BY OLIVER FLEMING
I.—THE VISITOR'S SHADOW
II.—THE HEN WITH ONE CHICK
III.—"HUMMIN' BIRD'S WESKIT"
VIII.—THE SWINE THAT STANK
IX.—THE POLITICAL COVES
X.—THE GREEN FROCK
XVI.—"THE GOAT IN BOOTS"
XIX.—SAPPHIRE AND EMERALD
XX.—A ROPE OR SOMETHING
XXVI.—PRISONER AND ESCORT
XXVII.—AN INTERIM REPORT
AMBROTOX AND LIMPING DICK.
THE VISITOR'S SHADOW.
Randal Bellamy's country house was a place of pleasant breakfasts. From the dining room the outlook was delightful; grass, flowers and sunshine, with the host's easy charm, made it almost as easy for Theophilus Caldegard to drink his tea fresh, as for his daughter Amaryllis not to keep her host, Sir Randal, waiting for his coffee.
This morning, while she waited for the two men, the girl, remembering that this was the eighteenth of June, was surprised by the ease with which the five weeks of her stay had slipped by; and she wondered, without anxiety, at what point the guest merges into the inmate.
"I can't live here for ever," she thought; "but as long as there's room for his test-tubes, and his dinner's good, dad thinks it's all right for a girl."
And, as if it was all right, she laughed—just in time for Randal Bellamy to get full benefit of the pleasant sound.
"Laughing all alone?" he said.
"That's when the funny things happen," replied Amaryllis.
Bellamy looked down at her, as if asking a share in her merriment.
"After all, I don't know why I laughed," she said. "I was only thinking it's five whole weeks since we came here, and——"
"And you want to go somewhere else?"
Amaryllis shook her head. "And it's gone like five days, I was going to say."
She took her seat at the table and poured out his coffee. "I'm not going to let you wait a moment for father this morning; it was two o'clock when he went to bed."
"How do you know that, you bad girl?" said Bellamy.
"Because dad can't get out of the habit of putting his boots outside his door," she replied. "And when he's pleased with his work, he throws 'em out."
"I've heard them," he said, laughing. "But last night I was in bed before twelve; I suppose he took advantage of that and sneaked back to the laboratory again."
"But I thought," said Amaryllis, after a pause, "that Ambrotox was finished and ready to make its bow to the public."
"God forbid!" said Bellamy, in a tone of such intensity that the girl was astonished.
"But surely you've been helping him to finish it—you wanted it finished," she exclaimed.
"Yes, but not published," said the man.
The girl's next eager question was cut short by the entrance of the parlour-maid with the morning's letters; and after her came Theophilus Caldegard.
His person was as unlike the popular conception of a man of science as can well be imagined. His sturdy figure, thick white hair, and the ruddy complexion of his face, where the benevolence of the mouth attracted attention before the keenness of the eyes, suggested rather the country gentleman than the man of genius whose discoveries might move a world.
He kissed his daughter, and, "Tea quick—the kettle's boiling, Amy," he said. "Morning, Bellamy."
And, as Bellamy made no response, "First time I ever saw him absorbed by a letter," he remarked:
"Best one I've had for six months," said Bellamy, looking up. "That young brother of mine's coming down by the three-ten."
"Rolling down, you mean," said Caldegard.
"Can't roll any longer—covered with moss," retorted Bellamy. "Aunt Jenny died and didn't leave me a cent."
"Why didn't he come before?" asked Caldegard.
"Been looking for something to do," said the brother. "Now he's been a soldier, I don't believe there's anything left."
"How long was he in the Army?"
"Twelve months in the trenches, two years in the Air Force, and, one time with another, ten months in hospital," replied Bellamy.
"And as soon as he's clear of the Army, he finds he's got money to burn," chuckled Caldegard. "No wonder it's six months before he pays a visit to his respectable big brother."
Amaryllis gathered up her half-read letters, and walked absent-mindedly to the open french-window.
"Oh well," continued her father, "I'm afraid there aren't many sensations left for your rolling stone."
Amaryllis went slowly down the steps into the garden, Bellamy watching her until she was out of sight.
"Look here, Caldegard," he said, turning quickly. "Your daughter knows it's a secret, but she does not know it's a deadly one."
"Well?" said Caldegard.
"My brother," continued Bellamy, "doesn't know there is a secret, and is coming to live in the middle of it. I think that your daughter should know the whole story; and, when you've met him, I hope you'll think it good business to trust my young 'un as completely as I trust yours."
THE HEN WITH ONE CHICK.
Under the cedar tree on the south lawn of Bellamy's garden sat Amaryllis Caldegard. On the wicker table at her side lay a piece of needlework half-covering three fresh novels. But when the stable-clock on the other side of the house struck noon, it reminded her that she had sat in that pleasant shadow for more than an hour without threading her needle or reading a line.
Her reflections were coloured with a tinge of disappointment. Although her life, passed in almost daily contact with an affectionate father, who was a man of both character and intellect, had been anything but unhappy, it had lacked, at one time or another, variety and beauty. But the time spent in the exquisite Hertfordshire country surrounding the old Manor House had been, she thought, the pleasantest five weeks in her memory.
The worldly distinction of Sir Randal Bellamy gave point to the pleasure she felt in his courtesy to her father and his something more than courtesy to herself. She did not tell herself in definite thought that she counted with Randal Bellamy for something more than the mere daughter of the man whom he considered the first and most advanced synthetic chemist of the day; but there are matters perceived so instinctively by a woman that she makes no record of their discovery. If not without curiosity as to the future, she was in no haste for developments; and Bellamy's announcement of an addition to their party cast an ominous shadow across the pleasant field of the indefinite future.
On the twelfth stroke of the clock Amaryllis laughed in her effort to brush aside the clouds of her depression. Expecting her father to join her about this time, she was determined to show him the smiling face to which he was accustomed.
When he came,
"What d'you think of the news?" he said.
"What news, dad?" she asked.
"Somebody coming for you to flirt with, while the old men are busy," he replied.
"Well, I don't think it's likely that this Jack-of-all-trades has left that accomplishment out of his list," said the father.
"Rolling stones get on my nerves," objected his daughter, having known none.
"From what his brother says, this one's more like an avalanche."
Amaryllis laughed scornfully.
"Positively overwhelming!" she said. "But I'm sure I shall never——"
"Hush!" said Caldegard, looking towards the house. "Here's his brother."
Sir Randal was turning the corner of the house, with an envelope in his hand.
"Telegram," said Amaryllis softly. "P'r'aps it's the avalanche deferred."
"D'you mind having lunch half an hour earlier, Miss Caldegard?" asked Sir Randal, as he came up. "Dick—my brother—is coming by an earlier train. Just like him, always changing his mind." And he smiled, as if this were merit.
Caldegard laughed good-humouredly. "You're like a hen with one chick, Bellamy," he said.
"No doubt," said the brother. "Do you see, Miss Caldegard," he went on, sitting beside her, "how the pursuit of science can harden a generous heart? Both Dick and I were born, I believe, with the adventurous spirit. I was pushed into the most matter-of-fact profession in the world, which has kept me tied by the leg ever since. But Dick was no sooner out of school than he showed the force of character to discover the world and pursue its adventures for himself."
"But, Sir Randal, hasn't your brother ever followed any regular occupation or business?"
"As far as I know," chuckled the man, "he's followed most of 'em, and there are precious few he hasn't caught up with. Two years before the war certain matters took me to South Africa. One evening, in the smoking-room of the Grand Hotel at Capetown, a queer-looking man asked if my name was Bellamy, and, when I told him it was, inquired if Limping Dick was my brother."
"Limping Dick?" exclaimed Amaryllis.
"Yes," said Sir Randal. "That was the first time I ever heard the name he is known by from Soeul to Zanzibar, from Alaska to Honolulu."
"Why do they call him that?" asked the girl.
The man smiled. "Because he has a limp," he said. "But how he came by it is more than I can tell you. I told the fellow that I had indeed a young brother Richard, and that my young brother Richard certainly had a limp. We were saved the trouble of further description by the interruption of a high-pitched voice:
"'Not a shade shy of six foot tall; shoulders like Georgees Carpenteer's when he's pleased with life in the movies; hair black as a Crow Injun's; eyes blue as a hummin' bird's weskit; and a grip—wa-al, he don't wear no velvet gloves: Limpin' Dick Bellamy!'
"'That's him,' said the queer man. I agreed that the portrait was unmistakable, and asked if either of them could tell me where he was now, as I hadn't seen him for a long time. So the queer man told me that two years before Dick, who was then overseer of a large rubber plantation north of Banjermassin in Borneo, had given him a job. He added, however, that my brother had left Borneo some six months later. The American had first met him four years before in Bombay, and they had joined forces in a pearl-fishing expedition which took them somewhere in the Persian Gulf—the Bahr-el—Bahr-el-Benat Islands, I think; they had separated four months later and had not met again for more than three years, when the American had run across him as part owner of a cattle ranch in Southern Paraguay."
Amaryllis was interested in spite of herself; but her father had heard these things before, and was thinking of others.
"Jack-of-all-trades," he said, turning towards the house.
"And master of most," called Bellamy after him.
"What a good brother you are!" said Amaryllis softly.
"He's all the family I've got, Amaryllis," he said. "Besides, I'm almost old enough to be his father, and I often feel as if I were."
"From what you've told me, he must be thirty at least," objected the girl, "and I'm sure you're not fifty."
"Over," said Bellamy.
"You don't look it," she answered.
"You make it easier."
"What I'm going to say to you."
Amaryllis looked up, surprised.
"Before I met you, Miss Caldegard, I had got thoroughly into the way of thinking of myself not as an elderly man, but as a confirmed bachelor. For more than a month I have been enjoying your company and admiring your goodness and beauty more and more every day, without perceiving, until some few days ago, that I did so at great risk to myself. If I were twenty years younger I should put off speaking like this, in the hope of gaining ground by a longer association with you. But to-day I have made up my mind that my best chance of winning at least your affection lies in telling you simply and at once how completely you have conquered mine."
That this must come sometime, Amaryllis no doubt had foreseen; yet at this moment she felt as much surprised and embarrassed as if she had never read the signs.
If a woman, mother or sister, could have asked her yesterday whether she were willing to marry Randal Bellamy, she might, perhaps, have answered that she liked him awfully, that she valued his love, and felt very sure of being happier as his wife than as an old maid; but now, with the famous lawyer's kind and handsome face before her, and that pleading note mixing unexpectedly with the splendid tones of his voice, her delicacy rebelled against taking so much more than she could give.
Twice she tried to speak; but, instead of words to her tongue, there came a tiresome lump in her throat and a horrid swimminess over her eyes which she was determined should not culminate in tears.
"What a dear you are, Sir Randal!" she said huskily. "But—but—oh! I do like you most awfully, but—I can't say what I mean."
The new beauty in the face which he had from the first thought so lovely, the new brightness of tears in the dark-brown eyes, and the womanly tenderness which he had never before found in her voice, made his heart quicken as never since he was thirty. That extra beat, if it told him that he was still young, warned him also of the pain which is the tribute imposed on conquered youth.
But before he found words, Caldegard appeared on the terrace, shouting that it was five minutes past one, and lunch waiting.
The pair walked side by side to the house.
"Don't answer me to-day, Amaryllis," he said, "but just turn me and it over in your mind now and then between this and Friday."
"HUMMIN' BIRD'S WESKIT."
At a quarter past two that afternoon, Amaryllis, with her bull-dog, set out for a walk.
Her father was in the laboratory, ostensibly at work, and Sir Randal, beaming expectant, had driven off to St. Albans.
Tea-time, or even dinner was early enough, thought Amaryllis, to meet the new-comer; and then, in spite of the mixture of bewilderment, pride and regret which oppressed her, she remembered the words of the American in the Cape Town bar: "Eyes blue as a hummin' bird's weskit."
"How absurd!" she exclaimed, laughing to herself.
Then she sighed, and was quite sure she really wanted to be alone, and set herself, as she strolled down through the hazel copse towards the London road, to think seriously of Randal Bellamy and his offer.
But the trouble was that Miss Caldegard had never seen a humming bird, and therefore found herself brooding on the blueness of all the blue things in her experience, from willow-pattern china to the waters of the Mediterranean, instead of considering the answer which she must give to Randal on Friday.
A quarter of a mile of winding path led her downward to the level of the road. When she reached the stile, her thought was still far from the matter she had promised to consider.
She turned to call her dog, and, knowing his insatiable curiosity, was less surprised than annoyed to find that she had let him stray. She could not remember whether she had last seen him behind her, in front, or blundering through the undergrowth, still confident, in spite of perpetual disappointment, in his power to overtake a rabbit.
Now the dog's temper, admirable with his friends, was uncertain with strangers, and Amaryllis was accustomed to keep him close at heel in public places. So, having whistled and called in vain, she crossed the stile and looked down the road towards Iddingfield.
There was the tiresome beast, if you please, a hundred yards away, gambolling clumsily round the legs of a man walking towards her.
Her second whistle brought the animal to a sense of duty, and he trotted towards her, with many pauses to look back reluctantly at his new friend.
She caught the dog's collar with the crook of her stick, and bent down, slapping his muzzle in mild reproof.
As the stranger passed, his glance was downward, for the dog, rather than the woman. As she stood erect, she saw him standing with his back towards her, in the middle of the road, with face turned to the stile she had just crossed.
Then he swung round, raising his hat as he approached her.
"Please tell me if that path leads to the Manor House," he said.
Amaryllis saw a tall, well-made figure, a face clean-shaven and deeply sun-burnt, and under the lifted hat caught a glimpse of sleek black hair. But when she saw his eyes, she knew his name, for they were the bluest she had ever seen.
"Yes," she said. "I think you must be Mr. Richard Bellamy."
"I am," he said. "How did you know?"
"Sir Randal Bellamy was telling us about you," she answered. "I am Miss Caldegard. My father and I are staying with Sir Randal. Yes, over the stile is your quickest way to the house." And she looked down the road.
"Aren't you coming, too?" asked Dick Bellamy.
Amaryllis looked at him for a moment.
"Perhaps I'd better," she said, going towards the stile.
"Why 'better'?" he asked.
"There is no one to receive you," she replied. "Besides, the village isn't very interesting."
"Awful," said Dick. "Worst beer in England."
Amaryllis did not reply. When they were amongst the trees, he spoke again.
"I know Randal was to meet me at St. Albans, but I 'phoned from Iddingfield and told 'em to send him back at once. I got my car back from the vet. at mid-day, and if I hadn't had a bit of a smash just outside Iddingfield, I'd have got here before."
Amaryllis was a quick walker, and had set a good pace up the slope from the stile. Suddenly she remembered her companion's nick-name, and, slackening her speed, involuntarily glanced down to see if indeed this man were lame.
He came up beside her.
"It's all right, Miss Caldegard," he said kindly. "My action's a blemish, not a handicap."
"Oh, Mr. Bellamy!" she said. "I never even noticed it until this minute."
"I thought that was how you recognised me in the road," said the man.
"It wasn't that," said Amaryllis, and in fear of further questioning, whistled her dog back to the path.
"Silly old thing," she said. "He won't believe that Mr. Bunny is too quick for him; he's never caught one yet except in his dreams."
They were making their way towards the house when they heard the car drive up to the front door, and before they reached the windows of the dining-room, Randal Bellamy turned the corner.
Amaryllis stood apart watching with a certain curiosity the meeting of the brothers.
The elder's face was beaming with welcome, the younger's she could not see, but something in his bearing suggested a pleasure no less. All she heard, however, was: "Hullo, young 'un!" and "Hullo, Bill!"
And, when they came towards her, the expression of the two faces was that of men who, having breakfasted together, had met again at luncheon.
"Somebody's forestalled my solemn introduction, I see," said Randal.
"Gorgon performed the ceremony," said Amaryllis.
Randal Bellamy at fifty was the most successful patent lawyer of his day. He had taken silk before he was forty, and for many years had enjoyed, not only the largest practice, but a distinction unrivalled in his own country and unsurpassed in the world.
Such a man's knowledge in physics, chemistry and biology, though less precise, is often wider than that of the individual specialist. His friendship with Theophilus Caldegard, begun at Cambridge, had lasted and grown stronger with the years.
On the evening of his brother's arrival he dressed for dinner later than was his custom. His bath had filled him with a boyish desire to whistle and sing; and now, as he tied his bow and felt the silk-lined comfort of his dinner-jacket, he heard with a throb of elation the soft sound of a skirt go by his door.
He murmured as he followed:
"—lentus in umbra Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas."
But before he reached the stairhead, all other sounds were drowned by shouts of laughter from the billiard-room—good laughter and familiar; but the smile left his face and his pace slackened. He was, perhaps, too old to wake the echoes, and Dick's laugh, he thought, was infectious as the plague.
In the wide, comfortable hall used instead of the drawing-room which Bellamy hated, he found Amaryllis smiling with a sparkle in her eyes, as if she too had been laughing.
"Did you hear them?" she asked.
"Father hasn't laughed like that for years—billiards!" she said. "Your brother is just telling him shocking stories, Sir Randal."
"How d'you know?" he asked.
"I dressed as quickly as I could, and went to the billiard-room. Father couldn't speak, but just ran me out by the scruff of the neck."
At this moment her attention was distracted by the bull-dog, sliding and tumbling down the stairs in his eagerness to reach his mistress.
"Gorgon's behaving like a puppy," said Randal, smiling.
"Oh, he's been laughing, too," said Amaryllis, fondling the soft ears. "And he wants to tell me all the jokes."
And then Caldegard and Dick Bellamy came down the stairs together.
"What have you been doing to Gorgon?" asked Amaryllis.
"Never mind the dog," said her father. "It's what this 'vaudeville artist' has been doing to me!"
"Oh, Gorgon, Gorgon! If those lips could only speak!" laughed the girl. "Don't you think Gorgon's a good name for the ugly darling, Mr. Bellamy?" she said, as they went in to dinner.
"Surely the Gorgon was a kind of prehistoric suffragette," objected Dick.
"There you are, Amy," said her father, and turned to him. "Your brother and I have quite failed to convince my illiterate daughter that the word Gorgon is of the feminine gender."
"Anyhow," said Amaryllis defiantly, as she took her seat at the dinner-table, "I looked it up in the dictionary, and all it said was: A monster of fearful aspect.'"
"He deserves it," said Dick.
"He seems to have taken a great fancy to you, Mr. Bellamy," said the girl.
"Dogs always do," said Randal.
"Always at the first meeting?" asked Amaryllis.
"Nearly always. But that doesn't prove that I don't travel without a ticket when I get the chance," replied Dick.
"What do you mean?" asked the girl.
"Oh, the dog-and-baby theory's not dead yet. But I assure you, Miss Caldegard, that the hardest case I ever met couldn't walk through a town without collecting every dog in the place. That's why he never succeeded in his first profession."
"What was he?" asked the girl.
"Burglar," said Dick.
"That's all very well," said his brother. "I know nothing about babies, but I've noticed that the man whom all dogs dislike is no good at all."
"That's quite true," said Caldegard. "Remember Melchard, Amy?"
Dick Bellamy caught the quiver of disgust which passed over the girl's face before she answered.
"Horrible person!" she said. "Trixy bit him, the dachshund next door always ran away from him, and Gorgon had to be chained up."
"Who is this Melchard, Caldegard?" asked Randal.
"He came to me about eighteen months ago, and stayed about nine; a very capable practical chemist; had worked for some time in the factory of a Dutch rubber company. Sumatra, I think, or the Malay Peninsula. Tried unqualified dentistry after he came home, went broke and got an introduction to me. That's what he told me. An accurate and painstaking worker, and never asked questions."
Dick began to be interested.
"But I really can't see anything horrible in all that," said Randal.
"At first it was what he was, not what he did," said Caldegard. "Tall, slender, effeminate, over-dressed, native coarseness which would not be hidden by spasmodic attempts at fine manners, and a foul habit of scenting his handkerchiefs and even his clothes with some weird stuff he made himself; left a trail behind him wherever he went. It smelt something like a mixture of orris-root and attar of roses."
Amaryllis wiped her lips, and Dick Bellamy thought her cheeks nearly as white as the little handkerchief.
"What did the fellow do?" asked Randal.
"For one thing, I discovered that he carried a hypodermic syringe; so I watched him—morphia—not a bad case, but getting worse. And then," said Caldegard, looking towards his daughter, "he had the presumption——"
"Oh, father, please!" cried Amaryllis.
"I'm sorry, my dear," said her father. "I was only——"
He was interrupted by a crash, a fumbling and a burst of flame. One of the four-branched candlesticks had been upset, and its rose-coloured shades were on fire. Very coolly the two Bellamys' pinched out the flames and replaced the candles.
"Hope that didn't startle you, Miss Caldegard," said Randal.
"Not a bit," said Amaryllis, smiling.
"What a clumsy devil you are, Dick," he continued.
"I was trying to get the sugar," said Dick.
Randal tasted his coffee. "Cook's got one fault, Dick," he said. "She can't make coffee; and we've been spoiled."
"Yes, indeed," said Caldegard. "I've never in my life drunk black coffee to beat what your yellow-haired Dutch girl used to make."
Randal turned to his brother. "Parlour-maid, Dick. Best servant I ever had. Didn't mind the country, and after she'd been here a fortnight disclosed a heaven-sent gift for making coffee. Took some diplomacy, I can tell you, to get cook to cede her rights."
"Why haven't you got her now?" asked Dick.
"Mother started dying in Holland," replied his brother, "and we miss our coffee."
"I'll do it to-morrow night," said Dick.
"What'll Rogers say?" said Randal.
"Rogers? You don't tell me you've got Rogers still?"
"Of course I have."
"Not my Mrs. Rogers!" exclaimed Dick. "Why, she'd let me skate all over her kitchen, if I wanted to."
* * * * *
Randal Bellamy, although he had a motor-car and used the telephone, lagged lovingly behind the times in less important matters. He was proud of his brass candlesticks, and hated electric light.
While Amaryllis was saying good-night to her host, Dick Bellamy lighted her candle and waited for her at the foot of the stairs. When she reached him, she did not at once take it, so that they mounted several steps together; then she paused.
"Good night, Mr. Bellamy. I hope you didn't hurt your fingers, putting the fire out. Are you a very awkward person?" she asked, looking up at him whimsically.
"Shocking," said Dick. "I'm always doing things like that."
"I believe you are," she replied softly. "Thank you so much."
When he went to his room that night, Dick Bellamy was followed by a vivid ghost with reddish-gold hair, golden-brown, expressive eyes, adorable mouth, and skin of perfect texture, over neck and shoulders of a creamy whiteness which melted into the warmer colour of the face by gradation so fine that none could say where that flush as of a summer sunset first touched the snow.
As he got into bed, he told himself that he did not object to being haunted up to midnight, nor even over the edge of sleep, by a spook so attractive. But if it should come to waking too early to a spectre implacable—well, that had happened to him once only, long ago, and he didn't want it to happen again.
But the car would be all right to-morrow—there was always the car.
Amaryllis found her father and Sir Randal at the breakfast-table.
"I'm so glad I'm not the laziest," she said, as she took her seat.
"I'm afraid you are, my dear," replied her father.
"Dick's fetching his car from Iddingfield," explained Randal.
The air was torn by three distinct wails from a syren.
"How unearthly!" said Amaryllis, with her hands to her ears.
"That's Dick," said his brother. "He would have a noise worse than anyone else's."
Dick came in from the garden. "Morning, Miss Caldegard," he said, as he sat down. "How d'you like my hooter? Sounds like a fog-horn deprived of its young, doesn't it?"
"I hate it," she said.
Randal looked up from the letter he was reading.
"I'm afraid you two will have to amuse each other this morning," he said, glancing from the girl to his brother as he handed the letter across the table to Caldegard. "That'll take a lot of answering, and I can't do it without your help. I'm afraid Sir Charles has got hold of the wrong end of the stick."
"How are you going to amuse me, Miss Caldegard?" asked Dick.
"I haven't the faintest idea," she replied.
"Help me try my car?"
"I should like to—if you can do without me, dad?"
* * * * *
At half-past seven that evening Sir Randal went to his brother's room, and found him dressing for dinner.
"Nice sort of chap you are," he said. "I ask you to amuse a young woman after breakfast——"
"I did," said Dick.
"And you keep her for eight hours. Where have you been?"
"Miss Caldegard bought things in Oxford Street. We had lunch in Oxford, and tea at Chesham," said Dick, brushing his hair carefully back from his forehead. "You can't call that wasting time."
"Not yours," said his brother. And they went to dinner.
Before Amaryllis left the table, Dick rose from his seat.
"Where are you going?" asked his brother.
"To keep my tryst with Mrs. Rogers," said Dick, and went out.
"I've told 'em we'll have our wine and coffee in the study, Caldegard," said Randal. "I think it's the safest place for what we're going to talk about."
Amaryllis rose to leave them together, but her father stopped her.
"You'll come with us, won't you, my dear? You're one of the gang," he said.
"What gang?" she asked, looking at him with eyes opened wide.
"The Ambrotox gang," replied her father, lowering his voice almost to a whisper. "The only four people in the world, I believe, who know even that silly nick-name you invented, Amaryllis, are in this house. Sir Randal knows its properties. I know all about it. You know that I have spent two years in reaching it, and Dick Bellamy knows there is something in which we three are deeply interested. And so Sir Randal has advised me to take you younger people into full confidence."
He slipped his arm through his daughter's, and led the way across the hall and down the narrow passage beyond the stair, to the study.
Randal, with his back to the open door, was filling the port glasses, while Amaryllis and her father were gazing from the open french-window across the moonlit lawn, when all three were startled by a thin, high-pitched voice behind them.
"Me lib for make one dam fine lot coffee, missy," it said.
But, turning, they laughed to see only Dick, setting down the tray.
"When does the seance begin?" he asked, turning to close the door.
"Now," said his brother. "Better leave that open, and sit here where you can see right down the passage. Miss Caldegard," he went on, "please make Gorgon lie outside the window."
Amaryllis stepped out upon the terrace, and the dog followed her. "Lie down," she said. "On guard."
She came back into the room, and Randal drew the heavy curtains across the window. "Keep your eye on the end of the passage, Dick," he said. "There's no other door in it but ours."
Then he sat down. "Coal-tar," he said, "the mother of wealth, the aunt of colour, and the grandmother of drugs, is a mystery to the layman. The highest, if not the best known, of its priesthood, is my old friend Caldegard. Some little time ago he penetrated too far into the arcana of his cult; and on one of the branches of that terrific tree he found and coaxed into blossom a bud which grew into the fruit which his daughter has named Ambrotox—as if it were a beef essence or a cheap wine. Tell 'em its properties, Caldegard—in the vernacular."
Between the first and second puffs at a fresh cigar, Caldegard grunted a sort of final protest.
"You answer for him?" he asked, nodding to Dick.
"Of course. And you for your daughter."
"It is," began Caldegard, "the perfect opiate. As anodyne it gives more ease, and as anaesthetic leaves less after-effect to combat than any other. Morphia, opium, cannabis Indica, cocaine, heroin, veronal and sulphonal act less equally, need larger doses, tempt more rapidly to increase of dose, and, where the patient knows what drug he has taken, lead, in a certain proportion of cases, very quickly to an ineradicable habit. In wise hands, the patient's and the public's ignorance being maintained, Ambrotox"—and here he bestowed a little laugh on amateur nomenclature—"Ambrotox will be a blessing almost as notable as was chloroform in the fifties.
"But there's another side: carry the thing a step further, and you have a life, waking, and dreams, sleeping, of delight such as has never been—I think never could be expressed in words; not because, as with De Quincey and his laudanum, the coherent story of the dreams and visions cannot be remembered, but because the clear sunshine of personal happiness and confidence in the future—the pure joy of being alive—which the abuser of Ambrotox experiences in his whole daily life, is incommunicable. It is a period of bliss, of clear head, good impulses, celestial dreams, and steady hope. These effects last, on an even dose, longer than with any other drug of which I have experience. And then there begins and grows a desire for action, the devil preaching that no good works have resulted from the faith, the hope and the good intentions. A little more, and we shall accomplish, he assures us, the full measure of our dreams. The dose is increased, confidence returns, and performance is still for to-morrow. I have never seen a victim of Ambrotox pursue this descent to the grave, but all analogous experience assures me that the final stages must be hell."
"How do you know so much about the effects?" asked Dick.
"There was only one possible subject for experiment—myself," replied Caldegard.
Amaryllis sat upright in her chair, and drew in her breath sharply. But she did not speak.
"Ghastly risk to take," said Dick.
"Ghastly," assented Caldegard. "But it wasn't the first, nor the second time that I'd chanced it. The very memory of the horrors I went through in curing myself after a course of hashish, gave me faith in my power to push this tremendous experiment to the point I had determined upon, without overshooting the mark."
"What was the mark?" inquired Dick.
"The appearance," replied Caldegard, "of certain cardiac symptoms which I expected."
"Oh, dad!" exclaimed Amaryllis. "That must have been the time when you sent for Dr. Greaves at three in the morning."
"For three weeks after that," went on Amaryllis indignantly, "I thought you were horribly ill."
"That, my darling," answered her father, smiling at her, "was because I was getting better."
"I've been wondering, Caldegard," said Randal, "how often and how strongly the remembrance of that incommunicable bliss cries out for an epicurean repetition of those early stages of your scientific experiment."
Caldegard laughed. "Oh, she calls, and calls pretty loud sometimes," he said. "Let her call. It's all part of the experiment. Knowledge, you see, has the sweeter voice."
Amaryllis had tears in her eyes, and for a moment the others waited on her evident desire to speak.
"But do you think, father," she said at last, "that's it's really worth while to let the world know you have found a more delightful temptation than opium or cocaine, just for the sake of giving a few sick people a more comfortable medicine than they've been accustomed to. Ambrotox!" she sighed scornfully. "I wish I'd never given it that pretty name. I think it's horrid stuff!"
"That's what I was going to ask," said Dick.
"As for publicity, my dear boy," replied Caldegard, "Ambrotox will very probably do more harm than good if its properties become general knowledge. But the Home Office is drafting a comprehensive measure for State control of the manufacture and distribution of injurious drugs. You all know that the growth of the drug habit caused serious alarm in the early days of the war, and that even the amendment to the Defence of the Realm Act, forbidding the unauthorised sale and possession of cocaine and other poisons, did little to diminish the illicit traffic. Such contrabrand dealing is immensely lucrative, and prices rise in direct ratio with the danger. But the new Bill may contain a clause vesting in the State the formulae and the manufacture of all newly-discovered drugs of this kind. The Government is relying in this matter greatly upon the experience and advice of Sir Randal, and if a sufficiently stringent clause can be devised, it is probable that never more than three living persons, in addition to the discoverer, will be acquainted with the processes necessary to the manufacture of a newly discovered chemical compound which has been brought under State control. In regard to the good which may be done by Ambrotox—do you remember, Amaryllis, the two pretty little old ladies who lived in the small grey house with the red blinds? Don't say names, my child, nor mention the town. They were sisters and devotedly attached."
The girl's face was a picture of curiosity.
"Yes, father," she said. "And they grew pale and anxious. One of them came to see you, and then the other, several times; and once, just before I went to Scotland, they both came together. I remember how dreadfully ill they looked. But when I came home, their cheeks were pink again, one always laughed when the other did, and their garden was full of roses."
"What about 'em?" asked Dick.
"This," said Caldegard: "For several years each of those old women had been taking morphia; each had been concealing it from the other; each had suffered in conscience the torture of the damned; each confessed to me her vice, and the dreadful failure of her struggle to overcome it. Experimentally I treated each with Ambrotox, in gradually decreasing doses. The return to health was quicker and more complete than I had dared to hope; the craving for morphia has not reappeared, and I do not think it will."
"Oh, you darling!" cried Amaryllis. "I always thought you'd something to do with it."
"It is the story of two cases only, I admit," continued Caldegard. "But I am convinced that I have found a means of releasing at least unwilling slaves from that bondage."
"But what do you gain by telling us?" asked Dick.
"Secrecy," said Caldegard. "You and my daughter know now the importance of my two years' work, and you cannot fail to see the danger of a rumour that 'Professor Caldegard, we understand, has achieved an epoch-making discovery in the history of science. An anodyne with more than all the charms and few of the dangers of opium will bring comfort with a good conscience to thousands of sufferers in this nerve-racked world.' Every chemist in the country that knows my line of work will be searching in a furious effort to forestall the new legislation by discovering and putting on the market new synthetic opiates. There is not, perhaps, much fear that chance shooting will achieve the actual bull's-eye of Ambrotox. But there is a greater danger than commercial rivalry—criminal! The illicit-drug interest is growing in numbers and wealth. Every threat of so-called temperance legislation stimulates it. We have lately heard much of crime as a policy. Soon, perhaps, the world will learn with startled disgust, that crime went into trade two years ago.
"There are men in every big city to whom thousands of pounds and the lives of many hirelings would be a small price to pay for the half-sheet of paper and the small bottle hidden in the safe in that alcove.
"Knowing a little," he concluded, turning to Dick, "you might have told too much. Knowing everything, you will tell nothing at all."
There was a silence in the room, so heavy that it seemed long. And then,
"Some dope," said Dick Bellamy.
A little after noon on the following day, Amaryllis and Dick Bellamy, followed by Gorgon with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, entered the hall by the front door, clamouring for drinks, to find Caldegard swearing over a telegram.
"What's the matter, dad?" she asked.
"Sir Charles Colombe," replied her father. "He will be deeply indebted if I will call at the Home Office at one-thirty p.m. I should think he would be! If the message had been sent in time I could have caught the twelve thirty-five. It's a quarter past now, and it can't be done."
"Yes, it can," said Dick. "Grab your hat and tie it on, while I get my car."
Randal, coming from his study, was in time to see the car vanish in a cloud of dust.
"Where are they going?" he asked.
"To catch the twelve thirty-five," replied Amaryllis. "Dick says he can do it in seven and a half minutes."
Randal not only noticed the christian name, but also the girl's unconsciousness of having used it.
"They want father at the Home Office. Who's Sir Charles Colombe, Sir Randal?" she asked.
"Permanent Under Secretary," he answered. "I suppose Broadfoot is making trouble again."
And he looked at her as if he were thinking of Amaryllis rather than of permanent or political chiefs of Home Affairs.
"This is Friday, you know," he said at last.
"Yes," replied the girl, and Randal thought her face showed embarrassment—but of what nature, he could not tell.
"I won't spoil your lunch, my dear child," he said, looking down at her with eyes curiously contracted. "But if you'll give me half an hour in the afternoon——"
"Of course I will," she replied, with frank kindness. "And, oh! may I have a lemon-squash?"
A little later, as he watched her drink it, he admired her more than ever before. Since he first met her he had taken increasing pleasure from the tall figure, of which the fine lines and just proportions hid the strength and energy he had seen her upon occasion display; and he had often asked himself in what attitude or action her inherent grace appeared most charming. Sometimes it was driving from the tee, at another taking a swift volley which she must run to meet; or, again, just pouring out his coffee. But now, lounging on the old leather sofa, with her head tipped well back for red lips and white teeth to capture the slip of ice sliding to them from the bottom of the long tumbler, he thought her the very perfection of innocent freedom and symmetry.
And when the ice was crunched and swallowed, she laughed joyously, showing him that the teeth he had cried pity on were sound as ever; so that he raked his mind for jest and anecdote just that he might see them flash yet again.
But there was a difference in her to-day—a softer touch, as of happiness to come, flinging backward in her face a clouded reflection from the future. The image in that distant mirror, however, he could not see, and his gaiety failed him.
"I'm awfully untidy," she said at last, springing to her feet and pushing back loosened hair. "It's nearly lunch time—I hope so, at least, because I'm horribly hungry."
Perhaps it was best, after all, standing a little to one side, to see her mount that flight of broad, shallow steps; yet, being unable at once to make up his mind, he waited there at the stair's foot to see her come down again.
She came at last, with so new a smile on her lips, that criticism was lost in curiosity. Its subtle curves blended expectancy, fear and tenderness, seen through a veil of restraint.
Then he saw that she was looking over his head, and turned to see his brother standing in the doorway, with the sunlight behind him.
The half-hour she had promised him left Amaryllis little less unhappy than Randal Bellamy.
Tea under the cedar was over, and Amaryllis could not eat even another eclair, when he had said to her, "It's half-past five."
"Oh, yes," she replied, and folded her hands in her lap.
"So I've got till six o'clock," he went on.
"Yes," said Amaryllis, adding, a little uneasily, "and as much longer as you like, Sir Randal."
He smiled at her mistake, and shook his head in resignation.
"You don't mean that—not in my sense," he said. "But look here, my dear: I do really think it wouldn't be a bad thing for you to marry me. You have no idea how good I should be to you. I have money and position. You like me, and you will like me better. And for me—well, it hardly seems fair to tell you what it would mean to me."
"Why not fair?" asked the girl, pained by his eagerness, and wishing it all over.
"I've always thought that appealing ad misericordiam was taking a mean advantage. If I do it now, don't listen to me. But, if I'm worth it to you, Amaryllis, take me, and you shan't regret it."
"You are worth anything—everything!" she cried, much distressed. "Worth ever so much more, dear Sir Randal, than I could give. But I'd give you all that I am—indeed I would—if it wasn't for—for——"
"Yes?" he asked. "Go on. Wasn't for what?"
"If it wasn't for something that says 'don't!' Oh, please understand. I like you awfully, but it says it, and says it—I don't know why."
For a moment neither spoke.
"You do understand, don't you?" she asked at last.
"I believe you, my dear," he answered; then added gently: "There's a happier man somewhere, I think."
Amaryllis opened her eyes wide, almost, it seemed, in fear.
"Oh, no, no!" she cried. "Truthfully, I don't know any more than I've told you."
When he was gone, she sat for a long time, wishing she could feel alone.
* * * * *
Several times between lunch and dinner that day had Amaryllis wondered why Dick Bellamy was so taciturn—silent and sombre almost to moroseness. But Randal had no doubt that he knew.
Dick, the least sullen and most even-tempered of men, was for once at war with himself. The midnight phantom had become a daylight obsession.
Although he thought he knew what women were, he had never reached a definition of "being in love." For, having more than once believed himself in that condition, he had as often found himself too suddenly free.
Before this English girl had seized upon his thoughts so that nothing else interested him, he had said there was always the car in which to run away.
He was not afraid of offending his brother, for Randal knew him as he knew Randal. But a man does not throw himself into the sea just because there is a lifebuoy handy. Secure, therefore, in his power to escape, it was not until this afternoon that he found decision forced upon him. If he went, there was good chance of freedom; if he stayed, no chance at all.
He was lying on his back, looking up through the branches of a huge tree, when he reached what he considered this clear alternative. He was a man who seldom lied to himself; so now it was with a sudden sharpness that he felt the sting of self-deception.
"I've been trying to kid myself that I'm like the damn fool who runs away from the girl he's getting fond of because he's afraid of marriage. But I'm not. I'm the coward who's up to his knees, and funks letting himself all in for fear of not being able to reach what he's at least able to swim for."
At dinner, Amaryllis, in sheer kindness of heart, shone with good humour, readiness of reply and flow of conversation. Randal, while he felt that she now and then forced the note, caught her motive, and responding, smoothed her way. But Dick, having from childhood accepted Randal's immunity from love as an axiom, took it all in good faith, and emerging by quick degrees from his taciturnity, soon had his share of the talk and laughter.
He too had noticed at first a certain strain and effort in the girl's manner; but put it down to the absence of her father from the table. And so, when the trunk-call came to tell them he was dining with the Secretary of State and would be home late, and Amaryllis seemed to "settle into her stride," Dick thought of the matter no further, but only of her.
After coffee in the hall, Randal excused himself on the plea of letter-writing, and Amaryllis, alone with his brother, fell silent.
For a minute he watched her unobtrusively, and wondered why the life had gone out of her.
"Sleepy, Miss Caldegard?" he asked at last.
"No," she replied. "Tired—a little—and worried. Everybody's so keen on something. Father on—you know what. You, though I've never seen you do anything, look keener than any man I ever saw; and Sir Randal's keen about horrid business-letters. Generally I don't even want to open mine."
"'Cause you don't want to answer 'em," suggested Dick.
"Yes," admitted the girl, laughing—and suddenly stopped.
"What's up?" asked Dick.
"You've reminded me," she answered, pressing the bell beside her, "that there's one of my letters this morning that I never looked at. We were talking such a lot. I remember the look of the envelope. I haven't a notion what was in it."
"Might be money," suggested Dick.
"Or bad news," said Amaryllis. "I hate letters. When you want them, they don't say enough. When you don't, they say too much." Then, to the parlour-maid she had summoned: "I have left some letters on my table. If there's one that hasn't been opened, please bring it to me." And to Dick: "I wonder what it's like having dinner with Home Secretaries."
"Nearest I've been to it was having breakfast with a Prime Minister," he answered. "It was soon over, and not so bad as it might have been. The omelette was dispersed by shrapnel, and a machine-gun found the range of the coffee-pot."
"What did the Prime Minister do?" asked the girl.
"Forgot where the door was, and went out of office by the window."
"Was it a war?"
"Oh, no," said Dick. "Only Mexico."
The parlour-maid returned with a sealed letter. Until she was gone, Amaryllis eyed the writing on the envelope with reluctant displeasure; then looked at Dick.
"Please do," he said.
When she had glanced at the letter.
"I wish you'd said don't," she complained. "Neither money nor bad news. Foolishness from an unpleasant person—that's all."
On the point of tearing it, she checked herself.
"It's dad's business after all," she murmured, more to herself than Dick; and rising, went upstairs quickly, as about to return.
As she disappeared from the eyes which could not help watching her, Randal came up the narrow corridor from the study. Dick sank back into his chair and looked up at his brother.
"Billiards?" said Randal. "Give me fifty, and I'll play you a hundred up."
Dick shook his head. "Too lazy," he answered.
"Miss Caldegard gone to bed?" asked Randal.
"Looked as if she was coming back—though she did say she was tired."
"Then I'll practise that canon you were showing me. See you again," said Randal, and went upstairs.
In the passage above he met Amaryllis. The sound of their voices, but not their words, trickled down to Dick in the hall.
Then she came; and the man, lest he should show in his face the pleasure that came with her, did not look at the girl until she was at the foot of the stair; and when he did raise his eyes, it was to find hers averted, and to see her turn at once to her left and make for the study. Just as she was disappearing into the narrow corridor, he saw, or thought that he saw, her white shoulder shaken by a sob without sound.
With an eager instinct he sprang to his feet—and sat down again. If she wanted his help, she would ask for it.
Almost at once, however, he rose again, unsatisfied and restless; and hardly knew what he was doing before he found himself at the study door, and in his ears a sound which told him that he had read her shoulders correctly.
He went in, closing the door as softly as he had opened it.
Randal had left his shaded lamp burning on the writing-table. And there, shining head bent over the table and lit by the broad circle of light, her body shaken with suppressed sobbing, was Amaryllis.
Dick was close to her before he realized that she had not heard his approach. Gently he touched her arm.
Without starting, she looked round at him, and he saw the tears on her face.
"Excuse my butting in," he said. "Do tell me what's the matter."
The girl tried to speak and failed.
"I'm a stranger to almost everybody here," he said. "When you're in a hole, the stranger's about the best man to take troubles to."
Amaryllis shook her head.
"Come, let's see if I can't help," pleaded Dick.
In her mind Amaryllis, as she felt the tender concern of his voice, and looked up into the brown face above the white shirt-front, was struck with a consoling sense of protection, and knew that, while he was the last person she could "take her trouble to," yet his was the sympathy which would most surely soften, if it could not remove, any misfortune which could ever befall her.
"I can't—I can't! I wish I could," she said, winking her eyes. "But I'm going to be good. Please be a dear, Mr. Bellamy, and go back to the hall. I shall be all right soon."
"Honest," said Amaryllis.
Dick closed the door behind him, and walked up the passage with the limp which was always more strongly marked in moments of preoccupation.
The balls were clicking in the billiard-room upstairs, and he hesitated with a foot on the lowest step. But the bond of the protection which had been accepted even while confidence had been withheld, seemed to tie him to the post she had assigned him.
He lit a cigar, sank into the very chair he had left, and let his mind revert to his discontented mood of the afternoon, laughing softly as he admitted that it had needed only the trace of trouble on that charming face to convince him that he was indeed "all in."
Something in the girl's face as she looked up at him had planted a seed of hope.
A clock somewhere struck softly and many times. The cigar had been a dead stump between his teeth for how long Dick did not know.
Randal's voice broke his reverie.
"I'm sick of knocking the balls about," he said. "Come and give me a game, you slacker."
"Eleven!" exclaimed Dick. "Of course I'll play. Let's go and fetch Miss Caldegard and I'll play the two of you."
"All right," said Randal. "Where is she?"
"In your study," replied Dick, leading the way. It was an hour since he had left her and he was anxious to rouse the girl from her depression.
He opened the door, entered quickly, and stopped.
"Good God, she's gone!" he exclaimed.
"What d'you mean?" asked Randal.
"I left her here about an hour ago," said Dick. "She's not come out this way. There's something wrong."
"My dear boy, don't excite yourself," said his brother. "Here's the french-window. I expect she's out there."
"With bare shoulders and thin dress? It's been raining like hell since ten o'clock. I tell you there's something wrong," said Dick, taking one stride to the table, and lifting the lamp above his head. He glanced swiftly round the room.
"Look at your safe," he said.
Randal, impressed by his brother's tone, went quickly to the alcove, between whose looped curtains showed the green door of a safe embedded in the wall. Before he touched it,
"My God! There's a key!" he said.
"Where's yours?" snapped Dick.
"Here," said Randal, pulling a bunch from his pocket.
Randal turned the key, swung back the heavy door, groped for a minute, and swung round with a face like death.
"What's gone?" cried Dick.
"Caldegard's drug-bottle and formula!"
Search of house and grounds was fruitless.
Before half-past eleven the rainstorm was over, and a bright moon lighted the brothers and the men-servants to the discovery of just nothing at all.
Except to give an order, or make a suggestion, neither Bellamy spoke until they stood alone together in the hall.
They looked at each other like men who from dreams of hell have waked to find it.
Then the elder groaned, beside himself.
"The poor girl!" he said. "To think of her ill-used—murdered, perhaps!"
The younger man cut him short with a glance, which even through his agony pierced Randal as if the livid lightning of a god had been launched at the ineptitude of human compassion.
"Cut it out," said Dick. "That's a car coming. The father. Take him right back to town in it. You've got the pull. You can make the political coves get Scotland Yard and the police of the world working, before you'd get the county bobbies into their trousers."
The car drew up in front of the house.
"How shall I tell him?" said Randal.
"I shall," answered Dick. "You get into tweeds—jump." And he went to meet Caldegard at the door.
"Good God!" said the old man, when he saw the young one's face. "What's happened?"
"I'll tell you," said Dick. "Is that a good car?"
Caldegard knew how to obey. "It's Broadfoot's—Rolls-Royce, six cylinder," he replied promptly.
"Tell the man he must take you back to town."
When the order was given, the lover, in curt and terrible phrases, told the father what had happened. And Caldegard's face, as he listened without a word, was a tragedy which Dick Bellamy, heeding it not at all for the moment, remembered all his life.
"Set every dog in the world on the men who've stolen Ambrotox," he said in conclusion, "and you'll find Amaryllis. A trace of one is a track of the other; news of either is news of both. Leave the local work to me."
Caldegard looked into the strange face, and almost flinched from the terrible eyes.
"I'll do all you say," he replied simply.
Then Randal came, pulling on his coat. His brother made him swallow whisky and water, forced the elder man to do the same, and before they left, demanded money of Randal.
"There's a hundred and twenty pounds in notes, in the small right-hand drawer in the safe," he replied, "—unless they got that too."
"No," said Dick. "They were hustled. Let her rip," he said to the driver, and went back into the house.
Trembling with excitement and keeping back genuine tears for Amaryllis, a guest to serve whom had been pleasure, the parlour-maid fetched him cold meat, bread and beer. When he had changed his clothes, he ate hastily in the hall, swallowing doggedly what he could not taste.
"Twenty-five minutes—they'll be in town. Another fifteen and the wires'll be humming," he calculated. "Twenty more—the local police will be here, and rub out every trace. Is there a trace, a mark—a print—a smell, even? I've got an hour."
He sent all the servants to bed, except Randal's chauffeur, whom he summoned to the hall.
"My car's fit to travel, Martin," he said. "Shove in as many tins of petrol as she'll hold. I may want her to-night. Run her out into the drive, put on an overcoat and sit inside till I come."
Then he went to the study, lit all the candles and another lamp, opened the safe with the duplicate key, and found, as he had expected, the money in its drawer.
"Mostly one-pound notes," he muttered, as he locked the safe.
Turning to leave it, he stood suddenly stock-still, head up and sniffing the air, puzzled by an intangible association of sense and memory.
Failing to fix it, he left the alcove, and went to the writing-table, choosing the chair she had sat in, when she could not, or would not, give reason for her tears. And now he gave a flash of thought where before he had refrained even from speculation. Could it have been the forgotten letter that had made her weep? Yet there had been no trouble in her face while she read it, and it seemed certain that the handwriting was unfamiliar.
While he mused his eyes were fixed on the alcove at the end of the room. The light of the candle he had left there outlined sharply the edges of the two curtains which hung from the rod crossing the recess. At the ceiling their edges met, but, at a height of some two and a half feet from the floor, their folds were looped back to the wall in a style formally old-fashioned. And now, even before his mind became concerned, his eye was irritated by a lack of symmetry in the draping; for the drooping fold of the right-hand curtain was out of shape. Again, his thought ran, if thieves playing for so great a stake as Ambrotox had found a woman in their way, their best card was prompt murder. If they could abduct in silence, they could have killed silently. And this made clear to him the soundness of what had been hitherto a merely instinctive conviction; since they had not left her body dead, they had taken it away alive—and with no intent to kill elsewhere. For, if murder were to be done, the dead was safest of all behind them in the place of the theft.
Then again—while the distorted loop of the curtain haunted his subconscious mind, so that with imaginary fingers he was adjusting its curves, even while his mind pulled and twisted the elements of his problem—then, again, he thought, this thief—had he shrunk from murder, or merely from this murder?
"If I could know that!"
And before he was well aware of what he did, he was in the opening of the alcove, handling that awkward fold—and again he drew breath, deep and slow through the nose; again the vague memory—again the elusive association. Was the scent—sweet as well as musty—was it in the curtain? But as he stooped, he saw what made him forget that vague odour: a crumpled bunch of the soft linen had been squeezed together, and was not yet recovered from the strain of some violent compression. Gently stretching the stuff, and bringing it closer to the light, he found the almost regular marks, above and below, as of some serrated, semi-trenchant tool which had been closed upon the doubled piece of cloth.
"Teeth, by God!" said Dick. "Tried to gag her with it—shoved a bag of it in with his fingers, gets 'em out, and stoppers the lot with his hand. Before she faints, she bites—here and there she's gone clean through the stuff."
Indecision gone, he took the smaller lamp in his hand, and made a tour of the room.
At an angle to the fireplace was a broad-seated, high-backed oaken settee, covered with cushions. The back almost hid the hearth from the french-window. The silk pillow nearest the alcove still kept the impress of a head.
"When they came in," he reasoned, "the back of that thing hid her. She'd lain down to rest, and stop that sobbing before she came back to me. Fell asleep—women'll do that, happy or wretched, before they know where they are. They reached the safe, and that arm at the end would hide even her hair. While they're messing round with the safe, she wakes and peeps at 'em—was it cold feet or sand kept her from yelling? What next?"
He was back at the alcove now, on hands and knees, the lamp set on the ground, searching the thick pile of the carpet for signs of the struggle there must have been. And again the smell—near the right hand curtain where the wool of the carpet was rubbed.
Roses—attar of roses! Where had he heard of attar of roses combined with—with what? And again the two wires would not touch—but they were throwing a spark across the gap.
Yes, it was Caldegard—Caldegard had said something—something of a foul man and a rotten stink. It was some story he'd been telling that first night at dinner.
Then a glitter in the carpet. Half-hidden—trodden in amongst the roughened wool, he found it—a morsel of bright steel—the needle of a hypodermic syringe. Who had spoken lately of a morphinomaniac that carried his syringe always with him?
Why, Caldegard, Caldegard!
"Melhuish?—Melford?—Meldrum?—Melcher?-Melchard! By God, the swine that stank!"
And he remembered how he had upset the silver candlestick, setting fire to the shades, to cover the girl's discomfort, and the smile she had paid him with. Then it was this particular murder from which the thief had shrunk.
Melchard, the chemist, had guessed at the direction of Caldegard's research. Discharged at a moment when his hope of mastering a valuable secret was at its height, he had found means to track Caldegard's movements, and even, it seemed, to discover the hiding-place of the perfected drug and its formula.
"Agent—or, p'r'aps, a leading member of the Dope Gang Caldegard hinted at. He lays his plans to grab the stuff and the formula. Just as he gets his fingers on it, up pops the only being on earth he'd give a damn about knifing. Twenty years' clink if he leaves her to talk. Takes her with him—hell's blight on him! Wouldn't have been dosing himself on a game like this. Used the syringe on her."
To find Melchard was to find Amaryllis. The first thing to do, therefore, was to find Melchard's address, and the first man to ask was Caldegard. If Caldegard could not give it to him, it meant a long hunt with the police. Anyway, he must begin with Caldegard.
He crossed to the telephone, lifted the receiver, and, hearing no tinkle, blew into the transmitter with the receiver at his ear. Hearing nothing, he hung it up with a curse.
Sitting at Randal's desk, he wrote rapidly the following note:
"Got the money. Enclose key. Melchard's the man we want. Get his address. 'Phone cut outside. Wire me address P.D.Q.—DICK."
Through the window he went to his car in the drive.
"Martin," he said, "get out Sir Randal's car and take this note to him. Go to New Scotland Yard. They'll tell you where he is. Drive like hell."
He went back into the house, ran upstairs, lit a candle in his room, stuffed one pocket with handkerchiefs, and into another dropped a tin of tobacco and an electric torch.
Why hadn't he brought a gun? Oh, well, it only meant five minutes at his flat in Great Windmill Street.
As he came down the passage, his eyes, obeying a new habit which seemed already old, lingered a moment on Amaryllis' door. But it was not sentiment which checked his feet.
"There might be something," he muttered, and, without hesitation, entered the room.
An oppression of silence weighed upon him painfully as he felt for his match-box. When the candle showed it, the pretty room was a cruel jest.
His examination was made with business-like care. On the dressing-table was nothing but the pretty things which served her toilet; but on the writing-table in the window lay a pile of letters. The topmost he recognised at once for that which she had read in his presence after dinner.
As he pulled the stiff sheet from the envelope, he was aware once more of the odour which he had smelt first in the alcove of the study.
He spread the letter open. It was signed "Alban Melchard."
It was written on good paper, stamped with the address, and read as follows:
"Rue de la Harpe, 31, "Paris, "June 18th.
"MY DEAR MISS CALDEGARD,
"I fear that you will be surprised at my venturing to write to you, considering the distressing circumstances under which we parted. Although the small request I have to make of you is of some importance to me, I should not have the presumption to make it, if it were not that it gives me the opportunity to assure you that the passage of time has made a wiser man of me—and a grateful one, for the delicate forbearance with which you taught me my place.
"I have recently met with good fortune in my profession, and am settling down as a man of business in the neighbourhood of Millsborough, with considerable prospect of success.
"In the happy days when it was my privilege to pick up unconsidered scraps of your father's scientific wisdom, I kept, jotted down in a notebook, many items for future use. Until recently I have had no occasion to refer to these notes, which I now find are essential to the success of my most promising scheme. I must have left the memoranda behind me with some other things, when I departed so suddenly last September.
"If you can have this notebook found for me, I will ask that it may be posted to me at The Myrtles, Grove End, near Millsborough, as I shall only be in Paris for three days longer.
"I heard, quite by chance from a friend, that Professor Caldegard was staying with Sir Randal Bellamy in Hertfordshire, so I have ventured to use his address.
"Thanking you gratefully in anticipation,
"I remain, "My dear Miss Caldegard, "Yours very sincerely, "ALBAN MELCHARD."
"H'm, in Paris, is he? No more in Paris than I am. Wrote this in case he should be suspected, but didn't count on having to cart the girl along. False addresses wouldn't help him. These two are straight goods. Clever move, if it hadn't been for the girl. Your alibi'll hang you, Alban Melchard. That fixes Millsborough."
Savagely he cranked up his engine and jumped into the driving-seat. The car rushed forward.
When St. Albans was behind him the confusion of excitement began to settle, and his thoughts presented themselves clear as those of a dispassionate spectator. For him, in all this tangle, there was one thing, and one thing only, that mattered; to be in time. He did not fear murder; but the very reason of her security from death was the cause of a fear so horrible, that he knew inaction would have been torture past endurance.
THE SWINE THAT STANK.
When Amaryllis left her bedroom, having laid Melchard's letter on her table, she had intended returning at once to pleasant and frivolous conversation with Dick Bellamy. For to-night she was nervous—a little unstrung, it may be, by the pain she had given to his brother; and Dick, with his quiescent vitality, his odd phrases and uncompromising directness of expression, seemed to her at that moment the most restful companion in the world. If she could only get him started, he might amuse and interest her as on the long drive the day before. And then, he seemed to be one of those people who understand even when you don't talk—and she remembered how he had cut into her father's chatter about Melchard by upsetting the candles.
But Sir Randal had met her between the door and the stairhead.
"Dick tells me I've got to play billiards all alone," he said; and though his self-pity was merely playful, it struck the girl painfully.
"What a shame!" she began—and then a stupid lump came in her throat, and Randal saw the change in her face.
"My dear," he said, "you mustn't. I'm all right. Believe me, if it does hurt a little, it won't spoil things for me as it might for a young fellow. The world's a very interesting place, and I'm going to be jolly in it, just the same."
He looked at her for a moment anxiously.
"Be jolly too—there's a good girl. And, I say," he added with simple eagerness, "you won't go running away from here to some dreadful aunt, will you?"
"I'll stay just as long as you and father want me to," she replied; but, finding speech difficult, finished with the best smile she could command, and went down the stair, avoiding Dick and seeking refuge in Randal's study.
There the tears overcame her—though she tried to hide from herself their full reason.
Randal she had known for many weeks, and for Randal she was indeed tenderly grieved; but the other man, with his abruptness, his humour, and his lurking intensity, she had first seen the day before yesterday; and although she knew nothing of Mr. Richard Bellamy's opinion of herself, and admitted in regard to her own future no more than that she found him interesting, she was too well aware to deny, even to herself, that he had pushed his brother out of his chance.
To say this, she told herself, was but to confess that the younger man had unconsciously reminded her of possibilities and dangers; but it seemed to be not only unkind but unjust that Sir Randal's misfortune should arise out of the very eagerness of his affection for this weird brother of his.
And then her father! He had said nothing, implied nothing, but she foresaw disappointment.
It was all rotten, and the tears flowed.
Then came that hand on her shoulder, whose touch, although they had never, she remembered, even shaken hands, she knew before lifting her eyes to his.
When he had left her, although her tears were soon dry, she felt a curious restlessness of mind, and what she would have called "an excited tiredness," and she stretched her body on the cushions of the settee for a moment's relaxation, which slipped at once into half an hour's sleep.
A whisper awoke her. She raised her head. The voice was behind her. Cautiously, kept silent between fear and curiosity, she rose and turned her face to the alcove.
A man was there, with his back towards her—not one of her men. His clothes were grey; his right hand was on the open door of the safe, the left holding a small parcel wrapped in white paper, and, separate, an envelope.
Amaryllis knew what he held, and the courage rose in her to hold back the scream which was coming, until she should have tight hold of the thief—the fingers of both hands, she hoped, fast in his collar.
She was close behind him, and he was locking the safe, when suddenly he felt or heard her presence and swung round.
It was the face of Melchard; astonishment and disgust for a fatal moment took away her breath. Before she could scream, his hands were on her mouth and naked neck, pushing her roughly backward until she was against the right-hand curtain and the corner of the wall. From behind the curtain, it seemed, two small, soft hands stole over her shoulders and gripped her neck, squeezing it savagely.
Melchard took his left hand from her mouth, and as she tried in vain to scream in spite of the double grip on her throat, he crammed a handful of the linen curtain between her tongue and palate with his long fingers.
"Take your cat's claws off her neck," she heard him mutter. "I'll keep her quiet."
And that was all before she fainted.
* * * * *
Her next sensation was of half-sitting, half-lying in an uneasy arm-chair—a chair which jolted, slid and swung, and then again glided smoothly. There was something hairy over her face, and she drew her breath with difficulty.
She was in a car—the weight on her face was the hairy side of a rug. Movement seemed impossible, and the fur now and then hurt her eyes. With an effort she managed to close the lids, and as tears slowly refreshed the eye-balls, she was so much relieved that she might have fallen asleep, but for Melchard's detested voice sounding above her.
"I think that's Escrick we've just run through. York in ten minutes about. When I say 'now,' down you go under the rug again. I'm the only passenger through the town."
"Why not go round York?" asked another voice, which Amaryllis had heard before; but where, she could not remember.
"We mustn't waste any time," answered Melchard. "Besides, if more people see you in the streets of a town, fewer look at you than in the country. You'll have to duck in a minute, and I shall pile the bags and things on top."
"They hurt me last time," said the softer voice.
"A thousand apologies," replied Melchard carelessly. "But it's all in the good cause. By the way, you'd better have a look, and see if the girl's all right before I cover you over."
"Oh, damn the girl!" answered the woman. "What's it matter if she dies?"
"If I'd wanted that, I'd have left her dead in her lover's study."
"Lover! Old Bellamy!" said the woman—and laughed.
"Not old enough, I guess, to help it."
"Nor you, Alban, to hide it," she retorted, groping at the rug which covered Amaryllis. "You gave her enough to keep her quiet another hour or two, didn't you?"
"It's hard to tell with a new subject," he answered. "Morphine is tricky in opiate doses."
Then Amaryllis knew she had been drugged, and to appear as when they last saw her, she half-opened her eyes, showed her teeth between drawn lips, and managed to keep her face rigid without even the quiver of an eyelid.
The rug was lifted for a moment and a face peered at hers; and she knew it for that of Sir Randal's late parlour-maid and lamented coffee-maker.
"She's just the same," said the woman. "Quite insensible, but not dead yet. Blast her!"
Melchard laughed. "The green-eyed monster as per usual," he said. "You ought to know me by this time, but you always mistake my universal admiration of beauty for the tender passion."
"Don't be a fool," she answered. "What are you going to do with her?"
Melchard was silent, and the woman spoke again.
"Look here," she said, "I'm going to be right in this. I found the stuff for you. I got the key. And if I hadn't been with you to-night you'd have been lagged. I'm not so sure that you won't be, now, with that —— letter of yours from Paris."
"What's wrong with the letter?" asked Melchard.
"It would have done well enough if we hadn't had to bring this red-haired wench of yours with us. Now that the girl's disappeared, it'll only attract attention."
"My sweet child," retorted Melchard, "that letter is a masterpiece. I did leave a notebook behind. Legarde and Morneaux, besides swearing to it themselves, would bring a dozen others, all most respectable men, to say that I did not leave Paris until the twenty-second, the day after to-morrow."
"H'm!" said the woman. "M'yes, perhaps. And anyhow," she went on, with a chuckle of relish, "by the time we've shipped the girl to Holland, she won't remember her own name."
Then at last horror seized the soul of Amaryllis, and consciousness left her.
THE POLITICAL COVES.
For the better part of their journey to town Caldegard and Randal Bellamy ate their hearts in silence. The road was good, and they had it almost to themselves.
As they were nearing London, Caldegard spoke.
"Bellamy," he said, "that brother of yours won't stop at killing if——"
"He'll begin with it," replied Randal, "if he gets a fair chance."
"It gives me unreasonable hope," said Caldegard.
"Men who've trusted Dick would call your hope reasonable."
"Yet he's sent us after Ambrotox," complained the father, "and my heart's breaking for my little girl."
"His argument convinced you, anyhow," said Randal.
At New Scotland Yard Sir Randal's card gained them instant admission to the presence of the Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department.
He listened without a word to Randal's compact and lucid statement of the facts.
"It's a good thing I was kept here so late to-night, gentlemen," he said. "We shall act without losing a moment in the matter of your daughter's disappearance, Dr. Caldegard. But the theft of your secret, of which both Sir Charles Colombe and the Home Secretary have spoken to me, is a matter of such tremendous importance, that I am obliged to communicate immediately with both these gentlemen and the Commissioner. And you will be doing me a great kindness if you will both remain here until I hear from them."
An hour later a sombre group of six, after protracted discussion, seemed almost to have exhausted the evidence, suggestion and counsel which could be brought to bear upon a crime so sudden and so obscure.
Sir Charles Colombe looked anxiously round him as he spoke.
"That is the danger," he said, "which we have to face: that these foul pests of society should escape with Professor Caldegard's discovery and master his secret—a peril to which all the dangers mankind has run since the world began from greed, bigotry, alcohol and opium are child's play. The bill of which Sir Gregory has just spoken would give us powers to lay hands on all these local branches of what Superintendent Finucane has described as 'the Dope Gang.' We know already some twenty-five or thirty of them. If we were as well advanced in our knowledge of their central organisation, we might even now do something fairly vigorous under the law of conspiracy. As it is, we can only proceed against individuals trafficking in and supplying certain specified drugs. The secret of this greatest drug of all must not, if human power can prevent it, come into the hands of the inner ring before we have our grip on it. Needles, before now, have been successfully hunted in haystacks, and perhaps even you, Professor Caldegard, have no adequate conception of how close the meshes are in the net Superintendent Finucane is spreading. And I should like you to understand, sir," he said, drawing nearer to the old man who sat staring with fixed eyes out of a ghastly face, "that, though our duty makes us think of millions where you can think only of one, every effort which the Criminal Investigation Department makes, every trap it lays, every device it contrives to recover your property is equally adapted to finding your daughter. In your fear for her safety you have forgotten your drug; in our fear for the drug we cannot let your daughter out of our minds."
"She may be—dead," said Caldegard.
The Superintendent answered him.
"I don't believe it," he declared. "You see, sir, the thief's plan worked smoothly, bar the one unexpected factor—the young lady in the room. If he didn't kill her then, he don't mean to kill her."
"That's my brother's argument," said Randal, adding his word of comfort.
There was a tap at the door, and a constable entered.
"Sir Randal Bellamy's chauffeur, sir," he said to Finucane. "He has brought this letter. Says it's from Mr. Richard Bellamy."
Randal glanced at the note and then read aloud:
"Melchard's the man we want. Get his address. 'Phone cut outside. Wire me address P.D.Q."
"From my brother Richard," he said. "Dr. Caldegard knows this Melchard, I believe."
When Caldegard had told them all he knew of the man, the Superintendent looked at the Commissioner,
"I think, sir," he said, "we'd better inquire about Mr. Alban Melchard."
"Rather a wildgoose chase," grumbled the Home Secretary.
"I shouldn't wonder, sir," replied Finucane, "if Mr. Richard Bellamy isn't a very wideawake young gentleman."
THE GREEN FROCK.
Seven miles south of Millsborough, just before you come to the cross-roads, whose eastern branch runs to the coast some thirty miles away, there stands, the only house in sight, a little roadside inn called "The Coach and Horses."
At half-past seven on the morning of Saturday, June the twenty-first, there drew up before it a long, low two-seater car.
The landlord, a sharp-faced little man with kindly eyes and a shrewd mouth, came to the door.
"Looks like you've been travelling all night, sir," he remarked pleasantly.
"It looks right," said Dick Bellamy. "I want a house called The Myrtles."
Turning to the north, the landlord waved his hand towards the right.
"Two mile, mebbe more, mebbe less. Lies in a bit of a hollow. But you won't see no myrtles—less they've growed in the night—just a low stone house with a bit of a copse back o't. Mr. Melchard you're seekin', like? He's a girt man wi' the teeth," said the landlord, chuckling.
"Big eater?" asked Dick.
"Dentist's my meanin', sir. They do say he keeps seven shops in Millsborough district, and never drew tooth in his life. Just drives round so free, takin' t'money. But I reckon, if you're goin' to t'Myrtles, you know the gentleman."
"I'm going to leave my car here. Don't know how long, but I'll pay you five shillings a day. I want some food and I've only got five minutes. Can you manage it?"
Waiting, he scribbled a note in pencil, tore the leaf from his notebook, demanded an envelope, addressed it, and attacked the cold beef and beer hurriedly set before him.
"Can you post this?" he asked.
"You passed t'box quarter mile back," said the landlord.
"Half-a-crown if you'll take it yourself."
"All right, sir. But there's no stamp in the house."
"Post it without," said Dick, well pleased.
He laid down his knife and fork.
"Walkin'?" inquired the landlord. "Then you'd better take path across t'moor. I'll show'ee."
Alone on the heath, Dick felt he had at last a few minutes to consider his position. Plans must come with events. Though besieged still by the fear which had haunted him throughout the night, he found comfort, however indefinite, in the daylight. Time was everything; but if he were indeed in time, it was well to have the day before him.
The letter to his brother, which he had posted in York at three o'clock in the morning, though it gave the address of the man he was hunting, could not, any more than that which he had just entrusted to the landlord of "The Coach and Horses," reach Scotland Yard in time to bring help in the immediate danger which he foresaw—danger which he would never have run the risk of bringing upon Amaryllis Caldegard but for his conviction of that worse peril threatening her. He was, indeed, sure that his course, rash as it would be accounted in the event of failure, offered the best, and perhaps the only chance of taking home with him an Amaryllis as happy and full of laughter as he had known on the road between Oxford and Chesham.
Twenty minutes' walking led him up a sharp rise to the level of the road, from which he looked down into the corresponding hollow on the other side. And there he saw what the little man of "The Coach and Horses" had described: a long, low stone house of two stories, facing south-west; windows neatly curtained, and fitted—an exotic touch—with persiennes; gravelled walks and smooth grass plots, a tree or two, shrubs and a few garden saplings; a garage big enough for one car which would look bigger than its envelope as it came out; and a pretentious gate—suburban villa half-heartedly aping country house—guarding the drive.
He stood in the road, boldly looking down at the blinded windows, thinking how common these houses were; in many parts of England he had seen them, grinning, sulking, boasting, counterfeiting, smirking at a world that would not look twice.
But this house seemed to leer at you through a filthy parade of modesty.
On a bench in the shade of a large tree not more than thirty yards from the road was a patch of colour: a woman's garden hat, bound with an orange scarf. Since it was not hers, it seemed the best thing in sight.
Fearing observation, he turned from the house, walking eastward.
The copse of which he had been told lay not only behind the building to the north-east, but encroached on its eastern side so as to intervene with the tops of its younger trees between him and the back of the building.
He followed the highway until he came to a field of ragged oats running from the road northward behind the little wood. Vaulting the stone fence at the roadside, he scrambled down the steep bank. Soon he was among the trees, making his way to the left towards the rear of "The Myrtles." Bushes and tree-trunks gave him cover until he was within five yards of the low wall of unmortared stone which made an irregular and dilapidated fence about the back of the house.
From the wood's edge to the wall he crawled with the speed and silence of a Houssa scout, and, once in shelter of the stones, was not long in finding a crevice roughly funnel-shaped, which gave him, with small eyepiece, a wide outlook.
Wretched grass-plots trodden into patches of bare earth, ashes, bones, potato-parings, a one-legged wheelbarrow; a brick dustbin overfilled till its rickety wooden lid gaped to show the mouthful it could not swallow; a coal-shed from whose door, hanging by one hinge, a blackened track led across the dying grass to a door standing open outwards from the structural excrescence which must be kitchen or scullery: these made the sordid complement of the hypocrisy which exuded from the front.
That open door tempted him.
If only he could find some indication of her room! For that Amaryllis was in that house he had less doubt than proof.
From the front the windows looked out at no great distance on the high road. Signals were possible. They would lodge—imprison her at the back, and surely on the upper floor. But even that, on this side, had six windows, and he searched their flat glitter in vain for a peg to hang a guess upon.
He had almost made up his mind to creep to that open scullery door and try his luck when, from the third window from the right, behind the glass there shone something white.
Now the first window in this row was next the end of the house; the second, over the roof of the scullery; and the third had beneath it a straight drop—some seventeen feet of unbroken wall—to the ground.
There was, indeed, three feet below the window-sill a rough string-course, which might give to a fugitive a moment's finger-hold before dropping to earth. But the fall between shoes and ground would be some two and a half yards—a serious matter even for an acrobat so placed that he could not watch his feet.