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A Rogue by Compulsion by Victor Bridges

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well-lighted interior. A careful examination soon showed me that
McMurtrie's share in the work had been done as thoroughly and
conscientiously as I had imagined from my brief inspection on the
previous day. Everything I had asked for was lying there in readiness,
and, much as I disliked and mistrusted the doctor, it was not without
a genuine sensation of gratitude that I hung up my coat and proceeded
to set to work.

Briefly speaking, my new discovery was an improvement on the famous C.
powder, invented by Lemartre. It was derived from the aromatic series
of nitrates (which that great scientist always insisted to be the
correct basis for stable and powerful explosives), but it owed its
enormously increased force to a fresh constituent, the introduction
of which was entirely my own idea. I had been working at it for about
nine months before my arrest, and after several disappointing failures
I had just succeeded in achieving what I believed to be my object,
when my experiments had been so unkindly interrupted.

Still, all that remained now was comparatively clear sailing. I had
merely to follow out my former process, and I had taken care to order
the various ingredients in as fully prepared a state as possible for
immediate use. I had also taken care to include one or two other
articles, which as a matter of fact had nothing on earth to do with
the business in hand. It was just as well, I felt, to obscure matters
a trifle, in case any inquiring mind might attempt to investigate my
secret.

For hour after hour I worked on, sorting out my various chemicals, and
preparing such methods of treatment as were necessary in each case. I
was so interested in my task that I paid no attention at all to the
time, until with something of a shock I suddenly realized that the
light was beginning to fail. Looking at my watch I found that it was
nearly half-past seven.

There was still a certain amount to do before I could knock off, so,
stopping for a moment to mix myself a well-earned whisky-and-water, I
switched on the two electric head-lights which McMurtrie had provided
as a means of illumination. With the aid of these I continued my
labours for perhaps another hour and a half, at the end of which
time I began to feel that a little rest and refreshment would be an
agreeable variation in the programme.

After making sure that everything was safe, I turned out the lights,
and locking up the door, walked back to the hut. I was just entering,
when it suddenly struck me that instead of dining in solitary state
off tongue and bread, I might just as well stroll over to the _Betty_
and take my evening repast in the engaging company of Mr. Gow.

No sooner had this excellent idea entered my head than I decided to
put it into practice. The moon was out, and there appeared to be
enough light to see my way by the old route along the river shore,
so, walking down to the sea-wall, I climbed over, and set off in the
direction of the creek.

It was tricky sort of work, with fine possibilities of spraining
one's ankle about it, but by dint of "going delicately," like Agag, I
managed to reach the end of my journey without disaster. As I rounded
the bend I saw the _Betty_ lying out in mid-stream, bathed in a most
becoming flood of moonlight. A closer observation showed me the head
and shoulders of Mr. Gow protruding from the fo'c's'le hatch.

He responded to my hail by scrambling up on deck and lowering himself
into the dinghy, which with a few vigorous jerks he brought to the
shore.

"I've come to have supper with you, Mr. Gow," I observed. "Have you
got anything to eat?"

He touched his cap and nodded. "I says to meself it must be you, sir,
d'rectly I heard you comin' round the crick. There ain't much comp'ny
'bout here at night-time."

"Nor in the daytime either," I added, pushing the boat off from the
bank.

"And that's a fact, sir," he remarked, settling down to the oars.
"There was one gent round here this morning askin' his way, but except
for him we bin remarkable quiet."

"What sort of a gent?" I demanded with interest.

"Smallish, 'e was, sir, an' very civil spoken. Wanted to get to
Tilbury."

"Did he ask who the boat belonged to, by any chance?"

Mr. Gow reflected for a moment. "Now you come to mention it, sir, I
b'lieve 'e did. Not as I should have told 'im anything, even if I'd
known. I don't hold with answerin' questions."

"You're quite right, Mr. Gow," I observed, catching hold of the
stern of the _Betty_. "It's a habit that gets people into a lot of
trouble--especially in the Law Courts."

We clambered on board, and while my companion made the dinghy fast,
I went down into the cabin, and proceeded to rout out the lockers in
search of provisions. I discovered a slab of pressed beef, and some
rather stale bread and cheese, which I set out on the table, wondering
to myself, as I did so, whether the inquisitive stranger of the
morning was in any way connected with my affairs. It couldn't have
been Latimer, for that gentleman was very far from being "smallish," a
remark which applied equally well to our mutual friend with the scar.
I was still pondering over the question when I heard Mr. Gow drop down
into the fo'c's'le, and summond him through the connecting door to
come and join the feast.

He accepted my invitation with some embarrassment, as became a "paid
hand," but a bottle of Bass soon put him at his ease. We began by
discussing various nautical topics, such as the relative merits of a
centre-board or a keel for small boats, and whether whisky or beer was
really the better drink when one was tired and wet through. It was not
until we had finished our meal and were sitting outside enjoying our
pipes that I broached the question that was at the back of my mind.

"Look here, Gow," I said abruptly, "were you speaking seriously when
you suggested that launch ran you down on purpose?"

His face darkened, and then a curious look of slow cunning stole into
it.

"Mebbe they did, and mebbe they didn't," he answered. "Anyway, I
reckon they wouldn't have bin altogether sorry to see me at the bottom
o' the river."

"But why?" I persisted. "What on earth have you been doing to them?"

Mr. Gow was silent for a moment. "'Tis like this, sir," he said at
last. "Bein' about the river all times o' the day an' night, I see
things as other people misses--things as per'aps it ain't too healthy
to see."

"Well, what have you seen our pals doing?" I inquired.

"I don't say I seen 'em doin' nothin'--nothin' against the law, so to
speak." He looked round cautiously. "All the same, sir," he added,
lowering his voice, "it's my belief as they ain't livin' up there on
Sheppey for no good purpose. Artists they calls 'emselves, but to my
way o' thinking they're a sight more interested in forts an' ships an'
suchlike than they are in pickchers and paintin'."

I looked at him steadily for a moment. There was no doubt that the man
was in earnest.

"You think they're spies?" I said quietly.

He nodded his head. "That's it, sir. Spies--that's what they are; a
couple o' dirty Dutch spies--damn 'em."

"Why don't you tell the police or the naval people?" I asked.

He laughed grimly. "They'd pay a lot of heed to the likes o' me,
wouldn't they? You can lay them two fellers have got it all squared up
fine and proper. Come to look into it, an' you'd find they was artists
right enough; no, there wouldn't be no doubt about that. As like as
not I'd get two years 'ard for perjurin' and blackmail."

To a certain extent I was in a position to sympathize with this point
of view.

"Well, we must keep an eye on them ourselves," I said, "that's all.
We can't have German spies running up and down the Thames as if they
owned the blessed place." I got up and knocked out my pipe. "The first
thing to do," I added, "is to summons them for sinking your boat. If
they _are_ spies, they'll pay up without a murmur, especially if they
really tried to do it on purpose."

Mr. Gow nodded his head again, with a kind of vicious obstinacy. "They
done it a-purpose all right," he repeated. "They seen me watching of
'em, and they knows that dead men tell no tales."

There scarcely seemed to me to be enough evidence for the certainty
with which he cherished this opinion; but the mere possibility of its
being a fact was sufficiently disturbing. Goodness knows, I didn't
want to mix myself up in any further troubles, and yet, if these men
were really German spies, and, in addition to that, sufficiently
desperate to attempt a cold-blooded murder in order to cover up their
traces, I had apparently let myself in for it with a vengeance.

Of course, if I liked, I could abandon Mr. Gow to pursue his claim
without any assistance; but that was a solution which somehow or other
failed to appeal to me. In a sense he had become my retainer; and
we Lyndons are not given to deserting our retainers under any
circumstances. At least, I shouldn't exactly have liked to face my
father in another world with this particular weakness against my
record.

Altogether it was in a far from serene state of mind that I climbed
down into the dinghy, and allowed Mr. Gow to row me back to the bank.

"Will you be over tomorrow, sir?" he asked, as he stood up in the boat
ready to push off.

"I don't think so, I shall be rather busy the next two or three
days." Then I paused a moment. "Keep your eyes open generally, Mr.
Gow," I added; "and if any more gentlemen who have lost their way to
Tilbury come and ask you the name of the _Betty's_ owner, tell them
she belongs to the Bishop of London."

He touched his cap quite gravely. "Yessir," he said. "Good-night,
sir."

"Good-night, Mr. Gow," I replied, and scrambling up the bank, I set
off on my return journey.

CHAPTER XVIII

A NEW CLUE TO AN OLD CRIME

It was exactly half-past ten on Tuesday morning when I sat down on the
rough wooden bench in my workshop with a little gasp of relief and
exhaustion. Before me, on the lead slab, was a small pile of dark
brown powder, which an innocent stranger would in all probability have
taken for finely ground coffee. It was not coffee, however; it was the
fruit of four days and nights of about the most unremitting toil that
any human being has ever accomplished. Unless I was wrong--utterly and
hopelessly wrong--I had enough of the new explosive in front of me to
blow this particular bit of marsh and salting into the middle of next
week.

I leaned forward, and picking up a fistful, allowed it to trickle
slowly through my fingers. The stuff was quite safe to handle; that
was one of its beauties. I could have put a lighted match to it or
thrown it on the fire without the faintest risk; the only possible
method of releasing its appalling power being the explosion of a few
grains of gunpowder or dynamite in its immediate vicinity. I had no
intention of allowing that interesting event to occur until I had made
certain necessary preparations.

I was still contemplating my handiwork with a sort of fatigued pride,
when a sudden sound outside attracted my attention. Getting up and
looking through the shed window, I discovered a telegraph-boy standing
by the hut, apparently engaged in hunting for the bell.

"All right, sonny," I called out. "Bring it along here."

I walked to the door, and the next minute I was being handed an
envelope addressed to me at the Tilbury Post-Office in Joyce's
handwriting.

"It came the last post yesterday," explained the lad. "We couldn't let
you have it until this morning because there wasn't any one to send."

"Well, sit down a moment, Charles," I said; "and I'll just see if
there's any answer."

He seated himself on the bench, staring round at everything with
obvious interest. With a pleasant feeling of anticipation I slit open
the envelope and pulled out its contents.

"CHELSEA,

"_Monday._

"DEAREST JAMES,

"It looks rather nice written--doesn't it! I am coming down tomorrow
by the train which gets into Tilbury at 2.15. I shall walk across to
the _Betty_ and sit there peacefully till you turn up. Whatever stage
the work is at, don't be later than 7.30. I shall have supper ready by
then--and it will be a supper worth eating. My poor darling, you must
be simply starved. I've lots to tell you, James, but it will keep till
tomorrow.

"With all my love,

"JOYCE."

I read this through (it was so like Joyce I could almost fancy I heard
her speaking), and then I turned to the telegraph-boy, who was still
occupied in taking stock of his surroundings.

"There's no answer, thank you, Charles," I said. "How much do I owe
you?"

He pulled himself together abruptly. "It will be two shillings, the
post-office fee, sir."

"Well, there it is," I said; "and there's another shilling for
yourself."

He jumped up and pocketed the coins with an expression of gratitude.
Then he paused irresolutely. "Beg pardon, sir," he observed, "but
ain't you a gentleman who makes things?"

I laughed. "We most of us do that, Charles," I said, "if they're only
mistakes."

He looked round the shed with an expression of slight awe. "Can you
make fireworks?" he asked.

I glanced instinctively at the little heap of powder. "Of a kind," I
admitted modestly. "Why?"

He gave an envious sigh. "I only wondered if it was hard, sir. I'd
rather be able to make fireworks than do anything."

"It's not very hard," I said consolingly. "You go on bringing my
letters and telegrams for me like a good boy directly they arrive, and
before I leave here I'll show you how to do it. Only you mustn't talk
about it to anybody, or I shall have everyone asking me the same
thing."

His face brightened, and stammering out his thanks and his
determination to keep the bargain a profound secret, he reluctantly
took his departure. I felt that in future, whatever happened, I
was pretty certain to get anything which turned up for me at the
post-office without undue delay.

For the next half-hour or so I amused myself by constructing a kind of
amateur magazine outside the hut in which to store my precious powder.
It was safe enough in a way above ground, as I have already mentioned,
but with inquisitive strangers like Mr. Latimer prowling around, I
certainly didn't mean to leave a grain of it about while I was absent
from the shed. I packed it all away in a waterproof iron box, which I
had specially ordered for the purpose, and buried it in the hole that
I had dug outside. Then I covered the latter over with a couple of
pieces of turf, and carefully removed all traces of my handiwork.

It was not until I had finished this little job that I suddenly
realized how tired I was. For the last four days I had scarcely
stirred outside the shed, and I don't suppose I had averaged more than
three hours' sleep a night the whole time. The excitement and interest
of my work had kept me going, and now that it was over I found that I
was almost dropping with fatigue.

I locked up the place, and walking across to the hut, opened myself
one of the bottles of champagne which I had so thoughtfully purchased
at the Off-Licence. It was not exactly a vintage wine, but I was in no
mood to be over-critical, and I drank off a couple of glasses with the
utmost appreciation. Then I lay down on the bed, and in less than five
minutes I was sleeping like a log.

I woke up at exactly half-past four. However tired I am, a few hours'
sleep always puts me right again, and by the time I had had a wash and
changed into a clean shirt, I felt as fresh as a daisy.

I decided to walk straight over to the _Betty_. I knew that by this
time Joyce would be on board, and as there was nothing else to be done
in the shed, I thought I might just as well join her now as later. I
had been too busy to miss any one very much the last four days, but
now that the strain was over I felt curiously hungry to see her again.
Besides, I was longing to hear what news she had brought about Tommy
and George.

With a view to contributing some modest item towards the supper
programme, I shoved the other bottle of champagne into my pocket, and
then lighting a cigar, locked up the place, and set off for the creek
by my usual route. The tide was very high, and on several occasions I
had to scramble up and make my way along the sea-wall in full view
of the marsh and the roadway. Fortunately, however, there seemed,
as usual, to be no one about, and I reached the mouth of the creek
without much fear of having been watched or followed.

The _Betty_ was there all right, but I could see no sign of any one on
board. I walked up the creek until I was exactly opposite where she
was lying, and then putting my hands to my lips I gave her a gentle
hail.

In an instant Joyce's head appeared out of the cabin, and the next
moment she was on deck waving me a joyous welcome with the frying-pan.

"Oh, it's you!" she cried. "How lovely! Half a second, and I'll come
over and fetch you."

"Where's Mr. Gow?" I called out.

"He's gone home. I sent him off for a holiday. There's no one on board
but me."

She scrambled aft, and unshipping the dinghy, came sculling towards me
across the intervening water. She was wearing a white jersey, and with
her arms bare and her hair shining in the sunlight, she made a picture
that only a blind man would have failed to find inspiring.

She brought up right against the bank where I was standing, and
leaning over, caught hold of the grass.

"Jump," she said. "I'll hang on."

I jumped, and the next moment I was beside her in the boat, and we
were hugging each other as cheerfully and naturally as two children.

"You dear, to come so soon!" she said. "I wasn't expecting you for
ages."

I kissed her again, and then, picking up the oars, pushed off from the
bank. "Joyce," I said, "I've done it! I've made enough of the blessed
stuff to blow up half Tilbury."

She clapped her hands joyfully. "How splendid! I knew you would. Have
you tried it?"

I shook my head. "Not yet," I said. "We'll do it early tomorrow
morning, before any one's about." Then, digging in my scull to avoid a
desolate-looking beacon, I added anxiously: "What about Tommy? Is he
coming?"

Joyce nodded. "He'll be down tomorrow. I've got a letter for you from
him. He saw Mr. Latimer last night."

"Did he!" said I. "Things are moving with a vengeance. What about the
gentle George?"

Joyce laughed softly. "Oh," she said; "I've such lots to tell you, I
hardly know where to start."

I ran the boat alongside the _Betty_, and we both climbed on board.

"Suppose we start by having some tea," I suggested. "I'm dying for a
cup."

"You poor dear," said Joyce. "Of course you shall have one. You can
read what Tommy says while I'm getting it ready."

She fetched the letter out of the cabin, and sitting in the well I
proceeded to decipher the three foolscap pages of hieroglyphics which
Tommy is pleased to describe as his handwriting. As far as I could
make out they ran as follows:

"MY DEAR NEIL,

"I suppose I oughtn't to begin like that, in case somebody else got
hold of the letter. It doesn't matter really, however, because Joyce
is bringing it down, and you can tear the damn thing up as soon as
you've read it.

"Well, I've seen Latimer. I wrote to him directly I got back, reminded
him who I was, and told him I wanted to have a chat with him about
some very special private business. He asked me to come round to his
rooms in Jermyn Street last night at ten o'clock, and I was there till
pretty near midnight.

"I thought I was bound to find out something, but good Lord, Neil, it
came off in a way I'd never dared hope for. Practically speaking, I've
got to the bottom of the whole business--at least so far as Latimer's
concerned. You see he either had to explain or else tell me to go to
the devil, and as he thought I was a perfectly safe sort of chap to be
honest with, he decided to make a clean breast of it.

"To start with, it's very much what we suspected. Latimer _is_ a
Secret Service man, and that's how he comes to be mixed up in the job.
It seems that some little while ago the Admiralty or one of the other
Government departments got it into their heads that there were a
number of Germans over in England spying out the land in view of a
possible row over this Servian business. Latimer was told off amongst
others to look into the matter. He had been sniffing around for some
weeks without much luck, when more or less by chance he dropped across
the track of those two very identical beauties who ran down Gow's boat
in the Thames last Friday.

"Somehow or other they must have got wind of the fact that he was
after them, and they evidently made up their minds to get rid of him.
They seem to have set about it rather neatly. The man with the scar,
who is either one of them or else in with them, introduced himself to
Latimer as a member of the French Secret Service. He pretended that
he had some special information about the case in hand, and although
Latimer was a bit suspicious, he agreed to dine at Parelli's and hear
what the fellow had to say.

"Well, you know the rest of that little incident. If it hadn't been
for you there's not the faintest doubt that Latimer would have
copped it all right, and I can tell you he's by way of being rather
particularly grateful. I was specially instructed to send you a
message to that effect next time I was writing.

"What the connection is between your crowd and these Germans I can't
exactly make out. Of course if you're right in your idea about the
chap with the scar spying on you in London it's perfectly obvious
they're working together in some way. At the same time I'm quite sure
that Latimer knows nothing about it. The reason he came down to look
at the hut on Friday was because a report about it had been sent to
him by one of his men--he has two fellows working under him--and he
thought it might have something to do with the Germans. He described
the way you had caught him quite frankly, and told me how he'd had to
invent a lie about the Surveyor in order to get out of it.

"Exactly what he means to do next I don't know. He has got some plan
on, and I've a notion he wants me to help him--at least he sounded
me pretty plainly last night as to whether I'd be game to lend him a
hand. I need hardly tell you I jumped at the idea. It seems to me our
only possible chance of finding out anything. I am to see him or hear
from him tomorrow, and directly I know what's in the wind I'll either
write to you or come and look you up.

"Joyce will tell you all about George and McMurtrie. If they aren't
both up to some kind of particularly dirty mischief I'll eat my whole
wardrobe. We must talk it over thoroughly when we meet.

"I'm longing to see you again, and hear all about the work and what's
been going on down there.

"So long, old son,

"Yours as ever,

"TOMMY."

I was just making out the last words, when Joyce emerged from the
cabin, carrying some tea on a tray.

"Here you are, Neil," she said. "I have cut you only two slices of
bread and butter, because I don't want you to spoil your supper.
There's cold pheasant and peas and new potatoes."

I pulled out the bottle of champagne from my pocket. "If they're as
new as this wine," I observed, "they ought to be delicious."

Joyce accepted my contribution, and after reading the label, placed it
carefully on the floor of the well. "Sarcon et fils," she repeated. "I
always thought they made vinegar."

"Perhaps they do," I replied. "We shall know when we drink it."

Joyce laughed, and sitting down beside me, poured me out a cup of tea.
"You've read Tommy's letter," she said. "What do you think about it?"

I took a long drink. "From the little I've seen of Mr. Bruce Latimer,"
I said, "I should put him down as being one of the most accomplished
liars in England." I paused. "At the same time," I added, "I think
he's a fine fellow. I like his face."

Joyce nodded her head. "But you don't believe his story?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "It may be true," I said. "Tommy seems
to think so anyhow. If it is, things are a bit simpler than I
imagined--that's all."

"And if it isn't?" said Joyce.

"Ah!" said I, "if it isn't--"

I left the sentence unfinished, and helped myself to a second bit of
bread and butter.

There was a short silence.

"Tell me about George, Joyce," I went on. "What are these particular
dark doings that Tommy's hinting about?"

Joyce leaned forward with her chin on her hands, her blue eyes fixed
on mine.

"Neil," she said slowly, "I've found out something at last--something
I thought I was never going to. I know who the man was in Marks's
rooms on the day that he was murdered."

I was so surprised that I gulped down a mouthful of nearly boiling
tea.

"I wish you'd break these things more gently, Joyce," I said. "Who was
it?"

"It was Dr. McMurtrie."

I put down the teacup and stared at her in the blankest amazement.

"Dr. McMurtrie!" I repeated incredulously.

She nodded. "Listen, and I'll tell you exactly how it all happened. I
dined with George, as you know, at the Savoy on Friday, and we went
into the whole business of my going away with him. He has got that
twelve thousand pounds, Neil; there's no doubt about it. He showed me
the entry in his pass-book and the acknowledgment from the bank, and
he even offered to write me a cheque for a couple of hundred right
away, to buy clothes with for the trip."

"From what I remember of George," I said, "he must be desperately in
love with you."

Joyce gave a little shiver of disgust. "Of course I let him think I
was giving way. I wanted to find out where the money had come from,
but try as I would, I couldn't get him to tell me. That makes me feel
so certain there's something wrong about it. In the end I arranged to
dine with him again tomorrow night, when I said I'd give him my final
answer. On Saturday morning, however, I changed my mind, and wrote him
a note to say I'd come Thursday instead. I didn't mean to tie myself
to be back tomorrow, in case you wanted me here."

She paused.

"I had to go up Victoria Street, so I thought I'd leave the letter at
his office. I'd just got there, and I was standing outside the door
opening my bag, when a man came down the steps. I looked up as he
passed, and--oh Neil!--it was all I could do to stop myself from
screaming. I knew him at once; I knew his cold wicked face just as
well as if it had been only three days instead of three years. It was
the man I'd seen in Marks's rooms on the afternoon of the murder."

She stopped again, and took a deep breath.

"I was horribly excited, and yet at the same time I felt quite cool. I
let him get about ten yards away down the street, and then I started
off after him. He walked as far as the Stores. Then he called an empty
taxi that was coming past, and I heard him tell the driver to go to
the Hotel Russell. I thought about how you'd followed the man with the
scar, and I made up my mind I'd do the same thing. I had to wait for
several seconds before another taxi came by, but directly it did
I jumped in and told the man to drive me to the corner of Russell
Square.

"I got there just as the other taxi was drawing up in front of the
hotel. A porter came forward and opened the door, and I saw the man
get out and go up the steps. I waited for one moment, and then I
walked along to the entrance myself. The porter was still standing
there, so I went straight up to him and asked him quite simply what
the name of the gentleman was who had just gone inside. He sort of
hesitated, and then he said to me: 'That gentleman, Miss?--that's Dr.
McMurtrie.'"

Once more she paused, and, pushing away the tray, I lit myself a
cigar. "It's lucky you've had some practice in surprises," I observed.

Joyce nodded. "Of course I was absolutely flabbergasted, but I don't
think I showed anything. I sort of rummaged in my bag for a minute
till I'd recovered; then I gave the man half a crown and asked him if
he knew how long Dr. McMurtrie was staying. I think he was in doubt as
to whether I was a female detective or a lady reporter; anyhow he took
the money and said he was very sorry he didn't know, but that if I
wanted an interview at any time he had no doubt it might be arranged.
I thanked him, and said it didn't matter for the moment, and there I
thought it best to leave things. You see I knew that whether McMurtrie
stayed on at the Russell or not you were bound to see him again, and
there was nothing to be gained by asking questions which the porter
would probably repeat to him. It would only have helped to put him on
his guard--wouldn't it?"

"My dear Joyce," I said, "I think you did splendidly. Sherlock Holmes
couldn't have done better." I got up and walked to the end of the
cockpit. "But good Lord!" I added, "this does complicate matters.
You're absolutely certain it was McMurtrie you saw at Marks's flat?"

"Absolutely," repeated Joyce with emphasis. "I should remember his
face if I lived to be a hundred."

I clenched my fists in a sudden spasm of anger. "There's some damned
villainy underneath all this, Joyce," I said. "If McMurtrie was there
that afternoon the odds are that he knows who committed the murder."

"He did it himself," said Joyce calmly. "I'm as sure of it as I am
that I'm sitting here."

"But why?" I demanded--"why? Who on earth _was_ Marks? Nobody in
Chelsea seemed to know anything about him, and nothing came out at the
trial. Why should any one have wanted to kill him except me?"

Joyce shook her head. "I don't know," she said stubbornly; "but I'm
quite certain it was McMurtrie. I feel it inside me."

"And in any case," I continued, "what the devil is he doing messing
about with George? I'm the only connecting-link between them, and he
can't possibly mean to betray me--at all events, until he's got the
secret of the powder. He knows George would give me up tomorrow."

Joyce made a gesture of perplexity. "I know," she said. "It's an
absolute mystery to me too. I've been puzzling and puzzling over it
till my head aches, and I can't see any sort of explanation at all."

"The only thing that's quite plain," I said, "is the fact that
McMurtrie and Savaroff have been lying to me from the start. They are
no more powder-merchants than you are. They want to get hold of my
invention for some reason--to make money out of it, I suppose--and
then they're prepared to clear out and leave me to George and the
police. At least, that's what it's beginning to look like."

"Well, anyhow," said Joyce, "you're not tied to them any longer by
your promise."

"No," I said; "it takes two to keep a bargain. Besides," I added
rather bitterly, "I can afford the privilege of breaking my word. It's
only what you'd expect from a convict."

Joyce got up, and coming to where I was sitting, slipped her arm
through mine and softly stroked my hand. "Don't, Neil," she said.
"I hate you to say anything that isn't fine and generous. It's like
hearing music out of tune."

I drew her to me, and half closing her eyes, she laid her cheek
against mine. We remained silent for a moment or two, and then, giving
her a little hug, I sat up and took hold of her hands.

"Look here, Joyce," I said, "we won't just bother about anything for
the rest of the day. We'll be cheerful and jolly and foolish, like we
were on Friday. God knows how all this infernal tangle is going to pan
out, but we may as well snatch one evening's happiness out of it while
we've got the chance."

Joyce kissed me, and then jumping lightly from the seat, pulled me
up with her. "We will," she said. "After all, we've got a boat and a
lovely evening and a cold pheasant and a bottle of champagne--what
more can any one want?"

"Well," I said, "it may sound greedy, but as a matter of fact I want
some of those peas and new potatoes you were talking about just now."

She let go my hands, and opening one of the lockers, took out a large
basin with a couple of bags in it. "There you are," she laughed. "You
can skin them and shell them while I wash up the tea-things and lay
the table. It's a man's duty to do the dangerous work."

Joyce had always had the gift of scattering a kind of infectious
gaiety around her, and that night she seemed to be in her most
bewitching and delightful mood. I think she made up her mind to try
and wipe out from my memory for the time being all thoughts of
the somewhat harassed state of existence in which it had pleased
Providence to land me. If so, she succeeded admirably.

We cooked the supper between us. I boiled the peas and potatoes, and
then, when we had done the first course, Joyce got up and made a
brilliantly successful French omelette out of some fresh eggs which
she had brought down for that inspired purpose.

It was very charming in the little low-ceilinged cabin, with the lamp
swinging overhead and no sound outside but the soft lapping of the
tide upon the sides of the boat. We lay and talked for some time after
we had finished, while I smoked a cigar, and Joyce, stretched out
luxuriously on the other bunk, indulged in a couple of cigarettes.

"We won't wash up," I said. "I'll just shove everything through into
the fo'c's'le, and we'll leave them there for Mr. Gow. A certain
amount of exercise will be good for him after his holiday."

"Do," said Joyce sleepily. "And then come and sit over here, Neil. I
want to stroke your hair."

I cleared away the things, and shutting up the table, which worked on
a hinge, spread out my own cushions on the floor alongside of
Joyce's bunk. The latter was just low enough to let me rest my head
comfortably on her shoulder.

How long we lay like that I really don't know. My whole body and mind
were steeped in a strange, delightful sense of peace and contentment,
and I began to realize, I think for the first time, how utterly
necessary and dear to me Joyce had become. I slid my arm underneath
her--she lay close up against me, her hair, which she had loosened
from its fastenings, half covering us both in its soft beauty.

The lamp flickered and died down, but we didn't trouble to relight it.
Outside the night grew darker and darker, and through the open hatch
we could just see a solitary star shining down on us from between two
banks of cloud. Cool and sweet, a faint breeze drifted in from the
silent marshes.

Then, quite suddenly, it seemed to me, a strange madness and music
filled the night for both of us. I only knew that Joyce was in my arms
and that we were kissing each other with fierce, unheeding passion.
There were tears on her cheeks--little sweet, salt tears of love and
happiness that felt all wet against my lips.

It was only a moment--just one brief moment of unutterable beauty--and
then I remembered. With a groan I half raised myself in the darkness.

"I must go, Joyce," I whispered. "I can't stay here. I daren't."

She slipped her soft bare arms round my neck, and drew my face down to
hers.

"Don't go," she whispered back. "Not if you don't want to. What does
it matter? I am all yours, Neil, anyway."

For a moment I felt her warm fragrant breath upon my face, and her
heart beating quickly against mine. Then, with an effort--a big
effort--I tore myself away.

"Joyce dear," I said, "it would only make things worse. Oh, my dear
sweet Joyce, I want you like the night wants the dawn, but we can't
cheat life. Suppose we fail--suppose there's only death or prison in
front of me. It will be hard enough now, but if--"

I broke off, and with a little sob Joyce sat up and felt for my hand.

"You're right, darling," she said; "but oh, my dear, my dear!" She
lifted up my hand and passed it softly backwards and forwards across
her eyes. Then, with a little laugh that had tears close behind it,
she added: "Do you know, my Neil, I'm conceited enough to think you're
rather wonderful."

I bent down and kissed her with infinite tenderness.

"I am, Joyce," I said. "Exactly how wonderful you'll never know."

Then I lifted her up in my arms, and we went out of the cabin into the
cool darkness of the night.

"I'll row myself ashore," I said, "and leave the dinghy on the beach.
I shall be back about four o'clock, if that's not too early for you.
We ought to get our explosion over before there's any one about."

Joyce nodded. "I don't mind how early you come. The sooner the
better."

"Try and get some sleep," I added; "you'll be tired out tomorrow if
you don't."

"I'll try," said Joyce simply; "but I don't think I shall. I'm not
even sure I want to."

I kissed her once more, and slipping down into the dinghy, pulled off
for the shore. Everything around was dark and silent--the faint splash
of my oars alone breaking the utter stillness. Landing at my usual
spot, more by luck than judgment, I tugged the boat up out of reach of
the tide, and then, turning round, waved good-night to the _Betty_.

It was too dark to see anything, but I think Joyce sent me back my
message.

CHAPTER XIX

LAUNCHING A NEW INVENTION

The eastern sky was just flushing into light when I got back to
the creek at four o'clock. It was a beautiful morning--cool and
still--with the sweet freshness of early dawn in the air, and the
promise of a long unclouded day of spring sunshine.

I tugged the dinghy down to the water, and pushed off for the _Betty_,
which looked strangely small and unreal lying there in the dim,
mysterious twilight. The sound I made as I drew near must have reached
Joyce's ears. She was up on deck in a moment, fully dressed, and with
her hair twisted into a long bronze plait that hung down some way
below her waist. She looked as fresh and fair as the dawn itself.

"Beautifully punctual," she called out over the side. "I knew you
would be, so I started getting breakfast."

I caught hold of the gunwale and scrambled on board.

"It's like living at the Savoy," I said. "Breakfast was a luxury that
had never entered my head."

"Well, it's going to now," she returned, "unless you're in too great a
hurry to start. It's all ready in the cabin."

"We can spare ten minutes certainly," I said. "Experiments should
always be made on a full body."

I tied up the dinghy and followed her inside, where the table was
decorated with bread and butter and the remnants of the cold pheasant,
while a kettle hissed away cheerfully on the Primus.

"I don't believe you've been to bed at all, Joyce," I said. "And yet
you look as if you'd just slipped out of Paradise by accident."

She laughed, and putting her hand in my side-pocket, took out my
handkerchief to lift off the kettle with.

"I didn't want to sleep," she said. "I was too happy, and too
miserable. It's the widest-awake mixture I ever tried." Then, picking
up the teapot, she added curiously: "Where's the powder? I expected to
see you arrive with a large keg over your shoulder."

I sat down at the table and produced a couple of glass flasks, tightly
corked.

"Here you are," I said. "This is ordinary gunpowder, and this other
one's my stuff. It looks harmless enough, doesn't it?"

Joyce took both flasks and examined them with interest. "You've not
brought very much of it," she said. "I was hoping we were going to
have a really big blow-up."

"It will be big enough," I returned consolingly, "unless I've made a
mistake."

"Where are you going to do it?" she asked.

"Somewhere at the back of Canvey Island," I said. "There's no one to
wake up there except the sea-gulls, and we can be out of sight round
the corner before it explodes. I've got about twenty feet of fuse,
which will give us at least a quarter of an hour to get away in."

"What fun!" exclaimed Joyce. "I feel just like an anarchist or
something; and it's lovely to know that one's launching a new
invention. We ought to have kept that bottle of champagne to christen
it with."

"Yes," I said regretfully; "it was the real christening brand too."

There was a short silence. "I've thought of a name for it," cried
Joyce suddenly. "The powder, I mean. We'll call it Lyndonite. It
sounds like something that goes off with a bang, doesn't it?"

I laughed. "It would probably suggest that to the prison authorities,"
I said. "Anyhow, Lyndonite it shall be."

We finished breakfast, and going up on deck I proceeded to haul in the
anchor, while Joyce stowed away the crockery and provisions below. For
once in a way the engine started without much difficulty, and as the
tide was running out fast it didn't take us very long to reach the
mouth of the creek.

Once outside, I set a course down stream as close to the northern
shore as I dared go. Except for a rusty-looking steam tramp we had the
whole river to ourselves, not even a solitary barge breaking the
long stretch of grey water. One by one the old landmarks--Mucking
Lighthouse, the Thames Cattle Wharf, and Hole Haven--were left behind,
and at last the entrance to the creek that runs round behind Canvey
Island came into sight.

One would never accuse it of being a cheerful, bustling sort of place
at the best of times, but at five o'clock in the morning it seemed the
very picture of uninhabited desolation. A better locality in which
to enjoy a little quiet practice with new explosives it would be
difficult to imagine.

I navigated the _Betty_ in rather gingerly, for it was over three
years since I had visited the spot. Joyce kept on sounding diligently
with the lead either side of the boat, and at last we brought up in
about one and a half fathom, just comfortably out of sight of the main
stream.

"This will do nicely," I said. "We'll turn her round first, and then
I'll row into the bank and fix things up under that tree over there.
We can be back in the river before anything happens."

"Can't we stop and watch?" asked Joyce. "I should love to see it go
off."

I shook my head. "Unless I've made a mistake," I said, "it will be
much healthier round the corner. We'll come back and see what's
happened afterwards."

By the aid of some delicate manoeuvring I brought the _Betty_ round,
and then getting into the dinghy pulled myself ashore.

It was quite unnecessary for my experiment to make any complicated
preparations. All I had to do was to dig a hole in the bank with a
trowel that I had brought for the purpose, empty my stuff into that,
and tip in the gunpowder on top. When I had finished I covered the
whole thing over with earth, leaving a clear passage for the fuse, and
then lighting the end of the latter, jumped back into the boat and
pulled off rapidly for the _Betty_.

We didn't waste any time dawdling about. Joyce seized the painter as
I climbed on board, and hurrying to the tiller I started off down the
creek as fast as we could go, taking very particular pains not to run
aground.

We had reached the mouth, and I was swinging her round into the main
river, when a sudden rumbling roar disturbed the peacefulness of
the dawn. Joyce, who was staring out over the stern, gave a little
startled cry, and glancing hastily back I was just in time to see a
disintegrated-looking tree soaring gaily up into the air in the midst
of a huge column of dust and smoke. The next moment a rain of falling
fragments of earth and wood came splashing down into the water--a few
stray pieces actually reaching the _Betty_, which rocked vigorously as
a minature tidal wave swept after us up the creek.

I put down my helm and brought her round so as to face the stricken
field.

"We seem to have done it, Joyce," I observed with some contentment.

She gave a little gasping sort of laugh. "It was splendid!" she said.
"But, oh, Neil, what appalling stuff it must be! It's blown up half
Canvey Island!"

"Never mind," I said cheerfully. "There are plenty of other islands
left. Let's get into the dinghy and see what the damage really amounts
to. I fancy it's fairly useful."

We anchored the _Betty_, and then pulled up the creek towards the
scene of the explosion, where a gaping aperture in the bank was
plainly visible. As we drew near I saw that it extended, roughly
speaking, in a half-circle of perhaps twenty yards diameter. The whole
of this, which had previously been a solid bank of grass and earth,
was now nothing but a muddy pool. Of the unfortunate tree which had
marked the site there was not a vestige remaining.

I regarded it all from the boat with the complacent pride of a
successful inventor. "It's even better than I expected, Joyce," I
said. "If one can do this with three-quarters of a pound, just fancy
the effect of a couple of hundredweight. It would shift half London."

Joyce nodded. "They'll be more anxious than ever to get hold of it,
when they know," she said. "What are you going to do? Write and tell
McMurtrie that you've succeeded?"

"I haven't quite decided," I answered. "I shall wait till tomorrow or
the next day, anyhow. I want to hear what Sonia has got to say first."
Then, backing away the boat, I added: "We'd better get out of this
as soon as we can. It's just possible some one may have heard the
explosion and come pushing along to find out what's the matter. People
are so horribly inquisitive."

Joyce laughed. "It would be rather awkward, wouldn't it? We couldn't
very well say it was an earthquake. It looks too neat and tidy."

Fortunately for us, if there was any one in the neighbourhood who
had heard the noise, they were either too lazy or too incurious to
investigate the cause. We got back on board the _Betty_ and took her
out into the main stream without seeing a sign of any one except
ourselves. The hull of the steam tramp was just visible in the far
distance, but except for that the river was still pleasantly deserted.

"What shall we do now, Joyce?" I asked. "It seems to me that this is
an occasion which distinctly requires celebrating."

Joyce thought for a moment. "Let's go for a long sail," she suggested,
"and then put in at Southend and have asparagus for lunch."

I looked at her with affectionate approval. "You always have beautiful
ideas," I said. Then a sudden inspiration seized me. "I've got it!" I
cried. "What do you say to running down to Sheppey and paying a call
on our German pals?"

Joyce's blue eyes sparkled. "It would be lovely," she said, with a
deep breath; "but dare we risk it?"

"There's no risk," I rejoined. "When I said 'pay a call,' I didn't
mean it quite literally. My idea was to cruise along the coast and
just find out exactly where their precious bungalow is, and what they
do with that launch of theirs when they're not swamping inquisitive
boatmen. It's the sort of information that might turn out useful."

Joyce nodded. "We'll go," she said briefly. "What about the tide?"

"Oh, the tide doesn't matter," I replied. "It will be dead out by the
time we get to Southend; but we only draw about three foot six, and
we can cut across through the Jenkin Swatch. There's water enough off
Sheppey to float a battleship."

It was the work of a few minutes to pull in the anchor and haul up
the sails, which filled immediately to a slight breeze that had
just sprung up from the west. Leaving a still peaceful, if somewhat
mutilated, Canvey Island behind us, we started off down the river,
gliding along with an agreeable smoothness that fitted in very nicely
with my state of mind.

Indeed I don't think I had ever felt anything so nearly approaching
complete serenity since my escape from Dartmoor. It is true that
the tangle in which I was involved, appeared more threatening and
complicated than ever, but one gets so used to sitting on a powder
mine that the situation was gradually ceasing to distress me.

At all events I had made my explosive, and that was one great step
towards a solution of some sort. If McMurtrie was prepared to play the
game with me I should in a few days be in what the newspapers call "a
position of comparative affluence," while if his intentions were less
straightforward I should at least have some definite idea as to where
I was. Sonia's promised disclosures were a guarantee of that.

But apart from these considerations the mere fact of having Joyce
sitting beside me in the boat while we bowled along cheerfully through
the water was quite enough in itself to account for my new-found
happiness. One realizes some things in life with curious abruptness,
and I knew now how deeply and passionately I loved her. I suppose I
had always done so really, but she had been little more than a child
in the old Chelsea days, and the sort of brotherly tenderness and
pride I had had for her must have blinded me to the truth.

Anyhow it was out now; out beyond any question of doubt or argument.
She was as necessary and dear to me as the stars are to the night, and
it seemed ridiculously impossible to contemplate any sort of existence
without her. Not that I wasted much energy attempting the feat; the
present was sufficiently charming to occupy my entire time.

We passed Leigh and Southend, the former with its fleet of
fishing-smacks and the latter with its long unlovely pier, and then
nosed our way delicately into the Jenkin Swatch, that convenient ditch
which runs right across the mouth of the Thames. The sun was now high
in the sky, and one could see signs of activity on the various barges
that were hanging about the neighbourhood waiting for the tide.

I pointed away past the Nore Lightship towards a bit of rising ground
on the low-lying Sheppey coast.

"That's about where our pals are hanging out," I said. "There's
a little deep-water creek there, which Tommy and I used to use
sometimes, and according to Mr. Gow their bungalow is close by."

Joyce peered out under her hand across the intervening water. "It's a
nice situation," she observed, "for artists."

I laughed. "Yes," I said. "They are so close to Sheerness and
Shoeburyness, and other places of beauty. I expect they've done quite
a lot of quiet sketching."

We reached the end of the Swatch, and leaving Queenborough, with its
grim collection of battleships and coal hulks, to starboard, we stood
out to sea along the coastline. It was a fairly long sail to the place
which I had pointed out to Joyce, but with a light breeze behind her
the _Betty_ danced along so gaily that we covered the distance in a
surprisingly short time.

As we drew near, Joyce got out Tommy's field-glasses from the cabin,
and kneeling up on the seat in the well, focused them carefully on the
spot.

"There's the entrance to the creek all right," she said, "but I don't
see any sign of a bungalow anywhere." She moved the glasses slowly
from side to side. "Oh, yes," she exclaimed suddenly, "I've got it
now--right up on the cliff there, away to the left. One can only just
see the roof, though, and it seems some way from the creek."

She resigned the glasses to me, and took over the tiller, while I had
a turn at examining the coast.

I soon made out the roof of the bungalow, which, as Joyce had said,
was the only part visible. It stood in a very lonely position, high
up on a piece of rising ground, and half hidden from the sea by what
seemed like a thick privet hedge. To judge by the smoke which I could
just discern rising from its solitary chimney, it looked as if the
occupants were addicted to the excellent habit of early rising.

There was no other sign of them to be seen, however, and if the launch
was lying anywhere about, it was at all events invisible from the sea.
I refreshed my memory with a long, careful scrutiny of the entrance to
the creek, and then handing the glasses back to Joyce I again assumed
control of the boat.

"Well," I observed, "we haven't wasted the morning. We know where
their bungalow door is, anyway."

Joyce nodded. "It may come in very handy," she said, "in case you ever
want to pay them a surprise call."

Exactly how soon that contingency was going to occur we neither of us
guessed or imagined!

We reached the Nore Lightship, and waving a courteous greeting to a
patient-looking gentleman who was spitting over the side, commenced
our long beat back in the direction of Southend. It was slow work, for
the tide was only just beginning to turn, and the wind, such as there
was of it, was dead in our faces. However, I don't think either Joyce
or I found the time hang heavily on our hands. If one can't be happy
with the sun and the sea and the person one loves best in the world,
it seems to me that one must be unreasonably difficult to please.

We fetched up off Southend Pier at just about eleven o'clock. A
hoarse-voiced person in a blue jersey, who was leaning over the end,
pointed us out some moorings that we were at liberty to pick up, and
then watched us critically while I stowed away the sails and locked up
everything in the boat which it was possible to steal. I had been to
Southend before in the old days.

These simple precautions concluded, Joyce and I got in the dinghy
and rowed to the steps. We were met by the gentleman in blue, who
considerately offered to keep his eye on the boat for us while I "and
the lady" enjoyed what he called "a run round the town." I accepted
his proposal, and having agreed with his statement that it was "a nice
morning for a sail," set off with Joyce along the mile of pier that
separated us from the shore.

I don't know that our adventures for the next two or three hours call
for any detailed description. We wandered leisurely and cheerfully
through the town, buying each other one or two trifles in the way of
presents, and then adjourned for lunch to a large and rather dazzling
hotel that dominated the sea front. It was a new effort on the part
of Southend since my time, but, as Joyce said, it "looked the sort of
place where one was likely to get asparagus."

Its appearance did not belie it. At a corner table in the window,
looking out over the sea, we disposed of what the waiter described as
"two double portions" of that agreeable vegetable, together with an
excellent steak and a bottle of sound if slightly too sweet burgundy.
Then over a couple of cigarettes we discussed our immediate plans.

"I think I'd better catch the three-thirty back," said Joyce. "I've
got one or two things I want to do before I meet George, and in any
case you mustn't stay here too long or you'll miss the tide."

"That doesn't really matter," I said. "Only I suppose I ought to get
back just in case Tommy has turned up. I can't leave him sitting on a
mud-flat all night."

Joyce laughed. "He'd probably be a little peevish in the morning. Men
are so unreasonable."

I leaned across the table and took her hand. "When are you coming down
again?" I asked. "Tomorrow?"

Joyce thought for a moment. "Tomorrow or the next day. It all depends
if I see a chance of getting anything more out of George. I'll write
to you or send you a wire, dear, anyhow."

I nodded. "All right," I said; "and look here, Joyce; you may as well
come straight to the hut next time. It's not the least likely there'll
be any one there except me, and if there was you could easily pretend
you wanted to ask the way to Tilbury. You see, if Gow wasn't about,
you would have to pull the dinghy all the way down the bank before you
got on board the _Betty_, and that's a nice, muddy, shin-scraping sort
of job at the best of times."

"Very well," said Joyce. Then squeezing my hand a little tighter she
added: "And my own Neil, you _will_ be careful, won't you? I always
seem to be asking you that, but, oh my dear, if you knew how horribly
frightened I am of anything happening to you. It will be worse than
ever now, after last night. I don't seem to feel it when I'm actually
with you--I suppose I'm too happy--but when I'm away from you it's
just like some ghastly horrible sword hanging over our heads all the
time. Neil darling, as soon as you get this money from McMurtrie--if
you do get it--can't we just give up the whole thing and go away and
be happy together?"

I lifted her hand and pressed the inside of it against my lips.

"Joyce," I said, "think what it means. It's just funking life--just
giving it up because the odds seem too heavy against us. I shouldn't
have minded killing Marks in the least. I should be rather proud of
it. If I had, we would go away together tomorrow, and I should never
worry my head as to what any one in the world was saying or thinking
about me." I paused. "But I didn't kill him," I added slowly, "and
that just makes all the difference."

Joyce's blue eyes were very near tears, but they looked back steadily
and bravely into mine.

"Yes, yes," she said. "I didn't really mean it, Neil. I was just weak
for the moment--that's all. Right down in my heart I want everything
for you; I could never be contented with less. I want the whole world
to know how they've wronged you; I want you to be famous and powerful
and splendid, and I want the people who've abused you to come and
smirk and grovel to you, and say that they knew all the time that you
were innocent." She stopped and took a deep breath. "And they shall,
Neil. I'm as certain of it as if I saw it happening. I seem to know
inside me that we're on the very point of finding out the truth."

I don't think my worst enemy would accuse me of being superstitious,
but there was a ring of conviction in Joyce's voice which somehow or
other affected me curiously.

"I believe you're right," I said. "I've got something of that sort of
feeling too. Perhaps it's infectious." Then, letting go her hand, to
spare the feelings of the waiter who had just come into the room, I
sat back in my chair and ordered the bill.

We didn't talk much on our way to the station. I think we were both
feeling rather depressed at the prospect of doing without each other
for at least twenty-four hours, and in any case the trams and motors
and jostling crowd of holiday-makers who filled the main street would
have rendered any connected conversation rather a difficult art.

A good many people favoured Joyce with glances of admiration,
especially a spruce-looking young constable who officially held up the
traffic to allow us to cross the road. He paid no attention at all to
me, but I consoled myself with the reflection that he was missing an
excellent chance of promotion.

At the station I put Joyce into a first-class carriage, kissed her
affectionately under the disapproving eye of an old lady in the
opposite corner, and then stood on the platform until the train
steamed slowly out of the station.

I turned away at last, feeling quite unpleasantly alone. It's no good
worrying about what can't be altered, however, so, lighting a cigar, I
strolled back philosophically to the hotel, where I treated myself to
the luxury of a hot bath before rejoining the boat.

It must have been pretty nearly half-past four by the time I reached
the pier-head. My friend with the hoarse voice and the blue jersey was
still hanging around, looking rather thirsty and exhausted after his
strenuous day's work of watching over the dinghy. I gave him half a
crown for his trouble, and followed by his benediction pulled off for
the _Belly_.

The wind had gone round a bit to the south, and as the tide was still
coming in I decided to sail up to the creek in preference to using the
engine. The confounded throb of the latter always got on my nerves,
and apart from that I felt that the mere fact of having to handle the
sails would keep my mind lightly but healthily occupied. Unless I was
mistaken, a little light healthy occupation was exactly what my mind
needed.

As occasionally happens on exceptionally fine days in late spring, the
perfect clearness of the afternoon was gradually beginning to give
place to a sort of fine haze. It was not thick enough, however, to
bother me in any way, and under a jib and mainsail the _Betty_ swished
along at such a satisfactory pace that I was in sight of Gravesend
Reach before either the light or the tide had time to fail me.

I thought I knew the entrance to the creek well enough by now to run
her in under sail, though it was a job that required a certain amount
of cautious handling. Anyhow I decided to risk it, and, heading for
the shore, steered her up the narrow channel, which I had been careful
to take the bearings of at low water.

I was so engrossed in this feat of navigation that I took no notice
of anything else, until a voice from the bank abruptly attracted my
attention. I looked up with a start, nearly running myself aground,
and there on the bank I saw a gesticulating figure, which I
immediately recognized as that of Tommy. I shouted a greeting back,
and swinging the _Betty_ round, brought up in almost the identical
place where we had anchored on the previous night.

Tommy, who had hurried down to the edge of the water, gave me a second
hail.

"Buck up, old son!" he called out. "There's something doing."

A suggestion of haste from Tommy argued a crisis of such urgency
that I didn't waste any time asking questions. I just threw over the
anchor, and tumbling into the dinghy sculled ashore as quickly as I
could.

"Sorry I kept you waiting, Tommy," I said, as he jumped into the boat.
"Been here long?"

"About three hours," he returned. "I was beginning to wonder if you
were dead."

I shook my head. "I'm not fit to die yet," I replied. "What's the
matter?"

He looked at his watch. "Well, the chief matter is the time. Do you
think I can get to Sheppey by half-past nine?"

I paused in my rowing. "Sheppey!" I repeated. "Why damn it, Tommy,
I've just come back from Sheppey."

It was Tommy's turn to look surprised. "The devil you have!" he
exclaimed. "What took you there?"

"To be exact," I said, "it was the _Betty_"; and then in as few words
as possible I proceeded to acquaint him with the morning's doings. I
was just finishing as we came alongside.

"Well, that's fine about the powder," he said, scrambling on board.
"Where's Gow?"

"Joyce sent him off for a holiday," I answered, "and he hasn't come
back yet." Then hitching up the dinghy I added curiously: "What's up,
Tommy? Let's have it."

"It's Latimer," he said. "I told you I was expecting to hear from him.
He sent me a message round early this morning, and I've promised him
I'll be in the creek under the German's bungalow by half-past nine. I
must get there somehow."

"Oh, we'll get there all right," I returned cheerfully, "What's the
game?"

"I think he's having a squint round," said Tommy. "Anyhow I know he's
there on his own and depending on me to pick him up."

"But what made him ask you?" I demanded.

"He knew I had a boat, and I fancy he's working this particular racket
without any official help. As far as I can make out, he wants to be
quite certain what these fellows are up to before he strikes. You
don't get much sympathy in the Secret Service if you happen to make a
mistake."

"Well, it's no good wasting time talking," I said. "If we want to be
there by half-past nine we must push off at once."

"But what about you?" exclaimed Tommy. "You can't come! He's seen you,
you know, at the hut."

"What does it matter?" I objected. "If he didn't recognize me as the
chap who sent him the note at Parelli's, we can easily fake up some
explanation. Tell him I'm a new member of the Athenians, and that you
happened to run across me and brought me down to help work the boat.
There's no reason one shouldn't be a yachtsman and a photographer
too."

I spoke lightly, but as a matter of fact I was some way from
trusting Tommy's judgment implicitly with regard to Latimer's
straightforwardness about the restaurant incident, and also about
his visit to the hut. All the same, I was quite determined to go to
Sheppey. Things had come to a point now when there was nothing to be
gained by over-caution. Either Latimer had recognized me or else he
hadn't. In the first event, he knew already that Tommy had been trying
to deceive him, and that the mythical artist person was none other
than myself. If that were so, I felt it was best to take the bull by
the horns, and try to find out exactly what part he suspected me of
playing. I had at least saved his life, and although we live in an
ungrateful world, he seemed bound to be more or less prejudiced in my
favour.

Apart from these considerations, Tommy would certainly want some help
in working the _Betty_. He knew his job well enough, but with a haze
on the river and the twilight drawing in rapidly, the mouth of the
Thames is no place for single-handed sailing--especially when you're
in a hurry.

Tommy evidently recognized this, for he raised no further objections.

"Very well," he said, with a rather reckless laugh. "We're gambling a
bit, but that's the fault of the cards. Up with the anchor, Neil, and
let's get a move on her."

I hauled in the chain, and then jumped up to attend to the sails,
which I had just let down loosely on deck, in my hurry to put off in
the dinghy. After a couple of unsuccessful efforts and two or three
very successful oaths, Tommy persuaded the engine to start, and we
throbbed off slowly down the creek--now quite a respectable estuary of
tidal water.

I sat back in the well with a laugh. "I never expected a second trip
tonight," I said. "I'm beginning to feel rather like the captain of a
penny steamer."

Tommy, who was combining the important duties of steering and lighting
a pipe, looked up from his labours.

"The Lyndon-Morrison Line!" he observed. "Tilbury to Sheppey twice
daily. Passengers are requested not to speak to the man at the wheel."

"I think, Tommy," I said, "that we must make an exception in the case
of Mr. Latimer."

CHAPTER XX

APPROACHING A SOLUTION

A Chinese proverb informs us that "there are three hundred and
forty-six subjects for elegant conversation," but during the trip down
I think that Tommy and I confined ourselves almost exclusively to two.
One was Mr. Bruce Latimer, and the other was Joyce's amazing discovery
about McMurtrie and Marks.

Concerning the latter Tommy was just as astonished and baffled as I
was.

"I'm blessed if I know what to think about it, Neil," he admitted. "If
it was any one else but Joyce, I should say she'd made a mistake. What
on earth could McMurtrie have had to do with that Jew beast?"

"Joyce seems to think he had quite a lot to do with him," I said.

Tommy nodded. "I know. She's made up her mind he did the job all
right; but, hang it all, one doesn't go and murder people without any
conceivable reason."

"I can conceive plenty of excellent reasons for murdering Marks," I
said impartially. "I should hardly think they would have appealed to
McMurtrie, though. The chief thing that makes me suspicious about him
is the fact of his knowing George and hiding it from me all this
time. I suppose that was how he got hold of his information about the
powder. George was almost the only person who knew of it."

"I always thought the whole business was a devilish odd one," growled
Tommy; "but the more one finds out about it the queerer it seems to
get. These people of yours--McMurtrie and Savaroff--are weird enough
customers on their own, but when it comes to their being mixed up with
both George _and_ Marks ..." he paused. "It will turn out next that
Latimer's in it too," he added half-mockingly.

"I shouldn't wonder," I said. "I can't swallow everything he told you,
Tommy. It leaves too much unexplained. You see, I'm pretty certain
that the chap who tried to do him in is one of McMurtrie's crowd, and
in that case--"

"In that case," interrupted Tommy, with a short laugh, "we ought to
have rather an interesting evening. Seems to me, Neil, we're what you
might call burning our boats this journey."

The old compunction I had felt at first against dragging Tommy and
Joyce into my affairs suddenly came back to me with renewed force.

"I'm a selfish brute, Thomas," I said ruefully. "I think the best
thing I could do really would be to drop overboard. The Lord knows
what trouble I shall land you in before I've finished."

"You'll land me into the trouble of telling you not to talk rot in a
minute," he returned. Then, standing up and peering out ahead over
the long dim expanse of water, dotted here and there with patches of
blurred light, he added cheerfully: "You take her over now, Neil,
We're right at the end of the Yantlet, and after this morning you
ought to know the rest of the way better than I do."

He resigned the tiller to me, and pulling out his watch, held it up to
the binnacle lamp.

"Close on a quarter to nine," he said. "We shall just do it nicely if
the engine doesn't stop."

"I hope so," I said. "I should hate to keep a Government official
waiting."

We crossed the broad entrance into Queenborough Harbour, where the dim
bulk of a couple of battleships loomed up vaguely through the haze.
It was a strange, exhilarating sensation, throbbing along in the
semi-darkness, with all sorts of unknown possibilities waiting for
us ahead. More than ever I felt what Joyce had described in the
morning--a sort of curious inward conviction that we were at last on
the point of finding out the truth.

"We'd better slacken down a bit when we get near," said Tommy.
"Latimer specially told me to bring her in as quietly as I could."

I nodded. "Right you are," I said. "I wasn't going to hurry, anyhow.
It's a tricky place, and I don't want to smash up any more islands.
One a day is quite enough."

I slowed down the engine to about four knots an hour, and at this
dignified pace we proceeded along the coast, keeping a watchful eye
for the entrance to the creek. At last a vague outline of rising
ground showed us that we were in the right neighbourhood, and bringing
the _Betty_ round, I headed her in very delicately towards the shore.
It was distressingly dark, from a helmsman's point of view, but Tommy,
who had gone up into the bows, handed me back instructions, and
by dint of infinite care we succeeded in making the opening with
surprising accuracy.

The creek was quite small, with a steep bank one side perhaps fifteen
feet high, and what looked like a stretch of mud or saltings on the
other. Its natural beauties, however, if it had any, were rather
obscured by the darkness.

"What shall we do now, Tommy?" I asked in a subdued voice. "Turn her
round?"

He came back to the well. "Yes," he said, "turn her round, and then
I'll cut out the engine and throttle her down. She'll make a certain
amount of row, but we can't help that. I daren't stop her; or she
might never start again."

We carried out our manoeuvre successfully, and then dropped over the
anchor to keep us in position. I seated myself on the roof of the
cabin, and pulling out a pipe, commenced to fill it.

"I wonder how long the interval is," I said. "I suppose spying is a
sort of job you can't fix an exact time-limit to."

Tommy looked at his watch again. "It's just on a quarter to ten now.
He told me not to wait after half-past."

I stuffed down the baccy with my thumb, and felt in my pocket for a
match.

"It seems to me--" I began.

The interesting remark I was about to make was never uttered. From the
high ground away to the left came the sudden crack of a revolver shot
that rang out with startling viciousness on the night air. It was
followed almost instantly by a second.

Tommy and I leaped up together, inspired simultaneously by the same
idea. Being half way there, however, I easily reached the painter
first.

"All right," I cried, "I'll pick him up. You haul in and have her
ready to start."

I don't know exactly what the record is for getting off in a dinghy in
the dark, but I think I hold it with something to spare. I was away
from the ship and sculling furiously for the shore in about the same
time that it has taken to write this particular sentence.

I pulled straight for the direction in which I had heard the shots.
It was the steepest part of the cliff, but under the circumstances it
seemed the most likely spot at which my services would be required.
People are apt to take a short cut when revolver bullets are chasing
about the neighbourhood.

I stopped rowing a few yards from the shore, and swinging the boat
round, stared up through the gloom. There was just light enough to
make out the top of the cliff, which appeared to be covered by a thick
growth of gorse several feet in height. I backed away a stroke or two,
and as I did so, there came a sudden snapping, rustling sound from
up above, and the next instant the figure of a man broke through the
bushes.

He peered down eagerly at the water.

"That you, Morrison?" he called out in a low, distinct voice, which I
recognized at once.

"Yes," I answered briefly. It struck me as being no time for elaborate
explanations.

Mr. Latimer was evidently of the same opinion. Without any further
remark, he stepped forward to the edge of the cliff, and jumping well
out into the air, came down with a beautiful splash about a dozen
yards from the boat.

He rose to the surface at once, and I was alongside of him a moment
later.

"It's all right," I said, as he clutched hold of the stern.
"Morrison's in the _Betty_; I'm lending him a hand."

I caught his arm to help him in, and as I did so he gave a little
sharp exclamation of pain.

"Hullo!" I said, shifting my grip. "What's the matter?"

With an effort he hoisted himself up into the boat.

"Nothing much, thanks," he answered in that curious composed voice of
his. "I think one of our friends made a luckier shot than he deserved
to. It's only my left arm, though."

I seized the sculls, and began to pull off quickly for the _Betty_.

"We'll look at it in a second," I said. "Are they after you?"

He laughed. "Yes, some little way after. I took the precaution of
starting in the other direction and then doubling back. It worked
excellently."

He spoke in the same rather amused drawl as he had done at the hut,
and there was no hint of hurry or excitement in his manner. I could
just see, however, that he was dressed in rough, common-looking
clothes, and that he was no longer wearing an eye-glass. If he had had
a cap, he had evidently parted with it during his dive into the sea.

A few strokes brought us to the _Betty_, where Tommy was leaning over
the side ready to receive us.

"All right?" he inquired coolly, as we scrambled on board.

"Nothing serious," replied Latimer. "Thanks to you and--and this
gentleman."

"They've winged him, Tommy," I said. "Can you take her out while I
have a squint at the damage?"

Tommy's answer was to thrust in the clutch of the engine, and with an
abrupt jerk we started off down the creek. As we did so there came a
sudden hail from the shore.

"Boat ahoy! What boat's that?"

It was a deep, rather dictatorial sort of voice, with the faintest
possible touch of a foreign accent about it.

Latimer replied at once in a cheerful, good-natured bawl, amazingly
different from his ordinary tone:

"Private launch, _Vanity_, Southend; and who the hell are you?"

Whether the vigour of the reply upset our questioner or not, I can't
say. Anyhow he returned no answer, and leaving him to think what he
pleased, we continued our way out into the main stream.

"Come into the cabin and let's have a look at you," I said to Latimer.
"You must get those wet things off, anyhow."

He followed me inside, where I took down the small hanging lamp and
placed it on the table. Then very carefully I helped him strip off his
coat, bringing to light a grey flannel shirt, the left sleeve of which
was soaked in blood.

I took out my knife, and ripped it up from the cuff to the shoulder.
The wound was about a couple of inches above the elbow, a small clean
puncture right through from side to side. It was bleeding a bit, but
one could see at a glance that the bullet had just missed the bone.

"You're lucky," I said. "Another quarter of an inch, and that arm
would have been precious little use to you for the next two months.
Does it hurt much?"

He shook his head. "Not the least," he replied carelessly. "I hardly
knew I was hit until you grabbed hold of me."

I tied my handkerchief round as tightly as possible just above the
place, and then going to the locker hauled out our spare fancy costume
which had previously done duty for Mr. Gow.

"You get these on first," I said, "and then I'll fix you up properly."

I thrust my head out through the cabin door to see how things were
going, and found that we were already clear of the creek and heading
back towards Queenborough. Tommy, who was sitting at the tiller
puffing away peacefully at a pipe, removed the latter article from his
mouth.

"Where are we going to, my pretty maid?" he inquired.

"I don't know," I said; "I'll ask the passenger as soon as I've
finished doctoring him."

I returned to the cabin, where Mr. Latimer, who had stripped off
his wet garments, was attempting to dry himself with a dishcloth. I
managed to find him a towel, and then, as soon as he had struggled
into a pair of flannel trousers and a vest, I set about the job of
tying up his arm. An old shirt of Tommy's served me as a bandage, and
although I don't profess to be an expert, I knew enough about first
aid to make a fairly serviceable job of it. Anyhow Mr. Latimer
expressed himself as being completely satisfied.

"You'd better have a drink now," I said. "That's part of the
treatment."

I mixed him a stiff peg, which he consumed without protest; and then,
after he had inserted himself carefully into a jersey and coat, we
both went outside.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Tommy genially. "How do you feel now?"

Our visitor sat down on one of the side seats in the cockpit, and
contemplated us both with his pleasant smile.

"I feel extremely obliged to you, Morrison," he said. "You have a way
of keeping your engagements that I find most satisfactory."

Tommy laughed. "I had a bit of luck," he returned. "If I hadn't picked
up our pal here I doubt if I should have got down in time after all.
By the way, there's no need to introduce you. You've met each other
before at the hut, haven't you?"

Latimer, who was just lighting a cigar which I had offered him, paused
for a moment in the operation.

"Yes," he said quietly. "We have met each other before. But I should
rather like to be introduced, all the same."

Something in his manner struck me as being a trifle odd, but if Tommy
noticed it he certainly didn't betray the fact.

"Well, you shall be," he answered cheerfully. "This is Mr. James
Nicholson."

Latimer finished lighting his cigar, blew out the match, and dropped
it carefully over the side.

"Indeed," he said. "It only shows how extremely inaccurate one's
reasoning powers can be."

There was a short but rather pregnant pause. Then Tommy leaned
forward.

"What do you mean?" he asked, in that peculiarly gentle voice which he
keeps for the most unhealthy occasions.

Latimer's face remained beautifully impassive. "I was under the
mistaken impression," he answered slowly, "that I owed my life to Mr.
Neil Lyndon."

For perhaps three seconds none of us spoke; then I broke the silence
with a short laugh.

"We are up against it, Thomas," I observed.

Tommy looked backwards and forwards from one to the other of us.

"What shall we do?" he said quietly. "Throw him in the river?"

"It would be rather extravagant," I objected, "after we've just pulled
him out."

Latimer smiled. "I am not sure I don't deserve it. I have lied to you,
Morrison, all through in the most disgraceful manner." Then he paused.
"Still it _would_ be extravagant," he added. "I think I can convince
you of that before we get to Queenborough."

Tommy throttled down the engine to about its lowest running point.

"Look here, Latimer," he said. "We're not going to Queenborough, or
anywhere else, until we've got the truth out of you. You understand
that, of course. You've put yourself in our power deliberately, and
you must have some reason. One doesn't cut one's throat for fun."

He spoke in his usual pleasant fashion, but there was a grim
seriousness behind it which no one could pretend to misunderstand.
Latimer, at all events, made no attempt to. He merely nodded his head
approvingly.

"You're quite right," he said. "I had made up my mind you should hear
some of the truth tonight in any case; that was the chief reason why
I asked you to come and pick me up. When I saw you had brought Mr.
Lyndon with you, I determined to tell you everything. It's the
simplest and best way, after all."

He stopped for a moment, and we all three sat there in silence, while
the _Betty_ slowly throbbed her way forward, splashing off the black
water from either bow. Then Latimer began to speak again quite
quietly.

"I _am_ in the Secret Service," he said; "but you can forget the rest
of what I told you the other night, Morrison. I am after bigger game
than a couple of German spies--though they come into it right enough.
I am on the track of three friends of Mr. Lyndon's, who just now are
as badly wanted in Whitehall as they probably are in hell."

I leaned back with a certain curious thrill of satisfaction.

"I thought so," I said softly.

He glanced at me with his keen blue eyes, and the light of the lamp
shining on his face showed up its square dogged lines of strength and
purpose. It was a fine face--the face of a man without weakness and
without fear.

"It's nearly twelve months ago now," he continued, "that we first
began to realize at headquarters that there was something queer going
on. There's always a certain amount of spying in every country--the
sort of quiet, semi-official kind that doesn't do any one a ha'porth
of practical harm. Now and then, of course, somebody gets dropped on,
and there's a fuss in the papers, but nobody really bothers much about
it. This was different, however. Two or three times things happened
that did matter very much indeed. They were the sort of things that
showed us pretty plainly we were up against something entirely
new--some kind of organized affair that had nothing on earth to do
with the usual casual spying.

"Well, I made up my mind to get to the bottom of it. Casement, who is
nominally the head of our department, gave me an absolutely free hand,
and I set to work in my own way quite independently of the police. It
was six months before I got hold of a clue. Then some designs--some
valuable battleship designs--disappeared from Devonport Dockyard. It
was a queer case, but there were one or two things about it which made
me pretty sure it was the work of the same gang, and that for the
time, at all events, they were somewhere in the neighbourhood.

"I needn't bother you now with all the details of how I actually ran
them to earth. It wasn't an easy job. They weren't the sort of people
who left any spare bits of evidence lying around, and by the time I
found out where they were living it was just too late." He turned to
me. "Otherwise, Mr. Lyndon, I think we might possibly have had the
pleasure of meeting earlier."

A sudden forgotten recollection of my first interview with McMurtrie
flashed vividly into my mind.

"By Jove!" I exclaimed. "What a fool I am! I knew I'd heard your name
somewhere before."

Latimer nodded. "Yes," he said. "I daresay I had begun to arouse a
certain amount of interest in the household by the time you arrived."
He paused. "By the way, I am still quite in the dark as to how you
actually got in with them. Had they managed to send you a message into
the prison?"

"No," I said. "I'm equally in the dark as to how you've found out who
I am, but you seem to know so much already, you may as well have the
truth. It was chance; just pure chance and a bicycle. I hadn't the
remotest notion who lived in the house. I was trying to steal some
food."

Latimer nodded again. "It was a chance that a man like McMurtrie
wasn't likely to waste. I don't know yet how you're paying him for his
help, but I should imagine it's a fairly stiff price. However, we'll
come back to that afterwards.

"I was just too late, as I told you, to interrupt your pleasant little
house-party. I managed to find out, however, that some of you had gone
to London, and I followed at once. It was then, I think, that the
doctor decided it was time to take the gloves off.

"So far, although I'd been on their heels for weeks, I hadn't set eyes
on any of the gang personally. All the same, I had a pretty good idea
of what McMurtrie and Savaroff were like to look at, and I fancy they
probably guessed as much. Anyhow, as you know, it was the third
member of the brotherhood--a gentleman who, I believe, calls himself
Hoffman--who was entrusted with the job of putting me out of the way."

A faint mocking smile flickered for a moment round his lips.

"That was where the doctor made his first slip. It never pays to
underestimate your enemy. Hoffman certainly had a good story, and
he told it well, but after thirteen years in the Secret Service I
shouldn't trust the Archbishop of Canterbury till I'd proved his
credentials. I agreed to dine at Parelli's, but I took the precaution
of having two of my own men there as well--one in the restaurant
and one outside in the street. I had given them instructions that,
whatever happened, they were to keep Hoffman shadowed till further
orders.

"Well, you know how things turned out almost as well as I do. I was
vastly obliged to you for sending me that note, but as a matter of
fact I hadn't the least intention of drinking the wine. Indeed, I
turned away purposely to give Hoffman the chance to doctor it. What
did beat me altogether was who you were. I naturally couldn't place
you at all. I saw that you recognized one of us when you came in, and
that you were watching our table pretty attentively in the glass. I
had a horrible suspicion for a moment that you were a Scotland Yard
man, and were going to bungle the whole business by arresting Hoffman.
That was why I sent you my card; I knew if you were at the Yard you'd
recognize my name."

"I severed my connection with the police some time ago," I said drily.
"What happened after dinner? I've been longing to know ever since."

"I got rid of Hoffman at the door, and from the time he left the
restaurant my men never lost him again. They shadowed him to his
lodgings--he was living in a side street near Victoria--and for the
next two days I got a detailed report of everything he did. It was
quite interesting reading. Amongst other things it included paying a
morning visit to the hut you're living in at present, Mr. Lyndon, and
going on from there to spend the afternoon calling on some friends at
Sheppey."

I laughed gently, and turned to Tommy. "Amazingly simple," I said,
"when you know how it's done."

Tommy nodded. "I've got all that part, but I'm still utterly at sea
about how he dropped on to you."

"That was simpler still," answered Latimer. "One of my men told me
that the hut was empty for the time, so I came down to have a look
at it." He turned to me. "Of course I recognized you at once as the
obliging stranger of the restaurant. That didn't put me much farther
on the road, but when Morrison rolled up with his delightfully
ingenious yarn, he gave me just the clue I was looking for. I knew
his story was all a lie because I'd seen you since. Well, a man
like Morrison doesn't butt into this sort of business without a
particularly good reason, and it didn't take me very long to guess
what his reason was. You see I remembered him chiefly in connection
with your trial. I knew he was your greatest friend; I knew you had
escaped from Dartmoor and disappeared somewhere in the neighbourhood
of McMurtrie's place, and putting two and two together there was only
one conclusion I could possibly come to."

"My appearance must have taken a little getting over," I suggested.

Latimer shrugged his shoulders. "Apart from your features you exactly
fitted the bill, and I had learned enough about McMurtrie's past
performances not to let that worry me. What I couldn't make out was
why he should have run the risk of helping you. Of course you might
have offered him a large sum of money--if you had it put away
somewhere--but in that case there seemed no reason why you should be
hanging about in a hut on the Thames marshes."

"Why didn't you tell the police?" asked Tommy.

"The police!" Latimer's voice was full of pleasant irony. "My dear
Morrison, we don't drag the police into this sort of business; our
great object is to keep them out of it. Mr. Lyndon's affairs had
nothing to do with me officially apart from his being mixed up with
McMurtrie. Besides, my private sympathies were entirely with him. Not
only had he tried to save my life at Parelli's, but ever since the
trial I have always been under the impression he was fully entitled to
slaughter Mr.--Mr.--whatever the scoundrel's name was."

I acknowledged the remark with a slight bow. "Thank you," I said. "As
a matter of sober fact I didn't kill him, but I shouldn't be the least
sorry for it if I had."

Latimer looked at me for a moment straight in the eyes.

"We've treated you beautifully as a nation," he said slowly. "It's an
impertinence on my part to expect you to help us."

I laughed. "Go on," I said. "Let's get it straightened out anyhow."

"Well, the straightening out must be largely done by you. As far as
I'm concerned the rest of the story can be told very quickly. For
various reasons I got to the conclusion that in some way or other the
two gentlemen on Sheppey had a good deal to do with the matter. My men
had been making a few inquiries about them, and from what we'd learned
I was strongly inclined to think they were a couple of German naval
officers over here on leave. If that was so, the fact that they were
in communication with Hoffman made it pretty plain where McMurtrie was
finding his market. My men had told me they were generally away on the
mainland in the evening, and I made up my mind I'd have a look at the
place the first chance I got. I asked Morrison to come down and pick
me up in his boat for two reasons--partly because I wanted to keep in
touch with you both, and partly because I thought it might come in
handy to have a second line of retreat."

"It _was_ rather convenient, as things turned out," interposed Tommy.

"Very," admitted Latimer drily. "They got back to the garden just as I
had opened one of the windows, and shot at me from behind the hedge.
If it hadn't been for the light they must have picked me off."

He stopped, and standing up in the well, looked round. By this time we
were again just off the entrance to Queenborough, and the thick haze
that had obscured everything earlier in the evening was rapidly
thinning away. A watery moon showed up the various warships at
anchor--dim grey formless shapes, marked by blurred lights.

"What do you say?" he asked, turning to Tommy. "Shall we run in here
and pick up some moorings? Before we go any further I want to hear
Lyndon's part of the story, and then we all three shall know exactly
where we are. After that you can throw me in the sea, or--or--well, I
think there are several possible alternatives."

"We'll find out anyhow," said Tommy.

He turned the _Betty_ towards the shore, and we worked our way
carefully into the harbour. We ran on past the anchored vessels, until
we were right opposite the Queenborough jetty, where we discovered
some unoccupied moorings which we promptly adopted. It was a snug
berth, and a fairly isolated one--a rakish-looking little gunboat
being our nearest neighbour.

In this pleasant atmosphere of law and order I proceeded to narrate as
briefly and quickly as possible the main facts about my escape and its
results. I felt that we had gone too far now to keep anything back.
Latimer had boldly placed his own cards face upwards on the table, and
short of sending him to the fishes, there seemed to be nothing else
to do except to follow his example. As he himself had said, we should
then at least know exactly how we stood with regard to each other.

He listened to me for the most part in silence, but the few
interruptions that he did make showed the almost fierce attention with
which he was following my story. I don't think his eyes ever left my
face from the first word to the last.

When I had finished he sat on for perhaps a minute without speaking.
Then very deliberately he leaned across and held out his hand.

We exchanged grips, and for once in my life I found a man whose

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