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Peter Ruff and the Double Four by E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Peter Ruff and the Double Four

by E. Phillips Oppenheim




























There was nothing about the supper party on that particular Sunday
evening in November at Daisy Villa, Green Street, Streatham, which
seemed to indicate in any way that one of the most interesting
careers connected with the world history of crime was to owe its
very existence to the disaster which befell that little gathering.
The villa was the residence and also - to his credit - the
unmortgaged property of Mr. David Barnes, a struggling but fairly
prosperous coal merchant of excellent character, some means, and
Methodist proclivities. His habit of sitting without his coat when
carving, although deprecated by his wife and daughter on account of
the genteel aspirations of the latter, was a not unusual one in the
neighbourhood; and coupled with the proximity of a cold joint of
beef, his seat at the head of the table, and a carving knife and
fork grasped in his hands, established clearly the fact of his
position in the household, which a somewhat weak physiognomy might
otherwise have led the casual observer to doubt. Opposite him, at
the other end of the table, sat his wife, Mrs. Barnes, a somewhat
voluminous lady with a high colour, a black satin frock, and many
ornaments. On her left the son of the house, eighteen years old,
of moderate stature, somewhat pimply, with the fashion of the moment
reflected in his pink tie with white spots, drawn through a gold
ring, and curving outwards to seek obscurity underneath a dazzling
waistcoat. A white tube-rose in his buttonhole might have been
intended as a sort of compliment to the occasion, or an indication
of his intention to take a walk after supper in the fashionable
purlieus of the neighbourhood. Facing him sat his sister - a
fluffy-haired, blue-eyed young lady, pretty in her way, but chiefly
noticeable for a peculiar sort of self-consciousness blended with
self-satisfaction, and possessed only at a certain period in their
lives by young ladies of her age. It was almost the air of the cat
in whose interior reposes the missing canary, except that in this
instance the canary obviously existed in the person of the young
man who sat at her side, introduced formally to the household for
the first time. That young man's name was - at the moment - Mr.
Spencer Fitzgerald. =20

It seems idle to attempt any description of a person who, in the
past, had secured a certain amount of fame under a varying
personality; and who, in the future, was to become more than ever
notorious under a far less aristocratic pseudonym than that by
which he was at present known to the inhabitants of Daisy Villa.
There are photographs of him in New York and Paris, St. Petersburg
and Chicago, Vienna and Cape Town, but there are no two pictures
which present to the casual observer the slightest likeness to one
another. To allude to him by the name under which he had won some
part, at least, of the affections of Miss Maud Barnes, Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald, as he sat there, a suitor on probation for her hand, was
a young man of modest and genteel appearance. He wore a blue serge
suit - a little underdressed for the occasion, perhaps; but his tie
and collar were neat; his gold-rimmed spectacles - if a little
disapproved of by Maud on account of the air of steadiness which
they imparted - suggested excellent son-in-lawlike qualities to Mr.
and Mrs. Barnes. He had the promise of a fair moustache, but his
complexion generally was colourless. His features, except for a
certain regularity, were undistinguished. His speech was modest
and correct. His manner varied with his company. To-night it had
been pronounced, by excellent judges - genteel. =20

The conversation consisted - naturally enough, under the
circumstances - of a course of subtle and judicious pumping,
tactfully prompted, for the most part, by Mrs. Barnes. Such, for
instance, as the following:=20

"Talking about Marie Corelli's new book reminds me, Mr. Fitzgerald
- your occupation is connected with books, is it not?" his
prospective mother-in-law enquired, artlessly. =20

Mr. Fitzgerald bowed assent. =20

"I am cashier at Howell & Wilson's in Cheapside," he said. "We
sell a great many books there - as many, I should think, as any
retail establishment in London."=20

"Indeed!" Mrs. Barnes purred. "Very interesting work, I am sure.
So nice and intellectual, too; for, of course, you must be looking
inside them sometimes."=20

"I know the place well," Mr. Adolphus Barnes, Junior, announced
condescendingly, - "pass it every day on my way to lunch."=20

"So much nicer," Mrs. Barnes continued, "than any of the ordinary
businesses - grocery or drapery, or anything of that sort."=20

Miss Maud elevated her eyebrows slightly. Was it likely that she
would have looked with eyes of favour upon a young man engaged in
any of these inferior occupations? =20

"There's money in books, too," Mr. Barnes declared with sudden
inspiration. His prospective son-in-law turned towards him
deferentially. =20

"You are right, sir," he admitted. "There is money in them. There's
money for those who write, and there's money for those who sell. My
occupation," he continued, with a modest little cough, "brings me
often into touch with publishers, travellers and clerks, so I am, as
it were, behind the scenes to some extent. I can assure you," he
continued, looking from Mr. Barnes to his wife, and finally
transfixing Mr. Adolphus - "I can assure you that the money paid by
some firms of publishers to a few well-known authors - I will mention
no names - as advances against royalties, is something stupendous!"=20

"Ah!" Mr. Barnes murmured, solemnly shaking his head. =20

"Marie Corelli, I expect, and that Hall Caine," remarked young
Adolphus. =20

"Seems easy enough to write a book, too," Mrs. Barnes said. "Why, I
declare that some of those we get from the library - we subscribe to
a library, Mr. Fitzgerald - are just as simple and straightforward that
a child might have written them. No plot whatsoever, no murders or
mysteries or anything of that sort - just stories about people like
ourselves. I don't see how they can pay people for writing stories
about people just like those one meets every day!"=20

"I always say," Maud intervened, "that Spencer means to write a book
some day. He has quite the literary air, hasn't he, mother?"=20

"Indeed he has!" Mrs. Barnes declared, with an appreciative glance
at the gold-rimmed spectacles. =20

Mr. Fitzgerald modestly disclaimed any literary aspirations. =20

"The thing is a gift, after all," he declared, generously. "I can
keep accounts, and earn a fair salary at it, but if I attempted
fiction I should soon be up a tree."=20

Mr. Barnes nodded his approval of such sentiments. =20

"Every one to his trade, I say," he remarked. "What sort of
salaries do they pay now in the book trade?" he asked guilelessly. =20

"Very fair," Mr. Fitzgerald admitted candidly, - "very fair indeed."=20

"When I was your age," Mr. Barnes said reflectively, "I was getting
- let me see - forty-two shillings a week. Pretty good pay, too,
for those days."=20

Mr. Fitzgerald admitted the fact. =20

"Of course," he said apologetically, "salaries are a little higher
now all round. Mr. Howell has been very kind to me, - in fact I
have had two raises this year. I am getting four pounds ten now."=20

"Four pounds ten per week?" Mrs. Barnes exclaimed, laying down her
knife and fork. =20

"Certainly," Mr. Fitzgerald answered. "After Christmas, I have
some reason to believe that it may be five pounds."=20

Mr. Barnes whistled softly, and looked at the young man with a new
respect. =20

"I told you that - Mr. - that Spencer was doing pretty well, Mother,"
Maud simpered, looking down at her plate. =20

"Any one to support?" her father asked, transferring a pickle from
the fork to his mouth. =20

"No one," Mr. Fitzgerald answered. "In fact, I may say that I have
some small expectations. I haven't done badly, either, out of the
few investments I have made from time to time."=20

"Saved a bit of money, eh?" Mr. Barnes enquired genially. =20

"I have a matter of four hundred pounds put by," Mr. Fitzgerald
admitted modestly, "besides a few sticks of furniture. I never
cared much about lodging-house things, so I furnished a couple of
rooms myself some time ago."=20

Mrs. Barnes rose slowly to her feet. =20

"You are quite sure you won't have a small piece more of beef?" she
enquired anxiously. =20

"Just a morsel?" Mr. Barnes asked, tapping the joint insinuatingly
with his carving knife. =20

"No, I thank you!" Mr. Fitzgerald declared firmly. "I have done

"Then if you will put the joint on the sideboard, Adolphus," Mrs.
Barnes directed, "Maud and I will change the plates. We always let
the girl go out on Sundays, Mr. Fitzgerald," she explained, turning
to their guest. "It's very awkward, of course, but they seem to
expect it."=20

"Quite natural, I'm sure," Mr. Fitzgerald murmured, watching Maud's
light movements with admiring eyes. "I like to see ladies interested
in domestic work."=20

"There's one thing I will say for Maud," her proud mother declared,
plumping down a dish of jelly upon the table, "she does know what's
what in keeping house, and even if she hasn't to scrape and save as
I did when David and I were first married, economy is a great thing
when you're young. I have always said so, and I stick to it."=20

"Quite right, Mother," Mr. Barnes declared. =20

"If instead of sitting there," Mrs. Barnes continued in high good
humour, "you were to get a bottle of that port wine out of the
cellarette, we might drink Mr. Fitzgerald's health, being as it's
his first visit."=20

Mr. Barnes rose to his feet with alacrity. "For a woman with sound
ideas," he declared, "commend me to your mother!"=20

Maud, having finished her duties, resumed her place by the side of
the guest of the evening. Their hands met under the tablecloth for
a moment. To the girl, the pleasure of such a proceeding was natural
enough, but Fitzgerald asked himself for the fiftieth time why on
earth he, who, notwithstanding his present modest exterior, was a
young man of some experience, should from such primitive love-making
derive a rapture which nothing else in life afforded him. He was,
at that moment, content with his future, - a future which he had
absolutely and finally decided upon. He was content with his
father-in-law and his mother-in-law, with Daisy Villa, and the
prospect of a Daisy Villa for himself, - content, even, with Adolphus!
But for Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, these things were not to be! The
awakening was even then at hand. =20

The dining room of Daisy Villa fronted the street, and was removed
from it only a few feet. Consequently, the footsteps of passers-by
upon the flagged pavement were clearly distinguishable. It was just
at the moment when Mrs. Barnes was inserting a few fresh almonds
into a somewhat precarious tipsy cake, and Mr. Barnes was engaged
with the decanting of the port, that two pairs of footsteps,
considerably heavier than those of the ordinary promenader, paused
outside and finally stopped. The gate creaked. Mr. Barnes looked up. =20

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "What's that? Visitors?"=20

They all listened. The front-door bell rang. Adolphus, in response
to a gesture from his mother, rose sulkily to his feet. =20

"Job I hate!" he muttered as he left the room. =20

The rest of the family, full of the small curiosity of people of
their class, were intent upon listening for voices outside. The
demeanour of Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, therefore, escaped their notice.
It is doubtful, in any case, whether their perceptions would have
been sufficiently keen to have enabled them to trace the workings of
emotion in the countenance of a person so magnificently endowed by
Providence with the art of subterfuge. Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald seemed
simply to have stiffened in acute and earnest attention. It was only
for a moment that he hesitated. His unfailing inspiration told him
the truth! =20

His course of action was simple, - he rose to his feet and strolled
to the window. =20

"Some people who have lost their way in the fog, perhaps," he remarked.
"What a night!"=20

He laid his hand upon the sash - simultaneously there was a rush of
cold air into the room, a half-angry, half-frightened exclamation
from Adolphus in the passage, a scream from Miss Maud - and no Mr.
Spencer Fitzgerald! No one had time to be more than blankly
astonished. The door was opened, and a police inspector, in very
nice dark braided uniform and a peaked cap, stood in the doorway. =20

Mr. Barnes dropped the port, and Mrs. Barnes, emulating her daughter's
example, screamed. The inspector, as though conscious of the draught,
moved rapidly toward the window. =20

"You had a visitor here, Mr. Barnes," he said quickly - "a Mr.
Spencer Fitzgerald. Where is he?"=20

There was no one who could answer! Mr. Barnes was speechless between
the shock of the spilt port and the appearance of a couple of
uniformed policemen in his dining room. John Dory, the detective,
he knew well enough in his private capacity, but in his uniform,
and attended by policemen, he presented a new and startling
appearance! Mrs. Barnes was in hysterics, and Maud was gazing like
a creature turned to stone at the open window, through which little
puffs of fog were already drifting into the room. Adolphus, with
an air of bewilderment, was standing with his mouth and eyes wider
open than they had ever been in his life. And as for the honoured
guest of these admirable inhabitants of Daisy Villa, there was not
the slightest doubt but that Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald had disappeared
through the window! =20

Fitzgerald's expedition was nearly at an end. Soon he paused,
crossed the road to a block of flats, ascended to the eighth floor
by an automatic lift, and rang the bell at a door which bore simply
the number II. A trim parlourmaid opened it after a few minutes'
delay. =20

"Is Miss Emerson at home?" he asked. =20

"Miss Emerson is in," the maid admitted, with some hesitation, "but
I am not sure that she will see any one to-night."=20

"I have a message for her," Fitzgerald said. =20

"Will you give me your name, sir, please?" the maid asked. =20

An inner door was suddenly opened. A slim girl, looking taller than
she really was by reason of the rug upon which she stood, looked out
into the hall - a girl with masses of brown hair loosely coiled on
her head, with pale face and strange eyes. She opened her lips as
though to call to her visitor by name, and as suddenly closed them
again. There was not much expression in her face, but there was
enough to show that his visit was not unwelcome. =20

"You!" she exclaimed. "Come in! Please come in at once!"=20

Fitzgerald obeyed the invitation of the girl whom he had come to
visit. She had retreated a little into the room, but the door was
no sooner closed than she held out her hands. =20

"Peter!" she exclaimed. "Peter, you have come to me at last!"=20

Her lips were a little parted; her eyes were bright with pleasure;
her whole expression was one of absolute delight. Fitzgerald
frowned, as though he found her welcome a little too enthusiastic
for his taste. =20

"Violet," he said, "please don't look at me as though I were a
prodigal sheep. If you do, I shall be sorry that I came."=20

Her hands fell to her side, the pleasure died out of her face - only
her eyes still questioned him. Fitzgerald carefully laid his hat
on a vacant chair. =20

"Something has happened?" she said. "Tell me that all that madness
is over - that you are yourself again!"=20

"So far as regards my engagement with Messrs. Howell & Wilson," he
said, despondently, "you are right. As regards - Miss Barnes, there
has been no direct misunderstanding between us, but I am afraid, for
the present, that I must consider that - well, in abeyance."=20

"That is something!" she exclaimed, drawing a little breath of relief.
"Sit down, Peter. Will you have something to eat? I finished dinner
an hour ago, but - "=20

"Thank you," Fitzgerald interrupted, "I supped - extremely well in

"In Streatham!" she repeated. "Why, how did you get there? The fog
is awful."=20

"Fogs do not trouble me," Fitzgerald answered. "I walked. I could
have done it as well blindfold. I will take a whisky and soda, if
I may."=20

She led him to an easy-chair. =20

"I will mix it myself," she said. =20

Without being remarkably good-looking, she was certainly a pleasant
and attractive-looking young woman. Her cheeks were a little pale;
her hair - perfectly natural - was a wonderful deep shade of soft
brown. Her eyes were long and narrow - almost Oriental in shape
- and they seemed in some queer way to match the room; he could
have sworn that in the firelight they flashed green. Her body and
limbs, notwithstanding her extreme slightness, were graceful, perhaps,
but with the grace of the tigress. She wore a green silk dressing
jacket, pulled together with a belt of lizard skin, and her neck was
bare. Her skirt was of some thin black material. She was obviously
in deshabille, and yet there was something neat and trim about the
smaller details of her toilette. =20

"Go on, please, Peter," she begged. "You are keeping me in suspense."=20

"There isn't much to tell," he answered. "It's over - that's all."=20

She drew a sharp breath through her teeth. =20

"You are not going to marry that girl - that bourgeois doll in

Fitzgerald sat up in his chair. =20

"Look here," he said, seriously, "don't you call her names. If I'm
not going to marry her, it isn't my fault. She is the only girl I
have ever wanted, and probably - most probably - she will be the only
one I ever shall want. That's honest, isn't it?"=20

The girl winced. =20

"Yes," she said, "it is honest!"=20

"I should have married her," the young man continued, "and I should
have been happy. I had my eye on a villa - not too near her parents
- and I saw my way to a little increase of salary. I should have
taken to gardening, to walks in the Park, with an occasional theatre,
and I should have thoroughly enjoyed a fortnight every summer at
Skegness or Sutton-on-Sea. We should have saved a little money. I
should have gone to church regularly, and if possible I should have
filled some minor public offices. You may call this bourgeois - it
was my idea of happiness."=20

"Was!" she murmured. =20

"Is still," he declared, sharply, "but I shall never attain to it.
To-night I had to leave Maud - to leave the supper table of Daisy
Villa - through the window!"=20

She looked at him in amazement. =20

"The police," he explained. "That brute Dory was at the bottom
of it."=20

"But surely," she murmured, "you told me that you had a bona-fide
situation - "=20

"So I had," he declared, "and I was a fool not to be content with
it. It was my habit of taking long country walks, and their rotten
auditing, which undid me! You understand that this was all before
I met Maud? Since the day I spoke to her, I turned over a new leaf.
I have left the night work alone, and I repaid every penny of the
firm's money which they could ever have possibly found out about.
There was only that one little affair of mine down at Sudbury."=20

"Tell me what you are going to do?" she whispered. =20

"I have no alternative," he answered. "The law has kicked me out
from the respectable places. The law shall pay!"=20

She looked at him with glowing eyes. =20

"Have you any plans?" she asked, softly. =20

"I have," he answered. "I have considered the subject from a good
many points of view, and I have decided to start in business for
myself as a private detective."=20

She raised her eyebrows. =20

"My dear Peter!" she murmured. "Couldn't you be a little more

"That is only what I am going to call myself," he answered. "I
may tell you that I am going to strike out on somewhat new lines."=20

"Please explain," she begged. =20

He recrossed his knees and made himself a little more comfortable. =20

"The weak part of every great robbery, however successful," he began,
"is the great wastage in value which invariably results. For jewels
which cost - say five thousand pounds, and to procure which the
artist has to risk his life as well as his liberty, he has to
consider himself lucky if he clears eight hundred. For the Hermitage
rubies, for instance, where I nearly had to shoot a man dead, I=20
realized rather less than four hundred pounds. It doesn't pay."=20

"Go on," she begged. =20

"I am not clear," he continued, "how far this class of business will
attract me at all, but I do not propose, in any case, to enter into
any transactions on my own account. I shall work for other people,
and for cash down. Your experience of life, Violet, has been fairly
large. Have you not sometimes come into contact with people driven
into a situation from which they would willingly commit any crime to
escape if they dared? It is not with them a question of money at
all - it is simply a matter of ignorance. They do not know how to
commit a crime. They have had no experience, and if they attempt it,
they know perfectly well that they are likely to blunder. A person
thoroughly experienced in the ways of criminals - a person of genius
like myself - would have, without a doubt, an immense clientele, if
only he dared put up his signboard. Literally, I cannot do that.
Actually, I mean to do so! I shall be willing to accept contracts
either to help nervous people out of an undesirable crisis; or, on
the other hand, to measure my wits against the wits of Scotland Yard,
and to discover the criminals whom they have failed to secure. I
shall make my own bargains, and I shall be paid in cash. I shall
take on nothing that I am not certain about."=20

"But your clients?" she asked, curiously. "How will you come into
contact with them?"=20

He smiled. =20

"I am not afraid of business being slack," he said. "The world is
full of fools."=20

"You cannot live outside the law, Peter," she objected. "You are
clever, I know, but they are not all fools at Scotland Yard."=20

"You forget," he reminded her, "that there will be a perfectly=20
legitimate side to my profession. The other sort of case I shall
only accept if I can see my way clear to make a success of it.
Needless to say, I shall have to refuse the majority that are
offered to me."=20

She came a little nearer to him. =20

"In any case," she said, with a little sigh, "you have given up that
foolish, bourgeois life of yours?"=20

He looked down into her face, and his eyes were cold. =20

"Violet," he said, "this is no time for misunderstandings. I should
like you to know that apart from one young lady, who possesses my
whole affection - "=20

"All of it?" she pleaded. =20

"All!" he declared emphatically. "She will doubtless be faithless
to me - under the circumstances, I cannot blame her - but so far as
I am concerned, I have no affection whatever for any one else."=20

She crept back to her place. =20

"I could be so useful to you," she murmured. =20

"You could and you shall, if you will be sensible," he answered. =20

"Tell me how?" she begged. =20

He was silent for a moment. =20

"Are you acting now?" he asked. =20

"I am understudying Molly," she answered, "and I have a very small
part at the Globe."=20

He nodded. =20

"There is no reason to interfere with that," he said, "in fact, I
wish you to continue your connection with the profession. It brings
you into touch with the class of people among whom I am likely to
find clients."=20

"Go on, please," she begged. =20

"On two conditions - or rather one," he said, "you can, if you like,
become my secretary and partner - and find the money we shall
require to make a start."=20

"Conditions?" she asked. =20

"You must understand, once and for all," he said, "that I will not
be made love to, and that I can treat you only as a working;
companion. My name will be Peter Ruff, and yours Miss Brown. You
will have to dress like a secretary, and behave like one. Sometimes
there will be plenty of work for you, and sometimes there will be
none at all. Sometimes you will be bored to death, and sometimes
there will be excitement. I do not wish to make you vain, but I may
add, especially as you are aware of my personal feelings toward you,
that you are the only person in the world to whom I would make this

She sighed gently. =20

"Tell me, Peter," she asked, "when do you mean to start this new

"Not for six months - perhaps a year," he answered. "I must go to
Paris - perhaps Vienna. I might even have to go to New York. There
are certain associations with which I must come into touch - certain
information I must become possessed of."=20

"Peter," she said, "I like your scheme, but there is just one thing.
Such men as you should be the brains of great enterprises. Don't
you understand what I mean? It shouldn't be you who does the actual
thing which brings you within the power of the law. I am not
over-scrupulous, you know. I hate wrongdoing, but I have never been
able to treat as equal criminals the poor man who steals for a
living, and the rich financier who robs right and left out of sheer
greed. I agree with you that crime is not an absolute thing. The
circumstances connected with every action in life determine its
morality or immorality. But, Peter, it isn't worth while to go
outside the law!"=20

He nodded. =20

"You are a sensible girl," he said, "I have always thought that.
We'll talk over my cases together, if they seem to run a little
too close to the line."=20

"Very well, Peter," she said, "I accept."=20



About twelve months after the interrupted festivities at Daisy Villa,
that particular neighbourhood was again the scene of some rejoicing.
Standing before the residence of Mr. Barnes were three carriages,
drawn in each case by a pair of grey horses. The coachmen and their
steeds were similarly adorned with white rosettes. It would have
been an insult to the intelligence of the most youthful of the
loungers-by to have informed them that a wedding was projected. =20

At the neighbouring church all was ready. The clerk stood at the
door, the red drugget was down, the usual little crowd were standing
all agog upon the pavement. There was one unusual feature of the
proceedings: Instead of a solitary policeman, there were at least
a dozen who kept clear the entrance to the church. Their presence
greatly puzzled a little old gentleman who had joined the throng
of sightseers. He pushed himself to the front and touched one of
them upon the shoulder. =20

"Mr. Policeman," he said, "will you tell me why there are so many
of you to keep such a small crowd in order?"=20

"Bridegroom's a member of the force, sir, for one reason," the man
answered good-humouredly. =20

"And the other?" the old gentleman persisted. =20

The policeman behaved as though he had not heard - a proceeding
which his natural stolidity rendered easy. The little old gentleman,
however, was not so easily put off. He tapped the man once more
upon the shoulder. =20

"And the other reason, Mr. Policeman?" he asked insinuatingly. =20

"Not allowed to talk about that, sir," was the somewhat gruff
reply. =20

The little old gentleman moved away, a trifle hurt. He was a
very nicely dressed old gentleman indeed, and everything about
him seemed to savour of prosperity. But he was certainly
garrulous. An obviously invited guest was standing upon the
edge of the pavement stroking a pair of lavender kid gloves.
The little old gentleman sidled up to him. =20

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, raising his hat. "I am just
back from Australia - haven't seen a wedding in England for
fifty years. Do you think that they would let me into the church?"=20

The invited guest looked down at his questioner and approved of him.
Furthermore, he seemed exceedingly glad to be interrupted in his
somewhat nervous task of waiting for the wedding party. =20

"Certainly, sir," he replied cheerfully. "Come along in with me,
and I'll find you a seat."=20

Down the scarlet drugget they went - the big best man with the red
hands and the lavender kid gloves and the opulent-looking old
gentleman with the gold-rimmed spectacles and the handsome walking
stick. =20

"Dear me, this is very interesting!" the latter remarked. "Is it
the custom, sir, always, may I ask, in this country, to have so
many policemen at a wedding?"=20

The big man looked downward and shook his head. =20

"Special reason," he said mysteriously. "Fact is, young lady
was engaged once to a very bad character - a burglar whom the
police have been wanting for years. He had to leave the country,
but he has written her once or twice since in a mysterious sort
of way - wanted her to be true to him, and all that sort of thing.
Dory - that's the bridegroom - has got a sort of an idea that he
may turn up to-day."=20

"This is very exciting - very!" the little old gentleman
remarked. "Reminds me of our younger days out in Australia."=20

"You sit down here," the best man directed, ushering his companion
into an empty pew. "I must get back again outside, or I shall have
the bridegroom arriving."=20

"Good-day to you, sir, and many thanks!" the little old gentleman
said politely. =20

Soon the bridegroom arrived - a smart young officer, well thought
of at Scotland Yard, well set up, wearing a long tail coat a lilac
and white tie, and shaking in every limb. He walked up the aisle
accompanied by the best man, and the little old gentleman from
Australia watched him genially from behind those gold-rimmed
glasses. And, then, scarcely was he at the altar rails when
through the open church door one heard the sounds of horses' feet,
one heard a rustle, the murmur of voices, caught a glimpse of a
waiting group arranging themselves finally in the porch of the
church. Maud, on the arm of her father, came slowly up the aisle.
The little old gentleman turned his head as though this was
something upon which he feared to look. He saw nothing of Mr.
Barnes, in a new coat, with tuberose and spray of maidenhair in
his coat, and exceedingly tight patent leather boots on his feet;
he saw nothing of Mrs. Barnes, clad in a gown of the lightest
magenta, with a bonnet smothered with violets. =20

It was in the vestry that the only untoward incident of that highly
successful wedding took place. The ceremony was over! Bride,
bridegroom and parents trooped in. And when the register was
opened, one witness had already signed! In the clear, precise
writing his name stood out upon the virgin page - =20

Spencer Fitzgerald

The bridegroom swore, the bride nearly collapsed. The clerk pressed
into the hands of the latter an envelope. =20

"From the little old gentleman," he announced, "who was fussing
round the church this morning."=20

Mrs. Dory tore it open and gave a cry of delight. A diamond cross,
worth all the rest of her presents put together, flashed soft
lights from a background of dull velvet. Her husband had looked
over her shoulder, and with a scowl seized the morocco case and
threw it far from him. =20

It was the only disturbing incident of a highly successful
function! =20

At precisely the same moment when the wedding guests were seated
around the hospitable board of Daisy Villa, a celebration of a
somewhat different nature was taking place in the more aristocratic
neighbourhood of Curzon Street. Here, however, the little party
was a much smaller one, and the innocent gaiety of the gathering at
Daisy Villa was entirely lacking. The luncheon table around which
the four men were seated presented all the unlovely signs of a meal
where self-restraint had been abandoned - where conviviality has
passed the bounds of licence. Edibles were represented only by a
single dish of fruit; the tablecloth, stained with wine and cigar
ash, seemed crowded with every sort of bottle and every sort of
glass. A magnum of champagne, empty, another half full, stood in
the middle of the table; whisky, brandy, liqueurs of various sorts
were all represented; glasses - some full, some empty, some filled
with cigar ash and cigarette stumps - an ugly sight! =20

The guest in chief arose. Short, thick-set, red-faced, with bulbous
eyes, and veins about his temples which just now were unpleasantly
prominent, he seemed, indeed, a very fitting person to have been the
recipient of such hospitality. He stood clutching a little at the
tablecloth and swaying upon his feet. He spoke as a drunken man,
but such words as he pronounced clearly showed him to be possessed
of a voice naturally thick and raspy. It was obvious that he was a
person of entirely different class from his three companions. =20

"G - gentlemen," he said, "I must be off. I thank you very much for
this - hospitality. Honoured, I'm sure, to have sat down in such
- such company. Good afternoon, all!"=20

He lurched a little toward the door, but his neighbour at the table
- who was also his host - caught hold of his coat tail and pulled
him back into his chair. =20

"No hurry, Masters," he said. "One more liqueur, eh? It's a raw

"N - not another drop, Sir Richard!" the man declared. "Not another
drop to drink. I am very much obliged to you all, but I must be off.
Must be off," he repeated, making another effort to rise. =20

His host held him by the arm. The man resented it - he showed
signs of anger. =20

"D - n it all! I - I'm not a prisoner, am I?" he exclaimed angrily.
"Tell you I've got - appointment - club. Can't you see it's past
five o'clock?"=20

"That's all right, Masters," the man whom he had addressed as Sir
Richard declared soothingly. "We want just a word with you on
business first, before you go - Colonel Dickinson, Lord Merries
and myself."=20

Masters shook his head. =20

"See you to-morrow," he declared. "No time to talk business now.
Let me go!"=20

He made another attempt to rise, which his host also prevented. =20

"Masters, don't be a fool!" the latter said firmly. "You've got to
hear what we want to say to you. Sit down and listen."=20

Masters relapsed sullenly into his chair. His little eyes seemed
to creep closer to one another. So they wanted to talk business!
Perhaps it was for that reason that they had bidden him sit at their
table - had entertained him so well! The very thought cleared his
brain. =20

"Go on," he said shortly. =20

Sir Richard lit a cigarette and leaned further back in his chair.
He was a man apparently about fifty years of age - tall, well dressed,
with good features, save for his mouth, which resembled more than
anything a rat trap. He was perfectly bald, and he had the air of
a man who was a careful liver. His eyes were bright, almost beadlike;
his fingers long and a trifle over-manicured. One would have judged
him to be what he was - a man of fashion and a patron of the turf. =20

"Masters," he said, "we are all old friends here. We want to speak
to you plainly. We three have had a try, as you know - Merries,
Dickinson and myself - to make the coup of our lives. We failed,
and we're up against it hard."=20

"Very hard, indeed," Lord Merries murmured softly. =20

"Deuced hard!" Colonel Dickinson echoed. =20

Masters was sitting tight, breathing a little hard, looking fixedly
at his host. =20

"Take my own case first," the latter continued. "I am Sir Richard
Dyson, ninth baronet, with estates in Wiltshire and Scotland, and a
town house in Cleveland Place. I belong to the proper clubs for a
man in my position, and, somehow or other - we won't say how - I
have managed to pay my way. There isn't an acre of my property that
isn't mortgaged for more than its value. My town house - well, it
doesn't belong to me at all! I have twenty-six thousand pounds to
pay you on Monday. To save my life, I could not raise twenty-six
thousand farthings! So much for me."=20

The man Masters ground his teeth. =20

"So much for you!" he muttered. =20

"Take the case next," Sir Richard continued, "of my friend Merries
here. Merries is an Earl, it is true, but he never had a penny to
bless himself with. He's tried acting, reporting, marrying -=20
anything to make an honest living. So far, I am afraid we must
consider Lord Merries as something of a failure, eh?"=20

"A rotten failure, I should say," that young nobleman declared
gloomily. =20

"Lord Merries is, to put it briefly, financially unsound," Sir
Richard declared. =20

"What is the amount of your debt to Mr. Masters, Jim?"=20

"Eleven thousand two hundred pounds," Lord Merries answered. =20

"And we may take it, I presume, for granted that you have not that
sum, nor anything like it, at your disposal?" Sir Richard asked. =20

"Not a fiver!" Lord Merries declared with emphasis. =20

"We come now, Mr. Masters, to our friend Colonel Dickinson," Sir
Richard continued. "Colonel Dickinson is, perhaps, in a more
favourable situation than any of us. He has a small but regular
income, and he has expectations which it is not possible to mortgage
fully. At the same time, it will be many years before they can - er
- fructify. He is, therefore, with us in this somewhat unpleasant
predicament in which we find ourselves."=20

"Cut it short," Masters growled. "I'm sick of so much talk. What's
it all mean?"=20

"It means simply this, Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said, "we want you
to take six months' bills for our indebtedness to you."=20

Masters rose to his feet. His thick lips were drawn a little apart.
He had the appearance of a savage and discontented animal. =20

"So that's why I've been asked here and fed up with wine and stuff,
eh?" he exclaimed thickly. "Well, my answer to you is soon given.
NO! I'll take bills from no man! My terms are cash on settling
day - cash to pay or cash to receive. I'll have no other!"=20

Sir Richard rose also to=20his feet. =20

"Mr. Masters, I beg of you to be reasonable," he said. "You will do
yourself no good by adopting this attitude. Facts are facts. We
haven't got a thousand pounds between us."=20

"I've heard that sort of a tale before," Masters answered, with a
sneer. "Job Masters is too old a bird to be caught by such chaff.
I'll take my risks, gentlemen. I'll take my risks."=20

He moved toward the door. No one spoke a word. The silence as he
crossed the room seemed a little ominous. He looked over his
shoulder. They were all three standing in their places, looking at
him. A vague sense of uneasiness disturbed his equanimity. =20

"No offence, gents," he said, "and good afternoon!"=20

Still no reply. He reached the door and turned the handle. The door
was fast. He shook it - gently at first, and then violently.
Suddenly he realized that it was locked. He turned sharply around. =20

"What game's this?" he exclaimed, fiercely. "Let me out!"=20

They stood in their places without movement. There was something a
little ominous in their silence. Masters was fast becoming a sober
man. =20

"Let me out of here," he exclaimed, "or I'll break the door down!"=20

Sir Richard Dyson came slowly towards him. There was something in
his appearance which terrified Masters. He raised his fist to
strike the door. He was a fighting man, but he felt a sudden sense
of impotence. =20

"Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said suavely, "the truth is that we
cannot afford to let you go - unless you agree to do what we have
asked. You see we really have not the money or any way of raising
it - and the inconvenience of being posted you have yourself very
ably pointed out. Change your mind, Mr. Masters. Take those
bills. We'll do our best to meet them."=20

"I'll do nothing of the sort," Masters answered, striking the door
fiercely with his clenched fist. "I'll have cash - nothing but
the cash!"=20

There was a dull, sickening thud, and the bookmaker went over like
a shot rabbit. His legs twitched for a moment - a little moan that
was scarcely audible broke from his lips. Then he lay quite still.
Sir Richard bent over him with the life preserver still in his hand. =20

"I've done it!" he muttered, hoarsely. "One blow! Thank Heaven, he
didn't want another! His skull was as soft as pudding! Ugh!"=20

He turned away. The man who lay stretched upon the floor was an
ugly sight. His two companions, cowering over the table, were not
much better. Dyson's trembling fingers went out for the brandy
decanter. Half of what he poured out was spilled upon the
tablecloth. The rest he drank from a tumbler, neat. =20

"It's nervous work, this, you fellows," he said, hoarsely. =20

"It's hellish!" Dickinson answered. "Let's have some air in the
room. By God, it's close!"=20

He sank back into his chair, white to the lips. Dyson looked at
him sharply. =20

"Look here," he exclaimed, "I hold you both to our bargain! I
was to be the one he attacked and who struck the blow - in
self-defence! Remember that - it was in self-defence! I've done
it! I've done my share! I hope to God I'll forget it some day.
Andrew, you know your task. Be a man, and get to work!"=20

Dickinson rose to his feet unsteadily. "Yes!" he said. "What was
it? I have forgotten, for the moment, but I am ready."=20

"You must get his betting book from his pocket," Sir Richard
directed. "Then you must help Merries downstairs with him, and
into the car. Merries is - to get rid of him."=20

Merries shivered. His hand, too, went out for the brandy. =20

"To get rid of him," he muttered. "It sounds easy!"=20

"It is easy," Sir Richard declared. "You have only to keep your
nerve, and the thing is done. No one will see him inside the
car, in that motoring coat and glasses. You can drive somewhere
out into the country and leave him."=20

"Leave him!" Merries repeated, trembling. "Leave him - yes!"=20

Neither of the two men moved. =20

"I must do more than my share, I suppose," Sir Richard declared
contemptuously. "Come!"=20

They dragged the man's body on to a chair, wrapped a huge coat
around him, tied a motoring cap under his chin, fixed goggles over
his eyes. Sir Richard strolled into the hall and opened the front
door. He stood there for a moment, looking up and down the street.
When he gave the signal they dragged him out, supported between them,
across the pavement, into the car. Ugh! His attitude was so natural
as to be absolutely ghastly. Merries started the car and sprang
into the driver's seat. There were people in the Square now, but
the figure reclining in the dark, cushioned interior looked perfectly
natural. =20

"So long, Jimmy," Sir Richard called out. "See you this evening."=20

"Right O!" Merries replied, with a brave effort. =20

Peter Ruff, summoned by telephone from his sitting room, slipped
down the stairs like a cat - noiseless, swift. The voice which had
summoned him had been the voice of his secretary - a voice almost
unrecognisable - a voice shaken with fear. Fear? No, it had been
terror! =20

On the landing below, exactly underneath the room from which he had
descended, there was a door upon which his name was written upon a
small brass plate - Mr. Peter Ruff. He opened and closed it behind
him with a swift movement which he had practised in his idle moments.
He found himself looking in upon a curious scene. =20

Miss Brown, with the radiance of her hair effectually concealed, in
plain black skirt and simple blouse - the ideal secretary - had
risen from the seat in front of her typewriter, and was standing
facing the door through which he had entered, with a small revolver
- which he had given her for a birthday present only the day before
- clasped in her outstretched hand. The object of her solicitude
was, it seemed to Peter Ruff, the most pitiful-looking object upon
which he had ever looked. The hours had dwelt with Merries as the
years with some people, and worse. He had lost his cap; his hair
hung over his forehead in wild confusion; his eyes were red,
bloodshot, and absolutely aflame with the terrors through which he
had lived - underneath them the black marks might have been traced
with a charcoal pencil. His cheeks were livid save for one burning
spot. His clothes, too, were in disorder - the starch had gone from
his collar, his tie hung loosely outside his waistcoat. He was
cowering back against the wall. And between him and the girl,
stretched upon the floor, was the body of a man in a huge motor coat,
a limp, inert mass which neither moved nor seemed to have any sign
of life. No wonder that Peter Ruff looked around his office, whose
serenity had been so tragically disturbed, with an air of mild
surprise. =20

"Dear me," he exclaimed, "something seems to have happened! My
dear Violet, you can put that revolver away. I have secured the

Her hand fell to her side. She gave a little shiver of relief.
Peter Ruff nodded. =20

"That is more comfortable," he declared. "Now, perhaps, you will
explain - "=20

"That young man," she interrupted, "or lunatic - whatever he calls
himself - burst in here a few minutes ago, dragging - that!" She
pointed to the motionless figure upon the floor. "If I had not
stopped him, he would have bolted off without a word of explanation."=20

Peter Ruff, with his back against the door, shook his head gravely. =20

"My dear Lord Merries," he said, "my office is not a mortuary."=20

Merries gasped. =20

"You know me, then?" he muttered, hoarsely. =20

"Of course," Ruff answered. "It is my profession to know everybody.
Go and sit down upon that easy-chair, and drink the brandy and soda
which Miss Brown is about to mix for you. That's right."=20

Merries staggered across the room and half fell into an easy-chair.
He leaned over the side with his face buried in his hands, unable
still to face the horror which lay upon the floor. A few seconds
later, the tumbler of brandy and soda was in his hands. He drank
it like a man who drains fresh life into his veins. =20

"Perhaps now," Peter Ruff suggested, pointing to the motionless
figure, "you can give me some explanation as to this!"=20

Merries looked away from him all the time he was speaking. His
voice was thick and nervous. =20

"There were three of us lunching together," he began - "four in all.
There was a dispute, and this man threatened us. Afterwards there
was a fight. It fell to my lot to take him away, and I can't get
rid of him! I can't get rid of him!" he repeated, with something
that sounded like a sob. =20

"I still do not see," Peter Ruff argued, "why you should have brought
him here and deposited him upon my perfectly new carpet."=20

"You are Peter Ruff," Merries declared. "'Crime Investigator and
Private Detective,' you call yourself. You are used to this sort of
thing. You will know what to do with it. It is part of your

"I can assure you," Peter Ruff answered, "that you are under a
delusion as to the details of my profession. I am Peter Ruff," he
admitted, "and I call myself a crime investigator - in fact, I am
the only one worth speaking of in the world. But I certainly deny
that I am used to having dead bodies deposited upon my carpet, and
that I make a habit of disposing of them - especially gratis."=20

Merries tore open his coat. =20

"Listen," he said, his voice shaking hysterically, "I must get rid
of it or go mad. For two hours I have been driving about in a motor
car with - it for a passenger. I drove to a quiet spot and I tried
to lift it out - a policeman rode up! I tried again, a man rushed
by on a motor cycle, and turned to look at me! I tried a few minutes
later - the policeman came back! It was always the same. The night
seemed to have eyes. I was watched everywhere. The - the face
began to mock me. I'll swear that I heard it chuckle once!"=20

Peter Ruff moved a little further away. =20

"I don't think I'll have anything to do with it," he declared. "I
don't like your description at all."=20

"It'll be all right with you," Merries declared eagerly. "It's my
nerves, that's all. You see, I was there - when the accident
happened. See here," he added, tearing a pocketbook from his coat,
"I have three hundred and seventy pounds saved up in case I had to
bolt. I'll keep seventy - three hundred for you - to dispose of it!"=20

Ruff leaned over the motionless body, looked into its face, and
nodded. =20

"Masters, the bookmaker," he remarked. "H'm! I did hear that he
had a lot of money coming to him over the Cambridgeshire."=20

Merries shuddered. =20

"May I go?" he pleaded. "There's the three hundred on the table.
For God's sake, let me go!"=20

Peter Ruff nodded. =20

"I wish you'd saved a little more," he said. "However - "=20

He turned the lock and Merries rushed out of the room. Ruff looked
across the room towards his secretary. =20

"Ring up 1535 Central," he ordered, sharply. =20


Peter Ruff had descended from his apartments on the top floor of
the building, in a new brown suit with which he was violently
displeased, to meet a caller. =20

"I am sorry to intrude - Mr. Ruff, I believe it is?" Sir Richard
Dyson said, a little irritably - "but I have not a great deal of
time to spare - "=20

"Most natural!" Peter Ruff declared. "Pray take a chair, Sir
Richard. You want to know, of course, about Lord Merries and poor

Sir Richard stared at his questioner, for a moment, without speech.
Once more the fear which he had succeeded in banishing for a while,
shone in his eyes - revealed itself in his white face. =20

"Try the easy-chair, Sir Richard," Ruff continued, pleasantly.
"Leave your hat and cane on the table there, and make yourself
comfortable. I should like to understand exactly what you have
come to me for."=20

Sir Richard moved his head toward Miss Brown. =20

"My business with you," he said, "is more than ordinarily private.
I have the honour of knowing Miss - "=20

"Miss Brown," Peter interrupted quickly. "In these offices, this
young lady's name is Miss Violet Brown."=20

Sir Richard shrugged his shoulders. =20

"It is of no importance," he said, "only, as you may understand,
my business with you scarcely requires the presence of a third
party, even one with the discretion which I am sure Miss - Brown

"In these matters," Ruff answered, "my secretary does not exist
apart from myself. Her presence is necessary. She takes down in
shorthand notes of our conversation. I have a shocking memory,
and there are always points which I forget. At the conclusion of
our business, whatever it may be, these notes are destroyed. I
could not work without them, however."=20

Sir Richard glanced a little doubtfully at the long, slim back of
the girl who sat with her face turned away from him. "Of course,"
he began, "if you make yourself personally responsible for her
discretion - "=20

"I am willing to do so," Ruff interrupted, brusquely. "I guarantee
it. Go on, please."=20

"I do not know, of course, where you got your information from,"
Sir Richard began, "but it is perfectly true that I have come here
to consult you upon a matter in which the two people whose names
you have mentioned are concerned. The disappearance of Job Masters
is, of course, common talk; but I cannot tell what has led you to
associate with it the temporary absence of Lord Merries from this

"Let me ask you this question," Ruff said. "How are you affected
by the disappearance of Masters?"=20

"Indirectly, it has caused me a great deal of inconvenience," Sir
Richard declared. =20

"Facts, please," murmured Peter. =20

"It has been rumoured," Sir Richard admitted, "that I owed Masters
a large sum of money which I could not pay."=20

"Anything else?"=20

"It has also been rumoured," Sir Richard continued, "that he was
seen to enter my house that day, and that he remained there until
late in the afternoon."=20

"Did he?" asked Ruff. =20

"Certainly not," Sir Richard answered. =20

Peter Ruff yawned for a moment, but covered the indiscretion with
his hand. =20

"Respecting this inconvenience," he said, "which you admit that the
disappearance of Job Masters has caused you, what is its tangible

Sir Richard drew his chair a little nearer to the table where Ruff
was sitting. His voice dropped almost to a whisper. =20

"It seems absurd," he said, "and yet, what I tell you is the truth.
I have been followed about - shadowed, in fact - for several days.
Men, even in my own social circle, seem to hold aloof from me. It
is as though," he continued slowly, "people were beginning to suspect
me of being connected in some way with the man's disappearance."=20

Ruff, who had been making figures with a pencil on the edge of his
blotting paper, suddenly turned round. His eyes flashed with a new
light as they became fixed upon his companion's. =20

"And are you not?" he asked, calmly. Sir Richard bore himself well.
For a moment he had shrunk back. Then he half rose to his feet. =20

"Mr. Ruff!" he said. "I must protest - "=20


Peter Ruff used no violent gesture. Only his forefinger tapped the
desk in front of him. His voice was as smooth as velvet. =20

"Tell me as much or as little as you please, Sir Richard," he said,
"but let that little or that much be the truth! On those terms only
I may be able to help you. You do not go to your physician and
expect him to prescribe to you while you conceal your symptoms, or
to your lawyer for advice and tell him half the truth. I am not
asking for your confidence. I simply tell you that you are wasting
your time and mine if you choose to withhold it."=20

Sir Richard was silent. He recognized a new quality in the man -=20
but the truth was an awful thing to tell! He considered - then told. =20

Ruff briskly asked two questions. "In alluding to your heavy
settlement with Masters, you said just now that you could not have
paid him - then."=20

"Quite so," Sir Richard admitted. "That is the rotten part of the
whole affair. Four days later a wonderful double came off - one in
which we were all interested, and one which not one of us expected.
We've drawn a considerable amount already from one or two bookies,
and I believe even Masters owes us a bit now."=20

"Thank you," Ruff said. "I think that I know everything now. My
fee is five hundred guineas."=20

Sir Richard looked at him. =20

"What?" he exclaimed. =20

"Five hundred guineas," Ruff repeated. =20

"For a consultation?" Sir Richard asked. =20

Peter Ruff shook his head. =20

"More than that," he said. "You are a brave man in your way, Sir
Richard Dyson, but you are going about now shivering under a load
of fear. It sits like a devil incarnate upon your shoulders. It
poisons the air wherever you go. Write your cheque, Sir Richard,
and you can leave that little black devil in my wastebasket. You
are under my protection. Nothing will happen to you."=20

Sir Richard sat like a man mesmerised. The little man with the
amiable expression and the badly fitting suit was leaning back in
his chair, his finger tips pressed together, waiting. =20

"Nothing will happen!" Sir Richard repeated, incredulously. =20

"Certainly not. I guarantee you against any inconvenience which
might arise to you from this recent unfortunate affair. Isn't
that all you want?"=20

"It's all I want, certainly," Sir Richard declared, "but I must
understand a little how you propose to secure my immunity."=20

Ruff shook his head. =20

"I have my own methods," he said. "I can help only those who
trust me."=20

Sir Richard drew a cheque book from his pocket. "I don't know why
I should believe in you," he said, as he wrote the cheque. =20

"But you do," Peter Ruff said, smiling. "Fortunately for you,
you do!"=20


It was not so easy to impart a similar confidence into the breast
of Colonel Dickinson, with whom Sir Richard dined that night
tete-a-tete. Dickinson was inclined to think that Sir Richard=20
ad been "had."=20

"You've paid a ridiculous fee," he argued, "and all that you have
in return is the fellow's promise to see you through. It isn't like
you to part with money so easily, Richard. Did he hypnotise you?"=20

"I don't think so," Sir Richard answered. "I wasn't conscious
of it."=20

"What sort of a fellow is he?" Dickinson asked. =20

Sir Richard looked reflectively into his glass. =20

"He's a vulgar sort of little Johnny," he said. "Looks as though
he were always dressed in new clothes and couldn't get used to them."=20

Three men entered the room. Two remained in the background. John
Dory came forward towards the table. =20

"Sir Richard Dyson," he said, gravely, "I have come upon an
unpleasant errand."=20

"Go on," Sir Richard said, fingering something hard inside pocket
of his coat. =20

"I have a warrant for your arrest," Dory continued, "in connection
with the disappearance of Job Masters on Saturday, the 10th of
November last. I will read the terms of the warrant, if you choose.
It is my duty to warn you that anything you may now say can be used
in evidence against you. This gentleman, I believe, is Colonel

"That is my name, sir," Dickinson answered, with unexpected fortitude. =20

"I regret to say," the detective continued, "that I have also a
warrant for your arrest in connection with the same matter."=20

Sir Richard had hold of the butt end of his revolver then. Like
grisly phantoms, the thoughts chased one another through his brain.
Should he shoot and end it - pass into black nothingness - escape
disgrace, but die like a rat in a corner? His finger was upon the
trigger. Then suddenly his heart gave a great leap. He raised his
head as though listening. Something flashed in his eyes - something
that was almost like hope. There was no mistaking that voice which
he had heard in the hall! He made a great rally. =20

"I can only conclude," he said, turning to the detective, "that you
have made some absurd blunder. If you really possess the warrants
you speak of, however, Colonel Dickinson and I will accompany you
wherever you choose."=20

Then the door opened and Peter Ruff walked in, followed by Job
Masters, whose head was still bandaged, and who seemed to have lost
a little flesh and a lot of colour. Peter Ruff looked round=20
apologetically. He seemed surprised not to find Sir Richard Dyson
and Colonel Dickinson alone. He seemed more than ever surprised
to recognize Dory. =20

"I trust," he said smoothly, "that our visit is not inopportune.
Sir Richard Dyson, I believe?" he continued, bowing - "my friend,
Mr. Masters here, has consulted me as to the loss of a betting book,
and we ventured to call to ask you, sir, if by any chance on his
recent visit to your house - "=20

"God in Heaven, it's Masters!" Dyson exclaimed. "It's Job Masters!"=20

"That's me, sir," Masters admitted. "Mr. Ruff thought you might be
able to help me find that book."=20

Sir Richard swayed upon his feet. Then the blood rushed once more
through his veins. =20

"Your book's here in my cabinet, safe enough," he said. "You left
it here after our luncheon that day. Where on earth have you been
to, man?" he continued. "We want some money from you over Myopia."=20

"I'll pay all right, sir," Masters answered. "Fact is, after our
luncheon party I'm afraid I got a bit fuddled. I don't seem to
remember much."=20

He sat down a little heavily. Peter Ruff hastened to the table and
took up a glass. =20

"You will excuse me if I give him a little brandy, won't you, sir?"
he said. "He's really not quite fit for getting about yet, but he
was worrying about his book."=20

"Give him all the brandy he can drink," Sir Richard answered. =20

The detective's face had been a study. He knew Masters well enough
by sight - there was no doubt about his identity! His teeth came
together with an angry little click. He had made a mistake! It
was a thing which would be remembered against him forever! It was
as bad as his failure to arrest that young man at Daisy Villa. =20

"Your visit, Masters," Sir Richard said, with a curious smile at
the corners of his lips, "is, in some respects, a little opportune.
About that little matter we were speaking of," he continued,
turning towards the detective. =20

"We have only to offer you our apologies, Sir Richard," Dory
answered. =20

Then he crossed the room and confronted Peter Ruff. =20

"Do I understand, sir, that your name is Ruff - Peter Ruff?" he
asked. =20

"That is my name, sir," Peter Ruff admitted, pleasantly "Yours
I believe, is Dory. We are likely to come across one another
now and then, I suppose. Glad to know you."=20

The detective stood quite still, and there was no geniality in
his face. =20

"I wonder - have we ever met before?" he asked, without removing
his eyes from the other's face. Peter Ruff smiled. =20

"Not professionally, at any rate," he answered. "I know that
Scotland Yard you don't think much of us small fry, but we find
out things sometimes!"=20

"Why didn't you contradict all those rumours as to his disappearance?"
the detective asked, pointing to where Job Masters was contentedly
sipping his brandy and water. =20

"I was acting for my client, and in my own interests," replied Peter.
"It was surely no part of my duty to save you gentlemen at Scotland
Yard from hunting up mare's nests!"=20

John Dory went out, followed by his men. Sir Richard took Peter Ruff
by the arm, and, leading him to the sideboard, mixed him a drink. =20

"Peter Ruff," he said, "you're a clever scoundrel, but you've earned
your five hundred guineas. Hang it, you're welcome to them! Is
there anything else I can do for you?"=20

Peter Ruff raised his glass and set it down again. Once more he
eyed with admiration his client's well-turned out figure. =20

"You might give me a letter to your tailors, Sir Richard," he begged. =20

Sir Richard laughed outright - it was some time since he had laughed! =20

"You shall have it, Peter Ruff," he declared, raising his glass -=20
"and here's to you!"=20



For the second time since their new association, Peter Ruff had
surprised that look upon his secretary's face. This time he wheeled
around in his chair and addressed her. =20

"My dear Violet," he said, "be frank with me. What is wrong?"=20

Miss Brown turned to face her employer. Save for a greater
demureness of expression and the extreme simplicity of her attire,
she had changed very little since she had given up her life of
comparative luxury to become Peter Ruff's secretary. There was a
sort of personal elegance which clung to her, notwithstanding her
strenuous attempts to dress for her part, except for which she
looked precisely as a private secretary and typist should look.
She even wore a black bow at the back of her hair. =20

"I have not complained, have I?" she asked. =20

"Do not waste time," Peter Ruff said, coldly. "Proceed."=20

"I have not enough to do," she said. "I do not understand why you
refuse so many cases."=20

Peter Ruff nodded. =20

"I did not bring my talents into this business," he said, "to watch
flirting wives, to ascertain the haunts of gay husbands, or to
detect the pilferings of servants."=20

"Anything is better than sitting still," she protested. =20

"I do not agree with you," Peter Ruff said. "I like sitting still
very much indeed - one has time to think. Is there anything else?"=20

"Shall I really go on?" she asked. =20

"By all means," he answered. =20

"I have idea," she continued, "that you are subordinating your
general interests to your secret enmity - to one man. You are
waiting until you can find another case in which you are pitted
against him."=20

"Sometimes," Peter Ruff said, "your intelligence surprises me!"=20

"I came to you," she continued, looking at him earnestly, "for two
reasons. The personal one I will not touch upon. The other was my
love of excitement. I have tried many things in life, as you know,
Peter, but I have seemed to carry always with me the heritage of
weariness. I thought that my position here would help me to fight
against it."=20

"You have seen me bring a corpse to life," Peter Ruff reminded her,
a little aggrieved. =20

She smiled. =20

"It was a month ago," she reminded him. =20

"I can't do that sort of thing every day," he declared. =20

"Naturally," she answered; "but you have refused four cases within
the last five days."=20

Peter Ruff whistled softly to himself for several moments. =20

"Seen anything of our new neighbour in the flat above?" he asked,
with apparent irrelevance. =20

Miss Brown looked across at him with upraised eyebrows. =20

"I have been in the lift with him twice," she answered. =20

"Fancy his appearance?" Ruff asked, casually. =20

"Not in the least!" Violet answered. "I thought him a vulgar,
offensive person!"=20

Peter Ruff chuckled. He seemed immensely delighted. =20

"Mr. Vincent Cawdor he calls himself, I believe," he remarked. =20

"I have no idea," Miss Brown declared. The subject did not appeal
to her. =20

"His name is on a small copper plate just over the letter-box,"
Ruff said. "Rather neat idea, by the bye. He calls himself a
commission agent, I believe."=20

Violet was suddenly interested. She realized, after all, that
Mr. Vincent Cawdor might be a person of some importance. =20

"What is a commission agent?" she asked. =20

Peter Ruff shook his head. =20

"It might mean anything," he declared. "Never trust any one who
is not a little more explicit as to his profession. I am afraid
that this Mr. Vincent Cawdor, for instance, is a bad lot."=20

"I am sure he is," Miss Brown declared. =20

"Looks after a pretty girl, coughs in the lift - all that sort of
thing, eh?" Peter Ruff asked. =20

She nodded. =20

"Disgusting!" she exclaimed, with emphasis. =20

Peter Ruff sighed, and glanced at the clock. The existence of Mr.
Vincent Cawdor seemed to pass out of his mind. =20

"It is nearly one o'clock," he said. "Where do you usually lunch,

"It depends upon my appetite," she answered, carelessly. "Most
often at an A B C."=20

"To-day," Peter Ruff said, "you will be extravagant - at my expense."=20

"I had a poor breakfast," Miss Brown remarked, complacently. =20

"You will leave at once," Peter Ruff said, "and you will go to the
French Caf=82 at the Milan. Get a table facing the courtyard, and
towards the hotel side of the room. Keep your eyes open and tell
me exactly what you see."=20

She looked at him with parted lips. Her eyes were full of eager
questioning. =20

"Mere skirmishing," Peter Ruff continued, "but I think - yes, I
think that it may lead to something."=20

"Whom am I to watch?" she asked. =20

"Any one who looks interesting," Peter Ruff answered. "For instance,
if this person Vincent Cawdor should be about."=20

"He would recognize me!" she declared. =20

Peter Ruff shrugged his shoulders. =20

"One must hold the candle," he remarked. =20

"I decline to flirt with him," she declared. "Nothing would induce
me to be pleasant to such an odious creature."=20

"He will be too busy to attempt anything of the sort. Of course
he may not be there. It may be the merest fancy on my part. At
any rate, you may rely upon it that he will not make any overtures
in a public place like the Milan. Mr. Vincent Cawdor may be a
curious sort of person, but I do not fancy that he is a fool!"=20

"Very well," Miss Brown said, "I will go."=20

"Be back soon after three," Peter Ruff said. "I am going up to my
room to do my exercises."=20

"And afterwards?" she asked. =20

"I shall have my lunch sent in," he answered. "Don't hurry back,
though. I shall not expect you till a quarter past three."=20

It was a few minutes past that time when Miss Brown returned. Peter
Ruff was sitting at his desk, looking as though he had never moved.
He was absorbed by a book of patterns sent in by his new tailor, and
he only glanced up when she entered the room. =20

"Violet," he said, earnestly, "come in and sit down. I want to
consult you. There is a new material here - a sort of
mouse-coloured cheviot. I wonder whether it would suit me?"=20

Violet was looking very handsome and a little flushed. She raised
her veil and came over to his side. =20

"Put that stupid book away, Peter," she said. "I want to tell you
about the Milan."=20

He leaned back in his chair. =20

"Ah!" he said. "I had forgotten! Was Mr. Vincent Cawdor there?"=20

"Yes!" she answered, still a little breathless. "There was some one
else there, too, in whom you are still more interested."=20

He nodded. =20

"Go on," he said. =20

"Mr. Vincent Cawdor," she continued, "came in alone. He looked just
as objectionable as ever, and he stared at me till I nearly threw
my wine glass at him."=20

"He did not speak to you?" Peter Ruff asked. =20

"I was afraid that he was going to," Miss Brown said, "but
fortunately he met a friend who came to his table and lunched with

"A friend," Ruff remarked. "Good! What was he like?"=20

"Fair, slight, Teutonic," Miss Brown answered. "He wore thick
spectacles, and his moustache was positively yellow."=20

Ruff nodded. =20

"Go on," he said. =20

"Towards the end of luncheon," she continued, "an American came
up to them."=20

"An American?" Peter Ruff interrupted. "How do you know that?"=20

Miss Brown smiled. =20

"He was clean-shaven and he wore neat clothes," she said. "He
talked with an accent you could have cut with a knife and he had
a Baedeker sticking out of his pocket. After luncheon, they all
three went away to the smoking room."=20

Peter Ruff nodded. =20

"Anything else?" he asked. =20

The girl smiled triumphantly. =20

"Yes!" she declared. "There was something else - something which
I think you will find interesting. At the next table to me there
was a man - alone. Can you guess who he was?"=20

"John Dory," Ruff said, calmly. =20

The girl was disappointed. =20

"You knew!" she exclaimed. =20

"My dear Violet," he said, "I did not send you there on a fool's

"There is something doing, then?" she exclaimed. =20

"There is likely," he answered, grimly, "to be a great deal doing!"=20


The two men who stood upon the hill, and Peter Ruff, who lay upon
his stomach behind a huge boulder, looked upon a new thing. =20

Far down in the valley from out of a black shed - the only sign of
man's handiwork for many miles - it came - something grey at first,
moving slowly as though being pushed down a slight incline, then
afloat in the air, gathering speed - something between a torpedo
with wings and a great prehistoric insect. Now and then it
described strange circles, but mostly it came towards them as swift
and as true as an arrow shot from a bow. The two men looked at one
another - the shorter, to whose cheeks the Cumberland winds had
brought no trace of colour, gave vent to a hoarse exclamation. =20

"He's done it!" he growled. =20

"Wait!" the other answered. =20

Over their heads the thing wheeled, and seemed to stand still in the
air. The beating of the engine was so faint that Peter Ruff from
behind the boulder, could hear all that was said. A man leaned out
from his seat - a man with wan cheeks but blazing eyes. =20

"Listen," he said. "Take your glasses. There - due north - can you
see a steeple?"=20

The men turned their field glasses in the direction toward which the
other pointed. "Yes!" they answered. "It is sixteen miles, as the
crow flies, to Barnham Church - thirty-two miles there and back.

He swung round, dived till he seemed about to touch the hillside,
then soared upwards and straight away. Peter Ruff took out his
watch. The other two men gazed with fascinated eyes after the
disappearing speck. =20

"If he does it - " the shorter one muttered. =20

"He will do it!" the other answered. =20

He was back again before their eyes were weary of watching. Peter
Ruff, from behind the boulder, closed his watch. Thirty-two miles
in less than half an hour! The youth leaned from his seat. =20

"Is it enough?" he asked, hoarsely. =20

"It is enough!" the two men answered together. "We will come down."=20

The youth touched a lever and the machine glided down towards the
valley, falling all the while with the effortless grace a parachute.
The shed from which his machine had issued was midway down a slope,
with a short length of rails which ran, apparently, through it. The
machine seemed to hover for several moments above the building, then
descended slowly on to the rails and disappeared in the shed. The
two men were already half-way down the hill. Peter Ruff rose from
behind the boulder, stretched himself with a sense of immense relief,
and lit a pipe. As yet he dared not descend. He simply changed his
hiding place for a spot which enabled him to command a view of the
handful of cottages at the back of the hill. He had plenty to think
about. It was a wonderful thing - this - which he had seen! =20

The youth, meanwhile, was drinking deep of the poisonous cup. He
walked between the two men - his cheeks were flushed, his eyes on
fire. =20

"If all the world to-day had seen what we have seen," the older
man was saying, "there would be no more talk of Wilbur Wrights or
Farmans. Those men are babies, playing with their toys."=20

"Mine is the ideal principle," the youth declared. "No one else
has thought of it, no one else has made use of it. Yet all the
time I am afraid - it is so simple."=20

"Sell quick, then," the fair-headed man advised. "By to-morrow
night I can promise you fifty thousand pounds."=20

The youth stopped. He drew a deep breath. =20

"I shall sell," he declared. "I need money. I want to live. Fifty
thousand pounds is enough. Eleven weary months I have slept and
toiled there in the shed."=20

"It is finished," the older man declared. "To-night you shall come
with us to London. To-morrow night your pockets shall be full of
gold. It will be a change for you."=20

The youth sobbed. =20

"God knows it will," he muttered. "I haven't two shillings in the
world, and I owe for my last petrol."=20

The two men laughed heartily. The elder took a little bundle of
notes from his pocket and handed them to the boy. =20

"Come," he said, "not for another moment shall you feel as poor as
that. Money will have no value for you in the future. The fifty
thousand pounds will only be a start. After that, you will get
royalties. If I had it, I would give you a quarter of a million now
for your plans; I know that I can get you more."=20

The youth laughed hysterically. They entered the tiny inn and drank
home-made wine - the best they could get. Then a great car drew up
outside, and the older - the clean-shaven man, who looked like an
American - hurried out, and dragging a hamper from beneath the seat
returned with a gold-foiled bottle in his hand. =20

"Come," he said, "a toast! We have one bottle left - one bottle of
the best!"=20

"Champagne!" the youth cried eagerly, holding out his hand. =20

"The only wine for the conquerors," the other declared, pouring it
out into the thick tumblers. "Drink, all of you, to the Franklin
Flying Machine, to the millions she will earn - to to-morrow night!"=20

The youth drained his glass, watched it replenished, and drained it
again. Then they went out to the car. =20

"There is one thing yet to be done," he said. "Wait here for me."=20

They waited whilst he climbed up toward the shed. The two men
watched him. A little group of rustics stood open-mouthed around the
great car. Then there was a little shout. From above their heads
came the sound of a great explosion - red flames were leaping up from
that black barn to the sky. The two men looked at one another. They
rushed to the hill and met the youth descending. =20

"What the - "=20

He stopped them. =20

"I dared not leave it here," he explained. "It would have been
madness. I am perfectly certain that I have been watched during the
last few days. I can build another in a week. I have the plans
in my pocket for every part."=20

The older man wiped the perspiration from his forehead. =20

"You are sure - that you have the plans?" he asked. =20

The youth struck himself on the chest. =20

"They are here," he answered, "every one of them!"=20

"Perhaps you are right, then," the other man answered. "It gave
me a turn, though. You are sure that you can make it again in the
time you say?"=20

"Of course!" the youth answered, impatiently. "Besides, the thing
is so simple. It speaks for itself."=20

They climbed into the car, and in a few minutes were rushing away
southwards. =20

"To-morrow night - to-morrow night it all begins!" the youth
continued. "I must start with ready-made clothes. I'll get the best
I can, eat the best I can, drink wine, go to the music halls.
To-morrow night."=20

His speech ended in a wail - a strange, half-stifled cry which rang
out with a chill, ghostly sound upon the black silence. His face
was covered with a wet towel, a ghastly odor was in his nostrils,
his lips refused to utter any further sound. He lay back among the
cushions, senseless. The car slowed down. =20

"Get the papers, quick!" the elder man muttered, opening the youth's
coat. "Here they are! Catch hold, Dick! My God! What's that?"=20

He shook from head to foot. The little fair man looked at him with
contempt. =20

"A sheep bell on the moor," he said. "Are you sure you have

"Yes!" the other muttered. =20

They both stood up and raised the prostrate form between them. Below
them were the black waters of the lake. =20

"Over with him!" the younger said. "Quick!"=20

Once more his companion shrank away. =20

"Listen!" he muttered, hoarsely. =20

They both held their breaths. From somewhere along the road behind
came a faint sound like the beating of an engine. =20

"It's a car!" the elder man exclaimed. "Quick! Over with him!"=20

They lifted the body of the boy, whose lips were white and
speechless now, and threw him into the water. With a great splash
he disappeared. They watched for a moment. Only the ripples flowed
away from the place where he had sunk. They jumped back to their
seats. =20

"There's something close behind," the older man muttered. "Get on!
Fast! Fast!"=20

The younger man hesitated. =20

"Perhaps," he said slowly, "it would be better to wait and see who
it is coming up behind. Our young friend there is safe. The current
has him, and the tarn is bottomless."=20

There was a moment's indecision - a moment which was to count for much
in the lives of three men. Then the elder one's counsels prevailed.
They crept away down the hill, smoothly and noiselessly. Behind them,
the faint throbbing grew less and less distinct. Soon they heard it
no more. They drove into the dawn and through the long day. =20


Side by side on one of the big leather couches in the small smoking
room of the Milan Hotel, Mr. James P. Rounceby and his friend Mr.
Richard Marnstam sat whispering together. It was nearly two o clock,
and they were alone in the room. Some of the lights had been turned
out. The roar of life in the streets without had ceased. It was an
uneasy hour for those whose consciences were not wholly at rest! =20

The two men were in evening dress - Rounceby in dinner coat and
black tie, as befitted his r(le of travelling American. The glasses
in front of them were only half-filled, and had remained so for the
last hour. Their conversation had been nervous and spasmodic. It
was obvious that they were waiting for some one. =20

Three o'clock struck by the little timepiece on the mantel shelf. A
little exclamation of a profane nature broke from Rounceby's lips.
He leaned toward his companion. =20

"Say," he muttered, in a rather thick undertone, "how about this
fellow Vincent Cawdor? You haven't any doubts about him, I suppose?
He's on the square, all right, eh?"=20

Marnstam wet his lips nervously. =20

"Cawdor's all right," he said. "I had it direct from headquarters
at Paris. What are you uneasy about, eh?"=20

Rounceby pointed towards the clock. =20

"Do you see the time?" he asked. =20

"He said he'd be late," Marnstam answered. =20

Rounceby put his hand to his forehead and found it moist. =20

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