The Case of The Painted Girl
A ward mystery grows more involved and a distressed lady encounters new peril
The story: Motoring from London to Scotland to enjoy a vacation, Jimmy Harrison stops beside a moorland stream at night to put water in his radiator, and climbs a wall to borrow a can. Immediately a bell begins to ring and does not stop. A figure slips past him in the darkness. Jimmy ts about to leave the garden when a scream of terror halts him. and he approaches a dark and sinister looking house to investigate.
Entering by a window, he finds a man seated at a desk with a dagger in his chest, killed only a few minutes previously, with a beautiful girl lying unconscious near by. Her jace is curiously covered with paint
The belt ceases to ring when Jimmy shifts the dead man’s foot from a button on the floor, Jimmy finds the girl's fingerprints on the dagger. She recovers consciousness and states that she is Myra Livingstone, a London shop girl, and that she was drugged and kidnapped from her London apartment by unknown men for an unknown reason. She had awakened in this strange house in the dark, and involuntarily her fingers closed on the dagger. Then she screamed and lost consciousness again. Jimmy opens a window and is slightly wounded by a dagger which is thrown at him from outside.
Feeling that the murderer is still in the vicinity, Jimmy takes one of two loaded pistols which he finds, giving the other to the girl, and goes alone on a tour of inspection through the house.
Men appear at the front denn and demand that he open in the name of the law. Jimmy admits only the leader, who says he is “Sergeant Crimes," and immediately afterward receives a blow on the head. He recovers consciousness, to find the girl missing and a genuine policeman outside, demanding entrance.
IMMY told his story again, and knew perfectly well that the constable did not believe a word of it.
They stood together under the portico of the house, eyeing one another dubiously. Constable Fothergill was a stout, florid man, easy-going and good-tempered. The puzzled frown on his forehead showed that he considered the situation as something quite out of his line.
"Well, lad," he said after a while, “yond’s a queer tale. I don’t know when I heard a taller ’un. I reckon we’d best go up and have a look at this corpse you found.”
Climbing the stairs again behind the representative of the law, Jimmy couldn’t help thinking how similar this incident was to the one which had ended so disastrously for him
The explanation of the constable’s arrival on the scene was very like that given by "Sergeant Grimes.” But he had not the slightest doubt as to this man’s bona fides. And he realized more clearly than before how cleverly "Sergeant Grimes” had carried off his imposture.
The constable stood within the doorway of room No. 16, looking round just as the pretended sergeant had done.
“Well, there’s no doubt about murder bein’ done,” he muttered, gazing at the body in the chair. "You say you don't know who he is?”
"Makin’ things very mysterious, aren’t you?” Fothergill crossed to look more closely at the dead man. "If I were you—” He stopped abruptly, and his florid face paled. "Glory be! I’m going daft! It can’t be him!”
"You know him?” asked Jimmy eagerly.
“Yes. I—No, it can't be!”
"Make up your mind. Do you know him or not?”
"I think so.”
"Who is he?”
"It—it’s Gregory Walker. Yes, I’m sure it is.”
"Well, what about him?”
"What about him?” The constable stared at Jimmy like a puzzled child. "What about him? Why. nothin’, lad, ’cept that he couldn’t have been murdered last night. He was dead already.”
"Aye! And buried. He was put under sod two days ago.” Jimmy felt that his aching head would burst.
"Look here, constable,” he cried. “What on earth are you talking about? That man was stabbed a few minutes before I found him. He was still bleeding when I entered the room. And you say—”
The constable, however, was saying nothing more. At the outset he had formed the opinion that the case was beyond his capabilities, and now this opinion was amply confirmed. When it came to investigating the recent murder of a man who was already dead and buried. P. C. Fothergill was very content to leave the matter to cleverer brains.
"Come on, Mr. Harrison,” he decided immediately. "It’s high time this business was reported. Let’s have a look at your head. You’ve had a tidy knock, it seems.”
He improvised a dressing for Jimmy’s head. Then, locking up the house securely and dropping the key into his pocket, he led his captive out into the garden. When they reached the car, he had a brain wave.
"I’ll see your drivin’ license, please.”
Jimmy showed the license, which was gravely inspected.
"Well, you’ve given your name all right anyway. Now. will you drive me to Soyland or must we walk? It’s a couple o’ miles.”
“We’ll drive, of course. But we’ll have to get some water in the radiator first.”
A short search in the outhouse, during which Jimmy noticed that the constable kept very close to him, produced a watering can. With this the water supply of the car was replenished. And in a few moments they were speeding along the road.
rT"'HE car passed along the single street of the moorland village of Soyland, and stopped before a cottage bearing the metal sign of the West Riding Police. Constable Fothergill allowed Jimmy to alight first, then led him into the cottage.
Jimmy sat down in the tiny parlor, gazing idly at the photographs and knickknacks which filled the little room almost to overflowing. In the passage outside he could hear Fothergill’s subdued voice on the telephone.
It was not long before the constable rejoined him.
“You’d perhaps like a bit o’ breakfast, Mr. Harrison, after such a night,” he suggested. “I’m just goin’ to sit down to mine, an’ the missus’ll be glad to fry you a rasher or two.”
There was a genuine kindliness in the invitation, as well as the very evident intention of keeping his guest until superiors arrived. Jimmy accepted without hesitation.
He was surprised to find how hungry he was, and relished the homely fare provided. During the meal Fothergill chatted with him with clumsy tact, avoiding any reference to the murder, trying to find out what he could about Jimmy’s past life.
A car drew up outside while they weie finishing their coffee.
“Here’s Inspector Halkett,” said Fothergill, peering through the window. “An’ Sergeant Edwards.”
Jimmy anxiously studied the two men who entered. Inspector Halkett was a big, burly man with a shrewd, intelligent face. Sergeant Edwards, though younger, looked equally alert. Jimmy decided that they were both equal to their job and felt considerably relieved. He had been afraid that, in this secluded part of tire world, experienced men might not be available.
He had to go through his story a third time, interrupted frequently by pointed questions from the inspector. He was surprised to note how many overlooked details these questions brought out.
“So your name is James Harrison?” said Halkett, studying his shorthand notes. “You live at 14a Roylstone Mansions, London. You’re junior partner in the firm of Hoyle, Leverdon and Harrison, stockbrokers, Throgmorton Street? You were on your way to Scotland to join a shooting party at Craig Dulloch?”
“That’s right,” agreed Jimmy.
“You understand that we can verify these details within an hour or two?”
“We can verify one of ’em now,” put in Fothergill. “His name an’ address’s on his drivin’ license.”
“Good for you, constable,” Halkett smiled. “By the bye, was the radiator of his car nearly empty?”
“Aye, it was, sir. Took nearly two cans to fill it.” “That’s all to the good, then. Edwards, ask headquarters to verify these details; and also Miss Myra Livingstone, working at Berry and Dawn’s, Oxford St., and sharing a flat in Alexandra Road, Finsbury Park.”
“Very good, sir,” replied the sergeant, going out to the telephone.
“Now, Mr. Harrison, can you give me a description of Miss Livingstone, and also of this ‘Sergeant Grimes’?”
“I’ll do my best.” said Jimmy, “but I never saw what kind of clothes the girl was wearing, and I didn’t get much of a view of the man.”
“Unfortunate. Still, we must do what we can. I want to get these descriptions circulated as quickly as possible.” “Sounds almost as though you’re believing my story at the outset,” muttered Jimmy when he had given the required particulars. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“"i álioUJdn t rely on it too much," replied TlalKett grimly. “I believe nothing at the moment. But you may be telling the truth, and I’m not going to lose anything through lack of taking all precautions. Do you want a doctor to your head?”
“It’d do with a stitch in it,” said Fothergill. “It’s a nasty cut.”
“Very well.” The inspector rose to his feet. “Take him round to the doctor, constable. Don’t say anything at present about what’s happened, of course. Then all three of you come out to Withens. You’ll find us there. You don’t mind giving us your help, Mr. Harrison?”
“I haven’t much choice, have I?” said Jimmy,
He was virtually under arrest already. He knew quite well that if he made any difficulties the arrest would become actual, and he would be charged with murder. That would be no step toward the solution of the mystery. So he decided to put up with any unpleasantness, realizing that the police were bound to regard him with suspicion until something turned up to clear him.
Dr. Wilson, a typical country practitioner, red-faced and white-haired, took a wink from Constable Fothergill as a hint and asked no questions. He examined the slight wound in Jimmy’s arm and pronounced it negligible. He put a couple of stitches into the damaged scalp and bandaged it neatly. Immediately this operation was concluded, the three men squeezed into the front of Jimmy’s car and drove out again to the house on the moors.
Very lonely it seemed, almost hidden from view in its little ravine, shut in by bracken-clad hills. Its shutters gave it a neglected, forlorn api>earance, and Jimmy noticed now that it stood badly in need of overhauling and repainting.
Halkett and Edwards were hard at work in Room 16, handling things as little as possible, yet leaving no corner unsearched. They broke off immediately the others entered.
“There’s been a murder committed here, doctor.’’ explained Halkett. “I’d like you to give the corpse a look over.”
Dr. Wilson crossed the room obediently. As he caught sight of the murdered man’s face, he stopjxxl short with a cry of amazement.
“Why,” he exclaimed, “it’s Gregory Walker!”
“So Fothergill says,” nodded Halkett. “But I understand that Gregory Walker was buried two days ago.”
“So he was. I—I don’t understand.”
“You’re quite sure about this man?”
“Absolutely. Some terrible mistake must have—” “That’s quite evident, isn’t it? We’ll have to go into that later. Just take a look at him, doctor, and tell us what you think is the cause of death.”
Obviously shaken, the physician knelt down to examine the body. Jimmy turned to Halkett.
“Who is this Gregory Walker?” he asked.
“What happened to him?” _
The inspector looked at him queerly.
“Don’t you know, Mr. Harrison?” he retorted, and bent down to help the doctor.
It was not long before Wilson concluded his preliminary examination.
“So far as 1 can tell at present,” he said,
“Walker has been stabbed through the heart by a long, sharp instrument.”
“Anything like this?” asked Halkett, unwrapping a handkerchief on the desk and disclosing a dagger.
“I should say that’s probably the weapon.”
Jimmy looked at the blood-stained dagger closely.
“I thought the murderer had taken this away,” he said. “Where did you find it?”
"Under the settee.’’ replied tire inspector, with another queer glance. “There are fingerprints on the hilt.”
“1 know !” exclaimed Jimmy. “But you mustn’t let them mislead you. They don’t mean anything. Miss Livingstone told me how she had made them when ”
“These are not a girl’s fingerprints, Mr. Harrison,” said Halkett slowly. “They were made by a man. Quite evidently the man who stablxd Walker after lx-ing hit on the head by this life preserver. And there was oon your hands when Constable Fothergill found you.”
T EFT to herself after locking the door on Jimmy Harrison.
Myra Livingstone quickly completed her dressing.
Though the effect of the drug that had lx-en administered to her was wearing off, she was still, as she phrased it, “wuzzy.” There was a jieculiar sense of unreality about the events of the night. It would not have surprised her at any moment to wake up and find that the whole business had been a particularly unpleasant kind of nightmare.
She was utterly puzzled and bewildered by all that had happened. Such strange occurrences were quite unprecedented in her happy, carefree life. She was a normal, healthyminded girl, and strongly resent«! the intrusion of violence and mystery into the even tenor of her existence.
But for the moment speculations about the reason for her kidnapping were thrust aside by more urgent questionings. It had occurred to her, as to Jimmy, that someone at the door was ringing the bell. She had heard him go downstairs. She was on tenterhooks to know what was going to happen next.
The last few words of her conversation with him trad startled her, opening her eyes to more unpleasant possibilities in the future. And they had led to a resolve which she was determined to keep, even though she realized that it might have unexpected results.
At Berry and Dawn’s it was well known that you couldn't “squash” Myra Livingstone and get away with it. Her
brown eyes and shingled auburn hair were the outward and visible signs of an impetuous, hot-tempered nature which rebelled immediately against any form of oppression. She was not the kind of girl to submit meekly to being kidnapped and drugged.
She was fully determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious business if it was in any way possible, tí) find out who had undressed and painted her, and see that such curious activities were curtailed. Mr. Harrison had suggested that the police would think her guilt), of the murder. She had tí) agree that this was quite probable. And. since it was obvious that she couldn't solve any mysteries if she were dumped in a police cell she had decided that she must avoid these well-meaning but stupid people who would arrest her.
And so she stoixl in the middle of the rftom, listening anxiously. She was not at all surprised when she heard the man at the door announce that the police were here. Somehow she had half exacted it.
Her pulses starter! throbbing more quickly as she waited, wondering what Mr. Harrison would do. She could hear that he was arguing with the man outside, though she couldn't distinguish the words. But it was no use arguing. He couldn't defy the jx>lice; he would have to let them in. And then -well, there would IKtrouble for Myra Livingstone.
She turned out the lamp and silently opened the shutters, hoping to catch what was being said. As she did so she heard Jimmy draw the lx)lt of the dfx)r downstairs. He was letting the man in. What should she do?
She looked out into the garden. Dawn was breaking, and the lawn and flowerlieds showed up mistily in the dim, weird light.
She could see no sign of anyone in the garden. Apparently the policeman had come alone.
The twinkling lights of Jimmy’s car caught her eye, inviting, suggestive. Yes, that wouldn't be a bad idea. Supix>se she could hide somewhere near the car until the policeman had gone. Then she could continue her interrupted conversation with Mr.
Harrison and see what he advised.
It was the work of a moment to slip through the window and reach the ivy outside. There was no difficulty in climbing down, though the operation seemed to entail a tremendous amount of*noise. Once her feet were on the ground, Myra nm swiftly through the garden. The wall did not delay her long. She reached the car about the time that Jimmy and “Sergeant Grimes” were ascending the stairs.
The sight of the car gave her another idea.
It was a jxmerful machine, an open twothree sea ter with a collapsible dickey seat behind. Myra o|x*ned the back. The compartment containing the dickey seat carried Jimmy's luggage, but there was still plenty of nx>m for her. Without hesitation she climbed in and drewthe lid down. She was glad to find that she could work the lock from inside.
W'IK) would think of looking for her here?
It was a brain wave. Except for a very unlucky accident, she was safe. And she needn’t disclose her presence to Mr.
Harrison until she judged the time propitious. She settled down to wait.
A LMOST immediately she heard the sound of someone running through the garden and scrambling over the wall. Her escape, evidently had been discovered. She lay motionless, holding her breath.
She heard the newcomer mutter a savage oath, and knew that he was not Jimmy. He seemed terribly annoyed at losing her. She began to wonder if she had perhaps made matters worse by running away.
A hand tugged at the handle of the back compartment, setting her heart beating furiously. Dry-mouthed and tremulous, she waited for the imminent discovery. But the searcher, apparently assured by the fact that the compartment w as fastened, left the back of the car and slipped into the driving seat.
Another moment of suspense. Why was this policeman driving Mr. Harrison’s car away? Where would he take her to? Then the man in the car changed his mind. Still cursing under his breath, he jumped out and ran rapidly down the road.
Knowing nothing of "Sergeant Grimes’’ and little guessing how near she had been to recapture. Myra nevertheless sighed with relief as she relaxed her tense limbs. She was safe in her hiding place. And it wouldn’t be long before Mr. Harrison turned up.
But slow minutes dragged past and lengthened into hours, and nothing more happened. Myra grew anxious. What could be keeping Mr. Harrison in the house alone? On several occasions, she almost reached the point of leaving
the car and going in search of him. But she didn’t know what had become of the policeman. Perhaps he was waiting about, watching. It would be safer to remain where she was.
She had plenty of opportunity to ponder on the strangeness of her position. Why had she been kidnapped? She cudgelled her brains to produce the slightest hint of a reason, and failed. She couldn't even imagine why these extraordinary occurrences had happened to her.
As she had told Mr. Harrison, she was a nobody. Her mother and father, estimable middle-class people, had died during the influenza epidemic of 1918 while she was still at the elementary school, leaving her quite unprovided for. A harassed uncle had looked after her until she was old enough to work then, having children of his own to care for. had left her to make her own way. She had done quite well. Her job at Berry and Dawn’s was one of the plums. Lots of girls would consider her very lucky. But there was surely nothing in this simple history to account for the kidnapping.
She had no enemies: why should she? She lived contentedly at the little flat with Lily Fortune, working hard and playing hard—tennis chiefly, with long walks in the country when jx>ssible, and infrequent dances and theatres. SÍ) far as she knew, she had never quarrelled with anyone in her life; except, of course, with occasional young men who didn’t believe her when she said No.
She wondered whether the whole thing might be a mistake. whether she had been kidnapped in place of someone else. And yet this hardly seemed possible. Someone had come deliberately to her flat and—Oh, what a puzzle it was!
And what had been happening in room No 16 before the murder? Her cheeks burned when she thought of how Mr. Harrison had found her half naked, with her face heavilypainted like a woman of the streets. But what could be the meaning of it all? What was behind this mystery?
Tired and bewildered, affected by the close atmosphere of the confined space in which she lay. Myra eventuallydropped into an uneasy doze. She was awakened by the sound of leisurely footsteps coming up the road.
It was now broad daylight. 11er view of the outside world was restricted to a small portion of road visible through an opening in the bottom of the car. The footsteps came nearer and she could see the shadows of two legs on the road beneath her.
Again a hand pulled at the lid of the compartment, and again she blessed the fastening which held it. After a little hesitation, the shadows disappeared and the footsteps retreated toward the garden of the house.
Myra was sorely tempted at least to lift the lid of the compartment and peep out. She had no idea how long she had been asleep. It looked as though something must have happened to Mr. Harrison. Even if he had to stay at the house helping the police, he surely wouldn't leave his car out on the road all day. His absence made her uneasy.
But she didn’t know who might be about, possibly keeping an eye on the car. She resisted the temptation and tried to find a more comfortable position for her cramped limbs.
TT WAS not long before something more happened. Two -*■ men came back through the garden to the car and she recognized Jimmy’s voice. Almost at once she realized that the other was a police officer. And he was certainly not the man who had cursed so savagely immediately after her escape. Funny! She couldn’t understand it.
In any case there was nothing for her to do but lie quiet until she could get Mr. Harrison alone. And so she had a very uncomfortable time bumping in the back of the car while it was driven in to Soyland, to Dr. Wilson’s, then out tí) Withens again.
It was not difficult for her to guess that this last journey had landed her back at her starting point. The scraping and bumping of the luggage prevented her hearing anything that was said in the front seat, but when the three men alighted and she heard one of them addressed as Dr. Wilson, she knew that the police had commenced their investigations.
Her position had grown more unpleasant. The space in the comjxirtment was actually much less than it had seemed to be when she climbed in. Now that the sun was pouring down, it had become oppressively hot. She was both hungry and thirsty, and longed for release from her prison. It was quite evident, however, that she could not venture out at present.
Another long wait followed. Then a second car came humming along the road and drew up beside Jimmy’s. Someone sounded a horn vigorously, and hurried footsteps approached from the house.
“Ah, there you are, Halkett,” said a voice. “Made any progress yet?”
“Not much, sir.” replied Halkett rather ruefully. “It’s a queer sort of business. The man we found here tells an extraordinary tale.”
He repeated Jimmy’s story and Myra, listening eagerly, heard for the first time about “Sergeant Grimes.” She shuddered when she realized how near she had been to recapture.
“Of course there’s no sign now,” Halkett went on, “of either the girl or the pretended policeman. The whole thing may be an invention. It’s quite certain that the fingerprints on the dagger we found are a man’s.” “Are you going to arrest him, then?” “Not unless you advise it. sir. You know how it ties our hands; can’t ask a question of any sort without the judge jumping down our throats afterward. And Harrison’s ready enough to talk now. We may catch him out in something. I’d rather wait until we’ve some more definite evidence to go on.”
“Just as you think best, Halkett. What about this Gregory Walker business?”
“It’s darned funny, sir, isn’t it? I don’t suppose the report has filtered through to headquarters yet. A man was found dead in this house last Saturday. He was lying with his face in the fire, and it was assumed that he had fainted and fallen there. A postmortem showed nothing out of the ordinary. The face was quite unrecognizable, of course, but in the absence of any relatives the man was identified as Gregory Walker by the old couple who looked after his house. There was no reason for anyone to suspect anything else. His solicitor, who attended the inquest, was quite satisfied. There was a verdict of death from natural causes, and the body was buried on Tuesday.”
‘And now this man who s been stabbed during the night turns out to be Gregory Walker?”
“That’s right, sir. Queer, isn’t it?”
“It’s more than queer, Halkett. It’s suggestive. Pretty obvious, isn’t it, that the first poor devil, whether murdered or not. was deliberately put on the fire so that the corpse might be passed off as Gregory Walker’s? We’d better wire the Home Office for an exhumation order.”
“And look here, Halkett! I don’t feel comfortable about this. It looks to me as though Gregory Walker must have had a hand in the first business, as though he were planning to disappear or something of the kind. Instead of that, he gets murdered. And if this young fellow's story is true, there must be something mighty queer behind it all. What reason can you suggest for the kidnapping of a London shop girl?”
“Well, sir,” ventured Halkett, “it might be the white slave traffic. We haven’t much to do with that and—” “That’s exactly right, Halkett. Just what I’m getting at. It might be the white slave traffic—and we haven’t much experience of that up here You've put it in a nutshell. And if it isn’t that, it’s something else big, some pretty Continued on page 36
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complicated conspiracy. I mean, I think we’d better let Scotland Yard know about it.”
i “I—I—” began the inspector.
“Don’t misunderstand me, Halkett. It isn’t that I doubt your ability at all. It’s because I feel the business isn’t localized. It isn’t just our affair. Whatever’s behind it, j whether white slave traffic or something else, is rooted in some other part of the country, j maybe in some other part of the world. Gregory Walker was always wandering in j the far comers of the globe, wasn't he? If I’m right, then, the thing’s too big for us to tackle alone. You see that, don’t you?”
“I was only going to say,” continued I Halkett grimly, “that I’ll be only too glad to let someone else take charge of this case. It’s got me worried stiff already.”
' ALMOST immediately the man in the LY car—whom Myra judged to be the chief constable, a superintendent or some j such dignitary—drove off. Halkett, after watching him go. returned to the house. The girl lay quiet for a while, trying to decide what to do. *
There were certain points in the conversation she had overheard that she didn’t quite understand. There seemed to be a ; good deal of confusion about this Gregory Walker, and she couldn’t straighten the details out properly. In addition, the queer business about the fingerprints on the dagger surprised her.
It seemed that the police did not suspect her after all. They were rather inclined to think that she existed only in Mr. Harrison’s imagination, and that he was responsible for the murder.
Well, she could soon convince them that j there was such a person as Myra Livingstone. Perhaps it would be better for Mr. j Harrison if she showed herself at once. And yet—she knew without question that she had left her fingerprints on the dagger, i Probably the police were mistaken. When they came to examine the prints more carefully they would find that no man had made them, and then they would be bound to assume that she had struck the fatal blow.
Anyhow, now that she had gone so far there could be no harm in keeping herself hidden until she had the opportunity of a ¡ talk with Mr. Harrison, when she would do
exactly as he advised. Having decided this, Myra decided also that she must have a breath of air and stretch her cramped limbs.
She slipped back the catch and cautiously raised the lid an inch. There was no one in sight. She threw back the lid and stood up in the car.
It was parked on the grassy verge of the road, not where she had climbed into it last night but near the gates of the house. A winding drive ran up from these gates, and the house itself was almost hidden by a small plantation of trees. Another car was parked close by.
Myra stood looking round, exulting in her temporary freedom, drawing deep breaths of the fresh moorland air. There was not a soul in sight. So far as her eyes could reach in every direction, rolling, heather-clad hills reached up to the sky. She realized for the first time how lonely was the situation of the house, how admirably suited for any criminal undertaking. And the realization set her puzzling again over the reason for her kidnapping.
The man talking with Halkett had suggested the white slave traffic. Myra’s red lips curled scornfully. A kidnapper trying anything of this sort with her would have a pretty rough time. Then she remembered the drugging, the fact that she had been unconscious for twenty-four hours, and the scorn became a little tremulous.
It was all right trying to face things bravely, but when all was said and done, she was rather helpless. If someone could once enter her flat at night and chloroform her. there was no telling when a similar attempt might be made. Her mysterious enemy had escaped. He was, she felt sure, a murderer; and the fact that he had come back to bluff Mr. Harrison showed that he was desperate. For some unknown reason he was determined to have her in his power. She would not be safe until he was caught.
It was just as well she had taken it into her head to run away from the house last night. Myra looked round the moorland again, wondering rather uneasily if “Sergeant Grimes” was still lurking somewhere in the vicinity. As her abstracted gaze passed slowly along, it was arrested by a sudden glint of light at the side of a curiously shaj^ed boulder on the opposite hill-
side. While she stared at the rock, the light flashed again.
The next moment she was back in the car, with the compartment lid lowered and fastened. She felt sure that the glint of light had been caused by the reflection of the sun in a pair of field-glasses; that someone up on that hillside was keeping a close watch on the house and the surrounding country.
Was the watcher “Sergeant Grimes?” Had he seen her standing up in the car? Myra had no way of judging. But she felt rather frightened. She knew that she had been foolish, and vowed not to run any more risks. She would not open that lid again until she was alone with Mr. Harrison. And if anyone else tried to open it—well, she still had the automatic pistol they had found.
JIMMY HARRISON was feeling far from happy. It was quite evident that Halkett regarded him with a good deal of suspicion, and he had to acknowledge that the worthy inspector could not be blamed. If the fingerprints on the dagger turned out to be his— and “Sergeant Grimes” was quite capable of attending to such a detail as this—the case against him, in the absence of Myra Livingstone, would look very black.
He felt sure, of course, that matters would eventually straighten themselves out. He Biad no fear that things would ever go so far as his trial for murder. But the situation in the meantime was very unpleasant. And its worst feature was that the police were devoting all their attention to him instead of trying to find Myra. He tried to emphasize this point to Halkett, but that worried official remained quite unimpressed.
Soon after the fingerprint expert, the photographer, and the other cogs in the police machine had arrived, the inspector drew Jimmy aside.
“You’ll be staying in Soyland for a while, I suppose, Mr. Harrison?” he asked.
“Naturally,” replied Jimmy. “When are you likely to—er—finish with me?”
“I can’t tell you that yet. An officer from Scotland Yard will be here tonight or tomorrow morning and he’ll want to see you. But Fothergill says you’ll be quite comfortable at The Dog and Gun. People often stay there—old fogeys who are interested in the remains of the Roman road over the moors. I’ll be a fellow guest. You can get along there now if you like.”
“I’d rather stop here and help you.”
“You can’t help us, Mr. Harrison. And to be quite candid, I’d rather have you out of the way just at present. I’ve told Fothergill to see that you get settled all right at The Dog and Gun.”
‘And to keep an eye on me, I suppose?” “Precisely,” agreed Halkett.
On the way back to Soyland Jimmy tried to learn something about Gregory Walker. Constable Fothergill, however, was not communicative.
The Dog and Gun was a rambling old building, considerably larger than one would suspect from its frontage on the single street of Soyland. At one side was a small courtyard, and into this Jimmy steered the car.
“You might as well drive it straight into the garage,” advised Fothergill, indicating the open doors of a barn. “Then nobody’ll touch it.”
Sam Helliwell, landlord of The Dog and Gun, was a mountain of a man, with small humorous eyes twinkling in his massive face. He was delighted to meet any friend of P. C. Fothergill.
“Sorry you can’t ’ave my best room, Mr. ’Arrison,” he rumbled, “Got an old boy staying in, name o’ Topp. Draws plans and sketches o’ the Roman road, he does. Bin ’ere a week and looks like staying. But I’ll make you comfortable all the same. Come and see if this room’ll do for you.”
Wheezing and puffing, he led the way upstairs and displayed his second best room. It was a pleasant enough apartment overlooking the courtyard, and Jimmy pronounced himself satisfied.
Fothergill was waiting by the open door of the house when he came downstairs.
Sam to give you special attention, like. It’s quite a while to lunch time yet. What’d you like to do? Sam says Mr. Topp’s gone to the Roman road. Shall we go an’ have a look at it?"
Jimmy swore under his breath. A man murdered, a girl abducted, and the police could do no more than take him sightseeing ! But it was no use arguing.
“Yes,” he sighed; “I’d better see your Roman road.”
They were strolling along the street when a queer figure turned the comer, running toward them—a long, lanky man, hatless, with shaggy white hair flying loose in the breeze.
“The vicar,” said Fothergill. "By gum, he’s in a hurry!”
The man approached quickly with long, ungainly strides.
“Fothergill!” he panted as he drew near. “I was looking for you. A terrible thing. Desecration. Horrible thing!”
“What is it, Mr. Hawkyard?”
“Ghoulish! Obscene! The cemetery, Fothergill ! During the night. Someone has opened a grave. Stolen the body !”
“Stolen a body?” gasped Fothergill, openmouthed. “Whose body?”
“Mr. Walker’s. Gregory Walker, you know. Buried two days ago.”
TEFT alone in the bam which served as a garage, Myra Livingstone decided that she must act quickly.
She raised the lid of the compartment and scrambled out. There was no one in the courtyard to see her. Looking quickly round, she noticed at the back of the bam some wooden “pigeon-hole” steps which led up through an opening in the ceiling to a second story.
Without hesitation she climbed the ladder. The loft above was dark and gloomy, only dimly lit by a small grimy window and the light which came up through the opening in the floor. Dirty straw was scattered about, and Myra felt sure there would be rats. But she should be safe here until she found an opportunity of talking with Mr. Harrison.
She stood looking out of the little cobwebby window until a red-headed youth had gone to fetch the luggage from the car. Then she began to explore her new hiding place.
The loft was divided into two by a rough wooden partition which did not reach the roof. There was a narrow opening in this, but it looked so dark beyond that Myra did not feel inclined to investigate. Her side of the partition was bare except for one or two empty boxes and the dirty straw on the floor.
She pulled one of the boxes close to the window and sat looking out. She could see most of the courtyard and a side door into the inn, but no one seemed to be moving about. Knowing that it might be quite a while before she had the chance of catching Mr. Harrison alone, she schooled herself to patience.
It was not long, however, before she saw him. He ran into the courtyard, followed by Constable Fothergill and a tall, white-haired, wild-looking man. For a moment she wondered if they had somehow discovered that she was in the loft. But all three of them tumbled into the car and drove off hurriedly.
Myra sighed. This hiding business was going beyond a joke. She was tired out, famished and terribly thirsty. She decided to show herself as soon as Mr. Harrison returned whether he was alone or not.
Time dragged slowly past. Lunch time came, and a smell of food that made the girl desperate. She couldn't starve much longer.
The drowsy summer afternoon crept on. and the car did not return to the garage. Myra wandered restlessly about her prison. What had happened to Mr. Harrison? Surely he must come back before long.
Forgetting her fears in her impatience, she passed through the partition into the farther part of the loft. It was too dark for her to see anything. Almost as soon as she had squeezed through the opening she stumbled against a hard object in the straw.
It was some sort of a parcel. She pulled it
into the lighter portion of the loft, and saw that it was neatly wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.
No business of hers, of course. Still it looked so new' and fresh, and everything else in the loft so neglected and dirty, that Myra 1 was curious. She spent a good deal of time , in carefully unknotting the string.
What a funny thing to find up here! Bread, butter and cheese, all fresh. And a bottle of wine !
Was it possible that someone was making a temporary home in this loft? These provisions must have been brought here no earlier than yesterday. Myra was certain ! that there was no one else in the loft at present. Perhaps someone would sneak in at night. She must have a proper look round on the other side of that partition.
But in the meantime—well, the gods had been good to her. She was so thirsty. She managed to break the neck of the bottle and pour some of its contents into the palm of her hand. Nectar!
Drinking wine out of the palm of your hand has this disadvantage—you don’t know how' many glasses you have had. Myra nibbled away very contentedly at the bread and cheese, and lapped up the golden fluid from the bottle. They all tasted so good. It wasn’t until she began to feel drowsy that she realized the bottle was almost empty . . .
When she opened her eyes again it was pitch dark. She couldn’t even see the outline of the little window. Everything was silent—except for the metallic sound that had awakened her.
There it was again ! Faint and subdued,
. but unmistakable—the sound of a key in a rusty lock.
Someone was opening the garage door below, opening it furtively, stealthily. Myra listened w'ith a beating heart. This w*as not Mr. Harrison or anyone who had a right to be here. It was someone who wished to , remain unseen, unheard.
! Wide awake now, she rose silently to her ; feet. She heard the protest of unoiled hinges as the garage door was opened and shut again. A momentary flash of light from below showed her the opening in the floor ! and gave her her bearings.
I A stealthy tread across the garage, then : the creaking of the stepladder. The intruder was coming up ! There was no time to lose.
Taking the automatic from her handbag,
; Myra tiptoed through the partition into the ] other part of the loft.
! She waited, tense and breathless. Soft j intermittent creaks from the ladder showed j that the man was ascending cautiously, furtively. He was trying to climb up unheard. He must know that someone was j hiding in the loft. There was another flash and a hat was momentarily silhouetted against the opening. Darkness again, i The creaking ceased, and Myra guessed that the intruder had passed through the opening in the floor. She strained her eyes, but the darkness was baffling, impenetrable.
An age of silent, motionless suspense. Then, with startling suddenness, the flash of an electric torch swept round the loft.
In the reflected light Myra could just distinguish a dark figure standing a few' feet away from her. Before the light vanished,
’ she got the impression that the figure was masked.
She levelled the automatic and her trembling finger closed round the trigger.
IT WAS some considerable time before Jimmy Harrison and Constable Fother| gill could extract a coherent story from Mr. j Hawkyard; and even then there was little I he could tell them. The cemetery was close ! to the vicarage, and his nearest way to the j village lay through it. He was coming in ! to the post-office w'hen he noticed the grave. All the soil had been turned out of it. The broken coffin lay on one side, and there was no sign of the body that had occupied it. He had been so shocked, so horrified, that he had run all the way to the village in search of the constable.
“Well, that’s a rum go,’’ said Fothergill, staring helplessly at Jimmy. “We’d better look into this.”
They hurried back with the vicar to the little cemetery on the edge of the moor. Mr. Hawkyard was much upset. Knowing nothing of the other happenings of the night, he wras completely at a loss to account for this horrible desecration of a grave in his parish.
Neither Jimmy nor Fothergill offered any comment. To them the thing was even more disturbing and mysterious than to Mr. Hawkyard. It was bad enough that someone had been buried under another man’s name and that man murdered. When, in addition, the corpse of the unknown was stolen, the thing became infinitely more complicated and ominous.
What connection could there be between a London shop girl and all this? And what fate was in store for Myra Livingstone if the police could not rescue her? Halfformed terrible thoughts surged up in Jimmy’s bewildered brain and would not be suppressed.
“I suppose the man was dead when he was buried?” he muttered as they came in sight of the cemetery.
“His face was burned away,” said Fothergill. And, spurred by his own helpless perplexity, he told Jimmy about the man who had been found last Sunday at Withens with his head in the fire.
This did not improve matters. It seemed likely that the unknown man also had been murdered, in spite of the negative postmortem examination. Jimmy congratulated himself that he had a cast-iron alibi for last Sunday. But the thought failed to cheer him much.
They found the condition of the grave exactly as Mr. Hawkyard had described it. No attempt had been made to hide the desecration. Only the fact that the cemetery was off the beaten track had prevented an earlier discovery.
“I’ll have to let Inspector Halkett know about this at once,” said Fothergill, with an appealing glance at Jimmy.
“Of course,” agreed Jimmy promptly; “I’ll run you out.”
They hurried back to The Dog and Gun, accompanied by Mr. Hawkyard, who refused to be left behind. Jimmy got out the car and drove quickly to Withens, where they found Halkett looking very worried.
They added further lines to his face with their startling news.
“The devil!” he muttered. “What can be the meaning of that? Will you run me in, Mr. Harrison?”
So off they went to the cemetery again, and made another futile examination of the desecrated grave.
“You’ll have to stand guard over this for the present, Fothergill,” said Halkett. He looked doubtfully at Jimmy. “I’m going in to headquarters, Mr. Harrison. Care to come?”
“Sure,” agreed Jimmy, thinking they might hear some news of Myra Livingstone or “Sergeant Grimes.” “Shall we go in my car?”
“That would certainly be a convenience.” The inspector glanced at his watch. “We’ll have a spot of lunch first.”
Sam Helliwell prided himself on the catering at The Dog and Gun. The lunch provided, though simple, was of excellent quality. But neither Jimmy nor Halkett appreciated it. They hurried through the meal, unable to discuss matters even if they had wished because of the presence of a third party in the little dining room.
Mr. Topp was a benevolent looking man of something more than middle age, with a polished bald head and large hom-rimmed spectacles. Obviously a chatterbox, he quickly introduced himself to the other two.
“Remarkable monument, this Roman road,” he observed. “You’ve seen it, of course?”
“No,” said Jimmy.
"Dear, dear! You mustn’t miss it on any account. I’m going out again this afternoon. Perhaps you’d care to come with me?”
“Sorry ; I’m engaged this afternoon.”
“And you, sir?”
“I’m busy, too,” growled Halkett.
“Per ha pis another time, then. It really is a most remarkable relic. It has been
suggested that the road is not Roman at all, but was made by invading Danes to transport their boats over the Pennines. Unadulterated rubbish ! My sketches and measurements prove the Roman origin unquestionably. The ruts in the stones made by the chariots ...”
Mr. Topp babbled on happily throughout the meal, undeterred by the monosyllabic answers given to any direct question. He addressed himself chiefly to Jimmy, and beamed upon him with undisguised benevolence.
“You’re coming back, I hope?” he asked when he had accompanied them to the door and seen them get into the car.
“Yes, I’m coming back,” muttered Jimmy.
“I’m glad of that. I hope to have the opportunity of showing you some of my sketches of the road.”
JIMMY started the engine and let in the clutch. As the car moved away Mr. Topp waved a cheerful farewell. A funny old boy. Deuce of a bore at present, but probably quite interesting in different circumstances.
Little was said during the twenty-mile drive to Bradfield. Inspector Halkett sat frowning and silent most of the time. It was clear that the finding of the desecrated grave had upset him more than ever.
On arrival at police headquarters in Bradfield, he left Jimmy in the main office while he interviewed the chief constable. There was an interval of great activity, with messengers running to and fro and telephones ringing. Then Jimmy was invited to step into the chief’s private office.
Major Court, the chief constable of the West Riding, was a grave, kindly man with sleek, greying hair, a monocle, and a military mustache. He was whispering something to Halkett when Jimmy was ushered into the room, but broke off immediately and rose in polite greeting.
“I’m glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Harrison,” he said, without offering his hand. “Your leaking radiator seems to have landed you into a most extraordinary kind of mess.”
Jimmy looked into the keen, searching eyes, and thought he detected a twinkle in them. Not knowing what to make of this, he did not reply.
“I thought perhaps you would like to know,” continued Major Court, fingering the papiers on his desk, “that we have received brief replies to our enquiries in London. The information you gave about yourself has been verified As also the fact that a certain Myra Livingstone, working at Berry and Dawn's in Oxford Street, and living in Alexandra Road, disappieared from her flat on Tuesday night.”
“I’m certainly glad to know that,” said Jimmy. “I suppose you’ll be ready to believe now that my story is true, and to make some effort to find Miss Livingstone?” “You can set your mind at rest about that, Mr. Harrison. No time was wasted in circulating your descriptions of Miss Livingstone and the man who called himself ‘Sergeant Grimes.’ We have heard nothing of them yet, but news may come in at any moment. As for believing your story, personally I am inclined to do so. But there’s another little point which may interest you. Unknown to you, Inspiector Halkett took your fingerprints on a sheet of paper at Withens. These prints have been compared with those present on the dagger that was found. There is no doubt that the two sets are identical.”
“I’m not altogether surprised about that,” observed Jimmy. “There was a second dagger, you know ; the one that was thrown at me. I believe ‘Sergeant Grimes’ deliberately put my fingerprints on this and left it under the settee to mislead you, just as he left the life preserver.”
“Quite so, quite so. The thing is possible. But when I tell you that that life preserver bore the fingerprints of the murdered man, you will realize that w'e cannot entirely ignore such evidence. We may wish to believe your story, but we should be foolish to accept it as gospel in the absence of
corroboration. Suppose we leave it at that for the moment?”
Major Court turned to Halkett.
“Scotland Yard wired that they’re sending Chief Inspector Gloom down. I’m expecting him any minute. It’s just as well you brought Mr. Harrison with you. The inspector will be able to hear his story at first hand. Better wait here, I think. I’ll bring him in as soon as he arrives.”
Halkett spoke with suppressed excitement when the chief constable had gone.
“Gloom’s a big man, Mr. Harrison; a very big man.”
“Is he?” said Jimmy shortly. Although he knew he was hardly being fair to them, he couldn’t help thinking that the police were not making much progress in the case.
After this there was a strained silence in the office. Luckily, it was not long before Major Court returned, accompanied by a man of most remarkable appearance.
Chief Inspector Gloom, of the Criminal Investigation Department, Scotland Yard, looked as much like a corpse as any man could do while alive. Except for a thin, tonsure-like fringe of hair, his head was almost entirely bald. The pallid parchment skin of his face was tightly stretched over the bones. His eyes, though deeply sunk beneath his domed forehead, were unnaturally large. His thin lips, when he spoke, drew back from prominent irregular teeth.
“This, inspector,” said Major Court, “is Mr. Harrison. Halkett, I think, you know.” Inspector Gloom turned vacant, lustreless eyes upon Jimmy.
“Did you dig up the man with the burned face before or after you stabbed Gregory Walker?” he asked dully.
Quite at a loss for words to reply to this startling greeting, Jimmy could only stare.
“I don’t suppose you really know anything about it,” continued Gloom, his voice lifeless as his appearance. “It wouldn’t be my luck to have my hands on the murderer
to begin with. I’m a very unlucky man, Mr. Harrison. Things usually seem to go the wrong way for me. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to the bottom of this case. But I like it. I’m sure we’re going to be friends, Mr. Harrison. I’m sure we’re going to get lots of fun out of this case, even if we never solve it. Sit down and tell me all about it.”
JIMMY went to bed early, tired out. He had had no sleep the previous night, and the day had been full and strenuous enough in all conscience.
After the conference at Bradfield, Inspector Gloom had come out to Soyland and made a very careful examination of Withens and the desecrated grave. He had wished Jimmy to accompany him, and the investigation had extended well into the evening. Thorough though it was, it had revealed nothing new.
There had been an abortive inquest on Gregory Walker, too. A purely formal affair, held as quietly as possible, and adjourned at the request of the police. But the press had got wind of it and had smelled a mystery. Reporters had been rather troublesome.
Jimmy was disheartened. He had expected some results by now. He had hoped that the police who were on the watch all over the county would have found some trace of Myra Livingstone within twenty-four hours. But the end of the first day found them still deeper in the mire of bewilderment, still farther from understanding what had happened.
The Scotland Yard man had been unable to offer any suggestions. If he had drawn any conclusions from his investigations he had kept them secreted beneath his domed forehead. Jimmy couldn’t even make up his mind whether he himself was still under serious suspicion or not.
Inspector Gloom puzzled him. The man’s manner was as striking and unexpected as
his appearance. He was curiously pessimistic f and curiously macabre. He seemed to revel in the more gruesome details of the case and his own inability to explain them.
Altogether he seemed a rather unpleasant and inefficient sort of person. But Jimmy was not at all sure that the man was showing his real nature. He had a suspicion that the manner was assumed, a pose assiduously cultivated to fit in with his name and his physique. He felt that Inspector Gloom was really a good deal more cheerful than he pretended.
Not that there was much to be cheerful about. Jimmy turned restlessly on his pillow, searching for any clue which would serve to link together the strange events of the last twenty-four hours. It was an impossible task. What connection could ; there be between a kidnapped girl with a ! painted face and a corpse with a burned face rudely dragged from its last resting; place? The whole thing had the irrational | inconsequence of a dream. Yet somehow I such incongruous details must be related, j
If only they could understand! If only! they could see the connecting link ! Then I they might have a chance of finding Myra ; and rescuing her from the mysterious danger that threatened. Jimmy eventually fell into a troubled sleep, thinking of the girl’s face as he last saw it, pale but plucky, peering round the door of the room at Withens . . .
He had no idea of the time when he awakened suddenly with a loud report ringing in his ears. Even as he sat up in bed the sound was repeated—a pistol shot stabbing into the stillness of the night.
It seemed to come from the courtyard outside. Jimmy jumped out of bed and ran to the open window. He was just in time to see a dark figure emerge from the garage and disappear in the deeper shadow that fringed the farther side of the courtyard.
To be Continued