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The Pit Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Croft

Part 3 out of 6

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dusk had fallen, that he suddenly heard voices.

At first he could not distinguish the words, but the tone was
Bulla's, and from the sounds it was clear the engineer and some
others were approaching. Then Beamish spoke:

"You'd better keep your eyes open anyway," he said. "Morton says
they only stayed at work about a week. They're off somewhere now.
Morton couldn't discover where, but he's trying to trace them."

"I'm not afraid of them," returned the manager's voice. "Even if
they found this place, which of course they might, they couldn't
find out anything else. We've got too good a site."

"Well, don't make the mistake of underestimating their brains,"
counseled Beamish, as the three men moved slowly down the wharf.
Merriman, considerably thrilled, watched them go on board and
disappear into the captain's cabin.

So it was clear, then, that he and Hilliard were seriously suspected
by the syndicate and were being traced by their spy! What luck
would the spy have? And if he succeeded in his endeavor, what would
be their fortune? Merriman was no coward, but he shivered slightly
as he went over in his mind the steps of their present quest, and
realized how far they had failed to cover their traces, how at stage
after stage they had given themselves away to anyone who cared to
make a few inquiries. What fools, he thought, they were not to have
disguised themselves! Simple disguises would have been quite enough.
No doubt they would not have deceived personal friends, but they
would have made all the difference to a stranger endeavoring to
trace them from descriptions and those confounded photographs. Then
they should not have travelled together to Hull, still less have
gone to the same hotel. It was true they had had the sense to
register under false names, but that would be but a slight hindrance
to a skillful investigator. But their crowning folly, in Merriman's
view, was the hiring of the boat and the starting off at night
from the docks and arriving back there in the morning. What they
should have done, he now thought bitterly, was to have taken a boat
at Grimsby or some other distant town and kept it continuously,
letting no one know when they set out on or returned from their

But there was no use in crying over spilt milk. Merriman repeated
to himself the adage, though he did not find it at all comforting.
Then his thoughts passed on to the immediate present, and he wondered
whether he should not try to get out of the barrel and emulate
Hilliard's exploit in boarding the Girondin and listening to the
conversation in the captain's cabin. But he soon decided he must
keep to the arranged plan, and make sure nothing was put ashore from
the ship under cover of darkness.

Once again ensued a period of waiting, during which the time dragged
terribly heavily. Everything without was perfectly still, until at
about half past eleven the door of the captain's cabin opened and its
three occupants came out into the night. The starboard deck light
was on and by its light Merriman could see the manager take his leave,
cross the gangway, pass up the wharf and enter the shed. Bulla went
down towards his cabin door and Beamish, snapping off the deck light,
returned to his. In about fifteen minutes his light also went out
and complete darkness and silence reigned.

Some two hours later Merriman, who had kept awake and on guard only
by the most determined effort, heard a gentle tap on the barrel and
a faint "Hist!" The lid was slowly raised, and to his intense
relief he was able to stand upright and greet Hilliard crouching

"Any news?" queried the latter in the faintest of whispers.
"Absolutely none. Not a single thing came out of that boat but props.
I had a splendid view all the time. Except this, Hilliard" -
Merriman's whisper became more intense - "They suspect us and are
trying to trace us."

"Let them try," breathed Hilliard. "Here, take this in."

He handed over the satchel of fresh food and took out the old one.
Then Merriman climbed out, held up the lid until Hilliard had taken
his place, wished his friend good luck, and passing like a shadow
along the wharf, noiselessly descended the steps and reached the
boat. A few seconds later he had drifted out of sight of the depot,
and was pulling with long, easy strokes down-stream.

The air and freedom felt incredibly good after his long confinement,
and it was a delight to stretch his muscles at the oars. So hard
did he row that it was barely three when he reached the boat slip in
Hull. There he tied up the skiff and walked to the hotel. Before
four he was sound asleep in his room.

That evening about seven as he strolled along the waterfront waiting
until it should be time to take out his boat, he was delighted to
observe the Girondin pass out to sea. He had dreaded having to take
another twenty-four hours' trick in the cask, which would have been
necessary had the ship not left that evening. Now all that was
needed was a little care to get Hilliard out, and the immediate job
would be done.

He took out the boat about eleven and duly reached the wharf. All
was in darkness, and he crept to the barrel and softly raised the lid.

Hilliard was exhausted from the long strain, but with his friend's
help he succeeded in clambering out, having first examined the floor
of the barrel to see that nothing had been overlooked, as well as
plugging the two holes with corks. They regained the boat in silence,
and it was not until they were some distance from the wharf that
either spoke.

"My goodness! Merriman," Hilliard said at last, "but that was an
awful experience! You left the air in that cursed barrel bad, and
it got steadily worse until I thought I should have died or had to
lift the lid and give the show away. It was just everything I could
do to keep going till the ship left."

"But did you see anything?" Merriman demanded eagerly.

"See anything? Not a blessed thing! We are barking up the wrong
tree, Merriman. I'll stake my life nothing came out of that boat
but props. No; what those people are up to I don't know, but there's
one thing a dead cert, and that is that they're not smuggling."

They rowed on in silence, Hilliard almost sick with weariness and
disappointment, Merriman lost in thought over their problem. It was
still early when they reached their hotel, and they followed
Merriman's plan of the morning before and went straight to bed.

Next day they spent in the hotel lounge, gloomily smoking and at
intervals discussing the affair. They had admitted themselves
outwitted - up to the present at all events. And neither could
suggest any further step. There seemed to be no line of
investigation left which might bear better fruit. They agreed
that the brandy smuggling theory must be abandoned, and they had
nothing to take its place.

"We're fairly up against it as far as I can see," Hilliard admitted
despondently. "It's a nasty knock having to give up the only
theory we were able to think of, but it's a hanged sight worse not
knowing how we are going to carry on the inquiry."

"That is true," Merriman returned, Madeleine Coburn's face rising
before his imagination, "but we can't give it up for all that. We
must go on until we find something."

"That's all very well. What are we to go on doing?"

Silence reigned for several minutes and then Hilliard spoke again.

"I'm afraid it means Scotland Yard after all."

Merriman sat up quickly.

"Not that, not that!" he protested, as he had protested in similar
terms on a previous occasion when the same SUGGESTION had been made.
"We must keep away from the police at all costs." He spoke earnestly.

"I know your views," Hilliard answered, "and agree with them. But
if neither of us can suggest an alternative, what else remains?"

This was what Merriman had feared and he determined to play the
one poor trump in his hand.

"The number plates," he suggested. "As I said before, that is the
only point at which we have actually come up against this mystery.
Why not let us start in on it? If we knew why those plates were
changed, the chances are we should know enough to clear up the whole

Hilliard, who was suffering from the reaction of his night of stress,
took a depressed view and did not welcome the SUGGESTION. He seemed
to have lost heart in the inquiry, and again urged dropping it and
passing on their knowledge to Scotland Yard. But this course
Merriman strenuously opposed, pressing his view that the key to the
mystery was to be found in the changing of the lorry numbers.
Finally they decided to leave the question over until the following
day, and to banish the affair from their minds for that evening by a
visit to a music hall.



Merriman was awakened in the early hours of the following morning
by a push on the shoulder and, opening his eyes, he was amazed to
see Hilliard, dressed only in his pajamas, leaning over him. On
his friend's face was an expression of excitement and delight which
made him a totally different man from the gloomy pessimist of the
previous day.

"Merriman, old man," he cried, though in repressed tones - it was
only a little after five - "I'm frightfully sorry to stir you up, but
I just couldn't help it. I say, you and I are a nice pair of idiots!"

Merriman grunted.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he murmured sleepily.

"Talking about?" Hilliard returned eagerly. "Why, this affair, of
course! I see it now, but what I don't see is how we missed it
before. The idea struck me like a flash. Just while you'd wink I
saw the whole thing!"

Merriman, now thoroughly aroused, moved with some annoyance.

"For Heaven's sake, explain yourself," he demanded. "What whole

"How they do it. We thought it was brandy smuggling but we couldn't
see how it was done. Well, I see now. It's brandy smuggling right
enough, and we'll get them this time. We'll get them, Merriman,
we'll get them yet."

Hilliard was bubbling over with excitement. He could not remain
still, but began to pace up and down the room. His emotion was
infectious, and Merriman began to feel his heart beat quicker as
he listened.

Hilliard went on:

"We thought there might be brandy, in fact we couldn't suggest
anything else. But we didn't see any brandy; we saw pit-props.
Isn't that right?"

"Well?" Merriman returned impatiently. "Get on. What next?"

"That's all," Hilliard declared with a delighted laugh. "That's
the whole thing. Don't you see it now?"

Merriman felt his anger rising.

"Confound it all, Hilliard," he protested. "If you haven't
anything better to do than coming round wakening - "

"Oh, don't get on your hind legs," Hilliard interrupted with another
ecstatic chuckle. "What I say is right -enough. Look here, it's
perfectly simple. We thought brandy would be unloaded! And what's
more, we both sat in that cursed barrel and watched it being done!
But all we saw coming ashore was pit-props, Merriman, pit-props!
Now don't you see?"

Merriman suddenly gasped.

"Lord!" he cried breathlessly. "It was in the props?"

"Of course it was in the props!" Hilliard repeated triumphantly.
"Hollow props; a few hollow ones full of brandy to unload in their
shed, many genuine ones to sell! What do you think of that,
Merriman? Got them at last, eh?"

Merriman lay still as he tried to realize what this idea involved.
Hilliard, moving jerkily about the room as if he were a puppet
controlled by wires, went on speaking.

"I thought it out in bed before I came along. All they'd have to
do would be to cut the props in half and bore them out, attaching
a screwed ring to one half and a screwed socket to the other so
that they'd screw together like an ordinary gas thimble. See?"

Merriman nodded.

"Then they'd get some steel things like oxygen gas cylinders to fit
inside. They'd be designed of such a thickness that their weight
would be right; that their weight plus the brandy would be equal to
the weight of the wood bored out."

He paused and looked at Merriman. The latter nodded again.

"The rest would be as easy as tumbling off a log. At night Coburn
and company would screw off the hollow ends, fill the cylinders with
brandy, screw on the end again, and there you have your props -
harmless, innocent props - ready for loading up on the Girondin.
Of course, they'd have them marked. Then when they're being
unloaded that manager would get the marked ones put aside - they
could somehow be
defective, too long or too short or too thin or too anything you
like - he would find some reason for separating them out - and then
at night he would open the things and pour out the brandy, screw
them up again and - there you are!"

Hilliard paused dramatically, like a conjurer who has just drawn a
rabbit from a lady's vanity bag.

"That would explain that Ferriby manager sleeping in the shed,"
Merriman put in.

"So it would. I hadn't thought of that."

"And," Merriman went on, "there'd be enough genuine props carried
on each trip to justify the trade."

"Of course. A very few faked ones would do all they wanted - say
two or three per cent. My goodness, Merriman, it's a clever scheme;
they deserve to win. But they're not going to." Again he laughed

Merriman was thinking deeply. He had recovered his composure, and
had begun to weigh the idea critically.

"They mightn't empty the brandy themselves at all," he said slowly.
"What's to prevent them running the faked props to the firm who
plants the brandy?"

"That's true," Hilliard returned. "That's another idea. My eyes,
what possibilities the notion has!"

They talked on for some moments, then Hilliard, whose first
excitement was beginning to wane, went back to his room for some
clothes. In a few minutes he returned full of another side of the

"Let's just work out," he suggested, "how much you could put into
a prop. Take a prop say nine inches in diameter and nine feet long.
Now you can't weaken it enough to risk its breaking if it
accidentally falls. Suppose you bored a six-inch hole down its
center. That would leave the sides one and half inches thick, which
should be ample. What do you think?"

"Take it at that anyway," answered Merriman.

"Very well. Now how long would it be? If we bore too deep a hole
we may split the prop. What about two feet six inches into each
end? Say a five-foot tube?"

"Take it at that," Merriman repeated.

"How much brandy could you put into a six-inch tube, five feet
long?" He calculated aloud, Merriman checking each step. "That
works out at a cubic foot of brandy, six and a quarter gallons,
fifty pints or four hundred glasses-four hundred glasses per prop."

He paused, looked at his friend, and resumed:

"A glass of brandy in France costs you sixpence; in England it costs
you half-a-crown. Therefore, if you can smuggle the stuff over you
make a profit of two shillings a glass. Four hundred glasses at two
shillings. There's a profit of 40 pounds per prop, Merriman!"

Merriman whistled. He was growing more and more im-
pressed. The longer he considered the idea, the more likely it
seemed. He listened eagerly as Hilliard, once again excitedly
pacing the room, resumed his calculations.

"Now you have a cargo of about seven thousand props. Suppose you
assume one per cent of them are faked, that would be seventy. We
don't know how many they have, of course, but one out of every
hundred is surely a conservative figure. Seventy props means 2,800
pounds profit per trip. And they have a trip every ten days - say
thirty trips a year to be on the safe side - 84,000 pounds a year
profit! My eyes, Merriman, it would be worth running some risks
for 84,000 a year!"

"Risks?" cried Merriman, now as much excited as his friend. "They'd
risk hell for it! I bet, Hilliard, you've got it at last. 84,000
pounds a year! But look here," - his voice changed - "you have to
divide it among the members."

"That's true, you have," Hilliard admitted, "but even so - how many
are there? Beamish, Bulla, Coburn, Henri, the manager here, and the
two men they spoke of, Morton and Archer - that makes seven. That
would give them 12,000 a year each. It's still jolly well worth

"Worth while? I should just say so." Merriman lay silently pondering
the idea. Presently he spoke again.

"Of course those figures of yours are only guesswork."

"They're only guesswork," Hilliard agreed with a trace of impatience
in his manner, "because we don't know the size of the tubes and the
number of the props, but it's not guesswork that they can make a
fortune out of smuggling in that way. We see now that the thing can
be done, and how it can be done. That's something gained anyway."

Merriman nodded and sat up in bed.

"Hand me my pipe and baccy out of that coat pocket like a good man,"
he asked, continuing slowly:

"It'll be some job, I fancy, proving it. We shall have to see first
if the props are emptied at that depot, and if not we shall have to
find out where they're sent, and investigate. I seem to see a
pretty long program opening out. Have you any plans?"

"Not a plan," Hilliard declared cheerfully. "No time to make 'em
yet. But we shall find a way somehow."

They went on discussing the matter in more detail. At first the
testing of Hilliard's new theory appeared a simple matter, but the
more they thought it over the more difficult it seemed to become.
For one thing there would be the investigations at the depot.
Whatever unloading of the brandy was carried on there would
probably be done inside the shed and at night. It would therefore
be necessary to find some hiding place within the building from
which the investigations could be made. This alone was an
undertaking bristling with difficulties. In the first place, all
the doors of the shed were locked and none of them opened without
noise. How were they without keys to open the doors in the dark,
silently and without leaving traces? Observations might be
required during the entire ten-day cycle, and that would mean that
at some time each night one of these doors would have to be opened
and shut to allow the watcher to be relieved. And if the emptying
of the props were done at night how were they to ensure that this
operation should not coincide with the visit of the relief? And
this was all presupposing that a suitable hiding place could be
found inside the building in such a position that from it the
operations in question could be overlooked.

Here no doubt were pretty serious obstacles, but even were they
all successfully overcome it did not follow that they would have
solved the problem. The faked props might be loaded up and
forwarded to some other depot, and, if so, this other depot might
be by no means easy to find. Further, if it were found, nocturnal
observation of what went on within would then become necessary.

It seemed to the friends that all they had done up to the present
would be the merest child's play in comparison to what was now
required. During the whole of that day and the next they brooded
over the problem, but without avail. The more they thought about
it the more hopeless it seemed. Even Hilliard's cheery optimism
was not proof against the wave of depression which swept over him.

Curiously enough it was to Merriman, the plodding rather than the
brilliant, that light first came. They were seated in the otherwise
empty hotel lounge when he suddenly stopped smoking, sat motionless
for nearly a minute, and then turned eagerly to his companion.

"I say, Hilliard," he exclaimed. "I wonder if there mightn't be
another way out after all - a scheme for making them separate the
faked and the genuine props? Do you know Leatham - Charlie Leatham
of Ellerby, somewhere between Selby and Boughton? No? Well, he
owns a group of mines in that district. He's as decent a soul as
ever breathed, and is just rolling in money. Now, - how would it
do if we were to go to Charlie and tell him the whole thing, and
ask him to approach these people to see if they would sell him a
cargo of props - an entire cargo. I should explain that he has a
private wharf for lighters on one of those rivers up beyond Goole,
but the approach is too shallow for a sea-going boat. Now, why
shouldn't he tell these people about his wharf, saying he had
heard the Girondin was shallow in the draught, and might get up?
He would then say he would take an entire cargo on condition that
he could have it at his own place and so save rail carriage from
Ferriby. That would put the syndicate in a hole. They couldn't
let any of the faked props out of their possession, and if they
agreed to Leatham's proposal they'd have to separate out the faked
props from the genuine, and keep the faked aboard. On their way
back from Leatham's they would have to call at Ferriby to put these
faked ones ashore, and if we are not utter fools we should surely
be able to get hold of them then. What do you think, Hilliard?"

Hilliard smote his thigh.

"Bravo!" he cried with enthusiasm. "I think it's just splendid.
But is there any chance your friend would take a cargo? It's
rather a large order, you know. What would it run into? Four
or five thousand pounds?"

"Why shouldn't he? He has to buy props anyway, and these are good
props and they would be as cheap as any he could get elsewhere.
Taking them at his own wharf would be good business. Besides,
7,000 props is not a big thing for a group of mines. There are a
tremendous lot used."

"That's true."

"But the syndicate may not agree," Merriman went on. "And yet I
think they will. It would look suspicious for them to refuse so
good an offer."

Hilliard nodded. Then a further idea seemed to strike him and he
sat up suddenly.

"But, Merriman, old man," he exclaimed, "you've forgotten one thing.
If they sent a cargo of that kind they'd send only genuine props.
They wouldn't risk the others."

But Merriman was not cast down.

"I dare say you're right," he admitted, "but we can easily prevent
that. Suppose Leatham arranges for a cargo for some indefinite date
ahead, then on the day after the Girondin leaves France he goes to
Ferriby and says some other consignment has failed him, and could
they let him have the next cargo? That would meet the case,
wouldn't it?"

"By Jove, Merriman, but you're developing the detective instinct
and no mistake! I think the scheme's worth trying anyway. How
can you get in touch with your friend?"

"I'll phone him now that we shall be over tomorrow to see him."

Leatham was just leaving his office when Merriman's call reached

"Delighted to see you and meet your friend," he answered. "But
couldn't you both come over now and stay the night? You would be
a perfect godsend to me, for Hilda's in London and I have the
house to myself."

Merriman thanked him, and later on the two friends took the 6.35
train to Ellerby. Leatham's car was waiting for them at the station,
and in a few minutes they had reached the mineowner's house.

Charles Leatham was a man of about five-and-thirty, tall, broad,
and of muscular build. He had a strong, clean-shaven face, a
kindly though direct manner, and there was about him a SUGGESTION
of decision and efficiency which inspired the confidence of those
with whom he came in contact

"This is very jolly," he greeted them. "How are you, old man?
Glad to meet you, Hilliard. This is better than the lonely evening
I was expecting."

They went into dinner presently, but it was not until the meal was
over and they were stretched in basket chairs on the terrace in the
cool evening air that Merriman reverted to the subject which had
brought them together.

"I'm afraid," he began, "it's only now when I am right up against
it that I realize what appalling cheek we show in coming to you
like this, and when you hear what we have in our minds, I'm afraid
you will think so too. As a matter of fact, we've accidentally got
hold of information that a criminal organization of some kind is in
operation. For various reasons our hands are tied about going to
the police, so we're trying to play the detectives ourselves, and
now we're up against a difficulty we don't see our way through. We
thought if we could interest you sufficiently to induce you to join
us, we might devise a scheme.

Amazement had been growing on Leatham's face while Merriman was

"Sounds like the New Arabian Nights!" he exclaimed. "You're not by
any chance pulling my leg?"

Merriman reassured him.

"The thing's really a bit serious," he continued. "If what we
suspect is going on, the parties concerned won't be squeamish
about the means they adopt to keep their secret. I imagine they'd
have a short way with meddlers."

Leatham's expression of astonishment did not decrease, but "By Jove!"
was all he said.

"For that reason we can only tell you about it in confidence."

Merriman paused and glanced questioningly at the other, who nodded
without replying.

"It began when I was cycling from Bayonne to Bordeaux," Merriman
went on, and he told his host about his visit to the clearing, his
voyage of discovery with Hilliard and what they had learned in
France, their trip to Hull, the Ferriby depot and their adventures
thereat, ending up by explaining their hollow pit-prop idea, and
the difficulty with which they found themselves faced.

Leatham heard the story with an interest which could hardly fail
to gratify its narrator. When it was finished he expressed his
feelings by giving vent to a long and complicated oath. Then he
asked how they thought he could help. Merriman explained. The
mineowner rather gasped at first, then he laughed and slapped his

"By the Lord Harry!" he cried, "I'll do it! As a matter of fact I
want the props, but I'd do it anyway to see you through. If there's
anything at all in what you suspect it'll make the sensation of the

He thought for a moment, then went on:

"I shall go down to that depot at Ferriby tomorrow, have a look at
the props, and broach the idea of taking a cargo. It'll be
INTERESTING to have a chat with that manager fellow, and you may
bet I'll keep my eyes open. You two had better lie low here, and
in the evening we'll have another talk and settle what's to be done."

The next day the friends "lay low," and evening saw them once more
on the terrace with their host. It seemed that he had motored to
Ferriby about midday. The manager had been polite and even friendly,
had seemed pleased at the visit of so influential a customer, and
had shown him over the entire concern without the slightest
hesitation. He had appeared delighted at the prospect of disposing
of a whole cargo of props, and had raised no objection to the
Girondin unloading at Leatham's wharf. The price was moderate, but
not exceptionally so.

"I must admit," Leatham concluded, "that everything appeared very
sound and businesslike. I had a look everywhere in that shed and
enclosure, and I saw nothing even remotely suspicious. The manager's
manner, too, was normal and it seems to me that either he's a jolly
good actor or you two chaps are on a wild goose chase."

"We may be about the hollow props," Merriman returned, "and we may
be about the brandy smuggling. But there's no mistake at all about
something being wrong. That's certain from what Hilliard overheard."

Leatham nodded.

"I know all that," he said, "and when we've carried out this present
scheme we shall know something more. Now let's see. When does that
blessed boat next leave France?"

"Thursday morning, we reckon," Hilliard told him.

"Then on Friday afternoon I shall call up those people and pitch my
yarn about my consignment of props having gone astray, and ask if
they can send their boat direct here. How's that?"

"Nothing could be better."

"Then I think for the present you two had better clear out. Our
connection should not be known. And don't go near London either.
That chap Morton has lost you once, but he'll not do it a second
time. Go and tramp the Peak District, or something of that kind.
Then you'll be wanted back in Hull on Saturday."

"What's that for?" both men exclaimed in a breath.

"That blessed barrel of yours. You say the Girondin will leave
France on Thursday night. That means she will be in the Humber on
Sunday night or Monday morning. Now you reckoned she would unload
here and put the faked props ashore and load up oil at Ferriby on
her way out. But she mightn't. She might go into Ferriby first.
It would be the likely thing to do, in fact, for then she'd get
here with nothing suspicious aboard and could unload everything.
So I guess you'll have to watch in your barrel on Sunday, and that
means getting into it on Saturday night."

The two friends swore and Leatham laughed.

"Good heavens," Hilliard cried, "it means about four more nights of
the damned thing. From Saturday night to Sunday night for the
arrival; maybe until Monday night if she lies over to discharge the
faked props on Monday. Then another two nights or maybe three to
cover her departure. I tell you it's a tall order."

"But think of the prize," Leatham smiled maliciously. "As a matter
of fact I don't see any other way."

"There is no other way," Merriman declared with decision. "We may
just set our teeth and go through with it."

After further discussion it was arranged that the friends would
leave early next day for Harrogate. There Leatham would wire them
on Friday the result of his negotiations about the Girondin. They
could then return to Hull and get out their boat on Saturday should
that be necessary. When about midnight they turned in, Leatham was
quite as keen about the affair as his guests, and quite as anxious
that their joint experiment should be crowned with success.

The two friends spent a couple of lazy days amusing themselves in
Harrogate, until towards evening on the Friday Merriman was called
to the telephone.

"That'll be Leatham," he exclaimed. "Come on, Hilliard, and hear
what he has to say."

It was the mineowner speaking from his office.

"I've just rung up our friends," he told them, "and that business
is all right. There was some delay about it at first, for Benson
- that's the manager - was afraid he hadn't enough stock of props
for current orders. But on looking up his records he found he
could manage, so he is letting the ship come on."

"Jolly good, Leatham."

"The Girondin is expected about seven tomorrow evening. Benson then
asked about a pilot. It seems their captain is a certified pilot of
the Humber up to Ferriby, but he could not take the boat farther. I
told him I'd lend him the man who acted for me, and what I've
arranged is this, I shall send Angus Menzies, the master of one of
my river tugs, to the wharf at Ferriby about six on Saturday evening.
When the Girondin comes up he can go aboard and work her on here.
Menzies is a good man, and I shall drop a hint that I've bought the
whole cargo, and to keep his eyes open that nothing is put ashore
that I don't get. That'll be a still further check."

The friends expressed their satisfaction at this arrangement, and
it was decided that as soon as the investigation was over all three
should meet and compare results at Leatham's house.

Next evening saw the two inquirers back at their hotel in Hull.
They had instructed the owner of their hired boat to keep it in
readiness for them, and about eleven o'clock, armed with the
footstool and the satchel of food, they once more got on board and
pulled out on to the great stream. Merriman not wishing to spend
longer in the barrel than was absolutely necessary, they went
ashore near Hassle and had a couple of hours' sleep, and it was
well past four when they reached the depot. The adventure was
somewhat more risky than on the previous occasion, owning to the
presence of a tiny arc of moon. Rut they carried out their plans
without mishap, Merriman taking his place in the cask, and Hilliard
returning to Hull with the boat.

If possible, the slow passage of the heavily weighted hours until
the following evening was even more irksome to the watcher than on
the first occasion. Merriman felt he would die of weariness and
boredom long before anything happened, and it was only the thought
that he was doing it for Madeleine Coburn that kept him from utter

At intervals during the morning, Benson, the manager, or one of
the other men came out for a moment or two on the wharf, but no
regular work went on there. During the interminable hours of the
afternoon no one appeared at all, the whole place remaining silent
and deserted, and it was not until nearly six that the sound of
footsteps fell on Merriman's weary ears. He heard a gruff voice
saying: "Ah'm no so sairtain o' it mesel'," which seemed to
accord with the name of Leatham's skipper, and then came Benson's
voice raised in agreement.

The two men passed out of the shed and moved to the edge of the
wharf, pursuing a desultory discussion, the drift of which Merriman
could not catch. The greater part of an hour passed, when first
Benson and then Menzies began to stare eastwards down the river.
It seemed evident to Merriman that the Girondin was in sight, and
he began to hope that something more INTERESTING would happen. But
the time dragged wearily for another half-hour, until he heard the
bell of the engine-room telegraph and the wash of the screw. A
moment later the ship appeared, drew alongside, and was berthed,
all precisely as had happened before.

As soon as the gangway was lowered, Benson sprang aboard, and
running up the ladder to the bridge, eagerly addressed Captain
Beamish. Merriman could not hear what was said, but he could see
the captain shaking his head and making little gestures of
disapproval. He watched him go to the engine room tube and speak
down it. It was evidently a call to Bulla, for almost immediately
the engineer appeared and ascended to the bridge, where all three
joined in a brief discussion. Finally Benson came to the side of
the ship and shouted something to Menzies, who at once went on
board and joined the group on the bridge. Merriman saw Benson
introduce him to the others, and then apparently explain something
to him. Menzies nodded as if satisfied and the conversation became

Merriman was considerably thrilled by this new development. He
imagined that Benson while, for the benefit of Menzies, ostensibly
endeavoring to make the arrangements agreed on, had in reality
preceded the pilot on board in order to warn the captain of the
proposal, and arrange with him some excuse for keeping the ship
where she was for the night. Bulla had been sent for to acquaint
him with the situation, and it was not until all three were agreed
as to their story that Menzies was invited to join the conclave.
To Merriman it certainly looked as if the men were going to fall
into the trap which he and his friends had prepared, and he
congratulated himself on having adhered to his program and hidden
himself in the barrel, instead of leaving the watching to be done
by Menzies, as he had been so sorely tempted to do. For it was
clear to him that if any secret work was to be done Menzies would
be got out of the way until it was over. Merriman was now keenly
on the alert, and he watched every movement on the ship or wharf
with the sharpness of a lynx. Bulla presently went below, leaving
the other three chatting on the bridge, then a move was made and,
the engineer reappearing, all four entered the cabin. Apparently
they were having a meal, for in about an hour's time they emerged,
and bringing canvas chairs to the boat deck, sat down and began
to smoke - all except Bulla, who once again disappeared below.
In a few moments he emerged with one of the crew, and began to
superintend the coupling of the oil hose. The friends had
realized the ship would have to put in for oil, but they had
expected that an hour's halt would have sufficed to fill up. But
from the delay in starting and the leisurely way the operation
was being conducted, it looked as if she was not proceeding that

In about an hour the oiling was completed, and Bulla followed his
friends to the captain's cabin, where the latter had retired when
dusk began to fall. An hour later they came out, said "Good-night,"
and separated, Benson coming ashore, Bulla and Menzies entering
cabins on the main deck, and Captain Beamish snapping off the deck
light and re-entering his own room.

"Now or never," thought Merriman, as silence and darkness settled
down over the wharf.

But apparently it was to be never. Once again the hours crept
slowly by and not a sign of activity became apparent. Nothing moved
on either ship or wharf, until about two in the morning he saw dimly
in the faint moonlight the figure of Hilliard to relieve him.

The exchange was rapidly effected, and Hilliard took up his watch,
while his friend pulled back into Hull, and following his own
precedent, went to the hotel and to bed.

The following day Merriman took an early train to Goole, returning
immediately. This brought him past the depot, and he saw that the
Girondin had left.

That night he again rowed to the wharf and relieved Hilliard. They
had agreed that in spite of the extreme irksomeness of a second night
in the cask it was essential to continue their watch, lest the
Girondin should make another call on her way to sea and then
discharge the faked props.

The remainder of the night and the next day passed like a hideous
dream. There being nothing to watch for in the first part of his
vigil, Merriman tried to sleep, but without much success. The
hours dragged by with an incredible deliberation, and during the
next day there was but slight movement on the wharf to occupy his
attention. And then just before dark he had the further annoyance
of learning that his long-drawn-out misery had been unnecessary.
He saw out in the river the Girondin passing rapidly seawards.

Their plan then had failed. He was too weary to think consecutively
about it, but that much at least was clear. When Hilliard arrived
some five hours later, he had fallen into a state of partial coma,
and his friend had considerable trouble in rousing him to make the
effort necessary to leave his biding place with the requisite care
and silence.

The next evening the two friends left Hull by a late train, and
reaching Leatham's house after dusk had fallen, were soon seated in
his smoking-room with whiskies and sodas at their elbows and Corona
Coronas in their mouths. All three were somewhat gloomy, and their
disappointment and chagrin were very real. Leatham was the first
to put their thoughts into words.

"Well," he said, drawing at his cigar, "I suppose we needn't say
one thing and think another. I take it our precious plan has

"That's about the size of it," Hilliard admitted grimly.

"Your man saw nothing?" Merriman inquired.

"He saw you," the mineowner returned. "He's a very dependable chap,
and I thought it would be wise to give him a hint that we suspected
something serious, so he kept a good watch. It seems when the ship
came alongside at Ferriby, Benson told the captain not to make fast
as he had to go further up the river. But the captain said he
thought they had better fill up with oil first, and he sent to
consult the engineer, and it was agreed that when they were in they
might as well fill up as it would save a call on the outward journey.
Besides, no one concerned was on for going up in the dark - there
are sandbanks, you know, and the navigation's bad. They gave
Menzies a starboard deck cabin - that was on the wharf side - and
he sat watching the wharf through his porthole for the entire night.
There wasn't a thing unloaded, and there wasn't a movement on the
wharf until you two changed your watch. He saw that, and it fairly
thrilled him. After that not another thing happened until the cook
brought him some coffee and they got away."

"Pretty thorough," Hilliard commented. "It's at least a blessing
to be sure beyond a doubt nothing was unloaded."

"We're certain enough of that," Leatham went on, "and we're certain
of something else too. I arranged to drop down on the wharf when
the discharging was about finished, and I had a chat with the
captain; superior chap, that. I told him I was interested in his
ship, for it was the largest I have ever seen up at my wharf, and
that I had been thinking of getting one something the same built.
I asked him if he would let me see over her, and he was most civil
and took me over the entire boat. There was no part of her we
didn't examine, and I'm prepared to swear there were no props left
on board. So we may take it that whatever else they're up to,
they're not carrying brandy in faked pit-props. Nor, so far as
I can see, in anything else either."

The three men smoked in silence for some time and then Hilliard

"I suppose, Leatham, you can't think of any other theory, or suggest
anything else that we should do."

"I can't suggest what you should do," returned Leatham, rising to
his feet and beginning to pace the room. "But I know what I should
do in your place. I'd go down to Scotland Yard, tell them what I
know, and then wash my hands of the whole affair."

Hilliard sighed.

"I'm afraid we shall have no option," he said slowly, "but I needn't
say we should much rather learn something more definite first."

"I dare say, but you haven't been able to. Either these fellows
are a deal too clever for you, or else you are on the wrong track
altogether. And that's what I think. I don't believe there's any
smuggling going on there at all. It's some other game they're on
to. I don't know what it is, but I don't believe it's anything so
crude as smuggling."

Again silence fell on the little group, and then Merriman, who had
for some time been lost in thought, made a sudden movement.

"Lord!" he exclaimed, "but we have been fools over this thing!
There's another point we've all missed, which alone proves it
couldn't have been faked props. Here, Hilliard, this was your
theory, though I don't mean to saddle you with more imbecility
than myself. But anyway, according to your theory, what happened
to the props after they were unloaded?"

Hilliard stared at this outburst.

"After they were unloaded?" he repeated. "Why, returned of course
for the next cargo."

"But that's just it," cried Merriman. "That's just what wasn't
done. We've seen that boat unloaded twice, and on neither occasion
were any props loaded to go back."

"That's a point, certainly; yes," Leatham interposed. "I suppose
they would have to be used again and again? Each trip's props
couldn't be destroyed after arrival, and new ones made for the next

Hilliard shook his head reluctantly.

"No," he declared. "Impossible. Those things would cost a lot of
money. You see, no cheap scheme, say of shipping bottles into
hollowed props, would do. The props would have to be thoroughly
well made, so that they wouldn't break and give the show away if
accidentally dropped. They wouldn't pay unless they were used
several times over. I'm afraid Merriman's point is sound, and we
may give up the idea.

Further discussion only strengthened this opinion, and the three
men had to admit themselves at a total loss as to their next move.
The only SUGGESTION in the field was that of Leatham, to inform
Scotland Yard, and that was at last approved by Hilliard as a
counsel of despair.

"There's nothing else for it that I can see," he observed gloomily.
"We've done our best on our own and failed, and we may let someone
else have a shot now. My leave's nearly up anyway."

Merriman said nothing at the time, but next day, when they had
taken leave of their host and were in train for King's Cross, he
reopened the subject.

"I needn't say, Hilliard," he began, "I'm most anxious that the
police should not be brought in, and you know the reason why. If
she gets into any difficulty about the affair, you understand my
life's at an end for any good it'll do me. Let's wait a while and
think over the thing further, and perhaps we'll see daylight
before long."

Hilliard made a gesture of impatience.

"If you can suggest any single thing that we should do that we
haven't done, I'm ready to do it. But if you can't, I don't see
that we'd be justified in keeping all that knowledge to ourselves
for an indefinite time while we waited for an inspiration. Is not
that reasonable?"

"It's perfectly reasonable," Merriman admitted, "and I don't
suggest we should wait indefinitely. What I propose is that we
wait for a month. Give me another month, Hilliard, and I'll be
satisfied. I have an idea that something might be learned from
tracing that lorry number business, and if you have to go back to
work I'll slip over by myself to Bordeaux and see what I can do.
And if I fail I'll see her, and try to get her to marry me in
spite of the trouble. Wait a month, Hilliard, and by that time
I shall know where I stand."

Hilliard was extremely unwilling to agree to this proposal. Though
he realized that he could not hand over to his superiors a complete
case against the syndicate, he also saw that considerable kudos was
still possible if he supplied information which would enable their
detectives to establish one. And every day he delayed increased
the chance of someone else finding the key to the riddle, and thus
robbing him of his reward. Merriman realized the position, and he
therefore fully appreciated the sacrifice Hilliard was risking when
after a long discussion that young man gave his consent.

Two days later Hilliard was back at his office, while Merriman,
after an argument with his partner not far removed from a complete
break, was on his way once more to the south of France.



The failure of the attempt to learn the secret of the Pit-Prop
Syndicate affected Merriman more than he could have believed
possible. His interest in the affair was not that of Hilliard.
Neither the intellectual joy of solving a difficult problem for
its own sake, nor the kudos which such a solution might bring,
made much appeal to him. His concern was simply the happiness of
the girl he loved, and though, to do him justice, he did not think
overmuch of himself, he recognized that any barrier raised between
them was the end for him of all that made life endurable.

As he lay back with closed eyes in the corner seat of a first-class
compartment in the boat train from Calais he went over for the
thousandth time the details of the problem as it affected himself.
Had Mr. Coburn rendered himself liable to arrest or even to penal
servitude, and did his daughter know it? The anxious, troubled
look which Merriman had on different occasions surprised on the
girl's expressive face made him fear both these possibilities. But
if they were true did it stop there? Was her disquietude due merely
to knowledge of her father's danger, or was she herself in peril
also? Merriman wondered could she have such knowledge and not be
in peril herself. In the eyes of the law would it not be a guilty
knowledge? Could she not be convicted as an accessory?

If it were so he must act at once if he were to save her. But how?
He writhed under the terrible feeling of impotence produced by his
ignorance of the syndicate's real business. If he were to help
Madeleine he must know what the conspirators were doing.

And he had failed to learn. He had failed, and Hilliard had failed,
and neither they nor Leatham had been able to suggest any method by
which the truth might be ascertained.

There was, of course, the changing of the number plates. A trained
detective would no doubt be able to make something of that. But
Merriman felt that without even the assistance of Hilliard, he had
neither the desire nor the ability to tackle it.

He pondered the question, as he had pondered it for weeks, and the
more he thought, the more he felt himself driven to the direct
course - to see Madeleine, put the problem to her, ask her to marry
him and come out of it all. But there were terrible objections to
this plan, not the least of which was that if he made a blunder it
might be irrevocable. She might not hear him at all. She might be
displeased by his SUGGESTION that she and her father were in danger
from such a cause. She might decide not to leave her father for
the very reason that he was in danger. And all these possibilities
were, of course, in addition to the much more probable one that she
would simply refuse him because she did not care about him.

Merriman did not see his way clearly, and he was troubled. Once
he had made up his mind he was not easily turned from his purpose,
but he was slow in making it up. In this case, where so much
depended on his decision, he found his doubt actually painful.

Mechanically he alighted at the Gare du Nord, crossed Paris, and
took his place in the southern express at the Quai d'Orsay. Here
he continued wrestling with his problem, and it was not until he
was near his destination that he arrived at a decision. He would
not bother about further investigations. He would go out and see
Madeleine, tell her everything, and put his fate into her hands.

He alighted at the Bastide Station in Bordeaux, and driving across
to the city, put up at the Gironde Hotel. There he slept the night,
and next day after lunch he took a taxi to the clearing.

Leaving the vehicle on the main road, he continued on foot down
the lane and past the depot until he reached the manager's house.

The door was opened by Miss Coburn in person. On seeing her visitor
she stood for a moment quite motionless while a look of dismay
appeared in her eyes and a hot flush rose on her face and then
faded, leaving it white and drawn.

"Oh!" she gasped faintly. "It's you!" She still stood holding
the door, as if overcome by some benumbing emotion.

Merriman had pulled off his hat.

"It is I, Miss Coburn," he answered gently. "I have come over from
London to see you. May I not come in?"

She stepped back.

"Come in, of course," she said, making an obvious effort to infuse
cordiality into her tone. "Come in here."

He fumbled with his coat in the hall, and by the time he followed
her into the drawing-room she had recovered her composure.

She began rather breathlessly to talk commonplaces. At first he
answered in the same strain, but directly he made a serious attempt
to turn the conversation to the subject of his call she adroitly
interrupted him.

"You'll have some tea?" she said presently, getting up and moving
towards the door.

"Er-no-no, thanks, Miss Coburn, not any. I wanted really - "

"But I want some tea," she persisted, smiling. "Come, you may help
me to get it ready, but you must have some to keep me company."

He had perforce to obey, and during the tea-making she effectually
prevented any serious discussion. But when the meal was over and
they had once more settled down in the drawing-room he would no
longer be denied.

"Forgive me," he entreated, "forgive me for bothering you, but it's
so desperately important to me. And we may be interrupted. Do
hear what I've got to say."

Without waiting for permission he plunged into the subject. Speaking
hoarsely, stammering, contradicting himself, boggling over the words,
he yet made himself clear. He loved her; had loved her from that
first day they had met; he loved her more than anything else in the
world; he - She covered her face with her hands.

"Oh!" she cried wildly. "Don't go on! Don't say it!" She made a
despairing gesture. "I can't listen. I tried to stop you."

Merriman felt as if a cold weight was slowly descending upon his

"But I will speak," he cried hoarsely. "It's my life that's at
stake. Don't tell me you can't listen. Madeleine! I love you.
I want you to marry me. Say you'll marry me. Madeleine! Say

He dropped on his knees before her and seized her hands in his own.

"My darling," he whispered fiercely. "I love you enough for us
both. Say you'll marry me. Say - "

She wrenched her hands from him. "Oh!" she cried as if heartbroken,
and burst into an uncontrollable flood of tears.

Merriman was maddened beyond endurance by the sight

"What a brute I am!" he gasped. "Now I've made you cry."

For pity's sake! Do stop it! Nothing matters about anything else
if only you stop!"

He was almost beside himself with misery as he pleaded with her.
But soon he pulled himself together and began to speak more

"At least tell me the reason," he besought. "I know I've no right
to ask, but it matters so much. Have pity and tell me, is it
someone else?"

She shook her head faintly between her sobs.

"Thank goodness for that anyway. Tell me once again. Is it that
you don't like me?"

Again she shook her head.

"You do like me!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "You do, Madeleine.
Say it! Say that you do!"

She made a resolute effort for self-control.

"You know I do, but - " she began in a tremulous whisper. In a
paroxysm of overwhelming excitement he interrupted her.

"Madeleine," he cried wildly, again seizing her hands, "you don't
- it couldn't be possible that you - that you love me?"

This time she did not withdraw her hands. Slowly she raised her
eyes to his, and in them he read his answer. In a moment she was
in his arms and he was crushing her to his heart.

For a breathless space she lay, a happy little smile on her lips,
and then the moment passed. "Oh!" she cried, struggling to release
herself, "what have I done? Let me go! I shouldn't have - "

"Darling," he breathed triumphantly. "I'll never let you go as
long as I live! You love me! What else matters?"

"No, no," she cried again, her tears once more flowing. "I was
wrong. I shouldn't have allowed you. It can never be."

He laughed savagely.

"Never be?" he repeated. "Why, dear one, it is. I'd like to know
the person or thing that could stop it now!"

"It can never be," she repeated in a voice of despair. "You don't
understand. There are obstacles."

She argued. He scoffed first, then he pleaded. He demanded to be
told the nature of the barrier, then he besought, but all to no
purpose. She would say no more than that it could never be.

And then - suddenly the question of the syndicate flashed into his
mind, and he sat, almost gasping with wonder as he realized that he
had entirely forgotten it! He had forgotten this mysterious
business which had occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of almost
all else for the past two months! It seemed to him incredible.
Yet so it was.

There surged over him a feeling of relief, so that once more he all
but laughed. He turned to Madeleine.

"I know," he cried triumphantly, "the obstacle. And it's just
nothing at all. It's this syndicate business that your father has
got mixed up in. Now tell me! Isn't that it?"

The effect of his words on the girl was instantaneous. She started
and then sat quite still, while the color slowly drained from her
face, leaving it bleached and deathlike. A look of fear and horror
grew in her eyes, and her fingers clasped until the knuckles showed

"Oh!" she stammered brokenly, "what do you mean by that?"

Merriman tried once more to take her hand.

"Dear one," he said caressingly, "don't let what I said distress
you. We know the syndicate is carrying on something that - well,
perhaps wouldn't bear too close investigation. But that has
nothing to do with us. It won't affect our relations."

The girl seemed transfixed with horror.

"We know?" she repeated dully. "Who are we?"

"Why, Hilliard; Hilliard and I. We found out quite by accident
that there was something secret going on. We were both interested;
Hilliard has a mania for puzzles, and besides he thought he might
get some kudos if the business was illegal and he could bring it
to light, while I knew that because of Mr. Coburn's connection
with it the matter might affect you."

"Yes?" She seemed hardly able to frame the syllable between her
dry lips.

Merriman was profoundly unhappy. He felt it was out of the question
for him to tell her anything but the exact truth. Whether she
would consider he had acted improperly in spying on the syndicate
he did not know, but even at the risk of destroying his own chance
of happiness he could not deceive her.

"Dear one," he said in a low tone, "don't think any worse of me
than you can help, and I will tell you everything. You remember
that first day that I was here, when you met me in the lane and
we walked to the mill?"

She nodded.

"You may recall that a lorry had just arrived, and that I stopped
and stared at it? Well, I had noticed that the number plate had
been changed."

"Ah," she exclaimed, "I was afraid you had."

"Yes, I saw it, though it conveyed nothing to me. But I was
interested, and one night in London, just to make conversation in
the club, I mentioned what I had seen. Hilliard was present, and
he joined me on the way home and insisted on talking over the
affair. As I said, he has a mania for puzzles, and the mystery
appealed to him. He was going on that motorboat tour across
France, and he suggested that I should join him and that we should
call here on our way, so as to see if we could find the solution.
Neither of us thought then, you understand, that there was anything
wrong; he was merely interested. I didn't care about the mystery,
but I confess I leaped at the idea of coming back in order to meet
you again, and on the understanding that there was to be nothing
in the nature of spying, I agreed to his proposal."

Merriman paused, but the girl, whose eyes were fixed intently on
his face, made no remark, and he continued:

"While we were here, Hilliard, who is very observant and clever,
saw one or two little things which excited his suspicion, and
without telling me, he slipped on board the Girondin and overheard
a conversation between Mr. Coburn, Captain Beamish, Mr. Bulla, and
Henri. He learned at once that something serious and illegal was
in progress, but he did not learn what it was."

"Then there was spying," she declared accusingly.

"There was," he admitted. "I can only say that under the
circumstances he thought himself justified."

"Go on," she ordered shortly.

"We returned then to England, and were kept at our offices for about
a week. But Hilliard felt that we could not drop the matter, as we
should then become accomplices. Besides, he was interested. He
proposed we should try to find out more about it. This time I
agreed, but I would ask you, Madeleine, to believe me when I tell
you my motive, and to judge me by it. He spoke of reporting what
he had learned to the police, and if I hadn't agreed to help him
he would have done so. I wanted at all costs to avoid that, because
if there was going to be any trouble I wanted Mr. Coburn to be out
of it first. Believe me or not, that was my only reason for

"I do believe you," she said, "but finish what you have to tell me."

"We learned from Lloyd's List that the Girondin put into Hull. We
went there and at Ferriby, seven miles up-stream, we found the depot
where she discharged the props. You don't know it?"

She shook her head.

"It's quite like this place; just a wharf and shed, with an
enclosure between the river and the railway. We made all the
inquiries and investigations we could think of, but we learned
absolutely nothing. But that, unfortunately, is the worst of it.
Hilliard is disgusted with our failure and appears determined to
tell the police."

"Oh!" cried the girl with an impatient gesture. "Why can't he let
it alone? It's not his business."

Merriman shrugged his shoulders.

"That's what he said at all events. I had the greatest difficulty
in getting him to promise even to delay. But he has promised, and
we have a month to make our plans. I came straight over to tell
you, and to ask you to marry me at once and come away with me to

"Oh, no, no, no!" she cried, putting up her hand as if to shield
herself from the idea. "Besides, what about my father?"

"I've thought about him too," Merriman returned. "We will tell
him the whole thing, and he will be able to get out before the
crash comes."

For some moments she sat in silence; then she asked had Hilliard
any idea of what was being done.

"He suggested brandy smuggling, but it was only a theory. There
was nothing whatever to support it."

"Brandy smuggling? Oh, if it only were!"

Merriman stared in amazement.

"It wouldn't be so bad as what I had feared," the girl added,
answering his look.

"And that was - ? Do trust me, Madeleine."

"I do trust you, and I will tell you all I know; it isn't much. I
was afraid they were printing and circulating false money."

Merriman was genuinely surprised.

"False money?" he repeated blankly.

"Yes; English Treasury notes. I thought they were perhaps printing
them over here, and sending some to England with each trip of the
Girondin. It was a remark I accidentally overheard that made me
think so. But, like you, it was only a guess. I had no proof."

"Tell me," Merriman begged.

"It was last winter when the evenings closed in early. I had had a
headache and I had gone to rest for a few minutes in the next room,
the dining-room, which was in darkness. The door between it and
this room was almost but not quite closed. I must have fallen
asleep, for I suddenly became conscious of voices in here, though
I had heard no one enter. I was going to call out when a phrase
arrested my attention. I did not mean to listen, but involuntarily
I stayed quiet for a moment. You understand?"

"Of course. It was the natural thing to do."

"Captain Beamish was speaking. He was just finishing a sentence
and I only caught the last few words. 'So that's a profit of six
thousand, seven hundred and fifty pounds,' he said; 'fifty pounds
loss on the props, and six thousand seven hundred netted over the
other. Not bad for one trip!'"

"Lord!" Merriman exclaimed in amazement. "No wonder you stopped!"

"I couldn't understand what was meant, and while I sat undecided
what to do I heard my father say, 'No trouble planting the stuff?'
Captain Beamish answered, 'Archer said not, but then Archer is -
Archer. He's planting it in small lots - ten here, twenty there,
fifty in t'other place; I don't think he put out more than fifty
at any one time. And he says he's only learning his way round, and
that he'll be able to form better connections to get rid of it.'
Then Mr. Bulla spoke, and this was what upset me so much and made
me think, 'Mr. Archer is a wonderful man,' he said with that
horrible fat chuckle of his, 'he would plant stuff on Old Nick
himself with the whole of the C.I.D. looking on.' I was bewildered
and rather horrified, and I did not wait to hear any more. I crept
away noiselessly, and I didn't want to be found as it were listening.
Even then I did not understand that anything was wrong, but it
happened that the very next day I was walking through the forest
near the lane, and I noticed Henri changing the numbers on the lorry.
He didn't see me, and he had such a stealthy surreptitious air, that
I couldn't but see it was not a joke. Putting two and two together
I felt something serious was going on, and that night I asked my
father what it was."

"Well done!" Merriman exclaimed admiringly.

"But it was no use. He made little of it at first, but when I
pressed him he said that against his will he had been forced into
an enterprise which he hated and which he was trying to get out of.
He said I must be patient and we should get away from it as quickly
as possible. But since then," she added despondently, "though I
have returned to the subject time after time he has always put me
off, saying that we must wait a little longer."

"And then you thought of the false notes?"

"Yes, but I had no reason to do so except that I couldn't think of
anything else that would fit the words I had overheard. Planting
stuff by tens or twenties or fifties seemed to - "

There was a sudden noise in the hall and Madeleine broke off to

"Father," she whispered breathlessly. "Don't say anything."

Merriman had just time to nod when the door opened and Mr. Coburn
appeared on the threshold. For a moment he stood looking at his
daughter's visitor, while the emotions of doubt, surprise and
annoyance seemed to pass successively through his mind. Then he
advanced with outstretched hand and a somewhat satirical smile
on his lips.

"Ah, it is the good Merriman," he exclaimed. "Welcome once more
to our humble abode. And where is brother Hilliard? You don't
mean to say you have come without him?"

His tone jarred on Merriman, but he answered courteously: "I left
him in London. I had business bringing me to this neighborhood,
and when I reached Bordeaux I took the opportunity to run out to
see you and Miss Coburn."

The manager replied suitably, and the conversation became general.
As soon as he could with civility, Merriman rose to go. Mr. Coburn
cried out in protest, but the other insisted.

Mr. Coburn had become more cordial, and the two men strolled
together across the clearing. Merriman had had no opportunity of
further private conversation with Madeleine, but he pressed her
hand and smiled at her encouragingly on saying good-bye.

As the taxi bore him swiftly back towards Bordeaux, his mind was
occupied with the girl to the exclusion of all else. It was not
so much that he thought definitely about her, as that she seemed to
fill all his consciousness. He felt numb, and his whole being ached
for her as with a dull physical pain. But it was a pain that was
mingled with exultation, for if she had refused him, she had at
least admitted that she loved him. Incredible thought! He smiled
ecstatically, then, the sense of loss returning, once more gazed
gloomily ahead into vacancy. As the evening wore on his thoughts
turned towards what she had said about the syndicate. Her forged
note theory had come to him as a complete surprise, and he wondered
whether she really had hit on the true solution of the mystery. The
conversation she had overheard undoubtedly pointed in that direction.
"Planting stuff" was, he believed, the technical phrase for passing
forged notes, and the reference to "tens," "twenties," and
"fifties," tended in the same direction. Also "forming connections
to get rid of it" seemed to suggest the finding of agents who would
take a number of notes at a time, to be passed on by ones and twos,
no doubt for a consideration.

But there was the obvious difficulty that the theory did not account
for the operations as a whole. The elaborate mechanism of the
pit-prop industry was not needed to provide a means of carrying
forged notes from France to England. They could be secreted about
the person of a traveller crossing by any of the ordinary routes.
Hundreds of notes could be sewn into the lining of an overcoat,
thousands carried in the double bottom of a suitcase. Of course,
so frequent a traveller would require a plausible reason for his
journeys, but that would present no difficulty to men like those
composing the syndicate. In any case, by crossing in rotation by
the dozen or so well-patronized routes between England and the
Continent, the continuity of the travelling could be largely hidden.
Moreover, thought Merriman, why print the notes in France at all?
Why not produce them in England and so save the need for importation?

On the whole there seemed but slight support for the theory and
several strong arguments against it, and he felt that Madeleine must
be mistaken, just as he and Hilliard had been mistaken.

Oh! how sick of the whole business he was! He no longer cared
what the syndicate was doing. He never wanted to hear of it again.
He wanted Madeleine, and he wanted nothing else. His thoughts
swung back to her as he had seen her that afternoon; her trim
figure, her daintiness, her brown eyes clouded with trouble, her
little shell-like ears escaping from the tendrils of her hair, her
tears .... He broke out once more into a cold sweat as he thought
of those tears.

Presently he began wondering what his own next step should be, and
he soon decided he must see her again, and with as little delay as

The next afternoon, therefore, he once more presented himself at
the house in the clearing. This time the door was opened by an
elderly servant, who handed him a note and informed him that Mr.
and Miss Coburn had left home for some days.

Bitterly disappointed he turned away, and in the solitude of the
lane he opened the note. It read:


"Dear Mr. Merriman, - I feel it is quite impossible that we should
part without a word more than could be said at our interrupted
interview this afternoon, so with deep sorrow I am writing to you
to say to you, dear Mr. Merriman, 'Good-bye.' I have enjoyed our
short friendship, and all my life I shall be proud that you spoke
as you did, but, my dear, it is just because I think so much of
you that I could not bring your life under the terrible cloud that
hangs over mine. Though it hurts me to say it, I have no option
but to ask you to accept the answer I gave you as final, and to
forget that we met.

"I am leaving home for some time, and I beg of you not to give both
of us more pain by trying to follow me. Oh, my dear, I cannot say
how grieved I am.

"Your sincere friend,
"Madeleine Coburn."

Merriman was overwhelmed utterly by the blow. Mechanically he
regained the taxi, where he lay limply back, gripping the note and
unconscious of his position, while his bloodless lips repeated over
and over again the phrase, "I'll find her. I'll find her. If it
takes me all my life I'll find her and I'll marry her."

Like a man in a state of coma he returned to his hotel in Bordeaux,
and there, for the first time in his life, he drank himself into



For several days Merriman, sick at heart and shaken in body, remained
on at Bordeaux, too numbed by the blow which had fallen on him to
take any decisive action. He now understood that Madeleine Coburn
had refused him because she loved him, and he vowed he would rest
neither day nor night till he had seen her and obtained a reversal
of her decision. But for the moment his energy had departed, and he
spent his time smoking in the Jardin and brooding over his troubles.

It was true that on three separate occasions he had called at the
manager's house, only to be told that Mr. and Miss Coburn were still
from home, and neither there nor from the foreman at the works could
he learn their addresses or the date of their return. He had also
written a couple of scrappy notes to Hilliard, merely saying he was
on a fresh scent, and to make no move in the matter until he heard
further. Of the Pit-Prop Syndicate as apart from Madeleine he was
now profoundly wearied, and he wished for nothing more than never
again to hear its name mentioned.

But after a week of depression and self-pity his natural good sense
reasserted itself, and he began seriously to consider his position.
He honestly believed that Madeleine's happiness could best be
brought about by the fulfilment of his own, in other words by their
marriage. He appreciated the motives which had caused her to refuse
him, but he hoped that by his continued persuasion he might be able,
as he put it to himself, to talk her round. Her very flight from
him, for such he believed her absence to be, seemed to indicate that
she herself was doubtful of her power to hold out against him, and
to this extent he drew comfort from his immediate difficulty.

He concluded before trying any new plan to call once again at the
clearing, in the hope that Mr. Coburn at least might have returned.
The next afternoon, therefore, saw him driving out along the now
familiar road. It was still hot, with the heavy enervating heat of
air held stagnant by the trees. The freshness of early summer had
gone, and there was a hint of approaching autumn in the darker
greenery of the firs, and the overmaturity of such shrubs and wild
flowers as could find along the edge of the road a precarious
roothold on the patches of ground not covered by pine needles.
Merriman gazed unceasingly ahead at the straight white ribbon of
the road, as he pondered the problem of what he should do if once
again he should be disappointed in his quest. Madeleine could not,
he thought, remain indefinitely away. Mr. Coburn at all events
would have to return to his work, and it would be a strange thing
if he could not obtain from the father some indication of his
daughter's whereabouts.

But his call at the manager's house was as fruitless on this
occasion as on those preceding. The woman from whom he had received
the note opened the door and repeated her former statement. Mr.
and Miss Coburn were still from home.

Merriman turned away disconsolately, and walked slowly back across
the clearing and down the lane. Though he told himself he had
expected nothing from the visit, he was nevertheless bitterly
disappointed with its result. And worse than his disappointment
was his inability to see his next step, or even to think of any
scheme which might lead him to the object of his hopes.

He trudged on down the lane, his head sunk and his brows knitted,
only half conscious of his surroundings. Looking up listlessly as
he rounded a bend, he stopped suddenly as if turned to stone, while
his heart first stood still, then began thumping wildly as if to
choke him. A few yards away and coming to meet him was Madeleine!

She caught sight of him at the same instant and stopped with a low
cry, while an expression of dread came over her face. So for an
appreciable time they stood looking at one another, then Merriman,
regaining the power of motion, sprang forward and seized her hands.

"Madeleine! Madeleine!" he cried brokenly. "My own one! My
beloved!" He almost sobbed as he attempted to strain her to his

But she wrenched herself from him.

"No, no!" she gasped. "You must not! I told you. It cannot be."

He pleaded with her, fiercely, passionately, and at last despairingly.
But he could not move her. Always she repeated that it could not be.

"At least tell me this," he begged at last. "Would you marry me if
this syndicate did not exist; I mean if Mr. Coburn was not mixed up
with it?"

At first she would not answer, but presently, overcome by his
persistence, she burst once again into tears and admitted that her
fear of disgrace arising through discovery of the syndicate's
activities was her only reason for refusal.

"Then," said Merriman resolutely, "I will go back with you now and
see Mr. Coburn, and we will talk over what is to be done."

At this her eyes dilated with terror.

"No, no!" she cried again. "He would be in danger. He would try
something that might offend the others, and his life might not be
safe. I tell you I don't trust Captain Beamish and Mr. Bulla. I
don't think they would stop at anything to keep their secret. He
is trying to get out of it, and he must not be hurried. He will do
what he can."

"But, my dearest," Merriman remonstrated, "it could do no harm, to
talk the matter over with him. That would commit him to nothing."

But she would not hear of it.

"If he thought my happiness depended on it," she declared, "he would
break with them at all costs. I could not risk it. You must go
away. Oh, my dear, you must go. Go, go!" she entreated almost
hysterically, "it will be best for us both."

Merriman, though beside himself with suffering, felt he could no
longer disregard her.

"I shall go," he answered sadly, "since you require it, but I will
never give you up. Not until one of us is dead or you marry someone
else - I will never give you up. Oh, Madeleine, have pity and give
me some hope; something to keep me alive till this trouble is over."

She was beginning to reply when she stopped suddenly and stood

"The lorry!" she cried. "Go! Go!" Then pointing wildly in the
direction of the road, she turned and fled rapidly back towards
the clearing.

Merriman gazed after her until she passed round a corner of the
lane and was lost to sight among the trees. Then, with a weight
of hopeless despair on his heart, he began to walk towards the road.
The lorry, driven by Henri, passed him at the next bend, and Henri,
though he saluted with a show of respect, smiled sardonically as he
noted the other's woebegone appearance.

But Merriman neither knew nor cared what the driver thought. Almost
physically sick with misery and disappointment, he regained his taxi
and was driven back to Bordeaux.

The next few days seemed to him like a nightmare of hideous reality
and permanence. He moved as a man in a dream, living under a shadow
of almost tangible weight, as a criminal must do who has been
sentenced to early execution. The longing to see Madeleine again,
to hear the sound of her voice, to feel her presence, was so intense
as to be almost unendurable. Again and again he said to himself that
had she cared for another, had she even told him that she could not
care for him, he would have taken his dismissal as irrevocable and
gone to try and drag out the remainder of his life elsewhere as best
he could. But he was maddened to think that the major difficulty -
the overwhelming, insuperable difficulty - of his suit had been
overcome. She loved him! Miraculous and incredible though it might
seem - though it was - it was the amazing truth. And that being so,
it was beyond bearing that a mere truckling to convention should be
allowed to step in and snatch away the ecstasy of happiness that was
within his grasp. And worse still, this trucking to convention was
to save him! What, he asked himself, did it matter about him? Even
if the worst happened and she suffered shame through her father,
wasn't all he wanted to be allowed to share it with her? And if
narrow, stupid fools did talk, what matter? They could do without
their companionship.

Fits of wild rage alternated with periods of cold and numbing
despair, but as day succeeded day the desire to be near her grew
until it could no longer be denied. He dared not again attempt to
force himself into her presence, lest she should be angry and shatter
irrevocably the hope to which he still clung with desperation. But
he might without fear of disaster be nearer to her for a time. He
hired a bicycle, and after dark had fallen that evening he rode out
to the lane, and leaving his machine on the road, walked to the edge
of the clearing. It was a perfect night, calm and silent, though
with a slight touch of chill in the air. A crescent moon shone soft
and silvery, lighting up pallidly the open space, gleaming on the
white wood of the freshly cut stumps, and throwing black shadows
from the ghostly looking buildings. It was close on midnight, and
Merriman looked eagerly across the clearing to the manager's house.
He was not disappointed. There, in the window that he knew belonged
to her room, shone a light.

He slowly approached, keeping on the fringe of the clearing and
beneath the shadow of the trees. Some shrubs had taken root on the
open ground, and behind a clump of these, not far from the door, he
lay down, filled his pipe, and gave himself up to his dreams. The
light still showed in the window, but even as he looked it went out,
leaving the front of the house dark and, as it seemed to him,
unfriendly and forbidding. "Perhaps she'll look out before going
to bed," he thought, as he gazed disconsolately at the blank,
unsympathetic opening. But he could see no movement therein.

He lost count of time as he lay dreaming of the girl whose existence
had become more to him than his very life, and it was not until he
suddenly realized that he had become stiff and cramped from the cold
that he looked at his watch. Nearly two! Once more he glanced
sorrowfully at the window, realizing that no comfort was to be
obtained therefrom, and decided he might as well make his way back,
for all the ease of mind he was getting.

He turned slowly to get up, but just as he did so he noticed a
slight movement at the side of the house before him, and he remained
motionless, gazing intently forward. Then, spellbound, he watched
Mr. Coburn leave by the side door, walk quickly to the shed, unlock
a door, and disappear within.

There was something so secretive in the way the manager looked
around before venturing into the open, and so stealthy about his
whole walk and bearing, that Merriman's heart beat more quickly as
he wondered if he was now on the threshold of some revelation of the
mystery of that outwardly innocent place. Obeying a sudden instinct,
he rose from his hiding-place in the bushes and crept silently
across the sward to the door by which the other had entered.

It was locked, and the whole place was dark and silent. Were it not
for what he had just seen, Merriman would have believed it deserted.
But it was evident that some secret and perhaps sinister activity
was in progress within, and for the moment he forgot even Madeleine
in his anxiety to learn its nature.

He crept silently round the shed, trying each door and peering into
each window, but without result. All remained fast and in darkness,
and though he listened with the utmost intentness of which he was
capable, he could not catch any sound.

His round of the building completed, he paused in doubt. Should he
retire while there was time, and watch for Mr. Coburn's reappearance
with perhaps some of his accomplices, or should he wait at the door
and tackle him on the matter when he came out? His first preference
was for the latter course, but as he thought it over he felt it
would be better to reserve his knowledge, and he turned to make for

But even as he did so he heard the manager say in low harsh tones:
"Hands up now, or I fire!" and swinging round, he found himself
gazing into the bore of a small deadly-looking repeating pistol.

Automatically he raised his arms, and for a few moments both men
stood motionless, staring perplexedly at one another. Then Mr.
Coburn lowered the pistol and attempted a laugh, a laugh nervous,
shaky, and without merriment. His lips smiled, but his eyes
remained cold and venomous.

"Good heavens, Merriman, but you did give me a start," he cried,
making an evident effort to be jocular. "What in all the world are
you doing here at this hour? Sorry for my greeting, but one has to
be careful here. You know the district is notorious for brigands."

Merriman was not usually very prompt to meet emergencies. He
generally realized when it was too late what he ought to have said
or done in any given circumstances. But on this occasion a flash
of veritable inspiration revealed a way by which he might at one
and the same time account for his presence, disarm the manager's
suspicions, and perhaps even gain his point with regard to Madeleine.
He smiled back at the other.

"Sorry for startling you. Mr. Coburn. I have been looking for you
for some days to discuss a very delicate matter, and I came out late
this evening in the hope of attracting your attention after Miss
Coburn had retired, so that our chat could be quite confidential.
But in the darkness I fell and hurt my knee, and I spent so much
time in waiting for it to get better that I was ashamed to go to the
house. Imagine my delight when, just as I was turning to leave, I
saw you coming down to the shed, and I followed with the object of
trying to attract your attention."

He hardly expected that Mr. Coburn would have accepted his statement,
but whatever the manager believed privately, he gave no sign of

"I'm glad your journey was not fruitless," he answered courteously.
"As a matter of fact, my neuralgia kept me from sleeping, and I
found I had forgotten my bottle of aspirin down here, where I had
brought it for the same purpose this morning. It seemed worth the
trouble of coming for it, and I came."

As he spoke Mr. Coburn took from his pocket and held up for
Merriman's inspection a tiny phial half full of white tablets.

It was now Merriman's turn to be sceptical, but he murmured polite
regrets in as convincing a way as he was able. "Let us go back into
my office," the manager continued. "If you want a private chat
you can have it there."

He unlocked the door, and passing in first, lit a reading lamp on
his desk. Then relocking the door behind his visitor and
unostentatiously slipping the key into his pocket, he sat down at
the desk, waved Merriman to a chair, and producing a box of cigars,
passed it across.

The windows, Merriman noticed, were covered by heavy blinds, and it
was evident that no one could see into the room, nor could the light
be observed from without. The door behind him was locked, and in
Mr. Coburn's pocket was the key as well as a revolver, while
Merriman was unarmed. Moreover, Mr. Coburn was the larger and
heavier, if not the stronger man of the two. It was true his words
and manner were those of a friend, but the cold hatred in his eyes
revealed his purpose. Merriman instantly realized he was in very
real personal danger, and it was borne in on him that if he was to
get out of that room alive, it was to his own wits he must trust.

But he was no coward, and he did not forget to limp as he crossed
the room, nor did his hand shake as he stretched it out to take a
cigar. When he came within the radius of the lamp he noticed with
satisfaction that his coat was covered with fragments of moss and
leaves, and he rather ostentatiously brushed these away, partly to
prove to the other his calmness, and partly to draw attention to
them in the hope that they would be accepted as evidence of his fall.

Fearing lest if they began a desultory conversation he might be
tricked by his astute opponent into giving himself away, he left
the latter no opportunity to make a remark, but plunged at once
into his subject.

"I feel myself, Mr. Coburn," he began, "not a little in your debt
for granting me this interview. But the matter on which I wish
to speak to you is so delicate and confidential, that I think you
will agree that any precautions against eavesdroppers are

He spoke at first somewhat formally, but as interest in his subject
quickened, he gradually became more conversational.

"The first thing I have to tell you," he went on, "may not be very
pleasant hearing to you, but it is a matter of almost life and death
importance to me. I have come, Mr. Coburn, very deeply and sincerely
to love your daughter."

Mr. Coburn frowned slightly, but he did not seem surprised, nor did
he reply except by a slight bow. Merriman continued:

"That in itself need not necessarily be of interest to you, but
there is more to tell, and it is in this second point that the real
importance of my statement lies, and on it hinges everything that
I have to say to you. Madeleine, sir, has given me a definite
assurance that my love for her is returned."

Still Mr. Coburn made no answer, save then by another slight
inclination of his head, but his eyes had grown anxious and troubled.

"Not unnaturally," Merriman resumed, "I begged her to marry me, but
she saw fit to decline. In view of the admission she had just made,
I was somewhat surprised that her refusal was so vehement. I
pressed her for the reason, but she utterly declined to give it.
Then an idea struck me, and I asked her if it was because she feared
that your connection with this syndicate might lead to unhappiness.
At first she would not reply nor give me any satisfaction, but at
last by persistent questioning, and only when she saw I knew a great
deal more about the business than she did herself, she admitted that
that was indeed the barrier. Not to put too fine a point on it -
it is better, is it not, sir, to be perfectly candid - she is living
in terror and dread of your arrest, and she won't marry me for fear
that if it were to happen she might bring disgrace on me."

Mr. Coburn had not moved during this speech, except that his face
had become paler and the look of cold menace in his eyes seemed
charged with a still more vindictive hatred. Then he answered

"I can only assume, Mr. Merriman, that your mind has become
temporarily unhinged, but even with such an excuse, you cannot
really believe that I am going to wait here and listen to you
making such statements."

Merriman bent forward.

"Sir," he said earnestly, "I give you my word of honor and earnestly
ask you to believe that I am approaching you as a friend. I am
myself an interested party. I have sought this interview for
Madeleine's sake. For her sake, and for her sake only, I have come
to ask you to discuss with me the best way out of the difficulty."

Mr. Coburn rose abruptly.

"The best way out of the difficulty," he declared, no longer
attempting to disguise the hatred he felt, "is for you to take
yourself off and never to show your face here again. I am amazed
at you." He took his automatic pistol out of his pocket. "Don't
you know that you are completely in my power? If I chose I could
shoot you like a dog and sink your body in the river, and no one
would ever know what had become of you."

Merriman's heart was beating rapidly. He had the uncomfortable
suspicion that he had only to turn his back to get a bullet into it.
He assumed a confidence he was far from feeling.

"On the contrary, Mr. Coburn," he said quietly, "it is you who are
in our power. I'm afraid you don't quite appreciate the situation.
It is true you could shoot me now, but if you did, nothing could
save you. It would be the rope for you and prison for your
confederates, and what about your daughter then? I tell you, sir,
I'm not such a fool as you take me for. Knowing what I do, do you
think it likely I should put myself in your power unless I knew I
was safe?"

His assurance was not without its effect. The other's face grew
paler and he sat heavily down in his chair.

"I'll hear what you have to say," he said harshly, though without
letting go his weapon.

"Then let me begin at the beginning. You remember that first
evening I was here, when you so kindly supplied me with petrol?
Sir, you were correct when you told Captain Beamish and Mr. Bulla
that I had noticed the changing of the lorry number plate. I had."

Mr. Coburn started slightly, but he did not speak, and Merriman
went on:

"I was interested, though the thing conveyed nothing to me. But
some time later I mentioned it casually, and Hilliard, who has a
mania for puzzles, overheard. He suggested my joining him on his
trip, and calling to see if we could solve it. You, Mr. Coburn,
said another thing to your friends - that though I might have
noticed about the lorry, you were certain neither Hilliard nor I
had seen anything suspicious at the clearing. There, sir, you were
wrong. Though at that time we could not tell what was going on,
we knew it was something illegal."

Coburn was impressed at last. He sat motionless, staring at the
speaker. As Merriman remained silent, he moved.

"Go on," he said hoarsely, licking his dry lips.

"I would ask you please to visualize the situation when we left.
Hilliard believed he was on the track of a criminal organization,
carrying on illicit operations on a large scale. He believed that
by lodging with the police the information he had gained, the
break-up of the organization and the capture of its members would
be assured, and that he would stand to gain much kudos. But he did
not know what the operations were, and he hesitated to come forward,
lest by not waiting and investigating further he should destroy his
chance of handing over to the authorities a complete case. He was
therefore exceedingly keen that we should carry on inquiries at what
I may call the English end of the business. Such was Hilliard's
attitude. I trust I make myself clear."

Again Coburn nodded without speaking.

"My position was different. I had by that time come to care for
Madeleine, and I saw the effect any disclosure must have on her. I
therefore wished things kept secret, and I urged Hilliard to carry
out his second idea and investigate further so as to make his case
complete. He made my assistance a condition of agreement, and I
therefore consented to help him."

Mr. Coburn was now ghastly, and was listening with breathless
earnestness to his visitor. Merriman realized what he had always
suspected, that the man was weak and a bit of a coward, and he
began to believe his bluff would carry him through.

"I need not trouble you," he went on, "with all the details of our
search. It is enough to say that we found out what we wanted. We
went to Hull, discovered the wharf at Ferriby, made the acquaintance
of Benson, and witnessed what went on there. We know all about
Archer and how he plants your stuff, and Morton, who had us under
observation and whom we properly tricked. I don't claim any credit
for it; all that belongs to Hilliard. And I admit we did not learn
certain small details of your scheme. But the main points are
clear - clear enough to get convictions anyway."

After a pause to let his words create their full effect, Merriman

"Then arose the problem that had bothered us before. Hilliard was
wild to go to the authorities with his story; on Madeleine's account
I still wanted it kept quiet. I needn't recount our argument.
Suffice it to say that at last we compromised. Hilliard agreed to
wait for a month. For the sake of our friendship and the help I
had given him, he undertook to give me a month to settle something
about Madeleine. Mr. Coburn, nearly half that month is gone and I
am not one step farther on."

The manager wiped the drops of sweat from his pallid brow. Merriman's
quiet, confident manner, with its apparent absence of bluff or threat,
had had its effect on him. He was evidently thoroughly frightened,
and seemed to think it no longer worth while to plead ignorance. As
Merriman had hoped and intended, he appeared to conclude that
conciliation would be his best chance.

"Then no one but you two know so far?" he asked, a shifty, sly look
passing over his face.

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