Part 4 out of 5
rather conventional remarks from either side, and it cost her an
effort. She was pale.
"Alan, I wish to thank you for your message to father in Teddy's
telegram. I--I think it saved him. But--please let me go on--I want to be
quite sure that Teddy told you everything that mattered."
"Everything I need know, Doris. I wish you wouldn't distress yourself.
It's going to be all right, you know. How is your father to-night?"
"I think he will be well enough to see you to-morrow," she replied, and
went on to ask a number of questions very painful to her. When he had
answered the last of them in the affirmative, she sighed and said: "Then,
Alan, I think, I hope, you do know nearly all, and I can only beg you to
believe that father never meant to injure _you_ in any way. It was not
until there was no hope left of your being alive that he--"
"Doris, I implore you not to talk about it. Mr. Lancaster was my good
friend in the old days, and I trust he is that still. When I see him
to-morrow I shall have to depend on that friendship, because, you see,
Doris, I shall want--with your permission--to ask a great favour of him."
On the girl's tired lovely face a flush came--and went. "Alan, this is no
time for misunderstandings," she said bravely, "and when you have a talk
with father, I wish you to--to try to forget me."
"Forget you! ... Ah! you mean you do not wish me to refer to your part in
"Oh," she cried hastily, "I was afraid, after all, Teddy would not tell
you one thing--"
"It can't matter in the least, dear Doris. What I want to ask your father
is simply his blessing on us both in our engage--"
"For pity's sake, no! Listen, Alan; and don't think too unkindly of me,
for I have promised to marry Mr. Bullard--"
"--a year from now." She bowed her head.
He was on his feet, standing over her. "Bullard!" he exclaimed at last,
"Bullard! Good Lord, Doris! Had that fat successful gambler actually the
impudence to ask you to marry him?"
"Oh, hush!" she whispered. "The fact remains that I gave my promise."
He drew a long breath. "Of course you gave your promise, and the reason's
plain enough to me! You gave it for your father's sake!" As in a flash he
saw what she had suffered. Teddy's story had told him much, but this! ...
His heart swelled, overflowed with that which is so akin to love that in
the moment of stress it is love's double.
And this young man, casting aside his doubts of himself, caught in a
passion evoked by beauty in distress and hot human sympathy, fell on his
knees, murmuring endearments, and took this young woman, with all her
doubts of herself, to his breast.
And Doris let herself go. Doubts or no doubts, right or wrong, it was
sweet and comforting, after long wearing anxiety and and loneliness, to
find refuge in the strong, gentle arms of one who cared. But it was a
lull that could not last.
"Dear," he was saying when she stirred uneasily, "you shall never marry
him! Why, you don't even need to break your promise, for we will see to
it that he shall never dare to ask you to fulfil it. Leave Mr. Francis
Bullard to Teddy and me."
"Alan, this is madness!" She drew away from him. "How could I forget?
Father is so completely in his power."
"But we are going to rescue him, you and I, thanks to good old Teddy."
She shook her head. "Ah, no, Alan, you are too hopeful."
Alan was puzzled. "Didn't you and he understand my message to him in
Teddy's wire?" he asked at length.
"We understood that you--you forgave everything. Oh, it was kind and
generous of you!"
"Was that all?" Alan got up and stood looking down at the fire. "I didn't
want to say a word about it," he said presently. "I hoped Mr. Lancaster
at least, would take my meaning. It's horrid having to discuss it with
you, Doris, but Teddy mentioned something about a--a debt--"
"Oh!" It was a cry of pain. "Teddy must have misunderstood me. I
"Teddy did it for the best, you may be sure, and I'm grateful to him. Let
me go on, dear. It is this debt that gives Bullard the upper hand--is it
not? Twenty-five thousand, Teddy mentioned as the amount."
"Don't!--don't!" She hid her face.
"And so--and so I just brought the money along with me." He cleared his
throat. "And Mr. Lancaster will be a free man to-morrow. Doris, for God's
sake, don't take it like that!"
She was not weeping, but her slim body seemed rent.
"Doris, since you are going to marry me, what could be more natural than
that I should want to help your dearest one out of his trouble? I've
more money than I need--honestly." He laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Dear little girl," he continued, with a kindly laugh, "you've no idea
how difficult it is to speak about it. And I can't carry the thing
through myself; simply couldn't open the subject to him and offer the
money. I want you to help me--and at once. I suppose he is strong enough
to bear a small surprise. So I want you to go now and tell him, and--and
give him these. I brought notes, you know, because they are more
private." His free hand dropped a packet into her lap. Amazing how
little space is required for twenty-five thousand pounds in Bank of
England notes! "Doris!"
She did not raise her head, but her hands went up to her shoulder and
took his hand between them. Hers were cold.
"My dearest!" he cried softly.
"Oh, Alan, Alan," she said in a dry whisper. "I shall never get over
this, I will never forget your goodness. But I can't--I _can't_ do it."
"Yes, you can, dear. I know it's hard. I know it means sinking
"Pride!--have I any left?"
"Plenty--and plenty to be proud of! Help me to remove your father's
trouble, and we shall all be happy again. Just think that you are putting
freedom into his hand--"
"Have mercy, Alan!"
"Dearest, is it too hard? Well, well, I must do it myself, after all.
Only that will mean so many more troubled hours for him.... Doris, you
will do it, for his sake and mine? After all, what does the whole affair
signify? Simply that you and I will have so much less to spend
later,--and do you mind that?"
He had won, or, at all events, filial love had won. It is the other sort
of love that pride may withstand to the last.
She did a thing then that he would remember when he was an old man: drew
his hand to her lips. The colour rushed to his face. "Not that, dear!"
She rose and he supported her, for she was a little _dizzy_ with it all.
"What am I to say to him, Alan?"
"Just say that it is merely what my Uncle Christopher would have done,
had he known. And tell him to get well quickly, because I want him to
come to Grey House for a change, at the earliest possible day. I want you
and Mrs. Lancaster also, Doris. Will you come?"
She shook her head. "I'm afraid--"
"Never mind now. I'll write to Mrs. Lancaster to-night, and perhaps I may
see her to-morrow."
"You--you won't tell her about this, Alan?"
"Certainly not. I've forgotten about it," he said, with a smile intended
to be encouraging. "And I'll go at once. Perhaps that will make it a
little easier for you. As soon as you've seen your father, you ought to
turn in. Will you?"
She attempted to smile, but her voice was grave. "I will do anything you
wish--now and always. I can't thank you, Alan dear, but God knows--" She
could say no more.
"You dear little girl," he said, rather wildly, "there's just one thing
you must be quite clear about. This miserable money may buy your father's
peace of mind, but it has not bought one hair of your beautiful head." He
took her in his arms and kissed her. "Sleep well ... till to-morrow!"
Her mind was still in turmoil as she went up the broad staircase,
clutching against her bosom the precious packet, but her eyes were wet at
last. Her father was saved! For herself she had no thought.
She halted at the door of his room, listening. It was essential that he
should be alone.... She started violently.
Another door on the landing opened and Mrs. Lancaster came forth.
"Surely Mr. Craig has not gone already," she said. "I am just
"He has gone, mother, but he hopes to see you tomorrow."
"Too bad! He can't have told you all his adventures, Doris." Thus far
Mrs. Lancaster had learned nothing beyond the bare facts of Alan's return
and his intention to call.
"I think he is keeping them for you and father," said the girl, striving
for composure. "He wants us all to go to Grey House as soon as father is
well enough to travel."
"At this time of year?--absurd, or, at all events, impossible!--for you
and me, at any rate. Has Mr. Craig not been made aware of your engagement
to Mr. Bullard?"
"I thought we had agreed not to talk of that." Doris laid her fingers on
Mrs. Lancaster came a little closer. "Is that a letter for your father?
The last post must have been late?"
The strain was telling on Doris; she gave a nervous assent.
"Ah, it has not come by post, I see! Why it is not even addressed to
"It is for him."
"From Mr. Craig?"
"If it is anything exciting, he ought not to have it to-night. It will
spoil his chances of getting to sleep."
"I--I don't think so, mother."
"My dear girl, you ought to be perfectly certain, one way or another. I
simply cannot trust you. Leave it with me, and you can give it him in
Doris felt faint. "I can take care of it, but I'm sure it won't do him
any harm. I will--"
With a swift movement of her supple body and arm the woman possessed
herself of the packet. At the feel, the almost imperceptible sound, of it
her eyes gleamed, her dusky colouring darkened.
"Mother!" gasped Doris.
"I cannot risk having your father upset. You can ask me for it in
"Mother!" Impelled by a most hideous fear the daughter sprang, clutched,
missed--and fell like a lifeless thing.
Mrs. Lancaster rang for her maid.
When Doris came hazily to herself she was in bed.
"Drink this, my dear," said her mother gently.
It was a powerful sleeping draught, and soon the girl's brain was under
* * * * *
About ten o'clock Mrs. Lancaster, in her boudoir, rang up Bullard, first
at his hotel, then at his office, whence she obtained a response.
"Can you come here at once?" she asked him.
"Impossible! Anything urgent?"
"Alan Craig has been here."
"He knows about--things. I'm sure he does."
"No special harm in that, is there? He won't be alone in his knowledge
for long, you know--"
"What do you mean?" she cried in alarm.
He ignored the question and asked another. "Was Craig in any way
unpleasant? Quick, please!"
"I didn't see him, but I should imagine he was quite the reverse. The
servant Caw must have kept back things. Doris tells me he wants the three
of us to go to Grey House--"
"What? To Grey House?"
"Of course, I should never dream--"
"Great Heavens, how extremely fortunate for you! My dear Mrs. Lancaster,
you must accept the invitation at once. Don't let it slip. Have your
husband well enough to start in the beginning of the week."
"Are you crazy? What should I do at Grey House?"
"I'll tell you precisely what you may do--but not now. For the present I
should inform you that it may be your last chance of salvation."
"What on earth do you mean? Not the dia--"
"Listen carefully! I have already told you of the disaster to the
"But all that will come right in time."
"One may hope so. In the meantime, however, the Syndicate will require
all its available funds, and, as you know, there is a matter of nearly
twenty-five thousand pounds, which Mr. Lancaster--"
For a moment the woman was incoherent. Then--"Mr. Bullard, we have your
promise that you would see that matter put right."
"My dear lady, this calamity was not to be foreseen. I am unspeakably
sorry, but I have been hard hit, and the plain truth is that I am quite
powerless for the present. Of course I shall do what I can to
delay--er--discovery, but unfortunately I must leave for South Africa on
Friday, this day week."
"Then all is lost! Ruin--disgrace--"
"Not so loud, please. Be calm. All may not yet be lost--if you at
once accept young Craig's invitation. Now let us leave it at that.
To-night I am distracted by a thousand things, but I will call in the
morning to enquire for your husband and, incidentally, to make things
clearer to you."
"Can't you explain now? I shan't be able to sleep--"
"No.... But, by the way, it would do no harm were your husband to ask
Craig, if he is really friendly, for a loan. If I'm any judge of men,
Craig is the sort of silly fool who, because he has come into a bit of
money, is ready to give lots of it away. However, you can suggest it to
your husband, if you like. How is he to-night?"
"I think he is better, but he was so excitable a little while ago that I
had to give him some sleeping medicine. He is sleeping now."
"Sooner or later, you know, he has got to be told of the Johannesburg
disaster. What about getting Doris to break it?"
After a pause--"I'll see," said Mrs. Lancaster, "but I do wish you would
give me some idea--"
"You really must excuse me. I hear some one coming in to see me. Till
Mrs. Lancaster, her handsome face haggard, lay back in her chair and
for a space of minutes remained perfectly motionless. At last her
"Whatever happens, I shall have twenty-five thousand pounds."
As Bullard replaced the receiver, Flitch came slouching in.
"Couldn't help bein' a bit late, mister," he remarked. "Fog's awful
to-night. Got lost more'n once."
"Fog that came out of a bottle, I suppose," said Bullard sarcastically.
For an instant resentment flamed on the hairy countenance, but Flitch
seemed to get it under control and answered nothing. There was a certain
change in the man's appearance. His hair and beard were freshly trimmed,
and he had a cleanlier look than we have hitherto noticed; moreover, his
expression had lost a little of its habitual sullen truculence.
"All right; sit down till I'm ready for you," said Bullard, and proceeded
to clear his desk of a heap of newspapers. They were mostly Scottish
journals of that and the previous day's dates. Earlier in the evening he
had searched their news columns for a heading something like this:
"Mysterious and Fatal Explosion in a Clydeside Mansion." Mrs. Lancaster's
news had, of course, informed him that nothing of the kind had taken
place, and had also raised doubts which he would have to examine later.
Sufficient for the present that the Green Box plot had failed. Contrary
to his calculations, the key had remained undiscovered; otherwise Alan
Craig and Caw, who would surely have opened the box together, would have
ceased to exist. Their destruction, however, was perhaps only
postponed--unless he became fully persuaded that the new plan suggested
by Alan's invitation to the Lancasters was a more feasible one.
He turned sharply from the desk to his visitor, who was still standing.
"Come for your second and final hundred--eh?"
Flitch stared at the carpet, crushing his cloth cap in his hand, and
uttered the most unexpected reply that had ever entered Bullard's ears.
An appreciable time passed before Bullard's gape became modified to a
grin. "I see! You want me to keep it till you sail. Wise man! But upon my
word, you took me aback--refusing money!--you! When do you want it, then?
You had better tell me where to send it, as next week I may--"
Flitch, having moistened his lips, interrupted quietly with--
"I don't want yer money, mister,--now or ever."
"What the devil do you mean?"
"I've joined the army."
Bullard burst out laughing. "Was the sergeant sober?"
Flitch made an attempt, not very successful, to draw himself up and face
the scoffer. "The Salvation Army, I was meanin'," he mumbled.
Bullard stopped laughing. Flitch spoke again awkwardly and in jerks.
"That night up yonder about finished me. I've turned over a new leaf. The
Captain said it wasn't too late, if--if I repented of all my many sins."
"It'll take you a while to do that, won't it?" said Bullard, sneering to
cover his perplexity.
"No doubt, mister."
"And so you are above money! How beautiful! Going to pay me back that one
hundred pounds you got from me the other day, I suppose!"
"Haven't got it now, mister. Fifteen bob and coppers in me
"Crazy gambler! How do you imagine you are going to get out of this
country without my help?"
"Goin' to stay and face any music that likes to play. That"--said Flitch,
still quietly--"is what I'm going to do, mister."
Bullard took to fiddling with the nugget on his chain. "Well," he said,
"as it happens, I haven't got many hundreds just now to throw about, but
I expect you'll change your mind when the first tune begins to play--only
I warn you, it may be too late then. That's all! Now, what about your
prisoner? How did you leave him?"
Flitch hesitated before he said: "That's one o' things I'm goin' to tell
ye about, mister ..."
"Well, hurry up."
Flitch took a long breath and faced his patron, fairly and squarely.
"Mr. Marvel's gone," he said.
"I was fearin' ye meant ill by him, and this mornin' I gave him back his
money and let him go free."
Grey and ugly was Bullard's face; his body was rigid; his jaw worked
stiffly. "You--you damned fool!"
The other drew his crumpled cap across his sweating forehead. "I was
thinkin' ye wouldn't be extra pleased," he said, "but I'm for no more
blood on me hands--no, nor other crimes, neither. Now," he went on, and
his voice wavered, "now for the second thing. Mr. Alan Craig--"
"Idiot of idiots, he's in London at this moment! You'd better clear--that
is, after I'm done with you."
"Ye give me good news, mister, for now I know for certain I've put meself
right wi' Mr. Alan Craig--wait a moment!--and saved _you_ from another
dirty sin. I knows what ye had in the parcel that night, mister; I saw ye
fixin' up the infernal--"
"Curse you! what are you drivelling about?"
Flitch, his face chalky, continued: "And so I sent Mr. Alan Craig a wire
warnin' him that--oh! for God's sake don't look at me so! I didn't give
_you_ away!" His voice rose wildly as Bullard's hand stole to a drawer
behind him. "No, no; ye shan't shoot me! I must ha' time to repent
proper." He took a step forward. "I'm not goin' to hurt ye, but I'm not
goin' to let ye kill me till--"
From his desk Bullard whipped a long, heavy ruler, sprang to his feet and
lashed out at the other's head. "You two-faced swine!"
Flitch reeled backward, sobbing with pain and passion. "Ye devil's
hound! ... But I'll go for ye now!" Recovering his balance, he plunged
furiously at the striker.
Bullard struck again--a fearful blow with a horrid sound.
This time Flitch did not go back, but toppled forward, clawing at
Bullard's waistcoat, and reached the floor with a thud and a single gasp.
And there was a silence, a period of petrifaction, that might have
lasted for one minute or ten: Bullard could not have gauged it. At last
he came to himself. His teeth were chattering slightly. He examined the
ruler, drew it through his fingers; it was quite clean, and he replaced
it on the desk, softly, as though to avoid disturbing any one. Yet he
wiped his hands on his handkerchief before he crossed the room to an
antique ebony cabinet where he helped himself to a little brandy. Then
he came back to the desk and for a while stood lax, staring at the blurs
of white paper thereon.
Stiffening himself, he turned and for the first time looked down on his
Bullard had not meant to kill, though his heart had been murderous when
he struck. It was without hope that he knelt to examine his victim.
Flitch's time for repentance had been short indeed. He lay sprawled on
his side, his hands clenched, yet his countenance was not so repulsive.
Well, he had escaped human judgement, and worse men have lived longer.
Bullard got upon his feet. His mental energies were working once more.
He must act at once. The simplest way out was simply to 'phone for the
police and give himself in charge for killing a man in self defence.
But that would mean, among other things, a trial! ... Out of the
question! There must be another and safer if less simple way out. He
thought hard, and it was not so long before he found it. The fog!--if
it were still there.
He shut off the lights and passed to the window. The sill was low; the
sash opened inwards. Outside was a narrow balcony, with a foot-high stone
balustrade. Presently he was peering out into the bitter, filthy night.
The fog was denser than ever; he had never seen it so thick. The presence
of lamps in the deserted street below was betrayed by a mere glow. Across
the way the dark buildings could scarce be distinguished. The sounds of
human life seemed to come from a great distance.
Leaving the window open, he gropingly moved back to his desk, struck a
vesta and kneeling, went carefully through the dead man's pockets. A
scrap or two of paper he took possession of. With the aid of another
vesta he found his way to the cabinet for more brandy. Physically he
required stimulant. Flitch had been a big heavy man ... he was no smaller
nor lighter now.
* * * * *
And so, at long last, the ponderous, inert, uncanny thing lay balanced
across the balustrade and sill, the legs sticking into the room.
Breathing hard, Bullard grasped the ankles. A heave, a jerk, a twist,
a push.... Hands pressed hard over his ears, Bullard waited for an age
of thirty seconds. Then action once more. He closed the window,
switched on the lights, and inspected the floor. Finally he rang up
the police station.
"I'm Bullard, Aasvogel Syndicate, Manchester House. A man attempting
to enter by the window has fallen to the street. I'll remain here till
The spiritual glow in which Alan left Earl's Gate had cooled considerably
by the time he reached the Midland Hotel. It was not that he actually
regretted his actions of an hour ago; rather was it as though an inward
voice kept repeating, "Why aren't you happier, now that you have lifted a
crushing load from an exhausted fellow-creature? Why aren't you in the
seventh heaven since you are going to marry that most desirable girl?"
There was never yet human exaltation without its reaction, but in Alan's
case the latter had followed cruelly fast.
In the smoke-room, almost empty at so early an hour, he dropped into a
chair and lit a cigarette. "What the deuce is wrong with me?" By the time
the cigarette was finished he could, with a little more courage, have
answered the question. For he could not deny that his thoughts had gone
straying, not back to the brightly lighted drawing-room and the beautiful
hostess, but to a dark garden and a terrified girl with a little revolver
in her hand. Ordering himself not to be a cad as well as a fool, he
removed to one of the writing-tables. There he set himself to compose a
nicely worded note of invitation to Mrs. Lancaster. After that was done
he drew a couple of cheques for the same amount and wrote the following
letter to Mr. Bullard:
"Dear Mr. Bullard:
"You will no doubt be surprised to see my writing again, and I take this
way of announcing my return home lest you should hear of it before I can
find time to call upon you, which, however, I hope to do before long.
To-night, on my arrival here, I called upon Mr. Lancaster, and was sorry
to learn that he was too ill to receive me. But I do not wish to delay an
hour longer than necessary the settlement of my debt to you both, and so
I ask you kindly to receive on his behalf and your own, the enclosed two
cheques in payment of the amounts of, and interests on, the advances
which you and he so generously made to me in April of last year. I
daresay you have almost forgotten the incident which meant so much to me,
and still does. Until we meet,
"A bit stiff and formal," was his comment after rereading it several
times, "but I don't think it gives much away."
The two hours that followed were perhaps the dreariest he had ever spent
in civilised circumstances. London had given him enough to think about in
all conscience, but his mind would not be controlled; as surely as a
disturbed compass needle it kept moving back to the north.
Teddy's arrival, half an hour after midnight, he hailed as a great
relief. Teddy wore a tired and soiled aspect, but his eyes glinted with
"Let's go up to my room, Alan," he said at once; "I've got something to
The moment they were there, with the door bolted, Teddy's fingers went to
his waistcoat pocket.
"Recognise it?" he asked, holding up an inch of fine gold chain bearing a
"No I don't. Stay! it's not unfamiliar--but no; I can't place it.
Whose is it?"
"Oh! Where did you pick it up, Teddy?"
Teddy sat down on the edge of the bed. In a voice not wholly under
control he replied--
"I took it from the hand of a dead man, a couple of hours ago."
"A dead man! Good--"
"He seemed to fall out of the fog, but it was actually from the window of
Bullard's office, in New Broad Street. I was watching from the other side
of the street when he fell. I--I was the first person to reach him. He
was quite dead--awfully smashed, poor chap. There was a lamp near. One of
his fists was slightly open. I noticed a glitter in it. It was this
thing. I took it.--I must have a smoke."
"Better ring for something to drink."
"No. I want all my wits to make a clear story of it. Look here, Alan! The
long and short of it is: Bullard committed murder to-night--"
"Oh, I say!"
Teddy ignored the interruption. "Of course I went with the crowd to the
police station, and, though not as a witness, managed to get in. Bullard
with an inspector turned up before long, but I kept out of his way. He
had called the police himself. The man, he stated, had been trying the
window of his private room while he was in another part of the premises;
on entering his private room and switching on the lights, he had caught
a glimpse of a face and hands falling backwards. That was all a lie. The
lights had been out for some time when the man fell. The fog was
horribly thick, but I can be sure of that much. And then--this!" he
dangled the nugget.
Alan broke the silence. "It looks bad, certainly, but still, you
know, Bullard might not--and quite naturally, too--have liked to
admit that after a struggle he pushed the man from the window--if
that's what you mean."
"No, that's not what I mean. About twenty minutes earlier, I saw the man
enter Bullard's office by the usual way--"
"And note this, Alan! At the police station, I saw his fingers go to the
nugget--he has a habit of playing with the thing when he is talking--and
when he realised that it wasn't there, I thought he was going to faint.
He soon pulled himself together, but--"
"The police didn't suspect him, did they?"
"Bless you, no! They were all sympathy! Oh, he's safe enough--for the
present. The poor chap he murdered was certainly rough looking enough to
be a burglar."
"What was he like?"
"A big strong man, with an ugly red-bearded face, and--it's queer how one
notices trifles--his ears were pierced for--"
"Good Heavens, it was Flitch!"
Teddy jumped. "The man who shot you--"
"The same--I'm sure of it, even from your slight description. And--and
Bullard has killed him!"
"Your revenge, Alan."
"No, no, old man, I never wanted his life. It was only his employer I
"You've got his employer now--if you want him."
Alan stared at his friend. "Why do you say _if I want him_? Don't you
imagine I want him?"--he cried--"not for anything he may have done or
tried to do to me, but for what might have happened had Mar--Miss
Handyside opened that infernal Green Box--"
"The telegram may have been a hoax. The box may or may not contain an
infernal contrivance, but even if it does, you can't convict Bullard any
more than you can arrest the soul of the man who is dead."
"I don't understand you," said Alan. "Tell me why you used those words,
'if I want him,' meaning Bullard."
"Simply because," answered Teddy, "I'm pretty sure you don't want him.
Think a moment!"
The other sprang to his feet. "Come along, Teddy! There's no thought
required. That nugget has got to be handed to the police before we're an
Teddy rose slowly and slipped the nugget into his pocket. "Alan, my son,"
he said gently, "that nugget does not leave my possession--no, not for
all your uncle's genuine diamonds. Think again!"
"Oh, rot! If you're afraid of the police, Teddy--"
"Perhaps I am--"
"Well, give the thing to me, and I'll--"
"One moment." Teddy's face went ruddy. "I'd like you to answer a
question, though it may strike you as abominably impertinent. Are
you--are you as fond as ever of Doris Lancaster?"
Alan was also flushed as he replied: "Doris and I settled that to-night,
Teddy. But what has it to do with Bullard's nugget? I'm aware it has
something to do with Bullard--"
"Hold on!" said Teddy, pale again. "I think I can put it so plainly that
you'll wonder why you didn't see it for yourself right away. Listen! Put
this nugget into police hands, and Bullard goes into the dock. If Bullard
goes into the dock, ugly things, not all connected with this murder, will
surely come out. Lancaster will be involved; Doris--"
Alan threw up a hand. "God forgive me, Teddy," he cried, "and thank God
it wasn't I who found the nugget!"
* * * * *
"Besides," said Teddy a good deal later, "your Uncle Christopher was most
desirous that nothing should happen to Bullard before the clock stopped.
And now, old chap, I think we had better turn in."
Left to himself, Teddy sighed. "He's going to marry Doris, and, whether
he knows it or not, he's in love with that Handyside girl. Surely I have
the devil's own luck!"
Never a heavy sleeper, Mrs. Lancaster was fully aware of her daughter's
entrance before Doris reached her bedside. She affected neither
drowsiness nor ignorance of the latter's quest.
"You ought not to have got up so early, Doris," she said. "Why, it's not
eight yet. Not that light--the far away one, if you insist. Are you
"Yes, I think so. I've had a long sleep." The girl's eyes were shining
strangely, and the shadows beneath them were deep; but she did not look
ill. "Father is awake now," she said.
"Indeed! I suppose you have come for that packet." Mrs. Lancaster raised
herself a little on the pillows. "I suppose, also, you are aware what the
packet contains, Doris."
"Is it a gift or a loan to your father?"
"A loan--I hope. Please let me have it--"
"One moment, my dear. Am I right in further supposing that your father
intends to pay a particular debt with all this money?"
Doris's head drooped in assent.
"Has it not occurred to you that your father would be treating me very
badly if he used all this money for such a purpose?"
"You fancy I have said something very dreadful, but--listen! Things have
gone wrong at Johannesburg. There has been rioting. Mines have been
wrecked and ruined. For a long time to come--years, perhaps--your
father's income may be next to nothing. What is to become of me? You, of
course, have your Mr. Bullard--not so rich as he was; but he is not the
sort of man to remain long poor. You had better sit down, Doris. I have
kept the newspapers of the last few days from your father."
The girl was clutching the brass rail of the bed. "Do you mean that
father is ruined?" she whispered, aghast.
"Not far from it, I'm afraid. Now don't make a fuss. I rely on you to
break the news of the mines to him before Mr. Bullard arrives this
morning. Mr. Bullard will give him the details, no doubt. Another thing;
you must persuade Mr. Bullard to get rid of that debt we have mentioned.
He has his own difficulties at present, I should imagine, but he is not
the man to be beaten by a sum like twenty-five thousand pounds. We cannot
have scandal--disgrace. You have done much for your father already--that
I freely admit--but at this crisis you must do more.--My smelling salts
are behind you."
Doris had swayed, but she recovered he
"Mother, that money you have--"
"I'm afraid you are going to be shocked, Doris, but I had better tell you
at once that the money is mine."
"Yours!" It was a shock, a dreadful shock, and yet Doris had come to her
mother's room full of ghastly apprehensions. "Oh, but you can't mean it!"
"My dear girl, can I be franker? Call it anything you like, theft, if you
fancy the word; but the money is mine. I decline to go into the gutter
for any one."
"But--dear God!--don't you realise what your keeping it will mean to
father? Yes, you do! You know too well--"
"I have shown you a way out of that difficulty. Mr. Bullard will do
anything you ask--"
"And what am I to say to father?"
"Nothing!--unless you wish to kill him. For Heaven's sake, take a
reasonable view of the matter. A year hence your father will probably
bless me for what I have done. A thousand a year is always something. As
for Mr. Craig, he will have helped even more practically than he thought.
Of course, your taste in accepting money from one man while engaged to
another is open to question."
With a soft heart-broken cry Doris let go her hold and fell on her knees
at the bedside.
"Mother, in the name of all that is right and good, give me back the
money. I don't want to--hate you."
Mrs. Lancaster touched a wisp of lace to her eyes, "Really, Doris, you
are making it very painful for me, but some day you will see that I was
wise. For the present, I would rather die than give up the money. I have
no more to say."
In some respects Mrs. Lancaster was a stranger to her daughter, but Doris
always knew when her mind was immovable. She knew it now. She rose up
from her knees. Out of her deathly face her eyes blazed. Had she spoken
then, it would have been to utter an awful thing for any daughter to say
to the one who bore her.
"Doris!" exclaimed the woman, shrinking under her scented, exquisitely
The girl threw up her head. "If father goes down," she said bravely, "I
go down with him. And I don't think the money will make you forget,
mother. There are two sorts of gutters." She turned and went quickly out.
But in the privacy of her own room she fell on the bed, a crushed and
broken thing, a creature of despair, writhing, groping in the darkness of
an unspeakable horror. If there was a sin unpardonable, surely her own
mother had committed it. If there was a bitterness beyond that of death
itself, surely she herself was drinking thereof.
Well was it for the mind of Doris Lancaster that she was not left long to
herself. A maid tapped and said that Mr. Lancaster was asking for her.
She arose immediately and removed the outward signs of misery, telling
herself that whatever happened, he must be spared until the last moment;
also, the divulging of the disaster on the Rand must be postponed,
whether Mr. Bullard liked it or no. For the present she had to give her
father his breakfast and tell him of Alan's visit. She prayed Heaven for
a cheerful countenance.
Mr. Lancaster had rested well and was looking better, but anxious.
"You didn't come in to see me last night, after all," he said.
"Mother told me you were asleep, so I didn't disturb you--and I was
unusually tired, dear."
"But he came?"
"Oh, yes. Alan came, and he's coming again this evening, when he hopes
to see you."
"Aren't you well, Doris? You shivered just now. ... What did he say?"
"Nothing that wasn't kind, father. He wants you to go to Grey House for a
change the moment you feel able for the journey. He wants us all to go.
What better news can I give you than that, dear?"
Lancaster's eyes grew moist. "God bless the boy for shewing that he bears
me no ill-will," he said. "What did he talk about?"
"It was a very short visit last night," she replied, "but, as I told you,
he is coming again to-night. You think you will be able to see him?"
"I shall have no peace till I can thank him for his big heart.... Doris,
I wish you had not promised Bullard--"
"Oh, hush! We agreed not to speak of that."
He sighed heavily. "What a woeful mess I've made of my life; and I've had
so many chances, my dear, that I dare not hope for one more. And I don't
blame anybody but myself--"
"Dear, don't think of it that way. You have simply been deceived in
people, or, at least, in one person."
"Your mother made me believe in him, and certainly he knew how to make
money. No, I don't blame your mother, Doris. I've been a
disappointment to her--"
"Father, I can't bear your talking so, for I believe in you with all my
heart. And think of Alan Craig, and Teddy France, too--oh, they would do
anything for you!"
He shook his head, smiling very faintly. Then, suddenly, he became grave
and a strange look--strange because unfamiliar--dawned.
"Doris, give me your hand. Will you say again that you believe in me?"
"I believe in you with all my heart," she answered, striving for control.
"Then--then you are _not_ going to marry Bullard."
"You and I," he went on, "are both longing, dying for freedom, and I know
of a way out. Doris, will you believe in me, continue to desire me for
your father, though I bring ruin and shame on you? Answer me!"
"Nothing could change me, dear."
"Then I will take the way out wherever it may lead, for prison itself
would be freedom to me, and marriage with Bullard would be worse than
prison to you. Doris, Lord Caradale, the chairman of the Syndicate,
arrives from America on Tuesday. I will tell him the truth--"
She caught him in her arms. "No--no--not that," she sobbed. "He is a
hard, cruel man; he--"
"It is the one way to freedom for us both. For my own poor sake, my girl,
don't seek to weaken my resolve. I would like to do the right thing once
before I die." He kissed her. "Now leave me, and don't fret. Don't let
any one come to me for an hour or two."
Lest she should break down utterly, Doris obeyed. The thing had got
beyond her strength physical and mental. She could have cried aloud for
help. And in a sense she did, for she went to the telephone and rang up
Teddy France at the Midland Hotel.
"Can you meet me at the Queen's Road Tube in half an hour?" she asked.
"Certainly. I'll start now," said Teddy, who had not breakfasted. Alan
was not yet downstairs. "Something wrong, Doris?"
"Just come, please. Good-bye."
He was there before her, his heart aching.
What had happened that she could not tell to Alan? Before long he knew.
She told him all as they walked in Kensington Gardens, in the brilliant
sunshine. It seemed to Teddy far more horrible than the gruesome business
in the fog of twelve hours ago.
"And you feel there is no hope of inducing Mrs. Lancaster to--to change?"
he said at last. Knowing Mrs. Lancaster as he did, he recognised the
futility of the question.
"If you don't mind, Teddy," she answered, "we won't speak about that
again. The shame of it sickens me. But what about--Alan? He and father
will meet tonight. I don't for a moment imagine that Alan will mention
the money, but naturally he will think it very strange if father doesn't.
And, oh! how _can_ I explain to Alan? It's too dreadful!"
"Alan," he said, "would only be sorry--as sorry as I am. But, Doris, it
isn't to-night yet."
"You mean that I have time to--to see Mr. Bullard? He is coming to the
house this morning--may be there now--and I don't want him to get near
father. Yes," she said, in a lifeless voice, "I will speak to him--plead
with him, if necessary--"
"No, you shan't!" said Teddy, who doubted very much whether Mr. Bullard
would reach Earl's Gate that morning. The inquest was at noon.
"It's the only way out. Father must not be allowed to trust himself to
the tender mercies of Lord Caradale next week. I know Lord Caradale. He
doesn't mind how money is made; but he does mind how it is lost. Oh,
Teddy, don't you think father has suffered enough?"
"More than enough--and so has his daughter." Teddy gritted his teeth.
Every moment this girl grew dearer; every moment she seemed further away.
"Doris," he went on, "I want your promise that you will do nothing at all
till I see you again. Should Bullard come to the house, keep him from Mr.
Lancaster, but tell him nothing. Meet me here again at three o'clock."
Gently he stopped her questions. "And forgive my leaving you at once.
Don't hope too much, dear, but don't altogether despair. There's just a
chance that there may be another way out."
The hour that followed was the most thronged of this young man's life.
Fortunately he had left a note for Alan, explaining his sudden departure
on the score of some forgotten business which had to be overtaken before
the inquest, so he was free to go direct to a certain legal office in the
city. As for Doris, she went home in that numb condition of mind and
spirit which comes upon some of us while we wait for a great surgeon's
verdict. Her mother informed her that Mr. Bullard had telephoned,
postponing his call till the afternoon, also that she had received and
accepted Mr. Craig's invitation to Grey House.
"We shall travel on Tuesday, Doris, so you must see that your father has
Doris turned away without answering. Tuesday! That was a long, long way
off--in another life, it seemed.
The inquest was over. A suggestion for an adjournment, half-heartedly
expressed by one juryman, had been briefly discussed and withdrawn.
Bullard had come through his ordeal without a spot of discredit. He
looked pale and fagged, but what was more natural in the circumstances? A
horrid experience it must have been, those present agreed, to behold a
face and clutching hands fall away from a fourth-story window! And he was
going to pay for a decent funeral for the abandoned wretch who might have
murdered him! There was a gentleman for you!
Nevertheless, more than once Bullard's nerve had been at breaking point.
What was young France doing at the inquest? He was to know soon enough.
Teddy was waiting for him just outside the door.
"I have a taxi here, Mr. Bullard," he said, "so we can go to your office
together. I have a little business to discuss--financial, I should say."
"I'm afraid it must keep, Mr. France," Bullard managed to reply fairly
coolly. "This is Saturday, you know, and after business hours."
"You will see for yourself presently, Mr. Bullard, that it won't keep. In
fact, if you don't step into that cab at once--"
Bullard got in, Teddy followed, and the cab started.
"Wow," began Bullard, "what the--"
"Hope you don't mind my smoking," said Teddy, lighting a cigarette.
"Rather an uncomfy corner you've just come out of, Mr. Bullard."
"Kindly choose your words more carefully--'corner' does not apply to my
recent unpleasant experience--and name your business."
"We shall be in your office in a very few minutes, and I prefer to name
"Very well." Bullard restrained himself and fell to thinking hard. What
had brought France to the inquest? The question repeated itself
maddeningly. The tragedy had not been mentioned in the morning
papers--their early editions, at any rate.
Teddy gave him a minute's grace, then casually remarked--
"You heard from my friend, Alan Craig, this morning, I believe.
Miraculous escape, wasn't it?"
"Very.... Yes, I have a letter from Mr. Craig--to which I shall
"Alan is an odd chap," Teddy pursued. "No sooner is he home and in safety
than he makes his will. Did it at his lawyer's in Glasgow, the day before
After an almost imperceptible pause--"Indeed!" said Bullard, a little
thickly. "Only I'm afraid I don't happen to be interested in Mr. Alan
"Sorry," Teddy murmured, and gave him another minute's grace. Then--
"Awful end that for poor old Flitch, Mr. Bullard."
The man's face, nay, his whole body, contracted for an instant; yet he
was still master of himself.
"Flitch--the dead man, you know."
"The man's name was Dunning, as you must have heard, and as the police
discovered for themselves."
"Really, I must go to an aurist! I've got it into my head as Flitch."
"Confound you!" said Bullard, on the verge of a furious, crazy outbreak,
"will you hold your tongue? I've business to think of. Lost a whole
morning with that cursed inquest."
"All right, Mr. Bullard. Don't apologise."
There was no more talk till they reached the office. The clerks had gone.
Bullard led the way, not to his own private room, but to Lancaster's.
"Say what you've got to say quickly," he snapped.
"This," said Teddy, looking leisurely about him, "is surely not the room
where it happened.--What's the matter, Mr. Bullard?"
Again Bullard caught and held himself on the verge. "I can give you
five minutes, if you will talk sense," he said, taking the chair at
Lancaster's desk, which had been left open. "Either you are drunk or
you fondly imagine you have got hold of something. Now, go on! Come to
"I will," said Teddy. "How much exactly does Mr. Lancaster owe the
Bullard started, but not without relief. The relief would have been
fuller, however, but for the questioner's presence at the inquest.
"What business is that of yours, Mr. France?"
"Simply that I'm going to see it paid."
"May I ask when?"
"Within the next few minutes."
Bullard saw light. Alan Craig's money!
"Really?" he said. "But would it not be better if Mr. Lancaster were to
make the payment personally?"
"Does it matter to the Syndicate who pays the money?"
"Of course not."
"Thanks." Teddy brought forth a couple of bundles of bonds and share
certificates. "How much is the debt?"
"Twenty-four thousand and seventy-five pounds."
"Wish I had that much," said Teddy, "but I can only give what I've got."
He rose, placed the bundles on the desk, and sat down again. "There's a
trifle over five thousand pounds in my little lot," he went on, "and with
each certificate you'll find a signed transfer in your favour, Mr.
Bullard. To save time"--he glanced at his watch--"I'll ask you to take my
word for that."
Bullard put out his hand and touched the bundles. "Your securities, you
say, are worth a little over five thousand pounds?"
"Well, Mr. Bullard?"
"What about the balance of twenty--or say nineteen--thousand?"
Teddy smiled. "That's your affair, Mr. Bullard."
"I should be obliged," said Bullard slowly, "if you would talk sense."
"I've written it down," Teddy said, and passed him a sheet of paper
bearing these words:
"I, Francis Bullard, London Managing Director of the Aasvogel Syndicate,
hereby acknowledge that I have this day received the sum of ... being the
full amount due to the Syndicate by Mr. Robert Lancaster, whose debt is
"What the devil is this?"
"Now don't frown and crumple it up and throw it away, as if you were on
the stage, Mr. Bullard," said Teddy. "You were never more in real life
than you are now. Take your pen, fill in the blank, sign at foot, and
return to me. And listen! The man you lied so well about at the inquest,
entered your office by the door, at ten-seventeen last night."
Bullard's countenance took on a curious shade. Almost in his heart the
young man pitied him.
"If the man entered by the door, you know more about his movements than I
do," came the retort. "Why didn't you say so at the inquest?"
"Mr. Bullard, I give you two minutes by my watch to complete and sign
"You cursed young fool, do you think to blackmail me?"
"If you like to call it that--well, I'm afraid I must accept the word,"
said Teddy, watch in hand. "But somehow one doesn't mind so much
blackmailing a blackguard.--Sit still! You can't afford two inquests in a
"What do you imagine it proves if the man did enter by the door, you
prying, sneaking puppy?"
"Thirty seconds gone."
"Oh, get out of this! I'm not afraid of you. I've a good mind--"
"There was no light in your window when the man fell. At the inquest you
said you had just switched on the lights."
Bullard's clenched fists relaxed; his face became moist and shiny.
"Do you want to hear any more?" said Teddy. "One minute left."
Bullard writhed. "Suppose I haven't got the money," he said at last.
"You can find it."
"And what guarantees do you give in return?"
"I promise silence so long as you keep clear of crime and make no attempt
to communicate, by word or letter, with Mr. Lancaster or his daughter--"
"Hah! I see! ... But, by God, I'll destroy the lot of you yet!"
"Thirty seconds left, Mr. Bullard.... Twenty.... Ten...." Teddy stood up.
Two minutes later he stepped, almost jauntily, from the room. His little
private income had disappeared, but he had a document worth all the world
to him in his pocket. As he opened the door Bullard's face was that of a
fiend; his hand went back to a drawer ere he remembered that he was not
at his own desk.
* * * * *
Teddy was a little behind time in reaching Kensington Gardens, and he
looked so haggard that the girl's heart failed her.
"Everything's all right, Doris," he said, rather huskily. "Let's sit down
here for a minute."
"Teddy, you're ill!"
He shook his head, and gave her the paper, saying, "Take care of it. I
don't think Bullard will trouble you or Mr. Lancaster again, Doris."
She read and began to tremble. With a sob she whispered, "Teddy, Teddy,
_is_ it true?"
He did not answer. He had a queer sleepy, ghastly look.
"Teddy dear! What is it?"
He appeared to pull himself up. "Upon my word," he said, with a feeble
laugh, "I was nearly off that time. I wonder where I could find some
* * * * *
In the nearest tea-room he revived considerably.
"Perhaps I may tell you all about it years hence, Doris," he said. "Not
now. Just make your father happy and be happy yourself. And remember
that, so far as your father is concerned, it was Alan's money. So that
makes everything nice and tidy, doesn't it?"
"But father ought to know that it was you who--"
"Now, don't go and spoil everything! I assure you that I did nothing
worth mentioning except miss my breakfast--which is, perhaps, a good deal
for an Englishman to do."
"But, Teddy, what am I to say to you?"
"Nothing. Just smile, and say I made you."
"Ah!" he said softly, "you haven't smiled like that, Doris, for months!
I'm a great man, after all! Now, what about moving along to Earl's
Gate? I mustn't keep you longer from giving him the good news. Have you
got it safe?"
She touched her breast. "Oh, Teddy, you wonderful, wonderful man!--to
alter the world in a few hours!"
"Pretty smart, wasn't it? By the way, I may not see you for a while. I
think Alan wants me to go back with him to-morrow night."
"We are all going to Grey House on Tuesday."
"Oh!" said Teddy of the torn heart. "Do you happen to remember how many
buns I've eaten?"
* * * * *
On reaching home Doris learned that her mother had gone out. She was not
sorry. She was not to know that the hour in which she gave her father his
freedom witnessed a consultation between her mother and Mr. Bullard. For
Bullard was not yet beaten, and Mrs. Lancaster had still to learn that
her husband was safe.
So the two friends returned north, Teddy with a new secret in his heavy
heart, Alan in a thoroughly unsettled state of mind.
Alan's second meeting with Doris had certainly not been helpful to
either. Doris, while almost assured as to her father's freedom, was at
least dubious about her own, so much so that she gently but firmly
refused to consider herself in any way engaged to Alan, and Alan, as any
other honourable young man would have done in the circumstances, pleaded
"You will never marry Bullard," said he, for the tenth time.
"He has my promise. He might yet find another way of injuring father,"
she answered; "and you too," she added to herself.
Alan was handicapped: he could not think to shock her with the ugly truth
about the man, unless that were necessary in order to save her from him
at the last moment. He and Teddy had agreed that for the present, at
least, no one--not even Caw--should be told.
"Doris, don't you really care for me?" he asked presently.
"Alan!--after all you have done!--"
"That's not the point, dear."
Quickly she turned the questioning on him. "Alan, are you _quite_ sure
you want to marry me?"
"What did I come home for? What am I here for now?"
And so forth. The phrase is not to be taken flippantly, but when two
young people talk with the primary object of concealing their respective
thoughts, the conversation is apt to partake of futility. In this case,
at all events, it led to nothing satisfactory.
"It's too absurd, Doris," he cried at last. "It means practically a
"Till the clock stops." She smiled ruefully. "I have to redeem my promise
"Did Bullard put it that way?"
"I didn't understand what he meant till father explained," she said, and
continued in a lighter tone: "I'm very curious about that strange clock
of yours. I expect I'll spend all my time at Grey House watching it."
"I've a good mind to smash up the wretched thing the moment I get
home! ... Doris, once more, you are not going to marry that man!"
In the end they had parted kindly, even tenderly, feeling that each owed
the other something.
* * * * *
As well as an unsettled mind Alan brought with him from London a letter
from Bullard, which he had received by registered post on the Saturday
night. Although it must have been indited on the top of that disturbing
interview with Teddy, it was frank in manner and pleasantly
congratulatory in tone; moreover, it covered the will which Alan had
signed about nineteen months ago. The writer concluded with regrets for
the necessity which would involve his departure for South Africa within
the next few days.
"Do you think he's running away, Teddy?" Alan asked his friend after
showing him the letter.
"I've no doubt he's jolly glad to go, but the journey was planned, I'm
sure, before the Flitch affair. Those Rand riots, you know. Poor
Lancaster, did he say anything about their effect on his income?"
"Disastrous, I'm afraid. But he seems resigned to anything now that the
Syndicate matter is out of the way. I wish to goodness we could lay hands
quickly on those diamonds--if they exist. I want some money."
"They--or their equivalent--must exist," said Teddy. "Your uncle,
situated as he was, could not have spent half a million in five years,
Alan shook his head. He was depressed and disposed to be pessimistic
"Changed your theory about the clock?" the other mildly enquired.
Alan laughed shortly. "We're always doing that, aren't we?"
They reached Grey House about noon to learn that nothing of moment had
happened in their absence. Possibly Caw did not consider it worthy of
mention that, under agreeable compulsion, he had been giving Miss
Handyside instruction in revolver shooting.
Caw was told of his arch-enemy's impending voyage.
"A good job that, sir," he remarked. "Now we'll maybe get a few months
"Oh, Bullard has ceased from troubling for good," said Teddy
"Indeed, sir!" returned Caw very respectfully.
His thoughts were speedily diverted, however, by Alan's intimation of the
Lancasters' approaching visit.
"And you'll just forget, Caw, that you ever saw Mr. Lancaster in an
invidious position here. He has suffered enough."
"I can well believe it, sir; and for Miss Lancaster's sake alone it will
be a pleasure for me to make the gentleman feel at home."
"What about Mrs. Lancaster?" put in Teddy.
"If I may say so to Mr. Alan, I hope I know my place in the most trying
"Oh, get out, Caw!" laughed Alan. "You needn't suspect everybody!"
"Very good, sir. Only, my master did not admire her, and he was a judge
of female character, if ever there was one," said Caw, and with an
"Caw is right," said Teddy. "You know I've warned you all along about
"Rather horrid to be discussing a coming guest in such a fashion," Alan
returned. "I think I know Mrs. Lancaster by this time, Teddy. She wants a
lot of chestnuts, but she'd never risk burning her own fingers.... Well,
I had better go round and pay my thanks to Handyside for keeping Caw
company those nights. Will you come?"
Teddy excused himself on the score of correspondence neglected in London.
"By the way," he added, "are your guests to know of the passage?"
"I think not," Alan replied, with a slight flush. "As a matter of fact,
I'm not going to use it again except in an emergency."
Left to himself, Teddy sighed and murmured, "A private passage with a
pretty enough girl at the other end--I wonder what Doris would think
about it, even in an emergency."
Arriving next door Alan found that the doctor had gone out in his car.
Miss Handyside, the servant mentioned, was at home. Under an effort of
will he was turning away when she appeared.
Presently they were seated in the study, and he was telling her of his
"I wonder," he said with some diffidence, "if you could forget that you
saw Lancaster in my uncle's room that night."
There was a trace of a frown on Marjorie's brow.
"Of course I will do my best, Mr. Craig. I'm not very good at heaping
coals of fire myself, but--"
"You think it strange that I should have invited him, that he should have
accepted my invitation? Well, I suppose it's a natural thought. But the
man has suffered terribly, and not only for his own mistakes, and I don't
know that the acceptance was such an easy thing for him. Please remember
that Bullard had a cruel power over him."
"And does that power no longer exist?"
"It is broken. You may be interested to know that Bullard is leaving for
South Africa this week."
"I hope that is true," she said so solemnly that he smiled. "But," she
went on quickly, "I'll try to be nice to Mr. Lancaster. He _did_ look out
of his element that night, and after all, I'm not the sort to kick a man
when he's down. But I must say you're a good, kind man, Mr. Craig--"
"Please!" he protested miserably.
"Tell me about Mrs. Lancaster," she went on. "Is she very charming?"
"She is very handsome. I'm afraid she will find Grey House deplorably
dull. She finds her pleasures in crowded places. But whether you admire
her or not, I'm sure you will like her daughter."
"What is her name? Is she pretty?"
"Doris is her name and--yes, she's very pretty indeed."
"Please describe her, Mr. Craig."
"Oh, no," he objected, with a poor attempt at lightness. "I'm no hand at
descriptions, Miss Handyside; besides, you will see her for yourself, I
hope, within the next few days. And I--I think she wants a girl friend
rather badly." Thereupon he made haste to change the subject.
Conversation was inclined, however, to drag a little on both sides, and
there was developed a tension just perceptible, which lasted till the
arrival of the doctor.
When Alan had gone, ten minutes later, Handyside observed that the young
man did not seem so bright as before his trip to London.
"I can't say I noticed any difference," said Marjorie, whose whole
glad world had become gloomy within the space of half an hour; and she
went away to her own room, wherein she gave herself the following
"Don't be silly! ... You don't really care! ... And now you know he's
going to marry that thingammy girl! ... And he said she was _very_
pretty, and Doris is certainly ever so much prettier a name than--no,
I'm not going to cry--I'm not--I'm _not_! ... at least, not much."
"I think that's everything, Caw. We shan't be much later than eleven.
Don't forget that Mr. Harvie wants to catch the first steamer in the
morning." Alan, in evening dress, was smoking a cigarette in the study
pending the assembling of his guests in the drawing-room, all of whom had
been bidden to dinner that evening by the hospitable Handyside.
"Mr. Harvie shall be looked after, sir." Caw retired to the door, closed
it and came back to the hearth. "May I ask you to cast your eye over this
list, Mr. Alan?" he said, presenting a sheet of notepaper.
"Why," exclaimed Alan, "this is my uncle's writing ... and it's a list of
the people who are now in the house--"
"With one exception, sir. Mr. Bullard."
"That's so. Where did this come from?"
"That, sir, is one of the instructions left me by my master. Those are
the names of all the people who are to be present on the night when the
clock stops. I ventured to bring it to your notice now merely because it
struck me as a little curious, sir, especially since Mr. Harvie, the
lawyer, had not intended to stay the night."
Alan smiled. "And so we want only Mr. Bullard to make the party complete!
Pity he sailed to-day for South Africa!"
"If I may say so, I should like very much to have seen him off, sir."
"Good heavens, man! Didn't that telegram of an hour ago convince you?"
"It struck me afterwards that your agent might have watched his--well,
his double go on board. You will remember that wire from Paris--"
"Oh, really, Caw, your imagination carries you too far! Bullard, as you
well know, is bound for South Africa on serious business: his fortune is
at stake. Doesn't that satisfy you? Is it this list that has upset you?"
"Well, to tell the truth, sir, it did give me a bit of a turn, and I'm
not superstitious every evening."
"You've got your big dog."
Caw smiled apologetically. "I didn't say I was afraid, sir. Perhaps you
are right to laugh at me, sir; still, Mr. Bullard has always done the
unexpected thing in the past, and--"
Teddy came in.
"Teddy," said Alan, "shut the door, and in the fewest words possible tell
Caw what Bullard did to Flitch in the fog."
Three minutes later Caw went out, with his list, easier in his mind than
he had ever been since that midnight hour when he set the clock going.
And now Alan glanced at the clock. "Time's about up. We had better go
In the drawing-room they found Lancaster and Mr. Harvie. Three days of
the free and friendly atmosphere of Grey House had worked wonders on the
former: a rather painful diffidence was still in evidence now and then,
but the man was beginning to hold up his head, his nervousness was
becoming less noticeable, and his old kindly manner was once more
asserting itself. Once Caw had caught him watching Alan unawares, and had
forgiven him much because of the gratitude in his gaze.
The lawyer had run down from Glasgow to see Alan respecting that young
man's recent and serious onslaught on his capital, and had allowed
himself to be persuaded to remain over night. He and Lancaster appeared
to take kindly to each other, much to the host's gratification. Thus far
Alan could congratulate himself on the success of his little house-party.
Doris seemed to have found the friend he had hoped for her in Marjorie
Handyside. As for Mrs. Lancaster, she had been a cheering surprise in her
graciousness to every one and her open appreciations of her surroundings,
while she had quite captivated the doctor.
It was therefore something of a blow when Doris, lovely in a wild-rose
pink, but a little pale and anxious looking, appeared with the news that
her mother had been stricken with a headache so severe as to necessitate
her going to bed.
"I never knew your mother to have a headache before," said Lancaster,
perturbed. "I hope it is nothing serious."
"She wants us not to bother about her," said the girl. "She has not been
sleeping so well lately, she says, but hopes to get to sleep now, and she
will ring if she requires anything. No, father; she would rather you
didn't go up."
Alan expressed his regrets. "It doesn't seem right to go out and
"I'm afraid it would just upset her if we made any difference," said
Doris, "and she certainly does not look alarmingly ill."
"I will leave orders with Caw to communicate at once should she want you,
Doris," Alan said at last, and presently the party went forth into the
starry, moonless night.
Alan, as host, escorted Doris. As he drew her hand through his arm he
felt it tremble.
"Are you troubled about your mother?" he asked.
"Just a little, Alan," she replied, after a moment. "But I'm not going to
let it make me a skeleton at the feast," she added with a small laugh.
She would have given much then to have been walking with Teddy; her
answer to a similar question from him would have been somewhat different,
for her mind was full of vague fears.
And just then Alan spoke of Teddy. "Is there anything wrong between you
and Teddy, Doris? I may be mistaken, but these last few days I have been
fancying you were avoiding each other. No quarrel, surely."
"Oh, nonsense! Teddy is my oldest friend, and neither of us is
quarrelsome. On the other hand, we are interested in people besides each
other." Her lighter tone was very well assumed.
"That's all right then," he said, and there was a pause. Then, suddenly,
he put another question: "Doris, must I go on waiting till--till the
Her reply was, to say the least of it, unexpected. "No, I don't think
it's necessary, Alan."
"Doris!" He may have imagined his voice sounded eager as he proceeded:
"Then I may speak now!"
"Please, no," she gently forbade. "I meant that you must never speak at
all--to me--of marriage. For you don't really love me, dear Alan, and
I--I'm really awfully glad! Now don't say another word, my friend. Who
could be dishonest under such a sky?"
And having nothing to say, he held his peace till they reached the gates
of the doctor's garden where the others awaited them.
* * * * *
To Mrs. Lancaster, as a matter of course, the chief guest-chamber had
been allotted. Its door faced that of the study across the spacious
landing; viewed from outside, its bay-window balanced that of the study
and suggested an equally large apartment. It lacked, however, the depth
of the opposite room, and further differed from the latter in having a
window of ordinary size in the side wall, looking north. Elegance and
comfort it possessed to satisfy the most fastidious senses. White walls
and furniture, rose velvet carpet, and hangings, silver electric
fittings and a silver bedstead. The warmed atmosphere would have been
pleasant to the body without the fire, yet those glowing and flaming
logs made cheerfulness for the imagination--or would have done so for
the imagination of any person save Mrs. Lancaster. At intervals she
shivered. She was half sitting, half reclining on the couch drawn near
to the hearth. She was wearing an elaborate tea-gown which had cost her,
or, to be precise, had added to her debts, more guineas than some of us
earn in a year.
Her hands and neck blazed with gems, but her eyes would have made you
forget the jewels, so intensely they gleamed. The finger of feverishness
had touched her dusky cheeks to a rare flush. Waiting there in the soft
light of a single lamp of the cluster in the ceiling, Carlotta Lancaster
had never looked so splendid. And she had never felt so afraid.
Afraid of what? Ruin for her husband, misery for her daughter? Oh, dear,
no! Afraid of being herself caught in a most dishonourable and traitorous
act? A little, perhaps. But the fear that now made her shiver and burn
was the fear lest Bullard should fail in his latest and last, as he had
said it should be, plan to obtain the diamonds. Failure on his part
spelled ruin for her--not just social ruin, though that were terrible
enough, but financial ruin, hideous, complete.
Debts, debts, debts! The night before leaving London, and for the first
time in her life there, she had sat down with paper and pencil and made
up a statement--rough, of course--of all she owed, and added it up....
Appalling! Thousands and thousands of pounds! Why, great Heavens! if she
used her recent windfall to pay her debts, she would have nothing left
worth mentioning. And Bullard was going to give her a hundred
thousand--if--if ... Oh, but he must not fail! It was her final chance,
her final hope, of averting downfall into sordid obscurity.
An hour ago another hope had glimmered, but briefly.
"Doris," she said, "you seem happy here. Will you give me a straight
answer to a straight question? Suppose your father's affairs came right;
suppose, also, I gave you back that money; would you--would you marry
But Doris, who had made a discovery since coming to Grey House, answered
shortly yet cheerfully--
Mrs. Lancaster did not press the matter. She was too well aware that the
twenty-five thousand pounds had been the price of the remnants of her
daughter's faith in her. Doris had ceased to call her "mother" except in
company, and then as seldom as possible; in times of unavoidable privacy
she treated her with extreme but distant courtesy.
So the glimmer had gone out, and now there was no way of salvation but
The silver carriage-clock on the mantel tingled eight. Mrs. Lancaster
rose and went to the door, which she opened an inch. Awhile she listened
intently, then closed it and turned the key. She had heard nothing.
Twenty minutes earlier she had heard Caw moving about the study, mending
the fire and putting things in order; then he had gone downstairs--to
his supper, she presumed. He would not likely be up again within the
next two hours--unless she summoned him. With another shudder she moved
away from the door.
Presently she unlocked one of her trunks and took out a little white
package with a red cross scored on it. Undoing the sealed waxed paper she
uncovered several neatly cut strips of meat. She regarded them with
disgust. It was by no means the first little white package she had opened
since her arrival at Grey House, but none of the previous ones had been
crossed with red.
She switched off the light and went towards the side window, slipped
between the curtains and drew them close behind her. When her eyes were
grown accustomed to the darkness, she raised the sash. Like the others in
the house it worked easily, noiselessly. A bitter air from the
snow-capped Argyll hills made her wish she had donned furs.
Crouching, she reached out and peered downwards. The darkness baffled
her, but something had to be left to chance. She let fall a strip of
meat, and closed the window--for about five minutes. Then she peered down
again. A live thing was moving on the gravel. She let fall the rest of
the meat, and a snuffling sound came up to her ears. Caw's Great Dane had
lately been finding frequent tit-bits in that particular spot, and now he
was making another tasty meal--his last.
Mrs. Lancaster closed the window and after washing her hands went back to
the fire. It supplied all the light she required for the present. There
was nothing that needed to be done for an hour. But she grew more and
more restless, and before half the time had passed she was opening
another of her trunks. From it she took that which in the doubtful light
seemed a mere mass of silk, but which was later to resolve itself into a
sort of ladder carefully rolled up and fitted with a steel clamp at the
top. She placed the bundle behind the curtains of the side window, and
returned to the trunk.
From a nest of soft materials she drew a wooden box about eight inches
square. Gingerly she carried it to the couch, seated herself, and took
off the lid. The removal of a quantity of cotton wool revealed a glass
sphere of the size of an average orange, filled with a clear, colourless
fluid. She let the sphere stay where it was, and after gazing at it
awhile placed the box very cautiously on the mantel.
Feeling faintish, she got her smelling-salts and cologne and lay down on
the couch. The half hour that followed was the longest she had ever
spent, and yet she was not relieved when the clock tinkled nine. The fire
had burned low, but she let it die....
Once more she lurked at the window--fearing one moment, hoping the
next, that her message had not reached him in time, that he would
not come--till another night, though she was aware that it must be
now or never.... And at last, down below, a mere spark of light
moved in the mirk.
Mrs. Lancaster was no weakling. The spark roused as though it had touched
and scorched her. She cleared her mind for action. No useless hampering
thoughts littered it now. Her intelligence reckoned nothing save the work
on hand; its details she had by heart. She acted.
* * * * *
Bullard came from between the curtains white and breathing hard, but
smiling. He had no head for climbing--and a loosely hung ladder of silken
loops in the darkness is poor support to the nerves--but he had the will
for anything that meant great gain.
"You will excuse me," he gasped, taking a sip from a tiny gold
flask. "I've come out of one darkness to go into another. Is all clear?
You managed the dog, I noticed. Yes, yes, very disagreeable, but
"So far as I know," she whispered, "your way is clear, unless"--she
glanced at the box on the mantel--"I fail, or that thing there does. Have
you found out about the clock?"
"Not much. Nothing, in fact. The Frenchman would not take my order for a
clock exactly similar to my dear old friend's, and he was not talkative.
But I'm very much mistaken if Christopher's diamonds are not there."
"Tell me," she said, her hand to her heart, "how you are going to
escape--detection. I must know that before we go further, for, if they
catch you, they will never, with such a fortune involved, spare you for
my husband's sake."
He seated himself beside her on the couch and lit a cigarette.
"There is no time for full details, dear lady. Be satisfied with these.
First, I sailed this afternoon from London--by deputy, you understand.
To-night I shall travel a certain distance south by car, afterwards by
rail. At a certain port, a Mr. So-and-So will board and occupy his
reserved cabin on a swift steamer bound for Madeira. At Madeira Mr.
So-and-So and Mr. Deputy will meet--just meet and no more. Then Mr.
Deputy will disappear as such, Mr. So-and-So will disappear as such, and
Mr. Bullard will continue his journey to Cape Town."
"Oh, you are horribly clever! ... Your deputy is like you in appearance?"
"Very; and as I've had occasion to use him before, he knows my little
ways.... But now, Mrs. Lancaster, I must ask you to get busy." He rose,
took the box from the mantel and extracted the sphere. "Don't be afraid,"
he said, as she rose, also, with a shiver. "Only be careful." He laid it
in her hand.
"Will it hurt much?" she whispered.
"No--not much. Disagreeable of course, but not deadly."
"You're sure it won't--kill?"
"I give you my word. Now, please,--at once." He went over to the door and
unlocked it. "Come!"
She joined him. "Oh, yes, I know exactly what to do," she said, answering
"Very well." He returned to the hearth. "Now I'm going to ring for Mr.
She opened the door and slipped out. At the rail directly over the foot
of the stair she took her stand.
Ere long she heard a door in the distance open and shut. Then she heard
Caw coming along the passage leading from the kitchen premises....
As Caw placed his foot on the first step, something bright flashed down
within a yard of his eyes and burst on the stair with a slight report.
When Bullard looked over, a moment later, he nodded and said: "That's all
right. He won't stir for fifteen minutes, anyway, and I hope I shan't
It then appeared necessary to conduct Mrs. Lancaster back to her room and
administer to her what remained in the tiny gold flask.
"Curse that green stuff!" said Bullard under his breath. "I'd sooner
handle a bunch of live wires."
He was standing in front of the clock, in the glow of an overhanging
lamp, the only one he had switched on on entering the firelit room.
The pendulum in its callous swing fairly blazed. There was no sound save
a half-stifled, irritating ticking.
Bullard presented rather a curious, if not uncanny, spectacle then. His
countenance was covered by a glass mask such as the chemist dons while
preparing or studying some highly unstable and dangerous substance. Even
more than death he feared pain and disfigurement. His method of dealing
with Christopher's clock had been carefully thought out. In the rainproof
coat which he wore was a respirator, oxygenated, as well as sundry little
tools. For it was the green fluid that had engaged his wits most
seriously: it must be got rid of; its powers, whatever they were,
dispersed, before he dared tackle the clock itself; and the dispersal
must be effected from the greatest distance possible.
Well, he had conceived a way which promised but moderate risk to his own
person. Having finished his brief outward examination of the clock, he
produced a disk of white paper, an inch and a half in diameter, gummed on
one side. Raising the mask slightly, he moistened the disk, and applied
it to the clock's case, almost at the bottom of the reservoir. Against
the green background the mark showed very distinctly. For a moment or two
he regarded it critically, then went to the door and turned the key. He
stepped briskly up the room, halting at the heavy brown curtains drawn
across the bay-window.
From inside his coat he brought a gleaming weapon with a long barrel and
an unusually large butt--an air pistol of great power and reliability. In
the old South African times Bullard had been a notable shot with rifle
and revolver, and practice during the last few days had shown him that
his hand and eye still retained a good deal of their cunning. Moreover,
it was an easy mark he had before him now. The chief risk lay in an
extremely violent explosion of the green fluid, but he hardly believed in
such a result. Christopher was sure to have thought of something more
subtle than mere widespread destruction, which might involve friends, not
to mention property, no less than enemies. Something that burned,
something that asphyxiated--something undoubtedly cruel and treacherous
and horrible--existed in that green fluid; but when its time came, it
would attack its victim with little sound, if not in absolute silence. So
Bullard had imagined it, though he was prepared to find himself wrong.
The pistol was already loaded, its charge of compressed air awaiting but
the touch of release. Bullard undid the safety-catch, took a glance
round, and passed between the curtains, re-drawing them till they almost
touched. With his left hand he grasped the edges at a level with his
chin, leaving a narrow aperture above that level through which he could
aim. If an explosion did take place, he was fairly secure from flying
fragments; if the atmosphere became too perilous, the window was at hand.
He raised the weapon to the aperture and protruded the barrel. An easy
shot, indeed! He would soon know what ... Damn! what was that? Footsteps
on the gravel beneath the window? Withdrawing the pistol, he moved to the
window and listened. The fastenings of the mask encumbered his hearing;
he could not be sure. But, next moment, peering through the misty pane on
the right he saw a man's figure, too small for either Craig or France,
move from the steps into the ruddily lighted doorway. And far away, as it
seemed, an electric bell purred.
Wrath at the interruption rather than fear of discovery and capture
possessed Bullard. Caw was helpless for the present, and it was not the
old housekeeper's business to answer the bell. The visitor would have to
wait awhile. Anyway, there was plenty of time for escape.... But was he
going to flee empty-handed, leaving that cursed clock unexplored?
He turned quickly back to the curtains, and again protruded the
pistol--and all but dropped it.
Between him and the clock a girl was standing--a girl in an apple-green
evening frock. She had nut-brown hair and a beautiful neck, and she was
inclined to plumpness. Apparently she was watching the pendulum. Soon,
however, she moved and looked around her. There was a slight flush on the
delicate tan of her cheeks, and she smiled faintly as at some foolish
thought. Then, glancing at something in her hand, she shook her head
while a tiny frown superseded the smile.
She stepped to the door and turned the handle--and gave a little gasp.
Bullard saw her colour go out, saw her shoulder seek the support of the
door. In that instant he might have over-awed her, stunned her with
alarm, but in the next she straightened up and did an unexpected thing.
She drew the key from the locked door and walked deliberately to the
writing table. For a moment she seemed to require the support of its
ledge, yet steadily enough she passed back to the clock.
There she wheeled about. Up went her right hand holding a little
revolver. She spoke softly, not unwaveringly, but quite clearly.
"Whoever you are, I think you had better come out. They will be here
immediately. I've rung for them. You can't escape!"
There was no response. Bullard was thinking hard. Ought he to overpower
her or risk the long drop from the window?
"I will count three," she said, "and if you don't come out, I will shoot!
One ... two ... th--"
"Do not forget," said a muffled voice, "that I can shoot also."
"You horrid pig!" she cried. "Take that!" Crack went the revolver--crash
went the bulb and shade above the writing-table.
Bullard stepped forth. There was a greyish shade on his face, but his
lips smiled stiffly behind the glass mask.
"Stand away from the clock, and be good enough to return the key to the
door," he said.
The sight of him daunted her, yet not for long. She fired again--blindly,
one may suppose. The bullet passed over his head, between the curtains,
and through the window. A sound of vigorous knocking came from below.
"You little devil!" snarled Bullard, and ran at her.
Then her nerve weakened and she darted toward the door of the passage.
Ere she could reach it, it flew open, and, dropping the revolver, she
fell into the arms of the panting Alan.
"Good God! what's this?" he cried at the extraordinary appearance of
Bullard and the smoke wreaths in the atmosphere. "Are you all right?" he
whispered to the girl.
Teddy dashed in, gave a shout and made for Bullard, only to be brought up
short by a shining muzzle almost in his face.
From downstairs a female voice rose in shrieks; from the stairs came a
man's, shouting in a foreign tongue. Next moment there fell a frantic
beating on the door.
Marjorie darted from her refuge, thrust home the key and turned it.
Monsieur Guidet almost fell in, crying--
"Quick! Look after Mr. Caw! He was hurt--on the stair!"