Maunders recognised his peril in a moment and immediately turned to
retreat. But Vernon was too quick for him and leaped between him and
the door. When it was closed and Vernon had his back against it
Maunders glanced desperately at the one window of the room. Here
Colonel Towton, now on his feet, barred his way, so there was nothing
for it but to surrender to a strength he could not fight against. With
extraordinary self-control the scamp pulled himself together and
demanded in a surly tone what his captors meant by behaving towards
him in this way.

“Sit down,” said Vernon without deigning to reply directly; “you have
to explain matters before you leave this room.”

“I have nothing to explain,” muttered Maunders doggedly, but
nevertheless judged it wise to obey. “You had better take care what
you are about.”

“I’ll take care of myself and of you also,” replied Vernon composedly.

“I ask you, Colonel Towton, if this is the way for one gentleman to
treat another?” demanded the trapped rogue.

“Two gentlemen,” corrected the Colonel coldly, “who are dealing with a
confounded scoundrel.”

“I’ll make you pay for those words,” threatened Maunders, biting his

“I don’t recognise your right to demand satisfaction as I only deal with
gentlemen. Mr. Vernon and myself have run you to earth, and—-”

“How did you find out that I was here?” interrupted Maunders

“We did not expect to find you here,” said Vernon, still with his back
to the door and keeping a watchful eye on his former friend. “We came
down on other business, connected with Mr. Hest.”

“With Hest?” Maunders appeared perturbed.

“What do you know about him?” asked Towton sharply, and noticing the
change of expression.

“I know nothing, save that he is stopping here.”

“And how do you come to be in this house?”

“That’s my business,” retorted Maunders doggedly. “Your business is
our business,” interposed Vernon quietly.

“I fail to see that.”

“You fail to see a good many things; but don’t be afraid, I shall make
everything clear to you in good time.”

“Are you here as my old school friend?” said Maunders, whining
sentimentally, “or as Nemo, the detective?”

“You will soon learn. But of one thing you may be certain, that I am
no friend of yours. Can you wonder at it, seeing what I discovered

“I can explain everything.”

“Good! Colonel Towton and I await your explanation.”

Maunders again cast a look at door and window and again saw that there
was no hope of escape. “What do you wish to know?” was his sullen

“In the first place, how you come to be here.”

“That’s easy. I started on Saturday to go down to Yorkshire, as I told
you how I intended to go. But news came that my aunt was ill and
wished to see me at once. I turned back at the station and went to
Hampstead. Then I met Hest at the bazaar yesterday—-”

“Does he know that you are Diabella?” interrupted Vernon quickly.

“No, he doesn’t. I met him before I went into the tent to do business.
He asked me why I had not gone to Yorkshire, and when I explained he
asked me down here. I came last night and remained the night. It’s all
fair, square, and above-board with me.”

“That’s a lie,” said Vernon impulsively, “and Hest told me another one
at the bazaar. He could not have seen you between the time I parted
from him and came to you when you were masquerading as Diabella, yet
he told me that he had received a letter from his sister saying you
were in Yorkshire. And you didn’t come down here, I take it, to talk
Shakespeare and musical glasses. There is something between you and
this man Hest, and between you and Professor Gail, no doubt.”

Maunders rose suddenly and spoke with great earnestness. “I assure you
that Gail knows nothing more than that Hest asked me to stay as his
guest. He will be here soon, and I beg of you to say nothing to him of
what you have discovered. I shall explain everything to your
satisfaction before you leave this house.”

“On that condition,” said Vernon, making a sign that Towton should be
silent, “we will say nothing to the Professor. I believe I hear
footsteps, so no doubt he is coming.” Vernon moved away from the door.
“If you try to escape, Maunders, I’ll break your leg with a bullet,”
and he pulled out a neat revolver which he kept concealed in his hip

“Rather melodramatic,” sneered Maunders with a shrug; “However, you
need not be afraid. I’ll sit here quietly enough.”

“You have more cause to be afraid than I have. Hush! Here is the
Professor coming,” and as he spoke the door opened to admit the old
actor. “Mr. Maunders has just come in to keep us company while we wait
for Mr. Hest,” said Vernon in an easy tone.

“Yes,” said Maunders, who by this time had recovered his composure.
“We are old friends and have much to talk about, so don’t let us keep
you from your afternoon sleep, Professor.”

“If you will not think me lacking in courtesy,” said Gail in his
stately manner, “I shall certainly retire. The brain,” he tapped his
forehead, “needs rest, and I have invariably found that sleep, as
Shakespeare says, ‘knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.’ Wil you have
any refreshment, gentlemen?”

“No, thank you,” replied Vernon politely; “but it is growing dark, so
perhaps you will order lights.”

“Yonder lamp is ready for use,” said the Professor, pointing to the
corner near the fireplace, “and certainly it is growing unusually
dark, although it is scarcely five o’clock. A fog is descending on the
verdant earth.” He went to the window and looked out. “Yes, a dense
fog. Have you noted, Mr. Maunders, how rapidly these autumnal fogs
descend on London?”

“Yes. But I should have thought that you were too far away to have
them here,” replied Maunders in an easy conversational tone, which did
great credit to his powers of self-control. “No, sir; no. The
fuliginous haze does not spare even our rural suburb, if I may so term
it.” He swept aside the curtain with a tragic gesture. “Mark how the
cloudy mists, darkened with smoke, swallow up house after house and
road after road; mark how a brown pall is drawn over the fair green
looks of earth and how the—-”

“One would have to be in a balloon to see all that,” said Maunders
rudely. “I hope you won’t mind, Professor, but I have private business
to discuss with my friends here. If Mr. Hest comes in, please tell him
I shall see him in his bedroom as soon as my friends go.”

“Do nothing of the sort, Professor,” snapped the Colonel. “I have come
here to see Mr. Hest, and he must meet me in this room.”

But the speech of Maunders had offended the touchy old actor. “I have
nothing to do with these things,” he said, stalking towards the door,
“and, in the good old English fashion, my guests are at liberty to act
as they please. Mr. Hest need be told nothing, and when he returns he
will certainly enter this room, as is his custom.”

“But—-” began Maunders, only to be cut short by the indignant

“You are not my guest, sir, but the guest of Mr. Hest,” he said in his
deepest tones, “and you have told me to leave my own room. These
manners are suited to the Hyperboreans of the Far North.”

“I wish to explain—-”

“Explain nothing, sir,” cried Gail in the ponderous manner of Dr.
Samuel Johnson. “You may have a front like Mars to threaten and
command, but I am no menial to be so hectored.” He swept an imaginary
mantle over his left shoulder and mouthed blank verse:

“We must not stint
Our necessary actions in the fear
To cope malicious censurers.”

“Therefore,” ended Mr. Gail, returning to prose, “I shall retire to my
couch, and so good-day to one and all.”

When he had made his exit, for it could scarcely be said that he took
his departure in a conventional manner, Maunders gave vent to a weak,
tittering laugh, doubtless to cloak the real nervousness he felt. “The
old fool,” he observed with his characteristic shrug.

“Let us hope you will not prove to be a young one by withholding from
us the truth of this shady business you have been engaged in,” said
Colonel Towton in a caustic manner, for his sympathies were with the
retired actor.

“Thank you, I don’t wish to receive any compliments,” sneered
Maunders, “and, for heaven’s sake, let us get this business over at
once. I have more to do than to explain my private affairs to

Vernon laughed as he saw that under his air of bravado Maunders was
intensely anxious about his position. “That cock won’t fight,” he said
coolly. “You must be aware that you are in a very dangerous position.”

“I am aware of nothing of the sort. I can justify myself—-”

“Do so, as regards your masquerading.”

“Is it a crime to earn an honest livelihood?”

“Honest!” said Towton with scorn, “but let that pass.”

“Fortune-telling is as honest as your detective business,” said
Maunders insolently to Vernon. “I am Diabella. Why should I deny it?”

“You can’t, or you would. But to dress up as a I woman—-”

“I didn’t,” denied Maunders with a scowl. “I simply wore those
Egyptian robes over my ordinary clothes and the waxen mask to conceal
my face. Also, all that rotten paraphernalia seems to be necessary to
the business.”

“I daresay, to deceive people,” said Vernon drily. “Why did you act in
this way, may I ask?”

“Because I couldn’t get my mother to allow me sufficient money to live

“I thought that Mrs. Bedge was your aunt?” put in the Colonel quickly.

“So she is, but I am likewise her adopted son. She kept me short, and
I had to earn my money somehow. For three years I have masqueraded as
Diabella, and, although I don’t want it known, I don’t mind if you do
tell, as no one can say a word against me.”

“I can,” said Towton grimly. “You employed your servant to strangle

Maunders shook his head violently. “I did nothing of the sort.

“Is that the native’s name?” interposed Vernon suddenly.

“Yes. I had two native servants. Hokar and Bahadur, and they are both
devoted to me. When you, Colonel, tried to pull off my mask naturally
Hokar intervened to prevent your doing so. In the same way, Vernon, he
punished you for using violence towards me. And I prevented the
faithful fellow from strangling you both, so you have your lives to
thank me for.”

“Why didn’t you prevent him from strangling Dimsdale?” asked Towton.

“I swear that Hokar had nothing to do with that murder, nor had I.”

“Of course, you would say that for your own safety,” said Vernon
contemptuously; “but how was it that you became possessed of
Dimsdale’s secret?”

Maunders hesitated. “I am not bound to answer that,” he said

“If you don’t answer me you will answer Drench,” threatened Vernon

“Drench? You would not dare to bring him into this matter?”

“Why not? Dimsdale was blackmailed on account of a certain secret,
and, because he would not pay, perished by violence. You know this
secret, so the inference is that you—-”

“That I ordered him to be strangled?” finished Maunders calmly. “How
can that be when Hokar was never near Dimsdale’s bungalow in his life,
and certainly, as I was with Miss Hest nearly all the evening, I could
not have committed the murder myself.”

“That remains to be proved,” rejoined Vernon, suppressing what Miss
Hest had told him of the young man’s movements on the fatal night.
“And even presuming you are innocent of the actual crime, and that
Hokar was not near the house, The Spider, who came to blackmail, must
have learned from you the secret which he threatened to disclose.”

Maunders was silent for a moment. “You can’t prove that I knew
about this secret,” he said doggedly.

“Colonel Towton can swear that he heard it from Diabella, and I can
prove that you are the fortune-teller. These facts only admit of one
interpretation, Maunders. Either you are an accomplice of The Spider
or you are The Spider himself.”

“It’s a lie, it’s an infernal lie,” cried Maunders greatly agitated.

“It’s the truth, and you know it. Your face reveals the truth.”

“How can you tell that when we are nearly in darkness with this fog?”
asked Maunders between his teeth.

“I can see well enough, and the darkness is easily remedied. Colonel,
will you please light the lamp while I keep an eye on our friend

Maunders cursed his former schoolfellow ardently, while Towton quietly
lighted the tall lamp which stood in the corner. The light soon glowed
through a rosy shade, adorned in a tawdry manner with artificial
flowers, and Vernon stepped up to Maunders. The scamp met his scrutiny
unflinchingly, and displayed a courage worthy of a better cause. He
was pale with apprehension, for he well knew, in spite of his bravado,
that he was in a tight place. But the crimson hue of the light
filtering through the shade threw a delicate glow on his finely-cut
face. Facing the two gentlemen, who knew him past all denial to
be a scoundrel, he looked as handsome a lad as ever stepped in
shoe-leather. It seemed a terrible pity that so fair an outside should
mask such internal evil. Something of this sort occurred to Vernon as
he stepped back with a sigh.

“I wish you were as decent a fellow as you look,” he said in a
regretful voice. “In heaven’s name, Maunders, why can’t you be an
honest man? You have a handsome face, a fine figure, you have had the
best education England can afford, and you hold a good position in the
social world. Finally, your aunt, Mrs. Bedge, who adopted you as her
son, loves you dearly, and if you have not sufficient self-respect to
keep straight for your own sake you might behave like an honest
gentleman for hers.”

Maunders might have been moved by this discourse, or he might not. At
all events, he showed little signs of feeling on his classic face.
“It’s all very well your talking,” he said sullenly and looking down,
a trifle ashamed, if indeed he could be said to display any emotion,
“but I have been brought up to live like a prince. I have the tastes
of a duke and the income of a pauper, so I must gratify my fancies
somehow. I am no more proud of having had to take to fortune-telling
for my bread and butter than you are in setting up as a private
detective. Neither business is respectable, but the law can say
nothing to you or me.”

“Nothing to me, certainly,” Vernon assured him coldly, “since I am, and
always have been, on the side of justice. Your fortune-telling may be
innocent enough in the main, since you prefer wringing money from
silly people instead of taking up a good business. But it’s your
connection with The Spider that is dangerous to you.”

“I am not The Spider, and I have no connection with the beast.”

“In that case how comes it that The Spider offers to place Lady
Corsoon in possession of her niece’s fortune on condition that she
permits _you_ to marry Miss Corsoon?”

The Colonel uttered an ejaculation of mingled wrath and horror, and
Maunders grew a shade paler. “Is that true?” Towton demanded with a
look of loathing at Maunders and then an inquiring glance at Vernon.

“Perfectly true,” was the response. “I did not intend to say anything
to you, Colonel, since the affair is a private one of Lady Corsoon’s.
But it seems necessary to be frank even at the risk of exposing a
lady’s secrets, much as I hate to do so. Lady Corsoon received an
offer from The Spider to return certain jewels which she pawned to pay
her bridge losses, and which he obtained possession of by means of
forged pawntickets, on condition that she should pay one thousand
pounds. Afterwards another letter was received saying that he
would take ten thousand pounds–a single year’s income of Miss
Dimsdale’s–and would place Lady Corsoon in possession of the fortune.
She was to pay the money and consent to the marriage of our friend
here with Miss Corsoon. How do you explain this interest which The
Spider takes in you, Maunders, if you don’t know him?”

The culprit moistened his dry lips and replied with insolent boldness:
“I wrote that letter to Lady Corsoon myself–that is, the second
letter. I know nothing about the first.”

“Then you are The Spider?” cried Towton fiercely.

“No. Don’t run your head against a wall,” retorted Maunders coolly,
and fighting for every inch of the disputed ground. “Lady Corsoon told
me about the first letter and the threat. I advised her to consult
Vernon in his character of Nemo, and did him a good turn.”

“And yourself a better,” said Vernon scornfully. “You hoped that Lady
Corsoon on learning my employment would forbid me to think of her

“Yes, I did. However, I sent her to you to do business. Then I thought
as she was committed so far with The Spider that there would be no
harm in my trying to get her on my side so that I might marry Lucy. I
knew that Ida was not entitled to the fortune, as there was no will
and she was not old Dimsdale’s daughter. I knew also that Lady Corsoon
was kept short by her husband and would like to have her own money, if
only to pay The Spider and recover the jewels so as to hide her fault
from Sir Julius. For this reason I wrote the letter asking that Lady
Corsoon should aid me to marry her daughter.”

“And you asked for ten thousand pounds also,” said Towton wrathfully.

“Only one year’s income of the Dimsdale investments,” retorted
Maunders with great coolness; “a man must have some money for his

“And when Lady Corsoon died you guessed that your wife–which she
never will be, you can rest assured–would inherit the whole Dimsdale

“Quite so. I thought of everything. I suppose Lady Corsoon showed you
the second letter as well as the first in your character of Nemo?”

“You are correct,” replied Vernon with great composure, “and I noted
that the second letter, like the first, was signed with the ideograph
of The Spider.”

“Naturally, it would be,” said Maunders with a shrug. “I easily had an
india-rubber stamp made. The thing, if done, had to be well done.”

“You are a blackguard,” said Colonel Towton, much disgusted. “And may
I ask,” requested Vernon with irony, “how many other people you have
blackmailed by using this stamp?”

“None; nor did I blackmail Lady Corsoon. I simply made a suggestion.”

“On the threat of telling her husband about her gambling and sale of
the family jewels.”

“The Spider used that argument first,” said Maunders sullenly; “I
simply endorsed it.”

“I heartily believe that you are the scoundrel himself,” snapped

“I swear I am not. Why, even my mother was blackmailed–my adopted
mother, that is–on the plea that she is my _real_ mother. Would I
have done such a thing as that?

“You would do anything to gain your own ends,” said Vernon coldly,
“always provided your villainy was not discovered.”

Maunders grew furiously scarlet. “At least I would have spared my
aunt. Mrs. Bedge would give me her last sixpence in my character as
her adopted son. There was no need for me to attempt blackmail.”

“Perhaps there was not. But all this does not explain how you came to
communicate the secret of Dimsdale to The Spider.”

“I didn’t communicate it, and how he managed to learn it I can’t say.”

“How did you become possessed of it?” asked Towton very directly.

“I shan’t tell you. And I’m not going to be ragged any longer. If I’d
guessed for one moment that you were in this house I would not have
put in an appearance.”

“I can well believe that,” said Vernon coolly.

“It’s not that I’m afraid,” Maunders hastily assured him. “As Diabella
I have done nothing to which the law can take exception. The assaults
on you and the Colonel were brought about by your own damned meddling
and by the fidelity of Hokar. But I have given up playing

“Because you feared lest we should have you arrested,” said Towton

“No. Had I been afraid I should never have appeared at the bazaar.”

“Oh, yes, you would. You pretended to leave London so as to provide an
_alibi_ in case of danger,” said Vernon quietly, “and you did not
think that Colonel Towton would be at the bazaar. Seeing me didn’t
matter, as you did not know that Towton and myself were working
together. And when I think of the infernal rubbish you told me—-”

“It was your own fault,” said Maunders sulkily, “and I’ve had enough
of this so, I’m off.”

He moved towards the door, but Towton sprang forward and caught his
arm. “If you leave this room you will be handed over to the police,”
he declared.

“He will be handed over in any case,” said Vernon decisively.

Maunders turned ghastly pale and his knees shook. He was beginning to
lose the courage which had carried him so far successfully. “Vernon,
you would not disgrace your old friend,” he pleaded piteously.

“You are no friend of mine,” was the stern reply, “and your sole
chance of escape from arrest is to reveal how you learned this secret
of Dimsdale’s.”

“If I tell it will you let me leave this house free?”

“No, I shan’t. I intend to keep an eye on you until this mystery of
The Spider is cleared up. You are his jackal.”

“I am not; I know nothing. I refuse to speak.”

“Colonel, go out and fetch a policeman.”

“No! No! No! No!” almost shrieked the wretched man, and flung himself
on his knees. “Arthur, don’t, don’t. I swear I am innocent. I know
nothing of Dimsdale’s murder.”

“Stand up, you cur, and speak out,” said Vernon, more enraged by this
exhibition of weakness than he had been by the man’s insolence. “How
did you learn this secret of Dimsdale’s? Is it true or a lie?”

“It is true. It is true. I swear it is true. Oh, don’t call in the

Maunders still grovelled and clung to the knees of Vernon with such
force that the young man could not get away. Outside, the fog had
rolled right up to the single window of the apartment, and the livid
look of the atmosphere suited the situation much better than did the
calm, rosy light of the lamp. Near the door knelt Maunders, weeping
piteously and begging that the police might not be called in. Vernon
stood silent, but Towton gave vent to an oath at the unmanly demeanour
of the detected scoundrel.

“Who told you the secret?” he demanded fiercely. “I insist upon
knowing, and if you don’t tell I’ll call in the police myself. A cur
such as you are should be under lock and key.”

“Come, Maunders,” said Vernon sternly, “who told you?”

“Miss Jewin. She knew Dimsdale in India and Burmah,” snuffled the
kneeling man, desperately afraid.

“Who is Miss Jewin?”

“Hest’s housekeeper at Gerby—-”

“What!” Both men uttered the ejaculation simultaneously and looked at
one another. Then ensued a silence, while the fog closed in thicker
and darker, and only the weeping of Maunders could be heard. Suddenly
from the hall came the sound of the door opening, and then a firm
footstep. Maunders gave a wild cry and clung vehemently to Vernon’s

“It’s Hest! It’s Hest! He’ll kill me for telling.”

“Then Hest is The—-”

“Yes! Yes! He’s The Spider and—-”

The door was flung open as the footsteps paused, and Francis Hest,
wrapped in a heavy overcoat, stood on the threshold smiling. Maunders
beat the ground with his hands and crawled to the newcomer’s feet.

“I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t help it. I had to tell you were—-”

“The Spider,” cried Vernon, whipping out his revolver. “I arrest you

He got no further. At the words of Maunders the villain’s face had
changed with the rapidity of lightning from smiles to desperate anger.
He cast a furious look on his accomplice then suddenly lowered his
head so as to get under the line of fire. The next moment Vernon felt
Hest charge him head downward in the stomach. The revolver shot
harmlessly to the roof, while the young man, taken by surprise, was
dashed against the Colonel. Both men fell in a confused heap.

“Follow! Follow, you devil!” cried Hest kicking Maunders, still on his
knees, and then he rushed out of the door. Maunders leaped up to race
for his liberty and closed the door behind him. When the Colonel and
Vernon got on their feet again they rushed into the hall to find it
empty. The front door had crashed to with a noise like thunder, and
they heard it being locked on the outside, to the accompaniment of a
triumphal laugh.

“We’ve lost them,” cried Vernon, tugging vainly at the door. “They’ll
get away easily in the fog.”

While Vernon desperately tried to wrench open the front door Towton,
with the quick foresight of an old soldier, ran back into the
drawing-room and lifted the window sash. In less than two minutes he
was outside and hastened to release his companion. Luckily, in his
hurry Hest had been unable to extract the key from the lock, so a
swift turn of the wrist soon removed the barrier. Vernon and the
Colonel set off hot-footed in pursuit of the fugitives, and as they
plunged into the fog caught a glimpse of Gail and his wife hurrying
into the hall with scared faces, doubtless attracted by the ominous
sound of the pistol-shot. But there was no time to explain as every
moment was of value, and the two men put their hearts into the chase.

The sudden autumnal fog which had so unexpectedly descended had turned
the atmosphere to thick wool, so that it was difficult to breathe, let
alone to see. On all sides the gloomy mists shut in the prospect, and
after racing vaguely for some minutes down the silent road, the
pursuers halted by mutual consent to listen for possible flying
footsteps. Not a sound struck on their ears; it might have been the
middle of the night, so dense was the darkness and so silent the whole
neighbourhood. They could not tell in which direction the two
scoundrels had fled, and on the face of it pursuit was absolutely

“We might make for the railway station,” suggested the Colonel; “They
may have gone there.”

Vernon shook his head. “I doubt it. Maunders is too cunning and Hest
too desperate to think of taking the train to Waterloo. But, in any
case, I’ll send a wire to the stationmaster asking him to detain them.
Maunders can be recognised from having no hat.”

“There are man men who wear no hat nowadays,” said Towton dismally,
“it is not a distinguishing mark worth much. But how the dickens are
we to find a telegraph office in this fog?”

Vernon looked around and noted a weak flare of light illuminating the
darkness. Followed by his companion, he walked towards it and found
that it came from the windows of a grocer’s shop at the corner of the
road. Entering quickly, he asked for the nearest telegraph office, and
learned to his great satisfaction that it was at the chemist’s two or
three doors down. The worthy grocer looked somewhat alarmed at the
entrance of two gentlemen without hats, for, in their haste, Vernon
and his friend had forgotten to take them. But they gave the tradesmen
no time to ask questions, and by closely skirting the shops round the
corner managed to find that of the chemist. Here Vernon sent a wire to
the stationmaster at Waterloo instructing him to detain two men, one
dark and one fair, without a hat, who might possibly arrive by an
early train. He added a meagre description of their dress, so that the
telegram proved to be somewhat lengthy.

“But I fear it is useless,” said Vernon as they left the shop and had
handed the wire to the startled chemist. “They won’t take the train,
I’m certain, and even if they do my description is not clear enough,
unless the Waterloo stationmaster happens to be singularly

“We can but hope for the best, and we have done all we can,” said
Towton in a decided tone. “What’s to be done now?”

“We must return to Siddons Villa, both to get our hats and to see

“How are we to retrace our steps in this fog?”

“Petterby Road is just round the corner, and by keeping to the
railings of the gardens we are bound to find the house.”

It was as Vernon said. They had raced in a straight line down to the
grocer’s shop at the corner and had not left Petterby Road until they
went to the telegraph office. On recovering the bearings of the first
shop they carefully felt their way up the road, reading on every gate
the designation of each house. In this way, and after some ten or
twelve minutes had elapsed, they managed to strike Siddons Villa and
again found themselves at the front door. It was closed, as also was
the window.

“I hope Gail has not run away also,” said Vernon ringing the bell.

“Do you suspect he has anything to do with the business?”

“Who knows? On the face of it he looks innocent, and Maunders
certainly swore that the old man was ignorant. But Maunders is a liar

Here the door was cautiously opened, and the white face of Professor
Gail became visible. “Who is there?” he asked in a trembling voice.

“Mr. Vernon and Colonel Towton,” said the latter gentleman; “we have
returned to get our hats and to explain.”

“You won’t fire any more pistols? My wife is almost fainting, and I
don’t like this sort of business. What does it—-”

“Open the door, open the door!” cried the Colonel testily; “you shall
have a full explanation.”

Mr. Gail still seemed reluctant, as he apparently took them for
robbers and dangerous rogues, so Vernon, losing patience, forced
the door back and the old actor along with it. They faced the
Professor in the hall and saw that he was holding an old-fashioned
blunderbuss–probably a stage property used in “The Miller and His
Men” and other out-of-date plays. In the distance, and sheltering
herself behind her husband, was Mrs. Gail grasping a poker in her
trembling hand. The pair seemed to be thoroughly frightened, and,
considering the circumstances, it was small wonder that they were.

“I have sent Maria for a policeman,” quavered Mrs. Gail, “and both my
husband and myself are armed.”

“I hope Maria won’t lose herself in the fog,” said Vernon
good-humouredly, and in spite of his vexation at the escape of The
Spider and his jackal.

“In heaven’s name, what does it mean?” demanded the Professor somewhat
recovering his dignity.

“Come into the drawing-room and we will explain,” said Towton with
some impatience, for he had small leniency for cowardice; “There’s
nothing to be afraid of. Mr. Vernon and I are honest men: you have got
rid of the villains.”

“The villains?” shrieked Mrs. Gail, trembling violently and dropping
the poker.

“Maunders and Hest,” said Vernon carelessly; “come in.”

He preceded his friend and the Gails into the drawing-room, quite
certain, from the way in which they had behaved, that they knew
nothing of the wicked doings of Hest and Maunders. When the door was
closed and everyone was seated Vernon proceeded to examine the actor
and actress. The situation, as Professor Gail said afterwards, was
highly dramatic.

“You must answer my questions frankly,” said Vernon addressing the
couple; “if you do not, the police may interfere.”

“The police?” shrieked Mrs. Gail, turning as white as chalk.

The Professor silenced her with a gesture and spoke to Vernon with
great dignity. “Young man,” he said, striving to keep his voice from
trembling, “I pay my rates and taxes, my bills to my tradesmen, and my
rent for our home. Under these circumstances I cannot see why you
should talk of the police.”

“I speak of them in connection with what has taken place.”

“And you may well do so, young man. To fire a pistol in a private

“That was an accident,” Vernon hastened to explain. “My revolver went
off when Mr. Hest assaulted me.”

“Why should Mr. Hest assault you?” demanded Mrs. Gail, much

“That’s a long story. Tell me,” Vernon turned towards the Professor
while Towton held his peace and nursed his hat, “what do you know of

“Know of him?” said the amazed Gail, looking thoroughly puzzled. “I
know no more than that he is a friend of Mr. Hest’s who called last
night and who was requested, by Mr. Hest and not by me, to stay the
night. I have never set eyes on him before.”

“Did Miss Hest ever mention him?”

“Yes, she did,” broke in Mrs. Gail, who was listening intently. “She
told me that he was a friend of hers in love with Miss Dimsdale, and
mentioned that he was the only man she had ever seen handsome enough
to play Romeo as Romeo should be played.”

Professor Gail nodded his head graciously. “I agree with Miss Hest
there,” he said gravely; “Mr. Maunders is indeed handsome. But she
never told us anything about him, Mr. Vernon, save what my wife has

“And Mr. Hest? What do you know of him?”

“Nothing more than that he is the brother of my talented pupil. He
came with the message from his sister, who is at her ancestral halls
in Yorkshire, to the effect that she would return in a month, or
perchance earlier, to fulfil certain engagements which I have procured
her. I invited him to stay here during his stay in town.”

“Why did you?” asked the Colonel, speaking for the first time. Gail
looked embarrassed, but Mrs. Gail spoke for him. “Mr. Hest, we know,
is very rich,” she said frankly, “and both my husband and myself wish
to have a theatre of our own. We thought that if we showed him some
hospitality he might finance us. I must say,” she added, looking
puzzled, “that I wondered that such a rich man was content to accept
our humble lodgings instead of going to a swell hotel. But he seems to
be easily pleased.”

“It was not that, Hettie,” said the Professor quickly. “Mr. Hest
simply remained here so that he could persuade me to induce my
talented pupil to give up reciting, as he dreaded lest she should go
on the stage. And she ought to be an actress, in my humble opinion,
for her capabilities are of a very high order. As Lady Macbeth, or in
any of Sardou’s characters, such as La Tosca, Fedora, and the rest,
she would produce a sensation.”

The speech of both man and wife seemed frank enough, and they appeared
to be a couple of simple people devoted to their profession and quite
ignorant of evil. Vernon glanced at Towton and saw from the expression
of the Colonel’s face that he thoroughly believed them. Still, so as
to be quite sure of his ground, he asked another question: “Miss Hest
as a reciter or an actress may be all that can be desired, but do
you and Mrs. Gail like her personally; do you think she is what we

“Yes,” cried the woman forcibly; “Miss Hest is one in a thousand. She
is a kind-hearted lady who sympathises with those who struggle.”

“Hettie is quite right,” said the Professor with dignity. “Many a time
has Miss Hest assisted us when tradespeople have worried. I am sure
that she would have persuaded her brother to enable us to enter into
management in the long run, as she has every confidence in my

“And in mine,” said Mrs. Gail jealously. “She said that my Emilia in
‘Othello’ was the best performance she had ever seen. But now,
gentlemen,” the actress rose to give effect to her words, “may I
inquire why you ask these questions, and why you come here to fire
pistols in a peaceful home?”

At the beginning it had been in Vernon’s mind to tell the whole story
right out and to tax the couple with complicity. But they really
seemed to be entirely ignorant of Hest’s true character, and evidently
had only lately met Maunders. He therefore did not think it wise to
reveal what he and the Colonel knew lest the Gails should gossip about
the matter. And until he had consulted Drench the young man did not
desire that this last unusual affair should become public. He therefore
shot a warning glance at the Colonel and answered cautiously:

“It is only a private matter, Mrs. Gail, which is not worth explaining. The
pistol-shot was an accident.”

“But you said that Mr. Maunders and Mr. Hest were villains,” she
persisted. “Ah, I spoke somewhat harshly, being a trifle excited. They
have treated me and my friend here very badly and we came for redress.
How their consciences smote them you can judge from the fact of their
flight. You will possibly never see them again. But if they do chance
to return you must wire to me at once to the Athenian Club, Pall

“I don’t like these hints and suggestions of evil, sir,” said Gail,
restlessly, “and certainly I should never think of telegraphing to you
unless Mr. Maunders and Mr. Hest give me leave. And why, sir, should
they not return?”

“Don’t seek to know any more, Mr. Gail, but do as you are told,” said
Vernon in a peremptory tone, “and also it will be wise if you and your
wife hold your tongues over what has happened and stop the servant
from talking.”

“Suppose we don’t?” demanded Mrs. Gail aggressively.

“In that case you will get into trouble.”

“How dare you–how dare—-”

“See here!” Colonel Towton rose angrily. “We have reason to believe
that these men are connected with The Spider.”

Mrs. Gail shrieked and the Professor turned pale. Both knew that
terrible name which was so freely mentioned in the papers. “Do you
mean to say—-”

“We say nothing,” said Vernon sharply, “and my friend here has perhaps
said too much. But it is as well that you should know the necessity of
keeping silent tongues in your heads.”

“We, knowing nothing of these matters, cannot be expected to—-”

“I am quite aware that you are innocent of complicity,” interrupted
Towton, “but you both must promise to be silent until you have leave
to speak.”

“And if not?”

“Already I have told you that the police will interfere,” observed
Vernon coldly. “This business is concerned with The Spider, so, for
your own sakes, hold your confounded tongues.”

The Gails, however, were not so easily commanded. They wished to know
how Hest and Maunders were connected with The Spider, and if they were
in any way accused of being, as they termed it, “in the know.” But the
arguments and commands of Towton, together with those of Vernon,
gradually induced the worthy couple to listen to reason. In fact, at
the end of half an hour both were thoroughly terrified into thinking
that their reputation might be ruined were it known that men connected
with The Spider had been under their roof. Neither Gail nor his wife
were averse to being mentioned in the papers or to securing an
advertisement so as to add to their theatrical fame, but the publicity
likely to be procured from the late episode was not the sort they
desired. They therefore finally agreed to keep silence about the
strange interview and the flight of their guests, and also declared
that they would make Maria hold her tongue. Nevertheless, their
curiosity remained unabated, and Vernon had to promise them that it
would some day be satisfied.

“You shall know all when the time comes,” he said when taking leave,
“but keep silence until the appointed hour lest you get into trouble.”

This speech, being somewhat stagey, sounded pleasantly in the ears of
the couple, and Towton left the house with his friend, quite satisfied
that Professor Gail and his wife and their servant would say nothing
of what had taken place. “And now,” said the Colonel, “let us grope
our way to the station. After we reach town we can see Drench.”

Vernon agreed, and by following the line of houses they finally
managed, but with some difficulty, to get to the railway. Here they
had to wait for a considerable time for a train, as the ordinary
traffic was somewhat complicated by fog. It was eight o’clock before
they reached Waterloo, and they learned from the stationmaster that
nothing had been seen of the two men alluded to in the telegram,
although each train and the barrier of the platform it arrived at had
been watched by the police. Vernon was not surprised at this

“I thought both Hest and Maunders were too clever to risk a wire to
Waterloo Station, as they knew I would send it.”

“What’s to be done now?”

“Let us go to your rooms and send a telegram to Drench at Hampstead
asking him to come down.”

“The fog is still thick,” said Towton as they stepped into a taxi;
“perhaps he won’t come. Hang it, every possible obstacle seems to be
placed in our way. The blackguards will escape.”

“Not out of England, at all events,” said Vernon grimly. “When we
explain everything to Drench he will have all the stations and all the
ports watched. We’ll catch them sooner or later.”

But the young man spoke with more confidence than he actually felt, as
he knew that Hest was extraordinarily clever in concealing himself. As
The Spider he had baffled the police for years, and, being an
arch-criminal, would be dexterous enough to escape even out of this
tight corner. He began to consider what was best to be done after
sending a wire to Inspector Drench, when his meditations were broken
in upon by the Colonel.

“Do you really believe that Hest is The Spider?”

“Of course. Didn’t you see his face change when Maunders spoke, and
didn’t he cut and run when he saw that the game was up?”

“It certainly looks like guilt. And yet it seems incredible. The man
always has lived in Yorkshire, whereas The Spider is supposed to live
in town.”

“No one has ever known the whereabouts of The Spider,” said Vernon
coolly, “and it is as easy to write blackmailing letters in Yorkshire
and post them in London as to live in town altogether for that
purpose. Besides, his sister told me herself that Hest frequently went
away for days and weeks at a time. Doubtless he was attending to his
nefarious business in London.”

“How do you reconcile this devilry with his philanthropy?”

“It seems odd, doesn’t it? But we know that the worst criminals have
their good points. There lives some soul of good in all things evil,
you know.”

“I rather think,” said the Colonel grimly, “that Hest looks upon
himself as a kind of modern Robin Hood, who takes from the rich to
give to the poor. He blackmailed wealthy folk in order to build his
Bolly Reservoir and his confounded school-houses. Robbed Peter to pay
Paul, as you might put it.”

“Rob Dives to help Demos is the way he would put it,” said Vernon with
a shrug. “However, we have made a great discovery and one which the
police will thank us for making. When Hest is captured many a rich man
will sleep the easier.”

“Yes, when he is captured; but that won’t be easy.”

“I agree with you. The Spider is as clever as his father–the devil.
Humph!” added Vernon thoughtfully, “I wonder if his sister knows
anything about his infernal doings.”

“No,” said the Colonel decidedly. “I don’t like Miss Hest, as I think
she is too imperious and masterful and wants her own way too much. All
the same, I don’t believe she would have countenanced her brother’s
behaviour. Besides, she was always away from him, and he doubtless
carried on his pranks without her knowledge.”

“You defend her. I thought you didn’t like her?”

“I admitted only a moment ago that I did not,” snapped the Colonel as
the taxi cautiously felt its way up Whitehall, “but I must be just to
her. The poor woman will suffer as it is when her brother’s
criminality becomes known. It will ruin her reciting business.”

“That’s true, and there is no chance of keeping the matter quiet. Hest
must be captured and imprisoned.”

“Hanged, you mean. Remember, he murdered Martin Dimsdale.”

Vernon shuddered. “I suppose he did,” was his reluctant admission. “I
am sorry for Miss Hest, as, contrary to your opinion, I think highly
of her. She may be masterful, as you say, but Ida is so weak that it
is just as well that she should have someone to lead her in the right

“Oh, Miss Hest has led her in the right way, no doubt,” retorted the
Colonel; “but I prefer to be the guide myself. See here, Vernon, come
down with me next week to my place at Bowderstyke.”

“What for? We have to hunt down Hest and Maunders.”

“We can safely leave that to Drench and his underlings. I want to get
Ida away from Gerby Hall. Sorry as I am for Miss Hest in having such a
brother, I don’t want Ida to continue under her protection any longer,
especially as she wants to marry her to Maunders.”

“Maunders will have no chance now,” said Vernon with a grim chuckle.
“But you are a bachelor, Towton, so Ida will scarcely be able to come
to The Grange.”

“I shall ask her aunt down as chaperon.”

“Lady Corsoon? Good! And ask Lucy also, for my sake.”

“With great pleasure. I think that the removal of Maunders from my
path and yours will result in the courses of our love running
smoother. Ah, here we are, and I’m glad, as I want drink and

After the long, cautious creeping through the fog the two gentlemen
arrived at the Colonel’s rooms, and Bendham was sent out for food.
Having dined, they smoked and talked while waiting for Inspector
Drench. But he never came. A telegram arrived instead stating that the
fog prevented his keeping the appointment. And it also prevented
Vernon getting back to his own quarters, so the Colonel put him up for
the night. Next day the hunt for the criminals began in earnest.

Before Drench arrived, which he did at eleven o’clock, Professor Gail
came to the Athenian Cub, where the gentlemen were waiting, and
produced a wire which had arrived for Hest on that morning. He had not
opened it, being afraid, but brought it intact to Vernon. That young
man had no compunction under the circumstances in reading it, and
found that it was from Frances Hest to her brother asking him to
return home as divers matters connected with the estate required his

“Sent first thing this morning,” said Vernon passing the wire to the
Colonel. “Poor woman! she doesn’t know that her brother has been found

The wire was shown to Inspector Drench when he duly arrived, and he
was exhaustively informed of all that had taken place. He was
naturally both astonished and interested, but nevertheless expressed
himself annoyed that civilians should have proceeded so far without
invoking the police. Drench gave both the Colonel and Vernon to
understand that if he had been on the spot Hest and his accomplice
would not have escaped so easily, a view with which they privately
differed, although they did not think it wise to say so. But Towton
_did_ intimate to the Inspector that he was a military man and not a
civilian, whatever Vernon might be. Drench declined to take any notice
of this remark.

The Inspector also questioned Gail closely, but could learn nothing
from him of any moment, since the old actor knew nothing and was
greatly agitated over the whole affair. Finally, bidding all three
hold their tongues, Drench sallied forth to search for the missing
pair. He saw the Scotland Yard authorities and wired to all the ports
and railway stations in the kingdom. As yet, and because he desired to
keep the affair out of the newspapers, Drench did not advertise in the
journals, or by handbills. Otherwise, in every way he strove to find
the fugitives.

He might as well have attempted to find a shell at the bottom of the
Atlantic. Day after day went by and no news was heard of Hest or
Maunders, and from the moment they had been swallowed up by the fog at
Isleworth nothing had been seen of them. They had not, so far as could
be ascertained, passed out of the kingdom, and certainly they were not
to be found in the kingdom itself. Like Macbeth’s witches, they had
made themselves thin air: like the children of Korah and Dathan, they
apparently had been swallowed up by the earth. But, thanks to Drench,
the discovery of the identity of The Spider and his subsequent escape
had not yet been made public, and the Press knew nothing of what was
taking place. But the time had now come when publicity was absolutely

“There’s nothing else for it,” said Drench, and Vernon in spite of his
wish to keep things quiet, agreed with him.

Within a week of the episode at Isleworth Colonel Towton took Vernon
with him to Yorkshire. Inspector Drench was still searching for the
fugitives and was still unable to find them. True to his reputation,
The Spider had covered up his tracks in a most masterly manner, and
there was not the slightest clue to indicate his whereabouts.
Presumably Maunders was with him, as he had not returned to his rooms
in Planet Street, nor had he been seen in any of his usual haunts
about town. This was to be expected, as Maunders had, as the saying
goes, “gone under,” and the society wherein he had glittered so gaily
would henceforth know him no more. It seemed a pity that a young man
with talents and good looks and social position should have ruined his
life at the very outset of a promising career. But there must have
been some criminal strain in Maunders, which came to the surface in
prosperity instead of being revealed by poverty. He was, as Coleridge
says about people with such natures, “a fool in a circumbendibus.”

However, it was useless for Vernon to mourn over his old school
friend’s downfall. He had done his best to keep him in the straight
path and had failed to prevent his feet from straying. He therefore,
as there was nothing else to be done at this eleventh hour, washed his
hands of him and left him, together with Hest, to the tender mercies
of the law as represented by the Inspector. Now that Drench had all
the threads in his own hands he resented anyone else weaving them into
ropes for the necks of the criminals, as he apparently wished to
secure all the glory and honour of the capture to himself. Both Towton
and Vernon were rather glad that the Inspector took this view, as they
wished to have nothing more to do with the matter. And, before leaving
London for Bowderstyke, Vernon shut up his Covent Garden office and
formally renounced his pseudonym of Nemo. As by this time he was
officially recognised as his uncle’s heir he could well afford to do
so. Sir Edward, however, still lingered between life and death, so it
was doubtful when Vernon would enter into his kingdom.

While the train was flying through the autumnal landscape Towton and
his guest made themselves comfortable in a first-class compartment,
which they had secured to themselves, for the purpose of uninterrupted
conversation. They were still deeply interested in the case and looked
forward anxiously to the capture of The Spider. It was only right that
he should suffer for his dastardly crime in murdering an old and
inoffensive man. As to Maunders, he was evidently hand in glove with
the cleverer rascal, and would undoubtedly be given a long term of
imprisonment. Thus society would be rid of two dangerous people, and
those with secrets would sleep the easier, knowing that one Asmodeus
was dead and the other safely locked up.

“But I don’t know what poor Mrs. Bedge will do,” said Vernon looking
dolefully out of the window.

“Does she know anything?” asked the Colonel, throwing down the morning
paper which he had been reading and settling himself for a talk.

Vernon nodded. “I saw her yesterday. She sent to ask me what had
become of Constantine. I was obliged to tell her.”

“Do you think that was kind or wise?”

“I think so, decidedly. It was better that Mrs. Bedge should learn the
truth from a friend than see it crudely printed in the daily papers.
And there it is bound to appear sooner or later.”

“Drench will have to catch The Spider first,” said the Colonel coolly.
“No easy task, as we know. What did she say?”

“At first she declined to believe it, badly as Maunders has treated
her. She kept insisting that it was all a mistake and that Constantine
would appear to put matters right.”

“What wonderful faith these women have, Vernon.”

“Bless them, yes. They go by their hearts entirely.”

“In that case,” remarked Towton drily, “Mrs. Bedge must have known
that Maunders is not the saint she tries to make him out to be.”

“I did not say that she went by her instinct,” replied Vernon equally
drily; “there is a difference between that and heart-love. Because
Constantine is her sister’s child and her adopted son Mrs. Bedge’s
heart, which he has almost broken, cherishes him fondly; but her
instinct must have told her long ago that the fellow is a scamp of the
worst sort.”

“He’s a thorough-paced scoundrel,” said the Colonel vigorously.

“Mrs. Bedge declined to take that view of him. She wailed that he had
a tender heart and was led away because he had a weak nature. In fact,
her defence was that of a man being his own worst enemy.”

“Maunders certainly was. He had all the gifts of the gods, yet—-”

“Yet fell because the greatest gift of honest purpose was not given,”
finished Vernon. “Hang it all, Towton, scamp as the fellow is, I am
sorry for him.”

“I’m not,” growled Towton savagely.

“Ah, you did not play with him as a child, nor did you go to school
with him, my friend. Although I’m bound to say that Constantine was
always a selfish chap–what you would call a rotter.”

“I would call him nothing of the sort, Vernon. I detest slang.”

“That’s a mistake. Slang frequently hits the nail on the head when the
King’s English misses it altogether. Slang conveys much in little,

“Oh, the deuce take your philology. Go on talking about Mrs. Bedge.”

“There’s no more to say. Maunders has pretty well drained her, but she
has enough to live on, and the Hampstead house is her own. Towards the
end of our conversation, however, she let out that she was not
surprised at Conny’s behaviour, as she rather expected it.”

“H’m! Somewhat contradictory. Why?”

“Well, it seems that Maunders’ father, the Greek, Mavrocordato, you
know, was rather a bad egg himself. He worried his wife–Mrs. Bedge’s
sister, that is–into her grave, and swindled his partner before he
committed suicide.”

“I never heard that before.”

“No. Mrs. Bedge always kept it quiet for the boy’s sake until she let
it out to me in her grief yesterday. Mavrocordato–he took the English
name of Maunders–bolted with a heap of his partner’s money, and shot
himself at Corfu, whither he was traced by detectives. Mrs. Bedge
adopted the son, and did her best to train him up as an honest man.
She tried her hardest, I’m certain, but what’s bred in the bone, you

Colonel Towton folded his arms and stared straightly before him. “Poor
devil. He was considerably handicapped by such a father. I wonder,
Vernon, for how many of our deeds we are responsible, when you take
heredity into consideration. Some sin because they like it, but many
because they can’t help it.”

“Let us give Maunders the benefit of the doubt, and say that the sins
of his father were visited on him. And, of course, we must not forget
that Hest is an extremely clever and strong-minded man, who could, and
did, easily control Maunders’ weaker nature.”

“There’s something to be said there,” assented the Colonel
thoughtfully. “I daresay Hest entangled the poor wretch in crime
before he well knew what he was about, and once committed he would be
compelled to remain in the mud. But Hest himself, Vernon. What do you
make of him?”

“I don’t know enough about him to give an opinion. Perhaps when we see
the sister she may tell us something.”

“Oh, by the way, I received a letter from her two days ago, about
which I intended to speak to you, Vernon. All this bother and worry
put it out of my head. I left it at home, unfortunately, but I can
tell you the gist of it.”

Vernon looked interested. “What did she write about, and why to you?”
“She wrote to me because she wants me to marry Ida.”

“I really don’t see what she has to do with that,” remarked Vernon
with a shrug; “for Ida is surely of an age to choose for herself.”

“I always told you, Vernon,” said Towton, deliberately crossing one
leg over the other, “that Ida, being less masterful than Miss Hest, is
usually guided by her, and that I objected to the guidance. Ida liked
me more than anyone else before that handsome scamp came along. Then
she became infatuated with him, and Miss Hest did her best to induce
her to marry him. But the sad death of Dimsdale took Ida’s thoughts
off Maunders, and–as I judge from the letter Ida wrote me from Gerby
Hall–Miss Hest tried to get her to love the man again. Failing that,
she attempted to get Ida to marry her brother, only he came up to
London, not feeling disposed to fall in with his sister’s views. You
can therefore see that Miss Hest sways Ida a great deal, and for that
reason I have come to get her away from such dangerous company–doubly
dangerous now that we know Francis Hest is The Spider.”

Vernon shrugged his shoulders. “It’s rather hard to blame the sister
for the brother’s delinquencies,” he said judicially. “And now that he
and Maunders are out of the running she will place her weight in your
scale. In fact, from your late observation, she has already done so.
You should be very pleased, Colonel, whereas you seem to me to be

“I don’t want Ida to be induced to marry me by Miss Hest’s
representations, Vernon,” said Towton hotly. “It’s a liberty on her
part to interfere with my wooing. Lady Corsoon comes down to-morrow
with her daughter, and I shall ask her to go to Gerby Hall and bring
Ida back with her. Then we will have finished with these shady people,
and Ida will marry me of her own free will.”

“Well, Colonel,” replied Vernon pacifically, “I hope things will turn
out as you expect. But what did Miss Hest write about?”

“About her brother. She asked me if I had seen him, and what was the
matter with him.” Vernon looked puzzled. “I don’t understand. Does she

“She suspects nothing,” broke in Towton impetuously. “But she stated
that she had received a letter from her brother four or five days ago
saying that he intended to leave England for ever, as he was tired of
civilisation. He enclosed a Deed of Gift, making over Gerby Hall and
its acres to her, as he intended–so he said–to earn his own living
when abroad. Naturally, Miss Hest could not understand this, and wrote
asking me what was the matter.”

“Did you explain?”

“No. I wrote saying that I was coming down to my own place, and would
tell her all I knew when I arrived. But you can see, Vernon, that Hest
is still in London.”

“He was, six or seven days ago, but he may have gone away since,” said
Vernon cautiously. “Who drew up the Deed of Gift?”

“I can’t say. Miss Hest did not explain that. Why?”

“Because if it was some lawyer we might be able to question him
regarding Hest’s latest movements. Humph! So Hest has bolted. Well,
I’m not surprised at that. But I am rather astonished he should
surrender his property.”

“Oh, well. I expect his business as The Spider has made him quite a
rich man. Remember, the blackguard has been blackmailing successfully
for three or four years. He knows that his sister has nothing save
what she makes by her reciting, so perhaps his conscience smote him,
and so he made his Deed of Gift. It’s a lucky thing for her, as Gerby
Hall is a fine old place, although rather gloomy, and there is a
decent income of one thousand a year attached to it, farms, village
rents, and all that sort of thing, you know.”

“It’s queer Hest should have behaved so well, when he is such a
scoundrel, Towton. You told me that he quarrelled with his sister, and
certainly from the remarks she made about him to me, she did not seem
over fond of him.”

“Blood is thicker than water,” said the Colonel sententiously, “and
dog does not eat dog.”

“I agree with your first proverb, but not with the second, Towton.
Miss Hest is not of the same breed, morally speaking, as her brother,
and no doubt will be horrified when she learns of his wickedness.”

“Probably. You always defend her.”

“I am just,” said Vernon coldly. “So far as I can see, she is a clever
woman of good principles, although, I admit, rather masterful. Her
brother has done a wise thing in handing her over the property,
whatever his reasons may be. She will be an admirable mistress.”

“Oh, as to that, Hest was a great benefactor to all the villages
around, and the people swear by them. If he has bolted with Maunders,
Drench will have to let the matter drop. But, if he is captured, no
one here will believe that he is a murderer and a blackmailer. They
know him only as a good landlord and a kind friend.”

“And we know him as a criminal. Strange that two such diverse natures
can exist side by side.”

“I daresay Hest hoped that his good deeds would pay for his bad ones,”
said the Colonel carelessly. “I shall be glad if he escapes, richly as
he deserves to be hanged for murdering Dimsdale. It will be just as
well if the whole thing is buried in oblivion. Then I shall marry Ida,
you Miss Corsoon, and Miss Hest can play the lady of the manor here,
as she pleases.”

“What about the Dimsdale property?”

“If it belongs to Lady Corsoon she must have it; if Maunders’ story is
a lie, which it may be, I shall stick to it on behalf of my wife.
However, we may hear from Venery of Singapore in a few weeks. My
letter must have nearly reached him by this time.”

“You can learn the truth of the story nearer home,” said Vernon after
a pause. “Miss Jewin, the housekeeper at Gerby Hall, told the story to
Maunders, according to his own account.”

“I shall question her, you may be sure,” said the Colonel grimly; “but
I want to hear from Venery also. Oh, I’m sick of talking about these
things,” he added with a yawn. “It’s time for forty winks.” And
forthwith he closed his eyes, after settling himself comfortably in
his seat. Vernon, not inclined to rest, lighted a fresh cigar and
buried himself in a book.

It was five o’clock when the travellers reached Bradmoor, the nearest
station to Bowderstyke. It was ten miles to the valley, but the road
was excellent, and Towton’s motor-car awaited them. In ten minutes the
baggage was packed away, and Vernon with his host was safely ensconced
in the back part of the machine, which was covered with a hood. Towton
asked Vernon if he would care to drive, but as the offer was refused
and the Colonel himself did not feel in a sporting humour, the conduct
of the journey was left to the smart chauffeur. He appeared to be well
acquainted with the country, and as the road was somewhat lonely, the
motor travelled towards Bowderstyke at a great rate of speed. The
motion was exhilarating, and the view on either side of the roadway
extremely picturesque, so Vernon enjoyed himself greatly in the fresh
air, after the close atmosphere and the monotony of the train. With
the wind blowing in his face and the smooth, easy gliding motion, he
felt like a flying bird, or at all events as though mounted on one.

The country was wild and barren, consisting mainly of interminable
stretches of moorland, mounting up on either side of the road to
considerable heights. Occasionally there was a dip covered with green
grass and trees, already beginning to shed their leaves, but for the
most part the sombre moors, darkening in the failing light, spread
solemnly to right and left. It was rarely that a house or a village
was passed, and only every now and then could Vernon catch a glimpse
of cattle or human beings.

“This country would get on my nerves,” he said to his companion. “It
is like the weird landscape described by Browning in his Childe Roland
poem. Those telegraph poles are the sole signs of civilisation.”

“Oh, we’ll come to a more cheery aspect shortly,” said Towton smiling;
“for my part, I love the gloom and the loneliness of our moors. Many a
time in the garish Indian days, with a burning sun in the hateful blue
sky, have I longed for dear old Yorkshire.”

“Everyone to his taste,” said Vernon with a shrug. “I prefer something
much more cheerful.”

“You are a cockney at heart, Vernon.”

“I daresay. London is good enough for me.”

Towards the end of the ten mile stretch from the station signs of
civilisation became more frequent. Here and there was a village with
cultivated fields around it. Cattle were pastured in enclosed
paddocks, and men and women with laughing children trudged along the
high road, looking after the motor with great curiosity, for the
machine was yet a novelty in that lonely district. Twice the road ran
directly through a village, and Vernon had an opportunity of seeing
the solid grey stone houses, which were suited to the Calvinistic
looks of the country. And the people themselves appeared to be what
the Scotch call “dour.”

And now the moors began to grow higher and to close in on the white
road with a gradual menace. Leaving the comparatively broad lands, the
motor glided into a valley, which grew even more narrow as they
proceeded. A babbling stream prattled down the centre of this, over a
stony bed, and beside it the road twisted along like a white serpent,
protected by a parapet of rough stones. Already the crimson light of
the sunset had died out of the western sky, but the moon was full,
and, soaring high in the dark blue dome of the firmament, poured
floods of light into the gully, to use a Colonial expression–for by
this time it was little else. And looking upward, Vernon could see
star after star peep out to attend on the majestic orb.

“What do you call this place?” he asked abruptly. Towton glanced at
him in surprise. “Didn’t I tell you? It’s Bowderstyke.”

“Great Scott, Colonel, is your house situated in this isolated, damp
spot. I should think you never saw the sun from one year’s end to the
other, save when it was directly overhead.”

“Oh, the valley broadens out further on. This is merely the entrance.”

“What the deuce do the inhabitants live on? It’s like living in a

“Oh, confound you, Vernon,” said the Colonel half annoyed. “It’s one
of the most beautiful places in the world. If you were a Yorkshire
tyke you would admit that. There is only the village of Bowderstyke a
mile away, and the inhabitants live by pasturing their cattle on the
moors on the heights above. Also there is a weaving and spinning
industry, the mills being driven by water power, of which there is no

“This stream doesn’t seem to have much water,” said Vernon

“You should see it in winter when the snows melt on the moors,”
advised the Colonel. “Besides, the water from the mills comes from
Hest’s new reservoir, and there is a never-failing supply. This stream
used to be much broader, and its bed contained much more water, but
when the Bolly Dam was constructed, of course the supply dwindled.
Pipes run under this road to supply the several villages you saw just
before we entered the valley.”

“Where is the dam which our criminal friend built?”

Towton pointed straight ahead. “Round the next corner you could see
it, but we do not go so far. There was a small lake there up on the
moors which fed this stream. Hest simply got engineers to dam the lake
and prevent too much water going to waste down the bed of this
torrent. The dam runs right across the valley a mile and a half beyond
my house.”

“But isn’t that dangerous. If it burst this valley would be flooded
from end to end, and everybody would be drowned, to say nothing of the
way in which the village would be smashed up.”

“Well, yes.” Towton pinched his nether lip uneasily. “I’ve thought of
that myself many a time. But I was abroad when the dam was
constructed. There certainly–as I have often said–should be an
outlet for the water other than the pipes which supply Bowderstyke and
the villages outside the valley, capacious as those same pipes
undoubtedly are. Assuredly, if the reservoir burst there would be
great loss of life and destruction of property. But the Bolly Dam is
very strongly built, so I have no fear of anything happening. You can
see it from my house, and we’ll pay it a visit in a day or two.
Meantime, this is Bowderstyke village.”

By this time they were passing through quite a number of small houses,
from the windows of which lights gleamed cheerfully. The motor soon
left these behind, then swerved to the right–looking up from the
entrance to the valley–and shortly began to climb a winding road. At
this point, as the Colonel had foretold, the vale broadened abruptly,
and the high moors stood away so as to form a kind of deep cup. Up the
side of this, the road along which they were travelling sloped upward
for some distance, then turned on itself and sloped still higher.
Shortly the motor attained the highest level, and in the moonlight
Vernon could see the moors stretching for miles, lonely and romantic.
A straight road ran parallel with the upper portion of the valley for
close upon half a mile. Then appeared a miniature forest, encircled by
a high stone wall. This was undoubtedly artificial, as the moorlands
were treeless, and the unexpected woodland looked out of place amidst
its bleak surroundings.

The motor soon arrived at two tall stone pillars crested with heraldic
monsters, and passing through these, spun up a short avenue to stop
before a large white house, brilliantly lighted up. Spacious lawns
opened up before the mansion, interspersed with flowerbeds, now
bloomless, and the whole was shut in by the fairy forest, as Vernon
called it in his own mind.

“Here we are,” said Colonel Towton jumping from the car. “Allow me to
welcome you to The Grange, my friend.”

“Thank heaven the journey’s at an end,” said Vernon.