The Man From the Clouds
J. Storer Clouston
Part 4 out of 4
"Yes, I had a little talk with him; that's to say of course I did all
"In your natural voice?"
"Latterly I did," I admitted.
"Were you far from the wall above the beach."
"And I suppose there were lots of rocks about?"
"The usual supply."
"Then some one was behind either the wall or the rocks and you were
overheard! That's how you were found out!"
"Miss Rendall," I said, "you arrive at solutions by such brilliant short
cuts that I feel like an old cart horse stumbling along out of sight
behind you. My models hitherto have been the classical detectives--"
"Tuts!" she laughed, "they were only men!"
"Yes," I agreed, "we are not much of a sex. And now, guess again please,
it's a very simple conundrum this time--for you. Who was the man behind
the wall--or the rocks?"
She looked the least trifle hurt.
"I am really trying to help," she said,
"I know it!" I assured her. "And don't think I am laughing at you. This
jumping to conclusions is probably the right way of reaching them. Anyhow
my way has failed, and I am only too keen to try yours."
But I could see that I had a sensitive as well as a clever ally, and her
ardour was evidently a little damped. I tried my best to rekindle it.
"I haven't told you yet," I said, "about Mr. Hobhouse's attempts at
detection. He discovered one little fact. The old man with the tinted
spectacles was seen by a small child running towards the beach after he
had interviewed me."
I could see her pricking up her ears again, but she said little this
time, and I went on to tell her of Bolton's two talks with me. When I
came to his discovery her ardour was fairly aflame again, yet she still
seemed to be holding herself in a little.
"Some one who hasn't lived all 'their' life in the place," she repeated.
"Yes, it sounds as if he meant a woman."
"Oh, I didn't say that," I interposed.
"You thought it," she retorted, "and in that case I suppose it was me."
"But surely he must have known that before!"
"One would think so," she said thoughtfully, "but he didn't look a very
intelligent man--poor fellow! Still, it would be a stupid kind of
discovery to make a fuss about."
"There's just one thing more to tell you," I said; and I told her of the
curious episode by the cliffs on the day Bolton was murdered, and
mentioned my own conclusions, such as they were, and my difficulties in
fitting them into the evidence.
There was no doubt about her keenness now, yet I noticed that there were
no bold inferences this time. Nor did she even ask me many questions. But
I saw her grow very thoughtful.
"Well," I said, "have you any ideas--any suspicions?"
She gave no answer for a few moments, and then she said.
"I am not going to jump to conclusions again, Mr. Merton. There is no use
trying to act on wild ideas till we have found a little more out. You
might just be running risks for no purpose, and you are in quite enough
danger as it is."
"Hobhouse will look after me," I assured her.
She glanced at me with a look in her eyes that gave me a little thrill,
and then I saw a slight shiver run over her.
"You are too brave to realise what danger you are in! Remember Bolton!"
"Believe me, Miss Rendall, I am just as careful of my skin as other
people, but there is absolutely no danger so long as they don't spot me."
"But how long will that be? And you are taking no precautions at all!"
"But I am! I assure you I am. I have a code wire arranged with my cousin
and when he gets the message 'Request permission to be visited by my own
doctor,' he will be in Ransay as fast as he can steam."
She gave a little laugh, but looked anxious still.
"What a delicious message! Well, that's better than nothing. But you
don't imagine they will give you warning, do you?"
"You will," I said confidently. "When you guess there's danger I'll wire.
And now, I hope you have some idea in your head besides this notion of my
danger. Be honest! what's in your mind?"
But I now perceived I had also an obstinate ally.
"I have told you," she persisted, "we must find out a little more before
doing anything rash. And I promise not to keep anything back, and to tell
you at once if I find out anything worth knowing. Oh, if you only knew
how I want you to catch those people! As if I could possibly do anything
again to interfere with you!"
What I should have liked to do was to take her hands and say something
very friendly. What I did do was to thank her and assure her I trusted
her, in words that I think she knew were sincere; and arrange to see her
accidentally next day. And then I set off for my sanatorium with thoughts
that were not in the least of the detective type.
It was Jean Rendall's eyes, voice, smile and face--herself from her hair
to her ankles--that filled my mind as I hummed my way home. Unlike the
suspicious stranger, Thomas Sylvester Hobhouse had not been given to
singing, whistling, or humming as he walked, but he broke loose now. I
had instinctively dreaded a too close acquaintance with that girl while
the case was doubtful. I felt in my bones she would be dangerous. Now I
was enraptured to discover she was fatal.
THE POCKET BOOK
Out of the doctor's smoking-room window you saw nothing but a field or
two of bleached wintry grass, with a glimpse of grey sea beyond and that
iniquitous pebble drive close at hand. That at least was all I could see
on the blighting March morning after my tea with Jean Rendall. The chilly
damp weather had given place to chillier hard weather. With the
temperature below freezing and thin showers of dry snow driving up every
now and then before a biting nor'east wind, there was little temptation
to go abroad without excuse. My excuse was due in an hour's time when
Miss Rendall and Mr. Hobhouse proposed to encounter one another
accidentally on the road, and meantime I was turning away from the window
towards the fire when I heard the gravel crunch.
On general principles I turned back and looked out, to see a certain
small farmer approaching the front door. I knew the man slightly and
was not in the least interested in him. Presumably, I thought, it was
a call for the doctor; and then my attention was sharply caught. He
was carrying in his hand a fat little brown leather pocket book and in
an instant I had remembered where I had seen exactly such a pocket
A minute or two later it so chanced that as the maid was speaking to the
man at the door, the amiable Mr. Hobhouse came out into the hall, and in
his friendly way approached to see what the matter was; and very
interested indeed he became when he heard. The pocket book, said the
farmer, bore the name of James Bolton inside, and the maid was shuddering
over a dull stain on the cover when Mr. Hobhouse appeared. The man went
on to explain that he and a friend had been visiting the scene of the
tragedy early that morning and had discovered the pocket book among the
rocks close to where the body had been found. The local police had been
in the island and visited the spot yesterday afternoon, he said, and he
had meant to give his find to them, but now he heard that they had left
again. They were coming back, and London police with them, people said,
but meanwhile he thought the pocket book should be deposited either with
the doctor or the laird (being Justices of the Peace), and he had called
at the doctor's first. Now, the doctor being out, he meant to take it to
Hardly necessary to say, Mr. Hobhouse instantly took upon himself the
responsibility of seeing that the doctor got the pocket book the moment
he returned, and the farmer, glad enough to save himself a longer walk,
handed it over. And then Mr. Hobhouse put a few very natural questions.
"Was the pocket book wet when it was found?"
"No wetter than she is now," said the man.
"Then it must have fallen out of poor Bolton's pocket before his body was
thrown into the sea! Dreadful! Dreadful!" exclaimed the distressed
gentleman. "And was it quite conspicuous--easily seen on the rocks?"
"We saw it a' right," said the man.
"And yet the police never noticed it? Dear me, dear me! Well, well, I'll
give it to the doctor. Good morning, my good fellow, and many thanks;
Over the smoking room fire I examined this discovery very thoughtfully.
That it should have lain on the rocks all the time, and nobody, not even
the police, noticed it till now, seemed strange. Still, when one came to
think of it, the brown colour was very like the seaweed, and among that
jumble of boulders such a thing might readily have happened. But
certainly it had fallen out before the body was thrown into the sea, as
its condition proved.
I glanced through the entries till I came to the very last the poor man
had made; and then I sat up and opened my eyes very wide indeed. Plainly
and distinctly these mems. were jotted:
"Proof positive O'B. or confederate.
"To be discovered whether O'B. himself--or the other?
"Possibilities--Thomsons--No Scotts--No Scollays--No."
The Thomsons and Scotts I knew to be tenants of seaboard farms like the
Scollays, and after the Scollays came three other names, each with "No"
written after them. A pencil mark also scored across all the six names.
So here was Bolton's secret. Either O'Brien was actually in the island
himself, or he had a "confederate" here, and since that entry was made,
one of the two had crowned his series of crimes by murdering the man who
was on his track. And who was this confederate? Or alternatively, where
was O'Brien himself lurking? Obviously the six names were people
definitely acquitted, in Bolton's estimation anyhow; for the "No" and the
line through their names could only mean that.
In this list certain names were not included--I had got so far when I
happened to glance at the clock and started to my feet. My appointment
with Jean was already overdue.
No sign of her when I reached the road, so I set off to walk slowly
towards her house, thinking, thinking, thinking. Of course the man most
of all to be suspected was her own cousin. And if he were in it, I knew
that any person of common sense would warn me to beware of confiding in
his only relatives in the island. But I felt sure I knew better than any
person of mere common sense. Still, I could scarcely ask her to abet me
in convicting the doctor. Then I must not show her the note book. And
that meant a breach in our confidence at the very start.
I had walked on till I was approaching her house, and still there was no
sign of her ahead, nor was there any conclusion in my mind. And then I
chanced to look round and saw her hastening after me, about a couple of
hundred yards away. I wheeled round and on the instant leapt to one of my
typical haphazard decisions. I would simply show her the pocket book and
see how she took it.
She had evidently been running and met me half cross and half laughing
and divinely flushed after her stern chase.
"I've been chasing you for miles!" she cried. "Why ever didn't you
"But I thought you were coming straight from home!"
"I never said so, and I wasn't! I've been somewhere else first."
There seemed to be a hint of something significant in these last
words, but I was so eager to come to the point that I never paused to
"I am dreadfully sorry," I said, "but I was thinking so hard I never
thought of looking round. I have got some news for you."
Her eyes sparkled.
"What is it?" she cried.
"Bolton's pocket book has been found among the rocks, and this was his
last entry before he was killed."
I handed her the book open at the place and watched her face as she read.
And one thing her expression revealed beyond any possibility of doubt.
She was utterly and completely taken aback, and for some moments simply
stared at the jottings in dead silence. Then I saw a sudden gleam in her
eye, and a moment later she turned to me and cried,
"This wasn't written by Bolton!"
It was my turn to stare.
"Not written by Bolton!" I exclaimed. "Let me look at it again."
Standing there in the middle of the windy road, we quite forgot the
temperature, and a passing snow shower even whipped us unnoticed.
"Look!" she said. "The writing is thicker and blacker and a little bigger
than the other entries."
"It was evidently written with a different pencil, or with a blunt
pointed pencil. A man writing with a short blunt stump naturally
writes a little bigger and blacker. But look at the _t_s and the _r_s,
and the capital _P;_ in fact, look at all the letters. They are exactly
the same type."
"Of course any one trying to copy another man's hand would make his
letters the same," she retorted, "but the character isn't the same.
Can't you see?"
"There is a slight difference," I admitted, "but I really can't honestly
say I see any sufficient ground for putting this down as a fake. Besides,
what do you suppose it is--a practical joke?"
"No, of course not. It was written by the real murderer to put people off
I tried not to smile, but I am afraid I did.
"Another brilliant guess!" I said, and then hastened to add, "But a most
ingenious one and quite possibly--very probably, in fact, you are right."
But she saw through my compliments, and I felt rather than observed an
instant change in her.
"Oh, you may be right," she said, and handed me back the pocket book.
"Or wrong," I replied, "but I mean to try and discover which."
Instead of asking me what I meant to do, as I feared and expected, she
walked by my side very thoughtfully and in silence. I gave her a
moment or two to put the question which never came, and then changed
"And have you discovered anything?" I asked.
"Not discovered--only guessed," she answered with a smile in her eyes,
half defiant, half mischievous.
"And what have you guessed?"
"Oh, I won't trouble you with more guesses. I must find something out
first--something really convincing, like that note book."
I was a little piqued, but I merely laughed and said,
"Well, we'll see!"
By this time we were quite near the house.
"Won't you come in and have lunch with us?" she asked.
The temptation was strong, but the scent seemed too warm to lose, and I
said I must be back for lunch at home. We stopped, and as she looked at
me I noticed in her eyes what first seemed to be doubt and anxiety and a
moment later to become resolution.
"Mr. Merton," she said; her voice rather low, "which ever of us is right,
I think we must be getting near rather a critical point. Don't you think
you had better send off that wire to Captain Whiteclett?"
I shook my head.
"Not quite yet," I said. "You see it's a serious matter dragging my
cousin out here unless one is quite certain he will be needed."
"But then he may not be in time!"
"I must risk that. But you may rest assured I'll wire the very instant I
know it won't be bringing him out on a wild goose chase."
For an instant she was silent again, and then she suddenly said,
"I'm sure that writing was forged!"
It seemed to me that I read in her exclamation a kind of whipping up of
her unbelief, as though she needed to reassure herself.
"A pair of gloves on it?" I suggested.
I quite confess that it was not one of my most tactful suggestions. She
froze up again at once. Not that there was anything unkind in her eye as
we said good-bye, only it was clear that in the meantime we were each
going our own way.
I set out at my best pace back for I was hot for instant action, and
Jean's doubts, though I dismissed them as quite unjustified by anything
in the writing, nevertheless made me anxious to settle the question at
once. The end might be very near indeed, I told myself, as I strode out
with the last remains of my limp quite vanished. But what prompted those
doubts; a genuine disbelief in the authenticity of the handwriting, or a
perception of the logical consequences and a very natural shrinking from
them? I wondered very much. The fact that she had refrained from asking
a single question as to what I meant to do, suggested the second
solution. And yet it was curiously unlike Jean Rendall's fearless spirit.
PART OF THE TRUTH
I never remember feeling more intensely chagrined than when I reached our
bleak house twenty minutes late for our early dinner to find the doctor
had eaten a hurried meal quarter of an hour before the usual hour and
rushed out to attend an urgent case.
I asked at once whether he had been told of the pocket book. Yes, it
appeared he had. He had seemed very interested, but had immediately
ordered his dinner hour to be advanced and then hurried away without
putting further questions.
Was his haste a consequence of what he was told, or merely a
coincidence? Well, I was resolved to leave that point in doubt no later
than his return. I hardly debated at all the question of what to do. The
baffling business of groping in the dark, and daily scheming to discover
a window, without giving myself away, had gone on long enough. I had
found a head at last and I meant to hit it. It might turn out to be the
wrong head; still, I felt convinced I could scarcely fail to discover
But though I proposed to take a bold course and make a short cut to the
heart of this infernal mystery, I realised perfectly that if the cut
actually led me there, it would prove an exceedingly dangerous by-way.
It was such a gamble that I shrank from summoning my cousin until it had
come off, but I wrote out the code telegram we had arranged and put it
in my pocket ready for emergencies. Of the doctor's two servants the
younger anyhow was absolutely trustworthy I was convinced, and I meant
to send her with the wire to the post office while I kept guard over the
prisoner. And then, to ensure there being a prisoner, I saw that all the
chambers of my revolver were loaded and put it in my coat pocket ready
to my hand.
The afternoon dragged on, the wind still blustering round the house and
the hail now and then rattling on the windows; but no Dr. Rendall
appeared. Tea time arrived and still no sign of him. I gave him half an
hour's grace and then had my own tea and returned to the smoking-room.
The evening by this time had fallen and the curtains were drawn and the
And then at last I heard him enter the front door. I jumped up and, with
a dramatic instinct for taking the centre of the stage, placed myself
before the fire, but I heard him run upstairs and it was some minutes
before the sound of his descending steps reached me. The moment the door
opened I was conscious that one of those peculiar changes I had so often
noticed had taken place in the man. He smiled at me, but with a curiously
furtive eye, and then he shut the door and came forward.
"You have had tea, I hope," said he.
I wasted no time in preliminaries. Keeping my right hand closed over the
revolver in my pocket I held out the pocket book with my left.
"Dr. Rendall," I said, "you have heard that Bolton's pocket book has been
found. Here it is. Kindly look at that entry."
The man started perceptibly and stared at me. Speaking in that tone and
without my eye glasses I must have made an astonishing contrast to the
Thomas Hobhouse he had last seen that morning at breakfast.
"Read that," I commanded.
He took the pocket book and I watched him closely. I saw his eyebrows
rise as he read.
"What's all this about?" he asked.
"It is Bolton's last entry in his note book before he was murdered, and
it means that O'Brien is either still in this island, or that a
confederate of his is playing traitor in his place, and that one of the
two has just committed murder. It is quite impossible that you don't know
something of this!"
His blue eyes now had considerably more anger than guilt in them. In
fact I was bound to admit that he looked a fine upstanding man, with
his grey moustache, high colour, and an air of unmistakable indignation
in his face.
"Who the devil are you?" he demanded.
"I may tell you that I am _not_ Thomas Sylvester Hobhouse, and that I
have never taken liquor enough in my life to hurt myself. I am here to
investigate certain things that have been going on in this island, and
I'll put one question to you straight, Dr. Rendall. You remember being
visited by a certain man Merton last August, When you heard him
approaching your house why did you pull down your blind?"
That shot went straight home. All the indignation vanished and I saw on
the instant I had him at my mercy.
"What--what--has that to do with it?" he stammered.
"Don't trouble to try and hedge. As a matter of fact I am Merton and I
saw the blind go down myself. Since then we have always been on your
tracks, Dr. Rendall."
"I swear that that had nothing to do with treason!"
"You are accused of treason, your relations to O'Brien were very
peculiar, and if you can't explain that blind and this entry and a number
of other things, you will be in an extremely nasty position."
The doctor made no further effort to stand up to me. He sank into a
chair while I stood over him, and I knew I was going to hear the truth at
last. And yet this sudden collapse, and indeed his whole attitude, were
so unexpected that I felt more puzzled than triumphant.
"Mr. Merton," he said, "for God's sake don't give me away and I'll tell
you the whole truth. My cousin Philip can confirm it--or at least part of
it. I came up here because--well, I'd married the wrong woman and gone
off the rails a bit and Philip settled me here to keep me straight. I had
debts too--I have them still, I may tell you frankly. That's why I took
in O'Brien. I wasn't supposed to keep any liquor in the house--that was
one of the conditions. But damn it, I wasn't born to be a teetotaler, and
that's the plain truth, Mr. Merton. That devil O'Brien found me out and
started to blackmail me--"
"Blackmail?" I asked.
"In his own way. He made me give him liquor--and there we were the pair
of us! That's why I pulled down the blind. The decanter and glasses were
all out on this table here! And that's why O'Brien was afraid you might
be sent by his relations. That was the one thing he was afraid of,--that
he might be found out and taken away."
I bent over him and sniffed.
"You have had a dram now!" I exclaimed.
"And it's not the first since you've been here either. You see I'm
perfectly frank with you, Mr. Merton. If you like to give me away to
Philip--well be d----d, you can if you like. But you'll surely not? I've
told you what I've told to no one else."
There rushed into my mind confirmation enough of part at least of the
poor devil's story. His curious moods, his manner as he entered the
room this evening, O'Brien's impish allusions to liquor when I first
visited the house, all fell into their places now. Yet utterly as this
had exploded my hopes, I think I was more glad than sorry to see the
doctor come out of the ordeal with only this kind of stain on his
character. He was a likeable man, we had been capital friends--and he
was Jean's cousin.
"I promise you, doctor," I said, "that I shall repeat no word of this
story--except of course in confidence to those who are on the track of
this business in Ransay. Only in return you must tell me absolutely
frankly if you have seen any grounds for suspecting O'Brien of anything
The doctor shook his head emphatically.
"The only plotting the man was capable of was to get liquor. Otherwise he
was just a gas bag. I've seen him too often in a state when he'd have
given everything away, if there had been anything to give."
And then I remembered the pocket book.
"But this entry!" I cried. "How do you explain that?"
The doctor looked at it again and his bewilderment was obviously sincere.
"I'm frankly d----d if I can make head or tail of it," he said. "Bolton
must have got on the wrong scent; that's the only thing I can imagine."
And then, like a sharp smack in the face, Jean's reading of that entry
came back to me. Could she have guessed right after all? It looked
uncommonly like it.
"And yet," I said to myself, "it's a great thing to have tested the other
In fact, if one is not built to be easily dispirited, well, it is not
easy to dispirit one. I looked at the doctor, and something in my
expression seemed to make him smile. When he smiled he looked so pleasant
that my conscience smote me. I told myself he certainly deserved some
reparation for the ordeal I had put him through.
"Doctor," I said, "I am devilish thirsty myself after this bout. Let's
each have a whisky and soda!"
It may or may not have been the wisest suggestion to make. I am not an
expert in these matters. But anyhow if he enjoyed his drink as much as I
enjoyed mine, it was at least a happy idea.
We had lit our pipes with our glasses at our sides, and I was in the
midst of giving the doctor some further reparation in the shape of the
true tale of my adventures, when I saw him suddenly start and glance
guiltily at his tumbler.
"Is that some one in the hall?" he exclaimed.
"Probably the servants," I suggested.
The next instant the door opened and, without any announcement, in walked
my uncle Sir Francis Merton followed by my cousin Commander John
"I trust we are not interrupting you, Roger," said my uncle.
His voice was caustic and his eye severe, and as the costume he had
selected for this thunderbolt entrance was apparently designed to suggest
a combination of North Sea pilot and pirate King (including a fur cap
with ear flaps tied under his venerable chin) one might have fired a
twelve inch gun into the room and produced much less impression.
"Not a bit," I said, bounding to my feet, "but--er--wouldn't you like to
untie your bonnet, Uncle Francis?"
He frowned at me heavily but I was thankful to notice that his eye did
twinkle for an instant.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded.
"That is just the question, sir, I was going to put."
My cousin interposed.
"Uncle Francis arrived this morning to see how things were getting on and
when I got your wire I brought him out with me. What has happened?"
"Got my wire!" I exclaimed. "Surely--I'm certain I never sent it off!"
I put my hand in my pocket, and there it was right enough.
"My dear Jack, here it is. It never was sent."
His hand dived into his own pocket and then held out a crumpled telegram.
I took it and read this message.
"Request permission to be visited by my own doctor. Hobhouse."
"Do you mean to say you never sent that off yourself?" exclaimed
"Then who the--!" My uncle's expression completed the sentence.
Jack Whiteclett was looking uncommonly grave.
"This is a somewhat serious matter, Roger," he said quietly. "Didn't you
write this either?"
He handed me a half sheet of paper on which was written in pencil
"GO TO DOCTOR'S. IF NO FURTHER MESSAGE THERE GO ON TO SCOLLAYS'
It was printed in capital letters so as to give no clue to the
"When did you get that?" I cried.
"It was handed to me as we landed. The messenger went off again at once,
but I assumed of course it was from you."
"Roger!" thundered my uncle. "Who have you taken into your confidence?"
His eye turned manacingly on the doctor and I hastened to intervene.
"Dr. Rendall--Sir Francis Merton," I introduced. "But it certainly wasn't
Dr. Rendall who sent these messages. He has only just learned the facts."
My uncle bowed very stiffly to the doctor and turned on me again.
"And how many more people have 'learned the facts'--the facts, I may
remind you, which it was so vital they should _not_ learn?"
I bared my metaphorical breast, and with as close an imitation of a
clear-conscienced young man revealing the harmless necessary truth as I
could achieve without rehearsal, I told him,
"I have only informed one person, and she is thoroughly trustworthy."
"She!" said my uncle, not very loudly but extremely unpleasantly.
"She is Miss Rendall," I added.
My revelations to the doctor not having reached this stage when we were
interrupted, I think I can honestly say that no utterance of mine ever
produced a more telling effect on these men simultaneously.
"Jean!" exclaimed the doctor.
"Oh, is that her name?" said my uncle as soon as he could trust
himself to speak.
My cousin alone came straight to the point.
"Then she has sent me this wire and this message?"
"She must have," I agreed.
"In that case we had better push on for the Scollays at once and see what
"You don't think it's a trap?" asked my uncle.
Jack Whiteclett smiled slightly. The idea of the Navy pausing to weigh
the risk appeared to amuse him.
"We must take our chance," he said briefly. "We've both got our
"And so have I," I added, "and certainly _I_ am going to the Scollays.
You can trust Miss Rendall!"
"You can that!" said the doctor heartily. "And if you don't mind I'll
come with you."
I saw doubt in my uncle's eye and put in quickly.
"Certainly, doctor! We may all be needed. Come on!"
It was quite dark, and mortal cold; the road was frozen hard and the
nor'east wind swept over it without a break from wall or hedge-row. We
all four trotted for a little to get up our circulation and then settled
down to a fast five-mile-an-hour walk. About half the distance had been
covered when I first heard a little sound ahead.
"What's that!" I exclaimed, and we stood still and listened.
"Somebody running!" said my cousin.
"Towards us?" asked Sir Francis.
Plainer and plainer sounded the pattering steps on the frozen road, and
as they drew nearer I thought I could tell that they were light steps--a
woman's or a boy's, they seemed.
"Let's drop into the ditch and see who it is," whispered Jack.
We broke, two of us to either side of the road, and I found myself with
my uncle stooping in one ditch, with Jack and the doctor across the road
in the other. Thus bent down, one could see objects against the sky more
distinctly and in a moment I spied the runner dimly, pattering down the
middle of the road straight for us. And then, in a few seconds, this
runner gradually took shape and my eyes at last could see the swing of a
skirt and thought they could even recognise the slim figure. I jumped up.
"Wait!" muttered my uncle.
"It's all right! We mustn't frighten her," I said.
I came out into the middle of the road and saw the other three rising at
the sides. The runner was barely twenty yards away by now and I heard her
gasp as she stopped abruptly.
"Miss Rendall?" I said.
The next moment she had rushed up to me, her eyes sparkling, her voice
coming in pants.
"Mr. Merton!" she panted and then her eyes fell on the others. "They've
come then--I'm so glad!--forgive me for wiring--but--look!"
She handed me something small and long-shaped. It was a spectacle case.
"Take them out!" she said.
We were all four gathered round her now and I heard my uncle say,
"Where's that torch of yours, Jack?"
Then the flash of my cousin's electric torch fell on the spectacles and
my heart leapt.
"The tinted spectacles!" I cried.
"Where did you find them?" demanded my uncle and cousin
simultaneously, and I could tell from their voices that all doubts had
vanished, and that, like me, they were burning now only with the
excitement of the chase.
"At the Scollays'!" she said, still panting. "But there's no time
to lose--you'll see everything if we only hurry--he may be back if
Sir Francis (of course) pocketed the spectacle case, and the whole five
of us set out at the double, Jean trotting in front between Jack and me,
and Sir Francis and the doctor clattering behind. My cousin and I each
tried a question, but we saw that Jean's breath would be better saved for
whatever was ahead, and so our voices fell silent and presently as we
left the high road our feet fell almost silent too. We only dropped to a
walk when the farm buildings loomed up close ahead, and then for a moment
Jean stopped us and listened intently.
"They are all in the house still," she whispered. "I think we are in
She led us, walking in single file and on our toes, into the midst of the
huddle of low houses until we came to one open, pitch-dark door. And then
she flashed a little torch and we followed her into a building which I
remembered distinctly. One end was the barn where I slept that memorable
first night in Ransay. The other was filled with a litter of odds and
ends--coils of rope, fishing nets, a barrel or two, spades, a pick-axe,
and I cannot remember what else. With feverish energy she pushed and
pulled these things aside, my cousin's torch lighting up the jumble,
until a large rough wooden box became visible, standing in the very
corner against the wall. I could see at a glance that it had been locked
and the lock forced.
"I broke it open!" she whispered. "So there was no time to lose or he'd
We raised the heavy lid and the very first thing my eyes fell on was a
white false beard. Jean picked it up and I could hear her voice shaking
"There's the rest of the disguise!" she said.
And there was the old coat, and a nasty looking scythe blade, and a
number of other things of which the powers that be have an inventory now,
but which they would scarcely thank me for mentioning here. I may say,
however, that they made a very thorough outfit for the job the owner of
them had been engaged on. Among them was one very curious looking find:
the two halves of a large cheese hollowed out, and one-half broken
across. Jack Whiteclett pointed to this with a grim look.
"An unsuccessful experiment," he whispered. "He must have made a better
one for the _Uruguay_"
"Do you mean," gasped Jean, "that this was for a bomb?"
"Looks like it," he answered.
"Hush!" I whispered.
The torch went out on the instant and in absolute inky darkness we held
our breath and listened. Somebody was quietly approaching the barn. The
steps were not exactly stealthy, but guarded and wary, though quite
assured, as if the man were only exercising a general precaution.
"Keep your faces hidden as much as you can!" whispered Whiteclett.
There was enough light in the open door to silhouette a figure as it
entered, and a moment later I saw for an instant quite distinctly the
outline of that oilskinned man once more. And then for perhaps three
long seconds he was lost in the gloom within and we only knew of his
approach by the sound of his footsteps. Abruptly they stopped. He was
little more than a couple of paces from us now and I thought I heard him
move back a step. Probably he had seen the white of some one's face.
There was a little click and Whiteclett's torch flashed full on him. In
that instant I saw his hand rise, and with my head down I charged him.
The report of his pistol rang through the barn and almost simultaneously
down he came, and I had a firm grip of those oilskins at last.
How the man fought! Not till I was sitting on his legs and Jack and the
doctor each had an arm pinned to the floor did he cease to struggle, and
even then he did not cease to swear. Sir Francis standing up over him,
with the torch in his own hand, now turned the light on to his face. When
I saw what it revealed I nearly let go our prisoner's legs through sheer
bewilderment. For there in the torch's bright circle lay the poor idiot
Jock, cursing us in fluent German.
THE REST OF THE TRUTH
"Does any one know him?" demanded my uncle.
"It's the Scollays' idiot son!" I gasped.
I heard an exclamation both from Jean and the doctor.
"Son?" said Jean. "What! Did you think Jock was a Scollay?"
"He was sent up here about a couple of years ago to be looked after by
these Scollays," explained the doctor. "We always supposed he was
somebody's--?" he glanced at Jean and hesitated--"er--somebody's son."
"Good Heavens!" I cried. "What a fool I've been!"
Swiftly I ran over in my mind my first night with the Scollay household.
Had I ever been told Jock was a son? No, I had simply assumed it, and
gone on that assumption without ever once thinking anything more about
the matter. And so, with this impenetrable curtain between me and all
possibility of guessing the truth I had gone on uselessly groping.
A harsh voice startled me. It was Jock, gazing viciously up at me and
talking guttural English now. His face was still framed in the circle of
the torch, and as I looked at it now I realised that the truth had
actually been written there all the time for a closely observing eye to
read. This man's features differed vitally from the Scollays' and,
especially, there was no cast in his eyes.
"Fool!" he snarled, "yes, you have been a damned fool, you Hobhouse! Ach,
if I had known, you should have been a dead fool!"
"You mean if you hadn't been made a bit of a fool of too?" I suggested.
He was a brave man and a useful man to his country, but the German
boastfulness would out.
"Ach, but I should have found you out soon! Me, you would have found
His eyes rolled round our party and I could see curiosity overcoming even
"Who did tell you?" he demanded.
"If it is any satisfaction to you to know," replied Sir Francis, "your
machinations were discovered and you were tracked down and caught by a
girl." He turned to Jean and added, "An exceedingly clever, brave and
I am sorry to say our prisoner still further smirched his record. What he
said was fortunately in German and the words at the beginning of his
sentence were not the kind that Jean would know. Before he had finished
it my uncle had struck him with the butt end of the torch on the mouth.
"Hold your foul tongue!" he cried and then turned away and I could see a
kind of shiver run over him.
"God forgive me!" he murmured. "I never struck a man when he was down
before!" And then he recovered himself a little and added, "But is a
German a human being?"
Meanwhile Jean was already bringing a bundle of rope from the corner
under my cousin's direction, and in a few minutes his practised hands had
knotted our prisoner up so securely that we were able to move aside from
him and hold a hasty council of war.
"Now for the rest of the gang!" said my uncle. "Do you suppose they've
heard us and bolted?"
"Do you mean the Scollays?" asked Jean. "Oh, I don't believe they knew!"
"My dear young lady, it's very painful for you to think your tenants are
playing such games, but they simply must have known!"
"We can't afford to give them the benefit of the doubt," said Jack
Whiteclett. "That's absolutely certain. I am afraid I must arrest them,
Miss Rendall, and the sooner it's over the better."
"Jack!" commanded our uncle, "this is a matter I think I could handle
rather better than a hot-headed young man." (Commander Whiteclett, it
may be mentioned, was reputed in the Navy to have a remarkably cool
head.) "Dr. Rendall, perhaps you will be good enough to keep watch over
our prisoner for a few minutes while we are gone. Roger, give the doctor
your pistol. If we hear you fire, doctor, we'll be out in a few seconds.
Jack and Roger, come along with me."
Jack and I exchanged a look but said nothing. Our uncle still held the
torch, and flashing it before him led the way out of the barn. We
followed him, but my eyes I am afraid were over my shoulder. I saw Jean
slip her own torch into the doctor's hand and then she ran after me.
"May I come too!" she whispered.
"Of course!" I said, "you're in command of the party--or ought to be!"
and out we went together.
The farm yard made rough walking, and there seemed every excuse for my
taking her arm and none for her objecting; nor did she.
"Who is this delightful, arbitrary old gentleman?" she asked in my ear.
"You never introduced me!"
"Our uncle," I murmured back. "Jack and I both have expectations so we've
got to give him his head!"
I must say Sir Francis stage-managed our entrance into the Scollays'
house very effectively. As he quietly opened the door, he got us all
close behind him, exactly like a band of robbers, so that we trod on one
another's heels down a yard or two of narrow passage. The Scollays were
all seated round the kitchen table when our uncle's figure suddenly
towered out of the gloom, his pistol covering Peter senior's head, and
his voice thundering:
At the first command they simply gasped.
"Hands up or I fire!" thundered Sir Francis again, and up went every pair
of hands, and what is more they stayed up.
"Your confederate is captured and has confessed everything!" announced
The family visibly trembled but looked more amazed than ever.
"This fellow they call--" My uncle looked over his shoulder and
whispered, "What the devil was the fellow's name." And then in his
stentorian voice again, "This fellow called Jock has confessed! So I know
all about it. What have you got to say for yourselves?"
I saw their bewildered eyes wandering from one to the other of the
family, and in a moment Mrs. Scollay asked in a quavering voice,
"What's come over Jock, do ye say, sir?"
"He has _confessed_!" repeated my uncle. "We know that he is a
He glared at each astounded face in turn and then exclaimed over
"By Heaven, I actually don't believe they knew!"
"I think, sir, if you'll allow me," suggested my cousin, "I'd like to put
a few questions."
"Well," growled our uncle, "fire away!"
We all trooped into the kitchen and the whole four of us cross-examined
that family in turn, so that by the end of it we got a pretty good idea
of how the land lay.
It seemed that two years before, the Scollays had been visited by a
polite stranger apparently of the tourist species. This gentleman, after
admiring the healthy yet retired situation of their residence, had
suddenly been seized with an inspiration. The very place for an
unfortunate young man of his acquaintance! he cried, and thereupon asked
them if they could take charge of a blameless, helpless, harmless idiot.
The stranger hinted that there were the best of reasons why the parents
of this unfortunate wished him kept in the background. He had been
boarded out previously, it appeared, but too near home, and now here was
an ideal out-of-the-way spot for his retirement! The terms were so
handsome that further enquiries on the Scollays' part seemed superfluous,
and so in a week's time Jock had arrived.
His harmlessness had been absolutely guaranteed, provided always that no
restraints were put upon him and that any little innocent fancy was
indulged. Thus he wandered all over the island and at all hours,
sometimes even wandering out at night when the foolish fancy took him,
until this was accepted as the normal thing for harmless Jock. Another
innocent whim he had of making a collection of rubbishy odds and ends and
keeping them in a box in the barn. He had even repeated "Lock! Lock!" and
stamped his harmless foot till they good-naturedly provided him with a
lock and key for this treasure chest. And thus long before August, 1914,
Jock was provided with a character that rendered his habits above
suspicion, and a strong box which nobody would ever dream of examining.
Two or three times the same polite tourist paid a visit to the island to
see how the poor demented young man was being looked after, and on these
occasions he would take Jock out for quite a long walk, and afterwards
assure the family that their guest's health was benefiting greatly. But
this gentleman had not visited the island since the war, it seemed.
This was the Scollays' story and I think we all believed that in the main
it was true. In fact, since then it has stood the test of all the
evidence that could be got to check it. At the same time it seemed pretty
clear that their greed had made them blinder than any one without a
strong monetary interest could possibly have been. For fear of losing
their little gold mine they had shut their eyes when people of average
common sense would have opened them pretty wide. Our questions convicted
them of this much, and at the end Whiteclett said emphatically that the
two Peters must depart that night with him for further examination, if
for nothing more.
"I'll leave you here with them, sir, for a moment, while I have a look at
the other prisoner," he said quickly before our uncle could begin to
issue the commands that we knew were coming, and with a sign to Jean and
myself, hurried out.
We were at his heels and followed him to the barn. There Jock was still
lying bound with the doctor sitting over him.
"Has he said anything to you?" asked my cousin when he had called the
Dr. Rendall smiled under his grey moustache.
"He offered me £200 in gold to be paid on the nail if I would let him
loose. We must have a dig for that money to-morrow, Whiteclett."
"Not a word after I had refused, and it's my belief you'll never get
another word out of the man between now and his execution."
"He seems that sort," my cousin agreed. "And now, doctor, you and I will
carry him into the house and keep Sir Francis company. The three of us
will have an eye on all the prisoners then, till I can get some fellows
up from the drifter to escort them. Do you mind going down to the boat,
Roger, and sending up a party? You can find your way in the dark?"
"I'll make a shift to."
"Perhaps if Miss Rendall is going home she might put you on the right
road," he suggested.
"Of course I will!" said Jean.
As I left him, Jack pressed my hand and whispered,
"Never say again I'm not tactful, Roger! Congratulations, old chap,
you've brought off a triple event if I'm not mistaken!"
"That's one," he said pointing to our prisoner, "Uncle Francis is
another, and I'll bet you sixpence I'm right about the third as soon
as you shave that filthy beard. Get off with you now and don't keep a
THE FROSTY ROAD
Sometimes we walked and sometimes we trotted in step side by side, her
arm through mine, where I had persuaded it to venture, and where it
thrilled me by remaining. Personally I was not in the least anxious to
bring our errand to an early end, but Jean was fired with zeal to
astonish my relations by the speed with which we brought reinforcements,
and so, trot and walk, we hurried down the frosted road through that
black March night, talking, talking, almost every step of the way.
It was she who began as soon as we were clear of the farm.
"Are your uncle and Captain Whiteclett going back tonight?" she asked
anxiously, and when I said I didn't know, she cried, "Well then I must
come back and see them in case they go. There has been no time to explain
and they must be told that it was simply my stupidity that prevented you
from catching Jock sooner!"
"Your--what?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, I ought to have seen that you didn't know he wasn't one of the
family!" she insisted. "And that was one of the reasons why I went and
interfered again when I'd vowed I wouldn't. I thought if you didn't
suspect him, perhaps I was wrong, and if I had been, you'd never have
trusted my 'guesses' again; so I wanted to get some proof to show you.
But all the credit is really yours."
Our debate on this point was too one-sided to be worth recording. And yet
though my arguments were irresistible, she would persist--and persists to
this day--that somehow or other I unmasked Jock the spy.
"Well, let's leave it at that," I said at last. "Disguised as Miss
Rendall, alone I did it! And now tell me what made you suspect the man?"
"It was only when you told me about meeting him by the cliffs on the day
of the murder that I suddenly thought of Bolton's discovery and then I
saw that he must have meant Jock. At least I guessed, but I knew it would
seem the wildest idea until there was a little more proof, and so I
determined to make a few enquiries and then tell you at once if there
seemed to be anything in my idea. So next morning I went to the Scollays
and paid them a friendly visit and began talking about Jock and his
habits and movements, and I found he had disappeared for a good part of
that day when Bolton was murdered. I also found he was often out at
nights, and that he kept that locked box in the barn."
"So you felt sure?"
"I would have if you hadn't made me rather less confident about my
guesses. Still, I'd have told you next morning, only when you showed me
that pocket-book you seemed so positive that you quite shook me. And then
I determined to go myself and break into the box and see if I could find
"That's the one thing I can't quite forgive you for; running all that
risk by yourself!"
"But that was just the point! I had somehow got it into my head that
since I had found you out, perhaps he had too, and I remembered what
happened to Bolton, and I couldn't let you run the risk when it was quite
safe for me!"
"Quite safe!" I exclaimed. "Quite safe if he had caught you
opening his box?"
"Oh, one has to run a _little_ risk," she admitted. "But I knew unless he
actually caught me he would never suspect me."
"Well," I said, "every one has his own idea of what's a soft job. But you
did think it worth wiring for my cousin?"
"Believe me," she said earnestly, "I only really decided to do that
after you had gone back and I couldn't consult you! I did _think_ of
it while you were with me, but you were so positive that there was no
need for wiring that I thought you might absolutely refuse to let me
in any case--"
"And so you decided to decide after I had gone? I see! Well, all I can
say is I have been very judiciously handled."
"You are frightfully good-natured!" she declared, apparently in all
I had given up debating my virtues by this time.
"It's this sea air," I said modestly, and enjoyed the delicious sensation
of trying to see her smile in the dark, and imagining how sweet she would
look if it were lighter.
Going over each incident together as we hurried down the island that
night, I was glad to find, however, one part of my conduct which events
had thoroughly justified. If on that first night I had not instantly
assumed the role of a fellow Hun, I assuredly should not have been
walking with Jean Rendall now. Undoubtedly I had kept my enemy thinking
up till that unfortunate Sunday afternoon when I had made my fatal
blunder of trying to enlist the gabbling Jock as an ally, or I should
have been dead long before then.
"You guessed right," I said. "That was when I gave myself away--only it
was not to any one behind a wall! And do you know I believe the fellow
actually tried me with the proper answer for the sheep riddle, only I
could make nothing out of it. Was I an idiot, or would any one have done
"Any one!" she said with conviction. "And don't you think I was right now
about the reason why he stopped firing next day?"
"I begin to think you were. He was cunning enough to see that it wasn't
worth while running any risks, when he could probably get a sitting shot
next time. And he would have got me if you hadn't arrested me. Heavens!
To think of that man single-handed defying the British Navy and the
British Police and actually making it impossible for any pursuer he
considered dangerous to remain alive in this island! Bolton went, poor
chap, and I would have gone but for you."
Perhaps I pressed her arm a little. Anyhow, she answered nothing for a
moment, and then in a low voice said,
"Poor Bolton! Oh, you've no idea how frightened I got that morning when I
heard the news!"
I knew it was not for herself she was frightened, and my heart
"I wonder how it happened," she went on. "I've often wondered since!"
"If I may venture to guess too," I said, "I should say that Bolton was
undoubtedly on the right track. He had found that Jock was not one of the
family and had got suspicious of his movements, but one may safely take
it Jock was watching him like a cat watching a mouse--very likely he
managed to overhear Bolton making enquiries, and he deliberately laid a
scent for him that took him to the cliffs."
"That sounds very likely," said she. "And then he took Bolton's pocket
book and made those entries."
"That pocket book is rather a sore subject!" I said.
I heard a little gurgle of laughter, but then she did not know how sore
the subject was. My scene with the unfortunate doctor was hardly my
happiest recollection of Ransay.
And so we went on trotting and walking and talking, and all the time I
was realising more and more vividly that if this could only be made the
first of ten thousand evenings with her, I should be the luckiest man in
the world. Also I was realising that for some reason she seemed to think
I had done something rather heroic in returning to the place where I had
nearly been scythed and shot, and tackling the unknown enemy
single-handed; especially after she happened to discover I had been
wounded. It made me feel--well, a little abashed and dreadfully afraid of
being found out when she knew me better, but extraordinarily happy for
But for one sobering fact I should have told her everything I felt and
hoped before that walk was over. The beard of Thomas Sylvester Hobhouse
still wagged between us. Till I had got rid of that black hirsute horror
I was not going to risk my chances of happiness. It was pitch dark, I
admit, but then in certain delicate situations, well, if I were a girl I
should strongly object, especially if I knew it were dyed and didn't know
if the dye would run.
And so we sent up the reinforcements, and then I saw her home, and
hurried back myself with a dancing heart to meet the others.
OUR MORNING CALL
John Whiteclett and the three prisoners went aboard at once, but the
doctor and I easily persuaded my uncle to spend the night with us. He was
very stiff, poor old boy, after his exertions, and went early to bed, but
I had a busy night of it. With the aid of the doctor's razors and the
doctor's medical skill I finally got rid of the beard and the dye about 2
a.m. and went to sleep a clean-shaved blonde once more.
During breakfast next morning, I noticed more than once my uncle's eyes
fixed on me in a very significant way, and Dr. Rendall seemed to notice
it too, for when breakfast was over he tactfully left us to ourselves.
"H'm, you have lost no time in making yourself look like a Christian
again, I notice," my uncle began.
"I lost no time in beginning, sir, but I assure you it was a devilish
"And what was your hurry, Roger?"
"Anxiety to do you credit, Uncle Francis."
"You are becoming a dutiful nephew damned suddenly," observed Sir
"It has come on during this lonely life," I explained.
"In that case what shall we do with ourselves this morning? Revisit the
scene of last night's affair, eh?"
"I thought a walk in the other direction might give you a better idea of
this interesting island," I suggested.
"Is there anything to see in the other direction?" he enquired, still
with the same gravity, but with an eye that inadvertently twinkled every
now and then.
"I thought of presenting you to the proprietor of the island, sir."
My uncle looked at me fixedly for a moment and then abruptly enquired:
"Do you mean to marry her, Roger?"
"That's entirely for her to say, Uncle Francis."
"Well, you'll be deuced lucky if she says 'yes'! By the way, what are you
going to marry on?"
This was a somewhat delicate question but I thought it best to be candid.
"The advertised reward," I replied.
"For what, may I ask?"
"For catching the spy."
"Oh, _you_ claim that!"
"No, she does."
My uncle smiled beneficently.
"That's all right, old fellow," said he, "and I'll intimate as much to
her father. Come on! Now you've shaved, what are you waiting for?"
"Your blessing, sir; but I'm ready now."
The very weather was encouraging, for the wind had fallen considerably,
and it was just cold enough to make us step out over the frozen road in
bursting spirits. My uncle literally whistled several times, and once he
remarked _à propos_ of nothing:
"I've always admired that type myself!"
On what decent pretext I managed to get Jean out of the library within
two minutes of her entrance with her father, or whether it actually was
decent, my memory is a blank. I knew she loved me because she came out
with me so quickly, and she knew my heart because I asked her to. And as
we both had really known the night before, there scarcely needed a
question to be asked and answered. And that is the end of Jean's and my
part in the story.
* * * * *
As for that brave, brutal and extraordinary man who had masqueraded as an
imbecile for two whole years to serve the ambitions of his country,
playing the part of a kind of isolated living base for the German Navy,
as a spy, as a destroyer, and as a murderer, I have never learned his
name or his past history to this day. After his first outburst of
blasphemy, I believe he kept doggedly silent up to his speedy end. He
lived and died like a savage, cunning, carnivorous beast; or, in other
words, like his masters who employed him.
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