The Mystery of the Green Ray - William Le Queux - ebook

The Mystery of the Green Ray ebook

William Le Queux



I spent a miserable night. I went to bed early, and lay awake till daybreak. The hideous nightmare of the green ray kept me awake for many nights to come. The General agreed with me that we must waste no time, and it was arranged that we should take Myra up to London the next day.

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William le Queux


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Copyright © 2017 by William le Queux

Published by Jovian Press

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Distribution by Pronoun

ISBN: 9781537823843























The youth in the multi-coloured blazer laughed.

“You’d have to come and be a nurse,” he suggested.

“Oh, I’d go as a drummer-boy. I’d look fine in uniform, wouldn’t I?” the waitress simpered in return.

Dennis Burnham swallowed his liqueur in one savage gulp, pushed back his chair, and rose from the table.

“Silly young ass,” he said, in a voice loud enough for the object of his wrath to hear. “Let’s get outside.”

The four of us rose, paid our bill, and went out, leaving the youth and his flippant companions to themselves. For it was Bank Holiday, August the third, 1914, and I think, though it was the shortest and most uneventful of all our river “annuals,” it is the one which we are least likely to forget. On the Saturday Dennis, Jack Curtis, Tommy Evans and myself had started from Richmond on our yearly trip up the river. Even as we sat in the two punts playing bridge, moored at our first camping-place below Kingston Weir, disquieting rumours reached us in the form of excited questions from the occupants of passing craft. And now, as we rose from the dinner-table at the Magpie, Sunbury, two days later, it seemed that war was inevitable.

“What I can’t understand,” growled Dennis, as we stepped into one of the punts and paddled idly across to the lock, “is how any young idiot can treat the whole thing as a terrific joke. If we go to war with Germany—and it seems we must—it’s going to be——Good Heavens! who knows what it’s going to be!”

“Meaning,” said Tom, who never allowed any thought to remain half-expressed, “meaning that we are not prepared, and they are. We have to step straight into the ring untrained to meet an opponent who has been getting ready night and day for the Lord knows how many years.”

“Still, you know,” said Jack, who invariably found the bright spot in everything, “we never did any good as a nation until we were pushed.”

“We shall be pushed this time,” I replied; “and if we do go to war, we shall all be wanted.”

“And wanted at once,” Tom added.

“Which brings me to the point which most concerns us,” said Dennis, with a serious face. “What are we going to do?”

“It seems to me,” I replied, “that there is only one thing we can do. If the Government declare war, it is in your cause and mine; and who is to fight our battles but you and me?”

“That’s it, old man, exactly,” said Dennis. “We must appear in person, as you lawyers would say. I’m afraid there’s not the slightest hope of peace being maintained now; and, indeed, in view of the circumstances, I should prefer to say there is not the slightest fear of it. We can’t honourably keep out, so let us hope we shall step in at once.”

Jack’s muttered “hear hear” spoke for us all, and there was silence for a minute or two. My thoughts were very far away from the peaceful valley of the Thames; they had flown, in fact, to a still more peaceful glen in the Western Highlands—but of that anon. I fancy the others, too, were thinking of something far removed from the ghastly horror of war. Jack was sitting with an open cigarette-case in his hand, gazing wistfully at the bank to which we had moored the boat. There was a “little girl” in the question. Poor chap; I knew exactly what he was thinking; he had my sympathy! The silence became uncomfortable, and it was Jack who broke it.

“Give me a match, Tommy,” he exclaimed suddenly, “and don’t talk so much.” Tom, who had not spoken a word for several minutes, produced the matches from a capacious pocket, and we all laughed rather immoderately at the feeble sally.

“As to talking,” said Tom, when our natural equanimity had been restored, “you all seem to be leaving me to say what we all know has to be said. And that is, what is the next item on the programme?”

“I think we had certainly better decide——” Dennis began.

“You old humbug!” exclaimed Tom. “You know perfectly well that we’ve all decided what we are going to do. It is merely the question of putting it in words. In some way or other we intend to regard the case of Rex v. Wilhelm as one in which we personally are concerned. Am I right?”

“Scored a possible,” said Jack, who had quite recovered his spirits.

“In which case,” Tom continued, “we don’t expect to be of much assistance to our King and country if we go gallivanting up to Wallingford, as originally intended. The question, therefore, remains, shall we go back by train—if we can find the station here—or shall we punt back to Richmond?”

“I don’t think we need worry about that,” said Dennis. “I vote we go back by river; it will be more convenient in every way, and we can leave the boats at Messums. If things are not so black as we think they are we can step on board again with a light heart, or four light hearts, if you prefer it, and start again. What do you say, Ron?”

“I should prefer to paddle back,” I replied. “It would be a pity to break up our party immediately. I don’t want to be sentimental, or anything of that sort, but you chaps will agree that we have had some very jolly times together in the past, and if we are all going to take out our naturalisation papers in the Atkins family, it is just possible that we—well, we may not be all together again next year.”

“And you, Jack?” asked Dennis.

“Oh, down stream for me,” said young Curtis, with what was obviously an effort at his usual light-hearted manner. “Think of all the beer we’ve got left.” But the laugh with which he accompanied his remark was not calculated to deceive any of us, and I am afraid my clumsy speech had set him thinking again. So we went “ashore,” and had a nightcap at the Magpie, where the flippant youth was announcing to an admiring circle that if he had half a dozen pals to go with him he wouldn’t mind joining the army himself! Having scoured the village in an unavailing attempt to round up half a pound of butter, we put off down stream, and spent the night in the beautiful backwater. No one suggested cards after supper, and we lay long into the night discussing, as thousands of other people all over the country were probably discussing, conscription, espionage, martial law, the possibilities of invasion, and the probable duration of the war. I doubt very much if we should have gone to sleep at all had we been able to foresee the events which the future, in its various ways, held in store for each of us. But, as it was, we plunged wholeheartedly into what Tommy Evans described as “Life’s new interest.” We positively thrilled at the prospect of army life.

“Think of it,” said Jack enthusiastically, “open air all the time. Nothing to worry about, no work to do, only manual labour. Why, it’s going to be one long holiday. Hang it! I’ve laid drain-pipes on a farm—for fun!”

It was past one o’clock when we got out supper. And our appetites lost nothing by the prospect of hardships which we treated rather lightly, since we entirely failed to appreciate their seriousness. Jack’s visions of storming ramparts at the point of the bayonet merely added flavour to his amazing collation of cold beef, ham, brawn, cold fowl, and peaches and cream, with which he insisted on winding-up at nearly two in the morning. He would have shouted with laughter had you told him that in less than three weeks he would be dashing through the enemy’s lines with despatches on a red-hot motor-cycle. And Tommy—poor old Tommy—well, I fancy he would have been just as cheerful, dear old chap, had he known the fate that was in store. For to him was to fall the lot which, of all others, everyone—rich and poor alike—understands. There is no need for me to repeat the story. Even in the rush of a war which has already brought forward some thousands of heroes, the reader will remember the glorious exploit of Corporal Thomas Evans, in which he won the D.C.M., and also, unfortunately, gave his life for his country. It is sufficient to say that three men in particular will ever cherish his memory as that of a loyal friend, a cheery comrade, a clean, honest, straightforward Englishman through and through.

As for Dennis and myself—but I am coming to that.

Having finished our early morning supper, we turned in for a few hours’ sleep, Jack and Tommy in one boat, Dennis and I in the other. But before we did so we stood up, as well as we could under our canvas roof, and drank “The King”; and I fancy that in the mind of each of us there was more than one other name silently coupled with that toast. Then, for the first time in my memory of our intimacy together, we solemnly shook hands before turning in. But, try as I would, I couldn’t sleep. For a long time I lay there, in the beautiful silence of the night, my thoughts far away, sleep farther away still. Presently I grovelled for my tobacco-pouch.

“Restless, Ron?” Dennis asked, himself evidently quite wide awake.

“Can’t sleep at all,” I answered. “But don’t let me disturb you.”

“You’re not disturbing me, old man. I can’t sleep either. Let’s light the lamp and smoke.”

Accordingly we fished out our pipes and relighted the acetylene lamp, which hung from the middle hoop. Jack turned over in his sleep.

“Put out the light, old fellow. Not a cab’net meeting, y’know,” he murmured drowsily. And by way of compromise I pulled the primitive draught curtain between the two boats, and as I sat up to do so I noticed with a start that Dennis wore a worried look I had never seen before. I lay back, got my pipe going, and waited for him to speak.

“I wonder,” he said presently, through the clouds of smoke that hung imprisoned beneath our shallow roof—“I wonder if there would have been any war if the Germans smoked Jamavana?”

“What’s worrying you, Den?” I asked, ignoring his question.

“Worrying me? Why, nothing. I’ve got nothing to worry about. What about you, though? I don’t want to butt in on your private affairs, but you’ve a lot more to be worried about than I have.”

“I? Oh, nonsense, Dennis,” I protested.

“None of that with me, Ron. You know what I mean. There’s no point in either of us concealing things. This war is going to make a big difference to you and Myra McLeod. Now, tell me all about it. What do you mean to do, and everything?”

“There isn’t much to tell you. You know all about it. We’re not engaged. Old General McLeod objects to our engagement on account of my position. Of course, he’s quite right. He’s very nice about it, and he’s always kindness itself to me. You know, of course, that he and my father were brother officers? Myra and I have been chums since she was four. We love each other, and she would be content to wait, but, in the meantime—well, you know my position. I can only describe it in the well-worn phrases, ‘briefless barrister’ and ‘impecunious junior.’ There’s a great deal of truth in the weak old joke, Dennis, about the many that are called and the few that are briefed. Of course the General is right. He says that I ought to leave Myra absolutely alone, and neither write to her nor see her, and give her a chance to meet someone else, and all that—someone who could keep her among her own set. But I tried that once for three months; I didn’t answer her letters, or write to her, and I worried myself to death very nearly about it. But at the end of the three months she came up to town to see what it was all about. Gad, how glad I was to see her!”

“I bet you were,” said Dennis, sympathetically. “But what d’you mean by telling me you’d got nothing to worry about? Now that you’re just getting things going nicely, and look like doing really well, along comes this wretched war, and you join the army, and such practice as you have goes to the devil. It’s rotten luck, Ronnie, rotten luck.”

“It is a bit,” I admitted with a sigh. My little bit of hard-earned success had meant a lot to me.

“Still,” said Dennis, “you’ve got a thundering lot to be thankful for too. To begin with, she’ll wait for you, and then, if necessary, marry on twopence-halfpenny a year, and make you comfortable on it too. As far as her father is concerned, she’s very devoted to him, and would never do anything to annoy him if she could possibly help it, as I easily spotted the night we dined with them at the Carlton. But she’s made up her mind to be Mrs. Ronald Ewart sooner or later; that I will swear!”

“I’m very glad to hear you say so,” I answered, “but the thing that worries me, of course, is the question as to whether I have any right to let this go on. If war is declared——”

“Which it will be,” said Dennis.

“Well, then, my practice goes to the devil, as you say. How long after the war is it going to be before I could marry one of Myra’s maids, let alone Myra? And, supposing, of course, that I use the return half of my ticket, so to speak, and come back safe and sound, my own prospects will be infinitely worse than they were before the war. The law, after all, is a luxury, and no one will have a great deal of money for luxuries by the time we have finished with it and wiped Germany off the map. Besides, if there’s no money about, there’s nothing to go to law over. So there you are, or, rather, there I am.”

“What do you intend to do, then?” my friend asked.

“I shall go up to Scotland to-morrow night—well, of course, it’s to-night, I should say—and see her—and—and——”

“Yes—well, and——”

“Oh, and tell her that it must be all—all over. I shall say that the war will make all the difference, that I must join the army, and that she must consider herself free to marry someone else, and that, as in any case I might never come back, I think it’s the best thing for us both that she should consider herself free, and—er—and—and consider herself free,” I ended weakly.

“Just like that?” asked Dennis, with a twinkle in his eye.

“I shall try and put it fairly formally to her,” I said, “because, of course, I must appear to be sincere about it. I must try and think out some way of making her imagine I want it broken off for reasons of my own.”

Dennis laughed softly.

“You delicious, egotistical idiot,” he said. “You don’t really imagine that you could persuade anyone you met for the first time even that you’re not in love. By all means do what you think is right, Ron. I wouldn’t dissuade you for the world. Tell her that she is free. Tell her why you are setting her free, and I’ll be willing to wager my little all that you two ridiculous young people will find yourselves tied tighter together than ever. By all means do your best to be a good little boy, Ronald, and do what you conceive to be your duty.”

“You needn’t pull my leg about it,” I said, though somewhat half-heartedly.

“I’m not pulling your leg, as you put it,” Dennie answered, in a more serious tone. “If ever I saw honesty and truth and love and loyalty looking out of a girl’s eyes, that girl is Myra McLeod.”

“Thank you for that, Den,” I answered simply. There was little sentiment between us. Thank heaven, there was something more.

“And so you see, you lucky dog, you’ll go out to the front, and come back loaded with honours and blushes, and marry the girl of your dreams, and live happy ever after.” And Dennis sighed.

“Why the sigh?” I asked. “Oh, come now,” I added, suddenly remembering. “Fair exchange, you know. You haven’t told me what was worrying you.”

“My dear old fellow, don’t be ridiculous, there’s nothing worrying me.”

I pressed him to no purpose. He refused to admit that he had a care in the world, and so we fell to talking of matters connected with the routine of army life, how long we should be before we got to the front, the sport we four should have in our rest time behind the trenches, our determination to stick together at all costs, etc. Suddenly Dennis sat bolt upright.

“Gad!” he cried savagely, “if you beggars weren’t going, I could stick it. But you three leaving me behind, it’s——”

“Leaving you behind?” I echoed in astonishment. “But why, old man? Aren’t you coming too?”

“I hope so,” said Dennis bitterly; “I hope so with all my heart, and I shall have a jolly good shot at it. But I know what it will be, worse luck.”

“But why, Dennis?” I asked again. “I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t,” he replied, “but you’ve got your own troubles, and there’s no point in worrying about me, in any case.”

I begged him to tell me; I pleaded our old friendship, and the fact that I had taken him into my confidence in the various vicissitudes of my own love affair. It struck me at the time that it was I who should have been indebted to him for his patient sympathy and help; and here he was, poor old fellow, with a real, live trouble of his own, refusing to bother me with it.

“So you’ve just got to own up, old man,” I finished.

“Oh, it’s really nothing,” said Dennis miserably. “I’m a crock, that’s all. A useless hulk of unnecessary lumber.”

“How, my dear chap?” I asked incredulously. Here was Dennis Burnham, who had put up a record for the mile in our school days, and lifted the public school’s middle-weight pot, a champion swimmer, a massive young man of six-foot-two in his socks, calling himself a crock.

“You remember that summer we did the cruise from Southampton to Stranraer?”

“Heavens! yes,” I exclaimed, “and we capsized the cutter in the Solway, and you were laid up in a farmhouse at Whithorn with rheumatic fever. Am I ever likely to forget it?”

“I’m not, anyway,” said Dennis, ruefully. “That rheumatic fever left me with a weak heart. I strained it rowing up at Oxford, you remember, and that fever business put the last touches on it for all practical purposes.”

“Are you sure, old man?” I asked. It seemed impossible that a great big chap like Dennis, the picture of health, should have anything seriously wrong with him.

“I’m dead sure, Ron; I wish I weren’t. Not that it matters much, of course; but just now, when one has a chance to do something decent for one’s Motherland and justify one’s existence, it hits a bit hard.”

“Is it serious?” I asked—“really serious?”

“Sufficient to bar me from joining you chaps, though I’ll see if I can sneak past the doctor. You remember about three weeks ago we were to have played a foursome out at Hendon, and I didn’t turn up? I said afterwards that I had been called out of town, and had quite forgotten to wire.”

“Which was extremely unlike you,” I interposed; “but go on.”

“Well, as a matter of fact, I was on my way. I was a bit late, and when I got outside Golders Green Tube Station I ran for a ’bus. The rest of the day I spent in the Cottage Hospital. No, I didn’t faint. The valve struck, and I simply lay on the pavement a crumpled mass of semi-conscious humanity till they carted me off on the ambulance. It’s the fourth time it’s happened.”

“Of course you had good advice?” I asked anxiously.

“Heavens! yes,” he exclaimed; “any amount of the best. And they all say the same thing—rest, be careful, no sudden excitement, no strain, and I may live for ever—a creaking door.”

“My dear old Den,” I said, for I was deeply touched. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Plenty of worries of your own, old man,” he answered, more cheerfully; “and, besides, it would have spoiled everything. You fellows would have been nursing me behind my back, to use an Irishism, and trying to prevent my noticing it. You know as well as I do that if you had known I should have been a skeleton at the feast.”

“You must promise me two things,” I said presently. “One is that you won’t try to join the army; there is sure to be a rush of recruits in the next few days, and the doctors will be flurried, and may skip through their work roughshod. The other is that you will take care of yourself, run no risks, and do nothing rash while we are away.”

The first he refused. He said he must do what he could to get through, if only to satisfy his conscience; but he made me the second promise, and solemnly gave me his word that he would do nothing that would put him in any danger. Then at last, at his suggestion, we turned in; he insisted that I had an all-night journey in front of me. And so eventually I fell asleep, saddened by the knowledge of my friend’s trouble, but somewhat relieved that I had extracted from him a promise to take care of himself.

Little did I dream that he would break his promise to save one who was dearer to me than life itself, or that I should owe all my present and future happiness to poor old Dennis’s inability to join the army. Truly, as events were to prove, “he did his bit.”




WE “MADE” RICHMOND ABOUT HALF-PAST eleven, and completed the necessary arrangements for the housing of the boats and the disposal of our superfluous fodder, as Jack called it, for by this time we had all made up our minds that the war was inevitable.

The bustle of mobilisation had already taken possession of the streets, and as we stepped out of Charing Cross Station we stumbled into a crowd of English Bluejackets and Tommies and French reservists in Villiers Street. We parted for the afternoon, each to attend to his private affairs, and arranged to meet again at the Grand Hotel Grill Room for an early dinner, as I had to catch the 7.55 from King’s Cross.

I dashed out to Hampstead to my flat, and packed the necessary wearing apparel, taking care to include my fly-book and my favourite split-cane trout rod in my kit. I should only be in Scotland for a couple of days, but I knew that I should be fishing with Myra at least one of them, and no borrowed rod is a patch on one’s own tried favourite. I snatched an half-hour or so to write to the few relatives I have and tell them that I was joining the army after a hurried visit to Scotland to say good-bye to Myra. And then I got my kit to Dennis’s rooms in Panton Street, Haymarket, just in time to have a chat with him before we joined the others at the Grand Hotel. I found him hopefully getting things ready for a long absence, sorting out unanswered letters, putting away papers, etc. On the table was an open copy of a stores catalogue. He had been trying to find suitable presents for his two small step-sisters. Dennis invariably thought of himself last of all, and then usually at someone else’s request.

“Well, old man,” I asked, “how do you feel about it now?”

“Rotten, Ronnie,” he replied, with a rueful smile. “I’ve been on the ’phone to my silly doctor chap, and he shouted with laughter at me. Still, I shall have a jolly good shot at it as soon as the thing is definite.”

“I only pray to heaven,” I said seriously, “that no slipshod fool of a doctor lets you through.”

“They won’t let me in, old chap; no such luck. It’s a ghastly outlook. What on earth am I to do with myself while the war lasts?”

“My dear chap,” I exclaimed, “it won’t be as bad as all that. There will be thousands of men who won’t go to the war. I shan’t be surprised if you see very little difference about town even when the war’s in full swing. You can’t go, although you want to, and it’s jolly bad luck, old man. Don’t think I don’t understand, but, believe me, you won’t be the only man left in London by a million or two.”

“I know,” he said penitently, “I’m grousing and worrying you. Sorry! But I can see you setting out for the Temple in the morning and leaving your house on fire. It wouldn’t make it easier simply because you knew you weren’t able to do anything to put out the fire. In fact, it would make it a jolly lot worse. Still, we’ll cut that and change the subject. When you get back from Invermalluch give me a look up. I expect I shall be here. And, of course, give my kindest regards to Miss McLeod—oh, and the General,” he added, as an afterthought.

“I will, indeed,” I promised readily, “and I’ll wire you the train I’m coming back by. I should like you to meet it, and we can spend the few remaining days I have together. If you don’t get past the doctor I should like you to keep your eye on one or two things for me while I’m away.”

“Of course, anything you like. The more the merrier,” he answered readily; and the poor fellow brightened visibly at the thought of being able to do something for a pal.

We taxied round the corner with my kit, and joined the others at the grill room. They were both in the highest of spirits, Jack, of course, in particular. He had been told that his intimate knowledge of motors and motor-cycles would be of great advantage to him, and he had been advised on all hands to join as a despatch-rider. In imagination he already saw himself up to the most weird pranks on his machine, many of which, much to the gratification of his friends, and just as much to his own astonishment, were proved later to have a solid foundation in fact. Over dinner we discussed the question of applying for commissions.

“Oh, dash it, no,” said Jack; “I’m going to Berlin on the old snorter.”

“Commissions are off—quite out of the question,” Tommy agreed with emphasis. “To begin with, it means waiting, which is absurd; and in the second place I object to any attempt to travel first-class. It’s silly and snobbish, to put the kindest construction on it. If I’ve got to join this excursion I’m willing to go where they like to put me, and if necessary I’ll hang on behind.”

I record this remark because it was the last that I ever heard poor Tommy Evans make in this connection; and I think the reader will agree it was just what one would have expected of him.

We said good-bye after dinner. They all wanted to come to the station to see me off, but I was anxious to be alone with Dennis.

The others in any case had plenty to do, and I could scarcely let them sacrifice their “last few hours of liberty” to come and see me off. I rather expected that the excitement of the war would have prevented a lot of people travelling, but the reverse was the case. There seemed to be more people than ever on the platform, and I could not get a corner seat even in the Fort William coach. I bundled my things into a carriage and took up as much room as I could, and then Dennis and I strolled about the platform until the train was due to start.

“Strange mixtures of humanity you see on a railway platform,” Dennis remarked presently.

“Very,” I agreed. “I daresay there are some very curious professions represented here.”

“This chap, for instance,” said Dennis, indicating a youth in a tweed jacket and flannel trousers. “He might be anything from an M.P.’s private secretary to an artist’s model, for all we know. I should say he’s a journalist; he knows his way through a crowd as only journalists do.”

“A typical Yorkshire cattle-dealer in his Sunday best,” I suggested, as we passed another passenger. And so we went the length of the platform making rough guesses as to the professions of my fellow travellers. Suddenly I noticed a tall man, wearing a tweed cap and a long covert-coat, his hands in his pockets, a stumpy cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth. His hair was gray, and his face bore signs of a tough struggle in early youth. His complexion was of that curious gray-yellow one sees frequently in America and occasionally in Denmark—something quite distinct from the bronze-gray of many colonials. I nudged Dennis.

“What did you make of that?” I asked him after we had passed.

“I should be much more interested to know what ‘that’ made of us,” he replied.

“Nothing, I should think,” I answered carelessly. “Why, the man’s eyes were nearly closed, he was half asleep. I bet he hasn’t taken the slightest notice of anyone for the past ten minutes. You could commit a murder under his nose and he wouldn’t see it.”

“I think not,” said Dennis quietly. “I fancy that if you took out a cigarette-case as you passed him he would be able to tell you afterwards how many cigarettes you had left in the case, what brand they were, and what the monogram on the front was. If you’ve any murders to commit, Ronnie, I should be careful to see that our American friend is some thousands of miles away.”

“Good heavens, you old sleuth!” I exclaimed in astonishment. “I never saw a more innocent-looking man in my life.”

“I hate innocent people,” said Dennis emphatically; “they are usually dangerous, and seldom half as innocent as they look.”

“But what makes you think this man is only pretending to look like a dreaming, unobservant idiot, and why do you call him American so definitely?”

“He may or may not be American; but we have to give him a name for purposes of classification,” Dennis explained. “In any case his overcoat was made in the States; the cut of the lapels is quite unmistakable. I knew an American who tried everywhere to get a coat cut like that over here, and failed. As to his being observant, you seem to have overlooked one important fact. There the man stands, apparently half asleep. Occasionally he displays a certain amount of life—tucks his papers more tightly under his arms, and so on. Now, the man who has been dreaming on a station platform and is obviously going by the train would wake up to look at the clock, or glance round to see how many are travelling, and generally take an interest in the bustle of the station. But this man doesn’t. Why? Because he only wakes up when his interest wanders, and that is only when he has seen all he wants to see for the moment. When we pass him the second time he will probably appear to be more awake, unless there is someone else passing him in the other direction, simply because he has seen us and sized us up and dismissed us as of no interest; or, more likely, stowed us away in his capacious memory, and, having no further use for us, he forgets to appear disinterested.”

“Good Lord, Dennis!” I exclaimed, “I’d no idea you ever noticed things so keenly. What do you think he is—a detective?”

“Either that or a criminal. They are the same type of mind. One is positive and the other negative, that’s all. We’ll turn back and test him as we pass him. Talk golf, or fishing, or something.”

So we commenced a half-hearted conversation on trout flies, and as we approached “the American” I was explaining the deadly nature of the Red Palmer after a spate and the advisability of including Greenwell’s Glory on the same cast. Unfortunately, as we passed our man there were three other people coming towards us, and he was gazing over the top of the carriage with the same dreaming look that had, according to Dennis, deceived me before. But we were hardly abreast of him when his stick shot up in front of us. His arm never moved at all; it was done with a quick jerk of the wrist.

“You’ve dropped a paper, sir,” he said to Dennis, to my utter astonishment, for I had seen no paper dropped. Dennis turned quickly, and picked up a letter which was lying on the platform behind him.

“I’m very much obliged, sir; thank you,” said Dennis, as he put the letter in his pocket.

“I never saw you drop that,” I exclaimed when we were safely out of earshot. “Did you?”