Mr. Maverick Narkom, Superintendent of Scotland Yard, sat before the litter of papers upon his desk. His brow was puckered, his fat face red with anxiety, and there was about him the air of one who has reached the end of his tether.
He faced the man opposite, and fairly ground his teeth upon his lower lip.
"Dash it, Cleek!" he said for the thirty-third time, "I don't know what to make of it, I don't, indeed! The thing's at a deadlock. Hammond reports to me this morning that another bank in Hendon—a little one-horse affair—has been broken into. That makes the third this week, and as usual every piece of gold is gone. Not a bank note touched, not a bond even fingered. And the thief—or thieves—made as clean a get-away as you ever laid your eyes on! I tell you, man, it's enough to send an average person daft! The whole of Scotland Yard's been on the thing, and we haven't traced 'em yet! What do you make of it, old chap?"
"As pretty a kettle of fish as I ever came across," responded Cleek, with an enigmatic smile. "And I can't help having a sneaking admiration for the person who's engineering the whole thing. How he must laugh at the state of the old Yard, with never a clue to settle down upon, never a thread to pick up and unravel! All of which is unbusinesslike of me, I've no doubt. But, cheer up, man, I've a piece of news which ought to help matters on a bit. Just came from the War Office, you know."
Mr. Narkom mopped his forehead eagerly. The action was one which Cleek knew showed that every nerve was tense....
She looked round, but she could see nothing and nobody. The Heath was a white waste that might have been part of the scenery in Lapland for all there was to tell that it lay within reach of the heart and pulse of the sluggish leviathan London. Over it the vapours of night crowded, an almost palpable wall of thick, wet mist, stirred now and again by some atmospheric movement which could scarcely be called a wind, although, at times, it drew long, lacey filaments above the level of the denser mass of fog and melted away with them into the calm, still upper air.
Miss Lorne hesitated between two very natural impulses—to gather up her skirts and run, or to stand her ground and demand an explanation from the person who was undoubtedly following her. She chose the latter.
"Who is there? Why are you following me? What do you want?" she flung out, keeping her voice as steady as the hard, sharp hammering of her heart would permit....