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Who was the Man in the Brown Suit-Episode 2

Who was the Man in the Brown Suit?-The Suspense Thriller Ebooks- Episode 2

Who was the Man in the Brown Suit-Episode 2


Before reading Episode 2 thriller fiction you need to read chapter 1 and chapter 2 in Episode 1.

CHAPTER 3

In the succeeding weeks I was a good deal bored.

Mrs. Flemming and her friends seemed to me to be supremely uninteresting. They talked for hours of themselves and their children and of the difficulties of getting good milk for the children and of what they said to the Dairy when the milk wasn’t good. 

Then they would go on to servants, and the difficulties of getting good servants and of what they had said to the woman at the Registry Office and of what the woman at the Registry Office had said to them. 

They never seemed to read the papers or to care about what went on in the world. They disliked travelling—everything was so different to England. 

The Riviera was all right, of course, because one met all one’s friends there.

I listened and contained myself with difficulty. Most of these women were rich. The whole wide beautiful world was theirs to wander in and they deliberately stayed in dirty dull London and talked about milkmen and servants! I think now, looking back, that I was perhaps a shade intolerant. 

But they were stupid—stupid even at their chosen job: most of them kept the most extraordinarily inadequate and muddled housekeeping accounts.

My affairs did not progress very fast. The house and furniture had been sold, and the amount realized had just covered our debts. As yet, I had not been successful in finding a post. 

Not that I really wanted one! I had the firm conviction that, if I went about looking for adventure, adventure would meet me halfway. 

It is a theory of mine that one always gets what one wants. My theory was about to be proved in practice.

It was early in January—the 8th, to be exact. I was returning from an unsuccessful interview with a lady who said she wanted a secretary-companion, but really seemed to require a strong charwoman who would work twelve hours a day for £25 a year. 

Having parted with mutual veiled impolitenesses, I walked down Edgware Road (the interview had taken place in a house in St. John’s Wood) and across Hyde Park to St. George’s Hospital. 

There I entered Hyde Park Corner Tube Station and took a ticket to Gloucester Road.

Once on the platform I walked to the extreme end of it. My inquiring mind wished to satisfy itself as to whether there really were points and an opening between the two tunnels just beyond the station in the direction of Down Street. 

I was foolishly pleased to find I was right. There were not many people on the platform, and at the extreme end there was only myself and one man. As I passed him, I sniffed dubiously. If there is one smell I cannot bear it is that of moth balls! This man’s heavy overcoat simply reeked of them. 

And yet most men begin to wear their winter overcoats before January, and consequently by this time the smell ought to have worn off. The man was beyond me, standing close to the edge of the tunnel. 

He seemed lost in thought, and I was able to stare at him without rudeness. He was a small thin man, very brown of face, with light blue eyes and a small dark beard.

“Just come from abroad,” I deduced. “That’s why his overcoat smells so. He’s come from India. Not an officer, or he wouldn’t have a beard. Perhaps a tea-planter.”

At this moment the man turned as though to retrace his steps along the platform. He glanced at me and then his eyes went on to something behind me, and his face changed. It was distorted by fear—almost panic. 

He stood a step backwards as though involuntarily recoiling from some danger, forgetting that he was standing on the extreme edge of the platform, and went down and over.

There was a vivid flash from the rails and a crackling sound. I shrieked. People came running up. Two station officials seemed to materialize from nowhere and took command.

I remained where I was, rooted to the spot by a sort of horrible fascination. Part of me was appalled at the sudden disaster, and another part of me was coolly and dispassionately interested in the methods employed for lifting the man off the live rail and back onto the platform.

“Let me pass, please. I am a medical man.”

A tall man with a brown beard pressed past me and bent over the motionless body.

As he examined it, a curious sense of unreality seemed to possess me. The thing wasn’t real—couldn’t be. Finally, the doctor stood upright and shook his head.

“Dead as a door-nail. Nothing to be done.”

We had all crowded nearer, and an aggrieved porter raised his voice.

“Now then, stand back there, will you? What’s the sense in crowding round.”

A sudden nausea seized me, and I turned blindly and ran up the stairs again towards the lift. I felt that it was too horrible. I must get out into the open air. The doctor who had examined the body was just ahead of me. 

The lift was just about to go up, another having descended, and he broke into a run. As he did so, he dropped a piece of paper.

I stopped, picked it up, and ran after him. But the lift gates clanged in my face, and I was left holding the paper in my hand. By the time the second lift reached the street level, there was no sign of my quarry. 

I hoped it was nothing important that he had lost, and for the first time I examined it.

It was a plain half-sheet of notepaper with some figures and words scrawled upon it in pencil. This is a facsimile of it:

On the face of it, it certainly did not appear to be of any importance. Still, I hesitated to throw it away. As I stood there holding it, I involuntarily wrinkled my nose in displeasure. Moth balls again! I held the paper gingerly to my nose. Yes, it smelt strongly of them. But, then——

I folded up the paper carefully and put it in my bag. I walked home slowly and did a good deal of thinking.

I explained to Mrs. Flemming that I had witnessed a nasty accident in the Tube and that I was rather upset and would go to my room and lie down. The kind woman insisted on my having a cup of tea. 

After that I was left to my own devices, and I proceeded to carry out a plan I had formed coming home. I wanted to know what it was that had produced that curious feeling of unreality whilst I was watching the doctor examine the body. 

First I lay down on the floor in the attitude of the corpse, then I laid a bolster down in my stead, and proceeded to duplicate, so far as I could remember, every motion and gesture of the doctor. 

When I had finished I had got what I wanted. I sat back on my heels and frowned at the opposite walls.

There was a brief notice in the evening papers that a man had been killed in the Tube, and a doubt was expressed whether it was suicide or accident. That seemed to me to make my duty clear, and when Mr. Flemming heard my story he quite agreed with me.

“Undoubtedly you will be wanted at the inquest. You say no one else was near enough to see what happened?”

“I had the feeling some one was coming up behind me, but I can’t be sure—and, anyway, they wouldn’t be as near as I was.”

The inquest was held. Mr. Flemming made all the arrangements and took me there with him. He seemed to fear that it would be a great ordeal to me, and I had to conceal from him my complete composure.

The deceased had been identified as L. B. Carton. Nothing had been found in his pockets except a house-agent’s order to view a house on the river near Marlow. It was in the name of L. B. Carton, Russell Hotel. 

The bureau clerk from the hotel identified the man as having arrived the day before and booked a room under that name. He had registered as L. B. Carton, Kimberley, S. Africa. He had evidently come straight off the steamer.

I was the only person who had seen anything of the affair.

“You think it was an accident?” the coroner asked me.

“I am positive of it. Something alarmed him, and he stepped backwards blindly without thinking what he was doing.”

“But what could have alarmed him?”

“That I don’t know. But there was something. He looked panic-stricken.”

A stolid juryman suggested that some men were terrified of cats. The man might have seen a cat. 

I didn’t think his suggestion a very brilliant one, but it seemed to pass muster with the jury, who were obviously impatient to get home and only too pleased at being able to give a verdict of accident as opposed to suicide.

“It is extraordinary to me,” said the coroner, “that the doctor who first examined the body has not come forward. His name and address should have been taken at the time. It was most irregular not to do so.”

I smiled to myself. I had my own theory in regard to the doctor. In pursuance of it, I determined to make a call upon Scotland Yard at an early date.

But the next morning brought a surprise. The Flemmings took in the Daily Budget, and the Daily Budget was having a day after its own heart.

EXTRAORDINARY SEQUEL TO TUBE ACCIDENT.

WOMAN FOUND STABBED IN LONELY HOUSE.

I read eagerly.

“A sensational discovery was made yesterday at the Mill House, Marlow. The Mill House, which is the property of Sir Eustace Pedler, M.P., is to be let unfurnished, and an order to view this property was found in the pocket of the man who was at first thought to have committed suicide by throwing himself on the live rail at Hyde Park Corner Tube Station.

In an upper room of the Mill House the body of a beautiful young woman was discovered yesterday, strangled. She is thought to be a foreigner, but so far has not been identified. The police are reported to have a clue. Sir Eustace Pedler, the owner of the Mill House, is wintering on the Riviera.”

CHAPTER 4

Nobody came forward to identify the dead woman. The inquest elicited the following facts.

Shortly after one o’clock on January 8th, a well-dressed woman with a slight foreign accent had entered the offices of Messrs. Butler and Park, house-agents, in Knightsbridge. 

She explained that she wanted to rent or purchase a house on the Thames within easy reach of London. The particulars of several were given to her, including those of the Mill House. 

She gave the name of Mrs. de Castina and her address as the Ritz, but there proved to be no one of that name staying there, and the hotel people failed to identify the body.

Mrs. James, the wife of Sir Eustace Pedler’s gardener, who acted as caretaker to the Mill House and inhabited the small lodge opening on the main road, gave evidence. 

About three o’clock that afternoon, a lady came to see over the house. She produced an order from the house-agents, and, as was the usual custom, Mrs. James gave her the keys of the house. 

It was situated at some distance from the lodge, and she was not in the habit of accompanying prospective tenants. A few minutes later a young man arrived. Mrs. James described him as tall and broad-shouldered, with a bronzed face and light grey eyes. He was clean-shaven and was wearing a brown suit. 

He explained to Mrs. James that he was a friend of the lady who had come to look over the house, but had stopped at the post office to send a telegram. She directed him to the house, and thought no more about the matter.

Five minutes later he reappeared, handed her back the keys and explained that he feared the house would not suit them. Mrs. James did not see the lady, but thought that she had gone on ahead. 

What she did notice was that the young man seemed very much upset about something. “He looked like a man who’d seen a ghost. I thought he was taken ill.”

On the following day another lady and gentleman came to see the property and discovered the body lying on the floor in one of the upstairs rooms. Mrs. James identified it as that of the lady who had come the day before. The house-agents also recognized it as that of “Mrs. de Castina.” The police surgeon gave it as his opinion that the woman had been dead about twenty-four hours. The Daily Budget had jumped to the conclusion that the man in the Tube had murdered the woman and afterwards committed suicide. However, as the Tube victim was dead at two o’clock, and the woman was alive and well at three o’clock, the only logical conclusion to come to was that the two occurrences had nothing to do with each other, and that the order to view the house at Marlow found in the dead man’s pocket was merely one of those coincidences which so often occur in this life.

A verdict of “Wilful Murder against some person or persons unknown” was returned, and the police (and the Daily Budget) were left to look for “the man in the brown suit.” Since Mrs. James was positive that there was no one in the house when the lady entered it, and that nobody except the young man in question entered it until the following afternoon, it seemed only logical to conclude that he was the murderer of the unfortunate Mrs. de Castina. 

She had been strangled with a piece of stout black cord, and had evidently been caught unawares with no time to cry out. 

The black silk handbag which she carried contained a well-filled notecase and some loose change, a fine lace handkerchief, unmarked, and the return half of a first-class ticket to London. Nothing much there to go upon.

Such were the details published broadcast by the Daily Budget, and “Find the Man in the Brown Suit” was their daily war-cry. 

On an average about five hundred people wrote daily to announce their success in the quest, and tall young men with well-tanned faces cursed the day when their tailors had persuaded them to a brown suit. 

The accident in the Tube, dismissed as a coincidence, faded out of the public mind.

Was it a coincidence? I was not so sure. No doubt I was prejudiced—the Tube incident was my own pet mystery—but there certainly seemed to me to be a connection of some kind between the two fatalities. 

In each there was a man with a tanned face—evidently an Englishman living abroad, and there were other things. It was the consideration of these other things that finally impelled me to what I considered a dashing step. 

I presented myself at Scotland Yard and demanded to see whoever was in charge of the Mill House case.

My request took some time to understand, as I had inadvertently selected the department for lost umbrellas, but eventually I was ushered into a small room and presented to Detective Inspector Meadows.

Inspector Meadows was a small man with a ginger head and what I considered a peculiarly irritating manner. A satellite, also in plain clothes, sat unobtrusively in a corner.

“Good morning,” I said nervously.

“Good morning. Will you take a seat? I understand you’ve something to tell me that you think may be of use to us.”

His tone seemed to indicate that such a thing was unlikely in the extreme. I felt my temper stirred.

“Of course you know about the man who was killed in the Tube? The man who had an order to view this same house at Marlow in his pocket.”

“Ah!” said the inspector. “You are the Miss Beddingfeld who gave evidence at the inquest. Certainly the man had an order in his pocket. A lot of other people may have had too—only they didn’t happen to be killed.”

I rallied my forces.

“You don’t think it odd that this man had no ticket in his pocket?”

“Easiest thing in the world to drop your ticket. Done it myself.”

“And no money.”

“He had some loose change in his trousers pocket.”

“But no notecase.”

“Some men don’t carry a pocket-book or notecase of any kind.”

I tried another tack.

“You don’t think it’s odd that the doctor never came forward afterwards?”

“A busy medical man very often doesn’t read the papers. He probably forgot all about the accident.”

“In fact, inspector, you are determined to find nothing odd,” I said sweetly.

“Well, I’m inclined to think you’re a little too fond of the word, Miss Beddingfeld. Young ladies are romantic, I know—fond of mysteries and such-like. But as I’m a busy man——”

I took the hint and rose.

The man in the corner raised a meek voice.

“Perhaps the young lady would tell us briefly what her ideas really are on the subject, inspector?”

The inspector fell in with the suggestion readily enough.

“Yes, come now, Miss Beddingfeld, don’t be offended. You’ve asked questions and hinted things. Just say straight out what it is you’ve got in your head.”

I wavered between injured dignity and the overwhelming desire to express my theories. Injured dignity went to the wall.

“You said at the inquest you were positive it wasn’t suicide?”

“Yes, I’m quite certain of that. The man was frightened. What frightened him? It wasn’t me. But some one might have been walking up the platform towards us—some one he recognized.”

“You didn’t see any one?”

“No,” I admitted. “I didn’t turn my head. Then, as soon as the body was recovered from the line, a man pushed forward to examine it, saying he was a doctor.”

“Nothing unusual in that,” said the inspector dryly.

“But he wasn’t a doctor.”

“What?”

“He wasn’t a doctor,” I repeated.

“How do you know that, Miss Beddingfeld?”

“It’s difficult to say, exactly. I’ve worked in Hospital during the war, and I’ve seen doctors handle bodies. There’s a sort of deft professional callousness that this man hadn’t got. Besides, a doctor doesn’t usually feel for the heart on the right side of the body.”

“He did that?”

“Yes, I didn’t notice it specially at the time—except that I felt there was something wrong. But I worked it out when I got home, and then I saw why the whole thing had looked so unhandy to me at the time.”

“H’m,” said the inspector. He was reaching slowly for pen and paper.

“In running his hands over the upper part of the man’s body he would have ample opportunity to take anything he wanted from the pockets.”

“Doesn’t sound likely to me,” said the inspector. “But—well, can you describe him at all?”

“He was tall and broad-shouldered, wore a dark overcoat and black boots, a bowler hat. He had a dark pointed beard and gold-rimmed eyeglasses.”

“Take away the overcoat, the beard and the eyeglasses, and there wouldn’t be much to know him by,” grumbled the inspector. “He could alter his appearance easy enough in five minutes if he wanted to—which he would do if he’s the swell pickpocket you suggest.”

I had not intended to suggest anything of the kind. But from this moment I gave the inspector up as hopeless.

“Nothing more you can tell us about him?” he demanded, as I rose to depart.

“Yes,” I said. I seized my opportunity to fire a parting shot. “His head was markedly brachycephalic. He will not find it so easy to alter that.”

I observed with pleasure that Inspector Meadow’s pen wavered. It was clear that he did not know how to spell brachycephalic.

CHAPTER 5

In the first heat of indignation I found my next step unexpectedly easy to tackle. I had had a half-formed plan in my head when I went into Scotland Yard. 

One to be carried out if my interview there was unsatisfactory (it had been profoundly unsatisfactory). That is, if I had the nerve to go through with it.

Things that one would shrink from attempting normally are easily tackled in a flush of anger. Without giving myself time to reflect, I walked straight to the house of Lord Nasby.

Lord Nasby was the millionaire owner of the Daily Budget. He owned other papers—several of them, but the Daily Budget was his special child. 

It was as the owner of the Daily Budget that he was known to every householder in the United Kingdom. Owing to the fact that an itinerary of the great man’s daily proceedings had just been published, I knew exactly where to find him at this moment. It was his hour for dictating to his secretary in his own house.

I did not, of course, suppose that any young woman who chose to come and ask for him would be at once admitted to the august presence. 

But I had attended to that side of the matter. In the card-tray in the hall of the Flemmings’ house I had observed the card of the Marquis of Loamsley, England’s most famous sporting peer. 

I had removed the card, cleaned it carefully with bread-crumbs, and pencilled upon it the words: “Please give Miss Beddingfeld a few moments of your time.” 

Adventuresses must not be too scrupulous in their methods.

The thing worked. A powdered footman received the card and bore it away. Presently a pale secretary appeared. I fenced with him successfully. 

He retired defeated. He again reappeared and begged me to follow him. I did so. I entered a large room, a frightened-looking shorthand-typist fled past me like a visitant from the spirit-world. 

Then the door shut and I was face to face with Lord Nasby.

A big man. Big head. Big face. Big moustache. Big stomach. I pulled myself together. I had not come here to comment on Lord Nasby’s stomach. He was already roaring at me.

“Well, what is it? What does Loamsley want? You his secretary? What’s it all about?”

“To begin with,” I said with as great an appearance of coolness as I could manage, “I don’t know Lord Loamsley, and he certainly knows nothing about me. 

I took his card from the tray in the house of the people I’m staying with, and I wrote those words on it myself. It was important that I should see you.”

For a moment it appeared to be a toss up as to whether Lord Nasby had apoplexy or not. In the end, he swallowed twice and got over it.

“I admire your coolness, young woman. Well, you see me! If you interest me, you will continue to see me for exactly two minutes longer.”

“That will be ample,” I replied. “And I shall interest you. It’s the Mill House Mystery.”

“If you’ve found ‘The Man in the Brown Suit,’ write to the Editor,” he interrupted hastily.

“If you will interrupt, I shall be more than two minutes,” I said sternly. “I haven’t found ‘The Man in the Brown Suit,’ but I’m quite likely to do so.”

In as few words as possible I put the facts of the Tube accident and the conclusions I had drawn from them before him. When I had finished he said unexpectedly:

“What do you know of brachycephalic heads?”

I mentioned Papa.

“The Monkey man? Eh? Well, you seem to have a head of some kind upon your own shoulders, young woman. But it’s all pretty thin, you know. Not much to go upon. And no use to us—as it stands.”

“I’m perfectly aware of that.”

“What d’you want, then?”

“I want a job on your paper to investigate this matter.”

“Can’t do that. We’ve got our own special man on it.”

“And I’ve got my own special knowledge.”

“What you’ve just told me, eh?”

“Oh, no, Lord Nasby. I’ve still got something up my sleeve.”

“Oh, you have, have you? You seem a bright sort of girl. Well, what is it?”

“When this so-called doctor got into the lift, he dropped a piece of paper. I picked it up. It smelt of moth balls. So did the dead man. The doctor didn’t. So I saw at once that the doctor must have taken it off the body. It had two words written on it and some figures.”

“Let’s see it.”

Lord Nasby stretched out a careless hand.

“I think not,” I said, smiling. “It’s my find, you see.”

“I’m right. You are a bright girl. Quite right to hang on to it. No scruples about not handing it over to the police?”

“I went there to do so this morning. They persisted in regarding the whole thing as having nothing to do with the Marlow affair, so I thought that in the circumstances I was justified in retaining the paper. Besides, the inspector put my back up.”

“Short-sighted man. Well, my dear girl, here’s all I can do for you. Go on working on this line of yours. If you get anything—anything that’s publishable—send it along and you shall have your chance. There’s always room for real talent on the Daily Budget. But you’ve got to make good first. See?”

I thanked him, and apologized for my methods.

“Don’t mention it. I rather like cheek—from a pretty girl. By the way, you said two minutes and you’ve been three, allowing for interruptions. For a woman, that’s quite remarkable! Must be your scientific training.”

I was in the street again, breathing hard as though I had been running. I found Lord Nasby rather wearing as a new acquaintance.

CHAPTER 6

I went home with a feeling of exultation. My scheme had succeeded far better than I could possibly have hoped. Lord Nasby had been positively genial. 

It only now remained for me to “Make good,” as he expressed it. Once locked in my own room, I took out my precious piece of paper and studied it attentively. Here was the clue to the mystery.

To begin with, what did the figures represent? There were five of them, and a dot after the first two. “Seventeen—one hundred and twenty-two,” I murmured.

That did not seem to lead to anything.

Next I added them up. That is often done in works of fiction and leads to surprising deductions.

“One and seven make eight and one is nine and two are eleven and two are thirteen.”

Thirteen! Fateful number! Was this a warning to me to leave the whole thing alone? Very possibly. Anyway, except as a warning, it seemed to be singularly useless. 

I declined to believe that any conspirator would take that way of writing thirteen in real life. If he meant thirteen, he would write thirteen. “13”—like that.

There was a space between the one and the two. I accordingly subtracted twenty-two from a hundred and seventy-one. The result was a hundred and fifty-nine. 

I did it again and made it a hundred and forty-nine. These arithmetical exercises were doubtless excellent practice, but as regarded the solution of the mystery, they seemed totally ineffectual. 

I left arithmetic alone, not attempting fancy division or multiplication, and went on to the words.

Kilmorden Castle. That was something definite. A place. Probably the cradle of an aristocratic family. (Missing heir? Claimant to title?) Or possibly a picturesque ruin. (Buried treasure?)

Yes, on the whole I inclined to the theory of buried treasure. Figures always go with buried treasure. One pace to the right, seven paces to the left, dig one foot, descend twenty-two steps. 

That sort of idea. I could work out that later. The thing was to get to Kilmorden Castle as quickly as possible.

I made a strategic sally from my room and returned laden with books of reference. Who’s Who, Whitaker, a Gazetteer, a History of Scotch Ancestral Homes, and Somebody or other’s British Isles.

Time passed. I searched diligently, but with growing annoyance. Finally, I shut the last book with a bang. There appeared to be no such place as Kilmorden Castle. 

Here was an unexpected check. There must be such a place. Why should any one invent a name like that and write it down on a piece of paper? Absurd!

Another idea occurred to me. Possibly it was a castellated abomination in the suburbs with a high-sounding name invented by its owner. 

But if so, it was going to be extraordinarily hard to find. I sat back gloomily on my heels (I always sit on the floor to do anything really important) and wondered how on earth I was to set about it.

Was there any other line I could follow? I reflected earnestly and then sprang to my feet delightedly. Of course! I must visit the “scene of the crime.” Always done by the best sleuths! And no matter how long afterwards it may be, they always find something that the police have overlooked. My course was clear. I must go to Marlow.

But how was I to get into the house? I discarded several adventurous methods, and plumped for stern simplicity. The house had been to let—presumably was still to let. I would be a prospective tenant.

I also decided on attacking the local house-agents, as having fewer houses on their books.

Here, however, I reckoned without my host. A pleasant clerk produced particulars of about half a dozen desirable properties. It took all my ingenuity to find objections to them. In the end I feared I had drawn a blank.

“And you’ve really nothing else?” I asked, gazing pathetically into the clerk’s eyes. “Something right on the river, and with a fair amount of garden and a small lodge,” I added, summing up the main points of the Mill House, as I had gathered them from the papers.

“Well, of course there’s Sir Eustace Pedler’s place,” said the man doubtfully. “The Mill House, you know.”

“Not—not where——” I faltered. (Really, faltering is getting to be my strong point.)

“That’s it! Where the murder took place. But perhaps you wouldn’t like——”

“Oh, I don’t think I should mind,” I said with an appearance of rallying. I felt my bona fides was now quite established. “And perhaps I might get it cheap—in the circumstances.”

A master touch that, I thought.

“Well, it’s possible. There’s no pretending that it will be easy to let now—servants and all that, you know. If you like the place after you’ve seen it, I should advise you to make an offer. Shall I write you out an order?”

“If you please.”

A quarter of an hour later I was at the lodge of the Mill House. In answer to my knock, the door flew open and a tall middle-aged woman literally bounced out.

“Nobody can go into the house, do you hear that? Fairly sick of you reporters, I am. Sir Eustace’s orders are——”

“I understood the house was to let,” I said freezingly, holding out my order. “Of course, if it’s already taken——”

“Oh, I’m sure I beg your pardon, miss. I’ve been fairly pestered with these newspaper people. Not a minute’s peace. No, the house isn’t let—nor likely to be now.”

“Are the drains wrong?” I asked in an anxious whisper.

“Oh, Lord, miss, the drains is all right! But surely you’ve heard about that foreign lady as was done to death here?”

“I believe I did read something about it in the papers,” I said carelessly.

My indifference piqued the good woman. If I had betrayed any interest, she would probably have closed up like an oyster. As it was, she positively bridled.

“I should say you did, miss! It’s been in all the newspapers. The Daily Budget’s out still to catch the man who did it. 

It seems, according to them, as our police are no good at all. Well, I hope they’ll get him—although a nice-looking young fellow he was and no mistake. A kind of soldierly look about him—ah, well, I dare say he’d been wounded in the war, and sometimes they go a bit queer afterwards, my sister’s boy did. Perhaps she’d used him bad—they’re a bad lot, those foreigners. 

Though she was a fine-looking woman. Stood there where you’re standing now.”

“Was she dark or fair?” I ventured. “You can’t tell from these newspaper portraits.”

“Dark hair, and a very white face—too white for nature, I thought, and her lips reddened something cruel. I don’t like to see it—a little powder now and then is quite another thing.”

We were conversing like old friends now. I put another question.

“Did she seem nervous or upset at all?”

“Not a bit. She was smiling to herself, quiet like, as though she was amused at something. That’s why you could have knocked me down with a feather when, the next afternoon, those people came running out calling for the police and saying there’d been murder done.

I shall never get over it, and as for setting foot in that house after dark I wouldn’t do it, not if it was ever so. Why, I wouldn’t even stay here at the lodge, if Sir Eustace hadn’t been down on his bended knees to me.”

“I thought Sir Eustace Pedler was at Cannes?”

“So he was, miss. He come back to England when he heard the news, and, as to the bended knees, that was a figure of speech, his secretary, Mr. Pagett, having offered us double pay to stay on, and, as my John says, money is money nowadays.”

I concurred heartily with John’s by no means original remarks.

“The young man now,” said Mrs. James, reverting suddenly to a former point in the conversation. “He was upset. His eyes, light eyes, they were, I noticed them particular, was all shining. Excited, I thought. But I never dreamt of anything being wrong. Not even when he came out again looking all queer.”

“How long was he in the house?”

“Oh, not long, a matter of five minutes maybe.”

“How tall was he, do you think? About six foot?”

“I should say so maybe.”

“He was clean-shaven, you say?”

“Yes, miss—not even one of these toothbrush moustaches.”

“Was his chin at all shiny?” I asked on a sudden impulse.

Mrs. James stared at me with awe.

“Well, now you come to mention it, miss, it was. However did you know?”

“It’s a curious thing, but murderers often have shiny chins,” I explained wildly.

Mrs. James accepted the statement in all good faith.

“Really, now, miss. I never heard that before.”

“You didn’t notice what kind of a head he had, I suppose?”

“Just the ordinary kind, miss. I’ll fetch you the keys, shall I?”

I accepted them, and went on my way to the Mill House. My reconstructions so far I considered good. All along I had realized that the differences between the man Mrs. James had described and my Tube “doctor” were those of non-essentials. An overcoat, a beard, gold-rimmed eyeglasses. 

The “doctor” had appeared middle-aged, but I remembered that he had stooped over the body like a comparatively young man. There had been a suppleness which told of young joints.

The victim of the accident (the Moth Ball man, as I called him to myself) and the foreign woman, Mrs. de Castina, or whatever her real name was, had had an assignation to meet at the Mill House. That was how I pieced the thing together. 

Either because they feared they were being watched or for some other reason, they chose the rather ingenious method of both getting an order to view the same house. Thus their meeting there might have the appearance of pure chance.

That the Moth Ball man had suddenly caught sight of the “doctor,” and that the meeting was totally unexpected and alarming to him, was another fact of which I was fairly sure. What had happened next? The “doctor” had removed his disguise and followed the woman to Marlow. 

But it was possible that had he removed it rather hastily traces of spirit-gum might still linger on his chin. Hence my question to Mrs. James.

Whilst occupied with my thoughts I had arrived at the low old-fashioned door of the Mill House. Unlocking it with the key, I passed inside. The hall was low and dark, the place smelt forlorn and mildewy. In spite of myself, I shivered. 

Did the woman who had come here “smiling to herself” a few days ago feel no chill of premonition as she entered this house? I wondered. Did the smile fade from her lips, and did a nameless dread close round her heart? Or had she gone upstairs, smiling still, unconscious of the doom that was so soon to overtake her? My heart beat a little faster. 

Was the house really empty? Was doom waiting for me in it also? For the first time, I understood the meaning of the much-used word, “atmosphere.” There was an atmosphere in this house, an atmosphere of cruelty, of menace, of evil.

CHAPTER 7

Shaking off the feelings that oppressed me, I went quickly upstairs. I had no difficulty in finding the room of the tragedy. 

On the day the body was discovered it had rained heavily, and large muddy boots had trampled the uncarpeted floor in every direction. I wondered if the murderer had left any footmarks the previous day. 

It was likely that the police would be reticent on the subject if he had, but on consideration I decided it was unlikely. The weather had been fine and dry.

There was nothing of interest about the room. It was almost square with two big bay windows, plain white walls and a bare floor, the boards being stained round the edges where the carpet had ceased. 

I searched it carefully, but there was not so much as a pin lying about. The gifted young detective did not seem likely to discover a neglected clue.

I had brought with me a pencil and notebook. There did not seem much to note, but I duly dotted down a brief sketch of the room to cover my disappointment at the failure of my quest. 

As I was in the act of returning the pencil to my bag, it slipped from my fingers and rolled along the floor.

The Mill House was really old, and the floors were very uneven. The pencil rolled steadily, with increasing momentum, until it came to rest under one of the windows. In the recess of each window there was a broad window-seat, underneath which there was a cupboard. 

My pencil was lying right against the cupboard door. The cupboard was shut, but it suddenly occurred to me that if it had been open my pencil would have rolled inside. I opened the door, and my pencil immediately rolled in and sheltered modestly in the farthest corner. 

I retrieved it, noting as I did so that owing to the lack of light and the peculiar formation of the cupboard one could not see it, but had to feel for it. Apart from my pencil the cupboard was empty, but being thorough by nature I tried the one under the opposite window.

At first sight, it looked as though that also was empty, but I grubbed about perseveringly, and was rewarded by feeling my hand close on a hard paper cylinder which lay in a sort of trough, or depression, in the far corner of the cupboard. As soon as I had it in my hand, I knew what it was. A roll of Kodak films. Here was a find!

I realized, of course, that these films might very well be an old roll belonging to Sir Eustace Pedler which had rolled in here and had not been found when the cupboard was emptied. But I did not think so. 

The red paper was far too fresh-looking. It was just as dusty as it would have been had it laid there for two or three days—that is to say, since the murder. Had it been there for any length of time, it would have been thickly coated.

Who had dropped it? The woman or the man? I remembered that the contents of her handbag had appeared to be intact. If it had been jerked open in the struggle and the roll of films had fallen out, surely some of the loose money would have been scattered about also? No, it was not the woman who had dropped the films.

I sniffed suddenly and suspiciously. Was the smell of moth balls becoming an obsession with me? I could swear that the roll of films smelt of it also? I held them under my nose. 

They had, as usual, a strong smell of their own, but apart from that I could clearly detect the odour I disliked so much. I soon found the cause. A minute shred of cloth had caught on a rough edge of the centre wood, and that shred was strongly impregnated with moth balls. 

At some time or another the films had been carried in the overcoat pocket of the man who was killed in the Tube. Was it he who had dropped them here? Hardly. His movements were all accounted for.

No, it was the other man, the “doctor.” He had taken the films when he had taken the paper. It was he who had dropped them here during his struggle with the woman.

I had got my clue! I would have the roll developed, and then I would have further developments to work upon.

Very elated, I left the house, returned the keys to Mrs. James and made my way as quickly as possible to the station. On the way back to town, I took out my paper and studied it afresh. Suddenly the figures took on a new significance. Suppose they were a date? 17 1 22. 

The 17th of January, 1922. Surely that must be it! Idiot that I was not to have thought of it before. But in that case I must find out the whereabouts of Kilmorden Castle, for to-day was actually the 14th. Three days. Little enough—almost hopeless when one had no idea of where to look!

It was too late to hand in my roll to-day. I had to hurry home to Kensington so as not to be late for dinner. It occurred to me that there was an easy way of verifying whether some of my conclusions were correct. 

I asked Mr. Flemming whether there had been a camera amongst the dead man’s belongings. I knew that he had taken an interest in the case and was conversant with all the details.

To my surprise and annoyance he replied that there had been no camera. All Carton’s effects had been gone over very carefully in the hopes of finding something that might throw light upon his state of mind. He was positive that there had been no photographic apparatus of any kind.

That was rather a set-back to my theory. If he had no camera, why should he be carrying a roll of films?

I set out early next morning to take my precious roll to be developed. I was so fussy that I went all the way to Regent Street to the big Kodak place. 

I handed it in and asked for a print of each film. The man finished stacking together a heap of films packed in yellow tin cylinders for the tropics, and picked up my roll.

He looked at me.

“You’ve made a mistake, I think,” he said, smiling.

“Oh, no,” I said. “I’m sure I haven’t.”

“You’ve given me the wrong roll. This is an unexposed one.”

I walked out with what dignity I could muster. I dare say it is good for one now and again to realize what an idiot one can be! But nobody relishes the process.

And then, just as I was passing one of the big shipping offices, I came to a sudden halt. In the window was a beautiful model of one of the company’s boats, and it was labelled “Kenilworth Castle.” 

A wild idea shot through my brain. I pushed the door open and went in. I went up to the counter and in faltering voice (genuine this time!) I murmured:

“Kilmorden Castle?”

“On the 17th from Southampton. Cape Town? First or second class?”

“How much is it?”

“First class, eighty-seven pounds——”

I interrupted him. The coincidence was too much for me. Exactly the amount of my legacy! I would put all my eggs in one basket.

“First class,” I said.

I was now definitely committed to the adventure.

CHAPTER 8

(Extracts from the diary of Sir Eustace Pedler, M.P.)

It is an extraordinary thing that I never seem to get any peace. I am a man who likes a quiet life. I like my Club, my rubber of Bridge, a well-cooked meal, a sound wine. I like England in the summer, and the Riviera in the winter. 

I have no desire to participate in sensational happenings. Sometimes, in front of a good fire, I do not object to reading about them in the newspaper. But that is as far as I am willing to go. 

My object in life is to be thoroughly comfortable. I have devoted a certain amount of thought, and a considerable amount of money, to further that end. But I cannot say that I always succeed. 

If things do not actually happen to me, they happen round me, and frequently, in spite of myself, I become involved. I hate being involved.

All this because Guy Pagett came into my bedroom this morning with a telegram in his hand and a face as long as a mute at a funeral.

Guy Pagett is my secretary, a zealous, painstaking, hard-working fellow, admirable in every respect. I know no one who annoys me more. 

For a long time I have been racking my brains as to how to get rid of him. But you cannot very well dismiss a secretary because he prefers work to play, likes getting up early in the morning, and has positively no vices. 

The only amusing thing about the fellow is his face. He has the face of a fourteenth-century poisoner—the sort of man the Borgias got to do their odd jobs for them.

I wouldn’t mind so much if Pagett didn’t make me work too. My idea of work is something that should be undertaken lightly and airily—trifled with, in fact! I doubt if Guy Pagett has ever trifled with anything in his life. He takes everything seriously. That is what makes him so difficult to live with.

Last week I had the brilliant idea of sending him off to Florence. He talked about Florence and how much he wanted to go there.

“My dear fellow,” I cried, “you shall go to-morrow. I will pay all your expenses.”

January isn’t the usual time for going to Florence, but it would be all one to Pagett. I could imagine him going about, guide-book in hand, religiously doing all the picture galleries. And a week’s freedom was cheap to me at the price.

It has been a delightful week. I have done everything I wanted to, and nothing that I did not want to do. But when I blinked my eyes open, and perceived Pagett standing between me and the light at the unearthly hour of 9 a.m. this morning, I realized that freedom was over.

“My dear fellow,” I said, “has the funeral already taken place, or is it for later in the morning?”

Pagett does not appreciate dry humour. He merely stared.

“So you know, Sir Eustace?”

“Know what?” I said crossly. “From the expression of your face I inferred that one of your near and dear relatives was to be interred this morning.”

Pagett ignored the sally as far as possible.

“I thought you couldn’t know about this.” He tapped the telegram. “I know you dislike being aroused early—but it is nine o’clock”—Pagett insists on regarding 9 a.m. as practically the middle of the day—“and I thought that under the circumstances——” He tapped the telegram again.

“What is that thing?” I asked.

“It’s a telegram from the police at Marlow. A woman has been murdered in your house.”

That aroused me in earnest.

“What colossal cheek,” I exclaimed. “Why in my house? Who murdered her?”

“They don’t say. I suppose we shall go back to England at once, Sir Eustace?”

“You need suppose nothing of the kind. Why should we go back?”

“The police——”

“What on earth have I to do with the police?”

“Well, it was your house.”

“That,” I said, “appears to be more my misfortune than my fault.”

Guy Pagett shook his head gloomily.

“It will have a very unfortunate effect upon the constituency,” he remarked lugubriously.

I don’t see why it should have—and yet I have a feeling that in such matters Pagett’s instincts are always right. On the face of it, a Member of Parliament will be none the less efficient because a stray young woman comes and gets herself murdered in an empty house that belongs to him—but there is no accounting for the view the respectable British public takes of a matter.

“She’s a foreigner too, and that makes it worse,” continued Pagett gloomily.

Again I believe he is right. If it is disreputable to have a woman murdered in your house, it becomes more disreputable if the woman is a foreigner. Another idea struck me.

“Good heavens,” I exclaimed, “I hope this won’t upset Caroline.”

Caroline is the lady who cooks for me. Incidentally she is the wife of my gardener. What kind of a wife she makes I do not know, but she is an excellent cook. James, on the other hand, is not a good gardener—but I support him in idleness and give him the lodge to live in solely on account of Caroline’s cooking.

“I don’t suppose she’ll stay after this,” said Pagett.

“You always were a cheerful fellow,” I said.

I expect I shall have to go back to England. Pagett clearly intends that I shall. And there is Caroline to pacify.

Three days later.

It is incredible to me that any one who can get away from England in winter does not do so! It is an abominable climate. All this trouble is very annoying. The house-agents say it will be next to impossible to let the Mill House after all the publicity. Caroline has been pacified—with double pay. We could have sent her a cable to that effect from Cannes. In fact, as I have said all along, there was no earthly purpose to serve by our coming over. I shall go back to-morrow.

One day later.

Several very surprising things have occurred. To begin with, I met Augustus Milray, the most perfect example of an old ass the present Government has produced. His manner oozed diplomatic secrecy as he drew me aside in the Club into a quiet corner. He talked a good deal. 

About South Africa and the industrial situation there. About the growing rumours of a strike on the Rand. Of the secret causes actuating that strike. I listened as patiently as I could. 

Finally, he dropped his voice to a whisper and explained that certain documents had come to light which ought to be placed in the hands of General Smuts.

“I’ve no doubt you’re quite right,” I said, stifling a yawn.

“But how are we to get them to him? Our position in the matter is delicate—very delicate.”

“What’s wrong with the post?” I said cheerfully. “Put a two-penny stamp on and drop ’em in the nearest letter-box.”

He seemed quite shocked at the suggestion.

“My dear Pedler! The common post!”

It has always been a mystery to me why Governments employ Kings’ Messengers and draw such attention to their confidential documents.

“If you don’t like the post, send one of your young Foreign Office fellows. He’ll enjoy the trip.”

“Impossible,” said Milray, wagging his head in a senile fashion. “There are reasons, my dear Pedler—I assure you there are reasons.”

“Well,” I said, rising, “all this is very interesting, but I must be off——”

“One minute, my dear Pedler, one minute, I beg of you. Now tell me, in confidence, is it not true that you intend visiting South Africa shortly yourself? You have large interests in Rhodesia, I know, and the question of Rhodesia joining in the Union is one in which you have a vital interest.”

“Well, I had thought of going out in about a month’s time.”

“You couldn’t possibly make it sooner? This month? This week, in fact?”

“I could,” I said, eyeing him with some interest. “But I don’t know that I particularly want to.”

“You would be doing the Government a great service—a very great service. You would not find them—er—ungrateful.”

“Meaning, you want me to be the postman?”

“Exactly. Your position is an unofficial one, your journey is bona fide. Everything would be eminently satisfactory.”

“Well,” I said slowly, “I don’t mind if I do. The one thing I am anxious to do is to get out of England again as soon as possible.”

“You will find the climate of South Africa delightful—quite delightful.”

“My dear fellow, I know all about the climate. I was out there shortly before the war.”

“I am really much obliged to you, Pedler. I will send you round the package by messenger. To be placed in General Smuts’s own hands, you understand? The Kilmorden Castle sails on Saturday—quite a good boat.”

I accompanied him a short way along Pall Mall before we parted. He shook me warmly by the hand, and thanked me again effusively.

I walked home reflecting on the curious by-ways of Governmental policy.

It was the following evening that Jarvis, my butler, informed me that a gentleman wished to see me on private business, but declined to give his name. I have always a lively apprehension of insurance touts, so told Jarvis to say I could not see him. Guy Pagett, unfortunately, when he might for once have been of real use, was laid up with a bilious attack. These earnest, hard-working young men with weak stomachs are always liable to bilious attacks.

Jarvis returned.

“The gentleman asked me to tell you, Sir Eustace, that he comes to you from Mr. Milray.”

That altered the complexion of things. A few minutes later I was confronting my visitor in the library. He was a well-built young fellow with a deeply tanned face. A scar ran diagonally from the corner of his eye to the jaw, disfiguring what would otherwise have been a handsome though somewhat reckless countenance.

“Well,” I said, “what’s the matter?”

“Mr. Milray sent me to you, Sir Eustace. I am to accompany you to South Africa as your secretary.”

“My dear fellow,” I said, “I’ve got a secretary already. I don’t want another.”

“I think you do, Sir Eustace. Where is your secretary now?”

“He’s down with a bilious attack,” I explained.

“You are sure it’s only a bilious attack?”

“Of course it is. He’s subject to them.”

My visitor smiled.

“It may or may not be a bilious attack. Time will show. But I can tell you this, Sir Eustace, Mr. Milray would not be surprised if an attempt were made to get your secretary out of the way. 

Oh, you need have no fear for yourself”—I suppose a momentary alarm had flickered across my face—“you are not threatened. Your secretary out of the way, access to you would be easier. 

In any case, Mr. Milray wishes me to accompany you. The passage-money will be our affair, of course, but you will take the necessary steps about the passport, as though you had decided that you needed the services of a second secretary.”

He seemed a determined young man. We stared at each other and he stared me down.

“Very well,” I said feebly.

“You will say nothing to any one as to my accompanying you.”

“Very well,” I said again.

After all, perhaps it was better to have this fellow with me, but I had a premonition that I was getting into deep waters. Just when I thought I had attained peace!

I stopped my visitor as he was turning to depart.

“It might be just as well if I knew my new secretary’s name,” I observed sarcastically.

He considered for a minute.

“Harry Rayburn seems quite a suitable name,” he observed.

It was a curious way of putting it.

“Very well,” I said for the third time.

CHAPTER 9

(Anne’s Narrative Resumed)

It is most undignified for a heroine to be sea-sick. In books the more it rolls and tosses, the better she likes it. When everybody else is ill, she alone staggers along the deck, braving the elements and positively rejoicing in the storm. 

I regret to say that at the first roll the Kilmorden gave, I turned pale and hastened below. A sympathetic stewardess received me. She suggested dry toast and ginger ale.

I remained groaning in my cabin for three days. Forgotten was my quest. I had no longer any interest in solving mysteries. I was a totally different Anne to the one who had rushed back to the South Kensington square so jubilantly from the shipping office.

I smile now as I remember my abrupt entry into the drawing-room. Mrs. Flemming was alone there. She turned her head as I entered.

“Is that you, Anne, my dear? There is something I want to talk over with you.”

“Yes?” I said, curbing my impatience.

“Miss Emery is leaving me.” Miss Emery was the governness. “As you have not yet succeeded in finding anything, I wondered if you would care—it would be so nice if you remained with us altogether?”

I was touched. She didn’t want me, I knew. It was sheer Christian charity that prompted the offer. I felt remorseful for my secret criticism of her. Getting up, I ran impulsively across the room and flung my arms round her neck.

“You’re a dear,” I said. “A dear, a dear, a dear! And thank you ever so much. But it’s all right, I’m off to South Africa on Saturday.”

My abrupt onslaught had startled the good lady. She was not used to sudden demonstrations of affection. My words startled her still more.

“To South Africa? My dear Anne. We would have to look into anything of that kind very carefully.”

That was the last thing I wanted. I explained that I had already taken my passage, and that upon arrival I proposed to take up the duties of a parlourmaid. It was the only thing I could think of on the spur of the moment. 

There was, I said, a great demand for parlourmaids in South Africa. I assured her that I was equal to taking care of myself, and in the end, with a sigh of relief at getting me off her hands, she accepted the project without further query. At parting, she slipped an envelope into my hand. 

Inside it I found five new crisp five-pound notes and the words: “I hope you will not be offended and will accept this with my love.” She was a very good, kind woman. I could not have continued to live in the same house with her, but I did recognize her intrinsic worth.

So here I was, with twenty-five pounds in my pocket, facing the world and pursuing my adventure.

It was on the fourth day that the stewardess finally urged me up on deck. Under the impression that I should die quicker below, I had steadfastly refused to leave my bunk. She now tempted me with the advent of Madeira. 

Hope rose in my breast. I could leave the boat and go ashore and be a parlourmaid there. Anything for dry land.

Muffled in coats and rugs, and weak as a kitten on my legs, I was hauled up and deposited, an inert mass, on a deck-chair. I lay there with my eyes closed, hating life. The purser, a fair-haired young man, with a round boyish face, came and sat down beside me.

“Hullo! Feeling rather sorry for yourself, eh?”

“Yes,” I replied, hating him.

“Ah, you won’t know yourself in another day or two. We’ve had rather a nasty dusting in the Bay, but there’s smooth weather ahead. I’ll be taking you on at quoits to-morrow.”

I did not reply.

“Think you’ll never recover, eh? But I’ve seen people much worse than you, and two days later they were the life and soul of the ship. You’ll be the same.”

I did not feel sufficiently pugnacious to tell him outright that he was a liar. I endeavoured to convey it by a glance. He chatted pleasantly for a few minutes more, then he mercifully departed. 

People passed and repassed, brisk couples “exercising,” curveting children, laughing young people. A few other pallid sufferers lay, like myself, in deck-chairs.

The air was pleasant, crisp, not too cold, and the sun was shining brightly. Insensibly, I felt a little cheered. I began to watch the people. One woman in particular attracted me. 

She was about thirty, of medium height and very fair with a round dimpled face and very blue eyes. Her clothes, though perfectly plain, had that indefinable air of “cut” about them which spoke of Paris. Also, in a pleasant but self-possessed way, she seemed to own the ship!

Deck stewards ran to and fro obeying her commands. She had a special deck-chair, and an apparently inexhaustible supply of cushions. She changed her mind three times as to where she would like it placed. 

Throughout everything she remained attractive and charming. She appeared to be one of those rare people in the world who know what they want, see that they get it, and manage to do so without being offensive. I decided that if I ever recovered—but of course I shouldn’t—it would amuse me to talk to her.

We reached Madeira about midday. I was still too inert to move, but I enjoyed the picturesque-looking merchants who came on board and spread their merchandise about the decks. There were flowers too. I buried my nose in an enormous bunch of sweet wet violets and felt distinctly better. 

In fact, I thought I might just possibly last out the end of the voyage. When my stewardess spoke of the attractions of a little chicken broth, I only protested feebly. When it came I enjoyed it.

My attractive woman had been ashore. She came back escorted by a tall, soldierly-looking man with dark hair and a bronzed face whom I had noticed striding up and down the deck earlier in the day. 

I put him down at once as one of the strong, silent men of Rhodesia. He was about forty, with a touch of greying hair at either temple, and was easily the best-looking man on board.

When the stewardess brought me up an extra rug I asked her if she knew who my attractive woman was.

“That’s a well-known society lady, the Hon. Mrs. Clarence Blair. You must have read about her in the papers.”

I nodded, looking at her with renewed interest. Mrs. Blair was very well known indeed as one of the smartest women of the day. I observed, with some amusement, that she was the centre of a good deal of attention. 

Several people essayed to scrape acquaintance with the pleasant informality that a boat allows. I admired the polite way that Mrs. Blair snubbed them. 

She appeared to have adopted the strong, silent man as her special cavalier, and he seemed duly sensible of the privilege accorded him.

The following morning, to my surprise, after taking a few turns round the deck with her attentive companion, Mrs. Blair came to a halt by my chair.

“Feeling better this morning?”

I thanked her, and said I felt slightly more like a human being.

“You did look ill yesterday. Colonel Race and I decided that we should have the excitement of a funeral at sea—but you’ve disappointed us.”

I laughed.

“Being up in the air has done me good.”

“Nothing like fresh air,” said Colonel Race, smiling.

“Being shut up in those stuffy cabins would kill any one,” declared Mrs. Blair, dropping into a seat by my side and dismissing her companion with a little nod. “You’ve got an outside one, I hope?”

I shook my head.

“My dear girl! Why don’t you change? There’s plenty of room. A lot of people got off at Madeira, and the boat’s very empty. Talk to the purser about it. He’s a nice little boy—he changed me into a beautiful cabin because I didn’t care for the one I’d got. You talk to him at lunch-time when you go down.”

I shuddered.

“I couldn’t move.”

“Don’t be silly. Come and take a walk now with me.”

She dimpled at me encouragingly. I felt very weak on my legs at first, but as we walked briskly up and down I began to feel a brighter and better being.

After a turn or two, Colonel Race joined us again.

“You can see the Grand Peak of Tenerife from the other side.”

“Can we? Can I get a photograph of it, do you think?”

“No—but that won’t deter you from snapping off at it.”

Mrs. Blair laughed.

“You are unkind. Some of my photographs are very good.”

“About three per cent effective, I should say.”

We all went round to the other side of the deck. There glimmering white and snowy, enveloped in a delicate rose-coloured mist, rose the glistening pinnacle. I uttered an exclamation of delight. Mrs. Blair ran for her camera.

Undeterred by Colonel Race’s sardonic comments, she snapped vigorously:

“There, that’s the end of the roll. Oh,” her tone changed to one of chagrin, “I’ve had the thing at ‘bulb’ all the time.”

“I always like to see a child with a new toy,” murmured the Colonel.

“How horrid you are—but I’ve got another roll.”

She produced it in triumph from the pocket of her sweater. A sudden roll of the boat upset her balance, and as she caught at the rail to steady herself the roll of films flashed over the side.

“Oh!” cried Mrs. Blair, comically dismayed. She leaned over. “Do you think they have gone overboard?”

“No, you may have been fortunate enough to brain an unlucky steward in the deck below.”

A small boy who had arrived unobserved a few paces to our rear blew a deafening blast on a bugle.

“Lunch,” declared Mrs. Blair ecstatically. “I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast, except two cups of beef-tea. Lunch, Miss Beddingfeld?”

“Well,” I said waveringly. “Yes, I do feel rather hungry.”

“Splendid. You’re sitting at the purser’s table, I know. Tackle him about the cabin.”

I found my way down to the saloon, began to eat gingerly, and finished by consuming an enormous meal. My friend of yesterday congratulated me on my recovery. Every one was changing cabins to-day, he told me, and he promised that my things should be moved to an outside one without delay.

There were only four at our table, myself, a couple of elderly ladies, and a missionary who talked a lot about “our poor black brothers.”

I looked round at the other tables. Mrs. Blair was sitting at the Captain’s table, Colonel Race next to her. On the other side of the Captain was a distinguished-looking, grey-haired man. 

A good many people I had already noticed on deck, but there was one man who had not previously appeared. Had he done so, he could hardly have escaped my notice. He was tall and dark, and had such a peculiarly sinister type of countenance that I was quite startled. 

I asked the purser, with some curiosity, who he was.

“That man? Oh, that’s Sir Eustace Pedler’s secretary. Been very sea-sick, poor chap, and not appeared before. Sir Eustace has got two secretaries with him, and the sea’s been too much for both of them. The other fellow hasn’t turned up yet. This man’s name is Pagett.”

So Sir Eustace Pedler, the owner of the Mill House, was on board. Probably only a coincidence, and yet——

“That’s Sir Eustace,” my informant continued, “sitting next to the Captain. Pompous old ass.”

The more I studied the secretary’s face, the less I liked it. Its even pallor, the secretive, heavy-lidded eyes, the curiously flattened head—it all gave me a feeling of distaste, of apprehension.

Leaving the saloon at the same time as he did, I was close behind him as he went up on deck. He was speaking to Sir Eustace, and I overheard a fragment or two. “I’ll see about the cabin at once then, shall I? It’s impossible to work in yours, with all your trunks.”

“My dear fellow,” Sir Eustace replied. “My cabin is intended (a) for me to sleep in, and (b) to attempt to dress in. I never had any intentions of allowing you to sprawl about the place making an infernal clicking with that typewriter of yours.”

“That’s just what I say, Sir Eustace, we must have somewhere to work——”

Here I parted company from them, and went below to see if my removal was in progress. I found my steward busy at the task.

“Very nice cabin, miss. On D deck. No. 13.”

“Oh, no!” I cried. “Not 13.”

Thirteen is the one thing I am superstitious about. It was a nice cabin too. I inspected it, wavered, but a foolish superstition prevailed. I appealed almost tearfully to the steward.

“Isn’t there any other cabin I can have?”

The steward reflected.

“Well, there’s 17, just along on the starboard side. That was empty this morning, but I rather fancy it’s been allotted to some one. Still, as the gentleman’s things aren’t in yet, and as gentlemen aren’t anything like so superstitious as ladies, I dare say he wouldn’t mind changing.”

I hailed the proposition gratefully, and the steward departed to obtain permission from the purser. He returned grinning.

“That’s all right, miss. We can go along.”

He led the way to 17. It was not quite as large as No. 13, but I found it eminently satisfactory.

“I’ll fetch your things right away, miss,” said the steward.

But at that moment, the man with the sinister face (as I had nicknamed him) appeared in the doorway.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but this cabin is reserved for the use of Sir Eustace Pedler.”

“That’s all right, sir,” explained the steward. “We’re fitting up No. 13 instead.”

“No, it was No. 17 I was to have.”

“No. 13 is a better cabin, sir—larger.”

“I specially selected No. 17, and the purser said I could have it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said coldly. “But No. 17 has been allotted to me.”

“I can’t agree to that.”

The steward put in his oar.

“The other cabin’s just the same, only better.”

“I want No. 17.”

“What’s all this?” demanded a new voice. “Steward, put my things in here. This is my cabin.”

It was my neighbor at lunch, the Rev. Edward Chichester.

“I beg your pardon,” I said. “It’s my cabin.”

“It is allotted to Sir Eustace Pedler,” said Mr. Pagett.

We were all getting rather heated.

“I’m sorry to have to dispute the matter,” said Chichester with a meek smile which failed to mask his determination to get his own way. Meek men are always obstinate, I have noticed.

He edged himself sideways into the doorway.

“You’re to have No. 28 on the port side,” said the steward. “A very good cabin, sir.”

“I am afraid that I must insist. No. 17 was the cabin promised to me.”

We had come to an impasse. Each one of us was determined not to give way. Strictly speaking, I, at any rate, might have retired from the contest and eased matters by offering to accept Cabin 28. 

So long as I did not have 13 it was immaterial to me what other cabin I had. But my blood was up. I had not the least intention of being the first to give way. And I disliked Chichester. 

He had false teeth which clicked when he ate. Many men have been hated for less.

We all said the same things over again. The steward assured us, even more strongly, that both the other cabins were better cabins. None of us paid any attention to him.

Pagett began to lose his temper. Chichester kept his serenely. With an effort I also kept mine. And still none of us would give way an inch.

A wink and a whispered word from the steward gave me my cue. I faded unobtrusively from the scene. I was lucky enough to encounter the purser almost immediately.

“Oh, please,” I said, “you did say I could have Cabin 17? And the others won’t go away. Mr. Chichester and Mr. Pagett. You will let me have it, won’t you?”

I always say that there are no people like sailors for being nice to women. My little purser came to the scratch splendidly. He strode to the scene, informed the disputants that No. 17 was my cabin, they could have Nos. 13 and 28 respectively or stay where they were—whichever they chose.

I permitted my eyes to tell him what a hero he was and then installed myself in my new domain. The encounter had done me worlds of good. The sea was smooth, the weather growing daily warmer. Sea-sickness was a thing of the past!

I went up on deck and was initiated into the mysteries of deck-quoits. I entered my name for various sports. Tea was served on deck, and I ate heartily. 

After tea, I played shovel-board with some pleasant young men. They were extraordinarily nice to me. I felt that life was satisfactory and delightful.

The dressing bugle came as a surprise and I hurried to my new cabin. The stewardess was awaiting me with a troubled face.

“There’s a terrible smell in your cabin, miss. What it is, I’m sure I can’t think, but I doubt if you’ll be able to sleep here. There’s a deck cabin up on C deck, I believe. You might move into that—just for the night, anyway.”

The smell really was pretty bad—quite nauseating. I told the stewardess I would think over the question of moving whilst I dressed. I hurried over my toilet, sniffing distastefully as I did so.

What was the smell? Dead rat? No, worse than that—and quite different. Yet I knew it! It was something I had smelt before. Something——Ah! I had got it. Asafœtida! I had worked in a Hospital dispensary during the war for a short time and had become acquainted with various nauseous drugs.

Asafœtida, that was it. But how——

I sank down on the sofa, suddenly realizing the thing. Somebody had put a pinch of asafœtida in my cabin. Why? So that I should vacate it? Why were they so anxious to get me out? I thought of the scene this afternoon from a rather different point of view. What was there about Cabin 17 that made so many people anxious to get hold of it? The other two cabins were better cabins, why had both men insisted on sticking to 17?

17. How the number persisted. It was on the 17th I had sailed from Southampton. It was a 17—I stopped with a sudden gasp. Quickly I unlocked my suitcase and took my precious paper from its place of concealment in some rolled stockings.

17 1 22—I had taken that for a date, the date of departure of the Kilmorden Castle. Supposing I was wrong. When I came to think of it, would anyone, writing down a date, think it necessary to put the year as well as the month? Supposing 17 meant Cabin 17? And 1? The time—one o’clock. Then 22 must be the date. I looked up at my little almanac.

To-morrow was the 22nd!

 Happy Reading

Source Credit:- https://www.gutenberg.org/. 

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