A Bid for Fortune/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER III.

LORD BECKENHAM'S STORY.

"When you left me, Mr. Hatteras, to visit Miss Wetherell at Potts Point I remained in the house for half an hour or so reading. Then, thinking no harm could possibly come of it, I started out for a little excursion on my own account. It was about half-past eleven then, and a very hot morning.

"Leaving the hotel I made for the ferry and crossed Darling Harbour to Millers Point; then, setting myself for a good ramble, off I went through the city, up one street and down another, to eventually bring up in the botanical gardens. The view was so exquisite that I sat myself down on a seat and gave myself up to rapturous contemplation of it. How long I remained there I could not possibly say. I only know that while I was watching the movements of a man-o'-war in the cove below me I became aware, by intuition for I did not look at him that I was the object of a close scrutiny by a man standing some little distance from me. Presently I saw him drawing closer to me, until he came boldly up and seated himself beside me. He was a queer-looking little chap, in some ways not unlike my old tutor Baxter, with a shrewd, clean-shaven face, gray hair, bushy eyebrows, and a long and rather hooked nose. He was well dressed, and when he spoke did so with some show of education. When we had been sitting side by side for some minutes he turned to me and said:

"'It is a beautiful picture we have before us, is it not?'

"'It is, indeed,' I answered. ’And what a diversity of shipping!'

"'You may well say that,' he continued. 'It would be an interesting study, would it not, to make a list of all the craft that pass in and out of this harbour in a day—to put down the places where they were built and whence they hail, the characters of their owners and commanders, and their errands about the world. What a book it would make, would it not? Look at that man-o'-war in Farm Cove; think of the money she cost, think of where that money came from—the rich people who paid without thinking, the poor who dreaded the coming of the tax collector like a visit from the Evil One; imagine the busy dockyard in which she was built—can't you seem to hear the clang of the riveters and the buzzing of the steam saws? Then take that Norwegian boat passing the fort there; think of her birthplace in far Norway, think of the places she has since seen, imagine her masts growing in the forests on the mountain side of lonely fiords, where the silence is so intense that a stone rolling down and dropping into the water echoes like thunder. Then again, look at that emigrant vessel steaming slowly up the harbour; think of the folk aboard her, all with their hopes and fears, confident of a successful future in this terra incognita, or despondent of that and everything else. Away to the left there you see a little island schooner making her way down towards the blue Pacific; imagine her in a few weeks among the islands—tropical heavens dropped down into sunlit waters! Yes, it is a wonderful picture we have before us—a very wonderful picture!'

"'You seem to have studied it very carefully,' I said after a moment's silence.

"'Perhaps I have,' he answered. 'I am deeply interested in the life of the sea—few more so. Are you a stranger in New South Wales?'

"'Quite a stranger,' I replied. 'I only reached Australia a few days since.'

"'Indeed! Then you have to make the acquaintance of many entrancing beauties yet. Forgive my impertinence, but if you are on a tour, let me recommend you to see the islands before you return to your home.'

"'The South-Sea Islands, I presume you mean?' I said.

"'Yes; the bewitching islands of the Southern Seas!

The most entrancingly beautiful spots on God's beautiful earth! See them before you go. They will amply repay any trouble it may cost you to reach them.'

"'I should like to see them very much,' I answered, feeling my enthusiasm rising at his words.

"'Perhaps you are interested in them already,' he continued.

"'Very much indeed,' I replied.

"'Then, in that case, I may not be considered presuming if I offer to assist you. I am an old South-Sea merchant myself, and I have amassed a large collection of beautiful objects from the islands. If you would allow me the pleasure I should be delighted to show them to you.'

"'I should like to see them very much indeed,' I answered, thinking it extremely civil of him to make the offer.

'"If you have time we might perhaps go and see them now. My house is but a short distance from the Domain, and my carriage is waiting at the gates.'

"'I shall be delighted,' I said, thinking there could be no possible harm in my accepting his courteous invitation.

"'But before we go, may I be allowed to introduce myself,' the old gentleman said, taking a card-case from his pocket and withdrawing a card. This he handed to me and on it I read—

'"Mr. Mathew Draper.'

'"I am afraid I have no card with me to offer you in return,' I said; 'but I am the Marquis of Beckenham.'

"'Indeed! Then I am doubly honoured,' the old gentleman said with a low bow. ' Now shall we wend our way up towards my carriage?'

"We did so, chatting as we went. At the gates a neat brougham was waiting for us and in it we took our places.

"'Home,' cried my host, and forthwith we set off down the street. Up one thoroughfare and down an other we passed until I lost all count of our direction. Throughout the drive my companion talked away in his best style; commented on the architecture of the houses, had many queer little stories to tell of the passers-by, and in many other ways kept my attention employed till the carriage came to a stand-still before a small but pretty villa in a quiet street.

"Mr. Draper immediately alighted, and when I had done so, dismissed his coachman, who drove away as we passed through the little garden and approached the dwelling. The front door was opened by a dignified man-servant and we entered. The hall, which was a spacious one for so small a dwelling, was filled with curios and weapons, but I had small time for observing them as my host led me towards a room at the back. As we entered it he said, 'I make you welcome to my house, my lord. I hope, now that you have taken the trouble to come, I shall be able to show you something that will repay your visit.' Thereupon, bidding me seat myself for a few moments, he excused himself and left the room. When he returned he began to do the honours. First we examined a rack of Australian spears, nulla-nullas, and boomerangs, then another containing some New Zealand hatchets and clubs. After this we crossed to a sort of alcove where reposed in cases a great number of curios collected from the further islands of the Pacific. I was about to take up one of these when the door on the other side of the room opened and some one entered. At first I did not look round, but hearing the new-comer approaching me I turned to find myself, to my horrified surprise, face to face with no less a person than Dr. Nikola. He was dressed entirely in black, his coat was buttoned and displayed all the symmetry of his peculiar figure, while his hair seemed blacker and his complexion even paler than before. He had evidently been prepared for my visit, for he held out his hand and greeted me without a sign of astonishment upon his face.

"'This is indeed a pleasure, my lord,' he said, still with his hand outstretched, looking, hard at me with his peculiar cat-like eyes. 'I did not expect to see you again so soon. You are evidently a little surprised to see me.'

"'I am more than surprised,' I answered bitterly, seeing how easily I had been entrapped. 'I am horribly mortified and angry. Mr. Draper, you had an easy victim.'

"Mr. Draper said nothing, but Dr. Nikola dropped into a chair and spoke for him.

"'You must not blame my old friend Draper,' he said suavely. 'We have been wondering for the last twenty-four hours how we might best get hold of you, and the means we have employed so successfully seemed the only possible way. Have no fear, my lord, you shall not be hurt. In less than twenty-four hours you will enjoy the society of your energetic friend Mr. Hatteras again.'

"'What is your reason for abducting me like this?' I asked. 'You are foolish to do so, for Mr. Hatteras will leave no stone unturned to find me.'

'"I do not doubt that at all,' said Dr. Nikola quietly; 'but I think Mr. Hatteras will find he will have all his work cut out for him this time.'

"'If you imagine that your plans are not known in Sydney you are mistaken,' I cried. 'The farce you are playing at Government House is detected, and Mr. Hatteras, directly he finds I am lost, will go to Lord Amberley and reveal everything.'

"'I have not the slightest objection,' returned Dr. Nikola quietly. 'By the time Mr. Hatteras can take those steps—indeed, by the time he discovers your absence at all, we shall be beyond the reach of his vengeance.'

"I could not follow his meaning, of course, but while he had been speaking I had been looking stealthily round me for a means of escape. The only way out of the room was of course by the door, but both Nikola and his ally were between me and that. Then a big stone hatchet hanging on the wall near me caught my eye. Hardly had I seen it before an idea flashed through my brain. Supposing I seized it and fought my way out. The door of the room stood open, and I noticed with delight that the key was in the lock on the outside. One rush, armed with the big hatchet, would take me into the passage; then before my foes could recover their wits I might be able to turn the key and, having locked them in, make my escape from the house before I could be stopped.

"Without another thought I made up my mind, sprang to the wall, wrenched down the hatchet, and prepared for my rush. But by the time I had done it both Nikola and Draper were on their feet.

"'Out of my way!' I cried, raising my awful weapon aloft. 'Stop me at your peril!'

"With my weapon in the air I looked at Nikola. He was standing rigidly erect, with one arm out stretched, the hand pointing at me. His eyes glared like living coals, and when he spoke his voice came from between his teeth like a serpent's hiss.

" ' Put down that axe! ' he said.

" With that the old horrible fear of him which had seized me on board ship came over me again. His eyes fascinated me so that I could not look away from them. I put down the hatchet without another thought. Still he gazed at me in the same hideous fashion.

"'Sit down in that chair again,' he said quietly. 'You cannot disobey me.' And indeed I could not. My heart was throbbing painfully, and an awful dizziness was creeping over me. Still I could not get away from those terrible eyes. They seemed to be growing larger and fiercer every moment. Oh! I can feel the horror of them upon me even now. As I gazed his white right hand was moving to and fro before me with regular sweeps, and with each I felt my own will growing weaker and weaker. That I was being mesmerised, I had no doubt, but if I had been going to be murdered I could not have moved a finger to save myself.

"Then there came a sudden but imperative knock at the door, and both Nikola and Draper rose. Next moment the man whom we had noticed in the train as we came up from Melbourne, and against whom you, Mr. Hatteras, had warned me in Sydney, entered the room. He crossed and stood respectfully before Nikola." 'Well, Mr. Eastover, what news?' asked the latter.

'Have you done what I told you?'

"'Everything,' the man answered, taking a letter from his pocket.' Here is the letter you wanted.'

"Nikola took the letter from his subordinate's hand, broke the seal, and having withdrawn the contents, read it carefully. All this time, seeing resistance was quite useless, I did not move. I felt too sick and giddy for anything. When he had finished his correspondence Nikola said something in an undertone to Draper, who immediately left the room. During the time he was absent none of us spoke. Presently he returned bringing with him a wine glass filled with water, which he presented to Nikola.

"'Thank you,' said that gentleman, feeling in his waistcoat pocket. After a while he found what he wanted and produced what looked like a small silver scent bottle. Unscrewing the top he poured from it into the wine glass a few drops of some dark-coloured liquid. Having done this he smelt it carefully and then handed it to me.

"'I must ask you to drink this, my lord,' he said. 'You need have no fear of the result; it is perfectly harmless.'

"Did ever man hear such a cool proposition? Naturally I declined to do as he wished.

"'You must drink it!' he reiterated. 'Pray do so at once. I have no time to waste bandying words with you.'

"'I will not drink it!' I cried, rising to my feet, and prepared to make a fight for it if need should be.

"Once more those eyes grew terrible, and once more that hand began to make the passes before my face. Again I felt the dizziness stealing over me. His will was getting too strong for me again. I could not resist him. So when he once more said 'Drink!' I took the glass and did as I was ordered. After that I remember seeing Nikola, Draper, and the man they called Eastover, engaged in earnest conversation on the other side of the room. I remember Nikola crossing the room to where I sat and gazing steadfastly into my face, and after that I recollect no more until I came to my senses in this room, to find myself bound and gagged. For what seemed like hours I lay in agony, then I heard footsteps in the verandah and the sound of voices. I tried to call for help but could utter no words. I thought you would go away without discovering me, but fortunately for me you did not. Now, Mr. Hatteras, I have told you everything; you know my story from the moment you left me up to the present."

For some time after the Marquis had concluded his strange story both the inspector and I sat in deep thought. That Beckenham had been kidnapped in order that he should be out of the way while the villainous plot for abducting Phyllis was being enacted, there could be no doubt. But why had he been chosen? and what clues were we to gather from what his lordship had told us? I turned to the inspector and said:

"What do you think will be the best course for us to pursue now?"

"I have been wondering myself. I think, as there is nothing to be learned from this house, the better plan would be for you two gentlemen to go back to Mr. Wetherell, while I return to the detective office and see if anything has been discovered by the men there. As soon as I have found out I will join you at Potts Point. What do you think?"

I agreed that it would be the best course; so, taking the Marquis by the arms (for he was still too weak to walk alone), we left the house and were about to step into the street when I stopped, and asking them to wait for me ran back into the room again. In the corner, just as it had been thrown down, lay the rope with which Beckenham had been bound and the pad which had been fitted over his mouth. I picked both up and carried them into the verandah.

"Come here, Mr. Inspector," I cried. "I thought I should learn something from this. Take a look at this rope and this pad and tell me what you make of them."

He took each up in turn and looked them over and over. But he only shook his head.

" I don't see anything to guide us here," he said as he laid them down again.

"Don't you?" I cried. "Why, they tell me more than I have learnt from anything else I've seen. Look at the two ends of this." (Here I took up the rope and showed it to him.) "They're seized!"

I looked triumphantly at him, but he only stared at me in surprise, and said, "What do you mean by 'seized'?"

"Why, I mean that the ends are bound up in this way—look for yourself. Now not one landsman in a hundred seizes a rope's end. This line was taken from some ship in the harbour, and—— By Jove! here's another discovery!"

"What now?" he cried, almost as excited by this time as I was myself.

"Why, look here," I said, holding the middle of the rope up so that we could get a better view of it. "Not very many hours ago this rope was running through a block, and that block was rather an uncommon one."

"How do you know it was an uncommon one?"

"Because it has been newly painted, and what's funnier still, painted green, of all other colours. Look at this streak of paint along the line; see how it's smudged. Now let's review the case as we walk along."

So saying, with the Marquis between us, we set off down the street, hoping soon to pick up an early cab.

"First and foremost," I said, "remember old Draper's talk of the South Seas—remember the collection of curios he possessed. Probably he owns a schooner, and it's more than probable that this line and this bit of canvas came from it."

"I see what you're driving at," said the inspector. "It's worth considering. Directly I get to the office I will set men to work to try and find this mysterious gentleman. You would know him again, my lord?"

"I should know him anywhere," was Beckenham's immediate reply.

"And have you any idea at all where this house to which he conducted you is located?"

"None at all. I only know that it was about half way down a street of which all the houses, save the one at the corner—which was a grocer's shop—were one-storied villas."

"Nothing a little more definite, I suppose?"

"Stay! I remember that there was an empty house with broken windows almost opposite, and that on either side of the steps leading up to the front door were two stone eagles with outstretched wings. The head of one of the eagles—the left, I think—was missing."

The inspector noted these things in his pocket-book, and just as he had finished we picked up a cab and called it to the side walk. When we had got in and given the driver Mr. Wetherell's address, I said to the inspector:

"What are you going to do first?"

"Put some men on to find Mr. Draper, and some more to find an island schooner with her blocks newly painted green."

"You won't be long in letting us know what you discover, will you?" I said. "Remember how anxious we all are."

"You may count on my coming to you at once with any news I may have," he said.

A few moments later we drew up at Mr. Wetherell's door. Bidding the Inspector good-bye we went up the steps and rang the bell. By the time the cab was out in the street again we were in the house making our way, behind the butler, to Mr. Wetherell's study.

The old gentleman had not gone to bed, but sat just as I had left him so many hours before. As soon as we were announced he rose to receive us.

"Thank God, Mr. Hatteras, you have come back!" he said. "I have been in a perfect fever waiting for you. What have you to report?"

"Not very much, I'm afraid," I answered. "But first let me have the pleasure of introducing the real Marquis of Beckenham to you, whom we have had the good fortune to find and rescue."

Mr. Wetherell bowed gravely and held out his hand.

"My lord," he said, "I am thankful that you have been discovered. I look upon it as one step towards the recovery of my poor girl. I hope now that both you and Mr. Hatteras will take up your abode with me during the remainder of your stay in the colony. You have had a scurvy welcome to New South Wales. But we must see if we can't make up to you for it. You look thoroughly worn out, my lord; I expect you would like to go to bed."

He rang the bell, and when his butler appeared gave him some instructions about preparing rooms for us.

Ten minutes later the man returned and stated that our rooms were ready, whereupon Mr. Wetherell himself conducted Beckenham to his. When he returned to me, he asked if I would not like to retire too, but I would not hear of it. I could not have slept a wink, so great was my anxiety. Seeing this, he seated himself and listened attentively while I gave him an outline of Beckenham's story. I had hardly finished before I heard a carriage roll up to the door. There was a ring at the bell, and presently the butler, who, like ourselves, would not dream of going to bed, though his master had repeatedly urged him to, entered and announced the inspector.

Wetherell hobbled across to receive him with an anxious face. "Have you any better news for me?" he asked.

"Not very much, I'm afraid, sir," the inspector said, shaking his head. "The best I have is that your carriage and horse have been found in the yard of an empty house off Pitt Street."

"Have you been able to discover any clue as to who put them there?"

"Not one! The horse was found out of the shafts tied to the wall. There was not a soul about the place."

Wetherell sat down again and covered his face with his hands. At that instant the telephone bell in the corner of the room rang sharply. I jumped up and went across to it. Placing the receivers to my ears, I heard a small voice say, "Is that Mr. Wetherell's house, Potts Point?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Who is speaking?"

"Mr. Hatteras. Mr. Wetherell, however, is in the room. Who are you?"

"Detective officer. Will you tell Mr. Wetherell that Mr. Draper's house has been discovered?"

I communicated the message to Mr. Wetherell, and then the inspector joined me at the instrument and spoke.

"Where is the house?" he inquired.

"83 Charlemagne Street—north side."

"Very good. Inspector Murdkin speaking. Let plain clothes men be stationed at either end of the street, and tell them to be on the look out for Draper, and to wait for me. I'll start for the house at once."

"Very good, sir."

He rang off and then turned to me.

"Are you too tired to come with me, Mr. Hatteras?" he inquired.

"Of course not," I answered. "Let us go at once."

"God bless you," said Wetherell. "I hope you may catch the fellow."

Bidding him good-bye, we went downstairs again, and jumped into the cab, which was directed to the street in question.

Though it was a good distance from our starting point, in less than half an hour we were there and had pulled up at the corner. As the cab stopped, a tall man, dressed in blue serge, who had been standing near the lamp-post, came forward and touched his hat.

"Good morning, Williams," said the inspector.

"Any sign of our man?"

"Not one, sir. He hasn't come down the street since I've been here."

"Very good. Then come along and we'll pay the house a visit."

So saying he told the cabman to follow us slowly, and we proceeded down the street. About half-way along he stopped and pointed to a house on the opposite side.

"That is the house his lordship mentioned, with the broken windows; and this one is where Mr. Draper dwells, if I am not much mistaken -see the eagles on either side of the step just as described."

It was exactly as Beckenham had told us, even to the extent of the headless eagle on the left of the steps. It was a pretty little place, and evidently still occupied, as a housemaid was busily engaged cleaning the steps.

Pushing open the gate, the inspector entered the little garden and accosted the girl.

"Good morning," he said politely. "Pray, is your master at home?"

"Yes, sir; he's at breakfast just now."

"Well, would you mind telling him that some gentlemen would like to see him?"

"Yes, sir."

The girl rose to her feet, and, wiping her hands on her apron, led the way into the house. We followed close behind her. Asking us to wait a moment where we were, she knocked at a door on the right and disappeared within.

"Now," said the inspector, "our man will probably appear, and we shall have him nicely."

He had scarcely spoken before the door through which the servant had passed opened again, and a man came out. To our surprise he was very tall and stout, with a round jovial face, and an air of being well satisfied with himself and the world in general.

"To what do I owe the honour of this visit?" he said, looking at the inspector.

"I am an Inspector of Police, as you see," answered my companion, "and we are looking for a man named Draper, who yesterday was in possession of this house."

"I am afraid you have made some little mistake," returned the other. "I am the occupier of this house, and have been for some months past. No Mr. Draper has anything to do with it."

The inspector's face was a study for perfect bewilderment. Nor could mine have been much else. The Marquis had given such a minute description of the dwelling opposite and the two stone birds on the steps, that there could be no room for doubt that this was the house. And yet it was physically impossible that this man could be Draper; and if it were the place where Beckenham had been drugged where were the weapons, etc., he had described as being in the hall?

"I cannot understand it at all," said the inspector, turning to me. "This is the house, and yet where are the things with which it ought to be furnished?"

"You have a description of the furniture, then?" said the owner. "Ah! that is good, for it will enable me to prove to you even more clearly that you are mistaken. Pray come and see my sitting-rooms for your selves."

He led the way into the room from which he had been summoned, and we followed him. It was small and nicely furnished, but not a South Sea curio or native weapon was there in it. Then we followed him to the corresponding room at the back of the house. This was upholstered in the latest fashion; but again there was no sign of what Beckenham had led us to expect we should see. We were completely mystified.

"I am afraid we have troubled you without cause," said the inspector, as we passed into the hall again. "Don't mention it," he answered; "I find my compensation in the knowledge that I am not involved in any police unpleasantness."

"By the way," said the inspector, suddenly, "have you any idea who your neighbours may be?"

"Oh, dear, yes!" the man replied. "On my right I have a frigidly respectable widow of Low Church tendencies. On my left, the Chief Teller of the Bank of New Holland. Both very worthy members of society, and not at all the sort of people to be criminally inclined."

"In that case we can only apologise for our intrusion, and wish you good morning."

"Pray, don't apologise. I should have been glad to have assisted you. Good morning."

We went down the steps again and out into the street. As we passed out of the gate, the inspector stopped and examined a mark on the right hand post. Then he stooped and picked up what looked like a pebble. Having done so, we resumed our walk.

"What on earth can be the meaning of it all?" I asked. "Could his lordship have made a mistake?"

"No! I think not. We have been cleverly duped, that's all."

"What do you mean? How have we been duped? What makes you think so?"

"I didn't think so until we passed through the gate on our way out. Now I'm certain of it. Come across the street."

I followed him across the road to a small plain-looking house, with a neatly-curtained bow window, and a brass plate on the front door. From the latter I discovered that the proprietor of the place was a dressmaker, but I was completely at a loss to understand why we were visiting her.

When the door was opened, the inspector asked if Miss Tiffins were at home, and being told that she was, enquired if we might see her. The maid went away to find out, and presently returned and begged us to follow her. We did so down a small passage towards the door of the room where was the bow window.

Miss Tiffins was a lady of uncertain age, with a prim, precise manner, wearing a cap and corkscrew curls. She seemed at a loss to understand our errand, but bade us be seated, and then asked in what way she could be of service to us.

"In the first place, madam," said the inspector, "let me tell you that I am an Officer of Police. A serious crime has been perpetrated, and I have reason to believe that it may be in your power to give us a clue to the persons who committed it."

"You frighten me, sir," replied the lady. "I cannot at all see how I can help you. I lead a life of the greatest quietness. How, therefore, can I know anything of such people?"

"I do not wish to imply that you know anything at all of them. I only want you to carry your memory back as far as yesterday, and to answer me a few questions I may ask you."

"I will answer them to the best of my ability."

"Well, in the first place, do you remember seeing a brougham drive up to that house opposite, about midday yesterday?"

"No, I cannot say that I do," the old lady replied after a moment's consideration.

"Do you remember seeing a number of men leave the house during the afternoon?"

"No! If they came out, I did not notice them."

"Now, think for one moment, if you please, and tell me what vehicles, if any, you remember seeing drive up and stop there."

"Let me try to remember. There was Judge's baker's cart about three, the milk about five, and a furniture van about half-past six."

"That's what I want to know. And have you any recollection whose furniture van it was?"

"Yes. I remember reading the name as it turned round. Goddard and James, George Street. I wondered if the tenant was going to move."

The inspector rose, and I followed his example.

"I am exceedingly obliged to you, Miss Tiffins. You have helped me materially."

"I am glad of that," she answered; "but I trust I shall not be wanted to give evidence in court. I really could not do it."

"You need have no fear on that score," the inspector answered. "Good-day."

"Good-day."

When we had left the house, the inspector turned to me and said—

"It was a piece of luck finding a dressmaker opposite. Commend me to ladies of that profession for knowing what goes on in the street. Now we will visit Messrs. Goddard and James and see who hired the things. Meantime, Williams" (here he called the plain-clothes constable to him), "you had better remain here and watch that house. If the man we saw comes out, follow him, and let me know where he goes."

"Very good, sir," the constable replied, and we left him to his vigil.

Then hailing a passing cab, we jumped into it and directed the driver to convey us to George Street. By this time it was getting on for midday, and we were both worn out. But I was in such a state of nervousness that I could not remain inactive. Phyllis had been in Nikola's hands nearly thirteen hours, and so far we had not obtained one single definite piece of information as to her whereabouts.

Arriving at the shop of Messrs. Goddard and James, we went inside and asked to see the chief partner. An assistant immediately conveyed us to an office at the rear of the building, where we found an elderly gentleman writing at a desk. He looked up as we entered, and then, seeing the inspector's uniform, rose and asked our business.

"The day before yesterday," began my companion, "you supplied a gentleman with a number of South Sea weapons and curios on hire, did you not?"

"I remember doing so—yes!" was the old gentle man's answer. "What about it?"

"Only I should be glad if you would favour me with a description of the person who called upon you about them—or a view of the letter if he wrote."

"He called and saw me personally."

"Ah! That is good. Now would you be so kind as to describe him?"

"Well, in the first place, he was very tall and rather handsome, he had, if I remember rightly, a long brown moustache, and was well dressed."

"That doesn't tell us very much, does it? Was he alone?"

"No. He had with him, when he came into the office, an individual whose face singularly enough remains fixed in my memory. Indeed I cannot get it out of my head."

Instantly I became all excitement.

"What was this second person like?" asked the inspector.

"Well, I can hardly tell you—that is to say, I can hardly give you a good enough description of him to make you see him as I saw him. He was tall and yet very slim, had black hair, a sallow complexion, and the blackest eyes I ever saw in a man. He was clean-shaven and exquisitely dressed, and when he spoke, his teeth glittered like so many pearls. I never saw another man like him in my life."

"Nikola for a thousand," I cried, bringing my hand down with a thump upon the table.

"It looks as if we're on the track at last," said the inspector. Then, turning to Mr. Goddard again: "And may I ask now what excuse they made to you for wanting these things?"

"They did not say—they simply paid a certain sum down for the hire of them, gave me their address, and then left."

"And the address was?"

"83, Charlemagne Street. Our van took the things there, and fetched them away last night."

"Thank you. And now one or two other questions. What name did the hirer give?"

"Eastover."

"And when they left your shop, how did they go away?"

"A cab was waiting at the door for them, and I walked out to it with them."

"There were only two of them, you think?"

"No. There was a third person waiting for them in the cab, and it was that very circumstance which made me anxious to have my things brought back as soon as possible. If I had been able to, I should have even declined to let them go."

"Why so?"

"Well, to tell you that would involve a story. But perhaps I had better tell you. It was in this way. About three years ago through a distant relative I got to know a man named Draper."

"Draper," I cried. "You don't mean—but there, I beg your pardon—pray go on."

"As I say, I got to know this man Draper, who was a South Sea trader. We met once or twice, and then grew more intimate. So friendly did we at last become that I even went so far as to put some money into a scheme he proposed to me. It was a total failure. Draper proved a perfect fraud and a most unbusinesslike person, and all I got out of the transaction were the cases of curios and weapons which this man Eastover hired from me. It was because, when I went out with my customers to their cab, I saw this man Draper waiting for them that I became uneasy about my things. However, all's well that ends well, and as they returned my goods and paid the hire, I must not grumble."

"And now tell me what you know of Draper's present life?" the inspector said.

"Ah! I'm afraid I can tell you little. He has been twice declared bankrupt, and the last time there was some fuss made over his schooner, the Merry Duchess."

"He possesses a schooner, then?"

"Oh, yes! A nice boat. She's in harbour now, I fancy."

"Thank you very much, Mr. Goddard. I am obliged to you for your assistance in this matter."

"Don't mention it. I hope that what I have told you will prove of service to you."

"I'm sure it will. Good-day."

"Good-day, gentlemen."

He accompanied us to the door, and then bade us farewell.

"Now what are we to do?" I asked.

"Well, first, I'm going back to the office to put a man on to find this schooner, and then I'm going to take an hour or two's rest. By that time we shall know enough to be able to lay our hands on Dr. Nikola and his victim, I hope."

"God grant we may."

"Where are you going now?"

"Back to Potts Point," I answered.

We thereupon bade each other farewell, and set off in different directions.

When I reached Mr. Wetherell's house, I learned from the butler that his master had fallen asleep in the library. So, not wishing to disturb him, I enquired for my own bedroom, and, on being conducted to it, laid myself down dressed upon the bed. So utterly worn out was I, that my head had no sooner touched the pillow than I was fast asleep. How long I lay there I do not know, but when I woke, it was to find Mr. Wetherell standing beside me, holding a letter in his hand. He was white as a sheet, and trembling in every limb.

"Read this, Mr. Hatteras," he cried. "For Heaven's sake tell me what we are to do!"

I sat up on the side of the bed and read the letter he handed to me. It was written in what was evidently a disguised hand on common note-paper, and ran as follows:


"To Mr. Wetherell, Potts Point, Sydney.

"Dear Sir: This is to inform you that your daughter is in very safe keeping. If you wish to find her, you had better be quick about it. What's more, you had better give up consulting the police, and such like, in the hope of getting hold of her. The only way you can get her will be to act as follows. At eight o'clock to-night charter a boat and pull down the harbour as far as Shark Point. When you get there light your pipe three times, and someone in a boat near by will do the same. Be sure to bring with you the sum of one hundred thousand pounds in gold, and this is most important—bring with you the little stick you got from China Pete, or do not come at all. Above all, do not bring more than one man. If you do not put in an appearance, you will not hear of your daughter again.

"Yours obediently,
"The Man who Knows."