Bull-dog Drummond/Chapter 4

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Bull-dog Drummond by Herman Cyril McNeile
Chapter 4 - In Which He Spends a Quiet Night at The Elms

CHAPTER IV

IN WHICH HE SPENDS A QUIET NIGHT AT THE ELMS

I

"It is a little difficult to know what to do with you, young man," said Peterson gently, after a long silence. "I knew you had no tact."

Drummond leaned back in his chair and regarded his host with a faint smile.

"I must come to you for lessons, Mr. Peterson. Though I frankly admit," he added genially, "that I have never been brought up to regard the forcible abduction of a harmless individual and a friend who is sleeping off the effects of what low people call a jag as being exactly typical of that admirable quality."

Peterson's glance rested on the dishevelled man still standing by the door, and after a moment's thought he leaned forward and pressed a bell.

"Take that man away," he said abruptly to the servant who came into the room, "and put him to bed. I will consider what to do with him in the morning."

"Consider be damned," howled Mullings, starting forward angrily. "You'll consider a thick ear, Mr. Blooming Knowall. What I wants to know—"

The words died away in his mouth, and he gazed at Peterson like a bird looks at a snake. There was something so ruthlessly malignant in the stare of the grey-blue eyes, that the ex-soldier who had viewed going over the top with comparative equanimity, as being part of his job, quailed and looked apprehensively at Drummond.

"Do what the kind gentleman tells you, Mullings," said Hugh, "and go to bed." He smiled at the man reassuringly. "And if you're very, very good, perhaps, as a great treat, he'll come and kiss you good night."

"Now that," he remarked as the door closed behind them, "is what I call tact."

He lit a cigarette, and thoughtfully blew out a cloud of smoke. "Stop this fooling," snarled Peterson. "Where have you hidden Potts?"

"Tush, tush," murmured Hugh. "You surprise me. I had formed such a charming mental picture of you, Mr. Peterson, as the strong, silent man who never lost his temper, and here you are disappointing me at the beginning of our acquaintance."

For a moment he thought that Peterson was going to strike him, and his own fist clenched under the table.

"I wouldn't, my friend," he said quietly; "indeed I wouldn't. Because if you hit me, I shall most certainly hit you. And it will not improve your beauty."

Slowly Peterson sank back in his chair, and the veins which had been standing out on his forehead became normal again. He even smiled; only the ceaseless tapping of his hand on his left knee betrayed his momentary loss of composure. Drummond's fist unclenched, and he stole a look at the girl. She was in her favourite attitude on the sofa, and had not even looked up.

"I suppose that it is quite useless for me to argue with you," said Peterson after a while.

"I was a member of my school debating society," remarked Hugh reminiscently. "But I was never much good. I'm too obvious for argument, I'm afraid."

"You probably realise from what has happened to-night," continued Peterson, "that I am in earnest."

"I should be sorry to think so," answered Hugh. "If that is the best you can do, I'd cut it right out and start a tomato farm."

The girl gave a little gurgle of laughter and lit another cigarette.

"Will you come and do the dangerous part of the work for us, Monsieur Hugh?" she asked.

"If you promise to restrain the little fellows, I'll water them with pleasure," returned Hugh lightly.

Peterson rose and walked over to the window, where he stood motionless staring out into the darkness. For all his assumed flippancy, Hugh realised that the situation was what in military phraseology might be termed critical. There were in the house probably half a dozen men who, like their master, were absolutely unscrupulous. If it suited Peterson's book to kill him, he would not hesitate to do so for a single second. And Hugh realised, when he put it that way in his own mind, that it was no exaggeration, no façon de parler, but a plain, unvarnished statement of fact. Peterson would no more think twice of killing a man if he wished to, than the normal human being would of crushing a wasp.

For a moment the thought crossed his mind that he would take no chances by remaining in the house; that he would rush Peterson from behind and escape into the darkness of the garden. But it was only momentary—gone almost before it had come, for Hugh Drummond was not that manner of man—gone even before he noticed that Peterson was standing in such a position that he could see every detail of the room behind him reflected in the glass through which he stared.

A fixed determination to know what lay in that sinister brain replaced his temporary indecision. Events up to date had moved so quickly that he had hardly had time to get his bearings; even now the last twenty-four hours seemed almost a dream. And as he looked at the broad back and massive head of the man at the window, and from him to the girl idly smoking on the sofa, he smiled a little grimly. He had just remembered the thumbscrew of the preceding evening. Assuredly the demobilised officer who found peace dull was getting his money's worth; and Drummond had a shrewd suspicion that the entertainment was only just beginning.

A sudden sound outside in the garden made him look up quickly. He saw the white gleam of a shirt front, and the next moment a man pushed open the window and came unsteadily into the room. It was Mr. Benton, and quite obviously he had been seeking consolation in the bottle.

"Have you got him?" he demanded thickly, steadying himself with a hand on Peterson's arm.

"I have not," said Peterson shortly, eyeing the swaying figure in front of him contemptuously.

"Where is he?"

"Perhaps if you ask your daughter's friend Captain Drummond, he might tell you. For Heaven's sake sit down, man, before you fall down." He pushed Benton roughly into a chair, and resumed his impassive stare into the darkness.

The girl took not the slightest notice of the new arrival who gazed stupidly at Drummond across the table.

"We seem to be moving in an atmosphere of cross-purposes, Mr. Benton," said the soldier affably. "Our host will not get rid of the idea that I am a species of bandit. I hope your daughter is quite well."

"Er—quite, thank you," muttered the other.

'Tell her, will you, that I propose to call on her before returning to London to-morrow. That is, if she won't object to my coming early.'

With his hands in his pockets, Peterson was regarding Drummond from the window.

"You propose leaving us to-morrow, do you?" he said quietly.

Drummond stood up.

"I ordered my car for ten o'clock," he answered. "I hope that will not upset the household arrangements," he continued, turning to the girl, who was laughing softly and polishing her nails.

"Vraiment! But you grow on one, my Hugh," she smiled. "Are we really losing you so soon?"

"I am quite sure that I shall be more useful to Mr. Peterson at large, than I am cooped up here," said Hugh. "I might even lead him to this hidden treasure which he thinks I've got."

"You will do that all right," remarked Peterson. "But at the moment I was wondering whether a little persuasion now—might not give me all the information I require more quickly and with less trouble."

A fleeting vision of a mangled, pulp-like thumb flashed across Hugh's mind; once again he heard that hideous cry, half animal, half human, which had echoed through the darkness the preceding night, and for an instant his breath came a little faster. Then he smiled, and shook his head.

"I think you are rather too good a judge of human nature to try anything so foolish," he said thoughtfully. "You see, unless you kill me, which I don't think would suit your book, you might find explanations a little difficult to-morrow."

For a while there was silence in the room, broken at length by a short laugh from Peterson.

"For a young man truly your perspicacity is great," he remarked. "Irma, is the blue room ready? If so, tell Luigi to show Captain Drummond to it."

"I will show him myself," she answered, rising. "And then I shall go to bed. Mon Dieu! my Hugh, but I find your country très ennuyeux." She stood in front of him for a moment, and then led the way to the door, glancing at him over her shoulder.

Hugh saw a quick look of annoyance pass over Peterson's face as he turned to follow the girl, and it struck him that that gentleman was not best pleased at the turn of events. It vanished almost as soon as it came, and Peterson waved a friendly hand at him, as if the doings of the night had been the most ordinary thing in the world. Then the door closed, and he followed his guide up the stairs.

The house was beautifully furnished. Hugh was no judge of art, but even his inexperienced eye could see that the prints on the walls were rare and valuable. The carpets were thick, and his feet sank into them noiselessly; the furniture was solid and in exquisite taste. And it was as he reached the top of the stairs that a single deep-noted clock rang a wonderful chime and then struck the hour. The time was just three o'clock.

The girl opened the door of a room and switched on the light. Then she faced him smiling, and Hugh looked at her steadily. He had no wish whatever for any conversation, but as she was standing in the centre of the doorway it was impossible for him to get past her without being rude.

"Tell me, you ugly man," she murmured, "why you are such a fool."

Hugh smiled, and, as has been said before, Hugh's smile transformed his face.

"I must remember that opening," he said. "So many people, I feel convinced, would like to say it on first acquaintance, but confine themselves to merely thinking it. It establishes a basis of intimacy at once, doesn't it?"

She swayed a little towards him, and then, before he realised her intention, she put a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't you understand," she whispered fiercely, "that they'll kill you?" She peered past him half fearfully, and then turned to him again. "Go, you idiot, go—while there's time. Oh! if I could only make you understand; if you'd only believe me! Get out of it—go abroad; do anything—but don't fool around here."

In her agitation she was shaking him to and fro.

"It seems a cheerful household," remarked Hugh, with a smile. "May I ask why you're all so concerned about me? Your estimable father gave me the same advice yesterday morning."

"Don't ask why," she answered feverishly, "because I can't tell you. Only you must believe that what I say is the truth—you must. It's just possible that if you go now and tell them where you've hidden the American you'll be all right. But if you don't—" Her hand dropped to her side suddenly. "Breakfast will be at nine, my Hugh: until then, au revoir."

He turned as she left the room, a little puzzled by her change of tone. Standing at the top of the stairs was Peterson, watching them both in silence…

II

In the days when Drummond had been a platoon commander, he had done many dangerous things. The ordinary joys of the infantry subaltern's life—such as going over the top, and carrying out raids—had not proved sufficient for his appetite. He had specialised in peculiar stunts of his own: stunts over which he was singularly reticent; stunts over which his men formed their own conclusions, and worshipped him accordingly.

But Drummond was no fool, and he had realised the vital importance of fitting himself for these stunts to the best of his ability. Enormous physical strength is a great asset, but it carries with it certain natural disadvantages. In the first place, its possessor is frequently clumsy: Hugh had practised in France till he could move over ground without a single blade of grass rustling. Van Dyck—a Dutch trapper—had first shown him the trick, by which a man goes forward on his elbows like a snake, and is here one moment and gone the next, with no one the wiser.

Again, its possessor is frequently slow: Hugh had practised in France till he could kill a man with his bare hands in a second. Olaki—a Japanese—had first taught him two or three of the secrets of his trade, and in the intervals of resting behind the lines he had perfected them until it was even money whether the Jap or he would win in a practice bout.

And there were nights in No Man's Land when his men would hear strange sounds, and knowing that Drummond was abroad on his wanderings, would peer eagerly over the parapet into the desolate torn-up waste in front. But they never saw anything, even when the green ghostly flares went hissing up into the darkness and the shadows danced fantastically. All was silent and still; the sudden shrill whimper was not repeated.

Perhaps a patrol coming back would report a German, lying huddled in a shell-hole, with no trace of a wound, but only a broken neck; perhaps the patrol never found anything. But whatever the report, Hugh Drummond only grinned and saw to his men's breakfasts. Which is why there are in England to-day quite a number of civilians who acknowledge only two rulers—the King and Hugh Drummond. And they would willingly die for either.

The result on Drummond was not surprising: as nearly as a man may be he was without fear. And when the idea came to him as he sat on the edge of his bed thoughtfully pulling off his boots, no question of the possible risk entered into his mind. To explore the house seemed the most natural thing in the world, and with characteristic brevity he summed up the situation as it struck him.

"They suspect me anyhow: in fact, they know I took Potts. Therefore even if they catch me passage-creeping, I'm no worse off than I am now. And I might find something of interest. Therefore, carry on, brave heart."

The matter was settled; the complete bench of bishops headed by their attendant satellites would not have stopped him, nor the fact that the German front-line trench was a far safer place for a stranger than The Elms at night. But he didn't know that fact, and it would have cut no more ice than the episcopal dignitaries, if he had…

It was dark in the passage outside as he opened the door of his room and crept towards the top of the stairs. The collar of his brown lounge coat was turned up, and his stockinged feet made no sound on the heavy pile carpet. Like a huge shadow he vanished into the blackness, feeling his way forward with the uncanny instinct that comes from much practice. Every now and then he paused and listened intently, but the measured ticking of the clock below and the occasional creak of a board alone broke the stillness.

For a moment his outline showed up against the faint grey light which was coming through a window half-way down the stairs; then he was gone again, swallowed up in the gloom of the hall. To the left lay the room in which he had spent the evening, and Drummond turned to the right. As he had gone up to bed he had noticed a door screened by a heavy curtain which he thought might be the room Phyllis Benton had spoken of—the room where Henry Lakington kept his ill-gotten treasures. He felt his way along the hall, and at length his hand touched the curtain—only to drop it again at once. From close behind him had come a sharp, angry hiss…

He stepped back a pace and stood rigid, staring at the spot from which the sound had seemed to come—but he could see nothing. Then he leaned forward and once more moved the curtain. Instantly it came again, sharper and angrier than before.

Hugh passed a hand over his forehead and found it damp. Germans he knew, and things on two legs, but what was this that hissed so viciously in the darkness? At length he determined to risk it, and drew from his pocket a tiny electric torch. Holding it well away from his body, he switched on the light. In the centre of the beam, swaying gracefully to and fro, was a snake. For a moment he watched it fascinated as it spat at the light angrily; he saw the flat hood where the vicious head was set on the upright body; then he switched off the torch and retreated rather faster then he had come.

"A convivial household," he muttered to himself through lips that were a little dry. "A hooded cobra is an unpleasing pet."

He stood leaning against the banisters regaining his self-control. There was no further sound from the cobra; seemingly it only got annoyed when its own particular domain was approached. In fact, Hugh had just determined to reconnoitre the curtained doorway again to see if it was possible to circumvent the snake, when a low chuckle came distinctly to his ears from the landing above.

He flushed angrily in the darkness. There was no doubt whatever as to the human origin of that laugh, and Hugh suddenly realised that he was making the most profound fool of himself. And such a realisation, though possibly salutary to all of us at times, is most unpleasant.

For Hugh Drummond, who, with all his lack of conceit, had a very good idea of Hugh Drummond's capabilities, to be at an absolute disadvantage—to be laughed at by some dirty swine whom he could strangle in half a minute—was impossible! His fists clenched, and he swore softly under his breath. Then as silently as he had come down, he commenced to climb the stairs again. He had a hazy idea that he would like to hit something—hard.

There were nine stairs in the first half of the flight, and it was as he stood on the fifth that he again heard the low chuckle. At the same instant something whizzed past his head so low that it almost touched his hair, and there was a clang on the wall beside him. He ducked instinctively, and regardless of noise raced up the remaining stairs on all fours. His jaw was set like a vice, his eyes were blazing; in fact, Hugh Drummond was seeing red.

He paused when he reached the top, crouching in the darkness. Close to him he could feel someone else, and holding his breath, he listened. Then he heard the man move—only the very faintest sound—but it was enough. Without a second's thought he sprang, and his hands closed on human flesh. He laughed gently; then he fought in silence.

His opponent was strong above the average, but after a minute he was like a child in Hugh's grasp. He choked once or twice and muttered something; then Hugh slipped his right hand gently on to the man's throat. His fingers moved slowly round, his thumb adjusted itself lovingly, and the man felt his head being forced back irresistibly. He gave one strangled cry, and then the pressure relaxed.…

"One half-inch more, my gentle humorist," Hugh whispered in his ear, "and your neck would have been broken. As it is, it will be very stiff for some days. Another time—don't laugh. It's dangerous."

Then, like a ghost, he vanished along the passage in the direction of his own room.

"I wonder who the bird was," he murmured thoughtfully to himself. "Somehow I don't think he'll laugh quite so much in future—damn him."

III

At eight o'clock the next morning a burly-looking ruffian brought in some hot water and a cup of tea. Hugh watched him through half-closed eyes, and eliminated him from the competition. His bullet head moved freely on a pair of massive shoulders; his neck showed no traces of nocturnal trouble. As he pulled up the blinds the light fell full on his battered, rugged face, and suddenly Hugh sat up in bed and stared at him.

"Good Lord!" he cried, "aren't you Jem Smith?"

The man swung round like a flash and glared at the bed.

"Wot the 'ell 'as that got to do wiv you?" he snarled, and then his face changed. "Why, strike me pink, if it ain't young Drummond."

Hugh grinned.

"Right in one, Jem. What in the name of fortune are you doing in this outfit?"

But the man was not to be drawn.

"Never you mind, sir," he said grimly. "I reckons that's my own business."

"Given up the game, Jem?" asked Hugh.

"It give me up, when that cross-eyed son of a gun Yung Baxter fought that cross down at 'Oxton. Gawd! if I could get the swine—just once again—s'welp me, I'd—' Words failed the ex-bruiser; he could only mutter. And Hugh, who remembered the real reason why the game had given Jem up, and a period of detention at His Majesty's expense had taken its place, preserved a discreet silence.

The pug paused as he got to the door, and looked at Drummond doubtfully. Then he seemed to make up his mind, and advanced to the side of the bed.

"It ain't none o' my business," he muttered hoarsely, "but seeing as 'ow you're one of the boys, if I was you I wouldn't get looking too close at things in this 'ere 'ouse. It ain't 'ealthy: only don't say as I said so."

Hugh smiled.

"Thank you, Jem. By the way, has anyone got a stiff neck in the house this morning?"

"Stiff neck!" echoed the man. "Strike me pink if that ain't funny—you're asking, I mean. The bloke's sitting up in 'is bed swearing awful. Can't move 'is 'ead at all."

"And who, might I ask, is the bloke?" said Drummond, stirring his tea.

"Why, Peterson, o' course. 'Oo else? Breakfast at nine."

The door closed behind him, and Hugh lit a cigarette thoughtfully. Most assuredly he was starting in style: Lakington's jaw one night, Peterson's neck the second, seemed a sufficiently energetic opening to the game for the veriest glutton. Then that cheerful optimism which was the envy of his friends asserted itself.

"Supposin' I'd killed 'em," he murmured, aghast. "Just supposin'. Why, the bally show would have been over, and I'd have had to advertise again."

Only Peterson was in the dining-room when Hugh came down. He had examined the stairs on his way, but he could see nothing unusual which would account for the thing which had whizzed past his head and clanged sullenly against the wall. Nor was there any sign of the cobra by the curtained door; merely Peterson standing in a sunny room behind a bubbling coffee-machine.

"Good morning," remarked Hugh affably. "How are we all to-day? By Jove! that coffee smells good."

"Help yourself," said Peterson. "My daughter is never down as early as this."

"Rarely conscious before eleven—what!" murmured Hugh. "Deuced wise of her. May I press you to a kidney?" He returned politely towards his host, and paused in dismay. "Good heavens! Mr. Peterson, is your neck hurting you?"

"It is," answered Peterson grimly.

"A nuisance, having a stiff neck. Makes everyone laugh, and one gets no sympathy. Bad thing—laughter…At times, anyway." He sat down and commenced to eat his breakfast.

"Curiosity is a great deal worse, Captain Drummond. It was touch and go whether I killed you last night."

The two men were staring at one another steadily.

"I think I might say the same," returned Drummond.

"Yes and no," said Peterson. "From the moment you left the bottom of the stairs, I had your life in the palm of my hand. Had I chosen to take it, my young friend, I should not have had this stiff neck."

Hugh returned to his breakfast unconcernedly.

"Granted, laddie, granted. But had I not been of such a kindly and forbearing nature, you wouldn't have had it, either." He looked at Peterson critically. "I'm inclined to think it's a great pity I didn't break your neck, while I was about it." Hugh sighed, and drank some coffee. "I see that I shall have to do it some day, and probably Lakington's as well…By the way, how is our Henry? I trust his jaw is not unduly inconveniencing him."

Peterson, with his coffee cup in his hand, was staring down the drive.

"Your car is a little early, Captain Drummond," he said at length. "However, perhaps it can wait two or three minutes, while we get matters perfectly clear. I should dislike you not knowing where you stand." He turned round and faced the soldier. "You have deliberately, against my advice, elected to fight me and the interests I represent. So be it. From now on, the gloves are off. You embarked on this course from a spirit of adventure, at the instigation of the girl next door. She, poor little fool, is concerned over that drunken waster—her father. She asked you to help her—you agreed; and, amazing though it may seem, up to now you have scored a certain measure of success. I admit it, and I admire you for it. I apologise now for having played the fool with you last night: you're the type of man whom one should kill outright—or leave alone."

He set down his coffee cup, and carefully snipped the end off a cigar.

"You are also the type of man who will continue on the path he has started. You are completely in the dark; you have no idea whatever what you are up against." He smiled grimly, and turned abruptly on Hugh. "You fool—you stupid young fool. Do you really imagine that you can beat me?"

The soldier rose and stood in front of him.

"I have a few remarks of my own to make," he answered, "and then we might consider the interview closed. I ask nothing better than that the gloves should be off—though with your filthy methods of fighting, anything you touch will get very dirty. As you say, I am completely in the dark as to your plans; but I have a pretty shrewd idea what I'm up against. Men who can employ thumbscrew on a poor defenceless brute seem to me to be several degrees worse than an aboriginal cannibal, and therefore if I put you down as one of the lowest types of degraded criminal I shall not be very wide of the mark. There's no good you snarling at me, you swine; it does everybody good to hear some home truths—and don't forget it was you who pulled off the gloves."

Drummond lit a cigarette; then his merciless eyes fixed themselves again on Peterson.

"There is only one thing more," he continued. "You have kindly warned me of my danger: let me give you a word of advice in my turn. I'm going to fight you; if I can, I'm going to beat you. Anything that may happen to me is part of the game. But if anything happens to Miss Benton during the course of operations, then, as surely as there is a God above, Peterson, I'll get at you somehow and murder you with my own hands."

For a few moments there was silence, and then with a short laugh Drummond turned away.

"Quite melodramatic," he remarked lightly. "And very bad for the digestion so early in the morning. My regards to your charming daughter, also to him of the broken jaw. Shall we meet again soon?" He paused at the door and looked back.

Peterson was still standing by the table, his face expressionless.

"Very soon indeed, young man," he said quietly. "Very soon indeed.…"

Hugh stepped out into the warm sunshine and spoke to his chauffeur.

"Take her out into the main road, Jenkins," he said, "and wait for me outside the entrance to the next house. I shan't be long."

Then he strolled through the garden towards the little wicket-gate that led to The Larches. Phyllis! The thought of her was singing in his heart to the exclusion of everything else. Just a few minutes with her; just the touch of her hand, the faint smell of the scent she used—and then back to the game.

He had almost reached the gate, when, with a sudden crashing in the undergrowth, Jem Smith blundered out into the path. His naturally ruddy face was white, and he stared round fearfully.

"Gawd! sir," he cried, "mind out. 'Ave yer seen it?"

"Seen what, Jem?" asked Drummond.

"That there brute. 'E's escaped; and if 'e meets a stranger——" He left the sentence unfinished, and stood listening. From somewhere behind the house came a deep-throated, snarling roar; then the clang of a padlock shooting home in metal, followed by a series of heavy thuds as if some big animal was hurling itself against the bars of a cage.

"They've got it," muttered Jem, mopping his brow.

"You seem to have a nice little crowd of pets about the house," remarked Drummond, putting a hand on the man's arm as he was about to move off. "What was that docile creature we've just heard calling to its young?"

The ex-pugilist looked at him sullenly.

"Never you mind, sir; it ain't no business of yours. An' if I was you, I wouldn't make it your business to find out."

A moment later he had disappeared into the bushes, and Drummond was left alone. Assuredly a cheerful household, he reflected; just the spot for a rest-cure. Then he saw a figure on the lawn of the next house which banished everything else from his mind; and opening the gate, he walked eagerly towards Phyllis Benton.

IV

"I heard you were down here," she said gravely, holding out her hand to him. "I've been sick with anxiety ever since father told me he'd seen you."

Hugh imprisoned the little hand in his own huge ones, and smiled at the girl.

"I call that just sweet of you," he answered. "Just sweet.…Having people worry about me is not much in my line, but I think I rather like it."

"You're the most impossible person," she remarked, releasing her hand. "What sort of a night did you have?"

"Somewhat particoloured," returned Hugh lightly. "Like the hoary old curate's egg—calm in parts."

"But why did you go at all?" she cried, beating her hands together. "Don't you realise that if anything happens to you, I shall never forgive myself?" The soldier smiled reassuringly.

"Don't worry, little girl," he said. "Years ago I was told by an old gipsy that I should die in my bed of old age and excessive consumption of invalid port … As a matter of fact, the cause of my visit was rather humorous. They abducted me in the middle of the night, with an ex-soldier of my old battalion, who was, I regret to state, sleeping off the effects of much indifferent liquor in my rooms."

"What are you talking about?" she demanded.

"They thought he was your American millionaire cove, and the wretched Mullings was too drunk to deny it. In fact, I don't think they ever asked his opinion at all." Hugh grinned reminiscently. "A pathetic spectacle."

"Oh! but splendid," cried the girl a little breathlessly. "And where was the American?"

"Next door—safe with a very dear old friend of mine, Peter Darrell. You must meet Peter some day—you'll like him." He looked at her thoughtfully. "No," he added, "on second thoughts, I'm not at all sure that I shall let you meet Peter. You might like him too much; and he's a dirty dog."

"Don't be ridiculous," she cried with a faint blush. "Tell me, where is the American now?"

"Many miles out of London," answered Hugh. "I think we'll leave it at that. The less you know, Miss Benton, at the moment—the better."

"Have you found out anything?" she demanded eagerly. Hugh shook his head.

"Not a thing. Except that your neighbours are as pretty a bunch of scoundrels as I ever want to meet."

"But you'll let me know if you do." She laid a hand beseechingly on his arm. "You know what's at stake for me, don't you? Father, and—oh! but you know."

"I know," he answered gravely. "I know, old thing. I promise I'll let you know anything I find out. And in the meantime I want you to keep an eye fixed on what goes on next door, and let me know anything of importance by letter to the Junior Sports Club." He lit a cigarette thoughtfully. "I have an idea that they feel so absolutely confident in their own power, that they are going to make the fatal mistake of underrating their opponents. We shall see." He turned to her with a twinkle in his eye. "Anyway, our Mr. Lakington will see that you don't come to any harm."

"The brute!" she cried, very low. "How I hate him!" Then with a sudden change of tone, she looked up at Drummond. "I don't know whether it's worth mentioning," she said slowly, "but yesterday afternoon four men came at different times to The Elms. They were the sort of type one sees tub-thumping in Hyde Park, all except one, who looked like a respectable working-man."

Hugh shook his head.

"Don't seem to help much, does it? Still, one never knows. Let me know anything like that in future at the club."

"Good morning, Miss Benton." Peterson's voice behind them made Drummond swing round with a smothered curse. "Our inestimable friend, Captain Drummond, brought such a nice young fellow to see me last night, and then left him lying about the house this morning."

Hugh bit his lip with annoyance; until that moment he had clean forgotten that Mullings was still in The Elms.

"I have sent him along to your car," continued Peterson suavely, "which I trust was the correct procedure. Or did you want to give him to me as a pet?"

"From a rapid survey, Mr. Peterson, I should think you have quite enough already," said Hugh. "I trust you paid him the money you owe him."

"I will allot it to him in my will," remarked Peterson. "If you do the same in yours, doubtless he will get it from one of us sooner or later. In the meantime, Miss Benton, is your father up?"

The girl frowned.

"No—not yet."

"Then I will go and see him in bed. For the present, au revoir." He walked towards the house, and they watched him go in silence. It was as he opened the drawing-room window that Hugh called after him:

"Do you like the horse Elliman's or the ordinary brand?" he asked. "I'll send you a bottle for that stiff neck of yours."

Very deliberately Peterson turned round.

"Don't trouble, thank you, Captain Drummond. I have my own remedies, which are far more efficacious."