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'<& 'I;i'¡; r, ,¡. )!!tP)(!il1m-mtiim" v-.r 'r'Si. '¡ojt;V:'fM' if'iilÎm' Jio..X'" f3Ji.7&ït. ''ÄX'ii£i.H .x ''i'" }()'óft' ]¡.x-.¡; [ALL RIGHTS EEfEKVED ] W. .x [ALL RIGHTS REEERVED]. gjg 8 THE SECRET OF THE SANDS I w ■ l!" By FRED M. WHITE, f§ R! 7t & £ Author of Tregarthen's Wife," The Weight ofjthe Crown," The ij$g Edge of the Sword," "The Cardinal Moth," A Fatal Dose," &c. mmmm The inquest on the body of Count Henri de lava was fixed for four o'clock at the Town Hall. The room was full when Bastahle got there, but people made way for him instantly. Perhaps they knew that he would push by them in any case. The inquiry had already begun when he took his seat at the solicitor's table. Inspector Kite was giving evidence. I came here on business connected with the deceased," he said. I" In fact, I came to arrest Count Henri de Lava." The spectators sat down to an enjoyable afternoon. All this was distinctly promising. "In connection witll another matter?'' the Coroner asked. Precisely, sir," Kite went on. I had reason to believe that the Count was con- cerned in the Safe affair—I mean the strange disappearance 'of Jlr. Arthur Bower., the London solicitor who ▼.as kidnapped from his office in Ivy-court." Does one matter involve the other?" the Coroner asked. To a certain extent, sir. It may be re- membered that one of the men suspected of "being in the Safe case wore a peculiar dia- mond and ruby marquise ring. The deceased had a ring of precisely the same pattern. The Count was also mixed up with a set of Conti- nental criminals of the worst type. But it was the ring that gave us the clue. I have it in my pocket. Would you like to see it. sir? The Coroner was curious. Ronald Bastable handled the ring as he passed it up to the pre- siding official. One glance was enough fot him—it was the very image, the twin brother, so to speak, of the ring worn by Lady Amory. No doubt there were two of them, but it would be time enough later to go into that matter. I took the ring from the finger of the dead man," Kite went on. I removed it as he lay on the floor of fiie dining-room in the Red House. There were papers in the pocket of (the Count that justified my belief that he was connected with the disappearance of Mr. Bowen. One of these letters and a telegram v.ere from Mr. Sexton." "Who is Mr. Sexton?" the Coroner asked. J "A friend and ally of the Count's," Kite proceeded to explain. "This gentleman is being detained on suspicion of being connec- ted with the same case. In the interests of justice, I should object to the documents be- ing made public just yet, but I should like you to f.f»e them, sir." The Coroner perused the letters gravely. "Quite right. Inspector Kite," he said. Y our justification is well established. I suppose there was no suggestion of any quar- rel between the dead man and Mr.—Mr. "Sexton. No, sir. Mr. Sexton was with us when we found the body. I have every rea- son to believe that the crime is the work of a foreign Secret Society. I think that I shall be able to prove that to your satisfaction. The Count had been stabbed to the heart with a dagger, which I produce. On the breast, imme- diately below the wound, I found the sign of .the suciety. I am well posted in that kind of thing, and shall be glad to explain to you, sir. I should like a box of matches." The excited spectators were getting good value for their attendance. They followed Kite's story and his exposition with the five matches breathlessly. This was something which would fill the daily papers to-morrow. The excitement be came stilt more intense when at length Kite stood down and Joseph Bas t a,hle was called. He stood there, big, important, and in- clined to be defiant. The Coroner was hold- ing a pink slip of paper in his hand. I am sorry to trouble yon, Mr. Bastable," he said, but it seems that you can give us some information concerning this strange case. This cheque was found in the pocket of the dead man. It,appears to bear your signa- ture. Did you sign it, or is it a. forgery?" Bastabie "hesitated a, moment. The Coroner was offering him an exceedingly simple way out. It wen!Id be easy to deny his handwrit- ing. Aobody could prove anything to tti-a contrary. But Sexton sitting there look- ing on eagerly. Unfortunately, it was im- possible to guess how much Sexton knew. There was nothing for it but an ingenious story. it is my cheque," B?.stable said. A story flashed into his mind. Whatever the Count mav have been otherwise, he was a clever scientist. He came to me with plans for a new aero-plane. I was interested, and consented to find some money for further experiments. That is the history of the cheque." It sounded simple and convincing. The spectators were frankly disappointed. They had expected something more than this. One or two mere questions of no significance from the Coroner, and Joseph Bastable stepped down. He thought. he h id got out of it easier than he had expectcd. In addition he had his money back. Still, he would have felt more contented and easier in his mind had he not noticed the uneasy grin on Sexton's face. The latter was smiling as if something amused him greatly. Excitement began to rise again as Ronald came forward. It occurred to more than one of the audience how strange it was that both father and son should be involved in the affair. But nothing verv sensational was to he got out of Ronald, after all. To a great extent he could do no njore than corroborate Inspector Kite's evidence. When he left the witness-b^x he took a seat by his father's at Bastable's instigation. It's all very well," the latter growled. c, Of course, this business does not affect us in other ways, but I should like to know how you got in touch with this fellow Kite. You seom to have been knocking about with him clay and night, as if you were in the profes- sion- yourself. I should like to know what it has to do with you." Ronald shook his head politely but firmly. That I cannot tell you at present," he said. "I am concerned for a friend w ho prefers not to appear just now. You shall know everything in good time. father. But there is more here than meets the eve, and » But Bastable was not listening. Above the murmurs of voice's a name struck on his ear n-ime tll.-it he had forgotten years ago. It struck him almost with the force of a blow. It appealed to him all the more because it came from Kite's lips. The Coroner stared unaffectedly. He was a local man, and for years had been au fait in local affairs. I don't quite under.-tand, Inspector." he said. "You said that you proposed to call another witness who would tell us something of the actual crime. Did you say Josiah. Batter?" • Th.e audience broke out into loud murmurs of astonishment. Josiah Batter had been dead for years. He had died in the service of Amory's Ean-k. He was a sort of hero in his way. "That is the name, sir," Kite siâ. I Lv] the statement from his own lips this morning. Call Josiah Batter." The name resounded through the room. It sounded v.-eird and strange to the people to whom the name had long been only a memory. Bast..hie stared with hard, dry eyes at that part of the crowd where stir and movement were going on. Tiu .i there emerged a little man, broken and grey and dirty, who camo forward with an air of apology. By He awns, it is Josiah Batter right enough Bastable whispered, hoarsely. His heart was beating violently, and his forehead was wet. He reached out a shaking hand for a glass of water on the table in front of him, and drained it to the last drop. CHAPTER XXVI. I It was some time before Dick was suffi- ciently composed to appreciate the full extent of his good fortune. There was no longer any doubt i I i.t the stones were genuine. It was not likely that an expert would make a mistake. Moreover, the strme-s belonged to him-they had been openlv and frankiv given to him by Lady Amory. In the -nholo-, history of pure blind luck, Dick had never heard anything to equal this. Lady Amory's jewels had been east into the eauds by her sister in a fit of madness, a.nd by a mere chance one of the" genuine orna- ments had" ken -overlooked. By a still blessed ehance, out of the mass of glittering fubbidh the real jewel had passed into his dICK S Heart swam as lie thoug" ht ot it. With this money he could face his creditors lie could not. pay them all, but he would meet HVrepath and Butler now, and get rid of their client. "I wonder if there is another piece of equally good stuff amongst that lot?" Dick ruminated as he drove along. A bit of luck like this is often followed by another. Blest if I don't find out before I sleep to-night. It will be a jolly good thing for Bowen as well as myself." The verdict at Attenborough's only seemed to confirm the opinion of the expert in Bond- street. Dick was somewhat surprised to find that the representative who attended him bad much information on the subject of Lady Amory and her gems. It is our business to know these things," ho said. Oh, yes. we should be willing to allow you £ 8,500 on this article. Would you prefer notes or gold? I'll take your cheque," Dick said. "I am in no immediate need of cash." He drove back to the office. and posted the cheque to lihi banker. lie had not felt so light-hearted for many a day. He was half inclined to stay in town and make a night of it with some of the old gang, but he resisted the temptation. That would mean cards and possibly something in the nature of a heavy gamble. Dick had lost most of his money in that way, and lie had had a lesson lately. He put the impulse fairly aside, and wrote a letter to Herepath and Butler making an appointment for the following day. He felt he would be able to meet them on their own I ground. It was getting late before he reached Shore- mouth—too late for dinner at Oversands. He would go to the club and have a chat there instead. He strolled into the smoking- room. which was full of excited members dis- cussing the dramatic events of the afternoon. A knot of loungers buzzed about him. "Why this sudden popularity?" Dick asked, quietly. Just as if you didn't know," an acquaint- ance protested. Did you hear anything of it before? Were vou aware that he was not "Ask me an easy one!" Dick exclaimed.' Something has happened outside my know- ledge. Who has turned up? I've been in Lon- don all day, and only just got back." That accounts for it," the first speaker said. I mean old.Josiah Batter. The man we have regarded as dead for years, you know." The hero who died for us at the post of ditty fifteen years since? Well, go on." He's turned up again. The police a.rrested him by the Red House soon after the mur- der was discovered. Evidently took him for one of the criminals. He was able to prove his innocence so far as that was concerned, but it seems that he was practically a witness of the deed. Gave the most dramatic evidence this afternoon. Ilasn'l been so much excite- ment in Shoremouth since the place was a smuggling village. I thought that perhaps you knew all about it." Dick- listened with undisguised amazement. t. All news to me," he said. Like every- body dse, I thought Batter was at the bottom of the quicksands years ago. H waG kst when conveying a large sum of money in gold that we were sending secretly to the assist- ance of another bank. But if this means any- thing. it moans that Batter stole the money and skipped with it. It was the more singular because he was not alone at the time. As a. matter of fact. Jo-" Dick paused, suddenly conscious that Ronald B actable was one of his audience. Joseph Bastable had been with Batter at the time of the supposed fatal accident, an d had corne back with the news. Therefore it looked almost as 1f- Dick read all this in Ronald's moody eyes. He managed to get away from the knot of fel- low-members presently and joined Ronald. Is this true?" he a'iked. Absolutely," Ronald replied. Those people dun't understand the full significance of Batter's evidence. They only consider it as touching on the death of 'De Lava. They have forgotten about the facts surrounding the disappearance of Josiah Batter. Your people remember it because it has a bearing upon your fortunes. My father was with Batter. He came back and told Sir Horace about the disaster. Now, don't you «ee I decline to do so at present," Dick said, cheerfully. Your father might have honestly believed that Batter had met with an acci- dent. It was very dark at the time, and with Batter's knowledge of the stepping-stoces he might b i v. This wa.,i ver y Hon aid listened miserably. This wa? very nice of Dick, but Ronald knew better. He knew that in some mysterious a viiis father's fortunes dated from the time when Batter and* the gold had perished in the" quicksands. He had looked at his father that afternoon when Batter came forward to give his evidence, and seen that in the older man's face which had poisoned the rest uf the day f r him. "Cheer up, old chap," Dick said, hope- fully. "It won't make any difference to a. I must go home. They'll be wondering v. hat- has become of me." The strange story had reached Oversaixis, of course. Vera, in the drawing-room, was trying to explain matters in whispers to Ladv An/or v. Sir Horace, who had taken a sudden turn for the better, had insisted on coming down after dinner. He tay on a couch in one of the big windows, and to all appear- anee was fast asleep. The" room was large enough for conversation at one end without I .in the least disturbing anyone at the other. "My father does not know of this?' Dick I asked. Not a word, Vera said. He was much better after lunch, and the doctor said he might come down for an hour this evening. It's risky, but better than fretting upstairs. He has gone to sleep, which is an excellent thing." "1 suppose Batter has not turned up by any chance ? Xo. Did you ever hear of anything more extraordinary? I'm told that Shoremouth is talking about nothing else. What does it mean, Dick?" "Well, the inference is pretty plain," Dick said. It was a put-up job between Batter and old Bastable. They divided the plunder, and probably Bastable got the best of the deal. Being the stronger and older man, lie naturally would do so. Batter disappeared, and Ba,table remained to make a fortune. He wa's a poor man in those days, and just about then his circumstances changed in the most curious way. The facts are forgotten by every- bodv but us, which is rather a. good thing of the whole, because it makes it easier fcq Ronald. Poor Konald Vera said, softly. Have you seen him?" "I left him at the club when I carr-e hero. He understands the full significance of it; in fact, he mentioned the matter to me. I made light, of it, of course. I told him it would make no difference to you." The warm k-olour mantled Vera's cheeks. That is true," she said, gently. What does it matter, since there is disgrace on both sides? I am only sorrv to see how little N-ou feel it." The gentle reproof parsed easily over Dick's head. You will lecture me! he said. On the Stock Exchange we are dawn to-day and up to-morrow. This is one of my up days. My last speculation his turned out trumps, and I am in a position to meet every claim. The money is actually at my banker's, and I'm going back to work at once. But I'm not so casual a,s you imagine, my dear. 1'(' had a, pretty hard lesson, and I won't for- get it. I have dtme with the old set, and will give you no anxiety in future." Vera expressed her pleasure at the declara- tion. She slipped away upstairs presently to s?e that all was ready in her father's bed- room. Sir Horace still slept on, and Lady Arnery WHS deep in hr game of Patience." Dick gently took the cards from her. She looked up with a smile. So you are back again, Dick? she said. How happy you look Dick forgot the sleeping figure in the win- rJow- siiaI-o in n. o 1 n r* an/I That is because I have na-ci some wonder- I ful luck," he said. "I want you to, try to un- derstand. The ornament you gave me was not paste, but genuine. I took it to a big firm to- day and they advanced me some thousands of pounds upon it. I have got enough to tide ne over until I can set my house in order. A ".other sum of equal amount would set me free. By accident, one of your gems was saved from the wreck. By accident, that very one found its \nLV into mv PO<i:,cssion. Xow, it's just possible there may 'be another. I want you to let me have one or two to take to Lon- don to-morrow." Lady Amory nodded brightly, though she shook her head. "I am sdnd." she said, "very glad for your sake. P'.k. Cf course, I will do everything I e.m but you will not hit upon good fortu i ■ lib;- ti:i,; again. There are one or two tilings I can get now, if you like." Dick acquiesced. It would be as well to the jewels; it was more than possible that in the morning the poor lady would fail to grasp the state of affairs. If she would go at once. Dick would be much obliged. As the door closed behind her Sir Horace opened his eyes and struggled to his feet. His eves were shining strangely, and he seemed to be suddenly possessed of a new vigour. Well, Dick," he said, lustily. So you are back Did t you con)" nnd s-ee me when I was ill? I-Jia-. e some ha; i lea of lei] ing you something. Upon my N..)rcl, I forgot what it was for the moment. Oh, something to do with an acceptance." He moved about the room restlessly, a curi- ous suggestion of exultation in his eyes. I'm very tired," he vent on. "I'll go to bed. Didn't I hear you say that you are go- ing to London to-morrow? Well. I have to go to London too. We can travel up to- gether, and I can tell you all about that little business. Good-night, my boy." He walked out of the drawing-room with a brisk air, humming a tune. He astonished the nurse by declining to avail himself of her ser- vices. Vera, venturing to remonstrate, was greeted with a smile and a jest. I'm all right, my dear," the patient said. Back to business to-morrow. I'm going to London with Dick. He will look after me, you know. Good-night." The gay expression faded from his face and a look of eagerness filled his eyes. He care- fully locked the door and took a key from his pocket. With this he opened a small dress ?ase and removed a compact object wrapped ■ n tissue-paper. He unfolded it with loving care. "Dare I venture?" he said. ("Would it be .fe? I wonder if it is possible that after all- but I am almost afraid to build up hopes on that." CHAPTER XXVII. I Jcsiah had indeed provided a sensation for Shoremouth. The mere fact of his return from what looked like the grave would have sufficed in ordinary circumstances, but the mancV went deeper than that. There were people, of course, ready to play the sceptic. Batter had never been lost in the quicksands, they maintained, but these folk as a rule were the cantankerous gossips that flourish i;i every small town. There were legends that, Batter had been seen in this or tht part of the world, and it was whispered that Jo ;coh E'astable could tell a story did he chooc?. Fcv the most part, however, Shoremouth had ro- ceptcd the trrgedy as real. But here was Baiter back again aft31* all th^se yearp, 'shabby, shifty, and palpably worse for wear standing by the table ready to give evidence. Many people in the hail men. be red the old bank clerk, but apparently he was not anxious to recogui-so them. He shuffled to his place, white and shaky, trembling with something like fear. You have come to give evidence? the Coraaer rt.skd. d The pülice brought me," Batter said. "I —I didn't- come." Perhaps I had better explain, sir," Kite said. Or.e or two officers in tlrj local force •vent as far as the Red House aftar I had re- ported what had taken placa. Th?v wer?, M'  ing t'??er instructions fnnn me. They found the witness prowling about, and took him in on suspicion. They were justified i;i doing this, as the witness showed a disposi- tion to run away. When he was brought here he vvr." recognised as an old inhabitant of the town. He has an interesting story to tell." "You used to live here once?" the Coroner asked. Oh, yes, sir, Batter said in his jarrhg voice. I 'was in Amory's Bank." He raiscd his eyes for the first time and looked furtively ar(Hllld, him. He started :0;'<1 I shivered as he recognised Bastable. The ?'ance of his old colleague seemed to fnscin;c him. He read something like murder in th:? concentrated look. You were supposed to have been drowned?" the Coroner suggested. Yes, sir. That was the fact. sir. I i-n- with an accident. My—my head was hurt. and I don't recollect what happened afterward?. When I found I had lost the money my nerves gave way, and I was afraid to conic back. Bastable breathed more freely. This v.as better than he had expected. This ingenious story was plausible. In any case, EmLr would never have the audacity to come back and blackmail hhn That the man was broken down and in dire need was apparent at a glance. He had crept back, as such people do, to the place where lie had enjoyed at least comparative prosperity. Well, we need not go into that," the Coroner suggested. We are here to listen to what the witness has to tell us about the I crime." I came back to Shoremouth yesterday," Batter went on, huskily. "I walked from London. When I arrived I had no money. I came here to call on a friend who I thought might help ill", It was after dark when I got to Shoremouth and went to tile lodgings of my friend. To my disappointment he was aw ay from home. There was nobody else 1 eared to appeal to. and I had to procure a night's lodging. Then I thought of the Red I I F e. If the place w'as still unoccupied 1 could find accommodation there. Xo one reo. cognised me as I passed through the town and alone the shore to the sands. The door of the Red House was open and I went in. 1 was weary and worn out, and dropped off to sleep in the little sitting-room at the back of the dining-room. I don't know how long I slept, probably not more than an hour, when I was aroused by the sound of voices. I looked into the hall and saw two men. They were peaking in a language I (1;(1 rot understand, but from one or two odd words I should judge they were Italians." "Men of any particular class?" the I Coroner asked. They looked well-to-do and pr -s erors. '1' th'( witne. e:qJlnilled J 'iHJd "i, that they were men of business, Wei' dressee, i ? a')? a!} t11 ??t kind of thing." ?c.t suspicious-booking characters? j By no means, sir. They were smoki: g cigaretle-s and laughing together. I saw no signs of anything like temper. 1 could -see tney had a large basket with hei. which t,o)r proceeded fcr. carry into the dining roc-m. Presently I saw 1 brilliant light, and judged that they had brought a lamp with them. I sieelt food, which 1 had been without all day, and I liA-f-I half a, mind to beg for some. Just I then the two men left the house, and closed the door behind them." "You -saw no more of them?" t.he Coroner asked. Indeed I did, sir," the witness went on. "1 expected they would come back or they would never have left that brilliant light be- hind them. I was very hungry, and the 5 .TIC 11 of food was tempting. I crept as far as the I' dining-room and looked in. T here wa.s a petrolite lamp on the table and a dainty sup- per .set out. There other things on the sideboard as weli. I was looking to see w" at I could take without its being missed when the door opened and uhe two men returned. I had just time to hide behind the heavy cur, tain that hung over the window. A minute later and another man came in. He started I back and would have gone again, but one of them quickly closed the door and locked it. Then he put the key in his pocket and burst out laughing. Yo ulir-e sure that he laughed?" the Coroner asked. Oh, yes, air. He seemed to be highly amused at something. By moving the cur- tains a little I could see everything that was going on. Both the men I had discovered first appeared to be extremely pleased. The other man looked from one to the other and demanded something in an angry voice. I I thought that he was frightened, too. I was." I At this naive confession the Coroner I smiled. "What had you to be afraid of?" I \\4\ J{ í] (To be continued).