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Chapter Fourteen

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« on: September 04, 2023, 07:05:37 am »

DURING the long drive south Veight reviewed the situation from every angle, for, though he had denied it to Gregoroff, he realised that the whole thing was pretty thin. True it was the best that could have been done under the circumstances, but he saw only too clearly the dangers of the position if the bodies were found before he was out of the country.

Meredith was known to the police, and through him the line would lead direct to Belfage. And with the ex-doctor in his present condition of nerves that might mean anything. He would certainly blurt out that Veight had been up to Scotland with the caravan, and that would mean a searching interrogation by the police.

Why had Meredith gone into the wood with a jack in his hand? Why, if he and Cortez had quarrelled, had they not done so by the roadside? What had they quarrelled about? And finally, what had been the object of the whole journey? Why go up to the Highlands and return the next day?

To the first three questions the answer was simple: since the tragedy had taken place after the car had gone, he could plead complete ignorance. Why had the car gone on, leaving two of its occupants stranded by the roadside? That was a bit of a poser. Because he, the driver, was the only one in the car. The others had all been in the caravan, and he had driven off believing they were inside again. When later he found they were not, he had gone too far to turn back, and assumed they would come on by train. That held water, and Gregoroff would come in there. He had thought they were in the car, and so he had said nothing.

So far, so good; it was to the last question that, try as he would, he could not evolve a satisfactory answer. To pretend that an ex-convict, a dope peddler and two men like Gregoroff and himself had gone to Scotland in a caravan for fun or to see the view was too farcical for words. In addition to that there was MacPherson to take into account. The fact that his own part in the performance was not at all creditable might not be enough to prevent him speaking if he found out who the dead men were---which he certainly would, since their names were bound to appear in the papers. That risk, however, being outside Veight's control, would have to be ignored. But what was he personally to say to account for the trip? And the more he thought it over, the more did he come to the conclusion that a half-truth was the only possible solution. They had heard of the Graham Caldwell aeroplane, and they had gone up to see it. Unfortunately they found the inventor had left for England; and even more unfortunately the machine had accidentally caught fire while they were there.

Yes, reflected Veight, that was the only solution, if he was interrogated. If! The whole crux lay in that word. With any luck, as he had said to Gregoroff, the bodies would not be found for at any rate two or three days. And by that time he would be well away, even if it entailed forfeiting the secret of the gas.

Like most men who live by their wits, Veight was an optimist, and as the day wore on his spirits rose. Possibly the Cortez episode was the best thing that could have happened. He had realised all along that fooling them at the last moment was going to prove difficult, and now all need for that had disappeared. Belfage and old Hoskins would be child's play, but Meredith had had a nasty suspicious mind. And so, by the time he turned the car in over the drawbridge, Emil Veight's equanimity was fully restored. His story was cut and dried; Gregoroff was word perfect, and he felt that the first instalment of Kalinsky's money was already as good as in his pocket.

There was no one in the hall when he and Gregoroff carried the airman and his mechanic in, and the house seemed very silent. But as they laid them down on the floor Hoskins appeared from his study brandishing a paper.

"It is you, is it?" he said. "I thought it might be Belfage. The formula, my friends: the formula of that devil Waldron's gas."

"Excellent," cried Veight. "And here are Graham Caldwell and his mechanic, to say nothing of the plans of the machine."

"A great day, gentlemen: a triumph for the club. But tell me---where are Meredith and Cortez?"

Veight laughed.

"A most absurd thing has happened, Mr. Hoskins. We all got out this morning just after it was light, and when we drove off again we left them behind by mistake. I thought they were in the caravan with Gregoroff, and he thought they were in the car with me. They will doubtless come along by train."

"Dear me!" said Hoskins, "how very unfortunate. But what have you been doing to your face, Mr. Gregoroff?"

"I fell down on the moor up there and hit it on a rock," answered the Russian.

"Quite a chapter of accidents," cried the old man. "I wish the doctor would return. I want him to see this formula, so as to be quite sure there is no mistake. Then by to-night's post, my dear friends, it shall go to every government."

"Just so," said Veight quietly, and his eyes met Gregoroff's. "Just so, Mr. Hoskins. Where is the doctor?"

"He went over to his own house after lunch. Something to do with the insurance people and Hartley Court. But he should be back at any moment now."

"Might I see the formula?" asked Veight casually.

"Of course. Here it is. Waldron only recovered sufficiently a short time ago to write it. And even then I had to threaten him with more of the drug. Do you know anything of chemistry?"

"I fear not," said Veight, glancing at the formula he held in his hand. "Have you taken any copies of it yet, Mr. Hoskins?"

"No; I was waiting for the doctor to make certain that devil has not deceived me."

"He is still below in the dungeon?"

"Yes. And he remains there till the letters are dispatched."

"And Captain Lovelace and Miss Venables?"

"Upstairs in their rooms."

Once again Veight glanced at Gregoroff, who gave the faintest of nods. And the next moment they closed in on the old man, who gave one frightened little squeal like a snared rabbit and then subsided limply, and his eyes roved from one to the other in terrified bewilderment as they forced him into a chair.

"What are you doing to me?" he wailed.

"Now listen, Mr. Hoskins," said Veight quietly. "And pay very close attention to what I am going to say. We shall not do you any harm provided you do not give us any trouble. But knowing your strange outlook on life we shall have to take certain precautions. Gregoroff and I want this formula, which you have been kind enough to give us, and so we propose to keep it."

"But aren't you going to send it to all the governments?" cried Hoskins incredulously.

Veight roared with laughter.

"We are not, my dear sir. Ah! would you, you old devil?"

For with a furious shout of rage Hoskins had sprung out of the chair and had hurled himself at the German. His eyes blazed with fanatical fury; his hands clawed at Veight's pocket, and his frenzied shrieks of "Traitor!" rang through the house. And it was not until Gregoroff joined in, and hit the old man on the point of the jaw, that he finally sank back in the chair mouthing incoherently.

"You mustn't do that sort of thing, Mr. Hoskins," said Veight quietly, "or you may get hurt."

"You devil! You devil!" muttered the other. "Are you going to sell that formula to one of the Powers?"

"Such, roughly, is our intention, my dear sir," said Veight with an amused smile. "You don't really imagine, do you, that we should have wasted our time in this depressing hole for nothing?"

"Never, while I live," cried the old man. "I will get the police . . . I will tell them . . ."

"I rather feared that you might try something of that description," said Veight calmly. "But I confess I did not imagine you would be quite so uncontrolled. So we shall have to take steps accordingly. You're a stupid old gentleman, you know; very stupid. Where shall we put him, Paul?"

"Down in the dungeon with Waldron," said the Russian. "And we'll have to gag him."

"What about the other two?"

"Put 'em down there too. I want to discuss that part of the show with you."

"All right," said Veight briefly. "I think I know what you're going to say, but we'll talk it over."

They deftly bound and gagged the old man in the chair where he sat, then they lifted him up and carried him down the stone steps to the dungeon below.

"Someone to keep you company, Waldron," said Veight amiably. "He tells me that you have at last seen reason."

The engineer officer glared at them in amazement.

"What have you got the old swine tied up for?" he asked at length. His voice was still weak, but the cessation of the diabolical drug was already beginning to have its effect.

"A little difference of opinion, my dear fellow," answered Veight. "We have slightly divergent views on what to do with your formula. By the way," he continued, taking the paper from his pocket, "I most earnestly hope for your own sake that you haven't been trying any funny stuff. This is the correct formula?"

"Go and try it for yourself," said Waldron indifferently. "Are you going to set me free?"

"All in good time," cried Veight. "You look so attractive where you are. But I think I can promise you that in the course of a few days, at any rate, your troubles will be over."

"But that devil Hoskins swore he'd let me go at once," shouted the soldier angrily.

"Quite, quite," said Veight. "But, as you can see for yourself, our friend and host is no longer in charge of the situation."

"Where are the rest of your foul brood?"

"Getting along nicely, thank you. And now, Waldron, I have something to say to you. I am going to have this formula of yours examined by a qualified chemist. If he tells me that it is what you say it is---well and good. You will be free to go, and you can have a grand time getting your own back on that damned old bore over there. But if I find you've been playing the fool, you'll pray for marijuana once again instead of what I'll give you."

Waldron yawned.

"I wish you'd go and play elsewhere," he said. "I'm infernally sleepy."

"So," continued Veight, "I would strongly advise you, if you have been so stupid as to write this down incorrectly, to rectify it now."

"Do go away," said Waldron irritably. "I've told you to try it for yourself. I can't say more than that."

Veight turned away, and beckoning to Gregoroff, they went back to the hall.

"We'll have to chance it," he remarked. "It might take days to have this thing properly tried out."

"Precisely," said the Russian. "And we aren't going to wait for days. Nor hours. We're going to clear at once. Leave those two where they are for the time and come in here. I want a drink. But we've got to get this straight."

"You mean you want to quit without . . ."

The German paused significantly.

"I do," said Gregoroff doggedly. "I know what we arranged, and I was prepared to risk it if Waldron was still sticking out. But now that you've got the gas and the aeroplane plans, I tell you it's madness to stay one moment longer than is necessary."

"But it means dropping twenty-five thousand pounds," cried Veight. "You're a fool, Gregoroff."

"I'm a damned wise man. It's you who were the blasted fool---killing Cortez. Look here, Veight, there's no good our quarrelling. What's done is done, and you know that the only reason why I regret the death of those two rats is that it's made it dangerous for us."

"Dangerous," sneered Veight. "Since when has our trade been anything but dangerous? If you think I'm going to lose twenty-five thousand pounds you're damn well mistaken. The instant Belfage . . ."

"Belfage!" shouted Gregoroff. "The drunken little sweep! We'll probably never see him again."

"The instant Belfage," continued Veight imperturbably, "has given those three adrenalin we go, and not before. There's a machine waiting for us; we've got nothing to do except motor to the aerodrome and get in."

"And how long do you suggest we should wait for Belfage?" demanded Gregoroff.

"You heard what Hoskins said; he'll be back at any moment. Then we'll make him drunk, which won't be difficult, and voilŗ tout."

"It's risky," grumbled the Russian. "But I suppose we'll have to chance it."

"It's worth while chancing something for twenty-five thousand apiece," remarked Veight calmly.

"That's true," admitted Gregoroff grudgingly. "But I confess I'd feel a great deal easier in my mind if you hadn't hit Cortez quite so hard."

He was staring out of the window, and his eyes narrowed suddenly.

"Who the devil is this crossing the drawbridge?" he cried.

Veight joined him, and gave a prolonged whistle of astonishment.

"It's Kalinsky himself. Now, what in the name of all that is marvellous has brought him down? You stay here; I'll deal with him."

He hurried into the hall, and got to the front door just as the limousine pulled up outside.

"This is a most unexpected pleasure, m'sieur," he said.

"Unexpected!" snapped the financier, who was obviously not in the best of tempers. "What do you mean by unexpected? After the urgent message you sent me I had no alternative but to come, though it was exceedingly inconvenient."

He entered the house and Veight closed the door in a complete daze.

"Urgent message, m'sieur? I haven't sent you any urgent message."

"Then who was that stammering fool who forced himself on me this morning in my hotel? Belfage he called himself; the doctor you told me about. Said he came from you, and that it was of vital importance I should come here this afternoon."

Veight gave a sigh of relief. The thing was now comprehensible, though why Belfage should have done it was beyond him. And then came a sudden stabbing doubt. How did Belfage know anything about Kalinsky?

"Confound it, Veight, have you lost the use of your tongue?" Kalinsky's angry voice broke in on his thoughts. "Twice have I asked you who these two men are lying about in the hall."

"I beg your pardon, m'sieur." With an effort he pulled himself together. Whatever had caused Belfage's action, it could wait. At the moment the vital thing was not to let Kalinsky even have an inkling that anything could be amiss.

"To tell you the truth," he continued, "I have had so little sleep during the past forty-eight hours that I hardly know what I'm doing. Those two men are Graham Caldwell and his mechanic."

"What's the matter with them?"

"Doped with morphia. We brought them down from Scotland in that caravan you saw outside."

"And the plans of the machine?"

"Here in my pocket."

He handed them to the millionaire, who glanced at them and then threw them on the table.

"They convey nothing to me," he said. "You are sure those are the correct ones?"

"Absolutely certain, m'sieur. They were in the safe in Caldwell's office, and the man who had actually done some of the drawing himself gave them to me."

"Did you see the machine?"

"It was dark when we arrived, m'sieur," explained Veight, "and so it was impossible to inspect it closely. We burned it."

"Then you didn't see it in flight?"

"No, we did not. But the member of the Key Club whom you may remember I told you about, and who was responsible for our information in the first place, confirmed the fact that its performance is simply amazing."

The financier lit a cigarette.

"Well, Veight," he said more cordially, "so far you seem to have done well. I may say that I myself through a roundabout source heard only yesterday that this machine is a marvel. I also heard that, so far as my informant knew, no plans, save these, were in existence. And so I say again that I consider you one to be congratulated."

"Thank you, m'sieur." Veight bowed. "Things have gone very well. Because I have here the other thing I promised you---the formula of the gas."

With a triumphant flourish he produced the paper from his pocket.

"This again conveys nothing to me," said Kalinsky. "Have you any proof that it is correct?"

"Frankly, m'sieur---I have no proof. I am not a chemist myself. But the English officer Waldron is below in the dungeon, and he realises that if it is not correct it will be even more unpleasant for him in the future than it has been in the past. You would perhaps like to see for yourself?"

"Later---possibly. At present I am rather more interested in the future of the two gentlemen I see upon the floor."

"That, m'sieur, you may safely leave in my hands," said Veight. "And I think it would be better for you not to know any more about it. I have thought out a scheme, which I flatter myself is not lacking in ingenuity, and which is certain to result in Belfage being hanged for the murder of these two and Waldron below."

"And what are your immediate plans?"

"To leave England at the first possible opportunity," answered Veight. "After which I shall report to you in Paris for the balance due."

"You shall have it," said Kalinsky.

He took out a bulky pocket-book, and Veight's eyes glistened.

"You have done well, Herr Veight," he continued. "And though for the life of me I can't see quite what was the need for dragging me down here, I am glad I came and saw with my own eyes. Here are ten thousand in notes as we arranged, and the balance of forty will be handed to you in Paris when---er---the remaining conditions have been complied with."

Veight took the notes and bowed.

"Thank you, m'sieur. I can assure you they will be."

Now that the first instalment was actually in his pocket he was itching for Kalinsky to go. Unfortunately, however, the financier showed no signs of so doing; he was inspecting his surroundings with obvious interest.

"Extraordinary," he said at length. "Most interesting. By the way, where is the madman you told me about who owns this house?"

"Keeping Waldron company in the dungeon," answered Veight. "He became quite annoyed when he realised the formula for the gas was not going to be used as he intended."

"Of course; I remember. These strange people send things to everybody, don't they? I should very much like to see the dungeon, Veight."

Concealing his impatience with an effort, the German led the way.

"Be careful of the steps, m'sieur. They are rather dark."

"Good gracious me!" said Kalinsky, staring about him. "It is unbelievable. And is this the wicked old man who tortured the gallant young inventor?"

Veight swore under his breath; the great man had evidently quite recovered his temper and was pleased to be facetious. Pray Heaven he would be quick about it.

"That is the gentleman," he answered, forcing a laugh.

"Well, well," said Kalinsky genially, "it takes all sorts to make a world, doesn't it? But what a bloodthirsty old ruffian you must be!"

He lit another cigarette and turned away.

"Well---I think that is quite enough, Veight. I do not find the atmosphere of this apartment very much to my liking. I think I will now return to London."

Veight heaved a sigh of relief; then grew suddenly tense as he heard the sound of hurried footsteps in the hall above.

"Veight!" came a hoarse shout. "Veight---where are you?"

The German stood very still: it was Belfage's voice.

"I'm below in the dungeon," he answered. "What do you want?"

"Who is that?" cried Kalinsky quickly.

"Doctor Belfage, m'sieur," said Veight, as the doctor, white and sweating, clattered down the stairs, to pause for a moment as he saw Kalinsky.

"Belfage?" snapped the millionaire. "That is not the man I saw this morning. What the devil is the meaning of all this?"

Icy fear was clutching at Veight's heart. He knew now that something had gone wrong, but he forced himself to speak calmly.

"It is quite all right, m'sieur," he said. "Some small misunderstanding."

Already his quick brain was working: at any rate he had ten thousand in his pocket. And then he realised Belfage was pouring out some confused jumble of words.

"Skeletons!" roared Kalinsky, now beside himself with rage. "What in God's name is this madman talking about?"

"Pull yourself together, you drunken swine," snarled Veight, shaking Belfage like a rat. "What's the matter with you?"

"The skeletons, Veight. The skeletons at Hartley Court. Two of them were females."

The German's hands dropped to his sides.

"Females!" he muttered foolishly. "Females! What do you mean, females?"

And from behind him Waldron began to laugh. And the laughter grew till it swelled to a mighty chorus. From all round him, from above him were unseen people laughing---just laughing.

"Ein wŁnderschoner Abend, Herr Veight."

"Pardon! 'Ad tripe for me supper. Comes back on one like, don't it."

God above! The bleary-eyed youth at his hotel in London. And still that laughter went on rising and falling, until, as if it was a drill, it stopped abruptly. And the silence was more terrifying than the noise.

He could hear the heavy thumping of his heart; dazedly, sickly, he realised that everything had miscarried. But how? How? Beside him Kalinsky, now thoroughly frightened, was clutching his arm convulsively; Belfage in a state of collapse had sunk down on the steps. And then came a well-remembered voice from above.

"So we meet again, Herr Veight. Kindly come up into the hall."

Like a man in a dream the German obeyed Drummond's order. All power of connected thought had temporarily left him: the sudden shattering of all his plans had numbed his brain. He realised subconsciously that the hall was full of men. He saw Standish, and Darrell, and Gregson and a dozen others he did not know; he saw Lovelace and Doris Venables standing at the foot of the stairs; he saw as a man sees the background of a picture in relation to the central figure. And that central figure was the man standing opposite him on whose face was no trace of mercy.

Suddenly Kalinsky gave a cry, and pointed to one of the group.

"There's the man who came to me this morning and said he was Belfage."

No one answered; no one spoke, and then Veight heard a voice. It was his own.

"How . . . did . . . you . . . escape?"

He was still staring, hypnotised, at Drummond.

"The court will now commence," was the only answer. "Bring forward the other prisoner."

He pointed to Gregoroff, whose nerve had completely gone.

"You fool!" he screamed at Veight. "I told you we should have got away at once."

"You've never had a chance, Gregoroff," said Drummond. "For the past three days you have never been out of our sight."

"How . . . did . . . you . . . escape?"

Once more Veight's parched lips mouthed the sentence.

"Sufficient for you, Veight, that we did."

"A truce to this play-acting," snarled Kalinsky, who had recovered himself. "Do you know who I am, sir?"

"I have that misfortune," said Drummond dispassionately. "And anything that you may care to say in mitigation of your conduct will be carefully considered."

"Mitigation! Conduct!" shouted the millionaire. "This, sir, is an outrage."

"It is," agreed Drummond pleasantly. "And a far worse one will shortly be perpetrated upon you. But before that takes place we will converse awhile, Kalinsky."

White with passion, the millionaire strode to the front door. It was locked and the key was not there.

"Open this door, sir." He was stammering with rage. "Open this door at once. I insist."

"Mr. Kalinsky insists. What an epoch-making moment! Ten thousand pounds is the sum, I think, you have just paid Veight for the documents in your pocket."

Very slowly the millionaire came back: the seriousness of the situation had come home to him. This ring of silent men meant business, and Kalinsky's soul grew sick within him. But his voice was steady when he spoke.

"Who are you, may I ask?"

"That is quite immaterial," said Drummond. "Shall we say that, at the moment, I represent justice? Perhaps a little rough and ready; nevertheless justice. What are the documents for which you have just paid Veight ten thousand pounds?"

"That is my concern," answered Kalinsky.

"Assuredly. Give me those notes, Veight."

Completely cowed, the German handed them over.

"Ten thousand pounds!" Drummond balanced the packet in his hand. "A lot of money, Kalinsky: they must be very valuable."

"They are worth it to me," said the millionaire in an off-hand tone.

And once again a chorus of laughter rose, fell and died away.

"I am delighted to hear it," said Drummond gravely. "True we all have different standards of value; but it is most impressive to realise yours. Have you by any chance made Mr. Graham Caldwell's acquaintance?"

Instinctively Kalinsky looked at the two men who still sprawled unconscious on the floor.

"No, no; the real Graham Caldwell," continued Drummond. "Those two were wished on Veight in Scotland. They belong, I believe, to the local branch of the Key Club. Here he is."

A freckle-faced young man with a cheerful grin stepped forward.

"What are the plans Mr. Kalinsky has got?" asked Drummond.

"Bits of a Puss Moth and an old Bristol fighter," said Caldwell. "But even then there's a lot missing. A wheelbarrow would fly better."

"I wonder," remarked Drummond pensively, "if any government really wants a flying wheelbarrow. You can but try, Kalinsky. And you've always got the gas, haven't you? I hope that's all right for him, Waldron."

"Grand," said the sapper. "I wrote it down in a hurry, but the final process should undoubtedly produce a form of cheese mould."

"Think of it, Kalinsky," cried Drummond enthusiastically. "A wheelbarrow with wings, and a spot of gorgonzola. They'll put up a statue to you."

Kalinsky turned on Veight in a cold fury.

"So you've double-crossed me, you rat. Hand me back that money."

"You forget he hasn't got it," said Drummond, still balancing the notes in his hand. "And it is really we who have done the crossing---not Veight. So we shall be pleased to keep these for our trouble."

"I see," said Kalinsky with a sneer. "Plain theft."

"Oh, no! A little present from Veight. And so that there shall be no misunderstanding, Kalinsky, an anonymous present of ten thousand pounds will be made to-morrow to the disabled soldiers and sailors fund."

His eyes bored into the millionaire.

"You may, if you like, make trouble. I don't somehow think you will. If your part in this affair comes out, your name will stink in the nostrils of the world. And there is a certain poetic justice, isn't there, in this money going to men who fought, in view of what it was really intended for? War: another war. More millions in your pocket; more millions mutilated or in their graves."

"I don't know what you're talking about," muttered Kalinsky.

"Tidying up, sare," quoted Drummond. "Having found out Veight was coming to see you, I came first. And as Henri is an old friend of mine, I had no difficulty in persuading him to let me act as floor waiter. He thought I was doing it for a bet."

"Confound your impertinence," snarled Kalinsky. "My part in the whole affair was perfectly legitimate. I promised this damned fool Veight money for certain things. What I proposed to do with them is entirely my own affair. He has failed to get them, and that is the end of the matter so far as I am concerned."

"That, I fear, is where we must agree to differ," said Drummond gravely. "I heard most of your conversation with Sir James Portrush; I heard your delightful bargain with Veight. And neither I nor my friends think you at all funny. In fact we think you a profound bore, Kalinsky, a very tedious person. Which must be rectified. If you can't make people laugh by fair means, you shall make them laugh by foul. Bring that rope, Peter."

"What are you going to do with me?" cried the now terrified millionaire.

"You'll see," said Drummond as Darrell and Standish passed the rope under Kalinsky's arms. "And I would advise you to keep your mouth shut for the next few minutes. In with him, boys."

Gibbering with fright, Kalinsky disappeared through the window, and a loud splash proclaimed his destination. Three times was he hauled up; three times was he dropped back. Then he reappeared, and again the chorus of laughter was heard.

Dripping wet, with duckweed in his hair, the millionaire stood there emitting a powerful odour of stagnant slime, and almost crying with rage and mortification.

"Very funny; very funny indeed," cried Drummond approvingly. "I told you you could make people laugh if you tried. But it would be selfish on our part to keep you all to ourselves. Good-bye, Kalinsky; they'll be tickled to death at the Ritz-Carlton. Run him out, Peter; the swine is an outrage and an offence against God and man. Here's the key."

The front door closed behind him, and silence settled on the room, which was broken at length by Drummond.

"And that brings us to the lesser fry," he said quietly. "Veight; Gregoroff; even the egregious Doctor Belfage I see. But where are Meredith and Cortez? The party does not seem to be complete. And you were all so matey in Scotland, weren't you?"

"I believe you're the devil himself," muttered the German sullenly. "Were you up there too?"

"Of course. As I told your Russian friend, you haven't been out of my sight. By the way, Gregoroff, have you met any more elementals with croquet mallets?"

"It was you, was it?"

"It was. A ripe and fruity blow, I flatter myself. But, I think, if anything, it has improved your appearance."

"How the devil did you get out of that room?" said Gregoroff with a scowl.

"I don't think you have actually met Mr. Seymour, have you? You did your best to shoot him on his motor-bicycle, but that hardly constitutes a formal introduction. A rising journalist, Gregoroff, and a lad of sunny disposition as you can see. Moreover, it is entirely due to him that you are in your present unsatisfactory position."

The Russian's scowl deepened as he looked at the young reporter.

"With becoming modesty he maintains that it was a sheer fluke. I, on the other hand, consider it was an extremely quick piece of work for which he deserves the greatest credit. I had arranged to meet him the day after you so kindly locked us up, and somewhat naturally I failed to keep my appointment. He waited and waited, and under the inspiration of a ginger ale he fell into conversation with that lovely girl who dispenses gin in the bar. They talked of this and that, and after a while she mentioned the jolly little party overnight when we had met Doctor Belfage. She also mentioned Hartley Court. So Seymour decided it could do no harm to call there. I trust I interest you."

"Go on," muttered Gregoroff.

"Naturally he found the house empty. But the sight of an unlatched window downstairs was too much for him and he entered. It was all very still and silent, but as he stood on the kitchen stairs wondering whether to explore there came from close by his head a little click. He looked up: it was the electric-light meter, and subconsciously he noted the reading. Then he went all over the house and found nothing. It took some time, and at last he decided to go. And then occurred, Gregoroff, one of those little things which sometimes alter the fate of nations. As he passed the meter he happened to glance at it again: the reading was different. Somewhere in the house current was being consumed. Where?"

"You cursed fool, Gregoroff!" cried Veight. "It was you who insisted on leaving the light on."

"Come, come," said Drummond. "Mutual, I think. But with unerring accuracy, Veight, you have spotted what you gave away. To make certain, Seymour continued to watch the meter until it changed, again; then, being a determined young man, he once more went over the house. And this time, by taking a few rough measurements, he realised there was an inner room, the existence of which he had not suspected before. The rest was easy. He tapped: he heard a faint answer. And four hours later a nice gentleman with a blowpipe affair had cut through the door. That is how we got out, Gregoroff, and had you and Veight met us then we should assuredly have killed you both. We were not amused."

Drummond lit a cigarette.

"But saner counsels prevailed. Mr. Standish had already solved the real message which was flung through my window by Captain Lovelace. But you haven't seen that one, have you? How stupid of me. There have been so many flying round, haven't there? It was in code too--'Mary Jane. Urgent. G G Font.'"

Sullenly the two foreigners stared at him.

"In code," Drummond continued quietly, "to minimise the chance, if you found it, of your moving poor Waldron elsewhere. Mary Jane, with Cortez introducing the Mexican atmosphere, gave us Marijuana: G G--Horse: Pont--bridge, in French. Not a very clever code, as I am sure Captain Lovelace would be the first to admit, but men who are half murdered, Veight, are not very clever."

"He shouldn't have tried to escape," muttered the German.

"Shouldn't have tried to escape, you rat!" roared Drummond. "A British officer from a damned foreign spy! Don't scowl at me, blast you, or I'll give you a taste of Gregoroff's medicine. To resume, however," he continued. "Fearing you might return to Hartley Court and find the birds had flown, we decided to burn the house down. It was a pity that two of the skeletons we obtained with great difficulty were those of the fair sex, but they served their purpose."

"What purpose?" said Veight angrily. "Why didn't you strike then instead of waiting?"

"For two good reasons," answered Drummond. "First and foremost in order to touch that blackguard Kalinsky for ten thousand pounds. Secondly---but I presume you have never read the immortal 'Stalky'---we wanted to jape with you. And you can't imagine the amount of fun you've given us."

"And what do you propose to do with us now?" asked the German. "Put us in the lake too?"

"No, Veight: you have a more important role to play which you will discover in due course. Doctor Belfage as well, and the incredible old gentleman downstairs. I would have liked Meredith and Cortez. . . . By the way, have you any idea where they are?"

"I have not, and for a very good reason," said Veight quietly. With the realisation that the situation was desperate, his self-control had come back. "Since you appear to know everything, it is quite refreshing to find that you do not. Just after it was light this morning we all got out to stretch our legs, and when we started off again I thought they were in the caravan, and Gregoroff thought they were in the car. So between us we left them behind."

"What an annoying contretemps!" cried Drummond. "If only I'd known that, it would have quite allayed my childish fears. But when I saw you and Gregoroff emerging from that wood this morning----"

"You saw us!" Veight almost screamed.

"I was in the scarlet monoplane," explained Drummond patiently. "The Graham Caldwell machine. You didn't burn it, you know: when we gathered your intentions an ancient glider was put inside the shed. To resume, however. When I saw you coming out of the wood, and there was no sign of the other two, I was filled with unworthy suspicions. So we landed a little later, and I communicated those suspicions to the police."

Veight swallowed twice, and his knuckles gleamed white on the back of the chair he was gripping.

"What a waste of time!" He forced himself to speak calmly. "They should be here at any moment now."

"I fear not," said Drummond sadly. "Veight, you must prepare yourself for a shock. The dead bodies of your poor friends were found in the wood."

The German had again recovered his self-control: his start of amazement was admirable.

"Gott in Himmel!" he cried. "Dead! But how?"

"Clutched in Meredith's hand was a motor jack; in that of Cortez a revolver. Meredith was shot through the heart; Cortez had his skull broken."

"They were quarrelling when we all got out of the car, Gregoroff, if you remember," said Veight thoughtfully.

"That is so," assented the Russian.

"And did you leave them there quarrelling: one armed with a jack and the other with a gun?" asked Drummond politely.

"I have already told you," said Veight, "that it was quite by accident they were left behind at all."

"Of course! Of course! How stupid of me. What were they quarrelling about, I wonder? The plans of the wheelbarrow; or can it have been the flying cheese? Or perhaps," he added hopefully, "it was just naughty temper at being left to walk. Anyway, that is your next role---the two principal witnesses at the inquest on Meredith and Cortez."

The German's jaw tightened but he said nothing.

"I don't understand," stammered Veight, after a pause. "If he shot Meredith . . ."

"Precisely," remarked Drummond. "If! You see, the revolver was in his right hand: the fingerprints are those of his left. Playtime is over," continued Drummond. "Serious business begins. And when through the medium of a nice double murder the public are put wise to your recent activities, even they may begin to realise that this country is living in a fool's paradise over armaments."

The telephone bell started to ring, and he picked up the receiver. And as he listened a look of amazement appeared on his face. At length the metallic voice ceased, and Drummond very slowly replaced the instrument.

"The police, Veight," he said gravely. "They want to know if you and Gregoroff are here. As you heard, I told them you were. They are coming to ask you some questions."

The German moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.

"You will be interested to hear that they have found Cortez's finger-prints on his revolver," continued Drummond.

"Naturally," said Veight. "You told me he shot Meredith, and that the revolver was found in his hand."

"Yes: lying very loosely. And the police want to know how it got there."

For a space in which a man may count five there was silence, while the German, his face ashen, swayed on his feet. Then with a roar like a beast Gregoroff hurled himself on him.

"Damn you!" he shouted. "What did you want to kill him for?"

"So," said Drummond when they were finally separated, "it would seem that my unworthy suspicions were justified after all. But I think your message to the British public will be even more valuable when it comes from the dock and not from the witness-box."
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