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The Secret of the Tower
by Hope, Anthony
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"You swear, you swear it's all right, Hector?"

"Right as rain, sir," Beaumaroy assured him cheerfully.

Very feebly the old man moved his right hand towards the open grave. "Plenty—plenty! All yours, Hector! For—for the Cause—God's with us!" His head fell forward on Beaumaroy's breast; for an instant again he raised it, and looked in the face of his friend. A smile came on his lips. "I know I can trust you. I'm safe with you, Hector." His head fell forward again; his whole body was relaxed; he gave a sigh of peace. Beaumaroy lifted him in his arms and very gently set him back in his great chair, placing his feet again on the high footstool.

"I think it's all over," he said, and Mary saw tears in his eyes.

Then Mary herself collapsed; she sank down on the dais and broke into weeping. It had all been so pitiful, and somehow so terrible. Her quick tumultuous sobbing sounded through the place which the vibrations of the old man's voice had lately filled.

She felt Beaumaroy's hand on her shoulder. "You must make sure," he said, in a low voice. "You must make your examination."

With trembling hands she did it—she forced herself to it, Beaumaroy aiding her. There was no doubt. Life had left the body which reason had left long before. His weakened heart had not endured the last strain of mad excitement. The old man was dead.

Her face showed Beaumaroy the result of her examination, if he had ever doubted of it. She looked at him, then made a motion of her hand towards the body. "We must—we must—" she stammered, the tears still rolling down her cheeks.

"Presently," he said. "There's plenty of time. You're not fit to do that now—and no more am I, to tell the truth. We'll rest for half an hour, and then get him upstairs, and—and do the rest. Come with me!" He put his hand lightly within her arm. "He will rest quietly on his throne for a little while. He's not afraid any more. He's at rest."

Still with his arm in Mary's, he bent forward and kissed the old man on the forehead. "I shall miss you, old friend," he said. Then, with gentle insistence, he led Mary away. They left the old man, propped up by the high stool on which his feet rested, seated far back in the great chair, hard by Captain Duggle's grave, where the scepter lay on a carpet of gold. The tall candles burnt on either side of his throne, imparting a far-off semblance of ceremonial state.

Thus died, unmarried, in the seventy-first year of his age, Aloysius William Saffron, formerly of Exeter, Surveyor and Auctioneer. He had run, on the whole, a creditable course; starting from small beginnings, and belonging to a family more remarkable for eccentricity than for any solid merit, he had built up a good practice; he had made money and put it by; he enjoyed a good name for financial probity. But he was held to be a vain, fussy, self-important, peacocky fellow; very self-centered also and (as Beaumaroy had indicated) impatient of the family and social obligations which most men recognize, even though often unwillingly. As the years gathered upon his head, these characteristics were intensified. On the occasion of some trifling set-back in business—a rival cut him out in a certain negotiation—He threw up everything and disappeared from his native town. Thenceforward nothing was heard of him there, save that he wrote occasionally to his cousin, Sophia Radbolt, and her husband, both of whom he most cordially hated, whose claims to his notice, regard, or assistance he had, of late years at least, hotly resented. Yet he wrote to them—wrote them vaunting and magniloquent letters, hinting darkly of great doings and great riches. In spite of their opinion of him, the Radbolts came to believe perhaps half of what he said; he was old and without other ties; their thirst for his money was greedy. Undoubtedly the Radbolts would dearly have loved to get hold of him and—somehow—hold him fast.

When he came to Tower Cottage—it was in the first year of the war—he was precariously sane; it was only gradually that his fundamental and constitutional vices and foibles turned to a morbid growth. First came intensified hatred and suspicion of the Radbolts—they were after him and his money! Then, through hidden processes of mental distortion, there grew the conviction that he was of high importance, a great man, the object of great conspiracies, in which the odious Radbolts were but instruments. It was, no doubt, the course of public events, culminating in the Great War, which gave to his mania its special turn, to his delusion its monstrous (but, as Doctor Mary was aware, by no means unprecedented) character. By the time of his meeting with Beaumaroy the delusion was complete; through all the second half of 1918 he followed—so far as his mind could now follow anything rationally—in his own person and fortunes the fate of the man whom he believed himself to be, appropriating the hopes, the fears, the imagined ambitions, the physical infirmity, of that self-created other self.

But he wrapped it all in deep secrecy, for, as the conviction of his true identity grew complete, his fears were multiplied. Radbolts indeed! The whole of Christendom—Principalities and Powers—were on his track. They would shut him up, kill him perhaps! Cunningly he hid his secret—save what could not be entirely hidden, the physical deformity. But he hid it with his shawl; he never ate out of his own house; the combination knife-and-fork was kept sedulously hidden. Only to Beaumaroy did he reveal the hidden thing; and, later, on Beaumaroy's persuasion, he let into the portentous secret one faithful servant—Beaumaroy's unsavory retainer, Sergeant Hooper.

He never accepted Hooper as more than a distasteful necessity—somebody must wait on him and do him menial service; he was not feared, indeed, for surely such a dog would not dare to be false, but cordially disliked. Beaumaroy won him from the beginning. Whom he conceived him to be Beaumaroy himself never knew, but he opened his heart to him unreservedly. Of him he had no suspicion; to him he looked for safety and for the realization of his cherished dreams. Beaumaroy soothed his terrors and humored him in all things—what was the good of doing anything else, asked Beaumaroy's philosophy. He loved Beaumaroy far more than he had loved anybody except himself in all his life. At the end, through the wild tangle of mad imaginings, there ran this golden thread of human affection; it gave the old man hours of peace, sometimes almost of sanity.

So he came to his death, directly indeed of a long-standing organic disease, yet veritably self-destroyed. And so he sat now, dead amidst his shabby parody of splendor. He had done with thrones; he had even done with Tower Cottage—unless indeed his pale shade were to hold nocturnal converse with the robust and flamboyant ghost of Captain Duggle; the one vaunting his unreal vanished greatness, mouthing orations and mimicking pomp; the other telling, in language garnished with strange and horrible oaths, of those dark and lurid terrors which once had driven him from this very place, leaving it ablaze behind. A strange couple they would make, and strange would be their conversation!

Yet the tenement which had housed the old man's deranged spirit, empty as now it was—aye, emptier than Duggle's tomb—was still to be witness of one more earthly scene and unwittingly bear part in it.



CHAPTER XIII

RIGHT OF CONQUEST

What has been related of Mr. Saffron's life before he ascended the throne on which he still sat in the Tower represented all that Beaumaroy knew of his old friend before they met—indeed he knew scarcely as much. He told the brief story to Doctor Mary in the parlor. She heard him listlessly; all that was not much to the point on which her thoughts were set, and did not answer the riddle which the scene in the Tower put to her. She was calm now—and ashamed that she had ever lost her calmness.

"Well, there was the situation as I understood it when I took on the job—or quite soon afterwards. He thought that he was being pursued; in a sense he was. If these Radbolts found out the truth, they certainly would pursue him, try to shut him up, and prevent him from making away with his money or leaving it to anybody else. I didn't at all know at first what a tidy lot he had. He hated the Radbolts; even after he ceased to know them as cousins, he remained very conscious of them always; they were enemies, spies, secret service people on his track—poor old boy! Well, why should they have him and his money? I didn't see it. I don't see it to this day."

Mary was in Mr. Saffron's armchair. Beaumaroy stood before the fire. She looked up at him.

"They seem to have more right than anybody else. And you know—you knew—that he was mad."

"His being mad gives them no right! Oh, well, it's no use arguing. In the end I suppose they had rights—of a kind; a right by law, I suppose—though I never knew the law and don't want to—to shut the old man up, and make him damned miserable, and get the money for themselves. That sounds just the sort of right the law does give people over other people—because Aunt Betsy married Uncle John fifty years ago, and was probably infernally sorry for it!"

Mary smiled. "A matter of principle with you, was it, Mr. Beaumaroy?"

"No—instinct, I think. It's my instinct to be against the proper thing, the regular thing, the thing that deals hardly with an individual in the name of some highly nebulous general principle."

"Like discipline?" she put in, with a reminiscence of Major-General Punnit.

He nodded. "Yes, that's one case of it. And then, the situation amused me. I think that had more to do with it than anything else at first. It amused me to play up to his delusions. I suggested the shawl as useful on our walks—and thereby got him to take wholesome exercise; that ought to appeal to you, Doctor! I got him the combination knife-and-fork; that made him enjoy his meals—also good for him, Doctor! But I didn't do these things because they were good for him, but because they amused me. They never amused Hooper, he's a dull, surly, and—I'm inclined to believe—treacherous dog."

"Who is he?"

"Sacked from the Army—sent to quod. Just a jail-bird whom I've kept loose. But the things did amuse me, and it was that at first. But then—" he paused.

Looking at him again, Mary saw a whimsical tenderness expressed in his eyes and smile. "The poor chap was so overwhelmingly grateful. He thought me the one indubitably faithful adherent that he had. And so I was too—though not in the way he thought. And he trusted me absolutely. Well, was I to give him up—to the law, and the Radbolts, and the jailers of an asylum—a man who trusted me like that?"

"But he was mad," objected Doctor Mary obstinately.

"A man has his feelings, or may have, even when he's mad. He trusted me and he loved me, Doctor Mary. Won't you allow that I've my case—so far?" She made no sign of assent. "Well then, I loved him—does that go any better with you? If it doesn't, I'm in a bad way; be cause what I'm giving you now is the strong part of my case."

"I don't see why you should put what you call your case to me at all, Mr. Beaumaroy."

He looked at her in a reproachful astonishment. "But you seemed touched by—by what we saw in the Tower. I thought the old man's death and faith had appealed to you. It seems to me that people can't go through a thing like that together without feeling—well, some sort of comradeship. But if you've no sort of feeling of that kind—well, I don't want to put my case."

"Go on with your case," said Doctor Mary, after a moment's silence.

"Though it isn't really that I want to put a case for myself at all. But I don't mind owning that I'd like you to understand about it—before I clear out."

She looked at him questioningly, but put no spoken question. Beaumaroy sat down on the stool opposite to her, and poked the fire.

"I can't get away from it, can I? There was something else you saw in the Tower, wasn't there, and I dare say that you connect it with a conversation that we had together a little while ago? Well, I'll tell you about that. Oh, well, of course I must, mustn't I?"

"I should like to hear." Her bitterness was gone; he had come now to the riddle.

"He was a King to himself," Beaumaroy resumed thoughtfully, "but in fact I was king over him. I could do anything I liked with him. I had him. I possessed him—by right of conquest. The right of conquest seemed a big thing to me; it was about the only sort of right that I'd seen anything of for three years and more. Yes, it was—and is—a big thing, a real thing—the one right in the whole world that there's no doubt about. Other rights are theories, views, preachments! Right of conquest is a fact. I had it. I could make him do what I liked, say what I liked, sign what I liked. Do you begin to see where I found myself? I say found myself, because really it was a surprise to me. At first I thought he was in a pretty small way—he only gave me a hundred a year besides my keep. True, he always talked of his money, but I set that down mainly to his delusion. But it was true that he had a lot—really a lot. A good bit besides what you saw in there; he must have speculated cleverly, I think, he couldn't have made it all in his business. Doctor Mary, how much gold do you think there is in the grave in there?"

"I haven't the least idea. Thousands? Where did you get it?"

"Oh yes, thousands—and thousands. We got it mostly from the aliens in the East End; they'd hoarded it, you know; but they were willing to sell at a premium. The premium rose up to last month; then it dropped a little—not much, though, because we'd exhausted some of the most obvious sources. I carried every sovereign of that money in the grave down from London in my brown bag." He smiled reflectively. "Do you know how much a thousand sovereigns weigh, Doctor Mary?"

"I haven't the least idea," said Mary again. She was leaning forward now, listening intently, and watching Beaumaroy's face with absorbed interest.

"Seventeen and three-quarter pounds avoirdupois—that's the correct weight. The first time or two we didn't get much—they were still shy of us. But after that we made some heavy; hauls. Twice we brought down close on two thousand. Once there was three thousand, almost to a sovereign. Even men trained to the work—bullion porters, as they call them at the Bank of England—reckon five bags of a thousand, canvas bags not much short of a foot long and six inches across, you know—they reckon five of them a full load—and wouldn't care to go far with them either. The equivalent of three of them was quite enough for me to carry from Inkston station up to the Cottage—trying to look as if I were carrying nothing of any account! One hasn't got to pretend to be carrying nothing in full marching kit—nor to carry it all in one hand. And he'd never trust himself in a cab—might be kidnapped, you see! I don't know exactly, but from what he said I reckon we've brought down, on our Wednesday trips, about two-thirds of all he had. Now you've probably gathered what his idea was. He knew he was disguised as Saffron—and very proud of the way he lived up to the character. As Saffron, he realized the money by driblets—turned his securities into notes, his notes into gold. But he'd lost all knowledge that the money was his own—made by himself—himself Saffron. He thought it was saved out of the wreck of his Imperial fortune. It was to be dedicated to restoring the Imperial cause. He himself could not attempt, at present, to get out of England, least of all carrying pots of gold coin. But he believed that I could. I was to go to Morocco and so on, and raise the country for him, taking as much as I could, and coming back for more! He had no doubt at all of my coming back! In fact it wouldn't have been much easier for me to get out of the country with the money than it would have been for the authentic Kaiser himself. But, Doctor Mary, what would have been possible was for me to go somewhere else, or even back to the places we knew of, for no questions were asked there—put that money back into notes, or securities in my own name, and tell him I had carried out the Morocco programme. He had no sense of time, he would have suspected nothing."

"That would have been mere and sheer robbery," said Mary.

"Oh yes, it would," Beaumaroy agreed. "And, if I'd done it, and deserted him, I should have deserved to be hanged. That was hardly my question. As long as he lived, I meant to stick by him; but he was turned seventy, frail, with heart-disease, and, as I understand, quite likely to sink into general paralysis. Well, if I was to exercise my right of conquest and get the fruits of conquest, two ways seemed open. There could be a will; you'll remember my consulting you on that point and your reply?"

"Did he make a will?" asked Mary quickly.

"No. A will was open to serious objections. Even supposing your evidence—which, of course, I wanted in case of need—had been satisfactory, a fight with the Radbolts would have been unpleasant. Worse than that—as long as I lived I should have been blackmailed by Sergeant Hooper, who knew Mr. Saffron's condition, though he didn't know about the money here. Even before you found out about my poor old friend, I had decided against a will—though, perhaps, I might have squared the Radbolts by just taking this little place—and its contents—and letting them take the rest. That too became impossible after your discovery. There remained then, the money in the Tower. I could make quite sure of that, wait for his death, and then enjoy it. And, upon my word, why shouldn't I? He'd have been much gratified by my going to Morocco; and he'd certainly much sooner that I had the money—if it couldn't go to Morocco—than that the Radbolts should get it. That was the way the question presented itself to me; and I'm a poor man, with no obvious career before me. The right of conquest appealed to me strongly, Doctor Mary."

"I can see that you may have been greatly tempted," said Mary in a grave and troubled voice. "And the circumstances did enable you to make excuses for what you thought of doing."

"Excuses? You won't even go so far as to call it a doubtful case? One that a casuist could argue either way?" Beaumaroy was smiling again now.

"Even if I did, men of—"

"Yes, Doctor Mary—of sensitive honor!"

"Decide doubtful cases against themselves in money matters."

"Oh, I say, is that doctrine current in business circles? I've been in business myself, and I doubt it."

"They do—men of real honor," Mary persisted.

"So that's how great fortunes are made? That's how individuals—to say nothing of nations—rise to wealth and power! And I never knew it," Beaumaroy reflected in a gentle voice. His eye caught Mary's, and she gave a little laugh. "By deciding doubtful cases against themselves! Dear me, yes!"

"I didn't say they rose to greatness and power."

"Then the people who do rise to greatness and power—and the nations—don't they go by right of conquest, Doctor Mary? Don't they decide cases in their own favor?"

"Did you really mean to—to take the money?"

"I'll tell you as near as I can. I meant to do my best for my old man. I meant him to live as long as he could, and to live free, unpersecuted, as happy as he could be made. I meant that, because I loved him, and he loved me. Well, I've lost him; I'm alone in the world." The last words were no appeal to Mary; for the moment he seemed to have forgotten her; he was speaking out of his own heart to himself. Yet the words thereby touched her to a livelier pity; you are very lonely when there is nobody to whom you have affection's right to complain of loneliness.

"But after that, if I saw him to his end in peace, if I brought that off, well, then I rather think that I should have stuck to the money. Yes, I rather think so."

"You've managed to mix things up so!" Mary complained. "Your devotion to Mr. Saffron—for that I could forgive you keeping his secret, and fooling me, and all of us. But then you mix that up with the money!"

"It was mixed up with it. I didn't do the mixing."

"What are you going to do now?" she asked with a sudden curiosity.

"Oh, now? Now the thing's all different. You've seen, you know, and even I can't offer you a partnership in the cash, can I? If I weren't an infernally poor conspirator, I should have covered up the Captain's grave, and made everything neat and tidy before I came to fetch you, because I knew he might go back to the Tower. On his bad nights he always made me open the grave, and spread out the money, make a show of it, you know. Then it had to be put back in bags—the money bags lived in the brown leather bag—and the grave had to be fastened down. Altogether it was a good bit of work. I'd just got it open, and the money spread out, when he turned bad—a sort of collapse like the one you saw; and I was so busy getting him to bed that I forgot the cursed grave and the money—just as I forgot to put away the knife-and-fork before you called the first time, and you saw through me!"

"If you're not a good conspirator, it's another reason for not conspiring, Mr. Beaumaroy. I know you conspired for him first of all, but—"

"Well, he's safe, he's at peace. It can all come out now, and it must. You know, and you must tell the truth. I don't know whether they can put me in prison. I should hardly think they'd bother, if they get the money all right. In any case I don't care much. Lord, what a lot of people'll say 'I told you so—bad egg, that Beaumaroy!' No, I don't care. My old man's safe; I've won my big game after all, Doctor Mary!"

"I don't believe you cared about the money really!" she cried. "That really was a game to you, I think, a trick you liked to play on us respectables!"

He smiled at her confidentially. "I do like beating the respectables," he admitted. Then he looked at his watch. "I must do what has to be done for the old man. But it's late—hard on one o'clock. You must be tired—and it's a sad job."

"No, I'll help you. I—I've been in hospitals, you know. Only do go first, and cover up that horrible place, and hide that wretched money before I go into the Tower. Will you?" She gave a shiver, as her imagination renewed the scene which the Tower held.

"You needn't come into the Tower at all. He's as light as a feather—I've lifted him into bed often. I can lift him now. If you really wish to help, will you go up to his room, and get things ready?" As he spoke, he crossed to the sideboard, took up a bedroom candlestick, and lighted it from one that stood on the table. "And you'll see about the body being taken to the mortuary, won't you? I shall communicate with the Radbolts—fully; they'll take charge of the funeral, I suppose. Well, he won't know anything about that now, thank God!" There was the slightest tremor in his voice as he spoke.

Mary did not take the candle. "I've said some hard things to you, Mr. Beaumaroy. I dare say I've sounded very self-righteous." He raised his hand in protest, but she went on: "So I should like to say one different thing to you, since we're to part after to-night. You've shown yourself a good friend, good and true as a man could have."

"I loved my old man," said Beaumaroy.

It was his only plea. To Mary it seemed a good one. He had loved his poor old madman; and he had served him faithfully. "Yes, the old man found a good friend in you; I hope you will find good friends too. Oh, I do hope it! Because that's what you want."

"I should be very glad if I could think that, in spite of everything, I had found one here in this place—even although she can be a friend only in memory."

Mary paused for a moment, then gave him her hand. "I know you much better after tonight. My memory of you will be a kind one. Now to our work!"

"Yes—and thank you. I thank you more deeply than you imagine."

He gave her the candle and followed her to the passage.

"You know where the room is. I shall put the—the place—straight, and then bring him up. I sha'n't be many minutes—ten, perhaps. The cover's rather hard to fit."

Mary nodded from the top of the stairs. Strained by the events of the night, and by the talk to Beaumaroy, she was again near tears; her eyes were bright in the light of the candle, and told of nervous excitement. Beaumaroy went back into the parlor, on his way to the Tower. Suddenly he stopped and stood dead still, listening intently.

Mary busied herself upstairs, making her preparations with practiced skill and readiness. Her agitation did not interfere with her work —there her training told—but of her inner mind it had full possession. She was afraid to be alone—there in that cottage. She longed for another clasp of that friendly hand. Well, he would come soon; but he must bring his burden with him. When she had finished what she had to do, she sat down, and waited.

Beaumaroy waited too, outside the door leading to the Tower.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SCEPTER IN THE GRAVE

Sergeant Hooper took up his appointed position on the flagged path that led up to the cottage door. His primary task was to give warning if anybody should come out of the door; a secondary one was to give the alarm in case of interruption by passers-by on the road—an unlikely peril this latter, in view of the hour, the darkness of the night, and the practiced noiselessness with which Mike might be relied upon to do his work. Here then the Sergeant was left, after being accorded another nip from the flask—which, however, Neddy kept in his own hands this time—and a whispered but vigorously worded exhortation to keep up his courage.

Neddy, the Shover, and gentlemanly Mike tiptoed off to the window, on the right hand side of the door as one approached the house from the road. The bottom of the window was about seven feet from the ground. Neddy bent down and offered his broad back as a platform to his companion. Mike mounted thereon and began his work. That, in itself, was child's play to him; the matchboarding was but lightly nailed on; the fastenings came away in a moment under the skillful application of his instrument; the window sash behind was not even bolted, for the bolt had perished with time and had not been replaced. So far, very good! But at this early point Mike received his first surprise. He could not see much of the interior; a tall curtain stretched across the entire breadth of the window, distant about two feet from it; but he could see that the room was lighted up.

Very cautiously he completed his work on the matchboarding, handing down each plank to Neddy when he had detached it. Then he cut out a pane of glass—it was all A.B.C. to him—put his hand in and raised the sash a little; then it was simple to push it up from below. But the sash had not been raised for years; it stuck; when it yielded to his efforts, it gave a loud creak. He flung one leg over the window-sill and sat poised there, listening. The room was lighted up; but if there were anyone in it, he must be asleep, or very hard of hearing, or that creak would have aroused his attention.

Released from his office as a support, Neddy rose, and hauled himself up by his arms till he could see in the window. "Lights!" he whispered. Mike nodded and got in—on the dais, behind the curtain. Neddy scrambled up after him, finding some help from a stunted but sturdy old apple tree that grew against the wall. Now they were both inside, behind the tall curtain.

"Come on," Mike whispered. "We must see if there's anybody here, and, if there isn't, put out the light." For on either side of the curtain there was room for a streak of light which might by chance be seen from the road.

Mike advanced round the left-side edge of the curtain; he had perceived by now that it formed the back of some structure, though he could not yet see of what nature the structure was; nor was he now examining. For as he stepped out on the dais at the side of the canopy, his eyes were engrossed by another feature of this strange apartment. He stretched back his hand and caught hold of Neddy's brawny arm, pulling him forward. "See that—that hole, Neddy?"

For the moment they forgot the lights; they forgot the possibility of an occupant of the room—which indeed was, save for their own whispers, absolutely still; they stood looking at the strange hole, and then into one another's faces, for a few seconds. Then they stole softly nearer to it. "That's a blasted funny 'ole!" breathed Neddy. "Look's like a bloke's—"

Mike's fingers squeezed his arm tighter, evidently again claiming his attention. "My hat, we needn't look far for the stuff!" he whispered. An uneasy whisper it was; the whole place looked queer, and that hole was uncanny—it had its contents.

Yet they approached nearer; they came to the edge and stood looking in. As though he could not believe the mere sight of his eyes, big Neddy crouched down, reached out his hand, and took up Mr. Saffron's scepter. With a look of half-scared amazement he held it up for his companion's inspection. Mike eyed it uneasily, but his thoughts were getting back to business. He stole softly off to the door, with intent to see whether it was locked; he stooped down to examine it and perceived that it was not. It would be well, then, to barricade it, and he turned round to look for some heavy bit of furniture suitable for his purpose, something that would delay the entrance of an intruder and give them notice of the interruption.

As he turned, his body suddenly stiffened; only his trained instinct prevented him from crying out. There was an occupant of the room—there, in the great chair between the tall candlesticks on the dais. An old man sat—half lay—there; asleep, it seemed; his eyes were shut. The color of his face struck Gentleman Mike as being peculiar. But everything in that place was peculiar; like a great tomb—a blooming mausoleum—the whole place was. Though he had the reputation of being an esprit fort, Mike felt uncomfortable. Cold and clammy too, the beastly place was!

Still—business is business. Letting the matter of the unlocked door wait for the moment, he began to steal catlike across the floor towards the dais. He had to investigate; also he really ought to put out those candles; it was utterly unprofessional to leave them alight. But he could not conquer a feeling that the place would seem still more peculiar when they were put out.

Big Neddy's eyes had not followed his comrade to the door; they had been held by the queer hole and its queer contents—by the gleaming gold that strewed its floor, by the mock symbol of majesty which he had lifted from it and still held in his hand, by the oddly suggestive shape and dimensions of the hole itself. But now he raised his eyes from these things and looked across at Mike, mutely asking what he thought of matters. He saw Mike stealing across the floor, looking very, very hard at—something.

Mute as Neddy's inquiry was, Mike seemed somehow aware of it. He raised his hand, as though to enjoin silence, and then pointed it in front of him, raised to the level of his head. Neddy turned round to look in the direction indicated. He saw the throne and its silent occupant—the waxen-faced old man who sat there, seeming to preside over the scene, whose head was turned towards him, whose closed eyes would open directly on his face if their lids were lifted.

Neddy feared no living man; so he was accustomed to boast, and with good warrant. But was that man living? How came he up there? And what had he to do with the queer-shaped hole that had all that gold in it? And the thing he held in his own hand? Did that belong to the old man up there? Had he flung it into the hole? Or (odd fancies began to assail big Neddy) had he left it behind him when he got out? And would he, by chance, come down to look for it?

Mike's hand, stretched out from his body towards his friend, now again enjoined silence. He was at the foot of the dais; he was going up its steps. He was no good in a scrap, but he had a nerve in some things! He was up the steps now, and leaning forward; he was looking hard in the old man's face; his own was close to it. He laid hold of one of the old man's arms, it happened to be that left arm of Mr. Saffron's, lifted it, and let it fall again; it fell back just in the position from which he had lifted it. Then he straightened himself up, looking a trifle green perhaps, but reassured, and called out to Mike, in a penetrating whisper, "He's a stiff un all right!"

Yes! But then, what of the grave? Because it was a grave and nothing else; there was no getting away from it. What of the grave, and what about the scepter?

And what was Mike going to do now? He was tiptoeing to the edge of the dais. He was moving towards one of the high candlesticks, the top of which was a little below the level of his head, as he stood raised on the dais beside the throne. He leant forward towards the candles; his intent was obvious.

But big Neddy was not minded that he should carry it out, could not suffer him to do it. With the light of the candles—well, at all events you could see what was happening; you could see where you were, and where anybody else was. But in the dark—left to torches which illuminated only bits of the place, and which perhaps you mightn't switch on in time or turn in the right direction; if you were left like that, anybody might be anywhere, and on to you before you knew it!

"Let them lights alone, Mike!" he whispered hoarsely. "I'll smash your 'ead in if you put them lights out!"

Mike had conquered his own fit of nerves, not without some exercise of will, and had not given any notice to his companion's, which was considerably more acute; perhaps the constant use of that roomy flask had contributed to that, though lack of a liberal education (such as Mike had enjoyed and misused) must also bear its share of responsibility. He was amazed at this violent and threatening interruption. He gave a funny little skip backwards on the dais; his heel came thereby in contact with the high hassock on which Mr. Saffron's feet rested. The hassock was shifted; one foot fell from it on to the dais, and Mr. Saffron's body fell a little forward from out of the deep recess of his great chair. To big Neddy's perturbed imagination it looked as if Mr. Saffron had set one foot upon the floor of the dais and was going to rise from his seat, perhaps to come down from the dais, to come nearer to his grave—to ask for his scepter.

It was too much for Neddy. He shuddered, he could not help it; and the scepter dropped from his hand. It fell from his hand back into the grave again; under its impact the gold coins in the grave again jangled.

Beaumaroy had, by this time, been standing close outside the door for about two minutes; he had lighted a cigarette from the candle on the parlor table. The sounds that he thought he heard were not conclusive; creaks and cracks did sometimes come from the boarded-up window and the rafters of the roof. But the sound of the jangling gold was conclusive; it must be due in some way to human agency; and in the circumstances human agency must mean a thief.

Beaumaroy's mind leapt to the Sergeant. Ten to one it was the Sergeant! He had long been after the secret; he had at last sniffed it out, and was helping himself! It seemed to Beaumaroy a disgusting thing to do, with the dead man sitting there. But that was sentiment. Sentiment was not to be expected of the Sergeant, and disgusting things were.

Then he suddenly recalled Alec Naylor's story of the two men, one tall and slight, one short and stumpy, who had reconnoitered Tower Cottage. The Sergeant had an accomplice, no doubt. He listened again. He heard the scrape of metal on metal, as when a man gathers up coins in his hand out of a heap. Yet he stood where he was, smoking still. Thoughts were passing rapidly through his brain, and they brought a smile to his lips.

Let them take it! Why not? It was no care to him now! Doctor Mary had to tell the truth about it, and so, consequently, had he himself. It belonged to the Radbolts. Oh, damn the Radbolts! He would have risked his life for it if the old man had lived, but he wasn't going to risk his life for the Radbolts. Let the rascals get off with the stuff, or as much as they could carry! He was all right. Doctor Mary could testify that he hadn't taken it. Let them carry off the infernal stuff! Incidentally he would be well rid of the Sergeant, and free from any of his importunities, from whines and threats alike; it was not an unimportant, if a minor, consideration.

Yet it was a disgusting thing to do—it certainly was; and the Sergeant would think that he had scored a triumph. Over his benefactor too, his protector, Beaumaroy reflected with a satiric smile. The Sergeant certainly deserved a fright—and, if possible, a licking. These administered, he could be kicked out; perhaps—oh, yes, poor brute!—with a handful of the Radbolts' money. They would never miss it, as they did not know how much there was, and such a diversion of their legal property in no way troubled Beaumaroy's conscience.

And the accomplice? He shrugged his shoulders. The Sergeant was, as he well knew from his military experience of that worthy man, an arrant coward. He would show no fight. If the accomplice did, Beaumaroy was quite in the mood to oblige him. But while he tackled one fellow, the other might get off with the money—with as much as he could carry. For all that it was merely Radbolt money now; in the end Beaumaroy could not stomach the idea of that—the idea that either of the dirty rogues in there should get off with the money. And it was foolish to attack them on the front on which they expected to be attacked. Quickly his mind formed another plan. He turned, stole softly out of the parlor, and along the passage towards the front door of the cottage.

After Neddy had dropped Mr. Saffron's scepter into Captain Duggle's grave (had he known that it was Captain Duggle's, and not been a prey to the ridiculous but haunting fancy that it had been destined for, or even—oh, these errant fancies—already occupied by, Mr. Saffron himself, Neddy would have been less agitated) Mike dealt with him roundly. In bitter hissing whispers, and in language suited thereto, he pointed out the folly of vain superstitions, of childish fears and sick imaginings which interfered with business and threatened its success. His eloquent reasoning, combined with a lively desire to get out of the place as soon as possible, so far wrought on Neddy that he produced the sack which he had brought with him, and held its mouth open, though with trembling hands, while Mike scraped up handful after handful of gold coins and poured them into it. They were busily engaged on their joint task as Beaumaroy stole along the passage and, reaching the front door, again stood listening.

The Sergeant was still keeping his vigil before the door. He had no doubt that it was locked; did not Beaumaroy see Mrs. Wiles and himself out of it every evening—the back door to the little house led only on to the heath behind and gave no direct access to the road—and lock it after them with a squeaking key? He would have warning enough if anyone turned the key now. He was looking towards the road; a surprise was more possible from that quarter; his back was towards the door and only a very little way from it.

But when Beaumaroy had entered with Doctor Mary, he had not re-locked the door; he opened it now very gently and cautiously, and saw the Sergeant's back—there was no mistaking it. Without letting his surprise—for he had confidently supposed the Sergeant to be in the Tower—interfere with the instant action called for by the circumstances, he flung out his long right arm, caught the Sergeant round the neck with a throttling grip, and dragged him backwards into the house. The man was incapable of crying out; no sound escaped from him which could reach the Tower. Beaumaroy set him softly on the floor of the passage. "If you stir or speak, I'll strangle you!" he whispered. There was enough light from the passage lamp to enable the Sergeant to judge, by the expression of his face, that he spoke sincerely. The Sergeant did not dare even to rub his throat, though it was feeling very sore and uncomfortable.

There was a row of pegs on the passage wall, just inside the door. On them, among hats, caps, and coats—and also Mr. Saffron's gray shawl—hung two long neck-scarves, comforters that the keen heath winds made very acceptable on a walk. Beaumaroy took them, and tied his prisoner hand and foot. He had just completed this operation, in the workmanlike fashion which he had learnt on service, when he heard a footstep on the stairs. Looking up, he saw Doctor Mary standing there.

Her waiting in the room above had seemed long to her. Her ears had been expecting the sound of Beaumaroy's tread as he mounted the stairs, laden with his burden. That sound had not come; instead, there had been the soft, just audible, plop of the Sergeant's body as it dropped on the floor of the passage. It occurred to her that Beaumaroy had perhaps had some mishap with his burden, or found difficulty with it. She was coming downstairs to offer her help. Seeing what she saw now, she stood still in surprise.

Beaumaroy looked up at her and smiled. "No cause for alarm," he said, "but I've got to go out for a minute. Keep an eye on this rascal, will you? Oh, and, Doctor Mary, if he tries to move or untie himself, just take the parlor poker and hit him over the head! Thanks. You don't mind, de you? And you, Sergeant, remember what I said!"

With these words Beaumaroy slipped out of the door, and softly closed it behind him.



CHAPTER XV

A NORMAL CASE

When Captain Alec brought his fiance home after the dinner of welcome and congratulation at Old Place, it was nearly twelve o'clock. Jeanne, however—in these days a radiant Jeanne, very different from the mournful creature who had accompanied Captain Cranster's victim to Inkston a few weeks before—was sitting up for her mistress and, since she had to perform this duty—which was sweetened by the hope of receiving exciting confidences, for surely that affair was "marching?"—it had been agreed between her and the other maids that she should sit up for the Doctor also. She told the lovers that Doctor Mary had been called for by Mr. Beaumaroy, and had gone out with him, presumably to visit his friend Mr. Saffron. It did not occur to either of them to ask when Mary had set out; they contented themselves with exchanging a glance of disapproval. What a pity that Mary should have anything more to do with this Mr. Saffron and his Beaumaroy!

However there was a bright side to it this time. It would be kind of Cynthia to sit up for Mary, and minister to her a cup of tea which Jeanne should prepare; and it would be pleasant—and quite permissible—for Captain Alec to bear her company. Mary could not be long, surely; it grew late.

So for a while they thought no more of Mary—as was natural enough. They had so much to talk about, the whole of a new and very wonderful life to speculate about and to plan, the whole of their past acquaintance to review; old doubts had to be confessed and laughed at; the inevitability of the whole thing from the first beginnings had to be recognized, proved, and exhibited. In this sweet discourse the minutes flew by unmarked, and would have gone on flying, had not Jeanne reappeared of her own accord, to remark that it really was very late now; did mademoiselle think that possibly anything could have happened to Doctor Arkroyd?

"By Jove, it is late!" cried the Captain, looking at his watch. "It's past one!"

Cynthia was amazed to hear that.

"He must be very ill, that old gentleman," Jeanne opined. "And poor Doctor Arkroyd will be very tired. She will find the walk across the heath very fatiguing."

"Walk, Jeanne? Didn't she take the car?" cried Cynthia, surprised.

No, the Doctor had not taken the car; she had started to walk with Mr. Beaumaroy; the parlormaid had certainly told Jeanne that.

"I tell you what," said the Captain. "I'll just tool along to Tower Cottage. I'll look out for Doctor Mary on the road, and give her a lift back if I meet her. If I don't, I can stop at the cottage and get Beaumaroy to tell her that I'm there, and can wait to bring her home as soon as she's ready. You'd better go to bed, Cynthia."

Jeanne tactfully disappeared, and the lovers said good-night. After Alec's departure, Jeanne received the anticipated confidence.

That departure almost synchronized with two events at Tower Cottage. The first was Beaumaroy's exit from the front door, leaving Mary in charge of his prisoner who, consequently, was unable to keep any watch on the road or to warn his principals of approaching danger. The second was big Neddy's declaration that, in his opinion, the sack now held about as much as he could carry. He raised it from the floor in his two hands. "Must weight a 'undred pound or more!" he reckoned. That meant a lot of money, a fat lot of money. His terrors had begun to wear off, since nothing of a supernatural or even creepy order had actually happened. He had, at last, even agreed to the candles being put out. Still he would be glad to be off. "Enough's as good as a feast, as the sayin' goes, Mike," he chuckled.

Mike had fitted a new battery into his torch. It shone brightly on Neddy and on the sack, whose mouth Neddy was now tying up, "I might fill my pockets too," he suggested, eyeing the very respectable amount of sovereigns which still remained in Captain Duggle's tomb.

"Don't do it, old lad," Neddy advised. "If we 'ave to get out, or anything of that kind, you don't want to jingle as if you was a glass chandelier, do you?"

Mike admitted the cogency of the objection, and they agreed to be off. Mike started for the window. "I'll just pick up the Sergeant," he said, "and signal you 'All clear.' Then you follow out."

"No, Mike," said Neddy slowly, but very decisively. "If you don't mind, it's going to be me as gets out of that window first. I ain't a man of your eddication, and—well, blast me if I'm going to be left in this place alone with—that there!" He motioned with his head, back over his shoulder, towards where silent Mr. Saffron sat.

"You're a blooming ass, Neddy, but have it your own way. Only let me see the coast's clear first."

He stole to the window and looked around. He assumed that the Sergeant was at his post, but all the same he wanted to have a look at the road himself. So he had, and the result was satisfactory. It was hardly to be expected that he should scrutinize the ground immediately under the window; at any rate he did not think of that. It was, as Beaumaroy had conjectured, from another direction, from the parlor, that he anticipated a possible attack. There all was quiet. He came back and reported to Neddy that the moment was favorable. "I'll switch off the torch, though, just in case. You can feel your way; keep to the edge of the steps; don't knock up against—"

"I'll take damned good care not to!" muttered Neddy, with a little shiver.

He made his way to the window, through the darkness, having slung his sack over his shoulder and holding it with his right hand, while with the left he guided himself up the dais and along its outside edge, giving as wide a berth as possible to the great chair and its encircling canopy. With a sigh of relief he found the window, moved the sack from his shoulder, and set it on the ledge for a moment. But it was awkward to get down from the window, holding that heavy sack. He lowered it towards the ground, so that it might land gently, and, just as he let it go, he turned his head back and whispered to Mike, "All serene. Get a move on!"

"Half a minute!" answered Mike, as he in his turn set out to grope his way to the window.

But he was not so cautious as his friend had been. In his progress he kicked the tall footstool sharply with one of his feet. Neddy leant back from the window, asking quickly, and again very nervously, "What the devil's that?"

Beaumaroy could not resist the opportunity thus offered to him. He was crouching on the ground, not exactly under the window, but just to the right of it. Neddy's face was turned away; he threw himself on to the bag, rose to his feet, raised it cautiously, and holding it in front of him with both his hands—its weight was fully as much as he could manage—was round the curve of the Tower and out of sight with it in an instant.

At the back of the house there was a space of ground where Mrs. Wiles grew a few vegetables for the household's use. It was a clearing made from the heath, but it was not enclosed. Beaumaroy was able to reach the back entrance, by which this patch of ground could be entered from the kitchen. Just by the kitchen door stood that useful thing, a butt for rainwater. It stood some three, or three-and-a-half, feet high; and it was full to the brim almost. With a fresh effort Beaumaroy raised the sack to the level of his breast. Then he lowered it into the water, not dropping it, for fear of a splash, but immersing both his arms above the elbow. Only when he felt the weight off them, as the sack touched bottom, did he release his hold. Then with cautious steps he continued his progress round the house and, coming to the other side, crouched close by the wall again and waited. Where he was now, he could see the fence that separated the front garden from the road, and he was not more than ten or twelve feet from the front door on his left. As he huddled down there, he could not repress a smile of amusement, even of self-congratulation. However, he turned to the practical job of squeezing the water out of his sleeves.

In thus congratulating himself, he was premature. His action had been based on a miscalculation. He had heard only Neddy's last exclamation, not the cautious whispers previously exchanged between him and Mike; he thought that the man astride the window-sill himself had kicked something and instinctively exclaimed, "What the devil's that?" He thought that the sack was lowered from the window in order to be committed to the temporary guardianship of the Sergeant, who was doubtless looking out for it and, if he had his ears open, would hear its gentle thud. Perhaps the man in the Tower was collecting a second instalment of booty; heavy as the sack was, it did not contain all that he knew to be in Captain Duggle's grave. Be that as it might, the man would climb out of the window soon; and he would fail to find his sack.

What would he do then? He would signal or call to the Sergeant; or, if they had a preconcerted rendezvous, he would betake himself there, expecting to find his accomplice. He would neither get an answer from him nor find him, of course. Equally, of course, he would look for him. But the last place where he would expect to find him—the last place he would search—would be where the Sergeant in fact was, the house itself. If, in his search for Hooper, he found Beaumaroy, it would be man to man, and, now again, Beaumaroy had no objection.

But, in fact, there were two men in the Tower—one of them big Neddy; and the function, which Beaumaroy supposed to have been intrusted to the Sergeant, had never been assigned to him at all; to guard the door and the road had been his only tasks. When they found the bag gone, and the Sergeant too, they might well think that the Sergeant had betrayed them; that he had gone off on his own account, or that he had, at the last moment, under an impulse of fear or a calculation of interest, changed sides and joined the garrison in the house. If he had gone off with the sack, he could not have gone fast or far with it. Failing to overtake him, they might turn back to the cottage; for they knew themselves to be in superior force. Beaumaroy was in greater danger than he knew—and so was Doctor Mary in the house.

Big Neddy let himself down from the window, and put down his hand to lift up the sack; he groped about for it for some seconds, during which time Mike also climbed over the window-sill and dropped on to the ground below. Neddy emitted a low but strenuous oath.

"The sack's gone, Mike!" he added in a whisper.

"Gone? Rot! Can't be! What do you mean, Neddy?"

"I dropped it straight 'ere. It's gone," Neddy persisted. "The Sergeant must 'ave took it."

"No business of his! Where is the fool?" Mike's voice was already uneasy; thieves themselves seldom believe in there being honor among them. "You stay here. I'll go to the door and see if he's there."

He was just about to put this purpose into execution—in which event it was quite likely that Beaumaroy, hearing his approach or his call to the Sergeant, would have sprung out upon him, only to find himself assailed the next instant by another and far more formidable antagonist in the person of big Neddy, and thus in sore peril of his life—when the hum of Captain Alec's engine became audible in the distance. The next moment, the lights of his car became visible to all the men in the little front garden of the cottage.

"Hist! Wait till that's gone by!" whispered Neddy.

"Yes, and get round to the back. Get out of sight round here." He drew Neddy round the curve of the Tower wall till his big frame was hidden by it; then he himself crouched down under the wall, with his head cautiously protruded. The night had grown clearer; it was possible to see figures at a distance of some yards now.

Beaumaroy also perceived the car. Whose it was and the explanation of its appearance even occurred to his mind. But he kept still. He did not want visitors; he conceived his hand to be a better one than it really was, and preferred to play it by himself. If the car passed by, well and good. Only if it stopped at the gate would he have to take action.

It did stop at the gate. Mike saw it stop. Then its engine was shut off, and a man got out of it, and came up to the garden gate. Though the watching Mike had never seen him before, he had little difficulty in guessing who he was, and he remembered something that the Sergeant had said about him. Of a certainty it was the redoubtable Captain Naylor. Through the darkness he loomed enormous, as tall as big Neddy himself and no whit less broad. A powerful reinforcement for the garrison!

And what would the Sergeant do, if he were still at his post by the door—with or without that missing, that all-important, sack?

Another tall figure came into Mike's view—from where he could not distinctly see; it hardly seemed to be from the door of the cottage, for no light showed, and there was no sound of an opening door. But it appeared from somewhere near there; it was on the path, and it moved along to the gate in a leisurely unhurried approach. A man with his hands in his pockets—that was what it looked like. This must be the garrison; this must be the Sergeant's friend, master, protector, and bte noire, his "Boomery."

But the Sergeant himself? Where was he? He could hardly be at his post; or Beaumaroy and he must have seen one another, must have taken some heed of one another; something must have passed between them, either friendly or hostile. Mike turned round and whispered hastily, close into Neddy's ear. Neddy crawled a little forward, and put his own bullet head far enough round the curve of the wall to see the meeting between the garrison and its unexpected reinforcement.

Beaumaroy, hands in pockets, lounged nonchalantly down to the gate. He opened it; the Captain entered. The two shook hands and stood there, apparently in conversation. The words did not reach the ears of the listeners, but the sound of voices did—voices hushed in tone. Once Beaumaroy pointed to the house; both Mike and Neddy marked the outstretched hand. Was Beaumaroy telling his companion about something that had been happening at the house? Were they concocting a plan of defense—or of attack? With the disappearance, perhaps the treachery, of the Sergeant, and the appearance of this new ally for the garrison, the prospects of a fight took on a very different look. Neddy might tackle the big stranger with an equal chance. How would Mike fare in an encounter with Beaumaroy? He did not relish the idea of it.

And, while they fought, the traitor Sergeant might be on their backs! Or—on the other hypothesis—he might be getting off with the swag! Neither alternative was satisfactory.

"P'r'aps he's gone off to the car with the sack—in a fright, like, thinking we'll guess that!" whispered Neddy.

Mike did not much think so, though he would much have liked to. But he received the suggestion kindly. "We might as well have a look; we can come back afterwards if—if we like. Perhaps that big brute'll have gone."

"The thing as I want to do most is to wring that Sergeant's neck!"

Their whispers were checked by a new development. The cottage door opened for a moment and then closed again; they could tell that, both by the sound and by the momentary ray of light. Yet a light persisted after the door was shut. It came from a candle, which burnt steadily in the stillness of the night. It was carried by a woman, who came down the path towards where Beaumaroy and the Captain stood in conversation. Both turned towards her with eager attention.

"Now's our time, then! They aren't looking our way now. We can get across the heath to where the car is."

They moved off very softly, keeping the Tower between them and the group on the path. They gained the back of the house, and so the open heath, and made off to their destination. They moved so softly that they escaped unheard—unless Beaumaroy were right in the notion that his ear caught a little rustle of the bracken. He took no heed of it, unless a passing smile might be reckoned as such.

Doctor Mary joined him and the Captain on the path. Beaumaroy's smile gave way to a look of expectant interest. He wondered what she was going to say to Captain Alec. There was so much that she might say, or—just conceivably—leave unsaid.

She spoke calmly and quietly. "It's you, Captain Alec! I thought so! Cynthia got anxious? I'm all right. I suppose Mr. Beaumaroy has told you? Poor Mr. Saffron is dead."

"I've told him," said Beaumaroy.

"Of heart disease," Mary added. "Quite painlessly, I think—and quite a normal case, though, of course, it's distressing."

"I—I'm sorry," stammered Captain Alec.

Beaumaroy's eyes met Mary's in the candle's light with a swift glance of surprise and inquiry.



CHAPTER XVI

DEAD MAJESTY

Mary did not appear to answer Beaumaroy's glance; she continued to look at, and to address herself to, Captain Alec. "I am tired, and I should love a ride home. But I've still a little to do, and—I know it's awfully late, but would you mind waiting just a little while? I'm afraid I might be as much as half-an-hour."

"Right you are, Doctor Mary—as long as you like. I'll walk up and down, and smoke a cigar; I want one badly." Mary made an extremely faint motion of her hand towards the house. "Oh, thanks, but really I—well, I shall feel more comfortable here, I think."

Mary smiled; it was always safe to rely on Captain Alec's fine feelings; under the circumstances he would—she had felt pretty sure—prefer to smoke his cigar outside the house. "I'll be as quick as I can. Come, Mr. Beaumaroy!"

Beaumaroy followed her up the path and into the house. The Sergeant was still on the floor of the passage; he rolled apprehensive resentful eyes at them; Mary took no heed of him, but preceded Beaumaroy into the parlor and shut the door.

"I don't know what your game is," remarked Beaumaroy in a low voice, "but you couldn't have played mine better. I don't want him inside the house; but I'm mighty glad to have him extremely visible outside it."

"It was very quiet inside there"—she pointed to the door of the Tower—"just before I came out. Before that, I'd heard odd sounds. Was there somebody there—and the Sergeant in league with him?"

"Exactly," smiled Beaumaroy. "It is all quiet. I think I'll have a look."

The candle on the table had burnt out. He took another from the sideboard and lit it from the one which Mary still held.

"Like the poker?" she asked, with a flicker of a smile on her face.

"No you come and help, if I cry out!" He could not repress a chuckle; Doctor Mary was interesting him extremely.

Lighted by his candle, he went into the Tower. She heard him moving about there, as she stood thoughtfully by the extinct fire, still with her candle in her hand.

Beaumaroy returned. "He's gone—or they've gone." He exhibited to her gaze two objects—a checked pocket-handkerchief and a tobacco pouch. "Number one found on the edge of the grave—Number two on the floor of the dais, just behind the canopy. If the same man had drawn them both out of the same pocket at the same time—wanting to blow the same nose, Doctor Mary—they'd have fallen at the same place, wouldn't they?"

"Wonderful, Holmes!" said Mary. "And now, shall we attend to Mr. Saffron?"

They carried out that office, the course of which they had originally prepared. Beaumaroy passed with his burden hard by the Sergeant, and Mary followed. In a quarter of an hour they came downstairs again, and Mary again led the way into the parlor. She went to the window, and drew the curtains aside a little way. The lights of the car were burning; the Captain's tall figure fell within their rays and was plainly visible, strolling up and down; the ambit of the rays did not, however, embrace the Tower window. The Captain paced and smoked, patient, content, gone back to his own happy memories and anticipations. Mary returned to the table and set her candle down on it.

"All right. I think we can keep him a little longer."

"I vote we do," said Beaumaroy. "I reckon he's scared the fellows away, and they won't come back so long as they see his lights."

Rash at conclusions sometimes—as has been seen—Beaumaroy was right in his opinion of the Captain's value as a sentry, or a scarecrow to keep away hungry birds. The confederates had stolen back to their base of operations—to where their car lay behind the trees. There, too, no Sergeant and no sack! Neddy reached for his roomy flask, drank of it, and with hoarse curses consigned the entire course of events, his accomplices, even himself, to nethermost perdition. "That place ain't—natural!" he ended in a gloomy conviction. "'Oo pinched that sack? The Sergeant? Well—maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't." He finished the flask to cure a recurrence of the shudders.

Mike prevailed with him so far that he consented—reluctantly—to be left alone on the blasted heath, while his friend went back to reconnoiter. Mike went, and presently returned; the car was still there, the tall figure was still pacing up and down.

"And perhaps the other one's gone for the police!" Mike suggested uneasily. "Guess we've lost the hand, Neddy! Best be moving, eh? It's no go for to-night."

"Catch me trying the bloomin' place any other night!" grumbled Neddy. "It's given me the 'orrors, and no mistake."

Mike—Mr. Percy Bennett, that erstwhile gentlemanly stranger—recognized one of his failures. Such things are incidental to all professions. "Our best game is to go back; if the Sergeant's on the square, we'll hear from him." But he spoke without much hope; rationalist as he professed himself, still he was affected by the atmosphere of the Tower. With what difficulty do we entirely throw off atavistic notions! They both of them had, at the bottom of their minds, the idea that the dead man on the high seat had defeated them, and that no luck lay in meddling with his treasure.

"I 'ave my doubts whether that ugly Sergeant's 'uman himself," growled Neddy, as he hoisted his bulk into the car.

So they went back to whence they came; and the impression that the night's adventure left upon them was heightened as the days went by. For, strange to say, though they watched all the usual channels of information, as Ministers say; in Parliament, and also tried to open up some unusual ones, they never heard anything again of the Sergeant, of the sack of gold, of the yawning tomb with its golden lining, of its silent waxen-faced enthroned guardian who had defeated them. It all—the whole bizarre scene—vanished from their ken, as though it had been one of those alluring, thwarting dreams which afflict men in sleep. It was an experience to which they were shy of alluding among their confidential friends, even of talking about between themselves. In a word—uncomfortable!

Meanwhile the Sergeant's association with Tower Cottage had also drawn to its close. After his search and his discovery in the Tower, Beaumaroy came out into the passage where the prisoner lay, and proceeded to unfasten his bonds.

"Stand up and listen to me, Sergeant," he said. "Your pals have run away; they can't help you, and they wouldn't if they could, because, owing to you, they haven't got away with any plunder, and so they'll be in a very bad temper with you. In the road, in front of the house, is Captain Naylor—you know that officer and his dimensions? He's in a very temper with you too. (Here Beaumaroy was embroidering the situation; the Sergeant was not really in Captain Alec's thoughts.) Finally, I'm in a very bad temper with you myself. If I see your ugly phiz much longer, I may break out. Don't you think you'd better depart—by the back door—and go home? And if you're not out of Inkston for good and all by ten o'clock in the morning, and if you ever show yourself there again, look out for squalls. What you've got out of this business I don't know. You can keep it—and I'll give you a parting present myself as well."

"I knows a thing or two—" the Sergeant began, but he saw a look that he had seen only once or twice before on Beaumaroy's face; on each occasion it had been followed by the death of the enemy whose act had elicited it.

"Oh, try that game, just try it!" Beaumaroy muttered. "Just give me that excuse!" He advanced to the Sergeant, who fell suddenly on his knees. "Don't make a noise, you hound, or I'll silence you for good and all—I'd do it for twopence!" He took hold of the Sergeant's coat-collar, jerked him on to his legs, and propelled him to the kitchen and through it to the back door. Opening it, he dispatched the Sergeant through the doorway with an accurate and vigorous kick. He fell, and lay sprawling on the ground for a second, then gathered himself up and ran hastily over the heath, soon disappearing in the darkness. The memory of Beaumaroy's look was even keener than the sensation caused by Beaumaroy's boot. It sent him in flight back to Inkston, thence to London, thence into the unknown, to some spot chosen for its remoteness from Beaumaroy, from Captain Naylor, from Mike and from Neddy. He recognized his unpopularity, thereby achieving a triumph in a difficult little branch of wisdom.

Beaumaroy returned to the parlor hastily; not so much to avoid keeping Captain Alec waiting—it was quite a useful precaution to have that sentry on duty a little longer—as because his curiosity and interest had been excited by the description which Doctor Mary had given of Mr. Saffron's death. It was true, probably the precise truth, but it seemed to have been volunteered in a rather remarkable way and worded with careful purpose. Also it was the bare truth, the truth denuded of all its attendant circumstances—which had not been normal.

When he rejoined her, Mary was sitting in the armchair by the fire; she heard his account of the state of affairs up-to-date with a thoughtful smile, smoking a cigarette; her smile broadened over the tale of the water-butt. She had put on the fur cloak in which she had walked to the cottage—the fire was out and the room cold; framed in the furs, the outline of her face looked softer.

"So we stand more or less as we did before the burglars appeared on the scene," she commented.

"Except that our personal exertions have saved that money."

"I suppose you would prefer that all the circumstances shouldn't come out? There have been irregularities."

"I should prefer that, not so much on my own account—I don't know and don't care what they could do to me—as for the old man's sake."

"If I know you, I think you would rather enjoy being able to keep your secret. You like having the laugh of people. I know that myself, Mr. Beaumaroy." She exchanged a smile with him. "You want a death certificate from me," she added.

"I suppose I do," Beaumaroy agreed.

"In the sort of terms in which I described Mr. Saffron's death to Captain Alec? If I gave such a certificate, there would remain nothing—well, nothing peculiar—except the—the appearance of things in the Tower."

Her eyes were now fixed on his face; he nodded his head with a smile of understanding. There was something new in the tone of Doctor Mary's voice; not only friendliness, though that was there, but a note of excitement, of enjoyment, as though she also were not superior to the pleasure of having the laugh of people. "But it's rather straining a point to say that—and nothing more. I could do it only if you made me feel that I could trust you absolutely."

Beaumaroy made a little grimace, and waited for her to develop her subject.

"Your morality is different from most people's, and from mine. Mine is conventional."

"Conventual!" Beaumaroy murmured.

"Yours isn't. It's all personal with you. You recognize no rights in people whom you don't like, or who you think aren't deserving, or haven't earned rights. And you don't judge your own rights by what the law gives you, either. The right of conquest you called it; you hold yourself free to exercise that against everybody, except your friends, and against everybody in the interest of your friends—like poor Mr. Saffron. I believe you'd do the same for me if I asked you to."

"I'm glad you believe that, Doctor Mary."

"But I can't deal with you on that basis. It's even difficult to be friends on that basis—and certainly impossible to be partners."

"I never suggested that we should be partners over the money," Beaumaroy put in quickly.

"No. But I'm suggesting now—as you did before—that we should be partners—in a secret, in Mr. Saffron's secret." She smiled again as she added, "You can manage it all, I know, if you like. I've unlimited confidence in your ingenuity—quite unlimited."

"But none at all in my honesty?"

"You've got an honesty; but I don't call it a really honest honesty."

"All this leads up to—the Radbolts!" declared Beaumaroy with & gesture of disgust.

"It does. I want your word of honor—given to a friend—that all that money—all of it—goes to the Radbolts, if it legally belongs to them. I want that in exchange for the certificate."

"A hard bargain! It isn't so much that I want the money—though I must remark that in my judgment I have a strong claim to it; I would say a moral claim but for my deference to your views, Doctor Mary. But it isn't mainly that. I hate the Radbolts getting it, just as much as the old man would have hated it."

"I have given you my—my terms," said Mary.

Beaumaroy stood looking down at her, his hands in his pockets. His face was twisted in a humorous disgust. Mary laughed gently. "It is possible to—to keep the rules without being a prig, you know, though I believe you think it isn't."

"Including the sack in the water-butt? My sack, the sack I rescued?"

"Including the sack in the water-butt. Yes, every single sovereign!" Though Mary was pursuing the high moral line, there was now more mischief than gravity in her demeanor.

"Well, I'll do it!" He evidently spoke with a great effort. "I'll do it! But, look here, Doctor Mary, you'll live to be sorry you made me do it. Oh, I don't mean that that conscience of yours will be sorry. That'll approve, no doubt, being the extremely conventionalized thing it is. But you yourself, you'll be sorry, or I'm much mistaken in the Radbolts."

"It isn't a question of the Radbolts," she insisted, laughing.

"Oh yes, it is, and you'll come to feel it so." Beaumaroy was equally obstinate.

Mary rose. "Then that's settled, and we needn't keep Captain Alec waiting any longer."

"How do you know that I sha'n't cheat you?" he asked.

"I don't know how I know that," Mary admitted. "But I do know it. And I want to tell you—"

She suddenly felt embarrassed under his gaze; her cheeks flushed, but she went on resolutely:

"To tell you how glad, how happy, I am that it all ends like this; that the poor old man is free of his fancies and his fears, beyond both our pity and our laughter."

"Aye, he's earned rest, if there is to be rest for any of us!"

"And you can rest, too. And you can laugh with us, and not at us. Isn't that, after all, a more human sort of laughter?"

She was smiling still as she gave him her hand, but he saw that tears stood in her eyes. The next instant she gave a little sob.

"Doctor Mary!" he exclaimed in rueful expostulation.

"No, no, how stupid you are!" She laughed through her sob. "It's not unhappiness!" She pressed his hand tightly for an instant and then walked quickly out of the house, calling back to him, "Don't come, please don't come. I'd rather go to Captain Alec by myself."

Left alone in the cottage, now so quiet and so peaceful, Beaumaroy mused a while as he smoked his pipe. Then he turned to his labors—his final night of work in the Tower. There was much to do, very much to do; he achieved his task towards morning. When day dawned, there was nothing but water in the water-butt, and in the Tower no furnishings were visible save three chairs—a high carved one by the fireplace, and two much smaller on the little platform under the window. The faded old red carpet on the floor was the only attempt at decoration. And in still one thing more the Tower was different from what it had been, Beaumaroy contented himself with pasting brown paper over the pane on which Mike had operated. He did not replace the matchboarding over the window, but stowed it away in the coal-shed. The place was horribly in need of sunshine and fresh air—and the old gentleman was no longer alive to fear the draught!

When the undertaker came up to the cottage that afternoon, he glanced from the parlor, through the open door, into the Tower.

"Driving past on business, sir," he remarked to Beaumaroy, "I've often wondered what the old gentleman did with that there Tower. But it looks as if he didn't make no use of it."

"We sometimes stored things in it," said Beaumaroy. "But, as you see, there's nothing much there now."

But then the undertaker, worthy man, could not see through the carpet, or through the lid of Captain Duggle's grave. That was full—fuller than it had been at any period of its history. In it lay the wealth, the scepter, and the trappings of dead Majesty. For wherein did Mr. Saffron's dead Majesty differ from the dead Majesty of other Kings?



CHAPTER XVII

THE CHIEF MOURNERS

The attendance was small at Mr. Saffron's funeral. Besides meek and depressed Mrs. Wiles, and Beaumaroy himself, Doctor Mary found herself, rather to her surprise, in company with old Mr. Naylor. On comparing notes she discovered that, like herself, he had come on Beaumaroy's urgent invitation and, moreover, that he was engaged also to come on afterwards to Tower Cottage, where Beaumaroy was to entertain the chief mourners at a mid-day repast. "Glad enough to show my respect to a neighbor," said old Naylor. "And I always liked the old man's looks. But really I don't see why I should go to lunch. However, Beaumaroy—"

Mary did not see why he should go to lunch—nor, for that matter, why she should either, but curiosity about the chief mourners made her glad that she was going. The chief mourners did not look, at first sight, attractive. Mr. Radbolt was a short plump man, with a weaselly face and cunning eyes; his wife's eyes, of a greeny color, stared stolidly out from her broad red face; she was taller than her mate, and her figure contrived to be at once stout and angular. All through the service, Beaumaroy's gaze was set on the pair as they sat or stood in front of him, wandering from the one to the other in an apparently fascinated study.

At the Cottage he entertained his party in the parlor with a generous hospitality, and treated the Radbolts with most courteous deference. The man responded with the best manners that he had—who can do more? The woman was much less cordial; she was curt, and treated Beaumaroy rather as the servant than the friend of her dead cousin; there was a clear suggestion of suspicion in her bearing towards him. After a broad stare of astonishment on her introduction to "Dr. Arkroyd," she took very little notice of Mary; only to Mr. Naylor was she clumsily civil and even rather cringing; it was clear that in him she acknowledged the gentleman. He sat by her, and she tried to insinuate herself into a private conversation with him, apart from the others, probing him as to his knowledge of the dead man and his mode of living. Her questions hovered persistently round the point of Mr. Saffron's expenditure.

"Mr. Saffron was not a friend of mine," Naylor found it necessary to explain. "I had few opportunities of observing his way of life, even if I had felt any wish to do so."

"I suppose Beaumaroy knew all about his affairs," she suggested.

"As to that, I think you must ask Mr. Beaumaroy himself."

"From what the lawyers say, the old man seems to have been getting rid of his money, somehow or to somebody," she grumbled, in a positive whisper.

To Mr. Naylor's intense relief, Beaumaroy interrupted this conversation. "Well, how do you like this little place, Mrs. Radbolt?" he asked cheerfully. "Not a bad little crib, is it? Don't you think so too, Dr. Arkroyd?" Throughout this gathering Beaumaroy was very punctilious with his "Dr. Arkroyd." One would have thought that Mary and he were almost strangers.

"Yes, I like it," said Mary. "The Tower makes it rather unusual and picturesque." This was not really her sincere opinion; she was playing up to Beaumaroy, convinced that he had opened some conversational maneuver.

"Don't like it at all," answered Mrs. Radbolt. "We'll get rid of it as soon as we can, won't we, Radbolt?" She always addressed her husband as "Radbolt."

"Don't be in a hurry, don't throw it away," Beaumaroy advised. "It's not everybody's choice, of course, but there are quarters—yes, more than one quarter—in which you might get a very good offer for this place." His eye caught Mary's for a moment. "Indeed I wish I was in a position to make you one myself. I should like to take it as it stands—lock, stock and barrel. But I've sunk all I had in another venture—hope it turns out a satisfactory one! So I'm not in a position to do it. If Mrs. Radbolt wants to sell, what would you think of it, Dr. Arkroyd, as a speculation?"

Mary shook her head, smiling, glad to be able to smile with plausible reason. "I'm not as fond of rash speculations as you are, Mr. Beaumaroy."

"It may be worth more than it looks," he pursued. "Good neighborhood, healthy air, fruitful soil, very rich soil hereabouts."

"My dear Beaumaroy, the land about here is abominable," Naylor expostulated.

"Perhaps generally, but some rich pockets—one may call pockets," corrected Beaumaroy.

"I'm not an agriculturist," remarked weaselly Mr. Radbolt, in his oily tones.

"And then there's a picturesque old yarn told about it—oh, whether it's true or not, of course I don't know. It's about a certain Captain Duggle—not the Army—the Mercantile Marine, Mrs. Radbolt. You know the story Dr. Arkroyd? And you too, Mr. Naylor? You're the oldest inhabitant of Inkston present, sir. Suppose you tell it to Mr. and Mrs. Radbolt? I'm sure it will make them attach a new value to this really very attractive cottage—with, as Dr. Arkroyd says, the additional feature of the Tower."

"I know the story only as a friend of mine—Mr. Penrose—who takes great interest in local records and traditions, told it to me. If our host desires, I shall be happy to tell it to Mrs. Radbolt." Mr. Naylor accompanied his words with a courtly little bow to that lady, and launched upon the legend of Captain Duggle.

Mr. Radbolt was a religious man. At the end of the story he observed gravely, "The belief in diabolical personalities is not to be lightly dismissed, Mr. Beaumaroy."

"I'm entirely of your opinion, Mr. Radbolt." This time Mary felt that her smile was not so plausible.

"There seems to have been nothing in the grave," mused Mrs. Radbolt.

"Apparently not when Captain Duggle left it—if he was ever in it—at all events not when he left the house, in whatever way and by whatever agency."

"As to the latter point, I myself incline to Penrose's theory," said Mr. Naylor. "Delirium tremens, you know!"

Beaumaroy puffed at his cigar. "Still, I've often thought that, though it was empty then, it would have made—supposing it really exists—an excellent hiding-place for anybody who wanted such a thing. Say, for a miser, or a man who had his reasons for concealing what he was worth! I once suggested the idea to Mr. Saffron, and he was a good deal amused. He patted me on the shoulder and laughed heartily. He wasn't often so much amused as that."

A new look came into Mrs. Radbolt's green eyes. Up to now, distrust of Beaumaroy had predominated. His frank bearing, his obvious candor and simplicity, had weakened her suspicions. But his words suggested something else; he might be a fool, not a knave; Mr. Saffron had been amused, had laughed beyond his wont. That might have seemed the best way of putting Beaumaroy off the scent. The green eyes were now alert, eager, immensely acquisitive.

"The grave's in the Tower, if it's anywhere. Would you like to see the Tower, Mrs. Radbolt?"

"Yes, I should," she answered tartly. "Being part of our property as it is."

Mary exchanged a glance with Mr. Naylor, as they followed the others into the Tower. "What an abominable woman!" her glance said. Naylor smiled a despairing acquiescence.

The strangers—chief mourners, heirs-at-law, owners now of the place wherein they stood—looked round the bare brick walls of the little rotunda. Naylor examined it with interest too—the old story was a quaint one. Mary stood at the back of the group, smiling triumphantly. How had he disposed of—everything? She had not been wrong in her unlimited confidence in his ingenuity. She did not falter in her faith in his word pledged to her.

"Safe from burglars, that grave of the Captain's, if you kept it properly concealed!" Beaumaroy pursued in a sort of humorous meditation. "And in these days some people like to have their money in their own hands. Confiscatory legislation possible, isn't it, Mr. Naylor? You know about those things better than I do. And then the taxes—shocking, Mr. Radbolt! By Jove, I knew a chap the other day who came in for what sounded like a pretty little inheritance. But by the time he'd paid all the duties and so on, most of the gilt was off the gingerbread! It's there—in front of the hearth—that the story says the grave is. Doesn't it, Mr. Naylor?" A sudden thought seemed to strike him, "I say, Mrs. Radbolt, would you like us to have a look whether we can find any indications of it?" His eyes traveled beyond the lady whom he addressed. They met Mary's. She knew their message; he was taking her into his confidence about his experiment with the chief mourners.

The stout angular woman had leapt to her conclusion. Much less money than had been expected—no signs of money having been spent and here, not the cunning knave whom she had expected, but a garrulous open fool, giving away what was perhaps a golden secret! Mammon, the greed of acquisitiveness, the voracious appetite for getting more, gleamed in her green eyes.

"There? Do you say it's—it's supposed to be there?" she asked eagerly, with a shake in her voice.

Her husband interposed in a suave and sanctimonious voice: "My dear, if Mr. Beaumaroy and the other gentleman won't mind my saying so, I've been feeling that these are rather light and frivolous topics for the day, and the occasion which brings us here. The whole thing is probably an unfounded story, although there is a sound moral to it. Later on, just as a matter of curiosity, if you like, my dear. But to-day, Cousin Aloysius's day of burial, is it quite seemly?"

The big woman looked at her smaller mate for just a moment, a scrutinizing look. Then she said with most unexpected meekness, "I was wrong. You always have the proper feelings, Radbolt."

"The fault was mine, entirely mine," Beaumaroy hastily interposed. "I dragged in the old yarn, I led Mr. Naylor into telling it, I told you about what I said to Mr. Saffron and how he took it. All my fault! I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke. I apologize, Mr. Radbolt! And I think that we've exhausted the interest of the Tower." He looked at his watch. "Er, how do you stand for time? Shall Mrs. Wiles make us a cup of tea, or have you a train to catch?"

"That's the woman in charge of the house, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Radbolt.

"Comes in for the day. She doesn't sleep here." He smiled pleasantly on Mrs. Radbolt. "To tell you the truth, I don't think that she would consent to sleep here by herself. Silly! But—the old story, you know!"

"Don't you sleep here?" the woman persisted, though her husband was looking at her rather uneasily.

"Up to now I have," said Beaumaroy. "But there's nothing to keep me here now, and Mr. Naylor has kindly offered to put me up as long as I stay at Inkston."

"Going to leave the place with nobody in it?"

Beaumaroy's manner indicated surprise. "Oh, yes! There's nothing to tempt thieves, is there? Just lock the door and put the key in my pocket!"

The woman looked very surly, but flummoxed. Her husband, with his suave oiliness, came to her rescue. "My wife is always nervous, perhaps foolishly nervous, about fire, Mr. Beaumaroy. Well, with an old house like this, there is always the risk."

"Upon my soul, I hadn't thought of it! And I've packed up all my things, and your car's come and fetched them, Mr. Naylor. Still, of course I could—"

"Oh, we've no right, no claim, to trouble you, Mr. Beaumaroy. Only my wife is—"

"Fire's an obsession with me, I'm afraid," said the stout woman, with a rumbling giggle. The sound of her mirth was intolerably disagreeable to Mary.

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