Lady Noggs, Peeress/Chapter 14
IN THE BRIGAND'S LAIR
ELSIE set the car going again, and turned down a side lane. About forty yards own it she steered the car on to the grass under the screen of the hedge, and stopped. They stood up while Tinker rummaged in the box under the cushion, and drew from it writing paper, none too clean, envelopes, and a pencil. He knelt down, and using the seat as a table, wrote, to all seeming with some pain, a letter which ran,
I have kidnaped your neece but she will not be hurt if you pay her randsome at once. My leftenant will come for it at 10 tomorow at the botom of the Stonnorrill drive. It is five hundred pounds in gold. Come alone.
The English Rasuly.
He read it aloud, and said with natural pride, "I think that ought to work it."
"Rather," said Elsie. "And won't it be nice to have all that money?"
"We could get a new car. It would be awfully handy to have a car each," said Tinker. "We could do a lot more with two cars than with one."
"Couldn't we?" said Elsie. And their eyes seemed to light up with splendid visions of a yet further discomfited Humanity.
The Lady Noggs regarded them with admiring respect; but in a moment Tinker returned to the present earth, and said, "What we've got to do now is to get Noggs to the Pavilion on the hill without anybody seeing her."
For them it was no difficult matter. They arranged her sitting in the bottom of the car between them, with a light rug covering her to the chin, to be raised to hide her face and bead when they should be passing any one; then they set out for Beauleigh. They stopped to post the letter in the first village they passed through, and in rather less than twenty minutes they went through the lodge gates into Beauleigh Park. Half-way across it they turned off to the left from the main drive, along a narrow road running up-hill through stretches of bracken broken by clumps of oak and fir.
They drove slowly, for the roadway was bad; and at the end of rather more than a mile of it they came over the brow of the ridge on to a plateau in the middle of which stood the Pavilion. It was a marble building in the pseudo-classic style affected by the polite of the Regency: a whim of the Beauleigh of that day. Once it had been all white; but creepers had been allowed to struggle patiently upwards over the unkindly marble till much of its whiteness was hidden by a veil of green. From all four sides its tall windows and its flat roof commanded an admirable view over the country round. In that flatter land, indeed, it had, as a brigand's lair, all the advantages of one of the old robber castles on German peaks.
The car stopped before the front door; and Tinker jumped out and opened it with his latch key. They went into the hall and found it very cool and dark for the windows were shuttered. Tinker and Elsie set about opening the shutters and the windows on the sides on which the sun was not shining; then they turned their hospitable attention to the Lady Noggs. She was very thirsty after her flight from the inquisitors, and they were much put about that they could only at the moment give her water to drink. Tinker fetched it; and then he said, "If you don't mind waiting here alone Elsie and I will make you some tea. We shall do it quicker together. We always keep tea and sugar, and things like that here, because if it is a very hot night we come up from the Court and sleep here. It is so much cooler."
But the Lady Noggs begged to be allowed to help them; and they all went to the kitchen. Elsie and Tinker got the fire lighted with the quickness of experts; and as soon as it was burning steadily. Tinker said, "Now, while the kettle's boiling I'll ride down to the Court and bring up some milk and cakes for tea; and I'll tell them to send up food for dinner and breakfast later; only we must keep a lookout for their coming, for it won't do for any one to see Noggs."
"You'd better cell Selina to come up and wait on us. She's quite safe," said Elsie.
"Yes, that will be most comfortable," said Tinker.
They went to the door and saw him start; then the Lady Noggs turned to Elsie, and said, "Could I—could I have a bath?"
"If you don't mind a cold one," said Elsie.
"I want it cold," said the Lady Noggs. After her tramp, and flight, and struggle with the inquisitors that was indeed her need; and Elsie took her up to the bath-room. She insisted also, on providing her with a change of clothes, explaining that she always kept plenty of clothes there because they used the place so much. By the time she had bathed and dressed, and helped her hostess set out the tea-things Tinker was back with the milk and cakes.
When he saw the table arranged for tea he frowned a little, and said, "I'm afraid we can't sit up to tables. They don't in Morocco."
Accordingly the tea-things were transferred from the table to the floor, the table was put in a corner, cushions were set round the tea-things, and they took the meal sitting cross-legged on them in no very great comfort, but with infinite satisfaction to the scrupulous minds of Elsie and Tinker.
After tea they busied themselves making the room as Moroccan as possible. They carried out ail the furniture except the couches, and brought in all the cushions they could find from the other rooms in the Pavilion. They were even so scrupulous as to remove, also, the pictures from the walls. In the middle of this sacrifice to accuracy, Elsie's maid Selina arrived: a middle-aged woman of a very rugged countenance. To the surprise of the Lady Noggs Tinker at once informed her of the fact that she had been kidnapped, and was being held to ransom. The Lady Noggs was even more surprised when Selina made no protest, but only said with patient glumness, "I expect there'll be a fine to do about it."
The truth was that Selina had been the nurse of Tinker's babyhood, and was devoted to him. The penalty of this devotion was that she had to abet him in his operations under pain of his displeasure. If she failed him that displeasure took the form of banishing her for a week at a time from the light of his presence. She went to the kitchen to receive the provisions when they should come up from the Court, and to prepare their dinner.
Then Tinker and Elsie set themselves very seriously to construct from a vague and general knowledge of the East the probable manners and customs of the too little known country of Morocco. The Lady Noggs could not help; she could only admire. As the evening advanced these customs increased in number. They were perhaps a little inexact in the matter of sitting cross-legged, for they did not take kindly to the attitude; and the casting of Selina for the part of Mesrour gave rather an air of Bagdad than of Morocco to the gathering. All through the evening Tinker was seriously Sultanesque; and Elsie had to play several parts. She had been definitely appointed the lieutenant of the English Raisuli under the name of Abdallah ben Ali; but she was at times also the Sultaness Scheherazade, and Zobeide the Kaliph's Lady. The Lady Noggs found the part of Miss Perdicaris the captive, somewhat monotonous, and was permitted to become the fair Persian, though as Tinker pointed out she ought not to have been dark, and various princesses of China, of Rajputana, and of islands impossible to find on any map.
For most of the evening the brooding calm of the East rested on them unbroken. Indeed, there was no one to intrude, for Sir Tancred and Lady Beauleigh were away from home. But now and again Tinker would remember that he was a brigand in a fastness; and they would go out and inspect the line of keen-eyed but imaginary sentries who watched over their safety. Twice on their round the English Raisuli paused to discuss with his trusty lieutenant the chances of a raid upon houses in the low-lying plain, whose foolish lights drew to them the attention of this scanty but nefarious band.
After a last inspection at nine o'clock they went to bed. The Lady Noggs awoke early and in the highest possible spirits: her new friends charmed her; and she was eager for their society. She had never before come across any one so nearly after her own heart. When she had made her toilet, with Selina's help in the matter of her hair, she went down-stairs to find Tinker and Elsie attending to the motor-car. When they had done, they went to breakfast; and over it they discussed the details of the collection of the ransom of five hundred pounds in gold. Tinker would have liked to play a double part, to be not only Raisuli but Raisuli's envoy; but in a generous spirit he allowed Elsie, as his trusty lieutenant Abdallah ben Ali, to have the honour of fetching that round sum. When he had, after discussion, arrived at this decision the Lady Noggs had a word to say: "It's all very well for them to send this five hundred pounds," she said. "But I'm not going back to Stonorill when it comes. I am going to stop here; that is, if you don't mind."
Tinker said with hasty politeness: "Oh! we should be awfully pleased to have you here." Then he knitted his brow over the problem so suddenly presented to him, and went on, "The only thing is, if your uncle pays your ransom we should be bound to return you to him."
"Not at once," said the Lady Noggs.
"Well, the same day, at any rate," said Tinker.
"Suppose," said Elsie with whole-hearted generosity. "Suppose, we don't ask for any ransom; but just keep Noggs here with us without saying anything about her. They'll be a long time finding out."
Tinker shook his head, and said firmly: "No; if you are Raisuli, you have to get ransoms.
"Yes, of course you do; I was forgetting," said Elsie.
"Well, if you do take me back to Stonorill it doesn't make any difference: I shall come back," said the Lady Noggs gloomily.
Tinker looked at her with a frowning thoughtfulness; then of a sudden his face cleared, and he said joyfully: "Yes, of course; if once you've been returned properly to your uncle, there's nothing to prevent your joining the band afterwards."
Having settled this point they discussed the course of action to be taken should anything go wrong with Elsie's mission; and it was arranged that if she had not returned by lunch time, when the Prime Minister should have had time, and to spare, to raise the five hundred pounds in gold. Tinker should come down to Stonorill in a horse drawn vehicle, and set about extricating her from whatever plight she might be in.
This final arrangement brought them to the end of breakfast, and they went out to the car. At the sight of it Tinker, meticulous in the matter of detail, became the prey to a sudden gloom: "You ought to go on a camel," he said, looking at it.
Elsie and the Lady Noggs looked at the car, and also felt that it was radically wrong. They were silent for a minute considering the discrepancy; then Elsie pointed out that after all it would excite less remark in the English lanes than that well-stomached animal.
"Yes, there is that," said Tinker; and then he added firmly: "Well, I tell you what, we'll consider it a camel. If you come to look at it, a motor-car is rather humpy."
Satisfied with this solution of the difficulty, Elsie proceeded to mount the motor-car in the fashion in which they suspected that a Moroccan mounted a camel; then off she went, full of her high emprise, and prepared to act with firmness and discretion.
Meanwhile the inhabitants of Stonorill Castle had passed an anxious night. They had not been anxious during the day, since they supposed that the Lady Noggs had followed her usual custom of retiring into hiding because her dignity had been ruffled. But at half-past eight in the evening they began to grow anxious; and by half-past nine they were anxious indeed. By a quarter to ten a band of searchers was exploring the grounds; and four mounted grooms were moving north, south, east, and west from Stonorill, inquiring at the villages they passed through. The search in the grounds proved fruitless, and by one in the morning all the four grooms had returned with the news that they had found no trace of the truant. It chanced that the Appleton baker, at whose shop she had made her midday meal, was sleeping soundly when the inquiring groom passed through that village. One of them had, however, ascertained that she had not gone by train from Warlesden.
On the return of these unsuccessful emissaries the Prime Minister took one motor-car; Mr. Borrodaile, accompanied by Miss Caldecott, took another; the Prime Minister's chauffeur took the third, and they set about exploring the country in a circle round Stonorill. After a fruitless search they came back to the castle about five o'clock in the morning, and thought it best to get a few hours sleep before starting upon a more thorough and elaborate search in the daylight. They had taken that few hours sleep, had risen and dressed, and were concerting measures for that thorough and elaborate search, when the postman came bringing Tinker's letter.
The Prime Minister was astounded by the revelation it contained of the audacious depravity of his quiet neighbourhood: "Dear, dear! this is very distressing!" he said. "In England! In the twentieth century!"
Mr. Borrodaile after examining the letter carefully, said, "It looks to me as if the English Raisuli were of tender years. I don't think we need call out the militia to deal with him; and I think we might, by the exercise of that diplomacy in which we are so skilled, beat down the 'randsome' a little."
"Ransom! You don't suppose I have any intention of deliberately encouraging blackmail by paying a ransom!" cried the Prime Minister.
"I can quite conceive you might have to," said Mr. Borrodaile drily. "Unless of course you could consent to forego the somewhat wearing delight of Lady Felicia's society for a week or two."
"Dear, dear! this is very distressing!" said the Prime Minister.
"Well, we can't do anything till we have conferred with the brigand's envoy," said Mr. Borrodaile. "So I suppose we may as well have breakfast at our leisure. After all, we know the most important thing, that no accident has happened to Nog—Lady Felicia. She's safe, at any rate."
During the breakfast the Prime Minister discussed at length with many hard words the unexpected depravity of his quiet neighbourhood. Mr. Borrodaile did not join in his diatribes. He was disposed to wait to see what the hour of ten brought forth.
At a quarter to ten the Prime Minister went down to the appointed place, accompanied by Mr. Borrodaile and two sturdy footmen, armed, by their own choice, with cricket stumps. These seemed to them the handiest weapons. They were posted in the lodge itself with instructions to rush out at the Prime Minister's signal. He himself with Mr. Borrodaile waited before the lodge door. At two minutes to ten there came the hoot of a motor horn, and a car buzzed round the corner up to the gates, and stopped. A very fair, frail child descended from it, saluted them in exact military fashion, and said in a charming voice, "The English Raisuli has sent me for that ransom—five hundred pounds in gold." And she held out her hand for the money.
The Prime Minister looked at her in frankly open-mouthed astonishment, thought of his two sturdy myrmidons waiting in the lodge with their cricket stumps, and blushed to the soles of his boots.
Mr. Borrodaile raised his hat and smiled: "I see that we owe the disappearance of Lady Grandison to the kindly attention of our young neighbours," he said. "I recognize your car."
"It's not a car; it's a camel," said Elsie firmly.
"Of course. How stupid of me!" said Mr. Borrodaile, affecting to regard the object more closely. "I mean your camel."
"Have you got the money?" said Elsie with simple directness.
"Really—really—this—this—early depravity is shocking! Do you know, little girl, that this is blackmailing—blackmailing?" stammered the Prime Minister.
"I don't know anything about blackmailing, or what it is. I've come for the five hundred pounds in gold," said Elsie keeping to the point with womanly pertinacity.
The Prime Minister took hold firmly of his beard with both hands.
"Suppose we haven't brought the five hundred pounds in gold, and don't mean to pay it; what would happen?" said Mr. Borrodaile. And he stepped carelessly between Elsie and her mechanical camel.
She turned to him with knitted brow, and after a thoughtful pause said earnestly, "We haven't talked that over, Tinker and I, so I don't know quite. But Tinker would be sure to do what Raisuli generally does. He always likes to do things properly."
"Ah, he has a strong sense of the fitness of things, evidently," said Mr. Borrodaile. "Well, we're not going to pay any ransom. We're going to exchange prisoners instead. You're our prisoner; and we're going to exchange you for Lady Grandison."
A faint flush stained Elsie's pale fairness; she looked sharply round, and sprang for the car, only to land in Mr. Borrodaile's arms. He picked her up, carried her inside the park gates, and set her down. Then he folded his arms, assumed a melodramatic scowl; and said in the true transpontine manner, "Resistance is useless. I am going to take your car and drive straight to Beauleigh Court and bring back Lady Grandison."
With no great sighs of dismay Elsie straightened her hat and shook out her frock; then she looked round somewhat ruefully, and said, "You won't find her there,"
"I've only to follow your wheel tracks," said Mr. Borrodaile. "They will take me to wherever she is."
Elsie looked at the thick dust on the drive, and saw that he spoke truly; but she only said, "You may not be able to do it."
"I think I shall," said Mr. Borrodaile. And turning to the Prime Minister he added, "I will leave the English Raisuli's envoy in your hands, sir."
The Prime Minister showed no enthusiasm at the prospect. He looked at Elsie glumly.
Mr. Borrodaile turned and went. As he passed through the gates of the Park, Elsie cried after him in a singularly discomfiting tone, "Mind the bloodhound!"
Mr. Borrodaile got into her car, and started; he followed the tracks of its wheels to Beauleigh Park without any difficulty. He found that they ran into the park; but inside it he found that the drive was marked with several sets of tracks which had been undisturbed by other traffic for several days. At the road which turned off up to the Pavilion on the hill he stopped; then seeing that it had been used for motor traffic he made up his mind that he was very likely to find his quarry at the end of it. Accordingly he sent the car up it, and driving it carefully came at last to the little plateau on which stood the Pavilion. When he saw it, he was sure he had come to the right place.
Thanks to the admirable situation of the Pavilion, Tinker and the Lady Noggs had seen the car a mile away, and had long been aware that it was not driven by Elsie. At once they hurried up to the flat roof, Tinker carrying a pair of race-glasses. The Lady Noggs was some time getting them focussed on to the car; when she did, she cried, "It is that beast, Billy!"
Tinker was watching it with some anxiety: "It looks," he said, "as if they'd collared Elsie."
"It's just what they'd do!" said the Lady Noggs scornfully.
"Well, you stop up here," said Tinker, "and I'll go down, and talk to him."
Mindful of Elsie's parting admonition Mr. Borrodaile drove up to the Pavilion somewhat gingerly, casting a wary eye about him for bloodhounds. When he reached it he saw a small boy standing in the doorway, regarding him with the genuine brigand scowl.
"The English Raisuli, I believe," said Mr. Borrodaile.
The small boy nodded.
"Lord Errington had a letter from you, this morning, informing him that you had kidnapped his niece. Lady Felicia Grandison, and suggesting a ransom of five hundred pounds in gold. We met the envoy you sent to get the money at the appointed place, and captured her. I have come to propose an exchange of prisoners. We will surrender your envoy, if you will surrender Lady Grandison."
"Do you bear a token from my envoy to show that your story is true?" said Tinker in a very gruff voice.
"Token?" said Mr. Borrodaile a little blankly. "Oh, yes; here's her camel."
Tinker's face cleared somewhat at this concession to romance: "It is," he said gruffly.
"Well, where is Lady Grandison?" said Mr. Borrodaile.
"Up-stairs," said Tinker.
"Then I think if you will allow me, I'll come up-stairs and fetch her. She might refuse to come at your bidding. I know her well."
Tinker turned and led the way through the hall, and up the stairs. All the way he grumbled bitterly in a very gruff voice, about the unfairness of taking a mean advantage of a little girl like Elsie.
Mr. Borrodaile heard him without a word. He only suffered a triumphant smile to wreathe his face.
On the first floor landing Tinker turned the handle of a door and threw it wide open. Mr. Borrodaile composed his countenance to an expression likely to overawe the Lady Noggs, should she be unwilling to return with him. He was also making an impressive, overawing entrance; but it was spoiled by a vigorous push which sent him flying into the middle of the room. Before he could turn, the door was slammed, and the key turned in the lock.
"Ha, ha! Trapped!" said the gruff voice of the English Raisuli.
That resourceful but unscrupulous brigand went coolly up to the roof to the Lady Noggs. A smile of gentle contentment played about his lips, and he said, "I've trapped him. He's locked up in the morning-room. That's two prisoners to one: they will learn that the English Raisuli is not to be trifled with,"
"You've caught Billy and locked him up?" cried the Lady Noggs clapping her hands. "You are'' a nice boy. I do like you. But are you sure he can't get out?"
"There are no creepers near that window. That's why I chose the morning-room," said Tinker.
Mr. Borrodaile had already ascertained that fact. He had rushed straight to the window the moment the gruff voice of the English Raisuli had apprised him of his capture. Then he sat down in an arm-chair and laughed. Presently he again set about trying to find some method of escaping from the brigand's clutches. He went to the window and again examined the wall with a view to clambering down it. It was most inconvenient for any such purpose: a smooth twenty feet to the marble pavement of the terrace at its foot. He tried the door. It seemed to him of uncommon thickness, with an uncommonly strong lock. He betook himself to the examination of the fine coloured prints with which the room was most fittingly hung; then he went to the window again.
Two children, the English Raisuli and his prisoner, Lady Felicia Grandison, were walking on the terrace below it, in earnest and entirely amicable conversation.
"Hulloa!" cried Mr. Borrodaile.
Neither of them vouchsafed so much as a glance upwards. For half an hour they walked up and down underneath his window absorbed in their talk. Mr. Borrodaile made proposals; he was sarcastic; he even threatened. They might have been stone deaf for all the attention they paid to him. He gave it up at last, and settled himself, somewhat sulkily, in an arm-chair with a book.
Meanwhile things had been going no better in Stonorill park. After Mr. Borrodaile had left them, Elsie sat down on the grass. The Prime Minister stood over her and took the pains to point out to her at great length, and with that famous eloquence which had done almost as much as his family to raise him to his exalted position, the enormity of the crime of blackmailing.
When at last he came to the end of his harangue, Elsie only said, "Brigands do."
The Prime Minister then waited in silence. Presently the two footmen came somewhat sheepishly out of the lodge. They did not carry their cricket stumps. The Prime Minister told them to go back to the castle. Elsie's face brightened.
They waited on, still silent. The Prime Minister having exhausted the moral aspect of the matter, could find nothing to say to his prisoner; and she seemed to have nothing to say to him. It was quite a half an hour before a sudden happy thought came to him, and he said stiffly, "I can't waste any more time on the tiresome pranks of children; you may as well wait at the castle as here. Come along."
Elsie rose with ready obedience, and came. The motion, or the fresh air set the fine intellect of the Prime Minister wandering along the paths of German philosophy. It wandered in that perfect concentration only possible to great minds. At the end of three-quarters of a mile he bethought himself of his blackmailing companion, and cast a glance down on her. His eyes met the empty air. A glance around assured him that he was alone; a third glance, backwards, showed him a white figure moving at a considerable speed, rather more than half a mile away. He said something neither German nor philosophically and started in pursuit. His legs were long but by no means used to the exercise of running, and he had made no perceptible gain on it when the white figure vanished out of sight through the park gates. He stopped short, sat down till he had recovered his breath; and then slowly and gloomily went towards the castle.
When it became plain that Mr. Borrodaile was not coming again to the window to be annoyed by their contemptuous disregard of him, Tinker and the Lady Noggs left the terrace. The sight of the motor-car gave him an idea. He pulled out his watch, looked at it, made a short calculation, and said, "I think I ought to be getting down to Stonorill: Elsie's been there more than an hour, and if your uncle's anything like what you tell us, I'll bet anything she's got away by now. She's used to it. We're both used to it. I think, if you don't mind being left alone, I ought to be getting down to Stonorill in case she wants me."
"Can't I come with you?" said the Lady Noggs.
"I don't think you'd better," said Tinker. "It's all right for me; I'm pretty hard to catch, especially in a ca—on a camel."
The Lady Noggs's face fell; then it brightened, and she said, "But you could cover me with a rug like you did yesterday."
"Yes, I could do that," said Tinker somewhat doubtfully. "But suppose we had to leave the car and run for it."
"Oh, I can run all right," said the Lady Noggs. "And we should be near the woods, too; and when once I get into the woods, I know of lots and lots of hiding-places where they'd never find me. And I do so want to come."
"Well, we might try," said Tinker with no great enthusiasm.
Accordingly the Lady Noggs was again arranged in the bottom of the car so that she could be covered with a rug, and Tinker started the car down the hill. On the level ground he made it fly, and kept up the pace to within a mile of Stonorill; then he slowed down, and advanced on the castle with great caution. Several times he got out of the car and looked round the corner of the road or over the brow of a ridge in it. They were approaching a corner in this cautious fashion, not above half a mile from the lodge gates, when there came flying round it a little white figure with streaming hair. At the sight of it Tinker cheered, the Lady Noggs clapped her hands, and in a few seconds the panting Elsie was in the car, and it was ripping back to Beauleigh.
Some half an hour after this incident Mr. Borrodaile went to the window to see if anywhere in the surrounding country a rescuer was speeding towards him. The surrounding country was painfully empty; but on the terrace immediately beneath him walked three children, two little girls and a boy; they were absorbed in earnest conversation. Mr. Borrodaile stared a moment with all his eyes, said something in a low voice and sprang away from the window hoping that he had not been seen. He went back to his arm-chair and his book a subdued and chastened man. He read with no very great gusto for some time; then of a sudden he became aware that he was hungry. The discovery soon made him hungrier; and the improbability of satisfying that hunger was both plain and painful to him. He rose and went again to the window. The terrace was empty, and he scanned the surrounding country wistfully. He knew the Prime Minister too well to hope that he would have moved so soon in the matter of his rescue. Of a sudden he heard steps outside the door; and the key turned in the lock. Mr. Borrodaile strode hurriedly across the room resolved to be free. On the landing stood the English Raisuli, and by his side a maid bearing a lunch tray; on the threshold stood an admirable specimen of the brindled bull-terrier: he seemed to Mr. Borrodaile to be displaying several rows of long, sharp teeth. Mr. Borrodaile stopped short.
"This is Blazer the bloodhound," said the English Raisuli with a complacency which Mr. Borrodaile found excessive. "If you try to come out of the room, he will tear you limb from limb."
Mr. Borrodaile disbelieved in the dog's breed, but not in his rending powers; and he stood still.
"Take in the lunch, Selina," said the English Raisuli; and he folded his arms and regarded his captive with a stern and gloomy frown.
The maid brought in the tray and set it on the table; then she went out of the room, and the English Raisuli shut the door, and turned the key. Mr. Borrodaile again said a word or two in a low voice; then he got him to his lunch. Fortunately he had cigarettes with him, and after his lunch he smoked a couple; then he turned drowsy and went to sleep. He was aroused by the sound of banging; he looked at his watch and found that he had slept nearly two hours; then he perceived that the banging which had aroused him, was the sound of doors and shutters being closed hastily. He sprang to the window to see, as he expected, the Prime Minister accompanied by his chauffeur, coming on to the plateau in his motor-car. Mr. Borrodaile shouted, but just too late; for the car passed the corner of the Pavilion on its way to the front door. It was some five minutes before the Prime Minister and the chauffeur came round the corner.
"I'm glad you've come!" cried Mr. Borrodaile. "I've been a prisoner here since eleven this morning!"
"Dear, dear! this is very distressing!" said the Prime Minister. "But how has it happened? Who has imprisoned you?"
"That young imp, Sir Tancred Beauleigh's son," said Mr. Borrodaile.
"But how are we to get in? How are we to release you?" said the Prime Minister. "Except for you the building seems deserted. The door is shut and all the windows are shuttered."
"Break in," said Mr. Borrodaile. "You've plenty of tools in the car; and Gavroche knows how to use them."
"But how can I break into a house—a deserted house?" said the Prime Minister plaintively.
"It isn't deserted," said Mr. Borrodaile. "Lady Felicia is in it, and two Beauleigh children, and at any rate one maid; to say nothing of a bull terrier."
"Bloodhound," said a hoarse brigand-like voice from the roof. And Mr. Borrodaile and the Prime Minister looked up to see no one.
"I was forgetting that dog," said Mr. Borrodaile. "He complicates matters. He'll be more awkward to deal with than a man; but it's the only thing to do."
The Prime Minister paced the terrace in an agony of indecision. The chauffeur watched him stolidly. At last the Prime Minister said, "Well, there really seems to be nothing else to do; but it's very distressing! very distressing! Where do you suggest that I shall break in?"
"The front door if you can manage it," said Mr Borrodaile. "But I expect you will have to fight that dog."
"There is no need at all to break in," said the gruff voice of the brigand from the roof. "If you've brought that five hundred pounds in gold, the captives will be released at once. If you try to break in, beware of Blazer the bloodhound and the molten lead."
The Prime Minister again scanned the parapet of the roof, but again he saw no brigand. Suddenly, by a splendid effort, he came to a definite resolve: "Look here, Borrodaile," he said, "I'm not going to break in. Suppose Felicia isn't in the house. I should get into a horrible mess. Sir Tancred Beauleigh would be justified in prosecuting me. Think of what the papers would say."
"But if Lady Felicia isn't here, I'm here," said Mr. Borrodaile.
"You came in of your own accord," said the voice of the brigand.
"That's true, you know, that's quite true," said the Prime Minister. "I shall drive over to Wyse's and get a search-warrant, and a policeman to do things in the regular way."
"By the time you get back, Raisuli and his prey will be far away," said the voice of the brigand.
"Dear, dear! This is very distressing!" said the Prime Minister, once more at a loss.
Of a sudden help, unexpected but effective, came. A tall, slim, young man came slowly round the back of the Pavilion along the terrace. He showed no surprise at all at the sight of a stranger conversing, from a first-floor window of his Pavilion, with an agitated Prime Minister. He only said with languid politeness, "I fear that you must have come across my small son. I am Sir Tancred Beauleigh."
The Prime Minister bowed with some stiffness, since before his recent marriage with an American heiress Sir Tancred had enjoyed the reputation of being something of a ne'er-do-well, and said with some heat, "I have indeed, at least I think so. He has kidnapped my little niece, and proposed to blackmail me—actually to blackmail me—by holding her to ransom."
"I can well believe it," said Sir Tancred with languid coolness, for the Prime Minister's stiffness had not escaped his notice.
"Then on the top of that, he has imprisoned Mr. Borrodaile, my secretary!"
"Ah, the gentleman in my morning-room. Doesn't he look rather large to be imprisoned by a small boy like Tinker?"
"Oh, I was fairly trapped," said Mr. Borrodaile. "I have nothing to complain of. I came as an enemy, and I followed our national custom of despising the enemy, with the result that I got into trouble. It served me quite right."
"Well, we will hear what Tinker has to say about himself. I have never yet found him unprovided with admirable reasons for these exploits," said Sir Tancred.
"Am I to understand that you propose to encourage him in this outrageous conduct?" cried the Prime Minister with yet more heat.
"I propose to keep my mind quite open," said Sir Tancred with a charming smile. "After all, the presence of your secretary in my morning-room does require some explanation."
The Prime Minister found nothing to say; and Sir Tancred shouted up to the roof, "Tinker."
The head of the English Raisuli appeared over the parapet, and Sir Tancred said, "Come down, and let us in."
They went round to the front of the Pavilion; and Mr. Borrodaile heard the front door opened and their steps on the stairs. Then the door of his prison opened and the Prime Minister and Sir Tancred entered, followed by the three children. The Prime Minister sat down in a chair; and on the instant his breach of decorum was marked by the emphasis with which the English Raisuli drew forward chairs for Elsie and the Lady Noggs. The Prime Minister whose habitual mildness seemed to have been dissipated by the events of the morning, glared at him; but Tinker preserved, with apparently no difficulty in the world, the air of an innocent seraph. His trusty lieutenant was equally unembarrassed; but the Lady Noggs looked her most defiant.
Sir Tancred stood on the hearth-rug with his hands in his pockets, surveying the gathering with an impassive and judicial air, and said to the English Raisuli, "Now, if you'd explain."
The air of seraphic innocence appeared positively to thicken on his son's face as he said firmly, "Well, sir, it was the only thing to do."
"That I knew. It always is," said Sir Tancred patiently.
"We were out on the car, Elsie and I," Tinker went on. "And we found Lady Grandison and two boys, and there was some trouble. And we found she was going to sea; and that's a poor sort of thing to do, so we brought her here. She didn't seem to want to go back to Stonorill."
"I wouldn't go back to Stonorill!" broke in the Lady Noggs. "He's telling it all wrong. It was the Inquisition; and they were trying to lick me because I had run away with the kitten; and they'd have done it, if Tinker hadn't knocked them down and driven me away in the car. And I was running away to sea; and I should have got there and been a cabin-boy, and you'd never have seen me again, only Tinker and Elsie persuaded me not to go. And it was very good of them, for I'm sure that I really shouldn't have liked it at all; so you see it wasn't Tinker's fault at all—so there." And she paused for want of breath.
"Well, you see, it was no good Lady Grandison being here and doing nothing at all," said Tinker taking up the tale. "So I was Raisuli, and Elsie was my lieutenant; and Lady Grandison was Miss Perdicaris, our captive; and we had to ask a ransom for her because brigands do. Elsie went to Stonorill for the ransom; and Mr. Borrodaile captured her, and took our car and came here for Lady Grandison. He wanted to exchange prisoners; and of course the more prisoners there are to exchange the better, so he got locked up in the morning-room."
The Prime Minister's air had grown more and more bewildered. Along the tortuous paths of German Philosophy his mind could travel without a pause; but, confronted with this series of facts, it was entirely at a loss; and he said plaintively, "I don't understand a word of it."
"We will now proceed to unravel the tangle then," said Sir Tancred with a faint twinkle in his eye. "Who was the Inquisition, Lady Grandison?"
"They were two boys—horrid, fat boys," said the Lady Noggs. "I found them just going to question the kitten, they were going to stretch it and hurt it because it was a heretic; so I took it and bolted. And they had just caught me up, and were trying to lick me, when Tinker and Elsie came along in their car. And Tinker knocked the Inquisition down while I got into the car, and we drove away from them."
"This grows more and more complicated," said the Prime Minister.
"Oh, I think it's fairly plain," said Mr. Borrodaile. "The English Raisuli appears to have begun his acquaintance with Lady Felicia by rescuing her from two boys who were trying to beat her for preventing them torturing a kitten."
"That's it," said the Lady Noggs, "You do understand things sometimes, Billy."
"Your encomiums make me blush," said Mr. Borrodaile politely.
"Then Tinker saved you from some annoyance," said Sir Tancred.
"Well, I think they would have licked me in the end," said the Lady Noggs frankly. "They were two to one you see, though I had got tight hold of one's hair, and bigger than me."
"Where did this happen?" said the Prime Minister.
"Out beyond Appleton," said the Lady Noggs.
"And what were you doing there?" said the Prime Minister.
"I was going to sea," said the Lady Noggs with a sudden accession of dignity. "I'm not going to stop in a place where people find fault with me all about nothing at all before everybody else. I wasn't ever going back to Stonorill. And I should have got to sea, only Tinker told me that it was a very rough life and no desert islands left."
"Evidently," said Sir Tancred. "we have to go yet further back. I can see looming in the distance behind all this some primal basic fact. Had you, or any of her pastors and masters any dispute with Lady Grandison?"
"I had only told her to stay in the nursery for the day, for making an apple-pie bed for one of my guests," said the Prime Minister stiffly.
"You told me before every one at breakfast," said the Lady Noggs bitterly.
"This puts a different complexion on the matter," said Sir Tancred. "It seems to me that had it not been for the intervention of my son, your niece would be leading a life on the ocean wave. I don't know of course if you proposed that career for her. It looks very much as if you owe her to him."
The Prime Minister looked at the English Raisuli with no great gratitude, and said, "It certainly looks like it, and so far I am grateful to him; but at the same time, his attempt to blackmail me was monstrous in one so young."
"Brigands have to have ransoms," said Tinker firmly.
"After all, Romance has its claims, though five hundred pounds in gold is rather a heavy one," said Mr. Borrodaile.
"I seem to have wandered into topsy-turvydom," said the Prime Minister wearily, and he rose. "At any rate I am much obliged to you, Sir Tancred, for releasing my secretary, and restoring my niece."
"And I must apologize for the length of my intrusion; but I can assure you it was involuntary," said Mr. Borrodaile.
"Not at all, not at all," said Sir Tancred. "But won't you have some tea, or a whisky and soda, or something after your drive through the heat?"
"No, no; thank you," said the Prime Minister. "I must be at Stonorill for the afternoon post."
"Welly you must allow me to express my regret that your time should have been wasted like this," said Sir Tancred. And they drifted towards the door. The Lady Noggs, Tinker, and Elsie came down-stairs after them, and in hurried whispers fixed a place at which to meet on the morrow.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Borrodaile, and the Lady Noggs got into their car; and as the Prime Minister bent to start the engine, the Lady Noggs cried vindictively, "You kidnap uncle next time! I'll help!"