The Case of The Painted Girl
More thrills and mystery! A “Tiger” appears and the Roman road expert makes a startling discovery
The story; Motoring alone from London to Scotland, Jimmy Harrison hears a scream from a dark moorland house and a bell bursts into continuous clamor. In the garden a figure slips past him in the darkness.
Entering the house by a window, he finds a man seated at a desk with a dagger in his chest, killed only a few minutes previously, and a beautiful girl, her face curiously painted, lying unconscious nearby.
The bell ceases to ring when Jimmy shifts the dead man’s foot from a button on the floor. Jimmy finds the girl’s fingerprint on the dagger. Recovering consciousness, she states that she is Myra Livingstone, a London shop girt; that she was drugged and kidnapped from her London apartment by unknown men for an unknown reason. Awakening in this strange house in the dark, she closed her fingers on the dagger unwittingly, then she screamed and lost consciousness again.
Peering out a window, Jimmy is slightly wounded by a dagger thrown at him. Finding two loaded pistols, he gives one to the girl and, taking the other, goes in search of his assailant.
Men appear at the front door and demand that he open in the name of the law. Jimmy admits the leader, who says he is “Sergeant Grimes.” He returns to find that the girl has completely vanished, and immediately receives a blow on the head. When he recovers consciousness a genuine policeman. Constable Fot her gill, arrives and is astonished to find that the dead man is Gregory Walker, owner of the house, who ivas supposed to have been buried recently. Walker's grave is found empty.
Kept under police surveillance in the adjacent village of Soyland, Jimmy tells all that he knows to Inspector Gloom, of Scotland Yard, who arrives presently.
Myra Livingstone, upon leaving the house, hid in the rear of Jimmy’s car, and when it reached Soyland she crept from it to a nearby barn loft. There she finds provisions, evidently provided for a man in hiding. An intruder startles her in the night and she fires at him.
Jimmy, sleeping in the hotel, hears the shot and sees a dark figure running from the barn.
FOR a moment Jimmy stood at the window, vainly trying to trace the movements of the dark figure down in the courtyard. Then he picked up his dressing gown and dashed for the door. It was locked.
“That's Gloom!" he muttered.
He could hear the insj>ector moving about in the next room, and hämmeret! vigorously oti the wall.
“Did you hear those shots, Gloom?" he shouted. “Hurry up and open this door."
He picked up his electric torch and the automatic he had found at Withens. Almost immediately the key grated in the lock. He pulled the door open and flashed a light on the saturnine face of the inspector.
“Why the deuce did you lock me in?” he asked angrily. “I might have got that man.”
“So you’ve seen a man?” sighed Gloom, blinking like an owl. “Evidently my old limbs don’t move as quickly as yours. Where was he?”
“Came out of the garage. Disappeared in the darkness.” “Then we’d better take a look in the garage. Sounds almost as though we might find another corpse there, doesn’t it?”
However pessimistic he might be. the Scotland Yard man did not waste any time. Before anyone else in the house had appeared, he and Jimmy were out in the courtyard, flashing their lights in every direction. They saw no sign of the fugitive,
“Hopeless for two of us to search for him,” said Gloom. “We’ll see what’s been happening in the garage.”
The doors of the bam were ajar. Slipping silently through into the deeper darkness beyond, they bumped up against Jimmy's car. A few seconds served to satisfy them that the place was empty.
“I feel disappointed,” murmured Gloom mournfully, his face ghostlike in the reflected light from the torch. “I was quite expecting another little murder. 1 wonder why—” He caught sight of the opening in the ceiling and the stepladder leading to it.
"Ha!” he continued. “Perhaps up there ”
He was halfway up the ladder when a voice rang out above.
“Don’t come up here! If you do I’ll shoot again!”
Jimmy, following the agile inspector, almost fell off the ladder in his surprise.
“Miss Livingstone!” he cried incredulously.
“Is that you, Mr. Harrison? I thought you were never coming.”
A moment later Myra climbed down the ladder and stood beside the other two.
“You haven’t seen anything of the man in the mask, have you?” she asked eagerly.
“So our friend wore a mask, did he?” said Gloom, studying the girl intently. “I’m afraid he’s escaped. Miss Livingstone. After you again, was he?”
“I don’t know who he was after,” replied Myra. “You see, someone’s been living up in that loft. At least I found some food there.”
“Well, well ! That makes our task all the more difficult, doesn’t it? We can’t be expected to learn much about a man who has been living in a loft. You’re cold, Miss Livingstone. Come inside and get warm. We’ll see if anything can be done to trace this masked man. Then perhaps you’ll tell us all about it.”
A little group was just emerging from the side door of the inn. Inspector Halkett, sleeping in a distant room, had been awakened by Jimmy’s shouts. Mr. Topp peered curiously through his spectacles over Sam Helliwell’s broad shoulders. The servant, Joe, was squinting more than ever in his excitement. Huddled together in the doorway were a few frightened females.
GLOOM handed Myra over to the women, then took the men out to search. It was a hopeless proposition. There was no sign of the fugitive. He had disappeared completely in the darkness. He might be hiding close at hand or he might be a mile away by now. The night hid all trace of him.
“We’ll go back,” said Gloom at last, “and see if Miss Livingstone is warm.”
At the Dog and Gun he spoke for a few minutes into the telephone, then rejoined the others, who were gathered round the newly lit kitchen fire.
“I’ve sent out an alarm,” he murmured despondently. “But I don’t see how anyone can hope to find a solitary man at night when he’s got miles of moorland to wander about. He’s sure to escape. I wish you’d hit him with one of those shots, Miss Livingstone. It would have saved us such a lot of trouble.”
The inspector’s identity had become known at the inn. and the women folk liad been quick to pass the information on to Myra. She looked at Gloom, even more corpselike than usual in his dressing gown, with distaste.
"1 don’t know who the man was,” she exclaimed. “I couldn’t risk killing him.”
“Well, well! You'll probably live to regret your scruples. Tell us all about it. Don’t wdrry about these good people. We can’t hope to keep things quiet, now they know so much.” So Myra told what had happened since Jimmy left her in the upstairs room at Withens. She admitted frankly her fear that the police would suspect her, and described how she had been carried about in the car until it was garaged.
“But whatever made you stay up there all night?” cried Jimmy. “It was so dangerous.”
“I wanted to see you alone before I showed myself,” explained Myra. She flushed as she remembered the bottle of wine. “And then I—I went to sleep.”
“The miracle of youth,” murmured Gloom, his thin lips drawing back from his projecting teeth in a parody of a smile. “In the midst of alarms and excursions she goes to sleep. And you slept until just now, Miss Livingstone?”
“Yes. I was awakened by someone coming into the bam and climbing the ladder. From his furtive movements I knew it was someone who had no right to be there. I hid behind the partition and held my pistol ready.
“As soon as he reached the top of the ladder, and I
saw that he was wearing a mask, I shouted to him to stop. He must have thought I was bluffing. He didn’t say a word but jumped toward me. So I fired above his head. He took fright then and ran. I sent another shot after him and—and that’s all.”
“You’re a very plucky young lady,” said Mr. Topp, beaming through his horn-rimmed spectacles. “It must have been a terrible ordeal. I trust the police will protect you from any recurrence.”
“Yes, you’ll have to be careful,” agreed Jimmy anxiously. “It looks as though the masked man must have been ‘Sergeant Grimes.’ ”
“I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the truth,” remarked Gloom heavily. “I think you’re rather inclined to jump to conclusions, Mr. Harrison. How would you account for the fact that your friend knew Miss Livingstone’s whereabouts?”
“He might have known or guessed,” Myra put in. She explained about the man on the moor near Withens keeping watch through binoculars. “I’d forgotten that.”
“Your ‘Sergeant Grimes’ may have been living in the loft, of course,” suggested Halkett. “But it looks queer to me that anyone could—Don’t you use the place at all. Helliwell?”
“Not now, sir,” replied the landlord. “I used to do a bit o’ farming, but I sold all my stock a couple o’ years ago. Quite likely nobody’s been in that there loft for months.”
“But even then it hardly looks possible that anyone would stay there for long. He might be discovered at any moment. And if he were passing in and out, through this courtyard—”
“Nay, sir, there’s another way in,” said Helliwell. “On the far side of the building. Some steps outside which take you right up into the loft.”
“Now, that’s very interesting,” mused Gloom, scratching his tonsured head. “If anyone has been living up there, it wasn’t our friend with the mask. He was strange to the place. If he’d known of an easier way up, he surely wouldn’t have bothered picking the lock of the door and risking himself in the courtyard. Well, well ! The case gets more complicated than ever. I’m afraid we shall never understand it. I think we’d better all get back to bed.”
No one seemed at all anxious for sleep, but the inspector insisted. He saw' that a suitable room wras provided for Myra, and satisfied himself that everyone else retired. Soon the old inn was quiet as though nothing had happened to disturb the night.
JIMMY found himself more restless and wide aw'ake than before. He was delighted that Myra had been discovered safe and unharmed. This was better luck than he had expected. But he felt sure that it was “Sergeant Grimes” who had climbed up into the loft, making another desperate effort to get the girl into his power. And mingled with his delight at seeing her again was a very definite fear that she was not yet out of danger, a certainty that unknown peril w'ould threaten her until this mysterious enemy of hers was caught.
As he lay puzzling his tired brain he heard a door close softly below. Rising silently, he tiptoed to the window. Once again he saw a dark figure crossing the courtyard, but
this time he knew that it was Gloom. Theinspector vanished into the bam.
Jimmy went back to bed.
For a long time he lay, openeyed and alert for the slightest sound. It was not until he heard Gloom's cautious return and the creaking of the bed in the next room that sleep came to him.
Breakfast next morning was a cheerful meal in spite of the skeleton at the feast in the shape of the Scotland Yard man. Both Jimmy and Myra were in high
spirits. Dangers might threaten, the police might have absurd suspicions, but youth would not be denied. They had passed through a trying time together and been separated. They had come together again strangely and unexpectedly. Neither of them was inclined to quibble at the dictates of Fate.
Mr Topp beamed on them paternally. Inspector Halkett, now that responsibility was lifted from his shoulders, seemed quite Iriendly. Only7 Gloom sat silent, staring at his plate, apparently wrapped in melancholy.
“It surprises me to see you so light-hearted." he croaked at last. “A charge of murder is no airy nothing to be dismissed so easily, young man. And you, miss—either an accomplice of the murderer—”
“Don’t be so foolish !” said Jimmy rudely.
“Or. alternatively7,” went on Gloom, ignoring the interruption. “in danger from that murderer. Why should y?ou smile so readily this morning?”
“Why should I weep?” retorted Myra, thoroughly
disliking the man.
“You might at least prepare yourself for trouble. Y our situation is precarious. If y7ou are in danger we shall, of course, do the best we can to protect you. But your ‘Sergeant Grimes,’ if all you say of him is true, must be a very resourceful criminal and—”
“He didn’t show up very well last night,” laughed Jimmy, trying to counteract the inspector’s astounding pessimism, “to be bluffed like that by a girl!”
“It doesn’t matter much to a man who is killed by a bullet whether that bullet was fired by a male or a female. A frightened girl with an automatic can do a great deal of damage; more than I should care to face, Mr. Harrison. As for being blutfed—well, he managed to persuade^ you that Withens was surrounded by police last night, didn t he? I don’t think you ought to belittle ‘Sergeant Grimes.’ ” “I’ve no intention of belittling him, replied Jimmy, ruefully fingering his bandaged head. “I’ve good reason to respect him. But we’ve got the better of him so far, haven t we? We’ve rescued Miss Livingstone. And he s a fugitive.
“Yes, he’s a fugitive,” sighed Gloom. “It hardly looks possible that we shall catch him. There are so many complications in this case. I discovered something else last night.”
"Up in the loft?”
“Up in the loft.”
“What was it?” ...
“I’ll show y7ou. Yes, I really think it will be better if I
The inspector rose from the table and walked to the door. The others followed him. He led the way through the courtyard into the street and round the buildings to the far side of the barn.
Here a flight of stone steps built into the wall gave access to the loft. Gloom ushered his companions up with all the airs of a showman.
“Miss Livingstone,” he said, his thin lips drawing back from his teeth, “perhaps you will demonstrate my discovery.”
The loft was in almost complete darkness. He flashed the light of an electric torch on an untidy pile of straw in the middle of the floor.
“Will you tell us what you see there?” he continued.
Myra advanced to the straw. As soon as she reached it she started back with a stifled cry.
Projecting from the straw was a hand, a hand flabby and discolored, a hand horribly suggestive.
“Oh, I can’t!” she gasped. “I can’t! I—I think its a dead man!”
“It is a dead man,” said Gloom, with something like cheerful triumph in his voice. “A man with a burned face. The man who was dug from his grave last night.
MYRA’S nerves were shaken. Her vivid face blanched and her legs trembled so that she seemed about to fall. Jimmy threw a supporting arm around her and turned on the saturnine Scotland Yard man.
“Hasn’t she had enough to put up with?” he demanded furiously. “You knew that dead body was here. Why should you bring her up to see it?”
“An unpleasant duty,” explained Gloom sorrowfully. “I don’t expect everyone to like these jobs as much as I do. But according to the young lady’s story, she spent most ol yesterday up here in company with this corpse. 1 wanted to test her, to discern if she knew of its existence.”
“Well, 1 hope you’re satisfied with your test,” muttered Jimmy. He was still angry, in spite of his knowledge that the inspector was amply justified. “I don’t call it decent.”
“It’s hardly considered the best behavior to dig up a dead man from his grave, is it? Don’t be annoyed, Mr. Harrison. I’m not suggesting that this is one of your hobbies. Suppose you take Miss Livingstone for a breath of air for half an hour or so. Then I’d like you both to accompany me to Withens.”
Jimmy wasted no time in accepting the suggestion. Out in the open air, Myra’s fresh color quickly returned.
“I'm a little ass.” she apologized with a wan smile. “I was going to faint.”
“No wonder,” he comforted her. “After all you’ve gone through.”
They had much to say to one another, many questions to ask and answer as they strolled through the village and on the moorland road beyond. The mystery surrounding them grew more baffling with each new development. It seemed to hedge them in, to envelope them in a tangled net from which there was no
“It’s so darned senseless, isn’t it?” asked Jimmy, lighting a cigarette. “If you could see any
reason for what’s happening it wouldn't be so bad. I hink of it! Here’s an unknown man has his face burned and is buried in someone else’s name. Two days afterward his body is dug up during the night, only to be abandoned in a loft. What can you make of that?”
“Nothing,” replied Myra promptly. “Who do you think was living in that loft?”
“Pleaven knows. It wasn’t our ‘Sergeant Grimes’ because I feel sure he was the man with the mask who didn’t know about the other entrance. I suppose it’s silly, but I can t help wondering if that food was intended for the man with the burned face.”
“But he's dead.”
“I’m quite sure,” shivered Myra, thinking of the flabby, discolored hand she had seen.
“Well, if he is dead, I think he was expected to be alive.” persisted Jimmy. “Doesn’t it strike you that whoever dug
him up thought he would be alive? Why else should they do such a thing? They didn't want the dead body or they wouldn't have left it in the loft.”
“Perhaps the fact that I was up there. Oh, I can’t puzzle it out at all ! As you say, it’s all so senseless. No wonder Inspector Gloom is miserable about it.”
“He’s a queer sort of cuss, isn't he?”
“Putrid. He still thinks we know more about it than we pretend. I’m surprised he’s allowed us to come out here alone.”
“He hasn’t.” smiled Jimmy with a backward glance. “Constable Fothergill is keeping a fatherly eye on us. ’
“Oh, well. Let’s try and forget it for a few minutes. My head aches with thinking. It’s a topping morning, isn’t it?” The purple heather glowed warmly on the surrounding hills. The sun shone brightly but there was a stimulating tang in the keen moorland air. After all, it was good to be alive. And Fothergill kept at a discreet distance behind them.
They talked about Jimmy Harrison and they talked about Myra Livingstone. Before long they felt that they had known one another for years. But with all the will in the world Jimmy could not forget their present circumstances. The more he learned about the girl, the more astounding the whole business seemed. She was so honest, so straightforward, so decent. How on earth did she come to be mixed up with mystery and murder?
The half hour of freedom passed quickly. They were surprised when Fothergill overtook them and suggested that it was time to return.
“I don’t want to go back,” smiled Myra frankly.
“Neither do I,” agreed Jimmy. “But I expect Gloom will be waiting for us.”
THE inspector was strolling slowly to and fro in the courtyard of the Dog and Gun. His hands were clasped behind his back and his tonsured head was thrust forward, giving him a vulture-like aspect.
“Hope you’re feeling better, Miss Livingstone,” he croaked. “I’ve been wondering what you’ll do about clothes. We shall probably want you to stay here for a few days, and you’ve no baggage. Hadn’t you better have some sent on?”
"There’s no one to send it on,” replied Myra. “My friend won’t return to the flat until this week end.”
“Well, perhaps we’ll find some other way. Mr. Harrison, I wonder if you’d be good enough to drive us out to Withens?’
“Sure,” agreed Jimmy; and backed the car out of the garage.
It felt queer to be returning again to the house of mystery on the moorland, queerer still to walk up the stairs and look into Room 16. There was now no sign of the tragedy that had occurred there. The body had been removed. The shutters were flung back and bright sunlight poured in through the open window.
“Might all have been a dream,” muttered Jimmy.
“The evidence to the contrary lies in the mortuary,” said Gloom, licking his thin lips as though the idea pleased him. "Courtesy title for a vault beneath the church. Sir Basil Thwaite will be here this morning to make an examination.
I’m afraid he won't think much of the accommodation, but it’s the best we can do.”
He led them into the next room and dragged a large square box from a corner.
“These yours, Miss Livingstone?” he asked, lifting the lid.
The box was full of feminine garments, stockings, shoes and hats in extraordinary confusion.
“Help, yes!” exclaimed Myra, regarding the contents with dismay. “They’re mine.”
“Pack ’em yourself?”
“Good gracious, no!”
“I thought not. It looks more like a man’s work.”
“When did you find this box?” asked Jimmy.
"Then why did you ask Miss Livingstone whether she could have clothes sent—Oh, I see ! Another trap, or test, as you call it.”
“There is a subtle but important difference,” explained Gloom, “between the young lady bringing the clothes with her and someone else bringing them with her. I hadn’t much doubt about the matter, but I do like to be sure whenever possible. Unfortunately, it’s so rarely possible. I’ll have the box sent on to the Dog and Gun, Miss Livingstone. In the meantime I’d like you to show me the rock where you saw the gentleman with the binoculars.”
They walked out to the front of the house. From here the queerly shaped boulder was plainly visible, and Myra had no difficulty in identifying it.
“You don’t mind a little walk, perhaps?” asked the inspector. “Good! Then we’ll stroll up and see if he left any traces behind him.”
There was no question of strolling up the hillside. It was a pretty stiff climb over rough, broken ground clothed with bracken and dotted with weirdly shaped rocks. All three of them were somewhat breathless when they reached their objective.
Proof that Myra’s eyes had not deceived her was readily forthcoming. At the side of the boulder the rough grass was flattened where someone had lain at full length. Poking among the grass, Gloom picked up a couple of cigarette ends.
“Looks as though your ‘Sergeant Grimes’ didn’t go very
far away, doesn’t it?” he said. “A most determined sort of person he must be.”
"You think that he saw Miss Livingstone in the car, and tried to recapture her in the loft last night?”
“I don’t like to think that, Mr. Harrison, but I’m afraid I must.”
“Then it doesn’t seem as though he knew that the man with the burned face was up there? I mean, he hadn’t anything to do with the digging up of the body?”
“He didn’t know of the other way up to the loft, at any rate. That’s as far as we can get just now. I’m off to interview the old couple who kept house for Gregory Walker. I don’t suppose we’ll be lucky enough to learn anything, but you’d better come with me, I think.”
“You don’t intend letting us out of your sight, do you?” asked Myra.
“Not if I can help it, Miss Livingstone.”
“I should have thought,” said Jimmy rather heatedly, “that it must be perfectly evident by now to any reasonable being that we know nothing more about this business than we have told you.”
“I’m afraid that’s true,” sighed Gloom. “Makes my task dreadfully difficult, doesn’t it? I don’t suppose it has occurred to you that I might have another reason for wishing to keep an eye on you.”
T-TE STRODE AWAY, leaving them to follow. Jimmy felt snubbed. He glanced at Myra, wondering if she had caught the implication of the inspector’s words. She smiled at him.
“He’s changed his mind about us,” she whispered. “He thinks now that we need protection.”
“I believe I’ve hurt his feelings.”
“Serve him right. He shouldn’t be such a miserable old blighter.”
They walked back to the car in silence. Jimmy wondered what the Scotland Yard man was thinking. Apparently he had abandoned his suspicions of both of them and had accepted them as genuine. His attitude seemed to indicate that he expected a further attempt to capture the girl.
It did not take long to reach the cottage, halfway between Withens and Soyland, where the old couple who had looked.
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The Case of the Painted Girl
Continued from page 24
! after Gregory Walker lived. Both husband ; and wife, of course, had already been interviewed by the police, and were very upset and frightened about it all.
In spite of Gloom's adroit questioning, they could add nothing more to what they had already told.
Gregory Walker, they said, had occupied Withens for about two years and had ! always been a good master to them. He had been away the whole of last winter, over six months.
On Sunday they had visited the house in the ordinary way to see that all was in order. They had been amazed and shocked to find the man lying in the library with his face in the fire. It had never occurred to them to doubt his identity. He was the same size as Gregory Walker, and wearing one of his suits.
“He’d not been dead long, I suppose, Mr. Sutcliffe?” asked Gloom.
“I see. Had he many visitors when he
was at home?”
“Never saw one. sir. We often used to think it was strange, him living all alone and solitary like.”
“Perhaps friends came to see him after you had gone home, Mr. Sutcliffe. What did he do with himself all day?” j “He went out for walks, and he used to sit and read a lot.”
“Yes, sir. I’m afraid he did.”
“Well, thank you very much,” said Gloom after further questions had assured him that the old couple could tell nothing more. “Remember that you mustn’t gossip about this.”
He seemed even more mournful than usual as they left the cottage.
YfR. GRINLING JACOBS, solicitor, AVJwas a pompous little man with a fat chubby face, occupying a very small office in the main street of Haliford. He had already been notified of the death of the real Gregory Walker, and at the second inquest had professed himself unable to give any information about his client beyond what he had said on the previous occasion.
At Gloom’s request, he repeated the details of his association with the dead man.
Walker had come to him, two years ago. to arrange about renting the house known as Withens which, of course, was the property of Lord Ernville. He had given a London banker’s reference which was quite satisfactory, and the matter had been carried through without any difficulty. The ; rent had always been paid in advance and. in addition. Mr. Jacobs was entrusted with a
sum of money with which to pay the weekly wages of the Sutcliffes whether Walker was at home or not. No other business of any sort had passed through his hands.
“That doesn’t help us much,” muttered Gloom. “What do you know of the man himself?”
“Nothing whatsoever,” replied Mr. Jacobs.
“Can you tell us where he went on his frequent absences from Withens?”
“1 have no idea, inspector.”
“Quite so.” Gloom scratched his tonsured head. “There is some talk about him being a great traveller. Can you verify
"I’m afraid I cannot.”
“Quite so,” said Gloom again. “Unfortunately we must now take a very decided interest in his business. I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to help us, Mr. Jacobs. Our task seems to be almost impossible. Perhaps you will give me the name of the London bank with which he dealt.”
“I hope so, indeed,” murmured Jacobs, scribbling an address on a sheet of paper.
; The car made short work of the few miles ¡to Soyland. Outside the Dog and Gun, Major Court, the chief constable, was talking to a tall, dignified looking man with a scholarly face and a pronounced stoop.
! Major Court’s grave, kindly features
expanded into a smile when Myra was introduced.
“So this is the young lady who is the cause of all our trouble,” he said, shaking her hand. “Not quite so stately, perhaps, as Helen of Troy, but—” He extended his hand to Jimmy. “Good morning, Mr. Harrison. I understand that Inspector Gloom has now taken both of you under his wing. Incidentally, you are quite at liberty to proceed to Scotland, provided you will return when necessary for the adjourned inquest. In the circumstances, I think Miss Livingstone had better remain in our care until—”
“I’m not going,” said Jimmy bluntly. “I want to see this thing through.”
“Very well. We’ll be glad enough of your help. This is Sir Basil Thwaite, the pathologist. He has just been making a postmortem examination of the body found in the loft.”
“Find anything, sir?” asked Gloom.
“I think there is no doubt,” said Sir Basil in measured and slightly pedantic tones, “that the man was poisoned.” He adjusted his pince-nez. “The signs are slight, and such as might easily be overlooked by one not accustomed to post-mortem work, but to my mind they are conclusive.”
“That I cannot tell you at the moment, except that it was of vegetable origin. We must wait for the analysis.”
“I don’t suppose it matters much. It seems pretty evident that Walker killed the man before burning his face. Unless, of course—”
The inspector broke off as he caught sight of a man running down the path from the moors.
“Mr. Topp’s in a hurry,” he remarked. “Wonder if someone’s stolen his Roman road.”
Mr. Topp certainly was in a hurry. And when he reached the little group outside the Dog and Gun he seemed on the point of bursting with importance.
“Come on!” he gasped, blinking eagerly through his spectacles. “Be quick. I’ve got a clue.”
“To what?” asked Gloom.
“To the man you’re after. The man who escaped from the loft last night.”
“He’s up on the moor now. I’ve just seen him.”
N/f AJOR COURT and Sir Basil Thwaite AVI had business of their own. After leaving certain instructions Gloom set off, accompanied by Jimmy and Myra, under the guidance of Mr. Topp.
“Do you think it was ‘Sergeant Grimes’ that Mr. Topp saw?” he whispered to Gloom as they came together for a moment on the steep path up the hillside.
"It’s possible, Mr. Harrison.”
“But you don’t really think so?”
“It’s too good to be true.”
At the brow of the hill all trace of a path vanished, and they strode across rough, broken ground, sometimes on soft, naked peat, sometimes on tough, hummocky grass. Mr. Topp began to talk about the lost Roman road, but no one paid any attention to him.
Eventually they reached a point overlooking a ragged gully and saw a tumbledown hut, hidden from earlier view by its sheltered position. In spite of Gloom’s prediction that they would find no trace of “Sergeant Grimes,” Jimmy began to doubt.
They stumbled down the steep bank of the gully to the hut.
"I see two persons have occupied the place quite recently,” said Gloom, pointing out various features. “You can see where a small fire has been made. There are freshly struck matches lying about in considerably greater numbers than would be explained by a casual visit, and silver paper from chocolate or chocolate biscuits.”
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The Case of the Painted Girl
Continued from page 28
“Why do you say there have been two oeople here?’’ asked Myra.
“Footprints, Miss Livingstone. Over here in this patch of sandy soil. Definite and recent impressions of two different feet. One quite big, larger than any of us would make. The other very small.”
“There’s no doubt about that,” agreed Myra, studying the footprints thoughtfully. “This small one looks as though it may have been made by a woman. Perhaps it’s just a case of two lovers picnicking.” “Perhaps. Though that doesn’t explain the man furtively leaving the hut this morning, does it? Was he a big man or a small man, Mr. Topp?”
“I think he was just an average size, inspector. It was difficult to tell from where I was.”
“Quite so. Well, there’s nothing very definite to be picked up here. We’ll have the place watched, of course.
It was rather disappointing. Jimmy realized that, in spite of Gloom’s attitude, he himself had been hoping that something tangible would result from their visit to the hut.
“It looks to me,” he said as they climbed back up the steep side of the gully, “that there’s someone else besides ‘Sergeant Grimes’ mixed up in this business.”
“It does,” agreed Gloom absently. “But I can’t see how a woman fits into it at all. I think it’s time we had some lunch.”
X/f R. TOPP was staying up on the moor to -*-*-*make some more measurements in connection with the Roman road.
They were within sight of the Dog and Gun when a car, carrying Inspector Halkett and a strange young man, came along from the direction of Haliford and stopped at the inn. The inspector caught sight of them descending the hill and came to meet them.
“I’ve got the man who sold that parcel of food we found in the loft,” he announced. “Leonard Bates, assistant at Tiptrees. He remembers the woman quite well.”
“The woman!” echoed Gloom.
“Yes, queer, isn’t it?”
“Queerer than you think. Let’s have a word with him.”
Mr. Leonard Bates had profusely brilliantined hair and a pimply face.
“I couldn’t remember anything about it when Mr. Halkett asked me at first this morning,” he explained nervously. “I'd a vague recollection of making up that parcel but nothing more. I thought about it a lot after Mr. Halkett had gone because I knew it must be important, but I couldn’t get any nearer. Then I suddenly caught sight of a woman passing along the street outside the shop window. Everything came back to me like a flash. I was certain that this was the woman I had made the parcel up for.” “What was she like?” asked Gloom. “Can you describe her? How was she dressed?”
“I—I couldn’t say sir. I didn't notice.” Gloom groaned. “You just stood and stared at her through the window, didn’t you?”
“No, I—I ran out after her. I don’t quite know why. She was walking up the street pretty quickly with the man and—” “What man?” snapped Gloom.
"I don’t know who he was, sir. He was a very' big man.”
“Bigger than either y'ou or Mr. Halkett,
I think,” replied Bates, worried and confused by the interrogation. “I didn’t notice him particularly.”
“You wouldn’t. Well, what happened?” “She turned round and saw me. She pulled at the man’s arm and they hurried up a side street. When I got to it I couldn’t see them anywhere.”
“So you went back to your shop?”
Gloom turned to Halkett.
“You took what steps you could, of course?”
“Yes. But there wasn’t much to go on, was there?”
“There certainly wasn’t. Still, the size of the man may give him away. He is pretty big—I’ve seen his footprints. It may help us a good deal if you can find these two, Halkett. I think you’d better make it your job for the time being.”
“I’ll go through Haliford with a fine-tooth comb,” vowed Halkett.
He carried off Mr. Leonard Bates in the car. For a while Gloom paced slowly about the courtyard, shoulders hunched and tonsured head thrust forward in the familiar vulture-like attitude. Then he returned to Jimmy and Myra, who had been watching him in silence.
“We’re getting deeper into the hole,” he sighed, mournful as ever.
“I suggest a spot of lunch.’
The chiel constable was waiting inside. Sir Basil Thwaite had departed to complete his analysis of the poison he had found.
While detailing the latest developments Gloom was interrupted by a call to the telephone. When he returned his face was set in a horrible scowl.
“More fun," he announced briefly. "The fingerprints of the man with the burned face have been identified. He is on our records at Scotland Yard as Black Ferguson.”
"The news seems to please you,” muttered Jimmy.
“It does, Mr. Harrison. It lends such a charming anticipation to the outlook. Our most recent information about Black Ferguson was that he had joined forces with the most mysterious and elusive personality in London crookdom—”
“By Jove!’’ exclaimed Major Court, startled. “You don’t mean the Tiger?”
“I do mean the Tiger!”
“Then we’re up against a much more dangerous proposition than we imagined.” “We certainly are. I’m sure the Tiger never went to Sunday school; he doesn’t know there’s such a thing as a sixth commandment.” Gloom sighed. “And I’m so very unlucky. The odds are that he’ll get me before I can get him.”
JIMMY had learned by now to discount a good deal of Gloom’s pessimism. Nevertheless he could see that both the Scotland Yard man and Major Court were genuinely worried by the discovery of the identity of the man with the burned face.
“You seem very perturbed about this man,” he said rather impatiently. “Who is lie?”
“If I knew that,” replied Gloom, “I shouldn’t be perturbed.”
“Don’t you even know his name?”
“I know a dozen. If I said ‘Sergeant Grimes,’ that wouldn’t help a lot. would it?” “Good Lord! Do you mean that—”
“I don’t mean anything, Mr. Harrison.
I don’t know enough. But if Black Ferguson was mixed up in this case, the Tiger would have a finger in it, too; and it wouldn’t surprise me if he were responsible for the death of Gregory Walker.”
“But surely you can tell us something about him, inspector,” said Myra.
“No one knows much,” Gloom went on moodily. "I can tell you that the man is a criminal, Miss Livingstone, with a fertile brain, ready resource and inflexible will, and we have reason to believe that he controls a powerful organization.” *
“We’re getting into good company, I must say. And do you really think that the man who called himself ‘Sergeant Grimes’ is the Tiger?” asked Jimmy.
“I do, Mr. Harrison! Or if not the Tiger himself, at least someone in his organization.”
“It sounds ridiculous, ” cried Myra. “Why should a gang of crooks want to kidnap me?” “Why should anyone want to kidnap you, Miss Livingstone?” asked Gloom.
“I expect you sent detectives to the shop to ask about me, didn't you?” observed Myra. “I’ll bet I’ve lost my job.”
The chief constable’s grave, kindly face j expanded into a smile.
I “We didn’t take you on trust, Miss Livingstone. We had very exhaustive en: quiries made in London about you. What we know about you and Mr. Harrison would surprise you.” We have arranged for you to have leave of absence from Berry and Dawn’s until this case is finished. And also for your friend, Miss Fortune, to join you here as soon as she returns from her holiday.”
"How topping of you,” exclaimed Myra. “Then Lily will be here tomorrow. That will be lovely.”
CHE was delighted with the idea. But to ^ Jimmy, guessing that the police were arrangings things so that the girl should never be left alone, it seemed distinctly ominous.
Over coffee, after lunch, they tried to arrange the facts they had learned in some logical sequence.
“It’s pretty hopeless,” mourned Gloom. “I think we’re justified in assuming that Gregory Walker was associated with Black Ferguson and the Tiger in this mysterious conspiracy to kidnap Miss Livingstone. For some reason Walker decided to play a game of his own. He got rid of Black Ferguson and engineered his own apparent death.
; The Tiger, discovering what was going on, killed him. That seems clear enough. But who the deuce are these two people who lived in the hut on the moor?”
“Members of the Tiger’s gang,” suggested Major Court.
“No, no! Everything points to the fact that these two dug up the body of Black Ferguson and left it in the loft. If the Tiger knew that Walker had killed Black : Ferguson, why should he detail two of his gang to dig up the body?”
“It’s possible, isn’t it,” asked Myra thoughtfully, “that this was done first?
! That Gregory Walker was killed after the body had been identified?”
“Possible, certainly,” agreed Gloom. “But not very probable. It wouldn’t be necessary for them to carry the body of a fellow member of the gang into that loft in order to identify it.”
“Why did they carry it into the loft, then?” asked Jimmy.
“When we know that, Mr. Harrison, we shall be near to solving the mystery.”
rT'HE afternoon passed very pleasantly. -L In the busy streets of Bradfield, the mystery that hung over the moorland seemed remote and unreal.
But as soon as they returned to the Dog and Gan, they found themselves back in the thick of it.Inspector Gloom was finishing a telephone conversation.
“Negative results all the time,” he sighed as he joined them. “We don’t seem to make a bit of progress.”
The manager of Gregory Walker’s bank in London had been interviewed, but could give no information about the dead man. His account had never been a large one. Up to a few years ago it had been kept going mainly by cheques from publishers and lecturing agencies. More recently all payments into it had been made by cash.
“So that particular line of investigation comes to a dead end,” said Gloom mournfully.
After tea Jimmy and Myra strolled out into the dusk. Gloom was busy writing in his room, but they hadn’t gone far before they realized that their old friend, Constable Fothergill, was following them like a faithful dog.
“Pretty awful, isn’t it?” asked Myra. “Makes you feel like a criminal.” She shivered a little. “I’d never do for that. Terrible feeling to know that there is always someone on your track.”
“It’s not pleasant,” agreed Jimmy. “But we can’t blame the police for trying to protect you. I feel sure that Gloom expects ‘Sergeant Grimes’ to make another attempt to kidnap you, and we’re not going to let that happen without a struggle.”
The girl turned to face him and he could see her eyes glowing warmly in the dusk.
“I’m not frightened of that, Mr. Harrison,” she said softly, “while I’ve such good friends.”
Everyone at the Dog and Gan went to bed early that night. Jimmy was glad to lay his head on the pillow. The last two nights had been disturbed, to say the least, and he was tired out. He was also very happy, though he didn’t know why. He slept peacefully, and awoke the next morning feeling very much refreshed and still unaccountably content with life.
He went down to breakfast whistling cheerfully. There was no one in the little dining room when he entered it, but Inspector Gloom came in almost immediately, looking miserable and morose as usual.
“Morning, inspector,” Jimmy greeted him heartily. “Lovely day.”
“Very, Mr. Harrison. Charming.”
There was a heavy sarcasm in the reply that sounded ominous.
“What’s the matter?” asked Jimmy. “Anything gone wrong?”
“Oh, no. Nothing. Except that Walker’s body has disappeared from the mortuary.” “Gregory Walker’s? Stolen?”
“Yes,” nodded Gloom sombrely. “Someone’s run off with it during the night.”
To be continued