Part 4 out of 7
myself. They tell me I have at least three unique kinds. And now, if you
will permit me, I am going to smoke. The drawing-room is at your
disposal, though I rarely enter it myself. I always retire at eleven, but
that need not bind you in any way. It has been altogether a most
But Christabel did not dally long in the drawing-room. As she went
upstairs and along the corridor she heard the snapping of the electric
lights all over the house as the servants were preparing to retire. She
paused just a moment in the alcove where the precious Rembrandt was and
located carefully the position of the switch there. Then she retired to
her own room, where she changed her dress for a simple black gown. A big
clock somewhere was striking twelve as she finished. She looked out of
her door. The whole house was in darkness, the silence seemed to cling
like a curtain.
She paused for a moment as if afraid to take the next step. If it was
fear, she shook it aside resolutely and crept into the corridor. She
carried something shining in her hands--something that gleamed in the
dim, uncertain light from the big window. She stood just for an instant
with a feeling that somebody was climbing up the ivy outside the house.
She felt her way along until she came to the alcove containing the
Rembrandt and then she stopped. Her hand slid along the wall till her
fingers touched the switch of the electric light.
She stood for a long time there perfectly motionless. It was a still
night outside, and there was nothing to account for the rustling of the
ivy leaves. The rattling came in jerks, spasmodically, stopping every now
and then and resuming again. It was no longer a matter of imagination, it
was a certainty. Somebody was climbing up the ivy to the window.
Leaning eagerly forward, Christabel could hear the sound of laboured
breathing. She seemed to see the outline of an arm outside, she could
catch the quick rattle of the sash, she could almost see a bent wire
crooked through the beaded edges of the casement. Yes, she was right.
The window swung noiselessly back and a figure stood poised on the
With a quick breath and a fluttering of her heart Christabel felt for
"It will be all right," she murmured; "the other one will fancy that the
light is necessary. Courage, my dear courage, and the game is yours. Ah!"
The intruder dropped inside and pulled the window behind him. Evidently
he was on familiar ground, though he seemed to be seeking an unfamiliar
object. Christabel's hand stole along to the switch; there was a click,
and the alcove was bathed in brilliant light. The intruder shrank back
with a startled cry. He rubbed his dazed eyes.
"Why not come in through the front door, Mr. Littimer?" Christabel
Frank Littimer had no words for a moment. He was wondering who this woman
was and what she was doing here. American, evidently, by her accent, and
also by the revolver that she handled so assuredly.
"That is the way you used to enter," Christabel proceeded, "when you had
been out contrary to parental instructions and the keepers expected to
have a fracas with the poachers. Your bedroom being exactly opposite,
detection was no easy matter. Your bedroom has never been touched since
you left. The key is still outside the door. Will you kindly enter it?"
"But--" Frank stammered. "But I assure you that I cannot--"
"Take the Rembrandt away. You cannot. The frame is of iron, and it is
fastened to the wall. It would take an experienced carpenter quite a
long time to remove it. Therefore your mission has failed. It is very
annoying, because it puts the other man in a very awkward position.
The position is going to be still more awkward presently. Please go to
"My dear lady, if my father knows that I am in the house--"
"He is not going to know that you are in the house, at least not for some
little time. And when you see him it will be better not to say more than
is necessary. Later on you will recognise what a friend I am to you."
"You are not showing it at present," Littimer said, desperately.
"The patient rarely sees any virtue in his medicine. Now, please, go to
your room. I can hear the other man muttering and getting anxious down
below. Now, if you approach that window again I am pretty certain that my
revolver will go off. You see, I am an American, and we are so careless
with such weapons. Please go to your room at once."
"And if I refuse your ridiculous request?"
"You will not find my request in the least ridiculous. If you refuse I
shall hold you up with my weapon and alarm the whole house. But I don't
want to do that, for the sake of the other man. He is so very
respectable, you know, and anything unconventional may be so awkward for
him. Yes, it is just as I expected. He is coming up the ivy to
investigate himself. Go!"
The revolver covered Littimer quite steadily. He could see into the blue
rim, and he was conscious of strange cold sensations down his spine. A
revolver is not a pretty thing at the best of times; it is doubly
hazardous in the hands of a woman.
"What do you want with me?" he asked.
"My dear man, I want to do nothing with you. Only do as you are told
and--there! The other man is coming up the ivy. He can't understand the
light and you not returning. He imagines that you are looking in the
wrong place. Please go."
Littimer backed before the weapon, backed until he was in the doorway.
Suddenly the girl gave him a push, shut the door to, and turned the key
in the lock. Almost at the same instant another figure loomed large in
Something bulky was struggling to get through the window. Half hidden in
the shadow, Christabel watched with the deepest interest. If she had been
afraid at first that sensation had entirely departed by this time. From
the expression of her face she might have been enjoying the novel
situation. It was certainly not without a suggestion of the farcical.
The burly figure contrived to squeeze through the narrow casement at
length and stood breathing loudly in the corridor. It was not a pleasant
sight that met Christabel's gaze--a big man with a white, set face and
rolling eyes and a stiff bandage about his throat. Evidently the intruder
was utterly exhausted, for he dropped into a chair and nursed his head
between his hands.
"Now what has become of that fool?" he muttered. "Ah!"
He looked round him uneasily, but his expression changed as his eyes fell
on the Rembrandt. He had the furtive look of a starving man who picks up
a purse whilst the owner is still in sight. He staggered towards the
picture and endeavoured to take it gently from the support. He tried
again and again, and then in a paroxysm of rage he tore at the
"I guess that it can't be done," Christabel said, drawlingly. "See,
Reginald Henson fairly gasped. As he turned round the ludicrous mixture
of cunning and confusion, anger and vexatious alarm on his face caused
the girl to smile.
"I--I beg your pardon," he stammered.
"I said it can't be done," the girl drawled, coolly. "Sandow couldn't do
it. The frame is made of iron and it is fixed to the wall by four long
stays. It's a neat job, though I say it myself; I persuaded Lord Littimer
to have it done. And when I heard you two prowling about down there I was
glad. I've got the other one safe."
"Oh, you've got the other one safe?" Henson said, blankly.
He would have liked to have burst out into a torrent of passion, only he
recognised his position. The thing was shamefully funny. It was anything
but nice for a man of his distinguished position to be detected in an act
suspiciously like vulgar burglary. Still, there must be some plausible
way out of the difficulty if he could only think of it. Only this girl
with the quaint, pretty face and spectacles did not look in the least
like a fool. He would have to try what blandishments would do.
"Are you aware who I am?" he asked, blandly.
"What does it matter? I've got the other one, and no doubt he will be
identified by the police. If he doesn't say too much he may get off with
a light sentence. It is quite easy to see that you are the greater
scoundrel of the two."
"My dear young lady, do you actually take me for a burglar?"
There was a note of deep pain in Henson's voice. He had dropped into a
chair again, with a feeling of utter weakness upon him. The girl's
resolute mien and the familiar way in which she handled her revolver
filled him with the deepest apprehension.
"I am a very old friend and relative of Lord Littimer's," he said.
"Oh, indeed. And is the other man a relative of Lord Littimer's also?"
"Oh, why, confound it, yes. The other man, as you call him, is Lord
Littimer's only son."
Christabel glanced at Henson, not without admiration.
"Well, you are certainly a cool hand," she said. "You are two clever
thieves who have come here for the express purpose of robbing Lord
Littimer of one of his art treasures. I happen to catch one, and he
immediately becomes the son of the owner of the place. I am so fortunate
as to bag the other bird, and he resolves himself into a relative of my
host's. And you really expect me to believe a Hans Andersen fairy story
"I admit that appearances are against me," Henson said, humbly. "But I am
speaking the truth."
"Oh, indeed. Then why didn't you come in through the front door? The
violent exercise you were taking just now must be dangerous to a man of
"I am afraid I shall have to make a clean breast of it," Henson said,
with what he fondly imagined to be an engaging smile. "You may, perhaps,
be aware that yonder Rembrandt has a history. It was stolen from its
present owner once, and I have always said that it will be stolen again.
Many a time have I urged Lord Littimer to make it secure."
"How grateful you should be to me for having done so!"
"Ah, you are cynical still, which is a bad thing for one so young
and--er--charming. I came down here to see my very noble relative, and
his son accompanied me. I came to try and make peace between father and
son. But that is a family matter which, forgive me, I cannot discuss with
a stranger. Our train was late, or we should have been here long ago. On
reaching the castle it struck me as a good idea to give Lord Littimer a
lesson as to his carelessness. My idea was to climb through the window,
abstract the Rembrandt, and slip quietly into my usual bedroom here. Then
in the morning, after the picture has been missed, I was going to tell
the whole story. That is why Mr. Littimer entered this way and why I
followed when I found that he had failed to return. It was a foolish
thing to do, and the _dénouement_ has been most humiliating. I assure you
that is all."
"Not quite," Christabel drawled. "There is something else."
"And what may that be, my dear young lady?"
"To tell your story to Lord Littimer before you sleep. That kind of
romance may do for Great Britain, but it wouldn't make good family
reading in the States."
"But, my dear young lady, I beg of you, implore you--"
"Come off the grass! I'm to let you go quietly to bed and retire myself,
so that when morning arrives you will be missing together with as much
plunder as you can carry away. No, sir."
Henson advanced angrily. His prudence had gone for the time. As he came
down upon Christabel she raised her revolver and fired two shots in quick
succession over Henson's shoulder. The noise went echoing and
reverberating along the corridor like a crackling of thunder. A door came
open with a click, then a voice demanded to know what was wrong.
"Now I guess the fat is in the fire," Christabel said.
Henson dropped into a chair and groaned. Lord Littimer, elegantly attired
in a suit of silk pyjamas and carrying a revolver in his hand, came
coolly down the corridor. A curious servant or two would have followed,
but he waved them back crisply.
"Miss Lee," he said, with a faint, sarcastic emphasis, "and my dear
friend and relative, Reginald Henson--Reginald, the future owner of
"So he told me, but I wouldn't believe him," said Christabel.
"It is a cynical age," Littimer remarked. "Reginald, what does
Henson shook his head uneasily.
"The young lady persisted in taking me for a burglar," he groaned.
"And why not?" Christabel demanded. "I was just going to bed when I heard
voices in the forecourt below and footsteps creeping along. I came into
the corridor with my revolver. Presently one of the men climbed up the
ivy and got into the corridor. I covered him with my revolver and fairly
drove him into a bedroom and locked him in."
"So you killed with both barrels?" Littimer cried, with infinite
"Then the other one came. He came to steal the Rembrandt."
"Nothing of the kind," the wretched Henson cried. "I came to give you a
lesson, Lord Littimer. My idea was to get in through the window, steal
the Rembrandt, and, when you had missed it, confess the whole story. My
character is safe."
"Giddy," Littimer said, reproachfully. "You are so young, so boyish, so
buoyant, Reginald. What would your future constituents have said had they
seen you creeping up the ivy? They are a grave people who take themselves
seriously. Egad, this would be a lovely story for one of those prying
society papers. 'The Philanthropist and the Picture.' I've a good mind to
send it to the Press myself."
Littimer sat down and laughed with pure enjoyment.
"And where is the other partridge?" he asked, presently.
Christabel seemed to hesitate for a moment, her sense of humour of the
situation had departed. Her hand shook as she turned the key in the door.
"I am afraid you are going to have an unpleasant surprise," Henson said.
Littimer glanced keenly at the speaker. All the laughter died out of
his eyes; his face grew set and stern as Frank Littimer emerged into
"And what are you doing here?" he asked, hoarsely. "What do you expect to
gain by taking part in a fool's trick like this? Did I not tell you never
to show your face here again?"
The young man said nothing. He stood there looking down, dogged, quiet,
like one tongue-tied. Littimer thundered out his question again. He
crossed over, laying his hands on his son's shoulders and shaking him as
a terrier might shake a rat.
"Did you come for anything?" he demanded. "Did you expect any
Frank Littimer shook off his grasp gently. He looked up for the
"I expected nothing," he said. "I--I did not come of my own free will. I
am silent now for the sake of myself and others. But the time may
come--God knows it has been long delayed. For the present, I am bound in
honour to hold my tongue."
He flashed one little glance at Henson, a long, angry glance. Littimer
looked from one to the other in hesitation for a moment. The hard lines
between his brows softened.
"Perhaps I am wrong," he muttered. "Perhaps there has been a mistake
somewhere. And if ever I find out I have--pshaw, I am talking like a
sentimental schoolgirl. Have I not had evidence strong as proof of Holy
Writ that ... Get out of my sight, your presence angers me. Go, and never
let me see you again. Reginald, you were a fool to bring that boy here
to-night. See him off the premises and fasten the door again."
"Surely," Christabel interfered, "surely at this time of the night--"
"You should be in bed," Littimer said, tartly. "My dear young lady, if
you and I are to remain friends I must ask you to mind your own business.
It is a dreadfully difficult thing for a woman to do, but you must try.
Christabel was evidently putting a strong constraint on her tongue, for
she merely bowed and said nothing. She had her own good reasons for the
diplomacy of silence. Henson and Frank Littimer were disappearing in the
direction of the staircase.
"I say nothing," Christabel said. "But at the same time I don't fancy I
shall care very much for your distinguished friend Reginald Henson."
Littimer smiled. All his good humour seemed to have returned to him. Only
the dark lines under his eyes were more accentuated.
"A slimy, fawning hound," he whispered. "A mean fellow. And the best of
it is that he imagines that I hold the highest regard for him.
A SQUIRE OF DAMES
A little later, and Christabel sat before her looking-glass with her
lovely hair about her shoulders. The glasses were gone and her
magnificent eyes gleamed and sparkled.
"Good night's work," she said to her smiling reflection. "Now the danger
is passed and now that I am away from that dreadful house I feel a
different being. Strange what a difference a few hours has made! And I
hardly need my disguise--even at this moment I believe that Enid would
not recognise me. She will be pleased to know that her telegram came in
so usefully. Well, here I am, and I don't fancy that anybody will
recognise Christabel Lee and Chris Henson for one and the same person."
She sat there brushing her hair and letting her thoughts drift along idly
over the events of the evening. Reginald Henson would have felt less easy
in his mind had he known what these thoughts were. Up to now that oily
scoundrel hugged himself with the delusion that nobody besides Frank
Littimer and himself knew that the second copy of "The Crimson Blind" had
passed into Bell's possession.
But Chris was quite aware of the fact. And Chris _as_ Chris was supposed
by Henson to be dead and buried, and was, therefore, in a position to
play her cards as she pleased. Up to now it seemed to her that she had
played them very well indeed. A cipher telegram from Longdean had warned
her that Henson was coming there, had given her more than a passing hint
what Henson required, and her native wit had told her why Henson was
after the Rembrandt.
Precisely why he wanted the picture she had not discovered yet. But she
knew that she would before long. And she knew also that Henson would try
and obtain the print without making his presence at Littimer Castle
obvious. He was bringing Frank Littimer with him, and was therefore going
to use the younger man in some cunning way.
That Henson would try and get into the castle surreptitiously Chris had
felt from the first. Once he did so the rest would be easy, as he knew
exactly where to lay his hand on the picture. Therefore he could have no
better time than the dead of night. If his presence were betrayed he
could turn the matter aside as a joke and trust to his native wit later
on. If he had obtained the picture by stealth he would have discreetly
disappeared, covering his tracks as he retreated.
Still, it had all fallen out very fortunately. Henson had been made to
look ridiculous; he had been forced to admit that he was giving Littimer
a lesson over the Rembrandt, and though the thing appeared innocent
enough on the surface, Chris was sanguine that later on she could bring
this up in evidence against him.
"So far so good," she told herself. "Watch, watch, watch, and act when
the time comes. But it was hard to meet Frank to-night and be able to say
nothing. And how abjectly miserable he looked! Well, let us hope that the
good time is coming."
Chris was up betimes in the morning and out on the terrace. She felt no
further uneasiness on the score of the disguise now. Henson was certain
to be inquisitive, it was part of his nature, but he was not going to
learn anything. Chris smiled as she saw Henson lumbering towards her. He
seemed all the better for his night's rest.
"The rose blooms early here," he said, gallantly. "Let me express
the hope that you have quite forgiven me for the fright I gave you
"I guess I don't recollect the fright," Chris drawled. "And if there was
any fright I calculate it was on the other side. And how are you this
morning? You look as if you had been in the wars. Got some trouble with
your throat, or what?"
"A slight operation," Henson said, airily. "I have been speaking too
much in public lately and a little something had to be removed. I am
The ready lie tripped off his tongue. Chris smiled slightly.
"Do you know, you remind me very much of somebody," he went on. "And yet
I don't know why, because you are quite different. Lord Littimer tells me
you are an American."
"The Stars and Stripes," Chris laughed. "I guess our nation is the first
on earth. Now, if you happen to know anything about Boston--"
"I never was in Boston in my life," Henson replied, hastily. The name
seemed to render him uneasy. "Have you been in England very long?"
Chris replied that she was enjoying England for the first time. But she
was not there to answer questions, her _rôle_ was to ask them. But she
was dealing with a past-master in the art of gleaning information, and
Henson was getting on her nerves. She gave a little cry of pleasure as a
magnificent specimen of a bloodhound came trotting down the terrace and
paused in friendly fashion before her.
"What a lovely dog," she exclaimed. "Do you like dogs, Mr. Henson?"
She looked up beamingly into his face as she spoke; she saw the heavy
features darken and the eyes grow small with anger.
"I loathe them, and they loathe me," Henson growled. "Look at him!"
He pointed to the dog, who showed his teeth with an angry growl. And yet
the great sleek head lay against the girl's knee in perfect confidence.
Henson looked on uneasily and backed a little way. The dog marked his
"See how the brute shows his teeth at me," he said.
"Please send him away, Miss Lee. I am certain he is getting ready for
Henson's face was white and hot and wet, his lips trembled. He was
horribly afraid. Chris patted the silky head and dismissed the dog
with a curt command. He went off instantly with a wistful, backward
look in his eye.
"We are going to be great friends, that doggie and I," Chris said, gaily.
"And I don't like you any the better, Mr. Henson, because you don't like
dogs and they don't like you. Dogs are far better judges of character
than you imagine. Dr. Bell says--"
"What Dr. Bell?" Henson demanded, swiftly.
Chris had paused just in time: perhaps her successful disguise had made
her a trifle reckless.
"Dr. Hatherly Bell," she said. "He used to be a famous man before he fell
into disgrace over something or another. I heard him lecture on the
animal instinct in Boston once, and he said--but as you don't care for
dogs it doesn't matter what he said."
"Do you happen to know anything about him?" Henson asked.
"Very little. I never met him, if that is what you mean. But I heard that
he had done something particularly disgraceful. Why do you ask?"
"Nothing more than a mere coincidence," Henson replied. "It is just a
little strange that you should mention his name here, especially after
what had happened last night. I suppose that, being an American, you fell
in love with the Rembrandt. It was you who suggested securing it in its
place, and then preventing my little jest from being successfully carried
out. Of course you have heard that the print was stolen once?"
"The knowledge is as general as the spiriting away of the
"Quite so. Well, the man who stole the Rembrandt was Dr. Hatherly Bell.
He stole it that he might pay a gambling debt, and it was subsequently
found in his luggage before he could pass it on to the purchaser. I am
glad you mentioned it, because the name of Bell is not exactly a
favourite at the castle."
"I am much obliged to you," said Chris, gravely. "Was Dr. Bell a
"Oh, immense. He had great influence over Lord Littimer. He--but here
comes Littimer in one of his moods. He appears to be angry about
Littimer strode up, with a frown on his face and a telegram in his hand.
Henson assumed to be mildly sympathetic.
"I hope it is nothing serious?" he murmured.
"Serious," Littimer cried. "The acme of audacity--yes. The telegram has
just come. 'Must see you tonight on important business affecting the
past. Shall hope to be with you some time after dinner!'"
"And who is the audacious aspirant to an interview?" Chris asked,
"A man I expect you never heard of," said Littimer, "but who is quite
familiar to Henson here. I am alluding to that scoundrel Hatherly Bell."
"Good heavens!" Henson burst out. "I--I mean, what colossal impudence!"
THE MAN WITH THE THUMB AGAIN
Chris gave Henson one swift searching glance before her eyes dropped
demurely to the ground. Lord Littimer appeared to be taking no heed of
anything but his own annoyance. But quick as Chris had been, Henson was
quicker. He was smiling the slow, sad smile of the man who turns the
other cheek because it is his duty to do so.
"And when does Dr. Bell arrive?" he asked.
"He won't arrive at all," Littimer said, irritably. "Do you suppose I
am going to allow that scoundrel under my roof again? The amazing
impudence of the fellow is beyond everything. He will probably reach
Moreton Station by the ten o'clock train. The drive will take him an
hour, if I choose to permit the drive, which I don't. I'll send a groom
to meet the train with a letter. When Bell has read that letter he will
not come here."
"I don't think I should do that," Henson said, respectfully.
"Indeed! You are really a clever fellow. And what would you do?"
"I should suffer Bell to come. As a Christian I should deem it my duty to
do so. It pains me to say so, but I am afraid that I cannot contravert
your suggestion that Bell is a scoundrel. It grieves me to prove any man
that. And in the present instance the proofs were overpowering. But there
is always a chance--a chance that we have misjudged a man on false
"False evidence! Why, the Rembrandt was actually found in Bell's
"Dear friend, I know it," Henson said, with the same slow, forgiving
smile. "But there have been cases of black treachery, dark conspiracies
that one abhors. And Bell might have made some stupendous discovery
regarding his character. I should see him, my lord; oh, yes, I should
most undoubtedly see him."
"And so should I," Chris put in, swiftly.
Littimer smiled, with all traces of his ill-temper gone. He seemed to
be contemplating Henson with his head on one side, as if to fathom
that gentleman's intentions. There was just the suspicion of contempt
in his glance.
"In the presence of so much goodness and beauty I feel quite lost," he
said. "Very well, Henson, I'll see Bell. I may find the interview
Henson strolled away with a sigh of gentle pleasure. Once out of sight he
flew to the library, where he scribbled a couple of telegrams. They were
carefully worded and related to some apocryphal parcel required without
delay, and calculated to convey nothing to the lay mind. A servant was
despatched to the village with them. Henson would have been pleased had
he known that the fascinating little American had waylaid his messenger
and read his telegrams under the plea of verifying one of the addresses.
A moment or two later and those addresses were carefully noted down in a
pocket-book. It was past five before Chris found herself with a little
time on her hands again. Littimer had kept her pretty busy all the
afternoon, partly because there was so much to do, but partly from the
pleasure that he derived from his secretary's society. He was more free
with her than he had been with any of her sex for years. It was
satisfactory, too, to learn that Littimer regarded Henson as a smug and
oily hypocrite, and that the latter was only going to be left Littimer
Castle to spite the owner's other relations.
"Now you run into the garden and get a blow." Littimer said at length. "I
am telling you a lot too much. I am afraid you are a most insinuating
Chris ran out into the garden gaily. Despite the crushing burden on her
shoulders she felt an elation and a flow of spirits she had not been
conscious of for years. The invigorating air of the place seemed to have
got into her veins, the cruel depression of the House of the Silent
Sorrow was passing away. Again, she had hope and youth on her side, and
everything was falling out beautifully. It was a pleasanter world than
Chris had anticipated.
She went along more quietly after a time. There was a tiny arbour on a
terrace overlooking the sea to which Chris had taken a particular fancy.
She picked her way daintily along the grass paths between the roses until
she suddenly emerged upon the terrace. She had popped out of the roses
swiftly as a squirrel peeps from a tree.
Somebody was in the arbour, two people talking earnestly. One man
stood up with his back to Chris, one hand gripping the outside ragged
bark of the arbour frame with a peculiarly nervous, restless force.
Chris could see the hand turned back distinctly. A piece of bark was
being crumbled under a strong thumb. Such a thumb! Chris had seen
nothing like it before.
It was as if at some time it had been smashed flat with a hammer, a
broad, strong, cruel-looking thumb, flat and sinister-looking as the head
of a snake. In the centre, like a pink pearl dropped in a filthy gutter,
was one tiny, perfectly-formed nail.
The owner of the thumb stepped back the better to give way to a fit of
hoarse laughter. He turned slightly aside and his eyes met those of
Chris. They were small eyes set in a coarse, brutal face, the face of a
criminal, Chris thought, if she were a judge of such matters. It came
quite as a shock to see that the stranger was in clerical garb.
"I--I beg your pardon," Chris stammered. "But I--"
Henson emerged from the arbour. For once in a way he appeared confused,
there was a flush on his face that told of annoyance ill suppressed.
"Please don't go away," he said. "Mr. Merritt will think that he has
alarmed you. Miss Lee, this is my very good friend and co-worker in the
field, the Reverend James Merritt."
"Is Mr. Merritt a friend of Lord Littimer's?" Chris asked, demurely.
"Littimer hates the cloth," Henson replied "Indeed, he has no sympathy
whatever with my work. I met my good friend quite by accident in the
village just now, and I brought him here for a chat. Mr. Merritt is
taking a well-earned holiday."
Chris replied graciously that she didn't doubt it. She did not deem it
necessary to add that she knew that one of Mr. Henson's mystic telegrams
had been addressed to one James Merritt at an address in Moreton Wells, a
town some fifteen miles away. That the scoundrel was up to no good she
knew perfectly well.
"Your work must be very interesting," she said. "Have you been in the
Church long, Mr. Merritt?"
Merritt said hoarsely that he had not been in the Church very long. His
dreadful grin and fog voice suggested that he was a brand plucked from
the burning, and that he had only recently come over to the side of the
angels. The whole time he spoke he never met Chris's glance once. The
chaplain of a convict prison would have turned from him in disgust.
Henson was obviously ill at ease. In his suave, diplomatic way he
contrived to manoeuvre Merritt off the ground at length.
"An excellent fellow," he said, with exaggerated enthusiasm. "It was a
great day for us when we won over James Merritt. He can reach a class
which hitherto we have not touched."
"He looks as if he had been in gaol," Chris said.
"Oh, he has," Henson admitted, candidly. "Many a time."
Chris deemed it just possible that the unpleasant experience might be
endured again, but she only smiled and expressed herself to be deeply
interested. The uneasiness in Henson's manner gradually disappeared.
Evidently the girl suspected nothing. She would have liked to have asked
a question or two about Mr. Merritt's thumb, but she deemed it prudent
not to do so.
Dinner came at length, dinner served in the great hall in honour of the
recently arrived guest, and set up in all the panoply and splendour that
Littimer affected at times. The best plate was laid out on the long
table. There were banks and coppices of flowers at either corner, a huge
palm nodded over silver and glass and priceless china. The softly shaded
electric lights made pools of amber flame on fruit and flowers and
gleaming crystal. Half-a-dozen big footmen went about their work with
Henson shook his head playfully at all this show and splendour. His good
humour was of the elephantine order, and belied the drawn anxiety of his
eyes. Luxurious and peaceful as the scene was, there seemed to Chris to
be a touch of electricity in the air, the suggestion of something about
to happen. Littimer glanced at her admiringly. She was dressed in white
satin, and she had in her hair a single diamond star of price.
"Of course Henson pretends to condemn all this kind of thing," Littimer
said. "He would have you believe that when he comes into his own the
plate and wine will be sold for the benefit of the poor, and the seats of
the mighty filled with decayed governesses and antiquated shop-walkers."
"I hope that time may long be deferred," Henson murmured.
"And so do I," Littimer said, drily, "which is one of the disadvantages
of being conservative. By the way, who was that truculent-looking
scoundrel I saw with you this afternoon?"
Henson hastened to explain. Littimer was emphatically of opinion that
such visitors were better kept at a distance for the present. When all
the rare plate and treasures of Littimer Castle had been disposed of for
philanthropic purposes it would not matter.
"There was a time when the enterprising burglar got his knowledge of the
domestic and physical geography of a house from the servants. Now he
reforms, with the great advantage that he can lay his plan of campaign
from personal observation. It is a much more admirable method, and tends
to avert suspicion from the actual criminal."
"You would not speak thus if you knew Merritt," said Henson.
"All the same, I don't want the privilege," Littimer smiled. "A man with
a face like that couldn't reform; nature would resent such an enormity.
And yet you can never tell. Physically speaking, my quondam friend
Hatherly Bell has a perfect face."
"I confess I am anxious to see him," Chris said. "I--I heard him lecture
in America. He had the most interesting theory about dogs. Mr. Henson
"Yes," Henson said, shortly, "I do, and they hate me, but that does not
prevent my being interested in the coming of Dr. Bell. And nobody hopes
more sincerely than myself that he will succeed in clearly vindicating
Littimer smiled sarcastically as he trifled with his claret glass. In his
cynical way he was looking forward to the interview with a certain sense
of amusement. And there was a time when he had enjoyed Bell's society
"Well, you will not have long to wait now," he said. "It is long past
ten, and Bell is due at any moment after eleven. Coffee in the
It was a gloriously warm night, with just a faint suspicion of a breeze
on the air. Down below the sea beat with a gentle sway against the
cliffs; on the grassy slopes a belated lamb was bleating for its dam.
Chris strolled quietly down the garden with her mind at peace for a time.
She had almost forgotten her mission for the moment. A figure slipped
gently past her on the grass, but she utterly failed to notice it.
"An exceedingly nice girl, that," Littimer was saying, "and distinctly
amusing. Excuse me if I leave you here--a tendency to ague and English
night air don't blend together."
It was the very moment that Henson had been waiting for. All his
listlessness had vanished. He sprang to his feet and made his way
hurriedly across the lawn. Dark as it was, he slipped along with the ease
of one who is familiar with every inch of the ground. A man half his
weight and half his age could have been no more active.
He advanced to what seemed to be the very edge of the cliff and
disappeared. There were rocks and grassy knolls which served as landmarks
to him. A slip of the foot might have resulted in a serious accident.
Above the gloom a head appeared.
"That you, Merritt?" Henson asked, hoarsely.
"Oh, it's me right enough," came the muttered reply. "Good job as I'm
used to a seafaring life, or I should never have got up those cliffs.
Where's the girl?"
"Oh, the girl's right enough. She's standing exactly where she can hear
the cry of the suffering in distress. You can leave that part of the
drama to me. She's a smart girl with plenty of pluck, but all the same I
am going to make use of her. Have you got the things?"
"Got everything, pardner. Got a proper wipe over the skull, too."
"How on earth did you manage to do that?"
"Meddling with Bell, of course. Why didn't you let him come and produce
his picture in peace? We should have been all ready to flabbergaster him
when he did come."
"My good Merritt, I have not the slightest doubt about it. My plans are
too carefully laid for them to go astray. But, at the same time, I firmly
believe in having more than one plan of attack and more than two ways of
escape. If we could have despoiled Bell of his picture it would have been
utterly useless for him to have come here. He would have gone back
preferring to accept defeat to arriving with a cock-and-bull story to the
effect that he had been robbed of his treasure on the way. And so he got
the best of you, eh?"
"Rather! I fancied that I was pretty strong, but--well, it doesn't
matter. Here I am with the tools, and I ain't going to fail this time.
Before Bell comes the little trap will be ready and you will be able to
prove an alibi."
Henson chuckled hoarsely. He loved dramatic effect, and here was one to
hand. He almost fancied that he could see the white outline of Chris's
figure from where he stood.
"Get along," he said. "There is no time to lose."
Merritt nodded and began to make his way upward. Some way above him
Chris was looking down. Her quick ear had detected some suspicious
sound. She watched eagerly. Just below her the big electric light on the
castle tower cast a band of flame athwart the cliff. Chris looked down
steadily at this. Presently she saw a hand uplifted into the belt of
flame, a hand grasping for a ledge of rock, and a quickly stifled cry
rose to her lips. The thumb on the hand was smashed flat, there was a
tiny pink nail in the centre.
Chris's heart gave one quick leap, then her senses came back to her. She
needed nobody to tell her that the owner of the hand was James Merritt.
Nor did she require any fine discrimination to perceive that he was up to
no good. That it had something to do with the plot against Bell she felt
certain. But the man was coming now, he could only reach the top of the
cliffs just under the wall where she was standing. Chris peered eagerly
down into the path of light until the intruder looked up. Then she jerked
back, forgetting that she was in the darkness and absolutely invisible.
The action was disastrous, however, for it shook Chris's diamond star
from her head, and it fell gently almost at the feet of the climber. An
instant later and his eyes had fallen upon it.
"What bloomin' luck," he said, hoarsely. "I suppose that girl yonder must
have dropped it over. Well, it is as good as a couple of hundred pound to
me, anyway. Little missie, you'd better take a tearful farewell of your
lumps of sugar, as you'll never see them again."
To Chris's quivering indignation he slipped the star into his
breast-pocket. Just for the moment the girl was on the point of crying
out. She was glad she had refrained a second after, for a really
brilliant thought occurred to her. She had never evolved anything more
clever in her life, but she did not quite realise that as yet.
Nearer and nearer the man with the maimed thumb came. Chris stepped back
into the shadow. She waited till the intruder had slipped past her in the
direction of the castle, and prepared to follow at a discreet distance.
Whatever he was after, she felt sure he was being ordered and abetted by
Reginald Henson. Two minutes, five minutes, elapsed before she moved.
What was that? Surely a voice somewhere near her moaning for help. Chris
stood perfectly still, listening for the next cry. Her sense of humanity
had been touched, she had forgotten Merritt entirely. Again the stifled
cry for help came.
"Who are you?" Chris shouted. "And where are you?"
"Henson," came the totally unexpected reply. "I'm down below on a ledge
of rock. No, I'm not particularly badly hurt, but I dare not move."
Chris paused for a moment, utterly bewildered. Henson must have been on
the look-out for his accomplice, she thought, and had missed his footing
and fallen. Pity he had not fallen a little farther, she murmured
bitterly, and broken his neck. But this was only for a moment, and her
sense of justice and humanity speedily returned.
"I cannot see anything of you," she said.
"All the same, I can see your outline," Henson said, dismally. "I don't
feel quite so frightened now. I can hang on a bit longer, especially now
I know assistance is at hand. At first I began to be afraid that I was a
prisoner for the night. No; don't go. If I had a rope I should have the
proper confidence to swarm up again. And there is a coil of rope in the
arbour close by you. Hang it straight down over that middle boulder and
fasten your end round one of those iron pilasters."
The rope was there as Henson stated; indeed, he had placed it there
himself. With the utmost coolness and courage Chris did as she was
desired. But it took some little time to coax the rope to go over in the
proper direction. There was a little mutter of triumph from below, and
presently Henson, with every appearance of utter exhaustion, climbed over
the ledge to the terrace. At the same moment an owl hooted twice from the
long belt of trees at the bottom of the garden.
"I hope you are none the worse for your adventure?" Chris asked,
Henson said sententiously that he fancied not. His familiarity with the
cliffs had led him too far. If he had not fallen on a ledge of rock
goodness only knows what might have happened. Would Chris be so good as
to lend him the benefit of her arm back to the castle? Chris was
graciously willing, but she was full of curiosity at the same time. Had
Henson really been in danger, or was the whole thing some part of an
elaborate and cunning plot? Henson knew perfectly well that she had taken
a great fancy to the upper terrace, and he might--
Really it was difficult to know what to think. They passed slowly along
till the lights here and there from the castle shone on their faces. At
the same time a carriage had driven up to the hall door and a visitor was
getting out. With a strange sense of eagerness and pleasure Chris
recognised the handsome features and misshapen shape of Hatherly Bell.
"The expected guest has arrived," Henson said.
There was such a queer mixture of snarling anger and exulting triumph in
his voice that Chris looked up. Just for an instant Henson had dropped
the mask. A ray of light from the open door streamed fully across his
face. The malignant pleasure of it startled Chris. Like a flash she began
to see how she had been used by those miscreants.
"He is very handsome," she contrived to say, steadily.
"Handsome is that handsome does," Henson quoted. "Let us hope that Dr.
Bell will succeed in his mission. He has my best wishes."
Chris turned away and walked slowly as possible up the stairs. Another
minute with that slimy hypocrite and she felt she must betray herself.
Once out of sight she flew along the corridor and snapped up the electric
light. She fell back with a stifled cry of dismay, but she was more
sorrowful than surprised.
"I expected it," she said. "I knew that this was the thing they
The precious copy of Rembrandt was no longer there!
There were more sides to the mystery than David Steel imagined. It had
seemed to him that he had pretty well all the threads in his hands, but
he would have been astonished to know how much more Hatherly Bell and
Enid Henson could have told him.
But it seemed to Bell that there was one very important thing to be done
before he proceeded any farther. He was interested in the mystery as he
was interested in anything where crime and cunning played a part. But he
was still more intent upon clearing his good name; besides, this would
give him a wider field of action.
In the light of recent discoveries it had become imperative that he
should once more be on good terms with Lord Littimer. Once this was
accomplished, Bell saw his way to the clearing up of the whole
complication. It was a great advantage to know who his enemy was; it was
a still greater advantage to discover the hero of the cigar-case and the
victim of the outrage in Steel's conservatory was the graceless scamp Van
Sneck, the picture dealer, who had originally sold "The Crimson Blind" to
It was all falling out beautifully. Not only had Van Sneck turned up in
the nick of time, but he was not in a position to do any further
mischief. It suited Bell exactly that Van Sneck should be _hors de
combat_ for the moment.
The first thing to be done was to see Lord Littimer without delay. Bell
had no idea of humbly soliciting an interview. He proceeded to a
telegraph office the first thing the following morning and wired Littimer
to the effect that he must see him on important business. He had an hour
or two at his disposal, so he took a cab as far as Downend Terrace. He
found Steel slug-hunting in the conservatory, the atmosphere of which was
blue with cigarette smoke.
"So you are not working this morning?" he asked.
"How the dickens can I work?" David exclaimed, irritably. "Not that I
haven't been trying. I might just as well take a long holiday till this
mystery is cleared up for all the good I am. What is the next move?"
"My next move is to go to Littimer and convince him that he has done me a
great wrong. I am bound to have Littimer's ear once more."
"You are going to show him the spare Rembrandt, eh?"
"That's it. I flatter myself I shall astonish him. I've sent a telegram
to say I'm coming to-day, after which I shall proceed to storm the
citadel. I feel all the safer because nobody knows I have the engraving."
"My dear chap, somebody knows you have the picture."
"Impossible!" Bell exclaimed. "Only yourself and Enid Henson can possibly
be aware that--"
"All the same, I am speaking the truth," David said. "Last night when you
went into the hospital you gave me the print to take care of. At the same
time I noticed a rough-looking man presumedly asleep on the seat in the
road facing the hospital. Afterwards when I looked round he had
disappeared. At the time I thought nothing of it. When I came in here I
placed the precious roll of paper on my writing-table under the window
yonder. The window is a small one, as you can see, and was opened about a
foot at the top. I sat here with the light down and the room faintly
illuminated by the light in the conservatory. After a little time I saw a
hand and arm groping for something on the table, and I'm quite sure the
hand and arm were groping for your Rembrandt. The fellow muttered
something that I failed to understand, and I made a grab for him and got
him. Then the other hand made a dash for my head with an ugly piece of
gas-piping, and I had to let go."
"And you saw no more of the fellow?"
"No; I didn't expect to. I couldn't see his face, but there was one
peculiarity he had that I might tell you for your future guidance. He had
a thumb smashed as flat as the head of a snake, with one tiny pink nail
in the middle of it. So, if you meet a man like that on your journey
to-day, look to yourself. On the whole, you see that our enemies are a
little more awake than you give them credit for."
Bell nodded thoughtfully. The information was of the greatest possible
value to him. It told him quite plainly that Reginald Henson knew
exactly what had happened. Under ordinary circumstances by this time
Henson would be on his way to Littimer Castle, there to checkmate the
man he had so deeply injured. But fortunately Henson was laid by the
heels, or so Bell imagined.
"I am really obliged to you," Bell said. "Your information is likely to
be of the greatest possible service to me. I'm sorry you can't work."
"Don't worry about me," David said, grimly. "I'm gaining a vast quantity
of experience that will be of the greatest value to me later on. Besides,
I can go and compare notes with Miss Ruth Gates whilst you are away. She
"So I should imagine," Bell said, drily. "No, I must be off. I'll let you
know what happens at Littimer Castle. Good luck to you here."
And Bell bustled off. He was pleased to find a recent telegram of
acceptance from Littimer awaiting him, and before five o'clock he was
in the train for London. It was only after he left London that he began
to crawl along. Thanks to slow local lines and a badly fitting cross
service it was nearly eleven o'clock before he reached Moreton Station.
It did not matter much, because Littimer had said that a carriage
should meet him.
However, there was no conveyance of any kind outside the station. One
sleepy porter had already departed, and the other one, who took Bell's
ticket, and was obviously waiting to lock up, deposed that a carriage
from the castle had come to the station, but that some clerical gentleman
had come along and countermanded it. Whereupon the dog-cart had departed.
"Very strange," Bell muttered. "What sort of a parson was it?"
"I only just saw his face," the porter yawned. "Dressed in black, with a
white tie and a straw hat. Walked in a slouching kind of way with his
hands down; new curate from St. Albans, perhaps. Looked like a chap as
could take care of himself in a row."
"Thanks," Bell said, curtly. "I'll manage the walk; it's only two miles.
Bell's face was grim and set as he stepped out into the road. He knew
fairly well what this meant. It was pretty evident that his arch-enemy
knew his movements perfectly well, and that a vigorous attempt was being
made to prevent him reaching the castle. He called back to the porter.
"How long since the carriage went?" he asked.
A voice from the darkness said "Ten minutes," and Bell trudged on with
the knowledge that one of his enemies at least was close at hand. That
Reginald Henson was at the castle he had not the remotest idea. Nor did
he fear personal violence. Despite his figure, he was a man of enormous
strength and courage. But he had not long to wait.
Somebody was coming down the lonely road towards him, somebody in
clerical attire. The stranger stopped and politely, if a little huskily,
inquired if he was on the right way to Moreton Station. Bell responded as
politely that he was, and asked to know the time. Not that he cared
anything about the time; what he really wanted was to see the stranger's
hands. The little ruse was successful. In the dim light Bell could see a
flattened, hideous thumb with the pink parody of a nail upon it.
"Thanks, very much," he said, crisply. "Keep straight on."
He half turned as the stranger swung round. The latter darted at Bell,
but he came too late. Bell's fist shot out and caught him fairly on the
forehead. Then the stick in Bell's left hand came down with crushing
force on the prostrate man's skull. So utterly dazed and surprised was he
that he lay on the ground for a moment, panting heavily.
"You murderous ruffian," Bell gasped. "You escaped convict in an honest
man's clothes. Get up! So you are the fellow--"
He paused suddenly, undesirous of letting the rascal see that he knew too
much. The other man rolled over suddenly like a cat and made a dash for a
gap in the hedge. He was gone like a flash. Pursuit would be useless, for
pace was not Bell's strong point. And he was not fearful of being
"Henson seems to be pretty well served," he muttered, grimly.
Meanwhile, the man with the thumb was flying over the fields in the
direction of Littimer. He made his way across country to the cliffs with
the assured air of one who knows every inch of the ground. He had failed
in the first part of his instructions, and there was no time to be lost
if he was to carry out the second part successfully.
He struck the cliffs at length a mile or so away, and proceeded to
scramble along them till he lay hidden just under the terraces at
Littimer Castle. He knew that he was in time for this part of the
programme, despite the fact that his head ached considerably from the
force and vigour of Bell's assault. He lay there, panting and breathing
heavily, waiting for the signal to come.
Meanwhile, Bell was jogging along placidly and with no fear in his heart
at all. He did not need anybody to tell him what was the object of his
late antagonist's attack. He knew perfectly well that if the ruffian had
got the better of him he would never have seen the Rembrandt again.
Henson's hounds were on the track; but it would go hard if they pulled
the quarry down just as the sanctuary was in sight. Presently Bell could
see the lights of the castle.
By the lodge-gates stood a dog-cart; in the flare of the lamps Bell
recognised the features of the driver, a very old servant of Littimer's.
Bell took in the situation at a glance.
"Is this the way you come for me, Lund?" he asked.
"I'm very sorry, sir," Lund replied. "But a clergyman near the station
said you had gone another way, so I turned back. And when I got here I
couldn't make top nor tail of the story. Blest if I wasn't a bit nervous
that it might have been some plant to rob you. And I was going to drive
slowly along to the station again when you turned up."
"Oh, there's nothing wrong," said Bell, cheerfully. "And I don't look as
if I'd come to any harm. Anybody staying at the castle, Lund?"
"Only Mr. Reginald Henson, sir," Lund said, disparagingly.
Bell started, but his emotion was lost in the darkness. It came as a
great surprise to him to find that the enemy was actually in the field.
And how apprehensive of danger he must be to come so far with his health
in so shattered a condition. Bell smiled to himself as he pictured
Henson's face on seeing him once more under that roof.
"How long has Mr. Henson been here?" he asked.
"Only came yesterday, sir. Shall I drive you up to the house? And if you
wouldn't mind saying nothing to his lordship about my mistake, sir--"
"Make your mind easy on that score," Bell said, drily. "His lordship
shall know nothing whatever about it. On the whole, I had better drive up
to the house. How familiar it all looks, to be sure."
A minute later and Bell stood within the walls of the castle.
HOW THE SCHEME WORKED OUT
Chris crossed the corridor like one who walks in a dream. She had not
enough energy left to be astonished even. Her mind travelled quickly over
the events of the past hour, and she began to see the way clear. But how
had somebody or other managed to remove the picture? Chris examined the
spot on the wall where the Rembrandt had been with the eye of a
That part of the mystery was explained in a moment. A sharp cutting
instrument, probably a pair of steel pliers with a lever attachment, had
been applied to the head of the four stays, and the flat heads had been
pinched off as clean as if they had been string. After that it was merely
necessary to remove the frame, and a child could have done the rest.
"How clever I am," Chris told herself, bitterly. "I'm like the astute
people who put Chubb locks on Russia leather jewel-cases that anybody
could rip open with a sixpenny penknife. And in my conceit I deemed the
Rembrandt to be absolutely safe. Now what--what is the game?"
It was much easier to ask the question than to answer it. But there were
some facts sufficiently obvious to Chris. In the first place she knew
that Reginald Henson was at the bottom of the whole thing; she knew that
he had traded on the fact that she had taken a fancy to the terrace as an
after-dinner lounge; indeed, she had told him so earlier in the day. He
had traded on the knowledge that he could prove an alibi if any
suspicions attached to him. The fact that he was in danger owing to a
slip on the edge of the cliff was all nonsense. He had not been in any
danger at all; he had seen Chris there, and he had made all that parade
with an eye to the future. As a matter of course, he was down there
settling matters with his accomplice of the maimed thumb, who had chosen
the cliff way of getting into the castle as the swiftest and the surest
Yes, it was pretty obvious that the man with the thumb had stolen the
print, and that by this time he was far away with his possession. While
Chris was helping Henson the latter's accomplice had slipped into the
castle and effected the burglary. Chris flicked out the light in the
alcove as a servant came along. It was not policy for any of the
domestics to be too wise. Chris forced a smile to her face as the maid
"Allen," she asked, "are there many owls about here?"
"Never a one as I know, miss," the maid responded confidently. "I've been
here for eleven years, and I never heard of such a thing. Clifford, the
head keeper, couldn't sleep at nights if he thought as there was such a
thing on the estate. Have you heard one, miss?"
"I was evidently mistaken," Chris said. "Of course you would know best."
So the cry of the owl had been a signal of success. Chris sat in the
gloom there resolved to see the comedy played through. The events of the
night were not over yet.
"I'd give something to know what has taken place in the dining-room,"
She was going to know before long. The lights were being extinguished all
over the house. Henson came up to bed heavily, as one who is utterly worn
out. At the same time he looked perfectly satisfied with himself. He
might have been a vigilant officer who had settled all his plans and was
going to seek a well-earned rest before the enemy came on to his
destruction. In sooth Henson was utterly worn out. He had taxed his
strength to the uttermost, but he was free to rest now.
Meanwhile, the conference in the dining-room proceeded. Lord Littimer had
received his guest with frigid politeness, to which Bell had responded
with an equally cold courtesy. Littimer laid his cigar aside and looked
Bell steadily in the face.
"I have granted your request against my better judgment," he said. "I am
not sanguine that the least possible good can come of it. But I have
quite grown out of all my illusions; I have seen the impossible proved
too often. Will you take anything?"
"I hope to do so presently," Bell said, pointedly; "but not yet. In the
first instance I have to prove to you that I have not stolen your
"Indeed? I should like to know how you propose to do that."
"I shall prove it at once. You were under the impression that you
possessed the only copy of the 'Crimson Blind' in existence. When you
lost yours and a copy of the picture was found in my possession, you were
perfectly justified in believing that I was the thief."
"I did take that extreme view of the matter," Littimer said, drily.
"Under the circumstances I should have done the same thing. But you were
absolutely wrong, because there were two copies of the picture. Yours was
stolen by an enemy of mine who had the most urgent reasons for
discrediting me in your eyes, and the other was concealed amongst my
belongings. It was no loss to the thief, because subsequently the stolen
one--my own one being restored to you--could have been exposed and
disposed of as a new find. Your print is in the house?"
"It hangs in the gallery at the present moment."
"Very good. Then, my lord, what do you say to this?"
Bell took the roll of paper from his pocket, and gravely flattened it out
on the table before him, so that the full rays of the electric light
should fall upon it. Littimer was a fine study of open-mouthed surprise.
He could only stand there gaping, touching the stained paper with his
fingers and breathing heavily.
"Here is a facsimile of your treasure," Bell went on. "Here is the same
thing. You are a good judge on these matters, and I venture to say you
will call it genuine. There is nothing of forgery about the engraving."
"Good heavens, no," Littimer snapped. "Any fool could see that."
"Which you will admit is a very great point in my favour," Bell
"I begin to think that I have done you a great injustice," Littimer
admitted; "but, under the circumstances, I don't see how I could have
done anything else. Look at that picture. It is exactly the same as mine.
There is exactly the same discolouration in the margin in exactly the
"Probably they lay flat on the top of one another for scores of years."
"Possibly. I can't see the slightest difference in the smallest
particular. Even now I cannot rid myself of the feeling that I am the
victim of some kind of plot or delusion. The house is quiet now and there
is nobody about. Before I believe the evidence of my senses--and I have
had cause to doubt them more than once--I should like to compare this
print with mine. Will you follow me to the gallery, if you haven't
forgotten the way?"
Littimer took up the treasure from the table gingerly.
He was pleased and at the same time disappointed; pleased to find that he
had been mistaken all these years, sorry in the knowledge that his
picture was unique no longer. He said nothing until the alcove was
reached, and Chris drew back in the shadow to let the others pass.
"Now to settle the question for all time," Littimer said. "Will you be so
good as to turn on the electric light? You will find the switch in the
angle of the wall on your right. And when we have settled the affair and
I have apologized to you in due form, you shall command my services and
my purse to right the wrong. If it costs me £10,000 the man who has done
this thing shall suffer. Please to put up the light, Bell."
Chris listened breathlessly. She was not quite certain what she was about
to see. She could hear Bell fumbling for the light, she heard the click
of the switch, and then she saw the brilliant belt of flame flooding the
alcove. Littimer paused and glanced at Bell, the latter looked round the
alcove as if seeking for something.
"I cannot see the picture here," he said. "If have made a mistake--"
Littimer stood looking at the speaker with eyes like blazing stars. Just
for a moment or two he was speechless with indignation.
"You charlatan," he said, hoarsely. "You barefaced trickster."
Bell started back. His mute question stung Littimer to the quick.
"You wanted to be cleared," the latter said. "You wanted to befool me
again. You come here in some infernally cunning fashion, you steal my
picture from the frame and have the matchless audacity to pass it off for
a second one. Man alive, if it were earlier I would have you flogged from
the house like the ungrateful dog that you are."
Chris checked down the cry that rose to her lips. She saw, as in a flash
of lightning, the brilliancy and simplicity and cunning of Henson's
latest and most masterly scheme.
THE FRAME OF THE PICTURE
After the first passionate outburst of scorn Lord Littimer looked at his
visitor quietly. There was something almost amusing in the idea that Bell
should attempt such a trick upon him. And the listener was thoroughly
enjoying the scene now. There was quite an element of the farcical about
it. In the brilliant light she could see Littimer's dark, bitter face and
the helpless amazement on the strong features of Hatherly Bell. And,
meanwhile, the man who had brought the impossible situation about was
calmly sleeping after his strenuous exertions.
Chris smiled to herself as she thought out her brilliant _coup_. It
looked to her nothing less than a stroke of genius, two strokes, in fact,
as will be seen presently. Before many hours were over Henson's position
in the house would be seriously weakened. He had done a clever thing, but
Chris saw her way to a cleverer one still.
Meanwhile the two men were regarding one another suspiciously. On a round
Chippendale table the offending Rembrandt lay between them.
"I confess," Bell said, at length, "I confess that I am utterly taken by
surprise. And yet I need not be so astonished when I come to think of the
amazing cunning and audacity of my antagonist. He has more foresight than
myself. Lord Littimer, will you be so kind as to repeat your last
observation over again?"
"I will emphasize it, if you like?" Littimer replied. "For some deep
purpose of your own, you desired to make friends with me again. You tell
me you are in a position to clear your character. Very foolishly I
consent to see you. You come here with a roll of paper in your possession
purporting to be a second copy of my famous print. All the time you knew
it to be mine--mine, stolen an hour or two ago and passed instantly to
you. Could audacity go farther? And then you ask me to believe that you
came down from town with a second engraving in your possession."
"As I hope to be saved, I swear it!" Bell cried.
"Of course you do. A man with your temerity would swear anything.
Credulous as I may be, I am not credulous enough to believe that _my_
picture would be stolen again at the very time that you found _yours_"
"Abstracted by my enemy on purpose to land me in this mess."
"Ridiculous," Littimer cried. "Pshaw, I am a fool to stand here arguing;
I am a fool to let you stay in the house. Why, I don't believe you could
bring a solitary witness to prove that yonder picture was yours."
"You are mistaken, my lord. I could bring several."
"Credible witnesses? Witnesses whose characters would bear
"I fancy so," Bell said, quietly. "Two nights ago, for instance, I showed
the very picture lying before you to a lady of your acquaintance, Miss
Enid Henson. I couldn't have had _your_ picture two nights ago, could I?
And Miss Henson was graciously pleased to observe that I had been made
the victim of a vile conspiracy."
"Why do you insult me by mentioning that name?" Littimer said, hoarsely.
His face was very pale, and sombre anger smouldered in his eyes. "Tell me
you showed the thing to my wife next."
"I did," said Bell, coolly. "Lady Littimer was in the room at the time."
Something like a groan escaped from Littimer's pallid lips. The
smouldering light in his eyes flashed into flame. He advanced upon Bell
with a quivering, uplifted arm. Chris slipped swiftly out of the shade
and stood between the two men.
"Dr. Bell speaks the truth," she said. "And I am going to prove it."
Littimer dropped into a chair and gave way to silent laughter. His mood
had changed utterly. He lounged there, a cynical, amused man of the
"Upon my word, I am vastly obliged to you for your comedy," he said. "I
hope your salary as leading lady in Bell's company is a handsome one,
"Let us hope that it is more handsome than your manners, my lord," Chris
said, tartly. "I beg to remark that I have never seen Dr. Bell before.
Oh, yes, I have been listening to your conversation, because I expected
something of the kind. The Rembrandt was stolen some time before Dr. Bell
arrived here, and in due course I shall show you the thief. Lord
Littimer, I implore you to be silent and discreet in this matter. Have a
little patience. Quite by accident I have made an important discovery,
but this is hardly the place to discuss it. Before daylight I hope to be
able to prove beyond question that you have greatly wronged Dr. Bell."
"I shall be glad to be convinced of it," Littimer said, sincerely. "But
why this secrecy?"
"Secrecy is absolutely necessary for the conviction of the thief."
Bell looked eagerly at the speaker.
"I have not the remotest notion who this young lady is," he said, "but I
am greatly obliged to her."
"My secretary, Miss Lee," Littimer murmured; "an American from Boston,
and evidently a great deal cleverer than I gave her credit for, which
is saying a great deal. Miss Lee, if you know anything, I implore you
"Not here," Chris said, firmly. "Stone walls have ears. I tell you the
Rembrandt was stolen just before Dr. Bell reached the house. Also I tell
you it is imperative that nobody but ourselves must know the fact for the
present. You trust me, Lord Littimer?"
"I trust you as implicitly as I do anybody."
Chris smiled at the diplomatic response. She approached the panel of the
wall on which the Rembrandt had been fastened. She indicated the long
steel stays which had been clamped on to the iron frame. "Look at them,"
she said. "It was my suggestion that the stays should be attached to the
frame to prevent anything like this robbery. I made the stays secure
myself. And what happened to justify my prudence? Why, the very same
night somebody came here after the picture."
"Henson!" Littimer cried. "Ah! But he could have come openly."
"It is not in the nature of the man to do things openly," Chris went on.
"I know more about the man than you imagine, but that you are to keep to
yourself. He comes here in the dead of the night and he gets into the
house through an upstair window. A man of his bulk, if you please! And
he comes here hot-foot and breathless at a time when common prudence
should have kept him in bed. Why? Because he knows that Dr. Bell has the
other Rembrandt and will come to prove it, and because he knows that if
he can steal the Littimer Rembrandt he can precipitate the very impasse
that he has brought about. But he could not steal the picture because it
"You are a very clever young lady," Littimer said, drily. "You will tell
me next that you expected Henson to try this thing on."
"I did," Chris said, coolly. "I had a telegram to warn me so."
Littimer smiled. All this mystery and cleverness was after his own heart.
He lighted his cigarette and tendered his case in the friendliest
possible manner to Bell.
"Go on," he said, "I am deeply interested."
"I prefer not to go into details," Chris resumed. "All I ask you to do is
to be entirely guided by me when you have heard my story. I have admitted
to you that I knew when Henson was coming, and why am I interested?
Because it happens that Reginald Henson has greatly injured someone I
cared for deeply. Well, I fastened up the picture--he came. He sneaked in
like the thief that he was because his accomplice and tool had failed to
save him the trouble. Lord Littimer, I will not pain you by saying who
Henson's accomplice was."
Littimer nodded gloomily.
"Not that I blame that accomplice; he could not help himself. Ah, when
the whole truth comes to be told, what a black business it will be. Well,
Henson came to steal the picture and I caught him in the act. If you had
seen his fat, greasy, crestfallen face! Then he pretended that it was all
done for a jest and as a warning to Lord Littimer. And Lord Littimer, the
most cynical of men, allowed it to pass."
"I couldn't see what he had to gain," Littimer pleaded. "I don't now, as
a matter of fact."
"Neither will you for the present," said Chris. "Still, you will be so
good as to assume the same hospitality and courtesy towards Henson as you
extend at present."
"I daresay I can manage it," said Littimer, cynically. "I used to be a
society man once."
"Henson did not deceive me for a moment," Chris went on. "He was bound to
have the picture, and, being baffled one way, he tried another. Look
here, Lord Littimer. Let me assume for a moment that Dr. Bell came down
here to steal your picture, get rid of the frame, and palm off your own
engraving for another. Now, in the name of common sense, let me ask you a
single question. Could Dr. Bell have possibly known that the frame of the
Rembrandt was securely fastened to the wall and that I had attached it
quite recently? And could he in the short time at his disposal have
procured the necessary tools to cut away the stays? Again, Dr. Bell can
prove, I suppose, exactly what time he left London to-day. No, we must
look farther for the thief."
"There is something else also we have to look for," said Dr. Bell. "And
that is the frame. You say it was of iron and consequently heavy. The
thief would discard the frame and roll up the print."
"That is a brilliant suggestion," said Chris, eagerly. "And if we only
had the frame I could set Lord Littimer's doubts to rest entirely. I
happen to know that the real thief came and went by the cliff under the
terrace. If the frame was thrown into the gorse, there it--"
"Might stay for ages," Littimer exclaimed. "By Jove, I'm just in the mood
to carry this business a stage or two farther before I go to bed. Bell,
there are two or three cycle lamps in the gun-room. You used to be a
pretty fearless climber. What do you say to a hunt round for an hour or
two whilst the house is quiet?"
Bell assented eagerly. Chris waited with what patience she could command
till daylight began to show faintly and redly in the east. Then she heard
the sound of voices outside, and Littimer and Bell staggered in carrying
the frame between them.
"Got it," Littimer exclaimed, with the triumphant exultation of a
schoolboy who has successfully looted a rare bird's-nest. "We found it
half-way down the cliff, hidden behind a patch of samphire. And it
doesn't seem to be any the worse for the adventure. Now, Miss Wiseacre,
seeing that we have the frame, perhaps you will fulfil your promise of
convincing me, once and for all, that yonder Rembrandt cannot possibly
belong to me."
"I am going to do so," Chris said, quietly. "You told me you had to cut
the margin of your print by an inch or so round to fit that quaint old
frame. So far as I can see, the print before you is quite intact. Now, if
it is too large for the frame--"
Littimer nodded eagerly. Bell fitted the dingy paper to the back of the
frame and smiled. There was an inch or more to spare all round. Nobody
spoke for a moment.
"You could make it smaller, but you couldn't make it bigger," Littimer
said. "Bell, when I have sufficiently recovered I'll make a humble and
abject apology to you. And now, wise woman from the West, what is the
next act in the play?"
THE PUZZLING OF HENSON
Chris smiled with the air of one who is perfectly satisfied with her
"For the present I fancy we have done enough," she said. "I want to go to
bed now, and I want you both to do the same. Also I shall be glad if you
will come down in the morning as if nothing had happened. Tell Reginald
Henson casually that you have been convinced that you have done Dr. Bell
a grave injustice, and give no kind of particulars. And please treat Mr.
Henson in the same fashion as before. There is only one other thing."
"Name it, and it is yours," Littimer cried.
"Well, cut the margin off that print, or at any rate turn the margin
down, fit it into the frame, and hang it up as if nothing had happened."
Littimer looked at Chris with a puzzled expression for a moment, and then
his features relaxed into a satyr-like grin.
"Capital," he said, "I quite understand what you mean. And I must be
there to see it, eh?--yes, I must be there to see. I would not miss it
for strawberry leaves."
The thing was done and the picture restored to its place. Bell drew Chris
aside for a moment.
"Do you rise early in the morning?" he asked, meaningly.
"Always," Chris replied, demurely. "I find the terrace charming before
Bell was down betimes despite the fact that it had been daylight before
he was in bed. Along the terrace, looking over the cliffs, Chris was
already walking, a great cluster of red and yellow roses in her hand. She
looked as fresh and bright as if she and excitement were strangers. All
the same she seemed to avoid Bell's eyes.
"Isn't it lovely here?" she exclaimed. "And these roses with the dew
still upon them. Well, Dr. Bell, have you made fresh discoveries?"
"I have discovered that Henson is going to take his breakfast in bed,"
Bell said gravely. "Also that he requires a valet at half-past ten. At
that time I hope to be in the corridor with Lord Littimer and yourself.
Also I have made a further discovery."
"And what is that, Dr. Bell?"
"That you and I have met before--once before when I attended you in a
kind of official capacity, and when I behaved in a distinctly
discreditable professional manner. Dr. Walker was present. Dr. Walker
seems to have been singularly short-sighted."
The roses fell from Chris's hands on to the path. Her face had grown very
pale indeed; there was a frightened, appealing look in her eyes.
"Dr. Bell," she gasped, "do you suppose that anybody else knows--Henson,
for instance? And I imagined that I had utterly deceived him!"
Bell smiled meaningly.
"I don't think you need have the slightest anxiety on that score," he
said. "You see, Henson is comfortably assured that you are dead and
buried. Whereas I know all about it. Fortunately for me, I became mixed
up in this strange business on behalf of my friend, David Steel;
indeed, but for Steel, I should probably have given you away to our
"But surely you guessed that--"
"Not for the moment. You see, it was only a few minutes before that a
flood of interesting light had been let in upon Henson's character by
your sister to me, and my first idea was that Henson was poisoning you
for some purpose of his own. Subsequently Steel told me all about that
side of the story on our way back to Brighton."
"How did you penetrate my disguise?"
"My dear young lady, I have not penetrated your disguise. Your disguise
is perfect--so quaint and daringly original--and would deceive even
Henson's eyes. I guessed who you were directly I found that you were
taking a philanthropic interest in our friend. It came to me by a kind of
intuition, the knack that stood me in such good stead in my professional
days. When you said that you had been warned of Henson's coming by
telegram I was certain."
"Then perhaps you guessed that Enid sent me the telegram?"
"That was obvious. Also it was obvious that Henson brought Frank
"Oh, he did. It was Frank's mission to steal the picture. I confronted
him with a revolver and locked him in one of the bedrooms. It took all my
courage and good resolutions to prevent me from betraying myself to the
"Rather cruel of you, wasn't it?"
"Well, yes. But I wanted to make the exposure as complete as possible.
When the time comes to strip Reginald Henson of his pretentions and flog
him from the family, the more evidence we can pile up the better. But
Frank is not bad; he is merely weak and utterly in the power of that
man. If we can only break the bonds, Frank will be a powerful factor on
"I daresay. But how was the Rembrandt stolen? Littimer's, I mean."
"It was worked through an accomplice," Chris explained. "It had to be
done before you arrived. And there was no better time than night for the
operation. I guessed that when Henson drew the fact from me that I liked
the terrace after dinner. By a bit of good luck I found the accomplice
and himself together in the day; in fact, I forced Reginald's hand so
that he had to introduce me to the man."
"In which case you would know him again?"
"Of course. Presently I am going to show you a little more of the comedy.
Well, I was on the terrace pretty late when I heard dear Reginald down
the cliff calling for assistance. He pretended that he had slipped down
the cliff and could not get up again. By the aid of a rope that
fortunately happened to be close at hand I saved our dear friend's life.
I have learnt from one of the gardeners just now that Reginald placed the
rope there himself--a most effective touch, you must admit."
"Very," Bell said, drily. "But I quite fail to see why--"
"I am coming to that. Don't you see that if anything happened Reginald
could prove that he was not near the house at the time? But just before
that I saw his accomplice come up the cliff; indeed, he passed quite
close to me on his way to the house. Reginald quite overlooked this fact
in his heed for his own safety. When I had effected my gallant rescue I
heard an owl hoot. Now, there are no owls about here.
"I guessed what that meant--it was a signal of success. Then I went back
to the corridor and the Rembrandt was gone. The stays had been cut away.
At first I was dreadfully upset, but the more I thought of it the more
sure I was that it was all for the best."
"But you might have raised an alarm and caught the thief, who--"
"Who would have been promptly disclaimed by Reginald. Let me tell you,
sir, that I have the thief and the lost Rembrandt in the hollow of my
hands. Before the day is out I shall make good my boast. And there's the
It looked quite natural some time later for the three conspirators to be
lounging about the gallery when Henson emerged from his bedroom. He
appeared bright and smiling, and most of the bandages had been removed
from his throat. All the same he was not pleased to see Bell there; he
gazed uneasily at the doctor and from him to Littimer.
"You know Bell," the latter said, carelessly. "Fact is, there's been a
Bell offered him his hand heartily. It cost him a huge effort, but the
slimy scoundrel had to be fought with his own weapons. Henson shook his
head with the air of a man extending a large and generous meed of
forgiveness. He sought in vain to read Bell's eyes, but there was a
steady, almost boyish, smile in them.
"I indeed rejoice," he said, unctuously. "I indeed
He repeated the last word helplessly; he seemed to have lost all his
backbone, and lapsed into a flabby, jellified mass of quivering white
humanity. His vacant, fishy eyes were fixed upon the Rembrandt in a kind
of dull, sleepy terror.
"I'm not well," he gasped. "Not so strong as I imagined. I'll--I'll go
and lie down again. Later on I shall want a dogcart to drive me to
Moreton Wells. I--"
He paused again, glanced at the picture, and passed heavily to his room.
"Splendid," he said. "It was worth thousands just to see his face."
"All the same," Chris said, quietly; "all the same, that man is not to
leave for Moreton Wells till I've had a clear hour's start of him. Dr.
Bell will you accompany me?"
CHRIS HAS AN IDEA
Lord Littimer polished his rarely used eye-glass carefully and favoured
Chris with a long, admiring stare. At the same time he was wondering why
the girl should have taken such a vivid interest in Reginald Henson and
his doings. For some years past it had been Littimer's whim to hold up
Henson before everybody as his successor, so far as the castle went. He
liked to see Henson's modest smirk and beautiful self-abasement, for in
sooth his lordship had a pretty contempt for the man who hoped to succeed
him. But the will made some time ago by Littimer would have come as a
painful shock to the philanthropist.
"It is a very pretty tangle as it stands," he said. "Miss Lee, let me
compliment you upon your astuteness in this matter. Only don't tell me
you schemed your way here, and that you are a lady detective. I read a
good many novels, and I don't like them."
"You may be easy on that score," Chris laughed. "I am not a lady
detective. All the same, I have defeated Mr. Reginald Henson."
"You think he is at the bottom of the mystery of the other Rembrandt."
"I am certain of it; unless you like to believe in the truth of his
charming scheme to give you a lesson, as he called it. As a matter of
fact, Mr. Henson discovered the existence of the other print; he
discovered that Dr. Bell possessed it--the rest I leave to your own
astuteness. You saw his face just now?"
"Oh, yes. It was a fine study in emotions. If you could find the other
"I hope to restore it to you before the day has passed."
Littimer applauded, gently. He was charmed, he said, with the whole
comedy. The first two acts had been a brilliant success. If the third was
only as good he would regard Miss Lee as his benefactor for ever. It was
not often that anybody intellectually amused him; in fact, he must add
Miss Lee to his collection.
"Then you must play a part yourself," Chris said, gaily. "I am going into
Moreton Wells, and Dr. Bell accompanies me. Mr. Henson is not to know
that we have gone, and he is not to leave the house for a good hour or so
after our departure. What I want is a fair start and the privilege of
bringing a guest home to dinner."
"Vague, mysterious, and alluring," Littimer said. "Bring the guest by all
means. I will pledge my diplomacy that you have a long start. Really, I
don't know when I have enjoyed myself so much. You shall have the big
waggonette for your journey."
"And join it beyond the lodge-gates," Chris said, thoughtfully. "Dr.
Bell, you shall stroll through the park casually; I will follow as
casually later on."
A little later Henson emerged from his room dressed evidently for a
journey. He looked flabby and worried; there was an expression very like
fear in his eyes. The corridor was deserted as he passed the place where
the Rembrandt hung. He paused before the picture in a hesitating,
fascinated way. His feet seemed to pull up before it involuntarily.
"What does it mean?" he muttered. "What in the name of fate has happened?
It is impossible that Merritt could have played me a trick like that; he
would never have dared. Besides, he has too much to gain by following my
instructions. I fancy--"
Henson slipped up to the picture as a sudden idea came to him. If the
picture had not been removed at all the stays would still be intact. And
if they were intact Merritt was likely to have a bad quarter of an hour
later on. It would be proof that--
But the stays were not intact. The heads had been shaved off with some
cutting instrument; the half of the stays gleamed like silver in the
morning light. And yet the Rembrandt was there. The more Henson dwelt
upon it the more he was puzzled. He began to wonder whether some deep
trap was being laid for him.
But, no, he had seen no signs of it. In some way or another Bell had
managed to ingratiate himself with Littimer again, but not necessarily
for long, Henson told himself, with a vicious grin. Nor was Littimer the
kind of man who ever troubled himself to restrain his feelings. If he had
got to the bottom of the whole business he would have had Henson kicked
out of the house without delay.
But Littimer suspected nothing. His greeting just now showed that Bell
suspected nothing, because he had shaken hands in the heartiest manner
possible. And as for Miss Lee, she was no more than a smart Yankee girl,
and absolutely an outsider.
Still, it was dreadfully puzzling. And it was not nice to be puzzled at a
time when the arch-conspirator ought to know every move of the game.
Therefore it became necessary to go into Moreton Wells and see Merritt
without delay. As Henson crossed the hall the cheerful voice of Littimer
"Reginald," he cried, "I want your assistance and advice."
With a muttered curse Henson entered the library. Littimer was seated
at a table, with a cigarette in his mouth, his brows drawn over a mass
"Sit down and have a cigar," he said. "The fact is I am setting my
affairs in order--I am going to make a fresh will. If you hadn't come
down last night I should probably have sent for you. Now take my
bank-book and check those figures."
"Shall we be long?" Henson asked, anxiously.
Littimer tartly hoped that Henson could-spare him an hour. It was not
usual, he said, for a testator to be refused assistance from the chief
benefactor under his will. Henson apologized, with a sickly smile. He had
important business of a philanthropic kind in Moreton Wells, but he had
no doubt that it could wait for an hour. And then for the best part of
the morning he sat fuming politely, whilst Littimer chattered in the most
amiable fashion. Henson had rarely seen him in a better mood. It was
quite obvious that he suspected nothing. Meanwhile Chris and Bell were
bowling along towards Moreton Wells. They sat well back in the roomy
waggonette, so that the servants could not hear them. Chris regarded Bell
with a brilliant smile on her face.
"Confess," she said, "confess that you are consumed with curiosity."
"It would be just as well to acknowledge it at once," Bell admitted. "In
the happy old days your sister Enid always said that you were the clever
and audacious one of the family. She said you would do or dare anything."
"I used to imagine so," Chris said, more quietly. "But the life of the
last few years tried one's nerves terribly. Still, the change has done me
a deal of good--the change and the knowledge that Reginald Henson regards
me as dead. But you want to know how I am going to get the Rembrandt?"
"That is what is consuming me at present," Bell said.
"Well, we are going to see the man who has it," Chris explained, coolly.
"I have his address in Moreton Wells at the present moment, and for the
rest he is called the Rev. James Merritt. Between ourselves he is no more
a reverend than you are."
"And if the gentleman is shy or refuses to see us?"
"Then he will be arrested on a charge of theft."
"My dear young lady, before you can get a warrant for that kind of thing
you have to prove the theft, you have to swear an information to the
effect that you believe the property is in the possession of the thief,
and that is not easy."
"There is nothing easier. I am prepared to swear that cheerfully."
"That you actually know that the property is in the possession of
"Certainly I do. I saw him put it in his pocket."
Bell looked at the speaker with blank surprise. If such was the fact,
then Chris's present statement was exactly opposed to all that she had
said before. She sat opposite to Bell, with a little gleam of mischief in
her lovely eyes.
"You saw that man steal the Rembrandt?" Bell gasped.
"Certainly not. But I did see him steal my big diamond star and put it in
his pocket. And I can swear an information on _that_."
"I see that you have something interesting to tell me," Bell said.
"Oh, indeed, I have. We will hark back now to the night before last,
when Reginald Henson made his personal attempt to obtain the Rembrandt
and then played the trick upon you that was so very near to being a
"It would have been but for you," Bell murmured.
"Well, really, I am inclined to think so. And perhaps Lord Littimer would
have given you in custody on a second charge of theft. If he had done so
it would have gone hard with you to prove your innocence. But I am
wandering from the point. Henson failed. But he was going to try again. I
watched him carefully yesterday and managed to see his letters and
telegrams. Then I found that he had telegraphed to James Merritt, whose
address in Moreton Wells I carefully noted down. It did not require much
intellect to grasp the fact that this Merritt was to be the accomplice in
the new effort to steal the picture, Mr. Merritt came over and saw his
chief, with whom he had a long conversation in the grounds. I also forced
myself on Mr. Merritt's notice.
"He was introduced to me as a brand plucked from the burning, a
converted thief who had taken orders of some kind. He is a sorry-looking
scoundrel, and I took particular note of him, especially the horrible
"The what!" Bell exclaimed. "A thumb like a snake's head with a little
pink nail on it?"
"The same man. So you happen to have met him?"
"We met on our way here," Bell said, drily. "The rascal sent the dogcart
away from the station so that I should have to walk home, and he attacked
me in the road. But I half-expected something of the kind, and I was
ready for him. And he was the man with the thumb. I should have told you
all this before, but I had forgotten it in watching your fascinating
diplomacy. When the attack was defeated the rascal bolted in the
direction of the cliffs. Of course, he was off to tell Henson of the
failure of the scheme and to go on with the plot for getting the other
picture. If he had stolen my Rembrandt then the other would have
remained. I couldn't have turned up with a cock-and-bull story of having
started with the picture and being robbed of it by a total stranger in
the road ... But I am interrupting you."
"Well, I marked that thumb carefully. I have already told you that the
thief passed me on his way to the house when he came up the cliff. I was
leaning over the terrace when I saw him emerge into a band of light
caused by the big arc in the castle tower. I forgot that I was in deep
shadow and that he could not possibly see me. I jerked my head back
suddenly, and my diamond star fell out and dropped almost at the feet of
the intruder. Then he saw it, chuckled over it--placed it in his pocket.
I was going to call out, but I didn't. I had a sudden idea, Dr. Bell--I
had an idea that almost amounted to an inspiration."
Chris paused for a moment and her eyes sparkled. Bell was watching her
with the deepest interest and admiration."
"I let the man keep it," Chris went on, more slowly, "with an eye to the
future. The man had stolen the thing and I was in a position to prove
it. He would be pretty sure to pawn the star--he probably has done so by
this time, and therefore we have him in our power. We have only to
discover where the diamonds have been 'planted'--is that the correct
expression?--I can swear an information, and the police will
subsequently search the fellow's lodgings. When the search is made the
missing Rembrandt will be found there. Mr. Merritt would hardly dare to
"Even if he knew its real value, which I doubt," Bell said, thoughtfully.
"Henson would not tell his tool too much. Let me congratulate you upon
your idea, Miss Chris. That diamond star of yours is a powerful factor in
our hands, and you always have the consciousness of knowing that you can
get it back again. Now, what are we going to do next?"
"Going to call upon Mr. Merritt, of course," Chris said, promptly. "You
forget that I have his address. I am deeply interested in the welfare of