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THE PURPLE CURT N, I

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THE PURPLE CURT N, I BY FRED M. WHITE. -4 PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS AND l INCIDENTS. JOHN DUGDAU3. who has seen life in South I Africa., and who is down on his luck. PAUL QUENTIN, a mysterious personage. VAOPHERSON. a reporter. GRENADUS, QueDtin's secretary. ILACBDFJ, VARNA. a daughter of the South, and an expert in Oriental china- MARY PEARSON. of Silverdale. admired by Dugdale. DR. HARPER, family physician at Silver- dale. DR. PRINCE, a pseudo-doctor. LORD PASSMORE, a connoisseur of china. THEO ISIDORE, a financier, and proprietor of the Marlborough Magazine." ANTONIO BASSANO, an artist, and an un- willing tool in Quentin's hands. SYNOPSIS OF PREVIOUS CHAPTERS. DUGDALE dines at the Blenheim Hotel on an invitation purporting to come from Theo Isidore, an acquaintance, who does not turn up. Dugdale has no money, but presently receives help from another diner. He learns his rescuer is Paul Quentin. MA-CPIEFJLSO.x tells Dugdale where Quentin lives. He is refused an interview with Quentin. bot sees Grenadus, who bears a resemblance to his chief, and who offers Dugdale a handsome reward if he finds the Dragon Vase. SACHAEL VARNA tells him that the vase which is missing has a flaw in the cover. Rachel vanishes, but later Dugdale dis- covers her home, with her father, a dealer in antiques. Rachael warns Dugdale against Quentin. He sets out to find a placc called Silverdale. On the way he errcounters a railway smash. Dugdale finds his way into a country house, where i-I the drawing-room is a lady, MARY PEARSON, and a man addressed by her as Dr. Prince, who appears to be a lunatic. He explains to Dugdale he has come in place of Dr. Harper to attend a small-pox patient. Miss Pearson conveys the peril of her position to Dugdale. A terrific fight ensues, with the result that Prince is bound with cords. In the adjoining room Dugdale comes upon a young man, dressed as a livery ser- vant, to all appearances, dead. On a stand near the window is the Dragon Vase. He I consults with Mary Pearson about getting medical assistance, when, happily, Dr. Har- per arrives. He tells them that Prince is not his friend, but a total stranger. The l doctor assures Miss Pearson that little harm is done to the footman. Prince is kcked up in a bedroom, but Dugdale has a haunting; suspicion that Miss Pearson could have told more of the spurious doctor. Mary Pearson and Dugdale, walking in the park alter dinner. observe two men in the grounds of an adjoining large house, whom Wary informs him are Lord Passmore (the I owner) and Mr. Theo Isidore, the latter I of whom she dislikes. They meet. and Isidore tries to degrade Dugdale in Mary's eyes. Dugdale hesitates to. tell bf-r the story of the Dragon Vase, and Mary fear-; he is the victim of a conspiracy between Quentin and Isidore. Late at night another Dr. Prince calls and says that his friend. Dr. Harper's dogcart had collided with a rootor-car, in which the doctor is badly knocked about. He declares that the I car ran into him deliberately. Subsequently Isidore and Passmore call to view a picture in the library, where the latter aeoa the Drasron Vase, and declares it is ¡ a forgery. After the visitors have left Dug- dale hears the sound of smashing glass. In the conservatory he finds a man— I Grenadus. who explains that he was on his way to visit Lord Passmore, but in the dark had lost his way. Grenadus departs, hut Dugdale doubts his story. He follows him, and on the -oad-side over- hears a' conversation ^ith Ba?fano (whom Dudale had previously seen as a workman 1:1 Varna's shop). Dugdale feels inclined ¡ to give up the quest, but for the sake of Mary Pearson. he resolves to see it through. Returning to Silverdale. Dugd?Ie finds that the lunatic. Prince, has escaped by ?,.y of the conservatory. Next morning Mary  Pearson introduces to Dugd lie a Miss imat na, in whom he recognises a likeness to the young servant who was injured. He I seeks an explanation of his hostess. 1 CHAPTER XVII. I A STRANGE STORY. Dugdale smiled into the face of his hostess. I dare say you think me very lazy," he said. but you can imagine the pleasure this is to me after the hardships of the last few years. Yet, T must not linger here. It is not jiiat for me to stay with two girls like you. There is no reason why I should: lend cen- sorious ton'jues— Mary threw up her head contemptuously. What does it matter," she cried. so long as ore ha-, "1 clear conscience and is happy and contented? You asked me to tell you about Alice, Marna. and I promised to do so after breakfast. I told her what you said to n>K, but she is not willing that her name should be brought into the matter. I assure jou that there is nothing wro-tig-11 Ob. 1 Know that." Dugdale said hastily. "I see how impertinent 1 have been, and yet, in a way. Miss Marna fascinates me. She I reminds me of some one I used to know, but for the life of me I cannot say who it is. Have you known'her long?" For many years." iuu w rer real name Alice Marna?" No, it isri-t," Mary said candidly. But on that ivoint I am afraid 1 can give you no i further information. It is five or six years since Alice came here first. She had had a I long illness, and she came to recuperate. My father was a great friend of her father's, though I never saw him, and I haven't the remotest idea what his business or occupa- j tion was. All I know is that he was an undoubted judge of works of art. and that my father had a great idea of his opinion. Alice never told me anything. She is an exti aordinary mixture of can- dour and caution She has marvellous natural courage, and yet in some respects she is timid to a decree. We are very good friends. She attracts and dazzles me. and would do anything in the Nyorld to save me pain or trouble. I had not seen her for two j years till last night. She came unexpectedly, j and for the moment 1 didn't know her." That I can easily understand," Dugdale said. "I can imagine her being very clever j at disguises, but in the name ol common sense why did she swoop down upon you* in j that dramatic fashion, and why did she come disguised as a man-servant?" The blood mounted to Mary's face again, and she looked confused and ill at ease. "Ah, that 1 cannot tell you." she said, "for the simple reason that I don't know. I asked Alice just now, but she refused to say any- thing. She says that the accident last night has impaired her recollection of things. I don't altogether believe that, but this is a detail. At all events, she came here last night after my servants had left. She walked straight into the drawing-room, to my great surprise, disguised as a man-servant. I ¡ have been used to these kind of escapades on her part before, and I regarded I the thing as a freak of hers to surprise me. I know what an exceedingly clever actress she is. But she seemed to be in deadly earnest last night. She said she had come to warn me of imminent danger, and almost .before I could realise what had happened the dreadful creature who called himself Dr. Prince came in. What took place afterwards I cannot tell you. It seems like a hideous I suppose the man must have done Alice a mischief-but. I presume. all that will be explained presently. I was beside myself with terror, and could not grasp what was going 0" "You behaved splendidly," Dugdale said warmly. "I never saw anybody so alert and self-possessed. The danger was very real. You behaved perfectly." Did Mary; said. "Perhaps I did. 1 I gin, you my word, Mr. Dugdale, I have but t'oe haziest recollection of last night. It is lib! a dream." "Perhaps so," Dugdale agreed. "At any I rate, your conduct was beyond all words. The way you warned me was postively heroic. But let us proceed with the immediate busi- l ness of our conversation. Have you found out the reason why Miss Marna came here in that dramatic way?" "No, I haven't. I think she could tell me more, but she is suffering from shock, and is inclined to be hysterical when I allude to it. In a day or two I may find out more, but at present I am at a loss to know where the danger lies." It was a long time before Dugdale replied. He was debating in his own mind whether it would be right to take Mary Pearson into his confidence. True, he had started on a secret mission with every intention of keep- ing the matter 'entirely to himself, having regarded his task at the outset as honourable, strange though it appeared to be. Now he knew better. Now he knew that his pluck and address were being exploited by a couple of scoundrels for the purpose of putting money into their pockets. When he had set out on his errand he had never dreamt that he would find the Dragon Vase in circum- stances like these. He was certain that sooner or later the cherished art treasure would pass into the possession of Paul Quentin by dishonest means. And yet he ■  ■ ■ I T He fOl1 the book where he had laid it down. .J j had it definitely upon the authority of Lord Passmore that the Dragon Vase was nothing but a clever forgery. Perhaps Mary would be in a position to throw light upon this dark point At any rate. Dugdale determined that she should have the opportunity. "I am going to tell you something" he said. that I feel you ought to know. I don't like the idea of betraying the confidences of my employers, but these are exceptional circum- stances, and you are strangely bound, up in the business which has brought me here. You have said your memory of what happened last night is hazy, but probably you recollect how you warned me that there was a madman in the house, and that I had better be careful/' Mary placed her hand thoughtfully on her forehead. You have struck a familiar chord," she said. Let me think. Oh, yes, it is all coming back. There was a copy of the Marlborough Magaeine' in your pocket. I had been reading a story which impressed me considerably, and it suddenly flashed into my mind that a paragraph in the story would give you the clue you needed. And you took the hint excellently. I recollect it now. But why do you ask? Why do you want to know?" "It is a wonderful magazine, that," Dug- dale said.. "There. is nothing like it in the history 0f current literature." Nothing," Mary agreed. But what has I that to do with the subject under dis- cussion?" Ah, you will find it has a great deal to do with it," Dugdale replied. In the first place. doesn't it strike you as rather strange that that magazine should emanate from the brain of Mr. Theo Isidore? You all know about him. He has been here more than once, and perhaps I know him better than you do. Of course, he is losing a lot of money over his magazine, but he hopes to get it all back later by nobbling the British press, and putting the profits in his dirty pocket. Still, the public will be grateful for a magazine like the 'Marlborcugh.' Now, if it hadn't been for the 'Marlborough' I shouldn't be here at this moment! If you will excuse me r I will fetch it. I am going to interest you presently." I am all attention," Mary sai4 eagerly. Dugdale stepped through the window into the drawing-room in search of the fateful magazine which had been destined to produce such an effect upon bis fortunes. He found I the book lying where he had laid it down the night before, still open at the story by means i of which Mary Pearson had probahly saved her life. He came out on the terrace again with the periodical in his hand and turned it back till he came to the page whereon [ was the picture of the Dragon Vase. He did not hand it to Mary for the moment. "Have you ever heard of Paul Quentin?" I he asked. I Mary shook her head. The name conveyed nothing to her. She was listening intently, her lips parted eagerly, and A faint tiush in her face. "Paul Quentin is a very rich man," Dugdale explained. "He is a mystery, and, though he lives in London, few people have seen him, while those who have seen him differ as to his personal appearance. One describes him as dark and of powerful physique, another says that he is inclined to be lame and that his features are very fair. I can't speak from personal experience because my business has been done through his secretary. He did me a great service a little time ago, and when I went to* See him and thank him his secre- tars, Grenadus, offered me work to do. It was pleasant work, but rather mysterious. I had to find a certain art treasure, a picture of which appears in the very magazine I hold in my hand. Perhaps you would like to look at it." (TO BE CONTINUED ON MONDAY.)

"THE STEPMOTHER." I

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