Book I
Chapter II. A New Career
 

About twelve months after the interrupted festivities at Daisy Villa, that particular neighbourhood was again the scene of some rejoicing. Standing before the residence of Mr. Barnes were three carriages, drawn in each case by a pair of grey horses. The coachmen and their steeds were similarly adorned with white rosettes. It would have been an insult to the intelligence of the most youthful of the loungers-by to have informed them that a wedding was projected.

At the neighbouring church all was ready. The clerk stood at the door, the red drugget was down, the usual little crowd were standing all agog upon the pavement. There was one unusual feature of the proceedings: Instead of a solitary policeman, there were at least a dozen who kept clear the entrance to the church. Their presence greatly puzzled a little old gentleman who had joined the throng of sightseers. He pushed himself to the front and touched one of them upon the shoulder.

"Mr. Policeman," he said, "will you tell me why there are so many of you to keep such a small crowd in order?"

"Bridegroom's a member of the force, sir, for one reason," the man answered good-humouredly.

"And the other?" the old gentleman persisted.

The policeman behaved as though he had not heard - a proceeding which his natural stolidity rendered easy. The little old gentleman, however, was not so easily put off. He tapped the man once more upon the shoulder.

"And the other reason, Mr. Policeman?" he asked insinuatingly.

"Not allowed to talk about that, sir," was the somewhat gruff reply.

The little old gentleman moved away, a trifle hurt. He was a very nicely dressed old gentleman indeed, and everything about him seemed to savour of prosperity. But he was certainly garrulous. An obviously invited guest was standing upon the edge of the pavement stroking a pair of lavender kid gloves. The little old gentleman sidled up to him.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, raising his hat. "I am just back from Australia - haven't seen a wedding in England for fifty years. Do you think that they would let me into the church?"

The invited guest looked down at his questioner and approved of him. Furthermore, he seemed exceedingly glad to be interrupted in his somewhat nervous task of waiting for the wedding party.

"Certainly, sir," he replied cheerfully. "Come along in with me, and I'll find you a seat."

Down the scarlet drugget they went - the big best man with the red hands and the lavender kid gloves and the opulent-looking old gentleman with the gold-rimmed spectacles and the handsome walking stick.

"Dear me, this is very interesting!" the latter remarked. "Is it the custom, sir, always, may I ask, in this country, to have so many policemen at a wedding?"

The big man looked downward and shook his head.

"Special reason," he said mysteriously. "Fact is, young lady was engaged once to a very bad character - a burglar whom the police have been wanting for years. He had to leave the country, but he has written her once or twice since in a mysterious sort of way - wanted her to be true to him, and all that sort of thing. Dory - that's the bridegroom - has got a sort of an idea that he may turn up to-day."

"This is very exciting - very!" the little old gentleman remarked. "Reminds me of our younger days out in Australia."

"You sit down here," the best man directed, ushering his companion into an empty pew. "I must get back again outside, or I shall have the bridegroom arriving."

"Good-day to you, sir, and many thanks!" the little old gentleman said politely.

Soon the bridegroom arrived - a smart young officer, well thought of at Scotland Yard, well set up, wearing a long tail coat a lilac and white tie, and shaking in every limb. He walked up the aisle accompanied by the best man, and the little old gentleman from Australia watched him genially from behind those gold-rimmed glasses. And, then, scarcely was he at the altar rails when through the open church door one heard the sounds of horses' feet, one heard a rustle, the murmur of voices, caught a glimpse of a waiting group arranging themselves finally in the porch of the church. Maud, on the arm of her father, came slowly up the aisle. The little old gentleman turned his head as though this was something upon which he feared to look. He saw nothing of Mr. Barnes, in a new coat, with tuberose and spray of maidenhair in his coat, and exceedingly tight patent leather boots on his feet; he saw nothing of Mrs. Barnes, clad in a gown of the lightest magenta, with a bonnet smothered with violets.

It was in the vestry that the only untoward incident of that highly successful wedding took place. The ceremony was over! Bride, bridegroom and parents trooped in. And when the register was opened, one witness had already signed! In the clear, precise writing his name stood out upon the virgin page -

Spencer Fitzgerald

The bridegroom swore, the bride nearly collapsed. The clerk pressed into the hands of the latter an envelope.

"From the little old gentleman," he announced, "who was fussing round the church this morning."

Mrs. Dory tore it open and gave a cry of delight. A diamond cross, worth all the rest of her presents put together, flashed soft lights from a background of dull velvet. Her husband had looked over her shoulder, and with a scowl seized the morocco case and threw it far from him.

It was the only disturbing incident of a highly successful function!

At precisely the same moment when the wedding guests were seated around the hospitable board of Daisy Villa, a celebration of a somewhat different nature was taking place in the more aristocratic neighbourhood of Curzon Street. Here, however, the little party was a much smaller one, and the innocent gaiety of the gathering at Daisy Villa was entirely lacking. The luncheon table around which the four men were seated presented all the unlovely signs of a meal where self-restraint had been abandoned - where conviviality has passed the bounds of licence. Edibles were represented only by a single dish of fruit; the tablecloth, stained with wine and cigar ash, seemed crowded with every sort of bottle and every sort of glass. A magnum of champagne, empty, another half full, stood in the middle of the table; whisky, brandy, liqueurs of various sorts were all represented; glasses - some full, some empty, some filled with cigar ash and cigarette stumps - an ugly sight!

The guest in chief arose. Short, thick-set, red-faced, with bulbous eyes, and veins about his temples which just now were unpleasantly prominent, he seemed, indeed, a very fitting person to have been the recipient of such hospitality. He stood clutching a little at the tablecloth and swaying upon his feet. He spoke as a drunken man, but such words as he pronounced clearly showed him to be possessed of a voice naturally thick and raspy. It was obvious that he was a person of entirely different class from his three companions.

"G - gentlemen," he said, "I must be off. I thank you very much for this - hospitality. Honoured, I'm sure, to have sat down in such - such company. Good afternoon, all!"

He lurched a little toward the door, but his neighbour at the table - who was also his host - caught hold of his coat tail and pulled him back into his chair.

"No hurry, Masters," he said. "One more liqueur, eh? It's a raw afternoon."

"N - not another drop, Sir Richard!" the man declared. "Not another drop to drink. I am very much obliged to you all, but I must be off. Must be off," he repeated, making another effort to rise.

His host held him by the arm. The man resented it - he showed signs of anger.

"D - n it all! I - I'm not a prisoner, am I?" he exclaimed angrily. "Tell you I've got - appointment - club. Can't you see it's past five o'clock?"

"That's all right, Masters," the man whom he had addressed as Sir Richard declared soothingly. "We want just a word with you on business first, before you go - Colonel Dickinson, Lord Merries and myself."

Masters shook his head.

"See you to-morrow," he declared. "No time to talk business now. Let me go!"

He made another attempt to rise, which his host also prevented.

"Masters, don't be a fool!" the latter said firmly. "You've got to hear what we want to say to you. Sit down and listen."

Masters relapsed sullenly into his chair. His little eyes seemed to creep closer to one another. So they wanted to talk business! Perhaps it was for that reason that they had bidden him sit at their table - had entertained him so well! The very thought cleared his brain.

"Go on," he said shortly.

Sir Richard lit a cigarette and leaned further back in his chair. He was a man apparently about fifty years of age - tall, well dressed, with good features, save for his mouth, which resembled more than anything a rat trap. He was perfectly bald, and he had the air of a man who was a careful liver. His eyes were bright, almost beadlike; his fingers long and a trifle over-manicured. One would have judged him to be what he was - a man of fashion and a patron of the turf.

"Masters," he said, "we are all old friends here. We want to speak to you plainly. We three have had a try, as you know - Merries, Dickinson and myself - to make the coup of our lives. We failed, and we're up against it hard."

"Very hard, indeed," Lord Merries murmured softly.

"Deuced hard!" Colonel Dickinson echoed.

Masters was sitting tight, breathing a little hard, looking fixedly at his host.

"Take my own case first," the latter continued. "I am Sir Richard Dyson, ninth baronet, with estates in Wiltshire and Scotland, and a town house in Cleveland Place. I belong to the proper clubs for a man in my position, and, somehow or other - we won't say how - I have managed to pay my way. There isn't an acre of my property that isn't mortgaged for more than its value. My town house - well, it doesn't belong to me at all! I have twenty-six thousand pounds to pay you on Monday. To save my life, I could not raise twenty-six thousand farthings! So much for me."

The man Masters ground his teeth.

"So much for you!" he muttered.

"Take the case next," Sir Richard continued, "of my friend Merries here. Merries is an Earl, it is true, but he never had a penny to bless himself with. He's tried acting, reporting, marrying - anything to make an honest living. So far, I am afraid we must consider Lord Merries as something of a failure, eh?"

"A rotten failure, I should say," that young nobleman declared gloomily.

"Lord Merries is, to put it briefly, financially unsound," Sir Richard declared.

"What is the amount of your debt to Mr. Masters, Jim?"

"Eleven thousand two hundred pounds," Lord Merries answered.

"And we may take it, I presume, for granted that you have not that sum, nor anything like it, at your disposal?" Sir Richard asked.

"Not a fiver!" Lord Merries declared with emphasis.

"We come now, Mr. Masters, to our friend Colonel Dickinson," Sir Richard continued. "Colonel Dickinson is, perhaps, in a more favourable situation than any of us. He has a small but regular income, and he has expectations which it is not possible to mortgage fully. At the same time, it will be many years before they can - er - fructify. He is, therefore, with us in this somewhat unpleasant predicament in which we find ourselves."

"Cut it short," Masters growled. "I'm sick of so much talk. What's it all mean?"

"It means simply this, Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said, "we want you to take six months' bills for our indebtedness to you."

Masters rose to his feet. His thick lips were drawn a little apart. He had the appearance of a savage and discontented animal.

"So that's why I've been asked here and fed up with wine and stuff, eh?" he exclaimed thickly. "Well, my answer to you is soon given. NO! I'll take bills from no man! My terms are cash on settling day - cash to pay or cash to receive. I'll have no other!"

Sir Richard rose also tohis feet.

"Mr. Masters, I beg of you to be reasonable," he said. "You will do yourself no good by adopting this attitude. Facts are facts. We haven't got a thousand pounds between us."

"I've heard that sort of a tale before," Masters answered, with a sneer. "Job Masters is too old a bird to be caught by such chaff. I'll take my risks, gentlemen. I'll take my risks."

He moved toward the door. No one spoke a word. The silence as he crossed the room seemed a little ominous. He looked over his shoulder. They were all three standing in their places, looking at him. A vague sense of uneasiness disturbed his equanimity.

"No offence, gents," he said, "and good afternoon!"

Still no reply. He reached the door and turned the handle. The door was fast. He shook it - gently at first, and then violently. Suddenly he realized that it was locked. He turned sharply around.

"What game's this?" he exclaimed, fiercely. "Let me out!"

They stood in their places without movement. There was something a little ominous in their silence. Masters was fast becoming a sober man.

"Let me out of here," he exclaimed, "or I'll break the door down!"

Sir Richard Dyson came slowly towards him. There was something in his appearance which terrified Masters. He raised his fist to strike the door. He was a fighting man, but he felt a sudden sense of impotence.

"Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said suavely, "the truth is that we cannot afford to let you go - unless you agree to do what we have asked. You see we really have not the money or any way of raising it - and the inconvenience of being posted you have yourself very ably pointed out. Change your mind, Mr. Masters. Take those bills. We'll do our best to meet them."

"I'll do nothing of the sort," Masters answered, striking the door fiercely with his clenched fist. "I'll have cash - nothing but the cash!"

There was a dull, sickening thud, and the bookmaker went over like a shot rabbit. His legs twitched for a moment - a little moan that was scarcely audible broke from his lips. Then he lay quite still. Sir Richard bent over him with the life preserver still in his hand.

"I've done it!" he muttered, hoarsely. "One blow! Thank Heaven, he didn't want another! His skull was as soft as pudding! Ugh!"

He turned away. The man who lay stretched upon the floor was an ugly sight. His two companions, cowering over the table, were not much better. Dyson's trembling fingers went out for the brandy decanter. Half of what he poured out was spilled upon the tablecloth. The rest he drank from a tumbler, neat.

"It's nervous work, this, you fellows," he said, hoarsely.

"It's hellish!" Dickinson answered. "Let's have some air in the room. By God, it's close!"

He sank back into his chair, white to the lips. Dyson looked at him sharply.

"Look here," he exclaimed, "I hold you both to our bargain! I was to be the one he attacked and who struck the blow - in self-defence! Remember that - it was in self-defence! I've done it! I've done my share! I hope to God I'll forget it some day. Andrew, you know your task. Be a man, and get to work!"

Dickinson rose to his feet unsteadily. "Yes!" he said. "What was it? I have forgotten, for the moment, but I am ready."

"You must get his betting book from his pocket," Sir Richard directed. "Then you must help Merries downstairs with him, and into the car. Merries is - to get rid of him."

Merries shivered. His hand, too, went out for the brandy.

"To get rid of him," he muttered. "It sounds easy!"

"It is easy," Sir Richard declared. "You have only to keep your nerve, and the thing is done. No one will see him inside the car, in that motoring coat and glasses. You can drive somewhere out into the country and leave him."

"Leave him!" Merries repeated, trembling. "Leave him - yes!"

Neither of the two men moved.

"I must do more than my share, I suppose," Sir Richard declared contemptuously. "Come!"

They dragged the man's body on to a chair, wrapped a huge coat around him, tied a motoring cap under his chin, fixed goggles over his eyes. Sir Richard strolled into the hall and opened the front door. He stood there for a moment, looking up and down the street. When he gave the signal they dragged him out, supported between them, across the pavement, into the car. Ugh! His attitude was so natural as to be absolutely ghastly. Merries started the car and sprang into the driver's seat. There were people in the Square now, but the figure reclining in the dark, cushioned interior looked perfectly natural.

"So long, Jimmy," Sir Richard called out. "See you this evening."

"Right O!" Merries replied, with a brave effort.

Peter Ruff, summoned by telephone from his sitting room, slipped down the stairs like a cat - noiseless, swift. The voice which had summoned him had been the voice of his secretary - a voice almost unrecognisable - a voice shaken with fear. Fear? No, it had been terror!

On the landing below, exactly underneath the room from which he had descended, there was a door upon which his name was written upon a small brass plate - Mr. Peter Ruff. He opened and closed it behind him with a swift movement which he had practised in his idle moments. He found himself looking in upon a curious scene.

Miss Brown, with the radiance of her hair effectually concealed, in plain black skirt and simple blouse - the ideal secretary - had risen from the seat in front of her typewriter, and was standing facing the door through which he had entered, with a small revolver - which he had given her for a birthday present only the day before - clasped in her outstretched hand. The object of her solicitude was, it seemed to Peter Ruff, the most pitiful-looking object upon which he had ever looked. The hours had dwelt with Merries as the years with some people, and worse. He had lost his cap; his hair hung over his forehead in wild confusion; his eyes were red, bloodshot, and absolutely aflame with the terrors through which he had lived - underneath them the black marks might have been traced with a charcoal pencil. His cheeks were livid save for one burning spot. His clothes, too, were in disorder - the starch had gone from his collar, his tie hung loosely outside his waistcoat. He was cowering back against the wall. And between him and the girl, stretched upon the floor, was the body of a man in a huge motor coat, a limp, inert mass which neither moved nor seemed to have any sign of life. No wonder that Peter Ruff looked around his office, whose serenity had been so tragically disturbed, with an air of mild surprise.

"Dear me," he exclaimed, "something seems to have happened! My dear Violet, you can put that revolver away. I have secured the door."

Her hand fell to her side. She gave a little shiver of relief. Peter Ruff nodded.

"That is more comfortable," he declared. "Now, perhaps, you will explain - "

"That young man," she interrupted, "or lunatic - whatever he calls himself - burst in here a few minutes ago, dragging - that!" She pointed to the motionless figure upon the floor. "If I had not stopped him, he would have bolted off without a word of explanation."

Peter Ruff, with his back against the door, shook his head gravely.

"My dear Lord Merries," he said, "my office is not a mortuary."

Merries gasped.

"You know me, then?" he muttered, hoarsely.

"Of course," Ruff answered. "It is my profession to know everybody. Go and sit down upon that easy-chair, and drink the brandy and soda which Miss Brown is about to mix for you. That's right."

Merries staggered across the room and half fell into an easy-chair. He leaned over the side with his face buried in his hands, unable still to face the horror which lay upon the floor. A few seconds later, the tumbler of brandy and soda was in his hands. He drank it like a man who drains fresh life into his veins.

"Perhaps now," Peter Ruff suggested, pointing to the motionless figure, "you can give me some explanation as to this!"

Merries looked away from him all the time he was speaking. His voice was thick and nervous.

"There were three of us lunching together," he began - "four in all. There was a dispute, and this man threatened us. Afterwards there was a fight. It fell to my lot to take him away, and I can't get rid of him! I can't get rid of him!" he repeated, with something that sounded like a sob.

"I still do not see," Peter Ruff argued, "why you should have brought him here and deposited him upon my perfectly new carpet."

"You are Peter Ruff," Merries declared. "'Crime Investigator and Private Detective,' you call yourself. You are used to this sort of thing. You will know what to do with it. It is part of your business."

"I can assure you," Peter Ruff answered, "that you are under a delusion as to the details of my profession. I am Peter Ruff," he admitted, "and I call myself a crime investigator - in fact, I am the only one worth speaking of in the world. But I certainly deny that I am used to having dead bodies deposited upon my carpet, and that I make a habit of disposing of them - especially gratis."

Merries tore open his coat.

"Listen," he said, his voice shaking hysterically, "I must get rid of it or go mad. For two hours I have been driving about in a motor car with - it for a passenger. I drove to a quiet spot and I tried to lift it out - a policeman rode up! I tried again, a man rushed by on a motor cycle, and turned to look at me! I tried a few minutes later - the policeman came back! It was always the same. The night seemed to have eyes. I was watched everywhere. The - the face began to mock me. I'll swear that I heard it chuckle once!"

Peter Ruff moved a little further away.

"I don't think I'll have anything to do with it," he declared. "I don't like your description at all."

"It'll be all right with you," Merries declared eagerly. "It's my nerves, that's all. You see, I was there - when the accident happened. See here," he added, tearing a pocketbook from his coat, "I have three hundred and seventy pounds saved up in case I had to bolt. I'll keep seventy - three hundred for you - to dispose of it!"

Ruff leaned over the motionless body, looked into its face, and nodded.

"Masters, the bookmaker," he remarked. "H'm! I did hear that he had a lot of money coming to him over the Cambridgeshire."

Merries shuddered.

"May I go?" he pleaded. "There's the three hundred on the table. For God's sake, let me go!"

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I wish you'd saved a little more," he said. "However - "

He turned the lock and Merries rushed out of the room. Ruff looked across the room towards his secretary.

"Ring up 1535 Central," he ordered, sharply.

Peter Ruff had descended from his apartments on the top floor of the building, in a new brown suit with which he was violently displeased, to meet a caller.

"I am sorry to intrude - Mr. Ruff, I believe it is?" Sir Richard Dyson said, a little irritably - "but I have not a great deal of time to spare - "

"Most natural!" Peter Ruff declared. "Pray take a chair, Sir Richard. You want to know, of course, about Lord Merries and poor Masters."

Sir Richard stared at his questioner, for a moment, without speech. Once more the fear which he had succeeded in banishing for a while, shone in his eyes - revealed itself in his white face.

"Try the easy-chair, Sir Richard," Ruff continued, pleasantly. "Leave your hat and cane on the table there, and make yourself comfortable. I should like to understand exactly what you have come to me for."

Sir Richard moved his head toward Miss Brown.

"My business with you," he said, "is more than ordinarily private. I have the honour of knowing Miss - "

"Miss Brown," Peter interrupted quickly. "In these offices, this young lady's name is Miss Violet Brown."

Sir Richard shrugged his shoulders.

"It is of no importance," he said, "only, as you may understand, my business with you scarcely requires the presence of a third party, even one with the discretion which I am sure Miss - Brown possesses."

"In these matters," Ruff answered, "my secretary does not exist apart from myself. Her presence is necessary. She takes down in shorthand notes of our conversation. I have a shocking memory, and there are always points which I forget. At the conclusion of our business, whatever it may be, these notes are destroyed. I could not work without them, however."

Sir Richard glanced a little doubtfully at the long, slim back of the girl who sat with her face turned away from him. "Of course," he began, "if you make yourself personally responsible for her discretion - "

"I am willing to do so," Ruff interrupted, brusquely. "I guarantee it. Go on, please."

"I do not know, of course, where you got your information from," Sir Richard began, "but it is perfectly true that I have come here to consult you upon a matter in which the two people whose names you have mentioned are concerned. The disappearance of Job Masters is, of course, common talk; but I cannot tell what has led you to associate with it the temporary absence of Lord Merries from this country."

"Let me ask you this question," Ruff said. "How are you affected by the disappearance of Masters?"

"Indirectly, it has caused me a great deal of inconvenience," Sir Richard declared.

"Facts, please," murmured Peter.

"It has been rumoured," Sir Richard admitted, "that I owed Masters a large sum of money which I could not pay."

"Anything else?"

"It has also been rumoured," Sir Richard continued, "that he was seen to enter my house that day, and that he remained there until late in the afternoon."

"Did he?" asked Ruff.

"Certainly not," Sir Richard answered.

Peter Ruff yawned for a moment, but covered the indiscretion with his hand.

"Respecting this inconvenience," he said, "which you admit that the disappearance of Job Masters has caused you, what is its tangible side?"

Sir Richard drew his chair a little nearer to the table where Ruff was sitting. His voice dropped almost to a whisper.

"It seems absurd," he said, "and yet, what I tell you is the truth. I have been followed about - shadowed, in fact - for several days. Men, even in my own social circle, seem to hold aloof from me. It is as though," he continued slowly, "people were beginning to suspect me of being connected in some way with the man's disappearance."

Ruff, who had been making figures with a pencil on the edge of his blotting paper, suddenly turned round. His eyes flashed with a new light as they became fixed upon his companion's.

"And are you not?" he asked, calmly. Sir Richard bore himself well. For a moment he had shrunk back. Then he half rose to his feet.

"Mr. Ruff!" he said. "I must protest - "

"Stop!"

Peter Ruff used no violent gesture. Only his forefinger tapped the desk in front of him. His voice was as smooth as velvet.

"Tell me as much or as little as you please, Sir Richard," he said, "but let that little or that much be the truth! On those terms only I may be able to help you. You do not go to your physician and expect him to prescribe to you while you conceal your symptoms, or to your lawyer for advice and tell him half the truth. I am not asking for your confidence. I simply tell you that you are wasting your time and mine if you choose to withhold it."

Sir Richard was silent. He recognized a new quality in the man - but the truth was an awful thing to tell! He considered - then told.

Ruff briskly asked two questions. "In alluding to your heavy settlement with Masters, you said just now that you could not have paid him - then."

"Quite so," Sir Richard admitted. "That is the rotten part of the whole affair. Four days later a wonderful double came off - one in which we were all interested, and one which not one of us expected. We've drawn a considerable amount already from one or two bookies, and I believe even Masters owes us a bit now."

"Thank you," Ruff said. "I think that I know everything now. My fee is five hundred guineas."

Sir Richard looked at him.

"What?" he exclaimed.

"Five hundred guineas," Ruff repeated.

"For a consultation?" Sir Richard asked.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"More than that," he said. "You are a brave man in your way, Sir Richard Dyson, but you are going about now shivering under a load of fear. It sits like a devil incarnate upon your shoulders. It poisons the air wherever you go. Write your cheque, Sir Richard, and you can leave that little black devil in my wastebasket. You are under my protection. Nothing will happen to you."

Sir Richard sat like a man mesmerised. The little man with the amiable expression and the badly fitting suit was leaning back in his chair, his finger tips pressed together, waiting.

"Nothing will happen!" Sir Richard repeated, incredulously.

"Certainly not. I guarantee you against any inconvenience which might arise to you from this recent unfortunate affair. Isn't that all you want?"

"It's all I want, certainly," Sir Richard declared, "but I must understand a little how you propose to secure my immunity."

Ruff shook his head.

"I have my own methods," he said. "I can help only those who trust me."

Sir Richard drew a cheque book from his pocket. "I don't know why I should believe in you," he said, as he wrote the cheque.

"But you do," Peter Ruff said, smiling. "Fortunately for you, you do!"

It was not so easy to impart a similar confidence into the breast of Colonel Dickinson, with whom Sir Richard dined that night tete-a-tete. Dickinson was inclined to think that Sir Richard ad been "had."

"You've paid a ridiculous fee," he argued, "and all that you have in return is the fellow's promise to see you through. It isn't like you to part with money so easily, Richard. Did he hypnotise you?"

"I don't think so," Sir Richard answered. "I wasn't conscious of it."

"What sort of a fellow is he?" Dickinson asked.

Sir Richard looked reflectively into his glass.

"He's a vulgar sort of little Johnny," he said. "Looks as though he were always dressed in new clothes and couldn't get used to them."

Three men entered the room. Two remained in the background. John Dory came forward towards the table.

"Sir Richard Dyson," he said, gravely, "I have come upon an unpleasant errand."

"Go on," Sir Richard said, fingering something hard inside pocket of his coat.

"I have a warrant for your arrest," Dory continued, "in connection with the disappearance of Job Masters on Saturday, the 10th of November last. I will read the terms of the warrant, if you choose. It is my duty to warn you that anything you may now say can be used in evidence against you. This gentleman, I believe, is Colonel Dickinson?"

"That is my name, sir," Dickinson answered, with unexpected fortitude.

"I regret to say," the detective continued, "that I have also a warrant for your arrest in connection with the same matter."

Sir Richard had hold of the butt end of his revolver then. Like grisly phantoms, the thoughts chased one another through his brain. Should he shoot and end it - pass into black nothingness - escape disgrace, but die like a rat in a corner? His finger was upon the trigger. Then suddenly his heart gave a great leap. He raised his head as though listening. Something flashed in his eyes - something that was almost like hope. There was no mistaking that voice which he had heard in the hall! He made a great rally.

"I can only conclude," he said, turning to the detective, "that you have made some absurd blunder. If you really possess the warrants you speak of, however, Colonel Dickinson and I will accompany you wherever you choose."

Then the door opened and Peter Ruff walked in, followed by Job Masters, whose head was still bandaged, and who seemed to have lost a little flesh and a lot of colour. Peter Ruff looked round apologetically. He seemed surprised not to find Sir Richard Dyson and Colonel Dickinson alone. He seemed more than ever surprised to recognize Dory.

"I trust," he said smoothly, "that our visit is not inopportune. Sir Richard Dyson, I believe?" he continued, bowing - "my friend, Mr. Masters here, has consulted me as to the loss of a betting book, and we ventured to call to ask you, sir, if by any chance on his recent visit to your house - "

"God in Heaven, it's Masters!" Dyson exclaimed. "It's Job Masters!"

"That's me, sir," Masters admitted. "Mr. Ruff thought you might be able to help me find that book."

Sir Richard swayed upon his feet. Then the blood rushed once more through his veins.

"Your book's here in my cabinet, safe enough," he said. "You left it here after our luncheon that day. Where on earth have you been to, man?" he continued. "We want some money from you over Myopia."

"I'll pay all right, sir," Masters answered. "Fact is, after our luncheon party I'm afraid I got a bit fuddled. I don't seem to remember much."

He sat down a little heavily. Peter Ruff hastened to the table and took up a glass.

"You will excuse me if I give him a little brandy, won't you, sir?" he said. "He's really not quite fit for getting about yet, but he was worrying about his book."

"Give him all the brandy he can drink," Sir Richard answered.

The detective's face had been a study. He knew Masters well enough by sight - there was no doubt about his identity! His teeth came together with an angry little click. He had made a mistake! It was a thing which would be remembered against him forever! It was as bad as his failure to arrest that young man at Daisy Villa.

"Your visit, Masters," Sir Richard said, with a curious smile at the corners of his lips, "is, in some respects, a little opportune. About that little matter we were speaking of," he continued, turning towards the detective.

"We have only to offer you our apologies, Sir Richard," Dory answered.

Then he crossed the room and confronted Peter Ruff.

"Do I understand, sir, that your name is Ruff - Peter Ruff?" he asked.

"That is my name, sir," Peter Ruff admitted, pleasantly "Yours I believe, is Dory. We are likely to come across one another now and then, I suppose. Glad to know you."

The detective stood quite still, and there was no geniality in his face.

"I wonder - have we ever met before?" he asked, without removing his eyes from the other's face. Peter Ruff smiled.

"Not professionally, at any rate," he answered. "I know that Scotland Yard you don't think much of us small fry, but we find out things sometimes!"

"Why didn't you contradict all those rumours as to his disappearance?" the detective asked, pointing to where Job Masters was contentedly sipping his brandy and water.

"I was acting for my client, and in my own interests," replied Peter. "It was surely no part of my duty to save you gentlemen at Scotland Yard from hunting up mare's nests!"

John Dory went out, followed by his men. Sir Richard took Peter Ruff by the arm, and, leading him to the sideboard, mixed him a drink.

"Peter Ruff," he said, "you're a clever scoundrel, but you've earned your five hundred guineas. Hang it, you're welcome to them! Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Peter Ruff raised his glass and set it down again. Once more he eyed with admiration his client's well-turned out figure.

"You might give me a letter to your tailors, Sir Richard," he begged.

Sir Richard laughed outright - it was some time since he had laughed!

"You shall have it, Peter Ruff," he declared, raising his glass - "and here's to you!"