Part 1 out of 4
The Bittermeads Mystery
by E. R. Punshon
I THE LONE PASSENGER
II THE FIGHT IN THE WOODS
III A COINCIDENCE
IV A WOMAN WEEPS
V A WOMAN AND A MAN
VI A DISCOVERY
VII QUESTION AND ANSWER
VIII CAPTIVITY CAPTURE
IX THE ATTIC 0F MYSTERY
X THE NEW GARDENER
XI THE PROBLEM
XII AN AVOWAL
XIII INVISIBLE WRITING
XIV LOVE-MAKING AT NIGHT
XV THE SOUND OF A SHOT
XVI IN THE WOOD
XVII A DECLARATION
XVIII ROBERT DUNN'S ENEMY
XIX THE VISIT TO WRESTE ABBEY
XX ELLA'S WARNING
XXI DOUBTS AND FEARS
XXII PLOTS AND PLANS
XXIII COUNTER PLANS
XXIV AN APHORISM
XXV THE UNEXPECTED
XXVI A RACE AGAINST TIME
XXVII FLIGHT AND PURSUIT
XXVIII BACK AT BITTEBMEADS
XXIX THE ATTIC
XXX SOME EXPLANATIONS
THE LONE PASSENGER
That evening the down train from London deposited at the little
country station of Ramsdon but a single passenger, a man of middle
height, shabbily dressed, with broad shoulders and long arms and a
most unusual breadth and depth of chest.
Of his face one could see little, for it was covered by a thick
growth of dark curly hair, beard, moustache and whiskers, all
overgrown and ill-tended, and as he came with a somewhat slow and
ungainly walk along the platform, the lad stationed at the gate to
collect tickets grinned amusedly and called to one of the porters
"Look at this, Bill; here's the monkey-man escaped and come back
along of us."
It was a reference to a travelling circus that had lately visited
the place and exhibited a young chimpanzee advertised as "the
monkey-man," and Bill guffawed appreciatively.
The stranger was quite close and heard plainly, for indeed the youth
at the gate had made no special attempt to speak softly.
The boy was still laughing as he held out his hand for the ticket,
and the stranger gave it to him with one hand and at the same time
shot out a long arm, caught the boy - a well-grown lad of sixteen
- by the middle and, with as little apparent effort as though
lifting a baby, swung him into the air to the top of the gate-post,
where he left him clinging with arms and legs six feet from the
"Hi, what are you a-doing of?" shouted the porter, running up, as
the amazed and frightened youth, clinging to his gate-post, emitted
a dismal howl.
"Teaching a cheeky boy manners," retorted the stranger with an angry
look and in a very gruff and harsh voice. "Do you want to go on
top of the other post to make a pair?"
The porter drew back hurriedly.
"You be off," he ordered as he retreated. "We don't want none of
your sort about here."
"I certainly have no intention of staying," retorted the other as
gruffly as before. "But I think you'll remember Bobbie Dunn next
time I come this way."
"Let me down; please let me down," wailed the boy, clinging
desperately to the gate-post on whose top he had been so
unceremoniously deposited, and Dunn laughed and walked away, leaving
the porter to rescue his youthful colleague and to cuff his ears
soundly as soon as he had done so, by way of a relief to his feelings.
"That will learn you to be a bit civil to folk, I hope," said the
porter severely. "But that there chap must have an amazing strong
arm," he added thoughtfully. "Lifting you up there all the same as
you was a bunch of radishes."
For some distance after leaving the station, Dunn walked on slowly.
He seemed to know the way well or else to be careless of the
direction he took, for he walked along deep in thought with his eyes
fixed on the ground and not looking in the least where he was going.
Abruptly, a small child appeared out of the darkness and spoke to
him, and he started violently and in a very nervous manner.
"What was that? What did you say, kiddy?" he asked, recovering
himself instantly and speaking this time not in the gruff and harsh
tones he had used before but in a singularly winning and pleasant
voice, cultivated and gentle, that was in odd contrast with his
rough and battered appearance. "The time, was that what you wanted
"Yes, sir; please, sir," answered the child, who had shrunk back in
alarm at the violent start Dunn had given, but now seemed reassured
by his gentle and pleasant voice. "The right time," the little one
added almost instantly and with much emphasis on the "right."
Dunn gravely gave the required imformation with the assurance that
to the best of his belief it was "right," and the child thanked him
and scampered off.
Resuming his way, Dunn shook his head with an air of grave
"Nerves all to pieces," he muttered. "That won't do. Hang it all,
the job's no worse than following a wounded tiger into the jungle,
and I've done that before now. Only then, of course, one knew what
to expect, whereas now - And I was a silly ass to lose my temper
with that boy at the station. You aren't making a very brilliant
start, Bobby, my boy."
By this time he had left the little town behind him and he was
walking along a very lonely and dark road.
On one side was a plantation of young trees, on the other there was
the open ground, covered with furze bush, of the village common.
Where the plantation ended stood a low, two-storied house of medium
size, with a veranda stretching its full length in front. It stood
back from the road some distance and appeared to be surrounded by a
At the gate Dunn halted and struck a match as if to light a pipe,
and by the flickering flame of this match the name "Bittermeads,"
painted on the gate became visible.
"Here it is, then," he muttered. "I wonder - "
Without completing the sentence he slipped through the gate, which
was not quite closed, and entered the garden, where he crouched
down in the shadow of some bushes that grew by the side of the
gravel path leading to the house, and seemed to compose himself
for a long vigil.
An hour passed, and another. Nothing had happened - he had seen
nothing, heard nothing, save for the passing of an occasional
vehicle or pedestrian on the road, and he himself had never stirred
or moved, so that he seemed one with the night and one with the
shadows where he crouched, and a pair of field-mice that had come
from the common opposite went to and fro about their busy occupations
at his feet without paying him the least attention.
Another hour passed, and at last there began to be signs of life
about the house.
A light shone in one window and in another, and vanished, and soon
the door opened and there appeared two people on the threshold,
clearly visible in the light of a strong incandescent gas-burner
just within the hall.
The watcher in the garden moved a little to get a clearer view.
In the paroxysm of terror at this sudden coming to life of what
they had believed to be a part of the bushes, the two little
field-mice scampered away, and Dunn bit his lip with annoyance,
for he knew well that some of those he had had traffic with in the
past would have been very sure, on hearing that scurrying-off of
the frightened mice, that some one was lurking near at hand.
But the two in the lighted doorway opening on the veranda heard and
One was a man, one a woman, both were young, both were
extraordinarily good-looking, and as they stood in the blaze of the
gas they made a strikingly handsome and attractive picture on which,
however, Dunn seemed to look from his hiding-place with hostility
and watchful suspicion.
"How dark it is, there's not a star showing," the girl was saying.
"Shall you be able to find your way, even with the lantern? You'll
keep to the road, won't you?"
Her voice was low and pleasant and so clear Dunn heard every word
distinctly. She seemed quite young, not more than twenty or
twenty-one, and she was slim and graceful in build and tall for a
woman. Her face, on which the light shone directly, was oval in
shape with a broad, low forehead on which clustered the small,
unruly curls of her dark brown hair, and she had clear and very
bright brown eyes. The mouth and chin were perhaps a little large
to be in absolute harmony with the rest of her features, and she
was of a dark complexion, with a soft and delicate bloom that
would by itself have given her a right to claim her possession of
a full share of good looks. She was dressed quite simply in a
white frock with a touch of colour at the waist and she had a very
flimsy lace shawl thrown over her shoulders, presumably intended
as a protection against the night air.
Her companion was a very tall and big man, well over six feet in
height, with handsome, strongly-marked features that often bore an
expression a little too haughty, but that showed now a very tender
and gentle look, so that it was not difficult to guess the state of
his feelings towards the girl at his side. His shoulders were broad,
his chest deep, and his whole build powerful in the extreme, and
Dunn, looking him up and down with the quick glance of one accustomed
to judge men, thought that he had seldom seen one more capable of
holding his own.
Answering his companion 's remark, he said lightly:
"Oh, no, I shall cut across the wood, it's ever so much shorter,
"But it's so dark and lonely," the girl protested. "And then, after
last week - "
He interrupted her with a laugh, and he lifted his head with a
certain not unpleasing swagger.
"I don't think they'll trouble me for all their threats," he said.
"For that matter, I rather hope they will try something of the sort
on. They need a lesson."
"Oh, I do hope you'll be careful," the girl exclaimed.
He laughed again and made another lightly-confident, almost-boastful
remark, to the effect that he did not think any one was likely to
interfere with him.
For a minute or two longer they lingered, chatting together as they
stood in the gas-light on the veranda and from his hiding-place Dunn
watched them intently. It seemed that it was the girl in whom he
was chiefly interested, for his eyes hardly moved from her and in
them there showed a very grim and hard expression.
"Pretty enough," he mused. "More than pretty. No wonder poor
Charles raved about her, if it's the same girl - if it is, she ought
to know what's become of him. But then, where does this big chap
The "big chap" seemed really going now, though reluctantly, and it
was not difficult to see that he would have been very willing to
stay longer had she given him the least encouragement.
But that he did not get, and indeed it seemed as if she were a
little bored and a little anxious for him to say good night and go.
At last he did so, and she retired within the house, while he came
swinging down the garden path, passing close to where Dunn lay
hidden, but without any suspicion of his presence, and out into the
THE FIGHT IN THE WOOD
>From his hiding-place in the bushes Dunn slipped out, as the big
man vanished into the darkness down the road, and for the fraction
of a second he seemed to hesitate.
The lights in the house were coming and going after a fashion that
suggested that the inmates were preparing for bed, and almost at
once Dunn turned his back to the building and hurried very quickly
and softly down the road in the direction the big man had just
"After all," he thought, "the house can't run away, that will be
still there when I come back, and I ought to find out who this big
chap is and where he comes from."
In spite of the apparent clumsiness of his build and the ungainliness
of his movements it was extraordinary how swiftly and how quietly he
moved, a shadow could scarcely have made less sound than this man
did as he melted through the darkness and a swift runner would have
difficulty in keeping pace with him.
An old labourer going home late bade the big man a friendly good
night and passed on without seeing or hearing Dunn following close
behind, and a solitary woman, watching at her cottage door, saw
plainly the big man's tall form and heard his firm and heavy steps
and would have been ready to swear no other passed that way at that
time, though Dunn was not five yards behind, slipping silently and
swiftly by in the shelter of the trees lining the road.
A little further beyond this cottage a path, reached by climbing a
stile, led from the high road first across an open field and then
through the heart of a wood that seemed to be of considerable extent.
The man Dunn was following crossed this stile and when he had gone
a yard or two along the path he halted abruptly, as though all at
once grown uneasy, and looked behind.
>From where he stood any one following him across the stile must have
shown plainly visible against the sky line, but though he lingered
for a moment or two, and even, when he walked on, still looked back
very frequently, he saw nothing.
Yet Dunn, when his quarry paused and looked back like this, was only
a little distance behind, and when the other moved on Dunn was still
But he had not crossed the stile, for when he came to it he realised
that in climbing it his form would be plainly visible in outline for
some distance, and so instead, he had found and crawled through a gap
in the hedge not far away.
They came, Dunn so close and so noiseless behind his quarry he might
well have seemed the other's shadow, to the outskirts of the wood,
and as they entered it Dunn made his first fault, his first failure
in an exhibition of woodcraft that a North American Indian or an
Australian "black-fellow" might have equalled, but could not have
For he trod heavily on a dry twig that snapped with a very loud,
sharp retort, clearly audible for some distance in the quiet night,
and, as dry twigs only snap like that under the pressure of
considerable weight, the presence of some living creature in the
wood other than the small things that run to and fro beneath the
trees, stood revealed to all ears that could hear.
Dunn stood instantly perfectly still, rigid as a statue, listening
intently, and he noted with satisfaction and keen relief that the
regular heavy tread of the man in front did not alter or change.
"Good," he thought to himself. "What luck, he hasn't heard it."
He moved on again, as silently as before, perhaps a little inclined
to be contemptuous of any one who could fail to notice so plain a
warning, and he supposed that the man he was following must be some
townsman who knew nothing at all of the life of the country and was,
like so many of the dwellers in cities, blind and deaf outside the
range of the noises of the streets and the clamour of passing traffic.
This thought was still in his mind when all at once the steady sound
of footsteps he had been following ceased suddenly and abruptly, cut
off on the instant as you turn off water from a tap.
Dunn paused, too, supposing that for some reason the other had
stopped for a moment and would soon walk on again.
But a minute passed and then another and there was still no sound of
the footsteps beginning again. A little puzzled, Dunn moved
He saw nothing, he found nothing, there was no sign at all of the
man he had been following.
It was as though he had vanished bodily from the face of the earth,
and yet how this had happened, or why, or what had become of him,
Dunn could not imagine, for this spot was, it seemed, in the very
heart of the wood, there was no shelter of any sort or kind anywhere
near, and though there were trees all round just the ground was
"Well, that's jolly queer," he muttered, for indeed it had a strange
and daunting effect, this sudden disappearance in the midst of the
wood of the man he had followed so far, and the silence around seemed
all the more intense now that those regular and heavy footsteps had
"Jolly queer, as queer a thing as ever I came across," he muttered
He listened and heard a faint sound from his right. He listened
again and thought he heard a rustling on his left, but was not sure
and all at once a great figure loomed up gigantic before him and the
light of lantern gleamed in his face.
"Now, my man," a voice said, "you've been following me ever since I
left Bittermeads, and I'm going to give you a lesson you won't
forget in a hurry."
Dunn stood quite still. At the moment his chief feeling was one of
intense discomfiture at the way in which he had been outwitted, and
he experienced, too, a very keen and genuine admiration for the
woodcraft the other had shown.
Evidently, all the time he had known, or at any rate, suspected,
that he was being followed, and choosing this as a favourable spot
he had quietly doubled on his tracks, come up behind his pursuer,
and taken him unawares.
Dunn had not supposed there was a man in England who could have
played such a trick on him, but his admiration was roughly disturbed
before he could express it, for the grasp upon his collar tightened
and upon his shoulders there alighted a tremendous, stinging blow,
as with all his very considerable strength, the big man brought down
his walking-stick with a resounding thwack.
The sheer surprise of it, the sudden sharp pain, jerked a quick cry
from Dunn, who had not been in the least prepared for such an attack,
and in the darkness had not seen the stick rise, and the other
"Yes, you scoundrel," he said. "I know very well who you are and
what you want, and I'm going to thrash you within an inch of your
Again the stick rose in the air, but did not fall, for round about
his body Dunn laid such a grip as he had never felt before and as
would for certain have crushed in the ribs of a weaker man. The
lantern crashed to the ground, they were in darkness.
"Ha! Would you?" the man exclaimed, taken by surprise in his turn,
and, giant as he was, he felt himself plucked up from the ground as
you pluck a weed from a lawn and held for a moment in mid-air and
then dashed down again.
Perhaps not another man alive could have kept his footing under
such treatment, but, somehow, he managed to, though it needed all
his great strength to resist the shock.
He flung away his walking-stick, for he realized very clearly now
that this was not going to be, as he had anticipated, a mere case
of the administration of a deserved punishment, but rather the
starkest, fiercest fight that ever he had known.
He grappled with his enemy, trying to make the most of his superior
height and weight, but the long arms twined about him, seemed to
press the very breath from his body and for all the huge efforts he
put forth with every ounce of his tremendous strength behind them,
he could not break loose from the no less tremendous grip wherein
he was taken.
Breast to breast they fought, straining, swaying a little this way
or that, but neither yielding an inch. Their muscles stood out like
bars of steel, their breath came heavily, neither man was conscious
any more of anything save his need to conquer and win and overthrow
The quick passion of hot rage that had come upon Dunn when he felt
the other's unexpected blow still burned and flamed intensely, so
that he no longer remembered even the strange and high purpose which
had brought him here.
His adversary, too, had lost all consciousness of all other things
in the lust of this fierce physical battle, and when he gave
presently a loud, half-strangled shout, it was not fear that he
uttered or a cry for aid, but solely for joy in such wild struggle
and efforts as he had never known before.
And Dunn spake no word and uttered no sound, but strove all the more
with all the strength of every nerve and muscle he possessed once
again to pluck the other up that he might dash him down a second
In quick and heavy gasps came their breaths as they still swayed
and struggled together, and though each exerted to the utmost a
strength few could have withstood, each found that in the other he
seemed to have met his match.
In vain Dunn tried again to lift his adversary up so that he might
hurl him to the ground. It was an effort, a grip that seemed as
though it might have torn up an oak by the roots, but the other
neither budged nor flinched beneath it.
And in vain, in his turn, did he try to bend Dunn backwards to crush
him to the earth, it was an effort before which one might have
thought that iron and stone must have given away, but Dunn still
Thus dreadfully they fought, there in the darkness, there in the
silence of the night.
Dreadfully they wrestled, implacable, fierce, determined, every
primeval passion awake and strong again, and slowly, very slowly,
that awful grip laid upon the big man's body began to tell.
His breathing grew more difficult, his efforts seemed aimed more
to release himself than to overcome his adversary, he gave way an
inch or two, no more, but still an inch or two of ground.
There was a sharp sound, like a thin, dry twig snapping beneath a
It was one of his ribs breaking beneath the dreadful and
intolerable pressure of Dunn's enormous grip. But neither of the
combatants heard or knew, and with one last effort the big man put
forth all his vast strength in a final attempt to bear his enemy
Dunn resisted still, resisted, though the veins stood out like
cords on his brow, though a little trickle of blood crept from
the corner of his mouth and though his heart swelled almost to
There was a sound of many waters in his ears, the darkness all
around grew shot with little flames, he could hear some one
breathing very noisily and he was not sure whether this were himself
or his adversary till he realized that it was both of them. With
one sudden, almost superhuman effort, he heaved his great adversary
up, but had not strength enough left to do more than let him slip
from his grasp to fall on the ground, and with the effort he himself
dropped forward on his hands and knees, just as a lantern shone at
a distance and a voice cried:
"This way, Tom. Master John, Master John, where are you?"
Another voice answered from near by and Dunn scrambled hurriedly to
He had but a moment in which to decide what to do, for these new
arrivals were coming at a run and would be upon him almost instantly
if he stayed where he was.
That they were friends of the man he had just overthrown and whose
huge bulk lay motionless in the darkness at his feet, seemed plain,
and it also seemed plain to him that the moment was not an opportune
one for offering explanations.
Swiftly he decided to slip away into the darkness. What had
happened might be cleared up later when he knew more and was more
sure of his ground; at present he must think first, he told himself,
of the success of his mission.
Physically, he was greatly exhausted and his gait was not so steady
nor his progress so silent and skillful as it had been before, as
now he hurried away from the scene of the combat.
But the two new-comers made no attempt to pursue him and indeed did
not seem to give his possible presence in the vicinity even a
thought, as with many muttered exclamations of dismay and anger,
they stooped over the body of his prostrate enemy.
It was evident they recognized him at once, and that he was the "Mr.
John' whose name they had called, for so they spoke of him to each
other as they busied themselves about him.
"I expect I've been a fool again," Dunn thought to himself ruefully,
as from a little distance, well-sheltered in the darkness, he
crouched upon the ground and listened and watched. "I may have
ruined everything. Any one but a fool would have asked him what he
meant when he hit out like that instead of flying into a rage and
hitting back the way I did. Most likely it was some mistake when
he said he knew who I was and what I wanted - at least if it
wasn't - I hope I haven't killed him, anyhow."
Secure in the protection the dark night afforded him, he remained
sufficiently near at hand to be able to assure himself soon that
his overthrown adversary was certainly not killed, for now he began
to express himself somewhat emphatically concerning the manner in
which the two new-comers were ministering to him.
Presently he got to his feet and, with one of them supporting him
on each side, began to limp away, and Dunn followed them, though
cautiously and at a distance, for he was still greatly exhausted
and in neither the mood nor the condition for running unnecessary
The big man, Mr. John, as the others called him, seemed little
inclined for speech, but the others talked a good deal, subsiding
sometimes when he told them gruffly to be quiet but invariably
soon beginning again their expressions of sympathy and vows of
vengeance against his unknown assailant.
"How many of them do you think there were, Mr. John, sir?" one
asked presently. "I'll lay you marked a fair sight of the villains."
"There was only one man," Mr. John answered briefly.
"Only one?" the other repeated in great surprise. "For the Lord's
sake, Mr. John - only one? Why, there ain't any one man between
here and Lunnon town could stand up to you, sir, in a fair tussle.
"Well, he did," Mr. John answered. "He had the advantage, he took
me by surprise, but I never felt such a grip in my life."
"Lor', now, think of that," said the other in tones in which
surprise seemed mingled with a certain incredulity. "It don't
seem possible, but for sure, then, he don't come from these here
parts, that I'll stand to."
"I knew that much before," retorted Mr. John. "I said all the time
they were outsiders, a London gang very likely. You'll have to get
Dr. Rawson, Bates. I don't know what's up, but I've a beast of a
pain in my side. I can hardly breathe."
Bates murmured respectful sympathy as they came out of the shelter
of the trees, and crossing some open ground, reached a road along
the further side of which ran a high brick wall.
In this, nearly opposite the spot where they emerged on the road,
was a small door which one of the men opened and through which they
passed and locked it behind them, leaving Dunn without.
He hesitated for a moment, half-minded to scale the wall and
continue on the other side of it to follow them.
Calculating the direction in which the village of Ramsdon must lie,
he turned that way and had gone only a short distance when he was
overtaken by a pedestrian with whom he began conversation by asking
for a light for his pipe.
The man seemed inclined to be conversational, and after a few casual
remarks, Dunn made an observation on the length of the wall they
were passing and to the end of which they had just come.
"Must be a goodish-sized place in there," he said. "Whose is it?"
"Oh, that there's Ramsdon Place," the other answered. "Mr. John
Clive lives there now his father's dead."
Dunn stood still in the middle of the road.
"Who? What?" he stammered. "Who - who did you say?"
"Mr. John Clive," the other repeated. "Why - what's wrong about
"Nothing, nothing," Dunn answered, but his voice shook a little
with what seemed almost fear, and behind the darkness of the
friendly night his face had become very pale. "Clive - John
Clive, you say? Oh, that's impossible."
"Needn't believe it if you don't want to," grumbled the other.
"Only what do you want asking questions for if you thinks folks
tells lies when they answers them?"
"I didn't mean that, of course not," exclaimed Dunn hurriedly, by
no means anxious to offend the other. "I'm very sorry, I only meant
it was impossible it should be the same Mr. John Clive I knew once,
though I think he came from about here somewhere. A little,
middle-aged man, I mean, quite bald and wears glasses?"
"Oh, that ain't this 'un," answered the other, his good humour quite
restored. "This is a young man and tremendous big. I ain't so
small myself, but he tops me by a head and shoulders and so he does
most hereabouts. Strong, too, with it, there ain't so many would
care to stand up against him, I can tell you. Why, they do say he
caught two poachers in the wood there last month and brought 'em out
one under each arm like a pair of squealing babes."
"Did he, though?" said Dunn. "Take some doing, that, and I daresay
the rest of the gang will try to get even with him for it."
"Well, they do say as there's been threats," the other agreed. "But
what I says is as Mr. John can look after hisself all right. There
was a tale as a man had been dodging after him at night, but all he
said when they told him, was as if he caught any one after him he
would thrash them within an inch of their lives."
"Serve them right, too," exclaimed Dunn warmly.
Evidently this explained, in part at least, what had recently
happened. Mr. Clive, finding himself being followed, had supposed
it was one of his poaching enemies and had at once attempted to
carry out his threat he had made.
Dunn told himself, at any rate, the error would have the result of
turning all suspicion away from him, and yet he still seemed very
disturbed and ill at ease.
"Has Mr. Clive been here long?" he asked.
"It must be four or five years since his father bought the place,"
answered his new acquaintance. "Then, when the old man was killed
a year ago, Mr. John inherited everything."
"Old Mr. Clive was killed, was he?" asked Dunn, and his voice
sounded very strange in the darkness. "How was that?"
"Accident to his motor-car," the other replied. "I don't hold with
them things myself - give me a good horse, I say. People didn't
like the old man much, and some say Mr. John's too fond of taking
the high hand. But don't cross him and he won't cross you, that's
his motto and there's worse."
Dunn agreed and asked one or two more questions about the details
of the accident to old Mr. Clive, in which he seemed very interested.
But he did not get much more information about that concerning which
his new friend evidently knew very little. However, he gave Dunn a
few more facts concerning Mr. John Clive, as that he was unmarried,
was said to be very wealthy, and had the reputation of being
something of a ladies' man.
A little further on they parted, and Dunn took a side road which he
calculated should lead him back to Bittermeads.
"It may be pure coincidence," he mused as he walked slowly in a very
troubled and doubtful mood. "But if so, it's a very queer one, and
if it isn't, it seems to me Mr. John Clive might as well put his
head in a lion's jaws as pay visits at Bittermeads. But of course
he can't have the least suspicion of the truth - if it is the truth.
If I hadn't lost my temper like a fool when he whacked out at me
like that I might have been able to warn him, or find out something
useful perhaps. And his father killed recently in an accident - is
that a coincidence, too, I wonder?"
He passed his hand across his forehead on which a light sweat stood,
though he was not a man easily affected, for he had seen and endured
His mind was very full of strange and troubled thoughts as at last
he came back to Bittermeads, where, leaning with his elbows on the
garden gate, he stood for a long time, watching the dark and silent
house and thinking of that scene of which he had been a spectator
when John Clive and the girl had stood together on the veranda in
the light of the gas from the hall and had bidden each other good
"It seems," he mused, "as though the last that was seen of poor
Charley must have been just like that. It was just such a dark
night as this when Simpson saw him. He was standing on that
veranda when Simpson recognized him by the light of the gas behind,
and a girl was bidding him good night - a very pretty girl, too,
Silent and immobile he stood there a long time, not so much now as
one who watched, but rather as if deep in thought, for his head was
bent and supported on his hands and his eyes were fixed on the
"As for this John Clive," he muttered presently, rousing himself.
"I suppose that must be a coincidence, but it's queer, and queer
the father should have died - like that."
He broke off, shuddering slightly, as though at thoughts too awful
to be endured, and pushing open the gate, he walked slowly up the
gravel path towards the house, round which he began to walk, going
very slowly and cautiously and often pausing as if he wished to
make as close examination of the place as the darkness would permit.
More by habit than because he thought there was any need of it, he
moved always with that extreme and wonderful dexterity of quietness
he could assume at will, and as he turned the corner of the building
and came behind it, his quick ear, trained by many an emergency to
pick out the least unusual sound, caught a faint, continued
scratching noise, so faint and low it might well have passed
All at once he understood and realized that some one quite close at
hand was stealthily cutting out the glass from one of the panes of
a ground-floor window.
A WOMAN WEEPS
Cautiously he glided nearer, moving as noiselessly as any shadow,
seeming indeed but one shadow the more in the heavy surrounding
The persistent scratching noise continued, and Dunn was now so close
he could have put out his hand and touched the shoulder of the man
who was causing it and who still, intent and busy, had not the least
idea of the other's proximity.
A faint smile touched Dunn's lips. The situation seemed not to be
without a grim humour, for if one-half of what he suspected were
true, one might as sensibly and safely attempt to break into the
condemned cell at Pentonville Gaol as into this quiet house.
But then, was it perhaps possible that this fellow, working away so
unconcernedly, within arm's-length of him, was in reality one of
them, seeking to obtain admittance in this way for some reason of
his own, some private treachery, it might be, or some dispute? To
Dunn that did not seem likely. More probably the fellow was merely
an ordinary burglar - some local practitioner of the housebreaking
art, perhaps - whose ill-fortune it was to have hit upon this house
to rob without his having the least idea of the nature of the place
he was trying to enter.
"He might prove a useful recruit for them, though," Dunn thought,
and a sudden idea flashed into his mind, vivid and startling.
For one moment he thought intently, weighing in his mind this idea
that had come to him so suddenly. He was not blind to the risks it
involved, but his eager temperament always inclined him to the most
direct and often to the most dangerous course. His mind was made up,
his plan of action decided.
The scratching of the burglar's tool upon the glass ceased. Already
he had smeared treacle over the square of glass he intended to
remove and had covered it with paper so as to be able to take it out
easily and in one piece without the risk of falling fragments
Through the gap thus made he thrust his arm and made sure there were
no alarms fitted and no obstacles in the way of his easy entrance.
Cautiously he unfastened the window and cautiously and silently
lifted the sash, and when he had done so he paused and listened for
a space to make sure no one was stirring and that no alarm had been
caused within the house.
Still very cautiously and with the utmost precaution to avoid making
even the least noise, he put one knee upon the window-sill,
preparatory to climbing in, and as he did so Dunn touched him lightly
on the shoulder.
"Well, my man, what are you up to?" he said softly. And without a
word, without giving the least warning, the burglar, a man evidently
of determination and resource, swung round and aimed at Dunn's head
a tremendous blow with the heavy iron jemmy he held in his right
But Dunn was not unprepared for an attack and those bright, keen
eyes of his seemed able to see as well in the dark as in the light.
He threw up his left hand and caught the other's wrist before that
deadly blow he aimed could descend and at the same instant he
dashed his own clenched fist full into the burglar's face.
As it happened, more by good luck than intended aim, the blow took
him on the point of the chin. He dropped instantly, collapsing in
on himself as falls a pole-axed bullock, and lay, unconscious, in a
crumpled heap on the ground.
For a little Dunn waited, crouching above him and listening for the
least sound to show that their brief scuffle had been heard.
But it had all passed nearly as silently as quickly. Within the
house everything remained silent, there was no sound audible, no
gleam of light to show that any of the inmates had been disturbed.
Taking from his pocket a small electric flash-lamp Dunn turned its
light on his victim.
He seemed a man of middle age with a brutal, heavy-jawed face and a
low, receding forehead. His lips, a little apart, showed yellow,
irregular teeth, of which two at the front of the lower jaw had been
broken, and the scar of an old wound, running from the corner of his
left eye down to the centre of his cheek, added to the sinister and
forbidding aspect he bore.
His build was heavy and powerful and near by, where he had dropped
it when he fell, lay the jemmy with which he had struck at Dunn.
It was a heavy, ugly-looking thing, about two feet in length and
with one end nearly as sharp as that of a chisel.
Dunn picked it up and felt it thoughtfully.
"Just as well I got my blow in first," he mused. "If he had landed
that fairly on my skull I don't think anything else in this world
would ever have interested me any more."
Stooping over the unconscious man, he felt in his pockets and found
an ugly-looking revolver, fully loaded, a handful of cartridges, a
coil of thin rope, an electric torch, a tiny dark lantern no bigger
than a match-box, and so arranged that the single drop of light it
permitted to escape fell on one spot only, a bunch of
curiously-shaped wires Dunn rightly guessed to be skeleton keys
used for opening locks quietly, together with some tobacco, a pipe,
a little money, and a few other personal belongings of no special
interest or significance.
These Dunn replaced where he had found them, but the revolver, the
rope, the torch, the dark lantern, and the bunch of wires he took
He noticed also that the man was wearing rubber-soled boots and
rubber gloves, and these last he also kept. Stooping, he lifted the
unconscious man on to his shoulder and carried him with perfect ease
and at a quick pace out of the garden and across the road to the
common opposite, where, in a convenient spot, behind some furze
bushes, he laid him down.
"When he comes round," Dunn muttered. "He won't know where he is
or what's happened, and probably his one idea will be to clear off
as quickly as possible. I don't suppose he'll interfere with me at
Then a new idea seemed to strike him, and he hurriedly removed his
own coat and trousers and boots and exchanged them for those the
burglar was wearing.
They were not a good fit, but he could get them on and the idea in
his mind was that if the police of the district began searching, as
very likely they would, for Mr. John Clive's assailant, and if they
had discovered any clues in the shape of footprints or torn bits of
clothing or buttons - and Dunn knew his attire had suffered
considerably during the struggle - then it would be as well that
such clues should lead not to him, but to this other man, who, if
he were innocent on that score, had at any rate been guilty of
attempting to carry out a much worse offence.
"I'm afraid your luck's out, old chap," Dunn muttered, apostrophizing
the unconscious man. "But you did your best to brain me, and that
gives me a sort of right to make you useful. Besides, if the police
do run you in, it won't mean anything worse than a few questions it'll
be your own fault if you can't answer. Anyhow, I can't afford to run
the risk of some blundering fool of a policeman trying to arrest me
for assaulting the local magnate."
Much relieved in mind, for he had been greatly worried by a fear that
this encounter with John Clive might lead to highly inconvenient legal
proceedings, he left the unlucky burglar lying in the shelter of the
furze bushes and returned to the house.
All was as he had left it, the open window gaped widely, almost
inviting entrance, and he climbed silently within. The apartment
in which he found himself was apparently the drawing-room and he
felt his way cautiously and slowly across it, moving with infinite
care so as to avoid making even the least noise.
Reaching the door, he opened it and went out into the hall. All
was dark and silent. He permitted himself here to flash on his
electric torch for a moment, and he saw that the hall was spacious
and used as a lounge, for there were several chairs clustered in
its centre, opposite the fireplace. There were two or three doors
opening from it, and almost opposite where he stood were the stairs,
a broad flight leading to a wide landing above.
Still with the same extreme silence and care, he began to ascend
these stairs and when he was about half-way up he became aware of
a faint and strange sound that came trembling through the silence
and stillness of the night.
What it was he could not imagine. He listened for a time and then
resumed his silent progress with even more care than previously,
and only when he reached the landing did he understand that this
faint and low sound he heard was caused by a woman weeping very
softly in one of the rooms near by.
Silently he crossed the landing in the direction whence the sound
seemed to come. Now, too, he saw a thread of light showing beneath
a door at a little distance, and when he crept up to it and listened
he could hear for certain that it was from within this room that
there came the sound of muffled, passionate weeping.
The door was closed, but he turned the handle so carefully that he
made not the least sound and very cautiously he began to push the
door back, the tiniest fraction of an inch at a time, so that even
one watching closely could never have said that it moved.
When, after a long time, during which the muffled weeping never
ceased, he had it open an inch or two, he leaned forward and peeped
It was a bed-chamber, and, crouching on the floor near the fireplace,
in front of a low arm-chair, her head hidden on her arms and resting
on the seat of the chair, was the figure of a girl. She had made no
preparations for retiring, and by the frock she wore Dunn recognized
her as the girl he had seen on the veranda bidding good-bye to John
The sound of her weeping was very pitiful, her attitude was full of
an utter and poignant despair, there was something touching in the
extreme in the utter abandonment to grief shown by this young and
lovely creature who seemed framed only for joy and laughter.
The stern features and hard eyes of the unseen watcher softened,
then all at once they grew like tempered steel again.
For on the mantlepiece, just above where the weeping girl crouched,
stood a photograph - the photograph of a young and good-looking,
gaily-smiling man. Across it, in a boyish and somewhat unformed
hand, was written
It was this photograph that had caught Dunn's eyes. Both it and
the writing and the signature he recognized, and his look was very
stern, his eyes as cold as death itself, as slowly, slowly he pushed
back the door of the room another inch or so.
A WOMAN AND A MAN
The girl stirred. It was as though some knowledge of the slow
opening of the door had penetrated to her consciousness before as
yet she actually saw or heard anything.
She rose to her feet, drying her eyes with her handkerchief, and
as she was moving to a drawer near to get a clean one her glance
fell on the partially-open door.
"I thought I shut it," she said aloud in a puzzled manner.
She crossed the floor to the door and closed it with a push from
her hand and in the passage outside Dunn stood still, not certain
what to do next.
But for that photograph he might have gone quietly away, giving up
the reckless plan that had formed itself so suddenly in his mind
while he watched the burglar at work.
That photograph, however, with its suggestion that he stood indeed
on the brink of the solution of the mystery, seemed a summons to
him to go on. It was as though a voice from the dead called him to
continue on his task to punish and to save, and slowly, very slowly,
with an infinite caution, he turned again the handle of the door
and still very slowly, still with the same infinite caution, he
pushed back the door the merest fraction of an inch at a time so
that not even one watching could have said that it moved.
When he had it once more so far open that he could see within, he
bent forward to look. The girl was beginning her preparations for
the night now. She had assumed a long, comfortable-looking
dressing-gown and, standing in front of the mirror, she had just
finished brushing her hair and was beginning to fasten it up in a
long plait. He could see her face in the mirror; her deep, sad
eyes, swollen with crying, her cheeks still tear-stained, her mouth
yet quivering with barely-repressed emotion.
He was still watching her when, as if growing uneasy, she turned
her head and glanced over her shoulder, and though he moved back
so quickly that she did not catch sight of him, she saw that the
door was open once more.
"What can be the matter with the door?" she exclaimed aloud, and
she crossed the room towards it with a quick and somewhat impatient
But this time, instead of closing it, she pulled it open and found
herself face to face with Dunn.
He did not speak or move, and she stood staring at him blankly.
Slowly her mouth opened as though to utter a cry that, however,
could not rise above her fluttering throat. Her face had taken on
the pallor of death, her great eyes showed the awful fear she felt.
Still without speaking, Dunn stepped forward into the room and,
closing the door, stood with his back to it.
She shrank away and put her hand upon a chair, but for the support
of which she must certainly have fallen, for her limbs were
trembling so violently they gave her little support.
"Don't hurt me," she panted.
In truth he presented a strange and terrifying appearance. The
unkempt hair that covered his face and through which his keen eyes
glowed like fire, gave him an unusual and formidable aspect. In
one hand he held the ugly-looking jemmy he had taken from the
burglar, and the new clothes he had donned, ill-fitting and soiled,
served to accentuate the ungainliness of his form.
The frightened girl was not even sure that he was human, and she
shrank yet further away from him till she sank down upon the bed,
dizzy with fear and almost swooning.
As yet he had not spoken, for his eyes had gone to the mantlepiece
on which he saw that the photograph signed with the name "Charley
Wright," did not now stand upright, but had fallen forward on its
face so that one could no longer see what it represented.
It must have fallen just as he entered the room and this seemed to
him an omen, though whether of good or ill, he did not know.
"Who are you ?" the girl stammered. "What do you want?"
He looked at her moodily and still without answering, though in his
bright and keen eyes a strange light burned.
She was lovely, he thought, of that there could be no question.
But her beauty made to him small appeal, for he was wondering what
kind of soul lay behind those perfect features, that smooth and
delicate skin, those luminous eyes. Yet his eyes were still hard
and it was in his roughest, gruffest tones that he said:
"You needn't be afraid, I won't hurt you."
"I'll give you everything I have," she panted, "if only you'll go
"Not so fast as all that," he answered, coolly, for indeed he had
not taken so mad a risk in order to go away again if he could help
it. "Who is there in the house besides you?"
"Only mother," she answered, looking up at him very pleadingly as
if in hopes that he must relent when he saw her in distress.
"Please, won't you take what you want and go away? Please don't
disturb mother, it would nearly kill her."
"I'm not going to hurt either you or your mother if you'll be
sensible," he said irritably, for, unreasonably enough, the extreme
fear she showed and her pleading tones annoyed him. He had a
feeling that he would like to shake her, it was so absurd of her
to look at him as though she expected him to gobble her up in a
She seemed a little reassured.
"Mother will be so dreadfully frightened," she repeated, "I'll give
you everything there is in the house if only you'll go at once."
"I can take everything I want without your giving it me," he
retorted. "How do I know you're telling the truth when you say
there's no one else in the house? How many servants have you?"
"None," she answered. "There's a woman comes every day, but she
doesn't sleep here."
"Do you live all alone here with your mother?" he asked, watching
"There's my stepfather," she answered. "But he's not here tonight."
"Oh, is he away?" Dunn asked, his expression almost one of
The girl, whose first extreme fear had passed and who was watching
him as keenly as he watched her, noticed this manner of
disappointment, and could not help wondering what sort of burglar
it was who was not pleased to hear that the man of the house was
away, and that he had only two women to deal with.
And it appeared to her that he seemed not only disappointed, but
rather at a loss what to do next.
As in truth he was, for that the stepfather should be away, and this
girl and her mother all alone, was, perhaps, the one possibility that
he had never considered.
She noticed, too, that he did not pay any attention to her jewellery,
which was lying close to his hand on the toilet-table, and though in
point of actual fact this jewellery was not of any great value, it
was exceedingly precious in her eyes, and she did not understand a
burglar who showed no eagerness to seize on it.
"Did you want to see Mr. Dawson?" she asked, her voice more
confident now and even with a questioning note in it.
"Mr. Dawson! Who's he?" Dunn asked, disconcerted by the question,
but not wishing to seem so.
"My stepfather, Mr. Deede Dawson," she answered. "I think you knew
that. If you want him, he went to London early today, but I think
it's quite likely he may come back tonight."
"What should I want him for?" growled Dunn, more and more,
disconcerted, as he saw that he was not playing his part too well.
"I don't know," she answered. "I suppose you do."
"You suppose a lot," he retorted roughly. "Now you listen to me.
I don't want to hurt you, but I don't mean to be interfered with.
I'm going over the house to see what I can find that's worth
"Oh, perfectly," she said.
She was watching him closely, and she noticed that he still made no
attempt to take possession of her jewellery, though it lay at his
hand, and that puzzled her very much, indeed, for she supposed the
very first thing a burglar did was always to seize such treasures
as these of hers. But this man paid them no attention whatever, and
did not even notice them.
He was feeling in his pockets now and he took out the revolver and
the coil of thin rope he had secured from the burglar.
"Now, do you know what I'm going to do?" he asked, with an air of
roughness and brutality that was a little overdone. He put the
revolver and the rope down on the bed, the revolver quite close to
"I'm going," he continued, "to tie you up to one of those chairs.
I can't risk your playing any tricks or giving an alarm, perhaps,
while I'm searching the house. I shall take what's worth having,
and then I shall clear off, and if your stepfather's coming home
tonight you won't have to wait long till he releases you, and if he
don't come I can't help it."
He turned his back to her as he spoke and took hold of one of the
chairs in the room, and then of another and looked at them as though
carefully considering which would be the best to use for the
carrying out of his threat.
He appeared to find it difficult to decide, for he kept his back
turned to her for two or three minutes, during all of which time the
revolver lay on the bed quite close to her hand.
He listened intently for he fully expected her to snatch it up, and
he wished to be ready to turn before she could actually fire. But,
indeed, nothing was further from her thoughts, for she did not know
in the least how to use the weapon or even how to fire it off, and
the very thought of employing it to kill any one would have terrified
her far more even than had done her experiences of this night.
So the pistol lay untouched by her side, while, very pale and
trembling a little, she waited what he would do, and on his side he
felt as much puzzled by her failure to use the opportunity he had put
in her way as she was puzzled by his neglect to seize her jewellery
lying ready to his hand.
He was still hesitating, still appearing unable to decide which chair
to employ in carrying out his proclaimed purpose of fastening her up
when she asked a question that made him swing round upon her very
quickly and with a very startled look.
"Are you a real burglar?" she said.
"What do you mean?" Dunn asked quickly. The matted growth of hair
on his face served well to hide any change of expression, but his
eyes betrayed him with their look of surprise and discomfiture, and
in her own clear and steady glance appeared now a kind of puzzled
mockery as if she understood well that all he did was done for some
purpose, though what that purpose was still perplexed her.
"I mean," she said slowly, "well - what do I mean? I am only asking
a question. Are you a burglar - or have you come here for some
"I don't know what you're getting at," he grumbled. "Think I'm here
for fun? Not me. Come and sit on this chair and put your hands
behind you and don't make a noise, or scream, or anything, not if
you value your life."
"I don't know that I do very much," she answered with a manner of
extreme bitterness, but more as if speaking to herself than to him.
She did as he ordered, and he proceeded to tie her wrists together
and to fasten them to the back of the chair on which she had seated
herself. He was careful not to draw the cords too tight, but at the
same time he made the fastening secure.
"You won't disturb mother, will you?" she asked quietly when he had
finished. "Her room's the one at the end of the passage."
"I don't want to disturb any one," he answered. "I only want to get
off quietly. I won't gag you, but don't you try to make any noise,
if you do I'll come back. Understand?"
"Oh, perfectly," she answered. "May I ask one question? Do you
feel very proud of yourself just now?"
He did not answer, but went out of the room quickly, and he had an
impression that she smiled as she watched him go, and that her smile
was bitter and a little contemptuous.
"What a girl," he muttered. "She scored every time. I didn't find
out a thing, she didn't do anything I expected or wanted her to.
She seemed as if she spotted me right off - I wonder if she did? I
wonder if she could be trusted?"
But then he thought of that photograph on the mantelpiece and his look
grew stern and hard again. He was careful to avoid the room the girl
had indicated as occupied by her mother, but of all the others on that
floor he made a hasty search without discovering anything to interest
him or anything of the least importance or at all unusual.
>From the wide landing in the centre of the house a narrow stairway,
hidden away behind an angle of the wall so that one did not notice it
at first, led above to three large attics with steeply-sloping roofs
and evidently designed more for storage purposes than for habitation.
The doors of two of these were open and within was merely a collection
of such lumber as soon accumulates in any house.
The door of the third attic was locked, but by aid of the jemmy he
still carried, he forced it open without difficulty.
Within was nothing but a square packing-case, standing in the middle
of the floor. Otherwise the light of the electric torch he flashed
around showed only the bare boarding of the floor and the bare
Near the packing-case a hammer and some nails lay on the floor and
the lid was in position but was not fastened, as though some
interruption had occurred before the task of nailing it down could
Dunn noted that one nail had been driven home, and he was on the
point of leaving the attic, for he knew he had not much time and
hoped that downstairs he would be able to make some discoveries of
importance, when it occurred to him that it might be wise to see
what was in this case, the nailing down the lid of which had not
He crossed the room to it, and without drawing the one nail, pushed
back the lid which pivoted on it quite easily.
Within appeared a covering of course sacking. He pulled this away
with a careless hand, and beneath the beam of his electric torch
showed the pale and dreadful features of a dead man - of a man, the
center of whose forehead showed the small round hole where a bullet
had entered in; of a man whose still-recognizable features were those
of the photograph on the mantel-piece of the room downstairs, the
photograph that was signed:
For a long time Robert Dunn stood, looking down in silence at that
dead face which was hardly more still, more rigid than his own.
He shivered, for he felt very cold. It was as though the coldness
of the death in whose presence he stood had laid its chilly hand on
At last he stirred and looked about him with a bewildered air, then
carefully and with a reverent hand, he put back the sackcloth covering.
"So I've found you, Charley," he whispered. "Found you at last."
He replaced the lid, leaving everything as it had been when he
entered the attic, and stood for a time, trying to collect his
thoughts which the shock of this dreadful discovery had so
disordered, and to decide what to do next.
"But, then, that's simple," he thought. "I must go straight to the
police and bring them here. They said they wanted proof; they said
I had nothing to go on but bare suspicion. But that's evidence
enough to hang Deede Dawson - the girl, too, perhaps."
Then he wondered whether it could be that she knew nothing and was
innocent of all part or share in this dreadful deed. But how could
that be possible? How could it be that such a crime committed in
the house in which she lived could remain unknown to her?
On the other hand, when he thought of her clear, candid eyes; when
he remembered her gentle beauty, it did not seem conceivable that
behind them could lie hidden the tigerish soul of a murderess.
"That's only sentiment, though," he muttered. "Nothing more.
Beautiful women have been rotten bad through and through before
today. There's nothing for me to do but to go and inform the police,
and get them here as soon as possible. If she's innocent, I suppose
she'll be able to prove it."
He hesitated a moment, as he thought of how he had left her, bound
and a prisoner.
It seemed brutal to leave her like that while he was away, for he
would probably be some time absent. But with a hard look, he told
himself that whatever pain she suffered she must endure it.
His first and sole thought must be to bring to justice the murderers
of his unfortunate friend; and to secure, too, thereby, the success
almost certainly of his own mission.
To release her and leave her at liberty might endanger the attainment
of both those ends, and so she must remain a prisoner.
"Only," he muttered, "if she knew the attic almost over her head
held such a secret, why, didn't she take the chance I gave her of
getting hold of my revolver? That she didn't, looks as if she knew
But then he thought again of the photograph in her room and
remembered that agony of grief to which she had been surrendering
herself when he first saw her. Now those passionate tears of hers
seemed to him like remorse.
"I'll leave her where she is," he decided again. "I can't help it;
I mustn't run any risks. My first duty is to get the police here and
have Deede Dawson arrested."
He went down the stairs still deep in thought, and when he reached
the landing below he would not even go to make sure that his captive
was still secure.
An obscure feeling that he did not wish to see her, and still more
that he did not wish her to see him, prevented him.
He descended the second flight of steps to the hall, taking fewer
precautions to avoid making a noise and still very deep in thought.
For some time he had had but little hope that young Charley Wright
Nevertheless, the dreadful discovery he had made in the attic above
had affected him profoundly, and left his mind in a chaos of
emotions so that he was for the time much less acutely watchful than
They had spent their boyhood together, and he remembered a thousand
incidents of their childhood. They had been at school and college
together. And how brilliantly Charley had always done at work and
play, surmounting every difficulty with a laugh, as if it were merely
some new and specially amusing jest!
Every one had thought well of him, every one had believed that his
future career would be brilliant. Now it had ended in this obscure
and dreadful fashion, as ends the life of a trapped rat.
Dunn found himself hardly able to realize that it was really so, and
through all the confused medley of his thoughts there danced and
flickered his memory of a young and lovely face, now tear-stained,
now smiling, now pale with terror, now calmly disdainful.
"Can she have known?" he muttered. "She must have known - she can't
have known - it's not possible either way."
He shuddered and as he put his foot on the lowest stair he raised
his hands to cover his face as though to shut out the visions that
passed before him.
Another step forward he took in the darkness, and all at once there
flashed upon him the light of a strong electric torch, suddenly
"Put up your hands," said a voice sharply. "Or you're a dead man."
He looked bewilderedly, taken altogether by surprise, and saw he
was faced by a fat little man with a smooth, chubby, smiling face
and eyes that were cold and grey and deadly, and who held in one
hand a revolver levelled at his heart.
"Put up your hands," this newcomer said again, his voice level and
calm, his eyes intent and deadly. "Put up your hands or I fire."
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Dunn obeyed promptly.
There was that about this little fat, smiling man and his unsmiling
eyes which proclaimed very plainly that he was quite ready to put
his threat into execution.
For a moment or two they stood thus, each regarding the other very
intently. Dunn, his hands in the air, the steady barrel of the
other's pistol levelled at his heart, knew that never in all his
adventurous life had he been in such deadly peril as now, and the
grotesque thought came into his mind to wonder if there were room
for two in that packing-case in the attic.
Or perhaps no attempt would be made to hide his death since, after
all, it is always permissible to shoot an armed burglar.
The clock on the stairs began to strike the hour, and he wondered if
he would still be alive when the last stroke sounded.
He did not much think so for he thought he could read a very deadly
purpose in the other's cold grey eyes, nor did he suppose that a man
with such a secret as that of the attic upstairs to hide was likely
to stand on any scruple.
And he thought that if he still lived when the clock finished striking
he would take it for an omen of good hope.
The last stroke sounded and died away into the silence of the night.
The revolver was still levelled at his heart, the grim purpose in
the other's eyes had not changed, and yet Dunn drew a breath of
deep relief as though the worst of the danger was past.
Through his mind, that had been a little dulled by the sudden
consciousness of so extreme a peril, thought began again to race
with more than normal rapidity and clearness.
It occurred to him, with a sense of the irony of the position, that
when he entered this house it had been with the deliberate intention
of getting himself discovered by the inmates, believing that to show
himself to them in the character of a burglar might gain him their
It had seemed to him that so he might come to be accepted as one of
them and perhaps learn in time the secret of their plans.
The danger that they might adopt the other course of handing him
over to the police had not seemed to him very great, for he had his
reasons for believing that there would be no great desire to draw
the attention of the authorities to Bittermeads for any reason
But the discovery he had made in the attic changed all that. It
changed his plans, for now he could go to the police immediately.
And it changed also his conception of how these people were likely
Before, it had not entered his mind to suppose that he ran any
special risk of being shot at sight, but now he understood that the
only thing standing between him and instant death was the faint
doubt in his captor's mind as to how much he knew.
It seemed to him his only hope was to carry out his original plan
and try to pass himself off as the sort of person who might be
likely to be useful to the master of Bittermeads.
"Don't shoot, sir," he said, in a kind of high whine. "I ain't
done no harm, and it's a fair cop - and me not a month out of
Dartmoor Gaol. I shall get a hot 'un for this, I know."
The little fat man did not answer; his eyes were as deadly, the
muzzle of his pistol as steady as before.
Dunn wondered if it were from that pistol had issued the bullet that
had drilled so neat and round a hole in his friend's forehead. He
He said again
"Don't shoot, Mr. Deede Dawson, sir; I ain't done no harm."
"Oh, you know my name, do you, you scoundrel?" Deede Dawson said,
a little surprised.
"Yes, sir," Dunn answered. "We always find out as much as we can
about a crib before we get to work."
"I see," said Mr. Dawson. "Very praiseworthy. Attention to
business and all that. Pray, what did you find out about me?"
"Only as you was to be away tonight, sir," answered Dunn. "And that
there didn't seem to be any other man in the house, and, of course,
how the house lay and the garden, and so. But I didn't know as you
was coming home so soon."
"No, I don't suppose you did," said Deede Dawson.
"I ain't done no harm," Dunn urged, making his voice as whining and
pleading as he could. "I've only just been looking round the two
top floors - I ain't touched a thing. Give a cove a chance, sir."
"You've been looking round, have you?" said Deede Dawson slowly.
"Did you find anything to interest you?"
"I've only been in the bedrooms and the attics," answered Dunn,
changing not a muscle of his countenance and thinking boldness his
safest course, for he knew well the slightest sign or hint of
knowledge that he gave would mean his death. "I'd only just come
downstairs when you copped me, sir; I ain't touched a thing in one
of these rooms down here."
"Haven't you?" said Deede Dawson slowly, and his face was paler,
his eyes more deadly, the muzzle of his pistol yet more inflexibly
steady than before.
More clearly still did Dunn realize that the faintest breath of
suspicion stirring in the other's mind that he knew of what was
hidden in the attic would mean certain death and just such another
neat little hole bored through heart or brain as that he had seen
showing in the forehead of his dead friend."
"Haven't you, though?" Deede Dawson repeated. "The bedrooms - the
attics - that's all?"
"Yes, sir, that's all, take my oath that's all," Dunn repeated
earnestly, as if he wished very much to impress on his captor that
he had searched bedrooms and attics thoroughly, but not these
Deede Dawson was plainly puzzled, and for the first time a little
doubt seemed to show in his hard grey eyes.
Dunn perceived that a need was on him to know for certain whether
his dreadful secret had been discovered or not.
Until he had assured himself on that point Dunn felt comparatively
safe, but he still knew also that to allow the faintest suspicion
to dawn in Deede Dawson's mind would mean for him instant death.
He saw, too, watching very warily and ready to take advantage of
any momentary slip or forgetfulness, how steady was Deede Dawson's
hand, how firm and watchful his eyes.
With many men, with most men indeed, Dunn would have seized or made
some opportunity to dash in and attack, taking the chance of being
shot down first, since there are few indeed really skilled in the
use of a revolver, the most tricky if the most deadly of weapons.
But he realized he had small hope of taking unawares this fat
little smiling man with the unsmiling eyes and steady hand, and he
was well convinced that the first doubtful movement he made would
bring a bullet crashing through his brain.
His only hope was in delay and in diverting suspicion, and Deede
Dawson's voice was very soft and deadly as he said:
"So you've been looking in the bedrooms, have you? What did you
"Nothing, sir, not a thing," protested Dunn. "I didn't touch a
thing, I only wanted to look round before coming down here to see
about the silver."
"And the attics?" asked Deede Dawson. "What did you find there?"
"There wasn't no one in them," Dunn answered. "I only wanted to
make sure the young lady was telling the truth about there being
no servants in the house to sleep."
"Did you look in all the attics, then?" asked Deede Dawson.
"Yes," answered Dunn. "'There was one as was locked, but I tooked
the liberty of forcing it just to make sure. I ain't done no harm
to speak of."
"You found one locked, eh?" said Deede Dawson, and his smile grew
still more pleasant and more friendly. "That must have surprised
you a good deal, didn't it?"
"I thought as perhaps there was some one waiting already to give
the alarm," answered Dunn. "I didn't mind the old lady, but I
couldn't risk there being some one hiding there, so I had to look,
but I ain't done no damage to speak of, I could put it right for
you myself in half-an-hour, sir, if you'll let me."
"Could you, indeed?" said Deede Dawson. "Well, and did you find
any one sleeping there?"
But for that hairy disguise upon his cheeks and chin, Dunn would
almost certainly have betrayed himself, so dreadful did the question
seem to him, so poignant the double meaning that it bore, so clear
his memory of his friend he had found there, sleeping indeed.
But there was nothing to show his inner agitation, as he said,
shaking his head
"There wasn't no one there, any more than in the other attics,
nothing but an old packing-case."
"And what?" said Deede Dawson, his voice so soft it was like a
caress, his smile so sweet it was a veritable benediction. "What
was in that packing-case?"
"Didn't look," answered Dunn, and then, with a sudden change of
manner, as though all at once understanding what previously had
puzzled him. "Lum-me," he cried, "is that where you keep the
silver? Lor', and to think I never even troubled to look."
"You never looked?" repeated Deede Dawson.
Dunn shook his head with an air of baffled regret. "Never thought
of it," he said. "I thought it was just lumber like in the other
attics, and I might have got clear away with it if I had known, as
easy as not."
His chagrin was so apparent, his whole manner so innocent, that
Deede Dawson began to believe he really did know nothing.
"Didn't you wonder why the door was locked?" he asked.
"Lor'," answered Dunn, "if you stopped to wonder about everything
you find rummy in a crib you're cracking, when would you ever get
your business done?"
"So you didn't look - in that packing-case?" Deede Dawson repeated.
"If I had," answered Dunn ruefully, "I shouldn't be here, copped
like this. I should have shoved with the stuff and not waited for
nothing more. But I never had no luck."
"I'm not so sure of that," said Deede Dawson grimly, and as he spoke
a soft voice called down from upstairs.
"Is there any one there?" it said. "Oh, please, is any one there?"
"Is that you, Ella?" Deede Dawson called back. "Come down here."
"I can't," she answered. "I'm fastened to a chair.
"I didn't hurt the young lady," Dunn interposed quickly. "I only
tied her up as gentle as I could to a chair so as to stop her from
"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Deede Dawson, and seemed a little
amused, as though the thought of his stepdaughter's plight pleased
him rather than not. "Well, if she can't come down here, we'll go
up there. Turn round, my man, and go up the stairs and keep your
hands over your head all the time. I shan't hesitate to shoot if
you don't, and I never miss."
Dunn was not inclined to value his life at a very high price as he
turned and went awkwardly up the stairs, still holding his hands
above his head.
But he meant to save it if he could, for many things depended on
it, among them due punishment to be exacted for the crime he had
discovered this night; and also, perhaps, for the humiliation he
was now enduring.
Up the stairs, across the landing, and down the passage opposite
Dunn went in silence, shepherded by the little man behind whose
pistol was still levelled and still steady.
His hands held high in the air, he pushed open with his knee the
door of the girl's room and entered, and she looked up as he did
so with an expression of pure astonishment at his attitude of
upheld hands that changed to one of comprehension and of faint
amusement as Deede Dawson followed, revolver in hand.
"Oh," she murmured. "Captivity captive, it seems."
At the fireplace Dunn turned and found her looking at him very
intently, while from the doorway Deede Dawson surveyed them both,
for once his eyes appearing to share in the smile that played about
his lips as though he found much satisfaction in what he saw.
"Well, Ella," he said. "You've been having adventures, it seems,
but you don't look too comfortable like that."
"Nor do I feel it," she retorted. "So please set me free."
"Yes, so I will," he answered, but he still hesitated, and Dunn had
the idea that he was pleased to see the girl like this, and would
leave her so if he could, and that he was wondering now if he could
turn her predicament to his own advantage in any way.
"Yes, I will," he said again. "Your mother - ?"
"She hasn't wakened," Ella answered. "I don't think she has heard
anything. I don't suppose she will, for she took two of those pills
last night that Dr. Rawson gave her for when she couldn't sleep."
"It's just as well she did," said Deede Dawson.
"Yes, but please undo my hands," she asked him. "The cords are
cutting my wrists dreadfully."
As she spoke she glanced at Dunn, standing by the fireplace and
listening gravely to what they said, and Deede Dawson exclaimed
with an air of great indignation" -
"The fellow deserves to be well thrashed for treating you like that.
I've a good mind to do it, too, before handing him over to the
"But you haven 't released me yet," she remarked.
"Oh, yes, yes," he said, starting as if this were quite a new idea.
"I'll release you at once - but I must watch this scoundrel. He
must have frightened you dreadfully."
"Indeed he did not," she answered quickly, again looking at Dunn.
"No, he didn't," she said again with a touch of defiance in her
manner and a certain slightly lifting her small, round chin. "At
least not much after just at first," she added.
"I'll loose you," Deede Dawson said once more, and coming up to her,
he began to fumble in a feeble, ineffectual way at the cords that
secured her wrists.
"Jove, he's tied you up pretty tight, Ella!" he said.
"He believes in doing his work thoroughly, I suppose," she remarked,
lifting her eyes to Dunn's with a look in them that was partly
questioning and partly puzzled and wholly elusive. "I daresay he
always likes to do everything thoroughly."
"Seems so," said Deede Dawson, giving up his fumbling and
ineffectual efforts to release her.
He stepped back and stood behind her chair, looking from her to Dunn
and back again, and once more Dunn was conscious of an impression
that he wished to make use for his own purposes of the girl's
position, but that he did not know how to do so.
"You are a nice scoundrel," said Deede Dawson suddenly, with an
indignation that seemed to Dunn largely assumed. "Treating a girl
like this. Ella, what would you like done to him? He deserves
shooting. Shall I put a bullet through him for you?"
"He might have treated me worse, I suppose,"
said Ella quietly. "And if you would be less indignant with him,
you might be more help to me. There are scissors on the table
"I'll get them," Deede Dawson said. "I'11 get them," he repeated,
as though now at last finally making up his mind.
He took the scissors from the toilet-table where they lay before
the looking-glass and cut the cords by which Ella was secured.
With a sigh of relief she straightened herself from the confined
position in which she had been held and began to rub her wrists,
which were slightly inflamed where the cords had bruised her soft
"Like to tie him up that way now?" asked Deede Dawson. "You shall
if you like."
She turned and looked full at Dunn and he looked back at her with
eyes as steady and as calm as her own.
Again she showed that faint doubt and wonder which had flickered
through her level gaze before as though she felt that there was
more in all this than was apparent, and did not wish to condemn him
utterly without a hearing.
But it was plain also that she did not wish to say too much before
her stepfather and she answered carelessly
"I don't think I could tie him tight enough, besides, he looks
ridiculous enough like that with his hands up in the air."
It was her revenge for what he had made her suffer. He felt himself
flush and he knew that she knew that her little barbed shaft had
"Well, go and look through his pockets," Deede Dawson said. "And
see if he's got a revolver. Don't be frightened; if he lowers his
hands he'll be a dead man before he knows it."
"He has a pistol," she said. "He showed it me, it's in his coat
"Better get it then," Deede Dawson told her. She obeyed and brought
him the weapon, and he nodded with satisfaction as he put it in his
"I think we might let you put your hands down now," he remarked,
and Dunn gladly availed himself of the permission, for every muscle
in his arms was aching badly.
He remained standing by the wall while Deede Dawson, seating himself
on the chair to which Ella had been bound, rested his chin on his
left hand and, with the pistol still ready in his right, regarded
Dunn with a steady questioning gaze.
Ella was standing near the bed. She had poured a few drops of
eau-de-Cologne on her wrists and was rubbing them softly, and for
ever after the poignant pleasant odour of the scent has remained
associated in Robert Dunn's mind with the strange events of that
night so that always even the merest whiff of it conjures up before
his mind a picture of that room with himself silent by the
fireplace and Ella silent by the bed and Deede Dawson, pistol in
hand, seated between them, as silent also as they, and very watchful.
Ella appeared fully taken up with her occupation and might almost
have forgotten the presence of the two men. She did not look at
either of them, but continued to rub and chafe her wrists softly.
Deede Dawson had forgotten for once to smile, his brow was slightly
wrinkled, his cold grey eyes intent and watchful, and Dunn felt very
sure that he was thinking out some plan or scheme.
The hope came to him that Deede Dawson was thinking he might prove
of use, and that was the thought which, above all others, he wished
the other to have. It was, indeed, that thought which all his
recent actions had been aimed to implant in Deede Dawson's mind
till his dreadful discovery in the attic had seemed to make at last
direct action possible. How, in his present plight that thought,
if Deede Dawson should come to entertain it, might yet prove his
salvation. Now and again Deede Dawson gave him quick, searching
glances, but when at last he spoke it was Ella he addressed.
"Wrists hurt you much?" he asked.
"Not so much now," she answered. "They were beginning to hurt a
great deal, though."
"Were they, though?" said Deede Dawson. "And to think you might
have been like that for hours if I hadn't chanced to come home.
Too bad, what a brute this fellow is."
"Men mostly are, I think," she observed indifferently.
"And women mostly like to get their own back again," he remarked
with a chuckle, and then turned sharply to Dunn. "Well, my man,"
he asked, "what have you got to say for yourself?"
"Nothing," Dunn answered. "It was a fair cop."
"You've had a taste of penal servitude before, I suppose?" Deede
"Maybe," Dunn answered, as if not wishing to betray himself.
"Well, I think I remember you said something about not being long
out of Dartmoor," remarked Deede Dawson. "How do you relish the
prospect of going back there?"
"I wonder," interposed Ella thoughtfully. "I wonder what it is in
you that makes you so love to be cruel, father?"
"Eh what?" he exclaimed, quite surprised. Who's being cruel?"
"You," she answered. "You enjoy keeping him wondering what you are
going to do with him, just as you enjoyed seeing me tied to that
chair and would have liked to leave me there."
"My dear Ella!" he protested. "My dear child!"
"Oh, I know," she said wearily. "Why don't you hand the man over
to the police if you're going to, or let him go at once if you
mean to do that?"
"Let him go, indeed!" exclaimed Deede Dawson. "What an idea! What
should I do that for?"
"If you'll give me another chance," said Dunn quickly, "I'll do
anything - I should get it pretty stiff for this lot, and that
wouldn't be any use to you, sir, would it? I can do almost anything
- garden, drive a motor, do what I'm told, It's only because I've
never had a chance I've had to take to this line."
"If you could do what you're told you certainly might be useful,"
said Deede Dawson slowly. "And I don't know that it would do me
any good to send you off to prison - you deserve it, of course.
Still - you talk sometimes like an educated man?"
"I had a bit of education," Dunn answered.
"I see," said Deede Dawson. "Well, I won't ask you any more
questions, you'd probably only lie. "What's your name?"
With that sudden recklessness which was a part of his impulsive and
passionate nature, Dunn answered:
The effect was instantaneous and apparent on both his auditors.
Ella gave a little cry and started so violently that she dropped
the bottle of eau-de-Cologne she had in her hands.
Deede Dawson jumped to his feet with a fearful oath. His face went
livid, his fat cheeks seemed suddenly to sag, of his perpetual
smile every trace vanished.
He swung his revolver up, and Dunn saw the crooked forefinger quiver
as though in the very act of pressing the trigger.
The pressure of a hair decided, indeed, whether the weapon was to
fire or not, as in a high-pitched, stammering voice, Deede Dawson
"What - what do you mean? What do you mean by that?"
"I only told you my name," Dunn answered. "What's wrong with it?"