Chapter XXI
 

It seemed to Lydia that she had been abroad for years, though in reality she had been three days in Cap Martin, when Mr. Marcus Stepney became a regular caller.

Even the most objectionable people improve on acquaintance, and give the lie to first impressions.

Mr. Stepney never bored her. He had an inexhaustible store of anecdotes and reminiscences, none of which was in the slightest degree offensive. He was something of a sportsman, too, and he called by arrangement the next morning, after his introduction to the Cap Martin household, and conducting her to a sheltered cove, containing two bathing huts, he introduced her to the exhilarating Mediterranean.

Sea bathing is not permitted in Monte Carlo until May, and the water was much colder than Lydia had expected. They swam out to a floating platform when Mr. Briggerland and Jean put in an appearance. Jean had come straight from the house in her bathing-gown, over which she wore a light wrap. Lydia watched her with amazement, for the girl was an expert swimmer. She could dive from almost any height and could remain under water an alarming time.

"I never thought you had so much energy and strength in your little body," said Lydia, as Jean, with a shriek of enjoyment, drew herself on the raft and wiped the water from her eyes.

"There's a man up there looking at us through glasses," said Briggerland suddenly. "I saw the flash of the sun on them."

He pointed to the rising ground beyond the seashore, but they could see nothing.

Presently there was a glitter of light amongst the green, and Lydia pointed.

"I thought that sort of thing was never done except in comic newspapers," she said, but Jean did not smile. Her eyes were focused on the point where the unseen observer lay or sat, and she shaded her eyes.

"Some visitor from Monte Carlo, I expect. People at Cap Martin are much too respectable to do anything so vulgar."

Mr. Briggerland, at a glance from his daughter, slipped into the water, and with strong heavy strokes, made his way to the shore.

"Father is going to investigate," said Jean, "and the water really is the warmest place," and with that she fell sideways into the blue sea like a seal, dived down into its depths, and presently Lydia saw her walking along the white floor of the ocean, her little hands keeping up an almost imperceptible motion. Presently she shot up again, shook her head and looked round, only to dive again.

In the meantime, though Lydia, who was fascinated by the manoeuvre of the girl, did not notice the fact, Mr. Briggerland had reached the shore, pulled on a pair of rubber shoes, and with his mackintosh buttoned over his bathing dress, had begun to climb through the underbrush towards the spot where the glasses had glistened. When Lydia looked up he had disappeared.

"Where is your father?" she asked the girl.

"He went into the bushes." Mr. Stepney volunteered the information. "I suppose he's looking for the Paul Pry."

Mr. Stepney had been unusually glum and silent, for he was piqued by the tactless appearance of the Briggerlands.

"Come into the water, Marcus," said Jean peremptorily, as she put her foot against the edge of the raft, and pushed herself backward, "I want to see Mrs. Meredith dive."

"Me?" said Lydia in surprise. "Good heavens, no! After watching you I don't intend making an exhibition of myself."

"I want to show you the proper way to dive," said Jean. "Stand up on the edge of the raft."

Lydia obeyed.

"Straight up," said Jean. "Now put both your arms out wide. Now----"

There was a sharp crack from the shore; something whistled past Lydia's head, struck an upright post, splintering the edge, and with a whine went ricochetting into the sea.

Lydia's face went white.

"What--what was that?" she gasped. She had hardly spoken before there was another shot. This time the bullet must have gone very high, and immediately afterwards came a yell of pain from the shore.

Jean did not wait. She struck out for the beach, swimming furiously. It was not the shot, but the cry which had alarmed her, and without waiting to put on coat or sandals, she ran up the little road where her father had gone, following the path through the undergrowth. Presently she came to a grassy plot, in the centre of which two tall pines grew side by side, and lying against one of the trees was the huddled figure of Briggerland. She turned him over. He was breathing heavily and was unconscious. An ugly wound gaped at the back of his head, and his mackintosh and bathing dress were smothered with blood.

She looked round quickly for his assailant, but there was nobody in sight, and nothing to indicate the presence of a third person but two shining brass cartridges which lay on the grass.