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Dudley Pickering had watched these proceedings--as well as the fact that it was extremely dark and that he was endeavouring to hide a portly form behind a slender bush would permit him--with a sense of bewilderment. A comic artist drawing Mr Pickering at that moment would no doubt have placed above his head one of those large marks of interrogation which lend vigour and snap to modern comic art. Certainly such a mark of interrogation would have summed up his feelings exactly. Of what was taking place he had not the remotest notion. All he knew was that for some inexplicable reason his quarry had come to a halt and seemed to have settled down for an indefinite stay. Voices came to him in an indistinguishable murmur, intensely irritating to a conscientious tracker. One of Fenimore Cooper's Indians--notably Chingachgook, if, which seemed incredible, that was really the man's name--would have crept up without a sound and heard what was being said and got in on the ground floor of whatever plot was being hatched. But experience had taught Mr Pickering that, superior as he was to Chingachgook and his friends in many ways, as a creeper he was not in their class. He weighed thirty or forty pounds more than a first-class creeper should. Besides, creeping is like golf. You can't take it up in the middle forties and expect to compete with those who have been at it from infancy.

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He had resigned himself to an all-night vigil behind the bush, when to his great delight he perceived that things had begun to move again. There was a rustling of feet in the undergrowth, and he could just see two indistinct forms making their way among the bushes. He came out of his hiding place and followed stealthily, or as stealthily as the fact that he had not even taken a correspondence course in creeping allowed. And profiting by earlier mistakes, he did succeed in making far less noise than before. In place of his former somewhat elephantine method of progression he adopted a species of shuffle which had excellent results, for it enabled him to brush twigs away instead of stepping flatfootedly on them. The new method was slow, but it had no other disadvantages.

Because it was slow, Mr Pickering was obliged to follow his prey almost entirely by ear. It was easy at first, for they seemed to be hurrying on regardless of noise. Then unexpectedly the sounds of their passage ceased.

He halted. In his boyish way the first thing he thought was that it was an ambush. He had a vision of that large man suspecting his presence and lying in wait for him with a revolver. This was not a comforting thought. Of course, if a man is going to fire a revolver at you it makes little difference whether he is a giant or a pygmy, but Mr Pickering was in no frame of mind for nice reasoning. It was the thought of Bill's physique which kept him standing there irresolute.

What would Chingachgook--assuming, for purposes of argument, that any sane godfather could really have given a helpless child a name like that--have done? He would, Mr Pickering considered, after giving the matter his earnest attention, have made a _detour_ and outflanked the enemy. An excellent solution of the difficulty. Mr Pickering turned to the left and began to advance circuitously, with the result that, before he knew what he was doing, he came out into a clearing and understood the meaning of the sudden silence which had perplexed him. Footsteps made no sound on this mossy turf.

He knew where he was now; the clearing was familiar. This was where Lord Wetherby's shack-studio stood; and there it was, right in front of him, black and clear in the moonlight. And the two dark figures were going into it.

Mr Pickering retreated into the shelter of the bushes and mused upon this thing. It seemed to him that for centuries he had been doing nothing but retreat into bushes for this purpose. His perplexity had returned. He could imagine no reason why burglars should want to visit Lord Wetherby's studio. He had taken it for granted, when he had tracked them to the clearing, that they were on their way to the house, which was quite close to the shack, separated from it only by a thin belt of trees and a lawn.

They had certainly gone in. He had seen them with his own eyes--first the man, then very close behind him, apparently holding to his coat, the girl. But why?

Creep up and watch them? Would Chingachgook have taken a risk like that? Hardly, unless insured with some good company. Then what? He was still undecided when he perceived the objects of his attention emerging. He backed a little farther into the bushes.

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They stood for an instant, listening apparently. The man no longer carried the sack. They exchanged a few inaudible words. Then they crossed the clearing and entered the wood a few yards to his right. He could hear the crackling of their footsteps diminishing in the direction of the road.

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A devouring curiosity seized upon Mr Pickering. He wanted, more than he had wanted almost anything before in his life, to find out what the dickens they had been up to in there. He listened. The footsteps were no longer audible. He ran across the clearing and into the shack. It was then that he discovered that he had no matches.

This needless infliction, coming upon him at the crisis of an adventurous night, infuriated Mr Pickering. He swore softly. He groped round the walls for an electric-light switch, but the shack had no electric-light switch. When there was need to illuminate it an oil lamp performed the duty. This occurred to Mr Pickering after he had been round the place three times, and he ceased to grope for a switch and began to seek for a match-box. He was still seeking it when he was frozen in his tracks by the sound of footsteps, muffled but by their nearness audible, just outside the door. He pulled out his pistol, which he had replaced in his pocket, backed against the wall, and stood there prepared to sell his life dearly.

The door opened.

One reads of desperate experiences ageing people in a single night. His present predicament aged Mr Pickering in a single minute. In the brief interval of time between the opening of the door and the moment when a voice outside began to speak he became a full thirty years older. His boyish ardour slipped from him, and he was once more the Dudley Pickering whom the world knew, the staid and respectable middle-aged man of affairs, who would have given a million dollars not to have got himself mixed up in this deplorable business.

And then the voice spoke.

'I'll light the lamp,' it said; and with an overpowering feeling of relief Mr Pickering recognized it as Lord Wetherby's. A moment later the temperamental peer's dapper figure became visible in silhouette against a background of pale light.

'Ah-hum!' said Mr Pickering.

The effect on Lord Wetherby was remarkable. To hear some one clear his throat at the back of a dark room, where there should rightfully be no throat to be cleared, would cause even your man of stolid habit a passing thrill. The thing got right in among Lord Wetherby's highly sensitive ganglions like an earthquake. He uttered a strangled cry, then dashed out and slammed the door behind him.