IT WAS more than accident that took Dick Martin to the library that previous afternoon. He had come to feel that a day without a glimpse of this tantalizing girl was a day wasted. And he remembered, with a sense of virtuous pride, that he was a subscriber and entitled to walk into this sedate establishment and demand, if he so desired, the most unintelligible volumes on biophysics.
"Miss Lansdown is gone," said on of the officials. "It is her early day. She went away with a lady."
"With her mother?" he asked.
"No," said the girl, shaking her head; •"it wasn't Mrs Lansdown. I know her very well. It was a lady who drove up to the door in a Rolls. I've never seen her before."
There was nothing remarkable in this. Although she was beginning to fill a large space of his life, Dick scarcely knew the girl, and certainly knew nothing of her friends. He was disappointed, for he had intended, on the lamest excuse, to take her to tea that afternon. He waited till nearly seven before he called at Coram Street. Here his excuse for the visit was even lamer, and he accounted this one of his unlucky days when Mrs Lansdown smilingly told him that the girl had telephoned, in her absence, to say that she would not be home to dinner.
"She has a girl friend and often dines with her - probably she will go on to a theatre afterwards. Won't you stay and keep me, company at dinner, Mr Martin? Though I'm afraid I'm rather an uninteresting substitute for Sybil!"
He was glad to accept the invitation, hoping that before he left, Sybil would put in an appearance; but, though he prolonged his visit to the limits of politeness, she had not returned when he took his leave at eleven o'clock. Until then he had not made any reference to the story the librarian had told him.
"Your daughter's friend is a fairly rich young lady?" he asked.
Mrs Lansdown was surprised. "No, indeed, she works for her living; she is a cashier in a drug store."
She saw the frown gather on his face, and asked quickly: "Why?"
"Somebody called for Sybil with a car - a Rolls," he said; "somebody that the librarian did not know."
Mrs Lansdown smiled.
"That isn't very remarkable. Jane Alien isn't very rich, but she has a number of very wealthy relatives, and probably it was her aunt who called."
He lingered outside the house for a quarter of an hour, consuming three cigarettes before, a thoroughly dissatisfied man, he walked home. His uneasiness he analysed to his own discredit. He was not considering, he told himself, whether the girl was in any kind of scrape, and the real secret of his annoyance was purely personal and selfish.
His flat seemed strangely empty that night. As was his wont, he walked through all the rooms, and paid particular attention to the little kitchen balcony. Behind every door he had put a portable alarm, a tiny triangle to which was attached a bell, the apex of the triangle being fixed in the wood of the door, so that any attempt to open it would assuredly arouse him. This done, he switched the telephone through to his room, undressed slowly, and went to bed.
Sleep did not come easily, and he took a book and read. The clock was striking one as he dozed off. He was half awake and half asleep when the telephone bell sounded in the passage, and, putting on the light, he sat up and took the instrument from the table by the bed.
"Trunk call," said a man's voice.
There was a click, a silence, and then: "Murder… . I'm being murdered… . Oh, God! They are here… the boys … murder!"
His spine crept.
"Who is it speaking?" he asked quickly.
There was no answer.
"Who are you? Where are you speaking from?"
Still no answer. Then a deep groan and a curse, a shriek that ended in a thick sob.
"Don't touch me, don't touch me. Help!"
There was a crash, and no further sound. Dick worked rapidly at the hanger of the telephone and presently got the exchange.
"Where was I called from?"
"Somewhere in Sussex," said the local man. "Do you want me to find out?"
"Yes - and quick! I'm Mr Martin, of Scotland Yard. Will you call me?"
"I'll ring you in a minute," was the reply.
Instantly Dick was out of bed and dressing with feverish haste. The voice he had not recognized, but some instinct told him that this call was no hoax and that he had listened in to the very act of slaughter. He dare not ring Sneed, in case he interfered with the call which was coming through.
He was lacing his shoes when the bell rang.
"It was from South Weald, Sussex - -"
Dick uttered an oath. Cody's house! It was Cody speaking; he remembered the voice now.
"Get the nearest police station to South Weald and tell them I asked you to send men straight away to Mr Cody's place. Weald House. There is trouble there. Will you do this for me."
And when the man had replied in the affirmative:
"Now get me Brixton 9007," he said.
Sneed must know, if he could only arouse that lethargic man from his sleep. To his surprise, the call came through almost immediately, and Sneed's voice answered him.
"I've been playing bridge with a few nuts from headquarters," he began. "It was like taking money from children - - "
"Listen, Sneed," said Dick urgently, "There's trouble at Cody's place. He's just called me through."
In a few words he gave the gist of the terrible message which had reached him. .
"That sounds bad," said Sneed's thoughtful voice. I've got a car down here - - "
"Mine is faster. I'll pick you up. Where are you?"
"I'll be under the railway arch in Brixton Road. I can bring a couple of men with me - Inspector Elbert and Sergeant Staynes. They are here with me."
This was good news. He knew instinctively that in the work ahead of him he would need all the assistance he could procure.
"I'll be with you in ten minutes."
Dick grabbed his overcoat and flew to the door. As he flung it open he stepped back in amazement. A white - faced woman was standing on the threshold.
"Mrs Lansdown!" he gasped, and his heart sank. "Sybil did not go with Jane Allen," she said in a low voice.
"She hasn't returned?"
Mrs Lansdown shook her head.
"Come in," said Dick, and took her into the dining - room.
Mrs Lansdown's story was all he might have expected. She had waited until twelve, and then, growing a little uneasy, had walked round to the boarding - house where Jane Allen lived. She found the girl in bed. She had not seen Sybil, nor had she made any arrangements to meet her.
"Is there anybody else to whom she could have gone?"
"I have been able to ring up two friends she might be staying with, but they have not seen her," said Mrs Lansdown.
"I was fortunate enough to get in touch with the girl who works with Sybil at the library, and she described the woman who came for my girl; a very over - dressed woman of middle age, who wore a lot of jewellery and spoke in a very common voice."
Mrs Cody! She saw him turn pale and gripped him by the arm.
"Is anything very wrong?" she asked huskily.
"I don't know. Will you stay here? I'm going to see."
"Can I come with you?"
"No, no." He shook his head. "I'll be gone a little more than an hour, then I'll phone you. Won't you try to read? You will find books in my room that will interest you."
She shook her head.
"I must go home in case Sybil returns. But don't wait for me; I have a cab at the door."
There was no time for polite protests. He dashed out of the house ahead of her, and was in the mews unlocking the garage door before she had reached the cab.
Within a few minutes of the promised time the big car drew up under the railway arch at Brixton, where Sneed and his two friends were waiting.
"Jump in," said Dick; "I've got something to tell you. I'm trying to get the hang of it - your head will be cooler than mine."
As the machine sped southward he told of Sybil's disappearance.
"That was Mrs Cody all right," he said. "I met her some time ago. She's certainly a daisy. But what harm could she do to a girl?"
Dick Martin was not prepared with an answer.
"The Sussex sleuths will be there before we reach the house - - " he began, but the other scoffed.
"You don't know our police system, or you wouldn't be so sure. Probably the nearest station to South Weald hasn't a telephone; and even if it had, it's unlikely that a police officer would act on telephoned instructions unless he were sure of the sender. I'm not so certain that we aren't on a fool's chase."
"I've thought of that, too," said Martin; "but, weighing it up, there are long odds against that possibility. No, the man who telephoned me was not acting."
They passed the next quarter of an hour without speaking.
"We're somewhere near Stalletti's house, aren't we?" said Sneed, waking from a doze.
"On the left," replied the other curtly.
They flashed past the dark entrance of the drive. From the road the house was invisible, and only the high trees standing against the moonlit sky marked its situation.
"Rum thing about this Lord Selford business," said Sneed meditatively. "There's trouble wherever you touch it. I wonder what he's done?"
"What who's done? Selford?" asked Dick, rousing himself with a start.
The fat man nodded. "Why is he keeping out of England? Why is he running around like a Christianized Wandering Jew? Wearing out his shoe - leather whilst the ancestral chair is collecting dust? You've never seen him, have you?"
"No," said Dick shortly. "I've seen a photograph of him, but I've never seen him."
Sneed shifted round and peered through the darkness at his companion.
"Seen a photograph of him?" he said slowly.
"Sure," said Dick. "He was in Cape Town the day the new Governor - General arrived. He came out on to the balcony of the hotel to watch the procession, and one of the newspaper boys took a picture shot of the crowd. I didn't know this, only the hotel porter had seen it in the paper and pointed him out to me. And then I went along to the newspaper office and got a first - hand print and had it enlarged."
"What is he like?" asked Sneed curiously.
"I'll tell you one of these days," was the unsatisfactory reply, and soon after they were speeding down the secondary road and through the tiny village of South Weald.
There was no unusual stir, and at Sneed's suggestion they stopped at the little cottage where the village patrol lived and had his tiny lock - up for the infrequent offenders who came his way. The man's wife opened an upper window when they knocked.
"No, sir - the constable is out tonight. He is up at Chapey Woods looking for poachers with Sir John's gamekeeper."
"Have you a telephone?"
There was one, and she had taken a message which would be given to her husband when he arrived home in the early hours of the morning.
Dick restarted the car, and in a few minutes - "Here we are," he said, and pulled up his car with a jerk before the gates of Weald House.
He sounded his horn, but there was no sign of light or movement in the little lodge, which, he afterwards learned, was untenanted. Getting down, he tried the gates, and found one was fastened by a slip catch. Throwing it open, he unbolted the second and, fastening both gates back, remounted his machine and went cautiously up the drive.
The bulk of the house was visible for fifty yards before they came to it. No light showed, and there was no evidence of human activity. He rang the bell and waited, listening. Again he pressed the electric push, and supplemented this by banging on the heavy panel of the door. Three minutes were lost in this way, and then Sneed sent one of his friends to throw gravel at one of the upper windows.
"There seems to be nobody up. I'll give them another few minutes," said Sneed, "and then we'll force a window."
These, he discovered on inspection, were heavily shuttered, but flanking the porch were two narrow panes of ground glass.
"You'll never get through there," said Sneed, perhaps conscious of his own bulk.
"Won't I?" said Dick grimly.
He went back to the car and returned with a screwdriver. Whilst the stout man watched admiringly, he removed the whole pane and drew it out. His one fear was that behind the glass was a shutter or bar, but apparently the narrowness of the window was regarded by Mr Cody as a sufficient protection.
Assisted by the two detectives, he slipped sideways and feet foremost through an opening, which, it seemed, no human being could pass. His head was the most difficult part of his anatomy to squeeze through, but presently he was in the hall with no damage to himself save a slight laceration to one of his ears.
The hall was in complete darkness. There came no sound but the slow, solemn ticking of a dock on a landing above. Then suddenly he sniffed. Dick Martin had an abnormal sense of smell, and now he scented something which turned him cold. Flashing his lamp on the door, he took off the chain, pulled back the bolts and admitted his companions.
"There's murder here," he said tersely. "Can you smell blood?"
"Blood?" said the startled Sneed. "Good God, no! Can you?"
Martin nodded. He was searching the walls for the electric light switch, and after a while he found a board with five, and these he turned over. One lamp lit in the hall and one on the landing above, out of sight. Outside switches controlled the lights of this room. He pointed to the door. Suddenly he felt Sneed's hand grip his arm. "Look!" muttered the inspector.
He was glaring upstairs, and, following his eyes, Dick saw something which at first he did not understand. And then slowly he realized that he was looking at the shadow of a figure cast against the wall of the landing. It was obviously leaning over the unseen banisters, for the carved uprights and the broad rail showed clearly against the papered wall. The light he had lit on the landing above was evidently placed low, and behind the motionless figure, and thus it was that the shadow was clear and without distortion.
Slipping an automatic from his pocket, he ran up the stairs sideways, looking back over his shoulder, and Sneed saw him halt on the landing, look for a moment, and then;
"Come up, Sneed."
The inspector followed, reached the first landing, and turned to look into a white face that was staring down at him with unseeing eyes - the face of a stout woman who was half leaning, half lying, across the banisters, both her hands clenched, and on her face a look of unimaginable horror.