For the next few days Vernon vainly grappled with the new problem
which Lady Corsoon’s information had supplied. That The Spider should
offer the millionaire’s wife a fortune of ten thousand pounds per
annum on condition of receiving the income for the first year scarcely
surprised the young man, for he already suspected The Spider to be
connected with Diabella, if, indeed, the creature was not that famous
individual herself. But it seemed odd that the arch-criminal should
interest himself in Maunders’ affairs, even to assisting to bring
about the marriage with Lucy. Could it be possible that Maunders was
one of the gang?

Vernon recalled that after Mrs. Bedge’s confession of poverty he had
suspected Maunders in this respect, since the young man apparently
contrived to live like a prince on nothing a year. He did not receive
much from his aunt and he did not earn an income, so it was possible
that in some shady way he managed to become possessed of sufficient
money to gratify his extravagant tastes. Maunders also being in the
vicinity of the library on the occasion of the conversation with the
late Mr. Dimsdale, must have heard the suggested arrangement of the
trap. But then, as Vernon recalled, Miss Hest had stated in quite an
innocent way how Maunders had been with her all the evening and could
not thus have had anything to do with the crime at “Rangoon.” Vernon’s
suspicions had been banished by Miss Hest’s assertions, but they now
revived in full force after Lady Corsoon’s communication. He had made
her show him the letter, and it proved to be similar to the earlier
epistle of The Spider, even to the ideograph at the end. Apparently it
was genuine enough, and, if genuine, Maunders must be connected in
some way with the blackmailer. No other explanation was feasible.

Had Maunders been in London Vernon would have gone straight to tax him
with his possible complicity, but the young man was at Bowderstyke and
so, for the moment, could not be questioned. But, sooner or later, he
would return to London, and then Vernon intended to force him to
explain. Meanwhile it seemed best to seek out Diabella at the Bazaar
for the Homeless Hindoos and threaten her with arrest unless she
explained how she had come to let The Spider know Martin Dimsdale’s
secret. Also, she might supply the connecting link between The Spider
and Maunders. Vernon was rather surprised at Diabella’s daring in thus
making a public appearance, but he supposed that his ruse had been
successful, and that the fortune-teller, not having been openly
searched for, presumed that Colonel Towton had taken no steps. If she
had learned that Towton was to be at the fête she might have declined
to risk exercising her profession; but she had no reason to believe
that he would be present, and thus dared the danger. But, never
suspecting Vernon, he could enter the tent and tear off her mask,
which was what he intended to do at the first opportunity.

The young man hesitated whether to tell Inspector Drench or to remain
silent until more satisfied as to the hidden connection between
Diabella and The Spider. After reflection, he decided to carry through
the matter himself. By removing the waxen mask he would at least learn
what Diabella was like, and perhaps, if brought to bay, she would
speak out to save her skin. Then, when he knew more, he might venture
to call in the aid of the police. It was a dangerous business, and
perhaps Vernon would have been better advised had he taken more
precautions against the woman’s escape; but the evidence against her
was so vague, and there appeared to be so much to clear up, that he
doubted if Drench would be able to arrest her on the bare suspicion.
At all events, after turning the matter over in his mind Vernon
started by himself for the bazaar, resolved to act on his own
initiative. He told no one of the second letter from The Spider to
Lady Corsoon, not even Colonel Towton. So that military gentleman,
ignorant of what was taking place, lingered in his chambers or idled
at the Athenian Club, fretting over his inaction and longing for some
chance to display his generalship. A very natural feeling, considering
the Colonel’s active mind.

The Georgian Hall was a huge repository of Hanoverian relics in South
Kensington, and consisted of many moderately large apartments
encircling a spacious central room. This was used for concerts, balls,
meetings, fêtes, and such-like entertainments requiring ample scope
for their celebration. The minor halls were dedicated to the display
of objects connected with the rule of the House of Brunswick, and
dating from the reign of the first monarch of the dynasty. Memorials
of warfare on land and at sea were here, together with pictures of
famous events, and collections of old-world things dealing with social
life of the various epochs. One room was filled with figures
representing the male and female garbs of the different reigns;
another displayed china and silver and glass of the several periods;
and a third room held quaint furniture, recalling the tales of Jane
Austen. The political and social and military history of England was
contained in the museums, and from this fact the hall took its name,
since the objects dated only from The Act of Succession. It was an
interesting place and well worth the patronage which it received from
the idle public.

On this occasion the central room was filled with gaily-decorated
stalls in divers colours, on which were displayed modern luxuries
likely to appeal to the purses of the self-indulgent. Society
beauties, charming actresses, and celebrated lady novelists presided
over the booths of this Vanity Fair, and did a large trade by their
fascinating personality alone. Vernon, accurately dressed, as became a
young man about town, managed to elude these sirens, who would have
cajoled every shilling out of his pocket, and walked into the grounds
at the back of the Hall, where, Mrs. Crimer had informed him, the tent
of Diabella was to be found. It was a sunny afternoon, as the flippant
lady had desired, and the spacious gardens looked extremely pretty with
flags and tents and flowers and general greenery. Games of all kinds
were going on, and the place resembled a fair with its crowd of
laughing people, who were enjoying themselves thoroughly. So far as
could be judged, the Homeless Hindoos would benefit largely by the
bazaar, as it apparently was a great success. No prettier function had
taken place during the season.

[Illustration: “‘I must see who you are,’ cried Vernon, and pulled her
hands away.” Page 180.]

Vernon saw endless friends and acquaintances, as many fashionable folk
were present, but, taken up with his own anxious thoughts, he spoke to
no one. However, someone spoke to him as he threaded his way amongst
the throng, for a friendly touch on his shoulder wheeled him round, to
behold Francis Hest. He looked more like his sister than ever, and
decidedly handsome in his immaculate frock-coat, grey trousers, patent
leather boots, and silk hat. The only fault which Vernon–always
rather fastidious–could find in his general appearance was that he
wore his hair much too long, which gave him the look of a poet or of a
fashionable musician. And the full black locks added still more to his
resemblance to Frances.

“I did not expect to find you here, Vernon,” said Hest after a
handshake. “Why not? It’s one of the entertainments of the season, and
everyone who is anyone is bound to patronise it.”

“I should have thought it was too frivolous for you.”

“Oh, I assure you I am a very frivolous person,” said Vernon smoothly.

“Is Colonel Towton?” asked the other smiling; “and is he here?”

Vernon wondered why the question was asked. “Really, I can’t say.
Towton is certainly not frivolous, but he enjoys society and is
usually to be found everywhere, enjoying himself. Do you know him?”

“No. I am an innocent countryman, who knows no one in the fashionable
world except Lady Corsoon, who is a host in herself. I asked out of
curiosity, as, having heard Miss Dimsdale speak of the Colonel, I
should like to meet him.”

“Oh! She spoke of Colonel Towton, did she?”

“Is that strange?” asked Hest, smiling again and showing his white
teeth. “I rather think Miss Dimsdale admires the Colonel.”

“He admires her and wants to marry her,” said Vernon bluntly.

“So I should imagine. Another reason why I did right in running away
from Gerby Hall and in declining my sister’s help in marrying me to
the lady. I think, however,” added Hest significantly, “that unless
the Colonel looks to his bride he will find she is likely to become
Mrs. Maunders.”

“I should be sorry to see that.”

“Why? Don’t you like Maunders?”

“Oh, yes. We were at school together. But I believe that Miss Dimsdale
is in love with the Colonel. You know, of course, that Maunders has
gone down to your place?”

“Certainly. Frances wrote me that he arrived on Sunday morning. That
is why I advise Colonel Towton to look after Miss Dimsdale.”

“Why does your sister wish Miss Dimsdale to marry Maunders?” asked
Vernon in a pointedly blunt way.

Hest raised his thick, dark eyebrows. “Ask me another,” he said
lightly. “All I can say is that Frances is a great matchmaker. Failing
me, she suggests Maunders as a suitor. He is younger than the Colonel,
I believe.”

“And much handsomer. But he has not Towton’s sterling character. By
the way, have you met Maunders?”

“Twice. Once in town and once at my own place. I confess that he
doesn’t attract me greatly. Handsome, yes; but there is something
dangerous about him.”

“Dangerous?” Vernon looked straightly at the speaker, wondering how he
had chanced to hit on the very defect which spoilt Maunders’ charm.

“It’s the only word I can think of which describes him. But perhaps I
am wrong. Frances would think so.”

“I always thought that Miss Hest did not like Maunders.

“It may be so,” said Hest indifferently. “Still, he is handsome, and
Frances is a woman. It seems to me, however, that the word rests with
Miss Dimsdale. If she loves Colonel Towton she will marry him, if
Maunders, he will win her. A wilful woman will have her way.”

“I do not think that Miss Dimsdale is wilful,” said Vernon stiffly,
then with an afterthought that Hest might help the Colonel to thwart
the plans which Frances certainly appeared to entertain, he added,
“Would you like to meet Towton?”

“Oh, yes. I shall be in town for a week before going to Paris. I have
few friends here and like to be amused.”

“Where are you staying?”

“At Professor Garrick Gail’s, Isleworth.”

“Oh!” Vernon could scarcely conceal his surprise. “I thought that you
did not approve of your sister appearing as a reciter?”

“Nor do I,” rejoined the other man with a frown, “but Frances asked me
to deliver a message to Professor Gail, whom I met before and whom I
like. He asked me to accept his hospitality while in London, so I did
so, as I hope to induce him to get Frances to abandon this scheme of
earning money by her talents–which by the way I don’t deny–so that
she may resume her proper place in society as my sister.”

Vernon shook his head. “Miss Hest is of too active a mind to bear
tamely the life of an ordinary country lady.”

“She is singularly obstinate, if that is what you mean,” said Hest
with a curling lip. “However, that is my address, so if you can
arrange a dinner with Colonel Towton I shall be glad to meet him and
to give him the latest news of Miss Dimsdale.”

“Thank you!” Vernon booked the dinner. “Say next Wednesday?”

“That will suit me capitally. The day after to-morrow? Well, and what
are you going to do now?”

“Just wander round,” replied Vernon evasively. He did not wish to
disclose his plans regarding Diabella to the Yorkshire squire.

“Good-day,” said the other in a friendly tone, and the two were soon
separated by the ever-moving crowd.

It was growing late by this time and the gardens were not nearly so
filled as they had been. Already there was a shade of twilight in the
calm sky and several lamps had been lighted. It was necessary to see
Diabella at once, for it might be that she would not be present in the
evening. Vernon therefore went to seek for the Egyptian tent and soon
found it standing in an isolated position at the far end of the
ground. With some skill the canvas had been erected into the square
form of a Memphis temple, and this, coloured like stone and adorned
with gaudy hieroglyphics, looked a striking object in the waning
light. Two imitation sphinxes guarded the doorway, and beside these on
either side stood two men like bronze statues with folded arms. One
was slender and the other burly, and both were natives of India in
spite of their ancient Egyptian array. Vernon, knowing what he did
know, had no difficulty in recognising Bahadur and the heavier man who
had attempted to strangle the Colonel, until prevented by his

“Can I see Diabella?” he asked, approaching slowly and addressing
Bahadur as the more amiable-looking of the two.

“One, two, three,” said the man, showing his teeth and throwing up
triple fingers. “Three to see mistress. Then you.”

Vernon nodded and, resting on his cane, stared at the merry scene in
an idle manner. But his thoughts were taken up with the probable scene
which would ensue when he tore the mask from the woman’s face. He
wondered if she would make an outcry and would summon her attendants,
and if so, would the sullen-looking wrestler attempt to choke him? But
Vernon resolved at the moment he removed the mask to intimate that he
knew of the assault on Colonel Towton, and so hoped that the woman
would not risk unpleasant discoveries by making an outcry but would be
willing to talk calmly. If so, then he hoped to induce her to state
how she came to be possessed of Martin Dimsdale’s secret. And here
again, as it always did, came the thought that Diabela might be a
disguise for The Spider, in which case she would surely decline to
incriminate herself. If she did and refused to be frank there would be
nothing for it but to see Drench and procure her arrest. For the
moment, and now that he was on the very eve of the enterprise, Vernon
regretted that he had not brought the Inspector with him so that he
might be legally supported by the arm of the law. But it was too late
for such regrets, and when he arrived at this point of his meditations
Bahadur lifted the curtain which formed the door of the canvas temple
to intimate that the stranger might enter.

The interior of the tent was adorned as an Egyptian Hall, much in the
same way as the Bond Street rooms, save that the mummies were absent.
Diabella, in the weird dress described by Towton, sat stiffly in a
chair, with a small table at her elbow. The cards and the crystal and
various charts bearing astrological figures were on the table,
together with a boat-shaped lamp. This gave out a fairly strong light,
and Vernon could see plainly the expressionless waxen mask which
covered the face of the fortune-teller. She looked like a sphinx,
solemn, calm, and passionless. Yet below that non-committing mask
Vernon guessed was the face of the true woman, alive with passion and
intrigue. He saw two glittering eyes scanning him curiously from the
shadow of a black veil which the seeress wore draped over her Egyptian
head-dress, and shivered a trifle at the uncanny look.

The sorceress saw the tremor. “Are you afraid?” she asked in her
metallic voice, which was as expressionless as her mask.

“I am afraid of nothing,” replied Vernon boldly and coldly; “but the
night air strikes chill.”

He thought that he heard a sarcastic laugh, but it was so soft that he
well might have been mistaken. However, thinking that the prophetess
was sneering at him he might have ventured on some angry remark, but
that he recollected his intention and drew back with a grim smile. The
laugh would be on his side when the mask was torn off.

“You wish to have your fortune told?” asked Diabella coldly and
stretched out her hand. “Let me read your palm.”

This was just what Vernon desired, as the grip brought him within
snatching distance of the mask. There was a stool near at hand, upon
which Diabella motioned that he should be seated; so shortly he was
sitting, so to speak, at her feet, with his hand in hers. Shadows
filled the corners of the tent and enhanced the grotesque looks of the
figures painted on the canvas. The laughter and chatter of the
diminishing crowd without had died away into a faint and confused
murmur, and in the vivid circle of the lamplight sat the two figures.
Diabella, holding back her veil, bent over Vernon’s hand in silence.

“You are coming into good fortune,” she said thinly. “Yes. Here is the
line which foretells money and position. One near to you, if not dear,
is on his death-bed and you benefit by his decease. Am I right?”

She raised her glittering eyes again to peer into his face. “If
you are certain of your craft, there is no need for you to ask if
you are right,” said Vernon composedly. He was well aware of how
fortune-tellers gain more knowledge than they impart by such
dexterously-put questions.

Diabella gave a very modern shrug quite out of keeping with her dress
and mien. However, she made no reply and continued her reading. “There
is marriage here”, she continued in a low voice; “but you have a

“Will he be successful?”

“If he chooses to be.”

“That is untrue,” contradicted Vernon nettled; “The lady loves me.”

“It is questionable–questionable,” muttered the woman hastily. “Your
rival is a formidable one and not easily turned from his purpose. Look
at the break in the line yourself.” She handed him a magnifying glass.
“That means trouble before you achieve your heart’s desire.”

“Can you tell me what my heart’s desire is?” asked Vernon after a
glance through the glass.

“A lovely, wealthy wife and a happy home.”

“Quite so; but I have a stronger desire.”

“To do what?”

“Ah!” said Vernon sarcastically, “that is for you to say. But my
second desire, which is marriage, is contingent on my first being

“I see, I see,” said Diabella raising her voice, which whistled
shrilly like the wind through a crack. “You have to save someone from
disgrace before you can marry the girl you love?”

“Is the someone a woman or a man?”

“A woman, and closely connected with the girl you wish to marry.”

“Is there any chance of success?”

“None! none!”

“Then I shall not marry the—-”

“You may marry, for the line of Venus is strongly marked,” interrupted
Diabella sharply. “The girl loves you, and may defy the person with
whom she is so closely connected.”

“And my rival also?”

Diabella shook her head. “He is too strong for her. He can force her
to marry him when he chooses.”

“Perhaps he may be forced to defend himself,” said Vernon

Diabella looked up quickly. “What’s that?”

“Never mind. If you can read events you must guess what I mean.”

“I can only read what is in your hand, and all that a man plans and
thinks may not be written there. Still, you will be wise to leave
your rival alone, for he is too strong for you.”

“I don’t think so, knowing what I know.”

“What do you know?” Diabella’s metallic voice sounded somewhat
nervous, and she dropped Vernon’s hand to clasp her own on her lap.

“I know,” said Vernon, bending closely towards her, “I know that my
rival will marry neither Ida Dimsdale nor Lucy Corsoon.”

Diabella shrank back and gripped the arms of her chair. “The names are
not familiar to me,” she breathed in a low voice.

“Think again. The first name is familiar, surely?” mocked Vernon. “Why
should it be?”

“Colonel Towton might be able to answer that.”

Diabella rose suddenly, tall and straight, from her chair and threw
out her arms with a repellant gesture. “I do not know the name of
Colonel Towton.”

Vernon rose slowly and measured his distance carefully. “You seem to
forget a great deal, madame,” he said softly, his fingers itching to
tear off the expressionless mask.

“I never ask the names of my clients,” she mumbled.

“How do you know that Colonel Towton was a client of yours? I never
told you.”

“I guessed–that is—- Ah! Help!”

She shrieked loudly and with good reason. Vernon’s hand had shot out
while he kept her attention engaged, and in a moment he had ripped the
mask from her face. Head-dress and all came away in his grip, and
Diabella covered her face with her hands. At her shriek the fold of
the tent door was torn open and the burly Indian appeared. Vernon
flung aside the mask and veil and head-dress and seized Diabella’s
wrists as the Indian ran forward to aid her. “I must see who you are,”
cried Vernon and pulled her hands away. “Maunders!”

He fell back a step and into the arms of the Hindoo. It was indeed
Maunders whom he beheld, shrinking back into the shadows with a
furious, shameful face, startled as a trapped animal. Vernon had no
time to see more, for the Hindoo made a clutch at his throat, silent
and venomous. Mindful of how Colonel Towton had been assaulted and
Dimsdale killed, the young man turned fiercely to grapple with his
assailant. As the two men closed in what promised to be a deadly
struggle Maunders recovered his presence of mind sufficiently to dash
over the lamp, and the tent became pitchy dark.

In that Cimmerian gloom the combatants swayed and swung and fought
with silent earnestness. But the Hindoo was the stronger of the two,
and Vernon felt the lean, long fingers grip his throat with vicious
strength. He faintly heard Maunders, now at the door, hurriedly call
to the native in an unknown tongue, and, fearful lest the two villains
should escape, he tore himself away with a violent effort, crying as
loudly as he could for assistance. The next moment his opponent flung
himself forward and, picking him up as though he were a child, dashed
him with gigantic force to the ground. His head struck the turf with a
thud, and everything was swallowed up in blank insensibility.

In half an hour, more or less, Vernon came to himself slowly, and
opened his eyes in a bewildered manner. He was in complete darkness,
and for the moment could not remember where he was or what had taken
place. Gradually memory returned to him and he sat up painfully to
recall details. His head throbbed with the violence of the fall, and
the short, sharp struggle had set his nerves jangling like ill-tuned
bells. Rising to his feet with an effort he wondered why the Indian
had not finished him off, then recollected the rapid words of Maunders
in an unknown tongue. Probably he had been speaking Tamil and had
ordered the man not to go to extremities. As in the case of Colonel
Towton, when the creature had been warned by Diabella, or, rather, by
Maunders, as in this instance, the native had stopped short of actual
murder. In Maunders’ desperate enterprise it was necessary that he
should remain on the right side of the law.

Striking a match, Vernon ascertained that he was still in the tent,
for its blue glimmer showed the figures and hieroglyphics weirdly
flickering on the canvas walls. Apparently the criminals, for they
were nothing else, had fled, leaving him insensible, and Vernon
wondered that he had not been discovered. But when he walked outside
he saw on the door a notice stating that the booth was closed for an
hour, and guessed that in this way Maunders had provided time for
flight. So warned, no one would enter the tent, and evidently both the
noise of the struggle and his cry for assistance had passed unheeded.
Vernon drew a long breath and stood where he was, watching the crowd
of people merry-making under hundreds of coloured lamps, quite
oblivious to the fact that a tragedy had nearly taken place under
their very noses. He wondered what was best to be done.

It was useless to go to those in authority at The Georgian Hall as no
one would credit his wild tale, although the flight of Diabella and
her accomplices might lend colour to his narrative. Moreover, Vernon
decided that more than ever was it necessary to hunt down Maunders in
secrecy, as he wished for a full explanation from him before calling
in Drench to assist. Likewise, for the sake of Ida, of Mrs. Bedge, and
Lady Corsoon, Vernon wished if possible to avoid publicity, since any
scandal would certainly bring their names into unpleasant notoriety.
For these reasons the young man left The Georgian Hall without telling
anyone what had happened. But he chuckled as he went to think how the
public would be disappointed to find the tent of the sorceress empty.
Also, how amazed those managing the bazaar would be to discover that
Diabella had vanished with her takings for the day, which would be
considerable. Vernon felt quite sure that a man so unscrupulous as
Maunders would not hesitate to seize the till seeing that, having been
exposed, and doubtful if his old schoolfellow would hold his tongue,
he would want all the money he could get to assist his flight.

The question was to learn whither he had fled and what track to follow
in order to hunt him down. It was close upon seven o’clock, and
outside The Georgian Hall Vernon hesitated as to his next step. He
wondered whether it would be better to go home and retire to bed,
since he felt shaken by the struggle, or to seek out Colonel Towton
and enlist him as a fellow-pursuer in the man-hunt. Finally he decided
to take a taxi to the Colonel’s chambers and relate what had happened,
for he knew that unless he discussed the matter he would only worry
the whole night over the catastrophe. He therefore fortified himself
with a stiff brandy and soda at a near hotel and pulled himself
together for a serious conversation. And serious enough it would be
for Constantine Maunders, who could not be permitted to continue in
his nefarious career.

As it happened, Towton, late in dressing for dinner, had not yet left
his rooms for the Athenian Club. Vernon arrived at a quarter to eight,
just as the Colonel opened the door. The two came face to face with
mutual joy at meeting.

“My dear Vernon, I am glad to see you. I am simply dying to have a
talk, as I can do nothing but think of the entanglement in which we
find ourselves.”

“You can’t be more pleased than I am at having found you, Colonel. I
have had an adventure with Diabella.”

“The deuce. Have you learned who she is?”

“Who _he_ is, you mean. Yes. That mask concealed Constantine

Towton sat down on one of the hall chairs and stared. “Do you mean to
say that the young scamp has been masquerading as a woman?”

Vernon nodded and sat down wearily, for his bones ached. “I presume he
thought that there would be less danger of discovery if he changed his
sex. I expect he wore those long Egyptian robes over his ordinary
clothes. When discarding them he would reappear as Maunders, and could
easily escape without being noticed in the crowd. He’s clever, is
Constantine, and yet not clever enough.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Towton gruffly and
rising to his feet. “Suppose you come with me to the Athenian and tell
me all about the matter.”

“I’m not in evening kit.”

“Oh, the deuce take that,” said the Colonel cheerfully.

“And I’m rather knocked up with my fight.”

“Fight? Did Maunders show fight?”

“No. Your Hindoo did. He assaulted me as he did you and left his job
unfinished in the same way. It’s a long story and I want your
assistance. Go and have your dinner, Colonel, and I’ll lie down on the sofa
in your sitting-room until you return.”

“Pooh! pooh! I can’t eat with such news as this exciting me.” Towton
threw off his coat and hung his silk hat on a peg. “Come into the
sitting-room and I’ll send my man to the nearest restaurant for a
meal. Meanwhile you’d better have a peg, for you look as white as a
winter’s day.”

“No, thank you, Colonel. I had a brandy and soda just after leaving
The Georgian Hall,” said Vernon as they entered the sitting-room.

“Have you been there–at the bazaar?”

“Yes. Diabella had set up her tent there and was telling fortunes. I
heard of this at Lady Corsoon’s the other day, and so ventured to
beard the lioness in her den.”

“And the lioness turned out to be a lion,” chuckled Towton throwing
himself into a chair after making the sofa comfortable with cushions
for his guest. “Well, we’ll have the whole story after a makeshift
dinner, for, hang it, your disclosure has taken away a very excellent
appetite. Bendham!” The Colonel turned to the retired soldier who
acted as his valet and who had just entered the room, “go round to
the nearest restaurant and tell them to send in the best small dinner
they have, for two. Look sharp, now. You can lay the cloth in the
smoking-room; we’ll make shift there.”

Bendham saluted military fashion and took a speedy departure, while
his master turned his head in the direction of Vernon. “Tell me all
that has happened to you now,” he said easily; “it will be some time
before the dinner makes its appearance, and I’m on tenterhooks. The
deuce, to think that our blackguard friend–for he is that, I
swear–should be earning his money as a fortune-teller. It’s worse
than—-” Towton hesitated.

“Than my profession of a detective, you would say, Colonel,” finished
Vernon languidly. “I should rather think so. I assist the law, and
Maunders breaks it. But neither profession is tempting to a

“Oh, hang your profession,” said Towton impatiently. “You will soon
enter into your kingdom when Sir Edward gives up the ghost. And it’s
just as well that you have some experience in thief-catching seeing
what scoundrels we have to deal with. Maunders, by jove! Now we’ll be
able to find out how he came to know that Ida wasn’t Dimsdale’s
daughter. No wonder he decided to give her up, seeing that he was
after the money. What did he say?”

“Nothing. He cleared out of the tent as soon as I discovered his

“Where is he now?” demanded the Colonel sharply.

“I don’t know. That’s what I wish to speak to you about. And, to make
things quite clear, as I want your opinion, you had better hear the
whole story.”

Towton intimated his desire to be informed of what had taken place,
and listened attentively while Vernon detailed all that had happened
since Mrs. Crimer had informed him of Diabella’s proposed appearance
at the bazaar. He ended with a description of his recovering from
insensibility in the deserted tent and his subsequent decision to
consult the Colonel before-taking any steps. “And my reason for
wishing to move quietly is obvious,” was the concluding remark of the
young man.

“Yes! yes! I quite understand. We must keep Miss Corsoon’s name and
that of Miss Dimsdale out of the papers. By the way, what did this
fellow mean by hinting in his confounded fortune-telling at disgrace
to someone closely connected with Miss Corsoon? Does he mean her
mother or her father?”

Vernon felt a trifle confused. In his interest in the recital he had
unconsciously let slip more than he had been prepared to impart. Both
as a detective and as a gentleman he was bound to keep Lady Corsoon’s
secret, and as the disclosure of it was not particularly pertinent to
the matter in hand he brushed aside Towton’s question with a scornful
laugh. “Oh, I daresay that was all patter. Maunders knows that I love
Lucy and thought to intimidate me by a threat that he had power to
force the mother to support his preposterous claim to marry the girl.
But after this exposure he will scarcely dare to come forward.”

“The blackguard,” cried the honest Colonel heatedly; “he blackens the
character of both man and woman in his endeavours to earn his dirty
money. But I thought he was supposed to be at Gerby Hall?”

“Oh, he doubtless arranged that so as to provide himself with an

“Why the deuce should he provide himself with an _alibi?_”

“Can’t you see that Maunders must be The Spider?” said Vernon
impatiently. Towton leaped to his feet and began to walk to and fro
much perturbed. “Oh, impossible! I don’t like Maunders; all the same,
it seems incredible that he should be a murderer.”

“I can’t see that myself,” said Vernon drily. “Maunders is half a
Greek and is as wily a bird as ever had salt put on its tail. Whether
he gets it from his Greek father or from his English mother I can’t
say, but he certainly has that strong criminal taint, which induces
him to get money for his whims by illegal methods rather than by
honest toil. Besides, we can’t say if he killed Dimsdale, even though,
as is apparent, he is The Spider. Miss Hest declared to me in all
innocence, and not with any intention of defending him, that Maunders
was with her nearly all the evening.”

“Then he can’t be The Spider,” insisted the Colonel, “for undoubtedly
The Spider killed poor old Dimsdale.”

“So we thought; so everyone thinks; and yet–well, of course, it’s not
impossible that Maunders ordered this nameless native to get the
money, and the man may have executed the murder without instructions.”

“Or else,” said Towton emphatically, “Maunders may have had his mask
torn off by Dimsdale when he came for the money and murdered the old
man to prevent discovery. It cuts both ways.”

“Pardon me, no, if Miss Hest is to be believed.”

“I don’t trust that woman,” said the Colonel abruptly.

“She is scheming to get Ida to marry her brother.”

“I think she will fail there, as the brother is in London.”


“Yes. I met him both at Lady Corsoon’s and at the Bazaar. He said that
his sister _did_ wish to bring about the match, but that, not being
desirous of marrying Ida, he ran away from the Hall.”

“Leaving the field clear for Maunders?”

“You forget that Maunders is in town masquerading as Diabella.”

“He may have come up for that purpose.”

“Well, we can ascertain that from Mr. Hest. He declares that he left
him at Gerby Hall, or that Maunders was expected, I forget which. But
we’ll see him to-morrow and ask.”

Towton shook his head wisely. “He won’t know of Maunders’ movements.”

“You never can tell. At all events, it will do no harm to ask him. Now
I come to think of it,” said Vernon musingly and searching his memory,
“Hest told me to-day at the bazaar that he had received a letter from
his sister saying that Maunders had arrived on Sunday morning. That
was yesterday, so it is impossible to believe that Maunders went down
and came up in such a hurry. It’s my opinion that he never went to
Gerby Hall at all.”

“And I say, by jove!” cried the Colonel greatly excited, “Hest told a
lie if he said that he received a letter saying that Maunders had
arrived. Even if posted in Bowderstyke last evening it could not reach
him before to-night, and you say he gave you the information this

“He may have received it at mid-day.”

“No,” said Towton decidedly. “Our post at Bowderstyke is very
uncertain, as I know to my cost. This evening or to-morrow morning is
the very earliest that Hest could receive a letter posted on Sunday,
and as Maunders did not arrive until then Miss Hest could not have
written before.”

“I don’t believe that he arrived at all, and I can’t conceive why Miss
Hest should tell a falsehood.”

“I can. She is scheming for this money. However, I shall go with you
to-morrow and we’ll have it out with Hest. Where is he to be found?”

“He is staying with Professor Garrick Gail, at Isleworth.”

“The deuce! Ida told me that he did not approve of his sister’s

“Nor does he. But she asked him to give some message, and the
Professor asked him to stop at Isleworth while he was in town. He did
so, as he explained to me, so that he could persuade the Professor to
induce Miss Hest to give up her career.”

“A very lame explanation,” said the Colonel grimly. “Gentlemen don’t
stay at such places for such weak purposes. I tell you, Vernon, that I
don’t believe in those Hests. I never did, although you defended the
sister. They had a bad name at Bowderstyke as a wild family.”

“Oh, I thought that Francis Hest was looked upon as a benefactor?”

“He is,” admitted the Colonel reluctantly, “he’s a crazy
philanthropist, with his parish school-houses and Bolly Reservoir. All
the same, there’s a queer taint about them, and they live queer

“I can’t see that. Frances recites in London in a perfectly open and
honest way, and Francis acts in a noble manner as a philanthropist.”

“I daresay. All the same, I don’t trust either brother or sister: they
quarrel like mad, too.”

“Most families do,” retorted Vernon drily as he swung himself off the
sofa, “and Frances is certainly trying to further her brother’s
interest by securing him an heiress. That doesn’t look as though they

“Humph!” said Towton disbelievingly. “Probably the sister has learned
that Ida isn’t an heiress and wants to do her brother a bad turn.
However, it’s no use talking, as we get no further. Let us see Hest
to-morrow, and then learn, if we can, the whereabouts of Maunders. All
depends upon the confession of that scamp. But, I tell you what,
Vernon, if our young friend is this poisonous beast of a Spider he
will have left England by to-night’s mail.”

“Perhaps. But I could not stop him without consulting Drench, and that
means the interference of the police, which we wish to avoid.”

“It’s a damned tangle altogether,” muttered Towton savagely, “and–but
here comes Bendham to announce dinner. Come and eat. To-morrow we can
talk further.”

Vernon was quite willing to drop the subject for the time being, as
his head and limbs still ached with the struggle, and he felt more
inclined to go to bed than to sit discussing criminal trickery, which
required a very clear brain. Even at the makeshift dinner, which after
all was dainty and tempting, he was unable to eat much, and excused
himself to his host as speedily as he could consistently with
politeness. After arranging to meet the Colonel next day at three
o’clock at Waterloo Station he went home. A warm bath took the pains
partially away, and he was so tired that almost as soon as his head
rested on the pillow he dropped into a profound sleep. Not a single
dream broke his rest, which was prolonged to ten o’clock the next

While at breakfast, which he devoured with an excellent appetite,
Vernon recollected that he had not Professor Garrick Gail’s exact
address. It was at Isleworth that he lived, but it was necessary to
find the street and the number of the house. This was quickly learned
from an _Era_, which he sent his servant to buy, and he ascertained
that the retired actor dwelt in Siddons Villa, Petterby Road. Vernon
rather regretted that he had not made the appointment with Colonel
Towton earlier, since Mr. Hest might have gone out for the day.
However, he comforted himself with the reflection that in any case
Hest and Towton would meet at dinner on Wednesday. Meanwhile, there
was always the chance that the Yorkshire squire might be at Isleworth,
and in any case Vernon felt curious to see where Miss Hest lived when
in town. Like the Colonel, he was beginning to mistrust that young

Punctual to the moment Vernon arrived at Waterloo Station, but found
Towton before him. They greeted one another cordially, and Towton
congratulated his friend on his improved looks. And certainly a
night’s rest had done wonders for the young man. He felt, as the
saying goes, as fit as a fiddle, and quite looked forward to the
visit. “And I sincerely trust that Mr. Hest is at home,” he said

“We can wait for him if he is not,” said the Colonel, shouldering his
umbrella in soldier fashion. “I don’t leave until I have seen him,
that’s all. In one way or another I intend to have these infernal
mysteries cleared up. Upon my soul, sir,” said the Colonel bluffly, “I
feel as though I were bathing in dirty water.”

“You are not used to the seamy side of life as I am,” replied Vernon
as they passed the barrier and stepped into the train.

“No, by jove, sir, I’m not. And once I am married to Ida I shall take
care to leave all this sort of thing alone. Not the thing for a
gentleman by any means. You chuck it also, Vernon.”

“I intend to when my uncle dies. Once let Sir Arthur Vernon come into
existence with a good income and Nemo vanishes for ever.”

The Colonel nodded his approbation, and the two chatted about their
errand on the way to Isleworth. But all they could do in the absence
of positive fact was to theorise, which was unsatisfactory. But they
hoped when they laid hands on Maunders–no very easy matter, since the
scamp had taken the alarm–to have everything cleared up. Vernon still
held that his former friend was The Spider, but Colonel Towton
disagreed. “No! No! No!” said he decisively, “Maunders may be bad, but
he isn’t a murderer.”

“He’s anything that suits his purpose, so long as he isn’t found out,”
was Vernon’s retort. “He’s clever—-”

“And cunning, but he isn’t bold, and would be sure not to bring
himself within reach of the hands of justice by bloodshed.”

“He has brought himself quite close enough in other ways,” replied

In this way they talked, and in due time arrived at the charming
suburb of Isleworth, which looked quite countrified. The two descended
the steps and passed along a narrow path which led out of the station
into the road. An inquiry from a passing butcher-boy on a bicycle soon
advised them of the whereabouts of Petterby Road, and shortly they
found themselves facing a double-fronted house with a small and
neglected garden between it and the quiet side-road.

“The sluggard’s domain,” said Towton with disgust, for, like most
military men, he was excessively tidy. “Might be made pretty if
attended to, by jove.”

“I don’t think retired actors go in much for gardening,” said Vernon
with a smile, as he reached for the knocker.

A stout woman, with the remains of heavy good looks, opened the door
with the air of a tragedy queen, although her dress was scarcely
regal. Vernon asked if he could see Mr. Hest and received a reply in
the negative, as it seemed that Mr. Hest was absent. “But I anticipate
that he will return at a comparatively early hour,” said the lady

“Can we see Professor Gail?” asked Vernon, determined to enter the
house and wait for hours if necessary.

“Professor Garrick Gail,” said the lady, giving him the entire name
with the air of a Siddons, “is resting prior to going later to the
Curtain Theatre. But if your errand is pressing—-”

“Yes, it is. Please give the Professor my card.”

“I am Mrs. Garrick Gail, formerly Miss Hettie Montgomery,” said the
lady in haughty tones, “and I do not convey messages. Maria!” she
beckoned to a small servant whose not very clean face peeped under her
substantial arm, “convey this intimation to your master. Gentlemen,”
she flung open the door grandly, “enter, and repose yourselves in the

Vernon smiled at the tinsel majesty of the actress, but the Colonel,
without moving a muscle of his good-looking face, marched in stiffly.
Shortly they found themselves in a tawdry room of no great size,
crammed with theatrical photographs and furnished in a poor,
pretentious manner, which revealed poverty, while it aped the genteel.
Mrs. Garrick Gail, formerly Miss Hettie Montgomery, conducted them in
with the air of one accustomed to the centre of the stage and then
departed stating that her husband would shortly do himself the honour
of waiting on them.

“What airs!” murmured Towton, recalling his Shakespeare indistinctly;
“an intolerable quantity of sack to a pennyworth of bread.”

“These actors and actresses are always in the glare of the
footlights,” said Vernon, sitting down cautiously on a shaky chair.
“By the way, Colonel, if I do a little business with the Professor
don’t look more surprised than you can help.”

“Business? What business?”

“I intend to ask if Miss Frances Hest is open to an engagement. It is
necessary, since both you and I are beginning to mistrust that young
lady, to be diplomatic.”

“That means you mistrust this actor also and wish to throw him off the

Vernon nodded. “Exactly, and–hush—-” He stopped and composed his
features as the door opened and Professor Gail stalked into the room,
like the Ghost of Hamlet’s father.

Anyone could see at a glance that the man was an actor. He was tall,
and lean, and solemn, yet with a twinkle in his deep-sunken eyes,
which showed that he could play comedy as well as tragedy. His bluish
jowl, from frequent close shaving, his long hair, his measured
gestures, and his lordly gait all revealed one who was used to the
world behind the curtain. His voice was deep and sonorous and his
enunciation almost too perfect; nor did he clip his words
colloquially, but gave them their full length and full meaning.
Finally, he had a certain dignity, habitual to one who had played many
a kingly part in his time, and who in ordinary life found it difficult
not to relapse into blank verse.

“Colonel Towton–Arthur Vernon,” he read from the pencilled card.
“These are your names, I take it? And your business, gentlemen?”

“Well, we are killing two birds with one stone,” said Vernon easily,
as the actor sat down in a regal manner as though the arm-chair were a
throne. “My friend here wishes to see Mr. Hest.”

“He is absent for the moment, sir, but will return anon. Will you wait
or will you leave a message.”

“I prefer to wait,” said Towton stiffly, as he did not like the
atmosphere or the company. “When do you expect Mr. Hest back?”

“Well, sir, he may return in twenty minutes or in sixty, which is to
say, on the hour. As my guest he has full freedom to go and return
when he desires. I am content that you should remain, and if any

“Thank you, no,” interrupted the Colonel hastily but politely.

“It is well. And you, sir?” The Professor turned to Vernon. “Nothing
for me, thank you. I have called both to see Mr. Hest and yourself,
sir, as I wish to engage Miss Hest to recite at the ‘At Home’ of a
friend of mine. Lady Brankworth. Perhaps you know her?”

“Well. I know her well. I have superintended amateur plays in her
drawing-room on more than one occasion. Ah! so she desires the
services of my talented pupil? And on what date?”

“Thursday week, I think. But I am not sure. I shall have to see her
again and then can let you know. Miss Hest is away, I fancy.”

“In her ancestral home in Yorkshire,” said the actor rolling his words
out grandly, “but she returns shortly and will be delighted to accept
of the engagement provided the fees—-”

“Those will be all right, Professor. Lady Brankworth pays liberally.”

“And so she ought, to secure the services of Miss Hest. I assure you,
sir, that I have rarely come across a lady who recites so nobly. If
she would only pay attention to her art instead of indulging in social
frivolity with that unfortunate young lady who lost her father at
Hampstead, she would become one of our greatest actresses.”

“I fancy her brother does not wish her to go on the stage,” said

Professor Garrick Gail waved his hand and then thrust it into his coat
in Napoleonic fashion. “He is prejudiced, prejudiced. I would he were
on the stage himself, if only because he resembles his sister, my
talented pupil, so closely. As Viola and Sebastian in ‘Twelfth Night,’
they would take the town by storm. Always provided,” said the old
actor with another wave, “that Mr. Hest has the same talent in measure
as his sister has: a fact I am by no means sure of.”

“They are very like one another,” broke in Towton coldly.

“For that reason I wish both were on the stage to play in twin parts,”
replied the Professor in his most stately manner. “They are as like as
two eggs, as you observe, sir. But Mr. Hest thinks little of our
glorious profession, and is staying here in the vain hope of inducing
me to persuade his sister, my talented pupil, to surrender the laurel
wreath of the stage. Needless to say, I decline to commit so great a

How long the Professor would have gone on descanting on the histrionic
capabilities of Frances Hest it is hard to say, but his eloquence was
cut short by the entrance of Mrs. Gail, who swept an apologetic
curtsey to the gentlemen for her sudden appearance. She then whispered
to her husband, and Vernon caught a word or two about “a bill–man at
the back door–must have his money,” etc. Gail looked perturbed and
rose quickly.

“A small domestic concern, gentlemen,” he said, stalking to the door
followed by his wife. “Excuse me while I adjust matters. I shall
return soon,” and he made his exit with Mrs. Gail in a most approved
stage fashion.

When they were alone the Colonel asked a question: “Can you get this
engagement for Miss Hest?”

“Oh, yes. Lady Brankworth is a great friend of mine and is always
giving parties. There will be no difficulty in my making good my word.
The old man seems to be all right and his wife also. Whatever devilry
the Hests may be up to, that worthy couple know nothing about it.”

Scarcely were the words out of his mouth when the door opened quickly
and a man entered the room in great haste. Vernon sprang to his feet.

“Maunders once more!” He cried; “The very man I wish to see.”

And Maunders it was, looking like a trapped tiger, furious and