The Crimson Circle - Edgar Wallace - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1925

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About

Chapter 1 - THE INITIATION
Chapter 2 - THE MAN WHO DID NOT PAY
Chapter 3 - THE GIRL WHO WAS INDIFFERENT
Chapter 4 - MR. FELIX MARL
Chapter 5 - THE GIRL WHO RAN

About Wallace:

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875–February 10, 1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals. Over 160 films have been made of his novels, more than any other author. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. (citation needed) He is most famous today as the co-creator of "King Kong", writing the early screenplay and story for the movie, as well as a short story "King Kong" (1933) credited to him and Draycott Dell. He was known for the J. G. Reeder detective stories, The Four Just Men, the Ringer, and for creating the Green Archer character during his lifetime. Source: Wikipedia

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IT is a ponderable fact that had not the 29th of a certain September been the anniversary of Monsieur Victor Pallion's birth, there would have been no Crimson Circle mystery; a dozen men, now dead, would in all probability be alive, and Thalia Drummond would certainly never have been described by a dispassionate inspector of police as "a thief and the associate of thieves."

M. Pallion entertained his three assistants to dinner at the Coq d'Or in the city of Toulouse, and the proceedings were both joyous and amiable. At three o'clock in the morning it dawned upon M. Pallion that the occasion of his visit to Toulouse was the execution of an English malefactor named Lightman.

"My children," he said gravely but unsteadily, "it is three hours and the 'red lady' has yet to be assembled!"

So they adjourned to the place before the prison where a trolley containing the essential parts of the guillotine had been waiting since midnight, and with a skill born of practice they erected the grisly thing, and fitted the knife into its proper slots.

But even mechanical skill is not proof against the heady wines of southern France, and when they tried the knife it did not fall truly.

"I will arrange this," said M. Pallion, and drove a nail into the frame at exactly the place where a nail should not have been driven.

But he was getting flurried, for the soldiers had marched on to the ground..

Four hours later (it was light enough for an enterprising photographer to snap the prisoner close at hand), they inarched a man from the prison..

"Courage!" murmured M. Pallion.

"Go to hell!" said the victim, now lying strapped upon the plank.

M. Pallion pulled a handle and the knife fell as far as the nail. Three times he tried and three times he failed, and then the indignant spectators broke through the military cordon, and the prisoner was taken back into the gaol. Eleven years later that nail killed many people.


Chapter 1 THE INITIATION

IT was an hour when most respectable citizens were preparing for bed, and the upper windows of the big, old-fashioned houses in the square showed patches of light, against which the outlines of the leafless trees, bending and swaying under the urge of the gale, were silhouetted. A cold wind was sweeping up the river, and its outriders penetrated icily into the remotest and most sheltered places.

The man who paced slowly by the high iron railings shivered, though he was warmly clad, for the unknown had chosen a rendezvous which seemed exposed to the full blast of the storm.

The debris of the dead autumn whirled in fantastic circles about his feet, the twigs and leaves came rattling down from the trees which threw their long gaunt arms above him, and he looked enviously at the cheerful glow in the windows of a house where, did he but knock, he would be received as a welcome guest.

The hour of eleven boomed out from a nearby clock, and the last stroke was reverberating when a car came swiftly and noiselessly into the square and halted abreast of him. The two head-lamps burned dimly. Within the closed body there was no spark of light. After a moment's hesitation the waiting man stepped to the car, opened the door, and got in. He could only guess the outline of the driver's figure in the seat ahead, and he felt a curious thumping of heart as he realised the terrific importance of the step he had taken. The car did not move, and the man in the driver's seat remained motionless. For a little time there was a dead silence, which was broken by the passenger.

"Well?" he asked nervously, almost irritably.

"Have you decided?" asked the driver.

"Should I be here if I hadn't?" demanded the passenger. "Do you think I've come out of curiosity? What do you want of me? Tell me that, and I will tell you what I want of you."

"I know what you want of me," said the driver. His voice was muffled and indistinct, as one who spoke behind a veil.

When the newcomer's eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he detected the vague outline of the black silk cowl which covered the driver's head.'

"You are on the verge of bankruptcy," the driver went on. "You have used money which was not yours to use, and you are contemplating suicide. And it is not your insolvency which makes you consider this way out. You have an enemy who has discovered something to your discredit, something which would bring you into the hands of the police. Three days ago you obtained from a firm of manufacturing chemists, a member of which is a friend of yours, a particularly deadly drug, which cannot be obtained from a retail chemist. You have spent a week reading up poisons and their effects, and it is your intention, unless something turns up which will save you from ruin, to end your life either on Saturday or Sunday. I think it will be Sunday." He heard the man behind him gasp, and laughed softly. "Now, sir," said the driver, "are you prepared for a consideration to act for me?"

"What do you want me to do?" demanded the man behind him shakily.

"I ask no more than that you should carry out my instructions. I will take care that you run no risks and that you are well paid. I am prepared at this moment to place in your hands a very large sum of money, which will enable you to meet your more pressing obligations. In return for this I shall want you to put into circulation all the money I send you, to make the necessary exchanges, to cover up the trail of bills and bank-notes, the numbers of which are known to the police; to dispose of bonds, which I cannot dispose of, and generally to act as my agent—" he paused, adding significantly, "and to pay on demand what I ask."

The man behind him did not reply for some time, and then he asked with a hint of petulance; "What is the Crimson Circle?"

"You," was the startling reply.

"I?" gasped the man.

"You are of the Crimson Circle," said the other carefully. "You have a hundred comrades, none of whom will ever be known to you, none of whom will ever know you."

"And you?"

"I know them all," said the driver. "You agree?"

"I agree," said the other after a pause. The driver half-turned in his seat and held out his hand.

"Take this," he said. "This" was a large, bulky envelope, and the newly initiated member of the Crimson Circle thrust it into his pocket.

"And now get out," said the driver curtly, and the man obeyed without question.

He slammed the door behind him and walked abreast of the driver. He was still curious as to his identity, and for his own salvation it was necessary that he should know the man who drove.

"Don't light your cigar here," said the driver, "or I shall think that your smoking is really an excuse to strike a match. And remember this, my friend, that the man who knows me, carries his knowledge to hell."

Before the other could reply the car moved on and the man with the envelope stood watching its red tail light until it disappeared from view.

He was shaking from head to foot, and when he did light the cigar which his chattering teeth gripped, the flame of the match quivered tremulously.

"That is that," he said huskily, and crossed the road, to disappear in one of the side-turnings. He was scarcely out of sight before a figure moved stealthily from the doorway of a dark house and followed. It was the figure of a man tall and broad, and he walked with difficulty, for he was naturally short of breath. He had gone a hundred paces in his pursuit before he realised that he still held in his hand the ship's binoculars through which he had been watching.

When he reached the main street his quarry had vanished.

He had expected as much and was not perturbed. He knew where to find him. But who was in the car? He had read the number and could trace its owner in the morning. Mr. Felix Marl grinned. Had he so much as guessed the character of the interview he had overlooked, he would not have been amused. Stronger men than he had grown stiff with fear at the menace of the Crimson Circle.


Chapter 2 THE MAN WHO DID NOT PAY

PHILIP BASSARD paid, and lived, for apparently the Crimson Circle kept faith; Jacques Rizzi, the banker, also paid, but in a panic. He died from natural causes a month later, having a weak heart. Benson, the railway lawyer, pooh-poohed the threat and was found dead by the side of his private saloon.

Mr. Derrick Yale, with his amazing gifts, ran down the coloured man who had crept into Benson's private car and killed him before he threw the body from the window, and the coloured man was hanged, without, however, revealing the identity of his employer. The police might sneer at Yale's psychometrical powers—as they did—but within forty-eight hours he had led the police to the criminal's house at Yareside and the dazed murderer had confessed.

Following this tragedy many men must have paid without reporting the matter to the police, for there was a long period during which no reference to the Crimson Circle found its way into the newspapers. And then one morning there came to the breakfast table of James Beardmore, a square envelope containing a card, on which was stamped a Crimson Circle.

"You are interested in the melodrama of life, Jack—read that."

James Stamford Beardmore tossed the message across the table to his son and proceeded to open the next letter in the pile which stood beside his plate.

Jack retrieved the message from the floor, where it had fallen, and examined it with a little frown. It was a very ordinary letter-card, save that it bore no address. A big circle of crimson touched its four edges, and had the appearance of having been printed with a rubber stamp, for the ink was unevenly distributed. In the centre of the circle, written in printed characters, were the words:

"One hundred thousand represents only a small portion of your possessions. You will pay this in notes to a messenger I will send in response to an advertisement in the Tribune within the next twenty-four hours, stating the exact hour convenient to you. This is the final warning."

There was no signature.

"Well?" Old Jim Beardmore looked up over his spectacles and his eyes were smiling.

"The Crimson Circle!" gasped his son.

Jim Beardmore laughed aloud at the concern in the boy's voice.

"Yes, the Crimson Circle—I have had four of 'em!"

The young man stared at him. "Four?" he repeated. "Good heavens! Is that why Yale has been staying with us?"

Jim Beardmore smiled.

"That is a reason," he said.

"Of course, I knew that he was a detective, but I hadn't the slightest idea—"

"Don't worry about this infernal circle," interrupted his father a little impatiently. "I'm not scared of them. Froyant is in terror of his life that he will be marked down. And I don't wonder. He and I have made a few enemies in our time."

James Beardmore, with his hard, lined face and his stubbly grey beard, might have been mistaken for the grandfather of the good-looking young man who sat opposite to him. The Beardmore fortune had been painfully won. It had materialised from the wreckage of dreams and had its beginnings in the privations, the dangers and the heartaches of a prospector's life. This man whom Death had stalked on the waterless plains of the Kalahari, who had scraped in the mud of the Vale River for illusory diamonds, and thawed out his claim in the Klondyke, had faced too many real dangers to be greatly disturbed by the threat of the Crimson Circle. For the moment his perturbation was based on a more tangible peril, not to himself, but to his son.

"I've got a whole lot of faith in your good sense, Jack," he said, "so don't be hurt by anything I'm going to say. I've never interfered in your amusements or questioned your judgment—but—do you think that you're being wise just now?"

Jack understood. "You mean about Miss Drummond, father?"

The older man nodded.

"She's Froyant's secretary," began the youth.

"I know she is Froyant's secretary," said the other, "and she's none the worse for that. But the point is, Jack, do you know anything more about her?"

The young man rolled his napkin deliberately. His face was red and there was a queer set look about his jaw which secretly amused Jim.

"I like her. She is a friend of mine. I've never made love to her, if that is what you mean, dad, and I rather think our friendship would be at an end if I did."

Jim nodded. He had said all that was necessary and now he took up a more bulky envelope and looked at it curiously. Jack saw that it bore French postage stamps and wondered who was the correspondent.

Tearing open the flap, the old man took out a pad of correspondence, which included yet another envelope heavily sealed. He read the superscription and his nose wrinkled.

"Ugh!" he said, and put the envelope down unopened. He glanced through the remainder of the correspondence, then looked across at his son.

"Never trust a man or woman until you know the worst of them," he said. "I've got a man coming to see me to-day who is a respectable member of society. He has a record as black as my hat and yet I'm going to do business with him—I know the worst!"

Jack laughed. Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of their guest.

"Good morning, Yale—did you sleep well?" asked the old man. "Ring for some more coffee, Jack."

Derrick Yale's visit had been an unmixed pleasure to Jack Beardmore. He was at the age when romance had its full appeal and the companionship of the most commonplace detective would have brought him a peculiar joy. But the glamour which surrounded Yale was the glamour of the supernatural. This man had unusual and peculiar qualities which made him unique. The delicate aesthetic face, the grave mystery of his eyes, the very gesture of his long, sensitive hands, were part of his uniqueness.

"I never sleep," he said good-humouredly as he unrolled his serviette. He held the silver napkin ring for a second between his two fingers, and James Beardmore watched him with amusement. As for Jack, his eager admiration was unconcealed.

"Well?" asked the old man.

"Who handled this last has had very bad news—some near relation is desperately ill."

Beardmore nodded.

"Jane Higgins was the servant who laid the table," he said. "She had a letter this morning saying that her mother was dying."

Jack gasped.

"And you felt that in the serviette ring?" he asked in amazement. "How do you get that impression, Mr. Yale?"

Derrick Yale shook his head.

"I don't attempt to explain," he said quietly. "All that I know is that the moment I took up my serviette I had a sensation of profound and poignant sorrow. It is weird, isn't it?"

"But how did you know about her mother?"

"I traced it somehow," said the other almost brusquely; "it is a matter of deduction. Have you any news, Mr. Beardmore?"

For answer Jim handed him the card he had received that morning. Yale read the message, then weighed the card on the palm of his white hand.

"Posted by a sailor," he said, "a man who has been in prison and has recently lost a great deal of money."

Jim Beardmore laughed.

"Which I shall certainly not replace," he said, rising from the table. "Do you take these warnings seriously?"

"I take them very seriously," said Derrick in his quiet way. "So seriously that I do not advise you to leave this house except in my company. The Crimson Circle," he went on, arresting Beardmore's indignant protest with a characteristic gesture, "is, I admit, vulgarly melodramatic in its operations, but it will be no solace to your heirs to learn that you have died theatrically."

Jim Beardmore was silent for a time, and his son regarded him anxiously.

"Why don't you go abroad, father?" he asked, and the old man snapped round on him.

"Go abroad be damned!" he roared. "Run away from a cheap Black Hand gang? I'll see them—!"

He did not mention their destination, but they could guess.


Chapter 3 THE GIRL WHO WAS INDIFFERENT

A HEAVY weight lay on Jack Beardmore's mind as he walked slowly across the meadows that morning. His feet carried him instinctively in the direction of the little valley which lay a mile from the house, and in the exact centre of which ran the hedge which marked the division between the Beardmore and Froyant estates. It was a glorious morning. The storm of wind and rain which had swept the country the night before had blown itself out, and the world lay bathed in yellow sunlight. Far away, beyond the olive-green covens that crowned Penton Hill, he caught a glimpse of Harvey Froyant's big white mansion. Would she venture out with the ground so sodden and the grasses soaked with rain, he wondered?

He stopped by a big elm tree on the lip of the valley and cast an anxious glance along the untidy hedge, until his eyes rested on a tiny summer house which the former owners of Tower House had erected—Harvey Froyant, who loathed solitude, would never have been guilty of such extravagance.

There was nobody in sight, and his heart sank. Ten minutes' walking brought him to the gap he had made in the fence, and he stepped through. The girl who sat in the tiny house might have heard his sigh of relief.

She looked round, then rose with some evidence of reluctance.

She was remarkably pretty, with her fair hair and flawless skin, but there was no welcome in her eyes as she came slowly toward him. "Good morning," she said coolly.

"Good morning, Thalia," he ventured, and her frown returned.

"I wish you wouldn't," she said, and he knew that she meant what she said. Her attitude toward him puzzled and worried him. For she was a thing of laughter and bubbling life. He had once surprised her chasing a hare, and had watched, spellbound, the figure of this laughing Diana as her little feet flew across the field in pursuit of the scared beast. He had heard her singing, too, and the very joy of life was vibrant in her voice—but he had seen her so depressed and gloomy that he had feared she was ill.

"Why are you always so stiff and formal with me?" he grumbled.

For a second a ghost of a smile showed at the comer of her mouth.

"Because I've read books," she said solemnly, "and poor girl secretaries who aren't stiff and formal with millionaire's sons usually come to a bad end!"

She had a trick of directness which was very disconcerting.

"Besides," she said, "there is no reason why I shouldn't be stiff and formal. It is the conventional attitude which people adopt toward their fellow creatures, unless they are very fond of them, and I'm not very fond of you."

She said this calmly and deliberately, and the young man's face went red. He felt a fool, and cursed himself for provoking this act of cruelty.

"I will tell you something, Mr. Beardmore," she went on in her even tone. "Something which you haven't realised. When a boy and girl are thrown together on a desert island, it is only natural that the boy gets the idea that the girl is the only girl in the world. All his wayward fancies are concentrated on one woman and as the days pass she grows more and more wonderful in his eyes. I've read a lot of these desert island stories, and I've seen a lot of pictures that deal with that interesting situation, and that is how it strikes me. You are on a desert island here—you spend too much time on your estate, and the only things you see are rabbits and birds and Thalia Drummond. You should go into the city and into the society of people of your own station."

She turned from him with a nod, for she had seen her employer approaching, had watched him out of the corner of her eye as he stopped to survey them, and had guessed his annoyance.

"I thought you were doing the house accounts, Miss Drummond," he said with asperity.

He was a skinny man, in the early fifties, colourless, sharp-featured, prematurely bald. He had an unpleasant habit of baring his long yellow teeth when he asked a question, a grimace which in some curious way suggested his belief that the answer would be an evasion.

"Morning, Beardmore," he jerked the salutation grudgingly and turned again to his secretary.

"I don't like to see you wasting your time, Miss Drummond," he said.

"I am not wasting either your time or mine, Mr. Froyant," she answered calmly. "I have finished the accounts—here!" She tapped the worn leather portfolio which was under her arm.

"You could have done the work in my library," he complained; "there is no need to go into the wilderness."

He stopped and rubbed his long nose and glanced from the girl to the silent young man.

"Very good; that will do," he said. "I am going to see your father, Beardmore. Perhaps you will walk with me?"

Thalia was already on her way to Tower House, and Jack had no excuse for lingering.

"Don't occupy that girl's time, Beardmore, don't, please," said Froyant testily. "You've no idea how much she has to do—and I'm sure your father wouldn't like it."

Jack was on the point of saying something offensive, but checked himself. He loathed Harvey Froyant, and at the moment hated him for his domineering attitude toward the girl.

"That class of girl," began Mr. Froyant, turning to walk by the side of the hedge toward the gate at the end of the valley, "that class of girl—" he stood still and stared. "Who the devil has broken through the hedge?" he demanded, pointing with his stick.

"I did," said Jack savagely. "It is our hedge, anyway, and it saves half a mile—come on, Mr. Froyant."

Harvey Froyant made no comment as he stepped gingerly through the hedge.

They walked slowly up the hill toward the big elm tree where Jack and stood looking down into the valley.

Mr. Harvey Froyant preserved a tight-lipped silence. He was a stickler for the conventions, where their observations benefited himself.

They had reached the crest of the rise, when suddenly his arm was gripped, and he turned to see Jack Beardmore, staring at the bole of the tree. Froyant followed the direction of his eye and took a step backward, his unhealthy face a shade paler. Painted on the tree trunk was a rough circle of crimson, and the paint was yet wet.


Chapter 4 MR. FELIX MARL

JACK BEARDMORE looked round, scanning the country. The only human being in sight was a man who was walking slowly away from them, carrying a bag in his hand. Jack shouted, and the man turned.

"Who are you?" demanded Jack. Then, "What are you doing here?"

The stranger was a tall, stoutish man, and the exertion of carrying his grip had left him a little breathless. It was some time before he could reply.

"My name is Marl," he said, "Felix Marl. You may have heard of me. I think you are young Mr. Beardmore, aren't you?"

"That is my name," said Jack. "What are you doing here?" he asked again.

"They told me there was a short cut from the railway station, but it is not so short as they promised," said Mr. Marl, breathing stertorously. "I'm on my way to see your father."

"Have you been near that tree?" asked Jack, and Marl glared at him.

"Why should I go near any tree?" he demanded aggressively. "I tell you I've come straight across the fields."

By this time Harvey Froyant arrived, and apparently recognised the newcomer.

"This is Mr. Marl; I know him. Marl, did you see anybody near that tree?"

The man shook his head. Apparently the tree and its secret was a mystery to him.

"I never knew there was a tree there," he said. "What—what has happened?"

"Nothing," said Harvey Froyant sharply.

They came to the house soon after, Jack carrying the visitor's bag. He was not impressed by the big man's appearance. His voice was coarse, his manner familiar, and Jack wondered what association this uncouth specimen of humanity could have with his father.

They were nearing the house when suddenly and for no obvious reason the stout Mr. Marl emitted a frightened squeal and leapt back. There was no doubt of his fear. It was written visibly in the blanched cheeks and the quivering lips of the man, who was shaking from head to foot. Jack could only look at him in astonishment—and even Harvey Froyant was startled into an interest.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Marl?" he asked savagely.

His own nerves were on edge, and the sight of the big man's undisguised terror was a further strain which he could scarcely endure.

"Nothin'—nothin'," muttered Marl huskily. "I've been—"

"Drinking, I should think," snapped Froyant.

After seeing the man into the house Jack hurried off in search of Derrick Yale. He discovered the detective in the shrubbery sitting in a big cane chair, his chin upon his breast, his arms folded, a characteristic attitude of his. Yale looked up at the sound of the young man's footsteps. "I can't tell you," he said, before Jack had framed his question, and then, seeing the look of astonishment on his face, he laughed. "You were going to ask me what scared Marl, weren't you?"

"I came with that intention," laughed Jack. "What an extraordinary fellow you are, Mr. Yale! Did you see his extraordinary exhibition of funk?"

Derrick Yale nodded. "I saw him just before he had his shock," he said. "You can see the field path from here." He frowned. "He reminds me of somebody," he said slowly, "yet I cannot for the life of me tell who it is. Is he a frequent visitor here? Your father told me he was coming, and I guessed it was he."

Jack shook his head. "This is the first time I've seen him," he said. "I remember now, though, that father and Froyant have had some business dealings with a man named Marl—Dad mentioned him one day. I think he is a land speculator. Father is rather interested in land just now. By the way, I have seen the mark of the Crimson Circle," he added, and described the newly-painted "O" he had found on the elm. Instantly Yale lost interest in Mr. Marl. "It was not on the tree when I went down into the valley," said Jack. "I'll swear to that. It must have been painted whilst I was talking to—to a friend. The trunk is out of sight from the boundary fence, and it was quite possible for somebody to have painted the sign without being seen. What does it mean, Mr. Yale?"

"It means trouble," said Yale shortly. He rose abruptly and began pacing the flagged walk, and Jack, after waiting a little while, left him to his meditations.

In the meantime, Mr. Felix Marl was comparatively a useless third of a conference which dealt with the transfer of lands. Marl was, as Jack had said, a land speculator, and he had come that morning bringing a promising proposition which he was wholly incapable of explaining.

"I can't help it, gentlemen," he said, and for the fourth time his trembling hand rose to his lips. "I've had a bit of a shock this morning."

"What was that?"

But Marl seemed incapable of explanation. He could only shake his head helplessly. "I'm not fit to discuss things calmly," he said. "You'll have to put the matter off until to-morrow."

"Do you think I've come here to-day for the purpose of listening to that sort of nonsense?" snarled Mr. Froyant. "I tell you I want this business settled. So do you, Beardmore."

Jim Beardmore, who was indifferent as to whether the matter was settled then or the following week, laughed.

"I don't know that it is very important," he said. "If Mr. Marl is upset, why should we bother him? Perhaps you'll stay here to-night. Marl?"

"No, no, no," the man's voice rose almost to a shout. "No, I won't stay here, if you don't mind—I would much rather not!"

"Just as you like," said Jim Beardmore indifferently, and folded up the papers he had prepared for signature.

They walked out into the hall together, and there Jack found them.

Beardmore's car carried the visitor and his bag back to the station, and from there on Mr. Marl's conduct was peculiar. He registered his bag through to the city, but he himself descended at the next station, and for a man who so disliked walking, and as by nature so averse from physical exercise, he displayed an almost heroic spirit, for he set forth to walk the nine miles which separated him from the Beardmore estate—and he did not go by the shortest route.

It was nearing nightfall when Mr. Marl made his furtive way into a thick plantation on the edge of the Beardmore property.

He sat down, a tired, dusty but determined man, and waited for the night to close down over the countryside. And during the period of waiting, he examined with tender care the heavy automatic pistol he had taken from his bag in the train.


Chapter 5 THE GIRL WHO RAN

"I CAN'T understand why that fellow hasn't come back this morning," said Jim Beardmore with a frown.

"Which fellow?" asked Jack carelessly.

"I'm speaking of Marl," said his father.

"Was that the large-sized gentleman I saw yesterday?" asked Derrick Yale.

They were standing on the terrace of the house, which, from its elevated position, gave them a view across the country.

The morning train had come and gone. They could see the trail of white smoke it left as it disappeared into the foothills nine miles away.

"Yes. I'd better 'phone Froyant, and tell him not to come over."

Jim Beardmore stroked his stubbly chin.

"Marl puzzles me," he said "He is a brilliant fellow I believe, a reformed thief I know—at least I hope he is reformed. What upset him yesterday, Jack? He came into the library looking like death."

"I haven't the slightest idea," said Jack. "I think he has a weak heart, or something of the sort. He told me he gets these spasms occasionally."

Beardmore laughed softly, and going into the house returned with a walking-stick.

"I'm going for a stroll, Jack. No, you needn't come along. I've one or two things I wish to think out, and I promise you, Yale, I won't leave the grounds, though I think you attach too much importance to the threats of these ruffians."

Yale shook his head.

"What of the sign on the tree?" he asked.

Jim Beardmore snorted contemptuously.

"It will take more than that to extract a hundred thousand from me," he said.

He waved a farewell at them as he went down the broad stone steps, and they watched him walking slowly across the park.

"Do you really think my father is in any kind of danger?" asked Jack.

Yale, who had been staring after the figure, turned with a start.

"In danger?" he repeated, and then after a second's hesitation. "Yes, I believe there is very serious danger for him in the next day or two."

Jack turned his troubled gaze upon the disappearing figure.

"I hope you're wrong," he said. "Father doesn't seem to take the matter as seriously as you."

"That is because your father has not the same experience," said the detective, "but I understand that he saw Chief Inspector Parr, and the inspector thought there was considerable danger."

Jack chuckled in spite of his fears.

"How do the lion and the lamb amalgamate?" he asked. "I didn't think that head-quarters had much use for private men like you, Mr. Yale?"

"I admire Parr," said Derrick slowly. "He's slow, but thorough. I am told that he is one of the most conscientious men at head-quarters, and I fancy that the headquarters chiefs have treated him badly over the last Crimson Circle crime. They have practically told him that if he cannot run the organisation to earth he must send in his resignation."

Whilst they were speaking, the figure of Mr. Beardmore had disappeared into the gloom of a little wood on the edge of the estate.

"I worked with him during the last Circle murder," Derrick Yale went on, "and he struck me—"

He stopped, and the two men looked at one another.

There was no mistaking the sound. It was a shot near and distinct, and it came from the direction of the wood. In an instant Jack had leapt over the balustrade and was racing across the meadow. Derrick Yale behind him.

Twenty paces along the woodland path they found Jim Beardmore lying on his face, and he was quite dead, and even as Jack was staring down at his father with horrified eyes, a girl emerged from the wood at the farther end, and stopping only long enough to wipe with a handful of grass something that was red from her hands, she flew along the shadow of the hedge which divided the Froyant estate.

Never once did Thalia Drummond look back until she reached the shelter of the little summer house. Her face was drawn and white, and her breath came gaspingly as she stood for a second in the doorway of the little hut, and looked back to the wood. A swift glance round and she was in the house and on her knees tugging with quivering hands at the end of a floor board. It came up disclosing a black cavity. Another second's hesitation, and she threw into the hole the revolver she had held in her hand, and dropped the board back in its place.