'd be wantin' dinner."

"No," I said; "I am going out."

Gertie nodded thoughtfully. "Taikin' 'er, I s'pose?"

"To be quite exact," I said, "I am dining with another lady."

There was a short pause. Then, with an air of some embarrassment
Gertie broke the silence. '"Ere," she said: "you know that five bob
you give me?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well, I ain't spendin' it on no dinner--see. I'm goin' to buy a 'at
wiv it--a 'at like 'ers: d'yer mind?"

"I do mind," I said severely. "That money was intended for your
inside, Gertie, not your outside. You have your dinner, and I'll buy
you a new hat myself."

She clasped her hands together. "Ow!" she cried. "Yer mean it? Yer
reely mean it?"

"I never joke," I said, "on sacred subjects."

Then to my dismay she suddenly began to cry. "You ain't 'alf--'alf bin
good to me," she jerked out. "No one ain't never bin good to me like
you. I'd--I'd do anyfink for you."

"In that case," I said, "you may give me my hat--and cheer up."

She obeyed both commands, and then, still sniffing, valiantly marched
to the front door and opened it for me to go out.

"Goo'-night, sir," she said.

"Good-night, Gertrude," I replied; and leaving her standing on the
step I set off down the street. Whatever else prison might have done
for me, it certainly seemed to have given me a capacity for making
friends.

I reached Florence Court at about a quarter to seven, keeping a
sharp lookout along the embankment as I approached for any sign of
a loitering detective. Except for one aged gentleman, however, who
seemed to be wholly occupied in spitting in the Thames, the stretch in
front of the studios was absolutely deserted. Glancing at the board
in the hall as I entered, I saw that "Mr. Morrison" and "Miss Vivien"
were both "in"--a statement which in Tommy's case was confirmed a
moment later by his swift appearance at the door in answer to my
knock.

"Mr. Morrison, I believe?" I said.

He seized me by the arm and dragged me inside.

"This is fine. I never thought you'd be back as quick as this. Are
things all right?"

"I should hardly go as far as that," I said. "But we seem to be
getting along quite nicely."

He nodded. "Good! I just want a wash, and then we'll go right in to
Joyce's place. We are going to have supper there, and you can tell us
all about it while we're feeding."

He splashed out some water into a basin in the corner of the studio,
and made his ablutions with a swiftness that reminded me of some of my
own toilets in the grey twilight of a Dartmoor dawn. Tommy was never a
man who wasted much trouble over the accessories of life.

"Come along," he said, flinging down the towel on the sofa. "Joyce
will be dying to hear what's happened!"

I turned towards the hall, but he suddenly put his hand on my shoulder
and pulled me back.

"Not that way. We've a private road now--runs along the back of the
studios."

He crossed the room, and opened a door which led out into a narrow
stone passage roofed in by glass.

I followed him along this till we came to another door, on which Tommy
tapped twice with his knuckles. In a moment we heard a key turn and
Joyce was standing on the threshold. When she saw who it was she gave
a little cry of welcome and held out both her hands.

"But how nice!" she exclaimed. "I never thought you'd be here so
soon."

We had each taken a hand, and talking and laughing at the same time,
she pulled us in after her and shut the door.

"At last!" she cried softly; "at last!" And for a second or two we all
three stood there just gripping each other's hands and not saying a
word. It certainly was rather a good feeling.

Tommy was the first to break the silence. "Damn it," he said huskily,
"if Neil didn't look so exactly like a brigand chief I believe I
should blubber. Eh, Joyce--how do you feel?"

"I feel all right," said Joyce. "And he doesn't look a bit like a
brigand chief. He looks splendid." She stood back and surveyed me with
a sort of tender proprietorship.

"I suppose we shall get used to it," remarked Tommy. "It nearly gave
me heart disease to begin with." Then, going and locking the side
door, he added cheerfully, "I vote we have supper at once. I've had
nothing except whisky since I came off the boat."

"Well, there's heaps to eat," said Joyce. "I've been out marketing in
the King's Road."

"What have you got?" demanded Tommy hungrily.

Joyce ticked them off with her fingers. "There's a cold chicken and
salad, some stuffed olives--those are for you, Neil, you always used
to like them--a piece of Stilton cheese and a couple of bottles of
champagne. They're all in the kitchen, so come along both of you and
help me get them."

"Where's the faithful Clara?" asked Tommy.

"I've sent her out for the evening. I didn't want any one to be here
except just us three."

We all trooped into Joyce's tiny kitchen and proceeded to carry back
our supper into the studio, where we set it out on the table in the
centre. We were so ridiculously happy that for some little time our
conversation was inclined to be a trifle incoherent: indeed, it was
not until we had settled down round the table and Tommy had knocked
the head off the first bottle of champagne with the back of his knife
that we in any way got back to our real environment.

It was Joyce who brought about the change. "I keep on feeling I shall
wake up in a minute," she said, "and find out that it's all a dream."

"Put it off as long as possible," said Tommy gravely. "It would be
rotten for Neil to find himself back in Dartmoor before he'd finished
his champagne."

"I don't know when I shall get any more as it is," I said. "I've got
to start work the day after tomorrow."

There was a short pause: Joyce pushed away her plate and leaned
forward, her eyes fixed on mine; while Tommy stretched out his arm and
filled up my glass.

"Go on," he said. "What's happened?"

In as few words as possible I told them about my interview with Sonia,
and showed them the letter which she had brought me from McMurtrie.
They both read it--Joyce first and then Tommy, the latter tossing it
back with a grunt that was more eloquent than any possible comment.

"It's too polite," he said. "It's too damn' polite altogether. You can
see they're up to some mischief."

"I am afraid they are, Tommy," I said; "and it strikes me that it must
be fairly useful mischief if we're right about Mr. Bruce Latimer. By
the way, does Joyce know?"

Tommy nodded. "She's right up to date: I've told her everything. The
question is, how much has that affair got to do with us? It's quite
possible, if they're the sort of scoundrels they seem to be, that they
might be up against the Secret Service in some way quite apart from
their dealings with you."

"By Jove, Tommy!" I exclaimed, "I never thought of that. One's
inclined to get a bit egotistical when one's an escaped murderer."

"It was Joyce's idea," admitted Tommy modestly, "but it's quite likely
there's something in it. Of course we've no proof at present one
way or the other. What do you think this girl--what's her
name--Sonia--means to do?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "Goodness knows," I said. "It looks as if
there was a chance of making a big immediate profit on my invention,
and that she intended me to scoop it in instead of her father and
McMurtrie. I can't think of anything else."

Tommy pulled up a fresh plate and helped himself to some cheese.

"She must be pretty keen on you," he observed.

"Well, you needn't rub it in, Tommy," I said. "I feel quite enough of
a cad as it is."

"You're not," interrupted Joyce indignantly. "If she really loves you,
of course she wants to help you whether you love her or not."

"Still, she'll expect a _quid pro quo_," persisted Tommy.

"Then it isn't love," returned Joyce scornfully, "and in that case
there's no need to bother about her."

This seemed a most logical point of view, and I determined to adopt it
for the future if my conscience would allow me.

"What about your invention?" asked Tommy. "How long will it take you
to work it out?"

"Well, as a matter of fact," I said, "it is worked out--as much as any
invention can be without being put to a practical test. I was just on
that when the smash came. I had actually made some of the powder and
proved its power, but I'd never tried it on what one might call a
working basis. If they've given me all the things I want, I don't see
any reason why I shouldn't fix it up in two or three days. There's
no real difficulty in its manufacture. I wasn't too definite with
McMurtrie. I thought it best to give myself a little margin."

Tommy nodded. "You've handled the whole thing splendidly up till
now," he said. "I rather think it's the ticklish part that's coming,
though." Then he paused. "Look here!" he added suddenly. "I've got a
great notion. Why shouldn't we run down tomorrow in the _Betty_ and
have a squint at this place of yours? There's nothing like taking a
few soundings when you're not too sure about things."

I drew in a deep breath. "I'd love to, Tommy," I said, "but it's
rather asking for trouble, isn't it? Suppose there was still someone
about there? If McMurtrie had the faintest idea I'd given away the
show--"

"He won't," interrupted Tommy; "he can't. We'll take precious good
care of that. Listen here: I've got the whole thing mapped out in my
mind. The _Betty's_ at Leigh, where I laid her up yesterday. I had a
seven-horse-power Kelvin engine put in her last year, so we can get
up, whatever the wind is--I know the tide will be about right. Well,
my idea is that we three go down to Leigh tomorrow morning and take
her up to this place Cunnock Creek, or somewhere near. Then if it's
all serene you can land and have a look round; if there seems to be
any one about we can just push off again. Joyce and I won't show up at
all, anyway: we'll stop on board and let you do the scouting."

"Yes, yes," exclaimed Joyce, her eyes shining eagerly. "Let's go. It
can't do any harm, and you might find out all sorts of useful things."

"Besides," added Tommy, "it would be the deuce of a day, and it's a
long time since any of us had a good day, eh, Joyce?"

"Three years," said Joyce quietly.

That decided me. "Right you are," I said. "You're--you're something
like pals, you two."

We clinched the arrangement with a grip, and then Joyce, jumping up
from the table, crossed the room to a small writing-desk. "I've got a
time-table somewhere here," she said, "so we can look out the train
right away."

"It's all right," said Tommy. "I know 'em backwards. We'll catch the
nine-five from Fenchurch Street. It's low water at eight-thirty, so
that will get us in about the right time. We can leave the _Betty_ at
Tilbury or Gravesend afterwards, and come back by train from there.
We'll be home for dinner or supper or something."

Joyce nodded. "That will just do," she said. "I am going out again
with George in the evening. Oh, I haven't told either of you about
last night--have I?"

I shook my head. "No," I said, "but in any case I wish you'd drop that
part of it, Joyce dear. I hate to think of you dining with George: it
offends my sense of decency."

She took an envelope out of the desk and came back to her place at the
table. "I mean to drop it quite soon," she said calmly, "but I must
go tomorrow. George is on the point of being rather interesting." She
paused a moment. "He told me last night that he was expecting to get a
cheque for twelve thousand pounds."

"Twelve thousand pounds!" I echoed in astonishment.

"Where the Devil's he going to get it from?" demanded Tommy.

"That," said Joyce, "is exactly what I mean to find out. You see
George is at present under the impression that if he can convince me
he is speaking the truth I am coming away with him for a yachting
cruise in the Mediterranean. Well, tomorrow I am going to be
convinced--and it will have to be done very thoroughly."

Tommy gave a long whistle. "I wonder what dog's trick he's up to now.
He can't be getting the money straight: I know they've done nothing
there the last year."

"It would be interesting to find out," I admitted. "All the same,
Joyce, I don't see why you should do all the dirty work of the firm."

"It's my job for the minute," said Joyce cheerfully, "and none of the
firm's work is dirty to me."

She came across, and opening my coat, slipped the envelope which she
had taken out of her desk into my inner pocket. "I got those out of
the bank today," she said--"twenty five-pound notes. You had better
take them before we forget: you're sure to want some money."

Then, before I could speak, she picked up the second bottle of
champagne that Tommy had just opened, and filled up all three glasses.

"I like your description of us as the firm," she said; "don't you,
Tommy? Let's all drink a health to it!"

Tommy jumped to his feet and held up his glass. "The Firm!" he cried.
"And may all the fools who sent Neil to prison live to learn their
idiocy!"

I followed his example. "The Firm!" I cried, "and may everyone in
trouble have pals like you!"

Joyce thrust her arm through mine and rested her head against my
shoulder. "The Firm!" she said softly. Then, with a little break in
her voice, she added in a whisper: "And you don't really want Sonia,
do you, Neil?"

CHAPTER XV

A HUMAN "CATCH"

It's not often that the weather in England is really appropriate
to one's mood, but the sunshine that was streaming down into Edith
Terrace as I banged the front door at half-past eight the next morning
seemed to fit in exactly with my state of mind. I felt as cheerful as
a schoolboy out for a holiday. Apart altogether from the knowledge
that I was going to spend a whole delightful day with Tommy and Joyce,
the mere idea of getting on the water again was enough in itself to
put me into the best of spirits.

I stopped for a moment at the flower-stall outside Victoria Station to
buy Joyce a bunch of violets--she had always been fond of violets--and
then calling up a taxi instructed the man to drive me to Fenchurch
Street.

I found Tommy and Joyce waiting for me on the platform. The former
looked superbly disreputable in a very old and rather dirty grey
flannel suit, while Joyce, who was wearing a white serge skirt with
a kind of green knitted coat, seemed beautifully in keeping with the
sunshine outside.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Tommy. "We were just getting the jim-jams about
you. Thought you'd eloped with Sonia or something."

I shook my head. "I never elope before midday," I said. "I haven't the
necessary stamina."

I offered Joyce the bunch, which she took with a smile, giving my hand
a little squeeze by way of gratitude. "You dear!" she said. "Fancy
your remembering that."

"Well, come along," said Tommy. "This is the train all right; I've got
the tickets and some papers."

He opened the door of a first-class carriage just behind us, and we
all three climbed in. "We shall have it to ourselves," he added.
"No one ever travels first on this line except the Port of London
officials, and they don't get up till the afternoon."

We settled ourselves down, Tommy on one side and Joyce and I on the
other, and a minute later the train steamed slowly out of the station.
Joyce slipped her hand into mine, and we sat there looking out of the
window over the sea of grey roofs and smoking chimney-stacks which
make up the dreary landscape of East London.

"Have a paper?" asked Tommy, holding out the _Daily Mail_.

"No, thanks, Tommy," I said. "I'm quite happy as I am. You can tell us
the news if there is any."

He opened the sheet and ran his eye down the centre page. "There's
nothing much in it," he said, "bar this German business. No one seems
to know what's going to happen about that. I wonder what the Kaiser
thinks he's playing at. He can't be such a fool as to want to fight
half Europe."

"How is the Navy these days?" I asked. "One doesn't worry about
trifles like that in Dartmoor."

"Oh, we're all right," replied Tommy cheerfully. "The Germans haven't
got a torpedo to touch yours yet, and we're still a long way ahead of
'em in ships. We could wipe them off the sea in a week if they came
out to fight."

"Well, that's comforting," I said. "I don't want them sailing up the
Thames till I've finished. I've no use for a stray shell in my line of
business."

"I tell you what I'm going to do, Neil," said Tommy. "I was thinking
it over in bed last night after you'd gone. If there is any possible
sort of anchorage for a boat in this Cunnock Creek I shall leave the
_Betty_ there. It's only a mile from your place, and then either Joyce
or I can come down and see you without running the risk of being
spotted by your charming pals. Besides, at a pinch it might be
precious handy for you. If things got too hot on shore you could
always slip away by water. It's not as if you were dependent on the
tides. Now I've had this little engine put in her she'll paddle off
any old time--provided you can get the blessed thing to start."

"You're a brick, Tommy," I said gratefully. "There's nothing I'd like
better. But as for you and Joyce coming down--"

"Of course we shall come down," interrupted Joyce. "I shall come just
as soon as I can. Who do you think is going to look after you and do
your cooking?"

"Good Lord, Joyce!" I said. "I'm in much too tight a corner to worry
about luxuries."

"That's no reason why you should be uncomfortable," said Joyce calmly.
"I shan't come near you in the day, while you're working. I shall stay
on the _Betty_ and cook dinner for you in the evening, and then as
soon as it's dark you can shut up the place and slip across to the
creek. Oh, it will be great fun--won't it, Tommy?"

Tommy laughed. "I think so," he said; "but I suppose there are people
in the world who might hold a different opinion." Then he turned to
me. "It's all right, Neil. We'll give you two or three clear days to
see how the land lies and shove along with your work. Joyce has got to
find out where George is getting that cheque from, and I mean to look
up Latimer and sound him about his dinner at Parelli's. You'll be
quite glad to see either of us by that time."

"Glad!" I echoed. "I shall be so delighted, I shall probably blow
myself up. It's you two I'm thinking of. The more I see of this job
the more certain I am there's something queer about it, and if there's
going to be any trouble down there I don't want you and Joyce dragged
into it."

"We shan't want much dragging," returned Tommy. "As far as the firm's
business goes we're all three in the same boat. We settled that last
night."

"So there's nothing more to be said," added Joyce complacently.

I looked from one to the other. Then I laughed and shrugged my
shoulders. "No," I said, "I suppose there isn't."

Through the interminable slums of Plaistow and East Ham we drew out in
the squalid region of Barking Creek, and I looked down on the mud and
the dirty brown water with a curious feeling of satisfaction. It was
like meeting an old friend again after a long separation. The lower
Thames, with its wharves, its warehouses, and its never-ceasing
traffic, had always had a strange fascination for me; and in the old
days, when I wanted to come to Town from Leigh or Port Victoria, I had
frequently sailed my little six-tonner, the _Penguin_, right up as far
as the Tower Bridge. I could remember now the utter amazement with
which George had always regarded this proceeding.

"Are you feeling pretty strong this morning?" asked Tommy, breaking a
long silence. "The _Betty's_ lying out in the Ray, and the only way of
getting at her will be to tramp across the mud. There's no water for
another four hours. We shall have to take turns carrying Joyce."

"You won't," said Joyce. "I shall take off my shoes and stockings and
tramp too. I suppose you've got some soap on board."

"You'll shock Leigh terribly if you do," said Tommy. "It's a beautiful
respectable place nowadays--all villas and trams and picture
palaces--rather like a bit of Upper Tooting."

"It doesn't matter," said Joyce. "I've got very nice feet and ankles,
and I'm sure it's much less immoral than being carried in turns. Don't
you think so, Neil?"

"Certainly," I said gravely. "No properly-brought-up girl would
hesitate for a moment."

We argued over the matter at some length: Tommy maintaining that he
was the only one of the three who knew anything about the minds of
really respectable people--a contention which Joyce and I indignantly
disputed. As far as I can remember, we were still discussing the point
when the train ran into Leigh station and pulled up at the platform.

"Here you are," said Tommy, handing me a basket. "You freeze on to
this; it's our lunch. I want to get a couple more cans of paraffin
before we go on board. There is some, but it's just as well to be on
the safe side."

We left the station, and walking a few yards down the hill, pulled up
at a large wooden building which bore the dignified title of "Marine
and Yachting Stores." Here Tommy invested in the paraffin and one or
two other trifles he needed, and then turning off down some slippery
stone steps, we came out on the beach. Before us stretched a long bare
sweep of mud and sand, while out beyond lay the Ray Channel, with a
number of small boats and fishing-smacks anchored along its narrow
course.

"There's the _Betty_," said Tommy, pointing to a smart-looking little
clinker-built craft away at the end of the line. "I've had her painted
since you saw her last."

"And from what I remember, Tommy," I said, "she wanted it--badly."

Joyce seated herself on a baulk of timber and began composedly to take
off her shoes and stockings. "How deep does one sink in?" she asked.
"I don't want to get this skirt dirtier than I can help."

"You'll be all right if you hold it well up," said Tommy, "unless we
happen to strike a quicksand."

"Well, you must go first," said Joyce, "then if we do, Neil and I can
step on you."

Tommy chuckled, and sitting down on the bank imitated Joyce's example,
rolling his trousers up over the knee. I followed suit, and then,
gathering up our various belongings, we started off gingerly across
the mud.

Tommy led the way, his shoes slung over his shoulder, and a tin of
paraffin in each hand. He evidently knew the lie of the land, for he
picked out the firmest patches with remarkable dexterity, keeping
on looking back to make sure that Joyce and I were following in his
footsteps. It was nasty, sloppy walking at the best, however, for
every step one took one went in with a squelch right up to the ankle,
and I think we had all had pretty well enough by the time we reached
the boat. Poor Joyce, indeed, was so exhausted that she had to sit
down on the lunch basket, while Tommy and I, by means of wading out
into the channel, managed to get hold of the dinghy.

Our first job on getting aboard was to wash off the mud. We sat in a
row along the deck with our feet over the side; Tommy flatly refusing
to allow us any farther until we were all properly cleaned. Then,
while Joyce was drying herself and putting on her shoes and stockings,
he and I went down into the cabin and routed out a bottle of whisky
and a siphon of soda from somewhere under the floor.

"What we want," he observed, "is a good stiff peg all round"; and the
motion being carried unanimously as far as Joyce and I were concerned,
three good stiff pegs were accordingly despatched.

"That's better," said Tommy with a sigh. "Now we're on the safe side.
There's many a good yachtsman died of cold through neglecting these
simple precautions." Then jumping up and looking round he added
cheerfully: "We shall be able to sail the whole way up; the wind's
dead east and likely to stay there."

"I suppose you'll take her out on the engine," I said. "This is a nice
useful ditch, but there doesn't seem to be much water in it for fancy
work."

Tommy nodded. "You go and get in the anchor," he said, "and I'll see
if I can persuade her to start. She'll probably break my arm, but
that's a detail."

He opened a locker at the back of the well, and squatted down in front
of it, while I climbed along the deck to the bows and proceeded
to hand in several fathoms of wet and slimy chain. I had scarcely
concluded this unpleasant operation, when with a sudden loud hum the
engine began working, and the next moment we were slowly throbbing our
way forwards down the centre of the channel.

The Ray runs right down to Southend Pier, but there are several narrow
openings out of it connecting with the river. Through one of these
Tommy steered his course, bringing us into the main stream a few
hundred yards down from where we had been lying. Then, turning her
round, he handed the tiller over to Joyce, and clambered up alongside
of me on to the roof of the cabin.

"Come on, Neil," he said. "I've had enough of this penny steamer
business. Let's get out the sails and shove along like gentlemen."

The _Betty's_ rig was not a complicated one. It consisted of a
mainsail, a jib, and a spinnaker, and in a very few minutes we had set
all three of them and were bowling merrily upstream with the dinghy
bobbing and dipping behind us. Tommy jumped down and switched off the
engine, while Joyce, resigning the tiller to me, climbed up and seated
herself on the boom of the mainsail. She had taken off her hat, and
her hair gleamed in the sunshine like copper in the firelight.

I don't think we did much talking for the first few miles: at least I
know I didn't. There is no feeling in the way of freedom quite so fine
as scudding along in a small ship with a good breeze behind you; and
after being cooped up for three years in a prison cell I drank in the
sensation like a man who has been almost dying of thirst might gulp
down his first draught of water. The mere tug of the tiller beneath my
hand filled me with a kind of fierce delight, while the splash of
the water as it rippled past the sides of the boat seemed to me the
bravest and sweetest music I had ever heard.

I think Joyce and Tommy realized something of what I was feeling, for
neither of them made any real attempt at conversation. Now and then
the latter would jump up to haul in or let out the main sheet a
little, and once or twice he pointed out some slight alteration which
had been recently made in the buoying of the river. Joyce sat quite
still for the most part, either smiling happily at me, or else
watching the occasional ships and barges that we passed, most of which
were just beginning to get under way.

We had rounded Canvey Island and left Hole Haven some little distance
behind us, when Tommy, who was leaning over the side staring out
ahead, suddenly turned back to me.

"There's someone coming round the point in a deuce of a hurry," he
remarked. "Steam launch from the look of it. Better give 'em a wide
berth, or we'll have their wash aboard."

I bent down and took a quick glance under the spinnaker boom. A couple
of hundred yards ahead a long, white, vicious-looking craft was racing
swiftly towards us, throwing up a wave on either side of her bows that
spread out fanwise across the river.

I shoved down the helm, and swung the _Betty_ a little off her course
so as to give them plenty of room to go by. They came on without
slackening speed in the least, and passed us at a pace which I
estimated roughly to be about sixteen knots an hour. I caught a
momentary glimpse of a square-shouldered man with a close-trimmed
auburn beard crouching in the stern, and then the next moment a wave
broke right against our bows, drenching all three of us in a cloud of
flying spray.

Tommy swore vigorously. "That's the kind of river-hog who ought to be
choked," he said. "If I--"

He was interrupted by a sudden exclamation from Joyce. She had jumped
up laughing when the spray swept over her, and now, holding on to the
rigging, she was pointing excitedly to something just ahead of us.

"Quick, Tommy!" she said. "There's a man in the water--drowning.
They've swamped his boat."

In a flash Tommy had leaped to the side. "Keep her going," he shouted
to me. "We're heading straight for him." Then scrambing aft he grabbed
hold of the tow rope and swiftly hauled the dinghy alongside.

"I'll pick him up, Tommy," I said quietly. "You look after the boat:
you know her better than I do."

He nodded, and calling to Joyce to take over the tiller sprang up on
to the deck ready to lower the sails. I cast off the painter, all but
one turn, and handing the end to Joyce, told her to let it go as soon
as I shouted. Then, pulling the dinghy right up against the side of
the boat, I waited my chance and dropped down into her.

I was just getting out the sculls, when a sudden shout from Tommy of
"There he is!" made me look hurriedly round. About twenty yards away a
man was splashing feebly in the water, making vain efforts to reach an
oar that was floating close beside him.

"Let her go, Joyce!" I yelled, and the next moment I was tugging
furiously across the intervening space with the loose tow rope
trailing behind me.

I was only just in time. Almost exactly as I reached the man he
suddenly gave up struggling, and with a faint gurgling sort of cry
disappeared beneath the water. I leaned out of the boat, and plunging
my arm in up to the shoulder, clutched him by the collar.

"No, you don't, Bertie," I said cheerfully. "Not this journey."

It's a ticklish business dragging a half-drowned man into a dinghy
without upsetting it, but by getting him down aft, I at last managed
to hoist him up over the gunwale. He came in like some great wet fish,
and I flopped him down in the stern sheets. Then with a deep breath I
sat down myself. I was feeling a bit pumped.

For a moment or two my "catch" lay where he was, blowing, gasping,
grunting, and spitting out mouthfuls of dirty water. He was a little
weazened man of middle age, with a short grizzled beard. Except for
a pair of fairly new sea-boots, he was dressed in old nondescript
clothes which could not have taken much harm even from the Thames mud.
Indeed, on the whole, I should think their recent immersion had done
them good.

"Well," I said encouragingly, "how do you feel?"

With a big effort he raised himself on his elbow. "Right enough,
guv'nor," he gasped, "right enough." Then, sinking back again, he
added feebly: "If you see them oars o' mine, you might pick 'em up."

There was a practical touch about this that rather appealed to me. I
sat up, and, looking round, discovered the _Betty_ about forty yards
away. Tommy had got the sails down and set the engine going, and he
was already turning her round to come back and pick us up. I waved my
hand to him--a greeting which he returned with a triumphant hail.

Standing up, I inspected the surrounding water for any sign of my
guest's belongings. I immediately discovered both oars, which were
drifting upstream quite close to one another and only a few yards
away; but except for them there was no sign of wreckage. His boat and
everything else in it had vanished as completely as a submarine.

I salvaged the oars, however, and had just got them safely on board,
when the _Betty_ came throbbing up, and circled neatly round us.
Tommy, who was steering, promptly shut down the engine to its slowest
pace, and reaching up I grabbed hold of Joyce's hand, which she held
out to me, and pulled the dinghy alongside.

"Very nice, Tommy," I said. "Lipton couldn't have done it better."

"How's the poor man?" asked Joyce, looking down pityingly at my
prostrate passenger.

At the sound of her voice the latter roused himself from his recumbent
position, and made a shaky effort to sit up straight.

"He'll be all right when he's got a little whisky inside him," I said.
"Come on, Tommy; you catch hold, and I'll pass him over."

I stooped down, and, taking him round the waist, lifted him right up
over the gunwale of the _Betty_, where Tommy received him rather like
a man accepting a sack of coals. Then, catching hold of the tow rope,
I jumped up myself, and made the dinghy fast to a convenient cleat.

Tommy dumped down his burden on one of the well seats.

"You've had a precious narrow squeak, my friend," he observed
pleasantly.

The man nodded. "If you hadn't 'a come along as you did, sir, I'd 'ave
bin dead by now--dead as a dog-fish." Then turning round he shook his
gnarled fist over the _Betty's_ stern in the direction of the vanished
launch. "Sunk me wi' their blarsted wash," he quavered; "that's what
they done."

"Well, accidents will happen," I said; "but they were certainly going
much too fast."

"Accidents!" he repeated bitterly; "this warn't no accident. They done
it a purpose--the dirty Dutchmen."

"Sunk you deliberately!" exclaimed Tommy. "What on earth makes you
think that?"

A kind of half-cunning, half-cautious look came into our visitor's
face.

"Mebbe I knows too much to please 'em," he muttered, shaking his head.
"Mebbe they'd be glad to see old Luke Gow under the water."

I thought for a moment that the shock of the accident had made him
silly, but before I could speak Joyce came out of the cabin carrying
half a tumbler of neat whisky.

"You get that down your neck," said Tommy, "and you'll feel like a
two-year-old."

I don't know if whisky is really the correct antidote for Thames
water, but at all events our guest accepted the glass and shifted its
contents without a quiver. As soon as he had finished Tommy took him
by the arm and helped him to his feet.

"Now come along into the cabin," he said, "and I'll see if I can fix
you up with some dry kit." Then turning to me he added: "You might get
the sails up again while we're dressing, Neil; it's a pity to waste
any of this breeze."

I nodded, and resigning the tiller to Joyce, climbed up on to the
deck, and proceeded to reset both the mainsail and the spinnaker,
which were lying in splendid confusion along the top of the cabin.
I had just concluded this operation when Tommy and our visitor
reappeared--the latter looking rather comic in a grey jersey, a pair
of white flannel trousers, and an old dark blue cricketing blazer and
cap.

"I've been telling our friend Mr. Gow that he's got to sue these
chaps," said Tommy. "He knows who they are: they're a couple of
Germans who've got a bungalow on Sheppey, close to that little creek
we used to put in at."

"You make 'em pay," continued Tommy. "They haven't a leg to stand on,
rushing past like that. They as near as possible swamped us."

Mr. Gow cast a critical eye round the _Betty_. "Ay! and you'd take a
deal o' swampin,' mister. She's a fine manly little ship, an' that's a
fact." Then he paused. "It's hard on a man to lose his boat," he added
quietly; "specially when 'is livin' depends on 'er."

"What do you do?" I asked. "What's your job?"

Mr. Gow hesitated for a moment. "Well, in a manner o' speakin', I
haven't got what you might call no reg'lar perfession, sir. I just
picks up what I can outer the river like. I rows folks out to their
boats round Tilbury way, and at times I does a bit of eel fishing--or
maybe in summer there's a job lookin' arter the yachts at Leigh and
Southend. It all comes the same to me, sir."

"Do you know Cunnock Creek?" asked Tommy.

"Cunnock Crick!" repeated Mr. Gow. "Why, I should think I did, sir. My
cottage don't lie more than a mile from Cunnock Crick. Is that where
you're makin' for?"

Tommy nodded. "We were thinking of putting in there," he said. "Is
there enough water?"

"Plenty o' water, sir--leastways there will be by the time we get up.
It runs a bit dry at low tide, but there's always a matter o' three to
four feet in the middle o' the channel."

This was excellent news, for the _Betty_ with her centre-board up only
drew about three feet six, so except at the very lowest point the
creek would always be navigable.

"Is it a safe place to leave a boat for the night with no one on
board?" inquired Tommy.

Mr. Gow shook his head. "I wouldn't go as far as that, sir. None o'
the reg'lar boatmen or fishermen wouldn't touch 'er, but they're a
thievin' lot o' rascals, some o' them Tilbury folk. If they happened
to come across 'er, as like as not they'd strip 'er gear, to say
nothin' of the fittings." Then he paused. "But if you was thinkin' o'
layin' 'er up there for the night, I'd see no one got monkeyin' around
with 'er. I'd sleep aboard meself."

"Well, that's a bright notion," said Tommy, turning to me. "What do
you think, Neil?"

"I think it's quite sound," I answered. "Besides, he can help me look
after her for the next two or three days. I shall be too busy to get
over to the creek much myself." Then putting my hand in my pocket
I pulled out Joyce's envelope, and carefully extracted one of the
five-pound notes from inside. "Look here, Mr. Gow!" I added, "we'll
strike a bargain. If you'll stay with the _Betty_ for a day or so,
I'll give you this fiver to buy or hire another boat with until you
can get your compensation out of our German friends. I shall be living
close by, but I shan't have time to keep my eye on her properly."

Mr. Gow accepted the proposal and the note with alacrity. "I'm sure
I'm very much obliged to you, sir," he said gratefully. "I'll just run
up to my cottage when we land to get some dry clothes, and then I'll
come straight back and take 'er over. She won't come to no harm, not
with Luke Gow on board; you can reckon on that, sir."

He touched his cap, and climbing up out of the well, made his way
forward, as though to signalize the fact that he was adopting the
profession of our paid hand.

"I'm so glad," said Joyce quietly. "I shan't feel half so nervous now
I know you'll have someone with you."

Tommy nodded. "It's a good egg," he observed. "I think old whiskers
is by way of being rather grateful." Then he paused. "But what swine
those German beggars must be not to have stopped! They must have seen
what had happened."

"I wonder what he meant by hinting that they'd done it purposely," I
said.

Tommy laughed. "I don't know. I asked him in the cabin, but he
wouldn't say any more. I think he was only talking through his hat."

"I'm not so sure," I said doubtfully. "He seemed to have some idea at
the back of his mind. I shall sound him about it later on."

With the wind holding good and a strong tide running, the _Betty_
scudded along at such a satisfactory pace that by half-past twelve
we were already within sight of Gravesend Reach. There is no more
desolate-looking bit of the river than the stretch which immediately
precedes that crowded fairway. It is bounded on each side by a low sea
wall, behind which a dreary expanse of marsh and salting spreads away
into the far distance. Here and there the level monotony is broken by
a solitary hut or a disused fishing hulk, but except for the passing
traffic and the cloud of gulls perpetually wheeling and screaming
overhead there is little sign of life or movement.

"You see them two or three stakes stickin' up in the water?" remarked
Mr. Gow suddenly, pointing away towards the right-hand bank.

I nodded.

"Well, you keep 'em in line with that little clump o' trees be'ind,
an' you'll just fetch the crick nicely."

He and Tommy went forward to take in the spinnaker, while, following
the marks he had indicated, I brought the _Betty_ round towards her
destination. Approaching the shore I saw that the entrance to the
creek was a narrow channel between two mud-flats, both of which were
presumably covered at high tide. I called to Joyce to wind up the
centre-board to its fullest extent, and then, steering very carefully,
edged my way in along this drain, while Mr. Gow leaned over to leeward
diligently heaving the lead.

"Plenty o' water," he kept on calling out encouragingly. "Keep 'er
goin', sir, keep 'er goin'. Inside that beacon, now up with 'er a bit.
That's good!"

He discarded the lead and hurried to the anchor. I swung her round
head to wind, Tommy let down the mainsail, and the next moment we
brought up with a grace and neatness that would almost have satisfied
a Solent skipper.

We were in the very centre of a little muddy creek with high banks
on either side of it. There was no other boat within sight; indeed,
although we were within three miles of Tilbury, anything more desolate
than our surroundings it would be difficult to imagine.

Mr. Gow assisted us to furl the sails and put things straight
generally, and then coming aft addressed himself to me.

"I don't know what time you gen'lemen might be thinkin' o' leavin';
but if you could put me ashore now I could be back inside of the
hour."

"Right you are," I said. "I'll do that straight away."

We both got into the dinghy, and in a few strokes I pulled him to the
bank, where he stepped out on to the mud. Then he straightened himself
and touched his cap.

"I haven't never thanked you properly yet, sir, for what you done," he
observed. "You saved my life, and Luke Gow ain't the sort o' man to
forget a thing like that."

I backed the boat off into the stream. "Well, if you'll save our
property from the Tilbury gentlemen," I said, "we'll call it quits."

When I got back to the ship I found Tommy and Joyce making
preparations for lunch.

"We thought you'd like something before you pushed off," said Tommy.
"One can scout better on a full tummy."

"You needn't apologize for feeding me," I replied cheerfully. "I've a
lot of lost time to make up in the eating line."

It was a merry meal, that little banquet of ours in the _Betty's_
cabin. The morning's sail had given us a first-rate appetite, and in
spite of the somewhat unsettled state of our affairs we were all three
in the best of spirits. Indeed, I think the unknown dangers that
surrounded us acted as a sort of stimulant to our sense of pleasure.
When you are sitting over a powder mine it is best to enjoy every
pleasant moment as keenly as possible. You never know when you may get
another.

At last I decided that it was time for me to start.

"I tell you what I think I'll do, Tommy," I said. "I'll see if there's
any way along outside the sea-wall. I could get right up to the place
then without being spotted, if there should happen to be any one
there."

Tommy nodded. "That's the idea," he said. "And look here: I brought
this along for you. I don't suppose you'll want it, but it's a useful
sort of thing to have on the premises."

He pulled out a small pocket revolver, loaded in each chamber, and
handed it over to me.

I accepted it rather doubtfully. "Thanks, Tommy," I said, "but I
expect I should do a lot more damage with my fists."

"Oh, please take it, Neil," said Joyce simply.

"Very well," I answered, and stuffing it into my side pocket, I
buttoned up my coat. "Now, Tommy," I said; "if you'll put me ashore
we'll start work."

It was about a hundred yards to the mouth of the creek, and with the
tide running hard against us it was quite a stiff little pull. Tommy,
however, insisted on taking me the whole way down, just to see whether
there was any chance of getting along outside the sea-wall. We landed
at the extreme point, and jumping out on to the mud, I picked my way
carefully round the corner and stared up the long desolate stretch
of river frontage. The tide was still some way out, and although the
going was not exactly suited to patent-leather boots, it was evidently
quite possible for any one who was not too particular.

I turned round and signalled to Tommy that I was all right; then,
keeping in as close as I could to the sea-wall, I set off on my
journey. It was slow walking, for every now and then I had to climb up
the slope to get out of the way of some hopelessly soft patch of mud.
On one of these occasions, when I had covered about three-quarters of
a mile, I peered cautiously over the top of the bank. Some little
way ahead of me, right out in the middle of the marsh, I saw what I
imagined to be my goal. It was a tiny brick building with a large
wooden shed alongside, the latter appearing considerably the newer and
more sound of the two.

I was inspecting it with the natural interest that one takes in one's
future country house, when quite suddenly I saw the door of the
building opening. A moment later a man stepped out on to the grass,
and looked quickly round as though to make certain that there was no
one watching. Although the distance was about three hundred yards I
recognized him at once.

It was my friend of the restaurant--Mr. Bruce Latimer.

CHAPTER XVI

CONFRONTING THE INTRUDER

The discovery was a beautifully unexpected one, but I was getting used
to surprises by this time. I bobbed down at once behind the sea-wall,
and crouched there for a moment wondering what was the best thing to
do. After what I had found out it seemed hardly probable that Latimer
could be there in the capacity of McMurtrie's caretaker; but if not,
how on earth had he hit upon the place, and what was he doing prowling
about inside it?

Raising myself up again with extreme care I had another look through
the grass. Latimer had left the building and was stooping down
in front of the door of the shed, his attention being obviously
concentrated on the lock. I was rather a long way off, but as far as I
could see he appeared to be trying to slip back the bolt with the aid
of a piece of wire.

I think that decided me. However dangerous it might be to show myself,
it seemed still more risky to allow some one of whose motives I was
at present completely ignorant to inspect my future workshop. Almost
before I realized what I was doing I had slipped over the bank and
dropped down on to the marsh.

The slight noise I made must have reached Latimer's ears, for he
wheeled round with amazing promptness. At the same instant his right
hand travelled swiftly into the side pocket of his coat--a gesture
which I found sufficiently illuminating in view of what I was carrying
myself in a similar place. When he saw how far off I was he seemed
to hesitate for a moment; then pulling out a case he coolly and
deliberately lit himself a cigarette, and after taking a quick glance
round started to stroll slowly towards me. I noticed that he still
kept his hand in his side pocket.

My mind was working pretty rapidly as we approached each other. What
would happen seemed to me to depend chiefly upon whether Latimer had
seen me in the restaurant, and had guessed that it was I who had sent
him the message. If not, it struck me that he must be wondering rather
badly who I was and what connection I had with the hut.

When we were still twenty yards apart he pulled up and waited for me,
smoking his cigarette with every appearance of tranquil enjoyment.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said in a pleasant, lazy voice, "but I
wonder if you could tell me who this building belongs to?"

I came to a halt right in front of him. "Well," I replied boldly,
"until I saw you coming out of the door just now I was under the
impression that I was the legal tenant."

He smiled, and taking off his hat made me a slight bow.

"I must really beg your pardon," he said. "I was trespassing
shamelessly. The fact of the matter is that I am acting on behalf of
the District Surveyor, and finding the door open and being unable to
get any answer, I took the liberty of looking inside."

If ever in my life I felt confident that a man was telling me a lie it
was at that moment, but my belief was certainly due to no fault of Mr.
Latimer's. He spoke with a coolness and an apparent candour that would
have done credit to a Cabinet Minister.

"The District Surveyor!" I repeated. "And what does that distinguished
person want with me?"

Mr. Latimer made a gesture towards the hut with his disengaged hand.
"It's nothing of any real importance," he said, "but you appear to
have been making some slight alterations here. This wooden building--"

"It's only a temporary structure," I interrupted.

He nodded. "Quite so. Still there are certain bye-laws which we have
to see attended to. The Surveyor happened to notice it the other day
when he was passing, and he asked me to find out the exact purpose it
was intended for. We are bound to make some restrictions about wooden
buildings on account of the extra chance of their catching fire."

The idea of the District Surveyor being seriously perturbed over the
possibility of my being roasted alive struck me as rather improbable,
but I was careful not to give any impression of doubting the
statement.

"As a matter of fact," I said, "there is no chance of a tragedy
of that sort. I have taken the place to make a few experiments
in connection with photography. The stuff I am using is quite
uninflammable."

All the time I was speaking I was watching him carefully to see if
I could detect the least sign of his recognizing me. For any such
indication, however, we might have been utter strangers.

He accepted my falsehood as politely as I had received his.

"Well, in that case," he said, with a smile, "there is really no need
for me to bother you any further. I will tell the Surveyor that you
are a strictly law-abiding citizen. Meanwhile"--he stepped back and
again raised his hat--"let me apologize once more for having broken
into your place."

Whether there was any deliberate irony in his remark I was unable to
guess; his manner at all events gave no hint of it.

"You needn't apologize," I returned artlessly. "It was my own fault
for leaving the door open."

I thought I saw the faintest possible quiver at the corner of his
lips, but if so it was gone again at once.

"Yes," he said gravely. "You will find it safer to keep the place
locked up. Good-day, sir."

"Good-day," I replied, and turning deliberately away from him I
sauntered off towards the hut.

I did not look round until I had reached the door; and even then I
made a pretence of dropping my keys and stooping to pick them up. The
precaution, however, seemed a little superfluous. Mr. Latimer was some
thirty or forty yards away, walking inland across the marsh in the
direction of Tilbury. I couldn't help wondering whether he had noticed
the mast of the _Betty_, which was just visible in the distance,
sticking up demurely above the bank of the creek.

I stepped inside the hut--it was really little more than a hut--and
closed the door. The first impression I received was one of being back
in my prison cell. The only light in the place filtered in through a
tiny and very dirty window, which looked out in the direction that
Latimer had taken. For the rest, as soon as my eyes were used to the
gloom, I made out a camp bed with blankets on it, a small wooden table
and chair, a jug and basin, and in the farther corner of the room a
miscellaneous collection of cooking and eating utensils. There was
also a large wooden box which I imagined to contain food.

I took in all this practically at a glance, for my mind was still too
occupied with my late visitor to trouble much about anything else.

I sat down on the bed and tried to think out the situation clearly.
There could be no doubt that Latimer had been spying on the place,
if such an unpleasant word could be applied to a gentleman who was
supposed to be in Government service. The question was, what did he
suspect? I had pretty good evidence that he was up against McMurtrie
and the others in some shape or other, and presumably it was on
account of my connection with them that I had been favoured with his
attentions. Still, this didn't seem to make the situation any the more
cheerful for me. If Latimer was really a secret-service man, as some
one had told Tommy, it stood to reason that I must be assisting in
some particularly shady and dangerous sort of enterprise. I had no
special objection to this from the moral point of view, but on the
other hand I certainly didn't want to throw away my hardly-won liberty
before I had had the satisfaction of settling accounts with George.

I debated with myself whether it would be best to let McMurtrie know
that the place was being watched. To a certain extent his interests in
the matter seemed to be identical with mine, but my mistrust of him
was still strong enough to make me hesitate. Beyond his bare word and
that of Sonia I had no proof as yet that he intended to play straight
with me.

One thing appeared certain, and that was that Latimer had failed to
recognize me as the man who had sent him the warning at Parelli's. In
a way this gave me an advantage, but it was a forlorn enough sort of
advantage in view of the unknown dangers by which I was surrounded.

I got up off the bed, feeling anything but comfortable, and going to
the door had another look round. Latimer had disappeared behind the
thin belt of trees that fringed the Tilbury road, and so far as I
could see there was no one else about. Getting out my keys, I walked
along to the shed and opened the door.

If my living accommodation was a trifle crude, McMurtrie had certainly
made up for it here. He had evidently carried out my instructions
with the most minute care and an absolute disregard for expense. Lead
tanks, sinks, chemicals, an adequate water supply in the shape of
a pump--everything I had asked for seemed to have been provided. I
looked round the large, clean, well-lighted place with a sensation of
intense satisfaction. The mere sight of all these preparations made me
ache to begin work, for I was consumed with the impatience that any
inventor would feel who had been compelled to leave a big discovery on
the very verge of completion.

Coming out, I closed the door again, and carefully turned the key
behind me. Then walking back to the hut I locked that up as well. I
hadn't the faintest belief in Latimer's story about finding the place
open, and apart from making things safe I certainly didn't want to
leave any traces of my surprise visit. From what I knew of McMurtrie
I felt sure that he had left somebody in charge, and that in all
probability Latimer had merely taken advantage of their temporary
absence.

After a last glance all round, to make sure that the coast was still
clear, I walked rapidly down to the sea-wall and scrambled up on to
the top. The tide had risen a bit, but there was just room to get
along, so jumping down I set off on my return journey.

There was something very cheering and reassuring in the sight of the
_Betty_ riding easily at her anchor, as I made my way round the mouth
of the creek. Tommy and Joyce were both on deck: the former in his
shirt-sleeves, swabbing down his new paint with a wet mop. Directly
he saw me he abandoned the job to Joyce, and with a wave of his hand
proceeded to get out the dinghy. A minute later he was pulling for the
shore.

"All serene?" he inquired calmly, as he ran the boat up to where I was
standing.

"Yes," I said. "We needn't hurry; there's no one chasing me." Then
pushing her off the mud I jumped in. "I'll tell you the news," I
added, "when we get on board."

We headed off for the _Betty_, and as we came alongside and I handed
up the painter to Joyce, I felt rather like the raven must have
done when he returned to the Ark. As far as peace and security were
concerned, my outside world seemed to be almost as unsatisfactory as
his.

"How have you got on?" demanded Joyce eagerly.

I climbed up on to the deck.

"I've had quite an interesting time," I said. Then I paused and looked
round the boat. "Is Mr. Gow back?" I inquired.

Tommy shook his head. "Not yet. I expect he's blueing some of that
fiver in anticipation."

"Come and sit down, then," I said, "and I'll tell you all about it."

They both seated themselves beside me on the edge of the well, and
in as few words as possible I let them have the full story of my
adventures. At the first mention of Latimer's name Tommy indulged in a
low whistle, but except for that non-committal comment they listened
to me in silence.

Joyce was the first to speak when I had finished.

"It's hateful, isn't it?" she said. "I feel as if we were fighting in
the dark."

"That's just what we are doing," answered Tommy, "but we're letting in
a bit of light by degrees though." Then he turned to me. "McMurtrie's
got some game on, evidently, and this chap Latimer's dropped on it.
That was why they tried to put him out of the way."

"Yes," I said, "and if Latimer is really in the secret service, it
must be a precious queer sort of game too."

Tommy nodded. "I wonder if they're anarchists," he said, after a
short pause. "Perhaps they want your powder to blow up the Houses of
Parliament or the Law Courts with."

I laughed shortly. "No," I said. "Whatever McMurtrie's after, it's
nothing so useful and unselfish as that. If I thought it was I
shouldn't worry."

"Well, there's only one thing to do," observed Tommy, after a pause,
"and that's to go and look up Latimer, as I suggested. You're sure he
didn't recognize you?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm sure of nothing about him," I replied,
"except that he's a superb liar."

"We must risk it anyhow," said Tommy. "He's the only person who knows
anything of what's going on, and he evidently wants to find out who
sent him that note, or he wouldn't have answered it as he did. He'll
have to give me some sort of explanation if I go and see him. I
shall rub it into him that my supposed pal is a perfectly sensible,
unimaginative sort of chap--and anyway people don't invent a yarn like
that."

"Look!" interrupted Joyce suddenly. "Isn't that Mr. Gow coming along
by those trees?"

She pointed away down the creek, and following her direction I saw the
figure of our trusty retainer trudging back towards the ship, with a
bundle over his shoulder. He had exchanged Tommy's picturesque outfit
for some garments of his own, more in keeping with his new and
dignified position.

"I'll pick him up," I said; "but what are we going to do about getting
back? We had better not try Tilbury, or we may run into Latimer; it
would put the hat on everything if he saw us together."

Tommy consulted his watch. "It's just half-past three now," he said.
"I vote we run across to Gravesend and catch the train there. Old
Whiskers can bring the boat back here after we've gone--if he's still
sober."

"Of course he's sober," said Joyce; "look at the beautiful way he's
walking."

I should hardly have applied quite such a complimentary adjective to
Mr. Gow's gait myself, but all the same Joyce's diagnosis proved to
be quite correct. Mr. Gow was sober--most undoubtedly and creditably
sober. I rowed to the bank, and brought him on board, and when we told
him of our plans he expressed himself as being perfectly competent to
manage the return journey single-handed.

"You leave 'er to me," he remarked consolingly. "I shan't want no
help--not to bring 'er in here. Some people don't hold with being
alone in a boat, but that ain't Luke Gow's way."

He went forward to get up the anchor, while Tommy and I occupied
ourselves with the exciting sport of trying to start the engine. It
went off at last with its usual vicious kick, and a few minutes later
we were throbbing our way out of the creek into the main river.

The tide was right at its highest, and down the centre of the fairway
straggled a long procession of big hooting steamers, sluggish
brown-sailed barges, and small heavily-burdened tugs, puffing out
their usual trails of black smoke. One felt rather like a terrier
trying to cross Piccadilly, but by waiting for our chance we dodged
through without disaster, and pulled up in a comparatively tranquil
spot off the Gravesend landing-stage.

Tommy signalled to one of the boatmen who were hanging about the steps
waiting for stray passengers.

"This chap will take us off," he said, turning to Mr. Gow. "You push
straight back while the engine's running; she usually stops when we've
got about as far as this."

"And I'll come over to the creek some time tomorrow," I added; though
in my present circumstances a confident prophecy of any kind seemed a
trifle rash.

We went ashore and stood for a moment on the stage watching the
_Betty_ thread her course back through the traffic. Mr. Gow seemed
to handle her with perfect confidence, and relieved on this point we
turned round and set off for the station.

We found ourselves in luck's way. An unusually obliging train was due
to start in ten minutes' time, and as before we managed to secure an
empty compartment.

"I tell you what I want you to do when we get back to town, Joyce," I
said. "I want you to help me buy a hat."

"What's the matter with the one you're wearing?" demanded Tommy. "It
just suits your savage style of beauty."

"Oh, this new one isn't for me," I explained. "It's for a lady--a lady
friend, as we say."

"I didn't know you had any," said Joyce, "except me and Sonia."

I smiled arrogantly. "You underrate my attractions," I replied.
"Haven't I told you about Miss Gertie 'Uggins?" Then I proceeded to
sketch in Gertrude as well as I could, finishing up with the story of
her spirited determination to spend the five shillings I had given her
on a really fashionable head-dress.

Tommy slapped his leg and chuckled. "I believe any woman would starve
herself to death for something new to wear," he remarked.

"Of course she would," said Joyce with spirit--"any decent woman."
Then she turned to me. "I think it's sweet, Neil; I shall give her a
new hat myself, just because she loves you."

Tommy laughed again. "You'll find that an expensive hobby to keep up,
Joyce," he said. "You'll have to start a bonnet-shop."

All the way back to town we talked and joked in much the same strain,
as cheerfully as though none of us had a care in the world. If there
had been a stranger in the carriage listening to us, he would, I
think, have found it impossible to believe that I was Neil Lyndon,
the much-wanted convict, and that Tommy and Joyce were engaged in the
criminal pursuit of helping me avoid the police. No doubt, as I said
before, the very danger and excitement of our position accounted to
some extent for our high spirits, but in my case they were due even
more to a natural reaction from the misery of the last three years.
Ever since I had met Tommy and Joyce again I seemed to have been
shedding flakes off the crust of bitterness and hatred which had built
itself up round my soul.

Even my feelings towards George were slowly becoming less murderous.
I was still as determined as ever to get at the truth of his amazing
treachery if I could; but the savage loathing that I had previously
cherished for him was gradually giving place to a more healthy
sensation of contempt. I felt now that, whatever his motives may have
been, there would be far more satisfaction in kicking him than in
killing him. Besides, the former process was one that under favourable
circumstances could be repeated indefinitely.

"You're spending the evening with me, Neil, of course," observed
Tommy, as we drew into Charing Cross.

I nodded. "We'll take a taxi and buy the hat somewhere, and then drop
Joyce at Chelsea. After that I am open to any dissipation."

"Only keep away from the Savoy," said Joyce. "I am making my great
surrender there, and it would hamper me to have you and Tommy about."

We promised to respect her privacy, and then, getting out of the
train, which had drawn up in the station, we hailed a taxi and climbed
quickly into it. Charing Cross is the last place to dawdle in if you
have any objection to being recognized.

"Shall we be able to write to you?" asked Joyce. "I shall want to tell
you about George, and Tommy will want to let you know how he gets on
with Latimer. Of course I'm coming down to the boat in a day or two;
but all sorts of things may happen before then."

I thought rapidly for a moment. "Write to me at the Tilbury
post-office," I said. "Only don't make a mistake and address the
letter to Neil Lyndon. Too much excitement isn't good for a Government
official."

Tommy laughed. "It's just the sort of damn silly thing I should
probably have done," he said. "Can't you imagine the postmaster's face
when he read the envelope? I should like to paint it as a Christmas
supplement to the _Graphic_."

"Where did you tell the man to stop, Joyce?" I asked.

"Holland's," said Joyce. "I am going to buy Gertie a really splendid
hat--something with birds and flowers on it. I am sure I know just
what she'll think beautiful. I suppose I had better tell them to send
it round to you at Edith Terrace. You won't want to carry it about
London."

"Not unless Tommy likes to wear it," I said. "I think I'm disguised
enough as it is."

We pulled up outside Mr. Holland's imposing shop-front, and Joyce,
who was sitting next the door, got up from her seat. Then she leaned
forward and kissed me.

"Good-bye, Neil," she said. "I shall come down on Tuesday and go
straight to the _Betty_, unless I hear anything special from you
before then." She paused. "And oh, dear Neil," she added, "you will be
careful, won't you? If anything was to happen now, I believe I should
kill George and jump into the Thames."

"In that case," I said, "I shall be discretion itself. I couldn't
allow George anything like so charming an end; it would be quite
wasted on him."

Joyce smiled happily and, opening the door, jumped out on to the
pavement. "You keep the taxi on," she said. "I shall take a bus home.
I can't be hurried over buying a hat--even if it's for Gertie. Where
shall I tell the man to go to?"

"Better say the Studio," answered Tommy. "We both want a wash and a
drink before we start dissipating."

For an escaped murderer and his guilty accessory, I am afraid that our
dissipation proved to be rather a colourless affair. Tommy had always
had simple tastes in the way of amusement, and even if it had been
safe for us to parade the West End in each other's company, I
certainly had no wish to waste my time over a theatre or anything of
that sort. I found that real life supplied me with all the drama I
needed just at present.

What we actually did was to dine quietly in a little out-of-the-way
restaurant just off Sloane Square, and then play billiards for the
remainder of the evening in a room above a neighbouring tavern. We had
several most exciting games. In old days I had been able to beat
Tommy easily, but owing to a regrettable oversight on the part of the
Government there is no table at Princetown, and in consequence I was
rather short of practice.

Afterwards Tommy walked with me as far as Victoria, where we discussed
such arrangements for the future as we were in a position to make.

"I'll write to you, anyway, Neil," he said, "as soon as I've tackled
Latimer; and I'll probably come down with Joyce on Tuesday. If you
want me any time before, send me a wire."

I nodded. "You'll be more useful to me in London, Tommy," I said.
"All the threads of the business are up here. McMurtrie--Latimer--
George"--I paused--"I'd give something to know what those three do
between them," I added regretfully.

Tommy gripped my hand. "It's all right, old son," he said. "I'm not
much of a believer in inspirations and all that sort of rot, but
somehow or other I'm dead certain we're going to win out. I've had a
feeling like that ever since the trial--and so has Joyce."

"Thanks, Tommy," I said briefly. "You'd give a jellyfish a
backbone--you two."

And with a last squeeze of the hand I left him standing there, and set
off across the station for Edith Terrace.

It was close on midnight when I got back, and every one in the house
seemed to have gone to bed. The light had been put out in the hall,
but the door of my sitting-room was partly open, and a small jet of
gas was flickering away over the fireplace. I turned this up and,
looking round, discovered a large box with Holland's label on it,
a note, and a half-sheet of paper--all decorating the table in the
centre of the room.

I examined the half-sheet of paper first. It contained several dirty
thumb-marks and the following message, roughly scrawled in pencil:

"sir the lady with the hat cum for you about for aclock i told her as
you was out and she rote this leter gerty."

Hastily picking up the envelope, I slit open the flap, and pulled out
the "leter" from inside. It covered two sides, and was written in
Sonia's curious, sloping, foreign-looking hand.

"I have to go away with my father until the end of next week. By that
time, if you have succeeded with your invention, there will be nothing
to stop our plans. I would have explained everything to you today if
you had been here. As it is, _on no account give your secret to any
one_ until I have seen you. I shall come down to Tilbury either on
Friday or Saturday, and within a few hours we can be utterly beyond
the reach of any further danger or difficulties. Until then, my
lover--SONIA."

I read it through twice, and then slowly folding it up, thrust it back
into the envelope.

"It seems to me," I said, "that I'm going to have quite an interesting
house-party."

CHAPTER XVII

THE WORKSHOP ON THE MARSHES

I gave Gertie her hat next morning when she brought me up my
breakfast. It was a gorgeous thing--rather the shape of a dustman's
helmet, with a large scarlet bird nestling on one side of it,
sheltered by some heavy undergrowth. Gertie's face, as I pulled it out
of the box, was a study in about eight different emotions.

"Oo--er," she gasped faintly. "That ain't never for me."

"Yes, it is, Gertrude," I said. "It was specially chosen for you by a
lady of unimpeachable taste."

I held it out to her, and she accepted it with shaking hands, like a
newly-made peeress receiving her tiara.

"My Gawd," she whispered reverently; "ain't it just a dream!"

To be perfectly honest, it seemed to me more in the nature of a
nightmare, but wild horses wouldn't have dragged any such hostile
criticism out of me.

"I think it will suit you very nicely, Gertie," I said. "It's got just
that dash of colour which Edith Terrace wants."

"Yer reely mean it?" she asked eagerly. "Yer reely think I'll look orl
right in it? 'Course it do seem a bit funny like with this 'ere frock,
but I got a green velveteen wot belonged to Mrs. Oldbury's niece. It
won't 'alf go with that."

"It won't indeed," I agreed heartily. Then, looking up from my eggs
and bacon, I added: "By the way, Gertie, I've never thanked you for
your letter. I had no idea you could, write so well."

"Go on!" said Gertie doubtfully; "you're gettin' at me now."

"No, I'm not," I answered. "It was a very nice letter. It said just
what you wanted to say and nothing more. That's the whole art of good
letter-writing." Then a sudden idea struck me. "Look here, Gertie," I
went on, "will you undertake a little job for me if I explain it to
you?"

She nodded. "Oo--rather. I'd do any think for you."

"Well, it's something I may want you to do for me after I've left."

Her face fell. "You ain't goin' away from 'ere--not for good?"

"Not entirely for good," I said. "I hope to do a certain amount of
harm to at least one person before I come back." I paused. "It's just
possible," I continued, "that after I've gone somebody may come to
the house and ask questions about me--how I spent my time while I was
here, and that sort of thing. If they should happen to ask you, I want
you to tell them that I used to stay in bed most of the day and go to
the theatre in the evening. Do you mind telling a lie for me?"

Gertie looked at me in obvious amazement. "I _don't_ think," she
observed. "Wotjer taike me for--a Sunday-school teacher?"

"No, Gertie," I said gravely; "no girl with your taste in hats could
possibly be a Sunday-school teacher." Then pushing away my plate and
lighting a cigarette, I added: "I'll leave you a stamped addressed
envelope and a telegraph form. You can send me the wire first to say
if any one has called, and then write me a line afterwards by post
telling me what they were like and what they said."

"I can do that orl right," she answered eagerly. "If they talks to
Mrs. Oldbury I'll listen at the keyhole."

I nodded. "It's a practice that the best moralists condemn," I said,
"but after all, the recording angel does it." Then getting up from
the table, I added: "You might tell Mrs. Oldbury I should like to see
her."

When that good lady arrived I acquainted her with the fact that I
intended to leave her house in about two hours' time. Any resentment
which she might have felt over this slightly abrupt departure was
promptly smoothed away by my offer to take on the rooms for at least
another fortnight. I did this partly with the object of leaving a
pleasant impression behind me, and partly because I had a vague idea
that it might come in handy to have some sort of headquarters in
London where I was known and recognized as Mr. James Nicholson.

Having settled up this piece of business I sat down and wrote to
McMurtrie. It was a task which required a certain amount of care and
delicacy, but after two trial essays I succeeded in turning out the
following letter, which seemed to me about to meet the situation.

"DEAR DR. McMURTRIE:

"As you have probably heard, I received your letter yesterday, and I
am making arrangements to go down to Tilbury tomorrow by the 11.45.

"Of course in a way I am sorry to leave London--it's extraordinary
what a capacity for pleasure a prolonged residence in the country
gives one--but at the same time I quite agree with you that business
must come first.

"I shall start work directly I get down, and if all the things I asked
for in my list have been provided, I don't think it will be long
before I have some satisfactory news for you. Unless I see you or hear
from you before then I will write to the Hotel Russell directly there
is anything definite to communicate.

"Meanwhile please give my kind regards to your amiable friend and
colleague, and also remember me to his charming daughter.

"Believe me,

"Yours sincerely,

"JAMES NICHOLSON."

With its combined touch of seriousness and flippancy, this appeared to
me exactly the sort of letter that McMurtrie would expect me to write.
I couldn't resist putting in the bit about his "amiable" friend, for
the recollection of Savaroff's manner towards me still rankled gently
in my memory. Besides I had a notion it would rather amuse McMurtrie,
whose more artistic mind must have been frequently distressed by his
colleague's blustering surliness.

I could think of nothing else which required my immediate attention,
so going into my bedroom I proceeded to pack up my belongings. I put
in everything I possessed with the exception of Savaroff's discarded
garments, for although I was keeping on the rooms I had no very robust
faith in my prospects of ever returning to them. Then, ringing the
bell, I despatched Gertrude to fetch me a taxi, while I settled up my
bill with Mrs. Oldbury.

"An' seem' you've taken on the rooms, sir," observed that lady, "I
'opes it's to be a case of 'say orrivar an' not good-bye.'"

"I hope it is, Mrs. Oldbury," I replied. "I shall come back if I
possibly can, but one never knows what may happen in life."

She shook her head sombrely. "Ah, you're right there, sir. An' curious
enough that's the very identical remark my late 'usband was ser fond
o' makin'. I remember 'is sayin' it to me the very night before 'e was
knocked down by a bus. Knocked down in Westminister 'e was, and runned
over the body by both 'ind wheels. 'E never got over it--not as you
might say reely got over it. If ever 'e ate cheese after that it
always give 'im a pain in 'is stomick."

An apropos remark about "come wheel come woe" flashed into my mind,
but before I could frame it in properly sympathetic language, a taxi
drew up at the door with Gertie 'Uggins installed in state alongside
the driver.

Both she and Mrs. Oldbury stood on the step, and waved farewell to me
as I drove down the street. I was quite sorry to leave them. I felt
that they both liked me in their respective ways, and my present list
of amiably disposed acquaintances was so small that I objected to
curtailing it by the most humble member.

All the way to Tilbury I occupied myself with the hackneyed but
engrossing pursuit of pondering over my affairs. Apart from my own
private interest in the matter, which after all was a fairly poignant
one, the mysterious adventure in which I was involved filled me with
a profound curiosity. Latimer's dramatic re-entry on to the scene had
thrown an even more sinister complexion over the whole business than
it boasted before, and, like a man struggling with a jig-saw problem,
I tried vainly to fit together the various pieces into some sort of
possible solution.

I was still engaged in this interesting occupation when the train ran
into Tilbury station. Without waiting for a porter I collected my
various belongings, and stepped out on to the platform.

McMurtrie had told me in his letter that he would arrange for some
one to meet me; and looking round I caught sight of a burly red-faced
gentleman in a tight jacket and a battered straw hat, sullenly eyeing
the various passengers who had alighted. I walked straight up to him.

"Are you waiting for me--Mr. James Nicholson?" I asked.

He looked me up and down in a kind of familiar fashion that distinctly
failed to appeal to me.

"That's right," he said. Then as a sort of afterthought he added, "I
gotter trap outside."

"Have you?" I said. "I've got a couple of bags inside, so you'd better
come and catch hold of one of them."

His unpleasantly red face grew even redder, and for a moment he seemed
to meditate some spirited answer. Then apparently he thought better of
it, and slouching after me up the platform, possessed himself of the
larger and heavier of my two bags, which I had carefully left for him.

The trap proved to be a ramshackle affair with an ill-kept but
powerful-looking horse between the shafts. I climbed up, and as I took
my seat I observed to my companion that I wished first of all to call
at the post-office.

"I dunno nothin' 'bout that," he grunted, flicking his whip. "My
orders was to drive you to Warren's Copse."

"I don't care in the least what your orders were," I answered. "You
can either go to the post-office or else you can go to the Devil.
There are plenty of other traps in Tilbury."

He was evidently unused to this crisp style of dialogue, for after
glaring at me for a moment in a sort of apoplectic amazement he jerked
his horse round and proceeded slowly down the street.

"'Ave it yer own way," he muttered.

"I intend to," I said cheerfully.

We pulled up at the post-office, a large red-brick building in the
main street, and leaving my disgruntled friend sitting in the trap,
I jumped out and pushed open the swing door. Except for an
intelligent-looking clerk behind the counter the place was empty.

"Good-morning," I said. "I wonder if you could help me out of a slight
difficulty about my letters?"

"What sort of a difficulty?" he inquired civilly.

"Well, for the next week or two," I said, "I shall be living in a
little hut on the marshes about two miles to the east from here, and
quite close to the sea-wall. I am making a few chemical experiments in
connection with photography" (a most useful lie this), "and I've told
my friends to write or send telegrams here--to the post-office. I
wondered, if anything should come for me, whether you had a special
messenger or any one who could bring it over. I would be delighted to
pay him his proper fee and give him something extra for his trouble.
My name is Nicholson--Mr. James Nicholson."

The man hesitated for a moment. "I don't think there will be any
difficulty about that--not if you leave written instructions. I shall
have to ask the postmaster when he comes in, but I'm pretty certain it
will be all right."

I thanked him, and after writing out exactly what I wanted done, I
returned to my friend in the trap, who, to judge from his expression,
did not appear to have benefited appreciably from my little lesson in
patience and politeness. Under the circumstances I decided to extend
it.

"I am going across the street to get some things I want," I observed.
"You can wait here."

He made an unpleasant sound in his throat, which I think he intended
for an ironical laugh. "Wot you want's a bus," he remarked; "a bus an'
a bell an' a ruddy conductor."

I came quite close and looked up into his face, smiling. "What you
want," I said quietly, "is a damned good thrashing, and if I have any
more of your insolence I'll pull you down out of the trap and give you
one."

I think something in my voice must have told him I was speaking the
literal truth, for although his mouth opened convulsively it closed
again without any audible response.

I strolled serenely across the road to where I saw an "Off-Licence."
I had acted in an indiscreet fashion, but whatever happened I was
determined to put up with no further rudeness from anybody. I had had
all the discourtesy I required during my three years in Princetown.

My purchases at the Off-Licence consisted of three bottles of whisky
and two more of some rather obscure brand of champagne. It was
possible, of course, that McMurtrie's ideas of catering included such
luxuries, but there seemed no reason for running any unnecessary risk.
As a prospective host it was clearly my duty to take every reasonable
precaution.

Armed with my spoils I returned to the trap, and stored them away
carefully beneath the seat. Then I climbed up alongside the driver.

"Now you can go to Warren's Copse," I said; and without making any
reply the tomato-faced gentleman jerked round his horse's head, and
back we went up the street.

I can't say it was exactly an hilarious drive. I felt cheerful enough
myself, but my companion maintained a depressed and lowering silence,
broken only by an occasional inward grunt, or a muttered curse at
the horse. It struck me as curious and not a little sinister that
McMurtrie should be employing such an uncouth ruffian, but I supposed
that he had some sound reason for his choice. I couldn't imagine
McMurtrie doing anything without a fairly sound reason.

Within about ten minutes of leaving the town, we came out on to the
main road that bounded the landward side of the marshes. I caught
sight of my future home looking very small and desolate against the
long stretch of sea-wall, and far in the distance I could just discern
the mast of the _Betty_ still tapering up above the bank of the creek.
It was comforting to know that so far at all events Mr. Gow had
neither sunk her nor pawned her.

Warren's Copse proved to be the small clump of trees that I had
noticed on the previous day, and my driver pulled up there and jerked
the butt of his whip in the direction of the hut.

"There y'are," he said. "We can't get no nearer than this."

There was a good distance to walk across the marsh, and for a moment I
wondered whether to insist upon his getting out and carrying one of
my bags, I decided, however, that I had had quite enough of the surly
brute's company, so jumping down, I took out my belongings, and told
him that he was at liberty to depart.

He drove off without a word, but he had not gone more than about
thirty yards when he suddenly turned in his seat and called out a
parting observation.

"I ain't afraid o' you--you--'ulkin' bully!" he shouted; "an' don't
you think it neither."

Then, whipping up the horse, he broke into a smart canter, and
disappeared round a bend in the road.

When I had done laughing, I shoved a bottle into each side pocket, and
stowed away the other three in the emptier of my two bags. The latter
were no light weight to lug along, and by the time I had covered the
half-mile of marsh that separated me from the hut I had come to the
conclusion that the profession of a railway porter was one that I
should never adopt as a private hobby.

As soon as I unlocked the door, I saw that I had not been far wrong in
my guess about a caretaker on the previous afternoon. Some one, at all
events, had been there in the interval, for the pile of cooking and
eating utensils were now arranged on a rough shelf at the back, while
the box which I had noticed had been unpacked and its contents set out
on the kitchen table.

I glanced over them with some interest. There were packets of tea and
sugar, several loaves of bread, and a number of gaily-coloured tins,
containing such luxuries as corned beef, condensed milk, tongue,
potted meat, and golden syrup. Except for the tea, however, there
seemed to be a regrettable dearth of liquid refreshments, and I
mentally thanked Providence for my happy inspiration with regard to
the Off-Licence.

I pottered about a bit, unpacking my own belongings, and putting
things straight generally. As I seemed likely to be spending some time
in the place, I thought I might as well make everything as comfortable
and tidy as possible to start with; and, thanks to my combined
experience of small boats and prison cells, I flatter myself I made
rather a good job of it.

By the time I had finished I was feeling distinctly hungry. I opened
one of the tongues, and with the additional aid of bread and whisky
made a simple but satisfying lunch. Then I sat down on the bed and
treated myself to a pipe before going across to the shed to start
work. Smoking in business hours is one of those agreeable luxuries
which an inventor of high explosives finds it healthier to deny
himself.

I could see no sign of any one about when I went outside. Except for
a few gulls, which were wheeling backwards and forwards over the
sea-wall, I seemed to have the whole stretch of marsh and saltings
entirely to myself. Some people, I suppose, would have found the
prospect a depressing one, but I was very far from sharing any such
opinion. I like marsh scenery, and for the present at all events I
was fully able to appreciate the charms which sages of all times are
reported to have discovered in solitude.

I shall never forget the feeling of satisfaction with which I
closed the door of the shed behind me and looked round its clean,

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