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Hushed Up - A Mystery of London
by William Le Queux
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Ours was now a peaceful, uneventful life, careless of the morrow, and filled with perfect love and concord. I adored my young beautiful wife, and I envied no man.

I had crushed down all feelings of misgivings that had hitherto so often arisen within me, for I felt confident in Sylvia's affection. She lived only for me, possessing me body and soul.

Not a pair in the whole of England loved each other with a truer or more fervent passion. Our ideas were identical, and certainly I could not have chosen a wife more fitted for me—even though she rested beneath such a dark cloud of suspicion.

I suppose some who read this plain statement of fact will declare me to have been a fool. But to such I would reply that in your hearts the flame of real love has never yet burned. You may have experienced what you have fondly believed to have been love—a faint flame that has perhaps flickered for a time and, dying out, has long been forgotten. Only if you have really loved a woman—loved her with that all-consuming passion that arises within a man once in his whole lifetime when he meets his affinity, can you understand why I made Sylvia my wife.

I had the car brought up to meet us in Perth, and with it Sylvia and I had explored all the remotest beauties of the Highlands. We ran up as far north as Inverness, and around to Oban, delighting in all the beauties of the heather-clad hills, the wild moors, the autumn-tinted glades, and the broad unruffled lochs. Afterwards we went round the Trossachs and motored back to London through Carlisle, the Lakes, North Wales and the Valley of the Wye, the most charming of all motor-runs in England.

Afterwards, Sylvia wanted to do some shopping, and we went over to Paris for ten days. There, while at the Meurice, her father, who chanced to be passing through Paris on his way from Brussels to Lyons, came unexpectedly one evening and dined with us in our private salon.

Pennington was just as elegant and epicurean as ever. He delighted in the dinner set before him, the hotel, of course, being noted for its cooking.

That evening we were a merry trio. I had not seen my father-in-law since the morning of our marriage, when I had called, and found him confined to his bed. Therefore we had both a lot to relate to him regarding our travels.

"I, too, have been moving about incessantly," he remarked, as he poised his wine-glass in his hand, regarding the colour of its contents. "I was in Petersburg three weeks ago. I'm interested in some telegraph construction works there. We've just secured a big Government contract to lay a new line across Siberia."

"I've written to you half-a-dozen times," remarked his daughter, "but you never replied."

"I've never had your letters, child," he said. "Where did you address them?"

"Two I sent to the Travellers' Club, here. Another I sent to the Hotel de France, in Petersburg."

"Ah! I was at the Europe," he laughed. "I find their cooking better. Their sterlet is even better than the Hermitage at Moscow. Jules, the chef, was at Cubat's, in the Nevski, for years."

Pennington always gauged a hotel by the excellence of its chef. He told us of tiny obscure places in Italy which he knew, where the rooms were carpetless and comfortless, but where the cooking could vie with the Savoy or Carlton in London. He mentioned the Giaponne in Leghorn, the Tazza d'Oro in Lucca, and the Vapore in Venice, of all three of which I had had experience, and I fully corroborated what he said. He was a man who ate his strawberries with a quarter of a liqueur-glass of maraschino thrown over them, and a slight addition of pepper, and he always mixed his salads himself.

"Perhaps you think me very whimsical," he laughed across the table, "but really, good cooking makes so much difference to life."

I told him that, as an Englishman, I preferred plainly-cooked food.

"Which is usually heavy and indigestible, I fear," he declared. "What, now, could be more indigestible than our English roast beef and plum pudding—eh?"

My own thoughts were, however, running in an entirely different channel, and when presently Sylvia, who looked a delightful picture in ivory chiffon, and wearing the diamond necklet I had given her as one of her wedding presents, rose and left us to our cigars, I said suddenly—

"I say, Pennington, do you happen to know a stout, grey-bearded Frenchman who wears gold-rimmed glasses—a man named Pierre Delanne?"

"Delanne?" he repeated. "No, I don't recollect the name."

"I saw him in Manchester," I exclaimed. "He was at the Midland, and said he knew you—and also Sylvia."

"In Manchester! Was he at the Midland while I was there?"

"Yes. He was dressed in black, with a silk hat and wore on his finger a great amethyst ring—a rather vulgar-looking ornament."

Pennington's lips were instantly pressed together.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, almost with a start, "I think I know who you mean. His beard is pointed, and his eyes rather small and shining. He has the air of a bon-vivant, and speaks English extremely well. He wears the amethyst on the little finger of his left hand."

"Exactly."

"And, to you, he called himself Pierre Delanne, eh?"

"Yes. What is his real name, then?"

"Who knows? I've heard that he uses half-a-dozen different aliases," replied my father-in-law.

"Then you know him?"

"Well—not very well," was Pennington's response in a rather strange voice, I thought. "Did he say anything regarding myself?"

"Only that he had seen you in Manchester."

"When did you see him last?"

"Well," I said, "as a matter of fact he met me in London the same night, and I fancy I have caught sight of him twice since. The first occasion was a fortnight ago in Princes Street, Edinburgh, when I saw him coming forth from the North British Hotel with another man, also a foreigner. They turned up Princes Street, and then descended the steps to the station before I could approach sufficiently close. I was walking with Sylvia, so could not well hasten after them. The second occasion was yesterday, when I believe I saw him in a taxi passing us as we drove out to tea at Armenonville."

"Did he see you?" asked Pennington quickly.

"I think so. I fancy he recognized me."

"Did Sylvia see him?" he asked almost breathlessly.

"No."

"Ah!" and he seemed to breathe again more freely.

"Apparently he is not a very great friend of yours," I ventured to remark.

"No—he isn't; and if I were you, Biddulph, I would avoid him like the plague. He is not the kind of person desirable as a friend. You understand."

"I gathered from his conversation that he was something of an adventurer," I said.

"That's just it. Myself, I always avoid him," he replied. Then he turned the conversation into a different channel. He congratulated me upon our marriage and told me how Sylvia, when they had been alone together for a few moments before dinner, had declared herself supremely happy.

"I only hope that nothing may occur to mar your pleasant lives, my dear fellow," he said, slowly knocking the ash from his cigar. "In the marriage state one never knows whether adversity or prosperity lies before one."

"I hope I shall meet with no adversity," I said.

"I hope not—for Sylvia's sake," he declared.

"What is for Sylvia's sake?" asked a cheery voice, and, as we both looked up in surprise, we found that she had re-entered noiselessly, and was standing laughing mischievously by the open door. "It is so dull being alone that I've ventured to come back. I don't mind the smoke in the least."

"Why, of course, darling!" I cried, jumping from my chair and pulling forward an arm-chair for her.

I saw that it was a bright night outside, and that the autos with their sparkling lights like shooting stars were passing and repassing with honking horns up and down the Rue de Rivoli. For a moment she stood at my side by the window, looking down into the broad thoroughfare below.

Then, a second later, she suddenly cried—

"Why, look, Owen! Do you see that man with the short dark overcoat standing under the lamp over there? I've seen him several times to-day. Do you know, he seems to be watching us!"

"Watching you!" cried her father, starting to his feet and joining us. The long wooden sun-shutters were closed, so, on opening the windows which led to the balcony we could see between the slats without being observed from outside.

I looked at the spot indicated by my wife, and then saw on the other side of the way a youngish-looking man idly smoking a cigarette and gazing in the direction of the Place de la Concorde, as though expecting some one.

I could not distinguish his features, yet I saw that he wore brown boots, and that the cut of his clothes and the shape of his hat were English.

"Where have you seen him before?" I asked of her.

"I first met him when I came out of Lentheric's this morning. Then, again, when we lunched at the Volnay he was standing at the corner of the Rue de la Paix and the Rue Daunou. He followed us in the Rue Royale later on."

"And now he seems to have mounted guard outside, eh?" I remarked, somewhat puzzled. "Why did you not tell me this before?"

"I did not wish to cause you any anxiety, Owen," was her simple reply, while her father asked—

"Do you know the fellow? Ever seen him before, Sylvia?"

"Never in my life," she declared. "It's rather curious, isn't it?"

"Very," I said.

And as we all three watched we saw him move away a short distance and join a taller man who came from the direction he had been looking. For a few moments they conversed. Then the new-comer crossed the road towards us and was lost to sight.

In a few seconds a ragged old man, a cripple, approached the mysterious watcher with difficulty, and said something to him as he passed.

"That cripple is in the business!" cried Pennington, who had been narrowly watching. "He's keeping observation, and has told him something. Some deep game is being played here, Biddulph."

"I wonder why they are watching?" I asked, somewhat apprehensive of the coming evil that had been so long predicted.

Father and daughter exchanged curious glances. It seemed to me as though a startling truth had dawned upon them both. I stood by in silence.

"It is certainly distinctly unpleasant to be watched like this—providing, of course, that Sylvia has not made a mistake," Pennington said.

"I have made no mistake," she declared quickly. "I've been much worried about it all day, but did not like to arouse Owen's suspicions;" and I saw by her face that she was in dead earnest.

At the same moment, however, a light tap was heard upon the door and a waiter opened it, bowing as he announced—

"Monsieur Pierre Delanne to see Monsieur Biddulph."

"Great Heavens, Sylvia!" cried Pennington, standing pale-faced and open-mouthed. "It's Guertin! He must not discover that I am in Paris!" Then, turning to me in fear, he implored: "Save me from this meeting, Biddulph! Save me—if you value your wife's honour, I beg of you. I'll explain all afterwards. Only save me!"



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

DESCRIBES AN UNWELCOME VISIT

Pennington's sudden fear held me in blank surprise.

Ere I could reply to him he had slipped through the door which led into my bedroom, closing it after him, just as Delanne's stout figure and broad, good-humoured face appeared in the doorway.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "Meester Biddulph!" and he bowed politely over my hand.

Then, turning to Sylvia, who stood pale and rigid, he put forth his hand, and also bowed low over hers, saying in English: "My respects—and heartiest congratulations to madame."

His quick eyes wandered around the room, then he added—

"Meester Pennington is here; where is he? I am here to speak with him."

"Pennington was here," I replied, "but he has gone."

"Then he only went out this moment! I must see him. He is in the hotel!" my visitor exclaimed quickly.

"I suppose he is," I replied rather faintly; "we had better ask the waiter. He is not stopping here. He merely came to-night to dine with us."

"Of course," said Delanne. "He arrived by the 2.37 train from Bruxelles, went to the Hotel Dominici, near the Place Vendome, sent you a petit-bleu, and arrived here at 6.30. I am here because I wish to see him most particularly. I was in Orleans when the news of my friend's arrival in Paris was telephoned to me—I have only just arrived."

I opened the door leading to my bedroom, and called my father-in-law, but there was no response. In an instant Delanne dashed past me, and in a few seconds had searched the suite.

"Ah, of course!" he cried, noticing that the door of my wife's room led back to the main corridor; "my friend has avoided me. He has passed out by this way. Still, he must be in the hotel."

He hurried back to the salon, and, opening the shutters, took off his hat.

Was it some signal to the watchers outside? Ere I could reach his side, however, he had replaced his hat, and was re-entering the room.

"Phew! this place is stifling hot, my dear friend," he said. "I wonder you do not have the windows open for a little!"

Sylvia had stood by in silence. I saw by her face that the Frenchman's sudden appearance had caused her the greatest alarm and dismay. If Delanne was her father's friend, why did the latter flee in such fear? Why had he implored me to save him? From what?

The Frenchman seemed highly disappointed, for finding the waiter in the corridor he asked him in French which way the Englishman had fled.

The waiter, however, declared that he had seen nobody in the corridor, a reply which sorely puzzled Delanne.

"Where is he?" he demanded of Sylvia.

"I have no idea," was her faltering reply. "He simply went into the next room a few moments ago."

"And slipped out in an endeavour to make his exit, eh?" asked the man, with a short, harsh laugh. "I quite expected as much. That is why I intended to have a straight business talk with him."

"He is in no mood to talk business just now," said my wife, and then—and only then—did I recollect that this man was the associate of the assassin Reckitt.

This fact alone aroused my antagonism towards him. Surely I was glad that Pennington had got away if, as it seemed, he did not wish to meet his unwelcome visitor.

"He shall talk business!" cried the Frenchman, "and very serious business!"

Then turning, he hurried along the corridor in the direction of the main staircase and disappeared.

"What does all this mean?" I asked Sylvia, who still stood there pale and panting.

"I—I don't know, Owen," she gasped. Then, rushing across to the window, she looked out.

"That man has gone!" she cried. "I—I knew he was watching, but had no idea of the reason."

"He was evidently watching for your father," I said.

"He was watching us—you and I—not him."

We heard two men pass the door quickly. One of them exclaimed in French—

"See! The window at the end! It would be easy to get from there to the roof of the next house."

"Yes!" cried his companion. "He has evidently gone that way. We must follow."

"Hark!" I said. "Listen to what they are saying! Delanne is following your father!"

"He is his worst enemy," she said simply. "Do you not remember that he was watching him in Manchester?"

The fact that he was an associate of Reckitt puzzled me. I felt highly resentful that the fellow should have thus intruded upon my privacy and broken up my very pleasant evening. He had intruded himself upon me once before, causing me both annoyance and chagrin. I looked forth into the corridor, and there saw the figures of two men in the act of getting through the window at the end, while a waiter and a femme-de-chambre stood looking on in surprise.

"Who is that man?" I asked of Sylvia, as I turned back into our salon.

"His real name is Guertin," she replied.

"He told me that he knew you."

"Perhaps," she laughed, just a trifle uneasily, I thought. "I only know that he is my father's enemy. He is evidently here to hunt him down, and to denounce him."

"As what?"

But she only shrugged her shoulders. Next instant I saw that I had acted wrongly in asking Sylvia to expose her own father, whatever his faults might have been.

Again somebody rushed past the door and then back again to the head of the staircase. The whole of the quiet aristocratic hotel seemed to have suddenly awakened from its lethargy. Indeed, a hue and cry seemed to have been started after the man who had until a few moments before been my guest.

What could this mean? Had it not been for the fact that Guertin—or Delanne, as he called himself—was a friend of the assassin Reckitt, I would have believed him to have been an agent of the surete.

We heard shouting outside the window at the end of the corridor. It seemed as though a fierce chase had begun after the fugitive Englishman, for yet another man, a thin, respectably-dressed mechanic, had run along and slipped out of the window with ease as though acquired by long practice.

I, too, ran to the window and looked out. But all I could see in the night was a bewildering waste of roofs and chimneys extending along the Rue de Rivoli towards the Louvre. I could only distinguish one of the pursuers outlined against the sky. Then I returned to where Sylvia was standing pale and breathless.

Her face was haggard and drawn, and I knew of the great tension her nerves must be undergoing. Her father was certainly no coward. Fearing that he could not escape by either the front or back door of the hotel his mind had been quickly made up, and he had made his exit by that window, taking his chance to hide and avoid detection on those many roofs in the vicinity.

The position was, to me, extremely puzzling. I could not well press Sylvia to tell me the truth concerning her father, for I had noticed that she always had shielded him, as was natural for a daughter, after all.

Was he an associate of Reckitt and Forbes, as I had once suspected? Yet if he were, why should Delanne be his enemy, for he certainly was Reckitt's intimate friend.

Sylvia was filled with suppressed excitement. She also ran along the corridor and peered out of the window at the end. Then, apparently satisfied that her father had avoided meeting Delanne, she returned and stood again silent, her eyes staring straight before her as though dreading each second to hear shouts of triumph at the fugitive's detection.

I saw the manager and remonstrated with him. I was angry that my privacy should thus be disturbed by outsiders.

"Monsieur told the clerk that he was a friend," he replied politely. "Therefore he gave permission for him to be shown upstairs. I had no idea of such a contretemps, or such a regrettable scene as this!"

I saw he was full of regret, for the whole hotel seemed startled, and guests were asking each other what had occurred to create all that hubbub.

For an hour we waited, but Delanne did not return. He and the others had gone away over the roofs, on what seemed to be an entirely fruitless errand.

"Were they the police?" I heard a lady ask anxiously of a waiter.

"No, madame, we think not. They are strangers—and entirely unknown."

Sylvia also heard the man's reply, and exclaimed—

"I hope my father has successfully escaped his enemies. It was, however, a very narrow shave. If they had seen him, they would have shot him dead, and afterwards declared it to have been an accident!"

"Surely not!" I cried. "That would have been murder."

"Of course. But they are desperate, and they would have wriggled out of it somehow. That was why I feared for him. But, thank Heaven, he is evidently safe."

And she turned from the window that looked forth into the Rue de Rivoli, and then made an excuse to go to her room.

I saw that she was greatly perturbed. Her heart beat quickly, and her face, once pale as death, was now flushed crimson.

"How your father got away so rapidly was simply marvellous!" I declared. "Why, scarcely ten seconds elapsed from the time he closed that door to Delanne's appearance on the threshold."

"Yes. But he instantly realized his peril, and did not hesitate."

"I am sorry, dearest, that this exciting incident should have so upset our evening," I said, kissing her upon the brow, for she now declared herself much fatigued. "When you have gone to your room, I shall go downstairs and learn what I can about the curious affair. Your father's enemies evidently knew of his arrival from Brussels, for Delanne admitted that word of it was telephoned to Orleans, and he came to Paris at once."

"Yes, he admitted that," she said hurriedly. "But do not let us speak of it. My father has got away in safety. For me that is all-sufficient. Good-night, Owen, dear." And she kissed me fondly.

"Good-night, darling," I said, returning her sweet caress; and then, when she had passed from the room, I seized my hat and descended the big flight of red-carpeted stairs, bent on obtaining some solution of the mystery of that most exciting and curious episode.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

MORE MYSTERY

Nothing definite, however, could I gather from the hotel people.

They knew nothing, and seemed highly annoyed that such an incident should occur in their quiet and highly aristocratic house.

Next day Sylvia waited for news of her father, but none came.

Delanne called about eleven o'clock in the morning, and had a brief interview with her in private. What passed between them I know not, save that the man, whose real name was Guertin, met me rather coldly and afterwards bade me adieu.

I hated the fellow. He was always extremely polite, always just a little sarcastic, and yet, was he not the associate of the man Reckitt?

I wished to leave Paris and return to London, but Sylvia appeared a little anxious to remain. She seemed to expect some secret communication from her father.

"Thank Heaven!" she said, on the day following Delanne's call, "father has escaped them. That was surely a daring dash he made. He knew that they intended to kill him."

"But I don't understand," I said. "Do you mean they would kill him openly?"

"Of course. They have no fear. Their only fear is while he remains alive."

"But the law would punish them."

"No, it would not," she responded, shaking her head gravely. "They would contrive an 'accident.'"

"Well," I said, "he has evaded them, and we must be thankful for that. Do you expect to hear from him?"

"Yes," she replied, "I shall probably receive a message to-night. That is why I wish to remain, Owen. I wonder," she added rather hesitatingly, "I wonder whether you would consider it very strange of me if I asked you to let me go out to-night at ten o'clock alone?"

"Well, I rather fear your going out alone and unprotected at that hour, darling," I responded.

"Ah! have no fear whatever for me. I shall be safe enough. They will not attempt anything just now. I am quite confident of that. I—I want to go forth alone, for an hour or so."

"Oh, well, if it is your distinct wish, how can I refuse, dear?"

"Ah!" she cried, putting her arm fondly about my neck, "I knew you would not refuse me. I shall go out just before ten, and I will be back long before midnight. You will excuse my absence, won't you?"

"Certainly," I said. And thus it was arranged.

Her request, I admit, puzzled me greatly, and also caused me considerable fear. My past experience had aroused within me a constant phantom of suspicion.

We lunched at the Ritz, and in the afternoon took a taxi into the Bois, where we spent an hour upon a seat in one of the by-paths of that beautiful wood of the Parisians. On our return to the hotel, Sylvia was all eagerness for a message, but there was none.

"Ah! he is discreet!" she exclaimed to me, when the concierge had given her a negative reply. "He fears to send me word openly."

At ten o'clock that night, however, she had exchanged her dinner gown for a dark stuff dress, and, with a small black hat, and a boa about her neck, she came to kiss me.

"I won't be very long, dearest," she said cheerily. "I'll get back the instant I can. Don't worry after me. I shall be perfectly safe, I assure you."

But recollections of Reckitt and his dastardly accomplice arose within me, and I hardly accepted her assurance, even though I made pretence of so doing.

For a few moments I held her in my arms tenderly, then releasing her, she bade me au revoir merrily, and we descended into the hall together.

A taxi was called, and I heard her direct the driver to go to the Boulevard Pereire. Then, waving her hand from the cab window, she drove away.

Should I follow? To spy upon her would be a mean action. It would show a lack of confidence, and would certainly irritate and annoy her. Yet was she not in peril? Had she not long ago admitted herself to be in some grave and mysterious danger?

I had only a single moment in which to decide. Somehow I felt impelled to follow and watch that she came to no harm; yet, at the same time, I knew that it was not right. She was my wife, and I dearly loved her and trusted her. If discovered, my action would show her that I was suspicious.

Still I felt distinctly apprehensive, and it was that apprehension which caused me, a second later, to seize my hat, and, walking out of the hotel, hail a passing taxi, and drive quickly to the quiet, highly respectable boulevard to which she had directed her driver.

I suppose it was, perhaps, a quarter of an hour later when we turned into the thoroughfare down the centre of which runs the railway in a deep cutting. The houses were large ones, let out in fine flats, the residences mostly of the professional and wealthier tradesman classes.

We went along, until presently I caught sight of another taxi standing at the kerb. Therefore I dismissed mine, and, keeping well in the shadow, sauntered along the boulevard, now quiet and deserted.

With great precaution I approached the standing taxi on the opposite side of the way. There was nobody within. It was evidently awaiting some one, and as it was the only one in sight I concluded that it must be the same which Sylvia had taken from the hotel.

Some distance further on I walked, when, before me, I recognized her neat figure, and almost a moment afterwards saw her disappear into a large doorway which was in complete darkness—the doorway of what seemed to be an untenanted house.

I halted quickly and waited—yet almost ashamed of myself for spying thus.

A moment later I saw that, having believed herself unobserved, she struck a match, but for what reason did not seem apparent. She appeared to be examining the wall. She certainly was not endeavouring to open the door. From the distance, however, I was unable to distinguish very plainly.

The vesta burned out, and she threw it upon the ground. Then she hurriedly retraced her steps to where she had left her cab, and I was compelled to bolt into a doorway in order to evade her.

She passed quite close to me, and when she had driven away I emerged, and, walking to the doorway, also struck a light and examined the same stone wall. At first I could discover nothing, but after considerable searching my eyes at last detected a dark smudge, as though something had been obliterated.

It was a cryptic sign in lead pencil, and apparently she had drawn her hand over it to remove it, but had not been altogether successful. Examining it closely, I saw that the sign, as originally scrawled upon the smooth stone, was like two crescents placed back to back, while both above and below rough circles had been drawn.

The marks had evidently some prearranged meaning—one which she understood. It was a secret message from her father, without a doubt!

At risk of detection by some agent of police, I made a further close examination of the wall, and came upon two other signs which had also been hurriedly obliterated—one of three double triangles, and another of two oblongs and a circle placed in conjunction. But there was no writing; nothing, indeed, to convey any meaning to the uninitiated.

The wall of that dark entry, however, was no doubt the means of an exchange of secret messages between certain unknown persons.

The house was a large one, and had been let out in flats, as were its neighbours; but for some unaccountable reason—perhaps owing to a law dispute—it now remained closed.

I was puzzled as to which of the three half-obliterated signs Sylvia had sought. But I took notice of each, and then walked back in the direction whence I had come.

I returned at once to the hotel, but my wife had not yet come back. This surprised me. And I was still further surprised when she did not arrive until nearly one o'clock in the morning. Yet she seemed very happy—unusually so.

Where had she been after receiving that secret message, I wondered? Yet I could not question her, lest I should betray my watchfulness.

"I'm so sorry to have left you alone all this long time, Owen," she said, as she entered the room and came across to kiss me. "But it was quite unavoidable."

"Is all well?" I inquired.

"Quite," was her reply. "My father is already out of France."

That was all she would vouchsafe to me. Still I saw that she was greatly gratified at the knowledge of his escape from his mysterious enemies.

The whole situation was extraordinary. Why should this man Delanne, the friend of Reckitt and no doubt a member of a gang of blackmailers and assassins, openly pursue him to the death? It was an entire enigma. I could discern no light through the veil of mystery which had, all along, so completely enshrouded Pennington and his daughter.

Still I resolved to put aside all apprehensions. Why should I trouble?

I loved Sylvia with all my heart, and with all my soul. She was mine! What more could I desire?

Next evening we returned to Wilton Street. She had suddenly expressed a desire to leave Paris, perhaps because she did not wish to again meet her father's enemy, that fat Frenchman Guertin.

For nearly a month we lived in perfect happiness, frequently visiting the Shuttleworths for the day, and going about a good deal in town. She urged me to go to Carrington to shoot, but, knowing that she did not like the old place, I made excuses and remained in London.

"Father is in Roumania," she remarked to me one morning when she had been reading her letters at the breakfast-table. "He sends his remembrances to you from Bucharest. You have never been there, I suppose? I'm extremely fond of the place. There is lots of life, and the Roumanians are always so very hospitable."

"No," I said, "I've never been to Bucharest, unfortunately, though I've been in Constanza, which is also in Roumania. Remember me to your father when you write, won't you?"

"Certainly. He wonders whether you and I would care to go out there for a month or two?"

"In winter?"

"Winter is the most pleasant time. It is the season in Bucharest."

"As you please, dearest," I replied. "I am entirely in your hands, as you know," I laughed.

"That's awfully sweet of you, Owen," she declared. "You are always indulging me—just like the spoilt child I am."

"Because I love you," I replied softly, placing my hand upon hers and looking into her wonderful eyes.

She smiled contentedly, and I saw in those eyes the genuine love-look: the expression which a woman can never feign.

Thus the autumn days went past, happy days of peace and joy.

Sylvia delighted in the theatre, and we went very often, while on days when it was dry and the sun shone, I took her motoring to Brighton, to Guildford, to Tunbridge Wells, or other places on the well-known roads out of London.

The clouds which had first marred our happiness had now happily been dispelled, and the sun of life and love shone upon us perpetually.

Sometimes I wondered whether that ideal happiness was not too complete to last. In the years I had lived I had become a pessimist. I feared a too-complete ideal. The realization of our hopes is always followed by a poignant despair. In this world there is no cup of sweetness without dregs of bitterness. The man who troubles after the to-morrow creates trouble for himself, while he who is regardless of the future is like an ostrich burying its head in the sand at sign of disaster.

Still, each of us who marry fondly believe ourselves to be the one exception to the rule. And perhaps it is only human that it should be so. I, like you my reader, believed that my troubles were over, and that all the lowering clouds had drifted away. They were, however, only low over the horizon, and were soon to reappear. Ah! how differently would I have acted had I but known what the future—the future of which I was now so careless—held in store for me!

One night we had gone in the car to the Coliseum Theatre, for Sylvia was fond of variety performances as a change from the legitimate theatre. As we sat in the box, I thought—though I could not be certain—that she made some secret signal with her fan to somebody seated below amid the crowded audience.

My back had been turned for a moment, and on looking round I felt convinced that she had signalled. It was on the tip of my tongue to refer to it, yet I hesitated, fearing lest she might be annoyed. I trusted her implicitly, and, after all, I might easily have mistaken a perfectly natural movement for a sign of recognition. Therefore I laughed at my own foolish fancy, and turned my attention again to the performance.

At last the curtain fell, and as we stood together amid the crush in the vestibule, the night having turned out wet, I left her, to go in search of our carriage.

I suppose I was absent about two or three minutes, but on my return I could not find her.

She had vanished as completely as though the earth had swallowed her up.

I waited until the theatre was entirely empty. I described her to the attendants, and I had a chat with the smart and highly popular manager, but no one had seen her. She had simply disappeared.

I was frantic, full of the wildest dread as to what had occurred. How madly I acted I scarcely knew. At last, seeing to remain longer was useless, now that the theatre had closed, I jumped into the brougham and drove with all haste to Wilton Street.

"No, Mr. Owen," replied Browning to my breathless inquiry, "madam has not yet returned."

I brushed past him and entered the study.

Upon my writing-table there lay a note addressed to me.

I recognized the handwriting in an instant, and with trembling fingers tore open the envelope.

What I read there staggered me.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

IN FULL CRY

The amazing letter which I held in my nerveless fingers had been hurriedly scribbled on a piece of my wife's own notepaper, and read—

"DEAR OWEN—I feel that our marriage was an entire mistake. I have grossly deceived you, and I dare not hope ever for your forgiveness, nor dare I face you to answer your questions. I know that you love me dearly, as I, too, have loved you; yet, for your own sake—and perhaps for mine also—it is far best that we should keep apart.

"I deeply regret that I have been the means of bringing misfortune and unhappiness and sorrow upon you, but I have been the tool of another. In shame and deepest humiliation I leave you, and if you will grant one favour to an unhappy and penitent woman, you will never seek to discover my whereabouts. It would be quite useless. To-night I leave you in secret, never to meet you again. Accept my deepest regret, and do not let my action trouble you. I am not worthy of your love. Good-bye. Your unhappy—SYLVIA."

I stood staring at the uneven scribbled lines, blurred as they were by the tears of the writer.

What had happened? Why had she so purposely left me? Why had she made that signal from the theatre-box to her accomplice?

She admitted having grossly deceived me, and that she was unworthy. What did she mean? In what manner had she deceived me?

Had she a secret lover?

That idea struck me suddenly, and staggered me. In some of her recent actions I read secrecy and suspicion. On several occasions lately she had been out shopping alone, and one afternoon, about a week before, she had not returned to dress for dinner until nearly eight o'clock. Her excuse had been a thin one, but, unsuspicious, I had passed it by.

Had I really been a fool to marry her, after all? I knew Marlowe's opinion of our marriage, though he had never expressed it. That she had been associated with a shady lot had all along been apparent. The terrors of that silent house in Porchester Terrace remained only too fresh within my memory.

That night I spent in a wild fever of excitement. No sleep came to my eyes, and I think Browning—to whom I said nothing—believed that I had taken leave of my senses. The faithful old servant did not retire, for at five in the morning I found him seated dozing in a chair outside in the hall, tired out by the watchful vigil he had kept over me.

I tried in vain to decide what to do. I wanted to find Sylvia, to induce her to reveal the truth to me, and to allay her fear of my reproaches.

I loved her; aye, no man in all the world ever loved a woman better. Yet she had, of her own accord, because of her own shame at her deception, bade farewell, and slipped away into the great ocean of London life.

Morning dawned at last, cold, grey and foggy, one of those dispiriting mornings of late autumn which the Londoner knows so well. Still I knew not how to act. I wanted to discover her, to bring her back, and to demand of her finally the actual truth. All the mystery of those past months had sent my brain awhirl.

I had an impulse to go to the police and reveal the secret of that closed house in Porchester Terrace. Yet had she not implored me not to do so? Why? There was only one reason. She feared exposure herself.

No. Ten thousand times no. I would not believe ill of her. Can any man who really loves a woman believe ill of her? Love is blind, it is true, and the scales never fall from the eyes while true affection lasts. And so I put suspicion from my mind, and swallowed the cup of coffee Browning put before me.

The old man, the friend of my youth, knew that his mistress had not returned, and saw how greatly I was distressed. Yet he was far too discreet a servant to refer to it.

I entered the drawing-room, and there, in the grey light, facing me, stood the fine portrait of my well-beloved in a silver frame, the one she had had taken at Scarborough a week after our marriage.

I drew it from its frame and gazed for a long time upon it. Then I put it into an envelope, and placed it in my pocket.

Soon after ten o'clock I returned to the Coliseum, and showed the portrait to a number of the attendants as that of a lady who was missing. All of them, both male and female, gazed upon the picture, but nobody recognized her as having been seen before.

The manager, whom I had seen on the previous night, sympathized with me, and lent me every assistance. One after another of the staff he called into his big office on the first floor, but the reply was always the same.

At length a smart page-boy entered, and, on being shown the portrait, at once said to the manager—

"Why, sir, that's the lady who went away with the gentleman who spoke to me!"

"Who was he?" I demanded eagerly. "What did he say? What was he like?"

"Well, sir, it was like this," replied the boy. "About a quarter of an hour before the curtain fell last night I was out in the vestibule, when a tall dark gentleman, with his hair slightly grey and no moustache, came up to me with a lady's cloak in his hand—a dark blue one. He told me that when the audience came out a fair young lady would come up to me for the cloak, as she wanted to get away very quickly, and did not want to wait her turn at the cloak-room. There was a car—a big grey car—waiting for her outside."

"Then her flight was all prepared!" I exclaimed. "What was the man like?"

"He struck me as being a gentleman, yet his clothes seemed shabby and ill-fitting. Indeed, he had a shabby-genteel look, as though he were a bit down on his luck."

"He was in evening clothes?"

"No, sir. In a suit of brown tweeds."

"Well, what happened then?"

"I waited till the curtain fell, and then I stood close to the box-office with the cloak over my arm. There was a big crush, as it was then raining hard. Suddenly a young lady wearing a cream theatre-wrap came up to me hastily, and asked me to help her on with the cloak. This I did, and next moment the man in tweeds joined her. I heard him say, 'Come along, dear, we haven't a moment to lose,' and then they went out to the car. That's all I know, sir."

I was silent for a few moments. Who was this secret lover, I wondered? The lad's statement had come as an amazing revelation to me.

"What kind of car was it?" I asked.

"A hired car, sir," replied the intelligent boy. "I've seen it here before. It comes, I think, from a garage in Wardour Street."

"You would know the driver?"

"I think so, sir."

It was therefore instantly arranged that the lad should go with me round to the garage, and there try to find the man who drove the grey car on the previous night.

In this we were quickly successful. On entering the garage there stood, muddy and dirty, a big grey landaulette, which the boy at once identified as the one in which Sylvia had escaped. The driver was soon found, and he explained that it was true he had been engaged on the previous night by a tall, clean-shaven gentleman to pick up at the Coliseum. He did so, and the gentleman entered with a lady.

"Where did you drive them?" I asked quickly.

"Up the Great North Road—to the George Hotel at Stamford, about a hundred miles from London. I've only been back about a couple of hours, sir."

"The George at Stamford!" I echoed, for I knew the hotel, a quiet, old-fashioned, comfortable place much patronized by motorists to and fro on the north road.

"You didn't stay there?"

"Only just to get a drink and fill up with petrol. I wanted to get back. The lady and gentleman were evidently expected, and seemed in a great hurry."

"Why?"

"Well, near Alconbury the engine was misfiring a little, and I stopped to open the bonnet. When I did so, the lady put her head out of the window, highly excited, and asked how long we were likely to be delayed. I told her; then I heard her say to the gentleman, 'If they are away before we reach there, what shall we do?'"

"Then they were on their way to meet somebody or other—eh?"

"Ah! that I don't know, sir. I drew up in the yard of the hotel, and they both got out. The lady hurried in, while the gentleman paid me, and gave me something for myself. It was then nearly four o'clock in the morning. I should have been back earlier, only I had a puncture the other side of Hatfield, and had to put on the 'Stepney.'"

"I must go to Stamford," I said decisively. Then I put something into his palm, as well as into that of the page-boy, and, entering a taxi, drove back home.

An hour later I sat beside my own chauffeur, as we drove through the steadily falling rain across Hampstead Heath, on our hundred-mile journey into Lincolnshire.

We both knew every inch of the road, having been over it many times. As it was wet, police-traps were unlikely, so, having negotiated the narrow road as far as Hatfield, we began to "let her out" past Hitchin, and we buzzed on over the broad open road through Stilton village. We were hung up at the level-crossing at Wansford, but about half-past three in the afternoon we swept over the brow of the hill beneath the high wall of Burghley Park, and saw beneath us the roofs and many spires of quiet old Stamford.

Ten minutes later we swung into the yard of the ancient George, and, alighting, entered the broad hall, with its splendid old oak staircase, in search of the manageress.

She related a rather curious story.

On the previous night, about eleven o'clock, there arrived by car two well-dressed gentlemen who, though English, conversed together in French. They took rooms, but did not retire to bed, saying that they expected two friends who were motoring, and who would arrive in the night. They sat over the fire in the lounge, while the staff of the hotel all retired, save the night-boots, an old retainer. The latter stated that during the night, as he passed the door of the lounge, he saw through the crack of the door the younger of the two men examining something which shone and sparkled in the light, and he thought to be diamonds. This struck him as somewhat curious; therefore he kept a watchful eye upon the pair.

One he described as rather stout, dark, and bald-headed—the exact description of Pennington—and the other description the man afterwards gave to me caused me to feel confident that the second man was none other than the scoundrel Reckitt. What further piece of chicanery had they been guilty of, I wondered?

"About four in the morning a grey car drove up, sir," went on the boots, "and a lady with a dark cloak over her evening dress dashed in, and they both rose quickly and welcomed her. Then, in order that I should not understand, they again started talking in some foreign language—French I expect it was. A few moments later the gentleman came in. They welcomed him warmly, addressing him by the name of Lewis. I saw the bald-headed man wring his hand heartily, and heard him exclaim: 'By Jove! old man, you can't think how glad we are to see you back again! You must have had a narrow squeak! Not another single living man would have acted with the determination and bravery with which you've acted. Only you must be careful, Lewis, old man—deuced careful. There are enemies about, you know.' Then the gentleman said: 'I know! I'm quite aware of my peril, Arnold. You, too, had a narrow shave in Paris a short time ago—I hear from Sonia.' 'Yes,' laughed the other, 'she acted splendidly. But, as you say, it was a very close thing. Have you seen Shuttleworth yet?' he asked. The other said: 'He met me, in the Ditches at Southampton, two nights ago, and told me all that's happened.' 'Ah! And Sonia has told you the rest, I suppose?' he asked; to which the other man replied in the affirmative, adding: 'It's a bad job, I fear, for Owen Biddulph—a very bad job for the fellow!' That was all the conversation that I overheard at that time, for they then rang the bell and ordered whisky and sodas."

"And what else did you see or hear?" I asked eagerly, much puzzled by his statement.

"They struck me as rather a suspicious lot, sir," the man said. "After I had taken them in their drinks they closed the door, and seemed to hold some sort of a consultation. While this was going on, two men drove up in another car, and asked if a Mr. Winton was here. I told him he was—for the bald-headed gentleman had given the name of Douglas Winton. They were at once welcomed, and admitted to the conference."

"Rather curious—to hold a conference in such a manner and at such an hour!" I remarked.

"Yes, sir. It was a secret meeting, evidently. They all spoke in another language. The two men who last arrived were no doubt foreigners."

"Was one of them stout and wore gold-rimmed glasses?" I inquired quickly.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

AN UNFORTUNATE SLIP

"No, sir," the boots replied, "both were youngish men, with dark moustaches. They wore heavy coats, and were in an open car. They came from York way, and had evidently driven some distance."

"You saw nothing of what went on at their mysterious meeting?"

"Well, sir, the fact is, when I had had my suspicions aroused, I crept out into the yard, and found that I could see into the lounge through the chink between the blind and the window. They were all seated round the table, the head of which had been taken by the gentleman who had arrived from London with the lady. He seemed to be chairman, and he talked in a low, deliberate, and very earnest tone, being listened to with greatest interest. He evidently related something which amazed them. Then a map, or plan, was placed upon the table, and each examined it in turn. Afterwards two photographs were produced by Mr. Winton and handed around the assembly. Each man looked long and steadily at the pictures—both were of women. The young lady present refused to take any part in the discussion, and I noticed that she passed on the photographs without comment—without even glancing at them."

"Did she appear to be present there against her will?" I asked breathlessly.

"No, not exactly. She seemed very friendly with all the gentlemen. The two foreigners were strangers to her—for she was introduced to them."

"By name?"

"Yes, sir. Miss Sonia Poland."

I bit my lip. Had she already dropped my name, and was now passing under an alias?

"Sonia Poland!" I echoed. "Was it for the purpose of concealing her identity from the foreigners, do you think?" I asked.

"No, sir. Because Winton and his companion addressed her as Sonia Poland when she arrived."

"And you believed it to be her real name?"

"I suppose it is, sir," was the man's reply, for I fear my manner somewhat mystified him.

"Well, and what further did you see at this early morning consultation?" I asked, mindful that his curiosity had no doubt been aroused by sight of something sparkling in the strange visitor's hand.

"The gentleman called Mr. Lewis wrote out a paper very carefully and handed it round. Every one signed it—except the lady. They asked her to do so, but she protested vigorously, and the matter was not pressed. Then the photograph of a man was shown to the two foreigners, and the lady tried to prevent it. Curiously enough, sir, I caught a good sight of it—just a head and shoulders—and the picture very much resembled you yourself, sir!"

"Me!" I cried. "And they showed it to the two young foreigners—eh?"

"Yes, sir. One of them took it and put it into his pocket. Then the mysterious Mr. Lewis, as chairman of the meeting, seemed to raise a protest. The two foreigners gesticulated, jabbered away, and raised their shoulders a lot. I dearly wish I could have made out a word they said. Unfortunately I couldn't. Only I saw that in Mr. Lewis's face was a look of fierce determination. They at first defied him. But at last, with great reluctance, they handed back the photograph, which Mr. Lewis himself burned on the fire."

"He burned my photograph!"

"Yes, sir. I think it was yours, sir—but of course I can't be quite positive."

"And what else?"

"Mr. Winton said something, whereupon all of them glanced at the door and then at the window. One of the foreigners came to the window, but did not notice that there was a slight crack through which I could see. Then he turned the key in the door. After he had returned to his chair, the man who had arrived with Mr. Winton took from his pocket something that shone. My heart beat quickly. It was a diamond necklet—the object I had seen in his hand earlier. He passed it round for the admiration of the others, who each took it and closely examined it beneath the light—all but the young lady. She was standing aside, near the fireplace, watching. Now and then she placed her hand to her forehead, as though her brain were weary."

"And after that?"

"After the necklet had been passed round the elder of the two foreigners wrapped it carefully in his handkerchief and placed it in his pocket. Then Mr. Lewis gave them a long address, emphasizing his words with his hand, and they listened to him without uttering a word. Suddenly Mr. Winton sprang up and wrung his hand, afterwards making what appeared to be some highly complimentary remarks, for Mr. Lewis smiled and bowed to the assembly, who afterwards rose. Then the young lady rushed up to Mr. Lewis and implored him to do something, but he refused. She stood before him, pale-faced and determined. Her eyes seemed starting from her head. She seemed like one horrified. But he placed his hand tenderly upon her shoulder, and uttered some quick low words which instantly calmed her. Very shortly after that the party broke up, and the door was re-opened. The two foreigners hurriedly swallowed a liqueur-glass of brandy each, and then, passing into the yard, wished their companions adieu and drove away in their car—in the direction of London."

"Carrying with them the diamond necklet which the other man had brought there?"

"Yes, sir."

"And what became of the young lady?" I inquired very anxiously.

"She first had a long and private conversation with the gentleman named Winton—the bald-headed man."

This, it will be remembered, was the person whose description tallied exactly with that of her father.

"They went outside together," said the boots, "out into the yard, and there conversed alone in half-whispers. Afterwards they rejoined the others. Mr. Lewis seemed very annoyed with her; nevertheless, after a cup of tea each, about half-past five the four of them got into the car in which Winton had arrived and drove away in the direction of Grantham. Winton gave me a sovereign for myself—an unusually generous gift, I can assure you, sir," he laughed.

"And now what is your own opinion concerning them?" I asked.

"Why, there can only be one opinion, sir—that they are wrong 'uns. I felt half a mind to tell Mr. Pearson, the police-constable who lives across in Water Lane, but I didn't like to without consulting somebody. And I didn't want to wake up the manageress."

"Ah! and it may now be too late, Cross," said the lady in question, who had been standing by all the time. Then, addressing me, she said—

"The whole affair seemed most mysterious, sir, therefore I went round and saw the inspector of police this morning, and told him briefly of our strange visitors. I'm rather glad they're gone, for one never likes unpleasantness in a hotel. Yet, of course, the fault cannot be that of the hotel-keeper if he takes in an undesirable."

"Of course not. But what view did the inspector hold?"

"Inspector Deane merely expressed the opinion that they were suspicious persons—that's all."

"So they seem to have been," I remarked, without satisfying her as to who I really was. My story there was that I had business relations with Mr. Lewis, and had followed him there in the hope of catching him up.

We were in the manageress's room, a cosy apartment in the back of the quaint old hostelry, when a waitress came and announced Inspector Deane. The official was at once shown in, whereupon he said abruptly—

"The truth is out, Miss Hammond, regarding your strange visitors of last night." And he glanced inquiringly at myself.

"You can speak openly before this gentleman," she said, noticing his hesitation.

"The fact is, a circular-telegram has just been sent out from Scotland Yard, saying that by the express from Edinburgh due at King's Cross at 10.45 last night the Archduchess Marie Louise, niece of the Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria, was a passenger. She had been staying at Balmoral, and travelled south in a special saloon. When the luggage came to be collected a dressing-case was missing—it evidently having been stolen in transit by somebody who had obtained access to the saloon while on the journey. The corridor was open between York and London, so that the restaurant could be reached, and it is believed that the thief, or thieves, managed to pass in unobserved and throw the bag out upon the line to some confederate awaiting it. The bag contained a magnificent diamond necklet—a historic heirloom of the Imperial family of the Hapsburgs—and is valued at fifty thousand pounds!"

"And those people who met here were the thieves!" gasped the manageress, turning instantly pale.

"Without a doubt. You see, the Great Northern main line runs close by us—at Essendine. It may be that the thieves were waiting for it near there—waiting for it to be dropped out in the darkness. All the platelayers along the line are now searching for the bag, but we here are certain that the thieves spent the night in Stamford."

"Not the thieves," I said. "The receivers."

"Exactly."

"But the young foreigner has it!" cried the boots. "He and his friend set off for London with it."

"Yes. They would reach London in time to catch one of the boat-trains from Victoria or Charing Cross this morning, and by this time they're safely out of the country—carrying the necklet with them. Ah! Scotland Yard is terribly slow. But the delay seems to have been caused by the uncertainty of Her Highness as to whether she had actually brought the dressing-case with her, and she had to telegraph to Balmoral before she could really state that it had been stolen."

"The two men, Douglas Winton and his friend, came here in a motor-car," I remarked. "They had evidently been waiting somewhere near the line, in order to pick up the stolen bag."

"Without a doubt, sir," exclaimed the inspector. "Their actions here, according to what Miss Hammond told me this morning, were most suspicious. It's a pity that the boots did not communicate with us."

"Yes, Mr. Deane," said the man referred to, "I'm very sorry now that I didn't. But I felt loath to disturb people at that hour of the morning."

"You took no note of the number of either of the three cars which came, I suppose?"

"No. We have so many cars here that I hardly noticed even what colour they were."

"Ah! That's unfortunate. Still, we shall probably pick up some clue to them along the road. Somebody is certain to have seen them, or know something about them."

"This gentleman here knows something about them," remarked the manageress, indicating myself.

The inspector turned to me in quick surprise, and no doubt saw the surprise in my face.

"I—I know nothing," I managed to exclaim blankly, at once realizing the terrible pitfall into which I had fallen.

"But you said you knew Mr. Lewis—the gentleman who acted as president of that mysterious conference!" Miss Hammond declared, in all innocence.

"I think, sir," added the inspector, "that the matter is such a grave one that you should at once reveal all you do know. You probably overlook the fact that if you persist in silence you may be arrested as an accessory."

"But I know nothing," I protested; "nothing whatever concerning the robbery!"

"But you know one of the men," said Cross the boots.

"And the lady also, without a doubt!" added the inspector.

"I refuse to be cross-examined in this manner by you!" I retorted in anger, yet full of apprehension now that I saw myself suspected of friendship with the gang.

"Well, sir, then I regret that I must ask you to walk over the bridge with me to the police-station. I must take you before the superintendent," he said firmly.

"But I know nothing," I again protested.

"Come with me," he said, with a grim smile of disbelief. "That you'll be compelled to prove."



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

MORE STRANGE FACTS

Compelled against my will to accompany the inspector to the police head-quarters in the High Street, I made a statement—a rather lame one, I fear.

I concealed the fact that the lady of the previous night's conference was my wife, and explained my visit to Stamford, and my inquiries at the George, by the fact that I had met the man Lewis abroad, and had had some financial dealings with him, which, I now suspected, were not altogether square. So, hearing that he had motored to the north, I had followed, and had inquired at several of the well-known motoring hotels for news of him, being unsuccessful until I had arrived at Stamford.

This story would, of course, not have held water had Miss Hammond, the manageress, been present. Happily, however, she had not accompanied me, hence I was able to concoct a somewhat plausible excuse to the local superintendent.

"Then you actually know nothing concerning these people?" he asked, regarding me shrewdly.

"Nothing beyond the fact of meeting Lewis abroad, and very foolishly trusting in his honesty."

The superintendent smiled. I think he regarded me as a bit of a fool. Probably I had been.

"They are a clever gang, no doubt," he declared. "The Archduchess's necklace must have been stolen by some one travelling in the train. I've been on to Scotland Yard by telephone, and there seems a suspicion because at Grantham—the last stopping-place before London—a ticket-collector boarded the train. He was a stranger to the others, but they believed that he had been transferred from one or other of the branches to the main line, and being in the company's uniform they, of course, accepted him. He collected the tickets en route, as is sometimes done, and at Finsbury Park descended, and was lost sight of. Here again the busy collectors came and demanded tickets, much to the surprise of the passengers, and the curious incident was much commented upon."

"Then the bogus collector was the thief, I suppose?"

"No doubt. He somehow secured the dressing-bag and dropped it out at a point between Grantham and Essendine—a spot where he knew his accomplices would be waiting—a very neatly-planned robbery."

"And by persons who are evidently experts," I said.

"Of course," replied the grey-haired superintendent. "The manner in which the diamonds have been quickly transferred from hand to hand and carried out of the country is sufficient evidence of that. The gang have now scattered, and, for aught we know, have all crossed the Channel by this time."

"Well," I assured him; "I know nothing more of the affair than what I have told you. If I were an accomplice I should hardly be here—making inquiries concerning them."

"I don't know so much about that," he replied, rather incredulously. "Such an action has been known before, in order to place the police upon a wrong scent. I fear I must ask you to remain here, in Stamford, until this evening, while I make some inquiry into your bona fides, sir."

"What!" I cried. "You intend to detain me!"

"There is no indignity," he declared. "You may go about the town where you will—providing you do not attempt to leave it. I regret, but it is my duty to ascertain who and what you are, Mr. Biddulph."

I had given him my card, and he, seeing the look of annoyance upon my face, added—

"I can only express apologies, sir. But you will see it is my duty. You have admitted knowledge of at least one of the mysterious gang."

"Very well," I replied reluctantly; "make what inquiries you will." And I gave him the address of my solicitors and my bankers.

Then, walking out of the office, I strolled down the quiet old High Street into the market place, full of evil forebodings.

Who was this man Lewis—or Louis—with whom my wife had escaped?

He was a blackguardly adventurer, anyhow. He had addressed her as "dear," and had been solicitous of her welfare throughout! To him she had signalled from her box in the theatre, well knowing that he was making secret preparations for her elopement. Indeed, she had written that note and placed it upon my blotting-pad before we had gone forth together, she well knowing that she would never again re-cross my threshold.

Ah! The poignant bitterness of it all had gripped my heart. My cup of unhappiness was now assuredly full.

How brief had been my joy; how quickly my worst fears had been realized.

About the quiet, old-world decaying town I wandered, hardly knowing whither I went. When, every now and then, in the fading light, I found myself going into the country I turned back, mindful of my promise not to leave the place without permission.

About six I returned to the George and sat beside the fire in the lounge—in that selfsame chair where my fugitive wife had sat. I was eager to renew the chase, yet until I received word from the police I was compelled to remain helpless.

Old Cross, the boots, became inquisitive, but I evaded his questions, and ate my dinner alone in the small cosy coffee-room, awaiting the reappearance of Inspector Deane. I had given my chauffeur liberty till eight o'clock, but I was all anxiety to drive back to London.

Still, if I returned, what could I do? Sylvia and her companions had driven away—whither was a mystery.

The Criminal Investigation Department had already issued an official description of the persons wanted, for while I had been at the police-office the inspector had been closely questioning the man Cross and Miss Hammond.

Already the police drag-net was out, and the combined police forces of Europe would, in an hour or two, be on the watch for Sylvia and her mysterious companions.

So far as the United Kingdom was concerned sixty thousand officers, detectives and constables would be furnished with a complete description of those who had held that secret consultation. The tightest of tight cordons would be drawn. Every passenger who embarked at English ports for abroad would be carefully scrutinized by plain-clothes men. Every hotel-keeper, not only in London, but in the remote villages and hamlets would be closely questioned as to the identity and recent movements of his guests. Full descriptions of Sylvia and her friends would be cabled to America, and the American police would be asked to keep a sharp look-out on passengers arriving on all boats from Europe. Descriptions would also be sent to the police head-quarters in every European capital.

In face of that, what more could I do?

The situation had become unbearable. Sylvia's unaccountable action had plunged me into a veritable sea of despair. The future seemed blank and hopeless.

Just before eight o'clock I strolled back to the police-office and reported myself, as it were. The superintendent expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the replies he had received from London, and, with apologies, gave me leave to depart.

"Inquiry is being made along the roads in every direction from here," he said. "We hear that the three men and the woman called at the Bell, at Barnby Moor, and had some breakfast. Afterwards they continued northward."

"Barnby Moor!" I echoed. "Why, that's near Doncaster."

"Yes, sir. Motorists patronize the place a good deal."

"And is that all that is known?" I inquired eagerly.

"All at present," he said. Therefore I left and, returning to the garage, mounted the car and, with head-lamps alight, drove out into the pitch darkness in the direction of Grantham. We sped along the broad old coach-road for nearly three hours, until at last we pulled up before an ancient wayside inn which had been modernized and adapted to twentieth-century requirements.

The manager, in reply to my eager questions, said it was true that the Doncaster police had been there making inquiries regarding four motorists—three gentlemen and a lady—who had called there that morning and had had breakfast in the coffee-room.

The head-waiter who had attended them was called, and I questioned him. I think the manager believed me to be a detective, for he was most courteous, and ready to give me all information.

"Yes, sir," replied the tall, slim head-waiter. "They came here in a great hurry, and seemed to have come a long distance, judging from the way the car was plastered with mud. The lady was very cold, for they had an open car, and she wore a gentleman's overcoat and a shawl tied around her head. The tallest of the gentlemen drove the car. They called him Lewis."

"Did you hear them address the lady?" I asked eagerly.

"They called her Sonia, sir."

"And you say she seemed very fatigued?"

"Very. She went upstairs and changed her evening gown for a stuff dress, which was brought out of the car. Then she came down and joined the others at breakfast."

"They gave you no indication as to their destination, I suppose?"

"Well, sir, I think they were returning to London, for I heard one of the gentlemen say something about catching the boat-train."

"They may have meant the Harwich boat-train from the north," I remarked.

"Very likely, sir. One portion of that train comes through Doncaster in the afternoon to Peterborough and March, while the other comes down to Rugby on the North-Western, and then goes across to Peterborough by way of Market Harborough."

"Then they may have joined that, and if so they would just about be leaving Parkeston Quay by now!"

"If so, the police are certain to spot them," laughed the waiter. "They're wanted for the theft of a princess's jewels, they say."

What should I do? It was now long past ten o'clock, and I could not possibly arrive at Parkeston before early morning. Besides, if they had really gone there, they would, no doubt, be arrested. The man with the pimply face whose description so closely tallied with that of Reckitt, was surely too clever a criminal to run his neck into a noose by going to any port of embarkation. Therefore I concluded that whatever had been said at table had been said with the distinct object of misleading the waiter. The very manner in which the diamonds had been stolen showed a cunning and a daring unsurpassed. Such men were certainly not easily trapped.

My sole thought was of Sylvia. I could not bring myself to believe that she had wilfully forsaken her home and her husband. Upon her, I felt confident, some species of blackmail had been levied, and she had been forced away from me by reasons beyond her control.

That incident of the photograph—the picture believed to have been of myself—which the foreigner tried to secure but which the man Lewis had himself destroyed, was incomprehensible. What had been intended by the foreigner?

I gathered all the information I could in the hotel, and then, after a hasty meal, re-entered the car and set out upon the dark, cold return journey to London.

Where was Sylvia? Who were her mysterious friends? And, chief of all, who was that man Lewis who addressed her in such endearing terms?

What could possibly be the solution of the mystery?



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

"SOME SENSATIONAL REVELATIONS"

The days dragged by. The papers were full of the robbery, declaring that it had been executed so neatly as to betray the hand of experts.

A gang of Continental thieves was suspected, because, as a matter of fact, a robbery similar in detail had, six months before, taken place on the night express between Cologne and Berlin. In that case also a strange ticket-inspector had been seen. The stolen property had, no doubt, been thrown from the train to accomplices. Such method was perfectly safe for the thief, because, unless actually detected in the act of tossing out a bag or parcel, no evidence could very well be brought against him.

Therefore the police, and through them the newspapers, decided that the same gang was responsible for the theft of the Archduchess's necklace as for the robbery in Germany.

Myself, I read eagerly every line of what appeared in the morning and evening press.

Many ridiculous theories were put forward by some journalists in working up the "story," and more than once I found cruel and unfounded reflections cast upon the sole female member of the party—my dear wife.

This was all extremely painful to me—all so utterly incomprehensible that, as I sat alone in the silence of my deserted home, I felt that no further misfortune could fall upon me. The iron of despair had entered my very soul.

Marlowe called one afternoon, and I was compelled to make excuse for Sylvia's absence, telling him she was down at Mrs. Shuttleworth's.

"You don't look quite yourself, old man," he had said. "What's up?"

"Oh, nothing," I laughed faintly. "I'm a bit run down, that's all. Want a change, I suppose. I think I shall go abroad."

"I thought your wife had had sufficient of the Continent," he remarked. "Curiously enough," he added, as he sat back and blew a cloud of cigarette-smoke from his lips, "I thought I saw her the day before yesterday standing on the railway platform at Banbury. I was coming down from Birmingham to Oxford, and the train slowed down in passing Banbury. I happened to be looking out at the time, and I could have sworn that I saw her."

"At Banbury!" I ejaculated, leaning forward.

"Yes. She was wearing a dark blue dress, with a jacket to match, and a small dark blue hat. She was with an elderly lady, and was evidently waiting for a train. She gave me the impression that she was starting on a journey."

"How old was her companion?"

"Oh, she was about forty, I should think—neatly dressed in black."

"It couldn't have been she," I said reflectively.

"My dear Owen, Mrs. Biddulph's beauty is too marked for one to be mistaken—especially a friend, like myself."

"Then you are quite certain it was she—eh, Jack?"

My tall friend stretched his long legs out on the carpet, and replied—

"Well, I'd have bet a hundred to a penny that it was she. She wasn't at home with you on that day, was she?"

I was compelled to make a negative reply.

"Then I'm certain I saw her, old man," he declared, as he rose and tossed his cigarette-end away.

It was upon my tongue to ask him what he had known of her, but I refrained. She was my wife, and to ask such a question would only expose to him my suspicions and misgivings.

So presently he went, and I was left there wretched in my loneliness and completely mystified. The house seemed full of grim shadows now that she, the sun of my life, had gone out of it. Old Browning moved about silent as a ghost, watching me, I knew, and wondering.

So Sylvia had been seen at Banbury. According to Jack, she was dressed as though travelling; therefore it seemed apparent that she had hidden in that quiet little town until compelled to flee owing to police inquiries. Her dress, as described by Jack, was different to any I had ever seen her wear; hence it seemed as though she had disguised herself as much as was possible. Her companionship with the elder woman was also somewhat strange.

My only fear was that the police might recognize her. While she remained in one place, she would, no doubt, be safe from detection. But if she commenced to travel, then most certainly the police would arrest her.

Fortunately they were not in possession of her photograph, yet all along I remained in fear that the manager of the Coliseum might make a statement, and this would again connect me with the gang.

Yes, I suppose the reader will dub me a fool to have married Sylvia. Well, he or she may do so. My only plea in extenuation is that I loved her dearly and devotedly. My love might have been misplaced, of course, yet I still felt that, in face of all the black circumstances, she was nevertheless true to those promises made before the altar. I was hers—and she was mine.

Even then, with the papers raising a hue-and-cry after her, as well as what I had discovered regarding her elopement, I steadfastly refused to believe in her guilt. Those well-remembered words of affection which had fallen from her lips from time to time I knew had been genuine and the truth.

That same night I read in the evening paper a paragraph as follows—

"It is understood that the police have obtained an important clue to the perpetrators of the daring theft of the diamond necklet belonging to the Archduchess Marie Louise, and that an arrest is shortly expected. Some highly sensational revelations are likely."

I read and re-read those significant lines. What were the "sensational revelations" promised? Had they any connection with the weird mystery of that closed house in Porchester Terrace?

I felt that perhaps I was not doing right in refraining from laying before the Criminal Investigation Department the facts of my strange experience in that long-closed house. In that neglected garden, my own grave lay open. What bodies of other previous victims lay there interred?

I recollected that in the metropolis many bodies of murdered persons had been found buried in cellars and in gardens. A recent case of the discovery of an unfortunate woman's body beneath the front doorsteps of a certain house in North London was fresh within my mind.

Truly the night mysteries of London are many and gruesome. The public never dream of half the brutal crimes that are committed and never detected. Only the police, if they are frank, will tell you of the many cases in which persons missing are suspected of having been victims of foul play. Yet they are mysteries never solved.

I went across to White's and dined alone. I was in no mood for the companionship of friends. No one save myself knew that my wife had disappeared. Jack suspected something wrong, but was not aware of what it exactly was.

I went down to Andover next day and called upon the Shuttleworths. Mrs. Shuttleworth was kind and affable as usual, but whether my suspicions were ungrounded or not, I thought the rector a trifle brusque in manner, as though annoyed by my presence there.

I recollected what the man Lewis had told his friends—that he had seen Shuttleworth down in the Ditches—one of the lowest neighbourhoods—of Southampton. The rector had told him all that had transpired!

Why was this worthy country rector, living the quiet life of a remote Hampshire village, in such constant communication with a band of thieves?

I sat with him in his well-remembered study for perhaps an hour. But he was a complete enigma. Casually I referred to the great jewel theft, which was more or less upon every one's tongue.

"I seldom read newspaper horrors," he replied, puffing at his familiar pipe. "I saw something in the head-lines of the paper, but I did not read the details. I've been writing some articles for the Guardian lately, and my time has been so fully occupied."

Was this the truth? Or was he merely evading the necessity of discussing the matter?

He had inquired after Sylvia, and I had been compelled to admit that she was away. But I did so in such a manner that I implied she was visiting friends.

Outside, the lawn, so bright and pleasant in summer, now looked damp and dreary, littered by the brown drifting leaves of autumn.

Somehow I read in his grey face a strange expression, and detected an eagerness to get rid of me. For the first time I found myself an unwelcome visitor at the rectory.

"Have you seen Mr. Pennington of late?" I asked presently.

"No, not for some time. He wrote me from Brussels about a month ago, and said that business was calling him to Spain. Have you seen him?" he asked.

"Not very recently," I replied vaguely.

Then again I referred to the great robbery, whereat he said—

"Why, Mr. Biddulph, you appear as though you can't resist the fascination that mysterious crime has for you! I suppose you are an ardent novel-reader—eh? People fond of novels always devour newspaper mysteries."

I admitted a fondness for healthy and exciting fiction, when he laughed, saying—

"Well, I myself find that nearly half one reads in some of the newspapers now-a-days may be classed as fiction. Even party politics are full of fictions, more or less. Surely the public must find it very difficult to winnow the truth from all the political lies, both spoken and written. To me, elections are all mere campaigns of untruth."

And so he again cleverly turned the drift of our conversation.

About five o'clock I left, driving back to Andover Junction, and arriving at Waterloo in time for dinner.

I took a taxi at once to Wilton Street, but there was no letter from Sylvia. She gave no sign. And, indeed, why should she, in face of her letter of farewell?

I dressed, and sat down alone to my dinner for the first time in my own dining-room since my wife's disappearance.

Lonely and sad, yet filled with fierce hatred of those blackguardly adventurers, of whom her own father was evidently one, I sat silent, while old Browning served the meal with that quiet stateliness which was one of his chief characteristics. The old man had never once mentioned his missing mistress, yet I saw, by the gravity of his pale, furrowed face, that he was anxious and puzzled.

As I ate, without appetite, he chatted to me, as had been his habit in my bachelor days, for through long years of service—ever since I was a lad—he had become more a friend than a mere servant. From many a boyish scrape he had shielded me, and much good advice had he given me in those reckless days of my rather wild youth.

His utter devotion to my father had always endeared him to me, for to him there was no family respected so much as ours, and his faithfulness was surely unequalled.

Perhaps he did not approve of my marriage. I held a strong suspicion that he had not. Yet old servants are generally apt to be resentful at the advent of a new mistress.

I was finishing my coffee and thinking deeply, Browning having left me alone, when suddenly he returned, and, bending, said in his quiet way—

"A gentleman has called, Mr. Owen. He wishes to see you very particularly." And he handed me a card, upon which I saw the name: "Henri Guertin."

I sprang to my feet, my mind made up in an instant. Here was one actually of the gang, and I would entrap him in my own house!

I would compel him to speak the truth, under pain of arrest.

"Where is he?" I asked breathlessly.

"I have shown him into the study. He's a foreign gentleman, Mr. Owen."

"Yes, I know," I said. "But now, don't be alarmed, Browning—just stay outside in the hall. If I ring the bell, go straight to the telephone, ring up the police-station, and tell them to send a constable here at once. My study door will be locked until the constable arrives. You understand?"

"Perfectly, Mr. Owen, but——" And the old man hesitated, looking at me apprehensively.

"There is nothing whatever to fear," I laughed, rather harshly perhaps. "Carry out my orders, that's all."

And then, in fierce determination, I went along the hall, and, opening the study door, entered, closing it behind me, and as I stood with my back to it I turned the key and removed it.

"Well, M'sieur Guertin," I exclaimed, addressing the stout man in gold pince-nez in rather a severe tone, "and what, pray, do you want with me?"



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

A CONTRETEMPS

The stout, round-faced Frenchman rose, and, bowing with his irritating politeness, answered—

"I wish to consult you, Monsieur Biddulph, upon a confidential matter concerning your wife."

"What does my wife concern you, pray, sir?" I asked angrily.

"Ah! calm yourself, m'sieur," he said suddenly, dropping into French; "I am here as your friend."

"I hardly believe that," I replied incredulously. "My friend cannot be the accomplice of my enemies. You are acquainted with Reckitt and with Pennington—the men implicated in the recent theft of the diamonds of the Archduchess Marie Louise!"

He started and looked at me quickly.

"What do you know of that?" he inquired, with rather undue eagerness.

"I know more concerning you than you think," was my firm reply. "And I give you an alternative, Monsieur Guertin. Either you will reveal to me the whole truth concerning those men Reckitt and Forbes and my wife's connection with them, or I shall telephone to the police, and have you arrested as a member of the gang."

"My dear monsieur," he replied, with a good-humoured smile, "I can't tell you facts of which I possess no knowledge. I am here to make inquiry of you—to——"

"To mislead me further!" I cried angrily. "You and your friends may be extremely clever—you have succeeded in enticing my wife away from her home, and you expect to befool me further. Remember that I nearly lost my life in that grim house in Bayswater. Therefore at least I can secure the arrest of one member of the gang."

"And you would arrest me—eh?" he asked, looking me straight in the face, suddenly growing serious.

"Yes, I intend to," I replied, whipping out my revolver from my hip pocket.

"Put that thing away," he urged. "Be reasonable. What would you profit by arresting me?"

"You shall either speak—tell me the truth, or I will hand you over to the police. I have only to touch this bell"—and I raised my hand to the electric button beside the fireplace—"and a telephone message will call a constable."

"And you really would give me in charge—eh?" laughed my visitor.

"I certainly intend doing so," I answered angrily.

"Well, before this is done, let us speak frankly for a few moments," suggested the Frenchman. "You tell me that you nearly lost your life in some house in Bayswater. Where was that?"

"In Porchester Terrace. What is the use of affecting ignorance?"

"I do not affect ignorance," he said, and I saw that a change had completely overspread his countenance. "I only wish to know the extent of your knowledge of Reckitt and Forbes."

"I have but little knowledge of your friends, I'm pleased to say," was my quick rejoinder. "Let us leave them out of the question. What I desire to know is the whereabouts of my wife."

He shrugged his broad shoulders.

"I regret that I have no knowledge of where madame may be."

"But you have!" I cried, facing him angrily. "She is probably with Pennington, her father, who seems to be one of your undesirable fraternity."

"No, she is not with him, most certainly," my visitor declared. "I know that for a fact. She is probably with Lewis."

"And who is this fellow Lewis?" I demanded.

For a moment he was silent.

"I think you had better ask madame, your wife," he replied at last.

"Do you intend to cast a slur upon her?" I cried, facing him resentfully.

"Not in the least," was his cool answer. "I have merely replied to your question."

"And have given me most impertinent advice! Will you, or will you not, tell me who the fellow is?"

"At present, monsieur, I must refuse."

"Then I shall press the bell, and give you into custody."

"Ah!" he laughed, "that will be distinctly amusing."

"For me, perhaps—not for you."

"Monsieur is at liberty to act as he deems best," said my visitor.

Therefore, irritated by the fellow's manner, and in the hope that he would at the eleventh hour relent, I pressed the bell.

It rang loudly, and I heard old Browning go to the telephone beneath the stairs. In a few minutes the constable would arrive, and at least one member of the dangerous gang would be secured.

"Perhaps you will let me pass," he said, crossing towards the door immediately after I had rung the bell. But I placed myself against it, revolver in hand, preventing him and holding him at bay.

"Very well," he laughed. "I fear, Mr. Biddulph, that you are not acting judiciously. You refuse to accept my statement that I am here as your friend!"

"Because you, on your part, refuse to reply to my questions."

But he only shrugged his shoulders again without replying.

"You know quite well where my wife is."

"Alas! I do not," the fellow declared emphatically. "It was to obtain information that I called."

"You cannot deny that you know that pair of criminals, Reckitt and Forbes?"

"I have surely not denied knowledge of them!"

"Yet you refuse to tell me who this man is who enticed my wife from my side—the man who presided over that secret council at the George Hotel at Stamford!"

"I am prepared to be frank with you in return for your frankness, monsieur," he answered.

But I saw in his evasive replies an intention to mislead me into a belief that he was actuated towards me by friendly motives. Therefore my antagonism increased. He had defied me, and I would give him into custody.

Presently there came a loud knocking at the door, and, upon my opening it, a police-sergeant stood upon the threshold.

"I give this man into custody," I said, addressing him and pointing to the Frenchman.

"Upon what charge, sir?" asked the burly officer, whose broad shoulders filled the doorway, while I saw a constable standing behind him.

"On suspicion of being associated with the theft of the diamonds of the Archduchess Marie Louise," I replied.

"Come, monsieur," laughed my visitor, speaking again in English, "I think we have carried this sufficiently far." And, placing his hand in his breast-pocket, he produced a small folded yellow card bearing his photograph, which he handed to me. "Read that!" he added, with a laugh of triumph.

I saw that the printed card was headed "Prefecture de Police, Ville de Paris," and that it was signed, countersigned, and bore a large red official seal.

Quickly I scanned it, and, to my abject dismay, realized that Henri Guertin was chief of the first section of the surete—he was one of the greatest detectives of France!

I stammered something, and then, turning to the sergeant, red and ashamed, I admitted that I had made a mistake in attempting to arrest so distinguished an official.

The two metropolitan officers held the card in their hands, and, unable to read French, asked me to translate it for them, which I did.

"Why," cried the sergeant, "Monsieur Guertin is well known! His name figures in the papers only this morning as arresting two Englishmen in Paris for a mysterious murder alleged to have been committed in some house in Bayswater!"

"In Bayswater!" I gasped. "In Porchester Terrace?"

"Yes," replied the famous French detective. "It is true that I know Reckitt and Forbes. But I only knew them in order to get at the truth. They never suspected me, and early yesterday morning I went to the snug little apartments they have in the Rue de Rouen, and arrested them, together with two young Frenchmen named Terassier and Brault. Concealed beneath a loose board in the bedroom of the last-named man I found the missing gems."

"Then Terassier and Brault were the two men who met the others in Stamford, and carried the diamonds across to the Continent, intending to dispose of them?"

"Exactly. There was a hitch in disposing of them in Amsterdam, as had been intended, and though the diamonds had been knocked from their settings, I found them intact."

He told me that Forbes was the actual thief, who had so daringly travelled to Finsbury Park and collected the tickets en route. He had practically confessed to having thrown the bag out to Reckitt and Pennington, who were waiting at a point eight miles north of Peterborough. They had used an electric flash-lamp as they stood in the darkness near the line, and the thief, on the look-out for the light, tossed the bag out on to the embankment.

"Then my father-in-law is a thief!" I remarked, with chagrin, when the sergeant and constable had been dismissed. "It was for that reason my wife dare not face me and make explanation!"

"You apparently believe Arnold Du Cane, alias Winton, alias Pennington, to be Sylvia's father—but such is not the case," remarked the great detective slowly. "To his career attaches a very remarkable story—one which, in my long experience in the unravelling of mysteries of crime, has never been equalled."

"Tell me it," I implored him eagerly. "Where is my poor wife?"



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

THE FRENCHMAN MAKES A STATEMENT

"Ah! I regret, m'sieur, that I do not know," replied the Frenchman. "And yet," he added, after a second's hesitation, "I do not exactly regret. Perhaps it is best, after all, that I should remain in ignorance. But, Monsieur Biddulph, I would make one request on your wife's behalf."

"On her behalf!" I gasped. "What is it?"

"That you do not prejudge her. She has left you because—well, because she had good reason. But one day, when you know the truth, you will certainly not judge her too harshly."

"I do not judge her harshly," I protested. "How can I, when I love her as devotedly as I do! I feel confident that the misfortunes she has brought upon me were not of her own seeking."

"She very narrowly escaped the vengeance of those two assassins," Guertin said; "how narrowly, neither you nor she will ever know. For months I have watched them closely, both here and in France and Germany, in order to catch them red-handed; but they have been too clever for me, and we must rely upon the evidence which that back-garden in Porchester Terrace will now yield up. The gang is part of a great criminal association, that society of international thieves of which one member was the man you knew as Harriman, and whose real name was Bell—now at Devil's Island for the murder of the rising young English parliamentary Under-Secretary Ronald Burke. The murder was believed to have been committed with a political motive, and through certain false evidence furnished by the man Pennington, a person named Louis Lessar, chief of the band, was first arrested, and condemned by the Assize Court of the Seine. Both were sent to Devil's Island for life, but recently Lessar escaped, and was daring enough to come to England as Mr. Lewis."

"Lewis!" I gasped. "That was the fellow with whom my wife escaped—the man who presided over the secret deliberations of the gang at their assembly at Stamford!"

"Yes. Once a British officer, he had been leader of the great criminal organization before his arrest. They were the most formidable in Europe, for they always acted on scientific principles, and always well provided with funds. Some of their coups were utterly amazing. But on his arrest and imprisonment the society dwindled under the leadership of Pennington, a low-bred blackguard, who could not even be loyal to his associates."

"Excuse me, sir," remarked the sergeant, again shown into the room by Browning. "Our C.I.D. men have been at work all day in the garden behind that house in Porchester Terrace. A big hole was found dug there, and already they've turned up the remains of two persons—a man and a woman. I ought to have told you that we had it over the telegraph at the station about an hour ago. Superintendent Mayhew and Professor Salt have been there to examine the remains recovered."

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