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The Pit Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Croft

Part 5 out of 6

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The switch snapped, and in a few seconds the watcher saw Archer
return to his office, bend for a moment over the lock of the door,
then reseat himself at his desk.

"I've got them now," he thought triumphantly. "I've got them at
last. Tonight I'll take them red-handed in whatever they're doing."
He smiled in anticipation. "By Jove," he went on, "it was lucky
they sent nothing up last night, or they would have taken me
red-handed, and that might have been the end of me!"

He was greatly impressed by the excellence of the telephone scheme.
There was nothing anywhere about it to excite suspicion, and it kept
Archer in touch with the illicit undertaking, while enabling him to
hold himself absolutely aloof from all its members. If the rest of
the organization was as good, it was not surprising that Hilliard,
and Merriman had been baffled.

But the puzzle was now solved, the mystery at an end. That night,
so Willis assured himself, the truth would be known.

He remained in his hiding place all day, until, indeed, he had
watched the workers at the distillery leave and the gray shadows of
evening had begun to descend. Then he hid the telephone and wire
in a cupboard, stealthily left the house, and after a rapid glance
round hurried along the lane towards Ferriby.

He caught the 6.57 train to Hull, and in a few minutes was at the
police station. There he saw the superintendent, and after a
little trouble got him to fall in with the plan which he had
devised.

As a result of their conference a large car left the city shortly
before nine, in which were seated Inspector Willis and eight picked
constables in plain clothes. They drove to the end of the Ferriby
Lane, where the men dismounted, and took cover behind some shrubs,
while the car returned towards Hull.

It was almost, but not quite dark. There was no moon, but the sky
was clear and the stars were showing brightly. A faint air, in
which there was already a touch of chill, sighed gently through the
leaves, rising at intervals almost to a breeze, then falling away
again to nothing. Lights were showing here and there - yellow
gleams from unshaded windows, signal lamps from the railway,
navigation lights from the river. Except for the sound of the
retreating car and the dull roar of a distant train, the night was
very still, a night, in fact, pre-eminently suitable for the
inspector's purpose.

The nine men moved silently down the lane at intervals of a few
minutes, their rubber-shod feet making no sound on the hard surface.
Willis went first, and as the others reached him he posted them in
the positions on which he had previously decided. One man took
cover behind the hedge of the lane, a short distance on the
distillery side of the wharf, another behind a pile of old material
on the railway at the same place, a third hid himself among some
bushes on the open ground between the railway and the river, while
a fourth crept as near to the end of the wharf as the tide would
allow, so as to watch approaches from the water. When they were in
position, Willis felt convinced no one could leave the syndicate's
depot for the distillery without being seen.

The other four men he led on to the distillery, placing them in a
similar manner on its Ferriby side. If by some extraordinary
chance the messenger with the "stuff" should pass the first cordon,
the second, he was satisfied, would take him. He left himself
free to move about as might appear desirable.

The country was extraordinarily deserted. Not one of the nine men
had seen a living soul since they left their motor, and Willis felt
certain that his dispositions had been carried out in absolute
secrecy.

He crossed the fence on to the railway. By climbing half-way up
the ladder of a signal he was able to see the windows of the shed
over the galvanized fence. All were in darkness, and he wondered
if Benson had gone on his customary expedition into Hull.

To satisfy himself on this point he hid beneath a wagon which was
standing on the siding close to the gate in the fence. If the
manager were returning by his usual train he would be due in a
few minutes, and Willis intended to wait and see.

It was not long before a sharp footfall told that someone was
coming along the lane. The unknown paused at the stile, climbed
over; and, walking more carefully across the rails, approached the
door. Willis, whose eyes were accustomed to the gloom, could make
out the dim form of a man, showing like a smudge of intensified
blackness against the obscurity beyond. He unlocked the door,
passed through, slammed it behind him, and his retreating steps
sounded from within. Finally another door closed in the distance
and silence again reigned.

Willis crawled out from beneath his truck and once more climbed
the signal ladder. The windows of Benson's office were now
lighted up, but the blinds being drawn, the inspector could see
nothing within.

After about half an hour he observed the same phenomenon as
Hilliard and Merriman had witnessed - the light was carried from
the office to the bedroom, and a few minutes later disappeared
altogether.

The ladder on which he was standing appearing to Willis to offer as
good an observation post as he could hope to get, he climbed to the
little platform at the top, and seating himself, leaned back against
the timber upright and continued his watch.

Though he was keenly interested by his adventure, time soon began
to drag. It was cramped on the little seat, and he could not move
freely for fear of falling off. Then to his dismay he began to grow
sleepy. He had of course been up all the previous night, and though
he had dozed a little during his vigil in the deserted house, he had
not really rested. He yawned, stretched himself carefully, and made
a determined effort to overcome his drowsiness.

He was suddenly and unexpectedly successful. He got the start of
his life, and for a moment he thought an earthquake had come. The
signal post trembled and swayed while with a heavy metallic clang
objects moved through the darkness near his head. He gripped the
rail, and then he laughed as he remembered that railway signals
were movable. This one had just been lowered for a train.

Presently it roared past him, enveloping him in a cloud of steam,
which for an instant was lit bright as day by the almost white beam
that poured out of the open door of the engine firebox. Then, the
steam clearing, there appeared a strip of faintly lit ground on
either side of the flying carriage roofs; it promptly vanished;
red tail Lamps appeared, leaping away; there was a rattle of wheels
over siding connections, and with a rapidly decreasing roar the
visitation was past. For a moment there remained the quickly
moving spot of lighted steam, then it too vanished. Once again the
signal post swayed as the heavy mechanism of the arm dropped back
into the "on" position, and then all was once more still.

The train had effectually wakened Willis, and he set himself with a
renewed vigor to this task. Sharply he watched the dark mass of the
shed with its surrounding enclosure, keenly he listened for some
sound of movement within. But all remained dark and silent.

Towards one in the morning he descended from his perch and went the
round of his men. All were alert, and all were unanimous that no
one had passed.

The time dragged slowly on. The wind had risen somewhat and clouds
were banking towards the north-west. It grew colder, and Willis
fancied there must be a touch of frost.

About four o'clock he went round his pickets for the second time.
He was becoming more and more surprised that the attempt had been
delayed so long, and when some two hours later the coming dawn began
to brighten the eastern sky and still no sign had been observed, his
chagrin waxed keen. As the light increased, he withdrew his men to
cover, and about seven o'clock, when it was no longer possible that
anything would be attempted, he sent them by ones and twos to await
their car at the agreed rendezvous.

He was more disappointed at the failure of his trap than he would
have believed possible. What, he wondered, could have happened? Why
had the conspirators abandoned their purpose? Had he given himself
away? He went over in his mind every step he had taken, and he did
not see how any one of them could have become known to his enemies,
or how any of his actions could have aroused their suspicions. No;
it was not, he felt sure, that they had realized their danger. Some
other quite accidental circumstance had intervened to cause them to
postpone the transfer of the "stuff" for that night But what
extraordinary hard luck for him! He had obtained his helpers from
the superintendent only after considerable trouble, and the
difficulty of getting them again would be much greater. And not the
least annoying thing was that he, a London man, one, indeed, of the
best men at the Yard, had been made to look ridiculous in the eyes
of these provincial police!

Dog-tired and hungry though he was, he set his teeth and determined
that he would return to the cottage in the hope of learning the
reason of his failure from the conversation which he expected would
take place between Archer and Benson at a quarter to eleven that day.

Repeating, therefore, his proceedings of the previous morning, he
regained his point of vantage at the broken window. Again he watched
the staff arrive, and again observed Archer enter and take his place
at his desk. He was desperately sleepy, and it required all the
power of his strong will to keep himself awake. But at last his
perseverance was rewarded, and at 10.45 exactly he saw Archer bolt
his door and disappear towards the filing room. A moment later the
buzzer sounded.

"Are you there?" once again came in Archer's voice, followed by the
astounding phrase, "I see you brought up that stuff last night."

"Yes, I brought up two hundred and fifty," was Benson's amazing
reply.

Inspector Willis gasped. He could scarcely believe his ears. So
he had been tricked after all! In spite of his carefully placed
pickets, in spite of his own ceaseless watchfulness, he had been
tricked. Two hundred and fifty of the illicit somethings had been
conveyed, right under his and his men's noses, from the depot to
the distillery. Almost choking with rage and amazement he heard
Archer continue:

"I had a lucky deal after our conversation yesterday, got seven
hundred unexpectedly planted. You may send up a couple of hundred
extra tonight if you like."

"Right. I shall," Benson answered, and the conversation ceased.

Inspector Willis swore bitterly as he lay back on the dusty floor
and pillowed his head on his hands. And then while he still fumed
and fretted, outraged nature asserted herself and he fell asleep.

He woke, ravenously hungry, as it was getting dusk, and he did not
delay long in letting himself out of the house, regaining the lane,
and walking to Ferriby Station. An hour later he was dining at
his hotel in Hull.

CHAPTER 16

THE SECRET OF THE SYNDICATE

A night's rest made Willis once more his own man, and next morning
he found that his choking rage had evaporated, and that he was able
to think calmly and collectedly over the failure of his plans.

As he reconsidered in detail the nature of the watch he had kept,
he felt more than ever certain that his cordons had not been broken
through. No one, he felt satisfied, could have passed unobserved
between the depot and the distillery.

And in spite of this the stuff had been delivered. Archer and
Benson were not bluffing to put him off the scent. They had no
idea they were overheard, and therefore had no reason to say
anything except the truth.

How then was the communication being made? Surely, he thought, if
these people could devise a scheme, he should be able to guess it.
He was not willing to admit his brain inferior to any man's.

He lit his pipe and drew at it slowly as he turned the question over
in his mind. And then a possible solution occurred to him. What
about a subterranean connection? Had these men driven a tunnel?

Here undoubtedly was a possibility. To drive three hundred yards
of a heading large enough for a stooping man to pass through, would
be a simple matter to men who had shown the skill of these
conspirators. The soil was light and sandy, and they could use
without suspicion as much timber as they required to shore up their
work. It was true they would have to pass under the railway, but
that again was a matter of timbering.

Their greatest difficulty, he imagined, would be in the disposal of
the surplus earth. He began to figure out what it would mean. The
passageway could hardly be less than four feet by five, to allow for
lining, and this would amount to about two yards of material to the
yard run, or say six hundred or seven hundred cubic yards altogether.
Could this have been absorbed in the filling of the wharf? He
thought so. The wharf was a large structure, thirty yards by thirty
at least and eight or nine feet high; more than two thousand cubic
yards of filling would have been required for it. The disposal of
the earth, therefore, would have presented no difficulty. All that
came out of the tunnel could have gone into the wharf three times
over.

A tunnel seemingly being a practical proposition, he turned his
attention to his second problem. How could he find out whether or
not it had been made?

Obviously only from examination at one or other end. If it existed
it must connect with cellars at the depot and the distillery. And
of these there could be no question of which he ought to, search.
The depot was not only smaller and more compact, but it was deserted
at intervals. If he could not succeed at the syndicate's enclosure
he would have no chance at the larger building.

It was true he had already searched it without result, but he was
not then specially looking for a cellar, and with a more definite
objective he might have better luck. He decided that if Benson
went up to Hull that night he would have another try.

He took an afternoon train to Ferriby, and walking back towards the
depot, took cover in the same place that he had previously used.
There, sheltered by a hedge, he watched for the manager's appearance.

The weather had, from the inspector's point of view, changed for
the worse. The sunny days had gone, and the sky was overladen
with clouds. A cold wind blew in gustily from the south-east,
bringing a damp fog which threatened every minute to turn to rain,
and flecking the lead-colored waters of the estuary with spots of
white. Willis shivered and drew up his collar higher round his ears
as he crouched behind the wet bushes.

"Confound it," he thought, "when I get into that shed I shall be
dripping water all over the floor."

But he remained at his post, and in due course he was rewarded by
seeing Benson appear at the door in the fence, and after locking
it behind him, start off down the railway towards Ferriby.

As before, Willis waited until the manager had got clear away, then
slipping across the line, he produced his bent wire, opened the door,
and five minutes later stood once more in the office.

>From the nature of the case it seemed clear that the entrance to the
cellar, if one existed, would be hidden. It was therefore for secret
doors or moving panels that he must look.

He began by ascertaining the thickness of all the walls, noting the
size of the rooms so as to calculate those he could not measure
directly. He soon found that no wall was more than six inches thick,
and none could therefore contain a concealed opening.

This narrowed his search. The exit from the building could only be
through a trap-door in the floor.

Accordingly he set to work in the office, crawling torch in hand
along the boards, scrutinizing the joints between them for any
that were not closed with dust, feeling for any that might be loose.
But all to no purpose. The boards ran in one length across the
floor and were obviously firmly nailed down on fixed joists.

He went to the bedroom, rolling aside the mats which covered the
floor and moving the furniture back and forwards. But here he had
no better result.

The remainder of the shed was floored with concrete, and a less
meticulous examination was sufficient to show that the surface was
unbroken. Nor was there anything either on the wharf itself or in
the enclosure behind the shed which could form a cover to a flight
of steps.

Sorely disappointed, Willis returned once more to the office, and
sitting down, went over once again in his mind what he had done,
trying to think if there was a point on the whole area of the
depot which he had overlooked. He could recall none except the
space beneath a large wardrobe in the next room which, owing to
its obvious weight, he had not moved.

"I suppose I had better make sure," he said to himself, though he
did not believe so massive a piece of furniture could have been
pulled backwards and forwards without leaving scratches on the
floor.

He returned to the bedroom. The wardrobe was divided into two
portions, a single deep drawer along the bottom, and above it a
kind of large cupboard with a central door. He seized its end.
It was certainly very heavy; in fact, he found himself unable to
move it.

He picked up his torch and examined the wooden base. And then
his interest grew, for he found it was strongly stitch-nailed
to the floor.

Considerably mystified, he tried to open the door. It was locked,
and though with his wire he eventually shot back the bolt, the
trouble he had, proved that the lock was one of first quality.
Indeed, it was not a cupboard lock screwed to the inside of the
door as might have been expected, but a small-sized mortice lock
hidden in the thickness of the wood, and the keyhole came through
to the inside; just the same arrangement as is usual in internal
house doors.

The inside of the wardrobe revealed nothing of interest. Two
coats and waistcoats, a sweater, and some other clothes were
hanging from hooks at the back. Otherwise the space was empty.

"Why," he wondered as he stood staring in, "should it be necessary
to lock up clothes like these?"

His eyes turned to the drawer below, and he seized the handles
and gave a sharp pull. The drawer was evidently locked. Once
again he produced his wire, but for the first time it failed him.
He flashed a beam from his lamp into the hole, and then he saw
the reason.

The hole was a dummy. It entered the wood but did not go through
it. It was not connected to a lock.

He passed the light round the edges of the drawer. If there was
no lock to fasten it why had he been unable to open it? He took out
his penknife and tried to push the blade into the surrounding space.
It would not penetrate, and he saw that there was no space, but
merely a cut half an inch deep in the wood. There was no drawer.
What seemed a drawer was merely a blind panel

Inspector Willis grew more and more interested. He could not see
why all that space should be wasted, as it was clear from the way
in which the wardrobe was finished that economy in construction
had not been the motive.

Once again he opened the door of the upper portion, and putting his
head inside passed the beam of the lamp over the floor. This time
he gave a little snort of triumph. The floor did not fit tight to
the sides. All round was a space of some eighth of an inch.

"The trap-door at last," he muttered, as he began to feel about for
some hidden spring. At last, pressing down on one end of the floor,
he found that it sank and the other end rose in the air, revealing
a square of inky blackness out of which poured a stream of cold,
damp air, and through which he could hear, with the echoing sound
peculiar to vaults, the splashing and churning of the sea.

His torch revealed a flight of steps leading down into the darkness.
Having examined the pivoted floor to make sure there was no secret
catch which could fasten and imprison him below, he stepped on to
the ladder and began to descend. Then the significance of the
mortice lock in the wardrobe door occurred to him, and he stopped,
drew the door to behind him, and with his wire locked it. Descending
farther he allowed the floor to drop gently into place above his
head, thus leaving no trace of his passage.

He had by this time reached the ground, and he stood flashing his
torch about on his surroundings. He was in a cellar, so low in the
roof that except immediately beneath the stairs he could not stand
upright. It was square, some twelve feet either way, and from it
issued two passages, one apparently running down under the wharf,
the other at right angles and some two feet lower in level, leading
as if towards the distillery. Down the center of this latter ran
a tiny tramway of about a foot gauge, on which stood three kegs on
four-wheeled frames. In the upper side of each keg was fixed a
tun-dish, to the under side a stop-cock. Two insulated wires came
down through the ceiling below the cupboard in which the telephone
was installed, and ran down the tunnel towards the distillery.

The walls and ceiling of both cellar and passages were supported
by pit-props, discolored by the damp and marked by stains of earthy
water which had oozed from the spaces between. They glistened with
moisture, but the air, though cold and damp, was fresh. That and
the noise of the waves which reverberated along the passage under
the wharf seemed to show that there was an open connection to the
river.

The cellar was empty except for a large wooden tun or cask which
reached almost to the ceiling, and a gunmetal hand pump. Pipes led
from the latter, one to the tun, the other along the passage under
the wharf. On the side of the tun and connected to it at top and
bottom was a vertical glass tube protected by a wooden casing,
evidently a gauge, as beside it was a scale headed "gallons," and
reading from 0 at the bottom to 2,000 at the top. A dark-colored
liquid filled the tube up to the figure 1,250. There was a wooden
spigot tap in the side of the tun at floor level, and the tramline
ran beneath this so that the wheeled kegs could be pushed below it
and filled.

The inspector gazed with an expression of almost awe on his face.

"Lord!" he muttered. "Is it brandy after all?"

He stooped and smelled the wooden tap, and the last doubt was
removed from his mind.

He gave vent to a comprehensive oath. Right enough it was hard
luck! Here he had been hoping to bring off a forged note coup
which would have made his name, and the affair was a job for the
Customs Department after all! Of course a pretty substantial reward
would be due to him for his discovery, and there was his murder case
all quite satisfactory, but forged notes were more in his line, and
he felt cheated out of his due.

But now that he was so far he might as well learn all he could. The
more complete the case he gave in, the larger the reward. Moreover,
his own curiosity was keenly aroused.

The cellar being empty save for the tun, the pump, and the small
tramway and trucks, he turned, and flashing his light before him,
walked slowly along the passage down which ran the pipe. He was,
he felt sure, passing under the wharf and heading towards the
river.

Some sixty feet past the pump the floor of the passage came to an
abrupt end, falling vertically as by an enormous step to churning
waters of the river some six feet below. At first in the
semi-darkness Willis thought he had reached the front of the wharf,
but he soon saw he was still in the cellar. The roof ran on at the
same level for some twenty feet farther, and the side walls, here
about five feet apart, went straight down from it into the water.
Across the end was a wall, sloping outwards at the bottom and made
of horizontal pit-props separated by spaces of two or three inches.
Willis immediately realized that these props must be those placed
behind the inner or raking row of piles which supported the front
of the wharf.

Along one side wall for its whole length was nailed a series of
horizontal laths twelve inches apart. What their purpose was he
did not know, but he saw that they made a ladder twenty feet wide,
by which a man could work his way from the passage to the end wall
and reach the water at any height of the tide.

Above this ladder was an object which at first puzzled the inspector,
then as he realized its object, it became highly illuminating. On a
couple of brackets secured to the wall lay a pipe of thin steel
covered with thick black baize, and some sixteen feet long by an
inch in diameter. Through it ran the light copper pipe which was
connected at its other end to the pump. At the end of the passage
this pipe had several joints like those of a gas bracket, and was
folded on itself concertina-wise.

The inspector stepped on to the ladder and worked his way across it
to the other end of the steel pipe, close by the end wall. The
copper pipe protruded and ended in a filling like the half of a
union. As Willis gazed he suddenly grasped its significance.

The side of the Girondin, he thought, would lie not more than ten
feet from where he was standing. If at night someone from within
the cellar were to push the end of the steel tube out through one
of the spaces between the horizontal timbers of the end wall, it
could be inserted into a porthole, supposing one were just opposite.
The concertina joints would make it flexible and allow it to extend,
and the baize covering would prevent its being heard should it
inadvertently strike the side of the ship. The union on the copper
tube could then be fixed to some receptacle on board, the brandy
being pumped from the ship to the tun.

And no outsider could possibly be any the wiser! Given a dark night
and careful operators, the whole thing would be carried out invisibly
and in absolute silence.

Now Willis saw the object of the peculiar construction of the front
of the wharf. It was necessary to have two lines of piles, so that
the deck between might overshadow and screen from view the openings
between the horizontal beams at the front of the cellar. He stood
marvelling at the ingenuity of the plan. No wonder Hilliard and
Merriman had been baffled.

But if he were to finish his investigations, he must no longer
delay. He worked back across the side of the cellar, regained the
passage, and returned to the pump-room. Then turning into the
other passage, he began to walk as quickly as possible along it.

The tunnel was barely four feet high by three wide, and he found
progress very tiring. After a slight curve at the mouth it ran
straight and almost dead level. Its construction was the same as
that of the cellar, longitudinal timber lining supported behind
verticals and lintels spaced about six feet apart. When he had
gone about two hundred yards it curved sharply to the left, ran
heavily timbered for some thirty yards in the new direction, and
then swung round to the right again.

"I suppose the railway crosses here," Willis thought, as he passed
painfully round the bends.

The sweat stood in drops on his forehead when he reached the end,
and he breathed a sigh of relief as he realized he could once more
stand upright and stretch his cramped back. He found himself in
another cellar, this time about six feet by twelve. The tramway
ran along it, stopping at the end wall. The place was otherwise
empty, save for a wooden grating or tun-dish with a hinged lid
which was fixed between the rails near the entrance. The telephone
wires, which had followed the tunnel all the way, here vanished
into the roof.

Willis concluded he must be standing beneath some part of the
distillery, and a very little thought was required to make clear
to him the raison d'etre of what he saw. He pictured the kegs
being pushed under the tap of the large tun in the pump-room and
filled with brandy pumped in from the Girondin. In imagination he
saw Benson pushing his loaded trucks through the tunnel - a much
easier thing to do than to walk without something to step over
- stopping them one by one over the grating and emptying the
contents therein. No doubt that grating was connected to some vat
or tun buried still deeper beneath the distillery, in which the
brandy mingled with the other brandy brought there by more
legitimate means, and which was sold without documentary evidence
of its surprising increase in bulk.

It was probable, thought Willis, that some secret door must connect
the chamber in which he stood with the distillery, but a careful
search revealed no trace of any opening, and he was forced to the
conclusion that none existed. Accordingly, he turned and began to
retrace his steps through the tunnel.

The walk back seemed even longer and more irksome than his first
transit, and he stopped here and there and knelt down in order to
straighten his aching back. As he advanced, the booming sound of
the waves, which had died down to a faint murmur at the distillery,
grew louder and louder. At last he reached the pump-cellar, and
was just about to step out of the tunnel when his eye caught the
flicker of a light at the top of the step-ladder. Someone was
coming down!

Willis instantly snapped off his own light, and for the fraction
of a second he stood transfixed, while his heart thumped and his
hand slid round to his revolver pocket. Breathlessly he watched
a pair of legs step on to the ladder and begin to descend the steps.

Like a flash he realized what he must do. If this was Benson
coming to "take up stuff," to remain in the tunnel meant certain
discovery. But if only he could, reach the passage under the
wharf he might be safe. There was nothing to bring Benson into it.

But to cross the cellar he must pass within two feet of the ladder,
and the man was half-way down. For a moment it looked quite
hopeless, then unexpectedly he got his chance. The man stopped to
lock the wardrobe door. When he had finished, Willis was already
across the cellar and hurrying down the other passage. Fortunately
the noise of the waves drowned all other sounds.

By the time the unknown had reached the bottom of the ladder, Willis
had stepped on to the cross laths and was descending by them. In a
moment he was below the passage level. He intended, should the other
approach, to hide beneath the water in the hope that in the darkness
his head would not be seen.

But the light remained in the cellar, and Willis raised himself and
cautiously peeped down the passage. Then he began to congratulate
himself on what he had just been considering his misfortune. For,
watching there in the darkness, he saw Benson carry out the very
operations he had imagined were performed. The manager wheeled the
kegs one by one beneath the great barrel, filled them from the tap,
and then, setting his lamp on the last of the three, pushed them
before him down the tunnel towards the distillery.

Inspector Willis waited until he judged the other would be out of
sight, then left his hiding-place and cautiously returned to the
pump-room. The gauge now showed 1,125 gallons, and he noted that
125 gallons was, put up per trip. He rapidly ascended the steps,
passed out through the wardrobe, and regained the bedroom. A few
minutes later he was once more out on the railway.

He had glanced at his watch in the building and found that it was
but little after ten. Benson must therefore have returned by an
earlier train than usual. Again the inspector congratulated himself
that events had turned out as they had, for though he would have
had no fear of his personal safety had he been seen, premature
discovery might have allowed the other members of the gang to escape.

The last train for Hull having left, he started to walk the six
miles to the city. The weather had still further changed for the
worse, and now half a gale of wind whirled round him in a
pandemonium of sound and blew blinding squalls of rain into his
eyes. In a few moments he was soaked to the skin, and the
buffeting of the wind made his progress slow. But he struggled
on, too well pleased by the success of his evening's work to mind
the discomfort.

And as he considered the affair on the following morning he felt
even more satisfied. He had indeed done well! Not only had he
completed what he set out to do - to discover the murderer of
Coburn - but he had accomplished vastly more. He had brought to
light one of the greatest smuggling conspiracies of modern times.
It was true he had not followed up and completed the case against
the syndicate, but this was not his business. Smuggling was not
dealt with by Scotland Yard. It was a matter for the Customs
Department. But if only it had been forged notes! He heaved a
sigh as he thought of the kudos which might have been his.

But when he had gone so far, he thought he might as well make
certain that the brandy was discharged as he imagined. He
calculated that the Girondin would reach Ferriby on the following
day, and he determined to see the operation carried out.

He followed the plan of Hilliard and Merriman to the extent of hiring
a boat in Hull and sculling gently down towards the wharf as dusk
fell. He had kept a watch on the river all day without seeing the
motor ship go up, but now she passed him a couple of miles above the
city. He turned inshore when he saw her coming, lest Captain
Beamish's binoculars might reveal to him a familiar countenance.

He pulled easily, timing himself to arrive at the wharf as soon as
possible after dark. The evening was dry, but the south-easterly
wind still blew cold and raw, though not nearly so strongly as on
the night of his walk.

There were a couple of lights on the Girondin, and he steered by
these till the dark mass of her counter, looming up out of the
night, cut them off. Slipping round her stern, as Hilliard had
done in the River Lesque, he unshipped his oars and guided the boat
by his hands into the V-shaped space between the two rows of piles
fronting the wharf. As he floated gently forward he felt between
the horizontal props which held back the filling until he came to
a vacant space, then knowing he was opposite the cellar, he slid
the boat back a few feet, tied her up, and settled down to wait.

Though sheltered from the wind by the hull, it was cold and damp
under the wharf. The waves were lapping among the timbers, and the
boat moved uneasily at the end of her short painter. The darkness
was absolute - an inky blackness unrelieved by any point of light.
Willis realized that waiting would soon become irksome.

But it was not so very long before the work began. He had been
there, he estimated, a couple of hours when he saw, not ten feet
away, a dim circle of light suddenly appear on the Girondin's side.
Someone had turned on a faint light in a cabin whose open porthole
was immediately opposite the cellar. Presently Willis, watching
breathlessly, saw what he believed was the steel pipe impinge on
and enter the illuminated ring. It remained projecting into the
porthole for some forty minutes, was as silently withdrawn, the
porthole was closed, a curtain drawn across it, and the light
turned up within. The brandy had been discharged.

The thing had been done inaudibly, and invisibly to anyone on either
wharf or ship. Marvelling once more at the excellence and secrecy
of the plan, Willis gently pushed his boat out from among the piles
and rowed back down the river to Hull. There he tied the boat up,
and returning to his hotel, was soon fast asleep.

In spite of his delight at the discovery, he could not but realize
that much still remained to be done. Though he had learned how the
syndicate was making its money, he had not obtained any evidence of
the complicity of its members in the murder of Coburn.

Who, in addition to Archer, could be involved? There were, of
course, Beamish, Bulla, Benson, and Henri. There was also a man,
Morton, whose place in the scheme of things had not yet been
ascertained. He, Willis realized, must be found and identified.
But were these all? He doubted it. It seemed to him that the
smuggling system required more helpers than these. He now
understood how the brandy was got from the ship to the distillery,
and he presumed it was loaded at the clearing in the same manner,
being brought there in some unknown way by the motor lorries. But
there were two parts of the plan of which nothing was yet known.
Firstly, where was the brandy obtained from originally, and,
secondly, how was it distributed from the distillery? It seemed
to Willis that each of these operations would require additional
accomplices. And if so, these persons might also have been
implicated in Coburn's death.

He thought over the thing for three solid hours before coming to
a decision. At the end of that time he determined to return to
London and, if his chief approved, lay the whole facts before the
Customs Departments of both England and France, asking them to
investigate the matter in their respective countries. In the
meantime he would concentrate on the question of complicity in
the murder.

He left Hull by an afternoon train, and that night was in London.

CHAPTER 17

"ARCHER PLANTS STUFF"

Willis's chief at the Yard was not a little impressed by his
subordinate's story. He congratulated the inspector on his
discovery, commended him for his restraint in withholding action
against Archer until he had identified his accomplices, and
approved his proposals for the further conduct of the case.
Fortified by this somewhat unexpected approbation, Willis betook
himself forthwith to the headquarters of the Customs Department
and asked to see Hilliard.

The two men were already acquainted. As has been stated, the
inspector had early called at Hilliard's rooms and learned all that
the other could tell him of the case. But for prudential reasons
they had not met since.

Hilliard was tremendously excited by the inspector's news, and
eagerly arranged the interview with his chief which Willis sought.
The great man was not engaged, and in a few minutes the others
were shown into his presence.

"We are here, sir," Willis began, when the necessary introductions
had been made, "to tell you jointly a very remarkable story. Mr.
Hilliard would doubtless have told you his part long before this,
had I not specially asked him not to. Now, sir, the time has come
to put the facts before you. Perhaps as Mr. Hilliard's story
comes before mine in point of time, he should begin."

Hilliard thereupon began. He told of Merriman's story in the
Rovers' Club, his own idea of smuggling based on the absence of
return cargoes, his proposition to Merriman, their trip to France
and what they learned at the clearing. Then he described their
visit to Hull, their observations at the Ferriby wharf, the
experiment carried out with the help of Leatham, and, finally, what
Merriman had told him of his second visit to Bordeaux.

Willis next took up the tale and described the murder of Coburn,
his inquiries thereinto and the identification of the assassin,
and his subsequent discoveries at Ferriby, ending up by stating
the problem which still confronted him, and expressing the hope
that the chief in dealing with the smuggling conspiracy would
co-operate with him in connection with the murder.

The latter had listened with an expression of amazement, which
towards the end of the inspector's statement changed to one of the
liveliest satisfaction. He gracefully congratulated both men on
their achievements, and expressed his gratification at what had
been discovered and his desire to co-operate to the full with the
inspector in the settling up of the case.

The three men then turned to details. To Hilliard's bitter
disappointment it was ruled that, owing to his being known to at
least three members of the gang, he could take no part in the
final scenes, and he had to be content with the honor of, as it
were, a seat on the council of war. For nearly an hour they
deliberated, at the end of which time it had been decided that
Stopford Hunt, one of the Customs Department's most skillful
investigators, should proceed to Hull and tackle the question of
the distribution of the brandy. Willis was to go to Paris,
interest the French authorities in the Bordeaux end of the affair,
and then join Hunt in Hull.

Stopford Hunt was an insignificant-looking man of about forty. All
his characteristics might be described as being of medium quality.
He was five feet nine in height, his brown hair was neither fair nor
dark, his dress suggested neither poverty nor opulence, and his
features were of the type known as ordinary. In a word, he was not
one whose appearance would provoke a second glance or who would be
credited with taking an important part in anything that might be in
progress.

But for his job these very peculiarities were among his chief assets.
When he hung about in an aimless, loafing way, as he very often did,
he was overlooked by those whose actions he was so discreetly
watching, and where mere loafing would look suspicious, he had the
inestimable gift of being able to waste time in an afraid and
preoccupied manner.

That night Willis crossed to Paris, and next day he told his story
to the polite chief of the French Excise. M. Max was almost as
interested as his English confrere, and readily promised to have
the French end of the affair investigated. That same evening the
inspector left for London, going on in the morning to Hull.

He found Hunt a shrewd and capable man of the world, as well as a
pleasant and INTERESTING companion.

They had engaged a private sitting-room at their hotel, and after
dinner they retired thither to discuss their plan of campaign.

"I wish," said Willis, when they had talked for some moments, "that
you would tell me something about how this liquor distribution
business is worked. It's outside my job, and I'm not clear on the
details. If I understood I could perhaps help you better."

Hunt nodded and drew slowly at his pipe.

"The principle of the thing," he answered, "is simple enough, though
in detail it becomes a bit complicated. The first thing we have to
remember is that in this case we're dealing, not with distillers,
but with rectifiers. Though in loose popular phraseology both
businesses are classed under the term 'distilling,' in reality there
is a considerable difference between them. Distillers actually
produce the spirit in their buildings, rectifiers do not. Rectifiers
import the spirit produced by distillers, and refine or prepare it
for various specified purposes. The check required by the Excise
authorities is therefore different in each case. With rectifiers it
is only necessary to measure the stuff that goes into and comes out
of the works. Making due allowance for variation during treatment,
these two figures will balance if all is right."

Willis nodded, and Hunt resumed.

"Now, the essence of all fraud is that more stuff goes out of the
works than is shown on the returns. That is, of course, another
way of saying that stuff is sold upon which duty has not been paid.
In the case of a rectifying house, where there is no illicit still,
more also comes in than is shown. In the present instance you
yourself have shown how the extra brandy enters. Our job is to
find out how it leaves."

"That part of it is clear enough anyway," Willis said with a smile.
"But brandy smuggling is not new. There must surely be recognized
ways of evading the law?"

"Quite. There are. But to follow them you must understand how
the output is measured. For every consignment of stuff that leaves
the works a permit or certificate is issued and handed to the
carrier who removes it. This is a kind of way-bill, and of course
a block is kept for the inspection of the surveying officer. It
contains a note of the quantity of stuff, date and hour of starting,
consignee's name and other information, and it is the authority for
the carrier to have the liquor in his possession. An Excise officer
may stop and examine any dray or lorry carrying liquor, or railway
wagon, and the driver or other official must produce his certificate
so that his load may be checked by it. All such what I may call
surprise examinations, together with the signature of the officer
making them, are recorded on the back of the certificate. When the
stuff is delivered, the certificate is handed over with it to the
consignee. He signs it on receipt. It then becomes his authority
for having the stuff on his premises, and he must keep it for the
Excise officer's inspection. Do you follow me so far?"

"Perfectly."

"The fraud, then, consists in getting more liquor away from the
works than is shown on the certificates, and I must confess it is
not easy. The commonest method, I should think, is to fill the
kegs or receptacles slightly fuller than the certificate shows.
This is sometimes done simply by putting extra stuff in the
ordinary kegs. It is argued that an Excise officer cannot by
his eye tell a difference of five or six per cent; that, for
example, twenty-six gallons might be supplied on a twenty-five
gallon certificate without anyone being much the wiser.
Variants of this method are to use slightly larger kegs, or,
more subtly, to use the normal sized kegs of which the wood at
the ends has been thinned down, and which therefore when filled
to the same level hold more, while showing the same measure with
a dipping rod. But all these methods are risky. On the suspicion
the contents of the kegs are measured and the fraud becomes
revealed."

Willis, much interested, bent forward eagerly as the other, after
a pause to relight his pipe, continued:

"Another common method is to send out liquor secretly, without a
permit at all. This may be done at night, or the stuff may go
through an underground pipe, or be hidden in innocent looking
articles such as suitcases or petrol tins. The pipe is the best
scheme from the operator's point of view, and one may remain
undiscovered for months, but the difficulty usually is to lay it
in the first instance.

"A third method can be used only in the case of rectifiers and it
illustrates one of the differences between rectifiers and distillers.
Every permit for the removal of liquor from a distillery must be
issued by the excise surveyor of the district, whereas rectifiers
can issue their own certificates. Therefore in the case of
rectifiers there is the possibility of the issuing of forged or
fraudulent certificates. Of course this is not so easy as it
sounds. The certificates are supplied in books of two hundred by
the Excise authorities, and the blocks must be kept available for
the supervisor's scrutiny. Any certificates can be obtained from
the receivers of the spirit and compared with the blocks. Forged
permits are very risky things to work with, as all genuine ones
bear the government watermark, which is not easy to reproduce.
In fact, I may say about this whole question of liquor distribution
generally, that fraud has been made so difficult that the only hope
of those committing it is to avoid arousing suspicion. Once
suspicion is aroused, discovery follows almost as a matter of
course."

"That's hopeful for us," Willis smiled.

"Yes," the other answered, "though I fancy this case will be more
difficult than most. There is another point to be taken into
consideration which I have not mentioned, and that is, how the
perpetrators of the frauds are going to get their money. In the
last resort it can only come in from the public over the counters
of the licensed premises which sell the smuggled spirits. But
just as the smuggled liquor cannot be put through the books of
the house selling it, so the money received for it cannot be
entered either. This means that someone in authority in each
licensed house must be involved. It also carries with it a
SUGGESTION, though only a SUGGESTION, the houses in question are
tied houses. The director of a distillery company would have more
hold on the manager of their own tied houses than over an
outsider."

Again Willis nodded without replying, and Hunt went on:

"Now it happens that these Ackroyd & Holt people own some very
large licensed houses in Hull, and it is to them I imagine, that we
should first direct our attention."

"How do you propose to begin?"

"I think we must first find out how the Ferriby liquor is sent to
these houses. By the way, you probably know that already. You
watched the distillery during working hours, didn't you?"

The inspector admitted it.

"Did you see any lorries?"

"Any number; large blue machines. I noticed them going and coming
in the Hull direction loaded up with barrels."

Hunt seemed pleased.

"Good," he commented. "That's a beginning anyway. Our next step
must be to make sure that all these lorries carry certificates.
We had better begin tomorrow."

Willis did not quite see how the business was to be done, but he
forbore to ask questions, agreeing to fall in with his companion's
arrangements.

These arrangements involved the departure from their hotel by taxi
at six o'clock the next morning. It was not fully light as they
whirled out along the Ferriby road, but the sky was clear and all
the indications pointed to a fine day.

They dismounted at the end of the lane leading to the works, and
struck off across the fields, finally taking up their position
behind the same thick hedge from which Willis had previously kept
watch.

They spent the whole of that day, as well as of the next two, in
their hiding-place, and at the end of that time they had a complete
list of all lorries that entered or left the establishment during
that period. No vehicles other than blue lorries appeared, and
Hunt expressed himself as satisfied that if the smuggled brandy was
not carried by them it must go either by rail or at night.

"We can go into those other contingencies later if necessary," he
said, "but on the face of it I am inclined to back the lorries.
They supply the tied houses in Hull, which would seem the obvious
places for the brandy to go, and, besides, railway transit is too
well looked after to attract the gang. I think we'll follow this
lorry business through first on spec."

"I suppose you'll compare the certificate blocks with the list I
made?" Willis asked.

"Of course. That will show if all carry certificates. But I don't
want to do that yet. Before alarming them I want to examine the
contents of a few of the lorries. I think we might do that tomorrow."

The next morning, therefore, the two detectives again engaged a
taxi and ran out along the Ferriby road until they met a large blue
lorry loaded with barrels and bearing on its side the legend "Ackroyd
& Holt Ltd, Licensed Rectifiers." When it had lumbered past on its
way to the city, Hunt called to the driver and ordered him to follow
it.

The chase led to the heart of the town, ending in a street which ran
parallel to the Humber Dock. There the big machine turned in to an
entry.

"The Anchor Bar," Hunt said, in satisfied tones. "We're in luck.
It's one of the largest licensed houses in Hull."

He jumped out and disappeared after the lorry, Willis following.
The vehicle had stopped in a yard at the back of the great public
house, where were more barrels than the inspector ever remembered
having seen together, while the smell of various liquors hung heavy
in the air. Hunt, having shown his credentials, demanded the
certificate for the consignment. This was immediately produced by
the driver, scrutinized, and found in order. Hunt then proceeded
to examine the consignment itself, and Willis was lost in admiration
at the rapidity as well as the thoroughness of his inspection. He
tested the nature of the various liquids, measured their receptacles,
took drippings in each cask, and otherwise satisfied himself as to
the quality and quantity. Finally he had a look over the lorry,
then expressing himself satisfied, he endorsed the certificate, and
with a few civil words to the men in charge, the two detectives
took their leave.

"That's all square anyway," Hunt remarked, as they reentered their
taxi. "I suppose we may go and do the same thing again."

They did. Three times more on that day, and four times on the next
day they followed Messrs. Ackroyd & Holt's lorries, in every
instance with the same result. All eight consignments were examined
with the utmost care, and all were found to be accurately described
on the accompanying certificate. The certificates themselves were
obviously genuine, and everything about them, so far as Hunt could
see, was in order.

"Doesn't look as if we are going to get it that way," he commented,
as late that second evening they sat once more discussing matters in
their private sitting-room.

"Don't you think you have frightened them into honesty by our
persistence?" Willis queried.

"No doubt," the other returned. "But that couldn't apply to the
first few trips. They couldn't possibly have foretold that we
should examine those consignments yesterday, and today I expect
they thought their visitation was over. But we have worked it as
far as it will go. We shall have to change our methods."

The inspector looked his question and Hunt continued:

"I think tomorrow I had better go out to the works and have a
look over these certificate blocks. But I wonder if it would be
well for you to come? Archer has seen you in that hotel lounge,
and at all events he has your description."

"I shall not go," Willis decided. "See you when you get back."

Hunt, after showing his credentials, was received with civility at
Messrs. Ackroyd & Holt's. When he had completed the usual
examination of their various apparatus he asked for certain books.
He took them to a desk, and sitting down, began to study the
certificate blocks.

His first care was to compare the list of outward lorries which he
and Willis had made with the blocks for the same period. A short
investigation convinced him that here also everything was in order.
There was a certificate for every lorry which had passed out, and
not only so, but the number of the lorry, the day and hour at which
it left and the load were all correct so far as his observations
had enabled him to check them. It was clear that here also he had
drawn blank, and for the fiftieth time he wondered with a sort of
rueful admiration how the fraud was being worked.

He was idly turning over the leaves of the blocks, gazing vacantly
at the lines of writing while he pondered his problem when his
attention was attracted to a slight difference of color in the ink
of an entry on one of the blocks. The consignment was a mixed one,
containing different kinds of spirituous liquors. The lowest entry
was for three twenty-five gallon kegs of French brandy. This entry
was slightly paler than the remain order.

At first Hunt did not give the matter serious thought. The page had
evidently been blotted while the ink was wet, and the lower items
should therefore naturally be the fainter. But as he looked more
closely he saw that this explanation would not quite meet the case.
It was true that the lower two or three items above that of the
brandy grew gradually paler in proportion to their position down the
sheet, and to this rule Archer's signature at the bottom was no
exception. In these Hunt could trace the gradual fading of color
due to the use of blotting paper. But he now saw that this did not
apply to the brandy entry. It was the palest of all - paler even
than Archer's name, which was below it.

He sat staring at the sheet, whistling softly through his teeth and
with his brow puckered into a frown, as he wondered whether the
obvious SUGGESTION that the brandy item had been added after the
sheet had been completed, was a sound deduction. He could think of
no other explanation, but he was loath to form a definite opinion
on such slight evidence.

He turned back through the blocks to see if they contained other
similar instances, and as he did so his interest grew. Quite a
number of the pages referring to mixed consignment had for their
last item kegs of French brandy. He scrutinized these entries with
the utmost care. A few seemed normal enough, but others showed
indications which strengthened his suspicions. In three more the
ink was undoubtedly paler than the remainder of the sheet, in five
it was darker, while in several others the handwriting appeared
slightly different - more upright, more sloping, more heavily or
more lightly leaned on. When Hunt had examined all the instances
he could find stretching over a period of three months, he was
convinced that his deduction was correct. The brandy items had
been written at a different time from the remainder, and this could
only mean that they had been added after the certificate was
complete.

His interest at last keenly aroused, he began to make an analysis
of the blocks in question in the hope of finding some other
peculiarity common to them which might indicate the direction in
which the solution might lie.

And first as to the consignees. Ackroyd & Holt evidently supplied
a very large number of licensed houses, but of these the names of
only five appeared on the doubtful blocks. But these five were
confined to houses in Hull, and each was a large and important
concern.

"So far, so good," thought Hunt, with satisfaction. "If they're
not planting their stuff in those five houses, I'm a Dutchman!"

He turned back to the blocks and once again went through them. This
time he made an even more suggestive discovery. Only one lorry-man
was concerned in the transport of the doubtful consignments. All
the lorries in question had been in charge of a driver called
Charles Fox.

Hunt remembered the man. He had driven three of the eight lorries
Hunt himself had examined, and he had been most civil when stopped,
giving the investigator all possible assistance in making his
inspection. Nor had he at any time betrayed embarrassment. And
now it seemed not improbable that this same man was one of those
concerned in the fraud.

Hunt applied himself once again to a study of the blocks, and then
he made a third discovery, which, though he could not at first see
its drift, struck him nevertheless as being of importance. He found
that the faked block was always one of a pair. Within a few pages
either in front of or behind it was another block containing
particulars of a similar consignment, identical, in fact, except
that the brandy item was missing.

Hunt was puzzled. That he was on the track of the fraud he could
not but believe, but he could form no idea as to how it was worked.
If he were right so far, the blocks had been made out in facsimile
in the first instance, and later the brandy item had been added to
one of each pair. Why? He could not guess.

He continued his examination, and soon another INTERESTING fact
became apparent. Though consignments left the works at all hours
of the day, those referred to by the first one of each between the
hours of four and five. Further, the number of minutes past one
and past four were always identical on each pair. That showed the
brandy item was nearly always the later of the two, but occasionally
the stuff had gone with the one o'clock trip.

Hunt sat in the small office, of which he had been given undisturbed
possession, pondering over his problem and trying to marshal the
facts that he had learned in such a way as to extract their inner
meaning. As far as he could follow them they seemed to show that
three times each day driver Charles Fox took a lorry of various
liquors into Hull. The first trip was irregular, that is, he left
at anything between seven-thirty and ten-thirty a.m., and his
objective extended over the entire city. The remaining two trips
were regular. Of these the first always left between one and two
and the second the same number of minutes past four; both were
invariably to the same one of the five large tied houses already
mentioned; the load of each was always identical except that one
- generally the second - had some kegs of brandy additional, and,
lastly, the note of this extra brandy appeared always to have been
added to the certificate after the latter had been made out.

Hunt could make nothing of it. In the evening he described his
discoveries to Willis, and the two men discussed the affair
exhaustively, though still without result.

That night Hunt could not sleep. He lay tossing from side to side
and racking his brains to find a solution. He felt subconsciously
that it was within his reach, and yet he could not grasp it.

It was not far from dawn when a sudden idea flashed into his mind,
and he lay thrilled with excitement as he wondered if at last he
held the clue to the mystery. He went over the details in his mind,
and the more he thought over his theory the more likely it seemed
to grow.

But bow was he to test it? Daylight had come before he saw his way;
but at last he was satisfied, and at breakfast he told Willis his
idea and asked his help to carry out his plan.

"You're not a photographer, by any chance?" he asked.

"I'm not A1, but I dabble a bit at it."

"Good. That will save some trouble."

They called at a photographic outfitter's, and there, after making
a deposit, succeeded in hiring two large-size Kodaks for the day.
With these and a set of climbing irons they drove out along the
Ferriby road, arriving at the end of the lane to the works shortly
after midday. There they dismissed their taxi.

As soon as they were alone their actions became somewhat bewildering
to the uninitiated. Along one side of the road ran a seven-foot
wall bounding the plantation of a large villa. Over this Willis,
with the help of his friend, clambered. With some loose stones he
built himself a footing at the back, so that he could just look over
the top. Then having focused his camera for the middle of the road,
he retired into obscurity behind his defences.

His friend settled to his satisfaction, Hunt buckled on the climbing
irons, and crossing the road, proceeded to climb a telegraph pole
which stood opposite the lane. He fixed his camera to the lower
wires - carefully avoiding possible short-circuitings - and having
focused it for the center of the road, pulled a pair of pliers from
his pocket and endeavored to simulate, the actions of a lineman at
work. By the time these preparations were complete it was close on
one o'clock.

Some half-hour later a large blue lorry came in sight bearing down
along the lane. Presently Hunt was able to see that the driver was
Fox. He made a prearranged sign to his accomplice behind the wall,
and the latter, camera in hand, stood up and peeped over. As the
big vehicle swung slowly round into the main road both men from
their respective positions photographed it. Hunt, indeed, rapidly
changing the film, took a second view as the machine retreated down
the road towards Hull.

When it was out of sight, Hunt descended and with some difficulty
climbed the wall to his colleague. There in the shade of the thick
belt of trees both men lay down and smoked peacefully until nearly
four o'clock. Then once more they took up their respective
positions, watched until about half an hour later the lorry again
passed out and photographed it precisely as before. That done, they
walked to Hassle station, and took the first train to Hull.

By dint of baksheesh they persuaded the photographer to develop
their films there and then, and that same evening they had six
prints.

As it happened they turned out exceedingly good photographs. Their
definition was excellent, and each view included the whole of the
lorry. The friends found, as Hunt had hoped and intended, that
owing to the height from which the views had been taken, each
several keg of the load showed out distinctly. They counted them.
Each picture showed seventeen.

"You see?" cried Hunt triumphantly. "The same amount of stuff went
out on each load! We shall have them now, Willis!"

Next day Hunt returned to Ferriby works ostensibly to continue his
routine inspection. But in three minutes he had seen what he wanted.
Taking the certificate book, he looked up the blocks of the two
consignments they had photographed, and he could have laughed aloud
in his exultation as he saw that what he had suspected was indeed
the fact. The two certificates were identical except that to the
second an item of four kegs of French brandy had been added! Hunt
counted the barrels. The first certificate showed thirteen and the
last seventeen.

"Four kegs of brandy smuggled out under our noses yesterday," he
thought delightedly. "By Jove! but it's a clever trick. Now to
test the next point"

He made an excuse for leaving the works, and returning to Hull,
called at the licensed house to which the previous afternoon's
consignment had been dispatched. There he asked to see the
certificates of the two trips. On seeing his credentials these were
handed up without demur, and he withdrew with them to his hotel.

"Come," he cried to Willis, who was reading in the lounge, "and see
the final act in the drama."

They retired to their private room, and there Hunt spread the two
certificates on the table. Both men stared at them, and Hunt gave
vent to a grunt of satisfaction.

"I was right," he cried delightedly. "Look here! Why I can see it
with the naked eye!"

The two certificates were an accurate copy of their blocks. They
were dated correctly, both bore Fox's name as driver, and both
showed consignments of liquor, identical except for the additional
four kegs of brandy on the second. There was, furthermore, no sign
that this had been added after the remainder. The slight lightening
in the color towards the bottom of the sheet, due to the use of
blotting paper, was so progressive as almost to prove the whole had
been written at the same time.

The first certificate was timed 1.15 p.m., the second 4.15 p.m., and
it was to the 4 of this second hour that Hunt's eager finger pointed.
As Willis examined it he saw that the lower strokes were fainter than
the remainder. Further, the beginning of the horizontal stroke did
not quite join the first vertical stroke.

"You see?" Hunt cried excitedly. "That figure is a forgery. It was
originally a 1, and the two lower strokes have been added to make it
a 4. The case is finished!"

Willis was less enthusiastic.

"I'm not so sure of that," he returned cautiously. "I don't see
light all the way through. Just go over it again, will you?"

"Why to me it's as clear as daylight," the other asserted impatiently.
"See here. Archer decides, let us suppose, that he will send out four
kegs, or one hundred gallons, of the smuggled brandy to the Anchor Bar.
What does he do? He fills out certificates for two consignments each
of which contains an identical assortment of various liquors. The
brandy he shows on one certificate only. The blocks are true copies of
the certificates except that the brandy is not entered on either. The
two blocks he times for a quarter past one and past four respectively,
but both certificates he times for a quarter past one. He hands the
two certificates to Fox. Then he sends out on the one o'clock lorry
the amount of brandy shown on one of the certificates."

Hunt paused and looked interrogatively at his friend, then, the latter
not replying, he resumed:

"You follow now the position of affairs? In the office is Archer with
his blocks, correctly filled out as to time but neither showing the
brandy. On the one o'clock lorry is Fox, with one hundred gallons of
brandy among his load. In his pocket are the two certificates, both
timed for one o'clock, one showing the brandy and the other not."

The inspector nodded as Hunt again looked at him.

"Now suppose," the latter went on, "that the one o'clock lorry gets
through to its destination unchallenged, and the stuff is unloaded.
The manager arranges that the four kegs of brandy will disappear. He
takes over the certificate which does not show brandy, signs it, and
the transaction is complete. Everything is in order, and he has got
four kegs smuggled in."

"Good," Willis interjected.

"On the other hand, suppose the one o'clock trip is held up by an
exciseman. This time Fox produces the other certificate, the one which
shows the brandy. Once again everything is in order, and the Excise
officer satisfied. It is true that on this occasion Fox has been unable
to smuggle out his brandy, and on that which he carries duty must be
paid, but this rare contingency will not matter to him as long as his
method of fraud remains concealed."

"Seems very sound so far."

"I think so. Let us now consider the four o'clock trip. Fox
arrives back at the works with one of the two certificates still
in his pocket, and the make up of his four o'clock load depends on
which it is. He attempts no more smuggling that day. If his
remaining certificate shows brandy he carries brandy, if not, he
leaves it behind. In either case his certificate is in order if an
Excise officer holds him up. That is, when he has at tended to one
little point. He has to add two strokes to the 1 of the hour to
make it into a 4. The ease of doing this explains why these two
hours were chosen. Is that all clear?"

"Clear, indeed, except for the one point of how the brandy item is
added to the correct block."

"Obviously Archer does that as soon as he learns how the first trip
has got on. If the brandy was smuggled out on the first trip, it
means that Fox is holding the brandy-bearing certificate for the
second, and Archer enters brandy on his second block. If, on the
contrary, Fox has had his first load examined, Archer will make his
entry on the first block."

"The scheme," Willis declared, "really means this. If Archer wants
to smuggle out one hundred gallons of brandy, he has to send out
another hundred legitimately on the same day? If he can manage to
send out two hundred altogether then one hundred will be duty clear,
but in any case he must pay on one hundred?"

"That's right. It works out like that."

"It's a great scheme. The only weak point that I can see is that
an Excise officer who has held up one of the trips might visit the
works and look at the certificate block before Archer gets it
altered."

Hunt nodded.

"I thought of that," he said, "and it can be met quite easily. I
bet the manager telephones Archer on receipt of the stuff. I am
going into that now. I shall have a note kept at the Central of
conversations to Ferriby. If Archer doesn't get a message by a
certain time, I bet he assumes the plan has miscarried for that day
and fills in the brandy on the first block."

During the next two days Hunt was able to establish the truth of his
surmise. At the same time Willis decided that his co-operation in
the work at Hull was no longer needed. For Hunt there was still
plenty to be done. He had to get direct evidence against each
severally of the managers of the five tied houses in question, as
well as to ascertain how and to whom they were passing on the
"stuff," for that they were receiving more brandy than could be sold
over their own counters was unquestionable. But he agreed with
Willis that these five men were more than likely in ignorance of the
main conspiracy, each having only a private understanding with Archer.
But whether or not this was so, Willis did not believe he could get
any evidence that they were implicated in the murder of Coburn.

The French end of the affair, he thought, the supply of the brandy
in the first instance, was more promising from this point of view,
and the next morning he took an early train to London as a
preliminary to starting work in France.

CHAPTER 18

THE BORDEAUX LORRIES

Two days later Inspector Willis sat once again in the office of M.
Max, the head of the French Excise Department in Paris. The
Frenchman greeted him politely, but without enthusiasm.

"Ah, monsieur," he said, "you have not received my letter? No? I
wrote to your department yesterday."

"It hadn't come, sir, when I left," Willis returned. "But perhaps
if it is something I should know, you could tell me the contents?"

"But certainly, monsieur. It is easily done. A thousand regrets,
but I fear my department will not be of much service to you."

"No, sir?" Willis looked his question.

"I fear not. But I shall explain," M. Max gesticulated as he talked.
"After your last visit here I send two of my men to Bordeaux. They
make examination, but at first they see nothing suspicious. When
the Girondin comes in they determine to test your idea of the brandy
loading. They go in a boat to the wharf at night. They pull in
between the rows of piles. They find the spaces between the tree
trunks which you have described. They know there must be a cellar
behind. They hide close by; they see the porthole lighted up; they
watch the pipe go in, all exactly as you have said. There can be
no doubt brandy is secretly loaded at the Lesque."

"It seemed the likely thing, sir," Willis commented.

"Ah, but it was good to think of. I wish to congratulate you on
finding it out." M. Max made a little bow. "But to continue. My
men wonder how the brandy reaches the sawmill. Soon they think
that the lorries must bring it. They think so for two reasons.
First, they can find no other way. The lorries are the only
vehicles which approach; nothing goes by water; there cannot be a
tunnel, because there is no place for the other end. There remains
only the lorries. Second, they think it is the lorries because the
drivers change the numbers. It is suspicious, is it not? Yes?
You understand me?"

"Perfectly, sir."

"Good. My men then watch the lorries. They get help from the
police at Bordeaux. They find the firewood trade is a nothing."
M. Max shrugged his shoulders. "There are five firms to which the
lorries go, and of the five, four - " His gesture indicated a
despair too deep for words. "To serve them, it is but a blind; so
my men think. But the fifth firm, it is that of Raymond Fils, one
of the biggest distilleries of Bordeaux. That Raymond Fils are
sending out the brandy suggests itself to my men. At last the
affair marches."

M.Max paused, and Willis bowed to signify his appreciation of the
point.

"My men visit Raymond Fils. They search into everything. They find
the law is not broken. All is in order. They are satisfied."

"But, sir, if these people are smuggling brandy into England - "
Willis was beginning when the other interrupted him.

"But yes, monsieur, I grasp your point. I speak of French law; it
is different from yours. Here duty is not charged on just so much
spirit as is distilled. We grant the distiller a license, and it
allows him to distill any quantity up to the figure the license
bears. But, monsieur, Raymond Fils are - how do you say it? - well
within their limit? Yes? They do not break the French law."

"Therefore, sir, you mean you cannot help further?"

"My dear monsieur, what would you? I have done my best for you.
I make inquiries. The matter is not for me. With the most excellent
wish to assist, what more can I?"

Willis, realizing he could get no more, rose.

"Nothing, sir, except to accept on my own part and that of my
department our hearty thanks for what you have done. I can assure
you, sir, I quite understand your position, and I greatly appreciate
your kindness."

M. Max also had risen. He politely repeated his regrets, and with
mutual compliments the two men parted.

Willis had once spent a holiday in Paris, and he was slightly
acquainted with the city. He strolled on through the busy streets,
brilliant in the pa1e autumn sunlight, until he reached the Grands
Boulevards. There entering a caf, he sat down, called for a bock,
and settled himself to consider his next step.

The position created by M. Max's action was disconcerting. Willis
felt himself stranded, literally a stranger in a strange land, sent
to carry out an investigation among a people whose language he
could not even speak! He saw at once that his task was impossible.
He must have local help or he could proceed no further.

He thought of his own department. The Excise had failed him. What
about the Surete?

But a very little thought convinced him that he was even less likely
to obtain help from this quarter. He could only base an appeal on
the possibility of a future charge of conspiracy to murder, and he
realized that the evidence for that was too slight to put forward
seriously.

What was to be done? So far as he could see, but one thing. He
must employ a private detective. This plan would meet the language
difficulty by which he was so completely hung up.

He went to a call office and got his chief at the Yard on the long
distance wire. The latter approved his SUGGESTION, and recommended
M. Jules Laroche of the Rue du Sommerard near the Sorbonne. Half
an hour later Willis reached the house.

M. Laroche proved to be a tall, unobtrusive-looking man of some
five-and-forty, who had lived in London for some years and spoke as
good English as Willis himself. He listened quietly and without
much apparent interest to what his visitor had to tell him, then
said he would be glad to take on the job.

"We had better go to Bordeaux this evening, so as to start fresh
tomorrow," Willis suggested.

"Two o'clock at the d'Orsay station," the other returned. "We have
just time. We can settle our plans in the train."

They reached the St Jean station at Bordeaux at 10.35 that night,
and drove to the Hotel d'Espagne. They had decided that they could
do nothing until the following evening, when they would go out to
the clearing and see what a search of the mill premises might reveal.

Next morning Laroche vanished, saying he had friends in the town
whom he wished to look up, and it was close on dinner-time before
he put in an appearance.

"I have got some information that may help," he said, as Willis
greeted him. "Though I'm not connected with the official force, we
are very good friends and have worked into each other's hands. I
happen to know one of the officers of the local police, and he got
me the information. It seems that a M. Pierre Raymond is practically
the owner of Raymond Fils, the distillers you mentioned. He is a
man of about thirty, and the son of one of the original brothers.
He was at one time comfortably off, and lived in a pleasant villa in
the suburbs. But latterly he has been going the pace, and within the
last two years he let his villa and bought a tiny house next door to
the distillery, where he is now living. It is believed his money
went at Monte Carlo, indeed it seems he is a wrong 'un all round.
At all events he is known to be hard up now."

"And you think he moved in so that he could load up that brandy at
night?"

"That's what I think," Laroche admitted. "You see, there is the
motive for it as well. He wouldn't join the syndicate unless he
was in difficulties. I fancy M. Pierre Raymond will be an
INTERESTING study."

Willis nodded. The SUGGESTION was worth investigation, and he
congratulated himself on getting hold of so excellent a colleague
as this Laroche seemed to be.

The Frenchman during the day had hired a motor bicycle and sidecar,
and as dusk began to fall the two men left their hotel and ran out
along the Bayonne road until they reached the Lesque. There they
hid their vehicle behind some shrubs, and reaching the end of the
lane, turned down it.

It was pitch dark among the trees, and they had some difficulty in
keeping the track until they reached the clearing. There a quarter
moon rendered objects dimly visible, and Willis at once recognized
his surroundings from the description he had received from Hilliard
and Merriman.

"You see, somebody is in the manager's house," he whispered, pointing
to a light which gleamed in the window. "If Henri has taken over
Coburn's job he may go down to the mill as Coburn did. Hadn't we
better wait and see?"

The Frenchman agreeing, they moved round the fringe of trees at the
edge of the clearing, just as Merriman had done on a similar occasion
some seven weeks earlier, and as they crouched in the shelter of a
clump of bushes in front of the house, they might have been
interested to know that it was from these same shrubs that that
disconsolate sentimentalist had lain dreaming of his lady love, and
from which he had witnessed her father's stealthy journey to the mill.

It was a good deal colder tonight than on that earlier occasion when
watch was kept on the lonely house. The two men shivered as they
drew their collars higher round their necks, and crouched down to get
shelter from the bitter wind. They had resigned themselves to a
weary vigil, during which they dared not even smoke.

But they had not to wait so long after all. About ten the light
went out in the window and not five minutes later they saw a man
appear at the side door and walk towards the mill. They could not
see his features, though Willis assumed he was Henri. Twenty minutes
later they watched him return, and then all once more was still.

"We had better give him an hour to get to bed," Willis whispered.
"If he were to look out it wouldn't do for him to see two detectives
roaming about his beloved clearing."

"We might go at eleven," Laroche proposed, and so they did.

Keeping as much as possible in the shelter of the bushes, they
approached the mill. Willis had got a sketch-plan of the building
from Merriman, and he moved round to the office door. His bent
wire proved as efficacious with French locks as with English, and
in a few moments they stood within, with the door shut behind them.

"Now," said Willis, carefully shading the beam of his electric torch,
"let's see those lorries first of all."

As has already been stated, the garage was next to the office, and
passing through the communicating door, the two men found five of
the ponderous vehicles therein. A moment's examination of the
number plates showed that on all the machines the figures were
separate from the remainder of the lettering, being carried on
small brass plates which dropped vertically into place through slots
in the main castings. But the joint at each side of the number was
not conspicuous because similar vertical lines were cut into the
brass between each letter of the whole legend.

"That's good," Laroche observed. "Make a thing unnoticeable by
multiplying it!"

Of the five lorries, two were loaded with firewood and three empty.
The men moved round examining them with their torches.

"Hallo," Laroche called suddenly in a low voice, "what have we here,
Willis?"

The inspector crossed over to the other, who was pointing to the
granolithic floor in front of him. One of the empty lorries was
close to the office wall, and the Frenchman stood between the two.
On the floor were three drops of some liquid.

"Can you smell them?" he inquired.

Willis knelt down and sniffed, then slowly got up again.

"Good man," he said, with a trace of excitement in his manner. "It's
brandy right enough."

"Yes," returned the other. "Security has made our nocturnal friend
careless. The stuff must have come from this lorry, I fancy."

They turned to the vehicle and examined it eagerly. For some time
they could see nothing remarkable, but presently it gave up its
secret The deck was double! Beneath it was a hollow space some six
feet by nine long, and not less than three inches deep. And not
only so. This hollow space was continued up under the unusually
large and wide driver's seat, save for a tiny receptacle for petrol.
In a word the whole top of the machine was a vast secret tank.

The men began measuring and calculating, and they soon found that
no less than one hundred and fifty gallons of liquid could be
carried therein.

"One hundred and fifty gallons of brandy per trip!" Willis ejaculated.
"Lord! It's no wonder they make it pay."

They next tackled the problem of how the tank was filled and emptied,
and at last their perseverance was rewarded. Behind the left trailing
wheel, under the framing, was a small hinged door about six inches
square and fastened by a spring operated by a mock rivet head. This
being opened, revealed a cavity containing a pipe connected to the
tank and fitted with a stop-cock and the half of a union coupling.

"The pipe which connects with that can't be far away," Laroche
suggested. "We might have a look round for it."

The obvious place was the wall of the office, which ran not more
than three feet from the vehicle. It was finished with vertical
tongued and V-jointed sheeting, and a comparatively short search
revealed the loose board the detectives were by this time expecting.
Behind it was concealed a pipe, jointed concertina-wise, and ending
in the other half of the union coupling. It was evident the joints
would allow the half coupling to be pulled out and connected with
that on the lorry. The pipe ran down through the floor, showing
that the lorry could be emptied by gravity.

"A good safe scheme," Laroche commented. "If I had seen that
lorry a hundred times I should never have suspected a tank. It's
well designed."

They turned to examine the other vehicles. All four were identical
in appearance with the first, but all were strictly what they
seemed, containing no secret receptacle.

"Merriman said they had six lorries," Willis remarked. "I wonder
where the sixth is."

"At the distillery, don't you think?" the Frenchman returned.
"Those drops prove that manager fellow has just been unloading this
one. I expect he does it every night. But if so, Raymond must
load a vehicle every night too."

"That's true. We may assume the job is done every night, because
Merriman watched Coburn come down here three nights running. It
was certainly to unload the lorry."

"Doubtless; and he probably came at two in the morning on account
of his daughter."

"That means there are two tank lorries," Willis went on, continuing
his own line of thought. "I say, Laroche, let's mark this one so
that we may know it again."

They made tiny scratches on the paint at each corner of the big
vehicle, then Willis turned back to the office.

"I'd like to find that cellar while we're here," he remarked. "We
know there is a cellar, for those Customs men saw the Girondin
loaded from it. We might have a look round for the entrance."

Then ensued a search similar to that which Willis had carried out
in the depot at Ferriby, except that in this case they found what
they were looking for in a much shorter time. In the office was a
flat roll-topped desk, with the usual set of drawers at each side
of the central knee well, and when Willis found it was clamped to
the floor he felt he need go no further. On the ground in the
knee well, and projecting out towards the revolving chair in front,
was a mat. Willis raised it, and at once observed a joint across
the boards where in ordinary circumstances no joint should be.
He fumbled and pressed and pulled, and in a couple of minutes he
had the satisfaction of seeing the floor under the well rise and
reveal the head of a ladder leading down into the darkness below.

"Here we are," he called softly to Laroche, who was searching at
the other side of the room.

The cellar into which the two detectives descended was lined with
timber like that at Ferriby. Indeed the two were identical, except
that only one passage - that under the wharf - led out of this one.
It contained a similar large tun with a pipe leading down the
passage under the wharf, on which was a pump. The only difference
was in the connection of the pipes. At Ferriby the pump conveyed
from the wharf to the tun, here it was from the tun to the wharf.
The pipe from the garage came down through the ceiling and ran direct
into the tun.

The two men walked down the passage towards the river. Here also
the arrangement was the same as at Ferriby, and they remained only
long enough for Willis to point out to the Frenchman how the loading
apparatus was worked.

"Well," said the former, as they returned to the office, "that's
not so bad for one day. I suppose it's all we can do here. If we
can learn as much at that distillery we shall soon have all we want."

Laroche pointed to a chair.

"Sit down a moment," he invited. "I have been thinking over that
plan we discussed in the train, of searching the distillery at
night, and I don't like it. There are too many people about, and
we are nearly certain to be seen. It's quite different from
working a place like this."

"Quite," Willis answered rather testily. "I don't like it either,
but what can we do?"

"I'll tell you what I should do." Laroche leaned forward and
checked his points on his fingers. "That lorry had just been
unloaded. It's empty now, and if our theory is correct it will
be taken to the distillery tomorrow and left there over-night to
be filled up again. Isn't that so?"

Willis nodded impatiently and the other went on:

"Now, it is clear that no one can fill up that tank without leaving
finger-prints on the pipe connections in that secret box. Suppose
we clean those surfaces now, and suppose we come back here the
night after tomorrow, before the man here unloads, we could get the
prints of the person who filled up in the distillery."

"Well," Willis asked sharply, "and how would that help us?"

"This way. Tomorrow you will be an English distiller with a forest
you could get cheap near your works. You have an idea of running
your stills on wood fires. You naturally call to see how M. Raymond
does it, and you get shown over his works. You have prepared a plan
of your proposals. You hand it to him when he can't put it down on
a desk. He holds it between his fingers and thumb, and eventually
returns it to you. You go home and use powder. You have his
finger-prints. You compare the two sets."

Willis was impressed. The plan was simple, and it promised to gain
for them all the information they required without recourse to a
hazardous nocturnal visit to the distillery. But he wished he had
thought of it himself.

"We might try it," he admitted, without enthusiasm. "It couldn't
do much harm anyway."

They returned to the garage, opened the secret lid beneath the lorry,
and with a cloth moistened with petrol cleaned the fittings. Then
after a look round to make sure that nothing had been disturbed,
they let themselves out of the shed, regained the lane and their
machine, and some forty minutes later were in Bordeaux.

On reconsideration they decided that as Raymond might have obtained
Willis's description from Captain Beamish, it would be wiser for
Laroche to visit the distillery. Next morning, therefore, the
latter bought a small writing block, and taking an inside leaf,
which he carefully avoided touching with his hands, he drew a
cross-section of a wood-burning fire-box copied from an illustration
in a book of reference in the city library, at the same time reading
up the subject so as to be able to talk on it without giving himself
away. Then he set out on his mission.

In a couple of hours he returned.

"Got that all right," he exclaimed, as he rejoined the inspector.
"I went and saw the fellow; said I was going to start a distillery
in the Ardennes where there was plenty of wood, and wanted to see
his plant. He was very civil, and took me round and showed me
everything. There is a shed there above the still furnaces with
hoppers for the firewood to go down, and in it was standing the
lorry - the lorry, I saw our marks on the corner. It was loaded
with firewood, and he explained that it would be emptied last thing
before the day-shift left, so as to do the stills during the night.
Well, I got a general look round the concern, and I found that the
large tuns which contain the finished brandy were just at the back
of the wall of the shed where the lorry was standing. So it is
easy to see what happens. Evidently there is a pipe through the
wall, and Raymond comes down at night and fills up the lorry."

"And did you get his finger-prints?"

"Have 'em here."

Locking the door of their private room, Laroche took from his pocket
the sketch he had made.

"He held this up quite satisfactorily," he went on, "and there
should be good prints."

Willis had meanwhile spread a newspaper on the table and taken
from his suitcase a small bottle of powdered lamp-black and a
camel's-hair brush. Laying the sketch on the newspaper he gently
brushed some of the black powder over it, blowing off the surplus.
To the satisfaction of both men, there showed up near the left
bottom corner the distinct mark of a left thumb.

"Now the other side."

Willis turned the paper and repeated the operation on the back.
There he got prints of a left fore and second finger.

"Excellent, clear prints, those," Willis commented, continuing:
"And now I have something to tell you. While you were away I have
been thinking over this thing, and I believe I've got an idea."

Laroche looked interested, and the other went on slowly:

"There are two brandy-carrying lorries. Every night one of these
lies at the distillery and the other at the clearing; one is being
loaded and the other unloaded; and every day the two change places.
Now we may take it that neither of those lorries is sent to any
other place in the town, lest the brandy tanks might be discovered.
For the same reason, they probably only make the one run mentioned
per day. Is that right so far?"

"I should think so," Laroche replied cautiously.

"Very well. Let us suppose these two lorries are Nos. 1 and 2.
No. 1 goes to the distillery say every Monday, Wednesday and Friday,
and returns on the other three days, while No. 2 does vice versa,
one trip each day remember. And this goes on day after day, week
after week, month after month. Now is it too much to assume that
sooner or later someone is bound to notice this - some worker at
the clearing or the distillery, some policeman on his beat, some
clerk at a window over-looking the route? And if anyone notices
it will he not wonder why it always happens that these two lorries
go to this one place and to no other, while the syndicate has six
lorries altogether trading into the town? And if this observer
should mention his discovery to someone who could put two and two
together, suspicion might be aroused, investigation undertaken,
and presently the syndicate is up a tree. Now do you see what
I'm getting at?"

Laroche had been listening eagerly, and now he made a sudden
gesture.

"But of course!" he cried delightedly. "The changing of the
numbers!"

"The changing of the numbers," Willis repeated. "At least, it
looks like that to me. No. 1 does the Monday run to the distillery.
They change the number plate, and No. 4 does it on Wednesday, while
No. 1 runs to some other establishment, where it can be freely
examined by anyone who is interested. How does it strike you?"

"You have got it. You have certainly got it." Laroche was more
enthusiastic than the inspector had before seen him. "It's what
you call a cute scheme, quite on par with the rest of the business.
They didn't leave much to chance, these! And yet it was this very
precaution that gave them away."

"No doubt, but that was an accident."

"You can't," said the Frenchman sententiously, "make anything
completely watertight."

The next night they went out to the clearing, and as soon as it was
dark once more entered the shed. There with more powder - white this
time-they tested the tank lorry for finger-marks. As they had hoped,
there were several on the secret fittings, among others a clear print
of a left thumb on the rivet head of the spring.

A moment's examination only was necessary. The prints were those of
M. Pierre Raymond.

Once again Inspector Willis felt that he ought to have completed his
case, and once again second thoughts showed him that he was as far
away from that desired end as ever. He had been trying to find
accomplices in the murder of Coburn, and by a curious perversity,
instead of finding them he had bit by bit solved the mystery of the
Pit-Prop Syndicate. He had shown, firstly, that they were smuggling
brandy, and, secondly, how they were doing it. For that he would no
doubt get a reward, but such was not his aim. What he wanted was to
complete his own case and get the approval of his own superiors and
bring promotion nearer. And in this he had failed.

For hours he pondered over the problem, then suddenly an idea which
seemed promising flashed into his mind. He thought it over with
the utmost care, and finally decided that in the absence of
something better he must try it.

In the morning the two men travelled to Paris, and Willis, there
taking leave of his colleague, crossed to London, and an hour later
was with his chief at the Yard.

CHAPTER 19

WILLIS SPREADS HIS NET

Though Inspector Willis had spent so much time out of London in his
following up of the case, he had by no means lost sight of Madeleine
Coburn and Merriman. The girl, he knew, was still staying with her
aunt at EASTBOURNE, and the local police authorities, from whom he
got his information, believed that her youth and health were
reasserting themselves, and that she was rapidly recovering from
the shock of her father's tragic death. Merriman haunted the town.
He practically lived at the George, going up and down daily to his
office, and spending as many of his evenings and his Sundays at Mrs.
Luttrell's as he dared.

But though the young man had worn himself almost to a shadow by his
efforts, he felt that the realization of his hopes was as far off as
ever. Madeleine had told him that she would not marry him until the
mystery of her father's murder was cleared up and the guilty parties
brought to justice, and he was becoming more and more afraid that
she would keep her word. In vain he implored her to consider the
living rather than the dead, and not to wreck his life and her own
for what, after all, was but a sentiment.

But though she listened to his entreaties and was always kind and
gentle, she remained inflexible in her resolve. Merriman felt that
his only plan, failing the discovery of Mr. Coburn's assassin, was
unobtrusively to keep as much as possible in her company, in the
hope that she would grow accustomed to his presences and perhaps in
time come to need it.

Under these circumstances his anxiety as to the progress of the case
was very great, and on several occasions he had written to Willis
asking him how his inquiry was going on. But the inspector had not

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