The Bittermeads Mystery
E. R. Punshon
Part 4 out of 4
evening and we are to be ready for them and catch them in the act?"
"Yes," said Dunn, "that's the idea; you can manage all right?"
"Oh, yes," answered Walter. "It's all simple enough - you've
planned it out so jolly well there's nothing much left for me to
do. And I don't see what you're nervous about; there's nothing
that can go wrong very well - your plans are perfect, I think."
"It's easy enough to make plans when you know just what the other
side are going to do," observed Dunn. "There's one point more.
Miss Cayley - I mentioned her in one of the notes I sent you through
"Yes, I remember - Deede Dawson's step-daughter," said Walter. "I
suppose she is in it?"
"She is not; she knows nothing," declared Dunn vehemently.
"But it was she who took away poor Charley's body, wasn't it?" asked
Walter. "But for that you would have had evidence enough to act on
at once, wouldn't you?"
"She did not know what she was doing," Dunn replied. "And now she
is in danger herself. I am convinced Deede Dawson is growing afraid
of her, he dropped hints; I'm sure he is planning something, perhaps
he means to murder her as well. So besides these other arrangements
I want to see that there's a trustworthy man watching here. I don't
anticipate that there's any immediate danger - it's almost certain
that if he means anything he will wait till he sees how this other
business is turning out. But I want some one trustworthy to be at
hand in case of need. You will see to that?"
"Oh, yes, I can spare Simmonds; I'll send him," answered Walter.
"Though, I must say, my dear chap, I don't think I should trouble
much about that young lady. But it can be easily managed, in fact
everything you want me to do is easy enough; I only wish some of
it was a bit difficult or dangerous."
"You're a good chap, Walter," said Dunn, putting his hand on the
other's shoulder again. "Well, I think it's all settled now. I
tell you I'm looking forward a good deal to four o'clock tomorrow
afternoon. I feel as if I would give all I possess to know who it
"Don't make that offer," Waiter said with a smile, "or the fates
may accept it."
"I feel as though there's only one thing in the world I want one
half so much," Dunn said. "As to know who this - devil is."
"Devil?" repeated Walter. "Well, yes, devil's a word like any
"I think it's justified in this case," said Dunn sternly. "Poor
Charley Wright dead! One thing I can't understand about that is
how they got him back here when you saw him in London when you did.
But they're a cunning lot. They must have worked it somehow. Then
Clive. I feel to blame for Clive's death - as if I ought to have
managed better and saved him. Now there's this other devilry they
are planning. I tell you, Walter, I feel the whole world will be
a sweeter place after four o'clock tomorrow afternoon."
"At any rate," said Walter, "I think we may be sure of one thing
- after four o'clock tomorrow afternoon you will know all - all."
He paused and repeated, slightly varying the phrase: "Yes, after four
o'clock tomorrow afternoon you will know everything - everything."
He added in a brisker tone: "There's nothing else to arrange?"
"No," said Dunn, "I don't think so, and I had better go now or
Deede Dawson will be suspecting something. He'll want to know what
I've been stopping out so late for. Good-bye, old chap, and good
They shook hands.
"Good-bye and good luck, Rupert, old man," Walter said. "You may
depend on me - you know that."
"Yes, I do know that," Dunn answered.
They shook hands again, and Dunn said: "You've hurt your hand. It's
tied up. Is it anything much?"
"No, no," answered Walter with a little laugh. "A mere scratch. I
scratched it on a bit of wood, a lid that didn't fit properly."
"Well, good-bye and good luck," Dunn said again, and they parted,
Walter disappearing into the darkness and Dunn returning to the
Deede Dawson heard him enter, and he came to the door of the room
in which he had been sitting.
"Oh, there you are," he said. "Been enjoying the night air or
what? You've been a long time."
"I've been thinking," Dunn muttered in the heavy, sulky manner he
always assumed at Bittermeads.
"Not weakening, eh?" asked Deede Dawson.
"No," answered Dunn. "I'm not."
"Good," Deede Dawson exclaimed. "There's a lot to win, and no
fear of failure. I don't see that failure's possible. Do you?"
"No," answered Dunn. "I suppose not."
"The mate's sure this time," Deede Dawson declared. "It's our
turn to move, and whatever reply the other side makes, we're sure
of our mate next move. By the way, did you ever solve that problem
I showed you the other day?"
"Yes, I think so," answered Dunn. "It was a long time before I
could hit on the right move, but I managed it at last, I think."
"Come and show me, then," said Deede Dawson, bustling back into
his room and beginning to set up the pieces on his travelling
chess-board. "This was the position, wasn't it? Now, what's your
Dunn showed him, and Deede Dawson burst into a laugh that had in
it for once a touch of honest enjoyment.
"Yes, that would do it, but for one thing you haven't noticed," he
said. "Black can push the pawn at KB7 and make it, not a queen, but
a knight, giving check to your king and no mate for you next move."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Dunn. "I hadn't thought of that."
"Unexpected, eh? Making the pawn a knight?" smiled Deede Dawson.
"But in chess, and in life, it's the unexpected you have to look
"That's quite an aphorism," said Dunn. "It's true, too."
He went up to bed, but did not sleep well, and when at last he fell
into a troubled slumber, it seemed to him that Charley Wright and
John Clive were there, one on each side of him, and that they had
come, not because they sought for vengeance, but because they wished
to warn him of a doom like their own that they could see approaching
but he could not.
Toward's morning he got an hour's sound rest, and he was down stairs
in good time. He did not see Ella, but he heard her moving about,
so knew that she was safe as yet; and Deede Dawson gave him some
elaborate parting instructions, a little money, and a loaded
"I don't know that I want that," said Dunn. "My hands will be all
I need once I'm face to face with Rupert Dunsmore."
"That's the right spirit," said Deede Dawson approvingly. "But the
pistol may be useful too. You needn't use it if you can manage
without, but you may as well have it. Good-bye, and the best of
luck. Take care of yourself, and don't lose your head or do
"Oh, you can trust me," said Dunn.
"I think I can," smiled Deede Dawson. "I think I can. Good-bye.
Be careful, avoid noise and fuss, don't be seen any more than you
can help, and if you shoot, aim low."
"There's a vade mecum for the intending assassin," Dunn thought
grimly to himself, but he said nothing, gave the other a sullen
nod, and started off on his strange and weird mission of murdering
himself. He found himself wondering if any one else had ever been
in such a situation. He did not suppose so.
To the very letter Dunn followed the careful and precise
instructions given him by Deede Dawson, for he did not wish to
rouse in any way the slightest suspicion or run the least risk of
frightening off that unknown instigator of these plots who was, it
had been promised him, to be present near Brook Bourne Spring at
four that afternoon.
Even the thought of Ella was perhaps less clear and vivid to his
mind just now than was his intense and passionate desire to discover
the identity of the strange and sinister personality against whom he
had matched himself.
"Very likely it's some madman," he thought to himself. "How in the
name of common sense can he expect to inherit the title and estates
quietly after such a series of crimes as he seems to contemplate?
Does he think no one will have any suspicion of him when he comes
forward? Even if he is successful in getting rid of all of us in
this way, how does he expect to be able to reap his reward? Of
course he may think that there will be no direct evidence if he
manages cleverly enough, and that mere suspicion he will be able to
disregard and live down in time, but surely it will be plain enough
that 'who benefits is guilty'? The whole thing is mad, fantastic.
Why, the mere fact of any one making a claim to the title and
estates would be almost enough to justify a jury in returning a
verdict of guilty."
But though his thoughts ran in this wise all the time he was
journeying to London, and though he repeated them to himself over
and over again, none the less there remained an uneasy consciousness
in his mind that perhaps these people had plans more subtle than he
knew, and that even this difficulty of making their claim without
bringing instant suspicion on themselves they had provided for.
It was late in the year now, but the day was warm and very calm and
fine. At the London terminus where he alighted he had a strong
feeling that he was watched, and when he took the train back to
Delsby he still had the idea that he was being kept under
He felt he had been wise in deciding to carry out Deede Dawson's
instructions so closely, for he was sure that if he had failed to
do so in any respect alarm would have been taken at once, and
warning telegrams gone flying on the instant to all concerned.
Then that self-baited trap at Brook Bourne Spring, wherein he hoped
to see his enemy taken, would remain unapproached, and all his
work and risk would have gone for nothing.
When he alighted at his destination he was a little before time,
and so he got himself something to eat at a small public-house near
the station before starting on his fifteen-mile walk across country.
Though he was not sure, he did not think any one was observing him
now. Most likely his movements up to the present had appeared
satisfactory, and it had not been thought necessary to watch him
But he was careful to do nothing to rouse suspicion if he were
still being spied upon, and after he had eaten and had a smoke he
started off on his long tramp.
Even yet he was careful, and so long as he was near the village he
made a show of avoiding observation as much as possible. Later on,
when he had made certain he was not being followed, he did not
trouble so much, though he still kept it in mind that any one he
met or passed might well be in fact one of Deede Dawson's agents.
He walked on sharply through the crisp autumn air, and in other
circumstances would have found the walk agreeable enough. It
was a little curious that as he proceeded on his way his chief
preoccupation seemed to shift from his immediate errand and intense
eagerness to discover the identity of his unknown foe, with whom he
hoped to stand face to face so soon, to a troubled and pressing
anxiety about Ella.
Up till now he had not thought it likely that she was in the least
real danger. He knew Simmonds, the man Walter had promised to put
on watch at Bittermeads, and knew him to be capable and trustworthy.
None the less, his uneasiness grew and strengthened with every mile
he traversed, till presently her situation seemed to him the one
weak link in his careful plans.
That the trap the unknown had so carefully laid for himself to be
taken in, would assuredly and securely close upon him, Dunn felt
certain enough. Walter would see to that. Sure was it, too, that
the enterprise Deede Dawson had planned for himself and Allen at
the Abbey must result in their discomfiture and capture. Walter
would see to that also. But concerning Ella's position doubt would
insist on intruding, till at last he decided that the very moment
the Brook Bourne Spring business was satisfactorily finished with
he would hurry at his best speed to Bittermeads and make sure of
Absorbed in these uneasy thoughts, he had insensibly slackened
speed, and looking at his watch he saw that it was two o'clock, and
that he was still, by the milestone at the roadside, eight miles
from his destination.
He wished to be there a little before the time arranged for him by
Deede Dawson, and he increased his pace till he came to a spot
where the path he had to take branched off from the road he had
been following. At this spot a heavy country lad was sitting on
a gate by the wayside, and as Dunn approached he clambered heavily
down and slouched forward to meet him.
"Be you called Robert Dunn, mister?" he asked.
Dunn gave him a quick and suspicious look, much startled by this
sudden recognition in so lonely a spot.
"Yes, I am," he said, after a moment's hesitation. "Why?"
"If you are, there's this as I'm to give you," the lad answered,
drawing a note from his pocket.
"Oh, who gave you that?" Dunn asked, fully persuaded the note
contained some final instructions from Deede Dawson and wondering
if this lad were one of his agents in disguise, or merely some
inhabitant of the district hired for the one purpose of
delivering the letter.
But the lad's drawled reply disconcerted him greatly.
"A lady," he said. "A real lady in a big car, she told me to wait
here and give you this. All alone she was, and drove just like a
He handed the letter over as he spoke, and Dunn saw that it was
addressed to him in his name of Robert Dunn in Ella's writing.
He blinked at it in very great surprise, for there was nothing he
expected less, and he did not understand how she knew so well
where he would be or how she had managed to get away from
Bittermeads uninterfered with by Deede Dawson.
His first impulse was to suspect some new trap, some new and
cunning trap that, perhaps, the unconscious Ella was being used
to bait. Taking the letter from the boy, he said:
"How did you know it was for me?"
"Lady told me," answered the boy grinning. "She said as I was to
look out for a chap answering to the name of Robert Dunn, with his
face so covered with hair you couldn't see nothing of it no more'n
you can see a sheep's back for wool As soon as I set eye on 'ee,
says I - 'That's him,' I says, and so 'twas."
He grinned again and slouched away and Dunn stood still, holding
the letter in his hand and not opening it at first. It was almost
as though he feared to do so, and when at last he tore the envelope
open it was with a hand that trembled a little in spite of all
that he could do. For there was something about this strange
communication and the means adopted to deliver it to him that struck
him as ominous in the extreme. Some sudden crisis must have arisen,
he thought, and it appeared to him that Ella's knowledge of where
to find him implied a knowledge of Deede Dawson's plans that meant
she was either his willing and active agent and accomplice, or else
she had somehow acquired a knowledge of her stepfather's proceedings
that must make her position a thousand times more critical and
dangerous than before.
He flung the envelope aside and began to read the contents. It
opened abruptly, without any form of address, and it was written in
a hand that showed plain signs of great distress and agitation:
"You are in great danger. I don't know what. I heard them talking.
They spoke as though something threatened you, something you could
not escape. Be careful, very careful. You asked me once if I had
ever heard a man with a high, squeaky voice, and I did not answer.
It was to a man with a voice like that I gave the packing-case I
took away from here the night you came. Do you remember? He was
here all last night, I think. I saw him go very early. He is Mr.
Walter Dunsmore. I saw him that day at Wreste Abbey, and I knew I
had seen him before. This morning I recognized him. I am sure
because he hurt his hand on the packing-case lid, and I saw the mark
there still. He and my stepfather were talking all night, I think
I couldn't hear everything. There is a General Dunsmore. Something
is to happen to him at three o'clock and then to you later, and they
both laughed a great deal because they think you will be blamed for
whatever happens to General Dunsmore. He is to be enticed somewhere
to meet you, but you are not to be there till four, too late. I am
afraid, more afraid than ever I have been. What shall I do? I
think they are making plans to do something awful. I don't know
what to do. I think my stepfather suspects I know something, he
keeps looking, looking, smiling all the time. Please come back and
take mother and me away, for I think he means to kill us both."
There was no signature, but written like an afterthought across one
corner of the note were the scribbled words:
"You told me something once, I don't know if you meant it." And
then, underneath, was the addition - "He never stops smiling."
Twice over Dunn read this strange, disturbing message, and then a
third time, and he made a little gesture of annoyance for it did
not seem to him that the words he read made sense, or else it was
that his brain no longer worked normally, and could not interpret
"Oh, but that's absurd," he said aloud.
He looked all around him, surprised to see that the face of the
country-side had not changed in any way, but was all just as it had
been before this letter had been put into his hands.
He began to read a third, but stopped half-way through the first
"Then it's Walter all the time," he muttered. "Walter - Walter!"
A RACE AGAINST TIME
Even when he had said this aloud it was still as though he could not
grasp its full meaning.
"Walter," he repeated vaguely. "Walter."
His thoughts, that had seemed as frozen by the sudden shock of the
tremendous revelation so unconsciously made to him by Ella, began
to stir and move again, and almost at once, with an extraordinary
and abnormal rapidity.
As a drowning man is said to see flash before his eyes the whole
history and record of his life, so now Dunn saw the whole story of
his life-long friendship with Walter pictured before him.
For when he was very small, Walter had been to him like an elder
brother, and when he was older, it was Walter who had taught him to
ride and to shoot, to hunt and to fish, and when he was at school
it was Walter to whom he looked up as the dashing young man of the
world, who knew all life's secrets, and when he was at college it
was Walter who had helped him out of the inevitable foolish scrapes
into which it is the custom of the undergraduate to fall.
Then, when he had come to man's estate, Walter had still been his
confidential friend and adviser. In Walter's hand he had been
accustomed to leave everything during his absences on his hunting
and exploring trips; and at what time during this long and kindly
association of good-fellowship had such black hate and poison of
envy bred in Walter's heart?
"Walter!" he said aloud once more, and he uttered the name as though
it were a cry of anguish.
Yet, too, even in his utter bewilderment and surprise, it seemed
strange to him that he had never once suspected, never dreamed,
never once had the shadow of a suspicion.
Little things, trifling things, a word, an accent, a phrase that
had passed at the time for a lest, a thousand such memories came
back to him now with a new and terrible significance.
For, after all, Walter was in the direct line. Only just a few
lives stood between him and a great inheritance, a great position.
Perhaps long brooding on what might so easily be had made him mad.
Dunn remembered now, too, that it was Walter who had discovered that
first murderous attempt which had first put them on their guard, but
perhaps he had discovered it only because he knew of it, and when it
failed, saw his safest plan was to be foremost in tracking it out.
And it was Walter who had last seen poor Charley Wright alone, and
far from Bittermeads. But perhaps that was a lie to confuse the
search for the missing man, and a reason why that search had failed
so utterly up to the moment of Dunn's own grim discovery in the
With yet a fresh shock so that he reeled as he stood with the impact
of the thought, Dunn realized that all this implied that every one
of his precautions had been rendered futile that of all his elaborate
plans not one would take effect since all had been entrusted to the
care of the very man against whom they were aimed.
It was Walter for whom the net had been laid in Ottam's Wood; and
Walter to whom had been entrusted the task of drawing that net tight
at the right moment.
It was Walter's friends and agents who were to break into Wreste
Abbey, and Walter to whom had been entrusted the task of defeating
and capturing them. It was Walter from whom Ella stood in most
danger if her action that morning had been observed, and it was
Walter to whom he had given the task of protecting her.
At this thought, he turned and began to run as fast as he could in
the direction of Bittermeads.
At all costs she must be saved, she who had exposed the whole awful
plot. For a hundred yards or so he fled, swift as the wind, till
on a sudden he stopped dead with the realization of the fact that
every yard he took that way took him further and further from Ottam's
For there was danger there, too - grim and imminent - and sentences
in Ella's hasty letter that bore now to his new knowledge a deep
significance she had not dreamed of.
As when a flash of lightning lights all the landscape up and shows
the traveller dreadful dangers that beset his path, so a wave of
intuition told Dunn clearly the whole conspiracy; so that he saw
it all, and saw how every detail was to be fitted in together. His
father, General Dunsmore, was to be murdered first at the Brook
Bourne Spring, to which he was being lured; and afterwards, when
Dunn arrived, he was to be murdered, too. And on him, dead and
unable to defend himself, the blame of his father's death would be
laid. It would not be difficult to manage. Walter would arrange
it all as neatly as he had been accustomed to arrange the Dunsmore
business affairs placed in his hands for settlement.
A forged letter or two, Dunn's own revolver used to shoot the old
man with and then placed in Dunn's dead hand when his own turn had
come, convincing detail like that would be easy to arrange. Why,
the very fact of his disguise, the tangled beard that he had grown
to hide his features with, would appear conclusive. Any coroner's
jury would return a verdict of wilful murder against his memory on
that one fact alone.
Walter would see to that all right. A little false evidence
apparently reluctantly given would be added, and all would be
kneaded together into the one substance till the whole guilt of
all that happened would appear to lie solely on his shoulders.
As for motive, it would simply be put forward that he had been in
a hurry to succeed his uncle. And very likely some tale of a
quarrel with his father or something of that sort would be invented,
and would go uncontradicted since there would be no one to
And most probably what was contemplated at Wreste Abbey was no
ordinary burglary, but the assassination of old Lord Chobham, of
which the guilt would also be set down to him.
Very clearly now he realized that this tremendous plot was aimed,
not only at life, but at honour - that not only was his life
required, but also that he should be thought a murderer.
With the realization of the danger that threatened at Wreste Abbey
he turned and began to run back in the direction where it lay, that
he might take timely warning there, but he did not run a dozen
strides when he remembered Ella again, and paused.
Surely he must think of her first, alone and unprotected. For she
was the woman he loved; and besides, she had summoned him to her
help, and then she was a woman, and at least, the others were men.
All this flood of thoughts, this intuitive grasping of a situation
terrible beyond conception, almost unparalleled in bloody and
dreadful horror, passed through his mind with extreme rapidity.
Once more he turned and began to run - to run as he had never run
before, for now he saw that all depended on the speed with which
he could cover the eight miles that lay between him and Ottam 's
Wood, whether he could still save his father or not.
The district was lonely in the extreme, there was no human
habitation near, no place where he could obtain any help or any
swift means of conveyance. His one hope must be in his speed, his
feet must be swift to save, not only his own life and his father's,
but his honour, too, and Ella and his old uncle as well; and all
- all hung upon the speed with which he could cover the eight long
miles that lay between him and Brook Bourne Spring in Ottam's Wood.
Even as he ran, as he thought of Ella, he came abruptly to a pause,
wrung with sudden anguish. For each fleet stride he was making
towards Brook Bourne Spring was taking him further and further away
from Bittermeads just as before each step to Bittermeads had been
taking him further from Ottam's Wood.
He began to run again, even faster than before, and it was towards
Ottam's Wood that he ran, each step taking him further from
Bittermeads and further from the woman he loved in her bitter need
and peril, who looked to him for the help he could not give. With
pain and anguish he ran on, ran as men have seldom run - as seldom
so much was hung upon their running.
On and on he sped, fleet as the wind, fleet as the light breeze that
blew lightly by. A solitary villager trudging on some errand in
this lonely place, tells to this day the tale of the bearded,
wild-eyed man who raced so madly by him, raced on and down the long,
straight road till his figure dwindled and vanished in the distance.
A shepherd boy went home with a tale of a strange thing he had seen
of a man running so fast it seemed he was scarcely in sight before
he was gone again.
And except for those two and one other none saw him at all and he
ran his race alone beneath the skies, across the bare country side.
It was at a spot where the path ran between two high hedges that he
came upon a little herd of cows a lad was driving home.
It seemed impossible to pass through that tangle of horns and tails
and plunging hoofs, and so indeed it was, but Dunn took another way,
and with one leap, cleared the first beast clean and alighted on the
back of the second.
Before the startled beast could plunge away he leaped again from
the vantage of its back and landed on the open ground beyond and
so on, darting full speed past the staring driver, whose tale that
he told when he got home caused him to go branded for years as a
On and on Dunn fled, without stay or pause, at the utmost of his
speed every second of time, every yard of distance. For he knew
he had need of every ounce of power he possessed or could call to
his aid, since he knew well that all, all, might hang upon a second
less or more, and now four miles lay behind him and four in front.
Still on he raced with labouring lungs and heart near to bursting
- onward still, swift, swift and sure, and now there were six
miles behind and only two in front, and he was beginning to come
to a part of the country that he knew.
Whether he was soon or late he had no idea or how long it was that
he had raced like this along the lonely country road at the full
extremity and limit of his strength.
He dared not take time to glance at his watch, for he knew the
fraction of a second he would thus lose might mean the difference
between in time and too late. On he ran still and presently he
left the path and took the fields.
But he had forgotten that though the distance might be shorter the
going would be harder, and on the rough grass he stumbled, and
across the bare ground damp earth clung to his boots and hindered
him as though each foot had become laden with lead.
His speed was slower, his effort greater if possible, and when he
came to a hedge he made no effort to leap, but crashed through it
as best he could and broke or clambered or tumbled a path for
Now Ottam's Wood was very near, and reeling and staggering like a
man wounded to the death but driven by inexorable fate, he plunged
on still, and there was a little froth gathering at the corners of
his mouth and from one of his nostrils came a thin trickle of blood.
Yet still he held on, though in truth he hardly knew any longer why
he ran or what his need for haste, and as he came to the wood round
a spur where a cluster of young beeches grew, he saw a tall, upright,
elderly man walking there, well-dressed and of a neat, soldier-like
"Hallo - there you are - father - " he gasped and fell down, prone
FLIGHT AND PURSUIT
When he came to himself he was lying on his back, and bending over
him was his father's familiar face, wearing an expression of great
surprise and wonder, and still greater annoyance.
"What is the matter?" General Dunsmore asked as soon as he saw that
his son's senses were returning to him. "Have you all gone mad
together? You send me a mysterious note to meet you here at three,
you turn up racing and running like an escaped lunatic, and with a
disgusting growth of hair all over your face, so that I didn't know
you till you spoke, and then there's Walter dodging about in the
wood here like a poacher hiding from the keepers. Are you both
quite mad, Rupert?"
"Walter," Rupert repeated, lifting himself on one hand, "Walter
- have you seen him?"
"Over there," said the general, nodding towards the right. "He was
dodging and creeping about for all the world like some poaching
rascal. I waved, but he didn't see me, and when I tried to overtake
him I lost sight of him somehow in the trees, and found I had come
right out of my way for Brook Bourne Spring."
"Thank God for that," said Rupert fervently as a picture presented
itself to him of his unsuspecting father trying in that lonely wood
to find and overtake the man whose murderous purpose was aimed at
"What do you mean?" snapped the general. "And why have you made
such a spectacle of yourself with all that beard? Why, I didn't
know you till you spoke - there's Walter there. What makes him
look like that?"
For Walter had just come out of the wood about fifty yards to their
right, and when he saw them talking together he understood at once
that in some way or another all his plans had failed.
He was looking at them through a gap in some undergrowth that hid
most of his body, but showed his head and shoulders plainly, and
as he stood there watching them his face was like a fiend's.
"Walter," the general shouted, and to his son Rupert he said: "The
Walter moved forward from among the trees. He had a gun in his
hand, and he flung it forward as though preparing to fire, and at
the same moment Rupert Dunsmore drew from his pocket the pistol
Deede Dawson had given him and fired himself.
But at the very moment that he pulled the trigger the general
struck up his arm so that the bullet flew high and harmless through
the tops of the trees.
Walter stepped back again into the wood, and Rupert said:
"You don't know what you have done, father."
"You are mad, mad," the general gasped.
His face was very pale, and he trembled a little, for though he had
heard many bullets whistle by his ears, that had happened in action
against an enemy, and was altogether different from this. He put
out his hand in an attempt to take the pistol that Rupert easily
"Give it to me," he said. "I saved his life; you might have
"Yes, you saved him, father," Rupert muttered, thinking to himself
that the saving of Walter's life might well mean the loss of Ella's,
since very likely the failure of their plots would be at once
attributed by the conspirators to her. "Father, I never wrote that
letter you say you had. Walter forged it to get you here, where he
meant to kill us both. That's why he looked like that, that's why
he had his gun."
General Dunsmore only stared blankly at him for a moment.
"Kill me? Kill you? What for?" he gasped.
"So that he might become Lord Chobham of Wreste Abbey instead of
Lord Chobham's poor relation," answered Rupert. "The poison attempt
on uncle which Walter discovered was first of all his own doing; it
was through him Charley Wright lost his life. He has committed at
least one other murder. Today he meant to kill both of us. Then
he would have been heir to the title and estates, and when uncle
died he would have been Lord Chobham."
"Nonsense, absurd, impossible. You're mad, quite mad," the general
stammered. "Why, he would have been hanged at once."
"Not if he could have fixed the blame elsewhere," Rupert answered.
"That was to have been my part; it was carefully arranged to make
it seem I was responsible for it all. I haven't time to explain now.
I don't think he is coming back. I expect he is only loaded with
small shot, and he doesn't dare try a long range shot or come near
now he knows I'm ready for him."
"But it's - it's impossible - Walter," stammered the general.
"The impossible so often happens," answered Rupert, and handed his
pistol to him. "You must trust me, father, and do what I tell you.
Take this pistol in case you are attacked on the way home. You may
be, but I don't think it's likely. Get the motor out and go straight
to Wreste Abbey. An attempt on uncle's life will be made tonight,
if they still carry out their plans, about dinner-time tonight. See
that every possible precaution is taken. See to that first. Then
send help as soon as you can to Bittermeads, a house on the
outskirts of Ramsdon; any one there will tell you where it is."
"But what are you going to do?" General Dunsmore asked.
"I'm going to find Walter, if he's still hiding in the wood here,
as he may be," Rupert answered. "I should like a little chat with
him." For a moment he nearly lost his self-control, and for a
single moment there showed those fiery and tempestuous passions he
was keeping now in such stern repression. "Yes a little talk with
him, just us two," he said. "And if he's cleared out, or I can't
find him I'm going straight on to Bittermeads. There's some one
there who may be in danger, so the sooner I am there the better."
"But wait a moment," the general cried. "Are you armed?"
"Yes, with my hands, I shall want no more when Walter and I meet
again," Rupert answered, and, without another word, plunged into
the wood at the spot where Walter had vanished
At first the track of Walter's flying footsteps was plain enough
for he had fled full speed, panic having overtaken him when he saw
Rupert and his father together and understood that in some way his
deep conspiracy had failed and his treachery become known.
For a little distance, therefore, he had crashed through bracken
and undergrowth, heedless of all but the one need that was upon him
to flee away and escape while there was yet time. But, after a
while, his first panic subsiding, he had gone more carefully, and,
as the weather had been very dry of late, when he came to open
ground his footmarks were scarcely visible.
In such spots Rupert could make but slow progress, and he was
handicapped, too, by the fact, that all the time he had to be on
his guard lest from some unsuspected quarter his enemy should come
upon him unawares.
For, indeed, this enterprise he had undertaken in the flood tide of
his passion and fierce anger was dangerous enough since he, quite
weaponless, was following up a very desperate armed man who would
know that for him there could be henceforth no question of mercy.
But there was that burning in Rupert's heart that made him heedless
of all danger, and indeed, he who for mere love of sport and
adventure, had followed a wounded tiger into the jungle and tracked
a buffalo through thick reeds, was not likely to draw back now.
Once he thought he had succeeded, for he saw a bush move and he
rushed at once upon it. But when he reached it there was nothing
there, and the ground about was hard and bare, showing no marks to
prove any one had lately been near. And once he saw a movement in
the midst of some bracken and caught a glimpse of what seemed like
Walter's coat, so that he was sure he had him at last, and he
shouted and ran forward.
But again no one was there, though the bracken was all trampled and
beaten down. The tracks Walter had made in going were plain, too,
but Rupert lost them almost at once and could not find them again,
and when he came a little later to the further edge of the wood, he
decided to waste no more time, but to make his way direct to
Bittermeads so as at least to make sure of Ella's safety.
He told himself that he had failed badly in woodcraft and, indeed,
he had been too fierce and hot in his pursuit to show his wonted
The plan that had been in his mind from the moment when he left his
father was to take advantage of the fact that on this edge of the
wood was situated a farm belonging to Lord Chobham, where horses
were bred and where he was well known.
Some of these horses were sure to be out in the fields, and it would
be easy for him, wasting no time in explanation, to catch one of them,
mount bare-backed and ride through the New Plantation - the New
Plantation was a hundred years old, but still kept that name - over
the brow of the hill beyond, swim the canal in the valley, and so
straight across-country to Ramsdon.
Riding thus direct he would save time and distance, and arrive more
quickly than by going the necessary distance to secure a motor-car
which would have also to take a much more circuitous route.
He jumped the hedge, therefore, that lay at the wood's edge and
slid down the steep bank into the sunken road beyond where he found
himself standing in front of Walter, who held in his hands a gun
levelled straight at Rupert's heart.
"I could have shot you time after time in there you know," he said
quietly. "From behind that bush and from out of the bracken, too.
I don't know why I didn't. I suppose it wasn't worth while, now
I shall never be Lord Chobham."
He flung down his gun as he spoke and sprang on a bicycle that he
had held leaning against his legs.
Quickly he sped away, leaving Rupert standing staring after him,
realizing that his life had hung upon the bending of Walter's finger,
and that Walter, with at least two cold-blooded murders to his
account, or little more to hope for in this world or the next, had
now inexplicably spared him for whose destruction, of life and honour
alike, he had a little before been laying such elaborate, hellish
With a gesture of his hands that proved he failed to understand,
Rupert ran on and crossed a field to where he saw some horses
One he knew immediately for one of his father's mares, and he knew
her also for an animal of speed and endurance.
The mare knew him, too, and suffered him to mount her without
difficulty, and without a soul on the farm being aware of what was
happening and without having to waste any precious time on
explanations or declaring his identity, Rupert rode away, sitting
the mare bare-backed, through the New Plantation towards Bittermeads,
where he hoped, arriving unexpectedly, to be able to save Ella
before the danger he was sure threatened her came to a head.
Of one thing he was certain. Deede Dawson would never do what his
companion in villainy had just done, he would spare no one; fierce,
malignant and evil to the last, his one thought if he knew they had
and vengeance approached would be to do what harm he could before
BACK AT BITTERMEADS
When, riding fast, Rupert Dunsmore came in sight of Bittermeads he
experienced a feeling of extreme relief. Though what he had feared
he did not quite know, for he did not see that any alarm could have
reached here yet or any hint come to Deede Dawson of the failure of
all his plotting.
Even if Walter had had the idea of returning to give his accomplice
warning, he could not have come by the road on his bicycle as quickly
as Rupert had ridden across country. And that Walter would spend
either time or thought on Deede Dawson did not appear in any way
To Rupert, therefore, it seemed certain that Deede Dawson could know
nothing as yet. But all the same it was an immense relief to see
the house again and to know that in a few moments he would be there.
He tied up the mare to a convenient tree, and with eyes that were
quick and alert and every nerve and muscle ready for all emergencies,
he drew near the house.
All was still and quiet, no smoke came from the chimneys, there was
no sign of life or movement anywhere. For a moment he hesitated
and then made his way round to the back, hoping to find Mrs.
Barker there and perhaps obtain from her information as to the
whereabouts of Deede Dawson and of Ella and her mother.
For it seemed to him it would be his best plan to get the two women
quietly out of the way if he could possibly do so before making any
attempt to deal with Deede Dawson or letting him know of his return.
For the mere fact that he was back again so soon would show at once
that something had gone seriously wrong, and once Deede Dawson knew
that, he would be, Rupert well realized, in a very desperate and
reckless mood and ripe for committing any mischief that he could.
Cautiously Rupert opened the back door and found himself in the
stone-paved passage that ran between the kitchen and the scullery
and pantry. Everything seemed very quiet and still, and there was
no sign of Mrs. Barker nor any appearance that she had been that
morning busy about her usual tasks. The kitchen fire was not
lighted, a pile of unwashed crockery stood on the table, there had
apparently been no attempt to prepare any meals.
Frowning uneasily, for all this did not seem to him of good omen,
Rupert Went quickly on to the living rooms.
They were unoccupied and did not seem to have been much used that
day; and in the small breakfast-room Deede Dawson had been accustomed
to consider his special apartment, his favourite little travelling
chessboard stood on the table with pieces in position on it.
There was a letter, too, he had begun but not finished, to the
editor of a chess-column in some paper, apparently to the effect
that a certain problem "cooked," and that by such and such a move
"the mate for the first player that appeared certain was unexpectedly
and instantly transferred in this dramatic manner into a mate for
The words seemed somehow oddly appropriate to Rupert, and he smiled
grimly as he read them and then all at once his expression changed
and his whole attitude became one of intense watchfulness and
For his quick eye had noted that the ink on the nib of the pen that
this letter had been written with, was not yet dry.
Then Deede Dawson must have been here a moment or two ago and must
have gone in a hurry. That could only mean he was aware of Rupert's
return and was warned and suspicious. It is perhaps characteristic
of Rupert's passionate and eager temperament that only now did it
occur to him that he was quite unarmed and that without a weapon of
any kind he was matching himself against as reckless and as
formidable a criminal as had ever lived.
For want of anything better he picked up the heavy glass inkpot
standing on the table, emptied the contents in a puddle on the floor,
and held the inkpot itself ready in his hand.
He listened intently, but heard no sound - no sound at all in the
whole house, and this increased his apprehensions, for he knew well
that Deede Dawson was a man always the most dangerous when most
It was possible of course that he had fled, but not likely. He
would not go, Rupert thought, till he had made his preparations
and not without a last effort to take revenge on those who had
defeated him and in this dramatic way turned the mate he had
expected to secure into a win for his opponent."
Still Rupert listened intently, straining his ears to catch the
least sound to hint to him where his enemy was, for he knew that if
he failed to discover him his first intimation of his proximity
might well come in the shape of the white-hot sting of a bullet,
rending flesh and bone.
Then, too, where was Ella, and where was her mother?
There was something inexpressibly sinister in the utter quietness
of the house, a quietness not at all of peace and rest but of a
brooding, angry threat.
Still he could hear nothing, and he left the room, very quickly and
noiselessly, and he made sure there was no one anywhere in any of
these rooms on the ground floor.
He locked the front door and the back to make sure no one should
enter or leave too easily, and returned on tiptoe, moving to and
fro like a shadow cast by a changing light, so swift and noiseless
were his movements.
For a little he remained crouching against the side of the stairway,
listening for any sound that might float down to him from above.
But none came - and on a sudden, in one movement, as it were, he
ran up the stairs and crouched down on the topmost one so that any
bullet aimed at him as he appeared might perhaps fly overhead.
But none was fired; there was still no sound at all, no sign that
the house held any living creature beside himself. He began to
think that Deede Dawson must have sent the two women away and now
have gone himself.
But there was the pen downstairs with ink still wet upon the nib
to prove that he had been here recently, and again very suddenly
Rupert leaped to his feet and ran noiselessly down the corridor
and entered quickly into Ella's room.
He had not been in it since the night of his arrival at Bittermeads,
but it appeared to him extraordinarily familiar and every little
object in it of ornament or use seemed to speak to him softly of
Ella's gracious presence.
Of Ella herself there was no sign, but he noticed that the tassel
at the end of the window blind cord was moving as if recently
The movement was very slight, almost imperceptible, indeed, but it
existed; and it proved that some one must very shortly before have
been standing at the window. He moved to it and looked out.
The view commanded the road by which he had approached Bittermeads,
and he wondered if Ella had been standing there and had seen his
approach, and then had concealed herself for some reason.
But, if so, why and where was she hiding? And where was Deede
Dawson? And why was everything so silent and so still?
He turned from the window, and as he did so he caught a faint sound
in the passage without.
Instantly he crouched behind the bed, the heavy glass inkpot that
was his one weapon poised in his hand.
The sound did not come again, but as he waited, he saw the door
begin to open very slowly, very quietly.
Lower still he crouched, the inkpot ready to throw, every nerve taut
and tense for the leap at his foe's throat with which he meant to
follow it up. The door opened a little more, very slowly, very
carefully. It was wide enough now to admit of entry, and through
the opening there sidled, pale and red-eyed, Ella's mother, looking
so frail and feeble and so ruffled and disturbed she reminded Rupert
irresistibly of a frightened hen.
She edged her way in as though she dared not open the door too
widely, and Rupert hesitated in great perplexity and vexation, for
he saw that he must show himself, and he feared that she would
announce his presence by flight or screams.
But he could not possibly get away without her knowledge; and
besides, she might be able to give him useful information.
He stood up quickly, with his finger to his lips. "Hush!" he said.
"Not a sound - not a sound." The warning seemed unnecessary, for
Mrs. Dawson appeared too paralysed with fear to utter even the
faintest cry as she dropped tremblingly on the nearest chair.
"Hush! Hush!" he said. "Where is Ella?"
"I - I don't know," quavered Mrs. Dawson.
"When did you see her last?"
"A little while ago," Mrs. Dawson faltered. She went upstairs.
She didn't come down, so I thought I would try to find her."
"Where's Deede Dawson?" Rupert asked.
"I - I don't know," she quavered again.
"When did you see him last?"
"I - I - a little while ago," she faltered. "He went upstairs - he
didn't come down again. I thought I would try to find her - him - I
was so frightened when they didn't either of them come down again.
It was evident she was far too confused and upset to give any useful
information of any nature, even if she knew anything.
"Deede's been so strange," she said. "And Ella too. I think it's
very hard on me - dreams, too. He said he wanted her to help him
get a packing-case ready he had to send away somewhere. I don't
know where. I don't think Ella wanted to - "
"A packing-case?" Rupert muttered. "What for?"
"It's what they came upstairs to do," Mrs. Dawson said. "And - and
- " She began to cry feebly. "It's my nerves," she said. "He's
looked so strange at us all day - and neither of them has come down
It was evident that more had occurred to make Mrs. Dawson afraid
that she would, or perhaps could, say.
"Wait here," Rupert said to her. "Don't stir." The command seemed
superfluous, for she had not at that moment the appearance of still
possessing the power to move. Without speaking again, Rupert left
the room and went quickly to the foot of the narrow stairs that led
to the attics above.
He listened, crouching there, and heard nothing, and a cold fear
came to him that perhaps Deede Dawson had done up above what he
wished to do and then effected his escape while he himself had been
lingering in Ella's room.
Adopting his plan of a rapid rush to disconcert the aim of any one
who might be about to fire at him, he made a swift dash up the
stairs and on the topmost one crouched down again and waited.
But still nothing happened, all was very quiet, and the door of one
attic, the one which had been assigned to him as a bed-chamber, was
wide open so that he could see into it and see that it was unoccupied.
But the doors of both the others were closed, and as he looked he
made out in the gloom, for this landing by the attic was very
badly-lighted by a small and awkwardly-placed skylight, a scattered
dozen or so of hairpins, and a tortoiseshell comb such as he had
seen sometimes in Ella's hair, lying on the floor near the door of
the larger of the two attics, the one in which he remembered well
he had found Deede Dawson on a certain night busy measuring and
examining and empty packing-case.
With one quick rush he crossed the landing and flung himself at the
It opened at once, for it was not locked, and within he saw Deede
Dawson, screw-driver in his hand, standing behind a large
packing-case, the lid of which he had apparently that minute
finished fastening down.
He looked up as Rupert entered thus precipitately, and he showed no
sign of surprise or alarm.
"You're back early," he said. "Something gone wrong?"
"What are you doing? What's in there?" Rupert asked, looking at
the packing-case, his mouth and lips so suddenly dry he found it
difficult to speak at all.
Deede Dawson began to laugh, a low and dreadful laughter that had
in it no trace of merriment at all, but only of mockery and malice.
It was such laughter as a devil from the nethermost pit might give
vent to when he saw at last a good man yield to long temptation.
"What's in there?" Rupert said again, pointing to the packing-case,
and it was as though his soul swooned within him for fear of what
the answer might be.
"What do the children say?" Deede Dawson returned with his terrible
smile. "I'll give you three guesses, isn't it? See if you can
guess in three tries."
"What's in there?" Rupert asked the third time, and Deede Dawson
laid down the screw-driver with which he had just driven home the
"Oh, see for yourself, if you want to," he said. "But you ought to
know. You know what was in the other case I sent away from here,
the one I got Ella to take in the car for me? I want you to take
this one away now, the sooner it's away the better."
"That's it, is it?" Rupert muttered.
He no longer doubted, and for a moment all things swam together
before him and he felt dizzy and a little sick, and so weak he
staggered and nearly fell, but recovered himself in time.
The sensation passed and he saw Deede Dawson as it were a long way
off, and between them the packing-case, huge, monstrous, and evil,
like a thing of dread from some other world. Violent shudderings
swept though him one after the other, and he was aware that Deede
Dawson was speaking again.
"What did you say?" he asked vacantly, when the other paused.
"You look ill," Deede Dawson answered. "Anything wrong? Why have
you come back so soon? Have you failed?"
Rupert passed his hand before his eyes to clear away the mist that
hung there and that hampered his sight.
He perceived that Deede Dawson held his right hand in the pocket
of his coat, grasping something that bulged out curiously.
He divined that it was a pistol, and that Deede Dawson was ready
to shoot at any moment, but that he wished very greatly to know
first of all what had happened and why Rupert had returned so soon
and whether there was immediate necessity for flight or not.
That he was uneasy was certain, for his cold eyes showed a
hesitation and a doubt such as Rupert had never seen in them before.
"I'll tell you what's happened," Rupert heard himself saying
hoarsely. "If you'll tell me what's in there."
"A bargain, eh?" Deede Dawson said. "It's easy enough. You can
look for yourself if you unscrew the lid, but then, after all, why
should we take all that trouble?"
As he spoke his pistol showed in his hand, and at once the heavy
glass inkpot Rupert had held all this time flew straight and true,
and with tremendous force, at Deede Dawson's head.
He avoided it only by the extreme rapidity with which he dropped
behind the packing-case, and it flew over his head and crashed
against the centre panel of a big wardrobe that stood in one
corner of the room, splitting the panel it struck from top to
Following it, Rupert hurled himself forward with one great spring,
but agile as a cat that leaps away from the mastiff's teeth, Deede
Dawson slipped from his grasp to the other side of the room. In
doing so he knocked his arm against the corner of the packing-case,
so that his revolver fell to the ground.
With a shout Rupert stooped and seized it, and straightened himself
to see that Deede Dawson had already another revolver in his hand
- a second one that he had drawn from an inner pocket.
They remained very still, watching each other intently, neither
eager to fire, since both wished first to make the other speak. For
Rupert desired very greatly that Deede Dawson should tell him where
Ella was, and Deede Dawson needed that Rupert should explain what
had gone wrong, and how imminent and great was the danger that
therefore most likely threatened him.
Each knew, too, that the slightest movement he made would set the
other shooting, and each realized that in that close and narrow
space any exchange of shots must almost of necessity mean the death
of both, since both were cool and deadly marksmen, well accustomed
to the use of the revolver.
Deede Dawson was the first to speak.
"Well, what next?" he said. "If that inkpot of yours had hit me it
would pretty well have knocked my brains out, and if I hadn't hit
my elbow against the corner of the packing-case I would have had you
shot through with holes like a sieve by now. So far the score's
even. Let's chat a bit, and see if we can't come to some arrangement.
Look, I'll show I trust you,"
As he spoke he laid down, much to Rupert's surprise, and to his
equal suspicion, his revolver on the top of a moth-eaten roll of
old carpet that leaned against the wall near where he was standing.
"You see, I trust you," he said once more.
"Take your pistol up again," answered Rupert grimly. "I do not
"Ah, that's a pity." Deede Dawson smiled, making no effort to do as
the other said. "You see, we are both good shots, and if we start
blazing away at each other up here we shall both be leaking pretty
badly before long. That's a prospect that has no attraction for me;
I don't know if it has for you. But there are things I can tell you
that might be interesting, and things you can tell me I want to know.
Why not exchange a little information, and then separate calmly,
rather than indulge in pistol practice that can only mean the death
of us both? For if your first bullet goes though my brain I swear
my first will be in your heart."
"Likely enough," agreed Rupert, "but worth while perhaps."
"Oh, that's fanaticism," Deede Dawson answered. "Flattering perhaps
to me, but not quite reasonable, eh?"
"There's only one thing I want to know from you," Rupert said slowly.
"Then why not ask it, why not agree to the little arrangement I
suggest, eh? Eh, Rupert Dunsmore?"
"You know me, then?"
"Oh, long enough."
"Where is Ella?"
Deede Dawson laughed again.
"That's a thing I know and you don't," he said. "Well, she's safe
away in London by this time."
"That's a lie, for her mother's here still," answered Rupert, even
though his heart leapt merely to hear the words.
"Unbelieving Thomas," smiled the other. "Well, then, she is where
she is, and that you can find out for yourself. But I'll make
another suggestion. We are both good shots, and if we start to fire
we shall kill each other. I am certain of killing you, but I shan't
escape myself. Well, then, why not toss for it? Equal chances for
both, and certain safety for one. Will you toss me, the one who
loses to give up his pistol to the other?
"It seems to me a good idea," Deede Dawson argued. "Here we are
watching each other like cats, and knowing that the least movement
of either will start the other off, and both of us pulling trigger
as hard as we can. My idea would mean a chance for one. Well,
let's try another way; the best shot to win. You don't trust me,
but I will you."
Leaving his pistol lying where he had put it down, he crossed the
attic, and with a pencil he took from his pocket drew a circle on
the panel of the wardrobe door that Rupert had split with the
inkpot he had thrown.
In the centre of the circle he marked a dot, and turned smilingly
to the frowning and suspicious Rupert.
"There you are," he said, and made another circle near the first
one. "Now you put a bullet into the middle of this circle and I'll
put one afterwards through the second circle, and the one who is
nearest to the dots I've marked, wins. What have you to say to that?
Seems to me better than our killing each other. Isn't it?"
"I think you're playing the fool for some reason of your own,"
answered Rupert. "There's only one thing I want to know from you.
Where is Ella?"
"Let me know how you can shoot," answered Deede Dawson, "and I'll
tell you, by all that's holy, I will."
Rupert hesitated. He did not understand all this, he could not
imagine what motive was in Deede Dawson's mind, though it was
certainly true enough that once they began shooting at each other
neither man was at all likely to survive, for Rupert knew he would
not miss and he did not think Deede Dawson would either.
Above all, there was the one thing he wished to know, the one
consideration that weighed with him above all others - what had
become of Ella? And this time there had been in Deede Dawson's
voice an accent of twisted and malign sincerity that seemed to
say he really would be willing to tell the truth about her if
Rupert would gratify his whim about this sort of shooting-match
that he was suggesting.
The purpose of it Rupert could not understand, but it did not seem
to him there would be any risk of harm in agreeing, for Deede
Dawson was standing so far away from his own weapon he could not
well be contemplating any immediate mischief or treachery.
It did occur to him that the pistol he held might be loaded in one
chamber only and that Deede Dawson might be scheming to induce him
to throw away his solitary cartridge.
But a glance reassured him on that point.
"Let me see how you can shoot," Deede Dawson repeated, leaning
carelessly with folded arms against the wall a little distance away.
"And I promise you I'll tell you where Ella is."
Rupert lifted his pistol and was indeed on the very point of firing
when he caught a glimpse of such evil triumph and delight in Deede
Dawson's cold eyes that he hesitated and lowered the weapon, and at
the same time, looking more closely, searching more intently for
some indication of Deede Dawson's hidden purpose, he noticed, caught
in the crack of the wardrobe door, a tiny shred of some blue material
only just visible.
He remembered that sometimes of an afternoon Ella had been accustomed
to wear a frock made of a material exactly like that of which so tiny
a fragment showed now in the crack of the wardrobe door.
He turned quickly towards Deede Dawson. Their eyes met, and in that
mutual glance Rupert Dunsmore read that his suspicions were correct
and Deede Dawson that his dreadful trap was discovered.
Neither spoke. For a brief moment they remained impassive, immobile,
their eyes meeting like blows, and then Deede Dawson made one spring
to seize again the revolver he had laid down in the hope of enticing
Rupert into the awful snare prepared for him.
But quick as he was, Rupert was quicker still, and as Deede Dawson
leaped he lifted his pistol and fired, though his aim was not at
the man, but at the revolver lying on the top of the roll of carpet
where Deede Dawson had placed it.
The bullet, for Rupert was a man who seldom missed, struck the
weapon fair and whirled it, shattered and useless, to the floor.
Deede Dawson, whose hand had been already outstretched to seize it,
drew back with a snarl that was more like the cry of a trapped wolf
than any sound produced from human lips.
Still, Rupert did not speak. With the smoking pistol in his hand
he watched silently and steadily his helpless enemy who, for his
part, was silent, too, and very still, for he felt that doom was
close upon him.
Yet he showed not the least sign of fear, but only a fierce and
"Shoot away, why don't you shoot?" he sneered. "Mind you don't miss.
I trusted you when I put my revolver down and I was a fool, but I
thought you would play fair."
Without a word Rupert tossed his pistol through the attic window.
They heard the tinkling fall of the glass, they heard more faintly
the sound of the revolver striking the outhouse roof twenty feet
below and rebounding thence to the paved kitchen yard beneath, and
then all was quiet again.
"I only need my hands for you," said Rupert softly, as softly as a
mother coos to her drowsy babe. "My hands for you."
For the first time Deede Dawson seemed to fear, for, indeed, there
was that in Rupert Dunsmore's eyes to rouse fear in any man. With
a sudden swift spring, Rupert leaped forward and Deede Dawson, not
daring to abide that onslaught, turned and ran, screaming shrilly.
During the space of one brief moment, a dreadful and appalling
moment, there was a wild strange hunting up and down the narrow
space of that upper attic, cumbered with lumber and old, disused
Round and round Deede Dawson fled, screaming still in a high shrill
way, like some wild thing in pain, and hard upon him followed Rupert,
nor had they gone a second time about that room before Rupert had
Deede Dawson in a fast embrace, his arms about the other's middle.
One last great cry Deede Dawson gave when Rupert seized him, and
then was silent as Rupert lifted him and swung him high at arm's
As a child in play sports with its doll, so Rupert swung Deede
Dawson twice about his head, round and round and then loosed him
so that he went hurling through the air with awful force, like a
stone shot from a catapult, clean through the window through which
Rupert had the moment before tossed his pistol with but little
more apparent effort.
Right through the window, bearing panes and sash with him, Deede
Dawson flew with the impetus of that great throw and out beyond
and down, turning over and over the while, down through the empty
air to fall and be shattered like a piece of worthless crockery
on the stone threshold of the outhouse door.
Surprised to find himself alone, Rupert put his hand to his
forehead and looked vacantly around.
"My God, what have I done?" he thought.
He was trembling violently, and the fury of the passion that had
possessed him and had given his mighty muscles a force more than
human, was still upon him.
Going to the window, he looked out, for he did not quite know what
had happened and from it he looked back at the wardrobe door.
"Oh, yes," he said. "Yes."
He ran to it and tore open the door and from within very tenderly
and gently he lifted down the half-swooning Ella who, securely
gagged and tightly bound, had been thrust into its interior to
conceal her from him.
Hurriedly he freed her from her bonds and from the handkerchief that
was tied over her mouth and holding her in his arms like a child,
pressing her close to his heart, he carried her lightly out of that
Only once did she stir, only once did she speak, when lifting her
pale, strained face to him she murmured very faintly something in
which he just caught the words :
"He'll trouble us no more nor any one else, I think," answered
Rupert, and she said no more but snuggled down in his arms as though
with a feeling of perfect security and safety.
He took her to her own room and left her with her mother, and then
went down to the hall and took a chair and sat at the front door.
All at once he felt very tired and one of his shoulders hurt him,
for he had strained a muscle there rather badly.
His one desire was to rest, and he did not even trouble to go round
to the back of the house to see what had happened to Deede Dawson,
though indeed that was not a point on which he entertained much
For a long time he sat there quietly, till at last his father
arrived in a motor-car from Wreste Abbey, together with a
police-inspector from the county town whom he had picked up on
Rupert took them into the room where Deede Dawson's chessmen and
the board were still standing and told them as briefly as he could
what had happened since the first day when he had left his home
to try to trace out and defeat the plot hatched by Walter Dunsmore
and Deede Dawson.
"You people wouldn't act," he said to the inspector. "You said
there was no evidence, no proof, and I daresay you were right
enough from the legal point of view. But it was plain enough to
me that there was some sort of conspiracy against my uncle's life,
I thought against my father's as well, but I was not sure of that
at first. It was through poor Charley Wright I became so certain.
He found out things and told me about them; but for him the first
attempt to poison my uncle would have succeeded. Even then we
had still no evidence to prove the reality of our suspicions, for
Walter destroyed it, by accident, I thought at the time, purposely,
as I know now. It was something Walter said that gave Charley the
idea of coming here. Then he vanished. He must have roused their
suspicions somehow, and they killed him. But again Walter put us
all off the scent by his story of having seen Charley in London,
so that it was there the search for him was made, and no one ever
thought of Bittermeads. I never suspected Walter, such an idea
never entered my head; but luckily I didn't tell him of my idea of
coming to Bittermeads myself to try to find out what was really
going on here. He knew nothing of where I was till I told him that
day at Wreste Abbey, then of course he came over here at once. I
thought it was anxiety for my safety, but I expect really it was
to warn his friends. When I saw him here that night I told him
every single thing, I trusted the carrying-out of everything I had
arranged to him. If it hadn't been for a note Miss Cayley wrote
me to warn me, I should have walked right into the trap and so would
my father too."
The police-inspector asked a few questions and then made a search
of the room which resulted in the discovery of quite sufficient
proof of the guilt of Deede Dawson and of Walter Dunsmore.
Among these proofs was also a hastily-scribbled note from Walter
that solved the mystery of John Clive's death. It was not signed,
but both General Dunsmore and Rupert knew his writing and were
prepared to swear to it. Beginning abruptly and scribbled on a
torn scrap of paper, it ran:
"I found Clive where you said, lucky you got hold of the note and
read it before she sent it, for no doubt she meant to warn him.
Take care she gets no chance of the sort again. I did Clive's
business all right. She saw me and I think recognized me from that
time she saw me over the packing-case business, before I took it
out to sink it at sea. At any rate, she ran off in a great hurry.
If you aren't careful, she'll make trouble yet."
"Apparently," remarked the inspector when he had read this aloud,
"the young lady was very luckily not watched closely enough and
did make trouble for them. Could I see her, do you think ?"
"I don't know, I'll go and ask," Rupert said.
Ella was still very shaken, but she consented to see the inspector,
and they all went together to her room where she was lying on her
bed with her mother fussing nervously about her.
She told them in as few words as possible the story of how she had
always disliked and mistrusted the man whom so unfortunately her
mother had married, and how gradually her suspicions strengthened
till she became certain that he was involved in many unlawful deeds.
But always her inner certainty had fallen short of absolute proof,
so careful had he been in all he did.
"I knew I knew," she said. "But there was nothing I really knew.
And he made me do all sorts of things for him. I wouldn't have
cared for myself, but if I tried to refuse he made mother suffer.
She was very, very frightened of him, but she would never leave him.
She didn't dare. There was one night he made me go very late with
a packing-case full of silver things he had, and he wouldn't tell
me where he had got them. I believe he stole them all, but I helped
him pack them, and I took them away the night Mr. Dunsmore came and
gave them to a man wearing a mask. My stepfather said it was just a
secret family matter he was helping some friends in, and later on I
saw the same man in the woods near here one day - the day Mr. Clive
was killed by the poachers - and when he came another time to the
house I thought I must try to find out what he wanted. I listened
while they talked and they said such strange things I made up my
mind to try to warn Mr. Dunsmore, for I was sure there was something
they were plotting."
"There was indeed," said Rupert grimly. "And but for that warning
you sent me they would have succeeded."
"Somehow they found out what I had done," Ella continued. "As soon
as I got back he kept looking at me so strangely. I was afraid - I
had been afraid a long time, for that matter - but I tried not to
show it. In the afternoon he told me to go up to the attic. He
said he wanted me to help him pack some silver. It was the same
silver I had packed before; for some reason he had got it back again.
This time I had to pack it in the little boxes, and after I had
finished I waited up there till suddenly he ran in very quickly
and looking very excited. He said I had betrayed them, and should
suffer for it, and he took some rope and he tied me as tightly as
he could, and tied a great handkerchief over my mouth, and pushed
me inside the wardrobe and locked it. I think he would have
killed me then only he was afraid of Mr. Dunsmore, and very anxious
to know what had happened, and why Mr. Dunsmore had come home, and
if there was any danger. And I was a long time there, and I heard
a great noise, and then Mr. Dunsmore opened the door and took me out."
Three months had passed, and in a quiet little cottage on the
outskirts of a small country town, situated in one of the most
beautiful and peaceful vales of the south-west country, Ella was
slowly recovering from the shock of the dreadful experiences
through which she had passed.
She had been ill for some weeks, but her mother, fussily
incompetent at most times, was always at her best when sickness
came, and she had nursed her daughter devotedly and successfully.
As soon as possible they had come to this quiet little place where
people, busy with their own affairs and the important progress of
the town, had scarcely heard of what the newspapers of the day
called "The Great Chobham Sensation."
But, in fact, very much to Rupert's relief, comparatively little
had been made known publicly, and the whole affair had attracted
wonderfully little attention.
The one public proceeding had been the inquest of Deede Dawson, and
that the coroner, at the request of the police eagerly searching for
Walter Dunsmore, had made as brief and formal as possible. Under his
direction the jury had returned a verdict of "justifiable homicide,"
and Ella's illness had had at least one good result of making it
impossible for her to attend to give her evidence in person.
At a trial, of course, everything would have had to be told in full,
but both Allen, Deede Dawson's accomplice, and Walter Dunsmore, his
instigator and employer, had vanished utterly.
For Walter the search was very hot, but so far entirely without
result. Now could Allen be found. He was identified with a fair
degree of certainty as an old criminal well known to the authorities,
and it was thought almost certain that he had had previous dealings
with Deede Dawson, and knew enough about him to be able to force
himself into Bittermeads.
Of the actual plot in operation there he most likely knew little
or nothing, but probably Deede Dawson thought he might be useful,
and the store of silver found in the attic that Ella had been
employed in packing ready for removal was identified as part of
the plunder from a recent burglary in a northern town.
It was thought, therefore, that both Allen and Deede Dawson might
have been concerned in that affair, that Deede Dawson had managed
to secure the greater share of the booty, and that Allen, on the
night when Rupert found him breaking into Bittermeads, was
endeavouring to get hold of the silver for himself.
But the actual facts are not likely now ever to be known, for from
that day to this nothing has been heard of Allen. His old haunts
know him no more, and to his record, carefully preserved at Scotland
Yard, there have been no recent additions.
One theory is that Deede Dawson, finding him troublesome, took
effectual steps to dispose of him. Another is that Deede Dawson
got him away by either bribes or threats, and that, not knowing
of Deede Dawson's death, he does not venture to return.
In any case, he was a commonplace criminal, and his fate is of
little interest to any one but himself.
It was Walter for whom the police hunted with diligence and effort,
but with a total lack of success, so that they began to think at
the end of three months that he must somehow have succeeded in
making his way out of the country.
During the first portion of this time Rupert had been very busy
with a great many things that needed his attention. And then Lord
Chobham, his health affected by the crimes and treachery of a
kinsman whom he had known and trusted as he had known and trusted
Walter, was attacked by acute bronchitis which affected his heart
and carried him off within the week. The title and estates passed,
therefore, to General Dunsmore, and Rupert became the Honourable
Rupert Dunsmore and the direct heir. All this meant for him a great
deal more to see to and arrange, for the health of the new Lord
Chobham had also been affected and he left practically everything
in his son's hands, so that, except for the letters which came
regularly but had been often written in great haste, Ella knew and
heard little of Rupert.
But today he was to come, for everything was finally in order, and,
though this she did not know till later, Walter Dunsmore had at
last been discovered, dead from poison self-administered, in a
wretched lodging in an East End slum. Rupert had been called to
identify the body and he had been able to arrange it so that very
little was said at the inquest, where the customary verdict of
"Suicide during temporary insanity" was duly returned by a quite
That the last had been heard of the tragedy that had so nearly
overwhelmed his life, Rupert was able now to feel fairly well
assured, and it was therefore in a mood more cheerful than he had
known of late that he started on his journey to Ella's new residence.
He had sent a wire to confirm his letter, and it was in a mood that
was more than a little nervous that she busied herself with her
She chose her very simplest gown, and when there was absolutely
nothing more to do she went into their little sitting-room to
wait alone by the fire she had built up there, for it was winter
now and today was cold and inclined to be stormy.
Rupert had not said exactly when she was to expect him, and she sat
for a long time by the fire, starting at every sound and imagining
at every moment that she heard the front-door bell ring.
"I shall not let him feel himself bound," she said to herself with
great decision. "I shall tell him I hope we shall always be friends
but that's all; and if he wants anything more, I shall say No. But
most likely he won't say a word about all that nonsense, it would
be silly to take seriously what he said - there."
To Ella, now, Bittermeads was always "there," and though she told
herself several times that probably Rupert had not the least idea
of repeating what he had said to her - there - and that most likely
he was coming today merely to make a friendly call, and that it
would never do for either of them to think again of what they had
said when they were both so excited and overwrought, yet in her
heart she knew a great deal better than all that.
But she said to herself very often:
"Anyhow, I shall certainly refuse him."
And on this point her mind was irrevocably made up since, after all,
whether Rupert would accept refusal or not would still remain
entirely for him to decide.
At half-past three she heard the garden-gate creak, and when she
ran to the window to peep, she saw with a kind of chill surprise
that there was a stranger coming through.
"Some one he's sent," she said to herself. "He doesn't want to
come himself and so he has sent some one else instead. I am glad."
Having said this and repeated again the last three words, and having
gulped down a sob - presumably of joy - that unexpectedly fluttered
into her throat, she went quickly to open the door.
The newly-arrived stranger smiled at her as she showed herself but
did not speak. He was a man of middle height, quite young, and
wrapped in a big, loose overcoat that very completely hid his figure.
His face, clean-shaven, showed clear, strongly-marked well-shaped
features with a firm mouth round which at this moment played a very
gentle and winning smile, a square-cut chin, and extremely bright,
clear kindly eyes that were just now smiling too.
When he took off his hat she saw that his hair was cut rather
closely, and very neatly brushed and combed, and she found his
smile so compelling and so winning that in spite of her
disappointment she found herself returning it.
It occurred to her that she had some time or another seen some one
like this stranger, but when or where she could not imagine.
Still he did not speak, but his eyes were very tender and kind as
they rested on her so that she wondered a little.
"Yes?" she said inquiringly. "Yes?"
"Don't you know me,. Ella?" he said then, very softly, and in a
voice that she recognized instantly.
"Is it you - you?" she breathed.
Instinctively she lifted her hands to greet him, and at once she
found herself caught up and held, pressed passionately to his
An hour later, by the fire in the sitting-room, Ella suddenly
"Good gracious! You must be starving," she cried, smitten with
remorse. "And there's poor mother waiting upstairs all this time.
Oh, Rupert, are you very hungry?"
"Starving," he asserted, but held her to him as closely as ever.
"I must get the tea," she protested. She put one cheek against his
and sighed contentedly.
"It's nice to see the really you," she murmured. "But oh, Rupert,
I do miss your dear bristly beard."
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