"THEY want you at Redhill, now," said Mr. Dyer, taking a packet of papers fro_ne of his pigeon-holes. "The idea seems gaining ground in manly quarters tha_n cases of mere suspicion, women detectives are more satisfactory than men, for they are less likely to attract attention. And this Redhill affair, so fa_s I can make out, is one of suspicion only."
It was a dreary November morning; every gas jet in the Lynch Court office wa_light, and a yellow curtain of outside fog draped its narrow windows.
"Nevertheless, I suppose one can't afford to leave it uninvestigated at thi_eason of the year, with country-house robberies beginning in so man_uarters," said Miss Brooke.
"No; and the circumstances in this case certainly seem to point in th_irection of the country-house burglar. Two days ago a somewhat curiou_pplication was made privately, by a man giving the name of John Murray, t_nspector Gunning, of the Reigate police–Redhill, I must tell you is in th_eigate police district. Murray stated that he had been a greengroce_omewhere in South London, had sold his business there, and had, with th_roceeds of the sale, bought two small houses in Redhill, intending to let th_ne and live in the other. These houses are situated in a blind alley, know_s Paved Court, a narrow turning leading off the London and Brighton coac_oad. Paved Court has been known to the sanitary authorities for the past te_ears as a regular fever nest, and as the houses which Murray bought–numbers _nd 8–stand at the very end of the blind alley, with no chance of thoroug_entilation, I dare say the man got them for next to nothing. He told th_nspector that he had had great difficulty in procuring a tenant for the hous_e wished to let, number 8, and that consequently when, about three week_ack, a lady, dressed as a nun, made him an offer for it, he immediatel_losed with her. The lady gave her name simply as 'Sister Monica,' and state_hat she was a member of an undenominational Sisterhood that had recently bee_ounded by a wealthy lady, who wished her name kept a secret. Sister Monic_ave no references, but, instead, paid a quarter's rent in advance, sayin_hat she wished to take possession of the house immediately, and open it as _ome for crippled orphans."
"Gave no references–home for cripples," murmured Loveday, scribbling hard an_ast in her note-book.
"Murray made no objection to this," continued Mr. Dyer, "and, accordingly, th_ext day, Sister Monica, accompanied by three other Sisters and some sickl_hildren, took possession of the house, which they furnished with the bares_ossible necessaries from cheap shops in the neighbourhood. For a time, Murra_aid, he thought he had secured most desirable tenants, but during the las_en days suspicions as to their real character have entered his mind, an_hese suspicions he thought it his duty to communicate to the police. Amon_heir possessions, it seems, these Sisters number an old donkey and a tin_art, and this they start daily on a sort of begging tour through th_djoining villages, bringing back every evening a perfect hoard of broke_ictuals and bundles of old garments. Now comes the extraordinary fact o_hich Murray bases his suspicions. He says, and Gunning verifies hi_tatement, that in whatever direction those Sisters turn the wheels of thei_onkey-cart, burglaries, or attempts at burglaries, are sure to follow. A wee_go they went along towards Horley, where, at an outlying house, they receive_uch kindness from a wealthy gentleman. That very night an attempt was made t_reak into that gentleman's house–an attempt, however, that was happil_rustrated by the barking of the house-dog. And so on in other instances tha_ need not go into. Murray suggests that it might be as well to have the dail_ovements of these sisters closely watched, and that extra vigilance should b_xercised by the police in the districts that have had the honour of a mornin_all from them. Gunning coincides with this idea, and so has sent to me t_ecure your services."
Loveday closed her note-book. "I suppose Gunning will meet me somewhere an_ell me where I'm to take up my quarters?" she said.
"Yes; he will get into your carriage at Merstham–the station before Redhill–i_ou will put your hand out of window, with the morning paper in it. By-the- way, he takes it for granted that you will save the 11.5 train from Victoria.
Murray, it seems has been good enough to place his little house at th_isposal of the police, but Gunning does not think espionage could be so wel_arried on there as from other quarters. The presence of a stranger in a_lley of that sort is bound to attract attention. So he has hired a room fo_ou in a draper's shop that immediately faces the head of the court. There i_ private door to this shop of which you will have the key, and can le_ourself in and out as you please. You are supposed to be a nursery governes_n the lookout for a situation, and Gunning will keep you supplied wit_etters to give colour to the idea. He suggests that you need only occupy th_oom during the day, at night you will find far more comfortable quarters a_aker's Hotel, just outside the town."
This was about the sum total of the instructions that Mr. Dyer had to give.
The 11.5 train from Victoria, that carried Loveday to her work among th_urrey Hills, did not get clear of the London fog till well away on the othe_ide of Purley. When the train halted at Merstham, in response to her signal _all, soldier-like individual made for her carriage, and, jumping in, took th_eat facing her. He introduced himself to her as Inspector Gunning, recalle_o her memory a former occasion on which they had met, and then, naturall_nough, turned the talk upon the present suspicious circumstances they wer_ent upon investigating.
"It won't do for you and me to be seen together," he said; "of course I a_nown for miles round, and anyone seen in my company will be at once set dow_s my coadjutor, and spied upon accordingly. I walked from Redhill to Merstha_n purpose to avoid recognition on the platform at Redhill, and half-way here, to my great annoyance, found that I was being followed by a man in a workman'_ress and carrying a basket of tools. I doubled, however, and gave him th_lip, taking a short cut down a lane which, if he had been living in th_lace, he would have known as well as I did. By Jove!" this was added with _udden start, "there is the fellow, I declare; he has weathered me after all, and has no doubt taken good stock of us both, with the train going at thi_nail's pace. It was unfortunate that your face should have been turne_owards that window, Miss Brooke."
"My veil is something of a disguise, and I will put on another cloak before h_as a chance of seeing me again," said Loveday.
All she had seen in the brief glimpse that the train had allowed, was a tall, powerfully-built man walking along a siding of the line. His cap was drawn lo_ver his eyes, and in his hand he carried a workman's basket.
Gunning seemed much annoyed at the circumstance. "Instead of landing a_edhill," he said, "we'll go on to Three Bridges and wait there for a Brighto_rain to bring us back, that will enable you to get to your room somewher_etween the lights; I don't want to have you spotted before you've so much a_tarted your work."
Then they went back to their discussion of the Redhill Sisterhood.
"They call themselves 'undenominational,' whatever that means," said Gunning
"they say they are connected with no religious sect whatever, they atten_ometimes one place of worship, sometimes another, sometimes none at all. The_efuse to give up the name of the founder of their order, and really no on_as any right to demand it of them, for, as no doubt you see, up to th_resent moment the case is one of mere suspicion, and it may be a pur_oincidence that attempts at burglary have followed their footsteps in thi_eighbourhood. By-the-way, I have heard of a man's face being enough to han_im, but until I saw Sister Monica's, I never saw a woman's face that coul_erform the same kind office for her. Of all the lowest criminal types o_aces I have ever seen, I think hers is about the lowest and most repulsive."
After the Sisters, they passed in review the chief families resident in th_eighbourhood.
."This," said Gunning, unfolding a paper, "is a map I have specially drawn u_or you–it takes in the district for ten miles round Redhill, and ever_ountry house of any importance is marked with it in red ink. Here, i_ddition, is an index to those houses, with special notes of my own to ever_ouse."
Loveday studied the map for a minute or so, then turned her attention to th_ndex.
"Those four houses you've marked, I see, are those that have been alread_ttempted. I don't think I'll run them through, but I'll mark them 'doubtful;'
you see the gang–for, of course, it is a gang–might follow our reasoning o_he matter, and look upon those houses as our weak point. Here's one I'll ru_hrough, 'house empty during winter months,' that means plate and jeweller_ent to the bankers. Oh! and this one may as well be crossed off, 'father an_our sons all athletes and sportsmen,' that means firearms always handy–_on't think burglars will be likely to trouble them. Ah! now we come t_omething! Here's a house to be marked 'tempting' in a burglar's list.
'Wootton Hall, lately changed hands and re-built, with complicated passage_nd corridors. Splendid family plate in daily use and left entirely to th_are of the butler.' I wonder, does the master of that house trust to his
'complicated passages' to preserve his plate for him? A dismissed dishones_ervant would supply a dozen maps of the place for half-a-sovereign. What d_hese initials, 'E.L.,' against the next house in the list, North Cape, stan_or?"
"Electric lighted. I think you might almost cross that house off also. _onsider electric lighting one of the greatest safeguards against burglar_hat a man can give his house."
"Yes, if he doesn't rely exclusively upon it; it might be a nasty trap unde_ertain circumstances. I see this gentleman also has magnificent presentatio_nd other plate."
"Yes. Mr. Jameson is a wealthy man and very popular in the neighbourhood; hi_ups and epergnes are worth looking at."
"Is it the only house in the district that is lighted with electricity?"
"Yes; and, begging your pardon, Miss Brooke, I only wish it were not so. I_lectric lighting were generally in vogue it would save the police a lot o_rouble on these dark winter nights."
"The burglars would find some way of meeting such a condition of things, depend upon it; they have reached a very high development in these days. The_o longer stalk about as they did fifty years ago with blunderbuss an_ludgeon; they plot, plan, contrive and bring imagination and artisti_esource to their aid. By-the-way, it often occurs to me that the popula_etective stories, for which there seems to large a demand at the present day, must be, at times, uncommonly useful to the criminal classes."
At Three Bridges they had to wait so long for a return train that it wa_early dark when Loveday got back to Redhill. Mr. Gunning did not accompan_er thither, having alighted at a previous station. Loveday had directed he_ortmanteau to be sent direct to Laker's Hotel, where she had engaged a roo_y telegram from Victoria Station. So, unburthened by luggage, she slippe_uietly out of the Redhill Station and made her way straight for the draper'_hop in the London Road. She had no difficulty in finding it, thanks to th_inute directions given her by the Inspector.
Street lamps were being lighted in the sleepy little town as she went along, and as she turned into the London Road, shopkeepers were lighting up thei_indows on both sides of the way. A few yards down this road, a dark patc_etween the lighted shops showed her where Paved Court led off from th_horoughfare. A side-door of one of the shops that stood at the corner of th_ourt seemed to offer a post of observation whence she could see without bein_een, and here Loveday, shrinking into the shadows, ensconced herself in orde_o take stock of the little alley and its inhabitants. She found it much as i_ad been described to her–a collection of four-roomed houses of which mor_han half were unlet. Numbers 7 and 8 at the head of the court presented _lightly less neglected appearance than the other tenements. Number 7 stood i_otal darkness, but in the upper window of number 8 there showed what seeme_o be a night-light burning, so Loveday conjectured that this possibly was th_oom set apart as a dormitory for the little cripples.
While she stood thus surveying the home of the suspected Sisterhood, th_isters themselves–two, at least, of them–came into view, with their donkey- cart and their cripples, in the main road. It was an odd little cortège. On_ister, habited in a nun's dress of dark blue serge, led the donkey by th_ridle; another Sister, similarly attired, walked alongside the low cart, i_hich were seated two sickly-looking children. They were evidently returnin_rom one of their long country circuits, and unless they had lost their wa_nd been belated–it certainly seemed a late hour for the sickly littl_ripples to be abroad.
As they passed under the gas lamp at the corner of the court, Loveday caught _limpse of the faces of the Sisters. It was easy, with Inspector Gunning'_escription before her mind, to identify the older and taller woman as Siste_onica, and a more coarse-featured and generally repellant face Loveda_dmitted to herself she had never before seen. In striking contrast to thi_orbidding countenance, was that of the younger Sister. Loveday could onl_atch a brief passing view of it, but that one brief view was enough t_mpress it on her memory as of unusual sadness and beauty. As the donke_topped at the corner of the court, Loveday heard this sad-looking young woma_ddressed as "Sister Anna" by one of the cripples, who asked plaintively whe_hey were going to have something to eat.
"Now, at once," said Sister Anna, lifting the little one, as it seemed t_oveday, tenderly out of the cart, and carrying him on her shoulder down th_ourt to the door of number 8, which opened to them at their approach. Th_ther Sister did the same with the other child; then both Sisters returned, unloaded the cart of sundry bundles and baskets, and, this done, led off th_ld donkey and trap down the road, possibly to a neighbouring costermonger'_tables.
A man, coming along on a bicycle, exchanged a word of greeting with th_isters as they passed, then swung himself off his machine at the corner o_he court, and walked it along the paved way to the door of number 7. This h_pened with a key, and then, pushing the machine before him, entered th_ouse.
Loveday took it for granted that this man must be the John Murray of whom sh_ad heard. She had closely scrutinized him as he had passed her, and had see_hat he was a dark, well-featured man of about fifty years of age.
She congratulated herself on her good fortune in having seen so much in such _rief space of time, and coming forth from her sheltered corner turned he_teps in the direction of the draper's shop on the other side of the road.
It was easy to find it. "Golightly" was the singular name that figured abov_he shop-front, in which were displayed a variety of goods calculated to mee_he wants of servants and the poorer classes generally. A tall, powerfully- built man appeared to be looking in at this window. Loveday's foot was on th_oorstep of the draper's private entrance, her hand on the door-knocker, whe_his individual, suddenly turning, convinced her of his identity with th_ourneyman workman who had so disturbed Mr. Gunning's equanimity. It was tru_e wore a bowler instead of a journeyman's cap, and he no longer carried _asket of tools, but there was no possibility for anyone, with so good an ey_or an outline as Loveday possessed, not to recognize the carriage of the hea_nd shoulders as that of the man she had seen walking along the railwa_iding. He gave her no time to make minute observation of his appearance, bu_urned quickly away, and disappeared down a by-street.
Loveday's work seemed to bristle with difficulties now. Here was she, as i_ere, unearthed in her own ambush; for there could be but little doubt tha_uring the whole time she had stood watching those Sisters, that man, from _afe vantage point, had been watching her.
She found Mrs. Golightly a civil and obliging person. She showed Loveday t_er room above the shop, brought her the letters which Inspector Gunning ha_een careful to have posted to her during the day. Then she supplied her wit_en and ink and, in response to Loveday's request, with some strong coffe_hat she said, with a little attempt at a joke, would "keep a dormouse awak_ll through the winter without winking."
While the obliging landlady busied herself about the room, Loveday had a fe_uestions to ask about the Sisterhood who lived down the court opposite. O_his head, however, Mrs. Golightly could tell her no more than she alread_new, beyond the fact that they started every morning on their rounds a_leven o'clock punctually, and that before that hour they were never to b_een outside their door.
Loveday's watch that night was to be a fruitless one. Although she sat, wit_er lamp turned out and safely screened from observation, until close upo_idnight, with eyes fixed upon numbers 7 and 8 Paved Court, not so much as _oor opening or shutting at either house rewarded her vigil. The light_litted from the lower to the upper floors in both houses, and the_isappeared somewhere between nine and ten in the evening; and after that, no_ sign of life did either tenement show.
And all through the long hours of that watch, backwards and forwards ther_eemed to flit before her mind's eye, as if in some sort it were fixed upo_ts retina, the sweet, sad face of Sister Anna.
Why it was this face should so haunt her, she found it hard to say.
"It has a mournful past and a mournful future written upon it as a hopeles_hole," she said to herself. "It is the face of an Andromeda! 'here am I,' i_eems to say, 'tied to my stake, helpless and hopeless.'"
The church clocks were sounding the midnight hour as Loveday made her wa_hrough the dark streets to her hotel outside the town. As she passed unde_he railway arch that ended in the open country road, the echo of not ver_istant footsteps caught her ear. When she stopped they stopped, when she wen_n they went on, and she knew that once more she was being followed an_atched, although the darkness of the arch prevented her seeing even th_hadow of the man who was thus dogging her steps.
The next morning broke keen and frosty. Loveday studied her map and he_ountry-house index over a seven o'clock breakfast, and then set off for _risk walk along the country road. No doubt in London the streets were walle_n and roofed with yellow fog; here, however, bright sunshine played in an_ut of the bare tree-boughs and leafless hedges on to a thousand fros_pangles, turning the prosaic macadamized road into a gangway fit for Quee_itania herself and her fairy train.
Loveday turned her back on the town and set herself to follow the road as i_ound away over the hill in the direction of a village called Northfield.
Early as she was, she was not to have that road to herself. A team of stron_orses trudged by on their way to their work in the fuller's-earth pits. _oung fellow on a bicycle flashed past at a tremendous pace, considering th_pward slant of the road. He looked hard at her as he passed, then slackene_ace, dismounted, and awaited her coming on the brow of the hill.
"Good morning, Miss Brooke," he said, lifting his cap as she came alongside o_im. "May I have five minutes' talk with you?"
The young man who thus accosted her had not the appearance of a gentleman. H_as a handsome, bright-faced young fellow of about two-and-twenty, and wa_ressed in ordinary cyclists' dress; his cap was pushed back from his bro_ver thick, curly, fair hair, and Loveday, as she looked at him, could no_epress the thought how well he would look at the head of a troop of cavalry, giving the order to charge the enemy.
He led his machine to the side of the footpath.
"You have the advantage of me," said Loveday; "I haven't the remotest notio_ho you are."
"No," he said; "although I know you, you cannot possibly know me. I am a nort_ountry man, and I was present, about a month ago, at the trial of old Mr.
Craven, of Troyte's Hill–in fact, I acted as reporter for one of the loca_apers. I watched your face so closely as you gave your evidence that I shoul_now it anywhere, among a thousand."
"And your name is—?"
"George White, of Grenfell. My father is part proprietor of one of th_ewcastle papers. I am a bit of a literary man myself, and sometimes figure a_ reporter, sometimes as leader-writer, to that paper." Here he gave a glanc_owards his side pocket, from which protruded a small volume of Tennyson'_oems.
The facts he had stated did not seem to invite comment, and Loveday ejaculate_erely:
The young man went back to the subject that was evidently filling hi_houghts. "I have special reasons for being glad to have met you this morning, Miss Brooke," he want on, making his footsteps keep pace with hers. "I am i_reat trouble, and I believe you are the only person in the whole world wh_an help me out of that trouble."
"I am rather doubtful as to my power of helping anyone out of trouble," sai_oveday; "so far as my experience goes, our troubles are as much a part o_urselves as our skins are of our bodies."
"Ah, but not such trouble as mine," said White eagerly. He broke off for _oment, then, with a sudden rush of words, told her what that trouble was. Fo_he past year he had been engaged to be married to a young girl, who, unti_uite recently had been fulfilling the duties of a nursery governess in _arge house in the neighbourhood of Redhill.
"Will you kindly give me the name of that house?" interrupted Loveday.
"Certainly; Wootton Hall, the place is called, and Annie Lee is m_weetheart's name. I don't care who knows it!" He threw his head back as h_aid this, as if he would be delighted to announce the fact to the whol_orld. "Annie's mother," he went on, "died when she was a baby, and we bot_hought her father was dead also, when suddenly, about a fortnight ago, i_ame to her knowledge that instead of being dead, he was serving his time a_ortland for some offence committed years ago."
"Do you know how this came to Annie's knowledge?"
"Not the least in the world; I only know that I suddenly got a letter from he_nnouncing the fact, and at the same time, breaking off her engagement wit_e. I tore the letter into a thousand pieces, and wrote back saying I woul_ot allow the engagement to be broken off, but would marry her to-morrow i_he would have me. To this letter she did not reply; there came instead a fe_ines from Mrs. Copeland, the lady at Wootton Hall, saying that Annie ha_hrown up her engagement and joined some Sisterhood, and that she, Mrs.
Copeland, had pledged her word to Annie to reveal to no one the name an_hereabouts of that Sisterhood."
"And I suppose you imagine I am able to do what Mrs. Copeland is pledged no_o do?"
"That's just it, Miss Brooke," cried the young man enthusiastically. "You d_uch wonderful things; everyone knows you do. It seems as if, when anything i_anted to be found out, you just walk into a place, look round you and, in _oment, everything becomes clear as noonday."
"I can't quite lay claim to such wonderful powers as that. As it happens, however, in the present instance, no particular skill is needed to find ou_hat you wish to know, for I fancy I have already come upon the traces of Mis_nnie Lee."
"Of course, I cannot say for certain, but is a matter you can easily settl_or yourself–settle, too, in a way that will confer a great obligation on me."
"I shall be only too delighted to be of any–the slightest service to you,"
cried White, enthusiastically as before.
"Thank you. I will explain. I came down here specially to watch the movement_f a certain Sisterhood who have somehow aroused the suspicions of the police.
Well, I find that instead of being able to do this, I am myself so closel_atched–possibly by confederates of these Sisters–that unless I can do my wor_y deputy I may as well go back to town at once."
"Ah! I see–you want me to be that deputy."
"Precisely. I want you to go to the room in Redhill that I have hired, tak_our place at the window–screened, of course, from observation–at which _ught to be seated–watch as closely as possible the movements of these Sister_nd report them to me at the hotel, where I shall remain shut in from mornin_ill night–it is the only way in which I can throw my persistent spies off th_cent. Now, in doing this for me, you will be also doing yourself a good turn, for I have little doubt but what under the blue serge hood of one of th_isters you will discover the pretty face of Miss Annie Lee."
As they had talked they had walked, and now stood on the top of the hill a_he head of the one little street that constituted the whole of the village o_orthfield.
On their left hand stood the village schools and the master's house; nearl_acing these, on the opposite side of the road, beneath a clump of elms, stoo_he village pound. Beyond this pound, on either side of the way, were two row_f small cottages with tiny squares of garden in front, and in the midst o_hese small cottages a swinging sign beneath a lamp announced a "Postal an_elegraph Office."
"Now that we have come into the land of habitations again," said Loveday, "i_ill be best for us to part. It will not do for you and me to be see_ogether, or my spies will be transferring their attentions from me to you, and I shall have to find another deputy. You had better start on your bicycl_or Redhill at once, and I will walk back at leisurely speed. Come to me at m_otel without fail at one o'clock and report proceedings. I do not sa_nything definite about remuneration, but I assure you, if you carry out m_nstructions to the letter, your services will be amply rewarded by me and b_y employers."
There were yet a few more details to arrange. White had been, he said, only _ay and night in the neighbourhood, and special directions as to the localit_ad to be given to him. Loveday advised him not to attract attention by goin_o the draper's private door, but to enter the shop as if he were a customer, and then explain matters to Mrs. Golightly, who, no doubt, would be in he_lace behind the counter; tell her he was the brother of the Miss Smith wh_ad hired her room, and ask permission to go through the shop to that room, a_e had been commissioned by his sister to read and answer any letters tha_ight have arrived there for her.
"Show her the key of the side door–here it is," said Loveday; "it will be you_redentials, and tell her you did not like to make use of it withou_cquainting her with the fact."
The young man took the key, endeavoured to put it in his waistcoat pocket, found the space there occupied and so transferred it to the keeping of a sid_ocket in his tunic.
All this time Loveday stood watching him.
"You have a capital machine there," she said, as the young man mounted hi_icycle once more, "and I hope you will turn it to account in following th_ovements of these Sisters about the neighbourood. I feel confident you wil_ave something definite to tell me when you bring me your first report at on_'clock."
White once more broke into a profusion of thanks, and then, lifting his cap t_he lady, started his machine at a fairly good pace.
Loveday watched him out of sight down the slope of the hill, then, instead o_ollowing him as she had said she would "at a leisurely pace," she turned he_teps in the opposite direction along the village street.
It was an altogether ideal country village. Neatly-dressed chubby-face_hildren, now on their way to the schools, dropped quaint little curtsies, o_ugged at curly locks as Loveday passed; every cottage looked the picture o_leanliness and trimness, and although so late in the year, the gardens wer_ull of late flowering chrysanthemums and early flowering Christmas roses.
At the end of the village, Loveday came suddenly into view of a large, handsome, red-brick mansion. It presented a wide frontage to the road, fro_hich it lay back amid extensive pleasure grounds. On the right hand, and _ittle in the rear of the house, stood what seemed to be large and commodiou_tables, and immediately adjoining these stables was a low-built, red-bric_hed, that had evidently been recently erected.
That low-build, red-brick shed excited Loveday's curiosity.
"Is this house called North Cape?" she asked of a man, who chanced at tha_oment to be passing with a pickaxe and shovel.
The man answered in the affirmative, and Loveday then asked another question: could he tell her what was that small shed so close to the house–it looke_ike a glorified cowhouse–now what could be its use?
The man's face lighted up as if it were a subject on which he liked to b_uestioned. He explained that that small shed was the engine-house where th_lectricity that lighted North Cape was made and stored. Then he dwelt wit_ride upon the fact, as if he held a personal interest in it, that North Cap_as the only house, far or near, that was thus lighted.
"I suppose the wires are carried underground to the house," said Loveday, looking in vain for signs of them anywhere.
The man was delighted to go into details on the matter. He had helped to la_hose wires, he said: they were two in number, one for supply and one fo_eturn, and were laid three feet below ground, in boxes filled with pitch.
These wires were switched on to jars in the engine-house, where th_lectricity was stored, and, after passing underground, entered the famil_ansion under its flooring at its western end.
Loveday listened attentively to these details, and then took a minute an_eisurely survey of the house and its surroundings. This done, she retrace_er steps through the village, pausing, however, at the "Postal and Telegrap_ffice" to dispatch a telegram to Inspector Gunning.
It was one to send the Inspector to his cipher-book. It ran as follows:
"Rely solely on chemist and coal-merchant throughout the day.–L. B."
After this, she quickened her pace, and in something over three-quarters of a_our was back again at her hotel.
There she found more of life stirring than when she had quitted it in th_arly morning. There was to be a meeting of the "Surrey Stags," about a coupl_f miles off, and a good many hunting men were hanging about the entrance t_he house, discussing the chances of sport after last night's frost. Loveda_ade her way through the throng in leisurely fashion, and not a man but wha_ad keen scrutiny from her sharp eyes. No, there was no cause for suspicio_here: they were evidently one and all just what they seemed to be–loud- voiced, hard-riding men, bent on a day's sport; but–and here Loveday's eye_raveled beyond the hotel court-yard to the other side of the road–who wa_hat man with a bill-hook hacking at the hedge there–a thin-featured, round- shouldered old fellow, with a bent-about hat? It might be as well not to tak_t too rashly for granted that her spies had withdrawn, and had left her fre_o do her work in her own fashion.
She went upstairs to her room. It was situated on the first floor in the fron_f the house, and consequently commanded a good view of the high road. Sh_tood well back from the window, and at an angle whence she could see and no_e seen, took a long, steady survey of the hedger. And the longer she looke_he more convinced she was that the man's real work was something other tha_he bill-hook seemed to imply. He worked, so to speak, with his head over hi_houlder, and when Loveday supplemented her eyesight with a strong field- glass, she could see more than one stealthy glance shot from beneath his bent- about hat in the direction of her window.
There could be little doubt about it: her movements were to be as closel_atched to-day as they had been yesterday. Now it was of first importance tha_he should communicate with Inspector Gunning in the course of the afternoon: the question to solve was how it was to be done?
To all appearance Loveday answered the question in extraordinary fashion. Sh_ulled up her blind, she drew back her curtain, and seated herself, in ful_iew, at a small table in the window recess. Then she took a pocket inkstan_rom her pocket, a packet or correspondence cards from her letter-case, an_ith rapid pen, set to work on them.
About an hour and a half afterwards, White, coming in, according to hi_romise, to report proceedings, found her still seated at the window, not, however, with writing materials before her, but with needle and thread in he_and with which she was mending her gloves.
"I return to town by the first train to-morrow morning," she said as h_ntered, "and I find these wretched things want no end of stitches. Now fo_our report."
White appeared to be in an elated frame of mind. "I've seen her!" he cried,
"my Annie–they've got her, those confounded Sisters; but they sha'n't kee_er–no, not if I have to pull the house down about their ears to get her out."
"Well, now you know where she is, you can take your time about getting he_ut," said Loveday. "I hope, however, you haven't broken faith with me, an_etrayed yourself by trying to speak with her, because, if so, I shall have t_ook out for another deputy."
"Honour, Miss Brooke!" answered White indignantly. "I stuck to my duty, thoug_t cost me something to see her hanging over those kids and tucking them int_he cart, and never say a word to her, never so much as wave my hand."
"Did she go out with the donkey-cart to-day?"
"No, she only tucked the kids into the cart with a blanket, and then went bac_o the house. Two old Sisters, ugly as sin, went out with them. I watched the_rom the window, jolt, jolt, jolt, round the corner, out of sight, and then _hipped down the stairs, and on to my machine, and was after them in a tric_nd managed to keep them well in sight for over an hour and a half."
"And their destination to-day was?"
"Ah, just as I expected."
"Just as you expected?" echoed White.
"I forgot. You do not know the nature of the suspicions that are attached t_his Sisterhood, and the reasons I have for thinking that Wootton Hall, a_his season of the year, might have an especial attraction for them."
White continued staring at her. "Miss Brooke," he said presently, in a_ltered tone, "whatever suspicions may attach to the Sisterhood, I'll stake m_ife on it, my Annie has had no share in any wickedness of any sort."
"Oh, quite so; it is most likely that your Annie has, in some way, bee_nveigled into joining these Sisters–has been taken possession of by them, i_act, just as they have taken possession of the little cripples."
"That's it!" he cried excitedly; "that was the idea that occurred to me whe_ou spoke to me on the hill about them, otherwise you may be sure—"
"Did they get relief of any sort at the Hall?" interrupted Loveday..
"Yes; one of the two ugly old women stopped outside the lodge gates with th_onkey-cart, and the other beauty went up to the house alone. She staye_here, I should think, about a quarter of an hour, and when she came back, wa_ollowed by a servant, carrying a bundle and a basket."
"Ah! I've no doubt they brought away with them something else beside ol_arments and broken victuals."
White stood in front of her, fixing a hard, steady gaze upon her.
"Miss Brooke," he said presently, in a voice that matched the look on hi_ace, "what do you suppose was the real object of these women in going t_ootton Hall this morning?"
"Mr. White, if I wished to help a gang of thieves break into Wootton Hal_onight, don't you think I should be greatly interested in procuring from the_he information that the master of the house was away from home; that two o_he men servants, who slept in the house, had recently been dismissed an_heir places had not yet been filled; also that the dogs were never unchaine_t night, and that their kennels were at the side of the house at which th_utler's pantry is not situated? These are particulars I have gathered in thi_ouse without stirring from my chair, and I am satisfied that they are likel_o be true. A the same time, if I were a professed burglar, I should not b_ontent with information that was likely to be true, but would be careful t_rocure such that was certain to be true, and so would set accomplices to wor_t the fountain head. Now do you understand?"
White folded his arms and looked down on her.
"What are you going to do?" he asked, in short, brusque tones.
Loveday looked him full in the face. "Communicate with the polic_mmediately," she answered; "and I should feel greatly obliged if you will a_nce take a note from me to Inspector Gunning at Reigate."
"And what becomes of Annie?"
"I don't think you need have any anxiety on that head. I've no doubt that whe_he circumstances of her admission to the Sisterhood are investigated, it wil_e proved that she has been as much deceived and imposed upon as the man, Joh_urray, who so foolishly let his house to these women. Remember, Annie ha_rs. Copeland's good word to support her integrity."
White stood silent for awhile.
"What sort of a note do you wish me to take to the Inspector?" he presentl_sked.
"You shall read it as I write it, if you like," answered Loveday. She took _orrespondence card from her letter case, and, with an indelible pencil, wrot_s follows–
"Wooton Hall is threatened to-night–concentrate attention there.
White read the words as she wrote them with a curious expression passing ove_is handsome features.
"Yes," he said, curtly as before. "I'll deliver that, I give you my word, bu_'ll bring back no answer to you. I'll do no more spying for you–it's a trad_hat doesn't suit me. There's a straight-forward way of doing straight-forwar_ork, and I'll take that way–no other–to get my Annie out of that den."
He took the note, which she sealed and handed to him, and strode out of th_oom.
Loveday, from the window, watched him mount his bicycle. Was it her fancy, o_id there pass a swift, furtive glance of recognition between him and th_edger on the other side of the way as he rode out of the court-yard?
Loveday seemed determined to make that hedger's work easy for him. The shor_inter's day was closing in now, and her room must consequently have bee_rowing dim to outside observation. She lighted the gas chandelier which hun_rom the ceiling and, still with blinds and curtains undrawn, took her ol_lace at the window, spread writing materials before her and commenced a lon_nd elaborate report to her chief at Lynch Court.
bout half-an-hour afterwards, as she threw a casual glance across the road, she saw that the hedger had disappeared, but that two ill-looking tramps sa_unching bread and cheese under the hedge to which his bill-hook had done s_ittle service. Evidently the intention was, one way or another, not to los_ight of her so long as she remained in Redhill.
Meantime, White had delivered Loveday's note to the Inspector at Reigate, an_ad disappeared on his bicycle once more.
Gunning read it without a change of expression. Then he crossed the room t_he fire-place and held the card as close to the bars as he could withou_corching it.
"I had a telegram from her this morning," he explained to his confidentia_an, "telling me to rely upon chemicals and coals throughout the day, an_hat, of course, meant that she would write to me in invisible ink. No doub_his message about Wootton Hall means nothing—"
He broke off abruptly, exclaiming: "Eh! what's this!" as, having withdrawn th_ard from the fire, Loveday's real message stood out in bold, clear character_etween the lines of the false one.
Thus it ran:
"North Cape will be attacked to-night–a desperate gang–be prepared for _truggle. Above all, guard the electrical engine-house. On no account attemp_o communicate with me; I am so closely watched that any endeavour to do s_ay frustrate your chance of trapping the scoundrels. L. B."
That night when the moon went down behind Reigate Hill an exciting scene wa_nacted at "North Cape." The _Surrey Gazette_ , in its issue the followin_ay, gave the subjoined account of it under the heading, "Desperate encounte_ith burglars."
"Last night, 'North Cape,' the residence of Mr. Jameson, was the scene of a_ffray between the police and a desperate gang of burglars. 'North Cape' i_ighted throughout with electricity, and the burglars, four in number, divide_n half–two being told off to enter and rob the house, and two to remain a_he engine-shed, where the electricity is stored, so that, at a given signal, should need arise, the wires might be unswitched, the inmates of the hous_hrown into sudden darkness and confusion, and the escape of the marauder_hereby facilitated. Mr. Jameson, however, had received timely warning fro_he police of the intended attack, and he, with his two sons, all well armed, sat in darkness in the inner hall awaiting the coming of the thieves. Th_olice were stationed, some in the stables, some in out-buildings nearer t_he house, and others in more distant parts of the grounds. The burglar_ffected their entrance by means of a ladder placed to a window of th_ervants' stair case which leads straight down to the butler's pantry and t_he safe where the silver is kept. The fellows, however, had no sooner go_nto the house than the police issuing from their hiding-place outside, mounted the ladder after them and thus cut off their retreat. Mr. Jameson an_is two sons, at the same moment, attacked them in front, and thus overwhelme_y numbers, the scoundrels were easily secured. It was at the engine-hous_utside that the sharpest struggle took place. The thieves had forced open th_oor of this engine-shed with their jimmies immediately on their arrival, under the very eyes of the police, who lay in ambush in the stables, and whe_ne of the men, captured in the house, contrived to sound an alarm on hi_histle, these outside watchers made a rush for the electrical jars, in orde_o unswitch the wires. Upon this the police closed upon them, and a hand-to- hand struggle followed, and if it had not been for the timely assistance o_r. Jameson and his sons, who had fortunately conjectured that their presenc_ere might be useful, it is more than likely that one of the burglars, _owerfully-built man, would have escaped.
"The names of the captured men are John Murray, Arthur and George Lee (fathe_nd son), and a man with so many aliases that it is difficult to know which i_is real name. The whole thing had been most cunningly and carefully planned.
The elder Lee, lately released from penal servitude for a similar offence, appears to have been prime mover in the affair. This man had, it seems, a so_nd a daughter, who, through the kindness of friends, had been fairly wel_laced in life: the son at an electrical engineers' in London, the daughter a_ursery governess at Wootton Hall. Directly this man was released fro_ortland, he seems to have found out his children and done his best to rui_hem both. He was constantly at Wootton Hall endeavouring to induce hi_aughter to act as an accomplice to a robbery of the house. This so worrie_he girl that she threw up her situation and joined a Sisterhood that ha_ecently been established in the neighbourhood. Upon this, Lee's thought_urned in another direction. He induced his son, who had saved a little money, to throw up his work in London, and join him in his disreputable career. Th_oy is a handsome young fellow, but appears to have in him the makings of _irst-class criminal. In his work as an electrical engineer he had made th_cquaintance of the man John Murray, who, it is said, has been rapidly goin_ownhill of late. Murray was the owner of the house rented by the Sisterhoo_hat Miss Lee had joined, and the idea evidently struck the brains of thes_hree scoundrels that this Sisterhood, whose antecedents were a littl_ysterious, might be utilized to draw off the attention of the police fro_hemselves and from the especial house in the neighbourhood that they ha_lanned to attack. With this end in view, Murray made an application to th_olice to have the Sisters watched, and still further to give colour to th_uspicions he had endeavoured to set afloat concerning them, he and hi_onfederates made feeble attempts at burglary upon the houses at which th_isters had called, begging for scraps. It is a matter for congratulation tha_he plot, from beginning to end, has been thus successfully unearthed, and i_s felt on all sides that great credit is due to Inspector Gunning and hi_killed coadjutors for the vigilance and promptitude they have displaye_hroughout the affair."
Loveday read aloud this report, with her feet on the fender of the Lynch Cour_ffice.
"Accurate, as far as it goes," she said, as she laid down the paper.
"But we want to know a little more," said Mr. Dyer. "In the first place, _ould like to know what it was that diverted your suspicions from th_nfortunate Sisters?"
"The way in which they handled the children," answered Loveday promptly. "_ave seen female criminals of all kinds handling children, and I have notice_hat although they may occasionally–even this is rare–treat them with _ertain rough sort of kindness, of tenderness they are utterly incapable. No_ister Monica, I must admit, is not pleasant to look at; at the same time, there was something absolutely beautiful in the way in which she lifted th_ittle cripple out of the cart, put his tiny thin hand round her neck, an_arried him into the house. By-the-way I would like to ask some rapi_hysiognolmist how he would account for Sister Monica's repulsiveness o_eature as contrasted with young Lee's undoubted good looks–heredity, in thi_ase, throws no light on the matter."
"Another question," said Mr. Dyer, not paying much heed to Loveday'_igression: "how was it you transferred your suspicions to John Murray?"
"I did not do so immediately, although at the very first it had struck me a_dd that he should be so anxious to do the work of the police for them. Th_hief thing I noticed concerning Murray, on the first and only occasion o_hich I saw him, was that he had had an accident with his bicycle, for in th_ight-hand corner of his lamp-glass there was a tiny star, and the lamp itsel_ad a dent on the same side, had also lost its hook, and was fastened to th_achine by a bit of electric fuse. The next morning as I was walking up th_ill towards Northfield, I was accosted by a young man mounted on that self- same bicycle–not a doubt of it–star in glass, dent, fuse, all three."
"Ah, that sounded an important keynote, and led you to connect Murray and th_ounger Lee immediately."
"It did, and, of course, also at once gave the lie to his statement that h_as a stranger in the place, and confirmed my opinion that there was nothin_f the north-countryman in his accent. Other details in his manner an_ppearance gave rise to other suspicions. For instance, he called himself _ress reporter by profession, and his hands were coarse and grimy as only _echanic's could be. He said he was a bit of a literary man, but the Tennyso_hat showed so obtrusively from his pocket was new, and in parts uncut, an_otally unlike the well-thumbed volume of the literary student. Finally, whe_e tried and failed to put my latch-key into his waistcoat pocket, I saw th_eason lay in the fact that the pocket was already occupied by a soft coil o_lectric fuse, the end of which protruded. Now, an electric fuse is what a_lectrical engineer might almost unconsciously carry about with him, it is s_ssential a part of his working tools, but it is a thing that a literary ma_r a press reporter could have no possible use for."
"Exactly, exactly. And it was no doubt, that bit of electric fuse that turne_our thoughts to the one house in the neighbourhood lighted by electricity, and suggested to your mind the possibility of electrical engineers turnin_heir talents to account in that direction. Now, will you tell me, what, a_hat stage of your day's work, induced you to wire to Gunning that you woul_ring your invisible-ink bottle into use?"
"That was simply a matter or precaution; it did not compel me to the use o_nvisible ink, if I saw other safe methods of communication. I felt mysel_eing hemmed in on all sides with spies, and I could not tell what emergenc_ight arise. I don't think I have ever had a more difficult game to play. As _alked and talked with the young fellow up the hill, it became clear to m_hat if I wished to do my work I must lull the suspicions of the gang, an_eem to walk into their trap. I saw by the persistent way in which Wootto_all was forced on my notice that it was wished to fix my suspicions there. _ccordingly, to all appearance, did so, and allowed the fellows to think the_ere making a fool of me."
"Ha! ha! Capital that–the biter bit, with a vengeance! Splendid idea to mak_hat young rascal himself deliver the letter that was to land him and his pal_n jail. And he all the time laughing in his sleeve and thinking what a foo_e was making of you! Ha, ha, ha!" And Mr. Dyer made the office ring agai_ith his merriment.
"The only person one is at all sorry for in this affair is poor little Siste_nna," said Loveday pityingly; "and yet, perhaps, all things considered, afte_er sorry experience of life, she may not be so badly placed in a Sisterhoo_here practical Christianity–not religious hysterics–is the one and only rul_f the order."