Bull-dog Drummond/Chapter 6
IN WHICH A VERY OLD GAME TAKES PLACE ON THE HOG'S BACK
A thick grey mist lay over the Thames. It covered the water and the low fields to the west like a thick white carpet; it drifted sluggishly under the old bridge which spans the river between Goring and Streatley. It was the hour before dawn, and sleepy passengers, rubbing the windows of their carriages as the Plymouth boat express rushed on towards London, shivered and drew their rugs closer around them. It looked cold…cold and dead.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the vapour rose, and spread outwards up the wooded hills by Basildon. It drifted through the shrubs and rose-bushes of a little garden, which stretched from a bungalow down to the water's edge, until at length wisps of it brushed gently round the bungalow itself. It was a daily performance in the summer, and generally the windows of the lower rooms remained shut till long after the mist had gone and the sun was glinting through the trees on to the river below. But on this morning there was a change in the usual programme. Suddenly the window of one of the downstair rooms was flung open, and a man with a white haggard face leant out drawing great gulps of fresh air into his lungs. Softly the white wraiths eddied past him into the room behind—a room in which a queer, faintly sweet smell still hung—a room in which three other men lay sprawling uncouthly in chairs, and two dogs lay motionless on the hearthrug.
After a moment or two the man withdrew, only to appear again with one of the others in his arms. And then, having dropped his burden through the window on to the lawn outside, he repeated his performance with the remaining two. Finally he pitched the two dogs after them, and then, with his hand to his forehead, staggered down to the water's edge.
"Holy smoke!" he muttered to himself, as he plunged his head into the cold water, "talk about the morning after.…Never have I thought of such a head."
After a while, with the water still dripping from his face, he returned to the bungalow and found the other three in varying stages of partial insensibility.
"Wake up, my heroes," he remarked, "and go and put your great fat heads in the river."
Peter Darrell scrambled unsteadily to his feet. "Great Scott! Hugh," he muttered thickly, "what's happened?"
"We've been had for mugs," said Drummond grimly.
Algy Longworth blinked at him foolishly from his position in the middle of a flower–bed.
"Dear old soul," he murmured at length, "you'll have to change your wine merchants. Merciful Heavens! is the top of my head still on?"
"Don't be a fool, Algy," grunted Hugh. "You weren't drunk last night. Pull yourself together, man; we were all of us drugged or doped somehow. And now," he added bitterly, "we've all got heads, and we have not got Potts."
"I don't remember anything," said Toby Sinclair, "except falling asleep. Have they taken him?"
"Of course they have," said Hugh. "Just before I went off I saw 'em all in the garden and that swine Lakington was with them. However, while you go and put your nuts in the river, I'll go up and make certain."
With a grim smile he watched the three men lurch down to the water; then he turned and went upstairs to the room which had been occupied by the American millionaire. It was empty, as he had known it would be, and with a smothered curse he made his way downstairs again. And it was as he stood in the little hall saying things gently under his breath that he heard a muffled moaning noise coming from the kitchen. For a moment he was nonplussed; then, with an oath at his stupidity, he dashed through the door. Bound tightly to the table, with a gag in her mouth, the wretched Mrs. Denny was sitting on the floor, blinking at him wrathfully…
"What on earth will Denny say to me when he hears about this!" said Hugh, feverishly cutting the cords. He helped her to her feet, and then forced her gently into a chair. "Mrs. Denny, have those swine hurt you?"
Five minutes served to convince him that the damage, if any, was mental rather than bodily, and that her vocal powers were not in the least impaired. Like a dam bursting, the flood of the worthy woman's wrath surged over him; she breathed a hideous vengeance on every one impartially. Then she drove Hugh from the kitchen, and slammed the door in his face.
"Breakfast in half an hour," she cried from inside—"not that one of you deserves it."
"We are forgiven," remarked Drummond, as he joined the other three on the lawn. "Do any of you feel like breakfast? Fat sausages and crinkly bacon."
"Shut up," groaned Algy, "or we'll throw you into the river. What I want is a brandy-and-soda—half a dozen of 'em."
"I wish I knew what they did to us," said Darrell. "Because, if I remember straight, I drank bottled beer at dinner, and I'm damned if I see how they could have doped that."
"I'm only interested in one thing, Peter," remarked Drummond grimly, "and that isn't what they did to us. It's what we're going to do to them."
"Count me out," said. Algy. "For the next year I shall be fully occupied resting my head against a cold stone. Hugh, I positively detest your friends…"
. . . . .
It was a few hours later that a motor-car drew up outside that celebrated chemist in Piccadilly whose pick-me-ups are known from Singapore to Alaska. From it there descended four young men, who ranged themselves in a row before the counter and spoke no word. Speech was unnecessary. Four foaming drinks were consumed, four acid-drops were eaten, and then, still in silence, the four young men got back into the car and drove away. It was a solemn rite, and on arrival at the Junior Sports Club the four performers sank into four large chairs, and pondered gently on the vileness of the morning after. Especially when there hadn't been a night before. An unprofitable meditation evidently, for suddenly, as if actuated by a single thought, the four young men rose from their four large chairs and again entered the motor-car.
The celebrated chemist whose pick-me-ups are known from Singapore to Alaska gazed at them severely.
"A very considerable bend, gentlemen," he remarked.
"Quite wrong," answered the whitest and most haggard of the row. "We are all confirmed Pussyfoots, and have been consuming non-alcoholic beer."
Once more to the scrunch of acid-drops the four young men entered the car outside; once more, after a brief and silent drive, four large chairs in the smoking-room of the Junior Sports Club received an occupant. And it was so, even until luncheon time.…
"Are we better?" said Hugh, getting to his feet, and regarding the other three with a discerning eye.
"No," murmured Toby, "but I am beginning to hope that I may live. Four Martinis and then we will gnaw a cutlet."
"Has it struck you fellows," remarked Hugh, at the conclusion of lunch, "that seated round this table are four officers who fought with some distinction and much discomfort in the recent historic struggle?"
"How beautifully you put it, old flick!" said Darrell.
"Has it further struck you fellows," continued Hugh, "that last night we were done down, trampled on, had for mugs by a crowd of dirty blackguards composed largely of the dregs of the universe?"
"A veritable Solomon," said Algy, gazing at him admiringly through his eyeglass. "I told you this morning I detested your friends."
"Has it still further struck you," went on Hugh, a trifle grimly, "that we aren't standing for it? At any rate, I'm not. It's my palaver this, you fellows, and if you like…Well, there's no call on you to remain in the game. I mean—er—"
"Yes, we're waiting to hear what the devil you do mean," said Toby uncompromisingly.
"Well—er—" stammered Hugh, "there's a big element of risk—er—don't you know, and there's no earthly reason why you fellows should get roped in and all that. I mean—er—I'm sort of pledged to see the thing through, don't you know, and—" He relapsed into silence, and stared at the tablecloth, uncomfortably aware of three pairs of eyes fixed on him.
"Well—er—" mimicked Algy, "there's a big element of risk—er—don't you know, and I mean—er—we're sort of pledged to bung you through the window, old bean, if you talk such consolidated drivel."
Hugh grinned sheepishly.
"Well. I had to out it to you fellows. Not that I ever thought for a moment you wouldn't see the thing through—but last evening is enough to show you that we're up against a tough crowd. A damned tough crowd," he added thoughtfully. "That being so," he went on briskly, after a moment or two, "I propose that we should tackle the blighters to-night."
"To-night!" echoed Darrell. "Where?"
"At The Elms, of course. That's where the wretched Potts is for a certainty."
"And how do you propose that we should set about it?" demanded Sinclair.
Drummond drained his port and grinned gently.
"By stealth, dear old beans—by stealth. You—and I thought we might rake in Ted Jerningham, and perhaps Jerry Seymour, to join the happy throng—will make a demonstration in force, with the idea of drawing off the enemy, thereby leaving the coast clear for me to explore the house for the unfortunate Potts."
"Sounds very nice in theory," said Darrell dubiously, "but…"
"And what do you mean by a demonstration?" said Longworth. "You don't propose we should sing carols outside the drawing-room window, do you?"
"My dear people," Hugh murmured protestingly, "surely you know me well enough by now to realise that I can't possibly have another idea for at least ten minutes. That is just the general scheme; doubtless the mere vulgar details will occur to us in time. Besides it's someone else's turn now." He looked round the table hopefully.
"We might dress up or something," remarked Toby Sinclair, after a lengthy silence.
"What in the name of Heaven is the use of that?" said Darrell witheringly. "It's not private theatricals, nor a beauty competition."
"Cease wrangling, you two," said Hugh suddenly, a few moments later. "I've got a perfect cerebral hurricane raging. An accident…A car…What is the connecting-link…Why, drink. Write it down, Algy, or we might forget. Now, can you beat that?"
"We might have some chance," said Darrell kindly, "if we had the slightest idea what you were talking about."
"I should have thought it was perfectly obvious," returned Hugh coldly. "You know, Peter, your worry is that you're too quick on the uptake. Your brain is too sharp."
"How do you spell connecting?" demanded Algy, looking up from his labours. "And, anyway, the damn pencil won't write."
"Pay attention, all of you," said Hugh. "Tonight, some time about ten of the clock, Algy's motor will proceed along the Godalming-Guildford road. It will contain you three—also Ted and Jerry Seymour, if we can get 'em. On approaching the gate of The Elms, you will render the night hideous with your vocal efforts. Stray passers-by will think that you are all tight. Then will come the dramatic moment, when, with a heavy crash, you ram the gate."
"How awfully jolly!" spluttered Algy. "I beg to move that your car be used for the event."
"Can't be done, old son," laughed Hugh. "Mine's faster than yours, and I'll be wanting it myself. Now—to proceed. Horrified at this wanton damage to property, you will leave the car and proceed in mass formation up the drive."
"Still giving tongue?" queried Darrell.
"Still giving tongue. Either Ted or Jerry or both of 'em will approach the house and inform the owner in heart-broken accents that they have damaged his gate-post. You three will remain in the garden—you might be recognised. Then it will be up to you. You'll have several men all round you. Keep 'em occupied—somehow. They won't hurt you; they'll only be concerned with seeing that you don't go where you're not wanted. You see, as far as the world is concerned, it's just an ordinary country residence. The last thing they want to do is to draw any suspicion on themselves—and, on the face of it, you are merely five convivial wanderers who have looked on the wine when it was red. I think," he added thoughtfully, "that ten minutes will be enough for me…"
"What will you be doing?" said Toby.
"I shall be looking for Potts. Don't worry about me. I may find him; I may not. But when you have given me ten minutes—you clear off. I'll look after myself. Now is that clear?"
"Perfectly," said Darrell, after a short silence. "But I don't know that I like it, Hugh. It seems to me, old son, that you're running an unnecessary lot of risk."
"Got any alternative?" demanded Drummond.
"If we're all going down," said Darrell. "Why not stick together and rush the house in a gang?"
"No go, old bean," said Hugh decisively. "Too many of 'em to hope to pull it off. No, low cunning is the only thing that's got an earthly of succeeding."
"There is one other possible suggestion," remarked Toby slowly. "What about the police? From what you say, Hugh, there's enough in that house to jug the whole bunch."
"Toby!" gasped Hugh. "I thought better of you. You seriously suggest that we should call in the police! And then return to a life of toping and ease! Besides," he continued, removing his eyes from the abashed author of this hideous suggestion, "there's a very good reason for keeping the police out of it. You'd land the girl's father in the cart, along with the rest of them. And it makes it so devilish awkward if one's father-in-law is in prison!"
"When are we going to see this fairy?" demanded Algy.
"You, personally, never. You're far too immoral. I might let the others look at her from a distance in a year or two." With a grin he rose, and then strolled towards the door. "Now go and rope in Ted and Jerry, and for the love of Heaven don't ram the wrong gate."
"What are you going to do yourself?" demanded Peter, suspiciously.
"I'm going to look at her from close to. Go away, all of you, and don't listen outside the telephone box."
Hugh stopped his car at Guildford station and, lighting a cigarette, strolled restlessly up and down. He looked at his watch a dozen times in two minutes; he threw away his smoke before it was half finished. In short he manifested every symptom usually displayed by the male of the species when awaiting the arrival of the opposite sex. Over the telephone he had arranged that she should come by train from Godalming to confer with him on a matter of great importance; she had said she would, but what was it? He, having no suitable answer ready, had made a loud buzzing noise indicative of a telephone exchange in pain, and then rung off. And now he was waiting in that peculiar condition of mind which reveals itself outwardly in hands that are rather too warm, and feet that are rather too cold.
"When is this bally train likely to arrive?" He accosted a phlegmatic official, who regarded him coldly, and doubted the likelihood of its being more than a quarter of an hour early.
At length it was signalled, and Hugh got back into his car. Feverishly he scanned the faces of the passengers as they came out into the street, until, with a sudden quick jump of his heart, he saw her, cool and fresh, coming towards him with a faint smile on her lips.
"What is this very important matter you want to talk to me about?" she demanded, as he adjusted the rug round her.
"I'll tell you when we get out on the Hog's Back," he said, slipping in his clutch. "It's absolutely vital."
He stole a glance at her, but she was looking straight in front of her, and her face seemed expressionless.
"You must stand a long way off when you do," she said demurely. "At least if it's the same thing as you told me over the 'phone."
Hugh grinned sheepishly.
"The Exchange went wrong," he remarked at length. "Astonishing how rotten the telephones are in Town these days."
"Quite remarkable," she returned. "I thought you weren't feeling very well or something. Of course, if it was the Exchange…"
"They sort of buzz and blow, don't you know," he explained helpfully.
"That must be most fearfully jolly for them," she agreed. And there was silence for the next two miles…
Once or twice he looked at her out of the corner of his eye, taking in every detail of the sweet profile so near to him. Except for their first meeting at the Carlton, it was the only time he had ever had her completely to himself, and Hugh was determined to make the most of it. He felt as if he could go on driving for ever, just he and she alone. He had an overwhelming longing to put out his hand and touch a soft tendril of hair which was blowing loose just behind her ear; he had an overwhelming longing to take her in his arms, and…It was then that the girl turned and looked at him. The car swerved dangerously…
"Let's stop," she said, with the suspicion of a smile. "Then you can tell me."
Hugh drew into the side of the road, and switched off the engine.
"You're not fair," he remarked, and if the girl saw his hand trembling a little as he opened the door, she gave no sign. Only her breath came a shade faster, but a mere man could hardly be expected to notice such a trifle as that…
He came and stood beside her, and his right arm lay along the seat just behind her shoulders.
"You're not fair," he repeated gravely. "I haven't swerved like that since I first started to drive."
"Tell me about this important thing," she said a little nervously.
He smiled; and no woman yet born could see Hugh Drummond smile without smiling too.
"You darling!" he whispered, under his breath—"you adorable darling!" His arm closed around her, and almost before she realised it, she felt his lips on hers. For a moment she sat motionless, while the wonder of it surged over her, and the sky seemed more gloriously blue, and the woods a richer green. Then, with a little gasp, she pushed him away.
"You mustn't…oh! you mustn't, Hugh," she whispered.
"And why not, little girl?" he said exultingly. "Don't you know I love you?"
"But look, there's a man over there, and he'll see."
Hugh glanced at the stolid labourer in question, and smiled.
"Go an absolute mucker over the cabbages, what! Plant carrots by mistake." His face was still very close to hers. "Well?"
"Well, what?" she murmured.
"It's your turn," he whispered. "I love you, Phyllis—just love you."
"But it's only two or three days since we met," she said feebly.
"And phwat the divil has that got to do with it, at all?" he demanded. "Would I be wanting longer to decide such an obvious fact? Tell me," he went on, and she felt his arm round her again forcing her to look at him—"tell me, don't you care...a little?"
"What's the use?" She still struggled, but, even to her, it wasn't very convincing. "We've got other things to do…We can't think of…"
And then this very determined young man settled matters in his usual straightforward fashion. She felt herself lifted bodily out of the car as if she had been a child: she found herself lying in his arms, with Hugh's eyes looking very tenderly into her own and a whimsical grin round his mouth.
"Cars pass here," he remarked, "with great regularity. I know you'd hate to be discovered in this position."
"Would I?" she whispered. "I wonder…"
She felt his heart pound madly against her; and with a sudden quick movement she put both her arms round his neck and kissed him on the mouth.
"Is that good enough?" she asked, very low: and just for a few moments, Time stood still…Then, very gently, he put her back in the car.
"I suppose," he remarked resignedly, "that we had better descend to trivialities. We've had lots of fun and games since I last saw you a year or two ago."
"Idiot boy," she said happily. "It was yesterday morning."
"The interruption is considered trivial. Mere facts don't count when it's you and me." There was a further interlude of uncertain duration, followed rapidly by another because the first was so nice.
"To resume," continued Hugh. "I regret to state that they've got Potts."
The girl sat up quickly and stared at him.
"Got him? Oh, Hugh! How did they manage it?"
"I'm damned if I know," he answered grimly. "They found out that he was in my bungalow at Goring during the afternoon by sending round a man to see about the water. Somehow or other he must have doped the drink or the food, because after dinner we all fell asleep. I can just remember seeing Lakington's face outside in the garden, pressed against the window, and then everything went out. I don't remember anything more till I woke this morning with the most appalling head. Of course, Potts had gone."
"I heard the car drive up in the middle of the night," said the girl thoughtfully. "Do you think he's at The Elms now?"
"That is what I propose to find out to-night," answered Hugh. "We have staged a little comedy for Peterson's especial benefit, and we are hoping for the best."
"Oh, boy, do be careful!" She looked at him anxiously. "I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you. I'd feel it was all due to me, and I just couldn't bear it."
"Dear little girl," he whispered tenderly, "you're simply adorable when you look like that. But not even for you would I back out of this show now." His mouth set in a grim line. "It's gone altogether too far, and they've shown themselves to be so completely beyond the pale that it's got to be fought out. And when it has been," he caught both her hands in his…"and we've won…why, then girl o' mine, we'll get Peter Darrell to be best man."
Which was the cue for the commencement of the last and longest interlude, terminated only by the sudden and unwelcome appearance of a motor-bus covered within and without by unromantic sightseers, and paper-bags containing bananas.
They drove slowly back to Guildford, and on the way he told her briefly of the murder of the American's secretary in Belfast, and his interview the preceding afternoon with the impostor at the Carlton.
"It's a tough proposition," he remarked quietly. "They're absolutely without scruple, and their power seems unlimited. I know they are after the Duchess of Lampshire's pearls: I found the beautiful Irma consuming tea with young Laidley yesterday—you know, the Duke's eldest son. But there's something more in the wind than that, Phyllis—something which, unless I'm a mug of the first water, is an infinitely larger proposition than that."
The car drew up at the station, and he strolled with her on to the platform. Trivialities were once more banished: vital questions concerning when it had first happened—by both; whether he was quite sure it would last for ever—by her; what she could possibly see in him--by him; and wasn't everything just too wonderful for words--mutual and carried—nem. con.
Then the train came in, and he put her into a carriage. And two minutes later, with the touch of her lips warm on his, and her anxious little cry, "Take care, my darling!—take care!" still ringing in his ears, he got, into his car and drove off to a hotel to get an early dinner. Love for the time was over; the next round of the other game was due. And it struck Drummond that it was going to be a round where a mistake would not be advisable.
At a quarter to ten he backed his car into the shadow of some trees not far from the gate of The Elms. The sky was overcast, which suited his purpose, and through the gloom of the bushes he dodged rapidly towards the house. Save for a light in the sitting-room and one in a bedroom upstairs, the front of the house was in darkness, and, treading noiselessly on the turf, he explored all round it. From a downstairs room on one side came the hoarse sound of men's voices, and he placed that as the smoking-room of the gang of ex-convicts and blackguards who formed Peterson's staff. There was one bedroom light at the back of the house, and thrown on the blind he could see the shadow of a man. As he watched, the man got up and moved away, only to return in a moment or two and take up his old position.
"It's one of those two bedrooms," he muttered to himself, "if he's here at all."
Then he crouched in the shadow of some shrubs and waited. Through the trees to his right he could see The Larches, and once, with a sudden quickening of his heart, he thought he saw the outline of the girl show up in the light from the drawing-room. But it was only for a second, and then it was gone…
He peered at his watch: it was just ten o'clock. The trees were creaking gently in the faint wind; all around him the strange night noises—noises which play pranks with a man's nerves—were whispering and muttering. Bushes seemed suddenly to come to life, and move; eerie shapes crawled over the ground towards him—figures which existed only in his imagination. And once again the thrill of the night stalker gripped him.
He remembered the German who had lain motionless for an hour in a little gully by Hebuterne, while he from behind a stunted bush had tried to locate him. And then that one creak as the Boche had moved his leg. And then…the end. On that night, too, the little hummocks had moved and taken themselves strange shapes: fifty times he had imagined he saw him; fifty times he knew he was wrong—in time. He was used to it; the night held no terrors for him, only a fierce excitement. And thus it was that as he crouched in the bushes, waiting for the game to start, his pulse was as normal, and his nerves as steady, as if he had been sitting down to supper. The only difference was that in his hand he held something tight-gripped.
At last faintly in the distance he heard the hum of a car. Rapidly it grew louder, and he smiled grimly to himself as the sound of five unmelodious voices singing lustily struck his ear. They passed along the road in front of the house. There was a sudden crash—then silence; but only for a moment.
Peter's voice came first:
"You priceless old ass, you've rammed the blinking gate."
It was Jerry Seymour who then took up the ball. His voice was intensely solemn—also extremely loud.
"Preposhterous. Perfectly preposhterous. We must go and apologise to the owner. … I … I … I … absholutely … musht apologise. …Quite unpardonable … You can't go about country…knocking down gates. … Out of queshtion. …'
Half consciously Hugh listened, but, now that the moment for action had come, every faculty was concentrated on his own job. He saw half a dozen men go rushing out into the garden through a side door, and then two more ran out and came straight towards him. They crashed past him and went on into the darkness, and for an instant he wondered what they were doing. A little later he was destined to find out.…
Then came a peal at the front-door bell, and he determined to wait no longer. He darted through the garden door, to find a flight of back stairs in front of him, and in another moment he was on the first floor. He walked rapidly along the landing, trying to find his bearings, and, turning a corner, he found himself at the top of the main staircase—the spot where he had fought Peterson two nights previously.
From below Jerry Seymour's voice came clearly.
'Are you the pro-propri-tor, ole friend? Because there's been…acchident.…'
He waited to hear no more, but walked quickly on to the room which he calculated was the one where he had seen the shadow on the blind. Without a second's hesitation he flung the door open and walked in. There, lying in the bed, was the American, while crouched beside him, with a revolver in his hand, was a man…
For a few seconds they watched one another in silence, and then the man straightened up.
"The soldier!" he snarled. "You young pup!"
Deliberately, almost casually, he raised his revolver, and then the unexpected happened. A jet of liquid ammonia struck him full in the face, and with a short laugh Hugh dropped his water-pistol in his pocket, and turned his attention to the bed. Wrapping the millionaire in a blanket, he picked him up, and, paying no more attention to the man gasping and choking in a corner, he raced for the back stairs.
Below he could still hear Jerry hiccoughing gently, and explaining to the pro…pro…pritor that he pershonally would repair…inshisted on repairing…any and every gateposht he posshessed…And then he reached the garden…
Everything had fallen out exactly as he had hoped, but had hardly dared to expect. He heard Peterson's voice, calm and suave as usual, answering Jerry. From the garden in front came the dreadful sound of a duet by Algy and Peter. Not a soul was in sight; the back of the house was clear. All that he had to do was to walk quietly through the wicket-gate to The Larches with his semi-conscious burden, get to his car and drive off. It all seemed so easy that he laughed…
But there were one or two factors that he had forgotten, and the first and most important one was the man upstairs. The window was thrown up suddenly, and the man leaned out waving his arms. He was still gasping with the strength of the ammonia, but Hugh saw him clearly in the light from the room behind. And as he cursed himself for a fool in not having tied him up, from the trees close by there came the sharp clang of metal.
With a quick catch in his breath he began to run. The two men who had rushed past him before he had entered the house, and whom, save for a passing thought, he had disregarded, had become the principal danger. For he had heard that clang before; he remembered Jem Smith's white horror-struck face, and then his sigh of relief as the thing—whatever it was—was shut in its cage. And now it was out, dodging through the trees, let loose by the two men.
Turning his head from side to side, peering into the gloom, he ran on. What an interminable distance it seemed to the gate…and even then…He heard something crash into a bush on his right, and give a snarl of anger. Like a flash he swerved into the undergrowth on the left.
Then began a dreadful game. He was still some way from the fence, and he was hampered at every step by the man slung over his back. He could hear the thing blundering about searching for him, and suddenly, with a cold feeling of fear, he realised that the animal was in front of him—that his way to the gate was barred. The next moment he saw it.…
Shadowy, indistinct, in the darkness, he saw something glide between two bushes. Then it came out into the open and he knew it had seen him, though as yet he could not make out what it was. Grotesque and horrible it crouched on the ground, and he could hear its heavy breathing, as it waited for him to move.
Cautiously he lowered the millionaire to the ground, and took a step forward. It was enough; with a snarl of fury the crouching form rose and shambled towards him. Two hairy arms shot towards his throat, he smelt the brute's fetid breath, hot and loathsome, and he realised what he was up against. It was a partially grown gorilla.
For a full minute they fought in silence, save for the hoarse grunts of the animal as it tried to tear away the man's hand from its throat, and then encircle him with its powerful arms. And with his brain cold as ice Hugh saw his danger and kept his head. It couldn't go on: no human being could last the pace, whatever his strength. And there was only one chance of finishing it quickly, the possibility that the grip taught him by Olaki would serve with a monkey as it did with a man.
He shifted his left thumb an inch or two on the brute's throat, and the gorilla, thinking he was weakening, redoubled his efforts. But still those powerful hands clutched its throat; try as it would, it failed to make them budge. And then, little by little, the fingers moved, and the grip which had been tight before grew tighter still.
Back went its head; something was snapping in its neck. With a scream of fear and rage it wrapped its legs round Drummond, squeezing and writhing. And then suddenly there was a tearing snap, and the great limbs relaxed and grew limp.
For a moment the man stood watching the still quivering brute lying at his feet; then, with a gasp of utter exhaustion, he dropped on the ground himself. He was done—utterly cooked; even Peterson's voice close behind scarcely roused him.
"Quite one of the most amusing entertainments I've seen for a long time." The calm, expressionless voice made him look up wearily, and he saw that he was surrounded by men. The inevitable cigar glowed red in the darkness, and after a moment or two he scrambled unsteadily to his feet.
"I'd forgotten your damned menagerie, I must frankly confess," he remarked. "What's the party for?" He glanced at the men who had closed in round him.
"A guard of honour, my young friend," said Peterson suavely, "to lead you to the house. I wouldn't hesitate…it's very foolish. Your friends have gone, and, strong as you are, I don't think you can manage ten."
Hugh commenced to stroll towards the house.
"Well, don't leave the wretched Potts lying about. I dropped him over there." For a moment the idea of making a dash for it occurred to him, but he dismissed it at once. The odds were too great to make the risk worth while, and in the centre of the group he and Peterson walked side by side.
"The last man whom poor Sambo had words with," said Peterson reminiscently, "was found next day with his throat torn completely out."
"A lovable little thing," murmured Hugh. "I feel quite sorry at having spoilt his record."
Peterson paused with his hand on the sitting-room door, and looked at him benevolently.
"Don't be despondent, Captain Drummond. We have ample time at our disposal to ensure a similar find to-morrow morning."