The Popular Magazine/Volume 72/Number 2/Dragour, the Drugmaster

The Popular Magazine, Volume 72, Number 2 (1924)
Dragour, the Drugmaster, III.—The Folly of Elaine Leahurst by Bertram Atkey

Extracted from Popular magazine, 1924 May 7, pp. 134–143. Title illustration may be omitted.

3839850The Popular Magazine, Volume 72, Number 2Dragour, the Drugmaster, III.—The Folly of Elaine Leahurst1924Bertram Atkey

Dragour, the Drugmaster

By Bertram Atkey
Author of “The Barford Heirlooms,“ “The Entry of Dragour,” Etc.
III.—THE FOLLY OF ELAINE LEAHURST.

Salaman Chayne and Kotman Dass, that extraordinary partnership of brilliant cowardice and obtuse intrepidity, deliver another victim from the coils of the Machiavellian criminal, Dragour.


MR SALAMAN CHAYNE darted an irritated glance at his partner and cotenant of No. 10 Green Square, Mr. Kotman Dass, and rustled his newspaper very loudly indeed. Also, he shuffled his feet on the floor and gave vent to a series of short, barking, irascible coughs.

It was evident that the dapper, fiery little man was desirous of attracting, or rather distracting, the attention of the enormous Mr. Dass from the writing pad at which he was working and the imposing array of books piled before him on the table, into which he occasionally dipped; but it was equally evident that no rustling of newspapers, shufflings of feet or strainings of the human coughing machinery were likely ever to divert the attention of the mountainous man hunched at the table from the labors which so clearly enshackled his whole attention.

A klaxon motor horn, a factory steam whistle, a falling thunderbolt might have lifted the mind of the fat student from his studies, but nothing short of these attention compellers would have done so. For the large Mr. Dass possessed the faculty of fixed concentration to an extent which Lot’s wife, in her saline incarnation, might have envied. At all times absent-minded, Mr. Kotman Dass was now so much more so than usual that he might be said to be practically mindless as far as Salaman Chayne, or any other ordinary incident of his everyday life, was concerned. For Mr. Dass was engaged upon the actual writing of the great work he had long projected, viz.: “Dass on the Origin and History of Life and Thought”—a comprehensive task designed by its big-brained conceiver to deal exhaustively with the inceptions, rises and falls of all known philosophies upon this planet, as well as of many scarcely known, of innumerable slightly known, and a few unknown—plus Mr. Dass’ own. The work was to include a survey of all ‘systems of existence’ ever devised; their faults and virtues; the sources, fallacious or otherwise, from which they sprang, and the trend of thought which inspired them. It was to begin with a detailed consideration of the first faint stirrings of the “mind” of a small piece of jelly stranded on some primal shore and was to end with a brief consideration of the vibrations of some such modern mind as that which, for example, conceived the idea of the average five-reel film.

A task of spacious dimensions—and obviously one calling for strict concentration.

But Mr. Salaman Chayne was not the man to allow “The Origin of Life and Thought” to stand between him and his pressing affairs. And that morning he had received a letter dealing with a very pressing affair.

To a man of Mr. Chayne’s type there was nothing attractive in the prospect of having to seek the aid of Kotman Dass. As a general rule Salaman preferred to do without anything not offered willingly, and rather than enlist reluctant assistance he normally would choose to do a thing himself.

But in the present affair that, unfortunately, was impossible. He had already churned his brains to a standstill considering the contents of the letter and he had arrived nowhere. It was necessary to get the lucid white light of Kotman Dass’ brain and memory shed on the problem—if possible. But that strange person was lost utterly in his own gigantic problem.

Salaman put down his paper, removed his cigar from between his teeth, and stared at his partner, his lips moving ominously as he muttered to himself.

“I’ve got to be drastic—and that without throwing him into a panic,” he said. “It’s no use to threaten to pull off a shotgun in the bird room—I’ve threatened something of the kind once before and he’s too cute to believe I could do it even if I wanted to. And if I give him a hiding—or keep threatening to—now he’s so lost in that crazy ‘Origin of Thought’ research—bah!—he’s quite capable of bolting off into some obscure hiding place where he can fiddle away his time on this philosophy without interference. No—I’ll have to scare the life out of him some other way.”

He took out and reread the letter which was so exercising his mind.

“If I could get him down to Stellingham—on the spot—by some ruse. It’s only a short motor run——

The fierce face of the little man suddenly brightened up and he moved to the telephone, rang up a big garage and ordered a touring car round at once.

Then he turned to the rapt Mr. Dass.

“Dass!” he said.

There was no reply. Intent and utterly absorbed the dusky Mr. Dass craned over his work, blind, deaf and dumb to everything outside his own tensely concentrated mind.

“Dass!” said Mr, Chayne, his voice rising.

Silence.

“DASS!” shouted the little man furiously. It was incredible that so edged and acrid a yell should fail to pierce the dreams of the thinker—but nevertheless it did.

Salaman Chayne stepped to the table and extending his arm, slightly crooked and very rigid, across the end of the table, swept it violently from one end to the other—so that books, writing pad, ink stand, notebooks, cloth, ash tray, everything, fell in a crashing cataract to the floor—leaving the startled Dass staring blankly at the shining empty expanse of mahogany which magically had usurped the place a second before occupied by a pile of the raw materials of the “Origin of Life and Thought.”

“Your rudeness is intolerable, Dass,” shouted Mr. Chayne. “I won’t put up with it a second longer.”

He kicked several big books across the room.

“I try my utmost to treat you as a white man and a gentleman, Dass—and what do I get for it? Rudeness! I treat you with the most anxious consideration”—here he slung the inkstand into the grate with his toe—“and you return—what? Insult! Who fed your birds for you this morning—simply because you were so submerged in this ‘Thought’ stuff that you were like a graven image? I did. And what return do you make? You ignore me when I address you civilly with the intention of telling you something for your own good. But I don’t intend to stand it!”

Kotman Dass, intensely agitated, stared, wide eyed, at his partner, and his mouth moved for a few seconds without a sound issuing from it. But at last he recovered his voice.

“Oah, I beg ten thousands of apologies, my dear fellow, mister. Please excuse great concentration of every facultee on serious problem. I am veree sorree——

“Cut,” said Salaman, “all that out! heard it before. And listen to me.”

Kotman Dass sat rigid, listening as commanded.

“I was discussing you, Dass, with a doctor at the club last night and he told me quite frankly that if you didn’t take more exercise you’d shortly perish more miserably than the beasts of the field. I questioned him. Of your brains, Dass, he spoke highly—but of your body, your organs—your interior arrangements, in fact—he spoke in terms of withering contempt. ‘The man is a mass,’ he said. ‘He is growing two ways, outward and inward. He has all the room there is for growing outward—but for inward growth he’s restricted like every one else. If he doesn’t take more exercise he will keep growing inward so quickly that he’ll probably grow solid and choke himself!’ Is that clear to you, Dass? I speak as a friend.”

It was the purest invention—but it served. Kotman Dass was a very scared and startled man. He stood up.

“I will goa instantlee for sharp walk round thee square,” he said, but his partner stopped him.

“No, no, Dass. Mere walking round the square won’t help you. You are coming for a motor run into the country with me. We’ll have a good healthy walk on the breezy downs and then motor back to town. That’s the kind of exercise you need to save your life. Strolling out to a seat in the square and sleeping there for an hour won’t do it!” He glanced out of the window.

“Here’s the car—waiting outside already. Come on—get your coat and we'll be off. Briskly, Dass, briskly.”

The enormous one did his best to move briskly—with more success than one might have expected. It was very evident that the fat thinker had no desire whatever to grow “solid” and so “choke himself.”


II.

By the time the car was twenty-five miles out of London the quakings of Mr. Dass had subsided to mere tremors, and Mr. Salaman Chayne proffered him a cigar.

“A good cigar can hurt no man, Kotman Dass,” he said, “no matter how ill he may be.”

“Noa, certainlee not, my dear fellow,” agreed Kotman anxiously.

“Are you feeling better now?” continued Mr. Chayne.

“Oah yess. I was not feeling ill before—but I am feeling much better now, by all means.”

“Well, well—after all, threatened men live long,” said Salaman affably. “Look at me—threatened by that scoundrel Dragour—but I’m still alive, you observe.”

“Oah, yess, veree much alive,” chuckled Kotman Dass nervously.

“By the way, Dass, speaking of threats, what do you make of this letter?” continued Mr. Chayne, and producing one read it aloud.

It was very brief—being from a lady who, writing from Stellingham Castle, Stellingham, Sussex, announced to Mr. Chayne that she was in dire trouble and had been advised by her friend the Countess of Barford, to beg him for his help.

“... I know, for she has told me, how splendidly you saved her in a terrible situation, and it is because she was so sure that you would help me that I implore your aid. My need is even greater than hers, and if I do not succeed in winning the help of. such a man as you, then I am face to face with ruin. I dare not, in a letter, tell you the facts, but the enemy attacking me is the same as attacked Lady Barford. I entreat you to come.”

The signature was “Elaine Leahurst.”

Mr. Kotman Dass turned a little pale during the reading of the letter.

“That means thee scoundrel Dragour!” he ejaculated nervously. “I observed, sotto voce, to myself yesterday that there were indications evident this deadlee scoundrel was at bottom off mystery off thee village doctor found drowned in lake at Stellingham Castle, yess, indeed. There were several points——” He broke off, as another thought struck him.

“If you are proposing to take motor drive to Stellingham Castle, mister, I beg you to do me honor of letting me get out of vehicle here and walk backward to London forthwith. Stellingham Castle is very dangerous place to visit,” he said urgently.

“Sit down, Dass—sit down, damn you, and don’t be such a white-livered coward!” snarled Mr. Chayne. “I'll take care of your valuable carcass in the event of any danger. Now, then, what’s this about a doctor found drowned at Stellingham? It’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

“Oah, it was onlee paragraph in newspapers, my dear fellow,” said Kotman Dass. “I saw it.”

“Yes, you see everything—when you look for it,” growled Mr. Chayne. “I’ll say that much for you. Hero!”

It was true. Kotman Dass glanced through about six newspapers every day, appeared to see everything in them—and forgot nothing that he saw.

“It was just reported that doctor of Stellingham village was found by the maid of millionaire’s wife—Mrs. Leahurst of Stellingham—drowned in lake on thee estate. And now, I think I wish to go home. Thank you veree much for delightful motor ride which has restored my health veree great deal.”

“Sit where you are, will you, Dass? And so you believe Dragour is at the bottom of it? Well! That’s what Mrs. Leahurst says. What do you think Dragour is after?”

“Oah, it is impossible to say. There is no data at present available.”

“Oh—not?” said the fierce-eyed Salaman, grimly. “Well there soon will be—for here we are at Stellingham!”

He eyed the uneasy Dass sternly.

“Understand me, you brainy white liver, I am going through with this and I need your brains. You’re going to help me and I'll guarantee that you shan’t be hurt. Not a hair of your head—not a finger. So pull yourself together and face the music—for if you don’t you'll have to face me and I’m no melody when I feel rough, Dass.”

Of two evils the unheroic Mr. Dass not unwisely chose the lesser. He subsided in his seat, glancing about him timorously as the car swung, snarling softly on steel studs, along the well-kept avenue leading to the castle.

“Remember anything about these people, Dass?” asked Mr. Chayne in a more amiable tone.

“Thee occupier is Mister John van Allen Leahurst, of New York. Veree rich—many lacs—no, no—millions of dollars. He lives in England because climate suits him veree much better and he purchased Stellingham Castle on occasion of his marriage with Elaine, daughter of Major General Stonor-Rolls, just prior to recent war. That is all I know.”

Salaman nodded, eying his partner with reluctant admiration.

“Not bad, Dass,” he grudgingly admitted. “Where did you read that?”

“In copy of Daily Mail eight years ago,” said the fat man, sighing.

“Humph—and I can’t remember on Thursday what I read in Tuesday’s paper!” muttered Salaman. “If only some scientist could graft a gorilla’s courage gland into Dass’ carcass what a man he would be!”

Then the car drew up at the imposing entrance to the castle—one of the show places of Sussex.

Five minutes later Messrs. Salaman Chayne and Kotman Dass sat at a table facing a tall, graceful woman, very dark, still young—Mrs. Leahurst, wife of one of the richest Americans ot the present day.

“Lady Barford said that you would come, Mr. Chayne, and I am grateful—oh, desperately grateful. I am in a terrible position, and I have a strange story to tell—to confess—to you,” she said in the voice of one barely self-controlled.

She glanced at the huge and shapeless figure of the dark-faced Kotman Dass where he sat hunched in a great carved chair.

“Only—forgive me—Lady Barford said nothing of this gentleman and I did not want to tell my story to more than one.”

Kotman Dass leaped to his feet with surprising agility.

“Assuredlee not, madam. Thatt is veree highlee reasonable and I will withdraw and go away instantlee——” he began.

“Sit down, Dass,” jarred Salaman ferociously.

Kotman Dass sat down guiltily.

“Please accept my personal assurance that your story can be told before Mr. Dass as safely as to me, Mrs. Leahurst,” said Salaman, adding, with an air of confession, “he is my intimate friend—and partner.”

“Oh, I see. I understand,” said the woman hurriedly, and, leaning to them, her elbows on the table, her white fingers interlacing, unlocking and again interlacing restlessly, ceaselessly, her great dark eyes burning in her pale beautiful face, she told them her story.

She spoke for ten minutes without interruption, and it was an unusual confession that she made.

“It may seem to you and your friend that I shall speak of the things I have done in a—oh, a cynical, a hard, even callous way. But I beg you to believe that I do not, that I never have been so and in doing those things I have suffered very much and may suffer a great deal more. Only, time is so pressing, and the danger is so urgent and close, that there is not a moment to spare. I must be quick. Somewhere, in some secret place on this great estate, there are hidden certain papers—papers that in the hands of an enemy would mean my ruin, the life- long unhappiness of my husband and the destruction of my son’s future. An enemy is seeking these papers—they were hidden in a place which he himself named, and even if he has not already possessed himself of them, at any moment an agent of his may come to take them from the hiding place. They must be found—oh, they must be found.” She wrung her hands, drawing in her breath sharply.

“The papers were hidden at the order of this secret enemy. I do not even know his name, but Lady Barford told me that she thinks he is the same man as troubled her—Dragour was the name she used. He is—is—reaching out for me. The doctor—Doctor Allenmore—was ordered to ste—secure them and hide them. He must have done so—and he was so ashamed that I think he threw himself into the lake immediately after. Life could not have meant very much to him—he was dazed with drugs—or distraught for lack of them. He stole the papers, but I forgive him. Just a victim, you see.” She began to tremble under the strain of some long and, to Mr. Chayne, so far inexplicable stress.

Salaman interrupted.

“Forgive me, Mrs. Leahurst. I don’t understand. You are naturally a little upset and it is not quite clear what——

But Kotman Dass broke in with an altogether unusual and rather surprising authority in his voice.

“Pardon me, dear mister, thee lady is perfectly explicit. If you please, do not confuse. There was doctor victim of Dragour who ordered him to steal and hide certain documents in place from which Dragour would fetch them. Thee doctor did thatt obediently and it made him ashamed and he destroyed himself. Thatt is summary.”

Salaman was silent. Kotman Dass turned to Mrs. Leahurst, the big carved black-oak chair creaking under his colossal weight.

“If you please, tell us contents off papers,” he continued in his deep and sonorous voice. “It is not just curiosity. I am veree sorree for you and wish to help you, if you please.”

She stared, her white hands gripping, then drew a deep breath as she looked intently at the huge and grotesque partner of Salaman. A sudden light glowed in her eyes and curiously much of the anxiety and terror left her face.

“I see that you are trustworthy men. A woman can come to you for protection and be sure of receiving it.”

“Oah, yess indeed,” said Kotman Dass comfortably. “Little wild birds fly to us and are never afraid, certainlee not. If thee little birds can trust us, what has any woman to fear.”

“Absolutely so,” agreed Mr. Chayne, eying his partner angrily. Salaman did not enjoy the task of playing chorus to Kotman Dass.

“I will tell you the secret of the papers,” said the woman. She rose and took from the mantelpiece the photograph of a boy. He was perhaps ten years old and was standing at the head of a pony, the bridle in his hand. He was evidently just about to go riding and he was laughing in the sheer delight of anticipation. A handsome little boy, with a bright face and gay, straightly gazing eyes.

“My son,” said Mrs. Leahurst. “He will some day inherit and administer many millions; the enormous wealth of my husband—and he is so much richer than people dream; the colossal sums that his uncle Greame Kingsland van Allen of New York continually increases; and the huge accumulations of several relatives of my husband in America. That boy—my little boy—will some day inherit or control perhaps as much as thirty million pounds. He is my husband’s—John van Allen Leahurst’s—heir. But he is not my husband’s child.”

Her face was white as pearl, and her fingers closed tightly on the photograph.

“He is the son of a man whom I married years ago. But my husband does not know that. His son is—not here. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. The boy I bore to John van Allen Leahurst is being cared for as if he were a prince—only he can never be—be—fit to control all that gigantic accumulation of wealth. Do you see? I will be quite frank—listen carefully.”

She told them then the real secret—and it was as though she threw a fragment of her soul upon the table before them.

It was easy enough to understand.

She had married John van Allen Leahurst a few months after the birth of her boy, Alwyn, and the death of her first husband, the boy’s father, one George Belton, a handsome scoundrel with whom she had been infatuated and whom she had married secretly—for she knew that it was hopeless to seek her parents’ approval. All that had been fatally easy, for she had at that time been living in London, studying music, and living in a furnished flat with an elderly woman relative so absorbed in her own pursuits that she was worthless as a chaperon.

Had Belton proved even ordinarily decent no very serious harm would have been done and her life might have been very different. But in less than three months after the secret marriage Belton had been arrested on a serious charge of forgery. He had been convicted after a sensational trial into which several well-known names had been dragged, and sent to penal servitude. He had died of pneumonia at Dartmoor Prison a week after the birth of his son, in Brussels, whither the young wife, on the plea of visiting an old school friend, had gone.

Then the girl made her first mistake. Mortally ashamed of her folly, she had been unable to bring herself to confess to her people that she was married at all—to a man whose crime people still occasionally discussed. And so she had gone to an old nurse who adored her and whom she could trust, and placed the boy in her charge.

Soon after, she had gone home, abandoning her music study—and a little later she had met at a house party John Leahurst and had married him—without confessing or confiding in him the fact that she was a widow or telling him of the events of the crowded year before.

So far she had done no real harm—except foolishly to conceal what would have been better revealed to those who loved her. And, at first, she was fortunate. They had been happy—far happier than she had ever dreamed she could be again. Leahurst idolized her and she had come to love him with a still. passion that was fraught with a ceaseless, ever-increasing gratitude.

She had borne him a son, John Greame Leahurst, shortly before he left England on a trip to the steel manufacturing districts of Germany. War broke out and Leahurst had been detained. Later he had been reported missing. No further news of him had ever come from Germany.

It was during this period that Mrs. Leahurst, alarmed at the slow development of her child, consulted Doctor Allenmore and learned what she had already come to fear—Leahurst’s child, her second son, was mentally imperfect. He was now nearly four years old. She had assured herself that Allenmore by no possibility could be mistaken—not a difficult matter, for the sharp eyes and wits of a mother are sometimes more penetrating than those of a physician.

She had gone away to the seaside with her little son, taking no servants. Nearly eighteen months later she had returned to Stellingham Castle with the boy improved beyond recognition. From the pale, big-eyed, silent baby he had been he had developed into a fine, sturdy, quick-witted, inquisitive boy.

Leahurst, returning unexpectedly from a conquered Germany, where he had been secretly interned from the outbreak of war, was delighted with the child he had not seen for so long. And, with the sole exceptions of the doctor, Allenmore, whom she could not hope to deceive, and her old nurse, not a soul knew that she had changed the children—that the sturdy little heir to the Leahurst millions was not Leahurst’s son but Belton’s, and that Leahurst’s son, his mentality that of an infant still, was in care of that old nurse of Mrs. Leahurst who had originally taken the first child.

She had been successful beyond her wildest expectations. Leahurst adored the child and he was growing up into a fine boy. She saw that nothing that could be done for the real Leahurst child was left undone, that no opportunity of a cure was neglected; that the finest medical opinions and care were secured; and that money was lavished unsparingly for the sake of the other child. But it was all fruitless.

Then, when Leahurst’s heir was eight, the run of success came to an end. Like a silent arrow flying out of the dark came a demand from a nameless stranger—sent through Doctor Allenmore. She was required to pay a hundred thousand pounds to this person, who signed his demand only with the letter “Z,” as his price for silence in the matter of the changed children. Blackmail—the terrible, venomous reptilian attack she had always feared.

She knew that to yield meant a lifetime of misery, and she had refused, through Allenmore.

“Zs” reply was that failing payment of a heavy portion of the money within a week complete exposure and proof would be sent to John van Allen Leahurst.

She ignored this, for she believed that the only proofs in existence were to be found in a minutely careful record of the whole affair, written by herself, and witnessed by Doctor Allenmore and the nurse, which, in view of the magnitude of the inheritance involved, she had prepared—and which never left her possession.

Nothing more had happened for some weeks. Then, one evening, when she went to dress for dinner, she found the record missing from its place—a secret drawer in her writing desk. A light spring overcoat left behind told her at once who had taken the documents—Doctor Allenmore, the only person who knew where she kept them. The coat was his—evidently he had thrown it off when setting to work on the writing desk. It was amazing that he had not been caught while forcing the drawer, but by some curious chance he must have had the room to himself for an hour or so. And once outside the room none of the servants were likely to question him, for he was often at the castle. In a pocket of the coat Mrs. Leahurst had found a brief letter from “Z”—thus:

Doctor Allenmore: You will get the papers by June 12th, and on that day put them in the place which has already been indicated to you. On the day after you will find fresh supplies in the same place. Until the papers are in my possession no further supplies will be sent. Z

“That was from Dragour!” said Salaman Chayne acridly.

Kotman Dass nodded his ponderous head.

“The doctor was a victim to the habit of taking a certain drug—that letter was from the scoundrel who supplied him with this particular drug—a secret drug which, ordinarily, was not procurable even by a doctor” explained Salaman.

Mrs. Leahurst nodded.

“Yes—no doubt. I have known for some time past that Doctor Allenmore keyed himself up with drugs—it began during the overwork of the war days. It was not only the army doctors who were overworked.”

Kotman Dass broke in.

“Thee position is as follows—thee doctor stole papers, placed them in secret spot, then remembered thatt he had left behind his coat which would convict him of thee betrayal and, in despair, he proceeded to throw himself in lake. Thee difficulty is where to find papers again.”

“Ah, yes, yes, that is the difficulty!” She leaned to him, staring desperately, with parted lips.

“They must be recovered if you are to be saved——” began Salaman.

“I? It is not for my sake that I care. I have suffered too much in the past ever to care about what happens to me again—it is to save my husband from the bitterness of knowing the truth—that his son is—is—unsound; that the boy he worships and believes to be his son is not so—and that I have deceived him so. Oh, for God’s sake, get me back those papers!” she wailed. “It means so much to everybody—except my poor little son who is—is—who understands nothing, who never will—never can—understand anything. There is so much, so much that I haven’t had time to dwell on. I have not been so bad as perhaps you think—some day you will see that, when I have time to explain. But now it is urgent—urgent—it is desperate——

“Iff you please, be quiet, for I cannot think quite so lucidlee if I have to talk at same time,” said Kotman Dass. He was staring straight before him, his eyes fixed and glassy.

Salaman signed to the half-frantic woman and she went rigid.

“Thee papers have not yet been removed from hiding place,” said Kotman Dass presently.

“How d’you know that, man?” snapped Salaman.

“Thee doctor drowned himself on day of June thee thirteenth, you see. Dragour ordered papers to be deposited on day of June thee twelfth. On evening of June thee twelfth highlee probable Dragour’s emissaree searched spot and found nothing. Thee doctor placed them in position June thee thirteenth—one day late. Highlee probable he could not steal them before that day. Since then thee police and company have been numerous on and about scene of tragedee. Dragour’s man will wait patientlee for few days before returning to look again for papers in hiding place, certainlee. Be silent while I think.”

He thought through several strained minutes, then spoke nervously.

He desired a plan showing the relative positions of the castle, the lake and the doctor’s house.

That was unexpectedly simple to produce, for the doctor’s house was only some fifty yards beyond the end of the lake, and the lake was five hundred yards from the castle. Mrs. Leahurst swiftly sketched the plan and the fat man beamed. He marked a spot with an X.

“If you watch thee spot at X in company of good dogs for several nights you will assuredlee capture messenger or emissary off Dragour when he comes for papers. Oah yess, indeed!” he declared with absolute confidence.

They stared.

“How d’you know that, Dass, man?” Salaman demanded.

“Simple problem onlee,” said the fat man. “You see it is soa—thiss way.” He took the pencil and a blank sheet of paper and redrew the plan bit by bit as he spoke.

“Thee doctor deposited papers in hiding place before he drowned himself—for they were not discovered on his body. Let us say that he hid them at X. Naturalee some distance from castle—Dragour would not desire secret place to be near thee castle.” He drew an X. “Leaving X he remembered overcoat suddenlee. He knew that it would betray him as criminal—he dared not return for it. Deprived off drugs, ill perhaps, and dazed he decided to commit suicide. He threw himself into lake to drown. But in his house not veree far were swift poisons such as every doctor keeps for medicines, each in proper proportions. Why did he prefer to drown miserablee—to choke and struggle—when not far off were poisons veree swift and painless? Thatt was strange. Thee reason was because lake was nearer to him than his house, certainlee thatt must be soa.”

The huge hand added to his map a wavering line to indicate the lake and a tiny square for the doctor’s house.

“Thee lake was between him and his house and he used thee lake. Dragour would choose his hiding place as near thee road as possible—soa, therefore, thee hiding place is near X!” He passed his plan to Salaman. It matched perfectly with that drawn by Mrs. Leahurst.

“It is onlee necessary to watch within the circle of which X is thee center,” said Kotman Dass.

“With a dog and a good man or two,” added Salaman Chayne. “But how are we going to account for all this to Mr. Leahurst?”

“My husband is in London and will be there for two days,” said the woman. “I can give you one man who is absolutely trustworthy—a relative.”

“Good—that will be two of us.”

“Two——” She looked at Mr. Dass questioningly.

“Two onlee, yess. I shall not have courage to lay out in thee dark, watching. Ten thousand apologies, Mrs. Leahurst. I have no courage at all—veree sensitive to outside influences—a veree lamentablee shocking toward, I am sorree to say to you.”

She looked at him, strangely, a curious expression on her pale face. Salaman, blushing a coppery hue for his partner, explained haltingly that Mr. Dass’ indifferent health reacted unfavorably on his courage.

“Noa, noa, that is onlee kind excuse. I am poor, miserable, dirtee coward, and thatt is great misery—onlee it is true—and I apologize veree much for what I cannot help. Onlee I have tried to help otherwise——

Mrs. Leahurst went to him where he sat, as abject and abased as a dog that has done wrong, and offered him her slim hand.

“All men differ and you have done for me to-day what many a braver man could not do, and I could not be more humbly grateful to you if you were the bravest man on earth!” she said in a low voice.

Shamefacedly, Mr. Dass touched her hand, muttering something about honor—and then Salaman took charge.


III.

Late that night Mrs. Leahurst sat with Kotman Dass at a high window of the castle, the woman nervously straining her eyes across the wide, moonlit park. Somewhere out there, in the dark shadows under the belt of trees encircling the estate, the indomitable little Salaman Chayne crouched alone save for a big Irish terrier belonging to Mrs. Leahurst. The friend of whom she had spoken had proved to be away from home and Salaman was single-handed.

The two watchers were very silent. Kotman Dass gazed fixedly into the night like a man fathoms deep in thought—as he was. His mind was fast on the great work which the affair had interrupted. Otherwise he would have noted, and endeavored to calm, the strained and painful excitement of his companion.

Two hours had passed since, at the coming of darkness, they had settled down to watch and listen, and for the whole of that time she had stared out, trembling and eager, without a word. But as the clock over the distant stable chimed one, she spoke desperately, without taking her eyes from the park.

“Oh, if I have to endure this for many nights, I shall——

She never finished, for at that moment far off down by the lake a white ray suddenly flickered with a ghostly will-o’-the-wisp radiance—and Kotman Dass emerged abruptly from his trance.

“Thee emissary—perhaps Dragour himself,” he said, staring out.

A single bark reached them. The ray from the powerful torch which Mr. Chayne had taken, disappeared, reappeared, then disappeared again, and silence and darkness once more shut down.

Kotman Dass scowled, glaring out.

“What has happened?” cried the woman in a kind of hushed frenzy. “Oh, why is it so dark and still again? I heard Cormac bark—but he’s quiet now. Something happened——

The ghostly radiance of the torch wavered again on the background of shadow—the dog barked savagely, and suddenly a pinkish-red flash threw a momentary sinister glare on the dark trees, followed instantly by a sharp, echoing report, and another immediately after it.

The haunted eyes of the woman sought those of Kotman Dass.

“Pistol shots,” she said. “They have shot him.”

Kotman Dass was trembling.

“Oah, noa—not at all!” he replied nervously. “Probablee that is sound of Mr. Chayne’s revolver, certainlee. Be patient, if you please—wait for little period more—and Mr. Chayne will arrive.”

But the big face was anxious. He peered out, muttering.

“Oah, what abominablee horrible coward—itt iss soa veree shameful to sit here trembling safely—onlee I am afraid to goa out there. Alreadee Dragour has made threats to kill him and he is swift and cruel as cobra.”

Ten minutes dragged by. Then abruptly Mrs. Leahurst turned away.

“I cannot endure this any longer. I am going out to learn what has happened. I must——

Kotman Dass looked round.

“Noa—noa! Wait—listen iff you please—look!”

Down in the park moved the figure of a man—slowly approaching the castle. By his side moved a lesser shadow—a dog.

“Itt iss Mr. Chayne,” said Kotman Dass, and lumbered heavily after Mrs. Leahurst as she went quickly from the room and down the stairs.

It was indeed the fiery Salaman—with a bullet through his forearm. He was already faint from the loss of blood, for the wound was bleeding badly, and he reeled rather than walked into the great hall, the dog, excited by the smell of blood, growling deeply by his side.

The little man stood for a second, staring at them with dulling eyes. Then he dragged a bundle of papers from his pocket and thrust them toward the woman.

“It’s all right,” he said. “They’re just as he took them from the hollow tree—intact. I—floored him with the butt, but there were two of them and the other shot me from behind. But he carried away a bullet of mine—carried away—bleeding too fast—to chase—papers—papers more—important—more—besides—not Dragour himself—only hirelings—only——

He grinned a livid grin and pitched forward into his partner’s arms.

It was not till next morning that Mr. Chayne, his wound bound, and most of his accustomed jauntiness restored, was able to explain exactly what had happened.

Kotman Dass had indicated the whereabouts of the hidden papers with almost uncanny precision, for the spot at which Salaman had chosen to wait was not fifteen yards from the hollow tree to which, just before one o’clock, the emissary of Dragour had come.

Salaman had watched him take the papers and then without hesitation had felled him with his revolver butt, seized the papers and, on the point of securing the man himself, had been wounded by the second emissary of the drugmaster. Made aware from the gush of blood that his time of consciousness was short, Salaman had shot at the second man, evidently wounding him, for he made no further attempt to win back the papers, and then, with the dog guarding him, he had made his way back to the castle.

That was all. He spoke of it as a mere nothing—as was Salaman’s way. But Mrs. Leahurst would not have it so.

“No, no—it was splendid. Oh, it was fine. How many men would have done as much for a woman who a few hours ago was a stranger? I owe you more than I can ever repay—you have saved so much for me—for us all. Some day, perhaps, in some way, I shall be, able to prove my gratitude.”

Salaman faced her, speaking gently.

“If you feel that you owe us anything, Mrs. Leahurst, repay us by accepting a word of advice. Dragour is beaten off—for the present. He has lost the papers, but he will not rest satisfied with this defeat. It is only temporary—he will try again for this big plunder, from another angle. You can defeat him once and for all in only one way—and that is by going to your husband and telling him everything. It will have to be that sooner or later. Too many people know your secret—and that unhappy doctor—Allenmore—must have told Dragour everything.”

She looked at him oddly. Very pale still, with tragic eyes, she was like a woman utterly unstrung, worn out.

“Oh, I could not—I cannot—I——” She turned to Kotman Dass suddenly.

“Must I? What do you advise? Tell me. Do you, too, advise that?”

The big, unwieldy man looked at her intently, and spoke very seriously.

“Permit thatt I speak franklee, lady. I say to you that it iss your onlee one hope of ever any happiness thatt you go to your husband and tell him whole story—thee whole truth and ask him please to forgive you. To say to him how sorree you have ever been—and tell him how little entanglement grew to great shackles. If you please, I wish to say to you thatt to hide longer thiss tragic secret is same thing as to cast yourself down into deep pit, veree dark and full of snares and many dangers and alarms. I, Kotman Dass, am onlee miserable coward in my body, but itt has been ordained thatt my wits should be perhaps different from those off some men and it is given to me at some times thatt I see things perhaps little clearer than other men.”

His voice deepened oddly, became more sonorous.

“Goa to your husband, lady, saying the whole truth, thatt you are in coil of perilous serpent who seeks to enlap you with yet more coils to your destruction and, sorrowfully, humbly, ask him to lift you out from thee coil and to protect you from other coils—and tell him thee whole truth. Thatt is the great shield and weapon for all people in trouble—at all times—just onlee to tell thee truth. I have studied veree much all my life long and yet I have not found—and probably may not ever find—greater pearl of wisdom than thiss—that lies are onlee shield of paper but thee truth is a shield of fine steel.”

She stared for a moment, wondering, and slowly a light dawned in her eyes of torment.

“Oh, but I have been so blind—so blind!” she cried strangely, dropped suddenly to a couch and buried her face in her hands, turning away.

“You've set her crying,” snarled Salaman, whispering furiously.

Kotman Dass looked at him oddly.

“Oah, noa,” he said. “I have onlee set her praying. She will do as I have advised—and I have sure instinct thatt she will be forgiven. So let us goa now.”

And, together, they went out to the car awaiting them.

Another story of this series in the next number.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.


The longest-living author of this work died in 1952, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 71 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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