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The Middle of Things by J. S. Fletcher

Part 3 out of 5

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peerage does continue in the female line, it will be as I say--this
girl's the rightful holder of the title!"

Viner made no immediate answer and Mr. Pawle began to put up the letters
in their original wrappings.

"Regular romance, isn't it--if it is so?" he exclaimed. "Extraordinary!"

"Shall you tell her?" asked Viner.

Mr. Pawle considered the direct question while he completed his task.

"No," he said at last, "not at present. She evidently knows nothing, and
she'd better be left in complete ignorance for a while. You see, Viner,
as I've pointed out to you several times, there isn't a paper or a
document of any description extant which refers to her. Nothing in my
hands, nothing in the banker's hands, nothing here! And yet, supposing
her father, Wickham, to have been Lord Marketstoke, and to have entrusted
his secret to Ashton at the same time that he gave him the guardianship
of his daughter, he must have given Ashton papers to prove his and her
identity--must! Where are they?"

"Do you know what I think?" said Viner. "I think--if I'm to put it in
plain language--that Ashton carried those papers on him, and that he was
murdered for the possession of them!"

Mr. Pawle nodded, and put the packet of letters in his pocket.

"I shouldn't be surprised," he answered. "It's a very probable theory,
my boy. But it presupposes one thing, and makes one horribly suspicious
of another."

"Yes?" inquired Viner.

"It presupposes that Ashton let somebody into the secret," replied Mr.
Pawle, "and it makes one suspect that the person to whom he did reveal it
had such personal interest in suppressing it that he went to the length
of murdering Ashton before Ashton could tell it to any one else. How does
that strike you, Viner?"

"It's this--and not the diamond!" declared Viner doggedly. "I've a sort
of absolute intuition that I'm right."

"I think so too," assented the old lawyer, dryly. "The
fifty-thousand-pound diamond is a side-mine. Very well, now we know a
lot, you and I. And, we're going to solve matters. And we're not going to
say a word to this young lady, at present--that's settled. But I want to
ask her some questions--come along."

He led the way across the hall to the dining-room where a reminder of
Ashton's death met his and Viners's view as soon as they had crossed the
threshold. The funeral was to take place next day, and Mrs. Killenhall
and Miss Wickham were contemplating a massive wreath of flowers which had
evidently just arrived from the florist's and been deposited on the

"All we can do for him, you know!" murmured Mrs. Killenhall, with a
glance at the two men. "He--he had so few friends here, poor man!"

"That remark, ma'am," observed Mr. Pawle, "is apropos of a subject that I
want to ask Miss Wickham two or three questions about. Friends, now? Miss
Wickham, you always understood that Mr. Ashton and your father were very
close friends, I believe?"

"I always understood so--yes, Mr. Pawle," replied Miss Wickham.

"Did he ever tell you much about your father?"

"No, very little indeed. He never told me more than that they knew each
other very well, in Australia, that my father died out there,
comparatively young, and that he left me in his, Mr. Ashton's care."

"Did he ever tell you whether your father left you any money?" demanded
the old lawyer.

Miss Wickham looked surprised.

"Oh, yes!" she answered. "I thought you'd know that. My father left me a
good deal of money. Didn't Mr. Ashton tell you?"

"Never a word!" said Mr. Pawle. "Now--where is it, then?"

"In my bank," replied Miss Wickham promptly. "The London and Universal.
When Mr. Ashton fetched me away from school and brought me here, he told
me that he had twelve thousand pounds of mine which my father had left
me, and he handed it over to me then and there, and took me to the London
and Universal Bank, where I opened an account with it."

"Spent any of it?" asked Mr. Pawle dryly.

"Only a few pounds," answered Miss Wickham.

The old solicitor glanced at Viner, who, while these private matters were
being inquired into, was affecting to examine the pictures on the walls.

"Most extraordinary!" he muttered. "All this convinces me that Ashton
must have had papers and documents! These must have been--however, we
don't know where they are. But there would surely be, for instance, your
father's will, Miss Wickham. I suppose you've never seen such a
document? No, to be sure! You left all to Ashton. Well, now, do you
remember your father?"

"Only just--and very faintly, Mr. Pawle," replied Miss Wickham. "You must
remember I was little more than five years old."

"Can you remember what he was like?"

"I think he was a big, tall man--but it's a mere impression."

"Listen!" said Mr. Pawle. "Did you ever, at any time, hear Mr. Ashton
make any reference--I'm talking now of the last few weeks--to the
Ellingham family, or to the Earl of Ellingham?"

"Never!" replied Miss Wickham. "Never heard of them. He never--"

Mrs. Killenhall was showing signs of a wish to speak, and Mr. Pawle
turned to her.

"Have you, ma'am?" he asked.

"Yes," said Mrs. Killenhall, "I have! It was one night when Miss Wickham
was out--you were at Mrs. Murray-Sinclair's, my dear--and Mr. Ashton and
I dined alone. He asked me if I remembered the famous Ellingham case,
some years ago--something about the succession to the title--he said he'd
read it in the Colonial papers. Of course, I remembered it very well."

"Well, ma'am," said Mr. Pawle, "and what then?"

"I think that was all," answered Mrs. Killenhall. "He merely remarked
that it was an odd case, and said no more."

"What made him mention it?" asked Mr. Pawle.

"Oh, we'd been talking about romances of the peerage," replied Mrs.
Killenhall. "I had told him of several."

"You're well up in the peerage, ma'am?" suggested the old lawyer.

"I know my Burke and my Debrett pretty thoroughly," said Mrs. Killenhall.
"Very interesting, of course."

Mr. Pawle, who was sitting close to Miss Wickham, suddenly pointed to a
gold locket which she wore.

"Where did you get that, my dear?" he asked. "Unusual device, isn't it?"

"Mr. Ashton gave it to me, a few weeks ago," answered Miss Wickham. "He
said it had belonged to my father."

The old lawyer bent nearer, looked more closely at the locket, and got

"Elegant old thing!" he said. "Not made yesterday, that! Well, ladies,
you will see me, for this very sad occasion"--he waved a hand at the
wreath of flowers--"tomorrow. In the meantime, if there is anything you
want done, our young friend here is close at hand. Just now, however, I
want him."

"Viner," observed Pawle when they had left the house, "it's very odd how
unobservant some people are! Now, there's that woman we've just left,
Mrs. Killenhall, who says that she's well up in her Debrett, and her
Burke,--and there, seen by her many a time, is that locket which Miss
Wickham is wearing, and she's never noticed it! Never, I mean, noticed
what's on it. Why, I saw it--and its significance--instantly, just now,
which was the first time I'd seen it!"

"What is it that's on it?" asked Viner.

"After we came back from Marketstoke," replied Mr. Pawle, "I looked up
the Cave-Gray family and their peerage. That locket bears their device
and motto. The device is a closed fist, grasping a handful of blades of
wheat; the motto is _Have and Hold_. Viner, as sure as fate, that girl's
father was the missing Lord Marketstoke, and Ashton knew the secret! I'm
convinced of it--I'm positive of it. And now see the extraordinary
position in which we're all placed. Ashton's dead, and there isn't one
scrap of paper to show what it was that he really knew. Nothing--not one
written line!"

"Because, as I said before, he was murdered for his papers," affirmed
Viner. "I'm sure of that as; you are of the rest."

"I dare say you're right," agreed Mr. Pawle. "But, as _I've_ said
before, that presupposes that Ashton told somebody the secret.
Now--who? Was it the man he was with in Paris? And if so, who is that
man? But it's useless speculating. I've made up my mind to a certain
course, Viner. Tomorrow, after the funeral, I'm going to call on the
present Lord Ellingham--his town house is in Hertford Street, and I
know he's in town--and ask him if he has heard anything of a mysterious
nature relating to his long-missing uncle. We may hear something--you
come with me."

Next day, toward the middle of the afternoon, Mr. Pawle and Viner got out
of a taxicab in Park Lane and walked down Hertford Street, the old lawyer
explaining the course he was about to take.

"This is a young man--not long come of age," he said. "He'll be quite
well acquainted, however, with the family history, and if anything's
happened lately, I dare say I can get him to talk. He--What is it?"

Viner had suddenly gripped his companion's arm and pulled him to a halt.
He was looking ahead--at the house at which they were about to call. And
there, just being shown out by a footman, was the man whom he had seen at
the old-fashioned tavern in Notting Hill, and with him a tall,
good-looking man whom he had never seen before.



Mr. Pawle turned sharply on his companion as Viner pulled him up. He saw
the direction of Viner's suddenly arrested gaze and looked from him to
the two men who had now walked down the steps of the house and were
advancing towards them.

"What is it?" he asked. "Those fellows are coming away from Lord
Ellingham's house. You seem to know them?"

"One of them," murmured Viner. "The cleanshaven man. Look at him!"

The two men came on in close, evidently absorbed conversation, passed Mr.
Pawle and Viner without as much as a glance at them, and went along in
the direction of Park Lane.

"Well?" demanded Mr. Pawle.

"The clean-shaven man is the man I told you of--the man who was in
conversation with Ashton at that tavern in Netting Hill the night Ashton
was murdered," answered Viner. "The other man I don't know."

Mr. Pawle turned and looked after the retreating figures.

"You're sure of that?" he asked.

"Certain!" replied Viner. "I should know him anywhere."

Mr. Pawle came to another halt, glancing first at the two men, now well
up the street, and then at the somewhat sombre front of Ellingham House.

"Now, this is an extraordinary thing, Viner!" he exclaimed. "There's the
man who, you say, was with Ashton not very long before he came to his
end, and we find him coming away--presumably--from Lord Ellingham,
certainly from Lord Ellingham's house! What on earth does it mean? And I
wonder who the man is?"

"What I'd like to know," said Viner, "is--who is the other man? But as
you say, it is certainly a very curious thing that we should find the
first man evidently in touch with Lord Ellingham--considering our recent
discoveries. But--what are you going to do?"

"Going in here," affirmed Mr. Pawle, "to the fountain-head. We may get to
know something. Have you a card?"

The footman who took the cards looked doubtfully at them and their

"His Lordship is just going out," he said, glancing over his shoulder. "I
don't know--"

Mr. Pawle pointed to the name of his firm at the corner of his card.

"I think Lord Ellingham will see me," he said. "Tell his lordship I shall
not detain him many minutes if he will be kind enough to give me an

The man went away--to return in a few minutes and to lead the callers
into a room at the rear of the hall, wherein, his back to the fire, his
look and attitude one of puzzled surprise, stood a very young man,
dressed in the height of fashion, who, as his servant had said, was
obviously just ready to go out. Viner, remembering what had brought him
and Mr. Pawle there, looked at Lord Ellingham closely--he seemed to be
frank, ingenuous, and decidedly youthful. But there was something
decidedly practical and business-like in his greeting of his visitors.

"I'm afraid I can't give you very long, Mr. Pawle," he said, glancing
instinctively at the old lawyer. "I've a most important engagement in
half an hour, and it won't be put off. But I can give you ten minutes."

"I am deeply obliged to your lordship," answered Mr. Pawle. "As your
lordship will have seen from my card, I am one of the partners in Crawle,
Pawle and Rattenbury--a firm not at all unknown, I think. Allow me to
introduce my friend Mr. Viner, a gentlemen who is deeply concerned and
interested in the matter I want to mention to your lordship."

Lord Ellingham responded politely to Viner's bow and drew two
chairs forward.

"Sit down, Mr. Pawle; sit down, Mr. Viner," he said. He dropped into a
chair near a desk which stood in the centre of the room and looked
interrogatively at his elder visitor. "Have you some business to discuss,
Mr. Pawle?" he asked.

"Some business, my lord, which, I confess at once, is of extraordinary
nature," answered the old lawyer. "I will go straight to it. Your
lordship has doubtless read in the newspapers of the murder of a man
named Ashton in Lonsdale Passage, in the Bayswater district?"

Lord Ellingham glanced at a pile of newspapers which lay on a

"Yes," he answered, "I have. I've been much interested in it--as a
murder. A curious and mysterious case, don't you think?"

"We," replied Mr. Pawle, waving a hand toward Viner, "know it to be a
much more mysterious case than anybody could gather from the newspaper
accounts, for they know little who have written them, and we, who are
behind the scenes, know a great deal. Now, your lordship will have seen
that a young man, an actor named Langton Hyde, has been arrested and
charged, and is on remand. This unfortunate fellow was an old schoolmate
of Mr. Viner--they were at Rugby together; and Mr. Viner--and I may say I
myself also--is convinced beyond doubt of his entire innocence, and we
want to clear him; we are doing all we can to clear him. And it is
because of this that we have ventured to call on your lordship."

"Oh!" exclaimed Lord Ellingham. "But--what can I do! How do I come in?"

"My lord," said Mr. Pawle in his most solemn manner, "I will go straight
to this point also. We have reason to feel sure, from undoubted evidence,
that Mr. John Ashton, a very wealthy man, who had recently come from
Australia, where he had lived for a great many years, to settle here in
London, had in his possession when he was murdered certain highly
important papers relating to your lordship's family, and that he was
murdered for the sake of them!"

The puzzled expression which Viner had noted in Lord Ellingham's boyish
face when they entered the room grew more and more marked as Mr. Pawle
proceeded, and he turned on the old lawyer at the end with a stare of

"You really think that!" he exclaimed.

"I shall be very much surprised if I'm not right!" declared Mr. Pawle.

"But what papers?" asked Lord Ellingham. "And what--how could this Mr.
Ashton, who, you say, came from Australia, be in possession of papers
relating to my family? I never heard of him."

"Your lordship," said Mr. Pawle, "is doubtless well aware that some years
ago there was a very strange--shall we call it romance?--in your family.
A very remarkable episode, anyway, a most unusual--"

"You mean the strange disappearance of my uncle--this Lord Marketstoke?"
interrupted Lord Ellingham with a smile. "Oh, of course, I know all
about that."

"Very well, my lord," continued Mr. Pawle. "Then your lordship is
aware that Lord Marketstoke was believed to have gone to the
Colonies--Australia or New Zealand--and was--lost there. His death was
presumed. Now, Ashton came from Australia, and as I say, we believe him
to have brought with him certain highly important papers relative to Lord
Marketstoke, whom we think to have been well known to him at one time.
Indeed, we fell sure that Ashton knew Lord Marketstoke's secret. Now, my
lord, we are also confident that whoever killed John Ashton did so in
order to get hold of certain papers which, I feel certain, Ashton made a
habit of carrying on his person--papers relating to his friend Lord
Marketstoke's identity."

Lord Ellingham remained silent for a moment, looking from one visitor to
another. It was very clear to Viner that some train of thought had been
aroused in him and that he was closely pursuing it. He fixed his gaze at
last on the old lawyer.

"Mr. Pawle," he said quietly, "have you any proof--undoubted proof--that
Mr. Ashton did possess papers relating to my long-missing uncle?"

"Yes," answered Mr. Pawle, "I have!" He pulled out the bundle of letters
which he and Viner had unearthed from the Japanese cabinet. "This! It is
a packet of letters written by the seventh Countess of Ellingham to her
elder son, the Lord Marketstoke we are talking of, when he was a boy at
Eton. Your Lordship will probably recognize your grandmother's

Lord Ellingham bent over the letter which Mr. Pawle spread before him.

"Yes," he said, "I know the writing quite well. And--these were in Mr.
Ashton's possession?"

"We have just found them--Mr. Viner and I--in a cabinet in his house,"
replied Mr. Pawle. "They are the only papers we have so far been able to
bring to light. But as I have said, we are convinced there were
others--much more important ones!--in his possession, probably in his

Lord Ellingham handed the letters back.

"You think that this Mr. Ashton was in possession of a secret relating to
the missing man--my uncle, Lord Marketstoke?" he asked.

"I am convinced of it!" declared Mr. Pawle.

Lord Ellingham glanced shrewdly at his visitors.

"I should like to know what it was!" he said.

"Your lordship feels as I do," remarked Mr. Pawle. "But now I should
like to ask a question which arises out of this visit. As we approached
your lordship's door, just now, we saw, leaving it, two men. One of
them, my friend Mr. Viner immediately recognized. He does not know who
the man is--"

"Which of the two men do you mean!" interrupted Lord Ellingham. "I may as
well say that they had just left me."

"The clean-shaven man," answered Viner.

"Whom Mr. Viner knows for a fact," continued Mr. Pawle, "to have been in
Ashton's company only an hour or so before Ashton's murder!"

Lord Ellingham looked at Viner in obvious surprise.

"But you do not know who he is?" he exclaimed.

"No," replied Viner, "I don't. But there is no doubt of the truth of what
Mr. Pawle has just said. This man was certainly with Mr. Ashton at a
tavern in Notting Hill from about nine-thirty to ten-thirty on the
evening of Ashton's death. In fact, they left the tavern together."

The young nobleman suddenly pulled open a drawer in his desk, produced a
box of cigarettes and silently offered it to his visitors. He lighted a
cigarette himself, and for a moment smoked in silence--it seemed to Viner
that his youthful face had grown unusually grave and thoughtful.

"Mr. Pawle," he said at last, "I'm immensely surprised by what you've
told me, and all the more so because this is the second surprise I've had
this afternoon. I may as well tell you that the two gentlemen whom you
saw going away just now brought me some very astonishing news--yours
comes right on top of it! And, if you please, I'd rather not say any
more about it, just now, but I'm going to make a proposal to you. Will
you--and Mr. Viner, if he'll be so good--meet me tomorrow morning, say at
noon, at my solicitors' offices?"

"With pleasure!" responded Mr. Pawle. "Your lordship's solicitors are--"

"Carless and Driver, Lincoln's Inn Fields," answered Lord Ellingham.

"Friends of ours," said Mr. Pawle. "We will meet your lordship there at
twelve o 'clock to the minute."

"And--you'll bring that with you?" suggested Lord Ellingham, pointing to
the packet of letters which Mr. Pawle held in his hand.

"Just so, my lord," assented Mr. Pawle. "And we'll be ready to tell all
we know--for there are further details."

Outside the house the old lawyer gripped Viner's elbow.

"That boy knows something!" he said with a meaning smile. "He's astute
enough for his age--smart youngster! But--what does he know? Those two
men have told him something. Viner we must find out who that clean-shaven
man is. I have some idea that I have seen him before--I shouldn't be at
all surprised if he's a solicitor, may have seen him in some court or
other. But in that case I wonder he didn't recognize me."

"He didn't look at you," replied Viner. "He and the other man were too
much absorbed in whatever it was they were talking about. I have been
wondering since I first saw him at the tavern," he continued, "if I
ought not to tell the police what I know about him--I mean, that he
was certainly in Ashton's company on the evening of the murder. What
do you think?"

"I think not, at present," replied Mr. Pawle. "It seems evident--unless,
indeed, it was all a piece of bluff, and it may have been--that this man
is, or was when you saw him, just as ignorant as the landlord of that
place was that the man who used to drop in there and Ashton were one and
the same person. No, let the police go on their own lines--we're on
others. We shall hear of this man again, whoever he is. Now I must get
back to my office--come there at half-past eleven tomorrow morning,
Viner, and we'll go on to Carless and Driver's."

Viner went thoughtfully homeward, ruminating over the events of the day,
and entered his house to find his two guests, the sisters of the unlucky
Hyde, in floods of tears, and Miss Penkridge looking unusually grave. The
elder Miss Hyde sprang up at sight of him and held a tear-soaked
handkerchief towards him in pantomimic appeal.

"Oh, Mr. Viner," she exclaimed, "you are so kind, and so clever. I'm sure
you'll see a way out of this! It looks, oh, so very black, and so very
much against him; but oh, dear Mr. Viner, there must be some

"But what is it?" asked Viner, looking from one to the other. "What has
happened! Has any one been here?"

Miss Penkridge silently handed to her nephew an early edition of one of
the evening newspapers and pointed to a paragraph in large type. And
Viner rapidly read it over, to the accompaniment of the younger Miss
Hyde's sobs.

A sensational discovery in connection with the recent murder of Mr.
Ashton in Lonsdale Passage, Bayswater, was made in the early hours of
this morning. Charles Fisher, a greengrocer, carrying on business in the
Harrow Road, found in his woodshed, concealed in a nook in the wall, a
parcel containing Mr. Ashton's gold watch and chain and a diamond ring.
He immediately communicated with the police, and these valuables are now
in their possession. It will be remembered that Langton Hyde, the young
actor who is charged with the crime, and who is now on remand, stated at
the coroner's inquest that he passed the night on which the crime was
committed in a shed in this neighbourhood.

Viner read this news twice over. Then a sudden idea occurred to him, and
he turned to leave the room.

"I don't think you need be particularly alarmed about this," he said
to the weeping sisters. "Cheer up, till I return--I am going round to
the police."



Near the police-station Viner fell in with his solicitor, Felpham, who
turned a corner in a great hurry. Felpham's first glance showed his
client that their purposes were in common.

"Seen that paragraph in the evening papers?" said Felpham without
preface. "By George! that's serious news! What a pity that Hyde ever made
that statement about his doings on the night of the murder! It would have
been far better if he'd held his tongue altogether."

"He insisted on it--in the end," answered Viner. "And in my opinion he
was right. But--you think this is very serious."

"Serious? Yes!" exclaimed Felpham. "He says he spent the night in a shed
in the Harrow Road district. Now the things that were taken from Ashton's
body are discovered in such a place--nay, the very place; for if you
remember, Hyde particularized his whereabouts. What's the obvious
conclusion? What can anybody think?"

"I see two or three obvious conclusions, and I think several things,"
remarked Viner. "I'll tell you what they are when we've seen Drillford.
I'm not alarmed about this discovery, Felpham. I think it may lead to
finding the real murderer."

"You see further than I do, then," muttered Felpham. "I only see that
it's highly dangerous to Hyde's interests. And I want first-handed
information about it."

Drillford, discovered alone in his office, smiled as the two men walked
in--there was an irritating I-told-you-so air about him.

"Ah!" he said. "I see you gentlemen have been reading the afternoon
papers! What do you think about your friend now, Mr. Viner?"

"Precisely what I thought before and shall continue to think," retorted
Viner. "I've seen no reason to alter my opinion."

"Oh--but I guess Mr. Felpham doesn't think that way?" replied Drillford
with a shrewd glance at the solicitor. "Mr. Felpham knows the value of
evidence, I believe!"

"What is it that's been found, exactly?" asked Felpham.

Drillford opened a locked drawer, lifted aside a sheet of cardboard, and
revealed a fine gold watch and chain and a diamond ring. These lay on two
or three sheets of much crumpled paper of a peculiar quality.

"There you are!" said Drillford. "Those belonged to Mr. Ashton; there's
his name on the watch, and a mark of his inside the ring. They were found
early this morning, hidden, in the very place in which Hyde confessed
that he spent most of the night after Ashton's murder--a shed belonging
to one Fisher, a greengrocer, up the Harrow Road.

"Who found them?" demanded Felpham.

"Fisher himself," answered Drillford. "He was pottering about in his
shed before going to Covent Garden. He wanted some empty boxes, and in
pulling things about he found--these! Couldn't have made a more important
find, I think.

"Were these things loose?" asked Viner.

"Wrapped loosely in the paper they're lying on," replied Drillford.

Viner took the paper out of the drawer, examined it and lifted it
to his nose.

"I wonder, if Hyde really did put those things there," he said, "how Hyde
came to be carrying about with him these sheets of paper which had
certainly been used before for the wrappings of chemicals or drugs?"

Felpham pricked his ears.

"Eh?" he said. "What's that?"

"Smell for yourself," answered Viner. "Let the inspector smell too. I
draw the attention to both of you to the fact, because we'll raise that
point whenever it's necessary. Those papers have at some time been used
to wrap some strong-smelling drug."

"No doubt of it!" said Felpham, who was applying the papers to his nose.
"Smell them, Drillford! As Mr. Viner says, what would Hyde be doing with
this stuff in his pocket?"

"That's a mere detail," remarked Drillford impatiently. "These chaps that
mooch about, as Hyde was doing, pick up all sorts of odds and ends. He
may have pinched them from a chemist's shop. Anyway, there's the
fact--and we'll hang him on it! You'll see!"

"We shall never see anything of the sort!" said Viner. "You're on the
wrong tack, Inspector. Let me put two or three things to your
intelligence. Where's Ashton's purse? I know for a fact that Ashton had a
purse full of money when he went out of his house that night--Mrs.
Killenhall and Miss Wickham saw him take it out just before he left to
give some cash to the parlourmaid, and they saw him replace it in his
trousers pocket; I also know for another fact where he spent money that
evening--in short, I know now a good deal about his movements for some
hours before his death."

"Then you ought to tell us, Mr. Viner," said Drillford a little sulkily.
"You oughtn't to keep any information to yourself."

"You're going on the wrong tack, or I might," retorted Viner. "But you'll
know all in good time. Now, I ask you again--where's Ashton's purse? You
know as well as I do that when his clothing was examined, almost
immediately after his death, all his effects were gone--watch, chain,
rings, pocketbook, purse. If Hyde took the whole lot, do you think he
would ever have been such a consummate ass as to wait until next morning
to pawn that ring in Edgware Road? The idea is preposterous!"

"And why, pray?" demanded Drillford, obviously nettled at the turn which
the conversation was taking.

"I wonder your own common sense doesn't tell you," said Viner with
intentional directness. "If Hyde took everything from his victim, as
you say he did, he would have had a purse full of ready money. He could
have gone off to some respectable lodging-house. He could have put a
hundred miles between himself and London by breakfast-time. He would
have had ready money to last him for months. But--he was starving when
he went to the pawnbrokers! Hyde told you the truth--he never had
anything but that ring."

"Good!" muttered Felpham. "Good, Viner! That's one in the eye for you,

"Another thing that you're forgetting, Inspector," continued Viner: "I
suppose you attach some value to probabilities? Do you, as a sensible
man, believe for one moment that Hyde, placed in the position he is,
would be such a fool, such a suicidal fool, as to tell you about that
particular shed if he'd really hidden those things there? The mere idea
is absurd--ridiculous!"

"Good again, Viner!" said Felpham. "He wouldn't!"

Drillford, obviously ill-pleased, put the strongly-smelling paper and
the valuables which had been wrapped in it, back in the drawer and
turned the key.

"All very well talking and theorizing, Mr. Viner," he said sullenly. "We
know from his own lips that Hyde did spend the night in that shed. If he
didn't put these things there, who did?"

Viner gave him a steady look.

"The man who murdered and robbed Ashton!" he answered. "And that man was
not Hyde."

"You'll have that to prove," retorted Drillford, derisively. "I know what
a jury'll think with all this evidence before it!"

"We shall prove a good many things that'll surprise you," said Viner
quietly. "And you'll see, then, the foolishness of jumping at what seems
to be an obvious conclusion."

He motioned Felpham to follow, and going outside, turned in the direction
of the Harrow Road.

"I'm going to have a look at the place where these things were found," he
said. "Come with me. You see for yourself," he continued as they walked
on, "how ridiculous it is to suppose that Hyde planted them. The whole
affair is plain enough, to me. The real murderer read--or may have
heard--Hyde's statement before the coroner, and in order to strengthen
the case again Hyde and divert suspicion; from himself, sought out this
shed and put the things there. Clumsy! If Hyde had ever had the purse,
which more certainly disappeared with the rest of the property, he'd
never have gone to that shed at all."

"We'll make the most of all that," said Felpham. "But I gathered, from
what you said just now to Drillford, that you know more about this case
than you've let out. If it's in Hyde's favour--"

"I can't tell you what I know," answered Viner. "I do know some strange
things, which will all come out in good time. If we bring the murder home
to the right man, Hyde of course will be cleared. I'll tell everything as
soon as I can, Felpham."

They walked quickly forward until they came to the higher part of the
Harrow Road; there, at a crowded point of that dismal thoroughfare, where
the shops were small and mean, Felpham suddenly lifted a finger towards a
sign which hung over an open front filled with the cheaper sorts of

"Here's the place," he said, "a corner shop. The shed, of course, will
be somewhere behind."

Viner looked with interest at the refuge which Hyde had chosen after
his hurried flight from the scene of the murder. A shabby looking
street ran down from the corner of the greengrocer's shop; the first
twenty yards of it on that side were filled with palings, more or less
broken and dilapidated; behind them lay a yard in which stood a van,
two or three barrows, a collection of boxes and baskets and crates, and
a lean-to shed, built against the wall of the adjoining house. The door
of this yard hung loosely on its rusty hinges; Viner saw at once that
nothing could be easier than for a man to slip into this miserable
shelter unseen.

"Let's get hold of the tenant," he said. "Better show him your card, and
then he'll know we're on professional business."

The greengrocer, a dull-looking fellow who was measuring potatoes, showed
no great interest on hearing what his callers wanted. Summoning his wife
to mind the shop, he led Viner and Felpham round to the yard and opened
the door of the shed. This was as untidy as the yard, and filled with a
similar collection of boxes, baskets and crates. In one corner lay a
bundle of empty potato sacks--the greengrocer at once pointed to it.

"I reckon that's where the fellow got a bit of a sleep that night," he
said. "There was nothing to prevent him getting in here--no locks or
bolts on either gate of the yard or that door. He may have been in here
many a night, for all I know."

"Where did you find those valuables this morning?" asked Viner.

The greengrocer pointed to a shelf in a corner above the bundle
of sacking.

"There!" he answered. "I wanted some small boxes to take down to Covent
Garden, and in turning some of these over I came across a little parcel,
wrapped in paper--slipped under a box that was turned top downwards on
the shelf, you understand? So of course I opened it, and there was the
watch and chain and ring."

"Just folded in the papers that you handed to the police?"
suggested Viner.

"Well, there was more paper about 'em than what I gave to Inspector
Drillford," said the greengrocer. "A well-wrapped-up bit of parcel it
was--there's the rest of the paper there, where I threw it down."

He pointed to some loose sheets of paper which lay on the sacking, and
Viner went forward, picked them up, looked quickly at them, and put them
in his pocket.

"I suppose you never heard anybody about, that night?" he asked turning
to the greengrocer.

"Not I!" the man replied. "I sleep too sound to hear aught of that sort.
There's nothing in here that's of any value. No--a dozen folk could come
into this yard at night and we shouldn't hear 'em--we sleep at the front
of the house."

Viner slipped some silver into the greengrocer's hand and led Felpham
away. And when they reached a quieter part of the district, he pulled out
the papers which he had picked out of the corner in the shed and held
them in front of his companion's eyes.

"We did some good in coming up here, after all, Felpham!" he said, with
a grim smile. "It wasn't a mere desire to satisfy idle curiosity that
made me come. I thought I might, by sheer good luck, hit on something, or
some idea that would help. Now then, look at these things. That's a piece
of newspaper from out of a copy of the _Melbourne Argus_ of September 6th
last. Likely thing for Langton Hyde to be carrying in his pocket, eh?"

"Good heavens, that's certainly important!" exclaimed Felpham.

"And so is this, and perhaps much more so," said Viner, making a second
exhibit. "That's a sheet of brown wrapping-paper with the name and
address of a famous firm of wholesale druggists and chemical
manufacturers on one side--printed. It's another likely thing for Hyde to
possess, and to carry about, isn't it?"

"And the same bitter, penetrating smell about it!" said Felpham.

"Hyde, of course, if Drillford is correct, had all this paper in his
pocket when he went into that shed," said Viner. "But I have a different
idea, and a different theory. Here," he went on, folding his discoveries
together neatly, "you take charge of these--and take care of them. They
may be of more importance than we think."

He went home full of thought, restored the sisters to something like
cheerfulness by assuring them that the situation was no worse, and
possibly rather better, and spent the rest of the evening in his study,
silently working things out. Viner, by the time he went to bed, had
evolved an idea, and it was still developing and growing stronger when he
set out next morning to accompany Mr. Pawle to Lord Ellingham's



Carless and Driver practised their profession of the law in one of the
old houses on the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields--a house so old that
it immediately turned Viner's thought to what he had read of the days
wherein Inigo Jones exercised his art up the stately frontages, and duels
were fought in the gardens which London children now sport in. In one of
these houses lived Blackstone; in another Erskine; one ancient roof once
sheltered John Milton; another heard the laughter of Nell Gwynn; up the
panelled staircase which Mr. Pawle and his companion were presently
conducted, the feet of many generations had trod. And the room into which
they were duly conducted was so old-world in appearance with its oaken
walls and carving and old-fashioned furniture that nothing but the fact
that its occupants wore twentieth century garments would have convinced
Viner that he had been suddenly thrown back to the days of Queen Anne.

Lord Ellingham was already there when they arrived--in conference with
his solicitor, Mr. Carless, a plump, rosy, active gentleman who wore
mutton-chop whiskers and--secretly--prided himself on his likeness to the
type of fox-hunting squire. It was very evident to Viner that both
solicitor and client were in a state of expectancy bordering on something
very like excitement; and Mr. Carless, the preliminary greetings being
over, plunged at once into the subject.

"I say, Pawle," he exclaimed, turning at once to his fellow-practitioner,
"this appears to be a most extraordinary business! His lordship has just
been telling me all about the two calls he had yesterday--first from two
men whom he'd never seen before--then from you two, who were also
strangers. He has also told me what both lots of his callers had to say,
and hang me if I ever heard of two such curious unfoldings coming one on
top of the other. Sounds like a first-class mystery!"

"You forget," remarked Mr. Pawle with a glance at Lord Ellingham, "that
we don't know--Mr. Viner and myself--what it was that his lordship's
first couple of callers told him. He left that until today."

Mr. Carless looked at his client, who nodded his head as if in assent to
something in the glance.

"Well, as I'm now in possession of the facts," said he, "I'll tell you,
Pawle--His Lordship has given me a clear account of what his first
callers said, and what you and Mr. Viner added to it. The two men whom
you saw coming away from Ellingham House were Methley and Woodlesford,
two solicitors who are in partnership in Edgware Road--I know of them: I
think we've had conveyancing business with them once or twice. Quite a
respectable firm--in a smallish way, you know, but all right so far as I
know anything of them. Now, they came to Lord Ellingham yesterday
afternoon with a most extraordinary story. His lordship tells me that he
learned from your talk with him yesterday afternoon that you are pretty
well acquainted, you and Mr. Viner, with his family history, so I'll go
straight to the point. What do you think Methley and Woodlesford came to
tell him? You'd never guess!"

"I won't try!" answered Mr. Pawle. "What, then?"

Mr. Carless smiled grimly.

"That the long-lost Lord Marketstoke was alive and in England!" he said.
"Here, in fact, in London!"

Mr. Pawle smiled too. But his smile was not grim--it was, rather, the
smile of a man who hears what he has been expecting to hear.

"I thought it would be something of that sort!" he exclaimed. "Aye, I
fancied that would be the game!"

"You think it a game?" suggested Mr. Carless.

"And a highly dangerous one--as somebody will find out," responded Mr.
Pawle. "But--what did these fellows really say!"

"His lordship will correct me if I miss anything pertinent," answered Mr.
Carless with a glance at his client. "They said this--that they had been
called upon by a gentleman now staying at one of the private residential
hotels in Lancaster Gate, who was desirous of legal assistance in an
important matter and had been recommended to them by a fellow-boarder at
the hotel. He then told them that though he was now passing under the
name of Cave--"

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle, with a snort which denoted a certain sort of
surprised satisfaction. "Ah, to be sure! Cave, of course! But I interrupt
you--pray proceed."

"I see your point," remarked Mr. Carless with a smile. "Well--although he
was passing under the name of Cave, he was, in strict reality, the Lord
Marketstoke who disappeared from England many years ago, who was never
heard of again, and whose death had been presumed. He was, therefore, the
rightful Earl of Ellingham, and as such entitled to the estates. He
proceeded to tell Methley and Woodlesford his adventures.

"He had, he said, never at any time from boyhood been on good terms with
his father: there had always been mutual dislike. As he grew to manhood,
his father had thwarted him in every conceivable way. He himself as a
young man, had developed radical and democratic ideas--this had caused a
further widening of the breach. Eventually he had made up his mind to
clear out of England altogether. He had a modest amount of money of his
own, a few thousands which had been left him by his mother. So he took
this and quietly disappeared.

"According to his own account he became a good deal of a rolling stone,
going to various out-of-the-way parts of the earth, and taking
particular pains, wherever he went, to conceal his identity. He told
these people Methley and Woodlesford, that he had at one time or another
lived and traded in South Africa, India, China, Japan and the Malay
Settlement--finally he had settled down in Australia. He had kept
himself familiar with events at home--knew of his father's death, and he
saw no end of advertisements for himself. He was aware that legal
proceedings were taken as regards the presumption of his death and the
administration of the estates; he was also aware of the death of his
younger brother and that title and estates were now in possession of his
nephew--His Lordship there. In fact, he was very well up in the whole
story, according to Methley and Woodlesford," said Mr. Carless, with a
smile. "And Lord Ellingham believed that Methley and Woodlesford were
genuinely convinced by him."

"Seemed so, anyway, both of 'em," agreed Lord Ellingham.

"However," continued Mr. Carless, "Methley and Woodlesford, like you and
I, Pawle, are limbs of the law. They asked two very pertinent questions.
First--why had he come forward after this long interval? Second--what
evidence had he to support and prove his claim?"

"Good!" muttered Mr. Pawle. "And I'll be bound he had some excellent
replies ready for them."

"He had," said Mr. Carless. "He answered as regards the first question
that of late things had not gone well with him. He was still comfortably
off, but he had lost a lot of money in Australia through speculation. He
replied to the second by producing certain papers and documents."

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle, nudging Viner. "Now we're warming to it!"

"And according to what Methley and Woodlesford told Lord Ellingham,"
continued Mr. Carless, "these papers and documents are of a very
convincing nature. They said to His Lordship frankly that they were
greatly surprised by them. They had thought that this man might possibly
be a bogus claimant, who had somehow gained a thorough knowledge of the
facts he was narrating, but the papers he produced, which, he alleged,
had never been out of his possession since his secret flight from London,
were--well, staggering. After inspecting them, Methley and Woodlesford
came to the conclusion that their caller really was what he claimed to
be--the missing man!"

"What were the papers?" demanded Mr. Pawle.

"Oh!" replied Mr. Carless, looking at his client. "Letters, certificates,
and the like,--all, according to Methley and Woodlesford, excellent
proofs of identity."

"Did they show them to Your Lordship?" asked Mr. Pawle.

"Oh, no! they only told me of them," answered Lord Ellingham. "They said,
of course, that they would be shown to me, or to Mr. Carless."

"Aye!" muttered Mr. Pawle. "Just so! Yes, and they will have to be

"That follows as a matter of course," observed Mr. Carless. "But now,
Pawle, we come to the real point of the case. Methley and Woodlesford,
having informed His Lordship of all this when they called on him
yesterday afternoon then proceeded to tell him precisely what their
client, the claimant, as we will now call him, really wanted, for he had
been at some pains, considerable pains, to make himself clear on that
point to them, and he desired them to make themselves clear to Lord
Ellingham, whom he throughout referred to as his nephew. He had no
desire, he told them, to recover his title, nor the estates. He did not
care a cent--his own phrase--for the title. He was now sixty years of
age. The life he had lived had quite unfitted him for the positions and
duties of an English nobleman. He wanted to go back to the country in
which he had settled. But as title and estates really were his, he wanted
his nephew, the present holder, to make him a proper payment, in
consideration of the receipt of which he would engage to preserve the
silence which he had already kept so thoroughly and effectively for
thirty-five years. Eh?"

"In plain language," said Mr. Pawle, "he wanted to be bought."

"Precisely!" agreed Mr. Carless. "Of course, Methley and Woodlesford
didn't quite put it in that light. They put it that their client had no
wish to disturb his nephew, but suggested, kindly, that his nephew should
make him a proper payment out of his abundance."

Mr. Pawle turned to Lord Ellingham.

"Did they mention a sum to Your Lordship?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Lord Ellingham, with a smile at Carless. "They

"How much?" asked Mr. Pawle.

"One hundred thousand pounds!"

"On receipt of which, I suppose," observed Mr. Pawle dryly, "nothing
would ever be heard again of your lordship's long-lost uncle, the
rightful owner of all that Your Lordship possesses?"

Lord Ellingham laughed.

"So I gathered!" he answered.

"I wish I'd been present when Methley and Woodlesford put forward that
proposition," exclaimed the old lawyer. "Did they seem serious?"

"Oh, I think they were quite serious," replied Lord Ellingham. "They
seemed so; they spoke of it as what they called a domestic arrangement."

"Excellent phrase!" remarked Mr. Pawle. "And what said your lordship to
their--or the claimant's proposition?"

"I told them that the matter was so serious that they and I must see my
solicitors about it," answered Lord Ellingham, "and I arranged to meet
them here at one o'clock today. They quite agreed that that was the
proper thing to do, and went away. Then--you and Mr. Viner called."

"With, I understand, another extraordinary story," remarked Mr. Carless.
"The particulars of which His Lordship has also told me. Now, Pawle, what
do you really say about all this?"

Mr. Pawle smote his clenched right fist on the palm of his open
left hand.

"I will tell you what I say, Carless!" he exclaimed with emphasis. "I
say that whatever the papers and documents were which were produced by
this man to Methley and Woodlesford, they were stolen from the body of
John Ashton, who was foully murdered in Lonsdale Passage only last week.
I'll stake all I have on that! Now, then, did this claimant steal them?
Did he murder John Ashton for them? No--a thousand times no, for no man
would have been such a fool as to come forward with them so soon after
his victim's death! This claimant doesn't know how or where or when they
were obtained--he doesn't suspect that murder's in it. Now, then--where
did he get them? Who's at the back of him? Who--to be plain--who's
making a cat's-paw of him? Find that out, and we shall know who murdered
John Ashton!"

Viner, glancing at Lord Ellingham and at Mr. Carless, saw that Mr.
Pawle's words had impressed them greatly, the solicitor especially. He
nodded sympathetically, and Mr. Pawle went on speaking.

"Listen here, Carless!" he continued. "Mr. Viner and I have been
investigating this case as far as we could, largely to save a man whom we
both believe to be absolutely innocent of murder. I have come to certain
conclusions. John Ashton, many years ago, fell in with the missing Lord
Marketstoke, then living under the name of Wickham, in Australia, and
they became close friends. At some time or other, Wickham told Ashton the
real truth about himself, and when he died, left his little daughter--"

Carless looked sharply round.

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "So there's a daughter?"

"There is a daughter, and her name is Avice--a name borne by a good many
women of the Cave-Gray family," answered Mr. Pawle with a significant
glance at his fellow-practitioner. "But let me go on: Wickham left his
daughter, her mother being dead, in Ashton's guardianship. She was then
about six years of age. Ashton sent her to school here in England. About
twelve or thirteen years later, he came home and settled in Markendale
Square. He brought Avice Wickham to live with him. He handed over to her
a considerable sum, which, he said, her father had left in his hands for
her. And then, secretly, Ashton went down to Marketstoke and evidently
made certain inquiries and investigations. Whether he was going to reveal
the truth as to what I have just told you, we don't know--probably he
was. But he was murdered, and we all know when and where. And I say he
was murdered for the sake of these very papers which we now know were
produced to Methley and Woodlesford by this claimant. Now, then--"

Mr. Carless suddenly bent forward.

"A moment, Pawle!" he said. "If this man Wickham really was the lost
Lord Marketstoke, and he's dead, and he left a daughter, and the
daughter's alive--"

"Well?" demanded Mr. Pawle. "Well?"

"Why, then, of course, that daughter," said Mr. Carless slowly, "that
daughter is--"

A clerk opened the door and glanced at his employer.

"Mr. Methley and Mr. Woodlesford, sir," he announced. "By appointment."



The meeting between the solicitors suggested to Viner and to Lord
Ellingham, who looked on curiously while they exchanged formal greetings
and explanations, a certain solemnity--each of them seemed to imply in
look and manner that this was an unusually grave occasion. And Mr.
Carless, assuming the direction of things, became almost judicial in his

"Well, gentlemen," he said, when they had all gathered about his desk.
"Lord Ellingham has informed me of what passed between you and himself at
his house yesterday. In plain language, the client whom you represent
claims to be the Lord Marketstoke who disappeared so completely many
years ago, and therefore the rightful Earl of Ellingham. Now, a first
question--do you, as his legal advisers, believe in his claim?"

"Judging by the proofs with which he has furnished us, yes," answered
Methley. "There seems to be no doubt of it."

"We'll ask for these proofs presently," remarked Mr. Carless. "But now a
further question: Your client--whom we'll now call the claimant--had, I
understand, no desire to take up his rightful position, and suggests
that the secret shall remain a secret, and that he shall be paid a
hundred thousand pounds to hold his tongue?"

"If you put it that way--yes," replied Methley.

"I don't know in what other way it could be put," said Mr. Carless
grimly. "It's the plain truth. But now, if Lord Ellingham refuses that
offer, does your client intend to commence proceedings?"

"Our instructions are--yes," answered Methley.

"Very good," said Mr. Carless. "Now, then--what are these proofs?"

Methley turned to his partner, who immediately thrust a hand in his
breastpocket and produced a long envelope.

"I have them here," said Woodlesford. "Our client intrusted them to us so
that we might show them to Lord Ellingham, if necessary. There are not
many documents--they all relate to the period of our client's life before
he left England. There are one or two important letters from his father,
the seventh Earl, two or three from his mother; there is also his
mother's will. There is one letter from his younger brother, to whom he
had evidently, more than once, announced his determination of leaving
home for a considerable time. There are two letters from your own firm,
relating to some property which Lord Marketstoke disposed of before, he
left London. There is a schedule or memorandum of certain personal
effects which he left in his rooms at Ellingham Hall: there is also a
receipt from his bankers for a quantity of plate and jewellery which he
had deposited with them before leaving--these things had been left him by
his mother. There are also two documents which he seems to have
considered it worth while to preserve all these years," concluded
Woodlesford with a smile. "One is a letter informing him that he had been
elected a member of the M.C.C.; the other is his commission as a justice
of the peace for the county of Buckinghamshire."

As he detailed these things, Woodlesford laid each specified paper before
Mr. Carless, and then they all gathered round, and examined each exhibit.
The various documents were somewhat faded with age, and the edges of some
were worn as if from long folding and keeping in a pocketbook. Mr.
Carless hastily ran his eye over them.

"Very interesting, gentlemen," he remarked. "But you know, as well as I
do, that these things don't prove your client to be the missing Lord
Marketstoke. A judge and jury would want a lot more evidence than that.
The mere fact that your man is in possession of all these documents
proves nothing whatever. He may have stolen them!"

"From what we have seen of our client, Mr. Carless," observed Methley,
with some stiffness of manner, "there is no need for such a suggestion."

"I dare say we shall all see a good deal of your client before this
matter is settled, Mr. Methley," retorted Mr. Carless. "And even when I
have seen a lot of him, I should still say the same--he _may_ have stolen
them! What else has he to prove that he's what he says he is?"

"He is fully conversant with his family history," said Woodlesford. "He
can give a perfectly full and--so far as we can judge--accurate account
of his early life and of his subsequent doings. He evidently knows all
about Ellingham Hall, Marketstoke and the surroundings. I think if you
were to examine him on these points, you would find that his memory is
surprisingly fresh."

"I have no doubt that it will come to his being examined on a great many
points and in much detail," said Mr. Carless with a dry smile. "Of
course, I shall be much interested in seeing him. You see, I remember the
missing Lord Marketstoke very well indeed--he was often in here when I,
as a lad of nineteen or twenty, was articled to my own father. And now,
gentlemen, I'll ask you a question and commend it to your intelligence
and common sense: if your client is this man he claims to be, why didn't
he come straight to Carless and Driver, whom he would remember well
enough, instead of going to Methley and Woodlesford? Come, now?"

Neither visitor answered this question, and Mr. Pawle suddenly turned on
them with another.

"Did your client mention to you that he knew Carless and Driver as the
family solicitors?" he asked.

"No, I can't say that he did," admitted Methley. "After all, thirty-five
years' absence, you know--"

"You said just now that his memory was surprisingly fresh," interrupted
Mr. Pawle.

"Surely," replied Woodlesford, "surely you can't expect a man who has
been away from England all that time to remember everything!"

"I should have expected Lord Marketstoke to have gone straight to the
family solicitors, anyway," retorted Mr. Pawle. "Obvious thing to do--if
his story is a true one."

Woodlesford glanced at his partner, and repossessing himself of the
documents, began to arrange them in the envelope from which he had
drawn them.

"We cannot, of course, say positively who our client is or who he is
not," he said. "All we can say is that he came to us with an introduction
from an old client of ours whom we knew very well, and that his story
seems to us to be quite credible. No doubt he can bring further proof.
That he did not come here in the first instance--"

"I'll tell you why I, personally, am very much surprised that he didn't,"
interrupted Mr. Carless. "You told Lord Ellingham yesterday that your
client saw no end of advertisements for him at the time of his father's
death. Now, we, Carless and Driver, sent out those advertisements--our
name was appended to every one of them, wherever they appeared. Why,
then, when this man--if he is the real man--returned home, did he not
come to us? For there are three persons in this office who--but wait!"

He touched a bell; the clerk who had announced Methley and Woodlesford
put his head in at the door.

"Ask Mr. Portlethwaite to come here," commanded Mr. Carless. "And just
find out if Mr. Driver is in his room. Portlethwaite can tell me when
he comes."

An elderly, grey-haired man presently appeared and closed the door behind
him as if aware of the sacred nature of the proceedings.

"Mr. Driver is out, Mr. Carless," he said. "You wanted me, I think?"

"Our senior clerk," observed Mr. Carless, by way of introduction.
"Portlethwaite, you remember the Lord Marketstoke who disappeared some
thirty-five years ago?"

Mr. Portlethwaite smiled.

"Quite well, Mr. Carless!" he answered. "As if it were yesterday. He used
to come here a good deal, you know,''

"Do you think, you'd know him again, Portlethwaite, after all these
years?" asked Mr. Carless. "Thirty-five years, mind!"

The elderly clerk smiled--more assuredly than before. Then he looked
significantly at a corner of the room, and Mr. Carless took the hint, and
rising from his chair, went aside with him. Portlethwaite whispered
something in his employer's ear, and Carless suddenly laughed and nodded.

"To be sure--to be sure--I remember now!" he said aloud. "Thank you,
Portlethwaite: that's all. Well, gentlemen," he continued, returning to
his desk when the clerk had gone. "I think the best thing you can do is
to bring your client here--if he is the real and genuine article, he
will, I am sure, be very glad indeed to meet three persons who knew him
quite intimately in the old days--Mr. Driver, Mr. Portlethwaite and
myself. And I really don't know that there's any more to do or say."

The two visitors rose, and Methley looked at Mr. Carless in a
questioning fashion.

"Am I to go away with the impression that you believe our client to be an
impostor?" he said quietly.

"Frankly I do!" answered Mr. Carless.

"So do I!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "Emphatically so!"

"In that case," said Methley, "I see no advantage in bringing him here."

"Not even anything to your own advantage?" suggested Mr. Carless, with a
keen glance which passed from one partner to the other. "You, as
reputable practitioners of our profession, don't want to be mixed up with
an impostor?"

"We should be very sorry to be mixed up in any way with an impostor, Mr.
Carless!" said Methley.

Mr. Carless pursed his lips for a moment as if he were never going to
open them again; then he suddenly relaxed them.

"I tell you what it is, gentlemen!" he said. "'I'm only anticipating
matters in saying what I'm going to say, and I'm saying it because I feel
sure you are quite sincere and genuine in this affair and are being
deceived. If you will bring your client here, there are three of us in
this office who, as my old clerk has just reminded me, can positively
identify him on the instant if he is the man he claims to be. Positively,
I say, and at once! There!"

"May one ask how?" said Woodlesford.

"No!" exclaimed Mr. Carless. "Bring him! Telephone an appointment--and
we'll settle the matter as soon as he sets foot inside that door."

"May we tell him that?" asked Methley.

"You can do as you like," answered Mr. Carless. "Between ourselves, I
shouldn't! But I assure you--we can tell in one glance! That's a fact!"

The two solicitors went away; and Viner, who had closely watched Methley
during the interview, followed them out and hailed Methley in the
corridor outside Mr. Carless' room.

"May I have a word with you?" he asked, drawing him aside. "I don't know
if you remember, but I saw you the other night in the parlour of that old
tavern in Netting Hill--you came in while I was there?"

"I had some idea that I remembered your face when we were introduced just
now," said Methley. "Yes, I think I do remember--you were sitting in a
corner near the hearth?"

"Just so," agreed Viner. "And I heard you ask the landlord a question
about a gentleman whom you used to meet there sometimes--you left some
specimen cigars with the landlord for him."

"Yes," assented Methley wonderingly.

"You never knew that man's name?" continued Viner. "Nor who he was? Just
so--so I gathered. Then I'll tell you. There was a good reason why he had
not been to that tavern for some nights. He was John Ashton, the man who
was murdered in Lonsdale Passage!"

Viner was watching his man with all the keenness of which he was capable,
and he saw that this announcement fell on Methley as an absolute
surprise. He started as only a man can start who has astounding news
given to him suddenly.

"God bless me!" he exclaimed. "You don't mean it! Of course, I know about
that murder--our own district. And I saw Ashton's picture in the
paper--but then there are so many elderly men of that type--broad
features, trimmed grey beard! Dear me, dear me! A very pleasant, genial
fellow. I'm astonished, Mr. Viner."

Viner resolved on a bold step--he would take it without consulting Mr.
Pawle or anybody. He drew Methley further aside.

"Mr. Methley," he said. "You're a man of honour, and I trust you with a
secret, to be kept until I release you from the obligation of secrecy.
I have reasons for getting at the truth about Ashton's murder--so has
Mr. Pawle. He and I have been making investigations and inquiries, and
we are convinced, we are positive, that these papers which your partner
now has in his pocket were stolen from Ashton's dead body--that, in
fact, Ashton was murdered for the possession of them. And I tell you,
for your own sake--find out who this client of yours is! That he was
the actual murderer I don't believe for a second--he is probably a mere
cat's-paw. But--who's behind him? If you can do anything to find out
the truth, do it!"

That Methley was astonished beyond belief was so evident that Viner was
now absolutely convinced of his sincerity. He stood staring open-mouthed
for a moment: then he glanced at Woodlesford, who was waiting at some
distance along the corridor.

"Mr. Viner!" he said. "You amaze me! Listen: my partner is as sound and
honest a fellow as there is in all London. Let me tell him this--I'll
engage for his secrecy. If you'll consent to that, I'll see that, without
a word from us as to why, this man who claims to be the missing Lord
Marketstoke is brought here. If what you say is true, we are not going to
be partners to a crime. Let me tell Woodlesford--I'll answer for him."

Viner considered this proposition for a moment.

"Very well!" he said at last. "Tell him--I shall trust you both.
Remember--it's between the three of us. I shan't say a word to Pawle, nor
to Carless. You know there's a man's life at stake--Hyde's! Hyde is as
innocent as I am--he's an old schoolfellow of mine."

"I understand," said Methley. "Very well, trust to me, Mr. Viner."

He went off with a reassuring nod, and Viner returned to Mr. Carless'
room. The three men he had left there were deep in conversation, and as
he entered, Mr. Carless smote his hand on the desk before him.

"This is certain!" he exclaimed. "We must have this Miss Avice Wickham
here--at once!"



Mr. Pawle nodded assent to this proposition and rose from his chair.

"It's the only thing to do," he said. "We must get to the bottom of this
as quickly as possible--whether Miss Wickham can tell us much or little,
we must know what she can tell. Let us all meet here again at three
o'clock--I will send one of my clerks to fetch her. But let us be clear
on one point--are we to tell this young lady what our conclusions are,
regarding herself?"

"Your conclusions!" said Mr. Carless, with a sly smile. "We know nothing
yet, you know, Pawle."

"My conclusions, then," assented Mr. Pawle. "Are we--"

Lord Ellingham quietly interrupted the old lawyer.

"Pardon me, Mr. Pawle," he said, "but before we go any further, do you
mind telling me, briefly, what your conclusions really are!"

"I will tell your lordship in a few words," answered Mr. Pawle, readily.
"Wrong or right, my conclusions are these: From certain investigations
which Mr. Viner and I have made since this affair began--with the murder
of Ashton--and from certain evidence which we have unearthed, I believe
that Ashton's friend Wickham, the father of the girl we are going to
produce this afternoon, was in reality your lordship's uncle, the missing
Lord Marketstoke. I believe that Ashton came to England in order to prove
this, and that he was probably about to begin proceedings when he was
murdered--for the sake of those papers which we have just seen. And I
believe, too, that we have not seen all the papers which were stolen from
his dead body. What was produced to us just now by Methley and
Woodlesford was a selection--the probability is that there are other and
more important papers in the hands of the murderer, whose cat's-paw or
accomplice this claimant, whoever he may be, is. I believe," concluded
Mr. Pawle, with emphasis, "that my conclusions will be found to be
correct ones, based on indisputable fact."

Lord Ellingham looked from one solicitor to the other.

"Then," he said, with something of a smile, "if Wickham was really my
uncle, Lord Marketstoke, and this young lady you tell me of is his
daughter--what, definitely, is my position?"

Mr. Pawle looked at Mr. Carless, and Mr. Carless shook his head.

"If Mr. Pawle's theory is correct," he said, "and mind you, Pawle, it
will take a lot of proving. If Mr. Pawle's theory is correct, the
position, my lord, is this. The young lady we hear of is Countess of
Ellingham in her own right! She would not be the first woman to succeed
to the title: there was a Countess of Ellingham in the time of George the
Third. She would, of course, have to prove her claim before the House of
Lords--if made good, she succeeds to titles and estates. That's the plain
English of it--and upon my honour," concluded Mr. Carless, "it's one of
the most extraordinary things I ever heard of. This other affair is
nothing to it!"

Lord Ellingham again inspected the legal countenances.

"I see nothing at all improbable about it," he said. "We may as well face
that fact at once. I will be here at three o'clock, Mr. Carless. I
confess I should like to meet my cousin--if she really is that!"

"Your Lordship takes it admirably!" exclaimed Mr. Carless. "But
really--well, I don't know. However, we shall see. But, 'pon my honour,
it's most odd! One claimant disposed of, another, a more formidable one,
comes on!"

"But we have not disposed of the first, have we?" suggested Lord

"I don't anticipate any trouble in that quarter," answered Mr. Carless.
"As I said to those two who have just gone out--send or bring the man
here, and we'll tell in one minute if he's what he claims to be!"

"But--how?" asked Lord Ellingham. "You seem very certain."

"Dead certain!" asserted Mr. Carless. He looked round his callers and
laughed. "I may as well tell you," he said. "Portlethwaite drew me aside
to remind me of it. The real Lord Marketstoke, if he were alive, could
easily be identified. He lost a finger when a mere boy."

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "Good--excellent! Best bit of evidence I've
heard of. Hang this claimant! Now we can tell if Wickham really was Lord
Marketstoke. If necessary, we can have his body exhumed and examined."

"It was a shooting accident," continued Mr. Carless. "He was out shooting
in the park at Ellingham when a boy of fourteen or fifteen; he was using
an old muzzle-loading gun; it burst, and he lost his second finger--the
right hand. It was, of course, very noticeable. Now, that small but very
important fact is most likely not known to Methley and Woodlesford's
client--but it's known to Driver and to Portlethwaite and to me, and now
to all of you. If this man comes here--look at his right hand! If he
possesses his full complement of fingers, well--"

Mr. Carless ended with a significant grimace, and Mr. Pawle, nodding
assent, returned to the question which he was putting when Lord Ellingham
interrupted him.

"Now let us settle the point I raised," he said. "Are we to tell Miss
Wickham what my conclusions are, or are we to leave her in ignorance
until we get proof that they are correct?"

"Or--incorrect!" answered Mr. Carless with an admonitory laugh. "I should
say--at present, tell her nothing. Let us find out all we can from her;
there are several questions I should like to ask her, myself, arising out
of what you have told us. Leave all the rest until a later period. If
your theory is correct, Pawle, it can be established, if it isn't, the
girl may as well be left in ignorance that you ever raised it."

"Until three o'clock, then," said Mr. Pawle.

Three o'clock found the old lawyer and Viner pacing the pavement of
Lincoln's Inn Fields in expectation of Miss Wickham's arrival. She came
at last in the taxicab which Mr. Pawle had sent for her, and her first
words on stepping out of it were of surprise and inquiry.

"What is it, Mr. Pawle?" she demanded as she shook hands with her two
squires. "More questions? What's it all about?"

Mr. Pawle nudged Viner's arm.

"My dear young lady," he answered in grave and fatherly fashion, "you
must bear in mind that a man's life is in danger. We are doing all we can
to clear that unfortunate young fellow Hyde of the dreadful charge which
has been brought against him, and to do that we must get to know all we
can about your late guardian, you know."

"I know so little about Mr. Ashton," said Miss Wickham, looking
apprehensively at the building towards which she was being conducted.
"Where are you taking me?"

"To a solicitor's office--friends of mine," answered Mr. Pawle. "Carless
and Driver--excellent people. Mr. Carless wants to ask you a few
questions in the hope that your answers will give us a little more light
on Ashton's history. You needn't be afraid of Carless," he added as they
began to climb the stairs. "Carless is quite a pleasant fellow--and he
has with him a very amiable young gentleman, Lord Ellingham, of whom you
needn't be afraid, either."

"And why is Lord Ellingham, whoever he may be, there?" inquired Miss

"Lord Ellingham is also interested in your late guardian," replied Mr.
Pawle. "In fact, we are all interested. So now, rub up your memory--and
answer Mr. Carless' questions."

Viner remained in the background, quietly watching, while Mr. Pawle
effected the necessary introductions. He was at once struck by what
seemed to him an indisputable fact--between Lord Ellingham and Miss
Wickham there was an unmistakable family likeness. And he judged from the
curious, scrutinizing look which Mr. Carless gave the two young people as
they shook hands that the same idea struck him--Mr. Carless wound up that
look in a significant glance at Mr. Pawle, to whom he suddenly muttered a
few words which Viner caught.

"By Jove!" he whispered. "I shouldn't wonder if you're right."

Then he placed Miss Wickham in an easy-chair on his right hand, and cast
a preliminary benevolent glance on her.

"Mr. Pawle," he began, "has told us of your relationship with the late
Mr. Ashton--you always regarded him as your guardian?"

"He was my guardian," answered Miss Wickham. "My father left me in
his charge."

"Just so. Now, have you any recollection of your father?"

"Only very vague recollections. I was scarcely six, I think, when he

"What do you remember about him?"

"I think he was a tall, handsome man--I have some impression that he
was. I think, too, that he had a fair complexion and hair. But it's all
very vague."

"Do you remember where you lived?"

"Only that it was in a very big town--Melbourne, of course. I have
recollections of busy streets--I remember, too, that when I left there it
was very, very hot weather."

"Do you remember Mr. Ashton at that time?"

"Oh, yes--I remember Mr. Ashton. I had nobody else, you see; my mother
had died when I was quite little; I have no recollection whatever of
her. I remember Mr. Ashton's house, and that he used to buy me lots of
toys. His house was in a quiet part of the town, and he had a big,
shady garden."

"How long, so far as you remember, did you live with Mr. Ashton there?"

"Not very long, I think. He told me that I was to go to England, to
school. For a little time before we sailed, I lived with Mrs.
Roscombe, with whom I came to England. She was very kind to me; I was
very fond of her."

"And who was Mrs. Roscombe?"

"I didn't know at the time, of course--I only knew she was Mrs. Roscombe.
But Mr. Ashton told me, not long before his death, who she was. She was
the widow of some government official, and she was returning to England
in consequence of his death. So she took charge of me and brought me
over. She used to visit me regularly at school, every week, and I used to
spend my holidays with her until she died."

"Ah!" said Mr. Carless. "She is dead?"

"She died two years ago," answered Miss Wickham.

"I wish she had been living," observed Mr. Carless, with a glance at Mr.
Pawle. "I should have liked to see Mrs. Roscombe. Well," he continued,
turning to Miss Wickham, "so Mrs. Roscombe brought you to England, to
school. What school?"

"Ryedene School."

"Ryedene! That's one of the most expensive schools in England, isn't it?"

"I don't know. I--perhaps it is."

"I happen to know it is," said Mr. Carless dryly. "Two of my clients have
daughters there, now. I've seen their bills! Do you know who paid yours?"

"No," she answered, "I don't know. Mr. Ashton, I suppose."

"You had everything you wanted, I dare say! Clothes, pocket-money,
and so on?"

"I've always had everything I wanted," replied Miss Wickham.

"And you were at Ryedene twelve years?"

"Except for the holidays--yes."

"You must be a very learned young lady," suggested Mr. Carless.

Miss Wickham looked round the circle of attentive faces.

"I can play tennis and hockey very well," she said, smiling a little.
"And I wasn't bad at cricket the last season or two--we played cricket
there. But I'm not up to much at anything else, except that I can talk
French decently."

"Physical culture, eh?" observed Mr. Carless, smiling. "Very well! Now,
then, in the end Mr. Ashton came home to England, and of course came to
see you, and in due course you left school, and came to his house in
Markendale Square, where he got a Mrs. Killenhall to look after you. All
that correct? Yes? Well, then, I think, from what Mr. Pawle tells me,
Mr. Ashton handed over a lot of money to you, and told you it had been
left to you, or left in his charge for you, by your father? That is
correct too? Very well. Now, did Mr. Ashton never tell you anything much
about your father?"

"No, he never did. Beyond telling me that my father was an Englishman who
had gone out to Australia and settled there, he never told me anything.
But," here Miss Wickham paused and hesitated for a while, "I have an
idea," she continued in the end, "that he meant to tell me
something--what, I, of course, don't know. He once or twice--hinted that
he would tell me something, some day."

"You didn't press him?" suggested Mr. Carless.

"I don't think I am naturally inquisitive," replied Miss Wickham. "I
certainly did not press him. I knew he'd tell me, whatever it was, in
his own way."

"One or two other questions," said Mr. Carless. "Do you know who your
mother was?"

"Only that she was some one whom my father met in Australia."

"Do you know what her maiden name was?"

"No, only her Christian name; that was Catherine. She and my father are
buried together."

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Carless. "That is something else I was going to ask.
You know where they are buried?"

"Oh, yes! Because, before we sailed, Mrs. Roscombe took me to the
churchyard, or cemetery, to see my father's and mother's grave. I
remembered that perfectly. Her own husband was buried there too, close
by. I remember how we both cried."

Mr. Carless suddenly pointed to the ornament which Miss Wickham
was wearing.

"Will you take that off, and let me look at it?" he asked. "Thank you,"
he said, as she somewhat surprisedly obeyed. "I believe," he continued,
as he quietly passed the ornament to Lord Ellingham, "that Mr. Ashton
gave you this and told you it had belonged to your father? Just so!
Well," he concluded, handing the ornament back, "I think that's all. Much
obliged to you, Miss Wickham. You won't understand all this, but you
will, later. Now, one of my clerks will get you a car, and well escort
you down to it."

"No," said Lord Ellingham, promptly jumping to his feet. "Allow me--I'm
youngest. If Miss Wickham will let me--"

The two young people went out of the room together, and the three
men left behind looked at each other. There was a brief and
significant silence.

"Well, Carless?" said Mr. Pawle at last. "How now?"

"'Pon my honour," answered Mr. Carless, "I shouldn't wonder if
you're right!"



Mr. Pawle made a gesture which seemed to denote a certain amount of
triumphant self-satisfaction.

"I'm sure I'm right!" he exclaimed. "You'll find out that I'm right! But
there's a tremendous lot to do, Carless. If only that unfortunate man,
Ashton, had lived, he could have cleared this matter up at once. I feel
convinced that he possessed papers which would have proved this girl's
claim beyond dispute. Those papers, of course--"

"Now, what particular papers are you thinking of?" interrupted Mr.

"Well," replied Mr. Pawle, "such papers as proofs of her father's
marriage, and of her own birth. According to what she told us just now,
her father was married in Australia, and she herself was born there.
There must be documentary proof of that."

"Her father was probably married under his assumed name of Wickham,"
observed Mr. Carless. "You'll have to prove that Wickham and Lord
Marketstoke were identical--were one and the same person. The fact is,
Pawle, if this girl's claim is persisted in, there'll have to be a very
searching inquiry made in Australia. However much I may feel that your
theory may be--probably is--right, I should have to advise my client,
Lord Ellingham, to insist on the most complete investigation."

"To be sure, to be sure!" assented Mr. Pawle. "That's absolutely
necessary. But my own impression is that as we get into the secret of
Ashton's murder, as I make no doubt we shall, there will be more evidence
forthcoming. Now, as regards this man, whoever he is, who claims to be
the missing Lord Marketstoke--"

At that moment a clerk entered the room and glanced at Mr. Carless.

"Telephone message from Methley and Woodlesford, sir," he announced. "Mr.
Methley's compliments, and if agreeable to you, he can bring his client
on to see you this afternoon--at once, if convenient."

Mr. Carless looked at Mr. Pawle, and Mr. Pawle nodded a silent assent.

"Tell Mr. Methley it's quite agreeable and convenient," answered Mr.
Carless. "I shall be glad to see them both--at once. Um!" he muttered
when the clerk had withdrawn. "Somewhat sudden, eh, Pawle? You might
almost call it suspicious alacrity. Evidently the gentleman has no fear
of meeting us!"

"You may be quite certain, Carless, if my theory about the whole thing is
a sound theory, that the gentleman will have no fear of meeting anybody,
not even a judge and jury!" answered Mr. Pawle sardonically. "If I
apprehend things rightly, hell have been very carefully coached and

"You think there's a secret conspiracy behind all this?" suggested Mr.
Carless. "With this claimant as cat's-paw--well tutored to his task?"

"I do!" affirmed Mr. Pawle. "Emphatically, I do!"

"Aye, well!" said Mr. Carless. "Don't forget what I told you about the
missing finger--middle finger of the right hand. And I'll have Driver in
here, and Portlethwaite, too; well see if he knows which is which of the
three of us. I'll go and prepare them."

He returned presently with his partner, a quiet, elderly man; a few
minutes later Portlethwaite, evidently keenly interested, joined them.
They and Mr. Pawle began to discuss certain legal matters connected
with the immediate business, and Viner purposely withdrew to a corner
of the room, intent on silently watching whatever followed on the
arrival of the visitors. A quarter of an hour later Methley was shown
into the room, and the five men gathered there turned with one accord
to look at his companion, a tall, fresh-coloured, slightly grey-haired
man of distinctly high-bred appearance, who, Viner saw at once, was
much more self-possessed and assured in manner than any of the men who
rose to meet him.

"My client, Mr. Cave, who claims to be Earl of Ellingham," said Methley,
by way of introduction. "Mr. Car--"

But the other man smiled quietly and immediately assumed a lead.

"There is no need of introduction, Mr. Methley," he said. "I remember all
three gentlemen perfectly! Mr. Carless--Mr. Driver--and--yes, to be sure,
Mr. Portlethwaite! I have a good memory for faces." He bowed to each man
as he named him, and smiled again. "Whether these gentlemen remember me
as well as I remember them," he remarked, "is another question!"

"May I offer you a chair?" said Mr. Carless.

The visitor bowed, sat down, and took off his gloves. And in the silence
which followed, Viner saw that the eyes of Driver, Carless, Pawle and
Portlethwaite were all steadily directed on the claimant's right
hand--he himself turned to it, too, with no small interest. The next
instant he was conscious that an atmosphere of astonishment and surprise
had been set up in that room. For the middle finger of the man's right
hand was missing!

Viner felt, rather than saw, that the three solicitors and the elderly
clerk were exchanging glances of amazement. And he fancied that Mr.
Carless' voice, which had sounded cold and noncommittal as he offered the
visitor a seat, was somewhat uncertain when he turned to address him.

"You claim, sir, to be the Lord Marketstoke who disappeared so many years
ago?" he asked, eyeing the claimant over.

"I claim to be exactly what I am, Mr. Carless," answered the visitor
with another ready and pleasant smile. "I hope your memory will come to
your aid."

"When a man has disappeared--absolutely--for something like thirty-five
years," remarked Mr. Carless, "those whom he has left behind may well be
excused if their memories don't readily respond to sudden demands. But I
should like to ask you some questions? Did you see the advertisements
which were issued, broadcast, at the time of the seventh Earl of
Ellingham's death?"

"Yes--in several English and Colonial papers," answered the claimant.

"Why did you not reply to them?"

"At that time I still persevered in my intention of never again having
anything to do with my old life. I had no desire--at all--to come forward
and claim my rights. So I took no notice of your advertisements."

"And since then--of late, to be exact--you have changed your mind?"
suggested Mr. Carless dryly.

"To a certain extent only," replied the visitor, whose calm assurance was
evidently impressing the legal practitioners around him. "I have already
told Mr. Methley and his partner, Mr. Woodlesford, that I have no desire
to assume my title nor to require possession of the estates which are
certainly mine. I have lived a free life too long to wish for--what I
should come in for if I established my claim. But I have a right to a
share in the property which I quite willingly resign to my nephew--"

"In plain language," said Mr. Carless, "if you are paid a certain
considerable sum of money, you will vanish again into the obscurity from
whence you came? Am I right in that supposition?"

"I don't like your terminology, Mr. Carless," answered the visitor with a
slight frown. "I have not lived in obscurity, and--"

"If you are what you claim to be, sir, you are Earl of Ellingham," said
Mr. Carless firmly, "and I may as well tell you at once that if you prove
to us that you are, your nephew, who now holds title and estates, will at
once relinquish both. There will be no bargaining. It is all or nothing.
Our client, whom we know as Earl of Ellingham, is not going to traffic.
If you are what you claim to be, you are head of the family and must take
your place."

"We could have told you that once for all, if you had come to us in the
first instance" remarked Mr. Driver. "Any other idea is out of the
question. It seems to me most remarkable that such a notion as that which
you suggest should ever enter your head, sir. If you are Earl of
Ellingham, you are!"

"And that reminds me," said Mr. Carless, "that there is another
question I should like to ask. Why, knowing that we have been legal
advisers to your family for several generations, did you not come
straight to us, instead of going--Mr. Methley, I'm sure, will pardon
me--to a firm of solicitors which, as far as I know, has never had any
connection with it!"

"I thought it best to employ absolutely independent advice," replied the
visitor. "And I still think I was right. For example, you evidently do
not admit my claim?"

"We certainly admit nothing, at present!" declared Mr. Carless with a
laugh. "It would be absurd to expect it. The proofs which your solicitors
showed us this morning are no proofs at all. That those papers belonged
to the missing Lord Marketstoke there is no doubt, but your possession of
them at present does not prove that you are Lord Marketstoke or Lord
Ellingham. They may have been stolen!"

The claimant rose from his chair with a good deal of dignity. He glanced
at Methley.

"I do not see that any good can come of this interview, Mr. Methley," he
remarked in quiet, level tones. "I am evidently to be treated as an
impostor. In that case,"--he bowed ceremoniously to the men gathered
around Mr. Carless' desk--"I think it best to withdraw."

Therewith he walked out of the room; and Methley, after a quiet word with
Carless, followed--to be stopped in the corridor, for a second time that
day, by Viner, who had hurried after him.

"I'm not going to express any opinion on what we've just heard,"
whispered Viner, drawing Methley aside, "but in view of what I told you
this morning, there's something I want you to do for me."

"Yes!" said Methley. "What?"

"That unlucky fellow Hyde, who is on remand, is to be brought before the
magistrate tomorrow morning," answered Viner. "Get him--this claimant
there, to attend the court as a spectator--go with him! Use any argument
you like, but get him there! I've a reason--which I'll explain later."

"I'll do my best," promised Methley. "And I've an idea of what's on your
mind. You want to find out if Hyde can recognize him as the man whom he
met at the Markendale Square end of Lonsdale Passage?"

"Well, that is my idea!" assented Viner. "So get him there."

Methley nodded and turned away; then he turned back and pointed at
Carless' room.

"What do they really think in there?" he whispered. "Tell me--between

"That he is an impostor, and that there's a conspiracy," replied Viner.

Methley nodded again, and Viner went back. The men whom he had left were
talking excitedly.

"It was the only course to take!" Mr. Carless was declaring.
"Uncompromising hostility! We could do no other. You saw--quite
well--that he was all for money. I will engage that we could have settled
with him for one half of what he asked. But--who is he?"

"The middle finger of his right hand is gone!" said Mr. Pawle, who had
been very quiet and thoughtful during the recent proceedings. "Remember
that, Carless!"

"A most extraordinary coincidence!" exclaimed Mr. Carless excitedly. "I
don't care twopence what anybody says--we all know that the most
surprising coincidences do occur. Nothing but a coincidence! I
assert--what is it, Portlethwaite?"

The elderly clerk had been manifesting a strong desire to get in a word,
and he now rapped his senior employer's elbow.

"Mr. Carless," he said earnestly, "you know that before I came to you,
now nearly forty years ago, I was a medical student: you know, too, you
and Mr. Driver, why I gave up medicine for the law. But--I haven't
forgotten all of that I learned in the medical schools and the

"Well, Portlethwaite," demanded Mr. Carless, "what is it? You've
some idea?"

"Gentlemen," answered the elderly clerk. "I was always particularly
interested in anatomy in my medical student days. I've been looking
attentively at what I could see of that man's injured finger since he sat
down at that desk. And I'll lay all I have that he lost the two joints of
that finger within the last three months! The scar over the stump had not
long been healed. That's a fact!"

Mr. Carless looked round with a triumphant smile.

"There!" he exclaimed. "What did I tell you? Coincidence--nothing but

But Portlethwaite shook his head.

"Why not say design, Mr. Carless?" he said meaningly. "Why not say
design? If this man, or the people who are behind him, knew that the real
Lord Marketstoke had a finger missing, what easier--in view of the stake
they're playing for--than to remove one of this man's fingers? Design,
sir, design. All part of the scheme!"

The elderly clerk's listeners looked at each other.

"I'll tell you what it is!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle with sudden emphasis.
"The more we see and hear of this affair, the more I'm convinced that it
is, as Portlethwaite says, a conspiracy. You know, that fellow who has
just been here was distinctly taken aback when you, Carless, informed him
that it was going to be a case of all or nothing. He--or the folk behind
him--evidently expected that they'd be able to effect a money settlement.
Now, I should say that the real reason of his somewhat hasty retirement
was that he wanted to consult his principal or principals. Did you notice
that he was not really affronted by your remark? Not he! His personal
dignity wasn't ruffled a bit. He was taken aback! He's gone off to
consult. Carless, you ought to have that man carefully shadowed, to see
where and to whom he goes."

"Good idea!" muttered Mr. Driver. "We might see to that."

"I can put a splendid man on to him, at once, Mr. Carless," remarked
Forlethwaite. "If you could furnish me with his address--"

"Methley and Woodlesford know it," said Mr. Carless. "Um--yes, that might
be very useful. Ring Methley's up, Portlethwaite, and ask if they would
oblige us with the name of Mr. Cave's hotel--some residential hotel in
Lancaster Gate, I believe."

Mr. Pawle and Viner went away, ruminating over the recent events, and
walked to the old lawyer's offices in Bedford Row. Mr. Pawle's own
particular clerk met them as they entered.

"There's Mr. Roland Perkwite, of the Middle Temple, in your room, sir,"
he said, addressing his master. "You may remember him, sir--we've briefed
him once or twice in some small cases. Mr. Perkwite wants to see you
about this Ashton affair--he says he's something to tell you."

Mr. Pawle looked at Viner and beckoned him to follow.

"Here a little, and there a little!" he whispered. "What are we going to
hear this time?"



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