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THE SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION
A "GRAY GHOST" STORY

by MURIEL A. POLLEXFEN

EVA DARIEN had waited dinner until after nine o'clock and still her brother Carlile had neither turned up nor sent the usual message explaining the delay; he had not even 'phoned her to expect it.

It was so unusual and so unlike him that Eva began to feel vaguely anxious. Then, at ten-thirty, the vagueness became a certainty—acute—intense—unbearable. So much so that at ten-forty-five she rang up his clubs, only to ascertain that he had been at neither of them at any time that evening.

At one of them—the Aviators'—the commissionaire said that Mr. Darien had been expected there to meet Lord Fenton Henry at seven o'clock and that Lord Fenton had left a message with him in case Mr. Darien had been delayed and should turn up later. He repeated the message over the wire at leva's request, and as she listened she suddenly realized that the situation was alarmingly serious.

For Lord Fenton Henry could do great things for those in whose favor he interested himself, and the message the commissionaire repeated was of such tremendous consequence to Carlile's future career that only a man who was either a fool or else prevented by some extraordinary happening would have permitted himself to be deterred from keeping an appointment of such importance and magnitude. And Carlile was no fool.

With beating heart and swimming brain his sister hung up the receiver and sank back inertly in her chair. What had happened? What could have happened?

What was to be done? Ring up the hospitals in case there should have been an accident? But surely if there had been, she would have heard of it ere this. Carlile was a public man, secretary to Sir Dean Densham of the Secret Service, known to Scotland Yard and every possible constable in London. Sir Dean! Why, perhaps Sir Dean would know something! Or at least he would be able to advise her.

She picked off the receiver again and listened impatiently for the operator's voice. It was fully three minutes before she got through and the tension of her nerves was growing tighter every second. She held the line while the servant made inquiries, and it was with a mixture of gratification and alarm that she heard Sir Dean himself reply to her after a short interval.

"Is that Miss Darien? Good-evening. My man tells me you are asking for your brother. But surely he is at home? No, no, quite close here—just across the road— the Foreign Office, to be exact. Yes, he told me he was to meet Lord Fenton at seven o'clock. I remember commenting on it and saying it would probably lead to a good thing. Left here a little before six. Yes, I admit it is strange, but do not permit yourself to get anxious just yet. He may have been detained—he may have, forgotten the appointment."

"Oh, no, Sir Dean! It was prominent in his mind from the moment it was made. I know he wras building so much on a meeting with Lord Fenton, though I did not know it was for to-night. He can't have forgotten it!"

"I must confess it is not likely—still——"

"Was there no answer required to your errand, Sir Dean? Do you know if he ever went to the F. 0.?"

Eva, as she put the question, could have sworn that she heard a peculiar click come from Sir Dean's end of the wire—a sharp click as though he had suddenly gritted his teeth together in quick annoyance.

There was a perceptible pause before his answer came, and when it did come it was given slowly and haltingly, as though he were weighing most carefully every word— giving each word a momentous meaning and gravity.

"To be perfectly frank with you, Miss Darien, your question has startled me. Your brother left me with a wallet of papers for the Foreign Office at about ten or five minutes to six. At six o'clock a telephone message came through that the papers were safely delivered. I was in rather a hurry and did nothing more than receive the message. I thought at the time it was Darien's voice—Darien in a hurry——"

'"And now?" asked Eva sharply.

"And now I'm not so sure. I should not like to swear to it——"

Eva uttered a gasp of dismay—then her quick brain leaped to a sudden understanding.

"One question, Sir Dean! If no message had come through at all, would you have made inquiries at the time?"

Sir Dean hesitated for the barest fraction of a second. Then: "Yes, Miss Darien, I would have made inquiries. It was arranged between us that your brother was to telephone me on the private wire so soon as the papers were in the care of Mr. Follett. If no message had come through I should have been uneasy."

EVA put up the receiver with a chill fear growing up round her heart. Her worst forebodings were becoming stronger and stronger every moment. Something had happened to her brother. Even in Sir Dean's studied sentences she had discerned an underlying current of alarm. Then there was the message purporting to be from her brother and in his voice. What could that mean? Was it Car who had sent that message, Car himself, or was it part of the mystery? Had some one imitated his voice? But if so— why? What purpose was it to serve? How could any one know of the arrangement to inform Sir Dean of the safety of the papers? How could any one—any outsider—use the private wire of the F. O.?

In an agony of apprehension she sprang up and walked to the door with the intention of getting into some outdoor things so as to be ready in case of emergency. For by now she dreaded she knew not what—the worst—the unknown worst!

But as she touched the door-handle the sudden sharp tinkle of the telephone bell rang out its brusk summons and she flew back to the table in the window in a passion of expectation.

"Yes—yes—are you there? Yes, I am Miss Darien——"

She gripped the receiver and held it to her ears, and as she listened her face grew white as chalk, her body quivered as though a lash descended on the stroke of every sinister word spoken over the wire by an unknown voice.

"You were speaking a moment since to Sir Dean Densham? Quite so. Oh, thanks, I heard everything I wanted to—I tapped the wire at a very opportune moment. You are anxious about your brother, eh? Again quite so. Your brother has been useful to me on the past two or three occasions—oh, quite unintentionally I assure you—and he was useful again to me to-night. But to-night I'm afraid he was just a shade too smart—for his own sake! However, that is beside the mark and concerns only himself and myself. What I rang you up for was to say that if you desire to meet your brother on his return, be at Sir Dean Densham's house in Whitehall at twelve midnight to-night! Understand? Twelve midnight. And you might also acquaint Sir Dean Densham with the fact that I hope to make his acquaintance very soon now—and Mr. Algy Brett also. Can you remember the names? It's not really important—it won't do them any good to know it and it won't do me any harm. Good-by. So sorry you were anxious about your brother; Twelve midnight!"

In a passion of hysteria, of dread, of agonizing doubts, Eva still held the receiver to her ears, begging, shrieking to the unknown sinister voice to explain, to say that Car was safe, to say that Car would be safe!

Until the Exchange called through to ask what number she wanted she poured a prayer of piteous entreaty into the inanimate mouthpiece, straining every nerve to catch even the semblance of an answer.

But none came save the operator's harsh demand, and with a tortured cry of mental anguish she ran blindly from the room to the hall below, calling out as she ran for a servant to call a cab immediately.

Within a minute a taxi swept to the steps and she sprang in, bribing the man with a sovereign to drive his fastest to S...

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