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A Child Of The Rain
A Difficult Problem
A Grammatical Ghost
A Memorable Night
A Mysterious Case
A Mystery With A Moral
A Spectral Collie
A Terribly Strange Bed
American Horses
An Astral Onion
An Intangible Clue
As Told By Mr Gryce
Bourgonef
From The Loom Of The Dead
His Last Bow
Hunted Down
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Melmoth The Wanderer
Missing: Page Thirteen
My Fascinating Friend
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
On The Northern Ice
Problem Ix Violet's Own
Satire Of The Sea
Shall He Wed Her?
Story Of An Obstinate Corpse
Story Of The Vanishing Patient
The Adventure Of Black Peter
The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange
The Adventure Of The Bruce-partington Plans
The Adventure Of The Cardboard Box
The Adventure Of The Dancing Men
The Adventure Of The Devil's Foot
The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
The Adventure Of The Empty House
The Adventure Of The Golden Pince-nez
The Adventure Of The Missing Three-quarter
The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder
The Adventure Of The Priory School
The Adventure Of The Red Circle
The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure Of The Three Students
The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge
The Affair Of The Tortoise
The Avenger
The Birth-mark
The Black Cross
The Box With The Iron Clamps
The Bronze Hand
The Cambered Foot
The Case Of He Golden Bullet
The Case Of Mr Foggatt
The Case Of The Dixon Torpedo
The Case Of The Pocket Diary Found In The Snow
The Case Of The Pool Of Blood In The Pastor's Study
The Case Of The Registered Letter
The Closed Cabinet
The Coin Of Dionysius
The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax
The Doctor His Wife And The Clock
The Dreaming Lady
The End Of The Road
The Fortune Teller
The Golden Slipper
The Gray Madam
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Grotto Spectre
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hermit Of Street
The Hole In The Mahogany Panel
The House By The Loch
The House Of Clocks
The House That Was Not
The Incantation
The Jew's Breastplate
The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
The Last Adventure
The Last Exploit Of Harry The Actor
The Lenton Croft Robberies
The Loss Of Sammy Crockett
The Lost Lady
The Lost Room
The Man In The Green Hat
The Mortals In The House
The Mysterious Card
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Old Stone House
The Piano Next Door
The Pumpkin Coach
The Quinton Jewel Affair
The Reward
The Room Of The Evil Thought
The Second Bullet
The Shape Of Fear
The Spread Rails
The Stanway Cameo Mystery
The Thing On The Hearth
The Torture By Hope
The Tragedy At Brookbend Cottage
The Wrong Sign
The Yellow Flower
Their Dear Little Ghost

Four Max Carrados Detective Stories

The Coin Of Dionysius
The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
The Last Exploit Of Harry The Actor
The Tragedy At Brookbend Cottage



The Tragedy At Brookbend Cottage








"Max," said Mr. Carlyle, when Parkinson had closed the door behind
him, "this is Lieutenant Hollyer, whom you consented to see."

"To hear," corrected Carrados, smiling straight into the healthy and
rather embarrassed face of the stranger before him. "Mr. Hollyer knows
of my disability?"

"Mr. Carlyle told me," said the young man, "but, as a matter of fact,
I had heard of you before, Mr. Carrados, from one of our men. It was
in connection with the foundering of the Ivan Saratov."

Carrados wagged his head in good-humoured resignation.

"And the owners were sworn to inviolable secrecy!" he exclaimed.
"Well, it is inevitable, I suppose. Not another scuttling case, Mr.
Hollyer?"

"No, mine is quite a private matter," replied the lieutenant. "My
sister, Mrs. Creake--but Mr. Carlyle would tell you better than I can.
He knows all about it."

"No, no; Carlyle is a professional. Let me have it in the rough, Mr.
Hollyer. My ears are my eyes, you know."

"Very well, sir. I can tell you what there is to tell, right enough,
but I feel that when all's said and done it must sound very little to
another, although it seems important to me."

"We have occasionally found trifles of significance ourselves," said
Carrados encouragingly. "Don't let that deter you."

This was the essence of Lieutenant Hollyer's narrative:

"I have a sister, Millicent, who is married to a man called Creake.
She is about twenty-eight now and he is at least fifteen years older.
Neither my mother (who has since died) nor I cared very much about
Creake. We had nothing particular against him, except, perhaps, the
moderate disparity of age, but none of us appeared to have anything in
common. He was a dark, taciturn man, and his moody silence froze up
conversation. As a result, of course, we didn't see much of each
other."

"This, you must understand, was four or five years ago, Max,"
interposed Mr. Carlyle officiously.

Carrados maintained an uncompromising silence. Mr. Carlyle blew his
nose and contrived to impart a hurt significance into the operation.
Then Lieutenant Hollyer continued:

"Millicent married Creake after a very short engagement. It was a
frightfully subdued wedding--more like a funeral to me. The man
professed to have no relations and apparently he had scarcely any
friends or business acquaintances. He was an agent for something or
other and had an office off Holborn. I suppose he made a living out of
it then, although we knew practically nothing of his private affairs,
but I gather that it has been going down since, and I suspect that for
the past few years they have been getting along almost entirely on
Millicent's little income. You would like the particulars of that?"

"Please," assented Carrados.

"When our father died about seven years ago, he left three thousand
pounds. It was invested in Canadian stock and brought in a little over
a hundred a year. By his will my mother was to have the income of that
for life and on her death it was to pass to Millicent, subject to the
payment of a lump sum of five hundred pounds to me. But my father
privately suggested to me that if I should have no particular use for
the money at the time, he would propose my letting Millicent have the
income of it until I did want it, as she would not be particularly
well off. You see, Mr. Carrados, a great deal more had been spent on
my education and advancement than on her; I had my pay, and, of
course, I could look out for myself better than a girl could."

"Quite so," agreed Carrados.

"Therefore I did nothing about that," continued the lieutenant. "Three
years ago I was over again but I did not see much of them. They were
living in lodgings. That was the only time since the marriage that I
have seen them until last week. In the meanwhile our mother had died
and Millicent had been receiving her income. She wrote me several
letters at the time. Otherwise we did not correspond much, but about a
year ago she sent me their new address--Brookbend Cottage, Mulling
Common--a house that they had taken. When I got two months' leave I
invited myself there as a matter of course, fully expecting to stay
most of my time with them, but I made an excuse to get away after a
week. The place was dismal and unendurable, the whole life and
atmosphere indescribably depressing." He looked round with an instinct
of caution, leaned forward earnestly, and dropped his voice. "Mr.
Carrados, it is my absolute conviction that Creake is only waiting for
a favourable opportunity to murder Millicent."

"Go on," said Carrados quietly. "A week of the depressing surroundings
of Brookbend Cottage would not alone convince you of that, Mr.
Hollyer."

"I am not so sure," declared Hollyer doubtfully. "There was a feeling
of suspicion and--before me--polite hatred that would have gone a good
way towards it. All the same there was something more definite.
Millicent told me this the day after I went there. There is no doubt
that a few months ago Creake deliberately planned to poison her with
some weed-killer. She told me the circumstances in a rather distressed
moment, but afterwards she refused to speak of it again--even weakly
denied it--and, as a matter of fact, it was with the greatest of
difficulty that I could get her at any time to talk about her husband
or his affairs. The gist of it was that she had the strongest
suspicion that Creake doctored a bottle of stout which he expected she
would drink for her supper when she was alone. The weed-killer,
properly labelled, but also in a beer bottle, was kept with other
miscellaneous liquids in the same cupboard as the beer but on a high
shelf. When he found that it had miscarried he poured away the
mixture, washed out the bottle and put in the dregs from another.
There is no doubt in my mind that if he had come back and found
Millicent dead or dying he would have contrived it to appear that she
had made a mistake in the dark and drunk some of the poison before she
found out."

"Yes," assented Carrados. "The open way; the safe way."

"You must understand that they live in a very small style, Mr.
Carrados, and Millicent is almost entirely in the man's power. The
only servant they have is a woman who comes in for a few hours every
day. The house is lonely and secluded. Creake is sometimes away for
days and nights at a time, and Millicent, either through pride or
indifference, seems to have dropped off all her old friends and to
have made no others. He might poison her, bury the body in the garden,
and be a thousand miles away before anyone began even to inquire about
her. What am I to do, Mr. Carrados?"

"He is less likely to try poison than some other means now," pondered
Carrados. "That having failed, his wife will always be on her guard.
He may know, or at least suspect, that others know. No. ... The
common-sense precaution would be for your sister to leave the man, Mr.
Hollyer. She will not?"

"No," admitted Hollyer, "she will not. I at once urged that." The
young man struggled with some hesitation for a moment and then blurted
out: "The fact is, Mr. Carrados, I don't understand Millicent. She is
not the girl she was. She hates Creake and treats him with a silent
contempt that eats into their lives like acid, and yet she is so
jealous of him that she will let nothing short of death part them. It
is a horrible life they lead. I stood it for a week and I must say,
much as I dislike my brother-in-law, that he has something to put up
with. If only he got into a passion like a man and killed her it
wouldn't be altogether incomprehensible."

"That does not concern us," said Carrados. "In a game of this kind one
has to take sides and we have taken ours. It remains for us to see
that our side wins. You mentioned jealousy, Mr. Hollyer. Have you any
idea whether Mrs. Creake has real ground for it?"

"I should have told you that," replied Lieutenant Hollyer. "I happened
to strike up with a newspaper man whose office is in the same block as
Creake's. When I mentioned the name he grinned. 'Creake,' he said,
'oh, he's the man with the romantic typist, isn't he?' 'Well, he's my
brother-in-law,' I replied. 'What about the typist?' Then the chap
shut up like a knife. 'No, no,' he said, 'I didn't know he was
married. I don't want to get mixed up in anything of that sort. I only
said that he had a typist. Well, what of that? So have we; so has
everyone.' There was nothing more to be got out of him, but the remark
and the grin meant--well, about as usual, Mr. Carrados."

Carrados turned to his friend.

"I suppose you know all about the typist by now, Louis?"

"We have had her under efficient observation, Max," replied Mr.
Carlyle with severe dignity.

"Is she unmarried?"

"Yes; so far as ordinary repute goes, she is."

"That is all that is essential for the moment. Mr. Hollyer opens up
three excellent reasons why this man might wish to dispose of his
wife. If we accept the suggestion of poisoning--though we have only a
jealous woman's suspicion for it--we add to the wish the
determination. Well, we will go forward on that. Have you got a
photograph of Mr. Creake?"

The lieutenant took out his pocket-book.

"Mr. Carlyle asked me for one. Here is the best I could get."

Carrados rang the bell.

"This, Parkinson," he said, when the man appeared, "is a photograph of
a Mr. ---- What first name, by the way?"

"Austin," put in Hollyer, who was following everything with a boyish
mixture of excitement and subdued importance.

"--of a Mr. Austin Creake. I may require you to recognize him."

Parkinson glanced at the print and returned it to his master's hand.

"May I inquire if it is a recent photograph of the gentleman, sir?" he
asked.

"About six years ago," said the lieutenant, taking in this new actor
in the drama with frank curiosity. "But he is very little changed."

"Thank you, sir. I will endeavour to remember Mr. Creake, sir."

Lieutenant Hollyer stood up as Parkinson left the room. The interview
seemed to be at an end.

"Oh, there's one other matter," he remarked. "I am afraid that I did
rather an unfortunate thing while I was at Brookbend. It seemed to me
that as all Millicent's money would probably pass into Creake's hands
sooner or later I might as well have my five hundred pounds, if only
to help her with afterwards. So I broached the subject and said that I
should like to have it now as I had an opportunity for investing."

"And you think?"

"It may possibly influence Creake to act sooner than he otherwise
might have done. He may have got possession of the principal even and
find it very awkward to replace it."

"So much the better. If your sister is going to be murdered it may as
well be done next week as next year so far as I am concerned. Excuse
my brutality, Mr. Hollyer, but this is simply a case to me and I
regard it strategically. Now Mr. Carlyle's organization can look after
Mrs. Creake for a few weeks, but it cannot look after her for ever. By
increasing the immediate risk we diminish the permanent risk."

"I see," agreed Hollyer. "I'm awfully uneasy but I'm entirely in your
hands."

"Then we will give Mr. Creake every inducement and every opportunity
to get to work. Where are you staying now?"

"Just now with some friends at St. Albans."

"That is too far." The inscrutable eyes retained their tranquil depth
but a new quality of quickening interest in the voice made Mr. Carlyle
forget the weight and burden of his ruffled dignity. "Give me a few
minutes, please. The cigarettes are behind you, Mr. Hollyer." The
blind man walked to the window and seemed to look out over the
cypress-shaded lawn. The lieutenant lit a cigarette and Mr. Carlyle
picked up Punch. Then Carrados turned round again.

"You are prepared to put your own arrangements aside?" he demanded of
his visitor.

"Certainly."

"Very well. I want you to go down now--straight from here--to
Brookbend Cottage. Tell your sister that your leave is unexpectedly
cut short and that you sail to-morrow."

"The Martian?'

"No, no; the Martian doesn't sail. Look up the movements on your way
there and pick out a boat that does. Say you are transferred. Add that
you expect to be away only two or three months and that you really
want the five hundred pounds by the time of your return. Don't stay in
the house long, please."

"I understand, sir."

"St. Albans is too far. Make your excuse and get away from there
to-day. Put up somewhere in town, where you will be in reach of the
telephone. Let Mr. Carlyle and myself know where you are. Keep out of
Creake's way. I don't want actually to tie you down to the house, but
we may require your services. We will let you know at the first sign
of anything doing and if there is nothing to be done we must release
you."

"I don't mind that. Is there nothing more that I can do now?"

"Nothing. In going to Mr. Carlyle you have done the best thing
possible; you have put your sister into the care of the shrewdest man
in London." Whereat the object of this quite unexpected eulogy found
himself becoming covered with modest confusion.

"Well, Max?" remarked Mr. Carlyle tentatively when they were alone.

"Well, Louis?"

"Of course it wasn't worth while rubbing it in before young Hollyer,
but, as a matter of fact, every single man carries the life of any
other man--only one, mind you--in his hands, do what you will."

"Provided he doesn't bungle," acquiesced Carrados.

"Quite so."

"And also that he is absolutely reckless of the consequences."

"Of course."

"Two rather large provisos. Creake is obviously susceptible to both.
Have you seen him?"

"No. As I told you, I put a man on to report his habits in town. Then,
two days ago, as the case seemed to promise some interest--for he
certainly is deeply involved with the typist, Max, and the thing might
take a sensational turn at any time--I went down to Mulling Common
myself. Although the house is lonely it is on the electric tram route.
You know the sort of market garden rurality that about a dozen miles
out of London offers--alternate bricks and cabbages. It was easy
enough to get to know about Creake locally. He mixes with no one
there, goes into town at irregular times but generally every day, and
is reputed to be devilish hard to get money out of. Finally I made the
acquaintance of an old fellow who used to do a day's gardening at
Brookbend occasionally. He has a cottage and a garden of his own with
a greenhouse, and the business cost me the price of a pound of
tomatoes."

"Was it--a profitable investment?"

"As tomatoes, yes; as information, no. The old fellow had the fatal
disadvantage from our point of view of labouring under a grievance. A
few weeks ago Creake told him that he would not require him again as
he was going to do his own gardening in future."

"That is something, Louis."

"If only Creake was going to poison his wife with hyoscyamine and bury
her, instead of blowing her up with a dynamite cartridge and claiming
that it came in among the coal."

"True, true. Still--"

"However, the chatty old soul had a simple explanation for everything
that Creake did. Creake was mad. He had even seen him flying a kite in
his garden where it was found to get wrecked among the trees. A lad of
ten would have known better, he declared. And certainly the kite did
get wrecked, for I saw it hanging over the road myself. But that a
sane man should spend his time 'playing with a toy' was beyond him."

"A good many men have been flying kites of various kinds lately," said
Carrados. "Is he interested in aviation?"

"I dare say. He appears to have some knowledge of scientific subjects.
Now what do you want me to do, Max?"

"Will you do it?"

"Implicitly--subject to the usual reservations."

"Keep your man on Creake in town and let me have his reports after you
have seen them. Lunch with me here now. 'Phone up to your office that
you are detained on unpleasant business and then give the deserving
Parkinson an afternoon off by looking after me while we take a motor
run round Mulling Common. If we have time we might go on to Brighton,
feed at the 'Ship,' and come back in the cool."

"Amiable and thrice lucky mortal," sighed Mr. Carlyle, his glance
wandering round the room.

But, as it happened, Brighton did not figure in that day's itinerary.
It had been Carrados's intention merely to pass Brookbend Cottage on
this occasion, relying on his highly developed faculties, aided by Mr.
Carlyle's description, to inform him of the surroundings. A hundred
yards before they reached the house he had given an order to his
chauffeur to drop into the lowest speed and they were leisurely
drawing past when a discovery by Mr. Carlyle modified their plans.

"By Jupiter!" that gentleman suddenly exclaimed, "there's a board up,
Max. The place is to be let."

Carrados picked up the tube again. A couple of sentences passed and
the car stopped by the roadside, a score of paces past the limit of
the garden. Mr. Carlyle took out his notebook and wrote down the
address of a firm of house agents.

"You might raise the bonnet and have a look at the engines, Harris,"
said Carrados. "We want to be occupied here for a few minutes."

"This is sudden; Hollyer knew nothing of their leaving," remarked Mr.
Carlyle.

"Probably not for three months yet. All the same, Louis, we will go on
to the agents and get a card to view whether we use it to-day or not."

A thick hedge, in its summer dress effectively screening the house
beyond from public view, lay between the garden and the road. Above
the hedge showed an occasional shrub; at the corner nearest to the car
a chestnut flourished. The wooden gate, once white, which they had
passed, was grimed and rickety. The road itself was still the
unpretentious country lane that the advent of the electric car had
found it. When Carrados had taken in these details there seemed little
else to notice. He was on the point of giving Harris the order to go
on when his ear caught a trivial sound.

"Someone is coming out of the house, Louis," he warned his friend. "It
may be Hollyer, but he ought to have gone by this time."

"I don't hear anyone," replied the other, but as he spoke a door
banged noisily and Mr. Carlyle slipped into another seat and ensconced
himself behind a copy of The Globe.

"Creake himself," he whispered across the car, as a man appeared at
the gate. "Hollyer was right; he is hardly changed. Waiting for a car,
I suppose."

But a car very soon swung past them from the direction in which Mr.
Creake was looking and it did not interest him. For a minute or two
longer he continued to look expectantly along the road. Then he walked
slowly up the drive back to the house.

"We will give him five or ten minutes," decided Carrados. "Harris is
behaving very naturally."

Before even the shorter period had run out they were repaid. A
telegraph-boy cycled leisurely along the road, and, leaving his
machine at the gate, went up to the cottage. Evidently there was no
reply, for in less than a minute he was trundling past them back
again. Round the bend an approaching tram clanged its bell noisily,
and, quickened by the warning sound, Mr. Creake again appeared, this
time with a small portmanteau in his hand. With a backward glance he
hurried on towards the next stopping-place, and, boarding the car as
it slackened down, he was carried out of their knowledge.

"Very convenient of Mr. Creake," remarked Carrados, with quiet
satisfaction. "We will now get the order and go over the house in his
absence. It might be useful to have a look at the wire as well."

"It might, Max," acquiesced Mr. Carlyle a little dryly. "But if it is,
as it probably is in Creake's pocket, how do you propose to get it?"

"By going to the post office, Louis."

"Quite so. Have you ever tried to see a copy of a telegram addressed
to someone else?"

"I don't think I have ever had occasion yet," admitted Carrados. "Have
you?"

"In one or two cases I have perhaps been an accessory to the act. It
is generally a matter either of extreme delicacy or considerable
expenditure."

"Then for Hollyer's sake we will hope for the former here." And Mr.
Carlyle smiled darkly and hinted that he was content to wait for a
friendly revenge.

A little later, having left the car at the beginning of the straggling
High Street, the two men called at the village post office. They had
already visited the house agent and obtained an order to view
Brookbend Cottage, declining with some difficulty the clerk's
persistent offer to accompany them. The reason was soon forthcoming.
"As a matter of fact," explained the young man, "the present tenant is
under our notice to leave."

"Unsatisfactory, eh?" said Carrados encouragingly.

"He's a corker," admitted the clerk, responding to the friendly tone.
"Fifteen months and not a doit of rent have we had. That's why I
should have liked--"

"We will make every allowance," replied Carrados.

The post office occupied one side of a stationer's shop. It was not
without some inward trepidation that Mr. Carlyle found himself
committed to the adventure. Carrados, on the other hand, was the
personification of bland unconcern.

"You have just sent a telegram to Brookbend Cottage," he said to the
young lady behind the brasswork lattice. "We think it may have come
inaccurately and should like a repeat." He took out his purse. "What
is the fee?"

The request was evidently not a common one. "Oh," said the girl
uncertainly, "wait a minute, please." She turned to a pile of telegram
duplicates behind the desk and ran a doubtful finger along the upper
sheets. "I think this is all right. You want it repeated?"

"Please." Just a tinge of questioning surprise gave point to the
courteous tone.

"It will be fourpence. If there is an error the amount will be
refunded."

Carrados put down his coin and received his change.

"Will it take long?" he inquired carelessly, as he pulled on his
glove.

"You will most likely get it within a quarter of an hour," she
replied.

"Now you've done it," commented Mr. Carlyle as they walked back to
their car. "How do you propose to get that telegram, Max?"

"Ask for it," was the laconic explanation.

And, stripping the artifice of any elaboration, he simply asked for it
and got it. The car, posted at a convenient bend in the road, gave him
a warning note as the telegraph-boy approached. Then Carrados took up
a convincing attitude with his hand on the gate while Mr. Carlyle lent
himself to the semblance of a departing friend. That was the
inevitable impression when the boy rode up.

"Creake, Brookbend Cottage?" inquired Carrados, holding out his hand,
and without a second thought the boy gave him the envelope and rode
away on the assurance that there would be no reply.

"Some day, my friend," remarked Mr. Carlyle, looking nervously toward
the unseen house, "your ingenuity will get you into a tight corner."

"Then my ingenuity must get me out again," was the retort. "Let us
have our 'view' now. The telegram can wait."

An untidy workwoman took their order and left them standing at the
door. Presently a lady whom they both knew to be Mrs. Creake appeared.

"You wish to see over the house?" she said, in a voice that was
utterly devoid of any interest. Then, without waiting for a reply, she
turned to the nearest door and threw it open.

"This is the drawing-room," she said, standing aside.

They walked into a sparsely furnished, damp-smelling room and made a
pretence of looking round, while Mrs. Creake remained silent and
aloof.

"The dining-room," she continued, crossing the narrow hall and opening
another door.

Mr. Carlyle ventured a genial commonplace in the hope of inducing
conversation. The result was not encouraging. Doubtless they would
have gone through the house under the same frigid guidance had not
Carrados been at fault in a way that Mr. Carlyle had never known him
fail before. In crossing the hall he stumbled over a mat and almost
fell.

"Pardon my clumsiness," he said to the lady. "I am, unfortunately,
quite blind. But," he added, with a smile, to turn off the mishap,
"even a blind man must have a house."

The man who had eyes was surprised to see a flood of colour rush into
Mrs. Creake's face.

"Blind!" she exclaimed, "oh, I beg your pardon. Why did you not tell
me? You might have fallen."

"I generally manage fairly well," he replied. "But, of course, in a
strange house--"

She put her hand on his arm very lightly.

"You must let me guide you, just a little," she said.

The house, without being large, was full of passages and inconvenient
turnings. Carrados asked an occasional question and found Mrs. Creake
quite amiable without effusion. Mr. Carlyle followed them from room to
room in the hope, though scarcely the expectation, of learning
something that might be useful.


"This is the last one. It is the largest bedroom," said their guide.
Only two of the upper rooms were fully furnished and Mr. Carlyle at
once saw, as Carrados knew without seeing, that this was the one which
the Creakes occupied.

"A very pleasant outlook," declared Mr. Carlyle.

"Oh, I suppose so," admitted the lady vaguely. The room, in fact,
looked over the leafy garden and the road beyond. It had a French
window opening on to a small balcony, and to this, under the strange
influence that always attracted him to light, Carrados walked.

"I expect that there is a certain amount of repair needed?" he said,
after standing there a moment.

"I am afraid there would be," she confessed.

"I ask because there is a sheet of metal on the floor here," he
continued. "Now that, in an old house, spells dry rot to the wary
observer."

"My husband said that the rain, which comes in a little under the
window, was rotting the boards there," she replied. "He put that down
recently. I had not noticed anything myself."

It was the first time she had mentioned her husband; Mr. Carlyle
pricked up his ears.

"Ah, that is a less serious matter," said Carrados. "May I step out on
to the balcony?"

"Oh yes, if you like to." Then, as he appeared to be fumbling at the
catch, "Let me open it for you."

But the window was already open, and Carrados, facing the various
points of the compass, took in the bearings.

"A sunny, sheltered corner," he remarked. "An ideal spot for a
deck-chair and a book."

She shrugged her shoulders half contemptuously.

"I dare say," she replied, "but I never use it."

"Sometimes, surely," he persisted mildly. "It would be my favourite
retreat. But then--"

"I was going to say that I had never even been out on it, but that
would not be quite true. It has two uses for me, both equally
romantic; I occasionally shake a duster from it, and when my husband
returns late without his latchkey he wakes me up and I come out here
and drop him mine."

Further revelation of Mr. Creake's nocturnal habits was cut off,
greatly to Mr. Carlyle's annoyance, by a cough of unmistakable
significance from the foot of the stairs. They had heard a trade cart
drive up to the gate, a knock at the door, and the heavy-footed woman
tramp along the hall.

"Excuse me a minute, please," said Mrs. Creake.

"Louis," said Carrados, in a sharp whisper, the moment they were
alone, "stand against the door."

With extreme plausibility Mr. Carlyle began to admire a picture so
situated that while he was there it was impossible to open the door
more than a few inches. From that position he observed his confederate
go through the curious procedure of kneeling down on the bedroom floor
and for a full minute pressing his ear to the sheet of metal that had
already engaged his attention. Then he rose to his feet, nodded,
dusted his trousers, and Mr. Carlyle moved to a less equivocal
position.

"What a beautiful rose-tree grows up your balcony," remarked Carrados,
stepping into the room as Mrs. Creake returned. "I suppose you are
very fond of gardening?"

"I detest it," she replied.

"But this Gloire, so carefully trained--?"

"Is it?" she replied. "I think my husband was nailing it up recently."
By some strange fatality Carrados's most aimless remarks seemed to
involve the absent Mr. Creake. "Do you care to see the garden?"

The garden proved to be extensive and neglected. Behind the house was
chiefly orchard. In front, some semblance of order had been kept up;
here it was lawn and shrubbery, and the drive they had walked along.
Two things interested Carrados: the soil at the foot of the balcony,
which he declared on examination to be particularly suitable for
roses, and the fine chestnut-tree in the corner by the road.

As they walked back to the car Mr. Carlyle lamented that they had
learned so little of Creake's movements.

"Perhaps the telegram will tell us something," suggested Carrados.
"Read it, Louis."

Mr. Carlyle cut open the envelope, glanced at the enclosure, and in
spite of his disappointment could not restrain a chuckle.

"My poor Max," he explained, "you have put yourself to an amount of
ingenious trouble for nothing. Creake is evidently taking a few days'
holiday and prudently availed himself of the Meteorological Office
forecast before going. Listen: 'Immediate prospect for London warm
and settled. Further outlook cooler but fine.' Well, well; I did get
a pound of tomatoes for my fourpence."

"You certainly scored there, Louis," admitted Carrados, with humorous
appreciation. "I wonder," he added speculatively, "whether it is
Creake's peculiar taste usually to spend his week-end holiday in
London."

"Eh?" exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, looking at the words again, "by gad,
that's rum, Max. They go to Weston-super-Mare. Why on earth should he
want to know about London?"

"I can make a guess, but before we are satisfied I must come here
again. Take another look at that kite, Louis. Are there a few yards of
string hanging loose from it?"

"Yes, there are."

"Rather thick string--unusually thick for the purpose?"

"Yes, but how do you know?"

As they drove home again Carrados explained, and Mr. Carlyle sat
aghast, saying incredulously: "Good God, Max, is it possible?"

An hour later he was satisfied that it was possible. In reply to his
inquiry someone in his office telephoned him the information that
"they" had left Paddington by the four-thirty for Weston.

It was more than a week after his introduction to Carrados that
Lieutenant Hollyer had a summons to present himself at The Turrets
again. He found Mr. Carlyle already there and the two friends were
awaiting his arrival.

"I stayed in all day after hearing from you this morning, Mr.
Carrados," he said, shaking hands. "When I got your second message I
was all ready to walk straight out of the house. That's how I did it
in the time. I hope everything is all right?"

"Excellent," replied Carrados. "You'd better have something before we
start. We probably have a long and perhaps an exciting night before
us."

"And certainly a wet one," assented the lieutenant. "It was thundering
over Mulling way as I came along."

"That is why you are here," said his host. "We are waiting for a
certain message before we start, and in the meantime you may as well
understand what we expect to happen. As you saw, there is a
thunderstorm coming on. The Meteorological Office morning forecast
predicted it for the whole of London if the conditions remained. That
is why I kept you in readiness. Within an hour it is now inevitable
that we shall experience a deluge. Here and there damage will be done
to trees and buildings; here and there a person will probably be
struck and killed."

"Yes."

"It is Mr. Creake's intention that his wife should be among the
victims."

"I don't exactly follow," said Hollyer, looking from one man to the
other. "I quite admit that Creake would be immensely relieved if such
a thing did happen, but the chance is surely an absurdly remote one."

"Yet unless we intervene it is precisely what a coroner's jury will
decide has happened. Do you know whether your brother-in-law has any
practical knowledge of electricity, Mr. Hollyer?"

"I cannot say. He was so reserved, and we really knew so little of
him--"

"Yet in 1896 an Austin Creake contributed an article on 'Alternating
Currents' to the American Scientific World. That would argue a
fairly intimate acquaintanceship."

"But do you mean that he is going to direct a flash of lightning?"

"Only into the minds of the doctor who conducts the post-mortem, and
the coroner. This storm, the opportunity for which he has been waiting
for weeks, is merely the cloak to his act. The weapon which he has
planned to use--scarcely less powerful than lightning but much more
tractable--is the high voltage current of electricity that flows along
the tram wire at his gate."

"Oh!" exclaimed Lieutenant Hollyer, as the sudden revelation struck
him.

"Some time between eleven o'clock to-night--about the hour when your
sister goes to bed--and one thirty in the morning--the time up to
which he can rely on the current--Creake will throw a stone up at the
balcony window. Most of his preparation has long been made; it only
remains for him to connect up a short length to the window handle and
a longer one at the other end to tap the live wire. That done, he will
wake his wife in the way I have said. The moment she moves the catch
of the window--and he has carefully filed its parts to ensure perfect
contact--she will be electrocuted as effectually as if she sat in the
executioner's chair in Sing Sing prison."

"But what are we doing here!" exclaimed Hollyer, starting to his feet,
pale and horrified. "It is past ten now and anything may happen."

"Quite natural, Mr. Hollyer," said Carrados reassuringly, "but you
need have no anxiety. Creake is being watched, the house is being
watched, and your sister is as safe as if she slept to-night in
Windsor Castle. Be assured that whatever happens he will not be
allowed to complete his scheme; but it is desirable to let him
implicate himself to the fullest limit. Your brother-in-law, Mr.
Hollyer, is a man with a peculiar capacity for taking pains."

"He is a damned cold-blooded scoundrel!" exclaimed the young officer
fiercely. "When I think of Millicent five years ago--"

"Well, for that matter, an enlightened nation has decided that
electrocution is the most humane way of removing its superfluous
citizens," suggested Carrados mildly. "He is certainly an
ingenious-minded gentleman. It is his misfortune that in Mr. Carlyle
he was fated to be opposed by an even subtler brain--"

"No, no! Really, Max!" protested the embarrassed gentleman.

"Mr. Hollyer will be able to judge for himself when I tell him that it
was Mr. Carlyle who first drew attention to the significance of the
abandoned kite," insisted Carrados firmly. "Then, of course, its
object became plain to me--as indeed to anyone. For ten minutes,
perhaps, a wire must be carried from the overhead line to the
chestnut-tree. Creake has everything in his favour, but it is just
within possibility that the driver of an inopportune train might
notice the appendage. What of that? Why, for more than a week he has
seen a derelict kite with its yards of trailing string hanging in the
tree. A very calculating mind, Mr. Hollyer. It would be interesting to
know what line of action Mr. Creake has mapped out for himself
afterwards. I expect he has half-a-dozen artistic little touches up
his sleeve. Possibly he would merely singe his wife's hair, burn her
feet with a red-hot poker, shiver the glass of the French window, and
be content with that to let well alone. You see, lightning is so
varied in its effects that whatever he did or did not do would be
right. He is in the impregnable position of the body showing all the
symptoms of death by lightning shock and nothing else but lightning to
account for it--a dilated eye, heart contracted in systole, bloodless
lungs shrunk to a third the normal weight, and all the rest of it.
When he has removed a few outward traces of his work Creake might
quite safely 'discover' his dead wife and rush off for the nearest
doctor. Or he may have decided to arrange a convincing alibi, and
creep away, leaving the discovery to another. We shall never know; he
will make no confession."

"I wish it was well over," admitted Hollyer, "I'm not particularly
jumpy, but this gives me a touch of the creeps."

"Three more hours at the worst, lieutenant," said Carrados cheerfully.
"Ah-ha, something is coming through now."

He went to the telephone and received a message from one quarter; then
made another connection and talked for a few minutes with someone
else.

"Everything working smoothly," he remarked between times over his
shoulder. "Your sister has gone to bed, Mr. Hollyer."

Then he turned to the house telephone and distributed his orders.

"So we," he concluded, "must get up."

By the time they were ready a large closed motor car was waiting. The
lieutenant thought he recognised Parkinson in the well-swathed form
beside the driver, but there was no temptation to linger for a second
on the steps. Already the stinging rain had lashed the drive into the
semblance of a frothy estuary; all round the lightning jagged its
course through the incessant tremulous glow of more distant lightning,
while the thunder only ceased its muttering to turn at close quarters
and crackle viciously.

"One of the few things I regret missing," remarked Carrados
tranquilly; "but I hear a good deal of colour in it."

The car slushed its way down to the gate, lurched a little heavily
across the dip into the road, and, steadying as it came upon the
straight, began to hum contentedly along the deserted highway.

"We are not going direct?" suddenly inquired Hollyer, after they had
travelled perhaps half-a-dozen miles. The night was bewildering enough
but he had the sailor's gift for location.

"No; through Hunscott Green and then by a field-path to the orchard at
the back," replied Carrados. "Keep a sharp look out for the man with
the lantern about here, Harris," he called through the tube.

"Something flashing just ahead, sir," came the reply, and the car
slowed down and stopped.

Carrados dropped the near window as a man in glistening waterproof
stepped from the shelter of a lich-gate and approached.

"Inspector Beedel, sir," said the stranger, looking into the car.

"Quite right, Inspector," said Carrados. "Get in."

"I have a man with me, sir."

"We can find room for him as well."

"We are very wet."

"So shall we all be soon."

The lieutenant changed his seat and the two burly forms took places
side by side. In less than five minutes the car stopped again, this
time in a grassy country lane.

"Now we have to face it," announced Carrados. "The inspector will show
us the way."

The car slid round and disappeared into the night, while Beedel led
the party to a stile in the hedge. A couple of fields brought them to
the Brookbend boundary. There a figure stood out of the black foliage,
exchanged a few words with their guide and piloted them along the
shadows of the orchard to the back door of the house.

"You will find a broken pane near the catch of the scullery window,"
said the blind man.

"Right, sir," replied the inspector. "I have it. Now who goes
through?"

"Mr. Hollyer will open the door for us. I'm afraid you must take off
your boots and all wet things, Lieutenant. We cannot risk a single
spot inside."

They waited until the back door opened, then each one divested himself
in a similar manner and passed into the kitchen, where the remains of
a fire still burned. The man from the orchard gathered together the
discarded garments and disappeared again.

Carrados turned to the lieutenant.

"A rather delicate job for you now, Mr. Hollyer. I want you to go up
to your sister, wake her, and get her into another room with as little
fuss as possible. Tell her as much as you think fit and let her
understand that her very life depends on absolute stillness when she
is alone. Don't be unduly hurried, but not a glimmer of a light,
please."

Ten minutes passed by the measure of the battered old alarum on the
dresser shelf before the young man returned.

"I've had rather a time of it," he reported, with a nervous laugh,
"but I think it will be all right now. She is in the spare room."

"Then we will take our places. You and Parkinson come with me to the
bedroom. Inspector, you have your own arrangements. Mr. Carlyle will
be with you."

They dispersed silently about the house. Hollyer glanced
apprehensively at the door of the spare room as they passed it, but
within was as quiet as the grave. Their room lay at the other end of
the passage.

"You may as well take your place in the bed now, Hollyer," directed
Carrados when they were inside and the door closed. "Keep well down
among the clothes. Creake has to get up on the balcony, you know, and
he will probably peep through the window, but he dare come no farther.
Then when he begins to throw up stones slip on this dressing-gown of
your sister's. I'll tell you what to do after."

The next sixty minutes drew out into the longest hour that the
lieutenant had ever known. Occasionally he heard a whisper pass
between the two men who stood behind the window curtains, but he could
see nothing. Then Carrados threw a guarded remark in his direction.

"He is in the garden now."

Something scraped slightly against the outer wall. But the night was
full of wilder sounds, and in the house the furniture and the boards
creaked and sprung between the yawling of the wind among the chimneys,
the rattle of the thunder and the pelting of the rain. It was a time
to quicken the steadiest pulse, and when the crucial moment came, when
a pebble suddenly rang against the pane with a sound that the tense
waiting magnified into a shivering crash, Hollyer leapt from the bed
on the instant.

"Easy, easy," warned Carrados feelingly. "We will wait for another
knock." He passed something across. "Here is a rubber glove. I have
cut the wire but you had better put it on. Stand just for a moment at
the window, move the catch so that it can blow open a little, and drop
immediately. Now."

Another stone had rattled against the glass. For Hollyer to go through
his part was the work merely of seconds, and with a few touches
Carrados spread the dressing-gown to more effective disguise about the
extended form. But an unforeseen and in the circumstances rather
horrible interval followed, for Creake, in accordance with some detail
of his never-revealed plan, continued to shower missile after missile
against the panes until even the unimpressionable Parkinson shivered.

"The last act," whispered Carrados, a moment after the throwing had
ceased. "He has gone round to the back. Keep as you are. We take cover
now." He pressed behind the arras of an extemporized wardrobe, and the
spirit of emptiness and desolation seemed once more to reign over the
lonely house.

From half-a-dozen places of concealment ears were straining to catch
the first guiding sound. He moved very stealthily, burdened, perhaps,
by some strange scruple in the presence of the tragedy that he had not
feared to contrive, paused for a moment at the bedroom door, then
opened it very quietly, and in the fickle light read the consummation
of his hopes.

"At last!" they heard the sharp whisper drawn from his relief. "At
last!"

He took another step and two shadows seemed to fall upon him from
behind, one on either side. With primitive instinct a cry of terror
and surprise escaped him as he made a desperate movement to wrench
himself free, and for a short second he almost succeeded in dragging
one hand into a pocket. Then his wrists slowly came together and the
handcuffs closed.

"I am Inspector Beedel," said the man on his right side. "You are
charged with the attempted murder of your wife, Millicent Creake."

"You are mad," retorted the miserable creature, falling into a
desperate calmness. "She has been struck by lightning."

"No, you blackguard, she hasn't," wrathfully exclaimed his
brother-in-law, jumping up. "Would you like to see her?"

"I also have to warn you," continued the inspector impassively, "that
anything you say may be used as evidence against you."

A startled cry from the farther end of the passage arrested their
attention.

"Mr. Carrados," called Hollyer, "oh, come at once."

At the open door of the other bedroom stood the lieutenant, his eyes
still turned towards something in the room beyond, a little empty
bottle in his hand.

"Dead!" he exclaimed tragically, with a sob, "with this beside her.
Dead just when she would have been free of the brute."

The blind man passed into the room, sniffed the air, and laid a gentle
hand on the pulseless heart.

"Yes," he replied. "That, Hollyer, does not always appeal to the
woman, strange to say."





Next: The Last Exploit Of Harry The Actor

Previous: The Knight's Cross Signal Problem



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