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A Traitor's Wooing

BY HEADON MILL.

Author of "Unmasked at Last," "Her Grace at Bay," etc

______TEB. SJ-—(Continued.! Fo_ow_i_ the direction of her gaze, yngent in four rapid strides reached the and, Singing it open, dragged j-ta tie well-lit room the lithe an! form of a man dressed in blue •«. It " was tiie Fren ' :a onion-seller Aunt Sara- Dymmock had driven ton Hie precincts of the Manor House - the point of ncr sunshade. Louise rttered a suppressed shriek as Nugent -leased his g*"'P on tne Frenchman s aa d carefully closed the window. »iton Dieu! it is Pierre Legros," she -jed. looking from one to the other j of the two men in sheer bewilderment, js T-ich there was a trace oi fear. "Yes. it - I—Pierre." said the onion-1 jgjler _i his native tongue, scowling at I his fair compatriot. "Is it that you have j squired the habit of supping aione with pntlemen above your station, as well] |s of meeting them :n the lonely places j of tie country? You have sadly changed. Loose, 'tnce we played barefoot together i jjjong't-e rocks of Dicamp."" In the dawn of her new ambition the ■ reminder of her humble origin goaded tie girl to a fury that dispelled her tern fear. ""Barefoot'." she shrilled. one. you know quite well: jiat I was never so. and chat if you had I j_e presumption to worship mc it was j from down below—as a pig may gaze it the stars. I came to this English rantleman to help mc punish the murder-' er of my dear friend Slon—ieur Levison." There was malice in every spitting «v—able of the trade, and more than malice in the baleful look she cast at, the sullen Frenchman. Travers Nugent jjanced at faer a little anxiously, and iastened to intervene. It would not PHI his book at all for Louise to revert, oat of petty spite, to her original suspcioii—to the prejudice ot the later one is had been at such pains to inspire. "*tT__t mademoiselle asserts is absolutely true."' he said in French, fixing PierTe-'s fierce eyes in a hypnotic stare. **She i= greatly concerned to catch the murderer, and I hope to hand over to justice the English rascal who committed the crime on t-he marsh. And jt_t a word ot advice to you, Legros. lon had better keep a civil tongue in your head, or you may find yourself in tronble- Mademoiselle Aubhi and I. of orarse. know that you had nothing to do with the mat ter, but the police might think differently it they got wind of jour jealous ravings." Pondering on, and impressed by, the ilig_r; emphasis put on the word English. the onion-seller hang his head, muttering to kimseli. Nugent tlook the opportnnitv to touch the bell f and -having done to turned to Louise. "I think that we have concluded our tffairs for this evening, mademoisefie,** he said with a cool politeness, the purport of which the clever Frenchwoman was quick to appreciate. "You shall be .-latest developments, and Err"? my servant shall escort you to the road, for I mast have a private word iritb Legros. Sinnett," to the sUent iie_———an who had appeared, "accompany this lady down the drive, please." S_inett understood by the ocular sigBal that his master flashed at him that __denloiselle Aubin's departure from the premises was to be accomplished without •fitnesses, and he gravely followed the somewhat mystified visitor out. Neither hy look or gesture did he express the slightest surprise at seeing an unkempt ami none too clean foreigner in the room. Ten years in the service of Mr. Travers Nugent had killed the faculty of astonishment, or, at any rate, had taught him that the outward and visible signs thereof were inadvisable. Directly the door was shut on them Nngent's maimer underwent a rapid tensfonnation. All the polish jsas gone. He became the brute and the irally—the man with t*ae -whip-hand. He •aras not in the least handicapped by laving to express himself m French, because he spoke all European languages is fluently as his own. He showered tray vile epithet he could think of on the onion-seller, calling him iool, dolt, and everything by turn, and then, when ia had pulverized the still scowling but crest-fa—en sailor into abject humiliation he demanded — "Why in the name of all that is iriintic, did you disregard my instructions and come here to the house? I told yo_ that nothing hut the last extremity wmH warrant any intercourse between tE." Pierre Legros raised his bloodshot eyes in half-defiant remonstrance. "I came because I thought it was what you call the last extremity," he said. "There has fen some one on the quay at Exmouth to-day asking questions of mc. He also go on board our vessel and speak with By captain." "Ton think he was a detective?" "No, monsieur: he was not of the ponce. I believe him to be a gentleman Be Eves here in Ottermouth. I see him <"fien when I sell my onions up the "Sleet — an old man with no hair on his face, dresEed in fine clothes, and hay- % eyes that pierce like needles. Though °* so great age, he walks very quick and upright.*' -agent took a turn up the room. -D**"*-_g and biting his lips. "So!"' he "Bttnmred to himself. "Air. Vernon -afiory has to be reckoned with as still on the active list, eh ?'" and coming back to **_ere Legros was standing, he added ""trad, in more conciliatory tones: "iou ™ right in bringing mc this news, my tt*£*—t• The gentleman is meddlesome, hot there is no reason why he should l * eo *tie dangerous, if you are discreet." I -£—s discreet, monsieur,"' rejoined ks"**">s. "The grey-head Anglais set s P rn *ges as one sets them for birds, but I j *a» wary, and walked all round. And ■hues Epitaux. my captain, he make fool; «i thj o ]_i man." [ I hope so." said Nugent dnly. "But -» it E a sample of your discretion that j been hating in this room to-{ spt, my opinion of it is not high.' *j*rre Legros. You must learn to curb j ™* —isa_e jealousy of yours, or you, *ul have Louise on" to you like a wild i Your conduct was base ingratitude. I ffHag that I stopped her from setting *** police at you.' - am sorry, monsieur: I was taken' •5" surprise, and I did not understand," the onion-seller submissively, as * Passed out of the window which" >u-. P? held significantly open. M-t once outside in the darkness, seton the four-mile trudge back! Ms snip, he began to mutter to _imaad the refrain or" the inaudible bab-1 v- wa ys the same, recurring a times as he stumbled along the i ■Wtt-Bd Back—

"Louise goes to console herself, but not with Pierre. Poor Pierre! He will have to strike—always strike—if he is betrayed." CHAPTER TIT. THE COBRA'S SAILING ORDERS. -*ine o'clock in the morning -was a busy time in a mild way at the Ottermouth Railway Station. The budding resort was served by only a branch line with only a single s et of rails, and at this hour the first two trains of the day in each direction passed each other here. Mr Travers Nugent stood at the window of the booking office, waking till the slide should be raised, and biting his long fair moustache in annoyance because out of the tail of his eye he had just discovered that the next intending passenger in the row behind him waa Lieutenant Reginald Beauchamp. He had quite a poor opinion of the .Lieutenant's intelligence, but he w»3 aware of his close acquaintaee with the Mallorys, and there were reasons why he would have preferred to conceal his destination that day from the shrevsvl old civil servant. However, the wooden slide wis raised, and Nugent could not avoid asking tor his ticket—a first-class return to Weymouth. It was not till he had picked up his change and passed on that he affected to notice his successor at the window. "Ah. Beauchamp! Going my way. I hope?" he said genially. "I am compelled to go to Weynrouch for the day. to look up a sick relative. Beastly nuisance having to play the good Samaritan in such hot weather."* Reggie, before replying, planked Mown his money and asked for a return ticket to Plymouth. "No."' he replied as he joined Xngent. "As you heard. I am going in the opposite direction. My little torpedo craft requires my attention."" "Sorry Fm not to have the pleasure of your company," said the eider man courteously. "Surely your leave isn't up yet ?" Reggie replied. *T have another ten days to run, but I have to see about one or two little matters of shipping stores and ammunition. I hope to be back to-night or to-morrow morning." On the platform the two separated, Reggie getting into the train which would take him to the western naval seaport, and Nugent crossing the line by the footbridge to the east-bound train. "I trust that nautical noodle will have forgotten all about onr meeting by tomorrow." Nugent communed with himself as he chose a corner seat in an _noecupied compartment. "It would not be advisable for Mallory, with his wonderful faculty for piecing trifles together, to know that I had paid a flying visit to the port where Chert—side's alleged yacht is fitting out." He leaned back in his cushioned corner and further reflected that even if Mr. Mallory was informed by young Beauchamp that he had been to Weymouth no irremediable harm could come of it. It was even possible that the incident might be converted into an advantage. He had good reason not to despise Mr. Mallory *s capabUities, but that astute old gentleman could not thwart his scheme without a fuller knowledge of it, and that could only be gamed from Leslie Chennside, who in his present circumstance as A'iolet Maynard's accepted lover would prob—blv prefer death to confession. "My immediate policy must be to preserve the renegade's life at all hazard's, while threatening it by means of the fair Louise,*' Nugent smiled contemptuously. "Though what Bhagwhan Singh wiii do to him when he is delivered at Sindkhote is another matter," the arch plotter added under his breath as he unfolded his newspaper and resigned himself to the tedium of the journey. He reached Weymouth at noon, and at once made his way into the old town, w„ere he turned to the left down the one-sided street of shipping offices and public houses that faces the harbour. The bnck and mortar side of the street had no interest for him. HLs gaze was always for the long row of vessels moored to the quay wall. He walked on, past the wharf where the red funnelled Great Western Boats lay. and came to a halt opposite a large 2,000 ton steam yacht. A handsomely appointed craft she was, with something of the snake in her long, low, graceful lines, and evidently built for speed as well as comfort. The heavy gilt lettering on her stern proclaimed to all and sundry that she was called the cobra. The gang plank was down, and Nugent stepped lightly across it on to the main deck, where his further progress wa3 promptly barred by a bullet-headed ship's officer in a smart blue suit and a brassbanded cap. "Here! you don't own the bally vessel." said this individual rudely. "Not quite so fast, if you please. What's your business?" "I am a friend of Captain Brant's; if he is on board and if you will kindly have, my card taken to him I have no doubt that he will see mc," replied Nugent with his usual suave politeness. The officer called a seaman, and, havin°dispatched him with the card, became roughly apologetic. "That's a horse of another colour," he glowled. "Strict orders against strangers on this ship. Couldn't let you on if you were the ■ kipper's own brother, and the skipper's the devil." "My dear sir. I congratulate you on pour discretion," rejoined Nugent affably. ""■I don't mind telling you that if you had let mc on without orders you wouldn't have enjoyed your billet mother hour. As it is, you will be like the nice little boy in the Sunday school vho had a good mark put against his iame." The bullet-headed mate spat thoughtitlly over the bulwarks, and then, as he -ealized the position, broke into an evil rrin. "I see," he chuckled. "You're the rower behind the throne, eh? I guess f I'd known that I'd have given you i bit of stronger lip- "What the bloomng game is I don't want to know, but '. can see it's going to be a funny sort )f cruise." The bluejacket, whose brutal features, S'ugent observed with cynical satisfae:ion. were at curious variance with his rim, yacht-like attire, returned, and said ;hat Captain Brant would receive the risitor at once. Nugent followed his conductor to a cabin tinder the bridge. :he occupant of which, a little wisp of i man with an elongated, pear-shaped :ranium. prominent teeth, and a yellow »mplexion. advanced with a strange, lopping gait to greet his guest

"Ah!" be said -with an uncanny hissing ! intake of breath, "I am charmed to see : you, Mr. Nugent. The hon-our of your visit means that we are to get a move on us at last, I hope!" "It points that way," replied Nugent guardedly as he took the seat offered him. "Your anxiety to be off meanthat you are having trouble with the crew, I am afraid, Brant V The repulsive captain twisted his features into a grimace that would have curdled milk, at the same time emitting a sound like the *narl of a wolf. "The maintenance of discipline among a lot of toughs like those I selected isn't child's play,"' he said. "It only wants a rule of three sum to find out how soon I shall ■ have no crew at all if we are to lay idle here much longer. I've had to shoot ona as dead as Queen Anne and crack the heads of four others for kicking over the traces." The answer, delivered coolly and as a matter of course, seemed ludicrous coming from the undersized, deformed creature with the top-heavy head. But Nugent evidently knew his man, for he merely nodded comprehension and apj proval. "It is because you are such a holy terror. Brant, that I selected you for the job." he said. "There was bound to be trouble at the start of a cruise for which the hands were induced to join by the promise of a rich reward if any hitch occurred." "It is entirely the delay that caused the ructions," the captain assented -You see they don't know whether they are on a treasure hunt or what, and they're in a hurry to finger the pieces. To keep 'em from letting their jawtackle run in the pubs I don't allow much shore liberty—none at all since I had to pnmp Bh\ck Jake, a fireman, full of lead for inciting to mutiny." "But how about th->—er—necessary formalities?" asked Nugent, genuinelyinterested in the drastic methods of hi instrument. Captain Brant uttered the unpleasant combination of croak and wheeze that did duty with him for a laugh. "You mean the inquest and funeral? We have no use for little extras like them on the Cobra. I'm the law on this ship. 1 took a kind of trial trip out to sea for a couple of hours, and cremated Black Jake in his own furnace. That put the fear of the devil into the rest, and we're a happy family now. I wouldn't guarantee to hold 'em for more than a fortnight, though, tied up to this cursed quay. The officers are right enough. Bully Cheeseman, the chap who was at the gangway when you boarded us, is a fair scorcher. Twenty years ago he was suspected of being Jack the Ripper; and Wiley, the second mate, as you know, has done time for manslaughter." Travers Nugent gazed thoughtfully through the circular window of tbe deckcabin at the teeming quay-side, and the array of public-houses across the roarHe was not at all dissatisfied with the state of things prevailing on the Cobra. It had justified his choice of a skipper. If this frail little atomy with the body of an imp and the soul of a Thug, could isolate and hold in check a crew of cutthroats recruited from the slums of Lirnehouse, within sight of the drinkshops over the way, he was not likely to fail at the crucial moment And it was to expedite that crucial moment that, Nugent had paid his surprise visit to the Cobra. "I'm not finding fault. Brant," he said. "At least, not with you and your management of affairs. The blame iests on the mean-spirited cur who has kept the ship dallying here in port while he was going back on his bargain and playing a double game with mc. However, you'll have him on board in a few days, I hope, and among your final instructions will be one to let him have a particularly warm time of it." "I'll keel-haul the swine morning and evening if you like." growled Brant, "or give him a taste of the cat." "Weil, I don't want you to be teuder with him,** laughed Nugent, "so long as you leave enough of him for delivery to the consignee. But here is what 1 ran over to tell you. On receipt of a wire containing the one word 'Advance,' you will leave port and steam to the wesV ward at such steam as will take you abreast of Ottermouth after sundown. Don't bring the ship nearer inshore than three miles, and lay to till you see a tiiue light, and then a green, shown about half a mile to the west of the town." "Just a moment. Let's fix it up accurate," interrupted the captain. "We mustn't have any such words as 'about' in a job of this kind. Point out the exact place on thi3 ordnance map, please." "There, at the foot of that cleft in the cliff marked Coldbrook Chine," said "Nugent, placing his finger on the map section which Captain Brant spread before him on the cabin table. "I have chosen the spot because it is hidden from the coast-guard station by this jutting angle in the wall of cliff." "The signal wouldn't be visible from the station?" croaked Brant. '"Quite impossible. When you see the blue and green lights, all you have to do is to sent the electric launch, manned by three trustworthy and well-armed men, to the beach at the foot of the chine. The launch -will pick up a passenger, and as soon as he has been put aboard the steamer, wrs return to the same spot and pick up another. On the second occasion I myself will be there, and will hand your officer a sealed packet containing your final instructions. . It is even possible that I may come aboard and hand them to you in person." The weird little deformity laughed his horrible laugh. "Pleased to see you. I'm sure," he responded, when the convulsion, in his throat had ceased. "Yon might be making the voyage with _s, 1 reckon?" "God forbid!" exclaimed Travers Nugent fervently. (To be continues next Saturday.)

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A Traitor's Wooing Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 68, 20 March 1909

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