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."





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