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"I suppose we shall not be looking for any articles from you for quite a
long time," he said, at parting.

"I hope so," said the other. "I do not see why I should starve because I
am married. My wife will be a very rich woman," he said quietly, "but so
far as I am concerned that will make no difference; I do not intend
taking one penny of her fortune."

The journalist clapped him on the shoulder.

"Good lad," he said, approvingly; "the man who lives on his wife's
income is a man who has ceased to live."

"That sounds like an epigram," smiled Frank.

He looked at his watch as he descended the stairs. It was nine o'clock
and he had not dined; he would go up to an eating house in Soho and have
his frugal meal before he retired for the night. He had had a heavy day,
and a heavier day threatened on the morrow. Outside the newspaper office
was a handsome new car, its lacquer work shining in the electric light.
Frank was passing when the chauffeur called him.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, touching his cap, "are you Mr. Frank

"That is my name," said Frank, in surprise, for he did not recognize
the man.

"I have been asked to call and pick you up, sir."

"Pick me up?" asked the astonished Frank - "by whom?"

"By Sir George Frederick," said the man, respectfully.

Frank knew the name of the member of Parliament and puzzled his brain as
to whether he had ever met him.

"But what does Sir George want with me?" he asked.

"He wanted five minutes' conversation with you, sir," said the man.

It would have been churlish to have refused the member's request;
besides, the errand would take him partly on his way. He opened the door
of the landaulet and stepped in, and as the door swung to behind him, he
found he was not alone in the car.

"What is the - - " he began, when a powerful hand gripped his throat, and
he was swung backward on the padded seat as the car moved slowly forward
and, gathering speed as it went, flew along the Thames Embankment with
its prisoner.


In the rectory at Great Bradley, Lady Constance Dex arose from a
sleepless night to confront her placid brother at the breakfast table.
The Reverend Jeremiah Bangley, a stout and easy man, who spent as much
of his time in London as in his rectory, was frankly nonplussed by the
apparition. He was one of those men, common enough, who accept the most
extraordinary happenings as being part of life's normal round. An
earthquake in Little Bradley which swallowed up his church and the major
portion of his congregation would not have interested him any more than
the budding of the trees, or a sudden arrival of flower life in his big
walled garden. Now, however, he was obviously astonished.

"What brings you to breakfast, Constance?" he asked. "I have not seen
you at this table for many years."

"I could not sleep," she said, as she helped herself at the sideboard
to a crisp morsel of bacon. "I think I will take my writing pad to Moor

He pursed his lips, this easy going rector of Little Bradley.

"I have always thought," he said, "that Moor Cottage was not the most
desirable gift the late Mr. Farrington could have made to you." He
paused, to allow her a rejoinder, but as she made no reply, he went on:
"It is isolated, standing on the edge of the moor, away from the
ordinary track of people. I am always scared, my dear Constance, that
one of these days you will have some wretched tramp, or a person of the
criminal classes, causing you a great deal of distress and no little

There was much of truth in what he said. Moor Cottage, a pretty little
one-storied dwelling, had been built by the owner of the Secret House at
the same time that the house itself had been erected. It was intended,
so the builder said, to serve the purpose of a summer house, and
certainly it offered seclusion, for it was placed on the edge of the
moor, approached by a by-road which was scarcely ever traversed, since
Bradley mines had been worked out and abandoned.

Many years ago when the earth beneath the moor had been tunnelled left
and right by the seekers after tin and lead, Moor Cottage might have
stood in the centre of a hive of industry. The ramshackle remains of the
miners' cottage were to be seen on the other side of the hill; the
broken and deserted headgear of the pit, and the discoloured chimney of
the old power house were still visible a quarter of a mile from the

It suited the owner of the Secret House, however, to have this little
cottage erected, though it was nearly two miles from the Secret House,
and he had spared neither expense nor trouble in preparing a handsome

Lady Constance Dex had been the recipient of many gifts from Mr.
Farrington and his friends. There had been a period when Farrington
could not do enough for her, and had showered upon her every mark of his
esteem, and Moor Cottage had perhaps been the most magnificent of these
presents. Here she could find seclusion, and in the pretty oak-panelled
rooms reconstruct those happy days which Great Bradley had at one time
offered to her.

"It is a little lonely," she smiled at her brother.

She had a good-natured contempt for his opinion. He was a large,
lethargic man, who had commonplace views on all subjects.

"But really you know, Jerry, I am quite a capable person, and Brown
will be near by, in case of necessity."

He nodded, and addressed himself again to the _Times_, the perusal of
which she had interrupted.

"I have nothing more to say," he said from behind his newspaper. By and
by he put it down.

"Who is this Mr. Smith?" he asked, suddenly.

"Mr. Smith?" she said, with interest. "Which Mr. Smith are you referring

"I think he is a detective person," said the Reverend Jeremiah Bangley;
"he has honoured us with a great number of visits lately."

"You mean - - ?"

"I mean Great Bradley," he explained. "Do you think there is anything
wrong at the Secret House?"

"What could there be wrong," she asked, "that has not been wrong for the
last ten or twenty years?"

He shrugged his massive shoulders.

"I have never quite approved of the Secret House," he said,

She finished her hurried breakfast and rose.

"You have never approved of anything, Jerry," she said, tapping him on
the shoulder as she passed.

She looked through the window; the victoria she had ordered was waiting
at the door, with the imperturbable Brown sitting on the box.

"I shall be back to lunch," she said.

Looking through a window he saw her mount into the carriage carrying a
portfolio. In that letter case, although he did not know it, were the
letters and diaries which Dr. Goldworthy had brought from the Congo. In
the seclusion of Moor Cottage she found the atmosphere to understand the
words, written now in fire upon her very soul, and to plan her future.

There was no servant at Moor Cottage. She was in the habit of sending
one of her own domestic staff after her visit to make it tidy for her
future reception.

She let herself in through the little door placed under the
green-covered porch.

"You can unharness the horse; I shall be here two hours," she said to
the waiting Brown.

The man touched his hat. He was used to these excursions and was
possessed of the patience of his class. He backed the victoria on to the
moor by the side of the fence which surrounded the house. There was a
little stable at the back, but it was never used. He unharnessed the
horse, fixed his nosebag, and sat down to read his favourite newspaper;
a little journal which dealt familiarly with the erratic conduct of the
upper classes. He was not a quick reader, and there was sufficient in
the gossipy journal to occupy his attention for three or four hours. At
the end of an hour he thought he heard his lady's voice calling him, and
jumping up, he walked to the door of the cottage.

He listened, but there was no other sound, and he came back to his
previous position, and continued his study of the decadent aristocracy.
Four hours he waited, and assailed by a most human hunger, his patience
was pardonably exhausted.

He rose slowly, harnessed the horse, and drove the victoria
ostentatiously before the window of the little sitting-room which Lady
Constance Dex used as a study. Another half an hour passed without any
response, and he got down from his box and knocked at the door.

There was no answer; he knocked again; still no reply.

In alarm he went to the window and peered in. The floor was strewn with
papers scattered in confusion. A chair had been overturned. More to the
point, he saw an overturned inkpot, which was eloquent to his ordered
mind of an unusual happening.

Increasingly alarmed, he put his shoulder to the door, but it did not
yield. He tried the window; it was locked.

It was at that moment that a motor came swiftly over the hill from the
direction of the rectory. With a jar it came to a sudden stop before the
house, and T. B. Smith leapt out.

Brown had seen the detective before on his visits to the rectory, and
now hailed him as veritably god-sent.

"Where is Lady Constance?" asked T. B., quickly.

The man pointed to the house with trembling finger.

"She's in there somewhere," he said, fretfully, "but I can't make her
answer ... and the room appears to be very disordered."

He led the way to the window. T. B. looked in and saw that which
confirmed his worst fears.

"Stand back," he said.

He raised his ebony stick and sent it smashing through the glass. In a
second his hand was inside unlocking the latch of the window; a few
seconds later he was in the room itself. He passed swiftly from room to
room, but there was no sign of Lady Constance. On the floor of the study
was a piece of lace collar, evidently wrenched from her gown.

"Hullo!" said Ela, who had followed him. He pointed to the table. On a
sheet of paper was the print of a bloody palm.

"Farrington," said T. B., briefly, "he has been here; but how did he
get out?"

He questioned the coachman closely, but the man was emphatic.

"No, sir," he said, "it would have been impossible for anybody to have
passed out of here without my seeing them. Not only could I see the
cottage from where I sat, but the whole of the hillside."

"Is there any other place where she could be?"

"There is the outhouse," said Brown, after a moment's thought; "we used
to put up the victoria there, but we never use it nowadays in fine

The outhouse consisted of a large coachhouse and a small stable. There
was no lock to the doors, T. B. noticed, and he pulled them open wide.
There was a heap of straw in one corner, kept evidently as a provision
against the need of the visiting coachman. T. B. stepped into the
outhouse, then suddenly with a cry he leant down, and caught a figure by
the collar and swung him to his feet.

"Will you kindly explain what you are doing here?" he asked, and then
gave a gasp of astonishment, for the sleepy-eyed prisoner in his hands
was Frank Doughton.

"It is a curious story you tell me," said T. B.

"I admit it is curious," said Frank, with a smile, "and I am so sleepy
that I do not know how much I have told you, and how much I have

"You told me," recapitulated T. B., "that you were kidnapped last night
in London, that you were carried through London and into the country in
an unknown direction, and that you made your escape from the motor-car
by springing out in the early hours of this morning, whilst the car was
going at a slackened speed."

"That is it," said the other. "I have not the slightest idea where I am;
perhaps you can tell me?"

"You are near Great Bradley," said T. B., with a smile. "I wonder you do
not recognize your home; for home it is, as I understand."

Frank looked round with astonished eyes.

"What were they bringing me here for?" he demanded.

"That remains to be discovered," replied T. B.; "my own impression is
that you - - "

"Do you think I was being taken to the Secret House?" interrupted the
young man, suddenly.

T. B. shook his head.

"I should think that was unlikely. I suspect our friend Poltavo of
having carried out this little coup entirely on his own. I further
suspect his having brought the car in this direction with no other
object than to throw suspicion upon our worthy friends across the
hill - and how did you come to the outhouse?"

"I was dead beat," explained Frank. "I had a sudden spasm of strength
which enabled me to out-distance those people who were pursuing me, but
after I had shaken them off I felt that I could drop. I came upon this
cottage, which seemed the only habitation in view, and after
endeavouring to waken the occupants I did the next best thing, I made my
way into the coachhouse and fell asleep."

T. B. had no misgivings so far as this story was concerned; he accepted
it as adding only another obstacle to the difficulties of his already
difficult task.

"You heard no sound whilst you lay there?"

"None whatever," said the young man.

"No sound of a struggle, I mean," said T. B., and then it was that he
explained to Frank Doughton the extraordinary disappearance of the owner
of Moor Cottage.

"She must be in the house," said Frank.

They went back and resumed their search. Upstairs was a bedroom, and
adjoining a bath-room. On the ground floor were two rooms: the study he
had quitted and a smaller room beautifully decorated and containing a
piano. But the search was fruitless; Lady Constance Dex had disappeared
as though the earth had opened and swallowed her up. There was no sign
of a trap in the whole of the little building, and T. B. was baffled.

"It is a scientific axiom," he said, addressing Ela with a thoughtful
glint in his eye, "that matter must occupy space, therefore Lady
Constance Dex must be in existence, she cannot have evaporated into thin
air, and I am not going to leave this place until I find her."

Ela was thinking deeply, and frowning at the untidiness of the table.

"Do you remember that locket which you found on one of the dead men in
Brakely Square?" he asked suddenly.

T. B. nodded. He put his hand in his waistcoat pocket, for he had
carried that locket ever since the night of its discovery.

"Let us have a look at the inscription again," said Ela.

They drew up chairs to the table and examined the little circular label
which they had found in the battered interior.

"Mor: Cot.
God sav the Keng."

Ela shook his head helplessly.

"I am perfectly sure there is a solution here," he said. "Do you see
those words on the top? 'Mor: Cot.' - that stands for Moor Cottage."

"By Jove, so it does," said T. B., picking up the locket; "that never
struck me before. It was the secret of Moor Cottage which this man
discovered, and with which he was trying to blackmail our friend. So far
as the patriotic postscript is concerned that is beyond my

"There is a meaning to it," said Ela, "and it is not a cryptogram
either. You see how he has forgotten to put the 'e' in 'save'? And he
has spelt 'king' 'keng.'"

They waited before the house whilst Brown drove to the rectory, and then
on to the town. Jeremiah Bangley arrived in a state of calm
anticipation. That his sister had disappeared did not seem to strike him
as a matter for surprise, though he permitted himself to say that it was
a very remarkable occurrence.

"I have always warned Constance not to be here alone, and I should never
have forgiven myself if Brown had not been on the spot," he said.

"Can you offer any explanation?"

The rector shook his head. He was totally ignorant of the arrangements
of the house, had never, so he said, put foot in it in his life. This
was perfectly true, for he was an incurious man who did not greatly
bother himself about the affairs of other people. The local police
arrived in half an hour, headed by the chief inspector, who happened to
be in the station when the report was brought in.

"I suppose I had better take this young man to the station?" he said,
indicating Frank.

"Why?" asked T. B. calmly; "what do you gain by arresting him? As a
matter of fact there is no evidence whatever which would implicate Mr.
Doughton, and I am quite prepared to give you my own guarantee to
produce him whenever you may require him.

"The best thing you can do is to get back to town," he said kindly to
that young man; "you need a little sleep. It is not a pleasant prelude
to your marriage. By the way, that is to-morrow, is it not?" he asked,

Frank nodded.

"I wonder if that has anything to do with your kidnapping," said T. B.
thoughtfully. "Is there any person who is anxious that this marriage
should not come about?"

Frank hesitated.

"I hardly like to accuse a man," he said, "but Poltavo - - "

"Poltavo?" repeated T. B. quickly.

"Yes," said Frank; "he has some views on the question of Miss Gray."

He spoke reluctantly, for he was loath to introduce Doris' name into the

"Poltavo would have a good reason," mused T. B. Smith. "Tell me what
happened in the car."

Briefly Frank related the circumstances which had led up to his capture.

"When I found myself in their hands," he said, "I decided to play
'possum for a while. The car was moving at incredible speed, remembering
your stringent traffic regulations," - he smiled, - "and I knew that any
attempt to escape on my part would result in serious injury to myself.
They made no bones about their intentions. Before we were clear of
London they had pulled the blinds, and one of them had switched on the
electric lamp. They were both masked, and were, I think, foreigners. One
sat opposite to me, all through the night, a revolver on his knees, and
he did not make any disguise of his intention of employing his weapon if
I gave the slightest trouble.

"I could not tell, because of the lowered blinds, which direction we
were taking, but presently we struck the country and they let down one
of the windows without raising the blind and I could smell the sweet
scent of the fields, and knew we were miles away from London.

"I think I must have dozed a little, for very suddenly, it seemed,
daylight came, and I had the good sense in waking to make as little stir
as possible. I found the man sitting opposite was also in a mild doze,
and the other at my side was nodding.

"I took a very careful survey of the situation. The car was moving very
slowly, and evidently the driver had orders to move at no particular
pace through the night, in order to economize the petrol. There was an
inside handle to each of the doors, and I had to make up my mind by
which I was to make my escape. I decided upon the near side. Gathering
up my energies for one supreme effort, I suddenly leapt up, flung open
the door, and jumped out. I had enough experience of the London traffic
to clear the car without stumbling.

"I found myself upon a heath, innocent of any cover, save for a belt of
trees about half a mile ahead of me as I ran. Fortunately the down,
which was apparently flat, was, in fact, of a rolling character, and in
two minutes I must have been out of sight of the car - long before they
had brought the driver, himself half asleep probably, to an
understanding that I had made my escape. They caught sight of me as I
came up from the hollow, and one of them must have fired at me, for I
heard the whistle of a bullet pass my head. That is all the story I have
to tell. It was rather a tame conclusion to what promised to be a most
sensational adventure."

At the invitation of the Reverend Jeremiah he drove back to the rectory,
and left T. B. to continue his search for the missing Lady Constance. No
better result attended the second scrutiny of the rooms than had
resulted from the first.

"The only suggestion I can make now," said T. B., helplessly, "is that
whilst our friend the coachman was reading, his lady slipped out without
attracting his attention and strolled away; she will in all probability
be awaiting us at the rectory."

Yet in his heart he knew that this view was absolutely wrong. The locked
doors, the evidence of a struggle in the room, the bloody hand print,
all pointed conclusively to foul play.

"At any rate Lady Constance Dex is somewhere within the radius of four
miles," he said, grimly, "and I will find her if I have to pull down the
Secret House stone by stone."


The morning of Doris Gray's wedding dawned fair and bright, and she sat
by the window which overlooked the gardens in Brakely Square, her hands
clasped across her knees, her mind in a very tangle of confusion. It was
happy for her (she argued) that there were so many considerations
attached to this wedding that she had not an opportunity of thinking
out, logically and to its proper end, the consequence of this act of

She had had a wire from Frank on the night previous, and to her surprise
it had been dated from Great Bradley. For some reason which she could
not define she was annoyed that he could leave London, and be so
absorbed in his work on the eve of his wedding. She gathered that his
presence in that town had to do with his investigations in the
Tollington case. She thought that at least he might have spent one day
near her in case she wished to consult him. He took much for granted,
she thought petulantly. Poltavo, on the contrary, had been most
assiduous in his attention. He had had tea with her the previous
afternoon, and with singular delicacy had avoided any reference to the
forthcoming marriage or to his own views on the subject. But all that he
did not speak, he looked. He conveyed the misery in which he stood with
subtle suggestion. She felt sorry for him, had no doubt of the
genuineness of his affection, or his disinterestedness. A profitable day
for Poltavo in ordinary circumstances.

A maid brought her from her reverie to the practical realities of life.

"Mr. Debenham has called, miss," said the girl. "I have shown him into
the drawing-room."

"Mr. Debenham?" repeated Doris, with a puzzled frown. "Oh, yes, the
lawyer; I will come down to him."

She found the staid solicitor walking up and down the drawing-room

"I suppose you know that I shall be a necessary guest at your wedding,"
he said, as he shook hands. "I have to deliver to you the keys of your
uncle's safe at the London Safe Deposit. I have a memorandum here of the
exact amount of money which should be in that safe."

He laid the paper on the table.

"You can look at the items at your leisure, but roughly it amounts to
eight hundred thousand pounds, which was left you by your late father,
who, I understand, died when you were a child."

She nodded.

"That sum is in gilt-edged securities, and you will probably find that a
number of dividends are due to you. The late Mr. Farrington, when he
made his arrangements for your future, chose this somewhat unusual and
bizarre method of protecting your money, much against my will. I might
tell you," he went on, "that he consulted me about six years ago on the
subject, and I strongly advised him against it. As it happened, I was
wrong, for immediately afterwards, as his books show, he must have
suffered enormous losses, and although I make no suggestion against his
character," - he raised his hand deprecatingly, - "yet I do say that the
situation which was created by the slump in Canadian Pacifics of which
he was a large holder, might very easily have tempted a man not so
strong-willed as Mr. Farrington. At the present moment," he went on, "I
have no more to do than discharge my duty, and I have called beforehand
to see you and to ask whether your uncle spoke of the great Tollington
fortune of which he was one of the trustees, though as I believe - as I
know, in fact - he never handled the money."

She looked surprised.

"It is curious that you should ask that," she said. "Mr. Doughton is
engaged in searching for the heir to that fortune."

Debenham nodded.

"So I understand," he said. "I ask because I received a communication
from the other trustees in America, and I am afraid your future
husband's search will be unavailing unless he can produce the heir
within the next forty-eight hours."

"Why is that?" she asked in surprise.

"The terms of the will are peculiar," said Mr. Debenham, walking up and
down as he spoke. "The Tollington fortune, as you may know - - "

"I know nothing about it," she interrupted.

"Then I will tell you." He smiled. "The fortune descends to the heir and
to his wife in equal proportions."

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Online LibraryEdgar WallaceThe secret house → online text (page 10 of 14)