The story: While motoring from London to Scotland at night, Jimmy Harrison is halted at a lonely house by a scream. He enters by a window and finds a recently murdered man; also a girl, her face curiously covered with paint, lying unconscious. She recovers immediately and slates that she is Myra Livingstone, a London shop girl; that she was drugged and kidnapped for an unknown reason.
As he peers out a window into the dark garden, Jimmy is slightly wounded by a dagger thrown at him. Finding two pistols, he hands one to the girl and searches the house alone. He returns, but Myra has vanished. A man who gives the name “Sergeant Grimes" enters and knocks Jimmy temporarily unconscious, then a real constable. Fothergill, arrives and states that the dead man is Gregory Walker, who was supposed to have been recently buried. Walker's grave is empty.
Myra Livingstone, scared out of the house when “Sergeant Grimes" entered, hides in Jimmy's car and is driven to the near-by village of Soyland, where Jimmy is kept under surveillance by the police. She secretes herself in a barn loft there, fires at a nocturnal intruder, and is discovered. Later a body is found in the loft.
Inspector Gloom, arriving from Scotland Yard, is confronted by a complicated state of affairs. The body found is the one that was buried in the belief—because the face was burned away—that it was Gregory Walker's. It is really the body of Black Ferguson, henchman of an infamous criminal known as the Tiger. The real Gregory Walker, killed in the big house, was a mysterious local resident, and now it appears that he also was a member of the Tiger gang. The Tiger himself, still at large, may have been the man who called himself “Sergeant Grimes.”
Evidently Myra Livingstone was kidnapped by the Tiger or by his order, but why remains a mystery.
An antiquarian named Tapp, interested in the Roman road which runs through Soyland, hangs around and bores everyone with his pedantic conversation.
The body of Gregory Walker, which was taken from the big house to a mortuary, is stolen.
JIMMY stared at the inspector in open-mouthed astonishment.
"Well !” he exclaimed. “Of all the—What the deuce is the idea?”
“Search me,” said Gloom briefly. “I'm beaten.”
"It seems so reasonless, doesn’t it? Why should anybody want to steal the body of a dead man?”
“Heaven knows. But they took pretty desperate risks to get it. And they knocked out the guard. It’s doubtful whether he’ll recover.”
“The guard?” echoed Jimmy. “Surely you weren’t expecting something of this kind to happen?”
“I’m expecting anything to happen, Mr. Harrison. I thought I’d prepared against anything. I was wrong. How the devil this trick was pulled off, I don’t know.” “When did you find out about it?”
“About an hour ago. One of our men went to the mortuary to relieve the guard, who had been on duty all night. He found the poor fellow stretched senseless on the floor with his head broken. Evidently he’d been taken quite by surprise, and had no chance to blow his whistle. There were two or three colleagues within hearing.
“The finder came to tell me, and we’ve got the injured man off to hospital. There’s not a sign of Gregory Walker’s body; and no clue, so far as I could tell from a hurried search, as to what’s become of it. We may find something when we make a more careful examination after breakfast."
"It’s the queerest thing I ever heard of,” muttered Jimmy. His feeling of contentment had been shattered. “What will they do next?”
“There’ll be no answering that question,” said Gloom, shaking his tonsured head, “until we’ve laid our hands on the Tiger.”
Myra came downstairs, full of smiles and vitality. Mr. Topp followed almost on her heels, and breakfast was served.
The girl’s laughing face grew grave when she heard the news. Mr. Topp’s eyes opened wide behind his spectacles.
“But this is most extraordinary, inspector,” he said. “I can’t conceive how—Surely you have had the roads watched?”
“Of course. Every car passing through this district has been stopped, on the excuse of inspecting licenses. This gives us the chance of a brief examination of every vehicle.” Gloom sighed heavily. "But we can do no more than that.”
"It doesn’t seem to have been enough, does it?” Mr. Topp filled his cup with coffee from the jug on the sideboard, and refilled Myra’s at the same time. “I do hope, inspector, that you have taken adequate precautions to protect Miss Livingstone from any further unpleasantness.”
“I hope so, too. Mr. Topp. I’ve done what I can. But it’s too much to expect any man to foretell the future with accuracy.”
“You’re your usual cheery self this morning, inspector,” murmured Myra.
When the meal was over, Mr. Topp gave his daily invitation to the world at large to accompany him on an inspection of the Roman road. As always, the invitation was politely declined, and he stalked off alone, looking rather offended.
The others made their way to the little church on the edge of the moor close to the cemetery. The constable on duty there saluted rather nervously, and led them down to the vault which had been used as a mortuary.
A damp, chilly cell, with the earthy smell characteristic of stone chambers underground intermingled with the pungent odor of disinfectant. Jimmy shivered slightly as he peered round in the half light.
There was nothing much to be seen. A bare board on trestles occupied the middle of the vault. One or two bottles and a couple of paraffin lamps stood against the wall. Apart from these, the place was empty.
“Black Ferguson was reburied yesterday afternoon,” explained Gloom, “after Sir Basil had finished with him. We’d intended burying Gregory Walker today. Expect they’d have dug him up, too, if they hadn’t managed to carry him off first.”
He started on a careful examination of the vault. Jimmy noticed that Myra was uncomfortable.
“Suppose we wait upstairs, inspector?” he suggested. “We shan’t be any help to you here.”
“All right,” nodded Gloom. "The constable can come with you. Don’t go away, please.”
Out in the bright morning sunshine the girl drew a deep breath.
“Hateful down there, wasn’t it?” she said. “He seems to revel in it.”
“It’s his job, after all,” Jimmy reminded her.
She looked dreamily round at tine heather-clad hills drowsing in the sun.
“Queer, isn’t it, to think of all this going on in such surroundings? You can’t see a soul anywhere on the moors, but there’s a desperate struggle hidden away in them. Criminals planning and scheming, police watching and searching.” She turned back abruptly. “And it seems to me, Mr. Harrison, that the criminals are winning.”
“We certainly haven’t made much progress,” confessed Jimmy. “I can’t understand how they managed to steal that body when all the roads are watched. It looks almost as though—” He broke off as the girl's face was twisted with a spasm of pain. “What’s the matter, Miss Livingstone? Are you ill?”
“It—it’s nothing,” she faltered, recovering. “Tummy-ache. Must have been eating too much.”
“Would you like to go back to—”
“Oh, no. It’s nothing at all. It’s quite gone now.”
She sat down on a low stone wall. Jimmy watched her anxiously. It would be awkward if she were taken ill just now. But her color, which had faded, soon returned; and in a few moments she was as cheerful as before.
They discussed their problems until Gloom joined them, looking even more unhappy than usual.
“Same old luck,” he announced mournfully. “Not a clue to help us. Not a hint as to how the thing was done.”
"You’re stuck again, then?” said Myra.
“Yes, Miss Livingstone, I’m stuck again. Unless there's anything in the reports of the men who were watching the road last night that will give us a line. They ought to be in by now. I think we’ll walk back and see.”
HALFWAY BACK, they were met by Sir Basil Thwaite, who had been sent on after them from the Dog and Gun. He lost a little of his dignity and precision when he heard the news.
“Remarkable occurrence, very,” he commented, falling into step with them. “I don’t remember hearing of such a case in all my experience. What’s at the bottom of it. Gloom?”
“The devil,” replied Gloom promptly. “And he hasn’t taken me into his confidence yet. But there’s something simmering in my mind. Did Gregory Walker bear any easily identifiable marks that distinguished him from Black Ferguson? Apart from his features, I mean?”
“Yes,” said Sir Basil thoughtfully, twiddling his pincenez. “He had a gunshot wound on the left arm. Fairly recent, I should think; certainly within the last year. A definite scar near the elbow.”
“That’s it, then,” said Gloom.
“That’s what?” asked Jimmy.
“A partial explanation of what has happened. For some unknown reason, some unknown person or persons wants the body of Gregory Walker. Hearing of his death and burial, they dig him up and carry him to the loft. Here they find that the body is not that of the real Walker. They leave it there and take an early opportunity of rectifying their mistake.”
“By Jove, yes! That must be right, inspector. But why should they want the body?”
“Mr. Harrison. I'm not a thought reader.”
They walked on a little way in silence.
"I was lucky enough to be invited to use the laboratory at Leeds University for the completion of my analysis.” said Sir Basil after a while. "I managed to isolate the poison we found in Ferguson. It is scopolamine."
Gloom glanced at Myra.
“I came to the conclusion that this was the drug that had been administered to Miss Livingstone.”
"It is quite likely.” Sir Basil was his usual meticulous and rather pedantic self again. “From what I was told, the symptoms were quite in conformity with that supposition. Scopolamine is a curious drug. Small doses induce sleep, insensibility to pain, and transient loss of memory. A large dose will cause stupo and death. The frequent and continual taking of even small doses may lead to complete and permanent loss of memory. It is not a habit-forming drug, as a rule; but there is one well-known case of a man who became an addict. He ended, of course, in an asylum, without an identity or an ego. He was not insane in the usual sense of the word. Simply, he didn’t know who he was. Most pathetic. He would eagerly believe any suggestion, however wild, as to his identity.”
“Horrible!” she murmured. “Why should such a beastly thing be given to me?”
“As to that. Miss Livingstone, I cannot offer an opinion. Unless it was to make you forget.”
“Presumably whatever had happened to you.”
“Is the stuff easy to get hold of?” asked Gloom.
Sir Basil shrugged his stooping shoulders.
“It's a scheduled poison,” he replied. “But, as you know, there are ways.”
When they reached the Dog and Gun, the pathologist, his work finished until his evidence should be required at the adjourned inquest, drove off to catch a train to London. After some time spent at the telephone, Gloom tackled a mass of reports that had arrived for him.
“Still negatives,” he sighed, turning over the papers. "No sign of your ‘Sergeant Grimes’— the Tiger, in my opinion. Halkett’s not been able to trace the big man and his companion. No further information about Walker. No one in London has been able to get on the track of Black Ferguson. That’s our most promising line of investigation and it’s blocked. Oh, help! Numbers of all cars that passed through this area last night, and names of their drivers, as taken from the licenses. We’ll have to look ’em all up. Hello! What’s this? Now, I wonder Mr. Harrison, will you ask Helliwell to come in for a minute, please?”
Sam Helliwell, the landlord, waddled into the room, eager to oblige.
“Where’s Intake Farm?” asked Gloom.
"On the edge of the moor, sir. Near to the church.”
"Ah! Near to the church, is it? Do you know anything of the tenant, Joshua Wade?”
"Not much, sir. Queer sort o’ chap ’e is. Quiet, like. Keeps ’isself to ’isself.”
“Ever been in trouble, to your knowledge?”
“Aye, that 'e as. sir. Leastways, ’e were brought up once for stealing a couple o' cows. They do say ’e’d ’a’ got twelve months if it ’adn’t been for Mr. Jacobs speaking for ’im.”
“Mr. Jacobs defended him? Grinling Jacobs of Haliford?”
“That's right, sir.”
Gloom’s thin lips were drawn back over his irregular teeth.
“All right, thank you, Helliwell. That will do.”
“What is it?” asked Jimmy eagerly, as soon as the innkeeper was out of the room.
“I don’t know yet, Mr. Harrison. Where’s the report on Jacobs? Here we are. Police court in morning. At his office again after lunch. Visited by several clients. Yes. yes. Evening spent at home until—By Jove! Listen to this:
" ‘At eight p.m. a farm cart bearing the name of Joshua Wade. Intake Farm, drove into the yard. Took away what looked like a collection of discarded rubbish—old clothes and furniture. At eight-thirty Jacobs drove out with his wife toward Littleton. Returned an hour later.’ Surely it’s too much to hope that we’ve struck a patch of luck at last.”
“What's it all about?” begged Myra. "Do tell us.”
“Well, this Joshua Wade drove his cart from Haliford to Intake Farm last night. He was out again this morning before daylight in the opposite direction—toward Littleton. Coupled with the fact that he’d been to Jacobs’ house, this seems very significant to me.”
“I don't see-- ”
"Neither do I, exactly. But we’re going to keep a very close watch on Mr. Grinling Jacobs.”
INSPECTOR GLOOM went to the telephone and gave some instructions. Then he strolled out into the yard and paced about, with shoulders hunched and tonsured head thrust forward in the vulture-like attitude he so frequently assumed while meditating.
Myra and Jimmy were very puzzled. Neither of them could see why the inspector should consider Joshua Wade’s visit to the Haliford solicitor so significant.
“I can't reckon it up.” confessed Myra. “But I knew that Jacobs’ man wasn’t to be trusted."
“Gloom evidently thought so, too,” agreed Jimmy. “They’ve been watching the man pretty closely.”
“I hope he'll tell us what it's all about. All this mystery is getting on my nerves.”
“You’re not feeling quite yourself this morning, are you?”
“No. I think seeing Lily will buck me up. I got a letter from her this morning. She arrives at Haliford at 3.45.”
“Shall I run you in to meet her?”
“That’s very nice of you. If Inspector Gloom will allow it. I wish he’d hurry up.”
It was not long before the inspector rejoined them. Judging by his expression, the result of his meditations was none too cheerful.
“Well?” asked Myra.
"Nothing, Miss Livingstone. I’ve just been making a guess that Grinling Jacobs was mixed up in the conspiracy to steal Gregory Walker’s body.”
“That’s not very clever. I could have guessed it long ago. Why don’t you arrest him?”
“Impulsive youth,” murmured Gloom. “So charming and so reckless. I don’t arrest him, for two reasons. First, I've nothing against him except my guess; second, if I give him rope he may hang himself.”
“Then what’s all the excitement about?” asked Jimmy. "And this farm cart business?”
“The farm cart suggests to me how the body was stolen. And the excitement, as you call it, is because I think we’re on the track of the thieves. If we can find a garage down Littleton way from which a car was taken out by a woman last night--."
“Well, why don’t we go?”
“Men are already making enquiries. Miss Livingstone. We’ll hear from them as soon as there’s anything to report.”
Gloom would say no more. He busied himself with his papers, and Jimmy and Myra were left to their own devices. Having written some postcards, they strolled out into the sun-bathed village street.
“Are we actually free for a moment?” asked the girl, surprised.
Jimmy looked round carefully and shook his head.
"Fothergill’s watching us from his cottage. There’s a man on the war memorial seat who looks like a tramp. He’s watching us, too. No, I don't think we’re free.”
'The inspector certainly doesn't intend anyone to run off with me. Still, they got Gregory Walker’s body in spite of all the precautions.”
"Oh, that was different,” said Jimmy uneasily. "The attempt was quite unexpected, and it came from an unexpected quarter. In your case we are forearmed. Only ordinary vigilance is required to ensure your safety.”
He did not feel, however, so confident as he pretended. It seemed impossible that anything could happen to Myra with so many police about; and he himself was keeping his eyes open. Still, they had proof that their unknown enemies were full of resource and guile. It would be foolish to relax any precaution, still more foolish to imagine that all danger was past.
They dropped their cards into the post-office and strolled back to the inn. Gloom was still busy with his reports, making notes in a ragged little pocketbook that he carried.
“There’s one thing emerging from the mess and muddle,” he said, rubbing his sharp nose reflectively. “We’ve got to find out something about Gregory Walker. He’s the core of the mystery. When we’ve got him taped, the whole thing will become clear.”
“You’re getting quite cheerful and excised about it all, inspector,” smiled Myra. “Actually considering the possibility of something being discovered.”
For once, in a way, Gloom seemed at a loss for words. He flushed like any child caught in some peccadillo, and obviously welcomed the call to the telephone which came as a diversion at that moment.
When he returned he had recovered his aplomb.
“One of our men thinks he’s found that garage at Littleton.” he announced. “Will you run us in, Mr. Harrison?”
IT WAS not long before they were speeding along the moorland road to Littleton. On two occasions constables in uniform appeared in the roadway with the evident intention of stopping the car, stepping back only when they recognized the inspector.
“You’re certainly keeping a pretty close watch,” said Jimmy. “Surely it’s impossible for ‘Sergeant Grimes’—the Tiger. I suppose I should call him—to have escaped observation? He must have left the district.”
“I wish I could think so, Mr. Harrison,” replied Gloom. “If I knew what had become of him, I’d feel a lot more comfortable.”
At the garage in Littleton they picked up a thread which seemed as though it might lead to something of importance. A large car had been brought into the garage on Tuesday by a woman. It had been taken out by the same woman late the previous night. The registration number was available.
Sounds like our people,” said Gloom. "I think my guess must have been right. The car was probably hired or stolen, but we’ll have it traced.” He gave some instructions to the detective who had found the garage. “Now what’s the next item on the agenda?” He glanced at his watch. “I thought so. Lunch.”
They drove back to Soyland. Myra went straight to her room and did not appear for lunch. She sent word down by the maid that she didn’t feel too well, and intended to rest for an hour or so.
“Hope she’s not going to be ill,” muttered Jimmy anxiously, starting on the soup. “Rotten nuisance that would be.”
“For her, yes,” agreed Gloom. “But it might ease the situation for us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Much simpler to protect her if she’s confined to bed.”
The cold-blooded animal! Jimmy applied himself to the meal in dignified silence. For a while nothing more was said. Then, suddenly, he was startled by a muffled exclamation from his companion.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“I was thinking of Miss Livingstone’s friend who is due to arrive this afternoon. What’s her name?”
“That’s right. What a combination we shall have, eh? Gloom and Miss Fortune. Ha. ha!”
Jimmy stared. Apparently the inspector was laughing, but he could see no sign of mirth on the sombre face.
“Funny, very,” he said shortly. “Don’t know when I heard a better joke.”
He was sorry afterward that he had spoken like this. But the complications and the mysteries were beginning to get on his nerves. And he was really anxious about Myra.
She came downstairs later, her face pale and drawn, obviously unfit to be out of bed. Jimmy suggested a doctor, but she wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted that she couldn't go to Haliford to meet Lily Fortune, and she had to agree with him. She promised to go back to bed at once if he’d meet Lily and bring her along. Inspector Gloom approved of this plan, provided Jimmy took Constable Fothergill with him.
There was no difficulty in recognizing Miss Lily Fortune. Her flaming red hair and freckled face announced her identity as soon as she stepped out of the railway carriage. Jimmy explained the situation to the best of his ability as he drove her back to Soyland.
At the Dog and Gun he introduced her to everyone, including Mr. Topp, who hoped that she would be interested in the Roman road. For the moment Lily was interested in nothing but Myra. She ran upstairs at once, and in less than two minutes ran down again.
“I say, she’s really ill!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t there a doctor in this hole?”
“I suggested that,” said Jimmy. "But she wouldn’t have one.”
“Well, she’ll have one now.” Lily’s red lips set into a determined line. “You get him. I’ll attend to her.”
Dr. Wilson came immediately. Jimmy I waited downstairs with Gloom and Mr. Topp, and could not conceal his anxiety.
“Don’t meet trouble halfway, Mr. Harrison.” said Mr. Topp kindly. “It may be nothing serious.”
Jimmy made no reply. He paced restlessly about the place until, after what seemed an age, Wilson came slowly down the stairs.
The doctor’s white hair was ruffled and his face grave.
“Acute appendicitis. I’m afraid.” he announced briefly. “We’ll have to get her to a hospital.”
“An operation?” asked Jimmy breathlessly.
“Yes; but don’t worry. We’ve caught it in time and she’ll be all right. We'd better telephone to Haliford for the ambulance.”
LILY FORTUNE insisted on accompanying her friend.
The ambulance arrived within half an hour. Myra was carried down on a stretcher, and Jimmy bit his lips when she tried to smile at him in spite of her pain. If anything happened to her! If anything went wrong during the operation !
They were just ready to start when Mr. Topp hurried out of the inn.
“I’d forgotten.” he explained. “I have to go into Haliford this evening. Might I have a lift?”
“Sure.” said Jimmy, making room for him. “Jump in.”
No one had much to say as they followed the ambulance.
Halfway to Haliford the ambulance began to misfire. At a point where the road passed between two large rocks, it stopped. The driver descended from his seat and lifted the bonnet.
Jimmy drew up immediately behind.
“What’s the trouble?” he called.
“Ignition, sir,” replied the driver. “It’s bin a bit of a nuisance lately.”
He took off his cap and coat and busied himself with the magneto. Jimmy went to his assistance, and Gloom and Mr. Topp followed. Lily Fortune climbed out of the ambulance to discover the reason for the I stoppage.
The men bent over the defective engine.
“It looks all right,” said Jimmy. “I can’t see anything wrong with it.”
“There isn’t anything wrong with it, Mr. Harrison.” a voice chuckled above his head, “except a convenient switch.”
They looked up, startled. Mr. Topp had climbed into the driver’s seat. He was beaming at them through his spectacles, but an ugly automatic pistol gleamed evilly in his hand.
“Get back to the side of the road, all of you.” he continued. “There’s no need for anyone to be hurt.”
Gloom took a quick step forward. The automatic spat, and his hat whizzed off his head.
“I can shoot better than that, inspector,” said Mr. Topp calmly. “Take the warning.”
Before anyone could move he had pressed the starter, and the engine roared into life, i Keeping the automatic well in evidence, he slipped in the first gear.
“Don’t make me shake up Miss Livingstone more than is necessary,” he said. “She’s really very ill, you know.”
The ambulance slid gently away.
“Mr. Topp!” muttered Gloom hoarsely. “The Tiger!”
FOR a moment they all stood petrified with surprise, watching the disappearing ambulance. Then Gloom grabbed the driver.
“You know something about this,” he snarled. “Quick, Mr. Harrison. The car!”
Jimmy dashed for his car. The ignition key was missing. He had a duplicate somewhere and searched frantically in the tool box.
Gloom dragged the driver into the nimble seat, while Lily Fortune slipped in beside Jimmy.
"Drive as fast as you can,” urged Gloom. ‘‘Don’t waste time making enquiries when the road branches. Get to the nearest telephone.”
Jimmy pressed the accelerator. He felt certain he could catch that ambulance before it got very far. Almost immediately there was a loud hiss and one of his tires collapsed, followed by a second.
He jumped out to investigate.
“Tacks in the road,” he said grimly. ! “Dozens of ’em.”
"You can drive on flat tires, can’t you?” asked Gloom.
“Yes, but not so quickly. We can’t catch him.”
“Never mind that. Get to a telephone.”
The car rattled and bumped forward. Another tire went, but Jimmy kept the machine moving as fast as he could. In a few minutes they were in a suburb of Haliford with a post-office across the way.
“Keep an eye on this bird. Mr. Harrison,” said Gloom, jumping out. “We may be just in time, but I doubt it.”
He returned in a few minutes.
“The police are on the lookout for that ambulance,” he said. “He can’t get away with it. The only question is whether he’ll be caught before he has the opportunity to transfer to another car. There’s a garage over there, Mr. Harrison. Better let them take your bus in and repair those tires. I asked the station to send another car for us.”
By the time Jimmy had arranged with the garage proprietor for the repair of his tires the police car had arrived. They bundled into it and were driven straight to the central police station.
Here Inspector Halkett met them, and led them into his office.
“The ambulance drove through Haliford five minutes before you phoned,” he said. “Our men, of course, had no suspicions, and did not stop it.”
“Naturally,” nodded Gloom. “He’s a cunning devil. There’s no other way in which he could have got Miss Livingstone through the cordon. And now that he’s through it, he’ll abandon the ambulance unless we’re lucky enough to catch him first.”
“All stations have been notified. How the deuce did he do it.”
“Here’s the man who can tell you that.” Gloom pushed forward the driver, who looked as though he could not comprehend what was happening. “He’s been got at.”
Halkett stared at the man in surprise. “Why, I’ve known Dawson for years. What the devil have you been doing, man?” Dawson's honest face showed his bewilderment.
“I —I don’t know, sir,” he stammered. “I’ve been fooled, I think.”
“You’ve helped a desperate criminal to kidnap a girl.”
“So I understand now. But, honest, sir, I’d no idea. None at all. He came to me this morning and asked if I’d be on duty this afternoon. When I said yes, he said I could do him a great favor. His niece was going into the hospital. He didn’t want her to go to it but into a nursing home where he thought she’d receive better attention. Her father was stubborn and wouldn’t hear of it, because he couldn't afford the fees. This man—Topp, he said his name was—wanted to pay the fees, but he couldn’t persuade the young lady’s father. So he said if I’d just stop the ambulance -pretend to break down—he’d be following behind in a car, and he’d have the opportunity of talking to the young lady alone. Then, if he could persuade her. I should drive her to the nursing home instead of the hospital.”
“How much did he pay you?” snapped Gloom.
“He didn’t offer me any money.” Dawson flushed. “If he had. I might have guessed there was something wrong.”
“It sounds a pretty feeble sort of story, Dawson,” said Halkett doubtfully.
"I know it does, sir -now. But it sounded all right to me this morning. I'd no idea he meant any harm. I was just as surprised as anyone when he jumped into the car and pointed the gun at us.”
Halkett glanced at Gloom, who nodded.
“I expect he’s speaking the truth,” he said morosely. “It sounds darned silly, but we’ve to remember whom we’re dealing with. If he can fool us for two or three days, he can fool-- ”
The telephone rang. Halkett took the message.
“The ambulance has been found,” he announced. "In a side lane beyond the tram terminus on the Bradfield road."
"He’s got away, then.” Gloom paced restlessly about the office. “You’ll circulate his description and that of the girl, of course. Not much hope that way, I’m afraid. Better bring in Jacobs and Wade, and see if you can dig anything out of them. I’ll be surprised if they know anything. I'm going to slip back to Soyland and search his room. Another forlorn hope, too. Mr. Harrison, I’ll take you and Miss Fortune back, if you like."
"Is--isn’t there anything more we can do?” asked Jimmy desperately.
“I’ll be glad if you can suggest anything. But I want to be off. Make up your mind. Coming or not?”
"Yes, I'm coming,” said Jimmy.
AS THEY drove back to Soyland he tried to collect his scattered wits.
“It's easy to be wise after the event, inspector,” he said, “but I don’t see how you could have suspected Mr. Topp. I certainly didn’t. It’s a pity, of course, as things have turned out, that you didn't make enquiries—”
“You don't suppose I’m such a dud as to neglect so elementary a precaution? It was the first thing I did after verifying your identity. He’d given a London address in the inn register and I had enquiries made there. The house, so our men discovered, was occupied by a Professor Simeon Topp, lecturer on archaeology at Queen’s College, who was at present on holiday somewhere in the north of England.”
“Then this professor --”
“Don’t you believe it. The Tiger’s been cute enough to borrow the identity of a living man, that’s all.
The car drew up at the Dog and Gun. Gloom jumped out and hurried into the inn.
Lily Fortune looked at Jimmy with frightened eyes. "What are we going to do, Mr. Harrison?” she faltered.
“Heaven knows,” he muttered.
They paced miserably about the yard until the inspector reappeared. He shook his head in reply to their enquiring glances.
"Nothing,” he said. "A few fingerprints which may be useful for identifying him later on, but no help to us now because they’ll not be on our records. He burned some papers before he left, but he took darned good care to pulverize the ashes. I rescued one little scrap which was completely burned but not broken up. It's just a corner of an envelope. Not a bit likely to tell us anything, though we may possibly be able to decipher the postmark."
"What are we going to do now?" asked Jimmy.
"Get back to Haliford -- see if anything's turned up. I expect you'll want to come along, too?"
"You bet we shall," agreed Lily, with an emphatic nod of her red head.
They drove back to the police station at Haliford. There was no news of the Tiger and Myra.
"We’ve just got word through," said Halkett, "that the car which was garaged at Littleton has been found abandoned on the Great North Road near Doncaster. It had been hired for a fortnight from a hire service in London."
"Another dead end,” growled Gloom "We’re certainly up against it this time. I don't suppose you've got an ultra-violet lamp here?”
"Send out and borrow one. Any first-class electrician will have it. Did you bring Jacobs in?”
“Yes. He’s in the next room.”
"I’ll have a word with him while you’re seeing about the lamp.”
GLOOM stalked into the next room, while Halkett dispatched a constable to borrow an ultra-violet lamp. Jimmy and Lily waited impatiently.
It was not long before Gloom returned with Mr. Grinling Jacobs, whom he ushered through into the outer office with a great show of politeness.
Halkett came in as Jacobs went out. Gloom swore under his breath.
“Close as an oyster,” he muttered. “Denied everything. And we haven’t a scrap of evidence against him. Personally I don’t think he knows anything about the Tiger and Miss Livingstone, but I'm sure he was mixed up in the stealing of Gregory Walker’s body. Keep him under close observation, Halkett. And Wade. too. You’ve got the lamp, I see.”
“Yes. What’s the idea?"
"Just a forlorn hope. I picked up the corner of a burned envelope in the Tiger’s room at Soyland which looks as though it may carry a postmark. It’s quite undecipherable in ordinary light. Ultra-violet rays, of course, enable writing which has been chemically or otherwise bleached to be read quite easily. They act the same way with certain inks on paper that has been burned. I'm not expecting any useful result, but we can’t afford to neglect the slightest chance.”
Gloom drew from his pocket a small tin box. Inside this, protected by cotton wool, was a charred, blackened scrap of paper.
The electric light was switched off and the quartz lamp plugged into the socket. Gloom set up the lamp on the desk and carefully placed his tin box beneath it. In the greenish ultra-violet rays his face looked, positively ghastly.
“It’s here all right,” he said after a moment. “Care to see it?”
In turn, they stooped to examine the scrap of paper. The alteration effected by the ultra-violet rays was almost incredible. Clear and distinct, the postmark stood out as though it had just been made—"Pelworth. Herts.” It bore the date of the previous day.
"He had no post delivered in Soyland,” said Gloom. “Probably any letters were addressed to him at the G. P. O. here. Better verify that, Halkett. and see if there’s anything waiting for him. Not likely, because he evidently collected his letters this, morning.”
“Well, Mr. Harrison,” he continued after a moment, “our ways part here. This postmark is the only clue we’ve got. I'll have to see if I can pick up anything at Pelworth.”
"I'm coming with you," protested Jimmy quickly.
"Sorry, you can’t do that. Remember that the Tiger knows both of us. It would be fatal if he should happen to have gone to Pelworth and we both turned up there. It's almost too much to hope that we’ve really got on his track, and we mustn't take the slightest risk. I shall disguise myself very thoroughly before making any enquiries there."
"There’s no ‘but’ about it. Mr. Harrison. You must see that, in a job of this kind, you wouldn't be the slightest use to us. You'd be in the way. You don’t want to stay on here. I suppose? The best thing you can do is to go home to London. I've got your address, and I'll let you know as soon as there's any definite news. I’ll also promise to inform you at once if there’s any way in which you can help.”
TO JIMMY HARRISON it seemed as though the bottom had dropped out of the world. Myra had gone, and the Tiger alone knew where.
After Gloom's departure, he collected his car from the garage and drove back to Soyland with Lily Fortune.
The next morning they decided to take Gloom’s advice and go home. There was nothing to keep them at Soyland, and to Jimmy, at least, the place was full of bitter associations. They set off immediately after breakfast on the 200 mile drive to London.
During lunch at Stamford,Jimmy noticed that the illustrated Sunday papers carried the story of the murder of Gregory Walker. Gloom had managed to keep the press quiet up to the present, and even now details were scanty, although there was a photograph of Walker. There was no mention of Jimmy or Myra, no word of the Tiger.
When they arrived at the flat in Alexandra Road. Lily invited him in. He stood looking round the tiny room with something tugging at his heart. There was a photograph of Myra on the mantelshelf. There were books she had been reading on a little table.
Lily insisted that he must have a cup of tea, and disappeared into the kitchenette to prepare it. He sat waiting, staring at the photograph, which regarded him with such happy, friendly eyes.
Suddenly it occurred to him to wonder whether it was quite safe for Lily to live here alone. It was from this very flat that Myra had been kidnapped. Suppose the Tiger or his emissaries paid a second visit?
He broached the subject to Lily when she returned. She tossed her red head with determination.
“They don't want me. Mr. Harrison,” she said, “or they’d have taken us both together, I can't imagine any reason why they should kidnap Myra, but they obviously chose their opportunity while I was away. Anyhow, I’m stopping here. Myra might need me, and I’m going to stay where she can find me.”
“You mean, she might escape?”
“Well, we’ve no idea what may happen, have we? We don’t know how long these people intend to keep her or what they’re going to do with her. She may come back home sometime, and I’m going to be here. You needn’t worry. The police are watching the place. They told me so.”
Evidently there was no point in arguing, Jimmy finished his tea and rose to go. He looked so longingly at the photograph on the mantelshelf that Lily slipped it out of its frame and handed it to him with a rather wistful smile.
“I know what’s in your mind, Mr. Harrison.” she said. “I suppose I ought to hate you for it, but I don’t. She’s the best pal anyone could have. You’ll let me know as soon as you’ve any news, won’t you?”
“Of course I shall,” answered Jimmy gratefully.
HE DROVE out to Roylston Mansions and garaged the car. His man was away on holiday, but he thought he’d rather scrape along at the flat than go to a hotel. He could have all his meals out, and the caretaker’s wife would attend to his modest needs at home.
The flat, in spite of its comfortable furnishings, looked dreary and uninviting.
If only there was something he could do! He rang up Scotland Yard—Gloom had told him to ask for Chief Inspector Dransfield—but there was no news. Dransfield informed him that Gloom had gone to Pelworth early this morning and that nothing had been heard of him since.
It was inevitable that Jimmy should decide eventually that he must go to Pelworth himself tomorrow. The desire had been nagging at him all day, and he realized now that he simply could not stand this inaction.
At the same time he must be careful not to queer Gloom’s pitch or to run any risk of being recognized. If he could go to Pelworth in disguise, he would at least be able to look about for himself. He felt sure that he would know somehow, if he was anywhere near Myra.
How to disguise himself was the trouble. He hadn’t the faintest idea how to begin. Pondering over this he suddenly remembered the old actor in the flat below who had always been so friendly. Surely Keeble would be the very man to help.
He hurried downstairs, and was lucky enough to find the actor in.
“I want to know how to disguise myself.” said Jimmy bluntly.
“Police after you?” smiled Keeble, shaking his white head.
"I can’t tell you why just now, but I will some day. It's a pretty serious business, Mr. Keeble. I want something that will stand close scrutiny.”
“No false beards and wig, eh? I know what you mean.” The old actor looked at him searchingly, then fetched a black box from a cupboard. “You’ve fair hair and you wear it brushed close to your head. We’ll dye it black and make it frizzy. Your face is on the thin side. If you’ll wear these rubber pads between your cheeks and your teeth, they’ll fatten your face and alter your voice. Make you feel sick at first, but you’ll soon get used to them. A little blue on your chin, a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles with plain glasses, and I think you’ll do.”
Attired in walking kit with open-throated shirt and a knapsack on his back, Jimmy left the train the next morning at a station a good ten miles away from Pelworth. He intended to carry out his role as thoroughly as possible. He wanted to arrive in Pelworth dusty and travel-stained as befitted an artist on a walking tour. He was taking no risk of anyone in the locality seeing him alight from the London train.
It was a glorious morning. The quiet country road, twisting and turning among the trees, was friendly, leafy and beautiful as only a Hertfordshire road can be.
When he was about halfway to Pelworth, that special providence which watches over fools intervened. He had thrown himself down on the grass at the roadside for a cigarette. A long motor car came round the corner, whizzed past him, and turned into the gates of a large house a quarter of a mile farther along the road.
Nothing remarkable in that, perhaps. But as the car passed him, Jimmy noticed that blinds were drawn down over the windows at the back. Commercial travellers carrying samples often do this, of course. But commercial travellers don't often call at large houses in lonely districts of Hertfordshire.
The thing was probably a meaningless coincidence. There might be a dozen simple harmless reasons why those blinds had been pulled down. But Jimmy had a curious idea that he knew the one and only reason. After all, this house was not very far from Pelworth. If the Tiger had come to Pelworth, in all probability Myra would be brought to Pelworth, too. A very good and sufficient reason for pulling down the blinds of the car in which she was brought.
Absurd, of course! Ridiculous to suppose that luck would bring him straight away to the Tiger’s headquarters, to the house in which Myra was imprisoned. Yet he felt that this house ought to be investigated before he went any farther.
He made no move for a while, and later congratulated himself on his caution. In a surprisingly short time, the car reappeared from the gates and travelled swiftly toward him. He lay back and closed his eyes as it shot by. Opening them when it had passed, he saw that the blinds were no longer pulled down.
He rose to his feet and strolled leisurely down the road. He could catch only a glimpse of the end of the house, almost hidden in its surrounding trees. A high wall encircled the estate, which appeared to consist chiefly of parkland.
As he passed the gates, he glanced toward them casually. They were large, massively constructed of wrought iron, and ornamented with shields. Someone had closed them since the car came out, and Jimmy caught sight of a tiny lodge just within them. He saw no more than this because he would not loiter in case anyone was watching.
He continued his leisurely progress down the road. There were no other houses in sight, though ploughed fields on his left witnessed the proximity of a farm. He could not help thinking that the house he had just passed, secluded and isolated, would provide an admirable headquarters for the Tiger.
It was no use going to the police. They could not act on his unsupported suspicions. He must pursue his investigations alone; and, if they proved successful, pass whatever information he had gleaned to the authorities.
About a mile farther along the road he came to a tiny village which a sign informed him was Erpenden. It was no more than a cluster of a dozen thatched cottages. But the last house, bigger than the others, carried a swinging signboard with a remarkably gruesome painting on it, and the legend The Saracen's Head.
JIMMY pushed open the door and entered a cool, stone-flagged room. There was no one in it, but after a slight delay a thin little woman bustled through from regions beyond and asked his pleasure. He called for a glass of beer.
Mrs. Amelia Furlong-- her name was over the door—was an inquisitive little body. Long before Jimmy had finished his beer she knew that her customer, Harry Wakefield, was an artist on a walking tour, that he was just wandering around without any definite destination in view, and that he liked the look of Fronden so much that he was half tempted to stay a night at least. While he, in his turn, learned that Mrs. Furlong was a widow and that the inn wouldn’t keep her body and soul together but for the prize Wyandottes she bred in the field behind it.
Seeing his hostess so well disposed to a friendly gossip, Jimmy broached the subject of dinner. Mrs. Furlong could provide cold beef and potatoes, with cherry tart and cheese to follow, which sounded very satisfactory. She led him into a little parlor, and set about preparing the meal with immense energy.
While she bustled in and out of the room, occasionally breaking off her task to serve another customer in the bar, her tongue never stopped. There was hardly need for Jimmy to ask any questions. By the time he had finished the cherry tart, he knew that the big house on the road was known as Colley Grange, that it was occupied by a wealthy London merchant named Robinson, and that Mr. Robinson lived a very quiet life, rarely going out of his grounds, though he had a lot of visitors from London.
“I’ve enjoyed that very much, Mrs. Furlong,’’ said Jimmy sincerely, as she cleared away the plates. “Do you think you could put me up for the night?”
"Indeed, I could. Mr. Wakefield. If you’ll come this way, I’ll show you your room now.”
Having arranged matters satisfactorily, Jimmy lit his pipe and strolled out into the village. Soon his erring footsteps turned back to the road by which he had arrived. About half a mile along, he found a footpath which led through the wooded country to a slight elevation at the rear of Colley Grange. He followed the footpath, keeping eyes and ears open for anything they might catch.
He met no one on the path. Reaching the top of the little hill, he found a spot where a break in the bushes afforded an uninterrupted view of Colley Grange. He settled himself on the grass, drew a few lines on his sketching block in case anyone should come, then pulled some field glasses from his pocket and focused them on the house.
It was quite a big place, old and mellow, with many outhouses and a charming old world garden at one side of it. He could not see the front, of course, but he judged there must be a fairly extensive lawn.
What interested him most was the fact that several of the upstair windows were barred, while two of them were shuttered. He could not have seen this without glasses, because the shutters were painted to look like the other windows, complete with sash.
Significant, that. Jimmy’s pulses began to pound. It really looked as though he were on the right track. He was so absorbed in staring at the house that he did not hear a stealthy footfall behind him. He did not see the bushes at his side part to disclose a wild, dirty face. He was completely unconscious of the intruder’s presence until two, strong hands suddenly closed round his throat.
To be Continued