While Vernon was having his interview with Ida and her companion
Colonel Towton went on a little expedition of his own. Ever since the
discovery that Ida had been to Diabella, Towton had been anxious, in
his turn, to pay a visit to the famous Bond Street fortune-teller.
Ida, as the Colonel had told Vernon, apparently was suffering from the
effects of what she had been told by this fashionable Witch of Endor,
although what had been said Towton could not find out. Miss Hest and
the girl had both held their peace on the subject, notwithstanding
that the former had talked generally on the wonderful powers of the
woman. In fact, she had seriously advised Colonel Towton to interview
Diabella and search out the future for himself. The soldier had
laughed, as he was not given to dabble in occultism. Nevertheless, he
had made up his mind to seek out the seeress, if only to discover
indirectly what those methods of devilry were which had so strongly
impressed Miss Dimsdale. Towton, to put it plainly, went less
as a client than as a spy.

Considering that Ida had no very strongly-marked personality, it was
wonderful that the Colonel should be so deeply in love with her. He
was clever in his own way, and not without brain-power inside and
outside his own particular military profession. His bravery was
undeniable, his tact considerable, and he had left the Army on account
of family affairs with the name of one who had cut short a brilliant
career unnecessarily. Towton assuredly would have risen to be a
general had he not retired when the family estates came into his
possession. But now that he had abandoned his profession his one aim
was to marry and lead a quiet domestic life. He did not wish for a
clever wife, or a wealthy wife, or a particularly lovely wife, as he
was too matter-of-fact to be romantic. His dream was of a peaceful
hearth and a house perfectly managed by a gentle wife. In Ida he
believed that he saw the helpmate he so greatly desired: one who would
make her husband’s will her law, and who would be a cheerful
companion. Her moods he believed to be the result of lack of guidance,
and he flattered himself that when she became Mrs. Towton he would be
able to render her less freakish. Ida’s nature was so impressionable
that he thought it could be easily moulded, and in this he no doubt
was right. Many of the girl’s faults were due to the over-indulgence
of her father, and to the lack of a firm hand to lead her in the right
way. She would have welcomed a master, having one of those natures
responsive to suggestion. And, in an unconscious way, the Colonel
appealed to her as a strong, kind-hearted man, who could shelter her
from the storms of life better than any one else could. In point of
fact, the two were made for one another, and, but for the intrusion of
Maunders, their course of true love would have run smooth.

However, Colonel Towton was extremely obstinate, and, having
decided that Ida was the very wife he desired to preside over his
dinner-table, he was determined not to let her be snatched from him by
any rival. He admitted with some dread that Maunders was a formidable
wooer, and moreover guessed, with the keen instinct of a man in love,
that Frances Hest had too much control over the girl. For one thing,
she had induced Ida to go to Diabella, a thing Towton would never have
permitted had he been able to help it. He knew from his Indian
experience only too well that there is truth in occultism, and that an
impressionable being–such as Ida truly was–could easily be obsessed
by strong suggestion. He had no reason to doubt Miss Hest, and did not
think for one moment that she was his enemy in any way: but, with the
assistance of suggestions from Diabella, she might lead Ida into
unhealthy ways. And all those dealings with the unseen with which
psychics have to do were unhealthy in the Colonel’s very material
eyes. Already, as he had seen for himself, the visit to Diabella had
upset Ida; so, whatever the harm done might be, it was necessary to
undo it by proving the woman to be a fraud. Towton therefore ascended
the stairs to the consulting-room of Diabella with the intention of
learning if the fortune-teller was a humbug. Once assured of that, he
resolved to explain her methods to Miss Dimsdale and so prevent her
trusting as truth whatever the woman had said. Then Ida’s indignation
at being duped, as the Colonel believed she had been, would probably
shake Miss Hest’s position. Towton felt certain that Frances was more
friendly to Maunders than to himself, and at one sweep he hoped to get
rid of both. Afterwards Ida would be more willing to become his wife.

Diabella’s offices, as they might be called, consisted of two rooms: a
small outer one entered directly from the passage, and a spacious
inner one which overlooked the street. As Towton tapped at the door of
the prophetess his thoughts suddenly flew back to his many years of
sojourn in the Far East. For the moment he could not think what had
detached him so unexpectedly from England until, on stepping across
the threshold of the now open door, he became aware of a strong,
pungent scent, impossible to describe. At once he noted it as that
smell of the bazaars, which runs without a break from Port Said to
Hong Kong. Perfume is the strongest of aids to memory, therefore
Towton’s thoughts had flashed back over many years to various Indian
experiences. His body was in England, but his soul was in the East:
nor did the sight which met his eyes dispel the illusion. The room he
entered and the attendant who welcomed him were both Egyptian in

The small apartment resembled an ancient tomb, as the walls and
ceiling were painted vividly with hieroglyphics, glowing in crimson
and blue and yellow and emerald green. Through a stained-glass
skylight overhead a dim, coloured light streamed just sufficiently to
reveal the weird looks of the room. It was faked, of course, but very
cleverly faked, as the Colonel secretly admitted; even to the
attendant, who, apparently a true Eastern, was attired in a garb which
one of Pharaoh’s fan-bearers might have worn appropriately. The floor
was covered with linoleum painted to resemble marble, and there was a
quaintly-shaped table of ebony, two or three antique and uncomfortable
chairs, copied from furniture of the XIX. Dynasty, and a weird-looking
teak sofa, covered with bright yellow cushions. What with the
grotesquely-painted walls, the sparsity of furniture, the dim light,
the scented atmosphere, and the strangely-dressed attendant, who
salaamed profusely, Colonel Towton felt as though he had stepped at
one stride across the Mediterranean to a resuscitated Memphis.

The man was a slim, straight native, with handsome, haughty features
of the Brahmin type, and Towton wondered that he had broken caste to
cross the Black Water. He had keen, black eyes, which took in the
looks of the English sahib in a single flash, notwithstanding that he
stood with crossed arms and downcast eyes. Towton wondered if he spoke
English, and, for the sake of an experiment, addressed him in Tamil.
The dark-skinned man replied in very fair English, with an inquisitive
glance at this stranger who spoke the Indian dialect so glibly.

“Is your mistress in?” enquired the Colonel, speaking Tamil.

“Within, sahib, and she waits,” was the reply in Anglo-Saxon.

Immediately following these few words Towton was led into the inner
room, and the attendant closed the door after him, leaving the client
alone with Diabella. The room was decorated much in the same tomb-like
fashion as the other one, but there were mummies standing round the
wall at intervals in their richly adorned coffins, and the two windows
looking on to Bond Street were draped with rich Eastern stuffs to
entirely exclude the light of day. But several lamps, burning perfumed
oil, dangled from the ceiling, and the room was filled with a mellow
radiance, eminently suited to the object for which it was used.
Towton shrewdly surmised that the peculiar decorations, the
exclusion of daylight for the use of artificial illumination, and the
highly-scented atmosphere which prevailed even more strongly here than
it had done in the outer room, were all meant to daze the senses of
Diabella’s clients so that they might more readily credit her
assertions. It was all cleverly conceived and carried out.

The woman herself was seated at the end of the room under a kind of
canopy on an uncomfortable ebony-wood chair inlaid with ivory. Before
her was a tiny square table of the same sombre wood, with twisted
legs, and on this stood a large crystal the size of a small orange.
Diabella was seated in a hieratical attitude with her hands on her
knees, like some stone god, and wore a stiff straight robe of mingled
black and yellow, which made her resemble a viper. But her face struck
Towton most, as she apparently wore an entire mask modelled in wax
from some actual Egyptian mummy. This was surmounted by the well-known
head-dress of harsh black ringlets, combed straightly to the
shoulders. The mouth of the mask was partially open, so that the
fortune-teller could speak easily behind it. With her dead-looking
face and motionless attitude, Diabella looked exactly like the mummies
which flanked her right and left. And right and left also, in tall
iron tripods, flamed some spirits, which cast weird lights on her
uncanny appearance. Nothing better could have been designed to impress
the weak-minded; and in that Temple of Illusion and from the lips of
such a strange creature the boldest might be excused for believing the
impossible. Even Colonel Towton felt an unaccustomed shudder, as
though he were in the presence of the Unseen.

“You wish to consult those who dwell in darkness about the future?”
asked the sorceress in a strange, metallic voice, as unhuman as were
her looks.

Towton smiled scornfully and twisted his moustache. He had quite
recovered his momentary obsession by that perfumed atmosphere, and sat
down with a cool air. “You should speak Egyptian to be perfect,” he

Diabella disdained to notice the jeer. “Would you have me look in the
crystal, or spell the cards, or read the hand.”

“None of the three, thank you,” said Towton drily. “Do you really
possess the power of reading things?”

“I can read the past, the present, and the future;’ I can tell all
that is permitted to be told by the Powers. You are an unbeliever.”

The Colonel chuckled. “Wrong, first shot. Having seen a good deal of
this sort of thing; although,” he glanced round the room, “scarcely so
dressy a place, I believe that some gifted people have certain senses
at command, if not under control, with which they can foretell things.
I quite appreciate your remark about the Powers permitting and
forbidding, as I am aware that such is the case.”

“I did not say that you were an unbeliever generally,” said Diabella,
trying to recover her lost ground, “but that you did not believe in

“You did not put it precisely in that fashion,” retorted Towton.
“However, I may as well have my guinea’s worth. Is there any reason
why I should believe in you?” he demanded contemptuously.

The quiet voice replied indifferently. “Yes. I have not held your hand
nor have I contacted your atmosphere closely. Still, I am sufficiently
in touch with you to state that you bring a woman in your aura.”

“In my what?” asked the Colonel, wilfully dense.

“The aura of your magnetism streams from you radiant as a rainbow. In
it is standing the thought-form of a girl. She is not very tall, she
has blue eyes and golden hair, and you love her. Am I right?”

“I shan’t say,” replied the Colonel, secretly surprised to hear this
description of Ida and the statement of his feelings towards her.
“Humph!” He made a half unwilling admission, “you have some psychic
powers, after all. Tell me more.”

“Give me your ring,” commanded Diabella imperiously. “It is
impregnated with your magnetism and will thus suggest your colour.”

“My colour?” repeated the Colonel interrogatively and removing his
signet ring to place it on the ebony table.

Diabella picked it up and held it in the hollow of her right hand.
“Every human being in the unseen world around has a colour which is
the prevailing hue of the kamic body, tinted by desire. I can thus
recognise you as you appear on the astral plane, and so can read your
karma of the past, which appears in the astral records. Thence I can
deduce your future for good or evil, in a great measure correctly.”

“Then you can’t be certain that what you tell me is true?”

“No. Under certain circumstances, when the High Ones permit, the
future is revealed beyond all doubt, but those circumstances are
connected only with spiritual enlightenment. Otherwise those who have
the sight merely deduce what will happen by reading the karma of the
past, which can be discerned in the astral light.”

“Your claims are certainly more modest than I expected,” said Towton
somewhat interested, “and if you can tell me my past life correctly I
shall credit more or less your prophecies. You know my name?”

“Richard Towton.”

“Ah–you got that from my letter asking for an appointment. But I have
a middle name which I don’t use. What is it?”

“Richard Henry Towton is your full name.”

“Correct. Where was I educated?”

“At Wimperly Public School, and then at Sandhurst.”

Towton nodded. “You might be certain of Sandhurst, as I am a soldier,
but Wimperly is good. Go on.”

“You joined your regiment twenty-five years ago, and shortly after
joining it was ordered to India. You were stationed at Bombay,
afterwards at Travancore. You fought in Burmah, where you met Martin
Dimsdale, and became intimate with him. You won a D.S.O. in the Vikram
Expedition, and—-”

“All that,” interrupted the Colonel politely, “with the exception of
my meeting with Dimsdale, you might have read in the newspapers. Why
did I retire from the army?”

“Your cousin died and left you The Grange at Bowderstyke, in
Yorkshire. You gave up your profession so as to get the estates in
order: they had been sadly neglected by your cousin, who was a

“That is impolite, but true,” said Towton with a grimace. “Go on.”

“You wish to marry.”

The Colonel shrugged his shoulders. “Every man wishes to marry.”

“You wish to marry a girl called Ida Dimsdale,” went on the
passionless voice, and Diabella refrained from making any comment on
the remark.

“Ah! Now you are becoming interesting. Why do I wish to marry Ida
Dimsdale?” The reply was unexpected. “You desire to get her money in
order to recover certain lands sold by your late cousin.”

“That is a lie.” Towton grew a trifle red and spoke sharply. “I love
Miss Dimsdale, and would take her without a penny.”

“That is how you will have to take her,” replied Diabella coldly and
without insisting upon the truth of her previous statement.

“Nonsense! Miss Dimsdale has a large fortune.”

“You think she has ten thousand a year. She has nothing.”

Towton felt an astonishment which he could scarcely conceal, and
wondered if Diabella had spoken in this way to Ida. “What do you

“I mean that this girl is not the daughter of Martin Dimsdale.”

“What!” Towton rose in his surprise; “How dare you say that?”

“I am only reading what I see,” said Diabella wearily. “Your fortune
and this girl’s is connected, therefore I know of her past.”

“Past! Past!” fumed the Colonel, sitting down again. “She has no past
in the sense you mean. She was born in Burmah, and her mother died
shortly afterwards. Dimsdale sent her home to relatives, and
afterwards she went to school at Hampstead. Five years ago he returned
to settle in England and she has been with him ever since.”

“Quite true; but you are foolish to tell me so much, as now you will
say that I merely echo what you have mentioned.”

“I have certainly not mentioned that she is not Dimsdale’s daughter.”

“No. Yet it is true. Her name is Ida Menteith, and her father was a
major in a native regiment. Menteith was with his wife in Burmah at a
hill station called–called–wait until I get the name.” Diabella
stopped for one moment, then spoke out triumphantly, “It was called
Goorkah Station, and was besieged by the Dacoits?”

“Yes. I remember the station, but not a man called Menteith.”

“This happened before you went to India.”

“What happened?” asked Towton bluntly. “What I am about to tell you.
Dimsdale was then a police-commissioner. He loved Mrs. Menteith, who
returned his love, and hated the husband.”

“I don’t believe that for one moment. Dimsdale was a good fellow, who
would never make love to another man’s wife.”

“Many good fellows do that,” said Diabella sarcastically; “and
Dimsdale did love Mrs. Menteith: so deeply that he did not save the
husband’s life when he could have done so.”

“That’s an absolute lie,” insisted Towton angrily. “How dare you
malign a dead man who cannot defend himself!”

“Martin Dimsdale’s friend, George Venery, who is a merchant at
Singapore, can prove the truth of what I say.”

“Rubbish! How do you know?”

“I read all I am telling you in the astral light,” said Diabella. “If
it displeases you I need tell no more.”

“It does not so much displease me as make me wonder at your

Diabella still preserved her immobility. “Write to George Venery and
you will find that I have spoken the truth.”

“It seems incredible,” muttered Towton doubtfully. “Of course, I know
that there is great truth in occult matters. But what you say is too
precise to be anything but what you must have learned–perhaps from
this man.”

“No,” replied the fortune-teller. “I never heard the name of Venery
before, and I have never been to Singapore or even to Burmah. I only
read what I see. How else should I know?”

The Colonel made a gesture of disbelief. Although he believed in the
unseen, from various Indian experiences, he could not credit the story
of this masked woman. “Go on, and tell me more,” he said at length;
“later I can write to Mr. Venery and verify your statements.”

“Ida Dimsdale is Menteith’s daughter,” said Diabella quietly. “She was
born in Rangoon when her father was being besieged in Goorkah Station.
Dimsdale was in the neighbourhood with a force and hastened to relieve
his friend. But he purposely delayed his approach so that the station
might be taken and Menteith killed.”

“I don’t believe that for one moment. Dimsdale would not act so

“He did act in that way, as Venery can tell you. It was his behaviour
that caused a breach between them. Dimsdale hoped to get rid of
Menteith and so marry the wife. His plan of delay was successful, and
the station was taken by the Dacoits. Menteith was crucified and his
perfidious friend arrived when he was dying. Menteith was buried at
Goorkah Station and Dimsdale returned to Rangoon, hoping to marry Mrs.
Menteith now that the obstacle was removed. Mrs. Menteith, however,
weak after the birth of her child, died in a few days. Then Dimsdale
was stricken with remorse and brought up the child as his own. She has
passed for his daughter and, as his next-of-kin, inherits the money.
But she is no relation, since Dimsdale did not leave a will and—-”

“How do you know that Dimsdale left no will?”

“I might have seen it in the papers,” said Diabella coolly; “but I did
not, for to my sight the hidden things of Dimsdale’s life are
revealed. But you can understand that if you marry Ida you will get no
money with her. The truth will be made known and Lady Corsoon will
inherit it, as it is but right she should do.”

Towton rose so hurriedly that he knocked over his chair. “I can’t
stand any more of this,” he declared impetuously; “all your occult
business is a sham, and you are making up lies. I insist upon your
removing that mask so that I may know who you are.”

Diabella rose, tall and straight and stiff, but did not seem
disturbed. “Beware, Colonel Towton. If you advance a step it will be
the worse for you.”

The military man laughed and stepped forward. “I must know who you
are, as I intend to make you pay for telling these falsehoods.”

“They are true.”

“They are lies. Now I know why Miss Dimsdale was agitated because of
her visit to you. You told her this story also.”

“What if I did? The truth—-” she flung up a hand as the Colonel took
another step forward. “Stand back, I tell you.”

“Take your mask off,” he insisted, and stretched out his hand.

Diabella swerved to one side and avoided his grasp. Then she dropped
into her chair, pressing the arms of the same hard. Immediately from
the mummies set round the room came a most unearthly crying, which
confounded the Colonel, not expecting such a tumult. The weird room
rang with thin wailings and dismal cries. It was evident that some
mechanism connected with the chair produced these noises. The place
was filled with clever contrivances to intimidate nervous people. But
Colonel Towton was not nervous, and after his first startled pause he
sprang forward again to seize the seated figure. At all costs he was
determined to unmask the sorceress and learn who she was. Then he
might hope to find out how she had become possessed of these facts
concerning Dimsdale’s past life, or whether those same facts were
simply lies designed to perplex and mystify.

Diabella never moved as Towton came towards her, and the Colonel soon
knew why she was thus certain of her safety. Before he could reach the
hither side of the ebony table, rapidly as he moved, he was gripped
from behind by two gigantic hands and twisted round sharply to face a
tall and burly Hindoo arrayed in a white robe and wearing a white
turban. “Let me go, you dog!” muttered Towton in the Tamil dialect,
and set his teeth.

Diabella clapped her hands and the two men closed in a fierce
struggle. As they swayed round the room the ebony table was upset and
the woman cried out a sentence in an unknown language in her metallic
voice. The next moment the native unloosened his grip on the
Englishman and stepped back.

“Will you go now?” demanded Diabella quietly and addressing Towton.

“No,” he cried fiercely. “I want your mask removed.”

Whether Diabella gave a sign or not Towton was never able to say, but
she must have given a signal, for just as the words left his mouth the
native sprang forward with the leap of a tiger and the next moment
Towton found a silk handkerchief round his neck. It flashed across him
that in this way had Dimsdale been killed, and then, with the
tightening of the handkerchief, came almost insensibility, or, rather,
a dazed feeling, which bewildered his brain.

He had a faint feeling of being led out of the room and of hearing a
door closed. When he recovered his senses he found himself seated on
the floor of the passage quite alone. His first thought was to tell
the police what had occurred, his second to conceal the adventure.

“I shall consult with Vernon,” he thought, and walked unsteadily down
the stairs, feeling his neck somewhat sore, but otherwise uninjured.

It was quite three days before Colonel Towton was enabled to have an
interview with Vernon. He certainly wrote to him at once, but on
receiving no reply he telephoned, only to learn that his friend had
been unexpectedly called from town on the same evening. Towton
therefore had to possess his soul in patience, and remained in his
rooms recovering from the assault. And this took some little time.

The attempt at strangulation by the burly Hindoo–who was a different
person to the slim doorkeeper–had caused the Colonel’s neck to swell,
as the flesh was bruised and chafed. His windpipe also felt painful
owing to the strong compression, and for twenty-four hours he had
found it difficult to swallow with ease. Towton recognised only too
uneasily that he had been within a short distance of actual death, and
perhaps would have been strangled outright had not Diabella, as he
verily believed, stopped her too zealous servant. Naturally, she did
not wish for a client’s death lest the police should interfere and put
an end to her lucrative trade, which was assuredly a very paying one.

Meanwhile the Colonel received a letter from Ida saying that on the
ensuing day she was going down to Yorkshire with Miss Hest. There,
breathing air like champagne, and enjoying perfect rest, undisturbed
by callers, she hoped to recover her spirits and health within a
month, the time of her proposed stay. But what pleased Towton most in
the letter, and what caused him to blush like a girl, was the hope Ida
expressed that he would come down to his country seat while she stayed
at the Hall. “You have often told me of your beautiful home,” wrote
Ida amiably, “and one of my reasons for staying at Gerby Hall is to
see The Grange. If you should take a fancy to run down, perhaps you
will show it to me yourself, as I hear from Frances that the house is
full of historical interest.” There were a few lines more to the same
effect, and it really seemed as though Ida wished to become acquainted
with her future home. At least, Towton looked at the matter in this
way and his spirits rose accordingly. Maunders apparently was out of
favour, and Ida had returned to her first love. Without being unduly
conceited Towton was very well satisfied that the girl had loved him
before the handsome scamp had come on the scene. Then the latter’s
looks and charm of manner had infatuated her to an alarming extent.
Now, and the Colonel sincerely hoped that such was the case, her
momentary aberration, as it might be called, had passed away, and she
was holding out the olive branch of complete reconciliation.

But that Towton still felt unwell after his rough and tumble encounter
with the Hindoo, and but that he wished to consult Vernon about the
matter, he would have gone down to Yorkshire at once so as to bask in
the sunshine of Ida’s eyes. But he put a restraint on his feelings and
decided, not without a struggle, to remain where he was. In connection
with various ideas which had occurred to him since his visit to the
Bond Street fortune-teller, it was imperative that he should consult
with someone and ventilate various theories, which might, or might
not, elucidate various mysteries. Therefore Towton read and smoked and
played patience in his comfortable rooms, watching the passing of time
with open eagerness.

On the third evening, and that was a Saturday, Vernon made his
appearance at eight o’clock. He entered with perfect coolness, and
found himself facing a very impatient man.

“Did you wish to see me, Colonel?” he asked quietly. “I found a note
at my chambers requesting me to call at once.”

“Do I wish to see you?” echoed Towton jumping to his feet and wringing
Vernon’s hand heartily. “Why, my dear fellow, I have been sitting here
on pins and needles for the last few days. What the deuce took you out
of town so unexpectedly? I beg your pardon, I should not enquire into
your private business. Sit down and have a cigar. The whisky and
potash is on the table at your elbow.”

“Oh, my business is not private,” replied Vernon, taking a comfortable
chair and a very excellent cigar. “All the world will know in a week
or so.”

“Know what?”

“That my uncle, Sir Edward Vernon, is dead, and that I am a titled,
well-to-do man, worth knowing.”

“I never knew you had an uncle,” said Towton staring.

“It’s not unusual for men to have uncles,” said Vernon drily. “I
didn’t buck about the relationship, as we were not the best of
friends. A family quarrel between my father and Sir Edward, you
understand? However, when I returned from a visit to Miss Dimsdale I
found a letter from my uncle asking me to come to Slimthorp, near
Worcester, as he was very ill. I packed up and went by the evening
train, and there I have been for the last three days.”

“Humph! I suppose I ought to congratulate you?”

“Well, you may. Sir Edward can’t last more than a week, and he leaves
me heir to his title, his mansion, and a few thousands a year. He’s
not a bad old fellow, either,” went on Vernon meditatively, “and I am
sorry he is dying. I don’t deny, however, that his death will make a
great change in my fortunes for the better, as is obvious.”

“It will enable you to marry Miss Corsoon,” said the Colonel nodding.

“Yes.” Vernon thought of his interview with Lady Corsoon and replied
briefly. “Uncle Edward is eighty years of age,” he added
apologetically, “so he can’t be said to have been cut off when he was

“He’s not cut off yet,” answered Towton with a shrug. “I don’t want to
throw cold water on your prospects, Vernon, but these old fellows have
wonderful recuperative power.”

“I shall be glad if he gets better,” said Vernon emphatically; “and
now that we are friends I may be able to make his life more cheerful.
He has a dismal time all alone in that barrack of a house. But I don’t
see why I should bore you with all this family history.”

“I do,” said the Colonel unhesitatingly. “It’s because you and I have
been drawn into closer friendship by our common acquaintance with
Maunders, who is playing fast and loose with the two girls we love. We
have had to make common cause against the enemy, and so are forced to
speak freely. Besides, you are a good chap, Vernon, and I don’t wish
to work alongside a better man,” and, leaning forward, the Colonel
gave his friend’s hand a grip.

“Would you do that, would you say that, if you knew that I was a
private detective, or, to soften the term, a private enquiry agent?”

“What!” Towton nearly jumped out of his chair. “As I had no money when
my father died,” explained the young man steadily, “and my uncle would
have nothing to do with me, I turned my powers of observation to
account by setting up as Nemo, of Covent Garden, to hunt down
criminals and to help people to keep their secrets when threatened by
blackmailers. Mine is a perfectly honourable profession, I assure you,
Colonel, but you may have your prejudices.”

“Well,” said Towton after a pause, “I don’t deny that I care little
for detectives, who are too much the bloodhounds of the law. But I am
quite sure that you were driven to take up the business, and I am also
quite sure,” added Towton emphatically, “that the business as
conducted by you is all that can be desired in the way of honour. Why
did you tell me?”

“If I hadn’t, probably Maunders, when he found that we were working
together, would have told you. It struck me as a wise thing to take
the wind out of his sails.”

“There’s something in that,” admitted the Colonel, twisting his
moustache. “And I am glad that I heard of your profession from
yourself. But how did your friend Maunders find out what you kept

Vernon shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows? He seems to have a
wonderful nose for smelling out things to his advantage.”

“To his advantage? Come, now!”

“I assure you, Colonel, it is so. He wished to become my partner.
Lately, however, he has changed his mind and he promised to hold his
tongue. To my cost,” went on Vernon slowly, “I found that he has not
done so, as he told Lady Corsoon.”

“The devil he did! Then good-bye to your chances of the daughter.”

“Do you think so, when I shall soon be Sir Arthur Vernon, with an
eligible country seat and three thousand a year, more or less?”

“No. That alters the case; it whitewashes you, as it were. Ho! ho!”
Towton laughed maliciously, “that will be one in the eye for Mr.
Constantine Maunders. And serve him right! Why the deuce does he play
the lover with two women at once? I congratulate you, Sir Arthur—-”

“Colonel, you are premature.”

“Never mind. It’s just as well to take the bull by the horns and time
by the forelock. I congratulate you, Sir Arthur, for you will marry
Miss Corsoon and wipe our friend’s eye. He won’t have either girl.”

“Certainly not Lucy, if I can help it,” said Vernon hotly; “but what
about Miss Dimsdale? I rather think, from what I saw at our interview
of three days ago, that she inclines to you, Colonel.”

“Ah! Miss Dimsdale.” Towton nursed his chin in the cup of his hand.
“It is about Miss Dimsdale, amongst other things, that I wish to see

“What other things?” demanded Vernon bluntly.

“Diabella for one.”

“The fortune-teller? Have you seen her?”

Towton put his hand to his neck with a wry smile. “Yes, the jade. She
nearly had me strangled.”

Vernon dropped his cigar. “Strangled!”

“Yes.” The Colonel unloosened the white silk scarf he wore round his
throat and leaned forward to show a fading black mark round it. “You
see! I assure you I have scarcely been able to swallow since I saw you
last. That damned Hindoo nearly did for me.”

“Hindoo! Did a Hindoo attempt to kill you?”

“Rather, and jolly nearly succeeded.”

“But why?”

“Because I wished to tear off the false face worn by Diabella: a waxen
or papier-mache sort of face, which makes her look like an Egyptian,
so as to be in keeping with her room, I suppose.”

“Why did you wish to tear it off?”

“Because she–well, she said certain things, and—-” Towton stopped
as Vernon rose quickly and began to walk about the room. “What’s up,

“Colonel, do you remember how you gave it as your opinion that
Dimsdale had been strangled by a Thug?”

“Ah!” said Towton drily, “the same idea strikes you also, I see. Well,
Diabella may have something to do with the matter. I asked you to see
me in order that we might thresh it out. Now that I know you are Nemo
I am all the better pleased, as your professional knowledge may link
this and that together.”

“This and that?”

“Bond Street and Hampstead,” said the Colonel impatiently; “that is,
you may see a connecting link between this beastly nigger attempting
to strangle me and the actual strangulation of poor Dimsdale in his

“I can’t see the link,” said Vernon thoughtfully. “Diabella knows
nothing about Dimsdale.”

“On the contrary, she knows a great deal. By the way, didn’t you tell
me that Dimsdale was being blackmailed by that confounded Spider?”

“Yes.” Vernon stared and wondered why the question was asked. “He had
a secret, which The Spider learned, and intended to tell it to me
after the capture of the beast. But The Spider killed him, and so—-”
Vernon shrugged.

“I wonder if what Diabella told was the secret,” muttered Towton,
stroking his chin. “Did Dimsdale ever give you to understand that his
secret, whatever it might have been, was a disgraceful one?”

“On the contrary, he said that he didn’t mind any one knowing what it
was,” said Vernon promptly; “only he added that The Spider had
embroidered actual facts and so might make things hot for him were the
added facts to become known to the world at large.”

Towton nodded. “I thought so.”

“Thought what?” asked Vernon impatiently.

“That Diabella and this mysterious Spider are in league.”

Vernon dropped into his chair, placed his hands on his knees and
stared very hard at the lean, brown face of the soldier. “What do you

“Listen, and I’ll tell you. I am quite sure that you will come to the
same conclusion,” and Towton in an incisive manner related what had
taken place in the fortune-teller’s weird apartments.

The effect on Vernon was to produce an extraordinary emotion of
mingled dread and relief: dread, because he saw deep and dangerous
villainy at work, and relief as now he espied a gleam of light in the
darkness surrounding the “Rangoon” crime. He made no remark either
during Towton’s recital or after it, so that the Colonel grew

“Well, what do you make of it?” he asked sharply.

“I agree with you that Diabella and The Spider are in league.
Perhaps,” he rose, much agitated, “perhaps Diabella is The Spider all
by herself.”

“The Spider I always understood to be a man.”

“It is presumed so, but who knows. Diabella may be the real originator
of these crimes and may employ men to collect her fees. Then, of
course, as a popular fortune-teller, she has every opportunity of
learning people’s secrets, for those who consult such creatures always
give themselves away. A few skilfully put questions and a few
dexterous prophecies would make people loosen their tongues. Then a
clever woman, putting two and two together, would soon make the four,
which means blackmail.”

“But how the deuce could she learn this secret of Dimsdale’s?”

“Well, the secret is connected with the Far East and you say that
Diabella employs two Indians in her fortune-telling business. She may
have learned it from them since the older man, the one who attempted
to strangle you, may have been a soldier in the Burmese War and so may
have been connected with Dimsdale. Then, again, Diabella may herself
have been in the East and may have learned about Ida not being
Dimsdale’s daughter.”

“Do you think it is true?”

“I fear so, as the secret of her birth and adoption by Dimsdale is not
one that any man would mind being made known. But the embroidery to
which our poor dead friend alluded consists of this assertion: that he
wilfully delayed coming to the assistance of Menteith and for the sake
of the man’s wife acted in a David-and-Uriah-the-Hittite manner. That
embroidery is indeed worth blackmail. But it isn’t true. I believe
Dimsdale’s assertion rather than Diabella’s story. She knew the facts,
and improved upon them in the way I have mentioned.”

Colonel Towton nodded. “Then Ida, not being Dimsdale’s daughter, and
there being no will, cannot inherit her presumed father’s money as
next of kin?”

“I think not. It will go to Lady Corsoon, as Diabella asserted. She is
Dimsdale’s sister and only relative. It will be a good thing for Lady
Corsoon,” murmured Vernon, thinking of the gambling debts, “as it will
make her independent of her miserly husband.”

“There is another thing to be thought of,” said the Colonel gravely,
“and that is the blackmailing of Ida.”

“Oh. Do you think that her health is suffering from that?”

“Yes, I do. She went to the fortune-teller, and what she heard has
made her ill. She probably was told the same story as I heard and
knows that she is keeping the ten thousand a year wrongfully from Lady
Corsoon. This being the case, and Ida being a sensitive girl, it is no
wonder that she is disturbed and ill. Her conscience is fighting
between keeping the money and giving it up. Then Miss Hest may be
forcing her to keep silence; otherwise, as she is the sweetest girl in
the world, I feel sure she would speak out and give up the fortune.”

“She may not believe the story.”

“Certainly she may not; but it must have sown doubts in her breast,
and if left to herself she would perhaps come to me or to you, asking
us to resolve these doubts. But Miss Hest—-”

“Colonel! Colonel! I don’t think you are altogether just to Miss Hest.
She is really a kind-hearted, decent woman, and is not after Ida’s
money, as you imagine. She wants Mrs. Bedge to become Ida’s companion,
or for Ida to marry you, so that she can go back to her reciting.”

“Does she want Ida to marry Maunders?” asked Towton shrewdly.

“No. I think she fancies you will make Ida a better husband. No,
Colonel, Miss Hest’s conduct is above reproach, and if she knows about
this wild story told by Diabella she will advise Ida for the best.”

“In what way?”

“Well, it is no use Ida telling you, or I, or anyone else the tale,
unless she is sure of the truth. According to Diabella, this man
Venery, in Singapore, can substantiate the story, so, under the
guidance of Miss Hest, provided, mind you, she knows the story, Ida
may have written to Venery. If Venery says that Ida is not Dimsdale’s
daughter I daresay the girl will see her supposed aunt and surrender
the fortune. Miss Hest, undoubtedly, as you say, exercises a certain
amount of control over Ida’s weaker mind, but she is a good woman and
assuredly is not a fortune-hunter.”

“It may be as you say,” assented the Colonel grudgingly. “However, it
is plain that Diabella knows something of The Spider and something of
the murder, since she is aware of Dimsdale’s secret.”

“You don’t think she read it in the astral light? I know you believe
in occult matters.”

“To a certain extent,” said Towton drily, “but I don’t believe that
the Unseen ever furnished so detailed a story. Communications from the
next world are apt to be scrappy. What’s to be done?”

Vernon quickly decided. “We’ll divide the burden,” he said promptly.
“You write to-night or to-morrow to George Venery, of Singapore,
asking how much of this yarn is true, and I shall call on Diabella.”

“Why not consult Inspector Drench and have her arrested.”

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea,” pondered Vernon, “and yet it is not wise
to act with too much haste. After all, we can’t get a search warrant,
as you have no witness to your assault, and the woman can easily deny
the story of Dimsdale which seems to connect her with The Spider. I
shall go on my own and secure more evidence upon which to get a
warrant, if not for her arrest at all events for a search through
those rooms of hers. Some evidence regarding The Spider–if indeed she
is connected with him, as seems extremely probable–may be found
concealed there. I’ll call to-morrow morning,” ended Vernon rising,
“in the character of a superstitious client.”

“And I’ll write the letter to Venery, of Singapore.”

In this way the matter was decided and the burden was divided. Vernon
went away with the conviction that by chance the Colonel had struck
upon the much-wished-for clue which would lead to the identification
of the famous Spider. Certainly, he might be jumping to a conclusion,
but, taking all that was known into account it looked extremely
probable. And if it was true it behoved him to act cautiously lest The
Spider at the eleventh hour should slip through the fingers of the
police. For this reason, and until he was positive, Vernon did not
think it wise to call in the assistance of the law. First it was
necessary to prove the collusion of Diabella and The Spider, so that
if she were not the scoundrel herself she would at least be able to
identify him beyond all doubt. Second, even if his identity were
proved it would be no easy task to arrest so slippery a criminal. Like
the celebrated fox in the fable, The Spider had a thousand tricks,
which he could use to better advantage than the animal. The fox in the
story of Æsop was caught, but it was probable, unless the very
greatest care were used, that The Spider would escape. Already the
police had experienced his subtlety, and regarded the arch-scoundrel
as a very wary and dangerous bird who was not to be caught by putting
salt on his tail.

Colonel Towton, being less experienced in the trickery of the criminal
classes, was more hopeful of success, and next morning settled down to
write the letter to Venery, of Singapore, quite confident that all the
mysteries were on the eve of solution. He quite expected to hear from
his correspondent that Ida was not Dimsdale’s daughter, but he was
quite sure that the embroidered facts of the pointed delay in the
rescue of Menteith were false. Assured of this, he was quite willing
to marry Ida, as the daughter of a poor soldier, and to hand over the
fortune to Lady Corsoon. Love was everything to the Colonel at this
moment, and nothing else mattered.

But just as he reached the second page of his letter Vernon burst into
the room with a half-vexed and half-triumphant air. He told his news
without any delay. “I believe you are right about Diabella being
connected with The Spider, Colonel,” he said; “she has shut up her
rooms and has cleared out bag and baggage.”