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concentrated ray of an electric lamp upon it.

"I can make another circuit for this," he said, and pulled a length of
wire from his pocket. Two minutes later, thanks to quick manipulation of
his wire, they were able to step in safety across the wall and drop
noiselessly into the grounds.

"We shall find a man on duty," whispered T. B.; "he is patrolling the
house, and I have an idea that there are trip-wires on the lawn."

He had fixed a funnel-like arrangement to the head of his lamp, and now
he carefully scrutinized the ground as he walked forward. The funnel was
so fixed that it showed no light save on the actual patch of ground he
was surveying.

"Here is one," he said, suddenly.

The party stepped cautiously over the almost invisible line of wire,
supported a few inches from the ground by steel uprights, placed at
regular intervals.

"They fix these every night after sunset; I have watched them doing it,"
said T. B. "There is another line nearer the house."

They found this, too, and carefully negotiated it.

"Down!" whispered T. B. suddenly, and the party sank flat on the turf.

Ela for a moment could not see the cause for alarm, but presently he
discerned the slow moving figure of the sentry as it passed between
them and the house. The man was walking leisurely along, and even in the
starlight they could see the short rifle slung at his shoulder. They
waited until he had disappeared round the corner of the house, and then
crossed the remaining space of lawn. T. B. had been carrying a little
canvas bag, and now he put his hand inside and withdrew by the ears a
struggling rabbit.

"Little friend," he whispered, "You must be sacrificed in the cause of
scientific criminal investigation."

He mounted the steps which led to the entrance hall. The steel-beaded
curtain still hung before the door almost brushing the mat as he had
seen it. He released the rabbit, and the startled beast, after a vain
attempt to escape back to the lawn, went with hesitating hop on to the
mat, and then, at a threatening gesture from T. B., pushed his nose to
the hanging curtain to penetrate his way to safety. Instantly as he
touched it there was a quick flicker of blue light, and the unfortunate
animal was hurled back past T. B. to the gravel path below. The
detective descended hastily and picked it up. It was quite dead. He felt
the singed hair about its head, and murmured a sympathetic "vale."

"As I suspected," he said in a low voice, "an electric death-trap for
anybody trying to get into the house that way. Now, Johnson."

The third man was busy pulling out a pair of rubber boots; he took from
his pocket a pair of thick rubber gloves, and made his way with
confidence up the steps. He leant down and tried to pull the mat from
its place, but that was impossible. He gathered up the beads cautiously
with his hands; he was free, by reason of his boots and his
hand-covering, from the danger of a shock, but he took good care that no
portion of the curtain touched any other part of his body. Very
cautiously he drew the bead "chick" aside, looping it back by means of
strong rubber bands, and then T. B. went forward. In the meantime he had
followed the other's example, and had drawn stout rubber goloshes over
his feet and had put on gloves of a similar material. The lock that he
had noticed earlier in the day was of a commonplace type; the only
danger was that the inmates had taken the precaution of bolting or
chaining the door, but apparently they were content with the protection
which their electric curtain might reasonably be expected to afford. The
door opened after a brief manipulation of keys, and T. B. stepped into
the hall. He listened, all his senses strained, for the sound of a
warning bell, but none came. Ela and the other man followed.

"Better remain in the hall," said T. B. "We shall have to chance the
guard not noticing what has happened to the curtain, anyway; perhaps he
will not be round for some time," he added, hopefully.

They made a quick scrutiny of the hall, and found no indication of
cables or of wires which would suggest that an alarm had been fixed. T.
B. stole carefully up the stairs, leaving the two men to guard the hall
below. At every landing he halted, and listened, but the house was
wrapped in silence, and he searched the third floor without mishap.

He recognized the corridor, having taken very careful note of certain
peculiarities, and a scratch on the side of the lift door, which he had
mentally noted for future reference, showed him he was on the right
track.

Unerringly and swiftly he passed along the passage till he came to the
big rosewood doors which opened upon the invalid's bedroom. He turned
the handle gently, it yielded, and he stepped noiselessly through the
door, and pushed the inner door cautiously. The room was dimly
illuminated, evidently by a night light, thought T. B., and he pressed
the door farther open that he might secure a better view of the
apartment, and then he gasped, for this was not the room he had been in
before.

It was a sumptuously arranged bureau, panelled in rosewood, and set
about with costly furniture. A man was sitting at the desk, busily
writing by the light of a table lamp; his back was toward T. B. The
detective pushed the door farther open, and suddenly the man at the desk
leapt up, and turning round, confronted the midnight visitor.

T. B. had only time to see that his face was hidden behind a black mask
which extended from his forehead to his chin. As soon as he saw T. B.
standing in the doorway, he reached out his hand. Instantly the room was
in darkness, and the door, which T. B. was holding ajar, was suddenly
forced back as if by an irresistible power, flinging the detective into
the corridor, which almost simultaneously was flooded with light. T. B.
turned to meet the smiling face of Dr. Fall.

The big man, with his white, expressionless countenance, was regarding
him gravely, and with amused resentment.

Where he had come from T. B. could only conjecture; he had appeared as
if by magic and was fully dressed.

"To what do I owe the honour of this visit, Mr. Smith?" he said, in his
dry, grim way.

"A spirit of curiosity," said T. B., coolly. "I was anxious to secure
another peep at your Mr. Moole."

"And how did he look?" asked the other, with a faint smile.

"Unfortunately," said T. B., "I have mistaken the floor, and instead of
seeing our friend, I have unexpectedly and quite unwittingly interrupted
a gentleman who, for reasons best known to himself, has hidden his
face."

Dr. Fall frowned.

"I do not quite follow you," he said.

"Perhaps if I were to follow you back to the room," said T. B.
good-humouredly, "you might understand better."

He heard a strange wailing sound and a shivering motion beneath his
feet, as though a heavy traction engine were passing close to the house.

"What is that?" he asked.

"It is one of the unpleasant consequences of building one's house over a
disused coal-mine," said the doctor easily; "but as regards your strange
hallucination," he went on, "I should rather like to disabuse your mind
of your fantastic vision."

He walked slowly back to the room which T. B. had quitted, and the
inner door yielded to his touch. It was in darkness. Dr. Fall put his
hand inside the room and there was a click of a switch.

"Come in," he said, and T. B. stepped into the room.

It was the room he had left in the earlier part of the day. There was
the blue square of carpet and the silver bedstead, and the same yellow
face and unwinking eyes of the patient. The walls were panelled in
myrtle, the same electrolier hung from the ceiling as he had seen on his
previous visit. Smith gasped, and passed his hand over his forehead.

"You see," said the secretary, "you have been the victim of a peculiar
and unhappy trick of eyesight; in fact, Mr. Smith, may I suggest that
you have been dreaming?"

"You may suggest just what you like," said T. B. pleasantly. "I should
like to see the room below and the room above."

"With pleasure," said the other; "there is a storeroom up above which
you may see if you wish."

He led the way upstairs, unlocked the door of the room immediately over
that which they had just left, and entered. The room was bare, and the
plain deal floor, the distempered walls, and the high skylight showed it
to be just as the doctor had described, a typical storeroom.

"You do not seem to use it," said T. B.

"We are very tidy people," smiled the doctor; "and now you shall see the
room below."

As they went down the stairs again they heard the curious wail, and T.
B. experienced a tremulous jar which he had noted before.

"Unpleasant, is it not?" said Dr. Fall. "I was quite alarmed at that at
first, but it has no unpleasant consequences."

On the second floor he entered the third room, immediately below that in
which the sick Mr. Moole was lying. He unlocked this door and they
entered a well-furnished bedroom; on a more elaborate scale than that
which T. B. had seen before.

"This is our spare bedroom," said Dr. Fall, easily; "we seldom use it."

T. B. slipped into the apartment and made a quick scrutiny. There was
nothing of a suspicious character here.

"I hope you are satisfied now," said Dr. Fall as he led the way out,
"and that your two friends below are not growing impatient."

"You have seen them, then," said T. B.

"I have seen them," said the other gravely. "I saw them a few moments
after you entered the hall. You see, Mr. Smith," he went on, "we do not
employ anything so vulgar as bells to alarm us. When the entrance door
opens, a red light shows above my bed. Unfortunately, the moment you
came in I happened to be in an adjoining room at work. I had to go into
my bedroom to get a paper, when I saw the light. So, though I am perhaps
inaccurate in saying that I have been keeping you under observation from
the moment you arrived, there was little you did which was not
witnessed. I will show you, if you will be good enough to accompany me
to my room."

"I shall be delighted," said T. B.

He was curious to learn anything that the house or its custodian could
teach him. Dr. Fall's room was on the first floor, immediately over the
entrance hall, a plain office with a door leading to a cosily, though
comparatively expensively furnished bedroom. By the side of the doctor's
bed was a round pillar, which looked for all the world like one of those
conventional and useless articles of furniture which the suburban
housewife employs to balance a palm upon.

"Look down into that," said the doctor.

T. B. obeyed. It was quite hollow, and a little way down was what
appeared to be a square sheet of silver paper. It was unlike any other
silver paper because it appeared to be alive. He could see figures
standing against it, two figures that he had no difficulty in
recognizing as Ela and Johnson.

"It is a preparation of my own," said the doctor. "I thought of taking
out a patent for it. An adjustment of mirrors throws the image upon a
luminous screen which is so sensitive to light that it can record an
impression of your two friends even in the semi-darkness of the hall."

"Thank you," said T. B.

There was nothing to do but to accept his defeat as graciously as
possible. For baffled he was, caught at every turn, and puzzled,
moreover, by his extraordinary experience.

"You will find some difficulty in opening the door," said the pleasant
Doctor Fall.

"In that I think you are mistaken," smiled T. B.

The doctor stopped to switch on the light, and the two discomforted
detectives watched the scene curiously.

"We have left the door ajar."

"Still I think you will find a difficulty in getting out," insisted the
other. "Open the door."

Ela pulled at it, but it was impossible to move the heavy oaken panel.

"Electrically controlled," said the doctor; "and you can neither move it
one way nor the other. It is an ingenious idea of mine, for which I may
also apply for a patent one of these days."

He took a key from his pocket and inserted it in an almost invisible
hole in the oak panelling of the hall; instantly the door opened slowly.

"I wish you a very good night," said Doctor Fall, as they stood on the
steps. "I hope we shall meet again."

"You may be sure," said T. B. Smith, grimly, "that we shall."




CHAPTER XIII


Doris Gray was face to face with a dilemma. She stood in a tragic
position; even now, she could not be sure that her guardian was dead.
But dead or alive, he had left her a terrible problem, for terrible it
seemed to her, for solution.

She liked Frank Doughton well enough, but she was perhaps too young, had
too small a knowledge of the great elements of life to appreciate fully
her true feelings in the matter; and then the influence of this polished
man of the world, this Count of the Roman Empire as he described
himself, with his stories of foreign capitals, his easy conversation,
his acquaintance with all the niceties of social intercourse, had made a
profound impression upon her. At the moment, she might not say with any
certainty, whether she preferred the young Englishman or this suave man
of the world.

The balance was against Frank, and the command contained in the will,
the knowledge that she must, so she told herself, make something of a
sacrifice, was a subject for resentment. Not even the sweetest girl in
the world, obeying as she thought the command of a dead man, who was
especially fond and proud of her, could be compensated for the fact that
he had laid upon her his dead hands, charging her to obey a command
which might very easily be repugnant and hateful to her.

She did not, in truth, wish to marry anybody. She could well afford to
allow the question of her fortune to lapse; she had at least five years
in which to make up her mind, as to how she felt toward Frank Doughton.
She liked him, there was something especially invigorating and wholesome
in his presence and in his very attitude towards her. He was so
courteous, so kindly, so full of quick, strong sympathy and yet - there
were some depths he could not touch, she told herself, and was vague
herself as to what those depths were.

She was strolling in Green Park on a glorious April morning, in a
complacent mood, for the trees were in fresh green bud and the flower
beds were a blaze of colour, when she met Frank, and Frank was so
obviously exhilarated that something of his enthusiasm was conveyed to
her. He saw her before she had seen him, and came with quickening
footsteps toward her.

"I say," he said explosively, "I have some splendid news!"

"Let us sit down," she said, with a kindly smile, and made a place for
him by her side on a bench near by. "Now, what is this wonderful news?"

"You remember Mr. Farrington gave me a commission to find the missing
heir of Tollington?"

She nodded.

"Well, I have found him," he said, triumphantly; "it is an extraordinary
thing," he went on, "that I should have done so, because I am not a
detective. I told Mr. Farrington quite a long time ago that I never
expected to make any discovery which would be of any use to him. You see
Mr. Farrington was not able to give me any very definite data to work
on. It appears that old Tollington had a nephew, the son of his dead
sister, and it was to this nephew that his fortune was left.
Tollington's sister had been engaged to a wealthy Chicago stockbroker,
and the day before the wedding she had run away with an Englishman, with
whom her family was acquainted, but about whom they knew very little.
She guessed that he was a ne'er-do-well, who had come out to the States
to redeem his fallen fortune. But he was not a common adventurer
apparently, for he not only refused to communicate with the girl's
parents, although he knew they were tremendously wealthy, but he never
allowed them to know his real name. It appears that he was in Chicago
under a name which was not his own. From that moment they lost sight of
him. In a roundabout way they learned that he had gone back to England
and that he had by his own efforts and labours established himself
there. This news was afterwards confirmed. The girl was in the habit of
writing regularly to her parents, giving neither her surname nor
address. They answered through the columns of the London _Times_. That
is how, though they knew where she was situated, all efforts to get in
touch with her proved to be unavailing; and when her parents died, and
her brother renewed his search, he was met with a blank wall. You see,"
Frank went on, a little na√ѓvely, "it is quite impossible to discover
anybody when their name is not even known to one."

"I see," smiled the girl; "and have you succeeded where all these people
have failed?"

"I have hardly progressed so far as that," he laughed. "What I have
discovered is this: that the man, who seventy years ago left the United
States with the sister of old Tollington, lived for some years in Great
Bradley."

"Great Bradley!" she said, in surprise; "why, isn't that where Lady
Constance Dex lives?"

He nodded.

"Everybody seems to live there," he said, ruefully; "even our friend,"
he hesitated.

"Our friend?" she repeated, inquiringly.

"Your friend Poltavo is there now," he said, "permanently established as
the guest of Dr. Fall. You have heard of the Secret House? - but
everybody in England has heard of it."

"I am afraid that everybody does not include me," she smiled, "but go on
with your story; how did you find that he lived in Great Bradley?"

"Well, it was rather a case of luck," he explained. "You see, I lived
some years in Great Bradley myself; that is where I first met your
uncle. I was a little boy at the time. But it wasn't my acquaintance
with Great Bradley which helped me. Did you see in the paper the other
day the fact that, in pulling down an old post office building, a number
of letters were discovered which had evidently slipped through the floor
of the old letter-box, and had not been delivered?"

"I read something about it," she smiled; "forty or fifty years old, were
they not?"

He nodded.

"One of these," he said, quietly, "was addressed to Tollington, and was
signed by his sister. I saw it this morning at the General Post Office.
I happened to spot the paragraph, which was sent in to my paper, to the
effect that these letters had been undelivered for forty or fifty years,
and fortunately our correspondent at Great Bradley had secured a list of
the addresses. I saw that one of these was to George Tollington of
Chicago, and on the off chance I went down to Great Bradley. Thanks to
the courtesy of the Postmaster-General I was able to copy the letter. It
was a short one."

He fumbled in his pocket and produced a sheet of paper.


"DEAR GEORGE," he read, "this is just to tell you that we are quite well
and prosperous. I saw your advertisement in the _Times_ newspaper and
was pleased to hear from you. Henry sends to you his kindest regards and
duties.

"Your loving sister,
"ANNIE."


"Of course, it is not much to go on," he said apologetically, folding
the letter up and replacing it in his pocket. "I suppose Great Bradley
has had a constant procession of Annies, but at any rate it is
something."

"It is indeed," she smiled.

"It means quite a lot to me, or at least it did," he corrected himself.
"I had an arrangement with your uncle, which was approved by the other
trustees of the estate. It means a tremendous lot," he repeated. There
was some significance in his tone and she looked up to him quickly.

"In money?" she asked.

"In other things," he said, lowering his voice. "Doris, I have not had
an opportunity of saying how sorry I am about the will; it is hateful
that you should be forced by the wishes of your guardian to take a step
which may be unpleasant to you."

She coloured a little and turned her eyes away.

"I - I do not want to take advantage of that wish," he went on awkwardly.
"I want you to be happy. I want you to come to me for no other reason
than the only one that is worth while; that you have learned to care for
me as I care for you."

Still she made no response and he sighed heavily.

"Some day," he said, wistfully, "I had hoped to bring in my hands all
the material advantages which a man can offer to the woman he loves."

"And do you think that would make a difference?" she asked quickly.

"It would make this difference," he replied, in the same quiet tone,
"that you could not think of me as one who loved you for your fortune,
or one who hoped to gain anything from the marriage but the dearest,
sweetest woman in the world."

The eyes which she turned upon him were bright with unshed tears.

"I do not know how I feel, Frank," she said. "I am almost as much a
mystery to myself as I must be to you. I care for you in a way, but I am
not sure that I care for you as you would like me to."

"Is there anybody else?" he asked, after a pause.

She avoided his glance, and sat twining the cord of her sunshade about
her fingers.

"There is nobody else - definitely," she said.

"Or tentatively?" he insisted.

"There are always tentative people in life," she smiled, parrying his
question. "I think, Frank, you stand as great a chance as anybody." She
shrugged her shoulders. "I speak as though I were some wonderful prize
to be bestowed; I assure you I do not feel at all like that. I have a
very humble opinion of my own qualities. I do not think I have felt so
meek or so modest about my own qualities as I do just now."

He walked with her to the end of the park, and saw her into a taxicab,
standing on the pavement and watching as she was whirled into the
enveloping traffic, out of sight.

As for Doris Gray, she herself was suffering from some uneasiness of
mind. She needed a shock to make her realize one way or the other where
her affections lay. Poltavo loomed very largely; his face, his voice,
the very atmosphere which enveloped him, was constantly present with
her.

She reached Brakely Square and would have passed straight up to her
room, but the butler, with an air of importance, stopped her.

"I have a letter here, miss. It is very urgent. The messenger asked that
it should be placed in your hands at the earliest possible moment."

She took the letter from him. It was addressed to her in typewritten
characters. She stripped the envelope and found yet another inside. On
it was typewritten:


"Read this letter when you are absolutely alone. Lock the door and be
sure that nobody is near when you read it."


She raised her pretty eyebrows. What mystery was this? she asked. Still,
she was curious enough to carry out the request. She went straight to
her own room, opened the envelope, and took out a letter containing half
a dozen lines of writing.

She gasped, and went white, for she recognized the hand the moment her
eyes fell upon it. The letter she held in her shaking hand ran:


"I command you to marry Frank Doughton within seven days. My whole
fortune and my very life may depend upon this."


It was signed "Gregory Farrington," and heavily underlined beneath the
signature were the words, "Burn this, as you value my safety."

* * * * *

T. B. Smith stepped briskly into the office of his chief and closed the
door behind him.

"What is the news?" asked Sir George, looking up.

"I can tell you all the news that I know," said T. B., "and a great deal
that I do not know, but only surmise."

"Let us hear the facts first and the romance afterwards," growled Sir
George, leaning back in his chair.

"Fact one," said T. B. drawing up a chair to the table, and ticking off
his fact on the first finger of his hand, "is that Gregory Farrington is
alive. The man whose body was picked up in the Thames is undoubtedly the
gentleman who was shot in the raid upon the Custom House. The inference
is, that Gregory was the second party in the raid, and that the attempt
to secure the trunk of the admirable Dr. Goldworthy was carefully
conceived. The box apparently contained a diary which gave away Gregory
to one who had it in her power to do him an immense amount of harm."

"You refer to Lady Constance Dex?" asked the chief, interestedly.

T. B. nodded.

"That is the lady," he said. "Evidently Farrington has played it pretty
low down upon her; was responsible for the death of her lover, and,
moreover, for a great deal of her unhappiness. Farrington was the man
who told George Doughton about some scandal of her youth, and Doughton,


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Online LibraryEdgar WallaceThe secret house → online text (page 8 of 14)