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M???M?????saM??s? ? ||jSj 0 *|| [ALL MUHTS .RVED). I ills kbl" THE SECRET OF THE SANDS i! ? I 1*1 By FRED M. WHITE, S By FRED M. WHITE,0,Pl a Author oi Tregarthen's Wife," The Weight of the Crown," The II Edge of fch- Sword," "The Cardinal Moth," A Fatal Dose," &c. iI _tG- _IJ".il7.iB_ PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS: I SIR HORACE AMORY, of Oversauds, a highly- esteemed county magnate. VERA, his daughter. DICK AMORY, Sir Horace's scapegoat son, who is on the Stock Exchange. LADY MARIA AMORY, a widow, devoted to Dick. JOSEPH BASTABLE, a speculator in land, formerly Sir Horace's steward. ftONALD BASTABLE, his son, a barrister is London. SYNOPSIS OF PRECEDING CHAPTERS: I I 1 -1 .1.1 Vera Amory gets & letter trom ner Drotner UlCK. He is in trouble, and asks her to meet him at the Red House, a deserted building near the quicksands, at six o'clock that evening. She tells Ronald Bastable, the son of her father's old factor, between whom and Sir Horace Amory there is a bitter feud. Ronald, who is a barrister in London, tells Vera that he knows something of Dick's troubles. He visits the Red House. and finde Dick in a state of funk. As they are speaking together the door opens, and they see a hand, slim and white, with a superb old mar- quise diamond and ruby ring on one of the fingers. Before they can move it vanishes. In his club next morning Ronald reads an account of a. nivsterioua happening in the City. The office of Mr. Bowen, Dick's enipovei-, has been the scene of a daring robbery, and Mr. Bowen himself has been spirited away. Ronald is interrogated by two strangera who declare their intention of renting the Red House. He notices that one of them wears a ma.rquise ring aimilar to the one he had seen the previous evening. Ronald goes to Oversancie to speak with Vera. She passes with Lady Amory, and as his eyes rest on the elder woman he is aston- ished to see the very hand and the very ring that he had seen at the Red House. Dick, on his return to the Red House after a -wi.%it to hie sister, is puzzled to find on the taolo five matches, arranged in a peculiar formation. The two men whom Ronald had met come into the house, and Dick conceals himself. They see the matches, and one of them ,.¡how, signs of terror. Dick hears them planning a diamond robbery, and rushes from the place towards his fatiier s house. Joseph Bastable. formerly a stewai-ti to Sir Horace, but now an important man in the locality, confides to his wife, and son that he in- tends to beggar his old master. Ronald puts Sir Horace on his guard. Subsequently he meets Dick, who explains that he has overheard two men planning to break into the house to steal Lady Amory's jewels. CHAPTER IX. I For a long time Sir Horace had understood that matters were not going well with him. By slow degrees the other banks in the town had been weaning his best customers from him. Occasionally he had to decline re- munerative business from sheer lack of funds. He was not the kind of man to ask favours, or he might perhaps have shared these good things with his London agents. lie had a great idea, too, of standing well with his fellow-tradesmen. It was pleasant to walk about the place and be saluted respectfully by the people. The Baronet was, moreover, kind-hearted-he could never listen unmoved to a tale of distress; he never pressed a man, by any chance. There were some assets of the bank that the auditors would fain have written off. But Sir Horace had a weakness to regard them as money. When he felt anxious it afforded him a certain relief to put these fcums to his credit. Of course, he would pull round some day. Sooner or later things must take a turn for the better. Kennedy's loan would not be always round his neck. A cruel stroke of luck like this he had never anticipated for a moment. There was a touch of the malignant about the way in which Fate had played into the hands of his enemy. Yes, everything was clear now. No longer was he blinded by the sense of his own im- portance. He would not be called Sir Horace Amory of Oversands much longer. Within a week the story would be all over the place, and Amory and Sons a thing of the past. It was a frightful prospect. Yet, now that it had to be contemplated. Sir Horace, to his astonishment, was calm and collected. He did not seem to mind in the least; he was almost looking forward to the peace and hap- piness which would come when he had stripped himsejf Qf everything and retired to «ome little cottage. » .He went out into the hall presently and called to Vera. As he did so he saw Lady Amory making her way slowly up the stairs. Usually she retired 'much earlier. Sir Horace saw how the lights were sparkling on her jewels. Half that she possessed would set him free from all his troubles. Vera was not 60 full of trouble and misery herself that she failed to read the pain in her father's eyes. She had wondered why he had been so moody and preoccupied of late. Now ehe saw without being told- She knew that ruin had fallen on the house. A smile trem- bled on her lips. I will come and talk to you, dear," she said. You shall tell me all about it. I had no idea that things were so bad." But, my dear child," Sir Horace pro- tested. Surely it is not quite so "No, but it will be if you go into Shore- 4 mouth to-morrow with that anxious face. You are going to tell pie that we are ruined. I shall be able to bear it." Sir Horace gave a sigh of relief. Sit down by the ifre," he said. "I want to have a long chat with you, Vera. We must try to-night to decide what is best to be done. We can't stay here." You mean that we shall have to leave Oversands, father? Yes. I shan't trouble to sell it, as the place is mortgaged to the hilt. I have had a good many misfortunes lately. Vera, and when I could stand it least I had Dick's debts to pay for the third time. Practically it is Dick who has ruined us. I ought to have re- fused after the first time-I should have led those people clearly to understand that they need not look to me again. But pride, which has always been my curse, stood in the way. There are other things as well." You have heard bad news to-night, fatlier? Yes. Young Bastable came and told me. It was very kind and thoughtful of him. I I Jaad not expected such delicacy in a Bastable." "Who is also an Amory. Don't forget that, clad. Well, I daresay that accounts for it. A considerable time back I borrowed twenty thousand pounds from old Kennedy. That money I have never been able to pay back. I did not worry about it, because Kennedy has always renewed; in fact, he told me more than once that I should benefit by his death. He is dead." 1 h Mr. Kennedy dead! We shall never sea him again. Such a dear old man "And very fond of you, my child. Well, lie is dead, and the of his estate de- is dea d an d the mana i ;amsetanbtl"e. The twenty volves upon Joseph Bastable. The twenty thousand pounds I spoke of falls due next week, and Bastable won't give me a day's grace. He will proceed against me, and the whole place will be talking. Can you see what it means? Vera knew little of business, but she could flee the size and weight of the weapon which circumstance had placed in Bastable's hands. Father," 6he asked, why does that man bate you so? Because he once did me a terrible in- jury," Sir Horace &aid, in a low voice. I had always trusted Baetable. I always trust everybody, for that matter. He was en- trusted by me with a large sum of money. There was a financial panic at the time, and my old friend Cartwright, at Smeaton, had asked for help. He was in soro need of fourteen thousand pounds in gold. I aent it to him by Bastable. It never reached its destination. Bastable elected to go by way of the quicksandsâthe tide was out, and he and sky other messenger were going to cross the river by the stepping-stones. Bastable came back alone. His companion had slipped in the darkness and was never seen again. The ?old had vanished with him. You know what 4he sands are like. Well, that was the story. It was a lie, Vera. I cannot prove it, but £ 'm sure that murder was done that night. Fsom that moment Instable began to grow insolent and indifferent to my interests. I discovered that he was making investments in Shoremouth-he who had not a penny! He knew perfectly well that I suspected tiim, for it was impossible for me to conceal my suspi- cions. I am telling you something now that I have kept to myself all these years. I need not say that this must not be mentioned to a soul. It is strange that the son of the man who did me this injury should warn me of my danger. He is a gentleman, dad, and in a. degree a relative." Well, I am not going to wait for Bastable to strike. I can dispose of my business to one of the banks; in fact, I have had a good many offers. Skepton, the stockbroker, will take Oversands off my hands as it stands. When everything comes to be settled up we shall have, perhaps, three hundred pounds a year to live on." "I shall not mind, father. We shall have nothing to be ashamed of-" She stopped, thinking suddenly of Dick. She rose from her chair and crossed over to her father's side. Very tenderly she bent and kissed him. I'm glad you have told me this," she said. I am proud that you should confide in me. I won't worry in the least. Of course, it will be a terrible wrench to leave Oversands. I love the place where I was born there is not an inch of ground that has not its pleasant recollections. But I daresay I shall be happy elsewhere, and the luck may turn." It may," Sir Horace agreed. "I have one or two promising ventures on hand. Still, the time is very short, dear. If I could meet this claim of Kennedy's, things would be very different. I could amalgamate my business with one of the other concerns, and then we could go on." We are talking nonsense," Vera smiled. "I am going to bed. Mind, you are not to sit up half the night grieving over these things." Sir Horace promised due obedience. But half an hour later he was still sitting looking moodily into the fire. He came out of his reverie presently conscious that someone was moving about in the drawing-room. Nobody could have any legitimate business there at that hour. Lack of courage was not one of Sir Horace's failings. He strode off towards the drawing-room. One cluster of lights by the side of the fireplace was glowing. In the centre of the room was Lady Amory, appa- rently looking for something. She had not yet taken off the resplendent white dress she had worn at dinner. The dusky hair was still piled up on her head, and she shimmered with jewels. What are you looking for? Sir Horace asked. Lady Amory glanced up vaguely. She seemed to see nothing for the moment. My box of matches," she said. I can do nothing without the matches, you know. If I haven't got them, I can't make the sign. When they see the sign they grow frightened and run away. I saw one of them yesterday in the road." Sir Horace expressed his sympathy. It was best to humour the poor lady when she had one of these dark moods upon her. Amory stooped and picked a box of matches from the lfoor from behind a Chippendale table. He handed it gravely to his companion. "Is that what you need?" he a-sked. "I hope you,won't have any more trouble with that sign. Besides, nobody will worry you at this time of night." They come at all hours and in all guises," the poor lady said. They are the boldest people in the world. But they are afraid of the sign." She stood with her head drawn back in an attitude of rapt attention. She was listening to something Sir Horace could not hear, and made a striking picture with her white dress and flashing gems. ,in You t' foriunate to have all these, Maria," Amory said. He touched a five- pointed diamond star that blazed upon her breast. It must he nice to walk about wiih a fortune on your drv.vs. But at the same time it is foolish, not to say dangerous. Why don't you let me tnke care of these things for you? Let me put them away in my safe. You have only to a-sk me when you want to wear them." The Woman drew back, with coM suspicion in her eyes. No." she whispered, "they are safe with me. Only show the sign, and they dare not touch one of my beloved stones. They are all I have to care for." She fondled the^stoiies almost affectionately. A sudden temptation gripped Amory. Her was an easy way out of his troubles. If only he had that diamond star he could defy Bastable to do the worst. lie need not leave Oversands; he would retain the respect of Ill" fellow-men, and hold his head as high all ever. Give me one of these," he said, hoarsely. Lend me one for a time. Maria, I am in great distress. Try to understand what I am saving to you. Unless I have money soon I shall have to go away from here. I shall have to dispose of the place and take a cottage. All the luxury and comfort you enjoy will be gone for ever. You can save me if voti like." To a certain extent s he did understand. Her eyes showed that. Cut there was no answering smile on her face, nothing but sus- picion and alarm and fears With a low cry she broke away from Amory's detaining hand and fled up the stairs. She locked the dress- ing-room door behind her, and proceeded hurriedly to remove a ina-sis of jewels from the drawers of a table. These she thrust between the mattresses of her bod, She was trcmbiing from head to foot as she did so. "No, no," she whispered, fiercely, "not that way. He would have robbed me if I had stayed with him longer. I can give them to nobody but Dick. If the others 'come in the night 1 must be prepared." >>he took up the box of m'acches and ar- ranged the strange signs upon the dressing- table. Then, with a half-satisfied sue ret i red to her bedroom. CHAPTER X. I 'De Lava and Sexton lay; Snugly in a dry ditch by the side of the drive. It was safe to remain there for the Resent and smoke cigar- ettes. 'By peeping through the bushes tiiev could command a good view of the house. They were waiting tilt all the lights siiould be out before beginning operations. Their patience was -being tried. As a general rule the lights of Oversands wert- extinguished by eleven o'clock, but it was past twelve now, and the study window still glowed, as also did one or two of the bed- rooms upstairs. De Lava fidgeted. This waiting gets on my nerves," he said. In action, my dear Sexton, I am the uravesc of the brave. My courage would be a telling theme for poetry. Your Walter Scott would have revelled in a character like mine. But when 1 have to wait and wait, I am like a timid schoolgirl. Tiiat is the window on the left. Do you mean the one with the light in it?" Sexton asked. The same, my friend. That is the dress- ing-room of our lady of the gems. Usually she seeks her blameless pillow at an early hour. She is, unhappily, of weak intellect; but that is rather a fortunate thing for us. Ah, the light is out! Sexton shook in his shoes. Courage was not one of his strong points. He was new to this kind of thing, and from the bottom of his heart wished he was well out of it. Anything allinD tVir cunnin« Ir razealitv he would

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