THE BLACK BOX
LOST IN LONDON
Quest, notwithstanding the unusual nature of his surroundings, slept that night as only a tired and healthy man can. He was awakened the next morning by the quiet movements of a man-servant who had brought back his clothes carefully brushed and pressed. He sat up in bed and discovered a small china tea equipage by his side.
“What’s this?” he enquired.
“Your tea, sir.”
Quest drank half a cupful without protest.
“Your bath is ready at any time, sir.”
“I’m coming right along,” Quest replied, jumping out of bed.
The man held up a dressing-gown and escorted him to an unexpectedly modern bathroom at the end of the corridor. When Quest returned, his toilet articles were all laid out for him with prim precision; the window was wide open, the blinds drawn, and a soft breeze was stealing through into the room. Below him, the park, looking more beautiful than ever in the morning sunshine, stretched away to a vista of distant meadowlands and cornfields, with here and there a little farm-house and outbuildings, gathered snugly together. The servant, who had heard him leave the bathroom, reappeared.
“Is there anything further I can do for you, sir?” he enquired.
“Nothing at all, thanks,” Quest assured him. “What time’s breakfast?”
“Breakfast is served at nine o’clock, sir. It is now half-past eight.”
The man withdrew and Quest made a brisk toilet. The nameless fears of the previous night had altogether disappeared. To his saner morning imagination, the atmosphere seemed somehow to have become cleared of that cloud of mysterious depression. He was whistling to himself from sheer light-heartedness as he turned to leave the room. Then the shock came. At the last moment he stretched out his hand to take a handkerchief from his satchel. A sudden exclamation broke from his lips. He stood for a moment as though turned to stone. Before him, on the top of the little pile of white cambric, was a small black box! With a movement of the fingers which was almost mechanical, he removed the lid and drew out the customary little scrap of paper. He smoothed it out before him on the dressing-case and read the message:—
His teeth came fiercely together and his hands were clenched. His thoughts had gone like a flash to Lenora. Was it possible that harm was intended to her? He put the idea away from him almost as soon as conceived. The thing was unimaginable. Craig was here, must be here, in the close vicinity of the house. He could have had no time to communicate with confederates in London. Lenora, at any rate, was safe. Then he glanced around the room and thought for a moment of his own danger. In the dead of the night, as he had slept, mysterious feet had stolen across his room, mysterious hands had placed those few words of half mocking warning in that simple hiding-place! It would have been just as easy, he reflected with a grim little smile, for those hands to have stretched their death-dealing fingers over the bed where he had lain asleep. He looked once more out over the park. Somehow, its sunny peace seemed to have become disturbed. The strange sense of foreboding which he, in common with the others, had carried about with him last night, had returned.
The atmosphere of the pleasant breakfast-room to which in due course he descended, was cheerful enough. Lady Ashleigh had already taken her place at the head of the table before a glittering array of silver tea and coffee equipage. The Professor, with a plate in his hand, was making an approving survey of the contents of the dishes ranged upon the sideboard.
“An English breakfast, my dear Quest,” he remarked, after they had exchanged the usual greetings, “will, I am sure, appeal to you. I am not, I confess, given to the pleasures of the table, but if anything could move me to enthusiasm in dietary matters, the sight of your sideboard, my dear sister-in-law, would do so. I commend the bacon and eggs to you, Quest, or if you prefer sausages, those long, thin ones are home-made and delicious. Does Mrs. Bland still cure our hams, Julia?”
“Her daughter does,” Lady Ashleigh replied, smiling. “We are almost self-supporting here. All our daily produce, of course, comes from the home farm. Tea or coffee, Mr. Quest?”
“Coffee, if you please,” Quest decided, returning from his visit to the sideboard. “Is Lord Ashleigh a late riser?”
“Not by any means,” his wife declared. “He very often gets up and rides in the park before breakfast. I don’t know where he is this morning. He didn’t even come in to see me. I think we must send up.”
She touched an electric bell under her foot and a moment or two later the butler appeared.
“Go up and see how long your master will be,” Lady Ashleigh directed.
“Very good, your ladyship.”
The man was backing through the doorway in his usual dignified manner when he was suddenly pushed to one side. The valet who had waited upon Quest, and who was Lord Ashleigh’s own servant, rushed into the room. His face was white. He had forgotten all decorum. He almost shouted to Lady Ashleigh.
“Your ladyship—the master! Something has happened! He won’t move! He—he—”
They all rose to their feet. Quest groaned to himself. The black box!
“What do you mean?” Lady Ashleigh faltered. “What do you mean, Williams?”
The man shook his head. He seemed almost incapable of speech.
“Something has happened to the master!”
They all trooped out of the room and up the stairs, the Professor leading the way. They pushed open the door of Lord Ashleigh’s bedchamber. In the far corner of the large room was the four-poster, and underneath the clothes a silent figure. The Professor turned down the sheets. Then he held out his hand. His face, too, was blanched.
“Julia, don’t come,” he begged.
“I must know!” she almost shrieked. “I must know!”
“George is dead,” the Professor said slowly.
There was a moment’s awful silence, broken by a piercing scream from Lady Ashleigh. She sank down upon the sofa and the Professor leaned over her. Quest turned to the little group of frightened servants who were gathering round the doorway.
“Telephone for a doctor,” he ordered, “also to the local police-station.”
He, too, approached the bed and reverently lifted the covering. Lord Ashleigh was lying there, his body a little doubled up, his arms wide outstretched. On his throat were two black marks.
“Where is the valet—Williams?” Quest asked, as he turned away.
The man came forward.
“Tell us at once what you know?” Quest demanded.
“I came in, as usual, to call his lordship before I called you,” the man replied. “He did not answer, but I thought, perhaps, that he was sleepy. I filled his bath, which, as you see, opens out of the room, and then came to attend on you. When you went down to breakfast, I returned to his lordship’s room expecting to find him dressed. Instead of that the room was silent, the bath still unused. I spoke to him—there was no answer. Then I lifted the sheet!”
They had led Lady Ashleigh from the room. The Professor and Quest stood face to face. The former’s expression, however, had lost all his amiable serenity. His face was white and pinched. He looked shrivelled up. It was as though some physical stroke had fallen upon him.
“Quest! Quest!” he almost sobbed. “My brother!—George, whom I loved like nobody else on earth! Is he really dead?”
The Professor gripped the oak pillar of the bedstead. He seemed on the point of collapse.
“The mark of the Hands is upon his throat,” Quest pointed out.
“The Hands! Oh, my God!” the Professor groaned.
“We must not eat or drink or sleep,” Quest declared fiercely, “until we have brought this matter to an end. Craig must be found. This is the supreme horror of all. Pull yourself together, Mr. Ashleigh. We shall need every particle of intelligence we possess. I begin to think that we are fighting against something superhuman.”
The butler made an apologetic appearance. He spoke in a hushed whisper.
“You are wanted downstairs, gentlemen. Middleton, the head-keeper, is there.”
As though inspired with a common idea, both Quest and the Professor hurried out of the room and down the broad stairs. Their inspiration was a true one. The gamekeeper welcomed them with a smile of triumph. By his side, the picture of abject misery, his clothes torn and muddy, was Craig!
“I’ve managed this little job, sir,” Middleton announced, with a smile of slow triumph.
“How did you get him?” Quest demanded.
“Little idea of my own,” the gamekeeper continued. “I guessed pretty well what he’d be up to. He’d tumbled to it that the usual way off the moor was pretty well guarded, and he’d doubled back through the thin line of woods close to the house. I dug one of my poachers’ pits, sir, and covered it over with a lot of loose stuff. That got him all right. When I went to look this morning I saw where he’d fallen through, and there he was, walking round and round at the bottom like a caged animal. Your servants have telephoned for the police, Mr. Ashleigh,” he went on, turning to the Professor, “but I’d like you just to point out to the Scotland Yard gentleman—called us yokels, he did, when he first came down—that we’ve a few ideas of our own down here.”
Quest suddenly whispered to the Professor. Then he turned to the keeper.
“Bring him upstairs, Middleton, for a moment,” he directed. “Follow us, please.”
The Professor gripped Quest’s arm as they ascended the stairs.
“What is this?” he asked hoarsely. “What is it you wish to do?”
“It’s just an idea of my own,” Quest replied. “I rather believe in that sort of thing. I want to confront him with the result of his crime.”
The Professor stopped short. His eyes were half-closed.
“It is too horrible!” he muttered.
“Nothing could be too horrible for an inhuman being like this,” Quest answered tersely. “I want to see whether he’ll commit himself.”
They passed into the bedchamber. Quest signed to the keeper to bring Craig to the side of the four-poster. Then he drew down the sheet.
“Is that your work?” he asked sternly.
Craig, up till then, had spoken no word. He had shambled to the bedside, a broken, yet in a sense, a stolid figure. The sight of the dead man, however, seemed to galvanise him into sudden and awful vitality. He threw up his arms. His eyes were horrible as they glared at those small black marks. His lips moved, helplessly at first. Then at last he spoke.
“Strangled!” he cried. “One more!”
“That is your work,” the criminologist said firmly.
Craig collapsed. He would have fallen bodily to the ground if Middleton’s grip had not kept him up. Quest bent over him. It was clear that he had fainted. They led him from the room.
“We’d better lock him up until the police arrive,” Quest suggested. “I suppose there is a safe place somewhere?”
The Professor awoke from his stupor.
“Let me show you,” he begged. “I know the way. We’ve a subterranean hiding-place which no criminal on this earth could escape from.”
They led him down to the back part of the house, a miserable, dejected procession. Holding candles over their heads, they descended two sets of winding stone steps, passed along a gloomy corridor till they came to a heavy oak door, which Moreton, the butler, who carried the keys, opened with some difficulty. It led into a dry cellar which had the appearance of a prison cell. There was a single bench set against the wall. Quest looked around quickly.
“This place has been used before now, in the old days, for malefactors,” the Professor remarked. “He’ll be safe there. Craig,” he added, his voice trembling, “Craig—I—I can’t speak to you. How could you!”
There was no answer. Craig’s face was buried in his hands. They left him there and turned the key.
Quest stood, frowning, upon the pavement, gazing at the obviously empty house. He looked once more at the slip of paper which Lenora had given him. There was no possibility of any mistake:—
This was 157 and the house was empty. After a moment’s hesitation he rang the bell at the adjoining door. A woman who had been watching him from the front room, answered the summons at once.
“Can you tell me,” he enquired, “what has become of the lady who used to live at 157—Mrs. Willet?”
“She’s moved,” was the uncompromising reply.
“Do you know where to?” Quest asked eagerly.
“West Kensington—Number 17 Princes’ Court Road. There was a young lady here yesterday afternoon enquiring for her.”
Quest raised his hat. It was a relief, at any rate, to have news of Lenora.
“I am very much obliged to you, madam.”
“You’re welcome!” was the terse reply.
Quest gave the new address to the taxi-driver and was scarcely able to restrain his impatience during the long drive. They pulled up at last before a somewhat dingy-looking house. He rang the bell, which was answered by a trim-looking little maid-servant.
“Is Mrs. Willet in?” he enquired.
The maid-servant stood on one side to let him pass. Almost at the same moment, the door of the front room opened and a pleasant-looking elderly lady appeared.
“I am Mrs. Willet,” she announced.
“I am Mr. Quest,” the criminologist told her quickly. “You may have heard your niece, Lenora, speak of me.”
“Then perhaps you can tell me what has become of her?” Mrs. Willet observed.
“Isn’t she here?”
Mrs. Willet shook her head.
“I had a telegram from her from New York to say that she was coming, but I’ve seen nothing of her as yet.”
“You’ve changed your address, you know,” Quest reminded her, after a moment’s reflection.
“I wrote and told her,” Mrs. Willet began. “After all, though,” she went on thoughtfully, “I am not sure whether she could have had the letter. But if she went up to Hampstead, any one would tell her where I had moved to. There’s no secret about me.”
“Lenora did go up to 157 Elsmere Road yesterday,” Quest told her. “They gave her your address here, as they have just given it to me.”
“Then what’s become of the child?” Mrs. Willet demanded.
Quest, whose brain was working quickly, scribbled upon one of his cards the address of the hotel where he had taken rooms, and passed it over.
“Why Lenora didn’t come on to you here I can’t imagine,” he said. “However, I’ll go back to the hotel where she was to spend the night after she arrived. She may have gone back there. That’s my address, Mrs. Willet. If you hear anything, I wish you’d let me know. Lenora’s quite a particular friend of mine and I am a little anxious.”
Mrs. Willet smiled knowingly.
“I’ll let you know certainly, sir,” she promised, “and glad I shall be to hear of Lenora’s being comfortably settled, after that first unfortunate affair of hers. You’ll excuse me a moment. I’m a little slower in my wits than you. Did you say that Lenora was at Hampstead yesterday afternoon and they told her my address?”
“That’s so,” Quest admitted.
The woman’s face grew troubled.
“I don’t like it,” she said simply.
“Neither do I,” Quest agreed.
“London’s no place, nowadays,” Mrs. Willet continued, “for girls as pretty as Lenora to be wandering about in. Such tales as there have been lately in the Sunday papers as makes one’s blood run cold if one can believe them all.”
“You don’t have any—what we call the White Slave Traffic—over here, do you?” Quest asked quickly.
“I can’t say that I’ve ever come across any case of it myself, sir,” the old lady replied. “I was housekeeper to the Duke of Merioneth for fifty years, and where we lived we didn’t hear much about London and London ways. You see, I never came to the town house. But since I retired and came up here, and took to reading the Sunday papers, I begin to be thankful that my ways have been country ways all my life.”
“No need to alarm ourselves, I’m sure,” Quest intervened, making his way towards the door. “Lenora is a particularly capable young lady. I feel sure she’d look after herself. I am going right back to the hotel, Mrs. Willet, and I’ll let you know directly I hear anything.”
“I shall be very anxious, Mr. Quest,” she reminded him, earnestly, “very anxious indeed. Lenora was my sister’s favourite child, and my sister—”
Quest had already opened the front door for himself and passed out. He sprang into the taxi which he had kept waiting.
“Clifford’s Hotel in Payne Street,” he told the man sharply.
He lit a cigar and smoked furiously all the way, throwing it on to the pavement as he hurried into the quiet private hotel which a fellow-passenger on the steamer had recommended as being suitable for Lenora’s one night alone in town.
“Can you tell me if Miss Lenora Macdougal is staying here?” he asked at the office.
The woman shook her head.
“Miss Macdougal stayed here the night before last,” she said, “and her luggage is waiting for orders. She left here yesterday afternoon to go to her aunt’s, and promised to send for her things later on during the day. There they stand, all ready for her.”
Quest followed the direction of the woman’s finger. Lenora’s familiar little belongings were there, standing in a corner of the hall.
“You haven’t heard from her, then, since she went out yesterday afternoon?” he asked, with sinking heart.
“What time did she go?”
“Directly after an early lunch. It must have been about two o’clock.”
Quest hurried away. So after all there was some foundation for this queer sense of depression which had been hovering about him for the last few days!
“Scotland Yard,” he told the taxi-driver.
He thrust another cigar between his teeth but forgot to light it. He was amazed at his own sensations, conscious of fears and emotions of which he would never have believed himself capable. He gave in his card, and after a few moments’ delay he was shown into the presence of one of the chiefs of the Detective Department, who greeted him warmly.
“My name is Hardaway,” the latter announced. “Glad to meet you, Mr. Quest. We’ve heard of you over here. Take a chair.”
“To tell you the truth,” Quest replied, “my business is a little urgent.”
“Glad to hear you’ve got that fellow Craig,” Mr. Hardaway continued. “Ridiculous the way he managed to slip through our fingers. I understand you’ve got him all right now, though?”
“He is safe enough,” Quest declared, “but to tell you the truth, I’m worried about another little affair.”
“Go on,” the other invited.
“My assistant, a young lady, Miss Lenora Macdougal, has disappeared! She and I and Professor Ashleigh left the steamer at Plymouth and travelled up in the boat train. It was stopped at Hamblin Road for the Professor and myself, and Miss Macdougal came on to London. She was staying at Clifford’s Hotel in Payne Street for the night, and then going on to an aunt. Well, I’ve found that aunt. She was expecting the girl but the girl never appeared. I have been to the hotel where she spent the night before last, and I find that she left there at two o’clock and left word that she would send for her luggage. She didn’t arrive at her aunt’s, and the luggage is still uncalled for.”
The Inspector was at first only politely interested. It probably occurred to him that young ladies have been known before now to disappear from their guardians for a few hours without serious results.
“Where did this aunt live?” he enquired.
“Number 17, Princes’ Court Road, West Kensington,” Quest replied. “She had just moved there from Elsmere Road, Hampstead. I went first to Hampstead. Lenora had been there and learnt her aunt’s correct address in West Kensington. I followed on to West Kensington and found that her aunt was still awaiting her.”
A new interest seemed suddenly to have crept into Hardaway’s manner.
“Let me see,” he said, “if she left Clifford’s Hotel about two, she would have been at Hampstead about half-past two. She would waste a few minutes in making enquiries, then she probably left Hampstead for West Kensington, say, at a quarter to three.”
“Somewhere between those two points,” Quest pointed out, “she has disappeared.”
“Give me at once a description of the young lady,” Mr. Hardaway demanded.
Quest drew a photograph from his pocket and passed it silently over. The official glanced at it and down at some papers which lay before him. Then he looked at the clock.
“Mr. Quest,” he said, “it is just possible that your visit here has been an exceedingly opportune one.”
He snatched his hat from a rack and took Quest by the arm.
“Come along with me,” he continued. “We’ll talk as we go.”
They entered a taxi and drove off westwards.
“Mr. Quest,” he went on, “for two months we have been on the track of a man and a woman whom we strongly suspect of having decoyed half a dozen perfectly respectable young women, and shipped them out to South America.”
“The White Slave Traffic!” Quest gasped.
“Something of the sort,” Hardaway admitted. “Well, we’ve been closing the net around this interesting couple, and last night I had information brought to me upon which we are acting this afternoon. We’ve had them watched and it seems that they were sitting in a tea place about three o’clock yesterday afternoon, when a young woman entered who was obviously a stranger to London. You see, the time fits in exactly, if your assistant decided to stop on her way to Kensington and get some tea. She asked the woman at the desk the best means of getting to West Kensington without taking a taxi-cab. Her description tallies exactly with the photograph you have shown me. The woman whom my men were watching addressed her and offered to show her the way. They left the place together. My men followed them. The house has been watched ever since and we are raiding it this afternoon. You and I will just be in time.”
“You’ve left her there since yesterday afternoon? You’ve left her there all night?” Quest exclaimed. “My God!”
Hardaway touched his arm soothingly.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Quest,” he said. “We don’t want the woman alone; we want the man, too. Now the man was away. He only visits the house occasionally, and I am given to understand that he is a member of several West End clubs. When the two women entered that house yesterday afternoon, there wasn’t a soul in it except servants. The woman telephoned for the man. He never turned up last night nor this morning. He arrived at that house twenty minutes ago.”
Quest drew a little breath.
“It gave me a turn,” he admitted. “Say, this is a slow taxi!”
The Inspector glanced out of the window.
“If this is the young lady you’re looking for,” he said, “you’ll be in plenty of time, never fear. What I am hoping is that we may be able to catch my fellows before they try to rush the place. You understand, with your experience, Mr. Quest, that there are two things we’ve got to think of. We not only want to put our hand upon the guilty persons, but we want to bring the crime home to them.”
“I see that,” Quest assented. “How much farther is this place?”
“We’re there,” Hardaway told him.
He stopped the cab and they got out. A man who seemed to be strolling aimlessly along, reading a newspaper, suddenly joined them.
“Well, Dixon?” his chief exclaimed.
The man glanced around.
“I’ve got three men round at the back, Mr. Hardaway,” he said. “It’s impossible for any one to leave the place.”
“Anything fresh to tell me?”
“There are two men in the place besides the governor—butler and footman, dressed in livery. They sleep out, and only come after lunch.”
Hardaway paused to consider for a moment.
“Look here,” Quest suggested, “they know all you, of course, and they’ll never let you in until they’re forced to. I’m a stranger. Let me go. I’ll get in all right.”
Hardaway peered around the corner of the street.
“All right,” he assented. “We shall follow you up pretty closely, though.”
Quest stepped back into the taxi and gave the driver a direction. When he emerged in front of the handsome grey stone house he seemed to have become completely transformed. There was a fatuous smile upon his lips. He crossed the pavement with difficulty, stumbled up the steps, and held on to the knocker with one hand while he consulted a slip of paper. He had scarcely rung the bell before a slightly parted curtain in the front room fell together, and a moment later the door was opened by a man in the livery of a butler, but with the face and physique of a prize-fighter.
“Lady of the house,” Quest demanded. “Want to see the lady of the house.”
Almost immediately he was conscious of a woman standing in the hall before him. She was quietly but handsomely dressed; her hair was grey; her smile, although a little peculiar, was benevolent.
“You had better come in,” she invited. “Please do not stand in the doorway.”
Quest, however, who heard the footsteps of the others behind him, loitered there for a moment.
“You’re the lady whose name is on this piece of paper?” he demanded. “This place is all right, eh?”
“I really do not know what you mean,” the woman replied coldly, “but if you will come inside, I will talk to you in the drawing-room.”
Quest, as though stumbling against the front-door, had it now wide open, and in a moment the hall seemed full. The woman shrieked. The butler suddenly sprang upon the last man to enter, and sent him spinning down the steps. Almost at that instant there was a scream from upstairs. Quest took a running jump and went up the stairs four at a time. The butler suddenly snatched the revolver from Hardaway’s hand and fired blindly in front of him, missing Quest only by an inch or two.
“Don’t be a fool, Karl!” the woman called out. “The game’s up. Take it quietly.”
Once more the shriek rang through the house. Quest rushed to the door of the room from whence it came, tried the handle and found it locked. He ran back a little way and charged it. From inside he could hear a turmoil of voices. White with rage and passion, he pushed and kicked madly. There was the sound of a shot from inside, a bullet came through the door within an inch of his head, then the crash of broken crockery and a man’s groan. With a final effort Quest dashed the door in and staggered into the room. Lenora was standing in the far corner, the front of her dress torn and blood upon her lip. She held a revolver in her hand and was covering a man whose head and hands were bleeding. Around him were the debris of a broken jug.
“Mr. Quest!” she screamed. “Don’t go near him—I’ve got him covered. I’m all right.”
Quest drew a long breath. The man who stood glaring at him was well-dressed and still young. He was unarmed, however, and Quest secured him in a moment.
“The girl’s mad!” he said sullenly. “No one wanted to do her any harm.”
Hardaway and his men came trooping up the stairs. Quest relinquished his prisoner and went over to Lenora.
“I’ve been so frightened,” she sobbed. “They got me in here—they told me that this was the street in which my aunt lived—and they wouldn’t let me go. The woman was horrible. And this afternoon this man came. The brute!”
“He hasn’t hurt you?” Quest demanded fiercely, as he passed his arm around her.
She shook her head.
“He would never have done that,” she murmured. “I had my hatpin in my gown and I should have killed myself first.”
Quest turned to Hardaway.
“I’ll take the young lady away,” he said. “You know where to find us.”
Hardaway nodded and Quest supported Lenora down the stairs and into the taxi-cab, which was still waiting. She leaned back and he passed his arm around her.
“Are you faint?” he asked anxiously, as they drove towards the hotel.
“A little,” she admitted, “not very. But oh! I am so thankful—so thankful!”
He leaned a little nearer towards her. She looked at him wonderingly. Suddenly the colour flushed into her cheeks.
“I couldn’t have done without you, Lenora,” he whispered, as he kissed her.
Lenora had almost recovered when they reached the hotel. Walking up and down they found the Professor. His face, as he came towards them, was almost pitiful. He scarcely noticed Lenora’s deshabille, which was in a measure concealed by the cloak which Quest had thrown around her.
“My friend!” he exclaimed—“Mr. Quest! It is the devil incarnate against whom we fight!”
“What do you mean?” Quest demanded.
The Professor wrung his hands.
“I put him in our James the Second prison,” he declared. “Why should I think of the secret passage? No one has used it for a hundred years. He found it, learnt the trick—”
“You mean,” Quest cried—
“He has escaped!” the Professor broke in. “Craig has escaped again! They are searching for him high and low, but he has gone!”
Quest’s arm tightened for a moment in Lenora’s. It was curious how he seemed to have lost at that moment all sense of proportion. Lenora was safe—the relief of that one thought overshadowed everything else in the world.
“The fellow can’t get far,” he muttered.
“Who knows?” the Professor replied dolefully. “The passage—I’ll show it you some day and you’ll see how wonderful his escape has been—leads on to the first floor of the house. He must have got into my dressing-room, for his old clothes are there and he went away in a suit of mine. No one has seen him or knows anything about him. All that the local police can find out is that a man answering somewhat his description caught the morning train for Southampton from Hamblin Roads.”
They had been standing together in a little recess of the hall. Suddenly Lenora, whose face was turned towards the entrance doors, gave a little cry. She took a quick step forward.
“Laura!” she exclaimed, wonderingly. “Why, it’s Laura!”
They all turned around. A young woman had just entered the hotel, followed by a porter carrying some luggage. Her arm was in a sling and there was a bandage around her forehead. She walked, too, with the help of a stick. She recognized them at once and waved it gaily.
“Hullo, you people?” she cried. “Soon run you to earth, eh?”
They were for a moment dumbfounded; Lenora was the first to find words. “But when did you start, Laura?” she asked. “I thought you were too ill to move for weeks.”
The girl smiled contemptuously.
“I left three days after you, on the Kaiser Frederic,” she replied. “There was some trouble at Plymouth, and we came into Southampton early this morning, and here I am. But, before we go any farther, tell me about Craig?”
“We’ve had him,” Quest confessed, “and lost him again. He escaped last night.”
“Where from?” Laura asked.
“Is that anywhere near the south coast?” the girl demanded excitedly.
“It’s not far away,” Quest replied quickly. “Why?”
“I’ll tell you why,” Laura explained. “I was as sure of it as any one could be. Craig passed me in Southampton Water this morning, being rowed out to a steamer. Not only that but he recognized me. I saw him draw back and hide his face, but somehow I couldn’t believe that it was really he. I was just coming down the gangway and I nearly fell into the sea, I was so surprised.”
Quest was already turning over the pages of a time-table.
“What was the steamer?” he demanded.
“I found out,” Laura told him. “I tell you, I was so sure of it’s being Craig that I made no end of enquiries. It was the Barton, bound for India, with first stop at Port Said.”
“When does she sail?” Quest asked.
“To-night—somewhere about seven,” Laura replied.
Quest glanced at the clock and threw down the time-table. He turned towards the door. They all followed him.
“I’m for Southampton,” he announced. “I’m going to try to get on board that steamer before she sails. Lenora, you’d better go upstairs and lie down. They’ll give you a room here. Don’t you stir out till I come back. Professor, what about you?”
“I shall accompany you,” the Professor declared. “The discomforts of travelling without luggage are nothing compared with the importance of discovering this human fiend.”
“Luggage—pshaw!” Laura exclaimed. “Who cares about that?”
“And nothing,” Lenora declared firmly, as she caught at Quest’s arm, “would keep me away.”
“I’ll telephone to Scotland Yard, in case they care to send a man down,” Quest decided. “We must remember, though,” he reminded them, “that it will very likely be a wild-goose chase.”
“It won’t be the first,” Laura observed grimly, “but Craig’s on board that ship all right.”…
They caught a train to Southampton, where they were joined by a man from Scotland Yard. The little party drove as quickly as possible to the docks.
“Where does the Barton start from?” Quest asked the pier-master.
The man pointed a little way down the harbor.
“She’s not in dock, sir,” he said. “She’s lying out yonder. You’ll barely catch her, I’m afraid,” he added, glancing at the clock.
They hurried to the edge of the quay.
“Look here,” Quest cried, raising his voice, “I’ll give a ten pound note to any one who gets me out to the Barton before she sails.”
The little party were almost thrown into a tug, and in a few minutes they were skimming across the smooth water. Just as they reached the steamer, however, she began to move.
“Run up alongside,” Quest ordered.
“She won’t stop, sir,” the Captain of the tug replied doubtfully. “She is an hour late, as it is.”
“Do as I tell you,” Quest insisted.
They raced along by the side of the great steamer. An officer came to the rail and shouted down to them.
“What do you want?”
“The Captain,” Quest replied.
The Captain came down from the bridge, where he had been conferring with the pilot.
“Keep away from the side there,” he shouted. “Who are you?”
“We are in search of a desperate criminal whom we believe to be on board your steamer,” Quest explained. “Please take us on board.”
The Captain shook his head.
“Are you from Scotland Yard?” he asked. “Have you got your warrant?”
“We are from America,” Quest answered, “but we’ve got a Scotland Yard man with us, and a warrant, right enough.”
“Any extradition papers?”
“No time to get them yet,” Quest replied, “but the man’s wanted for murder.”
“Are you from the New York police?”
Quest shook his head.
“I am a private detective,” he announced. “I am working in conjunction with the New York Police.”
The Captain shook his head.
“I am over an hour late,” he said, “and it’s costing me fifty pounds a minute. If I take you on board, you’ll have to come right along with me, unless you find the fellow before we’ve left your tug behind.”
Quest turned around.
“Will you risk it?” he asked.
“Yes!” they all replied.
“We’re coming, Captain,” Quest decided.
A rope ladder was let down. The steamer began to slow.
“Can you girls manage it?” Quest asked doubtfully.
“I should say so,” she replied. “I can go up that with only one arm. You watch me!”
They cheered her on board the steamer as she hobbled up. The others followed. The tug, the crew of which had been already well paid, raced along by the side. The Captain spoke once more to the pilot and came down from the bridge.
“I’m forced to go full speed ahead to cross the bar,” he told Quest. “I’m sorry, but the tide’s just on the turn.”
They looked at one another a little blankly.
The Professor, however, beamed upon them all.
“I have always understood,” he said, “that Port Said is a most interesting place.”