Part 6 out of 6
THE FACES UNMASKED
Eldon Hall is one of those fine old country mansions so much admired,
and not infrequently coveted by, rich Americans who come over to
It was the late Colonel North, of nitrate fame, who, upon visiting
Killeen Castle, in County Meath, with a view to buying the place for his
son, laconically observed: "Yes, it's not a bad old pile, but much too
ramshackle for my son. I could manage to live in it, I dare say, but if
my son buys it he'll pull it down and rebuild it," a remark which
tickled its owner a good deal.
Eldon Hall, in Northumberland, is fully as old and in some respects as
venerable a "pile" as Killeen Castle, though its architecture is wholly
different. Many attempts have been made to fix the date of Eldon--the
property has been in Lord Cranmere's family "from a period," as the
lawyers say, "so far back that the memory of man runneth not to the
contrary"--but experts differ considerably in their opinions.
This is due to the fact that though a portion of the old place is
undoubtedly Elizabethan, there yet are portions obviously of a much
earlier date. According to several authorities the earlier building must
at some period have been in part destroyed, most probably, they say, by
fire, the portion left intact being then deserted for generations, and,
towards the end of the sixteenth century, inhabited again, when, it is
further conjectured, the latter part must have been built. The effect
produced by this architectural medley is bizarre in the extreme, and
many and strange are the local legends and traditions connected with
Situated on the slope of a gigantic ravine, twelve miles from the
nearest town, and eight from the nearest railway station, and the roads
in that part of Northumberland being far from good, until the advent of
the automobile Eldon Hall was looked upon by many as, in a sense,
The house being far from the beaten track, few excursionists or trippers
came near the place in those days, and, indeed, even to-day the
sightseers who find their way there are for the most part Americans.
From the ridge of hills which shuts in and practically surrounds the
estate--hills all densely wooded--a panoramic and truly glorious view
can be obtained of the wonderfully picturesque scenery that unfolds
itself on all sides. Here, then, it was that, on the 28th day of
February, 1912, many hundreds of people from all parts of the country,
exclusive of local residents and of Lord Cranmere's own tenantry, were
to assemble for a week of festivity and rejoicing which, so rumour said,
would eclipse anything of the kind ever before seen at Eldon, which long
had been famous for its "outbursts" of entertainment.
Lord Cranmere's elder son, who was about to come of age, was like the
typical athletic young Briton. Tall, well-built, handsome, with plenty
of self-assurance and a wholly unaffected manner, he was worthy of his
father's pride. It was no exaggeration to say that everybody, rich and
poor alike, who came into contact with him, at once fell under the spell
of his attractive personality. A popular man himself Lord Cranmere had
always been, but his outlook upon life was somewhat narrow--in spite of
his opportunities he had seen little of life and had few interests
beyond fox-hunting, game-shooting and salmon-fishing. His eldest son, on
the contrary, had, from the age of eighteen, travelled constantly. Twice
already he had been round the world, and so quick was his power of
observation that at twenty-one he knew more of life and of things that
matter than many a man of his class and twice his age.
It was a glorious morning, the sun shining brightly, and strangely warm
for February, as the car in which I had travelled from London with three
companions, all of them Scotland Yard men, pulled up at a farmhouse
within two miles of Eldon. The journey from London, begun at three in
the morning on the previous day, had been broken at Skipton, near
Harrogate, where we had spent the night. Now, as the five of us--for our
driver was also, I discovered, a member of the force--walked briskly
along the narrow, winding lane in the direction of the park which
surrounds Eldon Hall, the morning air was refreshing, also intensely
We looked little enough like London men, and I doubt whether anybody
meeting us would for an instant have supposed that we were not what we
intended that we should look like, namely well-to-do tenantry of Lord
Cranmere's bound for the scene of the coming-of-age festivities. It was
barely nine o'clock, and at eleven the morning's sports were to begin.
Several carts overtook us, loaded with cheery fellows; some of whom
shouted rustic jests as they passed us by, which my companions were
quick to acknowledge. We had walked, I suppose, rather less than a mile,
when we suddenly came to a stile.
"Here's our short cut," the man who walked beside me said, as he stopped
abruptly. "Many's the time I've climbed over this stile more years ago
than I like to think, sir," he remarked lightly. "My father was
under-keeper to his lordship's father, and I've not been back since
twenty years. It's not a bit changed, though, the old place, not a bit,
I'm going, when I retire on my pension, to live down here again. I want
to leave my bones where I was born, and where my father's and mother's
are. It's a fine country, this sir, not a county like it in the whole of
England," he added with enthusiasm. "And you see yonder cross-roads?
That's Clun Cross--there's said to be a highwayman buried at that
cross-roads with a stake pushed through his body."
"Clun Cross." I remembered the name at once. It was the name that had
appeared in one of the advertisements deciphered by Dick.
We made our way up the steep footpath which led across a cramped field.
Now we were on the boundary of a thickly underwooded cover.
"There's not a tree in this wood I don't remember," he said, looking
about him as we scrambled up the bridle path. Bracken up to our waists
was on both sides, and it grew and hung over so thickly that the path
was barely visible. As we reached the top of the track he gave a low
whistle. Instantly the whistle was answered. A moment later half a dozen
men rose up out of the undergrowth.
At the foot of a clump of pine trees in the middle of the wood, we lay
down to confer. Then it was I learned, for the first time, something of
the line of action the police had decided to adopt.
Forty police officers in various disguises, the majority dressed to look
like the tenantry in their holiday clothes, were, it seemed, concealed
in the various covers, in addition to a dozen disguised as labourers,
stationed in fields beside the roads leading to Eldon Hall.
Besides these were fifteen officers, guests to all appearance, who would
arrive with the other guests and mingle with them freely. There were
also eight men disguised as hired waiters, who would help the servants
below stairs in the Hall, and five female detectives assisting the maids
in their work.
"You've got the revolver I gave you?" the gamekeeper's son said, turning
to me suddenly. His name, he had told me, was Ross.
"Yes, though I all but forgot it."
"Let me see it," he said.
I produced it from my pocket, and handed it over.
"I thought so!" he exclaimed. "Not loaded." He loaded it with the
cartridges I gave him, then gave it back to me.
Half an hour passed. One by one the men had risen and wandered away. Now
only three remained. Ten minutes later two more rose and went, leaving
me alone with Ross. His reminiscences of game-keeping--a calling he
seemed still to love--and of the former Lord Cranmere and his relations
and his friends, also his experiences during the eighteen years he had
been in the police force, were interesting to listen to. Brighter and
brighter the sun shone. The weather was almost spring-like and no breath
of wind stirred. Half a mile or so away, in the valley far beneath us,
well-dressed men and women sauntered in the gardens and out upon the
lawns. Larger and larger grew the number of these guests. From varying
distances came the sound of cars rapidly approaching. In the broad, flat
meadow, far down to our right, sports of different sorts were in
progress. Beyond them were swings and similar attractions where children
in their hundreds thronged and clustered. In all directions flew flags
and bunting, while the sharp reports of the shooting-gallery rifles were
audible above the blare of the roundabouts' steam organs.
Ross pulled out his field glass, and, kneeling up in the deep bracken,
focussed the crowds in turn. It was now past noon. From the lawn facing
the house the strains of a Strauss valse, played by an excellent band,
floated up to where we knelt, though the racket of the steam organs
clashed with it to some extent.
Slowly the time crept on. Longer and longer grew the approaching queue
of cars. In one field alone, set aside as a garage, I counted over a
hundred. Others were left out in the stable yards. Others could be seen,
deserted by the roadsides. Beyond the band upon the lawn mammoth
marquees had been erected, in which lunch for the vast concourse would
presently be served. Already servants in their dozens hurried in and out
as they made ready for the feast.
"About the queerest job I've ever had a hand in, this is," Ross observed
presently, lowering his glass. "What do you make of it, Mr. Berrington?"
"Nothing as yet," I answered. "What puzzles me is--why did they want to
bring me here?"
"He's most likely got some reason," he presently murmured. "I don't
suppose Albeury'd fetch you here for your health."
Again he focussed his glass. Now the people were gradually drifting.
Slowly the crowds began to surge in the direction where the tents stood.
Now the tents were filling fast. Once more the band was playing.
Everyone seemed happy. Joy and laughter were in the air. Engrossed in
the panorama which interested me considerably, all thought of my reasons
for being there had for the moment faded from my mind, and--"
"Hark!" Ross exclaimed.
He remained silent, listening.
"What did you hear?" I asked, when half a minute had passed.
"Didn't you hear it?"
"That buzzing sound. It wasn't a car, I'm certain. I believe it was
I heard it now, distinctly. Away to our right it sounded, high in the
air, apparently; a strange, humming noise.
Quickly the sound increased in volume. Now we saw that the crowds down
in the valley had heard it. They were gazing up in the sky, away to our
right. Now they were getting excited. Like ants they hurried about. Out
of the tents they swarmed, like bees out of a hive that has been stirred
up with a stick. And now out of the house, too, they came
hurrying--guests, men and maidservants, hired helpers, everybody.
The humming grew louder and louder.
"'Scot! What an idea!"
"Idea?" I exclaimed. "What do you mean?"
"We'd a rumour before leaving town that something unexpected and
startling might occur in connection with this affair. This is it, you
Still I was perplexed.
"I don't follow your line of thought," I said. "What can an aeroplane
have to do with the gang, or they with it? They wouldn't come down in an
aeroplane to commit a robbery, surely?"
He looked at me, as I thought, pityingly, as though sorry for my lack of
imagination, or intelligence, or both.
Now everybody was rushing about; all were hurrying in one direction; a
few later stragglers still came stumbling out of the house, running as
fast as their legs would carry them. The humming sounded just above our
heads. Looking up, we suddenly saw the aeroplane.
A large biplane, containing two passengers, it passed not thirty feet
above us, flying horizontally in a straight line. Now it descended a
little way, then slowly began to circle. At that moment we heard a shot,
fired somewhere in the woods.
"Our signal," Ross murmured. "Are you ready to go?"
The aeroplane was descending rapidly. Almost immediately beneath it was
gathered a dense crowd. Looking through Ross's glass, I saw one of the
passengers waving to the crowd to clear out of the way. A moment later,
and the biplane was dashing straight at the people beneath.
"Quick! My glass."
I handed it to him. Instantly he levelled it in the direction of the
"See those men?" he said, pointing.
I turned in the direction he was looking. In the main road, just beyond
the house, two men seemed to be busy with a large car. As I looked, a
third man appeared in the roadway, walking quickly towards them. He
stepped into the car behind the one where the two men already were, and,
crouching, was at once lost to sight.
"Come--quickly!" Ross exclaimed. "You see the idea now? That aeroplane
arrival is a ruse to distract everybody's attention. There's never been
an aeroplane up here before. This is the first time most of that crowd,
except the guests, have ever seen one. When we get into the house you'll
find it completely deserted--or apparently so. But some of the gang will
be busy there, that you may depend upon--our men are already there."
With all speed we scrambled through the bracken and down the steep slope
towards the house. In five minutes or less we were within fifty yards of
The back door stood wide open. Entering cautiously, we found ourselves
in the kitchen premises. Kitchen, pantry, every room and the
stone-flagged passages were deserted. A moment or two later we pushed
open a spring door, to find ourselves in the hall. Nobody was there
either, and the front door stood ajar.
"Off with your boots--quick!"
A glance into the various downstair rooms, all of which were deserted,
then up the front stairs we crept in our stockinged feet. On the landing
two men stepped noiselessly out of a doorway. Both, I saw, were
detectives in rubber shoes.
"You know the men of the gang by sight?" one of them whispered, as he
stood beside me.
"Some of them," I answered.
"And they know who you are, we understand."
"Then if you meet one--shoot! He'll shoot you if you don't shoot first."
My hand trembled with excitement as I clutched the pistol in my pocket.
My mouth was dry. I could hear my heart thumping. Cautiously I followed
Ross along the corridor.
Suddenly a loud report almost deafened me. At the same instant Ross fell
forward on to his face, with a hideous crash--I can hear it now as I
think of it. A moment later a man dashed past me, and tore furiously
down the stairs. Springing after him I fired wildly as he
ran--once--twice. I had missed him and he was gone. In one of the rooms
I could distinctly hear sounds of a scuffle. There were blows, some
oaths and a muffled groan. Now the house was suddenly in uproar. The
deafening sound of several shots echoed along the corridors. Two men
were running towards me. Wildly I flung out my arm, the revolver in my
hand aimed point blank at one of them, and then--
Something struck me from behind, a fearful blow, and, stumbling, I lost
* * * * *
I was in a room, almost in darkness. Like shadows two figures moved
noiselessly about. They were figures I didn't recognize. My head ached
fearfully. Where was I? What had happened? I remember groaning feebly,
and seeing the two figures quickly turn towards me.
Again all was blank.
It was broad daylight now, but the blinds were all pulled down. I was in
the same room; my head felt on fire. Never had I suffered so terribly.
Never, I hope and trust, shall I suffer so again. A woman beside the bed
gently held my wrist--a nurse.
Something soothing was passed between my lips. It relieved me. I felt
Many days passed before I became convalescent--dark days of nightmare,
hideous days of pain. A month elapsed before I was allowed to ask
questions concerning that awful day and all that had taken place.
Three of the detectives had been shot dead--poor Ross had been the first
victim. Five had been seriously wounded. Several others had been
injured. But the entire gang of The Four Faces had finally been
captured. Some had been arrested in the house, red-handed; among these
were Connie Stapleton and Doris Lorrimer--guests at Eldon for the week,
they had been discovered in Mrs. Stapleton's bedroom in the act of
packing into a bag jewellery belonging to Lord and Lady Cranmere. Others
had been run down in the woods. Several had been arrested on suspicion
at Clun Cross, and upon them had been found evidence proving their
identity. Six cars had been held up and their occupants taken
What upset me most, when all this was told to me, was the news of poor
Ross's death. During the short time I had known him I had taken a strong
liking to him. He had seemed such a thoroughly honest fellow, so
straightforward in every way. He had a wife and several children, he had
told me--several times he had spoken of his wife, to whom he had
evidently been devoted. And he had so looked forward to the time, now
only two years off, when he would have retired on his pension and
returned to his native county--returned to settle down, if possible, on
the Eldon Hall estate. Yet in an instant he had been shot down like a
dog by one of those scoundrels he was helping to arrest. It all seemed
too terrible, too sad. Well, as soon as I was sufficiently recovered to
get about again I would, I decided, visit his widow in London, and see
if I could help her in any way.
* * * * *
Six weeks had passed, and I was almost well again. Once more I was
staying at Holt Manor. Already the breath of spring was in the air. Sir
Roland, recovered at last from the mental shock he had sustained, was
there. Aunt Hannah was away, making her annual round of visits. Dulcie
and I were wholly undisturbed, except by little Dick, who was at home
for his Easter holidays.
As we sauntered in the beautiful woods on a sunny afternoon towards the
end of April, discussing our plans for the honeymoon--for we were to be
married in a week's time--Dulcie suddenly asked, apropos of nothing:
"Mike, why did that detective, Albeury, make you go to Eldon Hall? You
were not to take part in the capture. You could quite well have stayed
"In a way that was a mistake," I answered. "He never intended that I
should go further than the farm two miles from the Hall, where we had
pulled up. He thought he would need me to identify some of the men about
to be arrested, and so he wanted me on the spot. But he had not told me
why he wanted me there, so when the police officers prepared to start
out for Eldon from the farm, naturally I insisted upon going with
them--I wanted to see some of the fun, or what I thought was going to be
an extremely exciting event."
"Which it proved to be," she said seriously.
Just then I remembered something.
"Look, my darling," I said, "what I received this morning."
I drew out of my pocket a letter, and handed it to her. It bore a German
postmark. It had been posted in Alsace-Lorraine.
She unfolded the letter, and slowly read it through.
"How dreadful," she said. "Poor Jack!"
"It may not be," I said at last. "All his life he has done odd and
unexpected things, and they have generally turned out well. He has
written to me twice since he left England, and I am convinced, now, that
he and Jasmine Gastrell--or rather Jasmine Osborne--are tremendously in
love with each other. I told you of his idea that she would, when he had
married her, entirely change her life. Perhaps that idea is not as
quixotic as we first thought."
"Perhaps, if they really love each other--" she began, then stopped
"My darling," I murmured, "is there any miracle that love isn't able to
accomplish? Look what you have faced, what I have faced, during these
dreadful months of anxiety and peril. It was love alone that
strengthened us--love alone that held us together in those moments of
terrible crises. Come."
So we turned slowly homeward in the golden light of the spring
afternoon, secure in our love for one another and in the knowledge that
the black shadows which had darkened our lives during the past months
had at last vanished for ever.