The Listerdale Mystery and Other Stories
The Listerdale Mystery
The Girl in the Train
Sing a Song of Sixpence
The Manhood of Edward Robinson
Jane in Search of a Job
A Fruitful Sunday
Mr Eastwood's Adventure
The Golden Ball
The Rajah's Emerald
The Listerdale Mystery
Mrs St Vincent was adding up figures. Once or twice she sighed, and her hand stole to her aching forehead. She had always disliked arithmetic. It was unfortunate that nowadays her life should seem to be composed entirely of one particular kind of sum, the ceaseless adding together of small necessary items of expenditure making a total that never failed to surprise and alarm her. Surely it couldn't come to that! She went back over the figures. She had made a trifling error in the pence, but otherwise the figures were correct. Mrs St Vincent sighed again. Her headache by now was very bad indeed. She
looked up as the door opened and her daughter Barbara came into the room. Barbara St Vincent was a very pretty girl; she had her mother's delicate features, and the same proud turn of the head, but her eyes were dark instead of blue, and she had a different mouth, a sulky red mouth not without attraction.
"Oh, Mother!" she cried. "Still juggling with those horrid old accounts? Throw them all into the fire."
"We must know where we are," said Mrs St Vincent uncertainly.
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
"We're always in the same boat," she said dryly. "Damned hard up. Down to the last penny as usual."
Mrs St Vincent sighed. "I wish -" she began, and then stopped. "I must find something to do," said Barbara in hard tones. "And find it quickly. After all, I have taken that shorthand and typing course. So have about one million other girls from all I can see! 'What experience?' 'None, but -' 'Oh!
Thank you, good morning. We'll let you know.' But they never do! I must find some other kind of a job - any job." "Not yet, dear," pleaded her mother. "Wait a little longer." Barbara went to the window and stood looking out with unseeing eyes that took no note of the dingy line of houses opposite.
"Sometimes," she said slowly, "I'm sorry Cousin Amy took me with her to Egypt last winter. Oh! I know I had fun - about the only fun I've ever had or am likely to have in my life. I did enjoy myself - enjoyed myself thoroughly. But it was very unsettling. I mean - coming back to this." She swept a hand round the room. Mrs St Vincent followed it with her eyes and winced. The room was typical of cheap furnished lodgings. A dusty aspidistra, showily ornamental furniture, a gaudy wallpaper faded in patches. There were signs that the personality of the tenants had struggled with that of the landlady;а one or two pieces of good china, much cracked and mended, so that their saleable value was nil, a piece of embroidery thrown over the back of the sofa, a water colour sketch of a young girl in the fashion of twenty years ago, near enough still to Mrs St Vincent not to be mistaken. "It wouldn't matter," continued Barbara, "if we'd never known anything else. But to think of Ansteys -" She broke off, not trusting herself to speak of that dearly loved home which had belonged to the St Vincent family for centuries and which was now in the hands of strangers.а "If only Father - hadn't speculated - and borrowedФ -"My dear," said Mrs St Vincent. "Your father was never, in any sense of the word, a businessman."
She said it with a graceful kind of finality, and Barbara came over and gave her an aimless sort of kiss as she murmured, "Poor old Mums. I won't say anything."
Mrs St Vincent took up her pen again and bent over her desk. Barbara went back to the window. Presently the girl said: "Mother. I heard from - from Jim Masterton this morning. He wants to come
and see me." Mrs St Vincent laid down her pen and looked up sharply. "Here?" she exclaimed.
"Well, we can't ask him to dinner at the Ritz very well," sneered Barbara. Her mother looked unhappy. Again she looked round the room with innate distaste.
"You're right," said Barbara. "It's a disgusting place. Genteel poverty! Sounds all right - a whitewashed cottage in the country, shabby chintzes of good design, bowls of roses, crown Derby tea service that you wash up yourself. That's what it's like in books. In real life, with a son starting on the bottom rung of office life, it means London. Frowsy landladies, dirty children on the stairs, haddocks for breakfasts that aren't quite - quite and so on." "If only -" began Mrs St Vincent. "But, really, I'm beginning to be afraid we can't afford even this room much longer." "That means a bed-sitting-room - horror! - for you and me," said Barbara. "And a cupboard under the tiles for Rupert. And when Jim comes to call, I'll receive him in that dreadful room downstairs with tabbies all round the walls knitting, and stating at us, and coughing that dreadful kind of gulping cough they have!" There was a pause. "Barbara," said Mrs St Vincent at last. "Do you - I mean - would you -?" She stopped, flushing a little. "You needn't be delicate, Mother," said Barbara. "Nobody is nowadays. Marry him, I suppose you mean? I would like a shot if he asked me. But I'm so awfully afraid he won't."
"Oh! Barbara, dear." "Well, it's one thing seeing me out there with Cousin Amy, moving (as they say
in novelettes) in the best society. He did take a fancy to me. Now he'll come here and see me in this! And he's a funny creature, you know, fastidious and old-fashioned. I - I rather like him for that. It reminds me of Ansteys and the village - everything a hundred years behind the times, but so - so - oh! I don't know - so fragrant. Like lavender!" She laughed, half-ashamed of her eagerness. Mrs Vincent spoke with a kind of earnest simplicity. "I should like you to marry Jim Masterton," she said. "He is - one of us. He is very well off, also, but that I don't mind about so much."
"I do," said Barbara. "I'm sick of being hard up." "But, Barbara, it isn't -" "Only for that? No. I do really. I - oh! Mother, can't you see I do?" Mrs St Vincent looked very unhappy. "I wish he could see you in your proper setting, darling," she said wistfully. "Oh, well!" said Barbara. "Why worry? We might as well try and be cheerful about things. Sorry I've had such a grouch. Cheer up, darling." She bent over her mother, kissed her forehead lightly, and went out. Mrs St Vincent, relinquishing all attempts at аfinance, sat down on the uncomfortable sofa. Her thoughts ran round in circles like squirrels in a cage.
"One may say what one likes, appearances do put a man off. Not later - not if they were really engaged. He'd know then what a sweet, dear girl she is. But it's so easy for young people to take the tone of their surroundings. Rupert, now, he's quite different from what he used to be. Not that I want my children to be stuck-up. That's not it a bit. But I should hate it if Rupert got engaged to that dreadful girl in the tobacconist's. I daresay she may be a very nice girl, really. But she's not our kind. It's all so difficult. Poor little Babs. If I could do anything - anything. But where's the money to come from? We've sold everything to give Rupert his start. We really can't even afford this." To distract herself Mrs St Vincent picked up the Morning Post and glanced down the advertisements on the front page. Most of them she knew by heart. People who wanted capital, people who had capital and were anxious to dispose
of it on note of аhand alone, people who wanted to buy teeth (she always wondered why), people who wanted to sell furs and gowns and who had optimistic ideas on the subject of price. Suddenly she stiffened to attention. Again and again she read the printed words. "To gentlepeople only. Small house in Westminster, exquisitely furnished, offered to those who would really care for it. Rent purely nominal. No agents." A very ordinary advertisement. She had read many the same or - well, nearly the
same. Nominal rent, that was where the trap lay. Yet, since she was restless and anxious to escape from her thoughts, she put on her hat straightaway and took a convenient bus to the address given in the
advertisement. It proved to be that of a firm of house agents. Not a new bustling firm Ц a rather decrepit, old-fashioned place. Rather timidly she produced the advertisement, which she had torn out, and asked for particulars. The white-haired old gentleman who was attending to her stroked his chin
thoughtfully. "Perfectly. Yes, perfectly, madam. That house, the house mentioned in the advertisement, is No. 7 Cheviot Place. You would like an order?" "I should like to know the rent first?" said Mrs St Vincent. "Ah! The rent. The exact figure is not settled, but I can assure you that it is purely nominal."
"Ideas of what is purely nominal can vary," said Mrs St Vincent. The old gentleman permitted himself to chuckle a little. "Yes, that's an old trick - an old trick. But you can take my word for it, it isn't so
in this case. Two or three guineas a week, perhaps, not more." Mrs St Vincent decided to have the order. Not, of course, that there was any real likelihood of her being able to afford the place. But, after all, she might just see it. There must be some grave disadvantage attaching to it, to be offered at
such a price. But her heart gave a little throb as she looked up at the outside of 7 Cheviot Place. A gem of a house. Queen Anne, and in perfect condition! A butler answered the door. He had grey hair and little side whiskers, and the meditative calm of an archbishop. A kindly archbishop, Mrs St Vincent thought. He accepted the order with a benevolent air. "Certainly, madam, I will show you over. The house is ready for occupation." He went before her, opening doors, announcing rooms. "The drawing room, the white study, a powder closet through here, madam." It was perfect - a dream. The furniture all of the period, each piece with signs of wear, but polished with loving care. The loose rugs were of beautiful dim old colours. In each room were bowls of fresh flowers. The back of the house looked over the Green Park. The whole place radiated an old-world charm. The tears came into Mrs St Vincent's eyes, and she fought them back with difficulty. So had Ansteys looked - Ansteys... She wondered whether the butler had noticed her emotion. If so, he was too much the perfectly trained servant to show it. She liked these old servants, one felt safe with them, at ease. They were like friends.
"It is a beautiful house," she said softly. "Very beautiful. I am glad to have seen it." "Is it for yourself alone, madam?" "For myself and my son and daughter. But I'm afraid -" She broke off. she wanted it so dreadfully - so dreadfully. She felt instinctively that the butler understood. He did not look at her, as he
said in a detached, impersnal way: "I happen to be aware, madam, that the owner requires above all suitable tenants. The rent is of no importance to him. He wants the house to be tenanted by someone who will really care for and appreciate it." "I should appreciate it," said Mrs St Vincent in a low voice.
She turned to go. "Thank you for showing me over," she said courteously. "Not at all, madam."
He stood in the doorway, very correct and upright as she walked away down the street. She thought to herself: "He knows. He's sorry for me. He's one of the old lot too. He'd like me to have it - not a labour member, or a button manufacturer! We're dying out, our sort, but we hang together." In the end she decided not to go back to the agents. What was the good? She could afford the rent - but there were servants to be considered. There would have to be servants in a house like that. The next morning a letter lay by her plate. It was from the house agents. It offered her the tenancy of 7 Cheviot Place for six months at two guineas a week, and went on: "You have, I presume, taken into consideration the fact that the servants are remaining at the landlord's expense? It is really a unique offer." It was. So startled was she by it, that she read the letter out. A fire of questions followed and she described her visit of yesterday. "Secretive little Mums!" cried Barbara. "Is it really so lovely?" Rupert cleared his throat and began a judicial cross-questioning. "There's something behind all this. It's fishy, if you ask me. Decidedly fishy." "So's my egg," said Barbara, wrinkling her nose. "Ugh! Why should there be
something behind it? That's just like you, Rupert, always making mysteries out of nothing. It's those dreadful detective stories you're always reading." "The rent's a joke," said Rupert. "In the city," he added importantly, "one gets wise to all sorts of queer things. I tell you, there's something very fishy about
this business." "Nonsense," said Barbara. "House belongs to a man with lots of money, he's fond of it, and he wants it lived in by decent people while he's away. Something of that kind. Money's probably no object to him." "What did you say the address was?" asked Rupert of his mother. "Seven Cheviot Place." "Whew!" He pushed back his chair. "I say, this is exciting. That's the house Lord Listerdale disappeared from." "Are you sure?" asked Mrs St Vincent doubtfully. "Positive. He's got a lot of other houses all over London, but this is the one he lived in. He walked out of it one evening saying he was going to his club, and nobody ever saw him again. Supposed to have done a bunk to East Africa or
somewhere like that, but nobody knows why. Depend upon it, he was murdered in hat house. You say there's a lot of panelling?" "Ye-es," said Mrs St Vincent faintly; "but -" Rupert gave her no time. He went on with immense enthusiasm. "Panelling! There you are. Sure to be a secret recess somewhere. Body's been stuffed in there and has been there ever since. Perhaps it was embalmed first." "Rupert, dear, don't talk nonsense," said his mother. "Don't be a double-dyed idiot," said Barbara. "You've been taking that peroxide blonde to the pictures too much." Rupert rose with dignity - such dignity as his lanky and awkward age allowed, and delivered a final ultimatum. "You take that house, Mums. I'll ferret out the mystery. You see if I don't." Rupert departed hurriedly, in fear of being late at the office.
The eyes of the two women met. "Could we, Mother?" murmured Barbara tremulously. "Oh! If we could." "The servants," said Mrs St Vincent pathetically, "would eat, you know. I mean, of course, one would want them to - but that's the drawback. One can so easilyа - just do without things - when it's only oneself." She looked piteously at Barbara, and the girl nodded. "We must think it over," said the mother. But in reality her mind was made up. She had seen the sparkle in the girl's eyes. She thought to herself: "Jim Masterton must see her in proper surroundings. This is a chance - a wonderful chance. I must take it." She sat down and wrote to the agents accepting their offer. II "Quentin, where did the lilies come from? I really can't buy expensive flowers." "They were sent up from King's Cheviot, madam. It has always been the custom here." The butler withdrew. Mrs St Vincent heaved a sigh of relief. What would she do without Quentin? He made everything so easy. She thought to herself: "It's too good to last. I shall wake up soon, I know I shall, and find it's been all a dream. I'm so happy here - two months already, and it's passed like a flash." Life indeed had been astonishingly pleasant. Quentin, the butler, had displayed himself the autocrat of 7 Cheviot Place. "If you will leave everything to me,
madam," he had said respectfully. "You will find it the best way." Each week, he brought her the housekeeping books, their totals astonishingly low. There were only two other servants, a cook and a housemaid. They were pleasant in manner, and efficient in their duties, but it was Quentin who ran the
house. Game and poultry appeared on the table sometimes, causing Mrs St Vincent solicitude. Quentin reassured her. Sent up from Lord Listerdale's country seat, King's Cheviot, or from his Yorkshire moor. "It has always been the custom, madam."
Privately Mrs St Vincent doubted whether the absent Lord Listerdale would agree with those words. She was inclined to suspect Quentin of usurping his master's authority. It was clear that he had taken a fancy to them, and that in his eyes nothing was too good for them.
Her curiosity aroused by Rupert's declaration, Mrs St Vincent had made a tentative reference to Lord Listerdale when she next interviewed the house agents. The white-haired old gentleman had responded immediately. "Yes, Lord Listerdale was in East Africa, had been there for the last eighteen months."
"Our client is rather an eccentric man," he had said, smiling broadly. "He left London in a most unconventional manner, as you may perhaps remember? Not a word to anyone. The newspapers got hold of it. There were actually inquiries on foot at Scotland Yard. Luckily, news was received from Lord Listerdale himself from East Africa. He invested his cousin, Colonel Carfax, with power of attorney. It is the latter who conducts all Lord Listerdale's affairs. Yes, rather eccentric, I fear. He has always been a great traveller in the wilds - it is quite on the cards that he may not return for years to England, though he is getting on in years." "Surely lie is not so very old," said Mrs St Vincent, with a sudden memory of a
bluff, bearded face, rather аlike an Elizabethan sailor, which she had once noticed in an illustrated magazine.
"Middle-aged," said the white-haired gentleman. "Fifty-three, according to Debrett." This conversation Mrs St Vincent had retailed to Rupert with the intention of rebuking that young gentleman. Rupert, however, was undismayed. "It looks fishier than ever to me," he had declared. "Who's this Colonel аCarfax? Probably comes into the title if anything happens to Listerdale. The letter from East Africa was probably forged. In three years, or whatever it is, this Carfax will presume death, and take the title. Meantime, he's got all the handling of the estate. Very fishy, I call it." He had condescended graciously to approve the house. In his leisure moments he was inclined to tap the panelling and make elaborate measurements for the possible location of a secret room, but little by little his interest in the mystery
of Lord Listerdale abated. He was also less enthusiastic on the subject of the tobacconist's daughter. Atmosphere tells. To Barbara the house had brought great satisfaction. Jim Masterton had come
home, and was a frequent visitor. He and Mrs St Vincent got on splendidly together, and he said something to Barbara one day that startled her. "This house is a wonderful setting for your mother, you know." "For Mother?" "Yes. It was made for her! She belongs to it in an extraordinary way. You know
there's something queer about this house altogether, something uncanny and haunting."
"Don't get like Rupert," Barbara implored him. "He is convinced that the wicked Colonel Carfax murdered Lord Listerdale and hid his body under the floor." Masterton laughed. "I admire Rupert's detective zeal. No, I didn't mean anything of that kind. But there's something in the air, some аatmosphere that one doesn't quite understand." They had been three months in Cheviot Place when Barbara came to her mother with a radiant face. "Jim and I - we're engaged. Yes - last night. Oh, Mother! It all seems like a fairy tale come true." "Oh, my dear! I'm so glad - so glad."
Mother and daughter clasped each other close. "You know Jim's almost as much in love with you as he is with me," said Barbara at last, with a mischievous laugh. Mrs St Vincent blushed very prettily.
"He is," persisted the girl. "You thought this house would make such a beautiful setting for me, and all the time it's really a setting for you. Rupert and I don't quite belong here. You do." "Don't talk nonsense, darling." "It's not nonsense. There's a flavour of enchanted castle about it, with you as an
enchanted princess and Quentin as - as - oh! - a benevolent magician." Mrs St Vincent laughed and admitted the last item. Rupert received the news of his sister's engagement very calmly. "I thought there was something of the kind in the wind," he observed sapiently. He and his mother were dining alone together. Barbara was out with Jim. Quentin placed the port in front of him and withdrew noiselessly.
"That's a rum old bird," said Rupert, nodding towards the closed door. "There's something odd about him, you know, something -" "Not fishy?" interrupted Mrs St Vincent, with a faint smile. "Why, Mother, how did you know what I was going to say?" demanded Rupert in all seriousness. "It's rather a word of yours, darling. You think everything is fishy. I suppose you have an idea that it was Quentin who did away with Lord Listerdale and put him under the floor?" "Behind the panelling," corrected Rupert. "You always get things a little bit wrong, Mother. No, I've inquired about that. Quentin was down at King's Cheviot at the time." Mrs St Vincent smiled at him, as she rose from the table and went up to the drawing room. In some ways Rupert was a long time growing up. Yet a sudden wonder swept over her for the first time as to Lord Listerdale's reasons for leaving England so abruptly. There must be something behind it, to account for that sudden decision. She was still thinking the matter over when
Quentin came in with the coffee tray, and she spoke out impulsively. "You have been with Lord Listerdale a long time, haven't you, Quentin?" "Yes, madam; since I was a lad of twenty-one. That was in the late Lord's time. I started as third footman." "You must know Lord Listerdale very well. What kind of a man is he?" The butler turned the tray a little, so that she could help herself to sugar more
conveniently, as he replied in even unemotional tones: "Lord Listerdale was a very selfish gentleman, madam; with no consideration for others." He removed the tray and bore it from the room. Mrs St Vincent sat with her coffee cup in her hand and a puzzled frown on her face. Something struck her
as odd in the speech apart from the views it expressed. In another minute it flashed home to her.
Quentin had used the word "was," not "is." But then, he must think Ц must believe - She pulled herself up. She was as bad as Rupert! But a very definite uneasiness assailed her. Afterwards she dated her first suspicions from that moment. With Barbara's happiness and future assured, she had time to think her own thoughts, and against her will, they began to centre round the mystery of Lord Listerdale. What was the real story? Whatever it was, Quentin knew something about it. Those had been odd words of his - "a very selfish gentleman Ц no consideration for others." What lay behind them? He had spoken as a judge might speak, detachedly and impartially. Was Quentin involved in Lord Listerdale's аdisappearance? Had he taken an active part in any tragedy there might have been? After all, ridiculous as Rupert's assumption had seemed at the time, that single letter with its power of attorney coming from East Africa was - well, open to suspicion. But try as she would, she could not believe any real evil of Quentin. Quentin, she told herself over and over again, was good - she used the word as simply as
a child might have done. Quentin was good. But he knew something! She never spoke with him again of his master. The subject was apparently forgotten. Rupert and Barbara had other things to think of, and there were no further discussions. It was towards the end of August that her vague surmises crystallized into realities. Rupert had gone for a fortnight's holiday with a friend who had a motorcycle and trailer. It was some ten days after his departure that Mrs St Vincent was startled to see him rush into the room where she sat writing. "Rupert!" she exclaimed. "I know, Mother. You didn't expect to see me for another three days. But something's happened. Anderson - my pal, you know - didn't much care where
he went, so I suggested having a look in at King's Cheviot -" "King's Cheviot? But why -?"
"You know perfectly well, Mother, that I've always scented something fishy about things here. Well, I had a look at the old place - it's let, you know - nothing there. Not that I actually expected to find anything - I was just nosing round, so to speak." Yes, she thought, Rupert was very like a dog at this moment. Hunting in circles for something vague and undefined, led by instinct, busy and happy.
"It was when we were passing through a village about eight or nine miles away that it happened - that I saw him, I mean." "Saw whom?" "Quentin - just going into a little cottage. Something fishy here, I said to myself, and we stopped the bus, and I went back. I rapped on the door and he himself opened it."
"But I don't understand. Quentin hasn't been away -" "I'm coming to that, Mother. If you'd only listen and not interrupt. It was Quentin, and it wasn't Quentin, if you know what I mean." Mrs St Vincent clearly did not know, so he elucidated matters further. "It was Quentin all right, but it wasn't our Quentin. It was the real man." "Rupert!" "You listen. It was taken in myself at first, and said: 'It is Quentin, isn't it?' And the old Johnny said: 'Quite right, sir, that is my name. What can I do for you?'
And then I saw that it wasn't our man, though it was precious like him, voice and all. I asked a few questions, and it all came out. The old chap hadn't an idea of anything fishy being on. He'd been butler to Lord Listerdale, all right, and was retired on a pension and given this cottage just about the time that Lord Listerdale was supposed to have gone off to Africa. You see where that leads us. This man's an impostor - he's playing the part of Quentin for purposes of his own. My theory is that he came up to town that evening, pretending to be the butler from King's Cheviot, got an interview with Lord Listerdale, killed him and hid his body behind the panelling. It's an old house, there's sure to be a secret recess -" "Oh, don't let's go into all that again," interrupted Mrs St Vincent wildly. "I can't bear it. Why should he - that's what I want to know - why? If he did such a thing - which I don't believe for one аminute, mind you - what was the reason for it all?" "You're right," said Rupert. "Motive - that's important. Now I've made inquiries. Lord Listerdale had a lot of house property. In the last two days I've discovered that practically every one of these houses of his have been let in the last eighteen months to people like ourselves for a merely nominal rent Ц and with the proviso that the servants аshould remain. And in every case Quentin himself - the man calling himself Quentin, I mean - has been there for part of the time as butler. That looks as though there were something - jewels, or papers - secreted in one of Lord Listerdale's houses, and the gang doesn't know which. I'm assuming a gang, but of course this fellow Quentin may be in it single-handed. There's a -" Mrs St Vincent interrupted him with a certain amount of determination: "Rupert! Do stop talking for one minute. You're making my head spin. Anyway, what you are saying is nonsense - about gangs and hidden papers." "There's another theory," admitted Rupert. "This Quentin may be someone that Lord Listerdale has injured. The real аbutler told me a long story about a man called Samuel Lowe - an undergardener he was, and about the same height and build as Quentin himself. He'd got a grudge against Listerdale -" Mrs St Vincent started. "With no consideration for others." The words came back to her mind in their passionless, measured accents. Inadequate words, but what might they not stand for? In her absorption she hardly listened to Rupert. He made a rapid explanation of something that she did not take in, and went аhurriedly from the room. Then she woke up. Where had Rupert gone? What was he going to do? She had not caught his last words. Perhaps he was going for the police. In that case - She rose abruptly and rang the bell. With his usual promptness, Quentin answered it. "You rang, madam?" "Yes. Come in, please, and shut the door." The butler obeyed, and Mrs St Vincent was silent a moment while she studied him with earnest eyes.а She thought: "He's been kind to me - nobody knows how kind. The children wouldn't understand. This wild story of Rupert's may be all nonsense - On the other hand, there may - yes, there may - be something in it. Why should one judge? One can't know. The rights and wrongs of it, I mean... And I'd stake my life - yes, I would! - on his being a good man." Flushed and tremulous, she spoke. "Quentin, Mr Rupert has just got back. He has been down to King's Cheviot -
to a village near there -" She stopped, noticing the quick start he was not able to conceal. "He has - seen someone," she went on in measured accents. She thought to herself: "There - he's warned. At any rate, he's warned." After that first quick start, Quentin had resumed his unruffled demeanour, but his eyes were fixed on her face, watchful and keen, with something in them she had not seen there before. They were, for the first time, the eyes of a man and not of a servant. He hesitated for a minute, then said in a voice which also had subtly changed: "Why do you tell me this, Mrs St Vincent?" Before she could answer, the door flew open and Rupert strode into the room. With him was a dignified middle-aged man with little side whiskers and the air of a benevolent archbishop. Quentin! "Here he is," said Rupert. "The real Quentin. I had him outside in the taxi. Now, Quentin, look at this man and tell me - is he Samuel Lowe?" It was for Rupert a triumphant moment. But it was short-lived; almost at once he scented something wrong. For while the real Quentin was looking abashed and highly uncomfortable, аthe second Quentin was smiling a broad smile of undisguised enjoyment. He slapped his embarrassed duplicate on the back. "It's all right, Quentin. Got to let the cat out of the bag sometime, I suppose.
You can tell 'em who I am." The dignified stranger drew himself up. "This, sir," he announced in a reproachful tone, "is my master, Lord Listerdale, sir." The next minute beheld many things. First, the complete collapse of the cocksure Rupert. Before he knew what was happening, his mouth still open
from the shock of the discovery, he found himself being gently manoeuvred towards the door, a friendly voice that was, and yet was not, familiar in his ear. "It's quite all right, my boy. No bones broken. But I want a word with your mother. Very good work of yours, to ferret me out like this."
He was outside on the landing gazing at the shut door. The real Quentin was standing by his side, a gentle stream of explanation flowing from his lips. Inside the room Lord Listerdale was fronting Mrs St Vincent. "Let me explain - if I can! I've been a selfish devil all my life - the fact came home to me one day. I thought I'd try a little altruism for a change, and being a fantastic kind of fool, I started my career fantastically. I'd sent subscriptions to odd things, but I felt the need of doing something - well, something personal. I've been sorry always for the class that can't beg, that must suffer in silence -
poor gentlefolk. I have a lot of house property. I conceived the idea of leasing these houses to people who - well, needed and appreciated them. Young couples with their way to make, widows with sons and daughters starting in the world. Quentin has been more than butler to me; he's a friend. With his consent and assistance I borrowed his personality. I've always had a talent for acting. The idea came to me on my way to the club one night, and I went straight off to talk it over with Quentin. When I found they were making a fuss about my disappearance, I arranged that a letter should come from me in East Africa. In it, I gave full instructions to my cousin, Maurice Carfax. And - well, that's the long and short of it." He broke off rather lamely, with an appealing glance at Mrs St Vincent. She stood very straight, and her eyes met his steadily. "It was a kind plan," she said. "A very unusual one, and one that does you
credit. I am - most grateful. But - of course, you understand that we cannot stay?" "I expected that," he said. "Your pride won't let you accept what you'd probably style 'charity.'" "Isn't that what it is?" she asked steadily. "No," he answered. "Because I ask something in exchange." "Something?" "Everything." His voice rang out, the voice of one accustomed to dominate. "When I was twenty-three," he went on, "I married the girl I loved. She died a year later. Since then I have been very lonely. I have wished very much I could find a certain lady - the lady of my dreams..." "Am I that?" she asked, very low. "I am so old - so faded." He laughed. "Old? You are younger than either of your children. Now I am old, if you like." But her laugh rang out in turn, a soft ripple of amusement. "You? You arc a boy still. A boy who loves to dress up!" She held out her hands and he caught them in his.
"Good-bye, darling." "Good-bye, sweetheart." Alix Martin stood leaning over the small rustic gate, watching the retreating figure of her husband, as he walked down the road in the direction of the
village. Presently he turned a bend and was lost to sight, but Alix still stayed in the same position, absentmindedly smoothing a lock of the rich brown hair which had blown across her face, her eyes far-away and dreamy. Alix Martin was not beautiful, nor even, strictly speaking, pretty. But her face,
the face of a woman no longer in her first youth, was irradiated and softened until her former colleagues of the old office days would hardly have recognized her. Miss Alix King had been a trim business-like young woman, efficient, slightly brusque in manner, obviously capable and matter-of-fact. She had made the least, not the most, of her beautiful brown hair. Her mouth, not ungenerous in its lines, had always been severely compressed. Her clothes had been neat and suitable, without a hint of coquetry.
Alix had graduated in a hard school. For fifteen years, from the age of eighteen until she was thirty-three, she had kept herself (and for seven years of the time, an invalid mother) by her work as a shorthand-typist. It was the struggle for existence which had hardened the soft lines of her girlish face.
True, there had been romance - of a kind. Dick Windyford, a fellow clerk. Very much of a woman at heart, Alix had always known without seeming to know that he cared. Outwardly they had been friends, nothing more. Out of his slender salary, Dick had been hard put to it to provide for the schooling of a
younger brother. For the moment, he could not think of marriage. Nevertheless, when Alix envisaged the future, it was with the half acknowledged certainty that she would one day be Dick's wife. They cared for one another, so she would have put it, but they were both sensible people. Plenty of time, no
need to do anything rash. So the years had gone on. And then suddenly deliverance from daily toil had come to the girl in the most unexpected manner. A distant cousin had died leaving her money to Alix. A few thousand pounds, enough to bring in a couple of hundred a year. To Alix, it was freedom, life, independence. Now she and Dick need wait no longer. But Dick reacted unexpectedly. He had never directly spoken of his love to Alix, now he seemed less inclined to do so than ever. He avoided her, became morose and gloomy. Alix was quick to realize the truth. She had become a woman of means. Delicacy and pride stood in the way of Dick's asking her to be his wife. She liked him none the worse for it and was indeed deliberating as to whether she herself might not take the first step when for the second time the unexpected descended upon her. She met Gerald Martin at a friend's house. He fell violently in love with her andа within a week they were engaged. Alix, who had always considered herself "not the falling-in-love kind," was swept clean off her feet. Unwittingly she had found the way to arouse her former lover. Dick Windyford had come to her stammering with rage and anger. "The man's a perfect stranger to you. You know nothing about him." "I know that I love him." "How can you know - in a week?" "It doesn't take everyone eleven years to find out that they're in love with a girl," cried Alix angrily. His face went white. "I've cared for you ever since I met you. I thought that you cared also."
Alix was truthful. "I thought so, too," she admitted. "But that was because I didn't know what
love was." Then Dick had burst out again. Prayers, entreaties, even threats. Threats against the man who had supplanted him. It was amazing to Alix to see the volcano that existed beneath the reserved exterior of the man she thought she knew so well. Also, it frightened her a little... Dick, of course, couldn't possibly mean the things he was saying, the threats of vengeance against Gerald Martin. He was
angry, that was all...Her thoughts had gone back to that interview now, on this sunny morning, as
she leaned on the gate of the cottage. She had been married a month, and she was idyllically happy. Yet, in the momentary absence of the husband who was everything to her, a tinge of anxiety invaded her perfect happiness, and the cause of that anxiety was Dick Windyford. Three times since her marriage she had dreamed the same dream. The environment differed, but the main facts were always the same. She saw her husband lying dead and Dick Windyford standing over him, and she knew clearly and distinctly that his was the hand which had dealt the fatal blow. But horrible though that was, there was something more horrible still Ц horrible that was, on awakening, for in the dream it seemed perfectly natural and inevitable. She, Alix Martin, was glad that her husband was dead - she stretched out grateful hands to the murderer, sometimes she thanked him. The dream always ended the same way, with herself clasped in Dick Windyford's arms. She had said nothing of this dream to her husband, but secretly it had perturbed her more than she liked to admit. Was it a warning - a warning against Dick Windyford? Had he some secret power which he was trying to establish over her at a distance? She did not know much about hypnotism, but surely she had always heard that persons could not be hypnotized against their will. Alix was roused from her thoughts by the sharp ringing of the telephone bell from within the house. She entered the cottage, and picked up the receiver. Suddenly she swayed, and put out a hand to keep herself from falling. "Who did you say was speaking?" "Why, Alix, what's the matter with your voice? I wouldn't have known it. It's Dick." "Oh!" said Alix - "Oh! Where are you?" "At the Travellers Arms - that's the right name, isn't it? Or don't you even know of the existence of your village pub? I'm on my holiday - doing a bit of fishing here. Any objection to my looking you two good people up this evening after dinner?" "No," said Alix sharply. "You mustn't come." There was a pause, and Dick's voice, with a subtle alteration in it, spoke again. "I beg your pardon," he said formally. "Of course I won't bother you -" Alix broke in hastily. Of course he must think her behaviour too extraordinary.
It was extraordinary. Her nerves must be all to pieces. It wasn't Dick's fault that she had these dreams.
"I only meant that we were - engaged tonight," she explained, trying to make her voice sound as natural as possible. "Won't you - won't you come to dinner tomorrow night?" But Dick evidently noticed the lack of cordiality in her tone. "Thanks very much," he said, in the same formal voice. "But I may be moving on any time. Depends upon whether a pal of mine turns up or not. Good-bye, Alix." He paused, and then added hastily, in a different tone, "Best of luck to you, my dear." Alix hung up the receiver with a feeling of relief. "He mustn't come here," she repeated to herself. "He mustn't come here. Oh! what a fool I am! To imagine myself into a state like this. All the same, I'm glad he's not coming." She caught up a rustic rush hat from a table, and passed out into the garden again, pausing to look up at the name carved over the porch, Philomel Cottage. "Isn't it a very fanciful name?" she had said to Gerald once before they were married. He had laughed. "You little Cockney," he had said, affectionately. "I don't believe you have ever heard a nightingale. I'm glad you haven't Nightingales should sing only for lovers. We'll hear them together on a summer's evening outside our own home."
And at the remembrance of how they had indeed heard them, Alix, standing in the doorway of her home, blushed happily. It was Gerald who had found Philomel Cottage. He had come to Alix bursting
with excitement. He had found the very spot for them - unique - a gem Ц the chance of a lifetime. And when Alix had seen it, she too was captivated. It was true that the situation was rather lonely - they were two miles from the nearest village - but the cottage itself was so exquisite with its Old World аappearance, and its solid comfort of bathrooms, hot-water system, electric light and telephone, that she fell a victim to its charm immediately. And then a hitch occurred. The owner, a rich man who had made it his whim, declined to rent it. He would only sell. Gerald Martin, though possessed of a good income, was unable to touch his capital. He could raise at most a thousand pounds. The owner was asking three.
But Alix, who had set her heart on the place, came to the rescue. Her own capital was easily realized, being in bearer bonds. She would contribute half of it to the purchase of the home. So Philomel аCottage became their very own, and never for a minute had Alix regretted the choice. It was true that servants did not appreciate the rural solitude - indeed at the moment they had none at all - but Alix, who had been starved of domestic life, thoroughly enjoyed cooking dainty little meals and looking after the house. The garden which was magnificently stocked with flowers was attended to by an old man from the village who came twice a week, and Gerald Martin, who was keen on gardening, spent most of his time there. As she rounded the corner of the house, Alix was surprised to see the old gardener in question busy over the flower beds. She was surprised because his days for work were Mondays and Fridays, and today was Wednesday. "Why, George, what are you doing here?" she asked, as she came towards him. The old man straightened up with a chuckle, touching the brim of an aged cap. "I thought as how you'd be surprised, ma'am. But 'tis this way. There be a fête over to Squire's on Friday, and I sez to myself, I sez, neith Mr Martin nor yet his good lady won't take it amiss if I comes for once on a Wednesday instead of a Friday." "That's quite all right," said Alix. "I hope you'll enjoy yourself at the fête." "I reckon to," said George simply. "It's a fine thing to be able to eat your fill and know all the time as it's not you as is paying for it. Squire allus has a proper sitdown tea for 'is tenants. Then I thought too, ma'am, as I might as well see you before you goes away so as to learn your wishes for the borders. You'll have no idea when you'll be back, ma'am, I suppose?" "But I'm not going away."
George stared at her. "Bain't you going to Lunnon tomorrow?" "No. What put such an idea into your head?" George jerked his head over his shoulder. "Met Maister down to village yesterday. He told me you was both going away to Lunnon tomorrow, and it was uncertain when you'd be back again." "Nonsense," said Alix, laughing. "You must have misunderstood him." All the same, she wondered exactly what it could have been that Gerald had said to lead the old man into such a curious mistake. Going to London? She never wanted to go to London again. "I hate London," she said suddenly and harshly. "Ah!" said George placidly. "I must have been mistook somehow, and yet he said it plain enough it seemed to me. I'm glad you're stopping on here - I don't hold with all this gallivanting about, and I don't think nothing of Lunnon. I've never needed to go there. Too many moty cars - that's the trouble nowadays. Once people have got a moty car, blessed if they can stay still anywheres. Mr Ames, wot used to have this house - nice peaceful sort of gentleman he was until he bought one of them things. Hadn't 'ad it a month before he put up this cottage for sale. A tidy lot he'd spent on it, too, with taps in all the bedrooms, and the electric light and all. 'You'll never see your money back,' I sez to him.
'It's not everyone as'll have your fad for washing themselves in every room in the house, in a manner of speaking.' But 'George,' he sez to me, 'I'll get every penny of two thousand pounds for this house.' And sure enough, he did." "He got three thousand," said Alix, smiling. "Two thousand," repeated George. "The sum he was asking was talked of at the time. And a very high figure it was thought to be."
"It really was three thousand," said Alix. "Women never understand figures," said George, unconvinced. "You'll not tell me that Mr Ames had the face to stand up to you, and say three thousand brazen like in a loud voice." "He didn't say it to me," said Alix. "He said it to my husband." George stooped again to his flower bed. "The price was two thousand," he said obstinately. Alix did not trouble to argue with him. Moving to one of the further beds, she began to pick an armful of flowers. The sunshine, the scent of the flowers, the faint hum of hurrying bees, all conspired to make the day a perfect thing. As she moved with her fragrant posy towards the house, Alix noticed a small dark green object, peeping from between some leaves in one of the beds. She stooped and picked it up, recognizing it for her husband's pocket diary. It must have fallen from his pocket when he was weeding. She opened it, scanning the entries with some amusement. Almost from the beginning of their married life, she had realized that the impulsive and emotional Gerald had the uncharacteristic virtues of neatness and method. He was extremely fussy about meals being punctual, and always planned his day ahead with the accuracy of a time table. This morning, for instance, he had announced that he should start for the village after breakfast - at 10:15. And at 10:15 to the minute he had left the house. Looking through the diary, she was amused to notice the entry on the date of May 14th. "Marry Alix St Peter's 2:30." "The big silly," murmured Alix to herself, turning the pages. Suddenly she stopped. "Thursday, June 18th - why that's today." In the space for that day was written in Gerald's neat precise hand: "9 p.m." Nothing else. What had Gerald planned to do at 9 p.m. Alix wondered. She smiled to herself as she realized that had this been a story, like those she had so often read, the diary would doubtless have furnished her with some sensational revelation. It would have had in it for certain the name of another woman. She fluttered the back pages idly. There were dates, appointments, cryptic references to business deals, but only one woman's name - her own. Yet as she slipped the book into her pocket and went on with her flowers to the house, she was aware of a vague uneasiness. Those words of Dick Windyford's recurred to her, almost as though he had been at her elbow repeating them: "The man's a perfect stranger to you. You know nothing about him." It was true. What did she know about him. After all, Gerald was forty. In forty years there must have been women in his life... Alix shook herself impatiently. She must not give way to these thoughts. She had a far more instant preoccupation to deal with. Should she, or should she
not, tell her husband that Dick Windyford had rung her up? There was the possibility to be considered that Gerald might have already run across him in the village. But in that case he would be sure to mention it to her immediately upon his return and matters would be taken out of her hands. Otherwise - what? Alix was aware of a distinct desire to say nothing about it. Gerald had always shown himself kindly disposed towards the other. "Poor devil," he had said once, "I believe he's just as keen on you as I am. Hard luck on him to be shelved." He had had no doubts of Alix's own feelings. If she told him, he was sure to suggest asking Dick Windyford to Philomel Cottage. Then she would have to explain that Dick had proposed it himself, and that she had made an excuse to prevent his coming. And when he asked her why she had done so, what could she say? Tell him her dream? But he would only laugh - or worse, see that she attached an importance to it which he did not. Then he would think - oh! he might think anything! In the end, rather shamefacedly, Alix decided to say nothing. It was the first secret she had ever kept from her husband, and the consciousness of it made her feel ill at ease. When she heard Gerald returning from the village shortly before lunch, she hurried into the kitchen and pretended to be busy with the cooking so as to hide her confusion. It was evident at once that Gerald had seen nothing of Dick Windyford. Alix felt at once relieved and embarrassed. She was definitely committed now to a
policy of concealment. For the rest of the day she was nervous and absentminded, starting at every sound, but her husband seemed to notice nothing. He himself seemed to have his thoughts far away, and once or twice she had to speak a second time before he answered some trivial remark of hers.
It was not until after their simple evening meal, when they were sitting in the oak beamed living room with the windows thrown open to let in the sweet night air scented with the perfume of the mauve and white stocks that grew outside, that Alix remembered the pocket diary, and seized upon it gladly to
distract her thoughts from their doubt and perplexity. "Here's something you've been watering the flowers with," she said, and threw it into his lap. "Dropped it in the border, did I?"
"Yes, I know all your secrets now." "Not guilty," said Gerald, shaking his head. "What about your assignation at nine o'clock tonight?" "Oh! that -" he seemed taken back for a moment, then he smiled as though something afforded him particular amusement. "It's an assignation with a particularly nice girl, Alix. She's got brown hair and blue eyes and she's particularly like you."а "I don't understand," said Alix, with mock severity. "You're evading the point." "No, I'm not. As a matter of fact, that's a reminder that I'm going to develop some negatives tonight, and I want you to help me." Gerald Martin was an enthusiastic photographer. He had a somewhat old-fashioned camera, but with an excellent lens, and he
developed his own plates in a small cellar which he had fitted up as a dark room. He was never tired of posing Alix in different positions. "And it must be done at nine o'clock precisely," said Alix teasingly.
Gerald looked a little vexed. "My dear girl," he said, with a shade of testiness in his manner, "one should
always plan a thing for a definite time. Then one gets through one's work properly."
Alix sat for a minute or two in silence watching her husband as he lay in his chair smoking, his dark head flung back and the clear-cut lines of his clean- shaven face showing up against the somber аbackground. And suddenly, from some unknown source, a wave of panic surged over her, so that she cried out before she could stop herself. "Oh! Gerald, I wish I knew more about you." Her husband turned an astonished face upon her. "But, my dear Alix, you do know all about me. I've told you of my boyhood in Northumberland, of my life in South Africa, and these last ten years in Canada which have brought me success." "Oh, business!" Gerald laughed suddenly. "I know what you mean - love affairs. You women are all the same. Nothing interests you but the personal element." Alix felt her throat go dry, as she muttered indistinctly: "Well, but there must have been - love affairs. I mean - If I only knew -" There was silence again for a minute or two. Gerald Martin was frowning, a look of indecision on his face. When he spoke, it was gravely, without a trace of his former bantering manner. "Do you think it wise, Alix - this Bluebeard's chamber business? There have been women in my life, yes. I don't deny it. You wouldn't believe me if I did deny it. But I can swear to you truthfully that not one of them meant anything to me." There was a ring of sincerity in his voice which comforted the listening wife. "Satisfied, Alix?" he asked, with a smile. Then he looked at her with a shade of curiosity. "What has turned your mind onto these unpleasant subjects tonight of all nights? You never mentioned them before." Alix got up and began to walk about restlessly. "Oh! I don't know," she said. "I've been nervy all day." "That's odd," said Gerald, in a low voice, as though speaking to himself. "That's very odd." "Why is it odd?"
"Oh, my dear girl, don't flash out at me so. I only said it was odd because as a rule you're so sweet and serene." Alix forced a smile. "Everything's conspired to annoy me today," she confessed. "Even old George had got some ridiculous idea into his head that we were going away to London. He said you had told him so." "Where did you see him?" asked Gerald sharply. "He came to work today instead of Friday."а "The old fool," said Gerald angrily. Alix stared in surprise. Her husband's face was convulsed with rage. She had never seen him so angry. Seeing her astonishment, Gerald made an effort to regain control of himself. "Well, he is a stupid old fool," he protested. "What can you have said to make him think that?" "I? I never said anything. At least - Oh, yes, I remember. I made some weak joke about being 'off to London in the morning' and I suppose he took it seriously. Or else he didn't hear properly. You undeceived him, of course?" He waited anxiously for her reply. "Of course, but he's the sort of old man who if once he gets an idea in his head - well, it isn't so easy to get it out again." Then she told him of the gardener's insistence on the sum asked for the cottage. Gerald was silent for a minute or two, аthen he said slowly: "Ames was willing to take two thousand in cash and the remaining thousand on
mortgage. That's the origin of that mistake, I fancy." "Very likely," agreed Alix. Then she looked up at the clock and pointed to it with a mischievous finger. "We ought to be getting down to it, Gerald. Five minutes behind schedule." A very peculiar smile came over Gerald Martin's face. "I've changed my mind," he said quietly. "I shall not do any photography tonight." A woman's mind is a curious thing. When she went to bed that Thursday night, Alix's mind was contented and at rest. Her momentarily assailed happiness reasserted itself, triumphant as of yore. But by the evening of the following day, she realized that some subtle forces were at work undermining it. Dick Windyford had not rung up again,
nevertheless she felt what she supposed to be his influence at work. Again and again those words of his recurred to her. "The man's a perfect stranger. You know nothing about him." And with them came the memory of her husband's face, photographed clearly on her brain as he said: "Do you think it wise, Alix,
this Bluebeard's chamber аbusiness?" Why had he said that? What had he meant by those words?
There had been warning in them - a hint of menace. It was as though he had said in effect - "You had better not pry into my life, Alix. You may get a nasty shock if you do." True, a few minutes later, he had sworn to her that there had been no woman in his life that mattered - but Alix tried in vain to recapture her sense of his sincerity. Was he not bound to swear that? By Friday morning, Alix had convinced herself that there had been a woman in Gerald's life - a Bluebeard's chamber that he had sedulously sought to conceal from her. Her jealousy, slow to awaken, was now rampant. Was it a woman he had been going to meet that night, at 9 p.m.? Was his story of photographs to develop a lie invented upon the spur of the moment? With a queer sense of shock Alix realized that ever since she had found that pocket diary she had been in torment. And there had been nothing in it? That was the irony of the whole thing. Three days ago she would have sworn that she knew her husband through and through. Now it seemed to her that he was a stranger of whom she knew nothing. She remembered his unreasonable anger against old George, so at variance with his usual good-tempered manner. A small thing, perhaps, but it showed her that she did not really know the man who was her husband. There were several little things required on Friday from the village to carry them over the weekend. In the afternoon Alix suggested that she should go for them whilst Gerald remained in the garden, but somewhat to her surprise he opposed this plan vehemently, and insisted on going himself whilst she remained at home. Alix was forced to give way to him, but his insistence surprised and alarmed her. Why was he so anxious to prevent her going to the village? Suddenly an explanation suggested itself to her which made the whole thing clear. Was it not possible that, whilst saying nothing to her, Gerald had indeed come across Dick Windyford? Her own jealousy, entirely dormant at the time of their marriage, had only developed afterwards. Might it not be the same with Gerald? Might he not be anxious to prevent her seeing Dick Windyford again? This explanation was so consistent with the facts, and so comforting to Alix's perturbed mind, that she embraced it eagerly. Yet when tea time had come and past, she was restless and ill at ease. She was struggling with a temptation that had assailed her ever since Gerald's departure. Finally, pacifying her conscience with the assurance that the room did need a thorough tidying, she went upstairs to her husband's dressing room. She took a duster with her to keep up the pretense of housewifery. "If I were only sure," she repeated to herself. "If I could only be sure."
In vain she told herself that anything compromising would have been destroyed ages ago. Against that she argued that men do sometimes keep the most damning piece of evidence through an exaggerated sentimentality. In the end Alix succumbed. Her cheeks - burning with the shame of her action, she hunted breathlessly through packets of letters and documents, turned out the drawers, even went through the pockets of her husband's clothes. Only two drawers eluded her - the lower drawer of the chest of drawers and the small right-hand drawer of the writing desk were both locked. But Alix was by now lost to all shame. In one of those drawers she was convinced that she would find evidence of this imaginary woman of the past who obsessed her. She remembered that Gerald had left his keys lying carelessly on the sideboard downstairs. She fetched them and tried them one by one. The third key fitted the writing table drawer. Alix pulled it open eagerly. There was a check book and a wallet well stuffed with notes, and at the back of the drawer a packet of letters tied up with a piece of tape.
Her breath coming unevenly, Alix untied the tape. Then a deep burning blush overspread her face, and she dropped the letters back into the drawer, closing and relocking it. For the letters were her own, written to Gerald Martin before she married him. She turned now to the chest of drawers, more with a wish to feel that she had left nothing undone, than from any expectation of finding what she sought. She was ashamed and almost convinced of the madness of her obsession. To her annoyance none of the keys on Gerald's bunch fitted the drawer in question. Not to be defeated, Alix went into the other rooms and brought back a selection of keys with her. To her satisfaction, the key of the spare room
wardrobe also fitted the chest of drawers. She unlocked the drawer and pulled it open. But there was nothing in it but a roll of newspaper clippings already dirty and discolored with age. Alix breathed a sigh of relief. Nevertheless she glanced at the clippings, curious to know what subject had interested Gerald so much that he had taken the trouble to keep the dusty roll. They were nearly all American papers, dated some seven years ago, and dealing with the trail of the notorious swindler and bigamist, Charles LeMaitre. LeMaitre had been suspected of doing away with his women victims. A skeleton had been found beneath the floor of one of the houses he had rented, and most of the women he had "married" had never been heard of again. He had defended himself from the charge with consummate skill, aided by some of the best legal talent in the United States. The Scottish verdict of "Non proven" might perhaps have stated the case best. In its absence, he was found Not Guilty on the capital charge, though sentenced to a long term of imprisonment on the other charges proferred against him. Alix remembered the excitement caused by the case at the time, and also the sensation aroused by the escape of LeMaitre some three years later. He had never been recaptured. The personality of the man and his extraordinary power over women had been discussed at great length in the English papers at the time, together with an account of his excitability in court, his passionate protestations, and his occasional sudden physical collapses, due to the fact that he had a weak heart, though the ignorant accredited it to his dramatic powers. There was a picture of him in one of the clippings Alix held, and she studied it with some interest - a long-bearded, scholarly looking gentleman. It reminded her of someone, but for the moment she could not tell who that someone was. She had never known that Gerald took an interest in crime and famous trials, though she knew that it was a hobby with many men. Who was it the face reminded her of? Suddenly, with a shock, she realized that it was Gerald himself. The eyes and brows bore a strong resemblance to him. Perhaps he had kept the cutting for that reason. Her eyes went on to the
paragraph beside the picture. Certain dates, it seemed, had been entered in the accused's pocketbook, and it was contended that these were dates when he had done away with his victims. Then a woman gave evidence and identified the prisoner positively by the fact that he had a mole on his left wrist, just below the palm of the left hand Alix dropped the papers from a nerveless hand, and swayed as she stood. On his left wrist, just below the palm, Gerald had a small scar... The room whirled round her... Afterwards it struck her as strange that she should have leaped at once to such absolute certainty. Gerald Martin was Charles LeMaitre! She knew it and accepted it in a flash. Disjointed fragments
whirled through her brain, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting into place. The money paid for the house - her money - her money only. The Bearer bonds she had entrusted to his keeping. Even her dream appeared in its true significance. Deep down in her, her subconscious self had always feared Gerald Martin and wished to escape from him. And it was to Dick Windyford this self of hers had looked for help. That, too, was why she was able to accept the truth so easily, without doubt or hesitation. She was to have been another of LeMaitre's victims. Very soon, perhaps. A half cry escaped her as she remembered something. Thursday 9 p.m. The cellar, with the flagstones that were so easily raised. Once before, he had buried one of his victims in a cellar. It had been all planned for Thursday night. But to
write it down beforehand in that methodical manner - insanity! No, it was logical. Gerald always made a memorandum of his engagements - murder was, to him, a business proposition like any other. But what had saved her? What could possibly have saved her? Had he relented at the last minute? No - in a flash the answer came to her. Old George. She understood now her husband's uncontrollable anger. аDoubtless he had paved the way by telling everyone he met that they were going to London the next
day. Then George had come to work unexpectedly, had mentioned London to her, and she had contradicted the story. Too risky to do away with her that night, with old George repeating that conversation. But what an escape! If she had not happened to mention that trivial matter - Alix shuddered. But there was no time to be lost. She must get away at once - before he came back. For nothing on earth would she spend another night under the same roof with him. She hurriedly replaced the roll of clippings in the drawer, shut it to and locked it. And then she stayed motionless as though frozen to stone. She had heard the creak of the gate into the road. Her husband had returned. For a moment Alix stayed as though petrified, then she crept on tiptoe to the window, looking out from behind the shelter of the curtain. Yes, it was her husband. He was smiling to himself and humming a little tune. In his hand he held an object which almost made the terrified girl's heart stop beating. It was a brand new spade. Alix leaped to a knowledge born of instinct. It was to be tonight... But there was still a chance. Gerald, still humming his little tune, went round to the back of the house. "He's going to put it in the cellar - ready," thought Alix with a shiver. Without hesitating a moment, she ran down the stairs and out of the cottage. But just as she emerged from the door, her husband came round the other side
of the house. "Hullo," he said. "Where are you running off to in such a hurry?" Alix strove desperately to appear calm and as usual. Her chance was gone for the moment, but if she was careful not to arouse his suspicions, it would come again later. Even now, perhaps... "I was going to walk to the end of the lane and back," she said, in a voice that sounded weak and uncertain to her own ears. "Right," said Gerald, "I'll come with you." "No - please, Gerald. I'm - nervy, headachy - I'd rather go alone." He looked at her attentively. She fancied a momentary suspicion gleamed in his eye. "What's the matter with you, Alix? You're pale - trembling." "Nothing," she forced herself to be brusque - smiling. "I've got a headache, that's all. A walk will do me good." "Well, it's no good you're saying you don't want me," declared Gerald with his easy laugh. "I'm coming whether you want me or not." She dared not protest further. If he suspected that she knew - With an effort she managed to regain something of her normal manner. Yet she had an uneasy feeling that he looked at her sideways every now and then, as though not quite satisfied. She felt that his suspicions were not completely allayed. When they returned to the house, he insisted on her lying down, and brought some eau de cologne to bathe her temples. He was, as ever, the devoted husband, yet Alix felt herself as helpless as though bound hand and foot in a
trap. Not for a minute would he leave her alone. He went with her into the kitchen and helped her to bring in the simple cold dishes she had already prepared. Supper was a meal that choked her, yet she forced herself to eat, and even to appear gay and natural. She knew now that she was fighting for her life. She was alone with this man, miles from help, absolutely at his mercy. Her only chance was so to lull his suspicions that he would leave her alone for a few moments - long enough for her to get to the telephone in the hall and summon assistance. That was her only hope now. He would overtake her if she took to flight long before she could reach assistance. A momentary hope flashed over her as she remembered how he had abandoned his plan before. Suppose she told him that Dick Windyford was coming up to see them that evening? The words trembled on her lips - then she rejected them hastily. This man would not be balked a second time. There was a determination, an elation underneath his calm bearing that sickened her. She would only precipitate the crime. He would murder her there and then, and calmly ring up Dick Windyford with a tale of having been suddenly called away. Oh! if only Dick Windyford were coming to the house this evening. If Dick - A sudden idea flashed into her mind. She looked sharply sideways at her husband as though she feared that he might read her mind. With the forming of a plan, her courage was reinforced. She became so completely natural in manner that she marveled at herself. She felt that Gerald now was completely reassured. She made the coffee and took it out to the porch where they often sat on fine evenings. "By the way," said Gerald suddenly, "we'll do those photographs later." Alix felt a shiver run through her, but she replied nonchalantly: "Can't you manage alone? I'm rather tired tonight." "It won't take long." He smiled to himself. "And I can promise you you won't be tired afterwards." The words seemed to amuse him. Alix shuddered. Now or never was the time to carry out her plan. She rose to her feet. "I'm just going to telephone to the butcher," she announced nonchalantly. "Don't you bother to move." "To the butcher? At this time of night?"
"His shop's shut, of course, silly. But he's in his house all right. And tomorrow's Saturday, and I want him to bring me some veal cutlets early, before someone else grabs them from him. The old dear will do anything for me." She passed quickly into the house, closing the door behind her. She heard Gerald say, "Don't shut the door," and was quick with her light reply. "It keeps the moths out. I hate moths. Are you afraid I'm going to make love to the butcher, silly?" Once inside she snatched down the telephone receiver and gave the number of the Travelers Arms. She was put through at once. "Mr Windyford? Is he still there? May I speak to him?" Then her heart gave a sickening thump. The door was pushed open, and her husband came into the hall. "Do go away, Gerald," she said pettishly. "I hate anyone listening when I'm telephoning." He merely laughed and threw himself into a chair. "Sure it really is the butcher you're telephoning to?" he quizzed. Alix was in despair. Her plan had failed. In a minute Dick аWindyford would come to the phone. Should she risk all and cry out an appeal for help. Would he
grasp what she meant before Gerald wrenched her away from the phone. Or would he merely treat it as a practical joke. And then as she nervously depressed and released the little key in the receiver she was holding, which permits the voice to be heard or not heard at the other end, another plan flashed into her head. "It will be difficult," she thought. "It means keeping my head, and thinking of the right words, and not faltering for a moment, but I believe I could do it. I must do it." And at that minute she heard Dick Windyford's voice at the other end of the phone. Alix drew a deep breath. Then she depressed the key firmly and spoke. "Mrs Martin speaking - from Philomel Cottage. Please come (she released the key) tomorrow morning with six nice veal cutlets (she depressed the key again) It's very important (she released the key) Thank you so much, Mr Hexworthy, you don't mind my ringing you up so late, I hope, but those veal cutlets are really a matter of (she depressed the key again) life or death... (she released it)
Very well - tomorrow morning - (she depressed it) as soon as possible..." She replaced the receiver on the hook and turned to face her husband, breathing hard. "So that's how you talk to your butcher, is it?" said Gerald. "It's the feminine touch," said Alix lightly. She was simmering with excitement. He had suspected nothing. Surely Dick, even if he didn't understand, would come. She passed into the sitting room and switched on the electric light. Gerald followed her. "You seem very full of spirits now," he said, watching her curiously. "Yes," said Alix, "my headache's gone." She sat down in her usual seat and smiled at her husband, as he sank into his own chair opposite her. She was saved. It was only five and twenty past eight. Long before nine o'clock Dick would have arrived. "I didn't think much of that coffee you gave me," complained Gerald. "It tasted very bitter." "It's a new kind I was trying. We won't have it again if you don't like it, dear." Alix took up a piece of needlework and began to stitch. She felt complete confidence in her own ability to keep up the part of the devoted wife. Gerald read a few pages of his book. Then he glanced up at the clock and tossed the book away. "Half-past eight. Time to go down to the cellar and start work." The work slipped from Alix's fingers. "Oh! not yet. Let us wait until nine o'clock." "No, my girl, half-past eight. That's the time I fixed. You'll be able to get to bed all the earlier." "But I'd rather wait until nine." "Half-past eight," said Gerald obstinately. "You know when I fix a time, I always stick to it. Come along, Alix. I'm not going to wait a minute longer." Alix looked up at him, and in spite of herself she felt a wave of terror slide over her. The mask had been lifted; Gerald's hands were twitching; his eyes were shining with excitement; he was continually passing his tongue over his dry lips. He no longer cared to conceal his excitement. Alix thought: "It's true - he can't wait - he's like a madman." He strode over to her, and jerked her onto her feet with a hand on her shoulder. "Come on, my girl - or I'll carry you there."а His tone was gay, but there was an undisguised ferocity behind it that appalled her. With a supreme effort she jerked herself free and clung cowering against
the wall. She was powerless. She couldn't get away - she couldn't do anything - and he was coming towards her. "Now, Alix -" "No - no." She screamed, her hands held out impotently to ward him off.
"Gerald - stop - I've got something to аtell you, something to confess..." He did stop. "To confess?" he said curiously. "Yes, to confess." She went on desperately, seeking to hold his arrested attention. "Something I ought to have told you before." A look of contempt swept over his face. The spell was broken. "A former lover, I suppose," he sneered. "No," said Alix. "Something else. You'd call it, I expect - yes, you'd call it a crime." And at once she saw that she had struck the right note. Again his attention was arrested, held. Seeing that, her nerve came back to her. She felt mistress of the situation once more. "You had better sit down again," she said quietly. She herself crossed the room to her old chair and sat down. She even stooped and picked up her needlework. But behind her calmness she was thinking and inventing feverishly. For the story she invented must hold his interest until help arrived.
"I told you," she said, "that I had been a shorthand typist for fifteen years. That was not entirely true. There were two intervals. The first occurred when I was twenty-two. I came across a man, an elderly man with a little property. He fell in love with me and asked me to marry him. I accepted. We were married." She paused. "I induced him to insure his life in my favor." She saw a sudden keen interest spring up in her husband's face, and went on with renewed assurance. "During the war I worked for a time in a Hospital Dispensary. There I had the handling of all kinds of rare drugs and poisons. Yes, poisons." She paused reflectively. He was keenly interested now, not a doubt of it. The murderer is bound to have an interest in murder. She had gambled on that, and succeeded. She stole a glance at the clock. It was five and twenty to nine. "There is one poison - it is a little white powder. A pinch of it means death. You know something about poisons perhaps?" She put the question in some trepidation. If he did, she would have to be careful. "No," said Gerald, "I know very little about them." She drew a breath of relief. This made her task easier. "You have heard of hyoscine, of course? This is a drug that acts much the same way, but it is absolutely untraceable. Any doctor would give a certificate of heart
failure. I stole a small quantity of this drug and kept it by me." She paused, marshaling her forces.
"Go on," said Gerald. "No. I'm afraid. I can't tell you. Another time." "Now," he said impatiently. "I want to hear." "We had been married a month. I was very good to my elderly husband, very kind and devoted. He spoke in praise of me to all the neighbors. Everyone knew what a devoted wife I was. I always made his coffee myself every evening. One evening, when we were alone together, I put a pinch of the deadly alkaloid in his cup." Alix paused, and carefully rethreaded her needle. She, who had never acted in her life, rivaled the greatest actress in the world at this moment. She was actually living the part of the cold-blooded poisoner. "It was very peaceful. I sat watching him. Once he gasped a little and asked for air. I opened the window. Then he said he could not move from his chair. Presently he died."
She stopped, smiling. It was a quarter to nine. Surely they would come soon. "How much," said Gerald, "was the insurance money?" "About two thousand pounds. I speculated with it, and lost it. I went back to my office work. But I never meant to remain there long. Then I met another man. I had stuck to my maiden name at the office. He didn't know I had been married before. He was a younger man, rather good-looking, and quite well off. We were married quietly in Sussex. He didn't want to insure his life, but of course he made a will in my favor. He liked me to make his coffee myself also, just as my first husband had done." Alix smiled reflectively, and added simply: "I make very good coffee." Then she went on. "I had several friends in the village where we were living. They were very sorry for me, with my husband dying suddenly of heart failure one evening after dinner. I didn't quite like the doctor. I don't think he suspected me, but he was certainly very surprised at my husband's sudden death. I don't quite know why I drifted back to the office again. Habit, I suppose. My second husband left about four thousand pounds. I didn't speculate with it this time. I invested it. Then, you see -" But she was interrupted. Gerald Martin, his face suffused with blood, half choking, was pointing a shaking forefinger at her. "The coffee - my God! the coffee!" She stared at him. "I understand now why it was bitter. You devil. You've poisoned me." His hands gripped the arms of his chair. He was ready to spring upon her.
"You've poisoned me." Alix had retreated from him to the fireplace. Now, terrified, she opened her lips
to deny - and then paused. In another minute he would spring upon her. She summoned all her strength. Her eyes held his steadily, compellingly. "Yes," she said, "I poisoned you. Already the poison is working. At this minute you can't move from your chair - you can't move -" If she could keep him there - even a few minutes - Ah! what was that? Footsteps on the road. The creak of the gate. Then footsteps on the path outside. The door of the hall opened - "You can't move," she said again. Then she slipped past him and fled headlong from the room to fall, half fainting, into Dick Windyford's arms. "My God! Alix!" he cried. Then he turned to the man with him, a tall stalwart figure in policeman's uniform.
"Go and see what's been happening in that room." He laid Alix carefully down on a couch and bent over her. "My little girl," he murmured. "My poor little girl. What have they been doing to you?"
Her eyelids fluttered and her lips just murmured his name. Dick was aroused from tumultuous thoughts by the policeman's touching him on the arm. "There's nothing in that room, sir, but a man sitting in a chair. Looks as though he'd had some kind of bad fright, and -" "Yes?"
"Well, sir, he's - dead." They were startled by hearing Alix's voice. She spoke as though in some kind of
dream. "And presently," she said, almost as though she were quoting from something, "he died..."
The Girl in the Train
"And that's that!" observed George Rowland ruefully, as he gazed up at the imposing smoke-grimed façade of the building he had just quitted. It might be said to represent very aptly the power of Money - and Money, in the person of William Rowland, uncle to the aforementioned George, had just spoken its mind very freely. In the course of a brief ten minutes, from being the apple of his uncle's eye, the heir to his wealth, and a young man with a promising business career in front of him, George had suddenly become one of the vast army of the unemployed. "And in these clothes they won't even give me the dole," reflected Mr Rowland gloomily, "and as for writing poems and selling them at the door at twopence (or 'what you care to give, lady') I simply haven't got the brains." It was true that George embodied a veritable triumph of the tailor's art. He was exquisitely and beautifully arrayed. Solomon and аthe lilies of the field were simply not in it with George. But man cannot live by clothes alone - unless he
has had some considerable training in the art - and Mr Rowland was painfully aware of the fact.
"And all because of that rotten show last night," he reflected sadly. The rotten show last night had been a Covent Garden Ball. Mr Rowland had returned from it at a somewhat late - or rather early - hour - as a matter of fact, he could not strictly say that he remembered returning at all. Rogers, his uncle's butler, was a helpful fellow, and could doubtless give more details on the matter. A splitting head, a cup of strong tea, and an arrival at the office at five minutes to twelve instead of half-past nine had precipitated the catastrophe. Mr Rowland, senior, who for twenty-four years had condoned and paid up as a tactful relative should, had suddenly abandoned these tactics and revealed himself in a totally new light. The inconsequence of George's replies (the young man's head was still opening and shutting like some mediaeval instrument of the Inquisition) had displeased him still further. William Rowland was nothing if not thorough. He cast his nephew adrift upon the world in a few short succinct words, and then settled down to his interrupted survey of some oil fields in Peru. George Rowland shook the dust of his uncle's office from off his feet, and stepped out into the City of London. George was a practical fellow. A good lunch, he considered, was essential to a review of the situation. He had it. Then he retraced his steps to the family mansion. Rogers opened the door. His welltrained face expressed no surprise at seeing George at this unusual hour. "Good afternoon, Rogers. Just pack up my things for me, will you? I'm leaving here." "Yes, sir. Just for a short visit, sir?" "For good, Rogers. I am going to the colonies this afternoon." "Indeed, sir?" "Yes. That is, if there is a suitable boat. Do you know anything about the boats, Rogers?" "Which colony were you thinking of visiting, sir?" "I'm not particular. Any of 'em will do. Let's say Australia. What do you think of the idea, Rogers?" Rogers coughed discreetly.
"Well, sir, I've certainly heard it said that there's room out there for anyone who really wants to work."
Mr Rowland gazed at him with interest and admiration. "Very neatly put, Rogers. Just what I was thinking myself. I shan't go to Australia - not today, at any rate. Fetch me an ABC, will you? We will select something nearer at hand." Rogers brought the required volume. George opened it at random and turned the pages with a rapid hand. "Perth - too far away - Putney Bridge - too near at hand. Ramsgate? I think not. Reigate also leaves me cold. Why - what an extraordinary thing! There's actually a place called Rowland's Castle. Ever heard of it, Rogers?" "I fancy, sir, that you go there from Waterloo." "What an extraordinary fellow you are, Rogers. You know everything. Well, well, Rowland's Castle! I wonder what sort of a place it is." "Not much of a place, I should say, sir." "All the better; there'll be less competition. These quiet little country hamlets have a lot of the old feudal spirit knocking about. The last of the original Rowlands ought to meet with instant appreciation. I shouldn't wonder if they
elected me mayor in a аweek." He shut up the ABC with a bang. "The die is cast. Pack me a small suitcase, will you, Rogers? Also my compliments to the cook, and will she oblige me with a loan of the cat. Dick Whittington, you know. When you set out to become a Lord Mayor, a cat is essential."
"I'm sorry, sir, but the cat is not available at the present moment." "How is that?" "A family of eight, sir. Arrived this morning." "You don't say so. I thought its name was Peter." "So it is, sir. A great surprise to all of us." "A case of careless christening and the deceitful sex, eh? Well, well, I shall have to go catless. Pack up those things at once, will you?" "Very good, sir." Rogers withdrew, to reappear ten minutes later. "Shall I call a taxi, sir?" "Yes, please." Rogers hesitated, then advanced a little farther into the room. "You'll excuse the liberty, sir, but if I was you, I shouldn't take too much notice of anything Mr Rowland said this morning. He was at one of those city dinners last night and -" "Say no more," said George. "I understand." "And being inclined to gout -" "I know, I know. Rather a strenuous evening for you, Rogers, with two of us, eh? But I've set my heart on distinguishing myself at Rowland's Castle - the
cradle of my historic race - that would go well in a speech, wouldn't it? A wire to me there, or a discreet advertisement in the morning papers, will recall me at any time if a fricassee of veal is in preparation. And now - to Waterloo! Ц as Wellington said on the eve of the historic battle." Waterloo Station was not at its brightest and best that afternoon. Mr Rowland eventually discovered a train that would take him to his destination, but it was an undistinguished train, an unimposing train - a train that nobody seemed
anxious to travel by. Mr Rowland had a first-class carriage to himself, up in the front of the train. A fog was descending in an indeterminate way over the metropolis, now it lifted, now it descended. The аplatform was deserted, and only the asthmatic breathing of the engine broke the silence. And then, all of a sudden, things began to happen with bewildering rapidity. A girl happened first. She wrenched open the door and jumped in, rousing Mr Rowland from something perilously near a nap, exclaiming as she did so: "Oh! Hide me - oh! Please hide me." George was essentially a man of action - his not to reason why, his but to do and die, etc. There is only one place to hide in a railway carriage - under the seat. In seven seconds the girl was bestowed there, and George's suitcase, negligently standing on end, covered her retreat. None too soon. An infuriated face appeared at the carriage window. "My niece! You have her here. I want my niece." George, a little breathless, was reclining in the corner, deep in the sporting
column of the evening paper, one-thirty edition. He laid it aside with the air of a man recalling himself from far away. "I beg your pardon, sir?" he said politely. "My niece - what have you done with her?"
Acting on the policy that attack is always better than defence, George leaped into action.
"What the devil do you mean?" he cried, with a very creditable imitation of his own uncle's manner.
The other paused a minute, taken aback by this sudden fierceness. He was a fat man, still panting a little as though he had run some way. His hair was cut en brosse, and he had a moustache of the аohenzollern persuasion. His accents were decidedly guttural, and the stiffness of his carriage denoted that he was
more at home in uniform than out of it. George had the trueborn Briton's prejudice against foreigners - and an especial distaste for German-looking foreigners. "What the devil do you mean, sir?" he repeated angrily. "She came in here," said the other. "I saw her. What have you done with her?" George flung aside the paper and thrust his head and shoulders through the window. "So that's it, is it?" he roared. "Blackmail. But you've tried it on the wrong person. I read all about you in the Daily Mail this morning. Here, guard, guard!" Already attracted from afar by the altercation, that functionary came hurrying
up. "Here, guard," said Mr Rowland, with that air of authority which the lower classes so adore. "This fellow is annoying me. I'll give him in charge for attempted blackmail if necessary. Pretends I've got his niece hidden in here. There's a regular gang of these foreigners trying this sort of thing on. It ought to
be stopped. Take him away, will you? Here's my care if you want it." The guard looked from one to the other. His mind was soon made up. His training led him to despise foreigners and to respect and admire well-dressed gentlemen who travelled first-class. He laid his hand on the shoulder of the intruder.
"Here," he said, "you come out of this." At this crisis the stranger's English failed him, and he plunged into passionate profanity in his native tongue. "That's enough of that," said the guard. "Stand away, will you? She's due out." Flags were waved and whistles were blown. With an unwilling jerk the train drew out of the station. George remained at his observation post until they were clear of the platform. Then he drew in his head, and picking up the suitcase tossed it into the rack. "It's quite all right. You can come out," he said reassuringly. The girl crawled out. "Oh!" she gasped. "How can I thank you?"
"That's quite all right. It's been a pleasure, I assure you," returned George nonchalantly. He smiled at her reassuringly. There was a slightly puzzled look in her eyes. She seemed to be missing something to which she was accustomed. At that moment, she caught sight of herself in the narrow glass opposite, and gave a heartfelt gasp. Whether the carriage cleaners do, or do not, sweep under the seats every day is doubtful. Appearances were against their doing so, but it may be that every particle of dirt and smoke finds its way there like a homing bird. George had hardly had time to take in the girl's appearance, so sudden had been her arrival, and so brief the space of time before she crawled into hiding, but it was
certainly a trim and well-dressed young woman who had disappeared under the seat. Now her little red hat was crushed and dented, and her face was disfigured with long streaks of dirt. "Oh!" said the girl.
She fumbled for her bag. George, with the tact of a true gentleman, looked fixedly out of the window and admired the streets of London south of the Thames. "How can I thank you?" said the girl again.
Taking this as a hint that conversation might now be resumed, George withdrew his gaze and made another polite disclaimer, but this time with a good deal of added warmth in his manner. The girl was absolutely lovely! Never before, George told himself, had he seen such a lovely girl. The empressement of his manner became even more marked. "I think it was simply splendid of you," said the girl with аenthusiasm. "Not at all. Easiest thing in the world. Only too pleased been of use," mumbled
George. "Splendid," she reiterated emphatically. It is undoubtedly pleasant to have the loveliest girl you have ever seen gazing into your eyes and telling you how splendid you are. George enjoyed it as much
as anyone would. Then there came a rather difficult silence. It seemed to dawn upon the girl that
further explanation might be expected. She flushed a little. "The awkward part of it is," she said nervously, "that I'm afraid I can't explain." She looked at him with a piteous air of uncertainty.
"You can't explain?" "No." "How perfectly splendid!" said Mr Rowland with enthusiasm. "I beg your pardon?" "I said, 'How perfectly splendid.' Just like one of those books that keep you up all night. The heroine always says, 'I can't explain' in the first chapter. She explains in the last, of course, and there's never any real reason why she shouldn't have done so in the beginning - except that it would spoil the story. I can't tell you how pleased I am to be mixed up in a real mystery - I didn't know there were such things. I hope it's got something to do with secret documents of immense importance, and the Balkan express. I dote upon the Balkan express." The girl stared at him with wide, suspicious eyes. "What аmakes you say the Balkan express?" she asked sharply. "I hope I haven't been indiscreet," George hastened to put in. "Your uncle travelled by it, perhaps." "My uncle -" She paused, then began again, "My uncle -" "Quite so" said George sympathetically. "I've got an uncle myself. Nobody should be held responsible for their uncles. Nature's little throwbacks - that's how I look at it." The girl began to laugh suddenly. When she spoke, George was aware of the slight foreign inflection in her voice. At first he had taken her to be English. "What a refreshing and unusual person you are, Mr -" "Rowland. George to my friends." "My name is Elizabeth -" She stopped abruptly. "I like the name of Elizabeth," said George, to cover her momentary confusion. "They don't call you Bessie or anything horrible like that, I hope?" She shook her head. "Well," said George, "now that we know each other, we'd better get down to business. If you'll stand up, Elizabeth, I'll brush down the back of your coat." She stood up obediently, and George was as good as his word. "Thank you, Mr Rowland." "George. George to my friends, remember. And you can't come into my nice empty carriage, roll under the seat, induce me to tell lies to your uncle, and then refuse to be friends, can you?" "Thank you, George."
"That's better." "Do I look quite all right now?" asked Elizabeth, trying to see over her left shoulder.
"You look - oh! you look - you look all right," said George, curbing himself sternly. "It was all so sudden, you see," explained the girl. "It must have been." "He saw us in the taxi, and then at the station I just bolted in here knowing he was close behind me. Where is this train going to, by the way?" "Rowland's Castle," said George firmly. The girl looked puzzled. "Rowland's Castle?" "Not at once, of course. Only after a good deal of stopping and slow going. But I confidently expect to be there before midnight. The old South-Western was a very reliable line - slow but sure - and I'm sure the Southern Railway is keeping up the old traditions." "I don't know that I want to go to Rowland's Castle," said Elizabeth doubtfully. "You hurt me. It's a delightful spot." "Have you ever been there?" "Not exactly. But there are lots of other places you can go to, if you don't fancy Rowland's Castle. There's Woking, and Weybridge, and Wimbledon. The train is sure to stop at one or other of them." "I see," said the girl. "Yes, I can get out there, and perhaps motor back to London. That would be the best plan, I think."
Even as she spoke, the train began to slow up. Mr Rowland gazed at her with appealing eyes.
"If I can do anything -" "No, indeed. You've done a lot already." There was a pause, then the girl broke out suddenly: "I - I wish I could explain. I -" "For heaven's sake, don't do that! It would spoil аeverything. But look here, isn't there anything that I could do? Carry the secret papers to Vienna - or something of that kind? There always are secret papers. Do give me a chance." The train had stopped. Elizabeth jumped quickly out onto the platform. She turned and spoke to him through the window.
"Are you in earnest? Would you really do something аfor us - for me?" "I'd do anything in the world for you, Elizabeth." "Even if I could give you no reasons?" "Rotten things, reasons!" "Even if it were - dangerous?" "The more danger, the better." She hesitated a minute, then seemed to make up her mind.
"Lean out of the window. Look down the platform as though you weren't really looking." Mr Rowland endeavoured to comply with this somewhat difficult recommendation. "Do you see that man getting in - with a small dark beard - light overcoat? Follow him, see what he does and where he goes." "Is that all?" asked Mr Rowland. "What do I -" She interrupted him. "Further instructions will be sent to you. Watch him - and guard this." She thrust a small sealed packet into his hand. "Guard it with your life. It's the key to everything." The train went on. Mr Rowland remained staring out of the window, watching
Elizabeth's tall, graceful figure threading its way down the platform. In his hand he clutched the small sealed packet. The rest of his journey was both monotonous and uneventful. The train was a slow one. It stopped everywhere. At every station, George's head shot out of the window, in case his quarry аshould alight. Occasionally he strolled up and down the platform when the wait promised to be a long one, and reassured himself that the man was still there. The eventual destination of the train was Portsmouth, and it was there that the black-bearded traveller alighted. He made his way to a small second-class hotel where he booked a room. Mr Rowland also booked a room. The rooms were in the same corridor, two doors from each other. The arrangement seemed satisfactory to George. He was a complete novice in the art of shadowing, but was anxious to acquit himself well, and justify Elizabeth's
trust in him. At dinner George was given a table not far from that of his quarry. The room
was not full, and the majority of the diners George put down as commercial travellers, quiet respectable men who ate their food with appetite. Only one man attracted his special notice, a small man with ginger hair and moustache and a suggestion of horsiness in his apparel. He seemed to be interested in
George also, and suggested a drink and a game of billiards when the meal had come to a close. But George had just espied the black-bearded man putting on his hat and overcoat, and declined politely. In another minute he was out in the street, gaining fresh insight into the difficult art of shadowing. The chase was a long and a weary one - and in the end it seemed to lead nowhere. After twisting and turning through the streets of Portsmouth for about four miles, the man returned to the hotel, George hard upon his heels. A faint doubt assailed the latter. Was it possible that the man was aware of his presence? As be debated this point, standing in the hall, the outer door was pushed open, and the little ginger man entered. Evidently he, too, had been out for a stroll. George was suddenly aware that the beauteous damsel in the office was addressing him. "Mr Rowland, isn't it? Two gentlemen have called to see you. Two foreign gentlemen. They are in the little room at the end of the passage." Somewhat astonished, George sought the room in question. Two men who were sitting there rose to their feet and bowed punctiliously. "Mr Rowland? I have no doubt, sir, that you can guess our identity." George gazed from one to the other of them. The spokesman was the elder of the two, a grey-haired, pompous gentleman who spoke excellent English. The other was a tall, somewhat pimply young man, with a blond Teutonic cast of countenance which was not rendered more attractive by the fierce scowl which he wore at the present moment. Somewhat relieved to find that neither of his visitors was the old gentleman he had encountered at Waterloo George assumed his most debonair manner. "Pray sit down, gentlemen. I'm delighted to make your acquaintance. How about a drink?" The elder man held up a protesting hand.
"Thank you, Lord Rowland - not for us. We have but a few brief moments - just time for you to answer one question." "It's very kind of you to elect me to the peerage," said George. "I'm sorry you won't have a drink. And what is this momentous question?" "Lord Rowland, you left London in company with a certain lady. You arrived here alone. Where is the lady?" George rose to his feet. "I fail to understand the question," he said coldly, speaking as much like the hero of a novel as he could. "I have the honour to wish you good evening, gentlemen." "But you do understand it. You understand it perfectly," cried the younger man, breaking out suddenly. "What have you done with Alexa?" "Be calm, sir," murmured the other. "I beg of you to be calm." "I can assure you," said George, "that I know no lady of that name. There isа some mistake." The older man was eyeing him keenly. "That can hardly be," he said dryly. "I took the liberty of examining the hotel register. You entered yourself as Mr G. Rowland of Rowland's Castle." George was forced to blush. "A - a little joke of mine," he explained feebly. "A somewhat poor subterfuge. Come, let us not beat about the bush. Where is Her Highness?" "If you mean Elizabeth -"
With a howl of rage the young man flung himself forward again. "Insolent pig-dog! To speak of her thus."а "I am referring," said the other slowly, "as you very well know, to the Grand Duchess Anastasia Sophia Alexandra Marie Helena Olga Elizabeth of Catonia." "Oh!" said Mr Rowland helplessly.
He tried to recall all that he had ever known of Catonia. It was, as far as he remembered, a small Balkan kingdom, and he seemed to remember something about a revolution having occurred there. He rallied himself with an effort. "Evidently we mean the same person," he said cheerfully, "only I call her Elizabeth." "You will give me satisfaction for that," snarled the younger man. "We will fight."
"Fight?" "A duel." "I never fight duels," said Mr Rowland firmly. "Why not?" demanded the other unpleasantly. "I'm too afraid of getting hurt." "Aha! Is that so? Then I will at least pull your nose for you." The young man advanced fiercely. Exactly what happened was difficult to see, but he described a sudden semicircle in the air and fell to the ground with a heavy thud. He picked himself up in a dazed manner. Mr Rowland was smiling pleasantly. "As I was saying," he remarked, "I'm always afraid of getting hurt. That's why I thought it well to learn ju-jitsu." There was a pause. The two foreigners looked doubtfully at this amiable-looking young man, as though they suddenly realized that some dangerous quality lurked behind the pleasant nonchalance of his manner. The young Teuton was
white with passion. "You will repent this," he hissed. The older man retained his dignity. "That is your last word, Lord Rowland? You refuse to tell us Her Highness's whereabouts?" "I am unaware of them myself." "You can hardly expect me to believe that." "I am afraid you are of an unbelieving nature, sir."
The other merely shook his head, and murmuring: "This is not the end; you will hear from us again," the two men took their leave. George passed his hand over his brow. Events were proceeding at a bewildering rate. He was evidently mixed up in a first-class European scandal. "It might even mean another war," said George hopefully, as he hunted round to see what had become of the man with the black beard. To his great relief, he discovered him sitting in a corner of the commercial room. George sat down in another corner. In about three minutes the black- bearded man got up and went up to bed. George followed and saw him go into his room and close the door. George heaved a sigh of relief.
"I need a night's rest," he murmured. "Need it badly." Then a dire thought struck him. Supposing the black-bearded man had realized that George was on his trail? Supposing that he should slip away during the night while George himself was sleeping the sleep of the just? A few minutes' reflection suggested to Mr Rowland a way of dealing with this difficulty. He unravelled one of his socks till he got a good length of neutral-coloured wool, then creeping quietly out of his room, he pasted one end of the wool to the farther side of the stranger's door with stamp paper, carrying the wool across it and along to his own room. There he hung the end with a small silver bell Ц a relic of last night's entertainment. He surveyed these arrangements with a good deal of satisfaction. Should the black-bearded man attempt to leave his room, George would be instantly warned by the ringing of the bell. This matter disposed of, George lost no time in seeking his couch. The small packet he placed carefully under his pillow. As he did so, he fell into a momentary brown study. His thoughts could have been translated thus:
"Anastasia Sophia Marie Alexandra Olga Elizabeth. Hang it all, I've missed out one. I wonder now -"
He was unable to go to sleep immediately, being tantalized with his failure to grasp the situation. What was it all about? What was the connection between the escaping Grand Duchess, the sealed packet and the black-bearded man? What was the Grand Duchess escaping from? Were the two foreigners aware that the sealed packet was in his possession? What was it likely to contain? Pondering these matters, with an irritated sense that he was no nearer their solution, Mr Rowland fell asleep. He was awakened by the faint jangle of a bell. Not one of those men who awake to instant action, it took him just a minute and a half to realize the situation. Then he jumped up, thrust on some slippers, and, opening the door with the utmost caution, slipped out into the corridor. A faint moving patch of shadow at the far end of the passage showed him the direction taken by his quarry. Moving as noiselessly as possible, Mr аRowland followed the trail. He was just in time to see the black-bearded man disappear into a bathroom. That was puzzling, particularly so as there was a bathroom just opposite his own room.
Moving up close to the door, which was ajar, George peered through the crack. The man was on his knees by the side of the bath, doing something to the skirting board immediately behind it. He remained there for about five minutes, then he rose to his feet, and George beat a prudent retreat. Safe in the shadow of his own door, he watched the other pass and regain his own room. "Good," said George to himself. "The mystery of the bathroom will be investigated tomorrow morning." He got into bed and slipped his hand under the pillow to assure himself that the precious packet was still there. In another minute, he was scattering the bedclothes in a panic. The packet was gone! It was a sadly chastened George who sat consuming eggs and bacon the following morning. He had failed Elizabeth. He had allowed the precious packet she had entrusted to his charge to be taken from him, and the "Mystery of the Bathroom" was miserably inadequate. Yes, undoubtedly George had made a mutt of himself.
After breakfast he strolled upstairs again. A chambermaid was standing in the passage looking perplexed. "Anything wrong, my dear?" said George kindly. "It's the gentleman here, sir. He asked to be called at half-past eight, and I can't get any answer and the door's locked." "You don't say so," said George. An uneasy feeling arose in his own breast. He hurried into his room. Whatever plans he was forming were instantly brushed aside by a most unexpected sight. There on the dressing table was the little packet which had been stolen from him the night before! George picked it up and examined it. Yes, it was undoubtedly the same. But the seals had been broken. After a minute's hesitation, he unwrapped it. If other people had seen its contents, there was no reason why he should not see them
also. Besides, it was possible that the contents had been abstracted. The unwound paper revealed a small cardboard box, such as jewellers use. George opened it. Inside, nestling on a bed of cotton wool, was a plain gold wedding ring. He picked it up and examined it. There was no inscription inside Ц nothing whatever to mark it out from any other wedding ring. George dropped his head into his hands with a groan. "Lunacy," he murmured. "That's what it is. Stark, staring lunacy. There's no sense anywhere." Suddenly he remembered the chambermaid's statement, and at the same time he observed that there was a broad parapet outside the window. It was not a feat he would ordinarily have attempted, but he was so aflame with curiosity and anger that he was in the mood to make light of difficulties. He sprang upon the window sill. A few seconds later he was peering in at the window of the room occupied by the black-bearded man. The window was open and the room was empty. A little farther along was a fire escape. It was clear how the quarry had taken his departure. George jumped in through the window. The missing man's effects were still scattered about. There might be some clue among them to shed light on George's perplexities. He began to hunt about, starting with the contents of a battered kit bag. It was a sound that arrested his search - a very slight sound, but a sound
indubitably in the room. George's glance leapt to the big wardrobe. He sprang up and wrenched open the door. As he did so, a man jumped out from it and went rolling over the floor locked in George's embrace. He was no mean antagonist. All George's special tricks availed very little. They fell apart at length in sheer exhaustion, and for the first time George saw who his adversary was. It was the little man with the ginger moustache! "Who the devil are you?" demanded George. For answer the other drew out a card and handed it to him. George read it aloud. "Detective-Inspector Jarrold, Scotland Yard." "That's right, sir. And you'd do well to tell me all you know about this business."
"I would, would I?" said George thoughtfully. "Do you know, inspector, I believe you're right. Shall we adjourn to a more cheerful spot?" In a quiet corner of the bar George unfolded his soul. Inspector Jarrold listened sympathetically. "Very puzzling, as you say, sir," he remarked when George had finished. "There's a lot as I can't make head or tail of myself, but there's one or two points I can clear up for you. I was here after Mardenberg (your black-bearded friend) and your turning up and watching him the way you did made me suspicious. I couldn't place you. I slipped into your room last night when you
were out of it, and it was I аwho sneaked the little packet from under your pillow. When I opened it and found it wasn't what I was after, I took the first opportunity of returning it to your room." "That makes things a little clearer certainly," said George thoughtfully. "I seem to have made rather an ass of myself all through." "I wouldn't say that, sir. You did uncommon well for a beginner. You say you visited the bathroom this morning and took away what was concealed behind the skirting board?" "Yes. But it's only a rotten love letter," said George gloomily. "Dash it all, I didn't mean to go nosing out the poor fellow's private life." "Would you mind letting me see it, sir?" George took a folded letter from his pocket and passed it to the inspector. The latter unfolded it. "As you say, sir. But I rather fancy that if you drew lines from one dotted i to another, you'd get a different result. Why, bless you, sir, this is a plan of the Portsmouth harbour defences." "What?" "Yes. We've had our eye on the gentleman for some time. But he was too sharp for us. Got a woman to do most of the dirty work." "A woman?" said George in a faint voice. "What was her name?" "She goes by a good many, sir. Most usually known as Betty Brighteyes. A remarkably good-looking young woman she is." "Betty - Brighteyes," said George. "Thank you, inspector." "Excuse me, sir, but you're not looking well." "I'm not well. I'm very ill. In fact, I think I'd better take the first train back to town." The inspector looked at his watch. "That will be a slow train, I'm afraid, sir. Better wait for the express." "It doesn't matter," said George gloomily. "No train could be slower than the one I came down by yesterday." Seated once more in a first-class carriage, George leisurely perused the day's news. Suddenly he sat bolt upright and stared at the sheet in front of him. "A romantic wedding took place yesterday in London when Lord Roland Gaigh, second son of the Marquis of Axminster, was married to the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Catonia. The ceremony was kept a profound secret. The Grand Duchess has been living in Paris with her uncle since the upheaval in
Catonia. She met Lord Roland when he was secretary to the British Embassy in Catonia and their attachment dates from that time." "Well, I'm -" Mr Rowland could not think of anything strong enough to express his feelings. He continued to stare into space. The train stopped at a small station and a lady
got in. She sat down opposite him. "Good morning, George," she said sweetly. "Good heavens!" cried George. "Elizabeth!" She smiled at him. She was, if possible, lovelier than ever. "Look here," cried George, clutching his head. "For God's sake tell me. Are you the Grand Duchess Anastasia, or are you Betty Brighteyes?" She stared at him. "I'm not either. I'm Elizabeth Gaigh. I can tell you all about it now. And I've got to apologize too. You see, Roland (that's my brother) has always been in love with Alexa -" "Meaning the Grand Duchess?" "Yes that's what the family call her. Well, as I say, Roland was always in love with her, and she with him. And then the revolution came, and Alexa was in Paris, and they were just going to fix it up when old Stürm, the chancellor, came along and insisted on carrying off Alexa and forcing her to marry Prince Karl, her cousin, a horrid pimply person -" "I fancy I've met him," said George. "Whom she simply hates. And old Prince Osric, her uncle, forbade her to see
Roland again. So she ran away to England, and I came up to town and met her, and we wired to Roland, who was in Scotland. And just at the very last minute, when we were driving to the Registry Office in a taxi, whom should we meet in another taxi face to face, but old Prince Osric. Of course he followed us, and we were at our wits' end what to do because he'd have made the most fearful scene, and, anyway, he is her guardian. Then I had the brilliant idea of changing places. You can practically see nothing of a girl nowadays but the tip of her nose. I put on Alexa's red hat and brown wrap coat, and she put on my grey. Then we told the taxi to go to Waterloo, and I skipped out there and hurried into the station. Old Osric followed the red hat all right, without a thought for the other occupant of the taxi sitting huddled up inside, but of course it wouldn't do for him to see my face. So I just bolted into your carriage and
threw myself on your mercy." "I've got that all right," said George. "It's the rest of it." "I know. That's what I've got to apologize about. I hope you won't be awfully cross. You see, you looked so keen on its being a real mystery - like in books, that I really couldn't resist the temptation. I picked out a rather sinister-looking man on the platform and told you to follow him. And then I thrust the parcel on you."
"Containing a wedding ring." "Yes. Alexa and I bought that, because Roland wasn't due to arrive from
Scotland until just before the wedding. And of course I knew that by the time I got to London, they wouldn't want it - they would have had to use a curtain ring or something." "I see," said George. "It's like all these things - so simple when you know! Allow me, Elizabeth." He stripped off her left glove and uttered a sigh of relief at the sight of the bare third finger. "That's all right," he remarked. "That ring won't be wasted after all." "Oh!" cried Elizabeth. "But I don't know anything about you." "You know how nice I am," said George. "By the way, it has just occurred to me, you are the Lady Elizabeth Gaigh, of course." "Oh! George, are you a snob?" "As a matter of fact, I am, rather. My best dream was one where King George borrowed half a crown from me to see him over the weekend. But I was thinking of my uncle - the one from whom I am estranged. He's a frightful snob. When he knows I'm going to marry you, and that we'll have a title in the family, he'll make me a partner at once!" "Oh! George, is he very rich?" "Elizabeth, are you mercenary?" "Very. I adore spending money. But I was thinking of Father. Five daughters, full of beauty and blue blood. He's just yearning for a rich son-in-law."
"H'm," said George. "It will be one of those marriages made in heaven and approved on earth. Shall we live at Rowland's Castle? They'd be sure to make me Lord Mayor with you for a wife. Oh! Elizabeth, darling, it's probably contravening the company's bylaws, but I simply must kiss you!"