He was just in time to see Rodney Hade cross the last yard or so of the hallway, and unlock and open the front door.
The man had evidently entered the house from above, though all the shutters were still barred and the door from the cupola had later been locked. Remembering the flimsy lock on that door, Gavin realized how Hade could have made an entrance.
But why Hade was now stealing to the front door and opening it, was more than his puzzled brain could grasp. All this flashed through Brice’s mind, as he caught sight of his enemy, and at the same time he was aware that Hade was no longer clad in rags, but wore a natty white yachting suit.
Before these impressions had had full time to register themselves on Gavin’s brain, he was in motion. This time, he was resolved, the prey should not slip through his fingers.
As Brice took the first forward-springing step, Hade finished unfastening the door and flung it wide.
In across the threshold poured a cascade of armed men. Hard-faced and tanned they were, one and all, and dressed as yacht sailors.
Then Gavin Brice knew what had happened, and that his own life was not worth a chipped plate.
THE GHOST TREE
Claire Standish had followed Brice to the curtained doorway of the library. She, too, had heard the light step in the hall. Its sound, and the galvanizing effect it had had on Gavin, aroused her sharp interest.
She reached the hallway just in time to see Hade swing open the door and admit the thronging group of sailors from his yacht.
But not even the sight of Hade, and these ruffians of his, astounded her as did the action of Gavin Brice.
Brice had been close behind Hade as the door swung wide. His incipient rush after his enemy had carried him thus far, when the tables had so suddenly been turned against him and the Standishes.
Now, without pausing in his onward dash, he leaped past Hade and straight among the in-pouring sailors.
Hade had not been aware of Brice’s presence in the hall. The sailors’ eyes were momentarily dazzled by the brightness of the lights. Thus, they did not take in the fact of the plunging figure, in time to check its flight.
Straight through their unprepared ranks Gavin Brice tore his way. So might a veteran football halfback smash a path through the rushline of a vastly inferior team.
Hade cried out to his men, and drew his pistol. But even as he did so, the momentarily glimpsed Gavin was lost to his view, amid the jostling and jostled sailors.
Past the loosely crowding men, Brice ripped his way, and out onto the veranda which he cleared at a bound. Then, running low, but still at top speed, he sped around the bottom of the porch, past the angle of the house and straight for the far side.