Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Four Faces by William le Queux

Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"She doesn't mean it. I am terrified of her now, Mike; I want to get
away from her, but I daren't. If I go, something awful will happen to
me--I know it will!"

Though I had long suspected it, only now did I realize the fearful hold
that this woman had obtained over Dulcie, who seemed hardly able any
longer to exercise her will. This, I knew, must in a measure be the
result of the woman's having hypnotized her. My mind was made up in
a moment.

"Dulcie," I exclaimed firmly, "you are coming with me to-night--you
understand? To-night--whether you take your things or not is not of
consequence. I'll see to everything. Don't return to your room. Don't
see Mrs. Stapleton again. Come with me--now."

Albeury appeared in the passage. Seeing us, he approached.

"Go at once, Mr. Berrington," he said in a tone of authority. "It is
even more serious than I thought. You haven't a moment to lose."

"I am taking Miss Challoner with me," I replied. "I refuse to leave her

He glanced at each of us in turn.

"Must you?" he said. "Why not leave Miss Challoner to me? I will answer
for her safety. I am too well known in Paris even for reckless people
such as we have to deal with now to attempt to oppose me or to do _me_
an injury."

"Either Miss Challoner comes with me, or I remain," I replied
stubbornly. Something seemed suddenly to have set me on my mettle. "But
how is it, Mr. Albeury," I added quickly, "that if these people know you
are connected with the police, and you know as much about them as you
appear to do, you can't at once have them arrested?"

"We require circumstantial evidence," he answered, "definite evidence of
some kind, which at present we haven't got. In cases such as this we
can't arrest on suspicion. Much of my information about these people
comes from George Preston. People of this description are extremely
difficult to arrest, because, in spite of what is practically known
about them, nothing against them can be proved. That is where their
cleverness comes in--no matter what they do, they keep out of reach of
the law. But come, Mr. Berrington, I must get you away at once--no,
don't return to your room," as I was moving in that direction, "Come
downstairs at once, and bring Miss Challoner with you--we won't go by
the lift, if you don't mind."

Dulcie had an evening wrap over her arm. Taking it from her, I wrapped
it about her shoulders, then slipped on the thin overcoat I had with me.

Quickly we followed Albeury to the end of the corridor. We were about to
descend the stairs, when an unexpected sight arrested our attention.



Up the great stairway, slowly, very carefully, came four men carrying a
stretcher. The form extended upon it was completely covered by a white
sheet, all but the feet--a man's feet. Behind and on each side were men,
apparently gentlemen, all strangers to me. So deeply occupied were their
thoughts, seemingly, that they appeared not to notice Albeury, Dulcie
and myself as we stepped aside to let them pass. For the moment my
attention was distracted. What had happened? Had there been an accident?
If so, who was the victim, and who were these men with him?

"Can you show me the way to room eight eight?" one of the leading
bearers asked as he came up to me. He stopped, waiting for me to answer,
and as he did so the men beside the stretcher gathered about me, so that
for the instant I lost sight of Dulcie, who had instinctively stepped
back a pace or two.

I indicated the whereabouts of the room.

"And can you tell me which is Mr. Berrington's room?" he then asked.

"Yes. But I am Mr. Berrington. What is it you want?"

"You are? Are you Mr. Michael Berrington?"


"Oh, then you had better come with us now."

"Whom are you carrying? What has happened?"

Without answering he moved onward down the corridor, with the stretcher.

I walked a little way ahead, and at the room numbered eighty-eight, Mrs.
Stapleton's room, I knocked.

Again I was face to face with the woman. Seated in an arm-chair, a
cigarette between her lips, she appeared to be reading a newspaper. Upon
seeing me she rose abruptly; then, as the covered stretcher was borne
slowly in, I saw the cigarette fall from her lips on to the floor, and
with surprised, frightened eyes, she gazed inquiringly at the bearers,
then down at the outline of the figure beneath the sheet.

"Who is it?" she gasped. "Tell me who it is, and why he has been brought

Nobody answered, though now the bearers, also the men who accompanied
them, had all crowded into the room.

Suddenly I noticed that the door of the room had been shut, and
instantly the thought came to me--

Where was Dulcie? What had become of her? Also where had Albeury gone?

Hardly had the thought flashed into my mind when I was pounced upon from
behind, a hand covered my mouth, my wrists were tied tightly behind me,
and my feet bound with a cord. Now I saw the figure that had lain
beneath the sheet upon the stretcher rise up of its own accord. The
covering fell away, and Gastrell stood before me. I saw him make a sign.
At once a gag was crammed into my mouth with great force, so that I
could neither cry out nor speak. In a few moments I had been lifted by
two men, extended on my back upon the stretcher, and the white cloth had
been thrown over me, covering me completely.

Now, the stretcher being raised, I knew that I was being conveyed along
the corridor. I was being carried down the stairs, slowly, carefully. In
the hall I heard a confused murmur of voices; somebody was telling
someone that "the poor fellow" was more seriously hurt than had at first
been supposed, and that they were taking him to the hospital. Suddenly I
recognized a voice. It was Albeury's, and he spoke in French. Presently
I knew that I was being carried out of the hotel, and down the hotel
steps. I was being lifted into a car. The ends of the stretcher rested
upon the seats. There were expressions of sympathy; questions were being
asked and answered in French; the door of the car was shut quietly, and
the car swept away.

For twenty minutes or more we passed through the streets of Paris,
slowing down at frequent intervals, turning often to right or left.
Gradually the sound of the traffic passing grew less, our speed
increased, and I judged that we must be out in the environs. Now we were
going slowly up a steep hill. We reached the top of it, and our speed
increased considerably.

On and on we sped. We must, I gathered, have travelled well over an
hour, and now be far out in the country. There was no light inside the
car, and though still covered by the sheet, I somehow seemed to feel
that the night was very dark. In what direction had we come?
Whereabouts, outside Paris, was that long hill up which we had travelled
so slowly?

Suddenly someone inside the car moved. An instant later the sheet over
my face was pulled back. In the darkness I could still see nothing, but
I felt that someone was staring down at me. How many occupants the car
contained, of course I could not tell. Still no one spoke, and for five
minutes or more the car tore faster and faster along the straight
country road.

Then, all at once, a light flashed in my eyes--the light of an electric

"You have but a few minutes to live," a man's voice exclaimed in a low
tone. "If you want to say your prayers, you had better do so now."

The voice was clearly Gastrell's. Now I realized that two men besides
myself were in the closed car. The light from the electric torch still
shone down upon my face. My eyes grew gradually accustomed to the bright
light, which had at first dazzled them.

"This is to be your fate," Gastrell continued a minute later. "At a spot
that we shall presently come to, far out in the country, fifty miles
from Paris, you will be taken out, bound as you are, and shot through
the head. The revolver has your initials on it--look."

He held something before my eyes, in such a way that I could see it
clearly in the disc of light. It was a pistol's grip. On it shone a
little metal plate on which I could distinctly see the engraved

"When you are dead, your wrists and legs will be released, and you will
be left by the roadside in the forest we are now in, the revolver, with
its one discharged chamber, on the ground beside you. Look, whose
handwriting is this?"

A letter was passed into the ring of light. I started, for the writing
was apparently my own, though certainly I had not written the letter. It
was written on notepaper with the Continental Hotel heading, and my
handwriting and signature had been forged--a wonderful facsimile of
both. On the envelope, which was stamped, were written, also apparently
by me, the name and address:

Holt Manor,
Holt Stacey,
Berkshire, England."

"My dear Dulcie," the letter ran, "I hope you will forgive the dreadful
act I am about to commit, and forget me as quickly as possible. I am not
insane, though at the inquest the coroner will probably return a verdict
of 'Suicide during temporary insanity.' But my life for years past has
been one continuous lie, and from the first I have deceived you most
shamefully. I asked you to become my wife, yet I am already married, and
have been for some years. Though I am very fond of you, I do not love
you, nor have I ever loved you. The things I have said and hinted about
your friend Mrs. Stapleton were all utterly false; they emanated
entirely from my imagination and were wholly without foundation. This is
all I have to say, except again--forgive me.

"Your sincere and miserable friend,

The letter was undated.

What my feelings were when I had read that letter, I find it impossible
to describe. The fury of indignation that surged up within me as the car
continued to glide smoothly along with unabated speed seemed to drive
from my thoughts the sensation of terror which had at first possessed
me. Death would be awful enough, especially such a death, but that
Dulcie should think I had intentionally and consistently deceived her;
that she should be made to believe I had never loved her and that I had
wantonly taken my life like a common coward, were too fearful to think
about. In an access of mad passion I wildly jerked my wrists again and
again in vain attempts to get free. My mouth was still gagged, or I
should have called loudly in the desperate hope that even in the
deserted spot we were in the cry might be heard and bring assistance.
Oh, those moments of frantic mental torture! To this day I can hardly
bear to think of them.

Gradually I grew calmer. The electric torch had been extinguished and we
still swept on through the darkness. If only the engine would give out,
I kept thinking; if only the car would for some reason break down; if
only an accident of any sort would happen, I might yet escape the
terrible fate awaiting me. To think that a crime such as this could be
committed with impunity; worse still, that my name should be handed down
to posterity dishonoured and disgraced. To be shot like a dog, with arms
and legs bound like a felon's! The more I strove to distract my thoughts
the more my mind dwelt upon the immediate future. What would Sir Roland
think, and Jack Osborne, and all my friends--even old Aunt Hannah? While
pretending to feel pity, how they would inwardly despise me for my
apparent cowardice--that cruel letter, too, it would be printed in the
newspapers. Yet even that I could have borne with fortitude, I thought,
if by some means Dulcie could be made to know that the letter which in a
day or two would be found upon my dead body had not been written by me,
and that I had not taken my life.

The car was slowing down. Presently it stopped. Once more the disc of
light shone down upon my face. Quickly my disguise as Sir Aubrey
Belston, which I still wore--wig, moustache and eyebrows, whiskers and
beard--was removed. Hurriedly my face and neck were rubbed all over with
a sponge soaked in some greasy liquid smelling strongly of turpentine,
then rapidly dried with a cloth. Next, two men raised me off the
stretcher, lifted me out of the car and set me on my feet, propping me
against the car to prevent my falling over, for my legs were still
tightly bound.

Instinctively I glanced about me. We seemed to be in the depths of some
forest. The road we were on was rather narrow. On both sides of it dark
pine trees towered into the sky, which itself was inky, neither moon nor
stars being visible.

A light breeze moaned mournfully up the forest. As I stood there,
unconsciously listening, the sound seemed to chill me. In vain I
strained my ears again in the mad hope that even at this last moment
help of some sort might arrive. To right and left I looked along the
road, but the blackness was as dense as the blackness of the sky above.

The lamps of the car had been extinguished. Now the only light visible
was the glow of the electric torch. For a moment it flashed upon a face,
and on the instant I recognized Gastrell, also a man I knew by sight
though not by name.

So these were my persecutors, two men moving in the best society, and
wholly unsuspected of anything approaching crime. They were to be my
murderers! Even in that moment of crisis I found myself unconsciously
wondering who the driver of the car could be, for obviously he too must
be implicated in this plot, and a member of the gang. Another thought
flashed through my mind. Which of all these criminals had done poor
Churchill to death? Which had assassinated Preston on board the boat,
leaving the impression that he had intentionally hanged himself? Was
Gastrell the assassin? Was--

"Here is a place--beside this tree."

The remark, uttered by the stranger, cut my train of thought. Now
Gastrell stood beside me. In one hand he held the torch. The fingers of
his other hand were unfastening my coat. Soon I felt him push his hand,
with a letter in it, into my inside pocket.

The letter intended for Dulcie! The letter which would besmirch my name,
dishonour and disgrace it for ever!

In a fit of mad frenzy I tugged wildly at my bonds again in frantic
attempts to free myself. As well might I have tried to free myself from
handcuffs. Calmly Gastrell rebuttoned my coat, heedless of my struggles.

"And when you are dead," he said quietly, "Holt Manor and estates, and
the Challoner fortune, will come eventually to my companions and myself,
for Connie, in spite of what she said, is going to marry Roland
Challoner, and I intend to marry Dulcie--if she likes it or if she
doesn't. So now you realize, I hope, when it is too late, how
ill-advised you and your folk were to attempt to overthrow our plans.
Several before you have tried, and all have failed; the majority are
dead. Very likely more will try, and they too will fail. You know the
fate of Churchill and of Preston. You know your own fate. Osborne has
saved himself by becoming one of us, for when he marries Jasmine he will
join us or else--"

He stopped abruptly. A moment later he added:

"Two of your friends we still have to reckon with, though neither counts
for much: Challoner's sister, and his son."

A cold sweat broke out upon me as the ruffian mentioned Dick. God! Was
it possible these fiends would wreak their vengeance on a mere boy? And
yet if they meant to, how could he escape them? How simple for such men
to get him in their power. Ah, if only I could have spoken I should, I
truly believe, have humiliated myself by beseeching the monsters to
spare poor little Dick.

"Come, hurry along," the stranger, who was standing by, exclaimed

"Bob," Gastrell called, without heeding the interruption.

At once the driver of the car approached. He spoke no word. The disc of
light shone upon his face and--"Pull your cap off," Gastrell
said sharply.

The fellow did so. As I stared hard at him, something in his face seemed
familiar to me. Fat and bloated though the face was, and though the eyes
sagged, in the man's expression there was something--

Gastrell turned to me.

"Don't you see the likeness?" he asked quickly.

Gagged as I was, of course I couldn't speak.

"Bob is Sir Roland's brother--Robert Challoner," he said. "At Holt his
name is never spoken, but you have heard of him. Bob Challoner was
kicked out of his home, first by his father, Sir Nelson Challoner, and
afterwards by his own brother, Sir Roland. I will now tell you it was
Bob who suggested the robbery at Holt, and who, with Connie, helped us
through with it. He is going now to see to it that Dulcie becomes
my wife."

"Stop your talk, for God's sake!" the stranger interrupted again, his
patience at an end. "Time is slipping by. Bring him here and
finish him."

They carried me a little way into the forest, then set me on my feet
again, propped against a tree. That I did not feel utterly terrified at
the thought of my approaching death astonished me. After the mental
torture I had endured, however, I felt comparatively calm.

Gastrell approached to within about a yard. Again the wind moaned up
through the forest. No other sound whatever broke the night's stillness.
Once more a disc of light shone straight into my eyes, though now from a
distance of a few inches only. I saw the muzzle of a pistol glitter
above the light--I knew now that the electric torch was connected with
the weapon.

There came a sharp, metallic "click," as Gastrell cocked the hammer.



A load report rang out just behind me. The light before my eyes
vanished. Something lurched up against my chest, knocking the breath out
of me, then collapsed in a heap on to the ground at my feet.

There was an instant's stillness. Now footsteps could be heard crackling
forward through the undergrowth. There came the sound of a heavy blow, a
stifled cry, a dull thud as though a body had fallen heavily. What had
happened? And what was happening? Helplessly I stared about me, striving
in vain to pierce the blackness of the forest. I heard people moving
close beside me, but no word was spoken.

Then suddenly someone touched me. The ropes which bound my wrists were
being severed with a blunt instrument. Now my legs were being released.
Some fragments of rope dropped to the ground. _I was free!_

Nowhere was there any light, and still nobody spoke. Taking me by the
arm, the man who had set me free led me forward through the darkness.
Now we were close to the car. Men were beside it, apparently very busy,
though what they were engaged in doing I could not ascertain. And then,
all at once, the road became flooded with light--the headlights of the
car had been switched on simultaneously.

Almost immediately I saw what was happening. Several large bags had
been placed inside the car, and others were being pushed in after them.
What did they contain? For the moment I was puzzled. Then suddenly the
obvious truth flashed across me. The group of men--I could see them
indistinctly in the darkness--must be poachers, and poaching out of
season I knew to be an offence punishable in France with a very heavy
sentence. There seemed to be five men engaged in handling the sacks,
while a sixth stood looking on.

"_Entrez_" a voice beside me said suddenly. At the same instant I was
gripped by the arm and pushed forward towards the car.

"Who fired that shot?" I exclaimed quickly, in French.

"I did--and saved your life," the man who held me answered. "Why?"

"And you killed him?"


"The report sounded like a rifle shot."

"It was a pistol shot. But what matters, so long as he is dead?"

"Have you his revolver? Did you pick it up?" I asked anxiously.


"Show me both pistols."

My thoughts were travelling with extraordinary rapidity. Rather to my
surprise he handed the pistols to me without a word. Quickly I held them
in the light cast by the car's lamps and hurriedly examined them. Yes,
both were weapons of the same calibre, both took the same cartridges.
Below the barrel of Gastrell's revolver was the small electric lamp from
which the light had shone on to my face. I gripped the pistol tightly
and the light shone out again.

"I will return here in a moment," I said in French, as I moved away, for
the man had released my arm.

With the help of the pistol glow-light I made my way back to the tree
where a few minutes before I had been propped up, helpless. On the
ground, close to the trunk, Gastrell's body lay huddled in a heap, a red
spot in the middle of his forehead showing that death must indeed have
been instantaneous. I had, however, no time for reflection. Quickly I
thrust my hand into the dead man's pockets, one after another. All were
empty--someone must already have gone through them. Glancing about me to
make sure I was not observed, I hastily transferred to the dead man's
pocket, from the inside pocket of my own coat, the letter which he
himself had placed there not ten minutes before. Then I rebuttoned his
coat, picked up the bits of severed rope lying about--the ropes that
previously had bound me--threw the pistol on to the ground close to the
dead man's hand, and turned to retrace my steps. Suddenly I stopped. I
had forgotten something. Picking up the pistol again I fired a shot into
the air, then once more threw it down. My ruse would have proved truly
futile had Gastrell's body been discovered, shot through the head, a
letter in his pocket pointing directly to suicide, and a revolver on the
ground--still loaded in every chamber!

A minute later I was hustled into the car, squeezed tightly between
several men. On the floor of the car were a number of large sacks,
exhaling an odour none too savoury. The door was slammed, I saw a figure
step on to the driving seat, and once more the powerful car shot out
into the night, its search-lamps lighting up the road as far as we
could see.

For a while nobody spoke.

"I don't know who you are," I said at last in French, breaking the
silence, "but I am most grateful to you for saving my life."

Still nobody uttered.

"On my return to England," I continued, "I shall prove my gratitude in a
way you may not expect. Meanwhile, I should like to know if you heard
what happened, what was said, after the car pulled up and I was lifted
out of it."

"We heard everything," one of the men answered in English, out of the
darkness. "The man who shot your enemy is driving this car now."

"And may I ask where we are going?" I said, as the car still tore along
the white, undulating road, scattering the darkness on either side and
far ahead, for we were still deep in the forest.

"Yes. We shall stop first at Chalons-sur-Marne, to deposit these," and
he indicated the sacks, which I had by now discovered contained dead
pheasants, tightly packed.

"And then?"

"You will see."

Later I gathered from them that the police, as well as gamekeepers, were
their deadliest enemies. That night, it seemed, they had been almost
captured by some of the forest keepers, who had succeeded in securing
their car. The car we were in, they told me quite frankly, they intended
to get rid of at once, in a far distant town. That town we were now on
our way to--after leaving Chalons we should not stop until we got there.
The car, they added, had happened to pull up close to where they lay
hidden. Upon discovering that it contained only four men, including the
driver, they had intended to overpower all of us and seize the car.
Then, overhearing some of the conversation, they had decided to pause
and await developments. Owing to that decision it was that my life had
so fortunately been saved.

"And how do you poach the birds?" I asked a little later; as they became
gradually more talkative we began to grow quite friendly.

They laughed.

"It is easily done," one of them answered, and went on to explain that
the method they adopted consisted in burning brimstone under the trees
where the pheasants roosted, the fumes causing the birds to tumble off
their perches and down to the ground.

They further told me that different parts of the forest teemed with
different kinds of game, and that most of it was preserved. In the
section we had just been in, pheasants were most abundant. Poached out
of season they were additionally valuable, being placed in cold storage
directly they were sold, and eventually exported. Equally ingenious were
the methods they employed for poaching other sorts of game--some of
these methods they described to me in detail--and certain dealers in the
town of Chalons, they ended, were always ready to receive it.

At last we passed out of the forest, which I felt glad to leave behind.
Now the road twisted a good deal, also it grew more hilly. The darkness,
however, became gradually less intense. In Chalons we pulled up in a
curious little street. The driver, having clambered down, knocked three
times at a small door. Instantly it was opened; the sacks, one after
another, were handed in, the door shut noiselessly, and once more we
started off.

"Have you any idea," I asked suddenly, "what became of the companions of
the man who meant to kill me?"

"Yes," came the immediate reply. "One of them attacked us, and was
knocked senseless."

"And the other?"

"I can't say. He suddenly disappeared. We emptied the dead man's pockets
to prevent, if possible, his identity being established. You might tell
us who he was, and all about him."

I had already told them a good deal, but now I told them more,
explaining, eventually, how I had come to be with Hugesson Gastrell and
his companion, and the wastrel, Robert Challoner; why they had wished to
murder me; how they had already murdered Churchill and George Preston,
and the reason they had done so. Miscreants of sorts themselves, as I
now knew, they became immensely interested. As we proceeded I told them
of the letter that Gastrell had pushed into my pocket, and how, on the
following day, it would be found in his own pocket.

"So that until I reveal myself," I added, "I shall, after the discovery
of that letter, be dead to my friends and relatives. That, according to
a plan I have now thought out, should facilitate my getting the gang
arrested, if not in France, at any rate in England."

On and on the car sped at the same regular speed. Village after village
was left behind. Now and again we skirted large towns, keeping, however,
well without their boundaries. What departments we travelled through I
had not the least idea. The driver's knowledge of the country was
remarkable. Upon my expressing surprise at the geographical knowledge he
possessed, they told me that at one time he had been chauffeur to a
nobleman who moved about a great deal.

When I pulled out my watch I found it was half-past two.

"I wish you would tell me how much further you are going," I said at
last, yawning. "How many more hours are we going on like this?"

"We are now on our way to Lyons," the man who had last spoken answered
quickly--the cigar that he was lighting cast a red glow in his face. "To
sell the car nearer Paris wouldn't be safe; besides, in Lyons we have a
purchaser awaiting it. We have passed Troyes, Chatillon, and Dijon. We
are now in the Department of Saône-et-Loire."

Again we sank into silence. The soft purring of the car seemed to
increase our drowsiness. Colder and colder the night air grew--in my
evening clothes and thin overcoat I felt it very keenly.

I suppose I must have dozed, for when, presently, I opened my eyes, the
streaks of dawn were visible. My neck and limbs were stiff, and, as I
looked about me dully, I saw that my companions one and all were
fast asleep.

I turned, rubbed the frosted glass in front of me, and peered out at the
driver. There he sat, motionless, almost rigid, his hands still gripping
the wheel, his gaze set straight ahead. That the cold outside must be
intense, I knew, yet he seemed not to notice it.

At a village beyond Louhans we stopped for breakfast, and to cool the
engine; but in less than half an hour we were on the road again. As the
car swiftly passed over one of the bridges in Lyons a church clock was
striking eight. Gradually slackening speed, we turned abruptly to the
right, then began a maze of narrow streets. At last, at a quiet-looking
hotel out on the road to Vienne, we stopped, and I knew that our journey
of three hundred miles or so was at last at an end.

_Café-au-lait_ was served for us in a private room on the first floor,
and I was able, for the first time, to scrutinize my companions closely.
Six in all, they certainly looked a dare-devil, reckless lot. To guess
from their appearance what their trade or calling had originally been
seemed impossible. Two of them might certainly have belonged to the
farmer class had the expression in their eyes been less cunning, less
intelligent. The man who had saved my life, and whom I judged to be
their leader, was tall, dark, thick-set, with a heavy beard and
moustache, and dark, deep-set eyes. His voice, full and resonant, was
not unpleasant. Seldom have I seen a man who looked so absolutely

It was, I suppose, the confidence they felt that I should not betray
them after what had happened that made them speak so freely before me.
That very morning, I gathered, they would rid themselves of the car to a
big receiver of stolen goods, whose headquarters were in Lyons, the
largest receiver of stolen goods in the whole of Europe, so they said.
With the money thus obtained they would buy a car to replace the one
seized on the previous night; it was interesting to find that these
lordly thieves and poachers found a car essential to enable them to
carry on their business.

The time for parting soon arrived, and once more I thanked my rescuer
and his accomplices for the great service they had rendered me. That a
human life should have been sacrificed was terrible to think of,
and yet--

The reflection that, but for the sacrifice of Gastrell's life, I should
myself have been lying dead, set my mind at ease; and after all, I said
mentally, the death of a man like Gastrell must do more good than harm.

The first thing I did after leaving them was to buy some clothes and
other necessaries, and a valise to pack them in. After that I set out
for a quiet stroll through the quaint old town, which I had never before
visited. Reviewing the situation, as I walked slowly along, and debating
in my mind whether to return to Paris or go straight back to England by
the next boat, various possibilities presented themselves in turn.
Virtually I was dead to all my friends in England, or I should be in a
day or two, when the letter which would be found in Gastrell's pocket
had been printed in the newspapers. That belief, I felt, would help me
to carry out the plan I had formed for discovering at first hand the
actual movements of the gang, some members of which would, I felt sure,
be present at Eldon Hall for the coming-of-age festivities of Lord
Cranmere's eldest son.

Yet what about Dulcie? I felt that I must see her, and see her as soon
as possible. That thought it was which now entirely obsessed me. To see
her meant, of course, that I must at once return to Paris, for almost
for certain she would still be there. True, her last words, uttered in
the corridor of the "Continental," had convinced me that she now
strongly suspected Connie, that she wished to get away from her. But
would she succeed in getting away? Already I had proofs of the woman's
extraordinary will power, and Dulcie, I knew, had been hypnotized by her
more than once. I had doubts of Dulcie's ability to resist the woman's
spell. Obviously, then, my duty lay before me. I must at once return to
Paris. I must see Dulcie again--if possible, see her in private. I must
get her away from that woman and take her back to England, no matter how
great the risk I might have to run. And what, I wondered suddenly, was
Albeury doing all this time?

Still pondering all this, I sauntered into a restaurant I happened to be
passing, ordered a bottle of wine, and asked for a copy of the latest
railway time-table.

The _rapide_ for Paris was due, I saw, to leave Lyons Perrache at eight
that night. That would suit me well, and I at once decided to go by it.
Then, having nothing to do until the time of starting, I once more
strolled out into the town.

A newsboy was shouting the news, and I bought a paper from him. Almost
the first headline upon which my glance rested stirred a recollection in
my mind. Where, before, had I heard that name--"the Duchesse de
Montparnasse"? Ah, now I remembered. When Jack Osborne, confined so
mysteriously in the house in Grafton Street, in London, had been
cross-questioned in the dark, he had been asked various questions
concerning the Duchesse de Montparnasse. And now, right before me, was
an account of a strange robbery, a robbery committed the day before at
the Duchesse's great château on the Meuse!

At once I guessed that this robbery must be yet another of the gang's
outrages. My suspicion became conviction when, on reading further, I
learned that it had taken place on the occasion of a great reception,
when the servants at the château had been busily engaged. The goods
stolen, the report ended, were valued at many thousands of pounds.

Finding little else of interest in the paper, I continued my ramble.
Glancing at my watch I found it was past six. At that moment it was
that, turning aimlessly into a side street, I came suddenly face to face
with François, my rescuer.

"We seem fated to meet!" he exclaimed in his patois French, and he

He looked hard at me for some moments; then, as though his mind were
suddenly made up, he said abruptly:

"I wonder, Mr. Berrington--I fancy that by nature you are
inquisitive--if you would like to see something you have never seen
before. I don't believe you fully realize how implicitly I now trust
you. I should like to prove it to you."

"I should like to see it, immensely," I answered, wondering what on
earth, in the nature of a novelty, such a man could have to show me.

"Come," he said in the same tone, linking his arm in mine. "I will show
it to you now. As I say, I have no fear at all that you will betray me,
yet there isn't another living person, excepting my own accomplices, I
would take where I am going to take you now."

Down the side street he had just come up I followed him. We turned to
the right again, then to the left. A little further on he stopped at a
greengrocer's shop, a small, insignificant shop with one window only.

"Wait here," he said as he entered.

A minute later he reappeared and beckoned to me.

"My friend," he said, presenting me to a cadaverous man of middle age,
with a thin, prominent, rather hooked nose, high cheek-bones, and
curious eyes of a steely grey, which bushy eye-brows partly concealed.

The man looked at me keenly, but he neither smiled nor spoke, nor did he
offer to shake hands.

We were now inside the shop. Quickly we passed into an inner room, and
thence to a room beyond it. This room was lined apparently with
bookshelves. Advancing to a corner of it, after carefully locking the
door, the cadaverous man, standing on tiptoe, pressed what appeared to
be a book in the topmost shelf. At once a door in the bookshelves
opened. In silence we followed him through it, and the door shut
noiselessly behind us.

I suppose we had walked ten or twelve yards along the narrow,
low-ceilinged, uncarpeted passage, lit only by the candle lantern that
our guide had unhooked from a nail in the wall, when he suddenly stopped
and bent down. Now I saw that he was lifting the boards, one after
another. A few moments later the upper rungs of a ladder became visible.
François descended, I followed carefully--I counted fifteen rungs before
I reached the ground--and the gaunt man came after me, shifting the
boards back into position above his head when he was half-way down
the ladder.

The darkness here was denser than it had been in the passage above, but
the lantern served its purpose. We were in a much narrower passage now,
so low that we had to stoop to make our way along it. The ceiling was
roughly hewn, so was the ground we walked upon. Half a dozen steps along
the rough ground and we stopped again. Facing us was a low, extremely
narrow door, apparently an iron door--it resembled the door of a safe.
Fitting a key into it, the gaunt man pushed it open, and one by one
we entered.

At once I became aware of a singular change in the atmosphere. In the
narrow, cavernous, obviously subterraneous little passage we had just
left the air had been humid, chill, and dank, with an unpleasant earthy
odour. Here it was dry and stuffy, as if heated artificially. So intense
was the blackness that I seemed almost to feel it. There was a dull
thump. Turning, I saw that the cadaverous man had shut this door too.
Just as I was wondering why he took such precautions something clicked
beside me, and the chamber was flooded with light.

For an instant the glare blinded me. Then, as I looked about me, the
sight that met my gaze made me catch my breath. Was this an Aladdin's
Palace I had suddenly entered? Had my brain become deranged, causing a
strange, an amazing hallucination? Or was I asleep and dreaming?



Never shall I forget that astounding spectacle. Even as I think of it
now, it rises once more before me.

The room, though low, was very long and very broad; I guessed at once
that originally it must have been a cellar, or possibly a series of
cellars. Now as the brilliant electric rays from a dozen powerful
ceiling lamps shone down through their tinted shades, they lit up a
collection of treasure such as few indeed can have gazed upon.

Heaped upon trays on tables all about the room were unset precious
stones of every conceivable description, which glittered and
scintillated in the most wonderful way imaginable. Upon the floor, in
rough, uncovered boxes, heaps of gold bracelets and brooches, gold rings
and gold chains, gold ornaments and trinkets, and bits of miscellaneous
jewellery were piled high in inextricable confusion, as though they had
been tossed there to be thrown on to a waste heap. Upon the ground were
bars of gold, the thickness of a brick, ranged carefully in rows. At one
end of the room was a small smelting furnace, not now alight, and above
it an iron brazier. Upon the walls hung sets of furs, many seal-skin and
ermine, while at one side of the room, upon the ground, lay piled up
some thousands of silver spoons and forks, also silver drinking cups
and candlesticks, many silver salvers, and an endless assortment of
silver articles of every kind.

When at last I had recovered from my astonishment, I turned abruptly to
François, who stood at my elbow.

"This, I suppose," I said, speaking in a whisper, "is a sort of
clearing-house for stolen property."

He nodded.

"The largest in the whole of France"--he added a moment later, "the
largest, possibly, anywhere in Europe. Stolen goods come here from all
the Continental centres; also from Great Britain, the United States, and
even from Australia."

"But surely," I said, "the police know of this place?"

"They know that it exists, but they don't know where it is. You see how
implicitly I trust you, what faith I place in the honour of--a

"I think not," I corrected. "You know that my tongue is tied--because
you saved my life. That is why you trust me."

He smiled grimly.

"But why have you brought me here?" I asked, after a pause.

"For the reason I have named--to show how implicitly I trust you."

It was only then that a thought flashed in upon me.

"You say," I exclaimed sharply, "that jewellery stolen in Great Britain
sometimes finds its way here?"

"Most of the English stuff is got rid of in this room."

"And are you--do your--your 'clients' tell you where the 'stuff' comes

"Always," the gaunt man answered. "That is a condition of my taking it
off their hands. You will understand that large rewards are sometimes
offered for the return of property intact and uninjured."

I paused to collect my thoughts before speaking again, anxious not to
make a false step.

"Can you recollect," I said at last, "if jewellery taken from a country
house in Berkshire, England--the house is called Holt Manor--just after
Christmas, ever found its way here?"

The gaunt man reflected for a moment. Then, without speaking, he walked
across the room, unlocked the door of a little safe which was let into
the wall, took from the safe a fat, leather-bound ledger, opened it, and
ran his finger down a page.

"Yes," he said in his deep voice. "The property was valued at about
twelve or fourteen thousand pounds. I have here a list of the articles."

Turning, he peered oddly at me out of his strange eyes.

"May I see the list?" I asked quickly.

"Have you a reason for wanting to see it?"

"Yes. Some of the jewellery taken had been generations in the family. If
it is intact still, I may be able to get a fancy price offered for it,
or for some of it."

"_Bien_" he said. "Much of the stuff has been melted down, but not all."

I read carefully down the list, which, arranged neatly and
systematically, showed at once what had been melted down, and how it had
been disposed of, while a complete list was given of articles kept
intact. Among the latter I recognized several bits of jewellery which
Dulcie had greatly valued, and quickly I arranged with the gaunt man to
buy them from him then and there. After that the three of us sat talking
for a considerable time, and before the time arrived for me to leave I
knew beyond doubt that the jewellery I had caught sight of when Connie
Stapleton's bag had burst open in the train had been the jewellery, or
some of it, stolen on board the boat.

"Some day we may meet again," I said as I parted from François and his
companion, in the little greengrocer's shop.

"Some day we shall," the cadaverous man answered in a strange voice. He
extended his hand, and I shook it. A minute later I was in a taxi,
hurrying through the streets of Lyons towards the Perrache station.

As the express sped rapidly towards Paris, endless strange reflections
and conjectures crowded my brain. Was I acting wisely in thus returning
to the French capital, where I might so easily be recognized, seeing how
anxious I was that my friends in England should think me dead? I was--I
knew--though I did not admit it even to myself--returning to Paris
mainly in the hope that I might catch a glimpse of Dulcie. And yet if I
did see her, of what use would it be? Also, what should I do? Let her
recognize me, and the plan I had formed to get the scoundrels arrested
would most likely be spoiled at once--and more than ever I was now
determined to bring them to justice in the end.

I fell into a deep sleep, for I was tired out; I had slept little enough
during that night-long journey in the stolen car. When I awoke, the
train was steaming into Paris; an official, who had aroused me by
rubbing his hand upon my cheek, stood awaiting a _pourboire._

"Go to the Hotel Continental," I said in French to the driver of the
taxi into which I had just stepped with my newly-bought valise. "Get
there as quickly as you can."

That I was doing a mad thing in thus returning to the hotel, where in
all probability the members of the gang were still staying, I knew. But
a man in love hardly reckons with risks, and as I lay back in the taxi,
my brain awhirl, I knew that I was as desperately in love as it is
possible for man to be.

Paris--gay Paris--looked gloomy enough in the dull blue haze which hung
over and partly enveloped its deserted, dreary streets. Happening to
glance up at the windows of a house with green sun-shutters half open,
my eyes met those of a faded girl with touzled hair, peering down into
the street, and mechanically she ogled me. In disgust I averted my gaze,
hating, for the moment, my own sex, which made such women possible. On
and on the car rolled. Some revellers in dishevelled evening clothes,
their eyes round and staring, their faces ghastly in the morning light,
stumbled out beneath an archway above which a lamp burned dully with an
orange glow.

Everything and everyone seemed only half awake. The reception clerk at
the hotel was sulky and inclined to be argumentative. Yes, he was
positive, he said in reply to my inquiry, that nobody of the name of
Challoner was staying at the hotel,--no, nor yet of the name of
Stapleton. They had slept there the night before? Yes, that was quite
possible, but he was not concerned with people who had stayed there,
only with the people who were there then. He had no idea, he added, at
what time they had left, nor yet where they had gone--and did I need a
room, or didn't I? Because if I didn't I had better go away.

His impertinence annoyed me, but I had too much to think about to have
time to lose my temper. I told him I needed a room, and I sent up my
valise. A bath, a shave and a change of clothes braced me considerably,
and by the time I reached the coffee-room I felt thoroughly refreshed.

What adventures had befallen me since I had breakfasted in that room,
only forty-eight hours before, I reflected, as the waiter approached
with the _Figaro_. Breakfast was laid for a hundred or more, but barely
a dozen people were in the room. All were strangers to me, so I soon
became engrossed in the newspaper.

My attention was distracted by the waiter, who, again approaching,
turned up two chairs at my table.

"With all those tables empty," I said to him with a wave of the hand,
"you can surely put people elsewhere. I don't want strangers here."

He smiled pleasantly, showing extraordinarily white teeth.

"A gentleman and lady wish to sit at monsieur's table," he said, bowing
politely, and still smiling.

"Monsieur will not object?"

He seemed so amiable that I felt I couldn't be rude to him.

"But who are the lady and gentleman? And why did they specify this
table?" I asked, puzzled.

The waiter gave a little shrug, raising his eyebrows as he did so.

"How can I tell?" he answered. "They come to the door a moment ago,
while monsieur is reading his newspaper; they see monsieur; they speak
_ensemble_ in whispers for some moments, it would seem about monsieur;
and then they call me and tell me to serve their _déjeuner_ at
monsieur's table."

Hardly had he stopped speaking, when my gaze rested upon two people who
had just entered and were approaching.

One was the police official, Victor Albeury. The other was Dulcie

They greeted me with, I thought, rather exaggerated nonchalance as they
came up, then seated themselves, one on either side of me, Albeury
telling the waiter to "hurry up with the breakfast that he had ordered
five minutes ago."

I was puzzled, rather than surprised, at the matter-of-fact way that
Albeury and Dulcie conversed with me--few things astonished me now. Had
we all been on the best of terms, and met after being separated for half
an hour or so, they could hardly have been more composed. For five
minutes we discussed commonplace topics, when suddenly I noticed that
Albeury was looking at me very hard. Dulcie, too, seemed to have grown
curiously uneasy.

"Whereabouts is he?" Albeury said quickly in a low tone, glancing
sharply at Dulcie. The door was at the back.

"Gone," she whispered. She seemed greatly agitated.

"Mr. Berrington," Albeury said hurriedly, his eyes set on mine, "I
suspect that man. They all left last night. He arrived just before they
left. I happened to see Doris Lorrimer engaged in earnest conversation
with him."

"Of whom are you speaking?" I asked, not understanding.

"Of the waiter at this table--that polite, unctuous man I saw talking
to you. Listen. I have rescued Miss Challoner from Stapleton and her
accomplices. We are going to leave Paris for London in less than half an
hour; it's not safe for Miss Challoner to stay here longer. And you must
travel with us. It is imperative that you should. I can't say more to
you now, while that man is hanging about. Tell me quickly, before he
returns: what happened to you yesterday? Where were you last night?"

"Oh, Mike!" Dulcie interrupted, "if you only knew the mental agony I
have suffered, all that I endured last night--Mike, I dreamed that you
were dead, I dreamed that they had killed you!"

I stared at her, startled.

"They tried to," I almost whispered. "But they failed, and now I--"

"Mr. Berrington," Albeury cut in, "you must forgive my brusqueness--your
breakfast will be brought to you in a moment; when it is, don't eat it.
Make any excuse you like, but don't eat it."

"Good God!" I exclaimed, instantly guessing his thought, "surely you
can't suppose--"

"I can, and do suppose. More than that, I am practically certain that--"

He cut his sentence short, for Dulcie had signalled with her eyes. The
waiter had re-entered the room.

I breathed more freely when at last the three of us were on our way to
the railway station. Strange as it may seem, I had experienced some
difficulty in ridding myself of the officious attentions of the smiling,
smooth-tongued, extremely plausible waiter.

On board the steamer, in a corner of the saloon where none could
eavesdrop, I related to Dulcie how I had been bound, gagged, borne out
of the hotel upon the stretcher concealed beneath a sheet, and all that
had subsequently occurred that I felt justified in telling her. Of the
thieves' clearing-house in Lyons and my rescuer's connection with it,
also of the discovery of the whereabouts of her stolen property, I could
of course say nothing, my lips being in honour sealed.

A little later, as beneath the stars we slowly paced the deck--the sea
was wonderfully smooth for the end of February--Dulcie opened her heart
to me, as I had so long hoped she some day would.

"Oh, if only you knew," she suddenly exclaimed in an access of emotion,
after I had, for a little while, tried to draw her on to talk about
herself, "if only you knew all that I have been through, Mike, you would
be sorry for me!"

"Why don't you tell me everything, my darling?" I answered gently, and,
almost without my knowing it, I drew her closer to me. "You know--you
must know, that I won't repeat to a living soul anything you may say."

"Oh, yes, Mike, of course I know," she said, pressing my hands in hers,
as though she sought protection, "but there is--"

"There is what?"

She glanced to right and left, up the dark deck, and down it, then gave
a little shudder. But for ourselves, the deck was quite deserted.

"I hardly know," she almost whispered, and I felt her trembling
strangely. "Somehow I feel nervous, frightened. I feel as if some danger
were approaching--approaching both of us."

Again she looked about her. Then, as I spoke soothingly, she gradually
grew calmer.

"I was very, very fond of Connie Stapleton, you know," she said
presently, "and I thought that she liked me. That time, at Holt, when
you warned me to beware of her, I felt as if I hated you. She influenced
me so strangely, Mike,--I cannot explain how. Mike, my darling, I tell
you this now because somehow I feel you will forgive me, as at last it's
all over. It seems so odd now to think of it, but as I grew to love her
my love for you seemed to grow less--I knew from the first that she
detested my loving you so, and if I spoke much about you to her it
annoyed her. She wanted to destroy my love for you, Mike, but never, all
the time I have been with her, did I say a word against you. Do you
believe me when I tell you that?"

Later she told me that the woman had quite recently hinted at her doing
certain things she hardly dared to think about, and that, the very day
before, she had disclosed a horrible plan which she had formulated, in
which Dulcie was to play a very important part--a plan to do with a
robbery on a very extensive scale.

"Oh, Mike, Mike," she went on, "I must have been mad during these past
weeks to have listened to what she hinted at--I was mad, or else she had
completely hypnotized me. You remember Mr. Osborne's being taken to that
house in Grafton Street, and kept there in confinement, and the telegram
I received that was supposed to come from you? Well, I know now who it
was who kept him there a prisoner, and came to him in the dark, and
questioned him, and tried to get him to reveal information which he
alone could give. The man who did all that was--"

A footstep just behind us made us both turn quickly. A faint light still
shone along the almost dark deck. Before I could recognize the figure,
before I had time to speak, Dulcie had sprung suddenly forward and
gripped the muffled man by the arm.

"Father!" she exclaimed under her breath, with difficulty controlling
her emotion, "father, what are you doing here?"



Sir Roland, whose appearance the cap pulled over his eyes had partly
disguised, made a motion with his hand, enjoining silence. Then, linking
Dulcie's arm in his, he walked slowly towards the saloon entrance. I
walked beside them, but for the moment nobody spoke.

We presently found ourselves in a small, deserted room, apparently a
card room. Here, after carefully shutting the door, Sir Roland seated
himself. Then he indicated the seats that he wished us each to occupy,
for he was rather deaf.

"It is unwise," he said, as he offered me a cigar, "ever to converse
privately on the deck of a steamer. Though I have travelled little by
sea, I know that on board ship, especially on a small boat like this,
voices carry in an extraordinary manner. Standing down wind of you, on
deck, some moments ago, I heard your remarks quite distinctly, in spite
of my deafness. I even recognized your voices--until then I did not know
you were on board."

"But why are you here, father?" Dulcie exclaimed. "When did you leave

"I crossed the night before last. Connie wired to me to come at
once--she said in her telegram 'most urgent,' though she gave no reason
for the urgency."

"And have you seen her? Where is she now?"

"I was to meet her in the lounge of the Hotel Bristol in Paris last
night. Punctually at nine o'clock, the time arranged, I arrived there. I
waited until nearly ten, and then a messenger arrived with a note. It
was from her. She said in it that she had been telegraphed for to return
to England, that she was leaving by the night boat. She expressed deep
regret, and said she hoped that I would come back to London as soon as
possible--and so here I am."

Again, for some moments, nobody spoke. Dulcie was the first to break the

"Father," she exclaimed impetuously, "are you really going to--are you
still determined to marry that woman?"

Sir Roland stared at her.

"'That woman'?" he said in surprised indignation. "Whom do you mean by
'that woman'?"

"Connie Stapleton, father," she answered, looking him full in the eyes.
"Have you the least idea who and what she is?"

Sir Roland gazed at her aghast. Then, obviously controlling himself:

"I know that she has done me the honour of accepting my offer of
marriage," he replied, with cold dignity. "More than that, I don't ask
to know; her circumstances don't interest me; my fortune is ample
for both."

Dulcie made a gesture of impatience.

"For goodness' sake, father," she exclaimed, "how can you talk like
that? Connie Stapleton is--"

She turned to me abruptly.

"Oh, Mike," she said in a tone of great vexation, "tell him
everything--I can't."

I cleared my throat to gain time to collect my thoughts. Sir Roland's
rather dull stare was set upon my face inquiringly, though his
expression betrayed astonishment and keen annoyance.

"It's just this, Sir Roland," I said at last, bracing myself to face an
unpleasant task. "You, Dulcie, and I too, have been completely taken in
by Mrs. Stapleton. We believed her to be as charming as she certainly is
beautiful, we thought she was a lady, we--"

"'Thought'!" Sir Roland interrupted, cold with anger. "I still consider
her to be--"

"Will you let me finish? I say we all thought that, I say we supposed
that Mrs. Stapleton was just one of ourselves, a lady, an ordinary
member of society. Then circumstances arose, events occurred which
aroused my suspicions. At first I tried to dispel those suspicions, not
only because I liked the woman personally, but because it seemed almost
incredible that such a woman, mixing with the right people, received
everywhere, could actually be what the circumstances and events I have
hinted at pointed to her being. But at last proof came along that Mrs.
Stapleton was--as she is still--a common adventuress, or rather an
uncommon adventuress, a prominent member of a gang of clever thieves, of
a clique of criminals--"

"Criminals!" Sir Roland stormed, bursting suddenly into passion. Often I
had seen him annoyed, but never until now had I seen him actually in an
ungovernable fury. "How dare you say the lady I am about to marry

"I have proofs, Sir Roland," I cut in as calmly as I could. "You may
doubt my word, you can hardly doubt the word of a famous Continental
detective. He is on board. I will bring him here now."

As I quietly rose to leave the room, I saw Sir Roland staring, half
stupidly, half in a passion still, from Dulcie to me, then back again at
Dulcie. Before he could speak, however, I had left the little room and
gone in search of Victor Albeury. He was not in his cabin, nor was he in
the smoking-room, where men still sat playing cards, nor was he in the
big saloon. On the forward deck I found him at last, a solitary figure
leaning against the stanchion rail, smoking his pipe, and gazing
abstractedly out across the smooth sea, his eyes apparently focussed
upon the black, far-distant horizon.

Gently I tapped him on the arm, as he seemed unaware of my approach.

"Well, Mr. Berrington," he said calmly, without looking round or moving,
"what can I do for you?"

"Please come at once," I exclaimed. "Sir Roland and Miss Challoner are
in the small saloon; we have been trying to explain to Sir Roland that
the woman Stapleton is an adventuress. Probably you don't know that she
is engaged to be married to Sir Roland. He won't believe a word we say.
We want you to come to him--to speak to him and open his eyes."

It was no easy matter, however, to get the old man to believe even
Albeury's calm and convincing assurance that Connie Stapleton belonged
to a gang of infamous people, some of whom we knew beyond question to be
cold-blooded assassins. It was due, indeed, largely to Albeury's
remarkable personality that in the end he succeeded in altering the
opinion Sir Roland had held concerning this woman of whom he was
evidently even more deeply enamoured than we already knew him to be.

"But she has been such a close friend of yours, Dulcie," he said at
last, in an altered tone. "If she is all that you now say she is, how
came you to remain so intimate with her all this time?"

"She has tricked me, father, just as she has hoodwinked you," she
answered, with self-assurance that astonished me. "And then she seemed
somehow to mesmerize me, to cast a sort of spell over me, so that I came
almost to love her, and to do almost everything she suggested. By
degrees she got me in her power, and then she began to make proposals
that alarmed me--and yet I was drawn to her still. Once or twice Mike
had warned me against her, but I had refused to believe his warnings. It
was only two days ago that the crisis came. She didn't ask me to do what
she wanted; she told me I _must_ do it--and then, all at once, the
scales seemed to fall from my eyes. At last her true nature was revealed
to me. It was an awful moment, father--awful!"

Far into the night the three of us remained talking. At last, when we
rose to separate, Albeury turned to me.

"I sleep with you in your cabin to-night, Mr. Berrington," he said
quietly. "And I have arranged that one of the stewardesses shall share
Miss Challoner's cabin. Nobody can tell what secret plans the members of
this gang may have made, and it's not safe, believe me it isn't, for
either of you to spend the night unprotected. Locks, sometimes even
bolts, form no barrier against these people, some of whom are almost
sure to be on board, though I haven't as yet identified any among the
passengers. You will remember that Lady Fitzgraham's cabin was ransacked
last week, though she was in it, and the door locked on the inside. And
poor Preston--we can't risk your sharing his fate."

These ominous warnings would assuredly have filled me with alarm, had
not Albeury's calmness and complete self-possession inspired me with a
strange confidence. Somehow it seemed to me that so long as he was near
no harm could befall either Dulcie or myself. Even Preston's presence
had never inspired such confidence as this clever and far-seeing
detective's presence had done ever since I had come to know him.

But nothing happened. When I woke next morning, after a night of sound
rest, the boat was steaming slowly into port.

Together the four of us journeyed back to town, and for the first time
for many weeks I had an opportunity of a lengthy talk with Dulcie.
Somehow her association with the woman Stapleton seemed to have
broadened her views of life, though in all other respects she was
absolutely unchanged. To me she seemed, if possible, more intensely
attractive and lovable than during the period of our temporary
estrangement--I realized now that we had during those past weeks been to
all intents estranged. Perhaps, after all, the singular adventures she
had experienced--some which she related to me were strange indeed--had
served some good purpose I did not know of. What most astonished me was
that, during those weeks which she had spent in close companionship with
Stapleton, Gastrell, Lorrimer, and other members of the criminal
organization, nothing had, until quite recently, been said that by any
possibility could have led her to suppose that these friends of hers, as
she had deemed them to be, were other than respectable members of
society. Certainly, I reflected as she talked away now with the utmost
candour and unconcern, these people must constitute one of the cleverest
gangs of criminals there had ever been; the bare fact that its members
were able to mix with such impunity in exclusive social circles
proved that.

Before the train left Newhaven I had bought a number of newspapers, but
not until we were half-way to London did it occur to me to look at any
of them. It was not long, then, before I came across an announcement
which, though I had half expected to see it, startled me a little. The
report of my supposed suicide was brief enough, and then came quite a
long account of my uneventful career--uneventful until recently. Turning
to Dulcie, who, seated beside me, was staring out at the flying scenery,
I handed her one of the papers, indicating the paragraph.

"Good heavens, Mike!" she exclaimed when she had read it. "How awful!
Supposing I had read that without knowing it to be untrue!"

She held out the paper to Sir Roland.

"Father, just read that," she said.

He had heard me relate to Dulcie the story of my narrow escape in the
forest near Martin d'Ablois, and I was pleased to see a smile at last
come into his eyes, for since his cruel disillusionment he had looked
terribly depressed.

"After all," I said as he put the paper down, "I am glad I returned to
Paris, if only because my doing so has saved you from this shock."

"If I had read that, believing it to be true," he answered quietly, "the
shock would probably have killed me."

"Killed you!" I exclaimed. "Oh, no, Sir Roland, a little thing like that
would not have killed you; a family like yours takes a lot of
killing--the records in history prove that."

He gazed at me with a strange seriousness for some moments. At last he

"Michael," he said, and there was an odd catch in his voice, "I wonder
if you have the remotest conception of the strength of my attachment to
you. I don't believe you have. And yet I could hardly be more attached
to you than I am if you were my own son."

When, after parting from Sir Roland and Dulcie in London--they were to
return to Holt direct--I arrived with Albeury at my flat in South Molton
Street, I found a stack of letters awaiting me, also several telegrams.
Simon, my man, was expecting me--I had telegraphed from Newhaven--but
almost directly he opened the door I noticed a change in his expression,
and to some extent in his manner. Deferential, also curiously reserved,
he had always been, but now there was a "something" in his eyes, a look
which made me think he had something on his mind--something he wished to
say to me but dared not say.

I had sent Albeury into my study to smoke a cigar and drink a glass of
wine while I went up to my room to have a bath. Simon was still busy
with my things when I came out of the bathroom, and, while I dressed, I
took the opportunity of questioning him.

"What's amiss, Simon?" I asked lightly.

He looked up with a start.

"Amiss, sir?" he repeated, with obvious embarrassment.

"I said 'amiss.' Out with it."

He seemed, for some moments, unable to meet my glance. Then suddenly he
faced me unflinchingly.

"Yes?" I said encouragingly, as he did not speak.

"I'll tell you what's amiss, sir," he answered abruptly, forcing himself
to speak. "The day after you'd left, a peculiar-looking man called here,
and asked to see you. When I told him you were not at home, he asked if
you were out of town. I didn't answer that, sir, but I asked him quite
politely if I couldn't give you any message. He answered No, that he
must see you himself. Then he started to question me, in a kind of
roundabout way, about you and your movements, sir."

"I hope you kept your counsel," I exclaimed quickly, for, excellent
servant though Simon, was, he occasionally lacked discretion.

"Indeed I did, sir. Though I was quite courteous, I was a bit short with
him. The next day he come again, about the same time--it was close on
dinner time--and with him this time was another man--a rather younger
man. They questioned me again, sir, quite friendly-like, but they didn't
get much change out of me. Yesterday they tried it on a third time--both
of them come again--and, well, sir, happing to put my hand into my
jacket pocket soon after they were gone, I found these in it."

As he spoke he dived into his jacket, and pulled out an envelope.
Opening the envelope, he withdrew from it what I saw at a glance were
bank-notes. Unfolding them with trembling hands, which made the notes
crackle noisily, he showed me that he had there ten five-pound notes.

"And they gave you those for nothing?" I asked, meaning to be ironical.

"Well, sir, they didn't get anything in return, though they expect
something in return--that's only natural. They said they'd come back
to see me."

"Did they say when they'd come back?"

"To-day, sir, about the same time as they come yesterday and the day
before." He pulled out his watch. "It's close on seven now. Perhaps you
will like to see them if they come presently, sir."

"On the other hand, perhaps I shall not," I said, and I lit a cigarette.
"At the same time, if they call, you can tell me."

"Certainly, sir--if anybody rings, I'll come at once and tell you."

He shuffled for a moment, then added:

"And these notes, sir; am I entitled to keep them?"

"Of course you are. Anybody has a right to accept and keep a gift. At
the same time, I would warn you not to be disappointed if, when you try
to cash them, you find the numbers have been stopped."

Downstairs, with Albeury, I began to look through my correspondence. The
third telegram I opened puzzled me.

"_Is it all right?--Dick."_

It had been awaiting me two days. Guessing that there must be a letter
from Dick which would throw light on this telegram, I glanced quickly
through the pile. I soon came to one addressed in his handwriting.

I had to read it through twice before I fully realized what it all
meant. Then I turned quickly to Albeury.

"Read that," I said, pushing the letter to him across the table.

He picked it up and adjusted his glasses. A few moments later he sprang
suddenly to his feet.

"My God! Mr. Berrington!" he exclaimed, "this is most serious! And it
was written "--he glanced at the date--"eight days ago--the very day
you left London."

"What is to be done?" I said quickly.

"You may well ask," he answered. He looked up at the clock. "The police
must be shown this at once, and, under the circumstances, told
everything that happened in France. I had hoped to be able to entrap the
gang without dealing with Scotland Yard direct."

For some moments he paced the room. Never since I had met him had I seen
him so perturbed--he was at all times singularly calm. I was not,
however, surprised at his anxiety, for it seemed more than likely that
quite unwittingly, and with the best intentions, Dick Challoner had not
merely landed us in a terrible mess, but that he had certainly turned
the tables upon us, leaving Dulcie and myself at the mercy of this
desperate gang. On board the boat I had mentioned Dick to the detective,
and told him about the cypher, and the part that Dick had played. He had
not seemed impressed, as I had expected him to be, and without a doubt
he had not been pleased. All he had said was, I now remembered: "It's a
bad thing to let a boy get meddling with a matter of this kind, Mr.
Berrington"--he had said it in a tone of some annoyance. And now, it
would seem, his view had been the right one. What Dick had done,
according to this letter just received from him, had been to start
advertising in the _Morning Post_ on his own account--in the cypher code
which he had discovered--serious messages intended for the gang and that
must assuredly have been read by them. With his letter two cuttings were
enclosed--his two messages already published. As I looked at them again
a thought flashed across me. Now I knew how it came about that my
impenetrable disguise had been discovered. Now I knew how it came about
that Alphonse Furneaux had been released from the room where Preston had
locked him in his flat. And now I knew why the members of the gang had
left the "Continental" so suddenly, scattering themselves probably in
all directions, and why the woman Stapleton had dashed back to London.

I caught my breath as my train of thought hurried on. Another thought
had struck me. I held my breath! Yes, it must be so. Try as I would I
could not possibly deceive myself.

Dick had unwittingly been responsible for the murder of George Preston!

This was the most awful blow of all. Unconsciously I looked up at the
detective, who still paced the room. Instantly my eyes met his. He may
have read in my eyes the horror that I felt, or the strength of my
feeling may have communicated my thought to him, for at once he stood
still, and, staring straight at me, said in a tone of considerable

"That boy has done a fearful thing, Mr. Berrington. He has--"

"Stop! Stop!" I cried, raising my head. "I know what you are going to
say! But you mustn't blame him, Albeury--he did it without
knowing--absolutely without knowing! And only you and I know that he is
to blame. Dick must never know--never. Nobody else must ever know. If
his father ever finds it out, it will kill him."

For some moments Albeury remained quite still. His lip twitched--I had
seen it twitch like that before, when he was deeply moved. At last
he spoke.

"Nobody shall ever know," he said in the same strained tone. He paused,

"I must talk on your telephone," he exclaimed suddenly, turning to leave
the room.

As he did so, Simon entered.

"The two men are here, sir," he said. "I have told them you are quite
alone. Shall I show them in?"



They were quietly dressed, inoffensive-looking men, one a good deal
younger than the other. Judged by their clothes and general appearance
they might have been gentlemen's servants or superior shop-assistants.
Directly they saw that I was not alone, the elder, whose age was fifty
or so, said, in a tense voice:

"We wish to see you alone, Mr. Berrington. Our business is quite

"You can talk openly before this gentleman," I answered, for, at a
glance from me, Albeury had remained in the room. "What do you want to
see me about?"

"In private, please, Mr. Berrington," he repeated doggedly, not heeding
my question.

"Either you speak to me in this gentleman's presence," I answered,
controlling my irritation, "or not at all. What do you want?"

They hesitated for barely an instant, and I thought my firmness had
disconcerted them, when suddenly I saw them exchange a swift glance. The
younger man stepped quickly back to the door, which was close behind
him, and, without turning, locked it. As he did so his companion sprang
to one side with a sharp cry. Albeury had him covered with a revolver.
The younger man had already slipped his hand into his pocket, when I
sprang upon him.

Though some years have passed since I practised ju-jitsu, I have not
forgotten the different holds. In a moment I had his arms locked behind
him--had he attempted to struggle then he must have broken his wrists.
Turning, I saw that Albeury had the other man still at his mercy with
the revolver--not for an instant did he look away from him.

I was about to call loudly to Simon to call the police, when the elder
man spoke.

"Stop!" he gasped, just above a whisper. "You have done us. Give us a
chance to escape and well help you."

"Help me! How?" I said, still gripping my man tightly. "What have you
come for? What did you want?"

"We're under orders--so help me, we are!" he exclaimed huskily. "We had
at any cost to see you."

"And for that you bribed my man, or tried to?"

"Yes--to let us see you alone."

Albeury's arm, extended with the cocked revolver, was as rigid as a
rock. The muzzle covered the man's chest. Again the man glanced swiftly
at the detective, then went on, speaking quickly:

"If you'll let us go, we'll tell everything--anything you want to know!"

I glanced an inquiry at Albeury. Though his gaze was still set upon his
man, he caught my look.

"Right--we'll let you go," he said, without moving, "if you'll tell us
everything. Now speak. Why are you here?"

"We're under orders," the man repeated. "We were not to leave this flat
with him alive in it," he jerked his chin at me. "If we do we shall be
killed ourselves when The Four Faces know. But you've done us. We've
got to escape now somehow, if you'll let us, and our only way is to give
you information that'll help you to get the whole gang arrested. You've
discovered a code we use, and you've tampered with it, and that's
what's done it."

"Done what?"

"Got The Four Faces down on you, and made them set on killing you."

"Whom do you mean by 'The Four Faces'?"

"Why, the men and women--you know them; Gastrell, Stapleton, and the
rest--the gang known as The Four Faces."

"Why are they known as 'The Four Faces'?"

"Because there are four heads, each being known as 'The Fat Face,' 'The
Long Face,' 'The Thin Face,' and 'The Square Face.' And each head has
four others of the gang directly under his or her orders."

"And Gastrell and Stapleton are 'faces'?"


"But Gastrell is dead."

"Dead? Gastrell? Impossible!"

"Yes. Go on."

For some moments astonishment held him dumb.

"Gastrell and the rest of them will be at Eldon Hall, in Northumberland,
the day after to-morrow," he said at last, "for the coming of age of
Cranmere's son. The house is to be looted--cleaned out. Everything is
arranged--the plan is perfect--as all the arrangements of The Four Faces
always are--it can't fail unless--"


"Now that you know, you can warn Cranmere. You must warn him to be very
careful, for if they get wind there's suspicion about they'll drop it
and you won't catch them. You know the robberies and other things
there've been, and nobody's been caught--they've not even been
suspected. Now's your chance to get them all--the first real chance
there's ever been. But you mustn't show up, mind that. This house is
watched--to see when we come out. Nor you nor your man must go out of
this flat till the gang's been caught, every one of them--it's the day
after to-morrow they'll be at Eldon Hall. They're expecting a gigantic
haul there, including all the Cranmere diamonds--they're worth thousands
on thousands. You're both known by sight, and if you're seen about we're
just as bad as dead."

He stopped abruptly, then went on:

"And you mustn't answer if anybody rings or knocks. And you mustn't
answer the telephone. You understand? Nobody must answer it. It's got to
be supposed you're both in here, dead--you and your man. They've got to
think we done it. There's no one else living in this flat, we
know that."

"I can't warn Lord Cranmere if I don't go out of here."

"He can"--he indicated the detective. "He can go out at any time. They
don't know he's in here. If we'd known you'd anybody with you we'd have
come another time. Your man said you were alone--quite alone, he
said--and, well, we thought the fifty quid had squared him."

Still holding my man tightly in the ju-jitsu grip, I again spoke quickly
to the detective.

"Isn't he lying?" I asked. "Is it safe to let them go?"

"Quite safe," he answered, without an instant's hesitation. "I know them
both. This fellow has been four times in jail--the first time was
seventeen years ago--he got fourteen months for burglary; the second
time was thirteen years ago, for attempted murder, when he got five
years; the third was eleven years ago; the fourth was nine years back.
He's got half a dozen aliases or more, and your man--let me see, yes,
he's been once in jail: ten years for forgery, went in when he was
eighteen and not been out above three years. It's safe to let them
go--quite safe--they've spoken straight this time, couldn't help

While Albeury was speaking I had seen the men gasp. They were staring at
him now with a look of abject terror. But still I held my man.

"I don't like to risk it," I expostulated. "The whole tale may be a

"It's not, Mr. Berrington. I tell you they're straight this time,
they've got to be to save their skins. I could put the 'Yard' on to them
right away--but it wouldn't serve our purpose, the gang would
then escape."

His revolver still covered the elder man's chest.

"Hand out your gun," he said sharply, "and empty out your pockets--both
of you."

Soon everything the men's pockets had contained lay upon the floor.
Among the things were three pistols, two "jemmies," some curious little
bottles, and some queer-looking implements I couldn't guess the use of.
Just then a thought occurred to me.

"But they'd have robbed this flat," I said, "if what they say is true."

"You are mistaken," Albeury answered. "They didn't come for robbery, but
on a more serious errand--to put an end to you. I know the methods of
this gang pretty well, I can assure you. You would have been found dead,
and your man dead too most likely, and the circumstances attending your
death would all have pointed to suicide, or perhaps to accidental death.
But we've not much time to spare. Come."

He turned to the men.

"Come over here, both of you," he said sharply, and signalled to me to
release my man. I did so. To my surprise, both men seemed cowed. In
silence, and without attempt at violence, they followed Albeury across
to the escritoire. At that moment it was that the bell of the flat rang
loudly. Without stirring, we stood expectantly waiting. I had unlocked
the door of the room, and presently Simon entered.

"Mr. Osborne would like to see you, sir," he said in his usual tone of
deference. "When I told him you had visitors he said he wouldn't come
in. He's waiting at the door, sir."

"Jack! Splendid!" I exclaimed. "The very man we want to see--you have
heard me speak of Mr. Osborne, Albeury, and you know plenty about him."
I turned to Simon. "Show him in here at once," I said. "If he still
hesitates, say I want particularly to see him."

It seemed quite a long time since last I had met Osborne--on the night
we had gone together, with poor Preston, to Willow Road, and had
afterwards been followed by Alphonse Furneaux. I had felt so annoyed
with Jack for becoming enamoured of Jasmine Gastrell after all we had
come to know about her that I had felt in no hurry to renew my
friendship with him. But now circumstances had arisen, and things had
changed. If he were still infatuated with the woman, we should, between
the lot of us, I thought, quickly be able to disillusion him.

He looked rather serious as he entered, and glanced from one to another
of us inquiringly. I introduced Albeury to him; as I mentioned
Albeury's name I saw the two scoundrels start. Evidently he was well
known to them by name, and probably by repute.

"As I was passing, I looked in," Osborne said, "as we haven't run across
each other for such a long time, but I don't know that I've got anything
in particular to say to you, and you seem to be engaged."

"But I have something particular to say to you," I answered quickly,
coming at once to the point, as Simon left the room and shut the door
behind him. "You've made pretty much of a fool of yourself with that
Gastrell woman, Jack," I went on, with difficulty restraining the
indignation I felt. "You are largely responsible for terrible things
that have happened during the past few days--including the murder of
George Preston."

"Murder? The newspapers said it was suicide."

"Of course they did--it was arranged that they should. Now listen,
Jack," I continued seriously. "We are on the eve of what may prove to be
a tremendous tragedy, of an event that in any case is going to make an
enormous sensation--nothing less than the capture, or attempted capture,
of the whole of the notorious and dangerous gang that a short time ago
you appeared to be so desperately anxious to bring to justice. These two
men," I indicated them, "belong to the gang in the sense that they are
employed by it; but they have now turned King's evidence."

In a few words I outlined to him exactly what had happened. As I stopped
speaking, Albeury interrupted.

"And if you will now listen, Mr. Osborne," he said, "you will hear a
complete statement of facts which should interest you."

With that he pulled a notebook out of his pocket, opened it, laid it
flat on the escritoire and seated himself, producing his fountain pen.
Both men stood beside him.

Rapidly he cross-questioned them, writing quickly down in shorthand
every word they spoke. Almost endless were the questions he put
concerning the whole gang. One by one the name of each member of it was
entered in the notebook, followed by an address which, the men declared,
would find him--or her. The number of members, we thus discovered,
amounted to over twenty, of whom no less than eight were women. Jasmine
Gastrell's career was described in detail, also Connie Stapleton's,
Doris Lorrimer's, Bob Challoner's, Hugesson Gastrell's, and the careers
of all the rest in addition. The names of some of these were known to
us, but the majority were not. Incidentally we now found out that
Hugesson Gastrell had never been in Australia, nor yet in Tasmania, and
that the story of his having been left a fortune by an uncle was wholly
without foundation. The natural son of well-to-do people in Yorkshire,
he had been launched penniless on the world to make his way as best he
could, and the rapidity with which he had increased his circle of
acquaintance among rich and useful people from the time he had become a
member of the gang had been not the least remarkable feature in his
extraordinary career.

I shall never forget that cross-examination, or the rapidity with which
it was conducted. In the course of a quarter of an hour many mysteries
which had long puzzled us were revealed, many problems solved. The woman
whose stabbed and charred body had been found among the _débris_ of the
house in Maresfield Gardens burnt down on Christmas Eve was, it seemed,
another of Gastrell's victims; he had stabbed her to death, and the
house had been fired with a view to destroying all traces of the crime.
Questioned further, the elder of the two scoundrels went on to state
that he had been in the house in Maresfield Gardens on the night that
Osborne and I had called there, just before Christmas, the night we had
driven up there from Brooks's Club on the pretext of Osborne's having
found at the club a purse which he believed--so he had told the woman
Gastrell--to have been dropped by Hugesson Gastrell. Other members of
the gang had been in the house at the time, the man said,--just before
we entered they had been in the very room into which Jasmine Gastrell
had shown us when she had at last admitted us, which of course accounted
for the dirty tumblers I had noticed on the table, and the chair that
had felt hot when I sat in it. She had first opened the door to us, the
man continued, under the impression that we were additional members of
the gang whom she expected--our rings at the door had accidentally
coincided with the rings these men would have given. Then, at once
discovering her mistake, and recognizing Osborne's voice, she had deemed
it prudent to admit us, thinking thus to allay any suspicion her unusual
reception might otherwise arouse in us.

He told us, too, that the great cobra kept by Gastrell--he had owned it
from the time it was a tiny thing a foot long--had once or twice been
used by him in connection with murders for which he had been
responsible--it was far from being harmless, though Gastrell had
declared to us that night that it couldn't harm anybody if it tried.
Indeed, it seemed that his first intention had been to let it attack us,
for he feared that our having recognized him might arouse our suspicion
and indirectly lead to his arrest, and for that reason he had, while we
were left in darkness in the hall, opened the aperture in the wall
through which it was allowed to pass into the room into which Jasmine
Gastrell had then admitted us. But a little later, deeming that the
crime might be discovered in spite of all the precautions that he would
have taken to conceal it, he had suddenly changed his mind, unlocked the
door, and come to our rescue at the last moment.

The mysterious affair in Grafton Street had been arranged--they went on
to say when threatened by Albeury with arrest if they refused to tell
everything--by Hugesson Gastrell and two accomplices, the two men with
whom Osborne had entered into conversation on the night of Gastrell's
reception in Cumberland Place, and it was a member of the gang, whose
name I had not heard before--the sole occupant of the house at the
time--who had questioned Osborne in the dark. Upon the unexpected
arrival of the police at Grafton Street this man had clambered through a
skylight in the roof, crawled along the roofs of several houses, and
there remained hidden until nightfall, when he had escaped down a
"thieves' ladder," which is made of silk rope and so contrived that upon
the thief's reaching the ground he can detach it from the chimney-stack
to which it has been fastened. Jasmine Gastrell herself it was who had
sent Dulcie the telegram signed with my name, her intention being to
decoy me into the Grafton Street house, where I should have shared
Osborne's unpleasant experience. It was Gastrell who had murdered
Churchill. Who had murdered Preston on board the boat, they declared
they didn't know, nor could they say for certain who had inserted in the
newspaper the cypher messages disentangled by Dick, for Gastrell,
Stapleton, Jasmine Gastrell, and other leaders of the gang were in the
habit of communicating with their crowd of confederates by means of
secret codes. Incidentally they mentioned that Connie Stapleton was in
reality Gastrell's wife, and that Jasmine was his mistress, though
Harold Logan, found in the hiding-hole at Holt, had been madly in
love with her.

"There," I said, turning to Jack Osborne as Albeury ended his
cross-examination, "now you've got it all in black and white. And that's
the woman you've been fooling with and say you're going to marry--not
merely an adventuress, but a criminal who has herself instigated common
burglaries and has connived at and been an accessory to murders! You
must be mad, Jack--stark, staring. For Heaven's sake get over your
absurd infatuation."

"It's not 'infatuation' on my side only, Mike," he answered, with a
curious look that came near to being pathetic. "Jasmine is in love with
me--she really is. It sounds absurd, I know, under the circumstances,
but you know what women are and the extraordinary attachments they
sometimes form--yes, even the worst of them. She's promised to start
afresh, lead a straight life, if only I'll marry her; she has indeed,
and, what's more, she'll do it."

I heard Albeury snort, and even the scoundrels, who had stood by looking
on and listening, grinned.

"In forty-eight hours she'll be arrested and sent to jail," I said
calmly. "Don't be such an utter idiot, Jack!"

He sprang to his feet.

"Jasmine arrested!" he cried. "My God, she shan't be! I'll go to her
now! I'll warn her! I'll--"

"You'll do nothing of the sort," Albeury interrupted. "We've a trap set
for the whole crew, more than twenty of them in all, and if you warn
that woman she'll tell the rest and then--"

"Well, what?"

"Our plan will be defeated--more than that, the whole lot of us in this
room will be murdered as sure as I'm sitting here. You've heard the
truth about this gang from these two men. You know what a desperate
crowd they are; what they'd be like if they get their backs against the
wall you ought to be able to guess. Mr. Osborne, unless you pledge your
solemn word that you'll not warn Jasmine Gastrell, I shall be forced to
retain you here. Mr. Berrington has told you that I am an international
police detective. I have, under the circumstances, the power to
arrest you."

Osborne was evidently terribly upset. For a minute he sat, thinking
deeply. A glance showed how madly in love he obviously was with the
woman. Looking at him, I wondered whether what he had said could by any
possibility be true--that Jasmine Gastrell had really lost her heart to
him. The idea, at first thought, seemed absurd, even grotesque,
and yet--

Suddenly Jack looked up.

"Supposing," he said, speaking with great deliberation, "I pledge my
solemn word that I won't warn her of what you intend to do, or give her
any reason to suspect that such a plot exists, and that I undertake to
take her abroad with me and keep her there for one year from now--I
shall marry her at once--will you undertake that she shall leave the
country unmolested, and be left unmolested?"

I looked inquiringly at Albeury.

"Yes," he said at once. "I agree to that--we both agree to it; that's
so, Mr. Berrington?"

I nodded. A thing I liked about Albeury was that he made up his mind
almost instantly--that he never hesitated a moment.

"All the same, Mr. Osborne," he added quickly, "you must pardon my
saying that I consider you barely sane. It's no business of mine, I
know, but do for God's sake think what you are doing before you bind
yourself for life to such a woman--think of it, _for life!_"

"That's all right," Jack answered quietly. "Don't distress yourself. I
know exactly what I am doing, and--"

He paused, looking hard at Albeury.

"From now onward," he said slowly, "Jasmine Gastrell will be a wholly
different woman. I am going away with her at once, Albeury; to-morrow,
at latest--we may even leave to-night. We shall not return to England
for a year--that I promise you. For a year I shall see neither
Berrington nor you nor any of my friends. But in a year's time you and
Berrington and I, and Jasmine too, will meet again, and then--"

The telephone in the flat rang loudly. Albeury sprang up. An instant
later he was in the hall, preventing Simon from answering the call.
Quickly he returned, while the bell continued ringing.

"What's your code--Morse?" he said sharply to the men.

"No--secret," the elder man answered.

"Quick, then--go; if it's not for you, say so."

Carefully the man Albeury had cross-questioned unhooked the receiver. He
held it to his ear, and an instant later nodded. Then, with the pencil
which hung down by a string, he tapped the transmitter five times, with
measured beat.

Still holding the receiver to his ear, he conversed rapidly, by means of
taps, with his confederates at the other end. From where we stood, close
by, the taps at the other end were faintly audible. For nearly five
minutes this conversation by code continued. Then the man hung up the
receiver and faced us.

"I done it," he said. "Now me and my pal can get away from here at
once--and both of you," indicating Albeury and Osborne. "We shall meet
our pals who've watched this house--we shall meet them in Tottenham
Court Road in half an hour. I've told them we've done out Mr. Berrington
and his man. They think you both dead. It's a deal, then?"

"What's 'a deal'?" I asked.

"That you and your man stick in here until after the gang has been

"Yes, that's understood."

"And that you won't answer any bell, or knock, nor any telephone, nor
show any sign of life till after they've been took?"

"Of course. That's all arranged."

"Then we'll go, and--and good luck to you."

A few moments later we heard them going down the stairs. At once Albeury
called Osborne and myself into the room we had just left. Then he rang
for Simon.

Everything was quickly settled. Albeury was to go at once to Scotland
Yard and make arrangements for the arrest of the gang at Eldon Hall on
the following day but one; the arrival of the large body of detectives
that would be needed would have, as he explained, to be planned with the
greatest secrecy. After that he would catch the night express to the
north, and, on the following morning, himself call at Eldon Hall to see
Lord Cranmere. He would not alarm him in the least, he said. He would
tell him merely that there were suspicions of a proposed attempted
robbery, and ask leave to station detectives.

"And I'm to stay here with Simon, I suppose," I said despondently,
"until everything is finished."

"Not a bit of it," he answered. "Simon will stay here, and with him a
detective who will arrive to-night at midnight. We may need you at Eldon
Hall, and you must be there."

"Meet you there? But I have promised those men that--besides, supposing
that I am seen."

"As far as those scoundrels are concerned," he answered, "all they care
about is to save their wretched skins. You won't be seen, that I'll
guarantee, but none the less you must be there--it's absolutely
necessary. A closed car will await you at the Bond Street Tube station
at three o'clock to-morrow morning. Ask the driver no questions--he will
have his orders."

Some minutes later Albeury left us. Osborne had already gone. I told
Simon, who had been taken into our confidence, to pack a few necessaries
in a small bag for me, and then, seated alone, smoking a cigar for the
first time since my return, I allowed my thoughts to wander.

Book of the day: