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A Rogue by Compulsion by Victor Bridges

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fingers seemed as strong as my own.

"I don't know whether that makes you an accessory after the fact,"
I said. "I believe it's about eighteen months for being civil to an
escaped convict."

He let go my hand, and getting up from his seat leaned back against
the door of the cabin facing us both.

"You may be an escaped convict, Mr. Lyndon," he said slowly, "but if
you choose I believe you can do more for England than any man alive."

There was a short pause.

"It seems to me," interrupted Tommy, "that England is a little bit in
Neil's debt already."

"That doesn't matter," I observed generously. "Let's hear what Mr.
Latimer has got to say." I turned to him. "Who are McMurtrie and
Savaroff?" I asked, "and what the devil's the meaning of it all?"

"The meaning is plain enough to a certain point," he answered. "I
haven't the least doubt that they intend to sell the secret of your
powder to Germany, just as they've sold their other information. If I
knew for certain it was only that, I should act, and act at once."

He stopped.

"Well?" I said.

"I believe there's something more behind it--something we've got to
find out before we strike. For the last two months Germany has taken
a tone towards us diplomatically that can only have one explanation.
They mean to get their way or fight, and if it comes to a fight
they're under the impression they're going to beat us."

"And you really believe McMurtrie and Savaroff are responsible for
their optimism?" I asked a little incredulously.

Latimer nodded. "Dr. McMurtrie," he said in his quiet drawl, "is the
most dangerous man in Europe. He is partly English and partly Russian
by birth. At one time he used to be court physician at St. Petersburg.
Savaroff is a German Pole--his real name is Vassiloff. Between them
they were largely responsible for the early disasters in the Japanese
war."

For a moment no one spoke. Then Tommy leaned forward. "I say,
Latimer," he exclaimed, "is this serious history?"

"The Russian Government," replied Latimer, "are most certainly under
that impression."

"But if they know about it," I objected, "how is it that McMurtrie and
Savaroff aren't in Siberia? I've never heard that the Russians are
particularly tender-hearted where traitors are concerned."

Latimer indulged in that peculiarly dry smile of his. "If the
Government had got hold of them I think their destination would have
been a much warmer one than Siberia. As it was they disappeared just
in time. There was a gang of them--four or five at the least--and all
men of position and influence. They must have made an enormous amount
of money out of the Japs. In the end one of them rounded on the
others--at least that's what appears to have happened. Anyhow
McMurtrie and Savaroff skipped, and skipped in such a hurry that they
seem to have left most of their savings behind them. I suppose that's
what made them start business again in England."

"You're absolutely sure they're the same pair?" asked Tommy.

"Absolutely. I've got their full description from the Russian police.
It tallies in every way--even to Savaroff's daughter. There _is_ a
girl with them, I believe?"

"Yes," I said. "There's a girl." Then I paused for a moment. "Look
here, Latimer," I went on. "What is it you want me to do? I'll help
you in any way I can. When I made my bargain with McMurtrie I hadn't
a notion what his real game was. I don't in the least want to buy my
freedom by selling England to Germany. The only thing I flatly and
utterly refuse to do is to serve out the rest of my sentence. If it's
bound to come out who I am, you must give me your word I shall have
a reasonable warning. I don't much mind dying--especially if I can
arrange for ten minutes with George first--but quite candidly I'd see
England wiped off the map before I'd go back to Dartmoor."

Latimer made a slight gesture with his hands. "You've saved my life,
once at all events," he said. "It may seem a trifle to you, but it's a
matter of quite considerable importance to me. I don't think you need
worry about going back to Dartmoor--not as long as the Secret Service
is in existence."

"Well, what is it you want me to do?" I asked again.

He was silent for a moment or two, as though arranging his ideas. Then
he began to speak very slowly and deliberately.

"I want you to go on as if nothing had happened. Write to McMurtrie
the first thing tomorrow morning and tell him that you've made the
powder. He is sure to come down to the hut at once. You can show him
that it's genuine, but on no account let him have any of it to take
away. Tell him that you will only hand over the secret on receipt of
a written agreement, and make him see that you're absolutely serious.
Meanwhile let me know everything that happens as soon as you possibly
can. Telegraph to me at 145 Jermyn Street. You can send in the
messages to Tilbury by the man who's looking after your boat. Use some
quick simple cypher--suppose we say the alphabet backwards, Z for A
and so on. Have you got plenty of money?"

I nodded. "I should like to have some sort of notion what you're going
to do," I said. "It would be much more inspiriting than working in the
dark."

"It depends entirely on the next two days. I shall go back to London
tonight and find out if either of my men has got hold of any fresh
information. Then I shall put the whole thing in front of Casement. If
he agrees with me I shall wait till the last possible moment before
striking. We've enough evidence about the Devonport case to arrest
McMurtrie and Savaroff straight away, but I feel it would be madness
while there's a chance of getting to the bottom of this business.
Perhaps you understand now why I've risked everything tonight. We're
playing for high stakes, Mr. Lyndon, and you--" he paused--"well, I'm
inclined to think that you've the ace of trumps."

I stood up and faced him. "I hope so," I said. "I'm rather tired of
being taken for the Knave."

"Isn't there a job for me?" asked Tommy pathetically. "I'm open for
anything, especially if it wants a bit of physical violence."

"There will probably be a demand for that a little later on," said
Latimer in his quiet drawl. "At present I want you to come back with
me to London. I shall find plenty for you to do there, Morrison. The
fewer people that are mixed up in this affair the better." He turned
to me. "You can take the boat back to Tilbury alone if we go ashore
here?"

I nodded, and he once more held out his hand.

"We shall meet again soon," he said--"very soon I think. Have you ever
read Longfellow?"

It was such a surprising question that I couldn't help smiling.

"Not recently," I said. "I haven't been in the mood for poetry the
last two or three years."

He held my hand and his blue eyes looked steadily into mine.

"Ah," he said. "I don't want to be too optimistic, but there's a verse
in Longfellow which I think you might like." He paused again. "It has
something to do with the Mills of God," he added slowly.

CHAPTER XXI

SONIA'S SUDDEN VISIT

One's feelings are queer things. Personally I never have the least
notion how a particular situation will affect me until I happen to
find myself in it.

I should have thought, for instance, that Latimer's revelations would
have left me in a state of vast excitement, but as a matter of fact
I don't think I ever felt cooler in my life. I believe every other
emotion was swallowed up in the relief of finding out something
definite at last.

I know anyhow that that was my chief sensation as I rowed the dinghy
towards the wet slimy causeway, lit by its solitary lamp. There was a
boat train to town in the early hours of the morning which Latimer had
suggested that he and Tommy should catch, and it certainly seemed a
safer plan than coming back to Tilbury with me.

When I had parted from them, under the sleepy eye of a
depressed-looking night watchman, I returned to the _Betty_ and
proceeded to let go my moorings. I then ran up the sails, and gliding
gently past the warships and a big incoming steamer, floated out into
the broad peaceful darkness of the Thames estuary. I was in no hurry,
and now that the mist had cleared away it was a perfect night for
drifting comfortably up river with the tide.

The dawn was just beginning to break by the time I reached my old
anchorage in the creek. In spite of my long and slightly strenuous
day, I didn't feel particularly tired, so after stowing away the sails
and tidying up things generally, I sat down in the cabin and began to
compose my letter to McMurtrie.

I started off by telling him that I had completed my invention some
days earlier than I expected to, and then gave him a brief but
dramatic description of the success which had attended my first
experiment. I am afraid I was a trifle inaccurate with regard to
details, but the precise truth is a luxury that very few of us can
afford to indulge in. I certainly couldn't. When I had finished I
addressed the envelope to the Hotel Russell, and then, turning into
one of the bunks, soon dropped off into a well-deserved sleep.

I don't know whether it was Nature that aroused me, or whether it was
Mr. Gow. Anyway I woke up with the distinct impression that somebody
was hailing the boat, and thrusting my head up through the hatch I
discovered my faithful retainer standing on the bank.

He greeted me with a slightly apologetic air when I put off to fetch
him.

"Good-mornin', sir. I hope I done right stoppin' ashore, sir. The
young lady told me I wouldn't be wanted not till this mornin'."

"The young lady was quite correct," I said. "You weren't." Then as we
pushed off for the _Betty_ I added: "But I'm glad you've come back
in good time today. I want you to go in and post a letter for me at
Tilbury as soon as we've had some breakfast. You might get a newspaper
for me at the same time."

"Talkin' o' noos, sir," observed Mr. Gow with sudden interest,
"'ave you heard tell about the back o' Canvey Island bein' blown up
yesterday mornin'?"

"Blown up!" I repeated as we ran alongside. "Who on earth did that?"

Mr. Gow shook his head as he clambered on board after me. "No one
don't seem to know," he remarked. "'Twere done arly in the mornin',
they reckon. There's some as says 'tis the suffrinjettes, but to my
way o' thinkin' sir; it's more like to have somethin' to do with them
blarsted Dutchmen as sunk my boat."

"By Jove!" I exclaimed, "I wonder if it had. They seem to be
mischievous devils."

Mr. Gow nodded emphatically. "They are, sir, and that's a fact. 'Tis
time somebody took a quiet look round that house o' theirs, some day
when they ain't there."

How very nearly this desirable object had been achieved on the
previous evening I thought it unnecessary to mention, but I was hugely
relieved to learn that so far there was no suspicion as to who was
really responsible for the damage to the creek. Apart from the
inconvenience which it would have entailed, to be arrested for blowing
up a bit of mud in a Thames backwater would have been a sad come-down
for a convicted murderer!

As soon as he had provided me with some breakfast, Mr. Gow departed
for Tilbury with my letter to McMurtrie in his pocket. He was away for
a couple of hours, returning with a copy of the _Daily Mail_ and the
information that there were no letters for me at the post-office.

I handed him over the _Betty_, with instructions not to desert her
until he was relieved by either Tommy or Joyce or me, and then set off
for the hut by my usual route. It was less than thirty hours since
I had left it, but so many interesting things had happened in the
interval it seemed more like three weeks.

For any one entangled in such a variety of perils as I appeared to be,
I spent a surprisingly peaceful day. Not a soul came near the place,
and except for reading the _Mail_ and indulging in a certain amount of
hard thinking, I enjoyed the luxury of doing absolutely nothing. After
the exertion and excitements of the previous twenty-four hours, this
lull was exactly what I needed. It gave me time to take stock of my
position in the light of Latimer's amazing revelations--a process
which on the whole I found fairly satisfactory. If the likelihood of
proving my innocence still seemed a trifle remote, I had at least
penetrated some of the mystery which surrounded Dr. McMurtrie and his
friends, and more and more it was becoming obvious to me that the
two problems were closely connected. Anyhow I turned into bed in
an optimistic mood, and with the stimulating feeling that in all
probability I had a pleasantly eventful day in front of me.

It certainly opened in the most promising fashion. I woke up at eight,
and was making a light breakfast off a tin of sardines and some
incredibly stale bread, when through the little window that looked out
towards the Tilbury road I suddenly spotted my youthful friend from
the post-office approaching across the marsh. I opened the door, and
he came up with a respectful grin of recognition.

"Letter for you, sir," he observed, "come this morning, sir."

He handed me an envelope addressed in Joyce's writing, and stood by
while I read it, thoughtfully scratching his head with the peak of
his cap. It was only a short note, but beautifully characteristic of
Joyce.

"MY OWN NEIL,--

"I'm coming down to see you tomorrow afternoon. I've got several
things to tell you, but the chief reason is because I want to kiss
you and be kissed by you. Everything else seems rather unimportant
compared with that.

"JOYCE."

"Any answer, sir?" inquired the boy, when he saw I had finished
reading.

"Yes, Charles," I said; "there is an answer, but I'm afraid I can't
send it by post. Wait a minute, though," I added, as he began to put
on his cap, "I want you to send off a wire for me if you will. It will
take a minute or two to write."

I went into the hut, and hastily scribbled a telegram to Latimer,
telling him that I had written to McMurtrie, but that otherwise there
was nothing to report. I copied this out carefully in the simple
cypher we had agreed on, and handed it to the boy, together with five
shillings.

"You can keep the change," I said, "and buy fireworks with it. I've
been too busy to make any yet."

He gurgled out some expressions of gratitude and took his departure,
while I renewed my attack upon the sardines and bread.

Fortified by this simple cheer, I devoted the remainder of the morning
to tidying up my shed. I felt that I was living in such uncertain
times that it would be just as well to remove all possible traces of
the work I had been engaged on, and by midday the place looked almost
as tidy as when I had first entered it.

I then treated myself to a cigar and began to keep a look-out for
Joyce. She had not said in her letter what time she would arrive, but
I knew that there were a couple of trains early in the afternoon, and
I remembered that I had told her to come straight to the hut.

It must have been getting on for two when I suddenly caught sight of
a motor car with a solitary occupant coming quickly along the Tilbury
road. It pulled up as it reached the straggling plantation opposite
the hut, and a minute later a girl appeared from between the trees,
and started to walk towards me across the marsh.

I was a little surprised, for I didn't know that Joyce included motor
driving amongst her other accomplishments, and she had certainly never
mentioned to me that there was any chance of her coming down in a
car. Then, a moment later, the truth suddenly hit me with paralysing
abruptness. It was not Joyce at all; it was Sonia.

I don't know why the discovery should have given me such a shock, for
in a way I had been expecting her to turn up any time. Still a shock
it undoubtedly did give me, and for a second or so I stood there
staring stupidly at her like a man who has suddenly lost the use of
his limbs. Then, pulling myself together, I turned away from the
window and strode to the door.

She came up to me swiftly and eagerly, moving with that strange lissom
grace that always reminded me of some untamed animal. Her hurried walk
across the marsh had brought a faint tinge of colour into the usual
ivory clearness of her skin, and her dark eyes were alive with
excitement.

I held out my hands to welcome her. "I was beginning to think you'd
forgotten the address, Sonia," I said.

With that curious little deep laugh of hers she pulled my arms round
her, and for several seconds we remained standing in this friendly
if a trifle informal attitude. Then, perceiving no reasonable
alternative, I bent down and kissed her.

"Ah!" she whispered. "At last! At last!"

Deserted as the marsh was, it seemed rather public for this type of
dialogue, so drawing her inside the hut I closed the door.

She looked round at everything with rapid, eager interest. "I have
heard all about the powder," she said. "It's quite true, isn't it? You
have done what you hoped to do?"

I nodded. "I've blown up about twenty yards of Canvey Island with a
few ounces of it," I said. "That seems good enough for a start."

She laughed again with a sort of fierce satisfaction. "You have done
something more than that. You have given me just the power I needed to
help you." She came up and with a quick impulsive gesture laid her two
hands on my arm. "Neil, Neil, my lover! In a few hours from now you
can have everything you want in the world. Everything, Neil--money,
freedom, love--" She broke off, panting slightly with her own
vehemence, and then drawing my face down to hers, kissed me again on
the lips.

I suppose I ought to have felt rather ashamed of myself, but I think
I was too interested in what she was going to say to worry much about
anything else.

"Tell me, Sonia," I said. "What am I to do? Can I trust your father
and McMurtrie?"

She let go my arm, and stepping back sat down on the edge of the small
table which I had been using as a writing-desk.

"Trust them!" she repeated half scornfully. "Yes, you can trust them
if you want to go on being cheated and robbed. Can't you see--can't
you guess the way they have been lying to you?"

"Of course I can," I said coolly; "but when one's between the Devil
and Dartmoor, I prefer the Devil every time. I don't enjoy being
cheated, but it's much more pleasant than being starved or flogged."

She leaned forward, holding the edge of the table with her hands.
"There's no need for either. As I've told you, in a few hours from
now we can be away from England with money enough to last us for our
lives. Do you know what your invention is worth? Do you know what use
they mean to make of it?"

"I imagine they hope to sell it," I answered. "It wouldn't be
difficult to find a customer."

"Difficult!" She lowered her voice to a quick eager whisper. "They
have got a customer. The best customer in Europe. A customer that will
pay anything in the world for such a secret as yours."

I gazed at her with a carefully assumed expression of amazement and
dawning intelligence.

"Good Lord, Sonia!" I said slowly; "do you mean--?"

She made an impatient movement with her hands. "Listen! I am going to
tell you everything. What's the good of you and I beating about
the bush?" She paused. "We are spies," she said quite simply,
"professional spies. Of course it sounds absurd and impossible to
you--an Englishman--but all the same it's the truth. You don't know
what sort of man Dr. McMurtrie is."

"I appear to be learning," I observed.

"He has been a friend of my father's for years. They were in Russia
together at one time--and then Paris, Vienna--oh, everywhere. It has
always been the same; in each country they have found out things that
other Governments have been willing to pay for. At least, the doctor
has. The rest of us, my father, myself, Hoffman"--she shrugged her
shoulders--"we are his puppets, his tools. Everything we have done has
been planned and arranged by him."

There was a short silence.

"How long have you been here?" I asked. "What brought you to England?"

"We have been here just over three years," she answered slowly. "There
was a man in London that Dr. McMurtrie and my father wanted to find.
Eight years ago he betrayed them in St. Petersburg."

A sudden idea--so wild as to be almost incredible--flashed into my
mind.

I moistened my lips. "Who was he?" I asked steadily.

She shook her head. "I don't know his name. I only know that he is
dead. I think Dr. McMurtrie would kill any one who betrayed him--if he
could."

I crossed the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. I felt
strangely excited.

"And after that," I said quietly, "I suppose the doctor thought he
might as well stop here and do a little business?"

"I think it was suggested to him from Berlin. He had sent them all
sorts of information when we were in Paris, and, of course, as things
are now, they were still more anxious to get hold of anything about
the English army or navy." She paused. "What they specially wanted
were the plans of the Lyndon-Marwood torpedo."

"Yes," I said. "I dare say they did. A lot of people have wanted them,
but unfortunately they're not for sale."

Sonia laughed softly. "The exact price we paid for them," she said,
"was twelve thousand pounds."

I sat up with a jerk. This time my surprise was utterly genuine.

"You bought them!" I said incredulously. "Bought them from some one in
the Admiralty?"

Again Sonia shook her head. "Don't you remember what you read in the
_Daily Mail_ about the robbery at your offices in Victoria Street?"

I stared at her for a second, and then suddenly the real truth dawned
on me.

"So George sold them to you?" I said.

She nodded. "Ever since you went to prison the business has been going
to pieces. He wanted money badly--very badly indeed. Dr. McMurtrie
found this out. He found out too that there was a copy of the plans
in the office, and--well, you can guess the rest. The burglary, of
course, was arranged between them. It was meant to cover your cousin
in case the Government found out that the Germans had got hold of the
plans."

"And have they found out?" I asked.

Again Sonia shrugged her shoulders. "I can't say. The doctor and my
father never tell me anything that they can keep to themselves. Most
of what I know I have picked up from listening to them and putting
things together in my own head afterwards. I am useful to them, and to
a certain point they trust me; but only so far. They know I hate them
both."

She made the statement with a detached bitterness that spoke volumes
for its sincerity.

I felt too that she was telling me the truth about George. A man who
could lie as he did at the trial was quite capable of betraying his
country or anything else. Still, the infernal impudence and treachery
of his selling my beautiful torpedo to the Germans filled me with a
furious anger such as I had not felt since I crouched, dripping and
hunted, in the Walkham woods.

I looked up at Sonia, who was leaning forward and watching me with
those curious half-sullen, half-passionate eyes of hers.

"Why did George tell those lies about me at the trial?" I asked.

"I don't know for certain; I think he wanted to get rid of you, so
that he could steal your invention. Of course he saw how valuable it
was. You had told him about the notes, and I think he felt that if
you were safely out of the way he would be able to make use of them
himself."

"He must have been painfully disappointed," I said. "They were all
jotted down in a private cypher. No one else could possibly have
understood them."

She nodded. "I know. He offered to sell them to us. He suggested that
the Germans might be willing to pay a good sum down for them on the
chance of being able to make them out."

Angry as I was, I couldn't help laughing. It was so exactly like
George to try and make the best of a bad speculation.

"I can hardly see the doctor doing business on those lines," I said.

"It was too late in any case," she answered calmly. "Just after he
made the offer you escaped from prison." There was another pause. "And
what were you all doing down in that God-forsaken part of the world?"
I demanded.

The question was a little superfluous as far as I was concerned, but I
felt that Sonia would be expecting it.

"Oh, we weren't there for pleasure," she said curtly. "We wanted to be
near Devonport, and at the same time we wanted a place that was quite
quiet and out-of-the-way. Hoffman found the house for us, and we took
it furnished for six months."

"It was an extraordinary stroke of luck," I said, "that I should have
come blundering in as I did."

Sonia laughed venomously. "It was the sort of thing that would happen
to the doctor. The Devil looks after his friends."

"As a matter of fact," I objected, "I was thinking more of myself."

Sonia took no notice of my interruption. "Why, it meant everything
to him," she went on eagerly. "It practically gave him the power to
dictate his own terms to the Germans. You see, he knew something about
their plans. He knew--at least he could guess--that the moment war
was declared they meant to make a surprise attack on all the big
dockyards--just like the Japs did at Port Arthur. Well, think of the
difference an explosive as powerful as yours would make! Why, it would
put England absolutely at their mercy. They could blow up Portsmouth,
Sheerness, and Devonport before any one really knew that the war had
started."

She spoke rapidly, almost feverishly, leaning forward and gripping the
edge of the table, till the skin showed white on her knuckles. I think
I was equally excited, but I tried not to show it.

"Yes," I said; "it sounds a promising notion."

"Promising!" she echoed. "Well, it was promising enough for the
Germans to offer us anything we wanted the moment we could give them
the secret. Now perhaps you can understand why we were so hospitable
and obliging to you."

"And you believe McMurtrie never meant to keep his word to me?" I
asked.

She laughed again scornfully. "If you knew him as well as I do, you
wouldn't need to ask that. He would simply have disappeared with the
money and left you to rot or starve."

I took out my case, and having given Sonia a cigarette, lit one
myself.

"It's an unpleasant choice," I said, "but I gather there's a possible
alternative."

She lighted her own cigarette and threw away the match. Her dark eyes
were alight with excitement.

"Listen," she said. "All the Germans want is the secret. Do you
suppose they care in the least whom they get it from? You have only
got to prove to them that you can do what you say, and they will pay
you the money just as readily as they would the doctor."

There was a magnificent simplicity about the idea that for a moment
almost took my breath away.

"How could I get in touch with them?" I asked.

She leaned forward again, and lowered her voice almost to a whisper.

"I can take you now--now right away--to the two men who are in charge
of the whole business. I know that they have an absolutely free hand
to make the best terms they can."

"Who are they?" I demanded, with an eagerness I made no attempt to
hide.

"Their names are Seeker and von Bruenig, and they're living in a small
bungalow on Sheppey. They are supposed to be artists. As a matter of
fact, von Bruenig is a captain in the Germany Navy. I don't know who
the other man is; I think he has been sent over specially about the
powder."

Her statement fitted in so exactly with what I had already found out
from Latimer and Gow, that I hadn't the remotest doubt she was telling
me the literal truth. Of its importance--its vital importance to
England--there could be no question. I felt my heart beating quickly
with excitement, but the obvious necessity for fixing on some scheme
of immediate action kept my brain cool and clear. The first thing was
to gain a moment or two to think in.

"You realize what all this means, Sonia?" I said. "You're quite
prepared to throw over your father and McMurtrie? You know how the
doctor deals with people who betray him--when he gets the chance?"

"I am not afraid of them," she answered defiantly. "They are nothing
to me; I hate them both--and Hoffman too. It's you I want. You are the
only man I ever have wanted." She paused, and I saw her breast rising
and falling rapidly with the stress of her emotion. "We will go away
together--somewhere the other side of the world--America, Buenos
Ayres--oh, what does it matter where?--there are plenty of places!
What does anything matter so long as we love each other!"

She half rose to her feet, but I jumped up first.

"One moment, Sonia," I said. "Let me think."

Thrusting my hands in my pockets, I strode across the room, and
pulling up in front of the little window, stared out across the marsh.
As I did so, I felt as if some one had suddenly placed a large handful
of crushed ice inside my waistcoat. About two hundred yards away,
strolling cheerfully and unconcernedly towards the hut, was the
charming but painfully inopportune figure of Joyce.

It was a most unpleasant second. In my excitement at listening to
Sonia's revelations, I had clean forgotten for the time that Joyce was
coming, and now it was too late for the recollection to be of much
practical use. Except for an earthquake, or the sudden arrival of the
end of the world, nothing could stop her from reaching the hut in
another five minutes.

I stood quite still, racking my brains as to what was the best thing
to do. It was no use trying to signal to her from the window, for
Sonia would be certain to see me; while if I made some excuse for
going outside, Joyce would probably call out to me before I had time
to warn her. My only hope seemed to lie in the chance of her hearing
us talking as she came up to the door, in which case she would know at
once that there was some one there and go straight on to the _Betty_.

I had just reached this conclusion when a queer sound behind me made
me spin round as if I had been struck. Sonia, who had risen to her
feet, was standing and facing me; her whole attitude suggestive of
a highly-annoyed tigress. I don't think I have ever seen such a
malevolent expression on any human being's face in my life. For an
instance we stood staring at each other without speaking, and then
quite suddenly I realized what was the matter.

Clutched tight in her right hand was a letter--a letter which I
recognized immediately as the one I had received from Joyce that
morning. Like a fool I must have left it lying on the desk, and while
I was looking out of the window she had evidently picked it up and
read it.

I hadn't much time, however, for self-reproaches.

"So, you have been lying to me all through," she broke out bitterly.
"This girl is your mistress; and all the time you have simply been
using me to help yourself. Oh, I see it all now. I see why you were so
anxious to come to London. While I have been working and scheming for
you, you and she ..." Her voice failed from very fury, and tearing the
letter in pieces, she flung them on the ground at my feet.

I suppose I attempted some sort of reply, for she broke out again more
savagely than ever.

"She _is_ your mistress! Do you dare to deny it, with that letter
staring me in the face? Coming down to 'kiss you and be kissed by
you,' is she? Well, she's used to that, at all events!" Her voice
choked again, and with her hands clenched she made a quick step
forward in my direction.

Then quite suddenly I saw her whole expression change. The anger in
her eyes gave place to a gleam of recognition, and the next moment her
lips parted in a peculiarly malicious smile. She was looking past me
through the open window.

"Ah!" she said. "So that's why you were standing there! You didn't
expect me to be here when she arrived, did you?" With a mocking laugh
she turned to the doorway. "Never mind," she added viciously: "you
will be able to introduce us."

Even if I had tried to prevent her it would have been too late. With a
swift movement she flung back the door, and stepped forward across the
threshold.

Joyce was standing about fifteen yards away, facing the hut. She had
evidently just heard the sound of Sonia's voice, and had pulled up
abruptly, as I expected she would. Directly the door opened, she
turned as if to continue her walk.

Sonia laughed again. "Please don't go away," she said.

There was a moment's pause, and then I too advanced to the door. I saw
that there was nothing else for it except the truth.

"Joyce," I said, "this is Sonia. She has just read your letter, which
I left lying on the desk."

It must have been a bewildering situation even to such a quick-witted
person as Joyce, but all the same one would never have guessed the
fact from her manner. For perhaps a second she stood still, looking
from one to the other of us; then, with that sudden engaging smile of
hers, she came forward and held out her hand to Sonia.

"I am so glad to meet you," she said simply. "Neil has told me how
good you have been to him."

Sonia remained quite motionless. She had drawn herself up to her full
height, and she stared at Joyce with a cool hatred she made no attempt
to conceal.

"Yes," she said; "I have no doubt he told you that. He will have a lot
more to tell you as soon as I've gone. You will have plenty to talk
about when you're not kissing." With a low, cruel little laugh she
stepped forward. "Make the most of him while you've got him," she
added. "It won't be for long."

As the last word left her lips, she suddenly raised the glove she was
holding in her hand, and struck Joyce fiercely across the face.

In one stride I was up with them--God knows what I meant to do--but,
thrusting out her arm, Joyce motioned me back.

"It's all right, Neil dear," she said. "I should have done exactly the
same."

For a moment we all three remained just as we were, and then without a
word Sonia turned on her heel and walked off rapidly in the direction
of the Tilbury road.

CHAPTER XXII

THE POLICE TAKE ACTION

"What have we done, Neil?"

Joyce put the question with a calmness that was truly delightful.

"It seems to me," I said, "that we've torn it badly." Then, with a
last look at Sonia's retreating figure, I added: "Come inside, and
I'll try to explain."

We entered the hut, where the floor was still strewn with the
fragments of Joyce's letter. She seated herself on the edge of the bed
and waited patiently while I took a couple of turns up and down the
room.

"Joyce," I said, "I deserve kicking. I'm not sure I haven't messed up
the whole business."

"Tell me," she said quietly. "I know about Latimer already; I saw
Tommy at the flat this morning."

"Well, that simplifies things," I said; and without wasting any
further time in self-reproaches, I plunged straight into the story of
Sonia's surprise visit and its abrupt and spirited ending.

"How I could have been such an ass I don't know," I finished ruefully.
"I must have put the letter down on the table after I'd done reading
it, and there I suppose it was sitting the whole time."

Joyce, who had listened to me without interrupting, nodded her head.
"It was just one of those things that had got to happen," she said
philosophically. "It's no good worrying now. The thing is, what are we
to do about it?"

I thought for a moment.

"We must let Latimer know at once," I said. "I'll write out what Sonia
told me--just the main facts, and you must take the letter straight up
to London, and find him as soon as you can. I shall stop here, as he
asked me to."

Joyce's face looked a little troubled.

"What do you think Sonia will do?" she asked.

"Goodness knows!" I said. "She seemed to have some particularly
unpleasant intention at the back of her mind; but I don't quite see
what it is."

"She won't care what she does," said Joyce. "I know exactly how she
feels. Suppose she were to go to the police?"

"She could hardly do that," I objected. "She'd be incriminating
herself."

"But suppose she does," persisted Joyce. "Suppose they come and arrest
you here; Latimer won't be able to help you then."

"I can't go back now, Joyce," I said seriously. "I can't get out of
it just because it might be dangerous to me. After all, it's England
they're scheming against."

"And what if it is?" she returned indignantly. "A nice way England's
treated you!"

I came over to the bed and took her hands in mine.

"Come, Joyce," I said, "you don't really mean that. I want
encouraging, not depressing. All my natural instincts are to look
after myself and let England go to the devil."

Half laughing and half crying, she jumped up and threw her arms round
me.

"No, no, no," she said. "I want you to do the right thing always; but
oh, Neil, I'm so frightened of losing you. I just can't do without you
now."

"Well," I said, "I'm hanged if I can do without you, so we're in the
same boat."

I kissed her twice, and then, sitting down at the table, made a brief
summary of what I had learned from Sonia. Latimer so far knew nothing
of my relations with the latter, so I was compelled to explain how
badly I had behaved in order to account for her visit. I then gave
him a short description of the painful way in which the interview had
terminated, and added the information that I was waiting on at the hut
in the expectation of a visit from McMurtrie.

"You can explain things more fully to him, Joyce," I said. "It's no
good trying to keep anything back now; we've gone too far. The great
thing is to get that letter to him as soon as you possibly can. Tommy
will probably know where he is."

She nodded. "I shall find him all right." She slipped the envelope
inside her dress, and glanced at the watch she was wearing on her
wrist. "There are several things I wanted to tell you," she added,
"but they none of them matter for the moment. If I go at once, I can
just catch the three-thirty."

"I'll come as far as the road with you," I said. "I daren't leave the
hut for long, in case McMurtrie turns up."

We went outside and had a good look round. Sonia had long since
disappeared, and the place wore its usual aspect of utter desolation.
I took the precaution of locking the door, however, and then at a
sharp pace we set off together across the marsh.

"Tell me about George," I said. "How are you getting on with the
elopement plan?"

Joyce smiled. "I think George is growing a little impatient. He wants
to get away as soon as possible."

"Yes," I said; "I have no doubt the Mediterranean sounds attractive
to him. There's a pretty stiff penalty attached to selling Government
secrets if you happen to be found out. Besides, I expect he's still
worrying a lot about me."

Joyce nodded. "He told me last night that I was the only thing that
was keeping him in London. You see I can't quite make up my mind
whether I love him well enough to come away."

"That's unfortunate for George," I said. "Latimer will probably act at
once as soon as he gets that letter, and directly he does I mean to go
straight to Cheyne Walk, unless I'm dead or in prison."

Joyce took my arm. "Neil," she said, "whatever happens you mustn't be
arrested. If you think there's any chance of it you must go on board
the _Betty_ and take her somewhere down the river. You can let me know
at the flat where you are. Promise me you will, Neil. You see if the
police once got hold of you, even Latimer mightn't be able to do
anything."

For a moment I hesitated. So far I had told Joyce nothing of the wild
suspicion about Marks's identity which Sonia's revelations had put
into my head. I didn't want to rouse hopes in her which might turn out
quite baseless. Besides, even if I were really on the right track, and
Marks was the man who had betrayed the gang in St. Petersburg, it was
quite another thing to prove that they were responsible for splitting
his skull. I had nothing to support the idea beyond Joyce's bare
word that she had seen McMurtrie in the flat on the afternoon of the
murder. Sonia's testimony might have been useful, but after today I
could hardly picture her in the witness-box giving evidence on my
behalf.

On the whole, therefore, I thought it best for the present to keep
the matter to myself. I promised, however, that in the event of my
observing anything in the nature of a policeman stealthily approaching
the hut I would at once seek sanctuary on the _Betty_--an assurance
which might have sounded worthless to some people, but certainly
seemed to comfort Joyce.

Anyhow she said good-bye to me with her usual cheerfulness and pluck,
and we parted after a last affectionate kiss in full view of the open
marsh. Then I returned to the hut suffering from that novel and highly
unpleasant sense of loneliness that Joyce's departures had begun to
awake in me.

I don't think there is anything much more trying to one's nerves than
having to sit and wait for some critical event which may happen at any
moment. I have had a good deal of practice at waiting in my life, but
I never remember the hours dragging so desperately slowly as they did
the remainder of that afternoon.

A dozen times I went over what Latimer and Sonia had told me, putting
together their different stories in my mind and trying to think if
there was any point I had overlooked. I could see none. The mere way
in which they had corroborated each other was enough to make me feel
sure that they were both speaking the truth. Besides, everything that
had happened from the moment I had crept in through the kitchen window
at McMurtrie's house pointed to the same conclusion.

I may appear stupid not to have seen through the doctor earlier, but
after all a gang of professional spies is hardly the sort of thing one
expects to run up against in a Devonshire village. A few years ago,
indeed, I should have laughed at the idea of their existence anywhere
outside the pages of a shilling shocker, but my three years in
Dartmoor had led me to take a rather more generous view of what life
can throw up in the way of scoundrels.

Whether they had killed Marks or not, I had little doubt now that they
were wholly responsible for the attempt to murder Latimer. Though I
had good evidence that when it came to the point the two gentlemen
on Sheppey didn't stick at trifles, I could hardly fancy a couple of
German Naval officers deliberately countenancing such methods. If they
had, they certainly deserved the worst fate that even Mr. Gow could
wish them.

Somehow or other my private interest in the affair seemed to have been
temporarily forced into the background. I felt I was probably doing
the best thing I could for myself in throwing in my lot with Latimer,
but in any case his enthusiasm had got hold of me, and at all risks I
was determined to stick to my side of the bargain. I knew that in her
heart Joyce would have hated me to do otherwise.

My chief danger, as she had instantly seen, was the chance of Sonia
betraying me to the police. The latter, who knew nothing of the part I
was playing as a sort of unpaid bottle-washer to the Secret
Service, would at once jump at the chance of arresting an escaped
convict--especially such a well-advertised one as myself. However
improbable Sonia's story might sound, they would at least be certain
to take the trouble to investigate it.

On the other hand, of course Sonia might not go to the police at all,
and even if she did, it was quite possible that Latimer would strike
first and so give me the chance of clearing out.

Anyhow, forewarned as I was, I felt it would be an uncommonly bright
policeman who succeeded in arresting me. In the day-time, so long as I
kept a good look out, anything like a surprise attack was impossible,
and after that night I made up my mind that I would sleep on the
_Betty_. The only thing was, I should most certainly have to deprive
myself of the luxury of a skipper. Useful as he was at taking letters
into Tilbury, it would be decidedly embarrassing to have him on board
if I happened to arrive in a hurry on the beach with two perspiring
detectives in hot pursuit.

At six o'clock, as there was still no sign of a visitor, I decided to
walk over to the _Betty_ and tell Mr. Gow that he could treat himself
to another holiday. It would only take me about half an hour, and in
case McMurtrie turned up while I was away I could leave a message on
the door to the effect that I should be back before seven.

I did this, pinning it up carefully with a drawing-tack and then after
making sure that everything was secure I started off for the creek.

I found Mr. Gow in his usual restful attitude, his head and shoulders
sticking up out of the fo'c's'le hatch, and a large pipe protruding
from his mouth. With the instincts of a true retainer he promptly
removed the latter as soon as he heard my hail, and hoisting himself
up on deck put off in the dinghy.

"I'm not coming aboard," I said. "I only walked over to tell you that
you can have a couple of days ashore. We shan't be using the boat till
Saturday or Sunday."

He thanked me and touched his cap (I could see he was beginning to
think it was rather a soft job he had stumbled into), and then, with
the air of some one breaking unpleasant tidings, he added: "Do you
happen to know, sir, as we're clean out o' petrol?"

I didn't happen to know it, but under the circumstances it was
information I was glad to acquire.

"Can you get me some--soon?" I asked.

He nodded. "I'll bring along a couple o' cans in the mornin', sir, and
leave 'em aboard."

"Any news?" I asked.

"Well, sir, I seed the Dutchmen's launch goin' down this
arternoon--travellin' proper they was too, same as when they swamped
me. I suppose you ain't bin able to do nothin' about that matter not
yet, sir?"

"I'm looking into it, Mr. Gow," I said. "I have a friend helping me,
and between us I think we shall be able to get some satisfaction out
of them. I shall probably have more to tell you on Saturday."

With this answer he seemed quite content. "Well, I'll just run back
aboard and get my bag, sir," he observed. "I reckon I'd better pull
the dinghy up on top o' the bank when I done with her. If any o' them
Tilbury folk should 'appen to come along they won't see 'er then--not
among the long grass."

It was a sensible suggestion on the face of it, but in view of the
fact that I might find it necessary to embark rather abruptly, I
couldn't afford to risk any unnecessary delays.

"Don't bother about that tonight, Gow," I said. "Just drag her above
high-water mark. It's quite possible I may be using her in the
morning."

Having thus provided for my retreat in the case of an emergency, I
returned to the hut by the usual route along the sea-front. I took the
precaution of putting up my head and inspecting the place carefully
before climbing over the sea-wall, but I might as well have saved
myself the trouble. The marsh was quite deserted, and when I reached
the hut I found my little notice still pinned to the door, and no
trace of any one having paid me a visit in my absence.

I remained in the same state of splendid isolation for the rest of the
evening. There was no difficulty about keeping watch, for as soon as
the sun went down a large obliging moon appeared in the sky, lighting
up the marsh and the Tilbury road almost as clearly as if it were
day-time. I could have seen a rabbit a hundred yards off, let alone
anything as big and obvious as a Scotland Yard detective.

At about one in the morning I turned in for a couple of hours' rest.
I felt that if Sonia had gone straight to the authorities they would
have acted before this, while if she was sleeping on her wrath there
was no reason I shouldn't do the same. I had given up any expectation
of McMurtrie until the next morning.

I woke at half-past three, and resumed my vigil in the pure cool
twilight of early dawn. I watched the sun rise over the river, and
gradually climb up into a sky of pale blue and lemon that gave promise
of another radiantly fine day. There was scarcely a breath of wind
stirring, and everything was so deliciously quiet and peaceful that it
almost seemed as if the events of the last three years were merely the
memory of some particularly vivid nightmare.

"Almost," I say, for as a matter of fact I was never for a moment
under any such pleasant delusion. If I had been, I should have had
an early awakening, for at eight o'clock, just as I was thinking of
routing out something in the nature of breakfast, I saw a little black
dot advancing along the Tilbury road, which soon resolved itself into
the figure of my faithful Charles.

He struck off across the marsh and came up to the hut, where I was
standing at the door waiting for him.

"Two telegrams and a letter for you, sir," he said, producing them
from his bag. "They came this morning, sir."

With an assumption of leisurely indifference that I was very far from
feeling, I took them out of his hand. The letter was addressed in
McMurtrie's writing, but I put it aside for a moment in favour of the
two wires. The first was from Joyce.

"Saw L. late yesterday evening. He will act today. Agrees with my
suggestion about the _Betty_ if necessary. J."

I thrust it into my pocket and opened the other.

"A copper come last nite and ask for you. He see Misses O."

For an instant I stared at this cryptic message in bewilderment; then
suddenly the recollection of my final instructions to Gertie 'Uggins
rushed into my mind.

So Sonia _had_ gone to the police, or had at least contrived to send
them a message which served the same purpose. Their visit to Edith
Terrace was probably explained by the fact that she had given them
both addresses so as better to establish the truth of her story.
Anyhow the murder was out, and with a new and not unpleasant thrill
of excitement I crushed up Gertie's wire in my hand and tore open
McMurtrie's letter.

"DEAR MR. NICHOLSON,

"I have been away on business and have only just received your letter,
otherwise I should have come to see you this afternoon. In the first
place allow me to congratulate you most heartily on your success, of
which personally I was never in any doubt.

"For the moment I have left the Hotel Russell, and am staying with
some friends in Sheppey. I shall run up the river in their launch
early tomorrow morning, as I believe there is a small creek close to
the hut where we can put in.

"Please have a specimen of the powder ready, and if it is possible I
should like you to arrange for an actual demonstration, as I shall
have a friend with me who is already considerably interested in our
little company, and would be prepared to put up further capital if
convinced of the merits of your invention.

"You can expect us about high water, between half-past nine and ten.

"Your sincere friend,

"L.J. McMURTRIE."

As I read the signature McMurtrie's smiling mask-like face seemed
suddenly to rise up in front of me, and all my old instincts of
distrust and repulsion came to keep it company. So he was at the
bungalow, and in little over an hour he would be here--he and the
mysterious friend who was "already considerably interested in
our little company." I smiled grimly at the phrase; it was so
characteristic of the doctor; though when he wrote it he could little
have guessed how thoroughly I should be able to appreciate it.

He was also equally ignorant of the complications introduced into
the affair by Sonia. Unless I had been altogether misled by Gertie's
message, it was probable that the police were even now on their way to
arrest me, just as McMurtrie's launch was most likely setting out from
the little creek under the bungalow. There seemed every prospect of my
having a busy and interesting morning.

At this point in my reflections I looked up, and found Charles eyeing
me with an air of respectful patience. I took some money out of my
pocket, and selecting a ten-shilling piece placed it in his grubby but
not unwilling palm.

"You are a most useful boy, Charles," I said, "and you can keep the
change as usual."

He pocketed the coin with a gratified stammer.

"You ain't 'ad time to make no fireworks yourself, sir?" he hazarded,
after a short pause.

"Not yet," I replied; "but it looks as if I should today."

He brightened up still further at the news, and observing that he
hoped there would be some letters to bring the next morning departed
on his return journey.

I went back into the hut and shut the door. Now that matters were
so rapidly approaching a climax, I felt curiously cheerful and
light-hearted. I suppose it was a reaction from the strain and
hard work of the previous week, but anyhow the thought that in all
probability the police were hard on my track didn't seem to worry me
in the least. The only point was whether they would reach the hut
before McMurtrie did. I hoped not, for I was looking forward to an
interview with the doctor, but it certainly seemed as well to take
every precaution.

I started by unearthing the box of powder from outside, and filling up
my flask from it. Then, when I had covered it over again, I collected
all the papers which I had not burned on the previous day, and stored
them away in my inside pockets. Finally I opened a tinned tongue, and
aided by the dry remains of my last loaf, made a healthy if not very
exciting breakfast. I never believe in conducting violent exertions on
an empty tummy.

All this time, I need hardly say, I was keeping an uncommonly sharp
look-out over the marsh. The most likely way in which any one who
didn't wish to be seen would attempt to approach the hut was along the
Tilbury road, and it was towards the last clump of trees, behind which
Sonia had left her car the previous day, that I directed my chief
attention.

Three-quarters of an hour passed, and I was just beginning to think
that McMurtrie would be the winner after all, when I suddenly caught
sight of something dark slinking across the exposed part of the road
beyond the plantation. Standing very still, I watched carefully from
the window. I have excellent eyesight, and I soon made out that there
were three separate figures all stooping low and moving with extreme
caution towards the shelter of the trees.

A sudden and irresistible desire to laugh seized hold of me; there
was something so intensely funny about the strategic pains they were
taking, when all the while they might just as well have advanced
boldly across the open marsh. Still it was hardly the time to linger
over the comic side of the affair, so retiring from the window, I
threw a last quick glance round the hut to make quite sure that I had
left nothing I wanted behind. Then walking to the door I opened it and
stepped quietly outside.

I decided that it was impossible to reach the sea-wall without being
seen, so I made no attempt to do so. I just set off in the direction
of the creek, strolling along in the easy, unhurried fashion of a man
taking a morning constitutional.

I had not gone more than ten yards, when from the corner of my eye I
saw three figures break simultaneously out of the plantation. They no
longer made any pretence about their purpose. One of them cut straight
down towards the hut, a second came running directly after me, while
the third started off as rapidly as possible along the road, so as to
head me off if I attempted to escape inland.

Any further strategy on my part appeared to be out of place. I grasped
the position in one hurried glance, and then, buttoning my coat and
ramming down my cap, openly and frankly took to my heels. I heard the
gentlemen behind shout out something which sounded like a request that
I should stop, but I was too occupied to pay much attention. The marsh
was infested with small drains, and one had to keep one's eyes glued
on the ground immediately ahead to avoid coming an unholy purler. That
was the only thing I was afraid of, as I was in excellent condition,
and I have always been a very fair runner.

When I had covered about a couple of hundred yards I looked back over
my shoulder. I expected to find that I had widened the gap, but to my
dismay I discovered that my immediate pursuer had distinctly gained on
me. I could just see that he was a tall, active-looking fellow in a
policeman's uniform, with a long raking stride that was carrying him
over the ground in the most unpleasant fashion. Unless he fell over a
drain and broke his silly neck it seemed highly probable that he would
arrive at the creek almost as soon as I did.

As I ran I prayed fervently in my heart that Mr. Gow had followed
my instructions and left the dinghy within easy reach of the water.
Otherwise I was in a tight place, for though I could swim to the
_Betty_ all right, it would be impossible to take her out of the creek
in a dead calm and with no petrol aboard for the engine. I should be
compelled to stand at bay until a breeze got up, repelling boarders
with the boat-hook!

Just before I reached the sea-wall I looked round a second time. My
pursuer was now only about thirty yards distant, but it was evident
that his efforts had begun to tell on him. He again shouted out some
breathless advice to the effect that it would be "best" for me to
surrender, but without waiting to argue the point I scrambled up the
bank and cast a hurried, anxious glance round for the dinghy.

Any doubts I might have had about Mr. Gow's trustworthiness were
instantly dispelled. The boat was lying on the mud only a few yards
out of reach of the tide. With a gasp of thankfulness I leaped on
to the saltings, and clearing the distance in about three strides,
clutched hold of the gunwale and began to drag it towards the water.

Just as I reached that desirable element the figure of my pursuer
appeared above the bank. I gave a last savage wrench, but my foot
slipped in the treacherous mud, and I as nearly as possible stumbled
to my knees. That final tug, however, had done the trick. The boat was
floating, and with a wild effort I scrambled in, and seizing an oar,
shoved off furiously from the shore.

I was only just in time. Jumping from the sea-wall, the policeman
fairly hurled himself across the intervening space, and without a
moment's hesitation plunged into the creek after me. I shortened my
oar, and as he made a grab for the stern I suddenly lunged forward
with all the force I could command. The blade took him fair and square
in the wind, and with a loud observation that sounded like "Ouch!" he
sat down abruptly in the water. Before he could recover himself I was
ten yards from the shore, sculling vigorously for the centre of the
stream.

I made no attempt to reach the _Betty_. There was still a dead calm,
and by going on board I should merely have been shutting myself up in
a prison from which there was no escape. My best plan seemed to be to
make for the open river, when I might either pick up McMurtrie and his
launch, or else row across to the opposite shore.

I accordingly headed for the mouth of the creek, while my pursuer, who
by this time had sufficiently recovered to stagger to his feet, waded
dismally back to the shore. Here he was joined by his two companions,
who had evidently been following the chase with praiseworthy
determination.

For a moment I saw them all three consulting together, and then my
friend the policeman started hastily throwing off his clothes with the
apparent intention of swimming across the river, while the other two
came running along the bank after me. They were both in plain clothes,
but the unmistakable stamp of a Scotland Yard detective was clearly
imprinted on each of them.

They soon caught me up, and hurrying on ahead reached the mouth of the
creek, while I was still some twenty yards short of it. I was just
wondering what on earth they hoped to do, when, looking over my
shoulder, I saw one of them scramble up the sea-wall, and begin to
shout and wave his arms as if he had suddenly gone mad.

A few savage pulls brought me up level, and then turning in my seat I
discovered the cause of his excitement. Some way out in the stream was
a small coast-guard cutter with three men on board, two of whom were
at the oars. They had evidently grasped that there was something
serious the matter, for they had brought their boat round and were
already heading in towards the shore.

My position began to look a trifle unhealthy. I was out of practice
for sculling, and if the coast-guards chose to interfere it was
obviously only a question of a few minutes before they would succeed
in rowing me down. For a moment I had some idea of going ashore on
the opposite bank, and again trusting to my heels. Then I saw that my
friend the policeman, who could apparently swim as well as he could
run, was already half way across the creek, and would be on my track
long before I could get the necessary start. On the whole it seemed
best to stick to the water, so digging in my sculls I pulled out into
the main stream.

As I rounded the sea-wall I could hear the man who was standing on
top bawling out my name to the coast-guards, and hurling them frantic
injunctions to cut me off. I cast one swift glance up and down the
river, and as I did so I nearly gave a shout of excitement. A couple
of hundred yards away, but coming up at a tremendous pace, was a large
white petrol launch, which I recognized immediately as the one that
had swamped Mr. Gow.

Whether the coast-guards saw her too I really can't say. I doubt if
they did, for by this time they had evidently realized who I was, and
their whole attention was fixed on preventing my escape. They were
rowing towards me with tremendous energy, the officer in charge
half standing up in the stern and encouraging them to still fiercer
efforts.

Putting every ounce I could into my stroke, I set off down stream. It
was just a question as to whether I could clear them, and I doubt if
any winner of the Diamond Sculls could have shoved that dinghy along
much faster than I did for the next few seconds. Nearer and nearer we
drew to each other, and for one instant I thought that I had done the
trick. Then from the corner of my eye I saw the cutter fairly leap
forward through the water, and the next moment, with a jolt that
almost flung me out of the seat, she bumped alongside.

Dropping his oar, one of the men leaned over and grabbed hold of my
gunwale.

"No go, Mister," he observed breathlessly. "You got to come along with
us."

The words had hardly left his lips when with a wild shout the officer
in charge leaped to his feet.

"Look out, there!" he yelled. "Port, you fools! Port your helm!"

I swung round, and got a momentary glimpse of a sharp white prow with
a great fan of water curling away each side of it, and then, before I
could move, there came a jarring, grinding crash, mixed with a fierce
volley of shouts and oaths.

CHAPTER XXIII

IN THE NICK OF TIME

My impressions of what happened next are a trifle involved. Something
hit me violently in the side, almost knocking me silly, while at the
same moment the boat seemed to disappear from beneath me, and I was
flying head first into the water. I struck out instinctively as I
fell, and came to the surface almost at once. I just remember a
blurred vision of floating wreckage, with something white rising up in
front of me. Then a rope came hurtling through the air, and caught me
full in the face. I clutched at it wildly, and the next thing I knew I
was being dragged violently through the water and hauled in over the
side of the launch.

It was all over so quickly that for a moment I scarcely realized what
had happened. I just lay where I was, gasping for breath, and spitting
out a large mouthful of the Thames which I had unintentionally
appropriated. Above the throbbing of the engine and the swish of the
screw I could still hear a confused medley of shouts and curses.

With an effort I sat up and looked about me. We had already changed
our course, and were swinging round in a half-circle, preparatory to
heading back down stream. The smashed remains of the two boats were
bobbing about behind us, and in the midst of them I could make out the
figures of the coast-guards, clinging affectionately to various bits
of wreckage.

Besides myself, there were three other men in the launch. Dr.
McMurtrie was sitting on the seat just opposite, pouring out the
contents of a flask into a small metal cup. Against the cabin door
leaned Savaroff, eyeing me with his usual expression of hostile
mistrust. The third passenger was the man with the auburn beard, whom
I had seen in the launch on the day I picked up Mr. Gow. He was busy
with the tiller, and for the moment was paying scant attention to any
of us.

McMurtrie got up with the cup in his hand and came across to where I
was sitting.

"Drink this," he said.

"This," proved to be some excellent old brandy, which I tossed off
with no little gratitude. It was exactly what I wanted to pull me
together.

"Are you hurt?" he asked.

I felt myself carefully before replying. "I'm all right now," I said.
"I got rather a crack in the ribs, but I don't think anything's gone."

"We seem to have arrived just in time to prevent your arrest," he
said quietly. "Perhaps you will be good enough to explain what has
happened? At present we are rather in the dark."

He spoke with his usual suavity, but there was a veiled menace in his
voice which it was impossible to overlook. Savaroff scowled at me more
truculently than ever. It was obvious that both of them were entirely
ignorant of Sonia's part in the affair, and suspected me of some
extraordinary bit of clumsiness. I prepared myself for some heavy
lying.

"I know precious little more about it than you do," I said coolly. "I
was getting things ready for you this morning, when I happened to look
out of the window, and saw three men crawling towards the hut on their
hands and knees. As one of them was wearing a policeman's uniform, I
thought I had better cut and run. Well, I cut and ran. I made for the
creek because I thought you might be there. You weren't; but there was
a dinghy on the shore, which I suppose belonged to a small yacht
that was anchored out in the channel. Anyhow, I took the liberty of
borrowing it. I meant to row out into the river, and try to pick you
up before they could get hold of a boat and follow me. If it hadn't
been for these infernal coast-guards, I'd have managed it all right. I
don't think they really had anything to do with the business, but they
just happened to be passing, and of course when the police shouted to
them they cut in at once." I paused. "And that's the whole story," I
finished, "as far as I know anything about it."

They had all three listened to me with eager attention. Even the man
with the auburn beard had kept on looking away from his steering to
favour me with quick glances out of his hard blue eyes. I think I came
through the combined scrutiny with some credit.

McMurtrie was the first to break the ensuing silence.

"Have you any idea how you have betrayed yourself? You can speak quite
freely. Our friend Mr. von Bruenig knows the position."

I thought it best to take the offensive. "I haven't betrayed myself,"
I said angrily. "Somebody must have done it for me. I've not left the
hut since I came down except for an occasional breath of air."

"But earlier--when you were in London?" he persisted.

I shook my head. "I have been down here a week. You don't imagine the
police would have waited as long as that."

I knew I was putting them in a difficulty, for by this time they
must be all aware that Latimer was still on their track, and it was
obviously conceivable that my attempted arrest might be due in some
way to my connection with them; anyhow I saw that even Savaroff was
beginning to regard me a shade less suspiciously.

"Have you brought any of the powder with you?" asked McMurtrie.

It struck me instantly that if I said yes, I should be putting myself
absolutely in their power.

"I hadn't time to get any," I answered regretfully. "I had buried it
outside the hut, and they came on me so suddenly there was no chance
of digging it up. Now I have once done it, however, I can make some
more very quickly."

It was the flattest lie I have ever told; but I managed to get it off
with surprising ease. It is astonishing what rapid strides one can
make in the art of perjury with a very little practice.

Savaroff gave a grunt of disappointment, and McMurtrie turned to von
Bruenig, who was frowning thoughtfully, and made some almost inaudible
remark in German. The latter answered at some length, but he kept his
voice so low that, with my rather sketchy knowledge of that unpleasant
language, it was impossible for me to overhear what he was saying.
Besides, he evidently didn't intend me to, and I had no wish to
spoil the good impression I had apparently made by any appearance of
eavesdropping.

It seemed to me that my course lay pretty straight in front of me.
Latimer had all the information now he was likely to get, and I knew
from Joyce's wire that he intended to act immediately. In addition to
this, the running down of the cutter would be known to Scotland Yard
as soon as ever the men who had been sent to arrest me could get to a
telephone, and the river-police and coast-guards everywhere would be
warned to keep a sharp look-out for von Bruenig's launch. In an hour or
two at the most something was bound to happen, and the way in which I
could make myself most useful seemed to be in delaying the break-up
and escape of the party as long as possible. If I had to be arrested,
I was determined that the others should be roped in as well.

I had just arrived at this point in my meditations when McMurtrie and
von Bruenig came to an end of their muttered conversation.

The former turned back to me. "You probably understand, Mr. Lyndon,
that this unfortunate affair with the police alters our plans
entirely. At present I am quite unable to see how they have found you
out, unless you have betrayed yourself by some piece of unintentional
carelessness. Anyhow, the fact remains that they know where you are,
and that very probably they will be able to trace this launch."

Savaroff nodded. "As likely as not we shall have a shot across our
bows when we get to Sheerness," he growled.

McMurtrie, as usual, took no notice of his interruption. "There is
only one thing to do," he said. "Mr. von Bruenig, who, as I have
already told you, is interested in our syndicate, has offered to put
his country house in Germany at our service. We must cross over to
Holland before the police have time to interfere."

"Do you mean now, at once?" I asked, with a sudden inward feeling of
dismay.

McMurtrie nodded. "We have to pick up a couple of friends at Sheppey
first. After that we can run straight across to The Hague."

The proposal was so obviously sensible that, without arousing his
suspicion, I could see no way for the moment of raising any objection.
The great thing was to keep the "syndicate" together, and to delay our
departure until Latimer had had time to scoop the lot of us. Could
anything provide him with a more favourable opportunity than the
collection of the whole crowd in that remote bungalow at Sheppey? It
was surely there if anywhere he would strike first, and I hoped,
very feelingly, that he would not be too long about it. My powers
of postponing our voyage to Holland appeared to have a distinct
time-limit.

"There seems nothing else to do," I said. "I am sorry to have been
the cause of changing all our plans; but the whole thing is as much a
mystery to me as it is to you. However the police got on to my track,
it wasn't through any carelessness of mine. I am no more anxious to go
back to Dartmoor now than I was six weeks ago."

This last observation at least was true; and I can only hope the
recording angel jotted it down as a slight set-off against the
opposite column.

Savaroff removed his bulky form from in front of the cabin door, and
crossing the well, sat down beside the others. They began to talk
again in German; but as before I could only catch the merest scraps of
their conversation. Once I heard Sonia's name mentioned by McMurtrie,
and I just caught Savaroff's muttered reply to the effect that she was
all right where she was, and could follow us to Germany later. As far
as I could judge, they none of them had the remotest suspicion that
she was in any way connected with the crisis.

All this while we had been throbbing along down stream at a terrific
pace, keeping well to the centre of the river, and giving such small
vessels as we passed a reasonably wide berth. If there was any trouble
coming to us it seemed most likely to materialize in the neighbourhood
of Southend or Sheerness, which were the two places to which the
police would be almost certain to send a description of the launch
as soon as they could get to a telephone. As we reached the first
danger-zone, I noticed von Bruenig beginning to cast rather anxious
glances towards the shore. No one seemed to pay any attention to us,
however, and without slackening speed, we swept out into the broad
highway of the Thames estuary.

There were several torpedo-boats lying off Sheerness, but these also
remained utterly indifferent to our presence. Apparently the police
had been too occupied in rescuing their coast-guard allies from a
watery grave to reach a telephone in time, and we passed along down
the coast unsuspected and unchallenged.

Whatever von Bruenig's weak points might be, he could certainly steer
a motor-boat to perfection. He turned into the little creek under the
bungalow at a pace which I certainly wouldn't have cared to attempt
even in my wildest mood, and brought up in almost the identical spot
where we had anchored the _Betty_ on the historic night of Latimer's
rescue.

We had a small collapsible Berthon boat on board, just big enough to
hold four at a pinch. I watched Savaroff getting it ready, wondering
grimly whether there was any chance of their leaving me on the launch
with only one member of the party as a companion. It would have suited
me excellently, though it might have been a little inconvenient for my
prospective guardian.

McMurtrie, however, promptly shattered this agreeable possibility by
inviting me to take a seat in the boat. I think he believed I had told
him the truth, but he evidently had no intention of letting me out of
his sight again until I had actually handed him over the secret of the
powder.

We landed at the foot of a little winding path, and dragged our boat
out of the water on to a narrow strip of shingle. Then we set off
up the cliff at a rapid pace, with von Bruenig leading the way and
Savaroff bringing up the rear.

The bungalow was situated about a couple of hundred yards from the
summit, almost hidden by the high privet hedge which I had noticed
from the sea. This hedge ran right round the garden, the only entrance
being a small white gate in front of the house. Von Bruenig walked up,
the path followed by the rest of us, and thrusting his key into the
lock pushed open the door.

We found ourselves in a fairly big, low-ceilinged apartment, lighted
by a couple of French windows opening on to the side garden. They were
partly covered by two long curtains, each drawn half way across. The
place was comfortably furnished, and an easel with a half-finished
seascape on it bore eloquent witness to the purity of its tenants'
motives.

Von Bruenig looked round with a sort of impatient surprise.

"Where are the others?" he demanded harshly. "Why have they left the
place empty in this way?"

"They must have walked over to the post-office," said McMurtrie. "I
know Hoffman wanted to send a telegram. They will be back in a minute,
I expect."

Von Bruenig frowned. "They ought not to have done so. Seeker at least
should have known better. After the other night--" He paused, and
crossing the room threw open a door and disappeared into an adjoining
apartment.

Without waiting for an invitation, I seated myself on a low couch in
the farther corner of the room. I felt quite cool, but I must admit
that the situation was beginning to strike me as a little unpromising.
Unless Latimer turned up precious soon it seemed highly probable that
he would be too late. Considering the importance of getting me safely
to Germany, neither von Bruenig nor McMurtrie was likely to stay a
minute longer than was necessary. I might, of course, refuse to go
with them, but in that case the odds were that I should simply be
overpowered and taken on board by force. Von Bruenig himself looked a
pretty tough handful to tackle, while Savaroff was about as powerful
as a well-grown bullock. Once I was safe in the former's "country
house" they would no doubt reckon on finding some means of bringing me
quickly to reason.

With a bag in one hand and a bundle of papers in the other von Bruenig
came back into the room.

"I shall not wait," he announced curtly. "The risks are too great.
Seeker and your friend must follow as best they can."

"They are bound to be here in a minute," objected Savaroff.

Von Bruenig turned on him with an angry gleam in his blue eyes. "I
shall not wait," he repeated harshly. "The future of Germany is of
more importance than their convenience."

McMurtrie stepped forward, serene and imperturbable as ever.

"I think Mr. von Bruenig is right, Savaroff," he said. "The police may
have recognized the launch, and in that case it would be madness for
us not to go while we have the chance. We can leave a note for the
others."

If Savaroff had any further objections he kept them to himself. He
turned away with a shrug on his broad shoulders, while McMurtrie sat
down at the table and hastily wrote a few lines which he showed to von
Bruenig. The other nodded his head approvingly.

"That will do very well," he said. "It will be safe if any one else
should find it. Seeker knows where to come to."

McMurtrie put the note in an envelope which he placed in the centre of
the table.

"And now," he said, pushing back his chair, "the sooner we are out of
this the better."

I felt that if I was going to interfere the right time had now
arrived. Von Bruenig's reply to Savaroff had given me just the opening
I needed.

"One moment, gentlemen!" I said, getting up from the couch.

They all three turned in obvious surprise at the interruption.

"Well?" rapped out von Bruenig, "what is it?"

"I was under the impression," I said, "that this new explosive of mine
was to be put on the market as an ordinary commercial enterprise."

McMurtrie rose from his chair and took a step forward.

"You are perfectly right," he said. "Why should you think otherwise?"

"In that case," I replied steadily, "I should like to know what Mr.
von Bruenig meant by his remark about the 'future of Germany.'"

There was a short pause.

"Ach, Himmel!" broke out von Bruenig. "What does it matter? What are we
wasting time for? Tell him if he wishes."

"Why, certainly," said McMurtrie, smiling. "There is no mystery about
it. I was merely keeping the matter quiet until it was settled." He
turned to me. "The German Government have made us a very good offer
for your invention, provided of course that it will do what you
claim."

"It will do what I claim all right," I said coolly, "but I don't wish
to sell it to the German Government."

There was a sort of explosive gasp from von Bruenig and Savaroff, and I
saw McMurtrie's eyes narrow into two dangerous cat-like slits.

"_You don't-wish!_" he repeated icily. "May I ask why?"

"Certainly," I said. "With the sole command of an explosive as
powerful as mine, Germany would be in a position to smash England in
about six weeks."

"And suppose she was," interrupted von Bruenig. "What in God's name
does it matter to you--an escaped convict?"

His voice rang with impatience and contempt, and I felt my own temper
rising.

"It matters just sufficiently," I said, "that I'll see you in hell
first."

McMurtrie came slowly up to me, and looked me straight in the eyes.
His face was white and terrible--a livid mask of controlled anger.

"You fool," he said almost pityingly. "You incredible fool! Do you
imagine that you have any choice in the matter?"

Von Bruenig and Savaroff moved up alongside of him, and I stood there
confronting the three of them.

"You have heard my choice," I said.

McMurtrie laughed. It was precisely the way in which I should imagine
the devil laughs on the rare occasions when he is still amused.

"You are evidently a bad judge of character, Mr. Lyndon," he said.
"People who attempt to break faith with me are apt to find it a very
unhealthy occupation."

I felt utterly reckless now. I had done my best to delay things,
and if neither the police nor the Secret Service was ready to take
advantage of it, so much the worse for them--and me.

"I can quite believe you, doctor," I said pleasantly. "I should
imagine you were a dangerous ruffian from the intelligent way in which
you murdered Marks."

It was a last desperate stroke, but it went home with startling
effect.

Savaroff's face flushed purple, and with a fierce oath he gripped the
back of a chair and swung it up over his head. The doctor stopped him
with a gesture of his hand. As for von Bruenig, he stood where he
was, staring from one to the other of us in angry bewilderment. He
evidently hadn't the remotest notion what I was talking about.

McMurtrie was the first to speak. "Yes," he said, in his coolest,
silkiest voice. "I did kill Marks. He was the last person who betrayed
me. I rather think you will envy him before I have finished with you,
Mr. Lyndon."

"A thousand devils!" cried von Bruenig furiously: "what does all this
nonsense mean? We may have the police here any moment. Knock him on
the head, the fool, and--"

"Stop!"

The single word cut in with startling clearness. We all spun round in
the direction of the sound, and there, standing in the window just
between the two curtains, was the solitary figure of Mr. Bruce
Latimer. He was accompanied by a Mauser pistol which flickered
thoughtfully over the four of us.

"Keep still," he drawled--"quite still, please. I shall shoot the
first man who moves."

There was a moment of rather trenchant silence. Then von Bruenig
moistened his lips with his tongue.

"Are you mad, sir?" he began hoarsely. "By what--"

With a lightning-like movement McMurtrie slipped his right hand into
his side pocket, and as he did so Latimer instantly levelled his
pistol. The two shots rang out simultaneously, but except for a cry
and a crash of broken glass I knew nothing of what had happened. In
one stride I had flung myself on Savaroff, and just as he drew his
revolver I let him have it fair and square on the jaw. Dropping his
weapon, he reeled backwards into von Bruenig, and the pair of them went
to the floor with a thud that shook the building. Almost at the same
moment both the door and the window burst violently open, and two men
came charging into the room.

The first of the intruders was Tommy Morrison. I recognized him just
as I was making an instinctive dive for Savaroff's revolver, under the
unpleasant impression that Hoffman and the other German had returned
from the post-office. You can imagine the delight with which I
scrambled up again, clutching that useful if rather belated weapon in
my hand.

One glance round showed me everything there was to see.

Face downwards in a little pool of blood lay the motionless figure
of McMurtrie. Savaroff also was still--his huge bulk sprawled in
fantastic helplessness across the floor. Only von Bruenig had moved; he
was sitting up on his hands, staring in a half-dazed fashion down the
barrel of Latimer's Mauser.

It was Latimer himself who renewed the conversation.

"Come and fix up these two, Ellis," he said. "I will see to the
other."

The man who had burst in with Tommy, a lithe, hard-looking fellow in a
blue suit, walked crisply across the room, and pulling out a pair
of light hand-cuffs snapped them round von Bruenig's wrists. He then
performed a similar service for the still unconscious Savaroff.

The next moment Latimer, Tommy, and I were kneeling round the
prostrate figure of the doctor. We lifted him up very gently and
turned him over on to his back, using a rolled-up rug as a pillow for
his head. He had been shot through the right lung and was bleeding at
the mouth.

Latimer bent over and made a brief examination of the wound. Then with
a slight shake of his head he knelt back.

"I'm afraid there's no hope," he remarked dispassionately. "It's a
pity. We might have got some useful information out of him."

There was a short pause, and then quite suddenly the dying man opened
his eyes. It may have been fancy, but it seemed to me that for a
moment a shadow of the old mocking smile flitted across his face. His
lips moved, faintly, as though he were trying to speak. I bent down to
listen, but even as I did so there came a fresh rush of blood into his
throat, and with a long shudder that strange sinister spirit of his
passed over into the darkness. I shall always wonder what it was that
he left unsaid.

CHAPTER XXIV

EXONERATED

It was Tommy who pronounced his epitaph. "Well," he observed, "he was
a damned scoundrel, but he played a big game anyhow."

Latimer thrust his hand into the dead man's pocket, and drew out a
small nickel-plated revolver. One chamber of it was discharged.

"Not a bad shot," he remarked critically. "Fired at me through his
coat, and only missed my head by an inch."

He got up and looked round the room at the shattered window and the
other traces of the fray, his gaze coming finally to rest on the
prostrate figure of Savaroff.

"That was a fine punch of yours, Lyndon," he added. "I hope you
haven't broken his neck."

"I don't think so," I said. "Necks like Savaroff's take a lot of
breaking." Then, suddenly remembering, I added hastily: "By the way,
you know that there are two more of the crowd--Hoffman and a friend of
von Bruenig's? They might be back any minute."

Latimer shook his head almost pensively. "It's improbable," he said.
"I have every reason to believe that at the present moment they are in
Queenborough police station."

I saw Tommy grin, but before I could make any inquiries von Bruenig
had scrambled to his feet. His face looked absolutely ghastly in its
mingled rage and disappointment. After a fashion I could scarcely help
feeling sorry for him.

"I demand an explanation," he exclaimed hoarsely. "By what right am I
arrested?"

Latimer walked up to him, and looked him quietly in the eyes.

"I think you understand very well, _Captain_ von Bruenig," he said.

There was a pause, and then, with a glance that embraced the four of
us, the German walked to the couch and sat down. If looks could kill I
think we should all have dropped dead in our tracks.

Providence, however, having fortunately arranged otherwise, we
remained as we were, and at that moment there came from outside the
unmistakable sound of an approaching car. I saw Latimer open his
watch.

"Quick work, Ellis," he remarked, with some satisfaction. "I wasn't
expecting them for another ten minutes. Tell them to come straight
in." He snapped the case and turned back to me. "Suppose we try and
awake our sleeping friend," he added. "He looks rather a heavy weight
for lifting about."

Between us we managed to hoist Savaroff up into a chair, while Tommy
stepped across the room and fetched a bottle of water which was
standing on the sideboard. I have had some practice in my boxing days
of dealing with knocked-out men, and although Savaroff was a pretty
hard case, a little vigorous massage and one or two good sousings
soon produced signs of returning consciousness. Indeed, he had just
recovered sufficiently to indulge in a really remarkable oath when the
door swung open and Ellis came back into the room, accompanied by two
other men. One of them was dressed in ordinary clothes, the other wore
the uniform of a police sergeant.

I shall never forget the face of the latter as he surveyed the scene
before him.

"Gawd bless us!" he exclaimed. "What's up now, sir? Murder?"

"Not exactly, Sergeant," replied Latimer soothingly. "I shot this man
in self-defence. The other two I give into your charge. There is a
warrant out for all three of them."

It appeared that the sergeant knew who Latimer was, for he treated him
with marked deference.

"Very well, sir," he said. "If 'e's dead, 'e's dead; anyhow, I've
orders to take my instructions entirely from you." Then, dragging a
note-book out of his pocket, he added with some excitement: "There's
another thing, sir, a matter that the Tilbury station have just
telephoned through about. It seems"--he consulted his references--"it
seems that when they were in that launch of theirs they run down a
party o' coast-guards, who'd got hold of Lyndon, the missing convict.
Off Tilbury it was. D'you happen to know anything about this, sir?"

Latimer nodded his head. "A certain amount, Sergeant," he said. "You
will find the launch in the creek at the bottom of the cliff." He
paused. "This is Mr. Neil Lyndon," he added; "I will be responsible
for his safe keeping."

I don't know what sort of experiences the Isle of Sheppey usually
provides for its police staff, but it was obvious that, professionally
speaking, the sergeant was having the day of his life. He stared at me
for a moment with the utmost interest, and then, recollecting himself,
turned and saluted Latimer.

"Very good, sir," he said; "and what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to stay here for the present with one of my men, while we
go to the station. I shall send the car back, and then you will take
the two prisoners into Queenborough. My man will remain in charge of
the bungalow."

The sergeant saluted again, and Latimer turned to me.

"You and Morrison must come straight to town," he said. "We shall just
have time to catch the twelve-three."

It was at this point that Savaroff, who had been regarding us with
the half-stupid stare of a man who has newly recovered consciousness,
staggered up unsteadily from his chair. His half-numbed brain seemed
suddenly to have grasped what was happening.

"Verfluchter Schweinhund!" he shouted, turning on me. "So it was you,
then--"

He got no further. However embarrassed the sergeant might be by
exceptional events, he was evidently thoroughly at home in his own
department.

"'Ere!" he said, stepping forward briskly, "stow that, me man!"
And with a sudden energetic thrust in the chest, he sent Savaroff
sprawling backwards on the couch almost on top of von Bruenig.

"Don't you use none of that language 'ere," he added, standing over
them, "or as like as not you'll be sorry for it."

There was a brief pause. "I see, Sergeant," said Latimer gravely,
"that I am leaving the case in excellent hands."

He gave a few final instructions to Ellis, who was also staying
behind, and then the four of us left the bungalow and walked quietly
down the small garden path that led to the road. Just outside the gate
stood a powerful five-seated car.

"Start her up, Guthrie," said Latimer; and then turning to us, he
added, with a smile: "I want you in front with me, Lyndon. I know
Morrison's dying for a yarn with you, but he must wait."

Tommy nodded contentedly. "I can wait," he observed; "it's a habit
I've cultivated where Neil's concerned."

We all clambered into the car, and, slipping in his clutch Latimer set
off at a rapid pace in the direction of Queenborough. It was not until
we had rounded the first corner that he opened the conversation.

"How did you know about Marks?" he asked, in that easy drawling voice
of his.

"I didn't know for certain," I said quietly. "It was more or less of a
lucky shot."

Then, as he seemed to be waiting for a further explanation, I repeated
to him as briefly as possible what Sonia had told me about McMurtrie's
reason for visiting London.

"I didn't go into all this in my letter to you," I finished, "because
in the first place there was only just time for Joyce to catch the
train, and in the second I didn't want to disappoint her in case it
should turn out to be all bunkum. You must have been rather amazed

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