Infomotions, Inc.My Strangest Case / Boothby, Guy, 1867-1905



Author: Boothby, Guy, 1867-1905
Title: My Strangest Case
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): kitwater; hayle; codd; miss kitwater; gideon hayle; kitwater replied
Contributor(s): White, Stephen W. [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 73,876 words (short) Grade range: 8-11 (high school) Readability score: 66 (easy)
Identifier: etext10585
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Title: My Strangest Case

Author: Guy Boothby

Release Date: January 4, 2004 [EBook #10585]

Language: English

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My Strangest Case

By Guy Boothby

Author of "Dr. Nikola," "The Beautiful White Devil," "Pharos, the
Egyptian," etc.

Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman and P. Hard

_Originally Published 1901_



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"A DARK, NARROW HOLE, THE BOTTOM OF WHICH IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE."

"'LOOK HERE,' HE CRIED, 'IT'S THE BANK OF ENGLAND IN EACH HAND.'"

"'POOR DEVIL,' SAID GREGORY. 'HE SEEMS TO BE ON HIS LAST LEGS.'"

"HE FELL WITH A CRASH AT MY FEET."

"'LET'S OUT HIM, BILL,' SAID THE TALLER OF THE TWO MEN."

"'HOW DO YOU DO, MR. FAIRFAX?' SAID MISS KITWATER."

"IN HIS HAND HE HELD A REVOLVER."

"THE WOODWORK SNAPPED, AND THE TWO MEN FELL OVER THE EDGE."




_MY STRANGEST CASE_




~INTRODUCTION~


PART I


I am of course prepared to admit that there are prettier places on the
face of this earth of ours than Singapore; there are, however, I venture
to assert, few that are more interesting, and certainly none that can
afford a better study of human life and character. There, if you are so
disposed, you may consider the subject of British Rule on the one hand,
and the various aspects of the Chinese question on the other. If you are
a student of languages you will be able to hear half the tongues of the
world spoken in less than an hour's walk, ranging say from Parisian
French to Pigeon English; you shall make the acquaintance of every sort
of smell the human nose can manipulate, from the sweet perfume of the
lotus blossom to the diabolical odour of the Durien; and every sort of
cooking from a dainty _vol-au-vent_ to a stuffed rat. In the harbour the
shipping is such as, I feel justified in saying, you would encounter in
no other port of its size in the world. It comprises the stately
man-of-war and the Chinese Junk; the P. and O., the Messagerie
Maritime, the British India and the Dutch mail-boat; the homely sampan,
the yacht of the globe-trotting millionaire, the collier, the
timber-ship, and in point of fact every description of craft that plies
between the Barbarian East and the Civilized West. The first glimpse of
the harbour is one that will never be forgotten; the last is usually
associated with a desire that one may never set eyes on it again. He who
would, of his own free will, settle down for life in Singapore, must
have acquired the tastes of a salamander, and the sensibility of a frog.

Among its other advantages, Singapore numbers the possession of a
multiplicity of hotels. There is stately Raffles, where the
globe-trotters do mostly take up their abode, also the Hotel de
l'Europe, whose virtues I can vouch for; but packed away in another and
very different portion of the town, unknown to the wealthy G.T., and
indeed known to only a few of the white inhabitants of Singapore itself,
there exists a small hostelry owned by a lynx-eyed Portuguese, which
rejoices in the name of the Hotel of the Three Desires. Now, every man,
who by mischance or deliberate intent, has entered its doors, has his
own notions of the meaning of its name; the fact, however, remains that
it is there, and that it is regularly patronized by individuals of a
certain or uncertain class, as they pass to and fro through the Gateway
of the Further East. This in itself is strange, inasmuch as it is said
that the proprietor rakes in the dollars by selling liquor that is as
bad as it can possibly be, in order that he may get back to Lisbon
before he receives that threatened knife-thrust between the ribs which
has been promised him so long. There are times, as I am unfortunately
able to testify, when the latter possibility is not so remote as might
be expected. Taken altogether, however, the Hotel of the Three Desires
is an excellent place to take up one's abode, provided one is not
desirous of attracting too much attention in the city. As a matter of
fact its patrons, for some reason of their own, are more _en evidence_
after nightfall than during the hours of daylight. They are also frugal
of speech as a rule, and are chary of forming new acquaintances. When
they know each other well, however, it is surprising how affable they
can become. It is not the smallest of their many peculiarities that they
seldom refer to absent friends by their names. A will ask B when he
expects to hear from _Him_, and C will inform D that "the _old man_ is
now running the show, and that, if _he_ doesn't jump from Calcutta
inside a week, there will be trouble on the floor." Meanwhile the
landlord mixes the drinks with his own dirty hands, and reflects
continually upon the villainy of a certain American third mate, who
having borrowed five dollars from him, was sufficiently ungrateful as to
catch typhoid fever and die without either repaying the loan, or, what
was worse, settling his account for the board and lodging received.
Manuel, for this was the proprietor's name, had one or two recollections
of a similar sort, but not many, for, as a rule, he is a careful fellow,
and experience having taught him the manners and idiosyncrasies of his
customers, he generally managed to emerge from his transactions with
credit to himself, and what was of much more importance, a balance on
the right side of his ledger.

The time of which I am now writing was the middle of March, the hottest
and, in every respect, the worst month of the year in Singapore. Day and
night the land was oppressed by the same stifling heat, a sweltering
calidity possessing the characteristics of a steam-laundry, coupled with
those of the stokehole of an ocean liner in the Red Sea. Morning, noon,
and night, the quarter in which the Hotel of the Three Desires was
situated was fragrant with the smell of garbage and Chinese tobacco; a
peculiar blend of perfume, which once smelt is not to be soon forgotten.
Everything, even the bottles on the shelves in the bar, had a greasy
feel about them, and the mildew on one's boots when one came to put them
on in the morning, was a triumph in the way of _erysiphaceous fungi_.
Singapore at this season of the year is neither good for man nor beast;
in this sweeping assertion, of course I except the yellow man, upon whom
it seems to exercise no effect whatsoever.

It was towards evening, and, strange to relate, the Hotel of the Three
Desires was for once practically empty. This was the more extraordinary
for the reason that the customers who usually frequented it, _en route_
from one end of the earth to the other, are not affected by seasons.
Midwinter was to them the same as midsummer, provided they did their
business, or got their ships, and by those ships, or that business,
received their wages. That those hard-earned wages should eventually
find themselves in the pocket of the landlord of the Three Desires, was
only in the natural order of things, and, in consequence, such of his
guests as were sailors, as a general rule, eventually boarded their
ships without as much as would purchase them a pipe of tobacco. It did
not, however, prevent them from returning to the Hotel of the Three
Desires when next they happened to be that way. If he had no other gift,
Manuel at least possessed the faculty of making it comparatively
homelike to his customers, and that is a desideratum not to be despised
even by sailor men in the Far East.

As I have said, night was falling on one of the hottest days of the
year, when a man entered the hotel and inquired for the proprietor.
Pleased to find that there was at last to be a turn in the tide of his
affairs, the landlord introduced himself to the stranger, and at the
same time inquired in what way he could have the pleasure of
serving him.

"I want to put up with you," said the stranger, who, by the way, was a
tall man, with a hawk's eye and a nose that was not unlike the beak of
the same bird. "You are not full, I suppose?"

Manuel rubbed his greasy hands together and observed that he was not as
full as he had been; thereby insinuating that while he was not
overflowing, he was still not empty. It will be gathered from this that
he was a good business man, who never threw a chance away.

"In that case, I'll stay," said the stranger, and set down the small
valise he carried upon the floor.

From what I have already written, you will doubtless have derived the
impression that the Hotel of the Three Desires, while being a useful
place of abode, was far from being the caravanserai of the luxurious
order. The stranger, whoever he might be, however, was either not
fastidious, or as is more probable, was used to similar accommodation,
for he paid as little attention to the perfume of the bar as he did to
the dirt upon the floor and walls, and also upon the landlord's hands.
Having stipulated for a room to himself, he desired to be shown to it
forthwith, whereupon Manuel led him through the house to a small yard at
the back, round which were several small cabins, dignified by the name
of apartments.

"Splendeed," said Manuel enthusiastically, throwing open the door of
one of the rooms as he spoke. "More splendeed than ever you saw."

The stranger gave a ravenish sort of croak, which might have been a
laugh or anything else, and then went in and closed the door abruptly
behind him. Having locked it, he took off his coat and hung it upon the
handle, apparently conscious of the fact that the landlord had glued his
eyes to the keyhole in order that he might, from a precautionary point
of view, take further stock of his patron. Foiled in his intention he
returned to the bar, murmuring "Anglish Peeg" to himself as he did so.
In the meantime the stranger had seated himself upon the rough bed in
the corner, and had taken a letter from his pocket.

"The Hotel of the Three Desires," he reads, "and on March the fifteenth,
without fail." There was a pause while he folded the letter up and
placed it in his pocket. Then he continued, "this is the hotel, and
to-day is the fifteenth of March. But why don't they put in an
appearance. It isn't like them to be late. They'd better not play me any
tricks or they'll find I have lost none of my old power of retaliation."

Having satisfied himself that it was impossible for any one to see into
the room, either through the keyhole or by means of the window, he
partially disrobed, and, when he had done so, unbuckled from round his
waist a broad leather money-belt. Seating himself on the bed once more
he unfastened the strap of the pocket, and dribbled the contents on to
the bed. They consisted of three Napoleons, fifteen English sovereigns,
four half-sovereigns, and eighteen one-franc pieces. In his
trouser-pocket he had four Mexican dollars, and some cosmopolitan change
of small value.

"It's not very much," he muttered to himself after he had counted it,
"but it ought to be sufficient for the business in hand. If I hadn't
been fool enough to listen to that Frenchwoman on board, I shouldn't
have played cards, and then it would have been double. Why the deuce
wasn't I able to get Monsieur ashore? In that case I'd have got it all
back, or I'd have known the reason why."

The idea seemed to afford him some satisfaction, for he smiled, and then
said to himself as if in terms of approbation, "By Jove, I believe
you, my boy!"

When he had counted his money and had returned it once more to its
hiding-place, he buckled the belt round his person and unstrapped his
valise, taking from it a black _Tussa_ coat which he exchanged for that
hanging upon the handle of the door. Then he lighted a Java cigar and
sat down upon the bed to think. Taken altogether, his was not a
prepossessing countenance. The peculiar attributes I have already
described were sufficient to prevent that. At the same time it was a
strong face, that of a man who was little likely to allow himself to be
beaten, of his own free will, in anything he might undertake. The mouth
was firm, the chin square, the eyes dark and well set, moreover he wore
a heavy black moustache, which he kept sharp-pointed. His hair was of
the same colour, though streaked here and there with grey. His height
was an inch and a half above six feet, but by reason of his slim figure,
he looked somewhat taller. His hands and feet were small, but of his
strength there could be no doubt. Taken altogether, he was not a man
with whom one would feel disposed to trifle. Unfortunately, however, the
word _adventurer_ was written all over him, and, as a considerable
section of the world's population have good reason to know, he was as
little likely to fail to take advantage of his opportunities as he was
to forget the man who had robbed him, or who had done him an ill turn.
It was said in Hong Kong that he was well connected, and that he had
claims upon a Viceroy now gone to his account; that, had he persevered
with them, might have placed him in a very different position. How much
truth there was in this report, however, I cannot say; one thing,
however, is quite certain; if it were true, he had fallen grievously
from his high estate.

When his meditations had continued for something like ten minutes, he
rose from the bed, blew a cloud of smoke, stretched himself, strapped
his valise once more, gave himself what the sailors call a hoist, that
he might be sure his money-belt was in its proper position, and then
unlocked the door, passed out, re-locked it after him, and returned to
the bar. There he called for certain curious liquors, smelt them
suspiciously before using them, and then proceeded deliberately to mix
himself a peculiar drink. The landlord watched him with appreciative
surprise. He imagined himself to be familiar with every drink known to
the taste of man, having had wide experience, but such an one as this he
had never encountered before.

"What do you call it?" he asked, when the other had finished his
preparations.

"I call it a 'Help to Reformation,'" the stranger replied. Then, with a
sneer upon his face, he added, "It should be popular with your
customers."

Taking the drink with him into the verandah outside, he seated himself
in a long chair and proceeded to sip it slowly, as if it were some
elixir whose virtue would be lost by haste. Some people might have been
amused by the motley crowd that passed along the street beyond the
verandah-rails, but Gideon Hayle, for such was his name, took no sort of
interest in it. He had seen it too often to find any variety in it. As a
matter of fact the mere sight of a pigtail was sufficient to remind him
of a certain episode in his career which he had been for years
endeavouring to forget.

"It doesn't look as if they are going to put in an appearance to-night,"
he said to himself, as the liquor in the glass began to wane. "Can this
letter have been a hoax, an attempt to draw me off the scent? If so, by
all the gods in Asia, they may rest assured I'll be even with them."

He looked as though he meant it!

At last he rose, and having returned his glass to the bar, donned his
_topee_, left the hotel, and went for a stroll. It was but a short
distance to the harbour, and he presently found himself strolling along
the several miles of what I have already described as the most wonderful
shipping in the world. To Mr. Hayle the scene was too familiar to call
for comment. He had seen it on many occasions, and under a variety of
auspices. He had witnessed it as a deck-hand and as a saloon passenger;
as a steerage passenger, and in the humble capacity of a stowaway. Now
he was regarding it as a gentleman of leisure, who smoked a cigar that
had been paid for, and round whose waist was a belt with gold in it.
Knowing the spot where the British India boats from Calcutta usually
lie, he made his way to it, and inquired for a certain vessel. She had
not yet arrived, he was informed, and no one seemed to know when she
might be expected. At last, tired of his occupation, he returned to his
hotel, and in due course sat down to supper. He smoked another cigar in
the verandah afterwards, and was on the point of retiring for the night,
when two men suddenly made their appearance before him, and accosted him
by name. He immediately sprang to his feet with a cry of welcome.

"I had made up my mind that you were not coming," he said as they shook
hands.

"The old tub didn't get in until a quarter to nine," the taller of the
two new-comers replied. "When did you arrive?"

"This afternoon," said Hayle, and for a moment volunteered no further
information. A good poker-player is always careful not to show his hand.

"I suppose this place is not full?" inquired the man who had last
spoken.

"Full?" asked Hayle scornfully. "It's full of cockroaches and mildew, if
that's what you mean?"

"The best company we could possibly have," said the taller man.
"Cockroaches and blackbeetles don't talk and they don't listen at
keyholes. What's more, if they trouble you, you can put your heel on
them. Now let's see the landlord and see what he's got to offer us in
the way of rooms. We don't want any dinner, because we had it on board
the steamer."

Hayle accompanied them into the bar, and was a witness of the
satisfaction the landlord endeavoured, from business motives, to
conceal. In due course he followed them to the small, stifling rooms in
the yard at the back, and observed that they were placed on either side
of himself. He had already taken the precaution of rapping upon the
walls in order to discover their thickness, and to find out whether the
sound of chinking money was to be heard through them.

"I must remember that thirty-seven and sixpence and two Mexican dollars
are all I have in the world," he said to himself. "It would be bad
business to allow them to suppose that I had more, until I find out what
they want."

"The last time I was here was with Stellman," said the taller of the
men, when they met again in the courtyard. "He had got a concession from
the Dutch, so he said, to work a portion of the West Coast for shell. He
wanted me to go in with him."

"And you couldn't see your way to it?"

"I've seen two Dutch gaols," said the other; "and I have no use for
them."

"And what happened to Stellman?" asked Hayle, but without any apparent
interest. He was thinking of something else at the time.

"They got his money, his boat, and his shell, with three pearls that
would have made your mouth water," replied the other.

"And Stellman?"

"Oh, they buried him at Sourabaya. He took the cholera, so they said,
but I have heard since that he died of starvation. They don't feed you
too well in Dutch gaols, especially when you've got a concession and
a consul."

The speaker looked up at his companion as he said this, and the other,
who, as I have already said, was not interested in the unfortunate
Stellman, or had probably heard the tale before, nodded his head in the
direction of the room where the smaller man was engaged on his toilet,
to the accompaniment of splashing water. The movement of the head was as
significant as the nod of the famous Lord of Burleigh.

"Just the same, as ever," the other replied. "Always pushing his nose
into old papers and documents, until you'd think he'd make himself ill.
Lord, what a man he would have been for the British Museum! There's not
his equal on Ancient Asia in the world."

"And this particular business?"

"Ah, you shall hear all about it in the proper time. That'll be
to-morrow morning, I reckon. In the meantime you can go to bed, and
content yourself with the knowledge that, all being well, you're going
to play a hand in the biggest scoop that ever I or anybody else
have tackled?"

"You can't give me an inkling of what it is to-night, I suppose?"

"I could, but I'm not going to," replied his companion calmly. "The
story would take too long to tell, and I'm tired. Besides, you would
want to ask questions of Coddy, and that would upset the little man's
equilibrium. No! Go to bed and have a good night's rest, and we'll talk
it over in the morning. I wonder what my curtains are like? If ever
there's a place in this world for mosquitoes, it's Singapore, and I
thought Calcutta was bad enough."

Having no desire to waste time in discussing the various capabilities of
this noxious insect, Hayle bade the other good-night, and, when he had
visited the bar and had smoked another cigar, disappeared in the
direction of his own apartment.

Meanwhile Mr. Kitwater, for such was the name of the gentleman he had
just left, had begun his preparations for the night, vigorously cursing
the mosquitoes as he did so. He was a fine-looking man, with a powerful,
though somewhat humorous cast of countenance. His eyes were large, and
not unkindly. His head was a good one from a phrenological point of
view, but was marred by the possession of enormous ears which stood out
on either side of his head like those of a bat. He wore a close-cropped
beard, and he was famous for his strength, which indeed was that of
a giant.

"Hayle, if I can sum it up aright, is just the same as ever," he said as
he arranged the mosquito-netting of his bed. "He doesn't trust me, and I
don't trust him. But he'll be none the less useful for that. Let him try
to play me false, and by the Lord Harry, he'll not live to do it again."

With this amiable sentiment Mr. Kitwater prepared himself for slumber.

Then, upon the three worthies the hot, tropical night settled down.

Next morning they met at breakfast. All three were somewhat silent. It
was as if the weight of the matter which was that day to be discussed
pressed upon their spirits. The smallest of the trio, Septimus Codd by
name, who was habitually taciturn, spoke scarcely a word. He was a
strange little man, a nineteenth century villain in a sense. He was a
rogue and a vagabond, yet his one hobby, apart from his business, was a
study of the Past, and many an authority on Eastern History would have
been astonished at the extent of his learning. He was never so happy as
when burrowing amongst ancient records, and it was mainly due to his
learning in the first place, and to a somewhat singular accident in the
second, that the trio were now foregathered in Singapore. His personal
appearance was a peculiar one. His height was scarcely more than four
feet six inches. His face was round, and at a distance appeared almost
boyish. It was only when one came to look into it more closely, that it
was seen to be scored by numberless small lines. Moreover it was
unadorned by either beard or moustache. His hair was grey, and was worn
somewhat longer than is usual. He could speak fluently almost every
language of the East, and had been imprisoned by the Russians for
sealing in prohibited waters, had been tortured by the Chinese on the
Yang-tse, and, to his own unextinguishable disgrace, flogged by the
French in Tonquin. Not the least curious trait in his character was the
affection he entertained for Kitwater. The pair had been together for
years, had quarrelled repeatedly, but had never separated. The record of
their doings would form an interesting book, but for want of space
cannot be more than referred to here. Hayle had been their partner in
not a few of their curious undertakings, for his courage and resource
made him a valuable ally, though how far they trusted each other it is
impossible to say.

Breakfast over they adjourned to the verandah, where the inevitable
cigars made their appearance.

"Now, let's hear what you've got to say to me?" Hayle began.

"Not here," Kitwater replied. "There are too many listeners. Come down
to the harbour."

So saying he led his companions to the waterside, where he chartered a
native boat for an hour's sail. Then, when they were out of earshot of
the land, he bade Hayle pay attention to what he had to say.

"First and foremost you must understand," he said, "that it's all due to
Coddy here. We heard something of it from an old Siamese in Hanoi, but
we never put much trust in it. Then Coddy began to look around, to hunt
up some of his fusty records, and after awhile he began to think that
there might be something in the story after all. You see it's this way:
you know Sengkor-Wat?"

"Sengkor how much?"

"Sengkor-Wat--the old ruin at the back of Burmah; near the Chinese
Border. Such a place as you never dreamt of. Tumble-down palaces,
temples, and all that sort of thing--lying out there all alone in
the jungle."

"I've seen Amber," said Hayle, with the air of a man who makes a remark
that cannot be lightly turned aside. "After that I don't want any more
ruined cities. I've got no use for them."

"No, but you've got a use for other things, haven't you? You can use
rubies as big as pigeon's eggs, I suppose. You've got a use for
sapphires, the like of which mortal man never set eyes on before."

"That's certainly so," Hayle replied. "But what has this Sengkor-Wat to
do with it?"

"Everything in the world," Kitwater replied. "That's where those rubies
are, and what's more, that's where we are going to find them."

"Are you joking, or is this sober earnest?"

He looked from Kitwater to Codd. The little man thus appealed to nodded
his head. He agreed with all his companion said.

"It's quite true," said he, after a pause. "Rubies, sapphires and gold,
enough to make us all millionaires times over."

"Bravo for Sengkor-Wat, then!" said Hayle. "But how do you know all
this?"

"I've told you already that Coddy found it out," Kitwater replied.
"Looking over his old records he discovered something that put him on
the track. Then I happened to remember that, years ago, when I was in
Hanoi, an old man had told me a wonderful story about a treasure-chamber
in a ruined city in the Burmese jungle. A Frenchman who visited the
place, and had written a book about it, mentions the fact that there is
a legend amongst the natives that vast treasure is buried in the ruins,
but only one man, so far as we can discover, seems to have taken the
trouble to have looked for it."

"But how big are the ruins?"

"Bigger than London, so Coddy says!"

Coddy nodded his head in confirmation of this fact. But still Hayle
seemed incredulous.

"And are you going to search all that area? It strikes me that you will
be an old man by the time you find the treasure, Kitwater."

"Don't you believe it. We've got something better to go upon than that.
There was an old Chinese traveller who visited this place in the year
... what was the year, Coddy?"

"Twelve hundred and fifty-seven," Codd replied without hesitation.

"Well, he describes the glory of the place, the wealth of the
inhabitants, and then goes on to tell how the king took him to the great
treasure-chamber, where he saw such riches as mortal man had never
looked upon before."

"But that doesn't tell you where the treasure-chamber is?" argued Hayle.

"Perhaps not, but there are other ways of finding out; that is, if a man
has his wits about him. You've got to put two and two together if you
want to get on in this world. Coddy has translated it all, and this is
what it amounts to. When the king had shown the traveller his treasure,
the latter declared that his eyes were so blinded by its magnificence
that he could scarcely mount the steps to the spot where his majesty
gave audience to his people. In another place it mentions that when the
king administered justice he was seated on the throne in the courtyard
of the Three-headed Elephants. Now what we've got to do is to find that
courtyard, and find it we will."

"But how do you know that the treasure hasn't been taken away years ago?
Do you think they were such fools as to leave it behind when they went
elsewhere? Not they!"

Though they were well out of earshot of the land, and alone upon the
boat, Kitwater looked round him suspiciously before he answered. Then a
pleasant smile played over his face. It was as if he were recalling some
happy memory.

"How do I know it?" he asked by way of preface. "If you'll listen for a
moment, I'll tell you. If you want more proof, when I've done, you must
be difficult to please. When I was up at Moulmein six months ago, I
came across a man I hadn't met for several years. He was a Frenchman,
who I knew had spent the most of his life away back in Burmah. He was
very flush of money at the time, and kept throwing out hints, when we
were alone, of a place he knew of where there was the biggest fortune on
earth, to be had for the mere picking up and carrying away. He had
brought away as much of it as he could, but he hadn't time to get it
all, before he was chased out by the Chinese, who, he said, were strong
in the neighbourhood."

Kitwater stopped and rubbed his hands with a chuckle. Decidedly the
recollection was a pleasant one.

"Well," he continued, "to make a long story short, I took advantage of
my opportunity, and got his secret out of him by ... well never mind how
I managed it. It is sufficient that I got it. And the consequence is I
know all that is to be known."

"That's all very well, but what became of the Frenchman? How do you know
that he isn't back there again filling his pockets?"

"I don't think he is," Kitwater replied slowly. "It put me to a lot of
inconvenience, and came just at the time when I was most anxious to
leave. Besides it might have meant trouble." He paused for a moment. "As
a matter of fact they brought it in 'suicide during temporary insanity,
brought on by excessive drinking,' and that got me over the difficulty.
It must have been insanity, I think, for he had no reason for doing away
with himself. It was proved that he had plenty of money left. What was
more, Coddy gave evidence that, only the day before, he had told him he
was tired of life."

Hayle looked at both with evident admiration.

"Well, you two, taken together, beat cockfighting," he said
enthusiastically. Then he added, "But what about the secret? What did
you get out of him?"

"Here it is," said Kitwater, taking an old leather case from his pocket,
and producing from it a small piece of parchment. "There's no writing
upon it, but we have compared it with another plan that we happen to
have, and find that it squares exactly."

He leant over Hayle's shoulder and pointed to a certain portion of the
sketch.

"That's the great temple," he said; "and what the red dot means we are
going to find out."

"Well, suppose it is, what makes you send for me?" Hayle inquired
suspiciously.

"Because we must have another good man with us," Kitwater replied. "I'm
very well, but you're better. Codd's head-piece is all right, but if it
comes to fighting, he might just as well be in Kensal Green. Isn't that
so, little man?"

Mr. Codd nodded his head.

"I said, send for Hayle," he remarked in his quiet little voice. "Kit
sent and now you're here, and it's all right."

"Codd speaks the truth," said Kitwater. "Now what we have to do is to
arrange the business part of the matter, and then to get away as quickly
as possible."

The business portion of the matter was soon settled and Hayle was
thereupon admitted a member of the syndicate for the exploration of the
ancient town of Sengkor-Wat in the hinterland of Burmah.

For the remainder of the day Hayle was somewhat more silent than usual.

"If there's anything in their yarn it might be managed," he said to
himself that night, when he was alone in his bedroom. "Kitwater is
clever, I'll admit that, and Coddy is by no manner of means the fool he
pretends to be. But I'm Gideon Hayle, and that counts for something.
Yes, I think it might be managed."

What it was he supposed might be effected he did not say, but from the
smile upon his face, it was evident that the thought caused him
considerable satisfaction.

Next day they set sail for Rangoon.



PART II

The shadows of evening were slowly falling as the little party of which
Kitwater, Codd, and Hayle, with two Burmen servants, were members,
obtained their first view of the gigantic ruins of which they had come
so far in search. For many days they had been journeying through the
jungle, now the prey of hope, now of despair. They had experienced
adventures by the score, though none of them were of sufficient
importance to be narrated here, and more than once they had come within
a hair's-breadth of being compelled to retrace their steps. They rode
upon the small wiry ponies of the country, their servants clearing a way
before them with their _parangs_ as they advanced. Their route, for the
most part, lay through jungle, in places so dense that it was well-nigh
impossible for them to force a way through it. It was as if nature were
doing her best to save the ancient city from the hand of the spoiler. At
last, and so suddenly that it came upon them like a shock, they found
themselves emerging from the jungle. Below them, in the valley, peering
up out of the forest, was all that remained of a great city, upon the
ruined temples of which the setting sun shone with weird effect.

"At last," said Hayle, bringing his pony to a standstill, and looking
down upon the ruins. "Let us hope we shall have penetrated their secret
before we are compelled to say good-bye to them again."

"Hear, hear, to that," said Kitwater; Septimus Codd, however, never said
a word; the magic hand of the past was upon his heart, and was holding
him spellbound.

They descended the hill, and, when they had selected a suitable spot,
decided to camp upon it for the night.

Next morning they were up betimes; the excitement of the treasure-hunt
was upon each man, and would not let him tarry. It would not be long
now, they hoped, before they would be able to satisfy themselves as to
the truth of the story they had been told, and of the value of the hopes
in which they had put their trust. Having eaten their morning meal, they
took counsel together, examined the plan for the thousandth time,
collected their weapons and tools, bade their servants keep a sharp
lookout, and then set off for the city. The morning sun sparkled upon
the dew, the birds and monkeys chattered at them from the jungle, while
above them towered the myriad domes and sculptured spires of the ancient
city. It was a picture that once seen would never be forgotten. So far,
however, not a sign of human life had they been able to discover;
indeed, for all they knew to the contrary, they might be the only men
within fifty miles of the place.

Leaving the jungle behind them, they found themselves face to face with
a curious stone bridge, spanning the lake or moat which surrounded the
city, and in which the lotus flower bloomed luxuriantly. When they had
crossed the bridge, they stood in the precincts of the city itself. On
either hand rose the ruins in all their solitary grandeur--palaces,
temples, market-places, and houses in endless confusion; while, at the
end of the bridge, and running to right and left as far as the eye could
reach, was a high wall, constructed of large stones, each one of which
would have required the efforts of at least four men to lift it. These,
with a few exceptions, were in an excellent state of preservation.
Passing through the massive gateway the travellers found themselves in
an open square, out of which streets branched off the right and left,
while the jungle thrust in its inquisitive nose on every possible
occasion. The silence was so impressive that the men found themselves
speaking in whispers. Not a sound was to be heard save the fluttering of
birds' wings among the trees, and the obscene chattering of the monkeys
among the leaves. From the first great square the street began gradually
to ascend; then another moat was crossed, and the second portion of the
city was reached. Here the buildings were larger, and the sculpture upon
the walls more impressive even than before. The same intense silence,
however, hung over everything. In the narrower streets creepers trailed
from side to side, almost shutting out the light, and adding a twilight
effect to the already sufficiently mysterious rooms and courtyards to be
seen within.

"This is by no means the most cheerful sort of place," said Hayle to
Kitwater, as they passed down a paved street side by side. "Where do you
expect to find the great temple and the courtyard of the Three
Elephants' Heads?"

"Straight on," said little Codd, who was behind, and had been comparing
the route they were following with the plan he held in his hand.

As he spoke they entered another square, and saw before them a mighty
flight of steps, worn into grooves in places by the thousands of feet
that had ascended and descended them in days gone by. At the top was a
sculptured gateway, finer than anything either of them had ever seen,
and this they presently entered. Above them, clear of the trees, and
towering up into the blue, were the multitudinous domes and spires of
the king's palace, to which the gateway above the steps was the
principal entrance. Some of the spires were broken, some were covered
with creepers, others were mutilated by time and by stress of weather,
but the general effect was grand in the extreme. From courtyard to
courtyard they wandered, but without finding the particular place of
which they were in search. It was more difficult to discover than they
had expected; indeed, they had walked many miles through deserted
streets, and the afternoon was well advanced, before a hail from Codd,
who had gone on ahead of them, informed them that at last some sort of
success had crowned their efforts. When they came up with him they found
themselves in a courtyard somewhat larger than those they had previously
explored, the four corners of which were decorated with three united
elephants' heads.

"By the great poker we've got it at last," cried Kitwater, in a voice
that echoed and reechoed through the silent halls.

"And about time, too," cried Hayle, upon whom the place was exercising a
most curious effect. "If you've found it, show us your precious
treasure-chamber."

"All in good time, my friend, all in good time," said Kitwater. "Things
have gone so smoothly with us hitherto, that we must look for a little
set-back before we've done."

"We don't want any set-backs," said Hayle. "What we want are the rubies
as big as pigeon's eggs, and sapphires, and gold, and then to get back
to civilization as quick as may be. That's what's the matter with me."

As I have already observed, the courtyard in which they were standing
was considerably larger than any they had yet entered. Like the others,
however, it had fallen sadly to decay. The jungle had crept in at all
points, and gorgeous creepers had wreathed themselves round the necks of
the statues above the gateway.

"I don't see any sign of steps," said Hayle, when they had examined the
place in silence for some minutes. "I thought you said a flight of stone
steps led up to where the king's throne was placed?"

"Codd certainly read it so," Kitwater answered, looking about him as if
he did not quite realize the situation. "And how are we to know that
there are not some steps here? They may be hidden. What do you think,
little man?"

He turned to Codd, who was looking about him with eyes in which a
curious light was shining.

"Steps must be somewhere," the latter replied. "We've got to find
them--but not to-night. Sun going down. Too late."

This was undoubtedly true, and so, without more ado, but none the less
reluctantly, the three travellers retraced their steps to their camp
upon the hillside. Hayle was certainly not in a good temper. The
monotony of the long journey from civilization had proved too much for
him, and he was ready to take offence at anything. Fortunately, however,
Kitwater was not of the same way of thinking, otherwise there would
probably have been trouble between them.

Next morning they were up and had breakfasted before the sun was in the
sky. Their meal at an end, they picked up their arms and tools, bade
their servants have a care of the camp, and then set off on their quest
once more. There was a perceptible change, however, in their demeanours.
A nervous excitement had taken possession of them, and it affected each
man in a different manner. Kitwater was suspicious, Hayle was morose,
while little Codd repeatedly puckered up his mouth as if he were about
to whistle, but no sound ever came from it. The sky overhead was
emerald-blue, the air was full of the sweetest perfumes, while birds of
the most gorgeous plumage flew continually across their path. They had
no regard, however, for nature's beauties. The craving for wealth was in
their hearts, rendering them blind to everything else. They crossed the
stone bridge, passed through the outer portion of the city, proceeded
over the second moat, and at last, with the familiarity of old friends,
made their way up the steps towards the courtyard of the king's palace.

"Now, my friends, listen to me," said Kitwater, as he spoke throwing
down the tools he had been carrying, "what we have to do is to
thoroughly sound the whole of this courtyard, inch by inch and stone by
stone. We can't be wrong, for that this is the courtyard of the Three
Elephants' Heads, there can be no doubt. You take the right-hand side,"
he went on addressing Hayle; "you, Coddy, must take the left. I'll try
the middle. If we don't hit it to-day we'll do so to-morrow, or the next
day, or the day after that. This is the place we were told about, and if
the treasure is to be found anywhere, it will be here. For that reason
we've got to set about the search as soon as possible! Now to work!"

Using the iron bars they had brought with them for the purpose, they
began their task, bumping the iron down upon each individual stone in
the hope of eliciting the hollow sound that was to reveal the presence
of the treasure-chamber. With the regularity of automatons they paraded
up and down the walled enclosure without speaking, until they had
thoroughly tested every single stone; no sort of success, however,
rewarded their endeavours.

"I expected as much," said Hayle angrily, as he threw down the bar.
"You've been humbugged, and our long journey is all undertaken for
nothing. I was a fool ever to have listened to your nonsensical yarn. I
might have known it would have come to nothing. It's not the first time
I've been treasure-hunting, but I'll swear it shall be the last. I've
had enough of these fooleries."

A dangerous light was gathering in Kitwater's eyes. He moreover threw
down the iron bar as if in anticipation of trouble, and placed his fists
defiantly on his hips.

"If you are going to talk like that, my boy," he began, with never a
quaver in his voice, "it's best for us to understand each other straight
off. Once and for all let me tell you that I'll have none of your
bounce. Whether or not this business is destined to come to anything,
you may rely upon one thing, and that is the fact that I did my best to
do you a good turn by allowing you to come into it. There's another
thing that calls for comment, and you can deny it if you will. It's a
fact that you've been grumbling and growling ever since we left Rangoon,
and have made difficulties innumerable where you needn't have done so,
and now, because you think the affair is going to turn out badly, you
round upon me as if it were all a put-up job on my part, to rook you of
your money. It's not the thing, Hayle, and I don't mind saying that I
resent it."

"You may resent it or not, as you darned well please," said Hayle
doggedly, biting at the butt of his cigar as he spoke. "It don't matter
a curse to me; you don't mean to tell me you think I'm fool enough to
stand by and see myself----"

At that moment Codd, who had been away investigating on his own account,
and had no idea of the others' quarrel, gave a shout of delight. He was
at the further end of the courtyard, at a spot where a dense mass of
creeper had fallen, and now lay trailing upon the stones. The effect
upon his companions was instantaneous. They abandoned their quarrel
without another word, and picking up their crowbars hastened towards
the spot where he was waiting for them.

"What have you found, little man?" inquired Kitwater, as he approached.

Mr. Codd, however, said nothing in reply, but beat with his bar upon the
stone beneath him. There could be little or no doubt about the hollow
sound that rewarded his endeavours.

"We've got it," cried Kitwater. "Bring the pickaxe, Hayle, and we'll
soon see what is underneath this precious stone. We may be at the heart
of the mystery for all we know."

In less time than it takes to tell Hayle had complied with the other's
request, and was hard at work picking out the earth which held the
enormous flagstone in its place. A state of mad excitement had taken
hold of the men, and the veins stood out like whipcord upon Hayle's
forehead. It was difficult to say how many feet separated them from the
treasure that was to make them lords of all the earth. At last the stone
showed signs of moving, and it was possible for Kitwater to insert his
bar beneath one corner. He did so, prized it up, and leant upon it with
all his weight. It showed no sign of moving, however. The seal of Time
was set upon it, and it was not to be lightly disturbed.

"Push your bar in here alongside of mine, Coddy," said Kitwater at last.
"I fancy we shall get it then."

The little man did as he was directed, Kitwater and Hayle seconded his
efforts on the other side, and then, under the strain of their united
exertions, the stone began to move slowly from its place. Little by
little they raised it, putting all the strength they possessed into the
operation, until, at last, with one great effort they hurled it
backwards, and it fell with a crash upon the pavement behind them,
revealing a dark, narrow hole, the bottom of which it was impossible
to see.

[Illustration: "A DARK, NARROW HOLE, THE BOTTOM OF WHICH IT WAS
IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE."]

"Now then, Gideon, my worthy friend, what have you got to say about the
business?" asked Kitwater, as he wiped the perspiration from his brow.
"You pretended to doubt my story. Was there anything in the old
Frenchman's yarn after all. Were we wasting our time upon a fool's
errand when we set off to explore Sengkor-Wat?"

Hayle looked at him somewhat sheepishly.

"No? no," he said, "I am willing to admit that so far you have won the
trick. Let me down easily if you can. I can neither pass nor follow
suite. I am right out of my reckoning. Now what do you propose to do?"

"Get one of those torches we brought with us, and find out what there is
in that hole," Kitwater answered.

They waited while the latter went back to the camp, and when he
reappeared, and had lighted the torch, they prepared to follow him down
the steps into the mysterious depths below. The former, they soon
discovered, were as solidly built as the rest of the palace, and were
about thirty in number. They were, moreover, wet and slimy, and so
narrow that it was only possible for one man to descend them at once.
When they reached the bottom they found themselves standing in a narrow
passage, the walls of which were composed of solid stone, in many places
finely carved. The air was close, and from the fact that now and again
bats dashed past them into the deeper darkness, they argued that there
must be some way of communicating with the open air at the further end.

"This is just what the Frenchman told me," said Kitwater, and his voice
echoed away along the passage like distant thunder. "He said we should
find a narrow corridor at the foot of the steps, and then the Treasure
Chamber at the further end. So far it looks all right. Let us move on,
my friends."

There was no need for him to issue such an invitation. They were more
than eager to follow him.

Leaving the first room, or ante-chamber, as it might more properly be
called, they continued their way along the narrow passage which led from
it. The air was growing perceptibly closer every moment, while the light
of the torch reflected the walls on either side. Hayle wondered for a
moment as he followed his leader, what would happen to them if the
Chinese, of whom the old Frenchman had spoken to Kitwater, should
discover their presence in the ruins, and should replace the stone upon
the hole. In that case the treasure would prove of small value to them,
for they would be buried alive. He did not allow his mind, however, to
dwell very long upon this subject, for Kitwater, who was pushing on
ahead with the torch, had left the passage, and was standing in a large
and apparently well vaulted chamber. Handsomely carved pillars supported
the roof, the floor was well paved, while on either side there were
receptacles, not unlike the niches in the Roman catacombs, though for
what purpose they were intended was not at first glance so easy to
determine. With hearts that beat tumultuously in their breasts, they
hastened to one of them to see what it contained. The niche in question
was filled with strange-looking vessels, some like bowls, and others not
unlike crucibles. The men almost clambered over each other in their
excitement to see what they contained. It was as if their whole
existence depended upon it; they could scarcely breathe for excitement.
Every moment's delay was unspeakable agony. At last, however, the
coverings were withdrawn and the contents of the receptacles stood
revealed. Two were filled with uncut gems, rubies and sapphires, others
contained bar gold, and yet more contained gems, to which it was
scarcely possible in such a light to assign a name. One thing at least
was certain. So vast was the treasure that the three men stood
tongue-tied with amazement at their good fortune. In their wildest
dreams they had never imagined such luck, and now that this vast
treasure lay at their finger-ends, to be handled, to be made sure of,
they were unable to realize the extent of their future happiness. Hayle
dived his hands into a bowl of uncut rubies, and having collected as
many as he could hold in each fist, turned to his companions.

"Look here," he cried, "it's the Bank of England in each hand."

[Illustration: "'LOOK HERE,' HE CRIED, 'IT'S THE BANK OF ENGLAND IN EACH
HAND.'"]

His voice ended in a choke. Then Kitwater took up the tale.

"I must get out of this or I shall go mad," he muttered hoarsely. "Come
let us get back to the light. If I don't I shall die."

Without more ado, like men who were drunk with the finest wines, they
followed him along the passage and up the steps into the open air. They
were just in time to see the sun setting blood-red behind the jungle.
His beauty, however, had no effect upon them, in all probability they
were regardless of him altogether, for with almost simultaneous sighs of
relief they threw themselves down upon the flagstones of the courtyard,
and set to work, with feverish earnestness, to overhaul the booty they
had procured. All three were good judges of stones, and a very brief
examination was sufficient, even in the feeble evening light, to enable
them to see that they were not only gems of the first water, but also
stones of such a size as is seldom seen in these unregenerate days.

"It's the biggest scoop on earth," said Hayle, unconsciously echoing the
expression Kitwater had used to him in Singapore. "What's better, there
are hundreds more like them down below. I'll tell you what it is, my
friends, we're just the richest men on this earth at the present moment,
and don't you forget it!"

In his excitement he shook hands wildly with his companions. His
ill-humour had vanished like breath off a razor, and now he was on the
best of terms not only with himself, but also with the world in general.

"If I know anything about stones there are at least one hundred thousand
pounds worth in this little parcel," he said enthusiastically, "and what
is more, there is a million or perhaps two millions to be had for the
trouble of looking for them. What do you say if we go below again?"

"No! no!" said Kitwater, "it's too late. We'd better be getting back to
the camp as soon as may be."

"Very well," Hayle replied reluctantly.

They accordingly picked up their iron bars and replaced the stone that
covered the entrance to the subterranean passage.

"I don't like leaving it," said Hayle, "it don't seem to me to be safe,
somehow. Think what there is down there. Doesn't it strike you that it
would be better to fill our pockets while we've the chance? Who knows
what might happen before we can come again?"

"Nonsense," said Kitwater. "Who do you think is going to rob us of it?
What's the use of worrying about it? In the morning we'll come back and
fill up our bags, and then clear out of the place and trek for
civilization as if the devil and all were after us. Just think, my lads,
what there will be to divide."

"A million apiece, at least," said Hayle rapturously, and then in an
awed voice he added, as if he were discomfited by his own significance,
"I never thought to be worth a quarter of that. Somehow it doesn't seem
as if it can be real."

"It's quite real," said Mr. Codd, as he sprinkled some dry dust round
the crack of the stone to give it an appearance of not having been
disturbed. "There's no doubt of it."

When he had finished they picked up their tools and set off on their
return journey to the camp. The sun had disappeared behind the jungle
when they left the courtyard of the Three Elephants' Heads and ascended
the stone steps towards the inner moat. They crossed the bridge, and
entered the outer city in silence. The place was very dreary at that
hour of the day, and to Codd, who was of an imaginative turn of mind, it
seemed as if faces out of the long deserted past were watching him from
every house. His companions, however, were scarcely so impressionable.
They were gloating over the treasure they had won for themselves, and
one, at least, was speculating as to how he should spend his share.
Suddenly Hayle, who was looking down a side street, uttered an
exclamation of surprise.

"Did you see that?" he inquired of Kitwater. Then, without waiting for a
reply, he dived into the nearest ruin and disappeared from view.

"What on earth is the matter with him?" inquired Kitwater of Codd. "Has
he gone mad?"

Codd only shook his head. Hayle's doings were more often than not an
enigma to him. Presently, however, the runaway made his appearance
before them. His face was flushed and he breathed heavily. Apparently he
had been running, and for some distance.

"Didn't you see him?" he inquired of his companions in some surprise.

"See who?" asked Kitwater, with elevated eyebrows. "Who do you think you
saw?"

"A man," Hayle replied. "I am ready to take my oath I saw him cross that
narrow street back yonder."

"Was it one of our own men do you think?" said Codd, referring to the
two Burmen they had brought with them.

"Not a bit of it," Hayle replied. "I tell you, Kitwater, I am as sure
as I am of anything that the man I saw was a Chinaman."

"Gammon," said Kitwater. "There isn't a Chinaman within fifty miles of
the ruins. You are unduly excited. You'll be seeing a regiment of Scots
Guards presently if you are not careful."

"I don't care what you say, it was a man I saw," the other answered.
"Good Heavens! won't you believe me, when I say that I saw his pigtail?"

"Believe you, of course I will," replied Kitwater good-humouredly. "It's
a pity you didn't catch hold of him by it, however. No, no, Gid, you
take my word for it, there are no Chinamen about here. What do you
think, Codd?"

Mr. Codd appeared to have no opinion, for he did not reply.

By this time they had crossed the last bridge and had left the city
behind them. The jungle was lulling itself to sleep, and drowsy
croonings sounded on every hand. So certain was Hayle that he had not
been mistaken about the man he declared he had seen, that he kept his
eyes well open to guard against a surprise. He did not know what clump
of bamboo might contain an enemy, and, in consequence, his right hand
was kept continually in his pocket in order not to lose the grip of the
revolver therein contained. At last they reached the top of the hill and
approached the open spot where their camp was situated.

"What did I tell you?" said Kitwater, as he looked about the camp and
could discover no traces of their two native servants. "It was one of
our prowling rascals you saw, and when he comes back I'll teach him to
come spying on us. If I know anything of the rattan, he won't do
it again."

Hayle shrugged his shoulders. While the fact that their servants were
not at the camp to anticipate their return was certainly suspicious, he
was still as convinced as ever that the man he had seen slipping through
the ruins was no Burman, but a true son of the Celestial Empire.

Worn out by the excitement of the day, Kitwater anathematized the
servants for not having been there to prepare the evening meal, but
while he and Hayle wrangled, Mr. Codd had as usual taken the matter into
his own hands, and, picking up a cooking-pot, had set off in the
direction of the stream, whence they drew their supply of water. He had
not proceeded very far, however, before he uttered a cry and came
running back to the camp. There was a scared expression upon his face as
he rejoined his companions.

"They've not run away," he cried, pointing in the direction whence he
had come. "They're dead!"

"Dead?" cried Kitwater and Hayle together. Then the latter added, "What
do you mean by that?"

"What I say," Codd replied. "They're both lying in the jungle back
there with their throats cut."

"Then I was right after all," Hayle found time to put in. "Come, Kit,
let us go and see. There's more than we bargained for at the back of
all this."

They hurried with Codd to the spot where he had discovered the bodies,
to find that his tale was too true. Their two unfortunate servants were
to be seen lying one on either side of the track, both dead and
shockingly mutilated. Kitwater knelt beside them and examined them
more closely.

"Chinese," he said laconically. Then after a pause he continued, "It's a
good thing for us we had the foresight to take our rifles with us
to-day, otherwise we should have lost them for a certainty. Now we shall
have to keep our eyes open for trouble. It won't be long in coming, mark
my words."

"You don't think they watched us at work in that courtyard, do you?"
asked Hayle anxiously, as they returned to the camp. "If that's so,
they'll have every atom of the remaining treasure, and we shall be
done for."

He spoke as if until that moment they had received nothing.

"It's just possible they may have done so, of course," said Kitwater,
"but how are we to know? We couldn't prevent them, for we don't know how
many of them there may be. That fellow you saw this evening may only
have been placed there to spy upon our movements. Confound it all, I
wish we were a bigger party."

"It's no use wishing that," Hayle returned, and then after a pause he
added--"Fortunately we hold a good many lives in our hands, and what's
more, we know the value of our own. The only thing we can do is to
watch, watch, and watch, and, if we are taken by surprise, we shall have
nobody to thank for it but ourselves. Now if you'll stand sentry, Coddy
and I will get tea."

They set to work, and the meal was in due course served and eaten.
Afterwards Codd went on guard, being relieved by Hayle at midnight. Ever
since they had made the ghastly discovery in the jungle, the latter had
been more silent even than the gravity of the situation demanded. Now he
sat, nursing his rifle, listening to the mysterious voices of the
jungle, and thinking as if for dear life. Meanwhile his companions slept
soundly on, secure in the fact that he was watching over them.

At last Hayle rose to his feet.

"It's my only chance," he said to himself, as he went softly across to
where Kitwater was lying. "It must be now or never!"

Kneeling beside the sleeping man, he felt for the packet of precious
stones they had that day obtained. Having found it he transferred it to
his own pocket, and then returned to his former position as quietly as
he had come. Then, having secured as much of their store of ammunition
as he could conveniently carry, together with a supply of food
sufficient to last him for several days, he deserted his post, abandoned
his friends, and disappeared into the jungle!



PART III

The sun was slowly sinking behind the dense wall of jungle which hems
in, on the southern side, the frontier station of Nampoung. In the river
below there is a Ford, which has a distinguished claim on fame, inasmuch
as it is one of the gateways from Burmah into Western China. This Ford
is guarded continually by a company of Sikhs, under the command of an
English officer. To be candid, it is not a post that is much sought
after. Its dullness is extraordinary. True, one can fish there from
morning until night, if one is so disposed; and if one has the good
fortune to be a botanist, there is an inexhaustible field open for
study. It is also true that Nampoung is only thirty miles or so, as the
crow flies, from Bhamo, and when one has been in the wilds, and out of
touch of civilization for months at a time, Bhamo is by no means a place
to be despised. So thought Gregory, of the 123rd Burmah Regiment, as he
threw his line into the pool below him.

"It's worse than a dog's life," he said to himself, as he looked at the
Ford a hundred yards or so to his right, where, at the moment, his
subaltern was engaged levying toll upon some Yunnan merchants who were
carrying cotton on pack-mules into China. After that he glanced behind
him at the little cluster of buildings on the hill, and groaned once
more. "I wonder what they are doing in England," he continued.
"Trout-fishing has just begun, and I can imagine the dear old Governor
at the Long Pool, rod in hand. The girls will stroll down in the
afternoon to find out what sport he has had, and they'll walk home
across the Park with him, while the Mater will probably meet them half
way. And here am I in this God-forsaken hole with nothing to do but to
keep an eye on that Ford there. Bhamo is better than this; Mandalay is
better than Bhamo, and Rangoon is better than either. Chivvying _dakus_
is paradise compared with this sort of thing. Anyhow, I'm tired
of fishing."

He began to take his rod to pieces preparatory to returning to his
quarters on the hill. He had just unshipped the last joint, when he
became aware that one of his men was approaching him. He inquired his
business, and was informed in return that Dempsey, his sub, would be
glad to see him at the Ford. Handing his rod to the man he set off in
the direction of the crossing in question, to become aware, as he
approached it, of a disreputable figure propped up against a tree on the
nearer bank.

"What's the matter, Dempsey?" he inquired. "What on earth have you got
there, man?"

"Well, that's more than I can say," the other replied. "He's evidently
a white man, and I fancy an Englishman. At home we should call him a
scarecrow. He turned up from across the Ford just now, and tumbled down
in the middle of the stream like a shot rabbit. Never saw such a thing
before. He's not a pretty sight, is he?"

"Poor devil," said Gregory. "He seems to be on his last legs. I wonder
who the deuce he is, and what brought him into this condition."

[Illustration: "'POOR DEVIL,' SAID GREGORY. 'HE SEEMS TO BE ON HIS LAST
LEGS.'"]

"I've searched, and there's nothing about to tell us," said Dempsey.
"What do you think we had better do with him?"

"Get him up the hill," said his superior, without hesitation. "When he's
a bit stronger we'll have his story out of him. I'll bet a few years'
pay it will be interesting."

A file of men were called, and the mysterious stranger was carried up to
the residence of the English officers. It was plain to the least
observant that he was in a very serious condition. Such clothes as he
possessed were in rags; his face was pinched with starvation, and
moreover he was quite unconscious. When his bearers, accompanied by the
two Englishmen, reached the cluster of huts, he was carried to a small
room at the end of the officers' bungalow and placed upon the bed. After
a little brandy had been administered, he recovered consciousness and
looked about him. Heaving a sigh of relief, he inquired where he
might be.

"You are at Nampoung," said Gregory, "and you ought to thank your stars
that you are not in Kingdom Come. If ever a man was near it, you have
been. We won't ask you for your story now; however, later on, you shall
_bukh_ to your heart's content. Now I am going to give you something to
eat. You look as if you want it badly enough."

Gregory looked at Dempsey and made a sign, whereupon the other withdrew,
to presently return carrying a bowl of soup. The stranger drank it
ravenously, and then lay back and closed his eyes once more. He would
have been a clever man who could have recognized in the emaciated being
upon the bed, the spruce, well-cared-for individual who was known to the
Hotel of the Three Desires in Singapore as Gideon Hayle.

"You'd better rest a while now," said Gregory, "and then perhaps you'll
feel equal to joining us at mess, or whatever you like to call it."

"Thanks very much," the man replied, with the conventional utterance of
an English gentleman, which was not lost upon his audience. "I hope I
shall feel up to it."

"Whoever the fellow is," said Gregory, as they passed along the verandah
a few minutes later, "he has evidently seen better days. Poor beggar, I
wonder where he's been, and what he has been up to?"

"We shall soon find out," Dempsey answered. "All he said when we fished
him out of the water was '_at last_,' and then he fainted clean away. I
am not more curious than my neighbours, but I don't mind admitting that
I am anxious to hear what he has to say for himself. Talk about Rip Van
Winkle, why, he is not in it with this fellow. He could give him points
and beat him hollow."

An hour later the stranger was so far recovered as to be able to join
his hosts at their evening meal. Between them they had managed to fit
him out with a somewhat composite set of garments. He had shaved off his
beard, had reduced his hair to something like order, and in consequence
had now the outward resemblance at least of a gentleman.

"Come, that's better," said Gregory as he welcomed him. "I don't know
what your usual self may be like, but you certainly have more the
appearance of a man, and less that of a skeleton than when we first
brought you in. You must have been pretty hard put to it out yonder."

The recollection of all he had been through was so vivid, that the man
shuddered at the mere thought of it.

"I wouldn't go through it again for worlds," he said. "You don't know
what I've endured."

"Trading over the border alone?" Gregory inquired.

The man shook his head.

"Tried to walk across from Pekin," he said, "_via_ Szechuen and Yunnan.
Nearly died of dysentery in Yunnan city. While I was there my servants
deserted me, taking with them every halfpenny I possessed. Being
suspected by the Mandarins, I was thrown into prison, managed eventually
to escape, and so made my way on here. I thought to-day was going to
prove my last."

"You have had a hard time of it, by Jove," said Dempsey; "but you've
managed to come out of it alive. And now where are you going?"

"I want, if possible, to get to Rangoon," the other replied. "Then I
shall ship for England as best as I can. I've had enough of China to
last me a lifetime."

From that moment the stranger did not refer again to his journey. He was
singularly reticent upon this point, and feeling that perhaps the
recollection of all he had suffered might be painful to him, the two men
did not press him to unburden himself.

"He's a strange sort of fellow," said Gregory to Dempsey, later in the
evening, when the other had retired to rest. "If he has walked from
Pekin here, as he says, he's more than a little modest about it. I'll be
bound his is a funny story if only he would condescend to tell it."

They would have been more certain than ever of this fact had they been
able to see their guest at that particular moment. In the solitude of
his own room he had removed a broad leather belt from round his waist.
From the pocket of this belt he shook out upwards of a hundred rubies
and sapphires of extraordinary size. He counted them carefully, replaced
them in the belt, and then once more secured the latter about his waist.

"At last I am safe," he muttered to himself, "but it was a close
shave--a very close shave. I wouldn't do that journey again for all the
money the stones are worth. No! not for twice the amount."

Once more the recollection of his sufferings rose so vividly before him
that he could not suppress a shudder. Then he arranged the
mosquito-curtains of his bed, and laid himself down upon it. It was not
long before he was fast asleep.

Before he went to his own quarters, Gregory looked in upon the stranger
to find him sleeping heavily, one arm thrown above his head.

"Poor beggar!" said the kind-hearted Englishman, as he looked down at
him. "One meets some extraordinary characters out here. But I think he's
the strangest that has come into my experience."

The words had scarcely left his lips before the stranger was sitting up
in bed with a look of abject terror in his eyes. The sweat of a living
fear was streaming down his face. Gregory ran to him and placed his arm
about him.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "Pull yourself together, man, there's
nothing for you to fear here. You're quite safe."

The other looked at him for a moment as if he did not recognize him.
Then, taking in the situation, he gave an uneasy laugh.

"I have had such an awful nightmare," he said. "I thought the Chinese
were after me again. Lord! how thankful I am it's not true."

Next morning George Bertram, as he called himself, left Nampoung for
Bhamo, with Gregory's cheque for five hundred rupees in his pocket.

"You must take it," said that individual in reply to the other's
half-hearted refusal of the assistance. "Treat it as a loan if you like.
You can return it to me when you are in better circumstances. I assure
you I don't want it. We can't spend money out here."

Little did he imagine when he made that offer, the immense wealth which
the other carried in the belt that encircled his waist. Needless to say
Hayle said nothing to him upon the subject. He merely pocketed the
cheque with an expression of his gratitude, promising to repay it as
soon as he reached London. As a matter of fact he did so, and to this
day, I have no doubt, Gregory regards him as a man of the most
scrupulous and unusual integrity.

Two days later the wanderer reached Bhamo, that important military post
on the sluggish Irrawaddy. His appearance, thanks to Gregory and
Dempsey's kind offices, was now sufficiently conventional to attract
little or no attention, so he negotiated the Captain's cheque, fitted
himself out with a few other things that he required, and then set off
for Mandalay. From Mandalay he proceeded as fast as steam could take him
to Rangoon, where, after the exercise of some diplomacy, he secured a
passage aboard a tramp steamer bound for England.

When the Shweydagon was lost in the evening mist, and the steamer had
made her way slowly down the sluggish stream with the rice-fields on
either side, Hayle went aft and took his last look at the land to which
he was saying good-bye.

"A quarter of a million if a halfpenny," he said, "and as soon as they
are sold and the money is in my hands, the leaf shall be turned, and my
life for the future shall be all respectability."



PART IV

Two months had elapsed since the mysterious traveller from China had
left the lonely frontier station at Nampoung. In outward appearance it
was very much the same as it had been then. The only difference
consisted in the fact that Captain Gregory and his subaltern Dempsey,
having finished their period of enforced exile, had returned to Bhamo to
join the main body of their regiment. A Captain Handiman and a subaltern
named Grantham had taken their places, and were imitating them inasmuch
as they spent the greater portion of their time fishing and complaining
of the hardness of their lot. It was the more unfortunate in their case
that they did not get on very well together. The fact of the matter was
Handiman was built on very different lines to Gregory, his predecessor;
he gave himself airs, and was fond of asserting his authority. In
consequence the solitary life at the Ford sat heavily upon both men.

One hot afternoon, Grantham, who was a keen sportsman, took his gun,
and, accompanied by a wiry little Shan servant, departed into the jungle
on _shikar_ thoughts intent. He was less successful than usual; indeed,
he had proceeded fully three miles before he saw anything worth emptying
his gun at. In the jungle the air was as close as a hothouse, and the
perspiration ran down his face in streams.

"What an ass I was to come out!" he said angrily to himself. "This heat
is unbearable."

At that moment a crashing noise reached him from behind. Turning to
discover what occasioned it, he was just in time to see a large boar
cross the clearing and disappear into the bamboos on the further side.
Taking his rifle from the little Shan he set off in pursuit. It was no
easy task, for the jungle in that neighbourhood was so dense that it was
well nigh impossible to make one's way through it. At last, however,
they hit upon a dried up _nullah_, and followed it along, listening as
they went to the progress the boar was making among the bamboos on their
right. Presently they sighted him, crossing an open space a couple of
hundred yards or so ahead of them. On the further side he stopped and
began to feed. This was Grantham's opportunity, and, sighting his rifle,
he fired. The beast dropped like a stone, well hit, just behind the
shoulder. The report, however, had scarcely died away before the little
Shan held up his hand to attract Grantham's attention.

"What is it?" the other inquired.

Before the man had time to reply his quick ear caught the sound of a
faint call from the jungle on the other side of the _nullah_. Without
doubt it was the English word _help_, and, whoever the man might be who
called, it was plain that he was in sore straits.

"What the deuce does it mean?" said Grantham, half to himself and half
to the man beside him. "Some poor devil got lost in the jungle, I
suppose? I'll go and have a look."

Having climbed the bank of the _nullah_, he was about to proceed in the
direction whence the cry had come, when he became aware of the most
extraordinary figure he had ever seen in his life approaching him. The
appearance Hayle had presented when he had turned up at the Ford two
months before was nothing compared with that of this individual. He was
a small man, not more than five feet in height. His clothes were in
rags, a grizzly beard grew in patches upon his cheeks and chin, while
his hair reached nearly to his shoulders. His face was pinched until it
looked more like that of a skeleton than a man. Grantham stood and
stared at him, scarcely able to believe his eyes.

"Good Heavens," he said to himself, "what a figure! I wonder where the
beggar hails from?" Then addressing the man, he continued, "Are you an
Englishman, or what are you?"

The man before him, however, did not reply. He placed his finger on his
lips, and turning, pointed in the direction he had come.

"Either he doesn't understand, or he's dumb," said Grantham. "But it's
quite certain that he wants me to follow him somewhere."

Turning to the man again, he signed to him to proceed, whereupon the
little fellow hobbled painfully away from the _nullah_ in the direction
whence he had appeared. On and on he went until he at length came to a
standstill at the foot of a hill, where a little stream came splashing
down in a miniature cascade from the rocks above. Then Grantham realized
the meaning of the little man's action. Stretched out beside a rock was
the tall figure of a man. Like his companion, he presented a miserable
appearance. His clothes, if clothes they could be called, were in rags,
his hair was long and snowy white, matching his beard, which descended
to within a few inches of his waist. His eyes were closed, and for a
moment Grantham thought he was dead. This was not the case, however, for
upon his companion approaching him he held out his hand and inquired
whether he had discovered the man who had fired the shot?

To Grantham's surprise the other made no reply in words, but, taking his
friend's hand he made some mysterious movements upon it with his
fingers, whereupon the latter raised himself to a sitting position.

"My friend tells me that you are an Englishman," he said in a voice that
shook with emotion. "I'm glad we have found you. I heard your rifle shot
and hailed you. We are in sore distress, and have been through such
adventures and such misery as no man would believe. I have poisoned my
foot, and am unable to walk any further. As you can see for yourself I
am blind, while my companion is dumb."

This statement accounted for the smaller man's curious behaviour and the
other's closed eyes.

"You have suffered indeed," said Grantham pityingly. "But how did it all
come about?"

"We were traders, and we fell into the hands of the Chinese," the taller
man answered. "With their usual amiability they set to work to torture
us. My companion's tongue they cut out at the roots, while, as I have
said, they deprived me of my sight. After that they turned us loose to
go where we would. We have wandered here, there, and everywhere, living
on what we could pick up, and dying a thousand deaths every day. It
would have been better if we had died outright--but somehow we've come
through. Can you take us to a place where we can procure food? We've
been living on jungle fruit for an eternity. My foot wants looking to
pretty badly, too."

"We'll do all we can for you," said Grantham. "That's if we can get you
down to the Ford, which is about five miles away."

"You'll have to carry me then, for I'm too far gone to walk."

"I think it can be managed," said Grantham. "At any rate we'll try."

Turning to the little Shan he despatched him with a message to Handiman,
and when the other had disappeared, knelt down beside the tall man and
set to work to examine his injured foot. There could be no doubt that it
was in a very serious condition. Tramping through the jungle he had
managed to poison it, and had been unable to apply the necessary
remedies. Obtaining some water from the stream Grantham bathed it
tenderly, and then bound it up as well as he could with his
handkerchief.

"That's the best I can do for you for the present," he said. "We must
leave it as it is, and, when we get you to the station, we will see what
else can be managed."

He looked up and saw the little man's eyes watched him intently. There
was a look of almost dog-like affection in them for his companion, that
went to the young soldier's heart.

"By Jove," he said, "I'm sorry for you fellows. You must have suffered
agonies. The Chinese are devils. But yours is not the first case we have
heard of. We only come up here for a month at a time, but the man we
relieved told us a strange tale about another poor beggar who came into
the station some two months ago. He had been wandering in the jungle,
and was nearly at death's-door."

The blind man gave a start, while the little man seized his hand and
made a number of rapid movements upon it with his fingers.

"My friend wants to know if you are aware of that man's name?" he said.
"We lost a companion, and he thinks that he may be the man. For
Heaven's sake tell us what you know. You have no idea what it means
to us."

"Since you are so interested in him I am sorry to have to say that I do
not know very much. You see he had very little to do with us. As I have
said, he turned up while our predecessors were here. From what I heard
about him from Gregory, he gathered that he was a tall, thin man, who
had come through from Pekin by way of Yunnan."

"Are you sure it was from Yunnan?"

"That's what they told me," said Grantham. "Since then I have heard that
he was on his way from Pekin to Burmah, and that his coolies had robbed
him of all he possessed."

"You don't happen to remember his name, I suppose!"

The blind man tried to ask the question calmly, but his voice failed
him.

"As far as I remember his name was George Bertram," Grantham answered.

There was a pause for a few seconds, after which the blind man began
again--

"He didn't tell you, I suppose, whether he had any money about him?"

"He hadn't a red cent," said Grantham. "The Chinese cleared him out.
They lent him the money to get to Rangoon. I happen to know that because
he cashed my friend's cheque in Bhamo."

There was another and somewhat longer pause.

"You did not hear whether he had any precious stones in his possession?"

"Good gracious, no! From what they told me I gathered that the man
hadn't a halfpenny in the world. Why should he have been likely to have
had jewels? In point of fact I'm sure he hadn't, for I was given to
understand he was about as woe-begone a customer as could be found
anywhere."

The blind man uttered a heavy sigh, and sank back to his former position
upon the ground.

An hour and a half later, just as the shadows of evening were drawing
in, a party of Sikhs put in an appearance, bringing with them a dhooly,
in which they placed the injured man. It was almost dark when they
reached the station, where Grantham's superior officer was awaiting
their coming.

"What on earth's the meaning of this?" he asked, as the _cortege_ drew
up before the bungalow. "Who are these men? And where did you
find them?"

Grantham made his report, and then the wounded man was lifted out and
carried to a hut at the rear of the main block of buildings. The little
man watched everything with an eagle eye, as if he were afraid some evil
might be practised upon his companion. When the blind man had been
placed on a bed, and his foot attended to as well as the rough surgery
of the place would admit, Grantham did something he had not already
done, and that was to ask them their names.

"My name is Kitwater," said the blind man, "and the name of my friend
here is Codd--Septimus Codd. He's one of the best and staunchest little
fellows in the world. I don't know whether our names will convey much to
you, but such as they are you are welcome to them. As a matter of fact,
they are all we have with which to requite your hospitality."

Why it should have been so I cannot say, but it was evident from the
first that Captain Handiman did not believe the account the refugees
gave of themselves. He was one of that peculiar description of persons
who have an idea that it adds to their dignity not to believe anything
that is told them, and he certainly acted up to it on every
possible occasion.

"There's more in the case than meets the eye," he said suspiciously,
"and I fancy, if only we could see the bottom of it, we should discover
that your two _proteges_ are as fine a pair of rascals as could be found
on the Continent of Asia."

"I don't know anything about that," Grantham replied. "I only know that
they were a miserable couple, and that I did the best I could for them.
You wouldn't have had me leave them in the jungle, surely?"

"I am not aware I have said so," the other answered stiffly. "The only
thing I object to is your treating them as if they were martyrs, when in
all probability they deserve all the punishment they have received."

Grantham was too wise to carry the argument any further. He knew that
when Handiman was in his present humour the best thing to do was to
leave him alone in it. He accordingly returned to the hut where the two
men were domiciled, and attended to their comfort as far as lay in his
power. His heart had been touched by their misery. He did not give as a
reason for the trouble he took, the fact that the face of the elder man
reminded him of his own venerable father, the worthy old Somersetshire
vicar; it was a fact, nevertheless. For a week the unfortunate couple
were domiciled at the Ford, and during that time Grantham attended to
their wants with the assiduity of a blood relation. Meanwhile Handiman
scoffed and bade him take heed for his valuables, lest his new-found
friends should appropriate them. He did not believe in honest gratitude,
he declared, particularly where homeless wanderers in the Burmese jungle
were concerned. At last, however, they were so far recovered as to be
able to proceed on their way once more.

"We have to thank you for your lives, sir," said Kitwater to Grantham
when the time came for them to say good-bye to the Ford. "Had it not
been for you we would probably be dead men now. I don't know whether we
shall ever be able to repay your kindness, that is with Allah, but if
the opportunity should ever arise you may be sure we will not neglect
it. Whatever we may be now, you may take it that we were gentlemen once.
There's just one favour I should like to ask of you, sir, before
we part!"

"What is it?" Grantham inquired.

"I want you, sir, to give me a letter of introduction to the gentleman
in your regiment, who looked after the stranger you told me of, when he
came here from out of China. I've got a sort of notion in my head that
even if he is not our friend, that is to say the man we are searching
for, he may happen to know something of him."

"I will give you the letter with pleasure," Grantham replied. "I am sure
Gregory will be only too pleased to help you as far as lies in
his power."

The letter was accordingly written and handed to Kitwater, who stowed it
away in his pocket as if it were a priceless possession. Then, when they
had bade their protector farewell, they in their turn set off along the
track that Hayle had followed two months before, and in due course
arrived at Bhamo. Here they presented the letter they had obtained to
Captain Charles Pauncefort Gregory, who, as may be supposed, received it
with manifest astonishment.

"Well," said he, "of all the stories I have heard since I have been in
the East, this is the most extraordinary. I thought that other chap was
about as unfortunate a beggar as could well be, but you beat him hollow
at every turn. Now, look here, before I go any further, I must have my
friend with me. He is the man who discovered the other chap, and I'm
sure he would like to hear your story."

Dempsey was accordingly summoned, and his wonderment was as great as his
friend's had been.

"Now," said Gregory, when Dempsey had been made familiar with the
other's story, "what is it you want to know about the man we picked up?
Ask your questions, and we'll do the best we can to answer them."

In reply to Kitwater's questions, Gregory and Dempsey described, as far
as they were able, the appearance of the man whom they had helped. The
schedule was in a great measure satisfactory, but not altogether. There
were so many English in Burmah who were tall, and who had dark eyes and
broad shoulders. Little Codd leant towards his companion and taking his
hand made some signs upon it.

"That's so, my little man," said Kitwater, nodding his head approvingly.
"You've hit the nail on the head." Then turning to Gregory, he
continued, "Perhaps, sir, you don't happen to remember whether he had
any particular mark upon either of his wrists?"

Gregory replied that he had not noticed anything extraordinary, but
Dempsey was by no means so forgetful?

"Of course he had," he answered. "I remember noticing it for the first
time when I pulled him out of the Ford, and afterwards when he was in
bed. An inch or so above his left wrist he had a tattooed snake
swallowing his own tail. It was done in blue and red ink, and was as
nice a piece of work as ever I have seen."

"I thank you, sir," Kitwater replied, "you've hit it exactly. By the
living thunder he's our man after all. Heaven bless you for the news you
have given us. It puts new life into me. We'll find him yet, Coddy, my
boy. I thank you, sir, again and again."

He held out his hand, which Dempsey felt constrained to shake. The man
was trembling with excitement.

"I tell you, sir," he continued, "that you don't know how we loved that
man. If it takes the whole of our lives, and if we have to tramp the
whole world over to do it, we'll find him yet!"

"And if I'm not mistaken it will be a bad day for him when you do find
him," put in Gregory, who had been an observant spectator of the scene.
"Why should you hate him so?"

"How do you know that we _do_ hate him?" Kitwater asked, turning his
sightless face in the direction whence the other's voice proceeded.
"Hate him, why should we hate him? We have no grudge against him, Coddy,
my boy, have we?"

Mr. Codd shook his head gravely. No! they certainly had no grudge.
Nothing more was to be gleaned from them. Whatever their connection with
George Bertram or Gideon Hayle may have been, they were not going to
commit themselves. When they had inquired as to his movements after
leaving Bhamo, they dropped the subject altogether, and thanking the
officers for the courtesy shown them, withdrew.

Their manifest destitution, and the misery they had suffered, had
touched the kindly white residents of that far off place, and a
subscription was raised for them, resulting in the collection of an
amount sufficient to enable them to reach Rangoon in comparative
comfort. When they arrived at that well-known seaport, they visited the
residence of a person with whom it was plain they were well acquainted.
The interview was presumably satisfactory on both sides, for when they
left the house Kitwater squeezed Codd's hand, saying as he did so--

"We'll have him yet, Coddy, my boy, mark my words, we'll have him yet.
He left in the _Jemadar_, and he thinks we are lying dead in the jungle
at this moment. It's scarcely his fault that we are not, is it? But when
we get hold of him, we'll--well, we'll let him see what we can do, won't
we, old boy? He stole the treasure and sneaked away, abandoning us to
our fate. In consequence I shall never see the light again; and you'll
never speak to mortal man. We've Mr. Gideon Hayle to thank for that, and
if we have to tramp round the world to do it, if we have to hunt for
him in every country on the face of the earth, we'll repay the debt
we owe him."

Mr. Codd's bright little eyes twinkled in reply. Then they shook hands
solemnly together. It would certainly prove a bad day for Gideon Hayle
should he ever have the ill luck to fall into their hands.

Two days later they shipped aboard the mail-boat as steerage passengers
for England. They had been missionaries in China, so it was rumoured on
board, and their zeal had been repaid by the cruellest torture. On a
Sunday in the Indian Ocean, Kitwater held a service on deck, which was
attended by every class. He preached an eloquent sermon on the labours
of the missionaries in the Far East, and from that moment became so
popular on board that, when the steamer reached English waters, a
subscription was taken up on behalf of the sufferers, which resulted in
the collection of an amount sufficient to help them well on their way to
London as soon as they reached Liverpool.

"Now," said Kitwater, as they stood together at the wharf with the
pitiless English rain pouring down upon them, wetting them to the skin,
"what we have to do is to find Gideon Hayle as soon as possible."



CHAPTER I

It has often struck me as being a remarkable circumstance that, in nine
cases out of ten, a man's success in life is not found in the career he
originally chose for himself, but in another and totally different one.
That mysterious power, "force of circumstances," is doubtless
responsible for this, and no better illustration for my argument could
be found than my own case. I believe my father intended that I should
follow the medical profession, while my mother hoped I would enter the
Church. My worthy uncle, Clutterfield, the eminent solicitor of
Lincoln's Inn Fields, offered me my Articles, and would possibly have
eventually taken me into partnership. But I would have none of these
things. My one craving was for the sea. If I could not spend my life
upon salt water, existence would have no pleasure for me. My father
threatened, my mother wept, Uncle Clutterfield prophesied all sorts of
disasters, but I remained firm.

"Very well," said my father, when he realized that further argument was
hopeless, "since you must go to sea, go to sea you certainly shall. But
you mustn't blame me if you find that the life is not exactly what you
anticipate, and that you would prefer to find yourself on dry land
once more."

I willingly gave this promise, and a month later left Liverpool as an
apprentice on the clipper ship _Maid of Normandy_. Appropriately enough
the captain's name was Fairweather, and he certainly was a character in
his way. In fact the whole ship's company were originals. Had my father
searched all England through he could not have discovered a set of men,
from the captain to the cook's mate, who would have been better
calculated to instil in a young man's heart a distaste for Father
Neptune and his oceans. In the number of the various books of the sea I
have encountered, was one entitled, _A Floating Hell_. When reading it I
had not expected to have the misfortune to be bound aboard a vessel of
this type. It was my lot, however, to undergo the experience. We carried
three apprentices, including myself, each of whom had paid a large sum
for the privilege. I was the youngest. The eldest was the son of a
country parson, a mild, decent lad, who eventually deserted and became a
house-painter in the South Island of New Zealand. The next was washed
overboard when we were rounding the Horn on our homeward voyage. Poor
lad, when all was said and done he could not have been much worse off,
for his life on board was a disgrace to what is sometimes erroneously
called, "Human Nature." In due course, as we cleared for San Francisco,
and long before we crossed the Line, I was heartily tired of the sea. In
those days, few years ago as it is, sailors were not so well protected
even as they are now, and on a long voyage aboard a sailing ship it was
possible for a good deal to happen that was not logged, and much of
which was forgotten before the vessel reached its home-port again. When
I returned from my first voyage, my family inquired how I liked my
profession, and, with all truth, I informed them that I did not like it
at all, and that I would be willing to have my indentures cancelled and
to return to shore life once more, if I might be so permitted. My father
smiled grimly, and seemed to derive considerable satisfaction from the
fact that he had prophesied disaster from the outset.

"No," he said, "you have made your bed, my lad, and now you must lie
upon it. There is still a considerable portion of your apprenticeship to
be served, and it will be quite soon enough for us at the end of that
time to decide what you are to do."

A month later I was at sea again, bound this time for Sydney. We reached
that port on my nineteenth birthday, and by that time I had made up my
mind. Articles or no Articles, I was determined to spend no more of my
life on board that hateful ship. Accordingly, one day having obtained
shore leave, I purchased a new rig-out, and leaving my sea-going togs
with the Jewish shopman, I made tracks, as the saying goes, into the
Bush with all speed. Happen what might, I was resolved that Captain
Fairweather should not set eyes on George Fairfax again.

From that time onward my career was a strange one. I became a veritable
Jack-of-all-Trades. A station-hand, a roust-about, shearer, assistant to
a travelling hawker, a gold-miner, and at last a trooper in one of the
finest bodies of men in the world, the Queensland Mounted Police. It was
in this curious fashion that I arrived at my real vocation. After a
considerable period spent at headquarters, I was drafted to a station in
the Far West. There was a good deal of horse and sheep-stealing going on
in that particular locality, and a large amount of tact and ingenuity
were necessary to discover the criminals. I soon found that this was a
business at which I was likely to be successful. More than once I had
the good fortune to be able to bring to book men who had carried on
their trade for years, and who had been entirely unsuspected. Eventually
my reputation in this particular line of business became noised abroad,
until it came to the ears of the Commissioner himself. Then news reached
us that a dastardly murder had been committed in the suburbs of
Brisbane, and that the police were unable to obtain any clue as to the
identity of the person accountable for it. Two or three men were
arrested on suspicion, but were immediately discharged on being in a
position to give a satisfactory account of their actions on the night of
the murder. It struck me that I should like to take up the case, and
with the confidence of youth, I applied to the Commissioner for
permission to be allowed to try my hand at unravelling the mystery.
What they thought of my impudence I cannot say, but the fact remains
that my request, after being backed up by my Inspector, was granted. The
case was a particularly complicated one, and at one time I was beginning
to think that I should prove no more successful than the others had
been. Instead of deterring me, however, this only spurred me on to
greater efforts. The mere fact that I had asked to be allowed to take
part in the affair, had aroused the jealousy of the detectives of the
department, and I was aware that they would receive the news of my
failure with unqualified satisfaction. I therefore prosecuted my
inquiries in every possible direction, sparing myself neither labour nor
pains. It would appear that the victim, an old man, was without kith or
kin. He was very poor, and lived by himself in a small villa on the
outskirts of the city. No one had been seen near the house on the night
in question, nor had any noise been heard by the neighbours. Yet in the
morning he was discovered lying on the floor of the front-room, stabbed
to the heart from behind. Now every detective knows--indeed it is part
of his creed--that, in an affair such as I am describing, nothing is too
minute or too trivial to have a bearing upon the case. The old gentleman
had been at supper when the crime was committed, and from the fact that
the table was only laid for one, I argued that he had not expected a
visitor. The murderer could not have been hungry, for the food had not
been touched. That the motive was not robbery was also plain from the
fact that not a drawer had been opened or a lock forced, while the money
in his pocket was still intact. The doctors had certified that the wound
could not have been self-inflicted, while there was plenty of evidence
to show that there had not been a struggle. From the fact that the
front-door was locked, and that the key was in the murdered man's
pocket, it was certain that the assassin must have left the house by the
back. There was one question, however, so trivial in itself that one
might have been excused for not taking note of it, that attracted my
attention. As I have said, the old man had been stabbed from behind, and
when he was discovered by the police next day, his overturned chair was
lying beside him. This, to my mind, showed that he had been seated with
his back to the door when the crime had been perpetrated. When I had
examined everything else, I turned my attention to the chair. I did not
expect it to tell me anything, yet it was from it that I obtained the
clue that was ultimately to lead to the solution of the whole mystery.
The chair was a cheap one, made of white wood, and had the usual smooth
strip of wood at the top. On the back of this piece of wood, a quarter
of an inch or so from the bottom, on the left-hand side, was a faint
smear of blood. The presence of the blood set me thinking. When found,
the chair had been exactly eighteen inches from the body. The mere fact
that the man had been stabbed from behind and to the heart, precluded
any possibility of his having jumped up and caught at the back of the
chair afterwards. Placing my left hand upon the back, I clasped my
fingers under the piece of wood above-mentioned, to discover that a
portion of the second finger fell exactly upon the stain.

"Now I think I understand the situation," I said to myself. "The old man
was seated at the table, about to commence his meal, when the murderer
entered very quietly by the door behind him. He rested his left hand
upon the chair to steady himself while he aimed the fatal blow with
his right."

But in that case how did the knife touch the middle finger of his left
hand? From the fact that the body was discovered lying upon its back
just as it had fallen, and that the chair was also still upon the floor,
it was evident that the blood must have got there before, not after, the
crime was committed. Leaving the room I went out to the yard at the back
and studied the paling fence. The partition which separated the yard
from that of the house next door, was old, and in a very dilapidated
condition, while that at the bottom was almost new, and was armed at the
top with a row of bristling nails. Bringing the powerful
magnifying-glass I had brought with me for such a purpose, to bear upon
it, I examined it carefully from end to end. The result more than
justified the labour. A little more than half way along I discovered
another small smear of blood. There could be no doubt that the man had
cut his finger on a nail as he had climbed over on his murderous errand.
The next and more important thing was to decide how this information was
to be made useful to me. Since nothing had been taken from the house,
and the old man had been quite unprepared for the attack that was to be
made upon him, I set the whole crime down as being one of revenge. In
that case what would the assassin be likely to do after his object was
obtained? Would he vanish into the Bush forthwith, or get away by sea?

After I had finished my inspection of the fence I visited every
public-house in the neighbourhood in the hope of finding out whether a
man with a wounded hand had been seen in any of them on the night of the
murder. I was totally unsuccessful, however. No one recollected having
seen such a man. From the hotels I went to various chemists' shops, but
with the same result. Next I tried the shipping-offices connected with
the lines of steamers leaving the port, but with no more, luck than
before. The case seemed rapidly going from bad to worse, and already it
had been suggested that I should give it up and return to my duty
without further waste of time. This, as you may naturally suppose, I had
no desire to do.

I worried myself about it day and night, giving it a great deal more
attention in fact than I should bestow upon such a matter now, or even
upon cases of twice the importance. If there had been nothing else in my
favour, my attention to duty should have been sufficient to have
commended me to my superiors. It was the other way round, however. The
Press were twitting the authorities concerning their inability to
discover the murderer, and more than hinted at the inefficiency of the
Detective Force. When I had been engaged upon the matter for about a
fortnight, and with what success I have already informed you, the
Commissioner sent for me, and told me that he did not think my
qualifications were sufficiently marked to warrant my being employed
longer on the task in hand. This facer, coming upon the top of all the
hard work I had been doing, and possibly my nerves were somewhat
strained by my anxiety, led me to say more than I intended. Though a man
may have the bad luck to fail in a thing, he seldom likes to be reminded
of it. It was certainly so in my case. Consequently I was informed that
at the end of the month my connection with the Queensland Police would
terminate.

"Very well, sir," I said, "in the meantime, if you will give me the
opportunity, I will guarantee to catch the murderer and prove to you
that I am not as incapable as you imagine."

I have often wondered since that I was not ordered back to the Bush
there and then. The fact remains, however, that I was not, and thus I
was permitted to continue my quest unhindered.

Ever since I had first taken the affair in hand I had had one point
continually before my eyes. The mere fact that the man had been stabbed
in the back seemed to me sufficient proof that the assassin was of
foreign origin, and that the affair was the outcome of a vendetta, and
not the act of an ordinary bloodthirsty crime. The wound, so the doctors
informed me, was an extremely deep and narrow one, such as might very
well have been made by a stiletto. Assuming my supposition to be
correct, I returned to the house, and once more overhauled the dead
man's effects. There was little or nothing there, however, to help me.
If he had laid himself out to conceal the identity of his enemy he could
scarcely have done it more effectually. Baffled in one direction, I
turned for assistance to another. In other words, I interviewed his
left-hand neighbour, a lady with whom I had already had some slight
acquaintance. Our conversation took place across the fence that
separated the two properties.

"Do you happen to be aware," I asked, when we touched upon the one
absorbing topic, "whether the unfortunate gentleman had ever been
in Europe?"

"He had been almost everywhere," the woman replied. "I believe he was a
sailor at one time, and I have often heard him boast that he knew almost
every seaport in the world."

"I suppose you never heard him say whether he had lived in Italy?" I
inquired.

"He used to mention the country now and again," she said. "If it was a
fine morning he would sometimes remark that it was a perfect Italian
sky. But nothing more than that."

I was about to thank her and move away when she stopped me with an
exclamation.

"Wait one moment," she said, "now I come to think of it, I remember that
about three months ago he received a letter from Italy. I'll tell you
how I came to know it. I was standing in the front verandah when the
postman brought up the letters. He gave me mine, and then I noticed that
the top letter he held in his hand had a foreign stamp. Now, my little
boy, Willie, collects stamps; he's tired of them now, but that doesn't
matter. At that time, however, he was so taken up with them that he
could talk of nothing else. Well, as I was saying, I noticed this stamp,
and asked the postman what country it came from. He told me it was from
Italy, and that the letter was for the gentleman next door. 'The next
time I see him,' I said to myself, 'I'll ask him for that stamp for
Willie.' I had my opportunity that self-same minute, for, just as I was
going down the garden there to where my husband was doing a little
cabbage-planting, he came into his front verandah. He took the letter
from the postman, and as he looked at the envelope, I saw him give a
start of surprise. His face was as white as death when he opened it, and
he had no sooner glanced at it than he gave a sort of stagger, and if it
hadn't been for the verandah-rail I believe he'd have fallen. He was so
taken aback that I thought he was going to faint. I was standing where
you may be now, and I called out to him to know whether I could do
anything for him. I liked the man, you see, and pitied him for his
loneliness. What's more, he and my husband had always been on friendly
terms together. Well, as I was going on to say, he didn't answer, but
pulling himself together, went into the house and shut the door. When
next I saw him he was quite himself again."

At last the case was beginning to look more hopeful. I thought I could
see a faint spark of light ahead.

"Did you happen to say anything about this to the other detectives when
they were making inquiries after the crime had been committed?" I asked,
with a little anxiety.

"No, I did not," she replied. "I never gave it a thought. It was such a
long time before the murder, you see, and to tell the truth I had
forgotten all about it. It was only when you began to talk of Italy and
of his having been there, that I remembered it. You don't mean to say
you think that letter had something to do with the man's death?"

"That is a very difficult question to answer," I observed. "I think,
however, it is exceedingly likely it may have had some connection with
it. At any rate we shall see. Now will you think for one moment, and see
whether you can tell me the exact day on which that letter arrived?"

She considered for a few moments before she answered.

"I believe I can, if you will give me time to turn it over in my mind,"
she said. "My husband was at home that morning, and Willie, that's my
little boy, was very much upset because I would not let him stay away
from school to help his father in the garden. Yes, sir, I can tell you
the exact date. It was on a Monday, and the third of June."

I thanked her for the information she had given me, and then went off to
see what use it was likely to prove to me. The letter from Italy had
been delivered in Brisbane on the third of June. The murder was
committed on the night of the nineteenth of July, or, in other words,
forty-six days later. With all speed I set off to the office of the
Royal Mail Steamship Company, where I asked to be shown their
passenger-list for the vessel that arrived on the nineteenth of July.
When it was handed to me I scanned it eagerly in the hope of discovering
an Italian name. There were at least a dozen in the steerage, and one in
the first-class. I was relieved, however, to find that all but the
first-class passengers had disembarked at Cairns, further up the coast.
The name of the exception was Steffano Gairdi, and he was a passenger
from Naples.

"You can't tell me anything more definite about this gentleman, I
suppose?" I said to the clerk who was attending to me. "Did you happen
to see him?"

"He was in here only this morning," the man replied.

"Here, when?" I inquired, with such surprise that the other clerks
looked up from their books at me in astonishment. "Do you mean to tell
me that the gentleman I am asking about was here this morning?"

"I do," he replied. "He came in to book his return passage to Italy. He
only undertook the voyage for the sake of his health."

"Then it's just possible you may know where he is staying now?" I asked,
not however with much hope of success. "If you can tell me, I shall be
under an obligation to you."

"I can tell you that also," the young man answered. "He is staying at
the Continental Hotel in Adelaide Street."

"I am more obliged to you than I can say," I returned. "You have
rendered me a great service."

"Don't mention it," said the clerk. "I am very glad to have been able to
give you the information you required."

I thanked him once more and left the office. Now if Mr. Steffano Gairdi
happened to have a cut or the mark of one upon the inside of his left
hand, I felt that I should be within measurable distance of the end of
the affair. But how was I to get a view of his hands? If he were the man
I wanted, he would probably be on his guard, and he had already proved
himself to be sufficiently acute to make me careful how I went to work
with him. I had no time to lose, however. The next boat sailed for
Europe in two days' time, and he had booked his passage in her. For that
reason alone, I knew that I must be quick if I wished to accumulate
sufficient evidence against him to justify the issue of a warrant for
his arrest. I accordingly walked on to the Continental Hotel, and asked
to see the manager, with whom I had the good fortune to be acquainted. I
was shown into his private office, and presently he joined me there. He
was familiar with my connection with the police force, and laughingly
remarked that he hoped I had not called upon him in my official capacity.

"As a matter of fact that is just what I am doing," I replied. "I want
you to give me some information concerning one of your guests. I believe
I am right in saying that you have an Italian gentleman, named Gairdi,
staying at your hotel?"

"That is certainly so," he admitted. "I hope there is nothing against
him?"

"It is rather soon to say that," I said. "I am suspicious of the
man--and I want to ask you a few questions concerning him."

"As many as you like," he returned. "I cannot say, however, that I know
very much about him. He has been up the country, and only returned to
Brisbane yesterday."

"Is this the first occasion on which he has stayed here?"

"No," the manager replied. "He was here nearly a month ago for a couple
of nights, and he had had his room reserved for him while he was away."

"Perhaps you can tell me if he slept here on the night of July the
nineteenth?"

"If you will excuse me for a moment I can soon let you know," said the
manager, and then crossed the room to go into an outer office. A few
moments later he returned and nodded his head. "Yes, he slept here that
night, and went to Toowoomba next day."

"One more question, and then I have done. Did you happen to notice that
night, or before he left next day, whether he had hurt his left hand?"

"It's strange that you should speak of that," said the manager. "He had
cut his left hand rather badly with a broken glass, so he told us. We
gave him some sticking-plaster to do it up with."

"That will do beautifully," I said. "And now perhaps you will add to the
kindness you have already done me by letting me see the gentleman in
question. I don't want to speak to him, but I want to impress his
countenance upon my mind."

"Why not go into lunch?" the manager inquired. "You will then be able to
study him to your heart's content, without his being any the wiser.
You're not in uniform, and no one would take you for a detective."

"An excellent idea," I replied. "By the way, while I am upon the
subject, I suppose I can rely upon your saying nothing about the matter
to him, or to any one else?"

"You may depend upon me implicitly," he answered. "I should be scarcely
likely to do so, for my own sake. I trust the matter is not a very
serious one. I should not like to have any scandal in the hotel."

"Well, between ourselves," I observed, "I am afraid it is rather a
serious affair. But you may be sure I will do all I can to prevent your
name or the hotel's being mixed up in it."

Then, as he had proposed, I followed him into the dining-room and took
my place at a small table near the window. At that adjoining me, a tall,
swarthy individual, with close-cropped hair, an Italian without doubt,
was seated. He glanced at me as I took my place, and then continued his
meal as if he were unaware of my presence in the room.

By the time I had finished my lunch I had thoroughly impressed his face
and personality upon my memory, and felt sure that, if necessary, I
should know him anywhere again. My labours, however, were by no means
over; in fact they were only just beginning. What I had against him so
far would scarcely be sufficient to justify our applying for a warrant
for his arrest. If I wanted to bring the crime home to him, it would be
necessary for me to connect him with it more closely than I had yet
done. But how to do this in the short space of time that was at my
disposal I could not see. The murderer, as I have already said, was no
ordinary one, and had laid his plans with the greatest care. He had
taken away the knife, and in all probability had got rid of it long
since. No one had seen him enter the house on the night in question, nor
had any one seen him leave it again. I was nearly beside myself with
vexation. To be so near my goal, and yet not be able to reach it, was
provoking beyond endurance. But my lucky star was still in the
ascendant, and good fortune was to favour me after all.

As I have already observed, when the crime had become known, the
permanent detective force had been most assiduous in the attentions they
had given it. The only piece of valuable evidence, however, that they
had been able to accumulate, was a footprint on a flower-bed near the
centre of the yard, and another in the hall of the house itself. Now it
was definitely settled, by a careful comparison of these imprints, that
the murderer, whoever he might have been, wore his boots down
considerably on the left heel, and on the inside. Now, as every
bootmaker will tell you, while the outer is often affected in this way,
the inner side seldom is. I noticed, however, that this was the case
with the man I suspected. The heel of his left boot was very much worn
down and on the inside. The right, however, was intact.

On leaving the Continental Hotel, I made my way to the Police
Commissioner's office, obtained an interview with him, and placed the
evidence I had gleaned before him. He was good enough to express his
approval of my endeavours, but was doubtful whether the case against the
Italian was strong enough yet to enable us to definitely bring the crime
home to the man.

"At any rate it will justify our issuing a warrant for his arrest," he
said, "and that had better be done with as little delay as possible.
Otherwise he will be out of the country."

A warrant was immediately procured and an officer was detailed to
accompany me in case I should need his assistance. When we reached the
Continental Hotel I inquired for Senor Gairdi, only to be informed that
he had left the hotel soon after lunch.

"It is only what I expected," I said to my companion. "His suspicions
are aroused, and he is going to try and give us the slip."

"I think not," said the manager. "I fancy you will find that he is on
board the steamer. You must remember that she sails at daybreak."

We accordingly hastened to the river, and made our way to where the
steamer was lying. On arrival on board I inquired for the head-steward,
and when he put in an appearance inquired whether Senor Gairdi had come
aboard yet.

"He brought his luggage on board, and inspected his cabin about three
o'clock," that official replied, "and then went ashore again."

There was nothing for it therefore but for us to await his return.
Though we did not know it, we were in for a long spell, for it was not
until nearly nine o'clock that our man reappeared on board. He had just
crossed the gangway and was making his way along the promenade deck,
when I accosted him.

"May I have a word with you, Senor Gairdi?" I asked.

"Yes, certainly," he replied, speaking with only a slight foreign
accent. "What is it you want?"

I drew him a few paces further along the deck, so that, if possible, the
other passengers, who were standing near, should not hear what I had to
say to him.

"I have to tell you," I said, "that I hold a warrant for your arrest on
the charge of murdering one, Joseph Spainton, on the night of July the
nineteenth of this year. I must caution you that anything you may say
will be used as evidence against you."

The nearest electric light shone full and clear upon his face, and I
noticed that a queer expression had suddenly made its appearance upon
it. Apart from that, he did not seem at all surprised at his arrest.

"So you have found it out after all," he said. "I thought I was going to
evade suspicion and get away safely. You would not have caught me then.
It is Fate, I suppose."

He shrugged his shoulders and said something under his breath in
Italian.

"Must I go ashore with you?" he asked.

"If you please," I answered, marvelling that he should take it so
coolly.

Then turning his dark eyes upon me, he continued--

"Senor, in Italy I am a gentleman, and my name, which is not Gairdi, is
an honoured one. What I am accused of, and what I admit doing, was no
crime. The dead man was a traitor, and I was deputed to kill him. I did
it, and this is the end."

The words had scarcely left his lips before he took a revolver from his
coat-pocket, placed it to his right temple and, before I could prevent
him, had pulled the trigger. He fell with a crash at my feet, and before
the ship's doctor could be brought to his side, he was dead. Who he
really was, or to what Secret Society he belonged--for his last words to
me warranted the belief that he was a member of some such
organization--we were never able to discover. He was dead, and there was
an end to it. Such is the story of the first big case in which I was
engaged, and one that led me step by step to the position I now hold. I
have told it perhaps at somewhat greater length than I need have done,
but I trust the reader will forgive me. As a matter of fact I am rather
proud of it; more so perhaps than I have any reason to be.

[Illustration: "HE FELL WITH A CRASH AT MY FEET."]

Having resigned my position in the police of the Northern Colony, I was
not to be tempted to reconsider my decision. My liking for the life,
however, and my interest in the unravelling of mysterious crimes, proved
too strong, and I joined the Detective Staff in Melbourne, seeing in
their service a good deal of queer life and ferreting out not a small
number of extraordinary cases. The experience gained there was
invaluable, and led me, after one particularly interesting piece of
business in which I had the good fortune to be most successful, to
entertain the notion of quitting Government employ altogether, and
setting up for myself. I did so, and soon had more work upon my hand
than I could very well accomplish. But I was too ambitious to be content
with small things, and eventually came to the conclusion that there was
not enough scope in the Colonies for me. After fifteen years' absence,
therefore, I returned to England, spending a year in the Further East
_en route_ in order to enlarge my experience, and to qualify myself for
any work that might come to me from that quarter.

On a certain bitterly cold day in January I reached Liverpool from the
United States, and took the train for my old home. My father and mother
had long since died, and now all that remained to me of them was the
stone slab that covered their resting place in the quiet little
churchyard at the foot of the hill.

"Well, here I am," I said to myself, "thirty-three years old, and alone
in the world. Nobody knows me in England, but it won't be my fault if
they don't hear of George Fairfax before very long. I'll be off to
London and try my fortune there."

Next day I made my way to the Great Metropolis, and installed myself at
a small private hotel, while I looked about me preparatory to commencing
business. To talk of gaining a footing in London is all very well in its
way, but it is by no means so easy a task to accomplish as it might
appear. Doubtless it can be done fairly quickly if one is prepared to
spend large sums of money in advertising, and is not afraid to blow
one's own trumpet on every possible occasion, but that is not my line,
and besides, even had I so wished, I had not the money to do it. For a
multitude of reasons I did not feel inclined to embark my hard-earned
savings on such a risky enterprise. I preferred to make my way by my own
diligence, and with that end in view I rented an office in a convenient
quarter, furnished it, put a small advertisement in a few of the papers,
and then awaited the coming of my clients.

As I have a long and curious story to tell, and this book is only
intended to be the narration of a certain episode in my life, a detailed
description of my first three years in London would not only be
superfluous, but in every way a waste of time. Let it suffice that my
first case was that of the now notorious Pilchard Street Diamond
Robbery, my success in which brought me business from a well known firm
in Hatton Gardens. As the public will doubtless remember, they had been
robbed of some valuable gems between London and Amsterdam in a
singularly audacious manner. My second was the case of the celebrated
Russian swindler, who called herself the Countess Demikoff. This case
alone took me nearly six months to unravel, but I did not grudge the
time, seeing that I was well paid for my labours, and that I managed to
succeed where the police had failed. From that time forward I think I
may say without boasting that I have been as successful as any man of my
age has a right to expect to be. What is better still, I am now in the
happy position of being able to accept or decline business as I choose.
It is in many respects a hard life, and at all times is attended with a
fair amount of risk, but you cannot make omelets without breaking eggs,
and if any one chooses to spend his life running to earth men who are
waging war against Society, well, he must not grumble if he receives
some hard knocks in return.

After these preliminaries I will proceed to show how I came to be mixed
up in the most curious case it has ever been my good, or evil, fortune
to encounter. It showed me a side of human nature I had not met before,
and it brought me the greatest happiness a man can ever hope to find.



CHAPTER II

All business London, and a good many other people besides, must remember
the famous United Empire Bank Fraud. Bonds had been stolen and
negotiated, vast sums of money were discovered to be missing, and the
manager and one of the directors were absent also. So cleverly had the
affair been worked, and so flaring were the defalcations, that had it
not been for the public-spirited behaviour and generosity of two of the
directors, the position of the bank would have been most seriously
compromised, if not shattered altogether. How the culprits had managed
to slip through the fingers of the law in the first place no one could
say, but the fact remains that they were able to get out of England,
without, apparently, leaving a trace of their intentions or their
whereabouts behind them. Scotland Yard took the matter up with its usual
promptness, and at first were confident of success. They set their
cleverest detectives to work upon it, and it was not until more than a
month had elapsed that the men engaged were compelled most reluctantly
to admit their defeat. They had done their best: it was the system under
which they worked that was to blame. In the detection of crime, or in
the tracing of a criminal, it is best, as in every other walk of life,
to be original.

One morning on arriving at my office I found a letter awaiting me from
the remaining directors of the bank, in which they inquired if I could
make it convenient to call upon them at the head-office that day. To
tell the truth I had been expecting this summons for nearly a week, and
was far from being displeased when it came. The work I had expected them
to offer me was after my own heart, and if they would only trust the
business to me and give me a free hand, I was prepared on my part to
bring the missing gentlemen to justice.

Needless to say I called upon them at the hour specified, and after a
brief wait was conducted to the board room where the directors sat in
solemn conclave.

The chairman, Sir Walter Bracebridge, received me on behalf of his
colleagues.

"We wrote to you, Mr. Fairfax," he said, "in order to find out whether
you could help us concerning the difficulty in which we find ourselves
placed. You of course are aware of the serious trouble the bank has
experienced, and of the terrible consequences which have resulted
therefrom?"

I admitted that I was quite conversant with it, and waited to hear what
he would have to say next.

"As a matter of fact," he continued, "we have sent for you to know
whether you can offer us any assistance in our hour of difficulty? Pray
take a chair, and let us talk the matter over and see what conclusion we
can arrive at."

I seated myself, and we discussed the affair to such good purpose that,
when I left the Boardroom, it was on the understanding that I was to
take up the case at once, and that my expenses and a very large sum of
money should be paid me, provided I could manage to bring the affair to
a successful termination. I spent the remainder of that day at the Bank,
carefully studying the various memoranda. A great deal of what I had
read and heard had been mere hearsay, and this it was necessary to
discard in order that the real facts of the case might be taken up, and
the proper conclusions drawn therefrom. For three days I weighed the
case carefully in my mind, and at the end of that time was in a position
to give the Board a definite answer to their inquiries. Thereupon I left
England, with the result that exactly twelve weeks later the two men, so
much wanted, were at Bow Street, and I had the proud knowledge of
knowing that I had succeeded where the men who had tried before me had
so distinctly failed.

As will be remembered, it was a case that interested every class of
society, and Press and Public were alike united in the interest they
showed in it. It is not, however, to the trial itself as much as another
curious circumstance connected with it, that has induced me to refer to
it here. The case had passed from the Magistrate's Court to the Old
Bailey, and was hourly increasing in interest. Day after day the Court
was crowded to overflowing, and, when the time came for me to take my
place in the witness-box and describe the manner in which I had led up
to and effected the capture of the offenders, the excitement rose to
fever-heat. I can see the whole scene now as plainly as if it had
occurred but yesterday; the learned Judge upon the Bench, the jury in
their box, the rows of Counsels, and the benches full of interested
spectators. I gave my evidence and was examined by the Counsels for the
prosecution and for the defence. I described how I had traced the men
from England to their hiding-place abroad, and the various attempts that
had been made to prevent their extradition, and had just referred to a
certain statement one of the prisoners had made to me soon after his
arrest, when an interruption caused me to look behind at the rows of
spectators. At the further end of the bench, nearest me, were two men;
one was evidently tall, the other very short. The taller was the
possessor of silvery white hair and a long and venerable beard. He was a
handsome looking man of about forty, and my first glance at him told me
that he was blind. As I have said, his companion was a much smaller man,
with a smooth, almost boyish face, a pair of twinkling eyes, but a mouth
rather hard set. Both were evidently following the case closely, and
when on the next day I saw that they were in the same place, I took an
even greater interest in them than before. It was not however until the
trial had finished and the pair of miserable men had been sent to penal
servitude for a lengthy term of years, that I made the acquaintance of
the men I have just described. I remember the circumstance quite
distinctly. I had left the Court and was proceeding down the Old Bailey
in the direction of Ludgate Hill, when I heard my name pronounced.

Turning round I discovered to my astonishment the two men I had seen in
the Court, and who had seemed to take such an interest in the case. The
smaller was guiding his friend along the crowded pavement with a
dexterity that was plainly the outcome of a long practice. When I
stopped, they stopped also, and the blind man addressed me. His voice
was deep and had a note of pathos in it impossible to describe. It may
have been that I was a little sad that afternoon, for both the men who
had been condemned to penal servitude had wives and children, to whose
pitiful condition the learned Judge had referred when passing sentence.

"You are Mr. Fairfax, are you not?" inquired the taller of the men.

"That is my name," I admitted. "What can I do for you?"

"If we could persuade you to vouchsafe us an hour of your valuable time
we should be more grateful than we could say," the man replied. "We have
an important piece of business which it might possibly be to your
advantage to take up. At any rate it would be worthy of your
consideration."

"But why have you not come to me before?" I inquired. "You have seen me
in Court every day. Why do you wait until the case is at an end?"

"Because we wanted to be quite sure of you," he answered. "Our case is
so large and of such vital importance to us, that we did not desire to
run any risk of losing you. We thought we would wait and familiarize
ourselves with all that you have done in this affair before coming to
you. Now we are satisfied that we could not place our case in better
hands, and what we are anxious to do is to induce you to interest
yourself in it and take it up."

"You pay me a very high compliment," I said, "but I cannot give you a
decision at once. I must hear what it is that you want me to do and have
time to think it over, before I can answer you. That is my invariable
rule, and I never depart from it. Do you know my office?"

"We know it perfectly," returned the blind man. "It would be strange if
we did not, seeing that we have stood outside it repeatedly, trying to
summon up courage to enter. Would it be possible for you to grant us an
interview to-night?"

"I fear not," I said. "I am tired, and stand in need of rest. If you
care to come to-morrow morning, I shall be very pleased to see you. But
you must bear in mind the fact that my time is valuable, and that it is
only a certain class of case that I care to take up personally."

"We are not afraid of our case," the man replied. "I doubt if there has
ever been another like it. I fancy you yourself will say so when you
hear the evidence I have to offer. It is not as if we are destitute. We
are prepared to pay you well for your services, but we must have the
very best that England can supply."

My readers must remember that this conversation was being carried on at
the corner of Ludgate Hill and the Old Bailey. Curious glances were
being thrown at my companions by passers-by, and so vehement were the
taller man's utterances becoming, that a small crowd was gradually
collecting in our neighbourhood.

"Very well," I said, "if you are really desirous of consulting me, I
shall be very glad to see you at my office at ten o'clock to-morrow
morning. I must ask you, however, not to be late, as I have several
other appointments."

"We shall not be late," the man answered, "you may rely upon that. We
have too much at stake to run any risks of losing your assistance. We
will be with you to-morrow morning at ten o'clock punctually."

He thereupon bade me good-bye and raising his hat politely was led along
the street by his companion in an opposite direction to that I was
taking. They seemed delighted that I had given them an appointment, but
for my part I am afraid I was too absorbed by the memories of the day,
and the punishment that had been allotted to the two principal members
in the swindle, to think very much of them and their business. Indeed,
although I made a note of the appointment, it was not until I had
arrived at the office on the following morning that I recollected their
promised visit. I had just finished my correspondence, and had dictated
a few letters to my managing clerk, when a junior entered with two
cards, which he placed before me. The first I took up bore the name of
Mr. Septimus Codd, that of the second, Mr. George Kitwater. When I had
finished the letter I was in the act of dictating, I bade the clerk
admit them, and a moment later the blind man and his companion whom I
had seen on Ludgate Hill the previous evening, were ushered into my
presence. I cannot remember a more venerable appearance than that
presented by the taller man. His was a personality that would have
appealed forcibly to any student of humanity. It was decidedly an open
countenance, to which the long white beard that descended almost to his
waist gave an added reverence. His head was well shaped and well set
upon his shoulders, his height was six feet two if an inch, and he
carried himself with the erectness of a man accustomed to an outdoor
life. He was well dressed, and for this reason I surmised that he was
the possessor of good manners. His companion was as much below the
middle height as he was above it. His was a peculiar countenance
resembling that of a boy when seen at a distance, and that of an old man
when one was close to him. His eyes, as I have already said, were small,
and they were set deep in his head. This, in itself, was calculated to
add to his peculiar appearance. He steered his blind companion into the
room and placed him in a seat. Then he perched himself on a chair beside
him and waited for me to open the debate.

"Good-morning, gentlemen," I said. "Allow me to congratulate you on your
punctuality."

"We were afraid of missing you," observed Kitwater. "Our business is so
particular that we did not want to run any risk of losing our
appointment."

"Perhaps you will now be good enough to tell me what that business is?"
I replied, taking my note-book out of a drawer preparatory to writing
down what they had to say.

"In the first place, sir," the man began, "we of course understand that
everything we have to tell you will be regarded by you as strictly
private and confidential?"

"That goes without saying," I replied. "If I were to divulge what my
clients tell me, my business would not be worth a day's purchase. You
can rest assured that everything you may impart to me will be treated in
strictest confidence."

"We thank you," said Kitwater. "The story I have to tell you is perhaps
the strangest that has ever been told to mortal man. To begin with, you
must understand that my companion and myself have but lately arrived in
England. We have been for many years missionaries in China, sowing the
good seed in the Western Provinces. I do not know whether you have ever
visited that country, but even if you have not you must be aware to some
extent of the dangers to which our calling is subjected. We carry our
lives in our hands from the moment we leave civilization until we enter
it again. There are times, however, that compensate one for all the
trials that have to be undergone."

"You must excuse me," I said, "if I remind you that my time is valuable,
and that, however interested I may be in the missionary work of China, I
cannot allow it to interfere with my business. The sooner you tell me in
what way you want me to help you, the sooner I shall be able to give you
the answer you are seeking."

"I must implore your pardon," the man continued, humbly enough, "I am
afraid our calling, however, is apt to make us a trifle verbose. If you
will allow me, I will put what I have to say in as few words as
possible."

I bowed and signed to him to proceed.

"Our case is as follows," he began. "As I have told you, we have been in
China for several years, and during that time we have had the good
fortune to enroll not a few well-known names among our converts. To make
a long story short, we were so successful as to be able to persuade even
the Mandarin of the Province to listen to our message. He was an
enormously rich man, one of the richest perhaps in China, and was so
impressed by the good news we brought to him that, on his death-bed, he
left to us for the benefit of the mission all his wealth, in gold,
silver, and precious stones. It was a princely legacy, and one that
would have enabled us to carry on our mission with such success as we
had never before dreamed of."

"But if you were so lucky and so much in love with your profession, how
does it come about that you are in England now?" I inquired.

"I will tell you why," he answered, leaning towards me and tapping with
his fingers upon the edge of my writing-table. "It is a sad story, and
the mere telling of it causes me more pain than you would believe. You
must understand that at the time of the Mandarin's death an English
traveller, who had been passing through the Western Provinces, reached
our city and took up his abode with us. Needless to say we were
overwhelmed with grief at the loss of our patron. The treasure he had
presented us with we took to the mission and deposited it in a safe
place. We had no suspicion of any sort of treachery. I fear my companion
and I are not men of the world, that is to say we do not go about
suspecting evil of our neighbours."

"I think I understand," I said. "You brought the treasure home, put it
in what you considered a safe place, and one day awoke to find your
estimable guest missing and the treasure gone with him. Have I guessed
correctly?"

"You have hit the mark exactly," Kitwater replied. "We woke one day not
only to find the treasure gone, but also ourselves and our mission
seriously compromised. The relations of the dead man not only accused us
of having alienated him from the faith of his forefathers, but also of
having robbed him of his ancestral treasure. We could not but admit that
we had been presented with the wealth in question, and when it was
demanded of us, we could only explain that we had lost it in our turn.
You can imagine the position for yourself. At the best of times the
foreigner is not popular in China, and our situation was particularly
unpleasant. Situated as we were in one of the wildest portions of the
empire, and accused of the basest sacrilege, that is to say of violating
the home of a dead man, we could hope for but small mercy. The man who
had robbed us had entirely disappeared and no trace of him could be
discovered. To attempt to offer any explanation, or to incriminate him,
was out of the question. We could only suffer in silence."

He paused and heaved a heavy sigh.

"And what form did your punishment take?" I inquired, for I was
beginning to be interested in their story.

"Can you not see for yourself?" the man answered. "Can you not see that
I am blind, while my companion is dumb? That was what they condemned us
to. By that man's villainy I am destined never to look upon God's earth
again, while my companion will never be able to converse with his
fellow-men, except by signs. We are in the world, yet out of it."

I looked at them both in amazement. Their tale seemed too terrible to be
true. And yet I had the best of evidence to show that it was correct.

"And why have you come to me? What do you want me to do? I cannot give
you back your sight, nor your friend his power of speech."

"But you can help us to find the man who brought this misery upon us,"
Kitwater replied. "That is what we have come to ask of you. He must not
be permitted to enjoy the wealth he stole from us. It is sacred to a
special duty, and that duty it must perform. We are not overburdened
with riches, in fact we are dependent upon the bounty of another, but
if you can help us to recover the sum that was stolen from us, we will
gladly pay whatever you may ask! We cannot say more than that."

"But this is a most unheard-of request," I said. "How do you know where
the man may be at this moment?"

"We do not know, or we should scarcely have asked your assistance,"
Kitwater replied with some show of reason. "It is because we have heard
of your wonderful powers in tracing people that we have come to you. Our
only cause for attending the trial at which you saw us was to hear the
evidence you gave and to draw our own conclusions from it. That those
conclusions were complimentary to you, our presence here is evidence of.
We know that we could not put our case in better hands, and we will
leave it with you to say whether or not you will help us. As I said just
now, my companion is dumb, while I am blind; we cannot do much
ourselves. Will you not take pity upon us and help us to find the man
who betrayed and ruined us?"

"But he may be at the other end of the world at this moment?" I said.

"That does not matter," he returned. "We know that wherever he may be,
you will find him. All we ask you to do is to bring us face to face with
him. We will manage the rest. It will be strange then if we are not able
to get him to a proper way of thinking."

This was the most unusual case I had had to do with, and for the moment
I scarcely knew what to say. I turned to the blind man once more.

"Have you any idea where the man went after he robbed you?"

"He crossed the province of Yunnan into Burmah," he replied. "After that
he made his way through Mandalay to Rangoon, and shipped on board the
steamer _Jemadar_ for London."

"When did the _Jemadar_ reach London?"

"On the twenty-third of June," he answered. "We have made inquiries upon
that point."

I made a note of this and then continued my inquiries.

"One other question," I said. "While we are on the subject, what do you
suppose would be the total value of the treasure of which he
robbed you?"

"That is very difficult to say," Kitwater replied, and then turned to
his companion and held out his hand. The other took it and tapped upon
the palm with the tips of his fingers in a sort of dot-and-telegraph
fashion that I had never seen used before.

"My friend says that there were ninety-three stones, all rubies and
sapphires; they were of exquisite lustre and extraordinary size.
Possibly they might have been worth anything from a hundred and seventy
thousand pounds to a quarter of a million."

I opened my eyes on hearing this. Were the men telling me the truth? I
asked myself, or were they trying to interest me in the case by
exaggerating the value of the treasure?

"What you say is almost incomprehensible," I continued. "I trust you
will forgive me, but can you substantiate what you say?"

"When we say that we are willing to pay your expenses in advance if you
will try to find the man, I think we are giving you very good proof of
our _bona fides,_" he remarked. "I am afraid we cannot give you any
other, seeing as I have said, that we are both poor men. If you are
prepared to take up our case, we shall be under a life-long gratitude to
you, but if you cannot, we must endeavour to find some one else who will
undertake the task."

"It is impossible for me to decide now whether I can take it up or not,"
I said, leaning back in my chair and looking at them both as I spoke. "I
must have time to think it over; there are a hundred and one things to
be considered before I can give you a direct reply."

There was silence for a few moments, and then Kitwater, who had been
holding his usual mysterious communications with his friend, said--

"When do you think you will be able to let us have an answer?"

"That depends upon a variety of circumstances," I replied. "It is a
matter difficult to average. In the first place there is no knowing
where the man is at present: he may be in London; he may be in America;
he may be in any other portion of the globe. It might cost five hundred
pounds to find him, it might cost five thousand. You must see for
yourselves how uncertain it all is."

"In that case we should be prepared to give security for the first-named
amount, or pay you half in advance," Kitwater replied. "I hope you do
not think, Mr. Fairfax, that we are endeavouring to play you false? You
can see for yourself that our injuries are permanent, and, as far as
they go, are at least evidence concerning the truth of our story. You
can also see for yourself how this man has behaved towards us. He has
robbed us of all we hold valuable, and to his act of treachery we owe
the mutilations we have suffered. Can you wonder that we are anxious to
find him?"

"I do not wonder at that at all," I said. "My only feeling is that I
must regard it as an entirely business matter."

"We cannot blame you," Kitwater replied. "Yet you must surely understand
our anxiety for a definite and immediate answer. The man has had a
considerable start of us already, and he has doubtless disposed of the
jewels ere this. At whatever price he sold them, he must now be in
possession of a considerable fortune, which rightly belongs to us. We
are not vindictive men; all we ask is for our own."

"I quite agree with you there," I replied. "The only question in my mind
is, who shall get it for you? Let me explain matters a little more
clearly. In the first place I have no desire to offend you, but how am I
to know that the story you tell me is a true one?"

"I have already told you that you will have to take our word for that,"
he said. "It will be a great disappointment to us if you cannot take the
matter up, but we must bear it as we have borne our other misfortunes.
When we realized the way you managed those bank people we said to each
other--'That's the man for us! If any one can catch Hayle he's that
person.' It naturally comes to us as a disappointment to find that you
are not willing to take up the case."

"I have not said that I am not willing," I answered; "I only said that I
am not going to commit myself until I have given the matter due
consideration. If you will call here at four o'clock to-morrow
afternoon, I shall be able to give you a definite answer."

"I suppose we must be content with that," said Kitwater lugubriously.

They thereupon thanked me and rose to go.

"By the way," I said, "does this man Hayle know that you are in
England?"

The blind man shook his head.

"He thinks we are lying dead in the jungle," he said, "and it is not his
fault that we are not. Did he suspect for a moment that we were alive
and in the same country as himself, he'd be out of it like a rat driven
by a ferret from his hole. But if you will give us your assistance, sir,
we will make him aware of our presence before very long."

Though he tried to speak unconcernedly, there was an expression upon the
man's face that startled me. I felt that, blind though he was, I should
not care to be in Mr. Hayle's place when they should meet.

After they had left me I lit a cigar and began to think the matter over.
I had had a number of strange cases presented to me in my time, but
never one that had opened in such a fashion as this. A man robs his
friends in the centre of China; the latter are tortured and maimed for
life, and come to me in London to seek out their betrayer for them, in
whatever part of the globe he might be. The whole thing seemed so
preposterous as to be scarcely worth consideration, and yet, try how I
would to put it out of my mind, I found myself thinking of it
continually. The recollection of the blind man's face and that of his
dumb companion haunted me awake and asleep. More than once I determined
to have nothing to do with them, only later to change my mind, and vow
that I would see the matter through at any cost to myself.

Next morning, however, saner counsels prevailed. An exceedingly
remunerative offer was made me by a prominent Trust Company, which, at
any other time I should have had no hesitation in immediately
accepting. Fate, however, which is generally more responsible for these
matters than most folk imagine, had still a card to play upon Messrs.
Kitwater and Codd's behalf, and it was destined to overthrow all my
scruples, and what was more to ultimately revolutionize the conduct of
my whole life.



CHAPTER III

Towards the middle of the morning I was sitting in my office, awaiting
the coming of a prominent New York detective, with whom I had an
appointment, when my clerk entered to inform me that a lady was in the
outer office, and desired to see me if I could spare her a few minutes.

"Who is she?" I inquired. "Find out that, and also her business."

"Her name is Kitwater," the man replied, when he returned after a
moment's absence, "but she declines to state her business to any one but
yourself, sir."

"Kitwater?" I said. "Then she is a relation, I suppose, of the blind man
who was here yesterday. What on earth can she have to say to me? Well,
Lawson won't be here for another ten minutes, so you may as well show
her in." Then to myself I added--"This is a development of the case
which I did not expect. I wonder who she is,--wife, sister, daughter, or
what, of the blind man?"

I was not to be left long in doubt, for presently the door opened and
the young lady herself entered the room. I say '_young lady_,' because
her age could not at most have been more than one-or two-and-twenty.
She was tall and the possessor of a graceful figure, while one glance
was sufficient to show me that her face was an exceedingly pretty one.
(Afterwards I discovered that her eyes were dark brown.) I rose and
offered her a chair.

"Good morning, Miss Kitwater," I said. "This is an unexpected visit.
Won't you sit down?"

When she had done so I resumed my seat at the table.

"Mr. Fairfax," she began, "you are the great detective, I believe?"

I admitted the soft impeachment with as much modesty as I could assume
at so short a notice. She certainly was a very pretty girl.

"I have come to talk to you about my uncle."

She stopped as if she did not quite know how to proceed.

"Then the gentleman who called upon me yesterday, and who has the
misfortune to be blind, is your uncle?" I said.

"Yes! He was my father's younger and only brother," she answered. "I
have often heard my father speak of him, but I had never seen him myself
until he arrived in England, a month ago with his companion, Mr. Codd.
Mr. Fairfax, they have suffered terribly. I have never heard anything so
awful as their experiences."

"I can quite believe that," I answered. "Your uncle told me something
of their great trouble yesterday. It seems wonderful to me that they
should have survived to tell the tale."

"Then he must have told you of Hayle, their supposed friend" (she spoke
with superb scorn), "the man who betrayed them and robbed them of what
was given them?"

"It was for that purpose that they called upon me," I answered. "They
were anxious that I should undertake the search for this man."

She rested her clasped hands upon the table and looked pleadingly at me.

"And will you do so?"

"I am considering the matter," I said, with the first feeling of
reluctance I had experienced in the case. "I have promised to give them
my decision this afternoon."

"So they informed me, and that is why I am here," she replied. "Oh, Mr.
Fairfax, you don't know how I pity them! Surely if they could find this
man his heart would be touched, and he would refund them a portion, at
least, of what he took from them, and what is legally theirs."

"I am afraid it is very doubtful whether he will," I said, "even in the
event of his being found. Gentlemen of his description are not
conspicuous for their pity, nor, as a rule, will they disgorge unless
considerable pressure of an unpleasant description is brought to bear
upon them."

"Then that pressure must be brought to bear," she said, "and if I may
say so, you are the only one who can do it. That is why I have called
upon you this morning. I have come to plead with you, to implore you, if
necessary, to take the matter up. I am not very rich, but I would
willingly give all I have in the world to help them."

"In that case you are one niece in a thousand, Miss Kitwater," I said,
with a smile. "Your uncle is indeed fortunate in having such a
champion."

She looked at me as if she were not quite certain whether I was joking
or not.

"You will do this for them?"

What was I to say? What could I say? I had well nigh decided to have
nothing to do with the matter, yet here I was, beginning to think it was
hard upon me to have to disappoint her. My profession is not one
calculated to render a man's heart over tender, but I must confess that
in this case I was by no means as adamant as was usual with me. As I
have said, she was an unusually pretty girl, and had she not been kind
enough to express her belief in my powers! After all, detectives, like
other people, are only human.

"Your uncle and his companion have promised to call upon me this
afternoon," I said, "and when they do so, I think I may promise you that
I will endeavour to come to some arrangement with them."

"I thank you," she said; "for I think that means that you will try to
help them. If you do, I feel confident that you will succeed. I hope
you will forgive me for having called upon you as I have done, but, when
I saw how disappointed they were after their interview with you
yesterday, I made up my mind that I would endeavour to see you and to
interest you on their behalf before they came again."

"You have certainly done so," I answered, as she rose to go. "If I take
the case up, and believe me I am not at all sure that I shall not do so,
they will owe it to your intercession."

"Oh, no, I did not mean that exactly," she replied, blushing prettily.
"I should like to feel that you did it for the reason that you believe
in the justice of their cause, not merely because I tried to persuade
you into it. That would not be fair, either to them or to you."

"Would it not be possible for it to be on account of both reasons?" I
asked. "Let us hope so. And now good-morning, Miss Kitwater. I trust
your uncle will have good news for you when you see him again this
afternoon."

"I hope so too," she answered, and then with a renewal of her thanks and
a little bow she left the office.

I closed the door and went back to my seat, almost wondering at my own
behaviour. Here was I, a hard-headed man of the world, being drawn into
an extraordinary piece of business, which I had most certainly decided
to have nothing to do with, simply because a pretty girl had smiled
upon me, and had asked me to do it. For I don't mind confessing that I
had made up my mind to help Kitwater and Codd in their search for the
villain Hayle. The Trust Company would have to look elsewhere for
assistance. And yet, as I had the best of reasons for knowing, that
piece of business was likely to prove twice as remunerative as this
search for the traitorous friend. Happily, however money is not
everything in this world.

During the remainder of the day I found myself looking forward with a
feeling that was almost akin to eagerness, to the interview I was to
have with Kitwater and Codd that afternoon. If the two gentlemen had
faults, unpunctuality was certainly not one of them, for the clock upon
the mantelpiece had scarcely finished striking the hour of four, when I
heard footsteps in the office outside, and next moment they were shown
into my own sanctum. Codd came first, leading his friend by the hand,
and as he did so he eyed me with a look of intense anxiety upon his
face. Kitwater, on the other hand, was dignified, and as impressive as
ever. If he were nervous, he certainly concealed it very well.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Fairfax," he said, as Codd led him to a seat.
"According to the arrangement we came to yesterday afternoon, we have
come here to learn your decision which you promised to give us at four
o'clock to-day. I trust you have good news for us."

"That depends upon how you take it," I answered. "I have made up my mind
to help you on certain conditions."

"And those conditions?"

"Are that you pay my expenses and the sum of five hundred pounds, to
which another five hundred is to be added if I am successful in helping
you to recover the treasure of which you told me yesterday. Is that a
fair offer?"

"An exceedingly fair one," Kitwater replied, while little Codd nodded
his head energetically to show that he appreciated it. "We had expected
that you would charge more. Of course you understand that it may involve
a chase round half the world before you can find him? He's as slippery
as an eel, and, if he once gets to know that we are after him, he'll
double and twist like a hare."

"He'll not be the first man I have had to deal with who possessed these
characteristics," I answered. "And I have generally succeeded in running
them to earth at the end."

"Let's hope for all our sakes that you will be as successful in this
case," he said. "And now, if I may ask the question, when will you be
ready to begin your search? We shall both feel happier when we know that
you are on his track."

"I am ready as soon as you like," I rejoined. "Indeed, the sooner the
better for all parties concerned. Nothing is to be gained by delay, and
if, as you say, the man has now been in England two months, he may soon
be thinking of getting out of it again, if he has not done so already.
But before I embark on anything, you must answer me some questions."

"A hundred, if you like," he returned. "You have only to ask them and I
will do my best to answer."

"In the first place, I must have a description of this Mr. Gideon Hayle.
What is he like?"

"Tall, thin, with brown hair, and a short, close-cropped beard; he
carries himself erect, and looks about thirty-eight."

"You don't happen to have a photograph of him in your possession, I
suppose?"

"No," replied Kitwater, shaking his head. "Gideon Hayle is not the sort
of man to allow himself to be photographed, and what's more you must
remember that when we reached Nampoung, the station on the frontier of
Burmah, we had scarcely a rag upon our backs. Any goods and chattels we
might once have possessed were in the hands of the Chinese. They had
robbed us of everything, except what that arch thief, Hayle, had already
stolen from us."

As he said this, another look such as I had seen on the occasion of his
previous visit spread over his face.

"The robber, the thief," he hissed, almost trembling in his sudden
excess of rage; "when I get hold of him he shall rue his treachery to
the day of his death. Upwards of a quarter of a million of money he
stole from us, and where is it now? Where is my sight, and where is
Coddy's power of speech? All gone, and he is free. 'Vengeance is Mine,'
saith the Lord, but I want to repay it myself. I want to----"

Here he leant across the table and turned his sightless eyes upon me.

"This is certainly a curious sort of missionary," I said to myself as I
watched him, "He may be smitten on one cheek, but I scarcely fancy he
would be content to turn the other to the striker."

At this moment Coddy leant forward in his chair, and placed his hand
upon his friend's arm. The effect was magical. His fit of impotent rage
died down as suddenly as it had sprung up, and immediately he became
again the quiet, suave, smoothspoken individual who had first entered
my office.

"I must beg your pardon, Mr. Fairfax," he said, in a totally different
voice to that in which he had just spoken. "When I remember how we have
been wronged I am apt to forget myself. I trust you will forgive me?"

"I will do so willingly," I answered. "You have certainly won the right
to be excused if you entertain a feeling of resentment for the man who
has treated you so shamefully. And now to resume our conversation?"

"What were you about to say?"

"I was about to ask you the number and description of the stones of
which he robbed you. You told me they numbered ninety-three in all, if I
remember aright. Can you tell me how many there were of each?"

"Forty-eight rubies and forty-five sapphires," he replied without a
moment's hesitation. "The rubies were uncut and of various sizes,
ranging perhaps from ten to eighty carats. They were true rubies, not
spinels, remember that. The sapphires ran from fifteen carats to sixty,
and there was not a flaw amongst them."

"Has Hayle any knowledge of the value of precious stones?"

"There's not a keener judge in the East. He would be a cunning man who
would succeed in taking him in about the value of anything from a
moonstone to a ruby."

"In that case he would, in all probability, know where to place them to
the best advantage?"

"You may be sure that was his intention in coming to England. But we
have tried Hatton Garden and can hear nothing of him there."

"He may have disposed of some of them on the continent," I said.
"However, we will soon clear that point up. The size of the larger
stones is so unusual that they would be certain to attract attention.
And now one other question. Are you aware whether he has any friends or
relatives in England?"

"So far as we know he has not a single relative in the world," Kitwater
replied. "Have you ever heard of one, Coddy?"

The little man shook his head, and then, taking the other's hand, tapped
upon it with his fingers in the manner I have already described.

"He says Hayle had a sister once, of whom he was very fond." The tapping
upon the hand continued, and once more Kitwater translated, "She was a
cripple, and lived in a small house off the Brompton Road. She died
while Hayle was in North Borneo; is not that so, little man?"

Codd nodded his head to show that Kitwater had interpreted him
correctly. I then made some inquiries as to the missing man's habits. So
far the description I had had of him was commonplace in the extreme.

"Do you know whether he shipped on board the _Jemadar_ for England under
his own name, or under an assumed one?"

"He booked his passage as George Bertram," Kitwater replied. "We know
that is so, for we made inquiries at Rangoon."

I next noted the name and address of the vessel's owner, and resolved
to pay him a visit next morning. It would be hard if I could not learn
from him something concerning Mr. Hayle, and where he had gone
on landing.

"I think those are all the questions I want to ask you at present," I
said, closing my note-book. "It would be as well perhaps for you to
furnish me with your address, in order that I may communicate with you,
should it be necessary."

"At present," said Kitwater, "we are staying with my niece at the
village of Bishopstowe in Surrey. My late brother was vicar of the
parish for many years, and he left his daughter a small property in the
neighbourhood. They tell me it is a pretty place, but, as you are aware,
I unfortunately cannot see it, and my friend Codd here cannot talk to me
about it?"

He heaved a heavy sigh and then rose to depart.

"I must again express my gratitude to you, Mr. Fairfax," he said, "for
having consented to take up the case. I feel certain you will ultimately
be successful. I will leave you to imagine with what anxiety we shall
await any news you may have to give us."

"I will communicate with you as soon as I have anything to report," I
answered. "You may rely upon my doing my best to serve you. By the way,
are you aware that your niece called upon me this morning?"

He gave a start of surprise.

"No, I certainly did not know it," he replied. "She said nothing to us
of such an intention. I know that she is heart and soul with us in our
desire to find Hayle. But since you have seen her you probably
know that?"

"I think I do," I returned, for some reason almost abruptly.

"She is a good girl," said Kitwater, and then took from his pocket an
envelope which he handed to me.

"By the way I brought this with me," he said, "in the hope that we
should be able to induce you to accede to our wishes. Inside you will
find a hundred-pound note, which should be sufficient to cover any
preliminary expenses. If you need more, perhaps you will be kind enough
to communicate with me at once, and it shall be sent you. A receipt can
be forwarded to me at your leisure."

I thanked him and placed the envelope upon the table. In my own mind I
felt that it would be an easy matter to guess whence the sum had come,
and for a reason that I could not then analyze, and therefore am unable
to describe, the thought irritated me.

Having assured them that the amount would be quiet sufficient, in the
event of nothing unforeseen happening, to last for some considerable
time to come, I conducted them to the door, again repeating the promise
that I would communicate with them so soon as I had anything to report.
If I had only known then, that, at the very moment when they stepped in
to the street, the man they wanted me to find for them, and whom they
hated so desperately, was standing in a shop on the other side of the
road, keeping an eye on my door, and evidently watching for their
departure, how much trouble and vexation of spirit we should all have
been saved. But I did not know this until long afterwards, and then of
course the information came too late to be of any service to us.

Next morning I was early at the office, being desirous of winding up
another little matter before I turned my attention to the new affair.
One of my subordinates had just returned from the Continent whither I
had sent him to keep an eye on a certain pseudo-French Marquis with whom
I expected to have dealings at no distant date. He reported that the
gentleman in question had broken the bank at Monte Carlo, had staked and
lost all his winnings next day, and had shot himself on the promenade on
the evening following. With his death the affair, on which I had
confidently expected to be employed, came to an end, I could not say
that I was altogether sorry.

"I shall want you to leave on Friday, Turner, for St. Petersburg," I
said, when he had finished his report and I had commented upon it. "Do
you remember Paulus Scevanovitch, who was concerned in that attempt to
defraud the Parisian jewellers, Maurel and Company, two years ago?"

"Yes, sir, I remember him perfectly," Turner replied. "A tall, burly
man, with a bushy beard, the top of his little finger on the left hand
missing, and a long white scar over his right eyebrow."

"The same," I answered. "I see you have not forgotten him. Well, I want
you to find him out, and let me have an exact account of his movements
during the next three weeks. The office will arrange your expenses in
the usual way, and you had better leave by the mail-train. In all
probability I shall see you off."

"Very good, sir," the man responded, and withdrew.

He had scarcely gone before one of my clerks entered the room and handed
me a card. On it was printed the name of Mr. Edward Bayley, and in the
left-hand bottom corner was the announcement that he was the Managing
Director of the Santa Cruz Mining Company of Forzoda, in the
Argentine Republic.

"Show the gentleman in, Walters," I said.

In a few minutes a tall, handsome man, irreproachably turned out,
entered the office. He seated himself in a chair the clerk placed for
him, put his hat and umbrella on another, and then turned to me.

"My card has made you familiar with my name, Mr. Fairfax," he began,
"and doubtless, if you are at all familiar with mines and mining, you
are acquainted with the name of the company I have the honour to
represent?"

"I am very much afraid the Mining Market does not possess very much
interest for me," I replied. "I have to work so hard for my money, that
when I have got it I prefer to invest it in something a little more
reliable. May I inquire the nature of your business with me?"

"I have come to see you, Mr. Fairfax," he said, speaking very
impressively, and regarding me deliberately as he did so, "on rather a
delicate subject. Before I explain what it is, may I ask that you will
treat what I am about to tell you as purely confidential?"

"My business is invariably a confidential one," I answered for the
second time in two days. "I venture to think that this room has heard
more secrets than almost any other in England. But though they say walls
have ears, I have never heard it said that they have tongues."

"It is sometimes a good thing that they have not," he replied. "And now
let me tell you what business has brought me here. In the first place,
if you do not already know it, I may say that the Company I represent is
an exceedingly wealthy one, and, as our business lies a long way from
Threadneedle Street, if I may so put it, it is necessary for us to trust
very largely to the honesty of our _employes_ on the other side of the
world. Of course we make all sorts of inquiries about them prior to
engaging their services, and it is also needless to say that we keep a
sharp eye on them when they have entered our employ. Nevertheless, it is
quite possible, all precautions notwithstanding, for an unscrupulous man
to take advantage of us. As a matter of fact, that is what has happened,
and what has also brought me to you. For some considerable time past we
have had our suspicions that our manager at the mines has been in league
with a notorious rascal in New York. In proof of this, I might say that
our returns have shown a decided falling off, while our manager has, so
we have lately discovered, within the past year become rich enough to
purchase property to a considerable extent in the United States.
Unfortunately for us, owing to a lack of direct evidence, we are unable
to bring his defalcations home to him, though of course we are as
certain of our facts as we can well be of anything."

"I think I understand," I said. "Your business with me is to endeavour
to induce me to go out to the Argentine and make inquiries on your
behalf with the idea of bringing this man to book. Is that not so?"

"That is my errand," he replied gravely. "If you care to undertake the
task, we, on our side--and I speak as the mouthpiece of the
Company--will be prepared to pay you very high terms for your services;
in point of fact, almost what you may ask in reason. The matter, as you
may suppose, is a most serious one for us, and every day's delay is
adding to it. May I ask what your terms would be, and when would you be
prepared to start?"

"Your offer is a most liberal one," I said. "Unfortunately, however, I
fear there is a considerable difficulty in the way of my accepting it."

"A difficulty!" he exclaimed, raising his eyebrows as if in
astonishment. "But surely that obstacle can be removed. Especially for
an offer of such magnitude as we are prepared to make you."

"Excuse me," I said, somewhat tartly, "but however great the inducement
may be, I never break faith with my clients. The fact of the matter is,
only yesterday I promised to undertake another piece of business which,
while not being so remunerative, perhaps, as that you are now putting
before me, means a very great deal to those who are, for the time being,
my employers."

"Would it be impertinent on my part to ask at what time yesterday
afternoon you arrived at this momentous decision?"

"Shortly after four o'clock," I answered, but not without a little
wonderment as to his reason for putting the question. For my own part I
did not see what it had to do with the matter in hand.

"Dear me, how very vexing, to be sure!" he observed. "This is certainly
another instance of the contrariness of Fate."

"How so?" I asked.

"Because it was my intention to have called upon you shortly after lunch
yesterday on this matter," he answered. "Unfortunately I was prevented
at the last moment. Had I been able to get here, I might have
forestalled your more successful client. Are you quite sure, Mr.
Fairfax, that it is out of the question for you to undertake what
we want?"

"If it is necessary for me to go at once, I fear it is," I answered.
"But if it would be of any use to you, I could send you a trustworthy
subordinate; one who would be quite capable of undertaking the work, and
who would give you every satisfaction."

"I fear that would not be the same thing," he said. "My firm have such
implicit faith in you that they would not entertain the idea of any one
else going. Now think, Mr. Fairfax, for a moment. If you are prepared to
go, I, in my turn, on behalf of my Company, am prepared to offer you
your expenses and a sum of five thousand pounds. You need not be away
more than three months at longest, so that you see our offer is at the
rate of twenty thousand pounds a year. It is princely remuneration."

I looked at him closely. It was plain that he was in earnest--in deadly
earnest, so it seemed. Even a defaulting manager would scarcely seem to
warrant so much zeal.

"I am very much flattered by your offer," I said; "and believe me, I
most truly appreciate the generosity of your Company; but, as I said
before, if it is necessary for me to go at once, that is to say, before
I have completed my present case, then I have no option but to most
reluctantly decline."

"Perhaps you will think it over," he continued, "and let me know, say
to-morrow?"

"No amount of thinking it over will induce me to alter my decision," I
replied. "You must see for yourself that I have no right to accept a
retainer from one party and then throw them over in order to favour
another. That would not only be a dishonourable action on my part, but
would be bad from a business point of view. No, Mr. Bayley, I am
exceedingly sorry, but I have no option but to act as I am doing."

"In that case I must wish you a very good-morning," he remarked, and
took up his hat and umbrella. I could see, however, that he was still
reluctant to go.

"Good-morning," I answered. "I hope your affairs in the Argentine may
brighten before very long."

He shook his head gloomily, and then left the office without another
word.

When he had gone I answered some letters, gave some instructions to my
managing clerk, and then donned my hat and set off for the office of the
Shipping Company that had brought Gideon Hayle to England.

Unfortunately it transpired that they were not in a position to do very
much in the way of helping me. Mr. Bertram had certainly travelled home
in one of their steamers, so the manager informed me, a boat that as a
rule did not carry passengers. He had landed at the docks, and from that
moment they had neither seen nor heard anything of him. I inquired for
the steamer, only to learn that she was now somewhere on her way between
Singapore and Hong Kong. This was decidedly disappointing, but as most
of the cases in which I have been ultimately successful have had
unpromising beginnings, I did not take it too seriously to heart.
Leaving the Shipping Office, I next turned my attention to Hatton
Garden, where I called upon Messrs. Jacob and Bulenthall, one of the
largest firms in the gem trade. We had had many dealings together in the
past, and as I had had the good fortune on one occasion to do them a
signal service, I knew that they would now do all that they could for me
in return.

"Good-day, Mr. Fairfax," said the chief partner, as I entered his snug
little sanctum, which leads out of the main office. "What can I have the
pleasure of doing for you?"

"I am in search of some information," I replied, "and I think you may be
able to help me."

"I will do all that is in my power to render you assistance," he
returned, as he wiped his glasses and placed them on his somewhat fleshy
nose. "What is the information you require? Has there been another big
robbery of stones, and you think it possible that some of them may have
come into our hands?"

"There certainly has been a robbery," I replied, "and the stones may
have been offered to you, but not in the way you mean. The fact of the
matter is, I want to discover whether or not a large consignment of
uncut rubies and sapphires of great value have been placed upon the
market within the last two months."

"Uncut rubies and sapphires are being continually placed upon the
market," he observed, leaning back in his chair and rattling his keys.

"But not such stones as those I am looking for," I said, and furnished
him with the rough weights that had been supplied to me.

"This is interesting--decidedly interesting," he remarked. "Especially
since it serves to offer an explanation on a certain matter in which we
have been interested for some little time past. On the sixteenth of last
month, a gentleman called upon us here, who stated that he had lately
returned from the Far East. He had had, so he declared, the good fortune
to discover a valuable mine, the locality of which he was most careful
not to disclose. He thereupon showed my partner and myself ten stones,
consisting of five rubies and five sapphires, each of which weighed
between fifty-five and sixty carats."

"And you purchased them?"

"We did, and for a very heavy sum. I can assure you the vendor was very
well aware of their value, as we soon discovered, and he was also a good
hand at a bargain. Would you care to see the stones? I shall be pleased
to show them to you if you would."

"I should like to see them immensely." I replied.

Thereupon he crossed the room to a safe in the corner, and, when he had
unlocked it, took from it a wash-leather bag. Presently ten superb gems
were lying before me on the table.

"There they are," he said, waving his hands towards them, "and as you
can see for yourself, they are worthy of being set in the crown of an
emperor. It is not often that we are enthusiastic in such matters, but
in this case we have very good reason to be. When they are properly cut,
they will be well nigh priceless."

"Do you happen to know whether he sold any more of a similar kind in
London?" I asked, as he returned them to their place in the safe.

"I know that he sold fifteen smaller ones to Henderson and Soil, and
three almost as large as those I have just shown you to a firm in
Amsterdam."

"If he is the man I want to get hold of, that accounts for
twenty-eight," I said, making a note of the fact as I spoke. "Originally
he had ninety-three in his possession."

"Ninety-three?" the merchant replied, as if he could scarcely believe
his ears. "Why, his mine must be a source of unlimited wealth. I wish I
had known this before."

"So do I," I said. "And now perhaps you can go further and furnish me
with a description of the man himself. I shall then be able to tell you
whether my gentleman and your customer are one and the same person."

"I can describe him to you perfectly well. He was tall, but somewhat
sparely built, very sunburnt--which would be accounted for by his long
residence in the East--his hair was streaked with grey, he had dark
eyes, and a singularly sharp nose."

"Did he wear a beard?"

"No, only a moustache. The latter was carefully trimmed, and, I think,
waxed. Of this, however, I am not quite certain."

"And his name?"

"He would not tell us that. We pressed him to disclose it, but he
obstinately refused to do so. He said that if his name became known it
might lead to the discovery of his mine, and that he was naturally
anxious that such an event should not occur."

"But what guarantee had you that the stones were not stolen?"

"None whatever--but it is most unlikely. In the first place, they are
uncut; in the second, we have had them in our possession for some time,
and you may be sure have made the closest inquiries. Besides, there are
few such stones in Europe, and what there are, are safely in the
possession of their owners. Surely you are not going to tell me that
they were stolen?"

In the man's voice there was a perceptible note of alarm.

"I don't think you need be afraid," I said. "They were stolen by the man
from his two partners, and all they want is to get hold of him in order
to make him disgorge their share of what he got for them."

"I am glad indeed to hear that," was the reply. "I was beginning to grow
uneasy. And now is there any other way in which I can serve you? If so,
I shall be only too pleased to do it."

I informed him that, if I had anything else to ask him I would call upon
him again, and then took my departure. While I was in a great measure
satisfied with the information I had gained, I was not altogether easy
in my mind. The question to be answered was, was the man I was after the
same individual who had sold Jacob and Bulenthall the stones? The
description given me varied in several particulars to that furnished me
by Kitwater. My client declared him to possess black hair; the merchant
had said grey; the one had declared that Hayle possessed a beard, the
other that he had only a waxed moustache. The figure, however, was in
both cases identically the same.

Having satisfied myself that he had no more to tell me, I thanked him
for his courtesy and left the office. A fresh idea had occurred to me
which I thought might lead to something, and I resolved to put it into
practice without any further waste of time.



CHAPTER IV

It would be a truism to declare that human nature is about as
complicated a piece of machinery as could be found in the human world.
And yet I do not know why it should be considered so. All things and all
men do not run in grooves. A man to be a criminal need not be hopelessly
bad in every other sense. I have met murderers who did not possess
sufficient nerve to kill a rabbit, burglars who would rob a poor man of
all his possessions in the world, and yet would not despoil a little
child of a halfpenny. The fact of the matter is we all have our better
points, our own innate knowledge of good and evil. Hayle had betrayed
Kitwater and Codd in the cruellest fashion possible, and by so doing had
condemned them to the most fiendish torture the mind of man could
conceive. Yet it was through his one good point, his weakness, if I
might so describe it, that I was enabled to come to my first grip
with him.

It was between the hours of two and three that I entered the gates of
Brompton Cemetery and commenced my examination of the various graves
therein contained. Up one path I wandered and down another in search of
the resting-place of the poor crippled sister of whom Gideon Hayle had
been so fond. It was a long time before I found it, but at last I was
successful. To my astonishment the stone was plainly a new one, and the
grave was tastefully decorated with flowers. As a matter of fact it was
one of the prettiest in its neighbourhood, and to me this told its own
tale. I went in search of the necessary official and put the case to
him. He informed me that I was correct in my supposition, and that the
stone had only lately been erected, and, what was more to the point, he
informed me that the gentleman who had given the order for it, had only
the week before paid the necessary sum for insuring the decoration of
the grave for many years to come.

"I gather from your words, that the gentleman, who must be a relative of
the deceased, has been here lately," I said.

"He was here last Sunday afternoon," the man replied. "He is a most
kindly and generous gentleman, and must have been very fond of his
sister. The way he stood and looked at that stone the last time he was
here was touching to see. He'd been in foreign parts, sir, and is likely
to go out there again, so I gathered from what he said. It is a pity
there are not more like him."

This was news, indeed, and I pricked up my ears on hearing it.

Having learnt all I was likely to discover, I thanked the man for his
kindness and left the cemetery. If I had done nothing else, I had at
least satisfied myself upon one point, and this was the fact that
Gideon Hayle had been in London within the week. Under such
circumstances it should not be very difficult to obtain his address. But
I knew from experience that when things seemed to be running most
smoothly, they are as much liable to a breakdown as at any other
time--sometimes even more so. I accordingly hailed a cab and drove back
to my office. Once there I entered up my diary according to custom,
wrote a note to Kitwater, informing him that I had discovered that
Gideon Hayle had not left London on the previous Sunday, and also that I
believed him to have negotiated certain of the stones in London, after
which I returned to my hotel to dine.

Most people who know me would tell you that it might be considered
consistent with my character that I still occupied the same apartments
in the private hotel, off the Strand, in which I had domiciled myself
when I first arrived in England. If I am made comfortable I prefer to
stick to my quarters, and the hotel in question was a quiet one; the
cooking and the service were excellent, and, as every one did his, or
her, best for me, I saw no sort of reason for moving elsewhere. It is
something in such matters to know the people with whom one has to deal,
and in my case I could not have been better cared for had I been a
crowned head. I suppose I am a bit of a faddist in these things. Except
when business compels me to break through my rule, I rise at the same
hour every morning, breakfast, lunch, and dine at the same time, and as
far as possible retire to rest punctually at the usual moment. After
dinner in those days, things have changed since then somewhat. I
invariably smoked a cigar, and when the evening was fine, went for a
stroll, returning between nine and ten and retiring to rest, unless I
had anything to attend to, punctually at eleven. On this particular
occasion, the night being fine, though rather close, I lit my cigar in
the hall and stepped out into the street exactly as the clock was
striking eight. I had a lot to think of, and felt just in the humour for
a walk. London at all hours is a fascinating study to me, and however
much I see of her, I never tire of watching her moods. After I left my
hotel I strolled along the Embankment so far as the Houses of
Parliament, passed the Abbey, made my way down Victoria Street, and then
by way of Grosvenor Place to Hyde Park Corner. Opposite Apsley House I
paused to look about me. I had my reasons for so doing, for ever since I
had left the river-side, I had entertained the notion that I was being
followed. When I had crossed the road at the Houses of Parliament, two
men, apparently of the loafer class, had crossed too. They had followed
me up Victoria Street, and now, as I stood outside the Duke of
Wellington's residence, I could see them moving about on the other side
of the way. What their intentions were I could not say, but that their
object was to spy upon my movements, I was quite convinced. In order to
assure myself of this fact I resolved to lay a little trap for them.
Passing down Piccadilly at a sharp pace, I turned into Berkeley Street,
some twenty yards or so ahead of them. Crossing the road I sheltered
myself in a doorway and waited. I had not been there very long, before I
observed that they had turned the corner and were coming along in hot
pursuit. That they did not notice me in my hiding-place is evident from
the fact that they passed on the other side of the street, and doubtless
thinking that they had missed me, commenced to run. I thereupon quitted
my friendly doorway, returned to Piccadilly, hailed a cab, and drove
back to my hotel. As I went I turned the matter over in my mind. With
the exception of the present case I had nothing important on hand, so
that I could think of no one who would be likely to set a watch upon me.
That I did not suspect Hayle would only be natural under the
circumstances, as I did not know then that he had been the witness of
Kitwater and Codd's visit to my office that afternoon, and I felt
convinced in my own mind that he was unaware that they were in England.
It was most natural, therefore, that I should not in any way associate
him with the plot.

The following day was spent for the greater part in making further
inquiries in Hatton Garden, and among the various Dutch merchants then
in London. The story the senior partner of Messrs. Jacob and Bulenthall
had told me had proved to be correct, and there could be no sort of
doubt that Hayle had realized a very large sum of money by the
transaction. What was more, I discovered that he had been seen in London
within the previous twenty-four hours. This was a most important point,
and it encouraged me to persevere in my search. One thing, however, was
remarkable. One or two of the merchants to whom Hayle had disposed of
his stones, had seen more of him than Messrs. Jacob and Bulenthall. Two
had dined with him at a certain popular restaurant in Regent Street, and
had visited a theatre with him afterwards. In neither case, however, had
they discovered his name or where he lived. This secret he guarded most
religiously, and the fact that he did so, afforded additional food for
reflection. If he imagined his old companions to be dead, why should he
be so anxious that his own identity, and his place of residence, should
remain a secret? If they were safely out of the way, no one could
possibly know of his connection with them, and in that case he might, if
he pleased, purchase a mansion in Park Lane and flourish his wealth
before the eyes of the world, for any harm it might do him. Yet here he
was, exciting mistrust by his secrecy, and leading a hole-and-corner
sort of life when, as I have said, there was not the slightest necessity
for it. Little by little I was beginning to derive the impression that
the first notion of Mr. Hayle was an erroneous one, and that there was
more in him than I supposed. This sentiment was destined to be
strengthened and in the very near future, by two remarkable discoveries.

That evening I again went for a walk. Feeling fairly confident, however,
that the men who had followed me before would do so again, I took
certain precautions before I set out. One of my subordinates, a man
remarkable for his strength, was ordered to be at the corner of my
street at half-past eight. He was to wait there until I emerged from my
hotel, himself remaining as far as possible out of sight. On this
occasion I had planned my route deliberately. I made my way in the first
place along the Strand as far as Trafalgar Square, down Cockspur Street
by way of the Haymarket to Regent Street, then on by Langham Place to
that vast network of streets that lies between Oxford Street and the
Euston Road.

I had some time before this found out that I was being followed again.
The two men who had dodged my steps on the previous night were doing so
again, though the reason for their action was no more apparent. However,
I had laid my plans most carefully, and hoped, if all went well, to be
able to satisfy myself upon this point. I had plenty of enemies, I knew,
as a man of my profession must of necessity have, but I could not think
of one who would pry upon my movements like this. At last the time came
for action. Turning into a side street, I slackened my pace in order to
give my pursuers time to come up. Apart from ourselves the street was
quite deserted, and, if they intended doing me harm, was quite dark
enough to favour their plans. I could see as well as hear them
approaching. Then, when they were close upon me, I slipped my hand into
my coat-pocket, and turned and confronted them. My own man was softly
coming up from behind.

"Now, my men," I began, "what's the meaning of this? No, you can keep
your distance. It's no use thinking of violence, for I've got you before
and behind. Take care that they don't get away, Wilson!"

"Aye, aye, sir," the man replied. "I'll take good care of that."

"Let's 'out him,' Bill," said the taller of the two men, and as he did
so took a step towards me.

[Illustration: "'LET'S OUT HIM, BILL,' SAID THE TALLER OF THE TWO MEN"]

"Do you see this?" I inquired, producing my revolver as I spoke. "I am
aware that it is not lawful to carry firearms in the streets of London,
but when one has to deal with gentlemen like you, it becomes a
necessity. Throw up your hands."

They did as they were ordered without demur. Then turning to the taller
man I addressed him more particularly.

"You seem to be the leader," I said, "and for that reason I want to have
a little talk with you. Your companion can take himself off as soon as
he pleases. If he does not, let me assure him that he will get into
trouble. Your intention to 'out me,' as you call it, has failed, as you
can see, and when I have done with you I don't think the attempt will be
repeated. Now get off, my man, and thank your stars that I have let you
go so easily."

Never were the tables turned so quickly or so completely on a pair of
rogues, and the man I addressed seemed to think too. After a whispered
conversation with his companion, he walked away at his best pace, and we
saw no more of him.

"Now," I said, turning to the fellow who was left behind, "you will come
along with me to my office, and we'll have a little talk together."

Our prisoner would have resisted, but certain warnings I was able to
give him, induced him to change his mind. When we reached my office I
opened the door and conducted him to my sanctum, while Wilson followed
close behind and lit the gas. He then passed into the outer office,
leaving me alone with my prisoner. On closer inspection he proved to be
a burly ruffian, and would doubtless have proved an ugly customer to
tackle alone. He, in his turn, looked at me in some interest and then at
the door, as if he were half inclined to try the effect of a struggle.

"First and foremost, do you know where you are and who I am?" I asked
him.

"No," he said, "I can't say as ever I set my eyes on yer afore last
night, and I don't know yer bloomin' name or what yer are and I
don't want to."

"Politeness is evidently not your strong point," I commented. "Just look
at that!"

Taking a sheet of note-paper from the rack upon my table I handed it to
him.

He did so, and I saw a look of surprise steal over his face. He looked
from it to me and then back again at the paper.

"Fairfax," he said. "The d---- Tec, the same as got poor old Billy
Whitelaw scragged last year."

"I certainly believe I had that honour," I returned, "and it's just
possible, if you continue in your present career, that I may have the
pleasure of doing the same for you. Now, look here, my man, there's some
one else at the back of this business, and what I want to know is, who
put you up to try your hand upon me? Tell me that, and I will let you go
and say no more about it. Refuse, and I must try and find some evidence
against you that will rid society of you for some time to come.
Doubtless it will not be very difficult."

He considered a moment before he replied.

"Well," he said, "I don't know as how I won't tell you, a seein' you're
who yer are, and I am not likely to get anything out of the job. It was
a rare toff who put us on to it. Silk hat, frock-coat, and all as natty
as a new pin. He comes across us down in the Dials, stood us a couple of
drinks, turfed out a suvring apiece, and then told us he wanted the
gentleman at Rickford's Hotel laid by for a time. He told us 'ow yer
were in the habit of going about the streets at night for walks, and
said as 'ow he would be down near the hotel that evenin' and when yer
came out, he would strike a match and light a smoke just ter give us the
tip like. We wos to foller yer, and to do the job wherever we could.
Then we was to bring your timepiece to him at the back of St. Martin's
Church in the Strand at midnight, and he would pay us our money and let
us keep the clock for our trouble. Oh, yes, 'e's a deep un, jost take my
tip for it. He knowed that unless we 'outed' yer properly, we'd not be
able to get at your fob, and then 'e'd not have paid out."

"I see, and not being successful on your first attempt, you followed me
again to-night, of course by his instructions as before?"

"That's so, guvner," the man replied, "but I reckon we ain't agoin' to
see any money this trip. If I'd ha' knowed who you was, I wouldn't a
taken this job in hand, not for no money."

"That is where so many of you go wrong," I said. "You fail to make
sufficient inquiries before you commence business. And I understand you
to say that the gentleman who put you up to it, is to be at the back of
St. Martin's church to-night?"

"Yes, sir, that's so," said the fellow. "He'll be there all right."

"In that case I think I'll be there to meet him," I continued. "It's a
pity he should not see some one, and I suppose you will not keep your
appointment?"

"Not if I knows it," the man answered. Then he added regretfully, "A
regular toff--he was--free with his rhino as could be, and dressed up to
the nines. He chucked his 'arf soverings about as if they were dirt,
he did."

"It is sad to think that through your folly, no more of them will find
themselves into your pocket," I said. "You should have done the trick
last night, and you would now be in the full enjoyment of your wealth.
As it is you have had all your trouble for nothing. Now, that's all I
want to say to you, so you can go and join your amiable companions as
soon as you like. Just one word of advice, however, before you depart.
Don't go near St. Martin's church to-night, and, when you want to kick
another unoffending citizen to death, be sure of your man before you
commence operations."

As I said this I rang the bell and told Wilson to show him out, which he
did.

"Now," I said to myself after he had gone, "this looks like developing
into an affair after my own heart. I am most anxious to discover who my
mysterious enemy can be. It might be Grobellar, but I fancy he is still
in Berlin. There's Tremasty, but I don't think he would dare venture to
England. No, when I come to think of it, this business does not seem to
belong to either of them."

I took from my pocket the watch which was to have played such an
important part in the drama and consulted it. It was just half-past
eleven, therefore I had exactly half-an-hour to get to the _rendezvous_.
I called Wilson and congratulated him on the success which had attended
our efforts of that evening.

"It's a good thing you came out of it so well, sir," he said. "They were
a nasty pair of chaps, and would have thought as much of 'outing' you as
they would of drinking a pot of ale."

"But thank goodness, they didn't succeed," I replied. "As the saying
goes, 'a miss has never killed a man yet.' And now, Wilson, you'd better
be off home to bed. Turn out the gas before you go. Good-night!"

"Good-night, sir," he answered, and then I put on my hat and left the
office.

I found when I stepped into the street that the character of the night
had changed. Thick clouds obscured the sky, and a few drops of rain were
falling. At first I felt inclined to take a cab, but on second thoughts
I changed my mind, and putting up my umbrella strode along in the
direction of St. Martin's church.

The theatres were over by this time, and the streets were beginning to
grow empty. I passed the Gaiety where a middle-aged gentleman, decidedly
intoxicated, was engaged in a noisy altercation with a policeman, who
was threatening to take him to Bow Street if he did not go quietly home,
and at last approached the spot for which I was making. I took up my
position on the darker side of Holywell Street, and waited. So far I
seemed to have the thoroughfare to myself, but I had still some three or
four minutes to wait.

At last midnight sounded, and as I heard it I concealed myself more
carefully in my doorway and watched. I was not to be kept long in
suspense, for the new day was scarcely three minutes old, when a hansom
drove up to the other side of the church, and a man alighted. He paid
off the man and wished him good-night, and then came along the roadway
at the back of the church. From where I stood I could see his figure
distinctly, but was not able to distinguish his face. He was dressed in
a black cloak, and wore a deer-stalker hat upon his head. That he was
the man I wanted I felt sure, for what would any one else be doing there
at such an hour? That he was surprised at not finding his bravoes
awaiting him was very certain, for he looked up the street, down the
street, peered into Holywell Street, where, thank goodness, he did not
see me, then along the Strand in a westerly direction, and afterwards
came and took up his position within half-a-dozen paces of where I was
hidden. Presently he took a cigar-case from his pocket, opened it,
selected a weed, and struck a match to light it. The flame illumined his
face so that I could see it distinctly. If I had not had myself well
under control, I believe I should have uttered an exclamation of
surprise that could not have failed to attract attention. _The man who
had set those rascals on to try and get rid of me, was none other than
Mr. Edward Bayley, the Managing Director of the Santa Cruz Mining
Company of the Argentine Republic!_

Here was a surprise indeed! What on earth did it all mean?



CHAPTER V

I must confess that the discovery I had made behind St. Martin's church,
and which I described at the end of the previous chapter, had proved too
much for me. What possible reason could Mr. Bayley have for wanting to
rid himself of me? Only the morning before he had been anxious to secure
my services in the interests of his Company, and now here he was hiring
a couple of ruffians to prevent me from doing my work, if not to take my
life. When I reached my hotel again, and went to bed, I lay awake half
the night endeavouring to arrive at an understanding of it; but, try how
I would, I could not hit upon a satisfactory solution. Upon one thing,
however, I had quite made up my mind. As soon as the City offices were
open, I would call at that of the Santa Cruz Mining Company, and put a
few questions to Mr. Bayley which I fancied that individual would find
difficult and rather unpleasant to answer. This plan I carried out, and
at ten o'clock I stood in the handsome outer office of the Company.

"I should be glad to see the managing director, if he could spare me a
few moments," I said to the youth who waited upon me in answer to his
question.

"He's engaged, sir, at present," the lad replied. "If you will take a
seat, however, I don't fancy he will be very long."

I did as he directed, and in the interval amused myself by studying a
large map of the Argentine Republic, which hung upon the wall. I had
practically exhausted its capabilities when the door opened, and a tall,
military-looking man emerged and passed out into the street.

"What name shall I say, sir?" inquired the clerk, as he descended from
his high stool and approached me.

"Fairfax," I replied, giving him my card. "I think the manager will know
my name."

The clerk disappeared to return a few moments later with the request
that I would follow him. Preparing myself for what I fully expected
would be a scene, I entered the director's sanctum. It was a handsome
room, and was evidently used as a Boardroom as well as an office, for
there was a long table in the middle, surrounded by at least a dozen
chairs. At the furthest end a gentleman of venerable appearance was
seated. He rose as I entered, and bowed to me.

"In what way can I be of service to you, Mr. Fairfax?" he inquired,
after I had seated myself.

"I am afraid there has been a mistake," I answered, looking about me for
Mr. Bayley. "I told the clerk that I desired to see the managing
director."

"You _are_ seeing him," he returned with a smile, "for I am he."

"In that case I must have misunderstood the gentleman who called upon me
two days ago," I replied, with some surprise.

"Do I understand you to say that a gentleman from this office called
upon you?"

"Yes, a Mr. Bayley, a tall, good-looking man, of between thirty-eight
and forty years of age."

The old gentleman stared, as well he might.

"But there is no Mr. Bayley here," he said. "We have no one of that name
in our employ. I fear the man, whoever he was, must have been playing a
trick upon you. I sincerely trust he has done no damage. Might I ask
what he called upon you about?"

"He called on me on behalf of your Company," I answered. "He informed me
that for some time past you have ascertained the gravest suspicions
concerning the manager of your mines in the Argentine. He said that
information had reached your ears to the effect that the man in question
was in league with a notorious swindler in New York, and, though you
could not bring any proved charge against him, you were equally certain
that he was robbing you in order to fill his own pockets. He appeared to
be most anxious to persuade me to go to the Republic at once in order
that I might inquire into matters and report to you. I was to be away
three months, and was to be paid five thousand pounds and my expenses
for my trouble."

"My good sir, this is really preposterous," the old gentleman returned.
"I can positively assure you that there is not a word of truth in his
assertion. Our manager in the Argentine is an old and valued friend, and
I would stake my life on his fidelity. Nothing would induce us to think
even of sending a detective out to spy upon him."

"I am beginning to believe that I should like to meet Mr. Bayley again,"
I remarked. "He has a fine imagination, and, from what you tell me, it
seems that I should have looked a fool had I gone out to South America
on such an errand."

"It would have been exceedingly inconvenient not only for you, but also
for us," said the manager. "I shall report this matter at the Board
meeting to-day. We must endeavour to discover who this man is, and also
his reasons for acting as he has done. Should we hear anything further
upon the subject, we will at once communicate with you."

"I should be glad if you will do so," I replied. "I should like to get
this matter cleared up as soon as possible. There may be something
behind it that we do not understand."

I thanked him for the interview, and then took my departure, more
puzzled by it than I had been by anything for a long time. When I
reached my office I took the card from a drawer, which Mr. Edward
Bayley had sent to me, and despatched it by special messenger to the
office of the famous mining company. That afternoon another surprise was
in store for me. Shortly after lunch, and when I was in the middle of a
letter to Kitwater, a message was received through the telephone to the
effect that the managing director of the Santa Cruz Mining Company, whom
I had seen that morning, was on his way to call upon me.

"Something has evidently come to light," I reflected. "Perhaps the
mystery surrounding Mr. Edward Bayley is about to be cleared up, for I
must confess I do not like the look of it."

A quarter of an hour later the manager was ushered into my presence.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Fairfax," he said. "I have come to ask you, if you
will permit me, a few questions, and also to tell you that I think we
have discovered who it is that is masquerading as the occupant of my
position. You gave me this morning a rough description of the individual
who called upon you, can you recall anything particular about his
appearance. Any strange mark, for instance. Anything by which we should
be able to swear to his identity?"

"I would swear to his identity anywhere, without a mark" I replied. "But
since you _do_ mention it, I remember that he had a small triangular
scar upon his left cheek."

"Then it is the same man after all," said the manager. "That is
certainly extraordinary. When our secretary spoke to me about him after
you had left I had my doubts; now, however, they are quite removed. Why
he should have called upon you in such a guise is a question I cannot
for the life of me answer with any sort of satisfaction."

"Perhaps you will be a little more explicit," I said. "You have not told
me yet how it is that you have been able to locate the gentleman in
question. This morning you must remember you had no sort of
remembrance of him."

"In that case you must forgive me," he replied. "As a matter of fact I
was so much carried away by my excitement that I could think of nothing
else. However, I have promised you the story, and you shall have it.
Some years ago, eight or ten perhaps, we had a young man working for us
in the Argentine as an overseer. He was in many respects a brilliant
young fellow, and would doubtless have done well for himself in time,
had he been able to go straight. Unfortunately, however, he did not do
so. He went from bad to worse. At last he was caught in a flagrant piece
of dishonesty, and was immediately discharged. When I tell you that that
young man had a mark such as you described upon his cheek, you may be
able to derive some idea of what follows."

"Might it not be a pure coincidence?" I replied.

"Not in this case, I fancy," he answered. "What makes me the more
inclined to believe that it is the same individual, is the fact that our
secretary met him in Leadenhall Street only a few days ago. He looked
older, but had evidently prospered in the world. As a matter of fact,
Warner described him as being irreproachably dressed, and turned out. I
trust his good fortune was honestly come by; but I must own, from what I
know of him, that I have my doubts."

"But what possible reason could this individual have for calling upon
me, and why should he have made me such an offer as I have described
to you?"

The director shook his head. The question was evidently beyond him.

"I can assign no sort of reason for it," he said, "unless he has some
hope of being able to get you out of England for a time."

"I don't see how that could benefit him," I replied. "I am connected
with no case in which he has any sort of interest."

"You never can tell," the old gentleman replied. "From what I know of
him, Gideon Hayle was always----"

"Gideon what?" I cried, springing to my feet. "Did I understand you to
say Gideon Hayle?"

"That's the name of the young man of whom I have been speaking to you,"
he replied. "But what makes you so excited."

"Because I can understand everything now?" I declared. "Good heavens!
what an idiot I have been not to have seen the connection before! Now I
know why Gideon Hayle tried to lure me out of England with his
magnificent offer. Now I see why he set these roughs upon me. It's all
as plain as daylight!"

"I am afraid I do not quite understand," said my companion in his turn.
"But it is quite evident to me that you know more of Hayle's past life
than I do!"

"I should think I did," I replied. "By Jove, what a blackguard the man
must be! He robbed his two partners of enormous wealth in China, left
them in the hands of the Chinese to be tortured and maimed for life, and
now that he knows that I am acting for them in order to recover their
treasure, he endeavours to put me out of the way. But you've not done it
yet, Mr. Hayle," I continued, bringing my fist down with a bang upon the
table, "and what's more, clever as you may be, you are not likely to
accomplish such an end. You'll discover that I can take very good care
of myself, but before very long you'll find that _you_ are being taken
care of by somebody else."

"This is a strange affair indeed, Mr. Fairfax," said the manager, "and
it is evident that I have been of some assistance to you. I need not say
that I am very glad, the more so because it is evident that our Company
is not involved in any system of fraud. I will not disguise from you
that I had my fears that it was the beginning of trouble for us all."

"You may disabuse your mind of that once and for all," I answered. "If
there is any trouble brewing it is for our friend, Mr. Hayle. That
gentleman's reckoning is indeed likely to be a heavy one. I would not
stand in his shoes for something."

There was a brief and somewhat uncomfortable pause.

"And now allow me to wish you a very good-afternoon," the old gentleman
observed.

"Good-afternoon," I replied, "and many thanks for the service you have
rendered me. It has helped me more than I can say."

"Pray don't mention it, my dear sir, don't mention it," replied the
kindly old gentleman, as he moved towards the door. "I am very glad to
have been useful to you."

When he had gone I sat down at my desk to think. I had had a good many
surprises in my life, but I don't know that I had ever been more
astonished than I was that afternoon. If only I had been aware of
Hayle's identity when he had called upon me two mornings before, how
simply everything might have been arranged! As a matter of fact I had
been talking with the very man I had been paid to find, and, what was
worse, had even terminated the interview myself. When I realized
everything, I could have kicked myself for my stupidity. Why should I
have suspected him, however? The very boldness of his scheme carried
conviction with it! Certainly, Mr. Gideon Hayle was a foeman worthy of
my steel, and I began to realize that, with such a man to deal with, the
enterprise I had taken in hand was likely to prove a bigger affair than
I had bargained for.

"Having failed in both his attempts to get me out of the way, his next
move will be to leave England with as little delay as possible," I said
to myself. "If only I knew in what part of London he was staying, I'd
ransack it for him, if I had to visit every house in order to do so. As
it is, he has a thousand different ways of escape, and unless luck
favours me, I shall be unable to prevent him from taking his departure."

At that moment there was a tap at the door and my clerk entered the
room.

"Mr. Kitwater and Mr. Codd to see you, sir."

"Show them in," I said, and a moment later the blind man and his
companion were ushered into my presence.

Codd must have divined from the expression upon my face that I was not
pleased to see them.

"You must forgive me for troubling you again so soon," said Kitwater, as
he dropped into the chair I had placed for him, "but you can understand
that we are really anxious about the affair. Your letter tells us that
you discovered that Hayle was in London a short time since, and that he
had realized upon some of the stones. Is it not possible for you to
discover some trace of his whereabouts?"

"I have not been able to do that yet," I answered. "It will be of
interest to you, however, to know that he called upon me here in this
room, and occupied the chair you are now sitting in, three days ago."

Kitwater clutched the arm of the chair in question and his face went as
white as his beard.

"In this room three days ago, and sitting in your presence," he cried.
"Then you know where he is, and can take us to him?"

"I regret that such a thing is out of my power," I answered. "The man
came into and left this room without being hindered by me."

Kitwater sprang to his feet with an oath that struck me as coming rather
oddly from the lips of a missionary.

"I see it all. You are in league with him," he cried, his face suffused
with passion. "You are siding with him against us. By God you are, and
I'll have you punished for it. You hoodwinked us, you sold us. You've
taken our money, and now you've gone over and are acting for the enemy."

I opened the drawer of my table and took out the envelope he had given
me when he had called. For a reason of my own, I had not banked the note
it contained.

"Excuse me, Mr. Kitwater," I said, speaking as calmly as I could, "but
there seems to be a little misunderstanding. I have not sold you, and I
have not gone over to the enemy. There is the money you gave me, and I
will not charge you anything for the little trouble I have been put to.
That should convince you of my integrity. Now perhaps you will leave my
office, and let me wash my hands of the whole affair."

I noticed that little Codd placed his hand upon the other's arm. It
travelled down until their hands met. I saw that the blind man was
making an effort to recover his composure, and I felt sure that he
regretted ever having lost it. A moment later Codd came across the room
to my table, and, taking up a piece of paper, wrote upon it the
following words--

"Kitwater is sorry, I am sure. Try to forgive him. Remember what he has
suffered through Hayle."

The simplicity of the message touched me.

"Pray sit down a minute, Mr. Kitwater," I said, "and let me put myself
right with you. It is only natural that you should get angry, if you
think I have treated you as you said just now. However, that does not
happen to be the case. I can assure you that had I known who Hayle was,
I should have taken very good care that he did not leave this office
until you had had an interview with him. Unfortunately, however, I was
not aware of his identity. I have encountered some bold criminals in my
time. But I do not know that I have ever had a more daring one than the
man who treated you so badly."

I thereupon proceeded to give him a rough outline of Hayle's interview
with myself, and his subsequent treatment of me. Both men listened with
rapt attention.

"That is Hayle all over," said Kitwater when I had finished. "It is not
his fault that you are not a dead man now. He will evade us if he
possibly can. The story of the roughs you have just told us shows that
he is aware that you are on the trail, and, if I know him at all, he
will try the old dodge, and put running water between you and himself as
soon as possible. As I said to you the other day, he knows the world as
well as you know London, and, in spite of what people say, there are
still plenty of places left in it where he can hide and we shall never
find him. With the money he stole from us he can make himself as
comfortable as he pleases wherever he may happen to be. To sum it all
up, if he gets a week's start of us, we shall never set eyes on
him again."

"If that is so we must endeavour to make sure that he does not get that
start," I replied. "I will have the principal ports watched, and in the
meantime will endeavour to find out where he has stowed himself away in
London. You may rest assured of one thing, gentlemen, I took this matter
up in the first place as an ordinary business speculation. I am now
going on for that reason and another. Mr. Hayle tried a trick on me that
I have never had attempted before, and for the future he is my enemy as
well as yours. I hope I have set myself right with you now. You do not
still believe that I am acting in collusion with him?"

"I do not," Kitwater answered vehemently. "And I most humbly apologize
for having said what I did. It would have served me right if you had
thrown the case up there and then, and I regard it as a proof of your
good feeling towards us that you consent to continue your work upon it.
To-day is Friday, is it not? Then perhaps by Sunday you may have
something more definite to tell us."

"It is just possible, I may," I returned.

"In that case I am instructed by my niece to ask if you will give us the
pleasure of your company at Bishopstowe on that day. After the toils of
London, a day in the country will do you no harm, and needless to say we
shall be most pleased to see you."

I remembered the girl's pretty face and the trim neat figure. I am not a
lady's man, far from it, nevertheless I thought that I should like to
renew my acquaintance with her.

"I shall be very pleased to accept Miss Kitwater's invitation, provided
I have something of importance to communicate," I said. "Should I not be
able to come, you will of course understand that my presence is
required in London or elsewhere. My movements must of necessity be
regulated by those of Mr. Hayle, and while I am attending to him I am
not my own master."

Kitwater asked me one or two more questions about the disposal of the
gems to the merchants in Hatton Garden, groaned as I describe the
enthusiasm of the dealers, swore under his breath when he heard of
Hayle's cunning in refusing to allow either his name or address to be
known, and then rose and bade me good-bye.

During dinner that evening I had plenty to think about. The various
events of the day had been so absorbing, and had followed so thick and
fast upon each other, that I had little time to seriously digest them.
As I ate my meal, and drank my modest pint of claret, I gave them my
fullest consideration. As Kitwater had observed, there was no time to
waste if we desired to lay our hands upon that slippery Mr. Hayle. Given
the full machinery of the law, and its boundless resources to stop him,
it is by no means an easy thing for a criminal to fly the country
unobserved; but with me the case was different. I had only my own and
the exertions of a few and trusted servants to rely upon, and it was
therefore impossible for us to watch all the various backdoors leading
out of England at once. When I had finished my dinner I strolled down
the Strand as far as Charing Cross Station. Turner was to leave for St.
Petersburg that night by the mail-train, and I had some instructions to
give him before his departure. I found him in the act of attending to
the labelling of his luggage, and, when he had seen it safely on the
van, we strolled down the platform together. I warned him of the
delicate nature of the operation he was about to undertake, and bade him
use the greatest possible care that the man he was to watch did not
become aware of his intentions. Directly he knew for certain that this
man was about to leave Russia, he was to communicate with me by cypher,
and with my representative in Berlin, and then follow him with all speed
to that city himself. As I had good reason to know, he was a shrewd and
intelligent fellow, and one who never forgot any instructions that might
be given him. Knowing that he was a great votary of the Goddess
Nicotine, I gave him a few cigars to smoke on the way to Dover.

"Write to me immediately you have seen your man," I said. "Remember me
to Herr Schneider, and if you should see----"

I came to a sudden stop, for there, among the crowd, not three
carriage-lengths away from me, a travelling-rug thrown over his
shoulder, and carrying a small brown leather bag in his hand, stood
Gideon Hayle. Unfortunately, he had already seen me, and almost before I
realized what he was doing, he was making his way through the crowd in
the direction of the main entrance. Without another word to Turner, I
set off in pursuit, knowing that he was going to make his bolt, and that
if I missed him now it would probably be my last chance of coming to
grip with him. Never before had the platform seemed so crowded. An
exasperating lady, with a lanky youth at her side, hindered my passage,
porters with trucks piled with luggage barred the way just when I was
getting along nicely; while, as I was about to make my way out into the
courtyard, and idiotic Frenchman seized me by the arm and implored me to
show him "ze office of ze money-changaire." I replied angrily that I did
not know, and ran out into the portico, only to be in time to see Gideon
Hayle take a seat in a hansom. He had evidently given his driver his
instructions, for the man whipped up his horse, and went out of the yard
at a speed which, at any other hour, would certainly have got him into
trouble with the police. I called up another cab and jumped into it,
promising the man a sovereign as I did so, if he would keep the other
cab in sight, and find out for me its destination.

"Right ye are, sir," the cabman replied. "You jest leave that to me. I
won't let him go out of my sight."

Then we, in our turn, left the yard of the station, and set off
eastwards along the Strand in pursuit. Both cabmen were sharp fellows
and evidently familiar with every twist and turn of their famous
London. In my time I have had a good many curious drives in one part of
the world and another, but I think that chase will always rank first. We
travelled along the Strand, about a hundred yards behind the other
vehicle, then turned up Southampton Street, through Covent Garden by way
of Henrietta Street into Long Acre. After that I cannot pretend to have
any idea of the direction we took. I know that we passed through Drury
Lane, crossed High Holborn, to presently find ourselves somewhere at the
back of Gray's Inn. The buildings of the Parcels' Post Depot marked
another stage in our journey. But still the other cab did not show any
sign of coming to a standstill. Leaving Mount Pleasant behind us, we
entered that dingy labyrinth of streets lying on the other side of the
Clerkenwell House of Detention. How much longer was the chase going to
last? Then, to my delight, the other cab slackened its pace, and
eventually pulled up before a small public-house. We were so close
behind it that we narrowly escaped a collision. I sprang out, and ran to
the other vehicle in order to stop Hayle before he could alight.

"Wot's up, guvner?" asked the cabman. "Don't go a worritting of
yourself. There's nobody inside."

He was quite right, _the cab was empty_!



CHAPTER VI

I flatter myself that I am a man who is not easily disconcerted, but for
the second time that day I was completely taken aback. I had watched
that cab so closely, had followed its progress so carefully, that it
seemed impossible Hayle could have escaped from it. Yet there was the
fact, apparent to all the world, that he had got away. I looked from the
cab to the cabman and then at my own driver, who had descended from his
perch and was standing beside me.

"Well, I wouldn't have believed it," I said aloud, when I had recovered
somewhat my astonishment.

My own driver, who had doubtless begun to think that the sovereign I had
promised him was in danger, was inclined to be somewhat bellicose. It
appeared as if he were anxious to make a personal matter of it, and in
proof of this he sternly demanded of his rival what he had done with
his fare.

"You don't think I've ate him, do yer?" asked that worthy. "What's it
got to do with me what a fare does? I set 'im down, same as I should do
you, and now I am on my way 'ome. Look arter your own fare, and take him
'ome and put him ter bed, but don't yer a'come abotherin' me. I've done
the best day's work I've ever 'ad in my life, and if so be the pair of
yer like to come into the pub here, well, I don't know as I won't a
stand yer both a two of Scotch cold. It looks as if 'twould kind a'
cheer the guvner up a bit, seem' as how he's dis'pointed like. Come
on now!"

It is one of my best principles, and to it I feel that I owe a
considerable portion of my success, that I never allow my pride to stand
in the way of my business. The most valuable information is not
unfrequently picked up in the most unlikely places, and for this reason
I followed my own Jehu and his rival into the public-house in question.
The man was visibly elated by the good stroke of business he had done
that night, and was inclined to be convivial.

"'e was a proper sort of bloke," he said as we partook of our
refreshment. "'e give me a fiver, 'e did, an' I wishes as 'ow I could
meet another like 'im every day."

"They do say as how one man's mutton is another man's poison," retorted
my driver, who, in spite of the entertainment he was receiving, visibly
regarded the other with disfavour. "If you'd a give us the tip, I'd 'ave
'ad my suvering. As it is I don't take it friendly like that you should
a' bilked us."

"Yer can take it as yer darned well please," said the other, as he spoke
placing his glass upside down on the counter, in order to prove beyond
contradiction that it was empty. I immediately ordered a repetition,
which was supplied. Thereupon the cabman continued--

"When I 'as a bit of business ter do yer must understand that I does it,
and that no man can say as I doesn't. A gent gets into my keb and sez
he, 'Drive me until I tell yer to stop, and go as fast as yer can,' sez
he. 'Take every back street yer know of, and come out somewhere Hoxton
way. I'm not partic'lar so long as I go fast, an' I don't git collared
by the keb that's after us. If yer help me to give 'im the slip there's
a five-poun' note for yer trouble.' Well, sez I to myself, this is a
proper bit of busness and there and then I sets off as fast as the old
'orse cud take us. We turns up Southampton Street, and you turns up
after us. As we was agoin' down 'enrietta Street I asked him to let me
'ave a look at his five-poun' note, for I didn't want no Bank of Fashion
or any of that sort of truck shoved into me, you'll understand. 'You
needn't be suspicious, Cabby,' sez he, 'I'll make it suverings, if you
like, and half a one over for luck, if that will satisfy yer? 'When I
told him it would, he give me two poun' ten in advance and away we went
again. We weren't more than 'arf a mile away from here--thank ye, sir, I
don't mind if I do, it's cold drivin'--well, as I was a sayin' we wasn't
more than 'arf a mile away from here, when the gent he stands up and sez
to me, 'Look here, Kebby, turn the next corner pretty sharp, and slow
down at the first bye-street you come to. Then I'll jump out,' 'Right
yer are, guvner,' sez I, and with that he 'ands me up the other two
poun' ten and the extry half-suvering. I fobbed it and whipped up the
old 'oss. Next moment we was around the corner, and a-drivin' as if we
was a trying to ketch a train. Then we comes to a little side street,
an' I slows down. Out 'e jumps and down he goes along a side street as
if the devil was arter him. Then I drives on my way and pulls up 'ere.
Bilked you were, guvner, and I don't mind sayin' so, but busness is
busness, and five poun' ten ain't to be picked up every day. I guess the
old woman will be all there when I get 'ome to-night."

"That's all very well, cabby," I said, "but it's just likely you want to
add another sovereign to that five-pound ten. If you do I don't mind
putting another in your way. I tell you that I want to catch the man I
was after to-night. He's as big a thief as ever walked the earth, and if
you will help me to put my hand upon him, you'll be doing a service, not
only to me, but to the whole country at large."

"What is it you want me to do?" he asked suspiciously. "He treated me
fair, and he'll take it mean of me if I help you to nab him."

"I don't want you to do anything but to drive me to the side street
where you put him down. Then you can take your sovereign and be off
home as quick as you like. Do you agree?"

He hesitated for a space in which a man could have counted twenty, and
then set his glass upon the counter.

"I'll do it," he said. "I'll drive yer there, not for the suvering, but
for the good of the country yer speaks about. Come on."

I gave my own man his money, and then followed the other out to his cab.
He mounted to his box, not without some help, and we presently set off.
Whether it was the effect of the refreshment he had imbibed, or whether
it was mere elation of spirits I cannot say, the fact, however, remains
that for the whole of the journey, which occupied ten or twelve minutes
he howled vociferously. A more joyous cabman could scarcely have been
discovered in all that part of London. At last he pulled his horse to a
standstill, and descended from his seat.

"This 'ere's the place," he said, "and that's the street he bolted down.
Yer can't mistake it. Now let's have a look at yer suvering, guvner, and
then I'll be off home to bed, and it's about time too."

I paid him the sum I had promised him, and then made my way down the
narrow street, in the direction Hayle had taken. It was not more than a
couple of hundred yards long, and was hemmed in on either hand by
squalid cottages. As if to emphasize the misery of the locality, and
perhaps in a measure to account for it, at the further end I discovered
a gin-palace, whose flaring lights illuminated the streets on either
hand with brazen splendour. A small knot of loafers were clustered on
the pavement outside the public, and these were exactly the men I
wanted. Addressing myself to them I inquired how long they had been in
their present position.

"Best part of an hour, guv'ner," said one of them, pushing his hands
deep down into his pockets, and executing a sort of double shuffle as he
spoke. "Ain't doin' any harm 'ere, I 'ope. We was 'opin' as 'ow a gent
like yourself would come along in the course of the evening just to ask
us if we was thirsty, and wot we'd take for to squench it."

"You shall have something to squench it, if you can answer the questions
I am going to ask you," I replied. "Did either of you see a gentleman
come down this street, running, about half-an-hour or so ago."

"Was he carrying a rug and a bag?" asked one of the men without
hesitation.

"He was," I replied. "He is the man I want. Which way did he go when he
left here?"

"He took Jim Boulter's cab," said another man, who had until a few
moments before been leaning against the wall. "The Short 'Un was
alookin' after it for 'im, and I heard him call Jimmy myself. He tossed
the Short 'Un a bob, he did, when he got in. Such luck don't seem ever
to come my way."

"Where is the Short 'Un, as you call him?" I inquired, thinking that it
might be to my advantage to interview that gentleman.

"A-drinkin' of his bob in there," the man answered. "Where d'ye think
ye'd be a-seein' 'im? Bearin' 'isself proud like a real torf, and at
closen' time they'll be chuckin' 'im out into the gutter, and then 'is
wife 'll come down, and they 'll fight, an' most like both of 'em 'll
get jugged before they knows where they is, and come before the beak in
the mornin'."

"Look here," I said, "if one of you will go in and induce the gentleman
of whom you speak to come out here and talk to me, I would not mind
treating the four of you to half-a-crown."

The words had scarcely left my lips before a deputation had entered the
house in search of the gentleman in question. When they returned with
him one glance was sufficient to show me that the Short 'Un was in a
decidedly inebriated condition. His friends, however, deeming it
possible that their chance of appreciating my liberality depended upon
his condition being such as he could answer questions with some sort of
intelligence, proceeded to shake and pummel him into something
approaching sobriety. In one of his lucid intervals I inquired whether
he felt equal to telling me in what direction the gentleman who had
given him the shilling had ordered the cabman to drive him. He turned
the question over and over in his mind, and then arrived at the
conclusion that it was "some hotel close to Waterloo."

This was certainly vague, but it encouraged me to persevere.

"Think again," I said; "he must have given you some definite address."

"Now I do remember," said the man, "it seems to me it was Foxwell's
Hotel, Waterloo Road. That's where it was, Foxwell's Hotel. Don't
you know it?

  "Foxwell's Hotel is a merry, merry place,
  When the jolly booze is flowin', flowin' free."

Now chorus, gen'men."

Having heard all I wanted to, I gave the poor wretches what I had
promised them, and went in search of a cab. As good luck would have it I
was able to discover one in the City Road, and in it I drove off in the
direction of Waterloo. If Hayle were really going to stay the night at
Foxwell's Hotel, then my labours had not been in vain, after all. But I
had seen too much of that gentleman's character of late to put any trust
in his statements, until I had verified them to my own satisfaction. I
was not acquainted with Foxwell's Hotel, but after some little search I
discovered it. It was by no means the sort of place a man of Hayle's
wealth would be likely to patronize, but remembering that he had
particular reasons for not being _en evidence_ just at present, I could
understand his reasons for choosing such a hostelry. I accordingly paid
off my cabman and entered the bar. Taking the young lady I found there a
little on one side, I inquired whether a gentleman had arrived within
the last half-hour, carrying a bag and a heavy travelling-rug.

Much to my gratification she replied that such a gentleman had certainly
arrived within the past half-hour, and was now at supper in the
coffee-room. She inquired whether I would care to see him? I replied in
the negative, stating that I would call next day and make myself
known to him.

"We are old friends," I said, "and for that reason I should be glad if
you would promise me that you will say nothing to him about my coming
to-night."

Woman-like the idea pleased her, and she willingly gave the promise I
asked.

"If you want to see him you'd better be here early," she said. "He told
me when he booked his room, that he should be wanting to get away at
about ten o'clock to-morrow morning."

"I'll be here well before that," I replied. "If all goes right, I shall
call upon him between eight and nine o'clock."

Feeling sure that, after what I had said to her, she would say nothing
to Hayle about my visit, I returned to my own hotel and retired
to rest.

Next morning I was up betimes, had breakfasted, and was at Foxwell's
Hotel before eight o'clock had struck. I proceeded straight to the bar,
where I discovered my acquaintance of the previous evening, in curl
papers, assiduously dusting shelves and counter. There was a fragrance
of the last night's potations still hovering about the place, which had
the dreary, tawdry appearance that was so different to the glamour of
the previous night. I bade the girl good-morning, and then inquired
whether she had seen anything of my friend. At first she did not appear
to recognize me, but on doing so she volunteered to go off and make
inquiries. She did so, to return a few moments later with the
information that the gentleman "had rung for his boots, and would be
down to breakfast in a few minutes."

"I wonder what you will have to say for yourself when you see me, Mr.
Hayle," I muttered. "You will find that I am not to be so easily shaken
off as you imagine."

I accordingly made my way to the dining-room, and seating myself at a
table, ordered a cup of coffee and an egg. The London egg is not a
favourite of mine, but I was prepared to eat a dozen of them if
necessary, if by so doing I could remain in the room long enough to find
myself face to face with Gideon Hayle. Several people put in an
appearance and commenced their morning repast, but when a quarter of an
hour had elapsed and the man I wanted had not presented himself, my
patience became exhausted and I went in search of my _hourie_ of
the bar.

"My friend's a long time coming down," I said, "I hope he has not gone
out to breakfast?"

"You must be mistaken," she answered. "I saw him come down-stairs nearly
a quarter of an hour ago. He went into the dining-room, and I felt sure
you must have seen him. If you will follow me I'll show him to you."

So saying she led the way along the dingy passage until she arrived at a
green baize door with two glass panels. Here she stopped and scanned the
dining-room. The boots, who had just come upstairs from the lower
regions, assisted in the operation, and seemed to derive considerable
satisfaction from it.

"There he is," said the girl, pointing to a table in the furthest corner
of the room; "the tall man with the black moustache."

I looked and was consumed with disappointment. The individual I saw
there was no more like Hayle than he was like the man in the moon.

"Do you mean to tell me that he is the man who arrived late last night
in a cab, and whose luggage consisted of a small brown bag and a
travelling rug?" I asked. "You've been having a game with me, young
woman, and I should advise you to be careful. You don't realize who
I am."

"Hoighty toity," she said, with a toss of her head that sent her
curl-papers dancing. "If you're going to be nasty, I am going. You asked
for the gentleman who came late last night with a bag, and there he is.
If he's not the person you want, you mustn't blame me. I'm sure I'm not
responsible for everybody's friends. Dear me, I hope not!"

The shock-headed boots had all this time been listening with the
greatest interest. He and the barmaid, it appeared, had had a quarrel
earlier in the morning, and in consequence were still far from being
upon the best of terms.

"The cove as the gent wants, miss, must be 'im as came close upon eleven
o'clock last night," he put in. "The toff with the bag and blanket. Why
I carried his bag up to number forty-seven with my own 'ands, and
you know it."

The girl was quite equal to the occasion.

"You'd better hold your tongue," she said. "If you don't you'll get into
trouble."

"What for?" he inquired. "It's a free country, I 'ope. Nice sort of toff
'e was, forgot all about the boots, and me a-doin' 'is browns as slap-up
as if 'e was a-goin' out to dinner with the Queen. But p'reaps he's left
a 'arf-sovereign for me with you. It ain't likely. Oh no, of course it
isn't likely he would. You wouldn't keep it carefully for me, would you?
Oh no, in course not? What about that two bob the American gent
give you?"

The girl did not wait to hear any more, but with a final toss of her
head, disappeared into the bar.

"Now, look here, my friend," I said to the boots, "it is quite evident
that you know more about this gentleman than that young lady does. Tell
me all about him, and I'll make it worth your while."

"There ain't much to tell," he answered. "Leastways, nothin' particular.
He was no end of a toff, great-coat with silk collar, neat browns,
gloves, and a bowler 'at."

"Moustache?"

"Yes, and waxed. Got a sort of broad-arrow on his cheek, and looked at
ye as if 'is eyes was gimlets, and he wanted to bore a hole through yer;
called at seven, breakfast at half-past, 'am and eggs and two cups of
corfee and a roll, all took up to 'im in 'is room. Ordered a cab to
catch the nine o'clock express to Southampton. I puts 'im in with his
bag and blanket, and says, 'Kindly remember the boots, sir,' and he
says, 'I've done it,' I said I 'adn't 'ad it, and he told me to go to
------, well the place as isn't mentioned in perlite company. That's all I
know about 'im."

He paused and shook his head in the direction of the bar, after which he
observed that he knew all about it, and one or two other things beside.

I gave him a shilling for his information and then left the house. Once
more I had missed Gideon Hayle by a few minutes, but I had received some
information that might help me to find him again. Unfortunately,
however, he was now well on his way to Southampton, and in a few hours
might be out of England. My respect for that astute gentleman was
increasing hourly, but it did not deter me, only made me the more
resolved to beat him in the end. Making my way to Waterloo, I inquired
when the next train left for Southampton. Finding that I had more than
an hour and a half to wait, I telegraphed to the man I had sent to
Southampton to watch the docks, and then took the electric railway to
the city, and made my way to my office, where a pile of correspondence
awaited me on my table. Calling my managing clerk to my assistance, I
set to work to examine it. He opened the letters while I perused them
and dictated the various replies. When he came to the fifth he uttered
an exclamation of surprise.

"What is it?" I inquired. "Anything wrong?"

In reply he handed me a letter written on good note-paper, but without
an address. It ran as follows--

"Mr. Gideon Hayle returns thanks for kind inquiries, and begs to inform
Mr. Fairfax that he is leaving England to-day for Algiers."

"If he thinks he is going to bluff me with that sort of tale, he's very
much mistaken," I said. "I happen to be aware of the fact that he left
for Southampton by the nine o'clock train this morning. If I might
hazard a guess as to where he was going, I should say that his
destination is the Cape. But let him go where he will, I'll have him
yet. In the meantime, send Williams to Charing Cross at once, Roberts to
Victoria, and Dickson to St. Paul's. Furnish each with a description of
the man they are to look after, be particular about the scar upon his
left cheek, and if they see him, tell them that they are not to lose
sight of him, happen what may. Let them telegraph should they discover
anything definite, and then go in pursuit. In any case I shall return
from Southampton to-night, and shall call here at once."

Half-an-hour later I arrived at Waterloo, took my ticket and boarded the
train for Southampton. When I reached the port I was met at the station
by my representative, who informed me that he had seen nothing of the
man I had described, although he had carefully looked for him.

"We'll try the various shipping-offices first," I said. "I feel
positively certain that he came down here by the nine o'clock train."

We drove from shipping-office to shipping-office, and made the most
careful inquiries, but in every case without success. Once we thought we
had discovered our man, only to find, after wasting a precious hour,
that the clerk's description was altogether a wrong one, and that he
resembled Hayle in no sort of way. We boarded the South African
mail-boat, but he was not among her passengers; we overhauled the
American liner, with an equally barren result. We paid cursory visits to
the principal hotels, but could hear no tidings of him in any one of
them. As a matter of fact, if the man had journeyed to Southampton, as I
had every reason to suppose he had done, he must have disappeared into
thin air when he got there. The whole affair was most bewildering, and I
scarcely knew what to think of it. That the boots at the hotel had not
been hoodwinking me I felt assured in my own mind. His anger against the
man was too real to allow any doubt upon that point. At last, having
exhausted all our resources, and not seeing what I could do further, I
returned to my subordinate's lodgings, where it had been arranged that
telegrams should be addressed to me. On my arrival there a yellow
envelope was handed to me. I tore it open eagerly and withdrew the
contents. It proved to be from Dickson, and had been sent off from
Dover. I took my codebook from my pocket and translated the message upon
the back of the telegraph-form. It ran as follows--

"Man with triangular scar upon left cheek, brown bag and travelling rug,
boarded train at Herne Hill, went through to Dover, and has booked to
Paris. Am following him according to instructions."

"Then he slipped me after all," I cried. "He must have gone on to
Waterloo, crossed to Cannon Street, then on to London Bridge. The
cunning scoundrel! He must have made up his mind that the biggest bluff
he could play upon me was to tell the truth, and by Jove! he was not
very far wrong. However, those laugh best who laugh last, and though he
has had a very fair innings so far, we will see whether he can beat me
in the end. I'll get back to Town now, run down to Bishopstowe to-morrow
morning to report progress, and then be off to Paris after him
on Monday."

At 8.45 that night I reached London. At the same moment Mr. Gideon Hayle
was sitting down to a charming little dinner at the Cafe des Princes,
and was smiling to himself as he thought of the success that had
attended the trick he had played upon me.



CHAPTER VII

When I reached the charming little Surrey village of Bishopstowe, I
could see that it bore out Kitwater's description of it. A prettier
little place could scarcely have been discovered, with its tree-shaded
high-road, its cluster of thatched cottages, its blacksmith's shop,
rustic inn with the signboard on a high post before the door, and last
but not least, the quaint little church standing some hundred yards back
from the main road, and approached from the lych-gate by an avenue
of limes.

"Here," I said to myself, "is a place where a man might live to be a
hundred, undisturbed by the rush and bustle of the Great World."

That was my feeling then, but since I have come to know it better, and
have been permitted an opportunity of seeing for myself something of the
inner life of the hamlet, I have discovered that it is only the life of
a great city, on a small scale. There is the same keen competition in
trade, with the same jealousies and bickerings. However, on this
peaceful Sunday morning it struck me as being delightful. There was an
old-world quiet about it that was vastly soothing. The rooks cawed
lazily in the elms before the church as if they knew it were Sunday
morning and a day of rest. A dog lay extended in the middle of the
road, basking in the sunshine, a thing which he would not have dared to
do on a weekday. Even the little stream that runs under the old stone
bridge, which marks the centre of the village, and then winds its
tortuous course round the churchyard, through the Squire's park, and
then down the valley on its way to the sea, seemed to flow somewhat more
slowly than was its wont.

Feeling just in the humour for a little moralizing, I opened the
lych-gate and entered the churchyard. The congregation were singing the
last hymn, the Old Hundredth, if I remember rightly, and the sound of
their united voices fitted perfectly into the whole scheme, giving it
the one touch that was lacking. As I strolled along I glanced at the
inscriptions on the various tomb-stones, and endeavoured to derive from
them some notion of the lives and characters of those whose memories
they perpetuated.

"Sacred to the memory of Erasmus Gunning, twenty-seven years
Schoolmaster of this Parish. Born 24th of March, 1806, and rested from
his labours on September the 19th, 1876." Seating myself on the low wall
that surrounded the churchyard, I looked down upon the river, and while
so doing, reflected upon Erasmus Gunning. What had he been like, this
knight of the ferrule, who for twenty-seven years acted as pedagogue to
this tiny hamlet? What good had he done in his world? Had he realized
his life's ambition? Into many of the congregation now worshipping
yonder he must have driven the three R's, possibly with the assistance
of the faithful ferrule aforesaid, yet how many of them gave a thought
to his memory! In this case the assertion that he "rested from his
labours" was a trifle ambiguous. Consigning poor Erasmus to oblivion, I
continued my walk. Presently my eyes caught an inscription that made me
halt again. It was dedicated to the "Loving Memory of William Kitwater,
and Susan, his wife." I was still looking at it, when I heard a step on
the gravel-path behind me, and turning round, I found myself standing
face to face with Miss Kitwater. To use the conventional phrase, church
had "come out," and the congregation was even now making its way down
the broad avenue towards the high-road.

"How do you do, Mr. Fairfax?" said Miss Kitwater, giving me her hand as
she spoke. "It is kind indeed of you to come down. I hope you have good
news for us?"

[Illustration: "'HOW DO YOU DO, MR. FAIRFAX?' SAID MISS KITWATER."]

"I am inclined to consider it good news myself," I said. "I hope you
will think so too."

She did not question me further about it then, but asking me to excuse
her for a moment, stepped over the little plot of ground where her dear
ones lay, and plucked some of the dead leaves from the flowers that grew
upon it. To my thinking she was just what an honest English girl should
be; straight-forward and gentle, looking the whole world in the face
with frank and honourable simplicity. When she had finished her labour
of love, which only occupied her a few moments, she suggested that we
should stroll on to her house.

"My uncle will be wondering what has become of me," she said, "and he
will also be most anxious to see you."

"He does not accompany you to church then?"

"No," she answered. "He is so conscious of his affliction that he cannot
bear it to be remarked. He usually stays at home and walks up and down a
path in the garden, brooding, I am afraid, over his treatment by Mr.
Hayle. It goes to my heart to see him."

"And Mr. Codd?"

"He, poor little man, spends most of his time reading such works on
Archaeology as he can obtain. It is his one great study, and I am
thankful he has such a hobby to distract his mind from his own trouble."

"Their coming to England must have made a great change in your life," I
remarked.

"It _has_ made a difference," she answered. "But one should not lead
one's life exactly to please one's self. They were in sore distress, and
I am thankful that they came to me, and that I had the power to
help them."

This set me thinking. She spoke gravely, and I knew that she meant what
she said. But underlying it there was a suggestion that, for some reason
or another, she had not been altogether favourably impressed by her
visitors. Whether I was right in my suppositions I could not tell then,
but I knew that I should in all probability be permitted a better
opportunity of judging later on. We crossed the little bridge, and
passed along the high road for upwards of a mile, until we found
ourselves standing at the entrance to one of the prettiest little
country residences it has even been my lot to find. A drive, some thirty
yards or so in length, led up to the house and was shaded by overhanging
trees. The house itself was of two stories and was covered by creepers.
The garden was scrupulously neat, and I fancied that I could detect its
mistress's hand in it. Shady walks led from it in various directions,
and at the end of one of these I could discern a tall, restless figure,
pacing up and down.

"There is my uncle," said the girl, referring to the figure I have just
described. "That is his sole occupation. He likes it because it is the
only part of the garden in which he can move about without a guide. How
empty and hard his life must seem to him, now, Mr. Fairfax?"

"It must indeed," I replied. "To my thinking blindness is one of the
worst ills that can happen to a man. It must be particularly hard to one
who has led such a vigorous life as your uncle has done."

I could almost have declared that she shuddered at my words. Did she
know more about her uncle and his past life than she liked to think
about? I remembered one or two expressions he had let fall in his
excitement when he had been talking to me, and how I had commented upon
them as being strange words to come from the lips of a missionary. I had
often wondered whether the story he had told me about their life in
China, and Hayle's connection with it, had been a true one. The
tenaciousness with which a Chinaman clings to the religion of his
forefathers is proverbial, and I could not remember having ever heard
that a Mandarin, or an official of high rank, had been converted to the
Christian Faith. Even if he had, it struck me as being highly improbable
that he would have been the possessor of such princely treasure, and
even supposing that to be true, that he would, at his death, leave it to
such a man as Kitwater. No, I fancied if we could only get at the truth
of the story, we should find that it was a good deal more picturesque,
not to use a harsher term, than we imagined. For a moment I had almost
been tempted to believe that the stones were Hayle's property, and that
these two men were conducting their crusade with the intention of
robbing him of them. Yet, on maturer reflection, this did not fit in.
There was the fact that they had certainly been mutilated as they
described, and also their hatred of Hayle to be weighed in one balance,
while Hayle's manifest fear of them could be set in the other.

"If I am not mistaken that is your step, Mr. Fairfax," said the blind
man, stopping suddenly in his walk, and turning his sightless face in my
direction. "It's wonderful how the loss of one's sight sharpens one's
ears. I suppose you met Margaret on the road."

"I met Miss Kitwater in the churchyard," I replied.

"A very good meeting-place," he chuckled sardonically. "It's where most
of us meet each other sooner or later. Upon my word, I think the dead
are luckier than the living. In any case they are more fortunate than
poor devils like Codd and myself. But I am keeping you standing, won't
you sit down somewhere and tell me your news? I have been almost
counting the minutes for your arrival. I know you would not be here
to-day unless you had something important to communicate to me. You have
found Hayle?"

He asked the question with feverish eagerness, as if he hoped within a
few hours to be clutching at the other's throat. I could see that his
niece noticed it too, and that she recoiled a little from him in
consequence. I thereupon set to work and told them of all that had
happened since I had last seen them, described my lucky meeting with
Hayle at Charing Cross, my chase after him across London, the trick he
had played me at Foxwell's Hotel, and my consequent fruitless journey to
Southampton.

"And he managed to escape you after all," said Kitwater. "That man would
outwit the Master of all Liars Himself. He is out of England by this
time, and we shall lose him."

"He has not escaped me," I replied quietly. "I know where he is, and I
have got a man on his track."

"Then where is he?" asked Kitwater. "If you know where he is, you ought
to be with him yourself instead of down here. You are paid to conduct
the case. How do you know that your man may not bungle it, and that we
may not lose him again?"

His tone was so rude and his manner so aggressive, that his niece was
about to protest. I made a sign to her, however, not to do so.

"I don't think you need be afraid, Mr. Kitwater," I said more soothingly
than I felt. "My man is a very clever and reliable fellow, and you may
be sure that, having once set eyes on Mr. Hayle, he will not lose sight
of him again. I shall leave for Paris to-morrow morning, and shall
immediately let you know the result of my search. Will that suit you?"

"It will suit me when I get hold of Hayle," he replied. "Until then I
shall know no peace. Surely you must understand that?"

Then, imagining perhaps, that he had gone too far, he began to fawn upon
me, and what was worse praised my methods of elucidating a mystery. I
cannot say which I disliked the more. Indeed, had it not been that I had
promised Miss Kitwater to take up the case, and that I did not want to
disappoint her, I believe I should have abandoned it there and then, out
of sheer disgust. A little later our hostess proposed that we should
adjourn to the house, as it was neatly lunch-time. We did so, and I was
shown to a pretty bedroom to wash my hands. It was a charming apartment,
redolent of the country, smelling of lavender, and after London, as
fresh as a glimpse of a new life. I looked about me, took in the
cleanliness of everything, and contrasted it with my own dingy
apartments at Rickford's Hotel, where the view from the window was not
of meadows and breezy uplands, but of red roofs, chimney-pots, and
constantly revolving cowls. I could picture the view from this window in
the early morning, with the dew upon the grass, and the blackbirds
whistling in the shrubbery. I am not a vain man, I think, but at this
juncture I stood before the looking-glass and surveyed myself. For the
first time in my life I could have wished that I had been
better-looking. At last I turned angrily away.

"What a duffer I am to be sure!" I said to myself. "If I begin to get
notions like this in my head there is no knowing where I may end. As if
any girl would ever think twice about me!"

Thereupon I descended to the drawing-room, which I found empty. It was
a true woman's room, daintily furnished, with little knick-knacks here
and there, a work-basket put neatly away for the Sabbath, and an open
piano with one of Chopin's works upon the music-rest. Leading out of the
drawing-room was a small conservatory, filled with plants. It was a
pretty little place and I could not refrain from exploring it. I am
passionately fond of flowers, but my life at that time was not one that
permitted me much leisure to indulge in my liking. As I stood now,
however, in the charming place, among the rows of neatly-arranged pots,
I experienced a sort of waking dream. I seemed to see myself standing in
this very conservatory, hard at work upon my flowers, a pipe in my mouth
and my favourite old felt hat upon my head. Crime and criminals were
alike forgotten; I no longer lived in a dingy part of the Town, and what
was better than all I had----

"Do you know I feel almost inclined to offer you the proverbial penny,"
said Miss Kitwater's voice behind me, at the drawing-room door. "Is it
permissible to ask what you were thinking about?"

I am not of course prepared to swear it, but I honestly believe for the
first time for many years, I blushed.

"I was thinking how very pleasant a country life must be," I said,
making the first excuse that came to me. "I almost wish that I could
lead one."

"Then why don't you? Surely it would not be so very difficult?"

"I am rather afraid it would," I answered. "And yet I don't know why it
should be."

"Perhaps Mrs. Fairfax would not care about it," she continued, as we
returned to the drawing-room together.

"Good gracious!" I remarked. "There is no Mrs. Fairfax. I am the most
confirmed of old bachelors. I wonder you could not see that. Is not the
word _crustiness_ written plainly upon my forehead?"

"I am afraid I cannot see it," she answered. "I am not quite certain who
it was, but I fancy it was my uncle who informed me that you
were married."

"It was very kind of him," I said. "But it certainly is not the case. I
fear my wife would have rather a lonely time of it if it were. I am
obliged to be away from home so much, you see, and for so long at
a time."

"Yours must be indeed a strange profession, Mr. Fairfax, if I may say
so," she continued. "Some time ago I came across an account, in a
magazine, of your life, and the many famous cases in which you had
taken part."

"Ah! I remember the wretched thing," I said. "I am sorry that you should
ever have seen it."

"And why should you be sorry?"

"Because it is a silly thing, and I have always regretted allowing the
man to publish it. He certainly called upon me and asked me a lot of
questions, after which he went away and wrote that article. Ever since
then I have felt like a conceited ass, who tried to make himself out
more clever than he really was."

"I don't think you would do that," she said. "But, if you will let me
say so, yours must be a very trying life, and also an extremely
dangerous one. I am afraid you must look upon human nature from a very
strange point of view!"

"Not more strange probably than you do," I answered.

"But you are continually seeing the saddest side of it. To you all the
miseries that a life of crime entails, are visible. The greater part of
your time is spent among desperate men who are without hope, and to whom
even their own shadows are a constant menace. I wonder that you still
manage to retain your kind heart."

"But how do you know that my heart is kind?" I inquired.

"If for no other reason, simply because you have taken up my uncle's
case," she answered. "Do you think when he was so rude to you just now,
that I could not see that you pitied him, and for that reason you
forbore to take advantage of your power? I know you have a kind heart."

"And you find it difficult to assimilate that kind heart with the
remorseless detective of Public Life?"

"I find it difficult to recognize in you the man who, on a certain
notable occasion, went into a thieves' den in Chicago unaccompanied, and
after a terrible struggle in which you nearly lost your life, succeeded
in effecting the arrest of a notorious murderer."

At that moment the gong in the hall sounded for lunch, and I was by no
means sorry for the interruption. We found Kitwater and Codd awaiting
our coming in the dining-room, and we thereupon sat down to the meal.
When we left the room again, we sat in the garden and smoked, and later
in the afternoon, my hostess conducted me over her estate, showed me her
vineries, introduced me to her two sleek Jerseys, who had their home in
the meadow I had seen from the window; to her poultry, pigs, and the
pigeons who came fluttering about her, confident that they would come to
no harm. Meanwhile her uncle had resumed his restless pacing up and down
the path on which I had first seen him, Codd had returned to his
archaeological studies, and I was alone with Miss Kitwater. We were
standing alone together, I remember, at the gate that separated the
garden from the meadowland. I knew as well as possible, indeed I had
known it since we had met in the churchyard that morning, that she had
something to say to me, something concerning which she had not quite
made up her mind. What it was, however, I fancied I could hazard a very
good guess, but I was determined not to forestall her, but to wait and
let her broach it to me in her own way. This, I fancied, she was now
about to do.

"Mr. Fairfax," she began, resting her clasped hands upon the bar of the
gate as she spoke, "I want, if you will allow me, to have a serious talk
with you. I could not have a better opportunity than the present, and,
such as it is, I want to make the best of it."

"I am quite at your service, Miss Kitwater," I replied, "and if I can be
of any use to you I hope you will tell me. Pray let me know what I can
do for you?"

"It is about my uncle and Mr. Codd that I want to speak to you," she
said, sinking her voice a little, as if she were afraid they might hear.

"And what about them?"

"I want to be loyal to them, and yet I want to know what you think of
the whole affair," she said, looking intently at me as she spoke.
"Believe me, I have good and sufficient reasons for my request."

"I am to tell exactly what I think about their pursuit of this man
Hayle? And what chances of success I think they possess?" I said.

"I am not thinking so much of their success," she returned, "as of the
real nature of their case."

"I believe I understand what is passing in your mind," I said. "Indeed
I should not be surprised if the suspicion you entertain is not the same
as I have myself."

"You have been suspicious then?"

"I could scarcely fail to be," I replied.

"Perhaps you will tell me what you suspect?"

"Will you forgive me, in my turn, if I am abrupt, or if I speak my mind
a little too plainly?"

"You could not do that," she answered with a sigh. "I want to know your
exact thoughts, and then I shall be able to form my own conclusions."

"Well," I said, "before I begin, may I put one or two questions to you?
You will, of course, remember that I had never seen or heard of your
uncle and Mr. Codd until they stopped me on Ludgate Hill. They were and
practically are strangers to me. I have heard their story of their
treasure, but I have not heard what any one else has to say upon
the subject."

"I think I understand. Now what are your questions?"

"In the first place, did your late father ever speak to you of his
brother as being a missionary in China?"

She shook her head, and from the look upon her face I could see that I
had touched upon something painful. This, at least, was one of the
things that had struck her as suspicious.

"If he were a missionary, I am quite sure my father did not know it,"
she said. "In fact I always understood that he was somewhat of a
scapegrace, and in consequence could never settle down to anything. That
is your first, now what is your second question, Mr. Fairfax?"

I paused for a moment before I replied.

"My second partakes more of the nature of an assertion than a question,"
I answered. "As I read it, you are more afraid of what may happen should
the two men meet than anything else."

"Yes, that is just what I _am_ afraid of," she replied. "My uncle's
temper is so violent, and his desire for revenge so absorbing, that I
dare not think what would happen if he came into actual contact with
Hayle. Now that I have replied to your questions, will you give me the
answer I want? That is to say will you tell me what you think of the
whole affair?"

"If you wish it, I will," I said slowly. "You have promised to permit me
to be candid, and I am going to take advantage of that permission. In my
own mind I do not believe the story they tell. I do not believe that
they were ever missionaries, though we have convincing proofs that they
have been in the hands of the Chinese. That Hayle betrayed them I have
not the least doubt, it seems consistent with his character, but where
they obtained the jewels, that are practically the keystones to the
whole affair, I have no more notion than you. They may have been
honestly come by, or they may not. So far as the present case is
concerned that fact is immaterial. There is still, however, one vital
point we have to consider. If the gems in question belong equally to the
three men, each is entitled to his proper share, either of the stones or
of the amounts realized by the sale. That share, as you already know,
would amount to a considerable sum of money. Your uncle, I take it, has
not a penny-piece in the world, and his companion is in the same
destitute condition. Now we will suppose that I find Hayle for them, and
they meet. Does it not seem to you quite possible that your uncle's rage
might lead him to do something desperate, in order to revenge himself
upon the other? But if he could command himself he would probably get
his money? If, on the other hand, they do not meet, then what is to be
done? Forgive me, Miss Kitwater, for prying into your private affairs,
but in my opinion it is manifestly unfair that you should have to
support these two men for the rest of their existences."

"You surely must see that I would rather do that than let my father's
brother commit a crime," she returned, more earnestly than she had
yet spoken.

The position was decidedly an awkward one. It was some proof of the
girl's sterling qualities that she should be prepared to make such a
sacrifice for the sake of a man whom it was certainly impossible to
love, and for that reason even to respect. I looked at her with an
admiration in my face that I did not attempt to conceal. I said nothing
by way of praise, however. It would have been an insult to her to have
even hinted at such a thing.

"Pardon me," I said at last, "but there is one thing that must be taken
into consideration. Some day, Miss Kitwater, you may marry, and in that
case your husband might not care about the arrangement you have made.
Such things have happened before now."

She blushed a rosy red and hesitated before she replied.

"I do not consider it very likely that I shall ever marry," she
answered. "And even if I did I should certainly not marry a man who
would object to my doing what I consider to be my duty. And now that we
have discussed all this, Mr. Fairfax, what do you think we had better
do? I understood you to say to my uncle that you intend leaving for
Paris to-morrow morning, in order to continue your search for the man
Hayle. Supposing you find him, what will you do then?"

"In such a case," I said slowly, looking at her all the time, "I should
endeavour to get your uncle's and Codd's share of the treasure from him.
If I am successful, then I shall let him go where he pleases."

"And supposing you are unsuccessful in obtaining the money or the
gems?"

"Then I must endeavour to think of some other way," I replied, "but
somehow I do not think I shall be unsuccessful."

"Nor do I," she answered, looking me full and fair in the face. "I fancy
you know that I believe in you most implicitly, Mr. Fairfax."

"In that case, do you mind shaking hands upon it?" I said.

"I will do so with much pleasure," she answered. "You cannot imagine
what a weight you have lifted off my mind. I have been so depressed
about it lately that I have scarcely known what to do. I have lain awake
at night, turning it over and over in my mind, and trying to convince
myself as to what was best to be done. Then my uncle told me you were
coming down here, and I resolved to put the case before you as I have
done and to ask your opinion."

She gave me her little hand, and I took it and held it in my own. Then I
released it and we strode back along the garden-path together without
another word. The afternoon was well advanced by this time, and when we
reached the summer-house, where Codd was still reading, we found that a
little wicker tea-table had been brought out from the house and that
chairs had been placed for us round it. To my thinking there is nothing
that becomes a pretty woman more than the mere commonplace act of
pouring out tea. It was certainly so in this case. When I looked at the
white cloth upon the table, the heavy brass tray, and the silver jugs
and teapot, and thought of my own cracked earthenware vessel, then
reposing in a cupboard in my office, and in which I brewed my cup of tea
every afternoon, I smiled to myself. I felt that I should never use it
again without recalling this meal. After that I wondered whether it
would ever be my good fortune to sit in this garden again, and to sip my
Orange Pekoe from the same dainty service. The thought that I might not
do so was, strangely enough, an unpleasant one, and I put it from me
with all promptness. During the meal, Kitwater scarcely uttered a word.
We had exhausted the probabilities of the case long since, and I soon
found that he could think or talk of nothing else. At six o'clock I
prepared to make my adieux. My train left Bishopstowe for London at the
half-hour, and I should just have time to walk the distance comfortably.
To my delight my hostess decided to go to church, and said she would
walk with me as far as the lych-gate. She accordingly left us and went
into the house to make her toilet. As soon as she had gone Kitwater
fumbled his way across to where I was sitting, and having discovered a
chair beside me, seated himself in it.

"Mr. Fairfax," said he, "I labour under the fear that you cannot
understand my position. Can you realize what it is like to feel shut up
in the dark, waiting and longing always for only one thing? Could you
not let me come to Paris with you to-morrow?"

"Impossible," I said. "It is out of the question. It could not be
thought of for a moment!"

"But why not? I can see no difficulty in it?"

"If for no other reason because it would destroy any chance of my even
getting on the scent. I should be hampered at every turn."

He heaved a heavy sigh.

"Blind! blind!" he said with despair in his voice. "But I know that I
shall meet him some day, and when I do----"

His ferocity was the more terrible by reason of his affliction.

"Only wait, Mr. Kitwater," I replied. "Wait, and if I can help you, you
shall have your treasure back again. Will you then be satisfied?"

"Yes, I'll be satisfied," he answered, but with what struck me as almost
reluctance. "Yes, when I have my treasure back again I'll be satisfied,
and so will Codd. In the meantime I'll wait here in the dark, the dark
in which the days and nights are the same. Yes, I'll wait and wait
and wait."

At that moment Miss Kitwater made her reappearance in the garden, and I
rose to bid my clients farewell.

"Good-bye, Mr. Kitwater," I said. "I'll write immediately I reach Paris,
and let you know how I am getting on."

"You are very kind," Kitwater answered, and Codd nodded his head.

My hostess and I then set off down the drive to the righ road which we
followed towards the village. It was a perfect evening, and the sun was
setting in the west in a mass of crimson and gold. At first we talked of
various commonplace subjects, but it was not very long before we came
back, as I knew we should do, to the one absorbing topic.

"There is another thing I want to set right with you, Miss Kitwater," I
said, as we paused upon the bridge to which I have elsewhere referred.
"It is only a small matter. Somehow, however, I feel that I must settle
it, before I can proceed further in the affair with any satisfaction
to myself."

She looked at me in surprise.

"What is it?" she asked, "I thought we had settled everything."

"So far as I can see that is the only matter that remains," I answered.
"Yet it is sufficiently important to warrant my speaking to you about
it. What I want to know is, who I am serving?"

"I don't think I understand," she said, drawing lines with her umbrella
upon the stone coping of the bridge as she spoke.

"And yet my meaning is clear," I returned. "What I want to be certain of
is, whether I am serving you or your uncle?"

"I don't think you are _serving_ either of us," she answered. "You are
helping us to right a great wrong."

"Forgive me, but that is merely trifling with words. I am going to be
candid once more. You are paying the money, I believe?"

In some confusion she informed me that this certainly was the case.

"Very well, then, I am certainly your servant," I said. "It is your
interests I shall have to study."

"I can trust them implicitly to you, I am sure, Mr. Fairfax," she
replied. "And now here we are at the church. If you walk quickly you
will be just in time to catch your train. Let me thank you again for
coming down to-day."

"It has been a great pleasure to me," I replied. "Perhaps when I return
from Paris you will permit me to come down again to report progress?"

"We shall be very pleased to see you," she answered. "Now, good-bye, and
a pleasant journey to you!"

We shook hands and parted. As I passed along the road I watched her
making her way along the avenue towards the church. There was need for
me to shake my head.

"George Fairfax," said I, "it would require very little of that young
lady's society to enable you to make a fool of yourself."



CHAPTER VIII

Unlike so many of my countrymen I am prepared to state that I detest the
French capital. I always make my visits to it as brief as possible,
then, my business completed, off I fly again, seeming to breathe more
freely when I am outside its boundaries. I don't know why this should be
so, for I have always been treated with the utmost courtesy and
consideration by its inhabitants, particularly by those members of the
French Detective Force with whom I have been brought in contact.

On this visit I crossed with one of the cleverest Parisian detectives, a
man with whom I have had many dealings. He was most anxious to ascertain
the reason of my visit to his country. My assurance that I was not in
search of any one of his own criminals seemed to afford him no sort of
satisfaction. He probably regarded it as an attempt to put him off the
scent, and I fancy he resented it. We reached Paris at seven o'clock,
whereupon I invited him to dine with me at eight o'clock, at a
restaurant we had both patronized on many previous occasions. He
accepted my invitation, and promised to meet me at the time and place I
named. On the platform awaiting our arrival was my man Dickson, to whom
I had telegraphed, ordering him to meet me.

"Well, Dickson," I said, when I had bade the detective _an revoir_,
"what about our man?"

"I've had him under my eye, sir," he answered. "I know exactly what he's
been doing, and where he's staying."

"That's good news indeed," I replied. "Have you discovered anything else
about him?"

"Yes, sir," he returned. "I find that he's struck up a sudden
acquaintance with a lady named Mademoiselle Beaumarais, and that they
are to dine together at the Cafe des Ambassadeurs to-night. They have
been in and out of half the jewellers' shops in the Rue de la Paix
to-day, and he's spending a mint of money on her."

"They are dining at the Cafe des Ambassadeurs to-night, did you say? At
what time?"

"I cannot tell you that, sir," Dickson replied. "I only know that they
are to dine there together to-night."

"And pray how did you find that out?"

"I made inquiries as to who she was, where she lived, and then pumped
her maid," he answered.

"You did not do anything that would excite his suspicions, I hope," I
put in. "You ought to know by this time what women are."

"Oh, no, sir, you needn't be afraid," he said. "I was too careful for
that. The maid and I are on very friendly terms. She believes me to be a
Russian, and I've not denied it."

"It would be safest not to do so," I replied. "If she discovers that you
are an Englishman, she might chance to mention the fact to her mistress.
She would doubtless let it fall in conversation with him, and then all
our trouble would be useless. You speak Russian, do you not?"

"Only pretty well, sir," he answered. "I should be soon bowled out if I
came in contact with a real one."

"Well, I think I will be somewhere near the Cafe des Ambassadeurs
to-night just to make sure of my man. After that I'll tell you what
to do next."

"Very good, sir," he returned. "I suppose you will be staying at the
same place?"

"Yes, the same place," I replied. "If you have anything to communicate,
you can either call, or send word to me there."

I thereupon departed for the quiet house at which I usually take up my
abode when in Paris. The big hotels are places I steer clear of, for the
simple reason that I often have business in connection with them, and it
does not pay me to become too well known. At this little house I can go
out and come in just as I please, have my meals at any time of the day
or night, and am as well cared for as at my own abode in London. On this
occasion the old lady of the house greeted me with flattering
enthusiasm. She had received my telegram, she said, and my usual room
awaited me. I accordingly ascended to it in order to dress myself for
the dinner of the evening, and as I did so, thought of the pretty
bedroom I had seen on the previous day, which naturally led me to think
of the owner of the house, at that moment my employer. In my mind's eye
I could see her just as she had stood on that old stone bridge at
Bishopstowe, with the sunset behind her and the church bells sounding
across the meadows, calling the villagers to evensong. How much better
it was, I argued, to be standing talking to her there in that old world
peace, than to be dressing for a dinner at an up-to-date French
restaurant. My toilet completed, I descended to the street, hired a
_fiacre_, and drove to the restaurant where I had arranged to meet my
friend. The place in question is neither an expensive nor a fashionable
one. It has no halls of mirrors, no dainty little cabinets, but, to my
thinking, you can obtain the best dinner in all Paris there. On reaching
it I found my guest had been the first to arrive. We accordingly
ascended the stairs to the room above, where we selected our table and
sat down. My companion was a witty little man with half the languages of
Europe on his tongue, and a knowledge of all the tricks and dodges of
all the criminal fraternity at his finger-ends. He has since written a
book on his experiences, and a stranger volume, or one more replete with
a knowledge of the darker side of human nature it would be difficult to
find. He had commenced his professional career as a doctor, and like
myself had gradually drifted into the detective profession. Among other
things he was an inimitable hand at disguising himself, as many a
wretched criminal now knows to his cost. Even I, who know him so well,
have been taken in by him. I have given alms to a blind beggar in the
streets, have encountered him as a _chiffonier_ prowling about the
gutters, have sat next to him on an omnibus when he has been clothed as
an artisan in a blue blouse, and on not one of those occasions have I
ever recognized him until he made himself known to me. Among other
things he was a decided epicure, and loved a good dinner as well as any
of his compatriots. Could you but see him with his napkin tucked under
his chin, his little twinkling eyes sparkling with mirth, and his face
wreathed in smiles, you would declare him to be one of the
jolliest-looking individuals you have ever encountered. See him,
however, when he is on business and has a knotty problem to solve, and
you will find a different man. The mouth has become one of iron, the
eyes are as fierce as fierce can be. Some one, I remember, likened him
to the great Napoleon, and the description is an exceedingly apt one.

"By the way," I said, as we took a peep into our second bottle of
Perrier-Jouet, "there is a question I want to put to you. Do you happen
to be acquainted with a certain Mademoiselle Beaumarais?"

"I have known her for more years than she or I would care to remember,"
he answered. "For a woman who has led the life she has, she wears
uncommonly well. A beautiful creature! The very finest shoulders in all
Paris, and that is saying something."

He blew a kiss off the tips of his fingers, and raised his glass in her
honour.

"I drink to her in this noble wine, but I do not let her touch my money.
Oh no, _la belle Louise_ is a clever woman, a very clever woman, but
money trickles through her fingers like water through a sieve. Let me
think for a moment. She ruined the Marquis D'Esmai, the Vicomte
Cotforet, Monsieur D'Armier, and many others whose names I cannot now
recall. The first is with our noble troops in Cochin China, the second
is in Algeria, and the third I know not where, and now I have learnt
since my arrival in Paris that she has got hold of a young Englishman,
who is vastly wealthy. She will have all he has got very soon, and then
he will begin the world anew. You are interested in that Englishman,
of course?"

"How do you know that?"

"Because you question me about Mademoiselle Beaumarais," he answered. "A
good many people have asked me about her at different times, but it is
always the man they want to get hold of. You, my astute Fairfax, are
interested in the man, not because you want to save him from her, but
because he has done a little something which he should not have done
elsewhere. The money he is lavishing on Mademoiselle Louise, whence does
it come? Should I be very wrong if I suggested gems?"

I gave a start of surprise. How on earth did he guess this?

"Yes! I see I'm right," he answered with a little laugh. "Well, I knew
it a long time ago. Ah, you are astonished! You should surely never
allow yourself to be surprised by anything. Now I will tell you how I
come to know about the gems. Some time ago a certain well-known lady of
this city lost her jewel-case in a mysterious manner. The affair was
placed in my hands, and when I had exhausted Paris, I went to Amsterdam,
_en route_ if necessary for London. You know our old friends, Levenstein
and Schartzer?"

I nodded. I had had dealings with that firm on many occasions.

"Well, as I went into their office, I saw the gentleman who has been
paying his attentions to the lady we have been discussing, come out. I
have an excellent memory for faces, and when I saw him to-night entering
the Cafe des Ambassadeurs, I recognized him immediately. Thus the
mystery is explained."

He shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands apart, like a conjurer
who has just vanished a rabbit or an orange.

"Has the man of whom we are speaking done very wrong?" he inquired.

"The stones he sold in London and Amsterdam belonged to himself and his
two partners," I answered. "He has not given them their share of the
transaction. That is all."

"They had better be quick about it then, or they are not likely to get
anything. It would be a very big sum that would tempt _la belle Louise_
to be faithful for a long period. If your employers really desire to
punish him, and they are not in want of money, I should say do not let
them interfere. She will then _nibble-nibble_ at what he has got like a
mouse into a store of good things. Then presently that store will be all
gone, and then she will give him up, and he, the man, will go out and
shoot himself, and she will pick up somebody else, and will begin to
nibble-nibble just as before. As I say, there will be somebody else, and
somebody else, right up to the end of the chapter. And with every one
she will grow just an imperceptible bit older. By and by the wrinkles
will appear; I fancy there are just one or two already. Then she will
not be so fastidious about her hundred of thousand francs, and will
condescend to think of mere thousands. After that it will come to simple
hundreds. Then there will be an interval--after which a garret, a
charcoal brazier, and the Morgue. I have known so many, and it is always
the same. First, the diamonds, the champagne, the exquisite little
dinners at the best restaurants, and at last the brazier, the closed
doors and windows, and the cold stone slab. There is a moral in it, my
dear friend, but we will not look for it to-night. When do you intend to
commence business with your man?"

"At once," I answered. "He knows that I am after him and my only fear is
that he will make a bolt. I cannot understand why he is dallying in
Paris so long?"

"For the simple reason that he is confident he has put you off the
scent," was my companion's reply. "He is doing the one foolish thing the
criminal always does sooner or later; that is to say, he is becoming
over-confident of his own powers to elude us. You and I, my friend,
should be able to remember several such instances. Now, strange to say,
I came across a curious one the other day. Would you care to hear it?"

He lit a cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke while he waited for my
answer.

"Very much," I said, being well aware that his stories were always worth
hearing.

"This is a somewhat remarkable case," he said. "I will mention no names,
but doubtless you can read between the lines. There was a man who
murdered his wife in order that he might marry another woman. The
thought which he gave to it, and the clever manner in which he laid his
plans, not only for the murder, but also for the disposal of the body,
marked him as a criminal in the possession of a singularly brilliant
intellect. He gave no hint to anybody, but left the country without
leaving the faintest clue concerning his destination behind him. I was
called in to take over the case, but after some consideration could make
nothing of it. I have no objection to admitting that I was completely
baffled. Now it so happened that I discovered that the man's mother was
of Irish extraction. He, believing that he would be safe on that island,
engaged a passage on board a steamer from Havre to Belfast. She was to
pick up at Southampton, Plymouth, and Bristol, _en route_. My man, who,
by the way, was a very presentable person, and could be distinctly
sociable when he pleased, endeavoured to make himself agreeable to the
passengers on board. On the first evening out of port, the conversation
turned upon the value of diamonds, and one of the ladies on board
produced some costly stones she happened to have in her possession. The
murderer, who, you must understand, was quite safe, was unhappily eaten
up with vanity. He could not forego the boast that he was the possessor
of a magnificent ring, which had been given him by the ex-Emperor
Napoleon III. Needless to say this information excited considerable
interest, and he was asked to produce it for the general edification.

"He declared that it was too late to do so that evening, but said that he
would do so on the morrow, or, at any rate, before he left the vessel.
In the excitement of reaching Southampton the matter was for the moment
forgotten, but on the day that they arrived in Plymouth one of the lady
passengers reminded him of his promise. This was followed by another
application. Thus surrounded, the unhappy man found himself in the
unpleasant position of being discovered in the perpetration of an
untruth, or of being compelled to invent some feasible tale in order to
account for his not being able to produce the ring. It was at this
juncture that he made his great mistake. Anxious, doubtless, to attract
attention, he returned from his cabin with the astounding declaration
that the lock had been forced, and the famous ring stolen from his trunk
in which it had lain concealed. He certainly acted his part well, but he
did not realize to what consequences it would lead. The matter was
reported to the police, and a search was made through the vessel. The
passengers were naturally indignant at such treatment, and for the rest
of the voyage the man found himself taking, what you English 'call the
cold shoulder.' He reached Belfast, made his way into the country, and
presently settled down. Later on, when the pursuit had died down, it
was his intention to ship for America, where he was to be joined by the
woman, to obtain whom he had in the first place committed the crime. Now
observe the result. Photographs of the missing man and the murdered
woman were circulated all through France, while not a few were sent to
England. One of these pictures reached Plymouth, where it was shown to
the officer who had investigated the case on the boat on its way to
Ireland. He immediately recognized the man who had made the charge
against his fellow-passengers. After that it was easy to trace him to
Belfast and his hiding-place on land. Extradition was, of course,
granted, and he left the place. Had he not imagined that in his safety
he could indulge his vanities, I confidently believe I should never have
found him. When you come to think of it, it is hard to come to the
guillotine for a diamond that never existed, is it not?"

I agreed with him, and then suggested that we should amuse ourselves by
endeavouring to find out how the dinner at the Cafe des Ambassadeurs was
progressing.

"They will proceed to a theatre afterwards, you may be sure," my
companion said. "In that case, if you like we could catch a glimpse of
them as they come out. What do you say?"

I answered that I had not the least objection.

"One night does not make much difference. To-morrow morning I shall make
a point of meeting him face to face."

"Should you require my assistance then, I shall be most pleased to give
it to you?" my companion replied.

I thanked him for his offer, and then we left the restaurant together,
hailed a cab, and drove to his flat. It consisted of four rooms situated
at the top of a lofty block of buildings near the river. From his
windows he could look out over Paris, and he was wont to declare that
the view he received in exchange was the most beautiful in the world.
Fine as it was, I was scarcely so enthusiastic in my praise.

Among other things they were remarkable for the simplicity of their
furniture, and also for the fact that in the sitting-room there was
nothing to reveal the occupation of their owner. His clever old servant,
Susanne, of whom 'twas said she would, did she but choose, make as
clever a detective as her master (she had served him for more than forty
years), brought us coffee so quickly that it would almost seem as if she
had been aware that we should reach the house at that particular moment.

"We have plenty of time to spare," said my host. "In the meantime it
will be necessary for us to find out what they are doing. If you will
wait I will despatch a messenger, who will procure us the information."

He wrote something on a half-sheet of note-paper, rang the bell, and
handed it to Susanne.

"Give that to Leon," he said, "and tell him to be off with it at once."

The woman disappeared, and when she had gone we resumed our
conversation. Had he not had the good fortune to be such a great success
in his own profession, what an admirable actor the man would have made!
His power of facial contortion was extraordinary, and I believe that on
demand he could have imitated almost any face that struck his fancy.

"And now with regard to our little excursion," he said. "What would you
like to be? As you are aware, I can offer you a varied selection. Will
you be a workman, a pedlar, an elderly gentleman from the Provinces, or
a street beggar?"

"I think the elderly gentleman from the Provinces would suit me best," I
answered, "while it will not necessitate a change of dress."

"Very good then, so it shall be," he replied. "We'll be a couple of
elderly gentlemen in Paris for the first time. Let me conduct you to my
dressing-room, where you will find all that is necessary for
your make-up."

He thereupon showed me to a room leading out of that in which we had
hitherto been sitting. It was very small, and lighted by means of a
skylight. Indeed, it was that very skylight, so he always declared, that
induced him to take the flat.

"If this room looked out over the back, or front, it would have been
necessary for me either to have curtains, which I abominate, or to run
the risk of being observed, which would have been far worse," he had
remarked to me once. "Needless to say there are times when I find it
most necessary that my preparations should not be suspected."

Taken altogether, it was a room that had a strange fascination for me. I
had been in it many times before, but was always able to discover
something new in it. It was a conglomeration of cupboards and shelves. A
large variety of costumes hung upon the pegs in the walls, ranging from
soldier's uniforms to beggar's rags. There were wigs of all sorts and
descriptions on blocks, pads of every possible order and for every part
of the body, humps for hunchbacks, wooden legs, boots ranging from the
patent leather of the dandy to the toeless foot-covering of the beggar.
There were hats in abundance, from the spotless silk to the most
miserable head coverings, some of which looked as if they had been
picked up from the rubbish-heap. There were pedlars' trays fitted with
all and every sort of ware, a faro-table, a placard setting forth the
fact that the renowned Professor Somebody or Other was a most remarkable
phrenologist and worthy of a visit. In fact there was no saying what
there was not there. Everything that was calculated to be useful to him
in his profession was to be found in the room.

For my own part I am not fond of disguises. Indeed on only two or three
occasions, during the whole course of my professional career, have I
found it necessary to conceal my identity. But to this wily little
Frenchman disguise was, as often as not, a common occurrence.

Half-an-hour later, two respectable elderly gentlemen, looking more like
professors from some eminent _Lycee_ than detectives, left the house and
proceeded in the direction of the Folly Theatre. The performance was
almost at an end when we reached it, and we mingled with the crowd who
had assembled to watch the audience come out. The inquiries we had made
proved to be correct, and it was not very long before I saw the man I
wanted emerge, accompanied by a female, who could be no other than
Mademoiselle Beaumarais. Hayle was in immaculate evening dress, and as I
could not but admit, presented a handsome figure to the world. A neat
little brougham drew up beside the pavement in its turn, and into this
they stepped. Then the door was closed upon them, and the carriage
drove away.

"That's my man," I said to my companion, as we watched it pass out of
sight. "To-morrow morning I shall pay him a little visit. I think you
were quite right in what you said about the money. That woman must have
made a fairly big hole in it already."

"You may be quite sure of that," he answered. "When she has finished
with him there will not be much left for anybody else."

"And now to get these things off and then home to bed. To-morrow will in
all probability prove an exciting day."

I accompanied him to his room and removed the disguise which had enabled
me to see Hayle without his being aware of my identity, and then,
bidding my friend good-night, returned to my abode. Before I went to
bed, however, I sat down and wrote a report of my doings for Miss
Kitwater. Little as I had to tell, the writing of this letter gave me
considerable pleasure. I could imagine it coming like a breath from
another world to that quiet house at Bishopstowe. I pictured the girl's
face as she read it, and the strained attention of the two men, who,
needless to say, would hang on every word. When I had finished it I went
to bed, to dream that Gideon Hayle and I were swimming a race in the
Seine for five gigantic rubies which were to be presented to the winner
by Miss Kitwater.

Next morning I arose early, went for a stroll along the Boulevards, and
returned to breakfast at eight o'clock. In the matter of my breakfasts
in Paris, I am essentially English. I must begin the day with a good
meal, or I am fit for nothing. On this particular occasion I sat down on
the best of terms with myself and the world in general. I made an
excellent meal, did the best I could with the morning paper, for my
French is certainly not above reproach, and then wondered when I should
set out to interview the man whose flight from England had proved the
reason of my visiting Paris. Then the door opened and the _concierge_
entered with the words, "A gentleman to see Monsieur!" Next moment to my
overwhelming surprise no less a person than Gideon Hayle entered
the room.



CHAPTER IX

At the moment that I saw Hayle enter my room, you might, as the saying
goes, have knocked me down with a feather. Of all that could possibly
have happened, this was surely the most unexpected! The man had
endeavoured to get me out of his way in London, he had played all sorts
of tricks upon me in order to put me off the scent, he had bolted from
England because he knew I was searching for him, yet here he was
deliberately seeking me out, and of his own free will putting his head
into the lion's mouth. It was as astounding as it was inexplicable.

"Good morning, Mr. Fairfax," he said, bowing most politely to me as he
spoke. "I hope you will forgive this early call. I only discovered your
address an hour ago, and as I did not wish to run the risk of losing you
I came on at once."

"You appeared to be fairly desirous of doing so last week," I said.
"What has occurred to make you change your mind so suddenly?"

"A variety of circumstances have conspired to bring such a result
about," he answered. "I have been thinking the matter over, and not
being able to determine the benefit of this hole-and-corner sort of
game, I have made up my mind to settle it once and for all."

"I am glad you have come to that way of thinking," I said. "It will save
us both an infinity of trouble. You understand, of course, that I
represent Messrs. Kitwater and Codd."

"I am well aware of it," he replied, "and in common fairness to
yourself, I can only say that I am sorry to hear it."

"May I ask why you are sorry?"

"Because you have the honour to represent the biggest pair of scoundrels
unhung," he answered. "And in saying this, I pledge you my word that I
am by no means overstepping the mark. I have known them both for a great
many years and can therefore speak from experience."

Before going further with him I was desirous of convincing myself upon
one point.

"You knew them, then, when they were missionaries in China, I suppose?"

"That's the first time I have ever heard what they were," he replied.
"Kitwater a missionary! You must forgive my laughing, but the idea is
too ludicrous. I'll admit he's done a considerable amount of converting,
but it has been converting other people's money into his own pockets."

He laughed at his own bad joke, and almost instantly grew serious once
more. He was quite at his ease, and, though he must have known that I
was familiar with the story, or supposed story of his villainy, seemed
in no way ashamed.

"Now, Mr. Fairfax," he went on, "I know that you are surprised to see me
this morning, but I don't think you will be when we have had a little
talk together. First and foremost you have been told the story of the
stones I possess?"

"I have heard Mr. Kitwater's version of it," I answered cautiously. "I
know that you robbed my clients of them and then disappeared!"

"I did not _rob_ them of the stones," he said, not in the least offended
by the bluntness of my speech. "It is plain that you do not know how we
obtained them. Perhaps it's as well that you should not, for there's
more behind, and you'd go and get them. No! We obtained them honestly
enough at a certain place, and I was appointed to carry them. For this
reason I secured them in a belt about my waist. That night the Chinese
came down upon us and made us prisoners. They murdered our two native
servants, blinded Kitwater, and cut out Codd's tongue. I alone managed
to effect my escape. Leaving my two companions for dead, I managed to
get away into the jungle. Good Heavens! man, you can't imagine what I
suffered after that."

I looked at him and saw that his face had grown pale at the mere
recollection of his experiences.

"At last I reached the British outpost of Nampoung, on the
Burmah-Chinese border, where the officers took me in and played the
part of the good Samaritan. When I was well enough to travel, I made my
way down to Rangoon, where, still believing my late companions to be
dead, I shipped for England."

"As Mr. George Bertram," I said quietly. "Why under an assumed name
when, according to your story, you had nothing to fear?"

"Because I had good and sufficient reason for so doing," he replied.
"You must remember that I had a quarter of a million's worth of precious
stones in my possession, and, well, to put it bluntly, up to that time I
had been living what you might call a make-shift sort of life. For the
future I told myself I was going to be a rich man. That being so I
wanted to start with a clean sheet. You can scarcely blame me!"

I did not answer him on this point, but continued my cross-examination.

"You reached London, and sold some of the stones there, later on you
disposed of some more in Amsterdam. Why did you refuse the dealers your
name and address?"

Once more he was quite equal to the occasion.

"Because if I had told them, everybody would have got to know it, and,
to be perfectly frank with you, I could not feel quite certain that
Kitwater and Codd were really dead."

"By that I am to presume that you intended if possible to swindle them
out of their share?" I asked, not a little surprised by his admission.

"Once more, to be quite frank with you, I did. I have no desire to be
rude, but I rather fancy you would have done the same had you been
similarly situated. I never was much of a success in the moral
business."

I could well believe this, but I did not tell him so.

"When did you first become aware that they were in London?"

"On the day that they landed," he answered. "I watched every ship that
came in from Rangoon, and at last had the doubtful satisfaction of
seeing my two old friends pass out of the dock-gates. Poor beggars, they
had indeed had a hard time of it."

"Then you could pity them? Even while you were robbing them?"

"Why not," he answered. "There was no reason because I had the stones
that I should not feel sorry for the pain they had suffered. I had to
remember how near I'd been to it myself."

This speech sounded very pretty though somewhat illogical.

"And pray how did you know that they had called in my assistance?"

"Because I kept my eyes on them. I know Mr. Kitwater of old, you see. I
watched them go into your office and come out from a shop on the other
side of the street."

The whole mystery was now explained. What an amount of trouble I should
have been spared had I only known this before?

"You did not approve then of my being imported into the case?"

"I distinctly disapproved," he answered. "I know your reputation, of
course, and I began to see that if you took up their case for them I
should in all probability have to climb down."

"It is doubtless for that reason you called upon me, representing
yourself to be Mr. Bayley, Managing Director of that South American
Mining Company? I can now quite understand your motive. You wanted to
get me out of the way in order that I might not hunt you? Is that
not so?"

"You hit the nail upon the head exactly. But you were virtuous, and
would not swallow the bait. It would have simplified matters from my
point of view if you had. I should not have been compelled to waste my
money upon those two roughs, nor would you have spent an exceedingly
uncomfortable quarter of an hour in that doorway in Holywell street."

This was news indeed. So he had been aware of my presence there? I put
the question to him.

"Oh! Yes! I knew you were there," he said with a laugh. "And I can tell
you I did not like the situation one bit. As a matter of fact I found
that it required all my nerve to pretend that I did not know it. Every
moment I expected you to come out and speak to me. I can assure you the
failure of my plot was no end of a disappointment to me. I had expected
to see the men I had sent after you, and instead I found you myself."

"Upon my word, Mr. Hayle, if I cannot appreciate your actions I must say
I admire your candour. I can also add that in a fairly long experience
of--of----"

"Why not say _of criminals_ at once, Mr. Fairfax?" he asked with a
smile. "I assure you I shall not be offended. We have both our own views
on this question, and you of course are entitled to air yours if it
pleases you. You were about to observe that----"

"That in all my experience I had never met any one who could so calmly
own to an attempt to murder a fellow-being. But supposing we now come to
business."

"With all my heart," he answered. "I am as anxious as yourself to get
everything settled. You will admit that it is rather hard lines on a man
who can lay his hands upon a quarter of a million of money, to have a
gentleman like yourself upon his trail, and, instead of being able to
enjoy himself, to be compelled to remain continually in hiding. I am an
individual who likes to make the most of his life. I also enjoy the
society of my fellow-men."

"May we not substitute 'woman'?" I asked. "I am afraid your quarter of a
million would not last very long if you had much to do with Mademoiselle
Beaumarais."

"So you have heard of her, have you?" he answered. "But you need have no
fear. Dog does not eat dog, and that charming lady will not despoil me
of very much! Now to another matter! What amount do you think your
clients would feel inclined to take in full settlement of their
claim upon me?"

"I cannot say," I answered. "How many of the gems have you realized
upon?"

"There were ninety-three originally," he said when he had consulted his
pocket-book, "and I have sold sixty, which leaves a balance of
thirty-three, all of which are better than any I have yet disposed of.
Will your clients be prepared to accept fifty thousand pounds, of
course, given without prejudice."

"Your generosity amazes me," I answered. "My clients, your partners, are
to take twenty-five thousand pounds apiece, while you get off,
scot-free, after your treatment of them, with two hundred thousand."

"They may consider themselves lucky to get anything at all," he
retorted. "Run your eye over the case, and see how it stands. You must
know as well as I do that they haven't a leg to stand upon. If I wanted
to be nasty, I should say let them prove that they have a right to the
stones. They can't call in the assistance of the law----"

"Why not?"

"Because to get even with me it would be necessary for them to make
certain incriminating admissions, and to call certain evidence that
would entail caustic remarks from a learned judge, and would not
improbably lead to a charge of murder being preferred against them. No,
Mr. Fairfax, I know my own business, and, what is better, I know theirs.
If they like to take fifty thousand pounds, and will retire into
obscurity upon it, I will pay it to them, always through you. But I
won't see either of them, and I won't pay a halfpenny more than I
have offered."

"You don't mean to tell me that you are in earnest?"

"I am quite in earnest," he answered. "I never was more so. Will you
place my offer before them, or will you not?"

"I will write and also wire them to-day," I said. "But I think I know
exactly what they will say."

"Point out the applicability of the moral concerning the bird in the
hand. If they don't take what they can get now, the time may come when
there may be nothing at all. I never was a very patient man, and I can
assure you most confidentially, that I am about tired of this game."

"But how am I to know that this is not another trick on your part, and
that you won't be clearing out of Paris within a few hours? I should
present a sorry picture if my clients were to accept your generous
offer, and I had to inform them that you were not on hand to back
it up."

"Oh, you needn't be afraid about that," he said with a laugh. "I am not
going to bilk you. Provided you play fair by me, I will guarantee to do
the same by you. With the advantages I at present enjoy, I am naturally
most anxious to know that I can move about Europe unmolested. Besides,
you can have me watched, and so make sure of me. There is that beautiful
myrmidon of yours, who is so assiduously making love to Mademoiselle
Beaumarais's maid. Give him the work."

I was more than surprised to find that he knew about this business. He
saw it, and uttered one of his peculiar laughs.

"He didn't think I knew it," he said. "But I did! His cleverness is a
little too marked. He overacts his parts, and even Shakespeare will tell
you how foolish a proceeding that is. If you doubt my word concerning my
stay in Paris, let him continue to watch me. You know where I am living,
and for that reason you can come and see me whenever you like. As a
proof of my sincerity, may I suggest that you give me the pleasure of
your company at dinner to-night. Oh, you needn't be afraid. I'm not a
Caesar Borgia. I shall not poison your meat, and your wine will not be
drugged. It will be rather a unique experience, detective and criminal
dining together, will it not? What do you say?"

The opportunity was so novel, that I decided to embrace it. Why should I
not do so since it was a very good excuse for keeping my man in sight?
He could scarcely play me any tricks at a fashionable restaurant, and I
was certainly curious to study another side of this man's complex
character. I accordingly accepted his invitation, and promised to meet
him at the well-known restaurant he named that evening.

"In the meantime you will telegraph to your clients, I suppose," he
said. "You may be able to give me their reply this evening when
we meet."

"I shall hope to be in a position to do so," I answered, after which he
bade me good-bye, and picking up his hat and stick left the room.

"Well," I said to myself when I was alone once more, "this is the most
extraordinary case upon which I have ever been engaged. My respect for
Mr. Hayle's readiness of resource, to say nothing of his impudence, is
increasing by leaps and bounds. The man is not to be met every day who
can rob his partners of upwards of a hundred and seventy thousand
pounds, and then invite the detective who is sent after him to a
friendly dinner."

I sat down and wrote a letter to Miss Kitwater, telling her all that
had occurred; then went out to despatch it with a telegram to Kitwater
himself, informing him of the offer Hayle had made. I could guess the
paroxysm of rage into which it would throw him, and I would willingly
have spared his niece the pain such an exhibition must cause her. I
could see no other way out of it, however. The message having been
despatched, I settled myself down to wait for a reply, with all the
patience I could command. In my own mind I knew very well what it would
be. It was not so much the money that Kitwater wanted, as revenge. That
Hayle's most miserable offer would only increase his desire for it, I
felt certain. Shortly after three o'clock, the reply arrived. It was
short, and to the point, and ran as follows--

"Tell him I will have all or nothing."

Here was a nice position for a man to find himself in. Instead of
solving the difficulty we had only increased it. I wondered what Hayle
would say when he heard the news, and what his next step would be. That
he would endeavour to bolt again, I felt quite certain. It was a point
in my favour, however, that he would not know until the evening what
Kitwater's decision was, so I felt I had still some time to arrange my
plan of action. Of one thing I was quite determined, and that was that
he should be watched day and night from that minute, but not by Mr.
Dickson. That worthy I bade return to England, and his rage on
discovering that Mademoiselle Beaumarais's maid had tricked him, would
have been amusing to witness, had the principal event in which I was
most concerned not been so grave. The expressions he used about her were
certainly far from being complimentary.

Feeling that I must have other assistance, I set off for my friend
Leglosse's residence. I had the good fortune to meet him by the
_concierge's_ lodge, and we ascended the stairs to his rooms together.

"I have come to ask you to do me a favour," I said, when we were seated
in his sitting-room.

"A thousand favours if you wish, _cher ami_," the old fellow replied.
"Tell me how I can have the pleasure of serving you."

"I want you to lend me one of your men for a few days," I said. "I have
to send my own man back to England, and I am afraid the gentleman we
were discussing last night may give me the slip in the meantime if I'm
not careful."

The better to enable him to appreciate the position, I furnished him
with a brief summary of the case upon which I was engaged.

"And so you are to dine with your prisoner to-night?" he remarked, with
one of his quiet chuckles. "That is droll--very droll. It is very good
for you that it is at such a place, or I should have my doubts as to the
rascal's intentions. But you are well able to take care of yourself, my
friend; that I know."

"And the man?"

"You shall have him. You shall have half-a-dozen if you like. I am only
too pleased to be able to help in such a good work. You shall have
Pierre Lepallard, my right-hand. I cannot give you a better. Nothing
escapes Pierre, and he is discreet, oh, yes, my friend, he is discreet.
He will not obtrude himself, but he will know all that your friend does,
to whom he speaks, what he said to him, and sometimes even what he
intends doing before he does it."

"In that case he is just the man for me," I replied. "I am exceedingly
obliged to you for your considerate courtesy. Some day I may be able to
repay it."

Within half-an-hour the estimable Lepallard had been made acquainted
with his duties, and within an hour a ragged tatterdemalion of a man was
selling matches on the opposite side of the road to that on which
Hayle's apartments were situated.

I reached the restaurant at which we were to dine that evening punctual
to the moment, only to find that Hayle had not yet arrived. For a minute
I was tempted to wonder whether he had given me the slip again, but
while the thought was passing through my mind a cab drove up, and the
gentleman himself alighted.

"I must beg your pardon for keeping you waiting," he said
apologetically. "As your host I should have been here first. That would
have been the case had I not been detained at the last moment by an old
friend. Pray forgive me!"

I consented to do so, and we entered the restaurant together.

I discovered that he had already engaged a table, arranged the _menu_,
and bespoken the wines. We accordingly sat down, and the strangest meal
of which I had ever partaken commenced. Less than a week before, the man
sitting in front of me had endeavoured to bring about my destruction;
now he was my host, and to all outward appearances my friend as well. I
found him a most agreeable companion, a witty conversationalist, and a
born _raconteur_. He seemed to have visited every part of the known
globe; had been a sailor, a revolutionist in South America, a
blackbirder in the Pacific, had seen something of what he called the
"Pig-tail trade" to Borneo, some very queer life in India, that is to
say, in the comparatively unknown native states and had come within an
ace of having been shot by the French during the war in Madagascar.

"In point of fact," he said, "I may say that I have travelled from Dan
to Beersheba, and, until I struck this present vein of good fortune, had
found all barren. Some day, if I can summon up sufficient courage, I
shall fit out an expedition and return to the place whence the stones
came, and get some more, but not just at present. Events have been a
little too exciting there of late to let us consider it a healthy
country. By the way, have you heard from our friend, Kitwater, yet?"

"I have," I answered, "and his reply is by no means satisfactory."

"I understand you to mean that he will not entertain my offer?"

I nodded my head.

"He must have 'all or nothing,' he declares. That is the wording of the
telegram I received."

"Well, he knows his own affairs best. The difference is a large one, and
will materially affect his income. Will you take Creme de Minthe--Kuemmel
or Cognac?"

"Cognac, thank you," I replied, and that was the end of the matter.

During the remainder of the evening not another word was said upon the
subject. We chatted upon a variety of topics, but neither the matter of
the precious stones nor even Kitwater's name was once mentioned. I could
not help fancying, however, that the man was considerably disappointed
at the non-acceptance of his preposterous offer. He had made a move on
the board, and had lost it. I knew him well enough, however, by this
time to feel sure that he by no means despaired yet of winning the game.
Men of Gideon Hayle's stamp are hard to beat.

"Now," he said, when we had smoked our cigarettes, and after he had
consulted his watch, "The night is still young. What do you say if we
pay a visit to a theatre--the Hippodrome, for instance. We might wile
away an hour there very pleasantly if you feel so disposed."

I willingly consented, and we accordingly left the restaurant. Once we
were in the street Hayle called a cab, gave the man his instructions,
and we entered it. Chatting pleasantly, and still smoking, we passed
along the brilliantly illuminated Boulevards. I bestowed little, if any,
attention on the direction in which we were proceeding. Indeed, it would
have been difficult to have done so for never during the evening had
Hayle been so agreeable. A more charming companion no man could have
desired. It was only on chancing to look out of the window that that I
discovered that we were no longer in the gaily-lighted thoroughfares,
but were entering another and dingier part of the town.

"What is the matter with the driver?" I asked. "Doesn't he know what he
is about? This is not the way to the Hippodrome! He must have
misunderstood what you said to him. Shall I hail him and point out
his mistake?"

"No, I don't think it is necessary for you to do that," he replied.
"Doubtless he will be on the right track in a few minutes. He probably
thinks if he gives us a longer ride, he will be able to charge a
proportionately larger fare at the end. The Parisian cabby is very like
his London brother."

He then proceeded to describe to me an exceedingly funny adventure that
had fallen him once in Chicago. The recital lasted some minutes, and all
the time we were still pursuing our way in a direction exactly opposite
to that which I knew we should be following. At last I could stand it
no longer.

"The man's obviously an idiot," I said, "and I am going to tell him so."

"I shouldn't do that, Mr. Fairfax," said Hayle in a different voice to
that in which he had previously addressed me. "I had my own reasons for
not telling you before, but the matter has already been arranged. The
man is only carrying out his instructions."

"What do you mean by already arranged?" I asked, not without some alarm.

"I mean that you are my prisoner, Mr. Fairfax," he said. "You see, you
are rather a difficult person to deal with, if I must pay you such a
compliment, and one has to adopt heroic measures in order to cope
with you."

"Then you've been humbugging me all this time," I cried; "but you've let
the cat out of the bag a little too soon. I think I'll bid you
good-bye."

I was about to rise from my seat and open the door, but he stopped me.
In his hand he held a revolver, the muzzle of which was in unpleasant
proximity to my head.

[Illustration: "IN HIS HAND HE HELD A REVOLVER."]

"I must ask you to be good enough to sit down," he said. "You had better
do so, for you cannot help yourself. If you attempt to make a fuss I
pledge you my word I shall shoot you, let the consequences to myself be
what they may. You know me, and you can see that I am desperate. My
offer to those men was only a bluff. I wanted to quiet any suspicions
you might have in order that I might get you into my hands. As you can
see for yourself, I could not have succeeded better than I have done. I
give you my word that you shall not be hurt, provided that you do not
attempt to escape or to call for help. If you do, then you know exactly
what you may expect, and you will have only yourself to blame. Be a
sensible man, and give in to the inevitable."

He held too many cards for me. I could see at a glance that I was
out-manoeuvred, and that there was nothing to be gained by a struggle. I
don't think I can be accused of cowardice; my reputation is too well
known for that. But I do decidedly object to being shot by a desperate
man, when there is not the least necessity for it.

"Very well," I said, lying back in my seat, "you have played your game
with your usual cleverness, and I suppose I deserve what I have got for
having been such a consummate idiot as to give you the opportunity you
wanted. Now, what are you going to do, and where are you going to
take me?"

"You will know everything in a few minutes," he answered. "In the
meantime I am glad to see that you take things so sensibly. In after
days you will laugh over this little incident."

"Whatever I may think in the future," I replied, "just at present it is
confoundedly unpleasant."

Ten minutes later the cab came to a standstill, there was the sound of
opening gates, and a moment later we drove into a stone-paved courtyard.



CHAPTER X

If you could have travelled the world at that moment, from north to
south, and from east to west, I believe you would have found it
difficult to discover a man who felt as foolish as I did when I entered
the gloomy dwelling-place as Hayle's prisoner. To say that I was
mortified by the advantage he had obtained over me would not express my
feelings in the least. To think that I, George Fairfax, who had the
reputation of being so difficult a man to trick, should have allowed
myself to fall into such a palpable trap, seemed sufficiently incredible
as to be almost a matter for laughter rather than rage. There was worse,
however, behind. Miss Kitwater had been so trustful of my capability for
bringing the matter to a successful conclusion, that I dared not imagine
what she would think of me now. Whichever way I looked at it, it was
obvious that Hayle must score. On the one side, he kept me locked up
while he not only made his escape from Paris, but by so doing cut off
every chance of my pursuing him afterwards; on the other, he might
console himself with the almost certain knowledge that I should be
discredited by those who had put their trust in me. How could it very
well be otherwise? I had committed the criminal folly of accepting
hospitality from the enemy, and from that moment I should not be seen.
The natural supposition would be that I had been bought, and that I was
not only taking no further interest in the case, but that I was keeping
out of the way of those who did. To add to my misery, I could easily
imagine the laugh that would go up on the other side of the Channel when
the trick that had been played upon me became known. But having so much
else to think of, that fact, you may be sure, did not trouble me very
much. There were two things, however, about which I was particularly
anxious; one was to set myself right with Miss Kitwater, and the other
was to get even, at any cost, with Hayle. The first seemed the more
difficult.

It must not be supposed that when I had alighted from the carriage I had
given up all hope of escape. On the contrary, had it not been for the
presence of three burly fellows, who immediately took up their places
beside me, I fancy I should have made a dash for liberty. Under the
circumstances, however, to have attempted such a thing would have been
the height of folly. Five to one, that is to say, if I include the
coachman in the number, with the gates closed behind me, were too long
odds, and however hard I might have fought, I could not possibly have
been successful.

"Perhaps you will be kind enough to step into the house," said Hayle.
"The air is cold out here, and I am afraid lest you might take
a chill."

Before complying with his order I looked round me once more to see if
there was any chance of escape. But so far as I could see there was not
one. I accordingly followed one of my captors into the building, the
remainder bringing up the rear.

From what I could see of the house with the help of the light from a
solitary candle hanging in a sconce upon the wall, it had once been a
handsome building. Now, however, it had fallen sadly to decay. The
ceiling of the hall had at one time been richly painted, but now only
blurred traces of the design remained. Crossing the hall, my guide
opened a door at the further end. In obedience to a request from Hayle,
I entered this room, to find myself standing in a fine apartment, so far
as size went, but sadly lacking in comfort where its furniture was
concerned. There was a bed, a table, three rough chairs, and an entirely
inadequate square of carpet upon the floor. I have already said that it
was a large room, and when I add that it was lighted only by two
candles, which stood upon the table in the centre, some idea will be
afforded of its general dreariness.

"Now look here, Mr. Hayle," I said, "the time has come for us to have a
serious talk together. You know as well as I do that in kidnapping me
you are laying yourself open to very serious consequences. If you think
that by so doing you are going to prevent me from eventually running you
to earth, you are very much mistaken. You have obtained a temporary
advantage over me, I will admit; but that advantage will not last. Do
not flatter yourself that it will."

"I am not so sure upon that point," said Hayle, lighting a cigarette as
he spoke. "If I did not think so I should not have gone to all this
trouble and expense. But why make such a fuss about it? You must surely
understand, Mr. Fairfax, that your profession necessarily entails risks.
This is one of them. You have been paid to become my enemy. I had no
personal quarrel with you. You can scarcely blame me, therefore, if I
retaliate when I have an opportunity. I don't know what you may think of
it, but the mere fact of you dining with me to-night is very likely to
go hard with you, so far as your clients are concerned. Would it be a
good advertisement for the famous George Fairfax to have it known that,
while he was taking his clients' money he was dining pleasantly in Paris
with the man they were paying him to find? I laid my trap for you, but I
must confess that I had not very much faith in its success. Your
experience should have made you more wary. A student of human character,
such as you are, should know that the leopard cannot change his spots,
or the tiger his----"

"If you continue in this strain much longer," I said, "I'll endeavour to
stop your tongue, whatever it may cost me. Now, either let me out, or
get out of the room yourself. I want to see no more of you while I am
in this house."

He blew a cloud of smoke, and then said nonchalantly--

"You had better occupy yourself thanking your stars that you are let off
so easily. At one time I was tempted to have you put out of the way
altogether. I am not quite certain it wouldn't be safer, even now. It
could be done so easily, and no one would be any the wiser. I know two
men now in Paris who would gladly run the risk for the sake of the
ill-will they bear you. I must think it over."

"Then think it over on the other side of that door," I said angrily.
"Play the same traitorous trick on me as you did on Kitwater and Codd if
you like, but you shall not stay in the same room with me now."

My reference to Kitwater and Codd must have touched him on a raw spot,
for he winced, and then tried to bluff it off.

"I rather fancy Messrs. Kitwater and Codd will just have such kindly
things to say concerning you in the future as they do about me now," he
said, as he moved towards the door. "And now I will wish you good-bye.
As I leave Paris almost immediately, I don't suppose I shall have the
pleasure of seeing you again. For your own sake I should advise you to
be quiet. I might tell you once and for all that you can't get out. The
door is a stout one, and the windows are exceptionally well barred. The
men to whom I have assigned the duty of looking after you are in their
way honest, though a little rough. Moreover, they are aware that their
own safety depends to a very great extent upon your not getting out.
Believe me, if you do not know already, that there is nothing like fear
for making a good watch-dog. Farewell, friend Fairfax! You have been
instrumental in sending a good many men into durance vile; you can tell
me later how you like being there yourself."

With that he went out, shutting the door behind him. I heard the key
turn in the lock, and a bolt shot at top and bottom. I thereupon went to
the window and examined it, only to discover that it was made secure on
the outside by large iron bars. So far as I could see, there was no
other way of escape from the room.

Though I laid down on the bed I did not sleep; my thoughts would not
permit of that. The face of the woman who had trusted me so profoundly
was before me continually, gazing at me with sweet reproachful eyes. Oh!
what a fool I had been to accept that rascal's invitation! The more I
thought of it, the angrier I became with myself. Now, goodness only knew
how long I should be confined in this wretched place, and what would
happen during my absence from the world!

At last the dawn broke, and with it, a weird sickly light penetrated
the room. I sprang from my bed and approached the window, only to find
that it overlooked a small courtyard, the latter being stoneflagged and
surrounded by high walls. I could see that, even if I were able to
squeeze my way out between the bars, I should be powerless to scale the
walls. At a rough guess these were at least twelve feet high, and
without a foothold of any sort or description. This being so I was
completely at the mercy of the men in the house. Indeed, a rat caught in
a trap, was never more firmly laid by the heels than I. At about
half-past seven o'clock a small trap-door, which I had not noticed near
the ground and the main door, was opened, and a grimy hand made its way
in and placed upon the floor a cup of coffee and a roll. Then it was
closed once more and made secure. I drank the coffee and munched the
roll, and, if the truth must be confessed, poor as they were felt the
better for both.

At mid-day a bowl of miserable soup was handed in; darkness, however,
had fallen some considerable time before I could detect any sound in the
hall outside that might be taken to mean the coming of my evening meal.
At last there was a clatter of feet, the bolts shot back, the key turned
in the lock, and the door opened. A man carrying a lantern entered,
followed by two others, and as the light fell upon his face, I uttered a
cry of astonishment, for he was none other than my old friend Leglosse,
while behind him was the infallible Lepallard.

"Well, thank goodness we have found you at last," cried Leglosse. "We
have had such a hunt for you as man never dreamed of. I called at your
apartments late last night, hoping to see you, on important business,
but you had not returned from a dinner to which you had been invited. I
called again this morning and was informed by the _concierge_ that they
had, up to that moment, seen nothing of you. When the good Lepallard
informed me that you had left the restaurant in a cab with Monsieur
Hayle, and that the latter had returned to his apartments this morning
in a great hurry, only to leave them a short time after with his
luggage, for the railway station, I began to grow uneasy. You have no
idea what a day I have had looking for you, but it has been well spent,
since we have the pleasure of seeing you again."

"I shall be grateful to you all my life for the service you have
rendered me," I replied. "But how did you manage to gain admittance to
this house?"

"It was quite easy; the birds had flown," he answered. "Has the
suspicion not struck you that they were going to clear out and leave you
here to starve?"

"The brutes," I answered. "But I'll be even with their leader yet. And
now let us get away from here as quickly as possible. Have you any idea
where our man has gone?"

"To Naples," Lepallard replied. "I disguised myself as a pompous old
bourgeois, and I was behind him when he asked for his ticket and
distinctly heard what he said."

"Then I shall go after him at once," I replied. "He will in all
probability be off his guard. He will imagine me to be still locked up
in this room, you see."

"And I shall accompany you, if you will permit me," said Leglosse.

"But why?" I asked in surprise. "What have you got to do with him? You
have no case against him, and you cannot spare the time to do it simply
out of kindness to me."

"It's not kindness, it's business, my friend," he replied. "You may not
believe it, but I have a warrant for your man's arrest."

"On what charge?"

"On a charge of being concerned in a big embezzlement in Cochin China,"
he answered. "We laid the other two men by the heels at the time, but
the Englishman, who was the prime mover in it, we have never been able
to lay our hands upon. I felt certain that day when I met him in
Amsterdam, that I had seen him somewhere before. Ever since then I have
been puzzling my brains to discover where it was, and why it was so
familiar to me. A photograph was eventually sent us of the Englishman
by the colonial authorities, but in that photograph he, the person I
suspect, wears a beard and a heavy moustache. It is the same man,
however, and the description, even to the mark upon the face, exactly
tallies with Hayle. Now I think I can help you to obtain a rather unique
revenge upon the man, that is to say, if you want it. From what you have
so far told me, I understand that you have no evidence against him
strong enough to justify the issue of a warrant. Well, I have that
evidence, and between us you may be sure we'll bring him back to Paris."

This was delightful hearing after all we had been through lately; at any
rate I greeted the prospect of Leglosse's co-operation with acclamation.
It would be hard, if between us we could not find Hayle and bring him to
the justice he so richly deserved.

"Now let us get out of this," I said. "I must obtain something to eat if
I perish in the attempt. I am well nigh starving. A basin of soup, a
roll and a cup of coffee, are all that I have had to-day."

"You shall dine at once," he answered, "and here. There is an excellent
little restaurant further down the street, and one of my men shall go
there and tell them to bring you up a meal. After that you shall go home
and change your costume, and then we will arrange what shall be done
about the travelling."

This programme was carried out to the letter. We made a good meal, at
least I know that I did, and when it was eaten, a cab was procured, and
in company with Leglosse I said good-bye to the house in which I had
spent so short a time, yet in which I had been so miserable.

"I shall never know how to repay you for your kindness," I said to my
companion as we drove down the street. "Had it not been for you and your
men I should now be starving in that wretched place. I'll certainly
forgive Hayle if he is ever successful enough to take me in again by one
of his rascally tricks."

"You must not let him do that," returned the Frenchman, shaking his
head. "Our reputations are at stake."

When I reached my own apartments the _concierge_ was much relieved to
see me. She had been told that I was dead, perhaps murdered, and
Leglosse's visit to find me had not helped to reassure her. A packet of
letters and telegrams was handed to me, which I carried up to my room,
to read them while I was changing my attire. Never before had I been so
glad to get out of a dress-suit.

I had just finished my toilet and was in the act of commencing the
packing of the bag I intended taking with me, when there was a tap at
the door. I opened it, to find the _concierge_ there.

"There is a lady in the parlor to see Monsieur," she said. "She has a
maid with her."

"A lady to see me?" I asked incredulously. "Who on earth can she be?"

The _concierge_ shook her head. In my own mind I had arrived at the
conclusion that it was Mademoiselle Beaumarais, and that Hayle had sent
her to discover, if possible, whether I had escaped from my confinement
or not. On finding out that I had she would telegraph to him, and once
more he would be placed on his guard. At first I felt almost inclined
not to see her, but on second thoughts I saw the folly of this
proceeding. I accordingly entered the room where the lady was awaiting
me. The light was not very good, but it was sufficient for me to see two
figures standing by the window.

"To what am I indebted for the honour of this visit, mademoiselles?" I
began.

"Don't you know me, Mr. Fairfax?" the taller of them answered. "You
forget your friends very quickly."

"Miss Kitwater?" I cried, "what does this mean?"

"It is a long story," she answered, "but I feel sure that you will have
time to hear it now. I am in terrible trouble."

"I am indeed sorry to hear that," I answered, and then glanced at her
maid as if to inquire whether it was safe to speak before her. She
interpreted the look correctly and nodded her head.

"Yes, Mr. Fairfax," she said, "you can say what you please before
Nelly."

"Then am I right in interpreting your trouble as being connected with
your uncle?" I asked.

"Yes, that is it," she answered. "You have guessed correctly. Do you
know that he and Mr. Codd have disappeared?"

"Disappeared?" I repeated. "Have you any idea where they have
disappeared to?"

"No, but I can hazard a very shrewd guess," she replied. "I believe
they have crossed to Paris in search of Mr. Hayle. Since last Sunday my
uncle had been more depressed than ever, while the paroxysms of rage to
which he is so subject, have been even more frequent than ever. If the
truth must be told, I fear his troubles have turned his brain, for he
talks to himself in such a queer way, and asks every few minutes if I
have received news from you, that I cannot help thinking his mind is not
what it should be. You must understand that on Saturday last, thinking
it might possibly be required for the case, I drew a large sum of money
from the bank; more than a hundred pounds, in fact. I securely locked it
up in my writing-table, and thought no one knew anything about it.
Yesterday afternoon my uncle and Mr. Codd went for a walk, and did not
return, though I waited for them for several hours. While I was thus
waiting I opened the drawer in the writing-table to procure something I
wanted, and discovered that the money was missing. Only one construction
could be placed upon it, Mr. Fairfax. They had wearied of their inactive
life, and had set off in search of Hayle."

"They are aware of his address in Paris, are they not?"

"Yes, my uncle repeated it from morning until night," she answered. "In
point of fact, he did little else. Oh! it terrifies me beyond measure to
think what may happen should they meet."

"You need not fear that," I replied. "Hayle has tired of Paris and has
bolted again. Very probably to a place where they cannot hope to
find him."

I believe she said "God be thanked" under her breath, but I am not quite
certain upon that point. I did not tell her of the trick Hayle had so
lately played upon myself. If the telling were necessary it would be
able to come later on.

"May I ask what brought you to Paris, Miss Kitwater?" I inquired, after
a pause.

"My great fear," she answered. "I wired to you from Charing Cross to say
that I was coming. Did you not receive my message?"

I remember the fact that, not having time to open them all before I was
called away, I had put some of the telegrams on one side. As ill luck
would have it, Miss Kitwater's must have been amongst these. I explained
that I had been away from the house all day, and only that
moment returned.

"I felt," she said, ignoring my excuses, "that I must come to you and
tell you all that has transpired. Also that I might implore you to keep
the men apart at any cost."

"We can easily find out whether they have arrived in Paris, and also
whether they have been to Hayle's apartments," I said. "That would
certainly be one of the places which they would try first."

While I was speaking there was the sound of a step in the corridor
outside and next moment Leglosse entered the room. He was in the highest
spirits, as he always was when he was about to undertake a new piece of
work. Seeing that I had visitors he came to a sudden standstill.

"A thousand pardons," he said in French. "I had no idea that you were
engaged. I will wait outside."

"Don't do anything of the kind," I returned in the same language. "Come
in and let me introduce you to Miss Kitwater, who has just arrived
from England."

"Miss Kitwater?" he repeated, in some surprise. "Surely I understood you
to say that your client, the gentleman who had lost his sight through
Hayle's treachery, was Monsieur Kitwater?"

"That is quite right, and this lady is his niece," I returned. "She has
brought me extraordinary intelligence. Her uncle and his companion have
suddenly disappeared from the little village in Surrey, where they have
been staying some time with her. It is her belief that they have come to
Paris in search of Hayle. There would have been trouble had they met,
but fortunately for them, and for Hayle, he has given them the slip once
more. It would be possible for you to find out whether they arrived by
this morning's train, and also whether they have made inquiries at
Hayle's apartments, would it not?"

"Quite possible," he answered. "It shall be done at once. I will let you
know in less than an hour what I have discovered."

I thanked him, whereupon he bowed to Miss Kitwater, and then
disappeared.

"Monsieur Leglosse is also in pursuit of Hayle," I explained. "He holds
a warrant for his arrest on a charge of embezzlement in Cochin China.
For that reason we are following him to Naples to-morrow morning."

"To Naples. Has the wretched man gone there?"

"So we have been led to believe," I answered.

"Then do you think my uncle will find it out and follow him?" she asked,
wringing her hands. "Oh! it is all too terrible. What shall I do?"

"Well, if I might be allowed to be like David Copperfield's Mr. Dick, I
should be practical, and say '_dine_'! I suppose you have had nothing to
eat since you left England?"

She gave a little wan smile.

"We have not had very much, certainly," she answered. "Poor Nelly, you
must be nearly starving."

The maid, however, protested that she was not; but was not to be denied.
Bidding them remain where they were, I went down-stairs and interviewed
my faithful friend, the _concierge_. With her I arranged that Miss
Kitwater and her maid should be provided with rooms in the house for
that night, and having done so went on to the nearest restaurant. In
something less than ten minutes all was settled, and in under twenty
they were seated at their meal. At first the girl would not sit down
with her mistress, but with her usual thoughtfulness, Miss Kitwater
ordered her to do so.

"And now, Mr. Fairfax," she said, when they had finished, "we must
discover a hotel where we can stay the night. At present we know of no
place in which to lay our heads."

"You need not trouble about that," I said, "I have already arranged
that you shall have rooms in this house if you care to occupy them. The
old lady to whom it belongs is a particular friend of mine, and will
certainly do her best to make you comfortable. I presume that it was
your bag I saw in the _concierge's_ office, when I was there just now?"

"We left it there," she answered, and then gave me my reward by
adding--"It is very kind of you, Mr. Fairfax to have taken so much
trouble. I cannot thank you sufficiently."

"You must not thank me at all," I replied. "In helping you I am only
doing my duty to my client."

I had scarcely said the words before I regretted them. It was a foolish
speech and a churlish one as well. She pretended not to notice it,
however, but bade her maid go down to the _concierge's_ office, and take
the bag to the room that had been allotted to her. The girl disappeared,
and when she had gone Miss Kitwater turned to me.

"Mr. Fairfax," she said, "I have yet another favour to ask of you. I
assure you it concerns me vitally. I want to know if you will let me go
with you to Naples. In order that I might not be in your way, we might
travel in different compartments; but go I must. I am so frightened
about my uncle. If I follow him to Naples, it is just possible I might
be able to dissuade him from pursuing Hayle. If he were to kill me for
preventing them, I would not let them meet. Believe me when I say that
I am terribly anxious about him. Besides----"

Here she paused for a moment as if she did not quite know how to
continue what she had to say to me.

"As I have said, you and Monsieur ---- I mean the French gentleman--could
travel in your own way. All that I want to be assured of is, that I may
be in Naples and at hand should anything happen."

"If you really wish it, I do not see why you should not go?" I replied
meditatively. "But if you desire my candid opinion I must say that I
think you would be far better off at home. Still if you desire to come,
it's not for me to gainsay your wishes. We will arrange therefore that,
unless you decide to the contrary in the meantime, you accompany us by
the 8.50 train to-morrow morning."

"I thank you," she said.

A few moments later Leglosse returned with the information that it was
as we suspected. Kitwater and Codd had arrived in Paris that morning,
and had visited Hayle's lodgings only to find him gone.

"What is more important still," he continued, "they have managed to
learn that Hayle had gone to Naples, and they will probably leave by the
2.50 train to-morrow morning for that city: It is as well, perhaps, that
we arranged to travel by the next."

"Courage, courage, Miss Kitwater," I said, seeing that she was
trembling. "Try not to be frightened. There is nothing to fear." Then
turning to Leglosse, I added--"Miss Kitwater has decided to accompany us
to Naples. As a matter of fact my position in the case has undergone a
change since I last saw you."

He looked from one to the other of us as if in astonishment.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Hitherto," I replied, "I have been acting against Hayle, with the
intention of securing him, in order that my clients might have a most
important meeting with him. For the future, however, my endeavours will
be used in the contrary direction. They must never meet!"

"Then the best way to bring about what you desire is to assist me,"
returned Leglosse. "Let me once get my hand upon him in the name of
France, and they will never meet."

"But we have to catch him before we do that," I said.

"Never-fear, we will do it," he answered confidently, and that seemed to
settle it.

Next morning at 8.50, we left Paris for Naples.



CHAPTER XI

It was in the early afternoon following our leaving Paris that we
reached Naples. By this time, in spite of our endeavours to prevent it,
Miss Kitwater was quite tired out. She certainly pretended not to be,
but it was difficult, if not impossible, for her to conceal the fact.
Immediately on arrival we conveyed her to the best hotel, of the
proprietor of which, Leglosse had already made inquiries, in order to
find out whether or not Hayle had taken up his abode there.

It was with relief that we discovered that no person answering at all to
his description was located there. That done we commenced our search for
the man we wanted. We decided to first try the offices of the various
steamers plying across the Mediterranean to Port Said. Considerably to
our amazement, however, we happened to be successful at the first cast.
A man signing himself Henry Gifford had applied for a first-class
passage to Colombo, with the intention of changing at that port into
another steamer for Hong Kong.

"What was he like?" I inquired of the clerk; "and did anything strike
you as peculiar about him or his appearance?"

"Well, there was one thing," he said. "And at the time I must say I
thought it funny. When I asked him his name, he began 'Gideon,' and then
suddenly corrected himself and said 'Henry Gifford.' I remember
wondering whether he was using a false name or not. He booked his
passage at the last moment, and seemed in a great hurry to get
aboard--being afraid he would miss the boat."

I questioned him as to the man's general appearance, and when I had
learned all he had to tell us, I was perfectly satisfied in my own mind
that Hayle was the man who had gone aboard.

"He didn't lose much time," said Leglosse. "Mark my words, he'll leave
the steamer at Port Said, and will either come back on his own tracks,
or go up the Palestine Coast to Jaffa, and thence back to Europe. What
do you think is the best thing to be done?"

"See the agent of the company here and get him to telegraph to Port
Said," I answered. "Both to their agent there and the captain of the
steamer. If the captain telegraphs back that Gifford is our man, we must
wire to the police authorizing them to detain him pending our arrival.
There is a bit of risk attached to it, but if we want to catch him we
must not think of that."

We accordingly interviewed the agent and placed the case before him. We
told him who we were, and Leglosse explained to him that he held a
warrant for the arrest of one Gideon Hayle, an individual whom he had
every reason to believe was endeavouring to escape under the assumed
name of Henry Gifford. The clerk was next called in, and gave his
evidence, and these matters having been settled, the telegrams were
despatched to both the captain and the agent.

Some four days we knew must certainly elapse before we could receive a
reply, and that time was devoted to searching the city for Kitwater and
Codd. That they had not booked passages in the same boat in which Hayle
had sailed, we soon settled to our satisfaction. In that case we knew
that they must be domiciled in Naples somewhere. In the intervals
between our search Leglosse and I used our best endeavours to make Miss
Kitwater enjoy her stay. We took her to Pompeii, climbed Vesuvius
together, visited Capri, Ischia, the Great Museum, the King's Palace,
and dined together every evening. I had not been acquainted with the
girl much more than a fortnight, and yet I felt as if I had known her
all my life, and the greater my experience of her was, the better I
liked her. As for Leglosse, he outdid himself in his devotion. He made
the most extraordinary toilets in her honour, and on one occasion went
even so far as to inform me that, if all Englishwomen were like this
particular specimen, he would say good-bye to his beloved Paris, and
cross the Channel never to return again.

At last the eventful day arrived, and from nine till twelve we called
repeatedly at the office for the telegram that was to mean so much to
us. It was not, however, until the afternoon was well advanced that a
message was received. I could have taken my stick to the agent for the
slowness with which he opened the envelope. The clerk was called in, the
code translated, and the message presently transcribed.

"This, gentlemen," he said at last, pointing to the telegram, "is from
our agent in Port Said, and is as follows--

"Gifford, small man, grey hair, and wears spectacles. No scar on face,
cannot find first-class passenger with one. Fear you have been
deceived."

"Confound the fellow," I cried, "he's done us again. What's worse, we've
wasted four precious days waiting for this message. What shall we
do now?"

"Look for him elsewhere," said Leglosse. "If he didn't go by that boat,
he might have left by another."

We thanked the agent for his courtesy, and were about to leave the
office when another telegram was handed in. We waited to see whether it
was from the captain, and presently found that we were not destined to
be disappointed. Once more the agent consulted his code, transcribed the
message, and read it to us.

"Have interviewed Gifford, threatened him with the police for using
passage booked by another person. He confesses having been induced by
stranger such as you describe to accept passage Colombo. How shall
I act?"

"We've been done again," I cried, bringing my fist down with a thump
upon the table. "It's only another proof of Hayle's cleverness. The
ingenuous rascal books his passage here, knowing very well that it will
be one of the first places at which we shall make inquiries, lets fall a
'Gideon', and then transfers his ticket to somebody else. I suppose he
didn't bargain for my getting out of that house in time to follow him,
and to telegraph to Port Said. Now that we are certain that he did not
go that way, we must try and find out in what direction he did proceed."

"And also what has become of the blind man and his companion," said
Leglosse. "They may be hot upon his trail, and if we can only discover
them, and keep an eye on them, we may find out all we want to know. But
it is likely to prove a difficult task."

We tried the various shipping offices, without success. We called at
every hotel, important or otherwise, questioned the City Police, who
assured us they had seen nothing of the men we described and finally
were compelled to own ourselves thoroughly well beaten. Leglosse's face
was the picture of despair, and I fear mine was not much better. We
inserted advertisements in the papers, but with no more luck than
before. From the moment the trio had entered Naples, they seemed to have
vanished entirely. Then one evening, a ragged little urchin called at
the hotel and asked to see us. In reply to our questions, he informed us
that he had seen two Englishmen only the day before, such as the police
said we were inquiring for; one of them was blind, the other dumb.
Indeed he was sure of this, for the reason that he had carried their bag
for them down to the harbour whence the Palermo boat sailed. We pricked
up our ears on hearing this. If his story was correct, and Kitwater and
Codd had visited Sicily, then without a doubt Hayle must have gone there
too. But we had no desire to allow ourselves to be taken in again. It
might be another of Hayle's tricks, and for this reason we questioned
the boy more closely; he adhered, however, to his story without a
variation. His description of the men was perfect in every respect, and
he assured us most emphatically that he knew nothing of any individual
with such a scar upon his face as Hayle possessed. At last we became
convinced that his story was genuine, and we rewarded the boy
accordingly. After he had disappeared we informed Miss Kitwater of the
discovery we had made.

"You will follow them to Palermo?"

"Assuredly, mademoiselle," Leglosse replied. "I have my duty to
perform."

"Then I must go with you," she answered. "If he is on the island the
chase must be drawing to a close, and I must be present to protect him,
if possible, against himself."

Accordingly next morning, for the steamer for that day had long since
sailed, we set out for the kingdom of Sicily, that gem among Islands, as
Goethe terms it. It was the first time Miss Kitwater had seen the
southern coast, and for this reason I made her promise that she would
rise early next morning in order that she might witness our approach to
the far-famed island. This she did, and side by side we watched the
vessel draw closer to the land. Away to the west lay the island of
Ustica, its outline sharply defined in the clear morning air.

"How beautiful it all is!" she said, "and to think that we are sailing
such lovely seas upon such an errand."

"You must try not to think about it," I said. "'Sufficient unto the day
is the evil thereof.' Let us hope that it will all come right in the
end. If only Leglosse can get hold of Hayle first, your uncle cannot
possibly do him any harm, however much disposed he may be that way.
Between us we ought to be able to manage that."

Shortly after breakfast we obtained our first glimpse of Sicily. It was
a scene never to be forgotten. The blue seas, the towering mountains
rising apparently out of it, made up a picture that was lovely beyond
compare. Presently we steamed into the harbour, and made our way to the
Dogana, where our luggage was examined. Here we commenced our inquiries
concerning Kitwater and Codd, and had the satisfaction of learning, on
undeniable authority, that the story the boy had told us was correct.
Such terrible infirmities as theirs could scarcely fail to attract
notice, and more than one of the officials remembered seeing and
commiserating them. On leaving the Dogana, they had travelled to the
city by cab, so we were informed.

"The man who drove them is outside now," said one of them. "Perhaps the
senor would care to question him."

I replied that I should like very much to do so, and we accordingly went
out into the street together. It appeared that the cabman remembered his
fares perfectly, the more so by reason of the fact that the blind man
had sworn at him for not using greater speed in reaching the city. He
had driven them to some furnished lodgings kept by his cousin, he said,
and was proceeding to recommend them to us, when I cut him short by
informing him that we had already decided upon a hotel. We thereupon
entered the vehicle, he mounted the box, and we set off. From the moment
that we had set foot ashore Miss Kitwater had been growing more and more
nervous. When it was taken into consideration that before nightfall some
very unpleasant things might happen, I do not think this fact is to be
wondered at. I pitied her from the bottom of my heart, and was prepared
to do all that lay in my power to help her. It was a strange change for
her, from the quiet little village of Bishopstowe, to the pursuit of a
criminal across Europe to an island in the Mediterranean.

"And when it is over?" was the question I asked myself on numerous
occasions. "What is going to happen then? I suppose I shall bid her
good-bye, she will thank me for the trouble I have taken, and then our
acquaintance will be at an end."

After that it had become my habit to heave a prodigious sigh, and to
wonder whether she could ever be induced to----

But somehow I never got much further with my speculations. Was it likely
she would ever think twice of me? She was invariably kind and
thoughtful; she deferred to me on everything, and seemed to think my
opinions and actions must of necessity be right. Apart from that I felt
certain I had made no other impression upon her.

"Now, _mon ami_," said Leglosse, when we had installed ourselves at our
hotel, "I think it would be better that you should efface yourself for a
time. None of the men we are after know me, but Hayle and Codd would
both recognize you at once. Let me go into the town to make a few
inquiries, and if they are satisfactory we shall know how to act. Do
your best to amuse mademoiselle, and I will hasten back to you as soon
as I have anything to tell."

Upon my consenting to this arrangement he set off, leaving me free to
devote myself to the amusement of Miss Kitwater. As soon as she joined
me we made our way into the garden of the hotel, and seating ourselves
on a comfortable bench, spent the remainder of the morning basking in
the sunshine, and watching the exquisite panorama that was spread out
before us.

"I wonder what they are doing at Bishopstowe now?" I said, and a moment
later wished I had held my tongue.

"Poor little Bishopstowe," my companion answered. "How thankful I shall
be to get safely back to it! I don't think I shall ever want to
travel again."

"Ah! you cannot tell," I replied. "You are seeing the world just now
under very unfavourable auspices. Some day perhaps you will follow the
same route under conditions as happy as these are the reverse."

I think she must have guessed to what I referred, for her face flushed a
little, and she hastily diverted the conversation into another channel,
by drawing my attention to a picturesque sailing-boat which at that
moment was entering the harbour. I tried to entice her back to the
subject later, but she would plainly have none of it. Only once did she
refer to it, and that was when we were making our way back to the hotel
to lunch. I stated my fear lest she should find all this running about
from place to place tiring for her.

"You need not be afraid of that," she answered. "I am very strong, and
am not easily tired. Besides, you have been so good and kind, Mr.
Fairfax, and have done so much to ensure my comfort, that, if only out
of gratitude to you, I could not very well be fatigued. I think you know
how grateful I am to you, do you not?"

As she said this she looked up at me with her beautiful trusting eyes,
and so overwhelmed me that it was as much as I could do to keep back the
words that rose to the tip of my tongue. I answered her to the effect
that I had only done my best to promote her comfort, and was about to
say something further, when Leglosse made his appearance before us.
There was a look of great satisfaction upon his face.

"I think I know now all that there is to know," he said. "If
mademoiselle will excuse me, I will tell it. Monsieur Hayle arrived here
some five days ago, and has taken possession of a charming villa some
ten miles from the city. It is situated on the coast and the agent
declares it to be unique. How long he intends to occupy it, he, the
agent, could not say, but he has paid a high rent for it in advance,
which appears to have given unlimited satisfaction. The other two men
are still prowling about the city in search of him, but so far they have
not been successful in their endeavours."

"Could I not go to my uncle?" Miss Kitwater inquired. "It might be
possible for me to persuade him to leave the island without seeing this
wretched man."

"I fear it would be useless," I answered. "And you would only cause
yourself unnecessary pain. No! what we must do is to communicate with
the Palermo police: Leglosse can show them his warrant, and then we must
endeavour to get Hayle under lock and key, and then out of the island,
without waste of time. That is the best course, believe me."

"If all goes well, I shall make the arrest to-night," said Leglosse, and
then added, "I must get back to Paris as soon as possible."

That afternoon he went out once more, this time to interview the police
authorities. At five o'clock he returned in a state of great excitement.

"The other two have discovered Hayle's whereabouts," he said, when we
were alone together. "And they have set off in pursuit. They have been
gone more than an hour, and, unless we start at once, we shall be too
late to take him before they run him to earth."

"Good Heavens! Are you quite sure of this?"

"As sure as I can be of anything," he answered. "I have been to their
house."

"Do not say anything about this to Miss Kitwater," I said hurriedly. "We
must make the best excuse we can to account for our absence."

I tried to do this, but she saw through my endeavour.

"You are going to arrest him, I can see," she said. "Poor unhappy man!
But there, I would rather that should happen than he and my uncle should
meet. Go, Mr. Fairfax, and I pray God you may be successful."

Leglosse had already engaged a cab, and when I joined him I discovered
that he had also brought a Sicilian police official with him. This
individual gave the driver his instructions, and away we went. As we had
informed the cabman, previous to setting out, that there was no time to
be lost, we covered the distance in fine style, and just as the sun was
sinking behind the mountains entered the little village on the outskirts
of which the villa was situated. It was a delightful spot, a mere
cluster of human habitations, clinging to the mountain-side. The Angelus
was sounding from the campanile of the white monastery, further up the
hill-side as we drove along the main street. Leaving the village behind
us we passed on until we came to the gates of the park in which the
villa was situated. We had already formed our plans, and it was arranged
that the island official should send his name in to Hayle, Leglosse and
I keeping in the background as much as possible. We descended from the
carriage and Leglosse rang the bell which we discovered on the wall;
presently the door was opened, and a wizened-up little man made his
appearance before us. An animated conversation ensued, from which it
transpired that the new occupant of the villa was now in the pavilion at
the foot of the grounds.

"In that case conduct us to him," said the officer, "but remember this,
we desire to approach without being seen. Lead on!"

The old man obeyed and led us by a winding path through the orangery for
upwards of a quarter of a mile. At the end of that walk we saw ahead of
us a handsome white edifice, built of stucco, and of the summer-house
order. It stood on a small plateau on the first slope of the cliff and
commanded an exquisite view of the bay, the blue waters of which lay
some two hundred feet or so below it.

"His Excellency is in there," said the old man, in his Sicilian patois.

"Very good, in that case you can leave us," said the officer, "we can
find our way to him ourselves."

The old man turned and left us, without another word, very well pleased,
I fancy, to get out of the way of that functionary. Goodness only knows
what memories of stolen vegetables and fruit had risen in his mind.

"Before we go in," I said, "would it not be as well to be prepared for
any emergencies? Remember he is not a man who would stick at much."

We accordingly arranged our plan of attack in case it should be
necessary, and then approached the building. As we drew nearer the sound
of voices reached our ears. At first I was not able to recognize them,
but as we ascended the steps to the pavilion, I was able to grasp the
real facts of the case.

"Good Heavens!" I muttered to myself, "that's Kitwater's voice." Then
turning to Leglosse, I whispered, "We're too late, they're here
before us."

It certainly was Kitwater's voice I had heard, but so hoarse with fury
that at any other time I should scarcely have recognized it.

"Cover him, Codd," he was shouting, "and if he dares to move shoot him
down like the dog he is. You robbed us of our treasure, did you? And you
sneaked away at night into the cover of the jungle, and left us to die
or to be mutilated by those brutes of Chinese. But we've run you down at
last, and now when I get hold of you, by God, I'll tear your eyes and
your tongue out, and you shall be like the two men you robbed and
betrayed. Keep your barrel fixed on him, Codd, I tell you! Remember if
he moves you are to fire. Oh! Gideon Hayle, I've prayed on my bended
knees for this moment, and now it's come and----"

At this moment we entered the room to find Hayle standing with his back
to the window that opened into the balcony, which in its turn overlooked
the somewhat steep slope that led to the cliff and the sea. Codd was on
the left of the centre table, a revolver in his hand, and a look upon
his face that I had never seen before. On the other side of the table
was Kitwater, with a long knife in his hand. He was leaning forward in a
crouching position, as if he were preparing for a spring. On hearing our
steps, however, he turned his sightless face towards us. It was Hayle,
however, who seemed the most surprised. He stared at me as if I were a
man returned from the dead.

"Put up that revolver, Codd," I cried. "And you, Kitwater, drop that
knife. Hayle, my man, it's all up. The game is over, so you may as
well give in."

Leglosse was about to advance upon him, warrant in one hand and manacles
in the other.

"What does this mean?" cried Hayle.

His voice located him, and before we could either of us stop him,
Kitwater had sprung forward and clutched him in his arms. Of what
followed next I scarcely like to think, even now. In cannoning with
Hayle he had dropped his knife, and now the two stood while a man could
have counted three, locked together in deadly embrace. Then ensued such
a struggle as I hope I shall never see again, while we others stood
looking on as if we were bound hand and foot. The whole affair could
not have lasted more than a few moments, and yet it seemed like an
eternity. Kitwater, with the strength of a madman, had seized Hayle
round the waist with one arm, while his right hand was clutching at the
other's throat. I saw that the veins were standing out upon Hayle's
forehead like black cords. Do what he could, he could not shake off the
man he had so cruelly wronged. They swayed to and fro, and in one of
their lurches struck the window, which flew open and threw them into the
balcony outside. Codd and the Sicilian police official gave loud cries,
but as for me I could not have uttered a sound had my life depended on
it. Hayle must have realized his terrible position, for there was a look
of abject, hopeless terror upon his face. The blind man, of course,
could see nothing of his danger. His one desire was to be revenged upon
his enemy. Closer and closer they came to the frail railing. Once they
missed it, and staggered a foot away from it. Then they came back to it
again, and lurched against it. The woodwork snapped, and the two men
fell over the edge on to the sloping bank below. Still locked together
they rolled over and over, down the declivity towards the edge of the
cliff. A great cry from Hayle reached our ears. A moment later they had
disappeared into the abyss, while we stood staring straight before us,
too terrified to speak or move.

[Illustration: "THE WOODWORK SNAPPED, AND THE TWO MEN FELL OVER THE
EDGE."]

Leglosse was the first to find his voice.

"My God!" he said, "how terrible! how terrible!"

Then little Codd sank down, and, placing his head upon his hands on the
table, sobbed like a little child.

"What is to be done?" I asked, in a horrified whisper.

"Go down to the rocks and search for them," said the Sicilian officer,
"but I doubt if we shall be able to find them; the sea is very deep off
this point."

We went! Kitwater's body we discovered, terribly mutilated upon the
rocks. Hayle's remains were never found. Whether he fell into the deep
water and was washed out to sea, or whether his body was jammed between
the rocks under the water, no one would ever be able to say. It was
gone, and with it all that were left of the stones that had occasioned
their misery.

Codd did not accompany us in the search, and when we returned to the
villa above he was not to be found. Never since the moment when we left
him sobbing at the table have I set eyes on him, and now, I suppose, in
all human probability I never shall.

Later on we returned to Palermo to break the news to Miss Kitwater.
Shocked though she was, she received the tidings with greater calmness
than I had expected she would do. Perhaps, after all, she felt that it
was better that it should have ended so.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three years have elapsed since we paid that terrible visit to Palermo.
It may surprise you, or it may not, when I say that I am now a married
man, Margaret Kitwater having consented to become my wife two years ago
next month. The only stipulation she made when she gave her decision was
that upon my marriage I should retire from the profession in which I had
so long been engaged. As I had done sufficiently well at it to warrant
such a step, I consented to do so, and now I lead the life of a country
gentleman. It may interest some people to know that a certain day-dream,
once thought so improbable, has come true, inasmuch as a considerable
portion of my time is spent in the little conservatory which, as I have
said elsewhere, leads out of the drawing-room. I usually wear a soft
felt hat upon my head, and as often as not I have a pipe in my mouth.
Every now and then Margaret, my wife, looks in upon me, and occasionally
she can be persuaded to bring a young Fairfax with her, who, some people
say, resembles his father. For my own part I prefer that he should be
like his mother--whom, very naturally, I consider the best and sweetest
woman in the world.

~THE END~








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