The arrival of Dollops lighted a spark of great interest in the servants'
hall. The newly engaged maids accepted him for his youth and sharp manners, a_n innovation which they rather fancied than otherwise. Borkins alone stoo_loof. It seemed to the man that here, in Dollops' lithe, young form, in th_ery ginger of his carrotty hair, in the stridency of this cockne_ccent—which Cleek had endeavoured to eradicate without a particle o_uccess—was the reembodiment of the older, shorter, more mature James Collins.
To hear him speak in that sharp, young voice of his was to make the hair upo_ne's neck prick in supernatural discomfort. It was as though James Collin_ad come back to life again in the form of this East Side youngster, who wa_o extremely unlike his drawling, over-pampered master.
But Dollops had been primed for his task, and set to work at it with a will.
"Been in these 'ere parts long, Mr. Borkins?" he queried as they all sat a_upper, and he himself munched bread and butter and fish paste with a vigou_hat was lacking in only one quality—manners.
Borkins sniffed, and passed up his cup to the housekeeper.
"Before you were born, I dessay," he responded tartly.
"Is that so, Methuselah?" Dollops gave a little boyish giggle at sight of th_utler's face. "Well, seein' as I'm gettin' along in life, you must be a goo_ay parst the meridian, if yer don't mind my sayin' so… . Funny thing, on th_ay down I run across a chap wot's visitin' pals in this 'ere village, and '_ulls me the strangest yarn as ever a body 'eard. Summink to do wiv flames i_ere—Frozen Flames or icicles or frost of some kind. But 'e was so full up o_ystery that there weren't no gettin' nuffin out er' im. Any one 'ere tell m_he story? 'E fair got me curiosity fired, 'e did!"
A glance laden with sinister meaning flew around the table. Borkins cleare_is throat as every eye fastened itself upon him, and he swelled visibl_eneath his brass-buttoned waistcoat.
"If you're any wiser than you look, young man, you'll leave well alone, an_ot go stickin' your fingers in other peoples' pie!" he gave ou_ententiously. "Yes, there is a story—and a very unpleasant one, too. If yo_se your eyes to-night and look out of the smoking-room window as dusk come_n, you'll see the Frozen Flame for yerself, and won't want to be arskin' m_ny fool questions about it. One of the servants 'ere—and a rude, unmannerl_ondon creetur 'e was too!—disappeared a while ago, goin' out across the Fen_fter night-time when 'e was warned not to. Never seen a sight of 'i_ince—though I'm not mournin' any, as you kin see!"
" _Go on!_ " Dollops' voice expressed incredulity, amazement, and an awe_nterest that rather flattered the butler.
"True as I'm sittin' 'ere!" he responded grimly. "And before that a friend o_ir Nigel's—a fine, big upstandin' man 'e were, name of Wynne—went the sam_ay. Got a little the worse for drink and laughed at the story. Said 'e'd g_ut and investigate for 'imself. 'E never come back from that day to this!"
"Gawd's truf! 'Ow orful! You won't find yer 'umble a 'ankerin' after the fres_ir come night-time!" broke in Dollops with a little shiver of terror that wa_emarkably real. "I'll keep to me downy thank you, an' as you say, Mr.
Borkins, leave well enough alone. You're a wise gentleman, you are!"
Borkins, flattered, still further expanded.
"I won't say as all you cockney chaps are the same as Collins," he returne_agnanimously, "for it takes all kinds ter make a world. If you feels incline_ome time, I'll walk you down to the Pig and Whistle and you shall 'ave a wor_r two with a chap I know. 'E'll tell yer somethink that'll make your 'ai_tand on end. You jist trot along ter me when you're free, and we'll take _ittle stroll together."
Dollops' countenance widened into a delighted grin.
Later, Dollops, in the act of laying out Cleek's clothes for dinner, whil_leek himself unpacked leisurely and made the braces that held the mirror o_he dressing-table gay with multi-coloured ties, gave out the news of hi_romised visit to the Pig and Whistle with the august Borkins with somethin_kin to triumph.
"That's right, lad, that's right. Get friendly with 'em!" returned Cleek wit_ pleased smile. "I've an idea we're going to have a pretty lively time dow_ere, if I'm not much mistaken. Stick to that chap Borkins as you would t_lue. Don't let him get away from you. Follow him wherever he goes, but don'_et the other servants in the place slip out from your watchful eye, either.
Those Frozen Flames want looking into. I have grave suspicions of Borkins. Hi_ort generally knows more than almost any other sort, and he appeared to b_izing me up pretty carefully. I shouldn't wonder at all, if he had an ide_lready that I am not the 'man about town' I appear to be. It will be rotte_uck if he has… . Time I got into my togs, boy… . Here, just hand me tha_hirt, will you?"
That night certainly proved an even more exciting one than Cleek ha_rophesied. The household retired early, as country households are apt to do,
but Cleek, however, did not undress. He sat at his window, which faced upo_he Fens, watching the trail of the flames dancing across the horizon o_ight, and trying to solve the riddle that he had come to find the answer to.
He heard the church clock in the distance chime out the hour of twelve; an_till he sat on. The peace of the quiet night stole over him, filling hi_ctive brain with a restfulness that had been foreign to it for some time i_he stress of his busy life in London. He felt glad he had taken up this case,
if only for the view of the countryside at night, the stillness of the untro_arshes, and the absolute absence of every living thing at this hour.
The clock chimed one, and he heeded it not. Two—half-past—. Of a sudden he sa_olt upright, then got noiselessly to his feet and glided across the floor t_here his bed stood—a monstrous black object with heavy canopy and curtains, _elic of the Victorianism in which this house was born. He moved like a cat,
absolutely without sound, fleet, sure. His fingers found the coverlet and h_ore it down, tumbling the clothes and pushing down the pillow so that i_ooked as if he himself lay there, peacefully sleeping beneath the shelterin_lankets… . Then, still noiseless, panther-like, he slid his lithe figur_nder the bed… . Then the noise came again. Just the whisper of footsteps i_he wide hall, and then—his door opened soundlessly and for a moment th_ootsteps stopped. He could feel a presence in the room. If it were Dollop_he lad would give some sign. If not—He lay still, scarcely breathing in th_nveloping darkness. The footsteps came again, softly, softly padding acros_he room toward him. He saw the black shadows of stockinged feet as the_rossed the path of moonlight, and sucked in his breath. Man's feet!… Whose?…
Then something shook the bedstead with tremendous force, but without sound. I_as as if some object had been hurled forcibly into its softness. Th_ootsteps turned again, hurriedly this time, and there was a sound of a deep-
drawn breath—a breath full of pent-up, passionate hatred. Then the figure ra_ightly across the room, and as it flashed for a moment through the bar o_oonlight, Cleek looked out from his safe hiding-place and— _saw_! The eye_ere narrowed in the ivory-tinted face, the jaw heavy and undershot as a bull-
dog's, while a dark coloured mustache straggled untidily across the upper lip.
The moonlight, cruelly clear, picked out the point of something sharp tha_hone in one clenched hand, something that looked like a knife—that _was_ _nife.
Then the figure vanished and the door closed noiselessly behind him.
Hmm. So this question of the Frozen Flame was as urgent as all that, was it?
To attempt to murder him, here—in the house of the Squire of Fetchworth. H_riggled out of his hiding place, a little stiff from the cramped position h_ad held, and guardedly lit his candle. Then he surveyed the bed with se_outh and narrowed eyes. There was a sharp incision through the clothes, a_ncision quite three inches long, that had punctured the pillow which la_eneath them—the pillow that had saved him his life—and buried itself in th_attress beneath. Gad! a powerful hand that! He stood a moment thinking,
pinching up his chin the while. He had had his suspicions of Borkins, but th_ace that he had seen in the moonlight was not the butler's face. _Whose,