"But who killed her?" asked Tommy. "I don't quite understand."
"The doctor kidded himself she took it herself," replied Julius dryly.
"And Sir James? What did he think?"
"Being a legal luminary, he is likewise a human oyster," replied Julius. "I should say he 'reserved judgment.'" He went on to detail the events of the morning.
"Lost her memory, eh?" said Tommy with interest. "By Jove, that explains why they looked at me so queerly when I spoke of questioning her. Bit of a slip on my part, that! But it wasn't the sort of thing a fellow would be likely to guess."
"They didn't give you any sort of hint as to where Jane was?"
Tommy shook his head regretfully.
"Not a word. I'm a bit of an ass, as you know. I ought to have got more out of them somehow."
"I guess you're lucky to be here at all. That bluff of yours was the goods all right. How you ever came to think of it all so pat beats me to a frazzle!"
"I was in such a funk I had to think of something," said Tommy simply.
There was a moment's pause, and then Tommy reverted to Mrs. Vandemeyer's death.
"There's no doubt it was chloral?"
"I believe not. At least they call it heart failure induced by an overdose, or some such claptrap. It's all right. We don't want to be worried with an inquest. But I guess Tuppence and I and even the highbrow Sir James have all got the same idea."
"Mr. Brown?" hazarded Tommy.
"All the same," he said thoughtfully, "Mr. Brown hasn't got wings. I don't see how he got in and out."
"How about some high-class thought transference stunt? Some magnetic influence that irresistibly impelled Mrs. Vandemeyer to commit suicide?"
Tommy looked at him with respect.
"Good, Julius. Distinctly good. Especially the phraseology. But it leaves me cold. I yearn for a real Mr. Brown of flesh and blood. I think the gifted young detectives must get to work, study the entrances and exits, and tap the bumps on their foreheads until the solution of the mystery dawns on them. Let's go round to the scene of the crime. I wish we could get hold of Tuppence. The Ritz would enjoy the spectacle of the glad reunion."
Inquiry at the office revealed the fact that Tuppence had not yet returned.
"All the same, I guess I'll have a look round upstairs," said Julius. "She might be in my sitting-room." He disappeared.
Suddenly a diminutive boy spoke at Tommy's elbow:
"The young lady—she's gone away by train, I think, sir," he murmured shyly.
"What?" Tommy wheeled round upon him.
The small boy became pinker than before.
"The taxi, sir. I heard her tell the driver Charing Cross and to look sharp."
Tommy stared at him, his eyes opening wide in surprise. Emboldened, the small boy proceeded. "So I thought, having asked for an A.B.C. and a Bradshaw."
Tommy interrupted him:
"When did she ask for an A.B.C. and a Bradshaw?"
"When I took her the telegram, sir."
"When was that?"
"About half-past twelve, sir."
"Tell me exactly what happened."
The small boy drew a long breath.
"I took up a telegram to No. 891—the lady was there. She opened it and gave a gasp, and then she said, very jolly like: 'Bring me up a Bradshaw, and an A.B.C., and look sharp, Henry.' My name isn't Henry, but——"
"Never mind your name," said Tommy impatiently. "Go on."
"Yes, sir. I brought them, and she told me to wait, and looked up something. And then she looks up at the clock, and 'Hurry up,' she says. 'Tell them to get me a taxi,' and she begins a-shoving on of her hat in front of the glass, and she was down in two ticks, almost as quick as I was, and I seed her going down the steps and into the taxi, and I heard her call out what I told you."
The small boy stopped and replenished his lungs. Tommy continued to stare at him. At that moment Julius rejoined him. He held an open letter in his hand.
"I say, Hersheimmer"—Tommy turned to him—"Tuppence has gone off sleuthing on her own."
"Yes, she has. She went off in a taxi to Charing Cross in the deuce of a hurry after getting a telegram." His eye fell on the letter in Julius's hand. "Oh; she left a note for you. That's all right. Where's she off to?"
Almost unconsciously, he held out his hand for the letter, but Julius folded it up and placed it in his pocket. He seemed a trifle embarrassed.
"I guess this is nothing to do with it. It's about something else—something I asked her that she was to let me know about."
"Oh!" Tommy looked puzzled, and seemed waiting for more.
"See here," said Julius suddenly, "I'd better put you wise. I asked Miss Tuppence to marry me this morning."
"Oh!" said Tommy mechanically. He felt dazed. Julius's words were totally unexpected. For the moment they benumbed his brain.
"I'd like to tell you," continued Julius, "that before I suggested anything of the kind to Miss Tuppence, I made it clear that I didn't want to butt in in any way between her and you——"
Tommy roused himself.
"That's all right," he said quickly. "Tuppence and I have been pals for years. Nothing more." He lit a cigarette with a hand that shook ever so little. "That's quite all right. Tuppence always said that she was looking out for——"
He stopped abruptly, his face crimsoning, but Julius was in no way discomposed.
"Oh, I guess it'll be the dollars that'll do the trick. Miss Tuppence put me wise to that right away. There's no humbug about her. We ought to gee along together very well."
Tommy looked at him curiously for a minute, as though he were about to speak, then changed his mind and said nothing. Tuppence and Julius! Well, why not? Had she not lamented the fact that she knew no rich men? Had she not openly avowed her intention of marrying for money if she ever had the chance? Her meeting with the young American millionaire had given her the chance—and it was unlikely she would be slow to avail herself of it. She was out for money. She had always said so. Why blame her because she had been true to her creed?
Nevertheless, Tommy did blame her. He was filled with a passionate and utterly illogical resentment. It was all very well to SAY things like that—but a REAL girl would never marry for money. Tuppence was utterly cold-blooded and selfish, and he would be delighted if he never saw her again! And it was a rotten world!
Julius's voice broke in on these meditations.
"Yes, we ought to get along together very well. I've heard that a girl always refuses you once—a sort of convention."
Tommy caught his arm.
"Refuses? Did you say REFUSES?"
"Sure thing. Didn't I tell you that? She just rapped out a 'no' without any kind of reason to it. The eternal feminine, the Huns call it, I've heard. But she'll come round right enough. Likely enough, I hustled her some——"
But Tommy interrupted regardless of decorum.
"What did she say in that note?" he demanded fiercely.
The obliging Julius handed it to him.
"There's no earthly clue in it as to where she's gone," he assured Tommy. "But you might as well see for yourself if you don't believe me."
The note, in Tuppence's well-known schoolboy writing, ran as follows:
"It's always better to have things in black and white. I don't feel I can be bothered to think of marriage until Tommy is found. Let's leave it till then.
Tommy handed it back, his eyes shining. His feelings had undergone a sharp reaction. He now felt that Tuppence was all that was noble and disinterested. Had she not refused Julius without hesitation? True, the note betokened signs of weakening, but he could excuse that. It read almost like a bribe to Julius to spur him on in his efforts to find Tommy, but he supposed she had not really meant it that way. Darling Tuppence, there was not a girl in the world to touch her! When he saw her——His thoughts were brought up with a sudden jerk.
"As you say," he remarked, pulling himself together, "there's not a hint here as to what she's up to. Hi—Henry!"
The small boy came obediently. Tommy produced five shillings.
"One thing more. Do you remember what the young lady did with the telegram?"
Henry gasped and spoke.
"She crumpled it up into a ball and threw it into the grate, and made a sort of noise like 'Whoop!' sir."
"Very graphic, Henry," said Tommy. "Here's your five shillings. Come on, Julius. We must find that telegram."
They hurried upstairs. Tuppence had left the key in her door. The room was as she had left it. In the fireplace was a crumpled ball of orange and white. Tommy disentangled it and smoothed out the telegram.
"Come at once, Moat House, Ebury, Yorkshire, great developments—TOMMY."
They looked at each other in stupefaction. Julius spoke first:
"You didn't send it?"
"Of course not. What does it mean?"
"I guess it means the worst," said Julius quietly. "They've got her."
"Sure thing! They signed your name, and she fell into the trap like a lamb."
"My God! What shall we do?"
"Get busy, and go after her! Right now! There's no time to waste. It's almighty luck that she didn't take the wire with her. If she had we'd probably never have traced her. But we've got to hustle. Where's that Bradshaw?"
The energy of Julius was infectious. Left to himself, Tommy would probably have sat down to think things out for a good half-hour before he decided on a plan of action. But with Julius Hersheimmer about, hustling was inevitable.
After a few muttered imprecations he handed the Bradshaw to Tommy as being more conversant with its mysteries. Tommy abandoned it in favour of an A.B.C.
"Here we are. Ebury, Yorks. From King's Cross. Or St. Pancras. (Boy must have made a mistake. It was King's Cross, not CHARING Cross.) 12.50, that's the train she went by. 2.10, that's gone. 3.20 is the next—and a damned slow train too."
"What about the car?"
Tommy shook his head.
"Send it up if you like, but we'd better stick to the train. The great thing is to keep calm."
"That's so. But it gets my goat to think of that innocent young girl in danger!"
Tommy nodded abstractedly. He was thinking. In a moment or two, he said:
"I say, Julius, what do they want her for, anyway?"
"Eh? I don't get you?"
"What I mean is that I don't think it's their game to do her any harm," explained Tommy, puckering his brow with the strain of his mental processes. "She's a hostage, that's what she is. She's in no immediate danger, because if we tumble on to anything, she'd be damned useful to them. As long as they've got her, they've got the whip hand of us. See?"
"Sure thing," said Julius thoughtfully. "That's so."
"Besides," added Tommy, as an afterthought, "I've great faith in Tuppence."
The journey was wearisome, with many stops, and crowded carriages. They had to change twice, once at Doncaster, once at a small junction. Ebury was a deserted station with a solitary porter, to whom Tommy addressed himself:
"Can you tell me the way to the Moat House?"
"The Moat House? It's a tidy step from here. The big house near the sea, you mean?"
Tommy assented brazenly. After listening to the porter's meticulous but perplexing directions, they prepared to leave the station. It was beginning to rain, and they turned up the collars of their coats as they trudged through the slush of the road. Suddenly Tommy halted.
"Wait a moment." He ran back to the station and tackled the porter anew.
"Look here, do you remember a young lady who arrived by an earlier train, the 12.50 from London? She'd probably ask you the way to the Moat House."
He described Tuppence as well as he could, but the porter shook his head. Several people had arrived by the train in question. He could not call to mind one young lady in particular. But he was quite certain that no one had asked him the way to the Moat House.
Tommy rejoined Julius, and explained. Depression was settling on him like a leaden weight. He felt convinced that their quest was going to be unsuccessful. The enemy had over three hours' start. Three hours was more than enough for Mr. Brown. He would not ignore the possibility of the telegram having been found.
The way seemed endless. Once they took the wrong turning and went nearly half a mile out of their direction. It was past seven o'clock when a small boy told them that "t' Moat House" was just past the next corner.
A rusty iron gate swinging dismally on its hinges! An overgrown drive thick with leaves. There was something about the place that struck a chill to both their hearts. They went up the deserted drive. The leaves deadened their footsteps. The daylight was almost gone. It was like walking in a world of ghosts. Overhead the branches flapped and creaked with a mournful note. Occasionally a sodden leaf drifted silently down, startling them with its cold touch on their cheek.
A turn of the drive brought them in sight of the house. That, too, seemed empty and deserted. The shutters were closed, the steps up to the door overgrown with moss. Was it indeed to this desolate spot that Tuppence had been decoyed? It seemed hard to believe that a human footstep had passed this way for months.
Julius jerked the rusty bell handle. A jangling peal rang discordantly, echoing through the emptiness within. No one came. They rang again and again—but there was no sign of life. Then they walked completely round the house. Everywhere silence, and shuttered windows. If they could believe the evidence of their eyes the place was empty.
"Nothing doing," said Julius.
They retraced their steps slowly to the gate.
"There must be a village handy," continued the young American. "We'd better make inquiries there. They'll know something about the place, and whether there's been anyone there lately."
"Yes, that's not a bad idea."
Proceeding up the road, they soon came to a little hamlet. On the outskirts of it, they met a workman swinging his bag of tools, and Tommy stopped him with a question.
"The Moat House? It's empty. Been empty for years. Mrs. Sweeny's got the key if you want to go over it—next to the post office."
Tommy thanked him. They soon found the post office, which was also a sweet and general fancy shop, and knocked at the door of the cottage next to it. A clean, wholesome-looking woman opened it. She readily produced the key of the Moat House.
"Though I doubt if it's the kind of place to suit you, sir. In a terrible state of repair. Ceilings leaking and all. 'Twould need a lot of money spent on it."
"Thanks," said Tommy cheerily. "I dare say it'll be a washout, but houses are scarce nowadays."
"That they are," declared the woman heartily. "My daughter and son-in-law have been looking for a decent cottage for I don't know how long. It's all the war. Upset things terribly, it has. But excuse me, sir, it'll be too dark for you to see much of the house. Hadn't you better wait until to-morrow?"
"That's all right. We'll have a look around this evening, anyway. We'd have been here before only we lost our way. What's the best place to stay at for the night round here?"
Mrs. Sweeny looked doubtful.
"There's the Yorkshire Arms, but it's not much of a place for gentlemen like you."
"Oh, it will do very well. Thanks. By the way, you've not had a young lady here asking for this key to-day?"
The woman shook her head.
"No one's been over the place for a long time."
"Thanks very much."
They retraced their steps to the Moat House. As the front door swung back on its hinges, protesting loudly, Julius struck a match and examined the floor carefully. Then he shook his head.
"I'd swear no one's passed this way. Look at the dust. Thick. Not a sign of a footmark."
They wandered round the deserted house. Everywhere the same tale. Thick layers of dust apparently undisturbed.
"This gets me," said Julius. "I don't believe Tuppence was ever in this house."
"She must have been."
Julius shook his head without replying.
"We'll go over it again to-morrow," said Tommy. "Perhaps we'll see more in the daylight."
On the morrow they took up the search once more, and were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the house had not been invaded for some considerable time. They might have left the village altogether but for a fortunate discovery of Tommy's. As they were retracing their steps to the gate, he gave a sudden cry, and stooping, picked something up from among the leaves, and held it out to Julius. It was a small gold brooch.
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. I've often seen her wear it."
Julius drew a deep breath.
"I guess that settles it. She came as far as here, anyway. We'll make that pub our head-quarters, and raise hell round here until we find her. Somebody MUST have seen her."
Forthwith the campaign began. Tommy and Julius worked separately and together, but the result was the same. Nobody answering to Tuppence's description had been seen in the vicinity. They were baffled—but not discouraged. Finally they altered their tactics. Tuppence had certainly not remained long in the neighbourhood of the Moat House. That pointed to her having been overcome and carried away in a car. They renewed inquiries. Had anyone seen a car standing somewhere near the Moat House that day? Again they met with no success.
Julius wired to town for his own car, and they scoured the neighbourhood daily with unflagging zeal. A grey limousine on which they had set high hopes was traced to Harrogate, and turned out to be the property of a highly respectable maiden lady!
Each day saw them set out on a new quest. Julius was like a hound on the leash. He followed up the slenderest clue. Every car that had passed through the village on the fateful day was tracked down. He forced his way into country properties and submitted the owners of the motors to a searching cross-examination. His apologies were as thorough as his methods, and seldom failed in disarming the indignation of his victims; but, as day succeeded day, they were no nearer to discovering Tuppence's whereabouts. So well had the abduction been planned that the girl seemed literally to have vanished into thin air.
And another preoccupation was weighing on Tommy's mind.
"Do you know how long we've been here?" he asked one morning as they sat facing each other at breakfast. "A week! We're no nearer to finding Tuppence, and NEXT SUNDAY IS THE 29TH!"
"Shucks!" said Julius thoughtfully. "I'd almost forgotten about the 29th. I've been thinking of nothing but Tuppence."
"So have I. At least, I hadn't forgotten about the 29th, but it didn't seem to matter a damn in comparison to finding Tuppence. But to-day's the 23rd, and time's getting short. If we're ever going to get hold of her at all, we must do it before the 29th—her life won't be worth an hour's purchase afterwards. The hostage game will be played out by then. I'm beginning to feel that we've made a big mistake in the way we've set about this. We've wasted time and we're no forrader."
"I'm with you there. We've been a couple of mutts, who've bitten off a bigger bit than they can chew. I'm going to quit fooling right away!"
"What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you. I'm going to do what we ought to have done a week ago. I'm going right back to London to put the case in the hands of your British police. We fancied ourselves as sleuths. Sleuths! It was a piece of damn-fool foolishness! I'm through! I've had enough of it. Scotland Yard for me!"
"You're right," said Tommy slowly. "I wish to God we'd gone there right away."
"Better late than never. We've been like a couple of babes playing 'Here we go round the Mulberry Bush.' Now I'm going right along to Scotland Yard to ask them to take me by the hand and show me the way I should go. I guess the professional always scores over the amateur in the end. Are you coming along with me?"
Tommy shook his head.
"What's the good? One of us is enough. I might as well stay here and nose round a bit longer. Something MIGHT turn up. One never knows."
"Sure thing. Well, so long. I'll be back in a couple of shakes with a few inspectors along. I shall tell them to pick out their brightest and best."
But the course of events was not to follow the plan Julius had laid down. Later in the day Tommy received a wire:
"Join me Manchester Midland Hotel. Important news—JULIUS."
At 7:30 that night Tommy alighted from a slow cross-country train. Julius was on the platform.
"Thought you'd come by this train if you weren't out when my wire arrived."
Tommy grasped him by the arm.
"What is it? Is Tuppence found?"
Julius shook his head.
"No. But I found this waiting in London. Just arrived."
He handed the telegraph form to the other. Tommy's eyes opened as he read:
"Jane Finn found. Come Manchester Midland Hotel immediately—PEEL EDGERTON."
Julius took the form back and folded it up.
"Queer," he said thoughtfully. "I thought that lawyer chap had quit!"
CHAPTER XIX. JANE FINN
"MY train got in half an hour ago," explained Julius, as he led the way out of the station. "I reckoned you'd come by this before I left London, and wired accordingly to Sir James. He's booked rooms for us, and will be round to dine at eight."
"What made you think he'd ceased to take any interest in the case?" asked Tommy curiously.
"What he said," replied Julius dryly. "The old bird's as close as an oyster! Like all the darned lot of them, he wasn't going to commit himself till he was sure he could deliver the goods."
"I wonder," said Tommy thoughtfully.
Julius turned on him.
"You wonder what?"
"Whether that was his real reason."
"Sure. You bet your life it was."
Tommy shook his head unconvinced.
Sir James arrived punctually at eight o'clock, and Julius introduced Tommy. Sir James shook hands with him warmly.
"I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Beresford. I have heard so much about you from Miss Tuppence"—he smiled involuntarily—"that it really seems as though I already know you quite well."
"Thank you, sir," said Tommy with his cheerful grin. He scanned the great lawyer eagerly. Like Tuppence, he felt the magnetism of the other's personality. He was reminded of Mr. Carter. The two men, totally unlike so far as physical resemblance went, produced a similar effect. Beneath the weary manner of the one and the professional reserve of the other, lay the same quality of mind, keen-edged like a rapier.
In the meantime he was conscious of Sir James's close scrutiny. When the lawyer dropped his eyes the young man had the feeling that the other had read him through and through like an open book. He could not but wonder what the final judgment was, but there was little chance of learning that. Sir James took in everything, but gave out only what he chose. A proof of that occurred almost at once.
Immediately the first greetings were over Julius broke out into a flood of eager questions. How had Sir James managed to track the girl? Why had he not let them know that he was still working on the case? And so on.
Sir James stroked his chin and smiled. At last he said:
"Just so, just so. Well, she's found. And that's the great thing, isn't it? Eh! Come now, that's the great thing?"
"Sure it is. But just how did you strike her trail? Miss Tuppence and I thought you'd quit for good and all."
"Ah!" The lawyer shot a lightning glance at him, then resumed operations on his chin. "You thought that, did you? Did you really? H'm, dear me."
"But I guess I can take it we were wrong," pursued Julius.
"Well, I don't know that I should go so far as to say that. But it's certainly fortunate for all parties that we've managed to find the young lady."
"But where is she?" demanded Julius, his thoughts flying off on another tack. "I thought you'd be sure to bring her along?"
"That would hardly be possible," said Sir James gravely.
"Because the young lady was knocked down in a street accident, and has sustained slight injuries to the head. She was taken to the infirmary, and on recovering consciousness gave her name as Jane Finn. When—ah!—I heard that, I arranged for her to be removed to the house of a doctor—a friend of mine, and wired at once for you. She relapsed into unconsciousness and has not spoken since."
"She's not seriously hurt?"
"Oh, a bruise and a cut or two; really, from a medical point of view, absurdly slight injuries to have produced such a condition. Her state is probably to be attributed to the mental shock consequent on recovering her memory."
"It's come back?" cried Julius excitedly.
Sir James tapped the table rather impatiently.
"Undoubtedly, Mr. Hersheimmer, since she was able to give her real name. I thought you had appreciated that point."
"And you just happened to be on the spot," said Tommy. "Seems quite like a fairy tale."
But Sir James was far too wary to be drawn.
"Coincidences are curious things," he said dryly.
Nevertheless Tommy was now certain of what he had before only suspected. Sir James's presence in Manchester was not accidental. Far from abandoning the case, as Julius supposed, he had by some means of his own successfully run the missing girl to earth. The only thing that puzzled Tommy was the reason for all this secrecy. He concluded that it was a foible of the legal mind.
Julius was speaking.
"After dinner," he announced, "I shall go right away and see Jane."
"That will be impossible, I fear," said Sir James. "It is very unlikely they would allow her to see visitors at this time of night. I should suggest to-morrow morning about ten o'clock."
Julius flushed. There was something in Sir James which always stirred him to antagonism. It was a conflict of two masterful personalities.
"All the same, I reckon I'll go round there to-night and see if I can't ginger them up to break through their silly rules."
"It will be quite useless, Mr. Hersheimmer."
The words came out like the crack of a pistol, and Tommy looked up with a start. Julius was nervous and excited. The hand with which he raised his glass to his lips shook slightly, but his eyes held Sir James's defiantly. For a moment the hostility between the two seemed likely to burst into flame, but in the end Julius lowered his eyes, defeated.
"For the moment, I reckon you're the boss."
"Thank you," said the other. "We will say ten o'clock then?" With consummate ease of manner he turned to Tommy. "I must confess, Mr. Beresford, that it was something of a surprise to me to see you here this evening. The last I heard of you was that your friends were in grave anxiety on your behalf. Nothing had been heard of you for some days, and Miss Tuppence was inclined to think you had got into difficulties."
"I had, sir!" Tommy grinned reminiscently. "I was never in a tighter place in my life."
Helped out by questions from Sir James, he gave an abbreviated account of his adventures. The lawyer looked at him with renewed interest as he brought the tale to a close.
"You got yourself out of a tight place very well," he said gravely. "I congratulate you. You displayed a great deal of ingenuity and carried your part through well."
Tommy blushed, his face assuming a prawnlike hue at the praise.
"I couldn't have got away but for the girl, sir."
"No." Sir James smiled a little. "It was lucky for you she happened to—er—take a fancy to you." Tommy appeared about to protest, but Sir James went on. "There's no doubt about her being one of the gang, I suppose?"
"I'm afraid not, sir. I thought perhaps they were keeping her there by force, but the way she acted didn't fit in with that. You see, she went back to them when she could have got away."
Sir James nodded thoughtfully.
"What did she say? Something about wanting to be taken to Marguerite?"
"Yes, sir. I suppose she meant Mrs. Vandemeyer."
"She always signed herself Rita Vandemeyer. All her friends spoke of her as Rita. Still, I suppose the girl must have been in the habit of calling her by her full name. And, at the moment she was crying out to her, Mrs. Vandemeyer was either dead or dying! Curious! There are one or two points that strike me as being obscure—their sudden change of attitude towards yourself, for instance. By the way, the house was raided, of course?"
"Yes, sir, but they'd all cleared out."
"Naturally," said Sir James dryly.
"And not a clue left behind."
"I wonder——" The lawyer tapped the table thoughtfully.
Something in his voice made Tommy look up. Would this man's eyes have seen something where theirs had been blind? He spoke impulsively:
"I wish you'd been there, sir, to go over the house!"
"I wish I had," said Sir James quietly. He sat for a moment in silence. Then he looked up. "And since then? What have you been doing?"
For a moment, Tommy stared at him. Then it dawned on him that of course the lawyer did not know.
"I forgot that you didn't know about Tuppence," he said slowly. The sickening anxiety, forgotten for a while in the excitement of knowing Jane Finn was found at last, swept over him again.
The lawyer laid down his knife and fork sharply.
"Has anything happened to Miss Tuppence?" His voice was keen-edged.
"She's disappeared," said Julius.
"A week ago."
Sir James's questions fairly shot out. Between them Tommy and Julius gave the history of the last week and their futile search.
Sir James went at once to the root of the matter.
"A wire signed with your name? They knew enough of you both for that. They weren't sure of how much you had learnt in that house. Their kidnapping of Miss Tuppence is the counter-move to your escape. If necessary they could seal your lips with a threat of what might happen to her."
"That's just what I thought, sir."
Sir James looked at him keenly. "You had worked that out, had you? Not bad—not at all bad. The curious thing is that they certainly did not know anything about you when they first held you prisoner. You are sure that you did not in any way disclose your identity?"
Tommy shook his head.
"That's so," said Julius with a nod. "Therefore I reckon some one put them wise—and not earlier than Sunday afternoon."
"Yes, but who?"
"That almighty omniscient Mr. Brown, of course!"
There was a faint note of derision in the American's voice which made Sir James look up sharply.
"You don't believe in Mr. Brown, Mr. Hersheimmer?"
"No, sir, I do not," returned the young American with emphasis. "Not as such, that is to say. I reckon it out that he's a figurehead—just a bogy name to frighten the children with. The real head of this business is that Russian chap Kramenin. I guess he's quite capable of running revolutions in three countries at once if he chose! The man Whittington is probably the head of the English branch."
"I disagree with you," said Sir James shortly. "Mr. Brown exists." He turned to Tommy. "Did you happen to notice where that wire was handed in?"
"No, sir, I'm afraid I didn't."
"H'm. Got it with you?"
"It's upstairs, sir, in my kit."
"I'd like to have a look at it sometime. No hurry. You've wasted a week"—Tommy hung his head—"a day or so more is immaterial. We'll deal with Miss Jane Finn first. Afterwards, we'll set to work to rescue Miss Tuppence from bondage. I don't think she's in any immediate danger. That is, so long as they don't know that we've got Jane Finn, and that her memory has returned. We must keep that dark at all costs. You understand?"
The other two assented, and, after making arrangements for meeting on the morrow, the great lawyer took his leave.
At ten o'clock, the two young men were at the appointed spot. Sir James had joined them on the doorstep. He alone appeared unexcited. He introduced them to the doctor.
"Mr. Hersheimmer—Mr. Beresford—Dr. Roylance. How's the patient?"
"Going on well. Evidently no idea of the flight of time. Asked this morning how many had been saved from the Lusitania. Was it in the papers yet? That, of course, was only what was to be expected. She seems to have something on her mind, though."
"I think we can relieve her anxiety. May we go up?"
Tommy's heart beat sensibly faster as they followed the doctor upstairs. Jane Finn at last! The long-sought, the mysterious, the elusive Jane Finn! How wildly improbable success had seemed! And here in this house, her memory almost miraculously restored, lay the girl who held the future of England in her hands. A half groan broke from Tommy's lips. If only Tuppence could have been at his side to share in the triumphant conclusion of their joint venture! Then he put the thought of Tuppence resolutely aside. His confidence in Sir James was growing. There was a man who would unerringly ferret out Tuppence's whereabouts. In the meantime Jane Finn! And suddenly a dread clutched at his heart. It seemed too easy.... Suppose they should find her dead... stricken down by the hand of Mr. Brown?
In another minute he was laughing at these melodramatic fancies. The doctor held open the door of a room and they passed in. On the white bed, bandages round her head, lay the girl. Somehow the whole scene seemed unreal. It was so exactly what one expected that it gave the effect of being beautifully staged.
The girl looked from one to the other of them with large wondering eyes. Sir James spoke first.
"Miss Finn," he said, "this is your cousin, Mr. Julius P. Hersheimmer."
A faint flush flitted over the girl's face, as Julius stepped forward and took her hand.
"How do, Cousin Jane?" he said lightly.
But Tommy caught the tremor in his voice.
"Are you really Uncle Hiram's son?" she asked wonderingly.
Her voice, with the slight warmth of the Western accent, had an almost thrilling quality. It seemed vaguely familiar to Tommy, but he thrust the impression aside as impossible.
"We used to read about Uncle Hiram in the papers," continued the girl, in her low soft tones. "But I never thought I'd meet you one day. Mother figured it out that Uncle Hiram would never get over being mad with her."
"The old man was like that," admitted Julius. "But I guess the new generation's sort of different. Got no use for the family feud business. First thing I thought about, soon as the war was over, was to come along and hunt you up."
A shadow passed over the girl's face.
"They've been telling me things—dreadful things—that my memory went, and that there are years I shall never know about—years lost out of my life."
"You didn't realize that yourself?"
The girl's eyes opened wide.
"Why, no. It seems to me as though it were no time since we were being hustled into those boats. I can see it all now." She closed her eyes with a shudder.
Julius looked across at Sir James, who nodded.
"Don't worry any. It isn't worth it. Now, see here, Jane, there's something we want to know about. There was a man aboard that boat with some mighty important papers on him, and the big guns in this country have got a notion that he passed on the goods to you. Is that so?"
The girl hesitated, her glance shifting to the other two. Julius understood.
"Mr. Beresford is commissioned by the British Government to get those papers back. Sir James Peel Edgerton is an English Member of Parliament, and might be a big gun in the Cabinet if he liked. It's owing to him that we've ferreted you out at last. So you can go right ahead and tell us the whole story. Did Danvers give you the papers?"
"Yes. He said they'd have a better chance with me, because they would save the women and children first."
"Just as we thought," said Sir James.
"He said they were very important—that they might make all the difference to the Allies. But, if it's all so long ago, and the war's over, what does it matter now?"
"I guess history repeats itself, Jane. First there was a great hue and cry over those papers, then it all died down, and now the whole caboodle's started all over again—for rather different reasons. Then you can hand them over to us right away?"
"But I can't."
"I haven't got them."
"You—haven't—got them?" Julius punctuated the words with little pauses.
"No—I hid them."
"You hid them?"
"Yes. I got uneasy. People seemed to be watching me. It scared me—badly." She put her hand to her head. "It's almost the last thing I remember before waking up in the hospital...."
"Go on," said Sir James, in his quiet penetrating tones. "What do you remember?"
She turned to him obediently.
"It was at Holyhead. I came that way—I don't remember why...."
"That doesn't matter. Go on."
"In the confusion on the quay I slipped away. Nobody saw me. I took a car. Told the man to drive me out of the town. I watched when we got on the open road. No other car was following us. I saw a path at the side of the road. I told the man to wait."
She paused, then went on. "The path led to the cliff, and down to the sea between big yellow gorse bushes—they were like golden flames. I looked round. There wasn't a soul in sight. But just level with my head there was a hole in the rock. It was quite small—I could only just get my hand in, but it went a long way back. I took the oilskin packet from round my neck and shoved it right in as far as I could. Then I tore off a bit of gorse—My! but it did prick—and plugged the hole with it so that you'd never guess there was a crevice of any kind there. Then I marked the place carefully in my own mind, so that I'd find it again. There was a queer boulder in the path just there—for all the world like a dog sitting up begging. Then I went back to the road. The car was waiting, and I drove back. I just caught the train. I was a bit ashamed of myself for fancying things maybe, but, by and by, I saw the man opposite me wink at a woman who was sitting next to me, and I felt scared again, and was glad the papers were safe. I went out in the corridor to get a little air. I thought I'd slip into another carriage. But the woman called me back, said I'd dropped something, and when I stooped to look, something seemed to hit me—here." She placed her hand to the back of her head. "I don't remember anything more until I woke up in the hospital."
There was a pause.
"Thank you, Miss Finn." It was Sir James who spoke. "I hope we have not tired you?"
"Oh, that's all right. My head aches a little, but otherwise I feel fine."
Julius stepped forward and took her hand again.
"So long, Cousin Jane. I'm going to get busy after those papers, but I'll be back in two shakes of a dog's tail, and I'll tote you up to London and give you the time of your young life before we go back to the States! I mean it—so hurry up and get well."
CHAPTER XX. TOO LATE
IN the street they held an informal council of war. Sir James had drawn a watch from his pocket. "The boat train to Holyhead stops at Chester at 12.14. If you start at once I think you can catch the connection."
Tommy looked up, puzzled.
"Is there any need to hurry, sir? To-day is only the 24th."
"I guess it's always well to get up early in the morning," said Julius, before the lawyer had time to reply. "We'll make tracks for the depot right away."
A little frown had settled on Sir James's brow.
"I wish I could come with you. I am due to speak at a meeting at two o'clock. It is unfortunate."
The reluctance in his tone was very evident. It was clear, on the other hand, that Julius was easily disposed to put up with the loss of the other's company.
"I guess there's nothing complicated about this deal," he remarked. "Just a game of hide-and-seek, that's all."
"I hope so," said Sir James.
"Sure thing. What else could it be?"
"You are still young, Mr. Hersheimmer. At my age you will probably have learnt one lesson. 'Never underestimate your adversary.'"
The gravity of his tone impressed Tommy, but had little effect upon Julius.
"You think Mr. Brown might come along and take a hand? If he does, I'm ready for him." He slapped his pocket. "I carry a gun. Little Willie here travels round with me everywhere." He produced a murderous-looking automatic, and tapped it affectionately before returning it to its home. "But he won't be needed this trip. There's nobody to put Mr. Brown wise."
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders.
"There was nobody to put Mr. Brown wise to the fact that Mrs. Vandemeyer meant to betray him. Nevertheless, MRS. VANDEMEYER DIED WITHOUT SPEAKING."
Julius was silenced for once, and Sir James added on a lighter note:
"I only want to put you on your guard. Good-bye, and good luck. Take no unnecessary risks once the papers are in your hands. If there is any reason to believe that you have been shadowed, destroy them at once. Good luck to you. The game is in your hands now." He shook hands with them both.
Ten minutes later the two young men were seated in a first-class carriage en route for Chester.
For a long time neither of them spoke. When at length Julius broke the silence, it was with a totally unexpected remark.
"Say," he observed thoughtfully, "did you ever make a darned fool of yourself over a girl's face?"
Tommy, after a moment's astonishment, searched his mind.
"Can't say I have," he replied at last. "Not that I can recollect, anyhow. Why?"
"Because for the last two months I've been making a sentimental idiot of myself over Jane! First moment I clapped eyes on her photograph my heart did all the usual stunts you read about in novels. I guess I'm ashamed to admit it, but I came over here determined to find her and fix it all up, and take her back as Mrs. Julius P. Hersheimmer!"
"Oh!" said Tommy, amazed.
Julius uncrossed his legs brusquely and continued:
"Just shows what an almighty fool a man can make of himself! One look at the girl in the flesh, and I was cured!"
Feeling more tongue-tied than ever, Tommy ejaculated "Oh!" again.
"No disparagement to Jane, mind you," continued the other. "She's a real nice girl, and some fellow will fall in love with her right away."
"I thought her a very good-looking girl," said Tommy, finding his tongue.
"Sure she is. But she's not like her photo one bit. At least I suppose she is in a way—must be—because I recognized her right off. If I'd seen her in a crowd I'd have said 'There's a girl whose face I know' right away without any hesitation. But there was something about that photo"—Julius shook his head, and heaved a sigh—"I guess romance is a mighty queer thing!"
"It must be," said Tommy coldly, "if you can come over here in love with one girl, and propose to another within a fortnight."
Julius had the grace to look discomposed.
"Well, you see, I'd got a sort of tired feeling that I'd never find Jane—and that it was all plumb foolishness anyway. And then—oh, well, the French, for instance, are much more sensible in the way they look at things. They keep romance and marriage apart——"
"Well, I'm damned! If that's——"
Julius hastened to interrupt.
"Say now, don't be hasty. I don't mean what you mean. I take it Americans have a higher opinion of morality than you have even. What I meant was that the French set about marriage in a businesslike way—find two people who are suited to one another, look after the money affairs, and see the whole thing practically, and in a businesslike spirit."
"If you ask me," said Tommy, "we're all too damned businesslike nowadays. We're always saying, 'Will it pay?' The men are bad enough, and the girls are worse!"
"Cool down, son. Don't get so heated."
"I feel heated," said Tommy.
Julius looked at him and judged it wise to say no more.
However, Tommy had plenty of time to cool down before they reached Holyhead, and the cheerful grin had returned to his countenance as they alighted at their destination.
After consultation, and with the aid of a road map, they were fairly well agreed as to direction, so were able to hire a taxi without more ado and drive out on the road leading to Treaddur Bay. They instructed the man to go slowly, and watched narrowly so as not to miss the path. They came to it not long after leaving the town, and Tommy stopped the car promptly, asked in a casual tone whether the path led down to the sea, and hearing it did paid off the man in handsome style.
A moment later the taxi was slowly chugging back to Holyhead. Tommy and Julius watched it out of sight, and then turned to the narrow path.
"It's the right one, I suppose?" asked Tommy doubtfully. "There must be simply heaps along here."
"Sure it is. Look at the gorse. Remember what Jane said?"
Tommy looked at the swelling hedges of golden blossom which bordered the path on either side, and was convinced.
They went down in single file, Julius leading. Twice Tommy turned his head uneasily. Julius looked back.
"What is it?"
"I don't know. I've got the wind up somehow. Keep fancying there's some one following us."
"Can't be," said Julius positively. "We'd see him."
Tommy had to admit that this was true. Nevertheless, his sense of uneasiness deepened. In spite of himself he believed in the omniscience of the enemy.
"I rather wish that fellow would come along," said Julius. He patted his pocket. "Little William here is just aching for exercise!"
"Do you always carry it—him—with you?" inquired Tommy with burning curiosity.
"Most always. I guess you never know what might turn up."
Tommy kept a respectful silence. He was impressed by little William. It seemed to remove the menace of Mr. Brown farther away.
The path was now running along the side of the cliff, parallel to the sea. Suddenly Julius came to such an abrupt halt that Tommy cannoned into him.
"What's up?" he inquired.
"Look there. If that doesn't beat the band!"
Tommy looked. Standing out half obstructing the path was a huge boulder which certainly bore a fanciful resemblance to a "begging" terrier.
"Well," said Tommy, refusing to share Julius's emotion, "it's what we expected to see, isn't it?"
Julius looked at him sadly and shook his head.
"British phlegm! Sure we expected it—but it kind of rattles me, all the same, to see it sitting there just where we expected to find it!"
Tommy, whose calm was, perhaps, more assumed than natural, moved his feet impatiently.
"Push on. What about the hole?"
They scanned the cliff-side narrowly. Tommy heard himself saying idiotically:
"The gorse won't be there after all these years."
And Julius replied solemnly:
"I guess you're right."
Tommy suddenly pointed with a shaking hand.
"What about that crevice there?"
Julius replied in an awestricken voice:
"That's it—for sure."
They looked at each other.
"When I was in France," said Tommy reminiscently, "whenever my batman failed to call me, he always said that he had come over queer. I never believed it. But whether he felt it or not, there IS such a sensation. I've got it now! Badly!"
He looked at the rock with a kind of agonized passion.
"Damn it!" he cried. "It's impossible! Five years! Think of it! Bird's-nesting boys, picnic parties, thousands of people passing! It can't be there! It's a hundred to one against its being there! It's against all reason!"
Indeed, he felt it to be impossible—more, perhaps, because he could not believe in his own success where so many others had failed. The thing was too easy, therefore it could not be. The hole would be empty.
Julius looked at him with a widening smile.
"I guess you're rattled now all right," he drawled with some enjoyment. "Well, here goes!" He thrust his hand into the crevice, and made a slight grimace. "It's a tight fit. Jane's hand must be a few sizes smaller than mine. I don't feel anything—no—say, what's this? Gee whiz!" And with a flourish he waved aloft a small discoloured packet. "It's the goods all right. Sewn up in oilskin. Hold it while I get my penknife."
The unbelievable had happened. Tommy held the precious packet tenderly between his hands. They had succeeded!
"It's queer," he murmured idly, "you'd think the stitches would have rotted. They look just as good as new."
They cut them carefully and ripped away the oilskin. Inside was a small folded sheet of paper. With trembling fingers they unfolded it. The sheet was blank! They stared at each other, puzzled.
"A dummy?" hazarded Julius. "Was Danvers just a decoy?"
Tommy shook his head. That solution did not satisfy him. Suddenly his face cleared.
"I've got it! SYMPATHETIC INK!"
"You think so?"
"Worth trying anyhow. Heat usually does the trick. Get some sticks. We'll make a fire."
In a few minutes the little fire of twigs and leaves was blazing merrily. Tommy held the sheet of paper near the glow. The paper curled a little with the heat. Nothing more.
Suddenly Julius grasped his arm, and pointed to where characters were appearing in a faint brown colour.
"Gee whiz! You've got it! Say, that idea of yours was great. It never occurred to me."
Tommy held the paper in position some minutes longer until he judged the heat had done its work. Then he withdrew it. A moment later he uttered a cry.
Across the sheet in neat brown printing ran the words: WITH THE COMPLIMENTS OF MR. BROWN.
CHAPTER XXI. TOMMY MAKES A DISCOVERY
FOR a moment or two they stood staring at each other stupidly, dazed with the shock. Somehow, inexplicably, Mr. Brown had forestalled them. Tommy accepted defeat quietly. Not so Julius.
"How in tarnation did he get ahead of us? That's what beats me!" he ended up.
Tommy shook his head, and said dully:
"It accounts for the stitches being new. We might have guessed...."
"Never mind the darned stitches. How did he get ahead of us? We hustled all we knew. It's downright impossible for anyone to get here quicker than we did. And, anyway, how did he know? Do you reckon there was a dictaphone in Jane's room? I guess there must have been."
But Tommy's common sense pointed out objections.
"No one could have known beforehand that she was going to be in that house—much less that particular room."
"That's so," admitted Julius. "Then one of the nurses was a crook and listened at the door. How's that?"
"I don't see that it matters anyway," said Tommy wearily. "He may have found out some months ago, and removed the papers, then——No, by Jove, that won't wash! They'd have been published at once."
"Sure thing they would! No, some one's got ahead of us to-day by an hour or so. But how they did it gets my goat."
"I wish that chap Peel Edgerton had been with us," said Tommy thoughtfully.
"Why?" Julius stared. "The mischief was done when we came."
"Yes——" Tommy hesitated. He could not explain his own feeling—the illogical idea that the K.C.'s presence would somehow have averted the catastrophe. He reverted to his former point of view. "It's no good arguing about how it was done. The game's up. We've failed. There's only one thing for me to do."
"Get back to London as soon as possible. Mr. Carter must be warned. It's only a matter of hours now before the blow falls. But, at any rate, he ought to know the worst."
The duty was an unpleasant one, but Tommy had no intention of shirking it. He must report his failure to Mr. Carter. After that his work was done. He took the midnight mail to London. Julius elected to stay the night at Holyhead.
Half an hour after arrival, haggard and pale, Tommy stood before his chief.
"I've come to report, sir. I've failed—failed badly."
Mr. Carter eyed him sharply.
"You mean that the treaty——"
"Is in the hands of Mr. Brown, sir."
"Ah!" said Mr. Carter quietly. The expression on his face did not change, but Tommy caught the flicker of despair in his eyes. It convinced him as nothing else had done that the outlook was hopeless.
"Well," said Mr. Carter after a minute or two, "we mustn't sag at the knees, I suppose. I'm glad to know definitely. We must do what we can."
Through Tommy's mind flashed the assurance: "It's hopeless, and he knows it's hopeless!"
The other looked up at him.
"Don't take it to heart, lad," he said kindly. "You did your best. You were up against one of the biggest brains of the century. And you came very near success. Remember that."
"Thank you, sir. It's awfully decent of you."
"I blame myself. I have been blaming myself ever since I heard this other news."
Something in his tone attracted Tommy's attention. A new fear gripped at his heart.
"Is there—something more, sir?"
"I'm afraid so," said Mr. Carter gravely. He stretched out his hand to a sheet on the table.
"Tuppence——?" faltered Tommy.
"Read for yourself."
The typewritten words danced before his eyes. The description of a green toque, a coat with a handkerchief in the pocket marked P.L.C. He looked an agonized question at Mr. Carter. The latter replied to it:
"Washed up on the Yorkshire coast—near Ebury. I'm afraid—it looks very much like foul play."
"My God!" gasped Tommy. "TUPPENCE! Those devils—I'll never rest till I've got even with them! I'll hunt them down! I'll——"
The pity on Mr. Carter's face stopped him.
"I know what you feel like, my poor boy. But it's no good. You'll waste your strength uselessly. It may sound harsh, but my advice to you is: Cut your losses. Time's merciful. You'll forget."
"Forget Tuppence? Never!"
Mr. Carter shook his head.
"So you think now. Well, it won't bear thinking of—that brave little girl! I'm sorry about the whole business—confoundedly sorry."
Tommy came to himself with a start.
"I'm taking up your time, sir," he said with an effort. "There's no need for you to blame yourself. I dare say we were a couple of young fools to take on such a job. You warned us all right. But I wish to God I'd been the one to get it in the neck. Good-bye, sir."
Back at the Ritz, Tommy packed up his few belongings mechanically, his thoughts far away. He was still bewildered by the introduction of tragedy into his cheerful commonplace existence. What fun they had had together, he and Tuppence! And now—oh, he couldn't believe it—it couldn't be true! TUPPENCE—DEAD! Little Tuppence, brimming over with life! It was a dream, a horrible dream. Nothing more.
They brought him a note, a few kind words of sympathy from Peel Edgerton, who had read the news in the paper. (There had been a large headline: EX-V.A.D. FEARED DROWNED.) The letter ended with the offer of a post on a ranch in the Argentine, where Sir James had considerable interests.
"Kind old beggar," muttered Tommy, as he flung it aside.
The door opened, and Julius burst in with his usual violence. He held an open newspaper in his hand.
"Say, what's all this? They seem to have got some fool idea about Tuppence."
"It's true," said Tommy quietly.
"You mean they've done her in?"
"I suppose when they got the treaty she—wasn't any good to them any longer, and they were afraid to let her go."
"Well, I'm darned!" said Julius. "Little Tuppence. She sure was the pluckiest little girl——"
But suddenly something seemed to crack in Tommy's brain. He rose to his feet.
"Oh, get out! You don't really care, damn you! You asked her to marry you in your rotten cold-blooded way, but I LOVED her. I'd have given the soul out of my body to save her from harm. I'd have stood by without a word and let her marry you, because you could have given her the sort of time she ought to have had, and I was only a poor devil without a penny to bless himself with. But it wouldn't have been because I didn't care!"
"See here," began Julius temperately.
"Oh, go to the devil! I can't stand your coming here and talking about 'little Tuppence.' Go and look after your cousin. Tuppence is my girl! I've always loved her, from the time we played together as kids. We grew up and it was just the same. I shall never forget when I was in hospital, and she came in in that ridiculous cap and apron! It was like a miracle to see the girl I loved turn up in a nurse's kit——"
But Julius interrupted him.
"A nurse's kit! Gee whiz! I must be going to Colney Hatch! I could swear I've seen Jane in a nurse's cap too. And that's plumb impossible! No, by gum, I've got it! It was her I saw talking to Whittington at that nursing home in Bournemouth. She wasn't a patient there! She was a nurse!"
"I dare say," said Tommy angrily, "she's probably been in with them from the start. I shouldn't wonder if she stole those papers from Danvers to begin with."
"I'm darned if she did!" shouted Julius. "She's my cousin, and as patriotic a girl as ever stepped."
"I don't care a damn what she is, but get out of here!" retorted Tommy also at the top of his voice.
The young men were on the point of coming to blows. But suddenly, with an almost magical abruptness, Julius's anger abated.
"All right, son," he said quietly, "I'm going. I don't blame you any for what you've been saying. It's mighty lucky you did say it. I've been the most almighty blithering darned idiot that it's possible to imagine. Calm down"—Tommy had made an impatient gesture—"I'm going right away now—going to the London and North Western Railway depot, if you want to know."
"I don't care a damn where you're going," growled Tommy.
As the door closed behind Julius, he returned to his suit-case.
"That's the lot," he murmured, and rang the bell.
"Take my luggage down."
"Yes, sir. Going away, sir?"
"I'm going to the devil," said Tommy, regardless of the menial's feelings.
That functionary, however, merely replied respectfully:
"Yes, sir. Shall I call a taxi?"
Where was he going? He hadn't the faintest idea. Beyond a fixed determination to get even with Mr. Brown he had no plans. He re-read Sir James's letter, and shook his head. Tuppence must be avenged. Still, it was kind of the old fellow.
"Better answer it, I suppose." He went across to the writing-table. With the usual perversity of bedroom stationery, there were innumerable envelopes and no paper. He rang. No one came. Tommy fumed at the delay. Then he remembered that there was a good supply in Julius's sitting-room. The American had announced his immediate departure, there would be no fear of running up against him. Besides, he wouldn't mind if he did. He was beginning to be rather ashamed of the things he had said. Old Julius had taken them jolly well. He'd apologize if he found him there.
But the room was deserted. Tommy walked across to the writing-table, and opened the middle drawer. A photograph, carelessly thrust in face upwards, caught his eye. For a moment he stood rooted to the ground. Then he took it out, shut the drawer, walked slowly over to an arm-chair, and sat down still staring at the photograph in his hand.
What on earth was a photograph of the French girl Annette doing in Julius Hersheimmer's writing-table?
CHAPTER XXII. IN DOWNING STREET
THE Prime Minister tapped the desk in front of him with nervous fingers. His face was worn and harassed. He took up his conversation with Mr. Carter at the point it had broken off. "I don't understand," he said. "Do you really mean that things are not so desperate after all?"
"So this lad seems to think."
"Let's have a look at his letter again."
Mr. Carter handed it over. It was written in a sprawling boyish hand.
"DEAR MR. CARTER,
"Something's turned up that has given me a jar. Of course I may be simply making an awful ass of myself, but I don't think so. If my conclusions are right, that girl at Manchester was just a plant. The whole thing was prearranged, sham packet and all, with the object of making us think the game was up—therefore I fancy that we must have been pretty hot on the scent.
"I think I know who the real Jane Finn is, and I've even got an idea where the papers are. That last's only a guess, of course, but I've a sort of feeling it'll turn out right. Anyhow, I enclose it in a sealed envelope for what it's worth. I'm going to ask you not to open it until the very last moment, midnight on the 28th, in fact. You'll understand why in a minute. You see, I've figured it out that those things of Tuppence's are a plant too, and she's no more drowned than I am. The way I reason is this: as a last chance they'll let Jane Finn escape in the hope that she's been shamming this memory stunt, and that once she thinks she's free she'll go right away to the cache. Of course it's an awful risk for them to take, because she knows all about them—but they're pretty desperate to get hold of that treaty. BUT IF THEY KNOW THAT THE PAPERS HAVE BEEN RECOVERED BY US, neither of those two girls' lives will be worth an hour's purchase. I must try and get hold of Tuppence before Jane escapes.
"I want a repeat of that telegram that was sent to Tuppence at the Ritz. Sir James Peel Edgerton said you would be able to manage that for me. He's frightfully clever.
"One last thing—please have that house in Soho watched day and night.
The Prime Minister looked up.
Mr. Carter smiled dryly.
"In the vaults of the Bank. I am taking no chances."
"You don't think"—the Prime Minister hesitated a minute—"that it would be better to open it now? Surely we ought to secure the document, that is, provided the young man's guess turns out to be correct, at once. We can keep the fact of having done so quite secret."
"Can we? I'm not so sure. There are spies all round us. Once it's known I wouldn't give that"—he snapped his fingers—"for the life of those two girls. No, the boy trusted me, and I shan't let him down."
"Well, well, we must leave it at that, then. What's he like, this lad?"
"Outwardly, he's an ordinary clean-limbed, rather block-headed young Englishman. Slow in his mental processes. On the other hand, it's quite impossible to lead him astray through his imagination. He hasn't got any—so he's difficult to deceive. He worries things out slowly, and once he's got hold of anything he doesn't let go. The little lady's quite different. More intuition and less common sense. They make a pretty pair working together. Pace and stamina."
"He seems confident," mused the Prime Minister.
"Yes, and that's what gives me hope. He's the kind of diffident youth who would have to be VERY sure before he ventured an opinion at all."
A half smile came to the other's lips.
"And it is this—boy who will defeat the master criminal of our time?"
"This—boy, as you say! But I sometimes fancy I see a shadow behind."
"Peel Edgerton?" said the Prime Minister in astonishment.
"Yes. I see his hand in THIS." He struck the open letter. "He's there—working in the dark, silently, unobtrusively. I've always felt that if anyone was to run Mr. Brown to earth, Peel Edgerton would be the man. I tell you he's on the case now, but doesn't want it known. By the way, I got rather an odd request from him the other day."
"He sent me a cutting from some American paper. It referred to a man's body found near the docks in New York about three weeks ago. He asked me to collect any information on the subject I could."
Carter shrugged his shoulders.
"I couldn't get much. Young fellow about thirty-five—poorly dressed—face very badly disfigured. He was never identified."
"And you fancy that the two matters are connected in some way?"
"Somehow I do. I may be wrong, of course."
There was a pause, then Mr. Carter continued:
"I asked him to come round here. Not that we'll get anything out of him he doesn't want to tell. His legal instincts are too strong. But there's no doubt he can throw light on one or two obscure points in young Beresford's letter. Ah, here he is!"
The two men rose to greet the new-comer. A half whimsical thought flashed across the Premier's mind. "My successor, perhaps!"
"We've had a letter from young Beresford," said Mr. Carter, coming to the point at once. "You've seen him, I suppose?"
"You suppose wrong," said the lawyer.
"Oh!" Mr. Carter was a little nonplussed.
Sir James smiled, and stroked his chin.
"He rang me up," he volunteered.
"Would you have any objection to telling us exactly what passed between you?"
"Not at all. He thanked me for a certain letter which I had written to him—as a matter of fact, I had offered him a job. Then he reminded me of something I had said to him at Manchester respecting that bogus telegram which lured Miss Cowley away. I asked him if anything untoward had occurred. He said it had—that in a drawer in Mr. Hersheimmer's room he had discovered a photograph." The lawyer paused, then continued: "I asked him if the photograph bore the name and address of a Californian photographer. He replied: 'You're on to it, sir. It had.' Then he went on to tell me something I DIDN'T know. The original of that photograph was the French girl, Annette, who saved his life."
"Exactly. I asked the young man with some curiosity what he had done with the photograph. He replied that he had put it back where he found it." The lawyer paused again. "That was good, you know—distinctly good. He can use his brains, that young fellow. I congratulated him. The discovery was a providential one. Of course, from the moment that the girl in Manchester was proved to be a plant everything was altered. Young Beresford saw that for himself without my having to tell it him. But he felt he couldn't trust his judgment on the subject of Miss Cowley. Did I think she was alive? I told him, duly weighing the evidence, that there was a very decided chance in favour of it. That brought us back to the telegram."
"I advised him to apply to you for a copy of the original wire. It had occurred to me as probable that, after Miss Cowley flung it on the floor, certain words might have been erased and altered with the express intention of setting searchers on a false trail."
Carter nodded. He took a sheet from his pocket, and read aloud:
"Come at once, Astley Priors, Gatehouse, Kent. Great developments—TOMMY."
"Very simple," said Sir James, "and very ingenious. Just a few words to alter, and the thing was done. And the one important clue they overlooked."
"What was that?"
"The page-boy's statement that Miss Cowley drove to Charing Cross. They were so sure of themselves that they took it for granted he had made a mistake."
"Then young Beresford is now?"
"At Gatehouse, Kent, unless I am much mistaken."
Mr. Carter looked at him curiously.
"I rather wonder you're not there too, Peel Edgerton?"
"Ah, I'm busy on a case."
"I thought you were on your holiday?"
"Oh, I've not been briefed. Perhaps it would be more correct to say I'm preparing a case. Any more facts about that American chap for me?"
"I'm afraid not. Is it important to find out who he was?"
"Oh, I know who he was," said Sir James easily. "I can't prove it yet—but I know."
The other two asked no questions. They had an instinct that it would be mere waste of breath.
"But what I don't understand," said the Prime-Minister suddenly, "is how that photograph came to be in Mr. Hersheimmer's drawer?"
"Perhaps it never left it," suggested the lawyer gently.
"But the bogus inspector? Inspector Brown?"
"Ah!" said Sir James thoughtfully. He rose to his feet. "I mustn't keep you. Go on with the affairs of the nation. I must get back to—my case."
Two days later Julius Hersheimmer returned from Manchester. A note from Tommy lay on his table:
"Sorry I lost my temper. In case I don't see you again, good-bye. I've been offered a job in the Argentine, and might as well take it.
A peculiar smile lingered for a moment on Julius's face. He threw the letter into the waste-paper basket.
"The darned fool!" he murmured.
CHAPTER XXIII. A RACE AGAINST TIME
AFTER ringing up Sir James, Tommy's next procedure was to make a call at South Audley Mansions. He found Albert discharging his professional duties, and introduced himself without more ado as a friend of Tuppence's. Albert unbent immediately.
"Things has been very quiet here lately," he said wistfully. "Hope the young lady's keeping well, sir?"
"That's just the point, Albert. She's disappeared."
"You don't mean as the crooks have got her?"
"In the Underworld?"
"No, dash it all, in this world!"
"It's a h'expression, sir," explained Albert. "At the pictures the crooks always have a restoorant in the Underworld. But do you think as they've done her in, sir?"
"I hope not. By the way, have you by any chance an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother, or any other suitable female relation who might be represented as being likely to kick the bucket?"
A delighted grin spread slowly over Albert's countenance.
"I'm on, sir. My poor aunt what lives in the country has been mortal bad for a long time, and she's asking for me with her dying breath."
Tommy nodded approval.
"Can you report this in the proper quarter and meet me at Charing Cross in an hour's time?"
"I'll be there, sir. You can count on me."
As Tommy had judged, the faithful Albert proved an invaluable ally. The two took up their quarters at the inn in Gatehouse. To Albert fell the task of collecting information. There was no difficulty about it.
Astley Priors was the property of a Dr. Adams. The doctor no longer practiced, had retired, the landlord believed, but he took a few private patients—here the good fellow tapped his forehead knowingly—"balmy ones! You understand!" The doctor was a popular figure in the village, subscribed freely to all the local sports—"a very pleasant, affable gentleman." Been there long? Oh, a matter of ten years or so—might be longer. Scientific gentleman, he was. Professors and people often came down from town to see him. Anyway, it was a gay house, always visitors.
In the face of all this volubility, Tommy felt doubts. Was it possible that this genial, well-known figure could be in reality a dangerous criminal? His life seemed so open and aboveboard. No hint of sinister doings. Suppose it was all a gigantic mistake? Tommy felt a cold chill at the thought.
Then he remembered the private patients—"balmy ones." He inquired carefully if there was a young lady amongst them, describing Tuppence. But nothing much seemed to be known about the patients—they were seldom seen outside the grounds. A guarded description of Annette also failed to provoke recognition.
Astley Priors was a pleasant red-brick edifice, surrounded by well-wooded grounds which effectually shielded the house from observation from the road.
On the first evening Tommy, accompanied by Albert, explored the grounds. Owing to Albert's insistence they dragged themselves along painfully on their stomachs, thereby producing a great deal more noise than if they had stood upright. In any case, these precautions were totally unnecessary. The grounds, like those of any other private house after nightfall, seemed untenanted. Tommy had imagined a possible fierce watchdog. Albert's fancy ran to a puma, or a tame cobra. But they reached a shrubbery near the house quite unmolested.
The blinds of the dining-room window were up. There was a large company assembled round the table. The port was passing from hand to hand. It seemed a normal, pleasant company. Through the open window scraps of conversation floated out disjointedly on the night air. It was a heated discussion on county cricket!
Again Tommy felt that cold chill of uncertainty. It seemed impossible to believe that these people were other than they seemed. Had he been fooled once more? The fair-bearded, spectacled gentleman who sat at the head of the table looked singularly honest and normal.
Tommy slept badly that night. The following morning the indefatigable Albert, having cemented an alliance with the greengrocer's boy, took the latter's place and ingratiated himself with the cook at Malthouse. He returned with the information that she was undoubtedly "one of the crooks," but Tommy mistrusted the vividness of his imagination. Questioned, he could adduce nothing in support of his statement except his own opinion that she wasn't the usual kind. You could see that at a glance.
The substitution being repeated (much to the pecuniary advantage of the real greengrocer's boy) on the following day, Albert brought back the first piece of hopeful news. There WAS a French young lady staying in the house. Tommy put his doubts aside. Here was confirmation of his theory. But time pressed. To-day was the 27th. The 29th was the much-talked-of "Labour Day," about which all sorts of rumours were running riot. Newspapers were getting agitated. Sensational hints of a Labour coup d'etat were freely reported. The Government said nothing. It knew and was prepared. There were rumours of dissension among the Labour leaders. They were not of one mind. The more far-seeing among them realized that what they proposed might well be a death-blow to the England that at heart they loved. They shrank from the starvation and misery a general strike would entail, and were willing to meet the Government half-way. But behind them were subtle, insistent forces at work, urging the memories of old wrongs, deprecating the weakness of half-and-half measures, fomenting misunderstandings.
Tommy felt that, thanks to Mr. Carter, he understood the position fairly accurately. With the fatal document in the hands of Mr. Brown, public opinion would swing to the side of the Labour extremists and revolutionists. Failing that, the battle was an even chance. The Government with a loyal army and police force behind them might win—but at a cost of great suffering. But Tommy nourished another and a preposterous dream. With Mr. Brown unmasked and captured he believed, rightly or wrongly, that the whole organization would crumble ignominiously and instantaneously. The strange permeating influence of the unseen chief held it together. Without him, Tommy believed an instant panic would set in; and, the honest men left to themselves, an eleventh-hour reconciliation would be possible.
"This is a one-man show," said Tommy to himself. "The thing to do is to get hold of the man."
It was partly in furtherance of this ambitious design that he had requested Mr. Carter not to open the sealed envelope. The draft treaty was Tommy's bait. Every now and then he was aghast at his own presumption. How dared he think that he had discovered what so many wiser and clever men had overlooked? Nevertheless, he stuck tenaciously to his idea.
That evening he and Albert once more penetrated the grounds of Astley Priors. Tommy's ambition was somehow or other to gain admission to the house itself. As they approached cautiously, Tommy gave a sudden gasp.
On the second floor window some one standing between the window and the light in the room threw a silhouette on the blind. It was one Tommy would have recognized anywhere! Tuppence was in that house!
He clutched Albert by the shoulder.
"Stay here! When I begin to sing, watch that window."
He retreated hastily to a position on the main drive, and began in a deep roar, coupled with an unsteady gait, the following ditty:
I am a Soldier A jolly British Soldier; You can see that I'm a Soldier by my feet...
It had been a favourite on the gramophone in Tuppence's hospital days. He did not doubt but that she would recognize it and draw her own conclusions. Tommy had not a note of music in his voice, but his lungs were excellent. The noise he produced was terrific.
Presently an unimpeachable butler, accompanied by an equally unimpeachable footman, issued from the front door. The butler remonstrated with him. Tommy continued to sing, addressing the butler affectionately as "dear old whiskers." The footman took him by one arm, the butler by the other. They ran him down the drive, and neatly out of the gate. The butler threatened him with the police if he intruded again. It was beautifully done—soberly and with perfect decorum. Anyone would have sworn that the butler was a real butler, the footman a real footman—only, as it happened, the butler was Whittington!
Tommy retired to the inn and waited for Albert's return. At last that worthy made his appearance.
"Well?" cried Tommy eagerly.
"It's all right. While they was a-running of you out the window opened, and something was chucked out." He handed a scrap of paper to Tommy. "It was wrapped round a letterweight."
On the paper were scrawled three words: "To-morrow—same time."
"Good egg!" cried Tommy. "We're getting going."
"I wrote a message on a piece of paper, wrapped it round a stone, and chucked it through the window," continued Albert breathlessly.
"Your zeal will be the undoing of us, Albert. What did you say?"
"Said we was a-staying at the inn. If she could get away, to come there and croak like a frog."
"She'll know that's you," said Tommy with a sigh of relief. "Your imagination runs away with you, you know, Albert. Why, you wouldn't recognize a frog croaking if you heard it."
Albert looked rather crest-fallen.
"Cheer up," said Tommy. "No harm done. That butler's an old friend of mine—I bet he knew who I was, though he didn't let on. It's not their game to show suspicion. That's why we've found it fairly plain sailing. They don't want to discourage me altogether. On the other hand, they don't want to make it too easy. I'm a pawn in their game, Albert, that's what I am. You see, if the spider lets the fly walk out too easily, the fly might suspect it was a put-up job. Hence the usefulness of that promising youth, Mr. T. Beresford, who's blundered in just at the right moment for them. But later, Mr. T. Beresford had better look out!"
Tommy retired for the night in a state of some elation. He had elaborated a careful plan for the following evening. He felt sure that the inhabitants of Astley Priors would not interfere with him up to a certain point. It was after that that Tommy proposed to give them a surprise.
About twelve o'clock, however, his calm was rudely shaken. He was told that some one was demanding him in the bar. The applicant proved to be a rude-looking carter well coated with mud.
"Well, my good fellow, what is it?" asked Tommy.
"Might this be for you, sir?" The carter held out a very dirty folded note, on the outside of which was written: "Take this to the gentleman at the inn near Astley Priors. He will give you ten shillings."
The handwriting was Tuppence's. Tommy appreciated her quick-wittedness in realizing that he might be staying at the inn under an assumed name. He snatched at it.
"That's all right."
The man withheld it.
"What about my ten shillings?"
Tommy hastily produced a ten-shilling note, and the man relinquished his find. Tommy unfastened it.
"I knew it was you last night. Don't go this evening. They'll be lying in wait for you. They're taking us away this morning. I heard something about Wales—Holyhead, I think. I'll drop this on the road if I get a chance. Annette told me how you'd escaped. Buck up.
Tommy raised a shout for Albert before he had even finished perusing this characteristic epistle.
"Pack my bag! We're off!"
"Yes, sir." The boots of Albert could be heard racing upstairs. Holyhead? Did that mean that, after all——Tommy was puzzled. He read on slowly.
The boots of Albert continued to be active on the floor above.
Suddenly a second shout came from below.
"Albert! I'm a damned fool! Unpack that bag!"
Tommy smoothed out the note thoughtfully.
"Yes, a damned fool," he said softly. "But so's some one else! And at last I know who it is!"
CHAPTER XXIV. JULIUS TAKES A HAND
IN his suite at Claridge's, Kramenin reclined on a couch and dictated to his secretary in sibilant Russian.
Presently the telephone at the secretary's elbow purred, and he took up the receiver, spoke for a minute or two, then turned to his employer.
"Some one below is asking for you."
"Who is it?"
"He gives the name of Mr. Julius P. Hersheimmer."
"Hersheimmer," repeated Kramenin thoughtfully. "I have heard that name before."
"His father was one of the steel kings of America," explained the secretary, whose business it was to know everything. "This young man must be a millionaire several times over."
The other's eyes narrowed appreciatively.
"You had better go down and see him, Ivan. Find out what he wants."
The secretary obeyed, closing the door noiselessly behind him. In a few minutes he returned.
"He declines to state his business—says it is entirely private and personal, and that he must see you."
"A millionaire several times over," murmured Kramenin. "Bring him up, my dear Ivan."
The secretary left the room once more, and returned escorting Julius.
"Monsieur Kramenin?" said the latter abruptly.
The Russian, studying him attentively with his pale venomous eyes, bowed.
"Pleased to meet you," said the American. "I've got some very important business I'd like to talk over with you, if I can see you alone." He looked pointedly at the other.
"My secretary, Monsieur Grieber, from whom I have no secrets."
"That may be so—but I have," said Julius dryly. "So I'd be obliged if you'd tell him to scoot."
"Ivan," said the Russian softly, "perhaps you would not mind retiring into the next room——"
"The next room won't do," interrupted Julius. "I know these ducal suites—and I want this one plumb empty except for you and me. Send him round to a store to buy a penn'orth of peanuts."
Though not particularly enjoying the American's free and easy manner of speech, Kramenin was devoured by curiosity. "Will your business take long to state?"
"Might be an all night job if you caught on."
"Very good, Ivan. I shall not require you again this evening. Go to the theatre—take a night off."
"Thank you, your excellency."
The secretary bowed and departed.
Julius stood at the door watching his retreat. Finally, with a satisfied sigh, he closed it, and came back to his position in the centre of the room.
"Now, Mr. Hersheimmer, perhaps you will be so kind as to come to the point?"
"I guess that won't take a minute," drawled Julius. Then, with an abrupt change of manner: "Hands up—or I shoot!"
For a moment Kramenin stared blindly into the big automatic, then, with almost comical haste, he flung up his hands above his head. In that instant Julius had taken his measure. The man he had to deal with was an abject physical coward—the rest would be easy.
"This is an outrage," cried the Russian in a high hysterical voice. "An outrage! Do you mean to kill me?"
"Not if you keep your voice down. Don't go edging sideways towards that bell. That's better."
"What do you want? Do nothing rashly. Remember my life is of the utmost value to my country. I may have been maligned——"
"I reckon," said Julius, "that the man who let daylight into you would be doing humanity a good turn. But you needn't worry any. I'm not proposing to kill you this trip—that is, if you're reasonable."
The Russian quailed before the stern menace in the other's eyes. He passed his tongue over his dry lips.
"What do you want? Money?"
"No. I want Jane Finn."
"Jane Finn? I—never heard of her!"
"You're a darned liar! You know perfectly who I mean."
"I tell you I've never heard of the girl."
"And I tell you," retorted Julius, "that Little Willie here is just hopping mad to go off!"
The Russian wilted visibly.
"You wouldn't dare——"
"Oh, yes, I would, son!"
Kramenin must have recognized something in the voice that carried conviction, for he said sullenly:
"Well? Granted I do know who you mean—what of it?"
"You will tell me now—right here—where she is to be found."
Kramenin shook his head.
"I daren't. You ask an impossibility."
"Afraid, eh? Of whom? Mr. Brown? Ah, that tickles you up! There is such a person, then? I doubted it. And the mere mention of him scares you stiff!"
"I have seen him," said the Russian slowly. "Spoken to him face to face. I did not know it until afterwards. He was one of a crowd. I should not know him again. Who is he really? I do not know. But I know this—he is a man to fear."
"He'll never know," said Julius.
"He knows everything—and his vengeance is swift. Even I—Kramenin!—would not be exempt!"
"Then you won't do as I ask you?"
"You ask an impossibility."
"Sure that's a pity for you," said Julius cheerfully. "But the world in general will benefit." He raised the revolver.
"Stop," shrieked the Russian. "You cannot mean to shoot me?"
"Of course I do. I've always heard you Revolutionists held life cheap, but it seems there's a difference when it's your own life in question. I gave you just one chance of saving your dirty skin, and that you wouldn't take!"
"They would kill me!"
"Well," said Julius pleasantly, "it's up to you. But I'll just say this. Little Willie here is a dead cert, and if I was you I'd take a sporting chance with Mr. Brown!"
"You will hang if you shoot me," muttered the Russian irresolutely.
"No, stranger, that's where you're wrong. You forget the dollars. A big crowd of solicitors will get busy, and they'll get some high-brow doctors on the job, and the end of it all will be that they'll say my brain was unhinged. I shall spend a few months in a quiet sanatorium, my mental health will improve, the doctors will declare me sane again, and all will end happily for little Julius. I guess I can bear a few months' retirement in order to rid the world of you, but don't you kid yourself I'll hang for it!"
The Russian believed him. Corrupt himself, he believed implicitly in the power of money. He had read of American murder trials running much on the lines indicated by Julius. He had bought and sold justice himself. This virile young American, with the significant drawling voice, had the whip hand of him.
"I'm going to count five," continued Julius, "and I guess, if you let me get past four, you needn't worry any about Mr. Brown. Maybe he'll send some flowers to the funeral, but YOU won't smell them! Are you ready? I'll begin. One—two three—four——"
The Russian interrupted with a shriek:
"Do not shoot. I will do all you wish."
Julius lowered the revolver.
"I thought you'd hear sense. Where is the girl?"
"At Gatehouse, in Kent. Astley Priors, the place is called."
"Is she a prisoner there?"
"She's not allowed to leave the house—though it's safe enough really. The little fool has lost her memory, curse her!"
"That's been annoying for you and your friends, I reckon. What about the other girl, the one you decoyed away over a week ago?"
"She's there too," said the Russian sullenly.
"That's good," said Julius. "Isn't it all panning out beautifully? And a lovely night for the run!"
"What run?" demanded Kramenin, with a stare.
"Down to Gatehouse, sure. I hope you're fond of motoring?"
"What do you mean? I refuse to go."
"Now don't get mad. You must see I'm not such a kid as to leave you here. You'd ring up your friends on that telephone first thing! Ah!" He observed the fall on the other's face. "You see, you'd got it all fixed. No, sir, you're coming along with me. This your bedroom next door here? Walk right in. Little Willie and I will come behind. Put on a thick coat, that's right. Fur lined? And you a Socialist! Now we're ready. We walk downstairs and out through the hall to where my car's waiting. And don't you forget I've got you covered every inch of the way. I can shoot just as well through my coat pocket. One word, or a glance even, at one of those liveried menials, and there'll sure be a strange face in the Sulphur and Brimstone Works!"
Together they descended the stairs, and passed out to the waiting car. The Russian was shaking with rage. The hotel servants surrounded them. A cry hovered on his lips, but at the last minute his nerve failed him. The American was a man of his word.
When they reached the car, Julius breathed a sigh of relief. The danger-zone was passed. Fear had successfully hypnotized the man by his side.
"Get in," he ordered. Then as he caught the other's sidelong glance, "No, the chauffeur won't help you any. Naval man. Was on a submarine in Russia when the Revolution broke out. A brother of his was murdered by your people. George!"
"Yes, sir?" The chauffeur turned his head.
"This gentleman is a Russian Bolshevik. We don't want to shoot him, but it may be necessary. You understand?"
"I want to go to Gatehouse in Kent. Know the road at all?"
"Yes, sir, it will be about an hour and a half's run."
"Make it an hour. I'm in a hurry."
"I'll do my best, sir." The car shot forward through the traffic.
Julius ensconced himself comfortably by the side of his victim. He kept his hand in the pocket of his coat, but his manner was urbane to the last degree.
"There was a man I shot once in Arizona——" he began cheerfully.
At the end of the hour's run the unfortunate Kramenin was more dead than alive. In succession to the anecdote of the Arizona man, there had been a tough from 'Frisco, and an episode in the Rockies. Julius's narrative style, if not strictly accurate, was picturesque!
Slowing down, the chauffeur called over his shoulder that they were just coming into Gatehouse. Julius bade the Russian direct them. His plan was to drive straight up to the house. There Kramenin was to ask for the two girls. Julius explained to him that Little Willie would not be tolerant of failure. Kramenin, by this time, was as putty in the other's hands. The terrific pace they had come had still further unmanned him. He had given himself up for dead at every corner.
The car swept up the drive, and stopped before the porch. The chauffeur looked round for orders.
"Turn the car first, George. Then ring the bell, and get back to your place. Keep the engine going, and be ready to scoot like hell when I give the word."
"Very good, sir."
The front door was opened by the butler. Kramenin felt the muzzle of the revolver pressed against his ribs.
"Now," hissed Julius. "And be careful."
The Russian beckoned. His lips were white, and his voice was not very steady:
"It is I—Kramenin! Bring down the girl at once! There is no time to lose!"
Whittington had come down the steps. He uttered an exclamation of astonishment at seeing the other.
"You! What's up? Surely you know the plan——"
Kramenin interrupted him, using the words that have created many unnecessary panics:
"We have been betrayed! Plans must be abandoned. We must save our own skins. The girl! And at once! It's our only chance."
Whittington hesitated, but for hardly a moment.
"You have orders—from HIM?"
"Naturally! Should I be here otherwise? Hurry! There is no time to be lost. The other little fool had better come too."
Whittington turned and ran back into the house. The agonizing minutes went by. Then—two figures hastily huddled in cloaks appeared on the steps and were hustled into the car. The smaller of the two was inclined to resist and Whittington shoved her in unceremoniously. Julius leaned forward, and in doing so the light from the open door lit up his face. Another man on the steps behind Whittington gave a startled exclamation. Concealment was at an end.
"Get a move on, George," shouted Julius.
The chauffeur slipped in his clutch, and with a bound the car started.
The man on the steps uttered an oath. His hand went to his pocket. There was a flash and a report. The bullet just missed the taller girl by an inch.
"Get down, Jane," cried Julius. "Flat on the bottom of the car." He thrust her sharply forward, then standing up, he took careful aim and fired.
"Have you hit him?" cried Tuppence eagerly.
"Sure," replied Julius. "He isn't killed, though. Skunks like that take a lot of killing. Are you all right, Tuppence?"
"Of course I am. Where's Tommy? And who's this?" She indicated the shivering Kramenin.
"Tommy's making tracks for the Argentine. I guess he thought you'd turned up your toes. Steady through the gate, George! That's right. It'll take 'em at least five minutes to get busy after us. They'll use the telephone, I guess, so look out for snares ahead—and don't take the direct route. Who's this, did you say, Tuppence? Let me present Monsieur Kramenin. I persuaded him to come on the trip for his health."
The Russian remained mute, still livid with terror.
"But what made them let us go?" demanded Tuppence suspiciously.
"I reckon Monsieur Kramenin here asked them so prettily they just couldn't refuse!"
This was too much for the Russian. He burst out vehemently:
"Curse you—curse you! They know now that I betrayed them. My life won't be safe for an hour in this country."
"That's so," assented Julius. "I'd advise you to make tracks for Russia right away."
"Let me go, then," cried the other. "I have done what you asked. Why do you still keep me with you?"
"Not for the pleasure of your company. I guess you can get right off now if you want to. I thought you'd rather I tooled you back to London."
"You may never reach London," snarled the other. "Let me go here and now."
"Sure thing. Pull up, George. The gentleman's not making the return trip. If I ever come to Russia, Monsieur Kramenin, I shall expect a rousing welcome, and——"
But before Julius had finished his speech, and before the car had finally halted, the Russian had swung himself out and disappeared into the night.
"Just a mite impatient to leave us," commented Julius, as the car gathered way again. "And no idea of saying good-bye politely to the ladies. Say, Jane, you can get up on the seat now."
For the first time the girl spoke.
"How did you 'persuade' him?" she asked.
Julius tapped his revolver.
"Little Willie here takes the credit!"
"Splendid!" cried the girl. The colour surged into her face, her eyes looked admiringly at Julius.
"Annette and I didn't know what was going to happen to us," said Tuppence. "Old Whittington hurried us off. We thought it was lambs to the slaughter."
"Annette," said Julius. "Is that what you call her?"
His mind seemed to be trying to adjust itself to a new idea.
"It's her name," said Tuppence, opening her eyes very wide.
"Shucks!" retorted Julius. "She may think it's her name, because her memory's gone, poor kid. But it's the one real and original Jane Finn we've got here."
"What?" cried Tuppence.
But she was interrupted. With an angry spurt, a bullet embedded itself in the upholstery of the car just behind her head.
"Down with you," cried Julius. "It's an ambush. These guys have got busy pretty quickly. Push her a bit, George."
The car fairly leapt forward. Three more shots rang out, but went happily wide. Julius, upright, leant over the back of the car.
"Nothing to shoot at," he announced gloomily. "But I guess there'll be another little picnic soon. Ah!"
He raised his hand to his cheek.
"You are hurt?" said Annette quickly.
"Only a scratch."
The girl sprang to her feet.
"Let me out! Let me out, I say! Stop the car. It is me they're after. I'm the one they want. You shall not lose your lives because of me. Let me go." She was fumbling with the fastenings of the door.
Julius took her by both arms, and looked at her. She had spoken with no trace of foreign accent.
"Sit down, kid," he said gently. "I guess there's nothing wrong with your memory. Been fooling them all the time, eh?"
The girl looked at him, nodded, and then suddenly burst into tears. Julius patted her on the shoulder.
"There, there—just you sit tight. We're not going to let you quit."
Through her sobs the girl said indistinctly:
"You're from home. I can tell by your voice. It makes me home-sick."
"Sure I'm from home. I'm your cousin—Julius Hersheimmer. I came over to Europe on purpose to find you—and a pretty dance you've led me."
The car slackened speed. George spoke over his shoulder:
"Cross-roads here, sir. I'm not sure of the way."
The car slowed down till it hardly moved. As it did so a figure climbed suddenly over the back, and plunged head first into the midst of them.
"Sorry," said Tommy, extricating himself.
A mass of confused exclamations greeted him. He replied to them severally:
"Was in the bushes by the drive. Hung on behind. Couldn't let you know before at the pace you were going. It was all I could do to hang on. Now then, you girls, get out!"
"Yes. There's a station just up that road. Train due in three minutes. You'll catch it if you hurry."
"What the devil are you driving at?" demanded Julius. "Do you think you can fool them by leaving the car?"
"You and I aren't going to leave the car. Only the girls."
"You're crazed, Beresford. Stark staring mad! You can't let those girls go off alone. It'll be the end of it if you do."
Tommy turned to Tuppence.
"Get out at once, Tuppence. Take her with you, and do just as I say. No one will do you any harm. You're safe. Take the train to London. Go straight to Sir James Peel Edgerton. Mr. Carter lives out of town, but you'll be safe with him."
"Darn you!" cried Julius. "You're mad. Jane, you stay where you are."
With a sudden swift movement, Tommy snatched the revolver from Julius's hand, and levelled it at him.
"Now will you believe I'm in earnest? Get out, both of you, and do as I say—or I'll shoot!"
Tuppence sprang out, dragging the unwilling Jane after her.
"Come on, it's all right. If Tommy's sure—he's sure. Be quick. We'll miss the train."
They started running.
Julius's pent-up rage burst forth.
"What the hell——"
Tommy interrupted him.
"Dry up! I want a few words with you, Mr. Julius Hersheimmer."
CHAPTER XXV. JANE'S STORY
HER arm through Jane's, dragging her along, Tuppence reached the station. Her quick ears caught the sound of the approaching train.
"Hurry up," she panted, "or we'll miss it."
They arrived on the platform just as the train came to a standstill. Tuppence opened the door of an empty first-class compartment, and the two girls sank down breathless on the padded seats.
A man looked in, then passed on to the next carriage. Jane started nervously. Her eyes dilated with terror. She looked questioningly at Tuppence.
"Is he one of them, do you think?" she breathed.
Tuppence shook her head.
"No, no. It's all right." She took Jane's hand in hers. "Tommy wouldn't have told us to do this unless he was sure we'd be all right."
"But he doesn't know them as I do!" The girl shivered. "You can't understand. Five years! Five long years! Sometimes I thought I should go mad."