Bull-dog Drummond/Chapter 9

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Bull-dog Drummond by Herman Cyril McNeile
Chapter 9 - In Which He Has a Near Shave

CHAPTER IX

IN WHICH HE HAS A NEAR SHAVE

I

"Captain, you have me guessing." The American bit the end off another cigar, and leaned back in his chair. "You say that swell Frenchman with the waiters hovering about like fleas round a dog's tail is the reason you came to Paris. Is he kind of friendly with Hiram C. Potts?"

Drummond laughed.

"The first time I met Mr. Potts," he remarked, "that swell Frenchman was just preparing to put a thumbscrew on his second thumb."

"Second?" The detective looked up quickly.

"The first had been treated earlier in the evening," answered Drummond quietly. "It was then that I removed your millionaire pal."

The other lit his cigar deliberately.

"Say, Captain," he murmured, "you ain"t pulling my leg by any chance, are you?"

"I am not," said Drummond shortly. "I was told, before I met him, that the gentleman over there was one of the boys…. He is, most distinctly. In fact, though up to date such matters have not been much in my line, I should put him down as a sort of super-criminal. I wonder what name he is passing under here?"

The American ceased pulling at his cigar.

"Do they vary?"

"In England he is clean-shaven, possesses a daughter, and answers to Carl Peterson. As he is at present I should never have known him, but for that little trick of his."

"Possesses a daughter!" For the first time the detective displayed traces of excitement. "Holy, Smoke! It can"t be him!"

"Who?" demanded Drummond.

But the other did not answer. Out of the corner of his eye he was watching three men who had just joined the subject of their talk, and on his face was a dawning amazement. He waited till the whole party had gone into the restaurant, then, throwing aside his caution, he turned excitedly to Drummond.

"Are you certain," he cried, "that that"s the man who has been monkeying with Potts?"

"Absolutely," said Hugh. "He recognised me; whether he thinks I recognised him or not, I don"t know."

"Then what," remarked the detective, "is he doing here dining with Hocking, our cotton trust man; with Steinmann, the German coal man; and with that other guy whose face is familiar, but whose name I can't place? Two of 'em at any rate, Captain, have got more millions than we"re ever likely to have thousands."

Hugh stared at the American.

"Last night," he said slowly, "he was forgathering with a crowd of the most atrocious ragged-trousered revolutionaries it's ever been my luck to run up against."

"We're in it, Captain, right in the middle of it," cried the detective, slapping his leg. "I'll eat my hat if that Frenchman isn't Franklyn—or Libstein—or Baron Darott—or any other of the blamed names he calls himself. He's the biggest proposition we've ever been up against on this little old earth, and he's done us every time. He never commits himself, and if he does, he always covers his tracks. He's a genius; he's the goods. Gee!" he whistled gently under his breath. "If we could only lay him by the heels."

For a while he stared in front of him, lost in his dream of pleasant anticipation; then, with a short laugh, he pulled himself together.

"Quite a few people have thought the same, Captain," he remarked, "and there he is—still drinking high-balls. You say he was with a crowd of revolutionaries last night. What do you mean exactly?"

"Bolshevists, Anarchists, members of the Do-no-work-and-have-all-the-money Brigade," answered Hugh. "But excuse me a moment. Waiter."

A man who had been hovering round came up promptly.

"Four of 'em, Ted," said Hugh in a rapid undertone. "Frenchman with a beard, a Yank, and two Boches. Do your best."

"Right-o, old bean!" returned the waiter, "but don't hope for too much."

He disappeared unobtrusively into the restaurant, and Hugh turned with a laugh to the American, who was staring at him in amazement.

Who the devil is that guy?" asked the detective at length.

"Ted Jerningham—son of Sir Patrick Jerningham, Bart., and Lady Jerningham, of Jerningham Hall, Rutland, England," answered Hugh, still grinning. "We may be crude in our methods, Mr. Green, but you must admit we do our best. Incidentally, if you want to know, your friend Mr. Potts is at present tucked between the sheets at that very house. He went there by aeroplane this morning." He waved a hand towards Jerry. "He was the pilot."

"Travelled like a bird, and sucked up a plate of meat-juice at the end," announced that worthy, removing his eyes with difficulty from a recently arrived fairy opposite. "Who says that's nothing, Hugh: the filly across the road there, with that bangle affair round her knee?"

"I must apologise for him, Mr. Green," remarked Hugh. "He has only recently left school, and knows no better."

But the American was shaking his head a little dazedly.

"Crude!" he murmured, "crude! If you and your pals, Captain, are ever out of a job, the New York police is yours for the asking." He smoked for a few moments in silence, and then, with a quick hunch of his shoulders, he turned to Drummond. "I guess there'll be time to throw bouquets after," he remarked. "We've got to get busy on what your friend Peterson's little worry is; we've then got to stop it—some old how. Now, does nothing sort of strike you?" He looked keenly at the soldier. "Revolutionaries, Bolshevists, paid agitators last night: international financiers this evening. Why, the broad outline of the plan is as plain as the nose on your face; and it's just the sort of game that man would love…." The detective stared thoughtfully at the end of his cigar, and a look of comprehension began to dawn on Hugh's face.

"Great Scott! Mr. Green," he said, "I'm beginning to get you. What was defeating me was, why two men like Peterson and Lakington should be mixed up with last night's crowd."

"Lakington! Who's Lakington?" asked the other quickly.

"Number Two in the combine," answered Hugh, "and a nasty man."

"Well, we'll leave him out for the moment," said the American. "Doesn't it strike you that there are quite a number of people in this world who would benefit if England became a sort of second Russia? That such a thing would be worth money—big money? That such a thing would be worth paying through the nose for? It would have to be done properly; your small strike here, your small strike there, ain't no manner of use. One gigantic syndicalist strike all over your country—that's what Peterson's playing for, I'll stake my bottom dollar. How he's doing it is another matter. But he's in with the big financiers: and he's using the tub-thumping Bolshies as tools. Gad! It's a big scheme"—he puffed twice at his cigar—"a durned big scheme. Your little old country, Captain, is, saving one, the finest on God's earth; but she's in a funny mood. She's sick, like most of us are; maybe she's a little sicker than a good many people think. But I reckon Peterson's cure won't do any manner of good, excepting to himself and those blamed capitalists who are putting up the dollars."

"Then where the devil does Potts come in?" said Hugh, who had listened intently to every word the American had said. "And the Duchess of Lampshire's pearls?"

"Pearls!" began the American, when the restaurant door opened suddenly and Ted Jerningham emerged. He seemed to be in a hurry, and Hugh half rose in his chair. Then he sat back again, as with miraculous rapidity a crowd of infuriated head waiters and other great ones appeared from nowhere and surrounded Jerningham.

Undoubtedly this was not the way for a waiter to leave the hotel—even if he had just been discovered as an imposter and sacked on the spot. And undoubtedly if he had been a waiter, this large body of scandalised beings would have removed him expeditiously through some secret buttery-hatch, and dropped him on the pavement out of a back entrance.

But not being a waiter, he continued to advance, while his entourage, torn between rage at his effrontery and horror at the thought of a scene, followed in his wake.

Just opposite Hugh he halted, and in a clear voice addressed no one in particular:

"You're spotted. Look out. Ledger at Godalming."

Then, engulfed once more in the crowd, he continued his majestic progress, and finally disappeared a little abruptly from view.

"Cryptic," murmured the American, "but some lad. Gee! He had that bunch guessing."

"The ledger at Godalming," said Hugh thoughtfully. "I watched Peterson, through the skylight last night, getting gay with that ledger. I'm thinking we'll have to look inside it, Mr. Green."

He glanced up as one of the chucking-out party came back, and asked what had happened.

"Mon Dieu, M'sieur," cried the waiter despairingly. "’E vas an imposter, n'est-ce-pas—un scélerat; ’e upset ze fish all over ze shirt-front of Monsieur le Comte."

"Was that the gentleman with the short beard, dining with three others?" asked Drummond gravely.

"Mais oui, M'sieur. He dine here always if 'e is in Paris—does le Comte de Guy. Oh! Mon Dieu! C'est terrible!"

Wringing his hands, the waiter went back into the restaurant, and Hugh shook silently.

"Dear old Ted," he murmured, wiping the tears from his eyes. "I knew he'd keep his end up." Then he stood up. "What about a little dinner at Maxim's? I'm thinking we've found out all we're likely to find, until we can get to that ledger. And thanks to your knowing those birds, Mr. Green, our trip to Paris has been of considerable value."

The American nodded.

"I guess I'm on," he remarked slowly; "but, if you take my advice, Captain, you'll look nippy tonight. I wouldn't linger around corners admiring the mud. Things kind o' happen at corners."

II

But on that particular evening the detective proved wrong. They reached Maxim's without mishap, they enjoyed an excellent dinner, during which the American showed himself to be a born conversationalist as well as a shrewd man of the world. And over the coffee and liqueurs Hugh gave him a brief outline of what had taken place since he first got mixed up in the affair. The American listened in silence, though amazement shone on his face as the story proceeded. The episode of the disappearing body especially seemed to tickle his fancy, but even over that he made no remark. Only when Hugh had finished, and early arrivals for supper were beginning to fill the restaurant, did he sum up the matter as he saw it.

"A tough proposition, Captain—damned tough. Potts is our biggest shipping man, but where he comes on the picture at that moment has me beat. As for the old girl's jewels, they don't seem to fit in at all. All we can do is to put our noses inside that ledger, and see the book of the words. It'll sure help some."

And as Hugh switched off the electric light in his bedroom, having first seen that his torch was ready to hand in case of emergency, he was thinking of the detective's words. Getting hold of the ledger was not going to, be easy—far from it; but the excitement of the chase had fairly obsessed him by now. He lay in bed, turning over in his mind every possible and impossible scheme by which he could get into the secret centre room at The Elms. He knew the safe the ledger was kept in: but safes are awkward propositions for the ordinary mortal to tackle. Anyway, it wasn't a thing which could be done in a minute's visit; he would have to manage at least a quarter or half an hour's undisturbed search, the thought of which, with his knowledge of the habits of the household, almost made him laugh out loud. And, at that moment, a fly pinged past his head….

He felt singularly wide-awake, and, after a while, he gave up attempting to go to sleep. The new development which had come to light that evening was uppermost in his thoughts; and, as he lay there, covered only with a sheet, for the night was hot, the whole vile scheme unfolded itself before his imagination. The American was right in his main idea—of that he had no doubt; and in his mind's eye he saw the great crowds of idle, foolish men led by a few hot-headed visionaries and paid blackguards to their so-called Utopia. Starvation, misery, ruin, utter and complete, lurked in his mental picture; spectres disguised as great ideals, but grinning sardonically under their masks. And once again he seemed to hear the toc-toc of machine guns, as he had heard them night after night during the years gone by. But this time they were mounted on the pavement of the towns of England, and the swish of the bullets, which had swept like swarms of cockchafers over No Man's Land, now whistled down the streets between rows of squalid houses…. And once again a fly pinged past his head.

With a gesture of annoyance he waved his arm. It was hot—insufferably hot, and he was beginning to regret that he had followed the earnest advice of the American to sleep with his windows shut and bolted. What on earth could Peterson do to him in a room at the Ritz? But he had promised the detective, and there it was—curtains drawn, window bolted, door locked. Moreover, and he smiled grimly to himself as he remembered it, he had even gone so far as to emulate the hysterical maiden lady of fiction and peer under the bed….

The next moment the smile ceased abruptly, and he lay rigid, with every nerve alert. Something had moved in the room….

It had only been a tiny movement, more like the sudden creak of a piece of furniture than anything else—but it was not quite like it. A gentle, slithering sound had preceded the creak; the sound such as a man would make who, with infinite precaution against making a noise, was moving in a dark room; a stealthy, uncanny noise. Hugh peered into the blackness tensely. After the first moment of surprise his brain was quite cool. He had looked under the bed, he had hung his coat in the cupboard, and save for those two obvious places there was no cover for a cat. And yet, with a sort of sixth sense that four years of war had given him, he knew that noise had been made by some human agency. Human! The thought of the cobra at The Elms flashed into his mind, and his mouth set more grimly. What if Peterson had introduced some of his abominable menagerie into the room? … Then, once more, the thing like a fly sounded loud in his ear. And was it his imagination, or had he heard a faint sibilant hiss just before?

Suddenly it struck him that he was at a terrible disadvantage. The thing, whatever it was, knew, at any rate approximately, his position: he had not the slightest notion where it was. And a blind man boxing a man who could see, would have felt just about as safe. With Hugh, such a conclusion meant instant action. It might be dangerous on the floor: it most certainly was far more so in bed. He felt for his torch, and then, with one convulsive bound, he was standing by the door, with his hand on the electric-light switch.

Then he paused and listened intently. Not a sound could he hear; the thing, whatever it was, had become motionless at his sudden movement. For an appreciable time he stood there, his eyes searching the darkness—but even he could see nothing, and he cursed the American comprehensively under his breath. He would have given anything for even the faintest grey light, so that he could have some idea of what it was and where it was. Now he felt utterly helpless, while every moment he imagined some slimy, crawling brute touching his bare feet—creeping up him….

He pulled himself together sharply. Light was essential and at once. But, if he switched on, there would be a moment when the thing would see him before he could see the thing—and such moments are not helpful. There only remained his torch; and on the Ancre, on one occasion, he had saved his life by judicious use. The man behind one of those useful implements is in blackness far more impenetrable than the blackest night, for the man in front is dazzled. He can only shoot at the torch: therefore, hold it to one side and in front of you….

The light flashed out, darting round the room. Ping! Something hit the sleeve of his pyjamas, but still he could see nothing. The bed, with the clothes thrown back; the washstand; the chair with his trousers and shirt—everything was as it had been when he turned in. And then he heard a second sound—distinct and clear. It came from high up, near the ceiling, and the beam caught the big cupboard and travelled up. It reached the top, and rested there, fixed and steady. Framed in the middle of it, peering over the edge, was a little hairless, brown face, holding what looked like a tube in its mouth. Hugh had one glimpse of a dark, skinny hand putting something in the tube, and then he switched off the torch and ducked, just as another fly pinged over his head and hit the wall behind.

One thing, at any rate, was certain: the other occupant of the room was human, and with that realisation all his nerve returned. There would be time enough later on to find out how he got there, and what those strange pinging noises had been caused by. Just at that moment only one thing was on the programme; and without a sound he crept round the bed towards the cupboard, to put that one thing into effect in his usual direct manner.

Twice did he hear the little whistling hiss from above, but nothing sang past his head. Evidently the man had lost him, and was probably still aiming at the door. And then, with hands that barely touched it, he felt the outlines of the cupboard.

It was standing an inch or two from the wall, and he slipped his fingers behind the back on one side. He listened for a moment, but no movement came from above; then, half facing the wall, he put one leg against it. There was one quick, tremendous heave; a crash which sounded deafening; then silence. And once again he switched on his torch….

Lying on the floor by the window was one of the smallest men he had ever seen. He was a native of sorts, and Hugh turned him over with his foot. He was quite unconscious, and the bump on his head, where it had hit the floor, was rapidly swelling to the size of a large orange. In his hand he still clutched the little tube, and Hugh gingerly removed it. Placed in position at one end was a long splinter of wood, with a sharpened point; and by the light of his torch Hugh saw that it was faintly discoloured with some brown stain.

He was still examining it with interest when a thunderous knock came on the door. He strolled over and switched on the electric light; then he opened the door.

An excited night-porter rushed in, followed by two or three other people in varying stages of undress, and stopped in amazement at the scene. The heavy cupboard, with a great crack across the back, lay face downwards on the floor; the native still lay curled up and motionless.

"One of the hotel pets?" queried Hugh pleasantly, lighting a cigarette. "If it's all the same to you, I wish you'd remove him. He was—ah—finding it uncomfortable on the top of the cupboard."

It appeared that the night-porter could speak English; it also appeared that the lady occupying the room below had rushed forth demanding to be led to the basement, under the misapprehension that war had again been declared and the Germans were bombing Paris. It still further appeared that there was something most irregular about the whole proceeding—the best people at the Ritz did not do these things. And then, to crown everything, while the uproar was at its height, the native on the floor, opening one beady and somewhat dazed eye, realised that things looked unhealthy. Unnoticed, he lay "doggo" for a while; then, like a rabbit which has almost been trodden on, he dodged between the legs of the men in the room, and vanished through the open door. Taken by surprise, for a moment no one moved: then, simultaneously, they dashed into the passage. It was empty, save for one scandalised old gentleman in a nightcap, who was peering out of a room opposite angrily demanding the cause of the hideous din.

Had he seen a native—a black man? He had seen no native, and if other people only drank water, they wouldn't either. In fact, the whole affair was scandalous, and he should write to the papers about it. Still muttering, he withdrew, banging his door, and Hugh, glancing up, saw the American detective advancing towards them along the corridor.

"What's the trouble, Captain?" he asked, as he joined the group.

"A friend of the management elected to spend the night on the top of my cupboard, Mr. Green," answered Drummond, "and got cramp half-way through."

The American gazed at the wreckage in silence. Then he looked at Hugh, and what he saw on that worthy's face apparently decided him to maintain that policy. In fact, it was not till the night-porter and his attendant minions had at last, and very dubiously, withdrawn, that he again opened his mouth.

"Looks like a hectic night," he murmured. "What happened?" Briefly Hugh told him what had occurred, and the detective whistled softly.

"Blowpipe and poisoned darts," he said shortly, returning the tube to Drummond. "Narrow escape—damned narrow! Look at your pillow."

Hugh looked: embedded in the linen were four pointed splinters similar to the one he held in his hand; by the door were three more, lying on the floor.

"An engaging little bird," he laughed; "but nasty to look at." He extracted the little pieces of wood and carefully placed them in an empty match-box: the tube he put into his cigarette-case.

"Might come in handy: you never know," he remarked casually.

"They might if you stand quite still," said the American, with a sudden, sharp command in his voice. "Don't move."

Hugh stood motionless, staring at the speaker who, with eyes fixed on his right forearm, had stepped forward. From the loose sleeve of his pyjama coat the detective gently pulled another dart and dropped it into the match-box.

"Not far off getting you that time, Captain," he cried cheerfully. "Now you've got the whole blamed outfit."

III

It was the Comte de Guy who boarded the boat express at the Gare du Nord the next day; it was Carl Peterson who stepped off the boat express at Boulogne. And it was only Drummond's positive assurance which convinced the American that the two characters were the same man.

He was leaning over the side of the boat reading a telegram when he first saw Hugh ten minutes after the boat had left the harbour; and if he had hoped for a different result to the incident of the night before, no sign of it showed on his face. Instead he waved a cheerful greeting to Drummond.

"This is a pleasant surprise," he remarked affably. Have you been to Paris, too?"

For a moment Drummond looked at him narrowly. Was it a stupid bluff, or was the man so sure of his power of disguise that he assumed with certainty he had not been recognised? And it suddenly struck Hugh that, save for that one tell-tale habit—a habit which, in all probability, Peterson himself was unconscious of—he would not have recognised him.

"Yes," he answered lightly. "I came over to see how you behaved yourself!"

"What a pity I didn't know!" said Peterson, with a good-humoured chuckle. He seemed in excellent spirits, as he carefully tore the telegram into tiny pieces and dropped them overboard. "We might have had another of our homely little chats over some supper. Where did you stay?"

"At the Ritz. And you?"

"I always stop at the Bristol," answered Peterson. "Quieter than the Ritz, I think."

"Yes, it was quite dreadful last night," murmured Hugh. "A pal of mine—quite incorrigible—that bird over there"—he pointed to Ted Jerningham, who was strolling up and down the deck with the American—"insisted on dressing up as a waiter." He laughed shortly at the sudden gleam in the other's eye, as he watched Jerningham go past. "Not content with that, he went and dropped the fish over some warrior's boiled shirt, and had to leave in disgrace." He carefully selected a cigarette. "No accountin' for this dressing-up craze, is there, Carl? You'd never be anything but your own sweet self, would you, little one? Always the girls' own friend—tender and true." He laughed softly; from previous experience he knew that this particular form of baiting invariably infuriated Peterson. "Some day, my Carl, you must tell me of your life, and your early struggles, amidst all the bitter temptations of this wicked world."

"Some day," snarled Peterson, "I'll—"

"Stop." Drummond held up a protesting hand. "Not that, my Carl—anything but that."

"Anything but what?" said the other savagely.

"I felt it in my bones," answered Drummond, "that you were once more on the point of mentioning my decease. I couldn't bear it, Carl: on this beautiful morning I should burst into tears. It would be the seventeenth time that that sad event has been alluded to either by you or our Henry: and I'm reluctantly beginning to think that you'll have to hire an assassin, and take lessons from him." He looked thoughtfully at the other, and an unholy joy began to dawn on his face. "I see you have thrown away your cigar, Carl. May I offer you a cigarette? No? … But why so brusque? Can it be—oh no! surely not—can it be that my little pet is feeling icky-boo? Face going green—slight perspiration—collar tight—only the yawning stage between him and his breakfast! Some people have all the fun of the fair. And I thought of asking you to join me below at lunch. There's some excellent fat pork…."

A few minutes later, Jerningham and the American found him leaning by himself against the rail, still laughing weakly.

"I ask no more of life," he remarked when he could speak. "Anything else that may come will be an anti-climax."

"What's happened?" asked Jerningham.

"It's happening," said Drummond joyfully. "It couldn't possibly be over yet. Peterson, our one and only Carl, has been overcome by the waves. And when he's feeling a little better I'll take him a bit of crackling…." Once again he gave way to unrestrained mirth, which finally subsided sufficiently to allow him to stagger below and feed.

At the top of the stairs leading to the luncheon saloon, he paused, and glanced into the secret place reserved for those who have from early childhood voted for a Channel tunnel.

"There he is," he whispered ecstatically, "our little Carl, busy recalling his past. It may be vulgar, Ted: doubtless it is. I don't care. Such trifles matter not in the supreme moments of one's life; and I can imagine of only one more supreme than this."

"What's that?" asked Ted, firmly piloting him down the stairs.

"The moment when he and Henry sit side by side and recall their pasts together," murmured Hugh solemnly. "Think of it, man—think of it! Each cursin' the other between spasms. My hat! What a wonderful, lovely dream to treasure through the weary years!" He gazed abstractedly at the waiter. "Roast beef—underdone," he remarked, "and take a plate of cold fat up to the silence room above. The third gentleman from the door would like to look at it."

But third gentleman from the door, even in the midst of his agony, was consoled by one reflection.

"Should it be necessary, letter awaits him." So had run the telegram, which he had scattered to the winds right under Drummond's nose. And it was necessary. The mutton-headed young sweep had managed to escape once again: though Petro had assured him that the wretched native had never yet failed. And he personally had seen the man clamber on to the top of the cupboard….

For a moment his furious rage overcame his sufferings…. Next time … next time … and then the seventh wave of several seventh wave arrived. He had a fleeting glimpse of the scoundrel Drummond, apparently on the other side of a see-saw, watching him delightedly from outside; then, with a dreadful groan, he snatched his new basin, just supplied by a phlegmatic steward, from the scoundrel next him, who had endeavoured to appropriate it.

IV

"Walk right in, Mr. Green," said Hugh, as, three hours later, they got out of a taxi in Half Moon Street. "This is my little rabbit-hutch."

He followed the American up the stairs, and produced his latchkey. But before he could even insert it in the hole the door was flung open, and Peter Darrell stood facing him with evident relief in his face.

"Thank the Lord you've come, old son," he cried, with a brief look at the detective. "There's something doing down at Godalming I don't like."

He followed Hugh into the sitting-room.

"At twelve o'clock to-day Toby rang up. He was talking quite ordinarily—you know the sort of rot he usually gets off his chest—when suddenly he stopped quite short and said, ’My God! What do you want?’ I could tell he'd looked up, because his voice was muffled. Then there was the sound of a scuffle, I heard Toby curse, then nothing more. I rang and rang and rang—no answer."

"What did you do?" Drummond, with a letter in his hand which he had taken off the mantelpiece, was listening grimly.

"Algy was here. He motored straight off to see if he could find out what was wrong. I stopped here to tell you."

"Anything through from him?"

"Not a word. There's foul play, or I'll eat my hat."

But Hugh did not answer. With a look on his face which even Peter had never seen before, he was reading the letter. It was short and to the point, but he read it three times before he spoke.

"When did this come?" he asked.

"An hour ago," answered the other. "I very nearly opened it."

"Read it," said Hugh. He handed it to Peter and went to the door.

"Denny," he shouted, "I want my car round at once." Then he came back into the room. "If they've hurt one hair of her head," he said, his voice full of a smouldering fury, "I'll murder that gang one by one with my bare hands."

"Say, Captain, may I see this letter?" said the American; and Hugh nodded.

"'For pity's sake, come at once,'" read the detective aloud. "'The bearer of this is trustworthy.'" He thoughtfully picked his teeth. "Girl's writing. Do you know her?"

"My fiancée," said Hugh shortly.

"Certain?" snapped the American.

"Certain!" cried Hugh. "Of course I am, I know every curl of every letter."

"There is such a thing as forgery," remarked the detective dispassionately.

"Damn it, man!" exploded Hugh. "Do you imagine I don't know my own girl's writing?"

"A good many bank cashiers have mistaken their customers' writing before now," said the other, unmoved. "I don't like it, Captain. A girl in real trouble wouldn't put in that bit about the-bearer."

"You go to hell," remarked Hugh briefly. "I'm going to Godalming."

"Well," drawled the American, "not knowing Godalming, I don't know who scores. But, if you go there—I come too."

"And me," said Peter, brightening up.

Hugh grinned.

"Not you, old son. If Mr. Green will come, I'll be delighted; but I want you here at headquarters."

He turned round as his servant put his head in at the door.

"Car here, sir. Do you want a bag packed?"

"No—only my revolver. Are you ready, Mr. Green?"

"Sure thing," said the American. "I always am."

"Then we'll move." And Peter, watching the car resignedly from the window, saw the American grip his seat with both hands, and then raise them suddenly in silent prayer, while an elderly charlady fled with a scream to the safety of the area below.

They did the trip in well under the hour, and the detective got out of the car with a faint sigh of relief.

"You've missed your vocation, Captain," he murmured. "If you pushed a bath-chair it would be safer for all parties. I bolted two bits of gum in that excursion."

But Drummond was already out of earshot, dodging rapidly through the bushes on his way to The Larches; and when the American finally overtook him, he was standing by a side-door knocking hard on the panels.

"Seems kind of empty," said the detective thoughtfully, as the minutes went by and no one came. "Why not try the front door?"

"Because it's in sight of the other house," said Hugh briefly. "I'm going to break in."

He retreated a yard from the door, then, bracing his shoulder, he charged it once. And the door, as a door, was not…. Rapidly the two men went from room to room—bedrooms, servants' quarters, even the bathroom. Every one was empty: not a sound could be heard in the house. Finally, only the dining-room remained, and as they stood by the door looking round, the American shifted his third piece of gum to a new point of vantage.

"Somebody has been rough-housing by the look of things," he remarked judicially. "Looks like a boozing den after a thick night."

"It does," remarked Hugh grimly, taking in the disorder of the room. The tablecloth was pulled off, the telephone lay on the floor. China and glass, smashed to pieces, littered the carpet; but what caught his eye, and caused him suddenly to step forward and pick it up, was a plain circle of glass with a black cord attached to it through a small hole.

"Algy Longworth's eyeglass," he muttered. "So he's been caught too."

And it was at that moment that, clear and distinct through the still evening air, they heard a woman's agonised scream. It came from the house next door, and the American, for a brief space, even forgot to chew his gum.

The next instant he darted forward.

"Stop, you young fool!" he shouted, but he was too late.

He watched Drummond, running like a stag, cross the lawn and disappear in the trees. For a second he hesitated; then, with a shrug of square shoulders, he rapidly left the house by the way they had entered. And a few minutes later, Drummond's car was skimming back towards London, with a grim-faced man at the wheel, who had apparently felt the seriousness of the occasion so acutely as to deposit his third piece of spearmint on the underneath side of the steering-wheel for greater safety.

But, seeing that the owner of the car was lying in blissful unconsciousness in the hall of The Elms, surrounded by half a dozen men, this hideous vandalism hurt him not.