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[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED], THE SECRET OF THE SANDS By FRED M. WHITE, Author of "Tregarthen's Wife," "The Weight of the Crown," The Edge of the Sword," The Cardinal Moth," A Fatal Dose," &c. PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS: ) SIR HORACE AMORY, of Oversands, 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. JRONALD BASTABLE, his son, a barrister in London. CHAPTER XVII. In a vague way Sir Horace realised that his guest was speaking to him, but he appeared to be enveloped in a dense fog that clouded his reason with coldness and doubt and sus- picion. He repeated again and again the word that seemed to hold his mind to the ex- clusion of everything else. Paste The whole universe was made of paste. That was what everything consisted of nowadays. I fear you are not well," De Villier mur- mured, politely. Sir Horace forced himself to smile. He poured out a glass of brandv and gulped it <lown. The incident might have passed un- noticed with a duller man, for, after all, the shock was natural enough. But the guest was a man of the world, and divined that Sir Horace -had counted on Lady Amory's jewellery. There was mQre of this had the Duke only known it. But Amory began to talk fast, as if to remove a bad impression. "It's my heart," he said. "Nothing to be afraid of, but I have to be careful. I get giddy all of a sudden, and have a difficulty in hearing what people say. Another glass of port? No? If you have finished your cigar, ehall we have coffee in the drawing-room?" De Villier professed he should like nothing OOtter. He was becoming interested in this household. There was romance as well as troubLe here. If he could avert the latter he -would be glad to do so. He had formed a high opinion of Vera, apart from the fact that she had been so good to Lady Amory. The menage was very refined and charming, too. It was sad to think that there must be an end of it all unless the fortunes of the family mended. Somebody else would acquire this old house and perhaps restore it. As a man of family, the Duke could not but sym- pathise with Amory. He crossed*, the room and took his seat by Vera's side. Lady Amory was playing patience in one of the deep-seated win- dows, as if her whole mind were given to the game. Amory wandered about restlessly. He would have given a great deal to be in his study with the door closed. De Villier watched him closelv. The smiling mask had fallen from the old banker's face, and ho looked wearv and haggard. ( De Villier talked with the easy grace of a man of ton who sees all things without comment. He admired the arrangement of the pictures and the S'oft reflections of the shaded lights. Vera had a gift for disposing lfowers to advantage—the light hand and eye that make blooms look as if they were growing in a room. She was not unlike a flower herself as she sat smiling in her chair. "To my mind there iS no place like Over- eands," she said. I was born here, and I am very seldom av.y. Even when I go to town, I am always glad to get back again. My father is very considerate. He lets me ir.anags the house and grounds. 4 That isn't kindness," De Villier re- marked. That is wisdom on his part." Vera laughed at the compliment. "I am glad. you think so," she said. But I am afraId I must steel my heart to leave it. father is not the business man he used to be. or perhaps he has grown old-fashionod. The rival bank, with its newer methods, has done us great harm. Besides, my father is too {jo-id-natured. He cannot listen unmoved to a tale of distress. He has helped old customers when he knew that he was throwing away his monev. I woui d not have it otherwise, but -when I think of leaving Oversands it makes me feel a little-a little- Vera paused, and her lip quivered. Sir Horace stood with his back to the fire- place with a moody frown upon his face, and a cry of pain escaped him. De Villier looked up anxiously. "Your father is not well," he said. Vera rose hastily from her seat. Amory .staggered into a chair and lay back for a time as if on the point of collapse. When he spoke it wao3 with an effort. I shall be all right in a few minutes," he raid. There is not the slightest cause for anxiety. My dear Duke, I shall be distressed if you think of going yet. All I need is to re- cline on the couch in my study for a few minutes. Vera, give me your arm." De Villier stood aside politely. He watched the two as they crossed the hall. Sir Horace dragged himself along almost painfully till the library was reached. He was white and shaky, and looked like an aged man as he dropped on the couch. Shall I send for the doctor, dear? Vera asked. No," Sir Horace gasped. The doctor Can do me no good. It's nothing but the -worry of the last few months. I had a bit of very bad news just when everything seemed bright and cheerful. Perhaps I am frighten- ing myself unduly. Go back to the drawing- room and make my apologies to the Duke. Tha best thing I can do is to go to bed." Then I shall dismiss our guest and attend to you, Vera said. I couldn't sit chatter- ing, feeling that you were in trouble." The Duke was exceedingly sorry to hear the bad news. He insisted that Vera should not consider him. He would wait till his car was ready. "It is very kind of you," Vera said. "You understand my feelings. If you don't mind, I v.ill say good-night, as I shall not come down again. De Villier held open the door for her. As he closed it gently Lady Amory looked up from her cards. We could not have a better chance than this," she said, clearly and naturally. De Villier started. For the moment he had forgotten his companion. It was strange how the logical side of her mind came uppermost when alone with him. I'm afraid I don't understand," he said. cc What do you want me to do? Lady Amory threw down her cards im- patiently. To go as far as the Red House," she whispered. Oh, I have no ffear. Many •is the hour I spend there when the rest of the house is asleep. There is a way down from iny bedroom, by which I can go out without attracting attention. There is not the faintest chance of meeting anybody. Besides, to-night is one of the lowest tides of the year, and the stepping-stones are clear of the waves. It is low water at ten minutes to eleven. Nobody can teach me anything about the tides here—I know every mood of the water, all the secrets of the sea are mine. Come, and I will show you something you have never seen before." All this was uttered distinctly in a low -whisper. De Villier laid a soothing hand upon his companion's arm. The touch quieted her <lirectly. I am beginning to get excited," she said. Cl I always do when I think of the sea and the great grey stretch of sands. But I mean what I say, and so long as you are with me I know exactly what I am doing. If you decline to come, I must go alone." "But consider tjie time of night. Think of the risk." My dear Victor, there is no risk what- •wr. Besides. T must "o '.Y.tv drnfs v on. if l resist tne impulse all power or sleep will leave me fer days. When I get lik{; that I always think of my poor sister and how she ended her troubles. When the sands give up their secret, then I shall be myself again." De Villier looked at her half-sadly. nlf- affectionatalv. After all, she was still young. It was a matter of twenty-five years since her marriage, and then she ~;r,s only a girl of six- teen. At forty she was in all the prime nd pride of her beauty. But for the haunting sadness of her face and the strange, vacant look in her eyes, she would have been uncom- monly attractive. And there had been a time when she was the only woman for the Due de Villier. It is a strange fancy," he said. But I will take you and bring you back- No. I will return alone, as I always do. I will tell you the spot where your motor can wait for you. I will make the necessary change in my clothing and join you at the end of the drive. It is a lovely night." Against his better judgment, De Villier fell in with the suggestion. He had not looked forward to a midnight adventure like this. As far as he could see, there was nothing to be gained by it. Still, it was possible that Lady Amory was in possession of some secret, the key of which she had not given him yet. Very well," he said. "I will do as you require. It is a queer preceeding for one at my time of life, but I was never a very re- sponsible creature." They met by-and-bye at the end, of the drive. Already De Villier's motor had gone on to await him at a particular spot. It was rather dark as they struck into the path lead- ing to the river, though there would be the last quarter of the moon presently. Lady Amory slipped her hand uftder her com- panion's arm, chatting gaily as she kept step with him. For the moment she had forgotten her troubles or the serious purpose of the journey. But as they neared the spot her mood grew graver, and De Villier could feel how the hand on his arm was trembling. They came at length to the low ground that ended in the river. So far as De Villier could see in the faint, uncertain light, the place was a tangle of rushes—reeds covering ridges of desolate sandhills in a region remote from civilisation. They soon passed the sandhills and came out to the ooze and mud left by the tide. De Villier could just make out the grey shaking mass which formed the dreaded quicksands. They were incessantly churning, as if a vast furnace with fierce fires raged be- neath them. There was something horribly cruel about the grev landscape. "What a spot De Villier exclaimed, with a shudder. Imagine such a ghastly place so iiear to Oversandi It was here that your poor sister-" He hesitated to finish the sentence. Lady Amory pointed to a long line of rocks that stretched like sentinels across the quicksands. Over there," she whispered. Those are the stepping-stones. Sometimes they are nearly covered, and sometimes they stand out high above the water. It depends upon the tide. I have been backwards and forwards a score of times when the stones were level with the stream. It was the third one from which my sister flung herself. I was standing on this very spot, and saw it. My husband accused me of pushing her in he said that I was in- sanely jealous of her. He little knew how Julia hated him for his neglect and unkind- ness to me. She was mad. of course; she had that wild, ungovernable temper that has al- ways been our curse. She fancied I was against her—that was why she took my jewels and her own and threw them all into the quicksands. But nobody knows that. I have kept the secret well." De Villier was silent. He could have told another story had it been worth while. I begin to understand what the fascina- tion of this awful spot is," he said. "I have a longing to cross to the other side. Is it safe? If you take every care. If you slip the sands will suck you down like some deadly octopus. No power on earth could save you then. De Villier took a step or two forward until came to the first of the stones. As he sprang upon it Lady Amory watohed him anxiously. As he was about to take the second spring her voice rang out in a scream. "Come back!" she cried. "Come back! Somebody has caoved the stones." I CHAPTER XVIII. Lady Amory's keen eye had detected the danger. Every stone was as familiar to her as her own bedroom. She could almost have gone blindfolded to the spot and made her way to the far side of the stream. For years she had been coming here constantly; indeed, everv time the dark mood was upon her she was in this direction. In some way one of the stepping-stones had been tampered with. As a matter of fact, it was something more than a stone; indeed, it appeared to be a large fragment of ro§k that reached far below the quicksands for its foun- dation. It looked as if some mighty force had wrenched the top off and had then replaced it. Certainly it had never been like this before. Lady Amory was clear and alert. The deadly nearness of the peril flashed through her mind instantly. The quickest intellect could nut have grappled with the danger more speedily. For De Villier had clipped almost as soon as his foot touched the top of the stone. He swayed and staggered from one side to the other, vainly struggling to regain his balance, and keetily sensible of what would happen if he failed. The pale strip of ragged moon cast a fitful light that played upon the grey face of the shifting sands. It was as if millions upon millions of discoloured snakes were wriggling and twisting, waiting for their prey. For Heaven's sake throw yourself down flat Lady Amory cried. It is your only chance. But De Villier did not heed the advice. The words came to his ears dimly. Without being afraid, he was conscious of the horror of the situation. There are some deaths which it is possible to face with cÇlurage and resolution, but not one like this. In iwugi»»H»n, De Villier felt himself sinking lower lower, the sand filling his throat. It seemed an age, but it was little more than a flash. Again Lady Amory's voice rose in a shriek, and again her caution passed un- heeded. There was not a soul to appeal to-- these two were alone on the verge of the uni- verse. "Lie down flat!" Lady Amory screamed. he is gone De Villier staggered again and slipped. As his feet struck the face of the sands he sank to the knees. With an effort he turned and grasped a splinter of rock with his left hand. It was the merest grip, but it sufficed to keep him above the surface for the moment. All the while unseen forces seemed to be drag- ging at his legs. There was something horrible in the relentless strength that was drawing him under. Lady Amory wasted no further breath in useless warning. Heedless of danger, she rushed to the rescue. She threw herself from one stone to the other so that she might lie flat on the slippery surface. "Give me your other hand," she said, hoarsely. I can help you that way. I know the terrible force there is behind the sands. Is not that better? For the moment the danger was averted. Still, the final catastrophe was only post- poned. Even had it been broad daylight, assistance would have been as far off as ever. A long spell of patient endurance would benefit De ..Villier little. "I can keep you up now," Lady Amory said. But-but-" There was no occasion to finish the sentence. It was brave of yon," De Villier said. I have never seen anything finer. This is no ordinary danger. But in an hour or 150-" "I can call out," Lady Amory said. Let us both call for assistance. It is only at rare intervals that anybody comes near this dread- ful place." They shouted again and again. There was no response but the mocking cries, of the words and the coranlaicin" veil of n spa-bird uisturocct on nis nest. men anotner louder, more despairing call went up, and this tinio an answer came from the Red House. Lady Amory laughed hysterically. Dc Vil- lier gripped her hand more tightly! Don't! he said. Try to control yourself a little longer, dear friend. No, it was -not an echo this time. I distinctly heard a man's voice. The voice came nearer still, and a figure loomed large in the moonlight. 0 Hold on a little," the voice said. Where is the trouble? I' By the second stepping-stone," Lady Amory explained. My companion slipped off, and I am holding him up as best I can. If you will fetch a ladder! There is one in the shed at the back of the P<xl IFcr-; v' The figure on the bank d sappeared promptly towards the house. Another figure anxiously awaited him. "What on earth is the matter, Bastable?' he asked. It's your gunt-Lady Amory," Ronald ex. plained. They have actually been trying to cress to the other side of the river by the stepping-stones. Her companion has fallen in and Lady Amory is holding him up. They want a ladder." A curse broke from Dick Amory's lips. It's courting death to play the fool like that in the dark. It's confoundedly hard on me, too. Still, there is no reason yhy I should show up. You can manage aIOII." His voice shook with fear as he spoke. As usual, he was thinking entirely of himself. Ronald's lips curled with contempt. He was regretting that he had put out a hand to help Amory in the time of his trouble; but for Vera's sake he would go on. He spoke in tones of anger and disgust. "Two lives are at stake; but that makes little difference to you, provided you save your own skin. Can't you see it is no time to think about yourself? A ladder is needed at once. If you don't help me, by Jove! I'll drag you there." The words had the desired effect. Amory went round the back of the house to the shed where the ladder was kept, and between them they carried it to the edge of the sands. The ladder was a long one fortunately, and reached from the shore to the third stone, where the end rested firmly. Ronald crawled along and caught De Villier tightly by the shoulders and turned him round so that his hands could grasp the rungs of the ladder. I am most profoundly obliged to you," De Villier said, coolly. It seems a special Providence that you should be here to-night. We might have held out for an hour, but not longer. I am safe. Will you look to Lady— to my companion?" "Lady Amorv shall be my immediate care," Ronald answered. Nowr, Dick, get on the first stone and help Lady Amory." Dick came forward sullenly. It was no longer possible to conceal himself. He held out his hands, and J_:idy Amory jumped ashore. She looked at Dick without the slightest sign of- recognition in her eyes. Doubtless sl]# was in one of her worst moods, he thought. But her whole mind was con- centrated upon Ronald and De Villier. Ronald was standing up, his feet braced firmly against each side of the ladder, strain- ing every nerve to release the Duke from that. terrible grip. Iuch by inch the latter crawled along, till he was able to regain his footing on the stepping-stone. The rest was easy. Lady Amory clasped her hands thankfully. Heaven be thanked she said. It is as if an answer had come to my prayer. How cool and thoughtful that young man is Mr. Bastable, is it not?" She spoke calmly and naturally, but she ad- dressed Dick as if he had been a stranger. This was another phase of her extraordinary moods, he thought. But as yet she had not looked at him; her whole attentiorr was turned to the other two. That is my friend's name," Dick answered. At the first word Lady Amory regarded him intently. "Dick!" she cried. "Dick! What are you doing here? How long have you been at home? Why did you not come and see me this evening? Dick laid a hand on his aunt's arm. He spoke in his softest manner. I want you to try to understand things," he said. I want you to concentrate your mind on all that I say. I have not been at home because I dare not go home. I have got into a sad mess, and must not show my face here or in London. I am hiding in the Red House, and Bastable is finding me in food. But for this accident, I should have kept my- self in the background. I suppose your com- panion will have to know now—I only hope he is to be trusted." "You need not trouble about that," Lady Amory said, eoldly. rfliat gentleman is a relative of mine—the Due de Villier. Your secret will be safe with him." De Villier came up at this moment, and Lady Amory explained briefly. Dick had never seen her in this businesslike mood before. Some trilling escapade," the Duke said, gail- I have been a young man myself, Mr. Amory. To find you in hiding here gives the adventure a romantic flavour. Will you kindly lead the way to your cavc-I mean the 1 should like to take off my wet clothes and dry them before a fire." They turned into the Red House and en- tered the dining-room. The thick blinds were drawn so that no light could be seen from the outside. But on the threshold the little com- pany paused in astonishment at the sight be- fere them. A brilliant petrolite lamp stood on the table. Under it was a white cloth, and arranged thereon a dainty supper for three people. There were silver forks and spoons,. a chicken and a pie, together with a salad, and on the sideboard stood an army of bottles with gold foils on the necks. "Thiais very welcome," the Duke said, gaily. If you can find me a change, Mr. Amory, I shall be delighted to sup with you afterwards. (To be continued.)

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